I've recently completed two incredible books I thought I'd review today. As always I'm curious to see what others think so if you have read these as well, definitely chime in. I've also got two super quick video game reviews at the very bottom. Enjoy.
As it is a lazy Sunday morning I thought I'd share a few quick reviews on some games, books, comics I'm consuming lately. If you purchase any of these via the links provided I get a small kickback. (Just an FYI, not sure if I should 'warn' people about that or not. ;)
This is the second collection of short stores I've read edited by John Adams. His first collection (well the first I read) was an incredible collection of zombie stories. (The Living Dead) When I heard he was editing a collection of dystopian stories I figured it was a no-brainer. The collection is pretty good. I'd only read one story in the entire book and only recognized another one. There's quite a bit here to like and I definitely recommend it, but I have one problem with the collection. For some reason, Adams feels the need to provide - at least to me - spoilers for every single darn story. Not huge stories mind you. But consider this. In a zombie collection, you can be pretty assured that every story will contain, well, zombies. In a collection of dystopian literature, you really don't know much at all. Sure you have the broad strokes, but the details are where things will get interesting. Will it be a more bleak world like "1984" or something else entirely like "Brave New World"? The odd thing is - Adams introduced each story with - what I thought - a telling clue that ruined the surprise for you. Imagine seeing "Logan's Run" for the first time (see it - don't read it - the book was pretty awful) and having no idea what the "catch" was. Certainly you figure it out pretty quickly, but that's what Adams seemed to ruin before each and every story. After I noticed this before the first few stories, I simply skipped his introductions.
And now for something really different. Bulletstorm - AKA the game that got you the GOW MP beta - was a hell of a lot of fun. I can't remember the last time I laughed out loud so many times while playing a game. It's fun. A lot of fun. Is it as cool as "Call of Duty"? Nah. But for pure FPS fun, this was a great game. Every aspect of the game is focused on making shooting bad guys an enjoyable experience. From getting bonuses for shooting them in the no-no spots (yes, I said no-no spot) to additional bonuses for sending your target into a giant cactus. I didn't try the multiplayer so I can't comment on that, but the single player game was great and I'd recommend it to anyone.
Have you ever begun reading a book where you only had the vaguest idea of what the story was and found yourself completely surprised? That's how I was with the Hunger Games trilogy. All I knew about it was "young adult dystopian fiction". That's it. Within about 5 pages I was completely addicted. I honestly don't know how this could be young adult fiction. Sure the writing is pretty simple but the content is... well - not inappropriate. Just dark. Incredibly dark. I can't remember being so depressed by a book since I read "1984." They are making a movie out of this and I honestly don't know how I feel about it. On one hand if they truly honor the book and keep the incredible darkness of the novels intact, it could be too difficult to watch. If they neuter it though that would be a shame as well. Either way - I'd recommend the entire series. You can probably read them back to back over a week - just keep the Lithium handy.
And just to wrap things up - a few comics I'm reading lately:
- Sweets - a New Orleans-based crime story over 5 issues. Created by a guy local to me, the art is incredible and the story is pretty darn good too.
- GI Joe - there's about 4 lines out now. Some silly - some pretty darn cool - especially the Cobra titles. You should also check out the "Hearts and Minds" mini series that was created by the author of "Wolrd War Z."
- Fantastic Four (Future Foundation?) - I figure with the 'relaunch' after Johnny Storm's death it may be cool to start reading the series. I never read FF growing up. The first issue was neat so I've added this to my monthly collection for now.
- Y the Last Man - Yeah I'm a few years behind on this. Basic premis is that some disease wipes out all males on the planet - except for one human and one monkey. I'm on issue 30something now. (Affiliate link: Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned)
- Star Wars: Empire - I pick up a trade back collection of these about once a month. Basically "Empire" themed Star Wars comics and as we all know - the bad guys are always more fascinating then the good guys.
I recently finished two very different shooters (for the XBox 360) and thought I'd share a quick review on both. It's kinda sad that I seem to only finish shooters lately. I grew up on RPGs but lately I find it real difficult to actually finish them. I've had the latest Final Fantasy for a while now and haven't put more than an hour in it. I've had Fable 3 for a while as well, and while I've played it a bit I just don't feel very motivated to finish it. (And let me say again - it pisses me off that the unnecessary adult content on Fable 3 prevents me from playing it with the kids. It's stupid, out of place, and adds nothing worthwhile to the game.) Anyway - the games in question are Homefront and Battlefield: Bad Company 2.
