Friday, October 28, 2011

Video Game: Left 4 Dead Series

Happy Halloween season bloggers and bloggettes.

It is the season where everyone gets in the mood to scare people, or scare themselves via movies, games, trips to theoretical haunted places, etc. Whether it is scares, thrills, gore, or spooky eeriness one seeks, October is the time to hunt for it. There are plenty of options out there for the thrill-seeking, however I figured I would take this opportunity to talk about one of my favorite games.

The word "favorite," is brandished about a lot by people to try and dramatically convey the importance of what they are talking about, which really serves to dilute its meaning. I'll talk a little bit about why I consider this game one of my favorites. I would say I am a team player. I receive gratification in accomplishing things collectively with a group of people. When a goal can be reached by the fusion of a unified effort, one can witness the genuine and blissful feeling of successful cooperation.

In essence, The Left 4 Dead games are the definition of a cooperative game. If you are a PC FPS fan, there is a good likelihood that you have already heard about and played these games. Created by Valve, the company behind Half Life, Counter Strike, Team Fortress and Portal, The Left 4 Dead games, like many multiplayer games, focus on teamwork in order to achieve victory. The difference in comparison to the other multiplayer games Valve has made is that, it is near impossible to be successful without teamwork.

In Left 4 Dead, the premise is that a zombie virus has overtaken the majority of the population. You and three other survivors must work together to make it to the safehouse in a desperate attempt to work your way to a rescue point. The games don't really focus strongly on story, and actually play out as if you were watching a zombie themed movie. Even so, it is still incredibly immersive. There are hordes of zombies constantly flying at you, trying to rip you to pieces, as well as special infected with certain powers that can easily incapacitate you. The best strategy is to stick together, because as a team, you can help a fallen survivor. If someone separates from the group, there is a good probability they are done for.

There are the regular campaigns where you work together with three others to beat what the computer throws at you. There is also the incredibly intense multiplayer mode, where the special infected are inhabited by real people, who work together to take your survivor group down before you can reach the end. Other modes that have been introduced over time include a survival mode, where you attempt to hold out at one place as long as you can, before the horde of zombies destroys you, and the multiplayer Scavenge mode, where you work together to collect gas cans around a map to lead to your escape. Each mode is a ton of fun. One could spend days just mastering one of those modes, only to find a fresh game in the next.

Left 4 Dead 2 expanded upon the original. I prefer the original characters from Left 4 Dead 1, but everything else about Left 4 Dead 2 is superior. The introduction of melee weapons, uncommon common infected, new special infected and more help it surpass the already phenomenal original. At this point, the majority of the original Left 4 Dead levels have been added to Left 4 Dead 2, with the included use of melee weapons, new special infected and improved gory graphics.

If you do not already own Left 4 Dead 2, I highly suggest you purchase it. Valve is very giving with its own games. Right now, among other great horror themed games, Left 4 Dead 1 and 2 are on sale on Steam for $6.79 each. In my opinion, this is a steal. If you have 3 other friends, you can buy a 4 pack for even cheaper, (20.39). Do yourself a favor and invest in one of the funnest and exhilarating games to grace the multiplayer FPS genre, before Valve removes the deal and you are Left 4 expensive.

Alternatively, if you haven't played it in a while, check out some of the new things, like altered ending maps for the L4D1 levels, mutations of regular game modes, or user made maps. The utility from successfully surviving with your friends for me, still remains unmatched.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Movie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

After seeing the stellar first part of the adaptation of J.K Rowling's 7th Potter book, it was a downright necessity to see the end.  I had read all of the books throughout life previously, so each time one of these movies came along, I've been quick to notice what I do and don't like about the movies.  For instance, many people didn't like the 5th book, but it stuck out to me as one of my more favored entries.  However, the movie for the 5th left me wanting.  It felt like it was on fast forward most of the time.  I also remember key parts in the book that seemed glaringly ignored in the movie, which made me wonder how they would explain things in the future movies.  I also didn't really like the 3rd movie, because it felt like half the movie summed up 90% of the book, with the other half summing up the conclusion; the end result seeming like an unequal lopsided telling of what was originally a pretty in depth story.
With these points aside, the majority of the movies were really good.  The 4th, 6th and these last two especially stuck out as very good adaptations that really worked well.  Before I talk about the movie itself, I might as well recap the obvious point that when you go to a movie, you are going to become absorbed in the film.  I had many distractions throughout the course of the showing, with a kid next to me continually waving his arms as if to press piano keys that would make the noise "DUN DUN DUN!!!!" each time some pivotal point by the villain would take place.  As well, the speaker above us was constantly making what sounded like someone finishing off their soda, slurping away.  At first I thought it was some weird sound effect for the snake, but unfortunately it was just a rattling speaker.  This caused many turning heads towards it in an effort to give it a dirty eye glance, with no such luck of stopping its persistent interruptions.  I mention these distractions, because although they sucked me out of the films grasp often momentarily, I had ease drifting right back in.

