Ed Benes' run of comic covers for Batgirl is just outstanding. I'm having a hard time choosing a favorite, but this is definitely one of them. The black background with the Joker stepping out holding a knife and a heart-shaped box is a very good portrayal of his character. Add in the creepily realistic wind-up teeth, and you've got a cover that oozes his unique sort of ruthless insanity. Benes' also draws a great Barbara Gordon Batgirl, so all in all, it's pretty hard to go wrong here.

LAG – Dishonored – Day 1

November 28th, 2012 | Posted by Emmett in Games & Gaming - (0 Comments)

Breaking new! A few days ago I learned that my super-cool-reader-count has doubled since my last assessment. That's right, there are now TWO awesome people who visit this website with some semblance of frequency. Oh yes, these are exciting times! And in an effort to appease this new constituency, I was able to take advantage of the most recent Steam sale to acquire - and subsequently review - Dishonored. I realize this deviates a little from my usual modus operandi with these reviews and how they're supposed to be about old games, but let's face facts. Dishonored may not be old, but with the frenzy of new releases we've seen for the past few weeks, it's certainly no longer the new kid on the playground. In truth, it's more like the kid who sneaks around in a perpetual game of hide-and-seek against people who don't know they too are playing; and in any case, it's been completely worth breaking trend for. In a nutshell, Dishonored champions three elements that have been integral to my enjoyment of the game: story, gameplay, and environment. If you're wondering what else could contribute to a good game, the answer is not much. Bethesda is known for making good, well-rounded games, and so far, this is another. Even though I've barely scratched the surface with this game, I'm already interested to see whether these elements remain strong throughout and how they change over the course of a playthrough. I'll start with the story.

Good Heavens, just look at the time!

As I said, I'm not very far into the game so the story is still very infantile, but I can speak a little on the initial experience of being Corvo. The game doesn't waste any time letting you know why it's called Dishonored. In the first couple hours I went from being a championed grand protector to a wanted master assassin. Part of me thinks this happened a little too fast and a little too abruptly, but I can also see some reason and reality behind it. Your world has been turned upside down, and now you're forced to reconcile the person you were against the person you need to be in order to do your duty and - ideally - clear your name. There's a part before your first mission where a woman asks you to try and protect her father who works where you are going. She says, "You used to to protect people, didn't you?" At that point I remember wondering, "When did I stop doing that?" Suddenly I'm outfitted with all this gear, a creepy mask, and people are expecting me to be this great killer of men. There was a disconnect there; in my time as Corvo, I wasn't introduced to that capacity for killing within me. And maybe that was done on purpose. Maybe that change was supposed to be jarring, and at that point you have to decide what you are going to be, an assassin or a protector. Interestingly, the gameplay seems favors both approaches in conflicting ways. Combat consists of dual-wielding a razor-sharp knife in your right hand and a pistol, mini-crossbow, or magic spell/item in your left hand. You are never without something that can kill someone, and you are generally holding two somethings that can each kill someone. So far the crossbow has three different load-outs and only one of those is non-lethal. And everything works very well together. You can slow down time and simultaneously hack and shoot up a crowd of bodyguards. You can blink above someone and assassinate them from the air. All very cool and all seemingly encouraged. However, the environment you're in favors discretion over wanton slaughter.

So you're telling me that this is something that's frowned upon, but I'm never able to put my knife away... ok...

The environment actually gets worse with the more people you kill. The plague affects more people, there are more swarms of ravenous rats, and guard patrols are increased as the city falls farther into martial law. I don't even remember this being overtly mentioned in-game. I only noticed it in a random tutorial explanation for "chaos", which is one of your ratings at the end of a mission. Things like this make me really glad I picked this up, because I'm really excited to see how everything ends up working together and what the story evolves into. I don't know if it's going to be the game I've heard a lot of proclaim it to be, but it's off to a good start.
A recent update to the theme I use for my site resulted in a few weird side effects. My title graphic got replaced, some CSS changes messed with my inline image sizes, and my page icon was removed. All in all, nothing to really write home about, but in the process of putting everything back together, I found a pretty sweet .ico converter called CovertIcon. The concept here is pretty simple: Step 1) take generic image file, Step 2) turn image file into a .ico file. However, I remember having the hardest time finding something that could generate an icon. I eventually settled with a MS Paint style web app where you manually created a really clunky icon to use. Even though it's an incredibly small piece of the website, I like that I was able to clean it up. So if you're OCD about little details like I am, it's worth checking out.

Something tells me this game
isn't going to be super serious...

This game really surprised me. Put simply, it's the most pure fun I've had with a game in a long time. I've gotten a lot of enjoyment out of a lot of different games over the years, but that enjoyment isn't always derived from the same kinds of experiences. Half-Life in its various forms provides an awesome mix of FPS and environmental puzzle elements that makes for great gameplay. In Arkham Asylum/City, you get to be bad-ass and explore the Batman universe; enough said. Dragon Age had such incredible character interactions and relationship building that you became seriously emotionally invested in your character and your other party members; I'm pretty sure I cried at one point. The Mass Effect series knitted itself into one amazing story that you got to be responsible for shaping. Those are some of my favorite games, and each has a special quality that make me really enjoy playing it. Saints Row wasn't insanely beautiful, and it didn't have an outstanding story or offer revolutionary gameplay, but it was fun. Like kid on a Toys-R-Us shopping spree fun. In my first post about this game, I said that the game was fun as long as you didn't take it too seriously. This remained true, and I think the developers did their best to make that happen. The game doesn't give you much opportunity to take it too seriously. Johnny Gat dies (everyone in-game says he's dead, so why not, right?) in the opening missions, but it's not used more than a minor plot device after that. You might say, "Hey! Gat's death is the whole reason they're fighting the Syndicate so it's pretty major," and I could agree to an extent, but it never really emerges as anything more than fuel on a fire that was already started. Look at Max Payne if you want a game that really revolves around revenge. In Saints Row, there's no real mourning, no flashback sequence as you execute his murderer, just the occasional "that one's for Johnny" or "Johnny would have wanted it that way" lines. So the one thing that could bring you down to a dark place never really reaches up to grab you; leaving your mind free to focus on fighting guys in hot-dog costumes or warding off zombies or Burt-fucking-Reynolds. Yes.

Can you imagine that election campaign?

Seriously, Mayor of Steelport is Burt Reynolds. And the Mayor isn't Burt Reynolds in the same way that the Joker is Mark Hamill; the Mayor is Burt Reynolds who is voiced by Burt Reynolds. This alone tells you that the game you are playing is fun and the people who made it were having fun. What's even more telling is that the Bandit doesn't even show up until you and another character voiced by Sasha Grey (yes, that Sasha Grey) go to his office to accept the mission to stop the zombie gas from spreading. There's another mission where it's just you and your friend driving to a clothing store, he starts flipping through the stations until he stops on Sublime's What I Got, and you and he sing along, in the car, for the whole song. I got to the destination early and actually waited for them to finish the song. In one of the final sequences when you're mowing through a bunch of guys to save Shaundi, Bonnie Tyler's I Need a Hero is playing the whole time. I know I'm going on and on with these examples, but the game is full of them; and that's the atmosphere that I'm trying to describe when I say the game is whimsical. I've been debating on whether my enjoyment was enabled by low expectations going in (which I had), but I don't think so. If I loved it because I thought it was going to suck and it turned out to be mediocre, my enjoyment would have subsided as I got used to everything and the mediocrity of it all became more and more apparent. But that didn't happen. It started off as being really entertaining and kept being just that. Even as the credits were rolling, showing pictures of the development team and having all the different main character voices sing What I Got at the same time, it made me think back to games like Warcraft III that had those same kind extras; and it was those little extras that really won me over. In my first post for this game, I also said that the entertainment level may not be sustainable over the course of the whole game, and so I talked about other elements that the developers could exploit to make it stay interesting. In reality, none of those elements really needed to come into play. From my standpoint, the development team made the game fun, and in the end, that's all they really needed to do.
This week's cover is the first issue of the new Marvel NOW, All-New X-Men series. And yes, I'm going to largely ignore the fact that I haven't posted anything in the past few weeks. I chose this cover for two reasons. One is the series premise, which is awesome and I'll talk more about it later. The second is because of this variant cover, featuring one of my favorites. This is the joke in case you missed the Olympics/Internet this year. It is one of about eight different variant covers from various artists, including J. Scott Campbell, Paolo Rivera, Skottie Young, Joe Quesada, Salvador Larroca, and Stuart Immonen. They span a wide range of styles so that was also cool to see for a single issue. Going back to Reason for Choosing This Cover #1, the story they are going for is really intriguing. The general premise is this: Xavier's first class of students is brought forward in time to see the current state of the X-Men. When you think about the X-Men story arc, how long it has been, who is on the team now versus then, and how much the characters have changed from first class to now, putting the two versions of the X-Men together has to get interesting. The present X-Men (especially Summers) will be face-to-face with their past, idealistic counterparts, forced to re-rationalize their choices and concessions that have caused the two groups to be so different. Then the past X-Men will have to find footing in this new environment, having to make sense of what their mission and dream for mutants has become. Wolverine is also likely to make a joke regarding which versions of Summers he prefers. Regardless of which one he chooses, this is a series I'd definitely like to pick up just to see how either side fares.