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1400 29Jun2011: Countdown to Armageddon

After the giant organized post full of opinions last week, I just have nothing to talk about today. I guess it's a holiday weekend or something coming up, so stock up on grill fixings, relax on the patio, and get ready for Armageddon.

I'm probably going to stay inside -- the daystar is visiting Fargo with its burning wrath -- and finish off Infamous. Hopefully by then I'll be able to find a deal on Infamous 2 and jump right in to that. I can tell it's going to be a videogamey weekend. I've had a couple BBC weekends but I'm almost out of that content. Sherlock and Luther are on Netflix streaming and Misfits is on Hulu; all of them are excellent but all of them are the usual BBC six-hour seasons. Not ideal when trying to spend long stretches of your life on a couch, unmoving.

[Seapony - Blue Star] has indie lady vocals and that particular kind of tinny guitar that I associate with the 80s. There's also some kind of reverb overlayed on the whole thing that makes it a pain to listen to. It has to be a deliberate choice, so I choose not to keep this otherwise pleasant song around.

Hey, wanna get mellow? [Priscilla Ahn - Cry Baby] is here to sing you to sleep. My own current tastes tend towards the fluffier side of chick-folk, but even I was surprised at the soporific effects of this song.

It never mattered what [Oh Land - Wolf & I] sounded like. As long as it wasn't literally a Britney Spears song wrapped in a pseudonym, this was going on my shelf next to [Bat for Lashes - Horse & I]. In fact it's an R&B slow jam; my enthusiasm is unabated.

22Jun2011 1730: Infamous vs Prototype

L.A. Noire finished spectacularly, the only way a noir movie can really end. I'm not exactly raring to jump on the DLC cases just yet, so I set Detective Cole Phelps aside...for a character named Cole McGrath. 2011 may be Videogames' Year of the Cole: L.A. Noire, Infamous 2, and Gears of War 3 all prominently feature a Cole.

Today on Monty's Behind the Curve, I'm dredging up a hot topic from the summer of 2009: Prototype or Infamous? I was a huge Prototype fan, but I only recently got my hands on a (free) copy of Infamous. 80710A06, never forget. Anyway, Infamous: fantastic, especially after playing Prototype.

It was an odd time, the summer of 2009. Two mid-sized development studios came out with their own original superhero IP set in an open-world analogue of New York City...within two weeks of each other. Infamous was a PS3 exclusive while Prototype was both PS3/360, so there was an added element of console warfare. Competition was inevitable, but in my eyes these games are complements. Check it out:

Traversal You can sprint up the walls of any building, glide, hijack helicopters, commandeer tanks, dash in mid-air, and jump ten stories You can climb up window ledges and pipes, glide, and grind along power lines or train tracks
Powers You are The Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Baraka, and The Thing You have a pistol, a rocket launcher, a sniper rifle, and grenades; they are made out of electricity
Story Nearly incomprehensible plot, C-level voice acting, and side missions that fill in little backstory. Loose ends and red herrings in both the main plot and side missions. Solid story, B-level voice acting, and side missions that fill in backstory with cliché audio logs
Side Missions Side jobs run the gamut of "race from A to B" to "kill these dudes". Completing them gives you a medal ranking and a small amount of experience points. Side jobs run the gamut of "race from A to B" to "kill these dudes". Completing them gives you experience points and control of territory in the city, inside which random enemies no longer spawn.
Collectible Doodads Like a million goddamn glowing doodads that you have to track down by scouring every surface listening for a faint hum Like a million goddamn glowing doodads; you have a pulse-radar ability that lights them up on your minimap (THIS IS THE BEST IDEA SINCE PIZZA)

As I'm playing through Infamous, I am repeatedly struck by the idea that I want to grab both game discs and squish them together in some sort of metaphorical industrial press. The failings of one are almost always balanced against the strengths of the other. In Prototype, doodad hunting was a chore and the plot was a dumpster fire; in Infamous, sometimes I get tired of firing a tiny taser and want to just wade in and punish everybody within three city blocks. Both are still great games, even two years later, and I'm going to play both of their sequels this year. It's a great time to be alive with lots of free time.

