Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Halo 4 Review

As with my comparison of MLB 12: The Show vs. MLB 2K12, I think this review will have some value because I am not a professional video game reviewer, but rather a regular dude like you.

When reviewing an FPS game, it seems like one can't help but compare it to something else. In this case, with Halo 4 coming out around the same time as Call of Duty Black Ops 2, people are naturally going to compare them. So rather than resist what seems inevitable, I will address Call of Duty in general (but not Black Ops 2 specifically) in this review. (Note that this review is focused only on the multiplayer aspects of the games mentioned.)

First, a disclaimer: I have been and probably always will be a fan of Halo. I played Halo 2 extensively in college. I've played Call of Duty Modern Warfare 1 and 2, as well as Black Ops 1. There are three main reasons I can't ever seem to get behind them and why I always seem to go back to Halo. I will address these issues I have with CoD while at the same time pointing out the advantages that I think Halo generally has.

1) Aim down sight: I have just never liked how your weapon, when drawn, takes up so much of the screen. Less significantly, but still importantly, I don't like that I have to hold two triggers (as opposed to one) to fire a weapon. In fairness, if this had been the system with which I began playing first-person shooters, I would probably feel the opposite way. But the fact is that I did begin with Halo's system, and I find it difficult to switch to an ADS system. And before anyone comments, yes, I know you can hip fire, and get really good at it, such that you don't have to ADS as much. But this actually leads well into my second point.

2) Strategy: Basically anyone from casual to die-hard Call of Duty players will agree that there is simply less strategy to Call of Duty, and much more of a "run and gun" style. The learning curve is far less steep. Nobody can really deny this, and in fact, many CoD players point to these facts actually as key distinctions which makes the game more fun. Well, perhaps for some, but not for me. The less strategy there is, the less thinking you're doing, and the more the game devolves into simply who has the best twitch reflexes. And while basically any FPS game will test your twitch reflexes, I am looking for more of a mental test than CoD provides.

3) Vehicles: Beyond anything else, what I and other gamers look for in games is for them to be fun. This is why we play. To me, vehicles introduce a fun element of mayhem that cannot be provided by foot soldiering alone. They also provide a lot more explosions, which I think we can all agree makes for a better game. I could almost overlook the other flaws of CoD games entirely if they just had vehicular combat. And quite frankly, I don't understand why they don't have it already. I can't possibly be the only person who thinks they should. My guess is they have limitations on the multiplayer engine that is preventing it so far, but I think they will likely introduce vehicles in the future.

So, now that I have established why I prefer Halo to Call of Duty, the question still remains, is Halo 4 worth playing? I say yes, and here's why.

Halo 4 is the fastest Halo game yet. I think this was really necessary. I hear CoD fans say Halo is too slow, and that was a valid point. But this is now largely a non-factor due to the fact that everyone can sprint now. However, it doesn't feel too fast, which is also important. Halo 4 also now has personal ordnances/power-ups, which are great. Now I'm sure a lot of you are thinking something like "well that's just a ripoff of CoD, they're so late to the game." There's really no denying this, but how many things did the first Modern Warfare rip off from the Halo franchise? Games borrow from each other, big deal. The question is, does it work for what the game is trying to do, and does it make it more fun? In the case of Halo 4, the answer is yes.

Aside from faster play and ordnance drops, Halo 4 is also much smoother than 3 or Reach. This is crucial in an FPS. Of course Halo 4 also has new maps, new vehicles, and new weapons. They are all good. And Halo 4 now has loadouts, with better weapons and abilities available for the more you upgrade your player.

Again, the question I go back to is, is the game fun to play? Yes, Halo 4 is really fun to play. And it's easy and fun to track your stats on Halo Waypoint online.

So now to answer the big question "should I buy it," I break down the buyer into three categories:

If CoD is your thing and you have no interest in Halo, I don't know that this game will change your mind. I mean, maybe, it could. But there seems to be this war between CoD and Halo, which I don't really understand. Why can't you play both (if you want to)? The only way it really makes sense is if you can only afford one game. That doesn't seem like a majority of gamers, though. So, if you're a CoD fanboy, keep playing it.

If you used to play Halo but now play CoD, I think Halo 4 makes significant inroads to winning you back. Why did you move to CoD in the first place? There are many reasons, but I think Halo 4 addresses most (if not all) of them, to the extent that I think you could enjoy Halo again.

If you are a Halo fan, but were disappointed with some of their recent offerings (read: Reach), whether or not you've played CoD, Halo 4 will not disappoint you. And even if you're a Halo purist, you can play the "Pro" playlists without loadouts, ordnance drops, and armor abilities. From what I've seen in the early going, though, people really like the new features.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

2012 - The Year America Changed

This is mainly a sports blog, and as such I try to stay away from political stuff. But in light of the recent presidential election, I cannot restrain myself, and must offer some words from the heart.

I was and am a Mitt Romney supporter. I am not, however, a straight-Republican ticket voter. I believe above all that we need to elect people who are good and honorable, and will govern according to the will of the people, regardless of party affiliation. Further, I believe that the traditional American values and ethics as exist within the Constitution need to be honored and upheld.

Mitt Romney has served people throughout his life, both in the private and public sectors. He has donated tens of millions of dollars to charity. Perhaps most telling, he doesn't proclaim his selfless service before the world. Instead he only grudgingly allows others to tell that story. Truly, Mitt Romney isn't just a good, decent, and honorable person, he is in fact a great person.

It is not shocking to me that there are people in this country that fall for phrases like "yes we can" and "Romnesia," or that believe stupid things like "Mitt Romney is going to take away your birth control." It's not shocking that there are people who think that government exists to redistribute wealth, or that there are people who choose to believe lies. What's shocking, and quite frankly, heartbreaking, is that those people now outnumber the rest of us.

I suppose the title of this post is somewhat inaccurate-- 2012 isn't really the year America changed, it's the year that change became so obvious that we can simply no longer ignore it. Mitt Romney didn't lose the election. America lost. The citizens of this great nation gave up a chance to elect someone who truly could have made real progress, helped to heal our nation, and bridge the widening partisan divide. Instead they chose to re-elect a rock star with a pathetic record and a progressive agenda not embraced by the majority. In short, they elected someone with a lot of style but very little substance.

I'm upset that my guy didn't win, but I'm far more upset, and disheartened, by the American electorate. We will all pay heavy prices in the future, foisted upon us by a new majority.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Monday, July 23, 2012

Joe Paterno's True Legacy

Things could have been so very different.

Consider for a moment: Joe Paterno had as much power, if not more, than anybody else at Penn State during his career. So what if he had actually taken as seriously the allegations from the 1998 incident as any one of us would have? What if he had actually cared enough to learn the abused boy's name? What if, as his pretended legacy would have us believe, he actually cared about doing the right thing? Had he had that geniune concern for another's well-being, combined with the power that he did have, he could have made things right. No, he couldn't have had that child be un-abused. But he could've had Sandusky fired on the spot. He could have had him prosecuted much sooner than he ultimately was. And most importantly, he could've protected scores of children in the future. If you think about it, you realize that someone with that much power indeed could have done much good with it. Joe Paterno could have been a true hero.

But in the end, Paterno cared more about himself and the reputation and image of himself and his employer than innocent children. Apart from the actual abuse, this may be the saddest part of this whole story. Because if you believe in an afterlife, as I do, then he has a very long time to live with these facts.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Softball Season Stats

For the three of you that actually read this blog, here are my stats from my recently completed season of softball for the company I work for. Due to occasional injury/lack of desire, I only played in about half of the games. Here are the stats, including some sabermetrics:

G 6
AB 16
H 9
AVG .563
R 5
2B 2
3B 0
HR 0
K 0
BB 0
OBP .563
SLG .688
OPS 1.250
ISO .125
GB 44%
LD 44%
FB 12%

As you can see, I'm a line drive/ground ball hitter, hence the lack of triples and homeruns and lower isolated power (ISO). I'm most pleased with the overall high average and high line drive percentage. I was most disappointed with the lack of RBI's. In fairness, however, I was on base a lot, and scored runs as a result, but typically batted leadoff or second in an inning, so I didn't have many RBI chances (only two if I recall correctly).

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I resent Chevrolet's presumed place within Americana

Perhaps you've recently seen one of these terrible commercials produced by Chevrolet. Indeed, Chevrolet is a part of American History. But to go so far as to equate it with baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie? No.

Let's be honest, Ford was first. Whatever your feelings of the Ford vs. Chevy debate*, the Ford company was first. If there is going to be any particular car brand that will be, in song, singled out as representing a vital part of Americana, it will be Ford, not Chevy.To even draw the association at all I find very presumptuous, and so for Ford to not do so causes me to have greater respect for them and, in turn, less respect for pompous Chevy.

*If you have them. I'm not sure this "rivalry" even exists outside the Deep South.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Halo 4 Release Date is November 6th, 2012

Honestly, I hope this game will live up to the hype that is sure to be generated between now and November 6th. I can remember how big September 25th, 2007 was when Halo 3 was released. The Halo franchise has been and is a phenomenon that might never be matched in the history of video gaming again. I know that is high praise, but this is the franchise that basically invented modern networked multiplayer combat. Here are just a couple of the known changes in this year's installment:

Loadouts - This is a significant break from the Halo tradition, but one I feel is long overdue. There are times where I just want to run around with rockets. There are other times where I want to hang back with the battle rifle and pick people off from far away. There are still other times where I just want to go ape crazy with the sword. I hope that with custom loadouts all of those options (among others) are available.

