Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spec Ops: The Line

Developed by Yager Development
Published by 2K Games

            The military shooter has been done to death at this point.  There’s only so many times you can run around, hiding behind cover, and shooting foreigners.  And indeed, this comprises the first level of Spec Ops: The Line.  But things go awry fast, and it becomes clear this is not your standard shooter.
            The game has Dubai being hit by a terrible sandstorm, with the 33rd helping with relief efforts.  Only the 33rd never came out, and they’ve sent out a distress message, leading Captain Walker (Nolan North) and his two Delta Force squadmates to get sent on a recon message.  Until things go wrong.
            Minimal time can be spent on the gameplay.  It is a standard cover-based shooter, and that’s about all it sets out to do, for reasons that may be intentional or not.  Some parts must be applauded, though.  For one, your squadmates are chatterboxes…who are actually useful.  Too often in cover-based shooters, you end up surprised by suddenly finding that a shotgun guy has snuck up behind you, or you pop out and suddenly get hit with an RPG and die.  Delta Force points these out to you.  They point out shotgun guys moving forward, enemies out in the open, and a command that lets them use a stun grenade even pops up if you’re stuck.  They’re so useful, it’s actually harder when there’s segments where you’re by yourself.  The other part I want to point out is the environment.  The sandstorm-decimated buildings are perfectly implemented in the gameplay.  If you see a window with sand pushed against it, you can shoot out the window and drop the sand on your enemies.  And it also provides an interesting level of confusion.  You think you’re on the ground, only to suddenly have enemies appear, shoot out the ground, and you’re crashing through a window into a building.
            And this is a confusion that winds into the game’s actual story.  Up until the very end, you don’t know what’s going on.  It’s just clear, especially early on, that something’s wrong.  You start out playing a standard game of Americans vs. foreigners…until it becomes Americans vs. Americans.  And it’s hard to tell who’s in the right, who’s in the wrong.  The game has several moral decisions, and none of them are clear-cut.  There is no “This is good, this is bad”, it’s simply up to whatever you think is right at the time.  And then once you get to The Gate…well, this is a much talked-about scene, but let’s not spoil it here and just say that, from that point on, you’ve started on a different path.  And it’s a path that reflects itself throughout the game.  The standard “I’m reloading!” from Walker turns into a string of expletives.  F-bombs begin dropping every sentence.  Executions of enemies on the ground turn from simple to unnecessarily violent.  And this is a gory game, but never gory without meaning.  You’re not meant to enjoy the gore.  In fact, at a certain point, there’s very little that you’re meant to enjoy, and anything that you do enjoy will quickly be torn apart.
            Spec Ops: The Line is another in the trend of 2012 games: not necessarily the best at gameplay, but incredible as an experience.  A masterpiece of story that deconstructs what you think you know when you start the game.

Godzilla: Half Century War

Writing and Art by James Stokoe

            I don’t know if I could really be considered a Godzilla fan.  I’ve seen a couple of the movies, which I’ve enjoyed, and I’d easily watch more, but that hardly qualifies me as a fan.  I just think Godzilla is a fun series, probably not the same way that somebody who’s seen every movie appreciates it.  Half Century War makes me want to watch more of the movies, while also being perfect for my current Godzilla knowledge level.
            Half Century War follows Ota Murakami, a soldier who’s there for Godzilla’s first appearance in 1954, and continues the fight for, well, the next 50 years, following Godzilla through the decades, joining an anti-monster task force, and witnessing the arrival of even more monsters.  I should mention now that, sadly, my review copy lacks the final issue, which doesn’t release until April.  I will be picking it up, but it means that this is a review of 4/5 of the final book.
            But what a 4/5 it is.  The main appeal of Godzilla movies is definitely having the giant monsters fighting and destroying things, but this book is closer to the level of the original movie (which I have seen) where the human effect is focused on.  Stokoe’s phenomenal art is definitely a winner here.  His manga-esque versions of the characters is nice, and he manages to add some humor in the character design so the book doesn’t get weighed down with serious scenes. But it’s the destruction that stands out.  Every city is gorgeously drawn, and the destruction that happens to them is incredibly detailed.  And it’s not just Tokyo, as the team goes around the world, with each city having enough of a unique flair to be different.
            The story is also quite fascinating.  Again, I don’t know my Godzilla, so I don’t know how much of this is created by Stokoe and how much of it is just an expansion of what is already in the movies.  It is still full of interesting events, purely capturing the shock somebody would have of Godzilla initially appearing, along with the other monsters that show up and the impossibility of defeating them, until Ota becomes hardened.  The artwork manages to capture the change from the fresh recruit in 1957 to the battle-hardened veteran who knows that Godzilla fighting other monsters is still a standard appearance, but can still end up shocked.  It also helps that Godzilla is basically a secondary character to some of the corruption that takes place on the human side.
            Half Century War is a must-read for Godzilla fans and newbies.  It’s an interesting take on the giant monster story, along with beautiful artwork.  I say you’ve got to go out and buy it.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mars Attacks IDW

          IDW is certainly no stranger to crossing over their properties.  With the many licensed books they have, they’ve done events like Infestation, which ran through many of their properties (twice!) and crossed over Star Trek with Doctor Who and the Legion of Super Heroes.  With Mars Attacks IDW, the Martians, well, attack four licensed properties, along with one of IDW’s originals.
            Because this is an anthology comic, I think it’s fair to look at each story individually.  The first is Popeye (written by Martin Powell, art by Terry Beatty), which has the Sea Hag controlling the Martians against Popeye.  I know the bare minimum about Popeye, and that’s from the cartoons.  With this comic taking place in the comic-verse, I knew even less.  What’s really interesting with this story is that it’s toned down to be family friendly.  Martians zap people, but they just lose their clothes instead of dying.  Unfortunately, this ends up making the story a bit too tame.  If you’re a big fan of the Popeye comics, you might get a kick out of this, but I got nothing.
            Second is Kiss (written by Chris Ryall, art by Alan Robinson), where the band members, before becoming Kiss, end up fighting against Kiss-powered Martians.  That sentence is about as nonsensical as it sounds.  Again, all I know or care about with Kiss is their music.  I don’t know any of their comics-verse stuff, which is a big problem here since I honestly can’t tell the tone of this story.  If it’s meant to be taken seriously, it’s ridiculous.  If it’s meant to be a comedy, it’s taking itself too seriously.  There are some nice moments in here, but it’s too in-between on what it’s doing.
            Next, we finally get to a property I know, the Real Ghostbusters (written by Erik Burnham, art by Jose Holder).  In case you’re wondering why the Ghostbusters are fighting Martians, well, they’re ghosts, naturally.  This is another low-violence tale, but it works.  The dialogue between the Busters is witty, the Martians get some nice powers, and it’s just a fun story in general.
            The book’s strongest story, though, is definitely Transformers (written by Shane McCarthy, art by Matt Frank).  A lull in the battle between Autobots and Decepticons gives the Martians an opportunity to attack.  The great part of this story is that, while most of the stories here seem indecisive about how funny they’re being, Transformers nails it down perfectly.  This is laugh-out-loud funny, willfully taking both the black humor of Mars Attacks and having some good-natured fun at Transformers’ expense.  You also don’t need to know much about Transformers to get the jokes, which is good.  It also doesn’t forget to tell an interesting, well-built story.  While most of the stories just translate the Martian dialogue for the readers’ benefit, Transformers actually gives a reason for it.  Definitely the must-read here.
            We end on the original property, Zombies vs. Robots (written by Chris Ryall, art by Andy Kuhn).  The Martians think they have a perfect invasion plan, only to find the world overrun by…you know.  While I know nothing about the actual ZvR comic, the title about says all you need to know.  Without the humans, Mars Attacks definitely loses something, but it does give a good look at the Martians themselves.  There is also plenty of violence here, in case you feel you got short-changed on that front from Popeye.
            Mars Attacks IDW is a mixed bag.  There’s high points (Transformers, Ghostbusters) and low points (Kiss) throughout.  If you love any of these franchises, though, and wouldn’t mind seeing Martians tear through it, give the book a shot.  The better moments make it worthwhile.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Killer Volume 4: Unfair Competition

Written by Matz
Art by Luc Jacamon

            The first volume of The Killer blew me away.  The nameless Killer holed up in a room, waiting for his target, slowly losing his mind, is truly one of the great comic experiences.  It’s a bit of a shame that none of the volumes since have managed to quite live up to that.  Unfair Competition is the falling of the series for me, the point where I say no more.
            In this volume, the Killer teams up with his friend Mariano and former CIA agent Haywood to open up an oil rig.  While it seems odd for a hired assassin to switch over to business, it quickly becomes clear that his killing skills are in even higher demand when it’s against rival businessmen and his own company’s shady dealings.
            The story of this book is pretty solid.  I like the idea of the Killer being very much out of his element, but still finding ways that he’s involved.  There’s also plenty of great moments of working out how to get out of situations.  We have him explaining all the different planes he has to take to get from country to country just to guarantee that he’s not tracked.  Killings have to be very carefully set up, helped by Jacamon’s always great art style.  And we get some philosophizing about his place in this new world.
            But that’s also the book’s downfall.  There’s simply too much philosophizing and politics.  The politics I can at least understand, as this is a political topic, but it starts to hammer on the head too much.  Facts will just suddenly be spouted out by characters who happen to know exact statistics about whatever’s relevant.  And then we have the philosophy that manages to grind the book down.  The inner monologue about what the Killer’s doing will suddenly switch over to how pathetic the average man is, only to switch back, making the plot hard to follow.  At one point, the main characters are having a conversation about their corporation, only to suddenly have the Killer start complaining about people wearing Che Guevara t-shirts.  I’ve read some comics before where it’s obvious the author is on the soap box, but rarely does it hurt the actual comic like it does here.  It doesn’t even matter whether you agree or not with what’s being said, it’s just a distraction from what’s actually going on, and it makes the book overly wordy when it should be fast-paced and tense.
            Read the first volume of The Killer.  It’s incredible.  Then pretend that that’s the only volume.  By the time you get to number four, it’s obvious the series has completely derailed from its original premise to become Matz’s soapbox.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2

Directed by Bill Condon
Written by Melissa Rosenberg
Based on the novel by Stephenie Meyer

            I’m sure everybody has heard the vile hatred towards Twilight.  The books, the movies, the actors, the writer.  Everybody involved has been hit with it, and it’s impossible to come into the movie without hearing it.  But surely it’s all an exaggeration.  Surely it’s just this lashing out against the Twilight fandom towards something that’s not nearly as bad as the internet suggests it is.
            This expectation is wrong.  Breaking Dawn Part 2 is an awful, awful, awful, awful movie.
            Now, it should be noted that I came into this without having seen any of the other movies, but I do have a general plot detail of what happens.  I will be leaving out stuff like “I don’t know who this character is”, but fortunately, I saw it with somebody who had read the books and managed to clue me in on stuff I should’ve known and stuff that comes out of nowhere.  I expect that anybody actually seeing this movie of their own  volition will already know the plot up to this point, but let’s do a quick recap of the events at the start: Bella (Kristen Stewart) has married vampire Edward (Robert Pattinson), had a baby, and got turned into a vampire herself so that she would survive the birth.  The plot here is that someone sees the baby and assumes that they turned a child into a vampire, which is illegal.  Thus Bella and Edward gather vampires to fight against the evil Volturi clan.
            And from there, it is close to 2 excruciatingly long hours of nothing.  The worst part is that the major conflict of the movie could be solved with a conversation. “Did you turn this child?” “No.” “Oh, OK then, our bad.”  Apparently the head of the Volturi, Aro (the hamtastic Michael Sheen), even has the power to read all the memories that a person has had, so there’s no doubt there.  It’s basically just preparing for a battle that shouldn’t even need to happen.  A good portion of the movie is either characters standing around and having meaningless conversations, or bringing up plot points which never pay off.  We find out a character has set up a way to get Bella’s daughter out of the country, but it’s unimportant.  Characters with powers are introduced that never get used besides showing us the power, accompanied by a dull explanation by Bella of what the power does, because God knows telling is better than showing.  The characters they bring in to fight against the Volturi get the bare minimum of development.  Some of them have such startling features as “He’s a loner” and “They’re Irish.”  I can slow down if that’s too much for you.  The one saving point among the bunch is Pushing Daisies’ Lee Pace, who still doesn’t get enough development, but it’s Lee Pace so he’s at least acting his heart out.
            The main saving point of the movie is a climactic battle sequence which has cheesy special effects, characters getting their heads ripped off, and it is ridiculous and fun.  It still has as much moments of unintentional comedy as most of the movie does (Edward doing a Superman impression stands out), but it’s at least fun to watch.  What happens after it…well, I don’t want to spoil it.  Needless to say, anybody watching this movie will suddenly feel let down, disappointed, and like they’ve just wasted 2 hours of their life.
            Breaking Dawn Part 2 is like a long hike uphill where there’s nothing to see but you’ve heard there’s a great view at the top.  And you get there and it is a pretty great view.  And then somebody comes and pushes you off the cliff and it turns out there’s a dump right under it.  Certain moments in movies make me want to cry.  Few are because I’ve looked at my watch and realized that there’s still an hour of movie left.