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Opinion

The Thumbs Ups of 2011

In a bid to cover off all those things I didn’t find the time to write about this last year (and to actually get a post in for the month of December) I present my inaugural ‘Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down’ lists for 2011. These are the things that either surprised me by being better than they deserved to be or against-all-odds-style fuck ups. Wouldn’t you know it, but both the best and the worst things to happen to me this year involve dragons and Skyrim isn’t even on this list.

Starting small and moving up, I have to say the first thumbs up of 2011 has to go to Breaking Bad. Why? For someone who doesn’t give a damn about any of the things the show is ostensibly about – drug dealing, family drama etc etc – to sit down and plough through 4 seasons in a week it means it’s got to be doing something right.

While Breaking Bad took about 3 years’ worth of nagging from everyone I’ve ever known to try the show, The Walking Dead only took about six months before I got the hint. Now I do like my zombies, despite how they’ve become the most ubiquitous thing under the sun this year, but TWD is something I can recommend to regular folk and be reasonably certain they’ll enjoy it as well.

Could say the same thing about Warhammer 40K: Space Marine too. Here I was thinking you’d need to be a Warhammer fan to enjoy it (which, incidentally, I am not) but it ended up being every bit the game Gears of War is, albeit a little more light-hearted, and despite a campaign that falters at the final act. It is with genuine sadness that I say the DLC took too long for this game – its latest Chaos-themed update and a teased Dreadnought mode in January will go mostly unnoticed due to the neglect it saw for a long time post launch. And that is not something I often say about DLC.

The guys at Relic have a strong pedigree however and it was never likely they’d release Space Marine as a complete dud. I was less sure the newly minted ‘Netherrealm Studios’ could deliver on their simply titled Mortal Kombat reboot however. As an MK fan from the early ’90s I feel perfectly justified in saying that everything the team has turned out post-John Tobias has been garbage. While MK 2010 doesn’t hit all the notes I felt it could have, it certainly hit a shitload more than I was expecting it to. And although I have no idea where they go from here, this solid release has done the unthinkable for myself and many others- returned the MK name to some semblance of respectability. If only Sega could turn the same trick with Sonic.

Saving the best for last, I give an extremely well deserved double-thumbs up to every nerd this side of Kentucky’s new favourite thing in the world, Game of Thrones. No I hadn’t read the books. Nor did I really read at all. That changed, though, and the show would deserve my props of that basis alone. That’s not the only thing it’s changed either. For example, I rarely buy BD-ROMs and have never pre-ordered them. Until now. And never have I anticipated a second season of a show anywhere near as much as I am longing for April 2012. Anything else I could say about the show I’ve already said so let’s just leave it as 2011’s overall highlight and leave it at that.

So this article ended up a bit tame. But coming up next is my Thumbs Down list, and man, some things have really pissed me off this year. Check that out when it goes up, hopefully before the clock strikes 12 if I get ’round to it. It’ll have sharper teeth, I’m sure.

And as one final thumbs up before I kiss this stinkin’ year goodbye I’d like to thank Yurik86 at Deviantart for the sweet wallpaper I used for the title image of this post.


Is Uncharted A Game For Gamers?

Here’s a loaded question that’s bound to piss off all of the 20 people who read this; is Uncharted a game for gamers? There’s been a lot of controversy I have little interest in revisiting here about Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, it’s merits, its failures and what sort of Metacritic average it deserves. Most of the commentary casually glosses over a point that I take a whole lot of issue with though. That is that Uncharted as a series tries to be some sort of cinematic homage taking influence from everyone from George Lucas to Michael Bay. Know what I think? Games have absolutely no business being movies.

Now as someone who played and loved at least the first 2 Metal Gear Solids maybe I should reign that in a bit. What we have here is a title that does everything to hit the notes of action cinema. There are big set pieces, formulaic writing and that would be all well and good if… it was actually any good. For my 2c the story is abominable, both in structure and sensitivity. It’s also pretty darn flat for a franchise with two prior installments-worth of narrative baggage and a longer-than-average campaign. Metal Gear Solid had a story worth telling. Uncharted 3 does not.

On that note, if I wanted to see big set piece action sequences I’d go and see the new Mission Impossible at IMAX sitting on my arse enjoying it. What I would not like to do is sit upright on full alert with a controller in hand nervously watching out for the next QTE cue lest something come out of nowhere and kill me, all under the pretentious guise of ‘interactivity’ and ‘immersion’. And while you’re at it you could consider the order of magnitude worse special effects. Not that I’m a guy all about visuals. Gameplay comes first and all that.

