Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Butler did it - Arcade Fire strikes again

Genre: Indie Rock
Merge Records
Running Time: 64:07

Montreal’s Arcade Fire have been turning heads in the indie scene since the release of their 2004 debut, Funeral. Led by guitarist Win Butler, the band aims for even wider recognition with their third album The Suburbs, released on Aug. 3.

Arcade Fire have created a portrait of their youth, reminiscing about the times they spent and the times they wasted in the suburbs. It’s a very pensive and thought provoking album that is in line to be one of the indie blockbusters of 2010.

What’s the best way to describe the general musical style of this album? Mellow rock, mostly. However, The Suburbs is an exciting album due to its musical diversity. The title track is delectable piece of indie pop/rock with a delectable piano riff. The lyrics find Butler longing to have a son or daughter so he can show them the beauty of the world – before it’s all gone.

The hard rocking “Month of May” is the musical equivalent of a slab of concrete to the head. Butler furiously strums his guitar chords like he’s Johnny Ramone. The vocals that have an old school feel to them, reminding me of Billy Idol.

Empty Room is also a winner, on which Regine Chassagene takes lead vocal duty for the first time. It starts off with what sounds like an orchestra at warp speed before breaking into a dirty, Sonic Youth-ish guitar riff.

But the real highlight of the ablum is Sprawl 2 (Mountains Beyond Mountains) found near the album’s close. Regine Chassagne’s airy vocals coupled with shimmering synthesizer beats gives the song the playful feel of an 80s pop song, but it’s coupled with serious/depressing subject matter. It’s a dazzling dichotomy that nobody’s pulled off this well since Nena’s 99 Luftballoons.

Chassagne laments the boredom and restrictions levied upon her by suburban society and the effect it has on the population in general. A series of well placed drum fills complete the package.

Elsewhere, Wasted Hours is a nice chillout acoustic piece and City With No Children delivers some of the band’s most inspired and introspective lyrics. “You never trust a millionaire quoting the sermon on the mount/I used to think I was not like them, but I’m beginning to have my doubts/my doubts about it,” Butler croons.

With The Suburbs, Arcade Fire have created a standout indie rock record with great songwriting and catchy melodies, and there’s not too much critical to say. It's not all totally fantastic;some songs I found boring. We Used to Wait, Deep Blue, and Suburban War lack the distinct melodies some of the album’s other songs had. At times I felt like I had to chug a red bull to stay awake through the rest of the album.

After a few listens I found a few interesting things in these songs, like the drum part near the end of Suburban War. Still, having never experienced Arcade Fire’s previous work I was very impressed by this record from a band on the verge of superstardom.

Three Favorite Tracks:

Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
Month of May
The Suburbs

Lyric to use as your facebook status:
“You always seemed so sure
that one day we'd be fighting in a Suburban War
Your part of town against mine
I saw you standing on the opposite shore
But the time the first bombs fell
We were already bored."

- The Suburbs

Score: 91/100

Thursday, August 12, 2010

New Linkin Park single serves as catalyst for change

In a scientific formula, a catalyst is something that speeds up a chemical process. It’s fitting, then, that Linkin Park’s new single serves as the catalyst for one of the most explosive transformations in the band’s music to date.

The Nu Metal kingpins took a sharp left turn on their last effort, Minutes to Midnight, dropping an album full of Twilight style music with a few hard rockers to appease the old fans. With “The Catalyst,” the first single off their upcoming album A Thousand Suns, LP has gone straight up techno – that’s right – and are shattering perceptions once again about what their music can be.

I was slightly taken aback when I first heard this song; I was surprised to hear Linkin Park going techno. The vocals sounded like they had some weird distortion, and something about the techno beats didn’t sound quite right. This song probably wouldn’t sound out of place being played alongside Basement Jaxx and the Chemical Bros.

After giving it another chance, I can say it’s no masterpiece but it’s not bad. Chester delivers a solid vocal performance, the background beats fit the song well, and my favorite part – there are actually some pretty cool drum fills. Yeah, drum fills in a Linkin Park song. I know. I thought the buildup to the chorus sounded really cool, where Chester sings about the memories in cold decay and the oceans bleed into the sky.

There are some political themes in the lyrics, as Chester talks about broken people living under a loaded gun in the main refrain. LP’s political lyrics aren’t bad but they always struck me as being a little pretentious.

