Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Rock & Rule

  Simply put, this is one of the coolest animated movies I've ever seen, right up there with Wizards and Heavy Metal. It also happens to be one of the few animated movies that explains why all the characters are anthropomorphized (animal looking). It's set "after the war" so basically this movie is also a post-apocalyptic tale. On top of that, it's also a love (via rock n' roll) conquers all tale. Damn, can this get any better? It sure can. The animation is fantastic. This is classic Disney quality stuff. It could easily contend with any other animated movie of the day. I'd take one traditionally animated movie like this over 50 more modern CGI cartoon movies anyday.

  When all is said and done, Rock & Rule works so well not just because of it's amazing soundtrack, or it's great animation, it works so well because we like the characters. Small time rocker Omar and his band, consisting of his girlfriend Angel, and their two comic relief buddies are just super endearing. Omar and Angel have palpable onscreen chemistry. It's so easy to get wrapped up in their story and completely forget they're animated. I'd single out the voice work and say it's great (it is) but it's also so much more than that.  Everything just works so well together. The writing, the voice work, and the animation. It all breathes life into these great characters who might have otherwise slipped into cliche. They don't.

  Omar has big dreams, wants to be the biggest rock star ever. Bigger than Mok, who, aside from looking like a demonic blend of Iggy Pop and Mick Jagger, happens to be an evil rock star tyrant who controls everything. I guess being super famous gives you a lot of power, and Mok is the poster boy for that phrase... "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Granted Mok is a great old school villain, evil to the bone and knows it, but... he's a rather 2 dimensional baddie when I felt like he could've been so much deeper. He's a rock star. There's no tiny part of him which remembers his idealistic youth playing out of garage bands and struggling to get a gig? No pure love for rock n' roll? I kept waiting for him to end up being a slightly tortured person, but he's just pure evil.

  However, back to Omar. He's sort of a selfish guy. Well meaning, but selfish. He wants it all, and is willing to sideline his friends to hog the spotlight. Unfortunately for him, his girlfriend isn't just his groupie. She wants it all too, and she's perfectly willing to take the spotlight from him whenever possible. Which is an interesting dynamic and it sets up the ending perfectly. These two have to learn how to share the spotlight, not constantly steal it from each other. You really do get the feeling though that Angel and Omar actually care about each other. Angel is given an opportunity to have "it all" if only she left her friends behind... she turns it down, over and over.

  This is also when the plot kicks in pretty much. See, Mok is so evil he wants to unleash a super-demon on the world. I'm not sure exactly why, I guess it's a big power-trip. But don't most megalomaniacal bad guys like to do stuff like this? Anyways, in order to open the portal so the demon can come through, he needs the a specific voice to sing a specific tune. See? The vocal vibrations are the key... and it just so happens he finds the exact voice he needs in Angel. So after she turns down his advances of money, fame, and power- he just kidnaps her prompting Omar and Co. to come to her rescue. It's a great little story, very uncomplicated, but so much fun.

  Rock & Rule also does a great job playing all of this straight. It's not a musical, but has musical scenes. Omar and his band has a gig at this seedy little place, and we're treated to a couple great songs. Instances like this pop up all over. It never gets Disney on us. Characters don't just spontaneously break into song, prompting gigantic choreographed musical sequences. Those would be very out of place here. Instead, context is key. Everytime the soundtrack takes center stage, it fits the context of the things happening in the plot at any given time.  Great stuff.

  Overall this movie is just... cool. It's a simple movie, but incredibly well made, and surprisingly endearing. Being a fan of the era, the genre, and the music, I can't believe I haven't seen this movie ages ago. It stands out as being far more coherent than Heavy Metal, and manages to infuse rock and roll with the basic 'good vs. evil' themes of Wizards, making it just as awesome if not more than both of those movies. Which is saying a LOT coming from me. I adore Heavy Metal. It's one of my all time favorite movies, period. Animated or not. So, even saying Rock & Rule is on par with it has guaranteed it a spot on my favorites list, which is a pretty hard list to get on to.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Roman Numerals II: The Sequel

  I almost scrapped this entire article when I realized just how long both of the games pictured above had actually been out. Yet, the one thing that stopped me from pressing the 'delete' button, so to speak, was the fact every time I bring up these two money making juggernauts in a comparative way there's never a shortage of impassioned discussion. Saints Row, or Grand Theft? GTA V was well received the world over, making more money on it's opening weekend than any other ga-blah blah blah. We all know. Then there was Saints Row IV, coming out before GTA V to get a jump on things... it was surprisingly well received. I mean, critics liked this game. I really didn't see that coming back then.

