Archive for February, 2011


Dead Space 2

This is a bit later than I’d have liked, but I didn’t want to review the game until I’d beaten it and that took a bit because the last sections of the game are a load of crispy-fried bullshit. But we’ll get to that in a second. Dead Space is the wildly well-received sequel to the moderately well-received horror/shooter game Dead Space, in which you go to a creepy space ship to fix a problem and get attacked by zombies. Dead Space 2 fixes many of the problems that plagued its predecessor (while adding in a few new ones) and, for the most part, remains an excellent third-person shooter with a thick atmosphere and a steep challenge.

He looks scary, but all he really wants to do is play fetch.

The story picks up 3 years after the first game. Our hero, Isaac Clark, has been in a psych ward for 3 years, a period of time he completely doesn’t remember. He gets woken up to discover that Necromorphs have infested Titan Station, otherwise known as the Sprawl, an impressive-looking space station/city in orbit of Saturn, and has to stomp their skulls into paste. Right off the bat, the absolute best sequence in the game is the very first section. You get woken up and immediately swarmed by monsters. You can’t fight back, you can only run and they are everywhere. There’s a pitched chase sequence and you manage to escape to relative safety. Then the game continues to keep guns away from you and forces you to learn-as-you-go how to properly use the Kinesis and other similar power-ups. It gets a big grating on multiple playthroughs, but it’s easily one of the scariest parts of the game and a great way to introduce you to the adventure.

That said, the story is complete shit. You have characters whose motivations are nonsensical or unexplained, Isaac himself now has a personality, that of a block of wood, and while the voice acting is actually pretty good, none of the characters really have any dimensions or depth–not even shallow depth. They’re just…there. The story itself isn’t much better, being hard to follow and mind-numbing when you do. All of the best stuff in it is packed into the first half of the game and once you reach the second disc (on the 360 at least) the story just simply stops for long periods of time, and much of the “twists” are either silly or nonsensical.

But no one plays Dead Space for the story, even if it is god awful. We play it to shoot alien zombies and that part of the game is just as good as before. Enemies are a bit tougher now, they come in greater numbers and attack more aggressively. There’s a gaggle of new enemy types, like the Puker, and new weapon types to match. All the previous game’s weapons are back, though some have been tweaked and adjusted. The Force Gun is a lot less powerful now, though it is still a god-like extension of your power. Flamethrower has been improved too, so now it’s actually one of the more powerful weapons in the game if you ever can bother to use it. The new guns include the Javelin Gun, which is a lot of fun once you get used to how it works (think a spear gun but you can charge up the spears with electricity and later on they will explode) and the Seeker Rifle,a  sniper rifle which is kind of limited in its use. All in all, the new weapons are fun and the changes to the old ones make them seem new as well. I would like to have seen a few more of both weapons and enemy types, but both feel varied enough to last the whole game.

Though here’s the kicker–make sure you have a wide-spread weapon by the end of the game. I found myself incapable of winning until I went back to an earlier save and picked up the Force Gun because the final boss–which is part of the laziest section of the game, a lengthy gauntlet that you cannot survive without fleeing–is a tacked on wave of tiny fast enemies and a walking instant-death trap. It’s pretty terrible and not at all fun to play through.

All in all, I enjoyed Dead Space 2 a lot. It does lack something however, something the first one also lacked. We have a talented studio with talented developers who are clearly passionate about the project–the level of detail packed into the game is staggering and it’s clear that they wanted to make the best game they could. But here’s the problem: the scares are cheap, the atmosphere only holds intact on the harder difficulties (if you are at all good at video games, start your game on Survivalist. Normal and Casual are way, way too easy.), the enemies start to get annoying, especially when their corpses just magically disappear, taking all their items with them (and leaving you with three shots and a horny Brute sniffing at your ass) and there’s also tacked on multiplayer which is supposed to be alright but nothing great and I don’t know why the hell they included it in the first place. The game IS fun to play, and if you loved the original Dead Space, pick this up and enjoy. If you are easily scared and like a good horror game, you can’t go too wrong with this one either. More jaded gamers might have better luck elsewhere, because for all the things Dead Space changes, it is ultimately just more of the same.

Take Me Back to Mossflower

Well, I was going to write a review about Dead Space today, but the last act of the game is literally dismembering me like an overzealous inquisitor so, instead you’ll have to make do with this little post about a bit of sad news. Today, I was distressed to discover that beloved children’s book author Brian Jacques has died.

