Monday, October 18, 2010


Well, it’s been a really long time since I last posted. Sorry about that. But, in good news, I actually have comments on a game and I’m not too late to actually chime in on it. Well, except that I beat it over a week ago, so I could have been right on the bleeding edge, but, no, I had to put off writing about it. So, now, there’s already a bunch of stuff written about it and I won’t actually be adding anything new. Darn.

Moving on, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West.

When I first heard that title during one of the “Here’s some random stuff we saw at E3” posts, I pretty much dismissed it. That name downright sucks. I mean, even when we shorten it down to just Enslaved, it’s still not very good. It evokes all the wrong images (very MMO feeling). If you even dare try to say Odyssey to the West, you’ll just start feeling foolish. So, yeah, they really should have gone back to the drawing board on that one.

Admittedly, I don’t know what they should have done instead. The main character’s name is Monkey. So, that won’t work. The other main character’s name is Trip. Which is even worse. Trying to use those names in a pun would just be stupid. So, yeah, I give up, let’s stick with Enslaved.

So, let’s start with my reaction to the demo (which, oddly enough, convinced me to go out and buy the game). I didn’t like it. I thought the controls were too loose and the platforming was just weak and the gameplay overall felt incredibly last-gen. Or even older. I mean, even in Super Mario 64, you could fall to your death. But, no, not in this game. Here, you can only go where they want you to go, no matter how hard you try.

Then there was the combat. It skipped locking the camera to hide the fact that it was super simplistic (it feels like you’re doing a lot more when you’re having to always concentrate on where the camera is/should be). But, that was when I saw the first thing I kind of liked (aside from the fact that I rather like simplistic combat since I’m usually pretty bad otherwise).

During one of the fights, I activated one of the slow motion kills that these types of games often have these days. But this one was different. In, let’s say, Batman: Arkham Asylum, the slow-mo effect is used to worship the overwhelming power of the Batman. You can see his grim visage and bulging muscles while the minion is flying backwards, mouth wide open in a silent scream of pain as he is, most likely, not going to be using that limb for a long time. In Enslaved, the focus is on Monkey. And he doesn’t look grim or professional or even all that powerful, really. He looks scared. Desperate. Tired. Probably in a little pain. This wasn’t a celebration of the player character’s power fantasy. This was the look of someone fighting for his life. Again and again and again.

“That was really cool”, I thought to myself. Games don’t normally show me something like that. Later in the demo, the game established that Monkey gets enslaved by Trip and is recruited to help her get back home. His reaction was perfect. Resigned agreement. This character was truly from the world of this game. All he knew was struggle and so it never even occurred to him to question his fate. In this world, everyone deserves whatever they get. It was kind of sad.

And so, I decided that I’d wait and see how the first couple reviews would come out. They all pretty much said the same thing: gameplay sucks but the story is both well-told and worth telling. So, I bought it.

And played through it.

Now, given more time with it, I realized something. Mainly, that the voice of Trip is Lindsey Shaw. Also known as Moze from the Nickelodeon show Ned’s Declassified School Survivor Guide. Which was pretty good. In case you’re curious, she doesn’t really look like Trip. But when I hear her voice, I think of a 14-year old version of her (Lindsey Shaw, not Trip). She’s in her 20s now, though, so...yeah. This isn’t the first time this has happened with a Ninja Theory game, though. Their last game, Heavenly Sword, featured the voice talent of one, Anna Torv, who has now become at least a moderate star since being the lead in Fringe. Interestingly, she didn’t look like her character in that game either. And both characters were both red-heads, oddly enough (although neither of them actually are). I will say that I think Trip is slightly cuter than Nariko, although I don’t think either of their character designs were exactly focused on providing male players with eye candy to convince them to play the respective games. Aside from the exposed mid-riffs.

