Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cars 2 - It Could Use A Tune-Up


Normally, I look forward to Pixar movies. Pixar is a studio that always manages to churn out a high quality movie with attention to every small detail. However, while I do love what they put out, Cars is the exception. While enjoyable, the original Cars just felt like something was missing that would have made it as good as every other Pixar movie. I wasn't expecting much out of the sequel, and it has done little to impress.

The plot is basically every spy movie you have seen in your entire life, but with cars, down to the character types and sequence of events. All you need to do is make the main character a bumbling idiot, then replace that idiot with Larry the Cable Guy. Instead of a genuine Pixar movie, it feels more like a movie dedicated to him with spy elements shoehorned in. It's very uninspired and clichéd, which is surprising considering Pixar's track record.

While I do applaud the detail in the movie, mostly the cars, there were some things that seemed off. For example, the oil rigs at the beginning of the movie spew flames from the top, but they look unfinished like a low-res video game. It was not only things like this, but also logistically and location-wise. All the different types of cars that race each other in the World Grand Prix, the supposed central race of the movie that feels more like a background event, would not be able to race in real life due to how different the models are. When the race starts in Tokyo, the obligatory bathroom scene has a bit too much focus on Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and the bidet joke doesn't work very well because it is a French bathroom appliance and not Japanese. Also, the "bromance" between Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and Mater seems to come completely out of nowhere, since the first installment did not leave me with the feeling that they were that close as friends.

I wish I had more to say, but there actually isn't much else. While children who enjoyed the original Cars may get some satisfaction out of the sequel, there isn't much to offer for adults, except for the Toy Story short at the beginning which, sadly, is a much more clever and entertaining three minutes than the hour-and-a-half that follows. Pixar has been able to create movie gold since their first feature, Toy Story. If the next offering can keep the same magic as most every other movie the studio has put out before, then consider Cars 2 a pit stop between movies. If you want to watch it to complete your Pixar experience, that's fine, but this one actually seems skip-worthy at best.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

American McGee's Alice - A Dark Twist On A Classic Piece Of Literature


In 1865, an English author under the name Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) put out a book, entitled "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," followed by a sequel in 1871 called "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There." These went on to become two of his most famous works, gaining many adaptations and unofficial sequels as the years passed, one of the most well-known adaptations being the 1951 animated film released by Walt Disney Pictures. Late in the year 2000, Electronic Arts (EA) released their first M-Rated game, American McGee's Alice, a notable game from the mind of American McGee that is now a valuable collector's item. With the release of a sequel 11 years later, new copies of the new game came with a code to download this legendary title, which is how I was able to finally play it. After completing it, I found the game to be quite challenging, but very satisfying by the time I got to the end.

Set years after the events of the Lewis Carroll books, Alice's house is destroyed in an accidental fire that takes her family along with it. Being the sole survivor of this tragedy, Alice becomes wracked with guilt and is admitted to Rutledge Asylum for treatment, a stuffed rabbit her only companion. Ten years later, she is transported back to Wonderland, which has been warped by her thoughts into a dystopian nightmare. Aided by the Cheshire Cat and a Vorpal Blade, Alice travels through the hellish landscape in search of the Queen of Hearts, whom she must kill in order to regain her sanity and restore Wonderland to it's original, magical state.

As you wander this twisted Wonderland, you can pick up other weapons to use aside from your starting Vorpal Blade, among them Cards, Jacks, and even Devil Dice. Depending on your usage of these weapons, they use up a blue Will meter at your right of the screen, accompanied by a red Sanity meter on the opposite side representing your Health. You can recharge both of these meters with Mantras, a small boost with small diamond-shaped ones and a much larger boost with bigger, heart-shaped ones. You can also pick up items multiple times for an upgrade, the most obvious visually being the Devil Dice, and some items restore only your Will or Sanity, though these are more sparsely placed.

You can obtain Mantras by collecting regenerating ones in the open or by defeating enemies, which differ depending on the stage, such as insects in garden stages or mini devils in more hell-like locales, but you most commonly encounter Card Guards. Grasshopper Teas can give a temporary boost of speed, Rageboxes give you extra strength for a brief period, Hand Mirrors make you invisible for a short time, and a Turtle Shell you obtain at one point allows you better maneuverability underwater. The Cheshire cat pops up occaisonally to give you cryptic advice, but these hints can easily be figured out.

Being a game released in the year 2000, there is a more gradual difficulty curve compared to other games both old and modern, which is good as it allows you to gain better reflexes for handling swarms of enemies. The graphics obviously don't age very well, especially given that it was originally a computer game for 10 years, but there is still a lot of variety in the visuals. Some of my favorite levels to look at were the ones in Pale Realm, an area made entirely of the game Chess, a theme from "Through the Looking-Glass." The area before you enter shows a great example of the creativity of the level design, as Chess spaces are haphazardly placed to create a deadly atmosphere out of a common board game.

The sound quality of the game is amazing, even for a ten-year-old game, and the voice acting feels quite natural. Though the voice actresses for Alice in this game and the Disney film are different, her game voice sounded similar to her Disney voice to me, but this strangely fits as that movie is most likely the one you associate the story of Wonderland with. Chris Vrenna, a former member of Nine Inch Nails, has created the perfect soundtrack for this game, and it's amazing how much of it is composed of old toys and other common sounds, such as opening doors and women screaming, crying, laughing, or singing eerily. You can even buy the soundtrack on CD, which sets the mood fantastically and actually gets you interested in playing the game.

Of course, no game is without it's problems. In this case, I ran into a glitch where Alice would just run off in one direction without my intervention, causing a death during the early Jabberwock fight. One time an enemy actually froze her in place, which I was thankful for because it actually got me back control of her. This only happened a few times though, but another nasty one came up a couple times where she would just go into a corner and the camera would fix onto one spot, once at the very beginning of the game and another time near the end. This also caused the controls to lock up, including the PS button, giving me no other option but to restart the console. This didn't come up again after the restart, but it was a rather annoying bug. Because this can come up, and for the sake of getting through faster, I would recommend saving at every chance you get.

