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In one of those oh-so-rare twists of fate, the PlayStation 3 version of F.E.A.R. will be arriving sooner in Europe than in North America (four days sooner, to be more precise). And to spice up their launch press releases, Sierra / Vivendi also issued an interview internally conducted with senior producer Rob Loftus, detailing the specific changes they have in store for PS3 gamers. But before we get there, here are the dates: in the UK, the PS3 edition of F.E.A.R. will be released on April 20, and in North America on April 24.

The main highlights in this version, ported by Day 1 Studios instead of Monolith, is the addition of a new arcade-style shootout mode, called Instant Action, as well as a new level and a weapon exclusive to the PS3. A brief feature list would look something along these lines:

- Stunning visual effects for an intense "action movie" experience.

- Unpredictable encounters with combat adaptable A.I.

- Multiplayer support for up to 16 players.

- Instant Action Mode - New arcade style mode filled with close quarter's battles tracking player progress via leader boards for the PlayStation Network for the PlayStation 3 computer entertainment system.

- Exclusive PS3 level and weapon giving the gamer a unique experience solely for PS3 owners.

For more details, you can read the entire interview here on Playfuls. Rob Loftus says that the plotline will not be changed, but that the bonus mission will expand it a bit, by revealing what happened to the SFOD squad that the F.E.A.R. team is trying to locate in the original storyline. But other than this, it looks like a rather straight port of the PC / Xbox 360 version. Not even the SixAxis' tilt function is supported in the PS3 version, although it could have proved useful for leaning around corners and such.

The rest, you can read for yourself in the Q&A. Just don't expect too much.

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Take-Two's Boss Is Down, Long Live Take-Two's Boss // UPDATE

While most people were busy drooling over the first Grand Theft Auto IV trailer last night, the series' publisher Take-Two was going through some changes... Some BIG changes! For several weeks now, it has been known that a powerful group of shareholders were planning to take down the company's current former CEO, Paul Eibeler, along with most of its board of directors. The "coup" was planned to take place at the annual stockholders' meeting on March 23, however Take-Two made a last desperate attempt to come up with an alternate solution (failing miserably), and postponed it to March 29. Well, March 29 is now behind us, and so is the stockholders' meeting. And, as expected, the company's now-former top management team.

I was initially bored to death while listening to the meeting's webcast, during which the stockholders submitted their votes for the new board of directors. Unfortunately the webcast ended soon afterwards, without announcing the results. But now we finally have them.

So ladies and gentlemen, would you please welcome Take-Two Interactive Software's new chairman... mr. Strauss Zelnick! He is also the founding partner of ZelnickMedia, and has previously led the successful execution of several operational turnarounds, including Columbia Music Entertainment of Japan and Time-Life. Prior to founding ZelnickMedia in 2001, Zelnick was president and CEO of BMG Entertainment, president and CEO of Crystal Dynamics, and president and CEO of 20th Century Fox. That's right, this guy's rock solid!

In addition to Strauss Zelnick, the new Take-Two board now includes Ben Feder, Jon J. Moses, Michael Dornemann, Michael James Sheresky and John Levy, as well as Grover C. Brown, who was elected at another meeting last night, immediately after the stockholders' get-together. Other proposals were also put to vote, but we'll end here, with Zelnick's first public statement as the new boss of Take-Two:

"Take-Two has exceptional brands and creative resources, and we are thrilled to be able to work with the many talented people within the company. The new Board plans to put in place strategies designed to revitalize Take-Two, focus on supporting and enhancing its creative output, improve its margins and ensure that the 2007 release pipeline meets expectations. We are here to maximize the value of Take-Two for shareholders, for game consumers, and for the Company's employees."

UPDATE: Forbes has word that in addition to the changes above, the former CEO, Paul Eibeler was replaced by Ben Feder, a partner at ZelnickMedia (since Zelnick himself is "only" the chairman).

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You can imagine the madness that ensued last night after Rockstar premiered the first Grand Theft Auto IV trailer. The game's official page came crashing down in no time, but luckly in a matter of minutes a dozen other websites were already mirroring the trailer. Most were at poor quality and/or with logos on them, but thanks to the modern wonder of technology called BitTorrent, we managed to get a hold of the original 720p full-res version. So you can now download the GTA IV trailer locally - or, should our streaming / download servers have a tragic fate of their own, the official website seems to be back online... for now.

As you can (hopefully) see from the trailer, Rockstar is taking us back to Liberty City to New York, in a city modeled with an impressive amount of detail, and more full of life than ever. The day-night cycle has also undergone a major enhancement in this next-gen rendition, with shadows and rays of light moving along with the sun. The cars and victims pedestrians have a decent amount of detail, and if all the footage shown is in-game stuff, it's looking good!

