Xbox 360 Reviews O-Q

Onechanbara: Bikini Samurai Squad
Grade: C-
Publisher: D3 Publisher (2009)
Reviewed: 2009/8/26
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, language, sexual themes)

screenshotIf slashing up zombies with bikini-clad hotties is wrong, then I don't want to be right. Bikini Samurai Squad has a wonderfully absurd premise, but the same low budget quality that makes it appealing is also its downfall. The main character is a chick decked out in some cowboy stripper garb (complete with stockings and heels), and her younger sister dons a schoolgirl outfit.

The opening cinematic features a very provocative shower scene - something you won't be seeing in the Wii version! Together these girls kick zombie ass all over town with the help of their swords and martial arts abilities. As zombies emerge from the concrete, you'll employ fierce button combinations to slice them up into tasty morsels. A radar display shows where they are congregating, and that's helpful because the camera is always pulled very close.

The gore meter is through the roof, and it's especially satisfying to plow into a gang and watch the blood wash over the screen. Occasionally you'll transform into a marauding zombie yourself, making the action even more over-the-top (if that's at all possible).

The stages include a graveyard, hospital, and parking garage. There's not much to see, and little of the environment is destructible. You'll run up against a lot of arbitrary barriers, causing the message "you can't go here right now" to display. What is this, 1997? The fighting action is mindless fun, but it is certainly monotonous. Sometimes zombies will continuously regenerate in an area, causing you to ask, "when is this going to end?" The bosses include a pair of hideous "poop" monsters - not to be confused with attractive poop monsters. While hacking up the beasts, the game's clipping problems are on full display as sloppy polygons appear and disappear all over the place.

Onechanbara's controls aren't very intuitive, but I do prefer this game's button-tapping over wagging the controller in the Wii version. Unlockables include alternate outfits and a police chick armed with an Uzi and shotgun. I like the premise, but it's hard to recommend something as monotonous as Onechanabara. It takes a certain breed of gamer to appreciate a quirky title like this. You know who you are. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Orange Box, The
Grade: C+
Publisher: Valve (2007)
Reviewed: 2009/4/26
Rating: Mature (blood and gore, language, violence)

screenshotThis popular compilation includes three complete first-person shooter games: Half Life 2 (and its two sequels), Portal, and Team Fortress 2. Half-Life 2 (HL2) was originally released for the PC in 2004, and with its two expansion packs, there's a metric ton of first-person shooting action here. You play the role of scientist Gordan Freeman on the run from the law in a totalitarian society. As you traverse sewers and canals the game plays out like an action movie with pursuing helicopters, shoot-outs with police, and a generous helping of explosions.

HL2's graphics have held up well. The textured walls look properly weathered and the water effects still look amazing. The sci-fi storyline is intriguing. Most adventures make heavy use of contrived cut-scenes, but HL2 conveys its narrative through in-game conversations, videos, and radio reports.

The game does show its age when you get stuck on scenery or semi-transparent walls restrict your movement. Turrets let you mow down groups of baddies and you have to love those strategically-place red barrels. There's some tricky platform jumping (never fun in a FPS) and some absolutely heinous swimming areas. The sewers are loaded with irritating creatures that hang on the ceilings and lift you up with their tongues.

Half-Life's audio makes heavy use of surround sound, but it can be annoying when you turn away from a person and their voice becomes muffled. The soundtrack features hypnotic futuristic beats that nicely fit the relentless pacing of the game. Also included on the disk is the on-line-only Team Fortress 2. My 360 isn't on-line, but my friends tell me this is a fun capture-the-flag shooter. Too bad they didn't include a split-screen mode!

Last but not least, there's an interesting puzzle game called Portal, which makes heavy use of physics as you attempt to escape each room in a lab facility. I had a hard time wrapping my brain around this one, but I can't deny that it's brilliant. The female robotic voice that guides you has a deadpan sense of humor that's hilarious. "Touching the floor in this room will result in an unsatisfactory mark on your official testing record. Followed by death."

