Toomb’s Tomb Raider Review

286142-blackangelMaking a new Lara Croft game is a tricky proposition. A franchise that has spawned countless games, 2 Angelina Jolie-starring movies, and inspired one of the best been-caught-masturbating scenes ever filmed (Grandma’s Boy). So when Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics Tomb Raider-reboot, simply titled Tomb Raider, was announced a few years ago, everyone’s reaction was pretty much the same: “Well of course they are.”

Don’t you love it when you get proven wrong?

2446979-tombraider_2013_03_05_22_24_38_600Holy shit this is one of the best games you can get for any console ever! They hit it out of the park on this one ladies and germs, cause Lara Croft is back in a(nother) origin story that is filled with edge-of-your seat action, palm-sweating-climbing, and so much more. Tomb Raider also comes with the highly coveted “my wife played straight through in a couple days” seal of approval that only comes along maybe once a year. I knew from the moment I first rented it that it was one of those special efforts that transcends the typical “awesome game” experience. In fact I had to return the rental and go trade in some old games so I could own a copy. It’s good enough to go in this broke guy’s keepers collection.

Lara Croft is the most famous heroine in modern fiction. She’s sexy, she’s independent, and she kicks ass in a pony-tail. In Tomb Raider, we find out how she becomes that way. Her character crosses platforms, media, and pretty much picked up where Indiana Jones left off on, and where only Nathan Drake has been able to continue. I mention Drake on purpose here, because it’s so obvious that Square Enix drew heavily on the EXTREMELY successful Uncharted series for their latest reboot. uncharted-2-among-thieves-1902Uncharted and its sequels are hands-down the most fun you’ll have outside a Rockstar Game. They are not video games per se, they are playable action movies. If you’ve never played Uncharted and you’re a gamer, you need to take a look at your priorities… Uncharted 2 is in my top 5 favorite games of all time (a list that, should it expand at all, will undoubtedly include Tomb Raider).

The reason Uncharted works so well, and also why Tomb Raider works even better, is because of the cut scenes. There aren’t any. With traditional “cut scenes” you’ll play a level, then it will cut to a mini-movie that moves the plot forward (if your lucky enough to have a game with a plot) before you play the next level. Rinse, repeat… It’s boring and monotonous and makes most games sub-par. Cut scenes can ruin a game (Dead Island) or, if done right, can truly elevate a game to a different level of entertainment.

lara-7Like Uncharted, and now Tomb Raider, time and effort were put into the story, the voice-acting, the motion-capture animation, and the way they all work together. The result is truly astonishing. Cut scenes stop being just that and become seamlessly integrated into the game. Video games are always STOP-GO-STOP-GO because of cut scenes and I think they break up the action and take away from the immersion. In Tomb Raider, right from the start you’re shot out of a cannon and the action never slows down.

Camilla Luddington has stepped into Lara Croft’s climbing boots, and with the use of some remarkable motion-capture CGI, the new Lara is an unforgettable character. From the first scene where she is shipwrecked, hit over the head, and hung from the ceiling in a scary cave, you empathize for her. When she falls and is impaled (albeit slightly), you feel the shock… Tomb-Raider_2013-1When she scrambles under collapsing rocks in a cave-in, you scramble too, mashing buttons to get away as a scary bad-guy tries to grab her legs, you break out in a sweat… When she jumps across a mind-numbingly-high chasm to barely grasp the opposite ledge, you hold your breath… Any flaws this game might have are so overshadowed by the brilliance of the M-rated action that they don’t even register. Tiny things like handling (Lara has a tendency to NOT turn around and grab the nearest ledge, resulting in more than a few accidental falls) and frame rate issues become insignificant with all this beautiful game going on.

Plainly said, this is what a video game should be… Mystery, suspense, action, vertigo-inspiring climbing, immaculate graphics, hidden treasures, and the best part? It’s open-world for the most part. Once the main story line is over, you’re free to explore the island… Where plenty of side-missions, hidden booty, and of course, tombs to be raided.

“It hate tombs.” Lara says after emerging from the first one. I’ll try not to get offended.

tomb-raider-2013Lara is 21 years old in this prequel. Fresh out of college with a sound theory on the ancient Japanese legend of Yamatai, a forbidden island reminiscent of Lost meets Apocalypse Now. When she and her friends are shipwrecked on the island, it’s up to Lara to learn how to survive in the jungles, caves, mountains, and shanty towns of the island. At the beginning of the game she is a normal girl, in an extraordinary situation, where she must adapt, overcome, and yes, kill in order to survive and save her friends. When Lara has to kill for the first time it is brutal, intimate, and disturbing. On the other hand, because it is still a video game filled with bad guys, within minutes Lara becomes a cold-blooded arrow-shooting assassin telling her mentor, “I had to kill a man.” “Lara, that couldn’t have been easy,’ He responds.

