Poetry is not something I had ever thought I’d actually take the time to sit down and write recreationally. It just never occurred to me that any of it would be worth reading, and therefore, not worth writing. That’s since changed since I started my daily journal. I’ve found the challenges in the creative process to be very rewarding. Getting down my ideas and feelings is one thing, but turning it into an artistic form is a different beast entirely. The beast with two backs, for the thespians out there. And so I’ve written some, a few better than others. Some spurred out of burstfire whims, while a select few have taken hours of deliberation. If nothing else, poetry has given me another outlet for understanding self, and works as a time capsule of the 20 year-old me. So without further ado, here’s some of my cognitive and emotional run-off. I hope there’s something for you to enjoy.
a poem I wrote in class, on the Cold War and icons
PASS THE TORCH – 9/??/2016
One, two rooster call
of duty, big or small
forty frozen beach time volleyball
Lee Harvey Oswald
track CIA black
ops sneak and stalk
lead the flock
scarecrow puppet man
river reflections cong and ‘Nam
shellshocked bleeding palms
John Lennon beetle faggot
pulse though the veins
whitewash bleach the stains
bicentennial growing pains
for sordid sorts
in Soviet forts
pass the torch
a poem on camaraderie, melancholy, and disenchantment
Twice has come a long way since their debut just one year ago. The dorky but fresh idols stormed the Kpop scene with their mega hit “Like Ooh Aah,” and have since blossomed into the it girl group of Korean Pop music, much to the credit of JYP Entertainment’s exceptional music production. Despite criticism lobbied at the girls regarding their level of vocal talent, they’ve still managed to put up impressive numbers in both online viewership and Korean air play, amassing a fervorous fan base in the process. All those Korean music awards they’ve won aren’t half bad, either.
Now, six months after their successful “Cheer Up” comeback, Twice has returned with their best track to date. “TT,” the title track of their third mini album, TWICEcoaster: Lane 1, emphasizes all nine members in their own unique way. Utilizing the same strategy as “Cheer Up,” JYP has worked it out so that each girl not only has their own part in the song, but their own aesthetic as well.
Naturally, with the October release date, the music video has a Halloween theme. And naturally, this of course has next to nothing to do with the lyrics, which are no more than standard, pop romance fare. While endearing, the theme is somewhat hit-and-miss in execution. As it is, the Halloween flair boils down to each member wearing a costume meant to tie in with their personalities. And though this is a concept I’ve yet to see in Kpop, (Halloween isn’t a particularly festive holiday in Korea), only some of the members make it work.
For example, it was difficult to look at Momo (my bias) hover in the air dressed as Tinkerbell. The costume didn’t fit her style as well as some of the others. Considering she’s the group’s lead dancer, a less whimsical outfit would have been a better choice. I’m not sure what she should have been, but none of the members should have been a fairy. I probably could have done without Dahyun’s running man in the bunny outfit, too. I get that she’s supposed to be an adorable and silly member, but I’m not upset knowing that that was only for the video and won’t be included in their stage performances.
On the other hand, Tzuyu, Nayeon, and Jihyo were all stunning as a seductive vampiress, she-devil, and ice queen, respectively, and I feel the video could have been improved by more of this thematic cohesion between the members. It should be noted however, that the more ridiculous elements of the M/V are the extent of the problems I have with this song. There are a couple of transitions between vocalists that can come off a little jarring, like when Sana brightly sings “Nanananana” between Tzuyu’s and Jihyo’s more subdued verses, but this doesn’t detract much.
The chorus of “TT” is a relentlessly catchy tune. How catchy, you ask? Well, let’s just say that there are washed-up child actors struggling through rehab with more control over their addictions than I do. My listen count is somewhere around half a billion as of this writing, partially so I can write this review, but mostly because I just can’t stop. Now, before I ruin all my critical credibility by shamelessly admitting that I’m unforgivable Twice trash, I have to clarify my stance. I like this song because I really like this song. I’m not so blinded by idol fandom as to automatically love anything they put out. In fact, with the exception of “One in a Million,” the remaining six songs on the album are ho-hum at best. Fortunately for everyone, “TT” is a big winner. The beats have a much more obvious dance vibe to them than any of their prior songs, and there is a lot of potential for remixes.
One of the biggest triumphs of the song is the balance Twice has, gracefully walking the line of unapologetic elegance and suffocating cuteness. Sana and Momo both bring a Japanese “kawaii” element in their parts, but it’s very clear that TWICE as a whole has been training their voices a lot more since “Like Ooh Aah.” Listening to the two songs one after the other is like night and day. There is a more developed sense of range, and though I don’t expect the girls to stop lip syncing their stage performances anytime soon, the song is definitely easier on western ears while remaining impossibly upbeat as ever. The choreography has even improved. Though the originality in “Like Ooh Aah” still stands out as their best to date, there are much more inspired movements in “TT” than in “Cheer Up,” making for more enjoyable stage performances. The standout move for me happens early on in the song, when Mina and Tzuyu mirror one another and cross arms. “Fashion show show,” indeed.
All in all, “TT” is a homerun of a comeback. Great synergy and dedication amongst the members has paid off in dividends for both their company and fans alike. It’s an instant mood changer. Not only is the song fun and make you want to sing along in a language you don’t speak, but it will make you want to come back and listen again and again. The improvements in their vocal talent, strong dance component, and JYP’s determination to make sure all nine members shine, highlights exactly why Twice is the girl group to beat.
Before I begin waxing poetic, can I just say something real quick? For a movie that debuted before an audience of only 25 people back in 1977, Eraserhead is a comically daunting film to review. David Lynch’s premier feature-length film has the ability to really make one feel under-qualified as a critic. But I suppose if Jeremy Jahns can make a living from giving his insipid opinions on the internet, why can’t I? So let’s jump in, shall we?
The most important thing to know going into Eraserhead is that this is NOT a movie for casual viewing. This isn’t Jack Sparrow’s latest romp in the Caribbean that you can just turn on halfway, watch for 20 minutes, then go jerk off and fall sleep. This movie demands cerebral vigilance. And not in the way a high-concept action flick like Inception does. Think more along the lines of Polanski’s Repulsion or Bergman’s Persona. (complete with matching black-and-white aesthetic choice) So be prepared to set the phone down and save the popcorn for a movie where the stars wear capes.
On the most superficial level, Eraserhead simply tells the story of a man struggling with the notions of parenthood and settling down, but no summarized plot description can truly capture the film’s delightful horror. What begins as a general confusion and a couple uneasy laughs steadily ramps up to a full-on assault on the psyche. Lynch and his crew’s tumultuous five years of production culminated into an exemplar of deliberate film making. This is a movie whose every intention is to make its audience deeply uncomfortable and is capable of striking genuine awe and horror.
A large part of what makes Eraserhead mystifying is its utilization of the b/w visual style. The urban-industrial world the film is set in is bleak and isolating. Stark contrasts of spotlights and shadows paint a nightmarish landscape for protagonist Henry to live in.
Camera and editing work is excellent; nothing ever feels flat or stale despite the minimalist sets, and the surrealism is engrossing without being overbearing. Better yet is the film’s sound design. In addition to “Fats” Waller organ playing, Eraserhead’s phenomenally wretched noises (as well as the consistent white noise) will make your skin crawl with Lynchian dread. I never before would have imagined that puppies suckling at their mother’s nipples could make me fidget in my seat.
These kinds of subconscious physical responses aren’t commonplace in film. During a particularly mortifying sequence in which Henry must interact with one of the most disturbing props in cinematic history, I found my hands on top of my head, fingers gripping hair as I continued to watch wide-eyed and incapable of looking away. There are things in this movie that are haunting, and others that will make you question how you’ll go on living.
