The Hobbit Review

The Hobbit is finally here! We are finally returning to Middle-Earth after we fell in love with the world over a decade ago with the Fellowship of the Ring. Things are a bit different this time around though. Also, SPOILER ALERT. Much of this is written with the assumption that you are at least familiar with both the plot of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit.

 

 

What it is: The Hobbit is a prequel to the Lord of the Rings written once again by Tolkien and directed once again by Peter Jackson. The Hobbit book was actually written before the Lord of the Rings and was a children’s book that publishers loved and pushed for more, so this time around we are going to be having a much lighter tone compared to the first trilogy. Many familiar faces returned for the project including Elijah Wood as Frodo, Ian McKellan as Gandalf, and Ian Holm shows up as Bilbo Baggins once again before we flash back to his younger self played by Martin Freeman.

My thoughts on it: Right off of the bat I need to stress that this movie is going to be different than the first trilogy. Because we are back in Middle-Earth with familiar faces means that this is obviously going to be compared to Lord of the Rings but that is a little unfair. The tone of the Hobbit and the tone of LotR is so drastically different that these movies are going to be drastically different. On top of that, LotR was a trilogy where each movie was based off the corresponding book. This means that each movie while building off the others also works well individually because each is given proper pacing and has solid concluding moments and natural climaxes. The Hobbit is very different once again in this aspect because it is only one book that is being expanded into three movies. Because it is being expanded as it is that means that some of the movies are going to end unexpectedly and that the pacing might be a bit off so it is hard to view those aspects as negative. Certain events need to be rearranged or exaggerated to give the movie the structure and flow it needs.

It is really hard because the Hobbit is not perfect and Lord of the Rings was and if it wasn’t it was pretty damn close to perfection. The Hobbit might not have been perfect but it was good, it was really good. But because it is so closely tied to LotR which was perfect, the Hobbit’s lack of perfection which would otherwise be completely acceptable now is construed as a negative simply because it is compared and held up to LotR.

 

I have a lot of mixed feelings about this movie. Parts of the movie were amazing and nostalgic and perfect and awesome and then there were other moments that totally flopped and literally made me cringe.

Martin Freeman was meant to play Bilbo. I loved Ian Holm’s take on Bilbo but Freeman just blew it out of the water. He does a great job capturing all of those little Bilboisms and alone provides enough comic relief for the movie with the clever and witty chatter that arises when he is outside of his elements and amongst the dwarves.

Ahh, the dwarves. The dwarves for the most part are pretty awesome. We get to know a few better than the others and the ones we do get to know are awesome. Dwalin, Balin, and Bofur were perfect and were exactly what I had been hoping for from the dwarves. While some of them were amazing some were not so much. I couldn’t stand Ori, Nori, or Dori. Perhaps it is the over the top hair or the high pitch squeaky voices but they just bugged me. Nori’s hair in particular was so oddly shaped that in any of the shots where short doubles were used the odd shape exaggerated the fact that doubles were being used and it takes you out of the experience for a moments. Despite my complaints about cosmetic details of three dwarves they were all pretty damn awesome. They were rambunctious and loud and rude and gross and perfect.

 

 

This was a complete relief because our first glimpse of the dwarves was once again, a little off-putting. The film starts similarly to LotR with a recollection of history. Instead of the battles against Mordor and Sauron narrated by Galadriel we had Bilbo going over the history of the Dwarves and explains their struggles. During this scene we get to see a lot of dwarves and again they look awesome but their home of Erabor bugged me so much. The fortress that is Erabor is a magnificent palace with deep sprawling halls full of gold and gems and smooth stone bridges web through the depths of the mountain and it is a glorious place. Unfortunately though, the magnificence of Erabor is too great to recreate practically so instead they turn to CGI to create it. The way they ended up animating it does it justice but the entire place looks animated. It looks fake! I mean I understand why they had to animate it instead of recreating it but it is just really distracting. But then again this doesn’t last for too long before we see Smaug show up and destroy the place. Erabor was the worst but there are couple instances where the environment seems completely blue screened.

Before I completely move away from the dwarves I want to talk about Thorin Oakenshield for a minute. First off, the dude is a badass. I remember from the book that he was pretty rough and tumble but in the movie this really gets emphasized. This is great and he provides us with a real emotional tie to their quest. With this being said he did feel a bit off. I have been trying to put my finger on exactly what it was but I haven’t found that exact thing yet. Maybe it is his eerie resemblance to Aragorn because you realize pretty quickly that Thorin really was designed here as a Dwarf version of Strider. Maybe it is because he is a bit one dimensional in his angry warrior attitude and he is a little over the top. Don’t get me wrong, Thorin like the rest of the dwarves was awesome and builds on the dwarves right to the mountain and the justness of their task. I just wished he had had a bigger beard to distinguish himself from Aragorn a bit more on top of looking a bit more dwarvish and there was just something else there that felt off.

 

 

One of the biggest complaints I heard about prior to this movie was that the CGI was excessive and that it made a lot of the goblins and orcs look a bit cartoony. I was incredibly thankful to find that this didn’t feel the case to me at all. In fact the CGI was really the most distracting and I guess for the lack of a better term, bad when it was used for some of the locations shots such as with Erabor. The goblins were very CGI but they still looked terribly hideous and nasty even though they lacked the scary, menacing element that the practical costumes provided. The orcs for the most part looked pretty good with the exception of a few, the Pale Orc in particular. The Pale Orc was a character which was only briefly mentioned in the book that was embellished here due to his relationship with Thorin. I know a lot of people hated this addition but by emphasizing this admittedly cool and menacing foe gave us a solid antagonist for this first film due to the lack of Smaug. He might have been added in but he was solid addition that ultimately added to the story. Except of course for the terrible animation. As cool as this orc was he just looked terribly fake and totally animated. A lot of the orcs use practical costumes which were touched up with CGI to move eyes further apart and break apart the traces of humanity in their faces a bit more and these orcs were done very well, but the Pale Orc at least looked entirely CGI. Nothing about him looked real. It was well done animation but not well done enough for us to realize that it wasn’t animated. Again not detrimental to the film but again incredibly distracting and kind of takes you out of the experience.

