The Dark Knight

Why would anyone read this review when they could be watching The Dark Knight?  Seriously, it’s worth the hype and continues the excellence started by Batman Begins, but it’s not perfect.

The film starts off with Gotham City no longer being the dank, corrupt city it was a year ago.  Yes, there’s still crime but the mob leaders’ hold on the city has been weakened.  All thanks to an alliance between Batman and Lieutenant James Gordon.  An upstart district attorney Harvey Dent catches their eye, no doubt because his pursuit of justice in the courtroom rivals Batman’s.  Batman and Gordon contemplate letting Dent in on their plan to take down the mobs.

The mobs, meanwhile, have been hit hard but still have plenty of fight in them.  They meet with a Chinese mobster accountant by the name of Lau, who has transferred all their money to China to avoid police investigation.  The meeting is interrupted by an upstart criminal known as The Joker.  The Joker knows that while their money may be safe with Lau from Dent and the Gotham police, it won’t be safe from Batman.  The Joker’s hypothesis proves to be correct, as Batman catches Lau and delivers him to the police.  Lau’s capture is a huge victory for Batman, Gordon and Dent.  Out of desperation, the mob turns to The Joker.  The Joker’s plan is simple…kill Batman.

Of course, that’s only the beginning.  The plot is very solid, with many twists and turns along the way.  Dark Knight is also packed to the point where the viewer wonders if it was only two and a half hours.  There weren’t any problems with the plot as far as I was concerned, just the ending.  The rest of this paragraph contains a serious spoiler, of course.  It was very irritating to see that they killed off Harvey Dent after spending the whole movie building him up.  He didn’t have enough time as Two-Face, whose moments of awesomeness had me craving for him to be in the next movie.

While the plot isn’t perfect, the action certainly is.  One of the criticisms of Batman Begins were the fight scenes, which were hard to follow.  Dark Knight improves upon this flaw.  The fights are easier to watch but keep true to the gritty realness of Begins.  And, wow, the violence factor!  Maybe it’s because I watched this up close and personal in theaters, but damn, I bet you could feel every punch delivered by Batman.  And damn, is it satisfying!

Of course, there’s the acting.  Christian Bale is perfect as Bruce Wayne and Batman.  His gruff Batman voice is better in this movie too.  He’s backed up by one of the best supporting casts in recent memory.  Heath Ledger plays a damn good Joker.  His portrayal is better than Jack Nicholson’s, although Mark Hamill is still king as far as I’m concerned.  Aaron Eckhart doesn’t just look like Harvey Dent, he is Harvey Dent.  His acting is worthy of an Oscar and it gets better as the film progresses.  Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman reprise their respective roles from the first movie, with Oldman and Freeman’s roles stepping up from their relatively minor roles in the first movie.  The only real knock on the acting is that Maggie Gyllenhaal replaces Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes.  Rachel’s character in this movie looks older, which is odd because only a year has passed.  It’s just a little jarring, especially since she looks young and youthful in Begins.

Overall, Dark Knight is very enjoyable.  If you like Batman, comic books, super heroes, or movies in general, Dark Knight is worth the price of admission.  If you’re still reading this and haven’t seen Dark Knight yet…what are you waiting for?

Final Score:  9.6/10

I just want my phone call…

PM 2008: Candidate Creation II

Once you’ve edited your candidate’s background and characteristics, you move on to issues.  There are 50 issues in the game overall.  These include the big ones (gas prices, Iraq, illegal immigration) to the lesser-tier ones (capital punishment, affirmative action) to joke issues (crackdown on paparazzi, uncovering alien conspiracy).  Here’s a full list…

A Living Wage
A Strong Federal Government
A Strong Military
Abortion Rights
Addressing Climate Change
Affirmative Action
Alternative Energy
Banning Public Smoking
Big Government
Capital Punishment
Clean Coal Technology
Crackdown on Paparazzi
Deficit Reduction
Drilling in ANWR
Expanding Ethanol Production
Farm Subsidies
Federal Education
Fixing Mortgage Disaster
Fixing Obesity Crisis
Fuel Efficiency Standards
Gay Marriage
Gun Control
Harsh Interrogations
High Gas Prices
Homeland Security
Illegal Immigration
Improving the Economy
Invasion of Iraq
Katrina Relief
Kyoto Treaty
Law Enforcement
Legalize Marijuana
Missile Defense Shield
More Jobs
Outsourcing of Jobs
School Vouchers
Social Security
Supporting Israel
Tax Cuts
The Environment
The War on Terror
Tort Reform
Uncovering Alien Conspiracy
Universal Health Care
Video Game Violence
Withdrawing from Iraq

