Thought Blog: Call of Duty WWII

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Sledgehammer Games has dealt in Call of Duty stock prior to the upcoming entry in the multi-entry series. They not only worked with Infinity Ward and other subservient developers on Modern Warfare 3, but they also developed the solid Advanced Warfare as their first main addition to the Call of Duty chronology. In a series that now spans at least five confirmed timelines things can sometimes seem cluttered and jumbled, mixed up here and there year to year but otherwise a veritable mess.

In a bid to discover some of the personal glory that Battlefield 1 and DICE did with their look at total warfare in an older era, Activision and Call of Duty itself are returning to the previously overdone and oversaturated WWII market in order to rekindle some of the initial magic. As a note, Call of Duty hasn’t been to the second Great War since 2008’s World at War although some elements of 2010’s Black Ops did feature segments in and around the WWII era.

Previously Treyarch and Infinity Ward were the heavy hitters in the series however as of late and at least as of the previous three titles, Sledgehammer has picked up the slack where the other titans have fallen. Infinite Warfare was interesting and a pretty comprehensive package catering to all sorts of players and yet for many it was deemed a dud and not received as well as previous titles have been. Black Ops 3 was likewise seen as a cluttered mess that couldn’t make sense of what it wanted to be despite some interesting new features and a truly crazy single player campaign featuring the usual star studded cast.

As it stands, Advanced Warfare may be the last entry to really net a lot of praise- both for Kevin Spacey in his role within the single player campaign and for it being Sledgehammer’s first solo outing and a successful one at that. Prior to 2014’s Advanced Warfare, Call of Duty Ghosts (Infinity Ward) was deemed one of the least stellar entries in the franchise and 2012’s Black Ops II was an excellent multiplayer addition with some spectacular choice-making single player elements but otherwise started the series’ shift towards science fiction and what many consider a downward trend.

Returning to WWII is a somewhat expected approach and yet it is nonetheless a bold one as well, even if only as a direct response to Battlefield 1’s WWI setting. The critic in me cringes at the terrible naming convention that deemed it necessary to call this game ‘Call of Duty: WWII’ and yet you cannot fault it for simply encapsulating what they plan to offer: the full breadth of the total war experience across the European theater. From the start they could’ve easily used this as an opportunity to somewhat reboot the series and simply called it ‘Call of Duty’ and still made the exact same game they are making despite it being in yet another timeline and yet another setting.

As overdone as the setting was for so many years in the early 2000s, I cannot help but notice how graphically impressive the game is looking already and that it already seems to have Sledgehammer’s trademark narrative focus instead of the monumental attention to every single set-piece moment that Infinity Ward likes to push. Sure it will inevitably live up to the majority of WWII cliches- the gung-ho sergeant that wants to “kill the Nazi scum,” the calm and collected leader that wants to make it through alive and without subjecting his men to the cruelest horrors of war, and the grizzled war veteran side by side with green recruits. But I think the experience itself seems already promising enough.

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Aside from the obvious focus on some of the lesser trod battles of the European theater, the single player campaign looks to focus on the moral repercussions of war as well as the visceral nature of the fighting. I’m eager to see how a return to such ‘Medal of Honor’ gameplay as requested healing in comparison to immediate super-human healing from injuries over time works as well. The game is making it clear that although this will be a similar experience to the previous ones, it is going about things in both a more traditional and entirely different way. For that reason and surely others, WWII looks like it’ll be more than just a visually updated version of events we’ve already played through.

Focusing on single-player would hardly be fair to those of us who also enjoy the other gameplay offerings of the Call of Duty saga and so it’s also praise worthy than once again Sledgehammer Games is offering both Zombies and multiplayer components. Exo-Suit Zombies was an interesting take on the classic formula in Advanced Warfare and yet something tells me once more seeing Nazi zombies will curdle our blood and elevate our pulse in the most appropriate fashion. As for the multiplayer component itself, despite offering some of the expected PvP content it also sounds like Activision is really going after DICE and some of the Battlefield cake- large objective based battles and completely unique character class ‘divisions’ for one.

I applaud Sledgehammer for going the traditional route while still managing to find ways to inject new life into both the series and subsequently the game. It’s commendable that rather than create the same overdone science fiction super trooper tale we’ve seen for the previous few incarnations, they’re opting to return to the literal roots of Call of Duty while still producing new ideas in that older setting. Of all of the developers lately, Sledgehammer seems the most likely to take risks and reap the potential rewards of those design decisions as well. Treyarch used to be the one to do that and Infinity Ward has always stuck to a pretty similar model outside of last year’s Infinite Warfare.

I personally appreciate pretty much every Call of Duty game for the experience that they offer but even I can see the franchise fatigue constantly on the border of gamers’ hazy vision and lurking, waiting for the opportune moment to pounce and render a particular series iteration irrelevant and disdained. Black Ops 3 narrowly dodged that bullet and Infinite Warfare caught the brunt of the blast of criticism despite doing so many things differently and being quite literally out of the world to the degree where people argued as to whether or not it even deserved to be tagged as a Call of Duty game. As much as people buy the games, it’s constantly astounding to see the flak each one gets for literally no reason at times- fans complain about getting the same thing over and over again yet complain when they receive something new and different as well.

