Sit Back, Relax, and PLAY A VIDEO GAME

My father once asked me what I liked about video games. I guess he was wondering what his normally bookish and mild-mannered daughter found appealing about peppering aliens with bullets. At the time, I was playing said video game (you guessed it; it was Halo), so my response was pretty brief.

“It’s fun,” I replied, while hopping around with a Plasma Pistol and avoiding a large Wraith (essentially an alien tank).

Base line, yeah, video games are fun. They’re some of the most diverting pieces of entertainment out there. I’ve never laughed so hard as when I was playing a video game with some friends and we were messing up horribly, like when I played Overcooked with my friend Nick and we set the entire kitchen on fire.

Overcooked Screenshot
via: shield.nvidia.com

But, for me at least, video games can serve a whole other purpose aside from merely being “fun.”

People might say escapism is a bad thing, but I do not think that is always the case. Prolonged escapism is a bad thing, but little jaunts into another world can be downright therapeutic.

They can give you sparks of insight into your own life. Playing Gone Home made me realize how much I fear an empty house. Playing Dishonored multiple times made me realize that, despite receiving no judgment from anyone regarding foul misdeeds and little reward for being a “good” person, I still strive to do the right thing. Playing Mass Effect 2 made me realize that I am extremely ill-suited for trying to seduce a co-worker’s daughter in a crowded bar.

They can alter your perspective for the better. I learned so much about the potential failings of Ayn Rand’s dream society by playing Bioshock. I learned how meaningless choices derive meaning simply from the fact that they were made from Prey. I learned never to mess with anything remotely close to energy from Hell from Doom. 

They can give you a breather from the stresses of life. I’ve gotten royally steamed at the world sometimes. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times a bout of Halo has helped me cool off.

But my favorite reason for liking video games is that they’re the ultimate form of story-telling.

As previous readers of this thing (still find it difficult to say blog) should know by now, I’m an avid reader and writer of fiction. I adore stories in their myriad shapes and forms. Movies, novels, and comic books all tell stories in their own unique ways, and I appreciate each of them.

But none of them can hold me the way a video game can.

Why?

A video game is an interactive story.

A lot of my favorite video games, in addition to providing me with engaging gameplay, tell imaginative stories, and I get to take part in them.

Every time I make a little dude jump from platform to platform, turn a corner in a first-person game, or decide how to upgrade my RPG protagonist, I am influencing the story, even if the influence is only slight. Video game stories are scripted, no matter how much they might try to mask it, but there is a deep level of connection to a video game’s story that occurs because you as the player are actively taking a part in it.

While playing Joel from The Last of Us, his grief at losing his daughter was that much more tangible to me as a player because I was there moving him along as he carried her in his arms, the two of them trying to escape the zombie-infested town. When Cortana sacrifices her life for the Master Chief at the end of Halo 4, I could feel it as keenly as the Chief, because she was helping me out during the game as much as she was helping out the Chief.

I’m not at a point yet where I can call a video game “art.” (Though Journey and Abzu have come really close to making me say that.) But I am not hesitant to say that video games can tell the best of stories. To anyone who loves to read a good book or watch a great movie, I beg you, give a video game a try.

Note: Make sure you pick one out that has narrative leanings. Games like Super Meat Boy, while fun as fuck, don’t go out of their way to give you fiction feels.

Also, I should mention that being so heavily invested and a part of a story can occasionally be an…extreme experience. Like when you’re playing the horror game Outlast and that crazy Doctor is chasing you through the halls of Mount Massive Asylum like a maniac after having sliced your fingers off and you have to run into vents and slide under beds and all that stuff in order to get away from him. That’s not really a convenient time to sympathize with your character because he’s feeling kind of terrified.

So go enjoy a nice, relaxing video game, huh? 🙂

Dungeons & Dragons & Dorks (Oh My)

I was first introduced to Dungeons & Dragons by my friend Mia’s father. We were young at the time, me, Mia, and my sister. That didn’t stop Mia’s dad from showing us the ropes.

The way D&D works is not as complex as you may think it is. For the longest time, D&D has been seen as this complicated game that only nerds in basements play. Let me tell you, anybody with a good sense of humor and an active imagination can play Dungeons & Dragons.

You create a character for yourself first, with a small backstory, flaws, preferences, and things like that. Your character also has a Class, which kind of means a job (like Wizard, Paladin, or Fighter). You have varying degrees of Intelligence, Strength, or Charisma, each of which will help or hinder you on your journey. (Kind of like in real life.)

