Saturday, September 21, 2013

GTA V and The First Meaningful Post I've Ever Written

     Here we are again. Another Grand Theft Auto game hits shelves and the population of concerned parents, political pundits, and generally uninformed wusses takes up arms against the blanket-termed "violent video games."

I get it, violence is something that affects everyone the world over in some way shape or form. Whether it is all out war being waged in far away countries for questionable reasons, street violence, or even schoolyard bullying, I get.

I'll refrain from citing statistics, posting graphs of correlation (or lack thereof), and linking to stories that relate to the issue at hand. We've seen it all before (thought it would probably really drive my point home).

My issue, when it comes to video games and violence is the lack of responsibility that parents take in what their children do and see.

On every video game sold today, and for the better part of the last 20 years, there is a black and white rating on the cover. The ESRB ratings range from eC for Early Childhood, to the rarely used A for Adults Only, each with a content descriptor to inform/warn buyers of the content of their game.

Content descriptors include, but are not limited to, Blood, Language, Sexual Content, Nudity, Drug References and Simulated Gambling.

Every single entry in the Grand Theft Auto series have been rated M for Mature, save for the the Palm Pilot version of the original Grand Theft Auto and the Game Boy Color version of Grand Theft Auto 2.

So since 1997, which is when the series was first officially released, the series has been intended for gamers 17 years or older.
For the better part of the last 10 years, I've bought my games from GameStop, and I've both been carded when purchasing an M-rated game, and witnessed a cashier/sales associate ask a mother, who was buying an M-rated game, who the game was for and whether or not she was concerned about the violence depicted therein.

She brushed it off with an all-too-casual, "Oh my son plays those games all the time, it's nothing new."

I should mention that she specified her son was just nine years old, and she was buying Halo 2, which received an M-rating for Blood and Gore, Language and Violence.

Part of me wants to believe that mother was in-tune with her son's gaming habits, and was comfortable with him playing video games containing violence because she also took the time to discuss the real-world consequences of violent actions.

Part of me wants to believe she knows that merely playing something like Halo 2, where you're fighting against aliens in a futuristic setting, will not turn her son into a hyper-violent, sociopathic killing machine.

But I know that mother doesn't have the first clue about what her son is playing, and would be just as likely to say that Halo 2 is the reason he took those scissors and used them like that sword he used in the game to stab his best friend as she is to admit that the scissors shouldn't have been out for him to play with in the first place.

Maybe that's an overly simplistic scenario, but it speaks to the lack of responsibility parents have shown in the ongoing crusade against violence in video games.

These are the same people who crusaded for Parental Advisory labels on music containing "explicit lyrics," which in itself is overly vague and does nothing to solve their problem, and is often broadened to "explicit content."

"Explicit lyrics" could cover the sexual content of Ying Yang Twins' United States of Atlanta which features "Wait (The Whisper Song) and lyrics like "Fuck a bitch on da counter, make the plates fall back."

Or it could cover something as trivial as the album title, such as in the case of Frank Zappa's Jazz from Hell, which garnered a Parental Advisory label because of the word 'hell' in the album's title, and a song titled "G-Spot Tornado."

It didn't matter that the album was entirely instrumental, and thus featured no explicit lyrics or exploration of 'hell' or the 'g-spot' but the mere mention was enough to outrage the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), who are responsible for the action that led to the Parental Advisory labels for music.

The PMRC's list of songs, lovingly dubbed the Filthy Fifteen, includes a variety of genres, but harps on lyrical content like sex, masturbation, violence, language, occult, drug and alcohol use.

Among the list is Twisted Sister's anthemic "We're Not Gonna Take It," which is just 3 minutes and 38 seconds of stickin' it to the man, but was construed as promoting violence. I'm sorry, since when has standing up for what you believe in been an act of violence?

There's no distinct cause stated in the song, just a rebelliousness that apparently rubbed the more buttoned-down Tipper Gore the wrong way.

What makes it so frustrating is that the small sample of music completely ignores everything that has happened before, and judges the music of the time in a manner much different from the way and all other music before was judged.

Is Frank Sinatra's "Drinking Again" any less about alcohol use than Black Sabbath's "Trashed"? Granted, the latter is more detailed and specific, or dare I say EXPLICIT, in the descriptions of the use, or excessive use, but the content is largely the same.

The genre is at the heart of the issue, because metal is viewed as the Devil's music, and Frank Sinatra's just Ol' Blue Eyes singing about love, life and doing thing's his way....

... Not unlike Twisted Sisters "We're Not Gonna Take It" if you consider the simplest idea being conveyed. Sinatra reminisces about life and how he lived it HIS way, while Twisted Sister takes a more immediate approach, opting to yell and scream for being allowed to live life their way.

To the point, the Parental Advisory labels on music ignored just about everything regarding content, while placing blame on the musicians for conveying messages to their poor children.

The crux being the lack of responsibility parents take in the development of their children, and to facilitate that unwillingness to take blame, they point the finger at what their children watch, listen to, or play.

Video games, by nature, offer a unique experience when compared to other forms of media. Music is strictly words conveying ideas. Movies bring in a visual element, where the words are played out in living color, with names and faces and characters to connect with. There's a direct narrative as opposed to the simple expression of ideas.

Video games put you in control of all of those things, which is the distinction that seems to put the opposition off the most.

Being in control of murder, crime and mayhem is somehow different from listening to a song about a drive-by, or a woman who'll "show you a good time" or watching a movie where someone get's their hand cut off with a lightsaber, or a couple making whoopie on camera.

Being in control is akin to learning to do these things, or so they would have you believe, and is thus inherently more detrimental than anything else that has faced this type of scrutiny.

It all goes back to responsibility.

An 8-year-old shot the old woman who was watching him after supposedly playing a violent video game, reportedly GTA IV. Like clockwork, we got the token finger-pointing at video games being the cause of all the violence in the world, which ignores the much bigger issue of why the 8-year-old had access to a gun in the first place.

I've played video games for close to 21 years, dating back to Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, through Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Manhunt, the latter of which had its sequel rated AO.

I also grew up watching things like Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Dragon Ball Z, seeing movies like Terminator 2 at the ripe old age of 6, and being exposed to an array of music with varying lyrical content.

So I posted ONE graph... Sue me
I haven't killed anyone, I have no desire to kill anyone. I've never committed any of the crimes I certainly committed in the GTA world, I haven't been known to crush turtles by jumping on their backs, I haven't had the desire to wield a shotgun to shoot at a police officer I think may be some kind of terminator made of liquid metal.

If the majority of people in the world can be exposed to all of these things and still not indulge in those flights of fancy the fear-mongers would have you believe is SO influential, why do we still have these endless discussions of the detrimental effects of violence in video games and the (lack of) correlation to actual violence?

No one wants to take responsibility, everyone wants someone to blame, and that's not the way the world works. I don't envy anyone who has lost someone due to violence, but I do not think that blaming one form of media or another is the solution to the problem.

Next thing you know, we'll be hearing about Harry Potter influencing children to practice the occult....

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Gaming Nostalgia - The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening

     Since I am currently embroiled in a playthrough of Skyward Sword, however halfheartedly, I felt compelled to explore my relationship with the series. I was, after all, the first series I fell in love with and have remained mostly faithful to in my years of playing games.

My experience with the series includes playing Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask, Twilight Princess, Wind Waker, A Link to the Past, and Link's Awakening to completion, while also playing a bit of original, Minish Cap, Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons.

So I've spent some time with the series in my 21 years of gaming.

I remember sitting for hours on end, Game Boy in hand, hands sweaty from the warmth of the device and the AC adaptor/charger that eliminated the need to fret over batteries so long as you were near an outlet.

Link's Awakening was the first Zelda game I had ever played, and even now I count it as one of my top 3 games in the series. 

