Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

What Should a PlayStation Vita Sequel Look Like?

Many people would say that Sony should abandon portable gaming altogether, especially given how much Nintendo has dominated this arena in recent years, and, more importantly, how mobile gaming now dominates both companies’ offerings altogether.  As I’ve waxed on before, I prefer portable to mobile (i.e. handheld console to smartphone), in large part because of the physical controls.  While the analog sticks, face buttons, d-pad, and shoulder buttons are all small on Vita, I will take these any day over using a touchscreen only.  As such, I want Sony to continue working in this admittedly dwindling market; here are my armchair ideas:


While the OLED display on the original Vita is quite rich, Sony was right to switch to an LCD panel in the revised and slimmed down Vita PCH-2000.  Two benefits arose: one, the unit was less expensive to manufacture; two, the battery life was noticeably improved.  A sequel to the Vita should just go ahead and retain this status quo (though a higher PPI and wide-angle IPS would be welcome.)  Size-wise, I would leave the dimensions alone.  In my pie-in-the-sky dreams, I would also like Sony to adopt a Gorilla Glass 3 panel, which will be scratch resistant and light, compared to the existing ones that use scratch-prone plastic.


I believe the best addition the Vita brought to market was a second analog stick, which was lacking on the PlayStation Portable series.  This allowed for true 3D gaming, which greatly paid off in many of Vita’s titles.  But while the handheld attempted to mimic a DualShock 3, it was lacking in a few areas: first, the face buttons could stand to be about 20% larger than they are now.  Same goes for the d-pad and analog sticks.  There is way more bezel on the Vita than there needs to be, so there is room to invade those areas.  Second, the sequel needs to somehow account for L2 and R2, as well as L3 and R3 (i.e. triggers to go with the shoulder buttons, and clickable analog sticks).  As it stands today, those missing input methods are simulated with various touchscreen or rear touchpad taps. Again, we want physical controls.

Additionally, let’s mimic the DualShock 4 and offer Share and Option buttons, instead of Select and Start.  As Vita has today, we’ll retain Sixaxis support as well.


I really can’t justify the inclusion of a rear camera.  Who is using his or her Vita to take snapshots?  I would think the Venn Diagram of Vita owners who also own smartphones overlaps quite a bit.  As for the front camera, I can see some utility in treating it like a PlayStation 4 Camera, though it’s field of view is much tighter than its home-console counterpart.  I would consider that front one optional but probably unnecessary: we don’t need to be video conferencing on this device.  It’s for games.  Dropping these will save a fair amount of cost.

Touch Input

Keeping the touchscreen makes a lot of sense for menu navigation.  Also, it’s a good way to simulate the DualShock 4’s touchpad, so I say leave it in.  The reach touchpad, on the other hand, is useless.  Lose it and save the money.  Doing so will reduce power consumption and save space.  Further, not having this input method will reduce spurious inputs to boot.


This is a big one: something Sony should do is use ARM processors in the next Vita, instead of proprietary ones.  Sony realized the value in switching to an industry-standard x86-64 Intel-compatible processor in the PS4; it should do the same in its handheld by embracing the industry standard in mobile computing.  ARM processors are incredibly powerful now, and better still, they’re incredibly power efficient.  Moreover, adopting such a ubiquitous architecture will simplify development and encourage mobile developers to consider porting their games to this new handheld.


This console needs to adopt at least 802.11n (as should the PS4, by the way), but 802.11ac would be even better, obviously.  High-speed, reliable WiFI will help make it an even better Remote Play device than its forebear.  Secondly, let’s not even bother with cellular networking.  The extra cost from a manufacturing standpoint, as well as to the consumer, is not worth it for the limited functionality it offered in the 3G Vita.  Most people have hotspot access on their smartphone plans now anyway.


Sony’s decision to employ a proprietary memory card in the Vita is simultaneously understandable from a business angle and deeply anti-consumer from a customer’s.  Worse still, these cards were shockingly expensive for their limited storage: the 32GB capacity was a staggering $100, while its SDXC card equivalent was less than $30.  Today, a 64GB Vita card has taken that $100 position, but an SDXC card of that size is $25.  Absurd difference.

