Saturday, November 19, 2011

An Ode to November


Wow, have I had an interesting month. It's been such an epic spectacle that I thought I would put my feelings into words and really show my appreciation for the massive impact this month has had on me. So without further ado, thank you November. Thank you for teaching me valuable lessons in such concepts as humility, but even more so, in torture. Thank you for showing me all the unique ways to crush a man’s soul, shatter his self-worth, and bring him to the brink of insanity. Thank you for showing me my new threshold for pain and especially thank you for showing me all the new and creative ways to use swear words. Thank you for showing me that sprinkling in a few good things here and there only serves to make the next act of viciousness that much more impactful. Thank you for showing me all the new smells, the new sensations and the new feeling in my stomach. You know, the one that won’t be going away anytime soon. And most of all, thanks for the feelings of dread on what may be around the next corner. After all, you’re not quite done with me yet, are you? So one last round of applause for November. Any person, creature, thing or intangible word that bears little practical meaning that can somehow amass so many people, events, accidents, crises, and various other horrible things in a mere twenty days deserves some kind of recognition. If I were a sadistic man, I would take the lessons you taught me and use them against others. I may even become famous. Sadly, I’m not a sadistic man. I’m a good person with simple desires and interests. So rather than torture others with the knowledge I've gained this month, I will patiently wait for these last ten or so days to end while you continue your reign of terror upon my soul. I only hope that December is not quite as cruel and brutal as you November. If he is though, he will most certainly use my hopes to his advantage. Thank you November. Now go fuck yourself.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Batman Arkham City Review


Batman Arkham Asylum was a huge surprise when it was released in 2009. It looked great, and it seemed like a Batman game that actually might not suck, which was pretty rare back then. In fact, Batman Vengeance is the only game that was any good. DC had a notably poor record for developing games based on their characters, so it’s easy to see why nobody would believe, but when the truth dawns, it dawns in fire. Sorry, I had to. Anyway, Arkham Asylum was probably the first excellent Batman game ever made. And when I say excellent, I mean setting a new bar for game developers. I would never have expected to see that come from a licensed game, much less a license that has struggled as hard as Batman has to create even a decent game. If Batman Arkham Asylum set a new standard for many action adventure games to come, the question is, can they outdo themselves?

I can’t say that Batman Arkham City is better than Arkham Asylum. It’s not because it’s bad, far from it. I just can’t say that Metal Gear Solid is better than Grand Theft Auto because they are so different. Arkham City is a totally different beast when compared to Arkham Asylum. It’s bigger, bolder, and much more ambitious. Instead of moving from one section of Arkham Asylum to the next, Batman is smack dab in the middle of Gotham City, albeit a closed off section of Gotham now known as Arkham City. That’s right folks, Arkham Asylum has been moved to the center of Gotham City and serves as an enormous prison for the criminally insane. The massive city has been divided into subdivisions each controlled by one of your favorite Bat-foes, and its all-out war for control of Arkham. Meanwhile, something is fishy with the new warden of Arkham City, the not-so-widely known psychological mastermind, Dr. Hugo Strange. Strange is a unique villain in Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery, as he is one of the very few enemies that are aware of Batman’s true identity. As such, Dr. Strange makes sure that Batman makes an appearance in Arkham City by way of going after Bruce Wayne.

The story in Arkham Asylum was one of the best Batman stories ever told. Arkham City features a story that is just as compelling and engrossing, but it’s much bigger and much darker. Almost every notable Bat-villain makes an appearance from the obvious guys like Joker, to the not so widely known foes like Deadshot. Each sporting new looks, and occasionally, entirely new takes on the characterizations. This is one of the best parts of the Arkham series. Seeing Rocksteady Studios’ take on each character is often times inspiring. Even characters that are so often tossed aside for being silly, like Penguin and The Riddler, get their personalities ret-conned turning them into significant threats. Whoever thought of turning Riddler into Jigsaw from the Saw series is a certified genius!

On the topic of The Riddler, everybody remembers the surprisingly addicting collection quest from Arkham Asylum right? Hunting Riddler trophies here in BAC has gone through a massive overhaul. Instead of simply figuring out how to get the trophy from whatever room it’s in, the new Riddler quest is far more worthy of Batman’s time. Now, each trophy can only be earned of a test of wits. The Riddler challenges the Dark Knight’s mind, body and spirit for each trophy. When you need to know how to find these trophies, you can’t just find a map this time. No, sir, that’s too easy. Instead, you have to find the Riddler’s informants, henchman that spy on the other gang leaders for the master of questions. You’ll need to interrogate his troops in order to solve his dark riddles. A quest that is easier said than done. As you collect more trophies, solve riddles, and complete challenges, you will eventually have an opportunity to rescue hostages from the big green meanie’s clutches. It is in these moments where you realize just how dangerous The Riddler truly is.

The combat has been altered slightly, and not all alterations are for the best. The combat speed seems to have been slowed down slightly and there are so many combo’s and special moves that’s it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Personally, I think there is way too much crap jammed into this enhanced combat and I personally believe it has become over complicated in many ways. I suppose saying this game has too much awesome isn’t the worst criticism you can get, but I found the combat in the first game to be perfect as it was. Also, the slower combat speed was nothing short of frustrating to me. I was a master of the combat in the first game. Now, I’m getting my ass kicked all over the park because of these two relatively minor changes. Not to mention that due to the over-stuffed fighting combos, the controls always seem to be against me. Normally I would say I just suck, but like I said, I was a master ass-kicker in Asylum. The only change is the slower speed and added combos (except for quick button gadgets, but that makes combat easier). Still, some people will probably transitions easier than I did to the combat, so that won’t be a negative for some. But even with these flaws, Arkham City still has a very fun, exciting and thoroughly satisfying combat system. One that makes you feel like the Dark Knight himself.

The new gliding system was added to Arkham City out of necessity due to the much larger city. Batman can not only glide, but he can also use his grapple gun to launch him up high into the sky in order to gain momentum and speed to sore through the city streets with haste. Patrol helicopters also provide a sort of public transportation, if you will. The ability to dive bomb from the air has many advantages, from building momentum in transit, to combat maneuvers and even assisting in solving a few riddles. All of these enhancements combine to create a travel experience that is just as fun as anything you else you’d expect to find in the game. And in the vastness of Arkham City, the new travel abilities are going to put to good use.

Another new addition into Arkham City is the side quest feature, optional missions that expand not just the story of Arkham City, but also providing some closer to Arkham Asylum. For example, Bane is in Arkham City, but he is on a quest to hunt down and destroy the last remnants of Titan, the mutagenic goo from the first installment. There are other villains you’ll be battling in the side quests as well. Deadshot, Zsasz, and even the Mad Hatter are all out for Batman, and it’s up to you to stop them. The side quests are very well thought out side stories that emphasize a level of the detective play that the story campaign simply can’t provide. Most mission come to pretty satisfying conclusions and some even lay a hint or two regarding the future of the series.

The Challenge Maps make their return in Arkham City, but this time, you have the ability to play as multiple characters. Batman, Catwoman, Robin and as of just recently, Nightwing are all playable in the challenge maps (Catwoman even has her own campaign that intertwines with Batman’s story). The combat maps are just as awesome and challenging as ever, in fact more-so, with the new enemies introduced in BAC. The predator maps on the other hand, leave me a little disappointed. The best part of Arkham City is just how jammed packed it is in virtually every way. Sadly, this ends up hurting the predator maps. The maps are large and very dense, but are ultimately poorly laid out, especially in comparison to Arkham Asylum’s predator maps. The predator sections were my favorite parts of Arkham Asylum, now they are my least favorite here in the city. That is a testament to the power of level design as the predator play is almost completely unchanged.

Another thing I want to note is the fantastic voice acting. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill return as the Batman and Joker respectively, and they once again hit it out of the park. In my mind, these two are the best actors to portray these characters, and that can be said throughout the entire voice cast. The characters are absolutely flawless. I give special props to Maurice Lamarche as Mr. Freeze. His cold and almost mechanical performance give Freeze an ambience befitting to his namesake. Every time he speaks with his helmet on, I get chills. Couple that with the best boss fight and he becomes that best addition to the game. I never liked Mr. Freeze that much, not even in the 90’s toon. Now, he may have just graduated to one of favorite characters. Two-Face, who is my favorite Batman villain, finally makes an appearance, and although it is brief in comparison to Joker, Freeze, and even Penguin, it is definitely memorable, although it is also well beneath what the character deserves. Two-Face hangs out at the courthouse, reigning judgment on his foes as both the prosecution and the defense. Two-Face as he is portrayed in BAC may go down in history as the definitive characterization of the Gotham’s former white knight, which makes his small role all the more tragic.

