Mar 212010

Mass Effect logoFinished Bioware’s Mass Effect a couple of weeks ago, since playing the direct sequel without having seen how the original ends felt odd.

Mass Effect is a space opera role-playing game where the choices matter more than character’s statistics. The game combines traditional RPG elements with a third person shoot-em-up. This can lead to situations where perfect aim with a high-lethality sniper rifle leads to a miss, on account of the underlying random number generator.

The shooting is supplemented by “biotic” and “technological” powers. These are supernatural manifestations such as telekinetic tossing around of enemies or direct sabotage of their arms. The selection feels like low power force from Star Wars and as such does not stand out as being too much out of place.

The game plays well, apart from a one or two scenes, most of the combats are doable with the first try. Hence the sudden difficulty spike in the final combat feels almost unfair. Before that there’s no need to synchronize the use of weapons and powers too much, but the ultimate fight pretty much demands a much closer attention to detail.

The plot oozes sense of wonder. It’s once again a case of a hidden Big Evil menacing the galaxy, with the protagonist the only one available to defend. However, the game manages to sidestep being a mere collection of cliches, and actually produces a decent story. The main plotline is not that complex, but it is supplemented by scores of sidequests, the completion of which provides tangible benefits in the form of improved equipment and additional experience.

An even more attractive piece of gaming evolution is the interaction system. The faces have been rendered well, and the dialogue system is unparalleled thus far. It allows the player to select the mood of the protagonist, not the exact words he is going to utter.

Bioware’s attempt at providing downloadable content post-release for Mass Effect has been a failure. There’s been two pieces thus far, with especially the latter one, Pinnacle Station getting very negative reviews.

Achievements-wise, Mass Effect is not optimal either. A lot of them are pure boring collections (x number of kills with a certain weapon) whereas others require multiple playthroughs (finish the majority of the game using a certain NPC assistant). Then again, the 20+ hour duration of the minimal plotline is anyway not conducive to easy gamerscoring.

The most controversial part of the game was the inclusion of a very limited sex scene at the conclusion of a continuing sidequest. The couple of seconds of blurry camerawork are tame indeed, and nothing that isn’t shown on television on a daily basis. Nonetheless, the media storm resulting from its inclusion resulted in endless threads (and probably improved sales as well).

The second part of the Mass Effect trilogy has started with a bang, I’ll return to the rather streamlined game in the form of an article at an appropriate time (meaning when I’ve progressed beyond level 6).

Mar 172010

Dropkick Murphys logoThe evening of a long and arduous workday was significantly sparked by two very topical things to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day: an appropriately warm Guinness (off a can, sadly) and a newly arrived copy of the new Dropkick Murphys‘ live album.

Indeed, Live on Lansdowne, Boston MA, the second live album from the celtic punk band features a score of songs mostly off their recent albums. Their first live album is already eight years old, and the intervening years have seen three new albums, all packed with songs that sound as good live as they do on the original albums.

The song selection is good. And I’ll definitely keep an eye out for five extra songs available only on iTunes.

Didn’t peek at the dvd yet – it seems to be the very same performance, but with such a strong show that’s hardly a disadvantage.

As expected, the seven shows played on the St. Patrick’s week in Boston are long sold out.

Mar 172010

Hurt Locker posterKathryn Bigelow’s multi-oscar winner Hurt Locker was a good war movie and a far worthier of the best movie accolade’s than the blueskinned monstrosity by the director’s ex-husband.

The film’s subjects form a bomb squad in IED-plagued Iraq. The ever-present stress of the profession turns into a sustaining high for the protagonist. Jeremy Renner plays the high-strung yet skillful expert with an expert undercurrent of unpredictable menace. The highest profile members of the cast are gone in minutes, the stage is set for lesser known actors. All of whom do excel in their roles as bomb squad members.

Watched the movie off a dvd, and the forty inch television is no replacement for viewing massive explosions on the movie screen. The film never descends into the depths of pyrotechnological porn despite the subject. After all it was shot using 16-millimeter equipment for a less refined image.

Hurt Locker is a good film, but hardly the definitive film about the conflict in Iraq.

Mar 162010

Laundry coverCubicle 7 Entertainment, publishers of the recent Doctor Who role-playing game have announced a surprising new licensed game.

Laundry Files, to be available this summer, is based on Charles Stross‘ series (two books now, with a third one out soon). Sadly the game uses Chaosium’s aging basic roleplaying as the engine, and not the far more elegant and flexible system introduced in the company’s previous production.

Cubicle 7 has been on a roll lately, since their third new game is nothing less than The One Ring, yet another game based on the Lord of the Rings (the third, it would seem in the wikipedia article on the subject).

Moral bonus point for the gratuitous XKCD reference on the cover.

Mar 162010

Up in the Air posterThe first in the rather overdue triplet of Oscar-candidate movies is Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air, a movie that manages to do two rare things – show a genuinely vulnerable side of usually sterling George Clooney and to provide a plot twist that actually surprises.

George Clooney’s airmile-hogging Ryan Bingham is a professional terminator, a consultant hired to sack employees. His world is turned upside down by the arrival of two women. Two women whose actresses both picked up best supporting actress-nominations in the Oscars. Both Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick inspire awe in their roles, and bodes well for their careers in the future. As employees to be terminated, J.K. Simmons and Zach Galifanakis both completely steal the lone scenes they are in.

Up in the Air is an effortlessly pleasant film that combines drama and comedy to a well-wrapped package. The subject of layoffs and rampant flying is about zeitgeisty as they get. The protagonist’s quest for meaning in a company evolving to a wrong direction can easily be related to.

But like Reitman’s debut, Juno, there’s a nagging hollowness in the film. The characters exhibit occasional thinness, and the freely flowing dialogue triggers artificialo-meter a couple of times. But the good times far outweigh the lapses, and Up in the Air is definitely recommended as an existential romantic comedy that manages to pack in a lot of the quintessential noughties elements.