Monday, December 6, 2010

The Force Unleashed II

Plain and simple: The Force Unleashed can be viewed 1 of 2 ways. Neither of those ways concern the infinitely greater control scheme, or even the probably-not-as-good-as-the-first-one story. At its core it was a very personal story, as in the most about one person a story has been in a mass market Star Wars release, albeit with much much grander implications (natch).


The primary motivation of Starkiller in this go-round is to a) find out if he is a clone and b) find his lost love. What we come to find out eventually, is that A doesn’t matter, especially if he has B. The resolution to the “is he a clone?” plot, or should I say lack of resolution, didn’t bother me much. As I didn’t really feel that it mattered whether or not we were playing the clone Starkiller or the “real” Starkiller. Even though the game didn’t come right out and say “Yep, He’s a clone.” I think the epic fight in the clone factory, spent murdering a couple dozen different versions of you, sort of answered that question for us.

The clone plot carries us to the inevitable show down with Darth Vader that culminates in your final decision: will you let the hate flow and the dark side win by striking Vader down, or will you do the “right thing” and let the Rebels take Vader into custody.

The 2 ways in which this game could be viewed depend greatly on the which ending you choose. When you’ve chosen, it will either paint your entire play through as a classic triumph of good over evil, in which our hero achieves personal redemption (whether or not he’s actually our hero from the first game or not) or as one the most depressing and bleak events in Star Wars canon, which speaks not to the fancy go-get-em destiny of the first three Star Wars films, but of the dark inevitability of the prequel trilogy.

If you chose the Light Side ending and the rebels win, then Vader is taken into rebel custody and sent off to Alderaan to stand trial as a war criminal. The last shot showing Starkillers ship jumping into hyperspace, ominously trailed by Boba Fett. The End. Obviously this ending leaves plenty of dangling plot-threads are in desperate need of resolution, as the game is set mere months before the events of A New Hope.

This ending is alright. The good guys win, the hero gets the girl and you get the signature vague threat from Vader. When Starkiller informs Vader that he is no longer under Vaders control, Vader replies, “As long as she is alive. You’re mine” or something to that effect. Basically letting us know that the same thing that did Vader in, love, will eventually destroy Starkiller as well.

Isn’t that bleak? Isn’t that pretty depressing? Once you are tempted by the Dark Side, there is no turning back, not even for the ones you love. It reminded me of the end of Return of The Jedi, when Vader informed Luke that it was too late for him to be saved. Obviously Vader knew that and felt that years prior to his final showdown with his son.

As depressing as that was, it still wasn’t as depressing as the Dark Side ending. When you choose the Dark Side ending, Starkiller raises his saber to strike Vader down and is instead stuck like a pig by a lightsaber from the shadows. It is revealed that the Starkiller we’ve spent the last few hours with wasn’t the only successful clone, another darker clone exists and that clone just murdered our guy. Vader shares a prideful exchange with Dark Starkiller, and we’re only left to assume that both Kota and Juno Eclipse are dead.

As with the Light Side ending, the Dark Side ending wasn’t afraid to tell us that the love is a bad thing. Good Starkillers quest for Love, and his worry about his origins, lead his beloved to her death. The Dark Starkiller we learn, through unlockable cinematics, had the love trained right out of him.

The Dark Side ending also gives a bit of a Bioshock vibe (I know that that is the thing to say to prove how deep you and the game you played are.) With the Dark Side ending you get the sense that your actions throughout the game were meant to happen, that you had no control over them. It sure felt like you did at the time, but the ending revealed your true purpose: tying up Real Starkillers loose ends. Just as the protagonist in Bioshock speant the game searching for something that he was ultimately being programmed to do, so was Starkiller.

