Monday, June 27, 2011

Portal 2

THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. read at your own risk.

I, like every other person who wasn't a godless Communist, loved Portal. I loved its bleak, uncaring-bureaucracy humor, the always-entertaining manaical AI GLaDOS, and the uniqueness of the main gameplay. As such, I was a bit concerned that some of it might be lost in the transition from '3-hour glorified tech demo' to 'full-on, Triple-A release'. Thankfully, it now feels more robust, more polished, and more epic in scope. The style of humor shifts throughout the game from pitch-black uncaring corporate-speak at the start, to GLaDOS's passive-aggressive axe-grinding, to Cave Johnson's can-do, optimistic, charismatic, yet utterly psychopathic persona, to Wheatley's laughable attempts to be a menacing villain. It's also fascinating to see Aperture's progression throughout the years, from a bright, idealistic company testing on astronauts, olympians, and war heroes, to a bankrupt shell testing on its own employees (presumably by force) and replacing them with robots. Both J.K. Simmons and Stephen Merchant nail their roles as Cave Johnson and Wheatley respectively, providing superb portrayals of an insane CEO and a chipper idiot.
The mechanics are also nicely varied; new paints that affect the nature of the tests, lasers, light bridges, excursion funnels, and more. While the tests for the most part are a bit on the easy side, they're generally fun to complete even if you know precisely what to do; it irons out one of Portal's few issues, the occasional segment that relies on unreasonable timing/dexterity. In Portal 2's tests, it's more akin to setting up the steps of a Rube Goldberg machine and putting it into action. However, the gels can be a bit fiddly at times, and for a few puzzles the solution is literally just 'coat every surface in sight', which seems a little bit like phoning it in on the puzzle-design front.
The co-op is a great bit of fun to play with a friend; while the single-player is mostly sightseeing and story with light puzzles, co-op is mostly puzzles with minimal story. Still, the story works well enough as a framing device, and the puzzles's solutions are quite satisfying to figure out.

All in all, Portal 2 has clever puzzles, pulls off having an epic scope, and it's a hilarious game that isn't just 'hilarious for a game'. Despite whatever minor quibbles I might have, it's still definitely worth your time.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Recently, I've been having an almost shameful amount of fun with a game called Proun: a gorgeously designed, minimalist indie racing game. How it works is this: you play a little ball traveling at high speeds along a wire, and you have to rotate around the wire to avoid obstacles and beat everyone else. It's racing a game stripped down to the very core, with everything present because it needs to be there. Thankfully, power-ups aren't that Mario Kart nonsense where they're more imbalanced than a game of Jenga; in keeping with the minimalism theme, the only one is a 'boost' function that recharges based on how well you're doing, not collecting it along the track; it's like the game is telling you 'Oh, you want some bonuses, do you? Well don't expect a handout, you're gonna have to work for it', which I respect. The sense of speed is palpable, the high-scores table is appreciated, and the racing itself is really, really, fun. My one very minor complaint is that the soundtrack gets a bit repetitive, but you can always just put on iTunes in the background. Also, while there are only 4 tracks (5 if you actually spend money for the game; you can also get it for free), there's no shortage of user-made ones on the website.

My verdict is this: Go and play it right now.

Super 8

Here's the setup: in a film that's more or less 'E.T. by way of Cloverfield' (and that's not necessarily a bad thing), there's a bunch of kids in the 70s making their own zombie movie, and after they accidentally witness a military train derailment, all sorts of suspcious things start happening, and before long there's a whole military coverup (it seems that with the exception of war movies, and even then not always, depictions of the army in movies are pretty much universally negative). It starts off with a great premise, likable characters, a well-executed 'Romeo and Juliet' subplot between the kids, and an intriuging, well-built-up mystery... and then, two-thirds of the way through, it shoots itself in the foot in spectacular fashion.
Not only is the conspiracy explained, it sets in motion a string of sappy, trite, cliches leading to one of the biggest 'you've got to be kidding me' endings I've seen in a long time, and you'll see all of it coming a mile away. That said, the first part of the movie alone is well worth the price of admission, and my advice is to walk out of the theater when the aforementioned reveal scene is over, and if you're really interested in finding out the specifics of what happens in the disappointing ending, there's always Wikipedia.