Sunday, October 31, 2010

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II Review

When the first Force Unleashed game came out, I really enjoyed it. Despite its mixed reviews, it had a solid story that not only fit neatly into the continuity of the movies, but also provided some back story for the origins of the Rebellion. The characters were well-acted, and the main ones were even memorable. The game play had its flaws, sure, but it was undeniably fun to use your Force powers to toss enemies around (I always took a perverse delight in using Force Grip to lift an enemy up off a ledge, move him out into open space, and then just let go).

Perhaps The Force Unleashed's biggest flaw was that, to keep everything nice and tidy, protagonist Starkiller was dies during the canon ending. The game made money, and the developers decided a sequel was in order... but how do you do a sequel when you've killed off the hero? Maybe plays as Darth Vader (the intro level where you play as Vader was pretty awesome)? Or maybe Vader gets a new secret apprentice? Or why even focus on Vader's apprentice... maybe the Emperor was looking for someone to replace Vader the way Vader replaced Dooku. Maybe they could make a game about fan-favorite Emperor's Hand, Mara Jade?

Or they could take the easy and uncreative out and go with a clone. Which is what they did.

Easy and uncreative pretty much sets the tone for the whole game. While the story in the first one was interesting, with betrayals within betrayals and new insights into the early days of the Rebellion, The Force Unleashed II opens on Kamino with Vader telling Starkiller that he's a clone. Starkiller get's a little emo, decides he cares more about Juno Eclipse (his love interest from the first game) than anything else, and runs away to go find her. That's it, that's the whole plot. Which brings me to my second complaint... the game is really short. I mean, the first one was kind of short, but TFU2 is like half the length of the first game. There's the starting level on Kamino, then Starkiller goes to Cato Neimoidia to find Kota (whom Vader mentioned was there), just to ask Starkiller where Juno was. For some stupid reason (and fan service), Starkiller goes to Dagobah (which really isn't even a level, as there's no enemies and is completed by walking from point A to point B), before going to the ship in the Rebel Fleet that Juno is on. Bad stuff happens, Juno gets captured, and that ship becomes the third level in the game. Then Starkiller goes back to Kamino to rescue Juno and confront Vader. The end. Without spoiling anything else, at least both endings to the Force Unleashed II leave the plot open for more sequels now.

Despite my complaints about the crappy plot and the brevity of the game, it's really not all bad. In face, the game play has been a little tweaked. Not only is it still fun to tear through armies of Stormtroopers with your Force Powers, it's actually more fun now. You've still got your basic grip, push, and lighting powers, but they seem more effective now. It's easier to kill with a Force Push now, or once you've grabbed something (or someone) with a Force Grip, you can charge it with Force Lightning so that it (or he) explodes after being thrown. Distilled to its basic elements, the Force Unleashed II is a game that's more fun to play than the first one.

Improvements to game play don't really make up for the game's shortcomings, though. The fact that you can probably beat the game in one sitting (it took me three, but I was playing pretty casually) combined with the weak plot practically screams, "I'm a half-assed and half-done sequel that was rushed out in time for the holidays!" Because yeah, it's kind of fun to play, but it's ultimately a game that's too short to justify its $60 price tag on consoles, or even its $40 price tag for the PC version.

If you liked the Force Unleashed and wanted to check out the sequel, by all means give it a rental. But no one, not even the most hardcore Star Wars fanboy, should waste the money to purchase it.

Final Score: C-

Monday, October 18, 2010

Happy Birthday, NES

As a child of the '80s, there's a lot of pop-culture influences on my childhood. But nothing, and I do mean nothing, influenced me quite like the Nintendo Entertainment System. I remember playing the games, but I also remember stuff like the Power Glove, Captain N, Nintendo Power, the Nintendo Cereal System, the Super Mario Bros Super Show, GamePro TV (ok, technically that was early '90s), and Video Power (again, technically early '90s). Pop culture of the late '80s and early '90s was heavily influenced by the NES in a way that modern gaming couldn't possibly replicate. And without the NES, I probably wouldn't have spent the last 25 years playing way too many video games instead of doing something worthwhile like curing cancer or something.

