what is the most important gripe i’ve had with the thor movies: they are brooding and boring.

marvel heard me loud and clear.

thor ragnarok is a hell of a lot of fun. visually it’s gorgeous. it’s actually about something other than “omg look at the stakes!!!” the dialog is great. the story is preposterously silly and it knows it. finally a thor movie brought us more of interest than “chris hemsworth is at least 13/10” and i am here for it.

as always, i don’t know anything about the source comics. i have read before about the norse ragnarok story. i don’t remember it very well except there’s a god of death called something like Hel and a giant wolf that eats… the sun? something like that. it was cool to see some nods to that, like Hela having the giant wolf, which is NOT explained otherwise.

normally this is the point where i start warning you about spoilers, but i really don’t know how spoilery this will be. i’ll try to keep it light. i just want to talk about why i liked a movie featuring characters i’m not super fond of so much. don’t expect it to be organized or make sense. the movie’s pretty dumb, but it knows how dumb it is, and the ride is a blast. overdone rebirth/hero’s journey story or not, you should check it out. don’t miss.

  • it was pretty clear from the opening scene that the characters were following the old “making a prophecy happen by trying to prevent it” cliche. it was interesting to see this movie’s take on that, and how the characters kind of react to it.
  • the overarching plot is an apocalypse story. we see actual gods trying to either destroy a universe or stop that from happening. absurd and ridiculous. it’s such a silly idea. thank you for making this movie be equally silly.
  • jeff goldblum remains a national treasure. he was outstanding in this movie. protect jeff goldblum at all costs.
  • the MCU has written the hulk basically out of relevance. tony stark is just as smart as bruce banner, and thor, an iron man robot, and the vision can each do anything hulk can do without all the collateral damage. i like that he escaped to a world that accepts him, that we actually got some hulk dialog, and that we actually explored the “anger” of hulk a little bit. anger IRL is usually a response to perceived threat. bruce banner being vulnerable and stressed out makes perfect sense, and the hulk as his protector? yes.
  • i don’t know how many people had to ok the name of the wormhole to asgard. but they all took a giant risk and damn does it work, lol.
  • i mentioned the dialog being great. that’s cause it’s great. super natural, very witty, loved it. i’ve heard a whole lot of it is ad-libbed and that makes a ton of sense. let the actors really inhabit those characters and be–well, as real as possible. quit forcing quips on us. joss. chris hemsworth is funny as hell in several other roles, and that angle of him really shines here. speaking of the dialog the grandmaster insists on referring to his slaves as “prisoners with jobs” because he doesn’t like “the S word.” which, i appreciated the shit out of, because (motions at The 13th).
  • the scene with the valkyrie attacking hela was eye-poundingly stunning. it’s like a renaissance painting. extremely, extremely good scene.
  • i also appreciate the history of asgard being lain bare. odin didn’t just become ruler of the 9 realms by being a benevolent overlord. they conquered that shit, and then when he decided he was tired of that life he kicked out the goddess of death and painted over all the monuments to his brutal past. that seemed a little familiar too. (:
  • the main villain of this movie is a woman. she isn’t bitchy. she isn’t an ice queen. she isn’t a seductress. she is just more powerful than you and you are between her and her goals, so you can fall in line or die now, you have three seconds to decide. cate blanchett owned the screen but the character they gave her made it possible.
  • thor’s new mjollnirless lightning powers seem a little OP. little worried how that plays into future avengers films.
  • oh, and as a last thought, the doctor strange cameo was hilarious. “i have been falling for 30 minutes” hahaha
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i just

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ok. im good. we’re good.

guardians 2 is in danger of usurping winter soldier as my favorite of the marvel movies. it has a couple of flaws, which we’ll get to spoilerlessly, and it has a couple of themes that cut the shit out of me, which we will also get to as obliquely as we can before i dive into the spoilers. the problem is, all my complaints are non spoilers, and most of what made me love this film IS spoilers, so, if you stop at the spoiler line your impression may come away overly negative. i loved this movie. we critique because we love.

for starters its absolutely gorgeous. the full spectrum is on display here. apart from the opening scene (well, the Guardians’ opening scene), this is a 3D movie that didn’t engage in gratuitous 3D for its own sake. it’s a very funny movie, although it also spares absolutely no toilet joke, which grates on the nerves quickly, but mercifully goes away. i’d actually say the whole first act is a little rough around the edges. the screenplay could have used a “dont do that” person in the first few scenes and would benefit nicely.

it was a really mixed bag for that first act. you would laugh out loud and then, oog, cool, another pee joke, thanks. there would be an excellent raw moment from a character and then, immediately, something over the top. i understand that for example drax’s point is to be over the top, but good lord, that forced laughter was unbearable the 50,000th time in ten minutes. tough to point at other things without spoiling. and honestly, it was like the movie didn’t know how old its audience was for a while. several times, characters would pointedly stop at “sonuva,” and the worst insult was “douchebag.” but when shit goes down, we can actually finish “sonuvabitch,” and people can swear, and it’s fine. it’s weirdly fun and glib about killing lots of people too. i dunno. it was weird tonally in the first 45 minutes or so.

anyway, when the movie finally gets on with itself, we get just as complete a character arc for #Trashpanda rocket and, weirdly enough, karen gillan’s nebula, as we do for peter himself. peter and rocket’s stories pay off in outstanding fashion for me. what a dope couple of story lines. nebula/gamora pays off less than the other two, but some of that is because of the nature of nebula’s character honestly. she’s just been made to be so cut off and distant that when she finally gets the spoiler she wants she just doesn’t know how to handle it, other than to continue her obsession with killing thanos. it’s real hard for me to relate to is the problem with it. i imagine not a lot of us had titans for fathers who had their children fight for sport. i’m also an only child. shrug.

