Mob City is TNT’s new crime drama starring Shane from The Walking Dead among others. I went in to it, honestly, wanting not to like it. I’m backed up on TV and comics, and I didn’t need really need a new show right now. Fortunately, I hated the first 10 minutes or so enough to not even bother finishing the 2 hour premiere. It’s possible if I was in a more receptive mind that I could have enjoyed it, but I doubt it.
It opens on three guys who are stopped by a criminal trying to secure an area where something important’s going down. The three guys are just musicians, and show the criminal their violins. He insists that they play something, and they do their little violin trio for a minute before a woman pushing a stroller comes by. Only the stroller is filled with machine guns and the blow away all the criminals and presumably steal their shit.
I’m guessing the writer was pretty proud of this, what with the violin misdirect. But I immediately thought what are the odds that three guys who can play a pretty solid violin would also be violent criminals and useful with a gun? Then the narration named two of them as Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel, two real-life criminals who as far as I can tell never played the violin. I think they could have gotten away with it if it was a Sin City type noir where things weren’t exactly realistic. But using real people and a generally realistic look to the show and basically everything about it seemed to be going for realism except the bullshit violin thing. It’s probably irrational for me to have hated this as much as I did, but… I did.
Then in the credits it happened to list Simon Pegg as a guest star, so then I was curious. But then he showed up a few minutes in with an American accent. It turns out Simon Pegg with an American accent is kind of creepy. I bailed right as Robert Knepper (T-bag from Prison Break) showed up, doing some kind of gravelly tough guy voice.
Mass Effect 2 is a big improvement over Mass Effect, which is surprising both because I enjoyed the first one quite a bit and because the games are very similar. But I’m liking the story just as much, the characters considerably more, and the gameplay is much improved. I’m enjoying this game way too much, so this goes on way too long.
It fixes a few of my gripes from the first game:
- The galaxy map has a better interface. You don’t have to navigate through four layers of level of detail, only to forget the name of the place you wanted to go, then have to escape back out to look in your journal to refresh your memory. It’s all on a single map, and it’s annotated with quest info. And you can hit Esc from almost any screen to return to the ship. Definitely a big improvement.
- Shopping is much better. In ME1, you had to have a conversation with a merchant, tell him you want to shop, sometimes say what kind of item you want (standard, non-human armor, etc), then you could buy stuff. And then if you wanted two different kinds of items, you had to escape out and start the conversation all over again. It looks like ME2 has no way to sell stuff, though, which is weird.
They changed some things in weird directions though:
- You don’t seem to get experience for killing things. Just quests and completing interactions with people, I think. If you do get exp. for killing stuff, it’s unclear how much. At the end of a mission they just give you a bunch of it and tell you whether you leveled up or not.
- You acquire weapons and armor but you can only equip them when you get to a weapon or armor changing station. And weapons don’t even display stats of any kind. I just get two paragraph descriptions of stuff, some of which say clearly that it is an improvement over some other specific model, but telling you weapon A is better than weapon B tells you nothing about whether to use weapon A or weapon C. They do give you stats for armor pieces, at least (but no summary of the stats for your whole armor, which is weird). And then one weapon totally lies. I’m actually using it, even though it says it can’t be used by a human.
- When you’ve landed somewhere and then returned to your ship, you can no longer walk back out the airlock to the place you docked. This actually makes some story sense (you take a shuttle most places now) but is annoying that if you want to return you have to go through the docking animation all over again.
- There is in general a lot less tinkering. The weapon and armor choices are much more limited, and you have a much narrower skill tree. You only get I think 6 skills total for your character and 5 for your teammates. And each level up grants 2 points to spend, but each level in a skill costs more (1 point for level 1, 2 points for level 2, etc), so lots of times you level up and don’t improve on anything, just saving your points for later.
