Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Destiny XBOX 360 review

Destiny, the video game, has been out for more than a couple weeks now. The game developed by Bungie, the guys behind Halo, is one of the most hyped games in years due to its pedigree and new manner of playing it. It's new to a degree since it's an online first person shooter that has RPG and MMOG elements. Certainly, this form of gaming is not trail blazing for the XBOX, as Defiance (2013) came out first. Bungie didn't want day one reviews because they claim the game must have thousand of players for it to gestate. I've played the game through campaign mode and multiplayer. Time for this blog's review. So , the question is does Destiny live up to the hype or at least live up to the aspirations of the kick ass live action commercial for it? (Embedded below.)

"Destiny! Destiny! No escaping that for me." Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) in Young Frankenstein (1974)

The prologue to Destiny starts with the introduction of the Traveler, a big spherical living being, at least I think it's alive that comes to earth. It's benevolent and helps man to achieve a new Golden Age where man is able to colonize the planets of the solar system. But hundreds of years later after the Traveler's arrival comes the pursuing Darkness . Okay you know with a name like that you can guess it's evil. What else are they going to call it? The Pinkness? But I digress. The forces of the Darkness causes a collapse of human society. You wake up in a ruined Russia by your Ghost (Peter Dinklage) who is kind of a cross between Guilty Spark from Halo and Bit of the Tron film. It's a good performance by Dinklage as he must be part machine and sentient life form. He informs you that you are a Guardian with a smart ass raccoon as your only friend. Um... okay that's Guardians of the Galaxy. Anyway, this leads to you exploring the planets and blasting bad guys.

That premise would be great assuming Destiny will enlighten us with exposition. But that's one of the major problems of this game. There's no explanation of anything. You just take the word of your Ghost or Guardian "supervisors" that certain aliens are bad and they need to be blasted. I didn't care about my character other than the fact I got to create his face which by the way is always a cool feature. But I also didn't care the other people in this half baked story. I can't even remember the other characters in this story. Mass Effect, this is not.

And here's another thing that bothers me about the story. It's supposed to be science fiction. But you got plants and buildings on Venus. Really? In real life, Venus is a hellish place. Temperatures there reach 788 degrees F. The atmosphere is composed of carbon dioxide, nitrogen and sulphur dioxide. Yeah, I get the concept of terraforming but Destiny's story doesn't tell you about that. So, how about a little science in the science fiction?

You will be treated to some gorgeous graphics. And I'm talking about the XBOX 360 version of Destiny. Yeah, the XBOX One version has more detail but you really won't notice the difference. I mean you spend most of your time killing aliens. Regardess, the colors of the planets are rich. There's much detail for them whether it's the rocks, plants or pools of liquid found on Venus. I felt like I was on alien worlds. Human and alien structures are all interesting though some of the buildings are repetitive since they're almost all ruins. Yet, they are rendered so well they beg you to explore them. You will love the look of your character and his or her costume. Helmets are kind of goofy though. How does a Warlock see through his helmet without eye sockets?

Interesting sound is what you would expect from a science fiction shooter. Weapons make futuristic sounds. Enemies sound quite foreign. But what I love about the sound is the soundtrack by Martin O' Donnell and Michael Salvatori. If you remember Halo's distinct themes you get more of the same. Destiny's music is lush, mysterious, heroic and dramatic. It adds to the conflict.

The future of video games?

The first thing about Destiny's gameplay that grabs you is the gun mechanics. This is certainly where Bungie has learned quite a bit from its Halo games. Firing a weapon is a joy whether you are aiming or free firing. Aim. Put your bullets on target. Melee is fun too. Finally a melee attack that instantly kills lower level enemies or ones that have very little health left.

But maybe Bungie should have just stuck with guns. Because Destiny introduces superpowers kind of like Mass Effect but with much less success. First you can upgrade the superpowers but since they don't explain to you how to do that, you're stuck having to research this. And the superpowers kind of stink. They regenerate every four or so minutes. And unlike Destiny's glossy ad below they are not so powerful that they wipe out a boss with one blow. You've got to degrade an enemy boss to a sliver of armor for one power, one kill. Then there's the armor. It's confusing since each piece has stats for regenerating grenades, superpowers or melee powers. And there other things or items that improve your lot in life but since nobody explains this stuff, you're just going to be confused on what they mean. Spinmetal? Hadronic Essence?

