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2011 in Video Games [GO]
Jan 5th, 2012 by Dan

HAY GUSY! ZELDA GAMES ARE 25!

So maybe I wasn't playing video games at birth nor was this blog running 25 years ago, but this is my 25th year too!

2011 was an odd year in games for me. It started out like any other, filled with joy and happiness, and then it was all wrenched away halfway through, thanks to that burglary, until I was able to start replenishing my stores and getting the ball rolling again for the second half.

This list, unlike last year, will cover the games I played most this year, even if they came out several years ago :cough: Team Fortress 2 :cough:. I think it’s better to reflect upon what I put the most game time into, even if it wasn’t new.

Resident Evil 5 – 2011’s 2009 Game of the Year has to go to Capcom’s co-op survival horror epic. I remember the Giant Bomb guys pimping this game super hard, but I ignored them over and over again for nearly two years because I’m not much of a scary games guy. Then the steam sale happened and I wanted something co-op to play with Min and Lee, so I buckled. This game was so good, guys. According to Raptr, I played 57 hours of this guy just cruising through all the levels, S-Ranking each one, finding all the emblems and upgrading all the weapons, and getting every achievement for the first time on a full-sized game. Then I came back and played it all again with David. RE5 may be some of the best bang I got for my buck in 2011.

Batman: Arkham Asylum – I think it’s hilarious that I played both Batman games this year. Make no mistake, Batman: AA is the better game. Tighter story focus, less wandering and rambling around, and that sharp, crunchy combat system that we all love. It almost literally hurts to watch Batman punch people in the face in this game. Lots of fun, even for a guy who doesn’t really like Batman.

Red Dead Redemption – Man, every game that I played in January came out in another year. RDR has a lot of those Rockstar quirks that I hate (incorrigible supporting cast, homicidal ludonarrative dissonance, etc.), but it also has one of the best realized characters in recent video games in its portrayal of John Marston. Horseback riding is fun, lassoing fools is fun, and the story is frustrating (because of the asshole supporting cast), but also solid most of the time. The only thing that really annoyed me was breaking horses every fucking time. Why? It’s not like it was fun to do…

Magicka – 2011’s Game Most Likely to Make You Strangle Your Friends. Ask Min how many times I killed him by striking him with lightning. I never took this game seriously and mostly tried to speed cast lightning. Fun, but the polish wasn’t there. Buggy as all hell. Not to mention that lightning bolt was the only spell worth using…or maybe it was the only spell I knew?

Ghost Trick – I used this game to try and improve/practice my Spanish. It’s lots of fun, quirky, weird, neat, but I never finished it. I thought it wasn’t taken in the burglary, but I’m having trouble finding it now. I want to finish it soon…Pick it up if you have a DS. It’s quirky and fun.

Costume Quest – Picked this up on sale and played it for a few hours. It’s definitely got that Double Fine humor, but it couldn’t hold my interest.

Pixeljunk Shooter 2 – I don’t know why some of the magic was gone with this one. Maybe the new fluids weren’t as innovative or neat? The fluid mechanics remain super awesome and the game is plenty fun on its own, but even more fun with a partner to troll.

Face Raiders – Shooting at Min’s face is the best thing I did with my 3DS before it was stolen.

Pokemon White (Black) – I got David to try a new Pokemon game with this and I’m super proud of that. Gen V brought a lot of really interesting changes to a game that most people feel is flat and unchanging. I had a lot of fun playing it until the momentum was killed with the burglary. When Grey inevitably gets announced I’ll probably buy it.

Game Dev Story – When this finally hit the Android marketplace I was ecstatic. Then I played it and realized it was a competent, but not overwhelming sim. Worth a few bucks.

Borderlands – Another co-op game for Min, Lee, and I to play. Lots of fun even though the story is stupid as hell. Brings out the loot whore in all of us.

Planescape: Torment – Talk about old! Didn’t get anywhere close to finishing this. It seems interesting, but never captures my interest enough to play it for longer than 20 mins.