Well today, October 18th, marks 25 years since the NES's debut in America. And in honor of Nintendo's iconic console, here are my 10 favorite NES games off all time. They might not be the best, mind you, but they were the ones I played the most and have the fondest memories of. So, in no particular order...

Mega Man 2 - The game that introduced me to Mega Man, which went on to be one of my all time favorite series (I had all of the NES games except 6).

Mega Man 3 - I know I'm a minority, but I've always thought that this was the best of the NES Mega Man games. The soundtrack was awesome, the bosses were awesome, plus you got to fight the Robot Masters from Mega Man 2. And Proto Man!

Super Mario Bros 3 - Pretty much every kid that had an NES had the original Super Mario Bros. I remember when SMB2 came out thinking how disappointing it was because it wasn't much like the original (it would be years before I'd learn why). SMB3 wasn't just a return to the gameplay of the original, it was a vast improvement in every way. The result was probably the best NES game of all time.

The Legend of Zelda - The instruction manual to this groundbreaking game explained the story, but the game itself had you start, alone and unarmed, in the middle of the screen with absolutely no direction. And this was before the internet, so you couldn't just look for where to go or what to do next on Gamefaqs. I remember roaming the land for weeks looking for dungeons, heart containers, and other secrets, and sharing what secrets I found with other kids at the lunch table. You kids who grew up thinking Ocarina of Time was the greatest game ever don't know what you're missing, as later Zelda games fail to capture the magic of the original.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 - As a kid who loved the Ninja Turtles, I thought that the arcade game was about the coolest game ever (indeed, much better than the first TMNT game on the NES). I was super stoked when I found out that it was coming out on the NES. I remember saving up my allowance to buy it. Ah, memories...

Punch Out!! - The best boxing game ever made, until the new one came out for the Wii. Never could get past Bald Bull, though.

Final Fantasy - Technically, I got this game because a friend of mine already had an SNES and let me play Final Fantasy II, but I'll be damned if I didn't have an awesome time with it, trying out different parties, hunting down and beating a WarMech, etc.

Dragon Warrior III - While Final Fantasy might have reigned supreme for me during the SNES days, this was the definitive RPG of the NES era.

Castlevania III - I never did get Grant, but I still got further in this game than the first one. I didn't like the second one.

Duck Hunt - The only game I ever owned that used the pack-in Zapper.

Honorable mentions go to Super Mario Bros, Castlevania, Mega Man, Mega Man 4, Mega Man 5, Rescue Rangers, Batman, Super Dodgeball, and Skate or Die 2... they might not have had quite the impact the other 10 did, but I still spent way too much time playing them.

So how about you guys? What 10 NES games were your favorites? Sound off in the comments.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I've touched the future

When I was in middle school, one of my favorite shows was Star Trek: The Next Generation. I mention this because very often in the show, you'd see people with these devices (they were called PADDs, if you must know). They used PADDs for a lot of stuff, including reading. They could get personal messages (like our modern email), read books both fiction and technical, complete with images and video. PADDs were a common item used routinely in daily life during the far future of the 2360s, when TNG was set.

I have touched the future, my friends. And it's got an Apple logo on the back.

You see, I bought an iPad. I did this after ridiculing the device as a large iPod touch, and I did this after ridiculing the device's price tag (for which you could buy a netbook with money left over for a Kindle). And after playing with it, I'm glad I did.

The iPad isn't my first experience with iOS. Curious about an iPhone I played with in an AT&T store, I bought an iPod touch, thinking that it'd be cool to have "an iPhone without the phone." And actually, I never used it. Sure, I'd occasionally play with an app. And I think the iOS version of Safari is the best mobile web browser I'd used. iOS struck me as flawed, but promising and intuitive. But since I don't often find myself in situations where I needed an mp3 player, let alone one as seemingly fragile as an iPod touch, I didn't have a lot of use for it. I wound up selling it, and haven't really regretted it.

I had, in the interim, thought that I might like a good ebook reader. I've actually been into ebooks a lot longer than even the first Kindle users. In fact, when the Kindle debuted, I'd already built quite the collection of ebooks in Microsoft's .lit format, and I used a Dell Axim X51 to read them. My first two smartphones, a Samsung Omnia and an HTC Touch Pro2, were chosen because they ran the oft-maligned Windows Mobile and could therefore display my ebooks. But since devices like the Kindle have started to hit the market, the .epub format has become more the standard. I've thought about getting a device with a slightly larger screen and converting my library to epub.

But I also like to read comic books, and I have a good collection of .cbz and.cbr files. I'd read them on my laptop sometimes, or more often on my desktop. I'd also download PDFs of magazines, but I found myself still subscribing to paper ones because it was nice to read them in bed or on the can without dragging out a 16" laptop that takes nearly a minute to boot.

That's pretty much the reason I bought an iPad. The free app Stanza plays back .epub and PDF files with ease. It's supposed to do comic book files too, but I've found that comic books larger than 15-20MB (which is a lot of them) won't load, but the also-free ComicBookLover handles them quite well. Indeed, the iPad's screen is just a bit smaller than an actual comic book, so it turns out to be an excellent display for them. Even the two magazines I've read on it were clear and easy to read without zooming in. The iPad doesn't stop there, though. A lot of the content I consume isn't just books, comics, and magazines, but webcomics, blogs, email, and Twitter feeds. And the iPad delivers all that through it's built-in Mail and Safari apps, plus the free app Twitterific.

Now it's true that my computer can do all that, and more. A laptop, or even a netbook could do all those things as well. But they come in bulkier packages, they're slower to start up, and for reading digital versions of physical material (comics, magazines, etc) the screen isn't usually oriented the same as the media you're reading. And that's where the iPad excels. I've even found that I prefer web browsing on the iPad with the screen in portrait mode.

The iPad's not perfect, though. Despite Steve Job's fondest fantasies, the iPad can only supplement a real computer, not replace it. I could never see myself typing anything lengthier than a paragraph (I went back to my desktop computer to type this blog post), and while it's got some fun little time-wasters I hardly think of it as a gaming device in the same way that I do my PC. That wouldn't be a big deal, and people wouldn't think about the iPad as a computer replacement, except for the price. If it wasn't for the fact that I sold a Macbook I wasn't using anymore to pay for the bulk of it, I wouldn't have bought an iPad. $500 really is too much for it. I like the iPad because it really excels at the things I wanted it for, but the iPad isn't going to have that market cornered forever. Kmart recently came out of obscurity to offer a tablet-style device running Google's Android OS for a mere $150. It turned out to be buggy almost to the point of being unusable, sure, but we didn't really have high expectations for it at that price. But that still leaves the door open for another manufacturer to release a higher-quality Android tablet and still undercut the iPad at $250 or $300. And even if you're anti-Android, if the competition gets fierce enough you can almost expect an iPad 2 at a more competitive price.

So there you have it. I think the iPad is an incredible device that excels at delivering certain media in a way that a smartphone, netbook, or laptop can't, but you should know that if you get one you're definitely paying to be an early adopter.

Final Score: B

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Transformers: War for Cybertron Review

Licensed games were once the bane of all gamers. A big summer blockbuster would come out, and a crappy game would inevitably come with it. Sometimes, this is still true (I'm looking at you, Iron Man 2: The Game), but with recent titles like X-Men Origins: Wolvernine and Batman: Arkham Asylum, games based on a license are starting to get good. And not just good enough for fans of the license, but really good. In fact, had BioWare not released Dragon Age: Origins last year, there's a good chance that Arkham Asylum would have been my pick for game of the year.

Amidst this renaissance of licensed games, Transformers: War for Cybertron was announced. As a huge Transformers fan, it was hard for me not to get excited. After all, this was a game being developed by professed fans of the franchise, being billed as a sort of origin story free not just from the mythos of Michael Bay's... reimaginings, but of any continuity at all. A clean slate, but one who's transforming robots clearly bore a resemblance to the beloved cartoon of my youth. Could War for Cybertron be the Transformers game I'd always craved?

Well... not exactly. But I'd say that High Moon studios has come closer than any previous developer.

We'll start with the good. War for Cybertron is a well-crafted third-person shooter. At the start of each of the game's ten chapters, you'll be given a choice of three characters to pick from, each with different starting weapons and abilities. Each character has been lovingly rendered with parts that move and twitch, even when he's standing still. Plus, each character's movement is fluid and natural, so you always have the sense that you're playing as a living being who happens to turn into a vehicle, and never a vehicle that turns into a clunky robot. The levels are also very well designed, so that one minute you might be racing down an open road, only to switch to bot-mode to hop across some spinning platforms to get the drop on an enemy sniper before ducking into a narrow corridor. It's a game that would be fun, even if you weren't playing out my described scenario as Optimus Prime.

But that's part of the game's problem. Even though you play as popular Transformers, even though the game is constantly referencing other Transformers material (especially the 1986 animated movie), the game felt as much like Gears of War to me as it did Transformers. I suppose it's to be expected on their home planet, but I never really got the feeling that I was a 20" tall robot. Each campaign had a epic boss fight with a huge Transformer, but neither felt as epic or as huge as the fight against Tidal Wave did in the PS2 Transformers game. And while the developers were hyping how this game was going to become the new basis for official Tranformers canon and how it was going to be full of deep revelations about the Transformers' past, the story was actually more like a "Megatron's scheme of the week" episode from the old 80's cartoon... that didn't include even one fight between Optimus and Megatron!

All-in-all, I think it was a good try, and I'm looking forward to seeing if High Moon, Activision, and Hasbro will make sequels. Aside from some minor flaws, War for Cybertron is a solid shooter and probably the best Transformers game to date. If you're a fan of shooters, check it out. If you're a fan of shooters AND Transformers, quit reading and go buy it.

Final Score: B+

Monday, June 7, 2010

Alpha Protocol Review

In the late '90s and the early part of this decade, you couldn't talk about PC RPGs without mentioning two names: BioWare and Black Isle. While BioWare has gone on to develop some very successful RPGs (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, Dragon Age) Black Isle sadly went down with publisher Interplay.

Several members of Black Isle went on to form Obsidian Entertainment, and Obsidian's been something of a mixed bag. Knights of the Old Republic II was pretty good, but buggy and lacking some of what made BioWare's original so great. Likewise, Neverwinter Nights 2 had an interesting story but failed to live up to the original.

Despite Obsidian's "good but..." track record, I'd been eagerly anticipating Alpha Protocol since it was first announced. Early details pegged it as an RPG with shooter elements and a rich dialogue system... something like Mass Effect, replacing the sci-fi elements with a 007-esque spy story.

Early reviews, however, were somewhat mixed (the game currently has an average score of 65% for the PS3, 64.1% for the Xbox 360, and 74.8% for the PC version at Reviewers have complained that the game is buggy, the AI is poor, that combat with most weapons is useless, and that the stealth elements are fundamentally broken. While I can't deny that the game definitely had some bugs, I'm going to call bullshit on the rest.

I think a huge part of the problem comes from how the reviewers approach the game. I even recall one reviewer belly-aching about your ability to hit a target isn't simply a matter of where you aim your reticule (I wondered if said reviewer complained about that same fact in Mass Effect, but I was too lazy to look it up). The impression that I got was that most reviewers associate spies with stealth, tried to play Alpha Protocol like it was Splinter Cell, and declared the game broken when that approach didn't work.

Newsflash, video game press: Alpha Protocol is an RPG.

As someone who plays tabletop RPGs, I feel comfortable telling you that all RPGs come down to probability, and statistics for yourself and your enemies that modify probability. On a tabletop, everyone rolls dice. On a video game the dice-rolling might be simulated behind the scenes, but trust me, it's there. So in a game like Alpha Protocol, if one guard doesn't notice you killing his friend two feet away but another catches a few strands of your hair peeking out from behind cover from down the street, that's not an AI issue. One guard rolled high on his ability to notice you, the other didn't. And let's not forget that the enemy rolls are likely against a roll on the player's part to stay hidden, or that the player's ability to stay hidden is affected by any armor worn. Likewise, shooting at an enemy in an RPG isn't enough by itself to hit that enemy. Your ability to attack, stat boosts from the weapon being used, and defensive stats for the enemy all factor in.

To be fair, if you hate that sort of thing, then you probably won't like Alpha Protocol, and if you expect to play Alpha Protocol the way you play Splinter Cell, you're bound to be disappointed. However, it strikes me as unfair to criticize Alpha Protocol for being an RPG and not a stealth-action game with RPG elements.

As an RPG, Alpha Protocol is actually pretty good. You play as Agent Mike Thorton, a new recruit in a super-secret agency called Alpha Protocol. The agency and the protocol its named for apparently exist in extra super secrecy so that they can act in what they determine to be the country's best interests while leaving the American government total deniability. Thorton's first mission for the agency is to track down some missiles believed to be stolen from an American company and used by terrorists to shoot down a passenger airliner. There turns out to be more to that than meets the eye, and Thorton finds himself on the run from everyone, including the agency he works for. Throughout the game, you're never entirely sure who you can and can't trust. When dealing with some of the major characters, you'll have two to four dialogue choices. How you decide will affect how the characters treat you and sometimes have serious repercussions. It's true that you'll play the main missions no matter what, but the order you do them in and the relationships you have will affect how those missions play out. It's a great system that has me looking forward to replaying the game in the future just to see how differently things could play out.

The gameplay is also pretty good, once you accept that it's an RPG. I chose to play the game as stealthy as I could. While this meant that I could often sneak up on an enemy and take him out silently, I soon realized that it was impossible to never be spotted. Unlike games like Metal Gear or Splinter Cell, where being spotted meant your were screwed, being spotted in Alpha Protocol meant fighting some guys until you could turn the alarm off. Which brings us to your gear selection. You can take two weapons, armor, and a few gadgets. You actually have four choices of weapon, though, and the armor you wear affects things like how many gadgets you can carry, how much ammo you can carry, how much endurance you have, how much damage reduction you have, and how stealthy you are. I chose stealthy armor, a pistol, and an assault rifle. I used the rifle in most of my fights, but I had a silencer on the pistol and developed a skill that would let me kill an unsuspecting enemy with a critical headshot. The game reviewers who complained that the pistol is useless in a firefight are 100% correct, but they're missing the fact that it's supposed to be, and that's why you take two weapons on every mission.

Of course, stealth isn't the only option. You can wear heavy armor and simply charge enemies, guns blazing. Or you can build up your tech skill and use an array of gadgets to distract enemies while you go around. It's all about how you build your Thorton. I even built up my Martial Arts skills, so that by the end of the game I found that unless an enemy was a good distance from me that it was often more affective to beat the living snot out of him with my bare hands.

Alpha Protocol's biggest problems aren't enemy AI or broken stealth mechanics. Alpha Protocol's biggest problems are game bugs and it's inventory system. I leveled my stealth skill up until I turned my basic Awareness ability (an ability you start with that lets you know what direction enemies are facing, even if you can't see them) to advanced Awareness, at which point it just stopped working. I'd hit the button to activate it, the game would make a sound, and nothing would happen. Sometimes the game would pause as if loading, then when it resumed a second later the camera would be pointed at the ceiling. And let's not forget the time I went through a door and stepped off the world, falling until I reloaded an older save.

As for the inventory system, I mentioned that you can carry two weapons out of four types. The game has pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, and assault rifles. As I mentioned, I found that assault rifles were great in a firefight, and that a silenced pistol was good for the occasional stealth kill. I played the entire game using those two, and never once did I feel like there was a reason to try the other two. Also, while it was easy enough to figure out if another weapon was better than the one you were using, weapon upgrades were a bit of a mess. Lastly, there didn't seem to be enough of it. As you ran about, collecting money and upgrades, you rarely got new weapons or armor. In fact, when you found money it was often a small percentage of the cost of a new weapon. I replaced my starting piston and my starting assault rifle once each, and my armor twice over the course of the entire game.

Minority though I might be, I actually feel like the game's pros far outweigh the cons. Like I said before, if you're expecting something else Alpha Protocol might not be what you're looking for, but taken for the RPG that it is I found it to be a very engaging game well worth the 15 hours or so that it took me to complete my first play through.

Final Score: A-

Friday, May 28, 2010

Getting caught up with mini reviews

Things have been a little hectic lately, but even I was kind of surprised when I realized that I hadn't posted anything in two months. Did this mean I wasn't playing games or doing anything else worth reviewing? Nope... it just means that when I haven't been working, I've been trying to play games.

At this point, I feel like it'd be a waste of time to write full reviews for everything, but I'd like to at least give you my basic feelings in case you were actually counting on me for such reviews. So here goes...


God of War III (PS3): If you've played God of War or GoWII, you should know by now what you're getting into. Not a lot has changed... you start of the game all bad ass, something happens to de-power you, you run around getting powered up for a final boss fight. Considering that the final boss fight that you're preparing for is the same final boss fight you were preparing for in GoWII, the whole setup feels a little contrived. Another thing I didn't care for was how most of the weapons you collect in the game are essentially variations on the chain blades you've been lugging around for the whole series. It's almost as if the developers have come to accept that we don't really care to use a sword when we've got knives attached to chains to swing around. Thing is, giving us more weapons attached to chains doesn't make us any more likely to use them instead of the one we've started with, so just to make sure we have to use the new weapons, the developers threw in obstacles and enemies that can only be overcome with one type of weapon. Despite these minor quibbles, God of War III is both visually impressive and the combat is as fun as it ever was. Final Score: A

Gundam Assault Survive (PSP): Essentially, GAS is a sequel to the well-regarded Gundam Battle series. The controls are the same, the game engine is the same, and the game is still divided into eras. As you might expect by now, another campaign era is added in the form of the next Gundam series in the UC timeline (F91, for those of you keeping score at home). A bit more surprising is the addition of campaigns for Gundam SEED and Gundam 00. Then there are a few minor changes to the game's formula. The most welcome change is that you don't have to pick a side for a campaign. Once you've created your pilots, you can play both the Federation and the Zeon sides of the 0079 campaign, for example. This makes it easier to unlock all the mobile suits on one save file. Another change I like is that you earn credits for doing missions, and the credits can be used to buy new units, buy special parts, or buy tune points. You no longer earn tune points for playing with a suit, so when you get a new one you can start tuning it right away. Less-liked changes are the fact that everything's been re-balanced. Most enemies take more shots to kill, even after you've tuned your mobile suits. Likewise, the most kick-ass suits are not the killing machines they were before. Getting new suits is a pain as well. You don't unlock suits, you unlock the ability to buy them. However, most mobile suits will need to be developed before you can buy them. For example, after you have the Zaku II S-type, you'll need to find or buy a part to equip on it, then buy the development plan for Char's Zaku II just to unlock the ability to buy Char's Zaku II. This can make unlocking many of the game's suits an expensive chore.

