I don't normally post about my personal life on here, for assorted reasons. However, I am going to be moving to New York very soon, and I thought maybe some Duders might know about what are some good places to check out while I'm there. I'll be staying with people who know the city, and I've visited a couple times before, so I won't be completely lost or anything, but I'm open to anything you guys think might not be that well known, or whatever general suggestions you might have. The weirder the better! Just no sex dungeons, please. Unless.... no. Definitely not.
Hard To Even Find The Words
As far as actual game stuff goes, I've played through the Citadel DLC for Mass Effect 3. I don't have much to say about it that hasn't already been said, I think, but it certainly is the weirdest kind of pandering I've ever seen. Injecting this much stupid humor into places it doesn't usually occur makes for some strange vibes. For a game that's spent half its time being bizarrely gung-ho pro-military melodrama, to do a complete about face and act like fan fic of a Joss Whedon show doesn't make any sense, but it ends up working in spite of itself. A lot of the jokes aren't even that funny, but they're so goddam silly about it that you kind of have to just accept what's going on and enjoy it anyway.
Knowing that this might have been the last thing Zaeed's voice actor Robin Sachs ever worked on does make his scenes that much weirder, though.
The Chillest of Music, for Your Enjoyment
At first glance, Dustforce doesn't look like my kind of game, but the soundtrack is so fucking amazing I might have to check it out anyway. I don't know what the name is for this type of music - is this what chiptunes is? - but I want more of it.
I can’t help but be conflicted in my feelings towards the game, and I think what it comes down to is that the game’s greatest strength – a sense of mystery, something few games can accomplish – is also what kept me from fully enjoying it. I know everyone made a big deal when it came out about how the game doesn’t fucking explain anything, and is too deliberately hard, etc etc. And while that was part of the fun, for me, I think the lack of communication to the player undercuts the result, especially in the endgame.
If you want to figure something out in Dark Souls, chances are you’ll end up online looking for tips and player guides. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and isn't required for playing, what it eventually means is that the games’ creators risk losing control of the dialogue they have with the player. This becomes detrimental in regards to both the narrative and the gameplay. For example: After beating Quelaag, you can enter a covenant with her sister. Of course, the game doesn’t tell you what this will do, so I looked it up online. Descriptions of the Chaos Servant covenant discuss what is necessary to save Solaire later in the game- because that appears to be the only reason to join – and because I don’t want Jolly Sunbro to die I continued to read. After doing all that I realized that in all likelihood, Solaire is ‘supposed’ to die your first playthough. I’d relied on the Internet telling me what the right way to play was, instead of letting the game play the story out the way it meant to.
This happened in a few other instances, but you get the idea. Arguably I did not have to look any of this up, and I accept that, but if the game had been willing to provide me with the bare minimum of what I needed to know in just a few key instances, it wouldn’t have created the impression that outside sources were a necessary part of playing the game. This might just be a particular hang-up of mine, but for a game based so much on exploration and discovery, pushing players to get their information from other sources means they won’t necessarily be getting it on the developers terms. Not knowing when I'm just being a dumbass and when the game is being deliberately obtuse can become very frustrating.
Like I said above, this doesn’t just apply to the story beats. Dark Souls suffers from some serious balancing issues, and again I think that at least partially comes down to communication problems. In the first half of the game or so, most of the bosses seem to require you to get other players in to help. Which is fine, usually. But after I got the Lordvessel, the only bosses that were in any way difficult were Seath, and the Bed of Chaos – the latter of which doesn’t count because it basically requires several tries to finish. Everyone else I could beat singlehandedly, usually my first try. It’s possible that I over-leveled at some point, but the fact that that’s even possible seems like bad design. Lord Fucking Gwyn was possibly the easiest fight for me in the entire game, and for that to be the note the game ends on was hugely disappointing. I don’t expect the game to say ‘you need to be this level to beat this boss’, but it seemed like I was swinging back and forth between ‘I am not ready for this fight’ and ‘I destroy all in my path ’. That wouldn’t be as big a problem in any other game, but in Dark Souls that undercuts a lot of the games’ tension. Strange as it is to say, I’d much rather prefer this had been just as difficult at the end as it had been at the beginning, learning curve be damned.
Despite all that, Dark Souls is still one of the best games I’ve ever played. I still have lots of questions*, and for me to finish a game and know that I’m going to play it again is one of the rarest and truest signs that it was a success. It's just so impressive to see what happens when a game is fully confident in its own design, and when it all works the way it's supposed to it's better than any other game out there.