You’re given a measly 100 points to determine your campaign platform.  This gives you the option of taking many lukewarm stances or a few strong ones.  The issues are measured on a +/- axis.  + means you support, – means you oppose.  And while you won’t be able to give your candidate many strong stances at the start (at least, not without editing game files…which isn’t a bad idea when Obama gets 170 points for his views), you will be able to by campaigning.  For example, if you go around the country, speaking out (and creating ads) against illegal immigration, it will become a key focus of your campaign.

Of course, your views are only one part of the puzzle.  If your views are consistent with your political party’s, you risk alienating your base.  A Democrat that opposes Withdrawing from Iraq might garner some Republican votes, but they’ll turn off their liberal base.  The trick is to keep the views of your party in mind, but at the same time, going after the independent voters.  The views of independent voters vary from state to state and the importance they place on issues can shift through speeches and ads.

Political views also change with endorsements.  Being endorsed by the NRA (or whatever its name is because the game slightly alters them) will net a -15 change to your Gun Control position, for example.  Of course, you can campaign for gun control, get endorsed by the NRA and continue calling for gun control…but this risks alienating voters.  Endorsements largely lie along party lines.  There’s 10 in the game, 5 for each party.  The NRA is an endorsement Republican candidates should aim at getting, but with a bit of work, Democrat candidates can cross over and win it too.  This goes for any endorsement.

This provides some humor.  It’s hilarious to see Obama win the endorsement from the Christian lobby…after he’s gotten the Planned Parenthood endorsement and, even with the Christians on his side, he continues to campaign for abortion rights.  Just because he has a higher Religious characteristic than me doesn’t mean he’s worth endorsing…  But hey, at least he goes to church and that’s more important…right?

In other news, the resolution on my computer is really fucked up for some reason.

…In America.

Final Fantasy Saga

I was going to post some more Political Machine but E3 is this week.  E3 is arguably the biggest trade show concerning video games.  As such, developers use the expo to show off new games they’ve been working on or new hardware for the consoles.  Yesterday, Microsoft dominated the headlines.  New games were shown (Fallout 3, Gears of War 2, among others) but the biggest headline was that Final Fantasy XIII would no longer be Sony-exclusive.  The newest installment will be released on the 360 the same day as the PS3 version.

While great news for Microsoft fans, it’s horrible news for Sony fans…and gaming fans.  The loss of Final Fantasy-exclusivity has robbed Sony of its few remaining draws.  The only reasons to buy a PS3 now are for blu-ray and Metal Gear Solid 4Final Fantasy now joins Grand Theft Auto as a former Sony exclusive.  Game-wise, the 360 is on equal footing with the PlayStation 3.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Square-Enix has shifted loyalties.  Final Fantasy was originally a Nintendo franchise.  Indeed, two of the best games in the series, Final Fantasy IV (II in America) and VI (III in America) were released on the SNES.  Both are some of the best RPGs ever made.  While great games, Final Fantasy didn’t get truly popular until the release of Final Fantasy VII.  Because of Nintendo’s stubborn adherence to the cartridge format, Square left the Nintendo fold and joined the upstart Sony.  Final Fantasy VII was released on the original PlayStation and was one of the reasons why the PlayStation trumped the N64 and Sega Saturn.

Final Fantasy remained exclusive to Sony, with every installment in the series until XI being released on a Sony console.  Final Fantasy XI, because it was an MMO, was released on the PC, as well as the PS2.  Ironically, an Xbox 360 version was later made.  Square-Enix even patched up its relationship with Nintendo, releasing the spin-off series Crystal Chronicles and the sequel to Final Fantasy XII on Nintendo consoles.  The sequels to the acclaimed Final Fantasy Tactics were also released on Nintendo’s handheld gaming devices.

