Monthly Archives: August 2017
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was just what the elven doctor ordered. I’ve been playing games like Far Cry and Return to Castle Wolfenstein looking for some satisfying action and leaving unhappy. But Shadow of Mordor knew what I needed and delivered in spades.
What I needed was a game that made me feel like I was good at what I did. I needed a game that rubbed my shoulders and said, “You’re doing great, buddy.” I would play Shadow of Mordor and feel bad for the orcs I would happen upon, because I was death and they were not ready to die.
The action in the game is so beautifully fluid that I rarely ever saw pixels splash against each other. Every attack or block I commanded seemed like it was planned by the programmers and myself from the start. I actually found the combat to be better implemented than Batman: Arkham Asylum. Which explains why I never got tired of it.
The highly praised Nemesis system held up to it’s reputation. However, I couldn’t get myself to exploit it like some people. The idea that I could let myself die and then get stronger orcs to fight, thus granting me better rewards, seemed to go against everything I believed in as a gamer. So, I didn’t have many returning foes. I fought to the death, but not to die. When I did die, I was happy to see the orc get promoted, but I couldn’t willing lose to them. Luckily, more often, the orcs I was fighting would retreat and that’s how my relationship with them grew. I liked seeing an old face who had escaped my wrath more than that of one who had killed me.
The story, however, did not impress me. Talion isn’t much of a charismatic lead. Ratbag, the orc you team up with, was such a fun character that when he was replaced with a boring hunter halfway through the game, I was almost angry. There was melodrama, but never compelling drama. The music sounded like the Lord of the Rings films, but never as memorable. But, that’s fine, because it was the combat and stealth that made the game such a joy to play and I’d rather it that way than reversed.
I think I lost steam during the second half, when the new map was introduced. By that point, I had already cleared all the artifacts and glyphs and outcast missions from the first map and seeing them all over again, albeit in a new area, left me feeling exhausted. Plus, I was too strong to die often enough for the orcs to leave an impression and that second half felt lonelier. Even with branding, I wasn’t experiencing the personality the game had during the first half. And the less said about the end is still more than was put into the game.
Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor was a great time that ran out of steam near the end. If I were to ever replay it, I can’t imagine I would chase the collectibles again, nor tackle the second map. But, my first playthrough was a great time and fully recharged me in a way other games haven’t in a while. I was excited to start each session and shoot beehives on unsuspecting orcs. I was excited to free slaves and unlocked new abilities. It’s a great game and I’m glad to have tackled it.
I did not like this book. I know I’m in the minority here. That’s fine. I hope, if you read it, you loved The Fifth Season. But, I did not love the book. I just wanted it to end.
I wanted to like this book, though! I was excited to read it. I finally finished the last book I had to read for work and book clubs and ect, and The Fifth Season was the first “just for me” book I’ve read in a while. Unfortunately, very early on, I knew I wasn’t enjoying it. But, since it’s a Hugo winner, I wanted to finish the whole thing and nothing is worse than not wanting to read the next eighty percent of a book.
I didn’t care about the three protagonists or about their connection to each other. I figured out how they were related very early on and I don’t mean that as a brag. I have to believe author N.K. Jemisin meant for the reader to know. I suppose, I most liked the child Damaya but her story ends before the others. Actually, I think the stories are told the way they are because doing so the normal way would have proven to be too dull and unfocused for even those that enjoyed this novel.
I didn’t like the world, either. I found it boring, despite how well it was thought out. Again, I’m in the minority here. Going to Goodreads, there’s nothing but five star reviews of this book, with people singing Jemisin’s praises. People did like the world here. They did like the characters. It makes me think I’m doing something wrong, actually. Like, maybe, I don’t know how to read words anymore?
A big issue, for me, was the lack of plot. I never felt like there was momentum to the story or any goal trying to be achieved. Too be fair, I don’t think Jemisin meant for this to be a plot heavy book. I think this book is character study and world tour. But, again, I didn’t care for either. Maybe, if there was a villain for me to invest in or plot to follow, I would have become more interested. It was not be.