1939-2011: A life well-lived.

Brian Jacques has nothing to do with video games. He’s never made one and I doubt he’s ever even played one. Brian Jacques wrote books, a whole lot of books, books about an idyllic little wood called Mossflower and a sturdy, aged abbey called Redwall. And these books changed my life. I was first introduced to the Redwall series by one of my earliest, bestest teachers, a woman by the name of Bickford, who was at the time the head of my elementary school’s Talented and Gifted Program. She showed me the cover of the book, I said it looked really boring, and she insisted that I would really like it. I snorted and rolled my eyes. Whatever–a book with a mouse on the cover? What do I care about the adventures of mice, besides An American Tale? Nevertheless, at some point I did pick up the book and open it with a reserved sigh…and everything changed.

Brian Jacques wrote stories of high adventure, of song and dance and food and revelry, of friendship and bravery, sadness and fear, wars and warriors. Collected in each and every book in the ever-expanding Redwall series was a saga that sucked me in and refused to let go. He crafted a world vivid, yet simple, a fantastical yet instantly relate-able landscape that you recognized immediately, despite it being populated by questionably talking woodland creatures. It had the simple black/white morality of Star Wars combined with the elegance and sophistication of any great folk tale, of any work by Chaucer or Spenser. These books introduced me to things I’d never thought existed. Boooks could be…not just good. Good books are plentiful enough, and I understood quite well what a good book was. But these books were more than good. To my young mind, still supple and naive, these books were captivating. They blossomed in my imagination, the characters and locations taking root like some magical tree, growing and growing and growing until the branches threatened to break out of my skull.

Jacques fed my love of reading and not only that, he also gave me a lust for storytelling. I never felt more convinced that I wanted to tell stories until I put down perhaps my fifth Redwall book and thought “I want to write a book that Brian Jacques would like”. I was enthralled by his love for the craft and though the more modern books in the series lacked some of the charm and sophistication of earlier entries, Jacques passion for the story and the world never seemed to flicker. He showed me that a children’s story didn’t have to be childish or immature, that death and sadness go hand-in-hand with joy and triumph, and that even the littlest, meekest of mice can rise to be a true hero.

His stories had everything I can to want from a book–intrigue, mystery, romance, adventure, action–and these stories were almost interactive in the way the narrative fit your brain. There were riddles to solve, songs to learn, mysteries to ponder, and with an endless stream of colorful characters and amazing vistas, my imagination wanted for nothing, yet longed for everything.

I wonder what Jacques legacy will be. To me, he will always be one of the first authors who really inspired me, who really made me yearn to write and read. He showed me just how real fiction can be, how meaningful it can be. I don’t know what I’d be doing had I never opened that first book. I certainly learned that there’s more to a book than a cover, and I learned that even as stubborn as I am, my mind can always be changed. These are timeless stories–modern classics that I hope will be passed down from generation to generation. I can think of no finer series of books to whet a young child’s literary teeth on, no more fantastic and wonderful tales to be told to audiences young and old. There’s something in these books for everyone, and Jacques illuminated the world in a way only he could. His death has left my world a little more empty, and we’ve lost a visionary and gained a legacy.

I’ll miss you Brian. I’ll miss Redwall and Mossflower and the towering mountain of Salamandastrom, the hares of the Long Patrol, the wild and tribal shrews, the incomprehensible moles and voles and the seasonal feasts at the great table in the main hall. I’ll miss the tapestry of Martin the Warrior and all the tales its tattered fibers held, the rich songs and wonderful verses. I’ll miss the coarse sea rats, the vile serpents and scheming foxes, the titanic badgers who carved through battlefields like furry tanks. I’ll miss the quarry, the rivers, the patches of ruin and wonder hidden deep in the many forests of Mossflower. I’ll miss the maps that I’d pore over for hours, following the journies of the many characters with my finger late into the night when I should’ve been sleeping. But that’s the wonderful thing about books, isn’t it? They remain, long after the author has passed on, and I know that no matter how sad it is, Redwall hasn’t died with its creator. It lives on in the memories and hearts of all those who read and loved these books as I did. I know that it isn’t the end of these adventures–they’re just a page away, and they’ll be there forever.

Now, if you excuse me, I need to comfort my weeping inner child. I think a nice book will help him–and I think I know just the one…