Friday, June 19, 2009

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Prime

You know, I’m not one to generally get offended by review, be they for movies, games, books or what have you. I realize that reviewers are basically being paid to render their opinion on a public forum, to give those of us who are on the fence a bit more of an informed choice when it comes to choosing what we want to do with our money.

That being said, the Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen reviews coming out of Rotten Tomatoes have really not been helping my mood. If it’s not getting trashed for being tedious and full of explosions, it’s being lambasted for being simplistic by even the “Fresh” reviews! Of course it’s simplistic, you high-handed jack-asses! It’s freaking Transformers!

Now, I don’t know if most reviewers ever watched the original TV series, or were even aware of its existence until Michael Bay modernized the franchise for the current consumer two years ago, but apparently “giant robot fighting” does not a good action movie make. Really, what else do you want out of Transformers? There is never going to be anything overly cerebral about it.

I love Prime, Megatron and company as much as the next guy, but I watch Transformers to be entertained and blown away by the visuals, not to have my mind teased. What boggles me is that Star Trek (co-written by two of the TF writers) got a 95% Fresh rating, while TF currently sits at below 50%. What?! Star Trek was great, but it sits in the same company as Transformers: a beloved sci-fi series rebooted to be made slicker and easier to digest for the theatre crowd.

I just don’t get movie critics sometimes. Of all the reviewers in the world, they are the least objective, and the most biased. For them, a movie is not “entertainment”. It needs to be a period piece, it needs to make you cry, it needs to do a lot of things that I frankly don’t go and watch things blowing up for.

When they’re not hacking down the movie for doing exactly what it’s trying to do, they’re insulting the audience. Here are a few samples of the “opinions” being selected for Rotten Tomatoes:

Allan Hunter, Daily Express: Director Michael Bay has always had a passion for big, noisy spectacles and Revenge of the Fallen is a bravura display of his ability to mastermind global destruction. What it lacks is the human touch, decent dialogue, novelty and restraint. (It is a movie about fighting robots, good sir.)

Matthew Tuner, View London: Bigger, louder and more annoying, this won't disappoint fans of the first film, but the deficiencies in script and character are even more apparent this time round and Bay's contempt for his audience is almost palpable. (If you use the phrase “fans of the series” or something similar, it always seems like a cop-out. Yes, I’m guilty of it too.)

Victor Olliver, Teletext: Is there anything in this for anyone other than a zit-faced video gamer? No.

Ok, that last one really jostled my flaps so much that I made an account on RT specifically to call this guy out on his bullshit. One would wonder how such an unprofessional review (and it is unprofessional, basically a point form rip on the movie on its fans) would makes its way on to Rotten Tomatoes. I know that RT is an aggregate site, but one would think they have some control over what they feature on their site. Such a slanderous review doesn’t lend a lot of credibility to Rotten Tomatoes.

I’m probably not helping by writing a whole rant about reviewers and their bullshit, but whatever. This whole fiasco has got me pissed off so much that I’m going to go watch Spider-Man 3 out of spite.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Cole Becomes Electric

Welcome to Empire City, a place where disease-ridden gangsters and psychic hobos rule the streets. You’re Cole McGrath, bike courier cum electric dynamo, and you have the power to save the city or bend to your will.

InFamous is a game that opens with a bang (literally), and never stops coming at you, a relentless assault of lightning and open-world free running. In a story heavily inspired by the comic book genre (Batman: No Man’s Land in particular), you play the aforementioned Cole McGrath, who develops electricity based super powers after being caught at the center of a massive explosion that wipes out six city blocks and plunges Empire City back to the stone ages. Armed gangs roam the streets, and the government has locked the place down, basically leaving the city to collapse upon itself.

As a natural consequence of having super powers, you are forced into the middle of the situation by a shadowy FBI agent named Moya, who turns you into a glorified errand boy. She tasks you with two main goals: finding her husband, John, who was deep undercover with a group known as the First Sons, and locating the Ray Sphere, the device that gave you your powers.

To that end, you’re given free reign over three separate districts of the city, which open up consecutively as you progress along the story mode. In each section of Empire, you can go where you please, jumping over rooftops and scampering along power lines. The platforming in inFamous is incredibly intuitive. You never question whether or not you’re going to make a jump; unless you do something boneheaded like leap into the river, Cole will always find his feet planted on firm ground. Scaling buildings is effortless and later in the game Cole will gain the ability to grind along power lines and train rails, and hold himself aloft for a short time with a hovering ability. Cole doesn’t take fall damage, either, so feel free to hurl him off every building you can see.

In addition to being a skilled urban explorer, Cole can also hold his own against the myriad gangs fighting for control of Empire. Starting with a basic lightning shot from his hand, Cole can develop more and more impressive techniques as the game goes on. These powers are gained by restoring electricity to sections of Empire, and can be leveled up by using the exp you gain from defeating enemies. Cole’s lighting powers develop along two lines, which is in keeping with the moral choice system of this game. Good players will find that their powers are more precise and even restore some of your electric charge, while Infamous players will experience “Unlimited Power!” as a certain creepy galactic emperor would say.

But power doesn’t come without temptation. At several points in the game, you will be confronted with the option of either having Cole take the moral high road and use his powers for good, or to indulge in his baser instincts. The karmic choice system in this game is very black and white, and basically serves as a mechanism for making you play inFamous twice through, once good and once evil. Whichever path you go down gives you a different set of perks, as mentioned above. While the game will occasionally break flow and make you tackle a moral quandary, you can also perform acts for good or ill while you're running about Empire City. If you heal pedestrians with your defibrillator ability or restrain enemies with lightning manacles, you gain exp and good karma points. Conversely, if you kill downed opponents and suck the bio-energy from pedestrians and villains alike (a nasty looking but effective way to refill you juice meter), you’ll be well on your way to being universally reviled. The karmic choice mechanism is central to the game’s story, but it will feel a bit silly on occasion. As long as you’re willing to take it tongue-in-cheek, it shouldn’t disrupt your experience too much.

InFamous is a very well put together product, and the team at Sucker Punch should be proud of themselves. Solid controls, a good gameplay hook and fun combat all combine to make inFamous a sure-fire winner. A must buy for any PS3 owner, inFamous will give you the guaranteed shock-and-awe of a summer blockbuster.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Microsoft Part 2: Technological Transgressions

Aside from a metric ass-tonne of game announcements, Microsoft also strutted their software integration stuff and revealed a whole bunch of new innovations for the LIVE interface ranging from Twitter to a full body motion sensor.

In addition to Net Flix, Microsoft announced that they are proud to present the incorporation of Facebook and Twitter to X Box LIVE, adding unique social networking to those who aren’t that socially adept anyways. Adding the ability to Tweet and check your Facebook is a natural evolution for Microsoft’s online service; most people are already Tweeting to their LIVE friends anyways. If only the Zune had something to do with all this on the go status extravaganza. and SKY were also announced as partners in the newest LIVE venture, so you can listen to music through your X Box, and catch football matches with SKY in the UK. Neat stuff that comes packaged for Gold users, so you won’t have to pay an additional fee.

Finally, Microsoft brought out the proverbial big guns for their final announcement. Venerable director Steven Spielberg to the stage to talk about Project Natal, Microsoft’s answer to motion control; but this isn’t about waving a dongle around, oh no. Natal is a full-body motion detector with included voice and facial recognition software. Much like Tony Hawk’s ride board will let you translate your body movements into on-screen action, Natal does much the same thing without the need for any peripheral besides a small-ish sensor that gets attached to your X Box.

This thing is seriously impressive. Like I mentioned above, Natal appears to need nothing more than a sensor mounted in front of your TV. It reads your body movements, and translates them smoothly onto the screen. This will have a lot of interesting applications for games that require a bit more physicality than your standard video game fare. Games usually require an extra peripheral for things beyond button inputs, like Tony Hawk Ride or Wii Fit. If Natal is a success, then not only will the number of plastic play-things in your average gamer’s house reduce, but it may bring additional customers into the fold, those who are intimidated by the average gamepad.

I’m sure that Natal is a while away from being a fully realised product, but it seems to be heading in the right direction. Only time will tell for this new innovation, but for now, I’ll stick with my controller.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Microsoft's E3 Press Conference Part One: To All The Games I've Loved Before

Microsoft’s E3 press conference has come and gone, and what an event it was. In what turned out to be a star-studded journey down a magnificent lane of computerized entertainment, Microsoft set the bar incredibly high for Sony and Nintendo.

No charts or graphs this year, just a straight up bevy of game announcements from a procession of companies ranging from UbiSoft to Bungie, and even a sneak appearance by Hideo Kojima.

First on the gravy train was to be the announcement of Beatles Rockband, and who better to announce it than Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney? The game looks pretty good, playing on the myriad sets of imagery used by the Beatles throughout their long career. Over 45 classic Beatles songs will be featured on the disk, and some more coming to X Box LIVE.

For Rockband enthusiasts, this was certainly an exciting announcement. I’ve never been a big fan of the Beatles, but I can see why their appeal is so large and multi-generational.

After the Beatles made their announcement, skateboard poster child (man) Tony Hawk took the stage to describe how the next game bearing his name in it – Tony Hawk: Ride – is going to revolutionize skating games. To that effect, he demonstrated Ride’s motion control board, which will probably function a lot like the Wii Fit board. In essence, it will be like actual skateboarding, but without the risk of either breaking several bones or getting laughed at by teenagers. Whether or not this will breathe new life into the Tony Hawk series remains to be seen, but I can imagine that this game will not be cheap. Prepare to shell out some cash for the opportunity to get the closest to physical activity that Tony Hawk fans have ever come.

A couple developers from Infinity Ward hit the stage to show off Modern Warfare Two, which consisted of scaling a cliff with ice picks, using a UAV radar attached to a rifle, and firing your pistol “derty” style while riding a snow-mobile. If IF’s success with Modern Warfare one is any indication, this game is going to sell like hotcakes. Hopefully, they’ll change it up enough that it doesn’t feel like MW 1 with a few minor changes.

Final Fantasy Thirteen, announced last year amid much hullabaloo, is going to hit in Spring 2010. No surprise there.

After a couple X Box LIVE Arcade announcements, Microsoft revealed that Ruffian Games (who said that they were not working on Crackdown 2) is – surprise - working on Crackdown 2. Crackdown one was a massive hit among the “hardcore”, and Crackdown 2 looks to be a further extension of what fans loved about the first one. Unfortunetly, it’s following a current trend for open world games to have some sort of zombie/hideous monster plague hit the city. Maybe being a super-cop will be enough to off-set it, but I doubt that you really need to add a zombie disease to make your game feel innovative.

Left 4 Dead 2 was announced, being set in the southwest of the United States. No idea why this is a full game; it would have probably made more sense for this to be branded as Left 4 Dead: Ragin’ Cajun expansion or something. Valve is adding melee weapons this time around, including the ever-requested chainsaw.

Splinter Cell: Conviction, after being stuck in development hell (it was rumoured that a team of “closers” were brought in to get this game back on track), made an appearance with a brand new look for the game. This is definitely a Sam Fisher who’s out for revenge, and it features some sweet objective update interfaces. At one point in the trailer, “Find Sarah’s Killer” popped up on the wall as a reminder of what your ultimate goal is. Pretty slick, and marks a definitive change in the HUD heavy Splinter Cell games of the past.

Next, Bungie story crafter Joe Staten took the stage to give the world its first look at Halo 3: ODST, and does it look fantastic. Instead of playing a SPARTAN super-soldier, you take on the role of the “Rookie”, an Orbital Drop Shock Trooper, who are basically the far-future equivalent of Seal Team Six or Delta Force.

After ODST “dropped”, Bungie also revealed that they are working on Halo: Reach, a prequel of sorts. The novel Fall of Reach chronicled what happened before the events of Halo: Combat Evolved, so one could assume that this is the interactive entertainment retelling of that story. It hits in 2010, however, so we have a lot of time to see how it will develop.

Then, Hideo Kojima, developer of the Metal Gear Solid series took to the stage to announce that he was proud to bring his venerable series to the X Box 360. Nothing much was revealed about the game besides the fact that development is currently taking place, and it is going to star Raiden, girly man turned cyborg ninja from Metal Gear 4.

As excited as many people are to see the Metal Gear franchise finally make the jump to the 360, I doubt that many of the “purists” are excited about playing as Raiden, who is infamous for stealing the spotlight from series star Solid Snake in Metal Gear 2.

All in all, Microsoft revealed a very impressive line up for the coming holiday season and beyond. They also revealed a whole bunch of technological improvements for the LIVE interface, which I’ll discuss in part two of my Microsoft E3 breakdown.