Also, in a continuing trend from Minutes to Midnight, there’s a real lack of Mike Shinoda here. If this keeps up, the guy’s going to have to start looking for a day job.

I find the techno beats interesting but I think they sound a little muddled. But all in all, it’s not a bad track, though you might have to give it a few listens for it to click. I applaud them for trying something new.

LP’s experimentation may have varying degrees of success, but their willingness to step outside their comfort zone is an example that many other artists should take note of. Looking ahead to the upcoming album, I don’t think this song answers many questions as to what we can expect (unless they plan on doing a full out techno album.)

My curiosity is piqued.

Paul McCartney rocks the Bridgestone like none other

The legendary Sir Paul McCartney.
This was the best show I’ve ever seen. No seriously. Paul McCartney stepped onto the stage at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena decked out in his black suit and Hofner bass. Though he’d never performed in Nashville, he had spent a few weeks on a ranch just outside Nashville in 1974 during a songwriting session for Wings. I managed to catch the show from his Up and Coming Tour on July 26, and I think it’s safe to say that it ranks up there with one of the best shows Nashville’s seen in a long time.

When he first came on, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard that much noise from a crowd anywhere. The show lasted about three hours, but it’s the kind of show you don’t want to end. McCartney’s humor, top notch lighting and pyrotechnics, combined with some of the most iconic songs of the 20th century make this show a night you won’t ever forget.

Going into the show, I was interested in the quality of the sound. I’d only seen one other show at the Bridgestone Arena – Metallica, Lamb of God, and Gojira – and the sound wasn’t the great, particularly the guitar. I was pleased to see Mr. McCartney had no such issues. Everything sounded crisp, clear, and rockin’. 

Vocally, McCartney sounded great. He still has a great rock voice, evidenced by the high octane performance he delivered on Got to Get You into My Life. The first half of the show spotlighted Paul’s non-Beatle work. I’m not very well versed on McCartney’s solo career, so I didn’t recognize very many of those songs. 

The second half of the show featured more of the legendary material: Eleanor Rigby, Hey Jude, Let It Be, etc. Some of the highlights included McCartney’s tribute to former bandmate George Harrison, who died of lung cancer in 2001. He tells the crowd that Harrison was an accomplished ukele player as he brings his own ukele on stage. He begins playing Something, a song on which Harrison originally sang lead vocal. McCartney’s version is in a slightly faster tempo. The full band joins in during the guitar solo and plays the rest of the song in regular time. Meanwhile, a slide show of Harrison photos is playing in the background. It was a very moving tribute to a McCartney’s friend and former Beatle. 

He also paid tribute to John Lennon by performing Here Today. Another highlight was when McCartney broke out Blackbird, a pretty acoustic number from The White Album. To hear this was a pleasant surprise; I’d hoped to hear this song, but I wasn’t expecting it since it’s buried pretty deep in the Beatles’ back catalog. The crowd had a great reaction to this one as well. 

The crowd really got into the show. There was a lot of dancing in the aisles, and it was a neat experience to see the lighters (or cellphones) in the air for Hey Jude. But what was even cooler than that was seeing a couple of the audience members actually getting to join Paul on stage. McCartney saw a boy in the audience holding a poster that said he wanted to get on stage and play a song. Paul invited him onstage and let him dance while the band played Get Back. Another fan got to come on stage to get an autograph from McCartney.

Paul also showed off his talent as a great frontman; he usually provided an interesting tidbit or a little humor between songs. After playing Back in the USSR, he talked about playing in Red Square and how many Russian fans had learned a little English through Beatles songs. The rest of his band was great as well. He had a guitar player who looks like an older version of Gerard Way, the other guitarist resembles a younger version of Tom Petty. They also had a big drummer who broke out some neat dance moves, then came out from behind the set to lay down some impressive backing vocals on Eleanor Rigby.

Seeing Paul McCartney was easily the greatest concert experience I’ve ever had. It’s hard to top rocking out to Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, Helter Skelter, Sgt. Peppers, and The End, and knowing that everyone around you is as into it as you are. And it’s cool how he has such a multi-generational impact. Fans of all ages turned out, from twenty-somethings all the way up to the long time fans who grew up with The Beatles. Admittedly I’m a big Beatle fan so that probably made it better, but McCartney concerts have that intangible quality that could entertain just about anyone. If you ever get a chance to go, I can’t recommend it enough.