But the biggest change in the game, and one I'm on the fence over, is the addition of multi-map missions. The first missions in a campaign may only have one or two areas, but later missions in the game will have up to nine. Finishing a mission now isn't about simply completing an objective; you will have to try to control different areas and defend your ship while trying to complete an objective. Sometime an objective might be to destroy a certain mobile suit, but that mobile suit won't appear until conditions are met like destroying enemy ships or controlling certain areas. The result is that many missions are longer and less-suited toward the bite-size gameplay the PSP is best for, and there are fewer missions. Indeed, missions like the War in the Pocket mission in previous Gundam Battle games are now a number of areas in just one mission. So while the new tactical elements are a plus, the way it's implemented can often be a minus. If push came to shove, I'd have to say that Gundam Battle Universe is still the better game. Final Score: B-

Pokemon SoulSilver (DS): I admit to having a certain weakness for core Pokemon games. There's a part of my brain that likes collecting stuff (it's the same part that compelled me to find all the Riddler Challenges in Arkham Asylum, or to unlock all the costumes in a Dead or Alive game). And when you get down to it, Pokemon is a basic, but fun, turn-based JRPG. Back in the days of the Gameboy, I liked the original, and I thought that Gold/Silver/Crystal were better. In recent times, I've enjoyed the newer ones but always felt that they were a step down from Gold/Silver/Crystal. SoulSilver is basically a DS remake of Silver. While newer moves and secondary types have rebalanced the game since the days when the Gameboy Color was king, SoulSilver (or HeartGold, if you prefer) is still probably the best of the Pokemon games. Final Score: A-

Battlefield Bad Company 2: I enjoyed Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare when it came out. When Modern Warfare 2 came out, it was a huge letdown. The characters in the game are unlikeable and possibly insane. The plot is convoluted and at times doesn't even make sense. Infinity Ward more or less jumped the shark, and I've pretty much lost any interest I had in the Call of Duty franchise. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 is the new modern-military FPS hotness. All of characters in Bad Company 2 have their own unique (if sometimes stereotypical) personalities. This makes for likeable characters, humorous dialogue, and the occasional dig at Modern Warfare. While the plot is a little ridiculous, you can actually follow it without going "WTF?!" after every mission. And the combat is pretty much what you can expect from modern FPSes. My only real complaint is the amount of smoke in the game. Grenades will kick up dirt, wood will splinter, brick will crumble, and buildings will collapse. All of it kicks up dirt and dust that obscures your vision, but never really seems to bother the enemy AI. If you like FPS games, you owe it to yourself to pick up BFBC2, as it's better than Modern Warfare 2 in pretty much every way. Final Score: A

Forza Motorsport 3 (Xbox 360): Since the advent of Gran Turismo, racing games have been divided into two catagories. On the one hand, you've got your arcade racers, which range from Ridge Racer to Need for Speed to Burnout. On the realistic side, there's been a few games like TOCA Race Driver, but only Forza Motorsport ever really seemed to compete with Gran Turismo. The physics were better, and you didn't spend a ton of time screwing around in used 1989 Honda Civics. Forza 3 is hands down the best of the Forza series. Even though I thought Forza is better than Gran Turismo, Forza and Forza 2 were still too tedious for me to really get into. Forza 3 had me completely hooked, though. The career mode spans six seasons. Each season has a championship series, and you pass the time between championship events by racing in other evens. Different events will have you racing different cars in different classes. Forza 3 makes it easy to figure out what class you car is, and provides ways of automatically upgrading it to the top of one class without going over into the next one. For example, you might have a car that's an E class, and you might want to race it in a D-class event. You can choose to automatically take it up to D without accidentally going into C. As such, you don't spend too much time tuning, and you spend more of your time driving. The only (and I do mean only) complain I have about Forza 3 is that the game sometimes doesn't know when you've got too much of a good thing. Most races early in the game are two or three laps on a short track, but championship races in later seasons can be several laps on extremely long tracks. It's not uncommon for one race event to take a half-hour to complete. While it's sometimes fun to try to beat your best lap time on such a race, it can also be a little dull when you've actually lapped mos to of the competition and start to zone out. Final Score: A.

Silent Hill: Homecoming (Xbox 360): This was the first Silent Hill game I'd played since the original back on the first PlayStation. I remember really liking the first one, and I'd picked up Homecoming on clearance at a Best Buy. It's been sitting on my shelf for probably over a year now, unplayed. I decided to give it a whirl, and I'm actually sorry that I did. The game is complete rubbish, and it's really the fault of the combat system. People have complained that the combat in previous Silent Hill games have been the game's weakest points. In attempting to fix it, the developers actually made it worse. Homecoming is frustrating to the point of unplayable. Final Score: F.

Halo: ODST (Xbox 360): I have no clue why Halo is still so popular. Sure, the original was fun in its time. I didn't particularly care for Halo 2, but I could see people still being into it. But by the time Halo 3 came out, there were plenty of better FPS games, both for single-player and multi-player. I guess Bungie knows that the Halo fans will pretty much buy a sack full of turds if they put the Halo brand on it, and that's pretty much what they did with ODST. The gameplay, which has gotten worse with each new Halo game, is just awful in ODST, so I'm finding myself not caring about any of the characters. The story's kind of pointless, too, since by now most fans would know how Master Chief wins the war. The only positive thing I can say about ODST is that a lot of the voice cast are from Firefly (Nathan "Malcom" Fillion, Alan "Wash" Tudyk, and Adam "Jayne" Baldwin). Final Score: D-.


Hot Tub Time Machine: Probably one of the funniest movies I've ever seen. What I really like about it is that it makes no excuses and attempts no explanations for how over-the-top ridiculous it really is. Final Score: A+

The Bounty Hunter: You'd think a movie about a bounty hunter trying to collect on a bounty that's on his ex-wife would be funny. The previews certainly make it look funny. But it's one of those movies where all the funny stuff is in the previous, and the rest of the movie is a predictable and dull romantic comedy. Final Score: D+

Clash of the Titans: It's a movie about a guy sets off on a quest to save a city from Hades. Not because he really cares about the city, mind you... mostly because he's pissed at Hades for killing his family. As he goes about his quest, he fights a lot of monsters. All-in-all, Clash of the Titans doesn't offer a lot in the way of plot or surprises, but watching a pissed-off dude fight monsters makes for a decent popcorn flick. Final Score: B

Iron Man 2: It picks up where the first one left off. Tony's dealing with being both the rock-star head of a huge corporation AND a superhero in the spotlight. Iron Man 2 is a little busy at times, though. We're dealing with the government wanting Stark to give them Iron Man, we're dealing with Ivan Vanko wanting revenge of Stark, we're dealing with Justin Hammer wanting his company to one-up Stark for military contracts, we're dealing with Stark's friendship with James Rhodes, we're dealing with Stark's daddy issues, and we're dealing Stark confronting his own mortality. It's all played brilliantly by the cast, but it feels rushed, especially the few brief fight scenes. It's a solid movie, just not as good as the first one. Final Score: A-.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The car is dead. Long live the car!

As sad as it was to see my old friend go... this is my new hotness. This is the 2010 Mitsubishi Lancer GTS. Sure, it's not quite an Evo X, but you'd be forgiven if you mistook it for one. The 18" wheels are bigger than my old ones (or my wife's 2004 Lancer), the front air dams, side skirts, and rear wing are standard, and the 2.4L, 168hp engine is larger than the engine in the DE or LE trims. Inside we've got an automatic transmission with manual mode, cruise control, paddle shifters on the steering wheel, two 12v power adapters, six speakers, a CD player with mp3/wma decoder, steering wheel stereo controls, audio jacks for hooking up an iPod, and bluetooth hands-free calling. Power windows, power door locks, keyless entry, a color digital information panel, as well as a surprisingly roomy interior and an unbelievably quiet engine add to the car's overall comfort. Also, switching from a 2-door to a 4-door with seven airbags, antilock brakes, active stability control, and a LATCH system for hooking up a child's car seat mean that I made a practical choice instead of just buying a car for the sexy... and it is definitely a sexy car.