“Spec Ops: The Line” Review: A Lesson in Ethics

Spec Ops: The Line get a ton of things right. The game’s story is one of the best I’ve played in recent year, the game-play is better than most, and the writing is poignant and hilarious at their respective needed times.

Full Disclosure: I bought this game on July 25th with my own dinero. I’ve beaten the game on (FUBAR) the hardest, and simply un-fun difficulty. I’ve unlocked 48/50 achievements for Xbox 360 and plan on getting the other two finished soon. I’ve played a few hours of multiplayer, but if you’re used to Call of Duty and Battlefield, the multiplayer here is pretty bland.

(Potential Spoilers Ahead)

Let’s talk story. This game throws you into a storm-battered and war-torn Dubai. The natives are partnering up with the CIA to take down the Damned 33rd, a rogue American platoon that is trying to “restore and keep order in Dubai.” You play as Capt. Martin Walker, the leader of a small outfit consisting of Adams and Lugo, your squad mates. Your mission is to get into Dubai, find survivors, and radio out for command to bring in the evac team. When you find the Damned 33rd running the place, you change your mission to rescuing the city. Colonel Konrad is running the 33rd and so you begin your trek to finding him.

The game forces you to make tough life and death decisions throughout the course of the story. You literally have to choose whether people live or die on more than one occasion. One your first play-through some of the events might horrify you, and you’ll reload your checkpoint hoping to do things different, but 2K has built their checkpoints so that you won’t be able to do that. Once you make a decision, you have to live with it until the game is over and you can play again. This makes the decisions super tough.

For instance, in one mission you have to decide whether or not to use white phosphorus on this army of the 33rd in front of you. You have to get through them to get to the gate. You can either try shooting your way down (you will die, a lot) or you can use the phosphorus to burn them up, and then head through. If you use the phosphorus, you do burn up all the soldiers, but then you find out that they were helping civilians escape through this small alley. You inadvertently killed a whole bunch of civilians, including a mother and her daughter (which are shown burnt and smoking as the mother covers he daughter’s eyes and holds her in her arms). You have to live with your choice.

The game puts the horrors of war on the forefront and forces you to act things out as best you can. Sometimes the odds are stacked against you and no choice is good, but you still have to make one. 2K captures this perfectly.

The writing is often funny to throw some brevity in between the deep moments. After you clear a rooftop of snipers and soldiers Konrad asks you why you’re so violent. “It’s the video games right? I bet it’s the video games.” Lugo, your sniper/tech squad mate often makes light of situations too. When Konrad calls down a helicopter to kill you guys, the radioman (a DJ who has speakers set up all over Dubai) begins playing “Verdi – Requiem – Dies Irae” to which Lugo says, “Ha! I love this song!” and begins making noises to the song as you guys are running for your lives. The radioman constantly plays good music while you guys are killing people, which gives the game a kind of “rock opera” feel at times. It’s like playing a Tarantino film. The music juxtaposes the violence.

Here’s where I have to turn the ship. Don’t play this game on FUBAR unless you’re an achievement whore like I am. FUBAR takes everything good about the game and breaks it. The AI for the enemies become super intelligent and your squad mates’ AI become incredibly stupid. I often had squad mates walking in front of grenades and crossfire, and if they die? GAME OVER. Seriously. Also, you become a magnet for bullets, even behind cover. Cover often doesn’t help on FUBAR. I often found myself yelling at the screen and cussing out the team members. Whoever decided how to build FUBAR should be forced to play it all the way through in one sitting. I think they would kill themselves.

That’s a small point though. All-together this game is brilliant. One of the best I’ve ever given hours of my life to (using Raptr: currently 16 hours) and it was totally worth the buy, except it was so good that I beat it in 4 days, and I bought it new, so no returns. :[ With 4 alternate endings, and a plethora of content to play through, Spec Ops: The Line is well worth the time and effort put into playing it multiple times. Great story, sound, and writing let this game achieve what Call of Duty wishes it could; a clever shooter, with decisions that matter, and characters you care about.

9/10

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Characters Matter: Why Dragon Age II is Bioware’s Best Writing (potential spoilers throughout)

If you’re involved in the world of gaming you’ve probably heard of Bioware a lot. Creators of the Mass Effect series, Dragon Age series, KotoR series, etc. They’re one of the most well-known companies in the business because they put out some of the best made content. Their stories are only rivaled by companies like Bethesda. It’s hard to pit more business’ against them because their stories offer options. Games like Red Dead Redemption and Batman: Arkham City, though brilliant, are fairly linear in story and choices.

