Wednesday, June 15, 2011

My thoughts on L.A. Noire

Just the logo lets you know this game is a wonderful homage to classic hard-boiled  films... and not much else.

As of this blog post I have yet to finish L.A. Noire and with the way I feel about the game and what I've heard about the ending I really don't see myself finishing it anytime soon.

L.A. Noire is boring. It's a game that is hardly a game. There is no challenge, there is no winning and there is no losing. The game will move on without you because your input and decisions as a player are not significant in the game's story. The game is not a total loss because, yes, the story is believable, the acting is magnificent for a video-game of any kind and the world always feels alive. The game is overflowing in personality and it's never boring to look at but this does not compensate the fact that all you ever do is look. You never really get the satisfaction that comes from making correct choices and forming your own path.

The game is comprised of inspecting crime scenes, from murder to drug abuse to arson, and then following up these investigations with interviews of various suspects and/or persons of interest. The games biggest flaws come through in these investigations. You ask a person a series of questions and based on the impressive facial behaviors of the character you are then made to determine whether they are lying, telling the truth or you can doubt them if it's somewhere in the middle. Not only does this process become incredibly robotic but after the first few cases you start to notice that everyones face seems to turn to the same default "they're looking away they must be hiding something" and "they are stone-faced as fuck they must be telling the truth". I understand you can only do so much with video game characters but the game doesn't even try to challenge you most of the time. I spent the majority of interviews mashing doubt. Actually having a contradicting piece of evidence to then point out a blatant lie is a rare occurrence. The type of careful observation gameplay that I love in games like Phoenix Wright would work amazingly in a game like L.A. Noire but every investigation is left in grey areas of missing gaps of clues.

In interactive mystery games like Phoenix Wright you are forced to locate all the clues and speak to all the right people before you can progress with the story. L.A. Noire lets you miss out on as many clues and conversations as you possibly can and will allow you to wrap up a case. It's a great idea from a developer and player standpoint that a player is allowed to decide when he is satisfied with what he has found but then the game will take that and fuck you over because it allowed you to not be prepared. Which brings up the point that it doesn't even matter if you're not prepared. You can walk into an interview and get every question wrong due to a lack of evidence or just out of poor judgment and walk out with maybe a slightly different conversation with the Chief. But does the game take a different path as a consequence of your poor detective work? Nope, the world just keeps on moving like if you're the greatest cop there ever was.

A colorful and believable cast of characters are one of the games winning features.
So if you can't form your own path and your actions don't matter then it starts to become difficult to see the dividing line between a game and a movie. When Heavy Rain was nearing it's release it was getting a lot of flak for the same reasons I am criticizing L.A. Noire for. Where's the player interaction? It's just an interactive movie. But there is a massive fundamental difference between the two games. Heavy Rain is comprised of a vast amount of altering routes that the story can branch off to based on your decisions. It actually is a fully interactive experience. Your choices matter and there are consequences or benefits from these decisions. That is an example of a great game with amazing atmosphere centered around the story, characters and the world that still manages to fit the player into the equation.

L.A. Noire also suffers from an incredible lack of challenge. Since there is no losing you often find yourself just pressing buttons until you find yourself driving from point A to point B or at a cutscene. Looking for clues takes no effort whatsoever and you have nothing to go on so you sort of just walk around pressing the action button over and over. (I feel like I must mention that I turned off the chimes that alerts you when a clue is nearby to make it somewhat harder for myself.) At no point do I ever feel successful about finding a clue because it's never based on skill but pure luck or the game will just throw it at you.

When I first started playing L.A. Noire I was very excited at what I was seeing. The characters seemed so real, the city was colorful and large in scope and had incredible detail and I felt that my decisions for the first few cases were actually based around the right or wrong decisions I had made. After a couple of cases, particularly when I made it into Homicide, I quickly began to realize the game was getting away from me. I was missing out on clues answering questions wrong and the game was knowingly forcing me to choose the wrong perpetrator. The fun of the game had gone.

Ultimately, I feel that L.A. Noire pulls in mechanics from several games and only some of them just barely work. If some aspects of exploring crime scenes had been fine-tuned and if investigations were more dependent on successfully analyzing clues and information this could have been a much better game. Something to take into consideration is that this is Team Bondi's first game. And for their first game this is quite an ambitious title but due to misleading marketing tactics people were expecting an open-world crime scene extravaganza on the level of Red Dead Redemption and Grand Theft Auto IV. Many would then come to feel duped by the time they realized this game bears almost no similarity to those titles, myself included. So perhaps now that Team Bondi has- I hope- listened to the reaction to their first game they will take criticism into account and L.A. Noire 2 may be the incredible game we were all expecting the first time around.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I love awesome trailers. Regardless of how great or how horrible the film ends up being, the awesome trailer will remain awesome.  Of course it's better when the movie is awesome too but unfortunately this isn't always the case. Awesome trailers leave with a sense of wanting and anticipation for what appears to be a great time and in the case of shitty films they leave us with a glimpse of what could have been and some hope that maybe some day some other film will live up to those expectations.

