I wish to make a complaint
May. 27th, 2008
09:32 am - Penny Arcade Crapitude
I'd like to post a scathing review of the Penny Arcade game (Penny Arcade Adventures: On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness), but after playing the demo, there's no way I'd be willing to pay a single penny for it, let alone $20. I'm a big fan of the webcomic, but this game does not live up to the quality of its source material. It seems to suffer from many of the faults that the PA crew themselves complain about when seen in other games. If someone who has played both the demo and the real game can confirm that the demo is exactly the same as the beginning of the actual game, I'll gladly skewer the first half hour or so of gameplay.
Nov. 6th, 2006
03:04 pm - Do Politics Belong in Video Games?
This past week, Final Fantasy XII was released in the US. I had been eagerly awaiting an opportunity to play the game specifically to see how well the new combat system worked, so I began my journey in the world of Ivalice the same day I had it in my hands. After a few hours of playing, I noticed something a bit odd about the plot: I couldn't quite figure out who were the protagonists and who were the antagonists. On the one hand I was angry at the country of Archadia for invading Dalmasca, but on the other hand I was angry at the Dalmascan's who were involved in resisting of the occupation since Archadia claimed their intent was peace.
It wasn't until I was wandering around in the underground section of Rabanastre that I suddenly realized the significance of the plot. Underground Rabanastre has a moderately Arabian style which reminded me that the original designs for FFXII had distinctly Arabian architecture and costumes. Everything clicked into place and I suddenly realized that the plot at the beginning of the game was a thinly veiled reference to America's (and its allies') war on terror.
I have not written this to discuss the war on terror, the correctness of liberals or conservatives or how much intelligence I lack for not sooner realizing this game's connection to current events. I have written this to ask the question that arises. The fact that Final Fantasy XII covers current political events that strongly polarize the world begs me to ask the question:
"Do politics belong in video games?"
It seems like a rather simple and straightforward question with a simple of straightforward answer, but after careful thought, my answer becomes a muddy mess of "I don't know." Do politics belong in video games?
Since Final Fantasy XII places players in control of Dalmascans involved in the resistance, it immediately makes one more sympathetic to their cause while placing Archadia as the well meaning but imperialistic enemy. In other words, the game is, at least at the very beginning, very much critical of America and its war on terror (perhaps the tone or message of the game changes later on, but I haven't played long enough to say for certain). Video game-playing adults who do not agree with the message of FFXII might get upset at the plot and might not purchase the game, but what will happen with parents who do not like this message but bought this game for their children?
ESRB ratings have absolutely nothing to do with a political message in a game. Most parents don't have the slightest inkling of the actual content of games they buy for their children. I can imagine parents getting upset at discovering a video game their child plays has a political message with which they do not agree. Cries of "corrupting our youth" and "subversive messages in video games" come to mind. Perhaps some letters to congressmen over the "anti-American" content of games, maybe even a press conference from Mr. Jack Thompson.
While the message in FFXII is most likely to upset conservatives, video games with anti-liberal messages could just as easily pop up. What would happen if the new Trauma Center for Wii took a position firmly against euthanasia? I can imagine many parents who believe in the right to die would be extremely upset to discover their children playing a game espousing the contrary view.
Liberal or conservative, communist or democrat, atheist or religious, human or intergalactic alien, there are enough messages that could easily show up in video games to anger people of all political persuasions. Now more than ever, video games are being criticized for their content that some people hold offensive and throwing political messages into the fire will only increase the ire of critics, but just because video games are the media on which is currently focused the "ire du jour" does not mean that self censorship is excusable. This is particularly important to keep in mind if one considers, or wants video games to be at some point in the future considered art.
The argument of classifying some video games as art has been going back and forth for years now. Games developed by designers such as Tetsuya Mizuguchi and Fumito Ueeda would seem to indicate one way, while the professional critic, Roger Ebert, states another. Whether or not a person considers video games as a viable art form, if developers were to begin censoring the messages of their games it would be impossible to ever consider video games art.
Once censorship begins, every aspect of a piece of art becomes compromised or watered down, often losing the actual purpose of the work. William Randolph Hearst was unsuccessful in completely preventing the release of Citizen Kane, but what if he successfully sued to have its plot changed? What if J. D. Salinger's publisher said they wouldn't release Catcher in the Rye unless he removed all the curses and references to sex? What if, while Michelangelo was creating David, he was ordered to chisel the statue wearing clothes? I am not trying to claim that there are any video games that are anywhere on par with these peerless works of art, I am merely trying to demonstrate that censorship can only harm them. Asking video games to censor their message, even if it is self-censorship, would forever deny them the right to exist as art.
