The Review Roundup – October 2017

As per my last post, I have kept my promise of having this ‘impressions roundup’ at the end of this month. I am aware that the title says otherwise, but I appreciate alliteration. ūüôā

Anyways, welcome back! With this being my first year in university, I don’t think I should be surprised at the heap of literature that currently clutters my desk. The bi-daily posts earlier this month was likely an indicator to that, but you may be surprised to discover that my readings had actually slowed down following my look at Look Back in Anger and The Prisoner of Zenda. There is still much to get through, but I will promise that each piece I look at will not take up an enormous span of your time.

Here’s how this is going to work: as with the last few impressions, I will list some overall opinions on each piece, trying to give some positives and negatives as well. While virtually the same as my last several posts, this format will be briefer. I also will be covering the pieces from said posts, but do not worry. I hate to leave out suspense, but for your pleasure, I will give a list before I delve into the meat of this roundup. Matter of fact, here it is!

  • Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden (novel)
  • The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (novella)
  • Blade Runner 2049 (film)
  • Burmese Days by George Orwell (novel)
  • The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope (novella)
  • Look Back in Anger by John Osborne (play)
  • The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter (play)
  • Top Girls by Caryl Churchill (play)
  • It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis (novel)

Before I begin with this list, you can probably see the lopsided nature of its composition. There’s only one film here, and the backend of this list is heavy with plays. I should also add that there can and will be a variety of other pieces from different mediums; I just didn’t happen to play any new video games this month or watch any television either… Not that I even watch television.

Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden

Some context: I had to pick out a book for a novel study in my Canadian History class and this one had a premise that seemed interesting enough. It is a sniper story between two Indigenous brothers during WWI and Goodreads was giving me good vibes. (Pro-Tip: never gauge an opinion off of Goodreads. Beowulf is not bad because you forced yourself to read it in high school.)

Now, I should start off by saying that this novel is enthralling. It will make you uncomfortable at how raw and blunt its language is; it will make you see the ugly side of strained relationships and the downfall of character. I should make it clear that this novel did not feel biased on my reading, so the reasons for the above points are due to how strong this novel’s narrative is. The lack of fear in this novel’s writing is easily its strongest feature and one that made me stop reading momentarily in partial disgust. The main characters are also well-realized, each serving their role and not entirely reflecting the viewpoint the reader may find themselves in.

If you are looking for an academic read, Three Day Road is not a novel for you. Simply put, this novel is for the experience and excitement of reading. Its plot may also feel cyclical at times, but this is a minor gripe in comparison with the other storytelling elements that will grasp your attention instead. The first-person recollective narrative may also throw some off, but that comes down to preference in the end.

An article on Joseph Boyden by Historica Canada can be found here.

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

The original impression post can be found here.

My opinion on The Thirty-Nine Steps has not changed much since my initial reading. The spy-thriller on the doorsteps of WWI is a story that will keep you entertained through its fast-paced plot. There is a sense of adventure in this novella, with much of it coming through its protagonist and the adverse situations he faces. There are curveballs thrown around every corner, which kept me reading until to the end.

However, the limiting factor of this novella is its status as a pioneer of the spy thriller genre. Depending on your exposure to it, this story may seem rather bare, becoming a slog to get through as a result. More importantly are the characters, which do not serve to amend this issue. They are not easily attachable, and character development is nonexistent. This may sever a reader’s connection, especially if one’s goal in reading is to be invested in a story.

An article on John Buchan by Historica Canada can be found here.

Blade Runner 2049

The original impression post can be found here.

What a phenomenal film. I know my post on it was complete gushing, but intellectual sci-fi is awesome. Blade Runner 2049 is for people who loved the original film for its look at humanity. It’s for those who want a sequel that respects the original film and builds off of it logically. This film is aesthetically pleasing, boasting hauntingly beautiful visuals and a moody score.

Some issues one may have with this film is its runtime. Three hours for a film that isn’t fast-paced could kill one’s enjoyment of this film, but expectation could be the other killer. This film is not action-driven, not even to the extent of the original film. This film also requires your attention, as it does not hold your hand through exposition. By and large, whether this film surpasses the original is all up to the viewer.

A website for the movie can be found here.

Burmese Days by George Orwell

The original impression post can be found here.

As this novel is based on Orwell’s experiences in the British Raj, Burmese Days can be called personal in its depiction of Imperial Burma. The smaller viewpoint of one man gives this novel a unique perspective and one that isn’t afraid to incite controversy with its reader. The protagonist grounds this novel in a degree of sympathy, yet makes it very despicable at the same time.

Criticisms may be leveled at this novel’s repetition in its theme and character exploration, but this may have been done intentionally. The lives of these British colonists are dull, and for some stretches, the novel shifts focus away from its [more] sympathetic protagonist to other characters, which can cause pacing to be uneven at times. Going in with the impression that this novel is another¬†1984 can also be detrimental to your enjoyment of it, but note that this novel does have quite a few parallels to Orwell’s later work that should be quite apparent.

A biography on George Orwell by the BBC can be found here.

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

The original impression post can be found here.

This Ruritanian romance of swashbuckling adventure and identity changes is an enjoyable and highly entertaining tale, just as it was when I initially read it. The Prisoner of Zenda is unique in that it feels like a fairy tale told as in an adult novella, with murder and politics involved in its plotline of high romantics. As with The Thirty-Nine Steps, this novella is a quick read, and its events take place at a quickened pace that will be likely to keep you interested to the end.

However, in another vein that is similar to The Thirty-Nine Steps, this novella is a pioneer for the Ruritanian romance genre. If you have read plenty of novel’s with high romance with identity changes and royalty, this novella may appear as a drag. This is not helped in part by the frontloaded plot here, where exposition establishes characters and setting before letting them loose for your reading pleasures. To add to that, the characters present are fleshed out, but not much is in the way of drama or development, despite the implications that these characters grow and bond through the various situations contained in this novella’s pages.

As much as I would love to provide a link to a more ‘official’ website, there isn’t much in the way of Hope. Instead, a biography on Anthony Hope by¬†Encyclop√¶dia Britannica can be found here.

Look Back in Anger by John Osborne

The original impression post can be found here.

If investigating social issues during the twentieth century (that are still relevant today) is your forte, Look Back in Anger is a play that will intrigue you. It is intentionally provocative, calling feminism, nostalgia, and education into question in the post-WWII era in Britain. This play defied British theatre in its realism, showing characters who are not romanticized and characters who are all flawed.

If you like plays for wit or escapism, Look Back in Anger may not be what you’re looking for. You will see the aforementioned social issues on center-stage, and they will make you uncomfortable and may even give off a sense of deep controversy and anger. Whether or not the play will do this or even fascinate you is entirely dependant on why you read or watch plays, so keep that in mind if you decide to explore the issues that theatre can brilliantly present.

As much as I would love to provide a link to a more ‘official’ website, there isn’t much in the way of Osborne. Instead, a biography on John Osborne by¬†Encyclop√¶dia Britannica can be found here.

