Mad Max: Fury Road - review

For years, I've been complaining about the dumbing-down of movies and the lack of subtlety, complexity, nuance, and meaning in the stories that Hollywood has been willing to tell. Apologists keep telling me that the modern movie-goer doesn't have the patience for deeper, more philosophical narratives. Filling the screen with explosions as audiences shove popcorn down their gullets is the only way to fill the theater seats, they say.

I don't think this is true. After all, many of these movie-goers are the same people who watched (and revere) movies like Alien, The Terminator, The Empire Strikes Back, and the other classic action and science fiction films of yesteryear. These movies were more than just dumb action movies. They had depth. They told well thought-out narratives that took place in believable, lived-in worlds that used subtle details to tell the untold stories behind the scenes with their sets, costumes, props, and other visual elements.

Why can't modern audiences accept movies like that anymore? Why do we have to buy into this idea that an action movie can't have a complex plot with real characters, and action that actually serves a plot while the plot also serves the action? If Mad Max: Fury Road proves financially successful (it's already proven critically successful), then it will prove that modern audiences can accept such a movie.

If you do want to shut off your brain and watch explosions for two hours, then Fury Road has you covered. It is an over-the-top, non-stop orgy of car chases, shoot-outs, and guitars that shoot fire! But it's also so much more.

Mad Max: Fury Road - Furiosa
The action serves a purpose by helping to develop the characters without wasting time with exposition.

The action scenes are very well constructed, and used a lot of practical effects and stunts. The sequences were appropriately chaotic and furious, and didn't suffer from the appearance of being tightly choreographed (even though it certainly was). And every bit of action moved the plot along and provided depth and characterization for the characters.

The movie doesn't waste time with much character exposition. But there is still plenty of development and depth to the characters. The film uses its action to inform the characters' personalities ...

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A couple weekends ago, I went with my dad and my girlfriend to see The Kids In the Hall perform live at the Treasure Island resort in Las Vegas as sort of an early Father's Day gift for my dad. If you've never heard of them, The Kids In the Hall are a Canadian sketch comedy troupe that had their own TV show produced by Lorne Michaels (the mind behind Saturday Night Live) between 1988 and 1994. I love the TV show (which my dad introduced me to when I was young), so I was excited to see the group perform live. They have a unique brand of humor that makes the mundane absurd and the absurd mundane. I like to think of them as the Canadian Monty Python.

I had never seen any examples of the group's stand up or live performances, so I have to say that I was a bit apprehensive about the live show. I wasn't sure how well the comedy would translate to a live, stand-up setting (without sets, props, camera cuts, etc). But it certainly did not disappoint!

Kids In The Hall - men in wedding dresses
The opening skit had the whole group wearing wedding dresses.

The Kids definitely didn't waste any time going full-blown absurd, as they walked out onto the stage for their opening skit wearing white wedding dresses. They then each took turns going through brief monologues about why they each wear wedding dresses, the effect that it has on their relationships and jobs, and an activistic speech about how they wear wedding dresses for all the men who can't wear wedding dresses. It was very funny...

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It occurs to me that there is a sad dearth of pirate and sailing games in the market. The original Sid Meier's Pirates! is almost 30 years old! And the PC remake was released all the way back in 2004. Other than that, the only pirate or sailing-themed video games that I'm aware of are mobile games.

We saw a proliferation of cowboy and western-themed games after Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption (which, in hindsight, probably isn't as good as I gave it credit for). Perhaps Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag could trigger a similar renaissance for pirate video games. And if those games are as good as Black Flag (or better), then that would be a real treat!

Hrm, this mission seems familiar...
[LEFT] A plantation raid in Assassin's Creed III; [RIGHT] another plantation raid in Black Flag.

The first hour or two after Black Flag's introductory pirate ship battle is a bit dull because it's mostly just the same old stuff that you've played in Assassin's Creed III: exploring the little town and playing a few "go here, do this" missions with an assassination or two.

Being stuck on land is usually pretty dull. In fact, some missions even seem copy-pasted from previous games. When I got to the mission in which I had to raid a sugar plantation, I couldn't help but think "Hey, didn't I already do this in III?" The only notable difference was that that the plantation raid was wrapped in a segment in which I had to pursue the plantation-owner's ship from a trade island to his plantation island.

