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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Preview: Trine



Developed by Frozenbyte, Trine is an action platformer + role playing game hybrid that is scheduled to be premiered sometime in July of this year for both the Personal Computer and the PlayStation 3. The X-Box 360 version will be available at a later date. I haven't logged in to my Steam account in weeks so I was very surprised to see that the PC demo is now available for download.


Now that's a lot of gold.

In Trine, you gain control of three archetypical RPG characters - a thief, a wizard, and a warrior - whose souls are accidentally linked to each other. They must find a solution to undo what has happened to them while getting rid of an undead scourge that has been plaguing the kingdom along the way. The cut-scenes are consist of static drawings but the very convincing voice-over narrative during the cinematic and while playing the game give Trine a strong and appropriate fairy-tale/fantasy feel. It's your standard medieval inspired storyline but everything else about the game is nothing short of extraordinary. First, let's talk about the graphics. This is one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen yet. The game uses full 3D graphics that frame its side-scrolling 2D gameplay. The brilliant use of colors and the level of details found here are just staggering. It made me a little teary-eyed because there were some Sonic moments in there when it comes to the level design. Just imagine a new Sonic game made this way - It would be total bliss. I ran the game in 1920 x 1080. Hopefully this will be the native resolution for the console versions as well because I would love to own this on the PlayStation 3.


Every single thing in the game looks absolutely incredible.

Each of the character has their own specialties and you must switch between them often to get ahead. The thief can attack with her bow and can use a grappling hook to swing across chasms as well as reach higher platforms. The wizard can materialize blocks from thin air and he can also magically move unreachable objects and devices. The warrior can use his sword to effectively attack incoming enemies. Your characters can level up by collecting experience vials and it looks as if you can customize their individual builds from the character menu - unfortunately, I wasn't able to do this in the demo. Controlling the game using the keyboard is a bit awkward so I used the X-Box 360 controller instead. Still, the mouse is more efficient when drawing a square in the air to summon a block while playing the wizard. On the controller, you have to do it with the right analogue stick - it's a bit too touchy and inaccurate. The character-switching mechanics work really well and it would be interesting to see if the game would allow online multi-player when it comes out.


Fighting a skeleton - the only type of enemy that shows up in the demo.

The only problem I found in this demo is that it ended way too quickly. By the time that I was used to the game's controls, it was over. It certainly made me want this game even more. Trine is shaping up to be one magnificent game. With its perfect graphics, hypnotically soothing soundtrack, and time tested platform gameplay, the only thing that I can think of that could break the game is how its pacing is going to be framed in its final form. It's really hard to judge it in this demo because it was too short. With the right kind of level structure and overall length, this could easily be a landmark title. I want this game now.

FIRST IMPRESSION: 5 out of 5

For more information about Trine, you can visit the game's official website:
http://trine-thegame.com/

Monday, June 29, 2009

Games Played 06/14/2009

Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life - GameCube
Raiden Fighters Aces - X-Box 360
Sol Divide - SegaSaturn
World of Warcraft - PC


RANDOM GAME OF THE DAY:


Rayman Advance (2001)
Developer: Digital Eclipse Software
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Purchase Date: 06/17/2001


That was how I looked like when I saw the pixelated portions of the game.

I don't know how I missed buying the first Rayman game when it first arrived on the SegaSaturn and the PlayStation back in 1995. Admittedly, I was somewhat unorganized when it came to my video game buying back then. My mind was also predominantly focused on my undergraduate studies at that time even though playing video games came to a close second. So when this remake showed up for the Game Boy Advance, I was very thrilled. In this first Rayman adventure, your goal is to traverse colorful stages filled with classic platforming action in search for the missing "Electoons" who are held hostage by an evil Mr. Dark. You start the game with only the ability to duck and jump but as you progress through it, you will gain Rayman's attack and platforming maneuvers. The graphics are quite good for a GBA game but there are many sprites that look horribly pixelated. I thought that maybe this problem was present in the original game but I then found out that this game's graphics don't even come close to the visual splendors of the 32-bit versions. Even the soundtrack was changed into MIDI tunes so that it would fit into the cartridge. I was expecting too much from this version apparently so I ended up being disappointed. The digital copy of the original Rayman is currently available on the PlayStation Network Store for $5.99 and this reminds me that I need to buy it soon so that I can experience the real thing instead of this cheap imitation.

LIBRARY STATUS: 3 out of 5

Games Played 06/13/2009

Infamous - PlayStation 3
Overlord - X-Box 360
Overlord II Demo - PC


RANDOM GAME OF THE DAY:


Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand (2003)
Developer: Konami Computer Entertainment Japan
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Purchase Date: 09/20/2003


I used the GameCube GBA Player to capture this screenshot.
Notice that the sunlight bar at the bottom right is showing zero sunlight.