[I'm From Barcelona - Always Spring] is a charming bit of fluff, the kind of indie-label pop that sounds like it's using a glockenspiel instead of a keyboard. The mostly okay music distracts from the inane lyrics.

Oh man, does [Go Radio - Forever My Father] get on my nerves. It's an arena ballad, the kind where most of the rockers take a break and get a drink of water while the lead singer sits at a piano and does something plaintive. After the water break the rest of the band comes back and wham! there's a big chorus.

[Diego Garcia - Stay] is a mild Latin-tinged guitar moper. I don't think it's the type of song that should be listened to on its own; it's really meant for Hollywood, scoring a scene in Tijuana just after the goodguy gets dumped by his fiancée. He's fighting back tears, walking down the street at night and passing stereotypically Mexican things.

15Jun2011 1800: A Restoration of Faith

After its bizarre midgame hump, L.A. Noire settled right back into its familiar rhythm. The developers had the confidence to base 95% of their content on an ancient system of hotspot hunting and dialogue trees; the Bad Mission is just a hiccup in an otherwise satisfying game. How satisfying? I had wrapped up an arson case with what I thought was a solid slate of evidence -- we'd found firebug equipment in his work locker and his coworkers fingered him for a developer's kickback scheme -- but my lieutenant bawled me out for building such a "weak case" and letting the communist suspect walk. I shouted back at the TV. I called my two-star rating bullshit, I called the case summary bullshit, I wagged my finger at a slab of plastic and wire because it had dared to question my detective work. There are certainly cases that I've screwed up, but in this one I had found every clue and hit over 80% of the interrogation. I nailed that guy, and if the D.A. doesn't think he can make it stick that's his godda

And then I stopped, just like that sentence, and realized that any game that can provoke that kind of response is going to make my list of all-time greats. All is forgiven. Also, an upcoming DLC case is called Reefer Madness. Cannot wait.

[The Rosebuds - Second Bird of Paradise] is mellow to the point of invisibility. It's the kind of song I had to listen to twice; the first time I was doing something else and it just kind of slipped by. There's violin and cymbal and keyboard, but mostly it's a drum marking time while the singer breathes verses about his sister. It's a kind of light pop song that could have lived in the 70s if it didn't sound so sad.

Jesus, speaking of 70s pop. [Motopony - King of Diamonds] brings out the chimes, and when's the last time you heard those? This one crosses into saccharine territory, and I don't want none of that unless a Swedish girl is fronting the band. Is this some bizarro-world response to [Motorhead - Ace of Spades]?

You want Flogging Molly? You got Flogging Molly. I haven't heard their stuff in quite a few years, and [Flogging Molly - Don't Shut 'Em Down] seems to have toned down the fiddles and ska influences. Also the singer doesn't sound as growly? I'm just going off Swagger here. I never followed the Irish ska/punk bands too closely.

08Jun2011 1900: A Lack of Faith

Progress on L.A. Noire has stalled. This game has been consistently amazing all through the Homicide desk. The basics of finding evidence and interrogating suspects haven't changed, but the ever-rotating cast of witnesses and suspects kept the momentum going. Every case was a delight, and it was building an inter-case tension that was unlike anything I'd ever encountered in a game. Until.

Last week I stumbled into some sort of terrible parallel L.A. Noire, an L.A. Noire without evidence or interrogations. This goateed game from the mirror universe was full of cryptic Prometheus Unbound quotes that pointed to landmarks in the city. Landmarks that could only be discovered by driving around to places that were not involved with previous cases, which I had studiously avoided doing. I don't have time to swing by the library when a lady's been bludgeoned to death in a trainyard.

The designers thought of that, though! If you drive around aimlessly for a few minutes, your character figures out the clue for himself and gives his hapless partner the answer out loud. I will repeat this. If you have not ignored your caseload that the game gives you and thus have no landmarks discovered the game will give you the answer, but only after you drive around for a few minutes. Your options are (a) knowing the answer and driving there immediately -- the "cryptic clues" aren't all that cryptic if you have the landmark unlocked -- or (b) wait the predefined amount of time for the game to let you continue.

And then! Each location hides the clue to the next location. Not behind a witness you must cajole or threaten, not inside a room cluttered with red, that would be too much like the rest of the game. No, each location contains a Video Game Challenge, hoary items like Climbing Ladders, Balancing On a Tightrope, and especially Walking Across Something That Slows You Down. This entire sequence is finished up with a Chase Badguy Through a Maze. It is a betrayal of everything the game has done up to this point and I cannot imagine how the designers allowed this to happen.

Anyway, I'm one case past there, a case that snaps back into the rhythm of the detective gameplay. But now there is a bitter pall over everything I do, a fear that at any moment I may have to rescue a princess from a volcano level.

Somebody talk me down, I'm looking at Magic cards again. Last time I got interested, I read up on the year of cards known as "Mirrodin Block" and then jumped into some purchasing with the next block, which history now names one of the worst blocks overall. Well, I started frequenting their website again a few months ago, coincidentally at the same time they released a set of cards that went back to the world of Mirrodin. I'm now planning to get into some small events when the next block is released in the fall. So now everybody else knows to stay away from those cards, because they will be terrible.

[The Globes - Stay Awake] opens with computer noise, which is promising, and then flowers into full-out "underground dungeon" videogame music. That lasts a full minute fifteen before The Globes finally show up and say something, but even their whispery droning takes a back seat to the constant videogamey sounds on display. I think I liked it? Maybe I just kept imagining myself putting bullets into an alien dragon while this music played.

[Polock - Fireworks] is from an album that Amazon has been trying to recommend to me for a few weeks now. It's pretty good, a light pop song with the special touch of moog/synth that pushes it into the "indie" genre.

[Sharon Van Etten and Glass Ghost - Like a Diamond] is an aimless piano-pop piece. Usually I like females crooning over keyboards, but this is a Natalie Merchant song on tranquilizers.

01Jun2011 2000: Brainfreeze

Frozen Synapse is tits. A cousin gifted me the other half of his two-pack and it scratches that special spot that X-Com used to. It's a small-squad tactical game, your band of merry soldiers squaring off against an equal band of vile subhuman aggressors in a randomized collection of rooms and hallways. I agonize over each turn, attempting to optimize each motion and bullet. The result of fifteen minutes of planning and sweating is usually five seconds of the teams not even laying eyes on each other.

Its greatest genius is the return of the play-by-email aesthetic. Each turn lasts five seconds of gameplay, and once you've locked in your action(s) your turn is sent to the server. And then...the waiting. Your opponent may not even be awake at the moment. Your turn may sit there for days, taunting you with its inadequacy. Eventually you'll log in and find that your opponents have finally sent in their moves, the server has abitrated, and suddenly two thirds of your dudes are murdered. You must then pilot your last cowardly machinegunner on a mission of vengeance.

As usual, Total Biscuit has you covered.

[Jackie Evancho - Ombra Mai Fu] is a classic Handel vocal+piano piece. I looked that up. She's very good at the vocaling -- very good -- but nobody would release an album of classical music done poorly so yeah. I don't want this popping up randomly in my library.

[Ema - The Grey Ship] is seven goddamn minutes long and is not about Lord of the Rings. It meanders and buzzes and floats; it sounds like it was recorded through a long tube. It may be free but it's not worth seven minutes of your time. If you want buzzing and meandering, go buy either Silversun Pickups album and get some forward momentum as well.

She Wants Revenge showed up once a few years ago, and that song (Tear You Apart) always reminded me of an angry Thompson Twins. [She Wants Revenge - Must Be the One] is less angry. Obviously, he no longer wants to tear her apart and instead believes she is the one. If 80s pop-rock floats your boat, complete with mandolin on the bridge, check it out.