So what can be done? Without censorship, there are bound to be complaints when people realize there are political message they don't agree with in video games. If we censor video games, or allow them to be censored, we restrict them to mindless time-passing entertainment and ensure they will never be able to reach the form of art. Neither option will make everyone happy.
I think the only successful option is to have parents more involved with their childrens' entertainment. Video games should be not be used as a babysitter. Parents playing video games with their children can be an amazing bonding experience. If parents encounter something they feel strongly against, it is a great opportunity to discuss the issue with their children. Parents should not immediately condemn a video game as soon as they see a message contrary to their own, but use it to show their children what they believe is right.
Unfortunately, many parents cannot sit and play video games with their children. Many don't have time for a calm peaceful dinner at the kitchen table, or even time to talk to their children about their days were. Does this mean that we should start expecting complaints about political messages in video games? Does this mean we should start expecting more censorship? I hope not. What do you think?
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Jun. 30th, 2005
As reported by news.com, Microsoft is in talks to buy Claria, the company responsible for Gator and a host of other malware programs. According to the article: "The offer price on the table as recently as Wednesday was $500 million, according to people who have been briefed on the talks."
Microsoft has been attempting to upgrade its image regarding security for the past few years. Security experts and the general public have been blaming the pandemic of spyware on Microsoft's insecure operating systems and web browser. These talks clearly demonstrates that Microsoft approves of spyware. No matter what improvements they may make to their systems, purchasing a spyware company for 500 million dollars sends out a message that pursuits in illegal malware will be rewarded!
Many point out that Claria makes programs that are much less obtrusive than Gator and Microsoft is interested because of that. This does not change the fact, however, that their software is installed without a user's knowledge and collects information from a user's computer without his or her consent. Others speculate Microsoft is interested in purchasing Claria to get their programs off the market, but once more, this is rewarding Claria for its bad and arguably illegal behavior!
How can a company that says they care about the computer security be trusted if it is purchasing the very software that is attacking its customers? It does not matter why they are purchasing the company; by rewarding those who create it, Microsoft is giving spyware its seal of approval!
Feb. 18th, 2005
I’ve wasted thousands of dollars in my lifetime on things that failed to live up to their hypes. I'd like to save people time and money by offering my opinion on anything and everything I use in my life. I’ve created “I wish to make a complaint” with the intent of letting people know about the real quality of goods in America from a consumer perspective, instead of an industry expert. See something important I didn’t mention? Disagree with what I’ve said? Feel free to comment on it; I welcome all criticism!
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale
Written and Drawn by Art Spiegelman
First released in 1973, Maus is a controversial, yet highly acclaimed comic book series about dealing with the Holocaust. Although it is simple in both narrative and art, it has many levels of complexity that can be carefully picked apart and analyzed to provide an even deeper meaning than face value.
Though Maus does have much about the Holocaust, it does not so much focus on the tragedy as it is does on the way life has been affected by it. The comic alternates between New York during the 70’s and Poland during the 30’s and 40’s. It chronicles the survival of Vladek Spiegelman during the Holocaust and his relationship to his son as he recants the horrors during that time. The author depicts all characters as anthropomorphized mice, cats and pigs, which is a bit odd at first, but an oddity the reader will soon adjust to. Despite the seemingly children oriented visuals, this is not meant for youngsters. Maus has frequent graphic depictions of death and violence.
Maus is not like other stories about the Holocaust. Although primarily relating Vladek’s life during the Nazi occupation of Poland, I found that the plot frequently focused on the interactions between the different generations. The comic starts off a bit slow and I even found myself a little bored with some of the events in the first chapter. All this changed, however, in chapter two, at which point I was unable to put this book down. The characters become so interesting, and the events depicted so horrific, one cannot help but continue on reading. Despite the fact that the reader already knows the outcome of the events in Poland, the tale is so masterfully written and the characters are so expertly developed that one cannot help but keep on reading.
The interactions between Arty and Vladek are astonishingly well developed. There were many times in the comic where I could have substituted my father and myself in place of Vladek and Arty. It is obvious that the author put much effort and care into developing the realism of his characters. Maus also does a very good, if somewhat controversial job of confronting stereotypes both in its use of animals to represent ethnicities and his of realistic characters.
The artwork usually takes a very simplistic and minimalist approach. Though it is very interesting and stylistic, I did have problems distinguishing characters from one other due to the simplicity of their animal features. Thankfully, the dialog was often clear enough to avoid any real confusion about who everyone was.
Though primarily aimed at adults, it is conceivable that young teenagers could get much from the comic book. It is advisable, however, that parents review it first before allowing their children to read it. Aside from the obvious happenings of the holocaust, there are many mature themes and events depicted that should be carefully explained to youngsters.
I am giving Maus a Buy or Read rating. The storyline and characters are top notch and will tightly draw you into the story. Although not as revolutionary or controversial as it was when first released, Maus still covers ground that many do not tread in the world of comics. It deals with complex themes and stories in an extremely mature and dignified way that can be appreciated by people who would never have even considered comics as a legitimate form of art. Although the majority of the characters are Jewish, Art Spiegelman does a great job of gearing the writing so that everything can be understood even if the reader has no knowledge of Jewish customs and lifestyles. This is a true work of art that can be enjoyed by all.
Feb. 16th, 2005
11:53 pm - DVD Review: Hero
Hero (American Release)
Directed by Yimou Zhang
Written by Feng Li, Bin Wang, Yimou Zhang
Hero is a mildly entertaining wuxia movie with heavily stylized cinematography and a tad too much melodrama. This film is neither a membrane powerhouse nor a chop-socky fest, but rests somewhere in between, with a script more powerful than a typical eastern kung fu flick, and martial arts superior to what you would find in an western action film. If it was not so overdramatic, it would’ve been an exceptional film, but the heavy handed ham of many scenes make it difficult to take most of Hero seriously.
Told primarily through flashbacks, Hero centers around a master swordsman, Nameless, named so because of the strict naming conventions of the warring states of China. At the start of the film, Nameless is summoned to see the King of Qin (a state in China before its unification), having killed the three most deadly assassins of an opposing state. The remainder of the movie consists of Nameless recounting his exploits to the King. Scenes are often revisited and told from different perspective, sometimes with drastically different events taking place.
The main focus of this movie is color. Each flashback has a different color that it focuses on, connected with the emotions that are laden within the scenes. It may sound out for a film to focus so much attention on the color, but this ends up being one of the most impressive aspects of the film. In addition for helping to convey the mood of scenes, they give an impressive artistic perspective on the film. The colors practically seep out of the film into your brain. Yimou Zhang even said in an interview (included in the DVD extras) that he expects when people think back on Hero, they will remember colors, and this is what he wants. As impressive as the colors are in the film, they are not able to cover up the problems of the film.
One of the biggest annoyances of the film is the over-the-top nature of everything that’s done. Although this is good thing to use during action sequences, parts of the film become absolutely ludicrous as a result. There are entire shots that are put in for no purpose other than to make things more dramatic. One scene of the film involves several thousand people asking questions in unison. It is supposed to be a serious scene, but I found myself unable to stifle giggles while watching it. The script too is unnecessarily melodramatic. Characters often act with the desperate attention grabbing monologues you’d expect to only find in a Shakespearean play. Fortunately, the story and characters are interesting enough to maintain interest in the plot. The script has enough interesting events and surprises to keep you watching, and the characters are rather likeable once you get past their oratorical prose. There has apparently been some controversy voiced about the theme of the script, as it is pro-totalitarian (a complaint that has been voiced about some of his prior films). Although there is certainly legitimacy to these complaints, I do not feel that the political subtexts made me enjoy the film any less.
This movie is not quite an action film, but not quite a drama. Unfortunately, instead of taking the best parts of both worlds, it merely touches on bits and pieces of each; a jack of all trades, but master of none. Some of the action in the movie is absolutely spectacular, but much of it is boring and slow compared to other wuxia films. This is partially caused by casting actors with no martial arts experience in combat roles. There are many scenes where real and computer generated objects are stuck on-screen merely to obscure the action that is going on. It’s a rather irritating cheat that’s found in many scenes. People looking for a kung fu fix will not be able to find it in this film.
My greatest enjoyment of this film actually came from its brilliant soundtrack. Composed by Dun Tan, the music is a mixture of traditional Chinese and modern theatrical music. Its effects are absolutely stunning. It perfectly accompanies the film, sometimes tightly integrating into action, at other times complementing the emotions on-screen. I would’ve loved if the film came with an isolated soundtrack, instead of containing an advertisement to buy the CD.