Then you find a Dungeon Master, or DM, who will create the map, world, and story for your game to start in. After that, it’s all up to the players how the adventure goes.

The actual rules of the game might make D&D sound technical as shit, which is why I’m not bogging you down with stats and die rolls. Just trust me, the game is fun.

Mia’s dad led me, Mia, and my sister through a roaring good time. There were laughs, tears, and adventures. I still, to this day, can’t properly express my gratitude that Mia’s dad was willing to sit down with three little girls and teach them how to play Dungeons & Dragons. That was beyond cool. Mia’s dad was a great man.

These days, Mia and I have our own D&D group. We try to meet every Saturday night in order to slay some monsters and find some treasures. Players have come and gone from our group over time, but we still try and keep the game going strong.

(We actually have several games going on at the moment, each set in their own universe and with different characters. A single game is not enough for our adventuring appetites.)

In all honesty, we’re not the smartest group of adventurers to ever delve a dungeon. The only sensible and practical character in our group is Mia’s. The rest of us play as a gaggle of idiots. (Sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally.) We charge ahead into fights without considering the fact that we may be outclassed by our opponents. We jump into suspicious holes just because we’re curious what’s at the bottom. Some members of our group (*cough, cough* Sidney *cough, cough*) don’t even have a clear understanding of how a door works.

Throughout all of our (mis)adventures, we have tons of fun. Not a single gaming night has gone by when we haven’t bust a gut laughing. D&D allows us to get into (and hopefully out of) absurd situations. And the best thing is we have so much freedom in how we solve our problems. Our more charismatic characters try to talk their way out of their troubles, and our more…barbaric characters simply hack and slash their way to a solution.

D&D has given me a chance to form friendships with really cool people and has given me a taste of what it would be like to exist in a place like Middle-Earth. It’s imaginative and fun-filled. I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday evening. If you’ve played the game before, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. If you haven’t played before, I hope you decide to give it a try.

I do plan on writing more about the foolhardy adventures my group has gotten into. (One of us really has to keep a log of our own stupidity.)

So, have you ever played Dungeons & Dragons before? Is it something you’d want to do in the future?

Why I Love Prey

Prey video game
via: flickr.com

The video game Prey (developed by Arkane Studios and published by Bethesda Softworks) is the most underappreciated game I’ve ever played that’s been recently released.

I hadn’t played the original when I heard about this reboot, but the idea of this new one piqued my interest. Exploring a devastated and abandoned space station populated by these vicious aliens called the Typhon, some of which can turn themselves into furniture (and thus startle you into shitting your pants)?

Oh, yeah.

I pre-ordered the game as soon as I found out about it.

I called over a buddy of mine to play it with me. It’s a single-player experience, but we brought out a timer, sat on the floor in front of my TV, and every ten minutes, we’d pass off the controller. It’s more fun to play like this than it sounds. (We also played Alien: Isolation like this, to hilarious effect. There’s nothing more amusing than getting spotted by the Alien seconds before you have to pass off control of the game to your unlucky friend.)

Prey’s environment is so detailed; my friend and I spent hours wandering the Talos I space station exploring people’s cabins, reading their emails, and picking up their personal belongings (and then we’d throw their belongings at other objects just to make sure no Typhon were Mimicking them). It was super easy to get pleasantly sidetracked from the main story. Arkane Studios did an expert job of allowing us to really dive into the universe they created. It’s reminiscent of their work on Dishonored.

And like Dishonored, Prey encourages you to play your own way. Do you want to be a sneak master? Upgrade your stealth options and you can find yourself sprinting like a madman throughout the station with noiseless footsteps. Do you want to become a powerful shotgun-wielding maniac? Apply weapon kits to your shotgun in order to make it unstoppable. Do you want to copy the Typhon Mimics’ ability to turn into small items? Install that specific power and you can roll around the floors of Talos I as a very adventurous coffee mug.

Don’t get me started on the awesomeness of the GLOO Gun. The GLOO Gun was created, according to in-game history, as the ultimate caulking tool. You as the player get to use it in a more…eclectic manner. You can shoot GLOO at the Typhon in order to get them to temporarily freeze in place. Once immobilized by the GLOO, the Typhon can be smashed to bits with a handy dandy wrench. You can also use the GLOO Gun to create footholds to hard-to-reach places. These handmade bridges allow you to find delicious hidden secrets.

I’m not going to spoil the story here, because the cleverness of it shouldn’t be spoiled for anyone who is looking to play this game. Suffice it to say that it takes twists and turns that would make M. Night Shyamalan’s head spin.