What about the missions? Extremely repetitive. Most of the time you are guarding your Ghost as he hacks something and you get attacked by bad guys. Then there are the boss missions. Kill alien boss while he spawns minions to harass you. Speaking of spawning, aliens will spawn in areas you have cleared. Kind of discourages going back to explore areas. Okay, there is fun as you and your buddies take on missions. The questions is how long will this fun keep your interest in the future.

The Social Network

Destiny is supposed to be a social game. But everybody is not talking at me and I can't hear a word they're saying. I mean you see random players and nobody talks or maybe they can't talk? For example, the Tower is an area where players upgrade weapons, get bounties, equipment etc. I've tried to talk but get the silence of outer space. I get more social interaction from the mean streets of Grand Theft Auto V. And speaking of the Tower, there's nothing to do there. You can dance outside but who cares. Meeting some interesting NPC (non-player character) or even have a mini-game would be welcome. Since you can dance how about a dance game?

The multi-player aspect of Destiny comes in two flavors. Co-op or player versus player. Going against other players is enjoyable since your weapons fire as well as they did in the campaign. In other words you have a chance here. Finding your opponents on the map can be difficult. And chances are you're going to get whacked and humiliated by an eleven year old. Co-op is great since your buddies can help you with a difficult boss. And trust me, you don't want to play missions on the Hard Diffculty setting by yourself. You will end up taking two hours to bring down a boss.

Being a game that must exist online creates a new set of problems. If you have trouble with your home network, or Internet connection, you're screwed. And this happens to everyone in online gaming. You're about ready to take down that alien boss when you lag out or get disconnected. That's already occurred to me while playing Destiny. Doh!

Hype and Glory.

You've heard me compare Destiny to Mass Effect specifically I should say Mass Effect 3. Mass Effect 3 gets it right. The online multi-player works with the single player campaign. From a plot aspect, Mass Effect 3's online gaming is consistent as you join forces to fight the aliens threatening the galaxy. That being said you can play the campaign without going online. And one more thing. Mass Effect's story is rich, smart and emotional. I cared about the NPC characters in the game.

A great video game should have two components. A rich single player game which does not require online access. And a fun multi-player that is online and can also be done as a network. Bungie did well with Halo 3. And as I have pointed out, Mass Effect 3 works perfectly. I think the video games that will stand the test of time and be successful will be like Halo 3, Mass Effect 3 and Grand Theft Auto V.

Destiny does not live up to the hype. It's an uninteresting but well made first person shooter. To really enjoy it, you will have to put in more effort to get into it than a great video game. The grade is B.

Too bad Destiny is not as cool as its live action trailer.

Monday, September 15, 2014

John Oliver explains Scottish independence for you and begs for Scotland to stay with England

It's going to take an Englishman to explain Scottish independence to us Americans. So luckily for us, John Oliver of Last Week Tonight is here to do it. Very funny stuff. I especially like the joke about Mel Gibson. Courtesy of HBO.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

John Oliver on the Ferguson riots and police militarization

Here's John Oliver from HBO's Last Week Tonight with a segment on the Ferguson riots and police militarization. Funny stuff for a tragic situation.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Wolfenstein: The New Order Tips for Chapter 6, London Nautica on the Uber difficulty setting

Today, we discuss the hardest parts of Wolfenstein: The New Order, Chapter 6, "London Nautica." The difficulty setting is the hardest, i.e. "Uber." First, review my general tips for Uber. Second, let me say both "London Nautica chapters, Six and Fourteen are some of the hardest levels in the game.

1. Main Hall

Once Bobby, destroys the front of the building, make your way to the opening of the London Nautica. Before you get there, you get attacked by a guard robot. Throw a Tesla grenade at its feet. While it is shocked go around the back and shoot it, aiming for the circular vent or area below its neck. One dead robot. Now loot its metal for armor and look for ammo scattered about. You're about to go into the Main Hall.

