Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Giant F'ing Robots: Fefi's Armored Core V Review

Ah, spring is here, and with it, my long-awaited dose of intense mecha action. I feel as giddy as an anime schoolgirl right about now.

My face when I heard this game was finally coming out.

I will skip my usual introduction, for it is impossible for me to give a fully objective review of this game due to my massive case of mechanophilia. Suffice it to say, this game is for a specific kind of audience, although adjustments have been made to try and allow as many newcomers to adapt to this kind of action. And so, here's my evaluation:

Plus, an image of a cool robot.

Graphics: The game looks quite gorgeous, probably the only good thing it took from its predecessors on current-gen consoles. If anything, I'd say the game relies a bit too much on motion blur to make the intense action look smoother, but seeing as it's a game marketed to a very specific kind of audience, I think we can forgive From Software a little for trying to put as little stress on the console as possible to be able to focus on the gameplay.  The game scores a decent 8/10 here.

Sound: I've never been a big fan of the soundtracks for this series, but usually the fast-paced electronica beats that accompanied your massive robot shootouts were good enough to not be bothersome. This time around... You know what, I don't care much for the soundtrack, you can barely focus on it over the glorious sound of your enemies' Cores exploding. Bland background music gets a 5/10.
Boo for bland background music! Yay, for awesome robots!

Story: In a departure from its predecessors, Armored Core 4 and For Answer, the game decided to give players a bare-bones story. Only 9 story missions with a staggering amount of side missions that give you a small look into how the AC5 universe works without bogging you down in the details. The reason for this is that this game's focus is on the multiplayer, essentially implying that the story is written by the online struggles of the community. That isn't to say that the story missions are easy at all. As per usual, this game continues the series' proud tradition of cheap bosses who have access to equipment you can't ever use and can essentially pilot impossible Cores. All in all, while the plot isn't important, what little details you get are cohesive enough. A cool 7/10 for consistency, if not quality.

Gameplay: Now, here we go. The bread and butter of this particular installment. The gameplay. First off, I'd like to say I skipped over the last two games due to their terribleness. I have no clue what their control schemes were like, except for clunky and so, I will list all innovations I found in transitioning from AC3 to this one. The first big thing I noticed as soon as I got control of my Core was that I could finally use the analog sticks to aim up and down instead of using the shoulder buttons. That was a major relief. Second, one can now use both arm weapons at the same time due to them being mapped to the shoulder buttons, freeing up the face buttons for maneuvering functions such as jumping, emergency boosting and a new recon beacon function that allows you to drop a few drones around the area so you can keep an eye on your opponents, even when they're behind buildings.

The action has been tuned up as well. Core stats have been reworked to make sure everything's balanced out and each play style has it's own advantages, making for a sort of rock-paper-scissors system. Example: You could build a bipedal Core which would focus on frontline assault, but that would leave you weak against a tank-type Core which is pretty much a slow moving impenetrable fortress... except against the ammo type favored by quad-pod sniper Cores, which usually stay well out of range of tank Cores, but can be caught and quickly disposed of by assault Cores. The only thing I don't like about this system is that each category of armor and weapons seem to correspond exclusively to each play style and are hard to mix up.

Concerning the maps and online play, play areas are very varied this time around, from compact urban areas filled with buildings, to vast desert or tundra flatlands, the game has a little bit of everything for everyone. As I mentioned before, this installment focuses heavily on online play and specifically, teamwork. The main aim of the game is to control the 9 different areas on the map and keep your hold on them as long as possible. To this end, you form a clan, and recruit people to help you keep your territories. As clan leader, you get to assign positions of power to others so that they can keep watch over clan activities while you're away and hopefully, keep an eye on the territories 24/7. Maps are large because you're meant to have at least 4 people fighting together at any given moment. Maximum team size is 4 players per team, plus an extra space for Mission Control, which gets to relay map information to their teammates and hopefully help turn the tide of battle. There are still duels, of course, but the size of the maps makes this a difficult endeavor. Connection speeds on the PS3 are hardly an issue. I played on a very heavily restricted connection and found absolutely no lag to speak of. Finally, I must say most every single person I found online has been quite accommodating and friendly. Truly, the warm community I remember from earlier years. If you find yourself playing this game, don't be afraid to join a random team battle or similar activity.

