Sunday, April 22, 2012

Diablo 3 Beta Impressions (Open Beta Weekend)

Everyone knows how long this game has been in production, and how long it has been since Lord of Destruction came out, so I won't waste any time discussing that. Instead, I want to just briefly go over my thoughts of the beta after being able to play it this past weekend.

The beta differs from the demo Diablo 2 had in that you can play through all of the content with all 5 character classes. I've played through the demo now with three characters, the Wizard, Witch Doctor, and Demon Hunter. The length of the beta is surprisingly long, clocking in somewhere around 2-2.5 hours depending on how quickly you work through it. Overall, I really like what I've seen but there are a few changes I'm not thrilled about.

First, the good. I felt right at home starting up the game with my wizard, killing monsters, and gathering loot. The visuals work very well for the style of game it is, and most people should be able to run it on fairly high settings. I love the simple inclusion of the zoom feature, especially when decking out your character in shiny new equipment. There seems to be much more dialogue, and some of it is spread throughout the game world in the form of journals. Even some pointless NPC's in New Tristram have dialogues with each other, and while not the most stimulating script you'll ever read, it really enhances the overall experience.

The 5 classes are very unique in both gameplay, and visuals. Some skills serve similar purposes (such as the Grasp of the Dead and Caltrops skills) but I know that beyond the level 13 cap, the characters will become even more unique.  As a former sorceress user, I'm anxiously looking forward to starting up my first wizard character and blasting through as many difficulty levels as possible.

There seems to be a greater emphasis on storytelling this time around, which really wasn't necessary for this style of game, yet I'm really glad they decided to focus more on the actual plot details. I can't wait to go beyond New Tristram and see what other regions are waiting to be explored.

The inclusion of artisans seems very interesting, although I really don't know too much yet about how they will work long term. The items I crafted at the blacksmith in New Tristram though served me very well.

Something else I liked was the ability to modify the different skills, and even the first unlock for each skill modifier made the skills infinitely more useful (especially the splinter modification for the Witch Doctor's blow dart). I can't wait to go through and unlock each modification for each skill and see all the different builds that will be possible.

Now there are a few things I was not big on. The first was the limited amount of skills you can use at a time. Each skill falls into a category, and only one skill is allowed per category at any given time. While the moves tend to serve similar functions, it would have been very nice to be able to freely choose which skills you could have equipped at a given time, ala the F keys in diablo 2 (whereby I had about 9 or 10 skill hotkeyed at any given time). I do understand why the system works the way it does though, as it forces you to make some tough decisions as to how you want your character to perform. The good news is that changing your skills is incredibly easy, with only a cooldown meter to deter you from abusing the system.

My biggest gripe with the game is the new weapons system. I remember how exciting getting new weapons was in Diablo 2, more so than shields or armor or anything else, but weapons are mostly useless in Diablo 3. Each character can use almost any weapon (though some cannot be used and some are unique to each character) but skill damage is modified by the dps of each weapon. This essentially means that you will never attack with your weapon (which is fine) and that you will use nonsensical items with your character in an attempt to max out your dps stat. There are magical enhancements on some weapons, but at least from what I've seen in the beta, these effects are almost always less effective than a simple increase in the dps stat. I was walking around with a huge two-handed axe as a Witch Doctor to maximize the damage on my blow dart, and something just didn't quite feel right about it.

I miss a lot of things from Diablo 2, but eventually I'll get over my nostalgia, and Diablo 3 feels like a really solid game. It definitely caters more to the casual crowd than Diablo 2 did, but for the most part these changes serve to streamline the experience and do away with some of the frustrations of the 10 year old game. I'm most excited to see the new bosses, to play online with my friends, and obtain the rarest loot possible. Overall, the beta left a good taste in my mouth and helped hold me over until its full release date.


Monday, April 16, 2012

New Aesop Rock Track- "Zero Dark Thirty"

First single just released for Skelethon. I already couldn't wait for this album to drop, but now it's going to actually be torture waiting for July 10th to roll around. I haven't had enough time to digest the lyrics yet, but maybe I'll post some updated thoughts on the song when I've listened to it a little more.

P.S. Thanks Aes for allowing us to download this track on Soundcloud, made my day when I saw that.

   Now please just come back to Reno again soon.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Song of the Day 04/15/2012 Mastodon- "Curl of the Burl"

Mastodon is currently on tour with Opeth, and they're actually coming to my town, so I'm about as happy as a guy can be. If you had asked me to pick any two bands to play a show together, there is a very good chance it would have been these two bands.

This particular song was the second single released from "The Hunter", Mastodon's most recent album. Even after listening through the album in its entirety tons of times, this remains one of my favorites from this or any other album, so enjoy, and go out and see these guys if the tour comes through your town.


How bad is Stan Helsing?

It has Diora Baird in it, and yet it still manages to be completely unwatchable.

