Book review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

By a strange coincidence, I started playing The Wolf Among Us after I began reading Scarlet, the second of the Lunar Chronicles trilogy, so I ended up being entertained by two modernized interpretations of the big bad wolf. In The Wolf Among Us, Red only gets a passing mention, while in Scarlet, she’s one of the stars. I think because of that, Scarlet ends up being the stronger of the two interpretations.

Scarlet builds on Cinder, and so chapters bounce between Linh Cinder and the new characters. While Cinder tries to keep ahead of the police and the military with the help of a new ally, Captain Thorne, a space pilot who deserted and stole a gigantic cargo ship, Scarlet Benoit is just starting on her own journey to locate her missing grandmother Michelle, who is also a former military pilot, and who vanishes only a few weeks before the start of the story. Already the police have given up the case, but Scarlet finds a possible lead in a street fighter named Wolf. He agrees to help her, and they set off with several Lunar agents on their tails.

Eventually all these characters meet up, but in between, Scarlet learns several things about Wolf that make it hard to trust him. Despite this, she also feels drawn to him, just as he is drawn to her. This was for me the best part of the story, the conflict and tension between Scarlet and Wolf. Cinder’s journey with Captain Thorne is certainly entertaining, but at times their chapters almost feel like padding between Scarlet and Wolf’s. I’d reach a point where the narration switched characters and felt frustrated because it was getting away from the good stuff. Continue reading

Game review: The Wolf Among Us for PS4

I have really mixed feelings about The Wolf Among Us. This is my first time playing a title from TellTale Games, as I don’t have any interest in The Walking Dead. I’d heard the controls weren’t that great, but that the company did a great job telling a story in an episodic format. I was intrigued with their take on the Fables world, and I had planned to get this for PS Vita when it became available as a full game rather than wait for episodes to come out for the Xbox 360. But since I got my PS4, I figured, why not check it out on my nice pretty big screen TV?

The first episode didn’t quite wow me, and several times, hubby muttered from his usual spot by the Mac that one character or the other was a real dick, something I couldn’t disagree with. However, by the second episode, hubby was pausing his game to sit and watch me play, something he’s never done with any of the games I’ve played. The mystery elements and the good voice acting helped draw us both into the plot, even if we didn’t like most of the characters.

The basic premise is that all of these fictional characters moved to Fabletown, a subsection of New York, I think. And apparently, life in the human world has made everyone into major assholes. There’s really not a single likable character in the cast, making the introduction somewhat rough. But after the sheriff, Bigby Wolf, breaks up a fight between his old nemesis Woody the Woodsman and a prostitute, that prostitute turns up dead, and Bigby has to solve the mystery of who killed her and why.

(I’m pleased to say, I had the right angle from the first episode.) Continue reading

Game review: Shadow of Mordor for PS4

Shadow of Mordor intrigued me after I watched several videos of people fighting against uruk captains and building rivalries through the nemesis system, but at the same time, I was worried about the difficulty level given how many times I watched other players dying. I was surprised to find the game isn’t nearly as hard as I’d been led to believe and also happy to find it was as fun as the reviews had made it out to be.

First, let’s just get out of the way that the main story sucks. Talion is just another stubble-face white dude seeking revenge after his wife and child are murdered by bad guys, a trope that video games can’t seem to move beyond. There are several other ways the same story could have been handled without the ubiquitous wife and child murdered cliche, and yet, we’re stuck in this rut. And I have to say, I saw several articles talking about WB paying reviewers to give good reviews with the specific stipulation not to make comparisons to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But really, if they wanted to avoid direct comparisons, maybe they shouldn’t have shoehorned Gollum and Saruman into the plot, and they shouldn’t have lifted a similar subplot from The Two Towers. This game is constantly humping the trilogy for fan service, so why wouldn’t comparisons be fair?

Let’s set that aside because you don’t really play this game for the plot. No, you play it to slay orcs. I’m very much a pacifist, but just a few minutes into the game, watching the orcs and uruks attack human slaves cast them as evil bullies that made it very easy to want to kick their asses. This is also helped with their random, repetitive chatter about how fun it is to torture, murder, and eat their human slaves. The only way they could come across as more evil is if they started declaring, “Baby flesh is the best flesh!”