the final act is just excellent. everything about it is great. i felt like i was watching an A++ final boss battle in some vidya. loved every second of it. any detail would be a spoiler. just trust me the last half hour owns so hard you guys.

it deals with themes of love and hope and acceptance in a way i never expected. it was funny and silly and saturated and somehow, moving. i just wish there wasnt this weird tonal thing going on in the first half and that the bathroom humor was toned down several notches.

anyway, this movie was in the aggregate hilarious, extremely smart in its pacing and themes, beautiful to look at, and beautiful to experience. you should see it and the spoilers start in 3… 2…

1.

okay so i haven’t googled yet. are the christians panning this movie as being about killing god yet? a quick search hasn’t revealed anything so i’m assuming probably not. that surprises me. if harry potter is satanic, certainly so is blowing up the brain of even “a god, little g.” maybe it’s because ego bears no resemblance to the abrahamic god. he’s more of a zeus. he’s certainly the embodiment of his namesake. YOU ARE ALL BELOW ME, AND THERE SHALL BE NOTHING THAT IS NOT ME! hahaha.

so i’ma unwrap the layers here. at the most basic point, this is a victory for humility, chosen family, and sacrifice over egotism. that’s obvious. of course, the humble self-sacrificers are also some murderers and thieves and scoundrels, so the morality play is thin, but that’s what’s there okay?

but that isn’t what really slayed me here. when ego says, for some, unknown, complete idiot reason, that he gave his lover cancer, that he killed her so he wouldn’t be tempted to go back to her anymore, peter rejects him on the spot. that’s fairly predictable. we would figure peter would be anti-killers of his mom. but it’s a little bit more than that.

really often in movies and TV, especially when any element of fantasy is involved, the characters are made to fulfill some destiny. they are becoming who they were supposed to be. that is what it is, it isn’t necessarily a bad or a good thing, but where guardians 2 started throwing dust around the room was when peter rejects all this. he could be a demigod. he could be immortal. WE COULD RULE THE GALAXY, TOGETHER, FATHER AND SON. but peter rejects that. he doesn’t need your destiny. he doesn’t need to be who you think he’s supposed to be. he values his chosen family over his real one because that’s who has actually been there for each other, and that’s real, not this power thing. not this “blood family” who rejects what he values and who he wants to be.

the protagonists of these movies have always been a ragtag misfit band. they come together because they really have nobody else. i’ve been there, man, and there is no tighter bond than the folks who stick together, because the only thing they have in common, is they’re the only people who don’t reject each other. when nebula says “you’re not friends. all you do is yell at each other,” and drax brings the theme home with a sledgehammer because no other character can deliver this cheese with actual seriousness, “no, we’re not. we’re family.” when the people who are supposed to be the closest in your life reject who you are, you cling to those who embrace you for who you are, oddities and perfections and lumps all alike. the ones for whom, all the devils that they don’t know can come along for the ride. in a world where families have only recently started to quit rejecting their queer and trans kids, where trans women are murdered regularly, where gay men are rounded up and tortured in chechnya, in a world where foreigners are expelled and killed and sentenced to death by exile without a fuck given, this is a timely-ass theme and i am here for it.

feel like i need a minute to recover even just talking about it lol. i didnt expect this movie to hug me but here we are. thanks, movie.

the other great arc was the one where rocket grows up. i did not expect yondu to have such a major role in this movie. his redemption story is nice. that the other ravagers or whatever they’re called all showed up to his funeral, yeah, very good, very touching. has half the weight if the movie didn’t draw parallels between yondu and rocket, and also has less weight if the movie didn’t make those parallels clear to rocket himself. the first point of this theme is YOU ARE NOT ALONE. no matter what the universe has made you climb. someone else has been there before.

thats a nice thing to say in a movie but it’s not like it hasn’t been done before or anything. but this movie takes yondu through his redemption arc so that rocket, who seems to have seen himself beyond saving, can see it. yondu has to do something so truly heroic as dying to save the life of his adopted son-ish, because it was necessary to bring all the ravagers or whatever back. to make them proud of him again after they exiled him for being a scumbag. or was it not enough of a scumbag? either way, yondu certainly met exile with “well i’m trash anyway so let’s just get on with it.” the ravagers or whatever came to his viking funeral, displaying their respect for what he did, showing how proud they were, and there’s rocket. he sees that even when yondu was exiled from those people, he was still counted among them. they sent him away for his actions and even mutinied, but ultimately, he was redeemable because they never sent him away for who he was. rocket keeps shoving everybody away like yondu did, and now he sees that while people may not want to be around his lashing out, he still has value, he can still even be honored among them. and there’s a single tear. “oh, don’t do that,” i thought, as the dust blowing out of the vents suddenly mixed with freshly cut onions.

this is a movie about the importance of chosen family, about triumph over people who would have you be something you are not and don’t want to be, about acceptance, a movie that says you, whoever you are, hi! you have value. it’s somehow at the same time a movie that punches eugenicists in the face. in 2017, it’s a movie we sorely needed. and it’s delivered with all the fun, flair, and panache we came to expect from the first guardians movie. god damn i think i’ve talked myself into elevating this movie to the #1 from marvel spot, but i’ll need another watch to make sure.

this is a different kind of movie. if you’re looking for action you won’t find it. if you’re looking for plot, you’ll only sort of find it. neither of those things are very important to what the movie is trying to do anyway, which is present conflicting ideas.

