Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

First completed video game in ages! Moving and getting married are hard, distracting work. Anyway, knowledge of this game’s release was exciting, because I’ve played the rest of the series in part as a bonding experience with my father. Then it took long enough post-release for me to get him to my house[1] that I probably should not have pre-ordered after all? Whatever, the price is only like $20 less even now.

Last Nathan Drake game, I said the series needed some kind of plot shake-up to avoid the trap of “these are all the same game”. Because, I mean, they are. You climb around on walls, you shoot people who are guaranteed to shoot at you if you don’t (and probably even if you do), and you seek a really big treasure of some kind. It is known.

My point is this: A Thief’s End provided the shake-up I wanted. Good job, game designers of the previous future / current past! See, it starts with a flashback to an unguessed at childhood, then proceeds through some things that I would definitely consider spoilers, resulting in yet another treasure hurt, of course, but in a way that pre-empts at least some amount of the currently in vogue backlash against how Nathan Drake and so many other video game avatars are “murder hobos”, willing to slaughter dozens or hundreds of foes standing in the way of said treasure. And then the epilogue provides a whole new kind of shake-up, to boot!

The title indicates that this is the last game in the series. If it is, I think it went out on a really good note. If it isn’t, I’ll get the next one, because how could I not? I definitely liked it, which is not a shock considering my previous reviews on the series. But most of all, I appreciated the new depth to, well, every part of the game.

Huh. No. That’s not true. The depth of the fighting and climbing is basically identical. But there were some new and improved aspects of how to move around the map and solve the puzzles, and mostly I meant the plot. Which you probably already knew. Jerk.

[1] I have a PS4, he does not. His possession of a PS3 is why the other series entries were played at the Ranch, you see.

Dexter Is Delicious

Apparently, the last Dexter book I read was over five years ago, when Dexter Is Delicious had only been out for a year. I could have caught up, belike! In the nonce, the series has concluded entirely, which is kind of weird for a popular mystery novel character. Usually those get milked for decades.

I have a lot of jumbled, unrelated things to talk about. Like: the show. I have seen all of the show, and I have not read all of the books. But I think that the show is better than any of the books at its very best, while being not nearly as good as the books are on average. So, if you liked the show for a while, an only seven book series is probably a good investment.

And: Dexter’s narration. I can’t tell if I was so dazzled by the show that I missed it in earlier books, or if it subtly changed over time. But I’ve read lots of versions of unreliable narrator, and usually they’re lying to the reader to protect something, maybe a secret, maybe some part of themselves they don’t think belongs to you? But this is the only one I can think of that is just self-deluded, and certainly the only one where that fact is played primarily for comedic effect. It’s not that Dexter is dumb; he’s very successful, both professionally and in his personal life, and he has to be both smart and careful to achieve either. But he’s also not a god walking amongst men, and the only thing funnier than seeing the mistaken belief in action is seeing when he, very occasionally, has the belief shaken by outside events.

Lastly: the series’ end. I haven’t said much about the book itself. It’s about what you’d think from the title plus cover: Dexter vs. cannibal. And there are twists along the way, like the infant daughter that he wants to be a better man for, and other expansions of his extended family besides. One of those twists has longer term implications, though. The thing that’s weird is, as a standalone book, it felt like a combination of an unwanted and unnecessary plot development and a cheap gimmick; but as the fifth book of only seven total, it instead feels like an indication of the end’s beginning.

I of course have no idea if this was true when the book was written, nor if it will turn out to be true when I finish the series. This is why I hate meta-spoilers, though; it’s basically impossible to avoid them.

Passengers (2016)

It is functionally impossible to really talk about this movie without massive spoilers, because what the movie is actually about requires knowledge of character actions and motivations. This is… problematic, since spoilers suck. So, I’ll fill in the next paragraph with some kind of thumbnail thing, and put in a cut (that doesn’t work everywhere), and after that, you should probably have watched it first to go any further. Or, if you don’t care, that’s your lookout.

Passengers is, at the broadest level, the story of a colony ship headed outbound from Earth to new frontiers. At the next focus inward, it’s a story about hell and impossible choices. The next focus inward will have to go behind the cut.
Continue reading

The Unwritten: The Wound

To actually review this, I need to go back and read my last review and see where I thought things were left. But in the unlikely event that it changes nothing, I’m giving it a go now. Don’t be surprised if none of this text actually makes it into the final version, though!

What bothers me about The Wound is that the War of Words felt like a turning point at the time. (Unless I’m wrong and it did not, see first paragraph above.[0]) Whereas, after having read its sequel, it now feels like it was instead an ending, yet now Carey is writing more books regardless. Don’t get me wrong, he has a lot of leeway with me[1], so I’ll keep going for a while yet.

