Saying Goodbye To Mass Effect

 

 

mass-effect-trilogy-charactersOn March 5th, 2013, the final chapter of Mass Effect DLC will hit. This is a rough moment for me, as I’ve spent years falling in love with this universe and these characters. I know there will be more Mass Effect games and that they’ll probably capture seasons of my life like this series did, but it’s still hard to move on.

Mass Effect 1 launched in November 2007. It was one of the first games I ever played for 360. I adored it. Everything about it reminded of why I loved games like KOTOR and the like. I bought all the DLC that was released and played through it multiple times; rethinking decisions and conversations that I’d had with characters to hone my Shepard into the perfect one I wanted. I was essentially writing and re-writing Shepard’s tale.

Mass Effect 2 came along during my second year of college. I pre-ordered the collector’s edition and stood in line for hours with some of my friends just to be able to pick it up at midnight. This installment allowed the decisions of the first game to be imported. That was the first time I’d ever heard of something like that. My Shepard was still my Shepard. I played this one multiple times and in multiple ways as well; knowing that the conclusion would come in the next game. I made sure to replay the ending and make sure ALL of my squad-mates survived. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye yet.

extended_cut-pMass Effect 3 launched over Spring Break for my senior year of college. I decided to stay at the school and play it instead of head home for the holiday. I spent the week pouring over the game and the decisions and alternating play times with food and episodes of “Archer” on Netflix. Hours were spent having conversations, revisiting old friends, and making the final journey with my Shepard.

Then I beat it. I finished the game, cried a bit, did a final save, and turned off my console. Shepard’s tale was over. Then the Extended Cut was announced, and more DLC (which I expected). Shepard had a few more adventures left in him. I’ve purchased all the DLC (story-wise) for the game so far and I’ve been playing through it these past few weeks. I’m coasting my play times so that I’ll be able to jump into the last bit of DLC on the 5th. After that, I’ll have to say goodbye for real.

I think that I’m ready this time. I’ve grown to love these characters, and had to say goodbye to some of them during the play-through of 3 anyways, but this time is for good. There is no replay after this completion. My Shepard’s tale will have written its final pages and will be closed. Rarely does a game like this come along. The Mass Effect series has held my attention, money, and time for almost 6 years, and what a great 6 they were.

I’m excited for what BioWare does in the future, and I’ll eagerly await whatever they decide to release. For now though, I’m saying my goodbyes to Mass Effect.

You changed my life, and I’ll never forget you for it.

-Sam

 

 

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Dead Space 3: More Method than Madness

CAUTION: SPOILERS FOR THE DEAD SPACE SERIES INCLUDED IN THIS REVIEW

ds5Dead Space 3 gets a ton of things right. This entry into the series, up until the after-credits scene, is a  fitting end to a long hard few days for Issac Clarke.

This game begins w/ Issac having broken up w/ Ellie from Dead Space 2 after seemingly becoming a recluse and desperately trying to figure out how to stop the coming end of humanity. Everyone thinks he’s just gone nuts from the stress/mind issues of the previous games. All of the sudden his apartment is broken into and he’s thrust on this adventure as Danik tries to kill him and bring the end of humanity by activating the final marker. Obviously, Issac can’t let that happen.

Dead Space 3’s story is the culmination of the series. The final resolution is on its way as Issac has to stop Danik and save humanity. Visceral has been fantastic on delivering tight, epic narrative for this series. This entry is no different. The story here is emotional, scary, and, at time, surprisingly heartfelt. There are moments in this game where you realize, “Damn. This is happening. This is rough.” These moments make the game that much more emotive and the player, at least for me, that much more empathetic.

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Issac Clarke can’t catch a break. While the story in 3 is pretty incredible, I still don’t think it manages to hit the bar set by 2. There were moments in 2 that will forever be seared into my memory. There were moments that legitimately disturbed me and made me uncomfortable. This is a good thing. Not once did I feel that in 3. 3 is more of an action game w/ horror elements throughout. Some fans think this is a bad thing. I don’t. The game mixes both action and horror really well and still hits the right notes throughout. I was never bored, but I was never horrified either. Sure, there are new Necromorphs, but none of them are scarier than anything from the rest of the series.