I had an awesome time playing this game, made even more awesome by playing it with my friend. He was more of the wrench-swinging, shotgun-blasting type. I was more of the crouching, please-don’t-kill-me type. We got legitimately scared a couple of times, and we loved racing all over the station.

This game is great, it deserves more love, so go on and buy it and see exactly what I’m talking about!

Ready Player Two

If you haven’t seen Ready Player One, be forewarned, this post is kind of for people who have already seen it. Go ahead and continue on if you’ve witnessed its splendor or if you don’t mind getting spoiled on said splendor.

Me holding a Ready Player One Poster

Ready Player One was made for people who find solace in being someone other than themselves. (Well, technically, it was made for a general audience, but you’ll see what I mean here in a second.) Underneath the awesome veneer of ’80s pop culture references, the movie tells a tale that should be familiar to any soul who knows D&D stats better than dance moves.

The inside jokes and hidden cameos of Ready Player One made all the geeks in the theater (including me) exclaim and laugh in delight. The movie was a veritable smorgasbord of gaming culture icons. The entire audience during the premiere I attended burst into applause and shrieks of joy when a Gundam began to take on Mechagodzilla.

But the underlying truth that struck all of us in our hearts was the idea that even the best games (and the best movies) ultimately mean nothing if you don’t have someone to share it with.

Now, I’m not solely referring to having a romantic partner with whom you can gush about games with. A complete stranger you meet on a forum or during a multiplayer match can just as easily create a connection between the two of you over a devotion to a game.

There’s no better love for a game than a shared love for a game.

Seriously, put two Halo fans in a room, and they could happily spend hours discussing (arguing) the merits of each installment of the Halo franchise.

In Ready Player One, a man named James Halliday created a virtual world called the Oasis. You could make anything, play anything, be anything in the Oasis.

As someone who built the pinnacle of gaming worlds, Halliday used games as a barrier between him and the rest of reality. He loved games to the extreme, but he loved them alone. It’s only at the end of his life (when it’s kind of too late) that he comes to regret not engaging with his only real-world friend and co-creator of the Oasis, Ogden Morrow.

That was the part that got me. Halliday created this amazing world that exceeded the bounds of the imagination, but it meant nothing without his best friend beside him.

If you haven’t seen it and you just so happen to like games, be sure to check out Ready Player One. 

Super Hot Means Super Slow

Video games are meant to transport you. There’s nothing I love more while playing a game than to feel as if I’m in the game. Whether I’m immersed in the game’s story or the gameplay itself, if I’m well and truly immersed, I’m enjoying myself.

The concept of the game Super Hot immediately drew me in. ‘Now that’s a game I can lose myself in,’ I thought.

The basic idea is that time only moves when you do. Your polygonal protagonist fights polygonal opponents, and each time you take a step, time proceeds at a normal pace. (Looking around, i.e. turning your head, doesn’t count.) If you’re not moving, time slows to a crawl.

Super Hot gameplay image
via: flickr.com

Sounds cool, doesn’t it?

When I saw some footage of the gameplay, I was thoroughly impressed. It looked like you were in the Matrix. Check it out here.

But you know how sometimes clothes that look really nifty on the hanger look like a floppy mess when you put it on your body? That’s kind of how Super Hot was for me.

I’m not trying to say the game is bad! Not at all. The slowed-time mechanic is downright innovative and should probably replace all quick-time events forthwith.

The process of playing Super Hot is just…slower than I thought it would be.

A level consists of dropping into random settings (an office, a bar, an elevator, and a bus stop, to name a few) and then having to use your slowed-time ability and the items around you to defeat the bad guys who spontaneously appear. These items that you use can be as rudimentary as a bottle (classic) or as powerful as a machine gun. Grab the good ones while you can, because otherwise, the bad guys will nab them for themselves.

The majority of Super Hot is played while standing still and observing a situation. The trailers will make your movements seem fluid, but I’m telling you, I survived tough levels by inching one step forward, looking around me in all directions, and then inching another step forward.

If you’re not observant, you’re going to get beat.

My controller’s walking thumbstick has never seen less action.

So, if you’re interested in the game, bear in mind that it functions as a really interesting puzzle shooter, not a run-and-gun.

That said, it was always super satisfying to demolish a bad guy. They shatter into a million pieces, like glass. They’re also easy to see because they’re glowing red people in an environment of pure white.

