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Thursday, April 09, 2009

TV Watch: Lost, Dead Is Dead

This season continues to impress. This episode showed us a great glimpse into Ben's life, the island and general and was actually pretty even handed in explaining things while creating some mystery - and not even in a "oh, behind that door is another mystery" kind of way.

While seeing the inside of the temple, the smoke monster up close and personal and enough symbols and glyphs to keep the Internet crowd pixelated for some time - the episode was actually a pretty good story all by itself. Ben has never actually been a favorite of mine, even though I think he's well acted and gets a decent chunk of good dialogue. There's just something convenient about his evil. Is he lying? Well, probably if it helps the plot somewhere down the road.

But this duplicity, and that Ben himself is a conflicted character with his own petty emotions, worked well for this one. Honestly, I had no idea whether he would get smoked (har har) by the end, but that it worked out that he seems terrified about following Locke is just perfect.

It will be interesting to see what this does to his character in the long run. What will Ben be if he can't be quietly scheming? Or will he just start pulling pranks to keep himself occupied?

As far as the mystery of the island goes, not sure what to say. The island as character got a few more points, and that it seems pretty all powerful. It's interesting that Christian Shepherd might not be a smoke-person, but a revived corpse. Anyone wanting to figure out a scientific explanation of old Smokey should have given up a long time ago, but that it lives under some kind of altar pretty much kills the notion.

I think the most interesting part was watching Ilana go all weird. It seems to echo what happened to CFL pretty closely. If the next episode gives us some goods on the whispers (thankfully they seem to have not forgotten them) and the statue, this season might just continue on its roll.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Pushing Daisies' Brief Return ( Happy Birthday To Me )

ABC haven't announced their summer schedule just yet, but when they do, don't be surprised to see the brief return of Bryan Fuller's Pushing Daisies. Just don't celebrate, just yet.

The show's rumored return may not be official yet, but it's not a full-scale change of heart on behalf of the network... They're simply showing the last three episodes of the second season before it gets released on DVD in July. The episodes - reworked by Fuller before the show's cancellation to bring some sense of closure - are rumored to have a Saturday 10pm timeslot, starting May 30th.
-- Pushing Daisies Back From The Dead For More Than Sixty Seconds (Just)

Nice. Might just stay in that night...

Game Play: Godfather II

Godfather II is an interesting combination of a game. The short version is that despite some flaws, I played the hell out of the single player (haven't had a chance to try the multiplayer, partially since it was just released) and quite enjoyed it. For those who missed the previews, the game expands on the original by adding more strategy elements, but the core is the same - this is a sandbox gangster game where you try to own the town.

Some of the problems with the game are apparent from the start. The graphics are pretty average, with the occasional texture or model glitch around - although the cities in general are well constructed and period pieces are nice as well. There's the occasional interface glitch - like how the game will warn you that a new property has no guards on it, even if you added some right away. Level design is sketchy at times, too, with plenty of properties being confusing as to how to navigate or even enter. On the surface, at least, it seems hard to say that Godfather II holds up in a post GTA IV world.

But the strength of the game lies in the fact that it doesn't attempt to be a proper GTA clone in the first place. You'll spend time in the "Don's View" in order to marshal your forces, upgrade your made men and keep track of favors you either attempting to earn or have earned. The soldiers in your families have different abilities, which effect how you take down properties.

If your guys are up to it, you can always just send them on ahead to a property to attempt a takeover without you - and here's where the gameplay really takes hold. There's plenty of multitasking to be done in the game, determing which properties to send guys, what tasks you take on yourself, and how much you need to leave in your pocket for defense when one family decides to take that strip club back. By the end of the game, I was having the majority of my family taking over properties without me, a few left behind for defense, and myself out performing favors and attempting to assassinate the made men of other families.

If I had any real issues with the game, it wasn't in the graphics or the occasional glitches, but when these relatively innovative gameplay mechanics turned frustrating. I killed more than a few property owners by accident, although I could have sworn I was well below the bar to do so. Owning crime rings, which are a full set of like properties, give your men bonuses - but they seem to have negligible effect. You can only have a certain number of guys in your crew, and they have to be in your crew to perform their special abilities - so if you end trying to lend a hand to men you've sent automatically to a property, you might get stuck if the AI doesn't realize it should blow up that wall.

In the end though, these things grind against what is clearly an excellent attempt to make the sandbox gameplay more unique, more engaging and more interesting. When it works, it works really, really well. You get the impression that you're in control (or trying to take control) of a city, not just a random mob wandering around beating people up. It is very much strategy light, but it is also a bit of strategy fun.

I recommend the title, not strongly - but it is the kind of game I think should be rewarded for attempting, and often succedding, to break the mold. I'm hoping EA sees this game as a solid foundation to make more in the series to improve even further on the genre.