Gameplay-wise, I actually rather enjoyed the combat as the game continued. Overall, I really liked the pacing of the game, period. I thought that they did a good job of upping the stakes and challenging the player (with the simplistic combat). Early on, the idea of trying to fight more than three of the mechs at the same time was pretty scary, but by the end, you were regularly taking on 5-8 at a time. And you were often in a hurry to get through them, so you were fighting sloppily and Monkey’s post fighting, post damage tired walk felt pretty well earned. The controls stopped feeling loose and started feeling, well, accurate. This was a big guy with a lot of mass and he gets rather beat up. It’s not his fault he can’t stop on a dime (unless there’s an invisible wall, of course).

I thought the big action set piece managed to get a nice variety as well. Also, I liked that we saw bosses in multiple contexts. Most bosses first appeared as, essentially, environmental puzzles that would later on become a true “fight”. The game spent a lot of time building up the “Dog” boss as we kept having to run away from it. Finally getting to face up against it, and eventually have it running away from you, was surprisingly satisfying. That was a well told, well executed boss.

Plus, the environments were, quite often, something special. There’s one point, where you’ve lost Trip and you’re trying to find her in this village. Not long ago, it was a peaceful village and you can see how the buildings are made from century-year-old trash. But, in my hurry to find her, I almost missed the playground made of trash. Or the formerly discarded couch that’s now being used for sitting back and enjoying the view from this mountain village. I had to remember that this game is different from a lot of other games. It’s full of imagination and beauty, and destruction and poverty. It’s worth stopping to take a look around.

Like when you realize the mountain you’ve been climbing for the past level is the back of a giant, long-destroyed mech and now you’re walking on its arm, towards the palm of its ancient hands. There’s a history to this world. A bloody and sad one, but we never really get to know it. It’s not clear that anyone knows it anymore. There’s simply legends and remnants of the world that was and the facts of the world as it is now.

So, yeah, is it a bad game? Well, it’s a godawful platformer, no matter how generous you want to be. But, it’s certainly not a bad game. And you have to give Ninja Theory credit for making a beautiful game with the Unreal 3 Engine. The Batman team couldn’t do it and I’m not sure if Epic themselves has ever really tried. While some people liked the ending, I thought it was a pretty typical Alex Garland ending. He seems to really struggle with endings that actually fit within the world he’s been building. At least when he’s working with Danny Boyle, he gets reigned in a little bit. But, no, this one downright disagrees with the world as it’s been established since the first level.

Also, I was never entirely clear who it was that we were stealing the giant mech from, anyways. And what were they going to do with it, for that matter? But, well, that’s Alex Garland for ya.

I will say that if there’s any opportunity to play with these characters more, either in DLC or sequels, I’ll be ready with my wallet out. So, you know what, I’m just going to go ahead and say it. It was a good game. Maybe not a great game, but closer than most games get to being great. It managed to succeed at almost everything that other games struggle with. The character and voice work is flawless. The story is both epic in scale and carefully focused on a small, well-developed cast. Have I mentioned how good the character and facial animations are? Oh, I did? Well, they’re all really good. They tell the story and develop the characters better than all the dialogue in the world.

I just wished they had checked out some of the other platformers that have been made in the last 5 years to see what people have been doing. Because, well, that part feels rather dated. But then again, I think this whole reaction is fairly similar to the way people thought about the original Uncharted (Drake’s Fortune, hey another weak name for a game). So, who knows, that game significantly improved the gameplay in the second one without sacrificing the story telling skills and voice work and animation that they’d pulled off in the first one.

Man, now I really want there to be a sequel...

That is all.


Monday, July 12, 2010

High School of the Dead

Okay, let’s make a couple things clear before I get too deep into this one. For one, I have no idea what the creators of this ridiculous anime were thinking when they decided that the appropriate acronym would be HOTD. Everyone knows that stands for House of the Dead. I mean, c’mon, it was made by Sega for crying out loud. That’s a Japanese company. They should seriously do a better job of protecting their acronyms from their fellow countrymen who can apparently barely speak Engrish.

Anyways, I’m going to be referring to it as HSOTD, to avoid confusion with Sega’s little zombie arcade/Wii/et al games.

