Thursday, September 30, 2010

Andrew Garfield Being Adorable


If I had any doubt that he'd be perfect for the role of Peter Parker, I'm quite certain of it now. That smile, that laugh... we're looking at a possible King of All Woobies here!

And how might Tobey Maguire feel, being replaced by a younger, cuter actor?

Well, honestly, Tobey. It was your own damn fault.

Friday, September 10, 2010

This Just In: Water is to H2O...

... as Carlie Cooper is to Anthony Caine.

Bravo, Mr. Box.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Game Review: Star Wars - Knights of the Old Republic

It's been quite a while since I've had time to play video games, let alone review them. Fortunately, my summer workload is finally starting to break up, which hopefully means a lot more content starting next month. In the meantime, let's have a look at a game from the "Star Wars" franchise: BioWare's Knights of the Old Republic.

Admittedly, my expectations for this game may have been slightly unrealistic: I've always imagined the distant pre-narrative history of "Star Wars" to be so much grander and more interesting than the "present" of the Lucas films, but what happens in the very first scene of the game? A small Republic transport comes under fire by the warships of the Sith Empire; the last few survivors crash on a fringe planet without hope of rescue; one of them carries a secret which can change the course of the war. Oh, and the Empire has a mysterious superweapon.

It's a rather blatant reiteration of the set-up to the first "Star Wars" film. In itself, this is hardly a major offense - if the idea is to instantly place the player in a familiar context so you can get to the actual story without further delay, that's fair enough. However, the overt similarities don't end there. When the opening scroll mentioned a Sith Empire, I imagined an army where even the grunts could use the Force. Instead, Sith Troopers are basically Stormtroopers with shinier uniforms, and this Empire is ruled by Darth Malak, a Sith Lord whose lower jaw has been cybernetically replaced. More machine than man, perhaps? Hmm.

It may seem strange for me to castigate a game because it strongly resembles its source text... but again, I chose "Knights of the Old Republic" assuming that it would tell a different story within that framework. Instead, it turns out that things haven't changed much in four thousand years.

Theoretically, the player's ability to influence the plot via various choices throughout the game is meant to counteract the overly familiar plot elements. And it could have worked - I've heard enough about "Dragon Age: Origins" and the "Mass Effect" series to know that BioWare has almost perfected that aspect - but in practice, "Knights of the Old Republic" falls short of the ideal. To demonstrate, I'll explain a bit about the character I created and why I ultimately lost interest in the game at a very early stage.

I went into "Knights of the Old Republic" determined to create and roleplay a character neither Lucas nor his successors have ever really provided: a competent, powerful female villain. Someone who wields the Dark Side of the Force without degenerating into a moustache-twirling caricature, and whose evil acts serve a higher purpose than self-indulgence.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Alia Sha'tir:

Bonus points if you can figure out the significance of her anagrammed last name. And yes, those are a pair of lightsabers she's wielding.

So Alia begins as a soldier in the Republic, and pretty soon the game starts offering those morality-based choices to determine where she is on the Light/Dark scale.

Said choices are utterly ridiculous.

My greatest disappointment with "Knights of the Old Republic" is the way in which it takes the Jedi/Sith binaries beyond even the simplistic extremes of Lucas' films: playing a dedicated Dark Side character will force you into courses of actions that are not simply evil, but obnoxious as well. It's one thing to be ruthless in achieving your goals, it's another to act like a prat "for the evulz".

Moreover, your actions will draw constant criticism from your companions - and since their alignments never change, you can either put up with a neverending stream of disbelief and outrage (forgotten as soon as the conversation ends) or play the entire game with characters whose position on the moral scale is closer to yours, and who probably won't be as helpful as a Light Side Jedi who can heal the party.

The most problematic aspect of this particular mechanism, though, is the fact that the game practically requires you to be consistent in your approach. I tend to be more aggressive than defensive in RPGs, which suits a Dark Side character just fine, but abilities such as Force Lightning and Life Drain become more costly and less effective the further you get from the Dark end of the morality scale. So to get the most out of my chosen set of powers, I had to sink to the utter depths of depravity for the first eight hours of the game, at which point I detested Alia so much that I stopped playing.

And more's the pity, really, because from a purely technical standpoint I could have enjoyed "Knights of the Old Republic" - the game allows you to pause during battles and arrange attack patterns and sequences for each party member (adding a bit of tactical thinking to otherwise-straightforward fights), the environment and character designs hold up despite somewhat antiquated graphics (what a difference half a decade makes) and the voice acting is mostly solid, if lacking in real standouts.

But no other video game genre is so dependent on sympathetic protagonists as western RPGs. Twats like Kratos, Prince Arthas and Duke Nukem are tolerable because we control them from a distance, and never really think of them as extensions of our own selves; Western RPGs like "Fallout" or "Knights of the Old Republic", on the other hand, present tabula rasa protagonists whose appearance and personality are determined by the player. And if the end result is a character so reprehensible that the player can't stand her... well, there's something fundamentally wrong with that process, isn't there?