The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter

If Look Back in Anger sounds deadpan on its themes, it may be reassuring to know that The Birthday Party is instead more about the experience of theatre rather than the issues it brings up. This play is not violent or grotesque in a sense, but it is terrifying. Important character motivations and backstories are hidden behind subtle hints and potentially fabricated truths, making this play a story that leads itself into unexpected turns. Pinter’s story is rather straightforward at the same time, with fewer characters giving a more surreal and claustrophobic atmosphere.

If I am to be as honest as possible, I can say that this play did not leave as large of an impact as I thought it would have. I am sure I have missed something, but its themes of truth, nostalgia, and sex are very relevant to its pages, but not on a larger scale that adresses society as Look Back in Anger had done. This play may also confuse you if you like your stories to be more concrete, but there is enough implied to potentially fill in the blanks.

Harold Pinter’s website can be found here.

Top Girls by Caryl Churchill

Yet another play, Top Girls is one that I think one will either love or put down. This play explores feminism in a uniquely unique way (yes), with its first acts being one of the most cohesive ways to explore the history of women [while also intentionally breaking immersion]. I will not spoil it here but know that so much is compared and contrasted in terms of history, and its beautifully done. The play is also no stranger to being provocative, giving off an almost eerie and surreal vibe in its second and third act as characters leave darker implications that do not sugarcoat feminism. This is done with themes of maturity, hate, and possible murder giving this play a flavour of discomfort that goes beyond the surface level.

If you like your stories to not surprise you in ways that will make you uncomfortable, I do not recommend reading this play. I can now see why high school teachers only teach Shakespeare, as this play is beautiful and haunting at the same time. It is certainly heavier than Look Back in Anger, even daring to excessively swear and disturb you with grotesque imagery. If you also like stories to wrap up nicely at the end, Top Girls is rather open-ended in both plot and in answering the questions it poses on feminism. This is due to the plot not being told in a linear fashion, which may end up disappointing you.

I should say that this play is one I really liked, and out of all three plays above, I would reccomend reading this one above all. It is facinating, and not very long either.

Caryl Churchill can be found on the British Council’s Literature website here.

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Hey, a dystopian novel!

It Can’t Happen Here is a novel that aims to address its own title. The idea of fascism in the United States during the Great Depression: certainly, it can’t happen here? I will not go into that topic, but the regime this novel presents is very clearly and vividly realized. If you were ever curious to how an American-specific regime would function and affect its citizens, this novel does not disappoint. All the technicalities are accounted for, making the dystopian part of this novel work brilliantly and even being contemporary in some manners.

I know this novel is liked by many and spiked in sales recently, but I do have one gripe with it: I found it dull. The novel’s ultimate falling is its narrative, with characters that muddle together, and an everyman protagonist that serves his purpose and nothing more. The plot is also filled with rugged pacing that is very slow to begin with, and is uneven by the end. The lack of a dramatic arc made it hard to be invested in this novel, although this improves in its second half as the brutality of the government becomes more apparent and fully realized. The writing is also dry, making this novel feel more technical than it should be with the exception of a few odd chapters, that almost make this novel feel very inconsistent, but not quite so.

An article on Sinclair Lewis by the website of the Nobel Prize can be found here.

***

I hope you enjoyed this post, and I hope I did not anger any of you if I expressed too much negativity at any one piece. There was a lot to cover for this month, but I can guarantee that the next one will be a little lighter. If you have not heard of many of these pieces, I recommend experimenting with them. I had no idea I would enjoy a play on feminism as much as I did, or that I would find an American dystopian novel to be dull.

If I am to give an update on how my university experience is going so far, I will say that it is going steadily so far. In particular, I am enjoying my International Studies class, where we look at the world through the scope of geography, history, anthropology/culture, economics, and political science. I am very much looking forward to learning and reading much more, and I will be sure to make another life post like the one I did about my experience in the Air Cadet program on my entire first year when that comes around.

As always, keep reading, watching, and playing! You never know what you’ll like, and experience isn’t to be spent on a rail. ūüôā

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A Gears of War Trilogy Retrospect

Day 19 technically speaking, and now we come to a new post. After the blowout that was my Halo 5 review, (and its followup) I am deciding to do a sort of series retrospect on another video game franchise that coincidentally changed huge titles and is also exclusive to Xbox. Games like Mass Effect and The Division have emulated the gameplay of this series, and it has defined modern third-person shooters. I could drive the suspense further, but it is Gears of War.

My experience with it begun with the third game in the series back in 2011, but to deter from confusion, I will begin with the first one.

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Gears of War is a phenomenal game. The campaign throws everything it has against the player in a variety of situations, and the game flows seamlessly from level-to-level. It is one of few games I can say I would love to play straight through for that reason alone, but this game is also difficult. Too many games cater to a general audience, but this one knows that immersion must be linked with a game that is both balanced and against you. This game is not here to deliver a story that needs to be told or to impress you with its graphics either. It has both of those, but this game knows that its first priority is to entertain the player.

This is one of the things I appreciate most about Gears of War. Its story only serves as a way to progress through the game, with a likable ensemble of characters as well. It adds a taste of horror here and there, but it is nothing to talk about. Ultimately, the plot only exists as an excuse to kill a plethora of monsters, which is one point I love about this franchise.

The Locust Horde are great antagonists, and Epic Games knows how to do enemy variety. It is baffling that so many games find that giving the same enemy a different gun or more armour is good enough for another enemy class, but¬†Gears of War¬†gets creative with it. It is a shooter with bosses that work, and enemies ranging from the equal-footed Drones to the horrifying Berserker. They act differently and attempt strategy such as flanking players, flushing them out, and taking cover from a variety of angles. The series’ AI has only improved since 2006, and I commend them for something that many other shooters have ignored.

Multiplayer is something that I have never entirely gotten into as much as other franchises such as¬†Halo, but this game fills its own niche. The sheer variety of weapons that all function in unique ways makes every encounter unexpected and the cover-based mechanics add a layer of strategic depth and an element of suspense that is both methodical and very unique to¬†Gears of War. 5v5 may be a little small for those coming off of every other huge shooter, but it works well for¬†Gears’¬†team-oriented gameplay that suits cooperative and competitive play immensely.

The game also has excellent set pieces that add extra memorability to its campaign, a tense score that adds to the idea that you are in a mad world, and the graphics tell a world of ‘destroyed beauty.’ And before we head on to¬†Gears of War 2, please take a look at this trailer.

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Gears of War 2 is one of those sequels that attempts to 1-up its predecessor, but here it is done very well. The stakes are larger, the scope is bigger, the combat is more epic, and the story is filled with far more drama. Above all, it is a great continuation of a great franchise.

In terms of gameplay,¬†Gears 2¬†does not remove anything the first game had, but instead it adds far more. We now have flamethrowers, heavy weapons, and an ink grenade to boot against a far more lethal Locust Horde. New enemy types are introduced on top of existing ones, and they compliment encounters and each other to create new challenges that could not have existed in the first game. There are still more intimate sections like the first game, but set-pieces that feature dozens of enemies in the thick of war make this game far more expansive. The pacing may not be as fluid due to some slower moments in the story and a final act that drags a bit, but the story now has actual character motivation and development, as well as very personal moments with one, in particular, being the pinnacle of ‘sad moments’ that this series has seen.

