Halo: Reach beta now available

Morning all – I hope you had a good Bank Holiday yesterday (if you’re in the UK). As well as a day off, yesterday saw the release of the multiplayer beta for the last Halo game on Xbox 360 – Halo: Reach. If you have a copy of Halo 3: ODST and an Xbox LIVE Gold membership you’ll be able to download the beta and get a preview of what’s coming this autumn.

What I’ve seen of Halo: Reach so far is pretty impressive. The graphics look gorgeous and the new game modes are plenty of fun. I say, “what I’ve seen so far” because it looks like the servers were a bit overloaded with everyone trying the game out. I wasn’t able to get a connection for a couple of hours, but I guess that’s to be expected since this the beta test.

The in-game additions I’m most keen on are much more customisable armour, and the jet-pack Spartans! It’s immense fun to swoop down on your enemies from above, although you do seem to be quite easy to shoot down. The SWAT game mode is also fantastic fun, where you team up against an opposing group armed with combat rifles. I have no idea how some of the guys I’m up against get headshots so often!

What’s really handy, though, is the new matchmaking system. You can tell it whether you want to prioritise playing with people who have a fast connection, who speak the same language as you, or who have a similar skill level to you. You can also tell it whether you want to play against people who use the communicator a lot, or who hardly speak at all, team players or lone wolves, and “polite” or “rowdy” players. Oh it’s all so civilised until you start blowing each other to smithereens.

Halo: Reach is a free download, so long as you have Halo 3: ODST and Xbox LIVE Gold. You’ll need around 1.5Gb of space on your Xbox 360. If you meet the requirements, download it, and we might just meet in battle.

Ghostbusters [xbox360 review]

I’ve been enjoying a bit of a Ghostbuster renaissance lately, all started off by playing the demo of the Ghostbusters game on Xbox Live. I ended up downloading the movie from iTunes* and loved re-watching it. It was the first film I ever saw. Well, most of it. My mum would cover my eyes at the scary bits so I missed a fair bit of the storyline!

In true geek style, I also decided to see whether you can get replica Proton Packs. You can, but they cost around £1000!

But anyway, this is supposed to be a review of the Ghostbusters game on xbox360, so let’s get on with it.

Watch on YouTube

Ghostbusters sees you, as a new recruit, being shown the ropes of busting when a huge paranormal event takes place and pretty much throws you in at the deep end. Your induction takes a back seat and you’re straight out doing what the Ghostbusters do best! It’s a great start to the game. When I play something new I need to be shown how to play (does anyone ever read the game manual?) but also want to get to the good stuff as quickly as possible. Ghostbusters manages to do both very well, moving quickly from introduction to on-the-job training.

The game mechanics are pretty simple. Some ghosts can simply be destroyed by shooting them. Some are susceptible to the different types of beam your proton pack can produce, and you’ll find out their particular weakness by scanning them with your PKE meter. By far the most fun, though, are the ghosts you must trap in the “traditional” way… weakening them by any means possible, then getting a capture stream on them. Stun your target by slamming them into walls, floor or ceiling and then get them into the ghost trap. I absolutely loved this and was a wee bit disappointed by the number of ghosts that you could defeat without trapping them.

There are some brilliant set-piece moments throughout the game, like battling the Marshmallow Man, and quite a few jumpy moments too. I’ll admit that I’m not good with scary games but the horror in Ghostbusters fits with the film’s comedy genre… it’s jumpy but ultimately not going to give you nightmares.

Ghostbusters is fun to play whether you’re a fan of the films or not, but I have to say that if you are a fan it adds an extra nostalgic angle that makes it brilliant. I kept firing the proton stream just to hear the sound and it was great to be able to play at being a Ghostbuster, even just for a little while.

My recommendation? This one’s a buy it!

Ghostbusters is available from Amazon.com* and Amazon.co.uk*

*affiliate link

How to stream media from a Mac to xbox360

I was an early adopter with the xbox360, which means I’ve been through the whole Red Ring Of Death thing, sending my console back several times. I now seem to have a stable machine, thankfully. It also means I got the original 20Gb hard disc drive, which seems pitifully small now that you can install games to the HDD and download movies.

Microsoft are pushing the xbox360 as a home entertainment hub, which is a bit of a problem for me because of the aforementioned drive capacity. I do, however, have a load of media on my external hard drive attached to my Mac. The xbox is designed to talk to Windows Media Edition rather than Mac OS X, but there’s a handy little application that will help link the two rivals together.

Connect360 is a Mac tool that installs into the preferences pane. If your Mac and xbox360 are on the same network, wired or wireless, you can set your Mac to detect it and stream music to it. On the xbox360, just play media as normal but select your Mac as the source instead of a CD, Hard Drive or Windows Computer.

It works fairly well but, despite claims that Connect360 will convert media on the fly, not all my movies were playable on the xbox. I also found that some videos didn’t match up to their listing… that is, I’d try to play Aliens and end up with Ghostbusters for some reason. However, by quitting out of the media player and going back in seemed to fix that particular problem.

Connect360 isn’t perfect, at least not in my tests, but it does the job and is a heck of a lot cheaper than an Apple TV! If you’ve been looking for a way to get your media from Mac to living room xbox360, give it a shot.

Connect360 costs $20 (US). This is not an affiliate link.