“It’s scary how easy it was…” replies Lara.LaraBloodyGoodTime

You climb to the highest peaks, and zip-line to the deepest caverns, you sneak-attack with arrows or you’re caught in a full-on firefight with the homicidal cultists on the island. Nothing like a homicidal cult to ruin your expedition eh?

Go out and rent or buy this game right now. You won’t regret it. The graphics, the story, the acting, the gameplay, they’re all nearly perfect. Tomb Raider is available on all platforms, PS3, Xbox, PC, and it boasts a fairly-fun multiplayer as well. It’s guaranteed a great time!Tomb-Raider_Screenshots-12-3-9

Cutting the Cable Cord: Day 1

cable_cord_byAlyson_Hurt_flickrccHow much is your cable bill? How about when you let it slide for a few weeks? Ever pick it apart and read the fine print? Now let me ask you this: Do you know what Stockholm Syndrome is?

You know, the one where the hostages lose their minds and start to feel a bond with the kidnappers? It’s like the story of the frog in the pot. The water’s warm, it keeps getting warmer, it feels great and relaxing, and then it’s frog soup.

Well this analogy can be used for anything in our society today, from the inability of our government to function on even the basest levels, to the Doritos Cool Ranch Taco at Taco Bell, the water is boiling… and we’re too relaxed to notice we’re about to be soup… But I’m talking about cable television.

infographic-cutting-the-cableWho knows this game? Your bill is too high so you call up Comcast and say you need to cut back some services and possibly switch to Dish… The representative pretends he or she hasn’t played this game every 5 minutes for the last 5 years  and gives you free HBO for six months and a boost on your internet speed… and maybe if you’re lucky will cut your bill down enough to make you feel like you’re empowered, like Comcast really cares about your business and wants to keep you as a customer.

I played this game for over 10 years and I can’t do it anymore. So as of today, as painful as it might be, my family has “cut the cord.” I turned in all of our cable boxes and gave up the charade of cable television. After literally months of back and forth, pros and cons, and swearing “this’ll be the week…”, tonight we are free. We can watch whatever we want without the constraints of “the guide.”

Let’s face it Comcast, “the guide” is the same crappy blue boxes you implemented 20 years ago. I’ve been staring at the same unresponsive menus and horrible interface for the better part of my adult life. Well, all of it actually… And yes I know that says something about my lifestyle, but I assure you, I do all things in moderation… ESPECIALLY moderation. While they might have added HDTV programming and On Demand (which now completely sucks because there and commercials and you can’t fast forward) to the mix, it’s still the same 25-year-old technology they’re selling us as next year’s model.

the-cable-guy-tbi-1Our last bill from Comcast was $601.00. That’s six hundred dollars, and that’s not a typo. That was also the last straw. Yes, it is three months worth of bills cause of their stupid bill-in-advance system, but still… $600??!! We had an HD-DVR in the living room, an HD box collecting dust, and an old black Motorola doing the same… Plus HBO (half price) and Showtime (half price) and a myriad of shit channels we don’t EVER watch. So I packed them in the trunk, went down and took a number in line, and stood there watching Netflix on my iPhone just to say “F you Comcast.” It would have been a much more satisfying experience if the dude at the counter hadn’t been so damn cool. So that plus internet works out to $200 a month. That’s $2400 a year. Are you beginning to see the water bubbling?

We’ve got 2 PS3s, 1 Sony Blu-Ray, a Wii, a half dozen i-devices, and an HDTV antennae. We’ve also ordered the Boxee, which will be here Tuesday. It uses an internal HDTV antennae to record live TV, DVR-style, and stores it on a server without a limit to how much you store. Did you say no-limit cloud storage? We’ve got Amazon Prime, we’ve got Netflix, and we’ve got resourcefulness.

photo_610x357I’ll admit, it was a little overwhelming. Simply because cable has been such a part of my life, especially HBO and lately AMC, but now I can just BUY those episodes when the day they air anyway. Then I’ll own it! In the next month, two of my favorite shows return, and even if I have to pay $40 for an HD season of Game of Thrones, $40 for Mad Men, $40 for True Blood, etc… That’s still less than one goddamn Comcast payment! And it’s a cost that’s spread out over a few months, and lets me add my favorite shows to my video library!

cord-cutting-cableIt’s time to change the channel from cable television… To boldly go where no one has gone before and all that… Huzzah!

To be continued…

the Pinnacle of Play: GRAND THEFT AUTO Returns to Westside

For some of us, playing video games is more than fun… It’s an obsession… but it wasn’t always this way, I swear.

