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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Risk of Rain Review: It's quietly spectacular.

I am a glutton for digital punishment. I just can't seem to get enough of dem' rouge-likes. The way I see it, it's a slightly cheaper way to mainline my risk-reward endorphins than video poker. The genre has absolutely busted out on the indie scene these last few years. From Dungeons of Dredmor's ability to make every single line of text at least kind of funny (seriously, their listed system requirements used to demand you duct tape tin foil around your processor and pray to your chosen higher power. Steam used to be cool about that.), to The Binding of Issac's artistic fine line of being simultaneously adorable as well as creepy as all f#4k. There is so much more to RLs these days than simply perma-death and procedural generation. In other words, even in the indie scene, you'd really have to raise your game to stand out.

Confused? Good. Now read the difficulty setting in the top corner.

A two man student dev team (Paul Morse and Duncan Drummond) should not be able to raise that game. But I'm here to say that not only did they raise it right, that sucker graduated with honors. But to be fair, it takes a good while to see what makes RoR so special, not to mention at least 2 dozen deaths. The game play first appears to be a jumbled mess. You find power ups, enemies pop in, you shoot them, boss fight. There doesn't seem to be much to it. And if that's the opinion you walk away with from this game, you just weren't playing it right. There's a lot more depth to running and gunning then it seems.

You have 4 abilities with which to kill. Some are evasive, some are for crowd control, some don't seem to have much use at all. But the trick to figuring out the right moments to use them, is the trick to how the whole game works. Because once RoR clicks? It. Clicks. Hard. You will fall as madly in love with it as I have. Figured out how the commando works? Well you just unlocked 3 different characters on your last run and you are going to spend hours getting to know those characters just as well.

The depth of the character classes is mirrored by it's loot and bestiary. Where the Binding of Issac's power ups were unbalanced or pointless, all the loot in RoR feels at least like a small step forward. Because everything you come across, a vial that gives you an permanent extra hit point for every enemy you kill, or a can of gasoline that leaves a trail of fire behind you, or a ukelele that gives your bullets electric damage, stacks. If you find that power up again, that effect gets stronger. Suffice it to say, the only feeling better than finding your favorite power up, is finding it twice.

The monsters you mow down seem dull at first. Small, pixel-y, and repetitive. But when you start breaking out of the first couple of levels, the wide world of RoR's monsters opens up, and it is sub-stantial.  I also started to notice more nuance in the pixel art and more personality in the animation the longer I spent mowing them down. But this sure as hell isn't an art show, they are trying to kill you... and they are very, very, good at it.

I haven't even brought up the soundtrack yet. I godamn love it. I bought it off of band camp after only playing for 2 hours. It's a killer pot sweetener in a deal that already had me where it wanted me. It strikes a sense of mood and foreboding without sacrificing theme construction or sick nasty base solos.

Mr. Christodoulou? I'm sorry for copy/pasting your name.

So Risk of Rain is my new fix. If you love peeling back layer after layer of a hostile alien world with a "I just died and lost everything, but I'm totally going back in there" can-do spirit, Risk of Rain will send you over the moon.

Irrational Games "as we know it" is shutting down.

I just got sucker punched by the news that the team behind the original Bioshock and my game of the year, is laying off the majority of it's staff and "changing focus." According to Ken Levine himself, the studio is

 “winding down Irrational Games as [we] know it. I’ll be starting a smaller, more entrepreneurial endeavor at Take-Two. That is going to mean parting ways with all but about fifteen members of the Irrational team. There’s no great way to lay people off, and our first concern is to make sure that the people who are leaving have as much support as we can give them during this transition.

It's sadly not an uncommon occurrence that a developer that makes a big budget AAA game that sells well, gets sh*t canned by their publisher anyway. At least it sounds like Irrational is riding off into the sunset on their own terms. It feels more like Levine is fed up with the multi-million dollar budget environment and wants to go smaller. Rather than 2K being miffed they don't have Call of Duty sales numbers. I'll take solace in that. Infinite really felt like a definite ending for the Bioshock series anyway. Sort of a "just try squeezing a sequel out of this one, I dare you." kind of an ending. I guess I should have seen it coming.

At least I have the next Fallout to look forward to!*

* Wait, what?! God... DAMNIT Bethesda!.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Here's the first 15 minutes of The South Park RPG

I love South Park. Think a lot of you guys out there love it too. I also happen to have enjoyed quite a few turn-based RPGs in my day. So the news two years ago that not only were Parker and Stone throwing their whole creative weight behind a turn based rpg set in South Park AND that it was being developed by the guys behind my favorite game ever, made me pleased as champagne spiked punch.

But a lot happened in two years. First their publisher went bankrupt, then their new publisher wasn't remotely pleased with they had bought, leading to a delay of more than a year. But I can, and have, waited. Now I have 15 minutes of game play to sate me until  March 4. Where, baring radioactive reviews, I will pony up $60. Because honestly, if you woke me up in the middle of the night and asked me what the perfect licensed game would be... It'd be a lot like the Stick of Truth.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Rick and Morty is a Runaway Hit.

And it honestly should be. Not only is this the best new show Adult Swim has had in over 10 years, it's one of the best animated series I've ever seen. At 6 episodes I feel like they've covered more ground, character-wise, than family guy did in 6 seasons. I've been past simply "liking it," I'm in the re-watching and studying phase. Because as far as I'm concerned, the only show I've loved like this so soon out of the gate, is Firefly.

Yup, I'm one of those. But I'm not going to get into a hissy "firefly still totally holds up" rant. We're here for Rick and Morty. Not only was each episode somehow better than the last, but it looks like the financial side of a Dan Harmon production is bearing fruit too. It's outpacing Archer and almost everything on the big 4 networks. That means it's the most popular thing on Cartoon Network in general.

Suffice it to say, it couldn't have happened to a better show.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Bullet Point Teaser: My Game of the Year: Bioshock Infinite.

 I've re-written this so many times I've had dreams about it. So I'm teasing my main points now so you know where I'm coming from before I feel better about them in paragraph form.

I feel like I should almost apologize. I feel like I just confessed something both embarrassing and philistine. No serious critic anywhere except Neoseeker thinks it is. So I feel like my decision is misguided at best and contrarian at worst. But no, no game last year grabbed me so hard and held on for so long. This was the same year as The Last of Us and GTA V, so I wish that I was just being a dick about this. I wish I could convince myself to say what I'm about to say in regards to the other front runners. BSI was the most original and important game of the year. I hope I can convince you why I think that is. 

1. It's opening 30 minutes were absolutely magical.

2. It positively nailed both cultist indoctrination and genuine faith.  

3. It's use of racial tension was braver and more insightful than a lot of critics bothered to analyze (why yes, those were fight'n words.)

4. I actually liked the shooting... I mean BS2's was deeper, but come on guys.

5. Courtnee Draper got the grand flourishes and subtle nuances of Elizabeth's character down perfectly. 

6.The DE-makes of modern music were as well made as they were fascinating story points.

7. Choosing to loose focus on Colombia in the 3rd act was a mistake...

8. ...But the character study it became was still pretty damn interesting. 

9. I played Infinite for well over 80 hours. I don't know what that means, but it can't mean nothing.

10. Burial at Sea made the Rapture lover in me purr like a kitten.

11. I know I will still play this game at least 5 more times.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Lego Movie Review: An Immaculate Construction.

It's that good, people. Lord and Miller have done it again. For the third time in a row, they have taken an idea that has no right being tolerable, and made it awesome. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs should have been a soulless, by-the-numbers, shanking of a beloved children's book that's barely 20 pages long.

But I loved it's manic energy, genuine pathos, and masterful comic timing so much... I think an 87% isn't nearly high enough. Though to be fair it was an 80% 5 years ago, good to know some folks recanted. And while I thought 21 Jump Street was a bit of a step backwards in terms of story telling for them, it was still funny as hell. The funniest movie of that year by far. And it's worth pointing out that it bites the hand the feeds both frequently and viciously. But it's done so carefully it's disguised as a winking nudge. But it isn't. 21-JS was a film that despised it's own reason for existing. But that wouldn't stop it from being the best little reboot it could possibly be. That in-itself would have been enough for my seal of approval. Regardless of the ironically inclusive hipster bullies, Ellie Kemper's adorably horny chemistry teacher, and Jonah Hill singing show tunes on speed.

They even show up for 5 seconds as Superman and uh... that other guy.

So yeah, I've been following these guys for a while now. I didn't know what to expect from The Lego Movie for years, and suddenly I saw Rotten Tomatoes drowning in gleefully rave reviews. I was pumped, provided I got off work early enough, I thought I'd catch a really late show to A. finally see what this "darkly meta" 3rd act twist was all about and B. feel like less of a creep seeing it without any kids in the audience. Believe it or not, there were quite a few 6 year olds at a 10:50 show. So now you know that.

But even with all the hype and after devouring all the trailers and clips, I still have to say that nearly everything about this movie was awesome. Sure, almost all the best jokes are in the marketing material. Sure, I figured out the twist a third of the way through. Sure, I may not want to sit through it again just yet. But I'll say this, it earned all the hype it's got.

This was pretty much my expression for a solid 100 minutes.
Our unassuming hero is a construction worker named Emmet. A perfectly normal guy, who hides his crippling loneliness under a cheerfully aggressive need to constantly "follow the instructions." There's instructions for everything in Brickburg. From brushing your teeth, to greeting the day, to nonchalantly referencing last night's hit sitcom to your co-workers. He believes that if he follows them closely enough, everyone will like him. Or at the very least... someone might like him. But no, nobody likes Emmet. He's just too normal. But soon he stumbles upon an ancient relic known only as the "piece of resistance" and becomes the most interesting, most important, and most intelligent person who has ever lived: "The Special." Only he and a rag tag army of fellow master builders can take on President Lord-Business and avert a world wide apocalyptic event called T.A.C.O.S. Tuesday. The S is silent.

It's worth pointing out that the fact a film like this could get middling reviews is a minor miracle. This should be a po-faced, by-comitee, feature length commercial. And yet it's an absolute joy. Everything in the film is made out of legos. The ocean, water droplets, fire, smoke plumes, explosions, and hair flips. All Lego, all the time. It's glorious. The voice work is solid across the board. Elizabeth Banks and Chris Pratt are both delights, no surprise there. Allison Brie plays something called a "uni-kitty" Charlie Day killed me just by manically screaming the word "Spaceship!" and Nick Offerman is a pirate. If you're still not sold, then you clearly had your sense of humor surgically removed for some sort of elective frowning prosthetic and are now well beyond my help.

But if you were worried Morgan Freeman would stick out a little too much surrounded by these golden idols of comedy... yeah. You were half right. But the other half? The other half is just so damn funny it makes his stunt casting seem like a long con. I wouldn't put it past the directors if that were the case.

If you think the LA critic intelligentsia are just drinking a bunch of PR Kool-aide, you're wrong. If you think the rest of us are just chiming in on what all the cool kids are talking about, you're wrong. The Lego Movie is a heartfelt, achingly funny, celebration of a child's imagination. If you remember what you saw in your head when you played with legos back in the day, you're gonna have a blast. Just try not to think too hard about the studio politics that put the trailer for Morgan Freeman's new nature doc right in front of it.

So don't uh... don't think about it! Look, Motorcycle!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tom Hiddleston to Star in Highrise.

What's that? You say I haven't updated my blog in almost a week? You're saying I promised a GOTY article about Bioshock Infinite? Tough noogies, I'm talking about this now. And on a unrelated note, I'm really sorry.

But Highrise sounds really good. A cross breed between Elysium and Die Hard. Also Tom Hiddleston. The film is an adaptation to JG Ballard's 1975 novel about a self sufficient Highrise apartment building that is so comfortable and contained, that no one ever leaves. All is well until electric issues upset the shaky peace between the lower and upper floors (OBVIOUSLY NOT A METAPHOR OF ANY KIND, no sir) and the battle begins.

I haven't read the novel yet, that's going to change, but I have high hopes for this one. We are long over due for this generation's Sweeny Todd.