More Lazy Semi-Reviews

The Interview (2014):

Finally saw The Interview and it was shit. I don’t understand how anyone, let alone the film’s creators, can call it a satire. The only time the movie approaches cleverness is when James Franco’s character gets manipulated by Kim Jung-Un, a commentary on how the media can be deftly used by those in power, but, then again, the movie goes about this rather poorly. And the only real funny moments involve a Katy Perry song, but the underlying joke isn’t all that original: “hey, guys, especially evil dictators, aren’t supposed to listen to girly pop music!” Seth Rogen was okay, but James Franco was infuriating; he came across like one of those kids in school desperate to be the class clown, trying way too hard to be funny. In fact, I can extend that comparison to the entirety of the film; instead of allowing humor to naturally grow from the situations and the characters’ reactions to them, they settle for hammy camera-mugging and tired poop/gay jokes. It’s a brain-dead, pointless film that might be somewhat entertaining to watch with friends, but just don’t let the hype convince you it’s anything more.

Z-Nation, Season One (2014):

This is The Asylum’s answer to The Walking Dead, and while it’s clearly an aping of a show that’s an aping other of entries in the zombie genre (a photocopy of a photocopy) it manages to be better than The Walking Dead for a few reasons: 1.) it doesn’t take itself too seriously, 2.) the focus on the plot doesn’t allow it meander nearly as much, 3.) it has a more interesting central character: a criminal who has the cure for the zombie virus coursing through him. We want him to succeed, but at the same time the character is a sociopath. We feel some sympathy for him as his body begins to deteriorate from the virus, but he’s also a complete asshole who is willing to let others die. This tension created within the viewer is the best thing the show has going for it. Another positive, however, was its killing of the lead (not the criminal, but the group’s leader) a few episodes in which was actually unexpected; The Walking Dead should consider taking risks like this, that is, if the writers have any interest in increasing tension and toying with expectations.

Despite this, the show, at least so far, isn’t close to being good. There are numerous instances of cliches and some really tired tropes (how many deranged cults are they going to come across?) Some of the dialogue is also weak and the first couple of episodes were pretty awful. There is are also a couple of episodes, back-to-back no less, that are built on dreams and hallucinations which are completely unnecessary. The finale is also pretty ridiculous as nukes are launched across the globe (how are the characters going to escape this?–and I know they’re making a second season.) Also, a more minor thing, but the antagonist at the end looks like Dr. Evil, especially when he is running away, that’s distracting.

Is it really that hard to make a good series built around fighting zombies? I haven’t watched the current season of The Walking Dead because the fourth season was so shitty and really showed that the writers have no idea what to do with their characters, problematic considering characters are really the most important aspect of any show/film/narrative/etc. At least Z-Nation is somewhat entertaining and isn’t afraid of killing-off the audience’s favorite characters (we’re in a zombie apocalypse after all!)

Fallout New Vegas (2010):

I’m not really a fan of video games, but I do like the Fallout series (though I haven’t played spin-offs Fallout Tactics and Brotherhood of Steel.) Last few weeks I’ve been replaying New Vegas on-and-off and I’m still convinced it’s better than Fallout 3, a game that is still good for what it is. However, I’m not sure if it’s better than the first two Fallouts for they’re pretty much entirely different games though they share the same atmosphere.

I remember a while back this online series called Extra Credits that discusses the artistic possibilities of vidya games had an episode on Fallout 3 and New Vegas. They said Fallout 3 had the better story because your character was given more background and allowed us to experience it through vignettes. This is a good point, but that game’s story also has a rather A-to-B-to-C formulaic plot line that takes precedence over everything. Nothing wrong with this, but there is a difference between plot and story, and while Fallout 3 has a tighter plot, New Vegas has the more engaging narrative, suffused with far more interesting characters and ideas. No, there aren’t great archetypical characters (though Mr. House comes close) on par with the original Fallout’s idealistic villain, The Master, nor like the affable ghoul, Harold (though he was shoehorned into Fallout 3 for no good reason,) but there are some more nuanced characterizations, even for some of the less ancillary characters. Even the factions have their flaws and characteristics, from the corrupt, but well-intended New California Republic, to the paradoxically cultured and savage Legion, and to the hermetic Brotherhood of Steel.