Editing together a bunch of weird visuals, while potentially thought-provoking, does not naturally equate to a great movie. Fortunately, the performances in Eraserhead are excellent all around. They really had to be considering the script rarely resembles natural dialogue or even human interaction. Lead actor Jack Nance’s portrayal of the confused, anxious Henry – our avatar through the 90 minute descent into madness – is as perfect as his iconic pompadour. This man is the Eraserhead.
The credit reveals that everyone in the film has a name, but these are not characters in the classical sense of the word. The rogue’s gallery of peculiar individuals, including Henry despite his protagonist status, all represent larger ideas – symbolic and thematic elements for viewer interpretation. As well as showcasing phenomenal acting prowess, this ambiguity ends up being one of Eraserhead’s best qualities. The surreal nature lends itself well to further individual meditation even after the credits, and in a way that is far more compelling than the mentally-fatiguing Persona.
Though I might need some time before I subject myself to a second round with Lynch’s masterwork, I can’t recommend a first-time viewing enough. The only critique I have to give is that it’s a little dry at the beginning when Henry is just walking around for 5 minutes. But, once he reaches his destination, the terrifying roller coaster plummets down the tracks.
If it’s been too long since you’ve seen a good feel-bad movie, or if Ghostbusters (2016) gender politics are getting you down, Eraserhead is the panacea to all your modern Hollywood woes. This is the kind of movie that should be experienced by anyone who considers themselves a fan of film or filmmaking. Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but who needs them? Eraserhead is an astonishing, captivating, and unforgettable work of American cinema too impressive to ignore.
It’s no secret that the Electronic Entertainment Expo is the grandest and most decadent circle jerk in the videogame industry. The annual phenomenon known as E3 is notorious for a cavalcade of reasons.
Corporate press conferences noise polluted with marketing buzz words spewed unironically from suits utterly out of touch with their audience.
The showroom floor packed with expensive one-of-a-kind props and elaborate sets that have nothing to do with the actual quality of games.
Flashy reveal trailers that surprise and excite the inner fanboy within the hearts of manchildren. (also poor indicators of final game quality)
It’s an entertainment industry finally blowing its load all over its own smiling face after months of edging, before grabbing a towel and returning to tepid normalcy. It’s a pretty big load, though. Lots of news. Lots of hype. Lots of cringe. It’s what makes E3 so spesh. These are the 10 Most Important Takeaways from E3 2016. (List is in no particular order, except the number one spot, for obvious reasons)
God of War – Demigod decides to dad
Despite the climactic finale of God of War 3, it would appear Sony’s investors aren’t ready to let the angry Greek’s money train pull into station. In God of War, Sony Santa Monica is now finally doing that stupid thing that people have talked about for forever now – Norse mythology. The change isn’t exclusive to the setting, either. Nearly every aspect of the game has been changed to suit modern gamer focus testing. No chain blades. No cinematic camera. No TC Carson to voice Kratos (easily the most egregious change). Instead, our anti-hero now wields an axe and babysits his young son, clearly riding on the coattails of Joel and Ellie’s dynamic from The Last of Us. Nearly every bone in my body is telling me to run, to just accept that God of War ended and that this is just banking off the title and familiar character to sell copies (cough Ghostbusters reboot cough), but there is one saving grace. And that is Cory Barlog. The director behind God of War 2 has returned to work on this project. Though the game still looks like a step in every wrong direction possible, knowing Barlog is steering the ship gives me enough hope to elevate this unnecessary sequel from a complete write-off to a position of cautious optimism. Who knows, maybe the game will be great and I’ll eat crow for having doubted it. But probably not. This game looks wack.
9. Battlefield 1 – make The Great War fun again
After blowing Activision’s prized Call of Duty series out of the water when both released their reveal trailers earlier this year, EA only has to make sure it doesn’t do something impossibly stupid (like holding back the entire French army as DLC) to pop their over-inflated hype balloon. If they can manage that, the execs and shareholders are sure to have cocaine parties every weekend. Because the game does seem pretty sweet. I mean, what more perfect irony for a meaningless and shitty war than to turn it into a game for 13-year-olds to say shitty things to one another during meaningless rounds of CTF… The graphics are sharp, maps will have varying weather, destructible environments are back, and the WWI setting is a much needed change from the neon purple clown camo and whip-naenae whatever-the-fuck emotes in CoD. But it is EA. Which means we’ll be ripped off by DLC and microtransactions. Hopefully they release a full game at launch, unlike what they did with Star Wars: Battlefront. I ain’t having that shit.
8. Fallout 4 – Don’t make me hate you, please
Bethesda showed off the goods again this E3. Dishonored 2 and the Prey reboot both caught my interest with their intriguing worlds and mysterious tones. But both of those games are still in the tank right now, with not much to pick apart. Todd Howard did divulge on what to expect from his studio however. And that was… kind of lame. Fallout 4 will be receiving its final DLC expansion, Nuka World, later this year -making for a total of 2.5 worthwhile add-ons. This, plus more contraptions for settlement building, like elevators and conveyor belts. “Disappointment” is a word that springs to mind. Also, “Rage.” “Fuck” and “You,” as well. After Fallout 3 and New Vegas’s precedent of 5 expansions per game, hearing that all that DLC season pass money culminated into the weakest offering to date, it’s hard not to be upset. Nobody asked for settlement building. Nobody wanted this watered down game. But that’s what we got. And for some reason (easy money), we’re also getting a re-release of Skyrim. Thank Buddha for mods.
Project Scorpio and Playstation Neo – uhh…
With the rumors of new Xbox and Playstation consoles confirmed, the biggest question mark in the industry just became the biggest exclamation point, too. This is because despite what Xbox execs and the like will tell you, it’s unlikely (not impossible, but improbable) that these new consoles will comfortably exist alongside their current iterations. Developers will have to make games work across one or two more platforms than they already are. Either they put more focus on cutting edge tech, or they stick to the current player base with millions more potential customers. Are the current gen systems dead in the water? What will be major selling points to differentiate the consoles? 4K resolution? More RAM? Will it matter? These are questions that need answers. Meanwhile, that feces-feathered goose that occasionally squats out a golden egg, Nintendo, still has nothing to show except for more Zelda. Show the NX, damnit! I’m so tired of seeing your faces on the milk carton, every E3.
6. Injustice 2 – DC comics Dress-up
Ed Boon and his eyebrows brought a demo of Mortal Kombat Lite 2 to E3 this year, with a new customization feature to boot. Injustice 2 includes a Gear system that affects gameplay as well as allows players to gussy up their heroes as they see fit. Unlocking new loot is already addicting as is, but the best part is how players have the ability to make a character’s uniform look how they think it should look. This is an incredibly welcome change when considering some of the design choices made in the original game were less than perfect. Just look at this egg:Literally as intimidating as a limbless panda. With the new Gear system however-Yeah. You heard that noise? That noise that sounded like a damp rag just hit the floor? Well that was the sound of every Batman nerd in the world collectively dropping their panties. I’m excited to see how much customization there is across all characters. Boon wants a huge roster of fighters, and of the six confirmed, three are new to the series. Supergirl, Gorilla Grodd, and Atrocitus all look like great additions, but now comes the speculation. Will we see Darkseid playable this time around? Can I have a Penguin that looks like Danny DeVito? I’m personally rooting for a playable Starfire and Beast Boy, but even if they don’t make the initial cut, WB and Netherrealm Studios are cranking out plenty of DLC fighters after the 2017 launch, so this game will be huge when all is said and done.
