Edge of Tomorrow poster
Edge of Tomorrow mimics video game respawning.

Video game adaptations have generally been pretty awful. Edge of Tomorrow isn't based on a video game (it's actually based on a Japanese novel), but it manages to feel more like a video game than any game-based movie that I've ever seen, while still providing an interesting and fun narrative built upon a unique time-travel premise.

The movie takes place in a present-day earth that has been invaded by hostile aliens, slowly but steadily consuming the cities of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, and the combined forces of earth's nations can't slow them down. William Cage (Tom Cruise) is ordered into active combat in a surprise assault against the aliens, despite being a propaganda officer rather than an actual soldier. During the assault, the human soldiers are ambushed and slaughtered, but Cage manages to kill an alien only to be boiled alive by the alien's acidic blood. However, Cage gains the alien's ability to go back in time to reset the day after he dies. So when Cage dies, he immediately wakes up back at the army base just prior to the invasion to start the day over again.

 

Cage gets stuck in a "Groundhog Day" cycle, constantly reliving the same failed invasion over and over again. He tries to change the outcome, but plays such an insignificant role in the grand scheme of things that his efforts are all in vain, and he must repeatedly experience the invasion until he has effectively memorized every event. In each repeat cycle, he gets a little bit better at staying alive, just like a video gamer playing a trial-and-error level in an old-school video game (think Castlevania, Contra, Ninja Gaiden, or the more recent Demon's Souls). He learns the location of every alien, every mortar shell, every landmine, every piece of flying debris, until he can essentially walk through the invasion with his eyes closed either avoiding or eliminating threats with virtually no effort.

As a gamer, it was very interesting for me to watch a film narrative that is completely based around one of gaming's central conceits: respawning after a character dies...

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Grand Theft Auto V - title

Grand Theft Auto V is a game that does not get off on the right foot at all. The intro tutorial is a complete mess.

Remember how in Grand Theft Auto IV, the protagonist was introduced in a cutscene during the opening credits? We learn about his personality and motivations, and why he is coming to America. Then you get off the boat, gameplay begins, and you are immediately given a simple driving tutorial in which you taxi your drunk cousin two blocks to his shithole apartment, all the while learning more about the characters and the game world itself. Then you do some simple taxi missions that let you practice driving while simultaneously letting you learn the layout of the city and soak in the environment. Then you start getting asked to beat people up and throw bricks through store windows and get tutorialized on how to fight, shoot, and do other advanced mechanics. And during all this time, the game slowly builds up a hatred and distrust for the criminals that you are working for while simultaneously laying the foundations of the game's depressing-but-exceptionally-introspective plot.

Remember all that? Remember how well that game was paced? Remember how the tutorials always showed up at appropriate times, explained a mechanic during non-interactive cutscenes so that you can pay attention to the instructions, then lets you practice the mechanic while it's fresh in your memory? Remember how well it slowly built up the important mechanics one at a time - as they became relevant - while also immersing you in the game world and building up its story to a climactic closing of the first act? Yeah, that was great game design, wasn't it?

Well, GTA V has none of that.

Grand Theft Auto V - intro bank robbery
An almost unbearable tutorial.

The intro tutorial literally throws the player into the middle of a bank robbery in progress. You have no idea who your character is, why he's robbing a bank, who your companions are, or what the "plan" that everybody keeps telling you to "stick to" is. Then it puts an assault rifle in your hands, and a tiny little box pops up in the corner of the screen with 6-point font telling you what to do while you're trying to do the thing that it's telling you to do - and hopefully not doing the wrong thing. And then they stick you in the middle of a gunfight with an entire small army of police, and these barely-visible text popups try to tell you how to use the cover mechanics, switch weapons, and trigger super powers - all while you're being shot at. Then you go for hours before using many of these mechanics again, so you forget them all because you had zero time to practice and remember them, and they were all thrown at you at once.

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The Last of Us - banner

Are you as sick of zombies as I am? They're everywhere. Perhaps the real zombie apocalypse won't be caused by radiation or a genetically-engineered plague; it will be caused by media corporations drowning our brains in zombie entertainment until we all go crazy and start eating each other.

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Fungus zombies

OK, sure, the creatures in Naughty Dog's latest adventure game, The Last of Us, aren't actually "zombies", they are humans infected with a fictionalized variation of Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis. But they're functionally the same thing. The "infected", as they are known as in the game, are mindless, mutated monsters that shamble around and eat any human they become aware of. And if they bite you, you become infected and the fungus takes over your brain, turns your flesh into spore-producing tendrils, and makes you a cannibal.

Cordyceps-infected ant Cordyceps-infected moth Last of Us - Cordyceps-infected human
[LEFT] An ant infected with cordyceps.
[CENTER] A moth infected with cordyceps.
[RIGHT] A human infected with cordyceps, as depicted in The Last of Us.