I say all of this because I just saw the trailer for David Fincher's adaptation of the critically acclaimed and award-winning Swedish film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. The film which itself is an adaption of the Swedish novel of the same name. So what we're dealing with here is an adaptation of an adaptation. I don't mean to sound cynical as I'm usually opposed to any negative thinking but I've been sort of forced into holding back total excitement for the moment. The trailer is awesome but like I said an awesome trailer doesn't always mean awesome movie. David Fincher is not one to usually disappoint- he is one of my favorite directors and probably for many others as well- and again I'm not expecting the film to be bad I'm just trying to be more cautious with my self-hype. My point being that there is always room to fuck up. I have just recently been let down by a film whose trailers completely blew me away (damn you, Sucker Punch).

Just watch the trailer for yourself. It's awesome. The movie will probably be awesome and that is as excited as I will get for now.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Le Music

Welp, school is just about over. 20 days now, I believe. The last month-and-a-half have really taken it out of me. Took some AP Exams, my SAT, a history final. But now it seems like my walk through the field of testing is over- aside from finals and 2 end of the year projects. It's actually never really over till that first day of summer. That first, beautiful, freeing day. The day when the sun is at its brightest, the fresh air seems fresher and the time on my hands seems limitless. I've only got a couple more of those to look forward to. Better savor 'em.

Which brings us to the matter of my lack of posts for a little more than a month. But I won't apologize and I won't say I'll change. Because I always seem to say so and just shit all over my promises. I think you've been through enough heartbreak already. Let's just hope for a better future for the both of us. You can always leave me. I'd understand.

So I've been meaning to churn this one out for a while just to get back into the groove and supply you with some cultural fun.

A while back my friend Kevin introduced me to a song. Kevin has this incredible knack for showing me things that he thinks I'll love. I always doubt his judgement but I have to give him credit where it's due. So he came to me ( or rather IM'ed me) with the undertaking of making me a worldlier person. Being as sceptic of his proposals as ever, I simply responded "k".

He then linked a video.

I was immediately in love with the song and and to an extent the adorable French blonde singing it. I have a powerful but subtle connection with the french language. I don't think many people knew that I had an affinity for French culture but this song had brought it out in me. I am now much more vocalized about my once quiet passion and hope to learn to speak French so that I may one day understand the beautiful words of the lovely France Gall. So I thanked Kevin on his successful endeavor and wished him a good night but he wasn't done yet.

It turns out the very song I just heard had been used in a commercial featuring Brad Pitt. I was even more pleased when I learned the commercial was crafted by one of my favorite film directors, Wes Anderson.

It's a pretty neat commercial. Beautiful music, beautiful setting, and amazing actor with a unique director to pull the strings. If only all commercials were this good. I gotta say, Kevin really hit out of the park with that one. So give yourself a pat on the back, Kev. I guess you earned it.

That about wraps it up. Pretty good post, right? A little music, a little movie. Let me end it here before I spoil it.

P.S. I've been drawing a lot lately.

Friday, April 15, 2011

3DS- My Journey So Far

So I've had the 3DS for almost a good 3 weeks now and I feel like I can finally summarize my feelings on it.

Right off the bat, the 3D effect is awesome. I'm sure you've heard this enough but yes, it really just works and it works magnificently. Every little detail just feels cool to look at. What time is it? Oh, I'll just check the time since it's popping out at my face. I feel like playing Pilotwings but I'll just stare at the plane that's popping out of the screen before I start the game. I miss my room. Let me just stare at 3D photos of my bed and pretend like it's closer than it really is. It's all really cool and is totally complementary to every facet of the system. I have yet to experience any headaches or cross-eyd issues from playing with the 3D on for extended amounts of time and I play with 3D at full blast until my battery is dead. Really, the only side-effect I have experienced- if you can even call it that- is that after playing for a while, immediately moving onto my computer makes text on web pages appear as if it's popping off the screen. So really the 3DS has just given me super-vision. Who can complain about that?

The only time I ever turn down the 3D is while playing Pilotwings. Sometimes there is just so much shit going on at once that I begin to see double-vision of items that appear closer to the screen. This has been the only game that this has happened with and it's probably due to the amount of disparity between stuff in the background and foreground. That's my guess at least. And as far as Pilotwings goes, I actually had a lot more fun with it than I had anticipated. It took me like 20+ hours to get 3 stars on every challenge and collect everything in Free-Flight Mode. I could have gone the extra mile and tried to get a perfect score for every mission but I am nowhere near masochistic enough to put myself through that. The title is still a bit shallow in the amount of content but if you want something that is great technical showcase for the 3D and a game that's easy to pick up and put down then Pilotwings definitely warrants a purchase.

Once I had my fill with Pilotwings I needed something to fill the void and hold me over for Zelda, Cave Story and the like. So per recommendation of some of my fellow forum members I went ahead and bought Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. Bad move on my part. Yeah, it's a good game but I just found it to be incredibly bland. It had great gameplay mechanics and moving around my soldiers like little pieces on a board game was pretty cool but nothing else in the game kept me engaged. It had some cliché war conflict tale with Russian terrorists, the characters kept having annoying conversations and it just felt like a DS game. The graphics were incredibly sub-par for what we should expect of 3DS games. Sure, it's a launch title and I suppose that's excusable but take some of the other titles that are already doing things that the DS could never even come close to emulating.

So I sold that. Then I bought Street Fighter! This is the game I should've gotten from the start. I always had a yearning for it but I was too timid to dive into the SF community in fear of getting my ass handed to me on a regular basis but I finally took the plunge! I played against a fellow 3DS owner from the forums earlier today and to my complete and utter shock I did not completely suck! It was an actual fight with both of us having a number of wins and losses and it was fun as hell! The game ports perfectly over to the 3DS and just feels good to play. The addition of the analog nub is perfect for pulling off combos and the 3D gives the game a great look, like looking onto a little stage. I'm glad I never bought SFIV for the PS3 when I had wanted some time ago. This experience is very new for me and it's exciting to finally be a apart of the brawler genre which I had personally excluded myself from.

Aside from these launch titles, the 3DS is packed with software and it's all just real nifty stuff. The AR Cards are really impressive to see the first time. However, like any software like it, it's hard to find the right amount of brightness to play smoothly and the 3D is actually pretty irritating for the AR games. I've taken some 3D pics and sometimes they come out looking amazing and sometimes they just look blurry. Then there's StreetPass which I am totally hooked on. I collect my 10 coins and make sure my friends with 3DS's have wireless enabled so I can abuse their friendship for puzzle pieces. They give me something to do every day and I get to put cute little hats on my Mii. I don't really use the 3DS Sound because I already use my phone as an MP3 player. The music visualizers are really cool though. Activity Log is also pretty sweet but only if you like to track your own habits like I do. It's not really needed but it's a nice feature.

The 3DS itself is a really nice size considering how much power they packed into it, even if the battery life did have to suffer for it. It has a great weight to it and is fun to walk around with. At this point I can seamlessly move into and out of 3D without any issues focusing but the 3D never stops being incredible to look at. The whole thing is built pretty well except for one thing... the top and bottom screen come into contact when the 3DS is closed which leaves marks on the top screen from the bottom border. It hasn't been a huge problem for me but I recently discovered 3 legitimate scratches on my bottom screen. I have no idea where they came from or how but it is driving me crazy. I need some screen protectors post-haste!

So yeah that pretty much covers it. There is a big update coming for the system in May, which adds a web browser, 3DS store, Virtual Console and other online implementations. It'll be like the system being released in full for the first time. It's probably how Nintendo wanted to release the system but for whatever reason had to get it out before they could pack everything in. Oh well, I would have gone crazy if I had to wait this long for the system.

Lots to look forward to.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hold it!

So maybe you've heard of the popular Ace Attorney series and maybe you haven't. It started off a series of very popular Japanese GBA titles and would eventually find a home amongst DS/gaming enthusiasts here in the United States. In it you assume the role of one Phoenix Wright and more recently one of his many cohorts. These characters move on from court case to crime scene to court case wrapping up murders and all the while discovering the true meaning of nobility and honest. None of this really matters anymore because the latest installment in the series Ace Attorney Investigations 2: Miles Edgeworth is not getting a US localization. Shit. 

I am a huge fan of the Ace Attorney series. I first discovered it in the form of a flash animation parodying the games by matching up the sprite animations with different bits of audio. Even though I had never even heard of the series I found it freaking hilarious and in an odd way quickly fell in love with the series. I did some research and after a while I actually sought the games out- I don't really remember how long it took between learning about and playing the series- they were like 10 bucks for each title so I just took em all down in rapid succession. The first 3 were already released with the 4th title, Apollo Justice soon to be available.

I couldn't put them down. It's like reading a really good book and you just have to find out what will happen the next chapter. Which makes sense because the series takes the form of interactive novels. Seriously if you want to break it down the games are just reading and every now and again you select an item to move the story along. Not really for everyone but I really dig it. The stories are funny, the locations are cool, the characters are (mostly) lovable. It's a nice little story with a lot of heart. Sure it can be a little cheesy but its charms makes it worthwhile. You should check it out.

So here I am saying goodbye to a treasured series and some beloved characters. But hey, it's not completely over! We've still got a Professor Layton + Ace Attorney crossover in the works and I assume a stateside release hasn't been scrapped... not yet at least. And I could always read the manga...

*sigh* oh well. We had good run, guys. Gives me something to build upon if I ever decide to take up Criminal Justice as a hobby.

See you guys in that big court in the sky. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


When I created this blog I had the intention of writing posts about music and bands and such. Then I realized that I don't really know anything about music aside from being able to tell people what songs I'm really digging at the moment. So I think I'm gonna start sharing songs on this blog.

I've been listening to a lot of Best Coast lately. It's lo-fi so it has this awesome echoey and dreamy sound to it. The lyrics are totally cute and I have a thing for indie female lead singers. My heart throbs for them. Makes me think of Summer. So here are two of my favorite songs off their debut album Crazy for You. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

3DS- The Unboxening

It would be better if I had a cameraman. It's pretty much me reading while you stare at my wall. 

You're welcome.