Monday, February 3, 2014

Driver Parallel Lines: The Brother Nobody Talks About at Christmas.

I've been a fan of the Driver video game series since I tried the original. Back then it was amazing to have an expansive landscape to explore and feel like you could go anywhere you wanted, when you wanted! As with almost any game franchise, Driver tried to be competitive and in a lot of ways it succeeded, and in a lot of ways it failed.

Driver 2 was never a masterpiece, but it expanded on what the original gave us and gave the player the option of getting out of the vehicle, to drive any other vehicle you could find. Sprinkle in some events that required the player to exit the vehicle and you had a decent follow-up to the original Driver, filled with hours of things to do, explore and uncover. But where the series really took a dive was when things moved up to a new class of hardware, ala PS2 and Xbox, when the creators of Driver seemingly pushed out a half finished game that wasn't great, but ok for a single play through, if nothing more than to laugh at the complete mess of it all.

There was no doubt the team could create a Driver game for that console generation, but they just couldn't seem to finish what they started. Tanner's jump was half hearted, as if he shit his pants just before leaping, and the vehicles felt as if you were struggling to pass everyone at an already sluggish pace, where was the speed? They did, however, leave in the concept of hidden areas from Driver 2, but this only serves as a showcase for how terrible Tanner walks and his controls outside of vehicles.

Up to this point I had greatly enjoyed all of the incarnations of Driver, yes even 3, not counting any of the mobile/portable versions as I hadn't tried them. The original was still my favorite, based on its purity and simplicity, but on the horizon loomed a force, a force so big and so bold that no one could turn away from it... well no, in reality I fear, at this point, the franchise had been torn apart by competition so nobody really ever gave the fourth installment a fair chance to even survive. Which is sad too, as I feel it is far better than any of the first 3!

In 2006 Driver: Parallel Lines was unleashed for the PS2 and Xbox, but it seems nobody was listening after the boy had cried wolf too many times. Mediocre reviews abound, Driver: Parallel Lines kept selling and still it seemed nobody was saying much about it, other than it was a sad GTA clone.

My original game and the
Limited Edition set that I found at the outlet store.
Shortly after its lifespan was over I acquired an Xbox. The whole library was new to me and I went on a spree, buying used game to flesh out a meager little collection. I collected as many GTA games as I could, as well as Driv3r, and soon switched my focus to GTA "clones", such as the True Crime series. Among all the clones listed online sat Driver: Parallel Lines, never having heard about it I knew I had to find a copy and give it a try.

I remember it like it was 6 years ago, which it most likely was. I walked into ShameStop and walked over to the Xbox rack, tracked down the only copy that was in its original case that had the manual and took it up to the counter to plunk down $17.99. Being the frugal (cheap!) video game hunter I am, I walked away feeling as if that price was a bit much for a used game, so I hoped that it would live up to the $18+tax.

When I got home and sat down I wasn't exactly sure what to expect when I fired it up, but I do remember the cut scenes being remarkable, as I believe all cut scenes in the Driver series have been. After playing for a bit I was hooked, it was as if two rivals came together and had a child. The child had many aspects of both parents, but also had its own personality and qualities that made it quite good in its own right.

Unlike Driv3r, Parallel Lines was more fluid and worked better than even GTA 3, maybe on par somewhere between Vice City and San Andreas, but still very good. The antagonist controls we easy and nowhere near as clunky as before, getting in and out of cars was easy, vehicles had power, the visuals were (IMHO) better than any GTA before it. That and you weren't stuck in a single time era, after a certain part of the storyline you were allowed to free roam through 2 different eras!

Playing in 2 eras was a bit glitchy as you can still drive modern era cars in the 70s era, but other than that it was still great to have choices. Speaking of vehicles Parallel Lines has a good variety, and a MUCH better storage system than GTA had! Instead of parking your car within a designated place and hoping its there the next time you load your save, all you had to do was go to one of the selectable repair shops and pick from a list of cars you had brought in and saved along your journey.