As a kid I had no concept or care of the size or scale of a world. I was just amazed that there were people going about their days that I could talk to and help them in some way or glean some other details about the world.

I never understood Grandma Ulrira, who could be found obsessively sweeping outdoors, but it was charming.

Above all, I loved the music in the game. For something as limited sound-wise as the original Game Boy, the soundtrack for Link's Awakening is outstanding.

It makes sense that the music would be great since the primary goal of the game is collect the Eight Instruments of the Sirens to awaken the Wind Fish. Maybe that's just my own connection, but it works.

Even some of the songs were just sped up or slowed down versions of one song pasted to multiple caves or dungeons, it didn't matter. It was practical, and gave each area a distinct feel.

There's something very majestic about the music for Mt. Tamaranch, which is fitting for the game's finale.

Even now, I can listen to the Ballad of the Wind Fish as sung by Marin by the rooster-shaped weather vane in Mabe Village and feel warm and fuzzy inside.

What makes me really love this game, and this is more looking back than it is knowledge taken from my first playthrough, is the story.

As the hero, Link, you shipwreck on a mysterious island, Koholint Island, which has seen a rise in monster activity in recent days.

At the highest peak of the island rests the Wind Fish's Egg, which it would appear most of the inhabitants are unaware of.

This ignorance to the Wind Fish's existence is made all the more depressing because it is discovered that the entirety of Koholint Island, the mountains, the desert, the shore, the monsters and the people, are all a product of the Wind Fish's dream.

The recent disturbances are credited to nightmares affecting the Wind Fish's sleep, and it is Link's quest to traverse the land, defeat each monster housed in the eight dungeons in order to acquire the Siren Instruments he will use to wake the Wind Fish and do battle with these nightmares.

(For the sake of color)
So you're tasked with saving an island that is the product of a dream, but the ultimate goal of that task is to wake the dreamer, which means that the noble act of saving the island will also doom the island.

It's pretty sad, really, especially when you consider the sort of romantic implications the game makes between Link and Marin, who is at one time confused for Zelda when she sings.

Of course at the time of playing the game, all of this went right over my head, but now I get it and it still resonates, and remains one of the more engaging Zelda stories in the series.

For me, it was the perfect introduction to the series even though it didn't take place in Hyrule, Zelda and Ganon are nowhere to be found (save for the Shadow of Ganon nightmare boss at the end), and there is no significance to the Triforce (unless you count the "Piece of Power" item that grants double sword damage and increased speed, as well as a much more violent blowback and explosion when hitting enemies).

It is a game without the mainstays that still remains true to the series, which I have learned in playing Zelda games since then.

It is one of the few series entries that gives the player control of jumping via the Roc's Feather, it established the premise of songs and music that would go on to play a big role in Ocarina of Time, it introduces the trading sequence to the series, as well as the collecting of items to redeem for a prize/upgrade similar to the Golden Skulltulas in Ocarina of Time.

The world may argue that Ocarina of Time is one of the greatest games of all time, and for good reason, but Link's Awakening still remains one of my favorites in the series because of the story, the music and the simple yet satisfying gameplay.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Borderlands, WWE 13 and Why Skyward Sword is Underwhelming

     So I bought Borderlands 2 a week ago, which I had been meaning to do since it came out, but hadn't because I have yet to play through the first game in this whole backlog bullsh*t thing.

The other day I started Borderlands, and decided I would plays as Lilith the Siren because I had already played as the Hunter and Soldier, but didn't want to go with the Berserker on this playthrough.

I don't know how I feel about it because I'm always terrible when it comes to characters with powers. I always overlook some simple function, and end up abandoning or just using the most basic attacks or abilities.

As much as I love the notion of powers, whether it be a mage/wizard or just a support character with buffs and powerups, I'm absolutely terrible.

It goes back to being very offensively minded, preferred to shoot, stab, hack, slash, burn, etc. through enemies as opposed to making it easier for allies to do so.

But that is neither here nor there since Borderlands is being approached in single player fashion, and Lillith isn't very support-y anyway.

What's interest about Borderlands is that I was initially intrigued by the game from all I had seen, read and heard about it, but ultimately shied away because it seemed geared more towards multiplayer, which made me think the single player would fall flat.

The main story is a little meh, but it doesn't make the gameplay any less fun, albeit repetitive.

If you're into looting, Borderlands is the game for you.

I love the general idea of the weapon system, where different manufacturers make different weapons, but aside from elemental capabilities, increased rate of fire of a better crosshair/scope, the system fails to engage.

There is a distinct lack of customization, even with the ability to level up different skills, change your color scheme and all that.

Why is there no custom weaponry? Something tailor-made for my character, for my style of play?

Maybe that's just me, but Borderlands feels like a very surface RPG in that regard, since customization is very basic all around.

The story isn't awful, it just doesn't really engage you. The characters which should provide some level of engagement are just there to take jobs from, and they never really figure into the story much. Their function is the same as the bounty board, they just happen to have names and some semblance of personality.

You're a vault hunter charged with finding an alien vault which is supposed to house alien secrets and all sorts of good stuff that could be used to make the desolate planet worthwhile, and/or change the entire galaxy

Even being guided by the mysterious Angel doesn't add any sort of immersion to the game. It could have been engaging, but the frenetic gameplay is often at odds with her calm interjections throughout the game.

Having already played through the game in the past, I know what to expect, and I know that it is relatively inconsequential because the game is still fun to play.

Moving on...

WWE 13 is a thing that I've been playing. I've been out of the wrestling game game for a while, but not really.

Ever since WWF No Mercy on N64, I've never been satisfied with any of the titles that have released since then. They all got too complex, or overly simplistic.

I tried some of the Smackdown vs. Raw titles, but didn't really care much for them because of the sh*tty "story" mode. There's no real decisions to be made, just do this, beat this guy, fulfill this requirement, done.

The Road to Wrestlemania mode was short and offered no real enjoyment other than leveling up your created character or seeing crappy canned interactions for the specific superstar paths.

WWE 13 doesn't have that traditional story mode, but has the Attitude mode, which is essentially a playable highlight reel of the WCW/WWF ratings war that the WWF knows as the Attitude Era.

I've only just started, completing the Rise of DX and playing the first few matches of Stone Cold's path, but I already enjoy it.

Which is weird, because it follows the same, "do this, fulfill this requirement, done" sort of formula. The difference being that you're replaying history as opposed to battling as an up and coming created wrestler through wave after wave of crappy storylines.

Some of the matches are frustrating because of my unwillingness to not unlock everything there is to unlock in the game, but I'm enjoying it.

The gameplay takes some getting used to, and the counter system is spotty. I appreciate flashing a symbol to counter, though I wish it wasn't just the right trigger but rather an exclamation point or something fitting for a wrestling match, but I don't like how easy it is for opponents to counter.

Matches often devolve into brawls because sometimes guys just don't stay down, and you NEED to wear down their stamina before attempting a pin.

And let me tell you, that little "roll out of the ring" skill too many wrestlers have is beyond annoying.

So you've just hit your signature move, pulled off your signature taunt and hit your finishing move, and you expect to be able to float over into the pin for the old 1-2-3, right?


Your opponent rolls out of the ring to a standing position, showing no signs of wear, making it necessary to throw an even more extensive beating on them, making matches frustratingly long, or repetitive.

In that regard, it handles more like a fighting game, and not in the way that made No Mercy a great game.

No Mercy was fluid gameplay, just enough customization to be engaging, but not too much to overwhelm, and featured some real-life angles in the main story mode, though they didn't come with full-fledged builds or anything.

WWE 13 feels very basic in the controls, with the A grapple, X to strike approach, but I don't like generic movesets a lot of the wrestlers have.

Not every superstar uses the same suplex, the same back drop or the same neckbreaker, and having the majority of their movesets match takes away from the uniqueness of each wrestler.

