Thursday, July 7, 2011
As the story goes, it's solid. You actually have a motive from the very beginning and a solid of idea what to do. It isn't straight and linear, however, and there are some significant bumps and twists in the storyline, a few of which were quite unexpected. The characters are memorable and you will undoubtedly have those that you grow to like and those that you grow to hate. The only character that didn't have as much impact as I would have liked was Bertrand, the second most threatening antagonist, but without doubt the most present. Interactions with him are few and far between and when you do confront him, you never really feel an overwhelming sense of dread or danger. The best character development comes in the form of Cole's sidekick from the first game, Zeke, and a new operative, Lucy Kuo. For those that played the original, Zeke and Cole had some complications toward the end of the game, and Sucker Punch did not forget about this, successfully carrying both their long friendship and awkward tension into the second game. Kuo is potentially the most interesting character in the game, in particular because something drastic happens to her, but I'll let you find out what that is for yourself.
Two factors play the largest role in concerns to the game play of inFamous 2: the powers and the moral choices. The electric powers are just as sharp as they were in the first game. Firing is accurate and your power choices are varied. Toward the middle of the game you're even given the choice to add a power: fire or ice. I chose ice and some of the ice moves were some of my favorites throughout the entire game, especially the ice jump which made traveling and evading even more efficient. While I had my go to favorites (such as the generic electrical shot and the electric grenade), the game does a good job of making you want to change your favorite power. At times I found I liked grenades the most, but then I would get an upgrade for my Amp (the games melee equipment) and found myself enjoying hand-to-hand combat more. Then I would get and upgrade for my grenades and they would quickly become my most used. Another thing that is great about the game is the upgrade system. Even though I made it through the entire game and did every single side mission, by the end there were still powers I hadn't unlocked or purchased. This is in part because I decided to take the good route and there are both good and evil powers, but some of the more expensive upgrades I didn't get a chance to purchase, which only made me want to do a second play through that much more. The moral choices, unfortunately, aren't as well developed. While the first game made you decide between sharing a care package of food between a group of hungry survivors or using your powers to keep all of the food for yourself, inFamous 2's choices aren't quite as morally confusing. One option that is present during the entire game as a side option to gain more positive or negative karma is to chose between stopping a mugging or beating up a group of cops. The moral decision there is pretty clear and is very cut and dry in terms of which option is good and which option is evil; what inFamous 2 lacks in its moral decisions is a gray area, something the first installment succeeded at.
inFamous 2 also added a create your own mission system that consists of user generated content, but from what I played of it I wasn't terribly impressed. There have been some creative missions, but overall it seems like a petty attempt at adding extra re-playability to a game that doesn't necessarily need it. Another quick side note that may be of concern to some. While the voice actor of Cole was changed and was a little grating at first, I quickly grew fond of the new voice actor and his slightly smoother voice led to a much greater opportunity for comedic writing within the game. While the writing in the game isn't superb, the comedic bits are well placed and funny enough to break up the constant action and waves of enemies.
inFamous 2 isn't as striking as the first game, but it manages to grow in areas that inFamous fans should welcome with open arms. The graphics are crisp and detailed and I saw no evidence of pop-ups and very few frame rate issues. Cole and his supporting cast make you want to invest in them and they help you decide which path you want to take. They even provide for a shocking twist at the very end of the game. While the moral choices aren't as murky as I would have liked, the upgrade system and combat more than make up for it, making for an innovative and fluid fighting style. The game's story is strong and pointed, but has enough bumps in the road to keep the player guessing and intrigued. While there are camera issues and the user generated content system is lack luster, the many positives of the game outweigh its negatives. inFamous 2 is a must for any PS3 owner and fans of the first game are sure to be proud of the second installment.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
First off I want to state that I played L.A. Noire on the Xbox 360 and as such the game came on three DVDs as opposed to one Bluray. While I've seen various people complaining about this online, I want to point out that it wasn't that much of an issue. Yeah, it would have been nice to have the entire game on one disc, but the moments at which you change it aren't inconvenient and walking ten feet to my DVD rack and changing the disc all of twice over 30+ hours of play time isn't that big of a hassle. Moving on. To fill you in a little bit about what the game is about, you play as an LAPD officer by the name of Cole Phelps who you quickly find out recently returned from World War II and was awarded the Silver Star. The story follows Phelps as he rises through the ranks of the LAPD. The core of the gameplay is something much different than developer Rockstar Games has ever done before. While the game has its fair share of shootouts, chase scenes, and fist fights, the bulk of the game focuses around Phelp's detective skills. Roughly 50-60% of the game requires the player to search a house or crime scene for clues as well as interrogate witnesses and possible suspects.
Searching for clues can some times be overly tedious, but is relatively satisfying. Clues are not overtly difficult to find seeing as how when the player is close enough to a potential clue the controller vibrates. I say potential clue because the controller will vibrate at useless objects such as a box of laundry detergent or a bottle of wine. While this makes the game a little harder in terms of figuring out which clues matter and which ones don't, I found myself on a number of occasions rotating a hair brush for a few minutes trying to see the underlying clue before Phelps told me that the object didn't "pertain to the investigation." The interrogation aspect of the game is much more engaging and interesting than the investigation part.
L.A. Noire's claim to fame is its use of MotionScan technology in which actors are recorded by 32 surrounding cameras allowing them to capture facial expressions from every angle. With that being said, the face animation is the best I have ever seen in a game, each expression not only being believable and recognizable, but deep and wrought with emotion. The numerous interrogations the player comes across in the game heavily rely on MotionScan. When interrogating, you ask a series of questions and you can chose to accept the witness/suspect's statement as truth, approach it with doubt, or accuse them of lying. Much of this relies on being able to tell whether or not the person in questions actually looks like they're lying. However, as the game progresses, the interrogations become increasingly more difficult and at some times frustrating. However, the way in which the entire process is set up is almost flawless. The player can review case notes and various clues before deciding which choice to make as well as use Intuition Points (acquired with each level gained) allowing them to see the most popular answer from the L.A. Noire Social Club or eliminate one of the potential answers. This makes interrogations a little more manageable and a lot less frustrating. Furthermore, certain lines of questioning are not accessible unless certain clues have been found or previous questions have been answered correctly. Overall, the interrogation scenes are the most dynamic and engaging aspects of the game.
own volition. This has to be my biggest complaint about the game overall.
Outside of the facial animations, the strongest point of L.A. Noire is the soundtrack. Each and every song, whether licensed or original, seems to capture the mood and time accurately. While there's no way to change the radio station in your car, much like players have been able to do in the GTA games, you're sure to hear every bit of music they have available. Click here to listen to my favorite song from the game. Another strong suit for the game is the cast. Not only are they strong voice actors, but because of the MotionScan technology, you'll be able to recognize a good number of people. Just from being a fan of Mad Men alone I recognized not only Aaron Staton as Cole Phelps, but I noticed Michael Gladis and Rich Sommer, both of which are supporting characters throughout all four seasons of Mad Men.
A few more quick complaints before I wrap up. As I say this I want to note that this next sentence may contain POTENTIAL SPOILERS, but all things considered it really doesn't. For the last three cases of the game the player plays almost exclusively as another character and not Cole Phelps. While this was refreshing for one case, to finish the game playing as someone else after having invested so much time in Cole Phelps was almost upsetting for me. SPOILERS OVER Another complaint is that there were two DLC cases ready to download on the day the game was released. This just brings me to again express my frustration with the money grabbing game industry and ask why they didn't just included these two cases on the game disc. It seems dumb for me to pay an extra ten dollars for an extra two hours of gameplay that are available on the same day the game releases. Overall, L.A. Noire is a solid and enjoyable game that I put a considerable amount of time into. While the pacing at times can get a little slow and the cases can get a little monotonous having to bend over and look at every single object that vibrates at your feet, the innovative interrogation gameplay supported by MotionScan technology is deeply immersive and simply fascinating to look at. The research put into the scenery of L.A. Noire is incredible and the city is full of life, but because of the way Rockstar (or potentially their partner Team Bondi) decided to split up the main story and Free Roam, much of the city may go unexplored and therefore unappreciated. All things considered, L.A. Noire is an enjoyable and welcome experience if not only to break up the flood of shooters and action games with an intriguing twist on the genre.
Monday, June 13, 2011
This week marks the return of director JJ Abrams to the summer movie scene with the cryptically-advertised Super 8. Abrams, who proved himself a more than capable action director with 2009’s Star Trek, charts new territory here, backed by the steady hand of producer Steven Spielberg. Indeed, the film resonates with Spielberg’s blockbuster mindset, as well as his characteristic love of filmmaking in general. It is a wonderfully entertaining film, spectacularly filmed and acted, and crafted with all the joy and care of the films it skillfully evokes.
Set in small-town Ohio in the late seventies, Super 8 follows a group of children who, while trying to make an amateur zombie film, are witnesses to the start of a terrifying chain of events that soon has the town itself tearing apart at the seams. The plot begins in earnest with a train crash, an accident whose implications I will not reveal here. The scene is filmed about as perfectly as it is possible to film a horrible accident, and is one of the best action sequences to hit the screen in years. The reason for this is because the scene it is comprised of shots that for a cohesive unit of action, rather than just a set of incomprehensible takes glued into a loud blur. Abrams knows what it is to show his audience something of this magnitude; he understands that we want to actually see what happens, not just have it implied to us through overwhelming cacophony and distorted explosions. Michael Bay could use Super 8 as a text for his next overlong, soporific robot orgy.
From there, the film takes off into a plot that draws on action, horror, and drama. Abrams builds his picture with exacting detail, filling the screen with sights and sounds of the era, and people who make the world feel real and alive and afraid. The conspiracy is intriguing, but more compelling is the human story here. The film’s young main character, Joe Lamb, recently lost his mother and feels no connection to his father, the town’s deputy. Officer Lamb tells his son about a baseball camp he knows Joe would like, despite the fact that Joe spends his free time making models and fake blood for his friends’ movies. Joe, meanwhile, finds a friend in Alice, who puts Joe into a trance even covered in zombie makeup. The two share a common ordeal in their distant fathers, but the tenderness of the friendship is deepened through the trauma of the film’s central adventure. It works because they care for each other, and the audience cares about their survival. Action is meaningless if we’re not sympathetic to the people involved; Abrams knows this, and uses the fact well.
Eventually, the conspiracy becomes something bigger than the town itself. The horror is kept out of sight just long enough to make it real, a technique that Spielberg mastered long ago and to which Abrams pays homage here. The revelation comes to the characters not through firsthand experience, but through the lens of a camera. The film has a curious way of framing its visuals in a way that is both deliberately constructed and entirely natural. From the theater, we feel as though we sit behind the camera, watching the action unfold in realtime. And at its heart, that’s what Super 8 is about: the pleasure of the moving image, and its power to expose reality in new and amazing ways. The young actors perform in ways that seem more genuine than such people might behave in the real world. The camera brings out their sadness and desire, so carefully hidden away from the world of their daily lives. In the end, the meat of Super 8 resides in the power of that revelation, the magic of the moving picture to make sorrow and fear and love real to the audience, and to make the world just a little bit clearer.
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Finally, the timely follow-up to my Oscar predictions post.
The Oscars this year were, in a word, weird. Well, that’s one word, anyways. I can think of a few others. Predictable? Yeah, mostly. Frustrating? For sure. But I think I’m gonna go with weird, at least to start. Here’s how it went for me. I’m sitting in my room at 1 in the morning (Ireland time is fun!), scanning through internet streams of the broadcast, waiting for the show to start. I’m bored enough to listen to the red carpet interviews while I wait, but not bored enough to actually be interested. Two things pop out at me here. First, we need to lay down some kind of open-hand slapping policy for red carpet reporters who ask the question, “Who are you wearing tonight?” In what other situation would this question be acceptable? Who are you wearing? No, ma’am, I am not Buffalo Bill, but if I were, I would consider putting you in a hole and softening you up, because you’re ugly and annoying like that chick in the movie. Second, a request to ABC regarding the broadcast: for the sake of my sanity, please do not tell me that the awards ceremony starts at 8pm unless the ceremony starts at 8pm. Putting a 30-minute countdown in the upper-right corner of the screen does not qualify as starting the show. If you do this, you are a liar and I hate you.
So, the show finally starts. The opening sequence with Anne Hathaway and James Franco inserted into the year’s nominated films was promising, at least. At this point, the two hosts seem comfortable, and they’re kind of funny. Alec Baldwin shows up in Jack Donaghy mode, which is cool, but it does make me wonder why the show committee didn’t just bring him and Steve Martin back for a second year. After that point, though, a strange thing starts to happen. I had been looking forward to this Oscarcast; I like both of the hosts, I’m interested in the show and the films, I want it to work. But after the first twenty or so minutes of Hathaway’s strained cuteness and Franco’s unsettling detachment, I started to wonder: do these Oscars suck?
And boy, did they ever. I can’t remember a more boring Oscarcast since, well, ever. It started with the hosts, though it wasn’t all their fault. Anne Hathaway tried, she really did; too hard, at times. She probably realized, standing next to the blank billboard that was James Franco, that someone needed to do something about this. Franco, who has made a career out of burned-out stoner humor, just didn’t give a fuck. Normally, that’s his schtick, and it usually works for him. He just didn’t seem to get that, despite what he may have thought, you really do need to give a fuck in order to host the year’s biggest awards show. Strangely, that’s what made Billy Crystal’s appearance so effective. Yes, he was funny, which was a nice change of pace for the ceremony, but he was also honest. His tribute to Bob Hope was warm and genuine and personal, and though it was certainly scripted, it wasn’t forced or pandering.
Crystal wasn’t the only guest who did his part for the show. Kevin Spacey walked onstage with his typical charisma, and though he wasn’t particularly funny, he was at least smiling and apparently happy to be there. Later, Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law came out to present the awards for Visual Effects and Film Editing. They were by far the funniest presenters of the night, mostly because they pulled off the whole “let’s make fun of each other for the amusement of the people” thing way better than the show’s hosts. Speaking of which, my two cents for next year: Either Downey Jr./Jude Law or Kevin Spacey for hosts. The potential is staggering.
So yes, the hosts sucked, and the show fell flat on its face and stayed there for a solid three hours. But this year’s Oscars also sucked in far more important ways. We were warned that this would be the case weeks before the ceremony, when the Academy announced that, no, it would not nominate Christopher Nolan for a Best Director Oscar. This is the kind of snub where you immediately go to Nolan’s Wikipedia page, look at his body of work, and wonder what the guy has to do to get some recognition. He’s one of the very few directors working now without a real flop on his resumé. We’ve all heard this argument before, but it’s true. Batman Begins? Good movie. Not brilliant, but damn good, and a huge indicator of the greatness to come. The Dark Knight? Easily the best genre movie of the decade, so good that it has made other superhero movies virtually unwatchable. And now we get Inception, which somehow managed to surpass the absurd pre-release hype it received. In a weaker year for cinema, it would be a real Best Picture candidate without doubt instead of a makeup nomination without any chance of winning. Nolan is one of the two most innovative filmmakers working today, and the Academy barely knows he exists. Stanley Kubrick is chuckling from the grave.
Sadly, Nolan was not the only director to get the shaft this year. I’m going to go out on a limb here and predict that in five, ten years at the most, the film community will look back on this year as the year David Fincher and The Social Network got robbed. It’s not that The King’s Speech is a bad film, or that Tom Hooper is a bad director. In this case, everything comes down to subject matter. Hooper did a good job of taking a historically crucial event and turning it into an interesting, if predictable, movie. Fincher, on the other hand, took a (somewhat altered) story of a few computer nerds making a website in their dorms and made it into a fast-paced, thrilling commentary on the changing landscape of technologized society. Even Stephen Spielberg, who presented the award for Best Picture, seemed to know that The Social Network was going to get snubbed, and tried to offer solace in the fact that the Academy has a long history of giving the Oscar to less deserving, less relevant films.
And that’s really what sucked the most about the Oscars this year. By either design or coincidence, the Academy chose this year to try to update its image, the year that also saw the release of a generation-defining film in The Social Network. The Academy had this perfect chance to prove in a meaningful way that it is not completely out of touch, not content to lean back on safe formulas and tired models of success, and it failed miserably to do so. As Spielberg said, The Social Network now enters a category that includes many of the greatest films of all time, those films that were ignored on the awards stage but remembered far beyond their competition. It’s hard to find the consolation prize here since this was such a huge opportunity, but time will show, as it always has, where excellence lies.
Saturday, March 5, 2011
The story is a little lack luster at times, mainly because it's your typical loser become hero, but the world in which the movie places you really saves it. The way I feel about the city of Dirt in Rango is the same way I felt about the background story and history of last year's How to Train Your Dragon. The atmosphere is gritty and dry and that's only reinforced by the water crisis ever present throughout the movie. What is even better than the environment, however, are the characters. There are lizards, mole rats, turtles, snakes, rabbits, birds and each and every one of them has a unique look, as well as individual mannerisms and personalities. By far the best character outside of Rango is Rattlesnake Jake voiced by Bill Nighy. Rattlesnake Jake is one of the main antagonists of the movie, sporting a cowboy hat and a mini gun on his tail as a rattler. While he isn't in the movie very long, his presence is menacing and very memorable and he is easily my fvaorite animated villain in recent memory.
Monday, February 21, 2011
Will win: It's a toss-up. Black Swan will get heavy consideration, but The Social Network was very close to being as good. As the more critically appreciated film this year, The Social Network will take this one.
Will win: This category is historically a barometer of the Best Picture winner, so one of this year's two biggest contenders will likely take home the statue. I'm not sure that the tradition will hold true this year, but I'm gonna take a guess and say The Social Network.
Will win: There will be competition from The King's Speech, but fortunately, I think the Academy will oblige me on this one and go with Reznor and Ross for The Social Network. No film score in years has been as musically original and as cinematically essential as Reznor's. You will see a rant on this blog next week if he doesn't win.
Will win: I don't see any way that The Social Network won't take the Oscar here. This screenplay is nothing short of brilliant, and will be used as a model for decades. True Grit is a possible, but unlikely dark horse.
Will win: Sadly, I think the Academy has the period-drama bug again, and will go with The King's Speech here. Inception remains a legitimate contender, however.
Will win: Sure, let's go with that. The Academy likes to shake things up once in a while. Steinfeld should watch her back for Helena Bonham Carter, though.
Will win: There's a serious threat in Geoffrey Rush from The King's Speech, but I actually think Bale will take this one. Not sure why; just a feeling.
Will win: Portman. It's over. Hands down. Another rant may follow if I'm wrong.
Will win: Like the Actress award, this one has a predetermined feel to it. The Academy and Hollywood have been in love with Colin Firth for years, and he will take the statue next week.
Will win: This is a nearly impossible prediction, given the three huge names in the forefront (Hooper, Aronofsky, Fincher). I'm going to put some faith in the Academy this year and stick with my guns. Fincher wins.
Will win: Don't let me down, Academy. The Social Network it is.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Who Should Win
In the past decade or so, Disney-Pixar has dominated the category of Animated Feature Film winning five out of the past ten awards. More often than not, Dreamworks never seems to come up to the level that Disney-Pixar does, winning only twice in 2001 for Shrek (the first year the award made an appearance) and 2005 for Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (a year in which Disney-Pixar didn't even release a movie). This year when Dreamworks released How to Train Your Dragon I thought they may actually win once again. How to Train Your Dragon is a wonderfully original, fresh concept, and if you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend you do. Dreamworks tends to have more of a trademarked look than Disney-Pixar does, but regardless the idea was great and for once Dreamworks didn't have a talking animal as it's main character. What was best about it was the amount of history Dreamworks created: the town was full of life with each child striving to be a dragon hunter, each and every dragon has its own strengths and weaknesses, and what's best is how different each and every dragon looks. I fell in love with this movie the first time I saw it and I strongly recommend it to anyone who has an opportunity.
Who Will Win
I came out of How to Train Your Dragon dead set that it was going to win this year. I knew Disney-Pixar was coming out with Toy Story 3, but I was sure it was going to be a flop. In my mind the series had run dry and the third one was Disney-Pixar running out of fresh ideas. Unfortunately, I came out of Toy Story amazed and emotionally moved (I have to confess that toward the end of the movie I almost teared up). Disney-Pixar really hit it out of the park with Toy Story 3. I didn't think it could be done, but Toy Story 3 will be a favorite among this generation's youth as the original Toy Story was for me when it first came out in 1995 when I was six years old. If How to Train your Dragon had come out this year and went up against the upcoming Cars 2, I think it would be a shoe in winner. Going up against a better than expected sequel to the original Disney-Pixar classic Toy Story, it doesn't look like it has much of a chance.
Who Will Win
Christian Bale is still a standout favorite to win the award, however, Geoffrey Rush poses as an ominous contender for his role in The King's Speech. A supposed dark horse is John Hawkes, although I haven't yet seen Winter's Bone (if he ends up winning, I'll give you a synopsis as to why he won). Overall, however, Bale seems as though he's an almost guarantee to win the award with the winner of the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor having won 80% of the time in the past ten years.