The game takes place 20 years after the sudden outbreak of the human cordyceps infection that leads to the death of the protagonist's daughter. Society has collapsed into ruin, with the surviving 40% of people (including the protagonist, Joel) concentrated in quarantined ghettos in the remains of major cities. Joel is working as a smuggler, bringing food, weapons, and supplies into the Boston quarantine zone to be sold on the black market, and he is tasked with escorting a young girl, named Ellie, to a research lab out west. Ellie is unique in that she seems to be immune to the cordyceps infection. She was bitten weeks ago, and has suffered nothing more than some ugly skin lesions near the bite; whereas, everyone else begins to turn into a zombie within hours of being infected. This, of course, makes her survival paramount, and Joel must do whatever it takes to ensure her safe arrival at the lab so that the researchers can hopefully study her to find a cure or vaccine.

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This review was originally published 06/16/2010 on Game Observer (now defunct as of 05/13/2014). It has been republished here for archival purposes.

God of War III

I was expecting an epic masterpiece for the conclusion to Kratos’s vengeance, but instead I got a merely passable sequel.

The first two God of War games on the PS2 were epic action adventures that gave players an amazing sense of scale and grandeur. The action was fast and fluid, and the platforming mostly worked. The games were also insanely difficult, but never to the point where you felt you wanted to throw the controller down in disgust (well, except for the log-tight-roping in Hades in the first game).

God of War III promised bigger, better, more. After all, how could fighting off the minions of the gods on the backs of immense Titans as they climb up the side of Mt. Olympus on your way to a final confrontation with Zeus himself possibly go wrong? Well, unfortunately, we’ll never know. The game’s previews promised that amazing premise, implying that a majority of the game would be these breathtaking action sequences and combat on the backs of the Titans. But instead, this is only about the first half an hour’s worth of gameplay. Then it’s back to the traditional God of War gameplay that you’re used to. This wouldn’t be bad, if not for the fact that the game doesn’t execute itself quite as well as the previous games.

God of War III cover art

Other reviews are celebrating the game’s sense of scale and scope, but I found that it wasn’t nearly as expansive as the previous games. Most of the game has you going back and forth between Hades and the top of Mt. Olympus. You’d think that’s a pretty big ascent, but it’s not. You fly straight up the middle of the mountain (or fall down it) several times, and other instances of travel from top to bottom or vice versa are done via teleportation portals. So while it’s convenient, it fails to mimic the first two games’ feelings of epic trekking through exotic locales.

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Tomb Raider (2013) game banner

Crystal Dynamics really missed the point with this game. It seems like the creative team started the project with one creative vision to make a “lost on an island adventure story”, and then early on, they all got fired and replaced with people who were instructed by corporate overlords to make “Uncharted with a girl” and the final product turned into a mindless shooter.

Tomb Raider - limited edition box
The only things you'll be "surviving" for most of this game is bullets and explosions.

The game is called "Tomb Raider”, but the bulk of the game is an action shooter instead of exploring tombs.

The tagline on the back of the box says “A survivor is born”, and the first objective in the game is to find a bow and kill a deer for dinner, but then you don’t ever have to hunt or treat wounds or take refuge from the elements or do any other “survival” things.

A sheer majority of the game is shooting hordes of enemies in tedious gunfight after tedious gunfight after tedious gunfight. Maybe over the course of the game, you’ll stumble across a tomb or two. But if you do, it’s just a 15-minute detour while you solve a single environmental/platforming puzzle in order to collect an arbitrary and useless reward. The rest of your time will be spent running around the levels that you just cleared of bad guys and collecting random items.

Tomb Raider - hair physics
Hair probably isn't the part of Lara's anatomy that many ... um ... "fans" were hoping to see benefit from real-time physics, but then again, at least this is something innovative.

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Gaming for life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to opinions about video games and the video game industry. But occasionally, I talk about other stuff too. Feel free to read about the blog.

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Humble suggestions for improving Dark Souls II onlineHumble suggestions for improving Dark Souls II online09/22/2014 I recently posted my much-belated review of Dark Souls II. In it, I criticized the game for having lackluster online components, but didn't go into much detail other than to say that Soul Memory seems like a non-optimal matchmaking method and that invasions are rare and reserved for elite players. I wanted to take a moment to...

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'Civilization V' strategy: Enrico Dandolo blindly manages Brave New World's only playable City-State'Civilization V' strategy: Enrico Dandolo blindly manages Brave New World's only playable City-State05/15/2014 The penultimate entry in my series of strategy posts about Brave New World's new civilizations will focus on the very unique civilization of Venice: the playable City-State. The city of Venice is one of the most architecturally astounding cities in the world. It is built on top of 118 small islands in the marshy Venetian lagoon....