- There is an upgrade system where you acquire tech to research but you need raw materials to actually get the upgrade benefits. You get a little bit of the resources during missions, but the bulk comes from exploring planets and scanning them. It’s nice that the ME1 system of exploring planets and finding heavy metals and stuff now has a purpose beyond completing quests that are basically irrelevant, but the scanning process is incredibly tedious. Like not even a little bit enjoyable, you just hold the right mouse button and move the mouse around until a meter spikes and then you click the left button to launch a probe. And repeat over and over and over again. You don’t seem to get more than a few thousand from the richest deposits on a single probe launch, and upgrades can cost as much as 50,000. So you spend a lot of boring time doing this crap.
It’s just incredibly weird to have a game with RPG elements where you can’t sell the stuff you pick up and you get no experience for killing stuff.
Easily my biggest complaint is the way EA forced the handling of the “digital deluxe edition” on Steam. When you first launch the game, you’re shown three key codes to input. But there’s nowhere in the game to input them. And no real explanation of what to do with these keys. The actual process is to register an EA origin account, hunt around the website until you find the places* to enter them, then download a series of executables (I think there are like 10 total?) and run them. Then launch the game and log in with your EA Origin account. Annoyingly, I like the game enough that I’m considering picking up two more expansions (the Shadow Broker one and there’s a character I don’t have) which will mean using the stupid origin/”bioware social” page some more. Which will cost 1360 “bioware points” or something. I guess that’s $17, because 1.25 cents is a really intelligent currency unit to use. Even better, it doesn’t look like I can purchase 1360 in a single transaction. I can buy 560, 800, or 1600, with no bulk discount at all. So they are dickishly trying to get me to go “aw fuck it” and spend $3 extra so I don’t have to enter all my payment info twice. And there’s no way I’m paying extra because of their dirty tricks so I will let them waste my time like a bunch of assholes.
* – Yes places. Two of the keys are registered on one page, the third on another, which is why I got about 10 hours into the game before Geebs mentioned I might not have gotten all the stuff I should have and found the place to put the third key in to get what turned out to be the majority of the extra stuff from the deluxe edition.
The character import process is a little bit clunky, but you only have to do it once so it’s not that big of a deal. Apparently I could have changed all sorts of stuff like my class when I imported, but I just assumed I was taking the whole character. I might have picked a female Shepard (because I didn’t like the male voice actor in the first one, but he definitely is better in the second) or a different class (because I didn’t want to get monotonous with playing Vanguard all the time, but the combat is quite different so it’s fine).
And the resulting story elements based on your choices in the previous game are kind of neat. They figure out a way to make them close enough to the core plot that they seem important, but not so different that the game becomes fragmented and you’re missing out on content by having chosen one thing over another. At first, given some of the “choose who lives or dies” options at the end of ME1, I assumed that keeping those choices in play would mean they’d have to record a ton of redundant dialogue, but they actually keep all the characters that may have died only tangentially related to the plot of ME2. Which I assume will also come up in the transition to ME3. But at some point that would get exceedingly complicated, so I’m guessing if they continue the franchise they’ll have to skip ahead a generation or have a new main character or something.
The major changes in gameplay are in combat, the number of teammates you acquire, and the presence of loyalty missions. And all of them increase the variety in the way you play the game.
ME1 had unlimited ammo and no real incentive to change which teammates you bring with you on a mission, so you could use the same weapon and same squad, once you found something that worked, for basically the whole game. ME2 has limited ammo, to the point that in most longer fights you will absolutely run out of ammo for your preferred weapon at some point, so you need to be comfortable using at least one other. And you end up able to recruit about 10 people to your team, all of which have specific missions where you have to bring that person on your team. Successfully completing their mission unlocks a new ability and an alternate costume (new costume get!), and you can research an upgrade that will let your Shepard have one of your teammate’s special abilities. Which you can change later as you acquire more teammates’ abilities, but you can only have one at a time. But I will totally be doing all of them, so that means every member of my team will be used at least once. And their missions are generally pretty long, so you get a good feel for what they’re like on your team.
A little bit of spoilers to follow:
Almost Human is Fox’s new drama about a cop and his robot buddy fighting crime, created by J.H. Wyman (who was the co-showrunner of Fringe from season 2 on). Karl Urban is a detective who loses his partner and his leg during a botched raid, which he blames on an android who was on the raid with them. When he comes back to the force 17 months later, he hates the android he’s forced to partner with, and eventually they give him an older model that was discontinued because its programmed emotions made it unpredictable, played by Michael Ealy* (I’m amused that their names are John and Dorian because of Dr. John Dorian from Scrubs).