American McGee's Alice is a real masterpiece of gaming that shouldn't be missed by gamers over the age of 17. A lot of care went into making this game and it really shows, spawning a legacy in the PC world that has now come to consoles through an official sequel, Alice: Madness Returns. If you have any sort of interest in this title, I would suggest picking it up as soon as you can. The experience is worth it in the end, your reward being the satisfaction of having played a great game that is sure to give you an adrenaline rush.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - A for Acceptable

File:Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix poster.jpg

The release of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2005 not only proved to be popular, but also proved that the Harry Potter series was still as popular as ever. To further cash in on the ongoing craze, Warner Bros. released a sequel two years later based on the fifth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, directed by David Yates. I was still fairly young when this came out and I remember liking it like I did the other films. Having seen it a few times since, including my recent viewing, I can say that it's still a rather enjoyable movie.

After the events of last year, Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) is bullied verbally by his cousin Dudley (Harry Melling) and a group of others, but is soon stopped as the wind begins to pick up. Harry and Dudley run into a tunnel, where they are attacked by a couple of Dementors. Harry uses a Patronus charm in self-defense, causing him to be expelled from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. That night, he is picked up by members of the Order of the Phoenix, a secret organization of wizards preparing to fight against Lord Voldemort, wherein he meets up with his friends Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson) at their headquarters located within Sirius Black's (Gary Oldman) ancestral home at 12, Grimmauld Place, accessed through a London apartment complex. Though Harry is later cleared of his charges and able to attend Hogwarts again, he must not only deal with the return of Voldemort, but also the takeover of the school by their new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton), a member of the Ministry of Magic.

The plot was a little easier to follow than the last one, but it still got a little confusing after I thought about it. It's established that Voldemort has a connection to Harry that allows the boy to see visions of what the Dark Lord is doing, but every time it's in the Department of Mysteries, where a prophecy is held concerning Voldemort. When Harry and a group of others go to that same place, they find it in quite literally no time at all. If Voldemort had all of that time to look for it, it seems odd that neither he nor the Death Eaters wouldn't have found it by the time Harry made it there. On top of that, the prophecy turns out to be something established as early as the first installment.

Of course, changes are present between the book and movie versions of the story. One change I found obvious was that after Harry has a vision of Arthur Weasley (Mark Williams) being attacked by a snake in the Department of Mysteries, in the movie it cuts to him having fully recovered after they found him. In the book, at least a bit of one chapter is dedicated to Mr. Weasley recovering in the hospital and what happens with the others while they're there. Other things, such as the regular Quidditch subplot, were either cut or edited for the movie, but at least the spirit is there and the movie still works as a whole despite that.

The acting is remarkable as always, and it's still great to see how well the characters are brought to life on the screen. Luna Lovegood is a rather interesting character in the way she acts, which newcomer Evanna Lynch plays quite well. Imelda Staunton also does a good job of portraying the unlikeable Dolores Umbridge, which serves to make the character's comeuppance in the third act all the more sweeter.

With the two year gap between movies, effects such as those present here have gotten much better. A great example of this is a fantastic scene in the middle of the movie wherein Fred and George Weasley (James and Oliver Phelps) disrupt the O.W.L. (Ordinary Wizarding Level) Exams by use of fireworks, complete with a visually stunning dragon formed from it, after which they fly away from Hogwarts via broomsticks. Another example occurs during the part of the climax within the Department of Mysteries, where the students have a battle with the Death Eaters that ultimately leads to several shelves of prophecies falling and shattering, which makes one not only marvel at how perfectly the scene was executed, but also wonder how they managed to get all of it on film and how much of it was special effects. All in all the effects are stunning to look at no matter the context.

Depending on where you come from, you may find some political undertones when watching this movie. When I saw it last, I made a connection with the standardizing of education, or "teaching to the test." After Umbridge becomes the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, she tries to teach the class magic without practice not only out of fear that Dumbledore is building an army, but also so that her students will do well on the O.W.L. Exam. This is similar to how education has changed, at least where I live, simply so that students will pass Final Exams without making much of an effort to be sure how well they know the material. This again may not apply to you, as this sort of connection (if you naturally see one) can vary depending on your background.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is another good addition to the Harry Potter franchise and is a must-see for long-time fans. The story still continues to gain a darker tone, but there's still plenty of laughs to be found here. It's a little rough around the edges as a movie, but it still manages to work as an adaptation. Newcomers to the franchise should see the previous movies before seeing this one, as it makes some references to the continuity and may contain spoilers.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Back to the Future: The Game - Episode 5: OUTATIME


Two months after the release of Episode 4: Double Visions, Telltale finally releases the final episode of the Back to the Future game. While the installments had been getting progressively better, they also showed the painful linearity of the game, which caused me at least once to nearly fall asleep at my computer. However, that is not the situation here. The climax of this story is actually very engaging, and the two-and-a-half hours of gameplay were surprisingly enjoyable.

Marty McFly wakes up in the Brown residence and is told to take a certain item with him to the Science Expo for Emmett. When he gets there, he runs into Citizen Brown from the alternate 1986, with a less than warm reception. Once inside the Expo, it appears that Emmett is missing with the suspicion that Edna Strickland and Citizen Brown both have something to do with it. It is up to Marty to not only find Emmett, but make sure that his past, present, and future turn out the way they are supposed to for his timeline.

The story is still done excellently, with the same quality voice acting throughout. During Marty's journey through time, the player gets to discover more about his past, including something that no one would ever expect. Hell, the ending is absolutely laden with twists that constantly made my jaw drop. This was more of a pleasant surprise, including the reason Doc Brown was missing in the first place. In fact, I feel I would give away too much if I said anymore beyond this.

While the puzzles in this game start out simple, they actually do get more difficult, to the point where I ended up using the hint button on occasion. However, it does borrow a bit from previous episodes, such as a puzzle near the end that mirrors Episode 1 where Marty holds onto a moving vehicle. Yet, despite this, there is at least one new idea introduced, including a part of the aforementioned sequence where you actually get to use the arrow keys for something other than walking.

That is not to say that the game is free of glitches. There is what appears to be a small graphical glitch where Marty walks/falls through the floor in a "House of Glass", as well as a portion where the dialogue is cut-off and a spot where subtitles don't appear even if they are turned on. The biggest offense, however, is a particularly annoying game breaking bug involving the House of Glass again where absolutely nothing is clickable. Until this gets patched by Telltale, just remember to go through this segment before grabbing a particular potted plant in an attempt to get dirt on Edna.

As a whole, however, this episode was actually pretty enjoyable and kept me more motivated to see what would happen next. It's even got a sequel tease at the end and uses Back in Time during the credits. Players who have been following it definitely shouldn't stop now, as long as they follow the advice for getting past that nasty bug at one point.

