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Game Review: Titanfall

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Sometimes the tiniest change can have the biggest impact. Titanfall’s take on first-person shooters offers the latest innovation, even bigger than adding the titans (human-piloted mechs) themselves. That change is the movement. Despite a shooter’s POV display, it’s always been essentially a two-dimensional affair.

Titanfall adds substantial verticality and that makes an immense difference. When I went back to playing Halo 4, I was really annoyed that I couldn’t run up walls. What kind of futuristic super soldier can’t jump more than a few feet? Spartans are strong enough to flip a tank with one hand but can’t kick or punch holes in a wall to climb it? Boring!

There’s no way to play the campaign without an internet connection. It’s annoying. I play at odd hours but sometimes I can’t because there aren’t enough people online.

At first, I thought the Titanfall maps were a little small, but I was still mentally in a two dimensional shooter mode. The more I explored the wall-running and parkour abilities, the more I realized the maps were much larger than they appeared. I’ve yet to see an aspect of a building in the map that you can’t climb around, hang on to and hide in.

Then there’s the titans. You can get in them and pilot them yourself, you can set them to follow you, and you can stop them to guard a point. Personally I like to have mine follow me around and bust heads if someone is trying to sneak up on me.

I’m using a 360, and though there was a lot of drama about the Xbox One requiring an internet connection constantly and Microsoft backing off that decision, at least on the 360 version there’s no way to play the campaign without an internet connection. It’s all multiplayer. The campaign is just a story with other people playing the opposing side. It’s a little annoying since I like to play at odd hours but sometimes I simply can’t because there aren’t enough people online. It would be great if the game would fill in with bots.

The story itself is a little thin and frankly I didn’t pay much attention to it. I do however, like the commentary, Halo-style, when you’re doing well, they will say things like “You are dominating that pilot,” or “he’s going to hold a grudge.” It’s a nice twist instead of just yelling out your achievement (like Halo). it seems like someone’s really watching you and encouraging you, the only problem is it gets a bit repetitive.

Sometimes I think that the era of the shooter may be coming to an end. Call of Duty and Battlefield are always slick, but they lack personality and creativity. Then Gears of War’s horde mode was so ground-breaking it nearly became a requirement for all shooters after. I think 3D movement is going to do the same for future shooters. Two dimensions are just not enough.

Fear of Watching HBO’s The Leftovers: Raising Questions Is Easy

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I’m curious about HBO’s upcoming series The Leftovers. I’m interested in anything disturbing based around a mystery. That said, I’m also very cautious. Many reviews of the novel complained that there was no real explanation for why the people disappeared.

Pardon me, dear reader. I need to pause a moment to feed the trolls. Trolls, before you call me an idiot or an uncultured moron, let me say I understand that sometimes in a story, every question isn’t answered. I understand that’s the case in real life as well. However, there are stories that leave questions open and make you feel cheated and there are those that leave questions open and still leave you satisfied. The former far outnumber the latter. Okay, trolls fed, let’s move on.

The trailers for The Leftovers look cool. The premise is interesting, but whenever I see the words, “From a former writer of Lost,” my guard goes up.

So the trailers for The Leftovers look cool. The premise is interesting, but whenever I see the words, “From a former writer of Lost,” my guard goes up.

I can never forget the absolutely insane, bizarre, dare-I-say psychotic (I dared) level that some fans of Lost went to in deciphering the hidden messages and symbols while trying to understand why the island had such strange powers. They were rewarded with no answers. So of course, while I enjoyed the movie Prometheus (written by an ex-Lost guy) I was intrigued by its ancient aliens premise, I didn’t meditate on it too much. (As I said in my review here.)

Maybe it’s not fair to hold Lost against its writers, in the same manner it’s not fair that I am wary of Stephen King novels. In my teen years, I got burned by one too many of his tales that beautifully established wonder but then fizzled out by answering nothing. That’s why, in my opinion, the move The Mist was better than the story. I loved both, but the movie closed off questions more adequately.

