Whiplash trailer (10.10.14 release)

Just saw this the other day at TIFF, and loved it.  It’s so well done and has such energy behind it that it feels like it’s about 20 minutes long.  Miles Teller should probably get an Oscar nom for his performance, but I have a feeling that probably won’t happen. He’s just not a big enough name yet, and there are plenty of other higher-profile names that will likely, and perhaps comparatively undeservedly, take all of the nomination slots.  A supporting nod for J.K. Simmons may be more realistic.  But no matter, don’t deprive yourself of this wonderful film when it releases in October, and check out both the trailer and the additional clip below for a taste.

Published in: on September 12, 2014 at 10:59 am  Leave a Comment  
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Kill the Messenger trailer (10.10.14 release)

An impressive cast, an incredible true story… but what has me most excited is the director, Michael Cuesta.  He works really, really well with actors and has worked with lead Jeremy Renner before in 12 and Holding.  His first feature was the critically-acclaimed L.I.E., and then he found himself working in cable television on the likes of Six Feet Under, Dexter, and Homeland, while making the occasional indie.  With Renner’s current high profile, Kill the Messenger may take Cuesta’s career to the next level, and he’s more than ready for it.

Gone Girl trailer (10.3.14 release)

Fincher.  Need I say more?  On top of that, I’m really curious to see Affleck’s acting these days.  You can learn a lot about acting from directing, and he did such a bang-up job with Gone, Baby, Gone and The Town and Argo and has become a pretty great actors’ director.  I think he’s learned that less is more, and I’m curious to see what he does under Fincher’s direction.  I’ve also recently read the book, which is pretty good– I should have a review up for it in the next week at most.  And then there’s Carrie Coon, who’s been killing it lately on The Leftovers.  She’s not who I would have pictured in the role she’s playing, but I’m still very curious to see what she does with it.  That’s true of much of the rest of the cast, from those have been perfectly cast like Neil Patrick Harris and Kim Dickens, to those like Tyler Perry who have been cast somewhat against type but look equally compelling.  I’ve also read that Gillian Flynn has changed the ending somewhat from her novel, and I’m curious to see what she’s changed and how.  Although I really liked the book, there were some things about the ending that didn’t quite work for me, so I’m very interested to find out what’s different in this version.  Hopefully the film will be the better for it.

A Walk Among the Tombstones trailer (9.19.14 release)

This may look like just another Liam Neeson thriller, but I’m interested in it for several other reasons.  First off, it’s been in development for about 10 years, and at one point was set to star Harrison Ford with D.J. Caruso directing.  Second, it co-stars Dan Stevens, who’s been making some pretty interesting choices post-Downton Abbey, and Ruth Wilson of Luther.  Third, it’s an adaptation of a Lawrence Block novel.  And perhaps most importantly, Scott Frank has adapted the screenplay and directed the film.  Frank wrote the Kenneth Branagh film Dead Again and the Jodie Foster film Little Man Tate, he adapted both Out of Sight and Get Shorty, and he directed the Joseph Gordon-Levitt film The Lookout.  The combination of Frank and Neeson working from Block source material has me hopeful that this will be a high point among the recent Neeson action offerings.

The Maze Runner trailer (9.19.14 release)

Whether or not this will be any good remains to be seen.  I’ve heard that the novel it’s based on is pretty poorly-written (and though I haven’t read the books, I’ve read plenty of examples that support that claim).  Also, the director is an unknown quantity– his previous projects are all animation shorts.  But the cast has a lot of young actors, like Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Will Poulter, who have really impressed me in the past.  And the trailer intrigues me and has my attention.  I suppose whether the film is any good may depend largely on the strength of the adaptation and how much they were able to improve on the novel, as well what Wes Ball can do as a director.  But Divergent and The Giver looked laughable just from the trailers; this doesn’t.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas review

RainbowSixVegas

I don’t have much to say about this one except how disappointed I was with it.  First off, the graphics were pretty horrible.  They looked like fuzzy, PS2-era graphics, and I’m not sure why.  I’ve seen clips online in what looks like HD, so perhaps that’s the PC version; but I played on the PS3.  This is a game that came out during the beginning days of the PS3’s lifespan, but still, the graphics shouldn’t look as bad as what was at the time previous-gen.  Also, compare it to the very similar Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 that released about 2 months after Rainbow Six, and the differences are dramatic.  I played that game a couple of years ago, and that was about what I’d been expecting from Rainbow Six– nothing spectacular, just a pretty (for its time), competent shooter.

Not only was there a substantial difference in the way the games look, there was a substantial difference in the way the games played.  The gameplay was very similarly designed, with you the player heading up a small squad of soldiers that you could move around and order to operate in either a defensive (don’t shoot first) or offensive (assault everything they see) mode.  One of the problems with Rainbow Six and is that the guns just weren’t as dynamic, and I never found a gun with a zoom on it.  This meant that you couldn’t really snipe from a distance.  You had to get close enough to your enemies to take them out from behind cover, and usually you’d only get one or two enemy soldiers down before you’d have a small swarm on you.  And that made the gameplay very limited.  You could go into rooms through one door while sending your soldiers through another door to overwhelm the room, but it was a rare situation that trying to take on the majority of the enemies by leading the assault yourself paid off.  More often than not, the only really worthwhile tactic was to send your troops in, let them pick off several soldiers, and then head in to support them and kill the remainders.  Often this meant that the better tactic even included you entering a new zone several minutes into a firefight and healing one of your AI teammates, and certainly not taking the lead yourself.  Which makes for a pretty boring game, and is a very, very different experience than GRAW2.  Instead of a shooter, Rainbow Six functioned best as a tactical puzzle game, with you issuing orders to AI troops.

Luckily the campaign is fairly short.  I tried to get in there and do as much shooting as I could, but I did defer an awful lot to the kind of gameplay that functioned best within the game’s design. And without any kind of sniping option, my only real shooting option was usually just repetitive duck and cover.  In addition, the maps aren’t big enough to allow for many tactics, which limits options even further.  On top of everything else, there are simply a lot of bugs in the game.  A mission near the end has the player assaulting a bunch of enemy troops invading a warehouse, and breaking the code on a fire door so that you can kill one of the main baddies in the game.  Because of glitching, you can only move certain places in the warehouse or the game will think you’re in the same spot on another level of the floor and create a circumstance that makes you have to go back to a previous save. Saves are problematic as well, since you can’t save wherever you want.  Save points happen automatically at certain checkpoints, and while sometimes the checkpoints make sense, other times I’d go through what I imagined were several checkpoints and then make a mistake or suffer a death due to a glitch, and find myself having to repeat a lot of either dull or annoyingly glitch-riddled gameplay.  The same glitchy circumstance in that warehouse also affected certain AI that the game then confuses for you, and again the game becomes unplayable if the AI walks through certain areas of the warehouse.  Additionally, the entire part of the mission was very finicky and glitchy in general.  I played that part of the mission at least 50 times, growing increasingly frustrated with the game, until I learned how to tweak and finesse what I was doing so that the mission wouldn’t glitch out based on either my or the AI’s movement.  And even then, once I was doing everything I could to compensate and control all movement, there was still an amount of randomness in the glitching that required me to play through that part about 10 times before I got lucky and the game didn’t glitch on me for one of several other reasons. Nothing else in Rainbow Six Vegas was as bad as this, but there were multiple other scenarios throughout where the game glitched to a lesser degree.

Substandard shooting and AI, a rather uninteresting story, no trophy support (not that I’d want it for this lackluster gameplay), an abundance of glitches, and probably the worst graphics of any game I’ve played on the system… all combine for a really lacking experience.  And finally, to add insult to injury, the game has no ending and finishes with a “to be continued” leading into its sequel.  I already own the sequel, so I’ll probably be playing it at some point, but I’m really hoping that it’s at least in line with Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 if not an improvement.  If the quality of the sequel is as bad as this first installment, I doubt I’ll finish it, even for the trophies included with the sequel.  If it weren’t for the shitty graphics, the glitching, the generic storyline, and the lack of an ending, I’d probably have rated Rainbow Six Vegas three points higher and have thought of it as a competent, moderately enjoyable shooter for its time.

4/10

Published in: on September 11, 2014 at 2:33 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Walking Dead, Season 2 review

Walking Dead Season 2

I’ve definitely come to have my problems with Telltale of late. Telltale rose to popularity doing games like the Sam & Max series and relaunching Monkey Island.  Their games, at that time, were classic point and click adventure games in the spirit of King’s Quest, Space Quest, and the original Monkey Island games.  They involved smart scripts, inventory puzzles, and just smart, intelligent puzzles in general.  They put out a Back to the Future game that received a lot of fanfare, a Jurassic Park game that didn’t, and then things got interesting with their first Walking Dead game.

Instead of focusing on puzzles, they focused on story-telling and player choices.  You didn’t have to to scour the environment for clues or objects, or use your brain to try to solve tricky puzzles. Instead, Telltale’s games became all about making a decision between two bad outcomes, and trying to stomach the results of whatever you just did, and whatever you didn’t do.  The first game was hugely successful, and it grabbed me with its potential to be the video game version of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Immediately after completing my first playthrough of the first chapter, I went ahead and created a second playthrough where I made all of the polar opposite choices.  I wanted to see the part of the game I must have missed with the choices I didn’t make.  And that’s when I found out that I had missed absolutely nothing.

Despite Telltale marketing this game based on player choices, and making claims that the gameplay would “radically” and “drastically” change the gameplay and player experience based on those choices, the end result was negligible.  Choose to save one character instead of another?  Didn’t matter, the character you saved would die shortly thereafter anyway.  All of this was because the team was building the game, and creating each chapter, as the previous chapter was being published.  They didn’t have the time or the budget to create truly branching story lines, or choices that resulted in truly different outcomes.  Whatever you did, they needed all players to essentially be in the same place at the beginning of the next chapter, and with Season Two, at the beginning of the next game.  Essentially all choices had to be boiled down into the same set of results.

And while that disappointed me, A LOT, what made it worse was the audience continuing to buy what Telltale was selling hook, line, and sinker.  The first game won a lot of Game of the Year Awards and received universal praise, and the second game continued to be marketed based on the hook of player choices determining gameplay, with that being the only real type of gameplay in the game.  And the reality is that those choices are never more than cosmetic, and determine nothing.  These games are nowhere near as fun as Telltale’s Sam & Max games, and don’t really require any kind of thinking.  The need to choose between two bad outcomes is undercut by the knowledge that the result will never be more than cosmetic, as well as the fact that, over time, the player starts to get numbed by every decision creating two bad outcomes.  The trophies are all story-based, so nothing is missable.  You could literally just never make a choice when presented with them in dialogues/conversation, and the end result won’t be much different from those made via passionate involvement.  The same can be said of Telltale’s recent The Wolf Among Us game, based on the Bill Willingham comic book series, Fables.  Yet, Telltale’s games are now more popular than ever, with a Borderlands game and a Game of Thrones game on the way, and a solid bet of a Season 3 of The Walking Dead coming some time after that.

It’s a good thing for Telltale that the stories they’re telling are compelling, because at this point, that’s the only thing going for them.  I love Telltale, and I still enjoy their games, but I long for them to go back to games with puzzles in them, or to actually deliver on the way they’ve been describing their current slate.  I want a Walking Dead game where, during one playthrough, I only see perhaps 25% of the game.  To see the rest, and collect all of the trophies, I’d have to go back and do multiple playthroughs, and make very different choices… and the game itself would alter its course irrevocably.  I just want the game that Telltale has been selling to us but not delivering.  I also want them to fix their broken game engine that sees a lot of really unnecessary stuttering for a game requiring such low memory.  Yes, their cell animation is gorgeous, but there’s no reason the game has to pause the way it constantly does.  Until then, I’ll still buy their games and enjoy them, but they’re no longer in the 9-10 score range for me, and I won’t be making any more day-one or season pass purchases. Instead I’ll wait until after the whole game is released and the entire bundle goes on sale for $5-$10.  That will also save me from having to endure the multiple month-long waits in chapter delays, something that has continued to plague Telltale over their last three game releases.

7/10

Published in: on August 28, 2014 at 7:39 pm  Comments (2)  
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Far Cry 2 review

Far Cry 2

Yes, I realize I’m pretty late to the game on this one, seeing as it released for PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 back in 2008.  I spent about a decade playing far too much World of Warcraft, which means that all of my other video games, including PS1, PS2, PSP, and PS3 games, experienced an insane amount of backlog.  I’m slowly trying to catch up.  I’m also a collector and completist by nature, so I usually try to go back and start at the beginning when it comes to franchises.  In this case, I’m still waiting for Far Cry Classic to go on sale on the PSN, and I’ve been itching to get into the Far Cry universe, so I decided on a whim a couple of weeks back to just jump in with Far Cry 2.  I also happened to know that Far Cry 2 is a completely different story and universe from Far Cry Classic and didn’t require any story familiarity with the first game.

My experience ended up being a somewhat split one.  Far Cry 2 came out early in the PS3’s life-cycle, and I can see how at the time the graphics and gameplay would have been cutting-edge.  Even by today’s standards, Far Cry 2‘s graphics have held up pretty damn well.  The AI isn’t shabby, either.  Instead of overly simple AI that repeats a pattern or two and then resets, or AI that is fairly forgiving or blind when you take out NPCs standing near them, Far Cry 2‘s baddies will fan out in various formations, sweeping the nearby tall grass and working together to track down you, the sniper, trying to infiltrate their camp.  In shooters I usually prefer a two-fold approach of sniping from a distance, and a shotgun for close combat.  Unfortunately, in Far Cry 2, the sniper rifle and shotgun occupy the same weapon slot, so I ended up going with sniper rifle and Uzi.

As far as the AI was concerned, I found my best tactic was usually sniping from a distance and taking out an enemy or two, then staying hunkered down while I dashed from my hiding spot around the enemy camp, either clockwise or counterclockwise, at least 90 degrees.  This meant that the AI would be looking for me in a place I no longer was, and I could either take some more of them out from my new hiding spot, and then rinse and repeat, or sneak into their camp to steal an item if I needed to do that.  The more I was able to pick them off one at a time, the easier I made it for myself if I eventually had to fight a swarm of them.

Far Cry 2 employs an interesting system with its player characters and the “buddies” you encounter.  At the start of the game, you’re allowed to choose who you play from a list of about 8-10 player characters.  The rest of those characters end up being “buddies” you meet during your campaign.  Some of them you meet at the start of the game or half-way through, some of them you encounter through story missions, and a couple of them you might miss altogether if you don’t find them on your own out in the terrain.  There’s a trophy on the PSN for finding all of them, and each of them provides additional missions to you once you do locate them.  Be forewarned: if you want to play all of the buddy missions, you have to start alternating them with other missions very early on in the game.  If you don’t, seeing as how the game only offers you a buddy mission each time you complete a main mission, weapon mission, or cell tower mission, you could easily lose the opportunity to complete all of the buddy missions.  Also, if a buddy dies in combat before you’ve completed all of their buddy missions (there’s 2 per buddy) you lose the ability to see that content on that playthrough.  Mercifully, there’s no trophy affected by that.  However, there are trophies for subverting each of the main missions, and if you lose enough buddies, you’ll lose the ability to subvert those missions.

How do you lose a buddy?  Two ways.  One, if you die, and you have a buddy on “rescue duty,” he’ll come along and pull your bacon from the fire.  This can sometimes be bad if you bite it early during an encounter with an enemy camp.  If there are an overwhelming number of AI enemies still alive, they may very well take down your buddy while or shortly thereafter saving you.  If your buddy goes down, it’s up to you to save him with a healing syringe during the firefight.  If you take too long, he dies.  If he goes down three times over the course of the game, by the third time you won’t be able to save him.  And then your next best-buddy becomes your new rescue buddy.  Second, you can lose a buddy during the missions with them if you choose to subvert the main missions.  Often you’ll find the final part of the subverted mission involves you running to a new location to save your buddy from an onslaught of enemies.  Sometimes you can reach the location to find that there’s nothing you can do, and they’re already dead.  Other times you might reach the location to discover that they don’t actually need you and they’ve already killed the AI without you.  It’s entirely random, so the best course of action in these instances is to save at a safe house before going to the location where you’re meeting a buddy, and if they are dead by the time you get there, or even if they die during the fighting (hell, even if they go down during the fighting forcing you to use 1/2 of your revivals on them), simply reload the game at that previous safe house.  It’s also a good idea, given how the buddy system works, to use a guide to find out where your buddies are all located and then rescue them first thing after the start of the game and then again at the half-way point.  And again, make sure you alternate your buddy missions early in the game, and early after the half-way point, if you want to see all of their content.  Other than that, the rest of the trophies aren’t really missable.

All of this was stuff that I loved.  But there are two glaring problems with the game.  The first is simply repetition.  The single-player game really asks you to do two things.  The first is exploration.  I spent the first two-thirds of the game just wandering around, freeing my buddies, exploring the terrain, hitting the enemy camps, freeing the safe houses, and finding all of the collectible diamonds.  Once I’d achieved that, I actually started the missions, the meat of the game.  The missions always entailed you going into an enemy camp to kill someone or steal something.  Since on the PS3, unlike with the PC version, you can’t save whenever you want, this meant that after every mission I’d go back to a safe house to save my game so I wouldn’t have to repeat the mission.  I also found myself using a lot of the bus stations, located in the outer corner sections and the middle section of a nine-section grid map (I don’t want to call them quadrants because quadrants are groups of four).  As fun as this was, and as smart as the AI was, this got pretty repetitive over time.  My other problem with the game is how much time I had to spend running across the terrain to get to different sections of the maps, even when using bus stations.  Obviously that’s something you need to do when searching for collectibles, but by the time I got to the missions, there should have been an easier way.  Using vehicles on roads didn’t get you very far, because roads would go through enemy camps.  You’d either end up taking so much damage to your vehicle, that you’d have to fight your way through a camp, or if you did make it through, one camp was the most damage a given vehicle could take.  And unlike with the safe houses, the enemies at an outpost would reset once you left the area, so there was no way to clear them permanently and make life easy on yourself.  As for off-road vehicles, you could only take them through certain sections of the game before you inevitably hit rocky terrain that prevented driving of any kind, or a well-positioned enemy camp/outpost.  Either way, you usually ended up back on foot for a large portion of the game.  I have a feeling later iterations like Far Cry 3 have found a way around this.  I don’t even mind having to run for the first half of the mission, but at least provide me a way to hearth or teleport out when I’m done, and not have to spend another 10-15 minutes running back across terrain to turn the mission back in.  There’s really no reason for all of that tedious walking, and it amounts to a huge chunk of the final game time. It’s also a problem when you can’t take on more than one mission at a time, even one of a different type.  There was no quest log, so I couldn’t simultaneously be doing a weapon mission, a cell tower mission, and a main mission.  This often meant running across a lot of terrain to pick up a mission, running across a lot of terrain to complete it, running across a lot of terrain to turn it in, running across a lot of terrain to pick up a different mission, and running across a lot of terrain to complete that mission, sometimes back where I’d started.  Even when using vehicles whenever I could, it amounted to far too much running and backtracking in general.

Unfortunately for me, some of the multi-player trophies are hard to come by and require a ton of time in multiplayer.  Multi-player isn’t something I’m very interested in to begin with, but I have managed to get all of the multi-player trophies in all of the Assassin’s Creed games, because there’s always been at least enough of a player base for that to be possible.  I’m not sure if I’d want to put in the lengthy time required to get all of the Far Cry 2 multi-player trophies if I could, but for me, it wasn’t even an option.  I logged on a couple of times and only ever saw 2-3 people in the lobby, which wasn’t enough to get one round going.  I also couldn’t find any posts on various online boards of current players looking for people to complete the multi-player section of the platinum.  And so I had to simply console myself with getting all of the single-player trophies, and letting the multi-player trophies and the platinum go.  As a completist, I’m not really happy about it… but there’s nothing I can do about it, either. That’s what sometimes happens when you play a game six years after the fact, particularly one that has a trophy set that depends on now-out-of-date multi-player.  I’m also currently finishing up the single player campaign for Resistance 2, and I know the servers for the multi-player on that one have recently been pulled down, so I’ll be in a similar situation there.

Other than that, I was fairly happy with the game in general.  As I’ve already mentioned, the big problems were the inability to get places more quickly, and the repetitiveness of the mission structure.  But just from playing similar franchises and knowing how they’ve evolved, I’m really looking forward to sinking my teeth into Far Cry 3, and eventually Far Cry 4, as I’m sure those elements have been streamlined.  My ongoing search for the collectible diamonds and exploring the terrain, as well as many a good fight with the smart AI in some of the enemy camps, was chock full of good times, and I’m definitely interested in repeating those experiences in more polished and evolved game engines with improved graphics.

7/10

Published in: on August 28, 2014 at 6:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Guest trailer (9.17.14 release)

Another genre project from a Downton Abbey cast member, instead of Rose Leslie this time it’s Dan Stevens.  The film in question is the follow-up from Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett, the writing/directing/producing team responsible for 2011 festival hit You’re Next that saw eventual theatrical release in 2013, as well as the indie anthology curiosities V/H/S, V/H/S/2, and The ABC’s of Death, and features an 80’s throwback vibe.

Published in: on August 28, 2014 at 4:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Honeymoon trailer (9.12.14 release)

What Game of Thrones fan doesn’t love Rose Leslie as Ygritte telling Jon Snow that he knows nothing?  Well here’s a genre flick starring Leslie as a newlywed to Harry Treadaway, Dr. Victor Frankenstein of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful.  Their honeymoon takes them to a family cottage in the woods, and as always in these types of movies, that’s just not a good place to be.  However, this first feature from writer/director Leigh Janiak isn’t a slasher flick, but instead more psychological, pulling inspiration from the likes of early Polanski and Philip Kaufman’s ’78 Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  The film was a hit at Tribeca and SXSW, but be forewarned that early festival reviews have been mixed, including Variety calling it “flat and forgettable” and Film School Rejects criticizing it for giving too much away too early on, leaving the characters to play catch-up with the audience for most of its running time.  Still, I’m planning on checking it out as a genre fan and for Leslie and Treadaway.

Published in: on August 28, 2014 at 4:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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