Thursday, February 25, 2010

Review: Bioshock 2

I'll admit, when I first heard a Bioshock 2 was in the works, I was less than pleased. The original Bioshock was one of the most phenomenal, self contained experiences in the history of videogames. The world was perfectly realized, the characters were memorable and the story was superb. Games like the original Bioshock are why hyperbole was invented.

Bioshock's story of an underwater utopia gone horribly wrong reached players on so many levels. The ideas it put forth and concepts it forced the player to consider are some of the most successful attempts to make a player actually think before acting. It had a beginning, a middle and an end. In short, it was a prime example of a game that did not need a sequel.

It is with great pleasure, then, that I report the studios behind Bioshock 2 have somehow defied my expectations and crafted a follow-up worthy of the original in just about every regard. Not only that, but Bioshock 2 improves on its predecessor in so many ways while only taking a few steps (some unavoidable) backwards.

You will have to pardon any vague ramblings that follow. With a game sporting such an interesting story to follow, I'm one of those folks who believes the experience is best enjoyed firsthand and too many details, no matter how minor, might take away from said experience.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Check it out:

I received an e-mail from a friend yesterday containing a link and the line “a videogame website that doesn’t suck yet.”

He was talking about and, yeah, his comment was accurate. These guys are just starting out, so there isn’t a crapload of content to plow through yet, but that means you readers have the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a budding gaming website and watch it evolve.

Get active and you might even help shape its future.

Anyway, while reading an article on the trouble with game reviews, I felt inclined to make a reply. The problem with me, of course, is that I can’t keep anything short. So, instead of trying to edit myself like any decent writer would, I decided to just let the rant flow and post it here instead.

Do me a favor and at least check out the article first. Afterwards, if you’ve still got some readin’ left in ya, head back over here and see what totally random stuff I had to say in response. Here it is:

Friday, February 19, 2010

UFC 110: Nogueira vs. Velasquez- Echo calls it

Wow. Talk about a night of heavy hitters. UFC 110 features some of the sport's (physically) biggest combatants ready to tee off on each other for three straight hours. If you like to watch fights for the knockouts, this is likely your night.

You can't call this a "super card" with no belts on the line but, in my mind, this is the most excited I've been for a series of five fights in a while. Looks like a little healthy competition from other promotions is paying off in a big way for the fans.

I expected to have a harder time calling these but, when I sat down and took a good look at the card, my gut started speaking to me on every fight. It's usually not a good idea to ignore your gut. That's a good way to go hungry.

...Moving on then.

Mirco Cro Cop vs. Anthony Perosh
Cro Cop was set to take on Ben Rothwell, which could have been an awesome fight, but Rothwell unfortunately pulled out at the last minute due to illness. The result? Cro Cop is now facing Perosh. I know exactly one thing about Perosh, who I've personally never seen fight before. What I know about him is that Crop Cop will likely be the last thing he sees before waking up from a severe kick-to-the-head-induced coma.

Keith Jardine vs. Ryan Bader
This will be an interesting fight to watch. Bader is a pretty solid competitor on the ground and on his feet and he has good knockout power. He's also undefeated. The thing is, everything but that last bit can be said about the more experienced, dare I say more "mean," Jardine. Jardine has to get his head back on straight and I think he'll achieve this by going to work on that very region of Bader's body. This one, though, is based entirely off of the ole gut. These too feel pretty perfectly matched to me.

Joe Stevenson vs. George Sotiropoulos
Sadly, I know nothing about Sotiropoulos. I'm excited to see him compete for the first time but, when you're going up against a guy like Stevenson, my expectations are that you will most likely be on the losing end of a fight. When you put two submission specialists in the octagon, though, it really could go either way. (Bet officially hedged.)

Wanderlei Silva vs. Michael Bisping
I usually hate people with Bisping's attitude, but I can't help it, I really like the guy. Unfortunately for him, he's once again fighting an older, more experience fighter with a mean streak a mile long. Bisping's a tough competitor, but no way in hell am I calling this one against Silva.

Minotauro Nogueira vs. Cain Velasquez
Velasquez has little experience, but he makes up for that with execution. He moves well, finds his shots and takes them. Add in some serious hurting power and you can see why such a fresh competitor is being thrown to the legendary Minotauro Nogueira. These guys are both brutes and I'm really hoping to see an all-out slugfest to end this night. Still, impressive as Velasquez is, I just can't call this one against Nogueira.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review: Borderlands

I know Borderlands came out something like four months ago, so a proper review feels a little unnecessary at this point, but I enjoyed the game so much I couldn't just let it go unmentioned here on the blog. I finally got around to playing this gem through January and, yeah, it's as great as everyone says it is.