Either use SDXC with an industry-standard encryption (perhaps AES 128 or 256) to prevent save-file manipulation and piracy, or only use internal memory and obfuscate the whole thing.  If Sony were to choose the latter, however, this console could not have less than 64GB; ideally, it would be 128GB.  That could get expensive.  I saw Sony should simply employ the SDXC cards.

Game Distribution

The use of game cartridges is woefully dated; let’s drop that altogether and save money on manufacturing and retail distribution.  Further, leaving that out reduces the cost of this console further and frees up more space.  Instead, all games will be digital only, as it is done on mobile now.  Will this alienate people who don’t have reliable access to broadband or maybe have data caps?  Sure.  This would be a good way to loop in retail partners by having “download kiosks” where customers can hook their new Vita sequels to and download them directly.

PlayStation Now

Time will tell if Sony’s investment into Gaikai will pay off in the form of PlayStation Now, but the technology itself appears sound to me.  But to make this Vita sequel a good citizen of this service, the hardware ideas from above will need to be there: one-to-one DualShock mapping is necessary.  Do that, and this console could potentially rule the roost with a subscription service that will hopefully open up to most PS1, PS2, and PS3 games.  Such a library would be incomparable.


Heretofore, I’ve been calling this proposed handheld the Vita sequel.  I actually don’t think it should use that name at all, since the PlayStation Vita has an underserved reputation as an overpriced, under-supported platform (well, kind of).  Instead, let’s embrace the highly successful PlayStation Portable brand and name this next console PSP4 (to align it with the PS4 product cycle).1


This console must, must, must come in under $200, even if that’s $199.99.  Eliminating the cameras and rear touchpad, committing to LCD, dropping the game cartridge slot, and slimming the whole unit down due to the afforded extra space, should go a long way.  From a development standpoint, leaning on well-understood technology like ARM processors, as well avoiding superfluous application development (like an email client, calendar, and other quasi-smartphone apps) should help, too.

Final Thoughts

The console should look and feel like a premium device.  I would adopt the two-tone and matte-like finish of the DualShock 4, reserving the piano-black to a small bezel around the display.  Let’s round the edges like the Vita slim to try to make this thing as comfortable as can be.  (It should go without saying, but I’m going to do so anyway: the PSP4 should employ a common connector, like micro-USB, just as the Vita slim does.  Let’s support 2.4A fast charging at the same time.)

This should be thought of as a hardcore device, but if it’s priced in a competitive way and has strong support for retro-games, I believe it could do well.  It may never sell 100 million units, but if it somehow reached, say, 25 million, that would be worth the effort.

Most PlayStation Vita owners love their handhelds: the game-attachment rate is especially high: last I heard, it was over a dozen gamers on average.  (This exceeds every home console and competing portables.)  Indie developers have realized the value in tapping into so loyal a fanbase, and those companies have flourished there.  My vision for PSP4 should continue to attract those vital creators but also (hopefully) entice interest from developers who have expansive back catalogs, or ones that are interested in mobile development already.

  1.  Sony could justify it as the fourth PSP since it’s the successor to the PSP-1000/2000/3000, PSP Go, and PSP-E1000.  (I know that’s pushing it logically, since all of these are really the same handheld, but compare this to Microsoft’s numbering for Windows, which has not made sense in a long time.  It is what it is.)

Written by Michael

21 September 2015 at 8:00 pm

Platinum Review – Minecraft: PlayStation Vita Edition (PS Vita)

One of the best advantages to the PlayStation ecosystem is something called cross-buy: many titles, especially small-studio ones, will include a game’s release on every platform for which it’s available.  In this situation, I purchased Minecraft: PlayStation 3 Edition and received Minecraft: PlayStation Vita Edition for free.

The Vita Edition is a bit of a mix of the PS3 and PS4 versions of the game: like the PS3 Edition, this version features a single map-sized world (8642 meters), whereas the PS4 is 36x larger than this.  However, the Vita Edition takes its trophy list from the PS4, which is longer and is thus slightly more difficult.

