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Another year, another Call of Duty. This time in space. Which looks an awful like like Halo, which has come to look an awful lot like Call of Duty, which Gears of War now more closely resembles, and so on. They’re all starting to run together for me. Over the weekend, me and a friend couldn’t recall, for the life of us, which Call of Duty had the dog. Ghost? Black Ops II? The one with the exoskeletons? If there’s one thing Activision knows, it’s how to give the people what they want. Which is apparently more of what they’ve already had.

Also, what an awful cover of Space Oddity. Couldn’t they at least have waited until Bowie was dead a little longer?

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare will be out on November 4th.

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, | Game reviews
Offworld_Trading_Company_review

M.U.L.E. was Dani Bunten’s ingenious commodities-driven deathmatch bidding arena. I didn’t play it when it came out in 1983, because it wasn’t on the Apple II. I didn’t even know what it was back then. It wasn’t until many years later that I finally tried it with some friends. In the same room, of course. That’s how all games worked back then. I figured we’d try it, although I thought we were in for the strategy game equivalent of Pong. No one wants to play Pong ever again, just like no one wants to gin his own cotton, read Beowulf on a long flight, or hang up a poster of the Bayeux Tapestry in his living room. Pong is a musty relic with no modern relevance beyond its role in videogame history. That’s what I figured was going on with M.U.L.E.

But it turned out M.U.L.E. was (and still is) an amazing game. Sure, it’s ugly. Good graphics hadn’t been invented back in 1983. But Bunten managed a simple — not simplistic! — player-driven cutthroat economy based on real estate, commodities, and auctions. God, I’m making it sound boring, I know. But it’s really not. It’s really, really not. M.U.L.E. is freakishly before-its-time game design, as if someone had made the movie Casablanca at the moment the daguerreotype had been invented. The only reason you’re not playing M.U.L.E. today, in some form or another, is because the videogame industry — really, it was more of a scene at that point — was about to explode based on Doom’s appeal to adolescent male power fantasies learned from action movies. It would take a while before the rest of the world discovered what we were up to, and by that time, Sid Meier and Will Wright had carved out their own niche where Dani Bunten’s work would have been.

But M.U.L.E. is a nearly unrivaled work of game design genius that will hold up if you gather four friends around a single screen. Sure, some of it is dated. You play it with joysticks, for Pete’s sake. We don’t even have those anymore! But the design is timeless.

After the jump, if it kicks like a M.U.L.E… Continue reading →

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, | Game reviews
The_Next_World_review

I don’t mind that The Next World bills itself as a strategy visual novel, but has precious little strategy, or even that it makes what little strategy it has surprisingly opaque. I don’t mind that it uses the sort of simple artwork you’d find in an indie comic book or a JRPG with a meager budget. Frankly, I don’t even mind that the writing is mediocre, on par with your garden-variety young adult fiction. “Nice wheels,” exclaims one of the survivors when she sees a salvaged scout rover roll up. Just that morning, she lived through a crash that killed hundreds of her spaceship’s crew and stranded the survivors on a barren planet without a breathable atmosphere with nothing but the air in their EVA suits. Odds are she’ll be dead before the night is over. So, nice wheels. Not “sweet ride”, or “bitchin’ buggy”, or “let’s live our lives a quarter mile at a time”? Nice wheels. Like I said, no worse than your usual young adult fiction or Mass Effect game. You can romance her later if you want. Just pick the “flirt” option.

I don’t mind these things because The Next World tells a story that makes me wonder what’s going to happen next. It opens with the desperate survivors of a crash milling about on the sand of a strange land, struggling with who to put in charge, how to survive, what this place is, and how they got there. To The Next World’s credit, the answers aren’t Jack, by finding a bunker, limbo, and something something Dharma Initiative something EMP blast something. For all its similarities to a certain TV show, this story has a sense of focus, and a plot that methodically unfolds, one beat at a time, with a clear sense of direction. These are no randomly spun out episodes. This isn’t an emergent narrative. This is a game that’s far too brittle for the King of Dragon Pass comparisons I’ve seen. What happens next is something the writers have wanted to tell me all along. This is, after all, a visual novel.

After the jump, then why haven’t I found out what happens next? Continue reading →

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Interstellar_soundtrack

You might not know Christopher Tin’s name. But I’ll bet you dollars to donuts you know Baba Yetu, an original piece of music he wrote for Civilization IV. The Lord’s Prayer translated into Swahili and set to a joyous African tribal beat says everything you need to know about civilization. The game and the actual thing.

But Tin was just getting warmed up. Take a moment to listen to Red Planet Nocturne, which he wrote for Offworld Trading Company. It begins with a raindrop patter that reminds me of the soundtrack by David Wingo for a movie called Take Shelter. But it then goes to its own places. What an evocative and poignant piece of music. Although I don’t quite feel how it connects to the game yet — I’ve been playing a music-less Offworld Trading Company for so long now — it assures I won’t be moving down the slider for music on the audio tab. On the contrary, I’m running the game in the background right now to hear the rest of Tin’s music. Would it be too hasty to put it alongside other iconic and haunting sci-fi soundtracks? Clint Mansell for Moon, John Murphy for Sunshine, Vangelis for Blade Runner, Hans Zimmer for Interstellar, Steven Price for Gravity, and Christopher Tin for Offworld Trading Company. Yeah, that list looks about right.

You can read Tin’s comments about the soundtrack here. Offworld Trading Company will be released on Thursday.

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PvZ_Garden_Warfare_2_minions

You don’t have to take my word for it that Garden Warfare 2 is the best thing to happen to shooters since Epic let us play Unreal with bots instead of other people. Now you can find out for yourself for the price of whatever bandwidth is takes to download a 20GB install. From EA’s announcement:

To get started for free now, download the game from Xbox Marketplace, PlayStation Store, or Origin.com. Players who wish to continue the epic battle after their trial can purchase the full game and keep all of their progress, unlocks, and achievements.

It’s a pretty insidious trick. They’re confident — and I’m inclined to agree — that once you invest ten hours in this thing and see what it has to offer, you’ll be willing to pay the $60 (!) for hours eleven plus.

This is something Electronic Arts obviously won’t do when a game is brand new. I suspect they’re watching the data closely for a carefully calculated point where the sales taper off. That’s when they swoop in with the ol’ “first taste is free” trick. Could this be a reaction to Steam’s refund policy, which many folks interpret as a tacit try-before-you-buy offer? Whatever the case, it’s encouraging to see consumer-friendly trends like this taking hold.

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, | Game reviews
Booty_review

Someone has gotten up to make a phone call real quick. Someone else is looking up a rule. Do you need to roll equal to or greater than? He could have sworn it was on this page, but he’s not seeing it. The two guys across the table are talking about the Star Wars movie again. I can’t believe they don’t know what a luggabeast is called, so I get into the conversation. When the guy making the phone call comes back to take his turn, he just sits there and stares at his cards. Why isn’t he taking his turn? I eventually realize that they’re looking at me expectantly.

“Oh, is it my turn?”

A cardinal sin in a boardgame is wasting my time. A $200 game that isn’t very good is one thing. But a game that recreates what I do in line at the supermarket, in my dentist’s office, and when the 405 is jammed up? Indefensible. Games should not be about waiting. Ideally, a game will always keep everyone involved. One of my favorite solutions to the “oh is it my turn?” problem is Booty.

After the jump, Booty call, y’all Continue reading →

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, | Movie reviews
Creative_Control_review

Written, directed, and starring the same person? Rarely a good sign. Sure, there are exceptions. But this is almost always a red flag. At least Creative Control’s stoatfur sleek black-and-white aesthetic and mostly unridiculous futuristic computer interfaces are eye candy for director/writer/leading man Benjamin Dickonson’s vanity project.

But a funny thing happens while you’re enjoying the tastefully restrained effects work. Dickinson might be admiring himself in the mirror, but he doesn’t expect us to join him. He’s not patting himself on the back. On the contrary, he’s spearheading a cast of flawed unlikable characters. In addition to his own weaselly ad executive, there are his wife, his best friend, and his mistress. They’re played by Nora Zehetner, the femme fatale from Brick shedding any sign of her shrewdness from that movie; a delightfully miscast Dan Gill wallowing in his role; and the flickering almond-eyed faux flawlessness of Alexia Rasmussen.

Although it’s a character drama, Creative Control is squarely sci-fi. It shares similarities with Spike Jonze’s Her, which was beautiful and heartfelt, but entirely hypothetical. We can only relate elliptically to someone falling in love with his operating system. Her is a parable about being in love with an ideal or a fantasy, and Creative Control wants to tell that same story. But whereas Her was perhaps a celebration of that love and its very real power, Creative Control has a more cynical take. Dickinson is no dreamer like Jonze. To him, technology makes it easier for us to be weak.

The more direct comparison for Creative Control is Jesse Armstrong’s brilliant The Entire History of You from the BBC anthology, Black Mirror. Creative Control doesn’t hit as hard as The Entire History of You. It’s not a punch to the gut. It doesn’t damn us quite so strongly as Armstrong’s vision of the future where we’re all doomed by our foibles, our insecurities, our weaknesses. Creative Control is a playful sock on the arm. But they’re both stories about about how the more things change, the more people are still assholes.

Creative Control is available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.

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Red_Dead_Redemption_maps

Ever since an alleged development map for Read Dead Redemption was posted and then hastily pulled from gaming forum NeoGAF, fans of the series — which is just another way to say “people who play videogames” — have been atwitter with excitement about the possibility of a sequel in development at Rockstar. The map was a bit blurry, but it seems the lower left corner overlaps with the upper right corner of the original map, a place called West Elizabeth. The implication is that a sequel will implore us to go northeast, young man.

One of the members of our forum (you can call him Mr. Tibbs) has peered at the leaked map, deciphered the text as best as he can, peered some more, and put some hard work and borderline obsessive fandom into assembling a map brimming with detail, neatly fitting the leaked map alongside the previous game’s map. So for a lovingly intricate overview of the world of the two most recent Red Dead games, have a look at Mr. Tibbs spectacular cartography after the jump.

After the jump, charting uncharted terrain Continue reading →

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, | Movie reviews
Green_Room_review

Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin was a slow burn about the conflict between ruthless people and people who haven’t yet learned to be ruthless, but they’re getting there. His latest movie, Green Room, is the same thing, but without the slow. Green Room gets right to the burn and sustains it with the intensity of white phosphorous. This might sting a little. As Saulnier lets loose with bullets, fangs, and blades, Green Room isn’t shy about painting the walls red. Startlingly good effects remind us of the unpleasant fact that we’re all just flesh.

The basic story isn’t unusual. Events A, then B, then C roll out almost like clockwork (although the strangely poignant Y followed by the absurd Z are sure signs of Saulnier’s talent). You’ve seen this set-up before. What you haven’t seen is these people rolling out these events in this place. Saulnier has described Green Room as punk war horror, which has a “you got peanut butter in my chocolate” feel. It’s a bit like Bone Tomahawk, another recent horror hybrid. And like Bone Tomahawk, it’s not afraid to unleash brutality on characters you’ve come to care about.

These character are a group of likable young slackers. Yeah, they’re in a punk band, but don’t hold that against them. They seem like the kind of kids who are smart and well-intentioned enough to eventually grow out of it. You already know Anton Yelchin from Star Trek and Alia Shawkat from Arrested Development. Imogen Poots might be hard to recognize under that bad haircut. You’ll meet an actor named Joe Cole, who I’d seen trapped underwater with Danny Huston and Matthew Goode in a movie called Pressure. I hope to see more of Cole. A handful of really good character actors — including Macon Blair from Blue Ruin — fill in the blanks admirably. Patrick Stewart makes a chillingly effective ringleader presiding over the hardcore grand guignol.

Saulnier’s concept of what evil lurks in Oregon’s forests is like a nightmare version of Kelly Reichardt’s movies, which suggest Oregon as place populated by conflicted but mostly decent people, a little too smart for their own good. You don’t expect Green Room to happen in this laid back wet chill. You’d expect it in the open desert where the heat drives people mad or in remote jungles far from the taming influence of civilization. This must be what it was like when people went to theaters in 1972 to see an adventure movie about some guys going canoeing for a weekend. Little did they know they were about to watch Deliverance.

Green Room is currently in limited release. It opens wide on April 29.

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Aliens_vs_Pinball_announcement

Zen Studios’ latest pinball tables have been mostly bright colorful affairs full of fluttering cheerfulness, swashbuckling, derring-do, adventure, and other qualities befitting a company enjoying lots of success with Disney properties like Star Wars and Marvel. I shouldn’t complain given the embarrassment of riches we’ve enjoyed, but even a set of Force Awakened tables couldn’t hold my interest for long. Given that Force Awakened is itself an homage to original Star Wars, the Force Awakened tables aren’t that far removed from what we’ve already got. If I’m going to pull a plunger and Star Wars it, I’d just as soon work on my scores for the Empire Strikes Back, Starfighter Assault, or Boba Fett tables.

But now Zen is working with a whole new studio and a whole new tone. Aliens vs Pinball — cute title, that — will include three tables. From the announcement:

* Join Ellen Ripley as she confronts her nightmares and help the Colonial Marines rid LV-426 of its Alien infestation in Aliens Pinball
* Watch out for the merciless Alien stalking you on the Alien: Isolation pinball table
* Defeat Xenomorphs and rise in Yautja society on the Alien vs. Predator table

Considering what a fantastic job Creative Assembly did with Alien: Isolation in every area but gameplay, I’m even looking forward to that table. You can get a good long look at the Aliens Pinball table in this trailer. More importantly, you can listen to it. Those aren’t voice actors trying to sound like characters from the movie. Those are actual lines from the actual actors from the actual movie.

Aliens vs Pinball will be available on April 26th, which is Alien Day, of course. You knew that, right? Alien Day? Because April 26th is 4/26. 426, you know. As in LV-426. Don’t worry, I had to look that up myself. It will be released on all non-Nintendo platforms. Until Zen lets me rebind the flippers to anything other than the Playstation controller’s mushy shoulder buttons, you’ll find my high scores on the Vita.

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