I could go on and on about my thoughts with regard to the series and this upcoming release and yet I think now is as appropriate a time as any to end it as well. What are your thoughts about the upcoming game? I personally have no doubt that Sledgehammer will do their best to give the community the most authentic and quality driven experience that they can and although I foresee some criticism in regard to the setting I do think they will fare better than both Black Ops 3 and Infinite Warfare have. Thoughts, comments or concerns? Feel free to comment and give voice to them here.

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My Favorite Games: A Decade Long Retrospective Pt. 4

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It’s been a little while since the last post in my ongoing retrospective that focuses heavily on my favorite games of roughly the past decade and the previous generation up until present day. Although I’m only covering a small chunk of video gaming history, there have been plenty more excellent releases in this time besides the ones that I’m listing- ones that I’ve predominately mastered or otherwise completed and completely enjoyed. This particular post will be emphasizing the years 2011 and 2012 and as always you can feel free to comment and let me know what you think of my favorites.

2011: Dead Space 2, Killzone 3, Crysis 2, The Witcher 2, Shadows of the Damned, Bastion, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Dead Island, Gears of War 3, Dark Souls, Batman Arkham City, Skyrim.

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The first Dead Space game was an exercise in mastering horror and all of the genre defining cliches that often accompany it. The second title was a master stroke in adding even more action to the mixture without sacrificing much in the way of tension or outright terror. Although the third game has since let many people down on the horror side of things, the first sequel showcased the ability to ratchet up the stakes as well as the action-fueled setpiece moments. It has so much going for it and added a lot of memorable content to Isaac’s terribly great story.

Killzone 3 was the final game in the series for a long time and in many ways is still the capstone to an excellent trilogy of games despite Shadow Fall also continuing the narrative even if it avoids many of the old characters’ outright appearances. It amped up the gameplay in nearly every conceivable way and looked downright gorgeous whether it be in singelplayer or competitive game modes. It was a versatile game for many reasons and just went to show that Guerrilla Games has their heads screwed on right when it comes to gameplay first.

Crysis 2 is a brilliant and beautiful game. I have been a big fan of the series and have enjoyed the fact that each game seemingly got better and improved in at least a few ways even if the second is ultimately my favorite even over the infinite customization options offered by the third. The story in Crysis 2 was interesting and fittingly tense when it had to be as well as adrenaline pumping when the action exploded for real. It was probably the most graphically impressive game of this list and for this time period and still has beautiful visuals and smooth gameplay even today. It’s just a shame not too many people hopped on board with the fantastic multiplayer elements.

The Witcher series has long shown gamers how to successfully pull off this sequel business. The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings expanded every single element of the first game and it did so with ease and a narrative that should drag even the most reluctant fan into dark fantasy worlds and writing. Although Wild Hunt has since stunned even more players into awe inspired silence, Assassins of Kings set the tone and the pace for the bigger things that were to come and still stands out as one of the best games of all time as well as possibly the best game of 2011- especially as far as PC titles are concerned.

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To this day I’m still not entirely sure what to make of Shadows of the Damned’s darkly vibrant, gory romp of a horror adventure. And that’s entirely a good thing I think at this point. It’s deeply disturbing at times and equally interesting at other times. There are definite elements of horror and thrilling scares and grotesque creatures but within the same exhilarating experience is also crude humor and absurd encounters as well. It’s gritty when it needs to be and gutsy when it can afford to be and the amount of risk in the creative process and development just goes to show that a little thought can go a long way.

Bastion really set the tone for so many arcade games to come in terms of the independent developer scene on major consoles in the previous and current generation. Not only was it an overture for the eventual release of Transistor, but it was an intriguing and enjoyable experience in its own right- deftly melding a fantastic world and interestingly developed characters. Bastion doesn’t just share a name with one of Overwatch’s most intriguing characters, it shares the sense of quality and the intrigue and mystery of many of those characters’ backstories as well. And that’s always a compliment.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution hasn’t entirely aged well for whatever reason as far as the odd controls go, but the narrative show definitely gone on and hasn’t just continued in terms of Mankind Divided. I’m saddened to hear that Square has put the franchise on pause for the time being but it does remind me that there were greener pastures in the past as well and Human Revolution rekindled a desire I had already had for the series and its intrigue. Sure, the plot can be dense and confusing at times but you can hardly beat the set-up of a dystopian future ruled by corrupt corporations and occupied by cybernetics and titans of engineering- it’s all so Blade Runnery that I cannot help but adore it.

Dead Island is somewhat of a guilty pleasure at least compared to some of these titles but it’s no less enjoyable for that factor. There’s a paltry story at best but the gameplay is where it really shines and where the sequel could’ve had so much more promise if only it had done the right things better and paid attention to quality over quantity. The mere set-up of a quest driven zombie adventure on a massive island that has so many hidden details and secrets is enough to spark interest for most people. Couple that with some interesting enemies and a thorough weapon and dismemberment system like something out of Dead Space and you’ve got a fairly solid game.