Sure, wrestlers all have that basic pool of moves they all used, but the grappling system feels limited to just those moves, opting to make their signatures and finishers the defining moves.

A little nitpick is the weapon use in hardcore matches, or regular matches if you're into cheating.

Why are we limited to strikes and occasional grapples? Nothing is contextual, or most of it isn't. I want to pull off a One-Man Conchairto, or do a Sabu-style leap from a chair over the ropes to an opponent on the outside.

Maybe that's just me though, or I'm doing something wrong...

Moving along yet again.

I haven't made a ton of progress in Skyward Sword, only just finished the first temple, and I'm already feeling let down.

The controls are what they are, I don't hate them, but I don't love them either. The story hasn't really reeled me in, but maybe there's time for that.

My biggest concern is the overall feel of the world. Everything feels too bright and sterile.

There is no sense of foreboding in Skyward Sword. The first "boss" you face isn't intimidating, even if they try really hard to play up the mystique of holding back his full power.

Not to mention he is an unsettling figure, but not in the way that makes bosses good. He looks like the type of character who might violate you...

In the worst way possible

The first dungeon was disappointing. It was too short and didn't feel very intuitive. Compare it to Inside the Deku Tree and it fails on almost every level.

There was a sense of fear in that dungeon, whereas the Skyview Temple was too much like traipsing through a collection of rooms with little or no connection to the end-goal.

And why is everything so well-lit?!?

Why are there no shadows? No areas where something creeps on the edge of the light, making you think twice before engaging it?

Nope. None of that. There's some skulltulas, and deku baba, but nothing we haven't seen before or have any sense of dread over.

I get it, it is the first temple, but there was nothing engaging about it. I did not, and still do not, care about this iteration of Zelda, and Fi really needs to shut her f*cking mouth.

I also wish Nintendo hadn't shown their laziness by introducing the eyeball/sentry "puzzle" and proceeding to use it a handful of times in a short dungeon. We get it, motion controls. Get the f*ck over it already.

What's the point of the beeping when your low on health if Fi is just going to chime in each and every time to tell you to be careful or replenish your health with a potion?

Why isn't all Fi dialogue optional in-game? Navi only chimed in when necessary, more so in the early going, but even then it wasn't page after page of "Master this---" or "Master, that---"

And I know I've said it before, but why does she sound like GlaDOS?!? Only her voice though. She doesn't have the charming personality...

On top of that, the story hasn't really pulled me in. It still feels too forced, because we've only been told that Link and Zelda have grown up together and she has a soft spot for him. What we DO see of this relationship feels childish and very shallow.

No subtlety in this game, and that bothers me.

I now realize I should probably break this down into smaller, more easy to digest entries... But I'm not going to do that.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

More Movie Sh*t - Ben Affleck Cast as Batman, Internet Explodes with Uninformed Fury

     After it was announced that Christian Bale was offered some $50 million to reprise his role as the Caped Crusader in Man of Steel 2, there was very little in terms of news regarding the offer.

Fast forward about a week, and Ben Affleck has been cast as Batman.

(If you listen closely, you can hear the collective groans and lamentations of morons and Ben Affleck haters)

I admit, I'm not the biggest Ben Affleck fan. He loses points with me for getting in bed with (literally and figuratively) Jennifer Lopez, who is an awful actress, and marks a period in Affleck's career where he took big-budget movie roles and basically phoned in his performances.

Many will point to the abomination that is Daredevil is a prime example of why Affleck is an awful choice for another superhero movie, let alone the most popular hero in the world these days in Batman.

To those people I say, "Watch  the Director's Cut of that movie, and your minds will change."

Keep in mind, Affleck's performance wasn't awful in that movie, it was just poorly cut and jumbled in production that it didn't make much sense or convey the complexity of the character.

Even if his performance doesn't do it for you, it was 10 years ago, and before Affleck learned the subtleties of filmmaking.

Just three years after Daredevil, Affleck appeared in Hollywoodland as George Reeves (television's original Superman), and garnered praise for the role, marking a big change from the two-time Razzie winning actor we're so familiar with.

Just last year, he directed and starred in Argo, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture.

To make a long story short, Affleck is not the same actor he was a decade ago, and deserves a little more than the blatant hatred he has received since he was announced as the next actor playing Batman.

In what will likely be the main argument for Affleck: It wasn't so long ago that the internet was flooded with blind, inconsolable rage for the casting of Heath Ledger as The Joker.

Ledger would only go on to put on one of the most memorable performances in recent memory, playing the character in faithfully maniacal fashion, providing the chaotic antagonist to counter Batman's obsession with justice and order.

Moral of the story? You can't judge an actor on all the sh*t he has done.

Heath Ledger starred in The Order and Casanova, neither of which were critical successes, and yet he just transformed into The Joker in a way most critics and fans didn't think possible.

Why can't Affleck have a similar transformation?

He looks the part, with the chiseled jaw and 6'4" frame, so he can pull of the calm, cool, calculated character of Bruce Wayne.

Depending on Batman's role in the Man of Steel sequel, he can easily perform the physical aspects of the role as well.

Even so, we have to think about what version of Batman we're going to get in this movie, which is a Superman movie that just happens to feature Batman, lest we forget.

Will it be an extension of Bale's Batman, dark, wholly just, brooding, gravelly-voiced?

Or will it be more Clooney, and shows Batman as more playboy with toys than hero? (I shudder to think of that happening)

One thing that seems to be ignored in the whole casting nonsense is the actual interaction that will take place between the heroes, as well as the direction towards a Justice League movie.

Personally, I want to see the Batman we saw in Justice League: Doom, who had contingency plans against his fellow Justice League members.

It makes the most sense to bring that trait to an interaction with Superman, at least in terms of bridging the gap between the very dissimilar universes. It feeds into the sharp as a tack, World's Greatest Detective version of Batman that has been absent in much of the live-action films.

Batman doesn't know what Superman is, what he stands for, etc., so he does his research and finds some kryptonite to keep the Man of Steel in check.

How else can this crossover work if there is no tension between the two biggest heroes in DC's universe?

With the nods to LexCorp and Wayne Enterprises in Man of Steel, it would makes sense for the primary villain in the sequel to be Lex Luthor, but it can't end there.

I'm getting away from the point of it all, and that is the undeserved destruction of the casting of Ben Affleck.

No one knows how he will be used, what role Batman will play, or what version of Batman we will get. I've made my opinions clear regarding Man of Steel, Nolan's Batman trilogy and Ben Affleck's hit-or-mis performances, and I can set all of that aside and see the potential for success in this crossover.

I won't deny that I have made snap judgments on things, but they're often informed rather than rash and horrendously biased.

Ben Affleck isn't the best actor, but he isn't the same actor who cashed in on big-budget roles while turning in awful performances. He has refined his craft, and could prove to be the right man for the job, not just in terms of appearing in the Man of Steel sequel, but continuing on in the Justice League movie that is the end-goal for DC.

Personally, I wouldn't have minded seeing Jeffrey Dean Morgan don the cape and cowl, while bringing Frank Miller's Batman to the big screen. Not necessarily in the same context as The Dark Knight Returns, but that same sort of pissed off, older Batman that is fed up with the world continually descending into corruption.

Just my two cents. And what are they worth, huh?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Movie Break - DC's $50 Million Mistake aka Christian Bale and Other Dead Horses

     If you stop and think about Christopher Nolan's Batman Trilogy, only The Dark Knight stands out, due in part to the phenomenal performance from Heath Ledger, as well as the swell of support following his tragic death.

Batman Begins built a solid frame for the rest of the trilogy, but was nothing special. It introduced the realism Nolan was going for with his take on Batman, and hit the basics of what the character is.