Back to the Future: The Game is flawed, but as its first season, it was pretty enjoyable nonetheless and I had a good time with the story. Everything when put together correctly felt like it was a new movie in the franchise. While the puzzles were overall pretty simple, the story easily made up for it in spades, definitely being the high point of the whole game. I would definitely recommend this to Telltale and Back to the Future fans who want a good time, as well as a 10+ Hour season for a good low price. If there was a Season 2, I would not hesitate to pick it up, as Telltale has treated the franchise with great respect thus far.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Green Lantern - Brightest Day or Blackest Night?


As someone who hasn't been following the Green Lantern comic during its run, and who has only seen a few episodes of an animated series as well as a Duck Dodgers parody, I was initially uninterested in seeing this movie. The trailers didn't help much, but as the release date drew closer I figured I might as well see the movie anyway to see if it was any good. What I can say now is that after seeing it, I'm not sure I would ever view it again.

In the movie, the strongest of all the Green Lanterns, Abin Sur (Temuera Morrison), crash lands on Earth in a dying state. As his last act, he has his lantern ring find a new chosen one to take his place. The person it selects is Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a U.S. Air Force Test Pilot who recently lost his job after accidentally crashing a plane and breaking protocol. He is drawn to Abin Sur's body and accepts the ring. After unlocking its powers, he is taken to Oa, where he is met with mixed reactions for being the first human to be selected into the Corps. After some failed training, he learns that he needs to overcome fear if he ever wants to become a successful addition, at the same time needing to stop an incoming threat known as Parallax (Clancy Brown) from devouring Earth.

While the plot may seem somewhat straightforward here, it becomes a bit confusing right off the bat by spending the first five minutes establishing the entire Green Lantern universe. Not only does the movie do this, but it doesn't stop doing this throughout the entire movie, placing as much Green Lantern lore into the script as possible. This makes the information harder to take in and it's very easy to forget some of what is exposited. On top of all this, Hal's character development seems a little rushed and his romance with Carol Ferris (Blake Lively) seems a little flat and underdeveloped. While I do commend the well-placed scenes that actually become important later in the plot, anyone who is remotely familiar with Green Lantern will know the fate of Sinestro (Mark Strong) from his first appearance, taking away most of the drama from the character for those who know.

The acting was overall ok, though I mostly just went with it. Ryan Reynolds actually portrayed Hal Jordan pretty well, even managing to deliver a few funny lines. The secondary villain Dr. Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard) was also a little hammy in his delivery, contrasted with Tomar-Re (Geoffrey Rush) and Kilowog (Michael Clarke Duncan) who are portrayed as the stereotypical "smart guy" and "big guy" archetypes to a wide degree.

What I can praise however are the action scenes and CG effects. Hal Jordan in combat is actually pretty creative with the constructs he forms with his ring and they look obvious enough to be realistic to the universe. With characters composed entirely of CG though, it went through a bout of uncanny valley, but they were still interesting to look at. Action scenes are well framed and display the action nicely, but that doesn't prevent some scenes from having a small lull while the movie goes off in different directions at once. But again, the scenes were fun to look at and at least displayed a bit of creativity on the part of the characters.

Green Lantern wasn't the worst movie in the world, but it was far from the best. The amount of exposition is a little off-putting and will be immediately picked up and recognized by those who are far more familiar with the universe, although the plot has an odd pacing that shifts between comfortably quick or amazingly slow. I can only recommend this to younger fans of the franchise who are less likely to judge this film negatively, or simply to the fans of comic book super hero movies who need a topic of discussion until Captain America comes out. Even though there is a sequel hook during the credits, I'm not sure if I would put the ring back on.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review: Dragon Age II (PC)

Okay, first review, let’s try not to screw this up too bad.

I, like most players and critics, was skeptical when the sequel to BioWare’s epic RPG Dragon Age: Origins was released about a year and a half later. It looked like it was going to suffer the fate of KotOR II and be incredibly rushed and blatantly unfinished upon its release. I didn’t really want to find out, personally, but I received it as a gift and decided why not try it?

At first, I was pleasantly surprised. The narrative took no time at all to start, and kept going at full force throughout the entire game. The story, I think, was easily the best point of this game. It breaks out from Origins’ archetypal ‘go to these areas and do the same basic thing in different ways’ story that bugged me to no end about the first game. In effect, Dragon Age II actually has a story in place of a poorly-disguised attempt at making a game playable.

That is not to say that this game is flawless. The rushed development is hard to detect at first, and sometimes it even looks like they somehow managed to spend more time on this one than its predecessor. However, it soon becomes apparent, when you realize that this cave you’re in right now is the same one that you went to for that quest five levels ago. Throughout the game, the same mansion, cave, and sewer map is reused to the point that you only consent to go through them to advance the story.

This may be forgivable, though. To add on to the already impressive story, there is a wealth of clever, well-written dialogue and very deep interactions with nearly every main character in the game. No companion presents his or herself as just being along for the ride. You even receive quests to do nothing more than talk to a companion and advance their subplots. This hardly requires extra effort; the conversations start themselves at the right moments. You never have to worry about initiating the dialogues on your own. And the time that you spend on these little conversations is well worth it; the game’s usually dark tone is underscored with a little bit of comic relief in virtually all of these interactions.

The only feature of this game that I couldn’t make my mind up on was the combat system. Fights look like they’re going to go by much faster than they did in Origins, but the new speed of the system is balanced out by almost every battle assaulting you with at least two waves of additional enemies. Not only does this feel like an attempt to pad the length of what could be short, easy fights, but this can cause immense amounts of lag on an unprepared system. However, if you plan out your fights well, you will find yourself cutting through wave after wave with little difficulty (unless you decide to play on the ‘Nightmare’ setting).

Overall, this game was a solid follow-up to a great game, but it feels like it’s missing something (maybe some varied assets in level design). If you play games for the story, I would definitely recommend this epic piece of storytelling. Otherwise, it may not really be worth your time.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - A Spell That Needs Work


Following the release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in 2004, an adaptation of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the fourth book in the series, was released the following year in 2005 directed by Mike Newell. Naturally there was plenty of hype surrounding this installment, which would continue to increase as the series moved forward. Having liked it when I was younger, I wondered what I would think of it upon viewing it again years later. While it still manages to hold up well, Goblet of Fire is also where the series truly starts to take a turn for a more darker atmosphere.