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For the longest time it seemed like Gears 3 was it for the series and MY GOD what a fitting conclusion- like Epic’s version of Halo 3 to compare it to another potential trilogy ender. Dom, dear old Dom- RIP buddy cooperative action and memorable moments across the initial trilogy galore. If you haven’t played the Gears series you should really hop on the band wagon and buy Gears 4 so that you can get the access codes for 1-3 and Judgment- I promise you won’t be disappointed because ironically the story is oftentimes the bigger draw than the gameplay itself. Somehow Gears ended up being the most one of the more narrative focused shooters out there.

Dark Souls started the epic and terrible surge of brutally difficult games that we’ve since played- from games created by From Software to games that reek of generic Souls cloning. Without Demon’s Souls we wouldn’t have Dark Souls and without King’s Field we wouldn’t have any Souls-games, however Dark Souls marked the explosion of popularity for the series and its masochistic fans. I continue to play the first game to this day and it retains its originality and enjoyability and difficulty even now.

The Batman Arkham series is one of the best series of all time and easily the greatest superhero series outside of fighting games that feature multiple heroes across muliple stories. Although it has since has some less than stellar additions, the core trilogy of Asylum, City, and Knight are pretty spectacular (forget Origins because it was okay but bleh). Arkham City stands as the narrative highlight and offers the best quests in the series to date. Every boss encounter was original and well done. Every line of dialogue was enthusiastically delivered and believable. And boy oh boy the story was mind shattering at times.

It’s hard to believe it’s been over five years since The Elder Scrolls V hit gamers everywhere with its brilliant addition to the Tamriel universe. Skyrim is still a staple in many gaming libraries and constantly a topic of discussion as well. There has been talk of the potential for a sixth game after all, but honestly I still find myself content to traverse the realms of Skyrim over and over as Bethesda continues to tweak their MMO adaption of the series as well. I would never turn down more Elder Scrolls but I want to see the next game hit us as hard as Skyrim did.

2012: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, Mass Effect 3, Journey, Xenoblade Chronicles, Fez, Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Sniper Elite V2, Spec Ops: The Line, Darksiders II, Borderlands 2, Dishonored, Far Cry 3.

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Forgetting the fact that Amalur was essentially a one-hit wonder that subsequently bankrupted its studio despite decent sales and critical acclaim in terms of reception, it is a spectacularly underrated game as well. It has the sense of a high fantasy role-playing game and yet for every niche cliche it establishes roots in it also branches out into uncharted territory with interesting ideas that haven’t really been done since or seen before. Not only is it an enjoyable experience and competent RPG, Kingdoms of Amalur is just a genuinely good game.

It wouldn’t be fitting to not talk about the capstone to Commander Shepard’s spacefaring experiences here, ending issues or otherwise. In the wake of Mass Effect Andromeda’s release and the issues that have come with it, let us not forget the amazing trilogy Bioware gifted players around the world with and the amount of player feedback that went into the flawed masterpiece that is Mass Effect 3- both before and after its release. When a developer loves their work enough to tweak the experience after release and offer players a more thoughtful ending, that’s when you know that something special has been made (well and screwed up a bit as well).

Journey is truly a work of art and if you need to hear more arguments about the matter I invite you to happily google video games as an art form for more data and research to support that thought. As an experience it cannot be matched, not even by today’s standards or by other equally intriguing and compelling indie games. As far as the game itself goes it both looks and feels artistic and the artistic integrity of it should never be under scrutiny either. It’s like great titles such as Limbo and Little Nightmares where it’s an enjoyable game but also a thoroughly worthwhile and thought provoking experience.

Xenoblade Chronicles has had sequel content and additions made to it but nothing has quite lived up to the amazing quality and expansiveness of the first title. I was shocked when such an epic game released after virtually hearing little to nothing about it in terms of coverage here in the west. The fact that such an epic game could be made and not much have been said about it just seemed to be contradictory in so many ways and an egregious breach of gaming’s moral code in others. If you have a Wii and haven’t played the game then you’re missing out on quite possibly the best title outside of Twilight Princess.

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Don’t even get me started on Fez 2 rumors or Phil Fish’s antics, but Fez is an indie darling even in a year dominated by Journey and a two year period shared with both Journey and Bastion. It’s a callback to the old school exploration and platforming titles and truly an authentic and enjoyable one at that. Coupled with the fact that it melds new school and old school ideas, it is also thoroughly impressive that the title was all pretty much created by the talent and drive of a single Fish himself. Love the man or hate him, his art speaks for itself.

There hasn’t really been one single defining moment in the gaming community that has sprung up around Telltale’s episodic installments quite like Episode 5 of TWD Season One and Clementine’s experience with Lee culminating in her choice to put him down or let him turn into the zombies they’ve been narrowly escaping until that point. If I just ruined an entire series for you then I apologize but you’ve had five years to see what everyone was crying about for yourself. Similarly if someone ruined the Red Wedding for you then you had like a decade to see what all of your geek friends were sobbing over after reading A Storm of Swords so hey. The episodic format is a bit stale now but you can’t beat the series that made it as thrilling as it has been at times.

