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9.13.2012

The End?

Maybe.

The long and short of it is I've got my own website and blog now: mattgoldammer.com. Visit if you like.

I tried to explain some of the thought process behind leaving this blog behind and starting fresh in my introductory post. There are basically two reasons.

I felt like I'd written myself into a corner on this site. The focus of my post had become more and more narrow and I just got into the mindset that I was never going to post anything more personal or close to my heart on this blog which was far, far from the original intention.

I also felt like I needed a more strongly branded and somewhat professional web presence. This, being a team blog, clearly wasn't the place for that. And just creating a static site wasn't a good option either. The blog format keeps me motivated to write and produced new work in a variety of formats. At least it should help in that quest. We'll see.

I haven't entirely decided if this is the end for The Vanishing Blog or not. I always liked the name. Liked the idea of a team blog. Kinda wanted to keep it going. Doesn't seem like that's been happening though.

The reality is that my life is pulled in a lot of different directions. I don't think I could blog regularly at two different places when I have trouble just keeping up with one.

When we started out, I blogged about all sorts of stuff. Looking back, some of those posts are pretty embarrassing when I look back on them now. I've grown a lot since this blog started. I have a lifetime of growing left to do.

If you ever enjoyed reading this blog, please consider following me at my new site.

Thanks for reading.


- Matt

6.26.2012

Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut


"Let sleeping dogs lie" is a phrase which comes to mind at this time. It's been awhile since my nerdrage against the Mass Effect 3 ending subsided. And now I just don't care that much. Good game. Horrible ending. Surprisingly fun multiplayer. Kinda evens out. As I've said before, Mass Effect 1 is the best when it comes to story anyhow so I'll just think of it whenever Mass Effect's story is brought up.

But now we have the so-called "Extended Cut." How odd for a video game.

Let me just pose this question: has an "extended" or "director's" cut ever seriously improved a film that had a major flaw? Possibly, I suppose. But I don't know what they are. Mostly they just contain extra tidbits for salivating hardcore fans to lap up.

Lack of information, as has been said time and time again, is not the core problem of Mass Effect 3's ending.

But let me tell you what: in talky sci-fi it does help. What a difference a couple of additional lines can make!

The Extended Cut, in my mind, supports the theory that the ending was rushed. This is the ending that always should have been. No, it's not fundamentally different, but it is definitely a lot better.

The "Star Child" Catalyst is still there. You're still presented with the same choices, but there's a few extra bits here and there that help cut down on the unexplained and seemingly nonsensical nature of the ending. And the three endings are differentiated much, much better than before.

The thing that really won me over was the addition of a forth choice to the mix. That's right. You can tell that little A.I. snot to take his choices and shove 'em! Awesome. Yeah, that'll basically doom everyone, but - hey - freedom of choice and jazz, right? Plus the ending you get after that is pretty well done.

I got pretty excited when I saw this option. Finally!

As for the other choices, you can actually have the Catalyst explain what's up with them. Y'know, investigate. Find out more information. I mean they're kinda significant choices, right? It was a little odd before when you couldn't get much information even though most every side character in the game will spout off their life story at the slightest provocation.

Now perhaps I've just accepted the whole "Star Child" thing. Perhaps if I played it for the first time ever I'd still get angry even with the Extended Cut installed. Perhaps it still makes no sense at all and my standards have been lowered since the original ending was so disappointing. I don't know. It truly is impossible to know at this point and what's the point of speculating?

The Extended Cut fixes or at least attempts to address nearly all the major problems I had with the ending. It will not quell the rage of others who are just predisposed to hate or were fundamentally looking for something different in an ending. For me and for many other fans, we were simply looking for real choice, real closure, and real effort and now I feel like I've gotten that even though it's not perfect. It's pretty good.

This does a lot to repair my damaged relationship with BioWare. So objective accomplished there, guys. Next time don't rush. And when EA wants to get involved in your creative decisions tell them what I told the Catalyst: buzz off!

Prometheus Review

This review is spoiler-free... mostly. I mean, if you want a totally sanitized experience then don't read anything about any movie before you see it!

Review


Let's face it: people are biased. And by "people" in this instance I mean me.

Sci-fi is probably the genre that I have the most natural love for. Especially space movies. I go for space movies the way most of America (apparently) goes for team-up superhero films. That means I'm generally willing to cut them more slack and give more benefit of the doubt when they turn out a little less-than-amazing.

Generally. I mean things like Avatar are the exception that proves the rule.

As long a particular sci-fi gets me thinking, entertains me, and presents some cool visuals and ideas, I'm basically good. Prometheus did that for me and it didn't scrape by with just the minimum effort either. 

There's been a lot of talk about Prometheus being disappointing or full of plotholes (or unanswered questions) or not as intelligent or intelligent as it portrayed itself. Eh, I see where those people are coming from. But I disagree... mostly.


Yes. Prometheus is only half "smart" while the other half is merely entertaining. It's kinda weird. You can fairly clearly discern which bits are the Alien prequel and which bits are the other story they wanted to tell. But despite being easy to spot, the two ideas generally mesh alright without being too detrimental to one another.