Infamous: Ever wish you had superpowers?

Ever wish you had superpowers? Have you wanted to jump off a building and smash into the ground at Mach speed? Or maybe shoot electricity from your fingertips and fry a whole block of baddies? If so, you might want to supercharge your game collection by picking up Infamous, a third person open world action game developed by Sucker Punch.

You take control of Cole, a man who unknowingly set off a bomb that led to the city being placed under quarantine. In the process, Cole finds that he now has electrical superpowers that he can use for good or evil. The street gangs and criminals of the city are also transformed and aim to take power in the now lawless Empire City. The story revolves around Cole’s quest to obtain the Ray Sphere – the device that granted Cole his powers and can wreak massive havoc if it falls into the wrong hands.

Along the way Cole is guided by Moya, a mysterious FBI agent who offers to help Cole if he can retrieve the Ray Sphere. He’s also assisted by his best buddy Zeke, an annoying hillbilly, and his girlfriend Trish, an EMT worker. There’s not a ton of growth or development but there is the potential to get somewhat attached to some of them. Cole himself is a stereotypical white tough guy who fits in well with the game but we’ve seen this type of character all too often in other games.

The villain characters are actually slightly more interesting. Alden is the leader The Dust Men, one of Empire City’s street gangs. He grew up as a privileged youth, poised to take power, but lost his way. Now as an old but formidable man, he leads the Dust Men on his quest to find the Ray Sphere and unimaginable power. But the game’s main villain is even more foreboding and diabolical.

That role is filled by a shadowy figure named Kessler. He seems one-dimensional at first but ends up being involved in one of the game’s bigger plot twists. The story is good but not great; there are some interesting twists and you’ll have fun trying to piece together the mystery of the Ray Sphere but you’ll soon see this isn’t exactly Final Fantasy VII.

The game’s main draw is the superpowers and karma system. You have the power to blast devastating lightning bombs at your enemy, create a lightning shield, or even call down massive thunderblasts from the heavens to lay waste to everything in your path. As you upgrade your powers, you gain the ability to regain a small amount of health from shooting at enemies, or you can set off a chain reaction thunderstrike that hits other enemies in the area.

What types of upgrades you get depend on how you handle the karma system. Throughout the game, there will be karma moments where you can choose the good or evil path. The route you take will also affect what type of side missions are available, and how people react to you. The superhero game type combined with the morality system makes for a nice change of pace, but even in spite of that I can’t help but feel that this game is a little on the generic side. It feels like Uncharted 2 combined with The Force Unleashed-type superpowers. When I took cover behind an object and popped out to blast a few lightning bolts at the enemy, it felt exactly the same as Uncharted 2 (just replace bullets with lightning bolts).

There are even a couple of platforming sections in Infamous that reminded me specifically of Uncharted. I also thought the city was pretty generic. Despite the fact this is a sandbox game, there’s really no reason to want to explore unless you feel compelled to complete every sidequest and find every collectible (all 350 of them.)

The controls could also stand to be tightened up a little. Sometimes trying to jump to a ladder or make a leap on to some platform tends to be a little harder than it should be because Cole seems like he wants to go all over the place sometimes. The only other serious issue is replay value. Once you’ve finished the mission, the only other thing to do (besides all the aforementioned repetitive sidequests) is to replay the game taking the opposite karma path. But by that point, you already know the story so it loses a little luster.

Despite these shortcomings, Infamous is still a good game that never seriously fails at anything it tries to do. I don't see it winning game of the year, but it’s more than capable of providing you with several hours of mindless fun.

Score: 8.0/10

Condemned: Criminal Origins: the game that puts you on death row

Condemned: Criminal Origins is a psychological/survival horror game for the X360 that set the bar for its genre early in the generation. You play as FBI agent Ethan Thomas, who is framed for the murder of two New York policemen, and you use a variety of forensic tools to track down the true killer.

The story keeps you guessing as to what comes next; as Ethan comes to realize the twisted nature of the criminal underworld while trying to stay one step ahead of the bureau. Along the way, you’re aided by Rosa, your lab assistant who analyzes the evidence Ethan sends in, and Malcolm, a mysterious friend who seems to know much more than he’s telling. The killers you track have interesting personalities, but outside that the characters are fairly static with little development.

There’s an interesting side story developing in the background involving mysterious radio waves that filter through the city and cause the brains of birds to decay. These same signals begin to affect the human mind, leading to a spike in the crime rate. Appropriately, there are collectible birds, TVs, and metal scraps you can find scattered throughout each level to unlock achievements. There isn’t much replay value but what little you have is provided through these collectibles.

The core gameplay focuses mainly on melee combat; in true survival horror fashion, ammo is limited and guns are hard to come by. When I finally did snag a gun it gave me the same feeling I got from getting a mushroom in the original Mario Bros. The weapons seem painfully generic at first glance. You’ll be hacking at junkies with 2x4 boards, metal pipes, and fire axes, at first, but the neat thing is that every weapon has a unique set of stats. It strongly encourages experimenting with each individual weapon to see what works best. The variety of weapons also picks up as the game progresses. Once I found out I could use a subway sign as a weapon I began to realize the developers had put a significant amount of thought into the game’s arsenal.

The true highlight of Condemned is its sense of immersion. Many players have claimed this game is one of the most frightening of its generation. Is it? Well, it’s pretty dark, and things like to jump out at you. If running down a hallway and suddenly being knocked down a flight of stairs causes you to jump, you might get several shocks. The atmosphere is brilliant. Picture creeping through a deserted department store, with a dim flashlight beam shining through rows of mannequins. An eerie silence settles over the murky blackness while juiced up junkies prepare to pounce on you from out of nowhere.

I personally didn’t find the game scary, although I will say that this one of only two games to ever make me legitimately jump. (The other, if you must know, was Silent Hill 1) I won’t tell you what did it for me, but I’ll say that both instances involved lockers.

However, the game isn’t perfect. The controls are a tad too slow. I’ve played my fair share of horror games and the controls are usually like that, but in this game movement feels cumbersome. There are also some issues with the story. Some of the major plot points are never resolved.

Supposedly the sequel, Condemned 2, is meant to tie up those questions but you should be able to get a satisfying ending out of the first game without having to buy the second one. There are also some rather pervasive glitches. I fought through one of the game’s later levels on the hardest difficulty, only to run into a glitch where the elevator you’re supposed to take won’t work. I had to restart the whole level. And I’d worked so hard to get to that point.

Condemned: Criminal Origins is a memorable experience and certainly ranks as one of the better survival/horror games of this gen. The environments and atmosphere are fantastic; the game looks great and sound tends to follow a minimalist philosophy so as not to distract from the overall creepy factor of the game. It's easy to see how future horror games could have borrowed from this, such as Silent Hill: Homecoming, which has a similar atmosphere and battle style. There are some minor tweaks that could have improved the game, namely the glitches, but it’s still a great game and will likely serve as a nice change of pace from whatever you’ve been playing lately.
Score: 8/10

Killzone 2: Take a Ride Into the Killzone

It’s been billed as one the greatest shooters of its time. The PS3’s answer to Halo. Maybe even better. And since it recently attained Greatest Hits status, now seems like as good a time as any to review this bad boy. Does it live up to the hype? If you’re a fan of explosive, high octane shooters then buckle your seatbelt and take a ride into the Killzone.

In the first Killzone, your home planet was invaded by the Helgast, a race of red eyed robotic soldiers. In the sequel, you invade their home planet to capture their mad dictator Scolar Visari. The story is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s enough to motivate you to play through to the end. The characters truly shine, however. You play as Sev, a soldier in the ISA. He’s built as more of a silent protagonist type; he does speak, but it feels like his greater purpose is to serve as the player’s eyes and ears to the action.

Rico is a bullheaded commando with a short fuse. He’s sometimes prone to act without thinking. Imagine Barrett if he was in a kick ass shooting game. General Radec, the leader of the Helgan army, is a real piece of work. Killzone’s villans are nefarious and cold, calculating dictators but at the same time are very charismatic and have a magnetic personality. When Scolar Visari boasts that “Generations yet unborn” will feel the wrath he’s about to bestow, you know you’re not dealing with any cookie cutter madman.

As solid as the cast of characters is, the sense of immersion Killzone 2 delivers is even more dynamic. Imagine you’re entrenched behind a few metal blockades with a handful of friendly troops trying to push through against wave after never ending wave of Helgast. Virulent explosions rock the battlefield, while the deafening buzz of gunfire cuts through your speakers. It does a fantastic job of making you feel like you’re actually in a warzone.

The technical aspects of the gameplay are presented similarly to many other FPSes. The controls are a little bit slow compared to some other shooters, and that many be an issue for some players. They don’t feel very crisp or quick, but it’s a minor complaint overall. The guns are pretty standard for the most part, but later in the game there’s an electricity gun that allows you to blast high voltage electrical surges at your enemies. I had quite a bit of fun with that gun.

Graphically, Killzone 2 excels as well. Whether you’re trying to push through the downtrodden streets of Visari Square, defending a desolate desert outpost, or infiltrating the pristine halls of Visari Manor itself, everything looks crisp clear and clean. Upon observing the grandeur of Visari Palace for the first time, Garza remarks, “Look at this place! The rest of the city is a shithole.” “Figures,” the other guy replies. “The only thing the Higs care about is training troops.” This pretty much sums up most the environments you’ll be fighting through. They’re dark, dingy and dirty. But they look fantastic.

The online experience also delivers. Aside from your standard deathmatch, there are seek and destroy missions, missions where you protect an objective from an enemy team, king of the hill type missions, and assassination missions where you gun down a specific member of the enemy party. There are also your standard bevy of unlockable ribbons, rewards, and ranks that open up new abilities.

There is certainly the potential for creating intense edge of your seat type matches. The community is still alive, but I had some difficulty finding games with people around my rank, and it’s hard to find games for some game modes. But you can usually hop into a game that cycles through the different game types.

In any type of online FPS replay value is obviously going to be near infinite; earning all those badges, accumulating ranks and gaming with your clan can provide countless hours of gameplay. But the single player experience can also keep you playing for quite a while as well; each level has its own collectibles and Helgan artifacts for you to destroy.

If you want to try beating the game on elite difficulty, good luck. It’s said to be one the hardest FPS campaigns in recent memory. I myself wasn't gutsy enough to try it; so I wouldn’t doubt elite is a kill zone for all but the most hardcore FPS aficionados. All in all, Killzone 2 is a destined to be a classic and compares favorably with any FPS this generation has to offer.

Score: 8.5/10

Star Wars: TFU or STFU?

Another Star Wars game? Our culture has become totally obsessed with Star Wars

If you ever need any more proof of that, just check out the endless line of merchandise, memorabilia, action figures, book series, lightsabers, and whatever random miscellanea you can find out there.

And now, Lucasarts brings us The Force Unleashed. Far from the first Star Wars game to hit the market. Is it the best?


The story takes place between Episode 3 and 4 of the original Star Wars film series and is meant to fill in some of the gaps in the timeline. Darth Vader has launched a quest to hunt down and destroy the remaining Jedi, and you play as his apprentice, Starkiller. Trained in the dark side of the force, his mission is to hunt down the big bad Jedi. Oh, and somewhere along the way he’s supposed to help Vader in his plot to overthrow the emperor.

That’s right, Vader plans to take the reigns himself apparently, though his motivations for doing so aren’t clearly explained. Maybe he’s had enough of the emperor’s shit and thinks he can do it better. Now Darth, being emperor of the universe must be cool and all, but what if the job isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? It’s not all Star Destroyers and blowing up planets. What are you going to do when you have to listen to Jawa federation complain about high taxes on Tatooine for the nineteen billionth time, or deal with another droid strike on Courscant. I’d rather go play space golf with a Wookie.

But all joking aside, the story does paint an enjoyable tale of a young Sith who has to make a major decision that will affect the course of the galaxy. Starkiller is an archetypal good guy who struggles with the forces of good and evil. However, the character himself is also somewhat bland, a little generic, and you get virtually no backstory on him. I wasn’t totally sold. The supporting cast is a little better. You’ve got your love stricken co-pilot Juno Eclipse, a washed up former Jedi general whose name escapes me at the moment, and your loveable navigator/battle partner droid Proxy, who is intent on trying to kill you. Leia and Bail Organa from the film series also make appearances.

Gameplay wise, it presents itself as your general action game. You use force powers to fight your enemies, and keying in different button combinations lets you utilize different powers to vanquish foes. You can blast them with lightning, blow them away with a blast of force, and pick them up and sling them around. You can even punt smaller enemies through the air. Sounds cool? Well, it is, but outside that gameplay can prove to be a somewhat irritating experience.

You can get hit by a gust of force power, knocked down, and then knocked down again before you can even get back up. There are also some issues with the targeting system. When you approach an enemy, you target him but there’s no way to actually lock on. If he wanders too far away or if another enemy approaches you the target will switch to that enemy. And it may not even target who you want it to. I wanted to blast a stormtrooper with a lighting bolt, but the bolt ended up striking a stormtrooper all the way on the other side of the level instead of the trooper standing right in front of me. It’d be nice if you could lock on.

And some of the boss battles are just irritating. Case in point: Darth Vader. If you try to attack him directly he lifts you in the air, and you have to rapidly press O to break free. If you escape you better get away quick or you’ll get picked up again. I once had it happen to me six times in a row. Annoying as hell.

A good series to compare this to is God of War. You gain force points to unlock different moves and punch in different button combos, there are different costumes, most fights with major enemies end with a quick time event where you have to key in a certain button sequence just like in God of War. You can even do that L1 dash and attack move just like Kratos.

But we know it’s not just like God of War because it takes place in the Star Wars universe. And that brings us to the worlds you explore. Now, pretty much everything has been made up from scratch and I do give the developers some credit for that because you need somewhere new to explore – some fresh faces and places.

You have Felucia, an mushroom filled exotic jungle type of world teeming with creatures large, small, and ginormous. And then there’s Raxus Prime, which is garbage. No, I mean literally – it’s the galaxy’s garbage disposal planet. You’ll spend most of your time here fighting the locals, dodging lava pits, and holding your nose.

My only complaint is that later in these two worlds get recycled. The layouts are different but the design is the same. There’s only 9 levels, why can’t you think of 9 different places for us to go to? I was really hoping there would be some levels featuring planets from the films. Mix a little bit of the old with the new, y’know? There’s no Hoth, no Tatooine, no Endor; you don’t get to visit any of the planets from any of the films. Most of the level layouts were pretty well designed and I was looking forward to see how these developers would interpret some of those worlds.

There actually are missions that take you to Hoth and Tattoine available as DLC. You get to fight Boba Fett, Obi-Wan, and Luke Skywalker. It makes me wonder why the hell these were DLC. It sounds more interesting than most of what you do in the main game!

Graphics/Sound/Replay Value
The graphics are pretty solid; it isn’t the best looking game on PS3 but it’s passable. You get to hear the whooshing of the lightsabers and whirring of droids – pretty standard Star Wars fare. A standard runthrough should take about 9 hours if you run straight through.

However, there is quite an assortment of hidden items – costumes and lightsaber crystals that let you change the color of your lightsaber. Each level also has its own side objectives, such as destroying all the tie fighters or freeing the wookie slaves.

If you want to get a decent amount of play time from the game, the potential is there to do so, but more likely you’ll probably finish it once or twice and set it aside. Overall, if you’re a big Star Wars fan you might want to buy this, or if you really like games that allow you to wander around and blast people with superpowers, like InFamous or Prototype this might also be up your alley. In the end, it seems more profitable to give this a rental at most.

Score: 6/10

Welcome to My Blog

I wanted to take a few moments to welcome everyone to my blog and explain a little about what I’m doing.

You’re probably wondering why I'm putting a welcome to my blog post right in the middle of your blog?

The posts before this (with the exception of the R&C review and the Obscura album review) were done for an editing class I took in college. It was a newspaper editing class with a political focus, so many of the posts have a political nature. There are a few music reviews too. Feel free to browse them if you want.

I considered creating a new blog, but I failed to see the point in that.

Anyways, I have a passion for music and video gaming. This blog will focus on my reviews for said mediums. When I was younger I listened to all kinds of metal music, and I will always have an affinity for that type of music. But lately I have expanded my tastes by listening to as many different types of music and essential recordings as possible. My Ipod has everything from Daydream Nation to Songs in the Key of Life to A Love Supreme.

As far as video games go, I’m not big on first person shooters. Anything else is peachy in my book.

I try to review stuff I like and enjoy, as well as things I think are relevant. I also take requests.

I have a degree from Middle Tennessee State University in Journalism. There I worked as a DJ for the radio station playing a metal show. My DJ name was The Author, which is why is says The Author under my about me. I don’t go by that anymore though.

Feel free to ask me anything.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction: A wacky, silly, and ultimately worthwhile experience

When reviewing a game, I commonly feel it’s important to describe to the reader what type of game it is. That is, what’s it’s genre? Usually it’s a pretty simple task, but recently I came across a game called Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction and I got a little confused. My first instinct was to call it a shooter, since a main component of the gameplay involves shooting stuff. Y’know, with guns. But I realized that didn’t work, because to call it a shooter brings to mind games like Modern Warfare, Gears, and Halo - pretty much the polar opposite of R&C. So next I thought maybe I could call it a platformer – since you jump around from one platform to another. But that isn’t really right either, because that makes you think of Mario, and all that old school stuff. So that’s out.

Next I said, “Hey, maybe I can call it an adventure game!” It then dawned on me I’m not exactly sure what an adventure game is. I guess it’s a game where you explore places? Well, there are places to explore in R&C and items you can find, but that’s not really the driving point of the game. Finally I thought maybe I’d just call it a kiddie game, but that has more to do with the art direction and overall visual style rather than how the game actually plays. So finally I said forget it. I guess it’s kind of a mixture of all of those. But in game like this, none of that matters. You’ll soon find yourself wrapped up in an experience like none other on the PS3.

Anyone with passing interest in the Ratchet & Clank series probably knows of its wacky and cartoonish nature, which colors everything from the graphical style, music, and voice acting down to the very gameplay mechanics. Ratchet is the last known surviving member of the Lombax race, who possessed great technological prowess but mysteriously disappeared centuries ago. Tachyon is the emperor of the universe and hails from the Cragmite race.

He bears a deep-seated grudge against Ratchet and believes the cosmos isn’t big enough for both of them. Ratchet tries to unearth the truth about what happened to his race while trying to keep one step ahead of Tachyon. And all the while, Ratchet’s robot buddy Clank is being visited by strange creatures only he can see. The story is funny, cute, and entertaining, but isn’t the main draw of the game.

R&C’s shining point is its wacky weaponry and gameplay. You blast high powered beehives at your foes, freeze them with your shard blaster, or fly a radio controlled helicopter to rain destruction upon the opposition. You also have the Groovitron, a giant disco ball that causes enemies to start dancing so you can sneak in and get an easy kill. You can even dress up as a pirate and dance a jig. As you travel around from planet to planet, you’ll encounter icy locales, lush jungles, molten surfaces, and even take part in a few Star Fox style flying missions.

But the gameplay’s brightest spot is the weapon upgrade system. When your weapon reaches maximum level, it gains a new property that takes things to a whole new level. For example, a fully upgraded missile launcher can blast a corrosive liquid that deals major damage to any enemy that walks through it. I found myself wanting to max out as many weapons as I could to find out what new property it would gain, and it never felt like a grind. You can also buy upgrades to your weapons at the store, giving them more ammo, faster shooting rate, etc.

Tools of Destruction generally takes a lighthearted and humorous approach to its main story, characters, graphics, and music. The graphics and art style is cartoony but still looks great and the voice acting is done well.

But how’s the replay value? Going in, I wasn’t expecting much. But I found there’s an emphasis on trying to find all the gold bolts and hidden items in each world. Plus, there is a challenge mode which allows you to keep all your current weapons and stats but gain access to even more powerful upgrades which are super expensive. It’s like a new game plus. There’s even an arena where the player can take on certain challenges. The main game itself isn’t terribly long but it has more replay value than you might think if you’ve never played a Ratchet & Clank game.

The difficulty is lacking but given that the game is marketed toward a younger audience it’s understandable. Though I still think the game would have benefited from having a little more challenge. The story and characters are well done but have room for improvement. The story itself isn’t bad; there’s not a lot of depth but the developers didn’t completely shaft it.

The characters are endearing but static: they tend to only display one particular character trait. Captain Quark is a humorous parody on superheroes and Clank is docile and inquisitive. Ratchet is the only character who shows more than a shade or two to his personality. If you’re buying a Ratchet & Clank game it probably isn't because of the story and characters, but a little more depth would certainly be welcome.

All in all, Tools of Destruction is a triumph in gameplay and wacky cartoony imagery, and it doesn’t really matter what genre it fits into. If you’re a fan of platformers and 3rd person adventure games, you’ve just found one of the best on the PS3.