Sniper Elite V2 is a how a remake and reboot should be done as it is summarily a bit of both and a bit of neither. Sniper Elite was first made somewhere in the 2004-2005 period and was a competent and interesting shooter at the time. Sniper Elite V2 has since changed many aspects and turned the series into a franchise for Rebellion Games that has spawned three main series titles and a trilogy of Nazi Zombie content as well. All of which has been invigorating and interesting, but none of which would have been possible without the reception of V2 and its dynamic slow motion kill cams. It’s like a sniper’s version of Mortal Kombat and it is gory and gratifying.

Spec Ops: The Line deserves all of the talk it gets for how it handles trauma and so many other aspects not often discussed in video games, much less so in shooters. It is a brilliant game and also a thoughtful evolution of an otherwise defunct series. Honestly, as a one-off kind of experience that may never be replicated it’s an amazing experience and one that I think many different types of gamers would enjoy. If it ever does get the sequel it would most definitely deserve then I can only hope it lives up to the legacy and the shock value established in this particular title. Maybe a jungle adventure like something out of Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now…

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Just like the forces of evil could not fully contain either War or Death, the release of Darksiders III cannot be contained or prevented by the death of a publisher or subsequent acquisition of developers. As thrilled as I am for another installation of the series (so much so that I blogged about it prior to any news of a new release) I also constantly revel in my enjoyment of the previous iteration of the series that leapt from the linear path of the first to the open world and embellished lore of the second. For all that I adored in the first game (a lot of things actually) I came to love and appreciate fully in the second- with its Diablo meets God of War meets Zelda structure.

You already know how big a fan I, like many people, am of Borderlands and the second game in the series by this point. Not only have I established my own series of blogs in regard to the replay of the second title but I’ve also delivered many comments and bits of discussion on the lore as well. Borderlands 2 is something that you don’t always see with a gaming generation- it is an icon and a high water mark of excellence that can’t often be replicated, whether within the same series or even within a genre. And yet I still have high hopes that Gearbox can strike gold yet again with their highly anticipated third main installment and make me feel the same way the blood and guts and loot filled adventure has in the past.

Dishonored 2 is every bit as original and as stellar a the first game but for whatever reason the game’s sales have not been reflective of that and it hurts my heart to say so. The first game is fittingly a fresh adventure into something that Bethsoft has some experience in personally but has otherwise left largely to games like Thief and Assassin’s Creed before. Dishonored features dynamic choices that actually matter and colorful characters within a colorful world that you can both interact with and affect in numerous ways. Although the sequel has expanded upon much, the lore and sheer ability to do virtually anything imaginable in the first game are what make it one of the most intriguing experiences of all time.

Far Cry 3 is an island in the series and probably because it offered the freshest start as well as the most original and unique gameplay elements in a series that was otherwise headed downhill after the flawed African safari of Far Cry 2. Although I enjoy the series as a whole and can recognize the great elements each iteration has implemented, FC3 is easily the most quality driven experience and outside of the unique setting for Primal it is the best and brightest excursion to date as well. Far Cry 4 piggybacks too much of the gameplay elements and sheer shock value in terms of colorful characters to get much love from me despite that experience still being a grand one.

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Pokemon: Indigo League Retro Review S1 E6-10

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It’s been a little while since my last Indigo League retrospective and I’ve written quite a few things in between, but here we are yet again. In between watching and reviewing several other shows lately (of which you should be seeing more meat in terms of reviews releasing) I’ve also taken the time to rewatch old Pokemon episodes and catch myself up accordingly. As such, I’ll be presenting another five episodes today and once I’ve completely finished rewatching The Clone Wars you can expect a continuation of the blog series from season two onward (including Rebels).

My previous Pokemon: Indigo League retrospective can be found here if you do not wish to search overly much for the original post itself. As always, I’m going to be breaking down Ash and his crew’s ongoing adventure into bite-sized portions that are much more manageable both for review and consumption. So without further ado, let’s get down to business.

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Ep. 6: Clefairy and the Moon Stone | 22m

Even as I remember it fondly today having just recently revisited the episode, the Mt. Moon-centric episode has always been one of if not my very favorite Pokemon episodes of all time. I’m not sure what the initial draw of it was for me all those years ago but now I just enjoy the enigmatic presence of Clefairy and later Clefable, as well as the first showcase of evolutionary power beyond the normal evolutionary track itself. Ash, Misty, and Brock meet a scientist (Seymour) who is being attacked by confused Zubat- all of this ties into yet another unoriginal Team Rocket scheme of course as well. Needless to say, it always boils down to Team Rocket wanting to either steal Pokemon or something that will inherently increase their power. In this case it’s the latter and the Moon Stone itself, which is fabled to be in the caves somewhere around Mt. Moon. Although there is a lot of shenanigans and mysticism involved, ultimately the Moon Stone is shattered and transforms many nearby Clefairy into Clefable, an even more rare Pokemon who sends Team Rocket packing. Grade: A

