Reviews

Free Write #… oh wait

by on Nov.28, 2012, under Announcements, Articles, Comic Suggestions, Comics, Free Write, Reviews

Hi guys. No Free Write today! I was actually expecting to still be doing NaNoWriMo at the moment. But in fact, I won yesterday! So I’ve so far been relishing my last fifteen or so hours of not having to write a ton of words, until I realized that it is a Wednesday and I don’t have a Free Write for you guys. So I hope you’ll forgive me. Free Write will return next week in December with a character window from Everlasting.

In the mean time check out the video I just posted, or maybe go read this comic I was recently linked to called Unsounded by Ashley Cope. An amazing fantasy world with several compelling heroes and some amazing art. If there is one thing to complain about it is, of course, how slowly the comic is created, once you’ve read through the backlog.

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Book Watch: Partials by Dan Wells

by on Jul.09, 2012, under Book Watch, Books, Reviews

Partials (Partials, #1)Partials by Dan Wells

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I listened to Partials as an audio book during the trip to and from a summer vacation. The drive was eight hours to and from, and the book itself was around ten hours. When I got home from the trip and unpacked, I found I needed to listen to the last two hours of the book right there and then, rather than wait to finish it during my daily commutes like I normally do.

This happens rarely for me.

Partials is a story about a teenager who has grown up in a world where humans are an endangered species and tries everything in her power to change that. An engineered plague killed over 99% of the world’s population. A little girl at the time, our heroine, Kira has grown up only knowing stories of the decadent world full of working cars, electricity, and babies. The virus has effectively made the human race sterile. No baby born lives past two days thanks to it and the provisional government that rules the survivors of the plague don’t know how to fix it, except to keep having more babies, hoping that one of them will be born immune.

To make things worse, the creators of the plague, Partials, are still out there in the world. Partials were weapons, genetically engineered super-soldiers used by the former US to fight a war, until those weapons turned on humanity. To make things even worse, the society of some forty thousand human survivors is slowly starting to implode, threatening to break out into a civil war.

And Kira needs to stop it all.

What I love about this series is that it is a young adult series where there are consequences. Our main character is a teenager, certainly an exceptional one, but a teenager without the wisdom to see the full consequences of her actions. While readers will be able to agree with her intentions, and know how rash and unprepared her actions are, readers will not have to suspend their disbelief when the characters experience the fallout of their decisions.

Too many times have I read young adult series where the children are effectively smarter and more capable of the adults simply because the adults are too stubborn, too short-sighted, or because of some other contrived notion. That the children take risks and ultimately those risks pay out simply by virtue of the characters being the heroes of the story. That is not to say this is a tragedy or that Kira is in any way incapable but instead Kira both succeeds and fails in a realistic manner given the situation.

The second thing I enjoyed about this novel were the questions it is raised. Say you were in charge of the lively-hood of the last 40,000 humans on earth. A virus is killing off every baby born within two days and researchers just don’t have access to the medical technology needed to fix the problem. What would you do? Institute mandatory pregnancies in a hopes of creating a baby that is immune? What about civil rights and liberty? When does the needs of the specie out-weight the needs of the individual?

Science fiction. Post-Apocolyptic. Young Adult. Thought Provoking Themes. Add onto that interesting and mostly realistic action sequences and a healthy dose of politics, conspiracy, and science, and you’ll think you’ve accidentally started reading a Mira Grant novel.

Dan Wells has created both an interesting cast of characters as well as the beginning of a hopefully entertaining series. The first novel leaves tantalizing story hooks that will likely leave the reader wishing the second book was already available (and if you’re reading this review and the second book is, count yourself lucky!)

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Gamewatch: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

by on Apr.30, 2012, under Gamewatch, Gaming, Reviews, Video Games

an I’m just kicking butt here with the game completion stuff huh?

So hot off the heels of finishing The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, I finish off Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. The end came actually as a bit of a surprise. I was expecting maybe two or three more hours of game play from where I picked it back up, but I managed to finish it in about an hour and a half, even though the final areas required me to die no less than three times each.

