Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I Suck at Fighting Games

Today I bought Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition, because I was in the mood for a style of game I haven't played in years, and no sooner had I turned it on and started going through the ladder did I come to the realization that'd I'd been denying for years: I suck at fighting games.

I struggle with combos. I forget my block button exists. I can barely execute special attacks, and the one thing I want to see the most, because I loved it so much in the original, Fatalities, I can't perform to save my life. Even the simple fatalities are out of my reach, causing my character to appear to be having a seizure...when not jumping around wildly. No matter how hard I try or how many hours I sink into this genre, I never get better.

Mortal Kombat is the only fighting game I have purchased for my Xbox 360. On some level, I've always known how terrible I am. I never pumped quarters into Street Fighter or Tekken at the arcade growing up. I watched my friends play Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat 2, but I never joined them. If I had a friend over, we usually took turns against the computer, because I knew it was a waste of time to play another person.

Fighting games are my kryptonite, and because I'm so bad, they make me angry. They make me furious. In a rage, I once snapped Soulcalibur 3 in half when trying to progress through Chronicles Mode. After that moment of shame, I steered clear from all fighting games for years, yet I couldn't resist Mortal Kombat.

I have very fond memories of the original and its sequel. I don't think I'd ever seen blood in a video game until then. The new Mortal Kombat captures the original well while still hosting an expansive list of playable characters from the franchise and beyond, including Freddy Krueger.

Unfortunately, as amazing as the game is with its different modes and challenges and unlockables, I'm downright terrible. I just spent a forty-five minute session cursing at my TV, unable to win against Shao Kahn. Let me be clear, there's little to nothing wrong with the new Mortal Kombat. The only problem is my inability, even after Training Mode and two hours of practice, to do anything even remotely exciting with the characters.

Though I won't be returning the game, too stubborn to admit defeat, I think it's about time I do the right thing and stop buying fighting games. If I haven't improved in this genre after twenty years, it's safe to say this is not my genre. Despite the temptations I had earlier this week, I will forgo Injustice.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Gaming Frenzy

In between yard work, odd jobs around the house, and work, I've taken advantage of Steam's annual summer sale. I now have more video games on my computer than I know what to do with, and it's a crazy feeling. Every time I sit down to play something, I look at my new list and can't decide; I dabble a little on each and move to the next game, waiting for one of them to consume me.

So far, Orcs Must Die 2 is the frontrunner. I held off on making this purchase until I saw it listed for around three dollars, skeptical that I would be able to transition from the original on Xbox 360 to my computer, but after the intro level, I felt at home with the controls. I would say the controls are even smoother on the PC than a console, making weapon switches in the middle of combat a breeze. This sequel has the same look and feel as the original with slight changes to the leveling system. Rather than skill trees, points are allotted into weapons, traps, trinkets, and costumes, the costumes being purely cosmetic. There's also an additional character called a sorceress with different traps and builds. The result accommodates a wide array of play styles, co-op, mass orc killing, and a whole lot of replayability--it surpassed my expectations.

As a gift from a friend, I tried the Indie title The Binding of Isaac. Right away I noticed the similarity between this game and the Legend of Zelda. It incorporates a dungeon system almost identical to Zelda in appearance (with blood stains) and movement, with locking doors, bombs, keys, and frustrating boss battles. Though the game appears to be simple, it's very dependent on luck and skill. To take down Mother, who wants to sacrifice Isaac to God, one must study the patterns of twisted enemies, gather the best weapons and items, have keen reflexes, and cross your fingers the randomized system doesn't stick you with junk early on.

While scouring Steam for sales (I got my eye on FF VII), I downloaded DOTA 2. I've heard about this franchise over the years but never played. I'm a newb, still running through the training levels and trying to decide what hero suits me the best. There's a ridiculous amount to choose from, and each one that I've used has played differently. Despite the game appearing to have simple team objectives, the simulated runs that I've done against bots are complex and layered. I'm not confident enough to join other players, having heard the community is harsh on people that don't know what they're doing.

