Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Pleasantville - Movie Review

I thought I'd try something different this time. If you thought I was annoying before, wait until you actually have to look at me and listen to me talk! Here are my thoughts on the 1998 comedy-drama, Pleasantville.

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Let me know what you think!

Thursday, 2 August 2012

My Top 10 Favorite Video Games

It has been a while since my last post. Blame my full-time job, school commitments, and my weekly tabletop gaming sessions. But just in case people actually DO read this thing, I thought I'd take some time on my day off to put something quick up, just for you. So here's a rundown of my top 10 favorite video games of all time, in no particular order. I did my best to sample different genres. I could probably fill a top 10 list from action games, survival horror, platformers, and so on, but I figured you might enjoy some variety.

Comix Zone: Sega Genesis

Sketch because he's an artist, Turner because he turns pages. Get it?
"Look at me, Sketch -- I'm just a drawing! But I'll be free soon enough... as soon as you're dead!" Oh wow, this one's fun. You are Sketch Turner, an appropriately-named comic artist living in New York. One night, lightning strikes the pages of the comic you're drawing, bringing the villain Mortus to life. Mortus manifests in the real world, but can't actually harm you, so he sends you into the comic world in an attempt to kill you. As Sketch, you move from panel to panel, across the pages of the comic, in the hope of escaping. The game takes full advantage of the format, offering branching paths within each level, meta-commentary by Sketch, and a few interesting weapons and power-ups (the paper airplane is a personal favorite). It's only six levels, but it's got a wicked difficulty curve to it. It's been featured in several Sega compilations over the years and it's available for digital download on every modern console, so I recommend it highly for a fun afternoon.

Max Payne: PC/PS2/Xbox
My favorite line from the whole game at 3:12.

"When you're looking down the barrel of a gun, time slows down." You've seen my thoughts on the recent 3rd installment, but the original entry of the series has given me many fond gaming memories. A film-noir detective story mixed with copious amounts of John Woo inspired gunplay, Max Payne is the story of a man on the run, framed for murder, at war with the mob and a shadowy government conspiracy concerning a new drug on the streets. What gives you an edge over your enemies is Bullet-Time, the power to slow down time and dodge incoming bullets. This was revolutionary for it's time, in development BEFORE The Matrix popularized the concept. As a young child watching a demo on display at Radio Shack, I was in full-on fanboy mode from day one. The game had many amazing set piece moments, with special mention for the finale in which Max fights his way to the top of a skyscraper, mowing down dozens of enemy goons and dodging a pursuing gunship, only to knock a radar tower down on top of it at the game's end. Even now, over a decade later, I still go back to this game and replay it for the sheer action-packed gameplay.

System Shock 2: PC

The shotgun is your friend. Mother. Secret lover.
"Look at you, hacker. A pathetic creature of meat and bone. Panting and sweating as you run through my corridors. How can you challenge a perfect immortal machine?" In making this list, I tried to add a game from every genre. When it came to the FPS adventure category, I considered Bioshock, Deus Ex, Doom, Dead Space (I know it's not first-person, shut up), Amnesia, and several others. Ultimately I came down to System Shock 2, because it arguably constitutes the best aspects of all of those games (and is considered the spiritual ancestor to Bioshock since they share the same developer). Here's the rundown: The year is 2114, 42 years after the events of the original game, in which a rogue AI named SHODAN took over a space station and killed most of its inhabitants before being defeated by an unknown hacker (the protagonist). In this game, you play as a new recruit on-board a military spacecraft escorting another ship that is testing out a brand new Faster-Than-Light engine. You wake up from cryogenic suspension to find that everybody else is either dead or transformed into some sort of zombie-robot. You fight your way across the ship, pursued by the organic hive-mind infestation known as The Many and the renegade AI controlling the ship. You start off with nothing, and have to scrounge up whatever weapons and tools you can to survive, constantly under attack by horrific monsters. When I ran across my first enemy, I had a visceral fear response, as this former-human came running at me with a pipe, attempting to bash my brains in, all the while screaming "I'm Sorry!" and "Please Kill Me!". And let's not forget the spiders...