All in all Batman Arkham City is well worth the price. Hours upon hours of entertainment can be found in this game, and its well-done entertainment at that. Like Gears of War 3, Batman Arkham City is bursting at the seams with exciting and fulfilling content that is sure to please for hours. There are so many puzzles, side stories and fan pleasing Easter Eggs that you may find yourself neglecting the main story for a while. I enjoyed every minute of this game, and when I finished it, I wanted to start it all over again. First I need to get those damn trophies. With its careful attention to detail, compelling story, faithful representation of the characters and mythos and its magnificently grim, gritty atmosphere, Batman’s Arkham series isn’t just the definitive Batman game, it is the definitive Batman story.

I give Batman Arkham City a 9.5 out of 10.

Pros

The definitive version of Batman

A powerful and gripping story with excellent voice acting

Masterful grasp of the characters, setting, and universe

Fun and exciting combat

Huge sandbox style city to explore

Side quests, Riddler Collectibles, and Challenge maps offer hours of fun entertainment

Jam packed with content

Great graphics

Excellent music

Think of a Batman character. They’re probably in this game somewhere

Cons

Combat changes sometimes serve as a liability

Many Predator challenge maps could be designed a little better

Some characters don’t get the screen time they deserve (like Two-Face)

So many actions that can be performed, sometimes controls get a little confused

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Mass Effect 3 Beta Leak Impressions


Yesterday, Xbox 360 users who signed up for early access to Mass Effect 3 got a special treat. A Beta Demo of the highly anticipated threequel was leaked over Xbox Live and fully downloadable. The version was rough around the edges (very rough) but fans were still delighted to get early-early access to the final act in the prolific trilogy. I myself was unable to play the demo, but I have seen footage of it in its entirety. Since I have been incredibly vocal about my negative opinions of Mass Effect 2 and the way the series has been marketed since joining with EA, I thought it may be a good idea to offer some first impressions.

All of the videos start off on the menu screen. One of the most memorable moments of ME1 was its unique menu. I remember listening to a haunting atmospheric melody as I stared at the horizon of a distant planet. Upon hitting the start button, I was transported to a screen that slowly cycled through the story’s cast of characters. ME2’s menu wasn’t so memorable. We stared at space debris and were then shifted to screen inside a Cerberus ship. It was boring and really didn’t set a space-opera vibe like the original did, but the computer screen menu worked well for what Bioware wanted to accomplish. ME3 combines the two, showcasing the horizon of a distant planet Earth as hundreds of Reapers descend on the world playing music similar to ME1. Pressing start transported the player to a computer screen nearly identical to the one of ME2, this time with an Alliance décor. It’s the best of both worlds that sets a grim tone for Shepard’s final adventure. I liked that Bioware opted to showcase their commitment to bringing the trilogy full circle just in their menu screen, but ME3 won’t win fans over by what happens outside the game.

Upon starting the single player campaign (God I hate that I have to specify that!) players will be taken to the usual character creator where they can customize their Shepard to their personal specifications. After that, you choose the in-game settings. It’s here where much controversy has been founded. ME3 features 3 play styles, Action Mode, Story Mode and RPG Mode. Action Mode is a setting that emphasizes the action TPS gameplay and auto-selects all dialog options and decisions as well as auto level-ups your Shepard. This mode is likely geared towards new players who have not touched a Mass Effect yet, so it’s no big deal that the ability to make tough choices has been removed as these players have already demonstrated a considerable lack of good decision making skills. Next is the story which handicaps the combat difficulty so that you can enjoy the tale that unfolds in ME3. This mode also allows you to make all conversation and decision choices you wish. Finally, there is RPG mode, which may as well be called Mass Effect Mode, as it is the optimal way to play Mass Effect 3 as it has been designed. Choices and dialog are up to the players, you manually level Shepard up and the combat is not scaled back in any way.

Obviously these new modes are not being well received by fans. Many see this “Action Mode” as dumbing down the game, even after repeated promises from Bioware that the RPG elements, depth, and complexity of gameplay will make a triumphant return. The truth is this: Yup! Action Mode is a dumbed down version of Mass Effect 3, but let’s look at the big picture here. Would you rather have a dumbed down option for the TPS crowd, or would you rather Bioware pander to the TPS crowd on a universal level and dumb down the gameplay for everyone? My vote goes for the former.

After that is out of the way, the game begins. I won’t go into too much detail in order to preserve the sanctity of the single player experience, but I will say that this leak was potentially the best thing to happen to Bioware in their marketing campaign, which is the number 1 reason I believe this leak was not intentional. The graphics look astounding, even in this rough state. The cinematic presentation is better than ever and the sound (when it worked) was amazing. The dialog and voice acting was occasionally off, but the exchanges between Shepard and his mentor David Anderson are excellent. The dreaded, “We fight or we die, that’s the plan,” line is shockingly not just stock trailer dialog. It’s actually spoken in the game, and even more shocking, the line doesn’t come off as hokey or cheesy.

The gameplay looked about the same as Mass Effect 2, however, the combat animations such as running, rolling, and taking cover looks stiff and often times, quite ridiculous. The diving and rolling are unnaturally over the top, which is especially bad for a game that has had a strong commitment to presenting the game realistically. I also think the gameplay is moving too fast. What I mean by that is that the game speed moves at a very jarringly unnatural speed. That word again. Unnatural. I don’t like that ME3’s gameplay makes me say unnatural when talking about two different things. I also don’t like the “You’re too retarded to play this game” helper icons. A little icon pops up telling you to Follow Anderson until you leave Earth. Follow Anderson? Thank God you told me that one because I never would have guessed I should follow the guy who is constantly saying, “This way!” and “Come on!” By the way, there is only one path to walk here. I couldn’t avoid following Anderson even if I wanted to. Fortunately, these helper icons can be disabled, and it is possible that they are only present because it’s the tutorial.

Either way, nobody plays Mass Effect for the gameplay (right Action Mode?) which brings me to the story. Man oh man, the story is looking good. We open with Shepard stuck on Earth awaiting his hearing with the Alliance Military Defense Committee. The hearing is tossed out the window upon the discovery of a large invasion force of unknown origin heading towards Earth. The committee wants Shepard to answer one question, “Is it the Reapers?” That question answers itself in a matter of moments. From then on, it’s a quest to escape Earth on the Normandy before the Reapers eradicate Shepard and his friends.

After the Earth portion is finished, the game leaps to the inside of the Normandy’s Kodiak shuttle where Shep and co. are prepping for a new mission. They are on their way to Sur’Kesh to have a sit down with the Salarians. Shepard and his crew are joined by Urdnot Wrex to save a host of Krogan females. The return of Wrex is every bit as awesome as it should be and what’s even better is when we run into more than a few familiar Salarians along the way. This is the same demo showcased over and over again ever since E3, so everybody knows Cerberus shows up to be massive pains in the booty.

Even in this short view of the story, it’s obvious that there is a much darker tone. Not manufactured dark like Mass Effect 2 was, but legitimately dark and dangerous. There is a strong sense of desperation in the air. I think the moment that really hits the dark and desperate vibe is when Shepard and Anderson turn around to watch the surveillance video of the Reapers invading Earth, a clever nod to the earliest moments of ME1. One thing that I was thoroughly impressed with was the way the missions were paced. They weren’t overlong with exposition like ME1 nor did they just throw Shepard in the middle of a battlefield upon touching down like in ME2. They carefully built up the necessary tension and story beats while not boring the player to death. It was just right.

Another topic worth noting is the impact of your choices and how they may affect ME3. I can tell you right now that this brief demo showcased more potential variation in ME3 than all of ME2. Within the first few minutes we will be introduced to the Virmire Survivor and Sur’Kesh is all over the park. Wrex, Mordin, Garrus and someone else all show up to assist Shepard in retrieving the female Krogan. I feel as if I can let out a sigh of relief after seeing the amount of people showcased that may not actually be alive come ME3. That being said, it’s also nice seeing squad members acknowledging one another in the way they did in this demo. I won’t go into details.

