Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Gears of War 2 - The Gears Keep Turning


Well, it's been about nine months since I first played Gears of War, but I have good reason. After the first game I was ready to play the next entry, but I didn't really have a way to obtain it when I wanted. Fortunately I was able to get a copy of it for my birthday last month and was then able to start and finish it. As a side note, I was going to try and review Otomedius Excellent (you know, the one shmup that all American reviewers hate for no particular reason), but I quickly realized that I wasn't the right kind of person to grant it a proper review (and no, it had nothing to do with that game's anime art style or the clothing decisions of the characters), so I almost immediately swapped it out for this. Anyway, Gears of War 2 is the 2008 sequel to Gears of War, developed by Epic Games. Though four years is a pretty short time frame, or the internet equivalent of eons, it serves as proof that the game has aged gracefully in that time.

As always, I begin with the story (you know, the thing no one seems to pay attention to in shooters anymore). Months after the ending of the first game, COG learns that the lightmass bomb they detonated failed to produce the intended result, with the Locust now returning stronger than ever. As cities continue to sink into the depths of the planet Sera, Marcus Fenix and the rest of Delta Squad are sent into Locust territory to find a way to destroy them once and for all. During this journey, Dominic "Dom" Santiago embarks on a personal quest to find his wife Maria, who had been taken by the Locust horde long ago.

This is the basic idea of the storyline, but its execution is done much better than in the original. No longer does it feel like a bunch of events strung together by a loose plot thread. Now there is sense of urgency, a true sense of war on a much larger scale than what they had shown before. The conflict is also more personal, adding an extra layer to an already deeper story. I personally felt myself becoming more attached to the universe of Gears of War thanks to the true magnitude of the story finally becoming more realized and fleshed out. Dom is also seen as a much deeper character and the heightened emotions of the Delta Squad teammates lets you get to know a bit more about their camaraderie on the battlefield, their real strength when they work together. Plus, the revelation of what exactly happens to Maria Santiago is a truly heartbreaking moment, especially when it's revealed just what the Locust do with the humans they capture.

However, the campaign, which I played on the new Normal difficulty setting, is not without its faults. For one thing, the (strongest) villain Skorge's boss fight, while difficult, is nowhere near as difficult as General RAAM  (not that this lowered difficulty is inherently a bad thing) and he can only be damaged through the newly introduced chainsaw dueling feature, which makes him out to be a rather gimmicky boss. Then there's the final boss, which I won't spoil the identity of, that literally dies in seconds, so it felt rather anticlimactic. The sequence of events that happen up until this point however is nothing short of awesome.

To switch over to gameplay for a bit, there are some improvements to the systems introduced in the first game. While the cover system remains largely the same, it is now possible to pick up downed enemies and use them as meat shields to act as bullet sponges for longer lasting survival. I didn't use this feature too often, but it really came in handy when I needed cover in a pinch (and of course didn't already kill someone). Another feature that's really cool is the aforementioned ability to initiate chainsaw duels between enemies that also posses a Lancer. In a chainsaw duel, the chainsaw bayonets clash until someone gives up and dies. To ensure your own survival in this situation, you must rapidly pound B to overpower your opponent. While this didn't occur too often, I did find this feature to be a great addition, since it takes more advantage of the series' signature weapon.

While these are both fun new abilities, there is something very worth mentioning as far as new battlefield additions go: weapons. The already existing weapons seemed to have some tweaks done to make them more balanced (no longer will I lean on the shooter strategy of "pick the shotgun and win"), but brand new ones are introduced, and I love almost all of them. Two of these will lower walking speed while in use, but they come with some serious firepower in return. The chain gun can be used as a cover mount and the mortar cannon can rain death from above; I liked using the former more, but only because at times it seemed a little difficult to determine the correct distance with the latter. The flamethrower allows one to attack multiple enemies at once, which gave me a sense of power while using it, and the Gorgon pistol, which fires in bursts of four shots at a time, was actually good enough for me that I would always take that over the regular pistol whenever possible. The last one is the ink grenade, which is a grenade that emits a poison cloud instead of an explosion, but it just wasn't the weapon for me. In fact, I couldn't really tell the difference while playing (does it have anything to do with me playing on a standard def television?).

Then there are the enemies themselves: The Locust. There are some new locust types to keep things interesting and the firefights long. While I don't quite remember the names of the new additions off the top of my head, except for the infected Lambent Locust I do remember that they showcased the new weapons to a sometimes brutal degree, which made them fun to overcome. However, I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say that only one new type particularly pissed me off: Tickers. They make a sound that eventually becomes annoying and they move too fast for proper aiming. Plus, they explode.

The level design in the campaign was very good. Checkpoints are well located, for the most part anyway, and the environments are all unique from each other. Sections would sometimes come with a unique environmental challenge, including one where Marcus has to dodge razorhail, hail that is presumably as sharp as razors, while moving through a train yard with plenty of open sections. It is challenges like these that really spice up the events and help make the game more memorable in its ability to do so. What helps are the improved graphics, which help to truly capture the feel of each environment and display its full nature, including a stretch that takes place in an realm that is completely organic.

While I haven't really played the online multiplayer, since I actually play games for their stories, I did actually try out the new Horde Mode, a wave based survival mode that pits the player against up to 50 different groups of Locust on several maps. The challenge is certainly present, especially if you go it alone, but the result is no less enjoyable (except for those pesky Tickers). I liked playing through Horde Mode for a bit and wonder now just how much better it is when playing with friends. However, I do have a complaint about the lack of a local multiplayer option for this mode, since I believe that more games should be able to do that.

As a sequel, Gears of War 2 is proof that what started in the original can indeed get better as it goes on. The story is better written and its most awesome moments make it unforgettable, there is more variety in combat and Horde mode is an excellent addition to the franchise (which would then be included in every shooter ever made). Though the bosses end up being underwhelming, the strengths totally outweigh the weaknesses. I can't wait to play the next installment and in the mean time would highly recommend what is definitely a future classic for the Xbox 360; It's one of the best I've played so far.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Stubs - Forrest Gump



FORREST GUMP (1994) Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field.  Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Screenplay by Eric Roth. Based on the novel by Winston Groom.  Music by Alan Silvestri.  Produced by Wendy Finerman, Steve Tisch, Steve Starkey Run Time: 141. Color U.S. Drama, Romance

Okay, it’s still Horror movie month, but Phantom of the Opera (1943) left such a bad taste in our mouth that we’re moving on a little earlier than intended.

This week, we’re watching Forrest Gump, the Academy Award winning film for 1994. Now, like everyone else alive and breathing in 1994, I went to see this in the theater. However, there are some films that get repeatedly referenced (see listing on IMDB) that you sometimes have to watch them again or share them with the next generation.

