Thursday, October 29, 2009

Read it: Old Man Logan

I’ll be honest; I’ve grown a little sick of Marvel and DC over the past few years.

It all started around the time House of M hit. Then it spread to World War Hulk, Civil War, Final Crisis, Blackest Night, etc.

At first, events seemed like a pretty cool idea- A universe of characters united by a common cause. Then I realized, in order to truly stay in the loop, that meant my pull box would have to jump up to about 20 additional titles a month. And let’s not forget the one-shots, spin-offs and aftermath stories.

In short, I’m sick of events.

While I’ve weaned myself off most long-running monthlies to avoid being pulled into the next epic, multi-book storyline, I’m still on the lookout for a cool story arc to draw me back in. About a year ago, Mark Millar brought us Old Man Logan, officially one of the coolest reads I’ve come across in a while, Marvel or otherwise.

The idea was simple: What if, one day, the bad guys won? What would that mean for the world and mutantkind as a whole? Or, more specifically in this case, what would that mean for everyone’s favorite hairy knucklehead, Wolverine?

The series opens on a desert farm where Logan has settled down to raise a family. The Hulk gang, now his landlords, are demanding rent and poor Wolvie has no way to pay it.

One day, a face from Logan’s past shows up and offers him a chance to make enough green to pay off the Hulks and live peacefully for quite some time. This business venture will require Logan to head cross-country and face a slew of surprising obstacles along the way.

Logan agrees, but on the condition that he won’t have to fight. He has, in fact, sworn to never fight again, much less pop his deadly claws.

Who will Logan meet along the way? What sort of trouble will he and his old friends get into? What could have gone so wrong in the past to make Wolverine so ashamed of the killer instinct he once prided himself on? What would Venom look like if he attached to a T-Rex?

The answers to these questions and more are found within the pages of Old Man Logan, soon to be a graphic novel, and boy is it an great tale. Silly at times, but great all the same.

More a love letter to fans of comics than anything, OML is packed with epic moments and cool cameos, all leading up to the rebirth of the killing machine known as Wolverine.

In a day where many titles take themselves a bit too seriously, Millar and crew have dared to think outside the box with some decent writing and some of the coolest art to grace the pages of comics this past year.

It’s an awesome read, it’s self contained, and it’s original. Enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Review: Uncharted 2- Among Thieves

Thanks to the emphasis on scores and the general lack of interest by most modern gamers to actually read a review, gaming criticism is a bit hard to put much stock in these days. (My, that’s ironic.)

I remember the good ole days when a 6.5 was a pretty dang good score to go along with a decently glowing review.

Without opening a whole different can of worms, I’ll simply say modern games are receiving bloated scores and bloated reviews. In an effort to draw readers, it seems like reviewers are bending over backwards to heap an embarrassing amount of praise on titles that, quite often, are undeserving of such acclaim.

Despite my love of the original Uncharted game, I went into Among Thieves with a bit of caution. With such high scores across the board and folks deeming it the best single player experience of all time, I feared Uncharted 2 might simply be the next decent hot-item game to miraculously draw in more credit than it is owed. (I’m especially looking at you, Assassin’s Creed.)

I’m more than delighted to say my fears were mostly unfounded. Uncharted 2 is, without a doubt, an absolute joy to play.

Broken into two main parts, both pieces of the story begin slowly. Before long, however, the pace is pushed to blinding speeds that almost never let up during the 12 hours of playtime. I was amazed by how many big set pieces the game offered. In truth, Uncharted 2 is almost entirely comprised of these long, satisfying moments. To put it more plainly, I can’t remember saying “wow” so many times in a single game.

From huge shootouts to long games of cat and mouse against seemingly insurmountable odds, Uncharted 2 almost never lets up. There are, of course, a few puzzle moments and big exploration bits, but you never get much of a break from the adrenaline overdose that makes up the majority of the game. This is a good thing.

Naughty Dog have fine-tuned the controls from the first game, making transitioning from cover to cover a much easier process. The stealth tactics are a nice addition and the game even rewards you for silent kills with better weapon drops, but only one portion of the game actually requires you to play it sneaky. You can also fire and reload a pistol while hanging from ledges and fast pitch a grenade if you’re willing to poke your head out from cover. You’ll occasionally fight with the controls when you accidentally push the jump button when you meant to take cover, but that’s less a game flaw and more a result of player panic.

The visuals once again set the bar. From snow shifting realistically underfoot to sweeping vistas of cityscapes and jungles, Uncharted 2 is very easy on the eyes. The characters move realistically thanks to the continued use of motion capture and the voice acting and writing are second to none. Even more impressive are the little touches like the look on a character’s face in the background, the many ways hero Nathan Drake may stumble when traversing a bumpy level or how he’ll even blow into his freezing hands if you sit still too long in an icy level. There are hundreds of small things here that add up to one big, impressively realistic set of characters and environments.