Dead Space 3 wants the characters to shine in this entry and boy do they. The characters in this are brilliantly written. Even as people are dying off (it’s the last game in a trilogy, lots of people are going to die) they manage to make each on hurt in their own special way. People are left behind. People are killed to save others. Tough decisions have to be made, and are.

The gameplay is pretty much the same as the other entries, save for co-op (Which I haven’t experienced yet) and customization. You can make a crazy amount of awesome weapons in this game. The new Bench tool creation system makes mixing and matching weapon parts exhilarating. (I stuck w/ the Evangelizer Shotgun and Mjonir throughout the majority of the game. I like to keep beasties away from me, but when they do get close Mjolnir kills ’em quick.) There are also Scavenger bots that will pick up resources for you during the game. These come in incredibly handy during the later parts of the story. (DOWNLOAD THE PERSONALITY PACK FOR THESE GUYS! It’s seriously one of the funniest parts of the game and added a much needed does of humor in the midst of horror.)

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The flying missions continue to be a high point of the series for me. I love these levels. Flying, shooting, and dodging make these sections and adrenaline boost whilst remaining fun and light. In the usual missions, it’s dark and scary. These are bright and exciting. There are a good 4-5 of these throughout the 19 chapters of 3. ENJOY THEM.

The soundtrack/sound design here is brilliant as well. The game is scary. Skittering sounds of claws in walls, cries of agony from Necromorphs, depth perceptive sound coming from other rooms or down corridors; this game gets these things right.

Graphics are about the same as 2 with some nice additions. Issac’s visor now gives off light meaning, you’ll see 3 bars of green (or other shapes depending on the suit you’re wearing) shining on the walls as you walk around. I thought this was pretty cool. There are tons of suits you can unlock/buy, so finding out which ones do what is a pretty cool experience. It’s also a nice level of dimension for the gameplay.

ds9And now for what ruined the ending for me. Again, SPOILERS FOLLOW.

At the end of the game, everything seems to resolve for Issac. He and Ellie get back together long enough for him to apologize for everything and save her. He forces her to leave the planet so he can blow everything up w/ Carver and save humanity. She jumps in a ship and blasts off as he fights the last enemy and flips the switch to save the world. As everything is exploding the world slows down, Issac takes a deep breath, looks at his picture of Ellie, smiles, and closes his eyes. His mask was gone (was broken earlier and he ripped it off) and everything goes bright as the planet explodes and he floats into space. Ellie calls his name on the comms after seeing the planet explode. She calls for him and Carver. After no answer, she begins crying and mentions the marker signal is gone. “You did it Issac. You did it.” She says this between tears and turns the ship around before leaping into shock-space and leaving. ROLL CREDITS.

Now, after the credits the screen goes black and you hear Issac call out, “Ellie? ELLIE?!”

That’s it. After everything, Issac is somehow alive. At least, I think that’s what the writers want us to think. If that’s true and he is actually alive then that is terrible on a level like “The Dark Knight Rises.” Everything leading up to his death, INCLUDING his death, is pretty effective and blatant. Issac surviving is so ridiculous that it shouldn’t even be a possibility. The story is immensely better if he is dead. He gave up everything to save humanity, and that’s beautiful. If he doesn’t die, that ending is tarnished in my opinion. It doesn’t hurt as much.

If it’s some weird “afterlife voice” then I’m cool w/ that, but it doesn’t seem like it at the time. It’s the equivalent of Shepard breathing after the end of Mass Effect 3. It just doesn’t make sense, and hurts the story.

This is a huge misstep for an otherwise awesome game.

9/10 here for me. Awesome finale.

Have you played the game? Agree/Disagree w/ my review? Let me know in the comments!

I Don’t Feel #Wonderstruck…

I wanted to write about seeing Les Mis or playing through Far Cry 3, but the inspiration for those posts won’t flow.