Next, I want to make it clear that at no point have I ever thought to myself, anything like: “Man, zombies are cool but there’s a serious lack of animated panty shots of Japanese schoolgirls in the vast majority of the currently existing zombie records.” But, somebody else did, and I couldn’t help but find out what the results of this odd experiment would be.

It is a little uncomfortable that they occasionally try to censor the gore or whatever by cutting to a shot looking up the skirt of the victim...typically with blood flying onto what you can see of the victim’s skirt. I mean, I’m hardly a fan of gratuitous shots of Japanese schoolgirl panties when they aren’t currently being consumed by the living dead and adding that in hardly changes my mind.

But, again, that’s what they’re doing and I’m watching it, so kudos to them for making the call.

Okay, on to the show. So far, I’ve only seen the first two episodes. I do rather like that it starts off fast. There is no transition period from normal to apocalypse. Once the first zombie appears, there’s three more before we’ve established anything beyond what three of the main characters look like. I kind of like the idea that anime is sufficiently cliched that they barely have to show us more than a single flashback and a brief conversation establishing a former love lost to tell us everything we need to know about the characters. That no other facet of their lives is even remotely unique (not that this detail is) and so we already know our characters and their lives and we haven’t even met them yet.

In any case, it means that we are only going to know these characters in the context of the destruction of their world. I also rather like the main character’s reaction to seeing the first zombie attack and victim. He doesn’t question it; he doesn’t doubt it. He simply reacts. He gets his two friends and says we need to get out of here. He moves as fast as he possibly can, resorting to hitting his crush to make his point.

And he still wasn’t fast enough. They still couldn’t escape even the madness in the school, let alone the outside city. Although, I did like a lot of the imagery of the riot within the school as the kids try to get out. As they kill each other, trying to get out. Reaching and grabbing and tackling, with mouths open in wild constant wild screams, they were already zombies and they didn’t even know it.

What can I say? This is a surprisingly angry and subversive little show. They aren’t wasting their zombies or their violence. They might be wasting their panty shots. And the random giant breasts shots, but we won’t hold those against them.

As for the zombies, I rather like them. They are a little cooler than your classic slow Romero zombies. They’re strong. Before the girl learns how to deal with them, she sticks one with her pole. It grabs the pole, still impaled, and slams her against the wall. That’s a pretty kick ass zombie response.

Even better, though, was when one of the characters puts the zombie in a hold that it can’t escape from or bite him. It responds by twisting its head an inhuman 120 degrees or so and bites him in the shoulder. It was brilliant. Admittedly, that means that neck injuries probably shouldn’t kill them for continuity’s sake, but well, we’ll worry about that when we get there.

Later, they had some slightly more obvious instances of the humans responding poorly to the zombies, like these two girls who promise to stay together and protect each other, until moments later one of them gets grabbed and the other girl has to beat her to let go of her hand so that she can escape without her. Neither survives of course.

Anyways, after the first episode I was impressed enough to definitely want to watch more, and the second episode had something the first never even hinted at: a character arc. I’m serious. I admit I certainly wasn’t expecting one of those anywhere in the show.

And, more importantly, it was a really cool character arc. In the first episode, one of the survivor types is this rather obnoxious “genius” girl with pink hair. For awhile, she’s confident and self-assured and learning about the zombies and keeping her fellow survivor in line. But she’s slowly becoming more hysterical, more in need of people’s respect and less deserving of it. Until she finally cracks and nearly sabotages herself and her partner’s escape with her pride and theatrics.

It was really well done. The breakdown was very slow, over the course of the two episodes. And I liked that the episode ended with her taking out her contacts out and switching to glasses. A visual reminder that she’s been humbled, humiliated even, and that her self image is no longer something she can, or should protect. She has to give it up to survive.