Uncharted is the video game series that proved the PS3′s graphical superiority to just about everything save some of the best computers out there and most of those don’t have software support to rival the PS3. The first Uncharted was a fun ride with impressive graphics, decent game play, and a good sense of humor. The closest thing to an action adventure film the game industry had seen in a long time. You controlled the main hero, who’s quips were often too hilarious for me, and solved puzzles via climbing, jump, and contextual buttons interspersed with cover based firearm combat. The second game upped the scale with more impressive death-defying scenes and interactive cut scenes, similar if improved combat, and even better graphics. Whether or not the story improved is up to personal opinion and whether or not you like the main character.

The third game, on the other hand, upped a few things but not by much. They worked heavily on having your character interact with the environment in a bit of a believable way. For example if your character runs into a wall, he lifts his hands to stop himself from hitting his head on it. Walking down a stairs with a railing or along a wall causes your character to reach out and touch the wall itself as you might do while you’re walking beside it. Little things like that. Combat improvements included a melee system that more or less worked on a basic strike, counter, grab that was neat during interactive cut scenes but less useful during actual gun fights.

Some of the nitpicking I have were that the graphics didn’t really seem to improve at all. If they had I didn’t really notice. The environment layouts were still interesting and breathtaking but I was still getting some uncanny valley on some of the characters. Additionally the game had no install time, which meant that loading the game, and then loading your save, took forever. Plus advertisement credits at the beginning of the game meant a total load time of at least a minute if not more, before I actually started to play the game.

Another weird area was the story. I’m not sure if I liked it better than the second game or if it is on par. I do not really remember the second game’s story other than Drake was having woman problems between his love interest in the first game and a new “edgier” woman who may or may not have betrayed in him the second game. The third game, however, focuses on Nathan’s long-term father-like figure, Sully, even having several flashbacks which help explain how they met, and how everything ties together. Where the story seems to fail for me is the characterization of all the new characters. There is an ally we’ve never met before who, while funny, seems slightly out-of-place. And the two major villains of the story never really explained what they were doing, what they wanted, or what was happening, other than they had a history with Sully and Nathan and were willing to use them to get the treasure everybody was supposedly hunting. It wouldn’t seem like a big nitpick except that all the scenes with the villains played out like Nathan had a serious vested interest in their failure, while I the player, didn’t really know or care.

On other aspect of the story that I felt was touched upon but never really brought to fruition was that we’re giving a back story of how Nathan and Sully meet, which involves pointing out that we don’t really know who Nathan Drake is, or his past, or that he really is or isn’t related to the original Sir Frances Drake. Given the title being Drake’s Deception, I was expecting more revelations regarding Nathan, not just what Sir Frances Drake did many years in the past.

So sadly the story did not meet my expectations. The game play, while fun, was more or less the same old bag. The cinematic nature of the game was upheld but not as memorable as some of the scenes from Uncharted 2. One advantage is that the game is relatively short although the story does seem to end a bit abruptly for me. Overall I liked it but I likely won’t play it again.

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Gamewatch: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

by on Apr.26, 2012, under Articles, Gamewatch, Gaming, Reviews, Video Games

Seems like forever since I did a game watch, although it was really only a month ago. For those of you who don’t remember, Gamewatch is where I report actually finishing a video game I’ve been playing. Since, in the past, I’ve had difficulty completing video games in favor of starting new ones.

That brings us to my latest conquest: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. I was a big fan of Twilight Princess. Not only did you get to be a wolf, which was awesome, but the ending boss battle was one of the most memorable for in all the Zelda games, hearkening back to the old SNES and NES titles. If there was an issue with Twilight Princess, it was that it was still rather formulaic. It copied most of its game play from Ocarina of Time which was in no way a bad thing but when compared to the latest installment, Skyward Sword, makes it feel somewhat lacking.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, turns so many things about the Zelda franchise on its head, yet keeping the spirit of the game and the good aspects of the game play making the entire game very fresh and fun. I was surprised by several turn of events and not by others but I ultimately enjoyed the entire game. The most interesting change, I feel, was that there was a far more consistent plot to the game. Rather than the typical hero’s journey to save the princess, Zelda is not so much the princess as a mayor’s daughter, and while she needs assistance, she is as much apart of a the quest of destiny as you. In fact half the game is spent following her trail that she is blazing through a post-apocalyptic world. No not leather and chains just the surface of the world, which was mostly abandoned by people in order to live in the sky away from an invasion of monsters.