So what other movies leaves questions open well? I personally vote for Cloverfield. You don’t get all the answers, but you get some. You can argue whether the movie sucked or not, or if the answers were lame, but you see the monster clearly, you learn enough to realize the monster was either an alien or woken by a meteorite crashing to earth. You follow the characters to their ends. You don’t get all the answers, but you get enough. I’d also vote the same for the Godzilla reboot. You don’t learn Godzilla’s entire history but you learn enough. There are others, but I’m not here to discuss specifics, just a general dislike of the difference between unanswered questions that satisfy and those that don’t.

HBO has done a superb job of translating Game of Thrones to the screen. In fact, I think it’s one of those rare cases where the video is better than the book. The books are insanely verbose and I don’t need to know for the fortieth time that a capon was eaten at a feast. The HBO version may lose some character detail, but it’s better than the books because it loses a dung heap of pointless details.

HBO is probably the top producer of shows and movies there is, I can only hope they provide the same treatment to The Leftovers. If not, I’ll disappear as a viewer. Lousy pun intended.

Click-Bait From History

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Game Review: Assassin’s Creed IV

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This game is more than just fantastic. It’s an artistic achievement. There are so many great things to say about it, I’m not even sure where to start. I suppose I’ll start with my favorite: the ship-to-ship battles.

These were immensely exciting, and not easy. No matter how buffed my ship became, I still could lose a battle because eventually the empires (Spanish, Portuguese and British) would send in too many ships for me to fight off at once. The combat is a fun mix of patience and strategy rather than twitchy. Add to the fact that you are brawling with another ship using mortars, cannons, fire barrels are the ocean and wind, which can affect your movement.

What I like about games is when they offer a different kind of challenge for my mind and this succeeded brilliantly.

Beyond the ship-to-ship fights, there is an insane amount of content, collectibles, mini-games, story-lines, historical information, puzzles, and more in this game. I’m constantly amazed by how much content they cram onto two discs.

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend more than one vacation in the Caribbean, and it’s always a blast to get back there virtually without the hassle and cost of a plane ride. Though it’s not the same as the actual places, it’s fun to revisit. The best part is there’s no mosquitoes in videogames.

I’ve only experienced a self-made mini game like this in GTA, when I would just drive around the city listening to music. In AC IV, Sometimes I just sailed around the map or walked around the island, exploring much like on vacation.

The negatives to the game are minimal. The NPCs still have brief memories. You can stab a guard and then after a minute later his friends are still walking the same pattern. The AI is getting better in that respect, across the AC games, but it’s still noticeably hilarious when it happens.

Regardless, I didn’t care, because the game was so much fun. What an absolute achievement. Oh, the storyline. What storyline? It seemed mostly cool but I barely paid attention! I was having so much fun with the game I would often just skip past the dialogue.

These games keep getting better and better. I have my doubts AC: Unity can top this one, but I can’t wait to find out.

Book Review: A Nation Of Wusses

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This book was of double interest to me being that I’m a Philly guy and I lean Democratic. Hearing about Ed Rendell’s early career in Philadelphia and recalling the events he describes as landmarks growing up added some interest.

Now of course this book is by Ed Rendell about Ed Rendell so there is very little about what he may have done wrong, but there is at least enough self-deprecating humor to keep the book from non-stop self-congratulation. There’s a little of that here, but he does a decent job of explaining his point of view rather than just saying what he wanted.

The most impressive part of Rendell’s political approach is his willingness to engage those he disagrees with. He really seems to enjoy the activities of negotiation and debate. He also operates with the understanding that democracy’s design flaw is you rarely get everything you want. It’s a much more intelligent and productive approach than the “No comprise,” childishness of today’s political extremists.

Another of my favorite Rendell comments is his counter to the small-government fools. He’s right when he says that government done right can make a huge and positive difference in people’s lives. At times I felt like that’s partly what the book was for, as a reminder that there are exceptions to the stereotype of sleazeball politicians. There are people like Rendell, genuinely working hard to iron out the legal and financial details of things so the rest of us can have decent society in which to live.

It makes me feel better knowing that there are people like Ed Rendell handling the boring but important stuff. I don’t agree with him on everything, but I don’t agree with anyone on everything. This is a good quick read, perhaps a little light if you’re looking for details, but still a good reminder that if your intentions are sincere, you work hard and you don’t fear criticism, you will increase your chances of success in whatever you do.