Ben Rhodes

Ben Rhodes (240)

Favorite Book:  Cryptonomicon
Favorite MovieYoung Frankenstein
Favorite Absolutely Everything:  Monty Python

Star Wars TOR slideI should start by clearing up one thing. This will not be a review; the game is too big for a review this close to launch. I have spent close to twenty hours playing this game, and I have finished the prologue. I shall assume that you have at least a passing understanding of MMOs like SWTOR.  When I say that this isn’t Star Wars WoW, you should have an idea of what I mean. This is why I love the game. I played about an hour or two of WoW, after it went free to play, and I hated it. There were no hooks to pull me into the game. I felt no sense of ownership with my character. The story was the slimmest excuse for mechanics I have ever seen, and the world just felt silly. Back to Star Wars.

Cowboys & Aliens tells you everything you need to know right there in the title. If the idea of cowboys fighting aliens sounds cool to you, there’s a really good chance that you will enjoy this movie; if not, I don’t understand how you can get out of bed each morning. Like the similarly-titled Snakes on a Plane, this is a movie that delivers exactly what it promises. Before you get panicky, it is much less cheesy than SoaP; in fact, Cowboys & Aliens treats its western roots with tremendous care and obvious affection.

On Friday, as you may have seen, a woman at a Los Angeles-area Wal-Mart pepper-sprayed about twenty people to defend a stash of Xboxes. Another Wal-Mart customer was shot in the parking lot in a robbery. These may be the most egregious cases of assault this year, but reading news accounts of Black Friday behavior is a new holiday tradition, as sure as getting sick of Christmas music by Thanksgiving. You are, I’m sure, thinking of the Wal-Mart employee who was trampled to death a few years ago. To death. I cannot state this strongly enough; a bunch of people were so excited about the chance to save a hundred dollars on a shitty TV or whatever that they trampled a man to death. Perhaps, we need to rethink some things.

As I have mentioned before, being a poor video game reviewer this time of year is strangely pressuring. Yes, there are countless great and interesting games being released right now, but I will never be able to review all of them promptly. This problem was even more heightened this past week. On Friday, 11/11/11/11, The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim was released, and the following Tuesday saw the release of Assassin’s Creed: Revelations, the tenth anniversary of Halo, and Saint’s Row the Third.

There is a wonderful thing that happens each year around this time. Thousands of video gamers and nerds gather together and give millions of dollars every year to children’s hospitals. The goal is not to provide money for treatment or cures; those are pretty well covered by other charities. Child’s Play is a charity that gives video games, books, and toys to these hospitals, so that the kids aren’t forced to think about being sick the whole time they are trapped in the hospital.

This is the worst time of the year to be a fan of video games. The conventional wisdom is that there is no time to release a big budget video game like the holiday season. There are three reasons for this that I can see. One is that this is the time of the year when video games are more likely to be given as gifts. Another reason is that, at the end of the year, video game journalists compose their top ten lists. For this reason game companies try to have their best products released around that time, much like a film with Oscar aspirations is more likely to be released a month before the Oscars than a month after. Finally, I think this practice is largely in place, because this is the way it is done. There are some notable exceptions. Mass Effect 2 was released in January of last year, to incredible sales and critical acclaim, and went on to win a number of Game of the Year awards. Red Dead Redemption was released in May of last year, and achieved the same thing. These are the exceptions. This year, six games that all aspire to GOTY status are releasing in five weeks. It should go without saying that these games also aspire to break sales records and make everyone involved into gajillionaires. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, released last week, was one of these contenders. (Ed. I swear Ben, if you make a Marlon Brando joke, you’ll never write for FBC again.)

Batman: Arkham City is perhaps the best comic adaptation I have ever seen. It has more scope than the Nolan Batman movies, more villains than the X-Men movies, and gives you a better sense of being a superhero than any other video game has.

The rough plot is simple: the former warden of Arkham Asylum has been elected mayor and closed off a large section of the city. Then, every single prisoner from the asylum and the regular prison has been deposited in the new facility to survive or not, as best as they can. Think Escape From New York with better special effects and super villains. Obviously, things go poorly, and Batman sets out to save the day.

John Carpenter’s The Thing is my new favorite horror movie. It generally goes for the long scare rather than the cat jumping out at you. Rather than cultivating terror, this film generates dread. This is achieved by breaking many of the rules for horror and following many of the rules of a mystery. There’s no damsel in distress, or damsel of any kind, and while things start to go wrong almost immediately after the movie starts, the villain isn’t revealed or even properly teased until we are maybe fifteen minutes in. We do get a strong sense of unease, but no real details are revealed until the characters visit the Norwegian base, which is the setting of the prequel. What this movie does so well is resist the temptation to become a monster movie, even after the scariest monster I’ve ever freaking seen is revealed.

One of the disadvantages of writing about video games is that, in general, most sales happen in the first week. Further compounding that is the huge number of sales that happen on the first day. So, in order for a video game review to be relevant, it has to feature games that haven’t come out yet, or games that weren’t too popular and might have been missed by a large potential audience. This is just one of the odd and slightly broken things about this hobby of mine.

Just to complicate things more for our dear reviewers, only the largest publications get early access to video games. As a writer about video games for a smaller website (I love you guys!), my MO is usually to focus on those smaller games. I thought I’d try something new this week.

Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley’s new comic, Brilliant, is another version of the “Superpowers in the Real World” genre. This is hardly a new idea; Action Comics was treading this ground decades ago, but the appeal here isn’t the fresh new take on superpowers. The appeal is in the story and characters.

*Spoilers to follow*

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