Sunday, September 30, 2007

Have You Finished the Fight?

The dust has settled since the Tuesday release of Halo 3, which earned $170 million in 24 hours, making it the highest-grossing entertainment launch ever. Bravo, Microsoft.

My history with Halo begins on Thursday, August 14 ,2003. The day of the storied blackout that rendered the Northeast United States powerless. I was in the Port Chester EB Games, set to purchase an XBox and two games: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Halo: Combat Evolved. Naturally, the power went out when I was at the register. So, I had to wait a day. Halowned.

When I finally got the game, I realized that I was missing out on something special in not purchasing an XBox earlier. The single-player campaign provided an immersive storyline, intuitive weaponry, and some great controls. I had previously been exposed to its multiplayer during my freshman year at the University of Connecticut, but I could never get used to it. Now, with the campaign under my belt, I returned to UConn ready to immerse myself in the Halo subculture. And it was fun. A lot of fun. It was easily the best time I've had with a video game since Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64. Along with the rest of the sizeable gaming community on campus, I waited with baited breath for the 2004 release of Halo 2.

Luckily enough, I was working for the school paper during my junior year, and went to cover the midnight sale of Halo 2, which was released on November 9th. Dozens of gamers with no intention of going to their morning classes, lined up at the school's bookstore to be among the first to fire up the highly anticipated shooter. It was a fun story to write, and, while it's no Hunter S. Thompson piece, I think it turned out to be a nice read. It also gave me an excuse to buy the game since,well, I was there. And as a journalist I owed it to the public to get the full experience of the midnight sale. Yeah, that's the ticket.

While Halo 2 was a fun game, with some massive improvements on the first, the single-player campaign left me flat. Its ending, which leads directly into Halo 3, was far too abrupt to be satisfying and felt unfinished. Thankfully, the online multiplayer gave us the most comprehensive online experience on consoles to date.

Halo 3, on the other hand, never feels unfinished. The storyline is more than satisfying, wrapping up all of the loose ends of the previous two games and giving us plenty of reasons to revisit each stage. The story's pretty simple. Once again, you're the cyborg supersoldier Master Chief, putting the fight to evil alien religious zealots called The Covenant, who are attempting to activate their Halo superweapons. You'll come into conflict with The Flood (think space zombies) once again, along with a few surprises that should delight longtime fans of the series.

The graphics are polished, with everything from the shine of Master Chief's visor to the ripple effects on the water having a "wow, this is next-gen gaming" effect. And the AI is pretty amazing, from your allies to the brutes, grunts, drones, hunters, scarabs and other assorted baddies. Enemies scurry from grenades, panic when you take down commanding officers and get more aggressive when necessary.

The game should take you around 10 hours on most difficulty settings, perhaps less if you're taking advantage of online co-op, in which you can team up with 3 other players online to take down The Covenant. I finished on Wednesday night and was blown away by the final act, which was a great way to bring the series full-circle. However, one level toward the end, called "Cortana," was inexcusably difficult. I'm not sure if it was poor level design or downright sadism from the programmers, but this level was HELL to get through. It was easily the most frustrating first-person shooter stage I have ever played.

It took me so long to write about Halo 3 because you can't properly review a Halo game without acknowledging online multiplayer. I finally tore into it yesterday afternoon, which became last night, which became early morning today. It's just the most addictive online play I've ever encountered, with plenty of match types, weapons and vehicles to play around with, not to mention Forge, which gives you the option to customize multiplayer maps. This should have gamers hooked for years to come.

As for the online community, it's pretty good. I've met a lot of cool players on there, with a minimum of shrill, racist 12-year-olds. That's a good thing. But then again, I'm sure this game is on a lot of Christmas lists. So get the mute button ready.

Moral of the story, if you have an Xbox 360, you're only hurting yourself if you don't get this game. It succeeds at all levels, and meets each of its lofty expectations.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Halo, Goodbye

Hey Wortmaniacs. With much of my free time being gobbled up by the single-player Halo 3 campaign (review coming soon), The Report's going to be light on updates for the next few days. However, I did come across this little gem yesterday.

Apparently, the Family Guy Star Wars special was the highest-rated episode since the show returned from cancellation in 2005. Obviously, The Empire Strikes Back is next on the chopping block, with other Star Wars installments likely to follow.

I criticized the episode earlier this week, in that it played out as more of a re-enactment than a parody of the original 1977 Star Wars film. This article points out that some jokes, such as incest between Luke and Leia, were avoided to appease Lucasfilm, who allowed Family Guy to use the original music and sound effects.

