About Me

My photo
Greetings. I am the Illusive One. For many years now I have been a huge video game player, movie viewer, and book reader. For almost as long, I have been a critic of these things and many people respect my opinions of these things and have often said I belong on G4 doing reviews on X-Play or a similar show. Sadly that is not likely to happen. So instead I shall do reviews for you, uninfluenced by other reviewers, of video games books, movies, and, occasionally, music and political actions. I hope you find this informative and helpful. Thank you for your time.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Well everyone at long last, one of the year’s most anticipated films is finally here, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  As we all know, this film is the first part in a trilogy of prequels to Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings.  One of the most successful and critically acclaimed film trilogies of all time, The Lord of the Rings earned nearly three billion dollars at the world wide box office, won 17 Academy Awards and was nominated for an additional 13 upon release back in the early 2000s.  And quite frankly, unlike a lot of other franchises these days, the films deserved all of their success.  The storyline was epic, the characters likeable and well developed, the action fantastic and arguably the best of the decade, and featured some of the most ground breaking visual effects of the time that still hold up today.  While it does have its flaws, as any epic film series does, it is easily one of the best film trilogies of all time and a testament to what modern filmmaking can do.
Upon completion of the trilogy, Jackson announced his intent to produce a two part adaptation of The Hobbit, originally scheduled for a release around 2009.  But before he completely committed himself to that project, he directed an excellent remake of King Kong, failed in an attempt to bring Halo to the big screen, produced the incredible District 9, and directed the critical flop that was The Lovely Bones and by the time he got back to The Hobbit, the intended director, Guillermo del Toro had dropped from the project and MGM was in the middle of a financial crisis that delayed the film’s production and that of several other MGM projects by several years. 
Thankfully, this was only a temporary setback and production for the film was underway by 2011.  However, since then, Jackson made a lot of controversial decisions for the films, including shooting them in the new 48 FPS format along with breaking the two parter into a trilogy and only time would tell if these gambles would pay off.

So does The Hobbit: Unexpected Journey live up to the hype and all the delays or is it The Phantom Menace of The Lord of the Rings?  Let’s find out.

The Plot

Before I go any further, there is something that I have to make clear; I do not like prequels.  To me, they are the most pointless continuation of any story or of any franchise.  They don’t further the story of the world at large, you can pretty much guess most what will happen before the first minutes roll and they don’t serve any purpose other than to line the pocket of those who make them.  And this film suffers from some of these problems.  You know that no matter how tense or dire the situations get certain characters are not going to die and certain plot points are going to have a certain outcome. 
However, The Hobbit does break away from this mold at times by giving us entertaining telling’s of said plot points and thankfully remembers that it is based on a children’s novel and is ripe with humor that I felt both kids and adults could laugh at and actually lifts some dialog and lore straight out of the book and their places seem appropriate.  And like Jackson’s previous trilogy it goes out of its way to be better than the source material and at times succeeds.  For example we get a bit more of an explanation as to why Gandalf wanted Bilbo along for the journey as opposed to a master thief and why he periodically disappears from the group, something that was never explained in the original story.
However, within the plot we also get the film’s biggest weakness.  To put it simply, this was not a prequel series that needed to be three movies.  I was always of the opinion that they were pushing the run time with two films but stretching the series into three almost makes this one a chore to watch at times.  Unlike the previous films, this one feels extremely padded as many scenes will go on and on even though they probably should have been trimmed down or cut out altogether.  As a result many of the scenes just feel awkward, almost as if we were watching a rough cut of the film and I often found myself scratching my head and asking why would they include this or why would they shoot or edit it this way? 
Oh and don’t you dare tell me “because it was in the book” or “because they had extra footage they wanted to use”.  They edit films certain ways for a reason and it just seems like they forgot that reason here.

The Characters

While the story and length really drag due to the editing and ill-advised marketing decisions, what ultimately makes the film work are the characters and acting.  Ian Mackellen is once again great as Gandalf and plays the character as he never left the role and I would personally make the argument that the character is better written here than he ever was in the original trilogy.  New comer Martian Freeman was perfect as the young Bilbo who perfectly plays the everyman in situation that is much bigger then himself.  Likewise, they could not have gotten a better actor then Richard Armitage for Thorin.  The character was very well written, very well acted and everyone involved knew how to make this man charismatic but flawed; where he doesn’t come as an ass hole but is still suspicious of others and hard to please.  The only other dwarf character worth noting is Balin who is a great aging mentor type but the rest of the dwarves get a little lost in the shuffle but are still great when they have their moments.
 Many of the reoccurring cast members do good work in their parts but they mostly amount to extended cameos and aren’t really worth noting but that may change as the films progress.  Gollum likewise suffers from this problem but the part is once again well-acted by Andy Serkis and he does have a menace about him that I felt was lacking in the original trilogy.   But as for the others like Elrond or Galadriel, it seems as if their roles were originally intended to be larger but were cut down in this movie by breaking the series up into three films.
On a similar note, it was obvious that the Necromancer and Smaug were both intended to be main villains but again, it seems like they were cut down due to the series being slashed into three parts.  However, we do get a damn good villain in the form of Azog, The Pale Orc.  Both he and Thorin have personal vendettas against one another and you really get the sense that these two hate each other with a burning passion and is one of the simplest yet most effective hero villain relationship I’ve seen all year.
All and all, even if the plot is padded the character makes it work and help pull the film out of the muck.

