Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Death Magnetic (music CD)

Band Name: Metallica
Music Type: Heavy Metal
Release Date: September 12, 2008

I used to be a pretty big Metallica fan. Actually, I still am; just of their early years. After the "Black Album", as fans have dubbed it, it was all downhill for the band. Load was completely mediocre while ReLoad was just plain bad. Let's not even get into the complete mess that was St. Anger; I know it was important to the band but they really screwed the pooch there and the band became something of a bad joke to me at that point. I'm not going to mince words; idiotic fanboys who eat any crap handed to them can kiss my ass because that album was garbage.

But hey, this past decade has been very kind to both metal and regular old rock and roll. One could call it a decade of comebacks. Iron Maiden reunited with Bruce Dickinson and Judas Priest reunited with Rob Halford; both went on to make fantastic albums since the reunion. Megadeth has sowly pulled itself back from it's mistakes with "Risk". Rush kicked ass with "Snakes and Arrows". Whitesnake is back and actually doing well. Hell, in the biggest shock of them all, Van Halen has reunited with David Lee Roth. Everyone seems to have picked this decade to get their acts together. So was it time for Metallica to make a return to their former glory? Can a band that completely sold out come back from the pit?

The answer is yes.

Don't get me wrong; this album is not perfect by a longshot. But Metallica has finally shed the desire to cater to the mainstream and gone back to the roots that got them so far to begin with. Death Magnetic is harder, faster, better structured and simply more cohesive than anything the band has done in years.

In some ways, this particular album seems to echo "Ride the Lightning"; high praise from me considering the aforementioned album is a personal favorite of mine. The album is structured similarly, for instance. The first several tracks rock the doors off the joint, then the fourth track kicks in, a power ballad of sorts in the same spot "Fade to Black" was on "Ride to Lightning". While it's not a great track, it helped me hearken back to the glory days just a bit more.. Then things pick up once more. Eventually we get to an instrumental, something the band hasn't done since "... And Justice for All", before we get to the closing track.

The albums a bit uneven in overall quality, however. The first half of the album is arguably the better of the two. The first three tracks - "That Was Just Your Life", "The End of the Line" and "Broken, Beat & Scarred" - simply rock hard. Seriously, Metallica hasn't sounded this good in years. "That Was Just Your Life" is probably the best off the entire album, starting out with what sounds like a heartbeat and powering forward. "The Day That Never Comes" is decent enough, but aside from it's placement echoing the better "Fade to Black", it just doesn't get the job done. I got a major "modern Green Day" vibe from the track, of which can I just say yuck? Then we hit "All Nightmare Long", which is back into the harder feel of the first three albums with a very high sense of speed to the instruments.

The second half, however, feels weaker. "Cyanide" is fine, continuing the harder tone of the album. "The Unforgiven III" however, is not quite there. On a personal nitpick, I don't know why the band is fascinated with naming songs as sequels to "The Unforgiven" in name, but it really needs to stop. That aside, the song really is nothing special and is definitely the worst track of the album; it reminds me way too much of the sort of things the band did post-Black Album and that's not a good thing. Even Hetfeilds vocals suffer. The original "The Unforgiven" was a pretty decent track; neither of it's sequels are. On top of that, this weaker song goes on for about seven plus minutes; way too long for a song without any noteworthy points to it. If we're truly past the "Bob Rock" era, can't we leave relics inspired by it behind? This song is the definite weak link of the album and the album would have been better off if it had been cut; it barely even sounds like Metallica, or at least the badass Metallica that has resurfaced with this album.

The Judas Kiss is better, but something about it doesn't quite click. The song is a return to the harder edge most of the album carries after the last track, but it doesn't quite have the chops other songs on the album do. Said song is quickly forgotten, however, once we get to "Suicide & Redemption". Said song is the return of the instrumental to Metallica's albums, something I've been waiting for ever since they went with their radio friendly image. It's a fantastic song that you wish would go on longer; this is despite the fact that the song runs for close to ten minutes! The album then closes with "My Apocalypse". This is definitely one of the stronger songs on the album, though I don't believe it to be the best. Still, it's a thundering track that closes the album well.

One of the problems I had with the album, however, had to do with the production. I mean, why are the drums so damn loud? Also, what the hell happened to the bass? Yeah, it's there, but what happened for it to be shuffled so far to the background? Hopefully the band realized the bass was kicked to the background and keep it in mind, because it's just baffling.

Also, those lower songs of the album really do detract from it. When the songs rock, they really rock. But when they flounder, man do they ever flounder. Had "The Day That Never Comes" and "The Unforgiven III" been cut from the album it would have felt much, much stronger on the whole. Take out the solid but forgettable "The Judas Kiss" and what was left would have made for a suitably kick ass album that clocked in at a respectable fifty some odd minutes. Sometimes it's best for the chaff to be cut from the album; after all, cut songs hardly stay gone these days anyways what with reissues and collections of such songs.

The Score: Dramatic Thumbs Up

Finally, the old Metallica has resurfaced to rock the world once more. No matter how good they get from here on out, it's never going to wash to stain of those awful three albums away, but even the best bands have low periods; even if they never get quite as low as Metallica did. This album is a true return to form for the band; it's not perfect and cracks show through the lesser songs, but it's the album we've been waiting for ever since Metallica sold out. Welcome back guys; your true sound was greatly missed.

Friday, June 12, 2009

CSI Hard Evidence (video game)

Platform: X-Box 360
Also On: PC, Wii
Developers: Telltale Games
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: M
Release Date: September 26, 2007

Television shows don’t get too many video game adaptions these days, unless they’re animated. The reason can range from cancellation due to declining ratings – which happened to a game that was to be based off of Heroes – to the rising costs to actually make games these days. But CSI isn’t exactly your typical series - with at least four different shows falling under the franchises umbrella – so this particular brand getting video game adaptions isn’t all that out there a prospect.

