Tom Chick

Assassin’s Creed: Origins goes from PC to PS4 in 37 minutes

, | Games

I’ve already invested a fair amount of time in Assassin’s Creed: Origins on the PS4, but I couldn’t resist taking a gander at how it looks on the PC. Hoo boy! What a difference a GTX 1080 makes! “So much for playing on the PS4,” I decided, hunkering down to catch up with where I’d gotten on the PS4. But then three things happened in the 37 minutes I’ve logged on Steam: 1) Bayek doesn’t actually whistle when he whistles for his camel. I just press a key and the camel shows up, as if we have some sort of mind link. I’m uncomfortable with a camel inside my head. Plus, as someone who can’t do that cool pet-summoning whistle in real life, I want my power fantasy avatars to be able to do it. 2) I slew a leopard. Then it’s body melted about a foot into the ground. Which would be no big deal except that the twinkly loot point was also a foot under the ground. Try as I might, I couldn’t get the loot prompt to appear. The upper twinkly bits of the “loot here!” effect danced tantalizingly on the ground, like the leaves of a half-sprouted tuber. But the leopard pelt that I hunted fair and square was beyond my reach. 3) Bayek walks and runs in complete and utter silence. He even swims in silence. There is not so much as a gentle plash. While I concede this is a useful trait for an assassin, I kind of prefer the ambient shuffle of feet as Bayek’s boots pad across the sand. Visual immersion is all good and well, but it sort of falls apart when the sound is messed up.

So it’s back to the PS4, begrudgingly, where none of these three things happens. But now I’m having second thoughts because it’s so much easier to get headshots with a mouse. What’s more, the Destiny inspired inventory and quest screens aren’t so clunky when you’re driving with a mouse. And did I mention how much better it looks? I just have to accept the sad fact that no matter what platform you decide to play on, it’s always going to be an imperfect choice.

Best thing you’ll see all week: Wheelman

, | Movie reviews

Locke is a tough movie to pull off. Just a guy in his car, on the phone, dealing with a personal crisis. Watch him make difficult decisions. Watch him take responsibility for his own bad choices. Watch him troubleshoot his own life. Baby Driver is an easy movie to pull off. A kind-hearted getaway driver getting into car chases, meeting a cute chick, and going on a heist. Watch him drive really fast. Watch him listen to catchy music. Watch him brood furiously into the camera. That Locke works and Baby Driver doesn’t speaks volumes about the difference between Tom Hardy and Ansel Elgort.

Wheelman is a little of both. It accepts the challenges of Locke, but embraces the simplicity of Baby Driver. One of its smartest choices is putting Frank Grillo in the driver’s seat. Visually, he’s ideal leading man material. That immaculately unshaved jawline, those intense sunken eyes, that wild hair refusing to behave. As an actor, he’s got just the right mix of hardened tough guy and soft-hearted dad. He’s the city and the suburbs, Hollywood and Sundance, drinking buddy and heartthrob. And he’s finally got a whole movie to himself, literally in the driver’s seat. A lesser movie would have made this about a tough criminal. But Wheelman insists on also being about a father, which gives the movie a lighter touch and ultimately a ton of heart. By the time it’s over — about ten minutes too late, but it’s earned a lot of goodwill by then — Wheelman is more Locke than Baby Driver. Daddy Driver.

First-timer Jeremy Rush shows fine instincts by shooting the movie with the same intimacy as Locke. Contrast this to a structurally similar movie called Getaway, which stays with Ethan Hawke as he drives through a souped-up thriller, which gets splashier and sillier the longer it goes on. Selena Gomez is along for the ride, which tells you all you need to know about Getaway. But Wheelman knows a car going fast is never as cool as a car going fast driven by someone you care about. Add someone who matters to the passenger seat and now you’re giving Locke a run for its money.

