Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Spectre Quick Movie Review

This past weekend, I went to the movie theater to see the latest entry in the James Bond franchise, Spectre, and here are my thoughts on the movie.

Spectre's plot follows James Bond, who is on a quest to discover information on a mysterious organization known as Spectre.  Said search leads him to the mysterious organization, led by Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who has a personal connection and vendetta against James Bond.  Additionally, it is revealed that his organization was secretly involved in the efforts of the previous films' villains.  While this is happening, MI6, the organization Bond works for, is facing its own problems as a new organization is seeking to shut down the 00 program and instead have MI6 rely more on technology in their efforts instead of actually using people to get their work done.

Spectre's plot is enjoyable and the biggest strength of the story is Bond's personal quest to find out who Spectre is and what involvement they had in the previous Bond movies, specifically Casino Royale.  Bond's search for Spectre leads him to finding out that one of the films' previous villains had a daughter who Bond promises to protect him.  When she is introduced, the movie does hint at a potential relationship between the two, but nothing ever concrete comes out of the relationship.  While Spectre is a lot like the previous Daniel Craig Bond movies in its tone and direction; this movie does incorporate some elements of the older Bond movies into this film.  There's a lot more humor than in the previous films and the gadgets, which were a staple of old Bond movies, do have as stronger presence in this movie as well.  There's an entertaining car chase during the movie where Bond is being chased by a henchman of Blofeld's, who I'll get to later, and Bond is driving an Aston Martin DB 10 which has a couple of gadgets he uses to throw off the henchman in the chase.

The characters are enjoyable and the actors who play them all give strong performances.  Daniel Craig, in his fourth film as James Bond, gives a great performance as always, and the girl Bond protects also gives a good performance.  My favorite performance, however, has to be Dave Bautista as Blofeld's silent but deadly henchman.  Even though his character speaks only one word in the movie, Bautista still makes the character feel like a threat, and when he and Bond have their big fight later in the movie; it's a brutal but entertaining clash.  Christoph Waltz does a good job as the villain Blofeld, but unfortunately his character is the most disappointing part of the movie.  He doesn't have much screentime and even though his scenes in the movie are great, it feels like the filmmakers are holding back on the real potential this character has in order to save him for the next Bond movie.

Despite this, Spectre was still a really enjoyable movie; it may not be as great as Casino Royale or Skyfall, but it is an entertaining movie.  Whether or not this is Daniel Craig's last movie as James Bond, we don't know, but this is still another solid entry in the long line of James Bond films.

Recommendation: See It

Now you might be wondering, a quick review of a recently released movie, what is this?  This is something I plan on doing more often next year.  For this year, though, you can expect at least one more quick review later on.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Review


Ever since Borderlands 2 came out it has been somewhat unclear when the third installment in the series is happening.  Until the developer, Gearbox Software, officially announces Borderlands 3, developer 2K Australia, with assistance from Gearbox, are easing the wait with Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.

As the title suggests, the game is a follow-up to Borderlands 2, but storywise, it is set in between the events of the first and second game.  Before the villain of the second game, Handsome Jack, made his rise to power and tried to destroy Pandora; he was just an employee at the Hyperion Corporation that wanted to be known for something more.  When the Hyperion Corporation's space station is taken over by General Zarpedon and her forces, Jack sees this as an opportunity to become a hero if he manages to stop Zarpedon before she can use the space station's laser to try and destroy Elpis, the moon that the space station orbits.  He contacts four vault hunters, each of which was a side character in either the first or second Borderlands, to help him stop Zarpedon.  However, over the course of the story Jack's plans change and he goes on a downward spiral, and by the end credits he will become the man that will try to bring an end to the planet Pandora.

The best part about the Pre Sequel's story is arguably Jack himself, as he initially wanted to be seen as a hero, but by the end of the game he becomes the one thing he was trying to stop at the start of the game.  In fact, the end credits song "What Makes a Good Man?" perfectly fits Jack in this game.  In previous Borderlands games, the vault hunters were basically silent protagonists, however in the Pre Sequel, the new vault hunters actually speak with other characters and as such these vault hunters feel more involved in the story.  One problem I do have with the story, however, is that at times it can feel like story events are just flying by, and while the game doesn't have a short length, the feeling that the story is just coming and going will happen during the game.