It’s a funny thing being in a situation where a lot of complaints about a movie adaptation are not about the material which was excluded but rather about what was added. For example, my single biggest complaint about the film was Radagast the Brown, or should I say the Jar-Jar of the film. Radagast was absolutely terrible. The wizards or istari are a powerful people and Radagast in no way reflects that and is just a complete joke. When I referred earlier to moments that made me cringe I was referring to every time Radagast was on screen. It was clear they wanted him to be the comic relief of the movie and perhaps the preteens out there who watch it will enjoy him but I have nothing good to say about the movies portrayal of him. I understand his role in the movie, he is completely necessary to facilitate the necromancer plot and he is admittedly the perfect character to do this AND incorporate more about the istari into the movie! In the Lord of the Rings book I found myself so interested in this character who has less than two pages of action; there seemed to be so much potential there and in the book he didn’t seem bat-shit crazy. Yes Radagast is cooky but not to that extent. He wouldn’t have bird shit on the side of his face and wouldn’t cross his eyes all the time and make weed jokes. Give him an ounce of dignity and self respect; Bilbo and the other characters already provide enough comic relief that they didn’t need to make him so silly. Perhaps this character was spot on according to the appendices and I am just disagreeing with how Radagast really is but I feel like it is more likely I am just unhappy with Jackson’s interpretation.

 

 

The last real complaint is maybe a bit nitpicky but it seemed like towards the beginning, more so than the end, the film was just a bit more sloppy. It seemed like some of the cuts were choppy, some the acting forced and unnatural. It seemed like the film was made in a rush and that because it was done in a hastened manner it suffered in attention to detail. Maybe Jackson was just a bit more thorough the first time around. It wasn’t bad, it just seemed like it could have been better if reworked a little more. Admittedly after leaving the Shire a lot of this decreased and the film just got progressively better.

 

 

The Shire. Just the sight of it back again was sweet enough to bring a smile to my face. The biggest complaint about the pacing of the movie has been that the beginning scene where the dwarves gather in the Shire takes too long but I loved it. Jackson has done an amazing job of making the Shire feel like home. Every time Bilbo walked through that circular door a wave of nostalgia hit me. It wasn’t just the Shire that looked as beautiful as ever but entirety of Middle-Earth. The world felt new and magical but familiar and comforting at the same time which made the movie feel the same way. Seeing Gandalf smile and having those sweeping helicopter shots with the amazing landscapes in the background just made me smile. It did an amazing job of creating throwbacks to the Lord of the Rings trilogy without bashing you over the head.The connections to the other movies weren’t the only nostalgic aspect of it. The Hobbit is presented as Bilbo’s telling and narrating of his adventure to Frodo and as he says the first words of his story I got absolutely giddy.

My absolute favorite part of the movie was the riddles in the dark scene. Other parts of the movie felt far from perfect but the entire scene with Gollum was absolutely perfect. While the CGI was lacking in other areas the animation teams clearly spent a lot of time on him. He looked better than ever and Andy Serkis once again blows the role out of the water. He really does an amazing job of showing the same depraved and sinister little devil but still with the innocence one was prior to being tortured by Sauron. And the emotion you get from him as Bilbo escapes is amazing. The despair in Gollum’s eyes at the loss followed by the absolute hatred he shows when Bilbo escapes make his motives in LotR blatantly obvious.

 

 

Compared to non-Lord of the Ring movies, the Hobbit is very good. Compared to Lord of the Rings it is not as good but still very good. I feel like the Hobbit could have been as good but it just wasn’t nearly as polished as it could have been. Most of my complaints could be very easily remedied by a bigger beard or a removal of a mannerism and the rest are just nitpicky quality details. While those little mistakes are indeed little they do remove from the magic of the world and experience and ultimately take away from how immersed you become.

Despite its faults it really is still a good movie that is just held up to a very high bar and the way it ended got me completely excited for the next two. I give the Hobbit 4/5.

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Hotline Miami Review

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What it is: Hotline Miami is a violent, top-down beat-’em-up style game from Swden’s Dennaton games. Cut from the same cloth as films like Drive, Hotline Miami drips with just as much cool as it does blood.

Why I love it:  Hotline Miami has been touted as a game with a strong message about violence in media, especially in videogames. Nearly every review that hit after the game was released made hints at some sort of deep, introspective nature of the game’s story. I was expecting to be challenged, and perhaps in even swayed, into changing my thoughts on the non-issue of violence in videogames and its “impact” on people. I thought I’d realize some horrible inner truth and change my ways. But I didn’t. Instead, I found myself pointing my mouse over unsuspecting mobsters, frantically swinging, stabbing, shooting, cutting, crushing, disemboweling, decapitating, lacerating, and brutalizing them without question.

Each level in Hotline Miami begins circa 1980’s in your quiet apartment. Pixelated pizza boxes give evidence of a rather unremarkable lifestyle, and a flashing little arrow above your answering machine beacons to you. The message is brief, cryptic — something about a job or simple errand. You hop in your Delorian, then bam: you’re killing and maiming at high speeds though intricate, puzzle-like maps. The top-down perspective gives you a clear view of your obstacles and objectives — and the gore.

Making your way through each level is a matter of timing and location. Every enemy can go down in one hit, or at the very least be knocked over and stunned, allowing you to finish him off in brutally disgusting ways. However, this single-hit fragility extends to your survivability as well, and you’re at a disadvantage. Enemies move quickly and have neigh-perfect aim; while you move about just as fast, if you’re not careful, you can miss a crucial bat swing or Uzi spray by mere pixels, almost always resulting in instant death. Luckily, once you’ve been downed, you can immediately start the section over again, and the check points are pretty liberal. As you take down your targets, you’ll rack up points, with particularly stealthy or complex take downs being awarded with higher scores. The higher your score, the more likely you are to unlock new weapons or special masks that alter the gameplay.

