Follow @Mr_McCrackelz

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Borderlands 2: Terror at Digistruct Peak!

Cer0 y Salvadore.

The best game of last year that didn't have "walking dead" in the title is getting another upgrade on September 3rd. The "Vault Hunter Pack 2" gets you eleven shiny new levels (two whole maxed out skills and change!) as well as a new slaughterdome called digistruct peak. The twist is you can overpower the enemies at digi-peak so that you can never out level the challenge.

Unfortunately, the season pass ran out after 4 humongous new chapters and the last vault hunter pack, so even if you picked that up this is still gonna cost you $5... but I think we both know you want it. Gearbox has been so good to us already, if they were passing the hat around for nothing I'd think about it.

The Details:

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Orange is the New Black Review.

They say entertainment is still a boy's club. I say they're right, with Oxygen and Lifetime being  intellectually and artistically insulting failures. Netflix's OTNB tries to turn that tide and in this white male's opinion (in case that's not obvious) it succeeds magnificently. You may have heard of Jenji Kohan from her work running Weeds. I liked Weeds, sure the plot got away from them once they moved out of Agrestic, but I think we're all bored of that fact by now.

The question is, is OITNB a step forward, or a leap? It's a leap guys, the hype is real, and this is literally the best new dramedy I've seen years. Years people. I can't count the ways a show like this could have stumbled. It could have been preachy, it could have been racist, it could have been too depressing, it could have been ridiculous. It... actually might be racist, (again, white male here) but she hasn't actually watched the show and in my opinion it doesn't push an agenda hardly at all. The show is prison, it dosn't push any idea or opinion on the viewer. It shows what it is and how people deal with it, you can choose to commiserate with them or not. It's your call. Even the protagonist's role as a "good guy" is up in the air by the end of it. But I suppose you want to know what all goes on in there?

I guess lunchrooms are emotionally traumatic everywhere... not just space camp.

So the deal is Piper Chapman played by Taylor Shilling was a bored, privileged, wasp who had a lesbian fling with a heroin trafficker. Years later her ring gets busted and Piper gets dragged down with her, right as her male fiancee (Jason Biggs) proposed. True love can weather any storm, right? He knew all about her criminal and bi-sexual past, right? It's only 15 months... right?  While the love triangle that forms is pretty damn good, the show slowly evolves into a spectacular ensemble so addicting and separate from Chapman, I sometimes had to go "Oh... right, she's still in this, she's the lead."   

You got Kate Mulgrew as a temperamental Russian Chef who runs both the kitchen and the local smuggling operations; Laverne Cox as the most 3 dimensional trans gender character I've ever seen, Taryn Manning as a black toothed, hypocritical, evangelist, murderer, and Uzu Aduba as "Crazy Eyes." Oh my god, crazy eyes. She's the break out star here, though her arc ends pretty early on, her comic relief through the rest of the season are all highlights. 

Trust me, those eyes get so much crazier.

It's important to know that this isn't Weeds. This isn't a straight up comedy, though it is pretty damn funny. It's also as grim and depressing as a show about prison would need to be. I didn't want to binge watch every one of them, as there was only so much of Warden Healy I could take. But again, it never felt like I was being preached too, but it wasn't like a documentary. It felt like scripted honesty, if that makes sense. That while there was some artistic license, the truth was really important to the writers.

But I don't want to give you the impression it's the end-all greatest show out there right now, it's defiantly got issues. Character decisions stop making a lot of sense near the end, inmates start to seem more "buddy-buddy" than they realistically would, and a few characters become CAR-toonishly evil just for the sake of drama. But it doesn't derail anything. If I'm being honest, I only really noticed it in retrospect and good, god, damn, the season cliffhanger is a nutpuncher. Thankfully the second season is already bought and paid for so... 'phew.

Orange is the New Black is both edgy and honest without seeming desperate or smug. That's amazing, and you should give it at least three episodes before bailing on it. I know it's not for everyone, but I think everyone should at least give it a chance.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

There's goddamned ants coming out of my goddamned walls.

I don't have time to deal with this right now. Gross, I don't even have any food in this room. Start playing by the rules you... you ANTS!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Chinese Military Claims Pacific Rim is "American Propaganda."

Crimson Typhoon by Ali3n.

So it turns out Pac Rim did much better in China then it did over here. Great, it's a good movie and Del Toro can never have enough box office love as far as I'm concerned. But apparently The PLA Daily (the Chinese Stars and Stripes) claims that all Hollywood movies are a bald faced plot against the people's republic, specifically Del Toro's latest and greatest.

To be fair; this isn't a main stream publication, also it's worth noting that while Chinese characters in PAC Rim do get a really cool robot, they barely have any screen time at all. Military news is spin for the rest of the world's armed forces too, so keep that in mind before lighting your human rights torches.

