About Me

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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, March 29, 2011

Toy Story 3

            Their have been a lot of animated film series over the years; some good, some bad and today I want to talk about the latest addition to the greatest animated film series of all time.  This is the Illusive Ones Review of Toy Story 3.
In 1995, the animation company, Pixar, released the first Toy Story film and it was undoubtedly one of the greatest animated films of all time.  I remember seeing this movie in the theater as a kid and it always made my imagination run wild, thinking that if I ran into my room fast enough or crept in quietly enough I'd catch my toys talking and/or moving about, (and as you can imagine, that never happened much to my disappointment).  At the time, it was the highest grossing animated film of all time and was nominated for 3 Oscars and was the film more or less responsible for the Academy’s adding of the Best Animated Picture Category. 
            Toy Story 2 came along four years later and proved to be one of the greatest sequels of all time, (and for a Disney sequel that's saying a lot).  Whereas the first one seemed to have dealt with being replaced and ones place in the world, this one got in to Woody's past and dealt with the inevitability of growing up.  And now, over ten years later, the series has come into full circle and this is my look at Toy Story 3.
            Many years have passed sense the end of Toy Story 2.  Andy has grown up and is on his way to college.  Over the years, most of the toys have been sold, thrown out, or given away and only a handful remain.  Thinking that being donated to a daycare is better than being thrown out or spending eternity in the attic, the toys steal away in a box being delivered to one.  At first the daycare seems like a paradise but the toys quickly find that its leader, the teddy bear Lotso, is a tyrannical dictator who sets the daycare so new toys are doomed and it's up to Woody to free the other toys and break out of the daycare before Andy leaves for college. 
            On the positive side, everything that made the original two films great is in this film.  The childish humor with a few subtle, adult jokes, the moral dilemmas, the terrifying moments and the great voice acting, (with the acceptation of Jim Varney who sadly died of lung cancer in 1999), were all in play and just as entertaining.  As I said, it was full of a lot of great jokes and gags that even as an adult I found hilarious.  There were several moments I thought the toys were actually doomed and gave me the chills, (and trust me when I say that doesn’t happen to me too often with films).  This one also had its own powerful set of themes.  Whereas 2 dealt with the inevitability of change, this one dealt with the change as it was upon the characters and how they choose to deal with it. 
            The characters are still as great as they were when they were first introduced and I found myself incredibly emotionally invested in these characters, more so then any other cast of characters that came out last year.  The last positive to mention is the main antagonist, Lotso.  While the previous Toy Story films had great villains, I felt Lotso was the best of the three.  He was a good toy who had gone bad and, unlike the last two, was completely unpredictable and you never knew what he was going to do next.
            On the negative side there were a lot of silly and annoying things about it, most dealing with Buzz, Barbie and Ken.  Barbie and Ken I just found obnoxious and felt they were unnecessary additions to the cast.  I also found Spanish Buzz to be incredibly annoying and out of place.  His relationship with Jessie hadn't really developed and still seemed like they just met even though they've known each other for years.  The last thing I have to complain about is Tim Allen’s voice acting which didn't seem right.  I don't exactly know what it was about it, but it just rubbed me the wrong way.
            All around, however, Toy Story 3 was just as good as its predecessors and one of the greatest sequels I've ever seen.  It was like seeing a film with a great, personal nostalgia value and adding in a new story and, in truth, it was probably my favorite film of 2010.  So if you've seen the first two and loved them as much as I do then I highly recommend seeing this one.  The ending will bring a tear to your eyes, it will remind you of a more innocent time when toys were still cool and I guarantee it will entertain the heck out of you.
All Around
9.5/10