By this point, all of the characters are extremely developed.  You have genuine care and concern for what each of them represent.  Much of the credit of course goes to the author, for writing such a captivating story, but those who adapted it into a film did a really good job.  The only part I felt could have been handled better was the Snape's memory scene.  It really hit home in the book.  I kind of understand why they did it the way they did, but I didn't feel it left the same residual effect in the viewer, that those who read it would have most definitely felt.  Other than that, the movie deserves all the praise it has been getting and more.  It is dark, suspenseful, dramatic and powerful.  Many fans feel they've grown up with these movies, which in fact they literally have as the actors have aged into their roles.  If you are a Harry Potter fan and have read the books/seen the movies, I don't have to tell you that this is a necessary watch.  If you are interested but have never read or seen the others, I'd highly suggest viewing those first or you're going to be completely lost.

By the end of the movie, I felt a door closing.  Finally the film adaptations are complete.  Now for us all to await either another book in the series that J.K Rowling said she wouldn't be making, or a spin off movie that those who worked on the film will never secure the rights to,  or a reboot of all the films when the next jump in technology takes place. 

Saturday, October 22, 2011

New BlizzCon Information

The two day Blizzard convention is wrapping up today.  Quite a few things were revealed at the event, such as new information about Starcraft II, Diablo III, a Blizzard DOTA title, and a WoW expansion.

Regarding the highly speculated WoW expansion, Mists of Pandaria, a new race called Pandaren will be playable for both the Alliance and Horde faction.  A new hybrid class, Monk, will also be available, that will play potential roles as tank, damage dealer and healer.  New dungeons, raids, talent system, dungeon challenge mode, pet battling, and level 90 cap are also notable features of the expansion.

One of the more notable reveals at Blizzcon was the WoW annual pass.  If you agree to pay the subscription fee for WoW for a full year, you will receive a full digital version of Diablo III for free.  This is an incredible deal for WoW players that don't see themselves stopping WoW anytime in the future, or Diablo fans that have been interested in returning to WoW.  It is a brilliant marketing scheme by Blizzard.  I am a little surprised that they would give away Diablo III, but it is great incentive to bring back subscriber numbers to WoW and keep interest held in multiple properties of theirs.  Blizzard isn't really in any position where it needs to be worried about making money either, so they can afford to give away their games if it means keeping the masses involved.  Other benefits from agreeing to this annual subscription include a free Diablo themed mount and access to the expansion beta (if that's something that interests you).

While people can and will be skeptical of these changes coming to WoW, as most are resistant to dramatic and perhaps risky adaptation, there is a reason why Blizzard has remained a top player in PC gaming for many years.  The company's persistence on quality products over quantity, as well as their malleability and flexibility to change over time in order to keep things fresh and exciting, has helped Blizzard to remain ever relevant, and most likely will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

You can learn more about what happened at Blizzcon 2011 here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Movie: The Godfather Series

Well then.  What is there to say about a series that has been hailed as legendary since before I was born.  There really isn't anything more I can add to the heaps of critical analysis and praise this series has received over the years, but I am going to talk about it anyway.  I had never seen The Godfather movies until just recently.  I have always admired De Nero and Pacino's work, so it is a little ironic I haven't seen these movies until now.  I finally got the urge to sit down and watch them.  Man, are they long.  They certainly evoke an epic aura of classic from start to finish.

Unless you have purposefully avoided classic crime movies, or the length of them has daunted you, you probably have seen these movies already.  If you haven't, I recommend you give them a try.  In The Godfather, the story follows the Sicilian Corleone family.  Don Corleone is the tired old Godfather who, like the other members of the great five families, is essentially is large and in charge.  He has a host of sons, one of which is Al Pacino.  Through a series of events, Italian opera music is played and dramatic scenes of disrespect and vengeance are rolled out.

The Godfather Part II is more of the same, only better.  It focuses on Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) once more, as well as a flashback younger version of Don Vito Corleone (Robert De Nero), which serves as background story on how the Don climbed his way to the top.  This movie was around 4 hours long and extremely well done.
The Godfather Part III has been held as the weakest of the films in the series. Without spoiling much, it revolves around a more tired, depressed, but wiser Michael Corleone.  In it, the older Michael wishes to expunge himself from all ties to crime and go a more legitimate route, while his other business partners want to maintain the way things have been.  While I agree that it is the weakest of the films, being that a lot of the key players from the earlier films are no longer involved, it is still a very well done film and worthy of The Godfather name.

