Gravity Rush

Gravity Rush is probably one of the coolest PS Vita games released yet. It’s innovative, cool, fun, but sadly it ends up being pretty dull in the end. Read the rest of this entry »

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Prometheus

Prometheus is, in case you somehow haven’t heard, a prequel film to Alien. Not a direct prequel, granted (which oddly earned the movie some scorn from reviewers), but I guess an origin story. In fact, I think calling it an origin story is about a million times more accurate, because the movie explains the origins of the Aliens, while the cast attempts to search for the origin and the creation of mankind.

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Goon

I usually don’t like sports movies. It seemed like there was a dark period in filmmaking when every other sports movie was about some underdog team overcoming adversity to win the big championship. Sometimes they were football teams, sometimes they were drum teams (? this is not a thing in Canada, at least that I know of), sometimes they were some kind of newfangled hiphop dance team. The enemy team was always this reprehensible bad team; while the good guys were (typically poor) scrappy underdogs, the bad guys were rich, had plenty of training, and were mean and snooty. It seems like every sports movie made since Remember the Titans was just… a remake of Remember the Titans with different actors and sometimes a different sport.

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Star Wars: The Paradise Snare

I first read Star Wars: The Paradise Snare a little while after it came out, back in 1997. I was just a kid and I thought it was a pretty rad book, all in all. On a whim I picked it up again and gave it another reading. I was sorely disappointed. Read the rest of this entry »


Star Wars: Empire at War

It’s a new Pletteau Feature! The Bargain Bin Review!

Here’s how it works: I dredge the depths of video game stores / Steam looking for cheap games in the $1-$20 range, like games that were once $50-70 and were either very bad or have been out for a long time (and of course, games that have always been cheap). I then review said title, taking into account the quality of game and its price. I pass this information on to you and we are both richer for it.

Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption

Vader’s Super Star Destroyer Executor.

Star Wars: Empire at War is a real-time strategy game that came out in 2006. It is set between episodes III and IV, and lets the player relive some of the greatest moments between those two episodes and further. Later that year, an expansion pack entitled Forces of Corruption was also released (for the full title of Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption). Forces of Corruption added in a third, criminal element: you can play as Tyber Zann, a up-and-coming crime lord and leader of the Zann Consortium. It was developed by Petroglyph Games, a company formed by the last group of Westwood Studios employees (Command and Conquer, anyone?) to leave before Westwood was assimilated into Electronic Arts Los Angeles. Read the rest of this entry »


Brave Doesn’t Look That Good

There, I said it.

Some months back, watching the previews for Brave, I thought to myself, “Christ, another Dreamworks moneygrab.” I was shocked to learn that this is Pixar’s doing.

I’m a big Pixar fan: I was a boy when Toy Story came out and was hooked. I’ve watched most of their offerings and been blown away by most (Wall-E being one of my favourites). A lot of times when (bad looking) movies come out, they’re advertised as being “fun for the whole family”, and typically that’s code for “jokes crude enough to make adults laugh but subtle enough kids won’t get them”. Pixar had managed to make genuinely good “family” films. I’m not going to lie, I teared up like a little baby watching Toy Story 3, and I swear to God, was seconds away from genuinely crying. That’s how good I felt Toy Story 3 was.

Feast your eyes on this!

But there is something I don’t like about what I’m seeing in Brave. I mean, it’s got the crude humour you’ve come to expect from a kid’s movie (but not a Pixar film, I think), and that’s already a turn-off for me. What really bugs me is the “girl empowerment” theme coming from it.

Before moving on, I should clarify: I think women are just as capable as men in almost all areas of life, and vice versa. While I don’t play with Barbies or wear nail polish, it is odd that society deems those two activities as being “lady-like”, and that playing football or video games is a manly activity. I don’t think that there are activities that are, one way or the other, girly or manly. I would argue that men and women certainly think differently and are, due to physiology, better inclined to certain activities (and I would argue that different ways of thinking, for example, are not entirely due to societal constraints), because anyone who tells you men and women are equal are oversimplifying a very complex point. All that said, I don’t need a movie to tell me that girls can do anything boys can do.

And that seems to be the central storyline of Brave. Sure, there’s a witch’s curse (or witches’s? I don’t know how many witches are involved) involved, probably very Macbeth and everything. But the crux of the story seems to be that there’s this girl, destined to be princess, who is fighting societal constraints. She wants to be a warrior, an archer, and not a princess. And maybe marketing is to blame, but it seems like becoming a warrior means giving up her princessiness.

So it feels like we can expect the typical, “oh archery? You’re a girl, girls can’t fire arrows” banter that has come to typify movies about women “breaking out” of their societal constraints. And sure, Brave is a fairy-tale story, so we can assume that where she’s from, they’re not quite as modern in their ways of thinking about women. I get that. But it’s old, overused, and at its core, sexist.

