Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

For every generation of movie-goers, there is a certain cinematic experience/event that defines their era on the silver screen. For some it was Citizen Kane, others it was Star Wars, more recently it was The Matrix, for people my age it was The Lord of the Rings, and now you could say Avatar for the current gen. These movies tie directly into our lives and will always have a special place in our hearts.

For me, The Lord of the Rings trilogy defined a large chunk of my life. I lived and breathed Middle-Earth and I will always cherish the films beyond all others. And now of course The Hobbit is coming out, which has rekindled the embers of my beloved experience. So please, keep in mind that this review is highly biased and full of love and passion.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

5 Things From The Hobbit That Will Be Left Out Of The Movie

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy did many things for the film industry. From state of the art special effects, to unprecedented behind the scene access, to groundbreaking extended cuts that the fans demanded, the Lord of the Rings opened up an entire new world to Hollywood, one that would strengthen the bond between fans and studios by giving them what they want, but also by padding the pockets of the studios with well earned money.

But the most special thing that the Lord of the Rings created was that it gave a new generation of movie goers, and fanboys alike, their "Star Wars". It would define a generation and give them something that was forever, completely their own.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Spelunky Review (XBLA)

The thrill of every adventure is an unexpected ending. Whether you’re scaling a mountain in Nepal or searching for a Starbucks on your smart phone in Manhattan, the potential conclusions to your quest are always infinite.

Often in video games, we’re limited to a set path envisioned years earlier by a game developer. Even in most open-world games, you can only stray from the main quest for so long before needing to snap back to the pre-written story in order to advance the narrative. Spelunky eradicates this cliché with a bullet to the face while concurrently being the unrivaled Best Indie Video Game of 2012.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Monday, October 22, 2012


First off, I must apologize for my hiatus when it comes to my Smackdown reviews. New York Comic Con was two weeks ago and prior to that I was planning New York Comic Con for two weeks so all my Machine blogging took a hit. But if I said that Ryback's explosive rise on Raw and the Three Man Band's emergence on Smackdown has kept me in my room, cowering in the corner with a shotgun, waiting for the end of days, I think you would believe me.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Top 5 Funniest Movie Dubs for TV

If there is anything better than bad action movies, it's when they are re-edited and dubbed for TV. We all know that a good action movie has machine gun clips full of swear words and grenade impact like vulgarity. So I give credit to the poor suckers who are sanctioned to put the editing bandage over a wounded film. And I use the term film loosely mind you. Now the thing I do not understand is their choice of dubbed dialogue last makes it's way on to syndicated television.

Athletes That Look Like Ninja Turtles

First off, I hope that none of the millions of professional athletes that frequent the Machine daily take offense to this post. I write this out of the necessity to say what we are all thinking when we look at your faces on TV. I apologize if you have made the list but I'm sure if you're on the list, your parents have apologized many times over for birthing you with the face of an animatronic, mutant-humanoid teenager turtle. It would be better if they bequeathed some sort of ninja skills but I assume having the athletic prowess to play at the highest level of your respective sport makes at least a small difference. So, with that being said, here we go!

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Smackdown Review - (9/21/12)

While watching modern wrestling, I often like to think of the future. I like to think about what the modern roster’s DVD biographies will be like, if they will even have any. I would like to think that when it’s all said and done that Cena, CM Punk, The Miz, Cody Rhodes, Dolph Ziggler, and Daniel Bryan will all have their own DVDs, just to name a few. Now maybe not all of them will have a biography but I have a feeling many if not all of the ones I mentioned will.

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Smackdown Review (9/14/12)

First off, sorry this review is a little late. It's football season and Sunday is totally committed to as many hours of football I can cram into it. Real sports that don't mean anything is much more important than fake sports that don't mean anything to me. So once again, I apologize.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A Smackdown Review (9/7/12)

So here we are, my first Smackdown review ever. We all know that the blue brand doesn't get much love nowadays (did it ever?) and it's especially sad due to the fact that it is in some ways, better than it's big, 3 hour long brother, Raw. *For a complete week of Future Machine wrestling goodness read A RAW REVIEW by the undisputed TK ( it's very good and probably much better than this review. S you should probably stop reading now. Continue on at your own risk.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

A Re-Review - Limbo

A couple years ago I reviewed Limbo on The Future Machine.  While I applauded the game's art-style, I reacted very negatively to the trial-and-error gameplay, as well as the fact that it was universally embraced by the art-seeking gaming community despite what I perceived to be a variety of design-choice flaws.

Upon revisiting Limbo, I'm happy to tell you that I was wrong.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Casting Call: Chris Nolan's Metal Gear Solid Movie

For years there has been rumblings about a Metal Gear Solid movie (based off the critically acclaimed, blockbuster video game series). At first I was crazy giddy with childish excitement, but over the years the excitement has faded. The wheelhouse of directors and scripts and oft mentioned producers have kind of numbed me to the idea of a movie ever being made. Plus, every video game movie ever made has been--


But now, that Avi Arad has come on board, I can't help but feel like the movie is going in the right direction now. Plus, Avi is the kind of producer that has respect for the source material that he dips into. So, if anything, I trust that the movie will be as faithful an adaptation as it can be. I specifically like his quote that video game movies are the super hero movies of the future. There is no better way to put it. Daredevil, Electra, Constantine, and The Fantastic Four are equal to Hitman, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, Silent Hill, and the Resident Evil series. We need a Batman Begins or Iron Man from the video game world brought to the silver screen, and Metal Gear Solid is just the game to do it.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Quest For Completion - A Skyrim Tale