So, yeah, I’m thoroughly impressed. This is way more intelligent than the incorrect acronym or the random panty shots would possibly suggest. Or, maybe, I’m just giving them way too much credit. There are already hints that we’re going to see some sort of stupid love triangle... But, it’s not there yet and so I still have faith.

That is all.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Clash of the Titans

Well, I’ve come to the official conclusion that I need to stop doing long summary posts where I talk about a lot of things in very little detail. That’s, like, the exact opposite of what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m supposed to be talking way too much about a single topic that I’ve been obsessing over. And, I have not been obsessing over Chuck. Or House. Or V. Or Stargate Universe. I have been obsessing over Human Target a little bit, but it’s hard not to when you have back to back guest stars in Grace Park and Moon Bloodgood.

In any case, I have been obsessing over Justified.

But, because I spent all that time writing about those shows I didn’t even care about, I didn’t write about nearly enough of the random things I wanted to write about Justified.

Like how the opening theme is extremely reminiscent of True Blood. I don’t know why that should be the case, but it is. I guess they both are set in the South, so there is that. Also, True Blood’s imagery during the theme is meant to be at least a little disturbing while Justified’s just wants something running while the credits roll. I’m not sure if it has a goal at all, in fact. On a related note the country song playing for True Blood is downright awesome while Justified’s song is totally forgettable. And more rap influenced, I think.

Also, I didn’t get to talk about how one of the fellow US Marshals is played by a young women who was in an episode of Firefly. I’m glad that she’s gotten another role. I think it’s funny that she speaks exactly the same way and it fits just as well here. Also, she looked pretty good in his hat. Clearly, the whole team should wear cowboy hats. That would be awesome.

Okay, I think I’m done obsessing over Justified for at least a little while and I’m ready to talk about Clash of the Titans (the topic of this post, in case you forgot; it’s okay, clearly I did). Of course, to be honest, I don’t really have that much to say about it. I just wanted an excuse to put up another post and keep talking about Justified. But, whatever. I saw it. So, I’ll write about it. Probably too much. So, it’ll all work out.

Interestingly, I did not see the original movie. Apparently, I’m a failure and was unable to find it playing on TV and record it, otherwise I would totally have watched it. I wonder why they weren’t playing it all the time during the preceding weeks. I have’t seen that version, so all I can do is guess, but I’m thinking that it’s because the original hasn’t aged very well.

I mean, a lot of those 80s fantasy-esque journey movies haven’t aged very well. I submit Krull as an example. Also Labrynth. Not The Dark Crystal, though, if only because I actually saw it when I was young and therefore the nostalgia helps it out. I think Conan the Barbarian fits as well. I’m thinking Willow was sufficiently tongue-in-cheek so it’s probably aged alright. But, that’s not relevant.

So, yeah, I can’t compare it to its past filmed rendition, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it compared somewhat favorably (how’s that for insulting a movie I haven’t even seen but was sufficiently popular that the studios decided to remake?). For that matter, I never really read any of the Greek mythology stuff, so I can’t even compare it to the past rendition as recorded by somebody whose name I should know from the oral tradition.

As such, I can only judge it by the standards of the action adventure movies of this day and age. Oh, also, I didn’t see it in 3D. So, I won’t be comparing it to the excellence of How to Train Your Dragon either. And it should be thankful for that, because How to Train Your Dragon wins hands down. I mean, even the love interest is cuter and she’s not even real (but she’s wearing a skirt covered in actual skulls, which beats boring old Greek attire every day of the week).

So, did I like it? Eh. It was okay. It was better than the first 5-10 minutes suggested it was going to be, that’s for sure. Once the journey actually started, I think it found its feet pretty well and there was certainly fun to be had by all.

Liam Neeson was pretty cool as Zeus but Hades never really did it for me. I liked that he was pale, but it wasn’t really working with the long hair and beard as well. It just made him look Norse rather than Greek (I swear, I’m not trying to bring How to Train Your Dragon into this review, it just happens all on its own). To be clear, I’m not saying that Hades has to have hair made of blue fire and be voiced by James Woods, but well, I guess, I, um, yeah. I liked Disney’s version of Hades better, okay.

