Despite being very excited about this game and pre-ordering the collector's edition (contrary to my typical avoidance of pre-orders), it took a couple months before I was able to spend much time with it. My strategy guides for Civilization V: Brave New World was a lot of work and took up a lot of time. I was only able to play bits and pieces of Dark Souls II during that time and didn't make much progress. I was hoping to have a review out in time for the PC release, but that didn't happen. Then I was hoping to publish the review before the first DLC hit, but that didn't happen either. I'll probably review the DLC later, once all three have been released.
Full disclosure: I haven't actually finished the game yet, but I do feel that I've played enough of it to be able to write a review. If completing the game changes my opinion considerably, then I will revise this review as I've done with other games in the past (including the first Dark Souls). I've also considered getting the Steam version, since it may be better than the console versions. If I do play that version, I may revise this review to include opinions on that version.
But for now, I've only played the PS3 version,
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Is Dark Souls II a victorious successor to a masterpiece of design and storytelling?
This is a game that caught my attention back in the beginning of the year. I was on the lookout for new horror games to whet my appetite, and the novelty of this little Indie game had me intrigued.
The teddy bear actually comes off as a bit of a creeper at the beginning of the game..
The novelty of Among the Sleep is that the player character is a two-year-old toddler. I actually think that this is a very clever conceit for a horror game. The world can be a very big, scary place for a small child, full of things that are outside of the child's control and beyond the child's understanding. A young child is completely dependent upon its parents or caregiver, which makes them inherently very vulnerable.
Unfortunately, since the game is being played by adults, we can't play the game with the ignorance and naivety of a two-year-old, so we would see any real-world environment as exactly what it is: not scary.
So in order for this to work, the designers would have to be very clever in how the environments are presented. Easily he most effective part of the game is the early chapters when the child is lost in a closet and then exploring the house after waking up to find his mother and teddy are absent.
The first person perspective puts the camera very low to the ground, which makes the ordinary environments look large and menacing. The character moves slowly and clumsily (running for more than a few second results in the character falling on his face). Thus, simple hallways seem long and treacherous. Even interactions as simple as opening a door require a small amount of puzzle-solving since the character can't reach a door handle without climbing onto something. This section takes good advantage of the central concept of playing as a toddler by using the legitimate hugeness of the real world, and tapping into our own innate desire to protect and shelter children, in order to make the player feel small and vulnerable.
You even pause the game and access menus by covering your eyes with your hands! Hooray for a lack of object-permanence!
It is a promising start to the game.
But instead of expounding upon this and turning an otherwise mundane environment into an intimidating one, the design quickly shifts into a blatantly-imaginary, whimsical dreamscape. This disconnect from reality suddenly shatters the immersion of the child character, and squanders the inherent novelty of the game's central concept...
The mother plays an important role in the narrative,
but the player doesn't interact with her long enough to develop any attachment to her.
Sunset on the beach at Carlsbad, California.
Time sure does whiz by when you're busy. This year, I have been unusually busy. You all know that I've been neck-deep in Civilization V for about a year now writing strategy guides. I've also had a lot of home maintenance and repairs come up (but there's always so much more to do). I've been working on a stressful project at work. And my social life has also been surprisingly busy.
I was also recently stung by a scorpion in my home. The little bastard crawled up my pant leg and got me 3 or 4 times on the shin and inner thigh before I was able to kill it. Scorpion stings are really painful! That was not a pleasant morning. But supposedly I took it "like a champ".
Little bastard stung my leg 3 or 4 times!
I ended up sitting with a pack of ice under my leg the entire day. If I removed the ice, my leg would instantly feel like it was being stabbed with flaming hot pokers. Fortunately, I had a pain reliever to help me sleep, and the pain was mostly gone by the following morning.
I do not recommend a scorpion sting, no matter how much you want an excuse to take a three-day-weekend!
At least now I know that I'm not allergic to the sting of the common desert scorpion!