The Story of Villanos-Anora and The Legendary Dragon:

The legendary dragon is dead.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Chris Nolan’s Batman Can’t Keep a Secret: Why Nolan's Batman couldn’t possibly exist in the real world

I don’t think that I am alone in saying that Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy is the greatest super hero franchise of all time. There are super hero movies and then there are Chris Nolan’s masterpieces. I truly doubt that any comic book movie will ever come close to the critical success that these films have seen and I don’t think The Dark Knight will ever be topped. I’ve said before that walking out of these films, I have felt like I could be Batman. The world that Chris Nolan created for these films is one in the same that we inhabit. The mythology of the Batman has been reconstructed into such a plausible idea that it doesn’t even feel like a super hero movie anymore. That gritty realism is tangible and truly makes for an uncanny experience.

Now this being said, the Bruce Wayne in Chris Nolan’s trilogy lacks one think that a hyper-realistic super hero should possess; the ability to keep a secret! When you think about it, a lot of people know that Bruce Wayne is Batman throughout the trilogy, and their trustworthy-ness varies drastically from one person to the next. Here is my breakdown:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Casting Call: Justice League

Now that The Dark Knight Rises is concluded, the Man of Steel trailer has debuted and Justice League seems to be finding its footing, I can’t help but start to feed into the, albeit embers, of hype brewing in the DC movie circuit. And I believe that now that we have seen what the Man of Steel might look like, it gives up a better sense of what the Justice League movie might ultimately look like. The Avengers was a good movie. It was fun, full of humor and action, and showcased these larger than life characters that we thought we’d never seen on the big screen, especially together. It accomplished everything it set out to do; bring the comics to life and make a shit load of money. Now that Marvel proved it can work, DC can go in having everything going for them.

Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern are much more recognizable super heroes as opposed to Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye and Black Widow. I omit Captain America  and the Hulk because both had some form of mainstream media exposure in the past and therefore are known in the public eye. But DC definitely has the iconic characters that can get asses in seats without making a bunch of origin stories. They could do it the opposite of what Marvel did. Make the big team movie and sprinkle off into individual movies afterwards. Only time will tell and that’s another whole blog post waiting to happen.

But the one thing that DC has going for them that gives them the edge over Marvel more than anything, in my opinion, is the darker, realistic tone of their films (forgetting GL). In Marvel’s movie universe, we could never aspire to be or even exist with these heroes. They are the pages come to life and that works in its own way. But in the Batman movies and now the Man of Steel trailer, there exists a universe where these heroes could exist among us or even be us. I walked out of Batman begins believing that I could be Batman. I didn’t walk out of Thor or Captain America or the Incredible Hulk thinking I could be any of them. And THAT sense of realism is intangible and is a quality that really hits home with people, not just comic book fans. And the fact that the Justice League movie could really bring this to the DC films and unite the franchises could be something much more than The Avengers was.

But it would hinge on the right cast. A few years ago they had a slew of youngsters ready to don the costumes and jump into what sounded like a very campy, comic book movie. But, if they go with the darker tone, the cast would need to able to ground these characters in our world, and bring true life to them. So, here are my candidates. Enjoy!

Henry Cavill
Runner-up: Matthew Fox

The best way to start to connect the film universe should be to start with the first super hero! Henry Cavill should reprise his role in the Justice League. BUT if he were to not be in the film I have always wanted to see Matthew Fox suit up as the slightly older/mature Superman from pre New 52 continuity. Plus the guy got fucking jacked for Alex Cross. 

Joseph Fiennes
Runner-up: Jeremy Renner

Batman is a tough one to tackle. Christian Bale was incredible both as Batman and Bruce Wayne and what Chris Nolan did with those films will never be duplicated nor should it. But I think that Joseph Fiennes could bring that dark and brooding Batman to life. He would need to put on about 80 pounds because he looks like a twig but I would love to see him in action as the Dark Knight. Or hear his Batman voice.

Wonder Woman:
Gina Carano
Runner-up: Kate Beckinsale

Wonder Woman is the hardest to cast. She will be the most scrutinized of the League and will have everything going against her. Much like Anne Hathaway did with Catwoman. But I think that Gina Carano could bring that bad-ass toughness and truly make Wonder Woman as cool as she should be. She is one of the most powerful members of the League and the actress who plays her needs to convey that. I think Gina is born to play Wonder Woman.

The Flash:
Michael Rosenbaum
Runner-up: Bradley Cooper

Michael Rosenbaum is no stranger to the comic book scene. He played Lex Luthor on Smallville and he voice the Flash in the animated Justice League Unlimited cartoon. He has proven that has the personality for the Flash, I say give him a shot to embody the Flash. And don’t worry, he can grow hair. 

Green Lantern:
Chris Pine
Runner-up: Ryan Reynolds

This casting choice relies on whether or not they are going to continue the Green Lantern franchise with Ryan Reynolds. I wouldn’t care either way, as long as the movie rocked as hard as the comic does. If they didn’t, I’d love (my first choice for GL originally) Chris Pine to jump into the shoes of Hal Jordan. His cocky, smug attitude from his portrayal of Kirk is a perfect fit for Hal, plus he definitely has the physical aspect down.

