Friday, December 27, 2013

Start From The Start - Words of Wisdom

Oh yeah, my blog!  I forgot all about you, old friend.  I suppose 2014 is as good a time as any to get things going here - maybe put up some new drapes, paint the walls...make it look classy for all of the zero people who stop by here.  And if you're one of the zero, thank you so much.

In the meantime, I must say that I have been enjoying the hell out of DuckTales Remastered.  Maybe this is a good moment to point out that I'm usually behind the curve on games, expect that highly anticipated Batman: Arkham Origins review to drop in just days.  So yeah, DuckTales.  Hellafun.  Reminds me of being a kid, which is nice.

Onward and upwards, people.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

God of War: Ascension - A Review

From the start, I was a bit nervous about God of War: Ascension.  Prequels, in general, drive me nuts.  The problem with prequels, be it a movie or a game - is that you already know the outcome.  Short of doing something that completely retcons and/or ruins what happened beforehand, the end result of a prequel is basically being at square one, with some more details that already fill in what you already were aware of.  While I know that the lore in a video game series may not be something to invest much stock in, I've felt that God of War kept things straight enough through it's previous three main installments and two side stories.  Even Chains of Olympus, which was the series' first swing at a prequel to the original, got things fairly right without ruining too much established story and actually managed to be compelling and fun to play.
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Ascension, however, doesn't quite reach the heights of Chains of Olympus.  In fact, it doesn't really put itself on top of any of the other Kratos misadventures.  Sadly, even with a ridiculous level of polish and flair, and an attempt to adding something relevant to the God of War discussion, it all falls kind of flat.

In terms of it's visual prowess, it's hard to argue that Ascension is not the prettiest entry in the series.  It's downright beautiful throughout, and even manages to one-up God of War 3 time after time in terms of the magic your eyes will feast on as you play.  That being said, those good looks are not really invested in a lot of compelling places to visit.  Some locations, like throughout the massive Statue of Apollo, or in the early portions of the Hekatonkheires, are a sight to behold - but other locations, like the snowy caps of...whatever those mechanical snakes were about...didn't really cement their place as some of the series' most awesome places to visit and kill things in.

One thing Ascension does do to try and break from tradition is liberally change up how Kratos' combat and magic work.  It's actually fairly drastic if you've been following the game, and alters everything from blocking, to parrying, to magic, and even when unleashing your Rage Meter.  Like much of Ascension, however, the changes are not all for the best.

I actually like how the Rage Meter works now.  Instead of triggering it and become more powerful and invulnerable for a few seconds, you now unleash a super-powered attack depending on what element you have fueled you blades with (Ares' fire, Poseidon's ice, Zeus' lightning, or Hades' souls).  These attacks are really cool, and more often than not, hearken back to some other attack seen in previous GoW games.  The element angle also changes up how magic is earned and used.  No longer do you just get to some point in the story and unlock a new magic ability.  Instead, you have to use your EXP to unlock the last level of each element to earn its magic.  To be fair, I only used two magic spells throughout the entire game, and that's only because it took so long to get enough EXP to unlock them all.
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What I really dislike about the new combat system is the parrying.  I have a sneaking suspicion that much of Ascension's controls were overhauled not to improve the single player experience, but to instead lay groundwork for the multiplayer, and was then carried over to the main game.  The grab button is gone, swapped into the new chain grapple mechanic - and the O button is used now to do a Spartan kick to disarm enemies and/or use the weapons you pick up off the ground.  Parrying no longer is based on a well-timed block.  Instead, you hold down block and then hit X at just the right moment to throw up this big, ugly flash of light.  If an enemy attacks while that light flashes, you score a parry.  It's an awkward system that is also visually weak, and doesn't quite feel as rewarding as past games.  Even in a time when Kratos didn't have the Golden Fleece, the parrying was handled better.

Ascension does finally concede that the only weapon you need or care about are the Blades of Chaos, and I appreciate that.  Secondary weapons can be found throughout levels, or stolen from enemies, and they can be used in combos - but I still stuck primarily to the Blades.  Wasting time on other weapons always felt like a joke in these games.  The exception being the Neamean Cestus from GoW3.  Those were sweet.

