Anime Review: Attack on Titan (or Shinkgeki no Kyojin), Season 2

Details: Season two aired in 2017. Twelve episodes this season.

“Eren.”

The first season of Attack on Titans was one of the most popular, successful anime’s in recent memory. Season two succeeds in continuing the hype, the horror, and the violent gratification that started in season one. No spoilers as usual.

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Video Game Review: Back to the Future: The Game

Details: Released in 2010. Played it on the PC. Purchased for about four dollars. Five episodes in total that took about two hours each to beat.

When you hear the name Telltale Games (and know a little about video games) you think about games like the Walking Dead. You think about games with branching plot lines, meaningful choices that change major plot points in the game and cause alternate endings. Back to the Future: The Game is not one of those games. You need to remember that this game predates The Walking Dead game. Back to the Future: The Game is a very traditional adventure game that follows a single, linear plot line. Fortunately, that plot line is decent.

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Movie Review: Wonder Woman

Details: Released in 2017. About two hours and twenty minutes long. Stars Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Robin Wright.

I didn’t read any reviews before watching this movie in order to avoid spoilers. After seeing the movie, I went and scavenged over all the reviews on the internet to see what other people thought. Generally, people love this movie. I’ve even heard it called a perfect superhero movie. Personally, I enjoyed the movie, but I think it is far, far away from a masterpiece. I also think there are many existing comic book movies that are easily superior to this one. No spoilers except a brief summary of the premise.

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Movie Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Details: Released in 2017. Over two hours long. Stars Johnny Depp, Geoffrey Rush, Javier Bardem.

One of my deepest, darkest secrets is that I have enjoyed, perhaps even loved, every single movie in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Every. Single. One. I’ve enjoyed the predictable plot twists, the jokes, the action, the special effects, the pirates, and I’ve enjoyed Depp’s performances. You’d be hard pressed to find another franchise that so blatantly shows how an entire billion dollar franchise can rest upon one man, in this case Johnny Depp.  It’s a fun franchise and if you walk into the theater looking for some lighthearted fun, that’s what you usually get with these movies.

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Video Game Review: The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Game of the Year Edition

Details: Originally released in 2015. Purchased through http://www.gog.com and their game client. Purchased for about $25. Played on the PC. The Game of the Year Edition comes with all subsequently released downloadable content, including the two expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine. Spent about a hundred and ten hours in the base game, around thirty hours in the Hearts of Stone expansion, and about forty hours in the Blood and Wine expansion. Total time spent in the game: about one hundred and eighty hours.

No spoilers, as usual. 

Now that I’ve played this game, I can understand why this game is so beloved. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt does not reinvent the wheel. It does not push some new kind of game. It is an open world, action role-playing game in a time with many, many similar games like Fallout, The Elder Scrolls, Assassin’s Creed, The Legend of Zelda, and the Batman Arkham series. What Witcher 3 does do is that it pushes the genre of open world games forward, improving on almost every aspect of the genre and producing a game that can be considered essential if you are a video game lover.

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Movie Review: The Lego Batman Movie

Details: Released in 2017. About an hour and forty minutes long. Stars Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson. Rated PG.

The Lego Batman Movie is about Lego Batman (part of the Lego Universe from The Lego Movie). Lego Batman is lonely and tries to deal with his relationship issues while defeating the Joker and his evil plan.

Visually, it’s like The Lego Movie. The film looks like they used lego to build everything and filmed that. It’s fun to look at and try to guess how they will animate something.

While this is a mainstream movie, there are only a few demographics of people I would recommend this film to. I can recommend this film to children, but the truth of the matter is that there are so many jokes that make so many references that are thrown at the audience so quickly that only an adult will likely get full enjoyment from this film. The kids would probably just enjoy watching Lego move around though.

I can recommend this film to Batman fans. Lots of references to the prior movies and other aspects of Batman lore. I found the very funny. I appreciated Tom Hardy reprising his role as Bane. That was a nice touch.