  Yet, having finally played both, I'm nothing short of angry about SR:IV. Why? Because of it's lack of innovation. I want to show you this picture right here:

This was obviously made by fans of SR:IV, but lets break this down really quick. It... "adds in a DLC that was originally made for The Third, so that... people wouldn't complain the game is too similar to previous DLC"? I can't... I can't even. So, basically what they're saying is... it carried something over from the third game so people wouldn't complain it was too much like the third game? WHAT?

  Moving on. "Adds in new weapons"... oh. Yeah. Sorry, I totally played the third one and felt the only thing missing was a fucking cheap-shit dubstep gun. "New characters"? Yeah. One. Three if you also count Keith David and a cameo by Roddy Piper. "More enemy types than previous games"? In Saints Row 2, I had to fight the police, the military, The Brotherhood, Sons of Samedi, The Ronin, and Ultor. In Saints Row: The Third, I had to fight the cops, the army, The Luchadores, some hacker guys, and the Morningstar gang- who do you fight in SR:IV? Aliens. That's it. Just Aliens. The same repetitive-ass Aliens for the entire game.

  Paragraph break because my complaints are still going... "65 super power upgrades"... for, about 5 or 6 super powers. That's like upgrading your gun five times. It's not five different guns. It's the same gun, just upgraded. So yeah, lets single out all 65 upgrades, especially the upgrade that lets you glide two seconds longer than the previous upgrade. Wow. Them are some purty big numbers. How about we take that "65" off the table and just say you get like... "some superpowers". Sounds less impressive? It fucking is less impressive. "Multiple homies"? You mean like, the same exact feature from the previous games? Gotcha. "More body customization"? Oh, theres a few new hairstyles! How innovative! NOT.  "More weapon upgrades"? Actually no, there's less. "111 Weapon skins"? What he's not telling you is that about... 100 of them are just sucky palate swaps. "More vehicles"? After 20 minutes into the game, you never need to use another vehicle again because you can super-run across the entire game-map in 2 minutes. (I personally timed that)

  Another paragraph break. I'm going to breeze over the stupidity of whoever made this pointing out the whole "1600 collectibles" thing, because... you know... running around and collecting sixteen hundred identical looking things monotonously for hours and hours is fun. Right. "New activities"? More like, new whatever. These are just copied from missions in the game, so it ends up being super redundant. Boring. "Brings back Gat."

   I'll give you that.

  "Brings back old Shaundi to please Saints Row 2 fans." WAIT A MINUTE. You're either a Saints Row fan- or not. You gotta judge these things unbiasedly. I'm breaking this down to the numbers folks, and whoever made this is separating themselves from the fanbase of the best game in the entire franchise. That alone should be enough to show you how ridiculous this game's staunch defenders are. Not to mention they don't really bring her back. She has a fucking glorified cameo for god's sake. And the whole Keith David thing was a lot more underwhelming in execution than one might think it'd be. It was worth it for a ten minute They Live joke and a NPC holding a sign that says... "I LOVE GOLIATH" (or something). Whatever. "Old upgrade system from Saints Row 2"? No it fucking doesn't. Your weapon upgrades in this game are permanent. You can't un-dual wield once you employ that upgrade. You're stuck. That's just... a straight up lie. Unless I don't know what he's talking about. 

  "Takes you to multiple locations such as Stillwater to satisfy old fans and various other great stuff that"- you'll probably get tired of in a few weeks. But no, let's point out Stillwater. They let you run around one square block of Stillwater (the town from SR2). One. Square. Block. And honestly, not even that. Stillwater in SR2 was ginormous. In the fastest vehicle, it takes you six minutes to get from farthest point to farthest point on that map. (I timed that too) Now, against something like Skyrim that's pretty small, but then in Saints Row IV, the entire game map, setting aside the fact it's the same city you already spent days playing around in, in the previous game... you can now cross the entire map (at roughly the same speed) in TWO MINUTES. It's so small. There's maybe five or ten different pedestrians total, and nothing to really interact with in the city itself.

  Saints Row 2 had spontaneity outside of the story missions. I found a lawyer NPC committing suicide by jumping off a courthouse as I drove by it. I found two goth chicks playing rock paper scissors in the sewer once. I ran into random things like that, and still do, ALL THE TIME in Saints Row 2 (which I still play). That sort of random world occurrence was entirely absent from Saints Row: The Third. So, subsequently, since SR:IV is built on the exact same engine, and set in the same damn city, using the same damn maps and character models... don't hold your breath expecting anything fresh or surprising after the story is complete.
You have less clothing options this time around, virtually nothing to explore, and the game is actually devoid of any original ideas. The plot is Independance Day plus The Matrix. And 99% of all the jokes and laughs to be had, poke fun at pop culture. There's a long running spoof of the Mass Effect games in there too. Which was really funny... for like, two minutes.