Best Trophy: Zombie Doctor (Gold) — healing a Zombie Villager of its affliction is actually a complex process that requires a good understanding of multiple game mechanics.  You need a Golden Apple (which means you have to mine for Gold and chop down Oak Trees), a Splash Potion of Weakness (which means a trip to the Nether to build a potion stand), and a covered area to trap a Zombie Villager in and protect it from the sunlight (which typically requires building and planning on your end).

Worst Trophy: Passing the Time (Bronze) — this trophy is borderline dreadful.  It’s one you should eventually pickup by just playing, but the idea of passing 100 days in-game is kind of obnoxious on a portable device that you will probably use to drop in and out of in brief stints.  And you can’t accelerate these 100 days by sleeping through the night: the game literally requires you to play for 30 hours in realtime.  Unless you’re especially dedicated, this one will take weeks to acquire.

Special Mention Trophy: Renewable Energy (Bronze) — I like this one a lot because smelting wood trunks into charcoal makes all the sense in the world to me, since trees are plentiful and easily accessible in the game.  Amazingly, only 29.4% of players have this trophy.  Seriously, are the other 70.6% only using coal?  That’s a lot of mining.

Rating: A — I’m actually rating this one slightly higher than the PS3 Edition even though “Passing the Time” is worse than “Return to Sender” (my least favorite from before).  The new trophies more than make up for it, etching out a comprehensive map for players to follow to really learn the many different aspects of Minecraft.

Written by Michael

15 September 2015 at 8:00 pm

Snap Judgment – inFAMOUS: Second Son (PS4)

The first time I saw a preview for inFAMOUS: Second Son, Sucker Punch’s third entry into the series and first on PlayStation 4, I was compelled to go back and make sure I finished the original PS3 titles.  If you’ve read my judgments on those (first and second), you’ll know I thoroughly enjoyed them, so I was definitely salivating for this one.

Look at any snapshot or gameplay video and you’ll realize immediately that this game looks ridiculously great.  For the first time in the series’s run, the setting is a real: Seattle, home of the creators.  While Empire City and New Marais were both fun locations to explore and wreck havoc within, running around an almost photorealistic city that is incredibly faithful to the real thing takes the impact to another level.  One of the best side effects of modeling a real city is that this one feels more alive and more varied from area to area, especially compared to some of the monotonous streets of the previous titles which featured numerous reused assets.  Now, Seattle gets a bum rap for being a rainy city (it was actually ranked 44th among major U.S. cities in 2010), but Sucker Punch was sure to include at least some of that world-famous precipitation in the game, and to wonderful effect.  The morning sunlight mirroring off scattered puddles during an early part of the game looked stunning; truly, this is one of the most beautiful games ever made.  Just scale a tall building and look over Puget Sound and have your breath taken away.

From a gameplay standpoint, the new protagonist, Delsin Rowe, has a far greater trove of powers to harvest.  I don’t want to spoil too much, but he possesses the ability to copy the powers of any conduit he touches, so as you progress through the game, whole new power trees will open up for you to invest points into.  (This is done with blast shards, but the manner in which you collect these is a so much better than the PS3 games.)  This upgrade system feels much more dynamic than ever, and the delineation between Good and Evil Karma powers is appropriately distinct.  Another massive improvement is environmental traversal: while inFAMOUS had decent climbing mechanics, there were times when it just didn’t work the way I wanted, or when it felt annoyingly slow; inFAMOUS 2 improved up these greatly, introducing a couple of powers towards the end of the game that really made cross-city travel much easier.  But inFAMOUS: Second Son puts both games to shame as each power tree that Delsin acquires has some kind of fast movement option that allows him to scale buildings with little effort, or cover ground with blazing speed.  Best of all, Sucker Punch does not hold back on giving you these abilities; you will be master of Seattle from the get-go.