One of my favourite new additions to the series is Horde mode, however. It can be called the forefather of modern PvE survival modes, as is made fun with¬†Gears of War’s¬†unique foes and excellent map designs that make each consecutive wave feel like a struggle for survival with your back against the wall with your friends. I have heard that multiplayer suffers from netcode issues, but I did not play¬†Gears 2¬†in its heyday so I cannot judge it for this, unfortunately.

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Gears of War 3 was my first Gears of War game, and I can say that it holds up as a sequel to Gears 2. Arenas are bigger and encounters involve more enemies, and the stakes are held higher as well. While this may seem like the franchise is trying to 1-up itself yet again, Gears 3 does not have the epic story of its predecessor. Instead, it tries to tell a story full of emotion and loss.

While it works, I feel as if¬†Gears 3¬†is a bit distracted in its setting and its tone strays away from the gritty tale of survival in a mad world to instead emphasise on a story of family. The ensemble cast is doubled and feels a bit cluttered in comparison to¬†Gears 1¬†and¬†2’s¬†intimacy, which is true for both gameplay and story. A whole new class of enemy is introduced, called the Lambent. These enemies are very fun and are an interesting spin on the Locust Horde but in terms of encounters they did not receive the same kind of dynamic increase that existed from¬†Gears 1¬†to¬†2. This is not a bad thing, but it is worth pointing out.

The campaign does not have any weak points unlike¬†Gears 2¬†this time around, and the final act is as epic and climactic as it should be. The colour spectrum of this game is also bustling with a range that the last two games did not have, and it goes beyond ‘destroyed beauty.’ The score compliments action and story beats as well, and the¬†Gears¬†arsenal is expanded with many inclusions including a machine gun that rips apart enemies as well as a massive sword that slashes foes in half.

Horde mode and competitive Versus modes are expanded immensely in Gears 3, with the new Beast mode that allows you to play as Locust monsters. Fortifications add a new layer of strategy into Horde mode alongside boss waves, and Versus has been refined to a pinch. That is perhaps my favourite part of Gears of War: it does not need to change itself to be fresh. Unlike Call of Duty, though, it does not remain so familiar that a new game is redundant.

Gears is Gears, and it knows how to improve itself and increase its excellence. It is a game that has been replicated too many times, and one that has set the standard for third-person shooters.

How Good are the Ender’s Game Sequels?

Day 14¬†is upon us, and we are now halfway through the week. Yesterday’s post was much longer than I expected for one of these weekday posts, but now I want to shift back to a shorter post and a change in plans from what I originally planned to post for today. There has been an onslaught of analysis from me, and I want to change that to a pseudo-review of sorts to answer one question.

Of course, you probably know what it is judging by the title.

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If you are familiar with the first novel in the Ender series, (or at least its movie adaptation) I would assume that you would have liked it as a fun novel that is both timeless, mature, and tragic in its decent throughout its story. Ender is a sort of outcast in society, but he is extremely exceptional at strategy and is forced to adapt and overcome his peers and teachers as they provide unexpected challenges that nearly push Ender over the edge. The film shies away from the amount of violence in the novel, but Ender is forced to murder others in order to survive as a child. It ends with Ender realizing that these simulations were not a game and that he had just wiped out an alien race that seemed hellbent on humanities eradication.

Later, he learns they were only trying to understand mankind. He finds the last of their kind and vows to go on a journey across space to reclaim their race.

Ender’s Game¬†stands as an excellent (albeit casual) read for those wanting something more than merely entertaining. Orson Scott Card balances a psychological drama with a militaristic overtone. The theme of friendship also hangs over the novel, and Ender’s struggles are gripping in an unwelcoming world. Although the majority of characters are children (with Ender being six in the beginning of the novel) their vast intelligence does not come across as left-field, but it makes these characters far more relatable in a situation that they should not be in. The human-versus-alien element is also a plot point that very subtly drives the plot, but it is not the emotional core of it. Were it not for the cliffhanger ending, this novel could have been its own self-contained masterpiece on the same level as the original¬†Star Wars.

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I have talked about how the ‘Piggies’ are an amazing alien race in¬†Speaker for the Dead, but how does it follow up to¬†Ender’s Game?

For starters, this seems like a very unlikely sequel to the original novel on paper. Instead of some story about a conflict erupting in humanity’s early colonies and Ender coming back to save the day, this novel sets itself thousands of years into the future. Ender has remained alive due to relativity and serves as the Speaker for the Dead in order to… speak on behalf of the dead and showcase their accomplishments. It follows a broken family of a single mother and her six children on the edge of the galaxy, as their world is plagued by a strange virus and an alien race that seems uncertain in intent. The novel is also very much¬†hardcore¬†science-fiction and delves deep into biology. Many of the main characters are xenobiologists, and they carry a large portion of the novel with or without Ender.

Despite the drastic changes,¬†Speaker for the Dead¬†is an¬†excellent¬†sequel to¬†Ender’s Game. This is due to Ender’s role in the story, which serves as a reflection for the previous novel and develops him in this unfamiliar world where he does not have a place in. The aspects of military and strategy from the first novel may be absent, but the novel goes into far more interesting places in regards to its themes of family, xenophobia, and even love in some regards. It is far more heavy-handed than¬†Ender’s Game, but not to the extent that its themes reek of trite.

There is a cliffhanger ending again, where a fleet of ships is coming to their world to destroy it due to the virus and the threat that looms over all of humanity.

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Next, comes a behemoth of a novel, and one that is far more unappealing to the casual reader than Speaker for the Dead.

Xenocide¬†is a direct sequel to the previous book (unlike¬†Ender’s Game) and deals with the same characters, themes, and plot points from the last novel. Philosophy is also a¬†giant¬†aspect of this novel’s plot, and there can be massive sections where characters sit down and talk about the universe. Its pace is much slower, and Ender has been sidelined in favour of his family and new characters on an Asian colony (in a sort of B-plot). They are super-intelligent human beings, but unable to unshackle¬†themselves from their love of their gods (actually the government) as a result of extreme obsessive-compulsive disorder. The B-plot features a very human drama between Han Fei-tzu, his tragic daughter Han Qing-jao, and their exceptionally bright commoner Si Wang-mu. Their contrast and discovery of their genetic modifications is what sticks out in¬†Xenocide, and is one of the novel’s saving graces.

While I certainly do not think¬†Xenocide¬†is a bad novel, it has intelligent thoughts riddled in a mediocre plot. A heavy Catholic overtone may be jarring when compared to¬†Ender’s Game¬†and¬†Speaker for the Dead, as well as its ideas of the ‘outside’ of the universe. Both of these are without a doubt essential for the plot to function, they are explored in so much detail that¬†Xenocide¬†feels more like 600 pages of ideas rather than plot.

Unlike the other two novels,¬†the upcoming one was supposed to be the ending for¬†Xenocide¬†but was cut and stretched out for a fourth and final novel dealing with Ender’s journey.