Beach view from the hotel.
Anyway, I had some time off of work the following week for a vacation, and I feel that it was well-deserved.
The original plan was to go camping in Yosemite, but my girlfriend and I had to scrap that plan on account of the park being on fire.
So instead, we decided to take a relaxing trip to the California beach at her favorite vacation spot: Carlsbad, California. No, not the one in New Mexico with the cave; it's the one half an hour north of San Diego..
I've never been to Carlsbad before, and I'm not a huge fan of the beach in general, but it was a very pleasant place to spend a week. We had a nice room in a hotel just across the street from the beach. The weather was comfortable - in the high 70's with a breeze - which is a great relief from the heat of the desert! [More]
Now that I've finished my series of strategy posts about Brave New World's new civilizations, I want to take some time to look into some of the legacy civs that have received updates since Brave New World. France received a major revision in Brave New World out of the box, having its national trait completely redesigned, and one of its unique units was replaced with a powerful new unique improvement.
Humans have been occupying the land of France for at least 1.8 million years. The caves of Lascaux are a famous paleontological / archaeological site, as its cave paintings are some of the earliest and best-preserved examples of early human art and culture. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the region was split up between numerous Germanic tribes. One Germanic group, the Franks, eventually came to control most of the region, and this is where the term "France" was eventually derived. They set up the first French Kingdoms, which gained strength during the medieval periods despite threats from the Vikings and English. The European Enlightenment can trace many of its roots to the intellectual circles of France, which eventually culminated in the French Revolution that deposed and executed King Louis XVI and established a fledgling Republic.
Napoleon Bonaparte seized control of this young Republic in 1799, eventually declaring himself the Emperor of France. He was a military genius of the time and an expert in the use of artillery. He conquered much of Europe from Spain all the way to Russia, and even fought campaigns in Africa (although these campaigns were not successful). His conquests helped to spread French culture, ideals, and reforms around the world, including widespread adoption of the metric system, new military traditions, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man. His armies eventually fell victim to the harsh Russian winters, which halted Napoleon's aggressions and forced a withdrawl. His reign eventually culminated in a devastating defeat at Waterloo (then part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands). He was forced into exile on the island of Saint Helena, where he eventually died of stomach cancer in 1821.
One of Napoleon's nephews, Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon III), launched an enormous public works program in Paris in the mid 1800's in order to build hundreds of kilometers of wide boulevards and streets, replace the sewer system, construct parks, and be the first city in the world to install artificial lighting (originally oil-lit lanterns). This made Paris into the world's first "City of Light", allowing people to work and engage in recreational activities around the city during the night, eventually establishing a 24-hour culture and the urban nightlife.
Another good movie in a good year of movies!
This year has been a real treat for my movie sensibilities! Usually, a given year might have one or two high-quality movies that stand above the rest of the dumb summer popcorn flicks. But it's not even August yet, and I've already seen five really good movies. The year started off well with the quirky, sci-fi romance story Her (which I meant to review, but never got around to it). Then, Captain America Winter Soldier turned out to be an exceptional super hero spy thriller. I already reviewed X-Men Days of Future Past and Edge of Tomorrow - both of which I also really liked!
So far, the only disappointment has been the poorly-written Amazing Spider-Man 2 (but this was kind of to be expected, thanks Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci). I also have no interest in Transformers 4 or Ninja Turtles, since those both look like standard Michael Bay garbage.
And so we come to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a sequel to the prequel / reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Rise was a surprisingly good movie that did an excellent job of humanizing a CGI monkey. Dawn picks up ten years after the last movie ended. The virus that James Franco's character created in the lab as a potential treatment for Alzheimer has spread to the rest of the population and almost wiped out the human race, leaving only the small fraction of people that are genetically resistant to it.
The whole first act of the movie doesn't include a single human character at all, or even any dialogue. Instead, it depicts the ape characters and their culture and social structure, and it really helps to build up the apes as sympathetic characters... [More]
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