Category: reviews

Halo 2 and F.E.A.R. Extraction Point

Wow, a review of Halo 2 for the X-Box. No one ever accused me of being timely. Is this the latest review ever? I only bought it a couple weeks ago so you can’t blame me too much, can you?

As I said before Halo 2 is really primitive. Halo 3 really needs to be a big jump forward in terms of the way you interact with the world and how the story is told if it wants to be competitive. When the first Halo came out FPS games on consoles were fairly rare, but now there are tons of them. The Halo franchise can only coast along on reputation for so long.

I’ve often discussed my interest in issues of race and gender in videogames. Halo 2 does have some non-white people and women in the game, and of course we don’t know Master Chief’s ethnicity. However, the Flood and the Covenant seem to be exclusively of one gender and one ethnicity which is kind of lame.

Of course the most infuriating thing about Halo 2 is the end. That’s been gone over a million times so all I will add is, “I agree. It was too abrupt.” Check back here in 2015 for my review of Halo 3! Maybe I’ll have a 360 by then… (click those ads damn it!)

The FEAR (I’m too lazy to type all the periods) expansion pack was ok. It was disappointing that all of the calls and such that were important in giving the background info in the core game was so sparse and lacking in this one. The most disappointing thing, however, was that half of the game was theoretically about recuing the lady in distress. Lame. While the gameplay was entertaining enough (if only because of those creepy guys that move really fast and you have to do bullet time to see them). It was highly mediocre. It will be interesting to see how the franchise continues since Monolith has the rights to make future games but the publisher has the rights to the name FEAR. I wonder if it will lead to competing games as in the case of the Call to Power games and the Civilization series.

Brothers in Arms: Road to Hill 30

Although I’m not fan of WWII games, this one was fairly cheap, so I bought it. I ended up liking it a bit more than other WWII games. Perhaps it was that it didn’t glamorize the war or maybe it was simply that you generally didn’t get that close to the Germans and so they weren’t humanized very much.

Unfortunately, there are also some rough spots. First off I can’t ignore the question, “Why another WWII shooter?” Like Susan Jeffords’ Hard Bodies: Hollywood Masculinity in the Reagan Era, I suspect that they are reflective of the current political climate. The USA is in the midst of a very unpopular war so perhaps there is some attempt to recapture that feeling of the “good” war or like Faludi argues in her book, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, men are attempting to negotiate a modern way of performing masculinity. I guess someone is going to have to write a dissertation about that…

So if we must have to have another WWII shooter, how about one about the experience of African Americans during the war? That would at least be different.

Another thing I noticed during this game as well as while watching movies like Saving Private Ryan is that while this is supposed to be taking place in France, with the exception of one scene in Ryan, there aren’t any French people. Where were all the French people during World War II?? I don’t know any specific details about France during the war, so maybe there were all evacuated or something, but it sure seems odd going through these cities and through buildings and not seeing a single French person.

The effect is to make the game sterile, as if there weren’t any innocent people and that everyone who died was a soldier. Specifically in WWII, with all the deaths, it is difficult to play a game like this and not think about all the atrocities that occurred.

Brothers in Arms” Road to Hill 30 is a pretty good game, but with more depth it could have been much more interesting.

Samouraïs Movie Review

Several months ago I was home at my parent’s home and on Showtime Beyond and I caught the end of a weird kung fu movie with some videogame elements. Curious I bought the dvd. Now, after sitting on my pile of films to watch I have finally watched that dvd. That movie is the French produced Samouraïs (i’m trying some fancy and yet shameless Amazon affiliate link thingy here. If you click on there and buy it I”ll get 8¢!).
Basically, like most French produced kung fu movies, of which this is the only one I’m aware, it is pretty weird. The reviews are not kind. Basically, there is a demon who was brought to Earth 500 years ago, which gives us a chance for some samurai action — hense the title — and then we go to the present day where the demon is going to be reborn into the ancestor of the person that brought the demon to Earth in the first place. That woman happens to be in France where she runs into our generic hero and his highly irritating sidekick. I’m sure that said sidekick will soo bee sued by Dustin Diamond for stealing his Screech character and demeaning it of all self-respect.
The videogame part comes in when the generic hero’s little brother plays a game based on the demon and takes control of the generic hero so that he can beat the demon. The game looks like original PlayStation-era graphics but, for once, videogames aren’t shown as evil or negative. In fact they are the only way that the demon is beaten.
Without the videogame content, the film is very forgettable. With it, it is only interesting as a footnote. I give it three thumbs up.
And now, my trademarked review haiku:
Samouraïs is bad
and it made me want to screech
poor Dustin Diamond

