Monday, February 28, 2011

State of the NBA

As Carmelo Anthony finally moved to New York near the last minute we now have a large number of "Super Teams" in the league. The Big Threes of Boston and Miami in the east are now joined by Carmelo/Amare and the MVP driven Bulls. Bringing up the rear of the good teams is Orlando, who made a ridiculous trade earlier this season though I suspect they'll still be quite good in the playoffs solely due to Dwight Howard. Of course, once you go beyond those 5 teams the entire Eastern Conference is garbage, but that doesn't seem to bother true NBA fans. I don't consider myself a "fan" of the NBA, I understand a good deal about how the game works and have a mild interest in the strategery of the game but in general it's not as fun for me to watch as Baseball or Football. The playoffs are somewhat different but since the vast majority of those games will be on TNT I might not get to see them (though they do have a buggy online function).

Despite that I don't really see the great benefit of having several super teams instead of a more balanced league, I can understand that the league is probably too large at the moment and several teams have no chance year in and year out but when half the East is under .500 and the 8th seed is poised to be 6 games below (giving the Pistons a shot at the playoffs!) it seems pretty problematic. A few dominant teams to go with several good teams and a competitive race to reach the playoffs is what makes an interesting league, to me, but in this league it's just the hope that any of the super teams go to a 7 game series and have a super dramatic Willis Reed moment somewhere along the line.

The West is slightly better than the East overall, though they have less super teams. The Lakers are the only giant team though the Spurs are doing much better this year it remains to be seen how well they will do in the playoffs. The Mavericks and Thunder seem to both be quite competent and could probably outdo Orlando in the East, but once again the entire rest of the league is subpar (though their records aren't quite as retarded as the East's). New Orleans is a pretty good team, unfortunately they're under the NBA's control until they're able to sell the team and Chris Paul is fairly hampered by injuries, The Nuggets just traded away their best player, and Portland and Memphis might be fairly competent teams in the East but stand little or no chance of overcoming the monster teams at the top in either conference.

While the NFL's parity is overblown at least the teams in the playoffs all have a shot to win the Superbowl (this year's game was almost a 6 seed vs. another 6 seed), obviously the MLB's parity is unmatched despite not having a salary cap, but the NBA has 8 or 9 teams in the entire league that have a shot at a title and the rest have no chance whatsoever. 20 teams to perish in the darkness. No hope for the Cavs, Pistons, Bucks, or any other beloved team you might have.

All of that said I'm still quite interested who's going to win the title and I'm pretty likely to watch the NBA finals provided it isn't Boston/Los Angeles again, while the rest of the the regular season seems a foregone conclusion (though yesterday's game where the Knicks beat the Heat was interesting enough) the playoffs will be quite interesting. Unfortunately they're still a few months out but Baseball is soon to start and all of my troubles will then be solved.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Final Fantasy IV

+++ Zeromus is the hardest last boss in the entire series
++ First notable RPG with an actual storyline
++ Moderately Difficult
++ Still fun to replay after several times
++ Pretty sweet soundtrack
+ First game to offer a "Battle Speed" option which is essentially a difficulty adjustment meter
+ Kain is a supreme badass
+ Varied environments
- Most characters have fixed levels when they join or rejoin the party, sometimes forcing you to re-level them
- Pioneered the ever so useless last minute villain switch
- Takes forever to get your final party
- Edward sucks

Final Fantasy IV is the first great JRPG ever made, with very few flaws to speak of. In being one of the earliest RPGs with a storyline (distinguishable protagonist/antagonist, more than a few characters) it is the proverbial dartboard which was randomly thrown at and a lot of the ideas really work quite well. There's Ninjas, Karate dudes, Dwarves, the underground, a tower that reaches into the heavens, the last part of the game takes place on the moon, the summoning realm, a village of mystics, and everything else you can imagine.

The vast majority of these now somewhat commonplace ideas are quite functional in the scope of the game and pretty good for JRPGs in general, though the one major complaint I have is that the awesome Golbez is randomly discarded as the primary villain in the last few hours for no apparent reason. Instead the face of all evil Zeromus appears and while he is a great final boss the cliche that spawned has destroyed the plot of many a game. Consistency in villains is quite important to create a sense of dread as well as a sense that you're working toward some final goal at the end of the game.

This game is also one of the most difficult Final Fantasy games around (provided you play it at the fastest battle speed) and forces you to make quick decisions to kill particular bosses and occasionally experiment with elemental weaknesses. By the end the best strategy is pretty standard, load up on your strongest attacks and precast powerful heals to defeat most bosses, but it is fairly difficult to actually execute all of those attacks prior to dying in some cases. The Plague, a boss in the final area of the game, casts "Doom" (death after 10 seconds) on your whole party and that time will tick down extremely rapidly on the fastest speed, so you unload the requisite 20,000 damage in time to kill him. I succeeded at this the first time but I found the result to be pretty awesome:
That is simply how tightly tuned some of the bosses are at the fastest speed, while you can slow the battles way down and make it more or less trivial that greatly reduces the tension while fighting the Plague or Odin (similar gimmick) or Zeromus. Several of the other bosses are relatively difficult though a number of them can be trivialized by using the correct elemental spells, but those 3 major bosses are quite a bit of fun. I played the game with a ZSNES emulator and rather liberally used the fast forward function to speed up random battles, my ingame playtime was around 35 hours but actually I only played about 10. There are a few annoying parts right near the beginning where you have to grind or solo everything with Cecil and this made that part substantially less tedious.

By the time I got to Zeromus I was about level 58 (no grinding for Adamant armors or any such silliness), which is right about where you're supposed to be. Big Z's main attack Big Bang does 1800-2200 damage, sometimes enough to 1 shot Rydia and always enough to kill my team in 2 hits, and this fight is extraordinarily difficult without one of the optional summons (though apart from the Sylph cave there's no reason not to do the optional areas in the game and they don't leave you too overpowered by the end). Rosa's Cure 4 does around 1500 healing to all and Zeromus has about 4 times as much HP as any other enemy in the game so he will get off ~15 Big Bangs before he croaks unless you're ludicrously overleveled, so you have to use Rydia's Asura summon and hope that it keeps casting healing spells (random choice between Cure3/4 and Life), naturally the first few attempts went something like this:

I was hoping Zeromus would die after a bunch of Cecil hits but alas, 'twas not to be. On my third attempt I was victorious through being relatively conservative and just spamming Asura (with mildly good luck to go with it). I've beaten this game at least 5 times (though this is the first time I fast forwarded the boring sections) so for the last boss to still kill me 3 times is quite impressive and makes me that much more joyous. Bart 2 in FFXIII is still harder if fought at the proper time, but Zeromus will always have a special place in my mildly masochistic heart.

There's not a whole lot else to say about this game, it's quite straightforward with a minimal (but still quite fun) amount of sidequests and it doesn't have some legion of followers talking about how amazing it is that a clown blew up the world because he was fucking crazy and how awesome that is. The plot isn't great but it's not terrible either and the gameplay remains entertaining to this day, albeit the first 20 hours prior to getting your main party can get to be tiresome without the magic of fast forward.

Final Score: 9/10

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Now I want you to remember

No Bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He did it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country. ~ George Smith Patton
Good ol' Patton, solid American hero representing the ideals and the silliness of American culture. While Patton was not, shall we say, a great general by any other standard but those of the beleaguered Americans, he was certainly an entertaining fellow with plenty of good quotes and information. Apart from that George C. Scott played him brilliantly in the movie which I am not going to review, at least not this week, though there will be a few discussions of war ahead.

Sunday ~ Final Fantasy IV
Final Fantasy IV, or II in the United States, was up until recently the most difficult of the Final Fantasy's and also one of the better ones. Not particularly overrated like VI and yet still captivating and certainly when using an emulator with fast forward superior to recent editions.

