Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Tonight I caught a glimpse of the new Roland Emerick disaster film 2012 and I find myself incredibly torn when I try to decide whether or not I actually like it.

My first complaint about this movie is that it was far, far too long. It didn't wholly feel long in the theater because it does a good job of keeping you entertained. There is no part in the movie where you feel as if the story is dragging on and the scenes are pointless. That being said, once we got out of the theater and saw what time it was there was a sudden realization of just how much crap was packed into the movie.

I think the real strength of this movie was the special effects. The way the earth was destroyed by tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanoes is done very well. I'm not quite sure whether the special effects eclipsed the characters or if the story just wasn't put together well at all, but I found that watching people dangle out of a crumbling skyscraper or crushed by the fallen dome of the Sisteen Chapel really carried no emotional weight. In fact it wasn't until the end of the movie that any true sense of realization as to what happened sets in, but by then it's just too late.

In every disaster movie I've seen there's always at least some emotional connection to the death toll that these horrific events incurs, but this sense of connection to the loss of life is completely missing from this movie. Even at the end, during the "Full House" touchy feely wrap up, there just wasn't any emotional reaction to what had happened.

The entire cast, in fact, seemed entirely disconnected from what was going on. In The Day After Tomorrow there was a real sense of impending danger that the cast shared throughout the movie and I don't know if it was intentional or not but the population at large seemed to be in complete denial as to what was happening.

In the wind up to full blown disaster earthquakes started to rip gaping chasms in the earth, and at one point Amanda Peet's character is in the supermarket when an earthquake opens up a rift fifty feet plus across right through the middle of the lane she happened to be standing in. And miraculously, the news reports that not a single person was injured. And this may be one of the reasons for the disconnect - until you actually see people consumed by explosions or flattened by toppling monuments there's no real sense of danger. I mean seriously, rifts are opening in urban areas and children are playing hop-scotch over the damned thing!

Though, to the movie's credit there is a great scene where John Cusack realizes that things are going horribly wrong and goes for his family. As he arrives at the house incredibly powerful earthquakes begin to topple buildings and he finds his family hiding in the kitchen underneath the table. He calls to them to follow him to the car but, believing it is just a normal earthquake they refuse to move thinking it would be safer to take cover under the table. This is the one time in this movie or any other I can remember for a long time does what every moviegoer is screaming at him to do - he screams at the cowering bunch "Get into the damn car!"

But my biggest complaint about this movie is something that's bothered me about movies since I began watching them.

The earth is ripping apart, volcanoes are springing up out of the ground and tsunamis are destroying entire populations, but every damn character has to have their one moment where they insist on just one moment for some sort of emotional confession or goodbye speech. There is one scene in particular where Danny Glover is kneeling in the chapel and Chiwetel Ejiofor (the assassin from Serenity) comes to bring him to Air Force one so it can depart. Instead of getting on the damned plane he decides it's the perfect time for a heart to heart with the man, despite the cloud of ash bearing down on the white house from the freshly volcanic activity in Yosemite...

Um, excuse me savage forces of nature that are reversing the magnetic poles and rearranging the face of the earth as we know it, but could you hold on just one minute so I can have a heart to heart with this guy I've only known for a few months?

But despite all my gripes this movie really did keep me entertained. Even the parts that just aggravated the hell out of me at least gave Meghan and myself something to make jokes about back and forth.

So if you're bored on a Sunday afternoon and have nothing better to do than burn eight bucks go ahead and give it a shot, but I wouldn't get too worked up about getting to it before the DVD comes out.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Dead Space: Extraction

GameFly finally decided to make good on their promise to actually send me games from my GameQ and gave me the chance to play the new Dead Space prequel Extraction.

Now I've been waiting for this game to come out for quite some time because it was built around being a co-op game and those are the types of games that couple gamers like Meghan and myself are going to be attracted to. Much like Resident Evil 5 this game delivers on the teamwork front.

Unlike the Resident Evil style over the shoulder shooters that lent itself to the original Dead Space, Extraction is a rail shooter. So fans of the arcade style shooters will feel right at home. This is a good thing and a bad thing for the game.

On the positive side, this takes away some of the confusion and disorientation two separate players can fall into on occasion and there will always be a clear progression path forward; no more running around labyrinthine hallways to find your next objective. To be fair though, this was pretty well eliminated in the original Dead Space with the waypoint system.