Lo Wang meet Tommy Hawk

LIke lots of people, I’ve recently played the Prey demo. Coincidentally, just a couple days before the Prey demo came out, I also started playing Shadow Warrior. While Shadow Warrior came out in the late 90s and Prey hasn’t came out yet (although it has quite a long history and was originally conceived around the same time as Shadow Warrior), there are a lot of interesting similarities besides the obvious fact that they were both spearheaded by 3D Realms (although Prey was produced by Human Head, it was 3D Realms that originated the project).
While going from the venerable Build Engine to the currently state-of-the-art Doom 3 Engine was quite a jolt, and Prey’s portals and gravity-flipping were quite fun, beyond the visuals, the other details haven’t changed that much. Shadow Warrior is over-the-top and full of intentionally stereotypical depictions of Asians. To give an indication of the humor included in the game, the main character’s name is Lo Wang and like his spiritual predecessor, Duke Nukem, he has lots of witty phrases. On some level it is pretty offensive, and mixes Japanese elements such as ninjas with Chinese elements, but it is so over the top and cartoony it is hard to get worked up about it. I mean it’s no Showdown in LIttle Tokyo or anything.
Prey stars a Cherokee man by the name of Tommy Hawk, which, not as bad as Lo Wang, is still a lame pun, who gets sucked up into a UFO along with his grandfather and girlfriend (who spends the whole demo screaming “Help me! Help me!” in a way that would make Princess Peach embarrassed. Although the elements in the demo try to play the Cherokee heritage straight and respectfully, they end up with something that has a lot more in common with Shadow Warrior’s level of accuracy than it has different from it. Metafuture has already covered it in their article, “Your Guide To The Cherokee People” so the only thing I will add is this: When Tommy dies he goes to his ancestral homeland. Who knew that The US South was a dessert full of buttes?

Episodic Content – pros and cons

Call me a sucker, or call me hardcore. I’ve bought both SiN Episodes: Emergence (which I found pretty sinful) and Half-Life 2: Episode One (which doesn’t make any sense, does it? If this is episode one of half-life 2, then what was half-life 2?)
Half-Life’s episodic content was a lot more polished (not Polish) than Sin’s. You have to hand it to Valve, their games are allways extremely well thought out. I’ve played through episode one one on normal and I’m playing through it again with the commentary track. The commentary track really illistrates how much thought they put into it and is a nice feature.

The main question, however, is, “Is it worth $20?” The answer? “I’m not sure.”

On one hand, you have the marketing hype: “Episodic content let’s the game makers release games more quickly.” While I’m sure that is true, I can’t help but be troubled by the other hand, the economic reality: “It let’s the game makers suck consumers dry.” I’m glad I bought the first episodes of each game. Nothing ventured, nothing gained and all that crap. However, I don’t think I will buy Sin episode 2. I’m not sure about Half-Life 2 Episode 2.

The fact of that matter is that this episodic content is right up there with subscription model sofware for ripping off customers. Countless others have done the math: 3 episodes =$60. I don’t know when the last time I paid more than $30 for a games! –OK, atually, I do. It was when Half-Life 2 came out…

Another aspect of episodic delivery is the fact that customers will expect better and better graphics as time goes one. Sin is talking about 9 episodes or something. I doubt that gamers will be happy if episode 9 visually has the same look as episode 1. This presents some interesting challenges. It will be an odd situation where the first part of a storyline looks worse than the last part. Moreover, there is the fact that gamers will expect a new graphics advances in every episode. So what happens if the company develop two or more advances? Will they withhold one of the upgrades untill the next episode — risking fans finding out and being further pissed off?

