Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Gaming Review -- Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea: Episode 2

Today I'm doing something a little different and reviewing a new videogame release. I don't know if this will become a regular feature here, but anyway--here's my review of Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea: Episode 2.

This DLC logically picks up after Burial at Sea: Episode 1. Elizabeth is enjoying Paris, but then she suddenly finds herself back in Rapture. The rebel leader Atlas (who fans will remember is actually the villainous Frank Fontaine) has taken Elizabeth and Sally (the Little Sister she had come to Rapture to rescue) prisoner. Booker, despite having been gutted at the end of Episode 1, appears to Elizabeth and tells her to make a deal with Atlas to get him back to the civilized part of Rapture in exchange for their safe release. The plan involves securing a Luteche particle (which keeps the floating city of Columbia in the air) and using it to lift Atlas' buildings off the ocean floor. Atlas agrees, but can he be trusted? Probably not.

Episode 2 is far superior to Episode 1 which was ruined by a ridiculously short play time and illogical decisions made by Elizabeth. I'm happy to report that Episode 2 has none of those problems. Unlike the 90 minutes of Episode 1, this one took me hours to get through, and those hours were well spent. You fight your way through not only Rapture, but Columbia as well, thus making for a rich variety of locales.

This time you play as Elizabeth after she loses her godlike powers which we enjoyed in Episode 1 and the main game. Her vulnerable status requires a different approach to combat since ammo and plasmids are scarce. You have to pick your spots and use stealth to take out enemies. It isn't quite as fun as in the Batman Arkham games, but it's still refreshing to not just mindlessly blow away splicers. You also run into Big Daddies, but it's best to avoid them altogether.

The plot is far more engaging than in Episode 1 and features some surprising moments. At least one character from the main game will be seen in a new light after you go through this. And the satisfying ending ties it all together.

Finally, I must commend Courtnee Draper for her outstanding voice work as Elizabeth. She really brings the character to life with an emotional punch.

If you're a fan of the Bioshock games, you absolutely have to get Burial at Sea: Episode 2.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Earth Unaware review

This week I decided to review Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston. The book opens onboard the El Cavador, a family owned and operated asteroid mining ship, which is finishing a trade with a larger clan of Italian independent miners. Victor Delgado, a highly skilled mechanic, also discovers that Alejandra, his closest friend and second cousin, has been sent away with the Italians because the family fears they are falling in love. Soon afterwards Alejandra’s younger sister, who is assigned to man the craft’s sensors, contacts Victor to ask his advice after she discovers what appears to be a large alien spacecraft approaching Earth’s solar system at high speed. Unfortunately, the family’s attempt to inform the clan which they had been trading with, and a nearby corporate ship of what they have found, fail. To make matters worse, the corporate vessel, which is seeking test targets for a new system designed to destroy asteroids and allow easy access to the riches within, attacks the El Cavador so they can use the asteroid it is mining as a test target. The attack cripples the El Cavador, including disabling long range communications, and while the El Cavador moves to rendezvous with the Italians, hoping for aid in repairs, the aliens intercept the Italians first and by the time El Cavador reaches them the Italians have been all but wiped out. Victor is sent to warn Earth on a high speed  and typically unmanned cargo ship while they form an alliance with the corporate ship that had disabled them to launch an attack on the main Formic ship by dropping teams to plant explosives on its hull. Meanwhile a young officer named Mazer Rackham is undergoing testing to join the most elite military force on Earth, a force whose commander seems to be among the few who take the possibility of alien attack, based on rumored events occurring in space, seriously.
I give the book a 7 out of 10. The story was interesting, and I mostly enjoyed it but most of the Earth scenes not linked to Victor’s arrival and post-arrival actions seemed to be added just to take up space, and I feel they could have been saved for one of the impending sequels. Also I found the battle scenes somewhat disappointing, especially the part where they resorted to dropping landing teams on the Formic craft. I vastly prefer space battles that are fought ship to ship or fleet to fleet, and take time to fight out  rather than those that involve one group dropping troops on a ship while hoping the target doesn’t decide to fry them with one shot.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Movie Review -- Transcendence

Today we have the new film Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp and Morgan Freeman.

