It’s Raining It’s Pouring

So one of Sony’s most anticipated exclusive releases came out last week and I have had the pleasure of borrowing it off someone else to play it. I am speaking of course about Heavy Rain, The highly enigmatic noir styled murder mystery game by Quantic Dream. Over the weekend I got the chance to really sit down and sink my teeth into this game. So gather round children, while I tell you a tale!

Lame North American Cover

Now writing about this game is going to be tricky for me, chiefly for two reasons. First, it’s not a game in the most conventional sense, more of what the game designers themselves label it as interactive drama. This is to say, its a choose your own adventure story in video game form. Secondly, the game’s appeal is mostly in the unraveling of the mystery and as such divulging too much about the story would potentially ruin it for you. Given that I am prone to prattling on in my reviews going into at times excessive detail this will challenge me, and I will do my best to walk the fine line between description and spoiler.

So to give you a brief overview of the premise, the game is set around a string of murders being committed by the origami killer who’s m.o. seems to be drowning children. The game is narrated through the perspective of four different characters which you will interchange between throughout the various chapters. As the game progresses, more and more details are unraveled by the games multiple protagonist until leading up to the games climactic final scene. Through the game you play as: Ethan Mars, the family man and architect, Norman Jaden, a FBI investigator, Scott Shelby, a private eye hired by the victims of the origami killer to investigate the murders, and Madison Paige, a photographer.

Gameplay in Heavy Rain is a sticky issue for me to address, because it’s very minimal. The game is based mostly on quick time event interactions while scenes play out, with your correct cues or misses effecting the particulars of the scenes choreography. While some of the decisions you make will have a profound impact on how the game plays out, most of it is really just token interaction, as you will do menial tasks like dry off after a shower or push your kid on the swing set. The little touches add a bit of attachment to the character but it is minimal at best. There are also several times where you will find yourself walking around, this is by far the game at its worst. The control is clunky and often you will find yourself getting turned around or walking in the wrong direction because of how poorly the mechanic works. It’s a minor flaw, however it is a glaring one which will seem to constantly make itself apparent. There are scenes where you get to search for evidence and later examine it with Jaden using CSI gadgetry that seems to fall somewhere between Batman and Minority Report, this is probably some of the most engaging gameplay and I found it to be a fun challenge to try to divine out as many clues as I could, using my holo-files.

ARI the forensic program Jaden uses in Heavy Rain

The Future of Internet Porn?

Without going into too much any detail, the story is an entertaining one. The mystery is maintained throughout the game, with several red herrings and plot twists to keep the player guessing. Speaking for myself, when I discovered who it was I was quite surprised because I had already suspected and then dismissed the person as not being the killer. The plot moves at a deliberate pace constantly taking strides to draw you in and become emotionally attached to the games many characters. The tactic is effective, as suspenseful moments had me itching to hit the cues and make sure my characters got through unscathed. When someone dies in this game, you feel it.  Such feeling is rare in a generation of games fraught with shoot em ups and hack and slashers, where someone dying is nothing more than another multiplier on your combo. The point is to feel cinematic, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to call this Oscar worthy, it certainly achieves its ambition.

The visuals are inconsistent, but they range from being breathtaking to acceptable. Being a game where the player mostly takes the backseat while the story unfolds you would expect nothing less. Its obvious playing the game the focus was on the characters and more specifically on facial animations. The tactic is extremely effective, as the vivid visuals allow for unparalleled levels of emotional range through facial expression. Environments look gritty and real, typically having a dingy feel. Throughout the game it is raining, which is represented very effectively, with a sort of hazy look to outdoor environments. The game does suffer from it’s limitations however, with moments where more nuance physical interaction ends up looking like a scene played out by your kid sister with her Barbie dolls…

Take me Ethan, take me now!

The sound is phenominal, and it certainly helps to create the heightened tension in the atmosphere that makes the game so gripping. Music is well used with a recurring brass driven theme that seems to come in and out at strategic moments, creating a gritty noir cinema style. Voice acting is also excellent, with one caveat which I will get into in a moment. The actors almost all do an excellent job of hitting their marks and using effective emotional range to make the characters believable. However one problem I found was that given that the game was developed in France, the use of European voice actors in a story voiced with north american english makes them sound at times very bizarre. I have to admit there were moments where emotions were supposed to run high but I ended up finding myself giggling at the odd accent characters were speaking in.

wat else can I du? I need to save 'im!