The voice acting is quite good, featuring the incredibly talented Troy Baker in the lead role.  (Hardcore fans will recognize his work from The Last of Us, BioShock: Infinite, Batman: Arkham Origins, Far Cry 4, Batman: Arkham Knight, and what seems like a million other titles.)  That said, the dynamic between Delsin and his brother Reggie isn’t quite as good as was found between Cole McGrath and Zeke Dunbar from before, but the playfulness was still quite enjoyable.

Storywise, Second Son felt like a smaller plot than either previous inFAMOUS game, both of which felt like they had world-altering consequences.  Instead, Second Son feels like the world has already changed and the presence of conduits is simply a way of life now, something to be dealt with by law enforcement.  In fact, Delsin’s motivation for the entire game is considerably more tangible in its small scale, much more personal than Cole’s far more epic journey.  There are certainly pros and cons to both kinds of stories.  Similarly, alas, the villain comes off as considerably one-note throughout most of this game as well, similar to how antagonists were treated in earlier titles.  That’s okay, but the best villains are the ones who think they’re the heroes of their own stories.  Second Son’s Augustine borders on having that quality, but it remains unexplored until a brief expositional cutscene near the end, and even then, her methodology is inconsistent with her intentions.

Despite these shortcomings, inFAMOUS: Second Son is another incredible achievement.  Some reviews will probably note that the game is shorter than its forebears, but I happen to appreciate that.  Second Son feels about as on point as any game I’ve played in recent memory; as such, I would characterize this as a must-play for the PS4.  A

Written by Michael

11 September 2015 at 11:05 pm

Snap Judgment – inFAMOUS 2 (PS3)

The follow-up to Sucker Punch’s 2009 title, inFAMOUS, is better in just about every conceivable way.  inFAMOUS 2 offers higher stakes, better voice acting, improved graphics, sweeter music, and far more interesting karmic choices compared to its forebear.

I don’t want to spoil anything about either inFAMOUS game, so I’ll just say that the sequel takes lead character Cole McGrath from Empire City (i.e. New York) from the original title, to New Marais (i.e. New Orleans) in this 2011 game.  In many ways, this is a vast improvement because Empire City itself felt highly repetitive, architecturally, whereas New Marais offers greater variances between its five districts.  The stark contrast between, say, Ville Cochon (an upscale area) and Flood Town (a disaster zone that was destroyed by a hurricane before the start of the game) is perfect.  There are also a number of great landmarks, like St. Ignatius Cathedral, St. Charles Cemetery, and dilapidated Plantation homes for you to explore.  Each is highly detailed.

The characters themselves are quite a bit more complex and sympathetic, even the ones who are cast in the roles of antagonists. A couple of new friends Cole makes early in the game end up providing the different karmic paths for you to follow; one will almost always suggest a heroic route while the other a villainous one; and boy do they not get along.  Also, a returning fan-favorite character from the first game provides much of the game’s comedic moments and endows inFAMOUS 2 with its heart.

One of the biggest improvements is something that initially sent fans of the original title into an uproar: Sucker Punch replaced the voice actor for Cole.  (Any other returning characters retained their original actors.)  While Jason Cottle provided good work for inFAMOUS, one which many fans grew attached to, Cole came off as one-note and gruff-voiced, exhibiting little emotional range.  In inFAMOUS 2, Eric Laden created a Cole with a lot more depth and variety, portraying a playfulness in some lines that really bolstered the cutscenes.  Even without the gruffness, his Cole still displayed a wonderful dose of menace.  The chemistry between this Cole and the other characters is far better realized than was achieved in the first title.

Mechanically, inFAMOUS 2 features a higher polish.  Traversing New Marais felt a lot more comfortable than Empire City, and the new powers unveiled in this sequel complemented this well.  Just about every frustration I had with inFAMOUS was addressed in the second game.

That’s not to say that the sequel is perfect; it certainly has its rough edges.  Its attempts to rope you into playing user-generated content missions (a neat idea in itself but a largely forgettable one) are a bit of a nuisance, though you can disable them.  One of the antagonists could have featured a bit more development — Sucker Punch teases you with a tantalizing realization about one this bad guy, that for all the terrible things he does, he takes those ill-gotten gains and uses them to improve the lives of the citizens of New Marais.  Sadly, the studio never pulls that thread all the way out to really flesh out the character.  Instead, Cole ends up brushing all of this aside.