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Children of the Mind¬†is my least favourite of the¬†Ender¬†novels, but it is still an intelligent novel just like its predecessors. It may not be as philosophical as¬†Xenocide, as psychological as¬†Ender’s Game, or as emotional as¬†Speaker for the Dead, but there is enough of a driving force to justify a fourth novel.

As I mentioned before, there is a virus that threatens humanity (and is also much further analysed and elaborated on in¬†Xenocide) and in this novel, they are taken even further with a certain element of intrigue. They are revealed to be an intelligent lifeform and created by a mysterious race that we only get a glimpse of in the midst of this novel. The dramatic element comes from Ender’s ‘AI’ named Jane, who relies on computers to store her mind. As each is shut down to stop her and Ender’s crew, she is dying and it is portrayed beautifully in this novel. Imagery is clear and powerful, and her relationship transcends from Ender to all of humanity. While the outcome of the impending threat to their world is in order, her story arc is what drives the novel and keeps it from the dust.

One issue I have is the treatment of Ender, who dies merely halfway into the novel. The character is sidelined and his role is diminished (as¬†Xenocide¬†did to a lesser extent) leaving his death unceremonious until the end. The other characters are just as strong as they were in the previous novel, and the B-story is also shut down in favour of world-building that feels rather clunky. Each world feels like a nation of our world, each having its own ethnicity, culture, and traditions that have stark comparisons from one another. The way that the novel deals with the threat of destruction for the main characters also feels anti-climactic and ‘too easy,’ which ultimately detracts from everything from¬†Speaker for the Dead¬†to this point ever so slightly.

While there are¬†much¬†more novels in the¬†Ender¬†universe, I have only read¬†Ender’s Shadow, which is parallel to the original story from Bean’s point-of-view. It keeps the values of¬†Ender’s Game¬†intact, and may even be just as good as. While I have not read any of its sequels and prequels (as well) to¬†Ender’s Game, I can say that the quartet of novels above are a great attempt squandered by its ending. It had the potential to be the¬†Star Wars¬†of books, but drastic changes and alienation are what keep it from reaching it.

And with that, we come to a close for today. I know I said today would be shorter, but I can see I was wrong about that. Tomorrow will move back towards analysis, and the weekend will kick off in that fashion as well. I apologize for some errors that may be in this post, but I was tired when writing it. Eleven more days remain until these posts or done, and until a very special time of the year.

I will see you then. ūüôā

 

Halo 5: Guardians: A Review

(WARNING: Halo 5 spoilers ahead!)

Perhaps¬†day 9¬†may not seem like a day for a special blog post, but today’s serving is one that is long overdue. If there are problems with storytelling that expand tenfold in one product, you can bet that¬†Halo 5: Guardians¬†has the goods. I can even say that this game may have inspired the blog to be created in one aspect or another, but why would a review of a game from last year be necessary? What can I have to offer your eyes in a splendor of critical words?

Truth be told, this may be the longest post on this blog.¬†Halo 5¬†is a game where issues and decisions go beyond simple storytelling, so I will be reviewing the¬†entire¬†game to the best of my ability. You may want to get a snack or drink or take breaks for the long haul. We’re going to dissect this giant that I consider the most divisive¬†Halo¬†game, in my opinion.

First, some background details.

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Halo 4¬†was the first game in the franchise developed by 343 Industries, which was created to helm the¬†Halo¬†franchise following Bungie’s departure to go off into a new frontier. They left the franchise with their ‘Magnus opus’ of sorts,¬†Halo: Reach. At this point, there were many people who were divided by this game. Many called the campaign the best in the series, some absolutely despised it. Some fell in love with the sheer variety and polish in its multiplayer, some hated it for intruding on¬†Halo’s¬†nailed-down formula and slower pace. While¬†Halo Reach¬†is my least favourite¬†Halo¬†game as a result of the negative points listed above, I felt that it is an amazing game brought down by numerous small flaws that all add up to the end.

So, what does this have to do with Halo 4?

Instead of bringing the franchise to its roots,¬†Halo 4¬†strayed away in an effort to appease to fans of more casual games such as¬†Call of Duty. Instead of evolving¬†Halo’s¬†formula, it modernized it. I do think¬†Halo 4¬†did a reasonable job at doing this, but care-packages and kill-streaks are not the reason why we play¬†Halo. The campaign has an¬†amazing¬†story as well, full of drama and actual character development for its characters. However, it is true that the use of material from the expanded universe, as well as its tone, may be rough adjustments to those just jumping on board from¬†Halo 3¬†or¬†Halo Reach. Maybe the game does not have as much comedy as people are used to, the art style may be too detached from Bungie’s work, or the soundtrack may have too many electronic elements as opposed to the now-absent ethereal chants of old. And furthermore, the game does not address the issues of¬†Halo Reach¬†in ways appropriate ways.

Halo 4¬†is¬†very¬†fast paced, and loadouts further harm¬†Halo’s¬†established formula. While I do consider this game a guilty pleasure of mine, I will recognize that objectively it is not the path in which 343i should have taken the franchise.

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Does Halo 5 take Halo into a meaningful new light and bring glory not felt since Halo was the king of FPS?

From the above piece of concept art, we can see a direction that is a shadow of where the story could have gone. A reflection of the Master Chief in this unknown Spartan lost in the desert of an alien world. They would be affiliated with the shrouded organization that is ONI, and this story would perhaps not be as black-and-white as before. This is further reflected in the advertising campaign for¬†Halo 5, as we question the Master Chief and his actions as this new Spartan is hunting him down. Like¬†Halo 2, we would see the story from a different perspective, but this time it would be two sides of the same coin. How is the death of Cortana affecting the Chief? How does this new Spartan compare and contrast with him? How will this game expand on the state of the universe, with the Forerunner’s awakening from their ancient slumber?

Hunt the Truth¬†is one of the best advertising campaigns I have had the pleasure of experiencing, and the audio drama format worked spectacularly for fan service and buildup to the game’s launch. Is the hero a traitor? The Chief’s longtime allies of Blue Team would be present in this game? Buck will be returning as a Spartan, along with the Arbiter?

In theory, Halo 5 had everything going for its story. It had such a wide canvass to delve into and could have been the best thing ever seen in the franchise. Sadly, it squandered in this opportunity.

To date, Halo 5 has the worst story in any Halo game to date, and there is plenty of reason for that.

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Halo 5 almost completely disregards and/or throws away all developing plot-points to this point, and makes a complete left turn out of nowhere.

One fatal flaw was to bring¬†Cortana back, even if it is only a fragment of her former self. Not to simply bring back a character with such an impactful death scene for both players and with an in-universe context, but to completely assassinate her entire development from 2001. As the game’s main antagonist, she takes advantage of Blue Team and the Chief’s trust, plunges the setting into a totalitarian state, and kills millions of innocent people¬†to simply awaken the Forerunner constructs known as the Guardians. She also commences an AI rebellion, which is a very overused trope that is not done tastefully here and frankly comes from nowhere. Both the games and the expanded universe do not touch the concept of an AI uprising and have always showcased the symbiotic relationship between man and machine. It betrays¬†Halo’s¬†development and twists its fundamental core to tell a story that is clich√©, left-field, and misled by its marketing.