i won’t pretend this is a great movie by any means because it isn’t. emma watson’s character’s motivations, desires, and thinking are basically always unknowable. john boyega’s character is completely wasted in the final cut, and i honestly wonder if entire scenes featuring him are missing. it’s even reasonably removed from the realities of some of its situations–sure, state governments are just clamoring for compulsory voter registration and ballot access, and sure, livestream comments are super chill and free of both trolls and creepy men demanding boobs or winking that she doesn’t need to get in bed alone. the movie would have you imply using your real identity means you won’t do those things. bitch, men do that face to face in public.

i found quite a few things in here enjoyable, though. most of the performances are pretty good. mae hitting up the river to go kayaking is always a metaphorical trip into her own mind, even when it’s a literal trip that results in plot movement. before she gets tipped out of the kayak everything is foggy because she’s feeling confused after her conversation with mercer (who sucks, by the way, he’s meant to be a symbol of disconnect from the wired society but he just comes off as a rube and a philistine). she has a cry over her dad’s condition out on the river, but never, ever, in view of anyone else. the growing distance between mae and karen gillan’s character after she starts wearing the camera was smart and important too. some of the latter’s behavior is eventually explained away as stimulant abuse, but really, if your best friend is now broadcasting 100% of the time, sure, they consented to that, but you didn’t. their attempt to connect to everyone could, and here does, prevent an actual connection with anyone.

there’s a weird conflict with her actually. she brings mae in to the circle. she’s in the inner lolpun circle at the company. she’s around the world trying to slip through regulations and lobby governments. why is she so disgusted with mae? when she calls mae a “natural” during the onstage interview, why is that with a sneer? it’s fine if you want this character to become disillusioned. you just have to actually show her becoming disillusioned, when what was actually shown was her literally being on speed so she could work for the company more but also randomly turn on her friend and call an idea that would make the company billions of dollars–if it worked out, which, this being the voting idea, it would not, but in this universe apparently it already has–openly calling that bullshit. she’s right, this is a step toward the circle trying to become the government whether knowingly or not, and patton oswalt basically says as much. it’s just odd, and without much precedent, that she has this opinion. maybe this is like the ty storyline too. maybe important stuff was cut. maybe i should read the book.

and it was JARRING to see patton oswalt play a COO in this movie. i saw him last night as TV’s son of TV’s frank. he does fine, he isn’t given much to do and he does it fine, but it was just jarring.

ultimately what was interesting to me is the movie has a lot of ideas to offer and a lot of things to say, but does not make a final word. it clearly shows that the kind of scenario presented by the circle can lead to dangerous levels of public harassment for no reason. but it also presents that exact same thing as a good thing, when an escaped convicted killer is caught. “here’s how that idea works. here’s why it does not.” that this product was named SoulSearch is clever. you have to decide for yourself whether the kind of collective consciousness that allows anyone to be found quickly is actually a good idea. there’s many people in this world who believe being able to track a criminal instantly is a great idea, and the film does nothing to combat any of those premises. it simply says, here’s column A, and here’s column B. the only final word it does make is ultimately kind of a tired one, and one that anyone of any persuasion can find a way to relate to: when someone wants all your information but doesn’t reveal their own, do not trust them.

if the question is, is more googlefacebook good or bad? the circle replies, “here’s how the services at stake are both good and bad, but you should DEFINITELY be wary of mark zuckerberg and sundar puchai.”

mae goes from naive to ready to bring down the CEO in an instant. a plan to do so is concocted completely off-screen in an entire act featuring john boyega that is missing from the movie. then, i guess it’s implied that emma watson is now CEO of the circle through the Highlander Rule, and is still down with mass surveillance at all times? i don’t know, the ending is oblique and not very satisfying, even if tom hanks’s reaction to being exposed is hilarious.

at the end of the day, the circle is an interesting alternate universe, and apart from the unrealistic internet comments and bizarrely pro-democracy state governments, its problems do not lie on screen. its problems are in what’s left out, and that leads me to wish this wasn’t a movie, but rather a 4-season show on like AMC, or netflix, or hulu. (not amazon. fuck you amazon. you have no business in this market.) the whole first episode would be introducing mae and mercer and mae’s family and annie and end with the interview scene. the whole second episode would worldbuilding the circle and establishing characters there, and end with that mysterious missed connection with ty. this is already the length of the whole movie. mercer might not even die until the end of the second season. the run-up to exposing tom hanks whose character’s name i forgot could be the ENTIRE FINAL SEASON. THAT HAPPENS OFF SCREEN IN THIS MOVIE. usually modern movies are way too long but this one needed more, a lot more, and it’s interesting and Not Bad but ultimately unsatisfying, like a dry sandwich, but you were out of bread so you used a hamburger bun.

that’s a fitting ending, i feel.

weeeeeeeee-oo.

let’s get this out of the way immediately. mass effect: andromeda is a buggy mess rife with plot holes, thin dialogue, boring characters, unfulfilling romances, and bullet spongy enemies, especially when your gear is bad at the beginning. some of the more interesting aspects of the story/lore are either never answered or hidden behind miserable world quests. of which there are millions, and the game doesn’t even try to pretend like they’re fun. they outright call the things “tasks.” you will wait ten minutes for an autosave to reload, you will crash during the loading animation on the nexus, and you will die in level-4 electric hazards you had no way to see coming. you will spend a preposterous amount of “research points” on weapon upgrades only to be stunned at how little difference there is between various levels of a gun. you will have scores of skill points waiting to be applied and no use for them whatsoever. you will marvel at the rigid facial animation and wonder what, exactly, that emotion is. you will place a waypoint on the map and the game will move it several kilometers for no reason. you will click on the map icon 40 times before it agrees you want to fast travel.