After having a bad dream involving a man being slain by Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes), Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) joins the Weasleys to watch the Quidditch World Cup, to which they travel by Portkey, an object infused with the magical ability to transport someone to a specific location. After the World Cup's conclusion, Death Eaters (wizards supporting Voldemort) attack the tents of those who were camping there, ending with a lone Death Eater creating a symbol in the sky representing the Dark Lord himself that implies his return. Soon after this event, it is announced at Hogwarts that the school has been chosen to host the Tri-Wizard Tournament, where a wizard from each of three schools is selected via the Goblet of Fire to compete for eternal glory. After the Goblet selects three champions, everyone is surprised when Harry's name is selected as a fourth contestant despite him not having put his name in it to begin with. However, he has no choice but to compete, putting his friendship with Ron (Rupert Grint) in jeopardy and causing a dissonance between the latter and Hermione (Emma Watson).

The plot of this movie has a little more going on than in the last, though it gets a little confusing. It's not entirely understood exactly how the Goblet of Fire works, since it isn't explained very well why Harry is forced to participate in the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Though it's said to have a magical contract of sorts, I couldn't help but feel that he could just easily quit if he didn't want to compete. It also seemed odd that the way in which Voldemort returns hinged entirely on Harry being the first one to reach the Tri-Wizard Cup in the last challenge, which probably wouldn't work very well if someone else had touched it before he did.

As expected there are some changes made between the two sources, one of which being that the Quidditch World Cup is never actually seen in the movie, rather it cuts to the aftermath shortly after it begins. Another change involved the Tournament itself, specifically within the maze. In the book there is a Sphinx that Harry runs into that forces him to solve a riddle. Other changes were made, but anything different about the movie overall actually works in it's favor in order to increase the tension and drama of the story.

The acting is as solid as ever and it's clear that the now-older actors of the younger characters have gotten experienced over time. The tension between the main characters is made more believeable in that the experience the actors have makes it feel natural rather than forced. The Weasley brothers Fred and George (James and Oliver Phelps) are the main source of comic relief here and it's rather fun to see how their personalities bounce off each other.

The effects of this movie are greatly improved over the last one and really help bring the events of the Tournament to life, particularly during the second challenge. It was amazing to see how well they pulled off realistic-looking mermaids as well as the methods the contestants use to breathe underwater. The dragon that Harry deals with in the first challenge is always spectacular to look at, especially if one is a dragon enthusiast. Aside from these moments, the effects hold up well, in fact a little better than previous films in the series.

A notable part of this movie is the point at which the Harry Potter franchise officially becomes dark, which is when the other Tri-Wizard champion of Gryffindor, Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson, better known as Edward Cullen in the Twilight films), is killed by Lord Voldemort. To further drive the point home, Harry is devastated when they get back to the end of the maze challenge, Cedric's dead body bringing a wave of shock amongst the crowd. Another thing I should bring up is that throughout the film when I saw the Death Eaters, I couldn't help but think of the Ku Klux Klan because of the pointy hats and their leader being the "Grand Wizard." This is something minor however, and should not be dwelled upon.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire may be flawed, but it's still an enjoyable movie. The characters go through many hardships and it's nice to see them resolve by the end. Harry's inclusion in the Tri-Wizard Tournament feels somewhat forced despite whatever explanation is given, but it's amazing to see what he does in order to survive each challenge and how he pulls through in the end. I would still recommend this to fans of the series, even if it doesn't have the same atmosphere as the ones before it.

Super 8 - Not So Gr8


Within the last few years, J.J. Abrams has become a more prominent name in Hollywood, involved with projects like Star Trek and Cloverfield. His most recent directorial work, Super 8, is also a collaboration with major Hollywood producer Steven Spielberg. The ad campaign for this movie was similar to that of Cloverfield in that hardly anything was said, but I watched it anyway out of curiosity. For the most part, it wasn't a terrible movie, but it's pretty easy to see the influence of Spielberg throughout.

The plot seems to meld threads from Spielberg's E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and J.J. Abrams' Cloverfield, in that the events largely revolve around a group of children, only this time they are working to create an amateur zombie movie for a contest using a Super 8 camera. While filming, the group is in the middle of an explosion-filled train crash, caused by a truck driving onto the tracks that ends up releasing an unknown entity and dozens of white cubes. Terrified, the children agree with the driver of the truck, their biology teacher Mr. Woodward (Glynn Turman), to never speak of the incident again. What follows is a series of mysterious events within the town of Lillian, Ohio as the kids try to finish the movie.

While the story was able to maintain its suspense until the very end, it had Spielberg written all over it. The fact that a group of children have an adventure of sorts, if not intentional, is not unlike The Goonies, down to romantic tension between the more prominent male lead and the lone female character. In this case, that role is filled by the characters Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), although the romance has a new wrinkle in that both of their fathers don't want them involved with each other. More of the E.T. influence can be seen from the fact that an alien is involved and the military gets mixed up in it, not to mention that they are still depicted as more heartless and evil compared to the children, who are depicted as more innocent. Abrams' Cloverfield also gets to contribute something by influencing the alien itself. Throughout the movie, it is mostly unseen and is shown to be virtually indestructible no matter what is thrown at it. This seemed a little annoying and just made it appear as if Abrams can't write a monster/alien very well.

Despite this, the movie was actually pretty humorous at times, mostly through the children's dialogue. The child actors were pretty impressive for unknowns and I have a feeling any one of them could have a future here. The relationships were depicted quite realistically, especially the amateur director Charles' (Riley Griffith) obsession with getting the movie done every time he comes up with an idea to make the movie more "mint". Even the group's acting for the zombie flick comes off as authentically bad to the point where I kept laughing at the performance.

The special effects in the movie were also good in motion, like during the train crash at the beginning of the movie or with the constant motion of one of the white cubes that Joe has from that same scene. Besides the explosions, a lot of the effects were used to bring the alien to life.

While it felt good to finally know what the alien looked like, I was a little disappointed with the final design. Still, I just went with it and ended up accepting it in the last leg of the film. As for the music, the action is coupled with a competent, but largely forgettable soundtrack. The other sounds in the movie though were perfect and made me feel as though it were happening right in front of me.

Overall, Super 8 wasn't too great of a film despite the hype. It is generally acceptable, as long as you can overlook the various plot holes in the story and the clichés of Spielberg movies. For those who want to see what the hype is about, I would recommend seeing this movie at least once. Otherwise, you're better off looking elsewhere for a good time.

Also, I apologize for the pun in the title. I felt that the "8" in the movie's name made it unavoidable.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Duke Nukem Forever - Always Bet On Duke


Finally, after 15 years worth of development and delays, Duke Nukem has returned to us in the modern gaming world with Duke Nukem Forever. A lot has happened in that time to make Duke seem like a lost cause, but developer Gearbox Software has managed to resurrect a classic icon and make him relevant again. While it's great to meet Duke once more, his greetings need a little improvement.

The story of the game is mostly razor-thin, but it is at least coherent and easy to follow. With Duke Nukem inactive for twelve years, aliens have come to Earth to invade it. However, the President of the United States believes he can negotiate peace and tells Duke to back off. Unsurprisingly, he attacks anyway, starting a chain reaction of events that only he can undo. However, the story is not the important thing here, as Duke himself is used to thin stories. What is important is just about everything else.

When you look at the graphics of Duke Nukem 3D, released originally for PC in 1996, and then look at Duke Nukem Forever, it's truly amazing how far technology has come. The game is visually stunning and there is hardly a thing not worth looking at. The detail is especially impressive on the enemies, who have their own defining features that are really shown off by this game's engine. So much in fact, that you may end up examining their corpses just to see what you missed while killing them. It also showed off how exhilarating an explosion can be when it hits the intended target, making the virtual destruction all the more beautiful.

As for how the environments are built, they are more linear than Duke Nukem 3D which sometimes had multiple ways the players could proceed to the end. This wasn't much of a problem for me, but leads to some questionable level design in some areas. When levels don't provide a thrilling challenge, they could get downright frustrating, as with a particular underwater level the game may have done without. Encounter design is done rather well, but could sometimes seem a bit overwhelming, like the rooftop of the Duke Burger or the first time the player gets to handle a Freeze Ray. Nevertheless, I enjoyed tearing aliens a new one with the variety of weapons available for use.

On that subject, the weapons that Duke can use include the standard FPS weapons, such as a pistol, a combat shotgun, and a rocket launcher. Even with these standards in place, it is also possible to use a Shrink Ray to make your enemies go to miniature size and them simply kill them with a single stomp, which is quite hilarious no matter how many times it's done. As the weapons are also lifted directly from Duke Nukem 3D, it helps them stand out better from the competition, but at the same time they don't handle as well. While the guns work solidly, it can sometimes be difficult to aim at times due to the aiming required for each gun being a little different from guns of the norm. Despite this, it was fun finding the right weapon to use in the appropriate scenario and watching the results come to fruition.

The gameplay of Duke Nukem Forever take cues from modern FPS games, such as regenerating health and the two weapon system, but also has some returning elements from previous Duke Nukem games. The Ego mechanic returns from Land of the Babes and Manhattan Project, but Duke no longer gains health from defeated enemies. Rather, it takes the form of the aforementioned regenerating health with the performance of manly actions, which range from using the toilet to killing bosses or playing pinball, increasing the maximum ego Duke has. The two weapon system is unexpected yet easy to get used to, but it is also possible for Duke to have an inventory of items accessed with the directional buttons. If Duke needs extra strength, he can pop some steroids for more strength or drink a beer for less damage, complete with beer goggles as a result. He can also use night vision to see the unknown, which thankfully has unlimited use, or even bring out a Holoduke in the heat of battle to distract his enemies from the real threat. These items are well implemented into the game and their assistance is needed in certain situations.

As with Duke Nukem 3D, Forever is an FPS but with a platforming element as well. It takes some getting used to, but after a couple of tries the environmental puzzles that use this to its advantage become easier and some stages, such as being shrunk in the Duke Burger, seem more creative, although some are more uninspired. Overall though, the gameplay is well-built for a game that has been rebooted several times during development and more often than not works for the game's advantage.

However, the most important thing about a Duke Nukem game is always the man himself. He keeps his iconic look from previous games and his personality is perfectly intact. Jon St. John continues to provide the perfect voice for the perfectly executed one-liners that Duke manages to churn out through the game, a lot of which are pop culture references. While some are more current, like taking a crack at Master Chief from Halo, the majority are to various 80's and 90's games and movies such as Donkey Kong and Army of Darkness. The game even takes cracks at its own development time and even previous games in the franchise. There is also a lot of variety in what Duke says when he kills an enemy, and it's always funny to hear what he'll say. His actions are also accompanied by a great soundtrack that matches the mood and never really gets old.

Now one thing this game brings back is multiplayer, and it doesn't feel tacked-on at the last minute. In fact, there is a surprisingly deep level system with plenty of ways to kill other Dukes and earn XP. When Duke levels up, it unlocks new items to fill his pad, ranging from paintings and statues to a full working air hockey table. The maps are also small and provide some pretty frantic gameplay no matter what mode you choose. However, any flaws in the gunplay carry over to here which can make the hit detection appear off for some of the weapons. The other deal breaker is the long load times this game has. Every time Duke dies in the main campaign or moves to a new level, the player has to wait about 10 seconds for the game to finish loading, sometimes even longer. In multiplayer, the loading times carry over to loading a match, changing Duke's look, and even going to his pad. It is very unlikely I will touch this mode again anytime soon, although I'd love to see all the rewards unlocked.

And just in case you haven't been keeping score at home the whole time, like me, completing the campaign will enable the player to view the entire development history of the game. This includes an interactive timeline as well as gameplay and E3 videos from previous builds, which is very helpful in seeing how the hype grew in the first place.

Duke Nukem Forever is a hard game to judge. It doesn't do anything significantly different from the heavy hitters in the genre, and the 14-year wait will disappoint those with unrealistically high expectations. Is this a great game? No, but it's not a terrible game either. This game is actually a lot of fun, if a little rough around the edges, and I would recommend it to anyone (17 and above) no matter what they have heard about the game's reception. It's definitely worth a look and is essentially an artifact of gaming itself, as nearly half of the industry's life cycle was spent giving it life. Now let's just hope we don't have to wait another 15 years for his next game (teased after the credits).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Infamous 2 - An Ambitious Sequel With A Little Less Edge


In 2009, Sucker Punch gave PlayStation 3 owners a great reason to purchase the system with Infamous, a fun open world sandbox game with a fun comic book-inspired edge. Building on the success of their IP, they released a sequel, Infamous 2 (written as inFAMOUS 2) with the promise of expanding on what made the original great, while at the same time adding something new. After having played through the game twice, I am able to say that while Sucker Punch did an excellent job with the sequel, there was a loss of focus somewhere along the way.