For the past week or so I’ve been doing the #livewonderstruck challenge. I don’t feel wonderstruck though.

Here’s what my family has found out since December 12th, 2012:

– My mom has cancer. We don’t know much more than that because treatments and appointments cost money; money that we don’t have.

– Short of a miracle, we’ll be out of a house in March.

– We barely have money for groceries/bills as they come in. Basically parts of everyone’s checks go to paying bills for the house.

– We have one car for 4 people, 3 of which have jobs that require them to leave the house.

– I can’t find another job (on top of the one I have) because I don’t have reliable transportation (see above).

I mean,  I’m a 23 year old white male living in America. Things should be peachy-keen for me right? And I shouldn’t complain because, for now, at least I HAVE a house. That’s better than like 80% of the world right now.

I hate it when people say these things. Shit falls on everyone. It doesn’t feel better or worse depending on where you are or what you have. Bill Gates has probably had some pretty shitty days. You wouldn’t say, “Dude, you’re like in the top 3 richest people in the world. Quit your complaining!” would you (some of you probably would, humor me)?

My birthday had my mom in the hospital. Christmas, we were too broke to get/give presents, but we were able to find out my mom had cancer. Her next appointment (we have no idea where the money will come from) is on Valentine’s Day. Easter better watch the fuck out.

What the hey right? Rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.

It’s been really rainy lately, and I fucking hate it.

Black Ops 2: Who Put RPG in my CoD Soup?!

Call_of_Duty_Black_Ops_2_1600x9001Black Ops II is the best Call of Duty game in ages, but it still misses the mark in some crucial areas.

There are the staples we’ve come to know and love from the Call of Duty series: fantastic multiplayer, decent story, and when Treyarch has the reigns, ZOMBIES. Black Ops II meets all the requirements whilst taking the series to a new high.

The story (I’ve only played through it once, so mine was probably different than yours) was a step up from the boring and lifeless Modern Warfare 3. Modern Warfare 3 had a fantastic beginning and ending, but the middle was terrible slop. Black Ops II is fantastic throughout, save for some levels that have gameplay issues. It was also co-written by David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, Batman Begins) so that helped A TON.

Some of the levels in Black Ops II require you to use vehicles. This would be a good thing (a la Battlefield 3) if the controls didn’t suck so terribly that the sections were almost unplayable. I also played my story on Veteran, meaning these controls were costing me valuable time and restarts. The F-18 mission towards the end is so ridiculously hard because of the controls and what the game wants you to do that I almost rage quit.

The other terrible thing is Strike Force. At least, it’s terrible on Veteran. In the story missions, even on Veteran, your AI is badass. They’re smart. They kill people. They make good decisions. In Strike Force? They’re basically children. I played the final Strike Force mission 4 times in 3 different ways and my people still died horribly. They would run up and completely pass people shooting at them for some reason. They wouldn’t shoot back. IT WAS TERRIBLE. This wouldn’t be so bad, except that the Strike Force mission affect your story.

Harper_and_Salazar_at_Colossus_BOIIThe brilliance of the Strike Force missions lay in that point. They affect your story. There are RPG elements in Black Ops II! You make decisions that matter. THIS IS BRILLIANT. This is what puts Black Ops II a step above the other titles in the series (except for CoD4, that was unfairly amazing). Throughout the game you’ll come to points where you have to make decisions for the characters. These are live/die shoot/don’t shoot decisions. They make your story different than mine and that’s incredible.

The acting/mo-cap/VO is fantastic w/ Raul Menendez’s actor (Kamar De Los Reyes) being the best of the bunch. Harper (pictured above) is voiced by Michael Rooker of Walking Dead and the original Black Ops’ Zombies campaign fame. His character was kind of hard to peg for me. I couldn’t escape the smarmy voice of Merle. That made it hard to connect with his character, but he was still great. Woods, Mason, everyone else? Phenomenal. The acting in this game was top notch.