Among some of the other highlights was our first look at James Vega. We don’t see much of him, but it’s clear that he has a certain amount of reverence for Shepard. Vega is big and tattooed, which has been a source of mockery from the fans, and he sounds like Freddie Prinze Jr. is his voice actor. At least to me. We also get to see the first meeting between Shepard and Ashley (no Kaidan in this demo) which had an awkward vibe to it, proving that the events on Horizon won’t be brushed aside and that the e-mail was likely outside of cannon for those of us who romanced the snarky warrior woman. There was also a demo on the multiplayer, which I watched and was astonished with how slow, empty, sleep inducing and dull it was. I had a feeling it was going to be a Horde rip-off, but this was just lazy and uninspired in my humblest of opinions. Maybe it will be a bit more exciting at launch.

Even though the gameplay segments had me a bit nervous, I was very impressed with the story, presentation, and character interactions. It’s rough around the edges, very brief, and the Earth segment had very little dialog options, but you can still get a pretty good impression of what is in store for fans of the franchise. I have to admit, many of my fears have been alleviated, but I’m still concerned about the finished product. After viewing this demo, I feel very comfortable preordering the collector’s edition again, but I am remaining wary of the possibility of a huge embarrassing failure. Good or bad, Mass Effect 3 will likely own my soul for the entire month of March in 2012. If it’s good, probably even longer.

Update 11-7: Bioware's leak turned out even worse then initially expected. It looks like some dude in Russia was actually able to hack the beta demo somehow and managed to pull specific story details, including a full and complete synopsis of the game's entire story line. Also included were details on characters, death scenes, weapons, powers, customization upgrades and the origins of the Reapers. Practically the whole game has leaked onto the net months before the release date. Bioware made an official statement saying that although much of the information revealed is not fully accurate and has changed in some form, it's close enough to ruin the story experience for fans. Bioware is strongly encouraging fans to avoid reading the information if they are deeply invested in the story experience. Yikes. Sounds pretty bad to me. I didn't read any of the info myself, but one minor spoiler did slip out on the forums that I am a little concerned about. Hopefully that is one of the changes that Bioware made to the final product. Personally, I just hope that there is no mention of the Beings of Light anywhere in that synopsis. Because that idea was stupid.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer Confirmed


Bioware’s worst kept secret has finally been revealed. Mass Effect 3 now officially has multiplayer. After all of the double talk and reassurance from the developers of the contrary, it’s easy to see that the fan base (most especially the hardcore fans) have had negative reaction to the news. The Bioware Social Network is ablaze with anger and frustration, YouTube and Facebook have piles upon piles of negative comments, and even website’s like IGN have been verbalizing their disdain for the concept. Only hours after the word was spilled form Casey Hudson, Project Director of the Mass Effect franchise, the Bioware development team has already done truckloads of damage control. In some cases, developers almost seemed to be begging fans not to cancel their preorders. Why on Earth would Bioware put something this controversial in their game? This isn’t even polarizing; in fact, it seems to have united fans more than ever. Multiplayer for Mass Effect 3 is a bad, BAD idea.

The fact of the matter is some games just don’t fit well with multiplayer. Why Bioware decided to allocate time, money and resources to what is sure to be an extremely expensive gameplay component that will go largely unused is beyond me. Dead Space 2 is a prime example of a single player game being muddled by a useless and unnecessary multiplayer component. Bioshock 2 is another. Mass Effect 3 will almost surely be even worse, as the core experience to the Mass Effect series is the story of Commander Shepard, the choices he makes and the impact those choices have on the galaxy and his relationships. Call me crazy but I find it unlikely that any co-op component included in Mass Effect 3 can capture this element. Mostly because only one person could possibly play as Shepard. I suppose the optimum question is will I even play as Shepard in the multiplayer? I have no interest in playing anyone other than Commander Shepard during the course of the Mass Effect storyline, unless they are small bits like when players took control of Joker for a minor sequence in ME2. I imagine that 95% percent of players feel the same way, mostly made up of those who have played a previous Mass Effect title. So if nobody who plays Mass Effect 3 will want to play as anyone other than Shepard, who is going to play the 4 player co-op mode? That’s probably a really good question that Bioware should have asked themselves during the development phase of production.

What I find most distressing in this case is Bioware’s sheer lack of honesty and integrity when it came to handling the multiplayer rumors. The developers did everything they could to persuade fans that there was no multiplayer at all, though never overtly turning the notion down. When news broke today, it certainly felt like one of the biggest “Fuck You's” in gaming history. Very few fans truly desired any form of multiplayer, as the franchise has been a single player story up until today. Most players who are willing to try it out would have been just fine without its inclusion. It seems that once again, Bioware has just created another rift between them and their dwindling loyal fan base.

In the bustle of skepticism surrounding Mass Effect 3 and Bioware’s future, I find myself reminded of Dragon Age 2. Dragon Age Origins, if you recall, was marketed to the loyalist of loyal fans of Bioware. A throwback to their Baldur’s Gate days, Dragon Age: Origins was a critical darling, a commercial success, and an instant fan favorite. Dragon Age 2 was created for a more God of War crowd and less Dragon Age Origins. The game was clearly designed for a brand new demographic, but marketed to the fans of the original title. Fans reacted very negatively to the changes to the franchise, and critics were mixed on the result. Mass Effect 3 seems to be repeating this cycle. Mass Effect 3 no longer remotely resembles Mass Effect 1 and it is apparent that the series has lost its vision and shifted its focus. Why Bioware seems to shift their target demographic from game to game is confounding. With Mass Effect 3 enhancing their shooter elements, introducing on-rails gameplay, downplaying the RPG features and now adding multiplayer, the final act of my once favorite video game franchise is looking more like Gears of War than ever. If I want to play Gears of War, I’m not going to pick up Mass Effect. I’ll play Gears of War. Not to mention that Bioware really shouldn’t be attempting to steal the thunder away from Gears of War 3, which was about as close to flawless as any game can get. Somehow I doubt that Mass Effect 3 will be quite as polished.

Will multiplayer ruin Mass Effect 3? It’s possible, but probably not. Could it ruin Bioware? This is actually way more likely. In fact it already has in many ways. Over the past two years or so, Bioware’s reputation has been tarnished with their constant double talk, the Happy Dance (when someone dances around a question in a way that does not answer the question and is designed to keep as many people as happy as possible. I coined this term during the last Presidential election), and their attempts to silence criticism from their fans and critics (remember that Metacritic fiasco). Not to mention the amount of money that will be wasted if nobody uses the co-op.

On that topic, what would happen if Bioware poured tons of money into a feature that nobody used? Dead Space suffered this fate, and last month, Visceral Games closed their doors for good. Perhaps that is merely a coincidence, but big corporations like EA hate money going to waste. Even if adding multiplayer was the bigwigs at EAs’ grand plan, Bioware will take the hit. If Mass Effect 3 sells poorly, I wouldn’t be surprised if EA shut the Edmonton Studio down and moved all available resources to Austin to continue supporting SWTOR. Adding multiplayer to Mass Effect 3 may have very well been the dumbest move Bioware has ever made. One that could prove to be quite costly. Personally, I’m too invested in Mass Effect to quit now, but this could prove to be my last Bioware game. Mass Effect 3 has officially dropped from topping my list of most anticipated games. Congratulations to Skyrim to dethroning the king. At least Bethesda doesn’t piss on their loyal fan base.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Gears of War 3 Review


This is it. The trilogy ends. The last ride of Delta Squad begins. Okay, so Gears of War 3 has been out for like a week or so. This isn't the most new review in the world. Still, there was a lot to go through in my attempt to review the game. Now I love Gears of War. I love the gameplay, the weapons, the art, the levels, the world and the fantastic characters. Epic Games built a large franchise and a compelling story line. The question is, can Epic live up to their namesake and end the franchise in the fashion it deserves?

The first thing I noticed about Gears 3 was the refined gameplay. The cover system has been smoothed out to perfection, the weapons finally seem properly balanced, the trench run is faster and every portion of the gameplay just feels more fluid than ever. Cliff Bleszinski promised the most polished Gears of War game ever with Gears 3, and in that regard, Epic delivered. The gameplay is utterly perfect and many of the new additions make the perfect set up we loved in the previous two installments that much better.

Some of the new additions in gameplay are the ability to revive yourself instead of waiting for a friend. Just rapidly tap A until your character begins to pick himself up, and your back in the game. This is way easier said than done, as your enemies will always want to curb stomp your face into mush. You can also swap weapons and ammo with your teammates, as well as spot weapons, ammo and even enemies. Each of these elements further emphasizes the team aspect of the gameply. Thanks to the four player co-op, working as a team is easier (and more fun) than ever.