5. Watch Dogs 2 – The Ubisoft dilemma
Lying to the public is Ubisoft’s calling card. E3 trailers for their games are all but completely irrelevant at this point, due to how consistently disingenuous they’ve been in recent years. Watch Dogs, Rainbow Six: Siege, and The Division have all had their E3 demos exposed as flat-out misrepresentations of their final retail versions. So it really hurts seeing so much potential in Watch Dogs 2. I want to be excited about hacking everything in Silicon Valley as a parkour master, but I also don’t want to be hurt again. I’m tired of the lies – the empty promise that things will change. And no, Michael Fassbender in your Assassin’s Creed movie won’t win me over. We’ll have to wait and see. Maybe in a few months I’ll be okay again, but until then, the South Park game is about all I’m ready to commit to. (Seriously, The Fractured but Whole has the potential to be the best superhero game this year.) Goodbye, Ubisoft.
4. Indie games – Like hipsters, but less awful
Microsoft isn’t new to great independent games. On 360, Braid, Limbo, Super Meat Boy, and Fez all started as Xbox exclusives. The keyword there is “started.” The same logic should apply to this next batch of indies. Cuphead has drawn a lot of well-deserved attention for its 1930’s cartoon-inspired art style. Everything in the world is animated with a bounce or sway to it, and the gameplay is largely centered around devilishly hard boss fights that border on bullet hell. On the opposite end of the color spectrum, Inside’s bleak greys drown players in the spiritual sequel to Playdead’s Limbo. Again, players will explore a morbid and deadly world of darkness and mystery as a small boy. This game has released since E3, but I’m holding off my judgement until I can get my hands on a PS4 version. Lastly, We Happy Few is a 3D first-person game set in an eerie, 1960s-esque dystopia where everyone is Brady Bunch happy, wears white face paint, and are forced to take a drug called “Joy.” In the demo, the player character doesn’t take their medicine and is subsequently targeted by an Orwellian police force. This is EXACTLY the type of thing I want from indie developers. More ambitious worlds and risk-taking stories? Yes, please. It’s just a shame Playstation gamers are going to have to wait even longer for these titles. In the meantime, Double Fine’s Headlander will be on PS4.Published by Adult Swim (and thankfully not left to Tim Schafer’s Kickstarter habits), the game is about a head. A head that can attach itself to robots to control those robots. The 2D game will feature Metroid-like level progression and Double Fine’s sense of humor, for better or worse.
3. Gravity Rush 2 – I hate Skylanders.One of the biggest letdowns at E3 happened during Sony’s press conference. We all saw the shadow of Crash Bandicoot on the stage. We all had our hairs stand up in anticipation. But before you could even say “my body is ready, I am lubed, take me, take me now,” it all came crashing down. Sony’s big Crash announcement was that the familiar face would be slapped onto Activision’s next Skylanders bowel movement. The HD remasters aren’t worth getting excited over, either. There’s nothing exciting about playing games we could play for 20 years now. And whoever decided to throw in a trailer for the upcoming Lego game should really consider throwing themselves down a well. Sony’s press conference did not include even one mention of Gravity Rush 2 – a Playstation brand EXCLUSIVE that has more originality and charm than either of those bird shits combined. Why was this shafted? Is it because it isn’t marketed to dumb children with shitty taste, perhaps? Or because it was made by developers who don’t secretly wish a shooter came into the office and ended their lives? Who knows. What we do know is that it’s a beautiful sequel to a well-reviewed game. The main character has super powers and the game world looks stunning! But that isn’t the kind of game Sony wanted us to see, apparently. And quite frankly, I’m not sure I’ll get this haunting image washed from my brain any time soon.
2. Virtual Reality – Real Gimmicky
A couple years ago, the hype surrounding the Oculus Rift made it seem like the futuristic technology of the future would finally come to the present times. Well, VR is here now, and it’s expensive as hell, makes you look stupid, and few games actually implement it well – so of course we got to see a ton of it at E3. No, John Carmack, I really couldn’t give a rat’s tits about “living and breathing in a Minecraft world.” At $400+ dollars a piece, no co-op in mind, and games featuring obvious limitations on character movement, this trend will die just like motion control and 3D TVs. The only legitimate reason for these things to exist is to see Dashie scream while playing VR horror games. Playstation is the console brand currently advocating the hardest for it, but nothing outside of the X-Wing simulator they showed off had the “wow” factor something like this needs in order to sell. I’ll wait another decade for technology to catch up before I take this seriously. Until then, I’m gonna keep that $400 in my wallet.
Spider-Man, the hero E3 deserved
I’m a shameless Spider-Man fanboy. The Tobey Maguire movies were my childhood fantasies on the big screen, and the videogames let me recreate what I read in the comics. So it should come as no surprise that the biggest E3 moment for me was seeing the trailer for Insomniac’s Playstation-exclusive Spider-Man game. Can you say “system seller?” Insomniac seems like a less obvious choice for making a superhero game than Sucker Punch studios (devs of the Infamous series), but the tone in the trailer felt like they perfectly captured the feel of Spidey heroics. The cinematic trailer showed off some scripted action, including a part where Spider-Man ran on the tables of a cafe before bursting out its window. I’m curious to see if the final game will feature such detailed interiors. Aside from that note, I actually like the new suit, though I hope more costumes are unlockable in the game. Overall, this is my most anticipated game coming out of E3 2016. I had almost begun to think E3 would have no true stand-out game for me this year, but Spider-Man came to the rescue, as usual.
Do you ever just crave watching an exceptionally mediocre movie? You know, kind of like that feeling you get when you’re binge watching Drake and Josh reruns on a Sunday afternoon? Well look no further than Marvel’s Ant-Man! This movie’s got it all, folks – an almost-interesting protagonist, just enough action to keep you from slipping into a coma, a plot that follows story beats like it was ripped straight from “How to Write Film Scripts for Dummies,” and so much cheese you’ll regret not bringing a few bottles of wine. If you saw Paul Rudd on the poster for this movie and had some second thoughts about it, well I’m here to affirm that sense of apprehension. Ant-Man is pretty much the most Paul Rudd movie ever. A more fitting title would be Ant-Guy, or possibly even Ant-Bruh, to be quite honest. You won’t hate yourself afterward, and you’ll be able to cross it off the bottom of that “haven’t gotten around to it” list, but Ant-Man‘s got “Redbox and chill” written all over it.
The first red flag (aside from the fact that an Ant-Man movie exists) came within the first 5 minutes of the movie. Michael Douglas (made youthful again through the power of CGI) wastes no time establishing an absolutely ludicrous tone that I knew in my loins the film was not going to maintain. Playing the role of Hank Pym – the original Ant-Man – Douglas casually slams a man’s head into a table with all the grace and finesse of a WWE performer while at some sort of corporate board meeting. In that one action, Ant-Man already establishes a fictional world that is unbound by real world logic. Coupled with how corny the set looked, doubt slowly started to creep in. What remaining hopes I had were swiftly dashed in the following scenes, in which Paul Rudd’s Scott Lang character is released from an insultingly childish depiction of San Quentin State Prison, and proceeds to have conversation after tiresome conversation of expository dialogue opposite various character cliches and blatant racial stereotypes. It’s at this point that it became apparent that Ant-Man is just another summer popcorn flik that feels it has to spoon feed every detail because general audiences are too stupid to piece anything together on their own. All of it is hamfisted to hell too, of course. Seriously. So much ham! Someone with a kind heart should really show this movie in a homeless shelter for the holidays. Please. No one will go hungry this Kwanzaa. The best part is this exhausting process of “telling,” rather than “showing” what these characters are like, is repeated with Hank Pym, Wasp, and Yellowjacket as well. None of it clever, most of it cringe inducing. The movie feels like it doesn’t actually start until 20-30 minutes in because we have to go through the motions of watching Down-and-Out Hero Plot #3. And even then, the movie just transitions to Superhero Origin Plot #2, where we get to watch the time-tested and never-stale “new to my powers,” scene, as well as a training montage for good measure. To be fair, Guardians of the Galaxy‘s terrible introductory scenes still beat this in terms of sheer cringe value. But just the fact that I’m having to draw parallels with the overhyped feces that was Gaurdians doesn’t speak well for Ant-Man.If there’s one thing that Ant-Man does do right, it’s making Ant-Man’s powers actually seem cool. No sarcasm. Despite what little life P-Rudd brings to the Ant-Man character, I think my 5th grade self would’ve thought having a shrinking suit is awesome. The suit is actually pretty nice too. It’s kind of got that Captain America color desaturation thing going on to make it seem realistic (?), but at least it’s better than this:
Also to the benefit of the movie, rather than having the protagonist create the suit and ant-telepathy tech himself (and waste even more time), Paulie Rudderstein just pilots it. In doing so, the movie allows audiences to discover the powers of this lesser-known character alongside the hero of the movie. It almost feels too smart for this movie when I say it out loud. Hmmm… I’m going to have to balance that out with a harsh critique. Ahem… The Baskin Robbins shill was GROSS. An entire scene dedicated to product placement, guys?? When did Adam Sandler start his contract at Marvel Studios? I’ve seen less Baskin Robbins promotions INSIDE of Baskin Robbins. No, that scene wasn’t funny. No, I will not go to Baskin Robbins . Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. F*ck that scene. F*ck it in the nose and between the toes.