As much as I appreciate the quality of these titles, I could never play Orange Box for extended periods without feeling nauseous. I can't explain why - it must be the engine. Ultimately I can only grade this based on my personal experiences, but FPS lovers should probably bump the grade up by one letter. The ending to Portal in and of itself is probably enough to justify this package. © Copyright 2009 The Video Game Critic.

1 player 

Otomedius Excellent
Grade: C+
Publisher: Konami (2011)
Reviewed: 2012/1/28
Rating: Teen (mild fantasy violence, suggestive themes, partial nudity)

screenshotClassic shooter fans (like me) should find this 2D shooter with 3D graphics very appealing. Otomedius Excellent's intro features an extremely catchy song playing over scenes of anime chicks assuming suggestive poses. (Scott's take: "I'm glad they didn't objectify women in this game! I was really concerned about that!")

The game itself is a high-definition update of the classic side-scrolling shooter Gradius (NES, 1986). Instead of a space ship you control a chick on a glider with her legs dangling off of the sides. She's a big target, so it's good that the collision detection is so forgiving. Destroying red enemies release pods which you "trade in" to augment and upgrade your weapons.

You'd expect the modern graphics to enhance the action, but that's not necessarily the case. The sparkling city in the first stage is gorgeous, reminding me of the one in Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast, 1999). The eye candy can be blinding however with bright scenery and layered backdrops that make it hard to see missiles or small enemies. The game exhibits an alarming amount of slow-down which I wouldn't expect to see on the 360. My friend Chris suggested it may have been intentional, but I'm not convinced.

I see many signs that this was a lazy effort. The graphics are about Dreamcast quality, and the advanced stages are very dull. Some of the robotic bosses are extremely unimaginative, and the explosion effects are lame. A story mode lets you play through the game using unlimited continues, and a score attack lets you play for score.

The highlight is probably the three-player mode that lets you team up with friends. I was very troubled by the fact that you can't record local high scores, especially when you consider that's the whole point of the game. I enjoyed the old-school gameplay of Otomedius Excellent, but the game fails to live up to its name. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 3 players 

Perfect Dark Zero
Grade: C
Publisher: Microsoft (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/7/26
Rating: Mature (blood, language, violence)


screenshotIn this disappointing sequel to the popular N64 first-person shooter, you assume the role of special agent Joanne Dark. Not only does this shapely redhead look damn good, but she also specializes in high-tech firearms. Perfect Dark Zero's single-player missions emphasize stealth, but I managed to do fine despite blowing my cover again and again.

One cool feature is your ability to "take cover" behind obstacles, only exposing yourself when you return fire. Most weapons have some kind of zoom function, so it's usually a good idea to weed out foes from a distance. Enemy soldiers tend to wear body armor, and it's satisfying to blast their vests to pieces. It's far more efficient to aim for the head however.

Although the game purports to have an "auto-aim" function, I generally found it difficult to get a bead on my targets. The single-player missions feature some interesting locations including a submerged laboratory and a high-tech club overlooked by towering, sculpted skyscrapers. Unfortunately, the missions themselves are a mess, and if not for white arrows directing me every which way, I'd never know where the heck I was supposed to go.

These missions can also be played cooperatively with a friend, but that's even more confusing. Perfect Dark Zero fares far better with regards to multiplayer action. In addition to playing on-line, you can challenge your friends to a spirited four-player split screen contest. Better yet, you can toss up to 16 (!) CPU-controlled "bots" into the mix. Even playing solo against the bots can be fun, although they tend to bunch up in certain areas. The graphics and audio are fair but not exceptional. Perfect Dark Zero is not a must-have game for 360 owners, but if you're in the mood to bust some caps, it serves its purpose. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Pinball Hall of Fame: The Williams Collection
Grade: B+
Publisher: Crave (2009)
Reviewed: 2010/3/27
Rating: Everyone


screenshotI loved the Wii version of Pinball Hall of Fame, and was expecting this 360 edition to offer a dramatic visual boost. That wasn't my experience however. Yes, the graphics are a little sharper, allowing you to better discern certain targets when the camera zooms in. The thing is, you spend 95% of the game viewing the action from the far end of the table, so the fine details are lost. I really wish there was a mechanism to freely explore each table, because I'm always fascinated by the artwork.