Depp stars as Dr. Will Caster, a scientist who wants to create a sentient computer with more brainpower than all of mankind combined. He works together with his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) towards this end. Unfortunately, he and his colleagues incur the wrath of anti-technology terror group RIFT. The radicals murder most of Caster's contemporaries using a combination of poison and explosives. Only Caster's friend Joseph Tagger (Freeman) survives because he didn't eat the poisoned cake they sent. Sadly, Caster himself is shot with a bullet laced with a deadly radioactive isotope, and he is only given a month to live. Faced with his death, Evelyn, along with Caster's other friend Max (Paul Bettany) decide to upload his consciousness to a computer. The procedure works and they think they have him back. However, the digital Caster begins behaving strangely, and Max thinks they've made a terrible mistake.

It isn't long before RIFT attacks the Caster home in an attempt to shut him down. Evelyn manages to get her cyber-husband onto the internet where he proceeds to evolve. He then directs her to move to a desert town called Brightwood in order to hide from RIFT while he grows in power. Meanwhile, Max, who has been kidnapped by RIFT, begins to see things from their perspective. He fears what his former friend will become if he's not stopped, and contemplates trying to take him offline. But that will be easier said than done, because Caster is converting others to his cause and has powerful tricks up his sleeve. 

This movie really didn't do it for me. I do appreciate Depp's versatility, and I like that he can be over-the-top in one film and subtle in another. His talent is not in question here. Sadly, Transcendence just doesn't bring any new ideas to the table. It's the same future paranoia regarding AIs we've seen in countless other stories. Nor did I grow attached to any of the characters; none of them really stood out, and Freeman plays the same soft-spoken gentleman he always does.

Also, I feel Caster's potential as a god-like entity remains unrealized. I never got the sense he was a threat to mankind, nor did I get what everyone was so afraid of. I think they could have done more with this premise.

Ultimately, I think people can skip this one and not miss out on anything.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Star Force: Rebellion Review

This week I decided to review Star Force: Rebellion by B. V. Larson. Humanity is caught between two feuding groups of sentient machines. Nanos appear to want to aide organic life while Marcos want to conquer or destroy organic life. When the book opens as part of a peace treaty with the Marcos, a detachment of Earth’s Star Force under Kyle Riggs has been placed under the temporary command of the Marcos. This detachment has recently finished a battle where it sustained heavy losses but the Marcos refuse to allow the unit to return to Earth to rebuild, instead ordering the force into a new offensive to exterminate a species similar to Centaurs. When Riggs realizes that his forces are being ordered to attack species who have peace treaties with Marcos so the Marcos can claim to have honored their treaties he decides the time has come to turn against the Marcos, and secretly allies with the Centaurs but the machines attack his forces before he has the chance to strike against them, leaving him little choice but to seize a Marco cruiser that is badly damaged before capture. He then receives a vast array of knowledge from the Centaurs, including a highly advanced AI, and the location of the race which built the first Nanos and Marcos. The captured cruiser begins the journey back towards Earth but while en route Riggs must decide whether using medical technology discovered onboard the Marco ship to revive his braindead lover is worth the cost while fending off attacks from a pursuing Marco task force. And when Star Force reaches Earth’s solar system they find a Marco fleet moving to attack Earth, and must fight one more battle against the machine enemy.
I give the book a 7 out of 10. The plot was well done, and most of the battle sequences were enjoyable but at times the story seemed to drag on, and sometimes it felt like the characters were rushing with little explanation even when they had time to take things more slowly, and would benefit greatly from doing so.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Short Story -- Hell is Everyone but You

A while back I wrote an Asperger's-themed short story called "Hell is Everyone but you." Even though it has nothing to do with science fiction or fantasy, it is a story I'm quite proud of and I thought I'd share it with you.

