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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.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut

            Of all the film series, video game series, book series, or show series finales out there, I don’t think any of them have spawned as much outrage and controversy as the ending to Mass Effect 3.  To call it a disappointment would be an understatement to a lot of people, as it damn near destroyed BioWare’s credibility due to various things, including a huge number of plot holes, a limit of three alternate endings that were essentially the same with only a few slight differences that were hardly noticeable, and an entire advertising campaign that effectively said this wasn’t going to happen.  This immediately launched thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of angry letters, pissed off videos on YouTube, complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and an entire community movement dedicated to getting a new ending to the game that actually made more sense.  This organization sent emails, had people record videos, and sent BioWare red, green and blue cupcakes to show their anger towards the game’s ending and even raised money for charities and even created a new one in the process. 
What exactly happened between those promises and the release date, we can only speculate.  Some people think that BioWare just got greedy and was trying to make the most open ended ending they could for DLC.  Other’s think that E.A. got their claws into it and forced Casey Huston’s, (lead developer of the game) hand while others think it was just bad writing and others thought it was part of something grander known as the Indoctrination Theory, (although in my opinion that whole thing was just fans overanalyzing the games in an attempt to find something better than what they got). 
But after about a month of this all the hate mail, angry videos and conspiracy theories, BioWare officially announced the Extended Cut, which they promised would bring more closure to Shepard’s story at no cost to the fans.  Like a lot of other fans, I was skeptical.  It’s very rare that you’ll find a company in the entertainment business admit that they’ve made a mistake, much less one that is part of the evil empire of game developers.  It also didn’t help that they firmly stated that they weren’t going to change the ending so much as “expand” on it with no new alternate endings.  But I waited in eager anticipation all the same, keeping a hold of my copy of Mass Effect 3, hoping against hope that this “expanded” ending would be worth the 100+ hours I put into this trilogy.   And just the other day, the Extended Cut was released and that is our subject for the day.  Needless to say, this post will contain spoilers for the game as well as a few for the Extended Cut if you care.  So does the Extended Cut magically fix all the problems the ending had, re-open an old would and pour salt on it, or does it fall somewhere in between?  Well, here is my opinion on it.    
Now, this extended cut does have problems and I would be lying if I said they didn’t bother me but starting with what they got right, they knocked it out of the park.  In this extended cut most, (if not all), of the underlying problems and major plot holes are gone.  Here, the Mass Relays are only partly damaged, (not destroyed), and the galaxy hasn’t been thrown into a dark age the way they implied it would in the original ending and this eliminates so many questions fans had after the original credits rolled and to a certain extent that alone makes the extended cut worth playing though.  But that’s not all.  They actually give a good explanation as to why the Normandy was making a Relay jump when the Crucible was going off.  The explanation as to why Shepard was alone in his final push to the Citadel was more than a little half-assed and way too convenient but I’ll take it and it’s better than what they had before, (nothing).
Unfortunately, they still have the StarChild and his…less than mind blowing explanation for the Reapers’ existence but I expected that.  However he does better explain how he and the Reapers came to be, and the actual explanation seems to imply that he was an AI that made…shall we say...a very disturbing decision concerning the problem of organics and synthetics which I actually thought was pretty clever.  He also gives better explanations as to what the final decisions entail; what exactly will happen and how it will affect the galaxy, which brings me to my next point, the choices. 
Now, BioWare said from the beginning that additional ending would not be included in this cut so I didn’t expect them and we didn’t get them.  What we did get, however, were radically improved versions.  I mean, they took these endings that were essentially nothing and made them into something and, in this regard, gave more than I ever expected, specifically with “Control” and “Synthesis” endings.  The “Control” ending was just badass and is really just a joy to watch.  It’s almost as if Shepard has become the unofficial lord of the galaxy with his control over the Reapers declaring himself the Guardian of the Masses and is just such a delight to watch.  I don’t know why but something about it just brings a massive grin to my face. 
Then we have the “Synthesis” ending.  Now from the beginning, (and I know I’m probably a minority on this), I actually thought the Synthesis idea was really cool.  Yea people have complained that it is kind of a betrayal of the characters’ moralities but, in my opinion, this is an idea kind of transcends that.  I mean, we’re talking about the final evolution of all life in the galaxy and not over whether or not to use your enemy’s technology for your own benefit.  But that’s an argument I’ll have privately with other fanboys another time.  As far as the ending itself goes, it’s clear that this was the ending BioWare put the most effort into and one could easily make the argument that this is the best of the endings.  It shows the galaxy essentially entering a kind of Pax Romana with all kinds great things happening and even greater things promising to come.  But it also really tugs on the heart strings and makes you feel the full loss of all that was sacrificed and to me that is the essence of what a good ending is.
Each ending also gives us an Epilogue of sorts essentially telling us what became of the galaxy after the final decision was made that.  Unfortunately most of this consists of still images of things like Wrex holding his new born baby or Zaeed chilling on a beach.  While this is better than what we had before and do change depending on your actions throughout the game, I was honestly hoping for something more along the lines of what we got in the Witcher 2: Enhanced Edition Epilogue.  But it is still better than what we had before, (again, nothing).
But as I said before, the ending still has some glaring problems.  For starters, the Destroy Option comes off as really weak, especially compared to the other two.  The Star Child thing just makes it so clear that there will be major consequences for this course of action and they don’t really expand on it in the Epilogue, other than not showing the Geth and EDI in it.  It basically takes the Halo/Gears 3 rout and says we won, they lost and our hero is still alive.  Very underwhelming and it’s clear that the developers probably didn’t care that much about this ending. 
Speaking of which their actually is a fourth ending where you shoot at the Star Child, (essentially telling him to go fuck himself), which results in the cycle continuing, (the Reapers win), but again this is something that they don’t really expand on.  They don’t show all of your friends and loved ones being wiped out by the Reapers which would have been awesome.  Instead, it’s just implied that the next cycle succeeded where you failed and was just a waist of a fourth option in my opinion. 
            We also have that all too convenient arrival of the Normandy and Harbinger doesn’t shoot at it for some reason, (they really wrote themselves into a corner on that one), which is something that I know every fan will bring up.  And again, the Epilogue could have been a lot better.  And of course we still have the two major problems of the ending; the limited number of choices and the explanation that the Star Child gives.  Even though the Star Child better explains his and the Reapers’ existence it’s still pretty underwhelming and they could have come up with something so much better.  Heck, I’ve even heard fan theories regarding it that were better and in the process explained why the Mass Relays had to be destroyed.  But it is what it is.  And again, the number of choices you have were b.s., and it still pisses me off that BioWare promised that we would get more choices in all their promotion of the game before it was released.

            So, has the Extended Cut magically fixed everything?  No.  Has it opened up a new wound and poured salt in it?  No.  I think that this one has kind of reached some kind of middle ground.  Fan reaction thus far seems to be kind of mixed, with some people satisfied with what they got and other still hating it and that’s the way it will probably always be.  As I’ve said many times, finales inevitably disappoint and unless BioWare made endings that catered to everyone’s wishes the current reaction was going to be the best case scenario.
            Personally, I really like the Extended Cut.  Does it have problems?  Yes.  But for me the good outweighs the bad.  The galaxy is no longer in a stupid dark age and most of the plot holes have been filled and we do have some idea of what will happen to this universe after the credits roll.  And in all honesty, that’s all I was asking for and all I expected to get.  But the way they expanded on the “Control” and “Synthesis” endings blew my expectations out of the water.  The Control ending was like a more badass version of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey novel and it just fills me with glee.  The Synthesis ending I just love and feel that it’s a prime example of how endings should go; something that has several notes of triumph and victory but still knows how to pull on the heart strings with tragedy and sorrow.  But that’s just my opinion and if yours differs you free to have it and that’s all I have to say on the matter.

But despite what other people may think of the ending, at the very least this proves that fans do have some measure of control over the franchises that they love.  The existence of this cut alone proves that BioWare does care about its fans and is willing to address what they consider to be wrong.  Will this completely restore BioWare’s reputation?  No.  It will probably take a great Dragon Age game for that to happen.  But at the very least this has restored a great deal of my faith in the company and hope that they haven’t completely become part of E.A. Games.  To BioWare I say keep fighting those guys and make sure that the old BioWare stays alive and thank you for showing that you cared enough about us to give us this Extended Cut.  Now if only we could get George Lucas to stop screwing with the original Star Wars Trilogy, get a better writer and director to remake the prequels, keep Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles away from Michael Bay, and get Capcom to stop their day one DLC and disk locked content practices, all will be well in the universe.  So until next time this is the Illusive One signing off.

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Well the blockbuster season in full throttle and the release date of the highly anticipated Alien prequel, Prometheus, is upon us and like a lot of other films being released this year, there was a lot of hype revolved around.  After the unsatisfying conclusion of Alien 3 and the disaster of Alien: Resurrection, and the universally hated Alien V.S. Predator films, the franchise was effectively dead.  But then a few years ago, Ridley Scott, director of the first Alien film decided to revive it with a then untitled prequel.  And now, three years later we have the fruit of idea; Prometheus.  So has this film lived up to the hype and will it revive the franchise or is it just another crappy installment in a franchise that should have ended in 1986 with Aliens?  Let’s find out.

            The film takes place in 2093 when an archaeologist couple discovers a series of star maps among several unconnected ancient cultures and believes it to be an invitation to an alien world and home to creatures that may have created mankind.  With the backing of Wayland Industries, the two set out with a crew on the ship Prometheus to find this planet and meet their possible creators.  However, upon arriving on the planet, the humans quickly discover that this place was not what they thought and the journey proves much more deadly they any of them anticipated.
            Now, as you all may or may not know, certain things have been a bit…shall we say controversial among critics and audiences alike but we’ll get to that in a minute.  Now, starting with what they got right, they knocked it out of the park.    From the technical side of things, the film is fantastic.  The visual effects were fantastic and with one or two exceptions, I believed just about everything on screen was or could be real.  As with the first Alien film, the art direction is fantastic.  The Prometheus had a great design to it and used technology that I can believe will exist in the time period the film takes place in.  The same goes for the Engineers’ complex.  While I do question why an advance alien race would put their complex underground, (I know, overanalyzing.  We all do it sometimes), I love the look of the place and how the technology within works.  The original designs by H.R. Giger are still used and look better than ever, combining old special effect/art direction techniques with new ones and it makes the complex look amazing.
            The acting in this film is also top notch, with all the actors giving their all in their performances and they help make the characters likeable even if they aren’t exactly three dimensional.  The most notable of these is Idris Elba who takes the very stock role of the ship’s captain and makes something out of it.  Charlize Theron likewise gives a great performance as Wayland Industries corporate liaison and unlike many of the other characters she actually seems like a fleshed out character.  The guy who stole the show, however, and the one everyone talks about is Michael Fassbender as David the Android.  And I’m not going to lie.  People have not exaggerated his performance in the least bit.  He is all at once pleasant and threatening and you’re never really sure what he’s up to but you know he has his own agenda that is separate from everyone else’s and this really keeps you on edge.

Now, the next part of this post is probably going to be a bit more…shall we say….controversial, mainly because a lot of people seem to have mixed thoughts on this subject, (in fact I think I may be among the few who likes this).  This subject is the plot and I’m not going to lie.  I really, really liked it.  To me, this film seemed like a really good combination of the exploration elements of 2001: A Space Odyssey and the plot elements of At the Mountains of Madness.  In fact, in many ways it actually feels more like an adaptation of that story that just happens to take place in the Alien Universe more than an Alien prequel.  And I really like this and felt that if that is what the writers were going for, they succeeded.  Between this and the musical score, (very reminiscent of Blade Runner’s), it feels more like a tale of space exploration where the characters just run in to terrible situations rather than a sci-fi/horror film which made for an unexpected but pleasant surprise. 
The thing that has been pissing off a lot of people however is the fact that by the end of the film, you’re left with more questions than answers and if you can’t take that then this isn’t your kind of film.  I, on the other hand, actually love it when films, games, shows and novels do this.  It keeps the mystery alive and people guessing and just makes me want to go back to that universe over and over again.  And that’s what I ultimately took away from this film.  I want to see this universe again and learn more things about it and discover the solutions to the unanswered questions.  But again I may be in the minority on this one and a lot of people, be they critics or everyday people have complained against this film for it so make your own judgment call on this one.

There were, however, a few glaring problems with this film and I would be lying if I said that they didn’t bother me.  For starters, for as much as I loved the plot of this film, there were two major problems I had with it.  The first was this one so called twist concerning the expedition and David’s motivations when he seems to go rouge.  In a nutshell, a saw it coming a mile away and anyone with half a brain probably will as well once they see one particular scene with David.  After that you’ll probably be able to guess about a sixth of the film or so.  The other major fault with the story, (other than the more questions than answers issue), is a subplot they put into the film which clearly had no purpose other than to get higher body count, (and something else that I can’t disclose for spoiler reasons), and I found myself asking “Why would the characters do that?  What could they possibly gain from this?”  It’s something that I know a lot of people will bring up and I know exactly where they’re coming from.
            The themes of the film kind of seemed shoved down our throat as if the film was dumbing it down for less intelligent audience, (although considering what usually grosses billions I can’t say that I blame them).  Right alongside this is some very obvious foreshadowing with a good deal of SSBS in the first act of the film, which again seems to play down to a less intelligent audience.  While the characters are likeable and very well acted they aren’t as fleshed out as they should be and often come off as very two dimensional.  In fact, many of the characters were obviously put in just so the film could have a higher body count.  And as I mentioned before the film feels more like an exploration film then it does sci-fi/horror and as a result, the film isn’t scary.  There are many moments where I was on the edge of me seat in suspense but it still wasn’t scary.  Some of the special effects also looked a little off at times, particularly towards the end and I found myself scratching my head at it. 
The last thing that I have to mention is that this is the film that probably killed 3D for me.  While it didn’t dilute the experience for me it didn’t really do anything to add to it either, (other than give me a headache) and this will probably be the last film I see in this format.

All around I have to say that I really enjoyed this film and thus far, it’s probably my favorite film of 2012 so far.  But I have to approach this is a critic and not a sci-fi fanboy.  There are a lot of great things to be had in this film and all the good things make it more than worth the price of admission.  I highly recommend that you see it, as it is a good film.  It has great visuals, great acting, great special effects and great concepts and a fantastic exploration theme and I wanted to give this film a really high score.  But there are some glaring problems that I can’t ignore.  There are people out there who will hate the way it ends.  That’s just a fact.  The other flaws have to do with the characterization and the two bad plot points in the film and these things do take it down a few pegs.  But all around, I really enjoyed this film.  I truly believe that the good in this film outweighs the bad in it and I highly encourage you to go see it and at least give it a try before people start trying to tell you what to think.

All Around


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Alien Review (And Thoughts on the Other Alien Films)

Well, the release date for the highly anticipated film, Prometheus is just around the corner and as is customary here on Illusive One’s Reviews, I’ll be reviewing its predecessor, Alien.  Now some people may be wondering why I’m not reviewing the entire franchise to which I have a very simple answer.  Ridley Scott didn’t direct them and they seem to have little to no bearing on this film.  But I will be giving my thoughts on said films after I’m done with this review as well as what I expect out of Prometheus.  So without any further ado, this is The Illusive One’s review of Alien.
            Now as I hope you all know, the plot of Alien revolves around the crew of the commercial towing spaceship, Nostromo, who, upon picking up an SOS signal, search a derelict alien ship.  While there, one of their crew is implanted with an alien egg which soon bursts out of his chest and begins to hunt down and kill the crew members one by one.  And to be perfectly honest, this is one of those films that is damn near beyond review because it is just that good. 
            So what can I honestly say about it that hasn’t been already said?  Well to be perfectly honest, there really isn’t much so I’ll just say what I took away from it.  For starters the concept was fantastic.  The whole idea that some kind alien would implant an egg in someone’s body is a very convincing and horrifying one.  What, in my opining, adds to the horror of this concept is that by the time the film ends we, the audience have no idea what this creature is or where it originally came from.  The original design of the alien, (both the facehugger and the Xenomorph) by H.R. Giger is incredible and it’s no wonder that the alien became so iconic in the following decades. 
            The cast is also great headlined by Tom Skerritt and a then unknown Sigourney Weaver as well as an early role for then unknown John Hurt.  All of the actors give their all in their performances and this, coupled with great writing, makes the characters likeable, three dimensional and you really care whether or not they live or die, (unlike most horror films).  What makes it even better is that this is a film that doesn’t really have any rules on who lives or dies and by the time the film reaches its climax, (ignoring the fact that there are three sequels to this film), you’re not even sure if the surviving members will make it to the end.
            And of course, this film is scary as hell.  I think that anyone would agree that this is one of the most frightening films ever made and in this regard it has stood the test of time.  Even when I re-watched it for this review I was tense and wide eyed the entire time and found myself jumping even though I knew when the alien was coming.  The claustrophobic environment, the soundtrack of beating hearts, the lighting and cinematography all help make this film tense and edgy.  Another big part of this, in my opinion is that we never see much of the alien at once.  Most of what we see is a head, a tail or its mouth getting ready to kill.  It also helps that we don’t actually see most of the kills and it’s mostly left to our imagination as to what happened which always leaves a bigger impression if done right.  And hear it was done perfectly.    
            But because I’m me, I do have some gripes with this film that I have to point out.  For starters, the special effects, while decent for their time are extremely outdated by today’s standards and, quite frankly, when compared to other films of the era like Star Wars or Close Encounters of the Third Kind, (films that came out two years before this one I’ll add), they seem flat out cheap.  But that aside, the only major flaw that I saw in this film was the whole thing with the android.  While it has become a staple of the Alien franchise to include an android character, looking back at the first film the inclusion of this twist, (or plot device depending on your point of view), really came out of nowhere, didn’t make much sense, and was tossed aside almost as quickly as it appeared. 
But these faults are very quickly forgotten about and don’t change the fact that this is an all-around fantastic film.  It had great concepts, great acting, great atmosphere, and great suspense and was an all-around scary flick.  If you can get past the outdated look of the special effects then I highly recommend that you give this one a view.

All Around

            But what about the other Alien films?  What do I think of them?  Well the second film is regarded as one of the greatest sequels ever made and some consider it superior to the first film.  While I don’t necessarily agree, it seems to have had a bigger cultural impact then the first as most Alien franchised products, (mainly videogames and other films), seem to follow the ideas and concepts introduced in it.  However I feel that it has some major flaws.  It suffered heavily from SSBS and the acting, dialog, and characterization just wasn’t as good.  Many of the characters came off as two dimensional cut outs and it’s obvious that many were included just so the film could have a higher body count.  But with that said, there were a lot of great things the film did right as it expanded on the concepts of the original and introduced some great ones of its own, mainly the colonial marines and social structure of the Xenomorphs.  The action and special effects were also great for its time and the main storyline, (while nothing that I’d expect Chris Nolan to write), worked really well considering the genera and made the transition from sci-fi/horror to sci-fi/action perfectly.  All around, it’s a good flick and worth anyone’s time and quite frankly they should have stopped here.

            Part three on the other hand didn’t fare so well and no one was satisfied with the way it turned out.  The main problem with this film was the writing as nothing about it really worked or made senses.  Most of the characters who survived in Aliens are killed off before anyone says a word of dialog.  And that’s pretty much the tone of the film; people dying almost at random, often for really stupid reasons and plans to kill it that just keep falling apart.  Throw in the really dumb setting of artic prison and even more stupid deaths and you get a really unsatisfying installment of the franchise.  And do I even need to mention Alien: Resurrection?  I mean what a dumb flick.  If you want the full scoop on what’s wrong with that one, check out The Nostalgia Critic’s review of it because he can do it more justice then I can.

            So now that I’ve gotten all of that out of the way, what about Prometheus?  What do I expect out of the upcoming film?  Well, to be perfectly honest?  Not much and I would rather it stay that way.  I have to admit that I’m not very hyped for this one but I really do want to see it, mainly because it promises to be a film that doesn’t have much, if any, connection to the pervious Alien films, save the derelict space ship and the species that piloted it with elements of Lovecraftian horror.  Time will tell if this will pan out and if Ridley Scott can resurrect the universe that made his career and I have every intention of finding out this weekend.  So until next time, this is The Illusive One signing off.