Bruce Wayne, playboy by day, vigilante crime fighter by night, driven by the death of his parents as well as the sea of corruption known as Gotham City, he is the incorruptible beacon, setting the example for the people of the city.

Maybe it isn't laid out so obviously as that, but the concepts are there.

The Dark Knight was so acclaimed because of the powerful performances from both Ledger as Joker and Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, more so than the action or the story.

I've spent far too much time trying to convey my issues with The Dark Knight Rises, but there is a nagging issue with the trilogy that is largely overlooked because of the scope of the series.

Christian Bale is a great actor, and I love his performances in American Psycho and The Fighter. In terms of physicality, and commitment to a role, Bale is among the best.

However, Nolan's trilogy, which is more character study than superhero action series, is scant on actual character development. Bale has no opportunity to really ACT in the capacity he has been praised for.

Aside from some passing references in the first two movies, we don't get enough Bruce Wayne or Batman. Or at least we don't get enough to really care about the balancing act. Anyone with half a brain could have put together than Bruce Wayne is Batman, so the basic premise is betrayed because the characters are inherently stupid.

Case and point: James Gordon aka Commissioner Gordon. It takes him almost the entire trilogy to figure out that Bruce Wayne is Batman, and he's supposed to be one of the best cops Gotham City has.

Maybe when they said best they were only referring to his incorruptibility...

To the point, the gravelly-voiced Bale served his purpose in Nolan's Batman trilogy. I do not feel it is necessary to bring him back for more Batman, which is precisely what they're doing now... Sort of...

You see, Man of Steel is Nolan's, sorry Zack Snyder's, treatment of Superman, intended to do for the character what Nolan did for Batman.

I've stated my case as to why Man of Steel is not particularly good, but the powers-that-be (and not the ones from Angel) have already put the wheels in motion for a sequel.

Man of Steel 2, which I'm assuming is a working title, will feature Superman and Batman, almost in time for people to scurry back to find clips and stills of the Batman/Superman movie billboard from I Am Legend from 2007.

Is a Batman/Superman crossover a cool idea? Absolutely. Does Christian Bale need to be brought back to don the cape and cowl once again? No.

The basic problem that arises in the event of Bale appearing as Batman in Superman's sequel, beyond just the difference in star power, since more people know Bale than Cavill, is the difference in the universes.

Nolan's Batman is very realistic, to an extent. The villains are essentially average people who have been driven off the deep end and take matters into their own hands.

The Nolan/Snyder Superman cannot, therefore, exist in the same world as Nolan's Batman.

Everything is down to earth and gritty, while Superman, by nature, is out of this world and comes with a more bright feel. A man who can fly, has heat vision, super strength, etc. is a figure of wonder.

If you bring together a terrestrial hero, in a world devoid of wonder and magic and aliens, with an extraterrestrial hero, in a world with hope and superpowers, there is bound to be a bit of a disconnect.

With Bale, the series takes a step back into the darkness of Nolan's universe, rather into the future that DC would like to create to compete with the ever expanding Marvel Universe, which is headed for a second Avengers movie Age of Ultron, Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Ant-Man.

DC doesn't have their own film department, and are relying on Nolan to work magic after creating a sort of universe roadblock with his Batman trilogy.

Bringing back Bale shows a lack of faith in Cavill or anyone else to carry the character or the universe into a bigger, better and brighter future. The nod to Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the end of The Dark Knight Rises is rendered useless in addition to inane if he or someone else doesn't take over as Batman in the future.

And what of the way Nolan finished his trilogy?

John Blake/Robin is made out to be Bruce Wayne's successor as Batman, since Batman supposedly died in the blast, and Bruce Wayne is conveniently forgotten in the liquidation of his assets and left to gallivant with Selina Kyle in some cafe across the pond.

If Bruce Wayne returns, not only does it muddy the waters in a purported Superman/Batman team-up/crossover, but it neuters the impact Nolan was aiming for with his final opus.

Sadly, DC and all parties involved should start from scratch, or at least scrap the crossover.

If the ultimate goal is a Justice League movie to rival the Avengers movies, they need to establish their characters before they have them interacting directly.

Man of Steel had enough nods to LexCorp and a nod to Bruce Wayne to generate interest in the interactions of their worlds. They don't have to thrust the Dark Knight back into the mix so soon.

As many issues that I have with Nolan's "universe" I would welcome a well done crossover, or at least a clear path to a Justice League movie. The Man of Steel sequel/crossover will likely make a metric f*ckton of money, but that doesn't mean it is a worthwhile endeavor the way they're currently approaching it.

Prepare for a disappointing movie. If we're lucky, it will be so disappointing that DC will pull its head out of Nolan's *ss and put together a competent crew to tackle their vastly complex and delicately balanced universe.

Don't hold your breath though...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mass Effect, Deadpool, Skyward Sword, Catherine, Laziness and Other BS

     I finished Mass Effect about a month ago and never bothered to write about it. Correction, I started to write about it, but got fed up with trying to condense the expansive game into a coherent post, and decided I'd get to it when I get to.

So here it is: Mass Effect was pretty okay. Most, if not all, of my gripes are solved in the sequel, which I have only just started playing. The power upgrades are frustrating because some are more apparent than others, and the limitations in terms of specialization are annoying.

Why can't I be OP and be a pure biotic who can wield a sniper rifle, placing shields and tossing enemies from a ways away where I never even whiff danger?

Whatever, the story is engaging, but the game just looks dated. The visuals are not appealing, particularly when compared to ME2. Joker's face doesn't move, Captain Anderson's face looks like he's got that Seal condition. It's just not pretty.

I don't recall from my original playthrough of ME2 how the choices made in this game affect or play out in the rest of the series, and I have yet to play ME3, despite it sitting on my shelf for the better part of the year.

Moving on.

I also picked up and promptly waltzed through Deadpool, which was an entirely different experience.

Deadpool is a nicely polished game, at least visually, at least in all the important places, and has enough Deadpool style humor to forgive the repetitive gameplay and frustrating enemies.

I would have preferred the combat have a deeper combo system, one that seamlessly integrates each weapon or attack type, where for example you launch an enemy into the air with your twin katana, pop him with your handguns to keep him suspended, switch to the dual sledgehammers and spike him down, and finishing with a shotgun blow to the head, or the spike sending him bouncing back up high enough to pin him to a wall with your sai.

There is just not enough integration of the different weapons, and that limits the combos that are available.

Deadpool's unstoppable mouth never reached the point of annoying me, even though he repeats the one-liners throughout the game in the midst of combat. I don't expect developers or writers to put in an infinite amount of lines, so I didn't mind hearing "Nasty slice, shoulda used the five iron" a few times down the stretch.

The cutscenes are beyond description. From Deadpool saying "Roll credits" whenever he defeats a Sinister clone, ignoring Cable and then groping him under the impression he was Deadpool's #1 fan, all of it.

I genuinely laughed through most of the cutscenes, which is sort of the point of a Deapool title.

Enemies are varied, but ultimately boil down to normal and shielded. You're given the opportunity to counter almost every close quarters attack, which can lead to lengthy combos if done right.

Deadpool, from a gameplay approach, is standard beat 'em up fare. The plot, however, is where the appeal lies, and Nolan North's performance as Deadpool, and the voices in his head/speech bubbles, really makes you want to experience everything the game has in terms of cutscenes and environmental fun.

Oddly enough, I had more fun with Deadpool than I did with Mass Effect, and part of me finds that alarming, but another part of me knows they are different experiences.

From there, I started Skyward Sword, which is a part-time endeavor since I do not have a Wii. So far, my feelings are mixed, but I've only just reached the first temple or dungeon.

I've also started Catherine, not knowing at all what to expect. I didn't expect the mix of puzzle and interaction that I've been treated to, but I've enjoyed it thus far.

I'm curious as to how the story will progress, and I wonder if my real-world nice guy attitude will affect my ability to be a player in the game. 