All in all the game is not without its flaws. If you’re a hardcore gamer looking for a game that will take playthrough after playthrough to master, this game is not for you. However the unique experience offered is something I really feel anyone can enjoy, and for the hardcore gamer I would even still suggest renting the game and running through it at least once. Heavy Rain continues Quantic Dream’s attempts to fuse video games and cinema to create an interactive cinema experience. The story makes the game in this case, and while it does have a couple of plot holes and at times borders on the incredulous, it is overall a very entertaining story. I really enjoyed playing this game, and I think this sort of game will become more and more prevalent over time, engaging a different audience from the modern warfare players, that allows for something you can casually enjoy and get sucked into a story.

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Hell Hath No Fury…

So back to talking about things I like talking about, derivative video games! The latest game I have chosen to waste my valuable time on was Dante’s Inferno. For those of you unfamiliar this is based on the epic poem written by Dante Alighieri of the same name. If at this point you’re wondering to yourself ‘why in the fuck would anyone make a video game about 14th century guided tour through the underworld!?’ don’t worry, you’re not alone. This was the story that nobody ever fucking asked to be made a video game. I mean even Ghostbusters, a game made based on a franchise seemingly dead for nearly 20 years made a bit of sense as a video game, but Dante!?

who ya gonna call?

So anyhow all ranting aside the question remains, how does the game measure up? well that’s ultimately the biggest problem, not only is this a bastardized literary classic, but the game is a bastardization in itself! This game is, with only a few minor details, God of War. everything from controls to presentation right down to art design. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering God of War is undoubtedly one of the very best in frenetic action adventure games, it brings me back to the question of ‘why should this game exist?’.  To sum it up quickly I’ll break the gameplay down into its core segments. You run around getting locked into battles with hordes of piddling minions while you flail your long reaching weapon around in circles until they all explode and little orbs fly out of them (God of War). Occasionally you find sinners who you can either chose to punish or absolve, punishing leads to gory death while absolving means a timing based mini-game where you hit buttons as they are prompted (Parappa the Rappa or any controller based rhythm game ever made). Once you collect points you can use either holy or unholy points to level up skills on either side of your skill tree (infamous). Also, along the way you come across relics which you can equip into slots which will give you bonuses and will get leveled up to increase their usefulness the longer you have them equipped (Call of Duty Modern Warfare). If you look very carefully there, you might just see a pattern…

Now normally, I don’t have a problem with derivative games. The way I see it when a great game is made it makes sense to take what made it great and apply it to other games. The problem I have with God of War Dante’s Inferno is mainly that it doesn’t even try to differentiate itself from the material it borrows from. enemy designs, cut scenes, quick time events, attack animations, IT’S ALL IDENTICAL! Also, the gameplay on normal was at times downright difficult, not to be confused with challenging. To distinguish my point, solving a sudoku puzzle in the Sunday morning paper is challenging, putting your fist through a concrete wall is difficult. There are some points which I should address though which I did like about the game. First, it looks pretty, visuals are polished with some very cool effects and cut scenes are among the most impressive I have ever seen in a video game. Second, for all of my harping and whining the gameplay is very playable, and though I died on several occasions without having any fucking clue why or how to fix my error I still managed to enjoy the bloody carnage. Lastly, Trophies are handed out in that game like candy, so if you’re the sort that likes trophies/achievements/digital phallus’ to prove your worth then this game will treat you very well.

I almost feel bad disliking this game as much as I do looking back on it. However with a story that shames its source material, gameplay that fails to innovate on a game that came out for the Playstation 2, and because at times the game could be an exercise in frustration aggravation this just fell hopelessly short for me. It’s not a terrible game, in fact it’s probably better than a good deal of crap out there, but if you have a Playstation 3 you may as well just wait for God of War 3, or even simply buy the God of War collection (if you have a Xbox 360 you should probably only be playing mass effect 2 anyway). However if you need to play some medieval christian allegory or if you just want to see a buttload of tits, then maybe you should give the game a shot.

Beatrice, Dante's extremely liberal sweetheart

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I Watched a Movie a While Back

So the title pretty much says it all.