From the above image, you can see a Forerunner construct called the Warden Eternal. While introducing such a character is not a bad idea on paper, his execution leaves plenty to be desired. His background is not delved into (and instead lightly teased) and instead of meaningful interactions with the main characters, he only insults with his ego and acts as a shield and puppet for Cortana and plot progression. He also serves as a reminder of the Didact (from Halo 4) and how 343i has forgotten about him outside of two mentions.

Another negative point is the death of the Covenant leader Jul ‘Mdama. While the character may have an uneven development from novel-to-game-to-comic-to-game, he is ultimately killed in the first mission to cut the plot point of the resurgent Covenant out of the universe completely. Spartan Locke (the game’s main protagonist) kills him in a way that makes the character seem weak and a ‘derpy villain.’ This death is very indicative of how other cut plotlines are treated, and also¬†Halo 5‘s¬†aimless direction. The writers almost treat major¬†Halo¬†games like the¬†Avengers¬†films, instead of actual sequels that act as progression for its story and instead have 90-degree turns.

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For casual fans, the inclusion of Blue Team may seem confusing for some. Who are these Spartan’s, how do they relate to the Chief, and why have they not been seen until now in the games?

Sadly,¬†Halo 5¬†does next to nothing in explaining who these characters are, and relies on your experience with the novels to get the most out of the game. The expanded universe should act as a way to extend on your enjoyment of the game, and should not be required as I have said many times on this blog. To give credit where credit is due, I do believe that each one of these character’s armours are some of the best 343i have made, and their voice actors did quite a phenomenal job with what material they had to work with.

On the other hand, lore fans who have clamored for these characters to appear in this game had their hopes crushed. This is due to Blue Team only appearing in a staggering three missions out of fifteen. This game is called Halo 5 and is not a spinoff. The main character of the franchise does not have to steal the show, but he should receive the bulk of attention and development, especially after what work Halo 4  had done. Halo 5 does attempt to acknowledge the Master Chief as a broken man, but there is so little screen time and little-to-no meaningful interactions with the rest of Blue Team. The reasoning for these characters going against their orders also has no consequence, as they make up with Fireteam Osiris in the end.

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On the flipside, we have Fireteam Osiris. These are the true main protagonists of Halo 5, and my opinion of them is a bit more favourable than that of Blue Team.

While I do not particularly find these characters interesting, the theme of family is well-conveyed through some subtle development throughout the game, although there isn’t enough breathing room for it to come out for those who want to see the natural progression of their development. Instead, it shows its stages.

As the game’s main protagonist, Spartan Locke is not a bad character. He does have an aspect of professionalism, but not enough is done with the character and most of it comes across as potential areas for greater characterization. Tanaka and Vale are both decent, and Buck feels more like Nathan Fillion rather than Buck from¬†Halo 3: ODST.

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In terms of plot, Halo 5 is weak throughout and really lacks the substance in character moments and breathing room that Halo 4 had. The one exception to this rule is the missions on Sanghelios, which are more detached from the main plot and are vastly enjoyable compared to it.

For starters, the Arbiter returns with Keith David voice acting him. The emotional tension of brothers fighting against each other and tired of it is brought to the forefront, and these missions look the part. We get a look into Sangheili culture and ancient history, and it feels like a logical showcase off of previous games in the series.

I also believe this is a good segway into gameplay, as we can talk about¬†Halo 5’s¬†story forever. In short, it assassinates many previous plot elements of¬†Halo¬†in very disrespectful ways, ignores its own potential, misleads players with its marketing, and puts¬†Halo¬†into a state that is forced and clich√©. 343i has written themselves into a corner, and it will take careful treading to get out of this unfortunate situation for the franchise.

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I will summarize campaign gameplay in one paragraph: it’s fun, but does not break the mold in any groundbreaking ways. Co-op gameplay is a major focus in its campaign, as there will always be four Spartans in one mission. (Despite the highly unfortunate removal of split-screen for 60 frames per second) Level design is linear, but with more open spaces in some cases and can be fun if not centred on infantry combat. The length of the campaign leaves much more to be desired, and encounters with Prometheans could be more dynamic to spice up gameplay. All in all,¬†Halo 5¬†does have a fun campaign, but it does not come across as terribly memorable.

Multiplayer is split into two core modes in¬†Halo 5: Arena and Warzone. The latter is all-new, while Arena is the familiar¬†Halo¬†gameplay to be found here. Unlike¬†Halo 4,¬†Halo 5¬†does away with its catering to casuals, and instead feels like a more logical modernization of¬†Halo’s¬†core formula. Loadouts are replaced with fixed spawns, game modes work the way you remember them, and gameplay feels like a faster paced¬†Halo 2 with its new Spartan Abilities. These range from sprint (which is done far more favourably in this game) to thrusters, which add a unique flavour to combat that is welcome. Gunplay is also far more balanced than it has ever been, with weapon and vehicle variety higher than ever and keeping each weapon and vehicle unique and function differently from one another.¬†Halo 4¬†had issues in keeping this with a smaller sandbox, so it is commendable that¬†Halo 5’s¬†core gameplay is versatile and functions at a¬†very¬†high quality.

The one fatal counter to this is maps and modes, unfortunately.¬†Halo 5¬†has had ten free updates that have added a plethora of content (unlike the map packs of old) but this still remains an issue. Compared to even¬†Halo 4, there are considerably fewer game modes to choose from, and map layout suffers from repetition in design philosophy. Big Team Battle also suffers from the faster pace in combat, rendering vehicles and range mute. While there is a wide variety of maps, most of them are too widely spread out and makes¬†Halo 5’s¬†Arena multiplayer feel thinner than it should.

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On the other hand, Halo 5 has an all-new mode that feels fully fleshed out and acts as a great concept supported with tweaks that have improved it immensely since launch. Warzone is a PvPvE mode, with the PvP-oriented Warzone Assault and PvE-oriented Warzone Firefight acting as excellent companions with their own rules, maps, and experiences. Warzone is the boldest feature of Halo 5, with 24 players fighting amongst each other with access to the complete arsenal of Halo 5. Maps are designed uniquely from one another unlike Arena, and for such an insane mode balance has been kept intact for the most part.

One issue stems from how you get your arsenal, however, and this is the REQ system. You can call in your own weapons, vehicles, and power-ups at your leisure as long as you have the right REQ card, and in order to get these there is a micro-transaction system. While REQ packs can be obtained through in-game currency, it is much faster to pay in actual dollars which should not be in a triple-A title such as Halo 5. For Arena, the REQ system only translates to cosmetics, but for Warzone it translates to gameplay. This would be a much larger issue if the game was not as balanced as it is, but it is still an issue nonetheless.

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For the most positive feature of Halo 5, Forge mode has been completely uplifted with endless possibilities impossible before this game. The map above was entirely created using Forge, all the way from structures to geometry to lighting. This is an early Forge map, however, and the post-launch support for Halo 5 has enhanced Forge in ways that have completely blown away my expectations for it. Decals for pieces exist, at least a thousand objects have been added, the budget was vastly increased, a weather system was added, and a total of seven canvasses exist in this game. The creations for Halo 5 are endless, and it is amazing that they have finally added a Custom Games browser to the game. In terms of longevity, Halo 5 does pack its punch.