Eternal Darkness - Sanity's Requiem: Gamecube

May the rats eat your eyes!
"You too, will come to understand Fear, as I have." People accuse Nintendo of being a system for kids, but every now and then they can bust out something very adult. I love survival horror games, and this is one of the best. The story revolves around a quartet of ancient gods who rule over our universe, and an evil book known as the Tome of Eternal Darkness. Your story focuses on Alexandra Roivas, who comes across the book while investigating the murder of her uncle. The book chronicles the journeys of several individuals across history who have all encountered the ancient gods and their influence. Each chapter of the story concerns one of these individuals and takes you to various diverse time periods and locations. This game was one of the first to implement a Sanity level, in which exposure to unusual items and creatures would gradually lower your sanity, which would cause stress in the form of hallucinations and decreased combat effectiveness. I was going to show you a video of all the different sanity effects, but it's best that you discover them on your own. Though for your own sake, Avoid The Bathtub.

Advent Rising: Xbox

Eric Matthews: Savior of Mankind
There is a myth known among many races in the galaxy concerning an ancient and powerful species, prophesied to one day save the universe from a great evil. This race was called humanity. So, it's the future, and Earth has opened diplomatic relations with the Aurelians, a distance alien race that is just totally psyched to have found real live humans. The party's crashed by another alien race known as the Seekers, who are apparently the galactic powerhouse and don't want to be upstaged by some newbies, so they annihilate the planet. You are one of the last living humans in existence, and as you fight to save your species from extinction, you soon discover that the legends are true and you do possess innate powers. As the game starts you're using the standard gaming arsenal of pistols, shotguns, machine guns, and rocket launchers. But as you gain experience, you unlock various powers like energy projectiles, forcefields, and telekinesis. By the end of the game, you don't even need to pick up a weapon, because you are the weapon. In addition to some frantic, action-packed (and rather glitchy) gameplay, we get some great voice acting by Will Friedle (Batman Beyond, Kim Possible), the story is co-written by Orson Scott Card of Ender's Game fame, and the soundtrack is composed by Tommy Tallarico (and it's f*cking epic, in every sense of that word). Plans for a trilogy fell through when the game didn't sell very well, so the cliffhanger ending will likely never be resolved. This game is basically what Mass Effect would have been like if Shepard had superpowers and didn't have to fight the final boss by talking it to death.

Fallout 3: Xbox 360/PS3/PC

I don't want to set the world on fire...but I'm probably going to.
War. War never changes. I'm writing this under the assumption that you aren't familiar with the backstory of Fallout, so if you are, forgive my simplified summary. It's the post-apocalyptic future of the 1950s. A nuclear war between the USA and China has left billions dead. To survive the devastation, people took shelter inside of enormous underground vaults designed to indefinitely support human life. Little by little, humanity has attempted to reclaim the surface world, but radiation and mutation have created an environment not altogether friendly. In this story, two hundred years after the war, you are born inside one of these underground vaults (in a first-person birthing scene, no less), and you find out that your dad is Liam Neeson, which is automatically awesome. You grow up in the vault under his parentage and interact with the other inhabitants of the miniature town, living your life, until one day your dad decides to unexpectedly leave the vault and travel out into the wasteland that used to be Washington DC. You follow him, and thus begins your journey. You start with little more than the clothes on your back and attempt to scavenge what weapons and items you can to survive, while you search for your missing father. The world you are given to explore is huge, and even after 60+ hours of gameplay you're unlikely to see everything the game has to offer. I mentioned before I'm a fan of survival horror games, but for me the most important part is the Survival aspect, and this game really does make you feel like you're constantly against the wall, down to your last bullet, fighting for your life (well, if you're playing on a higher difficulty level). The game's sequel New Vegas did this even better with the addition of a Hardcore mode in which you were required to maintain yourself by eating and drinking regularly, but I still give the edge to Fallout 3 because I prefer it's Terminator-style atmosphere to NV and it's Mad Max feel.

