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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Best TV of 2014

2014 was a mixed year for movies and a deeply disturbing one for gaming. But it was another notch in the "golden age of television's" belt. It's been so good for so long, I'd almost forgotten about Hannibal! So here we go... and don't worry, True Detective isn't #1.

5. Bojack Horseman.

Yep. I loved it. I even watched it all again to try to convince myself I had just enjoyed it more while buzzed. Not so. Yes, the first 2 episodes are bland as the worst of Family Guy. But once it gets it's wheels spinning, once you see Bojack as the conflicted Machiavellian jerk that probably deserves all his poorly hidden misery... it gets good!

My review.

4. The Legend of Korra.

I'd admired the show since it started, it's really the only cartoon I still followed it week to week. But for some bizarre reason, I never blogged about it at all. I don't know why. It had a spectacular non-conventionally attractive female lead, a comic relief character that was actually funny this time, and each year it tackled dark and complicated political quandaries. Yes, there's a lot of talk about what the last scene in the last episode expresses, and that's impressive. But more than that I always loved the even handed approach it took with 3 out of the 4 antagonists. Excluding one power mad jerk, we had 2 marginally sympathetic terrorists and a 27 year old woman who convinced herself that her hard line militaristic empire would save the world. You guys! There was an animated show aimed at teenagers and children that struck up a meaningful conversation about the bloody unification of China! Take a bow, Konietzko and DiMartino, take a bow.

3. True Dectective.

Man, did this one wind me up. I wasn't the only one. While the ending was safe and expected, instead of shocking and original, I think it still ranks amongst that greatest police procedurals ever made. Because there is a fine art to stringing along ravenous viewership week to week. That's something this series absolutly mastered.

My review.

2. Hannibal.

Every time I want to gush about Hannibal I never know where to start. How about when Hannibal roasted a man's leg in a decorative clay cast and made him eat it as his last meal? Do I even need to go on? Read that sentence again. This show is bursting with style and substance horror movies never seem to have and this season was even better than the last. Watching Will Graham grow dark behind bars was a treat, if for nothing else than to give Hugh Dancy more to do than run a fever this year. He'd also make a much better joker than Leto. Just sayn'.

My review.

1. The Leftovers.

I struggled to put this at #1 But this show impressed the hell out of me. I mean, I would have put Black Mirror up here instead, but that show technically just made it here after running since 2011 in the UK... and 2 out of the 6 are kind of awful. But The Leftovers! Right, grief is really hard to convincingly put on film, but this show had to sell grief in every frame. The fact it never got tiresome is a minor miracle on it's own. The fact it wrapped up beautifully and was the work of  Damon Lindelof is even more shocking. I'm always happy when writers address their fan's biggest concerns.

As a rotating ensemble show we follow the different members of the Garvey family and what they're doing now that 2% of the world's population have dissipated. Mr. Garvey's just trying to keep his daughter close as his wife and son have shuffled off to their respective cults. Mrs. Garvey's cult is the most interesting as I don't really care for the son's arc in general. Though the plot twist was pretty brilliant. No, Laurie Garvy's "Guilty Remnants" are where it's at all season. They all wear matching white, they have a vow of absolute silence, they constantly chain smoke, and they break into people's houses and steal family photos. "You're wasting your breath" "They're not coming back!" They spell out in signs. They are beyond infuriating and are spectacular villains. Not monsters, you get both sides, but like all great villains... they go too far. Holy mother of macrame do they go too far.

And there's the side stories too. Some even taking up their own episodes. Christopher Eccleston almost stole the whole season with his. As a pastor with a catatonic wife, huge medical bills, and on the verge of losing his church, his episode almost stands on it's own. He's tremendous. But mostly I put this show in the #1 spot not just because it rewarded my patience and attention, but because out of all the great tv this year, there was something different about this one. It understood adults and teenagers in ways most shows never do. It explored all the different ways grief can warp your life if you let it. And that all it's fortuitous twists of fate feel truly, deeply, earned. You need to give it a shot.

See you in a few days with my games of the year. It's a short list...

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Seriously... I've never been this sick before.

I had uncontrollable chills. I could barely sleep because of the pounding pulse in my ears and apparently if I take more than 4 dayquil a day I can go into liver failure. That's not enough, DAYQUIL!!!!!!!!

Figure it out.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

RIP: Stephen Colbert, The Imortal.

It happened last night, a great American was lost to us. Sure, Stephen Colbert will be taking over the Late Show in May, but I'm not talking about Stephan Colbert, I'm talking about Stephan Colbert. The well informed idiot that listened to his gut no matter what nationalistic nonsense it spewed. The Colbert that knew that something was only true if it felt true. The Colbert that proved our nation wasn't as intellectually bankrupt as we feared.