Monday ~ NBA Discussion
The NBA is finally getting into an interesting part of the season and this year's playoffs look to be the most interesting in recent memory. I don't think much of the Lakers Celtics rivalry but having 5 title contending teams in the East and 3 in the west makes me very interested to see what occurs. I suppose I'll root for the Heat since I think Lebron is a decent enough guy, if followed around by numerous morons, and Wade is certainly an officer and a gentleman, but the Knicks acquiring Carmelo Anthony makes the last 30 games of the season quite interesting, though not if they lose to the Cavs repeatedly.

Tuesday ~ The Big Red One
This is another one of those films I've had in my possession for a while but have yet to actually watch. I've heard that Mark Hamill is actually quite good in it and apart from his Joker voice this might be his finest performance. Luke goes off to war with Lee Marvin and we hope that his Jedi powers can lead the First Division to victory.

Wednesday ~ Samurai Warriors/XL
This game is the finest of DW's breed (and all closely related games as well) and for a number of reasons. Electronic Arts actually hopped in for publishing as this came out shortly after Dynasty Warriors 4 (which sold well here as well as in Japan) and the production values for this game are absurdly high compared to the rest of either series. What's more the XL disc actually adds quite a bit to the game and makes it thoroughly enjoyable for endless hours.

Thursday ~ AL East
In this post I'll discuss the current status of the AL east, including a brief discussion of the Red Sox and Yankees and the declining but still possibly excellent Rays and surging Blue Jays. Additionally I might discuss the relative quality of the AL/NL and use interleague records as evidence.

Friday ~ Fist of Fury
Bruce returns to the screen for more amazing shirtless antics and demolishes all in his path once more. I haven't seen this film either though I might be able to hazard a guess to what happens in it. "The Big Boss" was actually also titled Fist of Fury in some locales but this is an entirely different yet entirely the same film starring the man himself.

The month ahead will include a variety of Tactical RPGs, namely Front Mission 3 (Dual reviews for both scenarios in the game), Front Mission 4, Final Fantasy Tactics, another game (I have quite a few so who knows what that will be), and one of the best games I own to end this particular sequence, this might be the best set of games I review since some genres do tend to be rather poor by comparison, despite every game having nearly the same gameplay. 

I will also review Final Fantasy XII though the chance of me actually playing through it is quite small, I will most likely continue from a save where I was about to get the Zodiac spear extremely early in the game and mess around for a while. As previously mentioned Dynasty 7 and Warriors: Legends of Troy will be released in a few weeks though I doubt I'll buy either before they fall in price. Battle: LA is soon to come out for more silly entertainment but I'm not particularly optimistic about it, Unknown is probably going to be the best film until May so I reiterate: Go watch it.

Random Favorite Song: War

Random Favorite Game Music: Jidoor

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Big Boss

Bruce Lee is the most legendary of the martial arts invincible fighters of the 20th century and with good reason. He is incredibly impressive visually and quite charismatic and most importantly he died at the peak of his powers. That's not to say he couldn't kick any of Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, and Jackie Chan's asses (probably all 3 at once to boot) but dying pretty much solidifies his legend permanently. Regardless of how powerful Bruce was with his one inch punches and lowest body fat ratio ever recorded the "Legend of Bruce" will always be much more dangerous. While I've heard dozens of different stories about how he died and all sorts of random stuff about how he could punch through a concrete wall or a 20 ft thick steel safe and how he killed Superman with his bare hands its pretty hard to say just how apocryphal those tales are.

This is the key thing that goes along with dying early, JFK died before he really did anything in office apart from fuck over the Bay of Pigs and then fix it a little during the Cuban Missile Crisis, but since he died and appeared to be charismatic that's enough for him to be one of the best presidents in history by default. A 10 year forecast of landing on the moon which turned out to be a success simply solidified Kennedy's legendary status (despite it being a shot in the dark), he might have banged Marilyn Monroe and been a ridiculous adulterer but that doesn't matter because he died too soon to ever say anything contemptuous about him.

Okay enough about legends and how silly they become, on to the movie! Bruce movies all follow a pretty typical story arc; Bruce refuses to fight for the first half of the movie for whatever arbitrary reason (and of course if he did everyone knows he'd kick everyone's asses in 5 seconds and make the movie about 5 minutes long), people die and/or there's a damsel in distress and he gets pissed off enough to save them whilst looking mighty impressive doing so, random nudity for no apparent reason except to ensure the film gets an R rating, Bruce takes his shirt off for serious business and shows off all those muscles you never knew humans had, Bruce wins! Naturally this isn't an amazing set of plot elements but credit to Bruce: he did it first and I still tend to like these films much better than Chuck's or Jackie's or Seagal's (well especially Seagal since he can't act worth shit).

This film is Bruce Lee's first role as the primary protagonist. However it has a really stupid plot even for a Martial Arts flick. Bruce winds up in some random location with some cousins and friends working in a factory, he has been told by his dear old ma that he should stop fighting and has a necklace keepsake to remind him so, fortunately one of his cousins is Robin and beats down a bunch of random people, needless to say Bruce feels secure in his pacifism. But then some of his cousins discover drugs at the factory and the foreman kills them to keep them quiet! O NOES! Robin and random guy are off to the rescue but die horribly after a glorious last stand. This first part is pretty standard, but after that it gets absurd. Bruce defends the workers after they threaten to strike to get the workers back (they think they're missing or something) and gets promoted to foreman, he then gets wasted for no particular reason at a whorehouse and random naked model cameo happens, but then, 10 minutes before the end of the movie, he finally realizes he should investigate the factory and discovers the dead bodies of his buds. Bruce is shocked! He goes home and finds the rest of his buds including some random kid are also dead, but there's one last chick left to save and vengeance! And then he kicks some old dude's ass, the end.

Okay, so the plot really sucks but the fighting scenes are pretty sweet (especially the ones involving Batman instead of Robin) and Bruce is as charismatic and silly as ever. He fights off about 10 guys at once three times in the film and brutalizes about half of them, unlike the Way of the Dragon this movie would probably be R regardless due to random blood fountains. The music is kind of goofy in an old 70s movie sort of way but I liked it. I listened to the voice overs for about 5 minutes before turning on Cantonese and subtitles and afterward that part was much more bearable. I have a basic understanding of Mandarin but simply listening to Bruce speak rather than random guy X makes the film work much better even if you can't understand it (standard for these kinds of movies). I enjoyed the movie both for comedic value and glorious Bruce jump kicking people in the face.

Final Score: 6.5/10

Thursday, February 24, 2011


Sportscasters are sort of an easy group to make fun of, though there's a variety of reasons why. Some of them are legitimately insightful and these get labeled "good" like Costas and Collinsworth, one in particular is ridiculously excited when things happen in a game, Gus Johnson of Stokeley fame. But the vast majority of sportscasters are masters of stating the obvious in slow and straightforward ways.

As designated by Seinfeld many years ago George would be unable to become a sportscaster because he's not a former ballplayer nor "in broadcasting," even though he would be an insightful color guy. The Play by Play announcers tend to just have decent voices without commenting on the actual process of the game, though some of them who are particularly good like Al Michaels do (and Hawk Harrelson pretty much takes over both roles singlehandedly, he's such a homer most people don't like him, he's my hero though). That leaves us with just the color guys.

Firejoemorgan was inspired by horrible color guys and mocked them for several years in posts which are still humorous to read today. Joe Morgan was recently released by ESPN along with Jon Miller, I liked Jon Miller a lot but Joe sort of went off in weird directions every time he spoke. There is an inner cult of stupidity within every sport and no matter how intelligent a player is while actually playing the game the vast majority of the ones that become color guys are colossal morons. Morgan decided moneyball was the devil and Billy Beane the source of all evil (despite Michael Lewis writing the book), McCarver is keen on mispronouncing as many names as possible even while trying to be whimsical, while generally stating nothing except the obvious.