Overall this is a great series from the past.  There is a reason why they are considered classics.  In an age before fancy special effects were largely incorporated, a special tale of blunt realism and well crafted dialogue was put forth. If you ever find yourself yearning for the best mafia flicks, or haven't seen them in a while, give this series a viewing.  You may like it now that you've grown a little more.  Now shut up, kiss the hand and pay the Don a little respect.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Movie: Cars 2

Before this goes any further, I think we should all take a step back and realize what goes into one's perception of how enjoyable a movie is.  Unfortunately, as unbiased and focused as one may try to be, there will always be external distractions that can create noise and subconsciously chip away at one's enjoyment.  When I go to a movie I try to quell all outside issues and solely focus on what I'm watching.  That is the best way to immerse yourself in the story being told.  No one can consistently and unwaveringly accomplish this.  Even Roger Ebert has admitted that his opinion on a movie from time to time has been skewed to one side or the other depending on what type of mood he was in that day.  On top of that, other variables exist to alter one's perception.  If someone is told a movie absolutely sucks, they will go into watching that movie with very low expectations and may find they like it a lot more than they would have, had the bar been set high.  This works vice-verca as well. 

With that said, I liked Pixar's newest film.  I watched it during a sweet spot of time where I felt no rush of an outside obligation, or worry.  This of course could also be attributed to Pixar's ability to captivate the viewer.  The friends I went with also liked it, but during analysis after the film, revealed that they liked the first one better.  This seems to be the common trend right now, as the majority of reviews are unfavorable concerning Cars 2.  I do understand a lot of their qualms with the movie.  At times it felt a little convoluted, being that there seemed to be 3-4 separate stories going on at the same time.  It felt like the main character of the first one took a metaphorical back seat to a side character.  It also had a drastically different type of flow too.  Cars 2 could be cataloged as a spy flick.  Unknowingly the tow truck is suspected as being an adept spy by other secret agent cars, which gets him into trouble.
 I heard a mother a few days prior to seeing the film talk about how it was a little violent to be bringing her kids to.  While it is true, that some cars do blow up and since the cars are alive, this insinuates murder, I don't adopt that same mentality.  I typically think parents should make their children aware of the differences in the world, but explain right from wrong while doing so.  Why deprive a child of a movie they are sure to enjoy, because it has some themes that we want to shelter said children from.  If we do that, the child will encounter those themes someday on their own when we might not be able to give them the guidance they need to conquer them.  Or worse, it may inject a sense of curiosity and defiance as to why these issues were kept from them or forbidden rather than explained.  Why weren't they trusted.  Didn't the parent believe in them?  That should be a separate post all together though.
I liked the first Cars film, but something felt off about it to me.  Like a lot of people, it really is hard for me to get past the fact that these cars have eyes and are driving around talking.  The same could be said about Toy Story, A Bug's Life and many more movies which don't bother me, but Cars stands out as a sore thumb because of the use of other vehicles as their transport.  What kind of communist society are these Cars living in where they dictate that the boat will be created for the cars travel, or the plane's sole focus in life will be to get Flashy Race Car from point A to point B?  What a great role that cog plays in the wheel.  The proletariat shouldn't stand for it!

Anyway, it was a pretty enjoyable film.  After a string of epic thought provoking films like Up and Wall-E(my favorite Pixar film), it is easy to see why people were underwhelmed by this Pixar entry.  It doesn't try to be anything other than a fast paced high octane film that conveys that the director has a true love for Cars.  If you enjoy Pixar films and don't go into this one looking for a life changing moral or more emotion than a laughable rusty tow truck can provide, I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Movie: Mrs. Doubtfire

Another classic comedy I had never taken the time to watch while I was younger. I recently by impulse watched Robin Williams' Mrs. Doubtfire. I found this movie hilarious. Maybe I was just in a really good mood, but I haven't seen a comedy this funny in quite a while.

Mrs. Doubtfire is a film about a man who winds up divorced because his serious wife does not want to put up with his crazy antics anymore. She has lost her love for him. It becomes heartbreaking for the man when it is determined that he will only be able to see his three kids on Saturday's. Out of desperation, he comes up with the idea to apply as their nanny by changing his voice and putting on old lady's clothing. The whole movie really is a ploy, set up to see Robin Williams switch in and out of voices and impressions. At times the characters such as the children, as well as the archetypal genuine father seem a little hard to believe, its enjoyability doesn't directly stem from one's ability to believe what they're seeing, but rather the comedy that ensues from these fake situations.

If you haven't seen Mrs. Doubtfire, give it a go on Netflix. You are sure to get several big laughs out of it, as well as a genuine respect for Robin Williams talent.