Tuesday, September 18, 2007

I'm Getting the Munchies

A few months ago, I watched the first season of the Showtime show Weeds.  When it first came out, I had written it off as pot culture humor, which is something that I've never been particularly in to.  But after the recommendations of people whose judgments I trust, I gave it a try.  And I really enjoyed it.  But I just finished season two and I have to say that they seriously stepped up their game.

What could have been a show of cheap sophomoric humor is actually one of the most intelligence shows on television.  It is funnier than every sit-com not named Curb Your Enthusiasm, but with richer character work than most TV dramas.  The show contains strong social commentary about our country's ridiculous drug policy and the problems of suburban life, but does so without being at all preachy.  And the music . . . incredible.  The show is full of indie music that always hits the exact right notes.

Season two ratchets up the the drama and storytelling.  While I enjoyed season 1, season 2 totally blew me away.  The only unfortunate thing is that it ends on a cliffhanger, and season three is currently in the middle of it's broadcast schedule, so I'm going to have to wait a while before I can find out what happens . . .

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Metroid Prime 3: First Impressions

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption came out last week and I picked it up over the weekend.  I'm only about a quarter of the way through the game, but I wanted to get some quick thoughts out there for anyone who is considering buying it.

The short version?  I don't love it as much as I'd like to. 

The game has been getting fantastic reviews across all the gaming sites whose opinions I trust.  It's the latest installment of one of my all-time favorite series.  So what isn't doing it for me?  It's a lot of little things.

First off, the controls.  When the Wii first came out, one of the first things that came to mind about the new control scheme was that now having a true pointing device would allow a console FPS to match the precision of the old trusty mouse-and-keyboard scheme on PC's.  I haven't played any of the other Wii FPS's (like Red Steel or Medal of Honor), but in Metroid they made a significant choice that, while better than the dual-analog scheme on most consoles, still leaves it inferior to mouse-aiming.  In a PC FPS, you are always pointing at the center of the screen.  As you move the mouse, the display adjusts so that the target stays in the center.  But in Metroid, the target moves to the spot on the screen that you are pointing at.  If that spot is outside of a bounding box around the center, you begin to turn in that direction.  I understand why they did it this way.  Keeping you hand steady and pointing at the center of the screen for extended periods of time is not the most comfortable situation to be in, and they didn't want the display wonking out just because a player relaxes his or her hand.  But it makes turning painfully slow.  It probably takes between 2 and 3 seconds to do a 180.  This may not seem like very long, but on a computer, I can do a 180 with a quick flick of my wrist in a small fraction of 1 second.  And there are three degrees of sensitivity for turning.  I play on the highest and still think it feels sluggish, so I cannot imagine how bad it must be on the lowest.

They try to overcome this slow turning speed during frantic combat by allowing you to lock onto an enemy, which will always keep them in the center of your vision.  Which is nice, except that if you fail to achieve a lock (or the enemy manages to break the lock, which most baddies of any significance have the ability to do) you instead lose the ability to turn at all until you release the button.  Once again, this doesn't sound like much, but in many of the battles against multiple enemies in large arenas, fractions of seconds count.

My other real complaint is that oftentimes the game doesn't feel very much like Metroid.  Previous Metroid games have had some elements of story to them, but mostly were about exploring and puzzle solving.  In this game, you have cut-scenes.  You interact with NPC's.  You have a voice over the radio that guides you and gives you advice.  And I don't mean to say that I'm against storytelling in my games, but it makes some of the more Metroid-y elements seem out of place, like coming across a puzzle on a strange foreign world that is uniquely suited to Samus's abilities.  Or the fact that you win a prize for beating bosses.  Also there is some stuff going on in the story that I really don't understand because I didn't play Metroid Prime 2.  I know that is my own fallacy, but Super Metroid told you everything you needed to know about the first two games (on the NES and Gameboy) in the introduction.

I don't want to sound like I'm completely trashing the game.  There is a lot to love.  The graphics are beautiful.  Some of the innovative ways that you interact with the world are just fantastic.  Especially how you use the grappling hook in combat.  Genius.  If you're interested in the game, I would certainly not recommend against it.  And maybe you'll agree with the mainstream reviews and not me.  But in my mind, it's only a ground rule double, just shy of a home run.