I didn’t have massive expectations for Ant-Man, but I wish someone would have warned me about Evangeline Lilly’s portrayal of Wasp. For the majority of her time on screen, she’s either being overly dramatic or just plain stiff. The blame falls squarely on the writing. It’s embarrassingly obvious her character was shoehorned in as supplementary “drama,” with a weak, inconsequential subplot about her and her father’s terse relationship. She must have needed some more lines, because aside from this, she’s just the person who trained Ant-Man. (By punching him in the face?)So we all have to suffer as a result. My recommendation for anyone interested in seeing this movie (because you would feel like an incomplete nerd to not have all the MCU under your belt) is to take care of any other things in your life you need to get done during these scenes. Out of popcorn? Time to microwave some more. Got some emails you need to check? You’re good, fam. Whether you got a load of laundry to check on or just have to drop the load of a lifetime, this is an overall great movie to run your errands/take a shit to. <<real quote on the cover of the DVD box.
Taking all this into account, there are some moments that made me realize that I was still alive. As I mentioned before, the fight scenes are pretty neat, and Pudd Ruddershins getting shrunken down to Planck length near the end is a visual trip. Stan Lee’s hilarious cameo is one of his best. Michael Douglas is still too cool to hate. And though Michael Pena’s silly Mexican was groan-inducing, the schtick where his voice comes out of other peoples’ mouths is funny. That’s about it, though. If you can stomach telenovela melodrama, cardboard cutout characters, a child actor more effective than rat poison, a mustache twirler villain, and an unoriginal script written by what must be high schoolers in the bodies of Hollywood screenwriters, then by all means watch Ant-Man. At the end of the day, you’re just watching a slightly lamer version of a movie you’ve already seen before. Personally, I can think of another movie I’d rather give my repeat views to…
It’s no secret that I am a Naughty Dog fan boy. My first reviews on this site were for the unquestionably amazing Jak and Daxter titles. The only games I have ever spent more than a week playing multiplayer in were Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3. And in my opinion, The Last of Us has one of the best, if not the best, narratives in all of videogaming. Even when Naughty Dog has been complicit in practices I’ve actively boycotted, such as the online pass fad and the nickel-and-diming of customers via microtransactions, I have generally been able to turn a blind eye to these offenses. (It helps when you’re a developer that eventually makes all your game’s DLC free to all players) That being said, my obvious fandom doesn’t detract from my ability to judge their games fairly. So does Left Behind manage to live up to the large expectations set forth by the base game?
Left Behind alternates between two points of time. Taking place during the second half of the game’s main storyline, Left Behind flashbacks to a time before protagonist Ellie ever met co-protagonist, Joel. What players will find out very quickly is that this segmentation of the timeline effectively creates a distinct separation of the two major draws of The Last of Us. The “current” portion of the game is where the game’s combat and stealth gameplay returns, as Ellie must make her way through desperately violent apocalypse survivors and Cordyceps infected zombies alike. The flashback content however, is where the compelling character writing and relationship building makes a comeback, and features no combat whatsoever. To use what videogame scholarship I’ve acquired: though this dichotomy makes for some jarring transitions, it works for the purposes of ensuring neither narratologically-inclined nor ludologically-inclined audiences feel left out. (And makes for any easy method of reviewing the game.)
Though some argue that the combat situations in Left Behind are just filler to pad out its length, I’m glad either way. The fact that the gameplay time is only slightly longer than a movie allowed me the opportunity to play against the game’s intelligent and deadly AI again, complete with resource management and crafting, without feeling like I’d have to invest a lot of time. Sometimes it feels good being able to just enjoy a slice, rather than gorge down a whole pie. This is especially true when that pie’s filling is me exhibiting expert levels of archery like a tiny, ninja Katniss Everdeen that also isn’t impartial to viciously sticking aggressors with a switchblade in the throat. It was cool to play through encounters with both human and zombie enemies, as well. Being able to have both enemy types fight each other for your own gain was a neat addition to the formula. Aside from this though, the gameplay isn’t all that different from the Ellie stages of the initial release. One aspect I’m more critical of now than when I first played through the main game however, is the hyper-sonic hearing/Spider Sense thing that grants players X-ray vision. I’m not entirely opposed to the idea of being able to hear enemies through rooms (I found this superpower very useful in both games), but I somehow feel it’s a stretch to be capable of deducing that exactly four squatters are coming down that hole in the ceiling 50 feet away, in addition to the squad of exactly three fungus heads one room over, all with a precision that surpasses the echolocation of bats. I’d like to see this element return in a future release, albeit toned down – not just turned off altogether. Okay, rant over.
Now, what people really ought to care about is whether or not the story of Left Behind is good enough to warrant a purchase. I was initially pretty wary of whether or not Naughty Dog’s writing team would be able to create a significant connection with new character, Riley, especially since prologue and prequel stories so often feel like auxiliary and unnecessary nubbins. (Or tumors in the case of the Star Wars prequels.) But whatever expectations I could have had, the events of Left Behind still managed to blow away. It obviously does not compare to Joel and Ellie’s bond that formed over 16 hours of intense trials and tribulations in the base game, but Ellie and Riley actually managed to create one of the biggest highlight moments of The Last of Us as a whole. And considering all of the shocking twists and turns of The Last of Us, that’s saying something. Gameplay-wise, exploring the mall alongside Riley is mostly comprised of walking, talking and interacting with objects. It felt a lot like a Quantic Dream game in that way, if David Cage somehow managed to write dialogue that sounded even 60% human. And though the banter was interesting enough, the payoff in Left Behind‘s final hour is something that is only rivaled by the main game’s ending. Seriously, if Joel’s morally opaque decision at the conclusion of The Last of Us hits like a shovel to the back of the skull, then Left Behind’s big moment is comparable to being trash canned and thrown down a flight of stairs. You might still be conscious at the bottom of those steps, but your world is undeniably turned on its side for a bit, and you’ll still be left wondering “what the hell just happened? Who am I? What is life?” afterward. And for this reason, I give Left Behind‘s story a resounding two corndogs way up.
