Going in to see “The Wolverine”, every bone in my body was prepared for yet another disaster, the likes of which would follow in the footsteps of “X-Men III: Last Stand”, and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”; however, it would seem that Fox along with director James Mangold and the wolverine himself, (Hugh Jackman), have brought back this once devastated series from the brink of annihilation. Taking place after the events of “X-Men: Last Stand”, “The Wolverine” does the job it set out to do, which was to make a powerful, character driven stand alone movie which could lead to bigger and better things.
If you came to see “The Wolverine” expecting an all out thrill ride that revolves around the clashing beast that is ‘the wolverine’, turn back now. Action scenes are few in this film, and in fact, may have less action that the first five X-Men installments, so much so that it would almost seem more appropriate to have named this film “Logan”, instead of “The Wolverine”. That isn’t to say that it is a worthless film. I actually graciously enjoyed seeing Logan in this environment, one where his claws won’t get him out of every situation. The fight scenes however did feel more impactful when they arrive. A false sense of security will easily lull the audience in until the metaphorical, (and actual), gun is fired.
Mangold did an excellent job in this film with conveying how beautiful but deadly Tokyo can be, (and not only with the landscape). The actors truly meshed well with one another; that is to say, all besides one. Svetlana Khodchenkova plays the ever so devious mutant ‘Viper’, which, after a closer observation, had no real purpose in the film besides to simply have a leading female antagonist. She would kill, poison, or torture anyone who got in her way… which sounds cool in theory, but in all honesty, she had no reason for doing what she was doing. She had no master plan, and she didn’t even play a faithful puppet. Her entire roll was a meaningless character who could eventually be faught.
WARNING: some spoilers ahead. As the film begins we are introduced to a solemn, broken down and isolated Logan, (One that we’ve encountered many times before, had you seen the first five installments to the X-Men series), nothing new here besides the lumberjack beard. Jackman does do an amazing job at sporting a tortured-soul character, one that had to live through the death of everyone his loved ones, and even his enemies. It is evident here that the wolverine is a part of Logan that he would never truly accept again.
Through a series of dreams, it is revealed to the audience that Logan is seemingly haunted by his past, i.e. the murder of his loved one, Jean Grey, (Famke Janssen). Jean Grey’s appearance in this film was accepted with open arms, and truly allowed the film to progress at a greater speed, leaving out the ulterior possibility of having unwanted flashbacks of Logan’s misery. Yet as the film progress’ not only minutes, but hours, and you are still witnessing Logan’s dreams of ‘Jeany’, it would be quite understandable for you to grow slightly annoyed.
The Catalyst that throws Logan into a series of ninja fights is an invitation to Tokyo to visit an old ‘frenemy’ on his deathbed. Enter the old paralyzed Yashida, (Hal Yamanouchi); a man so close to death that it takes odd looking metal spiders to keep him alive. Yashida offers him the choice to opt out of life, a curse that has plagued Logan ever since World War II, when he suddenly stopped aging. And here in lies the path that Logan must set foot down.
Disregarding cheesy plot twists and out of place flashbacks, “The Wolverine” helps bring faithful comic book fans back to the root of one of their favorite heroes. I would absolutely recommend seeing this film is you are an avid comic book fan, or simply a fan of the superhero genre movies. If you aren’t one of those, you may have a hard time keeping up with the film. If at all possible, see it matinee. And as always, make sure to stick around throughout the credits. As you may have guessed, the credit scene involves a set up to next year’s upcoming “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, as well as the return of a few faces, and a quick mention to who the villain will be. If you saw “The Wolverine”, comment bellow and tell us what you thought of the movie or the credit scene.
Rotten Tomatoes Score as of 7/28/2013: 67%
My Score: 80%
In both 2D and 3D, platform games are nearly as old as gaming itself. While this ensures a rich library of games, it does make it somewhat difficult for a title to stand out on its own. Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark is a creative and unique addition to this classic genre. Released by Curve Studios as Stealth Bastard Deluxe on PC, Mac, and Linux in 2011 to warm reception, the rebranded version of this game now comes to the Playstation 3 and PS Vita. Fusing stealth with traditional hallmarks of the platformer genre, Stealth Inc offers innovative gameplay that is both challenging and excitingly addictive.
