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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.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Grand Theft Auto IV V.S. Red Dead Redemption

            Very rarely does a video game leave an impression the way a game made by Rockstar Games does.  Their plots are always well written, their characters are entertaining and down to earth, the gameplay is always great and usually have the sandbox environment that everyone loves.  Of their modern games, the most popular are Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption and for good reason.  They both have great gameplay, great characters, great environments and both leave a big impression.  But which one is really the superior?  Well, that’s what we’re going to find out on this edition of Franchise V.S. Franchise.  This is Grand Theft Auto IV V.S. Red Dead Redemption.


The Protagonist


           What can you say about Niko Bellic and John Marston?  Well, they’re basically the same character for one thing.  They just happen to be from different eras and have different backgrounds.  To put it simply, they’re both good guys who have done bad things and try to escape their pasts but constantly find it catching up to them.  So in this area it comes down to execution.  Which character was better written, better voiced and all around better made?
 With Niko you had an Eastern European immigrant who comes to America to try to make a better life for himself but gets sucked into the underworld of Liberty City.  Not an original background by any means but it worked.  In truth, he was never a character I got to attached to.  I did, however, want to see him succeed in his life and get a happy ending which is a lot more then I can say for other characters in other games.
With John Marston, you had an ex-outlaw who was trying to go straight but finds himself pulled back into the game when government agents kidnap his family and tell him to kill all the surviving members of his old crew or else.  One again, it’s not an entirely original concept but I felt it was more original then Niko’s.  Like Niko I wanted to see him succeed in his task and get his happy ending.  Unlike Niko, however, he was a character I grew attached to which made for a more likable character.  I also felt that his dialog, voice acting and general body language was better.  Unlike Niko, he actually moved around when he talked and had body language that said as much as the words he spoke.  That’s not something you see too often in video games and was what, in my opinion, really separated him from the crowd.
With that said, they’re essentially the same character but it was the little things that made John Marston better.  He had better dialog, better voice acting and better body language so for me it’s a no brainer.  Point goes to Red Dead Redemption.

The Antagonist


            Now this section is kind of tough to talk about because in both games the main antagonist is constantly changing.  In a lot of ways the true antagonists of these games are actually the protagonists themselves, as they go through a lot of personal conflicts and the conflicts are as much man vs. self as man vs. man.  This is a depth that very few games can get into and in this matter I would have to say it would be draw as both characters have personal challenges that are equally difficult and intriguing.  However in the second half of both games they do have some badass villains that are some sadistic basterds. 
            In Grand Theft Auto IV you had Russian Mobster Dimitri Rascalov who was full of twists.  At first he comes off as being the sane underboss when Niko is working for Mikhail Faustin and actually pretend to be his friend.  Not long after convincing Niko to kill Mikhail, however, he reveals himself to be ambitions, manipulative, backstabbing psychopath and hounds Niko and his friends for the rest of the game.  The ways he goes after Niko tend to vary, ranging from trying to outright kill him to buying out his employers.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t but the result was always a bloody mess.
            In Red Dead Redemption you had another great villain in Edgar Ross who was the complete opposite of Dimitri.  He doesn’t try to be John’s friend and flat out insults him to his face and there isn’t anything John can do about it.  Rather than just threaten to kill him or something of that nature he holds John’s family hostage.  While he never actually says it, he implies that he will kill them if he doesn’t eliminate his old gang.  That is fucked up!  Then you had his actions at the game’s climax but I’ll get into that later.
            So both of these antagonists are great but which one is better?  Well, that’s tough question to answer.  They’re both so similar yet they’re so different and you want to see both of them go down.  But I have to give this point to Ross.  He just seemed more manipulative and a bigger scum bag then Dimitri.  It was all the more worse because he was a government agent and ends up taking all the credit for what John did.  Like John, he also had better body language that spoke as much as his words and was just the more memorable villain.  It’s a close call but the point goes to Red Dead Redemption.

Supporting Protagonists


This is another difficult section because both games have a huge cast of supporting protagonists that are diverse and interesting.  With GTA IV you work with various members of various organizations, ranging from Russian, Italian, and Irish Mobsters to street level coke dealers to secret gay lovers of conservative politicians, (that last one always made me laugh).  Often you have to decide the fates of these characters and are put into situations where you have to kill one or the other and these choices made for good quandaries.  There are also quite a few who are hilarious and badass and it keept the game well balanced.  One of the best parts of this game is that you're able to talk and hang out with these characters even after you've completed all their missions.  The only downside to this is that these characters can get a little annoying and repetitive in their interactions. 
            With Red Dead Redemption you also had a large, diverse cast of characters and were just as entertaining as those from GTA IV but once again had better body language.  They ranged from outlaws, to town marshals, to ranchers, to Mexican revolutionaries, to jackass city men and often become enemies before an act was over which made the characters unpredictable.  Their biggest downside, however, is that once you complete their missions you’ll probably never see them again.  It’s something that always disappointed me but the more I think about it the more logical it seems.  Why would John talk to a lot of those characters again?  He didn’t even like half of them. 
            Despite all this, the characters in Red Dead were once again superior but only just.  They just seemed like they had a little more effort put into them and that tips the balance in their favor.  About the gameplay interactions with them, I’ll get into that later.  Point goes to Red Dead Redemption.

Supporting Antagonists


           Once again both games had a large number of supporting antagonists who were diverse and interesting and were often supporting protagonists at one point.  Like all the other characters in these games, however, the ones in Red Dead Redemption were just a little better.  While the games were made within two years of each other, it seemed like that was all it took for Rockstar Games to flesh out their characters.  Both have great characters but, once again, the supporting antagonists in Red Dead Redemption were just a little better.  Point goes to Red Dead Redemption.

The Music


            To some, this may seem like an unusual category for video games but they’re very quickly getting musical scores that are just as good as anything that is put on film.  With GTA IV you got good variety of various genres of music that ranged from heavy metal to R&B.  With Red Dead, you had music that matched the era and went very well with what was going on the screen.  For some reason, however, I never really cared for the music in GTA IV.  It wasn’t bad but wasn’t great either and I could never remember a single song from it.  I honestly don’t know why.  Not to mention, whenever you weren’t driving a car there wasn’t any music playing at all.  For some situations it was good but for others it just made the experience dull.  Red Dead, however, was the complete opposite.  Western themed music was playing constantly and matched what was on screen perfectly.  Unlike the songs in GTA IV, they were actually memorable and when they end you actually wished they kept going. 
            This, however, is all just personal opinion.  Many other people probably don’t like the music from Red Dead simply because of its genera.  With GTA IV you got a wider selection that but still doesn’t make it better.  So in this section I’m going to play it safe and call it a draw.  Both get half a point.



           Unlike the other categories, this area is very apples and oranges.  With GTA IV you had what was probably the best city ever featured in a video game that came complete with ghettos, down town areas and high class towns.  It was very fun to drive around all these areas and to see how they would be used for the missions.  There was so much detail in this city and so many little things that it’s nearly inconceivable to find every little thing within it. 
            With Red Dead, you had an environment that was the complete opposite.  About 90% of it was endless plains, deserts, and forests with the occasional town or settlement to interrupt it.  Like GTA IV’s Liberty City, this environment had huge amounts of little things and it’s nearly inconceivable to find everything.  So it’s really up to the individual to decide which is better.  Do you prefer the city life or survival in the wilderness?  I personally liked both equally as both were equally well made and I don’t consider one superior over the other.  Granted, I wouldn’t want to live in either place but they were both very well made and this one I consider to be another draw.  Both get half a point.

Graphics and Glitch Control


            Game graphic design and glitch control rapidly get better as time goes on and two years can be worth a lifetime in these departments.  For the most part, however, the graphics in both of these games nearly identical with Red Dead’s only being slightly better than those of GTA IV.  Once again, it’s little things that make graphics of Red Dead better.  These include having a bit more detail to the skin tones of the characters or just simple blood spatter effects that also looked more real.  With glitches, the same is true and in Red Dead I didn’t notice them as much as I noticed those in GTA IV.  The graphics and glitch control in GTA IV were good but once again Red Dead was better.  Point goes to Red Dead Redemption.

General Gameplay


           Like the environments, this area tends to be an apples and oranges kind of thing.  With GTA IV you had a lot of car chases, races and guns spraying more ammo then a John Woo movie.  In it, you have a large variety of weapons, cars, cell phones and all kind of other crap that you would see in the modern age and made the game very relatable and very fun.  The third person, over the shoulder view was something that past GTA games had experimented with in the past but it was perfected in this game. It made combat a lot more enjoyable, a lot less stiff and clunky and was a great experience.  Along with it, you had GTA’s trademark cop chases and being able to fight off an entire police force single handedly which never gets old.  Another was being able to nail a hooker and then kill her for the money you just paid her.  Demented, controversial and flat out wrong, it’s some of the most fun you’ll have with a video game.  So fuck dickheads like Jack Thompson.  This gameplay is awesome.
One thing this game added was being able to go on dates with women and being able to hang out with people you met throughout the game, both of which were surprisingly fun.  This game also included moral choices, (mainly dealing with choosing to kill someone or not), and while it wasn’t original it was a great addition to the game.
With Red Dead, the action seemed a bit more tame and controlled but just as epic.  You had six-shooters, Winchesters and horse chases which made for a great western game.  There was also the ability to make camps in order to save you game and fast travel to locations.  It also had a bit of the heart of the GTA games in being able to get a wanted level to where entire posies of lawmen hunt for you. 
However, Red Dead always struck me as being the “safe western” version of GTA IV.  All the things that made GTA IV so great but controversial are missing and the game suffered for it.  It almost seemed like Rockstar finally got sick of all the lawsuits and decided to play it safe and see how it turned out.  The result was still a great and entertaining western game but it just wasn’t as entertaining as GTA IV.  Point goes to Grand Theft Auto IV.


The Plot/Main Story Missions


           For as much as a loved both of these games I have mixed feelings on their plots as they both seem very clich├ęd.  In GTA IV you had Niko Bellic who was an immigrant just trying to survive in Liberty City and constantly gets caught up in criminal activity.  There are a few reoccurring storylines that appeared every now and then such as his antagonism with Dimitri and a hunt for a man who set him up to die.  However, it’s just not very compelling story, despite all of its great characters. It almost seemed as if they designed the whole game, wrote up all the characters and put in a plot at the last minute.  It just wasn’t that interesting.
Red Dead, on the other hand, was a lot more involved and story driven.  With John Marston you had an ex-outlaw who was trying to go straight but finds himself forced to hunt down his old gang after federal agents kidnap his family.  This, in turn, leads him to fight a war against outlaws, fight in a Mexican revolution and even put down a Native American uprising.  In this game, the plot actually felt like a five act story while the story of GTA IV just felt like a bunch of random events that just happened to come together.  For as much as I loved GTA IV, the plot just wasn’t that great and Red Dead’s was.  It’s just that simple.
With the main story missions it was basically the same.  They just weren’t as interesting and never seemed to progress the story as well as those of Red Dead.  Point goes to Red Dead Redemption.

Side Missions


Most games that use a sandbox/rpg style have a shit ton of side missions and these games were no exceptions.  With GTA IV there were a ton of them, ranging from general street races to assassination contracts to random encounters with people on the street.  Oddly enough, these random encounters would often be just as good if not better then the main story missions.  With Red Dead, you had bounty hunting missions, different challenges and a number of odd encounters with strangers.  The most notable of these encounters was a man in black who I swear was death just teasing John.
Still, the side missions of Red Dead suffered from the same problem as the general gameplay; they just weren’t as fun as those of GTA IV.  Assassinating people and racing cars was just a lot more fun than bounty hunting and storming bandit forts.  Point goes to Grand Theft Auto IV.

The Climax


There were actually two different climaxes of GTA IV and which you get depends on your actions earlier in the game.  In one scenario you go after Dimitri after he kills you cousin while trying to kill you.  In the other, mafia boss Jimmy Pegor attacks Niko and kills his girlfriend instead.  Well…the result is more or less the same; an adrenalin charged chase through abandoned buildings, along a beach line, through the air and a final gun fight at Happiness Island.  No matter which one you get, it’s always a bittersweet finale that tugs on your heart strings.
The climax of Red Dead, however, is incredibly depressing.  After killing all of his old gang, John returns home and tries to get his farm up and running again and it seems like everything is going to be ok.  Then, without explanation, Edger Ross attacks his farm with what seems like an army of U.S. soldiers and results in the most heart breaking finale I’ve ever seen in a video game.  Words cannot do this finale justice and you really have to experience the whole game to feel the full scale of sadness the climax inflicts on you.  While the climax of GTA IV was good, the climax of Red Dead Redemption just left a bigger impression and left me feeling completely empty inside and that is something that you almost never get with video games, (or films for that matter).  Point goes to Red Dead Redemption.

The Ending


With video games, the ending and the climax are usually intertwined.  However, both of these games are open-ended and allows for some closer after the events of the climax.  With GTA IV, you had Niko staring off into the distance after gunning down the final antagonist either concerned for the well being of his sole or lamenting on the supposed "American Dream".  Afterwards you would get a few phone calls from different people giving you their condolences.
With Red Dead, you get a newspaper that shows you what became of many of the people you met throughout the game and it provided some closer but not enough in my opinion.  For example, you never really find out what happened to the MacFarlanes and that always disappointed me.  I say either give closer to everyone or leave all of their fates ambiguous.  Then you had the final gun fight with Ross.  While it was immensely satisfying to get revenge on him, I felt it diluted the power of the climax and just seemed a little unrealistic to me. 
            With that said, this one is still a close call but I have to give it to GTA IV.  It just felt more complete where the ending for Red Dead just didn’t.  In GTA IV, it seemed obvious that Niko was just going to keep doing what he was doing with regrets.  In Red Dead, however, you just weren’t sure what would become of the protagonist and this always disappointed me.  Point goes to Grand Theft Auto IV.

The Superior


           Well, I think you guys already know which game is better and that game is Red Dead Redemption.  For the most part, it took everything that was good about Grand Theft Auto IV and made it better.  Most of these were just minor tweaks but left a bigger impact on me.  Sure, the general gameplay isn’t quite as fun and the ending was a bit better written but was, on the whole, superior to the GTA IV.  Some might argue that because GTA IV was made first, that automatically makes it the superior game but that’s like saying the effects in Star Wars are better than those of Lord of the Rings simply because they were made first.  It’s just flat out wrong.  The point is that Red Dead Redemption was a much better made game with superior writing, graphics and was a much memorable experience.  It’s a close call all around but Red Dead Redemption is the superior game. 

            So until next time this is The Illusive One saying         

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Thoughts On The Transformers Films

            Transformers.  What can you say?  Giant alien robots that turn into cars, tanks, planes, guns and all kinds of other crap and beat the living shit out of each other.  The idea was pure genius.  It started out as a little toy line by Hasbro but evolved into the biggest franchise to come out of the 80s.  It included several animated series, (the most famous one from the 80s), comic books, a full length animated film, two live action films released in the 2000s and more action figures then I can count.  With the film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon due for release next week, I decided to do a post on my thoughts the three previous films.  This is The Illusive One's Thoughts On The Transformers Films.

Transformers: The Movie (1986)

            To start things off, let’s go back to the 1986 animated film, Transformers: The Movie.  This is one that only hard core Transformers fans seem to know about and is very obscure to modern audiences.  However, it's arguably the best of the three so far.  It takes place during the futuristic era of 2005, (apparently I'm not the only one but I don't seem to remember flying cars around in that year), where the Autobots have made a new city on Earth after the Decepticons took over Cybertron.  However, a transformer the size of a planet called Unicron, (voice oddly enough by Orson Welles in his final role who didn't even care enough to learn the character's name), is consuming planets all throughout the galaxy and Cybertron is next on his list.  In order to save his home planet from Unicron's wrath, Megatron agrees to help him find and destroy a kind of leadership talisman called the Matrix and the battle against the Decepticons and Unicron ensues.
            Before I get into the positives and negatives of this film, I have to address how many of the major characters died.  I have to say, the first half of the film was just a flat out blood bath.  The Decepticons attack Autobot City and all the old Transformers just slaughter each other, most notably Optimus Prime.  His death in particular is considered to be one of the saddest moments for any kid who grew up in the 80s and I agree.  It is sad.  I had heard about all of these deaths prior to watching this movie but still!  Just damn!  Everyone addresses this and everyone knows it was a marketing ploy to introduce a new line of toys but it still was pretty shocking to see all of those beloved characters killed off in so short of a time span.  That said, let’s move on.
            On the positive side, I couldn't help but love the fights.  Just seeing all these robots beat the shit out of each other, shoot each other and tear each other to pieces was just awesome to look at.  I also felt that while killing off so many of the old transformers was shocking I also thought it was a bold move and cool to see these robots actually die rather them just retreat, lick their wounds and fight another day.  The music, while cheesy as hell, I couldn't help but enjoy and matched what was on screen perfectly.  The best part of this whole movie, however, was Unicron.  Orson Welles did a great job voicing him and he was probably the best villain to come out of the 80s animated series.  A planet consuming Transformer; it was just brilliant.
            On the negative side, there was a lot of random crap that seemed to happen in this movie just as filler.  For example, before the surviving Autobots get to Cybertron, they crash land on a planet with a hostile population who try to kill them.  Not ten minutes later, they're helping them and start singing and dancing.  How the hell did that happen?  About a third of this movie was just weird filler like that and it annoyed the crap out of me.  At times it didn't feel like a Transformers movie as much as Star Trek with giant robots and that's the biggest problem with the movie.  The general story telling just isn't that good and nearly inconsistent.  Last to note is how they kill Unicron.  I won't spoil it but suffice to say it's a deus ex machina thing and just annoyed me.
            All around, if you're a kid, it's a fun movie.  If you're an adult it has a nostalgia factor to it.  If you're like me and didn't see it until you were older it still has a campy feel to it and is worth checking out.

   All Around

Transformers (2007)

            In the 20 years in between the 1986 film and the 2007 film the series continued to run and had various spinoffs and reboots produced such as Beast Wars and Transformers: Armada.  Then in 2007 came the first live action Transformers movie, Transformers.  It was directed by Michael Bay and starred Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, and Jon Voight.  Its plot revolves around and object called the All Spark that crashed on Earth eons ago.  This object is one that is able to create new transformer robots and the Autobots and Decepticons come to Earth to gain possession of it.  In the middle is our protagonist Sam Witwicky who gets caught up in this mess by owning a pair of glasses that has the location of the All Spark etched into it, (just watch the movie to find out how).
            On the positive side the special effects were awesome.  The way the transformers moved and transformed was really cool and perfectly done.  Had they done this any earlier I seriously doubt they would have been able to pull it off so well.  I also thought it was really cool the way they brought in Peter Cullen to reprised his voice role of Optimus Prime.  A lot of the humor in this film was also really good, particularly Sam's interactions with the transformers and his bumbling attempts woo Mikaela.  The Autobots also had great personalities to them.  Some were serious, some were funny and some were so serious that they were funny.  And, as always, Megatron is one hell of a villain only this time he was a lot more demented and a lot more badass.
            On the negative side, I couldn't help but not like the action in this movie.  I honestly have no idea why everyone seems to like it so much because it's really not that good.  Half the time you’re not even sure if what’s being shot is an Autobot or a Decepticon and you’re never sure when these things are dead.  One moment it will seem dead and the next it will get up as if nothing had happened.  My biggest problem with the action in this movie, however, is that you don't see half of it.  Often half of the transformers' bodies would be off camera and the next thing you know their head would roll on to the screen and I would find myself saying “What the hell happened?”  For example, during the final fight Optimus Prime was getting pulverized by Megatron but you didn't see any of it.  All you would see was Optimus getting thrown halfway down a block and then it would cut to something else.  The whole thing was very annoying and I felt it brought the whole movie down.
            While I felt the action in this film was very disappointing, I did like this movie.  The plot was so-so and seemed like it was written for kids but I felt the good outweighed the bad.  It was a typical summer blockbuster but its well worth any Transformers fan's time.

All Around

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

            After the success of the first film, Michael Bay and company immediately started working on the next film.  Two years later, the result was released into theaters and was the highest grossing movie of the 2009 summer, (beaten for the year by James Cameron's Avatar).  The plot of this box office giant was....well…it's about....yea that's about everyone's feelings on the plot.  It's practically nonexistent but I'll explain it the best I can.  From what I gather this ancient Decepticon called The Fallen, (how corny), with Megatron's help, plans to activate a machine on Earth that will draw power from the sun and destroy it in the process.  Somehow Sam gets the location of the key to this device inscribed into his head and the decepticons hunt him for it.
            Before I get into the positives and negatives of this film I have address it's relation to the 1986 film.  Oddly enough, it had a lot of similarities to it, most notable being the death of Optimus Prime so early in the film.  Another similarity is the device that activates the doomsday machine is called the Matrix which was what Unicron was after in the 1986 film.  The last similarity to note is the way the Matrix works.  Without giving anything away, it makes new Primes.  I always felt they were odd similarities and worth mentioning because no one seems to notice them.  It's a lot like the walker blowing up in Empire Strikes Back.  It's wired, it's there, but no one ever seems to mention it.  That said, let’s go to the goods and bads of this film.
            On the positive side, the special effects were just as good as they were in the first film.  Watching the transformers transform was still cool to watch and I never get tired of it.  While the humor wasn't as good as the humor from the first it was still had me laughing my ass off.  Then you had Megan Fox.  In the first film, she wasn't at its forefront but in this one she was.  It seemed like every fifteen minutes she was stripping something off or bending in suggestive manners.  More serious critics may include this on the negatives for some God unknown reason but I wasn't complaining, nor was anyone I knew.  The song New Divide by Linkin Park was a welcome addition to the soundtrack and was actually a lot better than anything they had on A Thousand Suns but that's a discussion for another day.   Last to mention, is the action and, my God, was it an improvement.  With the first film you had action that literally went off camera and half the time it happened when the camera was elsewhere.  With this film, the fights were fluent, better choreographed, and awesome to watch.
            On the negative side, everything else went downhill in this film.  The dialog sucked and there were many lines that were just stupid and/or didn't make any sense.  There were also a lot of stupid moments, most notably the giant transformer's balls, (just watch it to find out).  Then you had the plot.  Wait!  What plot?  Exactly!  It just seemed non-existent.  I don't know how else to describe it.  Whenever someone tried to explain it you got about ten seconds of explanation, then they stopped and cut to an action scene or to Megan Fox.  It just annoyed the crap out of me and made me wish they had put a little more effort into the story. 
            You also had this stereotypical government dick head who wanted to believe the Decepticons weren’t a threat.  Under the right circumstances these kinds of characters can be welcome additions to the cast but here it's obvious he was just put there to be a stereotype.  It just annoys the crap out of me when films do that.  The last negative thing to mention is how they got to Egypt.  How do they get their?  Well, an ancient transformer teleports them their so his narrative will have more power to it.  WHAT THE FUCK!?  And he only tells it for about two minutes before disappearing!  It was just a stupid way to get them to Egypt for the final battle and has bothered me to no end.
            Despite all of its flaws, I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy this film.  The special effects were still cool, it was still pretty funny, and the action was a lot better.  As far as the characters go, they weren't that great in the first one either.  As far as the plot goes, the first one didn't have that great of a plot either.  With the first one it seemed like it was just an excuse to bring the transformers to Earth and to make a movie while the plot of the second film just seemed like an excuse to make a second movie.  But yea.  Both the plot and characters of this film were less then paper thin.  But it was still an awesome movie to watch.

All Around

            And those are my thoughts on the Transformers films.  The first movie was good for what it was and the live action films were both good popcorn movies and a lot of fun.  They're not masterpieces by any means but still worth checking out.  The new film Transformers: Dark of the Moon, (I sense Pink Floyd influence in this title), is due for release next week and I have no doubt that it's just going to be another popcorn movie.  It'll be worth watching but not remembering.  So until next time this is The Illusive One and play this video below for my final remark.

God I love that song!