Go into the Main Hall. A door opens and a heavy robot with soldiers attack you. Run to your immediate left. Go through the vestibule and enter a room full of ammo. Stand behind the glass door to the closet of ammo. From here, you are going to kill the ten to fifteen soldiers who will try to rush you position. Remember, "patience." They throw grenades at you but if hug the door, you will take little damage. In the meantime, kill soldiers dumb enough to run into the closet. You will also see soldiers on the stairway across from the room. Take them out. Once it's quiet, get ready to run.

Run out of the closet, back into the hallway. The heavy robot is still there, but we'll deal with that later. Run and I mean run up the stairs to your left. A door opens and a soldier manning a gun turret opens fire. Kill him and take over the turret. Okay, here comes he second wave. Kill them with the turret. If you have to, fall back into the door behind you and run into the cafeteria, looking for cover from the kitchen area or salad bar. Wipe out this second wave.

Now all that's left is the heavy robot. You now have the advantage. You have the higher ground as you are upstairs. Remove the turret. Shoot the robot from the safe distance of the cafeteria. Now loot the whole area. Move on. Eventually you will encounter the last part of this Chapter, the hangar.

2. The Hangar

Before you crawl in the duct that leads to the chopper hangar, get all the armor from the lab and one opposite from duct. Okay, now arm you pistol with the silencer and drop down into the hangar. Immediately crouch behind the cover of the railing. There are platforms with the choppers. On one in front of you is a soldier. To the right is a commander. And on the same, platform you are on is another soldier. He's actually the closest to you. Oh yeah, there are two guard robots here. One on a platform and another on the floor.

Take your silenced pistol. Stay crouched. Move the targeting reticle over the soldier on the platform across from you. Free firing causes the reticle to turn red. Shoot. Now look to your right. Target the commander. You can take out the soldier the closest to you first. Anyway, take down the first commander with your pistol. Then kill the soldier next to you with the pistol or a take down. There's one more commander. He's to the far right in front of the control room. Shoot him with the silenced pistol. If done correctly, you've killed the first wave by stealth.

The rest of the way cannot be done by stealth. Drop down. Throw a Tesla grenade at the feet of the guard robot. Quickly, shoot the circle on vent on the back with an assault rifle or shotgun. One dead robot. Now take cover beneath the platforms from the other robot. It's too stupid to jump down. Move between platforms to get a good shoot at the circular vent from the back. A few shots from a sniper or assault rifle and it's over for this robot.

Now comes the second wave of soldiers. I think it's about ten to fifteen. Run to a control room. I use the one where we took down the second commander. Run to the far right of the room and crouch. They can't shoot you from the floor and the soldiers must rush into the room. Kill them as they enter with a shotgun. After you've killed about five to seven of them, you can peek out of the windows of the control room and snipe the rest.

After you've taken down the soldiers a big heavy guard robot busts out of a door across the way. The Laserkraftwerk (LKW) is the key to victory here. Run to center platform. Don't worry the heavy robot is confused by you running somewhat close to it. This platform has two chargers for your LKW. Alternate between the two while using the platform for cover. Give that robot a dose of fully charged shots. Boom, down it goes.

The hanger section is actually easier than it looks. Just be patient.

The Expendables 3 review

The Expendables 3 starts out with Wesley Snipes and Sylvester Stallone in drag going across the country to compete in the "Miss Drag Queen of America Pageant." Um... that's the plot of "To Wong Foo!... Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar." (1995) Okay, this movie starts with the Expendables in a helicopter trying to free Doctor Death (Wesley Snipes) from a prison train. They are successful only to have Doc run amuck and take over the train. He then rams the train into a prison to kill a tyrant. Now how did he know the target would be behind the wall at that time? Thus begs the question, "Can a movie that starts out dumb, turn out to be good?"

Well, it gets even dumber. Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), team leader and his Expendables have a job to stop an arms deal done by a drunk, racist pig... um sorry I'm describing Mel Gibson. But wait he is in this movie. Their job is to stop an arms dealer who is played by a drunk, racist pig that being Gibson. The twist is that he's Conrad Stonebanks, a former Expendable who turned bad. Did I say it got dumber? Okay. They take Doc on the mission immediately AFTER they break him out. You got it. No training. No shrinks for being locked up all those years. Nothing.

Anyway, the mission goes bad. And it takes Indiana Jones to retrieve The Ark of the Covenant from the Nazis. Er... Sorry fo that. CIA handler Drummer who's played by Harrison Ford now wants Stonebanks captured. Ross is worried his team is getting too old... ha, ha. He recruits a younger team. (Victor Ortiz, Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell) If you can't figure the rest of the plot from the trailer then you haven't seen many modern action movies.

Usually, I discuss the acting performances for a movie. But what's the point? There are so many old guys from the eighties along with the new kids, it all played like a party in a bar that you were not invited to. That can mean this movie is going to stink. Okay, I will say Antonio Banderas as over the hill assassin, Galgo, was a lot of fun. The man moves with such grace. And his earnest desire to join the team seems to be a metaphor about Hollywood dumping actors for younger people. What can I say about Stallone? He comes off as a meathead. Whereas Harrison Ford adds some elderly dignity to the CIA handler. With all due respect, because I'm not a young whipper snapper, Ford should be done playing Indiana Jones. Of course, this wouldn't be a an Expendables movie without Arnold Schwarzenegger firing a big gun and saying some catch phrase from one of his movies.

The screenplay by Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt and Stallone makes more sense than the second movie. I mean in Expendables 2, you had Chuck Norris appear out of nowhere. But there are some problems. The aforementioned opening scenes and when Ross gets his young team together, there's no training montage. I mean these kids went into the mission cold. That being said, thankfully Ross listens to youthful wisdom and uses the high tech way to capture Stonebanks. So the last two thirds of the movie makes some sense. Okay, I'm still wondering how the Expendables prop driven airplane evades another country's radar.

Director Patrick Hughes is competent. There are some nice tracking shots but he suffers from the same cinematic disease that has been inflicted on modern film. There is way, way too much fast cutting. (Edits of a scene so it lasts no more than three seconds.) Too often it's used to show action. But in this movie, it only adds to the confusion. A good fight scene is like a dance. We must see the bodies in action and I mean the full bodies. The same thing with a war scene. If you're going to use that much fast cutting then it's got to have logical flow. The Expendables 3 was cut like it was made for people with ADHD. Yet, with all the confusion, the story was correctly told and it was an interesting and fun tale. Finally Brian Tyler's score was very good with a nice heroic theme.

The Expendables 3 is time wasting fun. It's not going to win any Oscars. And it's better than the last one. But that's like saying a deep fried twinkie is better than a normal twinkie. The grade is B.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Boyhood review

There are two summer movies that are impossible to dislike. One is Guardians of the Galaxy. The other is Boyhood.

Boyhood is a film about the juvenile life of Mason Evans Jr. (Mason) and his growth to adulthood. The remarkable thing about his movie is that Moses is played by one actor, Ellar Coltrane starting at six, and filmed for twelve years to capture his growth. We meet Mason as a young child living with his single mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette) and his sister, Samantha. (Lorelei Linklater, the director's daughter) Olivia is divorced from Mason Evans Sr. (Ethan Hawke) who gets the kids on visitation. The kids clearly adore him for his fun loving ways. But he's not a responsible adult. The movie is comprised of moments of Mason's life. Playing video games. Spending time with his separated father. Fighting with his sister. Seeing his mother having bad relationships with abusive husbands. Becoming a rebellious teen. Drinking. Falling in love.

I say that the film is remarkable because writer and director Richard Linklater has managed to capture a fictional life that echoes the human experience. He was able to get four actors to play a part for twelve years of on and off filming which enhances the realism. All the conflicts, drama, comedy ring true. Linklater is not interested in giant dramatic tragedy because that usually doesn't happen to most people. But he's more into the problems of everyday people. And at the same time, he makes this family likable, and I should say lovable. You can't help but root for Mason. His mother and father are far from perfect but do an admirable job of raising a good kid. Yeah, Mason is probably not going to become President but I do trust in the end that he's going to be a good person. Yet, all of this is done without the camera gymnastics that have polluted modern film.