In comes Hard Evidence, just such an adaption for the X-Box 360 done in the same style as previous CSI games on the PC. For better or worse, it’s a relatively precise representation of the show. That means all the ridiculous, unrealistic things about the show translate over to the game; you guessed it, Crime Scene Investigators doing everything from interpreting the evidence to interrogating suspects to actually arresting them. All the things that irritate about the glamorous portrayal of CSI agents in the show aren’t so irritating in the game; after all, without it there wouldn’t exactly be much of a game.

There are five cases to investigate in the game in total. It’s not a terrible number by any means – the Phoenix Wright games generally hit around that number and do just fine – but the problem is generally how short they are here. Considering how light the gameplay is on the whole, the game just flies by.

If you’re a fan of the show, however, the stories of the five cases will be enjoyable. If anything, they’re really the games sole real attraction. They hold up well enough; all five feel as though they could each be an episode of the actual television show, which I suppose is actually pretty good praise. They’re fairly interesting too, with each one usually having a few interesting twists and turns. You also have a different partner with each case, all of them from the actual show. In short, there’s not much to complain about in story terms. There’s even connectivity between some of the cases; the last case of the game, for instance, involves characters and issues central to the third, for instance.

The graphics are disappointing. Generally bland, many rooms and textures look more mid-life PS2 than X-Box 360; which, while serviceable, is always disappointing. The sounds not all that big a deal. You’ll notice some familiar themes if you watch the show at all. Nothing really stands out though. Voice acting is generally fine, though the characters sound almost bored sometimes. It’s slightly off-putting but nothing too bad.

The gameplay’s generally where things go to hell, however. The foundation is solid; you search around the crime scene and different locations for evidence, use tools to collect them and then analyze them in several ways back in the crime lab. You also question suspects, which gives you valuable information.

On the surface this doesn’t sound too bad and it generally isn’t; at least until you realize that the game basically holds your hand the entire way through. When you collect evidence, for instance, you have to choose the right tool, but the game automatically eliminated the tools that couldn’t be used from selection making it all too simple to use the right tool for the job whether you know what it does or not. Questioning someone is equally as bad; dialogue does not branch in the slightest, meaning all you have to do is just ask every question when you’re allowed to ask them. Evidence analysis is a bit more in depth on your part, but it still all leads to the same place. Each case is generally a pretty straight line from start to finish. A short line too; you’ll easily beat the game within an afternoon.

The controls don’t help much. The directional pad is used for way too much in the way of menu selection in this game; never much of a problem when the analog stick can be used for it as well, but the problem is that the analog stick isn’t usable. It’s very annoying to go to a menu and forget the directional pad controls it; you could easily sit there for about five to ten seconds trying to move to another item with the analog stick before you remember it doesn’t work. Movement of the cursor also feels a bit sluggish; it’s somewhat obvious this game runs on an engine designed for computers and the general stickiness of the controls reinforces that feeling.

Replay value is literally in the toilet. Due to the unbelievable linearity of the game – seriously, it’s linear even by the standards of this sort of game in general – there’s little reason to ever replay the game or any of the cases. There are some unlockable bonuses, sure – unlocked by collecting bugs during missions – but they’re nothing really worth it; just stuff like promo’s for the game that played on TV. The Achievements are laughable as well and don’t promote replay value; there are only five of them, one for each mission, worth two hundred points each adding up to the usual total of a thousand points. In other words, there’s absolutely no reason to replay the game, ever, unless you just feel like reliving the story.

The stories in this game would probably have been better served as episodes of the show, really, because they’re the only reason to ever even play the game at all. The game barely feels like a game at all; more like one of those “storybook” games you’d find for little kids than a modern day Adventure genre game. If you’re a fan of CSI, the games worth a rental at absolute best; a fan would likely enjoy the cases and their stories. I can’t believe it would be worth a purchase to anyone though, even a hardcore fan. There’s just not much to it at all. Simply put; rent, don’t buy.

My Opinion: Skip It

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Ramblings: Things I Learned from Elder Scrolls Oblivion

- Grass, trees and rocks can appear out of nowhere from a couple yards out.

- Judging by the example set by Imperial Legion Forresters, after one narrowly survives a needless fight to the death with two comrades it's apparently a bitchin' time to go piss off a bear.

- Wearing a gray piece of cloth instantly makes you a wanted criminal. Taking it off, however, leaves everyone unable to recognize you, even if they were standing three feet away when you did it. How criminals haven't figured this out yet is a mystery.

- While wearing this cowl you will be wanted for "all sorts of stuff". No one will remember what, but you're damn sure wanted for it anyways.

- Don't worry; a shadow coming towards you shaped like a human with a huge sword is just a rat.

- Every single military fort is a crumbled, broken down ruin populated by ghosts, zombies and evil skeletons. Rare enchanted weapons and armor that no soldier could afford are also plentiful. No exceptions.

- Skeletons that will kill anything they come across can somehow be heroes and champions.

- When you talk to someone, even a hobo on the side of the road, everything else in the world stops moving immediately. Even fire.

- You can become a vampire merely by being hit by something they carry. Vampire lore lied to us.

- You can be forgiven for any crimes you commit merely by finding religion and hanging around nine different shrines, even if you killed fifty people and a goat.

- Hiding a secret passage out of the castle in a cell for dangerous criminals is apparently a fantastic idea.

- There are no fat people. Fat people are a lie.

- Every commoner in the world has one of only nine distinct voices.

- Someones voice can change to a completely different one at any time depending on what you say to them.

- Not only is he a mutant, Captain Picard apparently found time to be an emperor as well in between galactic journeys.