Despite that, the core lineage of the series has been released solely on Sony consoles.  With a 360 version in development, one of Sony’s ace draws has been eliminated.  Microsoft is on equal ground with Sony, the only differences between them being hardware and Metal Gear Solid 4 (and other titles, I’m sure, but MGS is the most renowned).  If this trend continues, the only thing separating Microsoft’s next-gen console from Sony’s will be the release date.

Screw my sister, I have money!

Political Machine 2008: Candidate Creation

So I’ve been playing Political Machine long enough to actually review/talk about it.  The game isn’t exactly a political simulator, but its pretty close.  The first game, released back in 2004, accurately predicted the election between Bush and Kerry.  The game predicted that Ohio, not Florida, would be the state that decided the election.

Anyway, in the race for the White House, you have a handful of candidates to select.  On the Democrat side, the choices are Al Gore, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Bill Richardson, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards and John Kerry.  On the Republican side, the choices are Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Rudy Giuliani, and…Lord Kona.  There’s also a number of secret characters for both parties.  Sorry, no third-party or independents.

Timeout for some quick nitpicks…  Lord Kona?  The Democrats slightly outnumber the Republicans, so they throw in a joke candidate?  Why not have Mike Huckabee or Fred Thompson?  On a slightly less serious note, Bush and Bill Clinton shouldn’t be eligible.  Both have served two terms, but I don’t mind them being in the game too much.

That aside, as fun as it is to get one of the pre-made candidates elected, I’m not too high on any of them.  It’s much more fun to create your own candidate.  Meet…Candidate Coby…

From left to right:  Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Coby!, John McCain, and obscured-by-the-opening-menu Mitt Romney.

The first game had the characters looking like something from a comic book.  They eschewed that for the creepy bobbleheads you see above.  It also makes character creation a bitch.  The appearance above was the best I could get…and I’m not entirely happy about it.  In fact, the bobbleheads make the candidates look disproportionate.  That bobblehead looks nothing like John McCain, for example…

Anyway, once you’re done setting your character’s appearance, you can edit their background, characteristics (stats), and issues.  Background is nothing more than name, party and state.  For characteristics and issues, you’re given an alloted number of points and use this to build your character.  These stats are measured on a numerical scale from 1 to 10, 10 being the best.  Stamina, Money, and Fund-Raising cost two points to improve (but give two points if you take away from them), all the others only cost one.

While going over the stats themselves, I’ll say who has the highest/lowest ratings in each category…with both playable and secret characters, as well as give my own candidates’ rating.  Please note that I’m not counting Lord Kona because he’s a joke candidate.

Stamina:  One of the more important stats in the game.  Stamina determines how many actions you can take in one turn.  Campaigning is hard work and taking action costs points.  Giving speeches, creating ads, raising money, etc. takes a toll.  The more stamina you have, the better you cope with the rigors of a Presidential campaign.  I’d give my character at least a 9.  John Kerry has a 9 in stamina, which I just can’t believe.  John Edwards is tied with him.  On the playable side of the Republicans, George W. Bush has the most with an 8.  Dick Cheney is the worst with a 4.  Concerning secret characters, Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy have a 10.

Money:  Another important stat, this governs how much money you start out with.  It’s good to have a lot of money at the start of the game, otherwise you’ll be spending stamina raising funds at the beginning of the game.  Discounting him, Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush are tied at 8.  With secret characters thrown in, George Washington has a 10.  Ron Paul is the worst with a 4.  Me?  I start with the average of 6.

Fund-Raising:  While starting out with a good sum of money is good, it’ll eventually run-out.  Replenishing money can be done through two ways, building (and upgrading) campaign headquarters or fund-raising.  Fund-raising depends on several factors; how aware voters are of your candidate, how many times you’ve had fund-raisers in that state before, and others.  Out of the playable characters, Bill Clinton is the best at raising money with a 9.  On the Republican side, George W. Bush has an 8.  Ron Paul is the worst with a 3.  Secret character-wise, Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy have 10’s.  I averaged out with a 6.  At worst, I’d be on Ron Paul’s level.

Charisma:  The lesser-tier stats are no less important.  Charisma affects your speeches and advertisements.  The more charisma you have, the better they are.  Barack Obama has a 9, giving him the best score out of out-of-the-box characters.  He’s leagues ahead of the best Republican, John McCain, who has a 6.  Ron Paul is the worst again with a 3.  I gave myself a 7.  McCain sometimes looks tired in his speeches (although he’s pretty witty), whereas I’m youthful and full of energy.  I also give damn good speeches…but I’m not in the same league as Bill Clinton (who has an 8).  I’d argue Bill should have a higher rating than Obama, since once you get Obama off a teleprompter, he’s not nearly as charismatic.  Concerning secret characters, Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy lead the pack with 10’s.

Comeliness:  While charisma controls speeches and ads, comeliness has an effect on TV appearances.  That’s because comeliness measures how physically attractive your candidate is.  Surprisingly, Mitt Romney is the most attractive out of everyone playable with a 9.  On the Democrat side, Bill Clinton is tied with John Edwards and Barack Obama with a 7.  Ron Paul and Dick Cheney are the least attractive with 4’s.  Not surprisingly, John F. Kennedy is the most attractive in the game with a 10…and Richard Nixon has a horrible 2.  Poor guy deserves better.  I mean, that rating makes him two times uglier than the combined might of Dick Cheney and Ron Paul.  Seriously, c’mon…

As for me, I gave myself a 6.  Hillary Clinton has a 6 and I refuse to give myself a lower stat than her’s!  I mean, c’mon, I’m not that ugly!

Credibility:  Credibility measures the effectiveness of your negative ads/speeches on your opponent and vice-versa.  For example, if an opponent who has lower credibility than you attacks your stance, the attack might backfire.  Because of the Democrats’ love for flip-flopping, their cred ratings are slightly lower than the Republicans.  Of course, neither side deserves good scores in this game.  George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are the most credible at the start with a 7.  The most credible Democrats, Al Gore and John Kerry (!?), have a 6.  John Edwards has a 2, although him and Bill Clinton (who has a 3) should switch spots.  Throw in secret characters and Richard Nixon has the worst with a 1.  Understandable, concerning he was involved in Watergate and all.  Honest Abe Lincoln has a 10, as does John F. Kennedy.  I gave myself a 7.  After all, I have to be more credible than my opposition.  Sometimes, I sacrifice a few points elsewhere to raise this to an 8 or 9 (though never a 10, that’s Honest Abe’s plateau).

Experience:  This should measure how long you’ve been in politics, but game-wise, it affects the cost of endorsements.  The more experience you have, the cheaper endorsements are.  Dick Cheney has the most experience out of the starting candidates, with a maximum 10 (understandable, he’s been in politics since Gerald Ford’s tenure).  The most experiened Democrat candidates are Al Gore and Bill Clinton, both have an 8.  Barack Obama has the least experience with a 2 (understandable, considering he’s still in his first Senate term).  With secret characters, several characters have 10’s.  Lincoln, Nixon, and Lyndon Johnson.  George Washington and Thomas Jefferson do not, despite being founding fathers…weird.  I gave myself a 2, just for game balance.  Whenever I go against Obama and I have a 0 or 1 in experience, he’ll end up snatching up key endorsements…endorsements that don’t suit him.  Imagine, the NRA and Christian Right endorsing him.  The Christian Right, fine, Obama at least goes to church.  But the NRA endorsing him?  Obama and the liberals want to take away guns!  In contrast, I want you to keep your guns in case my government doesn’t follow the First Amendment!  …Although, it is pretty funny to see Obama get the gun rights endorsement, then I attack him for his pro-gun control stance.  Since I have more credibility than him, the gun rights voters end up voting for me anyway.

Intelligence:  Like comeliness, intelligence only affects TV interviews.  Unlike comeliness, intelligence decides what answers you can give.  High intelligence unlocks the best answers that persuade people to your side of the argument.  Low intelligence gives you stupid answers that will alienate everyone from your position.  Dick Cheney and Ron Paul (!?) have the highest stats with a 9.  Out of the Democrats, Hillary Clinton is the most intelligent with an 8 (!?).  As for least intelligent, it’s a tie between John McCain, Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush (surprise).  No one in the game has a 10, but the secret characters have several 9’s.  They include Richard Nixon, Thomas Jefferson and John F. Kennedy.  I gave myself a 9, solely because Ron Paul does.  Ron Paul has a 9!?  Hell, I should have a 10!  Why am I so surprised by this?  Watch this video (watch from 2:40 – 3:30 especially).  He also courts the Truther base, the people who believe 9/11 was an inside job by the government.  And his credibility is only a 5!?  No wonder sane people stay out of politics, it’s fucking crazy!

Media Bias:  Media bias shows how much the mainstream media loves/despises your candidate.  Good media bias means the media will do the best it can to give independent voters a good impression of you, as well as your base.  Not surprisingly, Democrat candidates have a higher rating in this category than Republicans.  Al Gore has the best of the Democrats with a 9, although Obama and Kerry are only one step behind.  John McCain has a 6, the highest of the Republicans.  All the other Republicans are lucky to have a 2.  Bush and Cheney score 1’s and Ron Paul has a 0.  By contrast, the lowest Democrat candidates score 5’s.  Throw in secret characters and Thomas Jefferson has the best bias in the game with a perfect 10.  I gave myself a 1, though I’d wonder about a 0.  The liberal drive-bys would not help me become President…except for FOX.

Minority Appeal:  Measures your appeal to minority voters.  Since most minorities vote Democrat, their candidates rate higher than the Republicans here.  And wow, does it show.  Bush has the best score among them, with a lousy 3.  Him and McCain (who has a 2) should switch spots, what with McCain’s immigration stance and all.  On the Democrats side, Obama has the best with a 9.  He’s only eclipsed by Abe Lincoln, who has a perfect 10.  Me?  Since I oppose both affirmative action and illegal immigration, well, I won’t be appealing to minorities.  I gave myself a 1, which puts me with Woodrow Wilson, Ron Paul and Dick Cheney as the worst in the game.

Religious Appeal:  Like minority appeal, but among religious voters instead.  The GOP candidates have a slight edge here, with Dubya and Romney having the high scores of 7.  Obama has a 6, which I’d question.  He goes to church, sure, but what does he hear?  The racist rantings of a certain preacher he supposedly disowned.  On the flip side, Rudy Giuliani and Bill Clinton have the lowest appeal with 1’s.  George Washington and Thomas Jefferson have the highest appeal with 8’s.  Even though I went to a Mennonite private school, I don’t see myself too appealing to the relgious right.  A 3 or 4 will do here.  3 because it’s the max number for the Democrats (I figure I’m just as appealing to those folk as Hillary Clinton and John Kerry) or 4 because it’s Teddy Roosevelt’s rating.  “Speak softly and carry a big stick and all.”  4 is also Ron Paul’s rating.

This was longer than I originally intended.  I’ll tacklet the issues next time.  I’ll finish off with my stats, with the lowest number I’d give to the highest.

Stamina:  >9
Money:  4-6
Fund-raising:  3-6
Charisma:  6-7
Comeliness:  >6
Credibility:  >7
Experience:  2
Intelligence:  >9
Media Bias:  1-2
Minority Appeal:  1
Religious Appeal:  3-4

Oh a split-screen!  Yeah, that’s much better!

Why It Is Okay To Cuss

One thing I’ve never understood is why so many people are offended by curse words, yet their usage is more than common.  It just bugs me.  Anyway, surfing through the sewers of the Internet I found the four common arguments used to disapprove of profanity.  I’m not going to bother linking to it because that would give the site free publicity and I hate linking to crap.  So, let’s examine and disapprove of their disapproving arguments.

1.  Cussers don’t care if they bother people.  Not really.  Most people are mindful of their mouths, myself included.  If profanity really bothers someone and I know it, I’ll make an effort not to use those words around them out of respect.  Liking and respecting them helps too.  Also, why should we care?  Profanity usage is quite common.  If profanity bothered so many people, the usage of those words wouldn’t be as common.  Obviously, people aren’t as bothered by profanity as they’re suggested to be.

2.  Cussers don’t have the vocab skills to express themselves properly.  Actually, most curse words are just synonyms of similar (yet more socially acceptable) words.  Also, profanity does enhance expression.  Personally, I can’t stand people who don’t use profanity but use all kinds of euphemisms in its place.  This criticism ties in with the next point…

3.  Cussers don’t use the words according to the definition.  OK, this one has some merit.  People don’t…but some do.  Besides, definitions change with the times.  “Bitch” used to be the most offensive term someone could call a woman.  Nowadays, bitch is second-rate.  In fact, some women love to be called “bitches”.