Game subtitles are normally pretentious and self-absorbed - just look at the ones for the Metal Gear series for prime examples of this. The same can't be said about Boktai: The Sun is in Your Hand because you will get to know that shiny globe that shows up in the sky during the day time that you never really pay attention to on a normal day to day basis. You see, the only way you can be successful in playing this game is to actually play under the direct light of the sun. No, I am not talking about the filtered light coming through your window during the day or any form of artificial light - the sun has to directly shine on top of the sensor located at the top of the game's taller than usual cartridge. Boktai is an action adventure game where you play a monster hunter who uses the power of the sun to help him destroy his enemies. There is a bar in the game that measures the intensity of sunlight that the sensor is receiving and this is then converted into energy used to recharge your weapons. Initially, it is best to play the game at the most optimum location where you can suck up a lot of sunlight because the game can actually store the excess energy for you in case you want to play it at a location or a time when you don't have easy access to the sun. To avoid unnecessary sunburn lawsuit, the game also ingeniously warns you to stop when you are getting too much sun! There are a lot of great puzzles that revolve around the idea of sunlight/darkness in the game and as long as you don't mind going out of your way to charge up the game with its prerequisite brand of energy, there is a lot of great gameplay and innovation to be had with Boktai.

LIBRARY STATUS: 4 out of 5

Games Played 06/12/2009

Dash of Destruction - X-Box 360
Gunstar Heroes - PlayStation 3
Overlord - X-Box 360
Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 - PC


RANDOM GAME OF THE DAY:


Wetrix+ (1998)
Developer: Zed Two Ltd.
Platform: Sega Dreamcast
Purchase Date: 2001


Alexey Pajitnov's wet dream?

Wetrix+ is what you get when you combine Tetris with geography. Basically, suspiciously Tetris-like shapes fall one by one onto the flat, square land, each represented by either up arrows to signify elevation or down arrows to signify depression. It is your job to mold the shape of the land so that water will not leak out from the edges of the board when they eventually come into play. The more water you can hold, the better and when a meteor arrives, you can use it to evaporate any linked body of water to score a huge amount of points. While doing all this, you also have to watch the "Earthquake" meter on the left side of the screen that will be filled up whenever you elevate the land. If the meter is maxed out, a catastrophic earthquake dramatically alter the shape of your land - very disastrous when you are currently holding a large body of water. There are also the occasional bombs that drop down from the sky that will create a hole on the land if it's not already padded with enough elevation. The game is over when you allow too much water to leaked out of the land. This may all sound like a boring educational lecture but the game is really fun to play. It's a genius twist to the old Tetris formula. The water effects still look great - a nice little reminder of what the Dreamcast is capable of.

LIBRARY STATUS: 4 out of 5

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Games Played 06/11/2009

Gunstar Heroes - PlayStation 3
The Orange Box - X-Box 360
Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 - PC


RANDOM GAME OF THE DAY:


Blood Will Tell: Tezuka Ozamu's Dororo (2004)
Developer: Wow Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 2
Purchase Date: 2004


Do you like fighting nasty demons? There are plenty of them in here.

Blood Will Tell can never compete with successful action adventure games like Devil May Cry or God of War but it is certainly an entertaining game. The game is packed full of Japanese supernatural creatures, with a total of 48 boss fights against a wide variety of evil fiends. You control Hyakkimaru, a man who has lost 48 body parts during his infancy to 48 fiends who he must defeat. He would have been dead if not for the help of a physician who then transformed his body into a weapon of destruction with two blades and a machine gun hidden inside his prosthetic arms while powerful cannon is strategically placed inside one of his knees. He is accompanied by a boy thief named Dororo after he saved the boy from a group of rampaging demons. The combat system is simple and things get repetitive pretty quickly but thankfully, you get to increase your weapons' level the more you use them and there are not too many enemies that you have to fight to get to a boss battle. The highlights here are the 48 fiends. They are not difficult to defeat but it is fun to encounter them. You can also read up on them in the game's encyclopedia from the main menu where you will find out that one of the fiends like to kidnap children, work them to death, and then eat their dead bodies - Japanese ghosts are quite merciless. I like the stylish cut-scenes that show us Hyakkimaru's back-story but the game contains too many real-time cut-scenes that can sometimes break off the fast flow of battle sections.

LIBRARY STATUS: 3 out of 5

Friday, June 26, 2009

Games Played 06/10/2009



RANDOM GAME OF THE DAY:


Æon Flux (2005)
Developer: Terminal Reality
Platform: X-Box
Purchase Date: 11/25/2005


Æon walking down the catwalk. Now that is what I call a grand entrance.

It may be surprising to know that I never even watched the anime or the movie when I picked up this game. I did watch the latter when it was released on DVD (it was an awful film by the way) - I still can't figure out why I didn't use the free tickets included in the game to catch it at the theater. Though I thought Charlize Theron's performance in Monster was incredible, I am not a rabid fan of hers. So what could have possibly possesed me into buying this game? It's the whole Perfect Dark sci-fi vibe and knowing that the game chronicles a separate story than what inspired it. Not that I care much about knowing everything there is to know about secret agent/assassin Æon Flux but when a movie-to-game developer takes the liberty to create something different from the game's source material, it usually indicates that the game is not a rushed product. Overall, the game is a lot of fun to play and I was pleasantly surprised by the shameless Metroid-inspired sections in the game when Æon is rolling about corridors and tubes inside a metal ball. The game also contains a very strange futuristic storyline that jumps back and forth between timelines which I found to be highly enjoyable and it really kept things interesting for me as confusing as the whole thing was. The game features both hand to hand and gun combat - both executed well and with style. What is more stylish though is the platforming sections of the game where you see Æon running along the side of walls and dropping down from high elevation head first as she spins around shooting everything that moves during her fast descent.