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These scenes of 8-bot violence are scored by strange, trippy music that ranges from coked-out rave beats to fuzz-caked stoner metal jams. There is a distinct 80’s feel to it all, and not just the music. The color palette is vibrant, replete with neon colors and gaudy design, with enemy outfits reminiscent of Al Pacino circa Scarface. There are also heavy psychedelic elements to Hotline Miami. Durring your massacres, the screen subtly sways, the borders flushing with bright colors, and the music thumps. It gives a strange sort of excuse to your actions, framing them as drug-induced hallucinations, as if you have little control over what you’re doing. that is, until you take down the final enemy of a level, the music abruptly ends, the swaying halts, the colors dissipate. You’re left to walk back through each room and face the horrors you’ve committed, your only accompaniment a gnawing ambient track and the blood-spattered remains of your victims.

It was after one of these especially sobering moments that the whole message behind Hotline Miami sudden welled up inside of me. I had just spent the better part of ten minutes causing mayhem in the penthouse suit of a hotel, and for absolutely no reason. I felt like a badass, I was quick, I was precise, I was rutheless. But why? Through my entire first playthrough, even once the game provides a narrative excuse for you actions, I had no real reason to do all this. It was a subtle and effective. Hotline Miami points out that, in games and movies, there often is little context for the atrocities being committed. More often than not, we’re simply doing these things because we’ve been asked to by a character or because the game instructed us to. But that’s as far as it goes; Miami never tries to sway you away from violence or give you some sort of answer. If anything, it’s forcing you to cause violence. Instead, what Hotline Miami does — or, at least what it did for me — was ask a simple question, “why are you doing this?” But instead of recoiling at the thought of mindless violence, I delved in deeper into the game’s addictive and frenetic action.

Despite these poignant moments, Hotline Miami’s narrative ultimately fails. While the game begins to poke and prod the the player’s intentions and motivations, and ask some serious questions that don’t necessarily have an answer, when Hotline Miami tries to offer a more “grounded,” structured narrative, the result becomes ham-fisted, and the subtlety and open-ended nature of the questions being poised early on become trapped in a rather flimsy and nonsensical story that doesn’t do anything to help its overall message.

Still, the message is there. Hotline Miami is a challenging game — in terms of not just skill and patience, but psychologically as well. I believe it’s a game everyone should play; it’s fun, brutal, and ultimately will open up interesting questions you’ll find yourself pondering well after you’ve put the game down.

Pros: Fast, addictively fun gameplay; cool art and graphical design; amazing soundtrack; asks some very interesting questions that go beyond just the narrative.

Cons: Some levels can be very difficult; controls aren’t always on your side; gets repititious at times; the story takes a rather strange and unsatisfying twist towards the end.

Score: 4/5

You can check out more on Hotline Miami here.

Cloud Atlas Review

What it is: Cloud Atlas is a film co-directed by The Wachowski Brothers and Tom Tykwer and it is an adaptation of the novel of the same name written by David Mitchell. The film has a large cast full of big names including Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Ben Whishaw, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess and Hugh Grant. The film is kind of revolutionary in the sense that we have actors taking on multiple roles in different storylines as well as time periods.

My thoughts on it: Cloud Atlas was ok. Despite all of the negative reviews I wanted this movie to be good and I wanted the reviews to be wrong. Unfortunately, for the most part they weren’t.

The thing that really felt like Cloud Atlas’s downfall was the same thing that made it unique in the first place: the multiple storylines. The entire theme of the movie was that everything is connected and that was the purpose of all the different storylines. Now for a movie to take on so many independent story lines they need to be relevant to one another and the problem here was that they weren’t. There were a couple of tiny details that reappeared over the course of the movie but most of them seemed incredibly insignificant in comparison to everything else that was happening.

The single cool connection between all of the story lines was the same actors playing different roles. This really accomplished the sense of a soul or one entity that grows and changes with each life. While we see every character reappearing in at least a minor role in each story it is Tom Hanks’ character(s) that really has the most apparent growth. Tom Hanks was really kind of the high light of the cast and out of everyone he really felt like he had the widest array of vastly different characters in the film. I mean the entire cast did a good job but it was Hanks who really stole the show. But with that being said, I found myself really impressed by Ben Whishaw as well as Hugo Weaving who made for a really good villain in almost every arc.

So we are presented with a handful of independent stories bundle into one movie. Now I still don’t think it would have been significantly different if each story belonged to the same genre but each story in Cloud Atlas felt like it belonged to a different genre. We have our two sci-fi stories, our romantic drama, the family comedy, and our colonial expedition. There was a little bit of a bridge between the two futuristic storylines but other than that each story felt like it should have been its own movie.

Now with all of that being said the way each story was pieced together was pretty sweet. They would jump simultaneously from one high point to another, one downfall to the next. They found similar moments from other stories and jumped seamlessly back and forth. It uses the thematic parallels across all the stories to weave them together. So the movie as a whole had great flow despite the plethora of different stories.

All in all, Cloud Atlas was ok. It had some great visuals and some terrible prosthetics. It had some really cool ideas and concepts conveyed over the multiple stories but in the end it felt a little jumbled. Cloud Atlas is revolutionary in the sense that it pushes conventional movie making in a new direction but by looking at so many individual stories it kind of felt like it was focusing more on quantity rather than quality. I don’t mean each individual story was lacking quality but simply I left the movie wishing I had seen each one fleshed out more. I have heard from those who have read the book that they loved the film and as I watched it I got the impression that I would have gotten more out of it if I had read it as well.

Cloud Atlas was a movie I really wanted to like but it fell short in several areas. It is incredibly memorable and pretty interesting despite being a little convoluted. Definitely not a movie you need to see in theater but I would say it is worth picking up from a RedBox. I give Cloud Atlas a 3.5/5.

 

Halo 4 Review

Sorry guys about the delay on the Halo 4 review. Honestly it’s just way too hard to stop playing it.

What it is: Halo 4 marks the return of the Master Chief and his faithful AI companion Cortana in the first Halo game not made by Bungie. 343 industries is now in charge of the series and for the first in a new trilogy they decided to take a more human look at the Chief as he faces Cortana’s inevitable deterioration. In the midst of this the two stumble onto a Forerunner planet, Requiem, and discover the dark secrets it holds.

Why I dig it: Where do I even start?