For music, the game’s score tries to more closely emulate the original scores by recreating some of them, and toning down the electronic elements from¬†Halo 4. The¬†Halo Theme¬†finally returns and sounds better than ever, and even some of the better themes from¬†Halo 4¬†have gotten a facelift. I will note that not too much of the soundtrack sticks out despite its excellence, and ambient tracks could have been provided next to the more orchestral action pieces in the game. If you want to take a listen, here is the soundtrack as it is on Spotify.

Lastly, we come to¬†Halo 5’s¬†art style and graphics.

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While it remains more consistent to one visual style than¬†Halo 4’s¬†mishmash of¬†Reach¬†assets and its own spin on¬†Halo’s¬†art style, it has some flaws.

Firstly, human architecture has too many whites, is too clean, and not very distinct. It is very bland in comparison to even¬†Halo 4’s¬†human art style, and this may also translate to Forerunner structures. The monolithic style from the previous game seems to have been toned down and not as impressive to the eye, but it does not suffer as much as the UNSC stuff. Oddly, the Covenant/Sangheili art style is top-notch in¬†Halo 5, with almost every weapon and vehicle being redesigned to feel more organic and ornamental, and it works well. As art is up to interpretation, have three pictures of each faction and their looks.

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Overall, my feelings for¬†Halo 5’s¬†multiplayer would be more negative if it were not for the constant and amazing support from 343i in order to fix many of the game’s issues, even if this does not translate to its campaign. All its modes are well-rounded, even if spread out a bit too thinly and without many features of before.

Would I recommend Halo 5? With some hesitation, I would say yes. Its multiplayer may lack split-screen and have more of a focus on competitive play, but this game is a very tight shooter that gleams despite its many flaws. The story may leave or mildly disappointing or shattered and the campaign may be lackluster for some, but multiplayer holds this game up with updates still coming over a year after launch. Know this may not be the classic Halo game you want, but it is great nonetheless as a video game.

And with that, we come to a close today. If you made it to the end, congratulations for your endurance to my rambling. This is by far the longest post on my blog, with about 3000 words being put into it. My compassion for Halo is what led me to write this post, and I hope you enjoyed reading about my opinions about it overall instead of just the story. There are much more points to this game, and if you want to comment/ask me for them, feel free to do so. As I said yesterday, there will be a guest post sometime this weekend, so look forward to that. There will also be a story on one of the days by myself, so if you are a fan of my storytelling and this post, in particular, you have much more to anticipate as well.

And of course, have a great day. ūüôā

The Force Awakens: A Review

Dark chocolate is rich. Its taste is an aroma of both sweet and bitterness, combined to make a very delicate delight to enjoy. At the same time, milk chocolate is an everyman. It swirls on your tongue as it breaks into crisp pieces, melting and oozing its bold taste and texture into your thought process. Despite this, it is not pure in the same way dark chocolate is; it is far more artificial and less vibrant as it fades into the realm of ‘clich√©’.

So… How does this relate to Star Wars: The Force Awakens?

Before I answer that question, welcome back. After some feedback and reflection on the first post of the 25 Days of Stadarooni, (This is the second post, by the way) I realized that it may have been a bit too nice and without the substance you should expect me to provide. Bite-sized posts are nice, but I will ensure better ideas throughout the coming weeks. (Suggestions are always welcomed!) Of course, this ‘review’ of sorts is one I promised last month when analyzing how The Force Awakens works as a soft reboot of the Star Wars franchise (Which I encourage you to read before diving into this), and that retrospect will be the topic today. Please remember that if your opinion differs from mine, that is awesome and I am glad that feelings are not synonymous between every single individual. Otherwise, the world would be a lot duller.

I am assuming that the majority of you are familiar with this film, and have watched it at least once. I do apologize, but if you have not watched it I strongly suggest that you do before reading this post.

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Firstly, what are my thoughts on The Force Awakens? Overall, it is a very enjoyable movie that is immensely entertaining and makes you feel (simply) good. Objectively, it has many flaws which can be pointed out and may raise an eyebrow when you think about them. This is why I feel The Force Awakens falls short of the original trilogy as a whole and is in league with Return of the Jedi. This is definitely not a bad thing, but the film has a lot of potential that it either did not use or will be used in Episode VIII or IX.

The film’s strongest suit is by far its acting. After the wasting potential that was the prequels, The Force Awakens is a very stark contrast from the robotic and overly dramatic performances of Samuel L. Jackson or Hayden Christensen. (Which may be due to direction) Daisy Ridley perfectly captures the role of Rey from the action, emotions, drama, and being awesome. She is very well-rounded and works to create a very dynamic character, and the same can be said for John Boyega and Adam Driver for Finn and Kylo Ren, respectively.

The acting may be something to gloss over, but these performances are outweighed by the way in which these characters interact. Finn and Rey working together to shoot down a TIE Fighter, and every scene with Finn and Poe are examples of what makes this film work so damn well. They feel organic, with chemistry that instantly brings a smile to your face as these conflicting personas work together and react in very human ways, such as cheering or sharing a somber moment together. Perhaps that may seem rather obvious, but plenty of films fail to capture what The Force Awakens does so well in this respect.

Another compliment to give is the film’s humour. While the tone may seem a little too light-hearted in a story where a galaxy is essentially plunged into anarchy, it works in tandem with the aforementioned character interactions as well. A moment to point out when BB-8 gives Finn a thumbs-up with an integrated lighter, which caused the audience in my theater to laugh absolutely hysterically. It is not that the other films lacked any sense of comedy, but it absolutely enhances the presentation of The Force Awakens.

Tone and production wise, this is Star Wars. John Williams’ score may be slightly underwhelming due to how safe it is, (the only new track that sticks out to me is Rey’s Theme) but it still has a healthy dose of nostalgia in returning pieces. The art style of the film also closely resembles the more gritty aspects of the original trilogy, and computer animation has been much improved over the prequels. (Although Maz Kanata and Snoke are quite distinguishable from more practical effects in the background of their scenes) The film also knows that it is a fun adventure, and is something that does not cater to a specific age group in that regard. There is a balance between drama, action, exposition, comedy, and dialogue that propels The Force Awakens upwards.

With all this positive feedback, how could I believe that this is not the best Star Wars film?

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The answer is nostalgia.

The Force Awakens features plenty of returning characters, many of which were the main characters of the original trilogy. Han Solo is a mentoring figure a la Obi-Wan in A New Hope, Leia returns as a general with a few appearances here and there, Chewbacca is Han Solo’s partner in crime as always, C-3PO simply exists in this film, R2-D2 is a convenient ex Machina for the plot, and Luke Skywalker is the overall force that hangs over the plot until the very end.

The inclusion of these characters in not a bad thing, and in Han Solo’s case he was used in the plot to a great extent. The problem stems from that many of these characters have no reason to be in the film besides to serve as reminders of the original trilogy. This is the case with many artifacts such as Anakin’s lightsaber or the Millennium Falcon. (Then again, both of these do serve the plot) Sadly, the reintroduction of classic elements brings down the story of the film to varying degrees, making it feel more cluttered than it should. I will not lie in saying that there was one instance where I was just waiting for another appearance from a returning character, which is not a very good thing to say.