In the nearly 20 years since I first saw this film, I have to admit that my opinion hasn’t really changed all that much. The film has all the appearance and feel of an epic film. It tells a story that spans nearly 30 years in the life of a very simple man, who through happenstance appears at many of the major events between 1956 and 1982. The only events Forrest misses out on or fails to mention would be the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and man landing on the moon. Otherwise, he teaches Elvis how to dance, plays football at Alabama for legendary coach Bear Bryant, witnesses Governor George Wallace’s attempt to keep blacks from entering the University, meets Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, goes to Vietnam, is awarded the medal of honor, speaks at a Peace Rally, participates in ping pong détente with the Chinese, reports the Watergate break-in as it happens, makes a fortune in the shrimp business, is an early investor in Apple Computers, invents the smiley face, the expression Shit Happens and loses a loved one to AIDS (which is described in the film as a virus that the doctors can’t cure). Whew! It’s sort of like watching the video for the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which documents pretty much every event a baby boomer should know.

But in the end, what was the purpose? What did we learn? What were we supposed to learn? Forrest (Tom Hanks) doesn’t really change. He is the same simple-minded man at the end of the film that he was as a kid at the beginning. While he participates in many of the founding events during his life, he doesn’t really seem to be changed by them. In many ways, Forrest is a very-one dimensional character. The flying fickle feather of fate (with apologies to the old Laugh-In show) may fly around and land on Forrest, but he is never tickled by it.

And when it is of use to the story, Forrest is capable of understanding things you wouldn’t expect someone with a 75 IQ to do. As an example, he learns to not only run a boat, but also how to run a small business and fish for shrimp. While we have to admire his stick-to-it-ness, I doubt there are any self-taught shrimpers out there.

Tom Hanks’ performance, which won him another Academy Award, is restrained. As Forrest, he is not able to respond to situations the way most of us would. It is like looking at the world through the eyes of an adult child, who happens to have a Midas touch. The character is not an everyman. He is not someone I can identify with, though I am sympathetic with him. However, the acting is very much like a singer hitting the same note over and over again. You may admire that ability, but where is the range? Just as a song with one note would get old, so does Hank’s Forrest Gump.

To go with the epic story, there is a love story. Forrest is in love with Jenny (Robin Wright), who was the first person, outside of his mother (Sally Field) to treat him with dignity. From the first day of school, when she lets him sit next to her on the bus until the day she dies, Forrest is in love with, always thinking about, naming a fleet of shrimp boats after Jenny. But Jenny is for the most part having her own misadventures. A pose in a Playboy college girls pictorial gets Jenny kicked out of school, she takes to playing folk songs in the buff, participates in the peace movement, the drug culture, before pulling herself together and flying right, though we find out it is already too late.

For Sally Fields, there is not a lot she has to work with as Forrest’s mother. She spouts a few odd sayings that don’t really make sense, but get oft repeated: “Life is like a box of chocolates” and “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Mykelti Williamson was a stand out as Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue, the not quite as dimwitted, shrimp-obsessed friend Gump meets in the Army and goes to Vietnam with. Bubba is why Forrest decides to be a shrimp fisherman.

The part of Lt. Dan, put Gary Sinise on the map. While he had been in films for about ten years, his portrayal of Forrest’s squadron leader in Vietnam, turned amputee, turned business partner was a coming out party of sorts for the actor. His is the one character that changes, even physically, though much of his metamorphosis is done off screen. We’re led to believe that Forrest has an influence on him, but we’re never really shown what that is or how it manifests itself. Lt. Dan is just changed.

Robert Zemeckis is a director that loves to use special effects to tell a story. While of late, his use of special effects seem to get in the way of telling the story (Polar Express, Beowulf, A Christmas Carol and please stop him from remaking Yellow Submarine) their use is somewhat restrained in Forrest Gump. They are used to great and subtle effects to show, as an example, Lt. Dan as an amputee. You’d almost swear that Sinise really lost his legs.

Another excellent use is when we see Forrest’s namesake put on his Klu Klux Klan outfit and ride seamlessly into footage from Birth of a Nation. That is really very impressive.

Where they are used in other places, however, they sometimes stumble. Since Forrest is constantly being invited to the White House, he has to interact with several Presidents. File footage of each is used and altered to fit the Gump story. And isn’t it funny to hear Kennedy relay that Forrest has to pee or Lyndon Johnson to have an odd fascination with Gump’s surgery scar or have Nixon offer to put Gump up at the Watergate Hotel on the same night of the planned break-in of Democratic Headquarters? The effect though is more other worldly than believable. Clutch Cargo handled superimposed lips better than this movie. The one thing it does is show how much better this kind of special effect has gotten since this film was made.

I think one of the things that made Forrest Gump such a big film was a sense of nostalgia amongst baby boomers. I don’t think that it speaks as well to any other generation. It is not really a history lesson nor does it show what it was like to grow up through that time. For most baby boomers, the 60’s was an event you witnessed on TV and listened to on the radio.

While Forrest Gump is a movie that should be seen, I don’t think it is really as great as the hype would lead you to believe. You spend nearly two and half hours listening to a simple man monologue on his extraordinary life and while there are moments of real pathos, there are not enough to carry it all the way through. It’s funny in places, but not so much that you really laugh. When you leave the theater or eject the DVD or stop the stream, you really won’t have gained any real insight into anything. While films can be purely entertainment, the great films do more.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Stubs - Phantom of the Opera (1943)


PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (1943) Starring: Nelson Eddy, Susanna Foster, Claude Rains, Edgar Barrier, Leo Carrillo, Jane Farrar, Directed by Arthur Lubin. Screenplay by Samuel Hoffenstein, Eric Taylor, Hans Jacoby. Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux.  Music by Edward Ward.  Produced by George Waggner Run Time: 92. Color U.S. Horror

Okay, this week we go from a really good horror film (Psycho) to one that is not so scary or all that good, Phantom of the Opera (1943). In an earlier post, I stated that I wouldn’t watch a musical with Jeannette MacDonald in it. Let’s add to that list her frequent musical partner, Nelson Eddy, as an actor to avoid. The main thing wrong with this version of Phantom is that there is too much music and opera music at that. While I’m aware that the movie takes place at the Paris Opera House, there is no reason to bore the audience with staging production numbers. And guess which baritone is in said production numbers. Three guesses and the hint is that his initials are the same as New England’s.

While I am well aware that movies worked at a slower pace back then and usually I don’t have a problem with it, this movie seemed to move at a sleep inducing pace. Horror films are supposed to scare the viewer out of slumber rather than assisting them in falling into a confused one.

These of course are only a few of the issues I have with this movie. While I’m sure Universal meant well, casting Claude Rains as Erique Claudin/the Phantom was the first mistake. Don’t get me wrong, I am usually a big fan of Mr. Rains’ work. However, in this film, he seems to be out of place. Not so much as Claudin, the 20 year veteran of the Paris Opera Orchestra who is summarily dismissed when he starts having problems with the fingers on his left hand. Rains is miscast as the Phantom, especially when compared with perhaps the quintessential movie phantom, the one played by Lon Chaney in the 1925 version of the film. Rains is too slight a man to be scary, even when disfigured.


Lon Chaney as the Phantom (1925)


Claude Rains as the Phantom (1943)


When he’s fired, everyone assumes that Claudin has saved enough money to retire comfortably; his landlady and the conductor who fires him both assume this. But that is simply not the case. Rather than saving his money, Claudin has used it to sponsor the training of a young soprano, Christine Dubois (Susanna Foster). Claudin is obviously in love with Christine, but she has two other suitors: Anton Garron (Nelson Eddy), a baritone with the Opera and Raoul D’Aubert (Edgar Barrier), a police inspector. The two men look so much alike even down to the same style of moustache.