Ep. 7: The Water Flowers of Cerulean City | 22m

Having ended the previous episode with some timely signpost graffiti courtesy of Gary Oak, Ash Ketchum’s greatest and original rival, Cerulean City’s journey starts with Brock mocking the young hero for his willingness to let Gary stay one step ahead and forces him to go to battle other opponents in anticipation of a rival challenge. Misty, to her credit, attempts to divert them from heading to this particular city (for reasons that are more apparent later on) but nothing will deter Ash. When Ash does arrive at the local gym it’s not exactly what he was expecting and he finds three apathetic sisters more concerned with their looks and synchronized dance routines. Somewhat discouraged but still wanting to earn his badges the correct way, he moves on. Enter Misty. The friend (and as it turns out, fan of hard work and making Ash work hard particularly) returns and forces Ash to battle her for the Cascade badge he covets dearly. Just when it looks like Team Rocket will miss their entrance for once, the trio crashes the show and Misty/Ash team up to take them on. After they’re done with, it’s another solid win in the books as the crew continues on their journey. Grade: A

Ep. 8: The Path to the Pokemon League | 22m

With two badges down and untold adventures to come, Ash and his friends head off into the relative unknown- purportedly making their way to Vermilion City which holds luxury and intrigue. Of course now is the perfect time to encounter some local trainers who wish to test Ash’s prowess- so enter A.J, who also has a tent full of wild pocket monsters for the crew to ooh and ahh over. And did I mention A.J’s gym has been undefeated? Needless to say, A.J isn’t exactly the best with how he treats his Pokemon but figures the ends justify the means. And right on cue, Team Rocket starts to weasel their way into this setup as well. Ironically, A.J and his Sandshrew take it upon themselves to defend their gym and their honor, even if it means pretty much destroying the place in their bid to send Team Rocket heading for the hills. As we learn by the end, all trainers do things their own way and Ash and A.J must inevitably head their separate ways as they each make their own legacy and work towards entering the Pokemon league proper. Grade: B+

Ep. 9: The School of Hard Knocks | 22m

As the narrator says the friends will continue on their adventure in “perfect harmony,” we see that this is in fact nowhere near reality and Misty is still rightfully angry about her bike being totaled. Soon they stumble upon what looks to be the very definition of ‘school of hard knocks’ when they encounter kids quizzing each other on all things Pokemon- with the added bonus of doing so while amping up the speed on a treadmill. If that’s not interesting plot development, I’m not sure what is. In fact, the entirety of this so-called Pokemon Technical School is something of a satirical take on real universities and their issues and that alone makes me love Pokemon so much more. Before long, Ash and Misty (and sort of wallflower Brock) are doing their best to battle the local cliques and stick it to the student body, er man. Despite his lack of general knowledge in most regard, Ash proves that you don’t necessarily need to be a know-it-all to win matches. Hands down the best moment comes when Team Rocket stumbles in and is subsequently attacked by not one but all of the students who’ve gathered around- citing that “bad guys don’t play by the rules” and as such they don’t merit one on one confrontation. Grade: B

Ep. 10: Bulbasaur and the Hidden Village | 22m

Ash and his friends start off once more in the wilderness and find themselves reliant upon his often off-the-mark “instincts.” Things quickly go awry as the trainers experience everything from falling into a watery canyon to being caught in a hunting snare. Later on things take an unexpected turn when they encounter an atypical village that has been erected for injured Pokemon to recover and recuperate in. Team Rocket is shown to be essentially following the kids and also ironically falls into every single pitfall that the others had already encountered, often hilariously escaping just barely. Later on when they finally make it to the so-called “Pokemon health spa” as well, their advances are of course denied by the gathered pocket monsters who’ve grown particularly unruly when it comes to dealing with insensitive trainers and the likes of Team Rocket. In the final moments, both Ash and Misty would like to battle for the right to capture Bulbasaur but it is of course Ash who wins this right and wins the following battle before they turn their gaze back to making the trip to Vermilion City. Grade: A-

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Well, there’s the next series snippet of my Indigo League reviews and retrospective. I hope you’ve been enjoying everything so far and will continue to read and review my words and thoughts as well as supply your own. Enjoy!

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Wildlife Reserves and Hyperion Hijinks

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Well, it’s been a little while since my previous Borderlands 2 romp and subsequent blog- Face Pizza and Flaming Midgets, but I’m here to tell you that drought ends today. I am still painstakingly making my way through Borderlands 2 and will also be replaying Mass Effect 2 more in-depth once I’ve devoted enough time and attention to Gearbox’s epic masterpiece. As usual if you’re walking into this blog series blind it’s gonna cost you probably vision or hearing or something equally painful between my mindless reference making and spoilerific attitude. So really, you’re bringing this upon yourself at this point because you’ve been forewarned twice now.

