Wednesday, March 19

i beat it! - Mass Effect

just beat the Xbox 360 game Mass Effect last night. it's a third-person shooter / RPG that has this sci-fi epic story that centers around the human race being accepted by the galactic community. i've been playing it almost every day for the past few weeks. ended up clocking in at about 35 hours of gameplay.

overall the game was good. really good. the main story was well written and it had a pretty damn satisfying ending. however, they should have peppered the villain in a bit more... just seeing what's up from his perspective (behind the scenes sorta) would have been nice once in a while - as it was, in the way i played the game, i saw him at the start and then again at the end. that's it.

the game is broken up into main missions and side missions. you pretty much decide what main missions you tackle when, when you do the side missions, etc. story-wise, the way things were revealed, i think there's a better way to play through the main missions than i did, but oh well.

the leveling-up system is a little broke, though i was playing on normal (maybe it'd be tougher on hard). you're kinda underpowered at the start of the game, and then get pretty damn strong pretty fast. i stopped using the cover system in most encounters after the first 1/4 of the game.

same goes for money. kinda broke system. you're hurting for it at the start, then in the latter half of the game you rake it in to the point where i was maxed out at 9999999 for the last 1/4 of the game. oh, and you really don't need to buy that much if you keep decrypting crates and lockers when you find them.

the controls suck. first, let me preface this by saying there are secondary force-like powers called "biotics" that many of the characters have in the game. they're cool, but i hardly ever used them. the reason i never/rarely used biotics is because you need to pause the action by holding down the right bumper and bringing down a menu. well yeah, who wants to constantly do that?!? you have the option to map ONE of your biotic powers (out of approximately 8) to the right bumper, but that's it. on the other hand, you've got wasted face buttons. X brings out your gun, but so does the right/left trigger. B puts your gun away. all Y does is replenish your health. WHY AREN'T THESE MAPPED TO THE D-PAD?!? that would free up 3 freaking buttons to map biotic powers to!!! it's sad really, because i wanted to use the powers and just didn't because it was too much of a hassle (especially when shooting things kills them pretty easily anyway). oh, and what the HELL are grenades doing mapped to the back button??? NOBODY uses the back button! as a result i used maybe 15 grenades total in the game (and most of them came from a mission where i had to use them).

the dialogue system was not all it was promised to be. in previews for the game the development team had talked about this robust system where you could change the tide of a conversation with a look on your face and you never knew what response would lead to what reaction. however, in the game, 99.9% of the time the "good boy" answer is at the top, the neutral answer is in the middle, and the "bad boy" answer is at the bottom. oh, and there's no interrupting people or turning the conversation with a look. also, some dialogue branches were obvious where they were leading you (i won't say more than that). at any rate, they promised a lot and didn't deliver. that said, the dialogue was still good, and so were the voice actors.

side missions were fun at first but ended up becoming repetitive and rather boring. they followed a pretty typical pattern: 1) go to a rather-bland cookie-cutter planet, 2) explore and survey the planet, 3) defeat the bad guys on the planet. these bad guys were holed up in 1 of 4 standard base types. there were at least 15 side missions like this.

there were other minor frustrations with the story that i won't go into here... one of them involves what one of the main mysteries ends up being. it's... not what you think it is. and it's a lot less... epic... than i thought it would be. that's all i'll say. it was a bit of a letdown.

the ending, however, was epic. honestly, if more of the main missions had felt like the ending did... wow. the main missions, as they were, were good, but not great.

there was a TON of texture popping and framerate issues. these are all technical issues that lessened the experience and took me out of the game a few times. it's unfortunate that the game couldn't have went through a bit more polish before being released.

the soundtrack is amazing.

when/if i play again, i'll be a class that nets me a sniper rifle, i'll play it "bad boy" style, and try it out on the hard difficulty setting. i'll also take 2 different people in my party. as it was i kept the same 2 people in my party for the majority of the game.

it may sound like i hated the game, but really it had a lot going for it. i guess i just tend to focus on the negative more than the positive. mainly i was pulled into the world by the great story, backstory, and characters. it was a very cinematic game. it's a pretty great game that lived up to my rather high expectations. if they can correct even half the things i listed above for the inevitable sequel, i'll be extremely happy.


