Archive for the ‘Video Game’ Category

Among Thieves

Ok, yeah, Uncharted 2 looks beautiful

I’ve only checked in here four times in the past 2 months. It’s not because I haven’t been doing things – quite the contrary! I’ve just found little time or motivation to write about what’s going on.

Well, now comes the lightning round! There are a handful of subjects I want to touch upon but I hate making those boring bulleted list blogs. So, instead, I’ll be spreading out all of the (not interesting) tidbits out into a couple of posts.

Alright, enough disclaimer text. This first quick check in is to briefly sum up the latest video game I played. Wow, I seriously have gone through something like 6 games this year, already. Bah, this 30-year old cares not for your judgements – I spend my time in the manner I wish! Uncharted 2 is – surprise – the sequel to Uncharted, a PS3 exclusive game I played back in December. Both games revolve around a character named Drake who, much like Indiana Jones, seems to find both lost treasure and danger at every turn in his life. I found the first game a little unbalanced (shooting was monotonous, game went for too long, and the twist in the story was just too far-fetched) but Uncharted 2 really corrected all of these mistakes. It’s a beautiful (best-looking PS3 game I’ve played thus far), fast-paced, taut, playable action movie. The voice acting is great, the length is manageable, and the development team really did a great job at not relying too much on any one gameplay mechanic. In fact, the only real gripe I have is that someone barely escapes falling down a large cliff about every hour in the game – so much so that it becomes comical rather than thrilling.

4 out of 5 dohblogs!

Site Updates:

  • Added The Limousines – Get Sharp (2010) to Currently Enjoying
  • Added Marvel Ultimate Alliance [PS3] (2006) to Currently Enjoying
  • Added Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul (2008) to Currently Enjoying
  • Removed Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [PS3] (2009) to Currently Enjoying
  • Added Sons of Anarchy: Season 1 (2008) to Currently Enjoying
  • Took down Sullivan Hall gig from Rusted Hero sidebar section

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“What are you?!”

Bataanman

In case you don’t get the reference in this blog’s title, it’s at 1:05 in this video.

I just beat my latest video game escapade, Batman: Arkham Asylum (yes, I realize this actually came out two years ago), and I must emphatically announce that this game IS A MASTERPIECE!

The brief synopsis of the story is that on a fairly routine night, Batman brings the Joker back into Arkham Asylum after picking him up from an escape. The Joker continues to laugh and point out how easy the apprehension was for Batman, which begins to cause suspicion in the Dark Knight. These suspicions are soon proven true for as soon as the Joker is out of Batman’s control, he rips out of his shackles and traps Batman inside the giant insane asylum. The story gets a little more convuluted from there as several other individuals from Batman’s rogue gallery get into the fun, but the pace never lets up and you really get sucked into the game.

The quality of Arkham Asylum really is quite surprising as most video games based on a license (be it comic book, movie, tv show, etc.) blow hard. They’re usually rushed, and receive very little attention to producing good gameplay. Well, Arkham Asylum has it in spades. First of all, Batman is a bad ass, which is very important to portray to be accurate to the character. It was so awesome to see a mob of angry, crazed inmates running at me and knowing I could take all of them out without getting injured. Very cool to be that powerful.

Secondly, they translated the core elements of Batman into gameplay extremely well and very creatively. He’s famously known as the world’s greatest detective and at any time in the game you can go into a “detective mode” where the screen turns all blue. In this mode, enemies stand out and can be seen through walls and armed villains are highlighted. Furthermore, you can see many secret hiding places, traps, and hidden treasures while using your detective skills. Batman’s also a master of all martial arts so he knows how to counter most any type of attack. Thus, foes that are about to hit you glow blue, giving you a split-second to counter their move. The combat is super-fluid and has an almost rhythm game engine (like Guitar Hero). Very cool to play and I’m sure this baby is going to be very influential in future fighting games.