After each level, the game also includes a replay of how the level went down, so you can witness your painstaking progress in normal time. I don’t think my replays look as cool as those from someone who has played the game more than once. My replays basically show that my guy has a nervous tick whenever he moves forward, glancing wildly all around him like a madman before progressing.

I’m not the best of gamers, I’ll say that right now. But I do love games.

Super. Hot.

 

Halo for Beginners: A Short (Not Really) Summary of the First Halo Game for Those of You Who Are Curious

I love Halo.

It’s my absolute favorite video game of all time, and it holds a very special place in my heart. As such, expect more posts about Halo in the future.

Today, I thought I’d provide a commentary-laden synopsis of the first game’s story, just in case you don’t know squat about Halo, but you really want to fill that empty place in your soul that you never realized was empty until now, so of course, you want to fill it.

I am not in any way sponsored by Microsoft or anything, but I highly recommend this game to anyone who has a love for:

  1. Immersive sci-fi universes
  2. Faceless protagonists
  3. Celtic music
  4. Space vehicles named after animals
  5. One hell of a good time

Anywaysies, let’s begin!

Me wearing my Master Chief helmet and T-shirt
Aw yeah, let’s do this

Our story starts in an unknown region of space. A giant space-ship flies closer to us. This is the Pillar of Autumn (which is one of the best names for a spaceship EVER). We hear two voices from on-board discussing whether or not we “lost them.”

The first voice is that of Captain Keyes, the captain of the fine, rectangular ship we’re seeing. He’s a gruff-looking dude, but he’s just dripping with honor and duty and all that jazz. He’s a stereotypical ship captain. The next voice is female, and it is from the ship’s AI, Cortana. (Remember her, she’s important.) AIs get to select how they appear to people, and Cortana chooses to show herself as a naked, gorgeous-looking woman who is blue and covered in lines of data.

Apparently, Keyes, Cortana, and everyone on the ship is running away from an enemy alien force known as the Covenant. (Why the aliens would name themselves the Covenant is beyond me, but that’s what they’re called.)

The Autumn made a jump through slipspace (think hyperspace from Star Wars), but Cortana fears that the Covenant, with their uber-advanced space technology is going to follow them. Sure enough, Covenant ships appear, and there is no way the Pillar of Autumn can outmaneuver them all.

In front of the Autumn, Keyes and Cortana spot a strange object. (I’m gonna let you know now, it’s Halo.) It’s this giant ring-shaped world just floating in the middle of space. Since there’s nowhere else to go, Keyes decides to land on that.

(Honestly, I would have been a little more hesitant to land on a humongous ring. How would you even land on that anyway? The inside of the ring is covered in oceans and landmasses, and the outside appears to be made of this vibrant metal.)

While Keyes is readying the ship for the battle ahead, he tells Cortana to wake up the Master Chief, and the way he says it, you know that the Chief is going to be this bad-ass guy who solves everyone’s problems.

Master Chief is in some kind of cryo-sleep pod, but he was frozen while still in his suit of armor, which is fortuitously lucky because he’s thawed and woken up without so much as a cup of coffee, let alone a shower. The Covenant has begun their attack on the Pillar of Autumn, and some of them have boarded. Chief has to rush through the halls of the Autumn weaponless, dodging plasma fire left and right. He makes it to the bridge without a scratch because he’s awesome.

Once he appears in front of Keyes, the Captain tells him the situation. Since they’re landing the ship on the ring-world, Keyes wants Master Chief to take care of Cortana and stop her from falling into enemy hands. Cortana’s like this detachable hard drive with a personality, so if the Covenant got a hold of her, they could learn a bunch of human secrets, which would be not good, to say the least.

Master Chief’s armor comes complete with a USB port kind of thing, so he takes Cortana from the Pillar of Autumn’s control board and plugs her into his helmet. From this point on in the game, Cortana can speak to Chief (and us, the player) directly, telling him where to go and highlighting points of interest on his faceplate/visor/heads-up display.

Keyes then hands the Chief an unloaded pistol and sends him on his way. (We find ammo soon enough, but seriously, Captain, you just sent your best soldier into certain danger with an unloaded weapon. Shame. Shame. Shame.)

Chief and everyone else on the Pillar of Autumn make their way to escape pods and jettison themselves toward Halo.

Except for Keyes. He tries to land the Autumn manually. Those kinds of giant ships were probably not meant to land on a planet ever, but Captain Keyes sometimes makes decisions that aren’t rational. (Like giving his super soldier a pistol with no bullets.)