9.0 out of 10 (+/- .25)


Monday, March 17

Spectacular Spider-Man is, well, pretty spectacular

i love Spider-Man. i think you all know that. so when a new Spider-Man project is announced, i'm always cautiously optimistic. that, and i watch it like a hawk, finding out as much as i can about it.

well, there's a new Spider-Man project that just started last week. it's an animated series. Spectacular Spider-Man. it's on Kids WB on Saturday mornings, which means i download it later in the day and watch it off my computer (there's no way i'm waking up that early). it's had 3 episodes so far.

what was tough for me going in is that there was little-to-no information about this show leading up to its premiere. all i knew was the premise and the art style. oh, and i knew that a former producer of the Gargoyles cartoon was going to be on it.

the story focuses on a young Peter Parker about a year after getting his spider powers. he's entering his junior year of high school after just having the summer of his life playing Spider-Man. however, now he's got to balance school, Aunt May's bills, friends, and his life as Spider-Man. oh, and super villains are starting to show up on the scene. it's a great premise and a great starting point to a new series.

the art is similar to a lot of today's animated shows - shows such as The Batman, Kim Possible, and Teen Titans. it's a highly stylized, exaggerated style that looks to be influenced by anime - very different from the more realistic style of 90s cartoons. it can work in some instances, but in others it can be too cute, too cartoony. here, thankfully, it works.

so, knowing what i knew, i was excited. and the show didn't let me down. not one bit.

the main characters (so far) are Peter, Gwen Stacey, Harry Osborne, Eddie Brock, Flash Thompson, Liz Allen, J. Jonah Jamison, and Aunt May. the Connors may also play a pretty big role (as they were in the first 3 episodes) but Doc Connors was turned into the Lizard in the third episode, so they may go away for a while. here's my thoughts on some of the characters:

- Peter is perfect so far. the writer's really nailed the tone and the actor really portrays him pretty well. oh, and the quips Spidey whips out in battle are great.

- Gwen is Peter's close friend (along with Harry), but that's it. there was a hint in one of the episodes that she wants to be more than just friends, so i'm sure we'll see them hooking up later.

- Harry is being portrayed as sort of a wimp. the voice actor they got for him really gives Harry this wimpy quality. it's an interesting take on the character - usually he's handsome, charismatic, and pretty popular. not here.

- Eddie is Pete, Gwen, and Harry's older friend. he's a freshman in college. of course in the comics and movie Eddie is a photojournalist that doesn't meet Peter until they're older, but this portrayal of a younger Eddie meeting a younger Pete has been in a few of the latest Spider-Man projects (Ultimate Spider-Man for instance). i have no problem with it, as long as he becomes Venom like he should.

- Liz Allen. now, she's just a secondary character, but they did something to her that really bothers me. what did they do? they made her Latina, no doubt for the sake of political correctness. she's supposed to be a spoiled white girl. instead she's a street-talking Latina. sigh. oh well.

what's interesting to note is that they went with Gwen instead of Mary Jane. of course, in the comics Gwen came first, and was Peter's first love, but modern day audiences only know of Mary Jane (i mean they went with Mary Jane in the movies and demoted Gwen to a pretty crappy cameo in the third movie). it's an interesting choice, and i give them kudos for doing it, but i miss Mary Jane. what will probably happen is Gwen and Peter will hook up (or almost hook up) and THEN they'll introduce Mary Jane into the mix. i can't wait!

the first 3 episodes introduced us to The Vulture, Electro, The Lizard, and The Enforcers (with The Kingpin behind the scenes). they were all pretty good episodes in their own right, with only the Lizard one feeling a little weak. usually with The Lizard/Doc Connors, Peter reveals his identity and the 2 of them share the secret of who the other is. that didn't happen here. however, something else happened at the end of the episode that i was like "no way." suffice to say, it distanced Peter from his friends even more. it really showed how being Spider-Man conflicts with being Peter Parker. it was great.

one last thing to note - the battles are amazing. the animation is fluid and visceral. and Spider-Man gets the CRAP beat outta him. being a kids show i was worried they wouldn't show this aspect, but they do. one of my favorite things about Spider-Man is that he's pretty much a normal guy (with somewhat superhuman strength, sure) going against super villains that are usually stronger or have some advantage over Spidey at least. Spidey usually gets his ass handed to him before he can figure out how to beat the villain. it reinforces the "average Joe with not-so-average powers" thing i love so much.

in conclusion, you should check this series out. it's got 13 episodes in the can, and i believe 13 more are going to be ordered. i hope so at least. because it's a great series so far.


a weekend by any other name

been a while... what's up? oh, nothing much:

- just finished season 5 of Star Trek: TNG. you could say i'm moving at a considerable pace, seeing that i just wrote about finishing season 3 a little over 2 weeks ago. as i said then, i'm able to watch so much because there's absolutely nothing else on regular TV, so sometimes i get in 3-4 episodes a night. seasons 4 and 5 were great seasons. seasons 1 and 2 set things up, then the show starts to get its bearings in season 3, and really hits its stride in 4 and 5. there's only 2 seasons left (6 and 7) so i'm wondering if they keep on rolling or if there's a reason they stopped at 7 (if it got old). we'll see.

- started watching New Amsterdam, Bizarre Foods w/ Andrew Zimmern, South Park, and Spectacular Spider-Man. New Amsterdam is... ok. it's only 6 episodes (so far) and with nothing else on, i'm willing to make room for it. Bizarre Foods this past week was in Iceland and it was a BEAUTIFUL episode. Iceland has suddenly and unexpectedly made it on my list of places to visit before i die. South Park's first episode of its 12th season was pretty good. i'm definitely psyched for the new season - moreso than i've been for the past few years. and Spectacular Spider-Man... well, it's so good it needs its own post (above).

- finished World War Z a couple of weeks ago. really should get around to posting about it, as it deserves its own post. anyway, great read. one of my favorite books. it could have went on for 100-200 more pages and it would have been perfect. oh, and if there were some hard numbers in terms of how many died, etc. oh well. still a great book.

- currently reading Spider-Girl. i'm on volume 4 of the trades (issue 20 or so) and i've got several more to read. it's a good series that's starting to come into its own the more i read.

- learned the new Star Wars game, The Force Unleashed, has been pushed back AGAIN - this time to August. while i'm saddened that i have to wait even longer to play it, i'm kinda glad too. there's just too much coming out in April (when it was supposed to come out) - Grand Theft Auto IV, Persona 3: FES, Arcana Heart, Baroque...

- i finished that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix video game i said i was playing. in fact, i think i finished it a day or two after posting about it. the game was short (maybe 6 hours) and basically had you reenact the movie/book (though there were probably sub-plots missing) and discover things around Hogwarts. the real joy of course came from walking around a virtual Hogwarts and mimicking wand movements with the joystick. however, it wasn't enough to keep this from being a pretty mediocre game.

6.0 out of 10

- currently playing Mass Effect for the 360. it's a sci-fi third-person shooter/RPG hybrid. i've got my complaints, but overall it's a pretty great game. i'm about 30 hours in and will probably beat it in another 5-10 (so, this week sometime). after that, i expect to write a review.

- haven't touched Halo 3 since my work buddy and i stopped playing it. at first it was weird not playing, but now it's not even an afterthought. i'm sure the Halo bug will bite me one of these days and i'll start playing it again, but for now i'm actually glad to have the time to be able to beat other games like Naruto, Harry Potter, and Mass Effect.

- i'm headed to Phoenix in a couple of months. i'm headed there for a little over a week in the middle of May, the week before Memorial Day. i'll be visiting all my AZ buddies, a couple of friends coming down from WI (they are seeing if they want to move down there), and my parents! it'll be quite the trip. looking forward to it!

- and finally, i'm excited about writing again. for the past year or so, i haven't really been doing any writing on the side because i've got to be pretty creative at work and it drains me. well, now i've got an idea that's got me excited about writing again. it's a sci-fi story - my first actually. with all the sci-fi i've been surrounded by lately - Babylon 5, Star Trek, Mass Effect - it's actually surprising it took me so long to come up with my own idea. it's just... any idea i would have always seemed like a "been there, done that" sort of thing. but this idea... i don't think it's been done before. i hope. at any rate, i'm pretty private when it comes to my personal writings, so you might have to bug me to find out more... but just know that i'm writing again. and it's fun.

have a good week all! Happy St. Patrick's Day today and Happy Easter this coming weekend!


Friday, March 7

around the web - been a while edition

it's Friday, time to drink:
17 of the worst shots ever created
malt liquor commercials through the years

didn't know about most of these:
7 insane conspiracies that actually happened

my obsession with Garfield continues...
Garfield minus Garfield

dear god, kill me now:
hops shortage spiking beer prices

well if Johnny Rico is back...
trailer for Starship Troopers 3: Straight to DVD

i've died and gone to heaven:
"We are the World" sung by Japanese impersonators

interesting Flickr photo sets:
KitKats of the world
stick figures in peril

1960s credit sequence for Star Wars
swingin' Star Wars

the end of this high school football game is nothing short of amazing. team with the ball is down 41-17 with 3 minutes to go. can they come back?
ridiculous football finish

Where's Waldo + The Bourne Ultimatum =
The Waldo Ultimatum

is this a promo video for the park? is this competition the park's claim to fame? rightfully so i guess... look at how many people turned out!
belly flop competition

and finally, a personal story on how i found this link. i clicked on this link because the title was "Hero Humiliates Horny Man" only to be greeted by Mike Jacob's face - the local news anchor in Milwaukee. yes, this story is straight outta Oconomowoc; 10 minutes away from where i grew up.
sword-wielding man stops "rape"


Tuesday, March 4

new to my stomach - chocolate mix skittles

a couple of months ago, nestled between the Smoothie Skittles and regular Skittles at my local 7-11 was an oddity. an affront to god.

it was a bag of Chocolate Mix Skittles.

i was wary, but being someone that is always looking for the next good thing, i gave it a shot.

the taste? well, if you grab a handful and just throw 'em in your mouth, more often than not it will just taste like Tootsie Rolls. that's right - Tootsie Rolls, with a hard candy shell. if you separate the 5 flavors and try one each individually, that's when you can taste the differences. i'll pretty much defer to the link above for their take on the 5 individual flavors (as it mirrors my own reactions, except for the brownie batter - i found that to be fine).

so, hard candy shelled Tootsie Rolls. doesn't sound so bad right? in theory, it's not. in practice, it is. see, my problem with this candy is purely a mental one.

Skittles are supposed to be fruity. their slogan is "taste the rainbow." so you rip open this Skittles-shaped bag, pour these these round candies with an S on them into your hand, pop them in your mouth, and you expect FRUIT FLAVORS.

why do i refer to it as an affront to god? because Skittles shouldn't taste like this.

VERDICT: try it if you think you can get over the mental block AND if you can find it (since the initial shipment, my local 7-11 hasn't had any in - of course, i live on an island, so who knows). otherwise just go buy a bag of Tootsie Pops.

oh, and Skittles? yeah, i'm talkin' to you.

stick to fruit flavors.


Monday, March 3

i beat it! - Call of Duty 4 campaign

i just finished off the CoD4 single-player campaign and i've gotta say - i understand what people were talking about now. it is an EXCELLENT game. heck, me feeling the need to post about it right after beating it is a testament to how good it is. quick notes:

- the trademark CoD way of showing the war from a number of different perspectives was in full force in CoD4, and even added a new trick to the bag - your characters could die at any moment. that's right, your characters could die during a cutscene and you couldn't do anything to stop it. it changed my perspective on first-person shooters. it was excellent. i do wish that there were one more perspective (you pretty much follow 2 people, i wish there would have been a third), but as there were only British and Americans on the side of "good" in this one, i guess that's all they could show.

- the reason i have good in quotes above is because this is the first CoD game to be set in modern times (with previous games being set in WWII), and we all know how modern war isn't exactly black-and-white, good vs evil. the war depicted is the Iraq War - well, it is and it isn't. really it feels more like an episode of 24, with 2 terrorist groups working together and grabbing a bunch of nukes. it really felt like something out of the 80s, painting the Muslims as evil terrorists - and i wish it DIDN'T do that. i wish it actually set the war in Iraq and took advantage of the storytelling tools (first-person multiple perspectives) to show just how gray modern warfare really is. i mean could you imagine putting us in the shoes of a Muslim? they'd never do that, as the developers would get too much flak from the media - but still, with the game the way it is now, it's almost doing more harm than anything. ignorant people playing it could come away thinking that all Muslims are terrorists. some may even call CoD4 wartime propaganda. read this article. i agree with almost everything the author says about the game. it's a great game that's a fun ride, but it's disappointing thinking about how much more it could have accomplished.

- game could have been a little longer. i started playing it Thursday or Friday and beat it tonight (Sunday), so at about 2-3 hours of playing each night... i'd say it was about 8 hours long. the game seemed to take its time getting started, jumping around a bit, and then all of the sudden rushed to its conclusion. could have had another perspective, as i said above, or maybe another flashback level (see below).

- one of the levels is a flashback level. you're a sniper on an assassination mission in Chernobyl 15 years ago. that's right - this is after the Chernobyl disaster. you're running around in a dilapidated nuclear wasteland of a town... a modern-day ghost town. just this level alone was worth the price of admission.

i love CoD4 for what it is, but it could have been so much more. it was a beautifully told story that really got you caring about the characters BUT is there really that much to care about when there's no substance behind it? they really should have set it in the Iraq War, and they really should have had another perspective. it also could have been a little longer. all that said, this is still an excellent, EXCELLENT game.

CoD4 campaign
9.5 out of 10

CoD4 overall (campaign, multiplayer, arcade mode)
9.75 out of 10