 That being said, it is interesting to see their military react to American mainstream culture being wildly accepted by theirs. Would the Stars and Stripes run an article like this if a Chinese movie was #1 at our box office? I'd like to think not. As depressing as the presence of Rupert Murdoch is in our media, I'd take 20 of him over the state of the Chinese press. In much the same way thieves think everyone steals, I think China believes the rest of the world is waging a hearts and minds campaign against their actual propaganda machine.

Maybe... or maybe I'm full of it. You should all see Pacific Rim, though. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

The World's End Review: A Toast to a Life Half Lived.

Before I get all critical, I'd like to plop this clip from the end of The Wire on your face. If you always meant to get around to it, then skip on down, it's easily the best monologue the show ever had. But for the curious, this is essentially what The World's End is all about:

Sh*t just got real up in this action comedy review.

The work of Edgar Wright holds a very special place in my movie lover's heart. I've seen the best of the best. Citizen Kane, The Man who would be King, Schindler's List, classics new and old. But my favorite movie, the one I've watched more than twice as many times as any other, is Hot Fuzz. I love it to pieces. It's so funny, so well constructed, acted, and executed. To me, it's the perfect movie. Come at me film critics, and to a lesser extent Shaun of the dead fans (still great, but not as great), I will defend the Fuzz to the bitter, bloody end.

Did the World's End live up to it? I don't see why that's necessary. I can critique it without holding it to my single highest standard for film making. But if, hypothetically, I did view it as a contender to my all time favorite film, did it live up to it? Yes. Yes it f**king did.

No one from this day forth will be able to doubt the acting chops of either Pegg or Frost. They are no longer just talented comedians because they both turn in spectacular performances that would be praise worthy even if they weren't a complete 180 from past roles. Pegg in particular stuns as Gary King, a developmentally arrested 40 year old who sees a failed attempt at an all night pub crawl as the high point of his entire life. In an attempt to recapture that feeling literally decades too late, he corrals his old pals together for one more shot at the infamous "Golden Mile." Gary's an addict. Not a nice guy who just needs someone to believe in him (or hollywood) addict, but a conniving and unbearable lost cause.

STOP! the name of loooooooove.
The simple fact the film doesn't collapse under the weight of such a downer of  a lead character, comedy or not, is a major miracle. Pegg owns every aspect of Gary, he's simultaneously pathetic and magnetic. You roll with his bull, just like his friends do, because you just can't look away. Frost finally gets to be the straight man and shows a much more dramatic side than I ever thought I'd see from him. He used to be Gary's best friend but (dot dot dot, ellipses) I'm not gonna spoil it for you here. It's a damn good bombshell.  

But what of the sci-fi action half of the movie? This is a Wright joint, isn't it? That should answer your question. It raises a worthy philosophical conundrum that could work divorced from Gary's story, but manages to mix together to make both greater than the sum of thier parts. Again, it's a Wright move, of course that's what happened.

The usual meticulous details abound, the pubs all foreshadow plot points and blink and you'll miss the green cornetto. There's some great cameos from the other films as well as another James Bond.   Suffice it to say, you're gonna want to see it more than once. Oh, and see if you can guess Bill Nighy's role.

I'm at a loss of what else to say, it's a great movie from a great trilogy, there's really nothing else to discuss. Maybe you've heard the ending is weird or uncomfortable. Yeah, I guess it is, but it's still ballsy and I respect the hell out of it. Just go in with an open mind and don't expect the lighter endings of Shaun and Fuzz.

But uh... I've already said too much.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Bureau Review: A Critical Conspiracy.

 "You are not the first civilization to resist us... you will not be the last to thank us."

I'm sure you've all seen the reviews of The Bureau and by now I'm sure you think you have a good idea about the game's shortcomings. For the most part, they're right. This thing has been stewing in the crock pot for nearly four years and what's on the market should have been more polished and professional than what I just played.

It was branded with the name "XCOM." A brand many well reasoned critics believe houses the greatest video game, period. After Enemy Unknown barnstormed metacritic last year, expectations were high to say the least. The Bureau does not reach those expectations. You can't research equipment or build facilities. The permadeath system is as easy to exploit as simply reloading a checkpoint. The frame rate on the PC is... less than ideal. If these details are deal breakers, then I can't help you.

But if not, then please, hear me out. I rarely take exception to other critic's reviews, reviews being subjective and all. But Dan Stapleton's and Jim Sterling's take on TB (which is an awful abbreviation) don't seem as critical to me as they are willfully dismissive of what this game does accomplish.

"Sir! Could you please stop making "pew pew" sounds with your fingers and fire your weapon... sir."