Call of Duty still suffers from control fatigue though (invisible walls, limited view). If I’m involved in a cut scene, I should be able to look anywhere I want and walk anywhere I want. It’s a game, not a movie. If I wanted to watch a movie, I would, but I’m playing a game. LET ME PLAY THE GAME. Constantly in the story you’re stuck with a small box for viewing whatever is going on in the scene. This needs to change.

Menendez's_Rally_BOIIThe multiplayer is still amazing. It’s a Call of Duty game from Treyarch! What did you expect? I’ve not had the chance to delve too deeply into Tranzit mode or Zombies, but the regular multiplayer is better than ever.

They’ve revamped the loadout system so that you can pretty much do whatever you want. Want two super weapons with no perks? You can do that. Want one weapon with tons of perks? You can do that too. It’s awesome.

All in all this game had a great story, with major gameplay issues at times, but great multiplayer as well. This installment ends up being one of the best games of 2012. It gets a 8/10 from me.

Find me on twitter and Xbox Live under the name SamoX19! 

My TOP 10 Movies of 2012

paranorman-banner10. PARANORMAN

This is the best animated movie of the year hands-down. Wreck-It-Ralph made a good effort, but my soft spot for stop-motion and horror movies made this one my choice.

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9. MOONRISE KINGDOM

Wes Anderson movies are very hit and miss with me. He’s about as hit and miss as Tarantino simply because of how “them” both of their films are. Moonrise Kingdom is one of his hits for me. A fantastically quirky tale of true love with a brilliant cast throughout. The kids in this movie do some brilliant acting. My personal favorite is the “war room” scene between the boy scouts. (DAMN US.)

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8. THE GREY

This is the movie you should’ve seen instead of TAKEN 2. If you haven’t seen this movie, go now, WATCH IT. It’s on Netflix. Incredibly powerful film.

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7. LOOPER

Great actors? Check. Great story? Check. Great action/special effects? Check. This movie is one of the best sci-fi films of recent memory. It sucks you in without being campy or over the top. JGL plays an awesome young Bruce Willis in this.

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6. ARGO

This movie was INTENSE, especially considering we all knew the ending going into the film. I knew they were going to make it, but I was still gripping my armrests throughout the airport finale. This is a testament to Ben Affleck’s directing prowess. This should be nominated for Best Picture come awards time.

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5. THE AVENGERS

Best comic book movie of all-time.

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4. CABIN IN THE WOODS

Best horror-comedy of all-time. This is the second Joss Whedon film on here. The writing in this one is absolutely amazing. The final 20 minutes of monsters are not to be missed.

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3. SKYFALL

Sam Mendes went and made the best damn Bond movie out there. The only thing I could complain about is that I didn’t really like the opening credits, but everything else is damn near perfect. My favorite Bond film is still View To A Kill though. 😀

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2. DJANGO UNCHAINED

This is probably Tarantino’s most entertaining film that he’s made. I enjoyed it more than Inglourious Basterds and that’s saying something. I was never really uncomfortable with the content, but there was a black woman behind me in the theater that laughed hysterically as the white characters were systematically killed off. THAT made me a bit uncomfortable.

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1. CLOUD ATLAS

Are you cynical? Did you just cynically deny it? GO SEE THIS MOVIE. This movie is like a 3-hour dose of hope and love straight to your heart. The idealism through this film is amazing. Even when things are going bad, the characters stay hopeful and do their best to make the best of things. The visuals in this movie are also astounding (which is why I used the picture from my favorite scene of the film). The Wachowski’s delivered again and I hope this movie builds a cult following on DVD and Blu-Ray because it truly deserves it.

If a movie you wanted to be on the list wasn’t, it’s probably because I’m poor and didn’t see it. Holy Motors, Les Mis, etc…would fit into that category.

Praying for Pixie Dust. #LiveWonderstruck

I’ve been reading the first few chapters of Margaret Feinberg’s “Wonderstruck” over the past few weeks, and there is a passage in one of the chapters that has stuck out to me more than the rest of them have.