I watched a movie a while back, and given that it was a relatively limited release I may as well review it now (3 weeks after I saw it). Given that it may very well still be in select theatres and also because chances are you won’t go out and watch it anyway, it really makes no difference if I do so now as opposed to immediately after I saw it.

So what movie you ask? praying I may at last get to my point so reading this article might soon come to a close. Well let me tell you what movie! Jim Sheridan’s dramatic film Brothers.

If you’re not familiar with Jim Sheridan, he is the auteur responsible for the oscar winning Daniel Day-Lewis triumph My Left Foot and of course more recently his tour de force piece of shit Get Rich or Die Tryin` which tells the epic tale of the venerable actor rapper Curtis `50 cent`Jackson…but I digress

The movie stars Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, and Jake Gyllenhaal in a story about a marine with a perfect family life that all goes to hell when he is captured in Afghanistan and is presumed dead (for a trailer go here). Without giving too much away essentially the marine`s brother (Gyllenhaal) steps in and sees to helping the family through and ends up becoming very close with them. The Marine (Maguire) returns and is emotionally unstable and as a result must try to return to his family life, and overcome the suspicions he has of his brother and his wife (Portman).

So what to make of the film then, the story is one of genuine substance, focusing on the adverse effects of post-traumatic stress which alienate the marine and the power of redemption a loving family has on a troubled and misguided person. The characters drive the story and are complex and well portrayed, the cast is very small and you really get a good sense of every character in the story and get to see a great deal of emotional range. Maguire is easily the worst fit here, due to his flat portrayal of the loving family man. Considering though that Maguire delivers a chilling performance towards the end of the movie as a man lost in his own perennial nightmare speaks volumes then as to just how good the performances of this cast truly were. The film does stumble however, with it`s chief issues being pacing and some poor editing choices, cause the movie to at times sag and lose momentum. Music cut to montages of the brother with the family is cheery like something out of a Disney movie despite the scene having a certain eeriness, and stirring scenes conveying emotional tidal waves seem to come and go in the blink of an eye, swaddled with empty fluff showing mundane family activities ad nauseum.

The film ultimately falls short of greatness, though certainly still maintaining the ability to hold your interest for a full 104 mins getting you to genuinely care about the characters in the story. The greatest thing I can say about this film is that it feels as though it’s about real people, which is truly a credit to the actors.

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On Tragedy and Loss

Hello loyal readers,

Today’s post will not feature the cavalier attitude I take in most of my entries, though there are many interesting things I could share my thoughts on I can’t help but feel as though they would be trivial and pointless given present circumstances. If you’re lost, let me shed some light.

Yesterday morning, a woman was stabbed to death in a halfway house in Toronto. I don’t feel the particular desire to chronicle the details specifically so if you want to know the full report you can find it here.

While this story is a tragedy in itself, this news was especially jarring for me because this person was the mother of a close friend. I don’t want this to statement imply this is about my anguish or grief over her loss, because it is not and to do so would be incredibly selfish. I simply feel the need to share my thoughts in writing because frankly I am incapable of talking about things like grief.

It is truly profound the impact death has on a community, most especially when it is tragic and unforeseen. There is a ripple effect of emotional turbulence. Speaking personally I am hit hard because it troubles me to think how hard it would hit my friend, and so those I express my feelings to are affected by me albeit much less so, and so on. I am not sure what element of tragedy that makes people stand up and take notice so much, why it pervades every news station and worms its way into seemingly every day of our lives. I like to think it’s because people long to feel connected to one another and a sense of loss does so more than possibly any other emotional sensation. Reading the news coverage online I was touched to see several comments offering condolences to the family (though not all were so respectful but there are always those that seek to deviate). Though on first impression it may seem selfish or even macabre to be so enthralled by such terrible events, I think the motivation is ultimately benevolent at core. I believe most people want to help those that suffer through terrible tragedy.

It is hard for me to be optimistic though, in the face of such a terrible occurrence. Considering the nature of her work for this woman to be killed in such grotesque manner is inconceivable. I can’t help but ask, how could this happen to someone with such kind and compassionate of intentions? Events like this call into question the greater purpose of life and make me wonder just how such awful things can even happen. Given the nature of the circumstances it would seem altogether likely that her killer will also end up with minimized punishment since he was in all likelihood mentally unstable. I ask you though how does that seem right? Regardless of whether it was completely premeditated or in a fit of passion how can we return balance after such an injustice?

I apologize if this isn’t cohesive, a large part of me writing this is purely and simply cathartic. Beyond all else, more important than any of my rants though, is to remember the pain this family is experiencing and to respect the great work this woman had done.

Dmitry, you are a dear friend and my heart goes out to you and your family.

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New Music for listenin’s

So yes I only just posted a new update yesterday after a horribly long hiatus but I am just so damn excited to be back I need to post more crap!

Actually in all seriousness it’s really more of a log jam of topics that I want to talk about that has me wanting to get on top of my updates so I can get back to talking about new things that nobody cares about.

I am dedicating Today’s post to music, two new albums have recently been released that I was actually on top of and got immediately upon their release, a momentous feat on my part and so I need to share with everyone my thoughts and evaluation of the albums because frankly I am a music genius and I know very definitively what is good and what isn’t! So gather round my disciples and hear me well as I regale you yet again with more expert analysis on pop culture.

First album up is Vampire Weekend’s sophomore album Contra. Following up on the unprecedented success of their self-titled début it’s fair to say that great things were expected. The band’s unique uniquely blended indie pop sound is an upbeat cross of African inspired drum beats with classically inspired melodies in an amalgam that sounds distinct unto itself. The album opens strong with what I consider possibly it’s best song Horchata, which is some sort of love ballad to the drink of the same name, and a ballad of loathing of wintertime. While this may seem irrelevant it’s important to note the lighthearted and easy-going tone of the song as it seems to carry throughout the entire album. The songs have a fast paced off-beat tempo with quick-firing vocals laced with fun and clever lyrics. Since getting the album I’ll confess to listening to it countless times, the album is entertaining from start to finish with a lot of high points such as Horchata, California English, Run, and Giving up the Gun being notables in my opinion. The album strikes me as a better and more consistent album than their first, I would recommend it to any fan of the band as well as fans of the indie pop genre.

Vampire Weekend's second full length album

The second album to recently be released was Spoon’s fifth full length album Transference. Spoon has at this point reached the status of indie rock legends after their work being featured in movies, television, commercials, and pretty much anywhere where people appreciate good music. I have followed spoon for a long while now and have always enjoyed their past efforts, with their last album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga they had released a strong effort with a good portion of the album being really great songs and only a couple of misses (the ghost of you lingers goes down as their worst song to date in my opinion) but ultimately a truly great contribution to their body of work. Transference is a tough album for me to gauge, while I enjoy the album well enough it’s not quite what I was expecting from them. This time around Spoon seem to have kept the album very subdued, consisting of tracks that build up very slowly and keep a pretty deliberate pace, with the exceptions of Got Nuffin and Trouble Comes Running which take the tempo up a notch the album is pretty slow, certainly for Spoon’s standards. The tone of the album certainly keeps to the band’s style, with their punchy beats hitting hard and frontman Britt Daniel’s distinct vocal style as present as ever I wouldn’t go so far as to say the album is a massive deviation from their past efforts. Really every album spoon has made has had at the least flashes of the tone this album portrays, this is simply a consistent collection of their more down tempo style. It’s a good effort and its by no means a discredit to the band’s excellent name. However, I will say that it didn’t take me the way past albums have, it’s simply solid by Spoon’s standards.

Spoon's fifth album transference

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Hello again, loyal readers!

Your cries have been heard! the weeks and weeks of the people crying for biting sarcasm and cynicism have finally been answered, I HAVE RETURNED.

Alright so maybe thats my delusional nature getting the better of me but regardless I am happy to say I’m back on the bloggity bandwagon once more! I’m actually really annoyed with myself for not posting sooner, I have now completed 2 new games I was hoping to review before christmas (Assassin’s Creed 2 and Dragon Age: Origins) but exams and holiday schedule conflicts prevented that. It’s a shame too, because my poignant and concise observations may have been helpful back when best buy and future shop had them on sale for 39.99 each.

Anyhow I’m going to do a mini-review of each and then move on to something more current, deal? deal.

Dragon Age Origins:

I recently finished my first playthrough of this game and logged just over 40 hours of gameplay in the process, I didn’t manage to finish half of the total side-quests so needless to say this thing offers lots of content to sink your valuable time into. You have the choice between six main character types with all the standard creation tools, the intro stories add some replayability but ultimately they all turn into the same storyline about 2 hours in anyhow, so it’s not limitlessly varied. The story itself offers several forks in the road though where you side with one group or ideology or the other, it’s not exactly black and white either which is refreshing as opposed to so many other games which offer you either status as patron saint or evil fucking incarnate. These decisions will ultimately shape the environment both in how people interact with you and what is available to you so really there are two somewhat unique playthroughs of the game to be had, but beyond that you will basically tread an awful lot of familiar territory. Gameplay wise the game is nothing new considering past games by Bioware, you have a party of four characters which you can choose between various party members you recruit through the story. There are warrior, rogue, and mage classes which offer the sort of gameplay styles you might expect in a fantasy rpg such as this. Also it’s worth noting that the fantasy realm they have created for this is immense, spanning hundreds of pages of backstory and general factoids, as well as two god-damned novels! Well to keep it short and sweet I’ll say this, it’s an engrossing game that while not perfect is serviceable enough to provide a very satisfying addiction. also, bonus points for being able to digitally bone this chick:

*The Digi-boning is totally PG though...

Assassin’s Creed II:

Continuing the adventures embedded deep within the cranium of it’s predecessor’s pseudo-protagonist Desmond Miles (which is arguable considering Altair was considerably more badass where Desmond was mostly just a little bitch) Desmond now touches on the memories of a new ancestor, Ezio De Auditore Di Firenze…et fettucine bolognese (yes, I am aware that’s a penny-arcade joke.) This time around Ezio is responsible for avenging his family and taking on his father’s legacy as a super badass assassin. Ezio goes along killing templars and crazy conspiracy and intrigue run amok…it’s more of the same high quality story-telling of the first. The game is a massive improvement on the first installment, adding a wide variety of mission types, larger and more detailed environments, and the addition of a home villa which you can upgrade and make a profit off of.

casa dulce casa

The story is a long an winding one, with many a twist and turn, but the end result of beating it is mostly rewarding, also if you’re a trophy whore this thing hand’s em out like candy, giving you a silver for each chapter of the story completed. All in all it’s a rich experience, with a lot more to offer than the first, the challenges and optional quests have a real sense of purpose to them adding to either the story or to your villa’s worth, making the pursuit of the game’s many hidden treasures an insatiable passtime.

There all done, that wasn’t so painful was it? Now on to more relevant issues. How about that earthquake in Haiti!? As if Haiti really needs more shit on it’s plate, that place is a hotbed of poverty, civil strife, and hurricanes …It seems as though a 7.0 Moment Magnitude level earthquake just seems a little overkill.

It’s good to see how people have come together to raise money to help the cause, recently I’ve looked into it and via text message alone there has been roughly $27 million has been raised already via various text message services that take donations, while Telethon’s in the states have raised over $57 million and $16 million was raised by the CBC’s telethon. I am always skeptical however of charitable organizations initially though as it is never easy to tell how well these organizations allocate funds and how efficient they are. To make a personal suggestion, I would recommend donating to UNICEF which is one of the finest organizations providing aid to ailing children.

I actually want to end this post with a couple of questions. What do you think of the efforts being made to aid Haiti after the earthquakes? Is it surprising the amount of money being raised and efforts being contributed? and how do you think this response reflects on efforts of past crisis’ ?(i.e. the tsunami in 2005, New Orleans after hurricane Katrina)

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Down Time

Sorry All, I have been a bit absent on the updates as of late. To be honest my life consists of more than blogging if you can believe that, and at the moment it’s got a fair bit of distractions keeping me from regaling you with my fascinating and poignant insights on all things awesome. I certainly have plans for topics I want to cover in the near future, and potentially another comic strip as well (I know, please God no right?) In the interest of whetting your palettes I’ll give you a glimpse of whats on the horizon.

game reviews: Assassins Creed 2, Dragon Age Origins (further down the horizon since that game takes a serious time investment)

Television: Dollhouse (The series thus far), Castle (season 1), Friday night lights (season 4, up to current)

Also I was planning on telling you all about my experiences at this years Fine Art Gala hosted by the Comic Shoppe, though it’s gone by it might be worthwhile to know what you missed, for future considerations. Anyhow just to make it clear I haven’t forgotten about the blog and I do plan on adding some content soon, so I most humbly beg you to continue checking in, more top-notch reading is on your horizon.

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