Some of the nitpicks I have for the game is the flying mechanic. Your character spends a lot of time flying on his bird between locations in the sky and to locations on the ground. The “skyworld” is not very large and it takes perhaps two-three minutes to fly across it without any special speed boosts but it is also very boring to fly across. Unlike horse riding in prior games, there’s no scenery to get a sense of motion. Just small floating islands getting bigger or smaller. There are some random birds with gems you can knock down, and some floating rocks have enemies that shoot at you, but they don’t provide that interesting of a distraction. Flying is fun for maybe the first hour but you spend about a quarter of the game flying places and it just gets old after a while.

One nitpick I’ve heard from others is that the game reuses areas too much. There are three main surface world areas and two major skyworld areas. Through the course of the game you open up the pieces of each surface area, which generally requires going through the initial area multiple times. I can see how people might feel a little tired being asked to run through one area a few times to get to a new area but you spend much more time in new areas than you do in old ones, and often even the most trekked areas newly accessible secrets with the gear you’ve newly acquired. The game makes heavy use of modifying the areas you’re in to be new and different, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, but ultimately it worked for me.

Overall I would highly suggest this game for Zelda fans.

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Game Watch: Batman: Arkham City

by on Mar.14, 2012, under Gamewatch, Gaming, Reviews, Video Games

So over the weekend I finished a video game. It has been awhile, it feels like, since I did that. Video games are something I still have trouble finishing, as I’ll let myself get distracted by new games, or I’ll try to focus on other things that should be more important such as updating this blog, or my writing. However the weekend was rainy, most of my plans had been canceled and I was very close to finishing. So I punched it. Or rather, I punched the joker, a lot.

Batman: Arkham City, is the sequel to the video game Batman: Arkham Asylum. In some ways it exceeds its predecessor and in some ways it falls behind. In both games you play as the world’s greatest detective, Batman, facing off against Batman’s numerous villains and their henchmen. The first game was limited to the contents of Arkham Asylum, the prison/psychiatric facility where a majority of Batman’s super villains are sent to once they are captured. In this game, you are limited to an area of Gotham City that has been re-purposed into a giant sprawling prison renamed Arkham City, run by the former warden of Arkham Asylum.

I admit, the idea that any city would let someone build a giant wall around a section of itself, then populate it with criminals and super villains seems insane to me and even at the beginning of the game I was questioning if it wasn’t just some way for the game to “think bigger” like some sequels like to do. However by the end of the game, after unlocking back story that helps explain what happened in between the two games, I feel much better about it. Still it would have been nice if that information was available from the beginning and not an unlockable.

[spoiler show="Click to read about the Gameplay"]So where in you were Batman before, wandering through corridors and into vents and hanging from ledges and railings in an insane asylum, you are now Batman swooping around an entire cityscape, landing on unsuspecting “inmates” and generally causing mayhem for super villains who have carved out territories among the mostly un-policed Arkham City. You begin as Batman was at the end of the last game, which grants you access to quiet a few gadgets which are mostly unexplained. The game lack an obvious tutorial, although I suspect the beginning sequence attempts to teach you the basics, it certainly is no substitute for having played the prior game.And where Batman: Arkham City shines is in its game play. Between gadgets and simple but infinitely complex combat system, Batman Arkham City manages to make you feel like you are Batman. Except that my Batman was more likely to die than any other Batman I’ve seen. That aside, the combat system works at it’s more core with four actions. A strike, a stun, evade, and counter. Batman will automatically target the nearest enemy in front of him if you strike or stun. However if you point the direction stick in an opposite direction from Batman and hit strike, he will attack in that direction, regardless of his facing. This leads you to doing complicated and fun combinations of elbow jabs, kicks, punches, and the occasional acrobatics. The system gets more complicated as gadgets, a combo system, and enemies which weapons are introduced, but the game gives you plenty of time to practice these added complexity until you can at least overcome the standard challenges of the game.