LIBRARY STATUS: 3 out of 5

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Games Played 06/09/2009



RANDOM GAME OF THE DAY:


Rayman 2: The Great Escape (2000)
Developer: Ubi Soft
Platform: Sega Dreamcast
Purchase Date: 06/23/2001


Follow the pretty butterflies.

Rayman 2 was first released on the Nintendo 64. This Dreamcast version contains vastly improved graphics compared to that first release. As a matter of fact, the sharp and clean texture works in this game still look incredible even to this day. Rayman 2 is a successful 3D platformer that is able to maintain cohesive and polished platforming elements. It is one of the best platform adventure games ever made, especially on the Dreamcast after the arrival of the disappointing Sonic Adventure. For a game that is more slow-paced than Sonic, Ubi Soft was able to add a lot of dynamic stages into this awesome title. In this game, the limbless Rayman must save the world from a group of Robo-Pirates. All the characters are very well designed from the smallest eye-candy characters that roam the game's lush and highly stylized environments all the way to Rayman's sidekick Globox as well as his mechanical foes. There are many things to collect and mini games to unlock - I haven't found all of them myself so there's a good reason for me to jump on this game again in the future.

LIBRARY STATUS: 5 out of 5

Games Played 06/08/2009



RANDOM GAME OF THE DAY:


Dungeons & Dragons: Dragonshard (2005)
Developer: Liquid Entertainment
Platform: Personal Computer
Purchase Date: 09/24/2005


Nothing says team-building like harvesting shards as a group.

I am not who you would call a hardcore real time strategy game fanatic. I would normally be attracted to this genre when the game contains settings or subject-matters that are interesting to me rather than the actual strategy element in itself which I often found to be a bit exhausting to manage. I like a good role playing game and even though this game is most definitely a RTS, it has a RPG twist that makes your usual home-base development more exciting than just the usual resource-hoarding and military-planning. In Dragonshard, experience points are pivotal in upgrading your army and you can travel into a dungeon to gain them before facing off your opponents. I found the campaign mode entertaining and I really enjoy the heavily quest-driven narrative. Of course the core of Dragonshard's gameplay experience is its online mode and the server is still up but it was empty when I logged on try out a quick match. In August of last year, a friend of mine invited me to an online battle. It was such a random request but I agreed to the invitation. After we both had installed the game, a patch was needed for the game to be playable online. We both downloaded the patch. Then the unexpected happen: he was not able to get to the server. He then admitted that he pirated the game. How lame was that?

LIBRARY STATUS: 3 out of 5

Preview: Help Wanted



Yesterday, I received in my mail the Help Wanted demo disc for the Nintendo Wii that I requested a week ago. Developed by Hudson Soft., the demo contains 9 out of 50 jobs - or should I say mini motion games? - that are found in the final retail release available for purchase today. The playable jobs in the demo are:

Bodybuilder - Strike a pose when your turn comes.
Farmer - Pluck out carrots from the ground.
Haunted House Crew - Scare off patrons while switching to proper outfits.
Fisher - Throw a large net into the sea to catch fish.
Grill Cook - Flip over the meat on the skewers before they get burnt.
Dairy Farmer - Milk a cow. Yeah.
Stuntperson - Jump a car over a row of vehicles.
Tailor - Sew a shirt.
Clown - Juggle balls.

Judging from the overly-energetic attract sequence at the beginning that introduces the game's 6 playable characters (boy, girl, dad, mom, grandpa, grandma), Help Wanted does contain some sort of story mode but it is greyed out in the demo. Seems rather epic in that Incredible Crisis sort of way.


A large meteor is on a collision course with Earth.
So working odd jobs is the solution to this problem?


You know it's super-epic when the elderly gets giddy with each other.

For humor's sake, I of course couldn't help but select the grandma character. Having her subjected to some of these crazy and humiliating jobs is probably the most fun aspect of this offbeat little game. As mentioned previously, these are all motion games and after a try or two, they do get extremely repetitive and annoying because some of the motion commands are dodgy at best. They should have waited for Wii Motion Plus. They mostly follow logical and natural control schemes though like moving the nunchuk and the wiimote upwards at the right moment to juggle the balls in "Clown" and alternating the up and down movement while milking the cow in "Dairy Farmer". I don't understand why you must use the D-Pad on the wiimote to select the skewers in "Grill Cook" when you can just move the wiimote left or right. The game's graphics look pretty good - they are bright and colorful while managing to avoid looking like something made during the early PlayStation 2 years, a problem that has cursed many Wii games.


Fly grandma! Flyyy!


Flex 'em muscles like you mean it!