The 360 controls aren't as tight as the Wii. The flippers are controlled with the triggers, but they have too much "give" to feel responsive. In addition, jostling the table by moving the left joystick is less intuitive than shaking the controller.

Pinball Hall of Fame does have a definite edge when it comes to table selection, as it offers three additional tables from the late 90's. Medieval Madness is one of the most sought-after pinball tables by collectors, featuring a wicked sense of humor and some hilarious animations. Arabian Nights boasts exotic music and transparent ramps that make the ball look like it's floating. No Good Gophers is less compelling, but at least it offers a family-friendly theme. Other tables include Gorgar, Black Knight, Space Shuttle, Funhouse, Sorcerer, Taxi, Firepower, Jive Time, and Pinbot.

Each of these has been reproduced in exquisite detail, and the physics is good, if not a bit floaty. The machines are presented in a virtual arcade environment that feels like something out of the 1980's. In addition to recording high scores, each game is fully configurable and offers a series of challenges. Pinball Hall of Fame is an excellent value. This is one of those disks that you toss in for a quick game, and end up playing for three hours. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Grade: C+
Publisher: Disney (2007)
Reviewed: 2007/9/18
Rating: Teen (use of alcohol, violence)

screenshotMost games based on the Pirates franchise have been complete duds, so I was pleasantly surprised with the rich graphics, intuitive controls, and varied gameplay of At World's End. The awe-inspiring tutorial level is set on a stormy night in the towering sea fortress seen at the beginning of the second movie. You'll creep along soaring cliffs in the pouring rain, revealing some absolutely breathtaking views. Subsequent stages are less spectacular but still impressive, with exotic locations including the town of Tortuga, Port Royal, and the Davy Jone's haunted ship.

Enemy pirates are rendered so meticulously that you can actually see the hair on their backs! This attention to detail extends to the fantastic water effects and tiny flies buzzing around lanterns. When the scenery is this rich, exploring your surroundings and hunting for items is a lot of fun. Villages are bustling with activity, but if you look closely you'll see townsfolk disappear as they approach doors - a bit of lazy programming there.

You'll control a number of characters on your quest including Jack Sparrow, William Turner, and Elizabeth Swan. Not only are these dead-ringers for the real actors, but they mirror their subtle mannerisms as well. Intuitive controls make it easy to jump, climb, and battle multiple foes at a time. Spicing up the action are advanced techniques that let you toss buccaneers off platforms, roll exploding barrels, and perform well-timed counter attacks.

At World's End is gangbusters for its first few stages, but then I hit a few bumps in the road. The occasional one-on-one swordfights slow the pace considerably and control poorly. Several stages require you to control two characters by switching between them on the fly, and this is a colossal pain in the ass. You'll be having a great time swashbuckling as Jack Sparrow, only to be informed that your mission failed because Will Turner (who you forgot about) just got his ass kicked in another part of the tavern!

Other stages feature annoying bad guys that continuously respawn until you defeat one specific (and often elusive) foe. Flaws like that tempered my enthusiasm for World's End, but the game does do a lot of things right. The stages are short, and your progress is saved automatically and frequently. Most enemies don't require an inordinate number of hits to defeat.

The game features its own original storyline, although it does borrow elements from the films. Its rousing musical score is very cinematic, and the surround-sound effects are sensational. Should you get lost or confused, you can just press the select button to view your objectives or review the controls. At World's End falters at times, but it's still a respectable effort that stays true to the movies it's based upon. © Copyright 2007 The Video Game Critic.

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1 player 

Plants Vs. Zombies
Grade: A
Publisher: Popcap (2010)
Reviewed: 2010/10/30
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI was skeptical about this previously-only-available-via-download title, but Plants Vs. Zombies eventually got the best of me. This game makes the hours just melt away. It's a comical, horror-tinged, real-time strategy (RTS) game played on a single screen depicting your backyard. Zombies approach slowly from the right, and your goal is to prevent them from reaching your house. Prior to each wave you select several carnivorous plants, mines, blockades, and special items to use.