The Special Effects, Action and Music

Don’t see this movie in 3D!  Do not consider it.  Do not be open to its suggestion.  DO. NOT. SEE. THIS. MOVIE. IN. 3.D.  It is completely and utterly pointless and if anything it makes the movie disorienting and the special effects look worse.  Do not see it in this format.  It is not worth the extra money.  It’s just there to suck an extra three bucks out of you.  Don’t see it in this format.
            And because I made the mistake of seeing it in this format the action scenes suffered.  There was a lot of shaky cam action in this movie which I normally don’t have a problem with but the 3D makes it very disorienting and hard to follow.  This was a bad idea on the filmmakers’ part I don’t know what they were thinking and it just astounds me that anyone could have said, this will work and just put it out there.  It just baffles me. 
Anyway, the rest of the CGI in this movie kind of a mixed bag.  Whereas the green screen and makeup jobs looked really fake in the trailers, actually seeing the film in in the proper 48fps format eliminates any gripes I had against them.  Some of the creatures like the trolls look a lot better than when they did in the first three and it’s clear in some areas that the technology has advanced.  However, there was never a moment in this film where I didn’t know that that the CG creatures weren’t CG.  But…good god is it great looking CG.  You can see the wrinkles on their faces the hairs on their skin and see a lot of other characteristics that you would be hard pressed to find in other CGI creations.  However the mix of practical effects and CGI from the original trilogy is completely missing here and this makes it look so much worse.
And then we have Gollum.  Back in 2002, he was the best looking CG character ever rendered on screen and is one that I feel still holds up to this day even against the likes Avatar or District 9.  Here, however, he looks completely synthetic and I can’t help but ask, what the hell happened?  CGI is supposed to look more real as technology progresses right?  So why does Gollum look worse than he did back in 2002?  Maybe it was the new camera format.  Maybe it was the 3D, but either way a some of the effects didn’t seem up to par with those of the first three films. 
Finally, we have the music.  Now outside of his work on Lord of the Rings, I’m not a Howard Shore fan but here is score is excellent and they mix just the right amount of old and new music and gives us something that is familiar and refreshing

So this brings us to our final verdict.  The characters are all well-acted, very well written and are ultimately makes the film work.  The effects are a bit of a mixed bag for me and if you’re like me they’re just going to make you miss the visual style of the previous films all the more.  The plot, however, is good in concept but not so great in execution.  I’m aware that every major film critic has brought this up, but quite frankly they’re right.  This was a series that did not need to be three films and is ultimately padded and drawn out in a way the previous films never were because of this.  However, if you are a fan of the first three films and can get past that you’ll probably like this film.  It never comes close to The Phantom Menace’s level of bad and certainly has a lot more to offer then the various X-Men prequels that are going on.  I say if you like the first three, then this is a trip back to middle earth well worth taking.  Just don’t expect this one to be a contender for best film of the year.

All Around

Friday, November 23, 2012

Griffeth Galaxy Productions

            Well, everyone, we’re at our 150th post and it’s time for an announcement.  Now as you all know, I’ve been complaining about and praising videogames, TV series, web series, comics books and films for over two years now but what you may not know is that I have always had more of an interest producing, directing, writing, and developing these things and I’m glad to announce that I’ve finally had a chance to start doing these things.  So with that said, I am officially announcing the formation of Griffeth Galaxy Productions.  This is a small production group based out of Henrico County, Virginia that is, as of right now, primarily focused on the production of short films and sketches although we are hoping to get into web series production, independent videogame development, publication of short stories and comics, and music production.  I’m also happy to announce that we have already produced our first short, entitled The Gangnam Rage.  Take a look.

            So that is what has been and probably will be occupying my time lately.  If you have anything to say please comment below, and if you enjoyed the video please subscribe to the YouTube Channel, Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  If you interested in joining the group you can contact us at griffethgalaxyproductions@gmail.com, or on Facebook.  I hope this is the beginning of something big.  So until next time, this is The Illusive One signing off and for the first time I am excited to see what the future may bring. 