Basically, there's a planet called Pandora. Unlike the Pandora of Avatar, though, this planet lacks giant Smurfs and is instead inhabited by a large variety of savage alien creatures. Ranging from those that fly, crawl and burst out of the ground and coming in sizes tiny to gargantuan, there's a decent variety of killer wildlife to pump bullets into. You're an animal rights kind of person? That's okay! Pandora has you covered. Along with the small civilizations of wasteland inhabitants, the map is positively littered with devious bandits just asking for a face full of buckshot.

What little story there is goes as follows: somewhere on Pandora is a vault that will grant the one who finds it all the riches and power they could ever ask for. You just so happen to want to find that vault. You start off at a bus station and, from there, the various regions of Pandora are your playground. Talk to inhabitants, complete quests, upgrade your character and dive into massive dungeons as you slowly but surely find your way across the planet and, hopefully, to the vault.

You take on missions from random folks or a mission board and, as you complete them, you earn equipment and experience to make your character stronger. The further you venture into Pandora, the bigger and badder the opponents become. Easy, right?

There are vehicles for getting around faster (or blowing $#!& up in new and exciting ways) and a fast travel system that allows you to move across vast portions of the map with a single click of a button.

Feeling a bit lonely? Why not take the game online for up to four-player co-op action? Killing with friends is more fun and, to keep things challenging, the bad guys actually level to the number of people in a group.

Online is a blast, but it's also where my one big complaint with the game comes in. In co-op mode, any unfinished missions from one character will be automatically added to the list of missions for any other character who has not already completed those missions as well. Playing with someone a few levels above you and no qualms with keeping 20 missions going at once will result in your own tidy list of just one or two open missions skyrocketing. For someone as obsessively orderly as me, this proved to be a real pain.

The controls are tight, the shooting is fun as hell and the atmosphere is perfect, but the real star of Borderlands is the weapons. Try to imagine every combination of weapon variety, attachment, ammo type and stat adjustment possible and you'll understand why Gearbox's claims of sporting more than 700,000 weapons is likely accurate.

While a lot of the loot you pick up (and there is a LOT of loot in this game) will be just slight variations of weapons you've already seen, there's still enough big variety here to make for a staggering number of firearms. If you love a certain triple rocket launcher but wish it had a 3x scope and fired corrosive rounds, it's just a matter of time before you find exactly that.

I have personally fallen in love with an incendiary sniper rifle that makes just about any headshot (and many body shots) a genuine treat to behold. And then there's my pistol that sends about a million volts of electricity into whatever I aim it at...Things go boom.

Anyway, there's a quick look at Borderlands for those who have somehow managed to keep it off the radar. With three DLC packs available and even more on the way, along with rewards for playing through multiple times and the ability to bring your buddies along for the ride, I fully expect this disc to be spinning until the inevitable Borderlands 2 finds its way to store shelves.

P.S. The music is subtle, but appropriate, and the concept art visuals are a delightful treat in a genre that usually strives for hyper realism.

P.P.S. Really, this game is satisfying beyond belief. Go play it.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Monday mini-movies: 4 second 40 edition

One of my favorite combinations of words to look up on the ole youtube is "extremely lucky." There's a pretty awesome selection of videos in that collection. This one, though, managed to go under my radar until now. I gotta tell you, "lucky" isn't quite big enough a word to describe this fellow's jog across a busy intersection.

One poster's comment that the guy had a natural 20 on his reflex save roll made it that much more enjoyable.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Read it: Joe the Barbarian

Joe the Barbarian is an odd sort of comic in that the vast majority of the story is told with pictures alone.

"But Echo," I hear you say in your thick, Russian accent. "Isn't that sort of the point of comics? To tell a story with pictures?"

Well, yeah, but when you have five sequential pages with not one scrap of text, it tends to throw the average reader off guard.

So, JtB has very little talking. That turns out to be absolutely perfect for this book about a boy with no friends, an overactive imagination and a single mother who has little time for him.

The lack of dialogue, coupled with some beautiful, darkly colorful art (if that even makes sense) helps draw you into this oppressively vast, lonely world where Joe's only friends are those that live in his head and line his toy shelves.

I can't imagine how hard it has to be to tell a story well with so little chatter, so writer Grant Morrison's script is to be commended. Sean Murphy's art, too, is awe inspiring in both his renditions of gloomy suburbia and those quick glances of the other world Joe will likely be spending a great deal of time in during the book's eight issue run.