Before I jump in, I need to make it clear that while I may be considered a diehard Halo fan I didn’t come into this game expecting to love it automatically. A big part of my love for the franchise was the community that Bungie established on top of the in depth statistical analysis provided by bungie.net. It wasn’t just a game that 343 had to live up to but almost an empire.

With all that being said, 343 has more than lived up to what I had hoped for. From the story, to the multiplayer, to the support and the direction as a whole the game exceeds at ‘em all. As I have mentioned, the campaign kind of focuses on Cortana’s deterioration and this brings out a really human aspect in the game. The Master Chief has historically just been a very mechanical and cold bad ass soldier but this time around we get to see some emotional weakness in him as he struggles with losing Cortana.

Paired with this more involving story we get some of the most exciting and fun enemies in perhaps all of Halo history. The Prometheans are an enemy which spices up the story with a new challenge and the fact of the matter is that they bring something new to the combat table. The Crawlers are just a blast to unload into with head shot weapons and the Knights provide a new level of challenge and require the player to think about battle with them in a new way.

Thankfully the Prometheans are not restricted simply to the campaign but they also make their way into the new episodic Spartan Ops mode. Spartan Ops is made up of episodes that are released on a weekly basis. Each episode is accompanied with a short cinematic video and five chapters or missions for each player to play through. Spartan Ops is awesome. The single best thing about it is that it provides a narrative aspect of the game that will continue to draw people in long after they have completed that campaign. It is going to keep people coming back time and time again to see what is happening with the story. One of the cool aspects about Reach was that you were able to really create your Spartan and from there play with them through out every single game mode creating a more immersive experience. While we might be stepping into the boots of the Chief again this time instead of your own Spartans, Spartan Ops acts kind of like this mode where we get to be the Spartan.

Now the actual game play of Spartan Ops is decent but nothing amazing. Each chapter in episode one at least plays very similarly to a mission straight out of the campaign with one real exception: respawning. Normally in campaign at least upon death you restart at the latest checkpoint you hit but Spartan Ops does this a little differently. Upon death you simply respawn as you would in the multiplayer. You can rush two knights and kill one and get killed by the other and simply respawn and then dispatch of the other one. Things don’t reset upon death. The thing about this is that it makes these missions incredibly easy and provides us with little to no challenge. You are able to set the difficulty when starting a chapter but difficulty more or less just decides how many times you are going to die over the course of the mission instead of how much challenge is going to be presented to you. With all that being said there are quite a few Red vs. Blue easter eggs scattered throughout the mode that more than makes up for any of its down sides.

Now for the multiplayer. Oh my god the multiplayer.

Right off the bat I want to address some of the bigger alterations they made to the multiplayer. When it was first announced that custom load-outs were going to be added to the game, in addition to perks and ordinance drops everyone thought that Halo was becoming Call of Duty. While it might have gained inspiration from CoD among other FPSs out there the game still feels so much like Halo. At no point during multiplayer have I felt like this was anyway less Halo-y and more CoD-y. The load-outs really just allow players to start out with specific weapons that they would normally pick up along the way as well as fine tuning their Spartan to fit their play style. Other load-out based shooters provide players with a plethora of options allowing for a lot larger ranger of character designs i.e. shotgun classes, snipers, run ‘n gun, etc. but in Halo 4 it is much more focused. You aren’t able to design a completely broken class which you can destroy players with. This narrow range is absolutely perfect for Halo. It allows for variety among players while simultaneously allowing people to use the gear they want to use. It is a significantly superior upgrade from previous Halo games.

The ordnance was another point of concern of CoD mimicry in the game but ordnance doesn’t really fill the same role kill streaks did. Kill streaks were game changing events that were potentially devastating and again Halo has taken a much lessened approach. Ordinance is only dropping power weapons and brief custom power ups. The power weapons definitely give you an edge but they really just help perpetuate the game. Even if they give you a temporary advantage the fact of the matter is that for the most part they are all weapons that can be taken by enemy players as easily as allied players. Ultimately they just intensify the game in a completely fair manner as well as allowing players to choose the power weapons they stumbled onto into the late game.

The multiplayer also introduces a couple new game modes to the mix which both are amazing. The first is regicide, which is more or less free for all slayer and the leader has a mark over his or her head. The game plays like normal free for all but because of the cursor over the leader the game has a much more structured feel, almost a king of the hill kind of vibe. The king or leader draws everyone towards him or her providing everyone with a focused battle zone preventing things from getting slow and keeping the action coming.

The next is a new objective game type called Dominion which is one of my personal favorite playlist in the game so far. Dominion plays kind of like domination. Players try to capture key locations and then hold those areas as they become more fortified. A friend of mine kept comparing it to TF2 in the sense that each player really needs to take up different and specific roles if you want to be successful in the game. I am normally not much of an objective game kind of guy but I can’t seem to stop playing Dominion.

The entire time I was playing through Halo 4 I tried to remain as critical as possible so I would be able to identify any and all flaws but the thing is there really aren’t that many. The biggest complaint I have about the game is actually one that is entirely fixable and will probably be tweaked in the future but I found that Flood mode, the mode that I was most excited about, was a bit underwhelming. The problem I had with it was that 343 tried to make being infected less underpowered than being human and they did this perhaps too well. First off they nerfed the pistol. The pistol is normally a single shot to the head kill but they have replaced this with simply a three shot kill. In addition to the humans being weaker they gave the zombies some ridiculous armor abilities. The zombies are able to spawn in with a super ramped up thruster pack that can effectively take a zombie from one side of a map to the other in a matter of seconds. While they are using this ridiculous boost they are also still able to swipe with their flood claw removing the momentary safe zone that occurred when zombies rolled in Reach. On top of all of this they also cranked up the lunge distance for zombies ultimately making them the most powerful they have ever been.

It’s cool that they made being infected more bearable but the thing is that people don’t play zombies to infect as many people as possible. People play zombies because they enjoy lasting as long as they can, killing and wrecking zombies as they go. In previous infection modes you see players ending games with as high of score as 30 but here the highest score I have seen someone get is in the teens. This is my single biggest complaint about the game but like I said, a playlist update or two is all that is needed to really fix this and maybe it is a little counterintuitive complaining about how 343 made a game mode more fair.