New weapons have been added to the game, and old weapons have been overhauled to be perfectly balanced. The Gnasher Shotgun was once a instant death cannon. Now, the Shotgun has been depowered, and other guns like the Lancer have been upgraded to remain competitive. A new shotgun, the sawed off shotgun, has been added so that a instant death cannon still exists, but not without a downside. The reload times are brutal, the ammo is astoundingly limited, and the range is piss poor. Still, the sawed off shotgun deals devastating damage. Its high risk high reward, but beware, as one wrong step, one second of hesitation could be the decider of life and death. Other new weapons include the Vulcan, a shoulder mounted doom cannon that requires two players in order to use it. The one shot is a sniper rifle/bazooka that will do just as advertised. Kill with one shot. The retro lancer is a new assault rifle that was used during the Pendulum Wars. Its old, but still effective. Instead of a chainsaw bayonet, the retro lancer is armed with a classic knife bayonet. The charge maneuver is particularly awesome and even more satisfying than the chainsawing an opponent to death. The lancer, the gnasher, the hammerburst, all your favorite weapons are back and most have their own executions. The Lancer execution is my personal favorite. The scorcher and the sawed off shotgun have some good ones too.

Multiplayer is as good and frustrating as ever. Fortunately, the balancing issues have removed a lot of the frustration and the dedicated servers have evened things out. There are very few exploits in the multiplayer. Now, its skill versus skill. Which I can appreciate. Multiplayer has gone through some enhancements too. A new level system not dissimilar to Modern Warfare or Red Dead Redemption offers players a chance to earn rewards. Executions, weapons skins and even playable characters are all unlocked based on your accomplishments. There are tons of cool new toys to earn along the way which is sure to increase the repaly value immensely. Other than those enchantments, multiplayer plays pretty much the same as always.

Most of the modes are back, some have been combined. For example, King of the Hill and Annex have been combined to create the new King of the Hill. Horde Mode has been enhanced. Horde Mode 2.0 now has players earning money to create and upgrade bases. You can now build defense barriers, turrets, sentry guns, decoys and even mobile mech suits. The more money you earn, the more you can build. Challenges that pop up every so often put some extra dough in your wallet. Challenges like "Get 7 head shots this round," or "Get through a round without anyone dying." It adds a new element of challenge to an already fun mode. Another new addition to Horde mode that increases the challenge is the boss fights. At the end of every 10 rounds, Queen Myraah sends a badass uber-locust to attack you and your team. Brumaks, Berserkers, Corpsers, and Reavers just to name a few of the bosses you may encounter. It makes Horde Mode ten times more intense than ever, and adds a lot to the fun factor. Beast mode is essentially a reverse Horde mode, allowing players to take on the role of the Locust Horde and eliminate the COG. Its a fun addition, but ultimately lacks the intensity of the other modes.

In short, the multiplayer has been more or less refined to perfection than offering anything new to the table. The level up system offers loads of replay value as well as a sense of accomplishment. It's not hard to unlock character skins (for the most part), though it is disappointing that characters like Kim, Tai, RAAM and Skorge were completely overlooked when it came time to add multiplayer skins. Most of the new maps are underwhelming, with the exceptions of Overpass and Checkout, the latter of which being almost too small. Some of the controls have been altered for reasons I am unsure of. Instead of picking up ammo and weapons by tapping X, you now have to hold X. It's strange at first, and more often then not, you may find yourself continuing to tap X even after you are well used to the alteration. Another problem I have is that the radius a player needs to be within in order to revive another player or execute an opponent seems to have been reduced. I found myself more often than not running circles around my comrades tapping X for somewhere around 15 seconds trying to revive him. This is even more frustrating when trying to execute an opponent and he keeps running away.

Multiplayer isn't the only thing Gears of War 3 is about. The game also features a campaign mode that tells a very well paced and extremely gratifying story. Players like me who have been on the ground floor of the series and have read as many comics and novels as possible won't be disappointed. All the question that need to be answered are, while some questions are left in the air to maintain a sense of mystery rather than forcing a continuation. Make no mistake, this is the last Gears of War story. Every plot thread gets tied up tightly and each character arc gets closed off.

The story revolves around the last remaining members of humanity trying to survive. After the sinking of Jacinto, the Locust were destroyed, and the COG was disbanded. The survivors live as little m ore than refugees. Everyone is Stranded now. But amid the supposed victory, a greater threat has been building. The Lambent have evolved into their own species, and they want Sera for themselves. But the Lambent disease is not just infecting the Locust, the entire planet of Sera is being absorbed and slowly killed by the infection. And when I say planet I don't mean the inhabitants, I mean the actual world. Right down to the core. The only way to stop the Lambent is to find Marcus's father, a scientist long thought to be dead. Delta Squad, lead by Marcus Fenix, must now traverse the world to find him and stop the Lambent infection. But one more problem remains, the Locust are not so dead after all, and Queen Myraah is out for blood, this time actively leading her people into battle rather than berating the opposition from afar.

Gears of War 3 tells a melancholic tale of war, loss, survival and the price you have to pay in order to survive. Its no bed of roses. As I said the story is very well paced and without a doubt does the best job of building tension than any other Gears of War game. Writer Karen Traviss also makes sure not to miss out on those emotional beats. Though none of these emotional moments reach the heights that they did in the breathtakingly well done Dom/Mariah reunion, they do leave a lump in the back of your throat. Don't be ashamed to let one tear run down your face, because things get sad.

One thing that I like about the story is that some of the less appreciated but huge fan favorite characters get some spotlight. Cole and Baird are scene stealing bastards, and I love it. Anya herself takes up arms and join the boys on the front lines. Each character has their own journey. Marcus's journey to find his father takes center stage, Dom is reeling from the death of his wife and loss of his family, Cole is suffering from some kind of mid life crisis ("You ever feel like you're already dead and nobody told you?") and Baird is on a quest to repair JACK, the cute robot buddy that hacked all the doors. JACK has been destroyed and Baird is actively seeking how to fix him.

The story isn't just about the old favorites. A whole host of new characters are added in to keep the story fresh. Well, mostly new. Jace Stratton of the comic books series makes his physical debut in Gears of War 3. He had a voice over cameo in GoW2, but this time he is one of the 8 playable characters during the campaign. Clayton Carmine, eldest of the Carmine siblings is also is a player character. He's a sarcastic warmonger with a penchant for bacon. Although he is playable for the shortest amount of time, he has arguable the biggest "Yes!!!" moment in the game. I was never huge on the Carmine's. I pegged Anthony as the dead by third act guy instantly. I was only surprised at how early he died. Ben was an improvement, and I generally liked his character. I still felt that the characters' popularity was a bit overblown. Clay on the other hand, I thought was awesome. "Eat dirt and die you motherfucker!!!" The last new addition is Sam Byrne, the tough lady with a smart mouth. The fact that she can stand to be Baird on the cheeky, sarcastic whit makes her worthy of respect. All in all, the new additions are fantastic for the most part and fit right in with the rest of Delta. Jace and Anya seem to lack the personality of pretty much everyone else. Everyone else is portrayed so larger than life, yet Jace and Anya have more realistic portrayals. They seem boring in comparison. Due to this fact, Act 4, which primarily focuses on those two, becomes the low point of the game.

All in all, the campaign is a breathtaking adventure. It is probably the best told story out of all three, but I still think that Gears 2 had a better story overall. Unfortunately, what gives Gears 3 the edge over Gears 2 is the level design. Throughout Gears 2, when you weren't running in a curvy line down below the surface, you were stuck in vehicles. This limited the amount of tactics that could be utilized. This time the levels are huge. There are so many different combat strategies that can be utilized is nuts. I remember one time on a bridge while playing with my brother and sister, we were ambushed by a shit ton of Locusts. Remembering that we just took out a squad armed with a troika, I doubled back to the previous battle zone and leaped on the Troika and opened fire. The Horde didn't stand a chance. Afterwards my brother said to me, "Nice job taking that Troika!" Another time I noticed my brother was in a tight spot, being flanked by a Locust with a Lancer. I switched to my Retro Lancer and began my bayonet charge. Less than a mili-second before my brother got sawed in half, I ran up and jammed the bayonet into the Locust buffoon and threw his bloody and lifeless corpse to the ground. The four-player co-op greatly increased the teamwork aspect and I highly recommend playing with three buddies. In fact, if you can't play with four players, it's not worth playing (partially due to the fact that your teammate AI is shit-stupid).