and yet…

i definitely enjoyed playing this game. i enjoyed discovering the galaxy and the things, places, and people in it. i really enjoyed tracking down other survivors of the trip to andromeda and helping return them home. (every race has its own Pathfinder but it feels like Ryder is the only one for the whole initiative.) i do have to give me:a a reluctant recommendation, at least on PC; it seems console players ran into way worse glitches, especially graphically. if you want to wait for a sale or for some more patches to repair bugs, that’s definitely wise, but i’m not sure you want to skip it outright.

everything that follows will be just a scattered list of thoughts, because i have no coherent one, it’s all a mess in my head. they will be spoilers of varying degree, including extreme, late-game spoilers, so only read on with caution or having also played. a lot of them will be gripes. share yours and we can commiserate.

i don’t get the circumstances around you becoming pathfinder in the first place. alec places his hat on you on habitat 7 when yours busts. why can’t he take it back, take a breath, and then give it back to you, and repeat, til help arrives? is there some reason that mask only works like a scuba mask once?

the vast majority of weapons in this game are WAAAANK. behold, the pistol that does no damage. the assault rifle, that does no damage. the shotgun, that never hits its targets. and even the sniper rifle, that does, you guessed it, no damage, while shooting exactly like the pistol with a scope on. if you want a strong single-shot sniper rifle, R&D the Isharay, which can actually OHK chosen and raiders with a headshot. and if you want decent damage from an AR, R&D the Valkyrie. speccing into assault rifles early isnt that bad of an idea tbh, given the level 6 AR talent is super super good to bring down tanky mobs. up to +24% damage? yes please.

speaking of talents and speccing. you can only have 3 skills equipped at a time. my loadout was incinerate (for armor), overload (for shield), and invasion (for tanky mobs and bosses). for my purposes, that… covered everything. i had no biotics (except the shield passives). i had no combat skills except the gun passives. well, and combat fitness, which is a must because you have no HP. i want to do another play through where i largely skip out on gunplay and instead use all four Favorite profiles or whatever, seamlessly jumping from one skill to the next, and when they’re on cooldown, swapping profiles. have a boss profile, a big fight profile, a remnant profile. rely on the remnant VI to bring the pain. mine tickled, but i didnt build for it at all, it can get really strong.

in terms of combat, your squadmates are largely either interchangable or not helpful. there’s

  • peebee, who has some control biotics and NO HEALTH
  • cora, who can bop around and disrupt things with her biotics (and cryo ammo, which is SO good)
  • drack, my personal favorite combat partner, who is both tanky as shit and capable of dealing good damage
  • liam, whose main ability seems to be being tanky as shit
  • vetra, whose main ability seems to be being tanky as shit
  • jaal, whose skills make him out to be a cora/tank hybrid, but in reality he just stands in the open and dies because the squad AI is brutal

whenever possible i traveled with cora and drack.

so yeah, the squad AI is really bad. your team almost never take cover. they often run in your way, and you can’t shoot through them. and you can’t even control their skill usage like in past ME titles. it’s just abilities, randomly tossed out on cooldown.

the various worlds look amazing. eos and elaaden are both very well done deserts, havarl a gorgeous jungle planet, voeld an excellently done Hoth, aya a hidden paradise in a hellscape, and kadara… kadara is annoying but it’s at least really pretty. kadara is the only place i died in the nomad, because a squad of roekkar dropped in front of me, i ran them over, none of them died, and they shot me as i drove off. i never stopped at all. was just fucked. it’s just incredibly convenient how all these locations–humanity’s first colony, the resistance base, the science outfit, kadara port, and even new tuchanka–just HAPPEN to be right next to the one place on the whole planet i need to be to fix the climate.  that’s a nitpick and i’m willing to accept it, it’s just a little weird, okay?

speaking of a little weird–how much later than everyone else did ark hyperion show up? the nexus is already mostly built, and has had a rebellion, which saw the krogan leave en masse and set up a full colony, and a human colony has already been attempted and failed, and milky way outlaws have already run into the angara on kadara and even kind of taken over there? this was a problem in no man’s sky. it’s a little sketch to accuse me of discovering all this stuff in the galaxy when people are already there. it’s also a little sketch to accuse me of initiating first contact with the angara when they already share kadara port with milky way castoffs.

THATS NOT HOW A BLACK HOLE LOOKS FROM DISTANCE. the supermassive black hole at the center of each galaxy is extremely bright because it’s surrounded by stars. if you’re close enough to actually see the dark event horizon, you’re too fucking close to a black hole. is there no system between the black hole and any other system in andromeda? is there no interstellar dust? why can we just see that far? why does it look so close? why does the gravitational lensing distort things in front of the black hole? i have so many questions.

so i had some conflicting thoughts about this as a mass effect game. i wondered if it would be a lot more fun to me if it didn’t have that legacy behind it. after all, FTL travel in that universe is done via mass relay, not via the Alcubierre drive the tempest is rockin. where did that come from anyway? there’s also the question suvi asks near the end of the main storyline: is this as good as chasing prothean artifacts? i chose the “it’s better” option honestly. prothean artifacts were boring. it’s really old shit. it’s the work of archaeologists, and liara can study them all she likes in my stead. the remnant is alive, and powerful, and advanced enough their tech looks like magic. i want to know more about the remnant, and about the jardaan, who, apparently, are the alien race behind the remnant, despite never being properly introduced as such. they just appear in the dialogue of the first meridian mission and everyone just seems to know who they are. this is how that should have gone:

SAM: (whatever sam says about this place being left by the jardaan)
Squadmate: “The what?”
SAM: “Not what, who. I believe the Jardaan are an alien race.”
Ryder: “They… built all this?”
etc

so would this be a game i had more positive thoughts on if it were a mass effect ripoff and not part of the series? especially since the paragon/renegade system is gone in favor of a choice system that makes no clear difference to the game… it honestly might.

