Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Portal (Game Review)

Portal is one of those innovative, ground-breaking games that's been so popular that even infrequent and casual gamers have played it. The praise is well deserved. Fundamentally, Portal is a classic first person, puzzle level game in which you must get through various game levels. What radically differentiates the experience, though, is that in Portal you are equipped with a portal gun that you use to make portals in the walls, floors, and ceilings.

This enhancement forces you to reconsider the typical spatial awareness in game levels and think in portals. The implications are fun and far-reaching. For example, you sometimes need to create two portals on opposite sides of a room to bypass a chasm. Or you may have to create a portal on the floor a few levels down and an exit portal high up on a wall so you can jump into the portal below and have your momentum take you from the portal above to a high, previously inaccessible ledge on the other side of the room.

You are led through the game by a computer guide that adds an inventive twist that makes an already good game great. Finally, the ending credits feature a catchy song that is worth sitting through.

Absolutely recommended.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Half-Life 2: Episode Two

I actually played Half-Life 2: Episode Two shortly after it was released, in October 2007. Like its predecessor, Episode Two continues the Half-Life story and provides another four to six hour adventure in which you battle the Combine as Gordon Freeman, sometimes on your own and sometimes with the assistance of Alex Vance. As an installment, I enjoyed Episode Two a little more than Episode One - I thought the levels and environments were fun and a bit more varied, and the pacing was just right.

I thought the ending with the timed Strider sequence was too difficult, though, and could not beat it initially. After two dozen or so tries, I gave up and only tried again recently when I replayed the game. My luck was no better the second time through, and I ultimately resorted to cheat codes to finish the game, one of the only times I've ever done so. My difficulty with the ending is the reason I did not blog about the game after first playing it, and am only posting now, following the replay.

Overall, I remain a huge fan of the Half-Life franchise and still rank the original Half-Life 2 title as one of my all-time favorite games. However, sitting five years from the 2004 release of Half-Life 2, I think it's past time for Valve to get on with it and release the final episode (Episode Three) and conclude the three-part sequel, if only so they can start making Half-Life 3 or whatever will be their next big game. The serials were an interesting idea, but, in this case, it's simply been too long between installments.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

T.O. in B-Lo

I never post about sports, but I had to post something about Terrell Owens signing with the Bills [1]. My first reaction was utter shock and disbelief. Terrell Owens is a high-maintenance, bright lights, football celebrity. Buffalo is the last place one would expect him to land.

Granted, it's a business and money is a powerful lure, but it's still surreal, like a philosophical category mistake: green ideas sleep furiously.

Or, in football parlance, epicanthic footballs prevaricate fulsomely.

[1] For those of you who don't know me, I reside in Buffalo, NY.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

For One More Day by Mitch Albom

I'm not a big fan of audiobooks and only under rare circumstances will listen to one. Last Thanksgiving was one of those occasions, when my wife and I were driving back to Buffalo from a holiday getaway in Montréal and had a long stretch that was perfect for an audiobook.

For One More Day is in the tradition of It's a Wonderful Life and tells of Charles "Chick" Benetto, a man who was once a baseball star with a loving family, but who has since fallen far, and is now out of baseball and estranged from his family. When the text begins, Chick has hit rock bottom and is contemplating suicide. As with George Bailey, though, before Chick completes the act, he encounters the supernatural in the ghost of his dead mother.

This is the setup for the rest of the novel as Chick gets to spend "one more day" with his mother and recall crucial events from his past. Along the way, he'll ask and tell his mother all the things he wanted to express but didn't before she died.

Your mileage may vary, but I thought For One More Day was pretty heavy-handed and overdone, not to mention derivative. That deeper layer of substance the book needed to rise above the surface and choreographed emotional set pieces just wasn't there, and it felt too staged and "made up" as a result.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Broken Music by Sting

The album Synchronicity came out in 1983 when I was in junior high and just getting into music. I was immediately hooked by the lyrical density and blending of rock, reggae, and jazz, and quickly became a fan of The Police.

Sting's first two solo albums -- The Dream of the Blue Turtles and ...Nothing Like the Sun -- came out when I was in high school. To this day, I remember listening to songs like "Message in a Bottle", "King of Pain", "Don't Stand So Close to Me", and "Russians" over and over. With Sting's solo albums, I remember reading the liner notes and how impressed I was with Sting's simple yet expressive writing, and the narrative behind the songs. As I'm sure it was for other cerebral teenage boys, to me, Sting was the epitome of cool, literate and brooding, yet debonair and adored by women everywhere.

Broken Music is Sting's memoir and recounts his life up to the formation and early successes with The Police. It's a well-crafted and revealing glimpse into the formation of Sting as an artist and tells of his upbringing, family, first loves, and passion for music. Perhaps some fans might be disappointed that the memoir ends just when Sting's fame and success began, but, for my part, I loved the focus and appreciated learning about Sting before he was a star.

Recommended for fans of The Police and those who appreciate a good memoir.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Go See The Wrestler

Mickey Rourke is exceptional as an aging broken-down wrestler and delivers a memorable, bravura performance. Go see The Wrestler, if you haven't already.