I typically try to save my video game/movie/off topic stuff until the weekend, but when I saw this video today I had to share it. As a warning, this video is incredibly NSWF for violence reasons. I consider us all adults here so if zombie level violence turns you off, please stop now. Anyway, watch the video, then I'm going to chime in with some thoughts.
Before I added this game to my wishlist I had heard that - for the most part - all Spider-Man video games sucked. I'm not sure how true that is but I can say the last time I played Spider-Man on a console it had a wood finish to it. But I had heard good things about Shattered Dimensions and the concept intrigued me. The basic idea behind Shattered Dimensions is that you get to play four different versions of Spider-Man. You got your "regular" Amazing Spider-Man, your Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2099, and the Noir Spider-Man. Each of these different versions have their own story and unique design, but gameplay wise only the Noir version is really unique. For the most part you'll be spending your time beating bad guys up when in the non-Noir worlds and playing a stealth game as the Noir Spider-Man.
The game has you hopping between dimensions hunting down pieces of some kind of magic rock. Along the way you encounter many of Spider-Man's classic villains. Now - growing up - I was a Spider-Man fan. I didn't buy many of the comics, but I'd pick up an issue from time to time. I was also a big fan of the corny cartoon growing up. Even with my probably mediocre understanding of Spider-Man's villains I find the game has an incredible line up. Even better - many of the baddies are presented in alternate versions which makes things even more interesting. Enemies like the Vulture, Hobgoblin, and the Sandman are presented very cool.
Game play wise everything works well - but swinging - at times - can be a bit confusing. I was concerned that it would be the weakest point of the game - and it probably is. But it isn't nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Once you get used to the basic concepts of traveling by web you get the hang of it. There are a few points in the game where control is frustrating but for the most part - it just works. My youngest son is playing the game currently and he's farther along than I am so I think just about anyone can pick up the game and play well.
Graphics are well done - see the screen shots below. I've commented already that I really like the design of the bosses, but the levels are also great. Audio wise there isn't much to comment on. There is no background music that I'm aware of. I can say though that the Spider-Man "chatter" is dead on perfect. Multiple times both myself and my kids laughed out loud based on some smart ass remark Spidey made. I can also say that the Deadpool level is very funny. (There is - I kid you not - a conversation about henchmen uniforms that will have you cracking up.)
Any way - this is one of those games where I did not expect to enjoy it nearly as much as I am. I definitely recommend picking it up - especially if you like the comics. (As a side question - what's the best Spider-Man comic for a person to start picking up again?)
I've been a fan of Transformers ever since I was a kid. So I was pretty excited when the movie was announced. I had such high hopes for the movie (and the sequel), but obviously a geek's dream are never what going to be truly realized. Outside of the horrible acting and plot holes an Optimus could drive through, the main thing that bugged me about the "modern" Transformers was how they looked. Don't get me wrong - they looked pretty realistic. You can't knock the special effects. What bothers me though is how... unrecognizable they look. Outside of Bumblebee and Optimus, everyone else just kinda blends in together. The movies did get some of the personality right and I remember remarking on that after I saw the first movie. But in general I didn't feel any real connection to these new robots. (Wow, I can't believe I wrote that. I am a complete dork.) When I got "Transformers - War for Cybertron" I had much of the same worries. First, the game was all on Cybertron, not Earth. Secondly, these were all definitely "modern" Transformers. I had not read any reviews on the game so didn't really know what to expect.
First - lets talk about game play. This game is nothing more than 100% shooting. There isn't much stealth. It's basically run through corridors and keeping your finger on the trigger. It is complete fun. I never got bored once. It is essentially all the cool fight scenes from the movies without any of the lame jokes. As a Transformer you obviously get to spend time both in robot and vehicle mode. The vehicles themselves don't have much variety. You are either a beefy looking car or a jet. But the game uses these modes pretty well. It's typically a 'get to point X as fast as you can' levels that work great. There is a good mix of opponents to shoot up as well as a good set of weapons. From nice sniping rifles to guns that look almost as big as the Transformer itself. And speaking of size - the game throws a few "jumbo" opponents at you that are absolutely epic to fight against.
The story is also really well done. I don't want to give anything away. Yes, there is a war going on. You get to play through first the Decepticon campaign and then the Autobot. What I really liked though and what surprised me was how well they tied it into "our" Transformers. It's obviously a good lead up to a sequel (which I hope they make) and was much better than I expected.