It really is a trap. How can you parody something while maintaining a working relationship with its creator? Hence, we are left with a more-or-less straight re-telling of the story. Mind you, some jokes were pretty decent. However, it didn't have that typical Family Guy bite. And I missed that.

Rumor is, the reason Fox isn't re-running the episode is because a special-edition DVD is on its way. I expected this. If you head over to starwars.com you can already purchase animation cells from the episode and read up on how the episode came to be. You can also check out videos from the episode in case you can't wait for the Cartoon Network replay in a few weeks. It's synergy, and while some may call it crass, I can just call it brilliant. It's combining two already marketable brands which have an overlapping fanbase. Somone did their homework.

And by the way, I'd love to be able to frown on the whole Family Guy/Star Wars crossover, but I can't stay mad when a talking, plush Darth Vader Stewie might be in our future. I think I just gave someone an idea...

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Family Guy: The Star Wars Special

To commemorate the 30th anniversary of the original Star Wars film, Family Guy put together a one-hour tribute show, retelling the story using Family Guy characters. In many ways, it succeeded. Stewie as Darth Vader was pretty inspired, and many of the gags (such as putting a Bush/Cheney bumper sticker on an Imperial Star Destroyer) were spot-on.

But at the end of the hour, it became apparent that much of the show was spent mimicking the film as opposed to lampooning it. In many instances, entire sequences of dialogue were left unchanged from the movie, thus exposing Family Guy's main weakness as of late: it mistakes repetition for satire.

During one scene the creepy old pedophile Herbert, playing Obi-Wan Kenobi, sings an entire song from Dirty Dancing to Chris, playing Luke Skywalker. Okay, we got it a long time ago that Herbert has a thing for Chris. So for two whole minutes, there's no real joke, it's just "hey, that's from Dirty Dancing." I suppose it does let the writers, or manatees, as South Park suggested, breathe a bit. But I think I stand with a lot of Family Guy viewers in thinking that this character ran his course years ago. They ditched the lame vaudeville guys by actually having Stewie shoot them both onscreen. I think it's time we ditched Herbert in a similar fashion. But I digress.

There were other references too. Including a reference to National Lampoon's Vacation and, not one, but two references to Airplane. Granted, they were mildly amusing, but come on. The entire episode is a reference to a movie. You have an hour to make fun of Star Wars. You might want to make fun of it instead of ::insert word-for-word dialogue from another popular movie here::

And there's other laziness. The lightsaber-as-a-penis joke and a Grey Poupon reference (I think Tiny Toon Adventures cornered the market on that gag in the early 90's, guys) immediately come to mind. Now, mind you, these wouldn't have been so horrible if the jokes were as rapid-fire as they are during a regular episode. But whether it was pressure not to step on anyone's toes at Lucasfilm or the fact that they needed to cram the entire story into an hour, it just wasn't as funny as Family Guy usually is. And that's unfortunate, because this could have been one of the classic Star Wars spoofs. Instead it's more of a "hahaha, Brian is Chewbacca" sort of thing.

What I did like was the fact that Chris points out at the end of the episode that Robot Chicken already did a Star Wars episode. This sparks an argument between Chris (voiced by Robot Chicken creator Seth Green) and Peter (voiced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane). It absolutely broke the fourth wall and was amusing to watch for fans of both shows...It's too bad the Robot Chicken special was a lot funnier.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Transformers...in IMAX!

If you were living under a rock this summer or were otherwise incapacitated, Transformers was one of the most fun movies to hit the multiplex this year. Is it a great film? Not quite. But it's a phenomenal movie. I won't bore you with the difference between those two terms, but I will say that Transformers does everything it sets out to do. It won't change the way you look at life, but it features a robot peeing on somebody. That's worth at least ten bucks.

But if your thirst for robot-on-robot action has yet to be quenched, the film makes its way to IMAX screens tomorrow. Click here for theaters and showtimes near you.

TV Guide Talks to George Lucas

It's after midnight, I'm unshaven (my entire head feels like a brillo pad) and I need a beer. That about sums up how I'm feeling right now. My workday kicked my ass and dragged me through the mud, and my night wasn't all that swell either. So I'm sipping a cold one, Blue Moon's seasonal "Harvest Moon," which features an interesting blend of pumpkin spice for that "holy crap, it's fall" feeling. Anyhoo, on to George Lucas.