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Social Network

           Partly quoting a friend of mine, if you had told someone two years ago that a film about the founding of Facebook would be both financially and critically successful, odds are they would have put you in a straight jacket and locked you in a soft room, (Korsgaard, I believe you know which friend I'm quoting).  Having seemed this film recently and how I've been reviewing Best Picture Nominees over the past few days, I decided why not keep the flow going and give my thoughts on it.  This is The Illusive One's Review of The Social Network.
            The story of the film is set as a frame narrative as Eduardo Saverin, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, and Divya Narendra sue Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, for different reasons and flashes back to Zuckerberg's days in Harvard as he first built the website and examines his relationships with Eduardo and Napster founder Sean Parker.  The film stars name as Jesse Eisenberg as Zuckerberg, Andrew Garfield as Eduardo, Justin Timberlake as Parker, and was directed by David Fincher.  After its release, it would go on to win 3 Golden Globes, was nominated for two more, win three Oscars and was nominated for five more.  But did it deserve all the praise it received?  Well, here are my thoughts.
            On the positive side, it was a good story of the rise of a billionaire.  Eisenberg was perfect as Zuckerberg as were Garfield as Eduardo and Timberlake as Parker.  It showed Zuckerberg as being more of a cutthroat businessman then the happy-go-lucky nerd billionaire most people view him as and I felt that this was a welcome change.  While I was expecting more humor out of a film with Eisenberg in it, there were some moments I thought were hilarious, mainly because I could actually see people getting into those kinds of situations.  Finally, I thought it was very interesting to see just how Facebook got started and how it evolved from being a project of an undergrad to the biggest social network in history.
            On the negative side, they portrayed Zuckerberg to be a complete fucking asshole.  As I said above, it was nice to see him in another light but they made him look like a complete dick.  Was he actually like this?  I don't know.  I’ve never met the man but it's pissed a lot of Zuckerberg fans off.  It also inaccurately portrays the early days of Facebook and made its founding seem a lot more fun than it actually was, (this according to the people involved who stated they were constantly working most of the time).  The point of view was also kind of bias as it's mostly through the people who are suing Zuckerberg.  It was also a little annoying the way Eisenberg would speak a hundred words a minute, as if that was suppose to make him sound smart, (it did but I still felt it was unnecessary).  The final negative has to do with the plot itself.  As this film that deals with computers and isn't some kind of over the top action movie, it tended to be a bit boring at times and only the dramatic story keeps it alive.
              In the end, if you ignore the inaccuracies, you have a great film about the rise of the world’s youngest billionaire.  It was well acted, had a great, if a bit boring, storyline and truly was entertaining.  If you’re an obsessed Zuckerberg fan who can't keep an open mind, I'd recommend skipping this one.  If not, then absolutely check this one out because it's a great one.

All Around
9/10

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Inception

            About a year ago, I heard someone say that Hollywood has officially run out of ideas and if there was proof of this, it was during 2010 as it saw the release of many remakes and sequels.  It's my belief, however, that 2010 also proved that original ideas are still out there and one need only look in the right place to find them.  And today I'm going to get into, what I thought, was the most original film of 2010.  This is the Illusive One's Review of Inception.
            Released in the summer of 2010, Inception was a sci-fi thriller directed by Christopher Nolan and starred Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Tom Berenger, and Michael Caine.  In a world where technology exist to enter the human mind though dream invasion, a powerful business man, (Wannabe), hires Cobb, (DiCaprio), a man very skilled at stealing ideas from dreams, to implant an idea into the mind of Robert Fischer, (Murphy), whose corporation is threatening to gain a monopoly over energy.  The problem is that implanting an idea is nearly impossible and the team Cobb assembles has to come up with a plan that will make it work, all the while dealing with his own subconscious and the defenses Fischer’s subconscious has set up against them.
            On the positive side the plot was incredibly well put together and is where the film shines.  While the idea of being able to invade a dream wasn’t entirely original, this film perfected it.  The dilemmas and challenges the team faces were also well put together and kept you on the edge of your seat.  The multiple levels of dreams was an incredibly unique idea and kept the lines of what was a dream and what was real blurred.  Last to mention, the visual effects were great and there were plenty of action scenes to keep any action junkie satisfied and once things got moving you weren't able to keep your eyes off the screen.
            On the negative side, so much effort seemed to be put into the plot that the rest of the movie seemed to suffer.  My biggest issue with the film was the video editing.  It seemed that when a shot hit someone it took a full second for the screen to cut to the person who would only start to fall the moment the shot switched to said character.  While the plot of this film was great it took a lot of explaining and a good hour or so to get started and that may put some people off.  Last to note were the characters and acting.  The characters were just boring and I didn't feel attached to any of them.  Likewise, the dialog and acting just felt very bland and uninspired. 
            Finally, there's the ending.  I don't really count it as a positive or negative but it still pissed me off, (and I'm fairly certain I'm not alone in this).
           Despite its faults, I still found Inception very entertaining, if a little overrated.  If you're looking for Oscar bait, then I'd go elsewhere.  If you’re looking for an action movie, I'd go for The Expendables. But if you’re looking for something original, with great visual effects, and good action, then Inception is the way to go.
All Around
8.5/10
     

