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, November 30, 2011

Hollywood Studios: The Art Killers

 Film is an art form that many people enjoy and appreciate but it seems as if over the past twenty years the industry has slowly become more about the money rather than the art. In this time span Hollywood has produced many films that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars a piece with the sole purpose of gaining the money back with a hundred percent plus interest and the quality of films has suffered as a result. We live in an age where the studios dominate the industry, where the business men control the way the films are made rather than the actual film makers and the art and creativity of it is suffering. The current studio system is an art killer that results in films of lower quality and is a process that needs to be revised in order for actual film makers have control over their films.
           But it wasn't always this way. In the early years of film making it was almost always about the art rather than the money. Many of the studios were family owned and the communities of film making were very tight groups where everyone knew everyone. This however changed in the late 20s-early 30s when business men took over the industry and began an era known as The Golden Age of Hollywood and was turned it into a moneymaking industry rather than the art form it was. It was an era that was, for the most part, dominated by big studios that employed The Hollywood Studio System. In this system, the executives kept tight grips over the productions of the films and managed to fool their employees into thinking that they were just workers for the studios rather than artists.
           This system could only last for so long, however as it slowly began to collapse in the fifties and made way for the New Hollywood Era that began roughly around 1966. By this point the film industry was suffering. Box office performances were no longer as good as they once were and interest in films was starting to shift towards television. To counter this, the studio heads did what was probably the best thing done in the history of film making. They hired new young filmmakers with little to no experience in the industry and more or less gave them free reign to do whatever they wanted in their movies. These directors included some of the greatest film makers of all time, including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. The results of this decision were some of the greatest films ever made that were not only successful at the box office but held wide spread critical acclaim. Some of these films included Jaws, Star Wars, The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now! It was an era truly made for artists with little studio interference and spawned some of the greatest films and directors of all time.
           However, this era ended in the early 80s and the studio heads began to take retake control of the film making process and it has suffered as result. By the time the 90s and 2000s rolled around studio control over the films was almost complete. The increased control led to films with bigger budgets and more commercial appeal but with less intelligence. They were films that treated their audiences like idiots, assuming that if you showed people a bunch of explosions, a lot of action and a lot of one-liners they would automatically love it. Examples of these kinds of films include anything made by Roland Emmerich, (although to his credit he does at least try to make an intelligent film every now and then), Michel Bay, and the various superhero movies that emerged during the 2000s. While many of these films were hits but it’s obvious that they were just made to make money and reek of studio head influence. They just don't have much, if any, intelligence to them and it really shows that the modern studio system isn't in this for the art at all.
           Now compare these films to other films like Pulp Fiction, Goodfellas, Requiem for a Dream, Memento, District 9 and The Hurt Locker and you see a vast difference in quality. These films often have better writing, more memorable characters, better plots, and, in some cases, better special effects. Why is this? Well, most of these films were made on low budgets with little to no studio interference, and were often independently produced. These kinds of films are almost always better than their hundred million dollar budget counterparts and they really show that the less studio interference one has in a film the better the film tends to turn out.
           The best example of how little studio interference is best is when you compare the low budget, independently produced film District 9 with the three hundred million dollar Fox produced film Avatar. In District 9, you have a film with great writing, memorable characters, great acting, good action, great special effects, some of the best written alien characters ever, and subtle themes that address racism, prejudice, and the evils of huge corporations and allowing them to become too powerful. Avatar on the other hand, was just the opposite with a huge budget and lots of studio involvement. The plot was nothing original and ripped straight off Dances with Wolves, the characters were very forgettable, the acting and action was mediocre, the CGI looked cartoonish in comparison, and just shoved in your face that bigotry is wrong and corporations are evil with no subtlety whatsoever. While both films were successful at the box office, it was ultimately District 9 that got the better reviews and seemed to leave a more long term impression on its audience. It just goes to show that a tighter budget and little studio interference can be crucial to making a great movie.
          As I mentioned before, studios kill creativity and treat it more like a business then an art form and are starting to treat filmmakers like employees rather than artist. A good example of this is when you look at films that were never made due to the current studio process. The purest example of this is when you look at director Guillermo del Toro's attempts to get a film adaptation made of At The Mountains of Madness with Universal. As I've mentioned  before, what ultimately killed it was that the studio wanted to restrict how much control del Toro had over the film. There were many aspects of the project that didn't appeal to the studio heads and the plug was finally pulled over the “R” rating that the film would probably have had. It just goes to show that these studios are in it strictly for the money, not the art, and will kill any project that they feel wouldn't earn them 500% interest return on their investment.
           In conclusion, modern film studios are art killers. For them, it's all about the money and not about the art and they continue to produce dumber and dumber films with bigger budgets. Lower budget/independent films show this to be true and that intelligent films can still be found so long as studios and business men keep their claws out of the production of said films. For now, all we can do is hope that audiences expectations will change and it will lead the way for a second New Hollywood Age with films that can mix the huge budgets with class, intelligence, and little studio meddling. And the sooner this new age begins the better.

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Initial Reaction to Skyrim

            As you all may have guessed, I've been playing Skyrim for the past week and rather then write a full review on it I decided to give my reaction to it after playing for about thirty six hours.  It's just going to be a quick pros/cons sort of thing; what I like so far and what I don't like so far so don't go apeshit if I say something that offends you fanboys.  Even if you are completely wrong.  So, here they are.

            On the positive side the open world gameplay is really fun and there are an endless number of things to do.   The combat gameplay and leveling system is a massive improvement over Oblivion as it feels a bit more natural and not as stiff and clunky.  Graphic wise it's also a big improvement over the last one but I would recommend playing it either on a CPU or on an HD TV to get the full effect of it.  The various random missions are really fun but get tedious after a while, (especially when 90% of them involve some kind of Indiana Jones style caves/temples).  The guild missions have also been radically improved, seeming a bit more mature then the previous game.  The Thieves Guild for example is a criminal organization rather than the Robin Hood style band of thieves they were in Oblivion.
            On the negative side, the plot and characters are mediocre at best.  They're better then those of Oblivion but that's not really saying much.  The characters are just boring and there isn't really anything compelling about them.  The same can be said for you character.  Again, he's better than the protagonist from the first game but again that's not saying a lot.  The plot is just as uninspired.  Dragons coming back to destroy the world?  I mean come on!  It's not that the concept is bad but we’ve already heard it half a dozen times in the past five years.  This wouldn’t be so bad but the main story missions I've played are executed in such a way that it just seems like more generic high fantasy.

            Ultimately, my initial reaction is this: It's better than Oblivion, has great gameplay and the guild missions are interesting but that's where my praise of this game.  I'm of the belief that a good RPG should have a good plot and compelling characters and this game falls flat in that regard.  If you want a really good open world RPG that has these I say go for Fallout 3 or New Vegas and if you’re looking for a really good fantasy RPG go for Dragon Age: Origins or The Witcher 2 because they're all a lot better than this game in many regards.  But again, keep in mind that this is just my initial reaction to the game.  Maybe it'll gets better the deeper I get into the plot and guild missions but I doubt it.  Is it game of the year?  Well, in my humble opinion, no.  But maybe the rest of the game will change my mind in this regard.  So until next time, this is The Illusive One signing off.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

           Well it’s time for another promo review and because Skyrim is almost upon us and I decided to give my thoughts on its predecessor, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Now, just as a quick warning to all you fanboys out there, I won’t be pulling any punches for this one. Because the game is so old, this review will be more on how the game holds up today rather than how it was when it was first released. I'll try to take into account how influential it was for other games and how it was when it was first released but for the most part, this will be more on how well it holds up today. So if you get pissed off at what I say for this, please leave your insulting comments to a minimum. So here we go. These are my thoughts on The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.

The Plot and Characters

           I decided to put these two together because I’ve often found that the plots and characters of games with complicated gameplay is usually what determines how well a game will hold up in the long term, not unlike the way movies do and because both have the same strengths and weaknesses. The plot of Oblivion revolves around your character who is trying to help the last heir of the empire of Cyrodiil prevent an invasion from the realm of Oblivion.
          Unfortunately, this is an area where the game fell flat and even fanboys of the series don’t deny this. Now I will say that the concept of the realm of Oblivion was pretty cool and is a one that holds up even today. But unfortunately nothing else does. It took nearly every fantasy cliché in the book and portrays it in its blandest and most uninspired form.

Ultimate Evil trying to destroy or take over the world? Check

Basterd son of a king/emperor tries to take the throne? Check

Wizard and/or politician who wants to get in hero’s way and make evil succeed? Check

Current Kingdom based on some old Empire? Check

Some random dude who gets caught up in this B.S. for no apparent reason? Check

Red Shirt Characters? Check

Protagonist Getting Captured? Check

          Now in fantasy, it’s nearly inevitable that these clichés are going to appear and they usually do. However, most fantasy writers actually have the brains to put some kind of new twist on the whole thing and that’s where Oblivion really dropped the ball in the plot department. Now some people may argue that it’s an older game so they may not have thought to put new spins on these things.


          Considering that writers had already been putting fresh spins on these clichés for nearly a decade before this game came out, I don't think that argument is going to fly.
I think what really pisses me off about this is that the developers have proven that not only can they write decent plots and characters to their games but they can do a great job at it. To me, the plot of Oblivion just seems, and has always seemed, like an excuse to make the game rather than a compelling story and it just pisses me off to no end.
          The characters aren't much better and suffer from the same problems in writing. Their facial expressions are very wooden and could be really creepy at times and even great voice actors like Patrick Stewart and Sean Bean couldn't lift the blandness that the graphics and writing portrayed.
          Then we have the protagonist. Ugh....Where do I even begin with this guy? He's not compelling in the least bit. There are very rarely any dialog options for the character, (something that RPGs had been doing for a while even before this game came out), and he has zero back story. You literally know nothing about this character and it's as if he never existed before the game began. With other RPGs like KOTOR and later ones like Fallout 3, you could actually select the character's dialog from a list of options which in turn made the character compelling and it was almost like you were the character you were playing as. Your protagonist in this game just lacked any of that and this was something I had a gripe with even when it was first released
          All around, the plot and characters sucks. Again, the only thing that really holds up or was even good when it was released was the realm of Oblivion and even that's open for debate. It's not a storyline that I have any respect for and the characters are just as bad and these categories are probably worst I have ever seen with a game with such widespread critical acclaim.

The Gameplay

           While the plot of the game was god-awful, most people tend to run to the gameplay for their reasons in praising it. And to be fair, it was really good for its time. The large open world was unlike any other of its time, with an endless number of things to do, that included various guild quests, (but we'll get into those in a minute), being able to customize and armor your character anyway you sought fit and being able to pick up nearly every object and enter every building and all of these things keep players, (myself included), coming back for more.
          There were things, however, that were bad even when it first came out. The environments seemed to repeat themselves over and over again and you see the same dungeon and ruins designs over and over again and it gets a little tedious. The other thing that was really aggravating was the combat gameplay as it always felt stiff, clunky and a bit of a button masher, (I can't begin to count how many times I won a fight by just back stepping and swinging my claymore).   
          As I mentioned the main story is crap and the missions for them are just as clichéd and repetitive. The only guild storyline that I found appealing in the game was The Dark Brotherhood storyline. The rest, however, just felt like they were written for ten year olds, (working your way up the ranks of each guild in a ridiculously small amount of time and becoming the head of it and so forth).   
          Now, allow me to talk about the elements that don't hold up well today. The graphics are no longer appealing and just about everything that was good about Oblivion was made obsolete by Fallout 3. Granted, the game does owe a lot to Oblivion but it's still a fact.  
           All around, when the game first came out and when we walked through the world for the first time it was amazing and the good outweighed the bad back then. Today, however, it's nothing special. Everything that was good when it was first released has been made obsolete by the games that have come sense and the bad things have only gotten worse.

The Verdict

           Ultimately, this game does not hold up well at all and is one of the fastest aging games I've ever seen. I don't mean to pan this game because I did like it when I first played it but everything that was good about it became obsolete the moment Fallout 3 hit the shelves and the bad things that everyone seems to ignore have only gotten worse. I won't do a numerical rating on this game because it wouldn't be on par with the rest of this review, but suffice to say that I wouldn't recommend buying this game now. Again, don't get me wrong. I did and do like it and it was great when it first came out but has quickly proven itself to be the fastest aging game I have ever seen.

           So what's next for the franchise? Well, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and I would be lying if I said I wasn't hyped. I can't honestly say that it's going to fix all the problems that I had with Oblivion but it definitely looks like they improved on all of them. The graphics look amazing, the combat gameplay looks vastly improved on, the character interactions look great, there appears to be an endless number of things to do and you get to kill a shit ton of dragons! Granted I wasn't sold at the teaser trailer the way I was with Mass Effect 3 or The Dark Knight Rises but now it seems like it will be the best of 2011. And I can't wait to get my hands on it.

          So until next time this is The Illusive One saying....

Holy shit!
What is this?
Forged in God's very flames!
Do mine eyes
ell me lies,
A new Elder Scrolls Game?
Time is nigh
I must fly,
Venture forth on my quest!
Goodbye Ma,
Goodbye Pa
And goodbye Girlfriend's breasts!
I'll be off
Catch you later Hyrule!
I'll be gone
I'm no longer your fool!
Other crap
Filled the gap
While I waited to begin...
The adventure of my life in the land of Skyrim!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dragon Age 2: Mark of the Assassin

            As I have mentioned before, there are many games out there with many pieces of DLC available for them.  Some are good and some...aren't so good.  But with that said, it's been a while since I've actually reviewed any of these and because it came out within the last month I decided to review the Dragon Age 2 DLC Mark of the Assassin.
            Now a lot of people were disappointed with Dragon Age 2 and it truly has divided BioWare fans more than any of their other games have done before and people tend to love it hate it.  But the game was still financially successful and reviews were generally positive and because of this DLC would inevitably follow.  The first major piece of DLC was Legacy.  In short, it was ok.  I told you some interesting things about the Hawk family and had a few interesting villain characters but was all around nothing special.  So was Mark of the Assassin anything special?  Well let’s find out.

            The plot of it revolves around Hawk as he agrees to help and elvin agent named Tallis steal a jewel from an Orlesian noble named Prosper and in doing so, gets caught up in her battles.
            On the positive side it had a great story that was well written, well-paced and full of twists.  The less said about the plot the better but take my word for it.  It's good in this area.  The new enemies like the wyverns and ghasts were welcome additions to the game and I hope to see more of them in future games and DLC.  The environments were well designed and it was very refreshing to see something that didn’t include recycled environments from a Dragon Age DLC, (for more info on this refer to my Dragon Age Review: Part 6).  They also included a few areas where you could use stealth rather than just fight your way through and I felt that was a welcome change of pace.
            In my opinion, however, the best part about this piece of DLC was the characters.  You had a lot of cameos by characters like Liliana, Bann Teagan and other characters introduced throughout both games and I thought that was really cool.  Other characters like Duke Prosper made for some interesting antagonists and the rest were just as interesting.  The best character out of all of them however, was the character of Tallis.  Her voice actor was great as was the writing for her and unlike many of the other Dragon Age 2 characters, she was actually a character you wanted to know more about.  It's actually a shame these characters weren't in Dragon Age 2 because if they had been, who knows?  It may have not received such mixed results from fans.
            The negatives are actually very few in number.  Combat-wise it doesn’t really offer much new to the game, other than the for-mentioned things and to my knowledge you don’t get any noteworthy items in it, (although I could be wrong in this).  Even though you control Hawk's actions, it's never really made clear what your motivation is in helping Tallis.  I know that's a weird thing to comment on but it's the truth.  There really isn't any clear motivation for Hawk to help her. 
            It also didn't really feel like a part of the game, so much as just another mission and that‘s the problem a lot of DLC has and this one fails to escape that shadow.  The only other negative thing I have to say is that I didn't care for the ending.  Minor spoiler alert but don't expect Tallis to become a regular companion.

            All around, this was a good piece of DLC as far as Dragon Age goes.  My standard for DLC, however, was kind of set with Dead Money of Fallout: New Vegas and Layer of the Shadow Broker of Mass Effect 2 and if you compare it with those two, it's doomed.  But it's still an all-around decent add on to the game.  If you take it for what it is, it's pretty good and if you liked Dragon Age 2, you'll like this one.

All Around

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

          Well, October is out of the way and unfortunately I didn't get as many posts out that month as I planned but now it's time to get caught back up with my promo reviews and to start out this month I thought I may as well do a review of the predecessor of the most anticipated game of the year. This is The Illusive One's Review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
          Considered by many to be the greatest first person shooter franchises ever, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was the first pure first person shooter to successfully break out of the cliché that all first person shooters had to take place in WWII. To break free of this, the developers at Infinity Ward instead gave it a 24 type feel to it, with its espionage and black ops type story that dealt with international terrorists planning terrible thing for America. The end result was the best first person shooter of its time and was the bestselling video game of all time.
          That was until Modern Warfare 2 came along and broke its predecessor’s records becoming the bestselling video game of all time and met with universal praise from every video game reviewing outlet in existence. So was the game as good as it's been made out to be? Well let’s find out.

The Plot

          Now, to be honest, not too many people are going to care about the plot of a game like this, but I still feel I have to address it. The game takes place in a modern setting, (although I have heard it takes place in 2016 but I'm not sure if that's true), where America is still locked in a war in Afghanistan while international terrorist and protégé of Zakhev, (the villain of the first game), Vladimir Makarov, plans to bring about the next great global conflict. The first half of the game focuses on the CIA and SAS members trying to take Makarov down while the second half focuses on the U.S. Army trying to defend the D.C. area and northern Virginia against a Russian invasion while the CIA and SAS do their part in the war as well as hunt for Makarov.
          Now I have to say, the plot was very well written in the first half and was very much like the first game in how it played and there were quite a few jaw dropping twists that occurred.
          However that's where my praise of the plot ends as there are so many plot holes and unoriginal concepts it's not even funny. For starters the whole “Russia Invading America” concept is one that was incredibly overused throughout 2000s and was already old by the time this game came out. Whereas the first game felt more like a more over the top season of 24, the plot of this game just seemed like another garden variety WWIII shooter.
          For as many twists that occur, none of them are really given any explanation. In total, I think there are about five major twists, all of which come out of nowhere and you’re never given a satisfying explanation as to why they happen. It's just irritating.
          In conclusion the writing for the plot sucks. No other way to say it. The individual levels and characters are another matter entirely but the writing for it just sucks. But like I said, this isn't something gamers are going to be concerned about when they play this game so let’s move on.

The Gameplay

            This is what people will always remember the Call of Duty games for and is where they've always shined and this one is no acceptation. For starters, you have the campaign missions. While the plot of this game was a convoluted mess, the individual missions were executed perfectly in graphics, combat, and writing. Each of the missions is nail bitingly intense and keep you on the edge of you seat from beginning to end. Even though it was terribly clichéd to have a foreign power invade the U.S., I have to admit it was pretty cool to be able to fight in the streets of Washington and trying to drive Russians out of The White House. There is also another mission where you help terrorists slaughter an entire airport full of people. Granted this mission opens up the biggest plot hole of the game but it was actually pretty cool to be able to do something so sick and demented. It also allowed you to do familiar things, such as operating guns in choppers and introduced new things such as being able to drive snow mobiles and motorboats. Thankfully it more or less eliminated enemy respawns which were a major pain in my ass in previous games.
The game also gives the player a healthy variety of weapons that include all the weapons seen in the first game as well as a few new weapons and found a good balance of real modern weapons as well as not so distant future tech weapons. Some of these weapons include garden variety AK-47s to motion detecting turrets which all made the gameplay that much cooler
          Then we have the multiplayer, which built on what the previous game had already done and made improvements to it. It has the usual multiplayer modes but includes abilities to call in attack dogs, air strikes, chopper attacks and others that I can't think of after the player has achieved a certain number of kill streaks, (number of people you kill before you get killed yourself). While similar things were available in Call of Duty: World at War this was the game that perfected it and brought system to its current popularity.
          The only downsides to the gameplay was that there were a few elements missing from the campaign that were available in Modern Warfare, such as being able to operate one of the gun ships that you call in. And if first person shooters aren’t your kind of game, then this isn't the one for you. Speaking of which, you don't like first person shooters, then why the fuck are you reading this?

The Characters

           Now, for the most part, the characters in this game are incredibly well written, very compelling, and have great voice actors to tie it all together, (even if some of their actions were questionable). General Shepherd was a great general character, Soap and Captain Price were compelling protagonists, Nikolai was as interesting as ever, and Makarov was a very compelling and evil antagonist. There is also another character named Ghost who doesn’t really add much to the game but has somehow gained a cult following. I'm not entirely sure why, but hey! Whatever works for ya!
          The only downside to the characters is that some of their actions are questionable. I don't want to give too much away but it ties in with the plot and it'll have you scratching your head.
          All around, the characters in this game had great voice acting, great dialog, and were very compelling. Up until this point it was a rare thing to find a cast of characters in a first person shooter that the player could actually be emotionally invested in and this game really hit the mark in this department.

The Verdict

           All around, this was a really great game. It did have its flaws in the plot but again, you really don't play these kinds of games for their stories. Hell, even if the plot was all over the place it was executed so well in the missions that you really didn't even give a crap. You were too busy having a great time to care. The general gameplay from the story missions to the multiplayer was all great and the characters were surprisingly interesting and well written. It does have its faults that keep it from being a perfect ten, but was, for the most part, just as good as everyone says.

All Around

           So what's next for the franchise? Why Modern Warfare 3. What else? Now, I honestly haven't been following up on what is going on with this game's development, but from what I gather the drama between Activison and Infinity Ward has affected the game's development and the multiplayer has suffered as a result. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, look it up for the specifics but it should suffice to say that Activison has become something of an evil, tyrannical gaming company and more than a third of Infinity Ward's employees left as a result.
          But anyway, apparently this game is going to wrap up the Modern Warfare storyline, (although God knows we've heard that one before with every game franchise out their), but I'm honestly not expecting too much out it. I'm just expecting another Modern Warfare game and not the best first person shooter ever. If you like the franchise odds are you probably already have your collector’s edition per-ordered so take from this what you will. If you haven't already played these games check them out because they are fun. They may just be a fad within the gaming community but they're still fun and worth any gamers time.

          So until next time this is The Illusive One saying It doesn’t take the most powerful nations on Earth to create the next global conflict......