Phantasy Star IV - The End of the Millennium: Sega Genesis

So many eyes, so many teeth...
But just as things look brighter, beyond a threshold long thought closed, a dark and very ancient evil stirs... PS4 is the final chapter in the Phantasy Star series, and my favorite RPG of all time (yes, it even beats Chrono Trigger, though it is a close fight). The story starts with Alys and Chaz, two monster-hunting mercenaries hired to clear out a nest of mutants from beneath a local university. What starts in that basement will eventually lead them across the face of the planet, and even across the solar system, in an ultimate battle against the very essence of evil for the fate of every living thing in existence. It's hard to top that in terms of scale. The story is well-written and ties in with the events of the previous games, and even features some powerful moments I remember to this day. Gameplay is simple for an RPG, as your utilize spells and special abilities to attack and disable enemies or aid your own party, and you can even combine certain abilities for combo-attacks. Definitely a gem in my collection.

Need for Speed - Most Wanted: PS2/Xbox

EVERYONE!
"You'll never hold on to the Number 1 spot. Not with me on your tail." Yeah, I do play racing games now and then. And they've never been as good as this one. If you're interested in story, you're an underground street racer looking to make a name for yourself in the city, working your way up the Blacklist - a ranked list of the most wanted street racers. In addition to earning reputation from winning races, you also have to engage and escape police pursuits. The longer the pursuit and more damage you do, the harder they chase you. Faster police vehicles, roadblocks, spike strips, helicopter pursuits, they do not give up easy. You have to drive smart to keep moving in this game. Don't let them get up against your back wheel or they'll spin you out, keep hitting the destructible landmarks to slow down your pursuers, and if you're ramming a roadblock, hit the car in the rear because the front of the car is heavier (that's where the engine is, after all). I've been on the edge of my seat during some of the more harrowing pursuits, and at one point even managed to finish a pursuit with only two wheels left on my car, having lost the others to a spike strip I failed to dodge.

Eternal Champions: Sega Genesis

Have some gore!

Yup, there's a fighting game in here too, and it's way different than what you might be used to from the genre. The backstory is thus: The universe is imbalanced. Nine of the greatest fighters throughout history have met untimely and unjust deaths. The Eternal Champion, an immortal being of good, has gathered them all together to compete in a tournament. Whoever wins will be returned to the moment of their death and given the chance to live again, and the potential to change history. Characters range from a pre-historic Caveman, a Yakuza assassin, a 1920s gangster thief, a merman, a vampire, a wizard, a cyborg, a gymnast, a bounty hunter, and still more in the sequel. What made this game great for me was the story. Rather than a standard Good vs Evil battle, none of the original cast are bad people, strictly speaking. They all have the potential to do good things, and they're just fighting for the chance to do so. The sequel game, Challenge from the Dark Side, opens the playing field with the introduction of the Dark Champion, who seeks to maintain the imbalance by introducing his own fighters, individuals whose influence will negatively change history. This ambitious story would have concluded in a 3rd and final entry in the series, but Sega canned it in favor of a new Virtua Fighter game (good job there, guys...), so we got what we got. Oh, and it's got some pretty wicked fatalities and finishers thrown in for those of you who are into that sort of thing. :D

Splinter Cell - Chaos Theory: PS2/Xbox/Gamecube/PC
Stealth action games have always appealed to me, and Splinter Cell does it better than most. Part of the Tom Clancy family of action games, it puts an emphasis on realism and tactical thinking whenever possible. You are Sam Fisher, an NSA spy operating as part of a black-ops program where a single operative - you - are inserted into dangerous, high-security situations to gather intel and eliminate threats to the United States and global interests, all without being seen or heard. Ideally, if you can get through a level without a single witness, you've done your job right. I picked this entry for multiple reasons: improved graphics, well-written story, and the inclusion of non-lethal takedowns. It's always cool to make it through a stealth mission without being detected. But doing it without a single casualty? That's professional. I like to go for zero fatality runs in games whenever possible, just as a matter of skill. I also like to bring morality into my gameplay, and I just don't like killing if I don't have to.