Loyalty Mission Power Rankings

  1. Cora – the Ark Leusinia mission is my favorite part of the game. it’s fun, it’s mass effecty, it’s spacey, and it has a real decision that really impacts the game.
  2. Vetra – the whole mission is a giant fuckup, but it was a fun fuckup, and the only time vetra’s relationship with her sister (which is constantly present) ever pays off. it was kind of dumb though. do you REALLY mean to tell me these hostages never thought to plug in the generator??
  3. Jaal – this one took absolutely no time at all, but rises in the rankings because of another decision that impacts the game. i wish it impacted it more. i wish akksul’s change of heart meant the roekkar stopped bothering me, at least on that planet.
  4. Drack – odd choice for a loyalty mission. i guess so was cora’s though. both could be story missions. the krogan won’t make it without these seeds. the initiative seriously need the asari. so maybe that doesnt count against it so much as just how damn easy the thing was. drack talks the whole time about this and is 100% right. boringly easy mission.
  5. Peebee – i gain your loyalty by helping you fight your ex girlfriend’s thugs for a remnant object that we didn’t even get? through what’s basically a few rounds of horde defense? get out of here. i’m also biased against this one because i tried to shoot her ex but the prompt went away too fast and it didn’t register.
  6. Liam – liam is a pretty crap character but he’s someone who thinks things out, has contingency plans, that’s all required for crisis response you know? so the very premise of his loyalty mission is mindmeltingly stupid. “we’re gonna sit in this container and get raided.” yeah fuck you liam. i may have your loyalty, but you just lost mine.

Loose ends, Plot holes, probably DLC

  1. the Quarian ark will almost definitely be a DLC. it arriving in the post-scene, and asking us to keep our distance, definitely hints at that.
  2. we never do find out who the “benefactor” was. it’s crap that we only learn this through the nonsensical “memory trigger” fetch quests, but the benefactor and jian’s murder are the most interesting plot points in the game. i wondered for a while if the benefactor was the illusive man, but since this is such a multi-species project, i kind of doubted that in the end. either way, we’ll answer both those in DLC i’m sure, unless the answers are buried in irrelevant Tasks.
  3. our biggest enemies are the scourge and the kett. where did either of them come from? what do the kett want with the cluster? neither are answered, though kett information is alluded to in the side-mission with the STG agent. brace for “striking the kett” DLC.
  4. and we are more reliant than anything else on the Jardaan. who are they, where are they now, what did they want the angara to accomplish here, and why did they leave? will there be DLC to answer this? is it meant to be sequel fodder?

my final thought is on the final mission. in some ways, i loved the final mission. it felt urgent, the comms chatter was great, your twin’s inclusion was really interesting, and the endless waves of remnant (and a nerfed architect) trying to stop you from unplugging the archon were all awesome. i hit the last console, and it showed the archon being unplugged, and i was like, fuck yeah, here we go, final baddie, lets fuck up this archon, and mass effect said NO! HE’S JUST DEAD. YOU WIN GG

this was building up to be a really, really, really, really good last mission. you cut it off before the final boss, you assholes.

in many ways finding meridian was a lot like the game as a whole. somehow a whole lot of fun… in spite of itself.

tomb raider was pretty good and definitely worth its steam sale price. i’m going to be liberal with spoilers here because it’s nearly 4 years old. if you haven’t picked it up and don’t want to be spoiled, yes you should pick it up next time it’s on sale, which is always.


the tomb raider reboot took me 9 hours across a single session of gameplay to beat, which leaves it on the shortish side. it’s very pretty. i found its story interesting and engaging on several levels. there are just entirely too many quick-time events. 1 is too many but this was filled with them. the characters seemed pretty good and well fleshed out. (you’ll notice i said “seemed” because we spend almost no time fleshing out those relationships.) the environmental puzzles are decent if generally not difficult, and there’s multiple ways to approach the combat this game is full of, which i always appreciate.

i wasn’t really expecting that actually, so much 3PS combat in tomb raider. maybe that’s on me. but there’s a ton of it. there are a million bullet-spongy guys ready to attack you at basically all times. the bow and arrow is a pretty nice way to deal with that, especially since you can light guys on fire eventually, but its fire rate is low, and headshots less reliable, than the pistol, which is broken. use the pistol until you’re out of ammo if your aim is even remotely decent because the enemies can take like three full body blasts with the shotgun but only one headshot (two if they wear a helmet). enemies take too many bullets to bring down but not if you go full mccree.

this got a little bit tiresome toward the end, especially when outright gunplay was inescapable. but there’s a lot of times in the game where you were able to play a more stealthy style, and that was where the combat shined for me. my favorite part of the game was around the hunting lodge, right after the helicopter crashes and roth dies. lara stays behind a while, and her friends go on back down to the beach, then when she tries to catch up it’s night and the forest is full of baddies. i had a blast sneaking around and arrowing (because it’s quiet) fools in the face, and sneaking up on other fools to choke them out. the game would have benefited from more gameplay like that and less outright shootouts, or at the very least if the cover system was more of a cover system and less “try to stand behind this rock.” i mashed spacebar trying to snap to cover like i was playing mass effect 3 a ton of times. i jumped up and down like a moron and died lol.