The only other complaints I have about Halo 4 are all little nitpicky things which really don’t hinder the actual game playing experience. For example, the in game score chart is a little confusing at times in the sense that it is a little tricky figuring out how many kills you have in comparison to points. The only other notable complaint was the pre-game multiplayer lobby which is a tad confusing to navigate compared to previous games.

Other than that the game is incredible. While the game has seen many renovations, many non-traditional Halo changes, the game still feels like Halo. Its finds that perfect middle ground of new and familiar. I have thoroughly enjoyed ever single game mode I have tried so far with the exclusion of zombies which still isn’t terrible. So many things have been streamlined and while I have a couple complaints about how things are they have fixed an innumerable amount of complaints I have had about previous Halo games. I would argue that the campaign is the strongest story and narrative experience in a Halo game to date and the multiplayer is unmatched in its glory. All of this comes packaged in the best looking and sounding Halo game out there. While I have yet to fully explore all the juicy tib bits in forge I am familiar with quite a few of its features and I am sure that the potential maps that it offers will keep the game fresh and interesting for years to come.

Bungie left some big shoes for 343 to fill and they more than exceeded in doing so. Halo 4 is the definitive Halo experience and the single best installment in series to date. The franchise has been passed to more than worthy hands. I give Halo 4 a 5/5.

Dishonored – Review

My expectations for Dishonored were set pretty high. Everything I had heard prior to playing the game was positive and everything that I had seen before release was exciting. As soon as I put the disc in and started the game I was hooked on the experience.

I immediately felt at home playing the game because the graphics and the setting were very similar to a trilogy I really enjoyed–the Fable series. The story is a pretty simple one but engaging nonetheless. You play as Corvo Attano, Lord Protector of the Empire, and end up being framed for the murder of the Empress and the kidnapping of her daughter and the game takes off from there. A sea of calm while you get acquainted with the controls and then it throws you into the action and jump starts the story.

The game is similar to Assassin’s Creed in that it’s a stealth and assassination oriented style of play. Yes, you can go full on assault and barrage your enemies with bullets and grenades and crossbow bolts, but that’s an optional route. This game can be completed in a multitude of ways with different endings for each different style. It’s even possible to complete the game without killing anyone! This option presents a much larger challenge than the usual route of stealth killing everyone as you go along.

Each mission that you go on is a step towards finding out that age old question of “who dunnit?”. There are collectibles throughout each mission as well as side-quests that may unlock alternate endings to each mission. Among the different ways that you can finish the mission, there are also different routes on each map to get to the end destination.

The powers and upgrades available all help with the ease of completion of each mission. And depending on which powers and gadgets you choose to take and upgrade–it can change how you play Corvo throughout the game. Some abilities make it easier to avoid contact, while others drive you to engage the enemy–the same can be said for gadgets–some are not necessary if you don’t plan on killing anyone, while others will make killing and surviving melee combat much easier.

There were few things I didn’t like about the game, so few in fact that I find it hard to call them to mind and put down on the proverbial paper. I enjoyed playing the game, and the replay factor is pretty high considering the different ways with which you can go about each mission–as well as whether or not you plan on gathering every artifact and collectible. Let me know what you thought of the game. As of right now, I fully suggest the game!

The Dark Spire versus Etrian Odyssey II: Hardcore RPG face-off

Blah blah blah Skyrim. Blah blah blah Dark SoulsBlah blah blah Diablo. Blah blah blah Mass Effect.

We’ve probably beaten  it into your heads by now, but here at Power Cords, we like RPGs. Personally speaking I love RPGs; but unlike many gamers (and even some of the writers here at Power Cords), I prefer a specific type of experience from my RPGs. While some pine for loot and others eat up story lines and dialogue, I prefer immersion and exploration.

There are different definitions of exploration. For example, the fantasy setting of The Elder Scrolls series offer massive lands to traverse and are the perfect settings for exploration; while games like Dark Souls, Legend of Grimrock, and Dungeons of Dredmor allow players to explore and experiment with the game mechanics through trial and error (and a fair bit of luck). I love that sort of hands-off design that encourages the player to try new things — even if the ultimately end in failure. as I mentioned earlier this week, I’m still playing Dark Souls for that very reason. Unfortunately, I’ve found myself away from my Xbox — and therefore Dark Souls — this weekend. Not to be melodramatic, but in an effort to stave off the bumming, I took a look at two relatively unknown RPGs for the Nintendo DS with similar design concepts and old-school sensibilities: The Dark Spire and Etrian Odyssey II. 

The Dark Spire

Developed by Success and published by Atlus, The Dark Spire is a dark, dreadfully difficult hardcore dungeon crawler that is essentially a throwback to the CRPGs of yore like Wizardry and A Bard’s Tale. The basic scenario for The Dark Spire revolves around a single, massive tower with several floors to explore. Hidden atop the tower is a sorcerer who has stolen a necklace from the royal family. You create a party of adventurers to scale the tower, defeat the sorcerer, and return the necklace. That’s it.  Some quests and dialogue flesh out the background and setting a bit more, but that’s about it. The story doesn’t get any deeper than that; climbing the tower and scouring each of its floors is a story in itself, and is far more compelling than any hackneyed fantasy tale would be.

I haven’t had too much time with the game yet, but so far I like what I’ve seen. The art is wonderful — it has a dark, comic-book-ish feel (large hand drawn “BOOM’s” will flash across the screen when a character scores a critical hit). Despite having essentially zero animation, the art still manages to draw you in and create a strong sense of place. The music is also great, often times sounding like Castlevania crossed with the early Elder Scrolls games. But the art is just the surface of the extremely deep game.

In The Dark Spire, you control a 4-man party, exploring grid-based dungeons in first person, a la Legends of Grimrock. Character stats are rolled randomly in the creation process, making each one you create unique from the rest. In terms of gameplay, very little is explained to the player. New items do little to explain how they will affect your characters’ stats, instead requiring trial and error to find out what work best. Certain game mechanics, such as character alignment, praying, quests, or learning new spells, exist without tutorial or explanation. There seems to be quite a bit here that could easily be overlooked if you jump in impatiently; try to mash the A button to get through the random battles, and you’ll quickly find yourself at the game over screen. I’ve even read there are hidden classes that can be unlocked through a class combination system and unlockable races. How do I go about discovering this stuff? No clue, but I look forward to delving into this game to find just how deep these mechanics go.