If you can stop yourself from going immediately into a second playthrough once the credits roll, Uncharted 2’s online is also quite impressive.

I will be the first to admit I groaned when I heard the game would have online modes. I felt certain such features would take away from the single player experience.

I was wrong.

The online modes fit perfectly into the world of the game and look, play and sound just as good. From standard affairs like deathmatch and zone control to a surprising twist on capture the flag that has you lugging around and throwing a massive treasure, the competitive stuff is about as good as you’ll find anywhere else.

Co-op, though, steals the online show. From mowing down never-ending hordes of enemies to working together to complete objectives, this three-player affair has loads of replay value.

Whether you play the single player campaign or stick to the online scene, all modes net you in-game cash that can be spent on a variety of extras. From gameplay tweaks and behind the scenes footage to weapon upgrades and player perks similar to those in Modern Warfare, Uncharted 2’s unlockables give you plenty of reason to keep coming back for more.

While Uncharted 2 doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table, it incorporates aspect of many genres and polishes them all to a fine shine. The game is, quite simply, a fantastic ride well worth the hype propelling it to the top of the charts.

You will have an absolute blast with this one and, whether or not it ends up on your “all-time top 10” list, everyone owes it to themselves to see what wonders await in Drake’s latest outing.

Night of the cheap Halloween costumes- The Return

I love Halloween. From the awesomely terrible horror movies shown on SyFy all month to the costumes to the hordes of candy to, well, you get the idea.

It’s always been my favorite holiday. However, I know that it can sometimes be difficult to come up with a decent costume idea. For those of you cutting it close, here’s another few cheap and simple last minute costumes to try out.

A Cylon skinjob from Battlestar Galactica- They look like everyone else, so you don’t really have to do anything special with this one. It’ll be even more convincing if you have a twin to hang out with all night. Otherwise, flying solo will work just fine.

Amazing Man- When people ask why you aren’t doing anything “amazing” like flying around or using laser vision, act really offended and explain that your powers are for dispensing justice, not for their amusement.

The invisible man- Perhaps the easiest costume there is. Simply don’t show up to the party. But here’s the kicker: when people ask why you didn’t show up, explain to them that you did, but your invisible man costume was just THAT good. If you search facebook for photos of said party on Nov. 1, you can even provide enough details to make them question the validity of your claim.

Deadbeat dad- Squirt a mustard stain on a white tanktop, carry around a beer bottle and, for authenticity, be sure to wear a decently tattered belt. Just know that you might have to pay a few psych bills for friends who leave the party crying hysterically.

A terrifying hitchhiker- Jeans, a flannel shirt and a large duffle bag filled with stuff from around the house. Is it clothes in the bag? A body? A variety of mangled household pets? Nobody knows. And THAT is why this costume is so terrifying. Be sure to act the part and beg folks for a ride home while giving them crazy eyes.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Impressions: Demon's Souls

Why an “impression” of Demon’s Souls rather than a flat-out review?

Because, at about 30 hours in, I have only completed four of the game’s 16 levels and I don’t see myself getting a review for this fantastic title out in time to mean a damn to gamers who can’t decide whether they should buy, rent or pass.

I won’t go into too many details because much of the fun comes from figuring the game out (where to go, who to talk to, what to do) on your own. Well, not on your own, exactly.

In perhaps the coolest multiplayer evolution since the invention of splitscreen, the developers have managed to create a true community learning experience. Using a wide range of terms, players can leave behind messages that will appear on the ground in other players’ worlds. So, if there’s a hidden bad guy up ahead, someone has the option of warning you ahead of time.

Also of help are bloodstains. Peppered throughout the levels are the bloody memories of your comrades’ last moments before respawn. You can click on any of these and see a ghost figure of about the last ten seconds of a player’s life. If, for instance, you see the ghost turn a corner and come running back swinging his sword before collapsing to the ground, you can be fairly sure there’s a nasty dude waiting for you around the corner.

Finally, the massive world is made to feel even more populated by ghosts of folks who are currently in the same area. You never know when or where they might pop up, but every so often a spirit will materialize for a few seconds before fading away. Their actions, too, can help you guess at what’s ahead.

Not only is the game more difficult when played with these features turned off, but it’s also kind of lonely. There’s lots going on, but after you’ve gotten used to the glowing messages and wandering spirits, playing without them feels more like you’re going it alone rather than enjoying an epic adventure that hundreds of other folks are enjoying at the same time. It's a feeling I've never experienced in a single player game and it's awesome.

