Spider-Man 2 - title

I'm not going to hold back on spoilers in this review, so read on at your own risk. If you want my non-spoiler opinion of the game (and didn't already get it from the grade above): it's good. It's not the watershed, lightning-in-a-bottle experience like the first game was though. It makes some smart changes, including some that seem to be based directly on feedback from the first game. But it also undercuts some of those smart changes with other changes and additions that aren't so smart. Bottom line though: if you liked the first game (and who didn't?), then you'll almost certainly also like this sequel.

I always get a little bit worried whenever an adaptation of Spider-Man decides to adapt the Venom storyline. It is usually where an adaptation goes off the rails. And even if it manages to stay on the rails, it's usually one of (if not the) weakest storyline of the adaptation. Whether it's Sam Raimi being forced by Sony to write the black suit and Venom into his 3rd Spider-Man movie, Spectacular Spider-Man depicting Peter and Eddie Brock as childhood friends, or Web of Shadows just being completely bonkers from start to finish, the appearance of the black suit always makes me nervous. Honestly, I think the 90's Animated Series is the only adaptation of Spider-Man that has ever hit the black suit and Venom storyline out of the park. It's Saturday morning cartoon nature means it completely fumbled the ball when it came time for Carnage though...

The black suit and Venom storylines is where a lot of Spider-Man adaptations go off the rails.

Surprisingly, Insomniac's take on the symbiote storyline takes a lot of inspiration from other Spider-Man adaptations, almost as if they think they can take poorly-received Venom storylines and improve on them. It starts off with the Sandman as a prologue villain before setting Harry Osborne up for a turn towards villainy, which closely mirrors Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 3. Then it turns Harry Osborne into Venom, as in the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon, before basically turning into Web Of Shadows in the final act. The black suit itself also changes over time to reflect how close it is to taking over Peter's mind, which is an idea introduced in Spectacular Spider-Man. Also, the symbiote is a cure for cancer, and Venom's host being a childhood friend of Peter's are both borrowed from the Ultimate Spider-Man comics (and the Ultimate video game).

So yeah, a lot of Marvel's Spider-Man 2 resembles other adaptations of the Venom storyline, but yet it's still all put together in a way that feels original and works fairly well. It's still nowhere near as good as the Animated Series' Venom arc though, because Spider-Man 2's story and plotting is far from perfect.

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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

I really didn't think this would happen, but UNLV is back to 2nd place in the Mountain West Conference after Fresno State was blown out by San Jose State last night. UNLV is now a full game ahead of Fresno State with only 2 games left on the schedule.

Next week is a matchup against Air Force, who still holds onto the number 1 position in the conference. But, Air Force has looked vulnerable lately, decisively losing to both Army and Hawai'i in the past 2 weeks. What seemed like a sure loss for UNLV earlier in the season is now a very winnable game for UNLV. UNLV's rush defense is one of the team's strengths, and Air Force almost exclusively runs the Flexbone Triple Option.

If UNLV can beat Air Force on the road, it will move UNLV up to the number 1 spot in the conference and give UNLV a tie-breaker against Air Force for home field advantage in the Mountain West Championship. In fact, if UNLV beats Air Force, I think the only way they could be eliminated from the Conference Championship is if they lose to San Jose State, and also Fresno State wins its last 2 games. Fresno's last 2 games are against New Mexico and San Diego State, and both are very winnable games for Fresno.

San Jose is a bit of a surprise contender themselves, having won 4 straight against New Mexico, Utah State, Hawai'i, and Fresno. A win against UNLV in the final week of the regular season could potentially give San Jose a conference championship birth. Suddenly, the matchup against San Jose is actually looking even more worrisome than the matchup against Air Force.

These upcoming games against Air Force and San Jose are going to be among the most important games in UNLV's football history, and will certainly be the biggest games of head coach Barry Odom's inaugural year with UNLV.

I'm hoping to be able to see UNLV host a Mountain West Conference Championship at Allegiant Stadium!

