Wednesday, November 26, 2008

That's it?

So these are the diabolical fiends that got Chelsea Handler all worked up?


They seem harmless enough...

Friday, November 21, 2008


Another one bites the dust. And, just to add insult to injury, "Pushing Daisies" is ending on a cliffhanger - one of my biggest pet peeves.

I'm feeling particularly frustrated about this one. It's like there's less and less space for intelligent programming these days; and when you do get fresh, exciting ideas, they're either dumbed down for mass consumption ("Heroes", which really should have stuck to the original plan of dumping the S1 cast and starting over fresh; "Veronica Mars" with its WB-infected teen melodrama of the later seasons) or painfully short-lived ("The Middleman", "Jake 2.0", "Freaks and Geeks", "Joan of Arcadia", the list sadly goes on.)

And the question then becomes: is it worth getting invested in these series to begin with? I mean, why should I bother to get into "Dollhouse" if it's not likely to last a full season? Why risk getting aggravated when the axe drops?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Game Review: Fahrenheit

Before I start, I should note that I played the uncensored European version of this game, "Fahrenheit", but American players might recognize it as "Indigo Prophecy".

A friend of mine noticed that I occasionally blog about DOS-era adventure games, like the Sierra Quest line. That was my favorite genre growing up - which isn't to say I passed up the occasional "Wing Commander" or "System Shock", and I'll even admit to playing a few rounds of "Doom" before realizing that I'm absolutely hopeless at first-person shooters. But adventure games made up about 90% of my hard drive back then.

Anyway, said friend noted that my lament for the adventure genre might be premature, given that - while they're much less prominent these days than they were ten or fifteen years ago - adventure games are still being produced today. As a somewhat-contemporary example, he suggested I should try "Fahrenheit".

The tutorial gives you a pretty good idea of how the creators of this game saw their product: while you're learning how to control your character, designer David Cage appears in the (digital) flesh and talks about how he and his team want the player to view "Fahrenheit" as an interactive film. Which actually reminded me of "Phantasmagoria", in the sense that you spend more time watching the story unfold than you do actively determining its course. To be honest, I don't mind that particular mode of gaming: there's something to be said for sitting back and enjoying a good story.

But the game interface is a lot more complicated than just clicking on objects; for example, you have to drag your mouse in specific patterns during dialogue as a way of selecting which topic of conversation to pursue; if you don't move fast, the timer runs out and the conversation swerves away unpredictably. There are also numerous action sequences reminiscient of Simon Says, where the player must repeat a string of keys as they appear on the screen; failure will result in the loss of a "life", at the end of which it's game over. It's an unorthodox addition to an adventure game, and in the case of "Fahrenheit" it's both a great strength and a great weakness. The action sequences add a lot of adrenaline and reflexive play to a typically sedate genre, but they're also incredibly distracting, in the sense that they tend to kick off at crucial moments in the story, only you're too busy focusing on which keys to press. Entire scenes can pass you by while you're struggling to survive.

Another interesting - though inherently problematic - element of "Fahrenheit" is the Sanity Meter. As you progress through the game, your protagonists have all sorts of optional activities they can do, ranging from watching TV to listening to music to having sex. Some actions - the sort that you'd find calming and reassuring - grant you Sanity Points. Actions that could discourage or even damage your character's psyche (losing a bet, finding a dead body) subtract Sanity Points. If the Sanity Meter hits zero for any of your characters, at any point during the game, you lose. Sounds complicated? It is. Because "Fahrenheit" - despite its wide array of choices - is still a scripted game, and certain events will happen whether you set them up or not. So you may find yourself losing points without being able to do anything about it (for example, Carla's tarot reading which goes completely south, costing you a whopping 30 points). No way out of it, no way around it. And if you don't stock up on points beforehand, you may find yourself in a losing scenario through no fault of your own.

The story of "Fahrenheit" holds together rather nicely for most of the game: you start off with Lucas Kane, a man who wakes up in a restaurant bathroom, having just murdered a man while in a trance. Lucas is sure someone else was controlling his actions, but he has no way of proving his innocence - your first task is to help him conceal evidence and escape into the night.

And once Lucas is away, control shifts to Carla Valenti and Tyler Miles, a pair of detectives investigating the very same murder Lucas committed. It's fun to unravel your own crime scene, and in fact, some of the best moments in "Fahrenheit" involve the constant shifting between Lucas on the run and Carla and Tyler hot on his trail. Of course, Lucas also has to piece together what really happened that night.

It's an imaginative storyline. Unfortunately, it takes a right-angle turn towards the end of the game, after the amusement park sequence with Tiffany. I'm not going to spoil the twist, because it's a genuine yeahbuhwhat? moment, but let's just say you have a very sudden clash between the supernatural and science-fiction, and these things don't co-exist easily when they're set up well in advance; cramming them into the last hour or two of gameplay just feels like either someone lost a bet or the last act of the plot was cobbled together from different scripts. There are multiple endings, but not one of them really delivers an appropriate payoff.

Still, poor endgame aside, I honestly enjoyed "Fahrenheit". It's a different kind of adventure game, and aside from my issues with the action sequences (somewhat ameliorated by the fact that when you complete the game most - but not all - of the sequences are available for play-through or viewing) I thought the game mechanisms and interface were refreshingly innovative. I doubt I'll play the announced sequel - seriously, the endgame is just that bad - but it was fun while it lasted.