Even worse than a Norse Hades was the most boring Underworld ever imagined. I’m sorry, but I’ve been playing Dante’s Inferno (but was eventually distracted by other games, primarily FFXIII, which is a topic for some other post), and so my standards for visualizations of Hell are kind of high. I know, it’s not Hell, but come on, there should at least be souls somewhere in the Underworld, shouldn’t there? I mean, Hades enters some former king’s private chamber in the Underworld at one point, which is primarily decorated with dead trees, fog and candles. Private chamber! Seriously, that’s what you’re going with? There’s nobody constantly drowning in the River Styx? There’s nobody else around at all, anywhere? It was just a really boring Underworld. I can see why nobody wants to go there, but, it’s hardly menacing.

Also, I don’t know if it’s just me but I wasn’t really into the girls either. Apparently Gemma Arterton (fun fact: I’ve been thinking her name was Gemma Atherton for pretty much forever and I recently realized it’s because there’s a random douche in one episode of Firefly named Atherton) is going to be super popular for being incredibly hot after Prince of Persia comes out (have you seen her in the trailers for that?) but somehow she is not really hot in this. I don’t know why. On the other hand, Alexa Davalos as Io is rather pretty. I don’t have any complaints about her.

Let’s see, then there’s the ragtag team of surviving legion dudes to help Perseus out. Nobody really memorable besides the two hunters who join in out of the goodness of their hearts. They were pretty cool. And I was glad when they recognized that going into the Underworld would be hazardous to their health, except I was sad because they were actually kind of cool and then they weren’t around anymore. Everybody else is pretty cookie-cutter as far as I’m concerned. I guess I was happy to see the battle hardened old dude final die, although I’m not entirely sure exactly which God’s eyes he believed he was spitting in.

On the topic of the cool hunters, I enjoyed watching them confidently kill their scorpion like professionals while Perseus was struggling with his. From a choreography perspective, though, it was a terrible idea. You’ve got two separate groups fighting identical monsters. Who comes up with that? It makes it really hard to follow the action because you’re never sure which scorpion you’re looking at because they look the same. Why not just let the two scorpions be different colors or something? It would have made that extended fight scene much easier to follow.

Man, now that I’m writing about it, I’m realizing that all I have are complaints. I think it gets a fair number of passes on most of those things, though, because the fights were actually pretty well shot and the action was well done. And that’s what I had actually come to see (okay, I had also come to get a preview of the hotness of Gemma Arterton and so was sent home disappointed on that count).

Actually, one more complaint. What is Perseus’s problem with being part God? What’s so terrible about that and, possibly more importantly, how does he think he’s thrown it away? I mean, one of our ending scenes is him bragging about how he’ll continue his (immortal) life living as a man and then we see him riding on the beach on his HORSE WITH WINGS! I feel like someone needs to take him aside and let him know that mortals don’t get to ride those things. Also, they don’t end up with the girl who never ages. Even if she’s not as hot as she will be in her next movie.

But seriously, how can he not take a perspective more along the lines of how he can be better than a God because he’s part human? That would be way better. If he were proving the superiority of demigods rather than trying to prove the superiority of mortals all while not actually being mortal. It’s like he believes there something inherently wrong with the Gods, his creators, just because they’re not very good at looking out for their creations. As if that type of irresponsibility is solely in the realm of the Gods.

Yeah, I don’t know but every time he talked about not wanting to use his immortal side annoyed me. Particularly when it was clear that he was pulling from it all the time without even knowing it.

But, well, I’m moving on. It was fun. The whole “Release the Kraken” line was not as cool as I had been lead to believe it would be. Mt. Olympus was rather cool though. I liked that the floor was a scale model of the land. And that there were clouds at their feet. I liked how it created this sense that the Gods simply believed they were better than the mortals and that was that. Also, the glass tower thing that housed little statues of people was cool too. Particularly when it broke.

And that is all.