I was discussing this with Tea Leaves and Dog Ears and she pointed out that, at it’s core, saying that there are, activites that are boyish or girly or that one is “breaking” out of these societal norms is in fact, reinforcing them. She’s absolutely right, of course. When a man does something manly, it isn’t exceptional (unless it’s super badass). Only when that act can be classified as girly or wimpy or whatever, is it worth mentioning. The same applies to women. Male actors can have “strong performances”, but never classified as being “strong male leads”. When a woman is a “strong female lead”, it typically means she is not an agent being acted upon but is an actor in the truest sense of the word. She gets shit done, in essence.

But again, this classification implies there is something exceptional about that. And that implies that by being a strong female lead, that actor/character is not being an ordinary female lead, which would be a woman who does womanly things. As long as that classification exists, as long as a woman can “break out” of societal constraints, those societal constraints will continue to exist and if we try to pretend to be enlightened by saying, “oh, there’s nothing wrong with a woman doing manly things” (ie, by continuing to have the term tomboy), we’re just reinforcing the notion that there are womanly things and that there are manly things, when, in truth, there are and should just be, things that people do. As long as Princess Meridia of Brave defies her royal upbringing by doing something that no princess should do (and, let’s face it, in typical storytelling fashion a princess is the epitome of young lady-hood), the story won’t be exceptional or liberating or anything like that. It will just be a story about a woman doing guy things, with the notion that women can do guy things and it’s ok, when the idea should be that anyone can do anything and that tagging a gender stereotype onto an action or lifestyle or whatever is doing as much harm as socially restricting individuals into roles based on their gender.

I will write myself an out, though: Pixar has been able to surprise me just about every time around. Maybe Walt-Disney, best known for reinforcing the princess stereotype (until recently, maybe? I don’t know, to be honest), marketed the movie in an attempt to appear non-sexist and modern. Maybe that’s their target demographic. Or maybe Brave truly is a kid’s movie. I don’t know. The trailers imply what I’ve written and any write-ups I’ve read (and I’ll be honest, I haven’t seen a negative write-up; Brave has made many a “most anticipated movie of 2012” list) seem to follow that too. Maybe, hopefully, Pixar will prove me wrong. Time will tell, I guess.


Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection

Raiden and Snake, together at last!

While it has been out for slightly over a month, I’ve only just now had the chance to get around to playing the re-release of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, and Peace Walker in Konami’s Metal Gear Solid: HD Collection. And, obviously, it’s awesome. It’s a tough thing to review if only because, well, MGS2, 3 and PW are all old news. Sure, they may be some of the finest video games ever made, but we’ve played them. Aside from improved graphics (most notably in 3 and Peace Walker, less so in 2), you’re looking at the exact same games as before (except PW has moved from your PSP and now you can get trophies/achievements for choking guys out). But there are a few things to note for the nerds in the room: you’re playing the expanded editions of each. That’s right, Metal Gear Solid 2: Substance and Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence. That means that in addition to getting two of the greatest video games ever made, you’re also getting a slew of bonus missions, training, and extra content (minus the Skating mini-game for 2 and Snake vs. Monkey in 3). On the other hand, while they have been dramatically improved, the graphics of MGS2 and 3 still show their age.

Before proceeding, however, something needs to be said: Metal Gear Solid 2 is the superior game. It’s tough to say and it’s, I dare say, a wildly unpopular opinion. I’ll run through the two biggest complaints:

Here be spoilers!

1) The story is batshit insane (minor spoilers ahead).

Metal Gear Solid 2 has an insane storyline which seems to involve removing letters from the alphabet, incest, and destroying a financial center, a la Fight Club. Along the way you discover that not only are you a former child soldier and a soldier now with no real training aside from VR training because you’ve repressed your time as a child soldier being raised and taught by none other than John Cygan Canderous Ordo Dash Rendar Solidus Snake, Liquid Snake and Solid Snake’s third, perfect brother, but that the entire mission is another training, VR-esque mission. Also, The Patriots control everything.

Naked Raiden.

2) Raiden.

Hideo Kojima played a really mean trick in 2001. Following, again one of the greatest games ever made (MGS1), we were given fully 3D, slightly-human looking Solid Snake. The first two-three hours of MGS2 are awesome because you’re once again playing the living legend himself. The same badassery and box-wearing shenanigans are back, and it is actually sweet. Then everything goes south and you find yourself in part 2, AKA The Plant chapter. Campbell begins by addressing the player as Snake, and for half a second you’re thinking that somehow, Solid Snake and the Campbell are back together for an awesome mission. Nope. Some wuss responds and within ten minutes you see Raiden in all his douchebaggery. Whether it involves slipping on pigeon crap, getting felt up by an old man (only for him to exclaim “You’re a man?”) or getting urinated on by a guard, you are a running joke for the rest of the game. You don’t even find redemption in the final fight. Regardless of what Raiden has become, his beginnings are pretty sad.

Addressing number one, yes, it is a little nuts but like with any story, if you allow yourself to be pulled in, it becomes believable. And, well, let’s not forget that we’re playing a video game in the first place: it’s not real, anyhow, and striving for realism in what is clearly an unrealistic medium seems kind of silly, no?

Number two is the harder part. Raiden is ultimately a wuss and is a lousy character. He’s whiney and dumb and weak and constantly confused but, in the end, he really is the player. MGS2 touches on this to some extent, but look at it this way: the average video gamer has no actual combat experience. I’ve played tons of war games but I’ve never been to war. I’ve launched nukes and mortars and cannons and fired guns, but not outside of a video game. Like Raiden, we have no combat experience. When we first meet Snake in MGS2 (or even in 1, or even going back to Metal Gear), he has more combat experience than us, period. He is an expert at what he does and his level of ability is far beyond ours. Raiden, though, is relatively unshaped and unmolded. He has a wealth of combat experience, but all of it (save his child warfare stuff) is purely virtual. So when we’re launched into the game as him, we’re going in with that same background of VR training, but nothing real — and even our experience as Raiden is virtual (and while Raiden’s experience is somewhat real, the fact remains that it is all a test by The Patriots, anyway, meant to mimic Shadow Moses). His experience eventually has him ranting at his girlfriend and at the Colonel, saying that “we bleed, we die” and that one needs “something higher” than just the mission to fight for (but what that is, he doesn’t know).

The cutting edge VR training Raiden received while in the Solid Snake Fan Club Boot Camp Class of '07.

What we’re fighting for is, at the start at least, the game. We’re fighting because we’re told by the Colonel, by Konami, by Kojima, to fight. That is our role and our mission. And maybe we turn at some point and start fighting because we want to, not because that’s the mission but to figure out what is going on and try to set things right. In MGS1, Otacon asks Snake “what am I fighting for? What are you fighting for?” Snake enigmatically explains, “if we make it through this, I’ll tell you”. He fights to fight. He fights to survive, he fights to set things right. At the end of MGS1 (and repeated by Snake to Raiden halfway through MGS2), Gray Fox famously says to Snake:

We’re not tools of the government or anyone else. Fighting was the only thing I was good at, but at least I always fought for what I believed in.

Gray Fox, the unsung hero of MGS1

Towards the end of MGS2, we’re expected to decide what to continue fighting for. We can continue the mission, continue playing Kojima’s game as it were, or we can break out and instead fight for the game. While Raiden is our avatar in MGS2 and he ultimately decides to fight for what he believes in, thus forcing us to fight for what Raiden believes in, we can still make the same choice. We can care, or we can beat the game. Of course, as Raiden too finds out, either choice forces you to the same end, though you take a different path. In the end, we gain our VR experience playing as Raiden, while Raiden, insofar as video game characters can have “real” experiences, gains the experience of the Plant chapter as VR mission, as well as beginning to face his inner demons as a child soldier.

This, I think, is the brilliance of MGS2 and of Raiden. There are very few video game characters I hate more than Raiden of the MGS2 era. When the game first came out, I heard people claim that we were supposed to like this unlikable character but I think that’s wrong. Raiden is this bland, by-the-book, no real experience sort of character. We’re expecting a Snake, and we get this wuss. We’re expected to hate him because we all like to think that we’re as tough and as badass as Solid Snake, especially if we have beaten MGS1 a dozen times a dozen different ways. But we’re not, and through MGS2, we’re expected to come to terms with that and even if we don’t ever come to like Raiden, we come to at least understand and not totally hate him.

I will admit that nostalgia does play a small role in my love for that game. My cousin and I rented it the day it came out. I had school the next day but there was a chance, admittedly a small chance but a chance, of an overnight snowstorm. We started it late in the day and eventually cloistered ourselves in a room in the basement. I remember our original playtime came to thirteen hours because we made ridiculous rules such as no restarting through suicide after getting caught and so on. It took what felt like forever. 5 AM or so rolled around and my cousin had to go to work. We were near the end, ready to fight some Metal Gear RAYS. He took off, and I beat the game. I looked outside for the first time in hours and the snow was up several feet. Here in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, even a light dusting of snow stops everything. School was cancelled, I went to sleep. It was one of the best video game playthroughs in my life.

All that said, MGS3 is an absolutely amazing game and I respect the fact that most people would rate it above MGS2 simply because of how excellent a game it is and is worth a critical reading same as MGS2. Peace Walker looks and plays better here on the console than it ever could on the ill-fated PSP as well. It easily had a much thorough overhaul than MGS2 or 3, and while I don’t think it’s as good as either, it is an excellent game.

Pick up MGS: HD Collection if you’ve never played the games or if you have a few hundred hours to kill (assuming you play through more than once). It’s definitely worth it.