* Questions such as: Why is Lost Izalith just a room full of lava and giant mummified dinosaur hindquarters? Why call it the Four Kings if they all look the same and fight you one at a time? Why did they make an XP farm using a swarm of unending baby skeletons? Where the fuck is the big toothy monster that was in all the trailers? And where the fuck is the pigmy guy from the opening cinematic? (wait, no , don't answer that. I want to find that myself).
I probably shouldn't be writing this because A) it's been discussed ad nauseam and B) I'm having trouble articulating my thoughts, but when did that ever stop me before? So, here goes:
The Better Suicide
First, I suppose I should clarify ‘how’ I played it, since that seems to be one of the major points of discussion. So: I got From Ashes and Leviathan, which I felt ok doing because the game was like 15 bucks because it’s a year old so nobody cares. HOWEVER I played the original ending, just for fun. Also, I figured that’d give me an excuse to play through the ending again with the extended version.
As for the game itself: I think I might have actually enjoyed this more than ME2. I guess that’s not exactly a popular opinion, but I think the overall narrative just worked better. 2 was ok, but I never really liked the suicide mission thing they kept harping on. The whole game was just putting the team together, and then HEY YOU SHOULD DO THIS SIDE MISSION SO MAYBE YOUR SQUAD LIVES WINK WINK. You spend the whole game gearing up for this one thing, and they telegraphed everything so much, and helping out each and every one of your buddies with their life problems just made the whole thing feel disjointed. And like, not to get nitpicky over this, but I really don’t see why Martin Sheen didn’t just send Miranda with like 100 Cerberus dudes in a couple ships to deal with the Collectors. Seriously. Would have been so much easier.
The suicide mission concept in ME3 worked much better – which is to say, everything is completely fucked and no one has any idea what the hell they’re doing but they have to do it now. It’s the same story as Dragon Age: Origins, technically (right down to the enemy types being corrupted versions of the different races), but they put enough of a different spin on it that it still seems unique. It’s not an amazing story, but as someone who brings low expectations to the franchise I thought they handled it ok. I think I heard this somewhere else, so I won’t take credit for it, but if you took ME 3’s story and put it in modern times, Shepard would be singlehandedly re-uniting Pakistan and India and solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so that all those countries could help him fight global warming. It’s an absurd premise, but (especially considering how fucking awful the opening sequence is) that absurdity wore off as the game lurched into the final stretch. I’ll get to that in a bit, though.
I had hoped that having a noticeably smaller cast in terms of party members meant you would be spending more time dealing with them, but unfortunately that didn’t seem to be the case. You have your moments with them, sure, but so much else is going on that they all seem to fall by the wayside. Meeting up with all the characters from the other games balances that out, I suppose, although that did get a little cheesy at times (oh hey Jacob, fancy meeting you here!). But then there’s Mordin’s ending where he’s singing and you’re just... fuuck.
And then you have Kaidan, who just spends the entire game being incredibly confused about everything all the time. Half the time you want to punch him in the face because bro seriously needs to get his shit together, but then he awkwardly offers to have gay sex with you and you just end up feeling kinda bad for him because he clearly just doesn’t understand anything that’s going on, which oddly makes him the best character in the game because he’s just the most transparent version of how everyone else is reacting to this situation.
Or you could just have buttsex with him, I guess. Whatever floats your boat.
Javik was interesting, but not the huge necessity he was made out to be. I was nervous before every mission, wondering if I needed to bring him, but even on Thessia, all he ever really contributed was ‘I’m a Prothean and that looks fucked up’. Don’t get me wrong, having a battle-hardened asshole who’s OCD about washing his hands and has a magical floating pack of 5 Gum was fun, and as someone who romanced Liara in all 3 games I liked having him around to flesh her character out a bit. Maybe not $10 worth of fun, but still.
Leviathan I liked, if only because they took the basic premise for the series – giant evil aliens gonna eat y’all! – and made the absolutely fucking brilliant decision to turn them into the mice from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Seriously, I hated everything about the Reapers before Leviathan, but after playing that I was totally willing to go along with whatever ME3 wanted to do. Which brings us to the ending.
I’d managed to avoid spoilers, for the most part, but I knew about the hullaballoo enough to know that the ending alone was considered crap, and the DLC mitigated that. Otherwise I was mostly in the dark – knowing Shepard could die was kind of a given, considering the series’ history with multiple endings, so hearing about that was kind of irrelevant. I had seen the words ‘Star Child’ and ‘ Indoctrination Theory’ being tossed around, but didn’t know what they referred to – in fact, I only beat the game a few hours ago, and I haven’t had a chance to read up on everyone’s year-old discussions of the ending, so I still don’t know what Indoctrination Theory is... yet.