This leads to another point, which is the story itself. The film does have the classic ‘good vs. evil’ storyline, but it repeats too many beats from A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. An escape from a desert planet, the death of a mentoring figure, and meeting with an old and wise alien are just a few that are very clearly not meant to be subtle in the slightest. If it were not for this film’s strong suits, these repeats would hinder it far more.

Another thing is this film’s role as a sequel to Return of the Jedi: it really is not. Sure, it picks up thirty years later, but it does establish the state of the galaxy or anything that happens in between the two films. This film is enjoyable enough to the point where these may be non-issues for many, but it does not strive to fill in this gap of history. And for those of you who play Halo, using “read the books” is NOT a good excuse or justification for this kind of storytelling. As Episode VII of the Star Wars saga, it should be expected to connect to it in deeper ways.

The last point is quite mute, but it is Starkiller Base. While these repeats may be inoffensive to many (and I did not mind too many of them) Starkiller Base is another doomsday weapon that is too similar to the Death Star in its purpose to the story. It makes little-to-no-sense to my sense of logic and immersion in the Star Wars universe. Lightsabers and the Force may be more fantasy than sci-fi, but a weapon that extinguishes the sun to destroy a few planets simply does not make any sort of sense whatsoever. I do not watch Star Wars for logic, but immersion is important within the context of a singular franchise.

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I will go ahead and say that the ‘Rey is a Mary Sue’ thing is not a problem for me, but I can see why it would be for some people. She is quite proficient at everything she does compared to plenty of other characters, but I do feel as if this film cannot be truly judged until the rest of the sequel trilogy is complete. Story elements in Episode VIII and IX may change our outlook on this film in retrospect, and maybe some other weak elements such as the villains (minus Kylo Ren) or underutilized elements such as Poe will be further expanded on and made amazing.

As I said, this film is great and vastly entertaining. I can say that I love it and I can see exactly how it has inspired a global resurgence in Star Wars’ popularity and culture. Rogue One comes out later this month, and I am excited to see the franchise from another perspective that seems to work so well as a spin-off while not being completely detached and irrelevant to the main films. (Quite the opposite in fact)

There will be more of these reviews/retrospectives to come, and this is the first. I also know that I had promised my thoughts and feelings Halo 5: Guardians from a story standpoint, (I am still heartbroken by how bad it is) but I feel as if a proper look at every aspect of the game would be nice as well. I do hope that you are enjoying the 25 Days of Stadarooni thus far, and I will see you next time.

Oh wait, that is tomorrow.

Sing for Absolution

Again and again, we find ourselves in a timeless dilemma in which the only route of escape is through submission. This dilemma in question is not one of a negative demeanor, yet have you ever felt constrained by its repetition? When it repeats, repeats, and repeats? Does your subconscious even take heed and make necessary adjustments to alleviate it?

Wait, what am I talking about?

Welcome back, all. By the featured image, you can probably tell this week’s serving is going to be unique. (As of now…) While we may have covered music in the past, it was to its application to storytelling instead of to itself and itself only. Music is a great tool in enhancing a narrative and even telling its own alongside your favourite stories, but what happens when it must stand on its own? Can a song tell its own tale, to be heard time and time again?

This is what I was referring to in the initial vague paragraph. On the radio, how many times can one listen to a song before they realize that its aspect of pizzazz is then absent? We submit ourselves to what we like to listen to and do not stray far from comfort, whether it be a particular genre or artist. (I hope it’s not the latter) As your friendly blogger, I will now give a recommendation to an artist and album that I find stellar.

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Now, Muse is not an unfamiliar group. The British alternate-rock trio debuted with their first album Showbiz in 1999, and have gone on to produce seven albums to last year’s Drones, and there is no sign of them slowing down. If you are familiar with the band, you already know what this post is going to be about. It’s all in the featured image.

For this shorter post, I want to take a look at what I consider to be their best album: 2003’s Absolution. My favourite Muse song is not on it; that would go to Knights of Cydonia from Black Holes and Revelations (2006). Matter of fact, it does not even have my favourite chunk of one of their albums; that would go to the first half of Origin of Symmetry (2001). So, what does Absolution have going for it? To simply put, the entire work is outstanding and varied, yet it keeps a shared tone, theme and experimentation that prevents it from feeling like a scramble of artistic visions.

The album is described as a way to understand emotions, which comes across by the album cover (which is the featured image) and song titles alone. Apocalypse Please, Falling Away with You, and Stockholm Syndrome all act in reference to emotional states, with both positive and negative sides to them. “Perhaps it’s for the best, yet I still feel a sense of uncertainty” is a great way to describe some of the songs on this album. It’s a musical of whims, feels, and a hardcore symphony of rock that lures you in with instrumentals alone, but that’s only the surface of the album.

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Yes, this is the image for the song Butterflies and Hurricanes, which is one of the more aptly named ones on Absolution. It possesses a raw strength throughout with its hopeless undertones followed by an explosion of drums and a piano that precisely drive it forward. When things are completely over, you should still have the power to spit in fate’s eyes and push on through. The piano solo in the centre is a powerful intermission, serving as a sweeping and dramatic way to reinvigorate romance into the song’s plot.

Oh yes, another compliment to this album: it includes love as an integral and central theme. Many musicians use this to the point of overuse and the core of their identity, which is one reason why I find much music to be dull and tasteless. Love is the name of the song, and how many variations of love can be heard before such a great theme becomes a battered cliché?

Muse uses love to push forward their ideas and meld with other themes, many of which are found throughout this album. It is also used sparingly, so it is not overused or come across as too sappy. Sadly, this is one area where I feel they have fallen, especially in their latest album Drones. (Albeit, it is still an awesome album)

Getting back to the album, another amazing song is Hysteria. Need I say more? Joking aside, just listen to its opening. The bass riff will prey your attention, and the lyrics lurk right behind it. This is a song many can relate to; has something been just out of your reach (not literally) and you must have it now? Does this addiction crawl and pierce into your skin to where you need it now? Perhaps the song can be interpreted as an overwhelming desire for unadulterated love, due to how bombastic and desperate, it is in nature. Whatever the case, strong lyrics and strong themes go together to create a very strong song.

There are many stellar songs in Absolution, yet this retrospect/review of sorts is for you to go out and explore. Maybe you will agree with me, yet perhaps you won’t. That’s fine, but I want to end this off with one more song.

Time is Running Out is a song about the end. Poof, that’s it. What emotion would you feel in the final moments preceding death? While such a song should be a depressing ballad upon the first inspection, why would you be collected in living your last moments? With each passing moment, your identity, faith, and relationships would spin in a whirl of scrambling thoughts. Perhaps it may not be about death, but about another sort of end that you may experience. And also, that bassline and snapping is an excellent hook to how flustered this song is, yet it never becomes a complete mess.