I’d also like to praise how Arkham Asylum both wears it’s influences on its sleeve but also manages to change things up a bit to seem fresh. Sure, it’s a stealth-heavy game like Metal Gear Solid is, but Batman can take on any foe with ease. Also, it’s a lot like the Metroid games where Batman slowly upgrades his tools, allowing him to reach new areas he couldn’t before.

Finally, you really got to give applause to the team as they NAILED the setting. Arkham Asylum is a creepy place and all of the comic characters are believable, yet highly stylized in a unique way for the game. The voice acting is phenomenal, but when you get the highly acclaimed actors from the original Batman: The Animated Series, you can’t really go wrong. Also, it’s just so great knowing that no matter how unsettling the situation gets, you (as Batman) are the scariest thing in the room.

Site Updates:

  • Removed Robert Plant – Manic Nirvana (1990) from Currently Enjoying
  • Removed Wages of Win (2007) from Currently Enjoying
  • Added Run-D.M.C. (1984) to Currently Enjoying
  • Added Mumford & Sons – Sigh No More (2009) to Currently Enjoying
  • Removed The Shack: 10th Anniversary | 2000-2010 from Currently Enjoying

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July Bullets

McCutchen at bat

Photo © 2011 Stan Syckes

Blah, I’ve been busy, want to update the blog about it all, but don’t really want to write long prose. Here are some magic bullets. Enjoy. Or don’t!

  • For my dad’s birthday, Stever and I picked up Pittsburgh Pirates tickets for the three of us. I grabbed a Bolt Bus down to DC, then all three of us drove up to Cumberland, Maryland where we visited several old sights and downed some local food (Coney Island hot dogs and Old German beer – not bad)! Then we recreated our Pittsburgh trip from 2002 – down to staying in the same hotel and recreating a photo in the PNC Park bar. We had a great time and all of the dirty details are here.
  • I beat my latest game (to me), BioShock. It’s a first-person shooter with survival horror elements, but the attribute that is most prevalent is the mood. The game takes place in an underwater city that was built in the 1940’s by a millionaire who no longer wanted science to be stifled by politics or religion. What happened is people began to mutate themselves and something went horribly wrong. A premise that is equal parts fascinating and ho-hum, but the execution of the unfolding story is excellent. The combat is a little on the weak side – especially towards the end of the game – and I did play through the whole thing on the Easy setting, but I highly recommend this one to anyone who wants to play a great, eerie game.
  • Rusted Hero traveled to Cedar Knoll, New Jersey where the headquarters of WDHA 105.5 FM is located. There, we recorded two of our songs acoustically and did a quick interview as well for their Home Grown Spotlight blog. I’m not sure if either of these will be played over the radio, but we did a great job (ok, so I was definitely a little nervous during the interview) and I’m really proud of what we accomplished for this great honor! Then, we had another song off our EP played that night on the station! This was the first time I got to hear us live on the radio (I was on a plan for the first play) … an extremely satisfying experience. Don’t worry, I’ll update everyone when our acoustic performance gets put up.

Site Updates:

  • Removed BioShock [PS3] (2008) from Currently Enjoying
  • Removed Barry Manilow – Barry Manilow II (1974) from Currently Enjoying
  • Added Prince of Persia [PS3] (2008) to Currently Enjoying
  • Took down acoustic performance at WDHA 105.5 from Rusted Hero sidebar section
  • Updated blog IDs for December 2007

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Comments:
  • Monday, July 18th, 2011 at 12:18 | #1

    Why was being on a plan stopping you from listening to the radio broadcast? Was it an anti-radio plan?

  • Monday, July 18th, 2011 at 14:03 | #2

    Ugh … I meant plane 🙁

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Solid Disappointment

Old Snake

After a marathon weekend session, my mission is complete: I have put down Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots with extreme prejudice. This was, obviously, the fourth in the Metal Gear Solid series, a video game franchise that began with my favorite video game of all time.

The game started out alright … sure it was a little jarring to get used to the inevitable changes (Snake was now old, setting was amidst war instead of a solo sneaking mission) but once acclimated I started to really appreciate the phenomenal graphics and legendary gameplay.

But then the story happened! Yes, the very same thing that raised Metal Gear Solid 1 from being a great game to the best game of all time now dragged down beautiful gameplay. Ill-placed fart jokes and bowel movements within serious, war-torn cinematics? Total fanboy service where every character from the previous games is related to every other character? Scene after scene of blubbering people over underdeveloped relationships? A goddamn wedding on a battlefield? What the fuck, Hideo?

I guess it was inevitable. MGS1 set the tone for suddenly ripping away every truth you had held to for 75% of the game and every sequel must have felt the pressure to do something similar. MGS2 turned out to be a virtual mindfuck the entire time. MGS3 had double-crosses and triple-crosses. MGS4 just … well, just got weird and silly. With Hideo Kojima, the creator, saying this would be his final MGS game (although, to be honest, he said the same thing about MGS3) I’m sure there was a push to create some closure. Instead of a nice, little game to send main character, Solid Snake, riding off into the sunset, he totally threw the revelations of MGS2 out the window (turns out … they were lies! What great writing!) and tied all loose ends with rather uncreative bows (I’ll just say it seems like several dead people turned out to … get ready for it … not actually be dead!!!). Ugh.

Still, the great gameplay that lies at the heart of every MGS game is still there and I like the way the map was balanced. MGS’s map showed you every villain AND where they could see which made the game, ultimately, unfair in your favor. MGS3, taking place in the 1960’s, went the opposite route providing no real map to rely on for too long. Here, in MGS4, you could switch on a map that gave impressions of where enemies were, but would start to fuck up if you weren’t quiet – like from running or shooting a gun. Furthermore, with everything turned off, you could call upon Snake’s experience and “see” a visual representation of what he was discerning – where threats were and how close they were to him.

And all of this was beautifully rendered with gorgeous graphics. Sure, the cut scenes started to look a little waxy as the faces looked more mannequin than human, but mostly everything that happened on screen was very impressive.

Oh, well … I guess everything must come to an end sometime, even greatness. 3 out of 5 cardboard boxes.

    Site Updates:

  • Removed Daft Punk – Discovery (2001) from Currently Enjoying
  • Removed The Sounds – Something To Die For (2011) from Currently Enjoying
  • Added 311 – Music (1993) to Currently Enjoying
  • Removed NBA Legend [Facebook] (2011) from Currently Enjoying
  • Removed UBAS Basketball: Season 1 (2011) from Currently Enjoying
  • Removed Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots [PS3] (2008) from Currently Enjoying

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The Art Of Crime

Niko Bellic

In the late 80’s and early 90’s there was a fierce war at school. Either you sided with the Sega Genesis or you threw your support behind Nintendo’s original console system and it’s successor, the Super Nintendo. Which side you were on determined who you could and who you couldn’t hang out with at school and lives were constantly lost on recess battlegrounds. Ok, not really, but the marketing at the time hyped up the rivalry to ridiculous proportions and I grew up a die-hard Nintendo man – scoffing at those who preferred Sega and even subscribing to Nintendo Power magazine (under the totally 90’s pseudonym, Radd Syckes).

However, when the Super Nintendo gave it’s last gasp in 1996, I felt slightly disoriented. The next generation console by Nintendo, the N64, didn’t wow me. The games seemed to be too “kiddie” for my maturing tastes and I absolutely detested the controllers. I felt like I couldn’t make the move over to Sega’s new console, the Saturn, either, because of the poor reception it was receiving. I was in video game limbo!

For the next few years I instead focused my efforts on studying and achieving academic success in high school (yeah right). Ok, maybe I just did other things besides buying new video games. But right around 1998, I ended up playing a friend’s completely new console system and was blown away. Out of the blue I was a convert to the Sony PlayStation and, as a result, soon became introduced to my two favorite video game franchises, Metal Gear Solid and Grand Theft Auto.