In order to get more money, Claudin tries to get a concerto he’s written published. When he doesn’t hear from his publisher, Pleyel & Desjardins, he goes down there to find out about it. But Pleyel doesn’t know what happened to it and doesn’t seem to care. He tells Claudin to leave so he can get back to the etching he’s working on. Claudin is about to leave when he hears his concerto being played and praised by the great composer Franz Liszt (Fritz Leiber). Thinking Pleyel is trying to steal his concerto, Claudin attacks and strangles him to death. Georgette (Renee Carson), the publisher’s assistant, walks in and throws etching acid into Claudin’s face. Yelling in pain, Claudin flees the scene and, being chased by police, retreats into the Parisian sewers under the Opera House.

Claudin steals a mask from the prop department to hide his disfigured face, but is still obsessed with Christine. The soprano is currently the understudy of Biancarolli (Jane Ferrar), but Claudin drugs her wine allowing Christine to go on in her place and is a hit. Biancarolli initially blames Garron and Christine for drugging her, but she is forced to back down when there is no evidence of their involvement. But Biancarolli refuses to let Christine sing again on stage, but when Claudin finds out he enters her dressing room and kills her and her maid (Elvira Curci).

D’Aubert comes up with a plan to lure Claudin (whom they know is the Phantom) out into the open. He will not let Christine sing at the next performance and Garron will have Liszt play Claudin’s concerto instead. But Claudin strangles one of D’Aubert’s men and heads to the top of the Opera’s domed ceiling. There he cuts loose one the large chandelier down onto the audience, causing chaos and havoc. In the confusion, Claudin grabs Christine and takes her down to his lair in the sewers with the police in pursuit.

Above in the auditorium, Liszt sits down to play the concerto. When Claudin hears it, he plays along with a piano he has in his lair. He even encourages Christine to sing along. The police are getting closer and closer. Christine pulls off Claudin’s mask and sees the damage done to his face. At that moment, D’Aubert and Garron make it to the lair. Shots are fired, which miss the mark, but they bring down the lair in on top of Claudin. D’Aubert and Garron manage to get Christine out just before the walls collapse. It is only after Claudin is dead that Christine learns they are from the same district and she admits to being drawn to him.

At the end of the story, Garron and D’Aubert demand that Christine make a choice. Instead of choosing either man, she chooses her singing career. The men go off together to commiserate and Christine goes off to be with her adoring fans.

While this retelling was popular enough at the time for a sequel to be considered, this is not a film that holds up over time. Technicolor is almost too lush for horror and there is too much opera for my tastes. I think this film isn’t quite sure if it wants to be a love story or a horror film. I’ve already commented about the casting of Rains, who seems like an odd choice for the Phantom role. I also think it would have been better to have cast male leads that didn’t look so much alike.

Nelson Eddy as Anton Garron

Edgar Barrier as Raoul D’Aubert


The film did receive four nominations and won two Academy Awards, one for Art Direction (Color), back in the day when there were still a lot of Black and White films also being made, and for Cinematography. I did like the loft they designed for Claudin. With its angular walls, it reminded me more of German Expressionistic influence, which is what this film could have used more of.

During this horror film season, if you have to see a Phantom of the Opera film as part of your viewing, this is not the one to watch. That is unless you suffer from insomnia.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Unfinished Swan


While I do enjoy my fair share of complex or lengthy games, I am also the type to appreciate games that have good artistic qualities (see my reviews of Thatgamecompany's library for evidence). As such, I became interested when I first heard about The Unfinished Swan, especially with its main gameplay mechanic of throwing balls of paint. Recently this game saw an early release for subscribers of PlayStation +, so naturally I decided to take full advantage of it. What I can say is, this game is good news for people like me who appreciate the artistic side of gaming.

The story, as described by the opening cutscene, is that a boy named Monroe had a mother who passed away. She was always painting, but never got around to completing any of her projects. Upon her passing, the orphanage allowed Monroe to keep only one of his mother's pieces, and so picked her favorite, the titular unfinished swan. One day, Monroe saw that the swan had mysteriously disappeared from its canvas, and enters through a door that wasn't there previously.

The core mechanic of the gameplay, as mentioned above, is the ability to throw balls of paint at the surrounding environment. The first level of the game, discussed in pre-release material, uses this in a rather interesting way, wherein you throw black paint in order to reveal more of a completely white world, sort of like painting a blank canvas. The visual appeal of this level comes from the contrast between light and dark, especially when you throw just enough paint to imply an existing form. Over the course of the game, you can also find hidden balloons within each level, which can be used to unlock toys that can grant you certain benefits, one of which allows you to more easily find said balloons. When you find all of the hidden balloons, you can unlock a sniper rifle, though it sounds more like something you can get long after it's needed. You can also uncover small bits of the environment that reveal more of the story within the game.

The graphics of the game are visually appealing no matter what the setting, even as the game introduces more detailed environments. The design of the game looks and feels like a children's story book, which is also how the game's chapters are divided up. Each of these environments, along with the respective music, creates its own atmosphere, ranging from light and quirky to dark and scary (and I actually did feel scared at certain points). On the visual side of things, the game succeeds at creating a unique environment.

The game features little voice acting, in that there's only a handful of speaking characters, but even with what little there is, the voice actors do an amazing job. The narrator has a calm voice that would fit perfectly in an audio recording of a children's book, and Monroe sounds appropriately like a child, though it thankfully isn't annoying. Going further would mean spoilers, but what I did not talk about is equally impressive for such a short game.

While the game is solid, I did encounter a very, very, very minor bug in the first level: While exploring a small portion of the first level that I had revealed, there would be a small glitch with the paint I threw. What I mean by this is that when I walked over a paint splatter, that particular splatter would disappear while I was on top of it. Surprisingly, this only happened to the one specific splatter within a level that is otherwise consistent with your progress.

Something else that should be addressed is the game's length. Though I didn't play the game in a single burst, The Unfinished Swan is noticeably short, lasting just over two hours. This may not seem worth $15, but on the other hand, the balloons in each level add an incentive to replay each chapter in order to unlock more extras. While there may not be much meat to this downloadable title, I think it's the experience that truly counts.

So, is The Unfinished Swan worth a purchase? The answer is yes, particularly for those who want something short and are able to appreciate the artistic side of things. If you want something longer and more complex, you'll probably be more tempted to look elsewhere. If the premise of the game doesn't entice you, I'll give you this: The ending is much more satisfactory than that of Quantum Conundrum.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Cloud


In my recent review of Journey Collector's Edition, I mention that the package lacks Cloud, the first game made by the founders of Thatgamecompany. Soon after posting it, I decided I had some time to actually play the game and see what I think of it. After downloading the game from its hosting site (thatcloudgame.com should do the trick if you're curious), I found myself enjoying the experience ahead of me.