What Braid did for platform games with manipulating time, Stealth Inc does with shadows and light. Staying in the dark is crucial to surviving and getting a higher score at the end of each level. An indicator at the bottom of the screen lets you know if you’re fully visible, partially visible, or practically a ghost. Your character’s goggles also reflect the status of your visibility—turning red, orange, or green, depending on your status. The challenge of staying hidden varies in a refreshing and versatile way. Some levels require you to move with shifting shadows, while others involve the controlling of platforms to cast new shadows in order to hide from cameras or robots and to reach new areas. Getting spotted by a camera or robot can either result in death or a lower score depending on the circumstance. The game’s stealth mechanic is not as punishing or hard-core as a big-budget stealth title like Metal Gear Solid or Splinter Cell, but rather uses it in a way that works with the platform genre instead of feeling like an added feature that may make gameplay more frustrating.
What also helps is that the stealth mechanic doesn’t turn this title into a one trick pony. There are many other elements to the game—some of which don’t require stealth at all. Avoiding robots, floating cameras that fire lasers, triggering platforms by crossing laser beams, and teleportation ports are some of many challenges this game puts forth; add to that the collectible helices which are sometimes in plain sight, and other times completely hidden. The mix up and fusion of different challenges creates a dynamic experience that prevents the game from getting stale. Things get more complex by means of mixing up different elements and challenges as opposed to using the same ones repeatedly and simply requiring you to make it through the level faster.
The attention to detail in the game and the overall feel is executed well. From the often-humorous messages displayed on the wall such as “This will all be worthwhile…assuming that you survive,” “I’ll be amazed if you do this,” and “You’re making me look bad,” to the game’s music which is not only fun to listen to, but changes every time you start a level—preventing annoyance at hearing the same track over and over again—it’s a fun experience that eases you when you’ve died for the 20th time in a row. The controls are also straightforward and work well with the PS3’s controller. But with this genre, unless you’re adding drastically new features, it’s hard to mess up the controls when running, jumping, and crouching are really all you do. Overall, the game is well polished, looks and plays great, and feels modern.
There were a few things that disappointed me during my time with Stealth Inc. One of which was the fact that the game is a single player only experience. While many gamers may not be phased by this at all, it was a bit of a let down for me. I could see some great potential by allowing for a second player either locally or online. This was also disappointing given that the game comes with a fantastic level creator. With no way to share the levels online or to play your custom levels with someone, it seems like a wasted feature. The fact that I can’t share my own levels definitely dissuades me from putting the time into creating new challenges—especially since the person creating their own levels would know how to complete them; it’s kind of like asking yourself trivia questions that you already know the answer to. I also found myself wishing that there was a dedicated button for dropping down and climbing up ledges. Various parts of the game require the player to hang onto ledge by sort of falling off and quickly turning around. While it’s not necessarily a difficult thing to pull off, you will fall often—even when you think you’ve mastered it. This makes some moments a bit more frustrating as opposed to challenging and could have been solved with a simple dedicated command.
Fans of platform games that missed this title when it came out on PC should definitely look into this for Playstation 3 or Playstation Vita. A nice bonus to buying the game is that you get two copies for both systems. So if you own both a PS3 and a Vita, you don’t need to get the game twice; with a cloud sync feature, you can take your progress with you on the go. With 80 levels, leaderboard listings, a level creator, and unlockable gadgets and features, you can get some pretty good mileage out of this title. Despite being a solitary experience with some parts bordering on frustration here and there, Stealth Inc is a fresh take on a classic genre and shouldn’t be missed.
Back when the trailer was first released, seeing zombies on the mass scale tossing over a bus and then climbing over one another to crawl over an immense wall seemed to be going overboard. However, once the film is received in its entirety, the zombie’s actions do seem a tad more believable than the trailer originally put forth. It is not seemingly indicated whether Marc Forster, (Director), intended to have the film version of “World War Z” stray away from the novelized version, yet what he ended up with is an interesting matinee popcorn flick. So long as you realize that this is not the “World War Z” that we deserve, but one that could be fun to watch with friends in a dark basement, then you should be satisfied.
Having the movie from the perspective of the character Gerry Lane seems to fit, in that his experience encapsulates the essence of this world’s zombie apocalypse. Where Pitt’s performance as Gerry Lane is truly engaging, that of the secondary characters lacks substance, and ultimately is forgettable. Since the story is constantly moving with Gerry, there are new characters every 15 minutes, which leaves us caring much less about those we met throughout the film.
WARNING, major spoilers ahead. Sure enough, there are obvious plot twists and screen shots that are inevitable within the conventional zombie movie genre that are translated to “World War Z”. Brad Pitt, (Gerry Lane), forced to leave his family behind on the air craft carrier to further explore the pandemic is somewhat an obvious turn of events. Indecently, once a character reveals an enormous wall, and claims it to be impenetrable to zombies, the audience can almost be certain to expect that the wall will soon come crumbling down.
Once it was announced that Matthew Fox would be accompanying Brad Pitt in this film, I was happy to hear this once “Lost” star would have work on a major movie. So as silly as this may sound, I was disappointed when Matthew Fox never appeared in the film. He was however listed in the cast and crew, and credited for a character only known as “Para-jumper”. It was somewhat confusing why they would place an actor like Matthew Fox into a pointless role, when they had other unknown actors play bigger roles.
Where “World War Z” thrives is through its emotional and suspenseful scenes of non-stop thrills. Watching the characters run constantly causes an essence of panic for the audience, and keeps us on our toes. Normally, it wouldn’t seem believable that a character like Gerry Lane would be able to not only save, but protect his assigned body guards throughout the story, but all was set straight with quick mention to Lane’s past with the armed forces.
Although it was somewhat out of place, the fluffy happy ending didn’t seem unwanted. Normally where having a zombie movie end with an “everything will be alright” mentality could ruin the film, “World War Z” almost thrives. That isn’t to say that a darker ending wouldn’t have been welcomed with open arms. Gerry Lane’s sacrifice at the end of the film almost seemed trivial after being able to walk away unscathed.
At times, the film could feel as shaky as the plane scene itself. There really isn’t much done with this movie that other zombie stories hadn’t done before, and yet it has an air of arrogance about it that would normally feel out of place, but for some reason fits. There were moments that truly seemed out of place, or even forced; with Pitt’s performance carrying “World War Z” to its credits, you will have somewhat of a fun ride. Worth a matinee or watch it at home with friends.
Rotten Tomatoes Score as of 7/24/2013: 67%
My Score: 78%
With the runtime of approximately two and a half hours, “The Lone Ranger” does a good job at providing a reason to take a bathroom break or two. Gore Verbinski, (director), puts together a team of what seems to be an all-star cast, only to end up with a lame horse of a movie. Johnny Depp, (Tonto), really settles into his normal role of the ‘marbles slightly loose’ character, yet can’t seem to mesh into the story as the other characters do, (or at least try to). Armie Hammer, (John Reid), performs his lone ranger cowboy with a melancholy, monotone, unlikable feel. All the while you’ll be watching Hammer and Depp fight for the spotlight, and truly downplay their faux friendship, leaving the audience wondering why they would ever work together.
WARNING, some spoilers ahead. Right from the first scene, you’ll be stuck feeling awkward not only for the characters, but also for the seemingly forced laughs that the movie will produce. The flashback scenes not only remove us from the story, but they also leave the audience wondering why Tonto lives in a museum after the events of the movie take place. Not to mention the horrid makeup placed on Depp to make him look like an 80 year old Native American business man
Then we have the love affair that could make any movie-goer uneasy. Ruth Wilson, (Rebecca Reid), seems to be placed into the movie simply because they needed a leading female role. Her addition adds no balance to the film, and the practicality of an honorable cowboy falling in love with his brother’s wife, (even before his brother is dead), simply leaves a strong distaste in my mouth. In today’s movie culture where the controversial hero is celebrated, Lone Ranger falls short of following this tradition despite obvious attempts to embrace it.
In a firefight that is arguably an overzealous interpretation of a 1930’s Western confrontation, Butch Cavendish and his gang flawlessly takes down an entire crew of lawmen from hundreds of yards away. By the end of the film however, these same men transform into lumbering fools, and you’ll be left wondering how their gun wielding abilities could go from excellent to sadly pathetic in such a short period of time.
The movie itself almost knows how senseless it is, which produces a potent disconnect with the audience. With main characters Tonto, (which incidentally translates to ‘dumb’ in Spanish), and the other with the nickname Kemosabe, (roughly translated to ‘he who does not know’), you’ll realize why the story itself seems so dumb-witted. “The Lone Ranger” had the opportunity to become reminiscent of the old Westerns that in American culture and beyond have become timeless classics. What it does instead is teeter on the side of mockery- a disconcerting tendency that threatens the heart of the genre. If “The Lone Ranger” can’t take its own world seriously, then why should we?
That isn’t to say that the film went without creating a spectacle or two. Hans Zimmer brings forth true talent through the musical score, and works us back into the story, (as much as the characters might try to pull us out). The actors should be recognized for the stunts that they did on their own; watching William Fichtner, (Butch Cavendish), jump off a train and onto a horse was quite impressive. However the stunts quickly achieve familiarity with the audience, as one character after another jumps off a train and onto a horse, or off a banister and onto a horse, or off of a house on a horse, you’ll begin to believe that jumping is all these characters know how to do. Variability in action sequences would have made the movie a more breathless experience.
All in all, had there been no flashback sequences and no oddly integrated romance taking place, this could have been a much better movie. Don’t waste your money, don’t see it matinee, and don’t even buy the DVD.
Rotten Tomatoes Score as of 7/24/2013: 27%
My Score: 23%
Captain Ultimate is a return to the golden age of comics, where everything wasn’t so dark and serious. Where superheroes were cool because they represented the good in society, and they stood up for what was right. Issue #1 is really all about setting up what is to come in the future of Captain Ultimate. In the beginning Captain Ultimate has been away for a long time, and no one knows where he is. Few people know who he is anymore, a young kid named Milo is one of the few people who actually knows of and believes in Captain Ultimate. Without spoiling the rest of issue #1 I’ll leave it at, there is a lot to be enjoyed here. Few people will be disappointed they picked this up, and I strongly recommend it.
Captain Ultimate isn’t trying to be like every other superhero comic out there, it’s different and it’s refreshing. It’s also accessible to all ages, you can read it, and then give it to a younger kid to read without worrying about the violence or language. Benjamin Bailey and Joey Esposito do a great job making Captain Ultimate feel like he could be a real superhero in today’s society. I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here!
Plenty of you will be familiar with the competitive side of video games, be it a strategy game, a first person shooter or even an online card game. You probably remember fun times with friends but also humiliating defeats whenever you encountered a competitive player. Those defeats might have spurred the desire to become better at the game. However that meant becoming more competitive which in turn requires dedication and practice. For a majority of gamers this doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. This was my first reaction too. This changed though when I joined my local fighting game scene. For we had a lot of debate about the subject. During one of those discussions I was prompted to read “Playing to Win” by game designer and former Street Fighter player David Sirlin. That book changed my outlook on competitive games. After reading it thoroughly and applying the basic principles my game improved a lot. Also for the first time, i was actively thinking of how i should approach each opponent instead of just fighting straight on and hoping for the best. Needless to say, that for me that was engaging and fun and change my prespective on the genre completely. In this article we will explore this apparent dichotomy of either playing to have fun or playing to win. Taking from my experiences as both a League of Legends Player and a former member of the fighting games scene I will try to advocate that “playing to win” as discused by Sirlin can indeed be fun.
Sirlin is well-known in the fighting game community circles for his book ‘Playing to Win’ and his balancing decisions for Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo HD Remix.
As a gaming group we had a lot of arguing in our forums about Sirlin’s balancing decisions back in the day. However when it came down to his book, we agreed that his advocating of the “Playing to Win” mentality was correct. This mentality is not only relevant to video games, but can be applied to any activity with a competitive element: sports, board games, etc.
One concept Sirlin uses in his book is that of the scrub. He defines a scrub as ‘a player who is handicapped by self-imposed rules that the game knows nothing about. A scrub does not play to win.’
What does this mean? Here are some examples.
People complaining about the 6-pool Zerg Strategy or the Protoss Photon Cannon Rush in Starcraft 2, a popular Real Time Strategy game, both of which are strategies that can be easily countered, are scrubs. People complaining about hadouken/projectile “spamming” in Street Fighter and other fighting games are scrubs. And to take an example from LoL a lot of people complain about new champions as being overpowered on release only due to a lack of proper information on the strenghts and weaknesses of said champion. While some characters did suffer from balancing issues, the majority of them were designed to leave enough room for counterplay. The players who are unwilling to exploit a champion’s counters properly could also be called scrubs.) Why do they fall into that category? Because they deem those tactics as cheap and refuse to use them even if the situation calls for it, they limit themselves. They also refuse to acknowledge the validity of non-standard tactics and don’t try to delve into the strategy behind the game.
Sirlin places the scrub as the polar opposite of the gamer who plays to win. While the former can derive joy from a game by simply playing it, the latter gets his kick from competing with others. The mindset of the scrub is ill-fitted for the competitive gaming scene. When starting out in the world of esports, experiencing a streak of defeats isn’t unheard of. A lot of the time, the methods employed against new players can feel cheap and unfair. This is the period where the difference between the scrubs and those who follow the play-to-win mentality becomes clear. Players can either choose to keep complaining and never change their tactics or they can adapt and improve in the game. For those that took the second option, if the game they chose is healthy for competitive play then its true nature begins to unravel and that’s where the fun begins!
First let’s go over the life cycle of a competitive video game. That can be summarized as follows. First, the players find all sorts of abusive strategies. Usually those strategies are easy to execute and quite effective at dominating the low levels of play. The next step is finding counters to those strategies. Experienced players discover those counters and as a result a meta game is created. After this, the players try to re-enable the conditions that allowed them to execute the abusive strategies they discovered when they first played the game. And then people again try to find counters to those strategies and the cycle can go on forever. If some strategies are too strong they dominate competitive play. If the game is stale, then the meta game is centered around one prevalent strategy that counters everything else. If the game is deep, then no strategy is prevalent and counters exist for everything. Finding out those strategies is one of the fundamental aspects of the “playing to win” mentality. Some probably question how this approach can be any fun. But it is! It’s all about outsmarting your opponent, practising and pushing yourself to the limits, either as a player or as a team. And while that requires dedication, there’s no better feeling than the feeling of fulfillment when that pays off. As an example from the LoL gaming scene, i will take Gambit Gaming(formerly known as Moscow 5). They went from an obscure russian team at the start of season 2 to a gaming powerhouse in season 3 and beyond by sheer innovation and practice. For them, their core gameplay was surprising their opponents with unorthodox tactis and dominating the game field. All in all, the “playing to win” mentality appeals to those that seek a challenge. But, there are various misconceptions about this and gamers who play to win. That can be seen in the various labels other people put on them like try-hards, anti-fun etc. However, what most people fail to see is that exactly because of this approach those people are actually having fun.
In Sirlin’s book, the way of the “playing to win” mentality is presented as a journey of fulfillment. More specifically it is compared to a majestic mountain. At the peak there’s fulfillment, “fun” and even transcendence. That’s the reward for the daunting challenge of climbing this mountain. However not everyone wants to climb it. They just don’t care or have other important things to pursue in their life. However, there are people who want more than anything else to be at the mountain’s peak. Some of them are already on their way of climbing, other however are stuck at a chasm at the mountain’s base, in this case the scrub mentality is the chasm, and cannot go any further without some help. However, if they do manage to cross that chasm they will either discover a boring plateau(for a degenerate game) or the heavenly enchanted mountain peak(for a “deep” game). All in all they will either try to find a different mountain to climb that is more rewarding, ie a new game, or they will just be happier , if the game they choose is deep. Sirlin then sum’s up that “playing to win” boils down to shedding the mental constructs that limit players from climbing the peak, ie achieving their full potential.
This is the core of the competitive gaming mentality: for those that are “try-hard”-ing, “abusing” the game, stretching the limits and finding the strongest of all tactics and then counters to them, is what fun is all about. For them, fun is being challenged while playing a game that is deep, a game that remains always interesting at a strategic level. In other words they try to enjoy the game at the highest intellectual level possible. If the game is deep then everything is nice, else they find a different game that’s worth their time and effort. Note that I am not talking about pro-gamers exclusively, as most of this can apply to any competitive event, like chess for example. Sure, one may never go pro at chess but those who play it try their best nonetheless. That’s because one strives for constant self-improvement. In the end, playing to win is all about being as effective as possible within the given set of rules.
A “playing to win” approach isn’t for everyone. Some people just want to chill while playing a game they like, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Cases where players verbally abuse their teammates because they’re not performing well, should not be viewed as part of the playing to win mentality. In fact, I consider it unacceptable behavior no matter how justified the perpetrator might feel. If someone does that, then they aren’t “playing to win”. They are playing to vent their anger. Playing to win, on the other hand, requires a calm mind, to be able to focus on the game, become aware of one’s mistakes and correct them. In the end, playing to win is all about self improvement. For all of us that chose that route, that’s what that mountain represents. A journey of self-discovery and fulfillment. And in the end it’s not the destination but the journey that matters. Therefore, for those of us that want to climb that peak, playing to win is fun.
At first glance, “Walking Dead: 400 Days” could easily seem like the spinoff sequel that came out simply to take money from interested players. Yet, if you are able to look past the dismally disappointing 1 hour and 30 minute runtime of this “Special Episode”, you may find that there are greater things on the horizon.
Without getting into any major spoiler points, it does seem as though playing this episode is congruent to the main story; and if you were planning on moving into season 2 of this game, you will eventually have to dedicate a few hours of your day to completing this ‘in-betweener’ storyline.
As one would imagine, season 2 will be taking TellTale’s Walking Dead game into new territory. Past characters, alive or undead alike, will no longer be the main focus here. This is quite the delight. In a world completely ruled by death, where would we be if the same three main characters lived through it over and over again? It’s almost a delight to see that TellTale was able to bring in a whole new set of characters, leaving the previous story where it rightfully belonged.
Of course I had a couple of gripes with the game, the main reason being the play time. You will experience a glitch here or there and maybe even a freeze frame for a short second or two, but nothing that really removes the player from experiencing this world in all its glory.
The biggest step that TellTale Games took with 400 days was the multiple main character stories. Here, we are able to jump directly into six new character’s skins, and play through one of their most defining moments. From choosing between the lives of two new friends, to deciding whether or not to lie about the death of a loved one, each of these characters comes alive through your choices. Although we aren’t given enough information as to whether or not these characters will last with us, we can rest assured that TellTale Games has something up their sleeves.
Where 400 days thrived however was not simply through the dynamic of ‘moving on’, but with its ability to reference characters or plot points in quite a subtle way. In the tradition of J.J. Abrams’ Lost, 400 Days delivers flashbacks and crossovers without going overboard. A character may die in one scene, yet return as a walker crawling towards you in another. Bloodstains on the floor in one character’s story could be indicative of a deadly confrontation in another’s.
That doesn’t mean however that plot events are set in stone. After the first play through, feel free to start over in a new file and change your answers a bit. It’s amazing the way things can changed based simply off of a game of rock-paper-scissors. Amazingly each choice you make will open a new dimension of possibilities as to whether these characters could trust others, and eventually move on to bigger and possibly better things.
TellTale Games makes it obvious that you will be disappointed with these characters’ morality; and working through their ethical conundrums are some of the more interesting moments that this game delivers. Those moments when the player is forces to make the hard decision between protecting the group or protecting their own sanity are the ones that leave us thinking about this game, even several days after completion.
That being said, heads up here for some spoilers ahead. Interestingly enough, TellTale Games realized that leaving season 1 dead and gone wasn’t going to sit with some of us. A quick reference from Shel’s story, and a jump into the bushes during Russel’s, gives us enough insight as to a couple of the characters from last season. Throw in one oddly familiar face, who may actually be related to one of our favorite characters from the comic series, (hint hint, the only two Asian-American characters to be in this series), and TellTale games might have quite the gem on their hands.
Overall I’d say that 400 Days is a must buy for those that have played through The Walking Dead’s season 1 storyline. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that this DLC game is a wonderful one-off, but knowing that the decisions the characters make here will eventually affect your season 2 play-through, going through this special episode once or twice could be well worth it.