The escape pod the Chief is in makes a rough landing, so rough, in fact, that everyone else aboard it dies from the impact. Master Chief and Cortana have to behold the splendor of Halo all by their lonesome. (And I’m telling you, it looks phenomenal. When you look up in the sky, you can see the inner surface of the ring stretch up to each side of you. It’s freakishly beautiful and unforgettable.)

They don’t have long to take in the surroundings. The Covenant, damned fast bastards that they are, have landed on Halo too. They hound the Chief everywhere he goes. Cortana leads the Master Chief to several pockets of human survivors, and it’s while they’re getting them to safety that Cortana overhears from some Covenant chatter that Captain Keyes has been taken prisoner. He managed to land the Autumn, but the Covenant got to him before he could regroup with Master Chief.

The game then takes the Chief to this midnight mission where he has to sneak aboard a Covenant cruiser and take back the Captain. He gets to use the sniper rifle prolifically, picking off Covenant Elites (the tall human-ish aliens), Jackals (the shield-carrying aliens), and Grunts (the pathetic small aliens).

Master Chief meets Hunters on this mission too, these giant armor-covered aliens that shoot giant, green blasts of plasma at him that can take down his shield faster than Cortana can scream, “Chief!”

Once on the Covenant cruiser, Cortana and the Chief make it to the brig. The cruiser is a damned maze. Without Cortana, Chief would have gotten lost. And every surface appears to be purple. (Is purple the Covenant’s favorite color?)

Chief rescue Keyes. While he was in captivity, he learned from his Covenant captors that Halo is a weapon, and they want to use it against humanity. Keyes can’t have that happening, so he decides that they (and by they, he means the Master Chief) have to get the controls to Halo before the Covenant do.

Keyes then sends Master Chief and Cortana to look for a Map Room, which will tell them the location of Halo’s Control Room. Without any breaks, he sends them to the Control Room as soon as they know where it is. Master Chief is a one-man army. (Some of the credit goes to you, the player, for handling the role of the Chief so well.) He takes on waves of the Covenant. Friendly soldiers might join him occasionally, but they drop away like flies. (Especially if you’re playing on the Legendary difficulty setting.)

Once Master Chief and Cortana get to the Control Room, he plugs her in to the system. (I don’t know how or why a human AI is compatible with the console, but that’s just how the story goes.) Turns out, Halo was made my an ancient race of beings called the Forerunners, and they built it for a specific purpose.

Before Cortana can tell Chief exactly what the purpose is, she flips out. She starts shouting at him to find Captain Keyes and stop him from whatever he’s doing. (Apparently, there was no time for a simple explanation.) But Master Chief is an awesome super solider, so he just runs off to do as he’s told.

Cortana sends the Chief to Keyes’ last known location. It’s in this weird, swampy area. (The environment is clogged with moss-draped trees and eerie fog, and you immediately start getting the heebie jeebies.) To make matters worse, Keyes was checking out an underground part of Halo, so the Chief has to take an elevator down to these gray, subterranean hallways where everything looks the same.

As he makes his way through these hallways, he catches sight of Covenant bodies. They’re just lying everywhere. Master Chief just arrived, but already, it’s ghost town. (No way, you think to yourself, did Keyes take care of all of these guys.) Since Master Chief left Cortana plugged into the Control Room, she’s not around to tell him where to go. (You really start to miss her nagging and bossiness right about now.)

Eventually, he enters a room sees a collection of dead human soldiers. He goes to an abandoned helmet nearby and watches a recording of what happened. Keyes and company stumbled onto a door the Covenant had apparently been trying to lock immediately after opening it. Not using any sort of logic, Keyes ordered his soldiers to open the door again. Inside was something worse than the Covenant. A bunch of skittery little creatures with tentacles that can worm their ways inside your body start pouring out, and you watch in horror through the recording, as Keyes and his group is overrun.

Enter the Flood.

The small Flood creatures that infect people (humans or Covenant, it doesn’t matter which) are known as Infection Forms. Once they’re inside you, they turn you into these zombie-like creatures, known as Combat Forms. Instead of Covenant, Master Chief now has to fight these guys.

(Once the suspense is gone and you know what you’re fighting, the Flood aren’t that hard to deal with. They’re still creepy and gross, don’t get me wrong, but you’re the Master Chief. You don’t need to panic when you’re the Master Chief.)

After getting a bit lost a couple of times, Chief makes it back to the surface. The Flood are attacking from all sides now. It was preferable fighting them in the metallic hallways underground than in the misty swamp above. But suddenly, as if from nowhere, these floating machines emerge from the fog and start zapping away at the Flood.