Portal 2 – This is, bar none, the greatest example of story and comedy narrative laid out in video game form. Portal 2 has just brilliant writing and pacing. Everything from Wheatley to the history of Aperture Science to the origins of GLaDOS is perfectly realized. Then you have the game itself…Portal 2 is not a bad game at all. It’s just not as hard or interesting, with respect to puzzles, as Portal. This was a result of narrowing the possible solution space (story-justified by the decay of the facility, but still) in such a way that it was mostly obvious where portals needed to go, removing that aspect of figuring things out. It’s still probably the best game of this year, but I wish it they hadn’t pared it down as much as they did.

Pro Yakyu Spirits 2011 (Professional Baseball Spirits 2011) – I had a fun, challenging season going with my 2011 Hiroshima Carp before that jerk (those jerks?) came and stole my copy of a Japanese baseball game (in Japanese, mind you!). What were they gonna do with a game in Japanese featuring teams they weren’t even familiar with?! PYS 2011 was a huge step forward from 2010. Home runs may have been a little easier to hit (ok, a LOT easier to hit), but 2011 looked sharper and had enough new, interesting features (the player development was cool) that I was super stoked…until it was all taken away from me. Assholes.

L.A. Noire – I got about 1/5 of the way through the game before someone stole it. I still remember the forensics guy asking me if it was any good. Here’s the thing about L.A. Noire: It’s an adventure game skinned with GTA. Getting anywhere in LA is unsatisfying because driving is a bummer (and property/car damage lowers your rank), the devolution of most cases into shootouts feels a little artificial, and, worst of all, most of the chases (car and foot) let you see how the sausage is made. What I mean is, you can tell that you can’t catch up to a perp before a certain point and you can also see where the game just makes a perp crash or fall intentionally to just let you catch up. The face modeling stuff is super cool (and eerie if you watch Mad Men) and works pretty well minus one or two people. A tremendous achievement, but ultimately a mediocre game.

Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – I’m combining these because I don’t have much I want to say about either. The shooting is good, but the missions are kind of lame. I can see where this might be fun, but it’s also not for me.

inFamous – This was my free mea culpa game from Sony after the big hack fiasco. Decent open world game, but it suffers from being an open world game, in my eyes. The electric powers were fun, but the story was stupid. I don’t regret beating this game or getting it for free. Skating on the rails and then getting hit by a train is awesome.

Shadows of the Damned – I wish I’d taken the time to actually beat this game. It plays exactly like a Resident Evil game, has a super cool aesthetic, kickass soundtrack, and some of the funniest, most Japanese characters I’ve ever seen (come on, Garcia Fucking Hotspur is the greatest character name of the year!). Maybe I’ll beat it in 2012.

Hot Springs Story – From the devs what brought you Game Dev Story we have Hot Springs Story. See the entry above. It’s equally meh to me. I think I just don’t like playing games on my phone.

Torchlight – Gave me my Diablo fix a whole year before I’ll ever see Diablo III (I bet D3 is still not out in 2012). It’s fun and addictive, but it can get a little repetitive after a while. Good for loot whores/junkies.

Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyu 2011 – I got this expecting to have as much fun with it as I did back when it was the only Pawapuro/Konami-style baseball game I could play. In a post (Dan Mesa) PYS world, the simplifications of the engine don’t quite work for me. I need the extra systems that PYS layers on top.

Team Fortress 2TF2 has always been good. The addition of large-scale achievements made it even better, but the real tipping point for me was Strange Weapons. Once I learned that there were weapons which tracked the number of kills you had on them…well I couldn’t go back. This year probably saw the most TF2 playing from me since its launch. This game is barely recognizable to what it looked like in 2007. It’s free to play now. It’s got so many new maps and weapons and hats. It’s still the best competitive shooter a person could play right now.

Cahterine – Some people don’t get Catherine. They think the block puzzles are annoying and frustrating and find the whole thing to be stupid, too anime-y, and a waste of time. While Catherine makes a turn right near the end that mucks with its interpretation, it’s still one of the most interesting, adult experiences out there, which isn’t to say that it’s got nudity (none) or sex (none on screen), but, rather, that it deals with a lot of grown-up problems. Vincent’s life is in a rut, he’s being pushed into committing to a woman he’s afraid to commit to, and then he finds an escape in Catherine. I have yet to play a more interesting or convincing game about growing up, taking responsibility, and becoming a man. Catherine forced me to take a hard look at myself, my life, the incidences of cheating that have been in it, and just think about it all. A lot of games don’t do that.