As a negative, it eliminates some of the horror and scare factor because you can't control how your avatar moves. There's no biting your nails about going around that next corner because, well, the camera will swing around that way when it's good and ready. And not before.

On the flip side of the camera coin, the camcorder-style movement of the camera can make it difficult to pick up items as they're occasionally only on screen for a split second as your avatar whips his head to the side to see some necromorph that's burst through a window. Whenever the camera was moving erratically Meghan and I found ourselves using the kineses module on random parts of the screen on the off chance we'd pick up something - and we had much better success with this method!

Most parts of the game where action is happening items are hard to pick up like this, but there are gear up closets and stations where one player will be able to move the camera and both players will be able to pick up gear. Take full advantage of when this happens as it only lasts for a few seconds.

That being said the fun factor is just as high as with the original, especially now that it's a co-op game. That was my one big beef with the original Dead Space game: Meghan and I both loved the game, but we couldn't play it together. But throughout Extraction the game offers up situations where you'll have to take turns fending off enemies and welding a circuit or work together to efficiently weld a plate over an air vent to keep creatures from swarming in.

The nostalgia factor is here as well. Granted, the original Dead Space hasn't been out for too long, but it's still fun to see familiar locations like the shuttle bay and the entrance hall to the medical facility. There are also a few recurring characters throughout the game that really help to intertwine the two games.

Many of the weapons, too, have returned from the original game. Instead of starting with the Plasma Cutter you start with a Rivet Gun which fires a single rivet like a bullet. This gun is also your main tool so getting rid of it is really not an option. You can acquire old favorites like the Line Gun and Flamethrower (Which, unlike the original game, can be used in areas without an atmosphere); and there are new heavy hitters like the Force Gun, a powerhouse that blasts everything nearby with a wave of concussive force.

The bosses can be difficult without the Pulse Rifle, as you must shoot a very small circle on a moving tentacle to stun them before they smack you for massive damage. If you can't use the Pulse Rifle or don't have excellent aim with the other slow-firing weapons the bosses will likely be very frustrating.

If there is anything negative to be said about this game as a two player shooter, is that both players are essentially controlling one person, so your arsenal of weapons is still limited to four weapons. One advantage of having a friend you're used to playing with in games like this is that you can divvy up the different types of weapons depending on who likes what gun, but throughout the game we were constantly finding ourselves debating between which guns to keep and which to discard.

All in all a very fun game that I would definitely recommend to those who game with another =)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Lost... In Space!

No, not that Lost in Space...

I'm referring to the new Stargate series, Stargate Universe. The questionably anticipated premiere of this show went off with, in this reviewers opinion, a bang!

The show starts off with a very lonely and mysterious sounding theme and a long shot of a very large star ship cruising through the vast emptiness of space and follows up with a slow pan through the corridors of the same ship as lights slowly begin to flicker on.

The slow pan comes to a stop as the camera arrives in the ship's gate room, where the stargate has already begun to open a wormhole. Moments later the first cast member is ejected through the event horizon and topples to the floor covered in dirt obviously fleeing from some unknown event. Following him is an increasing stream of disoriented evacuees tumbling through the gate falling over each other and random cases of gear that have been strewn about the floor in the confusion.

Does this sound familiar?

So hopefully you've figured out where I was going with the title by now. This show is blissfully done in a format very unlike the Stargate series of yesteryear which I think is fantastic. I was an avid fan of Stargate Atlantis and a bored viewer of Stargate SG-1, but I believe the downfall of those shows was the stale Star Trek format that they followed. Not only was it an antiquated method of telling a story, but the writers had no idea where they were going with the arcing plots so they ended up with buzz episodes and filler episodes - neither of which ever did the franchise any justice.

The format of this new show is very similar to... did you guess it? Lost.

The last of the evacuees arrives on the ship in an explosive concussion from the other side and collapses to the ground, bleeding from the back of the head and unable to move. Shortly after they show a confused young man and then cut to a flashback of the day he cracked a code embedded in a video game by the military. The goal this was to find a brilliant young mind to solve a complex equation by tapping into a pool of minds that would otherwise have gone unnoticed by the mainstream.

Their problem, in a nutshell, is that Stargate Command has discovered a 9 chevron address in an ancient database, presumably from Atlantis' ancient database. Those that are Stargate fans will remember that any gate dialed within one's own galaxy uses only 7 chevrons, and that adding an eighth chevron will dial another galaxy but 9 chevrons - well they don't quite know where that will go. If the x factor distance equation can be solved then the 9 chevron address can be locked in.