Overall, I found the game boring. Probably because I don't see the reason why I would want to repeat these activities over and over again. The story mode may actually tie the whole thing together and from what I have seen on the game's website, some of the other mini games look absolutely hilarious. It is one of those family party games that everyone can play. Might be fun to play with my significant other but the chances of that is of course, slim to none. They should have added a little more to this demo because it really fails to create any sort of excitement over the game's true potential.

FIRST IMPRESSION: 2 out of 5

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Games Played 06/07/2009



RANDOM GAME OF THE DAY:


Stretch Panic (2001)
Developer: Treasure
Platform: PlayStation 2
Purchase Date: 08/31/2001


The way the boss moves at the beginning of this fight is very creepy.

There is no doubt that Treasure is really good at making video games but that doesn't mean that the company is incapable of making mistakes - unless of course, their superstar Hiroshi Iuchi is in the development team. Stretch Panic contains an original premise: You play as Linda who must save her 12 sisters who are kidnapped by vanity demons. The sisters are vain enough to begin with and the demons transform each of them into monstrosities that match their worst possible traits. The final demon is not able to posses Linda but it possesses her scarf instead and Linda uses this to her advantage. The gameplay revolves around the mechanics of stretching. Every single object in the game can be pinched and stretched by the demon scarf. The enemies - bikini-clad women with gigantic, bouncing breasts - and the bosses have weakness areas that need to be exploited using the stretching attack to inflict massive damage upon them. The 12 sisters are some of the best boss fights you will ever encounter - this is a Treasure game after all - and they have a menacing feel to them. Stretch Panic is pretty much a boss battle game and this is where things didn't go so well: you are required to collect points to access the bosses and to do so, you have to visit a number of small stages and destroy the enemies found within. These stages are pretty empty and serve only as places where you go point-hunting. The game would feel better if you could just get from one boss to the next or they could have done something interesting in between like what was done in Shadow of the Colossus. Though the game has a simplistic look to it, Treasure managed to pull off a lot of really impressive special effects that you would never expect to see in a PlayStation 2 game including real-time shadows, bump-mapping, and full 3D reflections. I'm not sure if it's just my copy but at the beginning of each boss fight, you get to see Linda's sister being converted into a demon but the sisters don't match the demons that they are turned into.

LIBRARY STATUS: 3 out of 5

Monday, June 22, 2009

Quicky Before Bed

I have been having a hard time going to sleep at night ever since I started playing Demigod. It has been a long while since the last time a game was able to keep me up playing into the wee hours of the morning. Despite discovering too late that developer Gas Powered Game actually ditched any support to Windows XP 64-bit users like myself - as if they cannot print that incompatibility on the box - Demigod is running stable enough for me to get a lot of satisfying playtime with it. I learned about this troubling fact from a reply email from publisher Stardock's technical support representative. What a disappointment. They are smart enough to offer a reimbursement for this mishap but that is not exactly the point when you ended up liking the game a lot. Strangely, there are XP 32-bit users who are also experiencing similar freezing issues while playing the game so it might be a universal problem caused by some bad codes that needed to be patched. Still, it tells you a lot about a game when not even frustrating technical shortcomings can stop you from coming back for just one more round of gameplay... Even if it means that you're going to be extra groggy in the morning.


Oak is definitely my favorite character thus far.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

May 2009 Monthly Gaming Analysis

The results shown below are of course based on the combined data from the Daily Game Log which should provide a clear indication of a game's usage frequency. Bear in mind that even if a game is played twice or more during a particular day, it would still register as 1 in the Day Count column below. In a sense, "merits" are given based on how often a particular game can make me play it again throughout the entire period of the month on a daily basis. A game that makes a gamer play it over and over again or at least spend a lot of time with it... Isn't that what we mostly want from a great game? I don't think it's really fair to count all the way down to the number of hours played since some games only require a short amount of time to properly serve their purposes.

OVERALL BREAKDOWN:




Total Games Played: 63

It shouldn't be a surprise to see how the top tiers are filled for May 2009 - I was in a role playing game frenzy. There weren't any double-digit contenders like my old Culdcept Saga and Ikaruga days but that is probably because I was just a little too haphazard with which game I really wanted to focus my attention on. My most memorable time last month must be my rediscovery of Kingdom Under Fire: Circle of Doom. Looking past the extreme level of repetition killing thousands of enemies per run-through, I was able to find the game's addictive weapon synthesis system that justify hours upon hours of grinding through the game. What discouraged me the first time I picked up this game last year was the lack of character armor customization. Though armor drops are abundant, you only see the difference in statistics instead of look. Still, this is a game about item stats and I finally understand that. It does help that your character does get to look pretty powerful when you get to higher levels.

I started playing Neverwinter Nights 2 again in anticipation of the expansion, Storm of Zehir that I eventually own by the end of the month. I am leveling up a human ranger and I am still playing through the original campaign. The latest expansion makes the game run better than it ever did before so there is no reason why I can't get back to it again soon.