Yakuza 4 – Got maybe two hours in before it was stolen.

Dragon Age II – Man, a lot of people have a lot of beef with Dragon Age 2 and I don’t really get it. Maybe it’s because I came to the game knowing all the complaints that everyone had before I got there, but it’s really not that bad. It “suffers” from the Mass Effect 2-ization of Bioware’s properties, but that’s not all bad. Dragon Age: Origins was bloated, over-long, and caused most people to quit right at the cusp of its climax. The way I see it, there were two things that were glaringly wrong with the game mechanics. First was the way that enemy reinforcements just seemed to pop in out of nowhere, artificially extending every fight and turning them into hyper-frustrating affairs. Keeping things limited to the enemies on-screen would have been vastly preferred. The second big miss was the lack of polish/variety of locations. It was very clear that this game was rushed to market because there were maybe three or four map styles recycled to cover a lot of locations. The minimaps weren’t properly reflecting when doors were shut and it was painfully apparent how much recycling happened. These are not sins worth crucifying the game for. The way that it focuses exclusively on Kirkwall and Hawke’s family is actually a good thing. Rather than be as sprawling as DA:O, it allows for a more personal story. Every relationship in this game is way cooler/most interesting than the ones in DA:O and, arguably, any of the ones in ME2. DA2 gets a lot of shit, but it’s a great game.

Bastion – Considering how much everyone just loves this game I really wish I’d given it a little more time this year. I barely played it, but the narrator was cool and the game seemed neat. I’ve got to beat this in 2012

Deus Ex: Human Revolution – I bought this game to get the pre-order items it came with for TF2. I don’t regret doing so. Played about an hour or two of the game. Haven’t felt compelled to go back yet.

Gears of War 2 – This is the year that Min and I beat GoW1 & 2. It took a long time, but we still managed it. These games are really fun in co-op. Easily among the most fun we had in couch co-op this year.

Gears of War 3 – My GOTY comes down to this or Portal 2. I know I’m way late to the GoW train, but god damn these games are razor sharp. Shooting in this game just feels so right, you know? It’s about as polished and good as a third person shooter can possibly be. Fighting the final boss for two hours because I turned on no ammo drops will be memorable for a long time in a way that I don’t often make memories in video games any more. Thank you, Epic, for this amazing game.

The Binding of Isaac – The second I heard that the dude from Super Meat Boy, Edmund McMillen, was coming out with a new game, I knew that I would be buying it and that it would be tons of fun. You’ll remember from last year that SMB was the best game I played. The Binding of Isaac is not quite the best of this year, but it is a more realized game than it has any right to be. I mean, the game was $5 at launch, for Christ’s sake, and it featured a free content patch at Halloween. Isaac took 55 hours of my time this year, assuming every one was counted by Raptr, and I anticipate it taking more before I’m done with it. This game is the best $5 you can spend this year.

Galaga Legions DX – Coming off the awesomeness that was Pac-Man CE DX I expected big things from this game. It’s nowhere near as fun, but maybe that’s because Pac-Man is a way more fun game than Galaga ever was.

Batman: Arkham City – I’m pretty sure you already know that I think this game was a major step back from Arkham Asylum. I really don’t think the open world aspects did this game any favors. It’s still got that super-crunchy, razor sharp battle system, but it’s also marred by too many poorly dressed women constantly being called b***hes. This is a game that aggressively pushed me away from it and I was more than happy to be done with it when I was despite being the best thing to happen to brawlers in ages.