So, the specifics. A year has passed since the big climax, and the world is… weird. Tommy cults, contagious schizophrenia, a quest to save fiction[2], not to mention the general “world going down the toilet” pre-apocalyptic events you’d expect in a good story / over the course of the next couple of years of real life, before things get legitimately awful. Plus also, the world of Fiction, which I had forgotten is a real thing that really exists and to which an assassin had been sent several books ago, is under the same threat. Because despite having won the war last book, Tommy’s world is still in a lot of trouble and he still needs to save it.

And don’t misunderstand me, all of that is fine! Unless it’s an open-ended plot with no planned ending, solely designed to sell more comics. Because those eventually fall apart, and even though this one isn’t yet, I’m so suspicious that it would ruin it for me even before it becomes bad. Which maybe it wouldn’t anyway? Because of how Carey really is pretty reliable. I mean, did you read Lucifer?

[0] So, weird thing: I was actually exactly right and did not need to retcon the review at all. Which means the sausage got made in full view.
[1] …and even if he didn’t, look at how many times I’ve wanted to kick The Walking Dead without ever quite doing it.
[2] Okay, that one is pretty much par for the course, as it’s what the whole series is about. But the quest being out in the open is new.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

This is weird. First of all, yes, I saw Rogue One over the weekend. Of course I did! And I liked it. Yet, I have been avoiding this review like the dickens, and I don’t know exactly why. My best guess is, I liked it better than it probably deserves. The first act was scattered, and the second act was solid enough[1], but the third act was 100% predictable due to its inevitability. It’s hard to drum up much care about characters whose arcs you already know when you sit down in the theater, you know?

Nevertheless, I did care about them. I cared about all of the new characters[2] and I cared about watching the journey, and I didn’t mind the CGI faces very much, and basically everything that happened was good. Hell, even the music! Not composed by John Williams, and it still felt like a Star Wars score. Which is good, 2016 being the way it has been.

Anyway, that’s my point. It was part hot mess, part incapable of surprising plot twist, and could easily be accused of leveraging nostalgia for everything left that was any good. But screw it, it felt like a Star Wars movie, and a thing that feels like a Star Wars movie is going to be unavoidably good. Hell, it was better than The Phantom Menace or Attack of the Clones. Also: I feel like they earned the title, and I was not confident I would feel that way.

[1] albeit with a missed plot hole that you could drive a Star Destroyer through[3]
[2] except maybe the insane terrorist guy on Jehda? I gather that maybe he’s in the Rebels cartoon that I haven’t watched any of, and maybe it would be easier to care about him if I had? But I did not, at all.
[3] Plot hole in comments, due to spoilers.

Choices of One

It’s the day after a big Star Wars release, so naturally I have a Star Wars review, about a story set in the early days surrounding the original movie, just like you’d expect me to have. Oh, wait, haha no, I haven’t actually gone to see any movie yet. Probably later this weekend? But my schedule, my wife’s schedule, and sellouts to places that have assigned seats conspired to keep me away last night. Even less likely than that, I wasn’t really thinking about this being release weekend when I picked up Choices of One to read last week.

This Zahn novel is set between A New Hope and the Empire Strikes Back, and stars the big four plus also Mara Jade, Thrawn, and Pellaeon (and, oddly, no droids). The rebels are looking for a new base (which is commonly understood to be the only thing they did between those movies), Jade is looking for traitors, and Thrawn is looking for, um, I dunno. This is clearly a book introducing some long term Unknown Regions / Thrawn plot that will never reach fruition under the Star Wars Legends label, despite the foreshadowing provided here.  Anyway, they all intersect out near the edge of known space, when plot involving air battles, gun battles, laser sword battles, and familiar stormtroopers occurs.

I know I’m being glib here, as a way to avoid spoilers. So, in all seriousness: it is no surprise that Zahn still knows how to write Star Wars, and I look forward to some decades distant day when Will and Zeynep go through this book in far more depth than I have or could do.

Fables: Witches

Moving: awesome for getting to live in a place you like better than the previous place you lived, but terrible for not falling way way behind on book series that you are reading. Case in point: The new Fables collection picks up right after they banded together to save all of creation that had been threatened by developments from the side series about Jack Horner, and that is not a record of what had actually been going on in the main continuity, which means they are resuming a plotline I last read about three years ago. Awesome.

I mean, I guess it’s not that bad? I remembered the two main plot points addressed in Witches, both of which are of course themselves massive, massive spoilers since by the time you’re fourteen books into a series, any notable development gives away lots about things that would be spoilers for previous books. So, without getting into those specifics, I can say these things:

1) Frau Totenkinder, who you will recognize better as the witch from Hansel and Gretel, is just as cool as she always has been within these pages. (Most of the other titular witches are entirely worth reading about, but she’s the one with the highest badass factor, is what I’m saying.)
2) The winged monkey that has always been a bit player in the series as the magical archives librarian, at least I think that’s more or less what he is, turns out to be very cool, in a reader insertion kind of way.
3) Not that he’s the only game in town, but the new bad guy is pretty dang cool. I think I hope he lasts longer than I expect him to.