Exploration of John's character - This could be really good, or maybe a little stupid and cheesy, but I doubt it will be horrible and a dealbreaker. Basically, just keep it plausible and engaging and it should be fine.

Why Red fights Blue - In a nutshell, the answer is that it's a giant fighting simulator (think Holodeck on Star Trek). Well, ok. I mean, I don't really care why red fights blue, just that red continues to fight blue. Multiplayer is what keeps this franchise breathing, so add whatever storyline you want to it, just keep it around.

There are other changes but these are the most significant. If this game ends up as good as everyone hopes it will be, it will break every video game sales record, and maybe even overall entertainment records. 343 Industries has some unprecedented expectations to meet. Here's hoping they'll make a perfect game.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Food Review: Taco Bell's Locos Tacos

When I first heard about Taco Bell's new Loco Taco, which is a regular taco but with a shell made out of Doritos, I couldn't believe that I hadn't ever thought of it and also couldn't believe that it hadn't been invented sooner. It's that obvious and genius.

You can imagine what this is. Imagine a bunch of doritos smushed into a shell shape, and then filled with taco bell regular taco stuff. That's what it is. It's good, I just wish it were as good a food item as it is an invention. I wouldn't make a special trip for it. And this is coming from someone who makes reference to Taco Bell menu items in regular conversation. So, yes, it's good, but no, don't go out of your way to get it. Just pay the price ($0.30) to upgrade your regular taco to it the next time you're there.

Monday, March 12, 2012

MLB 12: The Show vs. MLB 2K12

For those looking for an MLB baseball video game to play this season, you have two choices: MLB 12: The Show and MLB 2K12. This review is written mainly for those people who are trying to decide between the two games. And being that I am not a professional reviewer, but rather an average dude like you, you may get some value from this. I will divide this comparison review into 6 elements: Gameplay, Graphics, Animation, Presentation, Sound, and Fun Factor.

Gameplay: As gameplay is such a broad topic for any video game, I'm going to sub-divide it into the four main categories most relevant to baseball: Batting, Pitching, Fielding, and Baserunning.

Batting: You may have heard that batting in The Show is more difficult than in 2K. That is an accurate statement. However, with time and practice, batting slowly becomes easier in The Show. I can't really say the same for 2K-- it's just fairly easy and never really changes from that. Of course, in either game you can adjust sliders and difficulty to make it easier. I think the sense of reward in hitting is better in the Show because you really have to exercise patience and wait for your pitch. However, in this way, The Show is not as much a "pick up and play" game as 2K, which is something important to note if that's what you're looking for. In 2K, where and how well a ball is hit seems less connected to where a ball was actually pitched and hit than in the Show. For example, I can constantly hit pitches that are low or outside (or both) 400 feet. It doesn't even seem to matter which hitter I have. That seems a bit unrealistic. In The Show, it seems more like good pitches (and even some bad pitches) can't be hit well regardless, or it's at least rare. What I see in batting overall in both games is that players can be streaky, but in 2K it seems like you can overcome that streakiness to a degree if your timing or guesswork is good.

Pitching: There isn't really any other way to say it: Pitching is better and more fun in 2K. Even the most ardent Show supporters will generally agree with this statement. With either analog or classic pitching, 2K's version is easier and more rewarding. You can hit your spots much more consistently. I wish the same could be said for The Show, where pitching can be engaging and rewarding, tends to be merely functional, but at times can be hair-pulling frustration. Perhaps I played too much MVP 2005, but to me, if you hit the meter perfectly, you should hit your spot, or dang close to it. 2K does this. The Show does not. I can't even tell you how many times I've missed my spot by a fairly large margin even though I hit the meter what I felt to be close enough to perfectly. And that is even with the sliders (pitch control and pitch consistency) fully turned up to my advantage. So, it can be maddening, so much so that I make occasional use of the option to fast forward to the next half-inning. And so it's worth pointing out here that, oddly, this is where The Show still can manage some advantage. Because I would guess that most gamers prefer hitting to pitching, and 2K doesn't offer a fast forward option.

Fielding: The two games are largely the same in this regard. They both have a tendency to feel a little floaty at times. They both can make it unrealistically difficult to throw unless you adjust the default sliders. It's odd that they are so similar in this regard, but perhaps it's because this is (I'm guessing) the most overlooked portion of a baseball video game.

Baserunning: Again, here the games are not very different, except in terms of how baserunners are controlled. The Show uses a button plus icon system, while 2K uses a select runner and press trigger system. Both work fine. In some cases you might prefer one way, then the next day prefer the other way. I don't really think one is better than the other, just different. I will note, however, that default running in 2K seems a tad too slow, so you will want to adjust the slider.