If there’s one thing that could keep fans of TLOU away from this add-on, it has to be that it only provides about 3 hours of extra gameplay to the overall TLOU experience. Small things like the occasional blurry texture here and there, and the ridiculous videogame cliche of collectible audio recordings, didn’t keep me from being engaged with this excellent example of downloadable content done right. At no point did I feel like this was a creation of exploitation meant only to shake a few more bucks out of fans. This is obviously the intended result, but it doesn’t have that gross, cynical, have-to-scrub-yourself feeling you get from games like Destiny and EA’s Star Wars: Battlefront. Unfortunately, Left Behind is still $10 on the Playstation Store. Of course, I got it while it was on sale, but all options considered, I would just recommend picking up the Remastered edition of The Last of Us on PS4 with all the extra content included. It’s definitely a must-play for fans, but preferably at the right price. Sorry ND, but I am very stingy with my shekels. Maybe next time let me play the multiplayer for more than two hours.
OKAY! Guys! Guys! Alright, so I’m going to just be up front about it right now. This might not be the most professional music review. I write game and film reviews decently enough because I know the terminology of those two mediums. I have no idea what “chord progression,” “tempo,” “age of consent,” “stop you’re hurting me” or “melody” mean. All of those, I hear them, and the brain just goes to autopilot. That being said, what I need to say today goes beyond musical knowledge. This is important, guys (and otherkin)! After listening to this song a few times now, I have considerable reason to believe that Future is suffering from some sort of rare, degenerative brain disorder, and I am SICKENED by the fact that we are touting around someone afflicted with a gross cerebral impairment for our own enjoyment.
At first, when I heard this song in passing, I was utterly appalled. “Oh my word, did he just suffer a recent head trauma?” I asked this to no one in particular, as I so often do. Then I took the time to really let the sound of the music and the lyrics soak, and my concern quickly turned to shock and anger. The poor man’s voice is the vocal equivalent of a runny stool passed through autotune. How no one else is picking up on this glaringly obvious red flag is beyond me. I mean, is someone really going to try and tell me that he’s actually a properly functioning human being? Let’s just try and think about that for a second so I can debunk your cruel ass.
Now, I’m not the most well-versed critic of modern American rap music, but I have noticed a recent trend where artists simply let their lyrics dribble past their lazily flapping lips. Normally, it adds a gravitas of luxury – like a morbidly obese Roman cartoon character nonchalantly eating grapes lowered into his mouth by a nude beauty (male or female, your choice). When a rapper expends so little energy in his annunciation, he’s subconsciously saying “I don’t even need to put a modicum of effort into my shit cuz I’m just that golden, son.” Whether or not this makes for good music is a subject of debate that I believe goes case-by-case, but I digress. With Where Ya At, I am not going to accept this all-too-easy explanation for Future. His performance is neither indicative of any swagger nor artistic liberty. Nobody with all the cortices of their brain intact speaks like they have a mouth full of marbles. I mean, seriously, the hook of the song sounds like gibberish from a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. And I swear, when he gets to the 1:15 mark in the song, all I hear is a drowned Fred Flintstone trying to speak through a waterboarding.
And since we all know that you couldn’t make out the lyrics to this atrocity, I’ve taken the initiative to provide an excerpt from that part of the song (you can thank me right now):
“Had to rent that on the dick ass jocking Running through the pussy like a nigga going jogging Fuck a little Louis, put it in a bitch pocket Put a pic with me on the gram now you popping Where your ass was at when I was trapping in the stove? Had to scrub to get where I’m at or sell dope Jackie Chan moves got game in the choke Gas rolling up and the blunt from the coast 12 jumpers came in the spot to open up the dope Carlo, Bob, Joe gotta young nigga coughing Janet out the stove and we still raised honest Blowing on the O ho we call it full onion”
Now, can we say it is a fair and balanced assessment to say that these lyrics would be f*cking indecipherable to anthropologists regardless of who were speaking them? There are asylum inmates with wall scrawlings written in fecal matter that are more coherent than this. If this is what rap has come to in order to find a rhyme nowadays (which it isn’t, because Future is very, very sick and needs help) well then just jock on muh dick ho and choke me in the stove.
Come now. Where yo grammar was at, Future? Just stop pretending. This charade is fooling no one. We all know that underneath those bitchin’ shades that your eyes are actually looking off in two different directions. The jig is up, homie. (I can call him homie, right? Right? Cuz I’m a thuggish-ruggish bone now, right?)
Actually, come to think of it… is it possible that English is Future’s 4th or 5th language? Because that’s just about the strongest and only remaining argument for the brain bubble deniers at this point. What’s worse is the featured artist on the track. I honestly can’t believe Drake, the blessed, Canadian sweetheart of the music industry. To stoop down to this level shows a real lack of character. What do you stand to gain from rapping alongside someone with severe mental handicaps? Like, way to go, Drizzy, you want to have a foot race with a paraplegic now? (i.e. yourself circa the early 00’s) Would that make you feel good? Would it?
In closing, I sincerely believe that everyone who enjoys this song unironically needs to have an intervention with themselves in the mirror. Seriously, if the word “fire” came to mind at any point while listening to this track – and you weren’t referring to what you want to toss this single into – then nothing short of staring at yourself in the mirror and repeatedly asking “who am I” and “what have I become” for at least one full hour can hope to return you to decency. That’s just my unlicensed, professional prescription. (Trust me, I’m a gynecologist.) Regardless of whether or not I’m proven wrong, and my theory on Future’s state of being turns out to be a lot of hot air, then this is still a lifeless, by-the-numbers rap song bereft of any energy or soul. Future and Drake are just going through the motions with this track, but ultimately will still see plenty of radio play simply because Drake is the Coca-Cola of rap. And I like some of Drake’s songs. (Over, 0 to 100, and The Motto have some very catchy hooks) but there’s a line separating those who jam out to stupid unintelligible trash and the rest of humanity. That line’s name is Future.
It’s been a long, torturous drought. The crops have all but died, and the livestock have grown terribly ill. What’s it been? 5, 10, 15 years? I know. It’s been a long time. There’s been many a trial and much strife. Trouble in paradise, to be certain. But rejoice, friends. The prodigal son has returned! Toil those dead soils no longer and follow me into the future. Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.
Okay… I think that simple “I’m back,” just rang up the entirety of my extended metaphor budget for the rest of this review… But whatever, you only get this one life. Swag it as hard as you can. Am I right or am I right? Okay, unless you’re Hindu as a mug and believe in samsara. In which case, you still only get this one life to swag, but can pretend like you don’t. Unless you’re on God-King Xerxes level like me, in which case your reign will last another thousand years. Damn. It feels good to be a gangster.