Dungeon Defenders – Tower defense made even more fun by allowing us to run around in the environments. I didn’t put in anywhere near as many hours as Min did, but it was fun while I played it.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – Man, Uncharted 2 was fantastic, wasn’t it? Try this new one! It’s a lot like the old one, but with a little less charisma. A little less je ne sais quoi. Despite featuring my favorite video game characters of the modern era, Uncharted 3 was lacking in weird ways that the appearance of the The Last of Us trailer makes clear. Focus was diverted. Glad that we got three of these, but I wish it was as much a step forward as the second one was.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Remember how I wrote that article where I outlined everything I hated about this game? Since I wrote it I played another hour or two and said, “Nope. I don’t want to play this.” Will I ever go back? God, I hope not. It was worth spending $60 to drive in the point that I don’t like Bethesda open world RPGs. Here’s a note to Future Dan: Don’t buy any more Bethesda games, you moron.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – This poor game is being victimized by the launch of The Old Republic. Had TOR not come out there’s not a doubt in my mind that I would be playing the most charming Zelda game since Wind Waker non-stop. Skyward Sword plays sharply and is tons of fun.

Star Wars: The Old Republic – My life has been sucked into this game in a way that I wasn’t prepared for. I can’t believe that there was a time where I was actively thinking about avoiding this game and staying away from MMOs altogether. Bioware did something fantastic here by adding story to a genre that typically lacked it. This game has already rocketed up the charts for total time played and I predict that it will never be usurped based on how much I truly love playing it. I haven’t even finished one story and I’ve still got seven more to go.

What I’ve Been Doing 7 Nov 2011 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Nov 7th, 2011 by Dan

Scott Pilgrim iPhone Wallpaper

Blast from the past week. (Photo courtesy robotspacer)

Movies

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World – I didn’t technically watch Scott Pilgrim because I was listening to the director commentary with Bryan Lee O’Malley. Very informative to learn about how autobiographical the story is and about how integrated Edgar Wright’s movie was with the book.

TV

The Walking Dead – Not killing off Shane was the smartest thing this show did. He’s ice cold and his decision last week was awesome.

Samurai Champloo – Finally got around to starting this show. It’s interesting and the music is good, but I find the animation to be a little cheap looking.

The League – I haven’t seen Brie Larson since I saw Scott Pilgrim! This was actually part of why I rewatched Scott Pilgrim. The resolution between Brie’s character and Rafi was unexpected and awesome.

Prime Suspect – Ava from Justified! She’s not bad, but I miss the accent. This show’s not too bad for just hanging out and watching

Homeland – This show is getting so good! I wonder if he actually slipped him the razor blade. Super neat to watch all the twists and turns.

Glee – Not the strongest episode, but, per usual, I like any episode that has a song I love like “Bein’ Green”

Fringe – Back when Lost was on I watched three episodes of this show before Lost started (it was on at 2000 and Lost started at 2100). I watched the first four episodes of the season and I’m hooked! I just want to watch more, but it’s not streaming anywhere for free! So frustrating!

Music

Nothing really new here. Started getting back into Girl Talk

Books

The Last Best League – I swear I’m finishing this during this week. I’m pretty much at the epilogue.

Scott Pilgrim – I know I said no comic books in here, but this is an exception

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) – I meant to download a sample of Mindy Kaling’s book, but I accidentally bought it. It’s a woman’s book, but whatever…it’s funny.

Video Games

Batman: Arkham City – Completed my Calendar Man obligation to see him on Halloween. Finished the Catwoman stuff. Might go back to finish more sidequests. Might not.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – Seriously great game. about as cinematically perfect as possible. Been avoiding playing in long bursts to stretch out the experience.

Dungeon Defenders – Still playing with Min, Lee, and Min’s friends from Utah. Good fun.

The Binding of Isaac – Beat the game for the second and third times with Cain and Magdalene. Still gotta beat it with Judas, Eve, and ??? and about 5 more times after that.

Uncharted 3 First Impressions [GO]
Nov 2nd, 2011 by Dan

Uncharted 3 single player Gamescom 2011 screenshot

The best adventure serial you'll ever play! (Photo courtesy naughty_dog)

Everyone’s favorite treasure hunter, Nathan Drake, is back once again for his third journey! What’s it like? I’ll tell you. I’m about eight chapters in, but you can expect some degree of story spoiler if you read this post. I don’t think anything huge has happened yet, but if you don’t want to know about which characters are in the game or what happens at all, DON’T READ THIS!

