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!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger Review


Marvel Studios has defiantly made a name for itself in the movie business. Starting out of the gate with the immensely entertaining Iron Man, Marvel has garnered not only commercial success, but also wide acclaim from both film goers and critics. As of right now, not a single Marvel produced adventure has failed to disappoint the box office, the fans, or the critics. Marvel has proven to be one of the top contenders in the film business right now, and on a personal note, Marvel has entertained and satisfied me 100% of the time. Captain America could indeed be the movie that shatters Marvel’s record. Everyone has a different idea of how Captain America should be. Is he is own character, or is simply a conduit for American idealism? If it is the latter, what is America’s idealism today as opposed to yesterday? No one person can agree on what good old Cap represents, which is why Captain America: The First Avenger is such a gamble.

Captain America takes place (mostly) during World War II and focuses on a sickly, scrawny young man named Steven Rogers. Rogers is a genuinely good man who only wants to do his part in the war against the Nazis. Short, skinny, meek and asthmatic, Rogers is constantly declared unfit for duty. Rogers is a determined man and refuses to give up. Trying and trying in different cities, Rogers can never seem to catch a break. That is until Dr. Abraham Erskine discovers the young man and recruits him for a cutting edge experiment, creating a Super Soldier. Rogers is not strong, but his courage, determination, compassion and fortitude make him the ideal man to become Captain America.

Captain America is one of the most entertaining movies I have seen in a long time. It’s not like Marvel’s other movies. Captain America is, in a way, more of a homage to the classic adventure movies of the past like Indiana Jones and the Rocketeer than it is a super hero movie. It’s refreshing to see a new take on the idea of what a super hero movie should be, but also refreshing to see a movie that captures certain nostalgia and sense of wonder that those movies once incorporated. Captain American is a classic film. Old school adventure at its finest. The cinematography, the production design, the music, all of it incorporates traditional, tried and true methods that not only invoke the aforementioned nostalgia, but also sets Captain America apart from its peers. All of this elements combine together to give Captain America a timeless feel, even in its 1940s timeline. No other Marvel movie can make such a claim.

Captain America also boasts an absolutely scintillating cast. Chris Evans brings sincerity to the role of Steve Rogers. The filmmakers wisely chose to make Steve Rogers a character rather than make him a representation of current American or global opinions. They do not make any type of high minded statement, which is good, because nobody wants to hear about it anyways. Though some may complain that Cap is a “Mary Sue,” I do not see that as a bad thing. I personally find Cap to be an absolutely inspiring character. He is an honest, genuinely good man who has a seemingly unbreakable will. His nemesis, The Red Skull played by Hugo Weaving, is not dissimilar. He is also determined with an unbreakable will. The Red Skull is a fascinating character. He is not quite as complex as he could have been, but he is also not as villainous as he may seem. He is the epitome of The Magnificent Bastard. He is cold, calculating, and driven to his own pursuits. He is also not afraid to step right in the middle of the battlefield and kick ass. Hugo Weaving not only delivers an absolutely brilliant performance, he also skillfully handles the German accent. If I didn’t know any better, I would think he actually was German. It’s that good. Rounding out the cast is Tommy Lee Jones providing some big laughs as the no nonsense Colonel of the US Military and head of the special division that turn Rogers into Captain America. The dollish Haley Atwell portrays Steve’s love interest, and she is most captivating. She is incredibly talented and is not hyper sexualized either. Then there is of course the secondary cast like Sebastian Stan as Bucky, Toby Jones as Arnim Zola, and Neal McDonough as Dum Dum Dugan. Many of these characters play fairly small roles, but they play their parts brilliantly.

Of course, what is a Marvel movie without action? Captain America is indeed action packed, and in my opinion, it has some of the best action in Marvel’s resume. The Incredible Hulk still remains the top dog in the action extravaganza category, but Captain America is a close second. The action is exciting and choreographed well. I was disappointed in both Iron Man movies and Thor for never really hitting the action heights they should have, but Captain America reaches that point. The climatic fight between Cap and Red Skull is the ultimate testament for the film’s high level of exciting action and its great imagination.

Captain America may have loads of action, but not at the expense of emotion. The story has a lot of emotional ups and downs. From comedy to tragedy, Captain America does not let one emotion go untouched. The humor is genuinely funny. At times, the audience was laughing so hard that nobody heard some of the follow up jokes. The ending itself is tragic enough to get you a choked up. Not too much though, which is too bad, because the scene really did demand more than what was provided. Considering most movies today would not even attempt to give us what we got, it’s still a win.

As much fun there is too had with Captain America, it has some flaws. The pace and flow of the movie is choppy after the halfway point. Sometimes it felt like we were entering action scenes in the middle rather than right at the beginning. The editing is occasionally a little wacky, and some moments of the film a little rushed. I give the movie props for not being as reliant on CG as most movies have become lately, but there are occasions where practical effects could have been used instead of CG, and usually the CG is kind of bad. It was great seeing actual built sets in a movie again, but less CG is always best in terms of immersion.

Captain America is my favorite movie of the summer. It is a well written and well-crafted film that has very few missteps. It close the pre-Avengers Marvel movies out with a bang, and offers the most fun film going experience I have had the pleasure of enjoying in a very long time. They do not make movies like Captain America often, which is why it is so fantastic. It’s a movie that dares to buck the new Hollywood traditions and rely on more than just fast cuts, CGI, and a Hans Zimmer-esque score. Captain America: The First Avenger is about as classic and vintage as movies get. It is an ode to the great adventure movies of yesteryear that some movies buffs crave to see again. Captain America may be the last we see of movies like this, but at least they went out with a bang.

I give Captain America a 9.5 out 10.

PROS

A return to classic filmmaking

Homage to old school adventure films

Timeless atmosphere

WWII setting sets it apart from other super hero flicks

Great take on Captain America as a character

Fantastic Cast

Great cinematography and production design

Astronomically entertaining; most fun of the Marvel movies

Many effects were done practically, which is rare these days

Red Skull is a great villain (if a bit simple)

Laugh out loud humor without being silly

USO Montage was very entertaining

Haley Atwell. Nuff said.

Did I mention how much fun it was?

CONS

Pace and flow are little messed up

One too many montages

Less than flawless editing

CGI used unnecessarily at times

Monday, July 18, 2011

Mass Effect 3 Is Going To Suck pt. 5: Have You Sold Your Soul To The EA Devil?