The pilot is pretty solid. The cast is good, Urban and Ealy definitely seem like a pair that can carry a show. Lili Taylor is the boss, the BBC Office‘s MacKenzie Crook is the robot technician guy. Minka Kelly is also around, looking hot and otherwise contributing basically nothing to the pilot. The story sets up a lot of possibilities for the future, but the show keeps it simple, focusing on the two main characters and a plot by the bad guys that they have to stop.
It’s very sparse with details about the world they inhabit, beyond the presence of police robots. I think, like Fringe, they are striving for accessibility. With Fringe, it was to keep the stories self-contained. Every episode had a problem, and at the end of every episode that problem would be resolved. It didn’t take long for them to bail on that idea, though. Here, despite playing with a lot of themes of serious science fiction, they keep the scifi stuff to a minimum. Cops have robot partners, people have Minority Report computer displays, and there are black market doctors that will help you recover memories. But basically everything else in the pilot is a standard police procedural.
But they seem to have sprinkled the background with a lot of scifi elements, and the implication of lots of familiar scifi tropes. There’s a vaguely big brother-ish ad for something called Omega, which I assume will be a giant corporation with its hands in everything. The city (is it LA? I honestly don’t remember the name of the city even came up) appears to have a walled off slum area where much of the crime (and also cool dystopian future stuff like the aforementioned black market doctor) happens. The main part of the city looks pristine and fancy futuristic, but the walled off parts look halfway between Blade Runner and Robocop (it seemed extra Robocop-ish in the very beginning when he lost his leg, and they made a random comment about the walled off part of the city having good noodles, which has to be a specific Blade Runner reference).
Anyway, I am 100% in on this show. I’m slightly confused by the Sunday premiere leading into the regular Monday timeslot (in which it will air its second episode tonight), but I guess they were hoping for some extra exposure with an NFL lead-in? It did premiere to good numbers (9.1m total/3.1 18-49), so either that NFL lead-in thing or the heavy promotion of the show worked. Since I really liked it, that’s good news, and I hope the audience sticks around.
* – I tried dodging the trailers as best I could, but I did know the show was about a cop and an android partner. For a long while I thought Karl Urban was the robot and Michael Ealy the human, I think largely because in Ealy’s previous series, USA’s Common Law, he was the emotional one while his partner was uptight. Although, given the Blade Runner similarities, it could totally turn out that Karl Urban’s character is also a robot (like he died in the opening and they put his consciousness in a synthetic like Dorian).
Ground Floor is a new TBS sitcom that premiered with two episodes on Thursday (which I did not watch until Sunday). I was obviously not that excited going in. On the one hand, it’s co-created by Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town) and co-stars John C. McGinley (Scrubs, not Cougar Town). On the other hand, it has a laugh track, a boring generic white guy lead, and a lame sort of Romeo and Juliet concept (he likes this girl but he works on the top floor, and top floor people don’t associate with ground floor people). A pleasant surprise in the pilot was Alexis Knapp, who plays the love interest’s ground floor coworker and wears tight skirts and stuff (the love interest, Briga Heelan, is also cute but Alexis Knapp steals the show, as far as hotness goes).
Possibly if I wasn’t currently binge-playing Mass Effect games, I might keep up with the show. It had some jokes that worked (almost all the funny parts featured McGinley’s asshole boss character) and a bit of eye candy. But I’m struggling to keep up with the shows I do watch, so mediocre shows that I haven’t invested much time in are the first to go. I have also bailed on Dracula (I was originally going to keep going past the pilot because I generally have nothing better to do, but then video games), Masters of Sex (occasional toplessness doesn’t make up for the show being generally boring), The Michael J. Fox Show (the second episode was worse than the first, and the third was worse than the second), Back in the Game (I’ve kept up with it until now, but it’s been cancelled already and the quality has been dropping), and Covert Affairs (they seemed to push the reset button, which seemed like a good time to get out on a show I’d been losing interest in for a while). This has left me a schedule with lots of holes in it (Monday 9-10, Tuesday 9-10, Thursday 8:30-9, Sunday 8:30-9) and then tons of stuff on Wednesday. But there are only a couple weeks of November left, and then TV schedules will relax quite a bit once sweeps are over.