I unlocked all of the Resident Evil 5 collectibles last month and conquered Professional mode with the help of a very unhelpful A.I. Sheva. The first half May's playtime, I was accompanied by a friend but I really didn't have the patience to wait 2 weeks in between the game for him to finish it together. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II is an exceptional strategy game but I have intentionally stopped playing it near the end of the month because a friend expressed the intention to play through that game's campaign together with me: this didn't end well though, I'll tell you in the next monthly analysis.

Best New Game of the Month:
Raiden Fighters Aces (X-Box 360)

Unexpectedly Forgotten New Game of the Month:
Kingdom Hearts - Re:Chain of Memories (PlayStation 2)

I Missed You I Want You Game of the Month:
The Dark Eye: Drakensang (Personal Computer)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Games Played 06/06/2009

The Dark Eye: Drakensang Demo - PC
The House of the Dead: Overkill - Wii*
Infamous - PlayStation 3
Neverwinter Nights 2 - PC
1 vs. 100 Extended Play Beta - X-Box 360**

*Darn. This game is so vulgar, it should have been rated AO!

**It's a bit boring to be honest. I rather be on The Price is Right. When are they
going to make that one live where people can participate using Skype?


RANDOM GAME OF THE DAY:


Capcom Generation 2 (1998)
Developer: Capcom Co., Ltd.
Platform: SegaSaturn
Purchase Date: 09/05/2002


These games' level of difficulty is legendary. Even getting through the end
of the first stage is a struggle of epic proportions. New gamers... Beware!

During the 32-bit console years, Capcom released a series of compilation discs for their classic games under the title of Capcom Generation. I have only purchased one of them and this second release is a collection of Capcom's Makaimura games a.k.a. some of the most difficult games you will ever play or Ghouls 'N Ghosts as they are more aptly remembered. All three of the games are here: the first one released for the arcades, the second for the Genesis, and the last for the Super Nintendo. When you play through each game, it is apparent that each successor is just merely a remake of the previous game with similar enemies and stage layouts, only with minor balance tweaking and major improvement in the graphics department. The true sequel emerged much later on with the recent release of Ultimate Ghosts 'N Goblins for the PlayStation Portable. Basically, you play Arthur who must wade through legions of the undead using a variety of different weapons and armor upgrades. The one feature that is well known from these games is how your character is stripped off his knightly armor and is left running around in his boxers when you get hit by the enemies. Capcom included unlockable bonus contents on this compilation disc but I wish that they would have cleaned up some of the crippling slowdown found in the games.

LIBRARY STATUS: 4 out of 5

New Games Alert + MMO Decision!

I went PC-centric this time around. I was checking out the console and handheld games and I just didn't feel like buying any of them despite their Severity 1 positions on my Purchase List. My shopping mood was just a bit different yesterday maybe because I didn't really expect my significant other to recommend a video game hunting session - so good at making me happy - during what was supposed to be a romantic evening out. You know that my lover and video games don't mix well. I had to quickly analyze my position on my recent MMO-crazed state as I was shopping for these games. As I was holding the beautiful World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King Expansion Pack box in my hands, I had a revelation: Guild Wars - no subscription fee and there is a heavy Player-vs.-Player action there too. Sure, Guild Wars is not really a MMO and the 8-skill at a time limit still bugs me to this day but I have never seen the game's high end content so I should really work on that before thinking about other MMOs. With a heavy heart, I have decided to forgo jumping back on WoW - it was very close, Blizzy, very very close.

By the way, I was finally able to patch up and play my trial account for Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning - a process that involved manually tweaking one of the patcher files. What a great bug and while finding its solution, I found out that this bug had been around for quite a while now. WAR just had no chance competing against EQII and WoW. I almost fell asleep playing the game and the queues for PvP that used to fill up pretty quick now take an average of half an hour to an hour before you can participate in them - a sign of population balance problems. Maybe it's not as severe in a high population server but you are not given the option to change servers while playing the trial - a grave mistake on Mythic's part.


zzz... Your blood? Yeah, yeah. I'll show you bloodzzz...

So I walked out of the store yesterday with Demigod and The Sims 3. I haven't tried The Sims 3 yet - I surprised myself with this purchase because I was going to replay The Sims 2 - but I played Demigod all night long and it's a really fun arena-styled action role playing game. Sadly, it is in serious need of a major patch because it is a bit buggy and likes to crash at the worst possible moments - like when I was about to win a battle!


I want to play god for a while.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Review: Drag Me to Hell


Drag Me to Hell (2009)
Genre: Horror
Format: Theatrical Release
Director: Sam Raimi

My significant other and I couldn't decide on what to watch as we arrived at the movie theater today. There was a change in our plans so we arrived at the theater earlier than anticipated. I was actually thinking of Disney's Up but then Drag Me to Hell came up during the discussion so we decided to go watch it even though during a previous conversation, we have agreed to wait for its home release. As a horror movie fan, Drag Me to Hell should have been a significant movie for me but ever since its premier late last month, I wasn't too thrilled about Sam Raimi's comeback to horror. I have heard so many great things about the movie but I wasn't convinced when I found out that the movie was rated PG-13. That is usually an indication that the horror movie is tame enough for everyone to enjoy without offending anyone in the process. After the brilliance of his Evil Dead series, I thought that this would be a possible stinker. I was wrong - this PG-13 movie is very evil and I love it.

