Saturday, April 21, 2012

[Game review] The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Enhanced Edition)

Finding yourself familiar within a new land; pretty much your prime goal when first playing The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings by CD Projekt RED. You'll notice that there is so much to do in the game, it may seem overwhelming.

   It didn't take me long to believe that I was in fact, truly, playing an epic. Geralt of Rivia (played by Doug Cockle), is a professional monster hunter who possesses a good deal of special powers. You'll honestly feel like such a character, as every role-playing game's intention should be.


A bit of tagline on the back of the Xbox 360 game case. The case doesn't lie. It implies that forging of stories as Geralt of Rivia is evident. 

   It's hard trying to explain Geralt of Rivia's character. People play games differently from one another, and The Witcher 2 embraces that. Right off the bat however, I'd mostly say that Geralt is a medieval Donald Draper (protagonist of the hit television show Mad Men). 

The game throws you in a rather dark, mature storyline. A storyline I found to be extremely immersive. It's not overly pretentious. Execution is well. 

Quests in The Witcher 2 are unique. Not excruciatingly generic like other typical RPGs. A certain amount of player skill is required to successfully handle these quests. I learned that the hard way.

   Going through with a quest that had me exploring a macabre sort of cave, I did not expect to be ambushed  by dozens of little nightmarish monsters, called Nekkers. I was outnumbered. My mind had to work quick. On instinct, my first thought was to murder every single one of the bastards with a lengthy spear I picked up in the prologue. Health became almost non-existant, so I rolled my way into an open area. Decided to quickly place a few traps while I held them off with my magic attacks. They got to me sooner or later, and I had already made use of my traps and bombs. Geralt of Rivia just kept rolling until the Nekkers cornered him. It was over. 

Just one example of how difficult the game can be. If you're not prepared, the many monsters will rip you to shreds. I soon realized, after attempting the quest around 15 times, I had numerous sword enhancements at my disposal. Liquids and oils that I could douse over my weapon, giving me an advantage to last me for 3-5 minutes. Along with those enhancements, I had potions which increased health regeneration and offered other perks, along with some fair disadvantages. 

This is part of the reason why I've grown so much in love with The Witcher franchise. You never know what can happen; to an NPC, or to you. 

Like every contemporary RPG, you've got dialogue choices during conversations. You can be intimidating or kind. You can lie, or tell the truth. Quest endings depend on your choices, basically. One particularly great aspect of the conversation parts, is that there are instances in which choices are timed. That's right. You'll only have a few seconds to respond. It's intense, and adds a new layer of immersion to the game.

   There's a learning curve planted onto the several gameplay elements. It really helps to play the tutorial. The tutorial may not seem like much, but anything that can aid you should be welcome. Once the training wheels are off, it's up to the player to figure out how they'll play.

I found the controls to be quite well. Combat is fun and intuitive for the most part. I do feel annoyed at some of the context-sensitive controls, however. At times I see the button flash on the screen for a quick instance, but I'm too late to react, struggling to find the sweet spot, so to speak. A pain when it comes to moments that call for fast action. Though, it's not an often issue that appears every minute, so it doesn't harm the overall aesthetic of the game.

   The game's gorgeous visuals compliment everything else nicely. Foliage does not look horrendous. 
Geralt is animated well. The world looks beautiful, inside and out. Pro-tip: Make space on your Xbox 360 harddrive to install this bad boy. It's worth it.

Lip-syncing could use a bit of work, but that's just me picking nits. I do yearn for an RPG that makes use of MotionScan.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings is one damn good RPG that offers a fine blend of nonlinearity and dark story. The multiple difficulty modes target all types of players; including newcomers to the RPG genre, but makes sure to allow a fun yet challenging experience for all.

The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings (Enhanced Edition) is out now for Xbox 360 and PC.

Special thanks to CD Projekt RED for sending me a free copy! Definitely inspires me to keep this humble blog going.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

[Game review] L.A. Noire

One thing you'll begin to notice on my blog, is that I like to highlight older games and films with a review. Mostly for the games and films that provoke a wide spread of varied opinions.

Back in 2011 (Quite a long time ago), Rockstar Games launched L.A. Noire, a Team Bondi production, on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. Like every new Rockstar release, leaked copies could be found amongst the internet as game launch was right around the corner. Illegal live broadcasting of the game kept evident on websites like People had surprisingly already beaten the game, and acquired a crystal-clear grasp of what the ending contains.

I knew to stay away from the internet for at least the next two weeks. There was no way I'd let spoilers cross my path. Not for a linear, story-driven game such as this.

And so I picked up my reserved copy from GameStop at midnight. Had no strength to keep my eyes alert for more than five minutes, so I decided to be a patient bastard. Off to sleep I went. In the morning, I'd be playing the most refreshing game out on the market.

   L.A. Noire is essentially a homage to all things including Los Angeles and dark crime. In Los Angeles, crimes seem to be darker than the color black. The Black Dahlia Murder is still insanely provocative to this day. In L.A. Noire, you mainly control LAPD detective Cole Phelps (played by Aaron Staton, known for his role as Ken Cosgrove on the hit TV show Mad Men), a new guy on the force. Throughout the game you learn more about his character and what made him the way he is.

The game is episodic, in the way that each case stands mostly on its own. There's an overarching storyline, one that is meant to keep you playing until the game's conclusion.

Right off the bat you'll notice how cinematic of a game L.A. Noire is. Probably not worth mentioning given the amount of attention it has already received, but L.A. Noire makes use of a new sort of technology, MotionScan, allowing for actors to bring their facial performances, matched with their vocal performances, into the game. Many believe the outcome to dive deep into uncanny valley territory. I myself only find the majority of women characters in this game to look peculiar. That being said, I think any new piece of technology will be iffy and cause some skeptics.

   Despite how cinematic you think L.A. Noire is, it is a game. You're playing a game. That's pretty clear, once you're given control of Cole Phelps. Movement of Cole can be a bit awkward if you've never played a modern Rockstar title before. I find it similar to Red Dead Redemption's character movement, and not as awkward as Grand Theft Auto IV's character movement.

In the game you find yourself looking for clues spread out amongst nasty crime scenes. And by nasty, I truly mean nasty. You're feeling mauled, bloody corpses. Every substantial clue you discover is added to your notebook. Unless you want to be the shittiest detective on the planet, it helps to review your clues and progress.

The evidence you find will be of use to you during interrogations, L.A. Noire's biggest highlight regarding gameplay.

Such as every interrogation, in the game your goal is to obtain truth. Some interrogations are easier than others. Let's say you're interrogating a suspect back at the station. He gives his side of the story relating to a piece of information you want. Using the MotionScan technology, you're forced to analyze his facial features closely. Was he telling the truth? Do you doubt that story? Or do you absolutely know he was lying, and want to accuse him of that?

There are three buttons for each of those choices. Pick one, and you'll find out whether or not your judgement was correct, indicated by a jingle.

It's a fun experience, but also a difficult one. It has you putting extreme mental effort in an honestly simple piece of gameplay. Some characters are better at hiding the truth than others. There are a few instances where it'll be too easy, thanks to a poor performance given by an actor or actress. Overall I found many of the MotionScanned actors to be quite excellent, excluding the child actresses. Though, good child actors in games are hard to come by.

   The tone isn't calm for too long, you'll realize. The game is called L.A. Noire for a reason. There are car chases, gun fights, and fistfights to keep things a great deal more exciting.

Driving can be ultimately frustrating to some, given the light feel of the cars. I mastered driving quickly, though it can be quite a challenge when initiating intense car chases that occasionally happen out of nowhere. For casual driving, you can always skip to destination by letting your partner drive. Crucial bits of car chatter are spewed before the screen fades, bringing you to your destination.

When in a shootout, cover is usually always available. Handling a gun is nice, though the developers had to make it so, since shootouts make few appearances.

Fistfights feel really responsive. And fun. The combat is nice. Admittedly I want Rockstar to adopt this system of fighting and use it in Grand Theft Auto V, somehow. I wouldn't mind being able to beat the hats off of random civilians in the same manner presented in L.A. Noire.

If you prove to be quite terrible in these action sequences, dying multiple times, you'll be prompted the choice to skip the action, and move forward. It's amusing for us gamers, but there is probably an admirable amount of gamer-turned film buffs who tried this game, thanks to the plethora of surprisingly well-known faces in the game.

   The big question: Is it repetitive? That's a question I can only answer for myself, so I'll do just that. I'm a huge fan of film noir, I love the genre. The game features tons and tons of references, going so far as to include collectible golden film reels spread across the map, each representing a classic film. Obviously I'm fond of the game for being a bit like L.A. Confidential, though some may consider it to be a ripoff in game form. The game enthralled me. I liked the visuals, the colors reminded me of early Technicolor. There's a bit of pop-up, but I saw past that (probably not so apparent on the PC version, I played on the Xbox 360). The music is excellent, my personal favorite of 2011.