If UNLV makes a conference championship appearance, I fully intend to attend the game. I honestly never expected to see UNLV competing for a conference championship in my lifetime, so whether it be here at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, or at Colorado Springs, Fresno, Boise, or San Jose, I intend to be there.

I'll also be tentatively planning on attending any bowl game that UNLV gets invited to, so long as the trip is affordable. If UNLV goes to the Hawai'i Bowl, I might not be able to afford tickets, since I was stuck having to pay for some expensive home repairs due to storm damage that insurance refused to cover (thank you, climate change!), and then also bought a new gaming PC so that I can play Cities: Skylines II. So I may not have the disposable cash on hand right now to afford plane tickets to Hawai'i. Hopefully UNLV gets an invite to a bowl here in the contiguous states, such that a much less-expensive road trip is viable.

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Madden NFL 24 - title

Last year, I gave Madden 23 a scolding initial review due to an excess of bugs and A.I. problems, including the broken Interception A.I. slider that resulted in every QB getting picked off 5 times a game. However, after a couple months, many of the most egregious issues with the game had been fixed by EA, and I came to realize that I was still playing the game long after I have usually given up on it in previous years. And dare I say, I might even have been kinda sorta liking it.

In particular, I praised the game for actually taking critical feedback of previous years' games to heart and iterating and improving on old ideas that hadn't quite worked out. Targeted passing, tackle battle, throw-out-of-sack animations, and in-season college scouting were all mechanics that were introduced in recent years, but which weren't well-received in their debut games. Instead of completely abandoning those features, EA actually seems to have looked at the criticisms, re-examined those mechanics at fundamental levels, and improved them such that they all are both better-playing game mechanics, and also more closely model the sport of football. Further, the new motivations and tags feature managed to add a tiny degree of humanity to the player rosters, making the players feel slightly more like actual people with their own wants and desires, and less like simple commodities to be bought, sold, and traded by the old, rich, white men who run the NFL.

It seemed like EA and Tiburon were finally putting a degree of thought and effort into the game.

I eventually started to come around to kinda sorta liking Madden 23.

So if Madden 23 ended up being moderately successful at iterating on older ideas and actually making them work better, without really introducing a whole lot that was genuinely new, then I was open to the idea of Madden 24 potentially doing the same thing. If there's not very much new, but the stuff that is old just works better, then I might actually be willing to give Madden 24 a fairly positive review. And this seems to be the approach that EA and Tiburon took with Madden 24 ... except that it doesn't work better.

A patch for last year's game?

Almost everything new to Madden 24's gameplay takes the form of subtle, barely-noticeable upgrades to the "Fieldsense" and tackle physics mechanics introduced in last year's game. In Franchise, there are a few tweaks to free agency and trade mechanics, and coaching skill trees have been expanded. That's pretty much it!

This is little more than a $70 patch for Madden 23.

And ... OK ... that could be fine. I've long asked for EA and Tiburon to take a few years to rebuild Madden's fundamentals, instead of shoe-horning in new features that further complicate the mechanics and code base. If that results in a much better football game at fundamental levels, then it would be worth it. But this isn't better fundamental football. It's incremental, barely-noticeable upgrades over last year's game.

Supposedly, blockers are supposed to be smarter at picking who to block. Defenders are supposed to be able break on short routes, and supposedly can't make blind interceptions anymore. There's supposed to be new fumble recovery animations. The biggest supposed change is that defenses are supposed to be able to adjust better to the user's play-calling. But I just don't see much -- if any -- difference in any of these areas.

It's the same wonky physics that can be completely canceled if the game choses an incompatible animation, or which allows the ball to magnetically attach to players' hands.

It's the same play-calling logic that is overly-reliant on passing the ball 20+ yards down the field.

It's the same blocking and defensive logic that can be easily exploited with money plays or hot routes, and which never learns or adjusts to what the user is doing.

CPU QBs still run around and take massive sacks.