Oh yeah, right. I had a review to write… I knew that. You think I didn’t know that? Why are you looking at me like that…? Wow. I just came here for a good time and I honestly just feel so attacked right now. Here. Here’s your damn review. Don’t hate me cuz I’m beautiful. *rambling, ego-fueled gibberish ends**review begins*
Not unlike eating a hundred Twinkies or getting a winky in the stinky (allegedly), X-COM: Enemy Within (Firaxis, 2013) is one of those things that you never truly comprehend the difficulty of until you attempt it for yourself. But unlike those two things , the sense of accomplishment that makes it all worthwhile doesn’t also entail a vague, intangible sense of self-loathing and disgust. Enemy Within is the re-release of X-COM: Enemy Unknown (2012), and comes packaged with all the DLC and expansion content as well as the base game, making it the most complete version available. After sinking in an almost embarrassing amount of time shooting E.T.’s in the face, I can firmly say this is one of the most criminally overlooked console games of the ps3/Xbox 360 generation. For those who can appreciate a slower, more methodical and strategically focused experience from a game, this is one that not only delivers an awesome campaign, but is very accessible for newbies to the genre.Premise: Aliens have invaded our planet. It is up to you as the commander of X-COM, a black ops military organization funded by Earth’s national super powers, to fight back against the hostile invaders and save our species from being eradicated. A bit of a tall order for the average person, some might say, and the game reflects that in its gameplay. After the relatively simple tutorial missions, the game takes the training wheels off and doesn’t take long before asking you to race that bike in the Tour de France. Jumping between two different modes of play – combat and resource management – the game constantly forces the player to weigh decisions between short-term and long-term gains/consequences. The micro level of this occurs in the game’s strike team operations, where you take the reigns as armchair general and command a squad of up to six soldiers. Playing these missions on the game’s “Classic” (aka: hard) difficulty is no walk in the park. Though you see the battlefield from a bird’s eye view, the maps are shrouded in darkness until you move a soldier into the area. And after losing soldiers by being too overzealous in my approaches, bum rushing them into rooms where 2 or 3 aliens were apparently just playing tiddlywinks waiting for us to show up, I learned pretty early on that this is a game where being overly aggressive is about as good for your continued health as being black near a police officer. (ooh topical)This is easily where most of your time in X-COM will be spent. Because, unless you’re either Rain Man or someone who finds sick pleasure in throwing lambs to the slaughter, excelling in this game requires a thorough understanding of your soldier’s classes and strengths, smart utilization of your non-replenishing resources (like rockets and smoke grenades), and a little bit of luck. Since it is a turn-based game, any shots you take at enemies are based off percentages, which are based off a soldier’s distance from a target and if the target is in cover, which is based on whether or not you suck. But of course, you can still get f*cked when you line up a 90% successful shot and still miss. Because probability. Because math. Because go f*ck yourself. Nothing says elite martian-killer like missing the large, floating tentacle beast hovering five feet from your face. This is probably the most annoying aspect of Enemy Within. It’s in those moments when I would lose immersion in the game. And I feel the need to add that the load times in this game are insane. Literally insane. Like, they’ll put you in a psyche ward because you’ll have lost your mind waiting to take back that seemingly ingenious flanking maneuver that ended with three of your best soldiers dead. These two things can combine to make some very frustrating moments. I recommend saving often if you plan on keeping any hair on your head.Since this is the expanded version of the game, there’s a lot of new customization options that make this version of the game stand out from the original. And I’m not just talking about painting your squad to look like the Power Rangers, though it is true that not doing that is to play the game wrong. Enemy Within has another currency/resource called “Meld” that is specifically used for enhancing your soldiers. Meld can be spent in a gene lab to give your fighters useful new abilities, like being able to live past an initial death or the ability to leap to the roofs of buildings. This is an excellent way to tug the rope in your favor as the game’s enemies become more resilient (read: a bigger pain in the ass). In addition to genetic modification, Meld is also able to be spent on the new MEC class. Unlike the typical Sniper, Heavy, Assault, and Support classes of the base game, MECs cannot hide behind cover, but can become walking tanks through upgrades. Wielding Rail Cannons and being able to literally rocket-punch foes through walls isn’t cheap however, as MEC costs are considerably larger than gene mods. And thus, not only is it challenging to collect Meld (which is found in missions, but is only acquirable during a short number of turns), but knowing how to spend it wisely is also an ordeal in itself. Is it better to save up for that sweet MEC upgrade or spread the love around to the rest of the recruits? In the end, it’s seeing how these decisions pay off that raises the quality bar of Enemy Within, as it makes the decisions of the player impact the game in ways they might not see immediately. Making tough choices is an important part of leadership, and the game does an excellent job of capturing that sense of player agency. X-COM: Enemy Within has a couple rough edges here and there. For one, it’s possible this game doesn’t even have a soundtrack, or at least, an unmemorable one since I literally can’t remember if there was ever anything playing outside of the corny cutscenes. This isn’t a major gripe, but as someone who appreciates a good OST, as demonstrated by almost every other review I’ve written, it’s a plus I sadly cannot bolster onto Enemy Within‘s resume. In terms of technical performance, the game is generally fine, but sometimes levels would load in with muddy textures and I would puke and it was a mess and nobody cleaned it and now I’ve been evicted and I live in the Gaylord Stadium. So yeah, that sucks. Especially (!) considering those heinous load times. Like, what were you even loading? A troll face? Speaking of trolling, let’s talk about the ending of the game. Can you say “underwhelming?” The final mission is set up to be the most “awesomest thing evarrr” and then when you kill the big bad, it’s just like “congrats, homie. Here’s some stats on how you did.” I mean, the story is never exactly 2001: A Space Odyssey, but a pat on the back is not decent closure for having just saved the human race. At the very least, give me one of those quirky credits sequences with the aliens dancing or something. Like damn. Got me feeling like Rodney Dangerfield over here. No respect, I tell ya.
(God bless you, Rodney. May your soul Triple Lindy in eternity.)
That all being said, it would be heretical to rate this game low. The flaws aren’t all that apparent, and so long as you play on a difficulty level on par with your skill level, the overarching experience makes X-COM: Enemy Within worth at least one playthrough. There’s even a secondary mode for sadomasochists called “Ironman,” where you play on the hardest difficulty and can’t take back any of your mistakes because it just hurts so good. Essentially, it’s the gaming equivalent of the Christian Grey experience. Personally, the appeal of pulling out my own fingernails weighs slightly more favorably on the scale, but to each their own. Enemy Within is an incredibly deep and engrossing game with a lot of content on offer. I didn’t even get to mention the optional Exalt side missions where you fight against human cultists who seek to aid the aliens, and I didn’t play any of the online multiplayer. But that really just adds to the argument doesn’t it? There are a couple of small issues, and it’s certainly not a game for everyone, but there’s a lot of game to enjoy and it’s an exemplar of its genre. To quote from Heinlein’s Starship Troopers: “Violence, naked force, has settled more issues in history than has any other factor.” So go out there and scalp yourself some little green men. For queen and country! Obligatory Number at the End: 8.75/10
Hey there. Just a little nugget right here for those who are still reading. If you liked what you read, why don’tcha be a pal and leave a comment? Even a racially insensitive one that will offend my Tumblrina otherkin sensibilities like, “Hey, this was purdy good,” or “wow friggin about time you posted, scrub.” It feels good to be kicking it in the driver’s writer’s seat again (which is actually just my bed while I bump heavy ass trap music like a damned fool in my headphones), and I appreciate all feedback. Thank you!!