Gears of War 3 brings the story full circle in this well executed finale. The gameplay has been perfected, and the multiplayer overhaul ensures a long investment from fans. In the end, Gears 3 did what I once felt was impossible for any game: surpass the hype. Gears of War 3 is the most complete, most polished, and generally the best damn Gears of War game in the series. The trilogy doesn't go out with a bang, it goes out with a nuclear blast.

I give Gears of War 3 a 10 out of 10. Well done Epic Games. This is the first perfect score I've ever handed out.


Pros

Well done and fulfilling story.

Each plot point was tied up and most questions were answered.

Great tension building.

Emotional.

Great voice acting.

The Origins of the Locust was wisely avoided.

Great characters.

Excellent multiplayer.

Level system is well done.

Huge replay value.

The most satisfying climax in a video game sense Mass Effect 1.

Brilliant music.

Fun and intense combat.

Cole and Baird finally get some character development.

Each surviving character returns, and some characters from the expanded lore, like Jace Stratton and Bernie Mattaki also make appearnaces.

Excellent visual design.

I could go on and on.

Cons

Act 4 in the campaign is slow and disappointing.

The original 4 Delta Squad members seem to take a backseat to some of the new characters (I'm looking at you Sam!).

Revive and Execute radius has be decreased, making reviving friends in the heat of battle more difficult than it should be.

Some perplexing control switch-a-roos.

Most multiplayer maps are underwhelming.

Why weren't Tai, Kim, Bernie, RAAM and Skorge included in the multiplayer?

Anya and Jace have boring personalities compared to everyone else.




Thursday, September 29, 2011

DC Comics Presents: Sexism!


DC Comics recently reset their entire lineup of comic book characters and rebooted the universe. With the reboot comes new creative teams, new comics and in some cases, entirely new origins. Recently, a controversy has sparked at the core of not one, but two releases. Catwoman, written by Judd Winick and featuring art by Guillem March, and Red Hood and the Outsiders by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort. Both of these titles feature writing and art that is sexist at its best and misogynistic and its worst.

Let’s begin with Catwoman. Right off the bat there is something odd. The first few pages are nothing but ass and cleavage shots of Catwoman as she is dressing up in her outfit. I can’t even accurately pinpoint when we finally get a good shot of her face. She wears red lingerie that screams “look at my massive tits.” This is supposed to be a new beginning. Essentially, this is the pilot episode. Now, I know for a fact that no self-respecting director would make a pilot that focused only on the main characters breasts for the first 20 minutes. Why would anyone in their right mind do something like that? Unless of course they are not in their right minds. At least that makes sense. Personally, I got no problems with playing things sexy, but come on! She’s half naked for how many panels here? And how many bras are seen on page 1 alone. Five or six, counting the one she’s wearing. It’s ridiculous and not too subtle over what the intentions were.

Things only get worse from there. As the issue ends, we are treated with the strangest panel of Batman and Catwoman having sex. In full costume. I’m going to be honest here, this page is facepalm worthy. It’s just weird looking. Now, Batman and Catwoman have had some steamy sexual tension over the years, but those years have been somewhat erased. My problem with this scene isn’t that the two characters have sex, but rather that it’s empty, emotionless, meaningless sex. There is no buildup of sexual tension, no trace of any sexy banter and absolutely no time for the readers to get on board with the romantic implications. It’s pretty much Batman and Catwoman standing on a roof. Batman then drops his pants and says, “Begin.” The scene doesn’t play out like that specifically, but the tone is similar enough. It’s not sexy. When sex is devoid of any emotion at all, it becomes creepy. This scene was creepy to me.

The other crippling example of the objectification of women comes from Starfire. That’s right, the sweet orange skinned alien girl from Teen Titans. Before the New 52, Starfire was a very happy, vivacious former princess who had very deep emotions. But beneath her sweet personality was the spirit of a warrior, and she would fight valiantly to defend those she cared about. The new Starfire is the complete opposite. She is a cold person who cares little for humans. She has sex with whomever and whatever she pleases and instantly forgets about her partners when she’s done with them. She seems to have a relationship with Red Hood, but that doesn’t stop her from propositioning Speedy. Speedy of course accepts and takes advantage of Starfire. Essentially, Starfire has been ret-conned into a super powered prostitute.

Everything about this situation is wrong. Aside from the complete obliteration of an already successful character, the fact that the writers view their female heroes as little more than sex toys for the male heroes is shameful. I guess women in the DCU have nothing better to do than have sex with superheroes and erotically pose for invisible onlookers.

There has already been enough controversy to force DC to make a statement. The statement was essentially, “We appreciate what you’re saying. Now kindly fuck off.” Judd Winick responded directly about the way Catwoman has been written. He said “This Catwoman for 2011, and my approach to her character and actions reflect someone who lives in our times.” That comment was supposed to defend his writing I assume. What that says to me is that women who live in 2011 and in our times are nymphomaniacs. Now it makes sense. Thanks Judd. I was worried you had no clue how to write an effective romance and were simply pandering to a mostly immature male audience. Thank God you weren’t being sexist or anything like that.

For the record, I don’t have a problem with sex. I’m not some prudish puritan that thinks that people should only have sex when they’re married. I’m also not offended about putting sex in a comic book or any art medium for that matter. However, there is a difference between building a romance (or at least sexual tension) and just throwing sex in for no reason.

Batman for example, is supposed to be one of the most controlled heroes in the DC-verse. When he is in Bat-mode, he’s barley human. Now, Catwoman certainly can kick start his humanity and activate his desires, but Batman just dropping down and begging for a ride is ridiculous. Batman would resist his own temptations for as long as he could. If you expect me to believe that 20 some pages is his maximum level of resistance, then God help Gotham. If Chris Nolan wrote Batman with this level of self-control in The Dark Knight, he would have handed Gotham over to the Joker on a silver platter in the first twenty minutes. That’s what made the Batman/Catwoman relationship so appealing. The level of self-control he has and the mutual attraction they shared caused friction. This friction built up over time and the sexual tension could be cut with a knife. There is an old saying (strangely one that was referenced in The Dark Knight), when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, drama occurs. Winick wrote this scene and said, “Drama? Tension? Emotion? Who needs that crap? Let’s just get them having sex right now!” Great writer indeed.

On the Starfire/Speedy end of the equation, we have the mindless sex-bot that Starfire has become, posing towards the reader asking Speedy if he wants to haves sex with her, just because he’s there. He hesitates only to be absolutely sure she wasn’t joking and then goes for it. He doesn’t consider Red Hood in all this, who he believes to be in a relationship with her. It doesn’t make him slightly uncomfortable that she has sex with whatever she sees. His actions demonstrate selfishness and a nearly bankrupt moral code. Why would someone who has chosen to become a superhero have little to no morals? Regardless of the type of superhero you create, morality will always be a central theme because superheroes essentially take the law into their own hands. A superhero with no moral compass is not a hero. He is a villain. If the point of separation between good and evil does not lie with morality, where does it lie? It is morality that separates Batman from The Joker, and Superman from Lex Luthor. If a hero has no morality, what separates him from his enemies? Nothing.

I find both of these issues to not just be demeaning to women, but also demeaning to men. What this says to me is that women are nymphos and men are pigs. Starfire seems to have one goal in life, and that’s sleep with as many people as possible. Speedy wouldn’t surprise if he began acting like Bill Paxton’s character in True Lies. Batman’s hero code is easily compromised by the sight of beautiful women in form fitting black leather. Catwoman meanwhile is just like all modern women of 2011, having sex on rooftops whenever possible. It’s a good thing Batman was there, because that scene would have been even more awkward if she ran into the building’s janitor.

This kind of bullshit reminds exactly why I began writing my own comic books in the first place, and why I would never want to work for Marvel or DC. I believe that the big two are set in their ways. No amount of discussion or debate will change them. This is why I don’t read mainstream titles as much as I used to. I got tired with all of the sexism, the irresponsible heroes, and villains that had more humanity then the good guys. I don’t know when comics became so cynical, but I don’t need to take part in that anymore. The industry needs to be less focused on sex and become more focused on telling a good story. Sex can certainly be in a good story, but it isn’t a necessary component. DC seems to believe they can mask a terrible comic by adding more meaningless sex. Some of us know better. Some of us like Laura Hudson, Ms. Snarky, and even the 7 year old daughter of Michele Lee know that this is BS. I would like to see the industry change, and who knows, maybe these great women can inspire it. I hope so, because the industry desperately needs it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Gears of War: In Retrospect


Tonight at midnight, I will be on my way to pick up my copy of Gears of War 3. The Gears of War series is probably my second favorite franchise in video games today. I love its larger than life characters, its desperate atmosphere, its gothic art style, etc. It was most definitely one of the more unique shooters out there, and has proven to be one of the most innovative games of its generation.