The combat. the combat is wonderful. It's so good it made me rethink my opinion on another tactical shooter. I'm talking Mass Effect, a game I've played over and over to bits. You see, I don't just play one. To me, 2 and 3 were expansion packs. I love those games, but TB noticed some slack in it's fighting style and fixed it. The ME squad mates really didn't matter much. They would help out sometimes, but their cool down rates were never fast enough to rely upon and I only used them to mop up my own missed headshot screw ups. They were well written bangles I'd only switch out for a change of banter. TB is different. You. Need. These. Guys.

The first couple missions you don't have much to work with, but once you and your motley crew get a couple of powers to bounce off each other, things get much more interesting. There's a great balance across all four classes and lots of different ways to level em' up. Do you want your engineer to have a rapid fire laser cannon for suppression, or slower plasma rockets for damage? Do you want a soldier with a plasma bomb, or a soldier that can buff anyone with a couple bars of shielding?

After tooling around with every class (soldier, sniper, support, engineer) None of them are weak links and they all play off each other brilliantly. For example: my support weakens a muton's armor, buffs my sniper, and said sniper calls down an artillery strike on the poor f**k. Dead muton. The cool down times are also very well adjusted for the sweet spot that keeps you from spamming anything, but they always seem to reload when you need it most. I had a blast with nearly every tactic and squad load out I tried and that has never happened before with any game I've played.

"For the last time, I'm not John Slattery."
But what about the setting? The story? The dialogue? Well... it ain't Mass Effect, that's for sure. The facial animation is all right, and the script as well as the acting are above average at worst. Again, this is far from the likes of Bioware, but better than Skyrim if that makes sense. It's the Bureau's sense of time and place that validates it's candidacy in my library as a hidden gem instead of a nice try. The early 60's America perverted by a modern take on Sci-Fi architecture is fully realized and haunting. I am a man who enjoys his fedoras, I can't pull them off personally, but I love anything that can put them somewhere that makes them feel heroic instead of hipsterish.

Do you want to give a martian a face full of buckshot while wearing a dope suit and tie? I did, it felt great. But extra kudos must be given for the last mission I had that suit. I had to take on a drop ship, and the sucker blew my hat off. But it was ok, a button prompt let me pick it back up. I was regulated to a cable knit sweater for the rest of the game... that was pretty disappointing, but you can paint it (and all your squad's clothes) any color you want. Oh, and the randomly generated squaddie names are rockwellianly delightful.

So I get a lot of people were disappointed you couldn't research and build new equipment. I agree, how hard would a currency system of any kind be to put in a four year old game? To most it seemed to render the massive XCOM base pointless. An "appropriate metaphor" for TB's unfulfilled ambitions. It's certainly not as engaging as EU's custom built command center, but neither is it a lifeless barbie dream house. Between missions you can wander around and listen to manic scientists, terrified soldiers, indifferent engineers, and paranoid tac comms banter with the best of them. There are some great little conversations if you're willing to give em' a listen. There's also a handful of side quests in the base, that in turn, unlock dispatch missions. Those help level up your off duty squaddies and earn new backpack mods. EU just made em' sit in the barracks twiddling their thumbs, for the record.  

Dope. Ass. Jumpsuit and tie.
But the pièce de résistance is the finale. Just when you think they're gonna wrap it up with a BS cliffhanger, the plot twists down a winding 2 hour road leading a fitting conclusion. The last fire fight in particular broke me over it's knee 3 or 4 times... in a good way. It wasn't just a clown car scenario, it was five smartly structured waves of all the toughest enemies that demanded every trick in my bag. I was happy with what I'd seen before that room, but now I'm seriously head over heels.

It's true I wanted to like this game going in, maybe that colored my expectations too much. But I've tried to like games this much before, I try to like all games I wind up playing. But I wasn't this happy with Dead Space 3 (very good, wore out it's welcome) or Tomb Raider (really liked it once... couldn't beat it again for some reason) or even Guacamelee (way, way, way too short). In fact, my working title was going to be "The Bureau Review: I want to Believe." But no, The Bureau was just too damn fun for it to simply be a guilty pleasure. I think the critical reception was uniformly unfair, I'm not sure why. I'm not saying anyone's opinion is "wrong" there are no such things. But I hope TB finds it's audience, it certainly found me.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

So many things... so little time

A slightly different red scare.

I'm watching Orange is the New Black, I'm playing The Bureau, I finished Gone Home, and Breaking Bad continues to reach my wildest expectations. So much to love, so little time to write. I love writing this blog, even if no one even reads it, but I'm looking for work so applications take precedence over reviews.

But for the record, I love the Bureau. It's wonky and it was clearly rushed out the door, but the period detail and old fashioned sci-fi flair is wonderful. I'm thinking the critics who are most against it are rightfully sick and tired of sub-par knock offs of the xcom franchise. But my take is they're being much too hard on what is to me, a balanced and invigorating tactical shooter. I'd actually take it over mass effect's combat, but more on that later...