Drag Me to Hell tells a story of Christine Brown, a loan officer who is cursed by an elderly gypsy woman whose application for a home loan extension was denied by Christine. The curse has a 3 day lifespan where the cursed person's life is made into a living hell and it ends with that individual being literally dragged down to hell by a demon. This may sound like a cookie-cutter plot but it is packed full of horrific scenes that will remain as some of the most genius moments in horror movie history. Even though things are less gory here, the same sensation of glee and terror that were accomplished in Raimi's Evil Dead movies have effectively made it into Drag Me to Hell. Raimi - with the help of his brother/co-writer Ivan - has concocted a horror movie that is not only creatively scary but also brilliantly hilarious at the same time. There is zero cheap scare moment and every single scene is executed with a high degree of cinematic precision that can rarely be found across all movie genres. There are a lot of vicious physical gags in the film that are not only disgusting to watch but also strangely comical due to their over-the-top nature. The movie's usage of sound is also terrific because they are not used to invoke unnecessary scare or a build-up to such end. Instead, many of the noises you hear make perfect sense in the context of the storyline and they have an immediate impact over the audience's reactions. Drag Me to Hell will have you screaming and laughing until its terrific ending that I can only describe as a perfectly satisfying bravura that will have you begging on your knees for more horror movies from Raimi.

If you are a horror fan who have not seen this film, do yourself a favor and watch it immediately. Even the casual moviegoers who are just looking for a good movie to watch will find plenty to enjoy here. Sam Raimi has always been a horror director at heart and this movie proves that. Even though I enjoy his recent Spider-Man films, I never consider them to be great but at least they successfully brought him to the center of the mainstream market. Raimi tends to overplay his favorite web-crawler and these movies always get crush under their own weight midway through the screenings. With a new Evil Dead announced, I hope that he will refocus on making more horror movies because he has some serious mastery over the genre. As we were stepping out of theater, my significant other expressed to me the desire to buy Drag Me to Hell when it gets a home release - this coming from a person who doesn't believe in owning a movie. Yes, it is that good.

RATING: 5 out of 5

Thursday, June 18, 2009

EQ-ual Opportunity Time WAR-sters

Ever since I started playing World of Warcraft again, my mind has started to wander. I thought to myself, "If I want to play a MMO, why am I going back to WoW?" I know that I enjoy Everquest II better, so why not go back to that game instead? So I created a trial account to see what kind of changes have been made to that game or if anything substantially new had been added to it.


The patch updates took almost an entire day but at least it
didn't suck all my bandwith dry like the WoW patch installer.

There is no doubt that WoW is more polished between the two in terms of its overall execution but there are several things that make EQII a more favorable game for me: the better graphics and the friendlier community. I found out that a recent update has brought multi-core support to the game and the 3D engine has been slightly tweaked. Immediately after I started the game, I noticed how much smoother the graphics are running at the Extreme Quality setting. I have planned to visit the larger city areas to make sure that things don't go downhill when they are a lot of players running around. Because WoW attracts a lot of casual players due to its high accessibility, EQII's more esoteric existence attracts a more rounded and predominantly more mature group of players in its community. Throughout my past experiences playing EQII, I have never - as in ever - gotten frustrated by anyone I encountered there except this one time when I accidentally selected a player-vs.-player server to play on. Let me tell you, avoid the PvP servers if you ever want to play proper EQII for the game is not made with PvP in mind. This is not to say that jerks don't exist in EQII - they are everywhere - but their numbers are kept to a minimum here.


Pretty pretty pretty.


Man, this game is pretty but they have to fix that new but nasty looking mini-map soon.

The whole PvP question does raise a concern for me in regards to EQII because I do enjoy WoW's Battlegrounds tremendously and it was PvP that got me to play WoW again in the first place. Then I thought maybe I should try Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning again since it's all about the realm-vs.-realm PvP action. Unfortunately, the server for WAR is down at the moment so I have to wait and see if it's able to make a better impression on me this time around.


Surely this must be a bad sign for WAR.

Perhaps the most curious thing about this whole process is that around the same time last year, I was doing the exact same thing with MMO games - switching from The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar, to Everquest II: Rise of Kunark and eventually to the ill-fated Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures. It's a little creepy: Apparently my MMO itch is seasonal and it has its own biological calendar.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Review: Dogville


Dogville (2003)
Genre: Drama
Format: DVD
Director: Lars von Trier

Being a fan of Bjork, I am familiar with the movie Dancer in the Dark and thus that film's director, Lars von Trier, whom she had a hard time working with during the film's production. To this day, I have yet to watch Dancer in the Dark but after seeing Dogville, I am going to move that movie up on my Netflix queue. If Lars von Trier's other movies are as great as this masterpiece, I think I am going to be one of his biggest fans.