I can recommend this film to people who liked The Lego Movie. The humor and pacing is about the same.

Otherwise, I’m not sure you’re going to like this film. I enjoyed it, but it hits such a small part of the population in terms of interests and type of humor. If you have even a vague interest in any of the things written above, I’d recommend watching the film and giving it a chance.

Score: 6/10

Video Game Review: Grand Theft Auto Online

Details: I’m not sure how many hours I’ve played of the Online part, but total time spent including with the single player is about one hundred and fifty hours. At least fifty of those hours were spent in the Online part. Played on the PC. I purchased Grand Theft Auto V a while ago for $35.00. Grand Theft Auto Online came with it. A lot of additional content has been released since the game came out. It’s unclear if more content updates will be released.

I wrote a review for the single player portion of this game a while ago and I’ve finally played enough of the online component to give an opinion.

Grand Theft Auto Online is an online multiplayer game where players can inhabit and play in Los Santos (the fictional city from the single player) with others over the internet. It comes with Grand Theft Auto V.

Grand Theft Auto Online is essentially a free to play game. It is largely funded by micro transactions. They sell in-game, virtual hats and clothes and cars and boats for in-game money. You can buy in game money with real money from their website or your local video game retailer in the form of Shark Cards.

The good part about this is that after the release of the game, Grand Theft Auto Online has released pretty consistent content updates since and they are all free for everyone who owns a copy of Grand Theft Auto V. Usually, subsequent content updates are marketed as downloadable content and given a price. That’s not the case here. The downside is that all the really cool items that you’d really like to own (e.g. a fast car or a new property) cost a fortune. The game is situated to be fun enough to keep playing, but annoying enough to tempt players into spending real money on in-game currency. This gives the game that shitty, Candy Crush-esque feel. It’s a long, time-consuming grind to achieve any kind of progress in the game. An additional negative is the rampant hacking/cheating present which further impedes enjoyment of the game.

There are a lot of things to do in Grand Theft Auto Online, but most of it is derivative of everything in the single player and short-lived (after playing most things once, you’ll never want to play it again). The only things that I think are worth mentioning are the races, the heists, and the free roaming.

Racing in a Grand Theft Auto game is almost common sense and being able to race other players is fun. With the addition of stunts and a battle mode with rockets and other power ups, the game feels a lot more like Mario Kart than a traditional Grand Theft Auto game.

I loved the Heists in this game, but it was disappointing that there are only five and that it looks unlikely more will ever be added. Each heists generally consists of a few setup missions and then the heist itself, which is a big, multi-part mission where each player will be required to cooperate and perform a distinct function in order to complete. The best and worst part of these missions is that cooperation is essential, which is very difficult to find when you’re playing with some random players over the internet who don’t give a shit about each other.

The best part of this game is that it realizes a dream that Grand Theft Auto fans have had for a long time: we get to inhabit the same city with other players. We can help each other, hurt each other (usually hurt), drive, shoot, or just screw around, all within a persistent virtual world. It’s just fun to be in a virtual world that allows you to do whatever you want while others play in that world with you.

Overall, GTA Online is a fun little distraction that can be fun for hours if you let it. The biggest flaw and best feature of GTA Online is that many of the most fun aspects of the game require a preexisting group of friends who own a copy of the game and will play with you. Otherwise, GTA Online is kind of short-lived and will get boring fast. As a standalone game, GTA Online isn’t great. As an online game bundled together with the Grant Theft Auto V single player, the game is great. I don’t recommend buying Grand Theft Auto V for the Online component alone. I do recommend the purchase if you want to enjoy the single player and already have a group of friends who own Grand Theft Auto V and want to play GTA Online with you.

Score: 6.8/10

Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Origins

Details: Played on the PC and through Steam with a Xbox 360 controller. I bought the game and the season pass (that means all the DLC) for about ten dollars from http://www.bundlestars.com. Took me about twenty six hours to get through the game and the Cold, Cold Heart DLC. About twenty three hours were spent on the main game and three hours on the Cold, Cold Heart DLC. Important: there is no online multiplayer. I read somewhere that the servers that supported multiplayer went down. If you buy this game, you are only paying for the single player portion. There were some minor bugs.