At long last, we have come down to it. The final obstacle that stands in the way of Mass Effect 3’s success. Yes, I am nearly done with this massive rant. You will soon be able to go back to your porn. And so will I! Today we discuss the one aspect that that has the individual power to both enhance and destroy. Our parents can forge us into great people, or they can throw our development completely out of whack and destroy our futures. This is also true of business. The parent company will always be just like a parent to their child. Such is the way for EA and Bioware.

Remember way back when I said that Bioware was the license holder for Mass Effect. Well that’s not entirely accurate. Mass Effect was at one time the sole property of Bioware, but that was only in ME1. EA bought Bioware, and now, EA pulls their strings, which means that they have the final say in what makes it into the game, not Bioware. Now B-Ware says very specifically that EA does not meddle in their games and stays out of their business. While that may be true the fact is that EA has the final say in what gets put in and what gets removed from ME3, so if EA wants multiplayer in ME3, its going in, whether B-Ware likes it or not. Now the Docs (Dr. Ray Muzyka and Dr. Greg Zeschuck, the founders of Bioware) may argue that if they put multiplayer in ME3, they may have to remove certain elements of the RPG play, canonize certain choices, and streamline the gameplay further. What EA will say is, “Do it. We need that multiplayer in order to expand or consumer base and increase profits.” PS: Multiplayer is heavily rumored to be included in ME3. If this is true, it is very possible that something is going to be sacrificed to fit it on the disk.

EA has a bad reputation of buying smaller developers, taking their games, streamlining them for wider audiences and ripping out the soul of the original developers’ visions and obliterating the quality. EA swears this isn’t the way they operate anymore, but they also said at this year’s E3 that they don’t resort to petty celebrity endorsements 5 minutes prior to bringing out a handful of football stars to play the new Madden. Obviously these guys don’t put much thought into their own words.

EA is a corporation that needs to make money. They want their games to appeal to the widest possible audience and they are not afraid to piss on the loyal fans in order to appeal to the mainstream market. Don’t believe me? Look at ME2 compared to ME1. It’s true that ME2 was an overall better experience than ME1 , but can you honestly deny that ME2 wasn’t overly streamlined? Didn’t it feel like ME2 lost that special spark that ME1 had? Okay, maybe you’re not convinced. Maybe I’m alone in feeling that ME2 lost something along the road. Maybe nostalgia is influencing my opinion. How about Dragon Age Origins compared to Dragon Age 2? I liked Dragon Age 2, but I can recognize that the game felt like it was made in a focus group. EA will throw out the big choices, the diverging gameplay, the well written story and everything else that make Mass Effect Mass Effect if it means they can secure a wider audience. DA2 was a commercial disappointment. ME3 needs to deliver the goods. If they don’t, EA will need to do what is financially appropriate. You see EA isn’t interested in the art of the game. They’re interested in the profit it can produce. Bioware thought that by joining EA they would have enough money to see their games become the complete masterpieces they deserve to be, so long as they make money. When art is dictated by money, often times, you end up with neither.

One thing that is also very interesting to me is how many long time Bioware employees have quit since they were bought by EA. Drew Karpyshyn Lead Writer of KOTOR and ME1, two of Bioware’s best written games, quit the company shortly after the EA buyout. He still is outsourced for writing assistance on SWTOR, but his involvement, from what I understand, is not official. Half of the writing staff of ME2 quit before the game was released (Karpyshyn, Chris L’Etoile, Brian Kindregan, and Luke Kristjanson was moved to the DA2 team). Lead Gameplay Designer for the Mass Effect series, Christina Norman recently quit as well. The Dragon Age Origins Project Director (I believe it was Brent Knowles, but I don’t quite remember) left Bioware because he claimed that under EA, Bioware is no longer making games he finds appealing. I’ve heard rumors that his departure is due to the fact that EA had gutted his baby, DAO and made it into DA2. Why are all of these fine and talented employees, each of which saying at one time that Bioware is one of the best places to work in the gaming industry, suddenly jumping ship? Switching gears real quickly, you remember that whole debacle about the reviews and Metacritic, right? Bioware employees were writing positive reviews for DA2 and negative reviews for its chief rival (and overall better reviewed) The Witcher 2. EA even demanded that Metacritic remove some of the negative reviews for DA2. Yeah, that was a PR dream come true, just not EA’s. Maybe Activison’s.

EA is a shitty company to be associated with, and according to one anonymous employee’s review on glassdoor.com, “EA is destroying what was once a good company.” I cannot confirm or deny how legitimate this review is, but since I don’t have a whole lot of scruples when it comes to being a writer (just look at Grace Comes Home) and I’m going nuts on an EA rant, so I’m adding it anyway. I do think that EA has way more control than Bioware will ever admit to. Why would they? Can you imagine what would happen if Dr. Ray came out and said, “Well yeah, Mass Effect 3 really is designed by John Riccitiello. He only cares about making money, so having him design ME3 will obviously increase our profits.” Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s a smart marketing maneuver considering the very negative view people have for EA. I will say it right now: EA’s involvement is potentially Mass Effect’s biggest enemy. If ME3 fails to deliver the goods, I guarantee that it is due to EA and their mainstream mindset. But that could be cynicism again.

To recap a bit, I discussed that Bioware has a few problems that may stand in the way of Mass Effect 3’s success. Mass Effect 2 was well written, but it was not written like a second act should be, and Mass Effect 3 could very well not be written like a third act, which would be disappointing. Bioware’s constant streamlining and heavy emphasis on shooter game play could lead to the core fan base to become alienated, and the newer audience that Bioware and EA are trying to secure will still be put off by all of the boring talking and side quests. Bioware has put a larger focus on pleasing consumer bases that generally dislike their product, leaving the consumer bases that do like their product feeling a cold. Bioware will out of necessity be leaving characters who some players feel are principle cast members out of the cast of ME3 due to budget and technical limitations, thereby potentially ruining the story experience for many players. EA’s involvement could cause some problems, being that their sole focus is profit. Bioware built up their games to compete with the likes of EA by doing nothing more than creating a quality product and maintaining a solid and loyal consumer base. Since EA and Bioware merged, so far EA seems to have done more harm than good.

All of these factors could in fact cause real problems for ME3’s success. Let’s say for the sake of argument, that ME3 story disappoints the wider audience. It’s filled with plot holes, inconsistencies, ass-pulls, and baffling character derailments and has an ending like The Matrix Revolutions. The gamers who play Mass Effect for the story all walk away with negative opinions. The game is further streamlined to be a Gears of War clone, so the RPG fans walk away with a negative opinion, but the game features enough RPG elements and conversations to cause the shooter boys to walk away with a negative opinion as well. Most of the characters and plots unfold in a way that screams it was written in an attempt to please the hater crowd, leaving the fans with a negative opinion and the haters (shockingly) still hate it. Fans who would be pleased with just seeing their favorite characters back are disappointed with their lack of screen time and relevance and also have a negative opinion. EA demands multiplayer, so many of the core fan base do not even pick the game up. Those who do buy the game feel EA is responsible for all of its problems and its fall from grace. The negative opinions catch up to Bioware and ME3 has some of the worst reviews a Bioware game has ever had. New players who were interested no longer are, and sales are in general, very disappointing. EA needs to protect its corporate ass and begins laying off Bioware employees, starting with the writing staff (most big companies don’t get why you need so many professional writers to work on a video game. That can be outsourced to freelancers for much cheaper). Future Bioware releases sell poorly due to the negative stigma Bioware and EA have amassed over the colossal failures of the seemingly slam dunk Mass Effect and Dragon Age series’, causing SWTOR to also sell below expectations. The monumental cost of the MMORPG causes EA to shut Bioware down completely and realize that buying a niche studio and attempting to portray them as a AAA studio was not the smartest business strategy. They soon buy up another developer, downsize and cut the quality in half, and the cycle begins again. The cycle cannot be broken!!!!

Obviously I just presented literally the worst case scenario. I sincerely doubt it will come to that, but the possibility remains. And if you believe in the theory of unrealized realities and the multiverse, it has already happened somewhere. Now, I may have said this whole time that Mass Effect 3 will suck. That’s not necessarily true. In fact, Mass Effect 3 will probably be the best game in the series, be a monumental commercial success, and spawn thousands more spin offs and maybe ten or fifteen years from now, get a remake. I do not have complete faith in Bioware and certainly not in EA (they have some bridges to mend) but I remain cautiously optimistic. I have never fully hated a Bioware game. I could even see merit in DA2, which in retrospect, was a bit of a letdown. The only thing that really causes me to be concerned is just how important ME3 is to Bioware and EA. If ME3 is a failure, I cannot imagine that EA will have Bioware up and running for long. Take a look at EA Louse, and EA Spouse. It could provide many of you guys with further insight to how EA operates. The other thing that causes me to think ME3 will fail is cynicism. Ignorant, enlightened cynicism. Oh and to anyone who posts “Trust Bioware” in the comments section, don’t bother. I’ll delete them because you’re stupid. Blind faith is the quickest path to disappointment. To quote a great man, “I like to expect the worst. There’s a chance I’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mass Effect 3 is Going to Suck pt. 4: Where are my Characters


Here we go again. Another day, another article. Join me as we enter in to part 4 of 5 of my series detailing the horrible possibility that Mass Effect 3 may actually be a huge disappointment. In my past articles I discussed Mass Effect 2’s shortcomings as a sequel, which could affect Mass Effect 3 as a sequel. I also talked about the constant streamlining taking place across all of Bioware’s recent titles and their recent trend of ignoring the fans and operating on behalf of the folks who hate their games. Today, we’re going to talk about the characters in the ME Universe and why some of the most essential and beloved characters are going to get the shaft in ME3, and potentially ruin some peoples’ gaming experience.

Mass Effect 1 had a small cast of Shepard and 6 companions. As Bioware said, this was the primary cast of the Mass Effect trilogy. However, Mass Effect 2 rolled around only featuring two these companions in significant roles and one had her own DLC and a comic book series dedicated to her. Some fans felt that Bioware was playing favorites. Ashley, Kaidan and Wrex were left in the gutter to looking on enviously as Garrus, Tali, and Liara were featured heavily in both games (and inevitably, 3 games). B-Ware could only manage to bring 3 out of six characters back in action, and those who don’t buy DLCs only got 2. Mass Effect 2 introduced 10 new companions. If you want to get technical it was actually 11 new companions. Let’s roll call and see how many companions exist in total: Kaidan, Ashley, Garrus, Tali, Wrex, and Liara filled out your team in ME1 while Jacob, Miranda, Mordin, Zaeed, Kasumi, Jack, Grunt, Thane, Samara, Morinth, and Legion were added in ME2. 17 companions. 17 main characters! Holy crap!! But wait there’s more, Bioware already confirmed that James Vega will be a main character in ME3, bringing our grand total to 18 main characters, with more new companions to be revealed!

It’s obvious that ME3 won’t have Shepard roaming around with upwards of 20 potential squad members. B-Ware then confirmed that the squad in ME3 will be smaller and focus on building deeper relationships. With that, we already have 6 returning cast members, filling out 5 slots. What about the other 12? Apparently, some will be temporary companions similar to the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC. I personally don’t mind this. Mordin for example doesn’t need to be a full time squad member to play a satisfying role. But what about Miranda, Jack, Thane and Jacob? These characters are love interests and as love interests, they are somebody’s favorite character. In fact, according to most traditional stories, being a love interest means that they are in effect main characters in someone's story. Main characters sometimes play supporting roles is the second act of a trilogy, but they never do in the third act. Never.

Everyone has their idea of who the main characters are, and almost nobody agrees on which characters are the main characters. Everyone wants their favorites to play major parts in the final chapter. Everyone wants their love interest to be active in the overall plot of the game. I hate to break this to you fan: that is not going to happen for everyone. B-Ware once said that all love interests were equal, but look at the way Liara was treated in ME2 compared to the Virmrie Survivor (Ashley or Kaidan). They are all love interests in ME1, but only one of these characters is featured heavily in all three games. Only one of these characters has her own comic book. Only one of these characters has more than two scenes in ME2. Only one of these characters required their respective voice actor to show up for more than one dialog session. Liara has already been given a healthy dose of favoritism, so no; B-Ware does not treat all love interests equally. Miranda, Jack, Thane and Jacob will likely have cameos in ME3. Miranda, Jack and Thane may have large quests similar to LOTSB and one of them may even be recruitable, but Jacob probably won’t (nobody likes him you see). This will inevitably anger these respective fanbases in a way very similar to the VS fanbase was upset by ME2, only it will likely be worse, because the VS fans had the notion of getting their due in ME3.

I know it’s too late now to tell Bioware that at very least all love interests should have been recruiatble in ME3, and that adding new characters is just a plain old bad idea. Afterall, the third act is about closure, not more introductions. It's unfortunate, but some fans are inevitably not going to get the ending they deserve. I am a big Ashley fan, and I felt that ME2 was not the sequel I deserved because a principle character in my Shepard’s story was absent. This caused the game to feel hollow. I didn’t mind too much, because I thought Ash would be back in ME3. I would rather have her absent in the second act than at the end of the story. A lot of people feel that way. Most of them are going to be disappointed. B-Ware may have actually built a foundation of failure when they came up with the idea of a suicide mission. People get really attached to their favorite characters and the disapproval of certain fanbses last time should have showed them that. I doubt they listen to the fanbase in the way they claim they do, but we’ll see. ME3 is already a disappointment to some fans out there. They just don’t know it yet.

There are many fans out there who see Miranda as the primary female lead in the Mass Effect series. It is not terribly uncommon for trilogies to introduce the main love interest in the second act. Look at Star Wars for example. Princess Leia may have been introduced in A New Hope, but the romance story didn’t start until The Empire Strikes Back. In fact, many trilogies do not introduce the love story until act 2, so is it really so hard to believe that Miranda could in fact be the principle female lead to some people. I like Miranda as a character. She is one of my favorites in ME2, and the notion of not having her return in ME3 as a squad member pisses me off. She is not even my love interest and I’m miffed about this whole scenario. I know what it is like to be short changed, and it sucks a lot. By excluding Miranda from the third act, Bioware is compromising the story of some players. The same logic can be applied to Jack, Jacob, and Thane.

The only announced squad members that are returning are from ME1, so far. What is very interesting is that some fans out there preferred the cast of ME2 over that of ME1. I visit the ME forums frequently, and there were tons of fans who believed beyond all doubt that the ME2 team was the principle cast of the ME series. I found this notion to be stupid because nobody in their right mind would introduce the main cast in the second act, especially if the cast from the first act are all still alive. Many players didn’t realize that the cast from two was expendable. That’s why most of the ME1 cast was left out, because they were the main characters. Miranda, Jacob, Zaeed, Grunt, they are all tragically usleless to the overall trilogy. Players did not realize this, and Bioware faield to realize how popular these characters would become. Think I’m being harsh on the ME2 cast? Why is that nobody exclusively available in ME2 has been announced yet? Ouch.

If I asked any fan to narrow their preferred ME3 cast down to 8 squad members, I know I would get a wildly different answers across the board. Personally, my preferred cast for ME3 would be Ashley, Garrus, Liara, Wrex, Miranda, Thane, Legion and Zaeed. I am actually one of the more fortunate fans out there because 3 of my preferred characters are returning. Somebody out there may actually be saying, Wrex, Miranda, Kasumi, Mordin, Thane, Grunt, Samara, and Jack. I feel bad for that guy. Not a single one of his favorites are currently returning on his squad. For the record, I believe the ME3 cast will have a total of 9 potential squad members. Ashley, Kaidan, Garrus, Liara, Tali, Vega, some DLC companion, and at least 2 more new characters. I believe every returning squad mate has been announced. Anyone else is a brand new character (and to be honest, I'm not fully convinced Tali is going to be a full party member).

The most disappointing thing about ME3 is that every charcter introduced thus far is worth exploring further. Out of sheer neceesity, they will not be, or at very least, they won’t get the justice they deserve. I know that the forums will be buzzing with hatred only hours after ME3 is released, and for some, simply not including their favorite charcaters will be enough to sully their experience. I know because I’ve been there. Mass Effect has already ruined some players personal story. It's unfortunate, and I personally think that regardless of the games quality, ME3 will be the most polarizing game in the series due to this fact. Join me tomorrow as I touch on the final problem that Bioware faces with Mass Effect 3. They have an Evil Associate pulling their strings. Who on EArth could it be?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mass Effect 3 is Going to Suck pt. 3: Haters Gonna Hate


Welcome to part 3 of my article series discussing the possibility of Mass Effect 3’s complete failure to satisfy. I have already discussed Bioware's possible inability to craft a proper sequel and the dangers of streamlining the gaming experience. Today I am going to talk about one of the most dumbfounding trends that Bioware has incorporated into their game creation process. Over the course of ME1 and ME2, Bioware has shown a considerable contempt to the folks that love their games, stories and characters most. Today I will present you with a few examples of how Bioware retconned Mass Effect to appeal to the unpleasable fanbase, better known as “the haters.”

I’m going to create a hypothetical example. Imagine a TV show where all of the principle characters are well written and each have significant fanbases. Some fans love Bill, the gun collector. He’s mild mannered, owns a few dogs, likes to reads, and he loves his guns. Now, some people who watch this show think that Bill is militant psycho just because he loves collecting guns. His fans understand that he is just a collector of finely crafted weaponry. Season 2 rolls around, and all of the sudden, Bill has turned into a militant psycho. Worse yet, none of the characters seem to notice this change in his personality and opinions and treat him like this is how he always was. Another character in the show, Gloria, she’s the girl next door. She is adorable and sweet and always vying for the main character’s attention. Although many love her, she was accused by her haters of being boring. Season 2 rolls around and all of the sudden she’s working as a spy. What?! Guess what, now nobody likes Bill because he’s crazy and nobody likes Gloria because her fans liked her as the girl next door, and the haters will not like no matter what. I just described what happened to Ashley and Liara in ME2.

Mass Effect 1 was more of an RPG than it was a shooter, but the shooter goons who picked it up hated the game. Mass Effect 2 was therefore transformed into heavier on the action and light on RPG. RPG fans hated that, so now Bioware says they’re going to make ME3 more of an RPG. Ashley managed to secure a significant fanbase for her for realistic view on the potential dangers that exist in a multi species environment. Her argument was essentially, we are all the top of our food chains, so who’s the top of the galactic food chain? Those who understood her perspective found the character to be refreshing and brilliant. Those who didn’t classified her as a racist. Mass Effect 2 rolls around and one of Ashley’s very few lines of dialog can only be construed as racism. "You know I'm no fan aliens..." What? I didn't know that. I thought you were just cautious of other races because they would easily sell out humanity to protect their own kind. When did you start not liking aliens? They retconned Ashley's character based on the opinion of those who felt she was a racist. Why? Certainly not to build her fans, because everyone hates racists (which is an ironic statement when you think about it). Are her fans not enough? Can we expect her newfound racism to carry into ME3 despite some players persuading her to take a more easy going approach to interacting with other species? Liara got the same treatment too. Fans liked her because she the adorable and sweet girl next door. The haters call her boring. What does Bioware do? They appeal to the haters, again, by making her the new Shadow Broker and giving her a cold and damn near sociopathic attitude. Now the haters still hate her (heh) and her fans don’t like her anymore. Good going Bioware, or as I like to call you now B-Ware.

As a writer, I understand how frustrating it is when people don’t like the character that you are most proud of. Does that mean you should compromise your vision in an attempt to please an unpleaseable fanbase? Absolutely not, because then you screw things up for those who like the character. Mass Effect 2 seemed specifically tailored for the people who hated ME1. Now, ME3 seems to be tailored to those who hated ME2. This is actually a good thing because most the people who hated ME2 were ME1 purists, which should mean we may very well get the best of both worlds in ME3. There is another possibility that I mentioned earlier that ME3 is being downgraded to a TPS to appeal to the widest possible audience (I personally find this to the most likely scenario).

Look B-Ware, as a Mass Effect junkie since the day you announced it in 2005, please, don’t sacrifice the opinions of the people who love your material to please the haters. Please don’t focus on building your fanbase. This is the final chapter. Your focus should be to satisfy the fans who have the ability to be satisfied. Appealing to the haters is only going to turn the fans into haters. Then, all you have is haters and your entire franchise was a big waste of time. If you guys want Mass Effect 3 to be successful, you should be focusing on pleasing the hardcore fans. I bought Mass Effect on its release day. I’ve read each book, each comic book, and all of the Cerberus Daily News entries. I own each piece of DLC, from Bring Down the Sky all the way to Arrival. I believe that considering I’ve paid hundreds of dollars to ensure I get a complete story, that I deserve some recognition. I deserve to see Balak again if I let him live. Not everyone will see, him, but I paid you years ago to get some closure on that (among many other plots and subplots developed over the years) and I want my damn closure! Appealing to the DLC haters and not including it in anything more than an e-mail will just make me angry. And you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry. Oh, and there’s hundreds of people who have the exact same opinion. The last thing you want on your doorstep is an army of disgruntled me’s!

In short, Bioware has on more than a few occasions appealed to the exact opposite people they should be appealing to. Retconning Ashley into a racist, shifting Liara to the girl next door into the sociopath next door, dramatically altering the game play of ME1 to become more shooter driven in ME2. Bioware should have acted on behalf of the fans in crafted Mass Effect 2, instead they acted on behalf of the folks who hate their product. The idea is by betraying a portion of your current fanbase, you thereby build your overall fanbase. That works in theory, but more often than not, it does not work in practice. How exactly are building Ashley up as a better character by converting her Darwinian views on galactic politics into ignorance and xenophobia? You are actually harming the character and diminishing the brilliant point she represented. What about Liara? I like the idea of her becoming the Shadow Broker, but why the hell does she have be so cold and evil? Are you mirroring her mother? Regardless, you cannot deny that Liara's portrayal in ME2 stripped away everything her fans found appealing.

I do not like Tali. I find her to be the most bland and one dimensional character in the franchise, and yet, her fanbase is enormous. Do I think you should rewrite the character so that I find her more appealing? No. Whatever you are doing, you are doing it right by them. My favorite character is Ashley, and her fanbase does not compare to Tali's. If you do things right by me, Tali would likely be the least popular in the series. My point is simply this, the characters you've created appeal to certain personality types. By shifting Liara's character to appeal to a personality that already has pre-established prejudices against the character only alienates her fans. The haters are not going to care because they already despise Liara. Nobody likes her now. The same principles are applied to every other facet of Mass Effect as a whole. Bioware needs to ask themselves this question: Do we want to maintain our fans or not? These past couple of years, it seems like the answer is not.

We’re done with another article. Obviously Mass Effect 3 already has a lot stacked against it, but tomorrow, I have even more potential issues that face Mass Effect 3. This next one is especially troubling because it has already happened. I don’t want to give too much away just yet, but tomorrow I will discuss with you fine readers the problems Bioware faces in terms of the very beloved characters and the inevitable shortcomings most of that cast can anticipate having in the final installment of the trilogy.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Mass Effect 3 is Going to Suck pt. 2: Streamlined- Politically Correct for Retarded


Welcome back. We are in part 2 out of 5 of my series of articles that explain why you, the consumer, should be worried about Mass Effect 3. Last time I explained that Bioware had a little trouble telling a story to a proper sequel, which I can admit, is not a huge problem. After all, maybe Mass Effect simply suffered from trying to cram too much in to one game. Maybe they just had a little trouble trying to create a story for a second act, while at the same time trying to make it accessible to new players. Mass Effect 2 did have a good story, despite the fact that it really did not push the Reaper plot or Shepard's inner struggle along, like one would expect from most sequels. However, if Mass Effect 2's story was the only problem facing ME3, I would not even bother with these articles. Today I will discuss a problem that is far more troubling than any bad story could ever be. Streamlining.

What were Bioware’s last two releases? Mass Effect 2 and Dragon Age 2. Two 2’s. Tee hee. What do both of these games have in common? Other than the 2. They both featured heavy and unnecessary streamlining. Streamlining is marketing speak for dumbing down and simplifying the game play mechanics for an audience that would otherwise not be interested in playing the game. Ever since Bioware joined the ranks of EA, they have been very obsessed with hacking away RPG elements and replacing them with more action. Mass Effect 2 shaved down its stat progression, removed the MAKO side missions, dumped all inventory and loot, and abolished the in-game economy. To substitute the lack of these elements, they enhanced the shooter play and put a heavier emphasis on, what Dr. Ray Muzyka rather immaturely refers to as, “kick ass action.”

Dragon Age 2 did the exact same thing. The game’s story was shockingly linear, stat progression was simplified, loot was nearly obliterated, exploration was thrown out the window completely, and of course, “kick ass action.” When you look at Dragon Age Origins’ trailers and Dragon Age 2’s trailers, you get a distinct impression that the games were marketed to two completely different demographics. Now look at Mass Effect 2’s first trailer. It features a slow tempo, cool shots of the brilliant cut scenes, some companions and a music that has a dark and haunting melody. They establish a plot point that Shepard is preparing for a dangerous and life threatening mission. One of Mass Effect’s stylistic cornerstones is that it feels like a movie, and Mass Effect’s 2’s first trailer still felt like a movie trailer.

Mass Effect 3’s trailer has hard rock music, shots of Shepard flipping his brand spanking new knife around, on rails shooting akin to Gears of War2, lightning fast cuts and the greatest line of dialog in the history of history, “We fight or we die. That’s the plan!” What the hell was that?! Mass Effect 3 looked nothing like a Mass Effect game based on their trailer. What ever happened to the cinematic vibe? This sure didn’t look or feel like a movie trailer. It looked like a game, and kind of a silly game. It was so silly that I half expected Shepard to say, “Yippee Kai-Yay Mother Fucker!” during the title reveal. Who was supposed to be impressed by this? Fans of Mass Effect generally weren’t. So who is Mass Effect 3 designed for?