Damn, I just stepped in it huh?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Last Guardian is still in "development." I'm still not buying it.

This picture is 6 years old.
"It's under earnest development" swears Futimo Ueda. That's odd... I mean, why ever, ever, bring this up again until you have some marketing material? A trailer, a demo, anything? There are a few things in the gaming world I'm glad I'm not a fan of. I mean, I liked Half Life 2 and loved Colossus, but I thank god I never actually looked forward to successors to either.

Sony won't let this one off the hook just yet, and that's something. Not much, but not nothing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The 15 Greatest Performances in a Video Game.

 Parts 1-3
Danny Wallace and his BAFTA for Thomas was Alone... but I didn't play it so he's not on the list.

Film and video games have so much in common it's easy to compare them side by side. But you really shouldn't, there are vast, vast, differences between the two just in production alone to where they are completely different creative endeavors.

But they both tell stories and they both hire actors. Because of this, its tempting to look at something like Mad Men and then at God of War and think the interactive art form is doomed to languish in over acted melodrama. Not that GOW is "poorly" acted, but that Mad Men is just so much more subtle and character driven. The comparison is bullsh*t, but plenty of film critics make it.

Can I come up with a performance in the interactive setting that could rival something like the years long arc of Don "Dick Whittman" Draper? Of course not, almost the entire production of that show is there to serve his growth as a character as well as the rest of it's ensemble. A TV production has never had to spend a fourth of it's budget on bug testing, is what I'm saying. A great role in a video game isn't impossible, but its almost never the focal point of a project.

Even so, there are several I've come across over the years that stand out to me as strides in the right direction. Great acting is possible in a video game and here are several examples to prove it, 15 of the best performances I've ever seen in a game.

15. Barry Dennen as Dean Domino (New Vegas)

"Stye's not something you just change friend."
Unknown Artist.
I love New Vegas, that's old news, but you'd be surprised to know how close I came to keeping this game off the list. It's one of the best written games I've ever played, but no actor ever stands out. Danny Trejo and Felicia Day play great characters... but the performances never overly impress. That is, except a zombified 50's lounge singer, jealously clinging to a centuries old revenge plot with a passion for explosives and murder.

The material Dennen reads is interesting, mainly because it feels like it was made with a different approach in mind. Random bits of era slang sound like they were made for a more American, Dean Martin, persona (wonder where I got that idea). Instead, Dennen plays him like an plotting, serpentine, David Niven.

I don't have to tell anyone who saw Jesus Christ: Superstar how much fun this guy has with villains, he's clearly having a good time. And the enthusiasm shows in the reams and reams of dialogue even a supporting character has to speak in this game. But the best aspect of his performance is how if the player chooses to help the guy out, IE, not abandon him while you use him as a distraction. Then listen to his long winded stories, you can soften him up into a kinder and more repentant man in the end. I was devastated I couldn't take him back with me to the Mojave.

14. Sydney Unseth as Little Eleanore Lamb (Bioshock 2)

 It's true you rarely find many children in video games, and its even rarer to see them asked to play a character that has any dimension other than, "hey, look, we made child character models!" Bioshock 2 filled that void while answering the only question I had left about Rapture, who were the little sisters?

Doomed as a pawn in her mother's dangerous political master plan; you follow her life in audio logs and hear a charmed performance by Sydney Unseth as she playfully rebels against her mother, and is eventually swallowed whole by Rapture's steady decent into anarchy.

Little Elenore's are, to me personally, the best audio diaries in the game and single handedly make it's case for existence, as some call it a cash in by 2k. If that is the case... it's the greatest cash in ever made.

13. Michael Beattie as Mordin Solus (Mass Effect 2)

It's one thing to read Mass Effect's cumbersome codex and know that Salarians rarely live past their forties. It's another to see a beaten down middle aged biologist scooting around a room, dropping unimportant words, while rambling about some Cerberus mercs that just shot their way into his clinic.
"Sad Mordin" by Kitao-Chan

I liked talking to my crew in every game, but I found myself just hanging on this guy's every word. Every time I did anything I'd rush back to Mordin's lab to see if he had anything to say about it.

I didn't really give a damn who, or what, Salarians were until I met Mordin. He was a gem. Not only did he have comic timing like a Swiss watch "Target flammable, or... enflammable. Forget which, doesn't matter."

But his story arc is the best in the trilogy and my personal favorite. Now, the nerdier fans may already know Beattie was re-cast in 3 by William Salyers. I thought he was good, very good even, but I came to the dance with Beattie, and he gets the spot... had to be him.

12. Ellen McClain as GlaDOS (Portal)

Wanna kill 10 minutes?

Worth it.