I originally dismissed this game and was never going to play it because it was the one Batman game that was not made by Rocksteady. After playing through Batman: Arkham Knight and hearing all the references that were made to this game and that Arkham: Origins is canon, I changed my mind.

This is a good game and it holds up really well despite it’s age. My biggest mistake was to play this game after playing Arkham Knight. Arkham Knight is undoubtedly a better game; it looks better, plays better, story… is a little better. So when I started this game, it was undeniable that this game looked worse, felt worse, and just lacked what Arkham Knight had. However, after a few hours, I got over and really enjoyed the game.

Gameplay is derivative, if you’ve played any of the Batman: Arkham games, you’ll know what your getting into. In fact, gameplay is almost identical to Arkham City. The same gadgets are used as are the enemy types your fight. If your unfamiliar with the Arkham series, gameplay is divided into a few types. First, there’s stealth, where you try to clear and area of enemies without being detected. Then there’s the free flow combat which generally consists of trying to dodge, counter, and chain together enough attacks so that you can land your finishing attack. Boss fights generally consist of a combination of combat and stealth. There are some puzzles and platforming.

There are also investigation portions where you investigate a crime scene and try to recreate the crime. These portions of the game are minor, yet what I think this game does better and more often than any other game in the Arkham series. I think it often gets glossed over that Batman is a detective and it’s a lot of fun to try and solve crime mysteries and track down criminals. It adds color to the game to see Batman trying to solve crimes that are not necessarily of the super villain variety. Unfortunately, the crimes you solve are fairly repetitive and uniform.

Visually, the game looks great. The art direction is fine, although it’s not as detailed or filled in as a Rocksteady Arkham game. If you’re not as obsessive of a fan of Rocksteady as I am, you probably won’t even notice it so don’t worry about it.

The music is great. Loved all the tracks.

The story is surprisingly good. I was expecting something half assed, but it goes into a lot of Batman lore. It started a little slow, but built up and it was fun battling and interacting with the characters of this fictional world. The only nitpick I would point out is the reliance of pre-rendered cut scenes versus using the in game engine. I prefer Rocksteady’s method of showing off how good the game looks by using the in game engine for cut scenes. It’s also less jarring.

Furthermore, while I did enjoy the story, some of the big reveals/surprises were spoiled to me by various websites. I’d advise not spoiling the game for yourself if you intend on playing it. There are some plot twists and surprises which are worth preserving if you can.

The voice actors all do a great job. After three Arkham games, you just come to expect to hear Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill every time one of these games come out. That they are not present here is a little jarring. However, the lack of Kevin Conroy makes some narrative sense in that this is a prequel; Batman is younger so it kind of makes sense he sounds different.

Score: 7/10 I had fun with this game, especially since I only spent around ten dollars for it. I recommend it if you like the Batman Arkham games and can get it for around the same price.

Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Details: Released in 2016. Runs for about two hours. Stars Eddie Redmayne.

I’ve never thought the Harry Potter movies were great. I never thought they were good. They were just satisfactory, tolerable even. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find is, in my opinion, the same sort of movie. It’s not a bad movie. It’s not great. It’s just satisfactory.

The premise is this: Eddie Redmayne plays Newt Scamander, a member of the ministry of magic who specializes in magical animals. He comes to America to relocate a magical animal and send it home when he comes across a plot that puts all the wizards in 1920’s New York City in danger.

The first thing you should know is that this is not Harry Potter. Anyone coming to watch this film will obviously be a Harry Potter fan, and they will be undoubtedly disappointed by what they find. With that said, if you have no familiarity with the Harry Potter Universe, again, you will be disappointed if not completely lost. So we reach this conclusion: the only people who should watch this movie are Harry Potter fans and they will most likely be disappointed by the film.

It’s not all bad though. Eddie Redmayne delivers another believable performance, as do the rest of the cast. It’s unfortunate then that the plot of this film is so bare bones and establishes so little. If you’ve read other reviews, you’d be familiar with the opinion that this film merely sets up the inevitable sequels that will follow. Those opinions are right. Nothing happens here other than a shallow exploration of Newt Scamander and the American magical community. It’s all just set up for the next money grubbing sequels.

Score: 4.5/10 It’s sad to me that I know this film will make a ton of money simply by being tangentially related to Harry Potter. As a stand alone film, this movie is pretty shit. However, if you stamp something with the Harry Potter logo, the sheep-like masses will likely throw money at it. I do not recommend this movie for Harry Potter fans and especially for those who are not fans. Do yourself a favor and watch something else.

Video Game Review: Batman: Arkham Knight is the Best Game I’ve Played In Years

The caveat is that I have yet to play the Witcher 3. I’m playing that next. Some details: I played Batman: Arkham Knight for about fifty-six hours on the PC and the version I played was the Premium Edition, so I had all the downloadable content.

So I’m going to do a spoiler free write up first and I’ll write up some bullet points that may have spoilers after the score.

First and foremost, we have to talk about bugs and glitches. When Arkham Knight was released on PC last year, it was a disaster. The game had so many bugs and glitches that it was pretty much unplayable. So how does it play now, one year later? I am happy to say that while there are some bugs still in the game, it did not substantially affect my enjoyment of the game. For me, there were primarily two bugs: stuttering/frozen screen and sometimes the audio would cut out. And I have a GTX 1070, so I’m fairly sure it wasn’t the card. Anyways, while not the ideal scenario, the game was still playable and awesome.

Secondly, the visuals in this game are just amazing. When I started up the game, the first thing I noticed was just how awesome this game looked. This is not just because of detailed textures and graphics engine, but because of everything else. The art direction is just amazing. You can’t help but marvel at the detail that has been applied to this world. It’s clear when you drive through Gotham City’s streets that artists drew and designed every aspect of this city and the player’s experience benefits greatly from it. Furthermore, the animations are just fantastic. Most of the cut scenes are in-game because of how good everything looks and because of camera positioning and motion capture. This game just has a top notch presentation.

In regards to audio, the music is great. It’s not ground breaking, but it’s exactly the kind of dark, orchestral music you’d expect from a Batman story. If you’ve played any of the last three Arkham games, then you will be delighted to hear that familiar Batman theme play again.

Gameplay in this game can be broken down into a few parts. Firstly, there’s the polished, free flow combat system that originated in the Arkham series and was subsequently copied by many other games. At this point in time, the system just feels good and I think most returning fans expect this system to remain in the game, with some minor improvements. These minor improvements include the use of new gadgets during fights, the introduction of some new enemies, and the use of the environment to add variety to combat moves. There are a lot of challenge maps afterwards, and I played through some but not all of them. In my opinion, the main draw of playing some of these challenge maps is to see some locations that you would not see otherwise.

The second part of gameplay involves stealthily clearing a room of enemies. This is also a fan favorite and expected to return. Minor additions include the addition of new enemies that either restrict your use of abilities, enemies who revive fallen abilities, invisible enemies, drones, and those who must be taken out last lest the rest of the enemies be alerted. This game mode was already fun and the small additions are nice.

A minor addition that I enjoyed immensely was the inclusion of Batman’s allies (like Robin and Nightwing) in the combat and stealth portions. I felt like these were so fun that if Rocksteady explored this mechanic further, this could have been the cool, new thing in the place of the less fun Batmobile combat.

Third, there are puzzles. These usually involve gadgets , the Batmobile, and standing on platforms. I’m glad they included puzzles, but the puzzles along with Batmobile combat are the weakest parts of this game. Additionally, some of the Riddler puzzles are so elaborate they kind of break the fourth wall in that it would take years to construct something like this, much less underneath a city of skyscrapers.

The last and newest gameplay addition is the Batmobile. The Batmobile can be broken down into two parts: racing and combat. Racing is… racing. The only thing I will say about racing is that there are certain tracks outside the main game where you can race around in old Batmobiles (like Adam West’s Batmobile, Keaton’s Batmobile, or Bale’s Tumbler) around tracks that seem taken straight out of each Batmobile’s respective show. It’s a fun side activity where you get to hear the theme music from these old movies/shows. Except for Christian Bale’s Batman movies. I don’t think they got the music rights to use the theme from those movies. You get an imitation song instead on those tracks.

Batmobile combat is more complex and if you’ve read other reviews, Batmobile combat is the weakest aspect of this game. Unfortunately, I have to agree to an extent. I certainly don’t hate Batmobile combat. I still found it fun. It just wasn’t as fun as free flow combat or the stealth portions. Of note is that some Batmobile combat portions require stealth, which kind of contradicts the idea of driving this powerful, loud tank.

In regards to the story, it is mostly fantastic. I was worried when I heard Paul Dini did not work on this, but it was just fine without him. I’ll go into it more in the bullet points following the score.

A note about the DLC: I would not buy the downloadable content piecemeal, I would just buy the Premium Edition and get all the DLC at once. While most of the DLC is weak, the ones that are worth it to me are The Season of Infamy and Batgirl: A Matter of Family. The Season of Infamy is the better of the two.

Score: 9/10 Loved this game. There is no other game that makes you feel more like the Batman than this. There is no superhero game as good as this. It’s like playing an episode of the animated Batman cartoon or one of the movies. This was a great, narrative driven experience. Easily one of the best games I have ever played.

 

Now for some potentially spoiler filled bullet points:

  • The story for the most part is fantastic and does a great job pushing the player forward. The weakest part of the story was how predictable the identity of the Arkham Knight was and the ending. The ending wasn’t bad, it just didn’t have the impact that the ending of Arkham City had. Since this was the end of the Arkham trilogy, I was expecting more.
  • There are some twists in this story. The one that truly shocked me was the one involving Barbara Gordon. Unfortunately, this twist was predictably ruined by events later in the game.
  • I like that they included decisions in this game. Unfortunately, the only decision that mattered was the final choice in the Ra’s Al Ghul quest in The Seasons of Infamy DLC.
  • Once again, I must praise this game for how details oriented and visually pleasing it was. For example, Batman gets dosed with some fear gas and slowly starts hallucinating more and more Joker related stuff as the game progresses. Sometimes, you will turn away from a statue and when you turn back to look at it, it now has the Jokers face. Just little details like this add so much to the tone and immersion of this game.
  • I like the inclusion of the Joker hallucinations. I love Mark Hamill playing the Joker and I will take his performance any chance I get.
  • The side quests are some of the best parts of this game. A lot of the plot lines planted in prior Arkham games are resolved in the side quests. Some of them are kind of bare, but it’s nice to see these characters in the game. I was particularly surprised by the inclusion of some new enemies from the comic books that fans of the old, animated series would not be familiar with. Professor Pyg in particular was cool.
  • I hoped in my heart of hearts that the Arkham Knight was not who I thought it was. Unfortunately, it was exactly who I thought it was. This was a missed opportunity to introduce a new twist that could have blown players’ minds. Instead, we walk the same, well trodden path that other writers have taken us down before. This sucked.
  • I like how in the Arkham series, you generally get to keep all the gadgets you found in the prior Arkham games. It really helps maintain the narrative integrity of the game and maintain the immersion.
  • I was disappointed that Gotham City is mostly empty. According to the story, the city was evacuated because of the threat from Scarecrow. Which if fine I guess. I would’ve loved to play in a living world with civilians and muggers though.
  • Batman doesn’t kill, but I’m pretty sure that running someone over and shooting them with a tank’s cannon would kill them. Just saying, “nonlethal” rounds shouldn’t be able to magically explain away everything. I do understand the conflict between making driving a tank fun while following Batman’s no kill mandate.