Thor: The Dark World is, as Marvel Studios movies go, a little sub par, but as movies in general go, quite good. Thor, Loki, Odin, Jane Foster, and company are all entertaining, Sif and Heimdall are great in painfully little screen time, there are some solid laughs, and exciting action sequences.
The only real failing of the movie is the villain, Malekith. I did not know Malekith from comics at all, but in the movie he is evil because the plot requires someone other than Loki for Thor to hit with a hammer. Had Malekith been given some real story or character or something, it could have been great.
Random aside, for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, there are two credits scenes: one in the middle of the credits and one at the tail end. The latter isn’t that big a deal to miss, but I feel obligated to see all those things.
Some spoilers to follow:
Ender’s Game probably would have been a story that appealed to me greatly as an adolescent, but as an adult it came off as incredibly pandering to nerds. It tells the story of a kid who is smart, excels in school, plays video games a lot, is unpopular, gets bullied, and sits alone at lunch. But his bullying is actually due to some guy testing him to prove he’s the most awesome kid ever, and his video games are training to command a fleet of spaceships. So it’s this incredibly transparent attempt to appeal to nerds. And that wouldn’t bother me if it didn’t take itself so seriously. I mean, lots of superhero stories do the same thing, but at least Spider-Man cracks a few jokes.
The big controversy about the movie was Orson Scott Card’s public stance against gay marriage. Which, combined with the trailers not looking that exciting, would have been enough to keep me from seeing it until an out-of-town visitor wanted to see it, at which point I felt it would be rude not to go, and then said visitor didn’t make the movie anyway. But I digress, I’d heard people argue that Card’s homophobia didn’t come across in the books and also that he wouldn’t stand to make any money on the back end anyway, so buying a movie ticket wouldn’t actually put cash in his pocket. But of course, the better the movie does, the more likely they would be to make a sequel, and the more people would think about buying the book. So I’m not sure the financial argument holds water (but it was nice to see that it didn’t exactly blow up at the box office). But I didn’t see any content in the movie itself that was really objectionable from a political correctness point of view.
One really nitpicky thing that bugged the crap out of me is that they opened the movie with a quote attributed to “A.E. Wiggin,” causing me to think “who the hell is A.E. Wiggin?” Then they introduce Andrew Wiggin but also mention that he has a brother. So then I’m thinking “is he A.E. Wiggin, or is he Andrew J. Wiggin and his brother is Anthony E. Wiggin?” Eventually they mention that he’s Andrew Ender Wiggin, clearing that little mystery up, but wouldn’t it have made more sense to attribute the quote to “A. Ender Wiggin” and never call him Andrew, since you only have two hours of movie to work with and that needlessly complicates things?
Spoiler thoughts to follow:
Just shy of 6 years after its initial release, I’m playing Mass Effect because it and ME2 were on sale for $5 each in a bundle on Steam. Since I’m not a particularly regular gamer, I don’t have a lot of basis for comparison, but it plays a lot like Fallout games, especially the recent ones (though given that this game out before Fallout 3, I guess it’s more that they are like Mass Effect than the other way around). It mostly plays as a very dialogue/story heavy RPG, navigating conversations with NPCs to acquire quests and advance plot and learn background info and all that, and then every once in a while there’s a short combat situation. And I’ve just hit the first real dungeon type thing. But much more time is dedicated to questing stuff.
They give you a third person view, which is actually pretty nice for the running around questing parts, but I struggled badly with the fighting early on. Part of that may be by design, I’m told that all the classes suck until they start to advance in level. I don’t like that you choose your class cold, with very little understanding of what the choice means. I think I chose well based on my general play style, Vanguard supposedly excels at close-range combat with shotguns and melee, and that’s certainly how I’ve always played FPSes, but I still don’t like it for combat. I spent the first few hours of combat parts dying a lot and spending my time hiding with a pistol trying to pick people off, making me wish I’d chosen a sniper class. But the shotgun skill takes a while to develop, and now that I actually have it at a decent spot, I’m doing pretty well with it.