TV Guide scored an interview with the bearded one in which he describes Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But, in typical Lucas fashion, he tells us absolutely nothing. Am I on the edge of my seat? Sure I am. I'm a red-blooded geek who dressed as Obi-Wan Kenobi for three consecutive Halloweens. In high school. Of course I'm excited about this.

Lucas discusses the absence of Sean Connery as Indy's father and, while it sucks, I'm glad that they didn't shoe-horn him in at the expense of the story. That was one of my Star Wars prequel pet peeves. "Hey, it's Chewbacca! You remember him!" And so forth. But they have a strong cast thus far, and they seem to want to do this right.And it's also great to know that Connery is still honoring his Hollywood retirement and isn't reprising his role as Henry Jones for a cheap cameo and a not-so-cheap paycheck.


But check out the interview. Lucas talks a great deal about supporting indie (no pun intended) filmmakers. One forgets that before Lucas' millions of dollars in movie revenue and merchandising, he was a simple filmmaker working on a shoestring budget. Love him or hate him, you have to admire that.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Death Proof on DVD

Remember that great idea Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez had a while back? Where they each made an homage to the schlocky trash cinema of yesteryear and presented it as a double feature, complete with fake movie trailers in between? Remember how cool it was to see Grindhouse in theaters last spring? Well, the heart of that project has been thoroughly yanked out in favor of separate DVD releases for each film. We're sorry you lost money on the theatrical run, Weinsteins. So I guess I'm paying twice for what is essentially one experience?

Tarantino's half of Grindhouse, Death Proof, came out on DVD today in a two-disc special edition. Exclusive to Best Buy is a special 3-disc set that comes in a nifty metal case. I opted for that one.

For those that remember, I wasn't too keen on Death Proof when it was in theaters. I thought it was talky, meandering and overall self-indulgent. But I think this dissatisfaction is owed more to the fact that Planet Terror, Rodriguez's zombie homage, was far superior. I doubt anything could top what was one of the most over-the-top action to hit the multiplex this year. Long story short, it was a tough act to follow.

The version of Death Proof released on DVD today is a bit longer than the theatrical version, and we do get more of Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), the villainous stunt driver who gets off on stalking and ramming into young girls in his "death proof" stunt car. For this, I am grateful. Stuntman Mike is far more interesting than the prattling heroines Tarantino focuses on.

But I've gotta say, this film is still very uneven. Both sets of girls in the film still spend far too long talking about obscure movies and music, serving no purpose but to stretch the film's running time. Yes, Mr. Tarantino. We're aware that you enjoy obscure movies and music from the 1970s, but you're spending film time on it and the audience is getting bored. Also, it's not character development if we're dealing with archetypes here. This is a "grindhouse" film, after all. Pointless dialogue sprinkled with "fuck" is still pointless.

But is it a fun movie? Yep. Is it pretty damned entertaining? Yep. Should you check it out? Yep, if only as a rental. Criticizing Tarantino for being talky is like criticizing Kevin Smith for dick jokes. You know what you're getting into from the get-go. Plus, there's all kinds of bonus features on there that we probably wouldn't get if the two halves of Grindhouse were released as a single set.

Look out for Planet Terror on October 16th.

Family Guy salutes TV at the 2007 Emmys

The only truly worthwhile part of this year's Emmy Awards. Watch it. Brilliant.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Smeared Ink: When Comics Get Real

"I bury my face in comic books, cause I don't want to look at nothin', this world's too much, I've swallowed all I could."-Eminem

Seemingly, the above quotation is a throwaway line from "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," a track off of Eminem's 2002 album The Eminem Show. However, it also draws attention to the notion of comic books as an escape from reality: a black-and-white world painted in vivid color. Where heroes and villains are easily identifiable, and problems are wrapped up conveniently over a half-dozen 32-page issues. This is the comic book as it has been known for most of the twentieth century.

Today, the comic book acts as a social mirror; slightly distorting issues ripped from the headlines and packaging them with flashy, iconic imagery. But when do comic writers venture too far into the realm of the realistic, discarding the escapism that makes comic books so appealing in the first place?

Case in point: Marvel's Civil War miniseries. On the surface, it featured Marvel characters attempting to establish order through government intervention and superhero registration. Led by Tony Stark (Iron Man), these registered heroes would be employees of the United States government and would be required to reveal their identities to an ever-skeptical populace. Of course, this idea did not gel with all of Marvel's heroes. Captain America led a group opposing superhero registration, thus beginning Marvel's latest "event" story arc.