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Fighter

           As I'm sure you all remember, the 2010 Oscars was more like a battle between Avatar and The Hurt Locker then an awards show.  The 2011 Oscars, however, was more like a free for all between The King's Speech, The Black Swan, The Fighter, The Social Network, True Grit, Toy Story 3 and Inception.  The competition was thick, and there weren't any clear cut winner; each film getting their own share of awards.  Having finally seen a few of these movies recently, I decided to give my thoughts on one of them.  This is the Illusive One's Review of The Fighter.
            The Fighter is a film about the rise of Welterweight Champion “Irish” Micky Ward and his complicated relationships with his family, particularly his crack-head older brother Dicky, who taught him everything he knows about boxing.  It was directed by David O. Russell and stars Mark Wahlberg as Micky, (who also produced the film), Christian Bale as Dicky, his crack addicted bother, Amy Adams as Charlene, Micky's girlfriend, and Melissa Leo as Alice Ward, Micky's overbearing mother, (Bale and Leo both won Best Supporting Oscars for their roles).
           Before I get into the positives and negatives of this film I want to talk about boxing movies in general.  When it comes to sports movies, boxing movies always seem to get Oscar Nominations but never for any other sport.  Anyone have any thoughts as to why?  Despite this, to me, each film always seems to have new themes and fresh looks on the matter.  Rocky was a great underdog story, Raging Bull, (am I the only one who thinks that title sounds dirty?), gave an unmerciful display of a boxers life, Ali showed the good and bad in boxer Muhammad Ali during the 60's and 70's, Cinderella Man was the story of a comeback and triumph during the Great Depression, and Million Dollar Baby was more about the affect the boxer was having on her trainers life.  While each one of these films was great I still can't help but wonder why boxing?  Why can't stories about football or baseball be as compelling?  Please give me your thought on this because I'm at a loss.
            In any case, back to The Fighter.
            There are a lot of good things about this film so get ready for a long read in this section.  As I mentioned above, each boxing film brings new themes and fresh looks on the subject and The Fighter was no acceptation.  The story had as much to do with how Micky's family treated him as it did with boxing and questions how far family loyalty should go.
            The acting was fantastic to say the least.  Mark Wahlberg was perfect as Micky and I personally think he got snubbed for a Best Actor nomination.  Christian Bale was also fantastic and believable as Micky's crack-head, burnt-out brother.  Melissa Leo was also great in her role as Micky's selfish, overbearing mother and was a complete fucking bitch, (but in a good, believable way).  Amy Adams was also good as Charlene but was outshined by the other cast members. 
            Even the minor characters were great.  Jack McGee was great as George Ward, Micky's father who seemed to be the only family member who wanted more for Micky while the rest were just happy to let him be a nobody and get beat half to death by other boxers.  Last to mention is Mickey O'Keefe as...well himself; Micky Ward’s other trainer.  Although he has few lines and his screen time is short, he did a really great job with it.    
            Last to mention is the music.  While there isn't an original score to it, it uses classical rock and bop and fits in perfectly with the film.
            There are a few other things that I felt were positives but kind of put me off; just things that made me feel a little uncomfortable.  For starters was Bale's performance as Dicky.  As I mentioned, he was fantastic and incredibly believable as a crack-head.  Almost a little too believable for my taste.  I've had the displeasure of knowing a few junkies and druggies in my life and let me tell you, they are fucking disgusting and unpleasant to be around and I couldn't help but think about those people while watching the first half of the movie.  
            Throughout most of the movie, Micky's entire family, (with the exception of his dad), seemed like a bunch of manipulating, possessive parasites.  This mainly put me off because, once again, I have had personal experience with people like this and it kept me thinking about them.  But this is more of a personal thing for me and I wouldn't expect it to hinder anyone else's enjoyment of the film.
            There are a few negatives to mention.  For starters, Bale's thinning hair just didn't look right.  I know that's nitpicking, but I still couldn't help but notice that it didn't look right; almost like they shaved certain parts of his head then covered it back up. 
            There were also disappointingly few fights in the first half of the movie.  I know that's how boxing movie tend to be but I still found it a little annoying. 
           And last, it's another boxing movie.  Most tend to follow the same formula and The Fighter was no exception.
            In the end, I found this movie incredibly enjoyable and well worth my time.  The acting was great as were the themes involved.  If you like boxing movies then I'd highly recommend this one but if you’re looking for one with a different formula this isn't it.  But to me, this film has the perfect blend of Oscar Bait and commercial appeal so check it out when you have a chance.

All Around
9/10

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Illusvie One V.S. Game Informer: Dragon Age II


           Well, it's time for my first article of The Illusive One V.S. Game Informer and since I'm still fresh off Dragon Age II, I decided to make an issue of Game Informer's rating of it.  Most game reviewers gave Dragon Age II less than perfect scores but I was surprised at just how brutally Game Informer panned the game.  Like I said in my announcement, I'll be using the words of the writers of the review and saying if I thought they were right on, to brutal, not brutal enough and will be adding a few things they failed to mention.  And for legal reasons, I'm inclined to say that Game Informer's Dragon Age II Review was written by Joe Juba.  This is The Illusive One V.S. Game Informer: Dragon Age II.


Game Informer's Rating
8.25/10
The Illusive One's Rating
8.5/10


                                      
  

V.S.
          
           While admittedly their isn't much of a difference between ratings, I still felt that Game Informer's review panned way to many things and ignored things that were good and legitimately wrong with it.  So without further delay, let’s get this started.

Game Informer:  BioWare's template story structure involving an intro, four main quest hubs, and a finale is nowhere to be found in Dragon Age II.  Unfortunately, no compelling story rises to take its place.

Not a compelling story?  Less compelling then the story in Origins?  Yes, but a compelling story all the same.  Hawke wasn't a person out to conquer the world or to save it.  He/she was just trying to survive in the world while making a living and in the process gets caught up in world altering events.  In truth, I thought this story, while inferior, was much more realistic then the story lines of Origins and this panning seems to be more out a dislike of BioWare's shifting from classical game storytelling than anything else.

Game Informer:  In execution, the story amounts to little more than a bunch of sidequests lashed together.  They are rarely connected to a central goal, and since the main plot has no arc, you get little sense of mounting tension or rising stakes until the climax is upon you.   

Now that's just mean but not entirely inaccurate.  Particularly during the first act, most of the missions, even the main story ones, do feel like side quests but many are actually linked to quest later in the game.  As far as tension goes, it was much more subtle but their all the same.  Through dialog, via the frame story, you learn that the world is on the brink of war in the time the story is being told and they talk about how many people Hawke killed, (or will kill in point you're at in the game), for this to happen.  And if you can't feel the tension in this I don't know what's wrong with you.



Game Informer:  The battle system was fun, but not nearly as satisfying or rewarding as Origins'.

Satisfying or rewarding as Origins'.  Let that sink into your mind for a minute.
Ok.  Now, in what brain dead, retards mind was the battle system in Origins satisfying or rewarding?  The battle system in Origins was slow, boring, and dull whereas the battle system in II was fast, fluent and fun and I honestly don't know how anyone can choose the system of Origins over II.  Just....no.


Game Informer:  Since you don't have a main antagonist until the final hours, the story pales in comparison to the original.

I've already said the story wasn't as good as the first but I feel I have to say something on the remark about a main antagonist.  As I'm sure you know, most games tend to take place within a year, two at the most with a reoccurring antagonist trying to kill the protagonist.  Can you honestly see those villains hunting the protagonist for ten years or vice versa?  That just wouldn't be logical, even for games.  As a result, the main antagonist switches after each act as years go by in-between acts.


            Before I finish this article, there are a few criticisms and praises of my own that Game informer failed to address and I feel I have to mention.  A positive they failed to mention, (but one I didn't in my review), was how cleverly they intertwined your companion's story lines with that of the main story.  Then there are the negatives they failed to mention.  As I said in my own review of Dragon Age II, the ending sucked and I don't see that mentioned anywhere in Game Informer's review.  Finally, there is one last issue that both Game Informer and I failed to mention.  This has to do with the games length.  While it took me over 36 hours to beat the game I actually felt the game was too short.  I could have dealt with all of Dragon Age II's flaws and bullshit ending if the game had one more act in it that increased its length by five to ten hours.  I know that might sound a little long but the ending failed to give any since of conclusion and an extra act may have helped with that.


            Well, that's it for my first segment of The Illusive One V.S. Game Informer.  For those of you who read this please comment and if you liked it, more will be on the way.  Until next time this is the Illusive One and I'm burning the Game Informer magazine with the Dragon Age II Review.  AH HA HA HA HA HA HA!  Later!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

24: Redemption

            I'm sure everyone remembers the series 24.  To refresh your memory, it was a show series that aired on Fox from 2001 to 2010 and starred Kiefer Sutherland.  The plot of the series revolved around CTU agent Jack Bauer as he and CTU fight against various terrorist organizations and was undeniably one of the greatest shows ever put on television and Jack Bauer is one of the greatest T.V. characters of all time.  This is undoubtedly due to the fact that events in the show occur in real time with each season spanning a 24 hour period, (hence the title).  The shows greatness is also due to its brilliant writing with many head turning twists occurring in each season, and, of course, Kiefer Sutherland's fantastic performance as Jack Bauer.  The series would go on to have eight seasons, a made for T.V. movie, and currently has a feature film in the works, (sadly who knows if it will ever see the light of day).
            Having only gotten into the series a few months ago, via my Netflix Instant Viewer, and having seen the TV movie, 24: Redemption, I decided to give my thoughts on the latter. 
            24: Redemption is a prequel to the 7th season of the series, (although the description on Netflix said it's standalone movie) and takes place over a year after the end of the 6th season.  Long story short, the season ended with Jack once again disappearing.  However, he is constantly hounded by a subpoena to appear before a senate hearing, regarding the unlawful detainment of people and the torturing of prisoners at CTU but refuses to acknowledge it and has to keep moving as a result.  While helping his old army buddy Carl Benton, (Robert Carlyle), manage a school and build houses for the poor in Africa, Jack gets caught up in a military coup and has to save the kids of the school from becoming child solders.  Meanwhile in the U.S., President Elect Allison Taylor prepares to be sworn in as President as the backers of the coup try to cover their tracks. 
            On the positive side, for starters, was the acting.  Kiefer Sutherland gave his usual great performance as Bauer, a man tortured by his past, constantly trying keep people at arm’s length but finds them slipping in.  Robert Carlyle was perfect as Carl, a man who is also tortured past but, unlike Jack, has been able to move on.  Jon Voight was also perfect as the mysterious backer of the coup, although his screen time was short.  Powers Booth returned as Noah Daniels, this time world weary and ready to leave the Presidency, (but every part he does is great), and the supporting cast in Africa were also great, particularly the villains who were just horribly evil. 
            Oh, yea.  Then there are the action scenes.  While there were only a few of them, it was immensely satisfying to see Jack Bauer kill evil African Warlords.  On that regard, it contains the themes that are common with Africa regarding child soldiers and genocide.  While a little overused, they still remain powerful, very real, and, to me, they never get old and shows what the U.N. should really be working to prevent.
            On the negative side, the whole thing seemed rushed.  Heart to heart conversations happened way too early and seemed out of place.  Whereas an entire season takes 24 hours to tell, this one takes place in just two and, as a result, didn't seem as developed.  There were disappointingly few action scenes and the sound editing wasn’t that great, (although that may have been due to my player).  It infuriatingly left a lot of loose ends, and doesn’t have a very happy ending, (but sets the stage for the 7th season).  My final issue has to do more with the Netflix description then anything else.  It's says it's a standalone movie, (which it's not), and gives the reader the idea that Jack would be fighting directly against this coup and I found it extremely disappointing that he was only trying to get kids out of harm’s way.
            All around, however, it was really enjoyable, and if you like 24 you'll definitely like this.  The plot involving an African coup was a welcome departure from the usual, over the top terrorist attacks that 24 is famous for, the casting was perfect, and the action was more than satisfying.  If you haven't already seen the show, then what the hell are you doing reading this?!  Watch it on Netflix Instant Viewer, rent the DVDs or buy them, because 24 is fucking awesome!  As a standalone movie, 24: Redemption sucks, but as a setup to the 7th season, it's great.

All Around
8/10

WHERE'S THE BOMB?!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Announcing The Illusive One V.S. Game Informer

           As I said in my first post, I do these reviews uninfluenced by other reviews but that doesn’t stop me from reading them.  Over the years, I have noticed that there have been great games that got less than perfect reviews and horrible games that somehow got great reviews.  In this segment, I'll be going against the reviews of Game Informer, using their own word and then saying whether I thought they gave the game to much credit or not enough and adding in my own criticisms and praises for the game I felt they left out.  Depending on what kind of feedback I get on this, I may just give this blog of its own, but until then it stays here.  So without further adieu, I am pleased to announce The Illusive One V.S. Game Informer.

 



V.S.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Dragon Age 2

           As my more dedicated readers know, last month I did a seven part review on the game Dragon Age: Origins, its expansions and DLC in preparation for Dragon Age II and I'm pleased to say that the first two parts of that review are among my most popular currently ranking at two and three.  Now it's time to follow up on that review. This is the Illusive One's Reviews, and this is Dragon Age II.

The Plot
            The game begins as Varric the Dwarf is being interrogated by a Chantry Seeker, (a kind of inquisition for the Chantry).  Ten years have passed since the beginning of Origins, the Chantry is in ruins, and the world is on the brink of war.  This Seeker seeks Hawke, The Champion of Kirkwall, the one who started all this, and may be the one who can put it all back together again.  Varric, who had known Hawke before becoming the champion, doesn’t know where Hawke is now so the Seeker asks Varric to tell her everything he knows about Hawke.
            And so Varric tells the Seeker the story of Hawke: a refuge from Ferelden fleeing the blight who would change the world and become the Champion of Kirkwall.

The Gameplay
            The gameplay shifted radically from that of Origins in nearly every aspect. For starters, the general controls completely change, (for the better in my opinion).  In it, you have more control of your character, actually having to hit a button to do a regular attack against an enemy while your special moves charge up.  At first this is refreshing, then gets tedious, then gets awesome again when your character is in his or her higher levels and is smashing through enemies like bugs.  The new control over your character also allows you to actually dodge attacks and move out of your enemy's attack range and made it much easier to avoid damage. 
            The attributes haven't changed but the skills and talent sets have.  The skill sets have been eliminated altogether and the talents have been renamed abilities and encompass specialization.  These sets have changed from being a simple row of things to upgrade to a tree, each often requiring you to learn a specific ability before learning another.  The weapons and armor still have that cool, medieval fantasy look to them but strangely enough, you can only change the armor of Hawke throughout the game and everyone else has their wardrobe set for themselves throughout the game, (although you can change their weapons and accessories).
           The graphics in this game were also hugely improved upon, although there were several annoying glitches with the cut scenes that constantly distracted me.  All the characters and enemies from the previous game have completely new looks.  Most notably of these were the Qunari, who are bigger, fiercer looking, have horns and blue skin, (yea I didn't entirely get that last on either).
            The number of enemies in this game was, for the most part, limited to those introduced in Origins and its DLC.  While most of these enemies had great new looks, I found it to be a bit disappointing that they didn't come up with anything new.  Probably my biggest issue with the enemies was how underused the Darkspawn were.  I was honestly hoping for less of them to fight, but they nearly cut them out of the game completely.  Luckily, it makes up for it with a huge number of different factions to fight that include Templers, Mages, Qunari, slavers, and various other criminal and government organizations.  
            Then there are the traveling locations in this game, which are painfully limited.  For the most part, you're stuck in the city and its surrounding forests, mountains, and caves.  While much better looking than the locations of Origins, there were annoyingly few in number.
            Finally there is the dialog wheel.  While heavily inspired by the dialog wheel from the Mass Effect Games but this one I think is better.  The first game just gave you a list of things to say and made for boring, one sided, conversations.  With the dialog wheel, however, it allowed you to be nice, tactful, sly, humorous, charming, aggressive, blunt or lie, giving the game a huge number of dialog options.  What ultimately made it better then the dialog wheel of Mass Effect was that not as much hinged on what you said in general conversation.  In Mass Effect, you kind of had to watch what you said for your paragon or renegade status which can and will affect the entire game whereas in this game, the characters may just like you a little less.

The Characters 
            Believe it or not, the characters in Dragon Age II were actually a lot better than the ones from Origins.  Their dialog was improved, their back stores were better, and their motivations for helping Hawke were usually out of mutual need for help rather than a fight for survival.  The best of all of these characters was your protagonist Hawke.  While most RPGs protagonists are boring, silent characters Hawke is just the opposite.  Being able to choose his/her dialog from the wheel gave you all the abilities mentioned above made Hawke an interesting and compelling protagonist.  What I personal found really interesting about Hawke was that he/she wasn't a character out to conquer the world or to save it; he/she is just trying to make a living in this world but constantly finds himself/herself getting caught up in events that change everything.  
            This cast of supporting characters were also great and include includes Varric the Dwarf, Carver, Hawke's Brother, Bethany, Hawke's sister, Avaline the Guard, Isabela the pirate captain, Merrill the Dalish Elf, Anders the Mage, and Fernis the warrior elf and each adds their own flavor to the story and many of their personal quests are actually involved in the main story lines.  On a trivia note, three of the characters were actually introduced in Origins and Awakening.  Isabela was introduced in a whore house in Denerim in Origins, Merrill was a character from the Dalish Origin Story and Anders was a companion from Awakening.
            The characters of Bodahn and Sandal return in this game as both merchants and Hawke's servants (play the game for more details).  While I'm on this subject there were a few cameos by a few characters from Origins and Awakening who appear in the final act of the game.  These cameos include Alistair, Leliana, and Nathaniel Howe but disappointingly consist mostly of hello, nice to meet you, thanks for the help, and see you later.
            As a mentioned above, the dialog system has hugely improved and the lines for the supporting characters have as well.  Most notably, it now contains swearing and I felt it made the dialog more raw and realistic.

The Verdict
            All around, I have mixed feeling on this game.  While I though the plot was good and much more realistic then that of Origins, it just didn't feel as compelling.  It was more about a decade in a man's or woman's life and events that changed the world due to his or her actions then your usual fantasy story.  Don't get me wrong.  I did love the way the plot was executed but it just wasn't as compelling as Origins.  The number of locations was painfully limited and the enemies were disappointing to say the least.  The graphics, gameplay, dialog, and characters I felt were hugely improved and made the game incredibly enjoyable. 
            Last thing to note is the ending.  I won't spoil it, but it should suffice to say it's bullshit.  It's one of those ending leaves you hanging, paving the way for another sequel and this pissed me off beyond belief.  But still, if you liked Origins and are a fan of the stuff by Bioware, (as I am), then pick it up.  Just don't have expectations of it as high as the sky and don't expect a conclusive ending.
All Around
8.5/10

Friday, March 18, 2011

How to Train Your Dragon

            Their have been a lot of films, books, and video games over the years that depict humans befriending dragons despite the world seeing them as a menace.  Having recently seen the film, How to Train Your Dragon, I decided to give my thoughts on it.
            As I'm sure you all know, it is an animated film by DreamWorks and features the voice acting of Jay Barlichel, Gerard Butler, Craig Ferguson, America Ferrera, and Jonah Hill.  The plot revolves around Hiccup, son of a Viking clan leader, as he befriends a dragon named Toothless, despite the fact that his entire clan hunts and kill dragons.
            On the positive side, the movie contained a heartwarming tale of a boy trying to befriend a wild animal while dealing with the pressures of his community with the perfect soundtrack mixed in.  Gerard Butler and Craig Ferguson were both perfect fits for their part, Butler as Stoick the Viking clan leader and Ferguson as Gobber, the slightly insane dragon slayer teacher.  There were a number of different dragons in this film, each with their own abilities and looks and I thought this was very creative.  Some of the humor was entertaining, particularly with Gobber's dragon slaying training.  And last, I thought the dragon Toothless was very entertaining in the way he constantly shifted from being a fierce wild animal to a loving pet, usually indicated by his eyes going from fierce reptilian looking to loving bug-eyed.
            In spite of all this, there were quite a few flaws with this movie.  First is the plot structure, as it’s been used a hundred times over, (watch the movie and you'll see what I mean).  Then there are the dragons.  While they were interestingly diverse, I couldn't get over how stupid most of them looked.  I know it’s supposed to be a kid’s movie, but most of these dragons looked like they had birth defects or something.  Last has to do with the lines and the voice acting.  There were a lot of lines in it that were obviously meant to be funny but just weren’t.  Last, Jay Barlichel just did a horrible job voicing Hiccup. 
            All around, I did like this movie and thought it was both heartwarming and entertaining.  While it will never escape the shadow of Toy Story 3 it's still a good one so check it out if you have an hour and a half to spare.

All Around
8/10

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mass Effect And James Bond


Perhaps they are more alike than we think…









          
           When I first played Mass Effect, it was one of the few games that blew me away with only its plot and back story.  Though there were flaws in the gameplay, it was undoubtedly the best Space Opera I had seen since Star Wars and one of the best written video games of all time.  Mass Effect 2 came along a little over two years later with greatly improved graphics, environments, characters, and gameplay.  This is all undoubtedly due to the creative minds of the developers at Bioware, who are famous in the gaming community for incorporating great story lines, great dialog, and great characters into their games.
            The developers and writers have often stated that the game took inspiration from several sci-fi films such as Star Wars, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, Blade Runner, Aliens and Starship Troopers, (and a few references to Ender's Game and Battlestar Galactica if I'm not mistaken), and I can see how all of these influenced the games.  What I didn't realize until the late summer of 2010 was that the games contained several similarities to the James Bond series.  This came to my attention one month when Encore was constantly playing these movies.  There wasn't much else to watch at the time so I frequently watched James Bond movies again and again.  As I noticed the similarities I couldn't help but wonder if Bioware intentionally ripped this off, if it was an unconscious decision on part of the writers, if it was just coincidental, or if I was just looking to deeply into this and should just enjoy the fucking games and movies. 
            Originally, I had written this post months ago, as part of a potential joint project between me another blogger, but it never went underway.  Because I haven't felt like doing any reviews lately, the fact that this one was already written, no one ever mentioning the similarities between the franchises, and all the stuff I've been doing on Bioware lately I decided to go ahead and post it.  But anyway, here are the similarities I noticed.

           One of the less recognizable similarities deals with the SPECTERS, who serve as right hand of the Citadel Council in the Mass Effect games.  Like MI6 of the James Bond series, they often operate off the grid and are selected from solders and assassins who have proven themselves in the field.  Another less noteworthy thing is that the plot of the first game revolves around Shepard tracking a rouge SPECTER who plans horrible things for the universe, (Goldeneye anyone?).  Even the name of the group comes from the Bond films, SPECTER being the main antagonist organization of the early films.  Even towards the end of the first game Shepard goes rouge in order to peruse his enemy as James Bond did in a few of the movies, most notably Quantum of Solace.


           The more noteworthy similarities come in Mass Effect 2 and any hardcore James Bond fan will spot them.  When I first played this game, my first thought was “Space Opera form of The Magnificent Seven” (but I'll get into that some other time).  Then I saw the 007 in it.

           The most noteworthy thing is the organization of Cerberus as it is very similar to SPECTER in the way they operate and how the world views them.  They want control of the universe while SPECTER wants the world.  Even the character The Illusive Man is very similar to Blofeld, (though lacking the Persian cat), in the way he operates, having his Lieutenants do most of the field work for him and communicating with them only when necessary.  And like Blofeld, he desires his organization to rule with him at the top no matter what the cost.

           The final similarity I've noticed so far deals with the character of Miranda, who serves as The Illusive Man's Lieutenant.  In several of the James Bond movies, Bond is able to bring the villain’s female Lieutenants or mistresses to his way of thinking usually by romancing said woman.  As Miranda is a love interest for Shepard and will side with you over the Illusive Man if you gain her loyalty, I can't help but think her character is some kind of take on that.
            Well, that's it for the similarities I spotted but if any of you have spotted any more please feel free to comment.  Perhaps I looked a little too deeply into this, or maybe other people have noticed this as well.  Maybe it was intentional.  Maybe it's just coincidental.  Maybe it's just the latest piece of media to use the clich├ęs that the James Bond series invented.  In the end though both franchises are still great and it's up for the fans of both of the franchise to decide. 
            Until next time, this is the Illusive One saying I prefer my drinks stirred.  SUCK IT BOND! Ah ha ha ha ha!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

2010 Albums of my Favorite Bands

           As I mentioned in both by first post and in my bio, I will occasionally be doing reviews of music and I decided to give a take on the CD's released by my favorite bands and musicians last year.  I won't give an actual rating on these CD's as my own prejudice for these musicians will likely prevail over any honest rating.  So, this is The Illusive One's Take on the 2010 Albums of Disturbed, Linkin Park, Godsmack, Ozzy Osborne, and Rob Zombie.  And for those of you who don't know who these bands are, my you burn in the fires of hell for all eternity.


           First on my list, is Asylum by Disturbed.  While the songs on it are a far cry from the lyrics and rifts of The Sickness and Believe, I'm pleased to say that Disturbed, after ten years, still has it.  They lyrics still contain Disturbed's trademark animal sounds along with their powerful religious, social, environmental, and political themes infused within.  The guitar riffs are great, as is the bass and drum work.  I can honestly say I enjoy every song on this album and would highly recommend it to any fan of Hard Rock.


            Next is A Thousand Suns by Linkin Park and oh my fucking God!  How the mighty have fallen!  About half the tracks on the CD were intros to the next track and all but one of those songs were just horrible and didn't even sound like Linkin Park.  They either sounded like gospel music, Jamaican music, or rap with guitars and drums put in as an afterthought.  In fact the only song worth listening to or even somewhat sounds like only Linkin Park is the song The Catalyst.  But other than that this CD isn't even worth the time to download off some pirating website.  And it truly pains me to say that.   

           Third on my list is The Oracle by Godsmack.  Like Disturbed and Linkin Park, Godsmack was formed in the late 90's, early 2000's but unlike the first two, their sound hasn't changed in the past decade.  The lyric and instrumental style hasn't changed at all and this can be good or bad depending on the individual person.  But that aside, all of its tracks were great and sill have the same feel they used to.



           Fourth is Scream by Ozzy Osborne.  My thoughts on this CD can be summed up in a single sentence; The man can still sing, the songs are good but it's still not as good as his earlier stuff.  That said, let’s just move on.




           Last on the list Hellbilly Deluxe 2 by Rob Zombie.  What the hell happened to you?  After White Zombie broke up, Rob Zombie made his best solo CD Hellbilly Deluxe.  The Sinister Urge was released a couple of years later and sounded almost exactly the same but was still great.  Educated Horses and Hellbilly Deluxe 2 not so much.  The lyrics are bad, the rifts feel campy, (if you don't know what I mean by that I honestly don't know how to explain it), and the whole think seemed to owe just as much to pop as it did hard rock/heavy metal.  Still, it wasn't as bad as A Thousand Suns and there were quite a few songs on it that I did enjoy. 


           Now as you have probably noticed, there weren’t any rap, country, or pop albums mentioned on this list.  Well, that's simply because I don't like either genera and that's why I don't do too much on music.  So what brought this up?  Well, I found out yesterday that Disturbed and Godsmack are headlining the Mayhem Festival Tour this year and for me that's like a dream come true, (my previous dream of having Disturbed and Slipknot together came true two and a half years ago during Mayhem’s first tour in 2008).
           As far as these CD's go, I'd absolutely recommend Asylum and The Oracle to any Disturbed/Godsmack/Hard Rock Fan.  Scream, only to someone who likes Ozzy, and I'd recommend avoiding A Thousand Suns and Hellbilly Deluxe 2 like the plague.  And those are my recommendations for these albums of 2010.  Until next time this is The Illusive One saying, Rock On!