The trailer also introduces what could be the main character in Grand Theft Auto IV - a nasty looking guy with a Russian accent, who deals with people. Literally.

"Life is complicated. I killed people, smuggled people, sold people. Perhaps here, things will be different."

I think it's safe to assume that he doesn't intend to "help people" from now on, not unless he'll mostly be helping himself in doing so. Which is what every GTA game is about, after all. That, of course, and grand thefting autos. And taking prostitues for a ride (in the backseat). And pretty much about every kind of imaginable felony. Including - but not limited to - pissing off Jack Thompson. So, Jack, how do you like the trailer so far?

Actually Jack's busy celebrating last night's take-down at Take-Two...

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Battlestations: Midway 'Iowa Mission Pack' Live, Sequel Coming

Like games and patches, even mission packs get delayed nowdays. Eidos was supposed to release this "Iowa Mission Pack" for Battlestations: Midway almost a month ago, but alas, those cursed "technical issues" prevented them from pleasing their (Xbox 360) fans in due time. This week, however, those who kept on waiting found out that it was worth it, because the pack is now available on Xbox Live cheaper than previously announced, at just 400 Microsoft Points ($5), instead of 600. And with all its content intact.

The Iowa Mission Pack contains a new multiplayer map ("The Battle of the Sibuyan") and a new single-player mission ("The Raid on Truk"), along with five new vehicles: P-38 Lightning, Nakijima J1N1 Gekko, USS Iowa (BB-61), IJN Shimakaze, and the Japanese Type A mini-sub. A brief description for each of them can be found on Pro-G, and here's a bit about the two new maps from their report:

"The Battle of the Sibuyan Sea is a new multiplayer experience which sees players commanding either the US Fleet featuring the USS Iowa and USS Enterprise or Japan's finest fleet, Kurita, featuring the super battleships Yamato and the ill-fated Musashi.

The Raid on Truk is a new single-player battle based on Operation Hailstone, a massive naval air and surface attack launched by the United States Navy against the Japanese naval and air base at Truk. Players command the US Fleet in a four phase battle starting with a P-38 air strike and leading to the command of the USS Enterprise and her screening force."

For some reason, *cough*, the Iowa pack is not available in Japan. Maybe they'll at least get the multiplayer map, if the single-player mission doesn't bode well with their patriotism.

Most importantly, though, the latest financial communique issued by Eidos / SCi Games reveals plans for a Battlestations: Midway sequel, announcing that they "are continuing to build this franchise and have a sequel in development". Oh, and Just Cause 2 was also re-confirmed, if there was still any doubt in your mind.

And finally, speaking of extra content, the first Bullet Witch downloadable content is now up for the taking on Xbox Live Marketplace:

"The first set of new downloadable content includes a free brand new White Witch costume for the game's stunning heroine Alicia and a Bullet Witch Xbox 360 Theme pack. In addition, for 20 points each, players can download one brand new mission "Dynamite Beauty" and two enhanced versions of the "Clad in Streaming Black" mission featuring "Great Spells" unlocked and a heightened level of difficulty respectively."

... more new missions and free costumes (Mummy, Schoolgirl, Secretary and Pixie) to follow over the coming weeks.

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This may not sound like much after Microsoft's confirmation of the new Xbox 360 Elite model with a 120 GB hard drive yesterday, but it looks like Sony also had a similar initiative recently. And they could soon reveal a third PlayStation 3 model, with extended storage capacity - albeit not as extended as we would have expected. Even though Ken Kutaragi used to be in favor of equipping a new PS3 model with a massive 250GB HDD, we now have reason to believe that Sony will settle for a pointlessly small 80GB hard drive instead. That's not even a lousy linear progression (20-60-100 GB), let alone an exponential one!

This news emerged late last night, after Kotaku reported about a request filed by Sony with the US Federal Communications Commission on March 2, for a "class II permissive change" (whatever that is) to their PlayStation 3 console. The modification involves a different implementation of the Bluetooth module, with a "reverse F antenna" (id.), and most importantly, a different hard drive. Should this become a new PS3 SKU, the current models (CECHA01 with 60GB, and CECHB01 with 20GB), would be joined by a third one (CECHE01), with an 80GB HDD.

Oddly enough, Sony's filing doesn't mention any other major changes - no 65nm Cell chip, for instance. So right now it's hard to believe that they will introduce a new PS3 model with nothing but a slightly larger HDD, when it's so easy to manually replace the 20GB / 60GB one with whatever your heart desires (and your pocket affords).