The Quiet Earth
Like I said, I played the original ending, and honestly? I liked it. As I’ve mentioned before, I haven’t exactly held the series’ writing in high esteem, but I thought they did a remarkable job in making it seem equal parts dire and just plain fucking weird. They spend the whole game hyping up how the final battle will save the galaxy, but then you wake up on the Citadel and everyone is dead and the Illusive Man won’t shut up and the whole thing was just so crazy that I thought it totally worked when I really wasn't expecting it to. Like, it seemed like the typical endgame to a video game, but it was so atonal to how Mass Effect usually was that it just... worked. I'm not sure how to explain it. Then you start talking to that fucking kid – did I mention the dream sequences were laughably stupid? Because they are – and you save the world by creating a planet of robot-trees for EDI to populate with her robo-babies. The whole thing is so fucking nuts that it’s a way better ending than the series deserves (haven't checked out the other options yet, I should add). Having the insight from Leviathan probably helped swallow Glow-Kid’s explanation, despite the glaring inconsistencies and plot holes between the two, so I can understand why people got upset initially. But a more traditional ending wouldn’t have worked so well. Maybe part of me is just glad that Shepard was never described as the Chosen One, despite filling that role in the story, but having this kind of ending feels like they actually followed through on the universe they created when they introduced the Reapers, where humanity is insignificant and doom is inevitable. I honestly can’t think of a better way to end it, because anything more reasonable would have been a letdown. It’s not an Assassin’s Creed III situation where they tacked on some bullshit about the sun exploding and religion being bad, because the ending is the first time Shepard really engages with the Reapers – i.e. the focus of the series, and this game in particular – on their level, rather than with lots of military hoo-ha. The fact that it's a Quiet Earth -esque twist that barely makes any sense is totally appropriate. I fully intend on playing the extended version later, just to see what they changed, but I can say right now that I ended Mass Effect 3 liking it much more than I did when I started.
I'd been hearing things about this game ever since it came out, but I never got a chance to play it until this past week (if you're wondering, I've rung the first bell, and am now dicking around in the Darkroot). I went in expecting it to be a cruel mistress best faced with patience etc, etc, but what I hadn't really expected was how deeply invested in its own atmosphere it would be. There isn't technically a whole lot to the game, just in terms of what you're really doing. The game is difficult, sure, but once get your jolly co-operation on, or figure out how to game the bosses, the basic simplicity of what's involved becomes quite apparent. Being an under-leveled dude facing normal enemies is actually when the game is at its most complicated, but that gets resolved just by grinding. Which isn't to say it's not fun, but the difficulty acts as a bit of a mask over the gameplay's weaknesses.
But the way they set everything up, the game takes on this weird sort of literary/abstract/philosophical vibe that's like a cross between The Magic Flute, Excalibur and a Gustave Dore illustration. For an 'open-world' game, it's actually quite small, with all of the places relatively close together, but each area is so self-defined that it becomes a sort of isolated image-concept - I'm really not even sure what the proper vocabulary is here. Maybe it's the way they name everything, I dunno. I'm really digging it, though.
I've also been trying to avoid getting too much information from the interwebs, just because not having any idea of what's going on is kind of fun. However, there was an... incident.
This might be something you guys know all about and won't be surprised by at all, but anyway. I was making my way through the second area of Darkroot Garden, and I bump into this Cheshire Cat type thing, who's all 'yo wassup join my crew, we wreck shit up' and i was like 'sounds tight daddy-o'. I chat with this one friendly dude with a ginormous sword around the corner, then I put on the ring and they warp me into another world and say 'so-and-so is your target'. Except there's two different dudes, one normal looking and one glowing like I am, neither of whom have a name tag so I have no idea who to attack. We stand there in a Mexican Stand-off for like 10 seconds, then the one dude who looks normal kills me in one hit with his magic whatever. So, fuck. I go back to my place and go mess around with the Asshole Ents for a while, but when I go back to hang out with the Cat, she's all 'YOU BETRAYED US, MISERABLE PIECE OF SHIT BURN IN HELL AEEARAHGAHSDHSAGH' and disappears. Then the one dude with the huge sword who had been all friendly before was like 'THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU, YOU SICK FUCK' and starts swinging. He kills me, I come back, he's still angry so I end up killing him and he's all 'why, you asshole, why'. And I'm just standing there like, 'the fuck is wrong with these people?.'