            Of all the filmmakers in Hollywood today, few names carry as much respect and credibility as Steven Spielberg.  In a fifty three year-long carrier, the man has made many beloved classics and masterpieces such as Jaws, The Indiana Jones films, E.T., Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, has been a producer or a direct influence in over a hundred other projects, founded DreamWorks Pictures and is one of the few directors from the New Hollywood Era who has managed stay relevant, fresh and able to adapt and change with time.  While some people argue that his best days are behind him, films like Munich, The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse still prove that the man hasn’t run out of steam even if they are a far cry from what he did in the 70s and 80s.  But today we’re here to talk about his most recent film, Lincoln.
            Taking place during the final months of the Civil War, the film revolves around Abe Lincoln as he tries to get the 13th Amendment passed that will end slavery in the United States, showing all of the backdoor deals that had to be made in order to get the amendment passed as well as showing the personal grief he and his family went through during this time.  And because I am making a point to see as many films as I can this year, (and sense nothing came out that weekend other than Twilight), I decided to take a look at Spielberg’s latest film.  This is my review of Lincoln.   
            Now, as you might expect, the acting in this movie is fantastic.  The most notable and the guy who steals the show is Daniel Day-Lewis as Lincoln and talk about a perfect casting choice.  Everything about this guy just said that he is Abraham Lincoln from his body structure, to the way he walked, to his hair style, the wrinkles on his face, to his voice and his monologs and frequent storytelling.  And this probably won’t be a surprise to anyone, but I think we have our Best Actor Winner of the year.   One thing that I have noticed lately is that many historical themed films and videogames are showing revered people in a more human light and this film is no exception to this.  It shows him as a fallible human being and how much a negative effect his presidency has had on his personal life, particularly with his eldest son and wife.
            While this movie obviously belongs to Daniel Day-Lewis, all of the other actors do great work in their roles as well.  Tommy Lee Jones was perfect as the Radical Republican leader Thaddeus Stevens and steals any scene he is in and Sally Field was great as Lincoln’s wife who has been the most effected by the personal burdens of being a family member of a president.  Many of the other cast members are great in their roles such as David Strathairn, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, Jackie Earle Haley, and Bruce McGill but are ultimately limited by their screen time to do as much as they could. 
            One thing that might surprise you is that the story is very good.  The problem with most Oscar Bait-type films like The King’s Speech, The Master, or Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy is that their narratives are not very compelling and often come off as being bland and dry.  This film however is the exception to that rule.  Within the film we get a really good look at all of the politics and backdoor deals that went into getting the amendment passed and it’s probably the only film that I can think of that shows how difficult the games of politicians can be, especially when dealing with big issues such as this. 
But what really shocked me was just how funny this movie was.  Unlike most Oscar Bait, the film had a very good sense of humor integrated throughout its runtime.  Often Lincoln will start telling stories to various people almost at random and the stories themselves are either hilarious or his audiences reaction to them is.  One that really stood out to me was the story of the bird who was predicting the end of the world and the tone of that joke is more or less the tone of the humor throughout the film.  The rest of the comedy came from situations that really felt natural and unscripted.  Unlike the humor in a lot of modern films a lot of the jokes in this film actually felt like they could happen, such as the situations James Spader and his band of backdoor dealers get into while trying to get the votes for the 13th Amendment or some of the reactions to Lincoln’s stories.  It’s very well done, funny, and puts it a step above most Oscar Bait and could not have been happier about this. 
Now I usually don’t gawk over set designs or where or how films are shot, but dear god is this film well done in those regards.  Everything in this film from the set designs, to the costumes, to the fact that Lincoln often carries a blanket around with him to stave off the cold makes it seem like it legitimately takes place in 1865, (although I have to admit the fact that I’ve been to several of the places the film was shot in Richmond did take me out of the mood a bit).  Adding to this effect was the lighting as everything seemed like it was shot with only sunlight, candle light, and fireplaces light.
There are, however, a few things that annoyed me about the film.  For starters, Day-Lewis had a few to many monologs and they can and will ware on you after a while and it almost makes it seems like the writers felt that it was their job to make sure he won an Oscar as opposed to letting his performance carry it.  The second thing, and it breaks my heart to say this, was John Williams’ score.  The man has been responsible for some of the greatest and most memorable scores in film history such as the music for Indiana Jones, Jaws, Star Wars, Superman and a ton of others and holds the record for the most number of Oscar nominations in history and has won five.  This score, however, sounds like the exact same thing that he has been composing for the last fifteen years and it’s not particularly well used.  Whenever the music comes up it usually sounds manipulative, like the filmmakers are trying to tell you what to feel as opposed to letting the feeling come naturally.  Often I found myself thinking that certain scenes would have been better if they had been completely silent or actually had a score that complimented what was on screen.  And again, it breaks my heart to say this but I’m starting to think that John Williams may need to retire.
All around, despite the monologues and manipulative score, I really enjoyed this film and to be perfectly honest, I think it may be my favorite of the year.  I loved the acting, the dialog, the story, the humor and the way it was shot and put together.  If you’re a history buff like me then I recommend that you go and see it because it is worth your time and money and considering all the other stuff that has been coming out over the past few weeks this one is much more deserving of them.

All Around

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Assassin's Creed III

You know, there has been a lot of part threes released this year.  We’ve had Mass Effect 3, Max Payne 3, The Dark Knight Rises, Diablo III, Skyfall and I’m pretty sure that there are a few others that I’ve missed.  But today we’re here to talk about the latest third installment of a franchise, Assassin’s Creed III.  As I’ve mentioned before, the Assassin’s Creed franchise is one that has walked a bit of a rough path.  The first game was an unexpected hit, selling millions of copies worldwide but received mixed to average reviews mainly citing the repetitiveness of the game.  Part two, on the other hand, was incredible, giving us a fantastic story, great gameplay and compelling characters.  The next installment, Brotherhood, actually managed to improve on the gameplay and still told a great story with compelling characters even if it was less compelling then IIRevelations on the other hand, was not a great game.  In a nutshell, it was just a rehashing of Brotherhood with buggier gameplay, and a story and supporting characters that completely failed to get the gamer invested and just felt like a final attempt to milk another game out of Ezio’s storyline before moving on. 
            Assassin’s Creed III, however, promised something different.  In the months leading up to its release, the game showcased a setting in colonial America during the Revolutionary War, the ability to run through tree tops like a Predator, wild animal threats, and the ability to command your own ship!  Now if that isn’t enough to get a fan excited I don’t know what is.  So has the game lived up to its hype or is a franchise that’s on its last leg, desperately clinging to life?  Time to find out.  This is the Illusive One’s Review of Assassin’s Creed III.

The Plot

            The plot is a little…difficult to describe because it’s a little needlessly complicated.  During the present, the game once again follows Desmond Miles as he battles modern day Templars and tries to prevent an apocalypse from befalling the Earth with the help of technology left behind by the first civilization, (and if you don’t know what I’m talking about I suggest playing the other games again to get some grasp on it).  However, in order to access this machine Desmond must find a key and they only way to find its location is to go back in the animus and relive the life of his native American ancestor, Connor Kenway, (who also has a native American name that I won’t even try to spell), during the Revolutionary War.  In Connor’s storyline, he must become an Assassin and rebuild the Brotherhood in the New World while taking down the various Templar leaders, led by his father, who would see the world oppressed under their tyranny.
            Now, I have to admit that the whole overarching plot dealing with Desmond and his attempt to save the world never really appealed to me.  I’ve always been of the belief that the storylines involving the battles between the Assassins and the Templars should have been enough to tell a good story and the games have often proved this to be true.  However, in this game, the overarching story was probably the more compelling of the two.  Unlike the last few games, we really feel the tension and sense of impending doom which was sorely lacking in previous games.  Unlike previous Assassin’s Creed games we also got to see a bit more of the Templars, and see what goes into their thinking and how they do things.  In the process we find that their goals really aren’t all that different from those of the Assassins, and the game goes out of its way to show that the Templars are human and not necessarily pure evil.  In fact some of the best parts of the story are the sequences where Connor and his Templar father are working together towards common goals and it’s really interesting to see the similarities and differences between the two.
Unlike previous games, this one is very adult in the way in portrays certain things.  Washington for example is not without faults and often does things that directly conflict with Connor’s goals and need to help his people.  As with the Templar portrayal, the game goes out of its way to show that the lead members of the Revolution weren’t in the right all of the time and in some ways were just as bad, if not worse, then the British.  It also doesn’t take the fairy tale ending approach to things as many of the underlying issues with races and ideologies in the colonies are never fully resolved in the game’s storyline and show the dark sides of what independence untimely does for the colonies and Connor’s tribe.  And quite frankly these ideas and themes are brilliant and we honestly don’t see enough of this ground covered in videogames.
            However, despite all of these good ideas, the game’s story has some big problems.  For starters, it’s not a very well told story as the narrative is all over the place.  You play the first three sessions, (chapters), as Connor’s Templar father, (how his bloodline is connected to Ezio’s and Desmond’s is never explained), and then spend the next two as Connor training to be an assassin in a game with a story that lasts twelve sessions.  In other words the gameplay time of the main story is already halfway through before you even put on the assassins hood.  Even ignoring this, the rest of the story is not well told.  Whereas previous games put you in the middle of a war between the Templars and assassins, in this game it’s just Connor against the organization in America making it feel similar to the original Star Wars trilogy was with the Jedi if the narrative had been a lot less compelling.
It also doesn’t help that the time frame of the game is all over the place and you often find yourself questioning why Connor is at certain places at certain times.  Unlike the previous main characters, Connor really doesn’t have any reason to be a part of certain historical events such as George Washington being named Commander in Chief of the Continental Army or the signing of the Declaration of Independence.  Often entire years will pass off screen and you never get any explanation as to why he waited so long to do something or what happened in the years in-between and makes the narrative feel choppy. 
The final negative thing to note is ending.  I won’t say too much but trust me when I say that the ending was just stupid and lazy.  Whereas the failure of the ending of Mass Effect 3 was more than likely due to bad writing, this ending gives the impression that the writers just didn’t give a shit and just wanted to get the series over with.  Easily one of the worst endings I have ever seen, but to tell you the truth by this point I wasn’t even surprised.
All around, the plot is a bit of a mixed bag.  Desmond’s story is surprisingly good and Connor’s story is full of great themes and puts fourth ideas that we honestly don’t see enough of in videogames these days.  However, it’s bogged down by an un-compelling narrative and a crappy ending so unless you really want to see a game that takes place during this era, I have a hard time recommending it for the plot and it’s certainly a far cry from the plots of II and Brotherhood.

The Gameplay

Now, the Assassin’s Creed games have always been decent in this department for the most part and this game is no acceptation.  For the most part.  Like previous games you really feel like you have been transported back to the time period the game takes place in.  Everything about the environments just says the colonial period and anyone with a fascination with this time period is going to be in heaven.  The game also really makes you feel just how long it takes to reload a gun in this era and how useless they are in close quarters combat and how deadly they can be if someone gets a shot off.  The wilderness environments surprisingly make for a great change of pace from the other games that took place almost exclusively in cities.  The stuff you can do with your homestead is also worth noting.  Whereas in other games it just amounted to buying buildings and collecting revenue, in this game you have to actively maintain the homestead in order to get money, bringing people in to make a village and buying their wares and selling them at a profit in places all over the map. 
The main story missions are a bit of a mixed bag but when they are good they are really good, particularly the battles you fight in the war, such as Lexington and Concord, being part of the Boston Tea Party, and getting past the British lines to kill the British commander at the Battle of Bunker Hill.  The last good thing worth noting is Naval Combat, and good god is it awesome.  It feels like you’re in Pirates of the Caribbean or Master and Commander as you fight other ships with cannons or ramming and boarding them and battling the weather to stay afloat.  I don’t know how exactly to explain the appeal of it but if you’ve played the game you should know what I’m talking about.
However, the gameplay does have some pretty big flaws.  For starters, the controls sucked and were incredibly buggy.  Gone is the fluency of ACII and Brotherhood and you‘ll often find yourself pressing a button five times in the middle of combat and your character will not react.  This was a bit of a problem in Revelations as well but here it could give Fallout: New Vegas a run for its money on unresponsive combat controls and assassinating and combat is often unfairly difficult because of this.  Adding to this is a horrible camera control that will go all over the place and you’ll find yourself asking what the hell is going on as it spins all over the place and you’re unable to tell where your character is.  The original weapons and equipment layout is gone and replaced with something else that works well enough but doesn’t work nearly as well.  For some god unknown reason they decided to remove block from your characters abilities making damage very easy to obtain and the damage you will take just feels cheap.  On a completely parallel note, the original health bar is gone in favor of regenerating health which cuts back on the difficulty factor in a negative way. 
As I mentioned above, the missions a bit of a mixed bag but are ultimately not as challenging as they once were and usually don’t involve assassination so much as it does fighting in battles.  The assassination missions that do exist however are underwhelming in difficulty and execution and I found myself longing for the walls of Venice and Rome of the previous games before too long.  There was also a very ill-conceived choice to have the Native Americans talk in their own language, and considering the subtitles are white and much of the game has white backgrounds it makes it almost impossible to read.
Finally, the multiplayer sucks. It consists completely of stealthily stabbing people and occasionally teaming up to stab other people stealthily but it just lacks any real speed or tension and to be honest I found it completely boring.
Overall, the gameplay is the very definition of hit or miss.  The game is the most fun when you are participating in the Revolutionary War, other historical events, or sailing on your ship but is dragged down by less than impressive assassination missions and controls that are sometimes unresponsive and a layout that is inferior to the original.  However, if you can get past these things, and like the time period it takes place in then you’ll probably love the gameplay.  Odds are that the control problems will be taken care of in later patches, (if they haven’t been all-ready), so take all of this for what it’s worth.

The Characters

Like most of the other things in this game, the characters are a bit of a mixed bag and range from the dullest characters in the series to some of the more interesting.  For example, Connor’s father Haytham is actually a really interesting character and playing the first three missions as him shows that the character probably has one hell of a backstory to him.  As I mentioned before, this is the first game where we actually see that the Templars in a more human light and with this character you really see that they are people to and not the monsters they were portrayed as in previous games.  And again, some of the best moments in the game were when Haytham and Connor worked together to achieve the same goals. 
In Desmond’s story we actually get to meet Desmond’s father and for the first time get a sense as to why he left the Assassins and see a flawed character but one who obviously cares for his son and people.  In fact the father/son moments of the game in both Desmond’s and Connor’s storylines are actually some of the best in the whole game.  Connor’s mentor, Achilles is a decent mentor figure, if not very remarkable and Shawn and Rebecca are about the same as they were in the previous games. 
However, the other characters don’t fare as well.  For starters, Connor is a boring protagonist.  I really hate to say this but the guy just isn’t that interesting and this is one of the biggest problems with the game.  Outside of his interactions with his father, and a few instances where he questions the role of the Assassins, there really isn’t anything worth noting about him.  Historical figures aren’t really worth noting either as their appearances usually don’t amount to much more then extended cameos and most of them aren’t very well voiced.  Despite the more humanistic approach to the Templars in this game, most of them show no signs of depth of complexity after you get past the first three sessions.  The rest of the minor characters are entertaining in their own ways but they’re the kind of supporting characters that you’ll probably forget about in the long term.  And that’s really all I have to say about them.

The Verdict

All around, this is probably one of the more disappointing games that I have played this year.  Now granted, a lot of this is in comparison to AC II and Brotherhood but I honestly can’t believe how underwhelmed I felt by the story.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as Revelations in this regard but still can’t hold a candle to II and Brotherhood.  The gameplay aspects and characters were identical in this regard and I can honestly only recommend this game if you are interested in seeing a game in this time period or want to see how the story ends.  But either way, I’m done with this franchise.  While it’s not nearly at the level of betrayal that Resident Evil 6 was, it’s obvious to me that the game developers don’t give a crap about the franchise anymore and I honestly don’t see any reason why I should either if they don’t.