The gameplay is largely the same as it was in previous installments; in particular, this game is based off of Borderlands 2's gameplay as a number of improvements and additions that were made in that game have carried over into this game.  However, the Pre Sequel does introduce some new concepts that help differentiate the game from previous installments.  The biggest addition is the concept of zero gravity.  Since the game is set on Elpis, Pandora's moon, zero gravity has been introduced and it makes traversing the environments rather fun as you can make some long distances by jumping off of cliffs or by using one of the many jump pads scattered around the environment.  You can also perform a slam attack by pressing the crouch button when you get up in the air, which will cause your characters to slam down with extreme force.  Plus, there's something fun about getting up in the air and picking off enemies from above, and then slamming down right on top of a foe with a press of the crouch button.  However, you do need an oxygen tank if you want to avoid dying of asphyxiation.  Fortunately, having to maintain a supply of oxygen never felt tedious as enemies will drop oxygen canisters and there are numerous beacons scattered around Elpis which can be activated to generate an oxygen dome.

Two new types of weapons have been introduced in this game; laser weapons and cryo weapons, and they easily fit in with the series' massive amount of guns.  There are also two new vehicles introduced as well, a lunar rover and the Stingray, which can hover briefly and slam back down.  I mainly used the Stingray for transportation as the lunar rover's steering felt too loose and often I would slam into walls.  Of the four characters that you can choose from to play as in the Pre Sequel I chose Athena the Gladiator.  Her special ability is a shield that can she deploy to protect herself from gunfire and it can store up damage from bullets and explosions that can damage or kill an enemy when it is thrown.  She is a fun character to play as and her shield was rather useful during boss fights in the game.

The cel shaded art style is still prevalent in this installment and the overall visuals are solid.  At times, some of the locations in the game are quite interesting to look at.  However, texture pop-in was more prevalent in this game, as were some framerate drops that happened during some firefights.  I also encountered a couple of glitches.  The first one happened during one of the round in the Shock Drop Slaughter Pit DLC; I was opening up a locker to loot what was inside only to get stuck to the door of the locker and unable to free myself from it. Yet, I was able to kill most of the enemies in the current wave until one of the remaining ones managed to kill me.  Another glitch that occurred was when I returned to a previously explored area to complete a side mission, and the audio from the story mission that took place in this area started to play for an inexplicable reason.

The voice acting and writing are as good as Borderlands 2's acting and writing.  The most unique thing about the acting and writing of this game is the noticeable Australian influence.  Most of the characters you meet, as well as the citizens of Elpis have Australian accents, which was an interesting change.  The music is also a different change of tone from the music in previous games; there is a strong outer space vibe present in the music; in other words, a lot of synth.

While Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel doesn't really break new ground for the series it is still an enjoyable game thanks to a solid story and fun gameplay with some new concepts that help keep things interesting.

Final Score: 8/10

Link to Gamefaqs Review:

Borderlands 2 Review


The first Borderlands  was a great game due to its strong combination of FPS and RPG elements.  It did suffer from a major problem, the lack of a real story, as well as some minor problems.  However, with this sequel, everything you liked about the first game has returned, but it all has been refined and in the case of the story, vastly improved.

At the end of the first game, the four vault hunters who were in search of a mythical vault hidden on the planet Pandora found what they were looking for.  Instead of becoming rich and powerful, however, they came up empty handed and thus, they have decided to go their own ways.  Since then, a man known as Handsome Jack came in and took credit for the discovery of the vault, tapping into a brand new element called Eridium that appeared after the opening of the vault, Jack has become not only the leader of the Hyperion Corporation but also the ruler of Pandora.  As one of four new vault hunters, your job is to find and reunite the original vault hunters in order to stop Handsome Jack from collecting pieces of a key for another vault hidden on Pandora that contains a creature known as the Warrior which Jack intends on using to eradicate life on Pandora.