I can't and wouldn't say Parallel Lines was as good as San Andreas, but it did look better to me. Like I said, somewhere between Vice City and San Andreas. Driver: Parallel Lines is a competent GTA clone, but I have more fun with San Andreas. San Andreas was just massive, and while Parallel Lines was no slouch it just felt a little too much like a sandbox to really give any depth the exploration.

Of all the games that I've spent countless hours with my Xbox San Andreas comes first, without a doubt. Driver: Parallel Lines comes second and I couldn't even think of a third, but it would be one of the other GTA games. Parallel Lines was a very competent Driver game, it was a very competent GTA clone (or contender), but for some reason it just never got the respect it deserves. Which is sad, because its leagues above Driv3r and that only gets talked about because of how much of a horrible train wreck it is!

Nyko Wand: Skewed Review

Let me start this review off by stating clearly: I purchased my Nyko Wand USED so this in no way means that all Nyko Wands are this way, perhaps so, perhaps no. This is my blog and these are my opinions, you don't have to agree, but don't be a nuisance if mine differ greatly from your own.

If you've read any of my Project Outlet Wii entries you'll know that the only remote I had for my Wii was a purple Nyko Wand, that I acquired from the outlet store as well. Throughout the whole time I've had my Wii, the Nyko Wand didn't respond the same way I remember the official Wii remotes did. The Nyko Wand chewed through batteries at a fierce pace, it would unsync/desync often in the middle of Animal Crossing and was just generally a poor excuse for a controller.

As I stated above I did purchase it used, discarded if you will, at the Goodwill Outlet store, which leads me to assume it was already in bad shape as someone else had tossed it away with their Goodwill donateables. Or maybe this is a case of a rare factory defect, and the previous owner had already purchased a replacement before donating it. I can only run on assumption, as almost everything else I've found there has been in used shape, but still functioned as if brand new.

Excited for the coming holiday in Animal Crossing: City Folk, I woke up every day to do my 15 minutes of play, just to get things going before heading over to Netflix and watching something to pass the day. December 17th came and all of a sudden my Nyko Wand went crazy. The lights at the bottom started flashing off and on as if it were trying sync but never stopped. I pulled out the batteries and upon placing a new set in, the controller still flashed as if it assumed the new career of being a tiny, purple Christmas tree.

I waited a few minutes and it never stopped, so I did what I normally do... I took it apart to see what may be wrong with it. I checked all the solder joints and made sure everything looked as good as they could be. Knowing absolutely fuck all about a Wii remote I have to say it did no good what so ever. I figured it was just having an issue syncing to the Wii, so I pressed the buttons and waited. Nothing...

After replacing the batteries a handful of times with various other batteries the controller just stopped working completely. Being the only Wii mote I had and it being dead... no more Wii.

For what it did, the Nyko Wand was, at best, OK! Sure all Wii remotes chew through batteries, but the Nyko Wand seemed to have an even greater thirst than I remember the OEM remotes having. The unsyncing issue was a huge mess and interrupted gameplay more times than I care to recount, simply because it could!

It was used, possibly abused by the previous owner, but it gave me well more than the 25 cents I paid for it at the outlet store (I have no clue what that thing weighed, but it couldn't have cost me much more than a quarter). It hated Netflix, it hated my Wii, the thing was just trouble from the start. I wouldn't buy another Nyko Wand unless it was at Goodwill or the outlet store, based on the experience I've had with the purple one, even though this may have been a rare defective unit.

I've since bought an OEM Nintendo Wii mote and the only thing I truly miss about the Nyko Wand is the option to shut the remote off, which is a massive oversight by Nintendo in not giving them that feature. The OEM remote doesn't chug down batteries, it doesn't have to resync every 10 minutes and it generally doesn't throw a fit, like the Nyko Wand did. The only true annoyance is that I have to manually shut it off while watching Netflix or when the remote isn't in use by pulling out a battery.

Throughout the whole time I've collected video games, 3rd party brands are either hit or miss and we base our buying choices upon that. I purchased Pelican brand Xbox controllers years ago that lasted 7 months and since then Pelican has never been a choice in my mind, even if it were in the outlet store. If my OEM Wii remote would shut off when I pressed the power button shortly, I wouldn't miss the Nyko Wand at all.