Monday, November 17, 2008

X-Maestro My Ass


Pencils & Cover by TIM SEELEY
They WERE the New Exiles…but after last issue’s shocking ending and a loss that will tear them apart, how can our heroes possibly continue? The answers await you here, true believers, along with clues as to what the future holds for our favorite dimension jumpers! Join X-Maestro Chris Claremont for a bittersweet chapter we can only call “BEGIN ANEW”!

This is one of those occasions where saying "I told you so" just doesn't carry any satisfaction with it. So Claremont tanked the book just like I knew he would - I'm still minus one monthly read. I guess I'd hoped they'd just replace him rather than axe the series altogether, but... well, short of a complete reboot (and honestly, we've had enough of those), I can't see anyone cleaning up his mess in an orderly fashion. It'd be bloody Xorn Damage Control all over again.

I'm just waiting for the inevitable Claremont interview where he whines about how he wasn't given enough time to really tell the story he wanted to tell...

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


So... is it me, or was this week's episode of "Heroes" significantly better than anything else the season has offered so far? Sure, I'm still not happy with Sylar (and Elle to a lesser extent) being Spiked, but every other character was in top form - I'd almost forgotten that Nathan and Peter had such amazing chemistry together.

Obviously, it's way too early to attribute this apparent rise in quality to the departure of Jeph Loeb, but it's nice to think that maybe the slump is finally over...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

TV Roundup

Just some quick updates apropos of nothing:

Legend of the Seeker: See below.

Heroes: Slightly better than season 2, but that's not saying a lot. Fortunately, they've ditched Jeph Loeb and his Cloud of Stupidity, so maybe things'll turn around.

Dexter: The lack of a direct threat to Dexter (so far) has made this season a touch more sedate, but the characters have always been compelling enough to keep me watchng even when things weren't happening. And I'm comfortable with the possibility of Dexter's redemption in a way I could never feel about Sylar.

Sanctuary: Dropped. It just... didn't amount to anything especially entertaining for me.

Wolverine and the X-Men: Surprisingly short on character moments, but still solid for the most part.

Pushing Daisies: I love this show. So naturally it's got an axe hovering over its neck. Is there some kind of public objection to funny, intelligent television series these days that I don't know about?

Burn Notice: On mid-season hiatus.

Battlestar Galactica: Ditto.

Weeds: Finished its fourth season a while back; still a major favorite of mine.

The Middleman: I have no idea if this is coming back for a second season or not... but I hope it does. It was awesome.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: The second season really kicked things up a notch, with particularly interesting performances from Summer Glau and Shirley Manson. Here's hoping it dodges the bullet.

Supernatural: I'm still not sold on the God Warrior angle, but other than that it's business as usual.

Damages: Still waiting for the second season of this brilliant legal drama, whcih made such use of misleading flashbacks and flash-forwards that would put every other show on this list to shame.

No Heroics: Fun for six episodes, but I doubt it would work in a longer format - the jokes aren't that funny, but they're okay for a quick run.

Ashes to Ashes: Nope.

True Blood: Hell no.

Flawless Victory

Well done, America! It's about time you picked the right man for the job again!

First Impressions: Legend of the Seeker


Okay, so Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert - creators of "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" and the infinitely superior "Xena: Warrior Princess" - have returned to television with a new series, an adaptation of Terry Goodkind's fantasy novel series "The Sword of Truth" (which I've never read). I saw the 90-minute pilot earlier today, and it left me with some mixed feelings.

Let's start with the superb visuals: this series looks stunning. Leading man Craig Horner is gorgeous (I like to think that bit of casting is Raimi's way of apologizing for seven years of shirtless Kevin Sorbo, which the years - and Paul Telfer's gratuitous skin shots in the later miniseries - have mercifully obliterated from my memory), and Bridget Regan's ethereal appearance goes a long way in selling those moments when she uses bad juju on people. As for Craig Parker, hell, I always thought Haldir was evil anyway. The action sequences have a tendency to overuse slow-motion, but they're still well-coordinated, without any of the blatantly impossible feats that eventually became mainstays of both "Xena" and "Hercules".

And yet... and yet. Mind you, I'm basing this opinion on the 90-minute pilot (which you probably guessed from the whole First Impressions thing), but as fantasy fare goes, "Legend of the Seeker" is rather formulaic. You've got your evil warlord, and a prophecy saying he'll be overthrown by a champion - said champion turns out to be a simple, down-to-earth guy with modest ambitions. Bad stuff happens, he accepts his destiny from a wizard with a ludicrous name (in this case, Zeddicus Zul Zorander), and everyone - seriously, everyone - constantly reaffirms his identity as the Chosen One until he finally "gets it" and follows through with an obligatory butt-kicking action scene. TV Tropes is going to have a field day categorizing this one.

And therein lies the problem: I've seen this exact sequence play itself out at least a dozen times in fiction. Raimi and Tapert haven't brought anything new to the table, there's no twist, no innovation that makes the stale old conventions at least seem fresh. Now, being formulaic isn't the same as being bad; after all, tropes become cliches partly because they work. But on the other hand, I don't know how happy Raimi would be to learn that I successfully predicted every single development in the episode - George's death, Richard being the Seeker, Zed's instant recovery from near-death, the hint of romance between Richard and Kahlen... hell, I'd bet good money that the evil warlord is Richard's father, just because the Darth Vader scenario is about the only cliche this show didn't tap in its debut.

Ultimately, it's hard for me to imagine staying invested in a series that's utterly incapable of surprising me - the eye-candy's nice, but I didn't chain myself to the TARDIS for David Tennant, and "Lost" is still teeming with cuties, so clearly The Pretty isn't enough. I'll stick around for a few more episodes, get a firmer sense of where this show is going... but my expectations have dropped a few hundred notches.