Like I’ve mentioned previously for those of you who remembered to read the first blog post, while I’m predominately playing through Borderlands 2 to completion, this particular series will actually be focusing on my musings about the series as a whole. So don’t expect a necessary play by play of the game as opposed to some lighthearted commentary on the franchise itself.

It’s intriguing to me to note that the main antagonists of the series have always largely been parts of or heads of corporations. This seems to be one of the most realistic narrative elements of the series just due in part to the fact that a lot of times corporations really are the bad guy after all. I mean, first we have the Atlas corporation in Borderlands and just the overall attitude that these corporations have such a huge stake in the world of Borderlands even if they are sometimes a joke (see Dahl). Of course by the time Tales from the Borderlands and Borderlands 2 has rolled around there’s Hyperion to deal with in all their Handsome Jack glory.

We’ve seen everything from a zombie outbreak on a distant island to the pretty much nuking of the moon Elpis thanks to various corporate bad guys in our time and it really says something ironic about both companies and sometimes environmental regulations. I know, who would’ve guessed there’s anything remotely realistic to be found in the Borderlands series right? I mean, I’d imagine the desolation of the vast majority of Pandora’s already desolate landscape and the forced terraforming and destruction of an entire moon’s surface don’t really do much for company morale or support after all. To be fair, space pirates are more at fault than Hyperion for once in the instance of the latter but I digress.

Categorically, each game has had its fair share of big bads and yet there’s always been a company or band of mercenaries involved somewhere across the narrative in a substantial way and that’s pretty telling of what Borderlands 3 or Tales 2 may have to offer as well. Although I’ve envisioned Borderlands going beyond a mere trilogy I could just as easily see Borderlands 3 as a finale to the saga put in place by both Borderlands and Borderlands 2, as well as even including the decisions made within the confines of The Pre-Sequel and Tales from the Borderlands. So far the narrative fits together perfectly albeit in a sometimes confusing way. So why should we make any drastic changes to a narrative formula that works already and not have another big bad stir due to the actions of one company or another?

Vault hunters and vault hunting always have and always will play some part in the narrative, even if it’s a doozy and red herring the size of a gigantic tentacle monster- seriously, that’s already been done. Things won’t and don’t always work out quite how you expect and yet for all of that there’s a big bad corporation as the front man and then of course the popular shadow bad guy a la any Final Fantasy game right behind them pulling the strings or itching to show up in your penultimate encounter. I’m not here to say we should be sticking it to the man or that all corporations are evil and worth disbanding (unless you live on Pandora that is), but it’s definitely interesting to look at how even such an absurd adventure as Borderlands can sometimes find ironic details in the real world as well.

Mainly I’m just entertained by the prospect that this evolving and living, breathing world has so much more to offer as we’ve been shown time and time again. I’m also intrigued by the fact that we are still discovering secrets within it and that the art style alone has guaranteed that it never grows old or wretched in any way. I can still go back and play the first Borderlands game and in fact I often do. You can see graphical improvements even in this cel shaded art style and yet it’s still easy to pick up and enjoy regardless of that simple fact. Much like a corporation constantly improves its business model and sales (in theory), Borderlands as a series and franchise can and will continue to evolve in every way and that’s a truly beautiful thing to ponder in between braining psychos with Krieg’s buzz-saw axe.

As always, feel free to send your comments and concerns my way in equal numbers as I will always read and reply to worthy comments and questions.

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What Remains of Edith Finch Review

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What Remains of Edith Finch is a game that I have long awaited because it blends the talent at Giant Sparrow with the conceptual value of titles such as Gone Home and adds in a much more macabre element. After all, this is essentially a game where you relive the semi-black humor semi-horrible deaths of each and every one of your family members as you waltz around the nooks and crannies of a lively house. So that right there makes Edith Finch one of the indie darlings of the Play Station 4 this year and adds it to the growing collection of games featuring Inside and all things Playdead as well in terms of dark and engrossing narratives.

Edith Finch very much finds itself fixated with the prospect of death and yet it also proves that there is always something to live for. It is a very interesting and unique take on the human condition in more ways than one and even livens up the otherwise tried and tired concept of walking around a house or other mostly linear area and reveling in your exploration a la Gone Home and Firewatch. Rather than merely be a carbon copy of all things done in the past, E.F. makes its own strides work and pushes far beyond what we’ve seen thus far.

There is still the detailed way in which you must inevitably uncover clues and progress the plot, however the mere way the text is represented and narrated as you watch the words shift and fold onto the screen and on objects of interest makes things interesting enough. As you search the house and come across items belonging to lost relatives or objects of interest the creative ways in which the smoky text scrawl onto the screen and off of it when your perspective shifts are always engaging and imaginative. Although you are playing as the last Finch and the titular Edith, it’s also interesting to note that you’ll be literally living through the morbid ways in which your relatives bit the dust as well through reenactment and reading.

There is an attention to detail in both the narrative and housing situation that constantly wowed me in ways that the admittedly bland games that have come before have not. Edith Finch looks graphically amazing and it also adds a believable amount of clutter to its main setting in ways that Gone Home and Firewatch and other similar title have not managed to do. At its root it is essentially the same type of game and yet with its variety of established characters and rich story it feels radically different as well. Although you will find yourself listening to just as many narrations and dialogues as any other exploration game in the same vein, the way it dynamically draws players in is both admirable and thoroughly worth the investment of a few short hours.

What Remains of Edith Finch is both an experience grounded in reality and one that offers a sublime and surreal quality not before seen in the genre of late. Adventure games are very much making a comeback and in my mind Edith Finch is leading the charge as of right now. There is an ironic sense of childish fantasy overlapping with discussion of adult subjects and overall mortality and morality which is something that remains engaging throughout the morose and macabre environments you’ll explore. The game does a great job of balancing the lighter and darker elements and sometimes they’re quite difficult to distinguish from each other a well.

Although there is a degree of linearity particularly in how each segment where you “play” as another family member pans out, it’s interesting to note that there are still those little instances of openness and ambiguity offered to the player in how you approach situations that eventually lead to the same inevitable conclusion. In some ways it operates as the Telltale brand of interactive storytelling does, albeit without the same level of choice in terms of alteration to the overall narrative. The text-driven narration and the general environments themselves often mesh together in ways that draw your attention from one thing to the next and never leave you feeling out of the action or bored for a moment- something that even excellent AAA games could learn from lengthy audio tapes and collectibles.

There is a certain degree of ambiguity to the game’s eventual conclusion despite the premise being relatively straightforward and to simply ascertain what has lead to the demise of your relatives. That is your main goal and an easily accomplished one, however part way through the story it also becomes clear that something darker and more sinister is also afoot. Although there are hints as to how and why your relatives have been lead like lambs to the slaughter, it’s left ultimately up to players to mostly infer why and how. The saddest thing of all is that this information is purportedly available to you however circumstance dictates time and time again that you’re denied the full revelation and as such culminates in a slightly disappointing finish to an otherwise brilliant title.

At its basest level, Edith Finch is about ultimately exploring the theme of death and immortality and how they go hand in hand. Although each of her seemingly ill-fated and cursed family members has been struck down by death’s chilled hand, each has also been immortalized both in their writings and memories as well as Edith’s own characterizations and representations of them. You constantly learn more and more about the facets that make up each character and as such they are highly realized even if they never necessarily appear in the course of the game outside of their perspective and musings. It’s an interesting way to tell a story and certainly an intriguing method to convey one with such deeply disturbing and empathetic tones as this one.

Death truly is not always the end and life is such a beautiful thing and should not be taken for granted. What Remains of Edith Finch constantly hammers these points home in more ways than one and is better for it.

Concept: Explore your cluttered and memorable family home and discover the motivations behind several relatives and the choices that ultimately lead to their untimely demise.

Graphics: The game is artistic and beautiful and constantly shifts between realistic and surreal at the flick of a switch. It conveys the tone and the mood throughout the narrative and often reflects what is being said as well as what is being felt in a believable manner.

Sound: At times the voice-work can be quite mesmerizing and is certainly one of the higher points for the game. The sound work is also respectable and shifts to suit the tone of the moment being played out.

Playability: The games controls are easy to grasp and just as easy to handle. Understandably it works quite in part due to the large amount of talent involved with playtesting the game prior to its launch- featuring developers from famous studios and writers for upcoming games such as The Last of Us Part Two for example.

Entertainment: Although Edith Finch’s own dynamic story is at the forefront of the narrative, it’s just as interesting to look to the past and to what tragic ironies and calamities have befallen her relatives. It’s an expanding and shifting tale of changing perspectives and changing outlooks on life and all the more intriguing for it.

Replay Value: Low.

Overall Score: 8.0

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The Future is Now

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Blade Runner is a classic, not just in terms of filmography or overall cinematic narrative but quite literally from the source material itself. Pretty much everything that Philip K. Dick has penned has gone on to inspire greatness- look no further than Blade Runner and Man in the High Castle, inspired respectively by Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and The Man in the High Castle.

Therefore it only makes sense that eventually someone would want to cash in on the concept of such an ingenious universe and narrative created by the 1982 neo-noir film. Do not mistake Blade Runner 2049 for just another shameless plug and attempt at rejuvenating or remaking the most famous films of the twentieth century however, as it is being made for the actual purpose of furthering the plot and passing it onto the next generation. I think that’s an admirable concept at the least, regardless of how this film inevitably compares to the original.

Whereas the original saw Harrison Ford gunning down escaped replicants and hunting at the merest hint of an existential crisis of faith, it also featured a brilliant setting and amazing cinematography. Blade Runner 2049 doesn’t seem so different in that respect as it also features Harrison Ford in some capacity, probably has several twists and turns in store for its characters and the audience alike, and also looks to feature prominent and iconic cinematic moments. The trailers have been simple but beautiful and I love the color palette and world on display.

It’s interesting to note that the film also features such prominent personas as Harrison Ford (reprising his role from the original), Ryan Gosling (as the next Harrison Ford), Jared Leto (probably being all method and pissing his fellow compatriots off), Robin Wright (not playing Frank Underwood’s wife), and Lennie James (hopefully wielding a bo-staff here as well) among others.