Well, due to my extremely long backlog of games to play, I recently just finished the latest GTA game (GTAIV) and let me confirm what everyone else has been saying about it (for 3 years now): the game is a masterpiece. You play as Niko Bellic – a Russian immigrant who has just landed in Brooklyn – who seeks to find fortune and redemption in the city. Unfortunately for him (but fortunate for you!), Bellic is an unsavory fellow who just has one elite skill he can ply as his trade: killing people. So, you begin to become well acquainted with the seedy underbelly of New York: drug smuggling for the Russian mob, bank robbing for old Irish gang holdouts, and even conducting assassinations for the New Jersey maffia.

New York City (or Liberty City as it’s called in game) is the perfect backdrop for a GTA game with it’s instantly recognizable landmarks, sprawling area, colorful and varied scenery between boroughs, and sea of interesting people (and their cars) to interact with. Sure, most of the game missions are either escape in a car under these circumstances or kill this person under these circumstances but the story is so great you never really notice and the small unique changes to each mission are good enough to not bore you.

Although I loved every minute of the full GTAIV game, I did make one big mistake. In each of the games (since at least GTAIII), you can achieve 100% – by doing every scripted thing in the game including completing all sidequests, collecting all gear, finding all the hidden items, etc. It’s a massive undertaking and one I’ve never felt the need to do – except for now. Well, I got damn close, but am still missing 1 (of the 200) pigeons and 5 (of the 50) unique jumps. Who knows where they are, but I’ve lost my patience in finding them so I’m moving on to my next video game.

Some little program called Metal Gear Solid 4! I love the PS3!

    Site Updates:

  • Removed George Harrison – Extra Texture (1974) from Currently Enjoying
  • Removed Peter Bjorn and John – Gimme Some (2011) from Currently Enjoying
  • Removed Hitman 2: Silent Assassin [PC] (2002) from Currently Enjoying
  • Added Final Fantasy [NES] (1987) to Currently Enjoying
  • Added A Silent Film – The City That Sleeps (2010) to Currently Enjoying
  • Added The Mothers of Invention – We’re Only In It For The Money (1968) to Currently Enjoying
  • Removed Grand Theft Auot IV [PS3] (2008) from Currently Enjoying
  • Added Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patrios [PS3] (2008) to Currently Enjoying
  • Included AceGoulet in Links sidebar section

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The Holy Grail

My first (and only?) completed game

Photo © 2011 Stan Syckes

Holy living fuck – I found it!

Hold up, let’s first get some back story in here. While attending middle school in Texas, Steve and I discovered the wonderful world of ZZT – a computer program that allowed users to create their own, ASCII-graphic video games. Being huge gamers and creative people in general, we fell in love with the DOS-based program and had amassed close to 100 games between us just six years later.

However, mastering the programming language came with a huge learning curve and it took us many, many tries to finally get a handle on the code. I remember that my very first try at a game was about Spider-Man 2009 – a comic I was subscribing to at the time – but I didn’t get very far as I really didn’t know what I was doing at all. Then I went over to my friend, Jordan’s house for a birthday party and he showed us how he had cracked the ZZT code! It was a religious moment – I suddenly could do whatever I wanted in ZZT.

The next two games I made were quite possibly the only ones I ever completed from start to finish. One was called Jordan’s Quest (in honor of the man who taught me how ZZT worked) and the other was Batmonkey (some crappy Batman spoof that didn’t make any sense). Both were utterly forgettable games but since they were finished, I uploaded them to the ZZT community on AOL (yep, that’s how old this story is).

Anyway, skip to my junior year of high school. Steve, my dad and I were all sharing the same computer and space was a premium. At some point many of my old ZZT games were obliterated – lost to the ages of time – including both of these two, only-complete early ones. I was devastated but tried my hardest to find them – but all un-delete programs failed and then a decade-and-a-half long search went unfruitful. I had pretty much accepted that I was never going to ever play these games again.