What else is there to say about GlaDOS that hasn't already been said? Does she carry both games on her shoulders? Yes. Is she one of, if not the greatest, evil AI character(s) of all time? Absolutely. But though it may seem like her lines are just fed through an auto reader, there's an actor behind the voice, and her effort must be praised.

Drollery. Its a fine art with very few masters, Bill Murray among them. I'd like to float McClain's candidacy. Her great con is that she only sounds like a robot, her human inflection and deliberate sarcasm is so slight, it takes a few listens to appreciate. The auto-tune screams are just a bonus.

11. Nolan North as Nathan Drake (Uncharted 1-3)

You sir, are a living, breathing, delight.

What is it about Indiana Jones? Why is he so universally loved and iconic? Naughty Dog thought they had a pretty good idea how to answer those questions. Chief among them, the casting of Nolan North, the video game world's favorite character actor. Drake put him on the map and for a very good reason. He's instantly lovable. You all want to get a beer with Nathan Drake, admit it.

But that's not the only thing at play. It took people years to realize that Nathan Drake has racked up a kill count to rival Pol Pot. But he never feels like a cold blooded murderer. Why? The writing and storytelling play a central role, sure, but I think it's because North's performance isn't just shackled to cut scenes. 

His running commentary in game are the most immersive as any I've ever heard. Early on in Among Thieves, when I found an assault rifle for the first time, I whispered to myself "all riiiiight." When I equipped it, Drake said the exact same thing in the exact same way. I put my controller down, stood up, and applauded. His reaction to the world around him emulates the player's feelings so effectively it practically breaks the 4th wall. I've never seen anything like it before or since, and for that, he's on the list.

10. James Arnold Taylor as Ratchet (Ratchet and Clank)

There's a reason this series has endured as long as it has. It's charming and witty in ways too few games attempt to be in the AAA space, though I struggle to call any of it's installments "great".

But I'd wager it never strived for greatness and it never needed to, in the end we all just wanted to see what those two were going to do next. The writing was always pretty strong, I've mentioned that, but it's Taylor's performance that brings it all home.

The guy's a natural. He's effortlessly charming, and he makes it look so easy. Too many games get tired after a 3rd installment, but these guys are truckin' past 8 and there's a feature film on the way. 

With Taylor in the lead, obviously.

9. Courtnee Draper as Elizabeth (Bioshock Infinite)

So folks have finally turned against Infinite's glowing initial reception. They call it stale, repetitive, half baked and pretentious. I humbly disagree with all those charges, but there is at least one thing we can all agree on: Elizabeth was everything she was promised to be. Draper just brings it. She may be a classic, wide eyed, Disney princess for the first few hours, but never too much of one. There's a believability to her naivety that makes her endearing... instead of unbearable.

Things change, her character darkens, yet she still retains enough of herself to help recall the long way her arc has come. Her evolution is long and gradual and Draper's performance echoes it to a tee. Did I mention she can sing like a motherf**ker? Well she can, and it's just another way she goes the extra mile to make Infinite one the standout titles of the longest generation in history. No matter what they say.

8. Alan Blumenfeld as Boyd Cooper (Psychonauts)

Do me a favor, and see how long you can watch this:

God, I love Boyd.

And you know what? I love this game. This made my summer in 2005 and I've looked back on it fondly ever since. The standout performance for this game was hotly contested as I've decided on only using one example per game (my apologies to Armin Shimerman). It was a tight race with Richard Horvitz in third and David Kaye second. But I knew it had to be this guy. The standout character, in the standout chapter, of a standout game. And thus Boyd Cooper is #8.

 I never gave much thought to what the inside of a paranoid-schizophrenic man's head would look like, but now I can't imagine it looks like anything other than Boyd's neighborhood. Now far be it from me to call anyone's crippling mental illness hilarious, but Blumenfeld's tireless energy sells every line so well, it's only a matter of time before I wind up standing around in his house listening to the greatest random generated dialogue ever recorded. That video doesn't even have all of it.  

I'm not the first to bemoan Psychonaut's middling sales, that's a reality I've learned to deal with a long time ago. But people in the industry played and loved it... so why isn't Blumenfeld at least half as exposed as Nolan North? That's crazy.

7. Dameon Clarke as Handsome Jack (Borderlands 2)

Lintufriikki? I am in your debt.
The answer to the question of who the greatest villain in video game history used to be so simple for me. But then Dameon Clarke just had to come along and make my life that much more complicated. Borderlands 2 is a great game I've played for hundreds* of hours and it's easy to forget his impact as you get further and further away from the main story. The side quests are uniformly delightful and take up the vast majority of playing time, it's then easy to think of Jack as a secondary character. But no, not only is he the primary antagonist, I'm gonna say it's his game. Clarke owns it. The biggest of it's many laugh out loud moments are all his.

He is, by a wide margin, the funniest delusional sociopath ever written. And thanks to more than a few extra wrinkles in Clarke's performance, one of the best ever acted. There comes a time, about 3/4 of the way through to the end- 
-where you threaten the life of his only daughter. A lesser game would have had him taunting and cursing the player character, never reasoning with him/her in a way a three dimensional father would. And to be fair, that is what he spends most of his time doing. But right before you kill her, after you've taken down every obstacle he could throw in your way... he begs you to stop. More importantly, you believe him. For that, I applaud both Clarke and Antony Burch (he wrote the thing). 

6. Jennifer Hale as "Fem" Shepard (Mass Effect)

Fem-shep by Muju

18%. Less than 18% of the millions of people that have played Bioware's opus have even experienced one of the best things about it: the female Commander Shepard. This is an issue that belongs solely to the interactive medium. When two actors are playing the exact same part, someone's going to edge ahead. Not to dump on Mark Meer, who did a damn fine job of "Male-shep" and is a seriously funny dude, but bluntly put... Hale is just that much better.

Not that Shepard is an easy task for any actor. He/She is essentially two completely different characters in three humongous games. The line between the "do gooder" and the "loose cannon" can get blurred. Unfortunately, Meer could read both roles a little too similarly and the impact wouldn't hit as hard.

This rarely happened in Hale's case. Her renegade rarely raised her voice, because if her ruthless reputation truly preceded her, she wouldn't have to. Her Paragon was also suitably different. Sweeter isn't the right word, hopeful is. Hale had a world weariness about her white knight. Someone who saw the best in people, but would take care of business before being fooled twice.

The percentage above is a travesty. An artistic insult on par with How Green was my Valley?** I feel a few years down the line, Fem-Shep will get her due, but at least we have a female protagonist as relateable as her right now. It's not like having two lead characters was a cheaper, less complicated decision for Bioware. Think about that before calling them sellouts.

*seriously, just... hundreds. I'm not well.

** Chew on that, film nerds! 


5. J.K. Simmons as Cave Johnson (Portal 2)

Hands down, the biggest laugh I've ever gotten from a game is from a tirade from this man about lemon grenades. Simmons is one of the film industry's most beloved character actors for a very good reason, he's just that good. Sure, maybe he's been pigeon holed into the no nonsense, delusional authority figure. But here he does his best work as Aperture Science's CEO.

His character arcs perfectly as you delve deeper and deeper into Aperture's tumultuous financial past, as Cave's once hopeful eccentricity decays (hilariously) into furious desperation. He may be almost exclusively played for laughs, but there is depth to Cave if you're willing to dig for it. So for rolling up his sleeves for a video game when he could just as easily looked down on the medium, Simmons has both my respect as well as the #5 spot.

Seriously, it's worth buying the whole game for the combustible lemons rant.

4.Troy Baker as Kanji Tatsumi (Persona 4)

I have a very strange relationship with Japanese games. I have loathed games Americans have loved, (bayonetta) I have loved gamed Americans have loathed (FFXII). But here I am totally on board with the consensus, P4 was wonderful. A good yarn, with better characters, and even better gameplay. But aspects about it made me squirm. The transparent way your "girl" friends would fall head over heels for you if you just nodded your head at them enough was off putting, but give me another VG romance that isn't just as shallow, right? Even still, Rise and Yukiko got on my nerves like nobodies business. Atlus tried their damnedest to make them as 3 dimensional as they could, but their roles as stereotypical objects of affection remained painfully obvious.

So it shouldn't surprise that a tie came down between Baker and Danielle Judovit's Chie. But the match went to Baker, because not only is this the game that put him on the map, (I'm pretty sure) but because  Kanji is still the best developed "gay" character I've yet seen.

His sexual confusion is not glossed over in ways a western game might try. His boss battle is, for lack of more tactful phrasing, the gayest I've ever seen. But enough about Kanji on paper, what makes Baker's translation so damn special? Believable anger. It's harder than it sounds and this guy keeps that junk up for a solid 60 hour game. But when it comes to just hanging out with the guy, Baker touches him up with a lovable, twitchy mumble and that grew on me so much, I heard his voice even when the dialogue had switched to text. It was the PS2 after all, dvd's can't hold everything. But they could hold enough.

3. Dawn Olivieri as Lucy Kuo (inFamous 2)

 Again, this was another close call. It's script was great, it's acting was better, and it remains the best open world game I've ever played. It's hard nailing down what set Kuo apart from nearly every actor on this list, but I'm going to use the word "professional." There's an air to her reading (and I'm talking about all the leads here, sans Nix) that made me hopeful. Maybe She wasn't that into it, maybe she'd rather be back on Californication, but when she was reading Kuo I believed every syllable that fell out of her mouth.