How to share a dial-up connection in Vista

My broadband is offline at the minute, but I wanted to try out the new Xbox360 social media updates. I do have a 3G mobile Internet modem, so I wondered if I can somehow use that to get the Xbox online. The answer is yes… and if you want to do something similar here’s how to do it.

Network ConnectionsThis is the process I used in Vista, but it should be pretty similar in other versions of Windows. First you want to be able to see all the network connections in your computer (Start Menu > Network > Network and Sharing Center > Manage Network Connections). You’ll see a load of connections including a dial-up one (if you’re using a modem) and wired LAN connection. You’ll be plugging your device (in my case the Xbox) into the wired connection and allowing it to use the dial-up connection to get online.

Right-click on your dial-up connection and navigate to the “Sharing” tab where you’ll find the option to “Allow other network users to connect through this computer’s Internet connection”. Tick the box and check that the “Home networking connection” box below contains the name of your wired network adapter and you’re nearly there. Just click on “OK” and you should be good to go.

Right, so a quick run-down:

  1. Open your network connections
  2. Plug your device into your laptop with an Ethernet cable
  3. Right-click on your dial-up connection and choose Properties > Sharing > Allow other network users to connect through this computer’s Internet connection
  4. Double-check that the Home networking connection is set to the name of your wired network connection
  5. Click OK

You should now find that your Xbox thinks it has a direct connection to the Internet and, so long as your laptop is on and dialed-up you can get online. Just be careful now not to go over your data allowance on your modem!

Incidentally, I think it should be possible to share your Internet connection wirelessly by setting the Home networking connection to be your wireless one instead of wired… but I don’t have a wireless adapter for the Xbox. If you’ve done this and can confirm or dispel the idea of using wireless, please let us know in the comments!

Xbox360 NXE: Early Impressions

Xbox360: New Xbox Experience

I wanted to wait a few days before posting about the Xbox360 “New Xbox Experience”, partly so that I would have a proper chance to play with it. I downloaded it on Wednesday, like many others I guess, and was immediately unimpressed.

I should point out, though, that my lack of enthusiasm stemmed from what I think was a crash – the new dashboard downloaded, installed, and then my Xbox just sat there with a blank screen for a few minutes. After switching it off and on, though, it seemed to work OK so I’ll just put that down to a glitch.

When the system restarted I was guided through the initial setup – some introductions to the new features, and setting up my avatar. Whilst this gives you some scope to customise your appearance, it’s not going to give you an exact likeness. It’s not as customisable as, say, the Wii’s Mii or the faces on some MMORPGs. Still, it’s possible to get something that looks vaguely like yourself so that’s good enough.

The new layout takes a little getting used to. Rather than everything being in “blades”, they are now in vertically stacked menus which then expand with various options. Things have been rearranged and, in some cases, streamlined, but there are no major revelations here. You can still find your games library, and you can still see who’s on your friends list, but now you tell whether they are online by whether their avatar is awake or not. This isn’t as intuitive for me, though, as I prefer just to look at a list and have the online people highlighted.

Forgetting function for a moment, however, it has to be said that the new dashboard does look very good!

Right, straight back to function, because I want to talk about the one huge development that makes me think this update was actually a good idea: playing games from the hard drive. I don’t know if it’s just my machine, but I can guarantee that I’ll get at least one or two “unreadable disc” errors in a night of playing. They tend to happen when I’m just about to save the game, meaning that when it crashes I have to go back a fair way and replay what I’d already done. Most annoying. With the option to copy a game to the hard drive, though, the disc isn’t actually used. Sure you need to have it in the drive so that your Xbox knows you own it, but it just sits there while the game data is loaded off the HDD instead. No more unreadable disc errors. Or, at least, none so far. The only downside is that the games are pretty large (6.7gb for Gears of War 2), so unless you have one of the larger hard discs you will have to free up some space and possibly limit yourself to only loading one full-size game on there at a time.

So, NXE… in my (limited) view, just Microsoft playing around with things that didn’t really need played around with, but redeemed by one killer feature.

Have you tried NXE? If so, what do you think of it? Tell us in the comments.

PS – one final thing it’s very good to see is that community games are now available in the marketplace!

The Force Unleashed: Demo Out Now

I’ve been waiting for this game for a long time! I’m a sucker for Star Wars, and this looks amazing: The Force Unleashed is the story of Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, and fills in some of the gap between Episodes III and IV of the Star Wars saga.

If you’re an xbox360 or PS3 owner you can get your hands on the demo of The Force Unleashed by visiting the Xbox Live Marketplace or Playstation Network.

Having played the demo through, I have to say that the game looks very good: it is visually rich, and the Stormtroopers and Rebel Troops all behave pretty intelligently. There’s a real feeling of scale in the demo level too, set in a Tie Fighter factory. If I had one complaint, though, I would say that you don’t really get a sense of the power of the Force… I was expecting to be blown away by the force powers, but I just wasn’t. Mind you (and this is a big mitigating factor), this is only a demo of the first level so I would imagine the force powers will only get bigger and more impressive as you progress through the game. Compared to early levels of, say Jedi Knight II, this looks like it’s going to be much more fun! Looks like a definite purchase when it comes out next month.

Go, download the demo. And if you can’t, here’s a video to whet your apetite: