Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Happening (First and ONLY Viewing)


Seriously, what the hell happened to M. Night Shyamalan?

Finally got around to watching The Happening last night. In case you haven't seen it yet, let me save you an hour and a half of your time. The characters in this movie run in fear from the wind.

The wind.

They even turn their heads back while running and, Godzilla-style, look up in fear at... the wind.

And that's not even the worst of it.

If that sounds like a good movie to you, give it a rent. If not, watch The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, or Signs again and savor some of the best sci-fi/fantasy storytelling in modern film.

I ask again: what the hell happened to M. Night Shyamalan?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wall-E (First Viewing)


Finally got around to seeing it.

All I got to say is: damn...


Should have seen it in theaters.

Wolverine (First Trailer)


Well, they definitely de-pussified the character. A welcome change coming off the complete waste of time that was X-Men 3.

Other than that, the trailer didn't impress me much. Wolverine doesn't need an origin story. Giving Wolverine an origin story actually subtracts from the character, instead of adding to it. And exploring Wolverine's family/domestic issues is about the last thing I want to see on the big screen - especially if the character's arc is getting revenge for the stolen lives of lost loved ones...the most boring, unoriginal story the filmmakers could tell.

And why are there so many supporting Marvel characters in a film about Wolverine? All they needed was Wolverine and a baddie or two from the Marvel franchise to make a solid film. It sounds like a business decision to me, since Marvel has certainly put profit before a good story before, setting up future stories and characters by adding them haphazardly into stories where they don't belong. I doubt that this movie can support that many characters and tell a proper Wolverine story, but I have little doubt that Marvel already has spin-off movies planned with these additional characters if this movie, a spin-off itself, does sufficient bank.

I'm still going to give it a chance and catch it in theaters. Hugh Jackman is the only actor I know that can pull off Wolverine, and it's worth it just to see the man work.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 10 - "Lair of Grievous"


Strong start, weak finish.

Lair creates and sustains an atmosphere of mystery and danger for the first two acts, despite some clunky dialog and the standard, superfluous battle droid bit, but the final act feels rushed and incomplete. Kit Fisto's (Fisto? Really, George? Really?) actions after the death of his former student - a great death scene, by the way - are rushed, confusing, and dramatically inert.

And the moral of the story, "don't answer power with power," is murky at best. It makes the Jedi once again look like close-minded, emotionless hypocrites, since Obi-Wan directly confronts Grievous in Revenge of the Sith in much the same way that Vebb does in this episode. I know Lucas has implied again and again that the Jedi of this era have closed themselves off from their emotions to the point of their detriment, but it has yet to be conveyed properly in any story in any format. Lair is no exception.

These things aren't not enough to ruin the episode, but it makes it feel like, well, a competent but not exceptional TV show. And the last thing The Clone Wars should feel like is just another TV show. Lair is good enough, though, that I'd recommend it to casual fans of the Wars.

The one big improvement in this story is General Grievous. I liked his character considerably more in this episode, since Lair implies that he choose to become a cyborg, instead of needing to become one to sustain his ruined body. I like the idea that he suffers almost from surgical addiction, and that he traded his humanity (or Kaleeshity or whatever) for his "improvements."

I've always thought his character was unnecessary, and he's the worst example of technology in the prequel stories that was considerably more advanced than that found Episodes IV-VI, thanks to twenty years of advances in special effects. More importantly, Grievous took away valuable screen time from Count Dooku in Revenge of the Sith. Dooku's character and his motivations were never properly developed, and Christopher Lee - Christoper Fuckin' Lee, man - was wasted in that film. Without Grievous, Dooku could have been killed later in the movie, ending the Clone Wars, giving the character sufficient time to develop and end properly.

But Grievous works in the cartoons, and I finally believe that he could become an interesting, formidable villain, if there are more episodes like this.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 9 - "Cloak of Darkness"


My expectations were quite high for this episode, since Paul Dini, co-creator of Harley Quinn and the single best writer on Batman: The Animated Series, wrote it. For the most part, Dini delivers: the plot is tighter than most, the pacing feels just right, the dialog is solid, and the jokes actually tend to be amusing. This was only the second time in nine episodes that the wife didn't sigh, shake her head, and leave the room with her back radiating disappointment and disgust at me halfway through an episode.

Despite numerous story improvements, Cloak of Darkness is almost brought down by one element beyond Dini's control: Ahsoka Tano. She's less annoying here than in other episodes. Like Duel of the Droids, she has something to do for the whole episode, which helps considerably. The writers of the show are starting to get that every character should have a purpose in the story, that characters both propel the plot and are propelled by it. They do not exist to pad screen time or to come up with cute nicknames or lame jokes.

Dini does what he can with the character, but she doesn't belong in this story. Ahsoka is added in without any real explanation so that one of the show's regular characters would be in the episode. Her part could have been easily been rewritten as Luminara Unduli's Padawan, a character that could have been a little older and a little wiser, making the whole "the student teaches the master" a bit less cloying. Or Luminara could have carried the story herself. Having a single Jedi carry the story would be a welcome change. Almost all of the episodes so far have lacked focus because of too many characters.

Anyway, I'm getting rambly here. Cloak of Darkness is only the second episode I'd recommend to casual sci-fi fans who aren't sad, lonely, depraved geeks such as myself.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Wanted (The Film)


Just watched it over the weekend. Didn't really dig it.

I found both James MacAvoy's character and the story to be stupid, annoying, and repugnant.

I dug one thing, though. You think Morgan Freeman is playing the "Morgan Freeman" role, when he is, in fact, playing the "Jon Voight" role.

Nice twist.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Quantum of Solace (Videogame - The Quasi-Review, Part II)


The game uses the Call of Duty 4 engine and was made by Treyarch, the developers of Call of Duty 3 and World at War. So, the game controls just like Call of Duty -- with the welcome addition of a tight cover system, which is essential to a Bond game.

Even with these improvements, the game lacks that unquantifiable "it" that Goldeneye had. Everything here - the controls, the graphics, the sound, the A.I. - is solid, though never exceptional. When it works, it works damn well. But Quantum's one great failing is that it was obviously rushed out the door to match the release date of the movie. What's there is solid and well-made - there's just not very much of it.

The game runs no longer than five hours, even though it covers both Daniel Craig films. The story is fractured and woefully incomplete: if you haven't seen the movies, then you'll be unable to follow the game's story. Playing the game before I saw the Quantum of Solace movie, I was afraid of the game spoiling the movie's plot. With the exception of one twist near the beginning of the film, nothing is given away. All you get from the story is that there's a bad guy, he's doing bad things in a certain place, and you need to go there and kill some fools. That's pretty much any Bond story in a nutshell.

Here is a perfect example of what's wrong with this game, using a section of the game taken from Casino Royale to avoid spoilers about the new Bond movie. The game recreates two-thirds of the Madagascar chase scene - one of the best action scenes from the Bond franchise. In the first level of this sequence, you chase that jumpy bomb-maker guy from the town square to the construction site. The next level you chase him through the construction site, ending with you following him to his embassy. Both levels are well-made and extremely enjoyable, and you would assume that the next level would be the climatic shootout inside the embassy.

You would be wrong.  The game immediately cuts to Bond trailing another baddie in Miami, which is about a half-hour later in the movie, with a brief voiceover by Judi Dench recounting Bond's actions in the embassy while the game loads this level. This is one of several "what the fuck?" moments that makes you wonder where the other half of this game went, like it stepped out of your house in middle of the night to "go get some ice cream" and never came back. Whole levels were, I suspect, cut in order to meet the movie's release date.

I wish Treyarch had another few month's to finish the game, so it could've been released in time with the DVD. If Treyarch had recreated both Daniel Craig movies fully and completely, then Quantum of Solace might have been one of the best shooters of the year. As it is, it's just pretty good. I bought it, but I paid thirty bucks for it, thanks to Gamefly. I can't recommend you spending more than that for this game, even if you're Bond fan.

Quantum of Solace (Videogame - The Quasi-Review, Part I)


First off, I'm a huge sucker for Bond games. I've played almost every Bond game that's come out since Goldeneye...except, I think, Goldeneye: Rogue Agent, which I avoided as a matter of principal. I've enjoyed most of them to some degree, but there are only three Bond games that are actually solid, enjoyable games with or without their association to the Bond franchise - Goldeneye, Everything or Nothing, and now Quantum of Solace.

Of course, there's only one question on everyone's mind when a new Bond game comes out: is it better than Goldeneye?

The answer for Quantum of Solace is both yes and no. Certainly, there's been a number of technological and gameplay improvements over the past decade. Quantum of Solace features realistic character models, full facial animation, voice work by all the major stars from both Daniel Craig Bond movies, and a full orchestral score. These improvements are nice, and certainly makes it feel like you're living out a Bond movie, but that's all peanuts next to this: Quantum of Solace's controls much, much better than Goldeneye.

The first person shooter is no longer an anomaly on the consoles, like it was in 1997. Developers now know how to make console shooters control with almost the same level of precision as a mouse and keyboard. Plus, the Xbox controller seems to have been designed, at least in part, with FPS games in mind, as where the 64 controller was designed for...for...imprecision? Confusion? Frustration? The desire by Nintendo to have their asses handed to them by Sony? I really don't know.

Gotta go. Finish this up later.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 8 - Bombad Jedi


Yeah, I watched it. It had Keven Rubio as the credited writer, so I gave it a chance. Here's the short, short review:

Actually not as bad as expected.

not good.

not worth your time.

Gears of War 2 (Story Complete)


Finally beat Gears 2 over the holiday weekend. Gotta make this quick, so here's five thoughts on Gears 2.

1) Every review I read recommended playing the game on the hardcore difficulty level. Since it came up so often, I went with their advice. They were right.

A challenge somewhere between normal and hardcore would be the perfect fit for me, but I'd go with hardcore over normal. The grunts become extra-absorbent bullet sponges on hard - too much so. They take far too many bullets to go down. But monsters, like the tickers and wretches, and enemy weapons, like the grinder, boomshot, and torque bow, become much more threatening - making for much tenser battles.

2) Mixed feelings on the ending. The final section of the game is truly epic. It feels bigger and more dramatic than just about any other game I've played. Damn, damn fun...but it is in no way challenging. Basically, the only way you could cock up this section is to not press the right trigger repeatedly - even on hardcore.

The first Gear's endgame is an excellent example of the perfect difficulty for a final boss: challenging but not frustrating. Ramm took only a few tries to beat...but only a few. If there is a third game, I hope Epic combines the challenge of the first game's end boss with the scale of the second game's final baddie.

From a story perspective, Gears 2 ends on a pretty interesting note. Spoiler's ahead.

The game doesn't end on a cliffhanger, as I expected. Nor was the the origin of the Locust Horde explained, though it's suggested that humanity either helped create or propagate the Horde.

It's hard to say what Epic was going for with the sinking of Jacinto, but the running motif of this series seems to be the COG's rash, disastrous decisions to combat an enemy that they don't understand. And the sinking of Jacinto may be the COG's worst decision yet, judging by the brief voiceover after the credits. There's still a lot of story left to be told in subsequent chapters. Here's hoping that Epic gets better writers to work with the game designers next time.

3) I'll give the people that worked on this game's story some credit: the scene where Dom reunites with his wife works, and works well. Emotionally, it sticks the knife in and then slowly turns it. It's powerful stuff. Seriously, this scene is almost Squaresoft good.

A shame that Dom is back to his usual "'Sup, bitches!" ten minutes later, and Epic forgets all about Dom's loss for the rest of the game.

4) So, in this futuristic world, there are invisible robots, hammers of dawn, and all other kinds of cool shit with which to be badass with, but the best sniper rifle the COG has is a single-shot, bolt-action rifle?


5) Still glad I bought it, instead of renting it. It's a better game than the first, with a better story that still needs some work. And Epic bucked the trend of the last two years and made a single-player campaign of an acceptable length, 10 hours or more, with exceptional gameplay. That alone makes Gears 2 easy to recommend.

And it's still got a chainsaw bayonet. Really, what else do you need in life?

Monday, November 24, 2008

Left 4 Dead (Early Thoughts)




Five thoughts. Here goes:

1) The game has grown on me. The elation of knowing that the game ran reasonably well on my computer when the demo came out didn't last long. After that came the bittersweet experience of actually playing the game. I grew bored with it before the two levels featured in the demo were over. And this is coming from a guy who likes shooting zombies...a lot.

If you weren't sold on the demo, I wouldn't recommend the full game. There are more levels, but that's about it, since all the weapons and monsters in the game were included in the demo.

And don't make the same mistake I did: don't play through this game for the first time by yourself. It's not how it was meant to be played. Yes, the A.I. controlling the heroes is impressive, to say the least. During a multiplayer round this weekend, the player controlling Bill dropped out and I didn't even realize that the computer was controlling him for ten minutes. That's how incredible the A.I. is. But no matter how good it is, it can't replace three solid players sharing the experience with you. And the experience does change each time you play the game, thanks to random enemy placement and dynamic A.I.

Each of the game's four chapters take about 30-60 minutes to play, depending on the difficulty of the zombies and the skill of the players. The game demands a level of cooperation never before seen in a videogame. I was surprised by how much I bonded last night with three complete strangers while playing No Mercy.

And, trust me, I hate people.

2) So, yeah, I'm digging the game more and more each time I play it, but I still think the price tag is a bit steep. This time last year, with The Orange Box (five games in one package which originally retailed for the same price as Left 4 Dead) just out and the buzz for this game starting, I never imagined this game would be released by itself for fifty bucks on the PC, sixty on the Xbox 360.

Of course, fifty bucks is perfectly acceptable for the PC version, since you're not only paying for the initial release, you're paying for all the content that Valve will release for free in the future. That's why I went with the PC version, even though I wasn't sure I had the rig to run it. It sucks that 360 users have to pay an extra ten bucks for this game, because I have no doubt that they'll be paying for all the additional content, as well.

3) I'm a staunch supporter of slow zombies. If I ever run for public office, I will run on a firm, unrelenting anti-fast zombie platform. Screw all that taxes and crime bullshit.

But I will be the first to admit that fast zombies are required to make Left 4 Dead work. Slow zombies are just fine for games like Resident Evil, House of the Dead, or Dead Rising, but they just don't work in a first person shooter. And especially not in an online shooter, since the game would have to render four or five times the amount of zombies to make the game even remotely scary or exciting, which I imagine would be a technical impossibility at this time.

4) I have yet to survive a full campaign. It seems that I am every party's red shirt. I die to prove that the threat is serious. I almost survived No Mercy tonight, but just as the helicopter was landing, I got thrown off the roof of the hospital by a Tank. That sucked.

5) Shouldn't have made me laugh, but a Boomer came charging at our party in the sewers below Mercy hospital and someone screamed, "Ah! Rosie O'Donnell!"

I am easily amused.

* * * *

More to come. Going to go now and kill either some zombies, some Locust Horde, some Nazis, or some Nazi zombies. Life, it seems, is just bursting with violent options of late.

Oh, and I only added a wikipedia link about red shirts because it amused me that there was actually a page devoted specifically to them. I figure if you're actually reading these posts, then you damn well know what a red shirt is, and are not some godless commie heathen.

End of line.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 7 - "Duel of the Droids"


Wow, this episode didn't suck.

It's strange, the writers of this show can nail supporting characters like Yoda, the clones, and R2-D2 perfectly, but have such trouble getting the main characters right. It's hard not to love R2, which makes this episode hard not to love, because the little guy actually gets involved in some droid on droid action and kicks a whole lot of ass. His fight with R3 is probably the coolest thing the show has done yet, and frankly, it felt like Star Wars. And I mean Star Wars, not a watered down, kids' show version of Star Wars. I can think of no higher praise.

Besides R2-D2's righteous display of badassery, the show features another dark, violent death, proving again that this show is probably headed for more serious stories in the future. There's only two battle droid joke scenes, one of which is actually amusing - but, more importantly, neither one interferes with the pace of the story. The action scenes are the best yet - not too short, not too long; expertly framed, edited, and paced. I particularly liked the sky drop near the beginning.

The most surprising thing about this episode is that I didn't even mind Ahsoka. She holds her own and the writers give her something to do besides stand around and crack jokes or bitch about the current situation. I'm never going to want her in an episode, but I could learn to tolerate her if there are more episodes like this.

This show is getting better, slowly but surely. I want to be optimistic about it, but then I see shit like this. Needless to say, I won't be reviewing next week's episode, because I'm not planning on watching it.

Good Old Games


Just discovered this. Nice.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Star Trek (First Trailer)


Didn't need twelve-year old Kirk. Or the vague Top Gun (but in space!) vibe I'm getting off it. But it looks like it'll have some cool space battles, something that all but three of the previous Trek movies lacked - which, in retrospect, is incredibly odd.

Don't have high hopes for the story. Still think these characters belong to the original actors, since almost all of what made those characters so memorable came from their performances - both good and bad - and not from the scripts.

End of line.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Quick Update (11/13/08)


Yeah, I haven't posted much this week.

Seriously, you expect me to update this site every day on a week like this? With Gears of War 2, Call of Duty: World at War, Fallout 3, Bully, and Quantum of Solace to play?

Really? Really?

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Gears of War 2 (Opening Argument and Intital Thoughts)


Lots of Gears posting to come over the next week.

First off, my general opinion of the Gears series:

Like it, but don't love it. Certainly, Epic has made two highly enjoyable and inventive shooters - but, for me, it's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. If it wasn't for the co-op, Gears 2 would've been a rental instead of a purchase.

I'm all about the co-op.

And if I was fourteen years old, I'd be all about this game, but being just slightly more than double that age, I find the dialog wanting and the character's downright goofy. I know Epic wants the Gears to deliver several metric shit-tons (more like ten metric shit-tons!) of badass each time they open their mouths - but it doesn't happen. I grow weary of the word "bitch" each time I play this game, or the latest attempt by one character to out macho the others. So much of the dialog in both games is just a pissing contest about who's got the biggest pair of balls...which, to me, seems like a pretty futile argument, since these guys are so 'roided up that the contents of José Canseco's sac must look huge in comparison.

I've completed the first two acts with a friend and have spent a little time with the bots (awesome addition, that is). It's a better game than the first, with genuine improvements all around. Epic didn't Tomb Raider this game. They put a lot of energy and love into this sequel, and with the estimated length of the story mode, co-op, half a dozen multiplayer modes, and full bot support, you're definitely getting your money's worth here.

If it's like the first game, the disc won't get a lot of play in my 360 after a few weeks - especially with Call of Duty: World at War and Left 4 Dead coming out - but that has everything to do with my general disposition and nothing to do with Epic's game.

Further rants to come.

The Clone Wars: Episode 6 - "Downfall of a Droid"


Want to get through this using the fewest words possible. TV of this quality doesn't deserve that much of my time.

Downfall of a Droid pretty much sucks. Lame techno score, fart jokes, weird pacing and dialog delivery, and annoying characters abound. There are a few good bits - the opening space battle, Ron Perlman, the assassin droid fight, and RD-D2's escape. But with the exception of Ron Perlman, all of them are more enjoyable with the mute button on.

According to the Star Wars website, Downfall of a Droid, the worst episode of the series yet, was the second episode produced, while Rookies, the best episode, was the fourteenth to be produced. So it looks like these people are learning from their mistakes, but there's probably still some shitty episodes left to go.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Left 4 Dead (Demo Impressions - Part I)


Left 4 Dead runs surprisingly well on my computer - even better than Team Fortress 2, which still suffers from the same mysterious FPS woes that are unique to its version of the Source engine. There is still something clearly wrong with TF2 on the PC, since I get the same choppy, inconsistent, but still playable performance regardless of how much I raise or lower the graphic settings or the resolution. Every other Source game I own - including Left 4 Dead - runs much smoother than TF2.

Like TF2, I'm running the game in 1440 X 900 with a combination of high, medium, and low graphic settings - though there are a few more mediums and a lot more lows than previous Source engine titles. It's important to note that even the lowest graphic settings don't look bad at all. Usually, if you have an old computer that can barely run a game, the lowest graphic settings of even the most advanced games make you want to quit to desktop, put a burlap bag over your monitor, and forget the whole sorry business of gaming on the PC.

Not so with this game. I need to take some screenshots to compare, but Left 4 Dead's lowest graphic settings look to be about par with the original Half-Life 2's highest settings. Unless something is drastically different with the full release, as long as you can match the minimum system requirements, then you're going to get a pretty game and a solid FPS count. Now that's how you make a game on the PC.

Also, there are some noticeable improvements to the Source engine, including several problems that have been with the engine since it's debut in 2004. The long load times just to boot up the game are gone. On my computer, Left 4 Dead loads to the main menu even faster than Half-Life 2. I went through the demo's two levels three times today; only once did the game stutter - and that's with the sound quality on high. Having a single gig of ram, I've always had to crank down the sound quality to keep Source games stutter free. I forgot to lower the sound quality before playing, and it wasn't until the game stuttered that lone time that I remembered to lower the sound quality.

If the full game runs as well as the demo, I may not even bother with the 360 version. The wife and my wallet will no doubt thank me for that.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Left 4 Dead (A Sigh of Relief)


We have frames per second - lots of 'em. That is a relief.

More later. Gotta run.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Left 4 Dead (Demo Downloading)


The moment of truth will soon be at hand. The Left 4 Dead demo is pre-loading, and tomorrow morning I will know if I actually have enough computer to run this game. I should have waited the extra week to try the demo for free, to see how the game runs on my two-year old PC, but those Valve bastards suckered me into pre-ordering the game to get a hold of the demo a week earlier.

What can I say? I'm weak.

Team Fortress 2 runs pretty well for me, with a combination of high, medium, and low settings - while still looking pretty damn good - but Left 4 Dead's required systems specs are right about equal with TF2's recommend specs. That's a pretty big jump in just a single year, especially for a company like Valve, who have always tried to keep the system requirements to their games reasonable.

Depending on how the game runs on my PC and how many of my Xbox friends acquire it, I may double-dip and get it for both systems.

I just hope I don't have to.

Random Thought #1,311


Last Saturday, my ridiculously underdeveloped brain did the best thing it's ever done: it came up with the idea of lazer-tag go kart tracks (*).

Finally, my lifelong dream of doing some drive-by lazer-taggin' will soon be complete.

* Patent Pending, bitches.

Call of Cthulhu (2005 Film)




I'm not a fan of Lovecraft. I've read little of his work - my knowledge of what a raging bigot he was and how it influenced his stories has much to do with that.

But I love many of the stories told by storytellers that have been influenced by Lovecraft - Stephen King, John Carpenter, and Guillermo Del Toro. I've always meant to put aside my personal prejudices against the man and give his work a chance.

After all, people worship this guy's stories. So much so that, three years ago, an H.P. Lovecraft fan group financed and filmed an adaption of Call of Cthulhu, one Lovecraft's most famous stories, shot as if it was filmed in the same year as the original story was published: 1926. It rolled into work last week and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

It's a silent film, made in black & white. The filmmakers did their best to film their adaptation as if it was actually shot eighty years ago, while still incorporating some of today's technology. Digital effects are used, but only to create artificial film grain and to composite various practical elements in much the same way as they would've been done optically back in the day. Models, stop-motion animation, and plywood, two by fours, and painted muslin sets abound. The love and craft that went into this film impressed me more than any Hollywood blockbuster made in the last few years (Hellboy II excluded).

The film does an excellent job capturing the spirit of the era, more so than any other film I've seen. It's not actually scary, but the underlining sense of unease and dread that were so unique to the horror films of the 20's and 30's and 40's is there.

That, my friends, kicks ass.

Bully (Early to Middle Thoughts)


Finally getting around to playing this. Gamefly had the 360 version on sale for less than fifteen dollars, which I took as a sign from the videogame gods that now was the time to play it. The fact that my used disc arrived unblemished - not a scratch on its beautifully reflective surface - only reaffirmed my belief that this was indeed providence from a higher power, one that exists only in zeroes and ones.

And I'm lovin' every minute of it. I'd go as far as to say that it's superior to all the GTA games on the Playstation 2 and almost on par with GTA IV. The controls are a lot tighter than Rockstar's previous games, and the minigames and races are actually enjoyable. I can't get enough of the boxing matches, which almost feel like Punch-Out!!!

Maybe I'm growing soft in my old age, but it's cool to see Rockstar tell a story that is less violent and, well, kinda innocent. Jimmy, the main character, isn't perfect, but he has a much clearer sense of right and wrong than the GTA protagonists. I thought I'd hate his character, due to my general distaste for punk kids and all the vile things they do to my lawn and the lawns of others, but I should have had more faith in Rockstar. He's truly a memorable character. And as over the top as the usual Rockstar caricatures are, the game has created a feeling of recognition and nostalgia in me, especially during the Halloween and Christmas missions.

Plus, I'm digging the hell out of being the wedgier instead of the wedgiee for a change.

End of line.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Quantum of Solace (Videogame - Early Reviews)


Damn, this thing is actually getting pretty good reviews, which means it just got bumped to the top of my Gamefly request list. For some reason, I had completely written this game off as another shitty movie tie-in.

Don't ask me why, but I get more excited for Bond games than I do for Bond movies, even though I know most of them will just let me down. I was disappointed that Casino Royale didn't get a game, but Quantum of Solace will cover both Daniel Craig movies, with Mr. Craig and other stars from the movies contributing voice work.

Looks like this one might be able to sit comfortably on my game shelf next to Goldeneye and Everything or Nothing.

That, good people, would be quite rad.

Friday, October 31, 2008

King of the Hill (Canceled)



What a bummer...but it's probably for the best. King of the Hill's second decade has been considerably stronger than The Simpsons, but it's still been missing something these last few years.

That's not anyone's fault, though. That's just what happens when a show runs for this long.

Still, I wish Mike Judge and company had been able to end the show on their own terms instead of being canceled by those ungrateful Fox bastards. I'll be extremely pissed if they don't get to make a final episode before the show goes off the air - to give the show some closure, to have Hank and the gang ride their lawnmowers into the sunset.

King of the Hill has been one of the best shows on the television since it first came on the air in 1997, and it is without a doubt one of the best comedy shows of all time. I mean, where else are you going to find a line like, "Fine. Maybe I don't want to sell you no Hitler's canoe!"?

To one and all that that worked on the show:

Thanks for the laughs.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Still Alive (Fan Video)

Portal - Still Alive typography from Trickster on Vimeo.

Damn. Just...damn...

Fallout 3 (Pre-Purchase Doubts)


I want to be excited for this one, but I'm not even sure I want to play it. I dig the Fallout series - and there's been a lack of pulpy nuclear apocalypse stories in any medium for awhile now - but I just got a lot of Bethesda hate in my heart. I played both Elder Scrolls III and IV for several hours and found them to be ugly, buggy, and just plain boring - and don't even get me started on Star Trek: Legacy.

Personally, I think Fallout 3 should have remained a 2D, top-down, completely turn-based game. I don't think I'm living in the past, because there's a wealth of new and excellent 2D games still being made for the DS, the PSP, and XBOX Live Arcade, and I would love a new 2D Fallout for one of these systems - especially the PSP.

I might have to rent it on Gamefly, though I don't like renting RPGs through their service, because it's not very cost effective to have one game checked out for a month or two. Or I might ask the wife for it for Christmas. It might sound strange - since her money is my money - but I'd love to play it without personally throwing down sixty bucks.

Dead Space (Final Thoughts)



Alright, I want to blow through this. I got videogames to play.

Here's ten thoughts on Dead Space:

1) Isaac Clarke? What, was Arthur Asimov too obvious?

2) I was wrong: the game does lose a lot of its creepy in the second half. Part of the problem is that the developers recycled the monsters for the second half of the game, making "burnt skin" versions of each baddie, which are tougher and harder to kill. I spent the last three or four chapters thinking, "Oh great, it's one of these assholes again," when I should have been thinking, "AAAHHHHHH!!!"

Also, I didn't care for a single character in this story. And all but one of the story's twists were telegraphed far too early. I do have to give EA credit, though - I knew exactly how the last cutscene would end, and it still made me jump.

3) For the last few years, every action game I've played from EA has featured upgradeable weapons, and Dead Space isn't any different. But this is the first time it actually made sense and was properly balanced. In their other games with this feature, you started the game with your weapons being ridiculously underpowered and ended the game with these same weapons being ridiculously overpowered.

The weapons felt just right throughout the game, and finding that next power node was one of the highlights of the game.

4) 200 Microsoft points for a special level 5 suit with enhanced armor? That's just damn greedy.

5) The little touches and nuances are by far the most enjoyable part of Dead Space. The lack of a HUD and the way all menus and video are displayed via a holographic projector from within the Isaac's suit really does immerse the player in the game.

6) Speaking of which, I like that there's no HUD...but isn't a bit silly to think that the manufacturers of these survival suits would put all the crucial monitors and gauges on the back of it? You know, right where the wearer couldn't see them without the aid of a trusted friend or several conveniently placed mirrors?

7) Where's the chainsaw? True, it's an oldie - but it's a goody, damn it.

8) I'll say it three times to make sure you remember it.

Conserve your ammo. Conserve your ammo. Conserve your ammo.

9) Boss fights are too easy. The final fight was especially disappointing, because the creature design is truly enormous and formidable, yet it went down like a chump. It's so easy that when I beat it on the second attempt (the only reason I didn't kill it the first time was because of an insufficiency of ammo), I thought it took a dive on purpose, like it was working for some kind of zombie Don King.

10) To my knowledge, this is the first truly great game that EA has made in-house in many, many years. It delivers the scares, the controls are solid, the production values are top-notch throughout, and the weapons kick a whole lotta ass.

You did a great job, EA. Keep it up.

But next time, come up with some of your own ideas. Combine equal parts Alien, The Thing, and Event Horizon with System Shock 2, Doom 3, Half-Life 2, and Resident Evil 4 - and you've pretty much got Dead Space.

True, there hasn't been a game exactly like Dead Space, but that's because it's a unique blending of obvious inspirations, instead of actually being original. The only exception is the weapons, which are truly unique.

* * * *

That's it, people. I recommend renting Dead Space over buying it, unless you're a real horror junkie. But you gotta play it. It's one of the best games of 2008.

And remember:

Conserve your ammo. Conserve your ammo. Conserve your ammo.

The Clone Wars: Episode 5 - "Rookies"


(This rant is brought to you by the word "consistent.")

Now this is more like it.

Rookies is the first consistently enjoyable episode of the series, with tighter plotting, a consistent tone, genuine excitement, and jokes that are actually funny and part of the story. Hell, even the wife - who, as always, watched this show against her will - enjoyed this one, and gave it a begrudging "well, it wasn't bad..." Knowing her disposition on Star Wars, that's high praise, indeed.

Unfortunately, the next episode doesn't look too promising, but I have a feeling that the people making this show will notice how positively fans responded to Rookies and will make more episodes that match its tone and quality in the future.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Gran Torino (First Trailer)

This trailer features Clint Eastwood telling punk kids to "get off my lawn" at gunpoint. That could be the coolest thing I've ever seen in my life.

Eastwood is, without a doubt, my favorite director. That might strike you as odd, since none of his films feature giant spaceships, superheroes, monsters or aliens, Nazis getting punched, hardcore pornography, and/or some righteous combination of these things - especially the hardcore pornography - but everything I want out of a story and a storyteller can be found in almost every film he has made in the last twenty years.

Why is Eastwood my favorite director? There's no flashy or pretentious camerawork, no desire to be hip or cool, and no sugarcoating. He tells his stories with naked, brutal honesty, without being overly hopeful or cynical.

Can't wait to go see this and The Changeling.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Team Fortress 2 Pictures (10/24/08)

A Badass in Repose (The Spy)


That's the way I wanna go...

Close Encounters of the Fiery/Explosive Kind

A love that has no name...thank God.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Team Fortress 2 (The Killing Gloves of Boxing Unlocked)


Just hit the third Heavy milestone and acquired the K.G.B., the Killing Gloves of Boxing. Haven't got a chance to try them out, but I checked out the taunt - and it is, unless I'm very much mistaken, a pretty righteous Punch-Out!!! reference.

I love Valve more than any one person should.

End of line.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Quick Updates (10/22/08)

Too many things I wanted to write about for a week now, going to blow through them quickly.

Team Fortress 2 (Natascha Unlocked)http://www.steamgames.com/tf2/heavy/natascha.htm

Unlocked Natascha this morning. I think after a day or two I'll switch back to Sasha, but it's a much nastier and effective weapon than I imagined, while still keeping up the Valve standard for game balance.

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon


Picked it up two weeks ago. And after the first two days, I had been lost in the same spot, with no clue where to go next. That Dracula builds himself some bigass castles, yo.

Yesterday, I noticed a jumping puzzle that was, in retrospect, painfully obvious. Don't ask me why, but I refuse to use a FAQ with this game.

Condemned: Criminal Origins


Spent most of my free time last week playing this one. Monolith is a curious developer: most of their games fall just short of greatness, but they always make unique, innovative shooters. Not everything they try works, but I'm always glad to see them push the FPS genre in new directions.

And they made Tron's glowing Frisbee into one of the most enjoyable weapons I've ever used in a shooter - and that gets them a lot of points in my book.

Condemned, like F.E.A.R., knows how to get under the skin. But like F.E.A.R., the game begins to feel repetitive after only an hour or two. With the monotony in the color palette, level design, and enemies, I felt like I was playing a really long demo to a really kickass game.

I'd give a rent, though.

Star Wars: The Old Republic


I want to be excited about this - and I have no doubt that Bioware will make a kickass game - but it's still an MMORPG. I haven't subscribed to an MMO since the early days of Everquest, and as much as I enjoyed my ten-day trial of World of Warcraft, as attached as I grew to my Dwarf Hunter's pet bear, Poohbarathor, I still can't bring myself to invest the kind of time and money that these games require.

Still, I'm curious to see this game in action. Not because it's Star Wars, but because it's Bioware. One of the reasons MMOs don't interest me is their lack of a proper story, which Bioware plans to rectify with The Old Republic. If they can tell a good story, and if it's possible for players to actually impact and change the game world, I might pick this one up.

Dead Space (Second Night)


Damn, this game went from challenging to downright nasty. For the first four chapters, I died once or twice a level. For the next two chapters, I died once or twice a checkpoint.

I'm getting close to the halfway mark, and the game is still plenty damn freaky. Most horror games lose some their punch in the second half, but I have a feeling Dead Space won't be one of those.

Have to wait till tonight to play it, though. Playing a game of its kind when the sun is up just seems wrong.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Doctor Who: The Eighth Doctor Adventures - Season 2



The first episode of the second season is up on BBC7. The writing is more in line with the classic Doctor Who show instead of the current series, I'm afraid, but it's good to see Paul McGann get a chance to flesh out his take on the Doctor. He could have been one of the best (watch or listen to Shada - he can keep up with Douglas Adams's inspired lunacy, and that's no small feat), and hopefully he'll somehow make it into the current run of the TV show.

This is just one of many attempts I've made to push BBC7 onto people. I think radio dramas are still a viable medium, as long as you have good actors, strong dialog, and a rich imagination to make the story come alive in your mind. The British have kept the radio drama alive and well. May some deity bless them for it.

Dead Space (First Night)


Timed my Gamefly returns perfectly and got a virgin copy of Dead Space in the mail today.

The wife, ever the good sport, decided to watch and enjoy the experience with me. She only does this with horror games and Japanese RPGs - don't ask; I don't know. We waited till dark, turned off all the lights, and the two of us got completely sucked into the game. It took between three to four hours to complete the first four chapters on normal difficulty. Looks like this game could hit or exceed the (for me) necessary ten hour run time on the first play through. That definitely scores some points with me.

But that's not important. What is important is that this game delivers the scares.

The wife screamed. I peed my pants a little.

A good time was had by all.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 4 - Destroy Malevolence


For the first time in four episodes, the scales have tipped in the other direction: the bad outweighs the good in Destroy Malevolence.

Like the Clone Wars movie, the writers shoehorn Padme into a story where she doesn't belong, though it's nice to see that she's capable of taking care of herself again, instead of the barefoot and pregnant Padme from Revenge of the Sith, who let Anakin do some some Force Wife-Beating on her and then said, "He can change. I feel the good in him. Oh, and I just fell down some stairs - that's all."

Even with adding Padme to the story, there still isn't enough material for 23 minutes of television, since the Malevolence was already gimpafied at the end of last week's episode. And with this episode, The Clone Wars creates a trifecta of annoyance of unbelievable proportions in order to fill the required air time - battle droids, Ahsoka, and now C-3PO.

I've been buying this show off of iTunes. I decided not to wait the extra week to watch them for free because I had a few bucks left on my account from a gift card, then I got into the habit of watching them every Saturday morning...the perfect time to watch such a show. This is the first episode that I have regretted buying. I'm going to give it one more week. Unless next week's episode really impresses me, I'm going to start waiting the extra week and watch them for free on the Star Wars website.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Random Thought #248


Well, shit...there goes my plan for a solo attempt at joining the mile-high club.

Star Trek (First Production Photos)


Don't let my skinniness, glasses, nasal voice, asthma, scoliosis, and constant rants about videogames, D&D, and Star Wars fool you: I am, in private, actually quite a geek. And there's enough geek in me for a love of both the Wars and the Trek.

Yes, you read that right: I swing both ways.

But I still can't muster that much excitement for this new Trek movie. Personally, I think Trek needed to pull a Doctor Who (Star Wars, Star Trek, and Doctor Who in the same blog...it's a good thing I'm not going to mention Babylon 5 or Battlestar Galactica; if I did, I might somehow magically get my virginity back) and disappear off most people's radar for ten or fifteen years.

It's too soon to attempt a resurrection of this franchise, and as invigorating as fresh talent in front of and behind the camera may be, a remake of the original show is yet another example of what's been wrong with Trek since Voyager and Insurrection: the need to tell a story - any story - to keep the franchise going, instead of having a story so good that it needs to be told.

To me, the photos Paramount released are a mixed bag. I was surprised by how right the actors look for each character - even Chris Pine, who looks entirely too WB and not enough Shatner for Kirk. The true test for Pine will be how well he pulls of the patented Shatnerian double karate chop and that weird jumping drop kick, the latter being one of the dumbest, most awesome fighting moves ever captured on film.

The sets and production design don't hold up as well. They look like a strange blend of 60's cheesy sci-fi and modern cheesy sci-fi. And I have serious doubts that I'll be able to take Eric Bana seriously, what with that bald head and goofy face tattoos. And where the hell is his goatee? He is evil, after all - and this is Trek.

Oh well, that's more than enough geek posting for one day. I'll pick this up again when the first trailer comes out next month.

Bioshock 2: Sea of Dreams (First Trailer)


There's a part of me - a very small part - that wants to decry the very idea of making a sequel to Bioshock, one of the most complete, thrilling, and involving games ever made. That little part of me thinks that making Bioshock 2: Sea of Dreams is as much of a travesty as Hollywood making Citizen Kane 2: The Revenge (the tagline: There is a man, a certain man...and he wants revenge.).

But screw that little voice - I want more Bioshock. The world of Rapture is deep enough, compelling enough, to tell another story. The video linked above, blurry as it was, sent a shiver up and down my spine.

I don't know if 2K can make a sequel that lives up to the original Bioshock, but I'm more than willing to find out.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2nd Viewing)



Wow, it looks like George Lucas/anal rape jokes are really in the zeitgeist of late.

True, I slummed it up a notch (or down a notch - probably down) with a joke similar to South Park's overreaction to Crystal Skull, but I was attempting to make fun of fanboyism run amok, while last week's episode of South Park was fanboyism run amok. Liked Parker and Stone riffing on that scene from The Accused, though - if that's wrong, then I don't want to be right.

I'm a fanboy - I got no problem admitting that. And I think Trey Parker and Matt Stone are, too. I mean, can you think of anyone else who has repeatedly used the Klingon word "K'plah!" as a joke in a TV show (that wasn't Trek, of course)? I'm not offended by anything in that episode, or the insinuation that fans who liked Skull are as dumb and gullible as Butters, but I was a bit bummed to see them, along with many older fans, convince themselves that the previous Indy movies were much better - and important - than they truly were.

Was Skull perfect? No. The first half-hour is a little creaky and the final scenes are so underdeveloped that the ending barely makes sense, but it's several orders of magnitude better than Temple of Doom - better story, better McGuffin, better villains, better sidekicks, better love interest, better jokes, and a feint but sustained emotional pulse throughout the film. And this is Harrison Ford's best performance as Indiana Jones yet. The character is more of a cynic and a romantic than ever before, and it's obvious that Ford is enjoying every moment of this film. His joy is infectious.

Crystal Skull, like Hellboy II, was the most fun I've had in a movie theater in years - and that's all the Indy films were ever supposed to be: fun.

That's all I want to say on the subject, except one last thing: the fridge bit was completely ridiculous and unbelievable. I wish they'd go back to the realism of the previous movies - like that scene in Temple of Doom where Indy and company jumped out of a plane in high altitude without parachutes and survived the fall by inflating a life raft.

Now, that was believable...

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 3 - Shadow of Malevolence


I know I'm sounding like a broken record here, but the good outweighs the bad in Shadow of Malevolence. Somehow, though, this is both the most enjoyable and infuriating Clone Wars episode yet.

So much of this episode captures the spirit of A New Hope - the villains' monstrous plan, the smugglers' run, the giant space monsters, the dogfights, and the heroes' costly but triumphant victory - but cutting away from good material to include Ahsoka's lame, unnecessary dialog makes her even more grating than usual. It's not just that she's annoying, but her presence feels completely out of place with the rest of the episode. Without her, this could been the first truly great episode of the series.

After seeing this episode, I'm pretty sure this series has the potential to become something pretty damn good, if not great. Shadow is even darker than the first part of this story arc - with even more clones casualties this week, which once again impressed the hell out of me - but, more importantly, the tone is more consistent and a step closer to being honest. Here's hoping for some more Ahsoka free episodes after this storyline wraps up on Friday.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Starcraft II (Trilogy Announcement)


Mmm... I don't know I feel about this one. It's all going to depend on their pricing plan for the second two installments of the Starcraft II trilogy, the amount of multiplayer content they provide on top of the Zerg and Protoss single-player campaigns in those releases, and Blizzard's continued guarantee that Battle.net remains a free service. Not only that, but it's going to make for some wiggy game titles, like the Half-Life 2: Episode games or Star Wars: Dark Forces IV: Jedi Knight III: Jedi Outcast II: Jedi Molester - and those goofy titles just annoy the hell out of me.

Thankfully, Blizzard has assured gamers that the multiplayer will not be changed or scaled down for the game's initial release. That's good news - 'cause the loss of a full multiplayer client would have created a full blown diplomatic incident with South Korea, making our relations with North Korea seem quite chummy in comparison. And as good as the single-player was in the first Starcraft, it was the multiplayer that made it a classic and kept it on people's hard drives for ten years. The same, I'm sure, will go for Starcraft II, with or without the expansion packs.

Personally, I'd rather wait the additional year Blizzard said it would take to make Starcraft II as one complete title and pay less for it, instead of dropping another - and this is just guessing here - 80-100 bucks to see how the story ends. But I look at it this way: this game was going to have expansion packs, and Blizzard has always given players their money's worth with their games. Right now, I'm cautiously optimistic, though still a bit irked to know this game is going to lighten my wallet considerably more than I previously expected. The real make or break for me is whether they can actually get the first installment out in 2009 and, more importantly, release the next two installments on a yearly basis after that.

And speaking of getting the next installment out in a year or less, where the hell is Half-Life 2: Episode 3? And how do you make an episode 1, 2, and 3 for a game that already exists? Damn you, Valve and Blizzard, for delaying your games repeatedly and always making them worth the wait, to say nothing of your silly game titles.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Force Unleashed - Part Two and a Half



(I'm back, baby...and I brought spoilers.)

With The Force Unleashed, Lucasarts finally tells a story worth telling for the first time in years, with some of the best cutscenes, dialog, and voice acting in a videogame to date. In its best moments, it captures the spirit of the original trilogy. The scene where Darth Vader discovers Starkiller as a child is quite possibly the most compelling moment in Star Wars since Luke went all apeshit on Darth Vader at the end of Jedi.

Forget the physics and the other technological innovations in the gameplay, Unleashed's biggest accomplishment is the level of performance Lucasarts gets out of their 3D characters. For most of the characters, the studio used the same actor for the voice and facial/ motion capture, so the characters look, move, and behave like the actors. This makes an immeasurable difference in the quality of the cutscenes.

The story is far from perfect. As I've said before, the game is far too short, and the story never gets a chance to develop properly. I want to discuss three things quickly and have this rant done with, so here goes:

1) Juno Eclipse: The game's most underdeveloped character. There's potential there, but her character is reduced to little more than standing around and being hot. She's blond, looks great in her tight Imperial hottie outfit, and has a British accent, so of course Starkiller wants to shag her, and that's all her character is good for. Her feelings on the Empire, the Rebellion, and Starkiller are never explored.

2) The Rebellion: So, the big twist in Unleashed is that the Emperor and Vader hatch up a plan to create a rebellion to draw out their enemies, to publicly brand them as traitors...and are then surprised when a formidable rebellion against the Empire is created? What the hell? There's one horrible line near the end of the game - I can't remember it exactly, but it starts with the Emperor saying, "This rebellion we've unwittingly created..."

Nope. Sorry. Sounds pretty wittingly to me.

3) Darth Vader, Starkiller, and Some Serious Daddy Damage: The twist listed above also negates the most compelling element of Unleashed: that Starkiller is basically Vader's adopted son, that Vader has used Starkiller to replace the child which he thought died with Padme. This idea is hinted at throughout the story, but never lives up to its potential - and once Starkiller finds out his true purpose, Vader's "Fooled you! Ah, what's with you, man?!" betrayal removes the idea completely from the story. What a waste.

All right, that's enough ranting and negativity. I still enjoyed the story and I still can't stop playing this damn game.

The Force Unleashed - Part Two


When I was coming of age in the late 80's/early 90's, there were four game developers whose games I followed with an almost religious devotion: Infocom, Sierra, Origin, and Lucasarts.

Why these four? Because all of them could tell a story.

The most surprising thing about the golden years of Lucasarts was how little their success had to do with Star Wars. Games like Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken, Monkey Island, Full Throttle, Outlaws, and Grim Fandago consistently told quirky, original stories full of wit and wonder. Plus, they were one of the first developers to actually feature full speech using professional actors that could, you know, act during the CD-ROM boom in the early 90's.

One of the bigger insults to injury in the years following The Phantom Menace was the sharp decline in the quality of Lucasart's games - not to mention their decision to almost completely abandon original Lucasarts properties in order to greedily clutch the ready to burst teats of the cash cow that was Star Wars, in order to milk that bitch almost to death. Sequels to Sam and Max and Full Throtle were canceled while games like Super Bombad Racing and Jedi Power Battles were allowed to be released. Whoever was running Lucasarts during this period should be forced to play their own games again and again until they have a mental breakdown and promise never to make a game again.

(Finish this up later - gotta run)

SPL (Killzone)


It's hard to like a Hong Kong action film that dual wields retarded kids to get an emotional reaction out of the audience. Busting out the mentally/physically challenged has long been a cheap, offensive bit of melodrama in many Hong Kong action films, but SPL hits a new low with not one but two different retarded kids in the same film. Writer/director Wilson Yip wanted to put the short bus on the HOV lane to tissue town, but all it did was guarantee that I watched the rest of SPL with skepticism and loathing.

It wouldn't be so bad if the action scenes made up for the drama, but they don't. True, the movie does have the most intense fight choreography ever performed by metrosexuals in tight, stylish pants, but that's not saying a whole lot. Neither Donnie Yen or Sammo Hung, who can fight and act, are able to save this film. But it's cool to see Sammo Hung, now well into his 50's, still kick a whole lot of ass. It'd be cool to see him and Jackie Chan team up again in a movie that takes their age into account.

But please, no retarded kids...

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Punch-Out! for the Wii


Oh baby, I want to taste me some Glass Joe meat in three dimensions.

My copy of Mike Tyson's Punch-Out for the NES is like my R.E.M. and Beatles CDs: both coveted and indispensable. It's the sole reason I still have an NES plugged into my television. Every few months I come back to the game, since I have yet to get past Mr. Sandman without able assistance.

This game has finally sold the Wii to me. As I've said a million times, I'm a gamer on a budget. I usually wait a year or two to acquire new systems. The hardware is generally more reliable, I know whether the system is a success or not (I'm still stinging from that Dreamcast fiasco), and there are enough games - and "greatest hits" titles - to make the system worth the investment.

And I've been waiting for that "must have" game for the Wii. For the Playstation 2, it was Kingdom Hearts; for the Xbox, it was the one-two punch of Halo 2 and Knights of the Old Republic II; for the PSP, it was Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories; and for the 360, it was Dead Rising. Those were the games that tipped the scales, and I have been waiting patiently for a Wii game that would have the same effect on me. Now, it's only a year away.

Come on, 2009...

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Clone Wars: Episode 2 - Rising Malevolence


I was a bit rushed yesterday, so I wanted to finish some thoughts about the structure and style of the first two episodes. Here goes:

* Love the newsreel openings. The voice actor delivers each prologue with the perfect balance of enthusiasm and camp. I know a lot of people miss the opening crawl, but that would've gotten real old real fast if there was one every week.

Also, people have complained that these openings are cheesy and over the top. I would say this to them: that's Star Wars. It's cheesy, over the top, and a helluva a lot of fun. It put a smile on my face in the movie theater, and it's put a smile on my face every time I've watched the first two episodes.

* It's surprising how amazing the animation looks on the small screen compared to the big screen. What looked merely serviceable in theaters looks great on my computer monitor (I'm watching the episodes through iTunes on a 22" LCD flatscreen with DVI cables, by the way). The last kid-oriented cartoon I watched was Invader Zim - and I think the Bruce Timm Superman was the last one before that - but this is the first TV show using computer animation I've ever seen that works. I love the character designs, which look like puppets or action figures come to life, which is quite rad.

More importantly, the character's eyes are full of emotion and feature subtle body language, which is what makes or break computer animation. It'll be interesting to see how the animation will grow and improve over the years.

* The voice acting is also above average for a kids' show. It's a shame that the actors that returned for the movie won't be returning for the show - especially Christopher Lee - but many of these actors have been voicing these characters for years and are starting to truly inhabit their roles, instead of just sounding like they're doing a Yoda or Ewan McGregor impression.

* * * *

And now on to the second episode, Rising Malevolence...

Here's the most important thing you need to know about this episode: people die.

Yes, the deaths so far have just been clones, but seeing two clones without helmets get sucked into the vacuum of space and suffocate, without the camera cutting away, surprised and impressed me. And it's followed by one of the few successful battle droid jokes that's incredibly dark for a primetime kids' show.

I know some parents - whiners, mostly - will think showing this level of violence on a kids' show is irresponsible, but I would disagree. I think having the good guys safely bail out of an exploding plane every time or making sure that bad things only happen to bad people is, in fact, irresponsible.

We've been moving away from the Disney, G.I. Joe brand of storytelling in family entertainment for over a decade now, and I can't tell you how much that pleases me. I think J.K. Rowling deserves much of the credit for this, since she had the intestinal fortitude to keep taking Harry Potter down dark paths and dared to kill characters like Dumbledore and Dobby the House Elf.

Dobby. Dobby, for Christ's sakes.

I imagine that this show is only going to get darker with time, once the initial buzz dies down and the show becomes established. That's probably a good thing, since the tone is now a bit uneven and too focused on just pleasing kids. That doesn't make sense to me, since the Star Wars films (save Sith) had just about the perfect tone for family entertainment.

I'm not one of those people that think darker is always better, and it seems like some fans want Star Wars to be much darker than it should be - but any story, for any age, should be honest. That, my friends, is the difference between Han shooting first and Greedo shooting first. The Clone Wars isn't honest yet.

To my surprise, Rising Malevolence is the better of the two episodes that premiered last Friday. I didn't have high hopes for it, since it was an Anakin and Ahsoka episode, but the good outweighs the bad, even more than it did in Ambush. It'll take a few more episodes to judge the overall quality of the show, but it looks like this could become a quite a fun little bit of sci-fi television.