The "thoughtful," exploratory half of the film poses giant questions. Why are we here? How did we get here? What happens after we die? Is there more to existence than can be measured by our senses and scientific methods? In the vein of classic sci-fi, these questions are posed, but not really answered. They're there because they're questions the characters and indeed all people wrestle with at some point in their lives.

It seems like this is the half of the movie that Ridley Scott really wanted to make. The 74-year-old director must be asking these sorts of questions himself as he approaches the end of his life.

Going in I knew this was going to be a film that posed more questions than it answered. And I'm cool with that especially since I don't personally have a bone to pick with Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof who also was one of the writers of this film. One of the purposes of sci-fi is to stir up speculative thinking in the audience. And Prometheus does deliver in that arena.

The Alien half of the movie is entertaining at worst and really, really gripping at best despite all the little questions that keep popping up and the occasional horror movie act of utter stupidity from whichever character is supposed to die next. I liked the rest of the film's elements enough to ignore these things (at least on my first viewing). Possibly they would ruin future viewings. I don't know. Like I said, I'm a sucker for space movies.

There are a million little nitpicks one could make. Things that aren't explained. Things that don't make sense. Stuff just happens and you don't know why. We're left to guess or dismiss some events entirely. It's unfortunate they weren't able to escape some of these frustrating details because they really do keep the film from being great.


For my money, the exploration half of the film is fantastic. It's what I love about sci-fi. Cool visuals. Cool concepts. Mind-expanding premises. I love that kind of stuff and it's stuff that sci-fi is uniquely good at.

It should be mentioned that the principle cast (a bunch of very excellent people) all do a fantastic job with Michael Fassbender and Noomi Rapace leading the way. The choice of Guy Pierce (who will always be a good actor in my book due to his turn in Memento) as the elderly Peter Weyland is frustrating. He does a fine job, but the makeup is noticeably... just wrong. The Weyland character was originally to appear younger in the film which makes this casting choice a lot more understandable (indeed he appeared younger in a fictional TEDTalk that was done as promotion for the film).

Anyhow, I recommend this one. It certainly moved my meter a lot more than The Avengers. But then again I was the only one who really seemed to feel that way so your mileage with Prometheus may very. I'd rather have a meaningful, watchable film with a few flaws about the edges than a perfectly polished, highly watchable film that's hollow inside and out.

Honestly my biggest disappointment with the film is that the awesome scream-punctuated song from the trailers doesn't actually play during the film (or even the credits). There are worse criticisms I've leveled at films.


After re-watching the original Alien, I have to say I like Prometheus better. Sure, Alien is classic and got the whole thing started, but it really is very basic and plodding. It's a bit too slow and empty of ideas for my tastes in sci-fi (if your sci-fi is slow it must be really stimulating, see 2001: A Space Odyssey).

Prometheus is Alien with a couple of interesting philosophical/theological/scientific questions kicking around. And I see that along with a little faster pace as an upgrade. While Alien has better individual scenes, Prometheus is more watchable overall and has more for my brain to chew on.

But Aliens is still the best of 'em. And believe me: I mean that. I am no fan of James Cameron.

5.25.2012

I Did Not Care for The Avengers


I often find myself a dissenter when it comes to popular things. Not, always, mind you. Many times I'm more into the popular thing than the majority. But often I'm a hater throwing stones from the outside. There are three possible ways this makes me feel:

1) A strange and terrible sense of satisfaction. This is due to the lie my mind is trying to sell me: that I'm a superior being to those in the majority. They're stupid sheep and I'm an independent thinker. This is occasionally true and that is problematic because it isn't always. Sometimes I'm the stupid sheep for dissenting just because I think it's cool to do so.

2) A sense of alienation like there's something wrong with me for not being "normal." For instance, I do not understand dancing and I don't dance. Just don't get it. It's a weird human mating ritual.

3) A sense of utter confusion. Why, oh, why is that thing so popular?


I didn't really like The Avengers and it's giving me feeling number three.

"WHAT?!" Collectively shouts everyone in the universe - Marvel or otherwise.

You heard me. Did not care for Avengers. I wanted to. It had potential. It had Joss Whedon. It had good actors. I was excited to see it. But at the end of the day I think it turned out to be a big, hulking (no pun intended), empty action movie.

Honestly I'm not as confused about why it's popular as much as I'm confused about why people think it's so good. 'cause I just don't see it.

I'm sorry, but it's hard to fear such dorky-looking armor
Before I go any further I just want to say a couple of things. I've been in a lot of debates recently and I'm honestly a little tired of all the fighting. I am not posting this to start a fight. I am posting this to voice my dissenting opinion - to present an alternate viewpoint. That's all. Most will disagree and that's fine.

If you loved the movie - great. Awesome. I'm happy for you. I did not. I've seen people say it's the best movie they've seen in the last 5 years. One person said 10.

I think that's what really gets me. Really? 10 years? Didja not go to the movies for a decade? 'cause there've been way better movies. A lot of them. Heck, there've been better Marvel movies. Iron Man, the Spider-man trilogy, X-Men, Thor. Those were all better than Avengers. And that's to say nothing of Nolan's Batman trilogy or any non-superhero movies. Really? 10 years!?

Okay. Okay. I'll calm down.

Obviously this is all debate over opinion. Debating opinion is rarely productive. If someone honestly means that The Avengers is the best movie they've seen in 10 years (and not the only) then they are looking to get something far different out of films than I am. But I do think I've a few serious points to be made so I will go ahead and enumerate the reasons I didn't like Avengers. Fair enough?

First of all, there are a lot of things I liked. To be fair, it's funny, occasionally fun, Mark Ruffalo does an amazing job as Bruce Banner, and the Hulk is really quite amazing as well. And Samuel L. Jackson's in it... although he wasn't as much fun as I was expecting. He does have one pretty great line toward the end though.

Hulk was the only thing that actually scared me in the movie
Now with that obligatory praise is out of the way...

My criticism is very, very short. There is no soul in Avengers. Nothing happens. It's a story we've seen thirteenhundrenmillionbazillion times.

I want to make this clear: just because we've seen this story before doesn't mean it's bad. Formula becomes bad when it's either poorly executed or fails to alter the recipe in an effective and interesting way.

Avengers felt very, very "paint-by-numbers" to me. It was also, I feel, a waste of a movie. Instead of telling a real story with character development, I was presented with a video game that I didn't get to play.

Some argue, "hey, they developed the characters in the movies leading up to Avengers." Yes they did! That's no excuse for a two-hour sequence of strung together, weightless action sequences. Just because they established the characters in the previous films does not mean they get to stop developing them because this is a big, giant crossover.

Stories are about characters changing (or sometimes about how they should change and don't) and making choices. It's not just about a bunch of stuff than happens. That's called melodrama. In a good, really affecting story we can see ourselves and sympathize with the characters as they make difficult choices.

There are no difficult choices in The Avengers. No surprises. No sacrifice.

Massive white guy and doughy white guy. Contrast.
Okay, there's one tiny sacrifice. One middle-aged white guy that we've supposedly grown attached to bites the dust. I'm sorry, but Mr. Agent there wasn't the Marvel Universe equivalent of Wash. I was surprised but I did not care. Aside from that, there's no real sense of loss or sacrifice. There's almost a major sacrifice made by one of the main characters but then it gets undermined right at the last second. Bummer.

Like I said, there are no real choices made by the characters. They don't really overcome their differences, different powers, and different backgrounds to all work together for a common good. Nope. That would be too talky. Too deep. We have to have them fight instead.

Mostly their bickering is verbal, but there's actually a physical altercation between Thor and Iron Man at one point. Hey nerds! Who would win in a fight? Thor or Iron Man? We get to see that played out and guess what? It's completely pointless. They aren't even fighting for a good reason! It's just one thickheaded idiot with superpowers fighting another thickheaded idiot with superpowers. Thanks for wasting my time, guys.

So our "heroes" are basically fighting with each other right up until the bad guy escapes from their clutches because they were all acting stupid. I know it's implied that Loki influences everyone to fight or something like that, but if that's really the case then why didn't Thor warn them about Loki's ability to do that? Idiot.

Anyhow, after fighting with each other and foolishly allowing Loki to escape, they're forced to work together to save Earth. Yep. This is yet another summer blockbuster about saving the world. Naturally.

In case you haven't noticed: Earth gets threatened pretty regularly in this sort of action movie. It's not especially threatening anymore. Major cities can get destroyed onscreen and I won't bat an eye unless it's been set up properly.

"Okay, we're assembled! Now whadda we do?"
It's even less threatening when you have several invincible superheros running around. And when those unkillable superheros are the main cast of your film... well wave goodbye to dramatic tension, people. I mean they flat-out tell you the Hulk can't be killed. Thor and Loki can pretty much survive whatever the script needs them to. Almost nothing can stop Tony Stark in the Iron Man suit (and if it gets damaged, don't worry, he has a closet full of newer, better ones.) Captain America? Nothing onscreen tells us he's much more durable than a regular human, but we know he's got to survive so he can be in Captain America 2. I don't even care about Hawkeye or Black Widow.

So the movie proceeds exactly like every other movie like this. There's a giant looming threat we don't get to see for most of the movie. It finally shows up and blows up a few things. Good guys try to hold back the tide. Eventually they figure out a secret weakness to the threat and they knock it over in the last 20 minutes thereby proving that it wasn't much of a threat to begin with.

*yawn*

But it's even worse than that. At least in Independence Day, let's say, we've really seriously felt threatened by the aliens. And we understand that any of our heroes are mortal and could die. They could lose loved ones. They could lose the whole war.

I never felt like any of those things were even remotely possible in Avengers. Recall the threats presented to other superheroes in their respective movies. We're pretty sure they aren't going to die. But what about their friends and loved ones? The Green Goblin figures out another threat: "First, we attack his heart!" Similarly crime boss Carmine Falcone tells a desperate Bruce Wayne, "You haven't thought about your lady friend in the DA's office. You haven't thought about your old butler... People from your world have so much to lose."

Marvel could have done something similar here but they didn't. Perhaps this was to avoid the cliche of a threatened girlfriend. Well points for that, but they've still got to make me feel afraid somehow and I didn't. The only question was how much collateral damage would the aliens do before the Avengers stopped them?

Quite a lot, as it turns out. Half of New York is pretty much destroyed by the end, but hey! At least Stark Tower and the Empire State Building's still standing so I guess it's all okay.