I expected that, though, as orcs and uruks are basically the condescending cousins of elves, with all of the snooty attitude plus extra aggression. (Someone in the game even makes that comparison, which made me laugh and nod.) Continue reading

Game review: The Last of Us: Left Behind for PS4

This is going to be a pretty short review, mainly because The Last of Us: Left Behind isn’t so much a full game as a little tacked on bit of dessert for players wondering about Ellie’s back story. Ellie’s time spent with her best friend is so short and slow paced that the writers chose to use a flashback method to keep the DLC moving between two malls. In one, Ellie is on her own searching for medicine while running from bandits and clickers, and in the other, Ellie is hanging out with Riley, not really doing much of anything until the very end. (Note how I’m avoiding spoiling either the DLC or the full game. Because I love you.)

It’s this method of flashing back and forth that lends the short story a weird kind of pacing where one section is really slow and full of dialogue, and the other is much more intense and reminiscent of the full game. Just like in the full game, the time spent alone with Ellie is done so with extremely sparse supplies and ammo. You either have to make every shot count or be prepared to run away. Or die. Because that can happen a lot, too.

I was glad that Naughty Dog chose to shed light on Ellie’s time with Riley, and I thought their relationship was cute, even though I knew the moment they cranked up the “aaaw” factor, the runners would be showing up shortly thereafter. I find myself wanting more, but also knowing that it isn’t possible. To go further back and explore why Riley left many months before means going back to a time when nothing would be interactive, and that point it would just be a digital movie. While that might be an interesting story, it’s no longer a game, and there’s no point exploring that aspect in a game world.

I give The Last of Us: Left Behind 4 stars. It’s a nice addition to mess around with after playing the full game, but it’s only useful if you reached that final chapter of the main game and wanted to know more about the best friend that Ellie lost.

Game review: Transistor for PS4

I wasn’t a fan of Supergiant’s Bastion, but Transistor’s featured game mechanic of pausing time to chain together attacks was very similar to Dragon Age: Origins, and I hoped that perhaps the company might move away from the “always on” narration that drove me nuts in Bastion. To a certain extent, they did, because the eponymous sword Transistor does not actually narrate. However, he rarely shuts up, and so a frequent mantra for me while playing this was, “Will you please shut the fuck up?”

My feelings for the game aren’t helped by the fact that beyond the one nifty feature the game has, there’s very little to keep it interesting to me. The many locking arenas fill up with enemies that all look pretty much the same, and to up the challenge merely means facing the same evil robots with new upgrades. Toward the end, the game introduces an enemy called Man, and after fighting two of these, the game simply clones the same Man and makes me fight three and four of them in the same arena. It’s all very bland, and I never really felt engaged.

The story is pretty thin weaksauce. You play Red, a pop singer in the future who is attacked and somehow has her voice stolen. Her biggest fan steps in front of the Transistor sword, and he’s sucked into it and becomes the smooth, dull, droning voice that follows you through the game. What makes this premise such weaksauce is that seconds after picking up this sword, Red is wacking enemies with superpowers like she’s Corbin Dallas, and we just never got told about her extensive history as a wandering knight before she started her music career. And yeah, I know the game world could use a few more women characters, but Red’s about as bland as a glass of skim milk. Her weak story and lack of personality makes it hard enough to connect with her, but having her be the voiceless avatar makes her even less interesting. Really, the game could have been made with a man and the sword as an inanimate object, and the game would still be the same. Continue reading

Game review: Infamous: Second Son for PS4

I’m going to be making a lot of comparisons between Infamous: Second Son and Prototype, and also to X-Men, because those are the two things that constantly came to mind while I was playing this game. Okay, there’s quite a few differences that help Infamous stand on its own, but time and again, I’d either make an observation that something was like Prototype or X-Men. This is not really a bad thing, and I quite enjoyed playing this game. I liked it so much, I played it to 100% completion, and then played it again to see the bad ending. I even got 90% of the trophies, something I rarely do with most games.

