South Park: The Stick of Truth – A Review and a Promise

•June 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Hey, you awesome party people! Sorry it’s been so long since I showed up. Work, both the dayjob and the writing of amazing stories (including the fourth volume of The Statford Chronicles, available now at Amazon), plus some personal stuff going on kept me from here. Of course, that’s no excuse, and I’ll do better about posting here for you wonderful folks more often and more regularly. If you want to help, feel free to take a look at the Moichendising link to the right and contribute to assisting me in taking over the world!
Maniacal laughter aside, I do have a bit of content for this post. Specifically, a review of the video game South Park: The Stick of Truth. I can’t tell you how this game has screwed me up, and had me enjoying every second of it. However, I will try. I’ll keep this as spoiler-free as possible, so enjoy.
The premise is rather straightforward: You’re a new kid in South Park, and your parents, who suck rather badly at the job and hint at a dark reason for the three of you heading to a quiet mountain town, tell you to go outside and make some friends. You meet Butters, and things rather quickly go downhill from there as you’re introduced to Cartman, who has set up a fantasy kingdom that fights against the elves, actually other kids in town. The titular Stick of Truth is what the two groups of kids battle over, which supposedly controls all time and space, and Cartman has it. Cartman recruits you against the elves and allows you to choose your name and your class. That’s the gist of the first few minutes, and I cut off the summary before it got really bad.
And yes, it does get bad in a very fun way.
First, the gameplay is surprisingly deep for a game about a cartoon that made its money out of foul language and taboo subjects. Those who want to complain that it’s cheesy and cheap-looking need to relax and remember the source material. However, it’s not a case of a Scion looking good next to a Pinto. It plays like the JRPGs of old, and you can see the inspirations from those games. However, it’s like someone crossed the Final Fantasy battle system with, well, an episode of South Park and did their best to make it as true to the source as possible. The attacks are both hilarious and requiring skill to complete successfully, the items are about as classy as you would expect and the summons/special attacks? I’ll let you discover those.
The graphics are rather good as well, even though they’re a straight lift out of the show. There is obvious attention to detail for the settings and the characters, and it goes rather deeply into how much, even though Trey Parker and Matt Stone have made a crapload of money off the series, these guys love what they do. Sure, they like the money, but they also love their creation. Every character is fully voiced, and has some rather awesome lines. It really is like taking part in an extended episode of South Park.
That being said, cameos and guest-stars abound. Al Gore, Mr. Hankie, Cartman’s Mom, and countless others show up to either help or hinder you, and sometimes both at the same time. Really, I don’t want to give too much away other than Al Gore sucks. He absolutely sucks.
There are some flaws in The Stick of Truth, but they are minor. Controls can sometimes be a little wonky, especially during special attacks. Sometimes the attacks don’t go off, sometimes they do absolutely nothing. While this can be somewhat endearing in some battles, in other big fights it can be rather annoying.
All in all, though, I can’t recommend The Stick of Truth enough. Seriously, if you aren’t easily offended and you like South Park (but I repeat myself), this is the game to get. Have fun with it!
Next week I’ll either be reviewing something else or interviewing someone. I’m hoping the latter, but the former will be fun, too. See you then!

Ryse, Son of Rome: A Review

•March 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Okay, so I’m late to the party on this one. Ryse, Son of Rome is a launch title for the Xbox One, and it shows. While that may sound like damning with faint praise, it’s also not a terrible thing. Let’s go over the basics.

You take on the role of Marius, a general in the Roman legions during Emperor Nero’s time. The story is set during the siege of Rome by an army of barbarians, and it’s a huge fight. The tutorial, what little is needed, is quick, easy, and very explicit. While you may not remember every eventual combination of buttons to perform maneuvers, it’s pretty easy to button-mash your way to victory in the first chapter. The whole first chapter is really a prologue, where you get to rescue the emperor and get him to the safety of a Roman-era panic room. Once there, Marius begins to recount to the porcine Nero how everything happened, specifically why there are a freaking bazillion barbarians at the gate, and why they’re baying for Nero’s blood.

This story is told in a flashback, and though that’s kind of a cliché way of going about a game, it works rather well. The cutscenes flesh out the story between chapters, not too long as to bore the player, but not too short as to leave you wondering just why Marius is bringing up Nero’s sons, or who this Damocles guy is.

On a side-note, the usage of the Roman gods was rather inspired in Ryse, and really got me back to writing my own books. My dozens of fans are still after me to finish book four, and I’ll have it done soonish, dammit! Anyway, back to the review.

There are a great many twists and turns, the story showing the beginning of the end for the great Roman empire in rather excruciating detail. Voice-acting is top-notch, with no noticeable issue. The controls are surprisingly good. I only say surprising because this is a launch title, and even though the One controller is little-changed from the 360 controller, you’d expect some deficiency in a launch title’s controls. I found none, which definitely helped me enjoy Ryse all the more.

Another side-note: Why Ryse? Spelling a word differently but sounding the same is something that I thought went out in the 90’s with Mortal Kombat. Apparently, I was wrong. The name would have worked better just being Rise, Son of Rome. Sorry. Pet peeve.

Anyway, I enjoyed Ryse, although it was a bit too short. The ending, while satisfying, came all too quickly, and I wanted more story. The multiplayer aspect is pretty good, from what I heard. I didn’t try it, as I’m not one for swordfighting multiplayer, and the idea really didn’t grab me.

All in all, Ryse, Son of Rome was pretty good. It is, however, a rental, in my opinion. The story mode can be beaten in a day, and it’s unlikely anyone will play the multiplayer longer than it takes to cap out their level. I recommend it if you’re looking for a rental with a good story. Buying it? Nah. Save your money for Titanfall,which drops this coming Tuesday. I’ll be posting my review of that probably that Friday. Should give me a chance to see how this multiplayer campaign thing is going to work. After that, I’ll let you know how Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is. In between that, yes, That You Do So Well will be written and completed. Also, I will be seeing all those lovely people who care to go at Balticon 2014!

Thanks for reading, everyone.

Thief: A Review

•March 1, 2014 • 1 Comment

As is evident by the several reviews on this blog and anyone who knows me, I’m a gamer. Not only am I a gamer, I’m an optimistic gamer. When I see something coming out that I think is going to be pretty nifty, I reserve it and eventually get it when it drops. There are certain companies and franchises that have built up credibility with me, like Assassin’s Creed, Halo, Fallout, and until recently, Bethesda and Zenimax. See my Open Letter to Bethesda for reasons why I’m not as forgiving of Bethesda and Zenimax these days.

I had been a fan of the Thief series for years, and rather enjoyed the first-person stealth action. Though it had faltered over the years, and no one had heard from the franchise in years, I was excited when I heard a new entry into the series was being put out, and by Square-Enix, no less. I remembered how fun Deus Ex: Human Revolution was, even with the heavy philosophy at the end, so I was looking forward to Thief being resurrected into a successful franchise for the next generation of gamers. I thought that surely with the technical knowledge and experience of working on as many Triple-A titles as the team had, and the rich and complex world of Garret the Thief, it would be an amazing game that would, like the original, set the standard for first-person stealth games.

I was wrong. Oh great googley-moogley I was wrong.

Thief misses the mark almost right out of the gate. Let’s start with the basics. While the prologue does somewhat well showing how to move around and use the various tools that you come across in the game, it’s inconsistent. If I can jump one wall but not one that looks exactly the same as the first, that’s bad. When the only places I can use a rope arrow, the equivalent of a grappling hook in the Thief universe, is an obviously marked rope-wrapped beam sticking out of the roof of a building, it’s worse. When the minimap looks like something a meth-addled baboon playing Pictionary would draw and is about as informative, it’s really and truly horrible.

There were promises of an open world to explore, places to steal valuables, and different ways to steal these trinkets, and each of those promises was broken. There was a trail of breadcrumbs the size of houses, going from one place to the next, and it was obvious that there was no open world. You see, when I’m told a game is open-world, I think Skyrim, Fallout 3, Just Cause 2, and Grand Theft Auto. The exploration options were limited and in fact seemingly almost discouraged. Not by the AI, though I’ll get to that in a minute. It was discouraged because there was very little there when you explored. You find a house to rob? Great! You go in and… there’s no one there. At all. No dogs, no birds, no sleeping family. You could walk through the house singing “Hooked on a Feeling” in falsetto, naked, the lights burning, and knocking over every breakable thing that you could find and no one would know or care. It was disappointing, to say the least, especially as there were more than a couple of places like that. There was no real reward to exploration.

Now, on to gameplay. The sneaking around that Garret does is actually well-done, as long as you aren’t trying to, you know, actually move anywhere vertically. As mentioned before, you could hop some fences and not others. This just kicked out my suspension of disbelief. It’s the same kind of wall and I can’t jump over it? Nope, not trying to corral me down a certain path at all. Rope arrows only worked in certain places, and you couldn’t swing on them with any success. These were ropes for going up and down, and that was it. I know that sounds ridiculous, but understand that in the stealth-based genre, with such luminaries as Assassin’s Creed and Splinter Cell (made by the same company, no less), the one thing missing was a grappling hook. Something that made climbing a bit easier, and finally a stealth game had it! And it was utterly freaking useless. Great, Square-Enix. Thanks, that’s great.

The atmosphere of Thief, while starting off interesting, gets drab and dull rather quickly. Unlike the Arkham series, which realized there is a whole palette of colors, Thief relies on black, almost-black, kind of-black, gray, drab-black, and a shimmering blue highlighting “important” things, but said highlighting sends everything else black. It was like going through a stereotypical Goth’s closet, and it was boring. The streets were empty, with one or two plot devices (read: guards) here and there and were easily bypassed. It was boring, and sapped my desire to explore even after finding the empty-of-people houses. It tried for how Dishonored felt, and while Dishonored actually pulled it off, Thief felt like they took the leftovers from Dishonored and threw black paint over it and tried to call it “atmosphere”. I call it “terrible”.

I’m not even going to get into the mess of the story. Yeah, it was that not-gripping.

All in all, I’m disappointed. I really just wanted something to tide me over until Titanfall drops, and took a chance on Thief. I’ll be very careful from now on with Square-Enix titles, which is unfortunate. I can’t recommend not getting this game enough. It had so much promise, and it didn’t deliver. Don’t get it.

 

Titanfall Beta: a review

•February 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Well, the folks over at EA and Respawn Entertainment have decided to let the general populace take part in the beta for Titanfall, a multiplayer first-person shooter involving huge robots called Titans that players can ride around in.
Firstly, let’s get it out of the way: yes, it’s fun. Yes, it’s absolutely a blast. I’ve so far spent hours running and gunning and blasting other players and have not grown tired of it. The mechanics are rather simple, as are the controls. The tutorial allows for learning some of the new possible maneuvers, such as wall-running, which is essential to playing effectively. Controls are very responsive, and just work well.
Other maneuvers, such as “rodeoing”, or boarding an enemy’s Titan, ripping open a panel, and blasting into the innards of the Titan, are kind of learn-as-you-go, which can be a bit nerve-wracking at first, but become second nature as time goes on. In fact, it’s actually more fun than driving your own Titan, in a David versus Goliath sort of way, since it’s more of a challenge.
Secondly, the graphics and sound are excellent. The sense of scale as you run alongside the Titans is rather awesome, as are the sounds coming from the Titans stomping only scant feet from you. Incidental sounds such as color commentary, missile launches, autocannons, and other sounds of destruction are excellent, which absolutely adds to the experience.
Now, the not as good: there is no single-player campaign. Yeah, when I heard that, I almost cancelled my pre-order. However, considering the success of the Call of Duty and Battlefield franchises, where players rarely even look at the single-player campaign, it might not be so bad. From what I can tell, I don’t even think it needs a single-player campaign, which surprises me. I’ll reserve judgement on that until the game actually drops, but I might be pleasantly surprised.
The beta limited players to level 14, so the playability isn’t so hot after awhile. However, it looks like there’s going to be more added with the full version of the game, which will hopefully make the game even better.
All told, I’m cautiously looking forward to Titanfall. If the release version is as good if not better than the beta, I will definitely recommend it to anyone in earshot. Let’s hope it works out; the Xbox One needs a breakout title to help it stand out from the PS4, and Titanfall looks like it just might do it.

New Stuff Coming

•February 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Hey, folks! I haven’t forgotten about you, and it’s great to see all you awesome wonderful sexy party people.

A bit of news: I’ll be publishing at least two books this year, and the first one will be before Balticon! That will be my NaNoWriMo project, tentatively titled “Origins of the Changed”. When I get the time and the manuscript completed, I will be hitting up my favorite cover artist  Starla Huchton to make the greatest cover of all time for both ebook and paperback. I will carry several copies of these and my other books up to Balticon.

Yes, kids, that means I will be attending Balticon for the second year in a row, and it will be awesomesauce to see the wonderful folks up there again.

Work proceeds apace on book four of The Statford Chronicles, definitively titled “That You Do So Well”. Lots of stuff happening in this one, and it’s going to change things for our Detective of the Gods. Stay tuned.

So I figure some of you folks might have a few questions about the books and the worlds I write. As you can see, there’s a contact form. Feel free to ask any questions you like about my stuff, and I’ll be glad to answer them. I won’t get into spoilers, but I promise to answer any questions related to my books and writing in general as best I can. Have a great week!

An Open Letter to Bethesda Softworks

•January 19, 2014 • 1 Comment

The following is a little note to explain and expound on how to lose customers.

 

Dear Bethesda Softworks and Zenimax,

How are you? I’m not so hot. In fact, I’m really upset by several of the actions you both have and have not taken with quite possibly one of the best and longest running CRPGs out there: The Elder Scrolls. In fact, I’m rather surprised that someone hasn’t brought this to your attention. If they have and you’ve ignored it, then you really have issues.

First, thank you for allowing me into the closed beta for The Elder Scrolls Online MMO. I’ve been a big fan of The Elder Scrolls series since Arena, and have played the latest, Skyrim, nigh incessantly. It was with great happiness that I got the invitation to take part in what I hope will give World of Warcraft a run for its money. I logged in the first weekend, ran around a bit, and sent in the survey that was sent to me. Then I got re-invited for another weekend, which was nice.

Not to worry; I won’t expose any of the secrets that might be in the beta, as I did sign that onerous document of a Non-Disclosure Agreement. In fact, I won’t be exposing any of the secrets from the latest beta weekend because I was completely unable to access the game. More to the point, I spent about an hour trying to log in to both the game itself and the ESO site to try and figure out just what I was doing wrong. I figured I had the wrong password, so I reset it. After being unable to access the site, I reset it again. Both times the reset was successful. From there, I figured something was wrong with my account, so I sent in a query to support. Here’s the text of that message:

I’ve been trying to log in to the beta and I’m unable to do so. I have attempted to log in to the site and have been told that my password was incorrect. I have reset my password twice and am still unable to sign in. Please advise, as I am still hopeful for this game.

Simple, direct and to the point, or so I thought. I sent that Friday evening at 10pm EST. I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally, Sunday evening, which is when the beta weekend ended, I get the following response:

Thank you for contacting The Elder Scrolls Online Team.

You can reset your password or recover your UserID by going to (password reset link) and click on “Forgot UserID” or “Forgot Password”.

This will send you a link to your email address where you can reset your password or see what your UserID is.

If this doesn’t work for some reason, please respond to this email and let us know the details on what goes wrong.

Thank you for your continued interest and support!

 

Yes, I know, there were thousands upon thousands of fellow geeks accessing and playing and screwing up both the game and the site that weekend. I understand that. What I don’t understand is how it took nearly two complete days to just send back a form letter, a) telling me to do what I had already done, and b) too late to do anything about it. That kind of customer service is abominable, and for that, my interest in the Elder Scrolls Online has waned to nil. Should I get another invite, I’ll test it, and I will not be anywhere near as kind as I might have been before. I also will not be purchasing the game when it comes out. Why, you may ask?

Because if this is how a customer is treated for a game that in the first place makes no sense, why would I waste my money?

Allow me to expand on the penultimate part of that question, and remind you, Bethesda Softworks, just what made the Elder Scrolls games so awesome. From Arena to Skyrim, TES has been a single-player experience, and it has done that exceptionally well. With Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, you showed you could make an open-world game the likes that beggared the imagination. Skyrim was and is phenomenal, and I play it even now, over two years after its release. The point is, TES games have one person as the star of the show, which is impossible in an MMO. That goes against everything TES has set up over the many years it has been released. The premise of the Elder Scrolls Online makes no sense from a gameplay standpoint. It’s just a terrible idea.

Now, I know my opinion doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. In fact, likely only one in ten thousand had similar issues. I neither know nor care just how many took part in the closed beta. All I know is I could not participate, and I was essentially given a form letter telling me too bad. That tells me all I need to know about where my money will be going.

The purpose of this letter is simply to state that you did exactly the wrong thing when it comes to both making a game and customer service. I’m not writing this for anything but to bring to your attention that you did the precise opposite of what it takes to keep a customer, especially one who would have been willing to give you money. Alas, it will not be happening, and it might be a good while before I purchase another Bethesda or Zenimax game.

In closing, I’m sorry it had to come to this, but it’s not me. It’s you, and I will continue to hope that something good comes out of your studio that I can enjoy. Unfortunately, it won’t be ESO, and that is the greatest shame about the whole thing. Good luck to you on your future endeavors.

Sincerely,

John Walker, author, blogger, and fan of the Elder Scrolls as they should be.

 

Yeah, folks, I know: first-world geek problems. However, this kind of thing is endemic of the current world. Too many people get garbage service and just accept it because they think it won’t do any good. I plan on showing my displeasure as I always do: with my wallet. I don’t shop at Target because I don’t trust the security, nor at Wal-Mart for various other reasons. Bethesda did a lot of things right over the years, with a misstep here and there (Battlespire, I’m looking at you), but a huge majority of the time, they did an outstanding job putting out an outstanding product. I see that, unfortunately, the success has gone to their heads, and with that, we must part ways for a while. Not long, I hope, as with rumors of Fallout 4 coming out (and likely MMO, which deadens some excitement for the title, but only a little), I will come back. It will be with a jaundiced eye, though.

Just a damned shame.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – A Review

•October 4, 2013 • Leave a Comment

I had the distinct privilege of being in the company of some very creative people. I’m friends with amazing authors, such as Veronica Giguere, David Robison, Cedric Johnson and Mercedes Lackey. I’m also well-acquainted with some outstanding graphic artists, like Starla Huchton, who is also a wonderful author (If you haven’t checked out the Endure saga, do it now!). Truly, it is humbling to be in the company of such creative folks.

Now I find out I know an actor. Granted, it’s local theater, but I’ve found that you can find gems anywhere, which is especially the case in the Peninsula Community Theater’s production of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I was very much intrigued by the idea of this as a stage play. After all, we’ve all seen Jack Nicholson steal the show as Randle Patrick McMurphy in the theaters, and he owned that role. It was pretty much a role made for him, and no one could take it away.

However, Danon C. Middleton did a wonderful job as the conman/psychopath, his words moving with a frenetic pace along with his gestures. The entire time I watched, I was enthralled with Middleton’s interpretation of McMurphy. I could see that, while he wasn’t imitating Nicholson’s take on McMurphy, Middleton was enjoying the role as Nicholson likely did, losing himself in it to where you could actually feel the frustration of the character while trapped in the institution, and forgetting that this was only a play. Middleton was superb, and truly seemed to get the idea of who R.P. McMurphy actually was.

Playing the antagonist was Kimberlyn Williams, performing as Nurse Ratched. I loved to hate Nurse Ratched. She was evil, condescending, manipulative and vindictive, and it an was absolutely brilliant portrayal. When an actor can have you believing they are their character in less than two lines, that actor is doing it right. Miss Williams captured the essence of Nurse Ratched, and I was just blown away.

I have known Charles Smith personally for many years, and I didn’t know he was in theater. Apparently, he didn’t either, as he got talked into playing the role of Chief Bromden. When Charles told me he was going to be in a play, I was excited for him. When he told me the name of the play, I was intrigued. When I deduced he was going to play Chief Bromden, I knew it was a perfect match. Charles was incredible, channeling the anger, the confusion, the fear of the big quiet Indian. In the climax of the story, where Chief is releasing McMurphy, I could see the anguish on his face, hear his tears, and Charles just sold the scene perfectly.

The rest of the cast was incredible, with every character from Billy to the aides to Dale to Cheswick played to the hilt. Though I’m a big fan of the movie, and the story itself is absolutely wonderful, this rendition of the rise and fall of Randle Patrick McMurphy was something I would happily sit through again. This troupe is amazing, and should be commended on an outstanding performance.

Do yourself a favor, folks. If you like theater and are in the Southeastern Virginia are, go ahead and catch this show. You won’t be disappointed. It’s playing at the Peninsula Community Theater on Warwick Blvd in Newport News. I cannot express enough how amazing the show was. Go here to see showtimes and get tickets.

So what are you waiting for? Go!

A Saints Row IV Review

•August 25, 2013 • Leave a Comment

As most of you awesome people know, I’m not just an accomplished author. I’m also a gamer, and I enjoy playing video games. They’re a good way to get past the stress of the day job, the writing and life in general. There are some great games out there, and there are some terrible games, too. I’ve played both kinds, and I try to stay away from the bad kind. Just say no to terrible games, people.

So I had put in a pre-order for Saints Row IV many months ago as I enjoyed Saints Row The Third immensely. SR3, as the kids call it these days, was just a whole lot of fun. Over the top action, well-scripted dialogue, and just plain fun action movie tropes made interactive… Saints Row the Third had it all. In it, you become the premier action anti-hero. You’re the gangster-turned-vigilante-turned… Hell, I don’t know, but there’s guns and explosions and Burt Reynolds, along with some excellent background music that you could just play for your own enjoyment. That right there should have you heading to download it from Steam or Xbox Games On Demand.

As such, I pre-ordered SR4 because a) it seemed like a good bet and b) it came out on my birthday. It would be a nice little birthday present to myself. I admit, I wasn’t expecting much more than a rehash of SR3 with a few add-ons that would have been better as downloadable content. Most sequels are like that these days, or at least they seem that way (I’m looking at you, Madden and Call of Duty). By the way, I tried CoD: Black Ops 1 and 2, and was underwhelmed by them, so I’m not just hating on what’s popular.

I digress. I get home from picking up SR4 and get myself ready to play, again keeping my hopes down so they don’t get dashed. I put the disk in, put my codes in for pre-order content and I start playing.

The control scheme is identical to the previous outing, which works well. Even if you haven’t played a Saints Row game, you’ll get the hang of the controls quickly. The on-screen prompts are helpful and don’t get in the way of the action, of which there is plenty. The graphics are slightly cartoonish, but then, it’s a game, not a movie. The explosions and carnage are just over the top, and there’s a ton of it in SR4. You can tell it’s just a game, though, with some of the nods made throughout the game.

What’s great, though, is you really do feel as if you’re the star of your own action flick as you step into the shoes of the leader of the Third Street Saints and stop a terrorist plot against the United States. After a heartwarming (and perfectly cheesy; trust me, it works) end of the prologue, you end up becoming the President of the United States, Keith David (yes, the actor, and yes, he’s playing himself) is your Vice-President, and all your cohorts from the previous games become members of your cabinet. During a press conference, aliens invade and kidnap everyone, you included.

If the above paragraph is confusing, you’ve likely never played a Saints Row game in your life. If it makes you say “So the Saints have to kick some alien ass!”, congrats, you are a Saints Row veteran.

Regardless, even novices in the SR Universe will understand the references made throughout the fourth installment, as this really seems to meant as a climax to the series. Things about the supporting characters are explained, like why they’re with the Boss (your character), who Johnny Gat (voiced by Daniel Dae Kim of Lost and Hawaii Five-O fame) is, and why aliens have taken you.

Without giving too much of the plot away, I’ll get into the mechanics of how they added super powers. Originally, Saints Row was at least somewhat based in reality, which means no faster than a speeding bullet, setting people on fire with a wave of the hand, or throwing around cars and bad guys with just your mind. Granted, everything else was fair game, but there was that hard and fast rule: no super powers. How do they get around that rule? Simple: you and your friends are stuck inside a simulation similar to the Matrix by the main bad guy Zinyak, brilliantly voiced by JB Blanc. If you think you’ve heard his voice from somewhere, you likely have. The guy’s been everywhere, from Breaking Bad to World of Warcraft to Beware the Batman. Zinyak is the guy you love to hate, as he takes things you love and just ruins them completely. The one particular scene that crystalizes how much of a total bastard Zinyak is  takes place with you and Pierce Washington, another lovable character who as been in since the first Saints Row and voiced by Arif S. Kinchen, driving around. I won’t ruin the surprise, but trust me: by the time it’s over, you’ll hate Zinyak even more than you already would.

The powers are varied, and well-balanced. Ice beams, fire beams, mind control, super speed, super leaping, super stomping… It’s almost like stepping back into the late great City of Heroes MMO, except with a lot of sexual innuendos, drugs, and people/cars/buildings blowing up. The powers don’t make for an “I win!” button, but they do give an edge when you need them, and you will need them. The only qualm I have with them is they are always on, which makes stealing cars (a very important part of some missions) sometimes difficult. However, with a little practice, you can carjack without using super speed and running a quarter-mile past your target in a second.

Of course, what Saints Row game would be complete without missions and minigames? They are the usual “kill these guys, destroy this place” with a twist. Since you’re in a computer simulation, enemies can come from anywhere, usually a portal five feet from you so they can tapdance on your forehead quickly. By completing these missions and “hacking” stores (a minigame that works like the hacking in the first BioShock game), you start taking control of the simulation from Zinyak, and getting your crew back together. The missions are varied enough and challenging enough that you won’t groan in frustration. What’s even better is you’re able to do them in any order, so you won’t be going over old ground. For example, say you unlock a store as you’re passing by. You won’t have to do it again when it becomes part of a mission. It’s a nice touch.

The weapons are the usual types: melee, pistols, SMGs, shotguns, rifles, RPGs. The customization choices are more a vigorous headshake than just a nod to the great weapons of action and sci-fi. With a bit of actual aiming, any of the weapons are deadly, and work exceptionally well with any playstyle. Combined with the above-mentioned superpowers, you’ll be a force to be reckoned with against the evil Zin empire.

As I said before, the writing is amazing, and the characters are wonderfully fleshed-out. Each has their own quirks, their own personality. Throughout the game there are homages to some of the great games of yesteryear, from text-based adventures all the way to a certain stealth-based franchise, and everything in between. The jokes aren’t forced, the scenes are well done, and I seriously would love to know how the guys at Volition and Deep Silver kept straight faces when writing this material, especially the “Romance” conversation options. Even looking at the mission titles, you get the idea that they were enjoying themselves with every aspect of the game, which really shows in both the quality of both the story and the gameplay.

TL;DR I freaking love this game. I consider it one of the best games of this year to date, and you should pick it up immediately. Even if you only play through it once, you’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of it. Likely, you’ll want to run through it again with a friend, so go get it now and have fun! You’ll be glad you did.

A Confession

•August 3, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Here’s a not-so-newsflash: I hate working out.

Here’s a bigger one: I’ve finally figured out why.

Those who know me know that I find exercise to be pointless, not that much fun and to be avoided at all costs. Granted, I’ve lost a bit of weight over the last year or so, but it’s threatening to come back, and I rather don’t like that idea. However, I had also resigned myself to the idea of just getting to a certain point and not really caring what happens afterward.

Here’s a bit of background: In the not-too-distant past, I topped the scales at 311 pounds. Yeah, I know, make all the jokes you want. I was huge, and I didn’t really care all that much. I figured I was never going to be skinny, so why bother trying? People would like me for what’s inside, and if all they saw was the outside, well, I was well-rid of such superficial folks in my life. That was my reasoning, anyway, and it fit me for the time. I could have gotten even bigger, I reasoned, and that didn’t mean people wouldn’t like me.

That line of thought went by the wayside when I thought rationally about it, though. After all, even though I write stories about gods and demons, I do it in a rational way. If I kept going, I would likely have a heart attack by the time I hit the big 4-0, and likely sooner. I had a niece that I adore, and I probably wouldn’t see her graduate high school, much less college, if I kept things up. I was digging my own grave with a fork, a spoon, chopsticks, even my bare hands. I mean, sure, I don’t smoke or drink, or even partake of drugs, but then, I didn’t have to do any of that. My own drug of choice was food, and I was and am hooked through the bag.

So, I cut down drastically on my intake, and that helped quite a bit. Dropped nearly sixty pounds and six inches around my waist. Didn’t exercise much, if at all, but I stopped eating so damned much. Why? Because as much as I love food, I hate to work out. I utterly despise it.

Finally, after getting off an elliptical machine, I discovered why.

You see, to my mind, when you work out, you don’t go anywhere. You’re literally walking or running or whathaveyou in place for a bit of time, and not getting anywhere. Sure, the machine says I went a mile, or three miles, but I haven’t actually gone anywhere. Not only that, but I’m leaving behind something of myself, in this case, sweat.

Work with me here for a minute; I swear it make some twisted sort of sense.

For most of my life, I’ve constantly felt that I was never getting anywhere, that I was running in place and not making any distance. Not only that, but every time I struggled and didn’t seem to get somewhere, I was leaving part of myself behind, be it my self-respect, my dignity, my heart, whatever. I’ve done that often enough over the course of my life, and I really hate it. I mean, it galls me to no end seeing myself fight and struggle and not just gain nothing, but seemingly lose part of myself in the bargain.

Which brings me back to working out, and my hatred of it. I don’t see the point of it. The machine says I’ve accomplished something, and all I can see is that I’m still in my living room, still the same out-of-shape slug that climbed on the damned machine a half-hour prior, and the only thing I have is a shortness of breath. I’ve gained nothing, and somehow I’m supposed to do this again? And again? And never stop doing it?

Isn’t the definition of insanity doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?

I don’t think I’ll ever stop hating working out. In fact, I’ll likely hate it until the day I die. Even more likely, I’ll die while working out. However, now that I recognize where my aversion and downright hatred of exercise comes from, I think I can keep working out.

Just don’t ask me to be your workout partner, unless you like to hear more cussing than Joe Pesci slamming his fingers in a window.

A Man of Steel review

•July 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Let me start off with this disclaimer: I’m a DC Fanboy. I admit it, and I’m rather proud of it. I’m also a fan of both Batman and Superman. If you’ve read my books, I really dig Batman. Superman? He’s a good character, but I always liked the Bat.

I’ve also heard the horrid things the critics have said about Man of Steel, and a few other people in the comic industry. I’ve heard it called terrible, a travesty and other things that I really don’t want to get into right now. I am here to say that the critics have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.

Man of Steel stars Henry Cavill, a British actor who is the first non-American to play the Big Blue Boy Scout, and he does a superb job portraying someone who is both humble and capable of splitting mountains when he sneezes. The retelling of Superman’s origin was an interesting choice by the screenwriters, and the story, one of self-discovery and nature versus nurture, was rather well done. For the folks who haven’t gone to see it, I won’t do any spoilers, even though it’s been out for a few weeks now, and it’s unlikely anyone can get through life spoiler-free these days. Regardless, here are my takes on a few of the plot points that critics and some in the industry have brought up.

1) The fall of Krypton. The differences between how it happened in the comics and how it happened in the movie are irrelevant, to a point. Harping on how Jor-El wasn’t that way, he was this way, and Zod wasn’t like that, he was like this, are largely ridiculous, especially when you realize that this is an updating of the origin. The particulars aren’t important, save in an overall plot sort of way. The main thing is Kal-El was rocketed to Earth as a baby. They could have had a dozen different ways for the story around that rocketing, but you know what? I liked the idea of Zod leading a coup against the Council. It worked in the character of Zod, and made sense in the long run.

2) The disaster porn. Okay, I can somewhat agree with this point, especially in the third act. Holy crap, is the construction business going to boom for the foreseeable future, both in Smallville and Metropolis! However, even the destruction made a little bit of sense, considering we were dealing with not one, but a bunch of super-powered deities duking it out and beating the hell out of each other. Of course there’s going to be destruction! I hear the critics now “Why didn’t he lead Zod and company away from the people?” The answer is simple: Zod and company knew exactly what would hurt Kal more than anything, and that is hurt humans. If Kal had left, Zod would have started slaughtering people with even more abandon. Ergo, the battleground was where it was. However, the destruction was a lot, and I grudgingly partially concede this point to the critics.

3) The complete change of Clark Kent’s life and times. This is the big one. For years, people have yelled for something new, something different when it comes to Superman. For years, people have complained “Oh, it’s the same story over and over! We want something new!” So, here’s a story of Clark Kent not being this awesome guy right out of the gate, how he’s unsure of himself, and his journey to becoming Superman, with all the roughness and tumbles that can happen in such a journey. There’s no Lex Luthor (though the hints are there), and most importantly, no kryptonite. What’s the response? “Oh, how can you have such heresy? You changed Donner’s story! You changed Christopher Reeves’s brilliant performance! You changed who Superman is!” Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Firstly, the very first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve wasn’t that good. Yeah, I said it. It was good for the time, it was pretty awesome for the time, but it hasn’t aged well. Brando phoned in his performance, and the whole “fly around the world backward” thing just killed it for me. Also, Lex Luthor. Gene Hackman did a great job playing Gene Hackman as a criminal, but it didn’t really work for me. Looking back, it was okay, but there are warts there. In addition, kryptonite is one of the most overdone macguffins ever. Five movies, two TV shows and they all had the stuff. There was so much of it, I had to wonder how Superman could do anything, since it was freaking everywhere! Yes, we want to see the mighty brought down to our level, but can’t it be done without the obvious escape? After awhile, I half-expected Superman to fly around in a lead suit since there was so much kryptonite lying around.

That being said, the changes made to the character of Superman were the right ones. I recommend this movie to anyone wanting a fresh take on the Man of Steel. He’s not the ubermensch god that he seemed to be in the last outing. (For the record, I liked Superman Returns, up until it became another “Lex Luthor land scheme”.) He’s trying to find his place in the world, and he’s going to do his best to help the human race, and we get to watch him reach his potential. And along the way, he might just help us achieve ours.

Bottom line: Great movie. Bit loud, bit much on the destruction, but overall, an absolutely great re-imagining of the origin of one of the greatest heroes of any generation.

 
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