It's the same cheating, rubber-band A.I. that inflates scores and stats, and which isn't properly balanced for full-length, 15-minute quarters.

It's the same idiotic team-building logic that causes CPU-controlled teams to release their MVP franchise QB and then use up even more cap space to sign 5 over-paid, mediocre replacements.

It's full of the same stupid shit like quarterbacks dropping deeper into the pocket and taking 15 yard sacks against blitzes, defenses being completely incapable of defending inside-breaking routes, linemen being unable to block outside running plays, and all the same stuff that has been frustrating gamers for years.

And every one of those things listed above is something that was supposed to have been improved in this year's game. But I don't notice much -- if any -- difference.

In fact, about the only things that I notice that seem different about the on-field action is that there are now referees on the field again. And hey! One of the refs in each game is even a woman! So there's finally some tiny amount of gender representation in Madden. And the other change that I've noticed is that players like to push and shove each other around a lot more after plays, but the new refs never bother throwing flags for personal fouls.

Referees are back on the field, and there's even a few variations of women referees.

Oh, and I guess running quarterbacks are better at holding onto the football. So I'm a lot more secure in running designed QB runs, options, and bootleg scrambles with the likes of Lamar Jackson or Justin Fields. So that's something, I guess...

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Axis Football 24 - title

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University of Nevada, Las Vegas

I suspected that UNLV's football team would have to crash back to reality at some point. Last wee, the team and its fans were flying high after a comeback win against Colorado State made UNLV bowl-eligible midway through the season, had them receiving votes for national Top 25 ranking, and had them looking like a contender for a Mountain West Conference Championship. UNLV has played like a championship-caliber football team all season long, with the exception of one quarter against Fresno State last night. That one quarter may be the quarter that costs UNLV a chance at the championship.

I did say that the remainder of UNLV's schedule would contain its toughest matchups of the season, and Fresno was one of the toughest. They also still have Wyoming and Air Force as major roadblocks on their remaining schedule. I expected that UNLV would drop at least one of these games, but it's heartbreaking to lose it in the way that they did.

UNLV is now ranked 3rd in the Mountain West behind Fresno State.

UNLV was in total control of the game at Fresno State, with the exception of a dismal 3rd quarter in which they turned the ball over multiple times, gave up 24 un-answered points, and surrendered the lead that they would never take back.

The collapse began on the opening drive of the 2nd half, with Jacob de Jesus muffing a punt return after a Fresno 3 and out. This gave Fresno State the ball in the redzone for an easy touchdown and completely shifted the momentum of the game. Junior return man de Jesus had been a reliable, explosive player all year, and this mistake was uncharacteristic of him. Later in the quarter, freshman quarterback Jayden Maiava threw an interception that resulted in another Fresno field goal, and running back Jai'Den Thomas surrendered a fumble on UNLV's next offensive play from scrimmage that Fresno converted into the lead-stealing touchdown. Personally, I think he was down by contact (of course), but the camera angles were inconclusive and insufficient to overturn the officials' call on the field.

The 3rd quarter collapse started with Jacob de Jesus muffing a punt.

UNLV would surge in the 4th quarter, however and bring the game to within a single score. However, they failed to convert a 4th and goal late in the 4th quarter. Personally, I think that coach Barry Odom should have kicked the field goal at this point. There was still 5 minutes on the game clock, UNLV had timeouts, and UNLV had clawed back the momentum. This was not a do-or-die situation. A field goal would not have tied the game, let alone taken the lead, but UNLV's defense would have to make a stop regardless. A field goal would have meant that if UNLV stopped Fresno and took the ball back, they would be playing for the win instead of overtime.

The decision ended up being moot anyway, as UNLV failed to score a touchdown in the closing seconds of the game. They had an opportunity, but senior receiver Senika McKie dropped an open pass in the endzone on 2nd down, and Maiava would throw an interception straight to a lurking linebacker on the ensuing 3rd and goal.

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A gamer's thoughts

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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