God Only Knows

Bioshock Infinite

Not that many games get people talking about their stories, and few receive as much hype and controversy as Bioshock Infinite. In all the noise of that discussion and analysis, not enough time is spent discussing the actual gameplay. Which is a shame, because I had enough fun playing Infinite to recommend it on its combat’s merits alone. This is a hell of a game, one that cannot live up to the impact of the first game in the series, but I still believe will be remembered as an amazing title that will keep those conversations fueled for years.

It’s 1912. You’re Booker DeWitt, a Pinkerton sent on a quest to retrieve a girl to wipe out his massive gambling debt. That girl is Elizabeth, who is trapped in Columbia, a flying city. Columbia was designed to embody the American dream, but as time went on it became more extreme and finally seceded from the Union. Now it floats over the Atlantic Ocean as a perversion of the American dream, where the founding fathers are worshiped as gods and prejudice is prevalent. Infinite‘s exploration of religion, nationalism, racism, and freedom is much more ambitious than the first Bioshock‘s singular focus on objectivism, and all the greater for it.

Everything isn’t as it seems in Columbia, or at least as you might think a floating city in 1912 might seem. Beyond the social, political, and theological issues you’ll encounter, there are also tears – pockets through space and time that appear throughout your adventure. It furthers the sense of how strange and out-of-place Columbia is, and understanding their nature is not necessarily a twist, but a slow, beautiful revelation that left my jaw on the floor. Settings in games are rarely this expansive and dense, and Columbia, especially with its anachronistic music, will surely stick in my mind for years to come.

Once Booker meets Elizabeth, she will be at his side for the majority of the game. Escort quests are just about everybody’s least favorite, and even good examples of this kind of thing, like Alyx from Half Life 2, pretty much just have the escorted get out of the way of the escortee. Elizabeth is better than that. She helps in combat, scrounging healing items and changing the environment using her metaphysical powers to rip things into reality through tears. While you’re exploring, she’ll look around too, interacting with things that amuse her, picking locks, and even pointing out things you should grab. It all goes a long way to create a sense of attachment to Elizabeth, to the point that it feels weird and crippling to not have her around.

Booker can handle himself, however. In traditional Bioshock fashion, he’s all about using a combination of weapons to win a fight. In his right hand, he has a variety of guns, from the practical to the realistic. In his left, he has the power of vigors, this game’s version of plasmids. Vigors let Booker summon swarms of flesh-eating crows or throw around bolts of lightning. It is using both of these together that makes combat in this game special, especially when you introduce the third piece of Booker’s combat trinity: the sky-hook. The sky-hook lets Booker melee enemies in a particularly brutal fashion, but it also lets him hook onto Columbia’s sky-lines and basically roller coaster around the environment. When Infinite puts you in an arena with a variety of enemies, rails to ride, and tears to open, its combat is as fun and engaging as anything else in the genre.

That’s what I love about Bioshock games. Not only are their stories fascinating and, more importantly, only work in the video game world, where the player as agency, but they are first person shooters. They are in the same genre as Call of Duty. And while the whole genre downplays the importance of single player, these games come out without even a multiplayer mode. Is the game perfect? No, I would say there are definitely some aspects, like the fact that the game expects you to constantly be scrounging for supplies, that keep me from saying that. But it is a remarkable game and one I’m still thinking about two days after I beat it. Infinite is definitely an experience anyone who cares about video games should have.

I Ain’t Raiding No Tombs

Tomb Raider

Tomb Raider is the latest in a long line of series reboots that just couldn’t think of a clever title, so it just called itself the same name as the first game. Except, it’s not entirely clear if this is a new Lara Croft, or the untold origins of the same Lara from all the other games. It doesn’t really matter, I never played those games anyway… I always assumed her character design was compensating for something, possibly terrible gameplay, and shied away from the franchise. Well now’s a great time to jump on, right? Right.

Tomb Raider is a game about confidence. The story begins rather abruptly, with Lara on board a ship that is quickly destroyed in a storm, leaving her stranded on another of gaming’s maniac islands. She is scared, cold, injured, and desperate to survive. She has no faith in herself, constantly doubting her abilities. The Lara we see in the early cinematics has to constantly be encouraged, with the other survivors from the shipwreck often reminding her, “you can do this.”

Of course she can. As a gamer, you know your character is always a badass, and when you’re in control of Lara, she acts like one. She can kill dozens of armed goons like its nothing. She can summit sheer walls with nothing but a MFing axe, smashing it deep into rock as she jumps up. The disconnect between the gameplay and the story is profound, until you realize this story isn’t about Lara growing into a tougher self, but rather it’s about her discovering who she was, who everyone already knew she was, the whole time. It’s a solid character arc, but the rest of the story is hardly interesting. Most of it seems to be cribbed from Uncharted 2, complete with a final boss who asks, “Who’s the real villain? How many did you kill to get to me?” The other survivors are extremely one dimensional, nobody cares if they die.

The gameplay is pretty Uncharted, as well. Lots of climbing, shooting, and a bit of puzzle solving to round it all out. The island is pretty and the environments on it are varied enough that they kept me interested. You’re free to explore the island at your leisure, and, being a video game, there are plenty of collectibles to find, which give you XP and salvage, which you use to unlock new abilities and upgrade your weapons, respectively. It’s all very nice and modern and not particularly exciting but plenty fun. The only actual tombs in the game are all optional and too short, but fun enough instances of puzzle solving that I’d recommend seeking them out. Hey, I like games like these, and Tomb Raider is good at being this.

It also has a multiplayer mode, because that worked out for Uncharted 2, too. I guess some folks really like this, but when you suck away all the cinematic and story elements from the single player campaign, I’m not really interested. Multiplayer seems fine, from what I played of the game’s requisite deathmatch, team deathmatch, and attack-and-defend modes. There are unlocks and levels and all that jazz too, if you want to commit. I know that’s designed to keep people invested, but I really wish games would just let me choose the characters and weapons I want right off the bat – I guess that’s really a systemic problem with the whole industry right now, not just this game.

But really, what I was impressed with in Tomb Raider was the story. I came into this knowing how touchy the gaming community is about female protagonists, and how badly some aspects of the story had been advertised. While she’s not as snarky and fun as Nathan Drake, I certainly think Lara is in his company. I liked playing as one of gaming’s icons, in a series I had otherwise ignored. That makes Tomb Raider a pretty good game in my book… of games that either bad or good.

T3 53: Top 10 Reasons To Not Be Excited About The Mariners Season

Last year, we still had some hope. We did an entire episode dedicated to how the 2012 Mariners season was a thing we were capable of looking forward to… We were so naive. Not this year, no sir. We know the score now, we’re pretty used to being disappointed by the M’s. So we’re taking a different approach, a darker approach, a meaner approach. Cause hey, what have the Mariners done for us lately? Well, they gave King Felix a big contract for one. But let’s not think about the good stuff. Let’s think of the bad. The reasons NOT to be excited about the Mariners season.

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T3 52: Behind The Defenestrators

With Sean ailing from a mysterious strand of super ebola, the rest of the gang was forced to improvise and settled on doing something that we all are good at, reminiscing. So to celebrate the tenth anniversary of our beloved band The Defenestrators, here’s a complete oral history of the band from it’s humble beginnings as the Dancing Spleens.

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Retrospecticus: David Bowie, Part 2 – Ich Bin Ein Bowier

David Bowie was a thing now. With Ziggy Stardust he had created a new kind of theatrical, character-based music that would pave the way for Chris Gaines, Sasha Fierce and Hannah Montana. But by the mid-1970s, the Spiders from Mars had started to go away, and Bowie himself retired Ziggy and moved to the United States. The times, they were a-changing, but, of course, David Bowie wrote the song on changes.

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New Moon Rising

The Men – New Moon

In the world of music, progress can be a tricky thing.  Usually, a band gets noticed for coming up with a particular sound, and then are expected to either pursue that sound and satiate their fans’ appetite for said sound, or they can try and venture in to new, unexplored musical territory.  The Men of course have chose to pursue the latter, as they almost sound like a completely different band from the noisy punks on 2011’s Leave Home.   I’m sure this could be upsetting for someone that got into the band for that album, but I was more drawn to The Men on last year’s genre-hopping Open Your Heart.  And now that I think of it, my favorite track from that album was the country-tinged ballad “Candy”, so I have no problem with how New Moon infuses a bit more of that twang in to The Men’s messy brand of rock.

It’s weird that I had kind of an averse reaction to this album’s down-home sound on first listen, as my initial thought was, “whoah, these guys went too country.  Where is the rock?”  But as I listen to it more and more, New Moon seems less country, and more and more like it’s indebted to the classic rock sounds of artists like CCR and Tom Petty.  There are also still a few songs on the album that still have that noisy punk rock vibe, such as the energetic single “Electric”, it’s just that these songs contain a bit more craft, and are more, well songs, than the sloppy jams of their earlier albums.

I think because The Men often rock so hard and expel so much energy, it usually seems extra poignant and justified when they slow down a bit, which is exemplified by my favorite track on New Moon, the blissfully world-weary “Bird Song”.  However, it doesn’t seem that The Men have any intention of slowing down in terms of putting out new material, since in a recent interview they had stated that they were already planning on recording another album to be released next year.  Yup, that’s five albums in five years.  Now that’s the kind of work ethic I can get behind.

Favorite Tracks: “The Seeds”, “Electric”, “Bird Song”