Captain America... what a useless character next to Iron Man
In the end, everything's back to status quo like a sitcom. The only thing that's really changed is the precedent for superheros teaming up. Now that they've done it, we'll all scratch our heads during the next Iron Man or Captain America when they don't call for help.

All our heroes are alive to go make some more sequels. Nick Fury can go back to making superweapons in secret (which is completely and totally wrong in case you wondered where the filmmakers stand on that issue). Black Widow and Hawkeye are free to make their solo film debuts. And eventually we'll see all of you and more back here for Avengers 2.

I think that actually highlights the problem I now have with the Marvel film universe. It's so obviously a product - a franchise - a money-making web. They're thinking so much about how to make the next movie and how to introduce more characters that the essential thing for me - that is, telling a good story - is being lost to spin-offs, continuity, and sequel setups.

A recent article over at ScreenRant examined each movie leading up to Avengers and asked the question "was it worth it?" Not monetarily, of course. The thing's already made a several solid gold cruise ships of money. The question is was it worth sacrificing screen time in each film to help set up The Avengers.

Another thing that bothers me is how many people have cited the five-movie setup for The Avengers as being a really impressive feat. Sure, I guess so. That's never really been done before and it was a gamble. But it has no bearing on my actual enjoyment of the film and should not factor into people's opinions of it. Toy Story was a good film besides being the first feature-length computer animated movie. People remember it for being a good movie, not for its technical accomplishment however impressive it might have been. Avengers must (and will in time) be judged solely by its merit as a film.

I can't say that Avengers isn't a well-made film or even a good film by some standards of measure. But it's the kind of film I'm not terribly interested in watching anymore. I guess I'm just becoming a snob.

4.08.2012

Fallout: New Vegas Review

Fallout: New Vegas? Didn't that come out like over a year ago? Why yes it did. Why did I wait until now to review it?

Well, much like I waited to review Crysis 2 until the DX11 patch was out, I waited to review New Vegas until the last of the planned DLC were out. Then I left this review unfinished for six months. Yeah... I do that sort of thing all too often. I have half-finished reviews of Arkham City and Skyrim I need to finish off too.

Anyhow, since all four DLC are out for New Vegas I feel like I can review the game in full. So, I guess this is effectively a "game of the year" edition review.


4.05.2012

Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut Announced

Okay, okay! After this I promise I'll shut up about the Mass Effect 3 ending... at least for a while.


So the official news came down the mountain from BioWare today. In a blog post they announced their solution to the whole ending "controversy." It's called "Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut". It will not change the endings nor will it add any new endings. The extended cut (from what we are told) will just add additional dialogue and cinematic scenes to flesh out the possible endings that already exist. It will be released for free sometime this summer.

I have to say that while my reaction to this is mixed, I really have to give some props to BioWare. This probably is one of the better solutions they could have come up with. It doesn't compromised their artistic vision for the game (stupid and horrible as it might be) yet it does give fans what they want in the way of addition closure and information about what their choices meant. That could actually go a long way to improving the experience of the ending. And they're doing it for free which will, at the very least, keep fan outrage from increasing and might possibly win back some goodwill from discouraged players like me.

It does not, however, do anything to fix the fundamental problems of the ending which myself and many others have talked about ad nauseum. And just in case we weren't clear enough before, you might what to check out this excellent half-hour video which picks apart the ending in the detailed style of Red Letter Media (though it isn't nearly that vulgar, fortunately.)



I still think no matter what BioWare does, it will not save this game. Even if the endings do provide closure as we would have liked in the first place, it is too late. The ending of this series is forever tainted for those who have and will play it in its current state.

Time will tell. Now I will shut up about the whole thing at least until the "extended cut" drops. I'm sure I'll have something to say about that.

3.31.2012

The Mass Effect 3 Ending: An Analysis

[Spoilers ahoy! I discuss the ending in all its gory detail. Do not proceed past the jump if you don't wish to read those. You have been warned.]


Despite my general dislike of Mass Effect 3's ending (a sentiment seemingly shared by 90% of the internet), I will attempt to discuss it here with as fairly as I can. Really, it's not all bad. I liked some of the things it tried to do. And it certainly didn't make me flat-out angry like it did a lot of people.

I think there are two main categories of issues with the ending: those external to the game and those internal to the story. I have to really disagree with people who say that fans who disliked the ending are just being whiny or immature seeking a "happy" ending to everything or just being generally ticked that it is ending. I guess a fair number of people might feel those things, but for a lot of us fans, we quite simply feel that the ending was wrong on many levels.

3.20.2012

Mass Effect 3: Why Finish the Fight?

[This review contains no spoilers for Mass Effect 3. Plots points of 1 and 2 are touched on lightly. If you care about spoilers for those games, consider this your warning. Also, if you want to keep your ME3 experience totally pure, you probably shouldn't read this or anyone's opinion on the game until after you've played it.]


The Mass Effect series has never gone like I expected. At the end of the first game I thought the whole Reaper threat was finished. Shepard stops Sovereign's attempt to bring the Reapers into the Galaxy. End of story. Mass Effect 2? Oh, well I'm sure that'll be some new adventure.

What? The second line of the game is "The Reapers are still out there..."? Uh, well okay. I guess we're still going with this "save the galaxy" thing. Fine. That's fine. I can accept that. Who are these Cerberus people and why is Shepard putting up with them? I can't shake them until the plot says so? Okay, I guess there do have to be limits.

Now after five years Mass Effect fans are treated to the "final" game and some of us fans were a little concerned about it going in. Now that BioWare's in bed with EA, the most evil developer in gaming, their quality has seemingly lessened of late in favor of chasing profits (see Dragon Age II). And then there's that little MMORPG game they released recently and I am against those on principle.

But this is Mass Effect, dangit! This is the only game trilogy in existence which allows you to carry your save data from game-to-game. The choices we've made in the last two games will impact the epic final battle. Even if the games from here on out suck, the Mass Effect trilogy will be complete and awesome...

Then came the reaction online. It was as if a thousand nerd voices cried out in pain and we suddenly silenced (the voices, of course, all sounded like the Comic Book Guy). I did not believe the ending to this game could be as awful as people were reporting. I stayed away from any descriptions or anything that might influence my opinion on the ending. And I lowered my expectations.

But surely the internet was just raging to rage. It does that. It is silly. People like to hate the last part in a trilogy. People were just expecting too much. Maybe they just couldn't accept an unconventional but still good ending?

This past weekend I got curious enough to play it. I wasn't intending to until after the semester was over (like a responsible student, haha.)

Now it is over. I have finished the Mass Effect trilogy. Here, in brief is what I think of the entire trilogy.



I am seemingly in the minority because this is my favourite game in the series. Most people seem to like 2 better, but not me.

Mass Effect is a much better paced story than the other games. We slowly unravel the plot until a couple of big reveals at exactly the right time throw you straight into an intense endgame scenario.

It does a fantastic job of drawing you into the universe developed for the series which is a good mashup of Star Wars meets Star Trek sci-fi (quite like the Abrams Star Trek, actually). The first game introduces many of the memorable characters who (potentially) will participate in later games. We get to influence their paths and even choose whether some live or die.

Sure, it has its design issues. The vehicle sections are less-than-ideal. The side missions are generally pretty lame. And, yeah, I dreaded taking the unskippable elevator rides. Despite this, the game holds a dear place in my heart for being one of the greatest RPGs I've ever played.

And, c'mon. It's in space. I love space.



I wasn't a big fan of Cerberus coming from right the heck outta nowhere to take center stage in the plot of 2 (they're barely a footnote in the first game). Eventually I accepted that this was just where they were going with the plot and I just had to live with it. Ditching Cerberus (prematurely) wasn't one of the choices Shepard could make.

Mass Effect 2 was a really awesomely unique experience when I first played it. Importing my character John Shepard (boring first name because he's named after this guy; incidentally my alternate character was named after this guy) along with all the choices I had made in the first game was something most gamers had never done before. While it didn't drastically alter the storyline, it did determine (in part) who lives and who dies and what sorts of interactions and relationships that my Shepard had with the galaxy around him. Characters from the first game would remember how I interacted with them. Reputations could be repaired, destroyed, or upheld. It was a very personal experience as a consequence.

That's a very good thing because I am not a big fan of the structure of Mass Effect 2. The game is primarily oriented around gathering members for an elite strike team to take part in a "suicide mission." How much of a suicide mission it turned out to be depended on your actions beforehand which did make the endgame a pretty interesting payoff. The middle of the game, however, got very repetitive, at least to me.

Go to place. Talk, talk, talk. Meet team member. Shoot, shoot, shoot. Acquire team member. Return to ship. Repeat.

Fortunately most of the team was fairly lively and engaging, but this constant repetition got pretty old (I haven't replayed the whole game for this reason - I've played the original three times). The reveals were less impressive and well-timed than in the first game, but it was a highly polished and quite good sequel that I could be happy with.

But we all knew it was just build up for the final battle.



I want to make a few things very clear upfront. This is 3/4ths a great game. No. It's 95% a great game. This series is 98% fantastic as a whole.

Continuing to be one of the most personal experiences in gaming because of the save-import feature, not to mention all the time I'd spent with the characters in the previous two titles, Mass Effect 3 did everything it should have.

Three or four times I audibly applauded something that happened onscreen because it was just that awesome. I literally laughed out loud at several of the humorous moments. And I actually teared up a few times including during the fantastic opening scene which is an action-packed and emotionally gripping intro to a game about loss, sacrifice, and, well, endings.

Sounds good, no? Mass Effect 3 was certainly doing a lot better in my eyes than the previous game. Plots points carried on since the first game are wrapped up nicely. You get to decide the fates of individual characters as well as entire races. You travel to some really impressively designed locales and fight an interesting array of new enemies. The game feels a lot less repetitive for these reasons.

But yes. I have to agree with the online nerd rage.

The ending of the game sucks. No, not the last third of the game. No, not the last few missions. The end. The very end. As in the last five minutes of the entire freaking trilogy.

I was not immediately angered, in fact, I am still not angry now. I mean, it's just a video game. It's not actually a dumb ending or a bad ending. It's just a wrong ending for this game and this series.

It's not one mistake that makes the very end of the game suck: it's a lot of them and they're are of all kinds. Design mistakes, continuity mistakes, thematic mistakes. If even one of these areas had been improved I think the backlash would be much lessened.

