Friday, July 10, 2015

Revenge of the Reboots Part 1: Terminator Genisys

Remakes, retreads, and rip-offs have been common in Hollywood for decades.  2015's summer film season is in no way special in this.  I have been writing this blog for five years now and trust me, these kinds of franchise reboots are nothing new, they have given me thousands of words worth of material.  Most of which I wrote in a very angry mood. Throughout the May to July period, something special happened, no less than three major reboots to classic SciFi franchises hit theaters.  This I feel, makes for a teachable moment.  One reboot was a piece of crap, one barely passed, and one was fucking awesome.  Let's use these three films to see what lessons we can draw.

Welcome to a trilogy of reviews I call "Revenge of the Reboots".

I imagine that the genesis* of "Terminator Genisys" went something like this:  Two screenwriters drove into Hollywood on the same day, each with their own script for a planned reboot of the 1980s James Cameron time travel action franchise, Terminator.  One screenwriter had this cooky plan of rehashing the plot of "Terminator 2: Judgement Day" just with Arnold Schwarzenegger raising Sarah Connor.  Another screenwriter had a completely different script imagining a reborn Skynet reappearing in 2015 using our iPhones as a new terrifying way to start Judgement Day.  Then these two screenwriters, both rushing to make their meeting with the execs, smashed their cars right into each other.  Both were tragically killed, most of their scripts were destroyed in the fire.  But the execs were able to salvage the situation, they simply took what pages survived of each document and paperclipped them together.  Then it was time to make a movie - a disjointed, confusing, riddled with plot holes movie.

Guess what?  "Terminator Genysis" is the piece of crap.  The Terminator franchise has been long suffering, with "Terminator Gynisis" marking the third attempt in the past twenty years to turn these movies into a bankable annual phenomenon.  "Terminator 3:  Rise of the Machines" could only regurgitate "Terminator 2" only with less success.  And "Terminator Salvation" was the kind of movie so bad that if there was any justice in Hollywood, the word 'Terminator' should have been banned from film titles for a century.  Maybe our children's children would be able to undo our mistakes and atone for the sins of that travesty.  Yet here we are, just six years later, with yet another attempt.  And if the goal was simply to show that it is possible to make a Terminator movie better than "Salvation", they succeeded.  If they had any further goals, well... that's a shame.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight Harley Quinn DLC Review

This is a review of the Harley Quinn "story" DLC that I got along with my "Batman: Arkham Knight" pre-order.  The DLC actually seems interesting enough:  you play as Harley Quinn in a prequel to the main Arkham Knight storyline featuring her attack on Nightwing's city to rescue Poison Ivy.  That sounds fine. Harley is a great character even if her voice is mangled by an incompetent Tara Strong performance.  Her relationship with Poison Ivy is one of the most interesting and complicated ones in all of Gotham.  Plus Harley Quinn was apparently pregnant in "Arkham City" opening the door to all kinds of twists and emotional turns as she tries to get over the Joker.  Harley plays very differently from Batman:  she has no silent take-downs, but is more aggressive, faster, and can go berserker for one hit kills.  This should be great.

Instead this DLC is crap.  Allow me to give a summary of the entire thing:  Harley beats up some cops, then goes into a room to beat up more cops with guns, then goes into another room to beat up cops without guns, then goes into another room to beat up cops with guns, then goes go an elevator shaft, and finally beats up a few cops backed up by Nightwing, and rescues Ivy.  That's five fights total.  How long does that take?  Fifteen minutes.  Now I paid nothing for this DLC because it was a pre-order bonus, but somehow even after an investment of nothing, I still feel ripped-off.  This makes the worthless blue balls of "Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes" seem like a sixty hour JRPG like "Persona 3".  Just as soon you feel like you understand the difference between Harley Quinn and Batman's playstyles, the DLC is over.  This story mode is over so fast that I only ever got a chance to use one of Harley's gadgets, I do not even know what the other two do.

Okay, the game is lengthy in terms of Atari 2600 standards, but maybe the story makes it worth it?  Nope.  Harley Quinn's pregnancy storyline ends with no conclusion as Rocksteady decided to chicken out and retcon the pregnancy test you found in "Arkham City" as a false positive.  Harley as a character gets to do nothing but make some quips here and there, argue with the Penguin over her intercom, and talks with Poison Ivy for ten seconds before the DLC just ends abruptly.  Does any of this matter for the main story though?  Not even in the slightest!  Harley Quinn has barely anything to do in the main game.  Even after she beat Nightwing in a fair fight (which is pretty badass) Batman takes her her with a single punch, no boss fight.  I do not even think that the team behind this DLC even were in communication with the main Rocksteady team.  We're told Harley is trying to save Poison Ivy for the Scarecrow's plan.  Then in the main game, Poison Ivy wants nothing to do with Scarecrow's plan and does all she can to foil it!

So if this is the standard that Rocksteady is planning for the other DLC storylines to come, I'd say just save your money.  Sure Batgirl looks sexy in her upcoming story, but seriously think twice.  This is unacceptable for any price.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Batman: Arkham Knight - Almost the Ultimate Batman Game

There is only one superhero awesome enough to break the curse of licensed games, and that's Batman.  Screwing around in Lex Luthor's rings on the Nintendo 64 is for Superman, Batman on the other hand has been the star of one of the greatest video game franchises of modern gaming, the Arkham series.  That includes "Batman: Arkham City", one of my favorite experiences to come out of my old PlayStation 3.  Rocksteady has promised that this new game, "Batman: Arkham Knight" for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the PC* will be their final Arkham game, an epic and exciting conclusion to their grand Batman saga.

...Now before you put too much stock into that claim, remember the loophole-friendly words Rocksteady used.  They said this would be the last Arkham game, not the last Batman game, or even the last game in this particular continuity.  The "Arkham" part of the title has been having less and less relevance to events since "Arkham Asylum", to the point that "Origins" and now "Knight" have nothing to do with Gotham City's most infamous H.P. Lovecraft-reference medical facility.  So really the next Batman game - and trust me, there will be more Batman games - will only have dropped an anachronism from their titles.  Yeah, the game opens saying "this is how the Batman dies", but if you actually believe that promise you're probably the same gullible sort who did not guess this game's twist identity reveal a whole year ago (spoilers).

So "Arkham Knight" may not be a grand ultimate conclusion to all things Batman, but at least it can still be a decent Batman story.  And while "Arkham City" was one of my favorite video games, even I can admit that Rocksteady still had a long innovative way to go before they could create the ultimate Batman game.  Most of that particular innovation in "Arkham Knight" has been focused around the new Batmobile which has proven to be a controversial choice.  Gotham City is still empty aside from criminals and supervillains, so the town does not feel alive other than as a playground to be a bad dude kicking ass.  Still Gotham has never been bigger or more beautiful, gameplay has never been more varied, and there are few games out there that can rival "Arkham Knight"'s storytelling sophistication.  This is a game that truly knows what being Batman is all about, and even if "Arkham Knight" cannot be the definitive Dark Knight experience, it is a good one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Game of Thrones Season 5 Review

Note: This post would have come up yesterday or even Sunday if not for this little thing called "E3" that everybody seems to be going gaga about. Reaction to that is coming up at the end of this week, once I've seen everything. I'm not there this year (sad face) but I'm still following the streams, sorry for spamming your twitter.

I guess it was inevitable in some way that the season adapting "A Dance with Dragons", by far the worst book of George R. R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series was going to be by far the worst season of HBO's smash hit "Game of Thrones"*.  "A Dance with Dragons" is not a very good book in my opinion, being full of unnecessary padding and leaving open far too many plot points to possibly justify itself. Where previous books of the series were in some ways stand-alone complete chapters, "A Dance with Dragons" is just a chunk of story that happens to be bound in a single volume, utterly useless without knowing what comes before or next. So when the show runners of "Game of Thrones", D. B. Weiss and David Benioff, decided that they were going to make huge changes to Season 5, I was pretty much behind it. Change away, I said, it cannot get any worse.

Guess what? It got worse. "A Dance with Dragons" is far from a good book, but it did have good qualities. It is amazing how much we have lost in order to condense things down. There is no Lady Stoneheart, nobody baked any Freys into pies, it seems the battle of Meereen is just not happening (not that it happened in the books either yet), so much of the tension of the Winterfell plothole is completely gone, Ser Barristan's most badass scenes are just not happening this time, etc. etc. Luckily though, even if you are not an avid book reader who obsessively devoured the first four books of the series in a single summer, "Game of Thrones" Season 5 is still impressively awful. Maybe you have never read a word of anything in your entire life, it doesn't change the fact this was still a disappointing and miserable season to watch.

In a lot of ways "Game of Thrones" has been too good to be true. GRRM has created a vast universe with memorable colorful characters, and the show runners have done a fantastic job translating them to the screen. Can you even imagine Tyrion Lannister without thinking of Peter Dinklage? How about the incredible work they've done with Ned, Varys, Davos, Arya, the Hound, Jaime, Tywin, even relatively minor characters like Balon Greyjoy? That one of the largest and most complicated fantasy series ever written has managed to make compelling television, even amazing television is truly an impressive achievement. Eventually their casting luck had to run out, so we ended up with the Sand Snakes. The pacing has been phenomenal, eventually that had to slow down as they ran into GRRM's slow middle portions of his story that ultimately go nowhere. So a solution needed to be found to keep the show interesting during an inevitable rough patch.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Persona Q: Fanservice of the Labyrinth

Hello again, Space Monkeys.  Sorry for long wait between posts.  Hopefully you'll enjoy this:

A few years ago Atlus released "Persona 3", taking their obscure hardcore occult RPG series Shin Megami Tensei out of the realm of the super nerds and into the mainstream realm of the regular nerds.  Then they released "Persona 4"*, an even more popular game that launched this series into super stardom.  The obvious thing to do at this point was pull out all the stops, double down, and sell out like a madman.  We had "Persona 4" fighting games, we had "Persona 4" animes, before this year is out we will have a crossdressing rhythm dance game on the Vita, and there was whatever the heck "Catherine" was supposed to be.  But can you do both?  Can we not have a shameless cash-in that is also a fairly decent JRPG in its own right?

Onto the subject for today.  "Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth" for the Nintendo 3DS is a shameless cash-in on the 3DS that is also a fairly decent JRPG on it's own right.  The plot here is that a magical time dimension opens up in a Japanese high school summoning two groups of teenaged Shadow-fighting heroes with the power to control Personas.  Now if you do not know what a 'Persona' or a 'Shadow' is, then "Persona Q" is not the game for you.  As a matter of fact, even if you have only played "Persona 3", this is not the game for you.  "Persona Q" is exclusively a fanservice romp for fans of both games.  And not just casual fans.  I am talking about the kind of fans that have subscribed to the subreddit, listen to a live album of the "Persona 4" battle themes every day, and are currently creating really creepy Deviant Art drawings of themselves and their selected underage video game waifus.

Story-wise, "Persona Q" is actually rather light until the final dungeon when events actually get real.  There is no grand save the world narrative, just characters you have met before chilling in one location.  There is no obvious villain, so the heroes take their sweet time defeating the four labyrinths that hold the four keys that are imprisoning them.  And really, what is the rush?   Everybody here are friends of each other or friends of the player, so why not have a party?  Basically this game is just a cast of some of the best characters in JRPGs letting their bubbly personalities bounce off each other.  I don't recall enjoying "Persona 3" altogether (my review is rather bitter upon my re-read) but I was pleasantly surprised at how happy I was to see Aigis, the cute doggie, and even Fuuka again.  If you are not getting those warm and fuzzies at the sight of your old Senpai in colorful chibi make-over, I really cannot sell this game to you.