Thursday, August 16, 2012

Black Dynamite (animated series)

Created by Michael Jai White, Byron Minns, and Scott Sanders

            Black Dynamite (the movie) was one of the best parodies I’ve seen in a long time.  Taking the low-budget style and plotline of a blaxploitation movie, it was ridiculous, fun, and hilarious.  So I was really excited to hear about an animated series coming to Adult Swim.  Sadly, Black Dynamite (the series) just doesn’t live up to what I was hoping for.
            The general plot of the series is the continuing adventures of Black Dynamite’s (Michael Jai White) team, consisting of Bullhorn (Byron Minns), Cream Corn (Tommy Davidson), and Honeybee (Kym Whitley).Rather than look at just one of the first four episodes, I’ve decided to bring them all up here.  Strangely, the first two feature members of Black Dynamite’s team getting involved with Michael Jackson and the porn industry, with Dynamite himself only being a side character.  The third episode involves Dynamite being behind on his taxes, so to get the money he needs, he offers to take Richard Pryor to his famous Sunset Strip gig.  And the fourth is a Christmas episode, where Dynamite and OJ Simpson go to the moon (honestly, even if I filled in the details on that, it makes about that much sense).
            The first thing I want to point out just from this information is how purely random the episode line-up seems to be.  The first two episodes don’t even star Black Dynamite and give very little introduction to who these characters even are.  If you didn’t watch the movie, you’re going to be lost.  The other big thing is how celebrity-focused the show is.  And sadly, this just makes the show feel dated, despite premiering this summer.  Jokes about Michael Jackson and OJ Simpson feel old.  It’s meant to take place in the 70s/80s (I’m honestly unsure on the exact time period, and I doubt the show cares very much), but that doesn’t suddenly open the door to drag out jokes that people no longer laugh at.
            I also can’t help but feel that animation was a poor choice for this.  Part of what made the movie so good was the pure blaxploitation quality of it.  Not only did the film look old, but goofs were either made or left in.  It felt like a bad, low-budget movie.  So changing from live-action to animation takes out all of these qualities.  It looks good and stylish, and adding in goofs would just look odd.  I know Adult Swim has live-action shows, so it’s weird that they didn’t do that for Black Dynamite.
            The overall episode quality is mixed.  The best is probably the second, where Bullhorn’s constant rhyming ends up making him a porn star.  It pushes some limits, the plot is fairly ridiculous without going as over-the-top as some of the other episodes do (two of them feature aliens), and it has plenty of good jokes.  It does steal the movie’s best joke, which made me worry the series was going to rely on this. But none of the other episodes seem to really be interested in doing it, so I assume it’s just a one-time thing.  The worst was the third.  Part of the problem is that it uses so much language…that gets censored out.  At some point, I was getting a headache from the constant bleeping.  I assume that this’ll be better on DVD, where it will hopefully be uncensored.  Even with that changed, though, I still feel like they wasted a plot of the IRS trying to kill Black Dynamite to focus on Richard Pryor.  Maybe it’s one of those things that’s hilarious if you’re a big fan of him.  I don’t know.
            Black Dynamite is just this sad case of wasted potential.  Watch the movie, skip the series.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days

Developed by IO Interactive and Nixxes Software
Published by Eidos Interactive and Square Enix
Played on PC

            Y’know, the first Kane & Lynch game was actually kinda fun.  I’m not going to say it was a classic.  I’m not going to say I’d choose any other game over it.  I will say that it had its fun moments, some decent ideas, and with a little polish it could’ve been a classic.  Kane & Lynch 2 is not fun.  It’s not polished.  It doesn’t have an idea in its body.  Kane & Lynch 2 is a textbook bad game.
             Kane (Brian Bloom) comes to Shanghai because Lynch (Jarion Monroe) has an arms deal job that he thinks Kane wants in on.  But then Kane accidentally shoots a crime lord’s girlfriend, and it all goes downhill from there.  In every possible way.
            But let’s start with the good parts of the game.  Shanghai looks nice.  I don’t mean the graphics are good.  They’re alright, although seriously flawed in some ways.  But I really mean that Shanghai looks like a place I’d want to visit someday.  There’s two decent levels, although one of them is only decent despite itself rather than any apparent intention on the developer’s part.  And the game is fully playable from start to finish, despite the attempt to stop it by several bugs (which I’ll get to).
            The first thing you’ll notice when you begin playing this game is that it’s unplayable.  That’s because the developers, for whatever reason, wanted to emulate the feeling of a handheld camera, and that means the camera is shaking so much that I was nauseous within seconds of the first level.  Fortunately, you can turn steadicam on, which should be a default because I can’t imagine anybody playing it otherwise.  The handheld camera means the game is also constantly going out of focus and refocusing, and nudity and headshots end up censored, all of which is this combination of unnecessary, goofy, and unexplained.  Like is there some guy following Kane & Lynch the entire time?  Is the point some sort of Manhunt thing that people are watching this?  I have no idea.  It’s like the developers threw it in without ever asking “Why?”
            But really, the biggest problem with this game is that you just…shoot.  You shoot guys, Kane and/or Lynch say “Let’s move on”, you move on, you shoot guys, you repeat.  OK, to be fair, there’s a few stealth sequences, which are stealth in the fact that you have to sneak up on one guy and then you can resume shooting.  I’m a big fan of variety in games, but even a game that just shoots can at least have…something.  I just played Max Payne 3 recently, which also does almost nothing but shoot, and yet I never felt it because it was throwing new things at me along the way.  Kane & Lynch doesn’t.  It shoots.  It hurts, of course, that the AI is awful.  It doesn’t really seem to know how to do anything but use cover, and it will constantly be changing cover even when that’s an awful idea.  I even saw enemies who decided the best cover was in the same area where I was taking cover.  And they’ll just walk over there.  I saw enemies saunter during gunfights.  Enemies also tend to have bad angles in their cover, meaning that they just leave themselves out in the open to be shot.  Not that you can, because most of the weapons tend to be horribly inaccurate at anything other than point blank.  Oh, and never end up point blank of an enemy, because they’ll instantly kill you.  Even on easy, they don’t even finish a whole round before you dead.  I don’t know how many times I happened to end up next to an enemy and not even have time to react before I was dead.
           The weapons themselves are boring.  It can’t even think of anything interesting to give you.  Pistols, shotguns, rifles.  There’s several in each category, but there’s no real difference.  The only reason I would change my machine gun for that guy’s machine gun is because mine is low on ammo and his is apparently the new thing the enemies are carrying.  You could have one weapon in this game and it wouldn’t make a difference.  Oh, and I promised bugs.  The one I encountered twice is that levels will load to grey screens.  Nothing to do but quit and re-enter the level.  I also had the final level end, play the ending to the game, and then…cut back to Kane & Lynch just standing around.  And I can’t tell if this is a bug or just bad gameplay decisions, but you can’t move on standing cover.  Like if there’s a wall and two doors, and you’re covering next to one door and you want to shuffle over to the other door, you can’t.  You have to go out of cover, go over to the other door, and re-enter cover.  I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that had something like this.
            And finally, there’s the game’s whole story.  It does nothing.  Somebody at IO seems to think that Lynch is a compelling character, making him the main character of this game (Kane was the real star of the previous).  He isn’t.  All Lynch does is growl and yell the f-word.  He’s like a 90s anti-hero that so desperately insists that he’s a badass when he’s just boring and one-dimensional.  Kane here has been reduced to nothing, with all his previous character sympathies just taken away.  Of course, it doesn’t help that the game took the extremely depressing “best” ending of the previous game and just ignored it.  And, again, the story is nothing but shooting.  There’s some vague ideas about what it’s doing early on, but halfway through, it’s just you move through an area, Lynch shoots some guy in a cutscene, rinse and repeat until the end.
            In the end, the characters just get on a plane and take off.  Y’know, that’s a good ending for the series.  They just leave everybody alone.  The game is pointless, boring, repetitive, and just all around bad.