Those of you who know me, and many who don’t, know I’m a huge fan of Dead Space - both the games and the fiction. If you didn’t know that, I’ll refer you to my Dead Space t-shirts, action figures, and comic books. Suffice to say, I’m a fan of Dead Space and when I found out I was going to be a part of the Dead Space 2 Multiplayer closed beta, well, I just about soiled my Rig. That’s a Dead Space joke.
September 2010 Archives
As companies like PopCap and D3 Publisher continue to release gem-swapping games, I wonder if the market has a saturation point. The games are so similar that it’s hard to tell one from another without a long look. As I played Puzzle Quest 2, I tried to look at the other things they could do in the sequel to give players a reason to come back.
One of the changes I was most excited about in Puzzle Quest 2 was the improved variety of puzzles. Who knew there was so much you could do with the simple gem-swapping mechanic? The only problem is, the game goes back on that early promise of fast-paced variety; moreso as you get further into the game. The new puzzle types are, of course, still present. However, the monster battles get longer and longer. Instead of playing through five or six puzzles in a half-hour sitting you’re playing through one or maybe two.
Unlike most gamers present for the last of consoles cycles where bits mattered, I didn’t own an N64 and I never had much love for Goldeneye. In fact, I mostly saw it as the game that my friends made me lose at when I went to their houses. So, unlike so many gamers, I have very little nostalgia for the franchise, and watching 007 gam
It wasn’t exactly a surprise that Alan Wake episodes were coming; the retail box came with a code for the first downloadable episode. What is a surprise, however, is that it doesn’t feel like a cash-in or cutting-room-floor material. For those that have not yet finished Alan Wake, beware spoilers in the coming paragraphs.
The first downloadable episode of Alan Wake, called The Signal, picks up where the end of the game left off, and is presented just like the other episodes – right down to the recap at the beginning. Wake finds himself in a twisted version of Bright Falls (like it wasn’t already) where the world constantly shifts and words float in the air.
In this episode, it’s hard to tell who exactly Alan is fighting. He’s aware of what has transpired: With the “clicker” and the help of Thomas Zane, Alan has managed to free Alice from the dark presence’s clutches and even fought off the dark presence, at least for now. However, Alan is still trapped. Is it the darkness or just the trappings of his own mind? Just as in the ending sequence of the game, pertinent words hover in the air, representing items, story elements, obstacles, and even enemies. It seems almost lazy at first, but it’s used to good effect. It just reinforces that question. At one point, Alan comes up onto a clearing filled with “enemy,” “crows,” and such. Barry tells him, “Avoid those; they’re bad words! Get it?” They play into just about every aspect of the gameplay rather than being a one-note sort of thing.
The best part about the episode is that while it takes place after the end of the game, it does nothing to spoil or ruin the deliciously ambiguous ending. It would’ve been terribly easy to make the episode a prologue, a side story, or a cheap continuation that undoes the work of the previous episodes. Instead though it feels like an appropriate continuation. As mentioned before, it’s neither an easy cash-in nor is it something that was obviously removed for a reason.
There’s some basic nitty-gritty worth talking about, too. The few consistent complaints from the first wave of reviews gravitated toward the in-game advertising and the collectibles that ripped players right out of the world with their bright, gleaming videogameiness. The advertising is massively cut down from the game; there are no energizer batteries this time. Just big old boxes of generic batteries (which is clearly why they drain so quickly, right Energizer?). In fact the only advertising, while totally obvious, was done in a strangely funny way that seems to poke fun at the frequency of advertising in the earlier episodes. The collectible, this time around, is a ticking clock. Not only are they much better hidden, but they, like the hovering text, assist the question of Alan Wake’s condition. Is Alan hearing that ticking because he’s in the real world, trapped in his own mind, or is the dark presence feeding him yet more lies?
The episode, for a quick playthrough, takes a good 90 minutes. It’s right in the range of earlier segments of the game and feels like the right length. Going back through to find all the clocks and achievements will add another few hours. At $7.00 or 560 Microsoft Bucks, the price seems fair for the amount of production that went into it. Despite the amount of reused locations, everything feels fresh and things connect together differently – not to mention the huge amount of new voice acting. Of course, none of this matters to anyone that already owns the game, as new copies of Alan Wake came with a code to download the episode for free.
It’s a rare add-on that feels like it fits as well as The Signal does with Alan Wake proper. It’s a no-brainer for anyone that already owns a new copy of the game but those that have to buy the download will find it does a good job of adding to the Alan Wake story and continuing the mystery.
This weekend, my wife and I saw The American, starring George Clooney. I’ll just tell you right now, I loved it. It was exactly what I wanted coming into it and I left feeling very satisfied. Here are some of my scattered thoughts.
The trailer was almost enough to rope me in, but Roger Ebert’s review had me completely hooked. Even better, it was showing at the theatre up the street from our house, making it an excellent date-night movie for us.
This line from Ebert’s review might explain why I liked it when so many other people seem to have been bored by it: “Here is a gripping film with the focus of a Japanese drama, an impenetrable character equal to Alain Delon’s in Le Samourai…”
As many friends of mine know, I’m also a huge fan of the long-running anime/manga character Golgo 13. Golgo 13, like The American’s Jack, takes the act of assassination to a craftsman level of skill. As I watched this film, it felt a bit like what I think a Golgo 13 live-action movie would feel like, properly done. In fact, I think this movie does it so well that I don’t have any interest in seeing such a thing.
The American almost feels like it came from another time. The movie poster reinforces that. I think this movie would’ve felt more at-home in, maybe, the 60s.
One of my colleagues over at Kombo, Matt Green, tweeted at me that he felt like it was just a documentary of George Clooney’s Italian vacation. I will agree with this: The cinematography was gorgeous. This is the kind of movie that doesn’t have room for wasted shots, and it showed the natural old world beauty of the medieval Italian town Jack is staying in, without feeling like a tourist video. It only showed as much as it needed to.
For those that say the film was boring: Were we watching the same movie? The film I watched was tense from end to end. From the first moments in the snowfield to the scenes of Jack driving to the forest at the end, every moment of the film had a restrained tension to it. There was one moment I loved that showed Jack sitting in a café at night, drinking coffee. Out of the corner of his eye, he’s watching a car he knows is following him. Over the radio, the song that plays repeats “L’Americano,” over and over; he looks like an alien.
I also loved the scenes that showed Jack working on the rifle; there’s something that always gets me about seeing a truly skilled craftsman doing what they’re best at. Every move he takes, everything he does, is planned and thought-out.
I think what really throws people off is that the movie is about an assassin – not assassinating. The Bourne Humdingery is fun, but Jason Bourne isn’t exactly the most engaging character. He’s a killing machine, he’s supposed to be. The conceit of the series is that he never gets a break from running, chasing, and killing. The Bourne movies are action films of the most literal, bare variety. Which is fun; I mean, I count Hard Boiled and Shoot’em Up amongst my favorite movies.
So no, this movie is not about the killing and how many ways the character can think of to kill the endless stream of faceless enemies that follow him. The movie is about a man who is very good at what he does, but does not like it. He wants peace and trust, but those are the two things he cannot have. Of course, the themes have been done before – “one last kill” and “love is a fatal flaw” aren’t exactly new concepts. We’ve seen the themes a thousand times, but that didn’t keep this from being one of the most engaging films I’ve seen in a while.
I’ve added a Graphic Design page to the sidebar. You can see, by clicking on that link, some of the graphic work I’ve done for Kombo.com. I’m really proud of a lot of it. There’s something about being able to come up with a concept, finding the assets for it, and then making Photoshop do what I want it to to make it work. Check back occasionally for updates. To make sure the writers of the articles get their proper due, I’ve linked each image to its original story.
The newest addition…