Although the DVD has several extras, much of it is just marketing hype for the film and its stars. Audio is available in Mandarin 5.1 Dolby Digital and Dolby Digital DTS, English and French, but subtitles are only available in English and Spanish. Storyboards for three scenes in the film can be viewed while watching the shots, which was rather interesting. Two featurettes were included, one on the making of Hero, another about the people involved with Hero and previous work they’ve done. Though the making of Hero did contain some interesting parts, it was primarily an advertisement for the film. The other featurette is consists of Quentin Tarantino and Jet Li discussing previous films that the cast and crew was involved with, and spoke very little about Hero itself. It offered nothing but a series of advertisements.
I am giving Hero a Consider Watching rating. If you’re looking for a film that isn’t too cerebral, but has some action to it, this film will entertain you. It probably won’t appeal to fans of action or kung fu movies, because the action in the film has been done better, and people interested in a drama might become annoyed with the frequent interspersed action sequences. The film is not terrible, but what it tries to do has been done more proficiently before.
Hero gets a mediocre 42 thumbs up.
Feb. 14th, 2005
08:22 pm - DVD Review: Millennium Actress
Millennium Actress (American Release)
Directed by Satoshi Kon
Written by Satoshi Kon and Sadayuki Murai
I have never in my life seen a film quite like Millenium Actress, and I doubt that I will ever again find one. Although the core of its tale is a simple story, the film plays out in an astonishing way that comes close to revolutionizing the art of storytelling. By juxtaposing different times and events, the movie tells the story without the viewer ever knowing for sure what is real and what is not. Each time you peel away one layer of the plot, another pops up to explain both everything and nothing at the same time. The film has much to offer on many different levels, with a myriad of styles that will please audiences of all kinds.
Millennium Actress is about the unusual life of a Japanese actress, Chiyoko Fujiwara. The majority of the film takes place through flashbacks as Chiyoko relates her life for a documentary. She began acting in films while she was a teenager and goes on to star in many films ranging from period pieces to science-fiction. The focal point of her life, however, is not her career, but the love that she lost.
Though it sounds like a simple setup and story, its implementation is astonishingly well-done, and breathes fresh new life into film itself. The flashbacks are not a true telling of Chiyoko’s life. Instead, they combine elements of her life, elements of her movies, and interactions from people of the present to form an surprisingly coherent story. Many paradoxes and anomalies occur in the narration, but this film has nothing to do with time travel. Real events suddenly shift to film, people are sometimes juxtaposed with counterparts from Chiyoko’s films, and people from the present sometimes talk to versions of themselves from the past. As confusing as it sounds, though, through masterful writing, it is not often that you will find yourself confused as to the events that are transpiring.
The characters in the film are just as well thought as movie’s method of exposition. The realism of their personalities serve to pull you into the film even further. Everyone has complex motivations that are masterfully displayed through their actions. The progression of time further evinces the wonderfully created characters. People grow old, emotions about them change from the events of their life, but you can always see how they become who they are. Though Chiyoko is rather aged as she recants her life, you can still see the hints of the shy young girl she was at the start of her film career.
The advancement of time is displayed well both in the characters’ personalities and their looks. The drawing for aging process is done exceptionally well done. It is always easy to see the progression of people as they age throughout the film. In fact, the visuals as a whole for this film are exceptionally done. The drawings and animation are stunningly realistic, even in action scenes. People are very distinctive, and the movie does not suffer from the frequent “same face, different hairstyle” as can often be seen in Japanese animation. There are a few scenes with drastically experimental art-styles, but they are never overwhelming to the point where they distract you from the film.
The music is a rather eclectic mix of traditional Japanese, techno, and modern cinema. Much of the time it fit well, but there were a few instances where the music pushed out of the film with its oddness to distract me from the events of the screen. This did not happen too often so it does not greatly harm the film.
With all its complexities, one would think that you have to be a master film connoisseur to appreciate the film, but this could not be further from the truth. The phenomenal script boils down to a simple love story that can be followed by anyone, but is significant enough to stand on its own. There is one major flaw, however, with the film revolving around the script. Clocking in at a scant 87 minutes, the film is too short to completely explore all it wishes to cover. I am not complaining that the movie was “so good it should be longer.” The truth is that not everything that should’ve have been covered in the film was touched on. There were a few parts of Chiyoko’s character that I wish had been explained a bit more, and the ending is a tad sudden and could’ve used a bit more foreshadowing. Still, the length is only a small complaint, and still leaves Millennium actress as a work of art.