I’m not so secretly hoping that the Dark Side ending proves to be in canon. The ramifications of it are outstanding. With the loose ends tied up from the first game, Dark Starkiller is free to do his master bidding, perhaps it also revealed that the many of the events of the original trilogy were not only touched by Dark Starkiller, but perhaps by Vader’s guiding touch as well. Afterall, we all have a destiny, whether we choose to honor it or betray it is entirely up to us.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Red Dead Redemption appealed to me on many levels, I loved the mechanics and the setting, but mostly it was the fact that I got to pretend to be a cowboy. I knew what I was doing, I knew what I was getting myself into. It was sort of like playing Cowboys and Indians when I was kid, these kids were the bad guys, these kids were the good guys. It was an appeal to my childhood and fondness for spaghetti westerns, albeit in the most violent way possible.
I bring that up as an example of the many different ways in which a game can hook someone. RDR gave me a cowboy hat and a six-shooter and let me do pretty much anything I wanted to with it. Enslaved on the other hand took me on a journey and it was proof positive that theres still something beautiful that can be done with the guided single-player experience.
Was it linear? Hell yes. Was the combat simplified? Absolutely. But it wasn't about leveling up and fighting evil robots, it was about developing your relationship with Trip until the point that you didn't need a slaves headband to be tied to her anymore. You wanted to help her see her mission through.
The affection that Monkey develops for Trip felt real. He saw her as this silly girl that was as fragile as a flower. Until her naïveté revealed itself as genuine fear. She wasn't a fragile flower that could be broken by single mechanical footstep, but someone who had no idea what she was doing or where her life was headed, much the same as Monkey himself. Where Monkey masks his fear with his acrobatic ability and proficiency for robot murder, Trip masks it in her unending optimism. Even in the face of utter despair and loss, she picks her self up and refocuses on her next mission.
The only complaint I could have about this game, is that it wasn't longer. I never felt like this wasn't worth my $60 dollars. I just wanted to play it more, which isn't something I could say about many games. It never overstayed its welcome, even though I kind of wanted it to.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Superman on film

I was never a big fan of the Richard Donner Superman films. I'm sorry, I just wasn't. They were mostly well done, but they haven't aged well (not to mention Gene Hackman's truly odd portrayal of Lex Luthor.) Despite that, I'm quite fond of Superman Returns. Sure it is flawed, but most movies are. Its biggest issue for me being that it tied itself so closely to the Donner-verse, going so far as making Kevin Spacey (a brilliant choice for the role) basically ape Gene Hackmans character that was tired when it was first put to film.
I've got high hopes for Zach Snyders Superman. He gave fanboys exactly what they needed with Watchmen and  I think that he can do it again with Superman. I want him to be careful with the material, but not too careful. For all the wonder, magic and fun that the Donner film had it still never achieved the sense of scale, power and might that Singer's Superman had. I'm hoping the Snyder can combine the two version, or make his own independent of what came before. Because Superman is a wonderful character that really does deserve a second chance at cinematic brilliance.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sometimes I wish I could turn off my Design Nerd sensibilities...

By all indications the new Irrational developed Bioshock game looks pretty great and has more potential to be great than any other game of recent memory. So it is with a heavy heart that I admit something about the announcement bothered me: I could be wrong, but I think the font they used for the word "Bioshock" in the Bioshock Infinite logo is Helvetica.

What an nerdy thing to call out. Sorry, I can't turn it off. Its not disappointing and it doesn't make me mad, I just noticed it. It stands out even more because the first Bioshock had such an incredible sense of place and time and I think they're use of period typefaces really worked (for me at least) in selling the world of Rapture.

Helvetica was developed in 1957 by the Haas Typefoundry, a full 45 years after the game in question is set. A more accurate font might have been Akzidenz Grotesk, to non-type nerds the difference is negligible. But to type-nerds like myself, it means the world.

I'm glad at least that they didn't use Arial.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Iron Man 2

Marvel Studios gave you exactly what you wanted. You wanted a movie franchise that tied into something larger, in this case, The Avengers. In that respect, Iron Man 2 was a wonderful film. In comparison to other non-superhero or comic book movies, maybe it wasn't the best, certainly not as good as the first Iron Man to be sure.
There were probably too many characters to keep track of, and probably too many plot points as well. But it worked. Why? Because its the first for reals attempt at a comic book movie.
I always appreciated Ang Lee's Hulk for it's action-in-frames approach. He wanted to make it feel like you were watching a comic book come to life. But I think he missed the point. The frames aren't really the secret sauce of why we like comic books or why we like movies made from comic books. That secret sauce is pretty simple: dangling plot threads.
I stopped reading comics regularly after Civil War for the simple reason that the need to constantly leave the story open ended just left me frustrated. The best comics wrap themselves up after they tell their story, then they move on. But the stakes that were set in forth with Civil War were immediately undone by whatever the fuck the next event was. They needed to set up the next thing, thus giving valuable plotting to a story we didn't really give a shit about. "Oh guys, Hulk is coming back. That should be fun." Turns out, nowhere near as fun as Civil War.
Iron Man 2 gave us exactly what we asked for. It established the universe in which future Marvel movies will be set, and as a result had an ultimately underwhelming climax that removed the stakes, in an effort to leave enough room as possible to establish the next story. In essence, it did exactly what Marvel comics have been doing for decades.