Over the course of the game, you'll frequently be forced to step back onto land for story missions. some of the environments are a bit original, since there's some trekking through jungles and along beaches and scaling cliffs to break up the monotony of the usual parkour that the series is known for. Most of these jungle paths are closed and linear, so you won't be exploring open jungle with a machete.

Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag - jungle mission
The jungle and beach settings provide some visual variety beyond the city parkour, but are functionally similar.

There aren't any dramatic new gameplay functionalities associated with the more rural and wild settings beyond the tree-hopping that was featured in Assassin's Creed III. So while these missions provide some visual variety, they don't add much to the actual gameplay. The biggest change is that it takes a lot of your freedom of movement away, since you have to follow more of the pre-designed trails through the levels, rather than having the freedom to create your own route.

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Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag - sailing into the sunset
Black Flag sails triumphantly into the sunset as a stand-out game in an oversaturated franchise.
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Assassin's Creed III - title

I never really hopped onto the Assassin's Creed bandwagon when the first one was released in 2007. The historical setting and gameplay concepts were intriguing and I wanted to play it, but I wasn't sure if I would like it enough to warrant an outright purchase. And since Ubisoft never bothered to release a playable demo on the PlayStation Network, I never played the game.

So I missed the first two games and their various spin-offs. But when I started seeing information about the third game, and its setting during the American Revolution, my curiosity piqued. The trailers made it look as though parts of the game were played during large-scale battles, and I thought that would be really cool to play. So when I found that a friend (Huh?Mr.Box!) was willing to let me borrow his copy, I decided to give it a chance.

And boy was I disappointed!

My core complaint with Assassin's Creed (and many other games like it) is that I don't like how dumbed down the controls are, and how little actual control the user has. The run button is also the "climb" button and sometimes the "jump" button (even though there is a dedicated "jump" button). I've always held that when a single button does everything, then it really does nothing. Assassin's Creed regularly feels like I am not playing the game; a procedural function created by the developers is playing the game.

Instead of the game just doing what the player tells it to do, it has to determine which of several pre-determined context-sensitive actions the developers decided to pre-program. You might want to try to sprint through a narrow alleyway between two close buildings to chase a courrier, but if you're just a few pixels off, you end up jumping up the side of the wall and climbing to the top of the building. And then it's a pain in the ass to get back down, and the courrier is now two blocks away.

Assassin's Creed III - missing an alley way
Because I wasn't lined up perfectly, the free run forces me to climb up this building,
when all I really wanted to do was chase the courier through this alley way.

Maybe I want to jump off of a building onto a nearby tree branch in order to stay above a group of enemy Redcoats that I'm trying to stealth past. But for some reason, the game decides to make my character leap past the tree branch and right into the middle of the group of bad guys. Now my cover is blown, I'm stuck in combat, and maybe I've even failed a bonus objective or two.

These sorts of problems could be avoided if the "climb" and "jump" commands were their own buttons separate from the "run" button...

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Civilization V

Following up on my previous post about the Top 10 good ideas in Civilization V, here is a list of the opposite: the flaws and annoyances in the game's design that really grind my gears and make me nostalgic for the older games and wishing for dramatic changes in future sequels.

And since I'm always eager to provide constructive criticism where I can, I will propose ideas for addressing some of the problems with these features where relevant. The hope is that future games in the series will be able to learn from Civ V failures and successes and be better games.

Of course, any list of "good ideas" or "bad ideas" is going to be subjective. You may not agree with my opinions, and that's OK. If there's any features, mechanics, or design decisions that you really hate in Civilization V, its DLC, or its two expansions, please feel free to leave a comment!

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Gaming for life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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Alex Curelea explains the psychology of why 'Diablo 3' is less satisfying than 'Diablo 2'; and a trial reviewAlex Curelea explains the psychology of why 'Diablo 3' is less satisfying than 'Diablo 2'; and a trial review06/12/2012 Recently came across Toronto-based software engineer Alex Curelea's blog, in which he describes the psychology behind why Diablo III may not be as satisfying as Diablo II was. It was a good read, and very quick too. In the analysis, he compares Diablo fans to monkeys who are rewarded with flavored juice when they pull a lever...