But all of the above is bunk. Let me tell you what I really liked. While playing as Megatron during the first half of the game, each mission involves you performing some task. Get to X. Blow up Y. Whatever. You always have two other Transformers there helping you out. What made me laugh out loud more than once is that throughout every single mission Megatron is being a complete and utter ass to his subordinates. It's like the manager from hell. It's awesome. And unlike the movie which touched on the Starscream/Megaton rivalry a tiny bit - the game nails it perfectly and has a lot of fun with it. On the flip side, playing as Optimus means you get to hear the constant prater about how they "must" get it done for the good of all and blah blah blah. It was dead on.
I haven't yet given the multiplayer game a try yet but I've heard great things. I can say I definitely recommend picking the game up. It wasn't deep, but just a heck of a lot of fun.
Oh - one last note. The ending credits? Best credits song ever.
It's been a while since I've done a video game review, mainly because I've been addicted to Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 (hereafter CODMW2), so I thought I'd write up some quick thoughts on the last game I wrapped, Halo: Reach. This is the third Halo game I've reviewed (Halo 2, Halo 3, Halo 3: ODST) and is close to being the best. Unfortunately, I don't see myself playing it again. Before I talk about what I consider to be the big disappoint, let me talk about what I really like.
When it comes to racing games, I tend to go between enjoying pure sims (like Forza, and in the past, Gran Turismo) and arcade types (Burnout, Need for Speed). When I heard that the Need for Speed series was going "serious" I was a bit unsure what the end product would be like. Need for Speed:Shift (Shift from now on) is an interesting racer. It's certainly a simulation style game, but it has a smattering of arcade elements that work really well.
For example - one thing I've often done in sims, and I'm not ashamed to say it - is what I call the push. I'll be approaching a corner with a rival ahead of me. I'll hit the gas and ram them as they make the turn. This pushes them off the track and slows me down at the same time so I can make the turn. Obviously this only works with damage turned off, and yeah, it's a cheap move, but it works. Shift allows for moves like this, and rewards it. In fact, all kinds of "dirty" moves are allowed, if you want to play like that. If you would rather play it safe and serious, then that works as well.
Shift follows the typical formula of most sim games. You start off a low level racer doing easy races. As you play you earn experience (well, points) and stars that give you access to higher level races and events. What impresses me the most though are what Shift does differently. The more I play the more I appreciate these changes and the more I think the game improves the genre as a whole. So what changes do I mean?
First off - every race lets you earn both points and stars. Points improve your racer level, and while in general most of the rewards are cheap (new stickers for your cars), some give you great heaps of money. Stars are rewarded mainly for your final position in the race, but you can also earn stars based on the points you earn or by performing some task. What this means is - if you are kicking ass in a race and then screw up at the end (and how many of us have done that more than once?!?) you still end up earning something. You never feel like you've wasted five minutes racing and that I think is one of the biggest faults in most sims.
Second - there are multiple race types that allow you to use different cars. These cars are given to you. This helps with another common Sim complaint - car boredom. Maybe it's just how I play sims, but I typically end up with a "Beginner Car", a "Intermediate Car", and an "Advanced Car." So while the game may be include 200+ cars, I'll typically spend hours in just 3. Shift helps with this by giving you multiple opportunities to try races with other cars. One great example - there is one race that involves TVRs (google it- one of the coolest cars around). This is a car that I'd probably never be able to afford in the game. But the race let me use it for free. Awesome!
The game's audio and video are perfect. Ok, maybe not perfect, but they work really, really well. In fact, this is the only race where I've enjoyed playing "in the car". I normally do the "a bit behind and above" but I found it much more fun to stay within the car when I was racing. You feel every bump as you play. It is incredibly immersive. When you hit the really high speeds you will even seen things get a bit fuzzy as if your eyes can't physically handle the strain. It's a bit hard to describe. It kind of reminds me of how Burnout handled the higher speeds, but it's definitely more intense than what I remember of Forza.
I also liked how they simplified tuning. While I like cars, my knowledge of tuning and performance is pretty rudimentary. I know more horse power is good. I know that when I increase HP I should probably improve my brakes as well. Outside of that though its all greek to me. Every upgrade in the game comes with a nice audio description of the benefits. If I don't remember what a part does then the audio help is pretty useful.
All in all - highly recommended. I'd like to compare this to Forza 3 however. Anyone have that game and would like to comment?
