Monthly Archives: April 2016

Rise of the Tomb Raider

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When Tomb Raider was relaunched three years ago, the biggest surprise was the lack of puzzles to solve. The original version had been the Playstation’s answer to Zelda. You had to use your head to advance. While the 2013 version was great and required plenty of exploration, some fans were disappointed because it focused more on gun-play rather than figuring out obscure solutions.

Apparently, Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix have listened to these fans because the intellectual challenges are back. Does it work? While Rise of the Tomb Raider is very enjoyable, it’s a step down from the 2013 game because of weaker graphics and the fact that some of the puzzles are too easy to solve.

Plot: 8 out of 10

Pretty generic stuff. Lara Croft is pursuing villains looking for magical stuff. Twists and turns including betrayal and people suspicious of Lara at first but having to help her regardless elevate the story beyond its subject matter.

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I guess plots connected to Nazis and Soviets will never go out of style.

Graphics: 8 out of 10

There have been better looking games, especially on the Xbox One, but this one still makes good use of its advanced technology. The graphics aren’t as detailed as they could be, but they are flashy and accurate.

Sound: 9 out of 10

Camille Luddington voices Lara again. She’s as great as ever. This time playing an experienced adventuress, she brings energy into the role. The rest of the cast also does a good job. Even wolves bark convincingly.

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Shooting up the bad guys inside a blood-stained glass dome.

Environmental sounds are realistic. That gets its own paragraph?

Gameplay: 8 out of 10

The controls are similar to the 2013 game. Third person shooting, stealth kills, and hiking are all back. A new trick is throwing littered liquor bottles. You can throw them as are to distract unaware enemies or fill them with a flammable liquid to create bombs.

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Can enemies see items light up when you get near them? Rhetorical question.

All of this handles extremely well. The controls and camera are both just right. The only problem is that if you try to fight hand-to-hand, the camera tends to go wild and crazy for some reason. So try to avoid combat in close quarters.

Challenge: 7 out of 10

Reasonably challenging. The battles provide a nice tactical shooting experience. But I noted that there’s a lot of mind-benders. Well, some of those puzzles are quite easy to solve. Not all, but certainly enough to cost the game points in this category.

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You need only pick axes to climb a mountain?

Overall: 8 out of 10

In my review of of 2013’s Tomb Raider (PS4 version, to be exact), I called it a “bona fide classic.” I can’t say the same for this one, but it’s a worthy sequel. Just go in expecting some easy parts.

Vamp U

VampUTitleJulie Gonzalo as Chris Keller/Mary Lipinsky
Adam Johnson as Wayne Gretzky (not the hockey player)
Maclain Nelson as Fred Green
Matt Mattson as Tom Slansky

Sometimes you want entertaining rather than excellent. If that is the mood you’re in, Vamp U is the movie for you. It’s a parody of vampires. While not amazing, it’s funny enough to hold you for the allotted time.

We have a vampire so impotent that he can’t grow vampire teeth. This “weak-ass vampire,” Wayne Gretzky, is now posing as a human and teaching history in college. He actually doesn’t seem all that bad, which, funnily enough is implied to be connected to how weak his powers are. Wayne falls for a student named Chris Keller, who looks just like his wife of three hundred years ago, Mary Lipinsky. Wayne dates and turns Chris into a vampire in the hope that they can live together in eternal love. Instead, Chris becomes drunk with power and turns all her fellow sorority girls into vampires. Seeing the mess he has made, Wayne recruits two students to help stop Chris.

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The awkwardness of being taught by a vampire. And a screw-up vampire at that.

The acting is below average. Like most movies aimed at teenagers, not much emphasis was placed on this. As a result, most people aren’t that convincing, though Julie Gonzalo as Chris does prove to be the standout performance.

The humor is what makes this movie. Lines like “weak-ass vampire” and one of our “heroes” admitting that he’d probably be short-sightedly horny enough to let one of the vampire girls seduce and turn him into a vampire if he weren’t on a mission are funny. Not exactly witty, but certainly funny.

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Weight is no impediment to being a vampire slayer.

Not that this film is excellent or anything like that. While funny, it’s nothing hilarious. Moreover the plot a pretty plain. Not bad or good, just there.

First black vampire. Another barrier down.

Does the first black vampire give us something remarkable about Vamp U? Wait, that was Blade. Never mind.

Vamp U is a popcorn flick. I wouldn’t necessarily buy a copy but it’s worth a rental.

Overall: 6 out of 10

The Cleveland cavaliers of the Republican Party

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What we seem to be seeing is something I thought I would never see in my lifetime. Once upon a time presidential nominations were decided not in voting booths but convention stands. 1970’s changes to the system redirected power away from party bosses and towards voters.

But something happened this year that has changed this. While Donald Trump has been dominant in the primaries, he has never pulled far away. As a result, the odds are that no one will get the majority of delegates needed to win on the first ballot, which means that the race will go on to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.

What will be the outcome? Well, there’s the possibility that Trump could be denied the nomination despite being the clear choice of the voters. This would happen by way of Ted Cruz and John Kasich (neither of whom like Trump, I might add) pooling their delegates together to nominate someone other than Trump. #NeverTrump, indeed!

Would this be fair? Would this be right? No to both. The aforementioned change to make voters more important was done for a reason. A system run by party bosses is a corrupt one. Please don’t force me to feel bad for a guy who has called Hispanics “rapists,” mocked a war hero’s military service, advocates banning Muslims from entering the country, has a long history of making sexist remarks, and whose past positions reveals a guy whose entire campaign is no more than a vanity project.

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Point is, Trump may not be worth defending, but the democratic process certainly is.

Of course, someone has to be nominated. But who? Well, the current buzz is that Paul Ryan, a man who hasn’t even declared for President, will be appointed, an idea that became no less popular by Ryan’s recent uploading of a video that resembles a presidential ad. I see exactly what the Republicans are doing. They’re nominating an extremely conservative guy who has good relations with their base to calm down the far right.

Another hint: he took off the porcupine mask.

Another hint: he took off the porcupine mask.

Will it work? Unlikely. It’s true that Ryan would be a strongly conservative candidate… but so were Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. Rubio was done in by his stance on immigration alone. Cruz was done in by… I don’t know. He’s pretty much ideologically pure. Ryan has an uncertain history on immigration. Moreover, he’s the the leader of a Republican Congress that conservatives are mad at for not ending the Obama agenda with veto overrides. At least, I think that’s their frankly unrealistic demand. Or maybe they’re not aware of the veto because who could actually see hordes of Democrats joining major veto overrides? Point is, Ryan’s association with the failure to stop Obama probably disqualifies him in the eyes of the angry right.

Will Ryan or some other similarly new candidate be nominated? Not necessarily. There are concerns that rioting in the streets will happen if Trump is cheated at the convention. Trump himself has predicted (and, some say, encouraged) this. People are comparing this to the 1968 Democratic Convention, but it could be much worse. Remember, the hippies who protested Hubert Humphrey were pacifists. A lot of the people who would protest in Cleveland are quick-tempered good ‘ol boys who have guns on their person at all times. Things could get real ugly, real fast. And despite my defense of Trump’s right to be the nominee unless Cruz pulls off a ginormous upset, anyone who thinks that Trump wouldn’t ruthlessly use the possibility of riots to get leverage over undecided delegates is living on a desert island.

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I really shouldn’t joke about this, so I’ll just say, “Don’t do it.”

The Republican National Convention now has a certain suspense to it that no other party convention has for a generation or two. Let’s hope it’s settled peacefully.

NBA 2K16

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The NBA playoffs draw near. If you’ve seen me on Twitter, you know who I’m pulling for, but I can’t see the Hawks surviving the second round. In my book, the race for the title is between the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, and assuming they change their choking ways, the Raptors and Cavaliers.

I now review NBA 2K16. Unlike the other major sports, basketball actually has another big sports series, NBA Live. It’s just nearly as big. How does 2K16 fare? Let’s take a look.

Plot: 8 out of 10

Another difference is where plot is concerned. Sports games, even Nintendo’s sports titles with Mario characters, don’t have plots because the subject matter means that we gamers don’t expect it. But 2K makes attempts at it anyway. MyCareer mode lets you create a basketball player and take him from high school to the NBA and hopefully to championship rings. Cutscenes between games showcase the story of this player and interactions with other people. Not just suits and other players. The difficulties of family mixing with pro athletics are here.

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Game of dribbling thrones.

All this is really well-done. The dialogue between characters is well-written and the characters are pretty interesting. I really have no idea why this is still not the standard for sports games.

Graphics: 10 out of 10

The players and coaches look almost like their real life counterparts. The arenas look great, as well. All in all, this is one of the best-looking games that I’ve seen.

Sound: 8 out of 10

The commentary is very good. It’s insightful and sounds genuine. Songs played on the title screen (by actual music artists) are both good and fit in with the basketball theme of the game.

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Paul Millsap (#4), my favorite player.

Gameplay: 7 out of 10

One issue newcomers to these games are likely to have is how to avoid committing fouls. The senses of touch and your environment that make this obvious in real life basketball are not in this game. It takes trial and error to figure out what how much struggling to get the ball away will cause you to make illegal contact and send the ball carrier to the free throw line.

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“Come at me! You chicken? Here I go to the free throw line. No, that was not a dirty trick!”

Once you figure this out, though, there’s very little fault to find. The controls are responsive, shooting is accurate, and the movement of the players with the left analog stick is just right. This really can be a fun game to play, it just takes some practice.

Challenge: 8 out of 10

Computer opponents are modestly challenging, depending on the difficulty. Playing the computer is a lot of fun, but if you don’t mind paying for the Playstation Network or Xbox Live subscription, going up against humans online is preferable..

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The ultimate one-sided — wait, one of these two match-ups was actually close? Holy shit!

Overall: 8 out of 10

All things considered, NBA 2K16 adapts the sport of basketball exceptionally well. While there are better games, I strongly recommend this one to “B”-ball enthusiasts.