All Around

Saturday, November 10, 2012


            Well, everyone, I seem to have gotten into another rut where I can’t seem to finish any of the games I’ve been playing lately so it’s time for another movie review.  And today it is time to review the latest Bond film, Skyfall.  Now, I have to admit that I am not the biggest Bond fan in the world.  I liked some of the earlier Sean Connery films that dealt with his battles against S.P.E.C.T.E.R. and the Dalton films but for the most part I was never really able to get into them.  The villains were just too cheesy, the plots to ridiculous and some of the gadgets they came up with in these movies were just…bizarre.  That’s not to say that I hate these films but I was just never able to get into them the way a lot of other people were.
            However, back in 2006, the reboot Casino Royal was released and holy hot damn was it good.  The acting was fantastic, the action was great and the storyline was able to successfully modernize the franchise, making it plausible in our world and many consider it to be one of the better Bond films out there.  And then we had Quantum of Solace.  Now, I don’t mean to jump on the band wagon and hate on this movie but it was really underwhelming and an unworthy follow up to its predecessor and felt more like a written out additional act of Casino then it did a sequel.  And after four years of waiting we have the next entry in Craig/Bond series, Skyfall.
            Apparently taking place several years after the events of Quantum, the story of Skyfall revolves around Bond, who after nearly dying and leaving MI6 returns to duty after a cyber-terrorist attacks MI6 and begins leaking the names of various undercover agents around the world who apparently has a grudge against “M” and it’s up to 007 to track this terrorist down, save “M” from this madman, and ultimately decided if he still wants to be a part of MI6 and it’s horrors.
            So what’s good about this movie?  Well, like its predecessors, the acting is fantastic and the writing for the characters is up to par with the performances.  Daniel Craig once again proves that he is the best Bond by all at once being badass, charming, sociopathic, but is still able to show that he is still a fallible human and has his own personal demons.  For the first time he really seems to question his life choices and we get a bit more of his background which had been lacking in previous films.  Judi Dench is once again fantastic as “M” in her seventh film appearance as the character and like Bond, we get a bit more of her backstory and find that she is a fallible leader and that it’s very possible that her time as MI6’s leader is coming to a close.  Javier Bardem is probably the weakest of the main cast but is still very effective as the flamboyant cyber-terrorist, Silva and made for an interesting dark contrast to Bond.  Naomie Harris was great as Eva and the flirtatious relationship she has with Bond is delightful to watch.  Ben Whishaw was a welcome addition as the new “Q” giving us a new modern version of the character as well as paying homage to the old versions.  Perhaps the biggest surprise in the casting, however, was Ralf Fiennes as the bureaucrat, Gareth Mallory, who was cast against type as “M”’s only real ally in the elected government and as a result he gives his best performance in years.  Albert Finney is also great in his role but sadly I can’t reveal to much more due to spoilers.
            While the main storyline of the film does leave something to be wanted, (more on that in a minute), a lot of the themes they explore are worth noting.  The main one seemed to have been the role of organizations like MI6 and agents like Bond who seem to becoming increasingly obsolete in the 21st century and I find it really interesting that anyone would dare tackle that idea.  The ending is fantastic and really gives the sense that it’s time for Bond to become the big franchise that it once was.  It’s also full of a lot of great tributes to the older films such as the mentioning of an exploding pen and the appearance of the car from Goldfinger and you really get a sense that the people who made this film have a love for the franchise, and are not deprived of humor. 
            I was also very pleased by the special effects as the director seems to be one of the few directors out there that understands that practical effects done well will almost always look better then CGI.  The final positive to note is opening theme, Skyfall as it was a radical improvement over the last song and I could listen to it for hours without any context.
            However, the film suffers from four big problems and quite frankly I find them impossible to ignore.  The first is that it really has next to nothing to do with the previous films in terms of its story.  There is no mention of Mr. White or the Quantum organization and I really wanted to see a continuation of that storyline.  The second is the themes they explore in the film, such as “M”’s past, the role of MI6, and Bond questioning his role in MI6 and whether or not he wants to be a part of it.  While these themes are great, I don’t think that they pushed them far enough and believe that they could have made a masterpiece out of this film if they had.  The third problem is the action scenes.  One of my big problems with Quantum was that many of the action scenes felt like they were recycled from older Bond films and ultimately felt stale.  Here, however, it’s very obvious that this is the director’s first action movie and as a result the action scenes are not very well shot or edited together.  In one scene, for example, you get a hand to hand combat fight with Bond and an assassin and almost all of it is done in one shot with little to no editing.  It ultimately comes off as similar to the action of The Dark Knight, where many of the hand to hand fights were under edited and just came off as underwhelming. 
            And speaking of similarities to The Dark Knight, I hate to be this kind of person, but this movie ripped a little too much off of the 2008 Batman film and once you see these similarities they are impossible to ignore and will take away from the experience.  The most notable were several plot elements that were ripped straight out of the film, including a brief sequence that took place in China that led to the main story and the villain allowing himself to get captured in order to achieve his goal with a plan that some people might say was unnecessarily complicated, (and I might add that with this film that argument would have a lot more merit).  This wouldn’t have bothered me so much if The Avengers hadn’t done the exact same thing back in May, (and much more effectively I might add), and as a result it just comes off as a bit of a stale plot point.  The final similarity is, believe it or not, the score.  While the Skyfall opening theme is original and the classical James Bond theme is unmolested, the rest of the score that doesn’t involve these things sounds WAY to similar to Hans Zimmer’s score in the Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception.  I’ve heard some people take this a step further by saying that the relationship between Bond and villain Silva was a little too similar to that of Batman and the Joker but I don’t really see it and even I think that that is taking the similarities to far.