Once the action begins, you'll strategically place these items to fire pellets at the zombies, slow their progression, swallow them whole, or just blow them up. Your "currency" for planting items is sunlight, generated by sunflowers. You'll generally want to plant these early and often along the far left. Plants Vs. Zombies has a Warcraft vibe as you skillfully manage resources and multitask for maximum destruction.

What sets this apart from other RTS titles is its simplicity and short stages. It's instantly gratifying yet endlessly playable. The adventure mode introduces one item at a time, and as your selection grows new strategies emerge. The cartoonish zombie horde features colorful characters including pole-vaulters, football players, and disco dancers. Things begin slowly but it doesn't take long for the fun to kick into overdrive.

It's satisfying to watch your minions decimate the undead mob. A row of lawnmowers serves as your last line of defense, activating automatically when touched by a zombie. Plants Vs. Zombies isn't particularly hard, but it's just challenging enough to keep stringing you along. The animations are fun to watch and the moaning voices ("Braaaains...") are just hilarious.

So how do you make a superb game like this even better? You add more ways to play, silly rabbit! Extra modes include co-op, survival, puzzle, bonus games, and even a versus mode that lets a friend control the zombies! Now how much would you pay? But wait - you also get two complete puzzle games as a bonus.

Peggle is a cross between pinball and Pachinko from the Price is Right. You shoot a fixed number of balls at colored pegs, and every peg hit disappears. There's a lot of bouncing around, and some of the most amazing shots are totally unintentional. It's crazy addictive and even my wife was hooked. The second puzzle game is a marble shooter called Zuma. While less compelling than Peggle, it's still fun and boasts rich sound effects and an amazing African soundtrack.

All three games save your progress, but there are no local leaderboards. Even so, this is a terrific value considering how these games warp the time continuum and make crack look like a mildly addictive drug. This package sells for under $20, so run out and buy it immediately. © Copyright 2010 The Video Game Critic.

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1 or 2 players 

Pocket Bike Racer
Grade: D-
Publisher: King Games (2006)
Reviewed: 2006/12/22
Rating: Everyone

screenshotYeah, I know, you can't expect much from a $3.99 game you get at Burger King. Pocket Bike Racer plays like a third-rate Mario Kart knock-off, which of course, it is. The courses are set in everyday places like a suburban neighborhood, a construction site, a Burger King parking lot, and a farm where huge Whoppers grow from out of the ground. As you cruise around the lengthy courses, you can power-slide around corners, turbo-boost through straight-aways, and unleash weapons on opponents.

The characters are entertaining enough, including a bulky hamburger called Whopper Jr., a "subservient chicken", a hot babe named Brooke Burke, and the King himself. There's really nothing wrong with the graphics. The King's flapping cape looks nice, and the puddles in the parking lot look remarkably realistic.

The gameplay is the problem. Memorizing the tracks is everything in this game, and novice players will find themselves veering off the course at every turn. The turbo is hard to control, and much like the humorous commercials, King often finds himself plowing into walls. During one race, a friend advised me to check out Brooke Burke's ass, causing me to crash directly into a wall and become permanently stuck. Looking back, it wasn't a bad tactic.

Pocket Bike's weapons are unimaginative at best, and irritating at worst. There's the "homing bottle rocket", firecrackers (mines), a "disruptor" that screws with the controls, and a blinding "flash bomb" that makes it look like the game is broken. The races are far too long, and tend to wear out their welcome after a lap or two. The menu music has a fun, whimsical tone, but the races are dominated by generic, grinding guitar riffs (ugh).