In Cloud, you take the role of a boy who has been hospitalized. During his time there, he often dreams about the clouds he sees just outside the window. During his dreams are where you take control, with the ability to manipulate the clouds as he floats in the sky. This includes such actions as the ability to not only gather clouds together, but also shape them into a desired form, such as a lollipop. You can also use the lighter clouds under your control to eliminate darker clouds, creating a rain effect, at the cost of  a portion of your gathering of clouds. If you have any trouble absorbing a larger cloud, you also have the option to absorb clouds and then release them to form a new cloud, expanding either sideways while moving or upwards by staying still, forming a taller cloud for further gathering. If this sounds familiar in any way, the experience is sort of like Katamari Damacy, but executed differently.

The cutscenes of Cloud are simply stunning. Each one is comprised of a pan over two or three beautifully made paintings that perfectly capture the mood of each of the four main stages. (There are also extra stages available to extend the replay value.) The music is also excellently done, creating a dream-like, happy atmosphere. This also serves as a perfect contrast to the rain created when trying to eliminate darker clouds.

Cloud is, like the games formed after Thatgamecompany's founding, simple but engaging. If you are a fan of the aforementioned company and want to see the roots of it, this is a game for you to check out. If you are not a fan of Thatgamecompany, this probably isn't for you.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bleach: Soul Resurrección

Unlike the art, this game actually does have backgrounds.
Bleach, for those who are unaware or don't want anything to do with any anime/manga series for any reason, is a manga series created by Tite Kubo and serialized in Weekly Shonen Jump in Japan as well as two American publications, both the recently defunct monthly Shonen Jump print magazine and its replacement, the digitaly released Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha. To briefly describe it, it's about a High School student named Ichigo Kurosaki who can see ghosts. A Soul Reaper named Rukia Kuchiki drops by his home one night looking for a rogue Hollow (an evil spirit) that subsequently attacks. Rukia fights the Hollow while trying to keep Ichigo out of the conflict, but due to his determination to protect his family, which is strong enough to break magical bonds, she gives him some of her powers to defeat the Hollow, which he successfully does. However, it turns out that he had absorbed all of her power by accident, so he is forced to cleanse Hollows as a Deputy Soul Reaper while she recovers.

I'm sorry for the long explanation, but I feel that even for a popular franchise such as this, a lot of people might not really know what it's about. It's also a lead-in to mention that I am a fan of Bleach, which is to say that I keep up with the manga as best I can, including through Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha, and have been watching the anime on Cartoon Network following the revival of the late night Toonami anime block. While I still haven't read all that has been officially published in English for the series, I do know enough to understand a general idea of what has happened thus far. Because of my status, I will be approaching a review of this game as a fan of Bleach, but, rest assured, it will not affect the neutrality of the review (at least not in any way that I will be aware). Besides, I'm not exactly a mega fan of Tite Kubo that believes he hasn't done anything wrong (and boy has he made mistakes). Now, with this lengthy opening done, let's take a look at Bleach: Soul Resurrección and see whether or not it's worth playing.

First off, the story of the game itself. The framework for the story is the overarching Arrancar Arc, which includes the story arcs that involve the main antagonist, Sōsuke Aizen, more specifically the Hueco Mundo, Fake Karakura Town and Deicide Arcs. Basically, Aizen has kidnapped Orihime Inoue so that he can take advantage of her regenerative powers for his scheme. In response, Ichigo, followed by Chad and Uryū Ishida and later Rukia and Renji Abarai, travel to Hueco Mundo to get her back and defeat Aizen and his Espada (powerful Arrancars (Hollows with powers of a Soul Reaper) that he created). The Story Mode, which uses this framework, is a loose representation of it, using text recaps before each Episode to explain where in the story the Episode takes place. Personally, I felt that the recaps were sufficiently efficient, allowing players to just jump right into the action while being given a refresher for context. There are also some advantages to this style of retelling the arc: You don't have to wait an ungodly amount of time between important battles (as is the case with Tite Kubo's pacing problems in the source manga), it explains certain events in a way that makes the source story sound a bit better and it condenses the plot to only contain the most important elements.

Then there's the gameplay, which integrates the plot to a certain degree. Each Episode in the Story mode has you playing from the perspective of a single character based on who the final boss fight is against. Each character plays a bit differently, taking advantage of each of their unique abilities. Special attacks are performed using the Circle and Triangle buttons, while normal attacks are done with Square. The special moves use up Spiritual Pressure, a blue segmented bar below the character's health. Depending on which button you press, the Spiritual Pressure bar will deplete quicker, limiting you to normal attacks while you recover your lost energy. You can also guard to block attacks, which can be extended into a dodge move known as the Flash Step by moving the left analog stick at the same time, as well as lock on to enemies and dash to get through a level quicker. An Ignition gauge also exists on the side, filling up as you perform an extended combo. Fill it up enough and your attacks become more powerful, plus you gain access to a one-shot attack specific to the character. This simple control scheme sets the groundwork for the experience, allowing one to play for a good period of time while still letting the characters use their established powers.

As for the characters themselves, it becomes clear right away that they all suit a different play style; this is a good thing as it gives the game a great amount of variety and each one has their own distinct array of moves and personality. Though a lot of their attacks share certain ranges, they all have a different area of effect and operate differently, an example being Ichigo's Getsuga Tensho being released in a wave versus Rukia Kuchiki's Byakurai operating similarly to a bullet. Two of the more unique characters are Gin Ichimaru, with the ability to change his attack depending on what two-button combination you press, and Uryū Ishida, who has a separate system in place for his Circle moves. Finding out how each character operates, including how their Ignition attacks work, can be fun and inject more variety throughout your play, but you'll definitely find one you're comfortable with and focus on strengthening them over the rest (I personally focused primarily on Ichigo).

Once you beat the story to unlock most of the characters, which will only take a little over four hours, there's a Mission mode where you can play to unlock more missions, characters and stuff for your collection, as well as a Soul Attack mode that serves as a quasi-multiplayer mode with a leaderboard. Depending on your performance during the different game modes, you gain Soul Points, which are used to level up your characters by buying them new abilities and stat boosts. When your character is stronger, completing certain modes becomes easier, so fortunately there are multiple difficulty levels to keep things from getting stale.

I must say at this point then that this game is designed with the sole purpose to suck as much time out of you as it possibly can...and it works. To unlock more missions, you must complete a certain set of missions, and eventually get a good enough performance grade on previous ones, requiring your character to be strong enough to get all the right bonuses while still meeting the requirements. If you want to get some practice in the Soul Attack mode, you have to complete a certain amount or combination of missions, which won't kick in until about halfway through your progress in that mode.

But wait, remember when I said that powering up your character requires you to buy stuff? Well, you do your leveling up on a grid-like structure, each new character adding a new section to the structure until you have all of them. They all have their own grid and can't advance past a certain point, limiting your potential to level up, as each new upgrade you buy contributes another level. However, if you level up your character to a specific point, you unlock access to more parts of the grid, increasing your potential; you must do this with every single character if you want to get the one you use the most up to full strength. Then you run into the problem where some abilities are a bit too expensive for this to work, which means you'll find yourself playing through more missions to get more soul points to get more upgrades and so forth, repeat ad nauseum. This is definitely the meat of the game, and it can definitely get a little tiring after an extended play session, so I would recommend playing in bursts to avoid this feeling.