            All around I would say that this film was better than Quantum but not as good as Casino.  The acting, characterization, humor, themes and tributes to the older films are all great but it was taken down a few notches by failing to really push these themes, action scenes that left something to be wanted and a little too much lifted from The Dark Knight.  It seemed like they were trying to do for the Bond franchise what The Dark Knight did for comic book movies, but ultimately failed to understand what made that film so good and just ended up lifting plot points from it.  However, if you liked the first two, are a Bond fan and want to see a more serious take on the franchise then this is a film for you.  It successfully adds on to a great Bond story arc and I honestly cannot wait to see what they do next.

All Around

Sunday, October 21, 2012


            This has certainly been an interesting year for gaming.  We’ve seen BioWare nearly obliterate their reputation with the ending of Mass Effect 3, one of the first movements that successfully that had such an ending changed, (or at least made it the way it should have been in the first place), a spinoff movement called Retake Gaming that’s trying to invoke a Gamer Bill of Rights, (I’m not joking about that last one), a revival of the Max Payne franchise, that abomination that was Resident Evil 6, and a surprising number of new franchises being introduced like Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning and Dragon’s Dogma and although I couldn’t get into either I may give them another chance later down the road.  But the game that I want to talk about today is a new game that is not part of a franchise nor does it have a big developer to its name.  And in this I am referring to Dishonored.
            Released earlier this month, Dishonored is a game that had some interesting build up to its release, in my opinion.  For starters, developer Arkane Studios had next to nothing to its name outside of some additional level design and animation on Bioshock 2.  It also earned a ton of pre-release nominations and awards by various gamer magazines and websites for being one of the most original and innovative games at its showings at E3 2011.  So did Dishonored live up to its initial hype and does it deserve your money and time or is it another overhyped game that will be discarded and forgotten about by next year?  Read on to find out.

The Plot

            The game takes place in the steam-punk city of Dunwall; a city decaying of a massive plague that seems to kill any who are infected.  You play as Corvo, the bodyguard to the Empress of the city who is framed for her murder and the kidnapping of her daughter sentenced to death by the real culprits who have taken control of the city.  After escaping this fate, Corvo joins a group of people determined to depose the culprits and restore the Empress’ daughter, Emily to the throne, killing or otherwise neutralizing anyone who stands in his way.  And along the way a mysterious being known as The Outsider grants Corvo magical abilities in order to help him on his quest.
            Now, the best part of this game is the set up as you really feel how this city is suffering and why it is that the antagonists need to go down and it very quickly invests you into the plot with its characters and gameplay style.  Your actions actually do affect the places you go and will often have consequences, especially towards the ending and Epilogue.  If there is one major problem with the plot and the rest of the game, it’s that it was too short.  It gives me the impression that it was originally meant to be a lot longer but parts of it were cut out to meet a budget or deadline.  For example, the game never gives us a real answer as to why The Outsider decides to help Corvo and the game seems to hint that this was all part of a much larger plan but never expands on it which was really strange.  There is also a relatively predictable twist towards the end of the game, and if you were paying attention to the game and characters you should see it coming a mile away.
            Despite how basic and apparently cut down the plot was, it still works due the gameplay and characters.  While we’re not looking at the next Rockstar or BioWare in terms of writing and it is more than a little basic, the storyline does have a surprising amount of depth to it.  But again there really isn’t much to say about the story itself other then it worked because of the games other elements but seemed to have been cut down in size by a limited budget, time table, and the lack of a major reputation to Arkane’s name.

The Gameplay

          As I’ve mentioned above the game is pretty short but, damn do they pack a lot into its limited length.  For starters, this is not what I would call an easy or action based game.  If you run into a camp full of enemies or allow one to raise an alarm, you are going to get swarmed and get your ass kicked.  In this game, it’s not so much about killing everyone on the map as it is getting to your target and it really seems to reward you for taking the stealth approach as opposed to killing everyone in your path.  There are multiple ways to get into a single area, be it jumping across the roof tops, slipping right behind an enemy soldier while he’s taking a leak, or possessing a rat and just running right past them.  Further encouraging stealth as opposed to battle is the limited amount of weapons, health and magic you can have at one time, forcing you to decide when it’s the best time to use these abilities or weapons.  Some of which encourage battle while others encourage stealth and it’s up to the gamer to decide when which approach is best.
            The actual number of magic abilities you have are relatively limited when compared to games like Skyrim or Dragon Age, but good God are these abilities cool.  The Blink teleporting ability is incredibly useful for quick escapes and reaching places that you wouldn’t have been able to go before and or just to dodge around enemies and is useful in both the action and stealth ways of playing.  Bend Time has similar applications and can be extremely useful when fighting or using stealth and the possibilities with these two alone is endless.  There are a few other abilities that aren’t as useful or noteworthy but the two that made the abilities for me were the Possession and Devouring Swarm abilities.  Now with the possession ability you can inhabit the body of a soldier or a rat which will allow you to go places and do things without drawing to much attention for a limited amount of time.  But by far the most satisfying ability to use is Devouring Swarm, where you summon a swarm of rats to eat your enemies alive and just watching them strip the flesh from your enemies is oh so satisfying.  If you decide to play the game you’ll know what I mean but it should suffice to say that this is probably the only game that I have ever played where rats are actually a threatening protagonist.
            The last thing to note is the fact that the developers actually give you the choice to either kill your targets or sentence them to other fates that may or may not be worse than death.  And what I find so wired about this is that so few developers do this.  For example, in one mission you have the choice to either kill two brothers or allow a crime syndicate in Dunwall to kidnap them, who will in turn shave them and cut out their tongue and sends them to work back breaking labor in a diamond mine for the rest of their days.  The only other games that really seem to give you these kinds of choices usually boils it down to either killing the guy or letting him go to disappear or repent his ways and quite frankly I like the option that this game offers a little bit more because either way you choose if feeds into your sadistic side. 
However, there are some downsides the gameplay.  For starters, the graphics in this game look downright ugly and look like something that would have come out four years ago as opposed to today.  And it’s more than a little buggy and sometimes the enemy AI really isn’t as smart as it should be, (like a soldier will see a corpse and not raise the alarm) and the whole stealth/action choices probably won’t seem as fresh if you’ve played Deus Ex: Human Revolution and one might make the argument that they did it better in that game.  The other problem it suffers from is, again, the length of the game.  It seemed like there should have been more missions and more targets to take down, particularly in the final act of the game that almost seemed rushed.
Despite the graphics, bugs, and comparisons that will probably be drawn to Deus Ex, this is a really fun game and I was really impressed by what they did in this department and this is not easily done.  The options were just so good for the missions, both for what you do to the target and how you get to him.  The way they limit your arsenal is something that they don’t do enough of these days and it was really refreshing to see a game that actually does require a degree of stealth in order to win it and the main magic abilities are so much fun to use and is the highlight of the game.  I just wish that the game could have been a bit longer to add on to this and that the graphics had been better to make it a bit more visually pleasing.  But as a whole I really love what Arkane Studios has done in this department and I can’t wait to see what they do in their next project in this department.