This is the first time I've written anything for August, and I've really only given the bare bones of what I had in mind for the two games I finished and the games I have started. But f*ck it. You're not reading anyway, are you?

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Star Wars: The Force Unleased II and George Lucas' Third Chin

     I didn't play Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. I didn't like Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. In spite of my lack of experience with the former, the latter felt a lot like an extended DLC title.

That being said, playing through the sequel didn't make me feel like exploring the original or seeing the story of Starkiller progress.

One thing is abundantly clear in this game, which is betrayed by the presence of series mainstays like Darth Vader, a visit to Dagobah with Yoda and even Princess Leia, there is no genuine connection to the Star Wars universe, nor is there much in the story to truly cultivate one.

Sure, I was using force lightning, chokes, mind tricks and saber throws like nobody's business, but it didn't bring any real satisfaction.

I remember playing Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy and being far more engaged in the story, satisfied by the gameplay, and more willing to replay just to change my approach.

Kyle Katarn was an established figure, having appeared in a handful of games and a good piece of the literature around the millennium. He's a bit polarizing, but he offers a nice blank slate for gamers to project themselves onto in the context of games.

Most importantly, Katarn had more personality traits than "RAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!" because Starkiller loves him some yelling.

In JO and JA, the gameplay is built to allow customization, more so in JA because the premise is the creation of a new student to the Jedi academy.

Beyond customization of looks, abilities and all that jazz, you can align yourself with either the dark side or the light side of the Force.

TFUII gives you a fully fleshed out character, who already possesses all the cool abilities it was once fun to have to learn and unlock in the past. The powers are almost outdated, whether it be in the application or general development.

I got tired of seeing my hand glow blue to signify that I was locked into the force grab. I don't need to see the Force at work. I get that you need to be able to see what you're grabbing, but is there no better way to do this than a pulsing blue mass around your hand and the object.

On top of that, you don't get to decide anything with Starkiller until the very end, when you're granted to option to kill Vader or spare him... Only to have him tortured for answers to help the Rebel cause.

Seems a bit like black and slightly darker black, you know?

And to simplify such a monumental decision to A or B at the very end of woefully unfulfilling game makes it utterly worthless. So now that I chose not to kill Darth Vader, what do I get to do with it? Why is there no "Six Months Later" type of deal, where I can take missions to aid the Rebel Alliance, or had I chosen the dark side, missions to pick up where Vader and the original Starkiller failed in overthrowing the Emperor?

Sure, Starkiller is vindicated by not giving into his desire to kill Vader, but he's essentially turning a blind eye to Vader getting the Guantanamo Bay treatment.

TFUII feels very limited in almost every aspect of character development, both via the story and leveling up.

Part of the problem is that the entire game has Starkiller focused on one task without straying for even a single moment, which he's more than happy to regularly shout at Rahm Kota, the general of the Rebel Alliance at the time.


Perhaps it is in this singular goal that I could have used the context that likely would have been provided in the first game.

The Starkiller we're in control of is a clone of the original secret apprentice, Subject 1138, Darth Vader's pet project, Galen Marek, whom he trained from a young age in order to ultimately overthrow the Emperor.

Starkiller has a bunch of residual memories presumably belonging to Marek, which apparently gives him a predisposition towards being an *sshole.

I don't like Starkiller. He is an angsty little b*tch who I would have gladly allowed to be drawn and quartered in whatever way they would to that in the Star Wars universe.

The only reason I didn't is because A) it isn't possible and B) I wanted to finish the game before I hated it anymore than necessary.

TFUII can be summed up fairly simply as repetitive, bland and sadly aged.

The game is just three years old, but all the assets feel 10 years old.

It is a pretty game, down to the character models and level designs, though the latter gets to be repetitive as you progress through ships and facilities with the same exact interior decorator.

I like the level of detail given to the characters, with Starkiller once again earning the likeness of Sam Witwer. You can see all the emotion the characters put off, down to the angriest of angry shouts at one another, which is most of the emotion you see.

Even so, none of it carries any weight because the game is essentially a linear killing spree with an exorbitant amount of QTEs.

F*ck do I hate QTEs when they're abused in such a way. Bigger enemies are best defeated with button mashing QTEs or just Press X at the right time, three times, to do some cool sh*t you wish you could to in natural gameplay, but will never be able to.

The final battle with Darth Vader is one long QTE with intermittent, frustrating bouts with unfinished Starkiller clones.

It culminates with an extended button mash force lightning attack to a downed Vader that conveys the power Starkiller possesses, but eliminates the threat Vader has been built up to be throughout the Star Wars series.

And to have the game end with Vader locked up (for the light side) brings about so many questions that are not okay to leave unanswered. You can't have happy f*cking endings here.

What happens in the time Vader's locked up? Are we cool just glossing over that substantial historical event that has never before been mentioned in the Star Wars universe? Seems pretty suspicious that something so huge would go unreported in the annals of history, right?

There's fun to be had in this game, if you're into sometimes frustrating battles against enemies who have next to no right being any sort of threat to you, and nonexistent character development or customization, or passing references to a much grander universe.

It is difficult to introduce a character in one game, kill him, and then craft a sequel where his clone picks up where he left off. It is difficult because it shouldn't be done. Or not in two titles.

TFUII could have very easily been an expansion of the first game, and probably would have been better suited as such, with an appropriate price.

Here's a trivial gripe: Dual-wielding lightsabers. What the f*ck is this sh*t?

There was a time when the whole double-bladed lightsaber was badass, but having two lightsabers feels intensely OP. Having two lightsabers was something you had to earn or were granted in dire or necessary circumstances.

Having two out all the time just dulls the awesomeness of being a Jedi.

If you spent the entire game with a single lightsaber, then, during the final push towards Darth Vader, Rahm Kota goes down (but doesn't die) and lends you his lightsaber to slice through hordes of stormtroopers and defeating a few Sith along the way, I'd be cool with it.

But having a pair of the most coveted weapons ever conceived from start to finish ruins it completely.

I prefer games that are either entirely satisfying or has a ton of replay value. This game has neither.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Movie Break - Man of Steel and Why Everything Christopher Nolan Does is Overrated

     Even though I do not consider myself a loyal or faithful fan of Superman, I was excited for Man of Steel. I enjoyed the Richard Donner Superman movies, and enjoyed parts of Bryan Singer's Superman Returns.

In spite of my excitement for the release of Man of Steel, I find myself woefully disappointed with the movie as a whole.

There are things I love about this movie, the casting in particular. Laurence Fishburne works as Perry White, Michael Shannon is amazing as General Zod, I love Amy Adams no matter what she does, and Henry Cavill is a good choice for Kal-El/Clark Kent/Superman.

The action is great, and the decision to level a good portion of Metropolis was both bold and necessary for the chosen direction of the movie.

There are also things I don't care for in this movie. More than I can merely list.

First off, why is everything Instagrammed to a drab color? They may say only the flashbacks are done in a specifically gray tone, but everything looks on the verge of post-apocalyptic.

Now for the real problems, and maybe some nitpicks.

I'm fairly certain that Kevin Costner's version of Jonathan Kent was secretly a time-traveling Lex Luthor sleeper agent sent back to the early days of Clark Kent's life to create a sociapathic killer Kryptonian.

Clark saves a bus full of his peers from drowning and dying horrible deaths. Papa Kent says, "Maybe you shoulda let 'em die, son."

I understand the effort and measures necessary to keep Clark's extraterrestrial origins under wraps, but to put it so far above saving lives is ludicrous!!

Oh hey! There's a twister a'whippin' through town, and it's headed our way. Everyone makes it safely under the bridge except the Kent's dog, who is stuck in the backseat, scared sh*tless by the act of nature bearing down on him.

