Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Xbox One: T-That's It. No, Really, There's Nothing Else. What Did You Expect?


     Today, amid an hour of pandering to a very particular, notably non-gamer crowd, Microsoft presented Xbox One. Thankfully they had the good grace to give us both a look at the box (I'm looking at you, Sony) and the specs. Things don't look particularly bad on the hardware side- I mean, it could always be worse-

*ahem*
and then promptly returned to a regular programming of sports games, TV, sports TV, fantasy sports- oh, but for you gamers out there (the people that Microsoft is sadly obligated to pretend to have an affinity for) don't worry. Don't you worry your pretty little heads one bit, because Microsoft has you covered. with Quantum Break, a video game about TV, and a new Halo game- er, wait, no, that was a TV show too.
Why? Why. Let me clarify- WHY? WHHYYYYY

Let us pretend, for a moment- that Microsoft actually understood their acutal demographic (when I use the term "actual", I mean people who would actually buy an Xbox in the first place). No, wait, let's not pretend that, because after today's conference, I can't even begin to theorize what that would look like. They were announcing the new Xbox- despite their attempts to make it seem otherwise, it is a machine that is still at heart a game console- because it is a game console BRAND- and what did they show? Fifty percent TV and movies, twenty-five percent sports, and the rest of their time filled embarrassingly by pseudo-games. Besides, of course, their only hardcore mention...

Clerpty Derpty: Ghersts.
NOW YOU CAN HAVE A DOG AND ADVANCED FISH AI.


I give up. I just pray that they have something to show at E3- Not that I think that would make up for this horrendous presentation.



Saturday, March 9, 2013

Movies That Should Be Games: Tomb Raider :B


     Okay, okay, I know this is a game, not a movie. However, it feels so much like a movie at some points that I felt justified giving my post this title. Not only that, but the first 30 minutes-ish of the game is minimally interactive compared to the rest of the adventure, which is when the thought first crossed my mind that "this would make a pretty good video game." *cue trollface*

     In all seriousness, I was personally swept into Lara's struggle by the painful first moments of the game, despite the heavy penchant for quicktime. However, watching a friend play, I realized HOW MUCH quicktime there is. I have to say, the implementation of the events isn't bad, but I pretty much always prefer no quicktime to some quicktime. Once that was past, however, the game settles into a comfortable relative openness( I'm not saying the game is truly open, however), caves and pits giving way to forests and cabins. At the same time, the game reveals its leveling system. There's nothing spectacular about it, and I think that's appropriate in a game of its type. After all, this is an action/adventure wrapped in a survival ribbon, and deep leveling isn't required. I'm not saying it wouldn't be interesting, but the game moves at a good clip as is, which actually supports the story and character development. Lara is constantly beset by difficult circumstance, which is at first silly in its abundance but leads into a rich adventure.

     More importantly though, the animation and graphical detail is fantastic in this title. Even on the 360, I was  wowed by the detail, Lara's constantly changing shades of disrepair, the likelike motion of the enviroment, and yes, Lara herself, moves with convincing trepidation. I feel like this game stands as one of the primary examples why motion capture is the best means of animation in games of this type, and her body language speaks volumes about the character. She's scared, but she knows what she has to do.

     Make no mistake-  this story is about Lara, and that's where it shines. Some of the outlying characters, while not poorly written, seem a tad too archetypical for me, particularly Mathias. If he was so creepy from the outset( and he WAS), why did Sam trust him so readily? *shrugs* Just a design choice I didn't care for. I particularly liked Alex as a character, I thought he was the one with the fewest noticable contradictions, and he was second only to Lara herself. :P
 
     All in all, a solid game, and true to the concept of character growth, Lara became noticably more skilled and it resounded in the gameplay. I'd love to see more of what Crystal Dynamics has to offer in the future, and I'm looking forward to even more ambitious titles with the same sensibilities.


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Metal Gear Rising: REVEMBERBLAMANEANCE



     So here's the thing: I have a thing. A thing for Japanese swords and dudes swinging them around. Also, I have a potentially even bigger thing for angular, mech-style design. Metal Gear Rising has both, so we all knew I was going to play this game. However, the point of this is not whether I played the game, but what I thought about it, so moving on...

    Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is one of the most unfortunately-named games I have ever had the pleasure of encountering. I say that intently, because I walked in expecting a poorly written script with same-y combat and a gimmick or two and instead got a tongue-in-cheek script with fantastic combat and the most entertaining inclusion to a combat system I've seen in years. Now, let's not jump the gun- I am aware that the game isn't perfect. AI is still par for the Metal Gear series, which means sophisticated cyborg soldiers will stare directly at you at not notice you while you impale their comrades... but the combat. THE COMBAT. It makes up for some of the outdated design choices and gaming norms that occasionally peek out from beneath the game's shiny exterior. Why, you may ask? Because the developer had the good sense to take a simple concept and run with it. 
FORWARD, PATSY!


     Swords. Y'know what's crazy? THEY CUT THINGS. When you're a cyborg and you have million-dollar enhancements to your body, THEY CUT MORE THINGS. Blade Mode, in which time slows and you have the opportunity to target and dice weakened points in the enemy's body, at first glance appears to break up the flow of combat and wrench your gears. In fact, it gives one a momentary breather and gives one the pleasure of watching whatever object you target turn into sushi. On top of that, it puts one up close, right in the middle of the battle. You feel connected to Raiden as you angle your slices to connect with exposed weak points.

     I'm not going to harp about the story, because it is standard Metal Gear fare, save one element: a refined focus on the main character, for better or worse. I mean, the advertising for this game was all raiden close-ups, so go figure. I really felt as though the events of the plot were of little consequence in comparison to what was happening with Raiden as a person, and maybe that was intentional. (SPOILERS) Everything served to get Jack the Ripper boiling to the surface. Although, once he did surface, the effect was basically "Now I win" and then that element of his personality faded somewhat and merely remained as a game mechanic. I was disappointed by that conclusion to his development, and that they didn't reveal more of Jack's backstory.

Also, a quick note since video game violence is a hot-button topic these days: the intense violence is actually addressed within the game, and I found it suprisingly poignant for someone who thinks fantasy violence to be a non-issue. Even though I don't feel regret personally for killing digital peoples, Raiden's reaction to the realization that the "scum" he justified killing were people struggling to make it just like him was a great moment, and I think is a great reminder of how easily people are swallowed by self-righteousness, even in war. 

*gets off soapbox*

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Outdated Reviews: Fullmetal Alchemist The Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa

     Someone tell me if I broke the record for longest post title of all time with that one.
     
     Anybody remember this face? In October of 2003 the first episode of Fullmetal Alchemist aired, and plunged us headfirst into a vivid anime world of consequence. Tragedy was the flavor that was heavily sprinkled over the series to give it the trademark poignancy so many other anime cannot hope to achieve. Of course, in my personal opinion, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was the superior of the two series, but I should probably avoid that rabbit trail, or we would never come back. This post is about the movie that completed the first series, The Conqueror of Shamballa, so don't expect to sound off on the show beyond the premise. I don't have nearly enough endurance as a writer to say everything I want to say about this story. *proceeds to summarize the anime anyway*

     For those who are unfamiliar, Fullmetal Alchemist is the story of Edward and Alphonse Elric, two brothers who are also alchemists in a country called Amestris, where science never replaced the medieval study of the metaphysical. The setting mirrors early 1900's industry and architecture, and is done convincingly, the similarities between Amestris and reality only proving to further immerse the viewer. However, the setting is hardly the focus- Edward and Alphonse, still children and having lost their mother to a serious illness, use their budding abilities to attempt to bring their mother back to life. The result is disaster, leaving Edward missing an arm and a leg, and leaving Alphonse nothing more than a soul bonded to a suit of armor. Realizing their mistake in attempting to revive their mother, they instead focus their lives on returning their bodies to normal. Edward, the older (shorter) and more talented of the two, joins the military as a State Alchemist, hoping to gain the resources necessary to retrieve the mythical Philosopher's Stone, which he and Alphonse believe would give them the power to return their bodies to normal.

     Without spoiling any of the exploits that follow in the anime, the movie is meant to be the ending of the Elric's story. In true FMA fashion, the film is rife with emotion. The mood is melancholy in the earlier segments of the film while Edward remains in the real world- in Germany in the 1920's, separated from his brother and other loved ones in Amestris after the events of the anime. No, you didn't misread that- one of the more uncommon elements of this film is that it ties the fantasy world in the series to the real world. The tension is universal in this story- post-World War I Germany is filled with distrust and bitterness after the national humiliation that was the Treaty of Versailles. It's not until the viewer is introduced to Alphonse that the bleakness starts to fade, introducing an interesting emotional counterpoint to Edward's emotional resignation. Where Edward feels as though he is receiving his allotted judgment, Alphonse is tirelessly searching for his brother. This emotionally poignant section leads into a bittersweet conclusion that is not without loss, which resounds true to the theme of the anime- equivalent exchange. "To create, something of equal value must be lost."  All in all, the movie is a fitting, if not perfect end to a series rich in dramatic complexity. The antagonizing group of this production, the Thule Society, seems to be a bit of a cop-out, introducing characters that are cheaply disposed of, which actually hurts the former depth of emotion that made this anime so personally touching. That being said, it can't ding the armor (behehehe) of Edward and Alphonse's relationship, which continues to make for a compelling, fulfilling driving force for the story.