The story picks up shortly after the first game, where Cole has gone from a common bike courier to an electrically-charged superhuman Conduit. He has learned to deal with his destiny of taking down a mysterious entity known as "The Beast" and believes that Kessler has prepared him enough. However, it turns out that The Beast has arrived much sooner than expected. In fact, the player must fight The Beast right off the bat in a similar fashion to the Colossus of Rhodes in God of War II. However, no matter what Cole does, he can't defeat The Beast, only temporarily destroy it. While he recovers from near death, he travels with his friend Zeke and NSA agent Lucy Kuo to the city of New Marais to find a man named Dr. Wolfe, who is believed to be able to amplify Cole's powers, as well as having something he can use to defeat The Beast.

While the sequel does continue the story very well and was easy to follow, it was also a bit easy to lose track of everything with the number of sub-plots introduced beyond Cole fighting The Beast. The game ties them up pretty well though, which makes up for this a bit. There's also many a plot twist to be had, most of which are completely unexpected on the first run-through. I thought the voice acting was much improved over the original, particularly Cole's new voice which I felt suited the character much better. I should also mention that the game seems to have a somewhat lighter tone as evident by the brighter color palette and larger abundance of humor both verbally and visually.

New Marais is essentially a fictional version of New Orleans, complete with street performers, neon-lit structures, and above-ground graves. While the buildings may be noticeably shorter, the city makes up for this by introducing swampland, which makes getting around certain areas a bit more difficult. However, Cole can easily get around this by jumping and hovering, or even walking across strategically placed wires and broken railroad track. The city is very beautifully detailed and seems to have much less pop-up than before, if at all. Since the setting is much more varied this time around, it's much impressive to look at and much more interesting to explore.

In fact, exploration is one of the main distractions from the story, as there are collectables to find and side missions to complete. Blast Shards and Dead Drops make a return, yet the former is much easier to find this time around and it felt like the game was essentially giving them away. Not only were they easy to find, but other small events can occur in New Marais to award you even more Blast Shards or XP, also awarding you good or evil karma. These events, which range from silencing street performers and protesters to defusing bombs and thwarting crimes, may seem random at first, but on my second playthrough I noticed them to actually be carefully scripted in where they would appear. Despite the distraction the events can impose, they were still very fun to do and gave me more of a reason to play further.

The karma system in this game was revamped from before in just about all of the right ways. Following different paths still leads to different endings and changes what Cole looks like in both the game world and well-animated cutscenes, as well as lock some of the powers available to you, which means you'll need to play it twice to see it all. However, following one path or the other is much more rewarding this time around, as the moral choices are no longer black and white, actually acting more like different ways to solve the same problem. But no matter what you decide to pick, the powers Cole can wield, now including fire and ice, are a blast to use. The sheer depth introduced by the powers is handled well with a menu that can be brought up at any point to instantly swap in a different version of the power, allowing Cole to change his strategies on the fly. Additionally, melee combat feels smoother and better to utilize thanks to a weapon called the Amp, which focuses Cole's power into single strikes that build up a meter for ending combos in increasingly stylish ways.

In addition to the 60 Side Missions in the game, Sucker Punch added a mission editor that can be accessed anywhere in the world for those connected to PSN. There are plenty of tools the player can use to create absolutely any goal they desire, which are relatively easy to use. Much like LittleBigPlanet, players can publish these levels to populate the game world, which can be filtered to access precisely the mission you want to play. Sucker Punch even allows players starting out to work from different templates if the idea of working with a blank canvas is too much at first. I enjoyed the missions placed in the game by Sucker Punch and some of the User-made levels, and any user with enough imagination will be able to create fantastical levels that anyone can enjoy.

As a side note, DC published a six-issue comic book series for Infamous meant to bridge the gap between Infamous and Infamous 2. On its own, the comic is a good read, but it actually works best as a way of explaining some events that happen off-screen, such as what happened to Moya in the intervening period.

Also, Infamous 2 rewards players who own the original by scanning the trophies one has collected and giving bonuses at the start depending on what was earned. In addition, these seem to affect the Dead Drops within the game, which alter what is said on specific ones depending on Cole's karmic state. This was a nice touch and helped make the overall story feel more immersive.

Sucker Punch has created an ambitious sequel to Infamous, making a satisfying game that unfortunately loses a bit of focus. Despite this, they make it absolutely worth the player's while for playing through the game twice to see every power in action or the changes in the story. Existing Infamous fans will definitely enjoy this game as well, as it improves in a lot of the right ways. If you're looking to play this game but haven't played the original, I would suggest playing the original first due to the overarching story between the games. The game isn't perfect, but it gets the job done in keeping the player interested throughout and increasing its replay value significantly.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban


With the theatrical success of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets in 2002, the following book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, was to be given a film adaptation with Alfonso Cuarón as director instead of Chris Columbus. However, it would actually be a couple years before it was released in 2004, rather than the one following the second film. Despite the wait, it was rather exciting to see it the first time and well worth it. Prisoner of Azkaban still holds up well as a Harry Potter movie after all this time, and is in fact my favorite of the series.

After a brief moment of Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) studying magic back at the Dursley house, the story begins with Uncle Vernon's (Richard Griffiths) sister Marge (Pam Ferris) coming for a visit. During conversation and more of Harry acting as their slave, Marge insults Harry's parents, angering him and causing him to accidentally use magic to swell her up like a balloon. After a humorous scene where Marge ends up flying away, Harry runs away from his home and is picked up by the mysterious Knight Bus, a triple-decker purple bus with a reckless driver that picks up stranded witches and wizards, and is taken to the Leaky Cauldron where he is fortunately not expelled for his earlier act. On the way over Harry learns of the supposed serial killer and Voldemort supporter Sirius Black (Gary Oldman), who has escaped from Azkaban and is suspected to be out to kill him.

The plot of this installment is a little more complex, given that it's dealing with a longer book than the previous films. A lot more changes are made between the book and film than last time, especially if you remember the events of the book enough to notice them. For instance, the scene at the very beginning is one where the titular character Harry is studying magic at night using the lumos maxima spell from his wand. In the book he uses a flashlight, which makes more sense given that he's not allowed to use magic outside of school. Then again this was probably done to make the title sequence a little more dramatic. There are plenty of other changes, which helps or detract from the story depending on your perspective.

The younger actors of course have aged a couple years, but their performances remain as strong as ever. This doesn't mean the older actors don't give anything less to the film, with everyone's skills bouncing off each other perfectly. An item of note is that Michael Gambon plays Hogwarts' Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, starting from this movie as his previous actor, Richard Harris, died in late 2002. Gambon still manages to pull off Dumbledore amazingly well, as if nothing really happened.