Choices are what set Bioware apart from most brands. In most of their games, your choices matter. You shape the universe; whether you’re fighting dragons or alien beings bent on destroying the universe. Most, if not all, of their games offer the feature “choice.” I find this to be one of the most brilliant things about them.

I’ve played almost all of their games. I don’t have a computer rig that’s good enough to solidly play The Old Republic, but I’ve played all of their console games. I recently decided to revisit the Dragon Age Series (one of my favorites) after I finished the extended cut of Mass Effect 3. I bought Dragon Age II and the DLC that I didn’t already have (when it was released I bought the “signature” edition and thus received the Black Emporium and Sebastian DLC). Good God. I forgot how brilliant the writing of Dragon Age II was.

I usually play the game as a male mage. Sometimes I delve into being a rogue, but I find the magic aspect so much more appealing. In Dragon Age II this causes a plethora of problems.

In the game, you always have 3 party members with you. Here’s my team (for people w/o the Sebastian DLC, substitute his spot w/ Aveline). From Left: Meet Anders, Fenris, and Sebastian. (The banner from the top is also there because I inserted a gallery. C’est la vie.)


These are, in my opinion, the best mates to have in the game. Anders is a hot-headed, semi-possessed (w/ the spirit of Justice/Vengeance) mage. Fenris is a former slave who was abused by mages his whole life. Sebastian is a member of the Chantry, who is ok with mages as the maker’s creation, but is totally not ok with mages who mess with demons and use blood magic. With me being a mage, that makes the dynamic so much fun! I’m nice to mages, Anders is nice to mages, Fenris hates mages, and Sebastian hates bad mages.

One of the things that I miss in the Mass Effect series is banter whilst roaming the worlds. There may be a small comment here or there, but in Dragon Age II, your companions (and your own character) are CONSTANTLY talking. The best conversations come from when your characters disagree with each other. When you complete a mission or a side-quest in this game, your characters discuss it, and even bring up past side quests and whatnot as arguments. This brings me to my favorite plot arc.

Anders is possessed by the spirit of Vengeance. Vengeance used to be the spirit of Justice, but being brought into our realm, and seeing what Templars do to mages (hint: they aren’t having tea parties) has turned him into a force of power who hates Templars. This is understandably upsetting to everyone else in the party (I don’t like demons either). Anders is constantly trying to balance justifying him and keeping control of him, to the point where he almost kills a mage girl because Vengeance was going nuts.

Fenris and Sebastian are always ragging on Anders for this possession deal. They know it’s bad and don’t mind telling him so. He argues that mages are treated wrong in Kirkwall (where you all live) and they argue that it’s the mages fault for taking things too far by using blood magic (bad juju). This all culminates in a huge standoff between mages and Templars. As Hawke, you try to keep the peace (or you can rile up trouble! That’s the beauty of these games!), but Anders decides to blow the Chantry (church) sky high because, “There can be no compromise.” Dumbass.

Seriously. I was all ready to form an alliance, and he ruined everything because he wanted to throw a temper tantrum. UGH. When I first played the game, I killed him immediately afterwards. This is probably the best moment of writing in the whole game. After this happens, all of your party members are present and they can chime in about what to do.

Fenris wants to kill Anders right out. “Why are we talking about this when the criminal is right in front of us?” Merill (an elf, who is the worst character in the game. You complement this chick and she gets mad. I hate you Merill. She’s also evil) says, “Let him live. We could use him and he can make things right.” Varric (an awesome dwarf) says that he can’t justify this. Aveline (guard captain) says basically the same thing. Isabela is gone (cause I never romanced her and she ditches you in act two because she wanted to steal a book. What a bitch.).

Sebastian has my favorite moment though. He grew up in the Chantry. He loved the people there. He adored the grand cleric, who refused to leave even when he asked, and died in the blast. When you ask him what to do he says this. Paraphrase: “Would you be discussing this if I had been in the Chantry when this happened? He needs to die now.”  If you offer to keep Anders alive (you can keep him, kill him, or banish him) Sebastian (who is also the rightful heir of a land called Starkhaven) becomes enraged. “NO! Hawke, if you do this, I’ll go to Starkhaven and I’ll bring back an army. We’ll burn this city to the ground to find Anders and make this right.” Here’s a video that shows the whole scene (not mine). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avFaFKe3O0g

Oh by the way, Sebastian has the sexiest (Irish? Scottish?) accent ever. It’s like a lighter Gerard Butler voice. *swoon* But he’s DAMN intimidating in those last moments.