I spent so much time talking about these features because I consider them to be the next small revolution in gaming. If they aren’t mimicked a dozen times in the coming years, I will be surprised and genuinely disappointed.

You can also call in a few ghost friends to play cooperatively or “invade” another player’s world, but I have had minimal experience with these features. But I’m sure the whole teaming up thing is an asset since, yes, this game is hard.

Then again, I don’t think it’s as hard as most are making it out to be. This isn’t elitist gaming nonsense so much as saying Demon’s Souls is (mostly) as hard as you let it be.

The enemies can be tough- some can be downright hellish- but thinking ahead, slowing down and using *gasp* tactics, makes a world of difference. Consider your surroundings, consider the enemy’s weaknesses, consider your gear and learn to dodge and you should be able to handle most situations. Keep your shield up, heal frequently and, most importantly, don’t be afraid to run, regroup and rethink your attack. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen ghosts and bloodstain spirits bite it by simply running up to a foe and swinging away. The hack’n’slash, run’n’gun methods so popular in modern games won’t cut it here.

Also remember that death is a learning experience in Demon’s Souls. Each time you die, you should learn something about the enemy you’re fighting. Apply what you’ve learned and you should be able to make it to the next, nastier enemy.

Clearly, I could go on forever about this game. I'm barely scratching the surface here. While my opinion about some things may change in the next 12 levels of play, I feel confident one fact will remain constant- Demon’s Souls is a solid action RPG that rewards a gamer who is willing to pay attention and learn while mercilessly pulverizing those who insist on a more narrow-minded approach.

It’s dark and atmospheric, the controls are unorthodox but work surprisingly well, sound is great and, once it has its hooks in you, you’ll be amazed by just how much fun this refreshingly tough game can be.

***UPDATE*** After a 51-hour first playthrough, I can safely say my early impressions held firm throughout. Most impressive is the fact I did very little grinding for items and there is next to no "story" in the game, so that was 51 hours of pure dungeon-crawling awsomeness.

My only complaint was world tendency. To make a complicated matter slightly less complicated, if you do poorly in a world, the tendency can shift to black. Do well, and it will shift to white. You start at grey. Certain areas, items, events, etc. can only be accessed at a certain world tendency. So, in order to get to certain areas, I would literally have to let myself get killed in human form about seven times on any given world. I like my hidden areas a little less ridiculous, thank you very much.

Thankfully, only completionists need worry about all that business. The areas are small and the items can be great, but you don't need anything offered by these tendency shifts to enjoy or complete the game.

Other than that, Demon's Souls proved to be a fantastic action RPG with lots of fun and challenge to be had. I highly recommend it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Monday mini-movies: "Sports" bloopers edition

Wait just a dang minute! I search for “sports bloopers” and this is what youtube turns up? What’s all this business with rackets and nets? I said “sports” youtube. Sports!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Review: Trick r' Treat

Trick r’ Treat can only be found on DVD or downloaded from game consoles and I seriously suggest you do just that.

What would you get if horror pulp comics were turned into a movie? You'll find the answer right here.

The film was supposed to release in 2007, and then again in 2008, but Warner Bros. got cold feet and kept hanging on to the project until this year, when it was finally sent straight to DVD. Idiots.

The film has built up some amazing word of mouth buzz thanks to indie and horror film festivals and I’m hard pressed to find a single person with one bad thing to say about this purely holiday offering.

Most horror movies that come out this time of year have little to nothing to do with the Halloween itself. Trick r’ Treat is the exception.

Featuring four interconnected stories about werewolves, vampires, zombies, creepy neighbors and a monster that takes trick or treating way too seriously, this fantastic offering is all about All Hallow's Eve.

The production value is off the wall (it was supposed to go to theaters, after all) and the performances are great.

More like a collection of campfire tales, Trick r’ Treat is the perfect film to put you in the holiday spirit. It has everything a horror fan desires without being too gimmicky or going for the easy gore-porn approach so popular these days.

If you like a good scary story (or four, for that matter) and are one of thoe folks who really digs Halloween, you have no excuse not to see this film.

Review: Zombieland

What is it with monsters these days? It’s like they’re awesome, then suddenly everyone is too cool for them, then we move on to a new monster to adore and repeat the process.

While the vampire craze is starting to die down a bit (thank god), zombies seem to be back on the rise. (Get it!) From movies to videogames, if it ain’t out for brains, nobody wants to her about it.
All of that, somehow, leads us to Zombieland, the latest horror/comedy about everyone’s favorite ambling undead cannibals.

Following the tales of Columbus, Tallahassee, Wichita and Little Rock (since people are only known by where they came from in Zombieland) the film takes viewers on a quick trek through post-apocalyptic America following the zombie outbreak.

The undead actually take a back seat in this film that wisely chooses to focus on the main characters and their relationships rather than simply splash one graphic kill scene after the other on the screen.

The kills are there, and boy are they awesome, but even more interesting is this rag-tag group of survivors learning to live for the little things.

I feel bad for Jesse Eisenberg, a.k.a. Columbus, who plays an awkward recluse who has managed to survive the zombieocalypse thanks to his strict list of rules. He does a fine job in the role, but I couldn’t help but feel he was a blatant substitute for Michael Cera. Not his fault, I’m sure, but the two even look a lot alike. Never mind the fact they have the same voice and delivery.

It doesn’t matter who took on the role of Columbus, though, or any of the other roles for that matter, because they would have all been easily outshined by Woody Harrelson. The dude is a better actor than most give him credit for and, once again, his portrayal of the stereotypical badass survivor is pitch perfect.

Really, in a movie like this, the cast makes or breaks it. Lady stars Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin are easy to attach to as sisters with an edge and a certain cameo, I don’t want to spoil it, offers up some of the best laughs in the film.

There’s plenty to love in Zombieland. It’s warm. It’s hilarious. It’s a winner.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Movies to Miss in October

There’s a lot of straight to DVD horror movies on the shelves this month, but some of those are kind of supposed to be bad, so I’m not including them on the List-o-Poop for October. I think horror is just about the only genre where being bad can also mean being very good. Gotta love those monster movie ripoffs shot over a weekend for the cost of 12 value meals and a case of soda.

Then again, as will most likely be evident by a couple flicks listed below, sometimes a bad horror movie is just bad. Really, really bad.

Free Style- When I first read-up on this film about a boy (who looks 30) and his quest to become a motocross world champion, my first thought was, “Oh. Well, this has got to be going straight to the Disney Channel. I’ll cut it some slack.” Then I saw the trailer for its impending big screen release. Really? I mean…Really?

The Stepfather- This could actually best Saw as the worst “horror” movie of the season. A guy returns home from the army (convenient) to discover his mom’s new boyfriend seems to have a dark and disturbing side. Is he hiding a secret? Could there be a killer locked behind those seemingly kind eyes? *raspberry* Who cares?

Saw VI- I think how fondly I remember the first Saw film is exponentially decreased by the number of crappy sequels in the franchise. At this point, we’re in the negatives. If memory serves correct, I went in to see Saw I and immediately went on a screaming rampage and burned down the theater.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen- I once again ignore my rule not to call a movie out twice (once in theaters and again on DVD) in order to fling a little mud at the sequel to the barely passable first Transformers film. I understand this more or less HAS to become a trilogy, but so help me, that better be where this crap ends.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Games to get in October

The annual kick to the groin of your gaming wallet known as "the holiday window" is officially upon us. Much like Christmas, this seasonal flood of big-name games seems to come a little earlier each year, this time starting with September's awesome selection.

But the gates are only just opening, as is evident by the massive number of AAA titles hitting store shelves this month. Here's a few items you might wanna go ahead and add to your Christmas list.

6th- Demon's Souls (PS3)
13th- Brutal Legend (PS3, 360)
13th- Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)
13th- Half Minute Hero (PSP)
13th- A Boy and His Blob (Wii)
20th- Fifa Soccer 10 (All)
20th- Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars (PSP)
26th- Borderlands (360, PS3)
27th- Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time (PS3)
27th- Tekken 6 (PS3, 360)

It may not seem like a long list, but those are all more or less guaranteed to be dynamite in disc form. And several, like Demon's Souls and Borderlands, are epic time sinks at that. The types of games you play for months on end.

Still, despite the ridiculously bountiful October offering, I only have eyes for one game this month and that is Uncharted 2. And that's saying something, considering the fact the above mentioned titles, Brutal freaking Legend and the new Ratchet and Clank are all extremely high on my "Oh my god I must have it" list. They're at the top, actually...Right under Uncharted.

I don't just want to buy Uncharted 2. The first game made me a believer in what this whole "next generation" thing could mean for videogames and the sequel looks to turn everything I loved about the original all the way up to 11.

I wanna buy it some flowers, take it out to dinner and fall asleep whispering sweet nothings in its ear. *hauntingly serious face* To say I'm excited would be an understatement.

But don't let my obnoxious love for Uncharted confuse you. There's plenty to love on this month's list. It's truly a great time to be a gamer.