I'm logging into Marvel Heroes as well, though the fever is nearly gone. This morning Cyclops dropped for me, and it's the first hero I've obtained that I didn't already own--I've received six Iron Man while using Iron Man and two Hawkeye while using Hawkeye and no costumes. My problem is due to the repetitiveness of the endgame; it's instanced versions of Story Mode, so when I received Cyclops part of my thrill dissipated when I realized I would have to trudge through Story Mode a sixth time with zero new content and no surprises. The developers are still balancing the heroes, ironing out bugs, and improving systems like crafting and random drops, so nothing has been added. Though they've stated they have plans for new zones, heroes, etc. I don't know how long it will take them. Other than new costumes I think cost too much to purchase, the content is roughly the same as it was a month and a half ago when it released--I'm considering shelving Marvel Heroes until there's additions to run my low level heroes through.

The only disappointment I've had this week is my purchase of Final Fantasy XIII-2, which I returned this morning after twenty hours of play. I'm a huge fan of the Final Fantasy franchise. Until the release of XIII, I never thought there would be a bad title, and I'd heard amazing things about its sequel. Unfortunately, it was not what I was looking for. The game is too linear; I miss the enormous open world exploration of the older Final Fantasy installments. The story and music were dull, as were the borderline-generic characters, and I wasn't compelled by the fighting or leveling systems at all--less automation and more choice would be preferred. The graphics were amazing, but that's about the only compliment I can give it. What I find even more boggling is that another installment of XIII is near to release. If any Final Fantasy titles were worthy of sequels, it would be Final Fantasy III (American), VII, VIII, or IX; I'd even take updated versions of them or a compilation over another yarn based off XIII.

In exchange for Final Fantasy XIII-2, I snagged the Game of the Year Edition of Dead Island. I'm not sure how it's going to be, but I plan to start playing sometime tonight, when I can turn off all the lights and create a dark atmosphere in my room. Until then, I'll be juggling my new purchases.

Happy gaming!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Man of Steel Review (Spoiler Alert)

I just returned from Man of Steel, and the whole ride home all I could think was, "This movie was trashed for no reason." Just to be upfront about my history with Superman, he was not one of my favorite heroes. I wouldn't even call myself a huge DC fan, other than Batman. To me, a lot of the DC comics weren't dark enough. I have a total of ten Superman comics in my collection, most of which pertain to his death and battle with Doomsday. The old Christopher Reeves movies were not really my thing either. Though I thought he portrayed a perfect Clark Kent, especially the hokey, humorous aspects, I always felt there was something lacking when Reeves came out of the phone booth.

When I started reading reviews calling Man of Steel too dark and too action-packed, I realized this Superman movie could be the version for me. The critics and disgruntled fans were not wrong, yet what they hated about the movie are the aspects I loved. The movie was dark, bordering on a Batman-style tale. It was action-packed--finally, Director Zack Snyder progressed beyond his slow-motion crutch, and it was thrilling to watch. Like the cartoons I used to watch, Superman did on film what I've always wanted him to do; he tossed villains through buildings, was smashed and thumped and came back for more, and, in the ensuing battles, destroyed towns. As Superman's origins unfolded, I fretted there wasn't going to be the action I craved. I thought I was going to watch another two hours of a man in tights flying around with his love interest. Seriously, I couldn't be happier with the action sequences--they reminded me of Dragon Ball Z fights.

Henry Cavill, who I'd only seen in the Immortals and Count of Monte Cristo (when he was younger), was a great choice to play Kal-El. Not only does he look the part, he has talent and nailed the scenes where he had to emotionally scream. It sounds like a weird thing to notice, but those screams can go horribly awry. Don't believe me? Watch Revenge of the Sith, when Vader dons his suit, or Donnie Darko, when Drew Barrymore gets fired.

I would go as far as to say I approve of most of the casting, from Russell Crowe as Jor-El to Laurence Fishburne, who played Perry White. Michael Shannon was an interesting Zod, and, despite my apprehension, Kevin Costner soared as Jonathon Kent. I'm a fan of Christopher Meloni as well, so seeing him in a summer blockbuster where he was more than a cameo was satisfying. Another fan mentioned to me Jax-Ur was in the film, played by Mackenzie Gray. I had to look it up on IMDB for confirmation, but the bald Kryptonian was Jax. Maybe he'll reappear in a later movie as a more prominent villain. Something else that struck me was that I was fascinated by Antje Traue's Faora-Ul, maybe even more than Zod; she was easy on the eyes, quite sinister, and was involved in stellar action sequences.