In terms of the game itself, Ascension has a hard time explaining why it even needs to be.  Visiting Kratos only six months after the slaughter of his wife and child, we learn about how Kratos was able to break his oath to serve Ares by killing the three Furies - three demonic sisters who punish those who break their oaths, especially to the Gods.  Problem is, this story isn't important.  It doesn't bring anything new to the table regarding Kratos.  Did we need to know about this?  Was how Kratos defied Ares ever a really point of contention and debate?  I always pictured a big middle finger and off he went...  Worse yet, the Furies are not compelling villains.  They're pretty weak compared to any other force Kratos has had to deal with, and seem like a watered-down version of the Sisters of Fate, who still had a better boss battle...

Since God of War 2's battle against the Colossus of Rhodes, each game has tried to kick up the first boss battle by bringing something bigger and more bad-ass to the table.  Ascension, which featuring an ongoing battle against pieces of the Hekatonkeires, is massive in size and scope - but there's something about it that lacks the general punch of fighting the Colossus, and comes nowhere close to the "oh shit" feeling of taking on Poseidon's watery form in GoW3.  It's big and pretty and horrible, but there's an odd disconnect from it.  There's a similar feeling towards the end of the game against another massive boss.  It's very nice to look at, and a huge battle - but it doesn't hold the weight of previous challenges.

When the game ends, no new revelations were made.  There seems to be this "oh snap!" point where we discover how Kratos truly became tortured by memories of his past, but it's not that big a deal, and as a reveal, it's devoid of impact.  The game doesn't even get around to explaining how Kratos ended up with Athena as his guide.  Not every single unknown has to be explored, but if you're going to try, try harder.  Hey, Kratos didn't have his trademark tattoo in the flashbacks of Ghost of Sparta, should we invest in a game where he gets it!?  NO!  Thankfully, if anything, Ascension's story doesn't screw with the established canon.  The story is extremely self-contained, and is left to either deal with it's own tale, or foreshadow events that played out in the previous games - with one exception about, maybe, the future of the series.
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Multiplayer is good enough, but you know this is not something that's going to keep people hooked in the long-term.  I've spent a little while with it, and while it's a nice distraction, it's not enough to keep you coming back a year, or maybe even a month, from now.

In the end, Ascension is a good game, but it doesn't serve a real purpose for fans other than giving you another go-round as everyone's favorite angry Spartan, and it has these times that swing between bringing truly epic moments to the table, and feeling a bit dodgy and oddly rough around the edges - a lot like the original God of War, I felt.  While the story likes to proclaim that "before he was a god, he was a man", and tug at the heart-strings with thoughts of those loved ones he has lost (still because of his own actions, which the game wants to tell you wasn't the case, but still really was), the truth is that Chains of Olympus made a much more emotional impact with Kratos and his daughter.  It did what Ascension wants to, and better.

God of War is too important to Sony to just curl up and die - and I don't want it to anyways, because I truly love these games, but there has to be a different direction to go from here.  There's a ten year gap between Kratos making his pact to Ares and the events of the first God of War, and the thought of a decades-worth of prequels absolutely terrifies me.  There's really only two places to go from here - continue from where God of War 3 left off (somehow developing a fiction where the Greek Gods are dead and gone, maybe explore that weird Athena ghost a little or soemthing - and preferably with an old Kratos, complete with kick-ass beard, and missing an eye or something), or reboot it, and take the series into a new mythology, even if that means having a new protagonist at the helm.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Giving Thanks

Tomorrow is arguably one of the greatest holidays of the entire year.  Certainly Halloween and Christmas give it a run for its money, and Christmas in particular triggers my deeply-rooted love of tradition – but Thanksgiving has so much going for it to make it sit at the top of my list.  There’s the time spent with family and friends, sharing and laughing and just enjoying ourselves.  The time-honored tradition of watching the Lions lose in front of a national audience.  Finally, there’s no way to ignore the most beloved and sited attribute of Thanksgiving – the meal.  It’s always a near-endless bounty of home cooked delights the likes of which I will not see again for an entire year, as if it were a beloved comet that only enters Earth’s path once every fourth Thursday in November, and it is also crafted entirely out of real mashed potatoes, juicy cuts of turkey breast, and cornbread stuffing.  I love you, delicious Thanksgiving comet.

It’s also these times that make me a little sentimental, and I start to think and act more like I’ve just stepped out of one of those Christmas specials from the late 70’s, when having the Osmonds around was considered a big deal, and people could somehow ignore the eerie sexual energy sparking between Donny and Marie.  Because, after all, it is the time for us to give thanks for the good things we’ve had this year - and to perhaps even be thankful that the bad stuff wasn’t as bad as it could have been, all things considered...  I figured what better way to celebrate the holiday on 1up than to look back over the year and share my own views on a select few games that I’m thankful for.  Is it cheesy?  Oh, you bet it is.  Nevertheless, it serves as a rather timely and thematically-accurate premise.  If I were hosting a morning drive radio show right now, this topic would go over very well with listeners in the all-important 27 to 48 demographic.