Graphics: There isn't much in the way of comparison between the games. This is one of two areas where The Show is leaps and bounds better than 2K. If you'd never played either, you would play 2K and say, wow, those are pretty good graphics. And then you would play The Show and say, wow, those are phenomenal graphics. They are that much better, but I want to also emphasize that 2K's graphics are not garbage. And in terms of simply playing a game of baseball, either will serve. Each game realistically represents the stadiums, day and night game lighting, and the fans. In all of these cases, the Show is better. Where 2K is by far the furthest behind, however, is in the player models themselves. More specifically, some (but not many) of the player's faces in 2K are anywhere from not very recognizable to downright inaccurate. I have yet to see this be the case for the Show. If this isn't a big deal for you, then I think the graphics element are neither a deal breaker for 2K nor a deal maker for The Show.

Animation: I know not everyone will feel this way, but for me, this is very nearly a deal breaker for 2K. The animations are that bad. They can be clunky and awkward as to be nigh unto unwatchable. It is the one and only way in which this game is truly ugly, and I don't use that word lightly. And, unfortunately, animations are part of nearly every play (other than a strikeout, walk, or homerun). The animations are virtually never an issue in The Show. Everything looks so much more fluid and natural. Sure there is the occasional throwing off the wrong foot by an infielder, but that is really about it.

Presentation: People tend to say 2K presentation is better, and while I would agree with that, The Show is really not too far behind. For me, presentation is a lot more than commentating. It's having relevant statistical data on screens at batter walk-ups. It's accessibility to around-the-league data in game. It's also commentators talking about these things. In this regard, both games do it well, 2K just does it better. I will note, however, that in the Show you can mute any (or all) of the 3 broadcasters individually. You can only mute all or none of the broadcasters in 2K. And I can't stand listening to Steve Phillips and John Kruk. Thus, when I play the game, I set the game audio to "In the Stands." It's a little more immersive anyway and some people in the crowd say funny things sometimes. In the Show, I only mute Eric Karros.

Sound: See also what I wrote about Presentation. I don't really understand assigning a really significant grade to sound in a non-guitar-hero-type video game, but I understand many people do it, so here goes. As far as realistic sounds of the game, both do it well, but a little differently. I would say the advantage goes to the Show but only slightly. The main beef I have with the Show is sometimes special moments don't feel as special as they could based on crowd reaction. You may read that and say "hey, that's a big deal." But then consider that the majority of the crack of the bat sounds in 2K sound like the bat broke, even when it didn't. This seems worse than a sometimes lacking crowd. (Of note, every crack of the bat sounds good and authentic in The Show.)

Fun Factor: In the end, this is why we play video games, right? This is all people really want to know. 2K is a fun game. The Show is a fun game too. They just both get there in different ways. If I could only pick one game to play, I would pick The Show. But if someone picked the game for me and picked 2K, I wouldn't be sad.

These are many words for just two games. In the end, I say you will have fun with either game. I think the Show is better, but not by miles and miles like many (most?) on the Internet would have you believe. If I could change only one thing about 2K, it would be the animations, and if I could change another, it would be the player models. If I could change only one thing about The Show, it would be pitching consistency, and if I could change another, I wouldn't change anything else. So, take that for what it's worth.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Brain Crushing Stupidity

Much has been written in the vein of "the BCS needs to go away." Let me add one more voice to this fray.

This has simply gone too far. LSU-Alabama part II should never have even happened. In NCAA Football 12, a sign is featured that reads "Every Saturday Proves who's Number 1," yet another sign saying what ESPN stands for. Except that the BCS, and ESPN by extension as their television partner, clearly don't stand for this.

During the 2011 season, LSU proved every Saturday that they were the best team. They proved they were better than Alabama on November 5th. Yes, Alabama had turnovers and missed field goals and mistakes in that game. It's football. Those things happen. LSU still won.

One of the biggest (only real?) arguments I've heard in favor of the BCS is that it makes the regular season games so much more meaningful. ("How could we have a playoff system and let an 8-4 USC team win a national championship? Harrumph!") Except this year, regular season games meant NOTHING. LSU beats Alabama, but hey, why not let them have another chance, right? It doesn't matter that they didn't win their division or conference, aren't they the second best team, and so therefore, by BCS fiat, they MUST play the best team, LSU?

The problem is that the BCS presents us with the false choice, namely, that there must be a #1 vs. #2 game at the end of the season. The second, and in this case, much bigger, problem, is that the BCS did not provide any caveat in the rules to exclude teams that haven't won their conference. Such caveats exist to make it to a BCS game in the first place, particularly for the non-AQ conferences. But for only the most important game of the season? Hell no, throw that rule out!

And so what we are left with is the utter ridiculousness we witnessed tonight. If AP voters had any guts they'd vote LSU #1 anyway. But I don't have much faith that will happen.

Disclaimer: I'm not an LSU fan.