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In what seems to be becoming an annual event, it’s time for a new entry in the Call of Duty franchise of video games.

This year’s entry is going back to the roots of the series by moving the setting back to the days of World War II, with a heavy focus on the Pacific Rim theater.  There is also a change up in that last year’s mega-popular Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (CoD4) was by the design house at Infinity Ward, and this year’s version (Call fo Duty: World at War is the full title) is by a group named Treyarch.

Everyone on XBox Live has been able to download a demo for a few days now which allows you to play on three of the multiplayer maps.  As long time readers of this blog know, I am a huge fan of online first person shooting games, so I downloaded and gave the game a try.  To be honest, Call of Duty 4 has literally not left my XBox since the day I inserted it, which has been about 8 months now, so me playing anything else is a novel concept.

First impressions tell me… I’m not going to be nearly as addicted to this game, and that is if I even buy it.

To be completely honest, this game is so similar to CoD4 that it feels more like an expansion pack than an entirely new game.  I almost wonder if that is why this game doesn’t have the number “5” in its title, it almost feels more like a “4.5” than a wholly new game.  Sure, there are some new aspects such as the addition of vehicles in at least one level of the three they let the public sample, and at some point in the game there is the inclusion of flame throwers, but otherwise the basic mechanics of the game just feel far to close to the last game.

I will say they did add far more details to what weapons damage could do to you, which I am not sure is such a wonderful idea.  I noticed after shooting a guy with a shotgun at fairly close range that I could see his rib cage clearly where the blast hit.  At another point I got hit with a grenade and as my character fell backwards I could see his left leg was missing.  Not to mention the amount of blood that gets splattered on the “camera” when you kill people at close range.  While I understand thay are going for a realisitc approach, I’m not sure I need that much gore in a game I play to relax after a long day of work.

One of the largest annoyances, and I know this is minor, is the inclusion of the attack dogs.  In CoD4, after you would get 7 kills in a row, you could call in an attack chopper.  Well, seeing as this is WW II, they couldn’t have coptors, obiously, so they replaced them with attack dogs.  As an animal lover, I’m not thrilled with haing to shoot dogs to save myself, and my 3 real life dogs are not thrilled with the barking coming from the TV whenever they show up.  Again, minor, but annoying.

True, I am judging this game by only a small slice of it, but the basic mechanics are there, and the actual character movement even feels a bit clunkier.  I mean the way the character itself moves, I expect the weapons to be clunky and harder to manage, but the actual physics of the figure you control just doesn’t feel smooth for some reason.

Will I end up buying it?  I don’t know, I’m tempted, but I may just wait for Infinity Ward to come back to being the designers with the next installment before I once again answer… the Call of Duty.  (Stop groaning!)



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Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal SkullAfter much personal debate, I made it out to the theater to Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The debate was based on the fact I loved the first three movies, and I really didn’t want to see a stinker of a film taint my love of the series as a whole. I finally knew if I didn’t go, I would regret it down the line, so I headed out on Memorial Day to take it in,

In short: it could have been a lot better, but it wasn’t horrible.

(Spoilers intermixed from here on out) It’s 1957 and we learn Dr. Jones had fought in World War II, been a spy, earned the rank of Colonel, won multiple medals and somehow been involved in the 1947 clean-up of the Roswell, NM UFO crash site. He’s been a busy boy.

As the movie opens, we’re at Area 51 (though you don’t know for this a bit) and Russians have kidnapped Indy and a friend of his to locate a container Indy had helped with at the crash site. Normal Indiana Jones craziness takes off from there, leading to a nice cameo shot of something every fan of the series will instantly recognize,

It’s difficult to review this movie without going through it blow-by-blow, which would take forever, but I think this movie suffered greatly from the addition of too much CGI and a loss of the idea of what made the previous three films so great.

While Indiana Jones has always had his insane stunts (under the truck comes to mind from Raiders of the Lost Ark), they were always at least slightly believable, and just over-the-top-enough to be believable. The stunts here just go too far, or seem totally disconnected from the narrative.

Take the “Doom Town” sequence for instance. The scene of Indiana getting trapped in one of the towns the United States built to test nukes on has circulated for years now, passing through who knows how many script revisions. While it was entertaining, it was pointless, and the idea that Indy could survive being thrown several miles inside of a refrigerator was ludicrous to the extreme. Near as I could figure, the point of the scene, when he turns to stare at the cloud, was supposed to be some sort of commentary on the “brave, new world” Indy now inhabits, as opposed to the 1930’s world we had previously seen him in.