I think ultimately the average sports fan (who is probably an idiot) likes to be told obvious and safe things when watching a game, with no desire for further insight nor complicated dialogue, the very best sportscasters are able to please and satisfy those fans but still state interesting things in relatively straightforward manners, but those are few and far between. The reason sportscasting is so terrible of late is because of the network's desire to please the average fan over the intelligent one and of course some insightful people have annoying voices or are incapable of getting a point across by speaking rather than writing.

For this reason there is little or no hope of sportscasting improving in the future and we continue to hope that the ridiculous overanalysis of sports that goes on today will gradually produce more competent members of the sports media rather than a bunch of idiots, but such hope seems futile. I still have a soft spot for John Madden even though he'd mostly just repeat himself 10 times in the same sentence. Despite being one of the greatest coaches of all time he really wasn't all that great of a sportscaster, but simply existing in my childhood and having that jovial fat guy distinctive voice makes him all that much more endearing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Dynasty Warriors 5/DW 5 XL/DW5 Empires

+++ Unique, vaguely historical (!) storyline for each character
++ Guan Yu's Escape, Fan Castle, Xia Pi, Bai Di Castle, and He Fei Castle are all great stages
++ Moderately Difficult
+ Slight improvement to weapon system
+ Decent New characters
+ Chaos mode is in DW5 by default
-- Same old gameplay
-- Vast majority of the characters remain unchanged
- Base system, though a good idea, is poorly implemented and makes many of the stages feel too similar
- "Heavy" weapons are completely useless (and some unique weapons are heavy)

There's not a ton to say about Dynasty Warriors 5 except to say its the first DW I owned personally and may be the last depending on whether DW8 is improved or not. I once made a vow to buy every third Koei game per series (except Kessen which is quite varied between games) but I'm unsure if I'll be able to keep it, though I have actually bought a Koei game for the PS3 already. I've played about 150 hours or so combined between the three DW games and I've "completed" (Acquired ultimate weapon) 30-35 characters, maxing out about 20 of those.

Unlike the previous 3 games this one gives each character a fairly unique storyline, so while many of the other games always start with the Yellow Turban Rebellion before moving on to Hu Lao Gate and the rest of the story many of the characters follow completely different paths which follow their actual paths in RoTK. This makes playing through numerous characters a bit more entertaining than it would be otherwise, though ultimately the game is still a bit dull regardless.

Chaos mode is present in the main game and is next to impossible (at least the later stages) without Lu Bu or some item to acquire meat buns every 50 kills or what have you, as absolutely nothing drops healing items in Chaos. It is an interesting enough challenge but having no real way to defeat it makes it questionable at best (I suppose you could just bumrush the commander and hope you don't die horribly along the way). I believe DW4 had easily accessible mid-level saves as well but the amount of saves you get is reduced according to the difficulty.

Overall this is just the same old game with some minor differences and a particularly fun grinding map, Guan Yu's Escape, which feels completely different from the rest of the game. Some of the completely new maps such as Fan Castle fit the new "Base" system quite well and make the game more entertaining, but you're still ultimately powering through tedious/trivial levels to get to those few interesting ones toward the end of whichever campaign you're following.

Final Score: 7/10

Dynasty Warriors 5 Xtreme Legends

++ New Destiny mode could possibly be fun with enough time devoted to it
+ Xtreme mode is slightly improved
+ Scroll system helps to improve non 4th weapons
-- Nowhere near as many Legend scenarios to play
-- Still just a cheap corporate gimmick
- Only thing this adds to the main game is "Novice" mode which makes everything trivial no matter what

This game is almost exactly the same as DW4: XL, so apologies if I'm exceptionally brief in describing it. Novice mode is pointless, Xtreme and Legend modes are bearable for a few hours but ultimately still boring without adding much to the actual game. Destiny mode puts you as a nameless grunt and you gradually get to unlock your 3rd and 4th attacks and gradually become the officer you're serving under whom you could already play as if you really wanted to in the first place thus defeating the purpose of the entire experience. It's an interesting setup and might have worked if the whole game was based around it and designed better (like say SW's design for creating a new officer), but it's not and it kind of sucks.

Final Score: 4.5/10

Dynasty Warriors 5: Empires

++ Theoretically infinite replay value
++ Moderately difficult
-- Has no storyline to speak of
-- Kind of a huge pain in the ass on anything but easy or novice difficulties
- Takes forever to unlock later scenarios
- Voice acting is less impressive than the initial DW5 voices

This game has the dubious status of being the last PS2 game I ever bought at Gamestop. At some point I realized that Gamestop was a douchetastic  enterprise and didn't deserve to ever be purchased from and stopped shopping there and instead buy most everything online. However, that was a long time ago and we are recalling games from the somewhat distant past. This game is basically an extremely oversimplified version of RoTK placed in a DW world and it possesses all the stuff that DW5 does such as bases and the various characters. If I had bought this as a standalone without every touching DW5 I may have enjoyed it (and it was after all only 30 bucks) but I did not and I believe I got Final Fantasy XII and Valkyrie Profile 2 around the same time which were two of my best purchases ever for the PS2 so this game fell into relative disrepair.

In order to prepare for these reviews I played empires for a while and quickly discovered how annoying the novelty of playing as any random officer as opposed to an actual character is on anything but easy difficulty, though I later realized I did have an old save on one of my old memory cards but had little or no motivation to mess around with it. This game does let you customize your own scenario with your own lords and the capacity to randomly execute people and other such silliness (along with riveting diplomatic intrigue), but simply isn't that interesting if you've played any other Dynasty Warriors in the past, RoTK is a better simulator of the book and DW is a better vaguely strategic slaughterhouse game.

Final Score: 6/10

Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Unknown has one of the more intriguing premises of any movie in recent memory. They don't really do a ton with it but excellent action scenes and Liam Neeson's continued storied acting make this otherwise average movie into a worthy followup to Taken. Additionally the supporting cast, save for one, is outstanding almost universally. For some odd reason shaky cam has infiltrated most action movies over the past 5 years despite it discombobulating any and all action scenes, but this movie actually avoids that quite well. While there is something of a dearth for action in the first hour or so of the film at the end there is ultimately a satisfactory amount and every single scene is well shot.

Bruno Ganz, aka Hitler, is a former communist secret police agent who assists Liam Neeson in identifying who he actually is after Liam loses his memory in a car crash and winds up being impersonated at a biotech conference. He is outstanding in every scene he's in despite only being in about 10 minutes of the film, as is Frank Langella who only appears right toward the end. Diane Kruger is actually in Germany for the first time ever, but turns out not to be German despite being German as she plays the cab driver that crashes the car and afterwards saves Liam Neeson's life before fleeing the crime scene. All three of these actors do exceptionally well, and even the silent, dangerous pursuers of Liam seem to fulfill their roles quite well even if they aren't visually imposing.

So, who then dares act incompetently in this film? Was there any doubt, it's January Jones from Madmen who can't act worth shit. Fortunately she doesn't really have to act in this movie and mostly just stands around looking pretty, though toward the end there is one particularly bad scene with her in a stairwell; albeit something quite satisfying happens immediately afterward that makes one forget such troublesome trespasses. I don't think it would have changed the movie much to have another good actress in this mostly silent role so that seems fine.

Critics felt about the same about this movie as they felt about taken (within 1%) which was extremely mixed in reviews. I feel this movie is just as good as Taken and the feasibility of the plot twists is actually enhanced compared to that film. Of course you won't see the plot twist coming since it is completely out of nowhere with no real indication of what's actually going on up to that point. They do a good job of highlighting a bunch of alternative scenarios for you but don't have any shred of foreshadowing to the actual situation, and I suppose foreshadowing is not mandatory in films.