New Vegas also trumps Fallout 3 when it comes to player-choices and their consequences. Early on, Fallout 3, the character is given the decision to disarm a bomb in the center of a town, or blow it up. If you commit the latter, you can watch the town blow-up…and that’s it. There’s hardly any perceived effect despite the town being somewhat important to trading within the region. And this is one of Fallout 3’s biggest issues: the illusion of choice–what’s the point of a decision if there is hardly an outcome? The choice of blowing up the town was just a ploy by the creators to trick the player into believing, early on, that they have any sway within the game’s parameters. New Vegas, however, has a similar issue, but it’s not nearly as wide for your choices can impact one or several of the factions battling within the game. The end-game consequences are also presented more effectively as different characters, before the credits role, tell of how they, or their communities, were impacted by the player-character. This makes the consequences seem more real as they are given an individuated voice, a nice touch (this device really shines in the New Vegas add-on, Dead Money.)

Perhaps there may never be a good show about the apocalypse, or zombies, but the Fallout series shows that such things have been dealt with better, and, strangely, more realistically (for the characters and groups are more “real”) within the supposedly low realm of vidya gaimes.

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4 thoughts on “More Lazy Semi-Reviews

  1. I was a fan of the Fallout series, as well. Yet I doubt I’ll ever have time to play games any longer; the more I think of it, the more I’d associate such things with a kind of personal oblivion, wherein you erase a small part of yourself the more time you fixate on it.

    • That’s probably the biggest down side to these games: they are incredible timesinks. As much as I like New Vegas, I have to admit I’ve probably wasted too much time playing without a whole lot gained. However, I probably won’t ever return to Fallout 3 since that game is even emptier than New Vegas.

      • New Vegas is the more interesting, fleshed-out world, but pretty much all video games suffer from the “you are an important, pivotal part of this game world’s history” syndrome, almost inevitably ghettoizing them to the realm of puerile escapism. The only really successful subversion of this I can think of is “Shadow of the Colossus”, wherein the hero’s deeds have no grander goal other than to restore one person to life and slowly add up to personal oblivion for him. That game is so minimal and constructed in such a particular way that, no matter how you play it, there’s this odd sense of there being an authorial vision behind it. I wouldn’t quite call it art, but it’s the closest thing I’ve yet seen. The problem with games, as they stand, is that the market is requiring them to relinquish more and more control to players, who demand “freedom”, and yet art has a kind of fundamental rigidity to it that precludes such openness.

        A truly artful video game will be one that uses the gameplay as a way to develop character and give insight to the situation, but I think we’re a long way from that, given that it’s hard to find even decent stories in most video games. They contain art – bad stories, functionary character and world designs, sometimes memorable but usually very simplistic music – but they never quite add up to that operatic “gesamtkunstwerk”.

      • Even though New Vegas and the rest of the Fallout series are more interesting than other games I still wouldn’t consider them art either for, as you’ve mentioned, the fleshed-out world and characters are mostly for the purpose of escapism and to entertain, not really to communicate ideas (though , at times, the games end up doing this, but that’s still not the primary goal.)

        I haven’t played Shadow of Colossus, but I’ve played some games (mostly freeware or flash games) that had pretensions of being regarded as “art” and was largely unimpressed. Either the game had some good ideas, but the gameplay sucked, or the whole thing was entirely pretentious and seemed to exist only to stroke the maker’s ego. It will be interesting to see how game developers use interactivity and gameplay to propel a narrative and develop characters; while I agree we’re far off from anyone making a good attempt at this, I think a good art game will come, eventually.

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