The Characters

            Like everything else in this game, the characters are limited by its length.  But like the gameplay, they managed to pack a surprising amount into it within a limited amount of time.  When I found out that Corvo was a silent protagonist with very limited dialog options my respect for the game took a nosedive, as I’ve always hated protagonists like this and feel that they should have died off long ago.  Apparently the developers did this so it would be easier for the gamer to jump into his shoes and project himself as the character.  And this works surprisingly well.  Unlike the protagonists in games like Far Cry 2, it’s obvious that Corvo has some kind of emotional attachment to this world which makes his battles against his enemies all the more compelling.  Exactly what that attachment is seems to have been intentionally left open for interpretation.  It could be a lust for revenge, service to his country, or out of love for the Empress and her daughter; it’s never made clear and your own interpretation makes the character all the more compelling.
            Most of the other characters are a little bit more difficult to describe.  On the surface they’re a little bit one noted but have other sides to them that we do get to see.  For example we have Admiral Havelock who seems to be a good soldier and wants to restore Emily to the throne but has a sadistic side that he only rarely reveals and saying anything more will result in spoilers for the game as will saying to much more about the bulk of the supporting characters.  Many of them have very good voice actors including John Slattery, (best known for Mad Men) as Havelock, Lena Headey as Emily’s caretaker, Callista Curnow, and Susan Sarandon as the mysterious, insane witch Granny Rags; each of which are very well acted and have a surprising amount of depth to them.  The best of the whole bunch, however, was Brad Dourif as a mad scientist character and his voice was just perfect for the part and knew just how to capture the insane, arrogant and ingenious parts of his personality and he happens to be one of the most entertaining characters in the game.
            However, the game did drop the ball a little in this department as well.  We really don’t grow attached to a lot of the supporting characters who don’t have a big name to them, mostly because they are kind of pushed aside in favor of the major ones so when some of these characters die we really don’t care and you’ll probably be asking yourself “who was that?”  The villains likewise have so little screen time that they ultimately lack any kind of depth or complexity and they may as well be Rodger Moore Bond Villains for how basic they are.  And again, the game’s length seems does take its toll on the character interaction as well.  I get the impression that many of these characters were suppose to have larger roles and maybe have a few more subplots going on but the game just didn’t have the length for this and it really drags it down.
            All around the character are compelling and you do get attached to many of them.  But at the same time, many of them are not as developed as they could have been and like the plot feel like they were slashed to meet a budget and a deadline.  But still, I think that if you decide to play this game, you’ll find them compelling and likeable and they really help to invest you into what was otherwise a mediocre plot.   

The Verdict

            So, what do I think of this game all around?  We’ll to be honest, I’m kind of split.  This is a game that is absolutely worth your time but I cannot say that it is worth the full $60 you’ll pay for a new copy.  It’s just too short.  Granted, the pack a lot into its short length, but it is still just to short of a game to justify paying $60 for.  The story was a little to basic, it was too short, and the characters weren’t as fleshed out as they should have been.  However, I can whole heartedly hope that this game is successful because, it deserves it.  Just based on the gameplay and how good the set up was for the plot and characters, I can tell that Arkane Studios is a development company that has a lot of potential and I really want to see what they can do with a bigger budget and more ambition.  This game is doing things that I honestly haven’t seen before in recent memory and I want to see more of this.  If you have the chance to play it or have the $60 to spare, I say spend it but if you can get a hold of a copy without paying for it do that instead.  But all the same, I really enjoyed this game and hope it succeeds but damn, was it a game that that was just shy of greatness.

All Around