I felt the iron weight of the pause as I grasped for the perfect way to express what I desired from God. I took a deep breath and plunged. “This sounds strange,” I apologized, “but I’m praying for pixie dust.” I might as well have vacuumed all the air out of the room. While a few stared uncomfortably at me, more than a dozen eyes darted back and forth in an almost unanimous expression: what have we gotten ourselves into? I kept talking. “More than anything, what I long for is our God, the One who bedazzled the heavens and razzle-dazzled the earth, to meet us in such a way during our time in Scotland that we find ourselves awestruck by his goodness and generosity, his provision and presence. I’m praying for pixie dust. I want to leave here with a sense of wonderment as we encounter and experience things only God can do.”

I’ve been in a place where I’ve been angry with God about a multitude of things. Angry seems a bit strong of a word… I’ve been frustrated. Things have gone wrong. Prayers have gone unanswered. So I’ve found myself in a place of ambivalence with God. I still believe in Him, I know He’s real, and I love Him, but I’m not subscribed to the rituals of Bible reading, church going, and generally spending time with him. I figured, if he wasn’t going to meet me halfway, I wasn’t going to visit him at all. I was in a place where I continued to believe that there was some secret formula/action I needed to complete for Him to love me and value me like other, better, Christians (I still struggle with this).

These chapters in Margaret’s new book have really given me a new way of looking at the whole relationship that God and I have. I want to be wonderstruck. It’s because of this want that I’ve since taken to praying for pixie dust. I want to be amazed at God’s creation. I want to know that I matter, that he sees me, and that I’m loved. I don’t want the distanced relationship of the past; I’m in the pews and He’s in the sky. I want the awe and wonder of knowing the creator of the universe loves ME, and that there’s nothing I can do to change that.

I can’t wait for Margaret’s book to finally be released later this month. Here’s some more information about it and ways you can get involved/earn prizes for pre-ordering!

Follow Margaret’s snarky, funny, and inspirational posts on Twitter, Facebook, or her blog. You can learn more about this great book by visiting www.margaretfeinberg.com/wonderstruck where she’s offering some crazy promos right now with up to $300 of free stuff. I’ve seen the book for as low as $7.57 ($14.99 retail) on Barnes & Noble for all you savvy shoppers.

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Killing Them Softly: The Hopeless Machine

Killing-Them-Softly-banner-premiereKilling Them Softly is a lesson in the mechanics of hope.

Throughout the film (which takes place in 2008) you hear speeches from George W. Bush and Barack Obama in varying moods. They talk about the economy. They talk about the nation. They talk about how united the country is and how everyone has an opportunity to succeed with the help of their countrymen. Brad Pitt’s character, Jackie, doesn’t believe this one bit. Neither do any of the other characters in the film. They are hardened and cynical and believe that the world is very dog-eat-dog. You gotta take what you want to get it. This mood is only juxtaposed by the speeches.

This is a movie about hope, and the places where it doesn’t exist.

Jackie, Mickey (James Gandolfini), and Markie (Ray Liotta) all know how this world works and don’t have time for any other bullshit that someone may spout to them. Jackie is called into the city to kill the people involved with knocking off a high-stakes backroom card game held by Markie. Thing is, Markie has robbed his own game before, so everyone is going to think it’s him again. These two kids, Frankie and Russell, knock it off and take the money and run, but Russell shoots his mouth off to the wrong person. This leads to the whole problem of who has to die.

Brad Pitt, as well as everyone else, play their parts brilliantly. There’s plenty of morbid comic-relief throughout the film. Everyone laughs out of the sheer absurdity of the situations and the conversations. The cinematography is also phenomenal. There’s a death scene in this movie that’s like watching poetry in motion. Super-slow, super-high detail, multiple angles; it’s wonderful.

Finally, this movie has one of the best abrupt endings I’ve seen, in recent memory. Abrupt endings are hard to do right, but they nail it here.

All in all this film gets a 4/5 for me. Some parts drag, but the majority of the movie is totally worth it. Go see it!