And finally, here’s a taster for my next piece, in which I’ll discuss how Korean pop music has ruined my life for the better:
Well, here I am. Doing the typing thing again. It’s been a minute since I last posted, but I’m going to make up for lost time easily with more consistent updates. They might be small, but I want to make sure I don’t lapse out of writing like some sort of New Year’s gym resolution. I started this review weeks ago, but it took until now for motivation to finally eat away at the thick layer of procrastination that’s kept me from reviewing this past month. This review of Age of Ultron is my first foray into the abyss that is non-gaming reviews. Don’t expect much to change in terms of style, the Assorted Nuts section is just a space for me to air my grievances on things other than gaming.To wit, the sequel to the disturbingly popular Avengers film of 2012 is no exception from my flaming blade of criticism and rhetorical questions. I finally saw the much-anticipated film, complete with all the time-tested amenities that have become traditional for pop culture movies during initial weeks of release: the crying baby that has to be escorted out, the guy who sits behind you and eats an obnoxiously loud snack food throughout the entire run time of the film, and the group of people who laugh out loud at everything, no matter how dumb. It’s comforting to know some things will never god damn change. However, despite all these delights, I still found myself capable of engaging with what was a decent enough stepping stone for Disney’s newest and flashiest cash cow, erm… I mean, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The film suffers from the same problems a lot of these movies have, but cheeseball writing and ludicrous plot devices aside, the film is still just good enough to warrant a matinee priced viewing. Even if it is just to see the fight between the Hulk and Iron Man.The plot of the film is typical, boilerplate comic book fluff. (Alan Moore just had a shiver go down his spine) The bad guy, Ultron, who is cool because he’s a robot and that’s sort of new-ish, just wants what all good, artificially intelligent constructs want: to destroy all of humanity. The movie rushes through Ultron’s reasoning behind this, lazily cramming it within the same 4-5 minute long space as his “birth,” but what level of depth should have been expected anyway? I was actually fine with the change in Ultron’s origin to something that works better for the film universe, but his character isn’t more than an evil, mechanical punching bag. Either Joss Whedon’s grown self-aware regarding the malarky of these sorts of stories and didn’t feel like this antagonist really require a character arc, or perhaps he just didn’t care. Regardless, the premise manages to work since a film like this is more about the journey than the destination. Though, I’d like to ask whoever came up with the title to elaborate on what exactly they think constitutes an “age.” Do they really consider the week or so that Ultron exists equatable to an era? That span of time feels like something more appropriately used sarcastically, like referring to that week your mother-in-law was staying in town as the “Age of Carol.” He hardly does anything at all until the final battle scene, and not a single civilian dies, gets hurt, or is even aware that he is a threat until then! Sure, that’s great PR for the Avengers and means they’re doing their job (sort of, not really), but neither Ultron’s plan, execution of said plan, nor his very existence were things any normal person would have known about until they saw the news about a floating city that night. Compare this now to the Green Goblin character in the 2002, Sam Raimi Spider-Man film. By the time Ultron’s childish scheme is put into action, the Green Goblin would have already murdered a dozen people, terrorized a parade, burned a building, personally attacked the protagonist’s loved ones, and endangered the lives of something close to 20-or-so children. Oh yeah, and he beat the shit out of Spider-Man. You know, actually showing that he was a threat as well as a dangerous, homicidal maniac. The menace of the Green Goblin managed to create a level of tension and suspense in the film, and made the viewer forget for a second that Spider-Man is going to win at the end – like something a good movie would do.Perhaps then, the title is actually a reference to Ultron’s literal age. As in, he’s a naive, days-old baby who struggles with interpersonal communication and rational thinking, and is constantly seeking the attention of humans. His character is both gifted and flawed with oddly human-like qualities. In one respect, it makes his dialogue more interesting than some run-of-the-mill, “humans must die!” tripe, but at the same time, contradicts his own identity. On more than one occasion he references God, and in one instance in particular, the Noah myth. I’m not sure what to even make of that. Whether it was supposed to be pro- or anti-religious, or whether it was to further compound the idea that Ultron lacks the ability to think critically. Also, his portrayal by the countless Disney animators, whose names clog up the credits like LA commuters in rush hour traffic, is worthy of a “meh” at best. Anytime he’s on-screen and not shooting a completely impotent laser, he’s given the Film Studies 101 treatment and placed at an angle above the camera to look intimidating and scary. But by the tenth time it happens, as he saunters toward whoever he is addressing his “I’m so badass” speech to, it starts to come off less like a foreboding super-villain, and more like a middle schooler acting tough to fit in with high schoolers. Eventually, Ultron’s lack of competence and inability to actually do anything remotely sinister catches up with him. In a film in which his name is literally the title, Ultron is sadly reduced to an uninteresting prop that sinks under the weight of a half-dozen side stories and Marvel movie tie-ins that Age of Ultron forcibly squeezes into its run time. Also, before I can move on, one other gripe I have with him is his physical design. (Here comes the comic book nerd in me) If he bases his form off the iron man suit in this film, why then does he alter his head to have human-like eyes, as well as a moving mouth complete with teeth? Just… what?? Do I really need to address why teeth make no sense on a robot? Why does he have a mouth in the first place? A flat, reinforced face with a speaker in it would make more sense. The extra moving parts are just a liability. There was nothing wrong with his original comic book design. In fact, because of the comic’s removal of the human aspects, Ultron visually represented his separation from the natural world, marking a clear distinction in him as an “other”. This switch to a more human design just came off as ugly, unnecessary, impractical, and backward, effectively making Ultron an all-around uninteresting, all-talk, no-walk antagonist who doesn’t make sense, doesn’t have clear motivation or reasoning, looks stupid, makes illogical decisions, and has dialogue that only manages to transcend the contrived Snidely Whiplash idiocy of cartoons on 2 or 3 occasions within the film. Overall, not an impressive villain for an unmemorable obligation of a movie. I think this makes for a good enough segue to talk about the heroes of the movie now. The returning cast does an admirable enough job performing roles that they’ve clearly grown comfortable in, but new additions Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver don’t all reach the levels of the Avengers proper, or even Don Cheadle’s War Machine for that matter, who only makes a couple of brief cameos. Vision, the most intriguing of the three new characters, unfortunately only gets a small amount of screen time. His philosophy and powers as an android makes him more thought provoking than most of the Avengers mainstays, and certainly more so than newcomers, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver. These two just don’t inspire the same level of curiosity, and have a kind of “our sequel needs more heroes” funk to them. Furthermore – oh,…Ahem, it seems I’ve just been ordered a cease and desist from Disney. I meant to say NOT-Scarlet Witch and NOT-Quicksilver, since y’know, legal reasons. Anyway, my stance remains the same on these characters. Not-Scarlet Witch looks and behaves nothing like the comic book character, and simply put: Not-Quicksilver of Avengers < Days of Future Past Quicksilver in virtually every way. And strumming the character design chord again, Not-Scarlet Witch looks less like a comic book heroine, and more like a grungy teen who can’t stand her parents and waxes on about how no one in society “gets her.”
Returning to the primary cast now, I need to make it especially clear that I am thoroughly and utterly appalled by the decision to weave a watered down romance element into the Avengers. I assume this was a decision made by someone with money. At least, I hope so. Because when I bought my ticket for this movie, I had no idea I would soon be physically writhing in my seat. There is absolutely ZERO chemistry between Scar Jo and Marky Mark Ruffles-Oh. The whole thing feels forced from the get-go and even dips into a realm of unpleasantness I did not think was possible for Scarlett Johansson. In a particularly awkward scene in Hawkeye’s house (The movie really slows down for a bit just as it is getting exciting), Natasha Romanov approaches Bruce Banner as he comes out of the shower. She then proceeds to straight up tell him she wished she could have been showering with him. Banner, as well as myself, began thinking “Daaaaaaaamn girl, you need a glass of water? Cuz u sound THIRSTY as F@CK!” But it only gets worse as the conversation goes on. At first, it just feels like Natasha’s character learned everything she knows about romance from the intro dialogue of porn scenes, but she quickly strays into bizarro territory when she brings up the fact that she’s infertile and proceeds to have a mini breakdown, all the while Bruce is just standing there damp and wearing only a towel. It just doesn’t feel right to make the “strong female character” suddenly this heartbroken, “I-need-a-man” type out of the blue, especially at another character’s expense. By the final battle of the movie however, Banner is, of course, just as in love with her as she is with him. I mean, he’d have to be completely remiss of testosterone and his five basic senses to deny Ms. Johansson, but within the confines of the film, it’s a spanner in the works that truly ruins the film for me. A little part of my soul withered up and died watching that godforsaken scene. Touching briefly now on the remaining members: Thor doesn’t really do anything special beside set up his next solo film, Tony Stark is unapologetically douchey and never gets reprimanded for having caused Ultron in the first place, Hawkeye’s newfound, quippy attitude and his surprise family (who conveniently keep Nick Fury in their barn house in case the script needs a motivational speech) are both flat lines unintentionally strengthening his title claim of “Nobody’s Favorite Avenger,” and Captain America… well, actually, Cappy is actually pretty consistent throughout. Congrats Disney, 1/10 is technically better than a 0/10. To be fair, there is still some stuff to like here. Underneath the sophomoric script, weak plot and character development, lack of tension, stutter-step pacing, countless conveniences and implausibilities, annoying interjections of obvious product placement (C’mon, Bruce Banner would be smart enough to know Beats are shit), a forgettable villain, a cringeworthy Black Widow, and a narrative so cluttered with subplots it belongs on a TLC hoarder show, is some fairly decent action and comedic moments. The Hulk vs Iron Man battle is creative and kept me on the edge of my metaphorical seat… up until its cop-out ending that is borderline insulting to the intelligence of the audience. I laughed at some of the jokes… don’t ask me to remember any, but I’m certain I did for at least some of them. And Ultron is even cool during that one bit when he sarcastically says “I really wanted to take this opportunity to explain my evil plan,”… right before blasting Iron Man with an ineffective laser beam. It’s a movie with far too many “That’s cool I guess, but…” moments. For me, there’s simply not enough to bring me back a third and fourth time the way the original movie did. I know this sort of opinion makes me something of a persona non grata amongst the internet fanboys, but as someone who is fully aware of the fact that Hollywood has transformed itself into a factory to churn out this shit (just look up the laundry list of films both Marvel and DC have lined up for the next few years), I just can’t accept mediocrity, and neither should you.