There is also the question of continuing the revenue stream. As the comic book world knows, first issues sell better than second issues and every issue after that generally sells less and less. This isn’t the case for games. In many cases, the sequel will sell better than the original. However, by removing the one, two, or more year wait between gameplay experiences, Valve is certainly moving into the realm of comic books and other monthly entertainments. So how will they get someone to buy episode four if they didn’t buy episode three? With Valve’s habit of endlessly repackaging the original Half-Life, I wouldn’t be suprised if they didn’t offer package deals where you could get several old episodes at a discount — which makes me want to skip the rest of the episodes so I can get them for cheap.

Oh well, only time will tell if these questions get answered or if I cave in and buy episode two when it comes out…

Alone in the Dark is Worse Than Silent Hill

Whle I said that I didn’t like Silent Hill, I have to join everyone else and say that Alone in the Dark is horrible. And not in a good way.
A couple months ago I was at the video store and saw Alone in the Dark sitting on the shelf and decided to rent it without looking at the back of the box. I get it home and pop it in and it turns out that it isn’t Uwe Boll’s film, but rather 1982’s Alone in the Dark. Let me tell you, the 82 film with the same title is a million times better than the 2005 version.

As I’m writing this I’m listening to Boll’s commentary and he keeps saying things that make me want to slap him.
First of all, he keeps explaining all the characters’ motivations. Call me crazy, but perhaps it would have been better to, you know, actually have that in the film or something.
Second, he keeps stating what is going on. “And then he goes over to her and then talk…” I suppose that blind people appreciate that, but the rest of us are watching the film, Uwe. We don’t need you to describe it for us.
Third, he keeps bragging about all the product placements he got for the films. He has no shame!
Fourth, he actually admitted that he gets to make movies because of German tax shelters. (OK, that’s actually pretty funny. He comes this close to actually admitting that he’s only in it to make money. Too bad for Boll that Germany has changed their tax laws)
Fifth, he blames videogame companies and fans for the film’s failure. He talks about how he doesn’t understand why the owners of Alone in the dark wouldn’t release an Alone in the Dark game when the film came out and says that it would have helped the film. He also says that videogame fans are too picky.
Sixth, he calls other horror films that have came out recently cootie-cutter and all the same and is mad because he doesn’t understand why people didn’t go see his super original film. He says it isn’t straight horror, or straight action, or whatever.

And that’s the problem with the film. Not only is it not just a single genre, but it is actually several of them put together. Now I said that Silent Hill was like Super Smash Brothers in that it mixed up elements from a bunch of other films. Well, Alone in the Dark does that too, but where Silent Hill uses the differnt elements like paint and mixes them together to create something that at lest hangs together, Alone in the Dark just smashes them together. The result is less like a painting made up of a bunch of different colors, but more like a kid trying to build something with a bunch of different colored legos. Sure you can put red, blue, green, white, and yellow legos together to make something, but you can still see all the individual elements because they don’t go together in any coherent way.

THe film throws todether pseudo-archeological adventure with zombies, with one random fight scene whose setting is an ice factory straight out of Bruce Lee’s Fists of Fury (yes, it even takes place in a random Chinatown location for some reason!), with Starship Troopers complete with soldiers in black outfits and helmets and House of the Dead’s Ona Grauer with redish hair that makes her look like Dina Meyer of Starship Troopers, the end of Resident Evil (or a million other movies, for that matter)and finally fancy light bullets from such films as Blade and Underworld. (Oh crap, he just mentioned Body Snatchers and he said that the people who have these slug-like things in them were puppets!! He has no shame! And he just called the creatures Xenomorphs)

It does have a nice 80’s era Scorpions-esque euro-hair-metal theme though. It’s very European.

Anyway, if you are going to see a film called Alone in the Dark, go see the one starring Jack Palance and Martin Landau. It has a great twist towards the end.