The first Gears of War game was one of, if not the first games to feature a cooperative campaign that actually made player 2 relevant not just to the gameplay, but to the story. As a younger brother, I can instantly appreciate any co-op game that actually allows me to play alongside my brother. Gears of War happened to be, by chance, an awesome frigging game as well.

I loved Gears of War when it came out. Its multiplayer was loads of fun, if a bit competitive (I’m kind of a wuss) but the campaign is what sold me. The story was pretty straightforward, but not without interesting twists. The characters made up for the simplicity of the story. Marcus Fenix, the stoic and insubordinate soldier accused of treason. Dom Santiago, the family man on a quest to find his wife. Augustus Cole, the exuberant ex-sports star. Damon Baird, the genius with a bad attitude. Even the bit characters like the uber-hardass Colonel Hoffman, the by-the-book Lt. Kim, and the cavalier, laid back Anthony Carmine all were cool ass characters. It’s rare to find any story where you love every one of the characters, and yet, Gears pulled it off. The combat was fun, engaging and intense. The levels were massive, decrepit, and filled with enemies. It was just a flat out good game. The only problem I had with GoW was that the game designers created such a massive, beautiful, and expansive universe to tell incredible stories, but did very little with it.

Gears of War 2 came down the pipeline introducing new characters, new enemies and further expanded on the universe. The story was much grander this time, focusing on the war with the Locust Horde. A massive assault was under way. Every surviving character from Gears 1 returned, each with expanded roles. Hoffman even took up arms in the fight against the Horde in this one. Sweet! We were also introduced to the religious and unkillable Tai Kaliso, the naïve rookie Ben Carmine, brother of Anthony Carmine, and everyone’s favorite potty-mouthed hillbilly, Dizzy Wallin. The stakes were higher and the story was vastly superior to the originals. In the midst of the awesome war taking place, there was a deeper side to the story. Dom’s quest to find his wife Mariah took center stage, and the story focused largely on the bond between Marcus and Dom. The story added lots of emotion and had parallels to WWII. The gameplay was improved and smoothed out around the edges, and multiplayer additions like the infinitely entertaining Horde mode ensured that the best days of Gears of War didn’t end with the first game.

Gears of War 2 was not without flaws. Although the story was grander and more epic, the combat took place almost exclusively on vehicles or mounts, and the game seemed bogged down by its impressive set pieces. The level design was more or less a simple curvy line from one area to the next, leaving little room for tactics and flanking maneuvers. And am I the only one who thought the Lancer was a total piece of shit in Gears 2?

Strangely, the story made up for the shortcomings in level design and combat narrative, which was the exact opposite of the Gears 1. Obviously spending more time with Delta squad was a huge boon as well. Steve Jablonksy’s score was also quite magnificent. But, the story was much improved. I had the chance to meet Josh Ortega at C2E2 two years ago. We talked game design and the artistic merits of Gears of War. He was a great guy and I feel that he helped the franchise out a lot with his work on Gears 2.

Now we come to Gears of War 3, and I am psyched to see how it ends. Karen Traviss will be taking over the writer duties, which is fantastic because her books are amazing and capture the characters and the world perfectly. I hope the story is just as grand and epic as GoW2, but I also hope that they improve on the flaws, and make the levels larger and incorporate a better sense of tactical play. Obviously the four player co-op will rock and the new Beast mode and Horde mode 2.0 look stellar. But most of all, I want to see some of the more neglected characters, like Baird and Cole, get some character development. They have been graduated to player characters now, so hopefully that will push them more into the limelight. I’m also excited to Anya in her new role as a member of Delta Squad and not just the operator. Jace Stratton has been expanded form his comic book roots, and brief cameo in Gears 2 to a full character now, and other new guys like Sam Byrne and Clayton Carmine (yeah, another one) will add some freshness to the campaign.

But with this sense of excitement comes a hint of sorrow. This may very well be the last time we see Delta Squad grace our gaming consoles. We’ve done a lot together. We’ve activated the resonator, killed Brumaks, Berserkers, Corpsers, and General RAAM. We’ve retaken the city of Landdown, stormed the Hollows, confronted the Locust Queen Myraah, sunk the city of Jacinto and killed Dom’s wife. Well that last one may not be the happiest of memories, but at least he caught a big ass fish in the process, right?

This is it. The end of an era. Later tonight (or tomorrow morning if you’re anal) the last journey of Delta Squad will begin, and I will be their ferryman. We’ll fight (and maybe die) on the battlefield together as brothers. Brothers to the end. The end.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Mass Effect 3 is Going to Rock!: A Counter Argument


A few months ago, I ripped into Mass Effect 3 about how I believe the game will suck. What you did not know was that I have been plotting a counter argument this whole time!!!! Yes I am a sly evil genius. Now, even though it took me five articles to point all the adversity that stands in front of Bioware for Mass Effect 3, I am not going to do that again. I got sick of myself after article three, so this time I will keep it short and succinct. What you are about to see is me, attacking myself. This should be interesting.

In my first article you may remember that I tore apart Mass Effect 2’s story. Not because it was bad, but because it was not quite the sequel it should have been. Bioware said that Mass Effect 2 was supposed to be a dark second act, and I personally felt that the game did not feel dark nor did it feel like a second act. There was very little of an emotional journey to be had and what it did have was not that great. Will this affect Mass Effect 3? In my last article, I speculated yes. That’s not necessarily true. Bioware has admitted that Mass Effect 2 was a little dry on the emotion. They have claimed to have gone to great strides to make Mass Effect 3 the most emotionally engaging of all three games. We have all read the articles about the (spoiler warning!!! Run while you can) little boy in the vents that suffers a horrific demise. This moment had audience members crying! That is some pathologically intense shit right there. The best part is, this was something they didn’t mind the public knowing about prior to the game’s release. Bioware said they are keeping a tight lid on ME3 to avoid those great moments of epicness and emotion being spoiled. If that moment is worthy of being known, who knows what’s in store for ME3 emotionally.

Another thing I chastised ME2 on was its lack of a strong central villain, and that the story never showed us enough of the Collectors and what they did to humans to inspire we players to really care. By the time we saw what the Collector’s did to humans, the time for motivation had come and gone. Well, that’s already changed as well. The first moments in the ME3 will showcase the fall of Earth. The little kid moment mentioned before occurs here. As far as I’m concerned, we have a reason to fight already. Not only that, but Earth is just the first of many worlds to fall. Not to mention all the build up with the Reapers since ME1. As far as the villain goes, ME3 could very well fall into this trap, as the Reapers are, basically, faceless drones, powerful drones, but faceless nonetheless. Just like the Collectors. Wait just a minute there, what about Cerberus? They seem to be hunting Shepard down for whatever the reason. Is the Illusive Man our Saren? Our Loghain, if you will? So far, it seems to be. In fact, Kai Leng, a Cerberus assassin introduced in Mass Effect: Retribution could very well be our Benezia/Arl Howe since he has already been confirmed to make an appearance in ME3 and we’ve already seen some kick ass concept art of his appearance. Sounds to me like Bioware has addressed the story problems Mass Effect 2 suffered from.

For Mass Effect 2 I accused Bioware of dumbing down the RPG play in favor of more guns, grit, and tobacco chewing action. I feared that Bioware may continue this trend in Mass Effect 3. Those fears where further enhanced when I saw the heavy emphasis of the combat. Then I saw the level up system and stat progression in detail. Yeah, I think this isn’t going to be a problem. In fact, when Bioware has to tell people there is an auto level up button because of how of complex the new stat progression is, it gives me an RPB, a role playing boner. Oh yeaaaaaaaaah. Bioware has also shown off glimpses of their weapon customization system and promised that Shep’s armor will work very similarly. Mmm. That’s right baby. Just like that. Extend that barrel. There has been concern that Mass Effect 3 is turning into a Gears of War clone. Based on what was shown at E3 and subsequent shows, that seems like valid criticism. But until Gears of War has moral choices with big impacts, the ability to form relationships, branching conversations and a player driven narrative experience, Mass Effect will always be Mass Effect, no matter how Gears of War-esque the action gets.