For those who fall in love with the combat system, there are extra challenge modes which test your fighting game skills.

Combat isn’t really even the central part of being Batman. Batman is also all about the stealth or being a “predator” and there are numerous ways to take down an unaware enemy, from sneaking up behind them silent, to dropping down from a ledge and pummeling the, to using your grapple line to string them up, pull them off ledges, jump through glass/walls to tackle them, jump out of grates and smash them into a wall, the list really never does end.

Which leads me to the gadgets. No only do you get Batman’s trusty batarang and grappling hook, but various other gadgets including an electrical emission “gun”, freeze grenades, a grappling line, small yield explosives, a hacking tools, smoke pellets, and more. None of which aren’t used at least numerous times throughout the game. I made much use of the smoke pellets, thanks to my ability to sneak up right on someone, only to have them turn around and start shooting at me.

Guns, by the way, hurt. Batman is not the kind of hero who can take a bullet. His armor protects somewhat but enemies with guns are something to be worried about and avoided or snuck up on using one of your many predator techniques. This, I feel is, one of the most awesome aspects of the game. I have to worry about guns and getting shot. Compared to so many other games where rushing the person with the gun is a viable strategy, this really helps the game hit it home that you are the Batman.

Speaking of armor, it is worth noting that the game has a token upgrade system. I say token because this time it didn’t feel so much like I was upgrading myself as I was completing all my capabilities. Individually each upgrade only felt like a minor power up, with a few notable exceptions which helped you get around the city much quicker (and were some of the first upgrades I got), and it was only towards the end of the game that I began to understand that I needed every upgrade. This I felt was a small failing of the game. When I gain a level, I should feel stoked to get the next upgrade, not feel like I’m filling in a jigsaw puzzle where the payoff is at the very end.

[/spoiler]

So game play aside, Arkham City manages to tell as interesting of a story as it’s successor did if in a bit more haphazardly way. Since the game is “sandbox” style, the story is told through a main story line that can be abandoned to do numerous types of side quests and collection quests, or just playing around. This means that the main story suffers a little, especially since there are so many collection quests thanks to The Riddler, and more than ten different official side stories to complete, some of which you can’t complete till the end of the game.

Despite the confusion, the game does a good job of providing reminders of the main story line and what you’ve been doing, during loading screens, which really helps keep the narrative together. While I won’t divulge the full story here due to spoilers, trust me in that it is a story well worthy of Batman, and (some of) the twists at the end will leave you wondering if maybe the game was trying to fool you.

All of this culminates in a game that will steal at least forty to sixty hours of your life. More so if you decide to do the optional challenges, the extra characters you can purchase for download (I highly suggest Catwoman, as her story is somewhat integral to the main plot), and trophy gathering. I spent a weekend completing the predator challenges as Batman, the final challenge taking me well over two hours and quiet a bit of frustration, despite being ultimately satisfying.

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Book Watch: Changeless

by on Jan.31, 2012, under Book Watch, Books, Reviews

Changeless (Parasol Protectorate, #2)Changeless by Gail Carriger

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I liked this book better than the first I’m still not sure how I feel about the series overall. I’m not an avid romance reader but I’ve read series like this before and it strikes me as the type of series that likes to hopscotch between the romance genre and, in this case, the steampunk genre. Because it its constant jumping, I feel I’m not getting the enjoyment that I want out of the book.

I don’t want to say the book is bad. It isn’t. In this case I believe the problem is with the reader and his expectations rather than he book itself. I want a slightly more in-depth steampunk novel and instead I’m reading a Victorian science fiction romance adventure novel.

That being said I will read the third book because I both already own it and the ending to this book was a bit of an emotional cliffhanger which I’m curious to see how it is resolved. We’ll see if I continue reading after that.

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Book Watch: Ready Player One

by on Jan.25, 2012, under Book Watch, Books, Culture, Reviews

Ready Player OneReady Player One by Ernest Cline

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An amazing combination of adventure and intrigue slathered heavily with 80s pop culture and video game references, Ready Player one is a must read book for fans of video games of any age, as well as the movies and music of the 1980s.