The movie seems to offer a challenge to the viewers; since the audience is often unaware of the actual events that have transpired, it tries to convince people that what really happened does not matter. It is challenging you to question the importance of actual events over memories, and it does a wonderful job of presenting it. The ultimate goal of the film may very well be to leave the audience doubting the importance and truth of reality itself.
The audio for Millennium Actress on DVD is only in Japanese, but comes in 2.0 or 5.1 dolby digital. Subtitles are available in English or French. The DVD includes an impressive video on the making of Millennium Actress which offers profound insight into Satoshi Kon and this film. Although parts of it are mired in Japanese quirks, you come out with a much greater understanding of the film and Satoshi Kon’s other works. Considering the short length of the film, this extra is surprisingly long. This release also contains the American trailer for Millennium Actress. Although unimportant compared to the rest of the DVD, the trailer bears mention merely because of its poor quality. Dreamworks may have made the trailer on a shoestring budget, as it is horrifically confusing, littered with poor grammar and incomplete phrases, and really tells the viewer nothing about the film. Though this doesn’t impact the DVD in any way, I think it serves to demonstrate the general lack of interest by American companies in allocating the necessary resources to promote foreign films in this country
I am giving Millennium Actress a resounding Buy rating. It is a powerful film with a revolutionary style of storytelling that anyone can enjoy. The numerous layers of this film warrant multiple viewings to fully understand everything it has to offer. It has many ideas that will make you think long after the film is over, and dares to ask the difficult question “Is reality more important than one’s memories.” The script, characters and visuals are a masterpiece of modern Japanese animation. The movie has so much to offer that no one should pass up watching this work of art.
Millennium Actress gets 42 thumbs up, my highest rating ever!
Feb. 12th, 2005
08:31 pm - Book Review: Mind Over Back Pain
Mind Over Back Pain
By John Sarno, MD
This is an odd little book that after reading left me quite confused as to what the author was attempting to accomplish. Though a bit old at this point (it was printed in 1984), it presents some revolutionary ideas about the causes of back pain, and suggests that there are startling non-medical methods of treatment. Through his use of simple language and non-medical writing, Dr. Sarno makes this book understandable to all, yet useful to none. Mind Over Back Pain does not seem to have any particular aim other than to give a small introduction to his theory. This book does not have any particular group that could make use of its information.
This short book is a discussion of Dr. Sarno’s experiences with back pain, and a condition he calls Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS) that he feels is the cause of most back pain. The first two chapters discuss back pain as it is currently known. Chapters three and four are about TMS itself, and the final chapter supposedly deals with treatment and cures. The last chapter is what would interest most people, but it is also the chapter that contains the least amount of information. At no point does Dr. Sarno come out and explicitly state how to cure TMS. He merely alludes to changes in mind and ambiguously refers to physical therapy. I would imagine that anyone who picks up this book is either suffering from back pain, or a medical expert seeking new cures to the problem. Since there is no real discussion of the treatment or cure of TMS, the overwhelming majority of people who this book should be aimed at have no reason to read this book.
In Mind Over Back Pain, Dr. Sarno states that it has been medically proven that stress can affect the circulatory system. His particular theory on back pain is that the problems with circulation from stress cause poor circulation to and from muscles, which leads to oxygen deprivation and a buildup of waste materials in muscles, thereby causing intense pain. By asserting a direct connection between a state of mind and medical condition, Dr. Sarno is touching on ground that many are afraid to tread. Even today, connections between psychology and medicine are considered controversial and hotly disputed.
When making such an enormously disputable, one must back it up with evidence; opinions alone are not enough to sway minds. The book falls rather short here, as it offers only a handful of cases, and very little statistical evidence. Furthermore, some of the numbers offered can be considered suspect, as they appear to be from specially handpicked groups of his patients. Quite often, Dr. Sarno gives evidence from memory which is unacceptable for any sort of proof. I am not disputing whether or not Dr. Sarno’s theories are correct, but he does not offer anywhere near the necessary evidence to convince me of TMS being the cause of back pain. This lack of evidence combined with the easy language leads me to suspect that this book is not aimed at medical professionals. With its complete lack of curative information, however, this book is obviously not aimed at the layman either. As such, I have absolutely no idea who should be reading this book.