– Transitioning from the super-solid hand-to-hand combat of Arkham City to here is jarring/kind of disappointing. Speaking of going from one game to another, the slightly different cover buttons from Gears of War 3 has also caused me to pop out of cover prematurely/accidentally. Whoops!

– The most common complaint is that the aiming dead zone is kind of big. I actually noticed it on one of the pistols, but on the rifles I think it’s mostly absent. Still not the smoothest aiming (and it never has been), but we’re three games in, Naughty Dog.

– Fighting the brutes was fun…once or twice. Why are there brutes EVERYWHERE?!

– All this emphasis on how old and tired Sully is along with how Drake is letting things get too personal worry me. I don’t want Sully to die, guys!

– Young Drake! Young Sully! Columbia! I wonder if they just pitch-shifted Nolan North’s voice, because Young Drake sounds a little weird in an unnatural way.

– Chloe’s back! I was worried that she wouldn’t make it since we’d only seen Elena. I haven’t met Elena yet, but I can’t wait to see her again. Both of them are so great!

– The new guy, Charlie Cutter, is pretty cool too. He looks like someone I’ve seen on TV/movies before. I checked the IMDB page and his voice actor, Graham McTavish, isn’t familiar to me, but I learned that he voiced Lazarevic last game, which is insane! I like how he’s a know-it-all to Drake and how Nolan North plays the annoyance in a subdued fashion. It’s still early, but at least we’re seeing that not all Englishmen in Uncharted games are evil.

– Chloe seems really familiar with Cutter too. I wonder if that’s the original crew where she met Drake.

– There are some seriously devious puzzles in this game. The main one in the chateau with the tiles…Devious. It took me a while to figure out all the elements in the room, but it’s kind of brilliant.

– Oh my god the spiders! So fucked up. No more. No. I hate it. If they reappear later…

– I don’t love the inverted camera angle chase/escape sequences. It’s hard to see where you’re going when the obstacles pop up split seconds before you have to react.

– Thank god someone has a brain! When Chloe is all, “Hey, remember the last time we tried to unearth a huge treasure and there were evil blue monsters everywhere?” I was all, “YES!” It’d be funny if you had an option to say, “You’re totally right, Chloe.” Credits.

– I actually stopped myself from playing too much last night so that I could spread the fun out. Can’t wait to run into Chloe (my favorite character!), but I’m having a lot of fun in Syria in the meantime. I got killed by rocket launchers maybe six times before I got them all with the sniper rifle.

Batman: Arkham City Review [GO]
Oct 27th, 2011 by Dan

Batman Arkham City

The Joker looks pretty gnarly in this game. (Picture used courtesy gamesweasel)

There may be spoilers ahead. Tread carefully.

Growing up in Florida confers all kinds of benefits to the aquatic athlete that you almost take for granted. Outdoor swimming, for one. I never swam indoors once during my years as a high school swimmer. Sure, things got cold in the winter, but we just heated our pools up a little and tried not to hang out on the pool deck.

We also had the ability to have practice on the beach once a month. Our beach swims were tiring slogs and I really loathed them. We’d start at one point of the beach, Coach would yell (she always yelled) out a stopping point about a mile up the shore, and we’d get swimming and run back. The change of pace was always lost on me. I only dug it for the volleyball game afterward, really. It all just seemed muddled and unfocused and like a waste of a Saturday morning. In the pool we had lanes, regimented practice sets, and direction. I may not have had as much fun watching the same landmark go by for two hours, but I always felt like I was getting something out of it.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going here…

Why does the myth of the open world game persist? Diluting your narrative does not make it sharper or more impactful. Arkham City was swinging for the fences with its story. I don’t see how you can refute that, given how it ends, but the path to get there is just…not as fun.

Rocksteady Studios had a certifiably great game on their hands with Arkham Asylum. Reviewers familiar with the comics loved the game because it allowed players to feel like they were Batman. Does futzing around the city completing side quests unrelated to the main story make you feel more or less than Batman? I like the sidequests, but they were so disconnected and brief feeling that I actually didn’t like doing them. Does that make sense? The way they’re not integrated detracts from their execution.

I’m gonna tie in the beginning: It’s like swimming in the ocean versus swimming in a pool. I may have more freedom, but the bucking waves and the looseness of the experience means I derive less use from it. The very fact that I preferred the volleyball game, our sidequest, so to speak, to the practice itself further strengthens the metaphor. The main story is not as satisfying as it could be.

Batman is focused and doesn’t fuck around. He gets things done. He wrecks fools who get in his way. Batman doesn’t futz around looking for Riddler trophies when helicopters are destroying the city. It’s that annoying ludonarrative dissonance thing rearing its ugly head again. In fact, I was just talking about this in the comments section of a blog post on Ambient Challenge about Red Dead Redemption. What it came down to was that I think the only modern game to be intelligent about this while reveling in its stupidity is Dead Rising.

How reviled was the clock of Dead Rising? I’ll tell you what, I loved it. I never bucked against it. You know what a time limit creates? Tension. It also limits freedom. I bet that’s what people were griping about. In Dead Rising things happen at certain times. If you’re not there, you miss it and the story is over. In Arkham City you have X hours until Protocol 10 is enacted. I’m 99% sure that you can just bullshit around until those X hours are done and nothing happens. Hours don’t “pass” until you hit certain story markers. By trying to be everything to every player, Arkham City loses out on the immediacy of Arkham Asylum. You could just hang out in AA and look for Riddler trophies, but the sense of momentum remained. In between story missions in AC momentum dies.

Rocksteady should be justifiably happy with their gliding mechanics. They’re truly brilliant and lots of fun. If you told me that the developers weren’t thinking about Super Mario World when they created the “dive bomb into gliding” mechanic, I would call you a liar. There’s no way that’s not true. It just works and I can see why they’d want to show off just flying around the city looking for stuff. I just wish (for Arkham Asylum too) that they left the side mission stuff off until after the game.

“Batman, you’ve saved the day!”

“Thanks, I’m gonna go home and take a –”

“Oh no! Batman, there are side quests and Riddler trophies to find! Go back into the city!”

“Dammit…”

Much better. What it doesn’t do is keep you playing the “main mission” long enough to prevent selling the game used the same week. If you’re distracted, it takes longer, I guess, but with the new DLC paradigm, do developers really have to keep trying to shoehorn in sidequests when there are pressing matters to attend to! They might claim that gamers resent being corralled down a narrow path and told what to do. I made this point in my FF XIII review, but choice is an illusion in 99% of the games out there. Many of them are far more linear than you care to believe. Instead of trying to have everything and executing to a passable degree on all fronts, why not segregate a game like I’m advocating? I think it makes more sense if you want a cohesive experience.

Arkham City remains much better executed when it comes to their combat mechanics. Just like the last game, fighting as Batman feels like controlling a superhero. He bounces between targets, has an almost psychic notion of who’s attacking him from where, and, when executed well, he never gets touched. Completing a fight like that makes you feel like a real man. It’s all crunch contact and smooth transition. Batman is a dream to control.

Well, almost. I can’t say I understand why they still feel the need to have a button dedicated to running. We have analog sticks, for Christ’s sake! When we want to run, we will hold said stick in the furthest possible position. Devoting a button to running is a 16-bit contrivance. I hate having Batman move like he’s on a determined, if not leisurely stroll if I’m not holding a button down. It’s downright ridiculous.

If it sounds like I don’t love Arkham City it’s because, well, I don’t love Arkham City. The game itself should be an absolute joy to play. Instead it’s just fun. Now, fun is fine, mind you, but fun is not greatness. I like playing Arkham City, I just wish it stuck to its lanes a little more.

What I’ve Been Doing 24 Oct 2011 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Oct 24th, 2011 by Dan

The Civil Wars (With Milo Greene) 022

The Civil Wars were absolutely beautiful. What a fantastic show.

Movies

50/50 – What a great movie. It was funny and emotional at all the right times. After seeing it I just wanted to go home and hug my roommate (like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, she got cancer at a young age). I’ve seen her in a grand total of four movies now, but I love Anna Kendrick. She is absolutely adorable and she will go far in this business. So cute!

Solaris – A heady movie about a man who chooses to reject reality for a chance at fixing his mistakes. So muted and quiet and sci-fi without being sci-fi really at all. It’s not gonna blow you away, but it’s remarkably well acted. Potentially could be a stage play if it wasn’t for all the flashbacks.

TV

Homeland – Claire Danes is just perfect at her insecure, crazy, competent role. Morena Baccarin has the most unenviable role. The wife who thought her husband was dead and moved on is not one that audiences attach to. Also she got to take part in the most awkward sex scene ever. I guess I don’t have to keep worrying about this harem subplot (thank god!)

The Walking Dead – I really hate that nonsense with the “He told me…it doesn’t matter what he told me.” plot contrivance. Setting up suspense by explicitly hiding information from the viewers is one of my pet peeves. Hey Merle, a motorcycle in the zombpocalypse is a TERRIBLE IDEA. The premiere was tense and pretty awesome most of the time. I like how it’s going so far, but if they ever kill Glenn…haha.

Music

Eleanor Friedberger – The opener for Wild Flag, she was definitely interesting. All of her songs crescendo to these great endings, but can often sound similar. I fell in love with “Roosevelt Island“, but know that all of her songs aren’t that funky.

Wild Flag – I plan on writing more about both of these concerts, by the way, but these women rocked the stage like they owned it. They were having serious fun up there dancing and playing and almost showing off how great they are at this. I can’t say I love the mix that Black Cat had going (and Mary Timony seemed to agree with me. She kept motioning for adjustments), but it’s never a bad thing to be struck by a wave of sound. Great show, heard some new songs, a lot of fun.

Milo Greene – Super busy on stage as the four frontmen swapped instruments repeatedly during the show. They had some great songs, but their set was so short! The song they closed with was stellar.

The Civil Wars – This concert was…wow. Best show I’ve seen in a long time. More to come later, for sure, but The Civil Wars are a quiet group. It’s just Joy singing (occasionally on piano too) and John Paul on guitar (and also singing) and in moments of silence during the songs you could have heard a mouse sneeze. I heard someone crunching five rows behind me. The audience was rapt and Joy and JP just totally rocked the stage. Just beautiful. I can’t think of a show I enjoyed more this year.

Books

The Last Best League – Coming to a close on this one. I was expecting the team to suddenly turn things around during the summer, but it seems like they might close in last place. Wasn’t expecting that.

Video Games

Batman: Arkham City – Batman’s face isn’t so obscured that he shouldn’t have any expressions. He’s seriously like a robot when he talks. It’s…unnerving. Makes him seem like a sociopath. I might explore it more in this space, but I don’t think the open environment served the game well at all. Arkham City was superior and, while Arkham City was definitely a good game, it’s very far from the best of the year for me and nowhere near as impactful as the previous game.

Gears of War 3 – Shotgun event means…I get killed badly. Not my thing.

Mass Effect 2 – My game was so glitchy yesterday that I quit after making 10 minutes of progress over an hour. Bleh…

Wild Flag Drum Kit

Wild Flag knows how to rock

Arkham City First Impressions [GO]
Oct 19th, 2011 by Dan

Batman: Arkham City Box

Nifty White Aesthetic For The Box

Arkham City is out! I played it for a few hours last night. Here are some initial thoughts:

– Have a backup game on another console ready. Play that until the free (with non-used purchase) Catwoman DLC finishes downloading (mine was Gears of War 3). I guess Rocksteady Studios was thinking, “If the Catwoman DLC is on-disc DLC people will get mad at us. Let’s split it out and force a 200 MB download so they know we’re not ripping off used game buyers (PS: We’re so ripping them off)”

I have tremendous doubts that the Catwoman stuff wasn’t done simultaneously or that it couldn’t have fit on the disc. Seriously, I’m 98% sure the 200 MB download is largely symbolic.