Such a talented and renowned cast isn’t always the key to success or even a good film- Star Wars did well with relatively minor talent in the prime positions and the acting greats taking a backseat albeit giving ostensibly their best performances of all time in some cases. However, I think it is fair to say that given the talented roster we are more than likely in for some interesting performances from major and minor characters alike. Gosling himself has been portrayed in some interesting role of late (La La Land, The Nice Guys, The Place Beyond the Pines) and I’m eager to see him give his own take on a neo-Rick Deckard essentially.

Harrison Ford is the man behind the mystery of the original film and I wonder how its respective conspiracies will play into the larger picture in this particular narrative. Here’s hoping Ford doesn’t take a lightsaber to the gut in this one at least, regardless of his character’s evolving arc. You can’t keep killing your darlings, man…

I’m eager to see the callbacks to the original but also more so how the original’s format is evolved and worked with in this sequel. The newest trailer has been fairly promising and also hints at a remarkable amount of content for the movie to discuss and viewers to digest. Even the simplest bits of dialogue have potential ramifications and spoiler worthy meaning if you’ve seen the first film and notice the references. Both the teaser and first official trailer thus far have been far more teasing and hinting than most film trailers are ever in their entirety and I love that.

Some of the aspects that I’m most curious about are of course how they handle the existential crises both Deckard and K seem to be having, as well as how this will tie into the ultimately overarching plot concerning both Leto and Wright. There seems to be a great deal of content and equal measures action and time for resolved reverie, so I’m also anticipating a lot of revelations and unraveling of a widening conspiracy in Deus Ex fashion along the way. In some respects, this is more Deus Ex: Mankind Divided than even Deus Ex was. And that’s not a bad comparison to make if 2049 can deliver on the concepts firmly laid by the original and expand in the right direction.

When it’s all said and done, unlike films such as Rings, The Two Jakes, or Caddyshack 2, Blade Runner 2049 looks to actually be both meaningful and memorable and perhaps the best way to toast the legacy of a classic film. Rather than spitting on what has been established it seems as if the crew is embracing it and furthering that legacy in a respectable way. Ridley Scott does have a way with backing ambitious projects to say the least.

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I May be Excited…

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May 2017 is a very unique and interesting time for most of us. Those attending universities are inevitably drawing nearer to the close of the academic year whilst the rest of us prepare for the hottest summer releases to eventually hit the market. Regardless of your preferences- be it literature, films, or games, there’s undeniably something here for all of us. In this particular blog I’ll just cover some of the films and games which have either piqued my interest already this month or remain to be judged as such when they release later on.

May 5th

This turned out to be quite an action-packed day on the film and gaming front and that comes in the form of Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Prey. I’m sure the majority of you know by now that both have largely lived up to their hype despite some discussion that GotG 2 doesn’t surpass its predecessor and that Arkane’s version of Prey is good but not quite great. Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, these two are definitely one of the high points of the month thus far and probably will still be up there come the end of May and beginning of June.

May 9th

On May 9th a relatively little-known game known as Strafe is set to be released and it’s been one of my anticipated titles for quite some time now. It’s essentially a retro-shooter set to the tune of old golden age titles such as Doom, with the exception that besides graphics it actually includes a lot of relatively new concepts as well. If you’re into that sort of thing and have a computer capable of running software that looks like it’s from the nineties, then hop on the bandwagon!

May 16th

Both Injustice 2 and The Surge release on this particular day and both titles are looking increasingly interesting for completely different reasons. The first Injustice was an excellent game and I cannot wait to see how the sequel compares. Respectively, Lords of the Fallen was a pretty good game and I cannot wait to see what Deck 13 does with the same essential Souls-like gameplay set to a futuristic robocalpyse tune. Honestly, I’m sure both will be at least pretty decent games and I cannot wait to see how it all works out in both cases.

May 19th

If it weren’t for the release of the highly anticipated and already pretty well-reviewed Alien: Covenant, I’d almost be tempted to insert the next edition of Fire Emblem in this slot as well. As is, Alien: Covenant looks to be quite a doozy and honestly it may be one of my most highly anticipated movies of the year, not just the month itself.

May 26th

I’m not quite sure what to make of this particular day because three completely different things are releasing and I’m not quite sure if any of them will live up to the hype, although I am positive that one of them will make a lot more money than it deserves to at this rate. Rime has been in development forever it seems like, so I’m really just excited to see it potentially coming out for once. Baywatch is an intriguing concept since it’s a remake with a fairly talented and unique cast (ft. The Rock everybody). And Pirates 5 will gross a ton of money despite really not adding much to a series that has only gone downhill since its third (well, first really) entry.

There are of course plenty of other goings on going on within the confines of the month of May, however these are some that personally seem to be most prominent on my radar in terms of films and gaming. If you’ve got anything else you’re looking forward to- that newest book in a beloved series or a long awaited album for example, then feel free to comment on what I’ve missed here.

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Milly Schmidt

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