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Friday, January 31, 2014

Parks and Rec, Ann & Chris Review: That could have been the end.

There's a crane shot at the end of this that got me more than anything in this episode did. A crane shot that shows Ann's neighborhood connecting to the rest of Pawnee Indiana. I know this show isn't filmed on location. I know that most of it is really in Los Angeles on a sound stage. But now I'm biting my lip because a CGI'd shot made Pawnee just a little more real. And I'm surprised how much that actually means to me.

Yes, Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe have left Parks and Rec. And yes there was a lot of single shot goodbye scenes, a lame "perfect gift" subplot, and Leslie freaking out over not having everything for her last Perkins party. But it all worked. A lesser show would have crumbled under the sentimentality. It's a credit to P&R's savant-like ability to simultaneously subvert and improve upon genre conventions that the "goodbye Chris and Ann" episode is only very good instead of disappointingly saccharine.

That being said, I'd be perfectly happy if that were the end. Just like how Breaking Bad's finale didn't have to be (and wasn't) it's best episode, Chris and Ann did it's job with style. Calling back to why Leslie and Ann met in the first place, to Andy and Ann's first one on one relationship conversation in what feels like seasons.

It's also worth saying that Ron's goodbye was absolutely priceless, I didn't think Jones could emote like that, which brings me to one of my sharper bones to pick with other P&R fans. ANN WAS NEVER HALF AS BORING AS YOU WANTED HER TO BE. Sorry, I get defensive when fans start picking on a Jonah for no reason. In the case of many fan's opinions, Ann was the show's weakest link. I clearly couldn't disagree more. If ya'll really want to complain about a character that has been irritatingly one note from ep. 1 Then let's talk about Aubrey Plaza.

But then I'd still disagree, because the staff always knew how to write for her, Jones's character was never so lucky. Was she going to be Leslie's bestie? It took a while for them to figure it out. Was she going to ever be on the inside of Pawnee's municipal government? That also took years. Even a writing staff on a show as good as P&R lets things fall through the cracks and more often than not, Ann got the short shrift.

But I always felt Jones nailed the "straight man" role and her recent pregnant rants "Let's talk about vomit, kids!" last week were golden. So if you were planning a "good riddance" post or something, I'd choose your wording carefully. Was it Ann the character that bothered you, or Jones's performance?

At any rate, I'm super proud of P&R right now. If you've been keeping score, there have been at least 3 solid possible finale episodes. Leslie's election, Leslie's wedding, and Ann's goodbye could all have been it. If I had to pick one, it would be Ann and Chris. That's how good it will make you feel.

100% unprocessed awesomesauce.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Burial at Sea episode 2 reveal... also Sly Cooper's a movie now. For better or worse.

It's been a long wait, but Irrational is finally lifting the veil on their final touches for Bioshock Infinite. I like what I see. But this is literally the opening scene, so if you don't want to be spoiled, avert your "virgin eyes"

Also Sly Cooper has a teaser trailer for their upcoming movie... and it's not what you'd hoped.

It's competent, well animated, and there's a spark of the game's wit buried underneath it all. But there's something missing besides McConnell's theme. Sly wouldn't say "keep your shell on" is what I'm getting at. It's like they needed a spoon fed catch phrase or something. But who knows? I've notoriously hated Pixar trailers before. This could be good.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

So Sleppy Hollow ended... wierdly.

Apparently Fox's Sleepy Hollow is already over. Apparently a show about an undead Ichabod Crane endeavoring to stop the four horsemen of the apocalypse with the help of a predominantly African American lead cast wasn't worth a "back 9."

But that's ok. It was a really fun show with good actors having a good time with goofy material played just straight enough to make it work. Except the finale, which was just the last two episodes burned off. Why? I don't know, it's rating were solid. But to be perfectly honest, they were weak tea. Not for lack of trying though. The acting from Beharie and Minson was chipper as always, but the budget and the writing seemed to let the production down quite a bit. I had flashbacks to being force fed ancient Stargate episodes by my old roomate in Washington's tomb. Not that my roomate and I actually hung out in Washington's tomb I... never mind. It felt like there were grander plans for the story that weren't fiscally possible. I mean, you start talking about a zombie General Washington and instead we got a free mason crypt made out of foam rubber. That smacks of a producer edit.

But what did end up saving the show for me was it's cliff hanger twist. For a show like this, I didn't expect it's lore to cut that deep. So if you've been paying attention, a lot of story threads come together in the end. Also we'll definitely be seeing more of John Noble, so yay.

All in all, not a great finale. But come next fall with a fresh direction and a war chest full of fx funds, I'll definitely be watching.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Where the hell have I been?

I've been procrastinating is what. Yes, I still don't like my Bioshock Infinite article. Why yes, my game of the year is BIOSHOCK INFINITE. I don't want to get into it yet, believe me, half of my article is defensive pleading. That's kinda why it's taken me so long.

Now other things have caught my interest. Things like Dark Souls 2:

 Isn't it cute how it tries to set up a story, then it's all "F$%k it. You want bosses?! Here's your damn bosses!"

Am I head over heels for this series. After throwing down Demon Souls in a rage 4 years ago, and shamefully cheating my way past my first 2 playthroughs of Dark Souls (I've got at least 4 finished characters now) I'm in love. I get it now. I have atoned for my cheating ways and bent DS backwards and forwards since February of last year. I'm in deep, is what I'm saying. That game lit up the risk/reward part of my brain like a damn forest fire and I'd be lying if I said 2 wasn't fulfilling some kind of chemical fix. So whenever it comes to PC (they said late march, but you sure won't see me holding my breath) I'd throw down for the $120 special edition if it was the only one left in stock.

...I did mention the chemical addiction part right?

Now for TV, and the triumphant return of Hannibal!

That was... words can't... how the hell is this on network TV?!

This was the biggest and most pleasant surprise of last year. If you pressed me, and if it wasn't for Breaking Bad's graceful landing, I would have said it was the best show of last year. Certainly the best police procedural in almost a decade. Between this and True Detective my cup runneth over for stylized cop dramas with perfect casting. 

So that's what I've been thinking about. I'll try not to be so forgetful next time, here on the every-other daily crackpot.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Still trying to get my #1 article straight.

As far as I can tell, absolutely no one else thinks my choice is the game of the year. I'm not trying to be contrarian, I'm not trying to stand out from all the other blog spot sites that average upwards of 4 bounces a day. It's honestly my favorite game I've played this year and I just hope my defense makes sense to people willing to give my ramblings a chance.

It's taken a solid week and a half already. This has been fun...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

#2 The Last of Us

You saw this one coming huh? Well too bad, it's the best game Naughty Dog's ever made, and one of the bravest AAA games period. Just think, how many games have you played that were a bald faced tragedy? Except a couple of silent hills and other horror titles, most story games have essentially "happy" endings. And while I wouldn't call the ending of The Last of Us "sad" it uh... it is something.

It's the little things that endear me the most to TLU. Ellie's jokes and guitar riffs. Joel's reminiscence on super models, coffee shops, and sexy werewolf movies. Like precious few games before it, TLU is deadly serious about being a character piece. It commits from the first cut scene until the last one 14 some-odd hours later. It certainly doesn't hurt that the game itself is a refreshingly intense stealth/survival mash up, either.

It's not the best I've played, it sure as hell doesn't have to be. But the quality of the game play mixed with the master class of acting and story telling, creates an experience critics will cite for at least 15 more years. What I mean is; if TLU was a movie, even if you hate apocalypse fiction, you'd still have to admit it was a pretty good movie. But like Gone Home, the act of playing through the game (searching for ammo, frantically slapping together a nail board, knifing a fungus zombie in the neck) builds a kind of connection to Joel and Ellie only interactivity can provide.

It becomes powerful stuff. Even when I met new characters and cynically pointed out that they were "gonna die" with a half chewed twizzler sticking out of my mouth, I still stood up and yelled when they finally bit it. That's the sign of great art. When you know what's coming, but you get taken for a ride anyway.

Just like I know Luke's never going to eat all those eggs, and just like I know Ralston's never gonna get through the last nerve on his arm, I know I'm going to love The Last of Us for as long as I love video games.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

#3 Gone Home

Gone Home should be a lot of things. It should be that thing that game critics prop up because it's in vogue and I should probably resent it for that. I know all the cool critics are talking about Gone Home and Papers Please, but you know what? They should be. They are both great experiments in what the interactive experience is capable of. If you read my work, seeing this game on my list should be no surprise as I'm quite the obvious little feminist.

But what's personally surprising to me is why I haven't put this game further up the list, and there's a couple reasons for that, but I'd like to talk about what GH means to me first. I'm proud something like this exists. The processes of rooting through your childhood home, trying to find what your sister has been up too while you've been away, adds something a novelization of the story couldn't. That fact alone opens a Pandora's box of possibility. But the fact the story is good on it's own, helps shout down it's more ignorant critics.

I don't want to break down the story, not enough people have played it yet. But following the breadcrumb trail of your sister's first love is a standout experience in a year with some notable interactive stories.

But why isn't this #1 for me? Well... as much as I loved GH, it's the equivalent of a short film. Don't think I'm holding it's length against it, far from it. But there's a reason short films don't win Oscars, because there's some major indie trappings that rubbed me the wrong way. Namely, the actor that plays your sister, Sam.

She's good... but inert. Often the visual clues of the environment seemed at odds with the performance I was listening to. There were several foreboding references to suicide (that Ophelia poster, for one) and other things that should have really brought Sam down. But all I seemed to hear from her was a tone that always sounded like "Dear diary, I'm in love!"

If she was able to shift gears a little I would have definitely put this up higher. But here we are, with a great game, instead of a masterpiece. Not a lick of shame in that. Bravo, Fullbright Co. And godspeed.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


You know you're getting older when you don't finish every game you buy. There's at least 7 games in my Steam profile I've barely clocked 20 minutes into. I'm only 3 missions away from finishing Assasin's Creed 4 but...  good lord I couldn't be bothered. That being said, I finished GTA V. No small feat for a guy that couldn't do the same for IV. It was great. I find all the praise heaped upon it fair, a solid journey from start to meandering finish. I loved every second I spent with it.

Unfortunately, absence made my heart grow far less fonder. The more time I tried to give a damn about gold medals, spaceship parts, and starting a whole new game; the less and less I started to want to play it. The blinding sheen of one of the most meticulously constructed games ever made began to wear off  for me, I didn't like what I was beginning to see.

Again, unfortunately everything negative heaped upon it was fair as well. The story was a mess, the female characters both sparse and spectacularly one dimensional, and the basic mechanics of fast traveling were purposefully restricted to cab calling alone. Collectively I spent hours waiting for cabs in GTA V, but that's not even close to the reason the bloom fell so dramatically off the rose for me.

In fact, I'm not exactly sure there's a specific reason I can point to, except I could tell you sitting through the cut scenes a second time around became torturous. Playing missions again became painfully tedious. Having the chance to really pick at core of each central character's motivation just killed it for me. At the end of the day, they make no goddamned sense. Though a fine acting job was done by all, it must be said.

There's something deeply hollow about the game for me now. I'll never forget how entranced I was at the start, but I've moved on. It's a similar feeling I have for Tomb Raider, it's actually the reason Tomb Raider isn't #5. I would have covered too much of the same territory. I loved both games to pieces at first... but I'd need a gun to my head to plow through them a second time.

But for all my pissing and moaning, this is the best GTA in ten years and one of the best of the generation. I begrudge not a single GOTY throw it's way.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Still figuring out my game of the year

This is a pretty political year for the goty. Is GTA V a undisputed masterpiece, or a janky by-the-numbers affair propped up by good acting? Is The Last of Us the greatest story ever told in a video game, or does it borrow too heavily from apocalypse fiction to be held under that much scrutiny? And what of Bioshock Infinite? The tide turned so harshly against that game after all the perfect reviews, I've nary seen it on top five lists, let alone best of the year.

I'm thinking long and hard on this one. There won't be any "just because" rationality from me. I'm gonna try to narrow down what I appreciate the most out of these. So I'll count down my top four to try to get you in my head space, to let you understand why these games show up where they do and why I enjoyed them personally.

I have a pretty good feeling what my #1 is gonna be. And I have a feeling y'all aren't gonna be happy with it. So gear up.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

IMDB is down! I repeat, IMDB is down!

Update: aaaaaaaand it's back.

As of right now, not a single film's page at the internet movie data base is accessible and I've got the trivia addict shakes already. How else am I going to prove that Stephen Tobolowsky has been in every single film ever made, thus proving the existence of 4th dimensional beings?! Am I going to have to make a web of newspaper clippings and yarn like a crazy person?! That's just silly.

So for the foreseeable future, you're not going to be able to figure out who that guy was in that thing, and trust me when I say I feel for you. But, you can keep refreshing the page to see how many cute 500 error pages they have.

Spoiler alert: There are many.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Tale of Two Roguelikes

The 2013 winter sale is at it's end, and what a sale it's been. I've got several brand new games half off, hand delivered to my hard drive and I still have a tank full of gas, no less. A damn good deal from where I'm sitting. But when it comes to Steam's achingly addictive blow out sales, I tend to learn something new about my gaming habits every year. Two years ago it was that if it's under ten bucks, there's a 25% I'll open it once and never touch it again. Last year it was that I love Civ V... but I will never rise above normal difficulty. Ever. This year I've come to realize that I will never not love Roguelikes.

It started with The Binding of Isaac and Dredmor, both wonderful games, and both played into living death by yours truly. Both absolutely worth your time, and both well under five bucks. I'll give you two to three weeks to savor and appreciate both their intricacies and difficulty. Ready?!!

And while I'm making demands, buy me this dredmor T. I'd never actually wear it in public, but I just love it so much.

So first things first, these games are not easy. That is the last thing a roguelike wants to be. They are obtuse, they are randomly generated, but most importantly, death is permanent.You lose focus in those games for a second and boom! Go back to start, do not collect $200. All your tangible progress is gone. That's the bitter medicine I've slowly grown to love. Though Isaac and Dredmor no longer slake my thirst, so I've been chasing the proverbial dragon all over "teh internetz" to find the next big thing in perma-death. It's taken longer than I thought.

Rogue Legacy didn't really work for me, though it's premise was brilliant. Every time you die, you choose between three of your children to take your place, all with random classes and traits. But once the appeal of playing as color blind mages and 2-dimensional rogues wore off, my pedestrian knowledge of genetics became my worst enemy. I mean, why can't I choose dominant traits? It was too random for me to sink my teeth into it and I lost interest. Spelunky simply bored me, I don't know why, but I haven't touched it in months.Which brings me to my most recant additions to my roguelike gallery, Eldritch and Delver.

I've heard of horrible geometries, but this is ridiculous!

Eldritch is an homage to the work of H.P. Lovecracft in interactive form. Unlike the other games I've mentioned, this is really more stealth based. Once you work your way into the real meat of the game, you'll spend most of it running for your life. It's fantastic. The sub-playstation era graphics become endearing after a short while and the sound design sets the mood perfectly. From the bored and halfhearted chants of Cthulhu's faithful, to the adorable "glug, glug, glugging" of innsmouth's hopping fish men, Eldritch has a decent sense of humor about itself. But wait until you get to the living statues that slam you into a wall when your back is turned. You'll learn to fear your enemies soon enough. I've already had a blast with his thing and I haven't even seen the new game+ modifiers. Which I'm assured is where the game really begins. Eldritch came to beat your face into your keyboard, I say it succeeds, but you just better hope that flying eyeball didn't see you yet.

So, what about Delver? For starters it's not technically finished yet. It's part of Steam greenlight, their indie outreach program to give up and comers some spotlight. But For the 2 hours I've already put into it, I've got a really good feeling about it. For one, it perfectly re-captured my nearly 15 year old nostalgia for that cross marketing classic: Chex Quest.

... you look confused.
You see, it wasn't simply a bald faced endorsement for low sugar breakfast cereals and the General Mills corporation, it was also just a damn good Doom clone. There's something about CQ that I'll never let go of, and it's something no other game has reminded me of since. Except Delver for some reason. The 2-D characters in a 3-D environment is big part of it, but the way the combat works and the way the camera moves just feels so... so cozy.

But if there's no fond memories for you there, the looting, leveling, and hack'n'slashing, will do you just fine for $8. There feels like hours of content in here and the 6 run throughs I've done have felt completely different from each other. It certainly feels like a finished product to me.

So there you go, two fine roguelikes suited to my tastes. Happy dungeon crawling.