Overall this is a very good film for mid-February and while it has very little chance of matching Taken's success (which was achieved by staying in Theaters for over a year) it still made me quite content even though I had anticipated its arrival for 2 months. I do not think Battle: LA is going to be better so if you only see one movie before May make sure it's this one. Liam Neeson remains one of the finest actors in Hollywood and I will almost certainly watch whatever next Euro-Action/Thriller he does next, though I suppose people want him to take other roles as well. He is excellent in most every film I've seen him in so I have no argument with wanting him to fulfill a variety of roles, but unfortunately he was already in Batman Begins so hope for continued enhancement of that series is fading.

Final Score:8.5/10

Monday, February 21, 2011

Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols is one of the best players in major league history and seemingly bound to be a free agent at the end of this season. The Cardinals, despite an enormous negotiating advantage, never really managed to come close to signing him despite all expectations suggesting that he would, "Of Course," stay a Cardinal for life. So this brings into question where he will sign next year, and more importantly will he be worth the upper limit of those deals. Pujols is set to make around 300 million over 10 years to outmatch A-Rod's contracts a few years later, and clearly with every inferior First Baseman making loads of money he wants to be the best paid amongst those as well. The rapidly declining Ryan Howard is still in the 20 million per year part of his deal just prior to going into the 5/125 ridiculous deal that he's already signed to. He has been worth roughly 1/3rd of what Pujols has been worth over the same time period.

Pujols has put up a 331/426/624 line for his career to this point, he leads all active players in every category, and has put up 73 WAR according to baseball reference. Apart from clearly being the best offensive player in the league since 2004 he's also the premier defensive first baseman in the league and has yet to show any sign of decline on either front. Now, he is going to be 32 at the start of his next deal but Hall of Fame upper echelon type players do not decline as rapidly as their pedestrian Teixeira, Howard, and Adrian Gonzalez counterparts, while he might only be worth say 45 WAR for the rest of his career by the current measure and scaling for inflation that does make him worth somewhere around 10 years/250 million. There's also at least some mild chance that he will hit another 400 HR and eventually surpass Bonds or A-Rod for first place on the all time list. Hank Aaron, for the last 10 years of his career put up a 285/371/538 line and hit 357 HR, and with all due respect to the legend was never quite as good as Albert Pujols has been to this point in his career, Aaron's OPS+ in the first 10 years of his career was 157 (still excellent), well short of Pujols' 172.

The primary comparisons for Pujols at this point seem to be Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, also known as the two best players in major league history, while he probably won't reach their levels of production barring some head enlargement  he might still outdo their relatively shorter careers due to longevity and could feasibly continue to play well past 35. The last 2 years of a ten year deal may look bad for Pujols but all of the production to that point should justify a long contract. However I'm sure he would also take a shorter, 35/year type of deal if some team is truly worried about how The Machine will decline late in his career. As it looks right now he will retire as a top 10, possibly top 5 or top 3, best player in major league history with well over 3000 Hits and 600 Home Runs (800 within reach) and he certainly deserves to be rewarded for it.

While greediness is a common attribution to some successful athletes I don't think if you're the best player in the world without any question it is particularly greedy to be the best paid player in the sport, assuming Pujols plays well in his contract year (perhaps even better than he has done to this point) he should be rewarded for it. Though he fell just, inexplicably, short of winning a 3rd straight MVP he could easily win one this year or certainly finish 2nd for the 5th time (most in major league history) and there doesn't seem to be much argument for not granting him an eye popping extension.

The question then is who is there to pay for Pujols' services, both the Yankees and Red Sox have locked up first base for some time, though both of their first basemen are demonstrably inferior to Pujols so you could argue they can still pay for Pujols just for another edge. The most likely, and most logical location seems to be the Cubs as discussed in this fantastic article, as they do have money to spend and to acquire the indomitable Pujols from their most hated rivals. That would swing the NL central to their favor for years to come, and while the race may be contested this year I do not think it would be as close in the later portion of the deal. I suppose technically the Nursing Home Yanks would be a better destination with the potential for more profit but I still say the Cubs grant him the best opportunity to extend his career, remaining in the inferior league in an extremely favorable Ballpark with worshipful fans rather than ravenous ones. Either way Pujols' late career should be just as interesting to watch as his current one. Without further adieu: The best Home Run I've ever seen (Have to click a subsequent link)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Assassin's Creed 2

+++ Enormous, beautiful environments to explore
+++ Close to 5 times as many ways to kill people as the previous game
++ Subject 16's sidequest is awesomely voice acted
++ Good Storyline
++ Eliminates gimmicky sidequests from the main plot (though they are still available)
++ Combat system feels more fluid
+ No points where they toss 100 enemies at you
+ Various ways to dispatch major assassination contracts
+ Ezio is better characterized than Altair, if slightly less interesting
+ Able to Swim!
+ Adds a historical database
-- Moderately Easy
- No Al Mualim or equally impressive character
- Silly voice accents
- Irritating Feather sidequest has meager rewards
- Assassination missions are much less detailed
- Some next to impossible puzzles for "The Truth" sidequest

This is the first game I played in the series and perhaps colored my expectations for the original game (which I figured would be dampened by years of anti-hype). I had a great deal of fun playing this and continue to have a great deal of fun playing Brotherhood, both multiplayer and single player. While it is extremely easy to escape guards I still found it fun to figure out ways to dispatch them, air assassinate two at once with dual hidden blades, shoot them in the face, take the brute's 2 hander and smash a few of them in the face with it, impale them with a guard's polearm, the possibilities are nearly endless. While some of these work better than others most every one of them is fun to use and entertaining to watch. Next to Uncharted 2 this is probably the most cinematic game I've played on the PS3.

Ezio, your new identity whom you assume from birth as a baby (which is bizarre I suppose) to a youth (actually a pretty well constructed chapter), to an adult (most of the game). The game takes place over something like 40 years though Ezio doesn't seem to age all that much in the process (more facial hair!) and follows this likable fellow as he seeks revenge for the murder of his family. While Ezio himself is a good character and template for other characters to support the supporting cast is fairly hit or miss in the end. Most of the assassination contracts are much less detailed than the ones in the predecessor, and while the final contract matches some of the best ones in the first game the rest of the enemies you pursue have just a few lines before they fall rather easily to your invincible stature. This sort of makes the game feel completely free flowing as you wander around and collect a whole crapload of viewpoints (some of which are in cities you never even do anything in apart from brief DLC missions).

Running around is remarkably fun even if the people you're killing have vague intentions at best. Since the "real world" portion of the game is mostly eliminated you have almost entirely free reign to go anywhere you like and stab people in the face. The cities are very densely packed so it is quite possible to run completely on roof tops (stopping routinely for a second to kill archers naturally) from place to place, and once you get the hang of it free running is smooth and intuitive. In Venice you can even run along the canals and still make it from place to place rapidly (though gondolas are next to useless as transportation). The strength of this game and subsequently the rest of the series is the variety, kill people in 30 different ways, have several different modes of transportation and the capacity to approach most targets in completely different fashions. For one mission in which you were supposed to climb and air assassinate a guy I wound up using Courtesans to distract the guards and walk right in the front door.

The two Leonardo specific missions where you use a carriage and then a flying machine to get from one place to another are both excellent. A meager complaint (and ultimately not a flaw) which is fixed in Brotherhood is that you can't go back and replay old memories, so once you do that flying mission you can't do it again except to do the DLC flight around Forli. The carriage chase is pretty intense and pretty much beats the hell out of any comparable chase in Red Dead Redemption, though it is completely scripted so I suppose you could argue that it's possible to create a better one in Red Dead. While I don't consider this specifically a Sandbox game it still has that feel to it though it is mostly just a storyline loosely placed around where those 90 viewpoints were located.