I give thanks to Batman, who crouches atop gargoyles all over the world, like a black-leather-clad Santa Clause looking to give the gifts of roundhouse kicks and justice to those looking to ruin the Christmas morning we innocent civilians call life.  I give thanks to the Batman who finally received a video game truly worthy of his name, and proceeded to kick all sorts of ass while scaring the crap out of some unsuspecting henchmen – while crouching on gargoyles oddly positioned inside of buildings.  I give thanks to hear Mark Hamil as the Joker again, because 1) it lets me know he's still alive and 2) no one does the character better, and that says a lot when you're just a guy's voice.



I give thanks to Johnny Klebitz, for somehow managing to be cooler than Niko, which is incredibly hard to do considering how alluring Niko’s accent is.  I also thank Johnny for making the motorcycle a viable mode of transportation in GTA IV – a feat that I largely thought to be impossible.  I also give thanks to Johnny for participating in one of the greatest examples of how DLC can be used to better a game this whole year, delivering a bang that was so worth the buck I felt like I had stolen it, which is ironic when you think about it.  I give thanks that they included new songs in the Lost and the Damned soundtrack, finally allowing me to race around and shoot people to “Run to the Hills”, “Wild Side”, and “Wanted Dead or Alive”.  Science has proven that a rockin' track from the likes of Motley Crew and/or Bon Jovi increases the effective nature of your criminal activities by 60%.  I haven’t played The Ballad of Gay Tony just yet, but I hear good things and they used Roxette's "She's Got The Look" for the trailer – and for that alone, I also give thanks.



I give thanks to dinosaurs, who haven’t received a good shake since the comets struck and killed them all off – except for raptors who went on to become pigeons and chickens.  It’s been nothing but lousy claymation, even worse computer animation, and steadily declining Turok games ever since.  So what is the latest assault on our cold-blooded friends?  A budget-title retread of Turok with the advertising budget of Mainway Toys  Don’t worry, dinosaurs, one day we will bring you back to life through our own need to play God – and in that dark hour of our worst mistake, you will rise up and return to prominence, devouring those who beg for your non-existent mercy…  So there’s that to look forward to.



I give thanks to Bethesda, who saw fit to give me not three but five pieces of DLC that would extend my adventures in the DC Wasteland far beyond the already ridiculous boundaries first issued to me.  I give thanks to Bethesda even though almost all their DLC was riddled with bugs, not unlike an old piece of wood rotting in the Mississippi Delta or like the spaces between the teeth of Beetlejuice or the Grinch.  There’s nothing like downloading a new adventure only to have it conflict and crash with another one or delete saves or make things disappear or just crash the console all together.  I thank them for The Pitt, which allowed me to steal a baby and then leave the resistance leader’s lady-friend overwhelmed with the task of caring for that baby.  I give thanks that because I made the child an orphan and it won’t stop crying unless it has a surplus of teddy bears, the overwhelmed lady is willing to pay me top dollar for the stupid things just to shut the kid up.  I thank them for letting me go onto a spaceship, blow the heads off of hapless aliens, and end up armed to the teeth with weapons that largely vaporize anyone who stands in my way.  I give thanks to Bethesda for the new avatar t-shirts, because while paying money for fake clothes is a little silly, a fake shirt with Vault Boy on it is totally worth it.  I would give more thanks for some Brotherhood of Steel power armor - which is woefully missing as an option.


Finally, I give thanks to all my 1up friends – both those on my list and those who just stop by from time to time.  I tried this last paragraph a few times, trying to figure out how best to thank each and every one, but it got a little out of control, and we all know how you kids feel about that pesky wall of text...  So, it suffices to say that I thank all of you guys for being rather cool people.  I don’t have the biggest list of friends on the site, but I like to think that almost all of you stop by here because we all like and respect each other – at least somewhat – and I try to return that as much as possible.  I hope that during the extended Thanksgiving weekend I get a chance to get in some games with any of you guys.  I still feel like Left 4 Dead 2 has been woefully under recognized in my circle of friends, so it’s a priority to fix that.  Even if I don’t get a chance to see everyone online at some point, I hope you all have a great Thanksgiving – or for folks like Fumes, a great Thursday.  With that, I’m off to prepare for the day’s ritual fasting.  I have found that largely avoiding food the Wednesday before the big meal makes me ready to devour much more on Thanksgiving, and there’s really no such thing as “too much turkey with gravy and fresh-made rolls with a small dab of butter”.  It’s true, look it up.