There are tournaments to play solo and split-screen modes to accommodate up to four players. Since one friend thought the inclusion of mega-babe Brooke Burke was worth a letter grade, I'm bumping this one up to a "D-". NOTE: This game also plays on a regular Xbox, with slightly degraded graphic quality. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Price Is Right Decades, The
Grade: F
Publisher: Ubisoft (2011)
Reviewed: 2018/2/6
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI have fond memories of watching The Price Is Right as a kid, lounging on the shag carpet during those long, hot days of summer vacation. The idea of being able to play all its little pricing games with my friends seemed to have the potential for a few laughs. The music is right from the show and the games are perfectly recreated. It's a shame the characters are generic avatars, as their canned animations can't hold a candle to the hysterical housewives I used to watch on the TV show. When I see my dorky character doing that cheesy Ellen dance I just want to punch him in the face.

The host is present in voice alone, and I'm kind of bummed out they couldn't get Bob Barker to do it. You begin on contestant's row, trying to guess the price of an item without going over. In multiplayer when anyone makes it up on stage the other players also get to participate in the games. When playing solo it's easy to beat the CPU on contestant's row - just bid $1 over the highest bid. But even when you do make it up on stage there's only a 50-50 chance of making the showcase showdown.

The price-guessing games are undeniably fun, with old favorites like Plinko, Dice Game, Hurdles, and Golden Road. The items are presented with vintage (albeit small) photos of actual merchandise. It's fascinating to see brands long out of existence, like a can of Libby's fruit or an Amana Radarange. While playing with friends, we found ourselves bidding on a Commodore 64!

In single-player mode, the game tells you what "year" you're playing in, and that's critical. Still, it would have been nice if I could select the year instead of it being chosen at random. In multiplayer you're not even told the year, which basically ruins the entire game. What a huge oversight! The game is Kinect compatible, but setting it up for regular controllers was painful enough. Price Is Right Decades is one of those games that takes a lot of effort to screw up, but here you go. © Copyright 2018 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Project Gotham Racing 3
Grade: B
Publisher: Microsoft (2005)
Reviewed: 2006/4/1
Rating: Everyone

screenshotYou'd think a "realistic" racing franchise like Project Gotham would be ideal for showing off the Xbox 360's graphic prowess, but initially my friends and I were not impressed. Yes, the cars look shiny and the scenery is nice, but judging from the standard behind-the-car point of view, it would be easy to mistake this for a regular Xbox title. Over time however, I did come to appreciate Gotham Racing 3 for its realism, and the fact that you can select from an assortment of quality automobiles right off the bat.

The career mode stages are divided into conventional races and specific "challenges", each with a selectable skill level. These challenges include crossing a checkpoint at a certain speed, passing a number of opponents within a set time, or tediously weaving through cones (ugh). The track locations are realistic, set in New York, Tokyo, London, and Las Vegas.

Being skilled in the previous two Gotham Racers, I thought I could dive right into this, but came to realize the controls feel a lot different. Specifically, the cars have a truer sense of weight and momentum, forcing you to rely on the brake and initiate power slides earlier. Even when you become accustomed to it, you'll still find yourself fishtailing and banging into guardrails. The cars model damage slightly, and but cannot be "tricked up" in any way.

The VGC loves eye candy, and colorful locations like Las Vegas and Tokyo didn't let me down. While the degree of detail in the surroundings is not readily apparent while racing, using the right thumbstick to look out the side window reveals layer upon layer of rich, realistic scenery. Fortunately, the tracks tend to have long straight-aways that allow you to peek without smashing into a wall. You also have the option of racing at night, and the cities light up beautifully.

On the downside, I noticed some unsightly alias effects in the distance, and the tree leaves look awfully chunky. The polygon spectators look rough up close, but at least they're an improvement over the cardboard cutouts we've seen in past racers. If this new generation of racers has progressed in any way, it's the elimination of that annoying pop-up (also known as "draw-in"). In Gotham 3, you can see buildings looming from a mile away, and they scale in very smoothly. One issue that has not been fixed by this generation is load times - they're back and longer than ever!

Gotham 3's music is about average, but the sound of other cars creeping up from behind is amazing. A four-player split screen mode is available, but switching between user profiles is a complete fiasco. You actually need to backtrack all the way to the top menu to switch profiles, which is insane when you have to navigate about eight screens just to start a freakin' race! Still, if you're in the market for a racer with real cars and actual locations, PG3 is a quality title. © Copyright 2006 The Video Game Critic.