Today, Kotaku also got a response from Sony to their initial story, but they neither deny nor confirm the new PS3 model. Why are we not surprised?

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Ninja Gaiden PS3 Demo In April, New DS Game Revealed

Contrary to the current "trend" of PlayStation titles (also) moving to the Xbox 360, there's one franchise that's actually going the other way around: Ninja Gaiden - from being an Xbox exclusive in recent years, to leaving behind Microsoft consoles altogether. As of this week, we know for sure there are at least two such titles in the making at Team Ninja: the previously known Ninja Gaiden Sigma for the PlayStation 3, and the freshly confirmed Ninja Gaiden Dragon Sword for the Nintendo DS.

Truth be told, the PS3 Ninja Gaiden is more of a remake, really, as it's based on the latest Xbox iteration, but with extra moves and weapons for the game's stealthy hero, Ryu Hayabusa. Nevertheless, there's an understandably large amount of excitement surrounding its nearing release (in June 2007), and fans of the series are sure to get even more excited about the game's upcoming demo version. As announced in the latest issue of Japanese magazine Famitsu Weekly (via IGN), a Ninja Gaiden Sigma demo should be available for download on the PlayStation Network as soon as April 27. And even though the report only deals with the Japanese version of the demo, it's very likely that Tecmo will release it in the West as well. As for its content, IGN sums it up like this:

"The demo will include one specially created chapter that won't be in the final version and will allow players to use a large number of weapons from the start."

Now for that Ninja Gaiden DS... as in Dragon Sword. Once again, the news originates from Famitsu, and was spotted by NeoGAF's ever vigilant watchers. There is also has a blurry scan from the magazine, which seems to indicate that the (3D action) game will play with the Nintendo DS oriented sideways (like a book, a la Brain Age), and will be fully controlled with the stylus. Good or bad, you decide. It's all we got for now, anyway.

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New Lord of the Rings Game Coming In 2008 // UPDATE

Even though we never actually saw any in-game footage or screens from The Lord of the Rings: The White Council, we were disappointed to learn at the beginning of this year that EA's Tolkian RPG had reportedly been cancelled. But even if Electronic Arts gave up on "Project Gray Company", apparently due to management issues and unacceptably slow development, they remain firmly commited to milking every last penny out of the LotR franchise. And to prove it, they have renewed their license that will allow them to release games set within the literary world of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, through 2008.

The deal was reported today by Gamasutra, who still seem to believe that The White Council will be released in November 2007 on the PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Do they know something we don't? Or maybe, for once, it's the other way around...

Well anyway, White Council or no White Council, Electronic Arts is already working on a new Lord of the Rings game with New Line Cinema and Tolkien Enterprises, which they plan to release in 2008. They wouldn't say what kind of game it will be, nor reveal any kind of details about it, so we can only guess which of the previously tackled genres they chose for this new LotR game. My guess is it will be anything but a role-playing game - since that last one didn't go too well, apparently.

We sure wouldn't want to leave you high and dry like this, so for all of you out there looking forward to Turbine's LotR Online: Shadows of Angmar, today they released a new, cinematic trailer for their MMORPG (ed. - if the file isn't ready yet locally, try the third mirror; or the official website).

UPDATE: FiringSquad insisted to confirm with an EA rep that LotR: The White Council is indeed "on hold".

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Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword, Second Expansion Incoming

Another year, time for another Civilization! After the original Civilization IV came out in 2005 and the Warlords expansion followed in 2006, this year 2K Games and Firaxis are preparing a second expansion pack, announced today for release in July. 2K claims that Beyond the Sword will mark "the largest amount of expansion content in the history of the Civilization franchise", by delivering 12 new scenarios, 10 new civilizations, 16 new leaders, 5 new wonders, and a variety of new units that will offer even more fun and exciting ways for players to expand their civilization's power as they strive for world domination.

Along with the team at Firaxis, "select members" of the Civ Fan Community will also leave their mark on the new scenarios included in Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword. The ten new civs will include Portugal, Babylon and Netherlands, leaving the other seven hidden behind the curtains for now. The five new wonders will be the Statue of Zeus, Cristo Redentor, Shwedagon Paya, the Mausoleum of Maussollos, and the Moai Statues.