Let's be honest, the character doesn't give her much to work with, and I like how she only winds up being a "friend" to Cole instead of a side of a half baked love triangle with Nix. She reacts to getting super powers like a real person. Turning into a flying ice sculpture is every bit as cool as it is a kafka-esque nightmare, and Olivieri mines that angle for all it's worth. No one talks about this game anymore, much less her performance. Than makes me angrier than I thought it would, so it puts her place much father up the list than I'd thought it'd be. If you haven't played IF2, you really should.

2. Michael Mando as Vass (Far Cy 3)

Far Cry 3 tried. It tried really hard. It wanted so badly to be a satire of white man's burden, that when the writer was called out for actually enforcing that stereotype, the author went into denial. But making a game is not the singular work of one writer. It takes an army of artists and mathematicians; and in the case of Mando, an actor that seizes the game's potential where almost no one else saw it. FC3 actually has a fine couple of actors, Buck the history rapist and that CIA guy come to mind, but Mando goes for broke and acts like he always knew he was going into the video game history books for this one. He did.

If you played the game you know it suffered the same issue as the original Bioshock. Once Ryan died, the central conflict deflated considerably. I'd make the argument that Fontaine was just as interesting and if the game's economy hadn't also collapsed in Olympus Heights... crap, I'm rambling. Vaas doesn't really arc and his role is sidelined into popping up and monologuing during set piece moments. But he's so good at it I don't care.

I hope this is a wake up call for all talented character actors rejected by the Hollywood machine. There is another way to get noticed.

1. Ashley Johnson as Ellie (The Last of Us)

 Ellie was more than a good character in a good game. The world of the Last of Us scared me in ways I hadn't expected. Not a jumpy "what's around the corner?!" scared, but a "This isn't gonna end well" kind of scared. But it's like Ellie somehow knew that and would repeatably break into bad ass guitar riffs, or spectacularly awful jokes, just when I was ready to put the game down over battle fatigue.

Just listening to her say she's starving took me back to my own childhood. That's exactly how I said it too: "I'm stAAAAAArvingggggggg." Johnson either knows a lot about children or everything about herself. The amount of character and personality she shoved into her ambient dialogue is going to change industry practices. Ellie and Joel are high water marks now, a high point people will be chasing for years. She one of only three bunches of wire frames and polygons to make me cry, but the most interesting thing is she's the only one of those three on the list.

Sometimes the writing is what pushed me over the edge, in this case it was both. Johnson earned the living hell out of the #1 spot and I think she'll hold it for years to come... but I'm willing to be surprised.  

So there. This took me way too long to finish and that's on me. I had a really hard time tamping down who would go where and I didn't want to brush off anyone with simple blurbs. But yeah, in the future I'm only doing fives or tens.

I broke down and got Gone home... and the Bureau.

I want to love this game as much as I love this poster.
So Gone Home is fascinating. I never thought it wouldn't be, but come on, $20? Ludicrous, but art needs it's patrons and make no mistake, Gone Home is a work of art. I'd love to explain how it's a work of art, but surprise is it's sharpest tool and if you see it's best bits coming it will leave you cold.

But I'll say this, the game has more than a passing resembalence to Clue and in the place in the house where that becomes obvious, you'll find a non liable board game. It's brilliant. If you want to show off how far interactive story telling has come to the non believers in your life, this is exactly what you've been waiting for.

In other splurging news, I said I'd wait for reviews to pick up The Bureau and the fact that the pre release day was embargoed was a very, very, bad sign. Destructiod and IGN confirmed my worst fears, but I don't care. I think there's good in here some are refusing to see.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Games for Windows Live Market Place is Dead.

Unknown artist.

On August 22, one of the most irritating aspects of pc gaming is taking it's first step into the grave. I have never been a fan. It has thrown identification and update conniption fits that had kept me out of playing it's games for hours. A mobius strip of "game needs to update" "update failed" "game needs to update" finally drove me away from Bioshock 2 for good.

And yes, it's multiplayer really wasn't that bad. So good riddance to bad rubbish, Microsoft's half hearted drm service has been falling a part for years and they honestly should have thrown in the towel a lot earlier.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Gone Home looks great for $10... but it's 20.

Gone Home is exactly what this industry needs right now. Grounded drama that couldn't exist in any other medium. The reviews are through the roof and I can't wait to play it once the market falls on it a bit.

I just picked up guacamelee for less than $15 and I'll run through that 7 hour game at least twice. So while Gone Home may stick with me for years as a breakthrough in interactive storytelling... I'm not entirely sure why it costs so much. There aren't any character models that I can figure from the trailer or reviews and it clocks in at around 3-5 hours.

Forgive my production naivete, but what does this game offer that a free source mod can't? It's the same reason I never bought Dear Ester, I'm sure it's great, but it just doesn't seem worth it. But when I do get around to Gone home I hope I eat those words.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Breaking Bad, Final Season Premiere Review...*sob*.

