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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Seventh Seal

            There are many films that are considered masterpieces and for good reason.  Some for their plot, some for their innovative film making techniques and some for their special effects.  However, there are quite a few that can stand toe to toe with many of these masterpieces in some way or another and are often utterly obscure.  And today I am going to talk about one of those obscure films.  This is the Illusive One's Review of The Seventh Seal.

            Released in 1957, the film was a Swedish production, directed by Ingmar Bergman and starred a very young Max von Sydow.  While it's not incredibly obscure, it's not one that too many people talk about or even know about which is a shame.  I myself hadn't even heard about it until Netflix recommended it.  The plot revolves around the knight Antonius Block, (Sydow), as he is returning home from the crusades disillusioned and very world weary.  On his way back he encounters Death and challenges him to a game of chess in order to postpone his own death and try to find some kind of meaning in life and explores the themes of faith, death and the meaning of life.
            One the positive side you had a great story for starters.  If you're like me, however, you might be disappointed that there is relatively little screen time of the knight and Death actually playing chess.  Most of the film focuses on the knight, his squire Jons, and various people they encounter on the way to the knight's castle as the Black Death ravages Europe and the characters confront their own personal demons concerning faith, death, morality, and the meaning of life itself.  While it wasn't what I expected, I cannot deny that it was one that was very well executed, full of tense and emotional moments and kept me interested from beginning to end.
            Another thing this film really got right were the characters, as each was entertaining and memorable in their own way.  For starters, you had Antonius the knight who was incredibly acted by Sydow and he really came off as believable as a world weary knight with a crisis of faith.  The only problem I really had was that he seemed to be a tad thin for the part and this made him look a bit out of place.  You also had the squire Jons, who was incredibly enjoyable as a hilarious cynic who laughed at the prospect of death, a serious man of his time and intimidating and badass all at once.  In my personal opinion, his dialog was the best in the film being both enjoyable and serious with themes just as powerful as knight’s talks with death and other people.  Even the characters that were relatively minor and forgettable were entertaining in some way.  The black smith and his wife added an entertaining subplot and the way Jons worked off the blacksmith was just hilarious.
            Along with these characters you had great dialog frequently dealing with issues of faith, life, death, love, and morality.  There were also quite a few scenes in this film I really enjoyed such as the witch burning where the knight asks the witch if he can talk to the Devil, Jons’ conversations with the painter, the blacksmith, and the group eating strawberries together one afternoon.
            The last really good thing I have to mention about this film was the general set design as they made an incredibly convincing medieval environment.  Everything I saw on film, from the castles, to the inns, to the churches, to the food, to the food bowls I could honestly believe were from that era.
            However, I would be lying if I said this film didn’t have flaws.  For starters, the figure of Death was hit or miss throughout this film.  At times he was really creepy and intimidating and at others he just seemed underwhelming and dull.  The actor Jof was a good character but something seemed a bit off about his performance at times.  Like it was written for him to have a certain reaction but fails to show it.  Granted a lot of that has to do with the general directorial style but it still bothered me. 
While on the subject, I couldn’t help but notice that the cinematography, editing and general directorial style was hit and miss throughout this film.  The editing wasn't great, particularly during any violent scenes where said violence was cut out and some of it seemed a bit choppy.  A lot of the shots seemed a bit static and a little to centered at times, and makes you aware that you're watching a movie.  While many scenes in this film were great and full of tension, I couldn't help but feel that several could have been a lot better.  Some scenes just didn't have the right lighting, and some didn't have the right camera movements.  It was just a number of little things that added up and kept the film from having an artsy, physiological quality to it that films like Apocalypse Now! and Blade Runner have, despite the fact that it seemed like that was the mood the film was going for. 

            All around, I would recommend this film to anyone who has an interest in older films, isn't depressed, and can watch a film in a foreign language.  The characters, acting and dialog were all good, even when they seemed a bit off, and made the film incredibly enjoyable.  The general directorial style, however, keeps it short of classic and really shows the age of the film.  It seemed like the makers were trying to go for an Exorcist type feel to it, where the viewer takes from the film what they brought, but the ultimate visual execution kept this from being possible.  Once again, I would recommend this film but don't expect anything ground breaking and expect to have a lot more questions than answers by the film's end.

All Around

Until next time, this is the Illusive One wishing you all luck in your own game of chess with death.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Watchmen: Graphic Novel V.S. Film


            Watchmen.  It's often considered to be the greatest graphic novel of all time with the greatest cast of characters ever put into a comic book.  Throughout the 80s, 90's, and 2000's, there were several attempts to get a film adaptation of the graphic novel produced with little success.  However, in 2009 a film adaptation of the graphic novel was finally released under the direction of Zack Snyder who had already made a name for himself with his directorial style of 300.  Reaction to the film from both fans and critics was....mixed, to say the least.  Some thought it was the greatest superhero film other made, while others criticized it for the mixed feelings it induced upon its viewers and areas that were distant from the source material.  I, however, saw the film before I read the entire graphic novel so comparing the two never crossed my mind and from the moment the credits rolled I considered it one of my favorite films of all time. 
            However, after finishing the graphic novel, I understood why reaction from fans was so mixed and I feel compelled to compare the two.  I had been meaning to do something on Watchmen for a long time, and this seemed like the best thing to do.  So in this special edition of Franchise V.S. Franchise, I will be comparing the graphic novel to the film and deciding which the superior is.  This is Watchmen: Graphic Novel V.S. Film



            To start things off, let's compare the closest thing this story has to main character, Rorschach.  One thing I have to say about both versions is that they're both really, really good.  But they are very different in very apparent ways.  The Rorschach of the comic is described as a sociopath with a very flat, monotone, emotionless voice with an expressionless face and many of his actions reflects that.  They're often carries out calmly and effectively with zero emotion and makes for a very unpredictable character.
            In the film, the character is played by Jackie Earl Haley who could not be more different.  He talks in a harsh, almost Christian Bale sounding Batman voice and always had a pissed off look on his face.  He also seemed to come off as being a bit more of a maniac rather than a sociopath.  As a result, he's very intimidating and you know if you cross him you're a dead man. 
            So in this, it's the sociopath vs. the maniac.  And in this regard, it's definitely the comic version that wins.  With the comic version, you never knew what the character was thinking simply because he kept a blank expression on his face and made for a much more interesting character.  The comic version just seemed like he had a little bit more to offer and really got under the readers skin in a way the film version failed to.  While the film version was badass and entertaining, the comic version was much more subtle and unpredictable. 
            I think the scenes/panels that really established this was the difference in the origin stories of the character.  In the film, in the event that finally sent him over the edge he seemed more pissed off and emotional where as the comic version seemed broken and devoid of emotions.  In the film, he chops the guys head in with a meat cleaver, saying “Men get arrested....Dogs get put down!”  While in the comic he handcuffs the guy to a stove, pores gasoline all around the house they’re in, hand the man a saw while he's crying and begging and just tells him that he won't be able to cut through the chain in time before lighting the house on fire and watching it burn for an hour.  That just leaves a bit more of an impact. 
            Don't get me wrong though.  I loved Jackie Earl Haley in this role and thought he was an incredibly entertaining and memorable character.  But in the one in the comic was just more subtle, got under your skin, and left an impact on both a conscience and sub-conscience level.  Point goes to the graphic novel.

Dr. Manhattan


            This is another character that was really good in both but were actually very similar.  They both seemed emotionally devoid, monotone, expressionless, and completely detached from other people and as everyone points out, represented what a superhero with godlike powers would eventually become.  So it really comes down to drawing style/acting.  The problem with the comic was that every now and then he would really show an emotion, like anger, surprise and sadness.  In the film, on the other hand, he just seemed blank and most of his emotions were very subtle.  So subtle in fact that if you're not looking for them you probably won't see them.  As a result whenever he says he is wrong or commits to something on an emotional level it make it all the more compelling and meaningful.  With the comic, on the other hand, he just didn't seem as detached as he should during its first half.  So in this regard, it's easy.  The superior Dr. Manhattan is the one of the film.  He ultimately just seemed a bit more detached, a bit more monotone, and a lot blander which, strangely enough, actually worked to the character's advantage.  Point goes to the film. 

Nite Owl II/Dan Dreiberg


            I really hated Nite Owl/Dan Dreiberg in both the comic and the film.  Why you may ask?  BECAUSE HE NEVER DOES ANYTHING MEANINGFUL!  Seriously!  Have you reread the comic or re-watched the film lately!?  He has next to no purpose in them other than to tie the characters together and be a Batman wannabe!  But that aside, which one was the superior version of this useless character?
            In the comic, he seemed like a bit of a weak minded character with no confidence whatsoever.  Even when he finally regained his confidence halfway through the book he still seemed like a very bland, useless character.  In the film he was a bit different; not nearly as pathetic but never seems to evolve in the film either and seemed just as unneeded.  But his equipment and outfits in the film definitely seemed cooler.  His outfit in the comic on the other hand looked....well...stupid and at times Archie just looked like a walnut with headlights.  Other than that, nether rendition of the character seemed better than the other.  However, there was one thing he did in the film that I think drives the film version over the top; he actually goes after Rorschach at the film's end.  In the comic, he just kind of says “see you later” and doesn’t even care what happened to him.  What kind of a friend does that?
            In the end, neither rendition of the character is really that good but the film adaptation was slightly better.  Point goes to the film.

Silk Specter II/Laurie Jupiter


            Despite the fact that most of the cast in this film were great in their roles, they really went wrong with Laurie Jupiter/Silk Specter.  To make a long story short, in the film she just seemed more like a whiney, two dimensional, ditzy teenager then a thirty-five year old masked avenger.  With her, I didn't see the character, so much as some actress trying to play the character but not doing a great job at it.  The comic rendition of her, however, could be a bit of a bitch but was all around a better written character.  In it, she was three dimensional, actually had emotions, and her reactions to various situations seemed very legitimate.
            Not much else to say on this, other than the film version has nothing on the comic version.  In the comic she was three dimensional, had good dialog, and was a very engaging character.  The film version she...wasn't.  Point goes to the graphic novel. 

Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt


            Even though I liked both renditions of this character, it was really easy for me to decide which the superior was.  With the comic you had a character that was obviously tortured by what he was doing and what he was going to do and his facial expressions showed it.  With the film adaptation he always had a blank, emotionless, face and spoke with a voice that was always kind of monotone.  As a result when it was revealed that he was the villain, (or the closest thing you can call a villain in this story), it wasn't as much of a surprise.  When I first discovered this I thought “Yea, that guy was kind of fishy.”  The comic rendition was a lot less suspecting and made his actions that much more shocking.  While I did like the film version, it just didn't have anything on the comic version.  Point goes to the graphic novel.

The Comedian/Edward Blake


            What can I honestly say about this character?  In both the comic and the film, he had some of the most memorable dialog ever and understood that humans are savage in nature no matter how hard they cover it up.  His solution to this: become a parody of it; a comedian if you will.  But which was truly the superior? 
            In the comic, I have to say, he was a relatively forgettable character whose only apparent purpose seemed to be killed in order to start the events of the novel.  Not to say that he was uninteresting but he just didn't leave much of an impression on me the way other characters did.  I'm not entirely sure why, but he just seemed a bit dull to me. 
            The film, on the other hand, actually turned him into the most memorable and interesting character of the entire film and this is all due to Jeffery Dean Morgan's fantastic performance as the character.  Despite having little screen time he just left a big impression with his body language, actions and lines that were delivered perfectly with great emotion and vigor, (even when they sucked).  I'm not entirely sure why, but his thoughts toward humanity and civilization just seemed to be a lot more compelling in the film as well.  You just felt it in a way that for some reason you don't in the comic.
            Their really isn't too much more to say about this character other then the film version blew the comic version out of the water.  In the comic he just seemed like another character that was ultimately overshadowed by the others.  The film, on the other hand, practically turned him into the star of the damn movie.  His dialog was perfectly delivered, his mannerisms and body language and facial expressions all complemented it, and he was just so despicably that you couldn't help but love the character.  Point goes to the film.

Supporting Characters


            In the original comic, Watchmen had a huge number of minor characters whose roles weren't immediately apparent.  The most notable of these were the news stand runner and the kid who's always reading Tales of the Black Freighter along with a number of other people who interact with them.  While they weren't nearly as interesting as the main characters, or nearly as necessary to the story, they did add another layer of depth to it and gave you a bit of insight as to what the common people thought of the current crisis.  Unfortunately the film nearly cut these characters out completely.  I understand why they did it, but it was still aggravating and I know a lot of fans were disappointed by it.
            Then you have some of the other major supporting characters like Dr. Malcolm Long who had layers of depth added to him in the comic, whereas in the film he was just kind of there for five minutes.  With the film rendition, I didn't see the character so much as an actor trying to play the character but failing at it.  The same can be said for Hollis Mason/Nite Owl I and Sally Jupiter/Silk Specter I.  The guy who played as Mason wasn't bad but he wasn't great either.  He was just kind of there.  The woman who played Jupiter...well...she just sucked.
            Their really isn’t much else to say in this department other then the supporting characters in the novel were better.  They had more depth to them and were just all around better developed.  Point goes to the graphic novel.

Cold War Tension


            Ah, yes.  Nothing says the 80s like good old fashion Cold War tension.  In both the comic and film, it's very apparent and plays a big part in the plot and ultimately, the resolution.  But they could not have been more different. 
            With the comic it was very subtle at first but got more and more intense as time went on.  At the start of the comic it was just a casual threat.  No one was really concerned about it simply because they felt that Dr. Manhattan’s presence insured that the Russians wouldn't attack.  According to Alan Moore, this was actually an allegory for the people of America's feelings of invulnerability when Ronald Regan was in office; one that could easily be broken by the slightest crack, (speaking of which, why the hell didn't he have a credit of co-creator of the comic in the film?).  And in the comic it does.  After Manhattan leaves, events slowly start to escalate, starting with a Russian invasion of Afghanistan, which spill into Pakistan and by the comic's ending they are poised to invade the NATO nations of Western Europe.  As a result of the steady pace, you really feel the mounting tension of the coming war and by the end you'll be biting your nails.
            In the film, however, it was really shoved in your face from the start.  Right off the bat, it started showing interviews with various scientists and politicians on...whatever the hell was going on, (some sort of territorial issues and weapons tests).  Where the film really dropped the ball was that the only apparent reason for the potential war was Dr. Manhattan’s leaving of Earth.  That's it.  The Russians never really made any major moves and Nixon seemed ready to nuke the entire country for no apparent reason other than to show who the bigger dog was and over a few minor infractions.  It just didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.
            To make a long story short on this section, the cold war tension was both subtle and apparent in the comic while it was just shoved in your face in the film.  In the film it really didn't make a while lot of sense as to why a war was about to start and in the comic it did.  Not much more needs to be or can be said.  Point goes to the graphic novel.



            This is an area that could not be more controversial among fans and critic alike.  I'm honestly not sure where to begin with this section so I guess I'll start with the area that's the most controversial: The Brain...Squid...Mutant...thing vs. the Dr. Manhattan Bombs.  The ultimate plan of Ozymandias, (as I'm sure you all know), in the comic was to release a giant Brain...Squid...Mutant...thing on NYC and give everyone the impression that an alien or extra dimensional creature had invaded.  In the process, it gives both the Americans and the Russians a common enemy to fight against; for the world to unite against a much greater foe that threatens all of humanity rather than a single nation.  For as stupid as the... Brain...Squid...Mutant...thing looked it was a very plausible solution, (if a bit over the top).
            The film, on the other hand, was a lot different.  In it, Ozymandias manages to recreate Dr. Manhattan’s energy and uses it to create bombs that destroy various cities around the globe.  In the process, it gives the world the impression that Dr. Manhattan destroyed these cities and causes the world to unite against “the evils of Dr. Manhattan”.
            Of these two solutions I definitely found the Brain...Squid...Mutant...thing solution to be a lot more plausible.  Throughout the film and graphic novel, the writers go out of their way to establish just how godlike and indestructible Dr. Manhattan is.  So in that, it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that the world would unite against him so much as grovel to him.  But even that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  If these countries were already ready to kill each other over...well...nothing why would they grovel to Dr. Manhattan if they were already on a suicidal course?  I mean it just doesn’t make any sense!
            However, where the film really shines is in the execution of the ending.  Now granted there were some great and powerful moments in the comic.  For example, Ozymandias’ speech on the pharos and uniting the world was much better done comic.  When Laurie confronts her mother about the identity of her father she bursts out into tears after Laurie leaves and kisses a picture of the Comedian.  However, the impact the film leave on its viewer was much greater.  For starters, it was contained.  It wasn't too long yet not to short whereas the comic's ending just seemed to go on and on. 
            There were two things, however, that really put the execution of the film’s ending over the edge.  The first was Rorschach’s death.  In the comic, it just kind of happened.  There was no suspense, no build up, and no tension, as if the writers were in a rush to finish it.  In the film, they really drew it out, building as much tension and suspense as possible and gives close ups of the actors’ faces which were full of emotion and I found myself praying that Dr. Manhattan wouldn't do it.  And when he finally killed him, my heart dropped and my eyes watered.  The comic just didn't have the same effect.
            The second thing was the final shot/panel.  In the comic, it just ends with some retarded looking news guy sorting through a crank file, finding Rorschach’s journal.  In the film it slowly zooms in on the book and Rorschach’s voice over says “Rorschach’s journal.  October 12th, 1985.  Tonight, a comedian died in New York.”  That ending had me saying “hell yea”, lifted my spirits, and left a much bigger impact.
            Even though I felt the Brain...Squid...Mutant...thing was a lot more plausible then the Dr. Manhattan Bombs, the film just succeeded in leaving more of an impact and was better executed.  Even though I know this area is open for debate, I going to give it to the film on this one.  Point goes to the film.

Plot Arc/Storytelling


            Now for the big one.  The plot arc and storytelling.  Sadly this is an area where 99% of source materials are better than the adaptation and Watchmen is no acceptation to this.  That's not to say that there weren't parts of the film that were just as good, if not better, then the comic.  For a film adaptation just over two hours long they really did a great job of adapting the novel to the big screen.  But unfortunately, too much always gets lost in the creative process and editing rooms.
            Areas that were better in the film include the majority of the action sequences.  Unfortunately some of them, such as the fight between Nite Owl II, Silk Specter II and the prisoners seemed a bit forced.  Like they were trying a little too hard to put a little more action into the film.  The opening credit role also did a really good job of summing up the evolution of the masked heroes and it always makes me a bit sad to see the fate of some of these heroes.  But unfortunately, it didn't get as involved as the novel did and, as a result, lacked the same level of depth.
            There were a few areas, however, where the film blew the comic out of the water.  Now I'm not talking about sequences like the ending, (which is open for debate), but the areas where the film makers really surpassed the comic.  One was the opening fight between the Comedian and the mysterious assassin.  It was just awesome to watch and made the viewer sympathize with a character you knew nothing about.  You also had the Vietnam sequence, The Comedian’s drunken talk with Moloch, and Dr. Manhattan’s origin story; all of which I felt were undoubtedly superior.
            The rest of the storytelling, however, was undoubtedly in the novel's favor.  It just added more depth to the plot, character, and really made you feel the tension the story and did a better job of putting you into the lives and minds of the characters.  Not to mention you had all the scenes and sequences that were cut down or out of the film, such as Rorschach’s sessions with Dr. Malcolm Long and, most notably, Tales of the Black Freighter, which, in my opinion, left more of an impact than anything else in the novel.  Others include Rorschach’s talks with Moloch and the reveal of who Laurie's true father was, which were better written and executed.  The way the story was put together was brilliantly done and the way the narratives overlapped the events was perfectly done and really transported you to another state of mind.  It's just has an effect on the readers that usually only novels can pull off and the film just didn't do as, (key word being as) good of a job at this. 
            Granted I do understand why so much had to be cut out of the film and I feel that the filmmakers really did a great job of adapting it to the screen.  I know the result of this section probably doesn’t surprise anyone but I felt I had to address areas where the film had it.  But, ultimately, it's the graphic novel that has the better and more engaging storytelling.  Point goes to the graphic novel.



            9.5 times out of 10 an adaptation won't be as good or superior to the source material and, quite frankly, Watchmen is no acceptation to this.  Now don't get me wrong.  I loved the film and believe it's one of the best adaptations out their but it just wasn't as good as the comic. Now there were many sequences where the film was just as good if not better then the comic and it did do a great job recapturing much of its essence.  But it just wasn't as good, (key word once again is as).  With the comic, you had layers of depth that the film just couldn't recreate and most of the characters were better written and drawn in novel.  It's not really anyone's fault, it's just the way it is.  In the end, both are really good, and the film is a great adaptation with many strengths but ultimately, (and I know this probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone), the graphic novel is truly the superior.

            Well, that's if for this installation of Franchises vs. Franchises.  As I said above, I've been meaning to do something on Watchmen for a long time and this seemed to be the best thing to do.    Thank you to those who stuck with me this long, screw you to those who didn't and burn in hell to those who don't like Watchmen.  So until next time this is the Illusive One saying...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Batman: The Killing Joke

            Over the past couple of months, I've found myself repeating that I'm not much of a fan of comic books, yet lately I can't stop talking about them in some form or another.  And I've found yet another comic book I want to review.  Even though I don't read too many comic books, anything with Alan Moore or Batman in the title always grabs my attention.  The final push I needed to read something like this was a single cover that could draw me into its 46 page book.  And not too long ago I found something with all three qualities.  This is The Illusive One's Review of Batman: The Killing Joke.

            Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Brian Bolland in 1988, The Killing Joke is often considered to be one of the greatest Joker themed Batman Story ever made and changed the entire cannon of the Batman series as well as serving as a major inspiration for the 1989 film Batman and the 2008 film The Dark Knight.  But how well does it hold up today to a relative new comer to the area like myself?  The plot of it revolves around the Joker as he has once again escaped from Arkham Asylum, (WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO LEARN THAT THAT PLACE CAN'T HOLD HIM?!), kidnaps Commissioner Gordon, and tries to prove that it only takes one traumatic experience to bring people to his level while flashing back to his apparent past.

            On the positive side, the majority of the drawing style was great.  The coloring was great, the blood was great, and the attention to detail was great.  It was also a well written story with good dialog and decent plot structure.  I also felt that some of the ways they decided to take the story were bold and welcome, (such as having Barbra Gordon crippled by the Joker).  Although a lot of people didn't like the ending of this comic, I loved it and found myself laughing my ass off with The Dark Knight and the Joker, (although I'm not entirely sure why).  Even though the Joker's past was a major part of the story I like the way they kept it a bit ambiguous; by the end you're not sure if the flash backs you saw were real or just part of the Joker's insanity.  I also loved how insane the Joker was in this comic, as he constantly killed and shot people almost at random.  His ultimate goal of trying to prove that only one bad day stands between the average person and insanity was something that actually got under my skin.  The last but greatest thing about this comic was how it analyzed the relationship between Batman and the Joker.  It showed their deadly rivalry and how it would probably escalate until one of them killed the other but also showed a kind of kindred spirit between the two; how traumatic events changed both of their lives and how they adapted to them.

            On the negative side, I honestly felt that this comic was too short.  To me, it almost seemed like it should have been thirty to sixty pages longer but was somehow cut short.  As a result, the Joker's plan of driving Gordon insane seemed a bit underwhelming.  I also felt that there was a little too much focus on the Joker's past and not enough directly on the rival of Batman and the Joker.  While I do know that Batman’s blue and gray outfit is his classical look it's not one that holds up very well today and I couldn't help but be distracted by it.  The last negative thing I have to say about this comic is that I didn't particularly care for the way the Joker looked in it.  His face just seemed way to long and his neck seemed way to thin.  Maybe that's nitpicking but it's something I couldn't help but be distracted by.

            All around, this was defiantly a comic that was well worth my time.  While I found the Joker's plan to be slightly underwhelming, it made up for it with its themes and analysis of the characters.  What else can I say?  I don't read too many D.C. Comics but this one certainly makes me want to read more.  If you're like me and don't read to many comic books and are a fan of Batman and the Joker I'd recommend at least picking it up at a library and take the time to read it.  It was well worth my time and I'm sure it will be worth yours.

All Around
So until next time this is the Illusive One saying There were these two guys in a lunatic asylum and one night, one night they decide they don't like living in an asylum any more. They decide they're going to escape! So, like, they get up onto the roof, and there, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moon light... stretching away to freedom. Now, the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend didn't dare make the leap. Y'see... Y'see, he's afraid of falling. So then, the first guy has an idea... He says 'Hey! I have my flashlight with me! I'll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam and join me!' B-but the second guy just shakes his head. He suh-says... He says 'Wh-what do you think I am? Crazy? You'd turn it off when I was half way across!


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mortal Kombat (2011)

            There is one thing my readers probably don't know about me concerning video games.  I am terrible at tournament fighters.  To me, these games are just nightmares.  I always get my ass kicked, have no idea what I'm doing half the time, and can never understand why so many people I know get so pissed on the off chance I beat them.  So it probably comes as a surprise to some that I love the Mortal Kombat games.  As you may or may not remember, back in March I gave a general look at the major games of the franchise in preparation for the release of Mortal Kombat (2011).  However, like Dead Space 2, it took me a long time to get a hold of this game and even longer to play enough of it to where I felt I could write a proper review on it.  But now, I finally feel that I've played enough of it to give you my thoughts.  This is the Illusive One's Review of Mortal Kombat (2011).

The Plot

            The game begins at what appears to be the ending of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon.  It reveals that nearly every warrior in the Mortal Kombat Universe have killed each other in the battle of the Pyramid.  Only Raiden and Shao Kahn have survived and Kahn is beating the shit out of Raiden, about to kill him.  Realizing that he can't win in the present, Raiden sends a message back in time to himself during the Mortal Kombat Tournament of the first game so that he might be able to alter events of the future.  Throughout the game you play as various warriors as they try to defeat Shao Kahn and essentially rewrite the history of the first three games.
            One really good thing I noticed about the plot was that IT ACTUALLY HAD A FUCKING PLOT!  For some reason, an actual plot is very hard to find in tournament fighters and it's even harder to find a good one.  With the story of this game, however, it was not a half assed effort.  It was obvious that the writers actually put a lot of thought and effort into developing an engaging story that gamers could actually follow and made for an unexpected change of pace.
            With the alternate timeline, you got a familiar, yet fresh take on the first three games.  Events don't always go the way they did in the original three and at times you actually hoped they would go different, cheered when they did, cried when they didn't, and felt you heart drop when they took a turn you didn't want them to go.
            There are a few things to complain about, however.  For one thing, before the plot of this game was announced, I was really hoping that the story would continue directly after Armageddon, so I was slightly disappointed that they decided to take things in this direction.  The only other bad thing I have to say is that your point of view in this game is narrow and, as a result, half of the events occur off camera.  For example, you'll play as Striker during one part of the game, while Raiden and Liu-Kang are killing Motaro while you’re busy fighting other enemies. 
            All around however, the plot of this game was compelling, well written, great for this genera, and is definitely one for the books.

The Gameplay

            Get ready for a long section because there is a lot to talk about here.  For starters you had the combat style, which went back to a 2D fighting plane along with only one fighting style, on par with the first three games.  Depending on your point of view, this was either the best move the developers could have made or the worst.  Some people loved it and some people hated it and I myself can’t decide.  However, once you take that factor out of the equation it’s still a really solid fighting system that is very easy for anyone to jump into.  The fighting moves are great, special attacks are great, the controls are great and the fatalities are a little bit simpler but just as satisfying and gory as ever.
            One of the major things they added to this game is something they call tag team fighting.  This is where the player, or players, control two different characters and swap out to fight another tag team of opponents which can either be fun as hell or frustrating as shit if the person you’re playing with is a complete dick.  Still, it’s definitely something worth wile and is, in my opinion, the best tag team system out there. 
Along with this is the challenge latter in which the player does various challenges to earn coins that you can spend at the Krypt, (an area where you buy in-game bonus stuff for those of you who don’t know).  Some of these are simple, such as performing specialty moves or finishing an opponent with a fatality while others can be hard as hell but all around provide a great challenge to the player and hours of entertainment.  The graphics and attention to details in this game were also a huge improvement over any Mortal Kombat game and is the best looking tournament fighter I have ever seen, (it doesn’t have any of that cartoony crap you get with the Street Fighter games).  The characters and environments all look stunning and there was obviously a lot of work put into these things. 
Finally we had the best innovation of the game; the super meter.  This is a bar that loads up whenever you attack, block or perform a set of combos that allow you to do special attacks with increased damage; pretty standard for most modern tournament fighters.  There are two things, however, that separate this bar from the crowd.  The first is that when you get the meter to a certain lever it allows you to break off an enemy combo.  The one, however, that everyone talks about and everyone loves is the X-Ray move.  When the meter is full and when it’s triggered it shows the character performing various moves and shows an X-Ray view of the damage it does, such as shattering bones or rupturing organs and is very cool to watch.  It’s just something that’s very pleasing to the eyes and puts me in a good mood every time I do it to an opponent.
There are a few drawbacks to the gameplay, however, just like there are with any video game.  For example, there are a lot of cheap ways to beat an opponent in this game.  Often spamming the same attacks over and over again does the trick as does performing combo after combo with an opponent in a corner.  You also have the fights with Shao Kahn who is ridiculously hard because he does exactly that.  It’s infuriating to say the least.  The final negative thing I have to say deals with the Krypt.  While there is a ton of stuff to unlock within most of it is very underwhelming, mainly consisting of concept art and music.  What fun is that to unlock?
            All around, however, the gameplay was just awesome.  The graphics were beautiful, the combat was great, and there was just so much stuff to do and kept me coming back for more.

The Characters

            Where do I even begin?  In my personal opinion, the Mortal Kombat games have the most interesting and diverse cast of characters of any tournament fighter and this game really fleshed them out in ways that no other tournament fighter had done before.  I think anyone would agree that after the third game, the cast of characters started to grow ridiculous in both creativity and numbers.  So in this game they stuck to the essential characters which I think was best thing they could have done.
            While the fighting moves and such were tame in comparison to previous games there was one great thing the creators added to these characters; depth.  Unlike previous Mortal Kombat games or any other tournament fighter, these characters weren't as shallow as a pond.  You could actually see and hear the emotions of the characters through the expressions on their faces, body language and dialog.  As a result you're much more interested and involved with the characters and you really want to see them succeed.  I think the best example of this has to do with Scorpion as in this game the writers and animators really make you feel the pain he goes through.  Sure it it's not BioWare depth but it's far better than anything any tournament fighter has ever made.
            As with all the other elements of this game, there were faults.  Even though the game gave a whole new depth to the characters, the voice acting was kind of bad and very cheesy.  There were also a few things I couldn't help but nitpick at, mainly dealing with the new looks of some of the characters.  Mainly, I didn't care for the way Shao Kahn, Goro, and Kintaro looked.  In previous installments to the franchise, they always towered above the other characters and this gave them a monstrous quality.  In this game, however, they were...well....smaller and seemed more like mutated men then monsters.  My guess is that they were trying to go back to the original designs and size of the characters but in the process they seem slightly...underwhelming when compared to six generation versions, (that's the XBOX/PS2/GameCube era). 
            All around, however, this was easily the best cast of characters I've ever seen for a tournament fighter.  Are they perfect?  No.  Do they have anything on RPG characters?  No.  Do they have their faults?  Yes.  But at the same time they were the best developed cast of tournament fighter characters I’ve ever seen.  They were complicated, interesting, and very fleshed out.  Truly one for the books.

The Verdict
            What else can I say about this game?  It's fucking awesome and one of the best tournament fighters I have ever played.  Sure it had its faults but they weren't anything I couldn’t look past.  For its genera, it had a great story, great characters, great graphics, great gameplay, and I believe that this is the standard by which tournament fighters will be made from now on.  If you haven't checked it out, I would highly recommend doing so because it's worth every second of your time and you'll love every second of it.

All Around