the parts where you run around the map doing crazy parkour stuff are almost always fun. the maps are designed to be, if a little linear in that respect, at least very fluid. it’s no mirror’s edge where there’s multiple ways to do everything, that’s for sure. but as long as you aren’t jumping between rock wall climbs it’s very fun. when you have to do that it’s painfully touchy. maybe that’s a keyboard problem, where it’s hard to hold D and press E at the same time without doing manual gymnastics. other wise that stuff feels good.

so let’s talk about control, or lack thereof, and the way this game kind of beefs it in that area. there are times when i want the game to give me control. i’d like to avoid a fight, or do it stealthy, or find an alternate route, or go more than a few minutes between cinematics. the first few hours of the game have way too many of those and it feels like you’re playing a movie. a really enjoyable movie, but not a super interactive game, you know? the whole experience in general feels cinematic which is to its benefit, but sometimes you want more control. you go accomplish one thing then it’s another cutscene. but other times you want less control. i don’t need to “repeatedly mash” a button to open a door or a chest. just let me press or hold. i don’t need three QTEs to get out of being attacked by a wolf i couldn’t shoot fast enough. let me die and reload and try to actually hit it this time.

and for the love of god, do NOT make QTE boss fights. that’s just lazy and a big reason i wasn’t a fan of arkham knight. obviously tomb raider is less “about” the fighting than batman, so that’s not gamebreaking here, but it’s so annoying and part of what makes the end of the game feel a little chunky.

so the 9-hour length is on the shortish side, and i’d say the most obvious way to boost length would be not to add story. there’s plenty of that and there’s already a lengthening formula in place that gets abused by the end. (we’re almost there! oh no the floor falls out.) what needs added is either missions or side-quests or something that deepens the relationships between characters. they clearly exist. we see some flashes of this in the camcorder cinematics, which lara has a peek at during the quickly-abandoned survival game part, and in the journal pages you can (very) randomly find. it’s obvious this game’s writers created a ton of info about its characters and their relationships. it’s too bad most of that gets left out of the game. i don’t need a full fledged loyalty mission for everyone or anything like that, but i would love to get more time with sam, or alex, or whoever grim was, before the game tries to use them to impact me. i really liked sam from the minute we met her so i was motivated to go save her already, but that’s a personal thing. build some rapport between the player and those characters, man.

in fact i’m pretty sure apart from randomly stumbling on tombs and finding shit on the ground, there were no side-quests at all. there’s quite a bit of room for growth there.

so yeah. it’s a pretty game with beautiful foliage, outstanding hair effects, and quite a lot of draw distance actually. the only negative i have graphically is in the geothermal tunnels there’s what i think is supposed to be a Descent-style pool of blood and its just hilarious red water. (of course i ran everything on max because old game.) the story is a pretty good examination of human desperation and the descent into madness, and the way you experience it is mostly cool. the game play is great as long as it stays out of its own way with the forced gunplay and QTEs. sadly it gets in its own way a lot. pretty short, and wastes some obviously deep characters with shallow presentation. it’s pretty good and i liked it and it’s on sale all the time. no real excuse to not pick it up next steam sale if you haven’t before. do it. it’ll be 5 bucks or less. how’s rise, btw?

alternate title for this one could be It Came From Steam Winter Sale.

i came across this title a long time ago while clicking, bored, through the steam discovery queue. it seemed really interesting, but i wasn’t prepared to spend time or money with it then, so i wishlisted it. here’s the summary from its steam store page. i’ll talk about the game’s story, which is extremely cool and also spoils the whole experience, at the very end. read it if you aren’t going to play this game.

A single player exploration driven adventure with survival elements, set on a mysterious and seemingly uninhabited alien planet. Survive through exploration, and unlock the mysteries of Gliese-6143-C. From the creators of “Unmechanical” and successor to “The Ball”.

Earth has been destroyed and mankind lingers on in a small fleet of ships near Pluto. As humanity’s last hope, you are sent to scout a distant planet as a potential location for a colony. After years of space travel disaster strikes however, and your ship is destroyed when approaching the planet…

With your team members dead and your equipment gone you have no way of communicating or receiving help from anyone… you are completely and utterly alone…

Desperately you look for a way of phoning home, but as you explore the seemingly desolate planet, you uncover the dark secrets buried within the depths. In this otherworldly odyssey you uncover mystery upon mystery as you try to survive the harsh climate.

the solus project is also designed for VR. my computer is definitely VR capable (shoutout to the new pascal-architecture GTX1070 humming away next to me) but i don’t have a headset, so i played in 2D. i’ve seen VR as a gimmick all along, but you know? i’d be interested in experiencing this game from the inside. it’s pretty cool.

it isn’t an open world, but there is definitely a fair amount of real estate to explore here. you crash-land on an archipelago with a helpful voice warning you to find a heat source and not to stay wet. there’s some classic exposition/world building laying around a page at a time, and then night falls and brings a tornado with it, forcing you into a cave. well, it forced me into a cave. i’ll get into the tornadoes in a minute. the opening sequences orient you to the minimal survival elements, teach you how to craft (a torch) and get you moving toward a sound. what sound? that’s a great question because the game didn’t actually make a sound. pretty dumb.

so why do i say this is pretty cool? let’s check out the good shit to bad shit ratio.