We came here looking for death. What we found was each other. Can two people who have been rejected by the world find acceptance with one another?

Check it out here:

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Movie Review -- Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Today we have the latest Marvel Comics movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson and Samuel L. Jackson.

The story begins with Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America (Evans), Natasha Romanov/Black Widow (Johansson) and a SHIELD team boarding a hijacked ship to take it back from French pirates. Cap saves the hostages but discovers Romanov has secret orders to retrieve encrypted files from the ship. He confronts Nick Fury (Jackson) about this, and Fury decides to let him in on SHIELD's most ambitious endeavor to date: Project Insight. Underneath the Triskelion (SHIELD HQ) they're building three more helicarriers just like the one in The Avengers with the express purpose of creating world peace through military might. Cap objects to this, saying people should not have to live their lives in fear of being annihilated by the helicarriers.

Later, Fury starts to have doubts about Project Insight. He approaches SHIELD head honcho Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and asks him to put it on hold. Pierce agrees, but later Fury is attacked by heavily armed men masquerading as cops. Even worse, a mysterious new enemy known only as the Winter Soldier steps in to end Fury for good. Fury goes to Cap for help, but a stunning betrayal puts all their lives in danger. Cap and Romanov team up with new friend Falcon (Anthony Mackie) to take down those responsible, but can they win against such overwhelming odds?

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a great addition to the Marvel movie library and a worthy sequel to the first Captain America movie, as well as the Avengers. It's got great action, amazing visuals, compelling characters and a quality soundtrack. Plus, the Winter Soldier himself is just so cool and different from the rather generic villains I've been seeing in recent months. I also like the chemistry between Cap and Black Widow.

However, I do have to mention something. A few scenes stretch the movie's believability. I wasn't really sure how the characters pulled off what they did during these instances.

Still, that really doesn't bring down the experience. Go see Captain America: The Winter Soldier today.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Hellhole: Awakening Review

This week I decided to review Hellhole: Awakening by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. It is the second book in a trilogy, and opens shortly after General Adolphus, who was exiled to the appropriately named colony world of Hellhole after leading a failed rebellion, has launched a second rebellion against the corrupt Constellation government which rules human space. He counters this by using a secret source of iperion, an incredibly rare resource to establish a Deep Zone controlled Stringline network which bypasses the hub where all Constellation Stringlines converge. Stringline travel is vastly faster than any other known Faster Than Light drive and will be key to both sides' war efforts. Adolphus also sabotages the Constellation Stringline leading to Hellhole in order to trap a fleet  led by Escobar Hallholme, son of the officer who he surrendered to at the end of his first rebellion. While Escobar struggles to save both his fleet and his mission a second Constellation fleet devastates the rebel world of Theser. This leads to the Xayan, an alien race native to Hellhole and allied with the rebellion who are preparing to reach the next stage of their evolution, to launch an assault on the Constellation Stringline network. But this leads to ancient enemies of the Xayan launching an attack on the Deep Zone’s only source of iperion. Meanwhile, a Constellation assassin attempts to complete his revenge on the families who disgraced his ancestors before the time comes when he can reclaim the noble title stripped from his family centuries ago,
I give this book a 7 out of 10. I was pleasantly surprised by it as I’ve hated all of the previous books I’ve read by this pair of authors. In fact the only reason I bought this book was that I read the back cover in a bookstore and it sounded interesting enough that I purchased it before I realized who wrote it. The various plots blend together well and the book does a good job of helping the reader understand what has led to this point while leaving enough mystery to keep things interesting. However the space battles feel rushed and are lacking in detail, and there are some points where obvious solutions to coming problems or disasters are never mentioned. Despite these flaws I still look forward to the third book in the trilogy, though I hope the problems are fixed in the next book.