This weekend I wrapped up Halo 3:ODST, the latest game in the venerable Halo saga. If you remember, I wasn't terribly happy with Halo 3. It was something of a letdown from from Halo 2. Sure, it has great multiplayer, but while I enjoy MP I'm much more of a single player guy. I play at odd times and for short intervals typically (which is my primary Warcraft character will take years to hit 85) so I prefer a solid SP experience with an engaging story. Halo:ODST is everything I had wanted Halo 3 to be. Not just one story, but multiple. You play as the rookie member of a squad that has been separated. As you hunt down your squad mates you get to play through their experiences. This gives you multiple narratives that weave together quite well. It also gives you a nicely varied game play. Oh, and to add to that, there is a third storyline told through audio logs that is quite well done as well.
The game plays somewhat like Halo 3 did except that as a much less powerful soldier you have to adjust your strategy. My first game session was quite a shock as I discovered just how much less powerful I was than good ole Master Chief. Once I got used that I enjoyed it quite a bit. I found it slightly more difficult than Halo 3 but never really frustrating.
What really surprised me about this game - besides the incredibly strong story line, was the music. Most of your play time as the Rookie is spent in the city at night. This is after most of the violence has passed (most, not all), and there is a quiet, moody atmosphere not often found in FPS games. Bioshock comes to mind I guess, but I actually think the Halo:ODST pulls off the mood a bit better. The music is incredible. A soft, piano filled melody that is unique. Once I just left the game alone for a good 10 minutes to listen. I've only bought one video game soundtrack before (Kameo) but I think I'll pick up this one as well. (Assuming they sell it - and I'm sure they do.)
I've heard some say the game is short, and perhaps it is, but it felt like a solid amount of game play to me, and again, story wise, it is near perfect. I'm not sure more game time would make sense. And it does come with the complete Halo 3 multiplayer game so if you skipped Halo 3 you can still play the MP version.
I definitely recommend Halo 3:ODST. I wish I could invite my readers to come kill me online, but I'll be wrapping up Sacred 2 next.
Fuel is an interesting concept for a racer, but unfortunately, I don't think the game ends up being worthwhile. It certainly starts off with an interesting concept. Global warming has wrecked the planet, created horrible storms, and most of humanity has retreated into protected cities. This leaves vast stretches of the country uninhabited and a perfect playground for racers. Right off the bat I thought this was interested. An "end of the world" type scenario where, for the most part, the world didn't actually end but instead turned into a playground. So not so much Mad Max per se, but something a bit more light. The world has an very blasted/ground up look to it. Forest fires, flooding, and storms have taken their toll and the game reflects this well. The closet example I can think of is the world of Fall Out 3. Both games do a good job with the environment. So what's the actual game like?
Fuel is basically an off-road racer. You have a couple different vehicle types (motorcycle, 4 wheeler, a car, etc) and various different race types. You have your traditional A to B and N lap type races along with interesting variations, like beat the helicopter to landing pad. Some races feel like typical rally racing (and frankly I still don't get why folks watch NASCAR when you watch people drive 60MP+ through mud and snow next to cliffs) while others will have you racing through burned out woods trying your best not to face plant against a tree. The faces are well balanced and for the most part, don't suffer from the "one screw up and your done" factor that other games (Burnout) have.
The vehicles are handled well. The motorcycle and 4x4 scramble quickly through the environment, while the larger vehicles require completely different strategies or you'll end up overdriving the course. As a racer, I can't complain.
It's off the course where things get... well weird. The game is advertises as having the largest playing area of any game created. According to Wikipedia, a whopping 5,560 square miles. I believe it too. The Free Roam range goes on for what seems like forever. Unfortunately, it is a complete and utter wasteland. While Fall Out filled filled itself with creatures to kill and at least interesting destruction, Fuel is empty. Racing around freely quickly begins to feel like those incredibly long and boring road trips you took as a child. Remember how the highway was basically road+trees for hours on end? Well that's Fuel in a nutshell. You do run into another vehicle every now and then, but they simply ignore you. I thought perhaps I could engage in some violence crashing around or something, but nope, if you get hit too hard you simply reset a few yards away.
The weather, at times, is kind of cool, especially the storms, but some of the effects are so bad looking I thought I was playing a last-gen game. At one point black 'splotches' flew past my screen. I thought it was a bug. I finally figured out that this was the games way of demonstrating leaves and debris flying in a wind storm. Um, ok.
Oh, and the music? I think there is one song total in the game, and I heard it so much during the few hours I played I wanted to pull my ears off. It sounded like something a high school garage band would come up with.
At this point, I don't think I can recommend it. Maybe check it out as a rental, but I'd say give it a pass.