Borderlands 2's story is a huge improvement over the first game's story, boasting a strong cast, sharp writing, and a fantastic villain.  If I ever made a list of my favorite video game villains, there's a strong chance that Handsome Jack would make the list.  He has an entertaining personality and a false idea that you are the bad guy and he is the savior to this planet, easily making him one of those villains you love to hate.  Not only that, but the four vault hunters from the first game are much more fleshed out when compared to their presence in the first game.  We get a much better understanding of what they're like and their overall personalities.  The writing in this game is very entertaining; there were a number of times where I found myself laughing at the dialogue in this game.  The only real issue I have with the story is that the new vault hunters feel like shadows of the original vault hunters because they're mostly silent protagonists, save for the one liners they spout during combat.

The gameplay is of the same style of the first game's gameplay but with a number of different improvements and additions that have been added that make the gameplay feel more refined and polished.  There are four different character classes to choose from; though two of the new vault hunters and their abilities are slight variations of two of the original vault hunters' abilities.  The vault hunter Maya has the ability to "Phaselock" instead of having Lilith's "Phasewalk" ability, and Axton can throw out a turret to assist him in combat, much like Roland from the first game.  With that said I played as Axton, who can throw out a turret out onto the battlefield to assist him.  Leveling up by defeating enemies, completing main and side missions, and discovering new areas earns you skill points that can be put to one of three skill trees for a vault hunters ability.  These skills can benefit both the character and their special ability.  For example, after putting in enough skill points Axton's turret now teleports to a spot on the map when it is thrown, and the turret can also shoot a barrage of rockets at an enemy, in addition to bullets.

As I stated earlier, several additions and improvements have been made to the gameplay.  The in game map is much better than the first game's map, you can now move around whenever a vault hunter goes down and into their "Last Stand" position, and a storage system has been added as well, allowing to store any guns or shields that you have acquired but you don't need in your inventory anymore.  There's also been a challenge system added called the "Badass Ranking" where completing in game challenges earns you points, and when you earn enough you get a Badass Token that can be used for one of several stat boosts for your character.

In Borderlands, the side missions could start to become repetitive after awhile; fortunately the variety has been improved in Borderlands 2.  The side missions in this sequel will have you doing tasks such as solving a murder, igniting a clan war between two groups, and helping the robot Claptrap throw a birthday party that becomes really awkward when none of the guests show up because they declined Claptrap's invitation.

The game retains the cel-shaded art style of the first game, but this time the characters and the world they inhabit are much more colorful and varied than in the first game.  Save for some minor texture pop-in that happens whenever you enter another area, this is a great looking game.  The voice acting is entertaining and it backs up the humorous writing, the highlights are the voice performances of Dameon Clarke, Ashley Burch, and David Eddings, who play Handsome Jack, Tiny Tina, and Claptrap respectively.  The music is also very good and retains the style of the first game's music.

Borderlands 2 is a great follow-up to the first game, by offering an improved story as well as refined and improved gameplay, the result is a fantastic FPS that is definitely worth playing.

Final Score: 9.5/10

Link to the Gamefaqs Review:

Friday, November 6, 2015

Killer is Dead Review

The phrase "style over substance" is used to refer to works that are interesting in their design and structure, but when it comes to the actual content of the work there are noticeable problems.  Killer is Dead is an example of this phrase; it has a striking visual style that gives the game a sense of style in not just its presentation, but also in the combat of the game.  However, underneath the stylish veneer there's a convoluted story and certain gameplay mechanics that will raise an eyebrow.

Killer is Dead's story follows Mondo Zappa, an assassin who works for a mysterious organization that carries out assassinations at the request of the client who comes to them.  Generally, the people Mondo is sent out to execute aren't exactly human due to mysterious purple energy that has corrupted both their body and soul.  It also has a weird effect on Mondo's cybernetic arm when he finishes off the target.  The energy is released from their body and absorbed into Mondo's arm.  Even though Mondo knows he works for the organization he doesn't remember much about his past, but when Mondo sleeps, memories of his supposed past reenter into his conscience.

Unfortunately, Killer is Dead's story is a nonsensical, convoluted mess that fails to offer any sort of real explanation for a majority of the events that happen during the game.  Why does Mondo have a cybernetic arm?  Why does his arm have the ability to absorb the mysterious purple energy from the fallen targets?  Why is there a unicorn that shows up twice in Mondo's dreams, and how does it fit into the plot?  While some of the story events are explained, to a certain degree; usually I was left scratching my head as to what was going on.  It doesn't help that the game's short length, clocking in at around four to five hours, means the whole story flies by quickly and before I knew it, I was on the last story mission.  The ending of the game doesn't help things either, as the fate of Mondo Zappa is left on an ambiguous note.

Killer is Dead's story, characters, and even the gameplay share some similarities with No More Heroes, a game Grasshopper Manufacture, the developer of this game, previously worked on.  The main character, Mondo Zappa, is a more stoic version of Travis Touchdown, and his banter with the targets he has to eliminate reminded me a lot of Mr. Touchdown's conversations with the assassins he had to fight in No More Heroes.  Also, the basic premise of the game, an assassination organization that is hired to eliminate people, is similar to the purpose of the United Assassins Organization from No More Heroes.

Fortunately, the game's combat makes up for the shortcomings of the story by being enjoyable.  It's very reminiscent of No More Heroes; Mondo's primary weapon is a katana and not a beam katana, which Travis Touchdown used, and Mondo can perform special finishers on the enemies, just like Travis in No More Heroes.  What makes Killer is Dead's combat different from No More Heroes' combat is Mondo's cybernetic arm, which can morph into four different weapons that are unlocked through completing side missions, but more on that later.  The four weapons require blood in order to be used; blood is picked up from fallen enemies, but that same blood Mondo collects can also be used to heal himself after purchasing a special move from the upgrade section in the pause menu.  As such, some strategy is involved in deciding whether to use his weapons or heal Mondo if his health is running low.  Besides earning blood from fallen enemies, Mondo can also earn yellow crystals that allow him to unlock new moves and upgrade his weapons, or Mondo can earn special XP crystals that will increase the size of his health or blood bars once he's collected enough.  An important part of Killer is Dead's combat is dodging because it allows Mondo to continue building up a combo.  Once Mondo's combo meter is high enough, Mondo can perform a finisher that grants him a different bonus depending on which one of the face buttons is pressed.

While the combat is satisfying, the boss battles in this game aren't too challenging.  Most of the fights rely on Mondo dodging the boss's attacks, then striking at the foe after they've performed their attacks, and repeating the process.  Not only that, but most of the encounters require Mondo to defeat the boss three times, which feels like unintentional padding in what is a short game.  As I mentioned earlier in the review, Killer is Dead is a short game, taking about four to five hours to beat.  At the end of the game, there's a results screen detailing the amount of time you played the game as well as other different statistics, and the screen said it took me seven hours to beat the game; it didn't feel like seven hours.

When Mondo isn't slicing up bad guys, he's romancing the ladies. Besides the story missions there are side missions called Gigolo Missions, or as they should be called, Staring Simulator 2013.  All you do during these missions is stare at Mondo's date, staring at both her face and her lady parts when she isn't looking, in order to fill up a meter that allows Mondo to give the girl a gift that may or may not win her heart over entirely.  When he does win over her heart, Mondo's date will give him a brand new weapon or a currency bonus as a reward.  The issue with the Gigolo Missions is that they're simplistic and dull, and they can be easily beaten in about two to five minutes.  Plus, Mondo only visits three girls during the game, and one of them acts as the game's challenge mode.  This means you'll constantly be going back and forth between two of the girls in order to unlock new items.  These missions also have a creepy nature to them because of the "staring at a woman's lady parts when she's not looking" aspect of the missions.

Killer is Dead's strongest point is its visual style, which is gorgeous to look at.  It gives both the characters and the world they live in an offbeat and stylized look.  Though there was some minor screen tearing during the game and a couple of brief, minor freezes during a couple of the levels, but these problems never became a significant issue.  Voice acting is good, with the only exception being Mika's voice, which will grate on your ears quickly, and like the visuals, the music is also very offbeat but interesting nonetheless.

To me, the confusing story, short length, and dumb side missions of Killer is Dead bog down what is otherwise an enjoyable game.  The combat is fun and the visuals are gorgeous, but the story will leave you confused and constantly wondering what is going on.

Final Score: 6/10
Link to Gamefaqs Review: