Max Payne 3: Review

This game brings back a lot of memories.  Back in the days when they still released demos I played the Max Payne demo until I knew every nook and cranny.  The full game was nearly as good.  Max Payne 2 was a slight refinement, but mostly I just wanted to rejoin Max as he took on NYC’s underworld in a drugged haze.  Max Payne 3 moves the locales to vibrant Brazil with the grim setting of NYC only seen in a few flashback chapters.  I can’t say I don’t miss gunning down guidos, but the change of scenery is refreshing.

So let me start off with the games strongest point: the storytelling.  I have yet to see a game with such engaging cutscenes, great writing (I laughed at many points in response to Max’s witticisms)and strong voice acting.  This is what Rockstar has been trying to do in their recent games, but only now have they nailed it.  The plot is not without flaws.  As the game winds down there is precious little seen of anyone but Max and the titular character himself while spending less time drinking his problems away also never seems to confront them.  One chapter in an organ harvesting center should have been far more harrowing.  Still, the way the story was told could be compared favorably to most movies.

However, the Max Payne games are about shooting mobsters, be they Italian or Brazilian, and shooting lots of them.  Here the game again shows its polish with the locations constantly changing and the scenery and enemy placement being spot-on.  The major addition to combat is a cover system (what games doesn’t have one now?).  I have mixed feelings here.  This has always been a game about running and gunning (often in slow motion) and the cover system mitigates that somewhat.  Unfortunately, the game throws a lot of enemies at you simultaneously and so you must use the cover system.  In fact, this is the hardest game on normal that I have come across in a long time.  A side effect of all of this is that the iconic shootdodge is nigh useless.  Unless you are dodging into cover, you will get shot up as you stand.  Shootdodge had similar problems in previous games, but they were on the whole easier and more importantly you fought fewer enemies and could thus take out the opposition in one shootdodge.

The game also emulates other modern games by limiting your weapon selection.  Combined with the low amounts of ammo, you must switch weapons occasionally.  However, I miss the versatility of a huge arsenal and some weapons are extremely rare.  Finally, I noticed a curious lack of straps in the game so you can not dual-wield and carry a rifle over your shoulder since Max must actually carry it in his hand.  This was simultaneously dumb and annoying.

Sadly, I hear this game did not meet expectations in terms of sales.  This is a shame because Max Payne 3 far surpasses many of the dreadful shooters that fly off the shelves every year (Halo, CoD, etc.).  Part of this is going up against Diablo 3.  Deserved or not, Diablo 3 broke sales records and that had to hurt MP3’s launch.  The only other thing I can think of is that multiplayer has been panned by the players due to massive imbalances, but I can’t speak from experience on that issue.

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Bullitt: Review

My SOS (significant other schmoopie) does not like older movies, the cutoff being somewhere in the 80s it seems so I had to watch this one alone.  Like many movies of the 60s and 70s the movie revels in its understatement and realism.  I use realism in the sense that the characters talk naturally and for the most part act organically; the police even engage in some actual police work.  There is only one scene of hyper self-awareness where Bullitt’s girlfriend questions how he handles the depravity his job forces upon him.  It’s an old trope, one best explored in comic books in my opinion, and it connects to the subdued ending where Bullitt washes his face and stares into the mirror.

My complaint with the movie is the thinness of the plot.  Maybe I am spoiled, but this would not be out of place in an hour long episode of CSI.  Instead it is stretched out with some unconvincing subplot involving a senator and a directorial style that takes its time with scenes.  I don’t want to get into an argument about whether attention spans have gotten shorter, but I feel as though modern directors are on the whole much better at pacing.

Of course any review of this movie is not complete without mentioning the car chase.  Watching it you can see how iconic and influential it is.  Just like the rest of the movie this sequence is decidedly unrushed, glorying in the roar of the engines and the ahead-of-its-time camera work.  Legions of movies and games owe a debt of gratitude.

I try to skim only the cream of older movies.  Despite many claims movies were not better back then, it’s just you forgot all the mediocre stuff and I would rather watch modern mediocrity.  In Bullitt’s case I feel as though I plunged  my ladle a little too deeply into the cream.

Prometheus: Review

So I must admit that my expectations for this movie were very different from what actually was put on film.  Somehow the previews has me convinced this was epic space opera and not a prequel to Alien.

Still, it does not really work in that context either.  This is a movie that wants to be serious sci-fi but the cast of characters is even less developed than in the Alien tetralogy.  They are all prop pieces to be killed or die heroically and always stupidly.

The main character I guess is motivated by faith; she wears a cross after all.  Noomi Rapace has neither the face nor the acting chops to pull of a similar role to Ripley.  Charlize Theron is I guess supposed to be evil and there is some subplot with her father, but it really does not matter.  The only other character of note is the android who despite the constant imprecations about his ability to feel emotion is probably the most interesting character.  Sadly, Scott has him doing all sorts of inexplicable things during the movie that blunt his efficacy.

Then again they all do stupid things over and over.  I could make a list, but that is probably one of the more enjoyable moments in the movie so I wont spoil them.

The real flaw is how the movie opens with the biggest plot twist.  The rest of the movie reveals almost nothing of import and since the main character is so wooden the ending makes no sense.  The entire thing ends up being like another Alien entry except without the iconic villain and a credible protagonist.

Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy: Review

Robin Hobb is a well-respected fantasy author and one that my girlfriend has often recommended to me.  Her reputation must rest on later works because this trilogy far from impressed me especially in light of the many excellent debuts I have recently read from other fantasy authors.

The first book in this trilogy I do not recall well due to having read it some years ago.  It is telling that unlike a properly wrought first book I was not grasped with an unyielding thirst for the sequel.  From what I recall it was an entertaining yarn about a boy learning to become an assassin for his king and ending with an exciting bit of intrigue and heroism.  I am a sucker for a good Bildungsroman and this was a decent one.

It is the latter two books that are truly disappointing.  As a general critique, both of them are far too long for their willowy plots and the last book still has the audacity to feel rushed and shortchange a proper ending.  I am always leery of so-called “fat fantasy”, but a good entry will have characters that are plain enjoyable to spend time amongst.

Fitz, the main character, is completely incompetent aside from one engaging assassination that is a mere side note in book 2.  Otherwise, despite the title, very little assassination occurs and most attempts are fumbled spectacularly by Fitz.  He suffers heavily from “Harry Potter” syndrome; he is an assassin and has both forms of magic in this world and yet literally does nothing with them.  After spending a whole book on his training, it feels wasted on him.  He shows no ambition and is content to let others drive his fate throughout the entire trilogy.  The second book sees him ping-ponging around the castle doing nothing of import for hundreds of pages.  At one point he seemingly realizes the complete tool he has become and you think for a moment that he will be spurred to action.  But no, he goes back to his feckless ways with other more important characters ordering him about.

Speaking of the second book.  You spend the entire book waiting for the king to die and everyone acting stupid in the meantime.  Everyone knows the evil prince is evil and yet they do nothing, not even after it is revealed that he killed his own father.  Where is the good prince?  He leaves despite intimate knowledge of the evil prince’s ambitions.  The end of the book is invigorating after the interminable “intrigue” of the rest, but it rests on Fitz doing something completely stupid (admittedly, that is in character).

Alas, it gets still worse in the third book.  Here we have Fitz wandering after his beloved Prince Verity and wander this book does.  It takes the entirety of this book for him to find his Prince which is full of quickly discarded characters and a butchering of the old ones.  There was a quick break where Fitz fails to kill the evil prince, but other than that it is a dreary tale of travelling that would make Lord of the Rings proud.  Along his journey he meets up with many girls who take offense that he does not wish to couple with them.  This is strange because the other two books betray no sentiments like this, yet it happens at least three times in this book.  One of them is with an extremely annoying minstrel that ends up serving no purpose, even her betrayal is stunted because other people already knew everything she betrayed.  Then there is the old lady that appears to be mysterious just so Hobb can continue to keep Fitz and the readers ignorant.  Again, the author seems aware of this because at one point Fitz yells at this woman for simultaneously withholding information and then chiding others for acting foolishly.

As for recurring characters, Kettricken becomes rather pathetic in this novel; her apparent strength gone after her prince is presumed dead.  Chade and Burrick, two of my favorite characters, have almost no role after Fitz excises them from his life like a spoiled a child at the beginning.

Now let me comment on the last couple hundred pages.  Regal and the Red Ships are barely in the novel at all and thus no true antagonist exists which saps much of the urgency these chapters should contain.  Instead we find the good prince carving a statue to create a dragon.  He eventually kills himself to do it, but then we find that Fitz can awaken an army of dragons with his Wit and it cheapens the sacrifice.  This is the only instance of Fitz applying his skills to save his kingdom despite the many pages calling him the Catalyst and even then a bunch of dragons do all the fighting for him.  The Fool’s moniker of the White Prophet is similarly a misnomer as he never prophecies anything worth mentioning.  The ultimate fate of the Red Ships and Regal is left to the epilogue and not even carried out in the main story.  In previous books there was talk of white ships and a leader of the Outislanders, but the former is worthy of but one line and the latter never makes a formal appearance.

Finally, we also see how truly awful Fitz is as a character.  The entire book he longs to be with Molly his lover from his childhood and their bastard child.  But in one scene he gives that dream up and rationalizes that it would be better for everyone involved.  The final chapter sees him living his life as a recluse despite his favored prince once saying that “he loved life too much.”  A pathetic ending for a pathetic character.