Gremlins Inc founds a new colony

, | News

The board for Gremlins Inc looks like a swirly looping mess of random spaces. Until you play the game and discover that it’s not. Clockwork Town is a very specific place with a specific layout with specific gameplay implication. It has a hard-to-reach Heaven, a Hell just a short jaunt off the beaten path, and a progression from the courthouse to the treasure vault to the bank to the office. The newly released prisoner will find himself approaching the casino, and he won’t get to the marketplace anytime soon. Like the board for any boardgame, it reveals patterns as you played it. It rewards you as you pay attention to it. It has geography.

Now it also has company. Continue reading →

Zen Studios and Pinball FX3 decide zen is not enough

, | Game reviews

Since the dawn of time, pinball machines have been all about the high scores. When you play, you’re trying to get a higher score than you’ve ever gotten. Otherwise, your time is wasted. Too bad. Hope you enjoyed the laid back zen of that ball doing its thing. Because now you have nothing to show for your efforts but a pocket a few quarters lighter. Or, in the case of virtual pinball, less time to spend leveling up a Diablo III character.

The Pinball FX developers at Zen Studios are about to ruin all that. Continue reading →

Offworld Trading Company gets totes adorbs

, | News

Just because you’re a Serious Thinking Man Strategy Game About Supply and Demand doesn’t mean you can’t goof around. For all its hardcore cred, Offworld Trading Company has no compunction about using cute cartoony artwork for the factions in its superlative dynamic campaign mode (seriously, if you’re afraid of Offworld Trading Company because you took a creative writing class instead of Econ 101 in college, just click on Single Player Campaign already). But now it’s taking some of that charm and whimsy planetside, front and center, smack dab in the middle of the gameplay. Today’s Conspicuous Consumption DLC — I guess the name Mars Party Pack was already taken — lets you swap in new versions of some of the buildings.

Hacker Array: Enjoy a “Las Vegas” feel with a roulette wheel or embrace the retro style with an old radio tower.
Offworld Market: Send your goods offworld in a giant popsicle or a sleek retro rocket.
Optimization Center: Burst some bubbles with a bubble machine or conduct some electricity with a massive Tesla coil.
Patent Lab: Research patents inside a giant Rubik’s cube or a sci-fi robot head.
Pleasure Dome: Dance off inside a fun time disco ball or skip the dancing in a neon diner.

Sure, it’s $3 DLC. But you know you’ve spent more than that on League of Legends skins.

Forrest MacNeil’s Review. Is it any good?

, | TV reviews

I can go on at length about the difference between reviewers and critics. Seriously, don’t get me started. Suffice to say, one of them makes a worthwhile contribution. The other is just kind of there to little effect, hardly more than another number stirred into an aggregate. I know which one I hope to be, but I also have enough healthy self-doubt to suspect which one I usually am.

So Review is particularly relevant to me as a mean-spirited jeer at the futility of evaluating experiences in isolation instead of actually experiencing them in context. This Comedy Central series just wrapped a third and supposedly final season earlier this year. But is it any good?

Continue reading →

Best thing you’ll see all week: Happy Hunting

, | Movie reviews

Let’s talk people lost in a desert, literally and metaphorically. In recent movies, there’s Ana Lily Amirpour’s The Bad Batch, in which the lovely Suki Waterhouse is exiled into a morally parched wasteland to learn hard lessons about revenge, cannibalism, and family values. It’s a deliriously messy swirl of post-apocalyptic aesthetics with a fantastic female lead. Waterhouse holds her own against Jason Momoa, Jim Carrey, and even Keanu Reeves struggling with some of the worst dialogue since Point Break. Mad Maxine. There’s also Grave Encounters director Colin Minihan’s It Stains the Sands Red, one of those rare horror movies more concerned with character development than horror. It’s a wickedly clever variation on the buddy road trip, with zombie mythology standing in for a woman’s bad choices constantly two steps behind her. Brittany Allen’s comedic but poignant performance drives the movie across the desert through sheer force of will, with a little help from vodka and cocaine.

These are both uneven movies, definitely worth watching, but neither comes together as well as Happy Hunting.
Continue reading →