Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Friday, March 25, 2011
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Like many new RPG’s, Dragon Age II sits atop a totem pole of DLC’s (downloadable content), expansions, and original content. From Dragon Age Origins to DAII, Bioware has kept up momentum the same way the Mass Effect and Fallout series have, which are more episodic than RPG predecessors who relied solely on peddling expansions every year until they lost support and petered out. DAII even goes so far as to reward players with items for downloading the demo, spewing in-game weapons at loyal followers like a piñata full of knives.
As far as gameplay is concerned, Dragon Age II is sleeker, cleaner, and better executed than Origins. The skill trees have been arranged into brainstorming maps, bubbles with connective lines and descriptions, so you can see exactly what skills you’ll need to get the Deathblow move you saw in the teaser. And instead of buying several rows worth of useless skills just to upgrade pyromancer or duel-weapon, you upgrade only the skills you plan on keeping, by using mini-tabs in each tree. This keeps your skillbar uncluttered, and early-level skills can still be kept effective during the later levels.
The Cleanest Gutters You’ll Ever Sleep In
Aesthetically I find DAII to be more stylized, but also more sterile than the first game, without as much clutter, stains, or gray skies. Even the poorer districts look relatively clean, like the walls have been plastered with brown wallpaper. The brightness of the character’s eyes are a new distraction. Even the dull dwarf merchant and his lackwit son have developed a severe case of spice addiction, with piercing blue or steely gray eyes that follow you around the room, even if you walk away from the monitor.
The combat system looks incredible. We may have Force Unleashed to thank for the trend in throwing henchmen around the map like a squad of armed puppets. Playing a warrior with a sword the size of a canoe is still gratifying even after the hundredth time you turn a darkspawn into strawberry jam, exploding them against a wave of steel. Rogues actually move during a fight. They dive into people knife-first, duck around enemies, and tumble through the air as they disappear behind smoke bombs. Battle is simply more kinetic; less halting when you jam special attack buttons. Instead of running up against enemies and sticking on them like gum, you bowl through them. Even mages are more energetic; using karate Kata's to propel projectiles and spells from their staffs.
Why Can’t We Be Friends?
The best way to deal with companions is to ignore them completely, or pick a party and stick with it. Companions are infuriating to win friendship points, and picking sides during their arguments leads to huge rivalries. Some of the male companions don't seem to trust you unless you make sexual advances toward them, regardless of your gender, and conferring with one ally during a tough decision can cause others to pout. Dialogues shared between them while traveling are entertaining and sometimes downright cruel. I eventually changed my party after the guard captain in my group took to outright calling the pirate woman a whore. While funny, it was far from conducive to a good working relationship. Anders specifically is a pain in the ass. His hate for Templars is so great that vengeful spirits surface within him, filling him with murderous rage and power, at the mere thought of their holy order. This wouldn't be a problem if half your early quests weren't given by Templars.
When The Dragons Come Home To Roost:
Without the narrator (the storytelling dwarf) and his foreshadowing of great and terrible things, the struggle would feel too slight. In Origins you were saving the world, rallying rival nations to defeat the archdemon, and working to overthrow a tyrant. For the lion’s share of DAII you’re a refugee and a street-tough doing errands in the city, buying bigger mansions and status for your family. I could almost hear the ‘mission completed’ music from GTA whenever I turned in a quest.
Aside from a sprinkling of dragons and darkspawn, and the piles of codex entries insisting they’re from Ferelden, DAII could have been written as its own fantasy entity. It’s a fun game to play, and it sets a new standard for skillbar/skilltree combat. But it could have been called Thug Age or Codex Age.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
- Hayward spends a paragraph or so about what made the Civil Rights Act a good thing, then spends at least thirty pages explaining how it was the worst thing to ever happen to America and how we are still trying to recover from it today.
- Every single Democratic president he spends time on comes off as incompetent, opportunistic, vain, and often actively working against the interests of the United States. By contrast, Nixon and Ford come off as well-meaning and comparatively honorable and decent men. Considering that everything I've learned previous to this suggests that Nixon and Ford were both pretty awful presidents, I was understandably surprised.
- He spends a paragraph on how the Three Mile Island incident was terrible, but then pages on how it really wasn't that bad and that we always blow it completely out of proportion.
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Thursday, March 10, 2011
2010, Time Magazine releases a list of the 200 most influential individuals. On this list are celebrities, talk show hosts, musicians, artists, orators and politicians. Barack Obama hits as number 26, and Hillary Clinton mounts the list at 4. Elton John is only ranked 163’rd, which isn’t too substantial considering his history in the spotlight and the hundreds of millions he’s raised for his AIDS foundation. But in a world populated by dynamic, influential people, only so many can be recognized. Right?
On a list voted by the readers of Time, it may be a surprise to see Snooki’s name (#16, Jersey Shore) pop up, as well as Bristol Palin (#84, Dancing With the Stars), Susan Boyle (#58, Britain’s Got Talent) and Simon Cowell (#59, American Idol). Most of us recognize these “influential” people, by face if not by name, and they grace the list alongside presidents and world leaders. They’re not physicists or astronauts, or writers, or painters or actors. None of them hold a Nobel Prize. In fact, the most notable skill-set of many of these chart topping champions is that they have no skills. They’ve contributed nothing to the community. They are Reality TV stars.
It’s hard to believe that a nation so steeped in its television roots would arrive at the entertainment level we’re on. We, who embraced the dramas of Broadway and the hotdog frenzies of baseball, the comedies of war in M.A.S.H. and late night interviews with Johnny Carson, have allowed the immature slap-fighting of The Hills, Jersey Shore, and Big Brother to reign supreme. Primetime is littered with amateur singing contests full of warbling hopefuls, and tourists halfway around the world begging the impoverished locals to help with their gameshow challenges. Today’s romance has been reduced to a leggy blonde with bleached hair and artificially whitened teeth, passing out roses to twelve potential mates in Brooks Brother’s suits; a far cry from ...never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
Before a new reality series is launched, teams of psych analysts and executives sit around tables to interview potential reality stars; not to gauge their experience or their savvy, but to determine if they fit a relatable archetype, if they have the right pathology to stir up rousing dramas in a house full of narcissists and adult children. Network executives are approached by more and more attractive youngsters who come to Hollywood with dreams of becoming reality-stars instead of movie-stars, with no more qualifications than “Because I’m me.”
I believe we’ve sold off our stages, our screens, and our microphones, and rented cheap rave clubs with cameramen sprinting after short-skirted vixens who swear like sailors and cry on command. I ask; who watches this smut? And the sad answer; I do.
The family sits down to eat dinner, and the tribal drums of survivor start beating like an army on the march. None of us reach for the remote. We’re all waiting to see who gets voted off, even though it has nothing to do with their survival skills. They may hunt, and fish, and carve canoes and spark fire with rocks, but in the end it’s all a popularity contest as trite as high school, and the ability to adapt in nature is quickly punished with excommunication. Torches get snuffed. Singers get berated by Simon Cowell, and chefs are screamed at by the red-faced Ramsay. Calling it a train wreck would be polite. It’s awkward, degrading, and brings us back to locker room hazings and playground fights.
...judging you, judging you, judging you...
“I hope J.T. wins.” My aunt tells me. She picked him as her favorite because of his honest southern drawl and his youthful face. I pick poorly. I root for the tall, proud black man, who used to work as a gravedigger before he was dropped in a hostile island environment. He braves the wilderness with nothing but a machete- and a team of cameramen, some TV network supervisors, a host, doctors, and the local experts. My pick gets eliminated 7th, not even halfway to the finish.
Great minds discuss ideas.
Average minds discuss events.
Small minds discuss people.
This quote by Eleanor Roosevelt is the best clue I have to explain reality television’s sway over the public. It’s like catching a rumor midair and putting it down in ink, to be discussed later. Episodes are unscripted yet heavily edited to give it the illusion of story and plot.
My greatest optimism, and what I hope will topple reality shows, are the popular 45min-1hr dramas that have cropped up on pay channels and Netflix. Shows like Dexter, Prison Break, Weeds, Sopranos, Deadwood, Mad Men- There’s a flavor for every pallet, and the stories are compelling and well crafted. In light of these quality series, I believe Reality TV is an adolescent phase of entertainment, a hiccup in the grand scheme of diversions. In twenty years we’ll laugh fondly at the folly of Reality TV, like we do spandex-clad pro wrestlers. Soon we won’t remember who the hell Snookie was, or why we thought she was more influential than Ghandi.
Thursday, March 3, 2011
I’ve been a fan of Kane and Lynch since the release of their first game in 2007, and not because of the game itself. The original Kane and Lynch was jerky, unwieldy, and awkward as a cover-based shooter. But it wasn’t the gameplay I was impressed with. It was the characters.
Long has it been a successful formula to cast male characters as generic, brown-haired ruffians, with muscles the size of cinderblocks and clefts in their chins. Kane and Lynch abandon this formula with a sadistic glee. The crime duo is crazed, loathsome, and thuggish, with receding hairlines and weak jaws, often wearing cheap suites that look tailored for loan sharks, or stained wife-beaters.
Dog Days reunite the lovable brutes after the events of the first game, in the streets of Shanghai, where the accidental assassination of Big Boss’s daughter pits our anti-heroes against the toughest gangs in town, the cops, some spec-ops ninjas, and pretty much anyone with a gun and a beef. In keeping with the first game, Kane and Lynch tear apart the city in a hale of bullets, all the while cursing and muttering like sociopaths.
The controls and gameplay are smoother this time around, although ducking cover to cover can still be awkward. Many times I found my character standing up in the middle of a gunfight instead of crawling against a wall, or jumping behind a splintered stick of post when I was diving for the safety of an iron stove. Practically everything onscreen is considered ‘cover’ for better or for worse.
No, that splintered beam won't stop a 12ga slug.
God help you if you actually get shot into unconsciousness, since the countdown before final death is dependant on button-mashing. While your ally searches for you, a health-bar appears with a prompt to tap the square button repeatedly. This false comfort only marginally slows the flow of blood. The icon at the top of the screen indicating your position to your teammate is the size of a chevron-shaped gnat, so unless you fell into his lap after being sprayed by a mac-10, he may as well pencil-in the funeral on his calendar. The difficulty of finding your friend amongst a sea of tattooed Asian bodies is balanced slightly with the instantaneous recovery time. A quick slap on the back of the head and you’re ready to take more bullets.
My biggest gripe about Dog Days is almost a deal-breaker, especially after a few hours of playthrough. Large portions of the game, mostly early on, take place during a protracted chase through sweatshops and dingy ghetto apartments. The levels are dirty, dank, and fitting. One impoverished residential building looks like the next. And the rooms are built with split paths, corridors, and byways, to encourage players to part ways and flank enemies. Unfortunately, this also turns every level into a massive freaking maze. Even if your buddy manages to navigate through the dilapidated labyrinth and locate the exit, checkpoints require both players to activate the next stage. So you’re left chasing an ally-icon, like a rat following the vague whiff of cheese.
Everything Can-Shaped Explodes.
The action is long and repetitive; fighting the same kinds of enemies in different hats with progressively bigger guns, but that’s the name of the game where shooters are concerned. The best innovations to the Co-op have been directly ripped off from Army of Two, like obstacles that require both players to trigger. Step-jumps, heavy two-man doors, etc. Give Kane and Lynch a pair of skulls masks and some steroids and it would be Army of Two: Unwashed Psychopath Edition.
As far as mindless destruction goes, Kane and Lynch do their job well. Like the GTA series, the player need not concern themselves with doing the right thing or being a good person. Everyone is a target. If you feel like some destructive fun that’ll make you need a shower afterward, rent Dog Days.