Clark could literally, LITERALLY, sprint to the car and back in the blink of an eye, save the dog and be back under the bridge before anyone can process the fact that the dog wasn't there a second ago.

Chalk it up to shock. You didn't see Clark disappear and reappear with a dog in his arms. You don't know what you saw, you just know you survived a f*cking tornado, and that's good enough for you, right?

No. Mr. Kent decides to run back to the car to get the dog, and when the twister overtakes him, he waves off Clark who is waiting, prepared to wrest his father from the clutches of certain death.

Once again, Clark's sole male role model in life to this point has told him twice, on camera, to disregard the life or lives of others in order to maintain his secret.

Are you sh*tting me?

Superman, who is supposed to be a symbol for hope. Not even a symbol, a beacon. The 'S' on his chest stands for hope, and he's being taught that it is better to keep his identity a secret than to spare even a single human life from an unnecessary death.

This character development completely ruins the dramatic ending where Superman snaps General Zod's neck in order to end his threat to humanity.

"But Superman doesn't readily kill his enemies or threats to the world" you may say. Well this Superman does.

Having been raised to be an *sshole, Superman's execution of Zod lacks the potency the writers intended. Then again, they can't have intended it to be potent at all since they A) ignore the fate of the family Zod was attempting to fry with his eye beams and B) follow it up with a scene featuring clunky one-liners and a demeaning remark from a female officer in the military.

"I just think he's kinda hot..." Really, Captain? Because thousands of people in Metropolis died in the battle between Superman and the Kryptonians. But I guess it's cool because Superman gets your motor running...

Let's talk about that destruction.

Superman vs. Zod and Co. causes immense amounts of property damage, which is apparent from the wide shots we get of the city during and after the fight.

What is lost in the exchange is the human lives that were lost. Does it suddenly not matter that there are people living in the city? Or is it implied that everyone was evacuated or escaped unscathed with almost zero notice of these aliens starting sh*t with Supes?

The whole Superman snapping Zod's neck is a big deal because Superman is forced into the act because Zod is using his heat beams to threaten a small family trapped in the train station the battle spills into.

Superman is trying to hold him back, but can't and then breaks Zod's sh*t supersonic style. Superman screams out of apparent agony of having to take a life, but the family he was so desperate to save isn't shown scurrying away or even gaping at Superman having just killed a guy, or having just brushed with agonizing death.

Nope. Nothing. That one family, the thousands of families in the newly rubbled city, none of them matter.

And how about Zod's powers? They don't really make sense of you pay attention to the story, and the science presented by Superman's real father, Jor-El.

Jor-El says that the Earth's sun will strengthen Kal-El's body, and grant him abilities he wouldn't ordinarly having growing up on Krypton. We see his x-ray vision and super-hearing manifest sometime in elementary school.

It makes sense because he had grown up under the Earth's sun, giving his powers time to develop.

What doesn't make sense is why within five minutes of being on Earth, Zod and his pals get the x-ray vision, heat vision and super everything else.

I understand the strength, speed and ability to fly, but they shouldn't instantly get the powers that took Kal-El close to a decade under the Earth's sun to develop.

And why is Zod able to not only rein the powers in when they manifest all at once, but exert complete control over them with a deep breath, forceful blink and subsequent angry, determined stare?

And if being under the Earth's sun for 33 years strengthened Kal-El beyond that of Krypton, why wasn't he more powerful than the three of them combined?

Not only does he have an entire 33 years of exposure to the Earth's sun, the roaming Kryptonians had been living in the atmosphere of Krypton, not that of Earth or under the rays of Earth's sun. So they shouldn't pose the sort of threat they ultimately do in the movie.

Here's a question: Is it just me, or is Christopher Nolan a fan of turning otherwise harmless or even helpful things into weapons?

Not that Nolan wrote Man of Steel but much like the clean energy reactor to nuclear bomb trick in The Dark Knight Rises, Kal-El's ship is made into a black hole generating bomb that conveniently disposes of the villains.

Science doesn't work that way!!!

The complicated technology of a Kryptonian spacecraft, which was magically repurposed and reprogrammed with Jor-El's somehow sentient consciousness, is almost immediately figured out by the scientist who sets the bomb off.

How did he know the device needed to be turned vertically before it would accept the crystal? Did Jor-El walk him through that one, but he just forgot until that moment?

Also, why when this black hole making bomb goes off does Lois Lane fall? Everything from the ship, the people on the ship down the piles of rubble on the ground is being violently sucked into whatever oblivion has been created with this device.

But apparently Lois Lane doesn't give a f*ck about physics.

She'll just lose her grip on the cargo bay doors and fall downward at a varying speeds until Superman spots her, grabs her and sets her back down on solid ground. Disregard the fact that she was close enough to the singularity to be wrested from the world we know and into the unknown abyss of space...

And once Superman grabs Lois, he is visibly strained against the pull of the black hole, and only through sheer force of will and F*CKING SUPER POWERS is he able to escape its clutches.

But Lois Lane? Nope. She's largely unaffected by the pull of the black hole, save for her fall being minimally slowed before being saved.

Oh, and let me talk about Lois Lane. Here role in Man of Steel is an utter waste of time.

We all know who Lois Lane is. She's determined, strong-willed, too busy digging for stories to notice Superman in glasses working right next to her.

The MoS version of Lois Lane expects her credibility to be beyond reproach when she all but stamps her foot like a child while whining to Perry White that she's a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, which is apparently the quickest and only way to convey to the audience that THIS Lois Lane is important, and has a necessary role in the movie.

Which she doesn't.

Even though Superman is the focus of the story, his impact on the world around him is embodied in his relationship with Lois Lane, which is lost in this iteration of the origin story.

Lois Lane stumbles upon Clark when she's doing a story on some huge Arctic anomaly that turns out to be a Kryptonian ship. Then she spends an indiscriminate amount of time tracking down any and all leads she can find to put together a story about aliens that Perry White won't touch with a 10-foot pole.

So she puts it on a tabloid site and it spreads like wildfire.

Lois Lane is a crack journalist, but she's childish and annoying in Man of Steel.

What basis is there for the kiss she has with Superman at the end? She has known him for maybe a week and she goes from wanting to dissect him to "ZOMG!!! Do me Superman!!!"

With no character development in between, mind you.

Lois Lane is supposed to be enamored with Superman, which she is in the end of MoS, but the impact is deadened by the fact that she knows Superman and Clark Kent are one and the same.

The amazing thing about the relationship is that she works with Clark Kent, who is an awkward, clumsy fixture at The Daily Planet, and she develops a love for Superman, but can't put it together that they are the same person despite being this amazing journalist.

When you don't have that perpetual tension of Clark's disguise being almost entirely reliant on a pair of glasses, there's no reason to care about Lois with Superman, making all the Superman-centric stories she writes, where she tries to discover who he really is, impossible.

So she's going to have to quit being a journalist...

And when you reveal Clark getting his job at The Daily Planet, there's no doubt that it is just Superman in sh*tty glasses, that are not suited for Henry Cavill's face.

And did you like the heavy-handed Jesus references, with Kal-El being a savior and sh*t?

Jesus was 33 when he was crucified. Kal-El is 33 when Zod tells the people of Earth to give him up, calling Kal-El out or face the consequences.

He just happens to tell us all he is 33 when he is talking to a priest, in a church, where he sits in such a way so the camera can shoot him against the stained glass windows where he appears side by side with Jesus.

There's also the Jesus beard Clark wears during his fishboating days.

I get that when you think of saviors in this day and age that Jesus is the figure that comes to mind, but why can't we just establish Superman as a savior rather than simply tell us, every 47 seconds, that he is a savior, a beacon and a symbol of hope?

It would probably have more traction with the audience if his surrogate father didn't spend his formative years teaching him to give no f*cks about humanity.