I won't go too much more into the plot of the show because, well, it was an incredibly enthralling experience. I was dubious about what this show would bring to the table especially since the cast had described it as a blend of Stargate and Battlestar Galactica. As one of the few sci-fi nuts that really detested Syfy channel's reboot of the Battlestar Galactica series this set me up for having low expectations of the show - and they were all blown away.

Maybe I'm just smitten because I love the format of the series Lost, but the format allows for amazing flexibility and intensely deep stories without having to resort to endless filler episodes because they don't want to blow the load of their arcing story in 4 episodes with 12 episodes left in the season. I am cautiously optimistic that this show will be much more about the survival and back stories of the characters who we thus far know very little about.

The flashbacks for the pilot episode revolve mostly around the incidents that led the expedition to flee through the stargate so hastily and that of Eli, the kid who cracked the code. If they do intend to follow the Lost format we can probably look forward to a slow reveal of what led each person to their present situation, and the likely focus of each episode will be determined by whatever plot the episode is focusing on.

One additional bit of mystery added to the show is it's true purpose. Back before there was much of any information on the show available it had been mentioned that the Stargate producers had pitched the idea to the show as a group of people stranded aboard an ancient ship whose mission is to seed the galaxies with stargates. During the pilot, however, it's revealed that the ancients sent other ships ahead of the one in question for this task and that the ship the expedition is stranded on, called Destiny, has some other as yet unrevealed purpose.

Have I peaked your interest? I hope so, because since this show premiered on a Friday night my normal small gathering of friends were in attendance, all of whom were not only not Stargate fans, but didn't care for the franchise at all previously. And for the two hours that the show premiered every one of us was enthralled with what was going on. At the end of the night it was a unanimous vote to watch the show on a weekly basis, so this show definitely has a much broader appeal than the previous incarnations of the Stargate franchise.

Still not convinced? Decide for yourself. Hulu has been gracious enough to host the show making it possible to be viewed by anyone with an updated flash player at any time they like. Enjoy =)

The Old Republic vs. World of Warcraft
- Round 1

So I've been following the development of the upcoming MMO The Old Republic reasonably well but there still isn't a ton of information. As the game isn't slated the be released for another year that is to be expected.

ToR has a few things over WoW already, but this is also to be expected. As a 10 year MMO veteran I've come to expect that the next generation of MMOs will be successful if they follow one rule: Take all the things that players think is tedious and hinders the gameplay experience they want and get rid of them.

WoW toppling the previous MMO big dog Everquest back when it released is the most classic example of this. In EQ it took an obscenely long time to level - think years, it was nearly impossible to do anything meaningful by yourself and while the game may have been balanced in a way, it definitely was not balanced in a way that you could pick up a player you liked regardless of class and do something new and interesting. In fact, near the time I quit playing each successive expansion that came out was tailored more and more towards the powergaming elite who spent so much time playing the game to stay competitive that maintaining a job of any sort and in some cases even a sleep schedule were impossible.

WoW destroyed all of these MMO archetypes even when it was still new back in 2004. And if a new MMO is going to stand up against WoW not only are they going to have to smash some MMO concepts in favor of the player experience but they'll have to make sure it works - without making it just another WoW clone.

ToR has a pretty good start in this regard from what I've seen and my main focus for this entry will be in terms of the game's story.

WoW has always had story built into their game content, but when you decide to level a character the vast majority of players want to get through it as fast as possible. This means that every page of quest dialog and every place in the world the NPC you're dealing with has is completely ignored. WotLK did a better job of this by using phasing technology to give the players a first hand view of many events that had transpired in Northrend leading up to the quest they're currently working on. Even so, most of these cut scenes were riddled with dialog bubbles you'd have to read if you wanted to know what was going on - dialog bubbles that could be easily ignored if you have a television in the room to keep you occupied until you get dinged with a Quest Complete! message.

ToR has made the commitment to not only be an intensely story driven game, but they've commited to having every PC and NPC alike in the game full voiceovers. If you tried out Age of Conan when it went live you may remember the gloriously vibrant starting isle of Tortage where every NPC talked to you in full voiceover. Once you departed from the isle, however, everyone but your storyline NPC fell deathly silent.

Aside from the full voiceovers ToR offers completely different sotrylines and game experiences for each different class in the game. So if you play a Bounty Hunter character and later decide to try out a Sith Warrior you're storyline and game experience will be completely different. No more agonizing because you want to level a shaman but dread suffering through the same starging zone - again!

But I don't want to ruin the whole thing for you, so I'll let the developers themselves show you what to expect from ToR.

Iron Man + Suck = G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

So Meghan and I were driven out of our home this weekend by a rowdy duo of asshats watching football, drinking wild turkey and whooping and yelling at the players because, well, if a couple of fat assholes can't dictate how a football game is played then who should?!?!

But I digress...

In our desperate clawing at the front door to get away we decided to go see G.I. Joe: The rise of Cobra. I have to admit I feel that I got what I paid for. Of course, we went at the end of it's theater life cycle on off peak hours so we paid very little all things considered. Once the credits rolled, though, I felt like I had just been duped into watching the prequel to a movie that has yet to be released.


Now, I watched the cartoon as a kid, but it was one of those shows that you watch because you were waiting for something else to come on. In this case it was probably He-Man or Transformers, but the point is that I was familiar with the series, but not incredibly so. I could only pick out a handful of characters I could recall and most of them were Cobra (the bad guys). On top of that, if there was any back story it was likely lost on me. As a kid all I cared about was explosions and round house kicks to the face - too bad Chuck Norris didn't catch on 'till I was older!

The movie starts off with a scene very reminiscent of a certain Leonadro Dicaprio movie where a dirty man in a dungeon is getting permanently fitted with an orange-hot iron mask. Now I know what you're thinking, this is either Cobra Commander or Destro. Sorry, he's neither. In fact, this guy's only purpose is to set up the legacy of Destro so the movie's Destro can one day not don the same mask. Yeah, I know, cinematic genius. /sarcasm off

Flash forward to a scene directly out of Iron Man where the movie's Obadiah Stain is briefing the military on his new weaponized nanites that can chew through anything and have a kill switch unique to each warhead. And we're off!

The movie then takes us through an incredibly redundant series of fight scenes and explosive sequences that, by mid movie, had me bored to tears. This was made worse by the fact that I really didn't care for, nor even like any of the protagonists. They all seemed too nice and squeaky clean to me - blissfully flawless. This is not lost on me, I understand they want to glorify this supersoldier armed forces crap, but throughout most of the movie the Joes (as they call themselves in the movie) never really seem to be in trouble.

There's a chase scene where the Joes don Iron Man-esque power suits and chase down the Baroness and the evil ninja guy. The suits make them pretty much indestructible as the villains fire pulse cannons, rockets and a hail of gunfire at the Joes to slow them down and the worst that happens is they fall down, dust themselves off and jump right back into the chase.

I mean, come on now... how do you expect me to give a crap about what's going to happen if the good guys are indestructible!?

So the movie goes on like that for quite a while. Explosions, fight scenes and then the ultimate showdown at the Cobra base beneath the polar ice where, believe it or not, that weapons dealer from earlier turns out to be evil. I bet you'd never see that coming....

So the Joes duke it out with Cobra's nanite enhanced super soldiers - who don't seem to have their brains enhanced with the nanites at all - and Joseph gordon Levitt finally shows his face. Well, what's left of his face. See, it just so happens that Duke, the soldier who is the main focus for the movie, was involved with the Baroness before the movie started and lost track of her some years prior. Joseph Gordon Levitt's character is the Baroness' brother, and was nearly killed in Iraq on assignment with Duke.

Left for dead, Joseph gordon Levitt turned to mad science and teamed up with the arms dealer to take over the world. And as you may or may not know, Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Cobra Commander. That's right, the kid from 3rd rock from the sun... is Cobra Commander. But Cobra commander doesn't actually take up his title until the last 5 minutes of the movie when the Cobra base is exploding and he's making his escape.

During their flight, the arms dealer was roasted by Duke and most of his skin was burned off. Safe on his own personal sub, Cobra commander decides to inject the arms dealer with a dose of nanites he developed especially for this situation - because specialized armed forces assault and destroy his sub-arctic base and burn the flesh off his buddy every day, right? The nanites coat his face in a metallic looking substance as Cobra dons the helmet of the commander and he dubs the arms dealer 'Destro'.

Payoff! Finally! We have liftoff folks the real movie can sta-

Then Duke shows up and they lock Cobra Commander and Destro up in their own prison cells in Joe headquarters 5 seconds later. No, I'm not kidding. That's how the last 3 minutes or so of the movie actually play out.

So my overall review... worth watching, but save your money for the sequel.