Monthly Archives: November 2009

Stuff your stories in a sack mister!

I have a great deal to cover and very little time to cover it on this fine evening so I’m going to be executing some truly impressive cop-outs on this post. There are three topics I aim to address in this post and within them sub-topics so I’ll be really skimming a lot of the meat here and getting to the barebones. Essentially I wanted to make mention of the concert I recently went to, the comics I’ve read, and the behemoth of a video game release that I wanted to review.

Also, you may have already noticed there is a new portion of the site where I will post my very own comic strips. you can view the comic here, by all means I am eager to get feedback to see if this is something I should continue to build on or if this little foray is better left by the wayside. But without further adieu, I shall begin my distilled posting.

First the concert, last friday I went to a small show of an artist called Wax Mannequin with openers Rae Spoon and Mark Bragg. I really enjoyed the show and what I consider to be Ottawa’s finest alternative scene bar Zaphod Beeblebrox was yet again an excellent venue to see a show. I would get into my thoughts of the performances but instead I will leave that to a much more eloquent writer on the topic, my good friend Max has a blog of his own specializing in music and was also in attendance at the show and provided some very insightful analysis.

As for the comics, I’ve read a whole bunch so let me just sum it up with this:

The Good – Scott Pilgrim Vol. 2 & 3 (Bryan Lee O’Malley), Preacher vol. 2 (Garth Ennis & Corey Dillon), Fun Home (Alison Bechdel), Skim (Mariko and Jillian Tamaki), Criminal vol. 1 (Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips), and Locke & Key vol. 2 (Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez)

The Bad – Speak of the Devil (Gilbert hernandez)

The Mediocre – Hellboy vol. 3 (Mike Mignola), Green Latern: No Fear (Geoff Johns)

Something Noir, Something Twisted, Something Different

Just to provide some context here, Scott Pilgrim was previously reviewed and the style remains true to the same volume with lots of wacky pop culture mayhem continuing with signature comic flair. Locke & key may be the finest horror graphic novels I have read to date, and both Skim and Fun Home are captivating expositions of self identity and adolescent transition that are deeply moving and poetic in their sincerity. As for Speak of the Devil, I was truly disappointed as I read one of his more recent works Sloth which I quite enjoyed, but this was an absolutely terrible story…disjointed narrative, no attachment to the main characters, it ultimately just seemed half baked. And as for the mediocre products, Green Lantern was good but ultimately fails to offer anything unique to a rather crowded genre while Vol. 3 of Hellboy is a bit uninspired as it seems Mignola was unable to come up with a story arc that lasts more than 10 pages so as a result you have a bunch of quick reading short stories which for the most part don’t add much to the Hellboy universe and don’t develop enough to really be interesting.

Now onto the big ol deal, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Quite possibly the most eagerly anticipated game of the year and easily the highest selling title, I got the opportunity to play my roommates copy and see what all the fuss is about first hand. Now in the interest of full disclosure I feel it’s important to point out that I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder about the franchise as a whole, it’s upsetting that Activision has been steadily pumping out iteration after iteration of what was up until this one’s predecessor (Modern Warfare, which was consequently the fourth game in the series, though the first set in modern combat) a stagnant world war 2 first-person shooter gaming experience. So when I see that Call of Duty is outselling every other unique or original title being released it gives rise to an anger and frustration with the franchise and it’s effect on the gaming industry. However, I went into my gaming experience with as open a mind as I possibly could, given that i acknowledge that it’s not the game-makers fault that consumers are thoughtless zombies that buy the heavily branded overly franchised crap that is shoved in their faces and shouted into their ears.

So, how did it fair against my cruel and unreasonable scrutiny you ask? Well, much to my chagrin, quite well… Though I hate to admit it after that little tirade, I have to confess that back when the original Call of Duty was released, I was a very big fan of the game. As such it didn’t take me long while playing this to remember exactly what I enjoyed about it. The action comes at you fast and furious, throwing you into intense war zones frantically shooting the rows of enemies firing on you and your comrades. One problem this game faces however is the subject matter of the story, which is centred around a terrorist plot which catalyzes a war between Russia and the United States that is quite frankly hammy and contrived. The characters you control don’t develop any real sense of a personality and *SPOILER START* are killed off so frequently that you have trouble keeping up with exactly who it is you are *SPOILER END* Sticking to WW2 works well for the developers in that the history is already written and the characters arn’t so very important as opposed to the historical accuracy. The gameplay in single player though is very enjoyable, having some very interesting and varied level designs it feels cinematic and interesting for most of the game. However, it’s short…really short, and as such really what this game comes down to is multi-player. The multi-player is actually quite addictive. With all the trappings of the first modern warfare the sequel has all the fun level ups and unlockables that reward online addiction and the sacrifice of one’s sexual activity in the service of better gaming. It plays at a style difficult to achieve, between frenetic arena shooter and realistic tactical shooter which hasn’t been perfected by any other series since Counter-Strike. I do take issue with, one being the kill streak rewards which bring in some absurd deus ex machina into the mix (being shot down by an AI harrier is not what i consider sportsman-like) and some over the top notifications, like money flying off of a player you’ve shot down when it was ‘payback’ or a hair metal solo that seems to play every god-damned time you gain a rank. Ultimately it’s an addictive multi-player game with a lot to enjoy with a fun, though more of a merely compulsory single player experience.

Score: 9/10

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On Other Things I Like!

Two posts in one week!? HAS HE GONE MAD!??!?!?!…!? Nonsense, I simply felt you’ve been a particularly good readership this week (for no justifiable reason actually) and I thought I would treat you with yet another poignant critique for both your reading pleasure and cultural education. No need to thank me, I already know I’m fantastic.

So as a change of pace I thought I might review a movie, and of the in theatre variety. This week I went out and saw An Education, a 60’s era love story directed by Lone Scherfig (of absolutely nothing notable fame) starring a rather unknown young actress Carey Mulligan with a cast of some very notable actors including Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Olivia Williams, and Emma Thompson. If you’re looking at this cast and thinking this must be some sort of art house picture…you’re very much right. In fact, I had to get myself to the most arty and small little cinema in my admittedly uncultured city to go see it. poster_an_educationAs you can probably see on the very pretty poster directly above, the story was written by Nick Hornby. Those of you unaware Nick Hornby is a famous Novelist known best for his novels About a Boy and High Fidelity, However I think it’s important to point out here that he didn’t originally write this story. It was actually originally a memoir published by Lynn Barber. There is really no significant reason for me to be telling you this in regards to the style of the writing or tone of the film, I just think it’s important because if any of you reading this are so inclined to read the book, you’ll know which one to go out and read, rather than reading the novel based on the screenplay, which merely laces the pockets of an already quite successful novelist. So on to the movie itself, The story is about one Jenny, a bright young 16-year-old girl on her way to going to Oxford to become an educated woman so she can live the live that her parents think would be best for her. En route to that glorious future Jenny encounters a charming older man named David (Sarsgaard) and is quickly swept off her feet. Before long she is skipping class to spend time with him and his friends Danny (Dominic Cooper) and Helen (Rosamund Pike) who live a carefree lifestyle seemingly devoid of boring obligations or financial woes. Seeing this lifestyle that she had never even thought existed before, Jenny begins to contemplate a future without going to Oxford. However as she learns more and more of the truth about David and his carefree lifestyle everything begins to fall apart and everything she had worked so hard for comes crashing down around her.

sarsgaard-education

Loosely paraphrased of course

So now down to the fun part then, I get to tell you what I thought of it. which I like doing. Mostly because I like to write things that I think, for instance I think that puffy winter coats should be filled with marshmallows for a more delicious variant of insulation. But I digress… Joking aside I really did like this movie, it was clever, sincere, and stylish. The era was captured beautifully, with costumes and props all looking immaculate. I honestly feel that Alfred Molina really stole the show whenever he was on camera, its actually a shame that his character wasn’t featured more, he perfectly captured the essence of a worrying middle-class british father and made some incredible transitions from funny to fearsome to endearing throughout the film. To be fair, there weren’t really any weaknesses to be found in the acting, everyone was excellent, but Molina’s experience and talent was undeniably noteworthy. The story itself was an interesting one, and underneath the story of a girl enamored with the glitter of a luxurious lifestyle lay a much deeper theme of questioning social pressures and expectations, as well as self-discovery. My only complaint about the film is really it’s pacing. The story, while interesting, is pretty linear and doesn’t feature a whole lot of twists or sub-plots. It’s not really something I can fault the director for, it runs at a very reasonable 95 minutes. The problem is really that the story just needs to have more to it to make it a feature film, at least thats my opinion.

verdict: 8/10

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A Brütally Honest Review

Well it’s that time again. the time where I finally get off my lazy ass and decide to throw my adoring masses another tidbit of literary haute cuisine. This week (which would be appropriate, if I actually made posts on a weekly basis) I decided to tackle the latest opus of one Tim Schafer, Brütal Legend. If you are unaware of who Tim Schafer is, well then you really shouldn’t be reading a blog like mine…but then again you might be my mummy supporting my endeavors in the web based writing arena and as such I should probably shed some light (assuming you’re too lazy to use wikipedia…).

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Available on Playstation 3 and Xbox 360

Tim Schafer (abridged)  – A legendary game director/writer/programmer who has been in the industry for nearly two decades. He began his career working for LucasArts (the game development company of, you guessed it, George Lucas) and was involved in The Secret of Monkey Island, Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, as well as Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. He later went on to head up production on Full Throttle and what many consider to be his greatest achievement Grim Fandango. All of these were adventure games all featuring clever storywriting and comedic dialogue. In 2000 Schafer left LucasArts to found Doublefine. Five years later he would release Psychonauts, the game everybody loved and seemingly nobody played. Four years later, here we are in the glorious present, and he has dropped the project he himself has admitted is closest to his heart, what many have tagged his “Love Letter to Heavy Metal” Brütal Legend. Throughout this career Schafer has amassed a loyal and adoring fanbase that seemingly worship the ground he walks on. Likely one of the most renowned of game directors, Schafer has established a pedigree which almost certifies his games to be fresh, funny, and universally loved.

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Tim "the second coming" Schafer

So now that you’re filled in, perhaps you can key in on the number one issue surrounding this game, even before it’s release…the dreaded hype-monster. With the industry creating an atmosphere of greater and greater expectation on each year’s blockbusters its hard enough as it is for games to live up to the overwhelming expectations. So how does the eagerly anticipated masterpiece of everyone’s beloved game guru?

Put simply, not that well.

Brütal Legend is an action adventure game focused around the character Eddie Riggs (voiced by Jack Black), a roadie who is transported to a fantasy realm of Metal after a stage accident leaves him crushed and some blood activates his demonic beltbuckle. I know, awesome right? Once in the fantasy world, things move quickly for Eddie, discovering his guitar now fries demons when he plays a tasty lick, he can swing a battle axe like it’s a foam bat, and can assemble a badass hot rod of doom in no time at all. Before long Eddie has fallen in with a rag tag group of humans who want to overthrow their demonic overlords but lack the organization and preparation required, and so with a host of roadie skills a heavy metal rebellion is born.

The story of this one is completely solid, no ocmplaints there. The pacing is brisk and the plot twists are clever, with many moments inspired by the lyrics and music videos of the heavy metal the game tributes. The game features some serious heavy hitters of the musical genre, including Lemmy of Motörhead, Rob Halford of Judas Priest, Lita Ford of The Runaways, and the incomparable Ozzy Osbourne. As well, the game features some quality voice work of notable actors Tim Curry, Brian Posehn, and Jack Black’s ever-present sidekick Kyle Gass. As one would expect in a Schaferian gaming experience, the dialogue and story are highlighted by comedic dialogue and gags which suit Jack Black’s well…Jack Blackisms extremely well. It’s a fun experience which will keep you headed to the next mission objective just to catch the next funny quip.

Visually the game is certainly pleasing. Looking like something out of Heavy Metal the game features an aesthetic that pays homage to all things spiky, gas-powered, and demonic. The characters themselves have a cartoonish design that suits the universe very well, while the environments themselves look very vivid and have a sort of surrealism to them which serves to capture the album artwork style that they were obviously going for.  fire and lightening effects are somewhat lackluster though, lacking a certain flair that you would expect considering the visual punch the rest of the game. lighting effects arn’t exactly standout and all the technical eye candy is pretty basic really. Though all in all it’s a good looking game, it’s not a standout eye-popper either.

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Hah! I knew I looked Kickass

Gameplay is really where I have to get down to brass tacks, and boy do I have a lot to say about that. This game is really a mixed bag of gameplay elements, you’ve got part hack & slash action game, part vehicular combat, part rhythm game, and part real-time strategy. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering why the hell you would include an RTS gameplay element into this style of game. Sadly, there is no clear answer for this. The RTS seems horribly tacked on, given that it’s too simple to be a true fleshed out RTS experience, and the AI is too stupid to make it a manageable. What you end up with is a system where you’re hauling ass all over the battlefield killing as many people as you can with your car or using solo’s to kill off the enemy units yourself, while haphazardly building units to throw into the fray to essentially draw fire off of your weakling ass as you get slaughtered over and over again if you go in without cannon fodder. The game also features a metric butt-ton of side-quests, though these fall into mostly 4 categories: ambush, fixed gun, car race, and mortar targeting. As you might expect, doing 10 missions manning the same fixed gun position gets a bit tedious. Apart from the side-missions there is a veritable smörgåsbord of collectibles to go after, such as hidden jumps and discovering statues. The game has a ton of concept art unlockables but lacks unlockable video which I have to admit is sorely missed considering the impressive cast and crew, it would have been greatly appreciated. I can’t say the gameplay wasn’t fun, because I would be lying. However, it was easily the most disappointing element of the game, and it wasn’t that much fun, and what kept me coming back was easily the game’s humour and soundtrack. Which brings me to my next topic…

Sound, Okay this one is subjective. The soundtrack is balls out awesome…if you’re a metal fan. If you’re not into heavy metal, well you probably didn’t plan on playing the game, but regardless you probably should avoid it. The soundtrack is a cross section of all things metal, ranging from the seminal classics like Sabbath and Judas Priest to the modern prodigies such as Children of Bodom and Dragonforce, all the way to tongue in cheek acts such as Tenacious D and Dethklok (which adds a delicious sense of irony to the mix) and has a soundtrack of over 100 songs…which is truly staggering. As alluded to the voice acting is top notch, featuring a host of pros who deliver the lines with pitch perfect comedic timing. effects wise the game is right on par as well, with Eddie’s hot rod (The Druid Plough aka The Deuce) sounding large and beefy, as well as the electric guitar sounding suitably hard and heavy while playing the in-game rhythm sequences. The sound is excellent all around, and is the icing on a tasty cake that is the games very pleasing presentation.

It’s odd reviewing this game, in the sense that I’m torn between being disappointed in the let down from a game so hyped that I half expected the main character to reach out of the screen and shake my hands for putting the disc into my console. The game didn’t live up to expectations, and gameplay wise I would go so far as to say it was a forgettable experience. However the game had an excellent presentation and compelled me to keep coming back and playing, so it ultimately achieved it’s goal in being a very playable game, though I feel almost cheated on the pretenses in which it did so. There are two issues I want to close out on, the sandbox element and in regards to Tim Schafer being tied to this game. The sandbox thing is simple, this game is an action adventure game, without a doubt. As such you expect to have a map that you can navigate and side-missions and things to discover on said map (a la Zelda or Okami) but the thing that burns me about this game is exactly why sandbox games are annoying in the first place…travel times. Like almost all current sandbox titles you have to drive your ass from point a to point b at all times, why couldn’t they just include a quick movement system? I don’t care if it’s a giant chrome dragon that spouts Def Leopard Verses when it opens it’s beak that takes you from one strategic point on the map to another, ANYTHING WILL DO. Just please don’t make me drive my god damned car through your entire map just so I can instruct some headbangers how to properly perform a keg-stand…And finally my thoughts on the Tim Schafer factor. Truthfully, I probably would have liked this game a lot more if it weren’t “A Tim Schafer Game” because then I could have been slightly more forgiving about the gameplay being the biggest flaw. The bottom line is when the game is made by a guy who has made a laundry list of quality titles that played well, you expect the first thing they would get right is make the gameplay fun. A game being propped up by humour and production values is just something I can’t abide from an industry legend, and while I enjoyed my experiences playing Brütal Legend, I can honestly say I feel like it ought to have been a better title than it was.

7/10

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