… Until last week that is! For some reason, I decided to search for “batmonkey” again and actually found an old site from 1994 where someone had a ZIP file containing Jordan’s Quest, Batmonkey, and even an old game of Steve’s. And included was a BatmonkeyFAQ text document written by a 12-year old me that included my home address in Texas (thank god there weren’t many internet predators back then … geez)! I quickly downloaded the treasure along with a copy of ZZT and relived the summer of 1993!

Ugh, what a mess – they were godawful. In fact, there was even a game-ending bug in Batmonkey. But I was ecstatic for finally discovering them and getting another chance to play my childhood. Thank you internet for never deleting data!

    Site Updates:

  • Added Batman: Season 2 (1967) to Currently Enjoying
  • Added The Wire: Season 1 (2002) to Currently Enjoying
  • Put up Acoustic Performance at WDHA 105.5 on Rusted Hero sidebar section

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Comments:
  • Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 at 15:54 | #1

    YOU subscribed to Spider-Man 2099? I know I had a subscription at one time – are you sure you’re not remembering wrong and just read mine?

  • Tuesday, April 26th, 2011 at 16:05 | #2

    Shit … I think you’re right. I had X-Men 2099 which was worse! Though my first game was about Spider-Man 2099 and I remember one screen was where you were supposed to answer the phone but I didn’t know how to get it to work so the smiley-face character just traveled down a drawn arm and touched the phone.

  • Shelby
    Sunday, May 1st, 2011 at 11:32 | #3

    Sorry for the late comment but WOW – what a great find. Back when we were living in Texas I was looking for ways to get you two involved in computer programming and all I could think of was Visual-Basic. It was pretty new (it came out in 1991)but expensive – yes you had to “buy” software back then – and I also had to find away to teach it to you and I knew I wasn’t going to be able to. Anyway, my plans went nowhere with the exception of sending you to “Computer Camp” in the summer of 1994 which I don’t think was much of a success either. But it didn’t matter because you guys found ZZT on AOL, learned it yourself, and the rest is history.

    Now – I want to see an online video of some smokin’ Bat Monkey action. Congratulations.

Wintry Mix

Snowblog!

The Northeast (actually just the East, in general) is under heavy attack … by snow! Here in New York it isn’t too terrible, but it’s been a steady foot or so of the stuff every week since Christmas. Fun! I’ve always complained about cold weather but I’m actually finding myself somewhat unfazed by all of this – perhaps I’m finally getting used to frigid temperatures. Or, maybe my gut is just finally big enough that it protects me like a whale’s blubber.

I am, however, deeply affected by my lack of blogging! I’ve been constantly working on other projects – be they music, basketball, or stealing cars and shooting hookers – but I should check in here every once in a while. Here’s a quick recap of what I’ve been up to.

GTA4 – Great game that’s been sucking up a lot of my free time recently, but I’ll keep my comments about and review on it until after I’ve completed the damn thing.

Keeping Up with the JonesesBrandon and Katie came up for a visit several weeks ago. We had a few drinks, grabbed some local grub, and played a lot of GTA4 (ok, so that was just Brandon and I). Good times, but our New York bed and breakfast industry took a hit as it seems our air mattress has finally given up the ghost. Even after a herculean effort by Brandon and 2 rolls of duct tape, the bed was still losing air and we had to toss it. No word on whether this was the result of a terrorist attack by Tito.

UBAS – The Ultimate Basketball Association (no idea what the S stands for) is a fantasy basketball league I’m in with a bunch of other, stats-crazy, basketball historians. It’s a lot of fun but also a lot of work – I’m updating the site daily (no joke). I’m really proud of the work I’ve done, even though I’m stinking it up right now in the standings. Next year, the Rens will start to flex their virtual muscle!

Rusty Meeting – After our latest gig two weeks ago, Rusted Hero is now working on the future of the band. Last week we got together at my place and started hashing out all the business bullshit – band partnership agreements, discussions of management, press kits, marketing, etc. It actually was a lot easier and more fun than I had imagined it would be. I’ll keep you guys updated with any big decisions, but we’re going to get together again this week to hopefully finish everything.

    Site Updates:

  • Updated blog IDs for November 2008 posts
  • Separated Dead Links from Links on sidebar
  • Updated blog IDs for October 2008 posts
  • Updated blog IDs for September 2008 posts
  • Took down R-Bar gig from Rusted Hero sidebar section
  • Removed Celebrity Rehab: Season 4 (2010) from Currently Enjoying
  • Removed Crash Kings (2009) from Currently Enjoying
  • Removed George Harrison – Dark Horse (1974) from Currently Enjoying
  • Added The Avalanches – Since I Left You (2000) to Currently Enjoying
  • Added Arctic Monkeys – Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not (2006) to Currently Enjoying
  • Added Jersey Shore: Season 3 (2011) to Currently Enjoying
  • Added The Wages of Win (2006) to Currently Enjoying
  • Added Our Dumb World (2007) to Currently Enjoying
  • Added Dexter: Season 3 (2008) to Currently Enjoying
  • Moved Nate’s Noodle from the Dead Links section to Links section of sidebar (who knows how long that will last)
  • Inserted Rusted Hero to Links section of sidebar
  • Added In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash (1966) to Currently Enjoying

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Breaking News: It’s 2011

New Year's drunks

Photo © 2010 Cassie Melnikow

Well, in case you haven’t noticed it’s a new year! As usual, I’d like to give my fond farewell to the 12 months that just left us by wrapping up the best and worst shit I experienced during it. Instead of making one of those Feature websites, though, I’m keeping this thing to just a small post. This one’s been wanting to come out for a couple weeks now. I finally put in an hour and knocked it out. Enjoy (or don’t)!

Albums
Best: Elton John & Leon Russell – The Union (2010) – Dad actually turned me onto this one and I begrudgingly played it at work as I had nothing else to listen to at the moment. I liked it upon the first spin, but it wasn’t until the second and third listens that I truly appreciated it for what it was – a showcase of fantastic, solid songwriting from top to bottom.
Runner Up: Kanye West – Late Registration (2005)

Worst: Avenged Sevenfold – Sounding The Seventh Trumpet (2001) – I wanted to give some more modern rock a chance and Avenged Sevenfold was somewhere on the list. Unfortunately, Random.org picked this album for me. Well, “Sounding The Seventh Trumpet” has to be a joke. Bad screaming, amateur “melodies,” and noticeable mistakes on an album filled with way-too samey-sounding songs.
Runner Up: DMX – Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood (1998)

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Basketball Games
Best: Atlanta Hawks vs. Dallas Mavericks (2/26) – A phenomenal, triple-overtime game with two near-equal opponents – in the Top 5 of all games I’ve ever seen! Jason Kidd had a monster game, leading the Mavs back from down 15 points with 8 minutes to go. At one point, the crafty Kidd even ran into Atlanta’s coach, who had stepped onto the court. The result was two free throws and possession. I’ve never seen that ever! Wild, wild game.
Runner Up: Dallas Mavericks vs. Denver Nuggets (3/29)

Worst: Dallas Mavericks vs. Portland Trail Blazers (1/30) – Mavericks lose to an injury-decimated Blazers team who were on the tail end of a back to back. Ugly game that didn’t need to happen.
Runner Up: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Dallas Mavericks (1/3)

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Books
Best: Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner – Freakonomics (2005) – I’m only going to do the best book of 2010 since I read just six and pretty much liked them all. Freakonomics just wins over Sex, Drugs and Coca Puffs as I appreciated the similar passion behind it that I see in my own NBA Sim projects. Eye-opening book, even though I wish they went a little deeper into the statistics and research of each essay.

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Comics
Best: Infinite Crisis (2005-2006) – Just like the books section, I only read 6 new comics this year and pretty much enjoyed every one. The best was Infinite Crisis which is a sequel to the legendary 1985 Crisis On Infinite Earths storyline. What’s great is that the sacrificial protagonists from that first book become the villains in this. Great, though dense read and fantastic artwork.

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Live Shows
Best: Kramer’s Reality Tour (1/2) – Ever since Seinfeld did the episode on Kenny Kramer’s reality tour I have always wanted to do it and 2010 was the year I finally did! Brandon, Steve, an unnamed officer, and I braved the chilly weather in January to board a bus hosted by the inspiration behind Kramer and see … a couple of places Larry David referenced in his show. To be honest, this wasn’t the most electrifying thing I’ve ever been a part of, but it was unique and spent with a couple of Seinfeld-obsessed friends so this one takes the cake.
Runner Up: Promises, Promises (7/30)

Worst: Next To Normal (7/24) – Went here with some friends who came up for the weekend. Usually, I’m not a big musical fan – the acting is over the top (as it has to be to convey to a giant room full of people), and the music is usually sub par (emphasis on advancing a story in the lyrics over interesting musical ideas). Well, this one was also way too melodramatic as multiple scene cliffhangers ended in Full House-style with someone running to their room crying. Ugh.
Runner Up: Comic Strip Live (6/5)

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Movies
Best: For A Few Dollars More (1965) – Obviously, everyone is pretty familiar with the awesome The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, but I didn’t see the first two installments in this trilogy until this year. And, wow, good shit! Tons of style, great characters built from very little background, and it’s just very entertaining watching each of the three camps trade the upper hand the whole time. Highly recommended.
Runner Up: Platoon (1986)

Worst: Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997) – I saw the original Mortal Kombat movie when it came out during the summer of 1995 and loved it. Upon successive viewings, it doesn’t hold up all that well. Still, I had always wanted to see the sequel just due to the nostalgia surrounding the first movie. Well, as I’m learning more and more, decisions based purely on nostalgia usually turn out to be terrible ones. I was cringing in the first 5 minutes of this movie and only managed to sit through the whole thing as a challenge of endurance.
Runner Up: The Expendables (2010)

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Restaurants
Best: Swig [Bar] (3/26) New York, NY
I’ll keep this category brief and only mention the best place. Swig is a bar located just blocks away from our place and is a great place to grab a drink with visitors. The atmosphere falls right in between a dive bar and an upscale bar – perfect for this comic book reader in old man clothes!

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TV Shows
Best: The Civil War (1990) – I recall watching a few episodes on video while staying at my aunt’s house sometime around 1994 but I didn’t seriously pay attention until I got these through Netflix this year. Wow. This series is 20 year old and it’s still breathtaking – the production values are incredible, it’s both educational and entertaining and, most impressively, it makes the entire setting of the 1860’s come alive. Now, I can’t wait to get through Ken Burns’ Baseball.
Runner Up: Sober House: Season 2 (2010)

Worst: Amazing Stories: Season 1 (1985-86) – This was a series I remember watching a few episodes of back in its original run when I lived in Long Beach, California. I’d never seen it since so I only had a few, hazy memories of it. Unfortunately, those memories weren’t very illustrative of the entire show. The episodes I remembered were alright … everything else was garbage.
Runner Up: Celebrity Rehab: Season 3 (2010)

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Video Games
Best: Heavenly Sword [PS3] (2007) – I have a giant list of games I need to get through and to make sure I actually play all of them, I’m going in chronological order. So, I finally got around to the crop of games that came out right around the time the PS3 first debuted. Heavenly Sword was one of these and was spectacular. Interesting fighting gameplay, a gripping story, and the best acting I’ve ever seen in a game, it also was relatively short (about 9 hours). Great, great game.
Runner Up: Bully [PS2] (2006)

Worst: TitanWars [iPhone] (2010) – Gotta be honest: I don’t remember a thing about this one. I was in a phase of downloading a bunch of random, free iPhone games and these two were pieces of shit that lasted less than a day on my phone.
Runner Up: Bowman Attack [iPhone] (2010)

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Video Game YouTubes
Best: Metal Gear [MSX] (1987) – Video games are, and have always been, a huge hobby of mine but I’m finding that I have less and less time to play all the games I want to. So, to satisfy this demand I’ve grown to love watching people beat games on YouTube. Anyway, this game is NOT the one for the NES – it’s the original one for the Japanese MSX system that the NES version was based on. Fucking awesome game, especially impressive for 1987.
Runner Up: Ultimate Spider-Man [PS2] (2005)

Worst: Brawl Brothers [SNES] (1993) – A lot of the games I watch on YouTube are old games that I either don’t have the equipment or patience to play. Brawl Brothers was a game my brother and I rented some weekend back in 1993 and never beat. As such, it was one I had to see again. Mistake – this thing is boring and shows how far games have come in 15 years.
Runner Up: Splatterhouse 2 [Genesis] (1992)

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Charted

Indiana J ... I mean Nathan Drake

Damn! I’m starting to put a dent in my giant list of video games to play. In fact, with the defeat of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune for the PS3, I’m officially into the year 2008. Huzzah!

Drake’s Fortune was one of the games that came out during the PS3’s initial roll out but I stayed clear of it thinking it looked like a generic Tomb Raider clone. Well, ok, so you’re a gun-toting treasure hunter sneaking into dusty caverns and ending up in a science-fiction plot … but Uncharted seems just a slightly bit better.

First of all, the hero is an “everyman.” Well, at least that’s what is constantly stated in all of the press releases. In reality, you’re a guy who can hang onto ledges forever and recover from any bullet wound in a matter of seconds … but it’s still just a tad bit refreshing not being a hard-boiled, focused killer. Ah, Metal Gear Solid, you’re turn is coming soon enough!

It’s also got a nice cover-based shooting system and more-than-decent platforming elements but I found the highly publicized melee combat and acting slightly overrated. Also, holy fuck, the last couple of chapters suddenly turn from an Indiana Jones inspired yarn into a Nazi zombie survival thriller. I had one or two moments of having to press pause and calm myself before moving forward near the end. I hate when games sneak that shit in! Not everyone enjoys being scared all the time.

Anyway, solid 4 out of 5 on this bad boy. I hear it’s sequel is even better (and, thankfully, shorter!!!) so pick that one up if you want to give Uncharted a try.

Next game up: Grand Theft Auto IV!!!!

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Heroine

Nariko (not pictured: Heavenly Sword)

There’s just something about losing yourself in a work of art or activity – whether it’s drawing, reading a book on vacation, or playing football with a bunch of friends, it just seems like humans derive ultimate pleasure out of forgetting the world around them and focusing on just the few, tiny, immediate details right before their eyes. For me this weekend, those details were the gorgeous, violent scenes of Heavenly Sword for PlayStation 3.

Cassie’s away in San Francisco, running a half-marathon (I, on the other hand, still haven’t ever run more than 3.25 miles at any time in my life), so I had the place to myself (ok, there was a small creature I shared the place with). I did a whole list of other, productive things, but one of the most enjoyable was playing through and beating Heavenly Sword. This was a game that was released around the time the PS3 was, itself (yep, that means that I’m finally playing modern games!)

Many passed it off as a God of War clone and, while the similarities are there, this game really is it’s own, unique beast. First of all, you’re rewarded for timing your attacks after immediately blocking an opponent’s, and penalized for just button-mashing. A game of skill and finesse? My kind of good time!

Next, the cast of voice actors is superb – easily outclassing any other game I’ve played (yes, even the Metal Gear Solid games) and many movies, as well. This was probably the closest thing to an interactive movie that I’ve played and the acting really gave the game a realism that is sorely lacking from a lot of entertainment out there. Playing as a bad-ass woman was pretty refreshing, too.

Finally, I must applaud something that many video game critics panned: the length. Clocking at around 6 hours of gameplay, many scoffed at the full price players had to shell out for such “little” amount of game. But for this busy gamer who pines for the days he’d be home at 4pm after school with no responsibilities? Perfect!

I doubt anyone here will pick it up, but I really can’t say enough good things about Heavenly Sword. And at just 6 hours, there’s very little excuse to not try it.

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