I know that none of these actors will be cast but it definitely is fun to conjecture. I’d also like Idris Elba to play Martian Manhunter, Ryan Gosling to play Aquaman, and Ron Perlman as Darkseid by now I’m being greedy.

Who do you think should play these characters?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sports Entertainment: WWE vs Boxing

In just under a year I've slowly but surely made my transition from buying the high profile HBO PPV boxing matches to buying the WWE PPV's that come every month. Yes, you could say I've regressed to my teenager years but I can tell you that I, unlike the millions watching on HBO and the thousands in Vegas for the live events, get my money's worth.

Now I've been a boxing fan for years. In fact it was the only sport I actually followed and/or cared about for the majority of my adolescence. I spent hours upon hours scouring Youtube and Google to find the must see matches of yesteryear and the classic bouts of a golden age long gone. I've caught myself up and then some to one of the most courageous and physical sports in the world and I've stuck with it through the modern era, which is a something so hard to do I feel I can add to my resume. I love and have loved boxing through its slow and sad decay over the years, just like any sports fan should, but I've once again been dealt a hay-maker that has me out on my feet, ready to walk away from the sport entirely.

It came on Saturday the 9th, in one of the few matches that actually reach mainstream media and garner the "hype" of boxing's lost past. Manny Pacquiao is one of boxing's only superstars left. Its hard to say who is bigger, Pacquiao or Mayweather, but that is irrelevant. They are boxing's biggest stars and the only star power that the sport has left. Therefore they have the most to lose and boxing has the most to lose by this fight and fights of this caliber.

Now mind you, I followed the fight on Twitter and didn't actually see it live, so my review/critique/rant is coming from a new place. Now, I'm not much of a Twitter guy, I rarely go on Facebook, and I just recently got an iPhone so for me to follow the fight online like this made me feel modern. I mean, I felt so "modern" I went out and dyed my hair neon green, bought a 3D TV, snorted some bath salts and ate a guy's face.

Anyway, I watched round by round and almost punch by punch described on the Twitter-sphere. It was unanimous that Pacquiao was not only winning, but it wasn't even close. And don't worry I could weed out the difference between the true boxing fans and the casual boxing fans. Usernames are a dead giveaway i.e. @MikeTyson as apposed to @xxassbaby92folife.

But no matter who was Tweeting, it was a sure thing that Pacquiao was winning and was going to win HANDS DOWN.

But he didn't. And my phone almost exploded.

The outcry from the decision that gave Bradley the win was so fierce and so powerful and so dumbfounding that it almost seemed like a Twitter joke. Like the monthly Bieber is dead thing - gets me every time! Immediately conspiracy theories were abound, riots broke out, babies were sacrificed and the fabric of space and time were ripped irrevocably. Even Teddy Atlas spoke out on Sports Center saying that boxing is a corrupt sport. Now this isn't news to me, the hardcore boxing fan, but I would dare to say that it is to the majority of casual boxing fans out there. This is such a blow to boxing that it has shaken it to its very fragile core, threatening to lose even the most faithful of us.

Now, I've titled this post WWE vs Boxing because the two sports share much in common. Besides the obviousness of two guys in a ring, the colorful commentating, and the elbow drops off the top ropes, there are many "story" and "character" similarities the bleed between the two sport entertainments. Most of wrastlin' and boxing involved two men or women or divas going toe to toe, talking smack, beating the shit out of each other, all for the hopes of winning the belt. Now where you think they might differ would be that one if fake and one is real. But is that even a difference anymore?

With Bradley's win over Pacquiao its hard to say that boxing isn't rigged/scripted. Before the fight Bradley tweeted a picture of a Pacquiao Bradley 2 poster already made which seemed to support the fact that the fight was fixed. You can say that Bradley was so confident that he had a poster made up since Pacquiao would need a rematch or you could say that Bradley is a fucking moron and he didn't put SPOILER ALERT on his tweet. Either way the lines of real and fake or getting very, very blurry.

So this is my send off to the world of boxing, of sorts. Or perhaps a persuasive letter to the sport I love. For I have found a "sport" with the same themes, the same action, and the same heart. Wrestling is what boxing should be, what it could be and what it will never be, all wrapped up in one oiled up and flashy bow. Wrestling has what boxing has lost, the thrill, the excitement and the characters. Where once we loved Ali vs Foreman, we can now love The Rock vs Cena. Where once we'd pay out of our asses to see Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler beat the fuck out of each other from the nosebleeds, we'd pay out of our asses to see the Funkasaurus beat the fuck out of Heath Slater with the "Aww Funk It" splash. No joke, that's what it's called. Aww Funk It.

And you know what, aww fuck it, I love it! And the soul reason why is because it's entertaining. I laugh, I cheer, I shout, and I always want more. How could something so fake, so OBVIOUSLY fabricated, hook me so more than a REAL sport, with REAL people and REAL stakes while generally consisting of the same stuff? It doesn't make sense, and I don't care.

So here is it boxing, we stand at a crossroad. Either you get your shit together or I'm gone. And I'm not the only one out there, believe me. There is something better and cheaper out there that is much more satisfying and respectful to the audience than your shitty sport.

And if you're looking for me, I'll be at No Way Out at the Izod Center this Sunday, shouting my dick off and Aww Fucking the nearest Cena fan off section 230 to their death 30 feet below.