Dogville is the name of a very small and isolated mountain community where the film takes place. Interestingly, the whole movie is shot on what looks like a large soundstage where the houses and locations are represented by chalk-drawings on the ground with minimal props placed across the entire stretch of the area. At first, this style seems extremely jarring and unrealistic but the extraordinary acting and script make everything more alive than its minimalistic visual presentation. Grace, played by an impressive Nicole Kidman, stumbles into the community after running away from what seems to be some sort of gunfight. A disillusioned young writer by the name of Tom finds her lurking about the town and after taking her in, he tries to convince the community to allow her to stay there. In the beginning, Grace's background is a complete mystery to both the town-folks and the audience but it is apparent that she is truly fearing for her life with whatever it is that she is running away from. They all eventually allow Grace to stay but with a little bit of quid pro quo - of course! What follows are truly one of the more fascinating analysis of some of the ugliest parts of human nature. They are truly horrifying to watch and quite demanding to process.

You would think that a movie shot on a static set can only be as exciting as watching a play but Trier's handheld camera was able to capture a lot of interesting mis-en-scene from the simple setup, including a magnificent "map" shot by recording events from a top down viewpoint. Seasonal effects are accomplished cleverly using slight alteration of light and additional props. Brilliant film-making at its best.

Story-wise, the movie offers a lot of allusions to the Great Depression but the real theme here focuses on the idea of power and prejudice and how both can be manipulated so easily. Why is it that people cower behind a group, even when doing so would lead them astray, when they could have maintain their own individual identity to create positive changes around them? Why is it that aggression often yields result while forgiveness and loyalty bring constant downfalls? Why do people judge others when they hold a separate standard when judging their own selves? Is it really okay for you to feel relief/despair at the end of the movie? The answers may not be easy to swallow in Dogville, but the illustrations of such potent human conditions are clearly evident in this magnificent film.

RATING: 5 out of 5

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Games Played 06/05/2009

Ape Escape 2 - PlayStation 2
Fight Night Round 4 Demo - PlayStation 3*
SingStar - PlayStation 3
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 - X-Box 360

*The game looks brighter here than the X-Box 360 but the colors that just pop out
on the 360 look faded and dull on the PS3. I may have to opt for the 360 version on
this one but we shall see because it still looks stunning on the PS3, just less vibrant.


RANDOM GAME OF THE DAY:


Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life (2005)
Developer: Natsume
Platform: Nintendo GameCube
Purchase Date: 07/29/2005


Just because I am good with the hoe, it doesn't make me one, okay?

I have purchased so many of these Harvest Moon games. It is one of my favorite game series. Another Wonderful Life was the second Harvest Moon on the GameCube and it became the first one in the series to feature a female main character. You would think that Natsume's sudden reversal of extreme sexism - that only males can be farmers - was a good thing but if you have played the previous games in the series, you will find out that you are treated somewhat differently here in the most obnoxious ways just because you are playing a girl. But I digress - the real action here is the farm simulation where you manage vegetation and animals to maximize your level of production while experiencing a social life with the people in the nearby town. It's a lot of fun and after you have found your momentum, it gets quite addicting. I don't think I can get quite enough of Harvest Moon but they really do need to step it up in the graphics department because things look too simplistic. Giving the game a mature look with detailed graphics might do the series some good. You have to give the game credit for being able to obtain an "E" rating when the game actually provides you the option to get married and make babies. Strange that these games never made it to Fox News.

LIBRARY STATUS: 4 out of 5

Games Played 06/04/2009

Fight Night Round 4 Demo - X-Box 360*
Neverwinter Nights 2 - PC
Under Defeat - Dreamcast


*The gameplay hasn't changed from from Round 3 but the graphics continue to impress.
Those character models are incredible. I love the sweat effects and the slow-mo replay.


RANDOM GAME OF THE DAY:


Sol Divide (1998)
Developer: Psikyo
Platform: SegaSaturn
Purchase Date: 09/20/2002


This game can only look good in a screenshot.

Apparently, there was a period of time when developers went a little crazy with pre-rendered 3D graphics (thank you Donkey Kong Country). This game uses that technique in full force and the result? A game that's beautiful when paused because everything looks terribly stiff in motion due to the lack of smooth animation to support the realism of that graphical style. Sol Divide is Psikyo's most unique shoot-'em-up but unfortunately, it is the worst game that Psikyo has ever made. Each stage is comprised of two very - as in VERY - short areas and they are each filled with generic action and uninspired boss battles. There are 3 mythical flying warriors to choose from and they all have long range shots and melee attacks. You can collect magical scrolls throughout the game that can be used when they are fully charged, giving Sol Divide a "role-playing game" feel to it. This Saturn port receives an original mode not found in the arcade version - an extended story mode where you can level up your character RPG-style while roaming about shooting things in the stages found in the main game. This is the only Psikyo game that I do not enjoy playing.