I am giving Mind Over Back Pain an Avoid rating. Although Dr. Sarno has many interesting ideas on the problem of chronic back pain, he fails to provide enough evidence to effectively convince anyone, or to explain how to cure it. His theory of TMS did sound perfectly plausible, and I would definitely be interested in hearing about his treatment, but I cannot get enough information from this book to judge TMS’s legitimacy or determine how to fix it. Dr. Sarno has written a follow-up book, Healing Back Pain, which I have not yet read. If that book does indeed indicate how to cure TMS, then there is absolutely no reason for this book to still be on the market, and there is certainly no reason to read it.
Mind Over Back Pain gets a poor 42 thumbs up.
Feb. 10th, 2005
Tony Hawk’s Underground 2
For The Playstation 2, XBOX, and Gamecube (Playstation 2 version reviewed)
Rated M for Mature
Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 is the sixth iteration of the insanely popular Tony Hawk skating video game saga. Sadly, the series has become so derivative of itself, even the major retooling found in this game cannot bring the series back from the pits of mediocrity. The game primarily features the same moves and controls from all its past outings (both good and bad), with a couple of new tricks thrown in to try to pretend this game offers something new. The tedious gameplay, uninspired plot, uneven levels of difficulty and poor level design left me wishing this series had finished a long time ago.
THUG2 at its core is a skateboarding game. The controls for skating are still relatively tight, combos are even more insane than previously and a few new tricks were added to the move-set. Two single player modes exist, a story mode that was used in THPS4 and THUG, and classic mode that plays like the first three games. There are multiplayer modes on all three systems, and online play for the PS2 version. A diverse soundtrack is included with the game, and the ability to pick which tracks you want to listen to and randomize the play list are nice features .The game also contains interesting create-a-skater, create-a-park, create-a-move, create-a-goal options. Although you can’t create new content anywhere near the complexity of what comes with the game, you can still create some truly impressive new content. New levels can be uploaded to Activision’s servers and can then be downloaded by other players.
With all the extra features that THUG2 contains, it’s a real shame to find that the actual game lacks polish. With all the moves that are in its repertoire, controls for the series have become so complex that players frequently execute wrong tricks because of similar commands (trying to do a wall grind and instead doing a sticker slap was a frequent problem for me). When you’re trying to perform a combo chain for the nth time, only to ollie when you were supposed to acid drop because of similarly mapped controls, you’re bound to get annoyed. The controls aren’t the only cause of the game’s difficulty. Many of the game’s goals are ludicrously difficult, requiring repeated attempts. There were several goals on the last level of the game that required hours each of constant repetition for me to complete. There is a difficulty setting available but it merely affects the score required on point based goals, thereby offering no assistance to players who are unable to do a constant grind on an electrical wire that encircles an entire level. Confusingly, the story mode goal point values and their difficulties seem to have no relation whatsoever. Many goals with high point values are immeasurably easier than goals with low point values. It seems almost as if points were randomly assigned to goals.
One of the biggest draws to the Tony Hawk games has always been the long combos one could string. While this is still an important factor in this game, the new levels in the game do not seem to be built for this purpose. Whereas previous games featured unrealistic levels that were designed specifically for skating, the developers seem to have forgotten that THUG2 is a skateboarding game, and instead focused on creating more realistic landscapes with less possibilities for scoring. There are walls in weird places that seem placed just to make comboing more difficult, weird angles on grindable objects that lead your skater to fall off when he should be continuing on, and places where there just doesn’t seem to be anywhere to trick.
A new technique introduced in THUG1 was the ability to step off your board and walk around. This gameplay element has remained in THUG2 with horrific results. The abysmal on-foot controls make me wish I could never get off my board, but most of the levels in the game require you to traipse around in places you could not go while skating, ultimately leading to massive control and playability problems. Further complicating matters is the on-foot camera, which does not follow your character properly and does not have the necessary range and speed of motion for you to control it yourself. Perhaps if the levels were not designed to necessitate walking and off-board merely became an option instead of requirement, I would’ve enjoyed the game a bit more, as I did have some fun playing levels from previous games.
The graphics for THUG2 are the most impressive of the Tony Hawk series, but they still come off looking a little flat and boring. I believe this is caused by attempts to make levels in the game more realistic looking, as levels included from previous games possessed a much more visual punch. The sound for the most part is quite good. The music selection is broad and customizable. The sound effects aren’t terrible, but there are a few effects here and there that could’ve used a bit of tweaking (explosions sound like muffled thuds, skating over brick produces an car-like sound from your board).