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1 to 4 players 

Project Gotham Racing 4
Grade: C+
Publisher: Microsoft (2007)
Reviewed: 2008/5/30
Rating: Everyone


screenshotThis fourth entry in the Project Gotham series makes a few refinements to the basic formula, but the franchise is quickly becoming stale. Two new features are the ability to ride motorcycles and a new calendar-based career mode. Project Gotham 4 (PGR4) is an incredibly sharp-looking game with some amazing city skylines. The neon-lit Asian cities are an eyeful and the Vegas tracks are quirky, but the dreary tracks of St. Petersburg seem somewhat depressing. I enjoy the varying weather conditions, but where's the thunder to go with the lightning?

The career mode has a lot of special events like weaving around pylons, passing a number of cars, time trials, and one-on-one challenges. The 360 controller triggers really come in handy for the pylon challenges, giving you a fine degree of control over your speed. The diverse events may sound interesting, but personally I'd prefer if the game stuck to basic, old-fashioned street racing. The "kudos" system is back, allowing you to earn points for executing special moves like power slides, slipstreaming, jumps, and burn-outs.

PGR4 is more forgiving that previous Gothams, so a slight rub against a guardrail will not drain all of your kudos. New bonus "stars" are awarded for chaining together consecutive stunts. You rack up kudos whether you win or lose, which are used to upgrade and buy vehicles. PGR4 includes an arcade mode with a two-player split-screen, but the initial selection of cars is awful.

In general, the handling in this game is extremely difficult. You'll use your normal brake and hand brake extensively - and sometimes even both at once! It doesn't help that the tracks are exceptionally narrow. There's a lot of loading in PGR4, and the eclectic music can be irritating at times. Project Gotham Racing 4 is a lot of game for the money, but it really could use an injection of excitement. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.

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Pure
Grade: B
Publisher: Disney (2008)
Reviewed: 2008/10/10
Rating: Everyone

screenshotI really dig the reckless, half-way-out-of-control quality of off-road racing games, and Pure did not disappoint me. This ATV racer may not have the "wow" factor of MotorStorm (Playstation 3, 2007), but it's arguably more playable. The graphics didn't knock my socks off, but Pure certainly isn't a bad-looking game with its smooth rolling hills and amazing aerial views.

Unlike MotorStorm, there's a nice variety of track locations including scenic national parks, European ruins, and tropical islands. The racing action is very engaging thanks to controls that feel realistic but are actually very forgiving and make it easy to stay on the course. Pure places a heavy emphasis on tricks, and in the "freestyle" mode you'll need to perform them almost continuously. I'm sure many of you are cringing with thoughts of memorizing complex button sequences, but thankfully that's not the case with Pure. When you catch air, you simply move the thumbstick in any direction while pressing A (easy trick), B (medium), or Y (difficult). You sometimes have time to perfect several tricks in succession, but leave yourself a little extra time to nail the landing!

The camera follows you from behind, and your driver often looks back and comments on your driving skills, causing me to exclaim, "Dude! Keep your eyes on the road!" The courses are reasonable in length, and the shorter "sprint" tracks offer a nice change of pace. No matter what the outcome of a race, it seems like you're constantly showered with new events and parts for your ATV.

If there's one aspect of Pure I didn't care for, it's the ATV customization system. While it allows you to tweak every tiny part, it's very tedious and hardly worth the effort (use the "auto-build" option instead). I enjoyed working my way through the single-player World Tour mode, but my friends lamented the lack of a split-screen mode. Chaotic racers like this are tailor-made for head-to-head action, and that on-line multiplayer is not going to cut it. Then again, the tracks would have been hard to follow on the split-screen, considering how they tend to branch so much. Pure is not a showcase title like MotorStorm, but it's definitely worthwhile on the strength of its satisfying single-player experience. © Copyright 2008 The Video Game Critic.



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