Spoiler Alert: The movie does in fact suck the entire time.

If you are making a spoof movie, and the jokes fall flat, what do you have left? Absolutely nothing, as Stan Helsing proves. Now I can't decide if this is actually worse than "Epic Movie" but it's not worth watching another second of either of them again to decide.

Will you guys please give up on these genre spoof flicks?


Thursday, April 12, 2012

South Park Review- "Butterballs"

Finally! A pleasant surprise. Is it because the episode was good on its own, or is it because my standards have dropped so low after the previous episodes of the season? Read on to find out.

So this week, South Park finally took on a current event with the topic of bullying. This is the sort of material South Park works best with, so I was excited to hear that, but the first trailer left me underwhelmed.

When Butters walks into the cafeteria for the first scene, I couldn't help but laugh. Much like Randy, Butters is a side character that has morphed over many seasons into one of the most interesting, and definitely one of the most hilarious characters on the show. Seeing his trepidation as he sat down with his black eye instantly struck me, something that would not have worked with any other character.

Also, the best use of the names like Anonymous Andy or Negative Nancy (whatever those are called) ever was used in this episode, when in response to Craig suggesting Butters get a bigger bully to beat up the person bullying him, Butters responds, "Nah, I don't want to be a cliche conflict resolution Kevin."

Stan again acts as the moral compass of the show, as he stands up for Butters, and all kids who get bullied at South Park Elementary (the red head who always stood up for him was a nice touch). The boys tell Butters to try talking to his family about the problem, like his Grandma who happened to be visiting at the time. We then meet Butters' grandmother, with her snow white hair, and moose print sweater, she is the picture of innocence and all things good about Grandmothers. That is, until it's just her and Butters left in the room.

Within a second of Mr. and Mrs. Scotch leaving the room, she strikes Butters in the face and continues to demean him, calling him a "little faggot." Seeing her say, "Do something about it bitch. You're Grandma's bitch!" was hysterical. Then she goes right back to enjoying her tea. This was a priceless scene.

Mr. Mackay then meets Bucky Bailey, who is trying to solve the problem of bullying, but his methods are more than a little ironic. Bailey bullies Mackay into hosting his anti bullying campaign, and while this scene wasn't funny in the commercial, watching Mackay sob his way through the assembly announcement was hilarious.

"The assembly is mandatory, MMK?"

Then Grandma comes looking for Butters at school,  but when he runs to the bathroom to try to avoid her, he finds her waiting there for him. Grandma is pissed that Butters narked on her, and struts up to the door, locking him in. She then tries shoving a nark puck (the urinal cake) into Butters mouth. Watching this sweet lady in an innocent purple sweater tell Butters to "put it in your fucking mouth"  had me dying. The joke was so good, it never got old at any point during the episode, which has been rare lately.

"Put it in your f*cking mouth!"

The next scene takes place in the Gym, as Bucky Bailey gives his anti-bullying presentation. He brings out little Lorraine, asking if she has been bullied. When her answers on the things people say to her aren't extreme enough, he asks her if anyone ever says, "Nice pants. Why do you wear them up to your tits." This poor girl is even more awkward than Kyle's cousin Kyle, which is incredibly impressive. I felt really sorry for this poor cartoon girl.

Bucky wants the school to produce an anti-bullying video, and after some more bullying, Stan agrees to direct the video. Then, we see the video. Now this video was awesome in its own right, but the IGN reviewer found the video that inspired this scene, and the south park video is even better after seeing it.

Seriously, try watching those two videos and not cracking up laughing, it's impossible. Cartman's vajayjay lines were a wonderful addition. The best part was the stat line at the beginning, the way Stan says, "Did you know in America, HAHA, over 200,000 students every day are afraid to come to school because of bullying?" It literally mirror the Cypress Ranch video. This scene was lovingly crafted, and the lyrics were hysterical, "let's all get together and make bullying kill itself, bullying is an ugly thing, let's shove it's face in the dirt, and make bullying kill itself." The constant irony worked really worked so well throughout the whole episode.

At the end of the video, when Butters ruined the super long single shot commercial, I literally laughed out loud.

Then, the KONY spoofs start up. Finally, a current event worth making fun of. I'm still waiting for Trayvon, but the addition of KONY material (even if not explicitly mentioned) reminded me of the South Park of old. Poor Stan, if only he understood that all his efforts would only end in him jacking it in San Diego.

The abuse continued at the dinner table, as Grandma continually stabbed Butters in the leg with her dinner fork.Then, she puts a booger in his mashed potatoes. These scenes never get old for some reason, I think because the Grandma character was created so well.

The only way Butters can deal with the stress is to release his dark side, and Professor Chaos enters the fray. "Oh look, it's Captain Pussy!" The villain Grandmother was disgusting and disturbing, especially her gummy bears torture.

The repeated bathroom scenes were hilarious, as everyone continually bullies everyone else, the best of which was the movie representative bullying Bucky Bailey to the point of tears.

The Dr. Oz spoof also worked well. Poor Butters had nothing to say, and Oz bullied him into talking about it. Then, Butters finally has enough, and beats the crap out of Dr. Oz on live television, taking away the credibility of Stan's film. Then, in a brilliant move, Jesus bullies the movie producer in the bathroom. If only Family Guy could learn how to utilize repeated humor as well as this episode.

Butters' monologue was genuinely heartwarming, which is the area South Park has excelled in the last few seasons. It's surprising to me how well they can portray genuine emotion through the voices of filthy elementary schoolers.

Then, when everything falls apart, Stan is left with no choice but to head to San Diego to jack it in San Diego. The musical piece was razor sharp, despite the random out of place 50's singers. I love how they found a way to just take a dump on an entire city at the end of this fantastic episode.

Watching this episode a second time, I realized that this was actually a great episode that can stand with episodes from past seasons. The repeated humor was utilized exceptionally well, the topic was current, and Butters' grandmother was one of the best characters the show has introduced in a long time. This is the first episode of the season that I would actually watch some day on NetFlix. I hope you all liked the episode as much as I did, and I also hope that the season can continue in the same positive direction it has been headed the last few weeks.

Overall Score:   9/10


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

"The Killing" Season 1 Review

Minor Season 1 Spoilers Follow

I missed The Killing when it aired on television last year, but recently picked up the complete season on Blue Ray. I wasn't quite able to catch up before the premier of Season 2, but I'll go ahead and quickly share some of my overall thoughts on the first season.

It would be impossible to review an entire season of a show in any detail with the amount of free time I currently have, so I will instead go over my major impressions, and things that stood out.

The first thing I'd like to address is the talent of the actors in the show. With only a few exceptions, this is some of the most believable acting I've ever seen on a television series. Particular standouts in my opinion were Brent Sexton (Stan Larsen), who played one of the strongest characters I've ever seen in any medium, be it film, television, or anything else. Of course, the two main characters also played very convincing characters, Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman as detectives Linden and Holder respectively. The huge cast of supporting characters were all worth mentioning as well, but to do so would take up too much space.

As is the case with every AMC series, the cinematography and music are both top notch. I especially liked the shots of the gurneys that focused on one rattling wheel (such as when Rosie was being wheeled into the coroner's office). The show stuck to a one episode for each day of the investigation pace, which worked well overall, although I'm glad that some episodes had a several minute overlap before the next day would start, to keep it from being locked into ending episodes at inopportune moments.

An especially powerful performance by Brent Sexton

The plot itself was fascinating, and unwinds as well as any murder mystery ever told. It seems like just about everyone in the show is under suspicion at one point, which makes it hard to ever predict where things are going. This also had the negative side effect of making it hard to pick a character to root for. Stan Larsen was admirable throughout, despite his own problems, but many other characters at some point made you question whether or not you should even sympathize with them.

I should also mention that since I watched this season as Season 2 was being advertised on AMC, I had a different perspective from most people who reviewed the episodes as they were released. Not only did I know that there would be a second season (which already changed my entire perspective), but I also knew of the general dissatisfaction with the final episode of the season. Knowing these two huge details allowed for me to have a different set of expectations watching it, and I feel like actually helped me enjoy the season, especially "Orpheus Descending" much more than those who saw it live.

I would like to make two points regarding the plot. First, the 11th episode, "Missing", was completely out of place. This episode broke up the flow of the show, just as things were building to a climax. This episode would have been better placed earlier in the season, because while it did offer some great character development, it would have benefited by not existing in the middle of a much more important storyline. However, nearly every other episode of the season was perfect where it was at, and I rarely found myself dissatisfied after watching an episode (though I also had the benefit of being able to watch the following episode right after).

Now in regards to the finale, I discussed it for a while with my friends afterwards, and came to the conclusion that it was not nearly as bad as fans had made it out to be. Knowing that there was a second season on the way, and that Rosie's killer would not be caught certainly biased my opinion, but I felt that the final episode succeeded in proposing several new questions which will hopefully be answered throughout the second season. It would have been nice to have some sort of closure however, a resolution to at least some plot line somewhere, instead the episode felt like just any other episode, and after watching the premier of the second season, I can certainly say that it feels like the show never really stopped. While this isn't the worst tactic, many fans were upset with the lack of closure offered by the finale.

All in all though, I added another series to AMC's already impressive list of shows, one that easily hangs in there with any other show. I expected slightly less from this show than say, Breaking Bad, but was pleasantly surprised with an emotional story, full of twists and turns, and the character development and moral ambiguity I've come to expect from AMC dramas. Now that I'm caught up, I can continue to review new episodes as they air, so keep your eyes open for them.

Overall Score:   8.5/10