While the people you are assigned to assassinate do not have a very intriguing role in the actual game the capacity to reflect upon their historical selves makes it more interesting to kill them. Though it is hardly a recollection of historical events having little miniature British delivered biographies prior to the start of each mission is very entertaining. I believe Cam Clarke did the voice acting for Subject 16, which I think everyone should just listen do regardless of whether they actually play the game as it is completely riveting every time he speaks. Though that is disconnected entirely from the main plot it still has some implications for future games and sort of drove me to complete those sometimes impossible puzzles. Additionally the constructed world is much closer to it's real world Renaissance counterpart and has a large number of extremely detailed historically extant locations which the database will tell you more about. A few of the "Tombs" you explore which are basically purely Prince of Persia style areas with little or no combat are somewhat accurate depictions of the inside of real world areas, particular churches and mansions all shown to vivid detail.

The biggest issue with Assassin's Creed as a series is the triviality of the combat and encounters, though I think ultimately this route will make it more popular and somewhat more enjoyable to play. The game has a great fluidity to it if you're not dying a lot and that adds to the immersion and drives you to continue to play the plot even if there is no chance of you running into trouble along the way. While some of the "race" sub missions are painfully difficult all of them are optional and only some of them are actually entertaining (though you do start to increasingly get better at free running as a result of accomplishing them). While you might not find this game to be challenging in the slightest I still recommend it highly for pure fun purposes, not everything has to murder you repeatedly to be well designed.

Final Score: 9/10

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Caffeinated Approach

If you ask the Pot, the Pot will answer. ~ Sigourney, Deadly Premonition
This week's quote comes from an extremely odd game, currently being LP'd in enamoring fashion by Supergreatfriend. The archive is here. It's the sort of game I'd never bother playing due to the terrible gameplay but which has a wonderful storyline and various humorous characters to make it cinematic enough to watch once a week or so.

Sunday ~ Assassin's Creed II

In anticipation of finishing Brotherhood by the end of march I figured I might as well review this. This is the one game I have a Platinum Trophy for (though I'm very close on a few other games that I intend to replay/review at some point) and is the second game I played after resistance following purchasing the PS3. Elaborate plot, various methods to stab people, and not nearly as annoying as Assassin's Creed the original.

Monday ~ Albert Pujols
Pujols is finally getting some time in the spotlight. Despite being the best player on earth for almost a decade he hasn't really received all that much attention. I suppose if he was much more promiscuous and banged every hot chick in sight he'd be deserving of more attention though. It looks like the Cardinals are low balling him by $100 million, who will pay him 30 million a year for more than 8 years?

Tuesday ~ Unknown
I saw this on Friday. This is basically billed as Taken 2.0 and I have already heard comparisons to the Bourne movies. Let me clear that up for you though, the Bourne movies are loaded with impossible to follow action sequences with a fuckload of worthless shaky cam, this and Taken on the other hand are very well shot and the action is easy to follow while being exciting.

Wednesday ~ Dynasty Warriors 5/XL/Empires
3 games at once!? Actually it's more like 1.5 at best, this is not the glorious high production value Warriors game to which I have alluded to just yet. This is the first DW I personally owned and I have played it quite a lot, though Lu Bu only has 15000 KOs or so. As you may be shocked to find out it turns out it's exactly the same as every other Dynasty Warriors!

Thursday ~ Sportscasters
In this post I'll review several sportscasters and discuss what makes one good, bad, or ugly and just how prone the vast majority of them seem to be to saying completely obvious stuff. FJM talked a great deal about this sort of thing and obviously Caliendo's Madden is everyone's favorite impersonation (though his comedy is repetitive at best)

Friday ~ Big Boss
A while back I was randomly inspired to buy The Way of the Dragon to watch Bruce Lee fight Chuck Norris and got several other movies along with it which I've yet to watch. Bruce is pretty charismatic and obviously the best martial arts fighter of the modern generation so I'm curious to see how many one inch punches and murderizing he accomplishes in the other films.

Random Favorite Music: Runaway

Random Favorite Game Music: Gato's Theme Remix

Friday, February 18, 2011


Willow is an epic yet silly movie. There are plenty of adventurous and glorious battle scenes with a pretty well designed climactic set of conflicts, but yet the heroes always seem to be humorous than serious. Some of this is by design as Madmartigan is clearly comic relief and you could easily argue that making the main character a midget is a cheap comedic method from the get-go. As I was growing up my brothers used to quote this movie to yell at me "Out of the way Peck!" Which still kind of cracks me up to this day.

I suppose since this is an 80s movie the ridiculous hairstyles are somewhat normal, or perhaps they're intended to be absurd. George Lucas actually created this film and I guess it was supposed to be the successor of Star Wars in his amazing film career. I do think this film is substantially better than the second set of three films and probably about as good as Return of the Jedi but it didn't do quite as well at the box office, naturally. There's still a Rancor like creature with classic pre-CGI effects that look goofy but once again make me feel nostalgic and loath modern CGI all the more.

As I said before this is Val Kilmer's finest role by far, even before he grew corpulent he wasn't really all that good of an actor, but he's certainly entertaining and believable in this movie. The incredible quote "I don't love her she kicked me in the face" is perhaps one of the finest lines in cinematic history. Willow, though played by storied dwarf Warwick Davis (Also in a few Star Wars movies and Harry Potter), isn't all that interesting except as a punchline. However his presence makes Madmartigan all the more heroic and silly. While there are a ton of comic relief characters I think the heroics of Val Kilmer are what make this movie extremely rewatchable, he's essentially Han Solo except with Maximus' fighting skill (though no decapitations unfortunately).

As a kid I found the villains of this film to be both impressive and horrifying which I guess makes sense given how long it takes for them to die. General Kael takes somewhere around 7 stabs and piercings to finally fall over and the Queen gets tossed around a bunch in a silly sorceress duel and finally succumbs to a few lightning bolts from the sky. The Queen is still pretty scary I suppose given the nature of her castle and crazy laughter, equally as impressive as the White Queen in the Narnia trilogy without the CGI enhancing her. Kael however is hilarious in retrospect, every time he yells something it's in the exact same tone of voice that grows increasingly ridiculous as the movie goes on. "Find the Child!" "I have the Baby!" "Kill Them"; his dialogue is limited to such one liners throughout. I think this movie could have easily sprouted an interesting trilogy or series but medieval fantasy is much harder to sell than Sci Fi unless it happens to be based on the source of all modern medieval fantasy.

Final Score: 8/10

Thursday, February 17, 2011

How to Troll - An Introduction

The first thing to know about trolling is that you should ensure that you are prepared for it. Provided you're a regular forum-goer somewhere and have been for some time you presumably qualify. I, for instance, posted on a random RPG forum for about 5 years in parts of my formative years and now said forum no longer exists so I have no chance of being mocked for it. You do not have to be a respected member of the community to troll but showing yourself to be moderately intelligent is a good start.

Avoid small forums at all costs. Small forums tend to have a hugely slanted opinion one way or the other and people will only laugh if you agree with them completely, it is generally a waste of time trying to effect a consensus of idiots. Therefore a moderately to large sized forum is ideal for trolling, at least if you want to be fully appreciated. Prior to beginning my methods on Raids and Dungeons I had already posted over a thousand times, though in the case of Warhammer it was only a few hundred I suppose. Both places worked particularly well.

Okay, having found your forum and audience where do you start? Another thing to remember is that you personally are generally either funny or good at insulting people, do not try to be both or it probably won't work. I'm a funny enough guy but I'm quite excellent at making people feel like idiots and that's what I tend to focus on doing. When I attempt to be funny exclusively it tends to fail miserably whilst trolling. If you're going to try to be funny then make sure most of your posts are blatantly slapstick and idiots will generally still let themselves look that way with various incredibly dense responses.