GS/BS: good

gliese-6143c is an ugly place, but this is a pretty game. the color palette involves a hell of a lot of grays. there’s several stunning moments though. i don’t often “whoa” out loud at visuals… unless i’m looking for a new home in minecraft and find a pine forest on extreme hills bordering the ocean with snow nearby and overhangs… but this game got me a few times.

the terrain is often rough and unforgiving, but almost never do you find yourself stuck if you leave the main paths. part of that is thanks to the head-scratching inclusion of a teleportation device. you shoot a disc and then you can teleport to that disc. it shoots… i dont know, 50 feet? tops? it has two purposes in the game: some puzzles and getting unstuck from the jaggy geology if you tried to jumping-puzzle your way around and fell.

i really don’t like a lot of survival elements in games. speaking of minecraft, the inclusion of hunger in beta 1.8 was the beginning of the end of me playing that game regularly .it’s just irritating. i don’t vidya to worry about feeding myself. but it’s not bad here, really. you can regain health by sleeping or consuming medkits, but you need to sleep someplace safe or you’ll get interrupted by the elements. (or killed. more later.) i didn’t play on the hard difficulty specifically because the difficulty only changes how much you get out of resources, but generally, i didnt starve or die of thirst. (i did freeze to death once, but that was my own fault.) there’s camps frequently with bowls of soup and troughs of clean water, and the caves are filled with trickles of water to fill up bottles with. the surface is scattered with debris from your ships, including food and medkits. there’s even plants you can eat, or set on fire, depending on your needs, and one of them dries you instantly when you eat it so you don’t die of hypothermia. the survival elements never seem to get in the way, just make you think about what you’re doing. i only found sleep annoying. and btw, when you get the cold device, keep it forever. you’ll thank me.

the experience, story wise, is a very good one. i will talk openly with spoilers at the end about it, but generally, this is a very chill, survival-ish walking game, until you see the dolls that cannot be unseen a couple hours in and everything takes a hella dark turn. the environment is littered with backstory and lore. some of the stuff from your fallen comrades bored me, but i soaked up everything i could find on the planet itself. by endgame i was done being distracted. i wanted answers just as badly as the protagonist did.

the puzzles are reasonable, once you understand what’s going on, and the traps are generally something visible that don’t kill you immediately if you don’t know its a trap yet. there was only one puzzle i had to google a solution for, and that was just because i’d somehow made it about 70% of the way through the game without noticing one of the puzzle mechanics. the solus project doesn’t really hold your hand at all, apart from the ubiquitous Forward Vector pointing the general direction of the way, so you’re left to discover mechanics on your own, and generally you do. there was only one puzzle i couldn’t beat, googled, spent a while until i finally settled on skipping through a long youtube walkthrough, and then said “oh good fuck you can just push it? wow i’m an idiot.” an earlier puzzle that should have required this mechanic, i was able to solve anyway by sprinting, jumping, and throwing a teleport disc as i fell far enough to go to half-health, then teleporting to where i was meant to go. lol.

finally the length feels about right to me. i played the way i usually play: very thoroughly at the beginning, and sprinting to the end of the main plotline by the end, and that took me about 11 hours. not too short, not too long, and obviously longer if you go find all the secrets and discover everything.

GS/BS: bad

this is minor, but with my rig, everything set to ultra, and excellent performance, there was noticeable pop-in all the time.

i don’t think the developers of this game understand a tornado. the game starts and night falls and it rains and a tornado comes. i ran like hell for a cave and waited for the noise to pass. that… wasn’t necessary. much later you’re in an environment that’s all cliffs and bridges, and it storms there frequently. you cannot hide from the tornadoes there. and… it doesn’t really matter. i stayed in the most protected corners possible as they went by, but they were often like right down my back as i ran from them, with no adverse affects to me except getting wet. i should have been dead by tornado lots of times. tornadoes in the solus project do not pass the oklahoma test.

the teleport device felt extremely underwhelming and underutilized. it’s a nice idea, but it’s often forgotten, and when you do use it, you often jump like, ten feet or less.

okay, let’s talk instagibs. instagibs are not fun. the worst was when i was climbing in perfectly fine weather during the day and was one-shot in the back by a meteor. are you serious? what the hell is that? there’s meteor showers infrequently but not rarely, and when you see them coming you can scramble for cover, but i got hosed by one from behind with no chance for warning. fortunately it was like 30 seconds past a save, and i reloaded and climbed right back up without incident. those showers are random and unscripted apparently, lol. some caves are also toxic, with your PDA’s warning being the only warning you get, and you die SO FAST. you can survive in 90-degree Celsius environments orders of magnitude longer than a toxic cave. oh, and i hid in a hole from a lightning storm once and got hit anyway while in a person-sized shaft about 7 feet down. mostly the game doesn’t bullshit you. but sometimes it does. so it goes.

but that’s pretty much it for the bad shit half of the ratio, causing the good shit to overwhelm it and win the day. i liked the game and recommend it. was quite a cool experience. stop reading now if you think you might play it.

spoilers

let me back out if you’re a “this sounds interesting but i’m not into that genre” person and tell some story.

you crash on the planet, you’re alone, you start thinking about two things: finding survivors and communicating with your fleet. you find no survivors, but the first person you encounter (dead) was trying to build a comms tower to send a message home. the game becomes about finding more parts to build the tower and power it. weirdly enough, after finding signs of past civilization on this planet, you run into basically the remains of a town on a hill, and there’s a giant cable in it. at least half the game is spent following that cable looking for a power source, and in the process, you encounter some kind of living death smoke, dolls that follow you when you don’t look at them (#dontblink), and tales of the Sky Ones, who seem to have brought a more primitive civilization with them. and they look extremely human, just with longer skulls. longer even than cro-magnons but otherwise, just, humans. you know this because their skeletons are everywhere. sometimes hanging from the ceiling. so it goes. i didn’t expect the game to get creepy as SHIT but it does.