And finally, the customization of one's Core has reached levels of ridiculousness I never though possible. There's well over 1000 parts for you to choose from, and a great deal of them can be quite useful depending on your building abilities. Gameplay has been outstanding so far and gets a lovely 8/10.

And there you have it. The game's charm is not something I can easily explain. You have to see it in action and give it a test run yourself to see what I mean. While this game won't win any awards, it is very fun and fast-paced. Unfortunately, the learning curve hits a spike at higher levels and could get frustrating if one isn't used to these Japanese games. All I have left to say is: rent it, try it out, and if you like it, buy it. Support these small releases (well, small outside of Japan, anyway). We need these games to save us from the waves of Super Awesome War Shooter #35 that seem to be flooding the market, or at least to show developers that they're not the only thing we want.

Fefi's Score: Robo-boners everywhere
'Fair' Score: 7/10
Look at this pimping piece of metal. Don't you want to pilot it?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Top Ten TV Show Opening Credits

Television is a fantastic storytelling medium.  Unlike movies (unless its a movie franchise), where you only get 2 hours to tell your story and flesh out your characters and make you want to emotionally invest in one of the characters, TV shows get 12 or 24 hours per season to do all that and more.  It has the ability to leave you hanging by a thread with cliffhangers and I think the medium allows for more freedom once your show becomes something the fans will watch.  Of course, television fans are fickle and many a great TV show has been cancelled because it might just be a little too niche.  There is an important part of TV shows that often is overlooked but can definitely enhance your investment with the show itself and the characters in it.  The opening credits.  This is something that for as long as you are watching will be in every single episode.  If its a bad opening, you will dread having to listen to that minute or minute and a half every single time.  If its good, you will sing along with the theme song and it will actually become a part of the show.  This is a list with my favorite 10 TV show opening sequences.  There are a lot of TV shows running at this moment and there are thousands that have already come and gone.  There's no way for me to see them all, but from those I have seen, these are my favorites.

Top Ten TV Show Opening Credits

Honorable Mentions

How I Met Your Mother

This is probably one of my favorite sitcoms ever.  While the new stuff might not always be up to par with the older stuff, there are still episodes that make you laugh out loud.  Its a funny show with some really memorable characters.  Since there are about 22 minutes of actual show, the opening has to be quick but still give you a sense of the show that you are watching.  The makers of this show made a perfect opening sequence that consists of pictures of the gang hanging out.  This is a show about friendship and life and the pictures portray exactly that.  Short and sweet.

Mad Men

This show about the 1960s and the people who work in the advertising agencies during that time really took the world by storm.  It's mixture of incredibly smooth performances with smoking and drinking and beautiful women and it just feels like you are really watching something from that era.  It was definitely going to be a test to be able to make an opening that fit the series so well, but what they did is pretty creative.  These Mad Men, as the series calls them, have to adapt or be left behind.  The opening has a black and white figure who enters and office and then is falling down the side of the building.  As he falls, he can see a bunch of different advertisements go by him on his way down.  In the end, there is the figure on a sofa, laid back with a cigarette in hand.  It's just a cool sequence that really fits the series.  The sequence coupled with the great intro of a song by DJ RJD2 fit perfectly together.


The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Ahh, the 90s.  They brought us the grunge movement, the beginnings of reality TV, and the rise of Will Smith.  I have a love/hate relationship with the 90s.  If there was something that I really enjoyed about it, it was definitely The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  It's a funny show about "Will" who moved to his uncle/aunts house because his mother was afraid that he would get into a lot of trouble in his hometown of Philadelphia.  Hilarity ensues.  The intro for the show was perfect.  The song that Will Smith raps to explains everything you need to know to start watching the show.  You never really need to begin the series with the back-story because everything is explained in the intro.  If someone grew up in the 90s and can't rap you this song (the video has the long version... but the short version) they should be taken outside and shot.  It's really a reminder of my youth and really takes me back listening to it.   