After I calmed down, I realized that I had become the Dark Souls version of Jason Bourne. Some secret assassination group hires me, I botch my first mission, they somehow decide that my failure is too costly and that it would be more expedient to get rid of me. I don't even know what their Covenant is even called, but from now on I'm referring to them as the Treadstone guys, and Cheshire Cat is now Brian Cox. As much as that sucked, it's also the most interesting thing that's happened so far. I'm sure there's some explanation for what happened, either a mistake on my part or just a glitch, but I'm just going to pretend I was the unwitting victim of some conspiracy. More fun that way. Especially if I ever see Brian Cox again...
Well, we’re coming up on the end of the year (and for all you folks not on the Gregorian calendar: deal with it). And you know what that means: it’s time for self-indulgent retrospectives that attempt to glean some meaning from the largely unrelated events of the past 12 months! YAAAAYY
Before I begin here, I just want to come clean on something I feel you should know: I have played zero games that were released in 2012. What follows is not based on my personal experience, but rather on what I have learned from browsing the interwebs. And as with everything on the internet, YES OPINIONS ARE OPINIONS. So with that out of the way, here goes.
As far as I can tell, the major releases of 2012 seem to fall into to categories: the narrative-based ones, and the emergent-gameplay based ones. Now, story vs. gameplay is probably the most over-discussed topic ever in regards to video games, but what I found interesting about this year is how heavily the attention games received seemed to fall into one of those two categories. Sure, some games like Sleeping Dogs, Dragon’s Dogma, or Max Payne fall into the more standard ‘game is fun, story ok for what it is’ categories. Forza Horizon and the new Need for Speed are pure play. And I’m honestly not sure where Journey would fall in this debate. But that said, there was a peculiar dichotomy in many of this years releases.
What I call the narrative games are not necessarily those that deliberately put their story at the forefront, but rather the ones where it became a major talking point in their reception. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was more common for these narratives to be criticized rather than praised. More surprising is that this category consists of most of the AAA releases. Mass Effect 3, Assassin’s Creed III, Far Cry 3, Hitman: Absolution are all games where the peculiar nature of their narrative thread garnered a perhaps surprising level of attention. The outrage over ME3’s ending has been well documented, and ACIII got a fair amount of lambasting as well.
Spec Ops: The Line went out of its way to push the story in its PR, something that almost never happens. That emphasis was apparent in every discussion of the game; however, the consensus on Spec Ops was that it was an interesting attempt that failed in the execution (nopunintended), both in terms of narrative and gameplay. Hitman: Absolution was also often criticized because not only was the narrative weak, but the demands of that story seemed to be behind the more lacking aspects of the gameplay itself. The overall reception for the games in this category is best summed up by Alec Meer. In his review of AC III, he faulted the story for
“... indulging someone’s movie writing aspirations at the expense of player engagement and freedom.”
There are exceptions, of course. The Walking Dead is almost universally beloved, and just got VGA’s GOTY award (I'm waiting for someone to describe it as the video game equivalent of Oscar bait) and that particular game puts such an emphasis on story that any gameplay is arguably negligible. Far Cry has been criticized for being nothing more than tepid White Man’s Burden silliness, but has also received praise for its strong characterization. Black Ops II got flak for what some saw as hyperviolent neo-fascism, but our own Mr. Gerstmann thought the narrative branching was a clever addition.
"Emergent gameplay" is a word that gets thrown around now and again, but for our purposes all I mean by it is that the events that occur as a result of playing the game itself form their own little anecdotes, become stories of themselves. The games that fall under this category are quite diverse. Everything from Dark Souls, with its infamously brutal combat, to XCOM, with it’s semi-randomized turn-based encounters. Smaller titles fared quite well in this category as well. Crusader Kings II had players forge their own dynasty and set their own goals, and FTL’s random encounters allowed for each player to face their own unique journey through space. Arma II became enormously popular with the release of DayZ, a zombie mod that tasks you simply with survival. Even Dishonoured might be considered to fall in this category, with its emphasis on going through the game the way you want to. While the basic structure in each of these games is set, and some do have a strict, overarching narrative, the stories that people remember from each game are what happened as they played it, not what the game writers had created. After all, Far Cry 3 managed a 5 star review from Brad purely on the strength of its open-world, anything-can happen gameplay.
