Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Skyrim: The Quest for More Time

I was asked once if I could have any power or fantastical ability, what would I choose? I gave some stupid answer like teleportation, merely for convenience sake. The real answer is I wish I didn’t have to sleep! November has been a deadly month for my body. I go to bed, and then head to work. It’s the life many lead. But November happened and it hit me like a punch from Shaq.

Fall is the biggest gaming season of the year. Uh, I’m tired just talking about it. Yeah things started slow with Batman: Arkham City. I remember those days, when I could just play one game at a time. That was a great era. Now I’m trying to find time to play four different games at once. That’s not including Zelda Skyward Sword – which, despite my hatred for Twilight Princess, I feel obligated to get. Just give me a break.

Regardless, I traipse across the frozen mountains of Skyrim in search of dragons, which will most likely roast my flesh off. I can’t say I’ve gotten a bead on these aerial flying beast’s. I get cooked in my armor before I can sling an arrow from my bow. It would be nice if I could throw my sword at a dragon once my magic and arrows are depleted. Instead most fights devolve into me running like a moron while those scaly bastards flame broil my butt cheeks.

Wolves fall quickly...

My constant time spent at the death screen aside I’m thoroughly enjoying Bethesda latest life suck. The visual miscues have been noted on the Xbox 360 version, and a patch is coming…as of right this moment the game looks pretty disgusting. Humans still look more akin to Mr. Potato Head than they do actual Homo sapiens. That’s my major gripe – people have mashed faces like those putty guys from Power Rangers -- because everything else really is a leap past what we saw from Oblivion some five years ago.

Having the choice to have a fire spell in one hand and a mace in the other turns the fighting into a layer cake of deliciousness. Unfortunately swords and other weaponry twang off shields and enemy armor with a loose weightlessness that doesn’t feel quite right. Countering that is the addition of perks that augment your attacks to make battles more cinematic. With certain perks you can slow time while using a bow, blast hordes with a combination spell (that looks like you’re shooting a Hadouken), and critical finishes where you may stab right through a foe.

...but Frost Trolls will rip your flesh off with a sneeze. 

I haven’t gotten much time in the world of Skyrim but that hasn’t stopped me from walking everywhere and chatting with locals. Bethesda creates worlds that seem lived in. Most people you meet have a house and go through a daily routine…and yes you can rob them blind in their sleep: I do it all the time.

I still can’t get away from the cold grip of Modern Warfare 3. Assassins Creed Revelations, Zelda and so many other games are yelling at me to join the party. Alas my life is filled with other things. Here’s hoping I actually get some time to myself…that will happen when hell freezes over and I can toast marshmallows on the sun!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer review

Call of Duty was the addiction. Sure I played Halo, but it wasn’t always fun. Call of Duty – even in the worst of times – is still a fantastic shooter, and just a stellar multiplayer game. I can’t describe it. A feeling of utter elation, like teaching a sibling how to ride a bike. A kind of wonder washes over you and the only thing that matters is who’s in front of your iron sights.

Has it always been this way? No. Modern Warfare 3 is the first to capture the feeling of the original; the gun-on-gun, watch your corners action is back. Matches are fast paced, but not chaotic like Modern Warfare 2. Activision went back to basics – yes choppers and airstrikes are alive and well – it’s a finer tuned game than either Black Ops or Modern Warfare 3, as I’ll explain.

Bullets would spray from all angels. Where? Just run, it doesn’t matter. Here comes a chopper, then an AC130…then a Nuke! It was all too common to get vaporized off the face of the earth in MW2. Killstreaks are weaker overall, as is explosive damage. Air support can be easily shot down by anyone. A team can’t just dominate the air to win a match; they actually have to out shoot the opposition. It’s far more about you, and your gun, not an AI controlled assist that gets your kills for you.

Complaining gets you nowhere…actually you get something: a bullet between the teeth. I say this because there’s an underlying layer of skill that’s mandatory to be successful with Modern Warfare 3. Campers, you don’t have as many places to hide. Now you have to be faster than the next guy, and the next after that. I actually feel like people are better than me because they have more expertise. Not because they sit in a corner and pick off people as they walk passed.

Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer games are tightrope artists for how they balanced the competitive aspect of multiplayer. No one gun outclasses another; there’s no all-in-one perk that makes you omnipotent. From rank 1 to 80 you are giving the tools, but it takes practice and experience to become better: something that wasn’t always the case in previous titles.  The playing field is level, and so are the multiplayer maps.

Add proficiencies to strengthen your weapon.  

Each map was just large for reasons I’ve never known in MW2. Maps are smaller, corridors tighter, bottlenecks are abundant, buildings are open; overall matches just flow better because everybody is out running around as opposed to roasting marshmallows at a camp site.