That said, the actual level design is very structured, with at least one to two areas of Hollow fights before you actually get to the boss encounter, an obvious way to get your Ignition gauge maxed out for the end. It's fortunate then that there is a diverse enough range of enemies that will actually put up a fight. The Mission and Soul Attack modes have the most variety, but even then you're still reaching the same goals most of the time. The variety is enough to keep you going, but again, you'll still run out of steam from the gradual monotony (so take breaks). The good thing about it though is that it distills Bleach to its base element, fighting, while still staying true to the events. I'd like to mention here that the Story mode actually operates close to continuity, which includes a certain restriction in the final Episode; makes sense to me.

Technically speaking, the graphics on the environment and character models are incredibly faithful and serve as perhaps the best 3D representation of the franchise. The voice acting matches this devotion to the product, using the same voice actors to reprise their roles from the source anime to make it more consistent. I also liked the soundtrack, which uses a heavy metal style to accentuate the action and help the immersion with the music style of the anime, though I'm sure some will disagree with me on this. Sound Effects are also used and mixed properly so that they aren't particularly annoying.

I do have a couple of complaints about my experience, one of which is a lot more major than the other. The most major regards the lock-on feature, specifically the fact that it's a little broken. To be quite honest, I have almost no idea how it picks what enemy you want to focus on, but it might not actually be the one you really want to strike. It's helpful that it picks enemies that are behind you when no one is in front, but even if you adjust the camera so that you get to the one group you want to kill, it will reorient itself back again to target someone else, a move that can cost precious time and your combo. As a result, I used it much less when I had my target in my sights or I tried to fool it to point where I wanted. The more minor complaint moreso comes from me as a fan, specifically the unlockable character Kōkuto; it's not that he's bad, it's just that I have absolutely no idea who he is. He and Skullclad Ichigo are from the fourth Bleach movie, but the movie isn't available in English yet and the game provides absolutely no context or explanation, which will surely confuse existing fans that haven't seen the movie in Japanese.

Overall, Bleach: Soul Resurrección is an interesting anime licensed game, with solid gameplay and a great dedication to detail. However, some may be turned off by the amount of time you'd need to devote to access everything (I've done over 18 hours and still haven't seen it all) or, for some inexplicable reason, the fact that it's an anime licensed game. It's definitely made with fans of Bleach in mind, so I would tell outsiders that if you want to start somewhere with Bleach, do not make it this game. The loose representation of the story won't completely fill you in on the events, so I'd say to read the original manga first. For everyone else, consider a discount purchase.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Stubs - Psycho


File:Psycho (1960).jpg

PSYCHO (1960) Starring: Anthony Perkins, Vera Miles, John Gavin and Janet Leigh. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay by Joseph Stefano. Based on the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch.  Music by Bernard Hermann.  Produced by Alfred Hitchcock Run Time: 100. Black and White US. Suspense/Horror

Last week, we looked at A Cabin in the Woods, a satire on the horror/slasher genre; this week, Psycho, the original and perhaps greatest slasher film. But to limit any analysis to the slasher aspects of the film would be a mistake, because there is much more to this film than that. This was a film that literally broke new ground and we are still living in its aftermath, as moviegoers, even if you don’t realize it.

Out of deference to the original advertising campaign, I am not going to be revealing any plot points or talk about cast. I will talk about particular scenes, but I will try not to give away too much as part of the joy of the film is to see the twists and turns. Which brings me to the first thing that Psycho changed, start times. As a modern moviegoer, we’re used to finding showings listed online or in the newspaper and we know, or should know, to get to our seats before that time, even though the movie might not actually start until after several minutes of ads and previews.

However, before Psycho, a moviegoer would do just that, go, buy a ticket and sit. Maybe the movie might have just started, or be near the end. Watch an older movie and you’ll see ushers showing people to their seats when someone enters a theater. That’s because the lights are out and the movie is playing. When Psycho came out that all changed. Because Hitchcock wanted the movie to be seen from start to twisty finish, no one would be admitted to the theater after the presentation had started. You had to know the start time and have bought a ticket before. Sound familiar? Well it was oh so new in 1960.

While the film currently bears an R rating from the MPAA, when it was first released, no such ratings existed. The ratings as we know them wouldn’t be given until 1968. At the time of Psycho’s production, the film production code, which all filmmakers in Hollywood were required to follow, was starting to crumble. Films were censored by the industry, by a precursor of the current MPAA. Scripts were reviewed and films were approved.

If you’ve ever seen Psycho, you will no doubt have seen things that weren’t shown in films before and I’m not referring to the violence, we’ll get to that. But one of the groundbreaking elements was the flushing of a toilet. While that is not scandalous it had simply never been shown in a movie up to then. And anything that had never been done before is always a controversy. Some censors had problems with it, but the flushing toilet made it through.

The word transvestite is also said in the film; another first. But again censors don’t like new things. They were concerned about the sexual meaning of the word, but when screenwriter Stefano showed them there was none, by looking the word up in the dictionary, the censors relented.

There is also a certain sexuality that had not been in films before. We see two lovers on the same bed and Janet Leigh in a bra and slip. Again, like a toilet, what’s the big deal? However, the production code forbade it. Ever wonder why there are so many twin beds in older movies? A man and a woman were not supposed to be on the same bed at the same time, let alone in a state of undress. However, Psycho shows just that. And it’s not that the censors missed it or gave a filmmaker of Hitchcock’s stature a pass. No. They wanted the scene reshot and Hitchcock was willing to oblige, offering to do so with the censors on the set. However, they never showed up and the scene stayed in the film.

Then there is nudity. Not much, really. I will mention the shower scene here. If you’ve never ever heard of the film, then stop reading this review now and go rent it, borrow it, buy it or stream it. Then come back to Trophy Unlocked and continue reading. We’ll wait for you. Otherwise, I’m going to assume that if you’ve never seen the movie, you’ve at least heard of the infamous shower scene. Are we all ready? Then let’s continue. You can’t kill a woman while she’s taking a shower, without there being nudity or at least the allusion of nudity. And for the most part what you get are allusions. The film deftly shows much, but cuts away with one exception: A blurry pair of a body double’s breasts. If you watch for them they’re there.

Again, like the toilet, the censors saw them, at least some did. Hitchcock took back the footage, but did nothing. When he resubmitted the scene for approval, apparently not every censor saw them so it passed through.

And since we’re talking about the shower scene, what about the violence? How can someone (I’m not saying who) take a knife to someone (I’m not saying who) without there being blood and gore? Yes, there is some blood and not as much as you would see today, but there is no gore. For all the violence depicted on the screen and  the terror it may have inflicted on the audience of the day, you never see the knife inflict any damage. Again, this is how a master filmmaker handles the boundaries of his day. Hitchcock pushes and twists, but he is restrained. He even avoids some of the more over the top violence that is depicted in the novel it’s based on. Being the first also means that he did not have to escalate to shock his audience. And the film is the better for it, really.