Etrian Odyssey II: Heroes of Lagaard

Etrian Odyssey is another Atlus joint, this time being both developed and published by the Japanese company (it’s worth noting that Atlus also published Demon’s Souls, of which Dark Souls is the spiritual sequel). EO II is very similar to The Dark Spire: first person dungeon crawling, random monster encounters, minimal story, and interfacing with towns mainly through menu navigation. However, EO II features a few gameplay hooks that set it apart. First is the map system. Instead of slowly uncovering a map as you explore, your tasked with drawing and completing your own via the stylus screen on the DS. This adds another layer of depth to exploration, but also another way for you to completely screw yourself over; draw an incorrect map, and you may jeopardize the success of your quest.

The second change is the class/guild system. In Etrian Odyssey II, the world of Lagaard is filled with guilds of adventurers attempting to uncover ancient secrets about their world. At the outset of your adventure, you create your own guild. You can then fill out your ranks with up to 30 characters. While the stat rolling isn’t random like in The Dark Spire, the number of classes available to you is far greater, each one filling slightly different rolls than the others. You may then select up to 5 of your guild members to join your party and enter the labyrinthine forests of the Yggdrasil tree.

Equipment and stats are more transparent in EO II than The Dark Spire, but the added depth of the class system means you must experiment with class synergy to find effective formations, provide both deeply challenging yet highly rewarding gameplay.

I also really like the art design of the Etrian Odyssey games. It’s almost like an lighter, anime-inspired Dark Souls, and very reminiscent of the Disgaea series. The character portraits and art design makes EO II a very pretty game, despite the majority of the game being handled through static 2D sprites and menus.

Closing thoughts

Both games are excellent examples of hardcore dungeon crawling. Their depth and difficulty scratch the Dark Souls itch — well, as closely they can, at least. I enjoy and appreciate their design philosophies, choosing to let the player explore the game mechanics and dungeons to find their own paths and strategies instead of hand-holding or restricting experimentation. While that can lead to failure and frustration, it also leads to high levels of reward and progression. I haven’t had enough time with the games to say which I prefer over the other but at this point, despite having seemingly more aspects of the gameplay unexplained and hidden initially, I’ve found The Dark Spire more conducive to pick up and play, simply due to the meticulous map drawing of Etrian Odyssey II being a hassle at times (it doesn’t help I’m not playing the games on their original platform *ehem*). That being said, I do find Etrian Odyssey’s class mechanics and presentations slightly more appealing.

The Dark Spire

Despite being very similar in gameplay and design, Etrian Odyseey II and The Dark Spire offer different dungeon crawling experiences: one is a mythical adventure inspired by manga and anime; the other is a dark medieval quest. They’re hard games that require patience, planning, and dedication, but the payoff is immense. If you’re in the market for a heavy duty RPG experience, then both of these games are perfect for you. Personally, I’d recommend both equally; picking one or the other essentially just comes down to aesthetic taste. But hey, why not pick up both? It’s always good to have options. And kudos for Atlus for bringing these and many more excellent RPGs to the states.

Scores

The Dark Spire: 4/5

Etrian Odyssey: Heroes of Lagaard: 4/5

Orc Stain!

What the hell is an orc stain? A badass, shit-kickin’ comic book with an awesome world and bitchin’ art, that’s what!

What it is: Created, written, drawn, inked, and colored by James Stokoe (creator of Wonton Soup) and published by Image Comics, Orc Stain is one of the most fun books I’ve read in a while. Set in a hostile world overpopulated by warring orc tribes, where empires rise and fall constantly, giant beasts roam the wilds, and where the currency is the severed penises of rival orcs. The story centers around an Orc thief named “One Eye,” a mysterious orc with strange powers who makes a living cracking safes and taking burglar jobs from the leaders of the mountain tribes, whilst in the south an orc warlord — the Orctzar — has been leading his jungle tribe to victory, increasing the size of his massive empire. After a scuffle between One Eye and a rival orc results in a touch more destruction and dismemberment than anticipated, One Eye ends up attracting the attention of the Orctzar’s minions, as well as the help of a strange swamp witch.

Why I love it: because the book is fucking rad, that’s why! One look at the art and it’s clear just how much passion Stokoe puts into this project — it is, after all, done entirely by him. The art in Orc Stain is some of the best I’ve ever seen — no really, this is amazing stuff. The style is a mix between whimsical fantasy and dark sci-fi. It reminds me a lot of the art of Michel Ancel, Arik Roper, Zeno Clash, and even Brutal Legend all mashed together, but with a lot more gore and phallic imagery. Almost every panel looks like the cover for a metal record.

It’s not just the art, the setting is nuts too, filled with some of the most unique ideas I’ve seen in a long time. Giant bears act as safes, with lock boxes implanted in their stomachs and protrusions coming out of their shoulders which resemble birds but are organically connected to the internal structures of the animal; along the cliffs and ridges of the mountain region, giant stone heads of dead orc warriors and kings are stacked on top of each other, covered in moss and trees, becoming the very mountains themselves; every weapon is covered in spikes, scales, and eyes, and even a pair of testicles once in a while; and the currency is coins made from petrified orc “Gronchs,” while the larger ones are worn and traded as trophies.

But it doesn’t stop there: witches, “love nymphs,” giant wig monster, monsters, blind bunny-warrior clans, sentient beards, and crabs that can be smoked as a psychedelic are just some of the examples of other beasts roaming this hostile land.

The over-the-top setting is delivered with a punk attitude that is as genuine as it is smarmy. Despite this, the story is actually very well written; you’ll come for the art, but stay for the narrative. I found myself invested in the story, and even surprised by some of the things that happened; anything is truly possible in this world. Even when certain plot points could be construed as cliche, they’re still exciting and interesting because of the setting and manner in which the happen.

It probably goes without saying that this book ain’t for kids, but it should also be noted that it isn’t sexually explicit either. More often than not, any genitalia seen is usually bereft of any body and splattered with blood.

Orc Stain is something of a triumph; while only 7 issues deep (with more to be released sometime in the future, albeit slowly — it is a solo side-project after all), the series is already one of the most well written, visually stunning, and conceptually creative books out there. I highly recommend this series to anyone who enjoys badass, over-the-top settings, good stories, underground comics, and anyone in need of a new non-“super hero” story. You can buy volume 1 (issues 1-6) here, and issue 7 here, AND you can even read the entire first issue for FREE here!

And be sure to check out more of James Stokoe’s work here and here; he’s working on a Godzilla book AND a one-shot Spider-Man story where Peter Parker is drafted into the Vietnam war! …WHAT!? Keep your eye on this guy, folks, he’s goin’ places.

Poxa Gronka!

Guild Wars 2: Review

What a game! My first reaction to seeing the game was that I had to have it. Even if that meant selling my soul. I ended up not having to make any deals for my soul and after the Install finished I was on my way to explore Tyria. Everything in the game that I’ve experienced so far (all 27 levels of it!) has been a fantastic experience.

The Character creation is in depth to the point where you create a background for your character which affects your characters personal story quest line throughout the game. During the creation process you choose everything from facial features, hair color, height, build, and the color of your armor. Depending on the profession that you choose for your character, you even get the option to decide which pet you want to start with or which mask or helmet or other piece of equipment that you may or may not start with.

After you create your avatar and sign the letter at the end with your chosen name here begins your adventure.

The way that Guild Wars 2 tackles combat is fantastic. Not only can most of your skills and abilities be used on the move but you can dodge incoming attacks by running around and using the new double-tap dodge system. This brings a whole new aspect to MMO combat, it not only allows you to dodge out of the way of boss and creature abilities (as well as players) but it also allows you to be hit less by normal “auto-attacks”. This is a huge change in PvP and PvE and it’s an exciting change without doubt!

Dodging isn’t the only change to combat that comes with GW2, you no longer are limited to specific skills for each class. The versatility remains the same, however it requires more technique and skill because now you have to use different weapons during combat. With each weapon comes a specific set of abilities that is different for each class. And each weapon has different purposes–some may have a more support geared skillset, while othersmay have more directly damaging abilities which can also vary in style.

Each class has it’s own individual twist that it puts on combat and skills and traits. There are five different trait lines per class, each offering different specialization to the class and this brings an even wider variance of class options to the players. You may be a Ranger that specializes in pets and healing or maybe a Ranger that specializes in swords and condition damage. Each class has a diverse group of options and this allows for every player to choose their own style without being hindered by the popular vote–however that will always come into play.

Guild Wars 2 has introduced this new dynamic level system where you can go into lower level zones and still participate in events and area quests without just plowing through the zone like a god among men. While your effective level is lowered to match the specific zone you’re in, your actual level never changes. Having a lower effective level just means that your stats and damage is reduced to be more equal to that of a specific level. Guild Wars introduces this game changer to other aspects of Tyria as well; when you enter an instance to participate in a dungeon with other players, it brings everyone’s effective levels down to the dungeon level. This keeps the dungeon interesting and challenging while not making it ridiculous, and it also helps keep people from farming instances because they’re 30 levels higher and can walk over the mobs.

With a level cap of 80 and a massive world to explore this game doesn’t lack interest generation. At level 77 my account currently has 30% map completion–granted that’s without trying to search hard to find things.  However, unlike other games, Guild Wars 2 offers rewards for the explorer. Not only do you receive rewards for finding new Points of Interests, Vistas, and other places–but you also are rewarded for completing the entire map. This gives those players that enjoy the exploring aspect of games a reason to do what they enjoy, and it gives the achievement hunters something to do in addition to the achievements that the game has to offer.

When you make a guild in GW2, you obviously must choose a name but you also have to choose an abbreviation for your guild and a crest. Your guild name will not show up next to your character name, but your abbreviation will. As guild members join, you can choose to rep your guild while you’re leveling or pvp’ing or whatever you happen to be doing at the time and this helps your guild gain influence. Influence is used to purchase upgrades for your guild such as guild storage, storage increase, weapon and armor that shows your guild crest and so much more! This helps the members feel more attached to their guild, giving the players a way to really show their dedication to a guild helps them feel at home and feel like it really is their guild and not just something that they chose to go along with. For example: Fist Bumps For Free [Fist]

The amount of leveling zones that are spread across Tyria makes the “grind” of leveling easy, and enjoyable. The options available for scenery and different story styles from zone to zone helps to keep things interesting. A lot of games have an issue keeping the leveling part of the game interesting, Guild Wars 2 has taken this problem away and made it fun. All in all, the game has been very well made and the amount of effort put into it was well worth the end product. If there’s a question of whether or not to purchase GW2 or not, I say go for it! Even if it’s not as fun as you had hoped, you’ll find that it’s enjoyable to at least fill the worth of the initial $60. There’s no monthly fee, and that’s a huge bonus to purchasing the game.

Pro’s:  No monthly fee’s, Fun to play, Engaging combat, In-depth character creation, Great Graphics.

Con’s: 5 Character slots, One home Server, Huge cities.

If you have any questions feel free to comment away or if you ever have questions while you’re in game feel free to add me! Phaten.6457

Superman: Red Son

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What it is: It’s everyone’s favorite, (if you’re boring), super hero, Superman! Sent from space as a babe to us to fight for truth, justice, and long breadlines. Mark Millar writes this 180-spin on the man of steel as the common man’s crusader. Landing 12 hours behind the schedule of his original storyline causes him to crash on a farm in the Ukraine. No more apple pie and baseball for our beloved hero as he grows up to become the savior of the collective, the red hammer and sickle blazing across his chest.