Infamous: Second Son takes place seven years after the first Infamous, with the conduits now being labeled as bio-terrorists. Most are locked away in a special prison called Curdun Cay by a government branch called the DUP. They’re run by a conduit with concrete powers, Agustine Brooke, who in many ways reminds me of Magneto for her ideals and the level of power she displays throughout the game. The story starts off with a military transfer of prisoners from the DUP to the Army, a transfer that goes awry and leads to the escape of three conduits near an Akomish reservation.

The game opens following Delsin Rowe, an Akomish rebel who expresses his creative side by tagging billboards. Delsin gets caught defacing a billboard by his brother Reggie, who is the local sheriff, and their argument is cut short by the Army’s transport crashing. While Reggie runs off to chase after two of the escaping conduits, Delsin rescues Hank Daughtry from the fiery wreckage and ends up absorbing Hank’s powers. When Hank attempts to escape, he is captured by Augustine, leading to the first moral choice of the game. This will lead Delsin down the path of good or evil depending on which choice the player makes. On my first playthrough, I chose the good route. On my second, I chose evil, just to see how it changed the story. I’ll talk more on that later. Continue reading

Book review: The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Let me sum this book up in one word: moronic. At this point, I think my continual efforts to read YA dystopias are like some kind of latent masochistic streak because the vast majority I’ve trudged through are painfully stupid. But The Maze Runner breaks all new levels of dystopian stupid. I stuck with it, but I can’t really say there was much point to doing so.

Setting aside all my other problems, the biggest problem I had with the book was the baby talk cuss words. Klunk, shuck, slint-head and so on. Every single time someone spoke in this ridiculous way, it pulled me out of the story. It doesn’t help that much later on, characters begin using proper faux cuss words like crap and freakin’, or the phrase “hurts like a mother.” Which makes me ask, if they could use those words in the first place, why in the fuck were they inventing words like klunk? (Which is explained as being a bad word because “that’s the sound poo makes when it hits the water.”)

I don’t even get why the baby talk was needed when the characters are mostly teens. It might be argued that the book’s intended audience is supposed to be the 12-13 boy’s market, but if that’s the case, there’s a lot of pseudo cuss words that could have been used, like crap, darn, dang, heck, and so on. So yes, this one thing bothers me even more than the gaping plot holes in the story. It’s even more grating because of the other words used later, and because the book gets so fucking gory in the final chapters. It’s a massive tonal shift that had me asking “dafuq?” every few pages.

But let’s talk about some of the bigger problems. First of all, there’s Thomas, who upon arrival to the glade just knows he’s meant to be a maze runner. He’s not interested in helping do any other jobs, and when given any actual work, he quickly collapses from fatigue. Yet during a rescue out in the maze, he suddenly gains super strength and the ability to haul someone bigger than him up the side of a wall and tie them up using vines. Then after this herculean effort, he’s still got plenty of energy to fight a monster and run the maze with another boy. No, y’all, I just don’t buy it. Once he’s a maze runner, he has amazing powers of recuperation that come out of nowhere. No, man. I Don’t. Fucking. Believe. It. Continue reading

Thoughts on PS4 Link thus far…

This is going to be a pretty short post for once because there’s not much to say, but one of the things I was looking forward to with the purchase of my PS4 was the ability to stream games to my PS Vita using PS4 Link. In advertisements, people were able to log onto a wifi hotspot and play their PS4 games “anywhere.” Of course reviews told me that this was not the case, but many gave me hope that I would be able to at least play games from my couch in my room.

This is not the case. First of all I should mention that our router is behind my couch. We’re talking maybe a foot and a half of distance between the wifi router and the device, maybe three feet depending on if I’m sitting upright or reclined. The PS4 is on a wired connection, so there shouldn’t be much lag in theory. In practice, things went badly.