The parallels are obvious here. Superhero registration, an allegory of the Bush administration's Patriot Act, which, in the storyline, is not in line with (Captain) America's best interests. We get it. Of course, this doesn't mean we have to like it. Marvel's sweeping story arc left most fans cold, with its free and loose characterization and storyline decisions that would create gaping holes in other titles that will take months to fix.

If the Civil War wasn't enough to drill political and social commentary into fans' heads, the conflict was ended when a sniper shot a handcuffed Captain America through the chest, killing him. It may have caused a spike in sales, but it also left fans wondering if comic books will ever again remember that they're comic books and have fun again. The death of American idealism: on sale, with variant covers no less.

This year also marked the return of Spider-Man's black costume, an obvious marketing tie-in with Spider-Man 3. Once again, characterization of a beloved character went right out the figurative window...but didn't the black costume make him look dark and brooding again? Wait, this is Spider-Man we're talking about. Why do we want dark and brooding again?


The "Back in Black" storyline featured Peter Parker out for revenge, after a sniper (another one?) critically wounds his Aunt May. We've seen Peter angry before, and it's understandable here. But at times during this arc he's downright selfish. His aunt is dying, yet here he is whining about all the lines that he's crossed to keep her alive. Hey buddy, we know the title of the book is The Amazing Spider-Man, but in this case, it ain't all about you.

But, this was all an intent to humanize the character. And for that, I applaud the writers for adding some depth to Peter in a time of crisis and exposing his faults. But is that what comic book readers really want? Shouldn't comics be a chance to escape worldly worries for a few minutes at a time for a few bucks a pop? If I want commentary on the human condition, I'll read Ayn Rand. When I want guys with spider powers fighting monster lizards or mad scientists with octopus arms grafted to their bodies, well, make mine Marvel.


While it may seem like I'm bashing the very medium that I claim to love, I'm merely pointing out that the growth of comic books as an art form has resulted in an overall inability for it to embrace its own roots. Good versus evil. Making the impossible possible. The kind of stuff that Jack Kirby and Stan Lee dreamed of in the 60s. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's simple belief that a man could fly decades before that. It's all in there still, lost in the shuffle. Cast aside due to the pressure to remain relevant. To be important. Well, for a lot of people, comics have always been important. But if I want reality, I'll put down my issue of Astonishing X-Men and pick up a New York Times. We've got enough reality. Do we really need it in our comic books?

See you in the funny pages.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

BioShocked

Yes yes, I know. Another BioShock post? Haven't we had enough? Well, it's my report and I'll gush if I want to.

I just wrapped up BioShock tonight, having the sudden urge to pick it up again after my brother-in-law told me he'd finished it. And in just a few days, no less. I gave myself a deadline of 10 o'clock, knowing that the only way I'd be able to watch Larry David's hijinks on the latest Curb Your Enthusiasm would be if I'd escaped the underwater city of Rapture. And escape it I did. What a ride.

The great thing about BioShock is not necessarily the customization of your character's abilities or the awesome firepower at your disposal, but the way in which the story unravels. No flashy CGI cutscenes or long stretches of dialogue. You're completely immersed in the narrative. You find an audio recording on a table? You listen to it. Or you don't. How much of what is explained is largely left up to you. And that brings with it a unique sense of accomplishment. When I was able to walk away from the game tonight, having clocked in over 10 hours of gameplay, I felt satisfied in having uncovered all of these intricate story points that a more hurried gamer might have missed.

I did, however, get the "evil" ending. Apparently, when I'm wandering around underwater cities shooting bees out of my hands, I can be kind of a dick. I'm working on it, I swear. I wouldn't be surprised if I give this game another run-through before the Halo 3 launch date.

Did I have problems with the game? Absolutely. While it's beautiful, with every inch of every area rendered to near-perfection, the normal difficulty level is a bit on the easy side. As your character gets more powerful, the enemies never seem to get more challenging. And without spoiling anything, I totally destroyed the final boss without breaking a virtual sweat. It's never dull, but omnipotence can get a little tiresome.

Also, I should warn anyone thinking about picking up this game to avoid the patch available on XBox Live however possible. Having downloaded it, my game became prone to freezing up every minute or so during the final few stages. I have since cleared my cache (by holding the left and right bumpers while the game boots up) and it seems to run fine right now, but online complaints seem to indicate that this patch is the problem. Why would 2K Games release a patch that makes their otherwise must-have game near-unplayable?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

WoW player scolded by parents over Ventrilo

Is WoW a dangerous addiction for America's children? Decide for yourself. Either way, it's pretty darn hilarious.

