The Girl With All The Gifts & The Last of Us: A Dual Review With No Spoilers

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I watched The Girl With All The Gifts since I was very interested and decided it would be a good while before I could get to the book.

Well.

It’s…okay. It’s not the revelatory burst of cool originality I’d been led to believe, and it’s nowhere near as good as the other zombie flick I saw recently, the Korean Train To Busan which is a revelatory burst of cool and one of the best films in this genre ever made.

The Girl With All The Gifts is kind of tedious, the characters sketchily drawn, and the story underdeveloped. That said, I’d have probably enjoyed it more if it weren’t for one thing:

I’ve played the video game The Last Of Us.

The Girl With All The Gifts is like a clumsy echo of The Last Of Us. It has a similar theme, similar setting, suspiciously similar ideas (The Last Of Us came out a year before the novel). I’m not saying it’s a rip-off, I doubt it is. But the thought occurs.

And while The Girl With All The Gifts is a so-so zombie flick with a few new ideas, The Last Of Us is a goddamned masterpiece.

The Last Of Us is one of those works of art which elevates its medium. It isn’t just possibly the greatest narrative game ever made, it isn’t just a more satisfying cinematic experience than most films…it is literature.

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The writing, the direction, the art design are all phenomenal. The acting — and acting it is, full motion capture by the actors, with all the subtleties and complexities of real life, and eyes full of humanity — is amazing, and moving, and heartrending. And the characters are real the way the best characters in any medium become real, we live with them and die with them and feel their pain and occasional bits of joy. The settings are gorgeous, a civilization fallen and returning to nature. And the music…good lord, the music. My wife Nydia and I both tear up when we hear just a few notes of this game’s theme.

The Last Of Us, all by itself, entirely justified the money I spent on my PlayStation 4. All other pleasures I get out of it are gravy.

The Girl With All The Gifts just can’t compete. The only reason I’ll remember it is because it’s such a dull shadow of the game that got there first.

Mad Max vs. Mad Max

Okay, we revisited The Road Warrior last night, and I need to update my statement in which I said it was better than Fury Road. Story-wise and character-wise, they’re both (to put it charitably) streamlined for speed. But there’s a lot more action in Fury Road, and its action is far more creative. Fury Road is visually gorgeous in a way Road Warrior never approaches. And the world building in Fury Road is astonishing, just the intricate texture of the world and its cultures, all depicted without laborious exposition. Even the political/feminist themes work, as bald and obvious as they are, but then even clumsy progress is progress (a lesson I wish a lot of fanatical progressives would learn).

As for Max himself, both Mel Gibson and Tom Hardy are fine in a role that gives them little to chew on. Gibson’s best character beat is his “You want to get out of here? You talk to me.” Hardy’s is a grudging thumbs-up he gives in an action sequence. Gibson does get to be the actual star of his own movie, though, which Hardy does not (Charlize Theron’s Furiosa isn’t much better as a character, but she does get to carry the plot).

Still ahead, we’ll rewatch Beyond Thunderdome to see how that compares. And they’ve already announced another flick with Hardy. But really, I’m looking forward to the Mad Max game for PS4 a lot more.

The Joker’s Cold, Cold Heart (ABC Wednesday & Song of the Week, 3/21/14)

The JokerThis week’s ABC Wednesday comes on Friday due to indecision and scheduling conflicts, and I’m combining it with the Song of the Week for efficiency’s sake.

I just completed the video game Batman: Arkham Origins. I’d gone into it with lowered expectations because, unlike the earlier Arkham games, this wasn’t written by the great Paul Dini, and it wasn’t developed by the original outfit, Rocksteady, but by a new developer using Rocksteady’s technical assets. I wasn’t just pleasantly surprised, I was blown away. The writing is probably the best in the games, with a strong storyline and some deeper insight into the characters’ minds; this is a grittier Arkham game (if that’s possible), with a more mature outlook. It operates on a more street-level scale than even Arkham City did, and does wondrous things with a full roster of Batman villains. And it has, by far, the best (and least video-gamey) boss fights in the series.

Most notable was the Joker. Now, for years Mark Hamill has owned this part both in animated and game forms. The fact that he wasn’t doing the vocals here was another point of trepidation. But let me tell you, Troy Baker is a phenomenal new Joker, playing the role with a similar manic energy but imbuing it with a subtle raspy cruelty that, I think, actually suits the character better. This Joker is genuinely creepy, and you get to play through Batman’s very first encounter with him. It’s really astonishing stuff. And if you play, just wait until you get to the Joker’s lair…it’s epic.

So, in celebration of Jokers past and present, I offer up this dark little number for song of the week.

“Cold Cold Heart” by The Joker (Troy Baker)

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I’ll return next Wednesday with the letter K. I hope you’ll stop by. I’m a writer and I post about a wide variety of non-alphabet-specific topics. Feel free to comment under my posts. If you want to subscribe to the blog, there’s a button in the sidebar.

Also, feel free try to check out my adventure novel Doc Wilde and The Frogs of DoomIt’s been very well reviewed (KIRKUS REVIEWS: “Written in fast-paced, intelligent prose laced with humor and literary allusions ranging from Dante to Dr. Seuss, the story has all of the fun of old-fashioned pulp adventures.”) and is great for action-adventure lovers of all ages.

DOC WILDE AND THE FROGS OF DOOM

For another fun ABC Wednesday post, visit the Carioca Witch here: Bringing Up Salamanders.

Find many more posts by others, and more info on ABC Wednesday, here: ABC Wednesday

“Batman: Arkham Origins” Looks Badass

Batman

Ladies and gentlemen, I am STOKED.

This series is not only some of the best Batman ever, it’s some of the greatest gaming ever. My love for it is already a matter of record.

And yet again a CGI game trailer shows that they really shouldn’t need to be waiting for Hollywood to get its head out of its ass to give us good flicks of Halo, God of War, or other great games, not to mention the possibilities for animated comic book fare.

Kara (A Brilliant, Touching Science Fiction Short Film)

This amazing short film was made by the video game developer Quantic Dream (Heavy Rain) to showcase their latest game technology. In the process they created a short piece of science fiction that’s both gorgeous to the eye and very moving…

Adventures In Customer Service: Guild Wars (NCSOFT)

Years ago, I got into Guild Wars, loved the game, and have been looking forward to Guild Wars 2. I also played some City of Heroes, which is from the same company, NCSOFT.

My favorite character to play in Guild Wars was a ranger/warrior named Otter of Darkwood. Lean and shapely, with long auburn hair, I enjoyed her so much I rebuilt her in several other games I’ve tried over the years, like Age of Conan and Oblivion.

This morning, I remembered Otter and figured I’d pop into the game and kill some things with her. (The shot above I found on my computer, taken long ago).

I clicked on the dusty old Guild Wars icon, and the game went into its auto-update mode, drawing in all the changes and such that have occurred in the many long months since I entered its world. Finally it was ready. I signed in.

And got an error message telling me my account was banned.

Continue reading

Good Memories of 2010, Day 6: Red Dead Redemption

My son asks me periodically what my favorite videogame of all time is. In the past, Halo and God of War (both as trilogies) and Batman: Arkham Asylum have occupied the top spot, depending on my mood when he asked me. But the last time he asked, I said Red Dead Redemption.

RDR is ostensibly a distant sequel to Red Dead Revolver, which I reviewed a long time ago here, but it’s really a sequel only in titular branding. The earlier game was an arcadish shooter in a small world, with a whisper-thin story (and hideous voice acting). The new game is so much more. Continue reading

Good Memories of 2009, Day 8: Ghostbusters

Ghostbusters, The Video Game

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Written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, this is pretty much an official sequel to the first two films, and is a lot better than the movie Ghostbusters 2. A lot.

The original actors return to do their own voice and motion-capture performances. Bill Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis, and Ernie Hudson as the intrepid foursome, Annie Potts as their nerdily hot secretary Janine, William Atherton as bureaucratic douche-bag Walter Peck, with Alyssa Milano and Brian Doyle Murray joining the cast as the new love interest and the mayor.