My initial test took place in the living room while I was entering the security code to link the two devices, so that’s maybe ten feet away from the router. But no matter where I tried to link the Vita and PS4, I couldn’t get a stable connection to last more than a few seconds. And I use the term stable real loosely here. From the living room, it wasn’t even possible to use the system menus without lag making the screen unreadable with lots of grey blocks. Maybe fifteen seconds after I connected, the router dropped the signal. I went to my room next and sat up to get as close to the router without putting it in my lap, and then I was at least able to load a game and walk a few steps before it lagged out again. I waited a few seconds for the screen to lose the jagged blocks, took two more steps, and then waited again. And then the connection was dropped.

Perhaps a future update will address these problems and make the app usable, but for now, my wild pipe dreams of playing PS4 games on the couch have been horribly crushed. I am now full of woe. Or something. Possibly poop. And woe.

Anyway, it’s a good thing this was only a minor reason for getting the PS4, as I like a few of the games exclusive to the system. But really, I wish Sony hadn’t hyped this feature because it simply does not work as advertised.

Game review: The Last of Us Remastered for PS4

So…got my PS4 earlier than I’d planned. I’d said to hubby that my only worry about buying it in January was that the bundle with The Last of Us Remastered might sell out while I was waiting, and he said he’d front me the funds until my checks came in. So I picked it up on Saturday and got into the game after waiting an hour on updates and downloads. (Not all of that was system updates. I was also downloading all the cross-buy games that I’d purchased on my PS Vita.)

Before I get into my review, I should say that I’ve already seen The Last of Us played on PS3. Back when Naughty Dog was saying there would be no PS4 edition, I decided that since I was never getting a PS3, I might as well watch the game on a YouTube video. The version I saw was HD resolution, and it was just a hair over 6 hours long, skipping some of the artifacts and letters to just get the main story out of the way. I really liked the story and the great facial animation that helped create very subtle emotions in just the shape of the eyes, a slight furrowing of the brow, or little up or downward turns of the corners of the mouth. In fact, Naughty Dog’s facial animation has set the bar so high for me that it’s ruined games like Fallout 3 and Skyrim precisely because the characters have the same bland expression regardless of what their voice acting is saying.

But so anyway, I’ve seen the game played, and the story was spoiled in advance for me. What I was really doing with this game was playing it to see if it was fun or a painful slog. And because I’m an utter wuss, I cranked that difficulty setting down to easy for my first time playing through. Which is not to say it was easy, or that I didn’t die about a billion times. Sometimes I didn’t die, but I’d fucked up so badly that I’d restart the encounter to try being less of a dumb ass. Continue reading

Book review: The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko

Years ago, hubby tried to get me to read this book, but he’s not really all that good at pitching books, and within a few minutes, I was turned off and went to read other stuff. The we saw The Night Watch and Day Watch movies, and I decided to give the first book a chance. I noticed right away how very radically the movies changed the story, and I was curious to find out why. Put very simply, the movies changed to have an understandable conflict between light and dark. Because what’s going on in the book is the struggle of the agents of light against their malignant tumor of a boss. The creatures of the dark rarely show up at all, and they’re never more than bit characters. Time and again, it’s the boss of the light side, Gesar, who’s revealed as the real bastard.

The Night Watch is not one book. It is actually three shorter books taking place very close to each other. They bear some very slight resemblance to the movies in that there are still characters with the same names and certain plot points that still come up. But otherwise, they’re completely different animals. It’s like comparing dogs to wolves, in my opinion.

At the center of these stories is Anton, a magician who is just being put into field operations after several years working as a network administrator and systems programmer for the light side. He’s inept, flawed, and somewhat easy to relate to even when he’s making mistakes. Unfortunately, Anton works for Boris, AKA Gesar, who is not in any way a good guy.

It’s sometimes stated that the dark side use their powers for their ego, and the light uses theirs out of love. Only Gesar seems willing to do all kinds of greedy, petty things if it suits his agenda, and while he doesn’t come out looking too bad in the first book, at the end of the second and third, he’s a total bastard, and the leader of the dark side, Zabulon, doesn’t have anything to do with Gesar’s plots. Continue reading