In any case, inFAMOUS 2 is a brilliant follow-up to what was already a pretty great achievement.  It does something rare in video games (or really any other medium): it delivers on the promises and foreshadowing that the first game teased, and then wraps a big bow on it all in a way completely satisfying way.  The vision of both of these titles culminates in an incredible conclusion to Cole McGrath’s story.  A

Written by Michael

5 September 2015 at 12:43 am

Posted in Games, Reviews

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Snap Judgment – inFAMOUS (PS3)

Sony was victimized one of the worst data breaches in history in 2011, impacting some 77 million users. Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, Sony shut down the PSN for a staggering 23 days while it rebuilt its security architecture to ensure nothing like this happened again. To apologize, Sony offered a Welcome Back promotion that included a number of gifts.  Among these was inFAMOUS.

I had heard good things about the game but hadn’t paid enough attention to actually buy it myself. In fact, it sat unplayed on my hard drive until 2013 when I started getting hyped for the PS4 and realized there were a number of cornerstone PlayStation franchises I hadn’t yet experienced.  I’m really glad that I finally did because Sucker Punch’s inFAMOUS is an incredible title that succeeds in making you feel like an actual demigod, like an unstoppable force of nature, in a way that few other games achieve.

inFAMOUS follows Cole McGrath, a bike messenger in Empire City (a quasi-New York), who’s been given a package to deliver at the story’s outset. Little does Cole know, that package is actually a weapon of mass destruction that detonates once he reaches his destination.  The ensuing blast doesn’t kill him, as it did millions of others, but rather activates a latent “Conduit gene” that causes him to evolve into something far greater.  As the game progresses, Cole makes multiple “karmic choices” that will not only influence the game’s plot and how other characters react to him, but also direct how his powers continue to evolve. They’re all based on electricity but vary between precision and large-scale carnage. These choices will either lead Cole to become a hero or villain.

The game is mechanically imperfect (some of the platforming aspects are awkward), and it features several one-dimensional characters, but it is clever overall. It especially excels presentation-wise with its comic-style cutscenes, which are accompanied by dramatic music and voiceovers and combined with slick camera pans and cuts to convey this tale.  While there is fair bit of formula followed in this plot, there are a couple of well-done twists and turns to keep everything interesting.

The biggest complaint I have about inFAMOUS (and its sequels, and frankly a lot of other games) is that the ongoing karmic choices are a bit meaningless. There’s no incentive to mix up your decisions between good and evil, and there are no neutral ones to make either. You’re either meant to be all the way good, or all the way bad. It would work better to have you pick a destiny right away and then etch out your own custom version of what it means to be a hero or villain. Better still, dispense with black-and-white choices altogether.

Even so, inFAMOUS is fantastic.  I hope Sony re-releases this game on PS4 someday, but even if it doesn’t, it’s available for streaming on PlayStation Now.  Go play it.  B+

Written by Michael

24 August 2015 at 10:50 pm

Posted in Games, Reviews

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Platinum Review – Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (PS3)

Uncharted was one of the top reasons I purchased a PS3 back in 2008, and boy was that a good decision.  Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune launched one of the best series of the last generation, featuring stout gameplay and cutting edge graphics to complement excellent voice acting, adventurous musical scoring, and fun storytelling.  Drake’s Fortune is also a pretty tough Platinum, more-so than its successors.  A remaster is due out in October, titled Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, which will include the original PS3 trilogy to whet the appetites of everyone eagerly anticipating Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.  I’m very excited to replay Drake’s Fortune and earn the PS4 version of this Platinum, but I’m also dreading it because of the Worst Trophy below:

Best Trophy: Charted! – Hard (Gold) — normally I would try to find a single objective to spotlight, but the game in its totality is so good that just playing through it is plenty reward in itself.  I selected the Hard version for my favorite because I think that the difficulty on this mode is spot-on: challenging but not beat-your-head-against-the-wall difficult.

Worst Trophy: Charted! – Crushing (Gold) — beat-your-head-against-the-wall difficult.  Seriously, there were set-piece battles that were so insane that they took me as many as thirty tries to finish.  (Looking at you, Blue Room from Chapter 5.)  In any case, I persevered and didn’t use any exploits, like the one mentioned at that link.  I might have used that had I known about it, though.

Special Mention Trophy: Grenade Hangman (Bronze) — of all the individual goal-based Trophies (including ones with getting a certain number of kills with a certain weapon, or finding all of the hidden treasures), this was by far the strangest.  To earn it, you need to hang from a ledge lob grenades at your enemies and kill ten of them.  As straightforward as that may sound, Drake’s Fortune had an unfortunate six-axis-only throwing mechanic, meaning that they were a huge nuisance to use sometimes, especially when hanging from a ledge that partially obscures your view and also makes the angle more severe.

Written by Michael

3 August 2015 at 12:24 pm

Snap Judgment – Journey (PS4)

I originally reacted to this game in September 2013, but I did it the disservice of combining it with a bevy of other micro-reviews that I wanted to get out of the way.  Shame on me.  Journey deserved its own entry and perhaps more.  In many ways, it is the most succinctly brilliant two hours I’ve ever experienced in gaming or any other art form.

No, it doesn’t have the gameplay stylings, incredible voice acting, or writing of some of the games out there now, but it manages to convey so much with its groundbreaking visuals and inform so thoroughly with its bittersweet music — all without any dialogue or narration whatsoever.  Journey is a hallmark achievement, and is one of a very small selection of games that not only defined the seventh generation of consoles, but with its re-release on PS4, this one as well.

This version sees a bump up from 720p to 1080p, and 30fps to 60fps.  Truthfully, I’m not sure I notice this upgrade as much as I did with, say, Tomb Raider, but the graphics in Journey are the kind that’s breathtaking in any generation.  This fact only speaks to immense work Thatgamecompany did on its original release.  Journey‘s look is timeless.

Many, many outlets have extolled and regaled this game with the highest of accolades, but the most profound reaction I’ve heard to it was from Sony’s own President of Worldwide Studios, Shuhei Yoshida, who was asked to rank his ten favorite games of the last generation.  Not only did he select Journey as his number one game, he became quite emotional when describing why.  Head to the 1:41:05 mark to hear.

Despite its brevity, Journey is mystery made flesh: the wonder it inspires in the player is a seemingly bottomless well.  A+

Written by Michael

1 August 2015 at 10:03 pm

Posted in Games, Reviews

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Snap Judgment – The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (PS4)

Creaking forest of maple and spruce, eerie music, scant rays of light piercing the thick canopy to reveal suspended motes of dust — that’s one of the many incredibly detailed areas presented in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter, a PC game that was just ported and released on PS4 by The Astronauts.  Atmosphere is perhaps the single greatest achievement in this title, which is saying something considering how strong all the other elements are.  This is not only achieved through near-photorealistic graphics (seriously, wow), but also through great sound design.  Not just from the environmental sounds, like the trees, but also from your lonely footfalls.

Ethan Carter is a game about a supernatural investigator named Paul Prospero who has traveled to the rural town of Red Creek Valley in northern Pennsylvania because of a letter he received from the eponymous character, a curious and imaginative young boy — two qualities his family has been none to keen to encourage.  In Ethan’s curiosity, he accidentally awakens a dark entity named The Sleeper, who seems to require the boy’s sacrifice so it can emerge from whatever plane it is bound to, an entity with the power to dominate the thoughts and actions of the adults in Ethan’s life, driving them towards this singular goal.  Ethan is not safe.

Setting the tone, the opening narration states:

Ethan Carter I didn’t know.  But he knew who I was.  When the police won’t help you, and the priests don’t believe you, you call on Paul Prospero.  You call on me.  If you’re a kid like Ethan, you write.  Plenty do.  Ethan’s letter started out just like any other fan mail, but soon there were mentions of things no little boy should know about.  There are places that exist that very few people can see.  Ethan could have drawn a map.  I hadn’t entered Red Creek Valley yet, but already I could feel its darkness reaching for me.  Finding Ethan Carter wasn’t going to be as easy as knocking on his door.  I was too late for that.  To find Ethan, I had to figure out what this place was trying to hide from me.

From there, you’re dropped on the railroad tracks leading to Red Creek Valley, into a large open world with no loading screens.  As you solve various mysteries (read: puzzles) in this world, often using Prospero’s supernatural sensitivity, and discover new areas ranging from abandoned homes to a dark network of mines, Prospero continues to narrate with the intonations of a hardened, film noir-esque private investigator who’s seen more than his fair share.  But there is no hand holding; in fact, the game warns you of as much from the start: “This game is a narrative experience that does not hold your hand.”  With the exception of action prompts when you approach objects, there is no radar pointing you to your next objective, no HUD or journal explaining what you’ve accomplished.  And because of the openness of the world, you can solve the mysteries in almost any order you like.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter should take about five hours to fully complete, discovering every secret and truth Red Creek Valley has to hide.  At $19.99, however, this game is worth every penny and more.  As I’ve remarked before, I remain enthralled with games like this that continue to push the art forward.  This has easily been one of my favorite experiences, joining titles like The Last of UsJourney, and Child of Light for its accomplishments.  A+

Written by Michael

21 July 2015 at 1:09 pm

The Terminator Franchise

I should first admit that I think that not only is Terminator 2: Judgment Day the best sequel of all time (yes, even edging out Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back), it’s also one of the best movies of all time, period.  In addition to incredible action, effects, and pacing, the movie manages to deliver an important message about human nature and our propensity towards violence and self destruction.  The final line is so powerful that I’ll never forget it.  Sarah Connor narrates over an empty road during the night: “The unknown future rolls toward us.  I face it, for the first time, with a sense of hope.  Because if a machine, a Terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.”

This film delivers on the promise from the first movie, when Kyle Reese repeats the words John Connor made him memorize to Sarah: “Thank you, Sarah, for your courage through the dark years.  I can’t help you with what you must soon face, except to say that the future is not set.  There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.  You must be stronger than you imagine you can be.  You must survive, or I will never exist.”  Indeed, the transformation of Sarah Connor from the first film to the sequel is staggering — she goes from a naive and gentle waitress in The Terminator to a hardened and violent soldier in Terminator 2: Judgment Day.  Linda Hamilton’s performances in both films are incomparable.  The best part is that they do indeed change the course of history that night at Cyberdyne Systems, one in which their Terminator stands as an unstoppable force against law enforcement in what can only be described as a preview of the apocalypse they’re trying to prevent.  Poignantly, no fate.

This second film is the perfect ending to the franchise.  There is zero need to go any further, but given the nature of how Hollywood works as a profit-driven enterprise, more sequels were inevitable.  As such, we were given what I consider one of the most offensive followups in cinematic history: Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines.  Not because the film was all that bad: truly, most of it was enjoyable, in the mindless action movie sense.  But because of the ending when it’s revealed that Judgment Day is inevitable after all, that everything that has come before was all for naught.  The central tenant of James Cameron’s two films was discarded all for the sake of generating more sequels — which he had no part of, I should point out.

Terminator: Salvation was a confusing mess, so much so that I barely remember it.  The post-Judgment Day world that is shown in this film is radically different from the portrayals in the James Cameron entries.  As such, I can’t even consider it canon (for whatever that means at this point), since the most recent Terminator: Genisys seems to ignore this as well.

Speaking of, I went to see Genisys yesterday, and just like Rise of the Machines, I felt like this was a completely enjoyable action flick.  Unlike Rise of the Machines, however, Genisys avoided throwing a giant middle finger at the No Fate thread from the original films, at least.  Nevertheless, this film’s overarching plot and how it fits in with the timeline is bizarre and borderline non-sensical.  Even so, I appreciate that this movie essentially establishes that it’s in its own parallel timeline, which at least affords it the possibility of taking the franchise into another direction without denigrating the Cameron ones.