However, this whole sequence just felt “wrong” somehow. Yes, it led to him being questioned by the FBI, but couldn’t that have been handled by him simply being picked up by some military guards after the jet car test? It felt tacked on, out of place and ludicrous in the extreme.

The second scene that made me hold my head in my hands, literally, was the Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf), Jungle Boy sequence. The vine swinging with the monkeys was just… silly. All we were missing was him calling out the quintessential Tarzan yell, and the whole sequence would have been one for the record books as just plain silly.

The third thing, and I promise it is the last I will go into grand details on, that was the “aliens” being some sort of “inter-dimensional species”. What was the point to this? They couldn’t have just been extra terrestrials? They had to be “inter-dimensional”, and not only do we hear about this from Professor Oxley (John Hurt) once, but twice. How did he know the difference? Why did he know the difference? (I assume the skull told him from their psychic link, but it doesn’t make it any less pointless)

Alas, there was more that seemed pointless, but I won’t bore you with anything more than bullet points:

  • Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) was psychic. She told us so. Guess we never needed to see proof of this since she only tried it once on Indy and failed.
  • How did Indy get his job back at the university? He’s laid off for presumed Communist activity in a rather lengthy explanation, but at the end of the movie, not only is he back, but he’s now an associate dean.
  • In the jungle chase, we start off with the big machine clearing them a road. Once it gets destroyed, they sure seemed to have plenty of road without it, didn’t they?
  • You needed the skull to open the door to the chamber where the crystal skeletons were, so how did the Conquistadors open the door in the 15th or 16th century to steal the one skull?
  • Why did the return of the skull make the aliens leave? The skeletons had been complete for thousands of years, one skull gets stolen for a few hundred years, it returns, they’re ready to leave?

Then there was one thing about the entire arc of the story that just annoyed the heck out of me. What happened to Indy? This wasn’t the same Indiana Jones as the previous films, and I don’t feel it was an age aspect, it was the idea that he was merely following the clues Oxley had left, and not doing any true “archeology” of his own. When Indy and Mutt enter the tomb of the Conquistadors, Mutt mentions the two sets of foot prints in the dust, and that he thinks it means one person has been here twice, to which Indy agrees. I don’t know how to explain it, but this actually made me a bit sad.

In the first three films, Indy was the ground breaker. Think about when he entered the Well of Souls in the first movie as an example. He was the first person to enter that chamber in thousands of years, and he found it through his own trials, he had earned this moment through sweat and hard work. In the fourth film, he’s following a paint-by-numbers quest someone had laid out for him. It was almost like he was playing a video game, I kept expecting messages to pop-up on screen: “Congratulations! You located the Crystal Skull and unlocked stage 3!” Oxley had already found the skull, been to the city, gotten past the native Indians, touched the obelisk, and he was the one who figured out how to activate the gate. It was like Indy was just along for the ride, and that really disappointed me.

The thing is, even with all of these quibbles, it was still fun to watch. The motorcycle chase, minus the silliness in the library, was vintage Indy. The warehouse chase was a good time since it was such a confined area. The jungle chase was good, also minus some silliness. There was just an overwhelming sense I was watching a very watered down version of Indiana Jones, an “Indiana Jones Lite” if you will.

There have been rumors of a fifth film already with a higher focus on Mutt, and Indiana playing more of the Sean Connery role from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the father trying to impart wisdom to his son feeling. My hope is this will not come to be, but considering the box office receipts for this film already, we might as well start expecting it.


Halo 3I know I said just yesterday that I hadn’t had time to start playing Halo 3 yet, but I ecided shortly after I wrote that to give it a try.

And I’m done.

What the hell? I already played all the way through it. How is that even possible? I remember the first two games taking me days, but this one took maybe 8 – 10 hours. I think the answer is fairly simple: Bungie, the maker of the game, got scared.

Where Halo 2 had actual improvements over the original, this one could only really boast better graphics and lots of new superfluous crap.  And that’s exactly what it was, crap.

The game is awash in new weapons and vehicles, but the gameplay is just nothing new.  Some of the levels were repetitive of past levels (the big escape at the end… won’t say more so as not to spoil), and even inside this game it was repetitive!  Three levels that end in fights with Scarab tanks?  You had to be so unoriginal that you ripped off yourself… in the same game?  Wow.

While I loved the single player campaigns in the first two games, this one just felt like it was just phoned in.    I haven’t had time to play the multi-player portion yet, but my gut tells me not to get my hopes too high for it.