  As if the plot being identical to a forced mashup of ID4 and The Matrix wasn't enough, in one part as you escape the alien mothership in a little fighter-ship, the big bay doors start closing in front of you... your character says "Must go faster! Must go faster!"... which as if I needed to explain, was one of Jeff Goldblum's lines in ID4, which... he copied from Jurassic Park. I felt positively guilty even for the weak derisive chuckle I let out. It wasn't worth it. Though, granted, we're moving into the bounds of personal preference here. So, I'll stop pointing out how the game would be nonexistent if it didn't endlessly poke fun at every movie in existence until it quite literally stopped being funny... and move on to the GTA V section of this article.
  Aside from being probably the best, most realistic looking game available for the PS3, it's probably the most well made. I read internet comments from people not a week after it came out, explaining how underwhelmed they were with it. Oh for fuck's sake. In stark contrast to the Saints Row series and it's latest sequel, GTA V's strength is surprisingly not in it's story. Not to say that it doesn't have an awesome and engaging story. But... think about it, what does the story do in any open world game? It shuttles you from this location to that location, only highlighting selective parts of the world's impressively rendered geography. Take five minutes, man. Travel off the beaten path. Go to some loading docks, go beat up someone in an alleyway. Get stuck in shitty traffic. Go run through the hills, fall down a mountain, get carried off by a waterfall. Go play tennis. Go rob a liquor store. Go do stuff. Go do anything. Anything you want. Why? Because GTA V lets you. It reminds us why these games are called "sandbox" games. Because you can do whatever you want in them. It gives you this big area to let your imagination run wild in. 

  And  the Saints Row games? For a series that now prides itself on being a rule breaker and giving you what other games won't, it doesn't give you much. It gives you a bland world, and fancy superpowers. I'd rather have no superpowers and an incredibly rich and vivid world. Because discovering new things is always awesome. Throwing people across the city is also awesome, but... it does gets boring after the 50th time. One franchise has to rely on jokes and dildo bats to get people's attention, leaving them with nothing to do afterwards. The other franchise builds a rich and engaging world for you to get totally immersed in, giving you a realistic environment that rivals anything on the market. If you've ever wanted to climb on top of one of those oil rigs out in the desert... and take a selfie? GTA V lets you do that. If you've ever wanted to piss off a bunch of mexican gangsters and then run for your life through their barrio while a bunch of them shoot at you? GTA V lets you do that. If you've ever wanted to go scuba diving, and then stab a shark with a hunting knife... GTA V lets you do that. Have I made my point?

  GTA V's story is innovative in the fact that you play as three different protagonists. All with wildly different points of view. This is not only new to gaming period, it's also new to the GTA franchise. Usually you have a single protagonist, and a single storyline. But not in GTA V, you have three guys. You get to know each one, his daily habits, how he handles stress, and how good he is at killing... driving... shooting... stealing. Best of all though? You can switch between each character at will. Want to check in on Michael after you get tired of playing as Franklin? Press the right button, and you're taken across the city and given control of michael right in the middle of whatever his character was already doing. Whether it be driving, jogging, eating, or watching TV shows. It's so immersive in these things, you almost forget you can go apeshit and do whatever you want in this game too. It has a story that goes from point A to point B, like a movie. It's very cinematic. So you feel compelled to just keep shuttling from one mission to the next because you feel like you're operating inside a narrative construct. Which is restrictive.

  But that's a restraint only the gamer makes real. The game is there for you to do whatever the hell you want. Do yourself a favor, next time you have to cross town in the game? Don't get in your car, or on your bike, OR call a cab... just walk it. Or jog. You'll find such cool and interesting things, and probably get in a ton of trouble, and have a great story to tell afterwards. This is why I love GTA V, and this is why it's just the better game. Plain and simple. From it's graphics, to it's interactiveness, to it's story, and sheer gameplay... it's just...

  SR:IV was worth every dollar I paid for it, of which there were ten. Ten dollars. Which these days is about the price of a good DLC add-on. It looks like the previous game, it handles like the previous game, and the only real new things are superpowers and aliens. Which, if they didn't get so repetitive after a little while... might have almost made the game worth it's full price. It can be VERY fun, but in small doses. I find myself easily tiring of it, and getting frustrated at the ultimate lack of things to do in the game. Just like it's predecessor, it's a game with next to no lasting play value.  Whereas I'm only scratching the surface of GTA V. I haven't done a fraction- a FRACTION of the things it lets you do, and already I've done 100x more than what SR:IV let me do. I'd like to reiterate both games are fun, even SR:IV is a lot of fun. Don't get me wrong. It is one of the most fun games I've ever played. But, that doesn't mean it's good. Or even worth it beyond a rental, or a borrow. Or a bargain bin. One feels like a lazy and effortless cash grab, and the other feels like the pinnacle of open world video games. GTA V is the full price winner for me, hands down