    Finally, how can I bring up this movie without addressing the mind-blower of a fight scene between a mutated Gluttony and the now motherless Wrath? Let me say- the whole movie doesn't reach this standard- but the estimated minute-and-a-half of action is, in my opinion, a pinnacle of animation. The smoothness of the animation, the high-impact blows, just, just- AIOEHGOIHEVECEJCJEJJECKLDJZKZKKKZKK. Anyway, go out when you feel like you're in a drudgery of repetition, and rent this film for a step out of the ordinary.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Blabbing About: The Hobbit

     So I've had a little more free time in the past couple of weeks. I've tried to stay busy improving things at home during this time, but I have inevitably ended up with a tad of extra time for watching movies, etc. I've decided in the wake of a deluge of film and television that I have viewed, to briefly sound off on some of the more significant pieces. I hope no one minds. If you do, unfortunately my decision is final- best open up a tab and start watching cute puppy videos on YouTube for a while until I get through this.

     No doubt many of you would be able to share stories of anxiously awaiting the film version of The Hobbit as the years have passed since the completion of The Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies. Tolkien's earliest fantasy success was a book that perhaps succeeded in areas where the LOTR books failed( not to say that Tolkien intended for the books to serve the same purpose)- it blended light-hearted adventure and peril, leaving neither element behind and forever maintaining that rythmic English literary meter and charm present in the works of such writers as C.S. Lewis, A.A. Milne, etc. Having seen the film, I'm happy to say that Jackson has again managed to bottle that feel- that impeccable blend of humor and danger that pervades the book. There is a very physical, impish comedy present, but not without witticisms and frankness. Again, like the book before it, there are funny moments in this film that I instantly related to. For instance, Bilbo's initial irritation with Gandalf that transfers over to his first encounter with the Dwarves as they eat him out of house and home (literally), his reluctance to leave home and his eagerness to accept the Dwarves' dismissing of him as a valuable asset to their party, his preoccupation with tidiness, all these moments draw chuckles that come  not purely from the comedic assets, but also their familiarity.     Okay, some complaints, because I've delivered far too much praise in such a short period of time, and now I feel dirty. As a stand-alone film, The Hobbit is an entertaining, if not extended romp through Tolkien's Middle Earth, exposing a happier side of this still-perilous land. There is notable, heart-warming character development. Bilbo sheds a few onion layers, revealing a peek into the brave, adventurous wanderer that lies beneath the simple, comfort-loving hobbit. However, I did take issue with the invulnerability of the Dwarves and Bilbo. You'll find them tumbling through rocky caverns at top speed, bouncing off walls, hanging off edges of crumbling mountains that fall directly around them but never quite touch them, fighting off goblins so numerous and claustrophobic that they look like a bowl of Captain Crunch, but yet taking no wounds, and so on. I wanted to love the actions sequences, and to some degree, I appreciated the raucous insanity of it all, the kinetic movement the pulled the camera along with the party as they ran across fields dodging arrows and Wargs, the chaos as I found the Dwarves charging through billows of Goblins, but I hit a point where I disconnected from the happy embrace the movie had on me and fell back into the real, trying to ignore thoughts such as "that's impossible" and "no one could ever survive that". I tried to reason it away, thinking that perhaps that absurdity of the adventure is what made it so grand, and so worth Bilbo telling it to Frodo, but... it still removed me from the movie and placed me squarely in reality. No thumbs up for that. This party doesn't need to be likened to rag dolls in order for me to appreciate the danger they're in.Now, as a Tolkien fan, I have to express my disappointment with the inclusion of Azog, deemed the "Pale Orc" in the movie. I immediately let out a "Hw-whaaaaaaa??", knowing that in canon, Azog died far prior to the events of The Hobbit, and didn't have his arm amputated by Thorin, but his head lopped off by Dain Ironfoot, who was even mentioned in the film. I don't see the necessity of including Azog as a driving villain to pursue Bilbo and company throughout- the story is already rife with constant trials and danger, and already has a larger threat in The Necromancer. I enjoyed the confrontation between Thorin and Azog in the final minutes of the movie, but it was cheapened knowing that, according to Tolkien, that never happened... oh well. This is the farthest I've ever strayed from collegiate comedy in any blog post thus far, so I'd better stop before I completely evolve into an adult. Long story short, The Hobbit is great, go see it, but it will be ever-so-slightly less good if you know anything substansial about Tolkien's universe.     THNBPBOTBETTJTTJTTHTHTHLAKKJWJDKWKKLWCMW. That ought to make up for the lack of jokes. Cheers!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

ZombiU Is More Polarizing Than Justin Beiber

     It was only a matter of time before I used Justin Beibeirberbler in one of my post titles. This is the internet, after all, and its primary purpose is to slowly coerce you into having an opinion about meaningless pop symbols.

     I might be wrong about that.

     Anyway, you might have noticed that my banner is in reference to that other thing that was in my title. I don't honestly recall the last time I saw so many divided opinions on a game. Metacritic's listings of Critic Reviews place ZombiU anywhere from forty-five out of a hundred to a ninety-two out of a hundred. Huhwhazzuh? Hurnnnnggngraflblagh? Thpbhphthhththth. That's pretty much all I have to say about that.
     I mean, it's at times such as this that I need to know- don't we have a scientific way of deducing, for instance, how good a game is, or more specifically, how good a game's graphics are? Perhaps I should avoid asking rhetorical questions, but let's categorize this.  ZombiU is graphically on every side of town. Occasional jaggies and low resolution textures still peek in now and then. Having played the game, I can tell you that it isn't a concern. Environments are 90% dark. Dark as in, you feel like the need to turn on a flashlight. Dark as in sometimes, while playing in the daytime, you will have a nagging urge to find a light switch until you realize that it's just the game and it isn't dark outside. While you are nervously squeaking like a toddler playing tag, you often overlook low-res textures. Why? Because even if you could see them well enough to care, you would be too focused on not having your face eaten by this.
     Also, it should be pointed out that having good ambience and lighting goes a loong way towards relieving technical concerns. I'm not the only one who has noticed this, either. For instance, check out this video. Look at that rain. LOOK AT IT
The environments are spectacular in this game. There are no (correction, very few) Halo-esque set pieces that make you feel like a tiny ant in a world of giants, instead the game relies upon mostly tight corridors. Despite that, the hallways and rooms are punctuated with painfully bright lights that spot your screen with lens flare (which has, for once, found a practical placement in a game), and windows reveal a desolate landscape, simultaneously fiery and vividly gloomy, to coin an oxymoron. The world appears as if seen through the lens of a Canon- slightly fuzzy around the edges with some mild, murky discoloration, and all in the name of atmosphere. You're always on the inside, looking out. You get the feeling that the camera isn't you peering into the game world, but someone in the game peering at you, distantly but intently watching your plight from some hidden room.

I LOVE IT.

     At once, I felt trapped in this game. I was surrounded on all sides by an amorphous, fluctuating horde. When you can't see them, you know the zombies are coming. When you are greeted by a sudden red blip on your radar while out searching for supplies, your blood turns cold and you ponder returning to the safe house and never coming out- but if you stay there, you have no chance to get out. So, you nervously make your way out into the world, struggling to stay alive and not knowing from which direction death will come at you next. If you die, you lose your character forever and he/she is replaced. You lose your weaponry and supplies, and the only way you can recover them is by killing your former, zombified self. Progress is slow for all but the most intrepid survivors. Zombies aren't made out of paper, each one is your equal in physical prowess, and you can only win through the intelligent usage of the tools at your disposal. Misstep, and you'll be dead before you can regret it. Frankly, the world is daunting enough that I have to will myself to play- but that makes me love it all the more. I feel real tension, actual foreboding, and I just want to get out alive.

     Long story short, I have to ignore the naysayers regarding this game. I'd like to lend them some credence, but I have no reason to. Well, I suppose I'll tack one word of caution onto this summarization. If you plan on playing multiplayer- and you should, because if you don't, you are missing out one of the most unique usages of the Gamepad thus far, and one of the most creative 2-player games I've played in years- buy a Pro Controller. DO IT. The Wii+Nunchuk implementation is terrible. Looking to the left or right results in a spiral of death, attempting to look down results in a trampoline of death. Just don't- don't. Don't do it. DONDO EET.

Monday, April 2, 2012