In my last article, I lambasted the E3 trailer, saying it served as nothing more than another rift between their fans. Bioware made up for it at their shows, allowing the fans to choose the new default femshep for her soon to be released trailer. They have hosted breakfasts for their fans, giveaways, trivia contests, hell the winner of the fanart contest is now an employee! Bioware has reached out to their fans more than ever in preparation for the release of Mass Effect 3. I can forgive that snoozy trailer for that. Especially if we get a launch trailer half as awesome as ME2’s. Mmmm. Yeah. Show me the good stuff.

Another topic that I reamed Bioware on was their treatment of the characters and how the ME3 is likely to throw away most of the ME2 cast. Well, I can’t defend how badly some characters were ignored or mistreated in ME2. Sorry. That does not mean that ME3 will continue the mistreatment. In fact, Lair of the Shadow Broker was a step in the right direction. Hopefully the other three characters left behind (Ashley, Kaidan, and Wrex) get some redemption. We’ll see. As far as who will be included in ME3, Bioware has been talking about their new squad mechanic system. Apparently some characters will be around as temporary squad members, and not just for one mission. They may be involved in story arcs. For example, Wrex may not be a main squad member, but he may play a significant role resolving the Krogan and Salarian (and maybe even the Turian) story arcs. I would have no problem with that, and I imagine most of the fanbase would feel generally the same way. Bioware has also confirmed that love interest characters are getting the most special treatment. Which is good. I also demanded some recognition for playing the DLC’s beyond a petty e-mail, which Bioware confirmed was being implemented into the story. That’s it. That’s the stuff right there.

Finally, I come to the last of my vicious remarks. This one was targeted at EA. And yes, I still believe that EA could very well cripple Bioware in the future. However, EA has done a lot of good for Bioware too. In fact, if it weren’t for EA’s support, I guarantee we would just barley be playing Mass Effect 2 right now. Bioware has always been behind the ball in terms of graphics. Look at KOTOR. In fact, Mass Effect was the first time Bioware was on the ball, but what happened? Pop-ins, screen tears, and assorted other technical hiccups were everywhere. No cutscene, no combat sequence, no conversation was immune to those graphical blunders. EA and Bioware merge and Mass Effect 2 is released with stellar graphics and only one or two visual speed bumps. Coincidence? I think not.

Truth be told, I have no idea if Mass Effect 3 will be good or bad. Could it be as bad as I claimed before? Yup. Could it be completely and totally fucking awesome? So awesome it can give birth to messiah babies just by thinking about it? Well maybe not that awesome, but probably pretty damn close. It could be. It could be. So basically, Bioware is looking down the same path that every game developer looks down when building a game. One path will lead to a success the other to failure. Mass Effect 3 is not special in that regard. The expectations are just higher. I remain cautiously optimistic that they can deliver. I thought Transformers 3 was going to suck, and it was the best in the series, in my humblest of humble opinions. Why would Mass Effect 3 be different? I am a Bioware fanboy, and I’m not afraid to admit it. That’s why I hold them to such high standards. Bioware has claimed that they have the best fans in the industry. I am honored that they think so. Mass Effect 3, don’t let us down. We’re counting on you.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Star Crossed Galaxy #2 Update


Well it has basically been a year since Star Crossed Galaxy #1 was released, and I'm sure all of the fans are eager for an update. Well, I got some bad news. SCG #2 has hit a bit of a snag. The artist, the amazingly talented Matt Martin had to drop out as the artist for the series. He's got a few gigs his working on right now, and I for one wish him the best of luck. He was an incredible artist and a stand up guy, but the best part about working with Matt was his passion and zeal for the series. He really loved working on the book and with the characters. I feel bad that he is leaving the SCG, but I'm happy he's making his mark in the world of comics. Good luck, Matt!

Don't be too sad as Matt has pretty much finished his penciling duties on SCG #2. So he's still our man, at least until #3. Right now, I'm busy trying to find an artist to fix up the final pages, give us an exciting cover and then we're ready to roll. So I begin my search for a new artist to take over the mantle of in issue 3, and hopefully, we can get this first story arc in your hands. Nay nay, definitely, we will get this first story arc in your hands!

In the meantime, make sure you download our free preview of Star Crossed Galaxy #2. It showcases some of the tension taking place in this issue and give a sneak peak at the upgraded art style. If you haven't read Star Crossed Galaxy yet, you're dead to me. Don't worry you can easily rectify that by purchasing yourself a copy. Check out the links to the side to see where you can buy our exciting first issue. Hint: Amazon may not be a bad place to start.

One last big thank you to Matt for his hard and passionate work on Star Crossed Galaxy. I know Captain Cull and his crew are going to miss you.




Saturday, August 06, 2011

Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars Review


A few months ago, I was desperate for some really good sci-fi. I scoured the internet looking for a trace of some new space age adventure to lose my imagination in. I found a few good ones like Dark City and Gattaca. At the time, neither was streaming on Netflix and my local video store didn’t have them in stock, so I never got to see them. I became dismayed, but then, a friend of mine recommended Farscape, a sci-fi TV series that initially aired in 1999. I saw an episode or two when it was still on the air a long time ago and thought the show was goofy and weird. My friend insisted it was worth a gander, especially when starting from the beginning. I began watching the show on Netflix, and although the show was indeed goofy and weird, it was still impressive.

As the show went on, the goofiness faded and the show became, potentially the best science fiction television series of my generation. The writing was smart and sophisticated, but not without an irreverent sense of humor (“Where’s my damn ice cream?!”). The heroes were complex, deep, and flawed. The villains were not always so evil and often times had a very grey morality, rather than black. The plots were mind bending and virtually every twist was completely unpredictable. The series introduced concepts that I have never seen before or since in any science fiction. Needless to say, my mind got frelled the dren up regularly watching Farscape as there was always some new H-Bomb of a revelation or malignant plot tumor to be discovered. The show was written, acted and executed flawlessly. I tried to write a review for the series, but at around 9 pages of me basically saying, “This show is frelling awesome,” I opted against it.

Sadly, Farscape was cut down in its prime, like so many excellent sci-fi series before it. With its end, plots were left open and the series felt unfinished. Farscape was supposed to have a five season run before it ended but was cancelled after four. Brian Henson, son of the late great Jim Henson and producer of the series, was not done yet. He wanted Farscape finished properly. And so, The Peacekeeper Wars were born.

Over the course of Farscape, John Crichton and his companions amassed a substantial amount of fierce and unrelenting foes, many of which actually joined him as allies on many occasions. Some of these enemies were Scorpius, Crais, the Peacekeepers and the most devastating enemy of them all, the Scarran Empire. The Scarran are a vicious, brutal and violent race that wants nothing less than to conquer the whole galaxy under the rule of their glorious empire. Their fleet dwarfs any in the entire galaxy. The only fleet remotely large enough to even stand a chance is that of the Peacekeepers. As established in the series, a war between the Scarrans and the rest of the galaxy is brewing, and in PK War, it’s finally arrived. The Scarran fleet goes on a rampage throughout Peacekeeper controlled space, wiping out all resistance. It’s the last war of our time, and the Scarrans are winning. The galaxy is in peril, and only one man has the ability to stop them: John Crichton. Crichton was given knowledge in season 1 to unlock the secrets of wormholes in order to find his way back to Earth. But with this knowledge comes power. The power to create, and the power to destroy. The knowledge in Crichton’s head can be used to create a wormhole weapon of immense power. Scorpius, Crichton’s arch-nemesis, occasional ally, and general pain in the eema wants nothing more than to wipe out the Scarrans for good. The wormhole weapon is the only way, but Crichton knows the cost of such power. There must be another way, right?

Farscape: PKW continues its tradition of delivering an epic and exciting story full of twists and turns. The characters are just as awesome as they were before, and each one of them has their own character arch. The story is more epic than it has ever been and the stakes are at their peak. The battles to come are dangerous, and the body count is sure to be high. The acting is, as always in Farscape, above the curve. Ben Browder is a master of the zany antics that Crichton is known for, but he also handles the emotional beats and angst better than most actors. He has a lot of range and captures every aspect of John Crichton, from his sarcastic whit, to his mental breakdowns, with incredible deftness. Claudia Black plays Aeryn Sun, one of science fiction’s sexiest bad asses. I love Claudia Black. A lot. She quite possibly has the sexiest voice in the entire world. She is also an extraordinary actress, one who I never thought ever got the credit she deserved. Black is certainly one of the stand out members of the cast playing the ex-Peacekeeper. Anthony Simcoe plays the big brutish softie, Ka D’Argo. D’argo has always been one of the most tragic characters in Farscape, having been unjustly imprisoned for 8 cycles for the murder of his wife, for which he was framed by his brother in law (a total son of a hazmot). His son betrayed him, his girl betrayed him. His whole life has been one crushing disappointment after the next. D’argo is the ultimate warrior, and his story comes to an epic conclusion in PK War, much like the rest of the cast. Scorpius is as scene stealing as ever, with his cold and calculating demeanor. Even after all of these years, you still don’t quite know if he’s a good guy or a bad guy.

One of the best parts of PKW is that it always has time for those emotional moments. Crichton and Aeryn’s unborn child becomes an anchoring point for most of the drama. Crichton is no longer thinking about just himself, or just him and Aeryn. He now has a child on the way, and the ongoing war threatens to destroy his family. There is loads of drama to be had, obviously. Each character has time to develop and change over the course of the story, most notable in this is Stark. Stark was unfortunately absent throughout most of season 4, so seeing him as one of the main event characters is most welcome.

PKW does have some flaws. Since the writers are essentially condensing an entire season’s worth of stories down to a 3 arn movie, the pace is often a bit jumpy and inconsistent. A lot of moments don’t simmer on screen to achieve the full effect they could have had, particularly in some would be emotional moments. Much of the story seems rushed, but not too badly. Some main characters seem to be ushered to the background, like Noranti, Jool, Sikouze, Pilot and everyone’s favorite Dominar, Rygel XVI. It’s unfortunate to see these characters get so little screen time, but it’s impressive that each character still has integral roles to play in the story. Quite possibly the biggest problem this movie faces is how utterly predictable it is. I knew all the plot twists about the time they began to set them up. I knew some of the twists even before I saw the movie just by guessing. This was an extreme shock to me as Farscape has always featured the most unpredictable stories in television (at least in my opinion). There are still plenty of those shocking moments, and more than a few signature bomb-drop-revelations, like the origins of the Peacekeepers, but overall, too predictable. An average movie could have gotten away with it, but as I said before, Farscape was always way above the curve.

Even with its flaws, Farscape: Peace Keeper Wars ends the series on a very high note. They close most of the important plot lines, while still leaving others up in the air, just in case. All of the characters develop and even though the movie is bursting at the seams with high velocity action, the story does not skimp on those precious emotional moments. Even if the end would have been better told through an entire season, Peacekeeper Wars is nearly as good. It’s rare to find such a quality series, whether it be sci-fi or not. Farscape is a rare breed of a show that never got boring or repetitive, always pleased, and made sure we loved all of the characters. This movie is no different.

I give Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars a frelling 9 out of 10. I just can’t get enough of this dren.

Pros

Just as good as the series it’s based on

Great story

Great villains

Intense action

Exciting and epic close to a great series

Great characters and fantastic acting

Doesn’t throw away character development or emotional beats

Impressive visuals, despite its fairly low made for TV budget

Closes most relevant plot lines

Great sense of humor

Greatest Sci-Fi space adventure ever IMO

Cons

Story is rushed, though understandably so

Some main characters get less screen time then they deserve

Plot is relatively predictable. Disappointing considering the unpredictable nature of the TV show

What’s with the bright colors, new make-up and weird voices?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Problem With The DC Reboot


Everyone knows by now that the DC Reboot is right around the corner. DC Comics will, for the first time in history, reset their entire comic book line up back to #1. There are more changes to be made in the DC Universe then a simple numerical reset. New titles will be introduced, and old favorites will be retrofitted with a new continuity. New creative teams will be combined for each book and the general business practices of DC as a company are being reconstructed. This isn’t just a DC Universe reboot; this is a DC Comics reboot.

I can admit that I am curious about DC’s direction. They have been chasing Marvel’s success for years now, both in sales and creative pursuits. Marvel has been massively successful in the animation and film departments, DC on the other hand had to deal with the commercial disappointment that was Green Lantern. All in all, DC can’t catch a break. They had to do something to remain competitive with Marvel Comics, and in their eyes, an entire reboot seemed like the best option. I personally agree to an extent.

I do believe that a DC Reboot could in fact be successful. Stories that don’t have endings often get stale and repetitive, so reworking how the company makes comics is an interesting idea. The problem is this; they are not going far enough. I know what you’re thinking fanboy, you’re thinking they’re going too far. Well, that’s not true. Superman is seemingly being drastically changed thanks to the infamous Siegel/Schuster lawsuit, and Batman will be largely unchanged. DC is picking and choosing what needs to rebooted rather than just sweeping the whole universe. Whether you think the reboot is a good idea or not is irrelevant. If you’re going to start over, than start over. Superman is getting reset, but Batman isn’t? That does not make sense and will only lead to plot inconsistencies, retcons, and confusion. I see no problem with either continuing the DCU as is, or resetting completely, but trying to have it both ways is a recipe for disaster.

The other problem is DC is trying to make comic books in a timely manner. How many times has Dan Didio promised comics will finally be on schedule? How many times did that come true? Now, I have heard that DC is restructuring their business practices to ensure that books are always on schedule and on time. Good. That’s a step in the right direction. However, if you look at the creative teams involved, you begin to see yet another recipe for failure. Jim Lee will provide the pencils for the new JLA, but this guy does not have the best track record for being on time. Taking a look, how many books are being written and drawn by the same guy? Six. Six comics are going to written and drawn by the same person. Correct if I’m wrong, but wouldn’t it be more time consuming to have one man doing double the work on one book? Wouldn’t it be faster and more efficient to have an artist and a writer, not an artist/writer? Writers are supposed to write, artists are supposed to draw. On that topic, at least 4 comics in the reboot are being written by artists. Tony Daniel, Dan Jurgens and Ethan Van Sciver are acting as writers on books that they are not even drawing. Hell, Daniels is working on like twenty books. How is any of this working in DC’s favor? David Finch is writing and drawing multiple books. That will in no way slow things down internally for the company right? Considering he has enough trouble making deadlines when he’s just drawing one comic a month. Smart.

But what about the books? Well, JLA with Geoff Johns and Jim Lee looks like a keeper, if Lee can meet his deadlines. Johns will also be teaming with the amazing Ivan Reis to kick start Aquaman. Another potential winner. Johns will also continue working on Green Lantern, now with Doug Mahnke. With the exception of Blackhawks, none of these comics look remotely interesting to me. I’ll give Green Lantern, and JLA a shot, but I’m not huge on Aquaman as a character, so an exciting team isn’t going to entice me here. But what is up with some these comics? Grifter? Voodoo? Red Hood? Batwoman? And why are they dedicating a whole comic to Batman’s plane?! Okay that last one was just a joke, but even the real DC Superheroes look dull. Each Batman comic either suffers from having a lousy writer or a lousy artist. David Finch is not a writer, by the way. His art is over rendered and his writing sucks. A retconned Superman interests me little, but a classic Superman does not do it for me either. None of the Creative teams mesh very well, barring few exceptions like Johns and Reis on Aquaman. The Snyder Capullo Batman intrigues me, as does the Tomasi and Gleason on Batman and Robin. I don’t like the idea of Damien at all, so that puts a hamper on Batman and Robin, and I have not read anything by Snyder. I can’t speak for everybody, but so far these books don’t impress me.

As of right now, DC doesn’t look like they’re relauching their titles or their business. They may talk a big game, but it looks like business as usual. Superman has been readjusted like 95 times this decade, so it’s no surprise there. DC has relaunched most of their titles over past decade too. The same creators are being used, mostly on the same books, and unreliable creators are being packed with far more work than they can probably handle. Overall, DC will probably have great sales for the first few months, experience a dramatic dip, and say this whole event was nothing more than a journey to yet another Earth. In roughly a year, we’re back to the same old DC comics’ continuity. I hate to once again play the pessimist, but more cards are stacked against DC then in favor of. I predict that this relaunch will ultimately create a massive rift between DC and their longtime fanbase, and amount to nothing more than a colossal misfire. Had the reboot been handled more deftly, I would be singing a different tune, but what DC is saying does not match up with their actions, which is a typical turn to make when on the road of failure. Cheers!