The effects of this movie are oddly both improved and similar to the last one. Most effects are on the improved side, notably the Dementors and the transformations some characters have into animal forms and back. On the other hand, the one that stands out is the Hippogriff Buckbeak. While the effects were still impressive at the time, I couldn't help but feel it was a little more obvious that it was renderd in CG, at least during his earlier appearances. Overall, the effects are still amazing to look at to this day.

One part of the movie deserves special mention, namely the time travel scenario near the end of the movie. When you see it, it's interesting viewing previous scenes from different angles in accordance to the characters. Time travel can be difficult to pull off properly in a live-action movie, yet somehow this one does it near flawlessly. Despite this, there is a small continuity error within this sequence of events: before using the Time Turner, Harry is defended from Dementors by a Patronus in the form of stag, yet when this action is repeated after going back in time, the stag is nowhere to be seen. How major or minor it is depends on the viewer, but it was still nice to see the effort put into these scenes.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a wonderful movie that should not be passed up by Harry Potter fans. This movie is where the series begins to take a dark tone, but the reason it remains my favorite of all of them is because it also happens to be the most humorous, as I'm sure anyone would find it to be. There are many changes between it and the original source, but it still works as a movie nonetheless. Despite the darker tone the movie takes, it still somehow manages to cling onto the magical element present in the two before it, making it all the more unforgettable.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - A Sequel With Charm

File:Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets movie.jpg

In 2001, Warner Brothers released a movie based on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the first book in a series of 7 by J.K. Rowling. It proved to be quite popular among children and adults alike, paving the way for the rest of the books to be adapted into movies with one coming the next year based the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, with Chris Columbus returning for directorial duties. As a fan of the book series, I was very excited to see it the first time as a child. Looking back as someone older, it still has the same magic that made its predecessor a classic.

A year after his first encounter with Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) continues to be mistreated by the Dursleys as they force him to his room when Uncle Vernon's (Richard Griffiths) boss comes to visit. While staying in his room, a House Elf named Dobby (Toby Jones) appears before Harry, warning him not to return to Hogwarts. When Harry refuses, Dobby uses his magic to disrupt the meeting downstairs, causing Vernon to place bars over Harry's window. Fortunately that night, Harry's friend Ron (Rupert Grint) appears along with his brothers Fred and George (James and Oliver Phelps) to rescue him, barely escaping Vernon's wrath and making it back to their home. After a disasterous turn of events the next day, Harry, Ron, and Hermione (Emma Watson) hear about the Chamber of Secrets, a secret area within Hogwarts that is said to be home to a monster. When several students, including Hermione, fall prey to the creature's petrifying gaze, it is up to Harry and Ron to figure out how to stop it.

This movie also has a straight-forward plot, if a little more complex than the first. Of course changes are made between the book and film, but they're so minor that they don't affect the overall workings of the magical world it's set in. The acting is still superb for a mainly young cast, which makes the story more enjoyable. When watching it as a kid, you really feel like you're part of the world of Hogwarts.

As with the first movie, the effects are a little outdated but still manage to hold up. Fawkes, Dumbledore's (Richard Harris) pet phoenix, has enough effects behind it to make the mythology of the creature look more believable, though at this point it's a little easier to tell when they used animatronics. Still, it's rather impressive how they managed to pull it off flawlessly with the standards of the time.

Though I don't see anything really wrong with this movie, there was one thing that bothered me, which can also be said for the book. What I find a little weird is how the antagonist's name, "Tom Marvolo Riddle" is an anagram for "I Am Lord Voldemort". To elaborate, it's the fact that he decided to include "I Am" as part of it, which any villain rearranging their name to make a new one would not normally do. Despite this little thing, I just let it go for the sake of the narrative.

Another thing I should mention is the after-credits scene. It is a scene that was actually added to the movie for comedic effect. It is a bit uneccesary, but it's still funny to watch. If you see this movie, even if you have already, it's worth waiting after the credits for.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets is an amazing movie with the same charm as the movie before it. It still has the brightness of the original film and the child actors still give memorable performances. Older fans that have seen this as a kid will feel their childhood coming back to them. I would highly reccomend this movie for newer fans, especially if they've already seen the first movie.

Infamous - A Strong Start For Sucker Punch's Newest IP


After the launch of the PlayStation 3, Sucker Punch, Naughty Dog, and Insomniac began developing more mature titles. 2009 saw the release of Infamous (written as inFAMOUS) from Sucker Punch. It contrasted from their popular Sly Cooper series of games in that it was an open world game and went more for a comic book motif. This new IP proved to be popular, spawning a sequel scheduled for release tomorrow. That said, Infamous is a fun game, no matter how many times it has been played.

The story is centered on a courier named Cole MacGrath, who gets caught in a mysterious explosion within Empire City. He manages to survive the blast, collapsing from various electrocutions. With time, he recovers, discovering that he has now obtained the ability to control electricity. He gets used to his powers, and at first uses them to solve common problems. However, within two weeks, he becomes a part of a grand scheme involving the quarantined Empire City as well as a device known as the Ray Sphere, which gave him his powers. As the story goes on, everyone Cole knows gets involved one way or another, changing his life forever.

The story's execution sounds purposefully comic book-like, which means that it has done its job well. The game's relatively small cast of characters is fleshed out pretty well, with some unexpected twists in the first playthrough of the game. Alliances are formed and broken, friendships are tested, and Cole must learn to cope with the sudden changes occurring around him. It is actually possible to become emotionally invested in the characters, making the bigger twists that much more surprising and dramatic. For a comic book brand of story, it pulls it off with a large degree of success. In a way, it feels like an interactive comic book, which is a nice change of pace.

The three islands of Empire City can be traversed in a few different ways, all of them integrated perfectly into the game. When not running on the ground, Cole can grind on power lines connecting buildings together or ride the train tracks. If you really need big distance quickly, it is also possible to glide in the air using electricity. Getting through the city to complete the various missions also shows off a small parkour element in the game which handles near flawlessly. However, climbing up the sides of buildings can sometimes be a pain. Since Cole gravitates to the nearest climbable object, he can occasionally be away from the object you really want to continue jumping off of, which can make collecting some objects annoying, but this doesn't happen too often and doesn't really bog down the experience in any significant way.