we eventually learn that the Sky Ones are a very old, far-flung but still Type 1, kinda reptilian race. they themselves researched someone called the Ancients and found a device they left behind, which contained some kind of infinite energy source, or seemingly so. it put off a waveform which they later decoded, strangely, into a recessive DNA strand. the Sky Ones then began searching the galaxy for life forms that this matched to study and experiment on. the theory is, the primitive people you run into on this planet are early humans that the Sky Ones moved from earth to this place in order to run experiments on them. the humans saw them as gods until they learned some dark secret of theirs, which seems to be that the energy source involved harvesting them. they revolted, stole one of the energy orbs, and eventually were wiped out. so it goes. the Sky Ones are still around on this planet and as you move about, activating their machinery, they start to check you out in person. well, through orbs and cameras and stuff like that. finally they begin transmitting messages to you through your PDA and even arrange debris to spell out COME TO US.

if you’re able to survive environments of extreme cold and then extreme heat, you are rewarded with the last tower piece you need – an energy source. after you find a star map that lets you identify a safer planet to colonize than this one, everything comes to a head. one of their orbs is in front of you and they go TAKE IT and you do, and a smoke monster pops out to chase you, you run, follow the vectors back to the comms tower, call home, and wow! the lady you talk to cannot BELIEVE you’re alive because the humans up there are fucked, and you saved the species. they’re relieved to hear this planet supports life, and… that’s when the Sky Ones start to approach you from all directions. before you can finish explaining it’s very dangerous here and give her the coordinates for the safer planet, they cut off the transmission, put you on a flying saucer, and that’s it, gg. the species they had been testing on before is coming back to their planet again without them having to expend any energy or time themselves to move them here*. all this has happened before. all this will happen again.

i found that ending a little bit disappointing. obviously you’re just a lucky happenstance for the Sky Ones. they shot down your ship because they shoot down everything. (logs you can find prove this.) it must have taken millions of years for their race to transfer humans from earth to gliese-6143c before, but now they will bring themselves here in just 15. all they have to do is help you send a message home and suddenly how convenient everything you’ve found has been, the camps between the ancient traps, the orbs and cairns leading the way, all makes sense. they take advantage of an opportunity. ultimately, you fail. humanity will die if you don’t call them. humanity will die here as experiments if you do. so it goes. if you’d just transmitted your data before having a conversation with the motherfleet, it would be fine and you’d sacrifice yourself saving humanity. :/

that’s ultimately not enough to put me off recommending the game of course. it’s pretty clever and a great experience. i dug it a lot. just imperfect in its ending, that’s all.

*earth was destroyed when this planetary system moved directly through the solar system, so it’s super super close to the human fleet.

2016 has been one brutal semi-truck wreck after another. and the universe is the semi. some of us have had some ok personal things happen (we’re homebuyers now for example) but it’s hard to argue the world at large hasn’t been put through the ringer. but that doesn’t mean it’s been all bad. so for funs i decided to compile a list of some things i liked about 2016.

overwatch

i don’t play enough different games to have a game of the year. i go hard in the paint with one release at a time, sometimes two. this summer, the #onlywatch curse was lifted, we were allowed open beta, and idk how many hours of this thing i’ve played now, since it’s on battle.net, not steam. it’s a very competitive team game that even when i’m losing, i generally am having fun with. that’s not ever been true before for me. losing in rocket league is pretty demoralizing after a while, losing in battlefield is super irritating, and losing in dota 2 generally gets you flamed by 15 year olds who don’t understand the cast ranges on your hero’s spell. (shoutout to that invoker player wednesday night.) overwatch is pretty, deeper than it looks, and fun. it feels great to play. the development team is, on the grand scheme, very upfront about changes made and even sometimes not made. also it’s cover character is in a same sex relationship in the outside-the-game canon. representation in a way that isn’t the character’s defining feature is amazing.

so ❤ u overwatch, ❤ u tigole, can’t wait to play doomfist on oasis. man i hope he’s what we think he will be and terry crews voices him.

my high school music is back

new albums from thrice and an anthony-green fronted saosin? are you kidding? in 2007 i would have been backflippin in history class when i found out. now it’s a shame what has happened to dustin’s voice since the artist in the ambulance days, but it’s still cool music, and i really really enjoyed saosin’s offering a lot. it feels like the saosin album we always deserved. also beyonce has absolutely killed 2016 even if i would never have admitted to liking her back in the day.

also there’s been some actual real hiphop

within like a month, a tribe called quest and run the jewels both drop new albums and both are brilliant. we can’t be far from jon connor finally dropping #vehiclecity on us, but he’s got about 22 hours if he wants to make it for 2016. people with more mainstream tastes got offerings from kanye, kendrick, childish gambino, and j cole. most rap is in a horrible place right now but if you know where to look for the goods? good year.

a lot of people thought bernie sanders was a good idea

2008 convinced me i was a political loon because the candidate for president i aligned best with was an absolute fringer. this year a really noisy large number of us thought democratic socialism was a pretty good idea. thumbs way the hell up, man. stay noisy. maybe don’t harass regular people, of course, but stay noisy.

plus there’s a lot more.

it’s been a really good year for gaming (except the NMS thing >_>) and pro-gaming in general. 2017 should only keep it going as we all drool over mass effect. at this point i’m out of stuff off the top of my head though and just want to jump back into overwatch.