This is it folks, the home stretch. The end is nigh, the curtain's calling and the fat lady's singing. Breaking Bad is over now. It's all in the can and I'm sittin' here, wagging my tail patiently, for AMC to dole out the last few chapters of one my my favorite stories ever told on film.

I have a laundry list of burning questions about how this is gonna wind down. I've long since given up on predicting anything about where it's gonna go and I'd much rather be surprised than see all those questions answered in ways I'd always assumed they'd be. This is not Lost, BB has earned a difficult and ambiguous ending, but that doesn't mean they can't twist their ankle at the finish line. So these next few weeks are gonna be rough for me.

But enough about my personal feelings and tired ending metaphors, how was the premiere? For those who haven't seen it yet and you're just dipping your toe into general critical reception, it's good. Really... really good. But I'm looking to roll up my sleeves and spoil this whole thing, so catch up if you aren't and meet me back here in 45 minutes.

If not, this GIF's gonna ruin your whole day.

Not kidding around here...


...Wow. 6 whole years of tension, sprung in an instant. I've always loved how separate Hank's stories were from Walt's. It was never truly a "cat and mouse" thing. It would dabble in that occasionally, but for the most part they only tangentially effected each other. It was a gun that never needed to go off necessarily. Hank had done his job, he cracked the Fring case which (if it were a real case) would make him a nationally recognized hero along side Captain Sullenberger. 

In a way, a horrible way, Walt's homicidal ego gave Hank a career he could have never dreamed of. Everything would have been just fine at the end of last season (I know it's technically 5.2, but come on) but this was never gonna end happy. We don't want it to end happy. Sh*t, Mike's already dead by Walt's hand, how many more sacred cows... no, not Jessie!! Oh god, Gilligan don't do it! Unless it's brilliant. I think they can earn it, they've earned everything else.

So what was it that made Blood Money so special? I mean, besides the immediate reaction to the leaves of grass bombshell? Like most of the show, each episode is filled with competent, interesting, little scenes. And that's what most of this episode was, interesting insulation for the major bombshells. That was fine, there needed to be room to breath.

BB has always  secretly been a really funny show, and Badger's Star Trek spec script will go down as one of it's all time funniest scenes. I won't spoil it, but you've probably already seen it's animated version. Other than that, Walt's going nuts attempting to deal with the day to day of the car wash business, Hank's hunkered down in his garage building his case against Walt... and what else? Oh, in the future, the White home is condemned by the government and Walt still needs that ricin cigarette. Also a trunk full of automatic weapons.

But who cares about any of that? Hank punched out Walt in the same episode Hank makes the connection! It was genius, they could have built up to that for half the episodes left and none of us would have cared. Is the show boxing itself into a corner here? I'd like to think not, I believe they have more interesting things to deal with other than building to this episode's finale.

Personally I think they're gonna do it. They are going to stick the landing on my favorite show ever made. So fingers crossed Breaking Bad doesn't smash cut to the end credits in a Diner.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Guess Who's Back?

After a delightful 6 hour layover in Shannon IE and a complementary "we won't have a plane for you for twelve hours" hotel room, I'm finally back stateside. I'll start on the best performances tout suite, because I'm toally gonna finish it goddamn it, ate at me the whole time. Oh crap, Breaking Bad premiered already?! I've some catching up to do... thank you (the twelve of you) for your patience. Thanks for for giving me a break, it was a great week.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The National Crackpot's European Vacation

I've got a vacation coming up for the next week and will not be able to update. Don't have a smart phone, and even if I did, I'm sure I'd get flayed alive with roaming charges if I tried.

I really would have loved to finish my best performances list... no excuse for that, I knew this trip was coming for months. Anywho,see you in a week.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Breaking Bad Season 5 is live on Netflix.

I'm still trying to iron out my best performance list, making sure I only have one example per game, so that's making it difficult. I also want to have as little of the usual suspects as possible, so this is gonna take longer than I thought, but good news! There's something good on Netflix right now.

I've begun to like this season more in retrospect than I did a year ago, I used to have it right under season 3. Remember when the writers couldn't decide what to do with Skylar and it brought the whole show down a little? Having it there made it the De-facto "worst" season for me. But calling any season of this show "worst" only makes sense when comparing it to itself... and maybe The Wire.

The pacing was wonky to me and it felt like they were throwing out all the grand ideas they had left to burn now that the show was ending. The fumigation tent, the giant magnet, the train robbery, and that kooky German food magnate all felt like great ideas on their own, but never seemed cohesive. After watching the first episode again, I enjoyed it much more having an idea where it was going, but forgetting the finer details.

I think it might be my favorite now, next to 4: