, | News
Pinball_FX_Xbox_One_backwards_compatible

When Zen Studios announced that all your tables on the Xbox 360 were going to languish in last-gen obscurity and you’d have to rebuy them for your Xbox One, it was like that moment when you see the ball teetering into the far lane leading to the drain. Play the sad trombone effect. And if you’re like me, you converted all your Zen Pinball habits to the Sony ecosystem while flipping Microsoft the bird. Maybe you even sulked about it online.

And guess what happened:

Microsoft and Zen Studios have taken your feedback to heart, and seeing that many of you were very upset with the news that table transfers between Xbox 360 and Xbox One would not be happening, we have some good news for you! We will be able to implement table transfers on Xbox One starting from Pinball FX2′s launch. Any available table on Xbox One that was previously purchased for Xbox 360 can be imported to the new version free of charge.

Well, there is one small price to pay. The launch of Pinball FX2 on the Xbox One will be delayed until next month.

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, | Movie podcasts
HERCULES

Dwayne Johnson attempts the Herculean task of starring in a Brett Ratner movie. At the 53-minute mark, we put ourselves behind the 8-ball and come up with our favorite pool table scenes in movies.

Next week: Guardians of the Galaxy

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, | Movie reviews
Lucy_review

Luc Besson loves stories about powerful women. A Luc Besson heroine starts deceptively vulnerable and becomes almost transcendently powerful. Le Femme Leeloo. Lucy is in that same tradition, with all the hallmarks of a Luc Besson movie on display. Flashy, fast, sexy, very international. But unlike Besson’s other movies, there’s a kind of maturity to Lucy. This is a Luc Besson movie made by someone who’s been contemplating his own mortality and has decided that fight choreography will only get you so far. This is a Luc Besson movie that wants to consider the questions you’d expect from Terence Malick and Stanley Kubrick. And, believe it or not, this is a Luc Besson movie that does exactly that in the context of his usual flashy, fast, sexy, very international action. Like Joe Wright’s Hanna, Lucy is a thriller that isn’t content just to thrill. It has something to say.

What it says is profoundly humanistic, down to a cellular level. When Morgan Freeman, once again playing the sum of all Freemans, is offered the power of all-seeing knowledge, he says to Lucy exactly what he said to Bruce Wayne when Bruce Wayne made the same offer. “Look,” Freeman says, his wise eyes twinkling with concern and benevolence, in that order, “humanity can’t handle knowledge and it will just lead to chaos.” Bruce Wayne agreed, so he told Morgan Freeman to just delete everything. But Lucy, who can see further, deeper, and wider than Bruce Wayne or Morgan Freeman, says what anyone with youth and a liberal arts education will also tell you. “No. Ignorance breed chaos. Not knowledge.” Neil Degrasse Tyson would be proud. I know I was, even if I’m more of a Bruce Wayne myself. But this is Luc Besson’s story. This is what he wants to say. This is where he’s ended up after contemplating his own mortality.

As an action movie, Lucy is a glorious videogame in god mode. Fans of Watch Dogs and Saints Row IV will thrill to Besson’s batshit crazy set pieces as he raises the stakes higher and higher, breaking rules and even subverting his own tropes. Besson loves nothing quite so much as squeezing a ton of heavily armed thugs through a narrow corridor, basically spraying them at the protagonist as if from a firehose. He can’t resist doing the same thing in Lucy, but then breaking his own rules. Lucy is a superhero movie without the burden of a license. The IP here is humanity, evolution, the rational miracle of life, all billion years of it. It is Ken Russell’s Altered States meets Joss Whedon’s Avengers.

Like Under the Skin and Her, two other mind-blowing movies anchored by arresting Scarlett Johansson performances, Lucy is smart and sexy science fiction about what it means to be human. Lucy begins in progress and utterly mundane, with Johansson as an overseas student having an argument with her boyfriend. Who are they? Where are they? What are they doing? Why are they doing it? Why is the scene playfully intercut with that footage? What’s in the briefcase? What does Morgan Freeman’s character and carefully staged lecture have to do with any of this? It’s a puzzle that comes together neatly, and the final reveal — Lucy has the confidence to provide an Answer — makes this the most sophisticated and satisfying movie Besson has made. Does every filmmaker want to be Stanley Kubrick? If only every filmmaker was this capable of channeling Kubrick while still retaining his own identity.

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, | Game reviews
mud_everywhere

Most driving games are about speed. The idea is that if you’re not going fast, you’re not having fun. Fair enough. That’s a pretty safe approach. So speed is the basic currency in a driving game.

But what Spintires presupposes is, what if it’s not? The foundation for Spintires, literally and figuratively, is mud. The developers at Oovee have built an offroad diving game around the physics of sucking squelching goddamnable tire-drinking mud. At first, I thought the name Spintires was dumb. I kept wanting to write it “Sprintires”, but that makes even less sense in the context of this game. In this game, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself on a patch of paved road. Spintires is about roads that sometimes aren’t even roads. Oh, wait, I’ve been driving along some sort of wash or gully and someplace where there aren’t any trees for whatever reason. Let’s see, on the map, it looks like this leads to, uh, someplace I haven’t explored, so I have no idea. Let’s see what’s up there.

After the jump, where we’re going, we don’t need roads. Continue reading →

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, | News
Wargame_Red_Dragon_ships

In case you’re playing Wargame: Red Dragon as a slightly upgraded version of Wargame: AirLand Battle, developer Eugen wants to remind you that there are ships in there. So today’s free “Millionth Mile” update, which adds more than 60 new units for the Eastern bloc powers (sorry other side of the Iron Curtain!), also adds very special trucks that will be useful if your opponent is playing with naval units.

…The Millionth Mile also introduces a brand new kind of unit, in the form of an AShM (anti-ship missile!) truck carrier. These units, whose main function is to engage ships over long distances from the land, increase the tactical depth of the game while redefining Wargame’s naval warfare!

Frankly, I find playing on maps composed entirely of land redefines Wargame’s naval warfare just fine.

You can read my anti-ship review here.

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, | Movie reviews
Wolf_Creek_2

Australian director Greg McLean knocked it out of the park with Wolf Creek, an insidiously cruel slasher movie that unfurled like a cross between Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Road Warrior. You could tell from how weirdly paced it was, from its odd structure, that McLean didn’t want to play by the usual movie rules. You might have even been able to tell that he has a background in theater. But then he made a turgid killer alligator movie starring Sam Worthington. Guess how that turned out. So now he’s returned to his previous inspiration with Wolf Creek 2, but I’m afraid we’ve lost whatever creative genius went into Wolf Creek 1.

Like most horror franchises, Wolf Creek 2′s only continuity concern is with its killer, an avuncular but murderous outback redneck meticulously drawled to life by John Jarratt. But this time, the character is played for comedy. He manages to insinuate himself into some absurdly over-the-top situations involving shotguns, meat cleavers, hurtling semis, and kindly old people. It all gets lodged somewhere between funny and gruesome, but it’s not particularly effective as either.

There is, however, one prolonged sequence worth watching. If you’re not paying attention, you might mistake it for torture porn, along the lines of the sickeningly crass Israeli trash Big Bad Wolves (the worst thing you’ll see all month). Jarratt and an actor named Ryan Corr engage in some mental cat-and-mouse, dancing a lovely waltz back and forth across the cultural line between Australia and the U.K. Being an American, I think I only understood about two thirds of it. But I can imagine how well it plays in Perth! McClean’s script comes alive as Jarratt and Corr play off each other, eyeing one another with wonder and horror. Furthermore, McLean demonstrates his theater chops by letting the actors do their dance without a lot of extra business. It would have made a fantastic stage play. Early Stuart Gordon would have been proud!

Wolf Creek 2 is currently available from Netflix instant view and other fine purveyors of trashy horror.

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, | Games
FarmingSimulator15_logging

Everything you’re about to read is written entirely in earnest. I am 100% sincere and unironic when I say I’m superpsyched for Farming Simulator 15. I haven’t played any of the previous 14 farming simulators. But as a longtime Harvest Moon fan (with the stuffed cow to prove it!) who fondly recalls SimFarm and who has since spent his share of wasted time picking crops in various free-to-play farming boondoggles on Facebook and whatnot, I can appreciate the appeal of laid back agrarian gameplay.

I’ve been indulging this most recently with the curiously sedate but curiously engaging laid back country road gameplay of Euro Truck Simulator 2. Here’s me, hauling 20 tons of sand to Lodz, listening to Led Zeppelin IV on the ingame radio, using my turn signal when I switch lanes just because. I don’t get any points for using the turn signal, but I do it anyway because this is that kind of game. “I’m waiting for the angels of Avalon,” I murmur, “waiting for the eastern glow…” I’m already mentally preparing a playlist for Farming Simulator 15.

Farming Simulator 15 has a bunch of new features, but none of that means anything to me, since even the old features will be new to me. To wit:

…face the daily challenges of a modern farmer as you grow crops, sell produce, rear livestock and manage and develop your own farming complex in two immense open worlds.

But the really prominent bullet point is that Farming Simulator 15 adds logging!

You can now manage forested areas in the game environment using a range of new vehicles and machines designed specifically for this activity: harvesters, chain saws, chippers and even trailers.

Farming Simulator 15 is out in October on the PC. This-gen and next-gen consoles get their turn sometime in 2015.

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, | Movie podcasts
Purge_Anarchy_podcast

What if one night a year, you had to listen to three guys talk about The Purge: Anarchy? That’s the premise of this podcast, except for the bit about one night a year. At the 52-minute mark, we direct you to our discussion of directors playing actors.

Next week: Hercules

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, | Movie reviews
Homefront_review

The trick with Jason Statham is mixing him into a movie in the appropriate amount. Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels was his first movie, but Guy Ritchie can turn anything English into an energetic powerhouse (he could make Prince Charles light up the screen). In the Transporter movies with their goofy European excess and the Crank movies with their goofy American excess, Statham could just tense up his abs and clench his jaw while the movies happened around him. I think Statham is one of the guys in those aptly named Expendables movies, but really, who can keep track of those casts?

A few movie makers have had the idea that Statham can carry a movie. He can’t. He has two expressions. The first is “I’m about to kick your ass”. The second is “I just kicked your ass”. They’re mostly the same expression, but the first one pretends to be a bit more relaxed. So to make a Jason Statham movie, you have to surround him with a solid cast to handle the acting part of the movie. This is where Homefront is probably the best Statham movie in a string of forgettable and easily confused titles like Redemption, Safe, and Parker (Parker is actually pretty good, but it leans way too heavily on Statham). Homefront mostly works because nearly every scene has someone else doing the acting. Rachel Lefevre and her glorious red ringlets. Clancy Brown as a sheriff with his hand perched on his gunbelt. Frank Grillo in an all-too-brief appearance as a biker assassin. A wonderfully hardened Winona Ryder as our Lady MacBeth. An appropriately gaunt and effectively shrill Kate Bosworth. A really good child actor named Izabela Vidovic who performs circles around Statham. And, of course, James Franco and that weird gleam in his eye. The Franco/Statham showdown is great for how Franco prevails so completely that when it comes time for Statham to kick his ass at the end of the movie, he uses Franco’s own zingers against him. Every single one of them. He remembered each insult because they obviously stung. Franco may be getting his ass kicked, but you can tell Statham knows he totally got pwned.

Statham’s best performance is in a movie called London, in which he and Chris Evans spend most of the movie locked in the bathroom at a party, snorting coke and venting their respective insecurities. Statham has the monologue of his career. He confesses — nay, proclaims! — that he suffers from erectile dysfunction. He commits to the monologue like he has never committed before or since, combining both of his expressions in new ways because he knows there aren’t going to be any fight scenes.

Homefront is a bog-standard (literally!) thriller of one good man vs a bunch of bad buys, but its concept of America is lovingly lit Norman Rockwell settings inhabited by meth-addled white trash. “Rednecks,” the movie’s noble black character mutters at one point. It’s based on a novel, but you can clearly see its development as a Sylvester Stallone project that he personally adapted (at one point as another chapter in the Rambo saga), but was unable to get going until he was too old to play the lead. So in steps Statham, trying not to keep his jaw clenched too tightly while everyone acts around him. He knows there’s a fight scene coming up.

Homefront is available on Netflix’s instant watch service, as well as plenty of other places.

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, | Movie podcasts
Dawn_podcast

It would take three monkeys put into one podcast for one hour to arrive at the same conclusions as us regarding the latest Planet of the Apes movie. At the one-hour mark, this week’s 3×3 calculates our favorite uses of math in movies.

Next week: Anarchy: The Purge

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, | Game reviews
Reign_of_Missiles_review

I bought A Reign of Missiles, a solitaire game, a year or so ago based on a tip from a friend. It didn’t make much an impression at the time, but I admired its attempt to model a very specific situation. Namely, the reaction of Israel to rocket attacks launched out of the Gaza Strip in 2012. That’s not an easy thing to game for various reasons, among them that it’s a very current event, a very divisive current event, and a not very gameworthy divisive current event. But A Reign of Missiles enjoys the unique luxury of small projects no one has heard of. I don’t intend that as an insult. Indie flags fly like no other flags.

As the conflict between Israel and Hamas has escalated over the past month, and now that it has once again re-ignited into an exchange of rockets from Hamas and air strikes from Israel and ground forces poised to raise the stakes even further, I returned to A Reign of Missiles for a closer look (i.e. I actually cut out the counters and played it a few times). What can we learn about the conflict between Israel and Hamas from playing this solitaire tabletop game?

After the jump, are you kidding? Continue reading →

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, | Games
Mario_workings_fast_food

You’re playing too much Mario Kart 8 when you look at the above photo of a Mario Kart 8 event at a Los Angeles McDonalds to promote Nintendo-themed Happy Meals and the second thing you think is “you know, those kids might be getting extra top speed by equipping the slick tires, but they’re really sacrificing traction and acceleration, so they should consider swapping them out for sponge wheels, or maybe rollers, depending on the track”.

Of course, the first thing you think is, “man, Mario is really creepy as a life-sized fast food worker”.

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, | Game reviews
Caverna_review

Uwe Rosenberg’s Agricola is a classic boardgame for many reasons. It’s easy to learn, yet it’s wildly varied. It’s charming enough to play with your family, yet it’s brutal enough to play with your buddies. It’s a beautiful piece of work, with solid pieces, hearty boards, cute cards, and a distinct autumnal palette. Quick, what color is Agricola? You know you said orange.

However, Agricola has worked its way to the back of my closet with the rest of my infrequently played games. And I know precisely why. It suffers from what I call “the reed problem”. Caverna, the latest game from Rosenberg and an obvious follow-up to Agricola, handily sidesteps the reed problem, and furthermore fixes a lot of Agricola’s shortcomings. I fear that my copy of Agricola will never make its way to the front of the closet.

After the jump, a much needed de-reeding. Continue reading →

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, | News
Ragha

Ragha is a dual kingdom of fire and ice, rage and serenity. Half of the population are Abysian descendants from the isolated colony of Tur, and half the population are Airyan refugees from Caelum.

So here’s the deal. A bunch of fire warriors get attacked by some flying ice people. But then a civil war breaks out in the homeland of the flying ice people, so the attackers aren’t sure if the war is still on. While they’re waiting on the civil war to shake out, they settle peacefully alongside the fire warriors they were attacking. Many years later, the result is the Ragha, a mixed race of fire and ice people where the rulers take turns based on whether it’s summer or winter. Bipartisan politics at its finest!

The Ragha thrive differently in either extreme of temperatures, and you can play them in Dominions 4. Some of their units can only be recruited in places where it’s really hot or really cold. “Wrong temperature” the tooltip says as you go down the line checking which units you can build.

The Ragha are available as a free update to Dominions 4.

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, | Games podcasts
Wildstar_podcast

Fellow Wildstar reviewer Phil Kollar from Polygon joins me for a conversation about a game he likes that I don’t like. We discuss what works, what doesn’t work, what are the unique challenges when reviewing a target as vast and changing as an MMO, and do you really have to be a fan of Animal Crossing to be into Wildstar’s housing?

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