Meet Bertha!

One of my lesser discussed hobbies is playing guitar, which I used as a gateway to get closer to my brother when I was about 13. Most of my life I can't really remember him being around, as, depending on who you ask, he was either kicked out of the house or decided to leave of his own free will when he was young. I still don't understand it...

He taught me the basics on his gear and as my interest in tone changed I started working to acquire some of my own. I started out with a little Peavey combo my brother gave me, until one day I heard an extremely loud pop inside the amp and the thing just stopped working. When I checked inside one of the chips was smoking. From there I got a small Crate 1x12 combo which had a very nice clean but a pretty cruddy overdrive, but it did the job of making noise and that's all I wanted at that age.

In the following years I had acquired a handful of effects pedals, including a blue Zoom 505 and 510, to flesh out more interesting tonal options from my standard little Crate combo. But after my brother bought himself a Line 6 Flextone 3 he brought his old Crate amp head and his 2x12 speaker cab to stay at my place for a while. The head was fairly decent and had a valve preamp, I think, but as I lived in a duplex I really couldn't push it to test what a partially tube amp sounded like. All I got was a flat tone that wasn't even as good as the solid state overdrive on my Crate combo.

After a few months of hearing what my brother's Flextone 3 could do I did a little research into what other Line 6 products interested me. I knew I wanted a head and I wanted tons of options, essentially I wanted a Zoom 505 inside an amp head. After a few months I saved some money and decided that I wanted a Spider 3 HD 75.

When I walked in to the local Guitar Center I asked for the Spider 3 HD 75, but the associate had to go into the back and grab one fresh out of the box. My brother wheeled over a nice Peavey 5150 4x12 cabinet and after the associate plugged it up... nothing! The Spider was dead and there were absolutely no signs of life no matter what he did. The guy ran back and snagged another, but since the first one was dead on delivery I decided this may not be the amp I truly wanted. After playing the second one for a short while I realized it really had limited options and a boring, buzzy tone. Then my eyes spotted the Flextone HD sitting on the floor.

Using the same Jackson Dinky and the same Peavy 5150 cab, the associate lugged the beast over and gave it the same plug in treatment he did the Spider. After the flipping the switch I could not only feel all 4 Sheffield speakers dancing, I could hear them screaming with delight. The Flextone HD was actually pushing the speakers, instead of making a noise equal to a kid farting into a megaphone. Although computer drive, much the same as the Spider, yet much older, the Flextone HD was still pushing out a thick, full tone.

The cleans were clean, the crunchy was like peanut butter, thick and crunchy, and the high gains were high gain, I was sold! I came in with enough to walk out that day with a brand new Spider 3 HD 75, but instead used that money to put the Flextone HD in layaway. Since the amp had just came in I was told I would have had to wait a few weeks for all the numbers to clear any stolen gear search regardless, so that worked out in my favor. I remember the associate who helped me looked like the voice actor Billy West, who is a bit of a guitard himself. 

I'm not a professional guitar player, in fact I may go months without playing guitar at all and come back with even less talent than I already had! But its a hobby, not a career or something I take too seriously. I don't need professional gear, and many would argue on both sides of the fence that the Flextone HD is professional and that its total junk. I've seen professional acts touring with the Flextone HD, even an ad in Guitar World with a famous guitarist promoting the Flextone line of amps, but at the end of the day I like my Flextone HD and that's all that matters to me! Its just a fun little pass time that I enjoy.

After I got the Flextone home I still had my brother's 2x12 to plug into and jam. It sounded a lot better than the Crate head it was perched atop, but the Celestion G12T-75s weren't as lively as the Sheffields in the 5150 cab. This could be due to many factors, but all I knew was I wasn't happy with the extreme difference, or loss, of tone between the cabinet I demoed and the cabinet I used on a daily basis. After having my Flextone for a while I decided it was time to give it a home on top a nice 4x12 cabinet, one that would do it justice and make it sound as good as it should.

After doing some research into inexpensive 4x12s I had a few choices; first the Behringer Ultrastack BG412S was brought to mind, it was cheap and 400 watts of raw power. Then I thought perhaps I'll go with something more traditional and metal, like a Marshall 1960. They're usually fairly cheap used and depending on where you look they can sometimes be found in near mint condition. The only problem was the Marshall stocked 4 GT12-75s, so would more air give them a better tone? If my best choice had the speakers I didn't really connect with in them, what speaker options did I have? The answer was Celestion Vintage 30s.

I've heard great things about Celestion's Vintage 30 speakers, but what cabinets came stock with them and wasn't something everyone wanted? The obvious answer is the Marshall 1960V cabinets, which were slightly more than I was wanting to spend at that time, but still only a little more expensive than the standard 1960 cabs. Another choice was a Crate Blue Voodoo cabinet, but as I couldn't find any of the older ones in actual blue tolex, I really didn't want to settle on one of those.

The day came to take my Flextone to Guitar Center and give the Marshall 1960 and 1960V cabs a demo side by side. I noticed that with a little more room, and 4 of them, the GT12-75s sounded a little better, but not enough to sway me to buy that cabinet. I plugged into the 1960V cabinet and noticed a lot more activity. Even at low volume the Vintage 30 speakers seemed to crunch up pretty nicely. Then I think my brother wheeled over a black Crate Blue Voodoo for me to try out. The Blue Voodoo wasn't bad, but there is some seriously bad mojo from Crate because even with the same speakers and approximately the same cabinet shape these speakers didn't have the same characteristics as they did coming from the Marshall vintage cabinet.

Sitting far, far in the back was a beast of a cabinet by a company I didn't even consider, because everything they touched seemed to be way too expensive. A straight cabinet design with a slanted baffle, armored on both sides with gig battered diamond plated steel! The tolex ripped here and there, the speaker grill having a few wounds of its own. I was told it had Vintage 30s in it and took the associate's word on it. It was a Mesa Boogie Rectifier Standard 4x12.

After wheeling away the Blue Voodoo and the standard 1960, it was time to demo the 1960V next to the American muscle with the same speakers. After turning on the Flextone the Mesa Boogie roared to life, even though the Flextone HD was emulating the sound of a rectifier amp it still made sense. It was as if they were a perfect match. The tone was dark and foreboding, seemingly dripping with the deepest and darkest evil heavy metal could offer. I walked in expecting to put a $400 cabinet on layaway, but I walked away physically and emotionally touched by the $650 road scarred, gentle giant.

Months came and went as my interest in playing guitar was starting to disappear. The Crate 2x12 just wasn't the same as any of the 4x12s I demoed, obviously, but only one truly left a lasting impression on me. I went to Guitar Center to see if it was still there, it was, and it was still $650. I'm not sure what Guitar Center was thinking as the cabinet was painfully road scarred, the front name plate was missing and everything about it just screamed "I'm not worth what these morons are asking!".

After scraping together some additional money I called up Guitar Center and asked them about that specific cabinet and if it was still in, they said yes. I asked them if they could do slightly less than they were asking, and got the faux run around, when in reality it was pretty apparent they wanted it out of the store, by this time. After a few days of back and forth I went in for a last demo with my Flextone HD and the cabinet.

Everything was still the same face melting, brain shaking insanity as it was the first time. This cabinet was mine! I asked the associate to open the back so I could make sure it was all stock and check the condition of the speakers, they agreed. Once everything checked out, I put my money down and was the proud owner of an insane Mesa Boogie 4x12!

After a quick trip over to accessories to pick up some speaker cables and picks I wheeled it outside and loaded it into the back of the car, sideways! I took the time to test as much gear as I possibly could, found the best choice for my own personal tastes and liking and I still enjoy it to this day. I ended up buying a name plate for the front from Mesa, I think it makes it look better. Blasphemy to put a Line 6 on a Mesa Boogie cabinet? I see more blasphemy in today's music scene than I do in my half stack!