4.  Cussers often disrespect the name of God.  I wonder if that argument implies cussing is for atheists…  Anyway, it’s obvious this person has never met me.  Someone once asked me why the only curse word I bother abstaining from is “God d***”.  It’s the only curse word that has never changed it’s definition (it’s always been offensive) and has been around for a few thousand years, at least.  “Bitch”, on the other hand, has been around for over a thousand years, but has changed in it’s acceptance and offensiveness.  Same goes for “fuck”, but for a shorter time span.

I recommend checking out The Encyclopedia of Swearing by Geoffrey Hughes.  A comprehensive, detailed history at how profane words have evolved over time.

One fellow shewed us his backside in such a manner that it was not necessary to have an interpreter.”

Metal Gear Solid 4

After playing MGS4 for the past two weeks, I have to say the PS3 has finally found a game worth buying the system for.  It should even please (or, at the very least, ease) critics of the series.

Let’s start with the revamped control scheme.  Whereas the 2nd and 3rd games borrowed heavily from the 1st game’s scheme and only made minor changes, Guns of the Patriots redefines the controls.  The changes don’t take long to get used too and when you do, playing Metal Gear Solid has never been this much fun.  The previous games shied away from combat, emphasizing stealth.  When you did get into combat, the controls were so awkward that you were screwed in a firefight against several soldiers.  In MGS4, mowing down antagonists is easy.  You can still be outnumbered and overpowered, but for the first time, it feels like you have a chance.  You feel like the genetically-enhanced badass Solid Snake is supposed to be.

Of course, the game still emphasizes stealth.  It’s the defining feature of the series, after all.  Stay in combat or an alert phase too long and Snake’s stress increases.  As your stress increases, your psyche meter falls.  Psyche replaces the stamina bar from Snake Eater.  As your psyche diminishes, it’ll affect your aim and how fast you heal…among other things.  Using items replenishes psyche, as does finding a quiet spot away from combat (which also decreases stress).  Using items can also restore health, similar to the previous games (thanks to the absence of the CURE system from Snake Eater).

There’s a few things absent from Snake Eater, but most of its features are back.  CQC has been revamped into a much simpler form, as has camouflage.  Camo is now much simpler.  Instead of constantly hitting pause to change face pain/camo, Octocamo blends into whatever your current surroundings are (granted you crouch/lean against something for a second or two).  The user-controlled camera from Subsistence is back, making the game infinitely more playable.

While the game is great all-around, it isn’t perfect.  There are a few minor annoyances, such as the installation phases that take place before each act (although they only take a few minutes).  This is my first experience with a PS3 console so I don’t know if this is a common occurrence in other games.  Also, load times pop up every time you enter a new area.  While this happened in all the other games, it was never this blatantly obvious.  Several commercials also air before you begin playing.  These aren’t advertisements for real-life products, but rather, tie-ins to the game itself.  All could have been cut, as they don’t really serve a purpose.  And despite taking place over five locations, the game itself isn’t any longer or shorter than the previous two installments.

Also, the biggest criticism against the series is worse than ever.  Long, lengthy cutscenes.  Granted, the cutscenes are glorious to watch and more interactive than the ones in the previous games (press X to trigger flashbacks for bonus points), but they are long.  It does nothing to dispel Metal Gear Solid‘s status as “best game you’ll ever watch”.  Two sequences easily eclipse the 45 minute mark set by Sons of Liberty, although none are the 90 minute monsters that were rumored.  Thankfully, you can pause during these scenes but beware, it counts as playing time…for those of you that care about rankings, anyway.  Reviewers hand-wave this, using the logic “well, it’s expected because all the other games in the series did this”.  What about the new gamers?  The critics of the older games who haven’t bought a PS3?  Just because the other games did it doesn’t excuse it as a possible flaw.

All in all, though, Guns of the Patriots is a damn good game.  PS3 owners should definitely pick it up and people considering a PS3 should seriously consider this game as their first purchase.

Final Verdict:  9.4 out of 10.

This is good…isn’t it?