The story is good enough, set a few centuries in the future, where humans have acquired technology for interstellar travel and are trying to fit in as the new guys in a long-established galactic community. Most of the fancy tech people have was recovered from some ancient super-advanced people who were wiped out millennia ago. You play the first human up for membership in the elite soldiers of a big alliance of races, and also someone who gets a crazy vision from ancient tech. So lots of politics, prophecies, that kinda stuff.
One of the real strengths is the voice talent. Keith David plays the captain of your ship and kind of a mentor, Marina Sirtis is a villain, Seth Green is your ship’s pilot, the evil leaper’s hologram from Quantum Leap is your ship’s doctor, Armin Shimmerman is one of the members of the council, and even the voices I don’t recognize do good work. The only voice I haven’t been completely satisfied with is Shepard, the main character. His voice actor is generally good, but for whatever reason it takes me out of the game every time his Canadian accent reveals itself (mostly on “out” and “about”). You have an option to chose a female protagonist at the beginning, and now I wish I’d chosen to do that. Actually, I’m not sure if there’s a way to switch genders mid-game. I should look in to that.
Probably 90% of the game so far has been running around talking to people, traversing dialogue trees, and peacefully resolving quests. But the main story is interesting enough, the little side stories give the illusion of plot progression, and it perfectly appeals to that nerdy instinct to tinker with stats and armor and weapons and things (not only do you have a choice of classes, choice of how you spent points along a skill tree, choice of weapons and armor, but also weapons and armor and ammo have slots for upgrades, so you end up with tons of options to fiddle with how your character works). So it is definitely engaging enough to keep me going to the end.
Dracula places the legendary vampire in turn-of-the-century London and seems to cast him as an anti-hero, pitting him against an Illuminati-type organization that controls the world from the shadows and wronged him somehow in the past. Weirdly, despite casting Jonathan Rhys Meyers, who I only think of as “handsome British guy who seems like an asshole,” they have Dracula pose as an American industrialist, so he uses this fake accent all the time.
The show is kinda dumb. But it’s on Friday nights, I don’t watch anything else then (for a while, anyway), there are some attractive women in it (Huntress from Arrow is the main attraction), and there’s a sorta steampunk (or… is there a thing like electropunk? it’s like fantasy Tesla type stuff) thing going on, which I find more interesting than the plot or characters. So I might keep watching for a little bit because I have no life anyway.
The Ambassadors is a new series starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb (of Peep Show and Mitchell & Webb) the British ambassador to the fictional nation of Tazbekistan and his aide. I just sort of assumed it would be a comedy, but it’s not actually particularly funny. It plays like a dramedy, with much of the pilot concerned with presenting Tazbekistan as oil-rich but oppressive and making Mitchell’s life difficult weighing the economic interests against human rights concerns. So a lot more political than I was expecting. But I’m fine with political. It’s not great but I’m interested enough to try another episode.
New-ish comics, roughly best to worst:
|Rocket Girl tells the story of a teenage girl cop from the future with a jetpack traveling to the 80s to stop some people before they can do evil stuff in the future. They had me at time travel and jet packs.|
|Avengers: Endless Wartime is a loosely movie-inspired graphic novel from Warren Ellis, which is mostly notable for being extremely snarky. There are quite a few laughs in there, but it’s an odd read because you feel like the Avengers don’t even like each other.|
|Pretty Deadly is Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios’ new series for Image which is apparently about the daughter of death as some sort of spirit of vengeance in the old west. Which plays to Emma Rios’ strengths, I think. The first issue didn’t really grab me but I like the idea.|
|Hinterkind seems loosely based on those history channel specials they used to do about nature reclaiming cities after mankind ceased to exist. Some sort of apocalyptic event happens a long time before the series starts, and it’s set in the wilderness that used to be New York City. Which is a pretty cool setting, but I’m not loving the art or the antagonists, so I may drop this quickly.|