As an added bonus, issue one is just a buck. Even at full price, though, I'd tell you this title is definitely worth a look.

(Don't forget to click on the pictures for a better look at the comic.)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Movie review wrap-up

Legion- This one was an odd sort of take on the zombie genre...with an opening five minutes straight out of Terminator. No, really. The most annoying thing about Legion is that there probably was a good movie somewhere in this mess of bad acting, poor editing and a final act that can only be the result of a writer freaking out and pulling random words from a fishbowl until it made a sentence that resembled something like a sequence of events. Prepare for a five-take of WTF moments. My advice is don't even try to analyze how Legion ends. It's only going to hurt your brain. Otherwise, a couple cool fights and the occasional decent scene make for a "why the hell not" rental.

Big Fan- Big Fan couldn't have survived as a wide release film, which is a shame, but damn if it doesn't make for a great indie DVD release. It feels odd saying this, but Patton Oswalt delivers one of the best performances of the year in a film about the New York Giants' biggest fan and the events following his violent run-in with the team's star linebacker. There's some great stuff to take in here, a lot to think about and a payoff that's pitch perfect. I highly recommend checking this one out.

World's Greatest Dad- Yet another independent film that saw a quick release in limited theaters before making its way to DVD. Robin Williams plays an aspiring author with a life that pretty much sucks and a son you wouldn't mind seeing get thrown under a bus. When the kid does kick the bucket in David Carradine fashion, what's a dad to do save write a suicide letter in hopes of saving his only son a little embarrassment? When that letter launches the father's writing career, we're left with a surprisingly touching dark comedy and one of Williams' best performances to date.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Movies to miss in February

There aren’t a lot of movies hitting the silver screen this month, leaving plenty of extra time for folks to go outside and—who am I kidding? We’re all doomed without our moving pictures. Doomed!

The nice thing about fewer movies dropping? Fewer terrible movies to avoid. It’s a short list for February, but that doesn’t make these movies any less unimportant.

From Paris with Love: Seeing John Travolta trying to be a young, cool, violent action star is about as entertaining as seeing Sandra Bullock playing a ditzy 20-something in films like All About Steve. This looks worse than xXx, and that’s saying something.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians- The Lightning Thief: I’m prematurely panning this film for two less-than-relevant reasons. Number one, the title is too freaking long. There, I said it. Number two, I’ve had to sit through watching the kid who plays Percy Jackson doing interviews before every movie at the theaters for the past two months and holy crap is he arrogant. You’re playing the son of Poseidon, kid. You’re not actually Percy Jackson and therefore have no right to be such a tool. This might actually be a decent fantasy film (not likely, but possible), but I’ll never know because I can’t stomach the thought of watching this guy for more than five minutes. I hope your franchise dies a quick death, Percy. *shakes fist at the sky*

Monday, February 1, 2010

Games to get in February

I hate to sound like a broken record, but holy crap there are a lot of games coming out this month worth playing. This is something like the fifth month in a row gamers with multiple consoles are going to have to seriously consider where they expect to get the most gaming bang for the buck. Good luck!

2nd- White Knight Chronicles (PS3)
9th- Bioshock 2 (PS3, 360)
9th- Dante's Inferno (PS3, 360)
9th- Star Ocean: The Last Hope (PS3)
16th- Ragnarok (DS)
16th- Socom- Fireteam Bravo 3 (PSP)
16th- Aliens vs. Predator (360, PS3)
23rd- Heavy Rain (PS3)

(Sitting with head in hands, weeping loudly) Why!? Why so many games all at once? I can't possibly play all of these.

Bioshock 2 is the biggest hitter this month, finally giving players a chance to return to everyone's favorite doomed underwater city, Rapture. One last week can't pass quickly enough.

RPG fans gaming on the PS3 have a lot to be excited about this month courtesy of Level Freaking 5's White Knight Chronicles and the "final" Star Ocean game.

I pray nightly that AvP for the consoles will be as awesome as AvP2 was for the PC. If it turns out to be half the game that was, we're in for a real treat.

And finally, two words: Heavy. Rain. It's more or less guaranteed to be an unforgettable experience and I for one can't wait to let myself slip into this dark, noir world in pursuit of the maniac known only as The Origami Killer. I expect this one to be one of those games people reference and talk about for quite some time.

For those rich bastards who can afford all of this and more, just hold tight. March is nearly upon us and, you guessed it, it's going to be another huge month.