Curb Your Enthusiasm - Luke Skywalker

So it's a reference within a reference being referenced on The Wort Report. Ponder the implications of this, Wortmaniacs...

Monday, September 10, 2007

And the New Indiana Jones Will Be Called...

With all the Britney uproar the world seems to have forgotten that last night at the Video Music Awards, Shia LaBeouf announced the official title for the next Indiana Jones installment: Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

I was skeptical, since it sounds like the title of a lame computer game spinoff, but alas, it has been confirmed by the official Indiana Jones site.

I have to be honest, this is the first news about this project that doesn't have me all a twitter with anticipation. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull just sounds clunky, and doesn't seem fitting for a film capping such a beloved series. But I have faith in George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, and Harrison Ford would never throw his fedora into the ring if he didn't feel confidently about the project.

And besides, I'm sure the titles The Empire Strikes Back and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom seemed lame back in the early 80s. We just didn't have the Internet back then to complain about them.

Well, if I have to...

I know that you've been biting your nails in anticipation of the Wort Report's take on the Britney Spears VMA performance. Really, if not for these hot button topics, how would we get through the monotony of everyday life? Hell, I know that I go into a complete and total meltdown if I don't know what Britney, Paris, Lindsay and to a lesser extent Nicole are doing on an everyday basis. If you can't tell, I'm being sarcastic. But that doesn't play all that well in print. I'm sorry. Really I am. That was sarcasm too.


The first thing that a lot of the gossip rags (and most mainstream media, sadly) picked up on was her weight. I present to you exhibit A, to your left. As you can see, she doesn't look all too shabby considering what she's been through the past few months. She's nowhere near her "Toxic" days, but I doubt I'd kick her out of bed. Especially in that outfit.

Of course, as far as the performance went, I'm going to have to side with the majority. What. The. Hell. Don't big, multimillion dollar awards shows have choreographers and handlers to make sure the "artists" don't look coked up and confused? She just lip-synched for about five minutes while awkwardly meandering around a stage while dancers groped her. Or were they holding her up? I couldn't tell.

The sad thing about all this is that Britney really needed this. She just obviously wasn't prepared physically or mentally to perform in front of an audience of millions.

Or, turning that judgmental pendulum back the other way, would we have been happy if it were anything less than a trainwreck? I'd be willing to wager that Mtv was counting on this surge of Britney criticism, which I'll refer to as Briticism from now on. I mean, was there anything else worth talking about on that show last night? Really?

On a related note, I can guarantee that Christina Aguilera is laughing her ass off today. Hell, she's gonna be a mom. But I really just wanted to post this pic:




Sigh...

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

BioShock: Why Aren't You Playing It?

You know anticipation for Halo 3 is pretty high when it has its own Mountain Dew. Yes, that's right. The chosen caffeinated soft drink for late-night frag fests is now available as "Game Fuel," a sugary mix of citrus flavor and cherry. Think of "Code Red" turned up a notch. That's "Game Fuel."

So with Halo-mania overtaking the hearts and minds of obsessed gamers as they clutch their Master Chief action figures in anticipation, BioShock has entered the first-person shooter fray and could very well knock the Chief off of his XBox 360 throne this season.

BioShock has come around at a fortunate time. This summer gamers experienced a bit of a draught, enduring countless summer movie cash-in games like Spider-Man 3 and Transformers with little quality or innovation to be found. Right at the tail end of August, BioShock landed on store shelves with a thud, and those fortunate enough to snag a copy during that first week were treated to some of the most original gameplay the genre has ever seen. The following week, it was understandably hard to come by at retail.


Set in an underwater dystopia, you fumble about in the darkness as the story unravels before you. Who are these psychos in bunny masks coming after you? What's the deal with these special powers you're accumulating? Why is the plot centered around finding creepy little girls and extracting their "Adam?" What is "Adam" anyway? It's very unnerving, but you'll be hooked finding out what happens next.

There's also a strong customization component in the game as you collect more powers and special abilities. Ever wished you could shoot bees out of your hands? Good news, friend. BioShock lets you do just that. You've also got the standard shotguns and automatic weapons at your disposal if you're into that sort of thing. And if you're a gamer, you probably are.

Even though the allure of Halo 3 is inescapable (as it should be), take the time out to appreciate BioShock before September 25th. While Halo always comes out on top with its multiplayer, BioShock is one of the most innovative single-player shooters of all time. Fact. Play it for yourself and prove me right.