Thursday, March 29, 2012

Google launches monthly user-activity feature

(CNN) -- Weeks after a policy change that sparked privacy concerns, Google has rolled out a new feature that will give users a monthly update to help them keep track of their activity across Google's multiple sites and tools.

It's called Account Activity, and users can receive it via e-mail with a link to a password-protected personal page. The feature was announced Wednesday in a post on Google's official blog.

"Every day, we aim to make technology so simple and intuitive that you stop thinking about it -- we want Google to work so well it just blends into your life," Andreas Tuerk, a product manager for Google, wrote in the post. "But sometimes it's helpful to step back and take stock of what you're doing online."

The report is not automatic, meaning users will have to sign up to receive it.

Based on a sample report, information such as your number of Google searches, your most popular search topics and the number of e-mails sent and received will be included.

It also will show locations where your account was used and the devices that were used to sign into it, which Tuerk called an extra layer of security.

"Knowing more about your own account activity also can help you take steps to protect your Google Account," he wrote. "For example, if you notice sign-ins from countries where you haven't been or devices you've never owned, you can change your password immediately and sign up for the extra level of security provided by two-step verification."

On March 1, Google instigated a new privacy policy in which it creates a single profile of each user based on their activity across all of its many products -- from search to Gmail to mobile devices that run on Google's Android operating system.

Privacy advocates, including some in Congress, fear that puts too much personal information in the company's hands. But Google said it wouldn't be collecting any new information -- just collating what data it already had in a way that would be more clear and help create new products and features for its users.

Wednesday's blog post from Google made no mention of the new privacy policy. But many tech observers were quick to make the connection, saying it looks like a way to make users more comfortable.

"If you're confused about what Google does and doesn't know about your online activity, take heart: Google is letting you in on the secret," Network World writer Brad Reed wrote.

Others saw potential for another goal behind the rollout -- reminding folks how ubiquitous the Web giant has become online.

"While the report is something of a data nerds' dream, its timely arrival hints at another purpose," wrote Sarah Perez of TechCrunch. "The new Account Activity report offers a way for users to see exactly what they're doing on Google, and how much of their life involves the use of Google's products."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

'Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City' a disappointing chapter

(CNN) -- Over the course of more than 15 years, "Resident Evil" has established a rich history as one of the video game world's most storied franchises.

Sadly, "Resident Evil: Raccoon City" fails to add to that rich history, serving up ordinary squad-based game play and limited threats from the franchise's iconic zombies.

The latest venture into the zombie-filled world by Capcom is supposed to take place in time between the last two games in the series, "Resident Evil 2" and "Resident Evil: Nemesis."

This time, you play as a member of the Wolfpack squad for the always dubious Umbrella Corporation. You're tasked with retrieving a virus that turns people into the undead creatures before the U.S. military can get it.

Raccoon City is the location where the zombie phenomena first occurred and has been the setting in many of the "Resident Evil" games.

Working for the bad guys in this title was supposed to be a refreshing change from others in the series. And it might have worked, if the largely first-person shooter game didn't feel more like a poorly lit "Call of Duty" than what we've come to expect from the "Resident Evil" franchise.

Each member of your squad specializes in a different field (stealth, explosives, recon, etc.), and you play as one of four soldiers fighting their way through Raccoon City.

Either your friends can fill in the roles of the other three squad members or the game will control the others. You get to choose your special abilities and weapons at the beginning of each mission, but these are all locked down once the game starts.

The weapons are pretty typical for a first-person shooter, and your character can carry one sidearm and one long-barreled weapon. Ammo and other weapons are sprinkled throughout the battleground and very rarely will you find yourself without bullets.

There are a couple of high-powered, single-use weapons (grenade launchers, flamethrower) that can't be replenished with additional ammo. If you use one of these, make sure you can pick up another weapon as soon as you run out of fuel or grenades.

One of the most frustrating aspects of combat is what I call "magnetic cover."

If you're trying to use cover from your enemies while you're moving, you end up essentially plastered to a wall if you get even close to it. Forget about moving stealthily from one covered spot to another. If you want to progress, you have to stand up, exposing yourself to enemy fire, then move to the next safe spot.

The artificial intelligence that runs the game is fair, but its decisions are sometimes hard to understand. Your squadmates will rush into a room with guns blazing at times when the team could have easily sneaked past. At other times, they will arbitrarily fling themselves to the ground for no apparent reason.

At least they are good in a fight and and very effective at taking the heat off your character. Be sure to have a medic in your squad to help heal injured party members.

Most of the opponents are not zombies. You'll spend a lot of time battling the U.S. military in firefights, not that the soldiers you face seem much smarter than the undead.

Character models for the soldiers and the zombies are reused often. You'll see the same zombie police officer, zombie large guy and zombie girl in short-shorts over and over again.

You will kill a lot of living and nonliving enemies in this game. The experience points you gain can be used at the beginning of each mission to upgrade weapons or personal abilities. But, even if you don't use any upgrades at all, you will still be able to succeed.

The passive abilities that help you find items and enemies on your mini-map are probably the most useful. None of the weapon upgrades felt like they were necessary.

"Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City" ultimately comes off as a mundane, average shooter that abandons its heritage in the zombie/horror genre.

There aren't enough zombies and too many living-breathing enemies to truly feel like a worthy outing for this franchise.

The ending flies in the face of "Resident Evil's" history and leaves more questions unanswered. It feels half-done with no real finale.

Obviously, the ending leaves the door open for another shooter in this series. Unfortunately, it doesn't really deserve one.