A completely new gameplay feature announced for this add-on are the Corporations. Players will be able to create corporations and spread them throughout the world, and each of them will provide benefits in exchange for certain resources. As for other gameplay changes, the United Nations and Espionage features will be made available much earlier in the game; there will be new events (such as natural disasters, pleas for help, or demands from their citizens); an expanded Space Victory requiring more strategic planning and tactical decision making; and something called "Advanced Starts", described below:

"A major fan request, this new feature will enable players to "buy" components of a custom-tailored empire and begin play in the later part of the game, allowing them to experience many of the new features of the expansion pack in a shorter amount of time."

Last, but not least, the AI has received many enhancements, making it tougher to beat on the higher difficulty levels. The ways in which the AI will attempt to achieve victory have also been expanded. For the full - and better organized - list of features, check our Civilization IV: Beyond the Sword gamespace, and don't forget to drop by our newly opened gallery as well, for some artworks.

So... if the second Civ IV expansion is coming in July 2007, odds are 2008 will indeed bring a full-grown Civilization V sequel, as speculated earlier this month. Goodie.

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Mario & Sonic Meet For The First Time, On The Wii And DS

Everyone's favorite Italian plumber, Mario, is pretty used to playing alongside all sorts of characters from Nintendo's games by now. But one famous rival that Mario has yet to challege directly is Sega's speeding hedgehog, Sonic. These two have been running and jumping around since... like... ever, and as their tutors inform us today, they will soon be running and jumping in the same game, for the first time. The name of the game is Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, and as you might imagine, it will take advantage of the nearing Beijing 2008 Olympic Games' popularity to promote an already resounding cast of virtual characters. And vice-versa. Joining Mario and Sonic will be their good old friends Luigi and Knuckles, as well as Yoshi, Tails, and the list can go on.

"In Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, players will compete in events that take place in environments based on the official venues of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Using a supporting cast of characters from the amazing worlds of both Mario and Sonic, gamers will be able to compete as or against a range of lovable personalities including Mario, Sonic, Luigi, Knuckles, Yoshi, Tails and more. Innovative usage of the Wii and DS control systems to maneuver a favorite character will allow players to race the likes of Mario and Sonic down the 100m track, engage in exhilarating rallies in table tennis and churn water in a swimming heat, all while competing for the much sought after gold medal."

Nintendo's legendary Shigeru Miyamoto also dropped a word in the announcement, reigniting the age-old duel between Mario and Sonic:

"Mario and Sonic have been respectful rivals since the early days of video games", said Shigeru Miyamoto. "In fact, for a long time they have been discussing the possibility of one day competing against each other. Now that they have been given the perfect opportunity to meet at the Olympic Games, we may finally learn who is actually faster, Mario or Sonic?"

If it comes down to speed, I think we can all agree that Sonic is the fastest. But there'll be plenty more Olypmpic disciplines to compete in, so ol' Mario still has a shot at the gold medal (he's probably sick of lead by now).

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games will be published by Sega in Europe and North America, and by Nintendo in Japan, and is licensed through a worldwide partnership with International Sports Multimedia (ISM) - the exclusive interactive entertainment software licensee of the International Olympic Committee. The game is developed for the Nintendo Wii and DS platforms, and the release date is currently set for Holiday 2007.

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Wii Browser In Pictures And Clips, Coming In April

Sony aren't the only ones deserving our anger these days, as you've probably heard about Microsoft's mishaps with the hijacked Xbox Live accounts due to their inapt customer service. And quite frankly, we still can't get over the fact that Nintendo have yet to launch the Internet Channel / browser for their Wii console. The wait is almost over, however, because a few days ago Nintendo and Opera, the browser's maker, have issued a press release confirming - or rather delaying (yet again) - the launch of the Wii Internet Channel in April 2007 (as in the final version, since the trial has been out for a while).

The Wii Opera browser was last supposed to be inaugurated in late March, after it failed to be readied in time for the console's launch late last year. Previously, the two companies also announced that the Internet Channel would be made available free of charge until June or July 2007, but we'd sure like to see that offer extended in light of all these delays.

In the meantime, you can kill some time by reading a lengthy Internet Channel preview published this week on Nintendo's Wii website, in which several developers share their thoughts along with some of the browser's features - also depicted in some screenshots and clips. The mini-trailers show the zoom function, scrolling through a page, and the toolbar displayed at the bottom of the screen, which will be equipped with an auto-hide feature.

Included in the full version of the Wii browser will also be a quick search function, and the ability to display cursors of multiple Wiiotes at the same time. But don't worry, only the primary controller can actually do the browsing, while the others just point at things on the page.

The examples and media shown by the devs in this preview relate mostly to the browser's Japanese version, but we can expect the English one to look pretty much the same. Minus the kana and kanji.

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