Which brings me to my next point: directly insulting people is much less effective than simply making them look like an idiot by baiting a response with a troll post. Assuming you're halfway decent at making morons show themselves you should understand this quite well. Making yourself look like a douchebag will generally lessen your fanbase as a troll, but making everyone else look like a douchebag while you simply look mildly intelligent works wonders. While I might not follow this at all times it's mostly my own occasional mistake. I generally am very apathetic about most everything but occasionally I will get mildly irritated and do something stupid as a result.

If you're posting on a "one topic" type of forum like an MMO forum or a "Fans of X series" forum apart from ensuring that the population isn't a consensus of morons you might also want to know something about the series or the MMO before you start trolling. I know a great deal about Blizzard and predicted much of what happened up until I stopped playing in the first part of Wrath of the Lich King. Doing so garners extra respect and generally makes later trolling more efficient. Provided you always sound intelligent even if you're directly insulting the company you will never get banned or warned (yet another reason to avoid directly insulting people as a matter of fact). On Warhammer's forum basically everyone else who tried to troll got banned repeatedly and while there were trial accounts to replace them I take some pride in keeping FCD's trolling record in tact by avoiding such silliness. Granted they eventually killed my forum instead and thereby killed my soul, but oh well.

Random Trolling Vid: A Troll!?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dynasty Warriors 4/ DW4 XL

Dynasty Warriors 4
+++ Nanman Campaign is the best level in the series
++ Moderately Difficult
++ Adds Storyline mode for "Other" characters
++ Adds informative encyclopedia which tells you a bit about ROTK
+ Decent graphics upgrade
+ Surprisingly good voice acting
+ Xia Kou and Tong Gate are both solid
-- Adds only a few new characters
-- Very little difference in equipment management from DW3
- Streamlined storyline mode makes game even more repetitive
- Duels with "powered up" opponents and Lu Bu are nigh impossible

This game actually sold very well, getting Greatest Hits in the United States and a variety of positive reviews. Either Koei bought the extra reviews or for some odd reason random reviewers liked the streamlined gameplay. This game does feel a tad more polished than previous editions and has pretty decent voices but almost every character from a particular faction will take essentially the same route through the game. Another yet to be reviewed game in this set had much higher production values and still wound up with a lower score than this. After DW4 critics soured presumably because Koei stopped funding them and while the game is essentially the same design over and over I think the games should universally have similar scores, whether they be poor or positive.

Duels are the main difference between this game and the rest of the series. Whenever you stroll up to a named officer (and sometimes random guys) you'll be prompted with the option to duel, which once you get the hang of it is a pretty good idea. You fight him in a miraculously appearing arena that takes about 1 second to walk all the way across and it is pretty fair for most opponents. If you die you're dead if he dies he's dead and your side gets a morale boost. However if you don't accept the duel at all you lose morale.

While this seems simple enough once you run into Lu Bu at Hu Lao gate and he laughs at your pathetic nature you may not feel so wonderful. Lu Bu and other super powered opponents (though only in specific levels, Guan Yu at Guan Du, Gan Ning at Xia Kou etc.) will kill you in 3 hits while you can't do more than a tiny sliver of their health per hit. While I guess it is possible to actually drain their health bar to 0 it would take somewhere around 50 tries. However, you can win the duel by just hitting them a few times and running away the rest of the way (most of the time this will still fail miserably) and waiting for the time to run out and get a positive morale boost as a result, though the general will still be there when you leave the dueling arena for a normal fight. While a moderate, even double damage boost to Lu Bu's output and slightly reduced damage incoming may be in order making them completely impossible pretty much killed dueling for the rest of the series.

Final Score: 7/10

Dynasty Warriors 4: Xtreme Legends
++ Some of the "Legend Mode" areas feel completely unique
+ Makes largely irrelevant characters from the main game feel more important
+ Xtreme mode is an entertaining diversion for about 5-10 hours
+ Adds Chaos Mode (Super Hard difficulty) to the main game
-- Really stupid title
-- Adds no new characters
-- Essentially the same game for 30 more bucks with little to add except a cheap import feature
-- Adds few new items and no new weapons

Ah here we are at our first "expansion" review of the DW series. As I've said before these are, with one exception, all cheap corporate cash-ins that add essentially nothing to the game and force you to have both games to access all the content on one disc. While the very first time you get around to playing the two modes is fairly entertaining eventually you realize how tedious most of the Legend modes are and how brainlessly repetitive Xtreme mode is. This is DW with no new content whatsoever and just a bunch of bland crap to power through. While I don't really think this is a horrible game by itself it isn't functionally interesting in any way either.

Final Score: 4.5/10

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

No Country For Old Men

This film, much like True Grit, is basically a carbon copy of the novel put to life with outstanding cinematography and great performances. I have not read True Grit but I have read No Country For Old Men and it is very similar. However, the book is not particularly great it is simply mildly interesting but sort of standardfare, especially considering Cormac McCarthy's other works which are predominantly outstanding. The book brings every element and image from the novel to life in an incredibly compelling way.

Anton Chigurh is the first pure evil villain I believe I've discussed in depth so far. I said some time ago that Iago is the template for every motiveless villain and Iago himself is a reflection of the conception of Satan. There is a certain beauty in portraying this sort of villain, not one who acts for lust or vengeance or greed or any simply human notions, but one who acts for the sake of it. The enormous amounts of violence doled out by Chigurh in this film are, from his perspective, granted to those who deserve it for very nebulous reasons to say the least. I believe we've been somewhat spoiled by this sort of villain of late, Daniel Plainview is somewhat close (though with the initial motivation of greed it is rather unclear whether that is actually why he does what he does), The Joker is a perfect imitation, and Hans Landa is a good, if imperfect due to one inexplicable scene, reproduction. Nothing is more terrifying than a dangerous man who acts to create chaos for the sake of it.

All of that said Javier Bardem's performance is good in the role, particularly in this scene, and I'm certain he deserved the Oscar much as Daniel Day Lewis deserved his. However the Coen's essentially create the entire film around him and the cinematography and characters all contribute to his existence as a horrifying being. His performance in and of itself isn't as great as some of the other cinematic devils discussed but the character is legendary as a result. It is difficult to create "the Ultimate Badass" without constructing a world around him, so the Coens deserve extra points for how impressive Chigurh is as a character.

Chigurh aside this film is a very well constructed chase thriller. It is possibly the best thriller ever to be produced, and while I don't think it stands up to specific masterpieces of cinema it is certainly wonderful in its own right. Josh Brolin finds a satchel of money and has to stay on the run from various agents who chase him, including Chigurh, however he's a former Sniper from Vietnam (not fully explained in the film but explained in the book) and has excellent survival instincts. The film quickly becomes a conflict between the able but imperfect man and the demon, but chance itself has a role to play much like Chigurh's coin. Brolin and Tommy Lee Jones also deliver excellent performances which aren't as enhanced by the presentation of the film itself, and I feel either could have also won best supporting actor in a different year.

The largest question about this film becomes is it better than There Will Be Blood, as every other movie that year was vastly inferior to these 2 peculiar masterworks. There is only one severe tiebreaker I've discovered and that is the score in There Will Be Blood will make you want to gorge your eyes out while No Country does perfectly fine with no score whatsoever. Without that it's very much a wash and I wouldn't want to have to pick one over the other with both being equally deserving. I would rate both films at the same score even now though I will say No Country is very slightly better.

Final Score: 9.5/10

Monday, February 14, 2011

Baseball Game Length

This portly fellow has one of the slowest deliveries in the majors
The foremost reason people same to dislike baseball as a spectator sport (at least when not at the park which is a hovel for various other activities) is that the games take so long without a whole lot happening. You can go several innings with only a walk or a bunt single to show for it, in fact most teams don't score in the majority of their innings. The recent homerun surge has done something to combat the inactivity of it all but the average length of games continues to increase year after year.