Elfen Lied

I didn't really want to add animated stuff to this list because I would never finish watching stuff to make this damn list.  When I started thinking about opening sequences, this one definitely came up quickly.  Whatever you think about the anime itself (I personally think that it is amazing), the intro to it is so different from what I'm used to that it caught me by surprise the first time that I saw it.  Normally you would get some scenes of the anime along with some silly J-Rock or J-Pop or whatever that absurd music, that is impossible to tell apart from every other, is.  This time, I was met with a beautiful arrangement of piano and violin and the stunning voice of Kumiko Noma as she sings a song based on Bible passages and in Latin.  Not only that, but what we see is the characters of the series being used in the famous works of Gustav Klimt (famous for "The Kiss" among others).  It's an incredibly beautiful and creative introduction to the series. 


Battlestar Galactica

It's safe to say that when the Sci-Fi Channel (or Syfy?) decided to remake the 1970s show, nobody thought it would be a good idea.  The original had run for just one season and it wasn't really considered to be an incredible series except for the small cult following it retained.  People were banking on this to flop incredibly.  It didn't.  Instead we got an incredibly interesting sci-fi series that was complex (maybe overly so at times) and nuanced.  It was full of twists and turns.  The opening credits were, in my opinion, top notch.  The whole series was composed by Bear McCreary and Richard Gibbs and the whole thing has some amazing music.  After the introduction narrated by Admiral Adama (Edward James Olmos), a slow and subtle orchestra plays while two female voices sing unintelligible stuff.  After that, it switches completely into a very fast paced arrangement that gets you excited about what is to come.  While the music mostly makes it worthwhile, I like that they show scenes of episodes that have passed and then during the fast part, they show a teaser of what will happen in the episode that's about to be shown.  I don't think the video I put in there has it, but they also show how many survivors there are in the human race still, which I think is a nice addition since it changes with every episode.


The Sopranos

In 1999, HBO brought us one of the most well done series in a long time.  The Sopranos dealt with New Jersey mobster Tony Soprano and how his personal life and his business is affected by a myriad of things.  It was a really good series (even though the finale was pretty lame) but it was made even better by the really cool intro.  HBO has always done well with most of their opening sequences (you'll see more later) and this is one of them.  We see Tony Soprano in his car emerging from the Lincoln Tunnel and passing through different landmarks around the area that the series is set.  While this is going on, Tony smokes a cigar and the song "Woke Up This Morning" by the British band A3 plays.  It's a good song and a nice introduction to the show.  Any time you hear the static of the HBO logo, you immediately think of coming out of the Lincoln Tunnel.



This show began in 2008 and it quickly caught the attention of science fiction fans with an incredibly interesting story and a fantastic performance from John Noble (as Dr. Walter Bishop).  I also have to admit that some of the stuff between Joshua Jackson and Noble are pretty nice.  They have good chemistry together.  So, this team uses fringe science to resolve things that are unexplainable by other means.  The intro to the series uses these fringe sciences (or ideas) like synesthesia, wormholes, and retrocognition among other things while showing different symbols and images within a blue/green background.  The cool thing about this intro is that during the series, there is a parallel universe that is part of the main story and every time an episode is in one of the two universes, it changes from the bluish green to red and vice versa.  If the episode takes place in both, it interchanges the colors during one intro.  The music is one of the things I like.  Only hearing the music lets you know that this is a sci-fi show that you are about to see.   



This is an interesting show in and of itself.  It's strange to me that a show about a serial killer could get such a huge fan base.  The thing about this show is that it gets you to root for someone who is obviously not such a great guy.  Even though he tries to channel it into killing people who are bad, he's still not a good guy.  Beyond the philosophy behind the show, the creators of this show knew that in order to make this character into someone the public could sympathize with, they needed to make this show funny.  Not funny in a ha-ha way, but funny in a dark and goofy way.  That is the reason why the intro works so well for me.  It shows Dexter's morning routine.  What it does is show different actions that might seem like he is hurting someone (eg. the tying of the shoelaces and the hot sauce on the eggs).  The music is incredibly goofy but with an edgy 'something bad is gonna happen' feel.  In the end, he leaves his place and gives you the goofiest grin that Michael C. Hall could muster... and if you see the picture above, you know he can look goofy as hell.


Game of Thrones

I reviewed Game of Thrones some time ago and I got to the conclusion that it was a damn good series.  Having read the books (except the latest one) the series is based in, and having expected this series for a while now, I was happy with it.  The performances are fantastic and while not as 'magical' as stuff like The Lord of the Rings, it still has a sense of wonder.  This is a series about family, politics and war.  The intro for this series works incredibly well with the show.  What they did is used some really nice instrumental music composed by Ramin Djawadi while the the intro plays.  Something that is really important for any fantasy show/book/movie is to set up the world we are going to be spending time with.  A simple map almost always works.  In this specific show's intro, we get a map but we also get a birds eye view of the places that specific episode will take you.  Winterfell, The Wall, King's Landing, Vaes Dothrak, they are all there.  Not only that but the designs of those cities come of the flat ground like an incredibly cool pop-up book.  Not only do the creators let the viewer see what Westeros is like, but you can position yourself in there and better understand the locations.  You know what King's Landing is before you see the first episode.  Which is kind of neat.


The X-Files

There are very few series whose music has become pop culture icons.  The X-Files is just such a series.  Originally I had this one at number one solely based on the music.  Back in 1993, the series began to air.  It dealt with two FBI agents who dealt with the unexplained and the supernatural.  After 9 seasons, it is one of the most well remembered series of all time and a must see for any science fiction fan.  The intro begins with the logo for the show and the creepiest music you can imagine.  During the intro, there are different images of just strange stuff.  We are presented with our two main characters Fox Mulder and Dana Scully when we see their FBI IDs.  It ends with the words that have identified this series, "The Truth is Out There".  It is a great introduction because it sets up the mood perfectly.  Back then there was nothing like it.  Nothing as incredibly creepy which is why it eventually became such a hit.



It has been a long time since I have seen a show have so much of an impact on pop culture, even when the series was never really finished and cancelled during its first season.  Joss Whedon's Firefly was a show about the renegade crew that travel and live in the "Firefly" class spaceship Serenity.  What made it incredibly interesting to me was the mixture between space opera and a western.  It was like nothing I had seen before and I fell in love with it quickly.  One of the things I loved most was the opening sequence.  Joss Whedon wrote the lyrics and then they used the voice of blues singer Sonny Rhodes to give it life.  The music uses a lot of elements form the Southern blues genre which fits perfectly with the mood and theme of the show.  I love how it ends with a shot of the Serenity flying over a team of horses.  I also liked that when they are introducing the cast members, they show some of the traits that set them apart from the rest of the characters.  It's just incredibly well done.


True Blood

It would have been really hard not to pick this specific opening sequence as the number one.  I fought with myself over the positioning of the first three but eventually decided to go with this one.  While I had a really hard time dealing with the first few episodes of this series, after a while, it grew on me.  It deals with Sookie Stackhouse (a telepath) as she deals with different supernatural species, especially vampires, who have finally come out and told the world that they actually exist.  The opening sequence to the show was created by Digital Kitchen (also responsible for Dexter's opening) and it plays with the song "Bad Things" by country artist Jace Everett.  The sequence has a lot of different images but mostly the idea is to give the viewer the setting and the overall tone of the series.  All the images are trying to portray a South that is both sexual and religious at the same time.  With scenes of exorcisms and baptism interspersed with dancing at a bar and other scenes of the scenery and family life in the South.  And truthfully, I find it hard to think of a song that better fits this sequence than Everett's "Bad Things".  The song is a little less country and a little more rock but it is a grimy song with a wailing guitar and themes that fit with the show.  Also, Jace Everett's deep voice whenever he says "I wanna do bad things with you", is almost as if you'd see this being said by any character in the show.  It's just a perfect marriage of the imagery and song with what the show is all about.