Can you dig it, sucka?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Totally Top Ten: iOS Games of 2012

Apple’s iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch devices have opened the market immensely for game developers to design new and immersive ways for users to interact within video game worlds. While the open market system results in thousands of shovelware titles flooding into the App Store on a daily basis, every so often a game rises up and reminds us that the late and great Steve Jobs’ tablet devices are just as relevant a platform as the handhelds we’ve seen from Sony and Nintendo over the last ten years.

The following are the definitive ten greatest iOS games of 2012 in order of greatness. I am so confident in the accuracy of the following list that I am certain there will be no debate across the Internet or in the comment section below on any of these titles or the order I’ve placed them in.

10. Adventure Bar Story
What’s cooler then running your own restaurant in the style of a traditional food-sim while simultaneously fighting monsters in loot-filled dungeons to gather the ingredients as the game sneakily transitions into an experience-based RPG? Absolutely nothing should bar you from playing this game – it’s the coolest.


9. Minecraft Pocket Edition
Anybody who’s played Minecraft before knows it’s the best video game ever made. If you’ve played it for PC, you’ll be disappointed by the Xbox Live Arcade version but love it nonetheless. If you’ve played the Xbox Live Arcade version, you’ll be even more disappointed by the iOS port but hey, fuck it! It’s Minecraft and it’s all mine, now it’s time to make it yours.

8. Feed Me Oil
Finally a video game emerges setting the player in the role of Daniel Plainview. Using rotating platforms, fans, wind, windmills, and oil-magnets, you guide gallons and gallons of oil into the mouths of large-eyed cartoon creatures. Curses, oiled again!

7. Grand Theft Auto 3
There’s something utterly unbelievable about having a fully functional port of the 2001 PlayStation 2 classic on your phone. Driving through Liberty City, with all the original radio stations and music, setting fire to innocent bystanders - it’s an unrivaled experience.  At the low price of $4.99, this game is a grand theft application.

6. Tiny Tower
Upon your first load of the game, you’re greeted with a small one-story tower. From that moment on, the only place you’re going is up. Choose from hundreds of residential, retail, food, service, creative, and recreational businesses to truly make your tower scrape the sky. The heart and soul of Tiny Tower though comes when you start moving in residents, helping them reach their personal dream jobs, and checking up on them via their virtual status updates on “Bitbook.” Don’t let the name fool you, there’s nothing tiny about this game.

5. Scribblenauts Remix
In Scribblenauts, your only goal is to reach the star at the end of every level. The beauty is how you reach it. At any point you can type in the name of any object, (excluding trademarked items and penises), and then that item will instantly appear, (unless it’s a penis), to help you complete the level. The depth of the game’s dictionary is astonishing and definitely will naut leave anyone disappointed.

4. Infinity Blade 2
Infinity Blade 2 is gorgeous. It sets a new standard for all other iOS games out there and it’s hard to imagine another coming close any time soon. This is a rare example of a game where the touch controls actually add to the experience as you slash through hundreds of battles earning XP and Gold while increasing stats, new weapons, and equipment. After experiencing how immaculate this sequel was, the potential of the Infinite Blade franchise seems infinite.

3. LEGO: Life of George
Life of George is the world’s first interactive game combining real LEGO bricks with an iOS app. The application requires a $29.99 LEGO box set to play, but keep in mind your not only paying for the app itself but for a collection of 144 individual LEGO bricks as well. With a console worthy list of modes and options, brand new gameplay paradigms, the most expansive list of model creations from a single set in series history, and new customization depth on behalf of the open-ended My Life puzzle creation tool, it certainly lays down the bricks to being the best LEGO set ever.

2. Draw Something
Draw Something is neither a challenge nor a competition – there are no winners. It’s an online multiplayer experience in the rawest form imaginable.  Through the structure of a cooperative Pictionary match, two players journey together volleying back pieces of artwork, as simple, complex, innocent, or filthy as they desire and win coins for correctly guessed artwork based upon how difficult a drawing they attempted. It’s an amazing exercise in learning the inner workings of your closest friends and Internet strangers. Although this masterpiece won’t draw in everybody, it certainly is something incredible.

1. BBQ Pro
What makes BBQ Pro the best iOS game money can buy? I’m glad you asked. Grilling virtual meats on a virtual BBQ is an experience you can’t replicate anywhere else. Every day for the last 6 months I’ve been grilling hot dogs, sausages, kabobs, chicken, hamburgers, and steaks on a fictional grill for no reason and it’s the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. Look how beautiful and real that meat looks. Listen to the juice sizzle. Feel the spatula in your hand as you flip each piece of meat. Smell it. You seriously can almost smell it. For 99 cents, BBQ Pro is a must-have game. I’d easily pay 99 dollars. Fork over the 99 and I promise you won’t get burned on this purchase. 

Monday, May 28, 2012

Tim Tebow: Review

Grading a football player is a huge task, and while I continue to pick away at all he has to offer, I’ve decided to put up some early impressions and definitively grade his skills. Read on to find out what the first week with Tim Tebow has been like.

Tim Tebow had a rough debut at the New York Jets’ first OTA practice on Thursday after throwing two interceptions to teammates Bart Scott and Yeremiah Bell respectively. By an unofficial count, Sanchez took 17 snaps in 11-on-11s, 7-for-14 with a TD. Tebow took 9 snaps, 6-for-10.