And let's flash back to scene at the end, where we see Clark as a kid, playing with his dog, and wearing something resembling a cape, striking a very Superman-like pose. Might I ask where he got the reference from? Were there Superman comics to be read?

That might have been a fun little foreshadow if it hadn't come in the last two minutes of the movie.

It doesn't help that it comes after a scene where Clark and Martha visit Jonathan's grave, and Martha takes to praising Clark's strength and reinforcing the idea that he was raised to bear the weight of the world, because he trained, ate his vitamins and said his prayers, brother...

Did we forget that a city was just reduced to rubble, with thousands of people dead, dying, and trapped under buildings and debris, or that the planet just endured several minutes of a forced terraforming process that probably doesn't just go back to being the way it was, thus permanently altering human existence forever?

I still don't know why Russell Crowe was in this movie...

Reviews for Man of Steel note that it doesn't stray from the formula (false), but is entertaining (false) and leaves the door open for sequels (debatable), while possibly starting a DC Comics version of the Marvel universe with a sustainable and successful run of movies for their top heroes and characters (false beyond words mere mortals can fathom).

But hey, we're apparently going to get a Batman/Superman team-up in Man of Steel 2, which has people excited, I guess. 

I just don't see how Nolan, who created a Batman that exists in a very grounded, real world, can bring such a character into a world where Superman exists. You can't have it both ways. It cannot be gritty and real but also spacey and grandiose. It just doesn't f*cking work.

Tell me again why Superman couldn't have flown around the Earth to turn back time in order to save the world and spare Metropolis a hefty death toll?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sniper Elite V2 and More Drab-Colored Shootery Things

     Maybe I'm expecting too much from developers, but would it kill them to make a shooter with actual tension? I understand that shooters require a certain amount of balancing to allow players to recover from firefights, because it is understood that they'll absorb damage or get into tight situations.

For a game that puts emphasis on stealth, masking your sniper shots by syncing up with explosions, sneaking through ruined buildings to silently eliminate patrols, why is there still an abundance of health granted to the player?

SNIPER Elite V2. The word sniper is in the title. If you find yourself in firefights, you're doing something wrong.

As such, the player should be punished for failing to remain unnoticed. Alerting enemies does tend to lead to quick death, but there's still room to recover, which removes the tension of being a sniper.

The biggest issue is that enemy snipers don't present a much greater threat than standard grunts in the game. I could almost understand making standard enemies more forgiving, just to have them pose less of a threat.

But snipers are designed to take out an enemy in one shot, but in this game, they need half a dozen shots to get a job done.

I wanted to have to hunt down enemy snipers, or evade them. I wanted them to be one-hit kill enemies, not run-of-the-mill enemies with sniper rifles and better hiding places. Maybe I got caught up in the expectation.

Pardon me for wanting something closer to Enemy at the Gates in video game form as opposed to an unimpressive, drab, cookie-cutter shooter with a briefly entertaining feature of x-ray shots.

The x-ray shots would have been better if they carried some significance rather than seemingly arbitrary, albeit gruesome, moments.

Is it cool to see someone's skull shattered by my well-placed bullet? Yes. It is especially cool to shoot an enemies testicle and see it in full, gruesome, slow motion? Abso-f*cking-lutely!

Does it need to happen all the time, or on an otherwise standard enemy? Probably not.

Again, it is my expectations getting in the way of the game, I guess, but I expected more of a cat and mouse approach to gameplay. Avoiding enemies to find high perches to pick off important dignitaries, high-ranking military officials and such.

Sniper Elite V2 felt like a basic shooter with sniping elements and too much emphasis on weak story.

I guess what's important, at least for me, is that it is out of the way. It started out enjoyable enough, and the x-ray views of bullets shredding enemies was satisfying, but the lack of any real threat from enemy snipers, thin story and complete lack of significant characters just ruined the appeal over the long haul.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Everything Adam Jensen Didn't Ask For

     I remember when Deus Ex: Human Revolution came out in 2011. Correction, I remember hearing about the game in passing and then getting it at Gamestop. I didn't have any expectations for the game, nor did I have any experience with its lauded predecessor, simply titled Deus Ex.

Two years later, I finally finished it.

Much like Assassin's Creed, Deus Ex is a game that sparked my interest initially, but between long layoffs spent playing better games or spending too much time watching my friends play through, fell into the 'To Be Continued..." pile of games.

I had to change how I played the game to find my groove and truly enjoy it. I focused on building my character the way I was playing the game, fine-tuning the interactions with characters to make the most of the social enhancer (which I acquired far too late in the game to fully enjoy), and giving my Adam Jensen full energy to be able to cloak, take down, slice, dice, chop and lop through heavier populated areas.

Like previous endeavors in stealth games, I played with more force and violence than cloak and dagger. It wasn't a matter of frustration with the stealth system, it was just too tempting to see a lone sentry and not want to cut him down with those fancy arm blades.

I didn't get into the fun of picking up fridges and throwing them at people in this playthrough, but I may have to in the future.

Deus Ex is an interesting game, especially if you treat it as a standalone rather than a spiritual successor or prequel to the original. The premise is interesting, and the story raises some great ideas regarding augmenting human genetics to adapt to cybernetic enhancements.

However, those great questions lead to heavy-handed choices, particularly at the end where you are presented with choices as to how you handle the information you've uncovered.

Your choice can end augmentation, allow it to continue unregulated, allow it to continue under the guidance of the Illuminati, or destroy the information you've uncovered and the world is none the wiser.

In the end, however, this choice seems largely separate from the rest of the game. The story builds to it well enough, but in the presence of the big questions and legitimate moral conundrums, the choices are very black and white.

After the choices, you're treated to a cutscene of stock footage with a voiceover further explaining the choice, and not the actual effect it had.

While it's nice to give the player a choice, it also removes the personal impact of that choice because the result is static. You play the game a very specific way, taking care not to kill people, or killing everyone, only to have your efforts nullified by the narrow-minded, predetermined endings.

Why not have a hashed out aftermath portion of the game, not DLC mind you, but a six-months later scenario where Jensen is once again walking through Sarif Industries or the city streets, talking about the way the world has changed since his decision

Or have each choice could bring up a tree of paths following the release or destruction of the information, allowing the player to truly guide the choice rather than allowing the information to dictate what it is the world does or reacts to.

Long before then, however the prospect of choosing to play through in stealth or use force is eliminated by the boss battles which Eidos farmed out, which forced players to use force to complete.

It is clear from the start that boss battles didn't fit in the game. It made sense to encounter each of the people responsible for the assault on Sarif industries, and the events that led to Jensen's augmentation. It didn't make sense to remove choice for such necessary encounters.

Gameplay is smooth, augmentations are interesting to upgrade since almost all of them serve an actual purpose rather than being gimmicky or one-off abilities, except for that Icarus-slow fall ability. That just seems to be giving lazy players an ability to leap from tall buildings rather than navigate down them the way the got up.

The gunplay is satisfying, though combat as a whole feels lopsided.

The game preaches choice, yet seems to punish you for engaging even street thugs. I understand the heavily armored guards doing substantial damage, and being more ruthless and brazen in their attacks.

But street thugs seem almost MORE likely to rush me while I'm in cover rather than seeking cover themselves. Humans should care more about their well being, you know?

And maybe it is just my own feeling, but for a relatively short game, Deus Ex felt like it took forever.

And why the f*ck is everything yellow?!?

If the future is yellow, count me out. Deus Ex just feels a little hollow because at its core it is several game types and elements and ideas loosely stitched together. There is no weight to any of it because it all feels disjointed.

But whatever... It's over.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Bulletstorm and Other Unnecessary Political Incorrectness

     There are some games that spark debate about artistic merit. Games that push the boundaries of interactivity, gameplay and immersion. Then there are games like Bulletstorm that are excessively crass, thin on story and intentionally gimmicky, almost to a fault.