I’d say I’ll do better at keeping caught up with this, but who would I be fooling?

The Short Victorious War

It’s been a while since I’ve read an Honor Harrington book, and I honestly couldn’t say why. I mean, I know why I haven’t in the past let’s say year and a half, what with finally packing up my house and moving, and then getting engaged and planning a wedding before getting my books all the way unpacked from the move. But it was four years before that, and that is the part I cannot especially account for. Honor books are fun! Step one: space bad guys decide to be bad guys. Step two: space good guys leave Honor in an untenable position due to political wrangling or misplaced tactical / strategic thought that notably disagrees with whatever Honor correctly thinks instead. Step three: big naval space battle, which is somehow exciting despite being spread out across hours and hours instead of the 15 minutes of a Star Wars space battle[1]. Step four: Honor wins and gets lots of begrudging accolades from the people she just proved wrong. What’s not to like?

That said, this is the first book that has ended in such a way that I kind of want to know what happens next immediately. So while I understand not reading it that soon after the last one, I still can’t explain the fullness of the gap. Oh well?

Here’s what you need to know about The Short Victorious War: it is foreshadowed by a history lesson from which the title is drawn, in which Imperial Russia tried to take on Japan just a brief time before the glorious Communist revolution. So when the space bad guys proceed in chapter one to plan their own short, victorious war against the space good guys in order to settle down the proletariat, the outcome of the book has already been decided. However, getting there is basically hilarious on the space bad guy side[2] while maintaining the typically entertaining Honor formula on the space good guy side. Plus also, space romance!, if that kind of thing is your bag.

The reason I think I am especially excited for the next book is because it ended on the kind of cliffhanger that leads me to expect things to pick up weeks later instead of the typical years later, plus also I expect the formula to be broken. Which is always more exciting than knowing exactly what will happen, despite how entertaining the road to it might be.

[1] I think this is because of the ratcheting tension.
[2] Leader of the space bad guy revolutionaries is named, and I swear I am not making this up, Rob S. Pierre.

Thankskilling

mv5botczmdy2njq5nl5bml5banbnxkftztcwnzeznzy5mg-_v1_Off of a dare[1] on Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, I turned on Thankskilling while setting my fantasy football line-ups. I ended up watching all sixty-six minutes of the feature due to Mary falling asleep on the couch before I finished my research.

I had said, after watching the first 100 seconds, before the title drop, that they had accomplished pretty much the perfect iteration of that title in distilled movie form, and that I bet the rest of the movie could not stand up to it. It turns out, I was right.

[1] I was bet that it had worse dialogue than Troll 2. Nnnnnnnope.

Army of Darkness Vs. Hack/Slash

81dqwq1jflAs of this writing, my new job and then the world’s pre-eminent boardgame convention have kept me too busy and/or access-blocked to do much in the way of reviewing. Well, no, that’s not right. As you can see, I’ve been reviewing, I just haven’t been posting them. The previous one, I think about a movie I saw a week or two ago, has been sitting in my inbox for days waiting for me to punch up the HTML and then post it. On the (let’s say) bright side, I haven’t had time to fall farther behind, so I’ve got that going for me at least.

Remember when I read the conclusion of the Hack/Slash series, about a teenage serial-killer killer who was opposed by the shadowy cult responsible for all those supernatural horror slasher guys that gleefully dismember summer camp teens? Like I said then, it turns out more books have been written even though the story ended. I appreciated, therefore, that the plot of Army of Darkness vs. Hack/Slash went out of its way to acknowledge this. Cassie Hack is retired, dealing with the mental trauma of her losses, and living the least intense life she can find. Until, you know, Bruce Campbell[1] shows up to get her to team up with him to fight against the Necronomicon and its army of Deadites.

Like all good team-up / crossover comics, they fight each other as well as common enemies; and like very few team-up / crossover comics, they change along the way, paving the road for future events. Well, I mean, Cassie does; I have no idea about Ash due to lack of familiarity with his comic, but since growth is anathema to the on-screen version of the character, it’s probably fine that he did not appear to. Also, I’m pretty sure there will be future events in store for Cassie’s life. I have no idea how many, though. If so: probably they will continue to contain explosions of bloody gore, supernatural mysteries, and lingerie cheesecake.

[1] I mean, not literally Bruce Campbell. It’s actually Ash from the Evil Dead movies and that new show on Starz, but you probably already knew that. For the record, he’s still young Ash, no more than a few years after Army of Darkness. He is apparently the topic of a different comics series I do not (and probably will not ever) read.