Monday, June 29, 2015

The Order: 1886 - Review

When they debuted The Order: 1886, it looked like it was going to be Sony's, in-house exclusive. I still remember thinking they were crazy when they revealed Bloodborne and had them in a similar release window. Here were two games with a Victorian setting where dudes with guns hunted down monsters in the streets. Why would Sony get the exclusive rights to Bloodborne and release it at relatively the same time as their big release when they looked so alike. They must not care about Bloodborne.

I could not have been any more wrong. The two games ended up being completely different. While The Order focused on cover-based gunfights, Bloodborne focused on tight, fast melee combat. While Bloodborne was about exploring and discovering story bits for yourself, The Order was an extremely linear story that leads you from Point A to B. The Order is about 6 hours long, while Blooborne took me at least 40. Their aesthetics don't even end up being that similar, besides being Victorian. And the biggest difference: Bloodborne is outstanding and The Order is forgettable.

I'll get this out of the way first; this is easily the most gorgeous game I've ever played. The character models and facial animations are absolutely stunning. The environments are so rich and realistic looking. There were many times throughout the game where I would just stop playing and stare at a bottle and out loud, "That bottle looks perfect." Lighting in this game is absolutely perfect, and all the reflective surfaces in the game, such as puddles, react exactly as they should.

For as outstanding as the graphics are, the gameplay isn't really anything to write home about. It's a competent cover-based shooter with many similarities to the Uncharted series. There are actually some really amazing weapons, like an electric gun and one that shoots a gas that you can ignite. While the design of most of the set pieces is not even close to that of Uncharted, there are some good moments. I had particular fun in a creepy hospital level and thought the battle aboard the airship was rather exciting. One of the biggest variations comes in the knife fights that you have with certain werewolves, which are some really thrilling Quick Time Events.

The main problem is that the game doesn't offer much more than just run through a place, shoot some dudes, watch a long cutscene. One of my friends encouraged me to rent this game and check it out saying that I could definitely beat it in a rental because there were only 10 gunfights in the whole game. While that was a bit of an exaggeration, it wasn't too far from the truth, as a few of the games 16 chapters were just cinematics.

There has been a lot of criticism brought up against The Order for being so short, but to me, that's not a huge problem. I mean, we don't think Avatar is better than Gravity because Avatar is an hour longer, do we? My biggest problem with the game is that was not what it should have been. From the start, it seems like the game is about the Knights of the Round Table hunting a werewolf scourge that is destroying London. But very quickly the game gets caught up in a plot about rebels fighting against the Order and a possible traitor in your midst. While there is some cool mythology around the Knights that is explained in interesting ways (it doesn't feed you some information directly, which I appreciate), too much of the game is a missed opportunity.

I'm going to get in to some SPOILERS here, so if you want to avoid that, skip this paragraph. There is twist in the game that completely boggles my mind. About two thirds of the way through, we find out that one of the people that influences the Order is not only Jack the Ripper, but also a vampire. Since there are werewolves in the world, this doesn't seem completely out of left field, but here's the crazy part: YOU NEVER FIGHT A VAMPIRE. You go through and burn some vampires that are being shipped to the United States, but you never actually fight them. This is compounded by the fact that you don't actually fight a ton of werewolves either. The "You Killed 10 Werewolves" trophy didn't actually pop until really late in the game, so there are not many at all. So much of the game is focused on shooting random soldier types, which is no where near as interesting as fighting beasties.

I guess the worst thing about The Order: 1886 is that is a missed opportunity. It's not a terrible game, it just feels like it could have been so much more. The game is gorgeous and the shooting is adequate, but it feels like the game was rushed out, and that the developers saved many things for a sequel, which may never happen due to the poor reception of the game. I have no idea what happened to this game that looked so promising, but at least we have Bloodborne.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Notes from Yharnam: Getting the Hang of It

I don't even know where to start.

I have progressed light years since I last wrote about Bloodborne. Last time I had completed the second boss; I've now killed seven and know where two more are. I've killed several hostile hunters, opened up new areas and had my world flipped upside down by a spider on an endless lake.

So much of the game opened up after defeating Father Gascoigne. You begin to get more details about what the game world is. You find a church where you can send people you find holed up throughout the town. You meet a man who tells you of an ancient university that hides ancient, arcane knowledge deep in the woods. You also find your way into a walled off portion of the city that has been quarantined and given up on.

It's in that walled-off portion, Old Yharnam, that things start to vary up a bit more. The look of the section is different. The idea of this area is that an infection so vile took over, and the place was burned, closed off and left for dead. The beasts here are different and more aggressive, even giving you a poison status for the first time (as far as I recall). This is also the first time I recall fighting a non-boss hunter. When you get to a certain part of Old Yharnam, a hunter named Djura starts shooting at you from the roof of a building.

His dialogue, along with the character of Father Gascoigne, offer some of the first clues that maybe being a hunter isn't all that it's cracked up to be. Djura is trying to protect the monsters from you, as they are really just 'sick' people who need to be pitied. He has a line along the lines of "You still dream, don't you?" When he dies and doesn't come back, it makes a connection between the idea of being reborn and the idea of the Hunter's Dream, the hub world where you shop and level up. This is the kind of lovely and subtle world building that Bloodborne does.

This boss in this area is quite tricky. It's vicious and really pounds you with poison damage in a way that I was not prepared for. Eventually I found some equipment that ramped up my poison resistance and gave me the edge over the Blood-Starved Beast. The reward for beating this boss was not progress in the sense of unlocking a new world, but rather giving you the option to take on the chalice dungeons, something that I have yet to dive into.

After taking out the Blood-Starved Beast, I started exploring the area more around the Cathedral. This area isn't quite as interesting as Old Yharnam, as it is visually very similar, but here we find some of the first enemies that don't seem wolfen or mutated. Men in trench coats with wide brimmed hats roam the land attacking you with canes or scythes. This was also one of the first times that I found an enemy that was truly intimidating. These Reapers are about four times your size and are armed with huge, crude axes. It was actually only recently that I was able to take one of these things down.

A bit later, after a good bit of exploring, I came upon another church (the BSB was also located in a church) and found the fourth boss, the Vicar Amelia. You find a woman praying at an altar who turns into a massive wolf/deer creature. This boss is the most beautifully designed boss I have run across so far in the game. I had a pretty tough time fighting her as well. Fortunately it was around this time that I started learning more about some of the games less obvious mechanics. I finally discovered how the Bell system works to call other players in to help you. With the Vicar Amelia, I ended up calling someone in to assist me. While it was a little less satisfying to beat it with help, it's not like it made it vastly easier.

Beating the Vicar opened up one of my favorite areas in the game, but that can be a story for another time...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road - What a Lovely Movie

It feels weird to say this in 2015, but I think a Mad Max movies is my favorite movie I've seen so far this year.

I was never a HUGE fan of Mad Max. One night in college we watched all three movies in a row, and since then I've always said there are about two total good Mad Max movies: the second half of Mad Max, the entirety of Road Warrior and the first half of Beyond Thunderdome. But as much as I loved Road Warrior, it never really stayed with me as an essential viewing.

After watching Fury Road, I want to immediately dive back into that universe as much as I can. Fury Road exists in a weird gray area that's not a remake or a reboot, but rather just takes the world and the main character and just tells another one of his adventures, much like a James Bond movies. The film is structured in such a way that it doesn't require any familiarity with the franchise to follow along. Right off the bat, we get the idea that Max is haunted by the lives he couldn't save, particularly those of his family. It's very clear that he wanders the wastelands as he does because he is hesitant to let other get close to him again for fear of experiencing lose again.

The movie also builds the world extremely efficiently. So much comes across in the names and designs of the characters that the film never really slows down to feed you the exposition. While there are many post-apocalyptic films out there, none of them feel anything like Mad Max. Every single vehicle in the movie (and there are MANY) feels unique and looks like it was engineered from the ground up for style/practicality.

After the film, my wife asked me what my favorite "part" was, and I honestly couldn't parse the film out into "parts." The action in this film feels so non-stop that it's hard to thing of it as anything but one long chase scene where people occasionally pull over and talk. There was a beautiful shot quite a bit into the film where they are driving through a crazy dust-tornado storm where a flare flies out of someone's hands and lands on the ground, only to burn out and fade to black. At that point, I felt myself letting out a sigh of relief. It was really the first time that the movie pumped its brakes in any way, and it took that moment to realize that.

So far in this review I've talked about the world and the action, which may lead you to believe that the story take a backseat in this film, but that isn't so at all. While the dialogue and story may be a bit sparse, it still is fully formed and resonates quite a bit. There are a lot of neat character arcs that run throughout the film, particularly Nicholas Hoult's Nux.

Immediately when I got home, I tried to find details about the upcoming Mad Max video game. The reason I did this: I want more of this world. I want to live in it and breath it in and fight my way through it. I cannot stress enough how awesome this movie is. Go see it out on the biggest screen possible.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Notes from Yharnam - Bloodborne Impressions

It was a really big leap for me to purchase Bloodborne. Years ago, I bought Demons Souls. I tried and I tried but could just not get into it. I don't know if I just didn't like the pace of the combat or if the world just didn't resonate with me, but nothing about it grabbed me and made me want to swim upstream against its punishing difficulty. When I saw previews of Bloodborne, I saw something that was much more my speed. The world was just my type and the monsters all looked like something out of a medieval Silent Hill prequel. As much as it looked like a game for me, all I could remember was that I gave up on Demons Souls and I worried that I would do the same with this one.

And I came close. The first part of the game was great. The world was so interesting and beautiful. The controls and combat were quick and responsive. Everything was going swell.

Then I got to the mob.

There's a street in the game where you find a big group of enemies surrounding a burning werewolf corpse. It's a wonderful sight, but is completely overwhelming. I tried time and time again, but kept getting taken down. Eventually I learned which ones I should take out first and how to draw people away so I could fight them in smaller groups so I didn't get surrounded and run out of stamina.

When I finally cleared the street it felt amazing. Immediately after there was a strange feeling of panic. Where do I go now? Since I would have to do it all over again if (when) I died, the tension was palpable. I explored a bit and then died. I challenged the mob again and was able to beat them. I kept chipping away and getting a little further each time.

Then I took a little break from playing. When I came back, I suddenly was having trouble fighting normal enemies. Things that usually died with two hits were now taking five or six. I could barely take it to the mob. I thought I wasn't remembering things right and didn't know how to proceed. This was the low point.

Suddenly I noticed a little note on the screen when I respawned. "Weapon Broken." Since this game just drops you in, I had no idea that your weapon could break, nor how to repair it. I went to the hub world and found a weapon bench where I fixed up my weapon, and even upgraded it.

I immediately ran right through the mob. I felt reinvigorated. I pushed further than I had before, tore through some werewolves and found myself at the first boss. The first fight with him was not pretty. I got some good hits on him, but ultimately lost. When I respawned, I was nervous. It took me a lot of hard work to get there, so I knew it wouldn't be easy to repeat.

But this time, I noticed I could level up. I leveled up a couple times and was able to kill the boss after a few more tries.

And when I did I felt like a GOD.

After a bit more exploring I was able to find the next boss pretty quickly. This one was giving me more trouble, so I spent some more time exploring.

Eventually I found a side quest where someone wanted me to look for their missing father and mother. The kid gave me a music box and mentioned that it had calmed down her dad, who was a hunter. I knew that the boss was a corrupted hunter, so I tried to use the music box on him, and it stunned him. It was an amazing moment where a little bit of story telling really paid off. A couple more tries and I beat this boss too.

Now the world has opened up quite a bit to me. I found someone who gave me details about the world and the mythology of what's going on in the town of Yharnam. And I'm completely hooked.

I'm struggling with making more progress, but it's so wonderful to learn more and more about the world and how to play, and I keep progressing more each time.

I'll try to keep you posted on my process as I continue.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review: The Wake

It's no secret that Vertigo hasn't exactly been what it used to be recently. Every once in a while there are a couple glimmers of hope, but mostly the creators that would normally bring their works here are migrating over to Image. About two years ago, one of those glimmers of hope came in the form of a pair of miniseries: The Wake by Scott Snyder and Trillium by Jeff Lemire. I'm not usually one to buy miniseries, but these were too good, so I decided I would buy one of them. Trillium did a lot more interesting things with the form of comics, so I figured that would be the more interesting one to buy in single issues. Now I've finally gotten my hands on The Wake and worked my way through it.

When I heard Snyder pitching this book, it sounded perfect for me. Number one, he talked about it as a claustrophobic horror story set at an underwater research lab. I've always had a bit of a soft spot for stories set underwater, so that was a huge plus. And number two, he talked about how he was going to reinvent various seabound myths, such as the siren and the mermaid. Since I adore the way Snyder plays with vampire mythology in American Vampire, I was glad to see him working with another creature.

The Wake starts off wonderfully. Our protagonist gets a mysterious offer from her ex-employers and is whisked away to an underwater lab populated by scientists in various fields that don't really seem to be closely related. As the story unfolds, we learn that lab houses a dangerous creature, who of course gets free and reeks havoc on the lab. This chaos is awesome. Since the creature is supposed to be the basis for legends such as the mermaid and siren, it has a hallucinogenic effect that lets them play around with reality in the comic. It's all wonderfully tense and moody and really escalates at a fantastic pace.

Then the book enters its second half.

Snyder ditches all the characters from the first bit and jumps the story ahead 200 years. The Wake turns into a post-apocalyptic tale where a slew of mermaid creatures has flood the Earth. It's such a sharp tonal shift from the first half, and it never really comes together for me. There is some neat world building going on, but the I was so into the original premise and characters that I couldn't get invested in this second world and set of characters. The mythology set up in the beginning also expands itself in very strange ways. It's not that it's bad, it's just that it seems to me to be a very weird choice narratively.

The ending of the book really tries to tie things up nicely, but it reaches way too far for me. It's hard to imagine how it went from a simple little claustrophobic tale to something that tries to peal back the nature of mankind. I'm not entirely sure what happened at the end, as it gets really high-concept.

So I guess the real question you are wondering is should you still read it? Even though I'm pretty hard on the second half of the book, I would still recommend it. Maybe that type of story isn't something I was in the mood for. It's not poorly written, it's just shockingly different from the first half, which I was really into. Give it a try. If you don't have any interest in a post-apocalyptic tale, just read the first half, and you should still end up with a pretty satisfying read.  

Fourth Annual CoKR Comic Book Awards

-Daredevil #36
-Fatale #24
-Superior Spider-Man #31
-Young Avengers #15


-Moon Knight
-Iron Fist: Living Weapon
-Captain Marvel
-Silver Surfer
-She Hulk


Best Miniseries/OGN/One Shot
-The Remains
-The Wake


Best New Series
-Southern Bastards
-Rocket Raccoon


-Thor: Last Days of Midgard
-Superior Spider-Man: Goblin Nation
-Uncanny Avengers: Avenge the Earth
-Captain America: The Iron Nail
-X-Force: Dirty/Tricks


-Declan Shelvey - Moon Knight
-Javier Pulludo - She-Hulk
-Jason Latour - Southern Bastards
-Skottie Young - Rocket Raccoon
-Jock - Wytches


-Dan Slott - Superior/Amazing Spider-Man / Silver Surfer
-Charles Soule - She Hulk / Letter 44 / Death of Wolverine / Thunderbolts
-Jason Aaron - Thor / Southern Bastards / Original Sin
-Scott Snyder - American Vampire / Batman / Wytches / The Wake
-Matt Fraction - Sex Criminals / Hawkeye


Best Moment
-Return of Peter Parker - Superior Spider-Man #30
-"It is you" - Superior Spider-Man #31
-Gods offer assistance - Thor: God of Thunder #24
-The "Baby" reveal - X-Force #5
-Coach Boss vs Earl - Southern Bastards #4


-Green Goblin - Superior Spider-Man
-Dario Agger/The Minotaur - Thor: God of Thunder
-Dr Mindbubble - Captain America
-Coach Boss - Southern Bastards
-Kegelface - Sex Criminals


Best Digital
-High Crimes
-The Remains
-Private Eye
-Subatomic Party Girls


Best Superhero Title
-She Hulk
-Thor: God of Thunder/Thor
-Superior/Amazing Spider-Man
-Captain America


Best Nonsuperhero Title
-Southern Bastards
-Sex Criminals
-Rat Queens


Best Overall
-Sex Criminals
-Thor: God of Thunder/Thor
-Southern Bastards


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sixth Annual Russells

"Woah, Norris Was the Thing?" - Biggest Surprise of the Year
-Obvious Child
-Grand Budapest Hotel
-Edge of Tomorrow
-Blue Ruin
-The Lego Movie


"The Jack Burton" - Best Action Scene
-"Time in a Bottle" - X-Men: Days of Future Past
-Lights Out Fight - Snowpiercer
-Prison Break - Guardians of the Galaxy
-Nick Fury Assassination Attempt - Captain America: The Winter Soldier
-Gun Fight in the Club - John Wick


"Kurt Russell of the Year" - Best Actor
-Noah Wiseman - The Babadook
-Michael Keaton - Birdman
-Ralph Fiennes - Grand Budapest Hotel
-Macon Blair - Blue Ruin
-Edward Norton - Birdman


"Goldie Hawn of the Year" - Best Actress
-Scarlett Johannson - Under the Skin
-Jenny Slate - Obvious Child
-Tilda Swinton - Snowpiercer
-Essie Davis - The Babadook
-Emma Stone - Birdman


"Call Me Snake" - Best Hero of the Year
-Peter Quill - Guardians of the Galaxy
-Baymax - Big Hero 6
-Angel of Verdun - Edge of Tomorrow
-John Wick - John Wick
-Lucy - Lucy


"Is It My Scar?" - Best Villain of the Year
-The Babadook - The Babadook
-Winter Solider - Captain America: The Winter Solider
-Howard Howe - Tusk
-Ronan the Accuser - Guardians of the Galaxy
-Archibald Snatcher - The Boxtrolls


Best Animated Movie
-Big Hero 6
-The Lego Movie


Best Screenplay
-Blue Ruin
-Grand Budapest Hotel
-Obvious Child
-The Babadook


Best Score
-Under the Skin
-Only Lovers Left Alive


"The John Carpenter" - Best Director
-Johnathan Glazer - Under the Skin
-Christopher Nolan - Interstellar
-Jim Jarmusch - Only Lovers Left Alive
-Bong Joon Ho - Snowpiercer
-Alejnadro G. Inarritu - Birdman


Best Movie I Haven't Seen, But Know I'll Like
-The Raid 2
-A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night
-Inherent Vice


Most Anticipated of 2015
-Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens
-Avengers: Age of Ultron
-Crimson Peak


"The Golden Plisken" - Best Picture
-Captain: America: The Winter Solider
-The Babadook
-Under the Skin
- Snowpiercer


TOP 10:
10. Blue Ruin
9. Boxtrolls
8. Interstellar
7. Big Hero 6
6. Guardians of the Galaxy
5. Captain America: The Winter Solider
4. Snowpiercer
3. The Babadook
2. Birdman
1. Under the Skin