Without giving anything away, the main problem is this. The Mass Effect trilogy allows you to make many, many choices throughout. Big choices. Small choices. Most of them are - let's be honest - pretty superficial and cannot drastically affect the plot. You are creating your own version of the same basic story. That's cool. I dig. But for the very end of the game BioWare forces you to make too big a choice: a choice which is in no way affected by anything that's come before and which renders nearly all the choices you've ever made prior totally and completely meaningless.

No matter what choice you make you will watch essentially the same ending. BioWare promised us very diverse endings. We didn't get them. While I appreciate some of what they were trying to do (it's certainly not predictable or conventional) the ending they came up with just doesn't feel right for this series and that's not even mentioning any of its other issues which I won't get into here. My Shepard, the character I've been crafting for three games, would not have chosen any of the three options presented him.

Given the ending my advice is this: if you've already invested in playing the first two games wait until this game is cheap and buy it. It is 95% a great game. Lower your expectations for the ending and you might not mind it so much. If you've never played the series before, play the first one and pretend there aren't any others (i.e. The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean approach). If you've only played ME1: STOP RIGHT THERE. Shepard saved the galaxy. End of story. Nothing happened after that. Shame BioWare never made sequels. Those could have been pretty good.

There's a whole lot to discuss concerning the ending. It's a complicated issue. It isn't just a matter of fans wanting a happy ending. I don't care for them myself. What we wanted was actual variety to the ending. We wanted our choices to matter. We wanted it to just make some bloody sense. I will be discussing the ending more in-depth in another post where spoilers will be rampant.

Is the ending really so bad to condemn the whole series like that? Well, not really, but it did leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps that will leave in time and I will one day revisit the series with adjusted expectations. It's happened before.

There's talk of BioWare actually re-writing the ending. I hope they don't. Of course I hope they don't make terrible spin-off games and additional sequels too. But you don't always get what you want. Sometimes you get the ending to Mass Effect 3.

1.20.2012

Film Anticipation 2012

5. The Avengers
Dir. Joss Whedon | Superhero | May 4

As a nerd it is my obligation to be excited about anything Joss Whedon touches, right? And further, as a nerd, I should be barking like a sealion in anticipation of anything that brings four major Marvel superheroes together in a single movie, right?

Wrong. I'm not that sort of nerd.

My relationship with the Marvel Studios films has been mixed. Iron Man? Okay. Robert Downey Jr. is a lot of fun to watch. Hulk? Do. Not. Care. Thor? Surprisingly fun and less over-the-top ridiculous than I expected. Captain America? A good, competent film, but one that made a few story decisions which decreased my enjoyment a lot.

So why is this on the list? Because it's either going to be a whole lot of fun or a completely and utter disaster. Either one will be a fun. Either way, this is going to be a crazy movie.

My first reaction was "that's a terrible idea! How are they ever going to pull that off?" But, y'know, I've been surprised enough lately that I'm willing to give The Avengers the benefit of the doubt. Plus with Whedon not only directing but also writing the thing, at least there will be good character moments. In the end that's the best we can hope for because - hey - let's not kid ourselves, the plot's not going to be surprising. I predict it will involve them saving the world. YIKES! SPOILER!


4. The Amazing Spider-Man
Dir. Marc Webb | Superhero | July 3

Oh, the Spider-man reboot! Yes, this is on the list.

I wasn't the least bit excited about this until I saw The Social Network which featured new Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield. That gave me a bit of hope.

I liked director Marc Webb's debut (500) Days of Summer, although genre-wise pseduo-romantic-comedy-drama is pretty far from superhero. I have my doubts about whether Webb can do action.

Judging by the trailer, this could be a laughably pretentious take on Spider-man... or just an overblown trailer. I hope it's the latter because a "darker" more "brooding" take on Spider-man sounds like the last thing I'd want to see. Sami Raimi played "emo" Peter for laughs and everybody hated it (except for me, I love that bit).

Also, what's the deal with the "untold story"? I'm pretty sure most people know the origin of Spider-man. Radioactive spider bite. Uncle Ben dies. So what's going to be so different about this one?


Finally, I have to gripe about the first-person bit from the trailer mostly because everybody else thought that was great and I hated it. I sure hope not a lot of that ends up in the film. First of all, platforming in first-person doesn't work. That's why Spider-man video games are in third-person. First person can easily be dizzying and disorienting. Second, if you are going to show first-person stuff to give us a sense of Spider-man's webslinging flights, use it sparingly. Do it while he's swinging and not while he's running across roves. They were just showing off with that stupidly long shot in the trailer. And third, it looked super, super fake to me. It's certainly better than the GCI in the original Spider-man which we all make fun of now, but this is 11 years later. I shouldn't be looking at those effects and thinking it's a video game.

Basically, The Amazing Spider-man is on this list for the same reason that The Avengers is. It'll either be a good movie or a hilariously bad flop. Either way = entertainment. To be honest, I have no prediction how this one'll turn out other though I think it has a better shot at being a good movie than The Avengers does.

But I will say this: having no J. Jonah Jameson means it's going to be at least 30% less funny from the get-go.


3. Prometheus
Dir. Ridley Scott | Science Fiction | June 8

I am no fan of Ridley Scott. Gladiator? Overrated. Blade Runner? Overrated and boring. Alien? Hey, I kinda like that one.