I come from the camp that says, if ain’t broke don’t fix it. If it is broke, fix it. Bioware seems to come from a camp that says, if it ain't broke, it can still be fixed. If it is broke, throw it away and try again. Take the UNC side quests in ME1 for example. The MAKO missions were repetitive and the MAKO itself was hard to navigate at times. The terrain on the uncharted worlds was horrifying and most of the missions were rather forgettable. Still, I loved the idea of hopping into my sci-fi all-terrain vehicle, discovering an enemy base, and eliminating the threats. It made me feel like a SPECTRE. Yes those UNC missions had problems, but the DLC Overlord demonstrated that those probloems could be easily fixed. The Hammerhead wasn't exactly a vast improvement over the MAKO, but the mission itself was a vast imporvemnet over the traditional ME1 UNC missions. If ME2 had included a system similar to that, while including the ability to locate and discover cool landmarks and artifacts like in ME1, I would have loved the side quests. Instead, Bioware chose to streamline the immersion in ME2 and had you drop down on a planet, shoot some things and leave. You didn’t even get to fly to your location. Dude, WTF?

I feel I need to emphasize the point that I do not have a problem with streamlining game mechanics when it is warranted. ME1's inventory system was shot to hell, no doubts there. The changes they made to the system in ME2 was an improvement. I just think that they hacked too much away. This is an RPG, so there needs to be inventory of some kind. Does that mean you need 27 variants of the same gun. No. But you do need to figure out something. Upgrades for both weapons and armor, replenishing grenades, enhanced weapon schematics, pieces of armor for you and your squad, etc. There are lots of things that can be done to add to the "loot" of ME3. Most importantly, give us the option to sell this crap. I do not like the idea of having to do more missions just so I can buy something.

I also do not have a problem with increasing the shooter elements. I simply believe that if Bioware wants to enhance the shooter play, they better not sacrifice the RPG play in the process. Bioware did indeed sacrifice the RPG play in favor of the action play in both ME2 and DA2. I am concerned that they will do it again in ME3. I know Bioware has talked a big game about RPG game play and that it will be enhanced in ME3, but they said that about ME2 and DA2 as well. Bioware has become quite adept at lip service. I'll believe it when I see it.

On that topic, Bioware did indeed talk up their new and improved RPG mechanics prior to E3, but afterwards, all they can talk about is the improved shooter combat and that Omni-Blade. They showed only showed a brief glimpse at the potential RPG mechanics, but then got right back to shooting. Between Bioware’s obsessions with “streamlining,” the improved shooter combat, on rails combat, and that ghastly trailer, I am starting to think that Bioware is making Gears of War 4. Granted things are still very early in marketing push for ME3, but I have to admit, I am a bit worried.

Bioware will need to maintain their promise to enhance the RPG elements in ME3 and stop trying to draw in crowds that won’t like their game. The more they try and draw in the Gears of War crowd, the more they are going to alienate the Mass Effect crowd, and then no one is going to be happy. Bioware kind of reminds of that nerd in those teen comedies that tries to impress the jocks and fit in with that crowd so much so that he ends up pushing all of his nerd friends away and the jocks still don’t like him. This is your official warning Bioware, if you continue to “streamline” Mass Effect 3, the only thing we’ll have is the shooter play. Nobody who likes your game wants that, and nobody who wants that likes your game.

So there it is. The hard and brutal truth about the dangers of streamlining game play for the widest audience. Sometimes your widest audience is the one you are alienating. Join me tomorrow as I discuss Bioware's weird habit of retconning their characters and story line towards those who despise them most.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Mass Effect 3 is Going to Suck pt. 1: Trilogy or 3 Onegies?


Are you a fan of Bioware? Well I like to think that only smart, sophisticated people read my silly ramblings, so if you’re reading than yes. Yes you are a fan of Bioware, whether you like it or not. Well then, I’m sure that you have been nearly as rabid as me when it comes to finding out as much news as possible on the upcoming third act of the Mass Effect franchise. Mass Effect has been a very groundbreaking series so far. An RPG franchise that carry a hero of your creation through three games that include tough choices that could result in dire consequences? Sounds pretty groundbreaking to me. Casey Hudson, project director of the Mass Effect series even went as far as saying that Mass Effect 3 is gaming first legitimate trilogy. That so? You like to talk a big game Mr. Hudson, but guess what? I’m here to call your bluff. Even if what you say is true, that there has never been a true trilogy in gaming, I have a feeling that when Mass Effect 3 is released, that isn’t going to change. Why do I say these horrible words? Cynicism mostly. Beyond that, I have some evidence to support my claim that Mass Effect 3 is going to suck! That’s right I said, I think Mass Effect 3 is going to suck! I have prepared a 5 part article series telling you fine readers exactly why that is.

First of all, Bioware does not have a whole lot of experience with sequels. Yes they had Baldur’s Gate 2, like ten decades ago, but that was based on Dungeons and Dragons, which is not Bioware’s IP (Intellectual Property, der). Bioware was contracted by the good folks at D&D and therefore, the Dungeons Masters had the final say in what was going to make it into the game. Mass Effect is all Bioware’s (or was, but we’ll touch on that later) and therefore, they have full creative and design control over what makes it into their games.

That being said, Mass Effect 2 was Bioware’s first real sequel, and to be honest, it wasn’t exactly a good sequel. Don’t get me wrong, Mass Effect 2 was an incredible game, and in many ways, better than its predecessor. Speaking strictly in terms of storyline, Mass Effect 2 was a poor sequel. It has a good story and is generally written very well, but that does not mean its a well written sequel. Remember, sequels are different beast than a typical first part. To often, sequels merely repeat the same thing that its predecessor did and call it a sequel (Hangover 2 anyone?).

Shepard may have returned as the main protagonist of the game, which is actually rare in many game sequels much less RPG sequels, but what did he return to? A new ship, new crew, new organization, new worlds and new enemies. The main characters of Mass Effect 1 were Ashley, Kaidan, Liara, Garrus, Tali, Wrex, Anderson, and Joker. The main antagonists were Saren, Ambassador Udina and Sovereign the Vanguard of the civilization eating galactic menace known as the Reapers. Out of all of those characters, only Joker, Garrus and Tali had major roles in ME2 (considering that Tali isn’t even available until halfway through the game, her status as a main character is debatable) and everybody else is reduced to cameos or less. What about Ashley, Kaidan, Liara and Wrex? Replaced! A newer, edgier, more mainstream friendly team was introduced in ME2. Anderson was the main quest giver in ME1 and Udina was a semi-antagonist, semi-ally. These two were combined to create The Illusive Man head of Cerberus, the organization that replaces The Alliance and the SPECTREs. The Reapers are kind of a threat, I suppose. They are only casually mentioned a few times and shown only once. You would expect the main villains of the trilogy to have a slightly more substantial role in the second act, if nothing else just to introduce them to new players. I imagine being a new player in ME2 is strange and confusing considering every major aspect of the first game, which sets the stage for the entire trilogy, is barely ever mentioned at all. ME2 was a great place for new players to start though (obvious sarcasm). The Collectors are the real problem in 2 with the Reapers, meanwhile, are taking a nap or having breakfast. Even the overarching plot takes a back seat in ME2. Wow, interesting move considering it’s a sequel and all.

Mass Effect 2 replaces everything with something newer and flashier, leaving you, the player, to start from scratch. Literally. You completely restart your character in ME2 even if you import your save. Yes all of your decisions are still mapped, and you do get a few bonuses in resources, and your Paragade score, but the bonuses didn't do much in making returning players feel like they were the same Shepard they left ME1 as. They even give you the option to pick a new class. Mass Effect 2 didn't really feel like a sequel so much as a retread.

Hang on a second. Isn’t the point of the second act to be less focused on the overarching plot? Yes it is. The second act traditionally focuses less on the main story instead opting for a more character centric piece. This is where “the dark second act” line comes from. Traditionally, the hero is taken to a darker place, in both the physical plane and the emotional plane. Often times in older myths, the hero is killed and transported to the underworld where he would battle his way out and be born anew. Cerberus was of course the three headed guard dog of the underworld. The only way to escape was to defeat or outsmart him. This symbolism wasn’t lost on me, Bioware.

During this second act, character growth is most important as the dark journey the hero takes is both outward and inward. The main character is pushed to his breaking point physically, mentally and emotionally. Now, Mass Effect 2 touches on this, sure, but it is supposed to be the entire point of the second act. In ME2, the emotional journey is glazed over and hinted at, where it should have taken center stage. I understand that not everyone wants to see their Shepard a broken man, but Bioware should have at least given the option to play that way if the player wanted.

The second act is like a good burger. The action is the bun. A powerful beginning and an action packed conclusion keep the rest of the ingredients sturdy and enjoyable. Many burgers even have three pieces of bread, one right in the middle. Many action movies typically have 3 major action sequences. See where I'm coming form here? Lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheese; these all represent other facets of the story such as the general premise, important subplots, secondary characters and humor. These ingredients are interwoven skillfully within the burger so that no individual flavor overshadows another. Lastly we have the most important part of the burger, the meat. The meat represents the emotion, the major themes, the protagonist’s journey throughout the tale, and any mind blowing plot twists. In short, this is the stuff that the folks are going to remember. Mass Effect 2 didn't have any mind blowing plot twists, the theme of the story is up in the air, and the character journey and emotion was gutted. This left us with a veggie burger. Some people like veggie burgers, but when I order a nice beefy cheeseburger, I will not be pleased with a veggie burger.

Sadly, all of these elements made Mass Effect 2 feel primarily like a reset. We didn’t earn or achieve anything from Shepard, and we didn’t push the Reaper plot forward at all. Mass Effect 2 ended in the exact same place Mass Effect 1 left off. The Reapers were still coming and Shepard has no way of beating them. He doesn’t even have a hint! He gains no new skills or understanding of either the Reapers or himself. If he was thrown through the muck and destroyed in every possible way in his mission to defeat the Collectors, then he would at least walk away understanding what it’s going to take to beat the Reapers. But as I said, the emotional levels of the journey was glazed over and left open to interpretation. Thus, Mass Effect 2 left many with the same feeling one would have if they ordered a cheeseburger that is magically missing the beef patty: unsatisfied. Mass Effect 2 plays out like a first act, which begs the question; can Bioware write a good sequel? They’ve done two sequels this past year, and the question is still in the air.

For the record, I don't believe that every story needs to written the exact same way, but if you are going to working with The Hero's Journey plot structure, then you may want to actually use it to its full advantage. Mass Effect 2 really didn't. Again, Mass Effect 2 is a phenomenal game that has a very well done story. The problem is that the story is missing the meat that we expect from a character driven second act. Many characters drive the plot along like a character driven piece would, like Garrus and Thane and the rest of the suicide squad, but they aren't the main protagonist. Shepard is. When you consider how Shepard developed in comparison to his companions, one could make the argument that Shepard is not even the main character of ME2. Now, Shepard is unquestionably the main character, but the fact that someone could make an argument against that is a bad sign. Mass Effect may not have been the best sequel around (we can't all be The Dark Knight), but it is far from the biggest problem Bioware is facing for Mass Effect 3. Join me tomorrow when I discuss how Bioware's streamlining fetish may also ruin Mass Effect 3 for everyone.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Transformers Dark of the Moon Review


A lot of people out there really despise Michael Bay. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that filmgoers are maturing a bit and have forgotten what a popcorn movie is. I have never had a problem with the director. I like the Rock and the first Bad Boys. Sure Armageddon, Bad Boys 2, Pearl Harbor and The Island kind of suck, but the Transformers movies have all been fun rides. Sometimes it’s not about telling a good story, but having a good time.

As a child of the 80’s, I enjoyed the ever loving hell out of Transformers. It was fun, exciting and entertaining. The story (usually something Michael forgets to put in with all the mega Bayhem) was actually pretty good. It wasn’t great, but it was good. Couple that with a sense of sci-fi wonder, giant robot action, an astounding soundtrack and a healthy dose of 80’s nostalgia and you have an instant winner. Transformers 2 was a bit of a mess. The action was a little too human centric, leaving our Autobots twiddling their thumbs somewhere and the Fallen was a badly executed villain. The story was everything but consistent and the climactic battle at the end was rushed. Oh and that whole “racist robot” garbage. Despite all of that, I was still entertained by Transformers 2. Transformers 3 made some hefty promises about a better story, more emotion, more Autobots, and a deeper look into the mythology of Cybertron. Bay delivered on those promises, but does that make a good movie? Let’s find out.

Normally I like to start out my reviews by offering a brief description of the plot. In this particular case, I don’t think I can. It’s not because the story is bad. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The story is surprisingly complex and develops so granularly that describing it without getting carried away and spoiling the whole damn movie would be difficult. Suffice to say, this movie is the main event. The final crescendo in the trilogy of Transformers movies and, if you liked even one of the previous two films, this installment won’t disappoint you. In fact, you may actually like this movie if you hated the last two. I will say that the plot gets rolling after the Autobots discover that an ancient Autobot space craft had been discovered and holds a weapon so powerful, it would have changed the tide of the Cybertronian War had it not been lost. It turns into a race against the Decepticons to retrieve the weapon (or device). Needless to say, things don’t go according to plan. The stakes are higher, the gravitas is darker, and the conflict is much more desperate. At the end of the day, the movie is essentially about survival. But what is more important, the survival of your race, or its soul? One of the things I love about the story is how they manage to bring everything full circle. How and in what ways would be spoiling, so I won’t say.