Besides that, I found myself immersed with the gameplay, I liked it. I wasn't shooting things constantly. The story kept my attention. I wanted to see who committed the crime. I wanted to learn more about Cole Phelps. Felt like I was playing the most cinematic game ever; probably because I was doing just that. When I completed L.A. Noire, I thought that I had just watched a movie. It was obvious though, I had been playing a game all along. Everything seemed to flow just like a movie. It was a great experience.

There's a good bit of replay value in L.A. Noire, but probably for the wrong reasons. There are collectibles and clues to find. There are multiple ways to complete a case, but you can't really "fail" a case. If you screw up an interrogation, you move right on. I was pretty good in my first playthrough, but the idea behind that is kind of iffy. That is my biggest issue with the game: you're not prone to failure, besides death in the action sequences. I'm not extremely upset, but of all things implemented to make L.A. Noire feel like a game, failure should be a part of it.

Overall it was one damn good experience. Like every game, I eventually got bored of it. Soon, like every other game and movie, I'll feel like heading back to it. Reliving the experience all over again.

L.A. Noire is out now for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC.

Rockstar has hinted that a successor to L.A. Noire is extremely possible. Can you imagine? Obviously Team Bondi is no more, but Rockstar themselves handling an L.A. Noire title? That's what wet dreams are made of.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

[Movie review] God Bless America

Literally fresh out of the oven via Video On Demand is Bobcat Goldthwait's newest dark comedy, God Bless America. 

Ever since World's Greatest Dad (2009), director and writer Bobcat Goldthwait had no trouble convincing me to throw all the money I have at him. A challenge came into clarity for Mr. Goldthwait. World's Greatest Dad became one of my all-time favorite black comedies. Could he top it? 

   God Bless America is a different kind of film. That makes it a good film. This film has no fear in getting the truth across. Definitely, it has no fear. Otherwise, a baby wouldn't have been shot leaving an explosion of blood... Within the first twenty minutes. 

That said scene being completely shocking and morally wrong, I still managed to laugh uproariously. I knew I was in for a real dark treat. 

   In God Bless America, the story follows Frank (played by Joel Murray, known for his role as Freddy Rumsen in Mad Men), a middle-aged man met with a great deal of depression. He can't escape that depression. He tries to hide from it by watching television, but that doesn't let him break free from the state. 

Now contemplating suicide, Frank realizes something. He has a gun. Why off himself when there are horrible people out there who are more deserving of that bullet? Frank's first target is a brat from the movie's hilariously depressing (depressing as in 100% accurate) spoof of My Super Sweet 16. 

After the deed had been done, Frank is followed by a teenage girl, Roxane (played by Tara Lynne Barrr), who finds Frank's action to be completely fucking awesome. 

Eventually, Frank and Roxy get together, teaming up to provide one hell of a killing spree. 

   Joel Murray and Tara Lynne Barr lay some excellent performances upon the table. Extremely compelling; you can feel the rage in their heart. 

I'd even say that Joel Murray's performance is worthy of an Academy Award. I know it's early in the year, but given the Academy Awards' track record... This opinion is not too crazy. The sad truth is that this movie will not get any recognition from the old white men in charge of the Oscars.

Tara Lynne Barr is also particularly great. Her character is feisty and eager, Tara portrays it very well.

   The acting compliments Bobcat Goldthwait's brilliant writing. More than a few laugh-out-loud moments are evident in this film. I found myself on the brink of tears with laughter. Such great pacing. The movie's not only funny because it's well-written, but also because it's so damn true. Kids whining about getting a BlackBerry for their birthday instead of an iPhone. That scene was handled so well. 

It may seem like God Bless America's message is too direct. People have to realize that this movie doesn't need to be subtle. Right from the start, you know that. This is a violent film calling for kindness. That may sound ridiculous and impossible, but God Bless America proves that it is in fact possible. Definitely provoked some emotion out of me, reflecting on the state of our society. 

   Amongst all that substance, the visual look of the movie is downright gorgeous. The cinematography is flavorful. I had no idea who Bradley Stonesifer was, but now I have my eye on his future endeavors. 

God Bless America is a dark movie. You can't really overlook that. I suggest it to every American who is mature enough to sit through an hour of bloodshed coupled with hilarity. 

Out now via Video On Demand and in theatres starting May 11th.

An introduction

They call me Timothy. "They" being the voices inside my head, of course. I run Sublime Labs, a stupid little production company. I produce stuff there. It's true.

Writing has been my passion ever since humanity began. It has stuck with me, kept glued to my back. I've got my first novel in the works, and that's pretty swell. Though, I need to change things up a bit.

So here we are. S&S serves to spit out reviews and impressions of video games and films, along with other goodies.

Sit down. Take a seat. Keep your pants clean.