While reading The Fifth Season, I kept thinking of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series. Both Mistborn and The Fifth Season take pride in their world building, elemental magic and no nonsense characters. But, Mistborn had a plot and it’s characters were likable. There was a sense of purpose. The Fifth Season‘s purpose seems to be about being the most poetic fantasy book of it’s time. Unfortunately, I hate poetry.
I must sound like the worst type of reader in the world. But, I can’t lie. This book felt like a waste of my time and I don’t want to read the sequel. I was distressed to learn that I’m going to have to if I want to keep up with Hugo winners. There was a mercy back when Ancillary Justice‘s sequel didn’t win but now my hands are tied. I did like the second Mistborn book more than the first, so maybe there’s hope for me now. But, I won’t hold my breath. Jemisin’s style is too repetitive, too meandering for my taste. I just hope my next “just for me” book is a good time because between this and work, reading is starting to feel like a slog.
I just finished reading the third volume of Jason Aaron’s Doctor Strange series and, so far, so good. Chris Bachalo’s art is a great fit for a Doctor Strange comic and he and Aaron made a good team while working on Wolverine and the X-Men a few years back.
But, what surprises me the most about this Doctor Strange comic is that we’re three volumes in and a fourth is on it’s way in October. While reading the first trade paperback, I assumed Aaron would be around for a least a second volume. After all, most series at least last for twelve issues to get that one-two-punch setup of two single volumes of trade paperback and, then, the later released “definitive” single edition.
Three volumes, though? With a fourth on the way? What’s with this extended storytelling? Who does Aaron think he is? Chris Claremont? (Chris Claremont is a comic book writer who wrote X-Men comics for seventeen years straight. You can get the joke now.)
Of course, I don’t really think of four volumes as an extended run but it’s not far off. Twelve issues seems to be the magic number for most series before they get the reboot and a new first issue. I’m sure that helps sales, as most people would be more willing to pick up a first issue rather than a thirty-second. But, I’ve begun to have setup fatigue.
See, with every first or second issue, we need a setup. The writers have to explain why this new series is different than the previous series, even if it’s just one Hulk book from the next. Yes, last year’s Uncanny X-Men was about our heroes on the run in Antarctica, so we needed to reboot the series so we could place our heroes on the run in London. It’s different. And we have to spend forty four pages explaining why it’s different.
With DC Comic’s Rebirth event, it hit me harder than ever before. Wonder Woman: The Lies was fine and entertaining, but I’ve read so many first volumes and origin stories of Wonder Woman that I just couldn’t care anymore. The same thing goes for the new Justice League comic. Instead of a new story, I have to read six more issues of introductory action and be reminded who these characters are again and why Batman chooses to fight crime dressed as bat.
Team book, like the X-Men and Justice League, are the worst for this because each incarnation of the team has to have a reason to exist and a new lineup of heroes. I can’t count how many X-Men comics I’ve read that are just characters walking down halls, welcoming back Iceman for whatever new direction they’re going with. But, solo heroes still get annoying, with constant first issues of Batgirl leaping from buildings, talking about how much she loves being a hero. All reminder, no momentum.
What happens, with this setup fatigue, is I stop caring and I don’t let myself get invested. It’s partly because these stories have little overlap and almost none of them carry over. Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men comes back to mind because that lasted for a while, filling up eight volumes. That’s one heck of a run in these days. But, as soon as the series was over, almost all the work that he was doing with Wolverine as a character was ignored. Series that run for less time are even worse investments. Iron Man is obsessed with rebuilding his company’s name in one series, two months later he couldn’t care less in the reboot. Why should I care for one setup when the other is one the way?
What we lose is a sense of purpose, that these stories matter. Villains no longer have plans, they simply attack because it can fill two issues with action. Subplots are largely ignored. Not to keep singing the praises of Wolverine and the X-Men, but over the course of that series, Jason Aaron was able to tell lots of small stories throughout. There was a time, such as with Chris Claremont’s X-Men run, where you could have Mastermind working in the background for a year and still not reveal is full plan to drive Jean Grey insane.