If there's one major complaint I have it was Amy Adams as Louis Lane. She had great lines; something was missing in her delivery. There wasn't enough sass, and her chemistry with Cavill was lacking in a painfully obvious way. The love story was almost nonexistent, but I feel it's something that can and will be explored in later installments, along with Clark Kent.


Superman's infamous alter ego is absent from the movie to a large degree. We see Kal-El grow and develop his powers along with his morals via flashbacks, yet nerdy Kent is more of the pay off in this movie, along with a sly line from Louis, welcoming him to the planet...cough...the Daily Planet. I enjoyed this particular ending, because it wonderfully destroys the long-running joke about no one being able to recognize Kent as Superman due to his glasses. The other day I heard Jerry Seinfeld on Howard Stern quote another comedian that had said, "If your friend put on glasses, would you suddenly be unable to recognize them?"

*Major Spoiler*

Perhaps it's just me, but I was shocked when Superman snapped Zod's neck. It's not something I expected from the Big Blue Boy Scout. Like Batman, he's supposed to be opposed to violence no matter what, and the lead in to that scene, Zod yelling, "This ends with either you or I dead," was cheesy. The major reason why I didn't let the death bother me is because I remember Superman II, where Superman not only kills Zod and his cohorts, he does it without regret after they've been stripped of their powers and are harmless. At least in this version, he's torn up about what he's done, and he's forced into it.

When all is said and done, I believe Man of Steel is a milestone. It's the first step in the Superman franchise that I've been waiting for. I've heard and read a lot of complaints ranging from the soundtrack, which I really liked even though it didn't have a hint of the old theme, and Snyder spending too much time on Krypton, another part of the movie I found intriguing, so I know my opinion isn't going to be popular, yet I want a trilogy where everyone cast in this movie, aside from Amy Adams if she can't step up her game, to continue in their roles under Snyder's direction and Nolan's production, and I want a new villain, one we've never seen before. I want Brainiac or Darkseid and a trilogy that ends with a confrontation with Doomsday. If they revert to the stale format of Lex Luther, despite how much I enjoyed this film, I'd probably sit the next installment out. I don't mind Lex as a secondary antagonist, but I couldn't sit through another two hours of him as the main villain.

Man of Steel, however, I could watch over and over...and I plan to.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Under the Dome Review

I've thought long and hard about what to say about this CBS miniseries, but now that I've reached my three episode decision point, I think I've finally come to one conclusion: this is not a good miniseries.

Normally, I can abide changes. I usually defend changes and expect adaptations to contain them, but unlike other adaptations, such as The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, or other works by Stephen King, the alterations don't work; they're not improvements on the story at all. They don't capture the essence of the novel; they tell a different tale entirely, with what feels like different characters.

For instance, the entire series opens with Barbie burying a corpse. It's a man he murdered, who we find out later had an unloaded gun. In the book, Barbie is former military with a distaste for violence. He fought when he had to, in defense. He was the hero, a white knight of sorts. He wasn't an enforcer or murderer or whatever it is they're trying to make him into in this series. Most often, he was a victim of circumstance, caught in the wrong place. In the series, he's a bit of a villain. He even lies. I don't think I can even refer to him as an anti-hero or a flawed hero at this point in the story. While these changes might seem insignificant they change the entire course of the series and his character. When Barbie in the show says, "I don't want any trouble," I find myself scratching my head--he has already murdered someone, is covering it up, and that's the epitome of trouble.

For decades, Stephen King complained about the character changes made to Jack Torrence in Kubrick's The Shining (I love what Nicholson did), so he's well aware what it means to alter them in drastic fashion. It can go horribly wrong. That's what has happened in this series. Pivotal characters are either outside the dome or nothing like what they were in the book, everyone from Barbie to the DJ to Big Jim. The villains of the book are not intimidating in the series; Junior is downright laughable--having watched House at the End of the Street a week ago, it's all I can think of when there are scenes of Angie chained to a bed underground--and wearing a hoodie does not make Junior scary.