(EDIT 11/29/16: I apologize for not including this when this post was created, but please take a listen to Absolution right here)

Well, that is all for today. Perhaps this wasn’t exactly a short post, but I hope it is satisfactory and something new for this blog. Posts like these are formatted more so for retrospect rather than analysis, although traces of it still exist here. I also apologize for the lack of a post on the previous weekend, but I had activities relating to Cadets once again. And no, not for six weeks like last time.

At least I don’t have the thoughts of a dying atheist! (Sorry, that was terrible)

Star Wars and Gaming

As a certain character once said in a famous movie, “do or do not. There is no try.” These words cannot be truer for plenty in life, from our decisions to actions. In the world of gaming, however, there is a certain discrepancy that has claimed many titles that had the full potential to be masterpieces and go against this line. They instead are pushed over the edge by limitations, greed, or exterior manipulation.

Oh, wait. I described gaming as a whole.

Jokes aside, it is good to be back. I know I said I will be back at a more regular pace in the last post, however for now I will say that the next blog post will come when it comes. Sorry for those of you who like to read them, but these definitely take the time to fully jot down. I do promise that every entry will still be worthwhile, of course.

Going back to my previous tangent, you probably already know what today’s subject will be judging by the above image and title. I have mentioned Star Wars in the past, (and one of my friends made a blog post on it in six-week absence) and it is definitely a franchise I quite enjoy. I am not well-versed in its lore, and outside of the movies and the imminent lore surrounding them, these video games are the only other aspect of the franchise I have some greater experience with. Today will mark the first time I will not be solely taking a look at story-related elements of these games, and my retrospect will not be too focused either.

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I have played quite a few licensed games, and most are quick cash-grabs to exploit advertising as many of you may already know. Many lack severely in quality, being made with little effort and dedication, only to disappoint and leave fans craving what could have been. With Star Wars, this trend would seem to be natural considering how colossal it is compared to nearly everything else. However, the franchise has shown again from time to time that it cannot only give players endearing content, but also provide some video games that can be considered the best. The range of genres is also impressive, going from first-person shooters to role-playing games to dogfight simulations.

While the header image for this post is eye-candy to catch your attention, (we’ll get to the new Battlefront soon enough) the above image symbolizes what I believe to be the pinnacle of licensed games and something everyone should have the pleasure of experiencing: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. If there are two Star Wars games that I imagine people may feel tired of hearing, it’s this one and Battlefront.

To me, that is an honour for this game to have.

Released in 2003 from BioWare, (also responsible for Mass Effect and Dragon Age) this game is set thousands of years before the events of the movies and follows the Republic in their destructive civil war against a legion of fallen Jedi. You play as a soldier in the Republic, caught in the middle of a raging battle above the urban sprawl of Taris, and here the journey begins.

One thing to love about this game is the freedom it gives you in player choice that affects the plot. It may not be Undertale levels of the entire plot changing upon a wide spectrum of decisions, but for its time I imagine that it must have been quite a deal to go into the path of the Light or Dark sides. This encourages players to replay the game to discover little secrets that come with both sides of the same story, and to venture beyond where you may have progressed to before.

It is Star Wars by the books, being rooted deep in its mythology and looking the part as well while having its unique spin on an already established art style. The music is also phenomenal as well, and the only aspect of the game that may be off-putting is the turn-based gameplay. For what feels like a real-time game, this may kill the game for some and ruin a masterpiece that is otherwise near-flawless in many areas. Dare I say, the story is far more immersive and of a higher quality than all seven movies, but that is another discussion for another time.

I apologize for my gloating, but KOTOR is a gem that I do not want to taint with spoilers. For those of you who have not played it, I would highly recommend that you do. Of course, there is a sequel as well…

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Now, this is a very interesting and tragic story. For what The Empire Strikes Back did for the films, Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords does for the games, and perhaps even western role-playing games as a whole.

Gameplay-wise, the turn-based system is back and mostly unchanged. Soundtrack-wise, maybe not as spectacular. Graphics… Same as well. So what makes KOTOR II the unsung swan of Star Wars games?

The story. I know I said story would not be too much of a focus, but the story just wins so much here. Has someone ever told you that Revenge of the Sith is extremely dark and amazing for it? This game sits that movie down, and teaches it a proper lesson on how to make a story dark. Isolation. Eerie atmosphere. Grey morality. Hopelessness. Even the Jedi are not entirely cast in a positive light, and the Sith in a negative one. It is a game rooted in a well-established mythology, and questions it by twisting the very core of what makes Star Wars the way it is.

Grey-storytelling is a region that must be done with proper care, or else the blur between good and evil may not even appear at all. This game accomplishes it by pitting you in the shoes of a character who has an uncertain past, while knowing that they were at odds with doing what seemed to be right. Decision-making only propels this game forward: deciding on which path to take through worlds filled with corruption, desolation, crime, and scars of war. If you have not played KOTOR II, it may be the essential game to play if you want your mind to be blown. Make sure you download the Restored Content Modification as well, as this game had the restriction of one year of development time.

This is the tragedy. A masterpiece that did not have enough time to complete, leaving the player to ponder at what could have been. Of course, another tragedy is the lack of a KOTOR III, or my doubts in EA making a Star Wars game with a story as intelligent as this one.

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There are many more Star Wars games, but to end this off I would like to focus on one that leaves me worried about the future and how the franchise may spiral down into another exploited licence property for those looking to make a quick buck.

Star Wars Battlefront was released last year, developed by DICE and published by EA. Yes, the game has a very high production quality and looks and sounds the part. As many have said, it is almost as if you are placed into the events of the original trilogy due to how authentic everything looks and more importantly, feels.

Why do I have a qualm with this game? Because despite what this entire blog may suggest, I mainly play games for their gameplay, not story. I am fine that this game does not have a single-player campaign, as I do not feel as if a retelling of old battles is worthwhile, or that DICE has the capability to create a narrative that is both immersive and compelling that upholds the Star Wars license. (Battlefield 3’s story is just… no) Of course single-player content would be appreciated, and not necessarily a campaign. Something in the vein of cooperative missions would have been great, with the option to play with or without other players.

What irks me is the lack of content here. It feels to me as if EA wanted to get the game out of the gate as quickly as possible to coincide with the release of The Force Awakens, and in doing so they made content that should have been available to the game at launch paid ‘expansions.’ (the mishandling of this term is a problem with smaller pieces of DLC) Another problem stems from the name. The game is similar to the original two Battlefront games in terms of concept, but beyond that they are very different games. Whether or not you are a fan of games that are casual, this game is undoubtedly one made for Star Wars fans of all types, and not video game fans necessarily. Through this, I believe DICE has made a game that focused far too much on its presentation, rather than the intricacies that really make you crave a game and keep you coming back.

While you may enjoy this game, it is a lot like iOS: It is very appealing to the eye, yet functionality is something that came second-priority and makes the overall package come down more than it should.

And with that, we come to our close for now. While this is more of a tangent than a true retrospect/review, I do plan to go with these sometime in the future. I also am aware that there are many Star Wars games I missed, and we will definitely browse those at a future date and give undivided attention as well. I apologize for a lighter serving this week, but I am quite excited for the ideas I have conjured up for the future. May the force be with you!

…And I think I may be using that last line again sometime as well.