Killstreaks have been appended into what’s called Strike packages. Each of the three: Assault, Support, and Specialist play vastly different. Assault is the standard: get kills to earn choppers and air support. Run Assault if all you care about is racking up high body counts by staying alive. Support is all for the betterment of the team: it’s all about revealing the enemy and not me, myself, and I. Then Specialist gives you rewards in the form of perks. Each 2 kills gives you a perk of your choosing up until eights kills when you get them all!

Breaking the Killstreak reward system into these Strike packages is Call of Duty’s way of adding a class system without restricting people to a designated load out. And it really has changed the faced of the game.

The customization isn’t cosmetic like Black Ops. As you level each gun you use gains experience too. As you gain xp for each kill with your gun you gain Proficiencies. Each Proficiency gives a bonus to the base attributes such as reduced recoil or extended range. Your weapon now feels like an extension of your own being.

The old modes you know and love are still intact. And a new one called Kill Confirmed (each kill produces a dog tag which must be grabbed for the kill to count) and hardcore mode is still just as great as ever.

Spec Ops Survival really keeps you on your toes. 

The amount of features that Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 has etched onto its disc is staggering. I haven’t even mentioned the Spec Ops modes. Spec Ops makes it’s return. The two-player mode has you playing out set missions or this time around surviving waves of enemies. Survival Mode has you facing increasingly harder enemies in a nonstop killing spree. Your heart races when you’re trying to buy ammo, set down claymores, and just try and find your teammate who’s bleeding on the ground. It’s an anxiety filled test of endurance.

Playing alone isn’t why one should play Modern Warfare 3. Gaming with friends and family and bragging about it is why we play. Few things are more satisfying than reaching a double-digit Killstreak, keeping it going, and the thrill of shooting that last guy and seeing the words “AC130” pop up. It may not be perfect, and months from now it may be broken but at this moment Modern Warfare 3 is -- for your hard earned dollar – the best 60 bucks you can spend this year.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Modern Warfare 3 Singleplayer Review

In such a short amount of time Call of Duty has dominated the First Person Shooter landscape. Instead of waiting years for a new installment, the die-hard fans get their mitts on each new COD a mere 11 months after the previous. Does Modern Warfare 3 carry a bandolier full of progress…or have the early signs of fatigue been set in motion?

That’s a good question: one that has two parts. And instead of reviewing the game as a standard title, I’m breaking it into a singelplayer and multiplayer centered synapses. I will take some time to come to a firm conclusion on how truly different – if at all – multiplayer has become since we last threw down on the battlefield. Honestly it may take months for a definitive conclusion on how solid the online component is. We press on nonetheless.

Modern Warfare 3’s solo missions – sorry for those hoping for co-op, sadly it’s not here – focus on the ludicrously convulsed plot of Modern Warfare 2…that’s not fare, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Modern Warfare 2’s story was half written on a dirty napkin. Just, don’t get your hopes up, please.  When it comes to narrative Call of Duty finds ways to make Howard the Duck a nuanced piece of cinema.

Through roughly sixteen campaign scenarios you’ll become so desensitized by the sheer carnage coming from all angles you might need to bang your head on a wall to knock yourself back to reality. It’s utterly amazing how many times something goes boom! There’s an explosion crammed into ever orifice of this one here.

If Battlefield 3 is a gourmet pizza with subtle flavors and only a few ingredients than Modern Warfare 3 is a supreme with extra toppings…too bad it wasn’t cooked all the way through.

You just can’t digest this much action into the eyeholes quickly enough Infinity Ward. The “S” hitting the “F” dial is at maximum, rarely do you get a reprieve from the onslaught of cars blowing up or someone screaming “RPGGGGG!” It’s all too much.

Call of Duty 4 – the first to take Call of Duty to the modern war zone – had a simple story. Through twists and retreads what has come before now seems novelty. The plot of COD: Modern Warfare 3 is handled thrown audio logs throughout loading screens between missions. Tell me why a cutscene with actual characters conversing, can’t suffice? Sometimes I don’t even know who’s talking…yes we know who Prices is but Call for Duty jumps from one man to the next faster than a single MILF at a bar.

I struggle to find a reason why someone would shell out 60 hard-earned dollars just for the singelplayer alone.  There are people picking it out for just that. And if you really, really liked Modern Warfare 2 than you’ll get something out of this. The rest of us who are nauseous from the screen shaking and have perfuse bleeding from our ears, by credits end, could have done without a very overbearing solo game.

Singelplayer is just an appetizer though (one that you’d probably send back), and competitive multiplayer the main course. And while I’ve only had a few hours of play it looks like the tried-and-true COD formula is still intact. It’s the finer details that need to be analyzed before any of us have an opinion about the online battle-royal. Until such a time, have fun; don’t let the singelplayer taint the entire experience. Much more is in store. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Detective Comics #1, 2, and 3

Detective Comics is gruesome. The first issue gives into Joker’s sadistic side: the serial killer clown whom stabs, and stabs, and stabs. Detective Comics #1 is dark visually and tonally. The final panel left me a little more than queasy too. Not for the faint, but I feel this series show’s early shades of greatness.

Tony Salvador Daniel covers both the art and writing, and captures the Dark Knight’s persona fiercely. Batman is a dominating figure, one not to be taken lightly. The cops hate him; only Gordon is on his side. The vigilante Batman is a more fitting, albeit non traditional environment. One that makes Gotham a hostile place even for Batman himself.

The focus, for issue #1, is really on the forever nemeses’ Batman and Joker. Tied at the hit these men are, but Joker is still a step ahead. What’s his plan; can Batman even comprehend his mad mind? Batman is just as confused as the audience is. The more Bat’s has to think, the more the reader becomes bonded to the narrative. The first issue is shadowy and paints a Mona Lisa like picture...only her face is removed.

Chills run down my spine as I flip through the pages of Detective Comics #2. Tony Salvador Daniel’s tale has my stomach in knots. Detective Comics is in a whole different area of madness. The villains are prosperously deviant. The imagery is downright disturbing. And I’m literally uncomfortable looking upon some of the panels.

Detective Comics is mercilessly tugging at my heart. These are rough reads in some areas. Once again the last panel is so gut wrenching and brutal. I struggle to find the path Tony S. Daniel is paving for us. Put I’m following along. Willingly.

The Dollmaker enters as a soon to be revered villain. If he survives Tony S. Daniel’s story arc I’d say the Dollmaker has made himself a name in the Batman bad-guy library. Detective Comics #3 has Batman face to mutilated face with this new foe: One that rips the organs from his victims and transplants them onto others.

Dollmaker and his patchwork family have Batman on his heels. I’m aghast to see the great detective Batman completely out of the loop. Even in a situation of obvious double-crossing. The potentially grizzly fate of Batman may have come at the hands of a mere child!

Detective Comics is unapologetically repugnant – leaving your skin clamming like a good horror flick. And I couldn’t stop reading! The visuals mesh so well with the writing, it’s a creepy medley. One that can’t be missed by those looking for the best out of the “New 52” run.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Do You Remember: Beast Wars?

Hope you’re a fan of silver back gorillas fighting raptors? For my money, the most underappreciated science fiction series. Beast Wars, for a 5 year span dominated my little child mind. For those unfamiliar, Beast Wars was the spiritual successor to Transformers. Even that’s not entirely true, as the Transformers’ canon wasn’t thrown into the show until about half way through the first season. Even on the Beast Wars DVD’s the series’ creators spoke about how they tried to create an interesting story first, then interject the Transformers mythos afterwards.

What took shape was a Sci-Fi adventure series – a war between the Maximals and Decepticons, or the accentors of the original Transformers. Optimus Primal (as he was called) was the descendent of Optimus Prime. How the entire show strung together actual Transformers history was pretty impressive. Obviously the name implies a distinct difference…

No cars here, just robots turning into spiders and tigers: yes, instead of vehicles, animal forms were the preferred disguises. Optimus was a gorilla, Megatron a T-Rex, and at one point there was a half rat half hot-rod hybrid.

Give Beast Wars credit it was a deep story. Not only did it deal with very social relevant themes but also each episode had a dramatic effect on me as a kid. Things like loss, love, betrayal, friendship, righteousness, sacrifice: all were common messages throughout the 3 season run of Beast Wars.

This was war; no humans getting in the way, just machines shooting rockets at each other. The way a man likes it. Even now I think the show looks damn good. Sure Cheetor looks like a cheetah with Down syndrome, and Rattrap frequently changes sizes from scene to scene. It was still a technologically advanced show. Beast Wars was an entirely Computer Generated animated series. One of only two at the time (Reboot being the other), it was like a video game TV show.

What they were able to do back then was amazing. Toy Story was only a year old when Beast Wars starting airing – there’s no doubt it was expensive to produce, but the overwhelmingly positive reception the show received led to it staying on the air for 3 years.    

Largely forgotten by even the hardcore Transformers crowd. Beast Wars deserves a second run, perhaps a remake, I’d be all for it. Don’t right it off just because the subtitle says Transformers; Beast Wars stood on it’s own as a well-realized adventure. With a stellar first two seasons (the third seems desperate to sell toys by introducing new characters each episode), an early but unique animated style, and great action scenes, what was there not to love? Beast Wars was pure 90’s gold.