Another machine appears, happily humming, and it tells the Master Chief that the Flood has broken out and it needs his help to contain it. Then, without permission, it teleports him away.

This machine is called a Monitor. It’s a robot the Forerunners (makers of the great Halo, remember) made to keep an eye on the facility. His name is…343 Guilty Spark. (I know, it’s a weird name.) The other machines zapping the Flood are called Sentinels. They just seem to exist to zap things.

Guilty Spark teleported Chief to a place called the Library, so that he can collect an Index. This Index, when placed in the Control Room, will activate the Halo and then destroy the Flood.

Spark seems a little off-kilter as he leads Chief through the Library. He keeps humming to himself and randomly saying, “I am a genius.” Meanwhile, Master Chief has to fight a flood of Flood around every corner. The Library is infested with them.

After what feels like hours following 343 Guilty Spark through countless corridors, the Chief finds the Index, and Spark teleports him back to the Control Room.

(Wish he could have teleported us right to the Index, but then a whole mission of the game would be gone.)

Once at the Control Room, Chief walks right up to the panel where he plugged Cortana in and puts the Index there. The rooms buzzes with some kind of energy, but then the buzzing fades away, like something was turning on and was then turned off. Guilty Spark is confused, but then lo and behold, Cortana appears, royally steamed at Chief. She was the one who stopped the activation of the Halo from within the system.

She berates the Chief for being a moron (essentially) and tells him that Halo does not destroy the Flood. Rather, it destroys the Flood’s food. Any living organism that the Flood could infect within 25,000 light-years is eradicated with a single burst from Halo.

Chief is like, “My bad.”

Spark doesn’t see what the big deal is. He insists on firing the Halo. However, with some quick thinking on Cortana’s part and some quick moving on the Chief’s part, the two run away from the Control Room with the Index still in their possession.

So now, not only does Master Chief have to fight the Covenant, he also has to fight the Flood and the Sentinels (those machines that zap the Flood, but now have no compunctions about zapping Chief).

Quite randomly, Cortana gets a message from Keyes. (He’s alive? What? How did he survive the Flood? Short answer: he didn’t.) He was absorbed by a Hivemind, a goopy collection of Flood parts. The Flood, as a collective, wants to know where more living and infectable organisms can be found, so they’re trying to probe Keyes’ mind to discover where Earth is.

Like a champ, Keyes holds on to that information long enough for Cortana and Master Chief to make it to his position. Once there, Chief punches a hole through Keyes’ skull, removing the Captain’s neural implants (which have the codes to the Pillar of Autumn, conveniently enough).

The Chief and Cortana return to the downed Pillar of Autumn. Cortana’s master plan is to blow the ship up, which will cause a large enough explosion to destroy the ring-world and everything on it.

The last battle is a tough one. 343 Guilty Spark sends a gazillion Sentinels Chief’s way to stop him, but with enough perseverance, he and Cortana set up the ship to explode. Master Chief then has to race through the ship to get to a hangar bay before the ship blows up in order to find a ship that’s capable of flying in space. (You literally race through the ship. You get in a vehicle and drive your way to the end. It’s funny, but when we were walking through the ship, the hallways didn’t seem large enough to drive through.)

The Pillar of Autumn blows up.

Halo is destroyed.

Master Chief and Cortana live to fight another day.

Phew! That was a lot. But you just can’t condense greatness.

Raiders of the Lost Tomb: Tomb Raider (2018)

Let me say this right off the bat:

I’m not a discriminating moviegoer. I will watch anything, good or bad, and most likely enjoy it.

I enjoy good movies because, obviously, they’re good and that’s quality entertainment. I enjoy bad movies because I dearly love to laugh, and nothing gets me laughing like a real corny line or a nonsensical bit of plot. It’s rare when a movie utterly pisses me off, and when it does, it’s for subjective reasons (such as, the book was better).

So I’m letting you (meaning whoever happens to read this) know that if you ever read a “review” of mine, it’s mostly going to be about things I liked about it.

Enter the new Tomb Raider movie.

If you’re a fan of the 2013 game, you should know that this latest movie is kind of based off of it. Gone is the busty Lara Croft with the gravity-defying boobs and twin guns, and instead, we have a younger, slimmer Lara who is struggling to hold her own against much tougher opponents, and yet, still manages to come out on top.

Here is a short (not-so-short) summary of the movie, so if you want to avoid spoilers, I suggest you stop reading now.

Lara Croft’s father has been missing for several years. His disappearance and supposed death have put Lara’s life on hold. She refuses to believe he is gone. His business partner approaches her about finally signing off on his death so that his company can move on with things and the Croft mansion won’t be sold off. Lara reluctantly agrees to this.

Upon signing, Lara is given a puzzle which leads her to a secret room her father kept on the mansion grounds. There, she discovers her father traveled to an island called Yamatai in search of the tomb of Queen Himiko. Himiko is rumored to have powers over death. More than anything, Lara’s father wishes to keep Himiko’s tomb and her mystical powers out of the hands of this secret, sinister group called Trinity. In a video recording/will, he begs Lara to burn all of his research so that Trinity can’t find the tomb.

She doesn’t burn the stuff.

Instead, Lara hires herself a boat and makes her way to Yamatai in search of her father. She doesn’t believe that this Himiko has supernatural powers that could threaten the world. She is driven by the slight chance that she can find out what happened to her father.

The boat crashes. Lara makes it ashore. She meets the villain, this dude named Vogel. He works for Trinity and has been stuck on the island for seven (I think) years because they won’t let him come home until he recovers Himiko’s body. As such, he’s volatile and pissy and willing to do anything to find the tomb.

Since Lara did not burn the research and instead brought it with her, Vogel is able to use it to find the tomb. He has problems opening it because of a complex locking mechanism on the door. Lara runs away from the group, gets into a lot of trouble, and eventually (surprisingly) runs into her father. He had faked his own death at Vogel’s hands and had been living in secret on the island, making sure Trinity did not get their hands on Himiko.

Despite a supremely touching reunion, he’s none too pleased that Lara did the exact opposite of what he wanted in regards to his research.

In order to get both her and her father off of Yamatai, Lara needs to go back to the bad guys’ camp in order to get Vogel’s satellite phone so she can call for help. Her father does not want to risk it, so Lara decides to do it alone.

Since her dad is not a complete asshole, he follows after her. However, since he’s not a veritable bad ass like Lara, he gets himself caught by Vogel. Vogel tries to get him to open the tomb for them, but Lara’s dad won’t. Lara has no compunctions about doing it (magic isn’t real, dad), so she opens the tomb and leads everyone inside.

We find out that Himiko does not have supernatural powers. Instead, she has this disease that turns you into a 28-Days-Later kind of creature if you touch someone who has it. Lara’s dad gets touched, it’s sad, boo hoo, so then Lara has to stop Vogel from taking any samples of Himiko that he collected to the surface because clearly, it could be used to dangerous effect. She beats Vogel in a kick-ass way, she escapes, she goes home, and she silently vows to chase after Trinity and stop them, therefore completing her father’s life’s work and beginning her own.

That was a tad too long…wasn’t it? Anyways…

I loved Alicia Vikander’s performance. She’s great. No matter how bad the lines she was given or how awkward the story beats were, she did the best she could and made it work. She perfectly embodied the Lara we met in the 2013 game.

Part of the game’s appeal came from the fact that we were meeting a new Lara. This was not the experienced raider of tombs we had met in previous games. This was an uncertain explorer who was just beginning to find her place in the world, and we got to go on that journey with her.

The movie tries to do the same thing, and in terms of physical exertion, yeah, I think Lara achieved whole new states of being an athletic tomb raider. You really get the sense that Lara is going on this adventure alone. She has a couple of she-should-not-have-survived-that moments, but I appreciated that it didn’t look entirely effortless.

However, I don’t really feel that Lara gained that desire to explore after all was said and done. She was motivated to find her father, but I never truly felt she was driven by the actual draw of exploration.

But the father-daughter moments were real. I mean, it was ludicrous that her father was alive in the first place, but I still felt touched by their reunion. When he sees Lara on the island, he doesn’t believe she’s real because he’s imagined her being there so many times. Lara, on the other hand, has been hoping he’s been alive this whole time, so she looks at him with such joy, it’s heart-breaking when she has to convince him that’s it’s actually her.

Their reunion only lasts about a day, since he’s killed off by that disease that Himiko has. What kind of disease is only communicable by touch, unfolds instantaneously, and is ultimately fatal? I’ll tell you what kind. The magic kind.

His death hits you in the feels, but it’s followed by some fan service, so it smooths over any remaining sadness you might have had lingering. If you played the game, expect the following fan service:

  • The slow-mo jump from a wrecked boat, just like we saw at the beginning of the game.
  • Climbing monkey-bar style over an old, rusted airplane.
  • A potentially deadly ride along a raging river’s currents. (I seriously half expected Lara to get impaled by river debris a million times).
  • Bow and arrow moments.
  • The climbing axe thingamabob that is stronger than adamantium.
  • And, of course, a very small scene with twin handguns.

Despite ragging on this movie, I really enjoyed it. It was fun. I would classify it as a see-it-once-in-a-movie-theater-and-then-only-catch-it-on-cable-forever-after movie or as a rent-it-at-a-Redbox-for-a laid-back-night movie.

If you’ve seen it, feel free to let me know what you thought of it. If you haven’t, I’m sorry if I spoiled it for you. I’m posting this waaaaaaay after Tomb Raider comes out in theaters, so hopefully if you were going to see it, you already did.

Give Me Some of That Sweet Couch Co-op

I miss couch co-op games.

For those of you who don’t know what a couch co-op game is, let me explain. A couch co-op game is a video game that two friends can play amiably together (cooperatively, get it?) while sitting side by side on a couch. Well, theoretically sitting on a couch. Most of the “couch” co-op games I’ve played with my friends, I’ve played while sitting criss-cross applesauce on the floor.

Saying that developers no longer make good couch co-op games has become a fairly common complaint these days. “Where are the couch co-op games? No one makes them anymore.” Let’s get one thing straight: couch co-op hasn’t vanished off the face of the earth. There are still oldies but goodies lying around. And let’s not forget the indie games that occasionally pop out from the woodwork and can tide us over until a better triple-A title comes along.

My all-time favorite couch co-op games are as follows:

  • Gears of War
  • Super Mario Bros. Wii
  • Battleblock Theater

I don’t mean to leave online multiplayer games out in the cold. Anyone who knows me knows that I adore Halo more than Romeo adored Juliet (hell, a lot more). But this is about couch co-op. I’ll write about Halo and my love of it some other time. (And when I do, it’ll be extensive.)

Playing some video games

My sister was given a copy of Super Mario Bros. Wii when she first got her Wii. We played that game religiously, only stopping until we had every golden coin from every world, including that insane 9th one. We became experts at that game. My sister was so pro. I think her favorite level was the one where Mario and friends can ride a skeleton roller coaster over spurting fountains of lava. She loved picking people up and throwing them off into the fiery abyss.

Battleblock Theater was recommended to me, and it was such a zany experience that I never regretted purchasing it. (Actually, it was a free game of the month, but you know what I mean.) Working together actually mattered in Battleblock Theater, which is what allowed it to carve out a spot in my gaming heart.

I was introduced to Gears of War by a friend of mine. We were ecstatic about playing Gears of War 4. In fact, we were so excited that we decided to make a huge deal about playing it the night it came out. The day it released, after we had purchased the game, we rushed to Wal-Mart and bought frosted animal crackers, Flaming Hot Cheetos, and glass-bottled (as opposed to plastic-bottled) Coca-Cola. Then we rushed back to his house, all aglow with our enthusiasm to play the game.

Innocent (and slightly stupid) souls that we were, we forgot about the downloading time that all new games take when you first insert the disc into your console. We spent two hours waiting for Gears of War 4 to fully load, sadly stuffing our faces with chips and cookies while we stared at the loading bar inch towards completion.

Those were good times.

I guess what I’m actually trying to say is I miss the couch co-op experience itself.

It’s not the gaming industry’s fault; it’s mine.

As I’ve gotten older, my supply of call-able friends has dwindled. (And I was never swimming in friends to begin with because I have the social grace of a flatulent elephant.) Nowadays, there are two people I could readily call up to come on over and play a game with me (a video game, not a Saw game).

I used to think that losing your friends when you grow up was a myth adults made up to try and convince you to not succumb to inevitable peer pressure. But holy shit, they were kind of right. Unless you make a giant, concerted effort, you lose touch with all those awesome high school friends you held so dear.

And honestly, I didn’t try hard enough to keep them.

What this means for my gaming is that I’ve had to rely on single-player experiences. I’ve replayed so many single-player video games, it almost (but not quite) compares to how often I reread favorite books. After playing Bioshock for the umpteenth time, I have a deeper appreciation for couch co-op. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Bioshock; that game is a goddamned masterpiece.)

So the final bit of wisdom (from my supremely unwise mind) that I’d like to offer to whoever is reading this is to hold onto your friends (if they’re good ones) and to play those couch co-op games with them as if there was no tomorrow. Because you never know. Couches may cease to exist in the near future.