These characters are so deep, so fleshed out, that you can’t help but love them all, even the stupid ones (yes you Merill). The Dragon Age games don’t really have the scale of the Mass Effect games (you’re saving cities/lands instead of the universe), but they nail the character aspect better than any other game I’ve ever played. The one complaint I have about Dragon Age II (besides recycle maps and little nitpicks) is that the epilogue isn’t long and descriptive like the first game’s was. The first game basically let you read for 20 minutes as you read how your actions played out across the lands.

As someone with a film degree, who loves writing, this game makes me write better. This game inspires me to create characters that matter. This is why Dragon Age II has the best writing of any Bioware game ever. Now go buy it already.

Follow Bioware, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect on Twitter here:

https://twitter.com/bioware

https://twitter.com/dragonage

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The Dark Knight Rises and the Kitchen Sink (Spoilers) EDIT

It’s always sad when a movie is crushed under the sheer weight of itself. The Dark Knight Rises tries to do fans a service by making tons of nods at them throughout, only for those nods to be the unraveling of the first two movies and what Nolan tried to create.

The worst thing is that there are long strides of this movie that are boring. There is no middle ground. The movie is either brilliant (anytime Bane is destroying things) or boring (anytime Bruce Wayne is in the movie and he isn’t dressed as Batman).

The movie begins with Bruce sulking around for 8 years because Rachel died (lolwut?). Seriously, Batman is just depressed. This is where Selina Kyle (Catwoman) makes her first appearance, and then disappears while Batman gets back into the swing of things. Catwoman is one of the best parts of the movie, but she’s only in MAYBE 30 minutes of the film total. They give her a romance side plot, as well as the romance side plot with Miranda Tate (a.k.a the most obvious Talia Al Ghul ever). There’s just too much going on.

Let’s look at the new characters. Bane, Catwoman, Talia Al Ghul, Jonathan Blake (Robin… seriously), and Deputy Commissioner Foley. These new characters have to mean something w/in 2 hours and 50 minutes, as well as balance with Bruce Wayne, Batman, Lucius Fox, Alfred, and Commissioner Gordon. The movie is jammed to the rafters with characters you need to learn about and that have to matter in some degree.

Bane is the best thing about this movie. He’s huge, menacing, and ridiculously smart. Every time that he hits the screen you know something is about to go down. Tom Hardy played him amazingly. The sad part though, is that you never really feel the punches and fights because they’re all filmed in a way that looks super choreographed (which it is, but good fight scenes don’t look like it) and those interactions are probably the least Batman moments of all time. Also, when Bane “breaks the bat” it’s a kick to his side that dislocates a vertebrae. Bane didn’t break the bat, as much as he inconvenienced him. The moment was so boring, and in Knightfall, was so huge! It was a missed opportunity. Batman is a super intelligent stealth guy and he fights Bane hand-to-hand every time. RIDICULOUS. Batman has cool gadgets for a reason. He rarely uses them in this movie. He also succumbs to a small knife in the side when Talia stabs him. Spider-Man’s weakness might not be small knives, but Batman’s sure is. *facepalm*

The Bat was a cool gadget (the plane), but it was something that drug the movie away from the grounding in reality that the other two movies offered. Also, Batman leaves it on a low skyscraper under a tarp and nobody finds it for months. REALLY?

Let’s move on to the last act of the film. Batman has to disarm a nuke in Gotham. Everything goes wrong and they won’t be able to disarm it at all. Batman takes his plane, picks up the nuke, is still in the cockpit with less than 5 seconds left, and then it explodes, killing him. Batman sacrificed himself for the city, to save it. Good right? Less than 5 minutes later he’s alive again in Paris with Catwoman. WITH NO EXPLANATION. I got blown to bits, but I’m alive. And then we find out he left Robin all of his information and technology and the keys to the Bat Cave. Everything is rainbows and unicorns wrapped in a bow.

(After another viewing, the above point doesn’t stand. Bruce Wayne apparently patched the problem months ago and they addressed it in the last moments of the film.)

It really felt like they said, “Fuck it!” and threw in every fan nod possible because they knew about the reboot happening after this movie. Anything they did would have no consequence at all. They built this whole world, and in the last 5 minutes, scrapped it all to make fans smile. The purpose of film is to tell a story in an engaging way that makes sense. They had that, up until they decided to wrap everything up in a nice bow.

 

This movie is not as good as The Dark Knight, and nowhere near as good as The Avengers. Nobody in this film did a better acting job than Heath Ledger in TDK, so I don’t think we’ll see many oscar nods for the film.

The last shot of the movie should’ve been Christopher Nolan winking at the audience.

2/5 for this movie. It’s the worst of the three films.

The Amazing Spider-Man Review

The Amazing Spider-Man is just that. Amazing.

I hadn’t had the chance to see it until today, when a friend of mine took me and some other friends to go see it. He had already seen it, as had one of the friends that went with us, but he said it was totally worth seeing again (I later found out that was his 3rd viewing).

This movie gets a lot of things right. Andrew Garfield is a better Peter Parker and a better Spider-Man. Almost every character that was in the other movies is done better in this one. Aunt May and Uncle Ben are better, except for the fact that Uncle Ben’s death was done better in the first Toby McGuire movie. Uncle Ben’s death fell a little flat here, as it’s fairly brief and you don’t get the inspiring speech until the end of the movie in the form of a voice-over. Sally Field makes Aunt May a total badass and someone to be reckoned with, instead of the frail old-woman from the other series.

New York City and the Police are also a lot better in this movie than the other series. In the other films they were schizophrenic. “We’ll help one day and not the other” type people.  In this movie, the shit hits the fan and the cops/New York, almost immediately, start helping Spider-Man beat the Lizard. They all band together to get the job done. They put aside their differences for the greater good. This never happened in the other films. Citizens and police were an annoying nuisance in the other movies.

The Lizard was a pretty good villain and Rhys Ifans played him really well, but he just came off like the second-tier Spider-Man villain that he is. They set up the Green Goblin for the next film, and that’s exciting in its own right, but the villain in this one didn’t seem super imposing. This is a small nitpicking element though, because the action scenes were brilliant. Spider-Man is here in full sarcasm mode and it’s wonderful. Quotes like: “Awwww; Somebody’s been a naughty lizard.” and “I’m going to throw you out of the window now.” kept the tense scenes light at the right times and gave us the Spider-Man from the comics that we never truly got.

This movie is a hair better than Spider-Man 2 (The best of THAT series). It’s close, but every element is just so much more enjoyable here. Its strengths make up for its weaknesses.

9/10

The Power of Rock (Band): UPDATE

For those looking for the original article, go here: https://samox19.wordpress.com/2012/05/29/the-power-of-rock-band-13/

So guess what arrived today?!

Aaron Trites (HMXhenry, go follow him on Twitter. DO IT NAO!)  read my post from earlier, specificially the part where I mentioned my drums had been broken for a while and sent these out to me last week. They arrived today and I’ve been jamming on em for a couple of hours. I finally put down the sticks to jump on here and update everyone.

Also, I’ve never played Pro Drums on Rock Band at all. They’re kind of difficult. I played the Warm Up set-list and a few songs and it takes a while to get used to hitting cymbals when you’re used to just hitting the pads. They work though, and they’re awesome; so thanks Harmonix and Aaron!

Summer Class Blog Posts

Over the Summer I was in a class where we had to do internal blog posts during the week. Here are a few of em:

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This isn’t the life you wanted is it? Was this what you had in mind when you said you needed something different? Well, it’s too late now. You’re stuck here. The man from across the street looked out of his window on the third floor. Normal neighborhood, normal house, everything was normal, and that’s what he needed. Right?

The warm, beige mug in his hand let off a little bit of steam that floated up to his nostrils, bringing him back to the present. He shifted in his stance, sipped the warm hot chocolate, and began his descent back down the stairs. His golden hair curled around his head in an unruly fashion, like the hands of partygoers at a concert.

If I don’t make the deadline today, then I don’t know what will happen. He gazed down at his old watch, resting on his wrist like a shackle, reminding him of the dues he owes and the fates that he so willingly tempts. He walks into the study of his house and sits down on his large leather chair. He almost falls into it as he sighs and looks at his computer lying open, a blank document staring him in the face.

A new setting, a new scenario. This is what was supposed to help? He set his mug down next to the device and began typing, slowly at first, with a hesitance. “This will be the day…the day that I finally get to see my family again. The day that has been sitting on my calendar, glaring at me like a reprimanded school child. This is that day, and it cannot be escaped.”

A stack of books sat on the man’s desk behind him. He turned around and quietly glared at them before slowly picking them up and running his hands down the lightly embossed spines, feeling the memories of the lives he’d created and taken haunting the pages. Now he was on his final moment, the crescendo, the climax, and he had no idea where his lives were going. He drew a blank as he thought upon what might happen to his friends and his foes, all living in their leather bindings.

Blood must be shed for the reward to be achieved. He fought with himself. ‘It doesn’t have to be that way.’ Yes, it does. Don’t delude yourself into thinking you can save him. He has to die. No way around it. He turned back around to his computer and let his fingers begin dancing their finale aboard the raised keys.

“This is the day…the day I’ve decided to win. It cannot be escaped, but…then again, destinies were made to be met. Right?”

——————————————————

I guess death really does come for us all, but if that’s true, there must be a way to rout him. The elderly woman sat in her comfy chair looking around the store she was in. She surmised that it was some sort of gift shop. Children were walking around, giddily pointing at the shiny items that lined the expansive walls. She sighed to herself as she looked up at the chandeliers in the store. This is no ordinary shop.

All of the sudden she froze. No. It can’t be. It’s too soon. Death stared at her from across the shop. His cliché scythe glistened in the moonlight flooding in from the nearby window. His hood draped over his face, like it was hiding the secrets of the universe just out of reach. He was as still as a statue as he seemingly stared at the woman across the store.

She rose to her feet without a sound. The rest of the world didn’t matter at the moment. People were moving in slow motion. Nothing else mattered, but her, and her guest, staring at each other from across the room. This was a contest of wills, and she was fighting someone with unlimited patience. This will not be that day. It can’t be. There’s more I have to do.

She breaks his gaze as she walks over to the counter. “Excuse me,” she says to the man working behind the register. He looks up from his place and smiles at the woman. “How can I help you tonight?” She warily looks back at the front door. Her guest is still there. She looks back at the man working the register. “I apologize. Never mind.” She turns around again and beings walking to the entrance.

If this is going to happen, then I’m going out guns blazing. She reaches the door and hesitantly puts her hand out as she pushes lightly. The door opens and within a moment she’s on the porch with death. The staring contest is back on as they look at each other. The woman’s gaze never leaves the hollow expanse of his hood. She slowly, carefully, begins to hold her hand out to the creation in front of her. I’m ready. I have to be. I’m ending this on my own terms.

            Death reaches his hand out back to her and places a candy bar in her hands. Bewildered, she looks at her hand and back up at him. She stares at him in awe before quietly saying, “Why?”

He’s quiet for a moment before replying, “Happy Halloween ma’am. Come back and visit us again.”

——————————————————

That one kid’s future was about as bright as a broken lamp in a cave. This was the general consensus of the room as they watched him slowly dip his hands back into the Play-Doh tube and pull out another “tasty morsel” of putty. Everyone knew that someday, somehow, that kid was going to go out in some hilarious way. At least, that’s what they hoped. The boy that sat in front of them was full of joy as he continued to eat the blue Play-Doh, a ecstatic smile on his face.

20 years later that boy stood on the top of a skyscraper downtown. He turned around to the people shouting at him to get off the ledge and stop what he was doing. He tightened the straps on his harness before raising his hands to the crowd of scared civilians and security guards. “It’s OK! Do not worry for me! It’s misplaced! I have studied this long and hard! I’ve put a lot of work into these wings!” He patted the angelic styled wings hanging on his back. “I’ve done this before!”

He turned back around to the air in front of him. The highest building in the city. This should be high enough. He smiled as he spread his arms out and jumped.

So many thoughts flashed in his mind as he descended. This is bliss. I’ve finally figured it out! Did I leave the garage door open? His mind ran a rampant zig-zag line of confusion and randomness. His fall continued at a steady speed before he opened his wings up to the wind beneath him and…he began to fly.

He had built the wings as a flying-squirrel suit with angel wings on it. He thought they looked cooler than just a regular gliding suit. He floated through the city’s downtown districts as a careless as a bird. His smile was just as huge as it had been that day in the school classroom with the Play-Doh.

As he neared the ground he realized he had no real way of stopping. He had no parachute or anything attached to his body. The ground sped ever closer to him as he slammed his eyes shut and whimpered. The lesson was hard learned, but important. His story was a legacy for the brave men and women that would come after him. Never test a prototype yourself. Never test a prototype yourself. Never test a prototype yourself.

SPLAT!