Alone in the Dark
Uwe Boll does not have shame
Watch the other one.

If you didn’t like the Doom movie, then you are no friend of mine!

I saw the Doom movie this afternoon and I have to give it seven thumbs up. Lots of shooting and very little plot — just the way I like it. It was the best movie I’ve seen today and the best videogame movie ever. The only flaw was that they had Eomer beat the Rock. Yeah, as if!

From a scholarly point of view, the most interesting thing about the film was the closing credits. For the unfortunate few who have not yet seen the film yet, during the first part of the end credits they show a FPS-style clip where a gun runs around shooting the credits. What made it so interesting was that the graphics of the clip were of very low quality. It was some sort of psuedo-wireframe animation that almost looked like the Doom 3 game without the textures. I found it very interesting that in order to have the end credits “look like a game” they had to make the graphics look significantly worse than the graphics of the actual game. Presumably, if they had just done some sort of machinima with the Doom 3 engine, it wouldn’t have had the “look” they wanted. The graphics of the game seemingly didn’t match the conception of what the filmmakers thought a game should look like.

Another feature of the film of interest (but of less interest to me since I heard about it going in) was the first-person sequence. It was a neat gimmic, but I kept wondering of the logic of it. Why were we seeing things form his point of view? Why did we stop seeing things from that perspective? There also seemed to be a couple times when there seemed to be cuts in the shot, so that it wasn’t all in one take, which distracted from the gimmic for me.

Anyway, the film is plain mindless fun. You do like things that are fun, don’t you?

Unclean! Unclean!!!

Last night G4 aired the first episode of Video Game Vixens. Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. I tried to make it to the first commercial break, I really did. However, it was just too lame for me, the prude that I am…

However, the first five or so minutes were more than enough for me. The show is hosted by Hal Sparks. I supposed this is the biggest celebrity that G4 has ever had on a show. To make the show kewl, he is introduced by a DJ. But then again, so is Ellen DeGeneres and while I like Ellen and her show isn’t horrible, cool isn’t one of the words I would use to describe her. Nor is it one of the words I would use to describe the Video Game Vixens. The “Videogame Vixen Judges” are an “eclectic” group to put it politely. Even though she was sitting in the middle and not on the end the first person they introduced was “WWE Rookie Diva of 2005,” Joy Giovanni. It is odd that even though I am a fan of professional wrestling, I didn’t recognize her. The second judge was game writer Seanbaby who does a pretty funny column for EGM. The last judge was some guy from MTV’s Road Rules. I guess now we know what happens to former reality show participants.

Interestingly, even though the show is Video Game Vixens, according to the website, the judges are “Videogame Vixen Judges” which means that rather than take a side in the “videogame” vs. “video game” debate the show just uses both versions of the word. That’s on purpose, I’m sure and not the result of shoddy production values.

Then they started showing clips of videogame characters and I decided to go and actually play a game.

The show did get off to an interesting start, though. They did a sketch of a beauty contest and then Laura Croft, Bloodrayne and some other woman came in and kicked ass. Since they were portrayed by living breathing women, it was kind of interesting. However, I suppose that the fact that the highlight of the show was the opening is faint praise.

Lest anyone think I’m judging the whole show on just watching the first 5 or so minutes, I did record it and plan on watching the whole thing sometime this week. If there is something more of merit to Video Game Vixens, I will post a retraction.

Commence holding breath…

Gamer Br Mini-review

Last weekend, I wrote about a gamer documentary I ran across. I hadn’t seen it then, but now that I have seen Gamer Br, I can recommend it to those interested in the Brazilian gaming scene. The film is mostly in Portuguese but there are English subtitles. Mainly covering the computer gaming scene, the film highlights some of the legal issues that gamers are facing as well as talking to some of the gamers. Overall, it is fairly similar to the Modern Day Gamer film and its sequel, but Gamer Br does offer insight into the gaming culture of Brazil and also gets credit for talking to some of the government officials who are responsible for making the policy decisions regarding videogames. If you have the bandwidth, it is certainly worth your time to download the film.