LIBRARY STATUS: 2 out of 5

Monday, June 15, 2009

Achievement Impact on WoW

I have been back on World of Warcraft for a day now and surprisingly, I haven't seen any apparent achievement-whoring happening in the game. I was really expecting people to do weird, unnatural stuff while playing the Battlegrounds but no signs of that so far. Maybe I have arrived here too late to see the madness of it all when it was first introduced? I have seen the official achievement announcement pop-ups every so often though - whenever one is unlocked, other players in close vicinity are notified of your "accomplishment", a pretty rewarding thing to some folks I am sure. This is a good sign I hope because I have heard stories about people not willing to group up with players who do not have the necessary number of achievements that they deem worthy enough to justify being in their presence - now that's a new breed of an achievement whore there. I would laugh out so loud if I am told by someone in the game, "You don't have enough raiding achievements, you can't join us". During the last two hours of play this evening, I did stumble into the following public messages from two players looking to score some achievement points. By the way, the achievements in this game are not rewarded with any significant in-game items and there are just there as fun little extras. As they say, where there are achievements...


Well, well well... They do exist in WoW.


This one even included the link that describes the achievement that he/she is after.
Notice the misspelling and the second announcement a couple of lines after. Apparently,
the group was able to find a DPS pretty quickly - gasp! There are many of them out there!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

WoW: The Quest... Alternates!

Many times I have mentioned here that I am through with massively multi-player online role playing games and I have placed the blame on World of Warcraft. When I quit WoW in late April 2008, the main reason behind it was the over-demanding end game. Things were getting too repetitive in regards to building the necessary reputations to get the most sough-after rewards and the end game dungeons were too time consuming even though a hint of change was beginning to emerge with the introduction of Sunwell Isle that came the latest patch that arrived at the eve of my previous existence in Azeroth. I never said that the game was terrible - it's just that it was becoming too overbearing.

A week ago, I was talking to an old WoW friend about revisiting the game again. The idea sounded disgusting to me. Still, during that discourse, I admitted to my friend that I miss playing the Battlegrounds in WoW - Battlegrounds are large faction-based player-vs.-player battles with varying goals: capture the flag, claim territories, etc. only they are much more exciting than Halo or any other first/third person shooters out there because of its complexity and depth of gameplay [and that you can't die from a cheap one hit (head)shot unless you're ganked... Not too mention the fact that you don't see characters jumping up and down all over the place like a bunch of wild monkeys]. All of a sudden, I was reminded of the good things in WoW and with my recent hunger for action role playing games, I could sense trouble brewing in the horizon. For quite a while ever since I quit WoW, I tried to replace the addiction by playing other similar games and eventually, the craving disappeared but not completely as you will soon discover.

I went to the WoW website late yesterday evening to check out the game's updates. I then saw the latest epic armor sets for the characters. Here's one of them:


If I was a warlock, I would so want that.

A lot of the classes are getting some truly wicked looking armor sets and best of all: to get them, one only has to raid short-length dungeons with 9 other people. This is a major difference from the ultra-hardcore mentality that was prevalent during the contents found in the original game and its first expansion, The Burning Crusade. And then, I saw this:


Why not? This expansion trial is open to any WoW account holder
even if he/she doesn't have an active subscription. Very smart.

Immediately, I reinstalled the game - a process that required a monumental amount of patience because it took me almost an entire day to download the game's 4+ years worth of patches. I started playing it around 5pm this evening and all I can say is that I am glad that I am playing the game again. There are many intriguing changes that have been made to the game. The first thing I noticed was the rebalanced talent trees for the classes. I have a level 70 priest who was spec Discipline/Holy before I quit and now I have spec him into a Shadow Priest. The new level cap is 80 so there's a lot of adventures waiting for me if I choose to continue playing this game after the 10-day trial period. Below are some of the things I encountered during my initial return to WoW:


I logged in to the very the spot where I last exited the game. It used to be
the most crowded place in the game and now, it's nothing but a ghost town.


The game now has a very comprehensive achievement system
that would surely please even the filthiest achievement/trophy whores.


The world is now filled with real time shadows, complete with self-shadowing. Looking good!
All other players and NPCs are also properly shadowed, unlike Warhammer Online.


The hero class is not that alluring to me because I don't want to add another
character to level up - even if it starts you up at level 55.



The Battlegrounds are still as fun as ever... I spent most of my time there
this evening even though I should really be questing to level my character up.

Overall, my experience so far is both pleasant and frustrating at the same time because I am reminded of the things that make the game fun (the polished cartoon-ish graphics, addictive gameplay mechanics) and I am also struck by the things that made me quit the game in the first place (still too time consuming and demanding - including a new dual-talent specialization feature that will require you to pay 1000 gold to unlock and no, it's not easy to make that kind of money in WoW). I also know that it would take a lot of my time away from my other games if I do decide to continue playing this game. I did a little bit of soul-searching this evening and I think I know why I want to get back into WoW - the need for a more meaningful online friendship. I am beginning to get a little tired of the lack of real camaraderie found in my overall online experience on the consoles. Besides that one friend of mine who later quickly turned on me for no apparent reason, I haven't found any other substantial people that I really connect with. The sense of community is alive and well in a MMO because its a genre that requires a continuous stream of communication in a grand scale for it to work. I seem to have better luck finding great people in a MMO but the WoW community is a bit suspect though. It helps that I do have several friends waiting for me in Azeroth. With all that has been said, I haven't made up my mind yet about WoW. I will take full advantage of the free trial and we will see where it might lead me.