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 na├»ve 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.