I don’t really want to draw any big conclusions from all this. I just found it interesting that a year where some of the most well-received titles were those that had unique, emergent playstyles, was also the year that many other releases got what seemed like more attention than usual for how they handled their 'written' narratives. Like I said, plenty of games don't fit fully into either category, and again, I’ve played none of these, so I’m curious if you all noticed this as well or if I’m just reading too much something that happens every year.
I spent an embarrassing amount of time this weekend making a little Mass Effect video (dear god I need sleeeep), and posting it here seemed like the appropriate thing to do. Nothing too fancy, but I had fun putting it together. Video editing is one of those things that seems like it would be boring and monotonous, but I actually kind of enjoy it. I guess I just like fiddling with stuff, even if I did have to use fucking iMovie garbage piece of shit glaskdhljashgd.... Sorry. Anyway, here it is if you'd like to see it.
I got the idea to use that song from the intro credits to Strike Back (which is probably one of my favorite openings ever, even if the show isn't that great). If you look it up you'll notice the cut I used is essentially the same, but I actually had to make my own version instead of just ripping the audio from that, just to get it all lined up properly. The only other big difficulty in making this is that I actually haven't played Mass Effect 3 yet, so while I wanted to get at least some footage from that I had to be careful to avoid spoiling anything, which I think I was able to do fairly well.
I missed out on a lot of the major games in the early 00’s. I didn’t have a console, or a computer that was up to spec, so most of my exposure to big name releases came from playing them at friend’s houses. I’ve spent some time recently going back through some of that old catalogue , and the past couple weeks have been devoted to two Oldies (old in the Internet sense of the term, which is to say, from 6+ years ago), one considered a classic, the other cult. I’ve only finished one of them, but what I sensed immediately upon starting both, and what has stayed with me since is a sense of being, quite frankly, insulted.
Let me explain.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic was made in 2003 by Bioware. Bioware would go on to make Mass Effect, and later Dragon Age: Origins. Having played both of these games, that fact is immediately obvious. The inherited qualities of those two franchises is so apparent, in fact, that it makes them seem not so much standard for the genre as signs of a lack of imagination. I never had any illusions about Mass Effect being a well made game, but I did enjoy Dragon Age, and yet KOTOR managed to retroactively make both of these seem much worse. Admittedly, this is probably unfair. Games should be judged solely by their own merits, but the obvious parallels between the later games and this are so apparent that it is almost impossible to do so. The combat is real-time turn-based, as Dragon Age is, but is not in any sense fun. You just sit there watching these guys thwack at each other a lot until one falls down. The level design and visual style is boring, despite being based on a film series with strong stylistic sensibilities. The writing in KOTOR, both in regards to dialogue and story, is so unbelievably shitty that I felt like it was willingly designed for a semi-literate, socially stunted 10-year old – granted, I’m playing a Star Wars game, so that is not an implausible assumption, but I did spend a fair amount of my childhood on Star Wars games, and fuck this. I’m the kind of guy who will usually exhaust every dialogue option presented in games, even those concerning pointless backstory, but here I found myself impatiently skipping through almost every conversation. Maybe it’s because I know about Tatooine already, and I don’t need some dumbass lizard man telling me about how it’s a fucking desert planet and there’s these things called Hutts and go fuck yourself, nobody cares. But even the inter-party dialogue was enough to make me want to shoot almost everyone, except maybe Jolee, but only because he didn’t really give a fuck either.
Now, I understand that few people strike gold on the first try. It takes experience to know how to make something as complex as this kind of RPG. But now that I’ve played this, the mistakes that I noticed in both ME and DA – mistakes I felt willing to overlook – now seem much more apparent, and much less forgiveable. Knowing that they’ve been down this path before, and seemingly have learned little from it, lessens my respect for Bioware considerably. They’ve been down this track before. They fucking know better. I thought Mass Effect was just a failed first outing, I didn’t realize it was the result of being too goddam lazy to learn from their mistakes. I know that KOTOR is highly praised and fondly remembered by many people who played it, but honestly I found nothing about it that I feel would justify recommending it to anyone.
And I still enjoyed it more than Bully.