But perhaps the most powerful scene is one that has not been discussed here and one that if you’ve never seen the movie, I don’t want to give away. There was definitely a reason why Hitchcock wanted the audience to see the movie from beginning to end and then not to give away the ending to their friends. I will oblige Hitch and not say anything more about it.

Like most older films, Psycho has to be viewed as what it meant at the time of its release. This movie had an impact on filmmaking and film going. There is nothing scandalous about it now, though you should not show it to children. This is a mature film, intended for adults. But as an adult you will not see anything in Psycho that you can’t see on TV now. And in some cases, it is what’s not seen that makes the film so powerful and one worthy of watching over fifty years later.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Journey Collector's Edition


Sony has put out HD collections in the past, but recently they have begun further branding them under an umbrella Collection banner. To show this new branding, four collections were released on the same day, including God of War Saga, Infamous Collection, Ratchet & Clank Collection, and Journey Collector's Edition, the last of these being unaffected by this new branding. On this blog, we wish to discuss the first three of these collections at later points (just as soon as we can acquire them), but right now, let's focus on Journey Collector's Edition.

The main focus and draw of this collection stems from the fact that it includes Thatgamecompany's PSN titles, Flow, Flower, and Journey. This collection works differently from others I have seen, in that rather than each game being ready to play right off the disk, you must install them to your system first. Fortunately, for those who already have any of these games already on their PS3, the disk will actually recognize whether or not its already there, thus saving you the trouble of having to go through the game again in order to obtain a new set of trophies. In this way, this bundle is actually smart. What I personally find neat about the main menu (yes, I'm talking about a menu screen) is that the images representing these three games look like amazing movie posters.

Aside from these three acclaimed games, this collection also has three bonus mini-games that haven't been released by Thatgamecompany, known as Gravediggers, Duke War!!, and Nostril Shot. Since I don't want to go into too much detail about these mini-games, I will just briefly tell you what I think of each one. Gravediggers has a unique concept, in which two or more players play as gravediggers while competing to collect the most zombie skulls; it has great implementation, though it's charm comes from its resemblance to an Atari 2600 game, which should please fans of old-school gaming. Duke War!! also has an interesting idea, in which multiple people playing as dukes compete to collect the most money for a king with the help of peasants, which can actually be pretty competitive; this game has its own charm as well, thanks to some humorous voice acting and graphics resembling drawings on a whiteboard. Nostril Shot, on the other hand, isn't exactly my cup of tea personally; you play as a space maiden shooting at swarms of enemies, with the power to change whether you can shoot or charge at them, presumably with multiple players; I couldn't really get into this one, nor could I get a full grasp on it, particularly how someone else can join in, but on the upside it does faithfully recreate the look and feel of an old arcade game.

While the presence of three games previously released as downloads may turn off owners of those games, there's still plenty of extras for those that have already played them. Aside from the games themselves, the collection also includes concept art galleries and soundtracks for each of the main games, as well as trailers and other videos that provide more insight on each game from behind the scenes. At least the Flower soundtrack has also already been released via PSN (from my knowledge), but it's still worth checking out.

My only complaint, however, is the lack of the game Cloud. Before Thatgamecompany existed, its founders Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago, along with other students from University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts, developed a game called Cloud that was released through Microsoft Windows. It would have been nice to see the game make an appearance here, but this likely would have involved more development time and Sony probably wanted to just use the games Thatgamecompany had under their contract. Oh well, you can't always get what you want.

So, is Journey Collector's Edition worth a purchase? While there's plenty of extras to entice those that have already bought one or more of the featured games, it's probably better for those who have not played any of them yet. In either case, however, I would tell you to consider purchasing it, especially if you're like me and you prefer having things in a tangible medium. (Plus, if you get it new, you also get a code for 24 free Flower and Journey avatars.)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Flow (PS3)


I am currently in the process of playing Journey Collector's Edition, which I received as a gift, with the intent of reviewing it upon completion. It has occurred to me that of the 3 main games included in the package, I still had not yet played or reviewed Thatgamecompany's first game, Flow (stylized flOw), which I understand has been very well received. Thanks to the aforementioned collection, I decided it was about time I played their first game after putting it off for so long. And now, without further ado, here is my review of Flow.

In Flow, you control a microorganism within a vast array of water. As you advance deeper into your environment, you can extend the creature's length and size by eating smaller organisms floating around each level, or by killing larger forms of microscopic life and eating the smaller life that remains of them. Once you complete your journey through the water, you unlock a new organism so you start it over again.

Controlling your organism is very simple. Movement simply requires you to tilt your controller, while quite literally almost any button will give you a short boost. These boosts are limited, but you can acquire more by eating, and the visual effect of these boosts and how they work depends entirely on the organism. Due to the simplicity of the controls, anyone who is capable of holding a controller can start playing. In fact, the game encourages anyone nearby to, in its words, dive in. When playing with multiple people, the game can get somewhat competitive as you try to snag as much food as possible to grow your microscopic life.

The visuals of the game are simple, yet intriguing at the same time. There's something about it that sucks you in and makes you not want to leave, much like Thatgamecompany's later titles. There's beauty in this simplicity, to where I soon found myself thinking of the game as a work of art more than a game. These visuals are accompanied by an equally elegant soundtrack, which helps the immersion further. As you continue playing, you may find yourself thinking that, as the game says, life could be simple.

Flow may be simple, but its beauty comes from that simplicity. This game also serves as amazing example of art in the form of a game, and its something you want to keep admiring until you absorb every last detail. If you own a PS3, you owe it to yourself to play this game, whether through Journey Collector's Edition or direct download from PSN.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Sly Collection - It's A Steal


Due to school and a number of other factors, playing this collection for a review took longer than expected (and somewhat decreased my recent output). In any case, reviewing this collection means our build-up to Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time is drawing to a close (but it's not quite done yet). Released a couple years ago, The Sly Collection was developed by Sanzaru Games, due to Sucker Punch being busy with the Infamous series, after God of War Collection started and popularized HD remakes. Supposedly, the people at Sanzaru are big fans of Sly Cooper, so they were given the task of remastering the PS2 trilogy as a sort of test. Having recently finished another playthrough of these games, I would say they passed with flying colors.

While there isn't any change in the gameplay, there certainly is some in the graphics. The visuals of the games look more refined than their earlier counterparts and seem to run a little smoother at times. However, there is a minor difference I noticed while playing photograph missions, regarding the photos themselves. In the original PS2 versions of Sly 2 and 3, when a photo is taken, it stops to show what you took while zooming out a little and tilting slightly to the right; in their PS3 remasters, the photo just stays there without moving. To be fair, while it does sound silly that I'm going into such detail over a minor change, I found it fairly noticeable after playing the original games before playing the collection.

To increase the collection's replay value, Sanzaru has included a few special minigames, each utilizing the functionality of the PlayStation Move. These games primarily involve shooting/moving through targets, and the trophies associated with them aren't too difficult to get when playing solo. When played with another person however, these games actually become somewhat more competitive. The Move controls also work extremely well and move with 100% accuracy (whether the icon perfectly follows the glowing orb depends on your calibration) without any sort of lag. While it is possible to use a regular controller for these minigames, as well as being able to outdo a Move user half the time, I would recommend using the Move instead, if only due to increased accuracy and speed. (As a side note, these games are only local multiplayer, so fans expecting online play are out of luck.)

Despite these improvements however, I still ran into some technical difficulties. During my replay of Sly 2, I had a moment where, while playing as Bentley, I was literally knocked out of the game level while inside a deadly corridor, thus costing me the mission and forcing me to start over from scratch. I would also recommend not leaving your disk in the system for too long, since a couple times when I ended up doing that, I encountered some static from the audio that made affected cutscenes and subsequent gameplay harder to understand, requiring me to exit the game and start it back up again. I also had the sound drop out completely once during Sly 3, which again required a restart to get it going again. Aside from this and a single game freeze, there wasn't that much wrong with it technically speaking.

Before I end this review, I would also like to bring up a small comment on the 3D capability, but not concerning whether it works or not since I didn't use a 3D television. As I have said before, Sly 3 has an option where certain levels can be played in 3D via a pair of special glasses that can cause eye strain. In the HD remaster, these levels are presumably done by using the functionality of a 3D set. I'm assuming you only get the screen giving you the option when you're playing on one of these sets, because I did not see that screen at all while playing, so character dialogue referring to "optimizer goggles" otherwise seems to come out of nowhere.

The Sly Collection is a must-have for Sly Cooper fans who want to see their favorite characters again in glorious HD, technical issues aside. For those who don't have a PS2 but still want to experience the original Sly trilogy, this is a good way to do just that. Plus, combining the clue bottles from the first two games, the time trials from the first game, the multiplayer games and extra missions in the third game, and the minigames included with this collection, you get an incredible amount of replay value that offers more bang for your buck.

Stubs – Dr. No


DR. NO (1962) Starring: Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman, Ursula Andress, Jack Lord, John Kitzmiller. Directed by Terence Young. Screenplay by Richard Malbaum, Johanna Harwood, Berkeley Mather. Based on Ian Fleming’s novel Dr. No.  Produced by Harry Saltzman, Albert R. Broccoli. Run Time: 110. Color. UK. Action, Espionage

Fifty years ago on October 5, 1962, two monumental events occurred in British culture that have resonated across the globe. On this date, The Beatles released their first single on Parlophone records, Love Me Do b/w P.S. I Love You. The single did well, climbing to number 17 on the British charts, thanks in large part to orders from NEMS record store in Liverpool. Brian Epstein, the Beatles manager also happened to run NEMS. The Beatles next single Please Please Me in 1963, would do much better climbing to Number 1 and the next seven years the group would not only dominate the British pop charts, but also everywhere else in the world. They are still to this day the standard by which other rock and pop musical artists are judged. (See reviews of their films by clicking here.)

Also on that date, the first James Bond film, Dr. No, opened, based on the popular novel by Ian Fleming. In the intervening 50 years, there have been 24 Bond films, with the 25th, Skyfall, opening next month. The film series now the second highest grossing just behind the eight Harry Potter films, has gone through several changes, including seven different actors playing the title role of the spy with a license to kill.

(On a side note, October 5, 1969 saw the first Monty Python’s Flying Circus episode on the BBC, but that’s an entry for another blog.)

Watching the first Bond film, especially against more current incarnations, you can see the elements of the franchise being formed. Dr. No is in many ways a primer for the rest of the series. To begin with, the opening title sequence to future films seem to use this one as a model. They will get more polished and the production values will get better, but the targeting of the Bond character and his subsequent shooting of the sniper started here.

We get a peek into the infrastructure of M16, the British organization that employs Bond and gives him double 0 status, which allows him to kill when necessary. His boss in this film and in every subsequent Bond film is M. Here it is played by Bernard Lee.

Then there is the Bond theme, that quintessential piece of music that has played in every Eon-produced Bond film since. It is much like hearing a fanfare from one of the Star Wars films. The experience is not complete without it. Connery also delivers the “Bond. James Bond” line for the first time as well as drinks his vodka martini shaken not stirred.

Bond is a womanizer, sleeping with three women in this film. But there is no nudity and the sex is always off screen. That is also a characteristic of the franchise which alludes to the sex, but avoids the down and dirty. We have the first Bond Girl, Ursula Andress (aka Ursula Undress for subsequent roles and Playboy photo spreads), as Honey Ryder. And we also have Miss Moneypenny (here played by Lois Maxwell), whom Bond flirts with before and after his meeting with M.

And of course, we have a well-funded villain, Dr. Julius No (Joseph Wiseman), a millionaire Chinese businessman, who is part of an organization called SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), with a vague mission of taking over the world. [Ever wonder where the TV show, the Man from U.N.C.L.E. (United Network Command for Law Enforcement) got THRUSH, or Get Smart got CONTROL and KAOS? Acronyms were all the rage in the 60’s.]

But this is not the high tech heavy product placement show that Bond films have become. There are really no gadgets, so no Q. The only thing Bond gets is a new gun. I don’t believe he even drives an Astin Martin in the film, a car that would be synonymous with Bond.

The story starts with the assassination of the British Intelligence Station Chief in Jamaica, John Strangways (Timothy Moxon) and his secretary by three assassins, introduced to the tune of Three Blind Mice. M (Bernard Lee) sends James Bond (Connery) to investigate and to see if it is connected to Strangways work with the CIA on radio interference effecting launches from Cape Canaveral.

Upon his departure from the plane, a female photographer tries to take Bond’s photo and he is greeted by a driver who tells him he’s from Government House. A quick phone call to Pleydell-Smith (Louis Blaazer) at Government House determines that no such car was sent, but Bond gets in anyway. They are followed by two men in a convertible, but they manage to pull off the road and the convertible passes by. When Bond interrogates the driver about who sent him, the driver takes a bite out of a cyanide laced cigarette and commits suicide rather than talk.

Bond continues with his investigation, going to Strangways’ house. There he finds a receipt for work done by Professor R.J. Dent (Anthony Dawson) and locates a photo of Strangways with a boatman that he later finds out is named Quarrel (John Kitzmiller), whom Bond recognizes as the driver of the chase car from the airport. At first, Quarrel is uncooperative, but Bond follows him to a local bar where he promises to talk in private. But Quarrel, with the help of the owner of the bar, tries to beat up Bond. However, Bond is able to turn the tables on them and is only stopped when the second man in the chase car shows up. He turns out to be CIA agent, Felix Leiter (Jack Lord), whom Bond had been told would help him.

Leiter reveals that the CIA had determined that the radio interference was coming from the vicinity of Jamaica, but that aerial photography could not reveal the source. Quarrel tells them that he had taken Strangways around to the various islands, where Strangways would take samples. However, there was one island that they had to sneak onto, Crab Key, which is owned by a mysterious Dr. No. On the island is a bauxite mine, which Dr. No protects with armed security and radar.

Bond takes the receipt to Professor Dent, who tells him that Strangways had brought him rock samples, which Dent determined were worthless and discarded. Dent, though is alarmed and takes a boat out to Crab Key to see Dr. No, who is displeased that Dent has been unable to kill Bond. He gives Dent a tarantula to put into Bond’s bedroom.

When he catches Playdell-Smith’s secretary, Miss Taro (Zena Marshall), listening at the door, he doesn’t turn her in, but rather invites her to show him the island. She reluctantly agrees.

When Bond tests Quarrel’s boat, where Strangways samples were stored, with a Geiger counter that he picked up at Government House, he find that it is still radioactive. He shares what he finds out with Leiter and together they convince a reluctant Quarrel to return to Crab Key. Quarrel is nervous because legend has it that there is a dragon on the island, but Leiter tries to convince him that it is a rumor circulated by Dr. No.

Miss Taro calls James to change their meeting from his hotel to her apartment, which happens to be located up some deserted road off a cement factory. It is of course a ruse and Bond is nearly run off the rugged mountain road. But instead, and as always, he turns the tables and the car chasing him is the one that goes over the railings to a fiery death.

Miss Taro is surprised that James has shown up at her door and calls into her boss for instructions. She is told to keep him occupied for a couple of hours. What better to way then to have sex? But Bond must sense this is a set up. He calls for a cab under the guise that his car is won’t start, but the cab turns out to be the police, who take Miss Taro into custody. Then Bond goes back into the apartment to wait for his assassin to arrive. That turns out to be Professor Dent, who empties his gun into a pillow Bond has arranged on the bed. When Dent’s gun is empty, Bond reveals himself. But Dent tries to escape and Bond cold-bloodedly kills him.

Later that night, Leiter, Quarrel and Bond head out to Crab Key. Leiter returns to the harbor with the motor boat, leaving Bond and Quarrel to row into shore. They manage to evade radar, hide the boat and get some sleep. The next morning, Bond meets Honey Ryder (Andress), a local girl who collects conch shells and looks really hot in her iconic white bikini.

While Honey doesn’t trust Bond at first, she leads Quarrel and him to her secret hiding place. But on the way, they are overrun by island security, but manage to escape capture. But their freedom is short-lived. That night, the three are besieged by the island’s legendary “dragon” which is an armored vehicle with a flamethrower attachment. In the brief fire fight, Quarrel is burned to death and Bond and Honey taken prisoner.

After being decontaminated, Bond and Honey are taken to a prison which more resembles a luxury hotel suite. But the two of them drink coffee that is drugged and they pass out. Later at dinner, Bond finally meets Dr. No (Wiseman), who reveals SPECTRE’s plan to disrupt the next American space launch with his atomic-powered radio beam. Honey is taken away by security and Bond is beaten by the guards and thrown into a real prison cell.

But Bond manages to escape through a vent and, dressed like a worker, manages to get into the control room, with an atomic reactor set in the floor, all overseen by Dr. No. Bond manages to slip past guards and overloads the nuclear reactor, just as the American spacecraft launches. Bond and Dr. No get into hand-to-hand combat, which results in the good-doctor being boiled alive in the nuclear reactor’s cooling vat.

On his way out, Bond rescues Honey from being drowned and the two escape in a motor boat, just as the island’s reactor explodes. Their boat runs out of fuel, but they are rescued by Leiter who has a bigger boat.

Viewing this film in hind-sight, which is the only way to look at it 50 years later, Dr. No seems quainter than subsequent films in this series. There is judo, but no parkour. The special effects are kept to a minimum. And this is somewhat more of a detective story than espionage film. Also, the pacing is slow by today’s standards, but that’s true with many films made before television dissected our attention span into five minute segments.

One reason to watch Dr. No is to see Sean Connery play James Bond. He seems born to play this part and watching subsequent actors play the part is sort of like watching someone else play Harry Potter other than Daniel Radcliffe or someone other than Yul Brenner in the King and I. Others could play the part, but they only pale by comparison.

If you’re a fan of Bond films, especially the ones with Daniel Craig or Pierce Brosnan, you owe it to yourself to see how the franchise started. Overall, this is a very solid film. And while the films may get better production values, the stories don’t always get bigger and better than this.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mirror's Edge (Comic) - A Broken Mirror


Since I've already taken a look at the Mirror's Edge video game a couple of weeks ago, I've finally gotten around to talking about the comic based on it published by Wildstorm, a former imprint of DC Comics. Since I didn't buy the individual issues when they were first published, I did end up getting the trade paperback, which I was able to read in one setting. I understand that DICE collaborated on the production, even using the same writer as the game, but for me it serves as a good example of the varying quality one can expect from video game tie-in comics.

Story-wise, the comic is supposed to serve as a prequel to the events of the game, exploring Faith's background and how she became a Runner. In theory, this is something that should be able to work, given that Rhianna Pratchett also wrote the game. It's a good opportunity to take the depth that wasn't in the game and potentially add some through the comic to explain more of the world the game is in. In practice, this doesn't really pan out all that well. To explain would require me to talk about it in stages, the first being how Faith becomes a Runner in the first place. It is consistent with the source material, utilizing the same backstory and showing us her training and getting accustomed to her new life while establishing how she interacts with others in her profession. On a lesser note, we also learn how and why Faith got her tattoos. This is the point where the comic sort of works, but it unfortunately is unable to carry the full weight of a six-issue miniseries.

The other stage would be revealing more about her family. Her sister Kate is at this point just starting out as a CPF officer, a cop for a city we still don't know the name of. The interactions they share are realistic in the context of the universe, but even though it supports the relationship they have in the game, this plays second fiddle to the real mystery surrounding their parents. What truly drives the comic is that someone is interested in Faith's dad for some reason, so she goes on a quest to find out where he is. She eventually does, confronting him about just what happened during and after the Libertas rebellion movement he lead. The answer is admittedly interesting, but it didn't really make me care about the character that much more. Talking about the mom for a moment, we find out that she was a great scientific mind and created the macguffin of the story, a highly advanced computer chip. What they end up doing when they discover the attention it attracts while in their possession makes sense, but it didn't turn out that exciting to watch (they just give it to the company that wants it).

The one thing that makes the comic nearly unbearable to read however is the artwork by Matthew Dow Smith. I have no experience with his other works and no clue how popular he is, but the way he tries to mimic the style of the game is simply awful and almost qualifies the comic as part of our survey of horror (but in a different way). It removes the flair from the action, important photos are rendered incomprehensible and there are no expressions on any of the characters; if you know what "dull surprise" is, then you already have a good idea of the art at work here (seriously, there's even a scene where Faith and Kate are thrown by an explosion and they still don't display any real emotion). In a startling contrast however, the covers for the comics are really good to look at, giving a sense of action or even scale in a way that the interior art simply couldn't. In an equally startling move, the trade paperback omits the cover of issue five and doesn't even have concept art for it, removing a proper transition between chapters four, five and six. Quality control at its finest.

Cover Art for Issue 6 (as seen in the trade)
In the end, I have mixed feelings toward the Mirror's Edge comic. Mostly it's underwhelming, with a halfway decent story marred by terrible artwork. Even then, the story doesn't have much depth to it and is only good for filling in the details of Faith's past, a path I would only tell big fans of the game to run along. If you're curious about picking up the trade however, just to see what Mirror's Edge is, then I would tell you not to let this be your first exposure to the series and find a different path to the end. In a time where video game comics have the potential to actually be good, it's sad that this simply can't deliver.