The player takes the role of the new guy, a young rookie stuck with the job of trying out the newest, untested equipment. That equipment of course includes the proton beam, the ghost trap, and the PKE meter from the films, but you get three new weapon types to play around with (the slime gun proving the most fun).

The game captures every element of the Ghostbusters franchise perfectly. The writing is sharp and clever. The performances are lively and dead on. The gameplay is tight and exactly what it should be. The locations are complex and colorful and highly destructible. And the ghosts are varied, entertaining, and multifarious.

The storyline is far better than I’d expected. It starts in familiar territory, with new encounters with old friends like Slimer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, and to be honest I had my doubts about that. But they fully rationalize the inclusion of the old stuff, making it an organic part of the present storyline, allowing you to enjoy the nostalgic encounters early in the game, then moving into lots of new, original material. I’m glad they did this. It was loads of fun blasting the Hotel Sedgwick to pieces, and the battle with Mr. Stay Puft proves to be even more epic and fun than it was in the first film.

Apparently the actors all had so much fun making the game, they finally agreed to do another film, and Ghostbusters 3 is set to start filming next summer.

I played this on the Xbox 360. It’s available on PC and Playstation 3, but if you’re deciding between the Xbox and the PS3 version, definitely go Xbox. The PS3 version’s resolution is 56% of the Xbox version (I base this on several online sources, not on my own observations, and I have both machines, so I’m not speaking out of any particular brand loyalty). There is a Wii version as well, but it’s effectively a different game, with more cartoony graphics.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Good Memories of 2009, Day 1: Arkham Asylum

As I did a year ago, I’m going to list a few things that I truly enjoyed during the recently deposed year, in no particular order. This year, though, I’m going to serialize the list for a few days. Today’s entry is

Batman: Arkham Asylum

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One of the best damn games I’ve ever played. Written by the brilliant Paul Dini, one of the chief creatives on Batman: The Animated Series, it featured voice work by actors from that esteemed cartoon including Kevin Conroy as Batman, Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn, and Mark Hamil as the Joker. With incredible graphics and design, the game follows Batman through one very long night on the island whereon the titular criminal madhouse is located, after the Joker takes over and lets many other villains out.

Arkham proves an ideal setting for adventure, coming to life in a way few locations in games ever do and never getting old. The game’s only weakness is in its boss fights, structured, alas, like video game boss fights, and are the only times the game’s contrivances remind you you’re in a game.

In this game, you really get to feel what it’s like to be Batman. Drop into a pack of thugs and efficiently take them down in seconds with acrobatic, bone-breaking martial arts. Steal through the night, lurking in the shadows above armed goons, swooping to take them out one by one without alerting their comrades. Use incredible gadgets to set traps, gather intelligence, and overcome obstacles. Investigate, using your tech and brilliant detective skills to solve mysteries and track your foes.

The character designs are amazing, managing to be original while remaining completely true to the characters’ histories. Killer Croc is dinosaurian and terrifying. The Scarecrow is creepier than ever. The Joker is manic and crazy-eyed. Poison Ivy is more inhumanly sexy than in any prior incarnation. And Batman is an armored engine of dark destruction, whose costume over the course of the game shows more and more damage, and who even gradually develops a five o’clock shadow on his square jaw. The attention to detail in the characters, and the world, is fantastic.

An utterly amazing game, and a sequel was just announced, which creates a flood of endorphins in my system when I think about it.

It’s A Hard Knock Life (for Kev and Alice)

Now here’s something you really need to see.

A blog by Robin Burkinshaw relates the poignant ongoing tale of a homeless father and daughter trying to survive in a harsh world. But the harsh world in which they live is inside a computer, and the pair exist only in that virtual realm:

This is an experiment in playing a homeless family in The Sims 3. I created two Sims, moved them in to a place made to look like an abandoned park, removed all of their remaining money, and then attempted to help them survive without taking any job promotions or easy cash routes…

I have attempted to tell my experiences with the minimum of embellishment. Everything I describe in here is something that happened in the game. What’s more, a surprising amount of the interesting things in this story were generated by just letting go and watching the Sims’ free will and personality traits take over.

Apparently The Sims has evolved to a point in which the artificial intelligence and social dynamics systems are damned near organic. The Sims have dreams, goals, and emotions and their behavior is driven by those qualities, resulting in complex relationships and interpersonal drama.

This is Kev and his daughter Alice. They’re living on a couple of park benches, surviving on free meals from work and school, and the occasional bucket of ice cream from a neighbour’s fridge.

When you create a person in The Sims 3, you can give them personality traits that determine their behaviour. Kev is mean-spirited, quick to anger, and inappropriate. He also dislikes children, and he’s insane. He’s basically the worst Dad in the world…

His daughter Alice has a kind heart, but suffers from clumsiness and low self-esteem. With those traits, that Dad, and no money, she’s going to have a hard life.

Continue reading

The Truth about the Columbine Killers

An interesting article in the USA Today updates our knowledge about the two losers who shot up their classmates at Columbine, and puts the lie to much of the information that has been parcelled out over the years:

These are not ordinary kids who were bullied into retaliation,” psychologist Peter Langman writes in his new book, Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters. “These are not ordinary kids who played too many video games. These are not ordinary kids who just wanted to be famous. These are simply not ordinary kids. These are kids with serious psychological problems.

The whole article is quite interesting, and can be read here.

CARNAGE!

What’s the term?

Oh yeah.

OMFG.

The reports are popping up from Sony’s exhibition for journalists of God of War 3, coming sometime for the Playstation 3, and it sounds incredible. Michael McWhertor at Kotaku says it’s “like a threesome for your eyes.”

For the uninitiated, the God of War series follows the adventures of a belligerent Spartan antihero named Kratos as he cleaves his way through ancient Greek mythology. Kratos is one of the best fantasy characters in any medium to appear in many years, the reworking of and visual design for the places and creatures of myth in the games is amazing, and the stories are truly epic both in scope and scale. Though the games are all about savage action, there is even true pathos in Kratos’s tale…particularly when you finally discover what happened to his family, and where his skin attained the ash-white color that led to his being called the “Ghost of Sparta.” Kratos doesn’t have a bad attitude, he is bad attitude incarnate, but he has reason.

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I love God of War. The first two games were on the Playstation 2, and they were gorgeous, pushing that console’s tech to its limits. The actual third game, God of War: Chains of Olympus, was made for the PSP handheld, and captured the GOW experience perfectly even on a totable screen. God of War 3, on the Playstation 3, promises to be exponentially more impressive; the character model for Kratos alone this time around (with actual muscle flexing and skin that has pores) takes up four times the amount of memory that the PS2 had in full.  Apparently much of the game actually has Kratos traveling across levels that are literally the bodies of the mythical Titans, moving around while he’s battling on them like animate mountains; Sony says that the Medusa level from GOW 2 (the largest level in the existing games) would fit in the palm of the Titan Gaia’s hand in GOW 3.

I’m really excited about this game, and I’m ready, because we have a PS3. We already had an Xbox 360, but I finally bit the wallet and got the Playstation a few months back, once the Blu-Ray/HD DVD war ended in Blu-Ray’s favor. But I’d decided months prior that I’d be getting a PS3, the day I saw the announcement that God of War 3 was in development.

Here’s the new trailer. Note that it’s not just a CGI cinematic, it’s fully rendered in the game engine, so you’re seeing the game itself (and not even in its final, fully developed form)…

Better Red Dead? Here’s Hopin’.

rdrI’ve seen some reports that Rockstar Games (the maker of the Grand Theft Auto series) is bringing out a sequel to their Western shooter Red Dead Revolver. Unlike the original game, which was very arcadish in structure and limited in the scope of its gamespace, Red Dead Redemption will be an open world sandbox-style game, like Gun (which I loved, and was in most ways far better than RDRevolver), but hopefully with far more to do.

On the off-chance that the developers ever stumble across this entry, I’ll post the Amazon review I wrote of the original game, and maybe it’ll help steer them away from some of its weaknesses in the new game: Continue reading