Genisys shows us parts from The Terminator, but turned on its head because of the timeline changes.  Instead of the Sarah Connor who was blissfully naive at the beginning, Kyle Reese discovers one who is already trained and ready for the oncoming apocalypse.  But the strangeness of this version of Sarah is that, unlike Linda Hamilton’s Judgment Day incarnation, Emilia Clarke’s rendition is has much softer edges.  In a way, I’m fine with this, but on the other hand, I feel like the writers decided to make her more likable to modern audiences.  The tough plus sweet combination is a strange one for the Sarah Connor I know.

Similarly, Kyle Reese is quite different this time around, except that it makes less sense because he’s still supposed to be the same incarnation as Michael Biehn’s version.  And while Jai Courtney does fine work in his portrayal of this version of Reese, I feel strongly that his is considerably weaker.  Considerably safer.  What I mean by that is that Biehn played an emotionally shredded Kyle Reese who had seen nothing but nonstop horror and death in his life, and bore all kinds of scars both literally and figuratively.  This was a man with severe PTSD who feels wildly out of place when he travels to pre-Judgment Day 1984.  You can completely understand why such a disaffected person would fall in love with a photograph of Sarah Connor, this idyllic beauty that looked like she lived on another world.  The fantasy of her ran deeper for Kyle than we could comprehend.

Conversely, Jai Courtney’s Kyle Reese is shown to be more gallant, more emotionally stable.  He comes off like a more generic expression of what a solider should be, as is often the case in contemporary action movies, as opposed to what one can become after decades of agony.  The juxtaposition between Courtney’s Reese and Clarke’s Connor is more an awkward blind date than what Biehn and Hamilton had, which was more visceral and mutually dependent.

After thinking about this, I realized what my preference for a sequel would have been for the Cameron movies.  Rather than mess around with the idea that somehow the actions of Sarah, the Terminator, young John, and Miles accounted for nothing, I would rather have seen a film that follows up with the war-hero John Connor’s time after he sends back the two guardians to protect his mother and younger self.  Instead, I would go with the Back to the Future 2 idea of time travel with split timelines (alternate realities).  While Judgment Day was averted, the time that older John Connor lives in continues, its own world.

In this still post-Judgment Day world, I would portray the battle against the forces of Skynet as still continuing.  While the resistance managed to destroy its central core, all the machines it had created are still functioning, still obeying their directives.  Perhaps, like bees, the machines will designate a new queen, and a new AI, born without human design, to emerge and present a wholly new kind of threat.

Written by Michael

7 July 2015 at 1:54 pm

Platinum Review – Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (PS3)

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is my absolute favorite game from the sixth-generation of consoles, even over the magnificent Eternal Darkness. I fell in love with this on the GameCube back in 2003, and I’ve tried to re-play it in every incarnation it has appeared in, including as an original Xbox game through backwards compatibility on the Xbox 360. (Sadly, it was borderline unplayable.) Fortunately, the good folks at Ubisoft commissioned a well-made, high-definition port to the PlayStation 3 that ran extremely well. The only drawback was that all the cutscenes were still in 4:3 standard definition, a relic of an earlier age in television. Indeed, this irony is not lost on me because I remember thinking that the cutscenes used to look much better than the game itself, but now the reverse is true.

Best Trophy: Prince of Sand (Gold) — you receive this trophy automatically for simply beating the game, but given how great this title is, and how endearing the characters and the voice acting all is, the very privilege of playing it again made this my favorite trophy to earn of them all.

Worst Trophy: Sands of Time (Silver) — sadly, the eponymous trophy is a bit of a nuisance. It requires you to play the game for more than ten hours; but, due to my experience with the title, I could easily beat it in five hours. Thankfully, this timer is cumulative across multiple playthroughs, which is required for other trophies anyway.  It all worked out in the end.

Special Mention Trophy: Secret of Agrabah (Gold) — I mention this trophy because I remembered where each of the ten hidden locations were without the aid of a guide. (Shows you how much I’ve played this game.) Well, all except one of them. Had I not needed another reason to replay the game for other trophies, I would have been furious at missing this one location.

Written by Michael

19 June 2015 at 10:50 pm