Maybe superhero comics aren’t going to be that type of story anymore. Brian K. Vaughan rarely writes comics that don’t last ten trade paperbacks. Fables, by Bill Willingham, lasted for twenty two volumes and spin-off titles. Sure, Scott Snyder wrote on the New 52’s Batman for the whole run, but he’s also been writing American Vampire for years.
Times have changed and I don’t mean to sound like I want “the good old days” back (I least hate thinking I sound old). I just want good stories. Comics are episodic with many having no end in sight. But, when we’re constantly starting over, that lack of ending is getting exhausting. It has to do with the fact many comics used to run hundreds of issues, so we just went along for the ride. Imagine going on a road trip for two days and how enjoyable it could be with no traffic and some great music. Now, imagine being on that road trip and the driver keeps stopping the car every hour, turns around and goes back twenty minutes and pick a new route. You have to repeat the music too. Also, I think he keeps slamming on the brakes for no reason. Dad’s are the worst.
I haven’t written about a DC Animated Movie in a while. I liked Batman: Assault on Arkham, Justice League Dark and the second half of Batman: The Killing Joke. But everything else has left little impression on me. I miss the days of adaptations that brought different styles to each film, like All Star Superman or Wonder Woman. The new continuity driven films are stuck with boring stories and uninspired voice casting.
Considering my disdain for the Suicide Squad’s take on Harley Quinn, I wasn’t surprised by my lack of interest in this new entry. But, when I looked up pictures of Batman and Harley Quinn, I found myself getting excited. It looks like the WB years of The Batman Animated Series! They got Kevin Conroy back as Batman and they brought Loren Lester out of mothballs to play Nightwing! Wow! And Bruce Timm is involved? I’m back in, baby!
The biggest mistake I made with that excitement was actually seeing the movie. I should have watched my dvds of the animated series or read a new Batman comic. Instead, I drove ninety minutes to the nearest theater showing the movie and saw what poison (ivy) can do to nostalgia.
Batman and Harley Quinn doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Sometimes, it’s trying to be call back to the great, genre-defining show of the 90s. Sometimes, it’s wants to be the Adam West Batman show with the old cartoon’s setting. Sometimes, it wants to be a comedy. Sometimes, it wants to be a lost episode of Justice League Unlimited. Most times, it’s just bad.
As a comedy, it falls so flat you’d have to think it’s intentionally not being funny. Barely any jokes land and the ones that do are stretched out too far. Melissa Rauch plays Harley Quinn almost as a parody of the Arleen Sorkin. It’s a DOA portrayal, living in the same space of the original character but not breathing the same air. I’d be willing to accept it’s not Rauch’s fault though, as the writing is lazy throughout the whole movie.
Really, Batman and Harley Quinn is a shadow the 90s show, taking the goodwill from the past twenty years and punishing us for it. It makes me wonder if Bruce Timm isn’t as talented as I thought he was. Maybe, he needed all those other writers and artist to keep him from raveling in his inherent tackiness.
We spend far too long in a dive bar with a bunch of extras, watching two twins sing “Don’t Pour Your Love” on stage, only for Harley to then do the same thing with “Hanging On the Telephone“. And, both songs are played in their entirety, because this movie is looking to waste as much time as possible.
The animation looks cheap throughout and closeups are worse. It really does look like a lazy episode of a cartoon from twenty years ago, if that was it’s intention, I don’t know what was. The ending is a dud, but, by then, what was I expecting? The whole affair can’t decided if it’s for adults or kids and is never fun for either. Considering that the 90s show did the whole thing better with “Harlequinade”, it’s hard to understand why anyone thought this movie needed to happen. There were no extra scripts lying around?
Look, if this is canon, I won’t accept it. I’m going to be unreasonable about this for the rest of my life. I’ve long ago said goodbye to the DC Animated Universe of old and I don’t need more of it in my life. Batman and Harley Quinn made sure of that by being the Superman: Braniac Attacks of it’s series. I won’t mourn again.
This week on the show, we talk about the man who makes teenagers cry and experience the “feels”, John Green!
Also, I hate ” the feels” as a phrase. If I was being harsh, and I am, it’s a lazy way to ignore real emotions that can make experiences deeper. Where the Wild Things Are didn’t give me “the feels”. It made me sad and melancholy and reminded me of making mistakes as a kid and thinking they’re the end of the world.
None of that ranting is about John Green, though! We talk all of his books, Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, Help! I Have Too Many Katherine’s and I Don’t Know What to Do With Them All!, and the rest. We have our own music master, Ben, on the show to help us through the books Nic and I haven’t read. It’s a good episode. And not just because it’s my birthday episode.
We also talk about how Ruth Ware’s new book can’t be as successful as the terrible Woman in Cabin 10. People had to get wise, right? Nic and Ben also review The Dark Tower, which I haven’t seen, but from all accounts sounds pretty embarrassing. And the trailers made it look like a bad 90s action flick, like The Last Action Hero. It should be easy, a dark western with some magic and maybe some horror. But the first book, The Gunslinger was underwhelming and I couldn’t finish the second one. I guess some ideas are too good for the world.
See you next week, podcats!
The core concept of a dinosaur theme park that goes haywire has been done twice now. Both Jurassic Park and Jurassic World have done that story. Jurassic Park saw the park never open, while Jurassic World showed us why that was probably a good thing. Both are fantastic, the first being my favorite movie of all the time.
The problem is that you can’t open the park again. After two failed attempts, no one would go to that park again. It would stretch the disbelief a little too far. The Lost World: Jurassic Park came up with a good reason to get people back on the island, the idea that companies would try to pillage the remaining dinosaurs for profit or that our human curosity would be too much to not study them. Jurassic Park III, well, it’s certainly a movie, isn’t it?
I think that third film showed the problem with having a remote location to keep the dinosaurs locked away. I could watch people trapped on a dinosaur island every day for the rest of my life and never get bored, but you start running out of reasons to get them there. How many helicopters/planes/ships can crash with a crew of interesting characters who have skills able to keep them alive from Velociraptors? Five? Eighteen? It’s a finite number, I’m sure.
So, I think, you have two options. One is to set up permit residence on the island. Come up with a reason people are living on that island, despite the dinosaurs. That’s hard, because something has to go wrong, otherwise we’re watching Dinotopia, which would be my jam as well, but that’s it’s own franchise. In Jurassic Park, people have to get eaten. It’s important. To me.
The second option, which I would have never thought I’d be down for, is to let the dinosaurs loose in the world. And that’s what Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom sounds like it’s setting up, even if the “world” is just mainland military bases and neighboring towns. But, from there, the skies the limit!
What I’ve been thinking is that, maybe, it’s time for the franchise to shake up the status quo. When Rise of the Planet of the Apes was releases, it presented the apes that gain intelligence as a localized occurrence in the here-and-now. In order for it to be conceivable that the planet could become theirs, there needed to be another force to lower the human population and even the playing field. The Simian Virus in that rebooted series shrunk the human population, creating a dystopia where a few hundred intelligent apes were dangerous and becoming the dominate species.
Jurassic World introduced us to the idea of extreme genetic manipulation with dinosaurs, creating the Indominus Rex. In the sequel, it sounds like humans, specifically the movie universe’s now seemingly evil company InGen, aren’t done messing with DNA. What if, in doing so, they ended up creating a virus like that in the new Planet of the Apes films. What if humanity is no longer plentiful and dinosaurs roam the earth?
I love that idea.
To be fair, I probably love that idea because it’s not unlike Cadillacs and Dinosaurs. You’d have a reason why a T-Rex could be loose in suburbia and we couldn’t stop it. Sure, those humans that are still alive have weapons, but the world doesn’t work the same way anymore. And humans are panicky primates. If you have an assault rifle and a Spinosaurus started charging at you, I’d be surprised if you didn’t start running, fully loaded gun and all.
How far should this world go? Makeshift cars akin to Mad Max? The toys alone would be fantastic! Domesticated dinosaurs? We’ve seen trained raptors, so why not? InGen could still be around, maybe as a paramilitary force keeping most people under their charge. Sure, that would start to turn them into the Umbrella Corporation from the Resident Evil movies, but even bad movies can have decent ideas.
Yes, doing any of this would change the franchise forever. But, with a title like Jurassic World, the concept of going expansion is set. And change is good. It’s chaotic, it’s evolution. The plots would be forced to deal with the human characters and their motivations, while still including the prehistoric carnage these movies have always been so good at delivering. We’ve had four (and probably five) movies set in a slightly grounded dinosaur populated universe. Let’s go big.
Since Return to Castle Wolfenstein didn’t scratch that first-person shooter itch I had, I decided to keep going through my collection of unplayed games. Since I’ve been working through these chronologically, 2004’s Far Cry was up next. It’s another game I bought for less than five dollars during a sale, and one I missed when it was first released. And I had a vague memory of there being dinosaurs in the game. There wasn’t.
All I wanted was a fast paced shooter with some run and gun action. That shouldn’t be so hard to find! But Far Cry was not the game to satisfy that desire. As I would find out, the game wants me to stealth most of the time, to sneak and avoid danger. Sure, the stealth elements aren’t great and it still puts road blocks full of enemies in my way, but the game wants what it wants.
I was also unaware that the game was considered harder than normal back in the day, so when I chose “challenging” as my difficulty, I was pretty confident in my skills. Unfortunately, doing so severely ruined my fun. While I got away with quick saving my way to victory in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, there was no such ability in Far Cry. Instead, I was stuck dying and reloading checkpoints, creating a Sisyphus-like experience for myself. It was hard and, because of my difficulty selection which can’t be changed, it stayed that way.
Now, I doubt I would have lowered the difficulty in the first place, as that would have felt like defeat after playing a few hours on one setting. And, I was completing levels, despite the challenge. But, the problem was, the challenge wasn’t satisfying. It was frustrating to have to replay the same mission over and over again, especially for a game of this length. The gun play isn’t always satisfying, the enemies seem to have perfect aim and their bullets can go through walls like paper. There were times when I would just and sit and stare, having no clue how to avoid being shot and killed.
For some, that difficulty would be welcomed. While I was streaming, I was visited by a few players who had beaten Far Cry on the highest setting, “realistic”, and I can’t imagine doing the same thing. The brutality of it all would have destroyed me. Every now and then, I feel embarrassed by my skills. When other players brag about a pistol-only play through or max difficulty settings, I just nod and accept I’m not that good. With Far Cry, I felt like there was some bad game design working against me as well. I can accept I’m no good at game, but it’s harder to accept being bad at a game with some obvious flaws.
To be fair, the game is still pretty for its age. And there were moments when I felt like Rambo and a sniping machine. But most times, I just wanted to be done. I just wanted to be able to blow some stuff up and move forward. I never felt like I had momentum. The vehicles felt like a punishment. The mutants that show up start feeling like Doom clones. And the shotgun never felt hefty. A bad shotgun is one thing I can’t forgive.
And the voice acting? Ouch.
Will I keep going with this series? I doubt it. I’m not the biggest fan of open-world/sandbox games because they lack the direction I need to stay invested. I’ve heard good things about Far Cry 3 but there’s plenty of games for me to play that I think I will enjoy. I experienced the same issue with Hitman: Blood Money. About halfway through, I realized I wasn’t enjoying the game and that I didn’t care what the end looked like. That’s not a knock on that game because I just don’t like that sort of challenge. Stealth-ing is all stress with no relief and very little inertia. For some, that’s fine. For me, it gets old real fast.
Despite it’s faults and my lack of skill, I did finish Far Cry. I felt more relief than excitement, but I can say I powered through it. But, I’d rather find a game I enjoy next time.