Is Bulletstorm fun? Yes. Is it an amazing feat of game development? Not even close.

You play as Grayson Hunt, voiced by Steven Blum, better known as Wolverine from Wolverine and the X-Men if you're into that kind of thing. Blum provides an appropriately aggressive and raspy voice for the swear-laden dialogue running throughout the game.

Hunt is an angry man, possibly bi-polar, definitely a little psychotic and obsessive. Beyond being overly eager to rip every living thing on the planet of Stygia a new one en route to his former general with which he holds an intense grudge with, Hunt is also a man who takes every opportunity to sprinkle colorful language into everything he says.

Except when he sprinkles, it's sort of like going to put a dash of salt on something, but some d*ck unscrewed the top, so literally all of the salt ends up on your food.

You either love him or hate him, or play with the volume down on the dialogue, or the game in its entirety because everything is loud on purpose.

It is a fairly simple game with a game mechanic tailor-made for showing off and being creative. The gadget is referred to as a leash, which not only assigns points to the different ways you kill enemies, but allows you to grab enemies at a distance, and pull them towards you, or toss them up into the air once upgraded.

The goal of the game, beyond exacting revenge on General Sarrano, is to rack up points by using the environment, different weapons and basically thinking of the most f*cked up ways to dispose of the local populous and enjoying it.

That endearing crassness extends to this mechanic, with skill shots named "Gang Bang", "Rear Entry", "Assplosion" and "Boned."

Points from skillshots can be used to upgrade weapons, and upgrades range from increased ammo capacity, unlocking charged shots, as well as unlocking more weapons. The assault rifle-like weapon is standard, but you can acquire a pistol/flare gun, sniper rifle, shotgun, and my personal favorites, the flailgun and penetrator.

The former shoots two grenades linked together by a chain which can be fired round the necks of enemies, and around the feet to trip enemies, while the latter fires a rocket propelled drill that impales enemies, possibly sticking them to walls, floors, other enemies, or just launching them skyward.

I can't help but laugh whenever I pin an enemy to the ground with one of those drills and watching him spin around, getting the "Breakdance" skillshot. It shouldn't be so satisfying to maim a person in that fashion, but it is.

However, tucked underneath the swearing, blood and guts, and explosions (did I mention there are explosions?), is a story just begging to be ignored.

In a nutshell, Hunt and Co. were once assassins doing the dirty work of General Sarrano, and it wasn't until one particular job that they decided to have a heart and question their General as to who they were killing, and if they were really just taking out innocents.

From there, the group known as Dead Echo went rogue, became pirates, amassed a substantial bounty on their heads, and ultimately took it upon themselves to take out Sarrano and his ship above Stygia.

Fittingly, upon crashing to the planet's surface, all but two of the Dead Echo contingent are dead.

Stygia is the setting, and offers plenty of lush scenery as well as a crumbling metropolis that houses everything from mutated freaks to man-eating plants big a small.

The story follows a linear path through the world, which is largely forgettable. Sure, there are unique areas, but there is nothing that stands out, no awe-inspiring landmarks or sights to behold, which is a bit of an oversight for a game that gives players points for pressing a button to zoom in on things it wants you to see.

The majority of said zooming is done when mini-bosses arrive, or there is a particularly large thing to gawk at.

So on this trek from point A to point B, from the crash site to Sarrano, all sorts of things happen, but it all sort of jumbles together. The action and focus on scoring points with kills overshadows what it is that's going on.

I was keenly aware of the tension built between Ishi and Hunt with Ishi's AI component threatening to take over at any moment, as well as the reveal that the foul-mouthed female Trischka's father was the target Dead Echo was ordered to eliminate, which was the exact time Hunt decided to think for a second about the mindless murdering he and his compatriots had been carrying out.

But being aware of the story did not make me care about it or anyone involved. It's difficult to focus on a passingly emotional revelation or plot point with Hunt screaming things like, "You scared the dick off me" or shouting, to a woman mind you, that he's going to "Kill your dick."

For a game that I didn't think warranted such deep discussion, I sure spent a lot of time discussing...

I can't help but laugh at the sequel baiting at the end of the game, where Sarrano is supposedly revived with machine parts like Ishi, as well as having taken control of Ishi. There doesn't seem to be any need, or demand, for a sequel.

Bulletstorm came out during a time when Gears of War was a big deal, and Epic Games wanted to create more games with comically manly character designs, gritty environments and satisfying action, sans satisfying story.

Thanks, Cliffy B. Stick to making game engines...

So if you want swearing, shooting and 'splosions, play Bulletstorm. Better yet, just play Halo online and you'll spout many of the same choice phrases that were carefully written for this game.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Call of Duty: Black Ops and The Merit of the Excessive Loud Noises

     I never played Call of Duty until I borrowed Modern Warfare 2 from a friend, so I'm quite certain I missed the point when this series was respected by more than just online gamers. I feel like after MW2, the story was just tacked on to subsequent entries that focused more on the multiplayer side of things.

Black Ops doesn't have a tacked on feeling to the story, but the gameplay doesn't feel new and everything is too linear.

It has a nice polished look, satisfying sound direction, and top-notch voice acting. I mean, Gary Oldman? F*ck yeah! The soundtrack is appropriate, with plenty of loud songs to score the loud action.

I understand that volume can be used to convey the enormity of something, but does everything have to be so loud in this game?

When the game lets the atmosphere kick in, it works. The mission where you're driving a boat through a river in the dead of night, and The Rolling Stones "Sympathy for the Devil" kicks in, it felt appropriate. It fit.

I don't even like The Rolling Stones all that much, but I smiled the whole time the song was playing, though I couldn't help but feel the tiniest bit guilty as I mowed down scores of Vietnamese, blowing up their barracks, bridges and creating general mayhem.

But far too often, there is too much shooting, exploding and yelling to appreciate the atmosphere.

The gameplay isn't bad, just nothing spectacular. The selection of weapons is limited by the period, and more often than not, the attachments are more important than the actual weapons, especially when you realize there's practically no difference in the weapons other than their appearance.

Yes, smaller guns make smaller sounds, some guns fire at different rates, but when you get down to it, a shot in the face from the python works as well as a shot in the face from a distance with a Dragunov.

If you're looking for a game with guns, explosions, Ice Cube and an unimportant plot twist, CoD BlOps is the game for you!

About that plot twist...

So you spend the game controlling Alex Mason, who is being interrogated because he knows the secret to a bunch of numbers implanted in his brain that will be the key to an attack in the future, which we are ultimately led to believe may have been the Kennedy assassination.

But the plot twist is that, throughout the game, Mason fights side by side with Viktor Reznov, who played a role in the World at War entry in the CoD series.

Reznov leads a prison break with Mason and is presumably killed, but he returns later at various points to aid Mason.

Plot twist!!! Every appearance of Reznov after the prison break is a hallucination. After Mason had been brainwashed and programmed with those numbers and a mission, Reznov slipped in some programming of his own that told Mason to kill someone else.

So when Mason and Reznov stealth into the base at the end, and we see Reznov yelling at and ultimately shooting the important scientist man, it is really Mason losing his sh*t due to the effects of the brainwashing.

After the reveal, Mason is cured, set free and brought along on a mission to kill Dragovich, as Reznov had wanted. Dragovich is the one who hints that Mason was programmed to kill Kennedy, and he had a hand in it, but overshadowing that plot point with the Reznov thing dulls the ending quite a bit.

Upon completion of the campaign, you are immediately tossed into the zombie mode of the game that is difficult to handle alone, and offers next to no guidance as to how to complete the damn thing.

Long story short, solid game, nothing spectacular. It was cool to see a different take on the history of the period covered in the game, but it didn't do much to make the story memorable. I just hope I don't develop PTSD from all the Vietnamese folk I killed in cold blood... Because that would really suck.