GAME REVIEW: Portal 2 – Single Player (2011)

Summary: Portal was released in 2007 as part of The Orange Box, a group of games produced by Valve, the company which created Half-Life. While first only available in this boxed set, it grew wildly in popularity and even won several “Game of the Year” awards thanks to its unique gameplay and humorous content. However, it wasn’t much more than a tech demo of what could be done, so in 2011 they released Portal 2, a stand-alone full-fledged game. Both games star a silent protagonist who has a gun that can shoot portals that she can use to solve puzzles while trying to outwit an Artificial Intelligence that doesn’t like her very much.

Thoughts: The first game felt like a demo because of the numbered test chambers. You were dropped into a room and told to get to the exit, over and over with each room being harder to solve until you managed to break out and defeat the AI that was forcing you to go through the tests. The game proved to have a pretty good replay value because you were encouraged to find the best way to solve the puzzles in the least amount of time using the least amount of portals. Except for the last level, where you go behind the scenes and have to figure out where the game wants you to go without having giant destination points and not being able to tell what surface is portal-able: I didn’t enjoy that part very much and never really wanted to replay it.

Most of Portal 2 is like the last level of Portal 1. There are a few test chambers in the beginning, in the middle, and at the end, but I would say half if not more of the game is trying to figure out where the game wants you to go in vast environments with 95% of the surface not portal-able. The story is great (there is a story!), the dialog is entertaining, there are some great twists, it makes sense as to WHY you are in these areas outside of test chambers, but its just so hard to figure out WHERE you’re supposed to go, and not just HOW. Maybe that’s a purposeful addition to the challenge, but its just not the same. Also, it seems like most of the areas only have ONE way to solve the puzzle/get where you need to go, meaning that if you wanted to play through it again, you’d be doing the same thing but you’d probably be able to do it faster because you’ve eliminated the “where am I trying to go” factor.

I’ll play through it again because I missed some achievements and there is developer commentary on every level, but I really didn’t see much replayability in the single player game itself. I haven’t played co-op yet, I may review it separately. Honestly, all I really want is more test chambers where I try to figure out the best way to solve the puzzle, not the only way. The game can redeem itself for me by releasing more levels. I don’t need more plot, I just want more challenge.

Overall: They tried to make a full-game out of a tech demo, but it turns out I just want more tech demos.

REVIEW: Sex and the City 2 (2010)

Summary: A sequel to the 2008 film based on the HBO series, SATC2 finds the four friends finally maturing and getting bored with the happily ever afters they got in the first film. So they take a trip to Abu Dhabi, to get away from it all.

Thoughts: Dish Network users got free HBO this weekend, so I went through and recorded a bunch of movies. Combined with having all of the Starz channels free for a year, we have a lot of movies on our DVR. I decided to review each of them, instead of just the ones I see in theaters.

I watched most of the Sex and the City series with my wife a while back. I found most of it disturbing to my young mind, but the dialog was usually pretty clever. Then we watched the first movie as the series didn’t really end so much as just stop. The problem was the first movie was completely forgettable. I couldn’t tell you anything about what happened in the first movie.

The problem with the second movie is that not only is it forgettable, its boring. You really feel that the characters are bored with their lives because you, the viewer, are just as bored as they are. Even when they all ignore their problems to go to Abu Dhabi (funnily, the real Abu Dhabi wouldn’t let them film there), you’re bored watching them hang out at the hotel and ride camels. A lot of the movie is spent with the characters finally starting to mature. It’s been 12 years, it’s about time. The problem with watching characters spending a whole movie maturing is that it’s boring. The first movie was an OK coda to the series (that I remember), but this one just takes that coda and stretches it out.

It’s completely unnecessary, lacks any charm the series ever had (clever dialog is replaced by terrible puns like “It’s against the law: Jude Law!”), and I’m afraid to say it, kind of racist. The always-right Americans go to the Middle East, don’t respect any of the customs of the country, get arrested, and come out the heroes because the women of the Middle East really long to be consumers of terrible New York fashion like the girls. I’m not sure what message that is sending out, but I don’t think its the one they wanted.

Overall: Boring, uncomfortable, kind of ruins the pretty good series.

Star Wars on Blu-ray

Today Lucasfilm officially announced the Blu-rays of Star Wars, and had a trailer to show how awesome it looked.

Or not.  Its the same transfer as the DVD, every flaw right out in the open here on the trailer.

They’ve had 6 years to fix this kind of stuff back (this one is a brightness adjustment!), but it looks like they haven’t touched it.  Lazy Lucas, was Lazy.

AUGUST 2011 UPDATE: Looks like this has been fixed for the final release, along with several other things. There are still many glaring mistakes however.

From Star Wars 2011 Changes

Save Star Wars 2: IN 3D!

Read part 1!

Last night Lucasfilm announced officially that they will be releasing all 6 Star Wars movies in theaters again, but this time IN 3D! (you have to shout it) Starting in 2012 when Episode I is released, with one a year coming after that supposedly.

I’m not excited as one would expect. In fact while I am a Star Wars fan, this only give me bad feelings. Let me break them down for you.

Continue reading “Save Star Wars 2: IN 3D!”

REVIEW: RiffTrax Live – Reefer Madness

Last night was the live event I’ve been waiting all year for: RiffTrax Live.  For those that don’t know RiffTrax is the next generation of the cult show, Mystery Science Theater 3000.  For those that don’t know MST3K, it was a show that was on Comedy Central and moved to Sci-Fi Channel about a man and some robots who were forced to watch bad movies and they made fun of them.  “Manos: The Hands of Fate”, “Mitchell”, “Space Mutiny”, “Prince of Space”, all terrible old movies, all movies riffed on by the show.  I grew up with the show and while I didn’t get all of the jokes, I loved every minute.

The show has been off the air for over ten years now, and four years ago several of the members got together and started riffing on more recent movies, which they called RiffTrax.  They release the riffs as MP3s that you sync up with your DVD of the movie and listen along.  It’s just as funny as the original show, but the movies are more familiar.  Bad movies like “The Happening”, mediocre movies like “Twilight”, and even good movies like “Casablanca”, anything is possible.  They’ve even gotten to the point where they can release Riffs the day before a movie comes out on DVD!

Last year they started something new: RiffTrax Live.  They perform their jokes during whatever movie to a live audience, which is then broadcast live to theaters around the country.  We went to the first one, “Plan 9 from Outer Space”, but somehow missed the Christmas Special (with special guest Weird Al).  I decided to make up for it by going to see the stoner classic “Reefer Madness.”

Continue reading “REVIEW: RiffTrax Live – Reefer Madness”

Save Star Wars

This past weekend, George Lucas announced at Star Wars Celebration V the eagerly anticipated Blu-rays of the Star Wars Saga. What a lot of fans want from this set is every possible version of Star Wars in the format, much like how Blade Runner has 5 versions from the 1982 test screening workprint to the 2007 “Final Cut”. However, in interviews, Lucas has said regarding the original theatrical versions of Star Wars:

“You have to go through and do a whole restoration on it, and you have to do that digitally,” he added. “It’s a very, very expensive process to do it. So when we did the transfer to digital, we only transferred really the upgraded version.” (NY Times Art Beat)

What does this mean, you ask? Let me break it down for you.

Continue reading “Save Star Wars”

REVIEW: Inception (2010)

What dreams are made of.

Summary: Dominic Cobb is an “extractor”, someone who is hired to commit corporate espionage by stealing information out of people’s minds in controlled dreams. When he is hired to do the opposite, he and his team have to go deeper into dreams than any before them, exposing more about themselves than the target.

Thoughts: Inception is a great movie. It has pretty much everything you could want out of a movie: great plot, great effects, great acting. It has enough twists to keep you on the edge of your seat, but not so many that its one of those movies that you leave not understanding what happened. It actually plays as more of a heist movie than I expected, which is great.

Unlike most heist movies the characters don’t know more than you, so the threats are more real because you know they don’t know how to get out of it. What I mean is that its not like Ocean’s 11, which is great but all of the threats were already foreseen by the characters, so its like the characters actually pulled a trick on you along with the target. In Inception, they tell you the plans, and everything has its own internal logic that you can understand, so when something is threatened in the movie, you understand it.

I also liked the internal logic of the movie. Nolan has created a dream-science that makes sense. The idea of being able to sneak into people’s dreams to get information they might know is really cool. I don’t want to go deeper into that, but you needn’t worry about things not being explained to you.

I really don’t know what else to say without spoiling most of the movie. I want to leave you with the basic ideas, but just know that it is worth seeing when you can. It might even change the way you think about reality…

Overall: Great movie with everything you’d want.