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Why I dig it: It’s a highly creative story and one of my latest favored graphic stories. Mark Millar, of Kick-Ass fame, was truly struck by genius with this premise and translated the idea seamlessly to print with wonderful imagination while at the same time remaining very loyal to the original mythos of the Superman universe, (minus the whole communism thing, but you picked up on that, right?). The story features a very real Superman who is still very recognizable and relatable even when doused in red. He is still a hero through and through, only wanting to help people, Soviets and Americans alike. And since he’s faster that a Soviet court hearing, more powerful then vodka, and able to leap the Kremlin in a single bound, he is perfectly capable of doing so. The author also keeps it interesting by not repackaging the “capitalism=good, communism=bad” mantra that we in the 21st century find particularly tiresome, but instead focuses on the people within these institutions and how they themselves effect the systems of society. In addition to all of this we are treated to a wide cast of characters from the DC Universe who have gotten their very own reimagining, fitting nicely into the storyline. Possibly the biggest show-stealer is the Batman who is now an anarchist terrorist after his parents are gunned down by KGB. He bombs multiple buildings in one night and dodges KGB in the streets and alleys, sets up elaborate traps, ironically acting out very close to the Joker or even Bane in the Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, the scourge of Superman and his new collective state.

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We are even given a showdown between this Batman and red Superman, something all of us DC junkies have been clamoring for, and it goes down deliciously as Batman nearly even defeats Superman. The rest of the cast is just about as interesting; Green Lantern as a retired airman gifted with alien powers, Bizarro as a genetic clone of Superman constructed by the American government as a counter measure to the Soviet’s Superman weapon, (General Turgidson would approve), Brainiac is still a crazed alien robot but is reprogrammed to aid Superman after his defeat. The most shocking of these reimagings however, is that of Lex Luther as he has hair, hair for Christ’s sake!

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He is also married to Louis Lane, now Louis Luther. Luther is an American scientist repeatedly hired by his government to destroy Superman and takes to the task with much devotion after Superman defeats him in a game of chess. He eventually becomes president of the United States, further pitting him at odds with the man of steel, who himself is now General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Yes, it’s all quite exciting and fun until someone loses their humanity but I would, in a move unprecedented here at Power Cords, offer some critique of this piece of entertainment. What I will say is that plot points and conflicts are very brief and at times the story feel rushed. A fight between Superman and Bizarro not lasting much longer than a few panels. This left me wanting more, unsatisfied at some points. Much of what occurs within the plot goes unsaid as well, making the reader have to fill in the gaps based off of what the characters say. Now I’m all for audience involvement but some plot points could have been flushed out and would have added greatly to the graphic novel. At a mere 68 pages, it is certainly not a strain on one’s reading abilities. Therefore I believe the author could have taken more time and pages to really give us a tale worthy of fandom.
I know, now there’s all these negative waves coming out of your computer screen but I could not risk my integrity as man who’s website you’ve just StumbleUponed and had to give you the full story. Ultimately the piece comes together to give us a good read and I suggest you take it.

La Jetée Review

Now I don’t normally review shorts but I have found myself haunted by La Jetée, another reoccurring film that I kept stumbling on in my search for the best of the science fiction genre. I am thinking maybe a short review for a short film but I guess we will see.

La Jetée Poster

What it is: La Jetée or The Pier in English is a 1962 French sci-fi film directed by Chris Marker and is a major inspiration of the 1995 Bruce Willis flick, Twelve Monkeys. Now the original is admittedly entirely in French but with that being said the entire film isn’t composed of actual moving scenes but rather is more of a slide show style film composed of several stills with a narrator speaking over it. Pssh, who needs 48 frames a second when you can have .5 frames per second. La Jetée like the 1995 remake takes place in a post apocalyptic world shortly after World War III and is more or less about time travel and the resulting paradoxes.

My thoughts on it: So admittedly those first two points I mentioned can both be construed as negatives but the two actually work pretty well for each other. I absolutely cannot stand watching a film where the dialogue doesn’t match the lips of the actors so I normally watch foreign films in the language they were originally recorded in. Due to La Jetée being mainly composed of stills and relying heavily on a narrator for audio input you are able to watch it in English without any real negative impact on the film.

Now the story of La Jetée is rather similar to that of Twelve Monkeys but it still has a bit of variation or at least as much variation as the half hour running time would allow. Now even thought the images and gist of it might be foreign all real plot twists, surprises, and revelations can be incredibly easily predicted if one has seen Twelve Monkeys which definitely is a bit unfortunate but that much could be expected when going into any remake or original of a remake. In the end, even though it is more of less the same story as the 1995 film it is still a very unique story and it is really cool seeing where Twelve Monkeys started from.

Now as cool as the movie is, the made-up-of-stills format is a little funky and ultimately takes away from the experience by making the film a little clunky a lot less smooth than it could potentially be. Sure it is an oldie but it was made in 1962; motion pictures have been around forty years at this point. By only using stills and narrations it prevented any of the actors from really shining and it made it a little difficult to associate and connect with them.

While ultimately this style wasn’t the ideal format it did allow for an absolutely haunting scene in both the movie and all of cinema. [SPOILER ALERT] This entire half hour short is filmed in this slideshow-esque style with the exception of one scene. For one brief second during a relative close up of the woman our protagonist has fallen for in the past, we see her move. It isn’t more than a gentle breath and the opening of her eyes but it is there. Out of these lifeless and dry stills we see movement and life. We see this girl whose existence we are partly questioning move and all of the sudden she is most real thing in the entire film. Due to the still nature of the movie this little shudder might as well have been a massive explosion. You find yourself struggling to understand the characters or placing yourself in their shoes but the second those beautiful eyes open you find yourself for at least a moment understanding why our protagonist has fallen so deeply for this woman. This one scene makes up for all other shortcomings the film has. [END OF SPOILERS]

Now it ultimately comes down to the question of whether or not you should watch La Jetée. Despite the funky format it is only half an hour long and that one scene/moment is one of my favorites in all of cinematic history. Regardless of whether or not you can watch it in English or simply follow along with subtitles I definitely feel that La Jetée is a film worth checking out especially if you love science fiction and/or Twelve Monkeys.

Without that one fantastic scene this movie would sit right around 3 or 3.5 but I love that scene too much to let it settle that low so I give La Jetée a 4/5.

For more reviews and more be sure to tune into Power Cords!