In the end, his legacy will be one of coy rationality. A true pacifist's message delivered by a rabble rousing stooge. I can't be alone in picturing the archives of the Report as historical record and seeing quotes of his being lauded along side Mark Twain's.

We may not have lost Stephan Colbert, but we have over seen a funeral for a great man.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Guy Pearce has some serious pipes

Let's get something straight... Prometheus wasn't Pearce's fault. Yes, the story was a slasher flick abomination of one of the most wonderfully cerebral horror films ever made. The point is, he threw all his weight behind that shoddy script and ridiculous old age makeup. All of it.

He does the same in his pop music debut. He's going for a David Bowie-Freddie Mercury feel, and I say he deserves a pat on the back for it. It's a good song, but it's an even better music video. Sure, the demonisation  of commercial excess has been done to death, but watch Guy Pearce do it. He looks like he's having a ball playing so viciously against type. I think you're gonna like it.

Final Fantasy XIII-2: The tail is wagging the dog so hard I'm getting dizzy.

It suuuuuure is!

I can put up with a lot. Throttling frame rates, dated graphics, and late to the party console ports if you give me a game worth playing for 2 weeks. For only $20 and a C+ from PcGamer I thought I could put up with some cheese to see what that franchise had been up to since 2006. But mother of god, I did not see this coming.

For the first 40 minutes there was no dialogue, just... exclamations and jargon. I know I haven't played the first in the series but Jesus Lord, this is some impenetrable bullsh*t. I'm not gonna grouse about the pop acid jazz abomination that is it's soundtrack, I'm just going to speculate that no writers actually wrote this sucker. Or that the "writer" was really a visual designer that needed to cover his tracks to support whatever fever dream he needed plopped onto the screen.

Games in recent years have been making big strides for better stories and characters. I guess I've become a bit of a snob. But I didn't what to punch every other character in the face in FFXII for opening their over-designed mouths. Or in VI or IX... maybe in VIII.

I'm gonna keep wading through. I'm on a mission now, I'm getting the same pain in the back of my neck that I got from watching The Room. This could get awesome if I didn't have to work today and could down a shot before diving back in. I'm weirdly invested now.

Come on... tell me you don't wanna punch him in the face. I mean, is hair bleaching a huge thing in Japan or something?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Dragon Age Inquisition Review: What a show.

You wanted Bioware to make Skyrim? You got it. If there was one thing wrong with Bethesda's opus (and there were many things) it was it's hok-tacular story telling. I mean they got Michael Gambon, Michael (goddamn) Gambon, and all he was asked to do was... dragon shout tutorials.

But Bioware is better than that, less inclined to sprawling open worlds, and more comfortable carefully crafting three dimensional characters. Then the combat and then the story. Those are the best things about inquisition in descending order. The cast is once again, exceptional, and the combat keeping in step with 2's methods. I.E every character has a bunch of skills that cool down and cost stamina and you can switch to anybody you want on the fly.

The story doesn't get as much love as it should. At least the main narrative doesn't. The end comes off as more of a mid-season finale then the show stopping trilogy capper I'd hoped to have seen.

If looks could kill, I'd be bleeding out.

But those are mostly communication problems. As massive and as satisfying as the game is, it does an absolutely terrible job managing your expectations. When I was a third of the way through it felt like the game was just getting started. Near the end I noticed two continents on my world map were completely untouched. Surely I couldn't be done yet... I haven't even seen half the world! 15 minutes after I thought that, the game was over.

The reports of 80 hour run throughs have been grotesquely exaggerated. If you sip and savor the game; Mine the best stones, find the rarest ingredients, kill most of the secret dragons, and track down those friggin' shards, you'll milk 45-50 hours. At most. It's not as long I wanted it to be, but only if I compared it to Mass Effect and DA2 before it. Inquisition is unique. A grand experiment in story telling across a massive world. In that way it feels more successful. 

The massive scale allows time for Bioware to be goofy. I'd be lying if I said my favorite parts of all their games are when they break the po-faced "save the universe!!!" bravado and just make me laugh. There's 30 secret bottles of liquor hidden from start to finish, each weirder than the last. "Bitterbile, a vintage that is not so much served as it is brandished." There's a quest for a missing ram called "The Ballad of Lord Woolsley" and Varric's back. God, I love Varric.

You quippy, authorial, lil' munchkin, you.

Speaking of which, have I ever told you guys I'm the one person on planet earth that hated origins and loved (like head over heels, loved) Dragon Age 2? No? well stick around and get angry! 

I did, though. The design of the first game was so rote and expected I thought Weta Workshop would sue. Millions of dollars spent to essentially recreate the same dreary high fantasy fare I'd a seen a million times before. After I killed the big purple dragon, I called it gilded vomit and put it down for good. But I was a Bioware faithful, Mass Effect had a lot of pull for me in 2010, so I got DAII on the cheap. I steeled myself for a rushed amateur hour and was absolutely stunned at what I saw.

The combat was faster paced and more intuitive. The characters were more interesting and original. The story was focused on smaller, slow boiling, political catastrophes. The vast majority of the design work had been redone and improved. Yes... dungeons were reused too much, but I can forgive 5 overused locations if they have more personality than most of Skyrim's paint-by-numbers dungeons combined.

I said all that so I can say this: Inquisition is DAII-2.

...with a couple familiar faces if you skipped it.

I mean that in the most flattering way possible. The story has a large international politics bent as well as the rote "kill the big bad wizard" deal. Guess which one the team focused on more? It's actually kind of a shame, too. The villain is so much fun to look at, it's absolutely criminal how little screen time he has. You literally only meet him 3 times. And as I said before, the show stops just as it feels like the rising action is starting.

But that's just the main story. For once, the main story in a Bioware game is not the main event. I hope you like crafting, because this game will have you scouring the world for secret herbs, magic pelts, armor schematics, pissed off dragons, lyrium smugglers, astrolabes, invisible keys that lead back to a massive dungeon that demands hundreds of the aforementioned invisible keys. Oh, and fortresses to storm.

Can you ride an Elk?! Damn straight, you can ride an Elk!!!!

There's too much to do and you're gonna have a blast getting lost. I've sunk 78 hours over two characters and I'm more than pleased with A. how deep the character creation tools are, and B. that you can choose two different voices for each gender. My roguish, English, human was a far cry away in personality than my brusk, American, wizard elf. Yep. You have 4 actors to choose from and the two I chose were pretty solid. Nothing approaching Jennifer Hale's FemShep... but you shouldn't have your expectations so high. Get down from there!

In the end, Inquisition couldn't save 2014 from generally being a miserable time to be a self identified "gamer." It didn't live up to the heights of Mass Effect 2... but it didn't toy with my fragile emotions by letting me down as hard as ME3. It's not a great game, some of Bioware's stellar DLC may change that, but for now it's a very, very, good one. In a year littered with massive delays, disappointments, and over hyped mediocrity, I say it's enough.

Friday, December 12, 2014

I'm kind of obsessed with "busy earnin'

Ever since Tales from the Borderlands I've been listening to it at least twice a day. I can't really articulate why.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Cristopher Lee is 92 and metal as hell.

Christopher Lee has a Christmas single (apparently he sings) and it's fizzle of standards rewritten to praise a slightly... different deity. The God of rock and all that is metal. Also I just just remembered how lucky I am to be alive. How awesome is life, guys?!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Binding of Isaac Rebirth, Review: Between Heven and Hell.

Defenseless at the knife wielding hands of his delusional mother; Isaac retreats into the basement to fight though a nightmarish horde of the unholy. He's armed only with his own tears and a lifetime of mementos detailing a harrowing story of hope, loss, and deep emotional abuse. Yep. Isaac shoots tears. Also his dead sibling's fetuses are power ups. So this is not for everyone, but would you believe it's not anywhere near as sacrilegious or cynical as it sounds? Well ok... it's a little sacrilegious.

The Binding of Isaac was never a game I'd say I loved, but one I didn't seem to stop playing all throughout 2011. You could play it for 20 minutes or 4 hours at a time and reaching the end bosses were honest to god achievements. Because this game is harder than you've heard. Like a more unpredictable Dark Souls. Reaching an end takes as much skill as it does luck, but it's somehow not as frustrating as it sounds.

A lot of the things that try to kill you smile in this game. Does that make you uncomfortable?

I beat the original every which way and still bought Rebirth. That's how good it was. While Rebirth is technically the same game, it's faster, it's bigger, more accessible, and it's every bit as good as before. This is a damn good remake, that oddly needed nearly twelve people where the original took 3. But nothing more. It does not reinvent the wheel, merely providing hundreds of different kinds of the same wheel. The result is a little scatter shot, and I'm not talking about the actual scatter shot.

Some of the new comers are great! Fire tears seem like an early game breaker, but they can make enemies spontaneously combust, forcing you to keep a healthy distance at all times. Others are a confounding mess that can ruin a flawless run. Like gravity tears. F**k them. I wanted to shoot straight, not have them form concentric circles around me like a dingus. All in all, the good outweighs the bad, because new power ups and new bosses are never a bad thing for these kinds of procedurally generated deals. Also the final  boss (or is it?!) before the game branches off into either the heaven or hell ending has been reworked and is much more satisfying.

Hey gravity tears? F**k you.

The only thing that actually bothered me was the soundtrack. The original was wonderful. Haunting, beautiful, and badass. The new one is... fine. Sometimes approaching Danny Baranowsky theme building and then chickening out into ambient pointlessness. After so many promising steps forward, that was a massive stumble backwards. Also the new pixelated ascetic allows for better performance and bigger rooms, but the loss of the hand drawn look bums me out more than I expected.

Though, this is a great game for veterans and new comers alike. That tight rope act is not lost on me. Sure, the game has a "normal" mode, but it's really the easy mode. Even a slightly easier version of one of the hardest games ever made is going to rough you up a smidge. Though I still cannot say whether this is the "definitive" version. Technically it is the deepest, but the absence of the original soundtrack robs so much of the atmosphere. But I've harped on that enough, this is a steal at twice the price. If you've craved something radically different, something that can make you feel physically ill then tease a little chuckle out of you, this is your game.  

And a here's a piano remix of Baranowsky's work just in case you think I'm messing around, here.

I am NOT messing around. Not here. Not ever.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The rights to Blofeld have shifted back to the Broccoli estate... then this:

No more "quantum" half measures, guys. The Bond films own Blofeld again, which meant that they could slowly introduce a modern riff on the most iconic Bond big bad of all. I thought they'd try to make it a third act twist, but no. The whole movie is called "Spectre." To which I start hopping up and down and foaming at the mouth. Because I know Christoph Waltz is playing a villain and I know the creative team these days would absolutely murder a Ernst Blofeld arc.

I absolutely cannot wait another fuggin' second for this.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Did you read Chris Rock's Vulture interview?

Because you should. It's tremendous. It represents the best of his unique talent. It provides a simmering, justified, anger that you can't help but relate to. Everything from Cosby to Ferguson, to Robin Williams, to Obama is covered with wit and style. Yeah, the interviewer shoves the questions into obvious directions with little tact, but Rock rolls with the punches like a champion. It's the best interview I've read all year.

You need to read this. Right now.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

How I learned to stop worrying and love the beard.

I have a lot against the hipster movement. I mean, at least the free lovers had some sort of ideological bent. Their identity had the teensiest spark of motivation. But why you would grow a handle bar mustache, wear a top hat, a silk vest, a bow tie, and ratty sneakers just doesn't effing compute.

I see seas of lumberjack beards everyday and for the longest time I didn't understand them. But for whatever reason, be it my recent break up or the fact my barbasol had turned to liquid, I stopped shaving. The results have been shockingly complementary. The ladies seem to like it, and that is all the justification I need for damn near every significant thing I've ever done. So I get it, hipsters. A little. Kinda. Why can't you get better shoes?!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tales from the Borderlands Review: It'll blow your mind and break your heart.

 I never get episodic games day one. The same way I never get season passes on day one. I'm not going to pay for something I can't have yet. But I have a weakness for The Borderlands. I also have a weakness for glowing reviews. Ultimately the chocolate got in the peanut butter and I couldn't stay away.

I'm glad I didn't. This is singularly the best episode TellTale's ever done. Full stop. I'm seriously wondering if they blew their budget on it. I thought it would end 3 stunning action sequences before it did. This is a true labor of love and only makes a great series of games even better.

I'm no fair weather fan either. I've been there since their Monkey Island reboot back in 2009. As much as I love their work on The Walking Dead (which was honestly better written than a third of the actual show) it's clear form the first 20 minutes of TFBL they've been dying to be funny again.

What we have here is a taught comedy thriller set in Gearbox's world of Pandora. This point and click adventure fits seamlessly into the background of the main series's signature first person shooter framework. This is a world where nobody needs half of a reason to shoot someone and take their stuff. A perfect setting for the classic "deal of a lifetime gone wrong" scenario. Our duel protagonists are a malcontent Hyperion junior executive who's just had a decade of brown nosing rendered pointless; and a native Pandoran con artist looking to pull the right job that can set her and her kid sister up for life.

"Hold still, this baby has one hell of a massage setting."
They both unreliably narrate the chain of events that lead them to be hogtied together while a masked man points a Conference Call at their faces. I know, I know. "Hyperion." "Pandora." "Conference Call." That's all jargon you don't need to know. You don't need to know anything about Borderlands going in to enjoy this game. In fact, I've always believed Telltale interactive narrative games are the perfect gateway for folks that can't stand video games. I'd love to see what my dad would make of this if he earnestly gave it a shot. It's story is effortlessly gripping because a lot of the heavy world-building lifting has been done in three feature length games already.

Like I said, you don't need to know what the best shotgun in Borderlands 2 is to appreciate Tales. But there is some amazing behind the scenes fan service if you've got sharp enough eyes. Like how Rhy's dialogue choices have a holographic Hyperion look. Whereas Fiona's stick to a folksy wooden style. A Jakobs, style. Jargon again, apologies!

Credit where credit is due, this is the best cast TellTale has worked with. No matter how good The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us were, and they were both damn good, the background characters always sounded a little flat. Wolf had it the worst, half that cast had me checking my watch. I feel TT knew about that, because there's no other explanation for every every single character in this one episode being so awesomely on point. The random bandits you talk to, besides the first one who's clearly Keith Szarabajka being predictably gruff and delightful? All hilarious.

And you just know he double parks.

And you bet that's Patrick Warburton from Family Guy as that smug Hyperion exec. You know that's Chris Hardwick as Rhys's right hand, Vaughn. Rhys himself is the never-not-stunning Troy Baker. And that August character was totally Nolan North. Sure TT nailed down the biggest names for their Game of Throne's adaptation next month. But these are great lesser-appreciated talents they've probably had on a shortlist for years. They did not waste the opportunity.

Oh, and the soundtrack has been kicked up like nobodies business. I won't beat around the bush... The Walking Dead's score was garbage. Absolute. Garbage. This is not. While some tracks are recycled from BL2, there's a great techno Morricone-esque theme for the menu screen and a few other gems sprinkled throughout the more action oriented sections. They really stepped up their game all over the place this time.

I've also been getting earfuls from some holier-than-thou critics calling this the best borderlands game, period. I get that they didn't like the shooting and looting from the main series and they'd be right if they were just whipping the first game's confused shrug of a story. But 2 and the Pre-Sequel were so much more than that. These games have always had sharp characterization. Perhaps they went for the laugh more often than story, but so what? It's about time a role playing game had a damn sense of humor instead of a phone book's worth of po-faced lore. My point is that TFBL shows Pandora in a light that a shooter never could. A different angle on what was a fun and fascinating world, already. TellTale didn't magically make it relatable and three dimensional all of a sudden.

Now that I got that rant out of the way... I guess I should ask what you're still doing here. Why aren't you throwing $25 bucks at your monitor or phone right now?! I'm not futzing around, this 2 1/2 hours of content is totally worth that much. There's 4 more coming down the pike at some point... maybe 6-8 months from now. I mean, they will have to work around Peter Dinklage's schedule now, so it's gonna be a long haul. But it's also gonna be a hell of a ride, folks.

So strap in.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The 302 Post Spectacular!

Well look at that, I passed the 300 mark without blinking an eye. I'm pretty proud of my little blog. Even if it's a 90% bounce-to-hit ratio echo chamber, sometimes, somehow, somebody reads some random junk I threw up on the internet for 5 to 10 minutes. That's so much more than enough. That's as if I had a  miniature cival war recreation set I poured over for years and somone just showed up to admire it one day.

I didn't ask for it, but I got noticed anyway, and it feels amazing. Here's to 302 more!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"There are... contingencies." Behind the scenes of Tales from the Borderlands.

You're going to want to stay to the end of this one, as there are eggs of easterly nature. Plus it looks like the game's coming along swimmingly, as it fixes the biggest problem I had with the walking dead season 2. I.E. the in game soundtrack was terrible. The soundtrack for this trailer is not. It's techno-bluesy fun and I could not be more on board with all this by now.

Oh... and they're doing Game of Thrones at the exact same time. Damn, guys... let someone else have the world on a string for a while!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

I'm Not Dead!

Just crazy busy with work... and Inquisition. It's so good, too good. Gooder than even the most of the critics are saying. I mean, I don't know what IGN's problem with the villain was. I think he's great. Or at least the presence of him in the story through 2 thirds of the game is a refreshing change of pace for Bioware.

The original Mass Effect was their last central villain and that was almost 10 years ago! But seriously, one of our guys just quit and I've been swamped.

I'll get back when I can, Crackpot!

Monday, November 17, 2014

I've got some time off!

And I don't want to give away too much information about my private life, but here's a hint about what I'll probably spend most of that time doing:

Thursday, November 13, 2014

This is the best season of South Park in Years.

I've been watching South Park since I was Stan's age. It's been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. While I'd argue it's been a better show longer than the Simpsons, I wouldn't disagree that the past 5 or 6 years haven't exactly measured up. I've seen em' all at least once because there's always something about each episode that's worth watching. I may hate that Honey Boo Boo one, (why does everyone spit on Randy Newman so much?") but I could listen to that James Cameron song for hours.

But this season, free from the demands of both their admittedly solid video game and their career defining block buster musical, they have come back to the show with their guns drawn. Ready to shoot down their harsher critics.

Most of the episodes this year have had a shared continuity. Whether it's the gym being burnt down by Butters or Randy secretly being 18 year old singer songwriter Lorde, it's been a refreshing season so far. But I guess I like Nathan and Mimsy more than most people. I mean, come on, the wacky races with alternative fuel cars was damn good work.

But it's with Grounded Vindaloop that I feel I need to blog about South Park, which is oddly something I've never done before. Hands down, this is the best story driven episode in years... maybe ever. It's not funny, or at least it's only funny for about a 6th of the time. It's a testament to the show's commitment to it's characters that we can follow them down a virtual reality rabbit hole and not even care that's not gonna go for a belly laugh. Not to rag on the Simpsons too much, but making Homer progressively stupider over 20 years did not a compelling character make.

This has been a great year for South Park, a humble creative renascence the likes of which shows more than 10 seasons deep never see. I'd say it's worth coughing up some dough to Hulu+ to check it out:

Monday, November 10, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Review: True to Caesar.

Tomorrow, you can see Dawn of the Planet of the Apes on the internet. On Google play and what have you. Which is great for several reasons. Either you've been waiting months for this thing, or you needed an excuse to release a half finished review that's been festering in your draft archives for  months.

Either way, this is a good movie. If you've seen Rise at least twice, I've found it's an even better movie. In fact, this is one of the rare sequels that works best as a double feature. In much the same way Quantum of Solace is a better film back to back with Casino Royale. Seriously. Try doing that. 

But it's not exactly the same situation, because Dawn is a much, much, better film than Quantum. As well as one of the best war movies I've ever seen. Well... at least one of the best movies "about" war I've seen. But it ain't perfect. Far from it. There's a mini series worth of material here that isn't given enough time to breathe. I'd have loved something like a 6 part BBC affair. That would have been a more effective way to tell this story of doomed peace between species.

We'd need 2 episodes from each side and a 2 part finale. One; because the humans aren't given a fraction of the nuance they need to be compelling and two, I could watch Caesar's mo-capped band of apes for days. They are singularly the finest achievement in CGI since Gollum. But as such, the film gets rudely awakened from it's wonderful dialogue free "apes being apes" scenes for it's clumsier rising action sections. The humans are a script draft away from being good, they have a small amount of characterization that keeps them from detracting from the movie, but in the end they only serve to create conflict. And with that... I'm done talking about the people. Let's talk about what this film truly mastered.

I'm pretty sure that guy has polio.

Sure, they nailed Caesar in Rise, but you only saw maybe one or two other apes manage to become characters near the end. Now there's an entire army to contend with and most are given personalities as well as names. Yes, Koba was spectacular, and I'll get to him. But Blue Eyes? Rocket? Caesar's wife (even though most of her part was cut but is still pretty great)? Are all given enough attention to suspend my disbelief completely for hours. So much so; that I say that even when it's cutting edge dulls, they'll still teach lectures on the film's ability to say so much with the tiniest ape facial tick.

Of which, the most belong to Caesar's heavily crowned head. Only Caesar was raised by humans and only he understands that the invading human tribe only want their hydro-electric dam (THAT'S vaguely familiar) for energy and little else. Caesar is in charge because he's the only one of two apes that has any sense of foresight. He knows engaging in violence, even defensibly, will eventually spill buckets of innocent blood. But where he shows restraint, his followers see weakness, and Koba sees an angle.

The scarred lifetime lab rat has love for Caesar, but only until he sees his opening. His campaign of manipulation is the highlight of the film and is delivered in a surprisingly subtle and multifaceted performance by Toby Kebbell. The man manages to turn two words "human" and "work" into a riveting monologue and that's no sh*t.

Yes, this is ridiculous and no, I don't care what you think.

Elsewhere, Gary Oldman is fine as the hardline human leader, doing the typical Oldman special. Which is finding depth the written role hardly provides. Though that scene with the war torn apple tablet was pretty special, I'll give the script that one.

But for me to call a movie "great" I need to have my expectations exceeded. Sure I knew Caesar couldn't keep the peace and maybe I should have seen Koba's ultimate betrayal coming 10 miles away. The point is, the most interesting part of the film is the final act and this is the exact sentence I stop talking about it.

The finale rocks and the ending finds that tricky middle ground of setting up a sequel while managing to actually end. I'm looking at you, Catching Fire. I'm also shaking my head, Catching Fire.

But yes, the film is great. It's got a bigger heart than I expected and more in depth world building than I thought it would. I mean, I would love to frame and hang the concept art of Caesar's village on my wall. But in short, this is the big budget humanist sci-fi film I've wanted to see for a very long time. I liked Rise, quite a bit actually, but Dawn is operating on a whole different level. It answers questions about storytelling I never thought to ask. Questions like, "Is political turmoil exponentially more compelling when told through the lens of genetically altered primates?"

Yes. The answer is yes.

Friday, November 7, 2014

What's up guys? It's been too long.

I really, REALLY, think they have a shot at making this special. Here's hopin'

Asteroid. Sighhhhhhh. I'm still optimistic.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Lies! Filthy Lies!!!!!!!!

Another false Fallout alarm. As you were people. I'm not crying...

Though I guess I should take solace in the fact that it won't be called something as corny as "Shadow of Boston" Yick. That's something.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Fallout: Shadow of Boston, is finally trademarked.

So now Bethesda's share holders know it's a thing... how much longer till' we see a teaser? Honestly the longer we wait the more I feel we have a Resident Evil 5 on our hands. Something that took too long, looked and played great until you finished it for the first time, and was ultimately incredibly disappointing.

Am I wrong? Christ, I hope so. Though if they truly didn't start on it until that Dragon-born DLC finished, that time line adds up. It's been almost 2 years since that. But here's the obvious question...

Why isn't it Fallout 4? Could it be (and I'm REAAAAAALY out on a limb here) they gave that honor to Obsidian? Because they made the best Fallout game in 15 years and my personal favorite game, period.

Something to think about.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

I've changed my mind on The Walking Dead.

Screw the red wedding, this. This girl right here...

I used to adore that show. Hang on it's every word, re-watch the first 2 seasons at least once. I loved it, all my friends loved it, I couldn't get enough of it. But, much like Dexter, the bloom fell off the rose for me. First when Darabont was sh*tcanned, that stung. Then when season 3 slowly devolved into the embarrassing repetitive mess it was at the end.

I didn't even think about that show for the last year and a half. Until 4 days ago. I've changed my mind. I'm typing up a think piece that started off as a season 4 review, but became as much about it's huge audience and social impact as it is screaming Shane and CORRRALLLUUULLLLL's name.

Think you're gonna like it.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


OOOOOOOOO!!! WHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY- (The Colbert Report ends it's 9 year run on Thursday December 18th and I'm absolutely not having the same sort of reaction one typically has when a close relative dies) YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?????!!!!!!!!!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Civilization, Beyond Earth Review: Science Victory.

It took me years to get into Civilization. Years and years and years. I saw the perfect reviews for IV and just had to get a hit of it. But I couldn't make heads or tails of the thing. I stumbled through settler mode time and time again, always selecting recommended buildings. It didn't matter if I was doing well or not, I'd always fast forward in the last 150 turns anyway. I was too young to understand the thing and it wasn't until almost 2 years ago that I finally figured it out.

Civ V took me, and it took me hard. I was having a rough time getting a job out of college and Civ helped me suck it up and fill out just... one... more... application. I understood how to make it to the endgame. The crushing defeats and the soaring victories where unlike anything I'd experienced in a game before. Loosing at most games can make you feel frustrated, but only in Civ have I ever honestly felt "defeated." It's not a bad thing, I learned I could get back up on that horse and try again. Tweak a certain strategy and not get taken in so easily. But I'm not here just to gush about Civ V. In fact, we're leaving earth entirely.

You will believe a stone can float.

I, like many, was worried this was just a re-skinned sci-fi Civ V. All the in depth "let's play" videos seemed to look like that was the case. Plus, it's easy to understand what certain buildings do on earth. Granarys mean food, banks mean money. But a civil creche? And what the hell's a Xenoswarm? I spent the vast majority of my first game lost in translation, stumbling through the tech web for anything that could get me more health. My colony was starving. I still won by a hair, and that's only because I chose the harmony victory. That ended up being the most simple of all. But I'll get to that later. The takeaway here is that the first time through the game seems too similar and too different in all the wrong ways. But after going through it again and again, I got a sense for it's nuance, and began to appreciate the ways it jettisoned the things I hated the most about Civ V. For one?

Why did it take 2600 years of human civilization to be able to start a game with a worker instead of a soldier? I've ALWAYS wanted to do that. And that bought a lot of good will for me, but what's more, for the first time your chosen leader matters far less than your chosen loadout. You choose your city buff (all cites start with extra health, or money, or science, or whatever) starting unit, and special tec. Do you want to see the hidden natural resources ahead of time? Or would you rather start with a coastal map of the world? For once, you can radically change the first 100 turns of any game with these choices, and that's awesome.

But that comes at a price, and that price is the game's thoroughly shocking lack of leadership. 9 leaders?! Vanilla Civilization V had almost 3 times that. It quickly becomes boring seeing the same leaders game after game. It also caps the size of the biggest maps, because this game doesn't have enough leaders to fill them. They also say the same things over and over and OVER. Though Polystralia's sliver fox trade baron is so roguishly charming with his one line, I give him a pass.

What is surprisingly refreshing though, is that maps can be completely different colors. There are tan marshy planets, cool blue-purple oceanic planets, traditional greenish- orange forest planets. It honestly helps a lot to keep things fresh.

But the single thing I love the most about Beyond Earth is the tec web. For there is no longer a permanent arms race. If you get behind on technology, you don't have to scramble to keep up, you can simply change direction. That. F**king. Rocks. In Civ V you would have to rely on the painfully brittle espionage system to get more technology. Which was never much help, and almost never what I had wanted to do with spying. Which brings me to the second best thing about Beyond Earth: Espionage is now everything I ever wanted it to be.

Don't look at it too long... it'll look back into you.

Why hasn't anyone been talking about this? It's fantastic. You can set up colony wide buffs if you want to turtle up with counter- intelligence (which was what I always did in V) or branch out and set up contacts in other cities. From there you can truly sow bloody chaos. You can siphon off vast amounts of cash, science points, technology (again), and so much more. How bout' some defected military units? A straight up revolution? All this is possible and it adds a nail biting ticking clock onto the always laborious end game. Sure, I'm at turn 350 and I'm drowning in cash and goodwill. But what if my neighbor figures out I've been stealing money and soldiers from him for 200 years?

That could make things awkward.

The icing on the cake are the vastly different victory scenarios. Each of the 3 affinities (Jesus, I haven't even brought up affinities yet) have a unique win condition. each involve building a wonder and waiting for that wonder to switch on. Or at least, that's what the harmony victory needs. I have a feeling most critics went for that first. Because the purity, supremacy, and contact victories require a hell of a lot more.

I'm only going to spoil the contact victory. In order to make contact with another species of intelligent life, you need to construct "The Beacon." Not so difficult. But it needs to warm up for 30 turns. And it siphons all your extra money while it does so... AND every leader knows what you're doing when it switches on, AND now they're going kill you. You're gonna need one hell of a war chest, buddy.

I forgot her name, so I just call her "Science Grandma" now. I hope you'll do the same.

I loved Beyond Earth. I loved it to pieces. I'm seriously asking you guys not to read into the negativity. Though it's not without merit, the AI is still really passive and dumb most of the time, I think the game stands strongly on it's own. I'll happily switch back and forth between V and BE, because I believe they are vastly different games with much to offer. If I had to give it a score, I hate doing that, but if I had to it'd be an 8.5. Not an "unassailable masterpiece worthy" 9.5. Nor is it a "disappointing stumble from perfection" 8.5. But a "scrappy and lovable" 8.5. It's perfectly happy with what it's accomplished and not looking to make too many new friends.

That turns some people off, sure, but not every game needs to strive for perfection. It does it's job well in most regards even though it's clearly lacking in others. I'm fine with that. The good far outweighs the slight disappointment and the great is conspicuously absent from most reviews.  I honestly don't understand why there weren't promotional videos about spying. Because again... it's never been more fun to silently screw over your opponents.

So there you have it, I dug deep to find what was so "lacking" from the fan's perspective. I didn't find their evidence compelling. If a sci-fi Civ V sounds awesome to you, grab it right-the-hell now. If you were looking for a bigger and better Alpha Centauri... that's probably the problem right there.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

So this is what it feels like to have money...

Thanks, Zephyr!
I've found myself with a smidge of a surplus this month, which means I get to have a little more liquor than I planned on having. And that I get to take a chance on a game that's had less than stellar reviews, but one I still wanna get my hands on.

That's gonna be The Evil Within, because I'll still pay good money for a pale imitation of Resident Evil 4. Even when Jackie Earle Haley's cashing a pay check, it'll still be fun to watch him work.

I'm also 4/5's of the way done with the Beyond Earth review, that'll be out tomorow.

Pinky swear.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Civ: Beyond Earth has beamed me up.

I can't remember what this guy's name is... but he's seriously just the best.
People have a lot of nasty things to say about BE. I... do not. I thinks it's great and for the first time in a long time, I think the negativity is more pessimistic group think, than legitimate issues. Is it just a re-skinned Civ V?

No! F**k off, the tech web alone should throw every veteran for a loop. And don't get me started on how almost no critic brought up how badass espionage is now. Because I will get started tomorrow... on a review.

Spoilers: it's gonna be positive.