As I mentioned earlier, I missed out on some of the bigger titles over the years. The GTA games I had periodic but consistent exposure to at friends' houses, but the first Rockstar game that I owned was Red Dead Redemption. I thought it was an interesting if somewhat flawed game, and one that played fairly well, especially in comparison to GTA IV’s awkward shooting and driving mechanics (i.e., the game). Bully was never as big a title as either of those games, but does have a devoted following (good sirs Davis and Klepek among them, I believe). I should point out that I have yet to finish Bully, but in all likelihood I never will. This game has somehow managed to take everything I don’t like about Rockstar games, and leave out everything I do. Missions involve your character deciding to do things because it’s a game, and you need things to do. There is never any real ‘why’ to anything that happens, to the point that I'm not even sure there was a story there at all. That happened in RDR too, but not all the time and not this badly. Rockstar’s character development has ( in GTAIV and RDR, at least, I can’t remember earlier) relied on taking tired stereotypes from old movies and turning them into kind of shitty people, but here it’s like they decided to take a John Hughes movie (of whom I am not a fan) and make literally every character into the worst kind of person in the most boring way imaginable. I understand Rockstar’s idea of parody starts and ends with ‘make faults more explicit, remove any redeeming qualities’, but here it’s done to in such a lazy manner, and with no discernible goal, that there’s no reason to give a fuck about anything that anyone says. And the gameplay is so uninspired that there’s really no reason to play it at all. The controls aren’t terrible, but the combat and the ‘driving’ aren’t fun in the least, and it's so much worse seeing the similarities between them and RDR's. The idea of a High School GTA sounds great, but in practice it’s frankly boring.
The fact that anyone considered either of these games worth my time is, as I said above, insulting. And having both of these games to compare with their successors sort of underlines a problem I’m having more and more with games lately. Maybe I’m just getting old, but I’m not having as much fun with them as I used to. And as much as I can see how Rockstar and Bioware have both managed to improve their products over time, the ways they haven’t changed is much more noticeable. Flaws I once accepted in DA or RDR now just seem like lazy, pointless idiosyncrasies that have no business being in the games at all. I dunno. Video games.
So, I do this thing. In my head. Not all the time, but sometime. More often than you'd (I'd) expect. When I'm reading a book, I'll often try to figure out how it would work as a movie. Sometimes just one particular scene, but not infrequently half my time reading the book I'll spend plotting out the screenplay version in my head as I'm going along. I won't ask if "am I the only one", because no, but I do kind of wonder how many people do this. With some books, like Dracula, it's kind of easy, because the book is almost perfectly written for translation to the silver screen, but the more challenging ones often are the more fun ones to do this with. It's not like I only think about it when I'm bored, because when that happens I think about something else. It's just a fun mental exercise, I think. Maybe it stems from me trying to visualize what's happening in the book and just getting carried away, I dunno.
It's not just books, though. Like, a recent example is the Legend of Korra TV series. Half the time I was watching it, all I could think was "man this is basically a perfect setup for a character-action RPG'. Not even kidding. You have both basic combat and multiple magic powers - each with their own freaking skill tree - that are basically tailor made for a combo system, an open-world city to go cruising around in fighting gangsters and fake communists and shit, an island base to test out new skills on, and even pro-bending for a fun little persistent side quest. It all works, and not in a 'this would revolutionize gaming' way, but in a 'this is totally what you'd expect from a game' kind of way. I can't tell if this is the side effect of me playing too many games and spending too much time here on Giantbomb, or if this is just me doing my usual alternate-media thing. Either somebody needs to get Rocksteady on the phone, or I need to go outside more often. Maybe both.
So I didn't know anything about this movie going in. Deliberately. I avoided all the hype, the trailers, the threads you guys made, the reviews, etc. I saw this as a new sci fi movie by the guy whose work in that genre consists of 2 of my favorite movies ever. I knew it was supposed to be semi-related to the Space Jockey from Alien, but that's it. I wanted to have everything be uninfluenced when I saw it, to avoid spoilers or letdown. I know there's a couple threads about this movie already, but those guys aren't really talking about what I want to address. Which is how bad it is.
And holy balls, is it bad.
Ok, it's not all bad. The opening sequence is intriguing. The special effects are hella dope. Idris Elba is always fun to watch, and Charlize Theron is purty. Even the 3D was done in a tasteful, impressive way that supported the overall aesthetic. Other than that, though.... man. If it wasn't so high budget, I'd say this was a Syfy Channel Original, not Ridley Scott's latest.
It's like someone wanted to do an 'homage' to Alien, but they thought 'homage' meant 'use all the basic story beats, and rejigger them a little just so it's not blatantly obvious even though it still totally is'. Almost all of what happens in this movie has a direct correlation to what happens in Alien, which is a terrible idea because it automatically sets itself up for comparisons. And of course, it does not come anywhere near the level of that film. The rest of it, what's not stolen from Alien, is still a bevy of the most trite, overused sci-fi cliches since the genre began.
Let's start with the basics. The underlying premise of the entire film is that ancient civilizations knew about aliens, who possibly created us. So, yes, the central idea for the entire movie is Chariots of the Gods. We are off to a great start.
BUT WAIT THERE'S MORE: The main (?) character is a scientist, who believes in God! HOLY SHIT. You mean we're going to talk about faith and religion versus logic and facts? That's never been done before in sc-fi! And by never, I mean almost always. Don't worry, though: they don't actually have any discussions, they just make a basic nod to it, as if they knew you'd heard that conversation before and didn't actually need them to have it...
Which is actually how most of the film operates. None of the characters are actual characters. They're just versions of people you've seen in a dozen other scifi movies, and the only motivations they have are reduced to a single sentence or two, repeated occasionally in case you forgot. Some don't even have a point. The token Asian guy just sort of stands there watching everything the whole movie; he's supposedly an engineer, but I don't think he ever did anything for the entire movie. Like, at all. Other than die at the end. Also they have a fake Tom Hardy, which is automatically -10 points.
Likewise, every plot point is something you've seen in a dozen other movies, reduced to the point where they don't even feel the need to explore it. And not in a mysterious way, it's just sort of there. Want mysterious ancient constructs? Got those. Want tentacle-y monsters? Got those. Space zombies? sure. Space truckers? We got one with an accordion! What do any of them have to do with anything? Nothing, really, other than that the God Aliens actually think we kind of suck, so they made these other aliens to eat our faces, except they got their faces eaten first. Clearly the work of a superior intelligence. And of course, because we must leave no scifi trope untouched, we end it with an old rich man trying to live forever, who gets promptly killed by his supposed saviors. The two reveals about how Weyland was on the ship, and was actually Charlize Theron's dad, were so blatantly telegraphed that I was actually confused when the movie acted like they were big plot twists. The only surprising thing about this was when I realized the old man was played by Guy Pearce.
As the movie progresses, the story starts to splinter into several threads as different people have their own interactions with the aliens. But after a while, they kind of stop checking in on each other, or explaining what's going on. Like, the religious scientist lady I mentioned earlier has a self operated emergency abortion at one point (possibly the highlight of the film, because it's fucking nuts), but never tells anyone else about this. She just gets up, finds the rest of the crew and is like 'ok, what are we doing now?' Even though some of them knew she had an alien baby inside her, they don't ask 'hey what happened to the babything?' The robot guy ( yes, there's a robot, so naturally they have the 'does robot have soul?' theme that has never been done before in any scifi story ever... right?) knows about it, but he's just sort of like 'haha, you aborted the baby I was desperately trying to save, that's so silly!' This is the most absurd example, but not the only one.
The worst part about all this is that the entire thing ends up being an explanation of the source of the Aliens. That's it. They took one of the things that didn't need to be explained from a well regarded franchise, and found a way to explain that one thing, while ignoring all the parts of this story that you're actually supposed to flesh out. So... congratulations? The movie ends with people avoiding a giant wheel by running in the direction it's moving, instead of getting out of it's way, which is a pretty apt metaphor for how the whole story works. Brief efforts towards examining the greater ideas of The Meaning of Life, Creation and Death are just lip service, offhand comments made while we wait for the next crew member to die in a horrific and vaguely sexual manner.
There's probably more I could complain about, but it's 2 in the morning and it's too hot for me to think about things anymore. There was so much potential here, and it just... it's such lazy goddam writing. That's really all it is. How long till Batman comes out?
Bioshock had been my video game equivalent of War and Peace: one of those books you were supposed to read – one of the important books – one that I frequently started but never got around to finishing. I finally did finish it yesterday, though, and in typical MarkWahlbergian fashion I want to talk about it with you fine folks. If that’s ok.
Although I’d never gotten very far into the game, I’d had the Big Reveal spoiled in part for me several years ago (possibly by the Bombcast crew, I can’t remember exactly). I knew about ‘Would You Kindly’, but I didn’t know much else, and so I found myself paying more attention to the other details around it, such as the fact that you were playing as a rapidly aged 2 year-old whose father was an Objectivist genius businessman and whose mother was a stripper (add that to the list of sentences I’d never thought I’d write). That seemed much crazier than what I had expected, which was a KOTOR style ‘you are Fontaine’ sorta deal, with Atlas actually just Ryan trying to fuck with you or something.
The other result of not being shocked by the twist was that I think the flaws in the rest of the story stood out more. The twist certainly is what got everyone’s attention when the game was released, but when you look at the actual story, there isn’t a whole lot else to it. Most of it is actually just atmosphere, with audiotapes fleshing out the details of the places you encounter. The things that I was most curious about – how exactly did they go about building Rapture, how did they choose who to let into the city – were never clearly explained, and that’s understandable. The focus of the game was on how Rapture fell, and when you’re creating atmosphere, it’s just as important to know what to leave unsaid, as it is to know what to tell the audience. What Bioshock does very well is to show us the broad arc of the downfall of the city through the personal stories of individual people, which makes us more invested in what happens. We want to find out Bill McDonagh’s fate just as much as we want (at first) to help Atlas reunite with his family. So it is very strange that the ultimate villain, Fontaine, is barely explained at all as a character. For most of the game, he is a boogeyman lurking at the corners of everything, eventually starting an all-out war with Ryan over control of Rapture. Fontaine’s essential nature is repeatedly described as a criminal one; he even goes so far as to call his entire effort as a ‘long con’. But we never really know what he wants. If he is at heart a con man, then why does he try to take over the city? The whole point of a con is to take what you can and run the hell away, preferably without the mark ever knowing he’s been conned. And if he is only trying to use the city for personal gain, why does he turn himself into a roided-up freak at the end? That might put him on top of the pyramid in Rapture – which won’t count for much since he already destroyed it – but he’ll have a hard time of it above water. Ryan is memorable because he is a tragic figure; his greatest achievement was what ultimately destroyed him. Fontaine is just a power hungry douche bag with no clear motivation for bringing an entire society to its knees. If we knew more about why he came to Rapture (how did Ryan even decide to let him in?), I feel like even just that little bit of back-story would have made the whole story so much clearer.
Brad posted an article a few years back that linked to an alternate ending someone had come up with, which I think accurately addresses most of the flaws in the conclusion. However, there are a couple things about it that I also want to point out. Once Fontaine starts berating you over the radio, he immediately begins to cast doubt on Tenenbaum’s intentions, doubts which ultimately prove to be baseless accusations. And I think this is part of a huge error in the entire story, in regards to the theme of free will. The whole point of the Reveal was that you had not been acting of your own accord, that you were at the beck and call of the voice of ‘Atlas’. Once Tenenbaum rescues you, she claims to have ‘removed’ this mental conditioning. But then you spend the last third of the game doing whatever she tells you to do, so that while you are technically free, you’re not actually doing anything differently. You're still obeying the voice on the radio.
The problem with this situation became very clear when she tells you to become a Big Daddy. She claims it is necessary to go through the doors, because only Little Sisters can unlock them, but you’ve already had Sisters unlock those same kinds of doors for you before, when you were in the Orphanage. The justification for becoming a Big Daddy from a gameplay perspective is readily apparent – the cathartic nature of it is obvious – but from a story perspective it’s very confusing. Add onto that Tenenbaum’s clear desire for you to free the Sisters, and the Good Ending suddenly becomes much weirder when you realize that it’s entirely possible that she never freed you at all, but only altered the conditioning to match her voice instead of the trigger phrase. That’s just speculation, but I mean, for you to spend the rest of your life with a Big Daddy voice (after having your larynx adjusted for that purpose, despite your never speaking), that alone is a bit bizarre.
I did enjoy playing Bioshock, although there were some problems with the 'game' part of it. It was easier than I expected, although I did keep it set to Medium (I played it on my Mac with the track pad, so true difficulty wasn’t really an option), and the gamey-ness of the gameplay contrasted pretty heavily with the dark atmosphere, which is true of a lot of games but definitely stood out here. Having Big Daddies be neutral until attacked was nice, although it did make them significantly less threatening. And having them repeatedly spawn didn’t help much either; there were several times I’d kill one, leave the room, and then hear the deep groan and see a new Daddy walking right over the fresh corpse, even after I’d rescued all the Little Sisters. There was never much incentive to experiment with plasmids beyond curiosity, and the Harvest/Rescue mechanic was undermined by the fact that I got plenty of Adam just from rescuing (which again might have just been the difficulty setting, I dunno). It was still fun, though. And the story was interesting, despite the problems I mentioned above. All in all, I’m glad I finally played it, and I’m interested to see what Infinite will be like. I don’t know that I’ll get around to Bioshock 2 anytime soon, although I hear Minerva’s Den is pretty cool. And who knows, maybe since I haven’t had that spoiled yet, I might enjoy it more.