Although you wouldn’t expect a sports game to hinge on its plot, THUG2 pushes the brainless and banal tale of the “World Destruction Tour” down player’s throats with the story mode. The plot is as stupid as it comes (an underground tournament to cause damage in cities throughout the world), the jokes are hard to come by, and the acting is terrible as all the characters are voiced by their real life counterparts, none of whom are actors. The humor, which you would assume to be the center of such a nonsensical plot is horribly forced and more often than not will leave you questioning how it’s supposed to make you laugh. It’s not a matter of the humor being too crude, the problem is that the script was obviously written by a bunch of people in their forties trying to come up with ideas that would make the youths of today laugh. To top it all off, they gave Bam Margera, who comes off even more annoying than in his television shows, a starring role in the script. There is thankfully no story whatsoever in the classic mode, so if for some reason you wish to torture yourself by playing through this game, you can do it without the “let’s attract gen-x” story.
The multi-player is actually the highlight of the game, not because it is particularly well done, but merely because the rest of the game is so hurtful to play. Split-screen can make things playing a tad difficult, but playing for free over broadband works out nicely. It can be difficult, however, to find good games and people. In my online experience, I found most games to be on player created levels, many of which are even worse than the one’s that come packaged with the game. Some levels seemed built specifically so that if you don’t know where things are, you have no chance of keeping up with the game. If you can play online with people you know, however, you can generally stick to well designed levels and people who aren’t going to spend the whole game asking for you to e-mail a naked picture of yourself.
I am giving Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 a Avoid like the plague rating. Although it tries to reinvent itself with some new features and moves, the game bites off more than it can chew. The over-complicated controls, poor level design, annoying difficulty, and agonizing off-the-board action make this game a brutal play at best. It seems like Activision tried to put too much into this game, and didn’t give each important part the attention it needed to make this title enjoyable. Maybe they’ll fix things for THUG3, but I’m not holding my breath.
Tony Hawk’s Underground 2 gets 42 thumbs up, my worst rating ever.
Feb. 8th, 2005
American Dad (Pilot)
Almost anyone will agree that the sitcoms on TV these days are uninspired, unoriginal, predictable, and use the same recycled jokes over and over. While I agree that comedy on TV needs an overhaul, American Dad proves that even when trying to do something different, you can still end up with a generic pile of garbage. The uninspired characters, cookie cutter plot, and jokes that could’ve been torn out of any garden-variety sitcom form the same old mindless comedy you’ve seen a million times before, only this time it’s animated. American Dad ends up being just as bland as the shows it purports to parody.
American Dad tells the story of the Smiths, an average American family with average American problems. The “American Dad” in question is Stan Smith; a conservative rough and tough man’s man who works for the CIA. He worries about his son Steve’s lack of manliness, laments his daughter Hayley’s profuse liberalism, and tells his weak-minded wife, Francine, how to act and what to think. Stan’s personality and interactions with his family were outdated long before Al Bundy had begun to offend the world. Also along for the ride are a goldfish with the brain of a randy German Olympic skier, and an alien who is apparently too lazy to go back home. If you were to remove the fish and the alien, you’d have generic sitcom #527. Get rid of just the fish, and you have Alf without the laughs or originality. Characters like Stan, Francine and the goldfish are slight tweaks on the people you would expect to see in the average sitcom, but still too close to a mirror image to evoke real laughter or interest. Steve, Hayley and Roger the alien would perfectly fit into any other TV show. With such a boring group, viewers can find nothing of interest in the characterizations.
In the pilot episode, we see Steve having trouble dating girls, but his luck improves when he gets help from his father. When Hayley doesn’t want to do her college reports, she hires the family alien to write them for her, and pays in chocolate. Of course, at the end of the episode, everyone learns their lessons, and they go back to one happy family. Although there are a few things out of the ordinary that occur (mostly Stan’s use of his CIA skills in solving his families’ problems), the plot could be a template for any other bland comedy. Such mindless drivel has been seen a million times over since the sitcom was first created. The plot fails to introduce anything of interest to the show.
The only things that could save a program with such problems are the jokes. Unfortunately, these are just as much a letdown as the rest of American Dad. The jesting is mostly the same lifeless refuse you can get on any other sitcom, with a tiny bit of pointless shock humor. One would expect a show coming from the creator of Family Guy, Seth McFarlane, to be ripe with cutting edge offensive techniques, but with shows like South Park which are a million times more biting and intelligent, American Dad comes off somewhere in between Sesame Street and confusingly stupid.