The main way that Cole gains new powers is by restoring power to parts of the city through underground sub-stations, which also serve as a training ground for each newly acquired skill. All of them function very well, and come in handy shortly after they are introduced, giving the player an incentive to mix things up and rotate through their abilities on the fly for some impressive feats of gaming. Upgrading powers requires XP, which be earned easily by completing missions and defeating enemies. However, some of these upgrades are restricted based on the current state of Cole's Karma meter.

In keeping with a theme of exploring the line between good and evil, Infamous has a Karma system in place, which increases or decreases depending on Cole's actions. While the game does prevent one from taking the side of neutral Karma, some of the choices Cole makes in the game's Karma moments feel more black and white, with no real gray area in between. It is still easy to get over this, as both good and evil sides play differently from each other, with good powers focused on protection and evil powers focused more on destruction. Completing Karma-specific missions also prevents you from completing another side, so you're either going for a positive or negative overall outcome.

Empire City is very large, but with good incentives for exploring the beautifully detailed world. If enough Blast Shards are collected, Cole gains more energy to work with to use his powers, which is always good to have, and Dead Drops can be collected from satellite dishes to offer more insight on the events leading up to the blast at the very beginning of the game. While exploring, there are also some instances of pop-up graphics. While this is actually expected with newer open world games, there are actually some hilarious moments where injured pedestrians seem to disappear off the face of the earth, although it happens rarely. There is also the occasional glitch where the enemies will continue their falling animation and get stuck between two surfaces, or times when enemies are down, but in a frozen falling animation. However, most of these glitches are easily remedied and don't prove to be much of a hindrance.

The performances of the characters are also done well, but the voice acting is just ok. The lines are delivered well, but Cole's voice sounds a bit gravely for a superhero. But like most games, I just rolled with the voices even if they were average. Even with that, the characters are still fleshed out well, which makes up for it a bit.

Sucker Punch has introduced a great new IP exclusively for PlayStation, and it was a blast. It's worth it to play the game twice to see how the different powers work, as well as to see the subtle changes in the cutscenes and how each campaign ends. If you are a PlayStation 3 owner, I would highly recommend a full purchase. It will be interesting to see how the sequel will continue the narrative, as well as carry the character of Cole MacGrath to the point where he can accomplish the enormous task before him.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project


Even after the release of Duke Nukem: Land of the Babes, Duke Nukem Forever continued its infamous development time. In the meantime, another game was developed by Sunstorm Interactive for PC in 2002 called Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project. After seeing how the last 3 games turned out, I was hoping this entry would at least be an improvement. After playing it however, I must say I was actually blown away by this title.

As with the first game, this installment has a rather simple plot. Duke's new nemesis, Mech Morphix, has created a substance called GLOPP (Gluon Liquid Omega Phased Plasma) that mutates living creatures on contact. Morphix plans to use this substance to take over the world, and it's up to Duke Nukem to stop him. Along the way, he must also rescue babes from detonators while giving his enemies his usual style of ass-kicking.

The game is comprised of 8 episodes split up into 3 parts, for a total of 24 levels. In each one, you must rescue a babe and use a colored Keycard before you can advance. The game itself returns to the roots of the first two games in that it plays like a side-scroller complete with a similar control scheme. However, this game puts a spin on it in that it's more three-dimensional, with some areas even having multiple layers, stretching the definition of 2.5D to its limit. As such, there are times where you can go between the different layers at designated points in order to perform certain tasks to help advance the level.

This game also sees the return of the Ego system from Land of the Babes, except this time it's treated more like Health. You get Ego boosts by killing enemies and grabbing what resemble Health boxes, small ones giving you 25 Ego and large ones 100. You can also gain Ego from vending machines, albeit with limited usage, and Ego is lost from contact with hazards such as lasers, enemy attacks, and uncontained GLOPP. When you exceed your maximum Ego, it will slowly drain until it hits the cap, but thankfully you can still use the extra amount like a shield. Another collectible is Nukes, and there are 10 in each level. If you manage to get all 10, your maximum Ego, GLOPP, and Ammo count will go up.

Speaking of Ammo, this game has a range of weaponry you can use, but unlike Time To Kill or Land of the Babes, there isn't an overabundance of them. Rather, you have a choice between a select few weapons that you pick up along the way, including your starting Golden Eagle Pistol and Pipebombs among others. You also have a GLOPP Ray and a Pulse Cannon, which both use GLOPP to restore mutated enemies to their original, unmutated forms and fire charged lightning respectively. In some sections you are also allowed to use a Jetpack, albeit for a limited amount of time. Other temporary power-ups include Double Damage and Forcefield, which both do as they say until they expire.

The graphics are a great improvement over Land of the Babes, with the character models looking smoother and more realistic. While movement is still somewhat limited, actions are still presented in a very fluid manner and the great AI helps to create a better immersion. The level design is very well laid out and reminded me of my experience with the first game in that you can easily memorize where you need to go and what you have to do to get through each stage. The Save system also improves over the last 3 games in that like in Duke Nukem II and 3D, your progress is saved at well-placed checkpoints and you can save whenever you want to, so that when you die you come back at the last point you saved.

The voice acting here is casted very well, with Jon St. John playing Duke Nukem as sharp as ever. Duke's one-liners are handled better than in Land of the Babes and I would go so far as to say they're a bit funnier. While he does still make pig jokes when facing Pig Cops, a lot of the dialogue is self-referential to it being a game. For instance, when you try to open the exit without having a Keycard, he will make a stab at how frustrating it can be to look for Keycards and how they're required to move on.

While this game was really fun, I must say the bosses were a little easy. Though they can take a few tries to figure out how to beat them, some you can just endlessly shoot if you have enough Ego to spare. Despite this they still provided a good challenge, a few having multiple parts that you need to go through in a single sitting.

Duke Nukem: Manhattan Project is an excellent game that any Duke Nukem fan will enjoy. Though it doesn't have a big legacy like Duke Nukem 3D, it's an excellent throwback to the original games that also flawlessly utilizes the best elements of the franchise. Even on the lowest difficulty it provides a great challange that will make you think harder about how to defeat enemies in a dire situation. If you're a Duke fan or haven't played any of the games yet, I highly suggest you check this one out.

Playing the Duke Nukem games like this has been like seeing the evolution of gaming itself. From the roots of 2D side-scrolling to the transition into 3D, these games have evolved over time and will continue to do so, even with some drawbacks. After 15 years, Duke Nukem Forever will finally be released from development hell into the hands of patient players. To quote the end of Manhattan Project's credits, "Look for Duke next in Duke Nukem Forever."