Much as I dislike the typically slow, plodding pace of Scott's films, I do enjoy a little breathing room in my sci fi my favourite being 2001: A Space Odyssey (yes, I actually like it, I don't just say that.) But, basically, I'm a sucker for space movies and it seems like there aren't a whole lot of them made anymore. Since Star Trek 2 is taking an eternity, this film, billed as a spiritual prequel to Alien (though not actually connected with that series), caught my eye.

It's plot, little as we know right now, sounds fairly high-concept. The crew of the titular ship Prometheus search for clues to the origins of humanity and there's some sort of advanced alien race or the ruins of one involved. Good enough. Better still: there's an excellent cast including Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, Charlize Theron, and Guy Pearce.

Also, the music in this trailer's pretty cool.


2. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Dir. Peter Jackson | Fantasy | December 14

After years of legal wrangling between studios and filmmakers, a change of director, and a change of mind on the two-film deal, we are finally getting The Hobbit... part 1. There's a lot to be excited about with the return of the filmmaking crew, Ian McKellen as Gandalf, Andy Serkis as Gollum and the excellent new casting choice of Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins.

Even after all this anticipation, it doesn't make the number 1 spot and here's why: a lot of the film is a known quantity. We know what Peter Jackson's Middle-earth looks like. We know Rivendell, the Misty Mountains, the Shire, even the trolls have already been glimpsed in the trilogy. We know the story from the book (those of us who've read it). And we know that this film is only half the story.

Most of the really exciting stuff - the stuff we haven't seen before like Mirkwood, the wood elves, Laketown, the Battle of the Five Armies, and, of course, Smaug the dragon are in the second half of the story. To be honest, although I'm definitely going to see this movie and I have a pretty high degree of confidence that it'll be great... I'm not actually that excited about it.

Having said that, it's a whole year away and there's lots of time for me to get more excited as I'm sure I will. Now part 2? That I really wanna see!


1. The Dark Knight Rises
Dir. Christopher Nolan | Superhero | July 20

Is there really any surprise? No. There is no other choice for most anticipated film this year.

The Nolan Batman film series has the potential to be one of the greatest film trilogies. Heck, with a strong enough third movie I'd say it could even be the best. Certainly it looks like it's going to have a good shot.

Based on all I know of the film (I've been following the major news and I've seen the early preview of the opening 6 minutes of the movie) it looks like Nolan's bringing us around full circle thematically.

In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne sets out to become an ideal and a symbol to fight the criminals of Gotham. As Ra's al Ghuld points out, if he devotes himself to an ideal he can transcend human limitation and can become more than a mere man. He can become a legend. In The Dark Knight, Batman's resolve is tested by the Joker and the Joker's corruption of Harvey Dent, the man he hopes might replace Batman.

Now we have The Dark Knight Rises, a title which has grown on me considerably since its reveal. Our villain is Bane most famous in the comics for having broken Batman - literally. If the poster is any indication, it looks like something similar could happen here. There's been rampant speculation that Bruce Wayne could die. Perhaps that would be the ending? Batman's death inspires others to take up his mantle (perhaps Catwoman and/or Joseph Gordon-Levitt's yet unnamed cop character?) and enshrines him as a legend in Gotham City history. Sounds like a winning plot to me.

We'll just have to wait until July 20th to see how Nolan ends the legend. For now we've just got to be satisfied with this awesome trailer.

1.12.2012

Game Anticipation 2012 & 2011 Retrospective

Last year I did a list of my Top 10 Most Anticipated Games of the year. This year, there look to be more exciting games on the horizon though not quite as many for me so I've truncated this year's list to a Top 5. First a look back.

2011 Games in Review

It's funny looking back at last year's list. Some titles turned out more exciting than I thought others less so.

Early in the year Bioware had the closest thing they've ever had to a flop in Dragon Age II. I didn't even end up playing the game. I was bored by the demo. Yeah, that's a good sign. Heavily criticized for it's more linear and generally less epic story, hopefully this was just a fluke because I'm still expecting great things from Bioware (but we'll get to that.)

At the other end of the year, Bioware did manage to release Star Wars: The Old Republicits first MMORPG and it seems to be doing pretty well. I am only interested in the game passively as someone generally interested in the state of the gaming industry (and wondering if anyone can dethrone those smug guys at Blizzard from their World of Warcraft perch high atop a mound of cash). Reports from friends and acquaintances who've played the game seem very positive, but I'm still not buying something that'll cost me $60 up front, $15 a month after that, and gradually suck my life and savings away. Still sounds like drugs to me.

In April we got Portal 2 which I hardly need to comment on as both myself and Joshua have both previously talked about how awesome that turned out. What turned out less well was my 1# most anticipated pick, Crysis 2. I'm still kinda sore about that. The game had so much promise and while it definitely has its moments... well I just shake my head at the game's mention. Again, I've already talked about that.

Also filed under "Games, Extremely Disappointing Ones," are two shooters from old developers. Duke Nukem Forever, much to the astonishment of everyone in the known universe, did actually come out as scheduled. And it sucked. Is there really any surprise about that in hindsight? Like The Old Republic I was only interested in this game for its prominent status in the gaming subculture and not in the franchise or actually playing the game. As it turned out to be a perverse, unsightly mess, it did not change that initial outlook and I did not play the game though I certainly got a good laugh over how pathetic it turned out to be.

Rage, the other disappointing shooter in question, was far less funny and far more baffling. How legendary Doom developer id Software managed to turn out such a lackluster game after so much hype is... well, actually that's kind of reminiscent of Doom 3, isn't it? 'cept that game sold because it was from a franchise. Guess id's probably going back the their cash cow next.

A couple of games were ranked criminally low on my list in hindsight. The subtitled "sky" games as I like to call them turned out to excite me much more than I was anticipating. Both The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim have thus far been fantastic. For all my skepticism of motion controls (particularly the Wii's) the latest Zelda title has convinced me that motion controls can not only work in some instances, but actually serve to make the game more fun. I'm looking forward to playing more.

It's a wonder to me looking back how I wasn't more excited for Skyrim. Although the game certainly has its flaws and drawbacks, I do not want the games industry to stop making games like this: games with immense freedom, immersion, player choice, and value. But this will probably receive its own review at some point.

Finally, Batman: Arkham City was ranked just about right. I just finished the game and I have to say it's mostly an improvement over Asylum. This will also receive its own review.

Now onto anticipation!


Top 5 Most Anticipated Games of 2012

5. Bioshock Infinite

2007's Bioshock is far from my favourite game. I found it a bit of a chore to play at times, actually. I also didn't find the system of switching from plasmid powers to guns very fluid. I just never got into the gameplay. What did suck me in (along with almost everyone else who played it) was the story and presentation. That was absolutely fantastic... except for the last fourth of the game or so.


With all those gripes it may be a wonder that I've chosen Infinite for this list. Here's the thing: I believe in developer Irrational Games' potential. Instead of the underwater city of Rapture, we now have a sky-bourne city called Columbia. We also have a speaking protagonist (imagine that!) as well as an interesting companion character with weird space-time fabric ripping powers... or something like that. Looks really interesting. Hopefully there's a great story like last time (and better gameplay) to go along with what looks to be a beautiful and unique setting.

4. Metro: Last Light

Metro 2033 was a surprisingly good game for most who picked up and played it. The post-apocalyptic shooter was set mostly in the Moscow Metro system with sections of the game taking place on the surface. It had a unique feel due to Ukrainian developer 4A Games and the fact that its story and setting were adapted from a novel of the same title. Last Light picks up after one of the two possible endings to the first game.

One of the most fun parts of 2033 was sneaking around enemy metro stations shooting out lights, sneaking up on guards and generally being a sneaky Russian ninja. Last Light looks like it's going to focus more on human-vs-human combat which was my favorite part of the first game.

3. Far Cry 3

During my E3 2011 coverage I highlighted this game as one to watch. Certainly the demos look promising. Far Cry 2 was a flawed game, but quite a bit of fun when you got past some of those flaws. If this game hones the story and the missions while still allowing for lots of freedom and choice along with a huge variety of weapons... well, sign me up!

2. Mass Effect 3

On my list for the second year running on account of being delayed is Bioware's Mass Effect 3, the (hopefully) epic conclusion of Commander Shepard's story. Will this game be fun? No doubt. Will this game be great? That's a lot more fuzzy.

Bioware had a few missteps last year with Dragon Age II being widely panned (for a Bioware game). The final Mass Effect 2 DLC "The Arrival" was also not well received. Plus there's the general pressure of the "third in series" ruining the whole thing. It's happened a lot with movies (we'll get to that) and it tends to happen in gaming although less so.

The story has been building and after Mass Effect 2's huge lack of plot I'm really ready for something significant to happen again. I hope there's not too much "go here and recruit these people" type missions because that's basically the entirety of the last game and I'm worried that might be sort of similar here.

The more I look back on the first two games, the more I'm impressed by ME1 over ME2 at least in terms of storytelling. Hopefully ME3 is a combination of ME2's improved mechanics with a ME1's wonderfully paced plotting.


The worst part will be having to buy it through EA's stupid Origin service...

1. Half-Life 2: Episode 3 / Half-Life 3

"What?!" you say. Half-Life 3 is coming out? When did that announcement happen? Well, sorry folks. It didn't.

It needs to.

I love, love, love, love Half-Life above all the other Valve games (even Portal), but even I'm worried that I'll start to not care about this series.

Fact: Half-Life 2: Episode 2 came out in October of 2007. Assuming Valve's been working on Episode 3 (or HL3, whatever it is) since then, I'll be be 5 years in development this October. It took 6 years between Half-Life 1 and 2, but in that time Valve developed an entirely new engine from the ground up as well as the Steam platform. Plus the company was younger, smaller, and less mature. Portal got a full sequel already. Given that information, it seems perfectly reasonable that Valve will either release the game this year or at least tell us when it's coming. Again, they need to.

The biggest question is will it be the promised Episode 3 or is this a full-fledged sequel? I expect in either case the game will be longer than the previous episodic installments and we'll see at least one new major game mechanic. It seems we have a lot of story left before the Combine story-arc is over. Either way, that's my prediction crazy and unfounded as it might be. This year Valve will finally count to three.


Up next... My Top 5 Most Anticipated Films!