*- From the Late

Let Us Embrace And Ascend!

Let us, for a moment, take time out of our busy days - full of the rat race and blogs-a-day and what-not - to discuss God of War: Ascension.  On one hand, I am a huge God of War fan, but on the other, I'm getting some weird vibes from the newest chapter in the tormented life of Kratos - perhaps the most tormented chapter yet!  YEAH VENGEANCE!

I get it - God of War is no longer hip.  It's one of those games that it now all "QTEs suck" and "Kratos is just all shouts and grunts!"  It's the video game version of JJ Abrams and Len Flare cracks.  Weehoo.  Anyways, what I'm not a fan of is the seemingly endless drilling into Kratos' backstory - with what I assume is any chance possible to justify a guy who is so pissed off that he kills gods.

Let us not forget that to make prequel to the first God of War, you automatically have to match the feats of the first game, if not the other games in the series - and that makes a dangerous feedback loop that really doesn't jive with what unfolds when Kratos sets off to kill Ares.  For one, killing a god in the original game is a nearly impossible feat - an act that requires an epic quest to find and use Pandora's Box.

Yet, in Chains of Olympus, which happens before the first game, Kratos kills Persephone - and, depending on your level of dedication to Greek lore, Kratos at worst kills a demi-god, and at best kills a full-on god prior to going on the impossible mission to take down Ares...  Oh, and he also bests the Titan, Atlas before tackling the Hydra.  Are there special rules regarding killing Gods that we are not privy to?  If you're not Zeus' sibling, are you way easier to kill?  How many other mortals (or, as we now know Kratos as, demi-gods) can run around this world slaying gods - so long as they're D-listers in Olympus?  Suddenly, Kratos' backstory is way more badass than the original game would have you believe.  He walks into God of War with the blood of Olympus on his hands long before Athena sends him after Pandora's Box.

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Okay...  So he's a bit of a dick.

Even God of War 2 (which is my personal fave in the series) keeps the diecide to a strong minimum, with Kratos really only spilling the blood of other characters in Greek mythology.  It isn't until he accidently runs Athena through with the Blade of Olympus that the game scores Kratos' second professional God kill - but is it really second anymore?  Otherwise, he just beats the shit out of Zeus.  Unless, of course, you take into account Ghost of Sparta, which take place between GoW1 and GoW2.  Ghost of Sparta is an excellent game, and possibly second in ranking for favorite GoW games.  It's like the perfect mix of GoW2 and the gameplay elements added in GoW3.  But I digress.  In Ghost of Sparta, Kratos kills Thantos, the God of Death.  The God of Death.  That's some serious shit - but it's before he takes out Athena.  The prequels, at this point, are starting to make the takedown of Ares seem like another day at the office for Kratos - and that's the problem.

If it took Pandora' Box to take out Ares, then how did Kratos muster the power to kill a god prior to acquiring the Box and then do it again as he casted his God status aside to earn a measure of revenge against Thantos?  It either does or does not require The Box and it's power within (Spoiler: Hope is in the Box, and Spoiler: that's fucking lame).  You can't have it both ways.

God of War 3 is a fun game - a great game - full of striking visuals and some satisfying, visceral combat.  However, it's also off-the-rails in it's destuction of Olympus.  What was once an act that would be classified as "futile", Kratos tears gods assunder with almost effortless ease.  His God status is full revoked by the time GoW3 rolls around, so how does he do it?  How does he kill so many fucking gods in GoW3 when it was so unthinkable in GoW1!?  God of War 3 did what it was supposed to do, what everyone expected it to do, and it did it well.  It's hard not to enjoy the way Kratos handles his endless wellspring of angst and torment in the confines of the game, but then came that ending.  Kratos sacrifies himself, he forgives himself, and we as a species are gifted with hope...ugh.  But yeah.

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Ripping a head off.  You never knew it was this easy.

If anything, I'd like to see what comes next, after Kratos drags his bleeding body into the sea.  Specifically, I'd like to see if God of War can tap into the more Christian leanings it's hinted at.  Since God of War 2, I've been very curious about the ways the game hints at Kratos' actions leading into events tied to Christianity.  There's the murals towards the end of GoW 2 that show the fall of Olympus, and lead to a final panel that shows what is clearly the Wise Men following the Star of Bethlehem.  There's also all the ways the death of each god in GoW 3 mirrors a plague descibed in the Bible - darkness, great flood, pestilence, famine, etc.  I do not believe this is coincidence.  Instead, we get Ascension - not just another prequel, but now THE prequel, taking place before any of the other God of War games.  Now we get to see an even more raw nerve in Kratos. I suspect the angle is make him more human - more relatable.  But that's ridiculous.  Kratos is, as Zeus (as the gravedigger) descibes him in Ghost of Sparta - Death...the destroyer of worlds.  The guy singlehandedly tears down an entire infrastructure of Belief.  I can't relate with him - I can only enjoy using him as a means to enjoy some fun gaming.

Also, God of War 3 features a very different Athena.  One that has, herself, ascended.  She appears as a ghost to Kratos, but it's clear that either 1) she's gone bad or 2) she's not really Athena at all.  Her actions at the end of the game are outright bizarre.  I feel like there's more to what unfolded than her fading away after Kratos gives us all that greatest of gifts...sigh...Hope.  I'd like to know what Athena's deal was...

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As a matter of full disclosure, I am buying this game, likely Day One.  That being said, I'm more than concerned about how the game's story is going to unfold.  What more do I need to know about Kratos prior to the events of the first game?  How much more do I have to know about the death of his wife and daughter.  More importantly, how much more is there to know?  How much more can we expand on how Kratos started out on his path of endless vengeance?  Why not go somewhere new, somewhere beyond where we've been before.  The first game did an excellent job of explaining why Kratos is out to kill Ares, and what happened to his family.  I don't know how much more can be told.

Also, as I mentioned, since a new game requires it to deliver bigger and more extreme situations and combat than the last, how does whatever happens in Ascension gel with everything else in the series?  Taking out the Hydra in God of War 1 is a classic moment - as is killing Chronos in God of War 3.  Just bigger and more crazy things to fight and murder.  So what about Ascension?  If Kratos wipes out some skyscraper-sized beast or similar foe in the game, or *sigh* kills another God prior to Ares, that kind of mutes that clash with the Hydra, or the equally impressive battle against the animated Colossus of Rhodes.  "Oh, well I already killed something about 10 times bigger a few years ago, so whatevs."

Also, as a quick aside, can we stop with the alternate weapons?  The Blades of Chaos are all that have ever mattered.  Ascension has a mechanic where you can use the weapons from foes - but why?  Historically, the only good non-Blades weapons in the God of War games are the Nemean Cestus and the Arms of Sparta.  Everything else?  Pointless.

My Last Will And Testament: Volume 1

I, Bannen, being of sound mind and body, declare this to be a portion of my last will and testament.

First off, I'm not dying - at least not of disease or whatever.  That being said, I feel like I need to put something on record regarding my final wishes, and this first one is quite possibly the most important.  Please take note:


I don't know what is with this phenomenon, but it seems to be one that's on the rise, and I don't like it.  Now, if you're someone who feels the need to remember a lost loved on by placing a window decal on your car, so be it.  For me, however, I don't get it.  A death in the family, or among friends, is a fairly personal affair, and it makes no sense to advertise a person's passing in a manner that places it next to Calvin pissing on Osama Bin Laden's head or a half-destroyed NO FEAR sticker.

I don't know the person you're giving tribute to.  I'm willing to bet 99% of the traffic passing by doesn't either - unless your parked at a family reunion picnic.  Yeah, death is sad and my sympathies for the loss, but a window cling?  Really?  Why does everything have to be so public and in-your-face nowadays?  Do you need to let everyone you drive by know this person is gone?  Do you need them to know that you are missing someone dear to you?  Does the departed soul really want their lasting legacy on this earth to be their name immortalized on the back of a PT Cruiser surrounding the image of a giant trout?  The Memorial Window Cling is, to me, akin to a memorial Facebook page ran through the filter of a Spencer's Gifts store - and I want no part of it.

If anything, I think I should be cremated, and my sacred ashes blended with the finest Asian inks, so that I may be tattoo'd into any number of bodies - bodies that I will assume control of once the incantation is complete.  Soon I shall rise again, not as but one, but as many...a seething army that no nation can stop!

That is my last will and testament.  For now.

105 Years?  He really hung in there, didn't he?

* - From the late

Cartoon Contrarian

I respectfully disagree with the outcome of your two current passions crossing paths, Loo...

* - From the late

Gone Dismemberin'

I was feeling inspired...  Enjoy!

*- Post from the late