I’ve been a customer of both Netflix and Amazon Prime Video for some time now. Both services are fantastic (and cheap), but there’s one area they’re just not that great at–new releases. If you want to watch, say, a TV show that’s currently airing, you’ll have to wait typically close to a year after it goes off the air to watch it on Netflix. (Or you could just pay for a cable or satellite subscription, I suppose, but…why?)

Thus, in the interest of being able to watch the second season of Once Upon a Time sooner rather than later (among other things), my fiancé and I decided to give Hulu Plus a try. Our experience with their service has been rather mixed, and I’m here to tell you why.

First of all, it’s important to understand what Hulu Plus is. If you sign up for Hulu Plus expecting it to be a clone of Netflix or Amazon Prime, you’ll be disappointed. Hulu Plus is intended to complement a subscription to something like Netflix, not replace it. What it is intended to replace is your TV subscription.

What does that mean? For one thing, even with Hulu Plus–a paid service–any shows you watch will still be interrupted by advertisements. It’s nowhere near the amount of advertising you’d have on regular TV, and at times they’ll do nifty things like letting you choose which ad to watch, or letting you choose to watch one longer ad at the beginning and not have any ads throughout. But it can still be a tad frustrating, particularly with shows that don’t have regularly scheduled commercial breaks (like anime). In these cases, Hulu often cuts to an ad at awkward moments, in the middle of a scene.

At first, I was very frustrated to find out that Hulu Plus still has advertising–especially considering that Hulu also offers a free service that has many of the same content. What am I paying for, if not to get rid of the ads? (The answer, by the way: you’re paying to have more content available for longer, and to be able to watch it through your gaming console, streaming box, Blu-Ray player, etc.) It’s also frustrating considering that you pay the same amount for Netflix–$8 a month–and Netflix is completely advertisement-free.

However, eventually I came to peace with the idea of watching ads. As I said, Hulu Plus is intended to complement Netflix and replace your TV service. And if you compare Hulu Plus to any cable or satellite service, it’s actually an amazing deal. It’s far cheaper, has less advertising, and allows you to watch currently or recently airing shows on your own schedule, without having to DVR them first. It depends on which shows you watch, of course, but with subscriptions to both Hulu Plus and Netflix, I think many people would find they had very little reason to continue subscribing to cable or satellite TV service.

It’s also worth noting that Hulu Plus doesn’t stream their shows in the same quality as Netflix or Amazon. Netflix has by far the highest streaming quality, offering up to 1080p and 7.1. sound on certain releases (as well as some 3D support). Amazon Prime Video offers 720p and 5.1 sound–still not bad. Hulu Plus is limited to 720p and stereo, even for shows that were originally broadcast on TV in 5.1. Depending on what your setup is and how much of an audiophile you are, this may or may not even bother you, but it’s worth knowing about. If you have a surround sound setup, Hulu Plus won’t be able to properly make use of it.

In spite of the advertising and the lower quality video streams, Hulu Plus does shine in two particular areas. Firstly, and most obviously–recently airing shows. If you want to watch the most recent episodes of Family Guy, the Colbert Report, Once Upon a Time, or any number of other shows, you just can’t do it on Netflix unless you wait for at least a year. Hulu Plus typically has new episodes within a week of airing, if not sooner.

Secondly, and surprisingly–anime. In spite of the awkward interruptions for advertisements, I’ve actually found that Hulu Plus is a great service for streaming anime. They have a very wide selection of popular shows, and more than that, they almost always offer the subbed versions. Many shows actually offer your choice of dub or sub, and those that don’t almost always default to the sub. Netflix does offer many of the same shows without advertisements, yes–but almost always in the dubbed versions. For purists like me that almost always prefer watching anime subbed, Hulu Plus is great.

One last note, however. We’ve had Hulu Plus for about two months now, and we’ve run into a lot of technical problems. I’ve honestly had more problems with Hulu Plus over the past two months than I’ve had with Netflix in the past two years. Sound drops out during episodes, the show randomly drops out of HD, it kicks me out of the Hulu Plus app, I’ve had problems logging in, I’ve had problems loading shows… Their reliability is simply not that great. (And the problem is not on our end, either–we’ve had problems on the PS3, Xbox 360, and my PC. Meanwhile, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and HBO Go all work perfectly fine.)

On the other hand, we did have to call their customer service once (due to problems logging in), and I have to say I was very impressed with the quality of their customer service. We shared our concerns about the reliability problems we’d been having, and the woman we talked to was very sympathetic. She made note of the episodes we’d had sound issues with, and gave us a month of service for free. Good customer service is rare, so it was nice to find that it’s something Hulu does right.

In summary, our experiences with Hulu Plus so far have been very mixed. It is definitely a much cheaper way of watching recent shows than a cable or satellite subscription, and it’s the only streaming video service I know of to offer a wide selection of popular anime with subtitles. On the other hand, the paid version has advertisements, it streams only in stereo, and their reliability is awful. We still haven’t decided yet whether we’re going to keep our subscription, and I can’t really give you a definitive recommendation one way or the other. Just be aware of what you’re getting into before you subscribe–if you expect Hulu Plus to be another Netflix, you’re bound to be disappointed.

After reading through the most recent news out of E3, I’ve come to a conclusion. The Xbox One is going to go down in history as the first game console to ever lose the console wars before it was even released.

I present to you, a bullet pointed list explaining exactly how Microsoft has presented us with quite possibly the most epic failure in gaming history.

  • Xbox One has DRM for used games; PS4 does not. For anyone who hasn’t been keeping up, on the Xbox One you won’t be able to do things like buy used games, trade in your old games to GameStop, or let your friends borrow your games–or if you can, it will be severely limited and involve some sort of fee, thus removing the entire point of buying used games in the first place. Sony, on the other hand, has gone with the astonishing concept that once you buy a game, you actually own it and should be able to do whatever you like with it.

    There are many reasons why I (and hardcore gamers as a whole) have already come to prefer the PS4, but this is probably the most important. DRM has never been a good idea in any circumstances, and typically just causes problems for the people who bother to acquire things legitimately. (Even Steam, which has fairly good DRM, has been known to give me problems at times.) Microsoft also seems completely oblivious to the fact that many gamers just can’t afford to buy new games all the time. Although given how great the outrage has been over the Xbox One’s blockage of used games, I’m starting to think maybe they’re not oblivious after all–maybe they just don’t care.

  • The PS4 does not require an Internet connection, unlike the Xbox One. True, for most of us, most of the time, this would be a non-issue. Most gamers probably have their consoles constantly hooked up to the Internet anyway. However, this is still infuriating just on principle. Say I’m spending a week visiting my best friend, who lives in a trailer out in the sticks and has no Internet. I think we’d have some fun playing video games together, so I decide to take a console with me. Can I bring my Xbox One? Nope! No Internet, no games! Do you live in a rural area? Are you in the military? Guess what, Microsoft doesn’t want you to buy their product!

    For that matter, what’s going to happen when Microsoft’s servers go down? What happens when Xbox Live encounters issues and every single person who bought an Xbox One is unable to play any of their games? Microsoft clearly hasn’t thought this one through. Sony, on the other hand, is on the books as saying they never even considered implementing such a requirement into the PS4.

  • The Xbox One requires the Kinect to be constantly hooked up. This is especially damning considering that privacy is on everyone’s minds right now, what with all the controversy over the NSA spying on Verizon’s phone records, the IRS targeting conservative groups, etc. Do you really want to have a camera and microphone constantly hooked up in your living room, watching everything you do and say–especially one that requires a constant connection to the Internet? I already insist on unplugging the Kinect I have when it’s not in use, for those very reasons. Maybe I’m just paranoid, but my smartphone’s capacity to spy on me is worrying enough without the Kinect added to it.
  • The PS4 costs $400; the Xbox One, $500. Seriously, Microsoft? Seriously? You already had all this controversy over your game console, most gamers were already leaning towards the PS4 as it was–and you think you can sell this piece of shit for $500? What the hell kind of drugs are you on?

    Granted, the Xbox One comes with the Kinect, which could very well be the source of that extra $100. But, well…how many hardcore gamers really care that much about the Kinect to begin with? How much does it really add to your gameplay experience? The only thing I use my Kinect for is to play Dance Central, and occasionally to navigate through menus in things like Netflix and HBO Go. And the menu navigation is so buggy that I just end up unplugging it and using the controller half the time anyway.

  • The PS4 is a console to play games on. The Xbox One is a console to watch TV on. Microsoft has gone down the “all-in-one media center” route. They’re trying to make the Xbox One be the One Set-Top Box to Rule Them All. You can watch TV, watch Netflix, stream music, all these things! Oh, and I suppose if you really wanted to you could play games as well, as long as you didn’t want to buy any of them used or borrow them from your friends.

    PS4, on the other hand, is clearly centered around one thing: playing games. While obviously it will have the capacity to do things like watch Netflix as well, that’s not its main focus. The PS4 is, first and foremost, a game console. Rather than making it an all-in-one box, they’re focusing on doing one thing and doing it well. I suppose it depends on what you’re looking for in a game console, but personally, I prefer the PS4’s approach.

  • The one downside: PlayStation Plus is now required for online multiplayer. One of the advantages of the PS3 over the Xbox 360 was that the PS3 allowed for free online multiplayer, whereas the 360 required Xbox Live Gold. This will no longer be the case. On the PS4, free online multiplayer is no more.

    However, let me tell you why this doesn’t upset me. First of all, PlayStation Plus is an amazing deal to begin with. A subscription gets you new free games on a regular basis, all of which can be played indefinitely as long as you remain a Plus subscriber. They aren’t awful games, either–some of them are actually really good, high-quality games. For example, my fiancé and I originally got into the Saint’s Row series because Saint’s Row 2 was available for free on PlayStation Plus. It’s a great way to fill in your game library with awesome games that you would probably never have spent the money to check out otherwise.

    Secondly, while I love that Sony has always offered PlayStation Network for free, the sad fact of the matter is that Xbox Live’s servers are much better. They’re both faster and more reliable. And let’s face it, running fast, reliable servers for such a large number of gamers does require a good bit of money. If charging for online multiplayer will give us servers on par with Xbox Live’s, then so be it. I’m willing to pay that price–especially if they keep giving us all the amazing free games and excellent sales that already come with Plus membership.

At this point, I’m really not sure who Microsoft is trying to appeal to. They’re obviously not trying to appeal to the hardcore gamers–hell, judging by what they’ve done so far, they haven’t even THOUGHT about the hardcore gamers. So perhaps, with the inclusion of the Kinect and their attempts at making it an all-in-one device, the Xbox One is intended to appeal to the masses. Yet I can’t help but think it’s going to fail at that as well. Casual gamers have moved on from the Wii to smartphones and tablets–they’ve never really played on Xbox systems and probably never will. And as for being an all-in-one media center–don’t most of us already have that? Anyone who would have the money to buy an Xbox One doubtless already has some sort of media center, whether it’s their cable/satellite box, their Blu-Ray player, Apple TV, a Roku box, etc. Why would we pay $500 for something that doesn’t give us any functionality we don’t have already?

At this point, Microsoft has a LOT of catching up to do if they want to stand a snowball’s chance in hell of competing with the PS4. Sony has focused on listening to their fans and giving them what they want, whereas Microsoft has taken one of the most blatantly anti-consumer stances I’ve ever seen. Unless many, many things change between now and this holiday season, there’s no way I’ll be buying an Xbox One, and it’s clear that most gamers feel the same way.

Congratulations, Microsoft. I’m sure Sony’s very grateful to you. After all, you helped ensure that the PS4 will be the next-gen game console of choice.

As anyone who’s been watching the third season of Game of Thrones knows, this past Sunday was a very important episode with a very important plot twist. I really want to discuss some of my thoughts, but I’ll do everyone a favor and put it behind a spoiler warning. So with no further ado:

If you have not seen Episode 9 of the third season of Game of Thrones, “The Rains of Castamere,” do not read this post (unless you’ve already read the book and don’t care). Seriously. I’m not joking. This is probably the single worst spoiler you could get and it will totally ruin your life, so seriously, don’t do it.

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Developer: Irrational Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Genre: FPS
Platform: PS3/Xbox 360/PC/Mac
Price: $59.99
Players: 1

In the opening sequence of BioShock Infinite, you find yourself in a row boat at sea. You end up being taken to a lighthouse in the middle of the ocean, which you ascend. Your only clue as to why you are here is a note on the door: “Bring us the girl and wipe away the debt.” At the top, you sit in a chair, and the room around you turns into a rocket that counts down and fires you into the sky. You soar and soar, higher and higher into the sky, until finally you break through the cloud cover and a breathtaking landscape is revealed: the flying city of Columbia, a steampunk marvel set high among the clouds.

Gameplay in BioShock Infinite feels much like that of earlier BioShock games.

Gameplay in BioShock Infinite feels much like that of earlier BioShock games.

If you’re thinking that some aspects of that sequence sound a bit familiar, you’d be right. Infinite invokes memories of the first BioShock game from the very beginning, and the similarities don’t stop there. As you wander around Columbia, you’ll end up discovering the backstory through Voxaphones–hidden audio recordings made by the residents of Columbia. Rather than Plasmids, your character, Booker DeWitt, gains special powers through drinking potions called Vigors. Their effects are mostly the same as in the original BioShock–lightning, fire, and so on–although there are some new ones, such as Murder of Crows, which sends a group of crows to attack and stun your enemies. Using Vigors uses up Salts rather than EVE, but the overall concept is the same. You’ll upgrade Vigors, upgrade weapons, and buy items at vending machines that spout phrases such as “Return when you’ve got some currency, fella!” And while you may not fight any Big Daddies, there are plenty of “Heavy Hitter” enemies to take their place, such as the Patriot–a murderous animatronic George Washington with a crank gun.

There’s no doubt that Infinite deserves the “BioShock” part of its title. But what’s even more impressive is how many things Infinite manages to do that are new. They’ve taken the best parts of the first BioShock game and formed something entirely new out of it–something that I would argue has even managed to surpass its predecessor in quality.

Unlike Rapture, Columbia is vibrant, alive, and full of people.

Unlike Rapture, Columbia is a living city, full of people.

As you wander around Columbia, at first things seem downright heavenly. The city is vibrant, alive, and full of people–a stark contrast to the ruin that was Rapture in earlier BioShock games. Everyone seems to follow the same religious cult, but the city is so breathtaking and the people so happy that it’s hard to resist being sucked in a little. At least, that is, until you end up winning the city’s free raffle. What’s your prize? It’s the chance to be the first to throw a baseball at an interracial couple, escorted onto the stage surrounded by racist caricatures of monkeys.

Things only get more complicated as the story goes on, and Booker ends up caught between warring factions. The Vox Populi are a group that claims to stand for the common people, against the rich, racist leaders of Columbia. Eventually, of course, you end up finding out they have their own dark side as well. BioShock games have always been about the dangers of extremism, and Infinite is no exception. There are two characters whose presence greatly changes the storyline from earlier BioShock games, though: Booker and Elizabeth.

While the protagonists of earlier BioShock games had names and backstories, they were your typical mute protagonist, with no personality beyond that which the player projected onto them. Booker DeWitt is not. He has a name, a backstory, a personality, and fully voiced dialogue (done by the wonderful Troy Baker). He also has a companion during the game: a young girl named Elizabeth, who serves as your sidekick in battle.

Elizabeth has her own distinct personality, right down to making snarky comments about the scenery.

Don’t worry, though. Elizabeth is not your typical video game sidekick, and BioShock Infinite is not an escort mission. While it’s hard to avoid getting a bit of a Disney princess vibe from Elizabeth, she repeatedly proves herself to be a smart, independent, and capable young woman. You don’t have to worry about protecting her in battle, either–as the game itself says, “she can take care of herself.” That alone removes near-infinite annoyance potential. Possibly the most impressive thing about Elizabeth is how real she feels. She doesn’t just mindlessly follow you around the world, waiting to be interacted with. She’ll wander around areas of Columbia herself, examining things and making comments, sometimes starting a conversation with you. Sometimes you’ll see her sit down on a bench and wait for you, or you’ll see her leaning against a wall. It’s such a minor touch, but the way Elizabeth interacts with things makes her feel like a real person who inhabits the same world you do, rather than a pre-programmed AI.

She also has several useful skills to help you throughout the game. For one, she can pick locks to open optional doors and hidden safes. She’ll also throw you health, Salts, and ammo as you need it during battle, and will hand you money as you walk around. If you miss picking up an object, she’ll point it out to you. You might think her presence would make the gameplay too easy, but it doesn’t. Irrational Games did a very good job of balancing Elizabeth as a character. There’s no guarantee that she’ll be able to help you out–she has to “have the right materials on hand.” It’s nice when it happens, but it’s not something you can depend on; the game does a good job of making sure you don’t use it as a crutch.

Elizabeth's ability to pick locks often comes in handy.

Elizabeth’s ability to pick locks often comes in handy.

Last but certainly not least, Elizabeth also has the ability to open tears into alternate dimensions. She can then pull things through these tears into your universe–things like sniper rifles, medical kits, turrets, or cover for you to hide behind. In a difficult battle, a bit of help from Elizabeth can often give you the edge you need to survive.

Infinite does also change a few things from earlier BioShock games in terms of gameplay. Rather than carrying an entire armory with you, you’re now limited to only carrying two guns at a time. If you have two guns already and want to pick up a third, you have to drop one of the guns you’re carrying. Enemies often drop weapons when they die, and there are typically guns left in strategic places in certain areas, so it’s not as though weapons are hard to come by. I still found that I didn’t like the change, though. It made me more likely to hold on to guns that I knew I liked, rather than experimenting as much as I wanted to; if I dropped a gun that I liked, I might not be able to get it back for some time. That’s probably the only thing about Infinite that I didn’t like, however, and it is a very minor complaint.

One of the Handymen, a new "Heavy Hitter" enemy in BioShock Infinite.

One of the Handymen, a new “Heavy Hitter” enemy in BioShock Infinite.

BioShock Infinite also gives you a shield, much like those found in many other FPS games. Enemies won’t be able to hurt you as long as your shield is up, but each enemy attack will drain your shield’s power. If you can avoid getting attacked, your shield will recharge over time. The last significant change to the core BioShock gameplay is that death in Infinite actually has some consequences. If Booker dies, his health will be partially restored, any living enemies’ health will be partially restored, and he loses a set amount of funds from his wallet. Rather than being able to simply pop out of a Vita-Chamber and keep going, Infinite’s system provides you with some real incentive to avoid death.

Not only is the gameplay well-done and enjoyable, the storyline of Infinite is also absolutely amazing. The BioShock series is known for its mind-blowing plot twists, and Infinite does not disappoint in that regard. Upon a second playthrough, almost every line is packed with foreshadowing that only makes sense in hindsight. It’s an emotional and well-crafted tale, and I really can’t recommend it highly enough, particularly for anyone who enjoys stories involving alternate dimensions or time travel.

BioShock Infinite, as it turns out, was definitely worth the wait. Irrational Games has provided us with a game that not only serves as a worthy sequel to the original BioShock, but even manages to surpass the original’s brilliance. It’s rare that we get a game this amazing; nothing I can say can possibly praise it enough.

Overall Rating: 6/5 (Yes, it’s THAT good.)
What I Played: Beat the game on Normal mode with a good amount of exploration. In the process of replaying it on Hard.

Developer: Thatgamecompany
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Experimental/Adventure
Platform: PlayStation 3
Price: $14.99 (PSN)
Players: 1 (local); online co-op

Journey is a game that’s difficult to write a review for. Much like Thatgamecompany’s other games, it’s perhaps best described as an experience rather than a game. Playing Journey isn’t about addictive gameplay, high-res graphics, or any of the things that normally draw us into games. Instead, where Journey truly shines is in the way that it makes you feel. Journey truly is a journey, and it’s one that will make you experience awe, fear, despair, and elation. When people talk about video games potentially being art, this is the kind of game they’re talking about.

Journey doesn’t start you out with any kind of tutorial or explanation. You don’t even get so much as a scene setting up the story, or an overlay explaining the controls. You’re simply placed directly into the middle of a desert, and left to figure things out on your own. The controls are simple–X jumps, O shouts, and you can either tilt the controller or use the right joystick to rotate the camera. As you explore, you’ll end up finding bits of fabric that power up the scarf around your neck, allowing you to jump higher and farther and almost float through the air. You’ll also find hidden glyphs that will make your scarf longer and able to power stronger jumps that will take you even farther.

That’s about it for the gameplay. As for the storyline, all I can say is that it is what you make of it. Journey is a game that only takes two or three hours to beat, yet over those few hours, you’ll find yourself identifying with the main character and growing surprisingly emotionally invested in his (or her?) trek through the wilderness.  I don’t want to say too much, honestly. Part of Journey’s power lies in its ability to have a different meaning to every player, and to surprise you with its many twists and turns.

One last thing–I can’t review Journey without talking about its soundtrack. The music in Journey is AMAZING. Journey’s music manages to connect with the actions you’re taking on screen in a way that makes the soundtrack seem almost interactive. It also manages to perfectly capture the epic feeling of awe and smallness that the game often tries (very successfully) to invoke in the player. Without the music, Journey would be an entirely different game, and would likely lack much of its emotional impact.

Journey is a game best experienced without knowing what to expect, so I hesitate to say too much. I’ll just say that if you own a PS3 and you have yet to play Journey, you should go download it immediately. It may only be a two- or three-hour game–but what an amazing two or three hours they are. Journey is an artistic masterpiece, and I can honestly say that playing it has changed my concept of what a game can be. Just…go play it. Seriously.

Overall Rating: 5/5
What I Played: Beat the entire game once.

Developer: Double Fine Productions
Producer: THQ
Genre: RPG/Adventure
Platforms: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC
Price: $15 (PS3/Steam)/1,200 XBL Points
Players: 1

Costume Quest is a fun and quirky little role-playing/adventure game from Double Fine Productions and THQ. You control a group of kids on Halloween night, and your goal is to go around three different levels trick-or-treating, collecting candy, and battling monsters. Your characters can switch costumes throughout the game, and each costume has different abilities, both for battle and exploration. For example, the Robot costume features a Boost ability that lets you move faster and skate off the top of ramps. In battle, the Robot plays as a ranged physical attacker whose rockets can set the enemy on fire. Different costumes play differently; for example, the Statue of Liberty costume serves as your first healer. Any costume can be put on any character at any time; think of it as a massively simplified job system.

During battles, characters transform into massive versions of their costumes.

The gameplay is pretty simple, overall. Battles rely mostly on well-timed button presses, so you’ll need fairly quick reaction times and a certain level of familiarity with the controller in order to do well. Your characters’ ability can be boosted through battle stamps, which can be bought at a store in each level. Candy is the game’s form of money, and can be found through exploring levels, discovered in treasure chests, or gotten through trick-or-treating. Each house you approach will reveal either an adult human, who gives you candy, or a monster, who you’ll have to fight. Battles earn you experience points, candy, and Creepy Treat cards, the game’s main collectible. There’s also a bobbing for apples mini-game that can earn you rewards, as well as various sidequests that let you do things like trade Creepy Treat cards or find other kids that are playing hide-and-seek.

Minigames like bobbing for apples provide a fun distraction.

Double Fine’s characteristic sense of humor shines throughout the game, in everything from the dialogue to the battle stamps (one allows you to T.P. your enemy, which stuns them). Even the premise of the story is an entertaining one. Wren and Reynold, a pair of twins, are the main characters, and you get to decide which one you control. Whichever one you don’t control ends up dressed in a candy corn costume. Only problem is, monsters are patrolling the town trying to collect all the candy, and they mistake said twin for a miraculously large, talking piece of candy corn. Your quest begins as you attempt to get back your twin, enjoy your Halloween, and still make it home before bedtime.

To a certain extent, I see Costume Quest as being a game that might have difficulty finding a niche. Hardcore gamers will likely want more depth and strategy, and be turned off by the game’s simplicity, short length, and the repetitiveness of the controls. Casual gamers, on the other hand, may not know the controller well enough to do well in the battle system. And while the overall concept is one that kids and younger gamers would likely enjoy, the humor is definitely more adult-oriented. (Nothing dirty, mind you–just a lot of jokes that would fly over most kids’ heads.)

I enjoyed Costume Quest a lot for what it was, however. While the gameplay is simple and repetitive, the game itself is short enough–only three levels long–that it didn’t have enough time to wear on my nerves. I also thoroughly enjoyed Double Fine’s comedic writing ability, as always. Costume Quest is short and simple, but it’s fun, and that’s what playing games is really all about. As long as you go in knowing what to expect, it can serve as a fun and refreshing break from more complex, mature games.

Overall Rating: 4/5

What I Played: Beat the entire game and got all Costumes, Creepy Treat Cards, and Battle Stamps. Completed all quests.


Thanks to WinterIsComing.net, the Internet now has an (almost) complete list of episode titles for the third season of Game of Thrones. As it currently stands, the episode titles are:

301 – Valar Dohaeris
302 – Dark Wings, Dark Words
303 – Walk of Punishment
304 – And Now His Watch is Ended
305 – Kissed by Fire
306 – TBD
307 – The Bear and the Maiden Fair
308 – TBD
309 – The Rains of Castamere
310 – Mhysa

The more I think about it, the more I appreciate Game of Thrones’ episode titles. For anyone who’s read A Storm of Swords, the episode titles make the major events of each episode fairly obvious. (Especially The Rains of Castamere…oy. I’m not prepared and neither are you.) Yet for anyone who’s just following along with the TV show, there’s nothing there to really give anything away. I also appreciate how they’re able to come up with episode titles that can apply to multiple storylines, like Kissed by Fire.

I’m so excited for Season Three of Game of Thrones that it’s ridiculous. It says a lot for the quality of both the series itself and HBO’s adaptation that, even though I’ve read the series and already know everything that’s coming, I’m STILL incredibly excited to get to watch the series. (And I’m most excited about the scenes that I know are going to leave me with severe emotional trauma. I must be a masochist or something.)

Only 29 more days to go! Sigh.

So it has come to my attention that a fansubbed camrip of Evangelion 3.0 is now available on the Internet. Just to forewarn anyone who’s thinking of downloading it, the quality is pretty bad, mostly because whoever was filming it didn’t seem able to keep the camera still and centered on the screen. So for about half the movie, you can only see half the screen. There were also a few lines that were left out of the fansubs (at least in the version I downloaded). So if you really care about quality, you’re better off waiting. But if you’re like me and you’re overly impatient and only care about the plot, it’s worth checking out.

THIS REVIEW IS GOING TO CONTAIN SPOILERS GALORE. You have been warned. I’ll post a spoiler-free review later, but for now I just want to collect my thoughts and express my opinions on the movie without worrying about spoilers.

If you haven’t seen 3.0 yet, you really should see it before you read this. It’s a movie that is VASTLY enhanced by not seeing any spoilers first. Your experience will NOT be the same if you read this before seeing the film. Just warning you.

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The other day, my fiancé and I sat down to try out my newest game purchase: The Cave. The Cave is a game that fuses old-school adventure games with platforming elements, and allows for up to three-player local co-op. The game was made by Ron Gilbert, who worked on several old-school LucasArts adventure games like Maniac MansionDay of the Tentacle, and the first Monkey Island games. It was also published by Double Fine productions, the company founded by Tim Schafer, who also worked on many of those same LucasArts classics. As a diehard fan of old LucasArts adventure games, as well as someone who’s always looking for a good game with local co-op, The Cave was clearly something I had to check out.

The game feels very much like playing Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle, in so many ways–there’s even a New Grog machine on one of the first levels. Ron Gilbert has a fantastic sense of humor, and it really shines in The Cave. His influence is obvious in everything from the jokes to the quirky premise. Much like in Maniac Mansion, you have seven different characters that you can choose to control. You’re required to take three–and only three–characters into the Cave each playthrough. Each character has their own backstory and storyline that gets revealed as the game goes on, and certain areas are only accessible with certain characters in your group, meaning you’ll have to play through The Cave at least three times to see everything.

If you’re playing single-player, you’ll have to switch between all three characters to gather objects and solve puzzles. Up to two other people, however, can also join the game at any time and control the other characters. Any player can switch to any character at any time, and the mechanics for doing so are very easy to use–just press the D-pad in a certain direction to take control of a certain character, or press down to leave the game. This isn’t split-screen co-op, however. All three characters will appear on the same screen, and sometimes puzzles will even require the characters to be in completely different parts of the Cave. When this happens, you’ll have to switch the camera back and forth between characters in order to complete a puzzle. It does require some patience, and I could see it getting very old for some players.

Each character also has their own special ability. For example, the Scientist can hack computer terminals, the Knight can temporarily become invincible, and the Time Traveler can phase-shift through some doors and walls. These abilities will sometimes give you an easy way to bypass a puzzle, such as one point early in the game when I came to a locked door with a computer terminal that the Scientist could simply hack. These abilities are also the key to keeping you in or out of certain character-specific areas. You’ll have to go through some main areas of the Cave regardless of which characters you have with you, but each character also has their own specific area that can only be solved if you have them with you. If you come to the Twins’ area and you don’t have the Twins, for example, you’ll have to just keep going and bypass the puzzles in that particular area. It does encourage replay value, but only for those who really enjoy the style of gameplay.

The game does feature some minor platforming elements, but at least so far, none of it has been too complicated. At its heart, The Cave really is an old-school adventure game. You’ll be picking up items, carrying them to other places, and trying to find the right combinations of things in order to solve puzzles. Each character can only carry one item at a time, meaning your overall inventory is limited to three items. Luckily, at least so far, the inventory limitations haven’t been too much of a problem. They’ve done very well at limiting the amount of items they give you, so we haven’t been forced to make too many difficult decisions about what to take along thus far.

Unfortunately, the game’s puzzles often require a lot of backtracking through the same areas, which can get old sometimes. The need to constantly switch between characters and camera focuses is also something I could foresee becoming tiring in the future, although it hasn’t bothered me much so far. Overall, The Cave seems like a good game, but it’s certainly not a game for everyone. If you’re a fan of old-school adventure games, particularly ones by LucasArts, The Cave is definitely a must-play. Anyone else who enjoys a puzzle game with a sense of humor might also want to give it a try, particularly if they’re looking for a decent co-op game. Be warned, however, that it is a fairly slow-paced game and requires a good bit of patience to play. If you’re looking for something action-packed where you get to shoot things, this is not the game for you. Overall, though, The Cave offers a very unique experience that can’t be found anywhere else, which is something the gaming industry needs more of–and that’s why, at least so far, I’ve enjoyed my time playing it.

So in case you missed it, yesterday Sony made the first official announcements about the PlayStation 4, which is supposed to be available “this holiday season.” Rumors have been flying for a while about Sony and Microsoft’s potential next-gen consoles, and games like The Witcher 3 are clearly being developed with next-gen consoles in mind, but this is the first official news we’ve heard. Here’s an overview of what we know, as well as my thoughts and concerns.

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