Baseball does not have a time limit, and it seems to be the pride of elderly sportscasters to mention this at will. While the traditional nature of not limiting the time a pitcher takes to throw each ball to the plate it would easily cut game times down by 30-45 minutes if they did.  This post at Beyond the Box Score goes into some detail on the slowest and fastest pitchers in the game. Most of the slower pitchers are relievers and a lot of them are Red Sox or Yankees. Due to their cherished rivalry Joba Chamberlain and Jonathan Papelbon decided to take half a minute between each and every pitch, making innings take half an hour late in the game. This is why the always ESPN televised Sox/Yanks games take so long to finish and ratings vary wildly throughout.

In addition to pitchers taking a while between pitches batters themselves like to step out of the box, adjust their groin, spit on their gloves and wiggle their bat for around 20 seconds a few times per at bat. This could be severely limited. Coaching visits to the mound do take a while and slow down games but I don't think a lot can be done to prevent them, Pitchers and Catchers meeting at the mound should probably be eliminated however. While injuries on every other play are a major reason NFL games take so long they don't really happen all that frequently. Pitching changes could be limited to 4 or 5 to also speed up the pace of games. I have been blessed to watch Mark Buehrle for several years as he routinely throws complete games that last about 2 hours, but those numerous pink hat wearing fans must not be too enamored with watching Papelbon grab his crotch 10 times when he closes.

There seems to be some debate as to what length is the "best" for a baseball game, an extremely quick hour and 45 minute game is non existent at this point and might be too short, but 3 and a half hours is way too long. In my opinion two and a half to three hours is the sweet spot, though many sabremetricians might argue otherwise. I don't much care for all the bullpen switches and commercial breaks late in the game but the early duel between the starting pitchers is quite interesting and entertaining, as is the very last inning in close games. If your team is known for coming back you'll undoubtedly have to watch longer games but those comebacks are the most exhiliarting part of the game. Walk off Home Runs are always amazing even to the non-fan, though simply watching your team rally can be fulfilling enough.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Red Dead Redemption

+++ Best Setting for any game period
+++ Huge variety of tasks to do
++ Length to 100% feels just about right
++ Bullet Time works well
++ Outstanding graphics
++ Great Voice Acting
+ Final chapter is well executed
+ Solid Weapon Variety
+ Good, if somewhat flawed, Storyline
-- Entire Mexico chapter feels unnecessary and doesn't advance the plot at all
- No Dead Eye with the Gatling gun
- Almost every horse controls exactly the same
- Main game feels slightly short
- Badly in need of a "Survival Map" for animals
- Fairly predictable due to abusive amounts of Foreshadowing

As I've already said a Western is a great setting for a video game and a particularly underused one of late. There seem to be three game settings in general apart from fantasy games, Post Apocalyptic, Modern Apocalyptic, and Medieval with very little in between. Most people hate Post Apocalyptic with a passion at this point and Modern is tiresome when it comes to open world games, hence why Assassin's Creed is doing so well. Navigating a vast wilderness on horseback is extremely immersive and the impressive graphics simply enhance the experience.

While experiencing a Sunset in real life is nice enough you can only do it once a day and finding a vantage point in an urban setting is difficult to say the least, but in this game you'll see sunsets and sunrises every 15 minutes. Somehow Rockstar managed to avoid excessive bloom while still conveying the Sunset effectively. (the bloom in Final Fantasy XIII is occasionally unbearable by comparison) I'm fairly sure they also actually went to specific locations and modeled much of the game after them.

This game has 3 primary locations, Texas/New Mexico, Mexico, and the Great Plains/Rocky foothills. Texas is sort of what you think of when you think of the old west and naturally the first town is the same old Saloon, Sheriff's Office with a few stores and not very many buildings. The game is set around 1910 so it is just prior to the Great War and you get a substantial amount of weaponry from the American Civil War to the World War I eras. Every weapon has an authentic sound since samples were actually taken from the weapon being fired. The same effect was in Grand Theft Auto IV but you only had about 8 weapons in that, in this there are over 25 different weapons, each with a unique sound and many of them with various uses.

The game begins in Texas, wherein you find a kindly cowgirl who is impervious to marriage (this game actually treats women quite well, a shocker for a Rockstar game) and saves you from the man you must hunt down in order to save your family. Let me repeat that, Hunt down your old gang to save your family. Hunt down your old gang... That is the entire story and that particular line is said maybe 50 times throughout it, while the final chapter saves the story from being too terrible hearing Marston say the same thing over and over is a tad tiresome. Still, aside from the repetitive dialogue Marston is a good main character, not as good as Nico Bellic (and nowhere near the legendary CJ) but hardly terrible. Naturally you go on a wild goosechase to find your old friends so you can shoot them in the face (or lasso and hogtie one of them if you want).

While within the first chapter the story doesn't progress much you'll still enjoy yourself simply running around and doing various ambient challenges and exploring the lustrous countryside. This first area feels just about the right size, large enough that you think it's amazing but not so large that it takes forever to get places without fast traveling. I suppose if you played the entire game fast travelling as much as possible you could beat the main story in about 10 hours but it would be pretty damn awful, it's only at the very end and in Mexico that you'll find yourself fast traveling a lot.

Mexico is a really terrible chapter storylinewise, it has one good character for all of 3 missions prior to tossing you into some random conflict between a dictator and his replacement rebellious Che type who will undoubtedly also become a dictator. This sounds interesting enough if the game didn't bash you over the head with pessimism to the point that you already know that it must happen in a shitty way. But apart from all that there is about 2 minutes of actual interaction with the 2 gang members you're chasing and that's pretty much it. 2 minutes to advance the plot out of 5 hours spent doing nothing. That's not to say this part of the game is dull as gameplay but it is certainly dull in terms of the storyline, a slog to get to the more interesting point in the story.

The Final chapter is very well designed, and also extremely easy to navigate while having a diverse set of environments. The Rocky foothills is easily the best looking part of the game, with snow, Conifers, and white water rapids to entertain the eye, just before a grizzly bumrushes you. This game features hunting quite prominently while not really censoring much of it. While little else about the game is objectionable to a morality critic I'm surprised an Animal rights organization hasn't called for Rockstar to tone down their brutality. For my part I like it a lot and it's fairly entertaining.

Cougars and Bears are the hardest enemies in the game, as bullet time makes everything else fairly trivial. 30 men with guns in my general vicinity give me no trouble but a single bear up the ass or a cougar that leaps at you up on your horse and you get massacred. Of course they're still fairly easy to kill and death isn't too frequent regardless. While hunting down specific little nocturnal bastards like raccoons and skunks takes forever attempting to fight a bear or some cougars with a knife is exhilarating and the only time in which the game becomes more than a tad challenging. Though it is optional I would suggest the only way to play this game is to 100% it. The main story simply isn't interesting enough on it's own to drive you to keep playing, but continuous exploration and discovery is outstanding. Rockstar remains the king of sandbox games.

Final Score: 9/10

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Doctors will have more lives to answer for in the next world than even we generals.  ~ Napoleon Bonaparte 
No, not a political post, I merely have run out of plan gimmicks. Or rather Napoleon quotes beat the hell out of a random quote I could've pulled out from random strategist X. Salute to Naps, the last great man the earth ever saw, hard to believe it's been 196 years old friend (Well 188 if you want to get technical), you were the best my good man. The best!

Sunday ~ Red Dead Redemption
I believe this is the first game I've officially "100 %" completed to review, though I probably won't get the platinum trophy. It is not my copy of the game so I don't really feel any need to play it multiplayer for 100+ hours, though I might try it out in the next few days. Westerns are an awesome setting for video games and Rockstar is still the king of sandbox games even with the relative mediocrity that was GTA IV.

Monday ~ Baseball Game Length
If you've seen the Future of Sports you may already have a general feel for this post. Baseball games are considered to be way too long, the average Red Sox Yankees game takes somewhere between 3 hours and 30 minutes and 4 hours, I can't imagine actually sitting in Fenway for that long but I'm sure most pink hat fans don't. Both teams are the slowest in the MLB of recent years in general and when they come together to celebrate the greatest rivalry they decide to take 20 minutes between pitches and while it's sort of humorous to see how the announcers will respond to the ridiculous game length most of the time it does get a tad boring.

Tuesday ~ No Country for Old Men
Ah here we have the undisputed critical champion of The Coens. While Fargo may be more respected, No Country actually won Best Picture in the closest race of the decade between itself and There Will Be Blood. Personally I think the films are roughly equivalent with only the God awful score of the latter really weakening it. It is one of my favorite recent films. Unlike There Will Be Blood this film is actually rewatchable without getting horribly depressed, even though both films are quite grim and gruesome.

Wednesday ~ Dynasty Warriors 4/ DW4 Xtreme Legends
With the next 3 games I will be doing double or triple reviews for the little mini expansions. The expansions have this gimmick where you can put in another CD to "import data" but actually all this does is enable another part of the XL CD so you can play both games with it, so effectively it's the most dastardly corporate cash-in imaginable. That said the XL games do have their bright spots from time to time.

Thursday ~ How to Troll ( Part 1?)
It may come as a shock to you but after the Superbowl there really are no sporting events up until spring training and March Madness so I may take a few opportunities to explain the basics of forum trolling. Those bright souls amongst you readers may have discovered something rather odd about the title of this very post, if you are clever enough to gather that scrap of information then you may yet have what it takes to troll! If someone knows where Herkz is come show it to him, he always wanted to learn.

Friday ~ Willow
Willow is one of those films I saw over and over as a little kid but managed to avoid seeing for around 10 years afterward. It is also incredibly awesome and humorous in it's own way. Val Kilmer delivers his best performance ever as Mad Martigan and yells at a bunch of midgets for a few hours.

Warriors: Legends of Troy is coming out next month and I may take a stab at it but I assume it will get the same old crappy reviews that are impossible to distinguish between. While the Dynasty Warriors series itself is now full of garbage the offshoots are actually fairly good in their first go around (though subsequent sequels are also terrible). I bought the Tron Soundtrack and it is quite excellent, I generally buy about one soundtrack per year and Daft Punk hath earned my fee with their Techno/Classical mix of greatness.

Random Favorite Song: Around the World

Random Favorite Game Music: Battle for Survival

Friday, February 11, 2011

Silver Streak

Silver Streak starts off pretty slow, however the film was made in 1976 and every movie made prior to 1980 (along with most 80s movies and half of the 90s movies) start off glacially. Also this is a train movie and even "Unstoppable" the most ridiculous train movie of the decade started off pretty damn slow. The increasing speed of the train and tension suit each other quite well I must say. Willy Wonka, or should I say Gene Wilder, is the main character in this and he also gets progressively more hilarious as the movie goes on.

Once Richard Pryor, who by all accounts is the funniest stand up comedian to ever live, enters the picture (which is about an hour in to be fair) this film is awesome for the rest. In effect every time Gene Wilder falls off the train the movie's excellence increases dramatically with a punctuated "Son of a Bitch!" each time. Pryor and Wilder work extremely well together even if the plot, characters, and interactions are all horribly cliched. If I had seen the numerous train pictures of old maybe I might not like this movie as much as I do, but since I have not I still maintain this is one of my favorite humorous movies of all time. Jaws from Roger Moore's Bond movies is also in the film briefly, though he mostly just serves as a punchline for various jokes.

The weakest part of this film is the ridiculous romance plot. The recently departed Jill Clayburgh, God rest her soul, is extremely ineffectual as a love interest and pretty much utterly useless as a character. I suppose female characters weren't really coming into their own yet as impressive screen performances, but that's no reason to be completely useless throughout. While you are interested to see what happens to Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor and how they get out of being accused of murder, and very interested to see how they once again manage to get on the train, you really don't care what happens to the girl. Or rather, you're absolutely positive the good guys will win and she is simply extant in the least impressive of ways, I'm quite positive the role could have been played by a mute just as effectively.

This film is actually fairly visually impressive, which considering its age is unusual to say the least. The preponderance of CGI in current films makes me appreciate films like these that still look good even without it. While I guess the old complaint was how "fake" films looked (this one looks fine for the most part) now that everything actually is fake it sort of demolishes that old complaint. Every movie Frank Miller ever does is completely blue screened and pretty terrible looking if you actually pay attention, and while a movie like Avatar or Tron does look incredible throughout you still have a pretty severe disconnection that dampens the impressiveness of the film. In this a train crashes through Chicago's main station and annihilates a storefront along the way, while it is staged at least they actually simulated the effect as opposed to just creating it out of thin air.

Final Score: 8/10

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski is a fairly hit and miss movie. However, almost every comedy has it's bright spots and weak spots (Princess Bride excluded) so I don't think that is much of a criticism. The Coen brothers have this odd sort of way of telling a comedic story that makes it feel like the people are more realistic and less farcical like you might find in a standard slapstick picture. In fact "The Dude" in this is based off someone they actually knew. The Dude himself is fairly humorous at all times as the most legendary of slackers and Jeff Bridges will forever be tied to the identity.

I like this movie a lot and consider it to be infinitely rewatchable, which is about as much as you can ask from a comedy. I don't think it's possible for any sane person to not find Walter Sobchak or Jesus Quintana hilarious in every scene. While there are a sleugh of odd characters Walter is always awesome and he and The Dude work very well together. Additionally the narrator, who shows up just a few times, is Sam Elliot essentially playing himself as a random cowboy to tell the tale of "The Dude" is great every time you see him. "And I'm talkin' about the Dude here. Sometimes, there's a man, well, he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's the Dude, in Los Angeles. And even if he's a lazy man - and the Dude was most certainly that. Quite possibly the laziest in Los Angeles County, which would place him high in the runnin' for laziest worldwide." is part of the intro scene

Nobody fucks with the Jesus and John Torturro's other scene are both perhaps two of the greatest scenes in the history of cinema. About half of the random characters in the film are quite humorous and don't really disrupt the feel of the film. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is great and so is "The Big Lebowski," Donnie is awesome as well though he doesn't have nearly as vociferous a role as you may be accustomed to seeing him play. In fact this role may be Steve Buscemi's quietest, but it is also one of the funniest roles he has. The Coens have a way of constructing a film around a character so that the actor does not have to actually act, all they have to do is exist in some sort of believable fashion and they will be inherently well designed. This is much more apparent in No Country for Old Men, but both The Dude and Donnie are like that in this film (and most of the Minnesotans in Fargo were as well).

Unfortunately the entire film isn't quite as awesome when taken all together. There are quite a few simply bizarre scenes that remain bizarre no matter how many times I watch the movie. Maude Lebowski might occasionally benefit from The Dude's presence in a scene to make it halfway humorous but most of the time what happens is oddly disconnected in such a way that I never find those particular scenes to be all that entertaining. I guess this is what turns off some people from the film and the Coens as a whole, but if you just ignore those scenes and their general irrelevance the rest of the film is always great. I'd recommend you at least watch this movie once and then come to your own determination of just how funny it is.

Bunny and the Nihilists tend to just be odd participants rather than humorous in their scenes of the film, while I think they're intended to be purely farcical it just doesn't work all that well. I think due to the way the Coens create their pictures there really is no remedy for it, you can't blame the actors because they're not really acting, they're just there and following orders. Mike Yamagita in Fargo was a random ass scene from nowhere but I thought it actually worked in that film and was hilarious, but some of the large number of random characters in this aren't up to par with that performance.

Final Score: 8/10

In the spirit of the Dude: Derezzed from Tron