Before saying anything actually of critical value, I just need to ask: Why does this appetizer small indie game have a 20 minute update? It couldn’t have been any sort of actual patch work, right? Because that update was way too large to be just glitch and bug prevention. Was it just the actual game put into patch form even after the game had supposedly been downloaded and installed? Anyway, it was a relatively minor quibble. Just push that to the back of your head alongside the other forgotten thoughts, “huh, this chicken I’m eating probably died in the dark, slathered in its own excrement” and “If this plane went down right now, this oxygen mask isn’t going to do anything.” Transitioning lube smooth into the actual warm, moist substance of Counterspy, I’ll start off by saying that this game is fun. (<Pulitzer prize winning segue right there) You play as a spy working for the neutrally aligned C.O.U.N.T.E.R. agency, performing covert operations of military espionage on both the Socialist (USSR) and Imperialist (USA) nations, infiltrating their bases to steal launch plans, in order to prevent nuclear armageddon. Counterspy employs 2.5D gameplay, a very jazz trumpet-heavy, mood-setting soundtrack, fluid gameplay that’s easy to comprehend, a decent amount of variety in its randomly generated levels, and lots and lots of style. I applaud the unique choice in aesthetics. The art style is comprised largely of bold, polygonal 50’s and 60’s design. Rooms are often massive multi-tiered chambers with grandiose flags and missiles on display in the background, emphasizing the inflated egos and hubris of each nation. It’s not surprising that the game looks great considering the fact that Dynamighty, although technically an independent developer, is comprised of former members of Pixar and LucasArts. Hence, the reason why you’ll occasionally get the feeling you’re playing in the world of The Incredibles. The vibe often verges into the realm of stereotype, but the game executes nearly perfectly the cool, James Bond feel of being a spy at the height of the Cold War.Counterspy, like other indie games I’ve reviewed on this site (Spelunky, Titan Attacks), is light on story. To be honest, Counterspy’s wafer thin plot is a little anemic. It would be untrue (a dirty, stinkin’ lie!), and rather dismissive, to say Counterspy doesn’t have anything to say about patriotism, conflicting ideologies, and the arms race, but these themes are generally found in-game. The extent of the story in Counterspy is literally comprised of 4 or 5 instances of text blurbs between yourself, the nameless Spider-Man Noir lookalike, and C.O.U.N.T.E.R HQ. More often than not, these are little more than the game’s way of saying, “good job; keep going; you’re getting closer.” The game is also extremely short, relying mostly on your own desire to continue playing on all three of the game’s difficulties. Gameplay transitions between 2D stealth and 3D shooting galleries. You traverse levels in a side scrolling fashion, but levels have z-axis depth to them, as well. If a room has too many guards to get away with simple neck snaps, then going into cover will switch the perspective of the game and allow you to shoot to your violent heart’s content.Before embarking on any mission in Counterspy, it’s important to properly equip yourself for the job. Cash can be acquired by completing missions and finding intel within lockers. You’ll then be able to spend this cash on ammunition in addition to new weapons and formulas; blueprints for which are found in special safes hidden in the levels. Weapons are relatively straightforward – as you progress, you will have the opportunity to purchase more powerful and unique firearms to take on the increasingly difficult levels. Any new game will start with an initial purchase of the suppressed Diplomatic Pistol, but eventually you’ll have access to some more exciting armaments such as the golden Luger that can one-shot tough enemies (appropriately named the Golden Girl), a launcher that fires globules of explosive gel, and a dart gun that can turn a soldier against his comrades. Similarly, Formulas are abilities that can be purchased but only once per mission. Endurance can boost your ability to sustain gunfire, Persuasion lowers the starting alertness level (DEFCON), Silent Running does the obvious, etc. The player is only allowed to have three of these gameplay modifiers in play at once, though. This restriction sounds annoying, but in the end, it keeps the game from losing its challenge, since it is entirely possible to eventually have more than enough money to fully load your favorite guns as well as purchase more than three formulas.Counterspy is marred by a small handful of imperfections. The most likely one to negatively affect gameplay is the game’s random level generator. 95% of the time, it manages to create an engaging and unique mission for you. The other 5% is when it sometimes creates rooms that will be absolutely infested with guards that notice you the second you enter. However, these roaches don’t scatter, they fire assault rifles at you and your cover is blown. Being forced into unintentional scenarios like this is exactly what you don’t want in a stealth game. I also had plenty of great times <sarcasm> trying to make out where the hell security cameras were pointed at. I’m not really sure if it was a conscious design decision to have the advanced cameras emit a hard-to-distinguish, faint orange color that can’t be told apart from the white floors, or if it was just a questionable choice in color. Perhaps it’s just my eyes that got bothered by it, (you know, because i rinse them in lye), but getting unnecessary Defcon level rises was reason enough for me to always allocate camera destruction in one of my formula slots. Furthermore, the O button is used for both rolling and getting to cover. If you’ve played a 3rd person shooter, you know where this is going. Trying to roll out of cover is an impossibility for the spy. Like some sort of weeaboo and his waifu anime girl poster, he can’t seem to find it within himself to stop sniffing the wall. It ruined the smooth flow of my ninja-like spy and eventually just had to give up on the idea of rolling around cover. Finally, the ending is abrupt. There’s a short cutscene with no dialogue whatsoever, that was more or less the picture book version of a mission accomplished. The game has a little bit of a “well, that happened” feeling upon completion. Then again, the developers were looking to make a fun, downloadable game and not The Last of Us, so it’s to be expected.Overall, Counterspy is a fine option to blow away a lazy Sunday. It’s not a deep well, but it’s far from shallow. The lack of more unique rooms to slink through eventually gives way to the feeling of repetition despite the rogue like level assortment. At its goal of creating an enjoyable, cartoony Cold War stealth game, Dynamighty did succeed. But, I would add the caveat that this is a game you’re going to want to pick up for $0, while it’s free on PSN. I had a good time with Counterspy, but it’s really not a game I would spend more than a few bucks on. If there were any sort of special recommendation I could make, it would be to definitely get it if you’re a PS Vita owner. The game’s mechanics and pick-up-and-play quality make it a perfect fit for mobile players. “Timewaster” can often be a bad, unhealthy descriptor for a game like World of Warcraft or League of Legends, but in Counterspy’s case, it’s exactly the right niche.Obligatory Number at the End: 8/10