– Arkham City (the environment) is pretty big. Getting around it is fun! Finish the AR missions ASAP to get a (free) neat traversal upgrade. After you get the upgrade either be like me and be so obsessed with completing the Advanced AR Missions that you repeat them ad nauseum until you get them right (you can fail them within 5 seconds and it takes maybe 10 to get back to the start) or you can be a healthy individual, pace yourself, and just let it be if you fail a few times. Come back later and all that.

– I always forget “payaso” is spelled with an ‘ll’ instead of a ‘y’. Subtitles will help you learn to spell in Spanish!

– Arkham City does not Metroid you. Batman has all his gadgets from the last game. It also does not do a great job of reminding you how to do anything again right off the bat. This could be because I started on Hard, but maybe not. I don’t know.

– Beating on henchmen is still super fun! I think that they regenerate in the overworld, which is a nice departure. If they don’t…well that’s a bummer. Speaking of the overworld: some sections have guys with guns. Don’t hang out in the Penguin section if you’re not prepared to run into like five guys with guns by accident. You can also do what I did and just get shot so much you die. I did that a lot trying to complete the last Advanced AR Training mission.

– Man, crooks be hating on Bruce Wayne. Even the crooks who don’t know he’s Batman! It’s true what they say, “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”

– Ever wanted to apply Super Mario World cape mechanics to a game where you can dive bomb crooks so hard you knock them unconscious? This is the game for you. Seriously, within a second of learning I could dive bomb into a glide and back again I flashed back to SMW and I instantly knew what I was doing. If only they had licensed the bouncy noise from SMW. If only.

– Batman is not afraid to straight up hit a girl. Damn, son. That’s not cool.

– Catwoman is the worst maintainer of a secret identity ever. People call her Selina and Ms. Kyle all game long. Hey Catwoman, you’re terrible at this super villain thing.

– Some reviewers have lamented that Catwoman controls too much like Batman. Remember how awesome it is to control Batman? That’s not a problem, guys.

– Counter indicators even on Hard mode? Not fun, guys. No achievements for beating it on Hard? Lame. Word to the wise: play the game on Normal, at the very least. Can’t unlock New Game+ without doing so.

– If you get this game before Halloween, be sure to explore the basement of the courthouse on Halloween for 1/12 of an achievement. I’m worried about how I’m gonna get the one on Christmas without cheesing the system.

– Everybody should go and apologize to Kotaku. Go ahead, I’ll wait. I love the meta-joke at play there. Cool stuff.

EDIT: This Kotaku story reminded me that Arkham City leans a little too hard on “b***h.” Like, uncomfortably so. I wish that word had a more negative stigma to it to the general public because it is not okay the way we’ve been using it nowadays. It should have way more force and be deployed way less flippantly than Arkham City has been doing it. Makes me super uncomfortable to play the game.

Arkham City Video Review [GO/ER]
Oct 17th, 2011 by Dan

This comes out tomorrow! It also feels like it’s been forever since the last GB video review. Good to see them coming back.

DC Revamps Harley Quinn…WTF? [BT]
Jun 10th, 2011 by Dan

That's a lot sexier than I remember Harley Quinn ever being.

I’m not as into comic books as I once was and I was never into DC Comics, but when I saw this I felt like I had to say something about it. Above is the new, revamped look for Harley Quinn in her new book, Suicide Squad where Quinn, Deadshot, and King Shark are death row inmates sent on suicide missions for the US Government.

What is going on here? Does it mean that she’s no longer linked to the Joker? Why would they do this to such an iconic character? I wonder if it has to do with the changes they’ve been making to her design for the Arkham games (see below for her Arkham City look). I hated how they turned her into this weird sexpot (mostly because I grew up with the Harley on the animated series) because it just felt wrong, but this is such a departure that it almost shouldn’t be Harley Quinn. It feels like they had an idea for a character/book and shoehorned her in it to sell books with name recognition.

Also don't remember Quinn in a bodice

The concept of the book is neat and actually kind of intriguing to me, but I don’t know if I want to pick up and read this book because of what they’ve done to Harley.

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