I am giving the pilot for American Dad an Avoid Like the Plague rating. The show reeks of blasé dullness you can find in most other comedies on TV. It comes off as generic sitcom with no intelligence whatsoever. What little shock it has seems half-hearted and has nowhere near the impact of more intelligent shockers like South Park or The Simpsons. There is simply no reason to watch a show that tries to break new ground, but ends up copying all the mistakes of its predecessors. Without a major retooling before the show’s official start, this would appear to be a complete waste of time for everyone involved.
American Dad gets 42 thumbs up my worst rating ever.
Feb. 6th, 2005
11:57 pm - DVD Review: The Terminal
The Terminal (American Release)
Rated PG-13 (Parental Guidance suggested under the age of 13)
Written by Andrew Niccol, Sacha Gervasi, and Jeff Nathanson
Directed by Steven Speilberg
The Terminal is a mildly entertaining comedy with some quirk, a few laughs, and as much gratuitous sappiness as Steven Spielberg could pack into 2 hours. Although much of the movie seems to have been given a lot of attention to quality, it seems very likely that the film was rushed from script straight to shooting without completely reviewing what had been written, as the film is full of plot holes, lacks continuity, and contains boring and unrealistic characters who change as necessary to further the plot. Despite all its faults, I did enjoy watching The Terminal, and I think many other people will as well. If you can suspend your belief, and look beyond the plot holes, lack of cohesion, and generic do-good Spielberg characters, you will find a fun time.
The Terminal takes place in JFK Airport. Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks), a man from a fictitious country who speaks only Russian, gets off a plane and discovers that he is not to be allowed into America. Through a combination of political unrest in his nation’s country and a completely literal interpretation of immigration law, Viktor is not allowed to enter the U.S., but is not allowed to take a plane anywhere else. The movie then tells the tale of Viktor’s confinement in an airplane terminal; his culture shock, language barrier, life adaptations, and general confusion with America.
Even more puzzling than Viktor’s assimilation into our culture is confusion right at the films start. Viktor, who does not understand enough English to know his passport has been denied, is able to understand that he is not allowed into America, and not allowed to return to his own country. His fluency in English fluctuates quite a bit depending on the needs of the script.
More confusion is derived from Frank Dixon, the head of the Immigration and Nationalization Services at JFK (Stanley Tucci), who keeps Viktor trapped in the airport for no reason other than he can. Of all the characters in the movie, Frank is the most undeveloped and confusing. It seems that he was placed into the movie merely to provide a visible antagonist to stop Viktor from entering the US. This role could’ve been interesting and entertaining, but instead his character was given the minimum of attention at the writing stage, and he comes off as completely baffling, unreasonable, and a man whose whim changes as the plot dictates. The remaining characters in the film are a bit easier to understand, but just as realistic. In fact, it could be argued that everyone else contains the same personality, but are merely located in different bodies, a typical problem with Steven Spielberg films. Each person tends to display an initial gruffness, but soon warms up to turn into a good person deep down, and since the film is PG-13, the only explanation for such vapid and sickeningly sweet characters is poor writing.
With all its failings, there are redeeming qualities about the movie. Despite the repetition of the same jokes throughout the movie (language and culture shock), I found the humor to be entertaining, just don’t expect any revolutionary comedy from this film. Another high point is the stellar performance given by Tom Hanks was written as a drab, boring, and hackneyed character. If not for his talent, I doubt there would’ve been much a reason to give this film a second thought.
The DVD contains no special features, no extras, no commentary, and no outtakes. The audio comes in English or French, and there are English, French, and Spanish subtitles. 5.1 Dolby DTS and digital are available, but since there isn’t a single action seen in the movie, there is very little reason for this. Simply put, there is absolutely nothing special about the DVD. There’s the film, and nothing else.
I realize that I have spoken much about the negatives of this film, and said little about its worth. It is not a great film, but it is OK. A comedy is designed to make a person laugh, and if it does that, then a mediocre script can be accepted. I am giving The Terminal a Rent rating, because it did give me a few chuckles. Perhaps if the movie was trimmed down, and the comedy was compacted, it would’ve made a very good film, but the long length only served to emphasize its flaws.
I am giving The Terminal a mediocre 42 thumbs up.
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