I am a child of the Commodore 64 generation. Growing up, my friends all had Ataris, and SEGAs, and ColecoVisions, and while I might’ve been the last kid on the block with a Nintendo Entertainment System- we did always have the latest and greatest of the home computers. From the Commodore 64XS in all its color glory, to the green lettered IBMjr with its giant floppy disks, the Amiga, and CGA graphics (a milestone in computer gaming), in the Toomb household there was always a newer computer.

Enter the golden era of adventure gaming, and a little company called Sierra. I booted up King’s Quest for the first time in the 4th grade, and was immediately transported into every fairy tale I’d ever read. What I remember as brilliant color graphics and a fully-realized 3D world is mostly sentimental memory, because looking back now the graphics and game play are almost embarrassing. If I showed my kids these games, they would think there was something wrong with me… But I spent hours and hours glued to the mouse and keyboard- frantically typing in commands like “use hammer on door.” Those early adventure games were like an extension of my imagination, where the characters could go anywhere, explore anything, and complete some quests along the way. Sierra put out a slew of these Quest games when I was between the ages of 8-12- ranging from Police Quest to the extremely inappropriate and revolutionary Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards. Now, my parents weren’t the most censoring parents in the world, and while letting your 10 year old play a game where the sole purpose is to get laid might sound like fun, it’s sad to say that I learned a lot about the birds and the bees from ‘ol Larry (I will never forget the first time I saw digital breasts in VGA… all those pixels… wowza).

As I got older and Nintendo took over the world, I spent hours guiding Mario and Luigi through countless levels and machinations, from Yoshi’s Island to Mario Kart, Mario 64 to Street Fighter II. I also logged countless hours on the computer with flight simulators and open-world driving games like Test Drive, but something was always missing. Call it my young initiation into the Land of the Lounge Lizards, but video gaming was entirely too safe. By the time I was in my late teens, early 20s, the Playstation I had introduced me to blood-splattering fun games like Resident Evil and Siphon Filter, but they were all just plug-in-and-unwind kind of games. To be played with friends on a lazy afternoon, not to be immersed in. I always longed for those days of open-world adventure, where exploring a digital landscape was part of the fun. Nothing matched King’s Quest or Leisure Suit Larry.

Enter Grand Theft Auto III. The game that literally changed the way my brain was wired. In the video game world there is everything before GTA III, and then there is everything after. Before GTA my video game playing was a hobby, an escape, something fun to pass the time.

Grand Theft Auto puts the player into the shoes of a criminal who has just escaped from prison after being betrayed by his bank-robbing ex-girlfriend in the New York-esque town of Liberty City. I cannot impress the impact that this game had on me enough. It was as if every game I’d played in the past was really just building up to this particular game. It had everything I ever wanted in a video game: an open-world with tons of stuff to do besides the missions, a real soundtrack with real music instead of digitally produced noises, and a sense of humor- I repeat- a sense of humor. Until GTA, video games were all “hero this” and “save that,” but suddenly game play was wide open. I could steal cars, drive them at high speeds into oncoming ambulances, I could run from the cops and shoot my way out of going to jail, and most controversially: I could pick up a hooker, have implied sex with her, and then kill her and get my money back. A long way from Mario and Luigi, but not so much from that first game of Leisure Suit Larry.

Over the years, the Grand Theft Auto franchise has evolved- every time taking place in a new locale based on an American city. This is the key point to the GTA games… American popular culture is truly what’s being lambasted in these games. Sure you can sneak up construction cranes and snipe random people on the sidewalk, but it’s really our society’s ridiculousness that’s being assassinated. The games mix satire, social commentary, criminal fun, and whimsical amusement perfectly. Leave it to the British (Rockstar Games North) to skew American culture in such a brilliant “nudge-nudge, wink-wink” kind of way.

From Vice City (Miami) to San Andreas (Southern California) and Las Venturas (Vegas), Grand Theft Auto has clung tight to the criminal mythologies of America while offering up a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek comedy, mostly missed by critics. Grand Theft Auto eventually became sillier, wilder, and yes, funner as the years and locations progressed- culminating in what most see as the height of the series GTA: San Andreas. Taking on the role of CJ, an “LA” gang member, the bustling cities gave way to freeways and landscapes, deserts and ghost towns alike. San Andreas was the first in the series to incorporate 3 major cities (San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas) into the game. San Andreas was a sprawling epic, with almost too much to do. From working out at the gym to become a hulk, or gorging yourself on fast-food until you grew fatter and fatter (even a little binge and purge at the “Burger Shot”). CJ could sneak onto an aircraft carrier and fly a Harrier-like aircraft (complete with missiles), he could even steal alien jet-packs from Area 51. GTA: San Andreas had it all… including base jumping from the Transcontinental Building and Golden Gate. Uh, yes please.

The outlandish qualities of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas were eclipsed (much to the chagrin of those who fawned over giving their characters different haircuts and tattoos) by Rockstar Games‘ reboot of the series, Grand Theft Auto IV. The only game I have ever waited in line until midnight for. Boy was it worth it. GTA IV, in my opinion, is simply the greatest video game ever made. Rockstar took a step back from the silliness of some of its previous titles, incorporating more dramatic aspects, free-form storytelling, and cranking up the social satire. Rockstar did this by creating the greatest video game character ever made: Liberty City. Based on New York’s Burroughs and New Jersey, Liberty Cityis a living, breathing monument to what can be done with a video game. When I first got the game I would get lost for hours, looking at scenery, following random street people as they go about their days, watching two drivers duke it out after a fender-bender… I mean,  for all intents and purposes Liberty City is the greatest simulation ever made public. From FoxNews pundits spouting fire and brimstone to reality TV (yes, there are in-game channels to actually sit and watch), GTA IV has it all- especially when combined with the two add-ons Lost and the Damned and The Ballad of Gay Tony.

But that was almost four years ago.

Rockstar has released Red Dead Redemption and LA: Noire in the meantime, both of which are quality games of the highest marks, however still fall short of the bar set by GTA. Yes I said it, Red Dead isn’t as good as GTA. I know this is camp-splitting issue, and I don’t want to detract from the open-world awesomeness of Red Dead, but it didn’t have city buses I could drive down the sidewalks of Times Square at high speeds, killing hundreds of innocent bystanders while laughing maniacally… ok?! No amount of standing up to zombie bears with a flaming torch as a weapon can match that feeling.

However the wait (or should I say, the initial pre-announcement-wait) is finally over. On November 2, Rockstar officially kicked off the hype for Grand Theft Auto V with a teaser trailer featuring none other than a brand-new, re-imagined San Andreas (specifically Los Santos, the GTA version of Los Angeles). That’s right folks, GTA is returning to the West Coast with a bang.

From jets to jet-skis, the great outdoors to inner-city struggle, Grand Theft Auto V sets its sights on American culture and Hollywood lifestyles. The economy is also a big player in the latest in this franchise, as the trailer contrasts movie stars and mansions with homeless camps and soup kitchens. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait to get my hands on Rockstar’s latest opus.


Obama’s “Fuck Yeah!” Moment?

There’s a point in most action films when the geeky, soft-spoken protagonist (who has been pushed around, poked, and prodded the entire movie) finally rises up and becomes the hero. We’ve seen it a hundred times- from George McFly punching out Biff in Back to the Future, and Kurt Russel finally grabbing the gun and saving his wife in Breakdown; to Neo stopping a hail of bullets with his mind in The Matrix, or when the bat-shit crazy religious lady takes a cap to the dome in The Mist… or when Titus Pullo, condemned to die in the arena of Rome, raises his bloodied sword and screams “THIRTEEN!!” (In my opinion, one of the greatest moments in television history) Or perhaps you remember the most tear-jerking climax of all time when Daniel-San limped out of his corner, took the crane stance, and kicked Johnny square in the face?

My point being, in every truly epic finale, the bruised, broken, and bleeding hero shakes off the timidity of the past and reaches deep within to find that primordial strength we all believe we have buried away somewhere. It’s what we come to expect when the protagonist we’ve rooted for continually gets pushed around. In fact, it’s become a cultural icon in American storytelling. We’ve always had wise-cracking tough guys that save the day in a hail of bullets, but more recently the under-dog has become the action king.

Now should it seem strange that we’re expecting this from a President? Throughout the debt crisis I kept waiting for Obama to palm-strike John Boehner‘s nose into his brain and turn a gun on congress, forcing them to pass some legislation that would actually help save the country. I wanted to see him flip the desk in the oval office, rip open his suit-and-tie to reveal a yellow Enter the Dragon jumpsuit, smack Nancy Pelosi on the ass, and grab Michelle for a passionate kiss before stage-diving into an angry crowd of Tea Party-ers and smacking some American common sense into their thick skulls.

I honestly don’t think it’d be too hard to pull off. After all, we all know that if Obama can’t pull off a “Fuck Yeah!” moment in the next year, he’s headed out faster than Jimmy Carter in 1980… but, then again, maybe America doesn’t need a hero right now. Perhaps America’s First Black President is enough for Barack?

For the rest of us, the music is swelling, the conflict insurmountable, and the credits are only a year away… and me? Well I always root for the underdog.

For Mad Men

I don’t care what your excuse is, if you haven’t seen AMC’s iconic Sunday night show Mad Men, you are way behind. While it might not be the cup of tea for Two and a Half Men fans or Reality TV junkies, winning Best Dramatic series for three years might be a clue that you should be tuning in. In fact now is the best time to catch up on your Mad Men. Netflix has added every episode to it’s streaming service and AMC is preparing to rerun the entire show so far in lieu of the postponed March premiere of the next season. Normally those of us who define our Augusts by our Sunday night programming are euphoric due to new episodes of Mad Men, however due to the show’s producers wrangling with AMC over it’s future, filming is just now getting started for season 5.

In case you still haven’t seen it, Mad Men revolves around an old-school ad agency in the early 60s on Madison Ave in New York… and specifically it’s tormented, philandering, and extremely talented front man Don Draper. I could spend an entire post heaping rave upon rave for John Hamm‘s performance in this role (which has won him a Golden Globe and an Emmy Nom this year, by the way). Don Draper is the ultimate anti-hero, he’s handsome, smooth-talking, clever, and consistently makes every bad decision he can regarding his personal life. He is the ultimate American man of his time period- he drinks like a fish, smokes like a chimney, and screws everything that walks in front of him… and whose world, so intricately built and maintained, comes falling down around him as the show progresses.

What the show does so brilliantly is reflect the changing perceptions in America in the early 60s, from the changing role of women (at home and in the workplace), divorce, and political upheaval, war, and the rise of the youth movement and television. That may seem like a broad stroke, but the genius of Mad Men is it’s ability to handle these issues while not ever becoming preachy or over sentimental (no Wonder Years here).

What I believe to be one of the best episodes of the entire show comes at the end of the third season, and forgive my partial spoilers, but if you haven’t seen the show- you’ll forget anyway. Don Draper, whose marriage to Betty has been on the rocks for a season now, gets a double-dose of bad news in one day. First, his long-time employer Sterling Cooper, the hottest small ad agency in the business is about to be folded into the workings of a larger, overseas corporation- meaning the death bell for the careers of almost every talented character we’ve followed so far.

Secondly, his wife hits him with the “big D” as he comes home one night from the office. Sadly, their three children are also caught in the middle. In a brilliant scene that I imagine would spark total recall for millions of Americans, Don and Betty sit the two older kids down in the living room to explain the upcoming change in the family- to which they respond with painful, childhood honesty. When Don states, “I’m not going, I’ll just be living elsewhere…”

The oldest, Sally, responds with, “That’s GOING, you say things and you don’t mean them, you can’t just do that! You said you’d always come home…” before storming out of the room to leave the 6-year-old boy clutching his father’s leg and begging him not to go.

While this isn’t a strange or even original scene to see these days, however the way in which it is handled, the humanity of the children and the impossible explanation from their divorcing parents is so well portrayed that it stirs something in our collective memory. For most viewers, it hits us in the gut. The feeling that we’re not just seeing the Draper family fail, but our own childhood memories of divorce and separation are echoed across time- as it is easy to imagine these two small children as our own parents- compiles with our own adult experiences of going through divorce. How masterfully the writers handle the great tragedy of the late 20th century- the perceived crumbling of the American family. We know that the characters will go on as much as we are able to conjure up the post-divorce lives we or loved ones have lived in reality, and yet the tragedy of the Draper family is the tragedy of tens of millions of people across the country.

A tragedy that Don gives a perfect point to later in the episode while trying to convince his ex-secretary-turned-talented-artist/copy-writer Peggy to follow him as he decides to strike out on his own in the Ad game. “Do you know why I don’t want to go to McCann [the company attempting to buy out the agency]? Because there are people out there who buy things, people like you and me… and something happened. Something terrible… And the way that they saw themselves… is gone… and nobody understands that… but you do… and it’s very valuable. With you, or without you, I’m moving on… and I don’t know if I can do it alone. Will you help me?”

When Peggy asks him if she says no if he’ll hate her and never talk to her again, Don responds, “No, I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to hire you.”

Now if you haven’t seen the show, this might seem trivial… but in the context of the episode where Kennedy has just been shot and America has been turned on its ear… it is the perfect scene to highlight the truest of human tragedy- the loss of innocence and identity in the face of perseverance and the American dream… and it is this symbolism and nostalgia-laced loss that is the real genius behind Mad Men. That while we struggle to maintain the status quo, the world gives us curve balls impossible to avoid, and our fight against that change is the source of our greatest hope- and our most tragic loss.

Tune in, this show is a MUST SEE!

How Did Teamwork Become Trashtalk? – A Girl’s Look into A Boy’s World

By Lindsey Asay

I remember my first gaming console….vividly. We weren’t big TV watchers in my house growing up. When we did, finding something to watch was easy, there were only 5 channels to choose from. That didn’t bother me too much though, being a tom boy (hard not to with 4 older brothers) I preferred riding my bike or shooting hoops anyways. That all changed the day I first saw the NES…in all its black and grey glory. My days of shooting impossible three pointers in the driveway considerably dwindled. Quickly replaced by days of trying to beat what seemed like the impossible. Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt challenging my dexterity and my ability to do focus on pretty much anything else.

Now in my 30’s with an “adult job” and more responsibilities and bills than I can wrap my head around sometimes …..I still find time to play when I can. This time around though, it’s not just the console that’s different. The playing field, as it were, has changed considerably as well. No longer just you and a friend in your living room pushing two buttons in rapid succession….the ability to connect thousands of living rooms together through online multiplayer games has made an individual experience into a shared experience. Sometimes sharing more than just your first person shooting skills with your fellow gamers. I’ll admit, I’m a fan of Little Big Planet and workout games like Zumba, but I also like to unwind with some serious Call of Duty time. After getting over the..how do I walk AND look around AND shoot part of it all, I found my groove and started to be less frustrated and more able to enjoy the game.

That is, until I started to listen more and more to the other players. A mix of ages, nationalities, locations, abilities….I was amazed how a game could bridge all those gaps. Nothing prepared me though, for the amount of trash-talking that came from an endless sea of assholes with nothing better to do than shout “FAG FAG FAG” or “ F-ing LOSER” for 15 minutes straight. I started to wonder about who really plays these games and what it is that makes them so easily degrade someone they don’t know. That someone who at any given time can be a 12yr old kid who just wants to get in some gaming time before he has to finish his homework. Or me…..a mom and cube jockey looking to get in a quick round or two before starting dinner. The overwhelming consensus seems to be that unless you are an expert player, the world wide community of online gamers would like you to stay the F**K AWAY. Am I wrong on this? Am I wrong to question why a group of overly aggressive, usually single and always dickish players get to verbally push everyone else around? I don’t think I am.

My NES didn’t mock me. It didn’t degrade me for only getting 6 kills in a round or tell me to mute my mike because my kid was annoying him. I didn’t start a game with the intent to bully or call anyone names. I just wanted to beat the level so I could see what came next. I couldn’t wait to talk to my friends about it, to learn the secrets from those that conquered levels before me. Gaming was a shared experience….one that offered up a neutral playing field. Where older siblings played with younger. The jock with the bookworm, all wanting and trying to get better. I still don’t know what it is about our new shared gaming experience that turns the doting dad into a hate-spewing weekend gamer…and I’m not sure I want to find out. This is what I do know. I paid the money just like you….so, I get to play – just like you. Even if I do make stupid mistakes, like sprinting around corners or severely miscalculating a grenade throw… I’m still a gamer… playing in my living room, just like you. No matter how many times you tell me I suck, I’ll keep playing… and I’m coming for you.

The X: Legend Continues With X: Rebirth

I’m talking revolution… One of the greatest space simulation games I’ve ever stumbled across, is about to be reborn. For those of you who know, the X: Universe is a fully formed universe whose mantra is TRADE, FIGHT, BUILD, THINK. Complete with interstellar trade, governments, militarism, and a complex economy, X:3 is a milestone in gaming. For years, German gamemaker Egosoft has been transporting players to a galaxy full of humans, aliens, pirates, peace, glory, war, and most of all: cash in it’s X: series. A fully explorable universe that players will either conquer, or get chewed up, and spit out by. Flying stealthy advanced fighters, to giant turret-filled destroyers, the X: games have brought the universe to your home desktop. Now it’s time for a rebirth.

Long after the events of the previous games, a  supernova renders all previous modes of interstellar travel useless, and the universe much, much “smaller.”

Even the Future has Light Rail!

“In the distant future, the X: Universe faces a period of profound and irrevocable change. While the universe stumbles towards an uncertain future, countless adventures await as new enemies rise in search of power.”

Space-Traffic!

Staying true to the “sandbox,” go anywhere, explore anything format, X: Rebirth brings us a revolution in one of the most popular and critically acclaimed space simulation games ever made. You enter the shoes of a new, brave young hero, who, along his unlikely female ally, will travel the universe in an ancient, battle-worn ship with a glorious past. Two adventurers, alone against the galaxy, the fate of the universe (indeed their very existence) rests in your hands!

Blade Runner Anyone?

From the looks of it, X: Rebirth, is changing (and adding) some serious changes to it’s fundamental formula. With the traditional “jumpgates” obsolete now, more emphasis has been put on interaction. Whereas before, the entire game was played from the cockpit of a spaceship… every indication now points to an out-of-ship experience for players. If you look carefully at some of the screen captures I took from the official teaser, you can see everything from “traffic lanes” in space to highly-populated stations. Even Egosoft has announced that a new interface is going to revolutionize the game. This has really got my interest peaked more than the other big 3 sequel releases this fall: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Battlefield 3, and the ever-anticipated Uncharted 3 (seriously, if you’ve never played an Unchartedgame, go buy a PS3 and do yourself, and your life, a favor).

An interview with Egosoft’s Bernd Lehahn detailed

Q: “Why another X game? What happened to the “end of the X trilogy” statement?”

Open-Mouthed Galactica? :)

A: “Well that is still true. At least partially ;) We worked on the old X games from 1996 until 2007. That was 11 years of development and 11 years mostly filled with adding features.
Adding features is pretty cool, as you have this solid foundation. You never have to start from scratch. We replaced the graphics engine twice, and we made many other big changes to the technology, but we were never at a point where nothing would work. That’s a very luxurious position for a game developer to be in.

Escaping Orbit

BUT (and it’s a big but), adding features to an existing game design has limits. Especially when we talk about the actual gameplay design. Adding so many features that were not originally planned for was a bit like building a higher and higher tower. You run into problems. Problems like a user interface that gets more and more complex and that’s rarely a good thing.

So in 2007 we decided we need to cut off that legacy and do a fresh start.”

The Rebirth begins this winter this Christmas… stay glued to TOOMBLOG for more details!

LA Noire: First Impressions

Rockstar Games has consistently provided some of the most original, ground-breaking, and just all-around-good-times video gaming in the last decade. Did you know the Grand Theft Auto series alone has sold over 124 million copies? Since Grand Theft Auto III dropped on the Playstation 2, 10 years ago this October, the concept of the “sand-box” game has reached a pinnacle of graphics, gameplay, and story with LA Noire. Gone are the free-floating weapons, the killing-sprees are reserved for off-screen, and this time, Rockstar takes us into the mind of a straight-laced gumshoe circa 1947.

Los Angeles in 1947 was a beautiful place, a land of hopes and dreams, Hollywood promised fame for every boy and girl that stepped off the bus from where ever… however more often than not those promises we only weighed with blood, sweat, and tears. From the first scene we are placed in the perfectly shined shoes Officer Cole Phelps, a war “hero” who was a Lieutenant in the Pacific theater, and now believes he must atone for his sins in the war.

Now, believe me when I say, that Team Bondi (the Rockstar division responsible for this iteration) has faithfully recreated the Los Angeles of 1947. I’m talking, exact model here. Robert Spence is a photographer who in his 50 year career, took over 110,000 aerial photographs of Los Angeles. Team Bondi used Spence’s photographs to  recreate traffic patterns, public transport routes, and the locations and conditions of every building in the greater LA city boundaries. These are the mean streets, truly. Whether you choose to play the game in black and white mode, or regular color, it is simply amazing to drive around this town (even though our camera angles for driving are now firmly constricted to behind-the-car irritability… some of us need to drive from inside the car, like normal!).

One of the longest complaints about video games’ “sense of reality” is the lack of distinction when it comes to the face. Recent games have managed to make some of the greatest characters, levels, and beautifully drawn landscapes in history, so why haven’t they been able to nail the face?

Well that’s all history now, LA Noire brings the face. Not only can you tell when a shifty gaze means a suspect is hiding something, but most importantly the mouths match the dialogue. You could really turn off the sound and read lips (if you knew how) in this game, it’s almost on par with anything going on in Hollywood. While it would take an Avatar budget to get Avatar-like animation, this game really gets it right when it comes to motion-capture… Grand Theft Auto IV and the penultimate Red Dead Redemption have brought something new to the video game arena: reality.

In fact, it’s hard for a player with a large amount of imagination not to simply fall into the game. Especially in GTAIV, with it’s immaculate recreation of New York City in Liberty City (on the whole, and in my belief) is the greatest character ever created in a game. From the skyscrapers down to the pollution-filled rivers, the burroughs to Times’ Square, Liberty City is flawless. I have started GTAIV many times with the intention of completing a few missions, only to get lost in the scenery… watching drivers crash, get out, and have screaming matches, homeless street-preachers spouting an endless tirade of biblical paranoia… It’s enormous.

Officer Cole Phelps is easy enough to navigate through this alternate reality of 1947, you can feel his weight when you push the controller’s stick, he doesn’t “spring,” he leans. If you push the stick, he’ll begin to walk, then trot, then run (if you hold R2)… as the characters in GTAIV do… the realism is there.

As you guide Phelps through his career, he’ll encounter many people, places, and things that he can interact with. Whether it’s interrogating a suspect, questioning a neighbor, or interviewing another policeman… running after an assailant and finally being able to pull your gun (no draw-and-shoot capabilities here, you’ve got to wait for the computer to draw your gun for you) everything a cop can and will need to do in the line of duty is mapped out in LA Noire. Through the cunning use of a notebook Phelps keeps clues, locations, suspects, and information organized for each case.

The interview process is heavily mapped out, and despite initial feelings that I was going to botch an investigation due to ineptitude, it’s thankfully idiot-proof. If you mess up a line of questioning too bad or accuse someone without proof, you’ll hear about it, but it won’t change the final outcome of the case… it’s going to get solved.

In fact that might be one of the biggest downfalls of the game: that even if you blow every question in an interrogation, ultimately the case will be solved. I think it would’ve been better to simply fail the case and have to start over than be poked and prodded along through police work. There’s no way to change this either.

All-in-al my first impression of LA Noire is amazing. It’s not as much fun as GTAIV or Red Dead Redemption, simply because it’s too much fun to kill the innocent and destroy the environment around you. So as a square policeman, life can be dull in Los Angeles. The ability to answer any police call while driving, is fun… stopping off to chase down perps or shoot it out with bank-robbers keeps things fresh… but I simply haven’t played enough to see what the world is like post-homicide cases (I’m still mid-way through solving some of the most gruesome murders LA has ever seen).

Rockstar and Team Bondi have brought us another winner though, I can tell you that. LA Noire is addicting, clever, well-written, and well-acted. Pick it up and check it out for sure.

For Moms

Everyone has a mom, alive, dead, present, simply not there… originally… we all came down the same chute.

Whether you’re the closest of close with your mom, or if she was just a donor that gave birth to you, somewhere, there was a womb with you in it. A womb that belonged to a woman, with hopes, dreams, sorrows, and nightmares alike. A woman who sat singing to her swollen belly, rubbing it with a loving caress whilst daydreaming about the child inside her. Every one of those women has found herself simultaneously feeling the proud and full feeling of womanhood, and the familiar pleasure of a child holding her favorite toy… And she imagined a face, hair, toes, smiles, hands, a boy, a girl, a man , a woman, a life, a husband, a grandchild… An infinity of possibilities wrapped in a single moment of motherly daydreaming.

Then when we came, the harsh reality of our need… Our constant attention… Our unconditional love. Through simply being who we are and growing up the best we can, makes our mothers love us all the more. Our giggles, our cries, our diapers, our first steps, our first words… The first time we cut a lamp cord with a pair of metal scissors, or fall of our skateboards and take the skin off our legs.. All of these moments ad up to one of the greatest forces in the universe, the love of a mother and for child…

Whatever happens along the way, they love us, grease, grime, and all. They guide us, teach us, smother us, worry about us, and look forward to the day when their baby can hold its own child as proudly as they remember holding us…

Let us not forget also, the women who are forced to parent from behind a pane of glass the children create… the moms who slave, toil, cook, clean, and take care of not only their inherited children, but their immature fathers as well… we hold our deepest appreciation… The few, the proud, the strong nation of step-moms out there who selflessly work their fingers, patience, and dignity to the bone in the name of love, without a shred of acknowledgment from the very kids they work to keep in clothes, food, shelter, and love. All the while the kids’ love is always reserved for that ideal they were implanted with at birth, those rose-colored glasses they wear for their biological womb-donors…

So to my mom(s), your mom, and all the moms and step-moms:

“Happy Mother’s Day!!!”  :D

Movie Cred

Hi out there, I’m Matt Toomb, and I’m a flickaholic. I got started when my parents introduced me to movies when I was young. I remember being strung out on Star Wars way before I could even read or write. In my 20′s I had it real bad, sometimes watching up to two or three movies a day. It was the heyday of Blockbuster Video’s Movie Pass program, where you pay a flat fee for unlimited rentals… ah the days of tangible media. When you could take your hard earned cash to the Wal-Mart on Tuesday mornings and buy the new releases on DVD, or fish a few $5 movies out of the bargain bin, then take those plastic-wrapped beauties home and open them up, read the inserts and the giveaways, and then watch the disc! My DVD collection consists of over 300 movies that I purchased between 2001 and 2009, Role Models was the last movie I bought on a disc. Now that’s all gone. Now it’s all files. No discs to hold, no collection to flaunt. You used to be able to tell a lot about a girl by her movie collection, now… well it’s just weird if she catches you rooting through her Netflix Queue or rummaging in her laptop for .avi files… anything to give you a clue as to what makes her laugh, cry, etc…

I sat through all 4+ hours of Lawrence of Arabia and was thoroughly entertained the entire time. I’ve watched theLord of the Rings movies in a row, and I’m talkin the EXTENDED versions, not those pussy theater cuts. I eat, sleep, breathe, think, and talk movies, all the time. I can’t help it. I can quit anytime I want though. I used to have to watch a movie everyday, a few times a day, just to feel normal and keep from getting sick… but now I just watch movies on the weekend.