Ready Player One is set is a dystopian future where most of humanity has retreated into a virtual reality world called The Oasis. When the world’s eccentric creator dies, he wills his fortune, and The Oasis, to the first person to find his easter egg hidden somewhere in the virtual world. The creator was well-known for being obsessed with video games and eighties pop culture and the clues he left suggested that knowing such things would make the egg easier to find but after years of searching, nobody had even found a definite clue. Enter our teenage protagonist, a poor child of The Oasis, who dedicated his life to studying the egg and through a small amount of luck, begins the hero’s journey to discover the secrets of The Oasis.

Evil corporations, intrigue, drama, romance, adventure, and tons of eights pop culture references, this book is a must read for any self-styled geek. I listened to the audio book version which had the extra bonus of being read by Wil Wheaton who adds a significant amount of inflection and emotion into the story. Overall I really enjoyed the book. I listened to it over the holidays including listening to it while falling asleep.

I highly recommend this book.

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Book Watch: Mr. Monster and I Don’t Want to Kill You

by on Jan.10, 2012, under Book Watch, Books, Reviews

Mr. Monster (John Cleaver, #2)Mr. Monster by Dan Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The second in a trilogy, Mr. Monster exceeds its predecessor in many ways.

Picking up almost immediately where the first book left off, our protagonist is attempting to come to terms that he has unleashed a monster inside himself by killing off a demon. Which is when the murders start happening again and John Cleaver struggles with his inner self, Mr. Monster, over if, or how, he should hunt and kill this new serial killer in town.

My biggest problem with the last book was the introspective rationalization parts where the hero argues with himself over what he should do. In this book I found I had no problems with these parts and I think it is because the clash between the protagonist’s urges seems far more prominent. One area that the story did not excel at for me when compared to the first book was sickening/horrifying me. There was one scene in the first book towards the end that this novel just failed to replicate, although the story did manage to make me worry and feel for the protagonist (or those around him). I was just never intensely horrified.

Again, if you’re fascinated by sociopaths, serial killers, and don’t mind a bit of the supernatural, then I do suggest you read this book.

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I Don't Want to Kill You (John Cleaver, #3)I Don’t Want to Kill You by Dan Wells

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this was my favorite of the John Cleaver series. It changes up the formula somewhat and we see more character growth overall. The finale has some rather sickening parts that was very reminiscent of the first book for me which helped me enjoy the book more.

I Don’t Want to Kill You is the third book in the John Cleaver series about a young man who deals with a growing urge to become a serial killer by hunting and killing supernatural begins that are killing off people in his home town. The third book picks up almost right where the second leaves off and changes up the formula enough to be new and interesting.

I’d recommend this book for fans of the series and people who like antiheroes or serial killers.

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Video: Real Steel Review

by on Oct.07, 2011, under Reviews, Videos, Visual Media

Video Source

I really wasn’t expecting to find anyone willing to positively review this film. The fact that Movie Bob was willing to eat crow makes this a much watch for me, personally. I was willing to set aside my adult higher brain functionality to let my inner ten-year old run wild at this movie but it looks like both inner and outer parts of me are going to get a treat.

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FEED & DEADLINE Book Trailer

by on Jun.17, 2011, under Art, Books, Entertainment, Novels, Reviews, Trailers, Visual Media

(http://youtu.be/kUXWlXK985U)

I’ve been posting more and more book trailers recently and I keep saying how amazed I am at their quality. The script by Mira Grant, video design by Lauren Panepinto, audio by Matt Schwenker. The dialog and voice acting are pure gold, of course. Having read the books I already knew it was Shaun talking simply because of the words. The entire trailer is perhaps not as compelling as our last book trailer from a cinematic standpoint, it more than makes up for with graphic design. I do have a soft spot for animated narration. Additionally this trailer doesn’t suffer from ‘now we have to tell you what these other people said’ montage that breaks the flow of almost any good real-time advertisement. Overall I think this might be my favorite book trailer, but I might also be biased due to loving the book series.

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