Sunday, September 6, 2009

Review - Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3/360)

Superhero games have somewhat become known for being not a very good idea. The known good superhero games have either a movie tie-in (Spiderman 2), or a mashup with a plethora of diverse characters (Marvel vs. Capcom). But not all superhero games have to be like Superman 64 or Aquaman. For example, games like Amazing Spiderman and Hulk: Ultimate Destruction weren't bad games, yet didn't quite receive critical acclaim. This is where Batman: Arkham Asylum comes in. Metacritic shows that Arkham Asylum received an average score of 92 out of 100. And the game is completely deserving of that score.
The story of Arkham Aslyum starts with Batman, once again, taking Joker back to Arkham Asylum. But this is all a part of a ruse set by the Joker. Joker, with the help of some freed inmates and an obnoxious Harley Quinn, take over the Asylum and Batman travels the asylum to try and stop them. The writing feels just like any Batman comic you've ever read, although it does sometimes make you wonder how the game pulled off a Teen rating.
Graphically, the game looks great. Textures are almost overly detailed and the characters look like their comic book counterparts. The only time where a hiccup was noticed was when Batman's arm looked as though it went through an inmate's head during a punch. What may take some getting used to is the third-person over the shoulder viewpoint that most of the game takes place in. The environment of the game reminded me a lot of Bioshock. There are also references to a plethora of Batman characters, which makes exploring the environment well worth exploring. As far as the sound goes, the characters are all voiced by their counterparts from the animated series. All of the sound effects are well done and the soundtrack suits the feeling of the game.
Throughout the development of this game, what's pulled the most attention is the combat system. The game uses a freeflow combat system, allowing Batman to jump from enemy to enemy. The combo system is fairly simple (you have one button to strike and one button to counter) yet it still feels like you are fighting like Batman. Batman is also armed with gadgets, like the batarang and explosive gel, which aids in opening new areas and disarming enemies. Other than combat, the game fulfills the Batman experience with stealth rooms and Detective view. As you explore the asylum, some rooms will have inmates armed with rifles. In true Batman form, you're required to take out these enemies without attracting attention. You can do this either by sneaking up behind the enemy and taking them down, glide kicking them from your perch on a gargoyle, or hanging from a gargoyle and snatching them up as they pass below you. The Detective view allows you to see things as Batman does. When activated, a blue tint comes over the screen, and enemies are highlighted. The Detective view also highlights possible escape routes, alternate paths, and clues. The only gripe I have with this is that the game requires the Detective view so often, that the actual view of the game isn't seen as often, which is a shame since the game looks so good.
Overall, Arkham Asylum is a fantastic game with minor flaws. The story mode took about 10-12 hours to complete and there is a Challenge Mode that gives the game some replayability. Whether you're a hardcore Batman fan or a casual fan of the movies and/or comics, the game will entertain you. Developer Rocksteady has said that if the game does well enough, a sequel may be in the works. So please, at least check out this game, because it really is one of the best superhero games out there currently.



Sidenote: If you have a PS3, the PS3 version allows you to play as the Joker. Xbox does not get any exclusive characters, but that might change with downloadable content.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Rant: Explicit Content in Games and Why It Should Be There

Since the dawning of games like Mortal Kombat, the ESRB rating system has kept a close eye on the content shown in video games. But still, 15 years after the ESRB was formed, video games still get criticized for showing explicit material such as over-the-top violence, sex, and drug use. Why is that true? Some may argue that this sort of content does not belong in a video game regardless of what the rating on the box says, because kids under the age of 17 will inevitably get their hands on it. But who's fault is this really? Should game developers be doomed to strike out content from their games just because parents are unable to understand how the rating system works? Also, it's almost as easy for kids to be exposed to the same type of material in mediums such as movies, especially with the internet making explicit material incredibly easy to access. Now, I'm in no way advocating that explicit material needs to be placed in games. Personally, I don't find gratuitous violence incredibly entertaining, but who am I to criticize what other people find enjoyable. I just thing it's ironic that an incredibly tame "sex scene" in a game like Mass Effect can cause an uproar amongst the media that the game is immature and disgusting. Parents just need to stop pointing fingers at the game developers and spend more time keeping an eye on what their kids are getting into. But let's face the truth, if your kid wants to see the sex minigame in God of War or the Hot Coffee scene in GTA: San Andreas, all he has to do is enter a phony birthday into the video player. Blaming game developers is not going to fix that problem. In this day and age, there really is no true solution to the problem, but if parents are really worried about what their child is being exposed to when they're playing video games, just read the back of the box. It says EXACTLY why the game got the Mature rating. And if you still have doubts, talk to the people at your local game store. They'll give you the full details on what's in the game and whether it's appropriate for your child to play.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Preview: Borderlands (PC, 360, PS3)

Earlier this summer, famed game designer CliffyB (Gears of War, Unreal) stated that role-playing games are the future of shooters. We've already seen the first few steps in this direction with games like Fallout 3 and Mass Effect, but 2K Games' Borderlands looks like exactly what CliffyB was talking about. When you start out the game, you are given the choice between four characters, each with a respective class. Roland is a Soldier, who plays more like a traditional paladin in that he has good combat skills and can also be a healer. Lilith is a Siren, a mage-like class with psychic abilities. Mordecai is a Hunter, equipped with the standard hunting sniper rifle and a pet eagle. Finally, rounding up the group is Brick, the powerhouse Berserker with great melee abilities and is basically the group's tank. The game plays with standard FPS controls (left trigger is the scope, right trigger fires your gun) and features beautiful cel-shaded graphics to portray the post-apocalyptic setting.
The single-player game plays like an RPG in that you go into town and the people will give you quests. These quests are a lot like those you see in any MMO (Kill X amount of creatures, loot X amount of items, etc.) and as you complete these quests and kill monsters, you're awarded experience points. Rack up enough and you'll level up (wow!) which will award you points to allocate in your skill tree. Each character has three different trees in which they can place their points in. These skills will enhance each character's special abilities. For example, Roland can spend his points in the healing tree that allows him to fire his bullets at his teammates to heal them, or he can spend them to enhance the turret that he's allowed to place as support fire and cover. You also level up your proficiency with different weapons the more you use them, which increases your accuracy and damage with that weapon.
Where this game really shines is the co-op multiplayer. The game features four-player multiplayer, allowing each player to control one of the four characters. This way, each player has a specific role in the group, whether it's DPS or tanking or healing. The game also allows two players in game to duel, allowing players to test their abilities with their class. Along with voice-chat, this game may just bring the MMO experience to consoles. It's going to be exhilirating to discuss strategy with your teammates as you come upon a boss or fighting over loot that drops. Hopefully, this game will fulfill it's expected drop date of October 23, 2009.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Youtube Rant!: Gaming and Girls.

I don't really know much about this guy Daniel Floyd. I just happened to stumble upon his video and thought it was well orchestrated and just made a lot of sense. So I thought I'd share the video with you and maybe you'd like to weigh in on the topic:

Personally, I also feel like this hyper-sexualized version of females in video games has gone a little too far. I'm okay with some sexual humor in my games a la MGS3, and I understand the old marketing adage that sex sells, especially to a market with a large population of teenage/young adult males. But I would like to see more games with a strong female role model. Then again, I don't really understand the female mind, and therefore am not sure if it would be enough to pull in a larger female audience. But I will tell you straight up, going "LAWL YOU JUST GOT PWNED BY A GIRL!" and "ZOMG! YOU'RE A GIRL?!?!" in a game of Halo is not helping the situation. I understand that this reaction stems from a history of video games being primarily a guy thing, but why is it like that? If video games are just what they say they are, games produced via video, then what is it that makes it primarily a guy thing?


Saturday, July 25, 2009

Movie Review: (500) Days of Summer

Alright, let's not cut any corners here. I love this movie. I love this movie so much it makes me question it's existence. I have loved this movie from the moment I saw the trailer and I loved this movie after the credits rolled and I still love this movie while writing this review. I will probably continue loving this movie in the years to come. (This opening paragraph may be a sign that I'm a little biased and you may not take the review seriously now, but hold on, I'm going to explain myself.)
The plot of (500) Days of Summer at first seems like the standard indie romance comedy: Average guy meets quirky girl. Guy falls in love with girl. The girl changes the guy's perspective on life. But where this movie differs from other indie romance films is what the narrator tells you up front; it's not a love story. It's a story of relationships, of feelings, and of fate. The acting was superb. I'm not saying that the acting will win any awards, but there was not one character that I thought was miscast at any point in the movie. The lead male role of Tom Hansen, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is a character that all men can relate to at one point or another. I found myself predicting exactly what Tom would say or do because that is exactly what I would have said or done in the same position. The chemistry that Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel, who plays Summer Finn, is astounding. Deschanel's role may seem like every other role she's played in every other movie, but the way she connects in this movie with the other characters makes this her best performance yet. The jokes were incredibly funny, and I found myself laughing more than I have watching any Judd Apatow movie. A great move that was made with this film was that it's not completely linear. The movie jumps between days, letting the audience piece together what went wrong and how Tom develops his feelings of love. Another thing I love about this movie is how it takes the city of Los Angels, which is primarily seen as the center of star life, and portrays it as a city of beautiful architecture and everyday people.
I would also like to point out that the soundtrack to his movie is phenomenal. Essentially, it does with The Smiths (one of my favorite bands) what Garden State (One of my favorite movies) did with The Shins. The soundtrack album also features a cover of The Smiths song "Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want" done by Zooey Deschanel's band, She & Him. I'm sure that this movie will sell a lot of The Smiths records and possibly cause another uprising in popularity for the 80's British pop band.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Loss of a Legend: Michael Jackson 1958-2009

As all of you probably know by now, the world has lost a king. The great Michael Jackson passed away today due to cardiac arrest. He was rushed to the UCLA Medical Facility, where his death was officially announced.
Despite his strange behavior in recent years, you cannot deny the impact this man had on the music industry as well as American culture. His work defined a generation and there are millions around the world with memories of his music. Personally, I remember sitting in my cousin's apartment in China as the "Black and White" music video played on TV. My dad used to tell me that when he first came to America, he worked as a construction worker and they would listen to the radio play Michael Jackson all the time. I can also recall the first time I saw the "Thriller" music video and being astounded at what this man was capable of.
Like him or not, Michael Jackson was a man of great talent and will be greatly missed. He was preparing for a great comeback this July in London and it's a shame that people will never be able to experience the magic that Jackson was known for bringing to his shows. He will be greatly missed.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Album Review: Far - Regina Spektor

Last summer, I went through a phase where I would listen to nothing but Regina Spektor's Soviet Kitsch album. Her style seemed so unorthodox yet so carefully engineered that it creates the perfect blend of innovation and classical poise. But when Begin to Hope dropped, it showed that Regina was starting to stray towards the pop scene. While this was not necessarily a bad thing, I did feel myself wishing I had more of the jazz singer side of Regina Spektor. The song that I listened to most off Begin to Hope was her tribute to the great Billy Holiday, "Lady". I remember listening to that song and thinking "This is what I love about Regina Spektor." So when I heard that she was coming out with a new album this summer, I had my fingers crossed that I might get more of the old Regina back. This did not happen. Far is even a further deviation from her classic style into the realm of pop music. Now, I must stress again, this isn't a bad thing. There are a few tracks like "The Calculation" and "Eet" where it works nicely for her, but feels like she's becoming more of a Yael Naim or a Sara Bareilles. "Blue Lips" is a little darker in tone but feels too orchestrated that it puts off the balance so it doesn't really feel like her stuff. Then we get to her juvenile songs, "Folding Chair" and "Machine", where in the former, bubbly melody and improvised dolphin sounds take the reins, and in the latter, Regina pretends to be a robot with a mechanized dark sound that just feels out of place on the album. The single of the album comes next, "Laughing With", which talks about how much of a bummer life can be sometimes. This is more fitting on the album but once again, it feels more like a Yael Naim song. The rest of the songs on the album seem so cookie-cutter piano-pop that I don't even feel like mentioning them. That is except for the song "Genius Next Door". With this song, Regina gave me one little ray of hope that she had not forgotten of the days of Soviet Kitsch and Eleven Eleven. This is the clearly the "Lady" of this album. The piano is absolutely beautiful while the lyrics portray a boy and the solitude he finds in this lake. In the special edition of the album, Regina gives another song that's reminiscent of the older albums with "The Sword and The Pen". It's a beautiful song about the fear of a loved one embracing death. It's songs like these that remind me that Regina Spektor has the ability to put out mature songs that tug at the heartstrings.

Score: 5.5/10
Key Songs: "Eet", "Laughing With", "Genius Next Door", "The Sword and The Pen"