On top of a lot of added clich├ęs that weren't in the novel, the acting is stale, a lot of times it's emotionless, and the dialogue is atrocious. Sometimes, I wonder if I'm watching a WB drama when the characters have heart to hearts. I half expected Big Jim and Barbie to hug it out last episode. I must say, despite an awful script, Mike Vogel and Dean Norris appear to be the lone actors bringing anything interesting to the show, yet they can't save this sinking ship.

The rising tension, edginess, and creepiness of the novel did not translate into the show, not in the slightest--it's watered down and pitiful. I find myself oftentimes chortling or scoffing, yet I can't look away. I know I'm going to stick through the miniseries up to its end. I know it'll be torturous, and I'll rant on the forums. I'll bitch like a book snob until I'm red in the face, and I'll continue to be a fan of Stephen King. After all, nothing can lessen my love for the novel--Under the Dome is one of the greatest pieces of literature he has ever written. In some ways though, I might have lost a pinch of reverence. I can't help it; I'm baffled that Mr. King signed off on this script. I really am.

Friday, July 5, 2013

World of Warcraft: Surviving Low Pop

A few weeks ago, Blizzard had a half off sale on faction and realm transfers. The net result on my server was a mass exodus; we lost 9 of our top 10 raiding guilds for both factions and what appears to be half of our population, dropping from medium population to low population almost overnight. I finally understand why there have been so many complaint threads about server mergers the past couple expansions: being on low pop is boring.

There is good news, though. In 5.4, Virtual Realms will be introduced. While they're not called mergers they will basically act as mergers. Low population realms will be linked. The auction house and trade of a few servers will be combined, and players will be allowed to join each other's guilds and raids, as well as see each other in towns and whatnot. The sneaky part of Virtual Realms is that it will allow mergers without forcing name changes, because players from other realms will have an asterisk next to their name. Farming rares is easy, too. There's less competition, and almost every time I seek one in Pandaria, it's up and untagged.

Until the day of Virtual Realms arrives, however, one must survive in low pop where raiding anything other than LFR is seemingly impossible--I can't even find two other people for heroic scenarios most times. In the meanwhile, I have been farming in Pandaria and stocking mats for when the auction houses are linked and there will actually be things to buy/sell. It's not the most exciting part of the game, but it's definitely worth it. Personally, I like to turn the volume off in WoW and play music lists on my computer to alleviate the monotony.

There is also Brawler's Guild, which I have been grinding away on. I have raised a couple of my characters to level 6 or beyond, but I've been snagged on a couple of fights until I can boost my gear a little bit. It's more difficult than it needs to be to increase in item level and DPS, thereby progressing through Brawler's Guild faster, when there's no way to enter to a normal or heroic raid.

Another way to kill time is finishing leveling characters. As of today, I have a rogue and monk that I still need to get through Pandaria to 90. With the nerfs to experience, I'm hoping to have at least one, if not both, at 90 by the release of 5.4, though I highly doubt I will use my rogue beyond hitting level cap; it's still the one class I know I'm not good at, don't enjoy, and have no interest in learning about. I'm a bit OCD, so having one of each class at max level is a concern of mine; having them all pimped out in epics is not.

Though I can't find rated teams for battlegrounds, I still queue for the random battlegrounds. It's enough of a distraction to keep my mind off my barren server, rack up some honor, and a little conquest. In fact, I've done so many random battlegrounds on my druid he has half a tyrannical set, including weapon, without ever doing a rated or arena.

Lastly, I have spent a lot of time with pet battles. In the past couple weeks, I have farmed old raids with at least five characters per week and managed to collect each of the pets that drop, along with their achievements, and the reward pets: Tito and Mr. Bigglesworth. I also scored a rare Qiraji Guardling from Silithus and earned the Zookeeper title. I've done so much pet battling this expansion, I'm running out of achievements; about the only thing I have left are PVP pet battles, which I have yet to really get into.

So that's what I've been up to in Azeroth as I wait on 5.4 and hope Virtual Realms save my server. There's really not much else to do, unless I pay for a transfer. My one concern is that my server will be overlooked or not included in the Virtual Realms. Should that happen and I continue to be stuck on a dead realm for the Siege of Orgrimmar I may have to call it quits. The game is just not that appealing to me when there's no one else around.