Transformer Dark of the Moon is epic beyond words. The action is, as always in Bay movies, intense, booming and completely chaotic. Transformers 2 disappointed me when they threw the Autobots out of the picture and focused way too much on the humans. Transformers 3 brings our favorite bots back and they’re better than ever. After the departure of the first two films’ writers, Orci and Kurtzman, Ehren Kruger stepped in as the main writer. It’s clear to me who the weakest links of Transformers 2 were, and surprisingly, it wasn’t Bay. Our new writer has a deeper understanding of the lore of Transformers, but beyond that Kruger brings something into the script we really haven’t seen in a Transformers film: emotion. The destruction of Chicago is surprisingly disturbing. The Decepticons attack and they aren’t screwing around this time. Shit just got real. Thousands of humans are slaughtered in the onslaught. The discarded clothing of thousands of vaporized pedestrians litters the streets of an apocalyptic Chicago. This is the darkest hour in the franchise, and the death certain Autobots solidify that fact. Death is not handled like it was in Transformers 1. Remember when Jazz was torn in two and tossed aside like he literally was a toy? This time, when your favorite Autobot dies on screen, the filmmakers make sure you feel it, for better or worse.

There’s a lot of returning favorites. The Autobots bring back mainstays like Optimus Prime, Bumble Bee, Ironhide and Ratchet, as well as the villainous Megatron, Star Scream, and even Barricade. Sideswipe, Soundwave, and good ol’ Wheelie (a less obnoxious Wheelie mind you) return as well. Arcee and the Twins are meanwhile inexplicably absent. New Transformers include Brain (the squirrelly side kick to Wheelie), Wheel Jack (though there has been some confusion as to whether this is Wheel Jack or a new bot named Que), Sentinel Prime, Shockwave and Lazer Beak just to name a few. In fact, this movie is jammed packed full of Transformers, it’s easy to get nervous that everyone will be once again reduced to cameos. This is not the case, as most of the fan favorites, and some of the new guys each get some spotlight. Megatron doesn’t get the due he deserves in this movie, which is weird to me. Everyone else gets some screen time though. The voice acting from everyone is as top notch as always. I personally feel that the voice actors do a better job in this franchise than the human actors, but maybe that’s just me.

On the human side, we meet back up with Sam, his parents, Agent Simmons and the NEST members Lennox and Epps. Megan Fox’s replacement is one of the many new characters, and I’ll admit, I like her better than Fox. She’s not much better acting wise, but her character is sweeter than the overly bitchy Mikayla Banes. The great Alan Tudyk has an awesome supporting role and Fargo’s Frances McDormand serves as the movies human foil. Patrick “McDreamy” Dempsey aslo has a role in the film. In fact, Dempsey is my favorite human character. He takes the story and elevates above being a simple robot rampage blockbuster. Shia LaBeouf is as energetic as ever, and his performance here is much more serious than in either of the last two installments. Most of his funny antics take place solely in the first 20 some minutes. Most of the human actors vary from being decent to awesome. LaBeouf, Dempsey, Turturo, Tudyk and McDormand all give great performances, while the new girl represents the weakest link. Duhamel, Tyrese, and Lester Speight of Gears of War fame each give good performances, though their characters are underutilized. Strangely, John Di Maggio aka Marcus Fenix voices a new Autobot based on a demo derby car. It’s some sort of Gears of War reunion here.

One drawback with the characters is that there isn’t any growth. Everyone is pretty much the same throughout all three films. We see Sam at different stages of his life, but at the end of the day, he’s still the same goof-ass kid he was in high school. The only character that has even an inkling of an arc is Epps. We run into him here working for NEST in a support position. He’s grown weary of the robot war and wants nothing more than a quiet retirement. Soon, he is inspired to pick up his gear one more time to avenge his fallen brothers. Of course Epps isn’t reintroduced until halfway through the movie and almost immediately decides to pick up his gun, so it serves more as a plot device than an actual arc. Optimus Prime on the other hand goes through an interesting transition. Events force him to finally take a final and brutal stand against the Decpetiocns. Its blood for blood and by the gallons. He gives up on the idea of peace and freedom and truns his gaze solely to revenge. His personality changes halfway through the film noticeably. It’s not a betrayal of character either. His transition works perfectly within the story.

Steve Jablonsky also returns as the composer of the movie, and once again the man delivers a brilliant score. This time, we have a darker more desperate sound, matching the themes of the film itself. In fact, Jablonsky deserves some kind of award for his magnificent notes here. One scene in particular featuring Optimus Prime sliding through downtown Chicago, swinging his sword and cutting down rows upon rows of Decepticons has the most flawlessly executed music I’ve seen in a long time. Chills, man. Chills.

Michael Bay pulled out all the stops for DOTM. Though the movie has a slow first act and some weird editing at times, it doesn’t stop Transformers 3 from being a thrilling and explosive summer blockbuster that hits the ball out of the park, in my opinion. It seems that most people let their Bay-hate get in the way and disagree with my point of view, or maybe they genuinely didn’t like the movie. As far as the summer movies go, I believe this is the best so far. Captain America could be better, but if you want a recommendation, this summer belongs to Transformers Dark of the Moon.

I give Transformers Dark of the Moon a 9 out of 10. In the words of Ironhide, "Class dismissed."


PROS

Intense, exciting, thrilling and awe inspiring action

Robot mayhem at its finest

Good story with a surprising amount of depth and complexity (not a lot, but enough to surprise you)

Darker and more desperate than ever before

Effects are utterly brilliant

3D actually enhances the experience

Great performances from most of the cast, Rosie Something-Something does pretty good.

Voice cast is Grade A as usual (special props to Peter Cullen)

Emotional and moving

Genuinely shocking twist and turns. Plot is usually unpredictable (for the most part)

Fantastic score

Patrick’s Dempsey’s Character is awesome

Buzz Aldrin makes a cool cameo


CONS

A little too much goofball humor (not as bad as ROTF, but still a little much sometimes)

Occasional weird editing

Final confrontation is a little rushed

I was traumatized by one death in particular. This may be a pro for some people as it demonstrates an emotional side to the movie.

Megatron has a minor role at best, a little too pathetic considering this is the final act

Most characters are one dimensional and never experience real arcs