Ellar Coltrane's performance is spectacular. As a child, he gets the idea of who his character is. When a stepfather makes him cut his long hair, we see the dismay in his face. Of course, director Linklater deserves some credit here. He gets the same from his own daughter, Lorelei. Yes, we see the brother-sister rivalry that one sees in most families. There's also growth for the adults. Ethan Hawke's father is a affable guy who really has very little idea of being responsible in life. Yet, his love for the children that will shape them. Patricia Arquette's Olivia, is a person that we all have met. She's a struggling single mother who meets the wrong guys constantly. Yet Arquette is strong for her children, no matter what obtacles life throws in her way.

There are small problems with this film. Many times when you have the writer and director being the same person, you can have either a cinematic disaster or a good movie. Boyhood falls into the latter category. Linklater probably had so much footage and wanted to show the emotional and physical growth of Mason that he left too much of it in the final cut. There were scenes that didn't help the dramatic narrative. For example, there's a scene where a pre-teen Mason is walking with a girl. The conversation didn't do anything for the movie. At 164 minutes, this film should have been cut by thirty minutes. Boyhood is also aloof at times. In one scene, Olivia is crying over an impending empty nest. Mason doesn't do much to comfort her. He just seems clueless. Linklater should have given closure here with reassurance from Mason because we know that he loves her. Still, none of this hurts this movie that much.

Every summer, the theaters are full of cinematic bombast. Much of it is numbing on one's senses. Boyhood comes in like a sweep of fresh air. It's a graceful, lovely slice of life. The grade is B Plus.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wolfenstein: The New Order Chapter 4 Uber Tips for Eisenwald Prison

Here are some tips for Wolfenstein: The New Order, Chapter 4 "Eisenwald Prison" on the Uber difficulty setting. Again as in past Uber tips, I will go only over the hardest parts. If you haven't reviewed my general Uber tips, check them out here.

The hardest parts in Chapter 4 are at the end. You and Fergus or Wyatt escape the cell block and pry a door open. You should kill the prone Nazi trying to kill you. Then take out the dog. Look to your left. Carefully kill soldiers on the plaza. Make your way up to the plaza. Once this first group of soldiers are dead, a fire trooper or shotgun trooper appears from the turret across the way. Take cover. If possible let him climb the steps as you take cover from the corner. Now, let him have it with heavy weaponry either a grenade, shotgun or your RPG feature of the assault rifle. Once he's down, watch out. Two soldiers come from an open door. Kill them. Now carefully go into the building from which they came to get more armor. AS you enter, to your immediate right is another fire trooper. I use my RPG. Down he goes.

Loot the building and go down to where Fergus is. He opens the last set of doors. You will face a control room protected by steel bars. Go to the left. Mow down soldiers. Now go to the control room and flank the others. Once everyone here is dead, loot the control room. Leave the area. Before you get to the stairs, arm your shotgun and whack the soldier that comes down the stairs.

Go up the stairs. Now you come to a hallway. Don't rush in. It's full of soldiers and a fire trooper. Arm your assault rifle and switch to RPG mode. Use it to kill the fire trooper. If you have to, move back to cover to the wall before the hallway. Clear the rest of the Nazis and be careful when you enter the hallway. Arm your shotgun. Two more soldiers jump you. Kill them. Now go right down the hallway. You get attacked by a kampfhund. Kill it. There's a soldier who pops out straight ahead and one comes down the stairs. Kill these guys.

Now go up the stairs to your left. Enter an office area. This leads you down to a room where if you go to far, a door will open. Do not run through the door. There's a fire trooper here. From an angle, throw a couple of grenades and use your RPG or shotgun. Kill him. Go through the door and outside. Take cover behind the metal fence. There are two more soldiers below. Feed them a lead lunch. Chapter over.