But if you (hopelessly) set out to crack the knot that is interactive cinema, what kind of game are you left with? And by ‘game’ I’m referring to the $70-or-so of value that separates your AAA+ new release video game from a cinema ticket or a DVD. I’m sure I’ve said this for the likes of Heavy Rain and Alan Wake (which I still mean to review at some point) but I’ll say it again here. There’s little ‘game’ at all. There’s a hodgepodge of different things the game gets you to do but none are any good and it would be a stretch to seriously call much of it ‘gameplay’ with a straight face. Shooting in third person and on a console… kill me now, there are few things I can stomach less. Hand to hand combat in games like this are usually also pretty bad and Uncharted doesn’t disappoint, nor does it miss the dubious opportunity to throw in a painfully broken cover system – the kind that is all the rage these days.

Would it be wrong of me to say that Uncharted 3 is just a vehicle for developers to prance around failing gallantly at achieving that mythical Holy Grail that is the merger between gaming and cinema? And to then expect to be patted on the back for it? Is the general audience for a game like this the new generation of mainstream gamers, weaned on jack-of-all-trades crap like GTA, who take whatever shit they’re given simply because they don’t know any better? In this day and age where 70 million consoles are out there being played by people who probably wouldn’t know a Dreamcast from their own backside, is what people like me think really relevant at all?

I don’t think Uncharted is a game for ‘gamers’. But then ‘gamer’ apparently means something completely different today.


Hard Reset Is Just What I Needed

It’s only in every other article that you see people go on and on about their malign for the conventions of the modern FPS and how much better things were in the good old days. On the one hand I agree, and miss the frenetic, dark and genuinely difficult games like Quake II and Unreal. On the other I quite liked Doom 3 and think titles like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Gears of War have genuinely advanced the genre in ways people all to often dismiss.

Anyway, as if to answer those yearnings for the shooting madness of yore, along comes Hard Reset. The game is PC exclusive, has no limits on the number of guns you can carry and it looks good. How about that? A harkening back to the good old days with all the visual bells and whistles of the HD era.

A short demo was released a few days ago and I’ve included my playthrough below. Suffice to say I approve of both the look and feel of Hard Reset and from what I’ve seen it looks to warrant the asking price on Steam when it’s available later today. Right now looking forward to what the full game has to offer.


RIP, Andy Whitfield

I feel terrible, after just spending a post declaring how much better Game of Thrones was than Spartcus: Blood and Sand, to learn that Andy Whitfield, who played the Spartacus himself in the show, died yesterday here in Sydney.

After a resurgence of cancer last year, Whitfield was forced to pass the mantle of Spartacus onto Liam McIntyre, who will appear in the show’s second season next year.

I don’t have much to add except that I think Andy did a great job in Blood and Sand and the show won’t be the same without him going forward. Having only just rewatched the series, this is unpleasant and unexpected news.

At only 37, Whitfield set down the foundations for a long and successful career, and sincerely hope he is at peace now. He will not soon be forgotten.


Game of Thrones Changes Everything

When Camelot came and went I was generally pissed off. After the disgrace that was Merlin why did producers see fit to not only revisit Arthurian myth on TV, but to butcher it again with that last effort so fresh in our collective memories? Camelot was bad, to be sure, and deserved the axe moreso than a lot of other short-lived series with more than an iota of merit. But I wonder if a certain other period fantasy launching at the same time didn’t have more to do with it’s demise than poor writing or sickeningly indulgent over-acting (Joseph Fiennes, I’m looking at you).

Game of Thrones rose the bar so high as to shame every costume drama to come after it. There was an order of magnitude difference in quality, plain to see for critic and average joe alike, between it and King Arthur’s latest escapade. Singing its praises is not my intention – hopefully the Emmys will make that case later this week – but I will say that I think it has ruined me for other shows.

Last week my blu-ray of Spartacus: Blood and Sand arrived. It’s been a good while since I last viewed the series and, as one of my favourites at the time, I was looking forward to revisiting the gore and melodrama in anticipation of next year’s long-overdue second season. The rewatch has left me disappointed. Maybe it’s just not the same going through the motions a third time. Maybe it being in glorious 1080p highlights some of the cinematographic inconsistencies I had glossed over before.

But no. A week later I feel confident placing the blame squarely on Game of Thrones. It trumps Spartacus at every turn. Dialogue which once seemed tongue in cheek and potentially historically plausible is now just bad. Green screen effects and all that overdone layering was cheesily melodramatic before now seem just cheesy. And, recalling the sheer variety of sets across HBO’s Westeros, Starz setting up shop almost exclusively in John Hannah’s backyard appears pitifully limited in scope compared.

Where does that leave me now? At the very least my excitement for January’s Spartacus: Vengeance has been dampened. Replacing lead Andy Whitfield, after watching the new season’s trailer, was always going to be an unavoidable stumbling block for the show but by all appearances it looks to be more of the same. A flimsy premise will keep the show at Batiatus’ ludus despite Batiatus’ death in S1, which screams budget constraints, and none of the action shots or lines of dialogue did much to stir my interest.

On the other hand, Game of Thrones season 2 hasn’t had any trailers released or footage leaked but still manages to generate more anticipation than the former. And this worries me for one reason; if GoT has so thoroughly spoilt me that a show that was a favourite 18 months ago is now no longer a blip on my radar, what happens when HBO decides it has grown tired of its $60-million-a-season dabbling in fantasy?


The Right To Say Who’s Wrong

Against all better judgement I’m choosing to venture into the bleak world of politics again today after a long hiatus. Heaven help me.

Everywhere I’ve looked over the last little while there has been someone claiming such and such caused the London riots and another someone claiming they’re wrong because no one knows what caused the London riots. It’s unknowable, apparently. At least for the moment. Except, they’re over-intellectualising it.

A lack of individual discipline caused the London riots, nothing more and nothing less. Teenagers from whatever background committed cowardly crimes because they didn’t know, or didn’t care, that what they were doing was wrong. When causation is discussed I think this part is taken for granted, smoothed over and a greater societal reasoning is sought out instead.

But why is anyone doing that? Hold these individuals accountable for their own actions, and throw the book at them. Most of the punks involved probably thought they were safe from consequence, insulated by their numbers. Prove that assumption false by not handling them with kid gloves. If they choose to re-offend in the future after a brief stint in jail or juvey or whatever, lock them up again.

General commentary seems like it is finding someone else to blame for what were individuals’ actions. Or wants to find someone else to blame for it. This writ large lawlessness is currently being scapegoated to support all-and-sundry of causes from the break down of traditional families, the failures of multiculturalism to the perils of the welfare state. Let people champion whatever they like if they see merit in the argument. I’ll abstain from those debates, but hey, live and let live, right? But there is something that upsets me about it all.

Despite the fact that we don’t know, or cannot know, what caused this wave of looting and violence, some people are condemning views as flat out wrong. To take the first cause I mentioned, the degeneration of the traditional family, as an example (since race and class discussions are only going to be worse flamebait) , people seem bent on the idea suggesting fatherlessness is bad amounts to heresy.  Miranda Devine at the Daily Telegraph and Kevin Andrews at The Punch have both touched on connections between a fatherly influence, family stability, disenfranchisement, detachment from society and thus a lack of consideration for said society. And they’ve been savaged for their opinions.

How can people simultaneously argue that something is wrong when they don’t know what’s right? Specifically how can someone claim a presented hypothesis is not responsible for the unrest if they cannot say what is? Admittedly Devine was courting trouble linking lesbian couple child adoption with modern family issues, but did that warrant such barbarism in the comments on her article, most of which were personal slurs lacking any coherent rebutalls? Since when is it ok to so cruelly and so self-righteously attack someone, especially if you have no valid counterpoint to the debate?

It seems to me that a lot of the zeal those on the PC-side of discussion consider their ideas somehow more legitimate than others, as though the proof of their views is self-evident. I find it more than little ironic that words like ‘bigot’ are constantly bandied by this group who seem, moreso than any other, ignorant and dismissive of opposing opinion. Especially on issues of race and gender, the views of the left are elevated above others and dignified with words like ‘progressiveness’ while others are demonised as being ‘outdated’. And why? Because of the perception that everyone or most everyone feels the same way? That has got to be a contentious claim if ever I heard one.

This is a case of vocal minorities causing a fuss and ad populum nonsense at its worst. The constant vilification of those on the right by those on the left only serves to stymie productive discussion. If someone is too fearful of hate-filled condemnation and social ostracism to say what they really feel, then how is anything that happens in society properly representative of the population? It’s a destructive sensibility being perpetuated at the moment by smug people more hateful than those accuse of as much. People who, so high on their own sense of moral superiority, grant themselves the right to say who’s wrong.

So it’s ok to have an equal society, so long as some views are more equal than others? I have to disagree with that one.


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