The Breakdown
All scores based on a scale of 1-10

Presentation: 2
He’s doing bad things and looking bad doing them but this shouldn’t come as a shocker to anyone who’s watched him play over the last two years.

Appearance: 8
There are moments when Tim Tebow looks drop-dead-gorgeous but his beautiful face and inguinal crease are offset by the hideous contrast to a green-and-white Jets uniform, which clashes tremendously with his complexion.

Sound: 3
His voice isn’t the worst we’ve seen in American Football but it’s not how he’s saying things, it’s what he’s saying. Tebow’s going to have to tone down his vocal faith this season and stick to strictly “pigskin speak” until he proves himself on this team.

Gameplay: 1
While Tebow has demonstrated great success on his feet in the past, the Jets’ minicamps have so far been concentrated on position specific activities, meaning Tebow has to show us what he can do with his arms. Two picks in two minutes is not a great start.

Lasting Appeal: 2
At this point there should be no question in anyone’s mind that Mark Sanchez is still this team’s franchise QB and Tim is… an impressive athlete who might find more long-term success in special teams or politics.

Overall: 3
Not good but face it- despite what he thinks or wants to think, Tim wasn’t brought to New York to be a quarterback. He’s here to fill a void that’s been burning ever since the Jets released Brad Smith. It’s quite possible Tebow will always be a terrible QB but his tremendous skill as an athlete in general could be just the missing piece the New York Jets need this season.

Tim Tebow: 3 out of 10 (Blegh)

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Art of Suffering: or Killin' Bad Guys With Max (Review)

I fondly remember my days spent with the first Max Payne, huddled in the dark corner of my brother's Boston dormroom, clicking and rattling away at his computer, getting lost in a truly mature game unlike any I had ever played before.  Where other shooters had clunky controls and dull protoganists, here was a neo-noire, hard-boiled unique graphic novel-game with sleek & innovative mechanics that managed to make me feel the rage and terror of the titular character.  I vividly remember the beginning of the game, wandering through Max's home after his wife and child's murder, and peering down into the baby's crib to see its little, decimated corpse.  Never had I seen something so violent or disturbing in a game, and the image, combined with the music, lighting and dialogue, the absolute heartbreak of Max Payne, became planted in my mind as a truly moving experience.  It wasn't simply gratuitous, it was a dark motivation.

Max Payne's creators allow the repercussions of this event to carryover from Max Payne 2 to Max Payne 3, fueling a gamer's desire for retribution in tandem with Max's.  The strength of a good storyteller is in their ability to fuse the audience's psyche with that of the character's.  There are a variety of devices to effectively do this in a variety of mediums, but few art-forms are able to achieve this fusion as thoroughly as videogames because of the unmatched level of interaction it demands of the audience.  Rockstar seems to understand this better than any other gaming company, for their games do actually tell stories rather than merely give gamers virtual playgrounds or obstacles to overcome, and the result is that when gamers do encounter those playgrounds and those obstacles, an actual emotional reaction will be elicited due to our connection with the protagonist and his/her struggle.  You do not want to kill bad guys in Max Payne simply because it's fun to kill bad guys.  You want to kill them because you are still brooding over the death of your wife and baby, because you're pissed off and hungover and hooked on pain killers, because you don't understand the language everyone is speaking, and you can't seem to keep a woman alive for longer than three hours (and because it's fun to kill bad guys).  Because you simply are Max Payne by the game's finale, in the same way you became John Marston and Nikko Belic.

Anyone familiar with the story, and experienced the first game some eleven years ago, will experience Max Payne 3 as a thoughtful, skillful evolution of the initial narrative's events, as well as an evolution of the game's mechanics.  If you're coming to the series for the first time, you will find yourself treated to one of Rockstar's best games, where the M-Rating means more than drug-references, blood & gore, and sexual content.  Max Payne 3 is a subtly masterful game, whose deceptive simplicity and focus will likely not earn it the attention of a larger-scale franchises.  At its root, Max Payne is a traditional third-person shooter akin to games of a previous era.
There are "health packs" and "boss battles" and "linear" hallways.  There is very little freedom in Max Payne, but little freedom is needed, or even wanted thanks to Rockstar's excellent use of cutscenes and game design.  While the game hearkens back to days of old, it avoids almost all of the pitfalls of 90s and early 2000s shooters.  It's very easy to miss how the games designers so effectively trick you into thinking you're not experiencing a straightforward linear third-person shoot 'em up.  You never backtrack and you never feel like you're going in the wrong direction (though sometimes it may be hard to find the exact door you have to go through).  I was never left wanting during this experience, however.  I never felt trapped or as though I was going in circles the way these games used to make me feel, and the environments are so detailed, so beautiful, and the gunfights so constantly fulfilling and varied, that I never felt as though I was repeating myself or as though the game had become stale, which is a remarkable achievement considering the game consists mostly of pushing two buttons and a joystick.

The game has some flaws, of course, but overcomes all of them.  While I never felt like I was repeating myself, I literally did repeat myself several times because I died rather often.  More often than I would like to admit.  Unlike other games, however, Max Payne wastes no time with a loading screen or too much repeated dialogue, it drops you right back into the middle of whatever fight you just lost (which was only problematic in one case where I had no health), which keeps the game constantly moving.  The story is consistently excellent in terms of its exploration of Max's character, but becomes occasionally muddled when exploring other characters and struggles for clarity in plot at times (something even Max himself addresses, however, explaining his own confusion and in effect empathizing with gamers, reducing the goal always to the simple kill or be killed).

While some of my gripes were resultant from my own lack of skill in the beginning (which I can't fault Rockstar for), there is one mechanic in the game that while, in theory is awesome, in practice can be very frustrating and at times downright bad.  When a player reaches the end of their health bar, if they have a pain killer in their inventory, the game will automatically go into bullet time as Max slowly falls to the ground.  During this time, players have to find the person who has caused their health to drop to zero (sometimes rather difficult if there are ten targets to pick from), and the reticule will automatically guide your aim toward the shooter (sometimes) and if you manage to hit the target once, then you will survive.  You'll fall to the ground having automatically taken the health pack, killed the baddie, and won the day.  The purpose is to give you the sense of a cinematic, fateful standoff.  When it works well, you may get that feeling (though it's inevitably frustrating to have an optional mechanic enforced upon you randomly in the middle of a firefight), but when this mechanic fails you will find yourself wondering where to shoot and why you've died.  Sometimes you will get locked into this event without any ammo left in your gun (which automatically means you're going to die because you can't switch guns once it's engaged), or a pillar or beam will be in your way thus making it impossible to find the shooter.  Aside from this one aspect of gameplay, everything else, particularly the final kill cam and the other naturally engaged automatic bullet time events, flows wonderfully.  If you manage to look past whatever little gripes you may have, either in the story or in the occasional boss fight, you will find one of the most immersive, unique gaming experiences available.
This sense of immersion and variety is achieved through a number of ingredients.

The cutscenes of Max Payne 3, seamlessly interwoven with gameplay and presented in the shuttering, panel style reminiscent of the original's, dotted with lines of dialogue similar to the film Man on Fire, are as enjoyable to watch as the game is to play.  The visual style in which they are presented accentuates the state of Max's consciousness, his drunkenness, his hangover, his pain.  These little flashes and out-of-focus flares appear in the actual gameplay as well, subtly drawing players into Max's state of mind through the beautiful trickery of film and gameplay.  For example, when a player shoots a baddie in the head, there is a subtle flash across the entire screen, as though you have briefly looked into the sun.  A similar effect happens when players swallow some pain pills to regain their health.  These little artistic flourishes will go largely unnoticed by gamers, and likely even other reviewers, but they work toward creating a distinctive look & feel, while also working on a player's subconscious, linking your mind with Max's.
This game, like a rare, good film, actually makes use of silence.  The game permits Max to simply sit and stare, wallow in his despair-pit, accompanied by the best, most moving game soundtrack I've heard in years.  More than the artistry of their presentation, it is the brilliant implementation of the cutscenes that makes them demonstrate how much other games fail with this particular video game technique.  These scenes follow intense gun battles, providing a brief respite, all the while advancing the plot and keeping your attention focused on the characters.  The game never deviates from its simple narrative, or the particular goal of a certain set-piece.  It is very difficult to stop playing this game once you start because of how integral and expertly integrated the cutscenes are, and how wonderfully paced each mission is.  There simply is no distinction between a cutscene and gameplay in Max Payne 3. The game is a cohesive work of art, utilizing a variety of personalized techniques to create a cinematic & believable world.

 Another essential ingredient in the game's success are the mechanics.  Max Payne 3 has finally perfected the cover system (for me at least).  I never felt too stuck to a wall and I actually liked how, unlike in other games, you can't automatically hop from cover to cover with a single button press.  If you leave cover you have to run to new cover and press X again.  Pressing the X-button to attach oneself to cover feels wonderfully good for some inexplicable reason, and the shootdodge and detailed, heavy movements of Max really do make for a smooth experience.  Even picking up a weapon while running is smooth, as Max dips down into a roll and pops up with the gun in his hands.  That said, the game is rather difficult, even on the medium setting.

The targeting system is reminiscent of GTA IV and Red Dead, without being as helpful or forgiving as those systems.  There are times when, pressing left-trigger to get a soft lock on a target, the reticule does not lock onto my desired enemy, or it seems fixated on the target's chest.  The result can be a mini-wrestling match between the gamer and the joystick.  Do not be discouraged if in the game's beginning you find yourself frustrated and wondering what those lovely Max Payne 3 vid-doc's were talking about when they mentioned the ease of a first person shooter married to the sense of character one gets from a third person shooter.  The game is hard, plain and simple, and it asks that you get better at it.  You have to develop your skill over time and always remember that you have the shootdodge and bullet time at your disposal.  It's easy to get locked into a certain way of thinking when playing video games, especially shooters, and you may forget using certain necessary abilities.  Wisely, unlike other shooters, you cannot remain simply stuck behind cover in Max Payne 3.  It is best to move around, ducking in and out, rolling, leaping, because the enemies (some of the best I've encountered in a shooter) will flank you and, unlike any other game I've ever played, actually shoot you when you pop out of cover to shoot them.  You can get creative with your movements, the environment offering up windows to dive through or staircases to leap down, encouraging gamers to create their own cinematic moments at any time.
Expect to leap into walls and unseen carts or bits of debris and have your bulletdodge interrupted, sometimes at the cost of your life.  But this is forgivable and occasionally makes for some interesting gameplay.  Max is the most detailed and realistic character model I have seen to date.  Rockstar's euphoria and natural motion create some shocking little animations.  For example, I was trapped in a tight room of a prison and leaped to the side so as to shoot through a doorway.  I bashed into the wall and slid down it, landing on my back.  Max grunted, and lay there, bruised and angry.  I remained prone, however, thanks to my good vantage point through the door, and waited for my enemies to approach, knocking them off one at a time.  Little things like this set the game apart from other modern shooters.  The details and the subtlety of Max Payne is truly what makes it art, entertainment, and something unique and beautiful in a genre full of cogs and dog tags as opposed to heart and soul.  And there is soul in this game, something honest and consistently fun.

Where other games would simply have "cool guns" or "pretty environments" or a "health system", Max Payne personalizes these video game tropes, thus making them pertinent as any good art does in its particular medium.  The guns in this game feel like characters, even more so than they did in Red Dead.  They are constantly clicking and clacking, evolving, begging to be used in new ways, and for the first time that I have ever seen in a game, the guns you are holding during gameplay do not magically switch into something else during a cutscene, they remain consistent throughout the experience.  Perhaps I care too much about the small things, but it's the small things in Rockstar's games (and in love) that count, adding up to wonderful wholes, and many gamers simply do not play games for the small things.  This is why GTA IV and Red Dead are considered boring or dull by some.  Most do not care to watch a character evolve over the course of 12 hours, unless it involves gaining XP.  Most gamers will praise the largeness of a world or the size of an explosion or the coolness of a team of characters.  They will not notice how amazingly beautiful it is that Max Payne will carry a rifle in one hand so that he can shoot a sidearm with the other, or that he will quickly pop his rifle into his armpit so that he can still hold it while he reloads his pistol.  These details culminate in an experience of honesty and quiet innovation, perfecting a stagnant genre.
Even Max Payne's various costume changes, the gradual growth of his facial hair, his eventual chrome-dome, work toward not only building a character, but building a believable world and providing gamers with a subtle sense of variety.  I don't know why game-designers seem to think we need our archetypes to remain in the same outfit throughout these experiences, much like cartoon characters, because we don't.  Seeing them change makes them more tangible and it's simply fun to see a new outfit, a new look, an evolution relevant to the circumstances.  This variety of look also accentuates those moments when we peak into Max's New Jersey past and see his iconic black leather jacket and yellow tie.

These details are even more apparent in the environments, particularly the slums of Palo Alto.  Graffitti and garbage abounds.  There is not one corner that isn't realistically rendered, corners that few gamers will ever bother to see, little nooks that flesh out the world, work toward your sense of freedom within a confined space.  You will see fleeing pedestrians, children playing soccer, and guards looming in the distance as you trudge your way through the muck and grime.  Down to the smallest brick, the environments are feverishly detailed. And while a game like LA Noire is nothing but it's little details entirely lacking in a sympathetic/interesting protagonist and an actually fun game to play, Max Payne is always aware of itself, keeping the pure joy of gun-play and gameplay at its core.

This attention to detail and fun finds its way even into the pain killers of Max Payne.  Never have I enjoyed a health system in a video game, except the Payne games.  Not content to stick with simplicity, the games' designers allow the health system to imbue Max with even more depth, while simultaneously giving a little commentary on games in general.  Max is addicted to the pain killers players must consistently collect and use to remain alive, which is amusing on one level considering how desperately and frequently the gamer typically uses health packs.  This aspect of the game allows for Max to make an occasional dark quip about the pain killers, always reminding players of his state of mind.  Rockstar does this sort of thing frequently in their games, allowing the character that players control to comment on the actions of the player.  I cannot emphasize enough how brilliant this is, how it allows a bond to form while simultaneously shedding light on the absurdity of everything in all of existence.
The characters essentially break the forth wall, but it's a deeper, darker break than in film or television, because the player literally controls what the protagonist does.  This control we have over them, while simultaneously hearing their thoughts, makes these characters seem like conscious beings, occasionally forced to do things against their actual will.  They are conscious, tragic beings because while they have the ability to comment on their actions as if they are self-aware, they are nothing more than characters in a story whose every action is actually controlled by some geek's thumbs.  These simple comments, such as John Marston saying "Why do I do the things I do" after I make him shoot a horse, or Max Payne saying "Sobriety is relative" after I have him pick up some pain killers, makes them real little men inside the television, controlled by the strings around my fingertips.  They are not merely ciphers like most game characters, thoughtless fictions devoid of soul.  These are true characters reminding us of our own lack of control.  I doubt most people who plays these games think about this, and Rockstar may not even be entirely aware of their own depth, but it should be appreciated and recognized, as its something only videogames can achieve.  Brilliant!

And so, through Rockstar's excellence, something as typically mundane and forgettable as "taking a health pack" in a video game, becomes a wonderful little insight into someone's psyche, and a philosophical comment on the nature of existence.  And this leads me to what sets Max Payne 3 apart from all other games on the market.
Max Payne 3 is more than just a bunch of lovely graphical details.  The game is more than a fun series of shoot-outs and a cool story.  The game is a character, a true character.  Max Payne, through brilliantly written narrations and wonderfully rendered motion capture, is a living, breathing force in these games, as powerful and deep as any good character in a novel or film.  What other video game can claim this?  This is what makes it worthwhile to overlook the occasional flaws in the game.  It excels in a particular way that most games today don't even dare venture.  Some of the biggest franchises are reliant upon their familiar mechanics alone, endlessly churning out teams of stereotypes for the sake of getting to that next big explosion or quick-time-event.

But Max Payne 3 is about a man.  A real man with real pain.  It's about what it is to be a human being that suffers.  And the game manages to be this while also giving you awesome explosions, gruesomely pleasurable kill-cams, and over-the-top action set-pieces.

Max shows us that video games should and can be more.  In addition to its original, engrossing, and surprisingly lengthy campaign, Max Payne 3 offers a robust multiplayer component as addictive and fun as the main story, making this game worth keeping for a long time.

Max Payne 3 is almost quiet when compared to today's noisy, top franchises.  But sometimes the softest voice has the most insight.  Have a seat at the bar next to this grizzled old man, have a smoke, holster your 9mm, and let him tell you his story.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

WWE: Over the Limit Review

After a year long hiatus, The Machine is back.

And for me a lot has changed. I live in New York City, eat asparagus, go to the gym, am allowed in Mexico again, and am back into WRESTLING. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, “How could they let you back into Mexico after what you did?” I don’t know either quite frankly, but I ain’t asking questions.

No, the real question is wrestling? Before last April, I hadn’t watched a wrestling match in over ten years plus. I looked down on it and everyone who watched it (including you my 9 year old cousin!) and I never gave it the time of day. But last year when MANIA rolled around, I couldn’t help but feel the pull and get wrapped up in the pre-Mania hype. Then Wrestlemania 27 came.

That night I fell in love all over again.

One year later and here we are! Wrestlemania 28 has come and gone, marking my one year anniversary of renewed fandom and we are now two pay per views into uncharted territory for me.

Coming off the post-Wrestlemania momentum, Extreme Rules paid off in a big way. With the return of Brock Lesnar, the psycho in all of us was treated to a fantasy match of an "attitude era" gone by. And not only that, we were finally given the match between Daniel Bryan and Sheamus two years in the making! (Before my time of course but I read a LOT of internet)

With the WWE burning on all cylinders and a dream title match schedule between CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, Over the Limit (an otherwise, throw away ppv) was given all the right pieces to be solid pay per view.

Now, I watched the show at a “wrestling” bar that packs their stools with sweaty, 25-45 year olds who haven’t see the female anatomy since the womb, on Sundays by buying each pay per view. I had a few drinks and I couldn’t help but get swept up in the crowd’s cheers and chants. That being said, take my review of with a grain of salt. And a shot of tequila.

Like I said before, Over the Limit had all the pieces and the momentum to keep up the high quality that the shows the WWE has been putting on as of late. But instead, it we got two great matches on a card that should have been chock full of fun.

The two matches I am referring to are the Fatal Four Way (aka Spot Fest 2012) with Sheamus, Jericho, Randy Orton, and Alberto Del Rio and the WWE Title Match between CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. The Fatal Four Way was exciting and became a finisher showcase at the end like we knew it would with Sheamus retaining the World Heavy Weight title. Though it was predictable, having four of the best wrestlers in the game right now in the same ring together was pure wood inducing fun. But the real meat of the card was the WWE Championship match. A few months ago these two had a series of fights, though neither could truly win because they both had belts at that point. Still, the matches were a clinic on what good wrestling means (though it probably went over the heads of the millions of 6 year old Cena fans). Its something we don’t get to see very often with Undertaker gone and all the injuries Randy Orton, Del Rio, and even Wade Barrett have sustained over the last year. And with the match ending somewhat “dusty” I’m sure we will see these two in the ring together in the very near future.

With the good out of the way, inevitably here comes the bad. The GM versus superstar is a stale idea and one the quite frankly never worked. It didn’t work back with Stone Cold and it doesn’t work now. It was completely predictable albeit very funny for a time but in the end, it was a complete throwaway match between Cena and Laurinaitis that frankly could have been cut to give more time to Punk and DB.

And there in lies the problem that the WWE seems to struggle with since the departure of The Rock and Stone Cold. They have no idea how to use their biggest names half the time. Wrestlemania even factors into the equation when we see Daniel Bryan losing in 18 seconds. One of the hardest working and best superstar heels we’ve seen in years gets his “thank you” for a year of extremely hard work as a size turt-teen boot to the face. But the reason it’s so disheartening is because of the Mania and Extreme Rules had paid off (for the most part) in such a big way that it seemed like Vince and his cronies had finally figured out how to use the incredible talent on their roster (Daniel Bryan, Sheamus, Orton, Punk, Miz, Swagger, and least of all Ziggler – MY DOOOD)!

To personify my point, I’ll use the Miz. Poor guy, must have really pissed someone off in the back or the writers have traded in their pens for Crayolas. Two years ago, the Miz head lined Wrestlemania against Cena and won, but now he is doing the dance to Thriller before a match with Brodus Clay just to make an appearance on a PPV. You could almost see it in his body language and hear it in his voice. One of the most talented superstars and probably a key piece of the WWE’s future has been downgraded to squash matches with the Funkasaurus. It’s depressing. He and we deserve better.

I just worrythat the WWE is going to go back to what they are comfortable with in this PG era and do things because they are safe, not because they are good. I know for a fact that the WWE had regained a lot of its lost pre-Cena era fandom in the past year and they could now be going down a road that would lose them again. You would think in a scripted sport, it would ALWAYS be entertainment. Alas, it is not the case.

I’ll be going to No Way Out next month and I am in the final draft of my letter to the WWE pleading to make it a good show. They seem to have lost my last couple.

Until then.