Top 10OK, more ground rules: I didn’t see (yet, if ever): Atonement (but I have read the book), The Savages, Sweeney Todd, 3:10 to Yuma, The Assassination of Jesse James By An Extremely Long Title, Michael Clayton, Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, and god knows what others I might have liked.

So, here’s the list:

Top 10OK, a few ground rules: I don’t own a Nintendo DS. I haven’t played Mass Effect or The Witcher. And I probably didn’t play your favorite game, or I didn’t like it. So there.

Notable games that didn’t make the cut: Crysis and Call of Duty 4. The former made the latter’s linearity and heavily scripted gameplay feel very, very tired, and I’ve already documented how much Crysis ultimately disappointed me.

So, here’s the list.

Call of Duty 4

It’s hard for me to gauge my feelings on this game because I played it in its entirety after I’d started Crysis (but hadn’t reached its sucking bits). Its linear, heavily scripted gameplay—even when implemented with as much skill as Infinity Ward delivers here—feels tired and dull compared to the open-endedness of Crysis. Yeah, all of those in-engine scripted scenes are amazing. But we all get the same amazing scenes, and we all play it the same way. (I didn’t try multiplayer, and I’m told it’s fantastic. I also played it on the 360 instead of the PC, only because I borrowed it rather than bought it.)

Still, a few segments stood out. The sniper mission is brilliant, beautifully capturing a feeling of dread and panic that you’ll be detected. (The fact that you and your companion look like Treebeard is a bonus.) The only goofy part is crawling under a parade of cars in the open; in a “real” scenario, you’d probably just go around the soldiers.

The second is an airborne attack, where sit in a plane high above the action coldly launching bombs, rockets, and various other implements of death at little white dots that scurry about. That those dots are people—and the fact your fellow soldiers in the plane are constantly offering accolades when you score a good hit—probably says more about modern war than any Hollywood polemic. And it was so obvious that there’d be collateral damage, though that’s never discussed.

Whether or not Infinity Ward designed it to be unsettling or not (and in the context of a game that’s mostly “rah rah, soldiers are fucking badass!” I’m going to go with “no”), it disturbed me. While the game makes it clear you’re fighting against “very bad people,” it made modern war seem horribly unfair, particularly when contrasted against most games being forced to “balance” the US versus its enemies for gameplay purposes.

With a week off, I figured I’d catch up on my backlog of games. Some old, some new. Some borrowed, some… blah

First up, Crysis.

Oh dear.

I wanted to love it, I really did.

My most anticipated game of the year turns out to be my biggest disappointment. The people that gave it such high reviews must either dig the multiplayer or have stopped playing about mid-way through the game. Because for its first half, it’s the greatest sandbox combat simulator ever, 100% worthy of its 98s and 5-stars, and 10/10 cups of drool.

You can create these amazing stories, like the time I was being chased by a helicopter, cloaked, ran into a building… and then the helicopter started launching rockets into all the buildings, eventually hitting mine, causing it to collapse on my head and kill me. That’s not a scripted scene like you find in Call of Duty 4. (More on that one later.) Another favorite was driving my Hummer into a village, hop out, let it roll into the middle, then shoot out its rather conveniently placed above-bumper-placed gas can and have the vehicle explode into a fiery ball, taking out half the soldiers. I did that twice.

But once it hits the “zero-g” segment, crikey. That entire stretch is a total momentum killer. (And to think I’d signed up a cover story just to reveal this segment; it would have been our June issue, I believe.) Poor controls, vague objectives, confusing and boring layouts. There’s even a stretch where you get to sit around for a few minutes waiting.

And once you emerge from this boring stretch, you’re hit with chaos. And not the good kind of chaos, like you get in a firefight. It’s the kind where you die and have no idea how or why. You also get stretches where your framerate dips into the single digits. You get boss fights that are comically bad. You get a horrible flying segment. You get… oh, forget it. It’s just terrible from start to finish. Some of the gameplay segments appear to be engine showcases more than good design decisions. (“Look, see? We can do that! Sign up our engine today!”)

Why doesn’t Crytek trust the brilliance of its core gameplay? This game could have been escalating military action from start to finish and been “Game of the Year” material. Instead, it’s just another shooter too obsessed with throwing “new stuff” at the player every hour.

Like many, I have an impossible crush on Tina Fey. And possibly a man-crush on Alec Baldwin, particularly after his “therapy” scene with Tracy Jordan a few weeks ago. (It has to be seen to be believed.)

But tonight’s episode contained the funniest, nastiest line. One that only a few people could possibly get.

Liz Lemon’s family visits her in NYC, and her father Dick actually says, “It wouldn’t be a Lemon party without old Dick.”

Now, to get this, you’d have to be familiar with “lemon party.” And if you’re not, you don’t want to type that into Google. Trust me. Some things can’t be un-seen.

Oh for fuck’s sake. I move away from Burlington and my future wife Neko Case rolls into town (in January) for a “let me preview some of my new material” concert. Sheesh.

Clearly, this game was ahead of its time.

Bill and Saddam

I hate Spring Mario.

There, I said it. I hate something about Super Mario Galaxy.

If I posted this on a forum, I’d be flamed. My opinions on gaming would no longer have any validity. I’d probably be called an anti-Semite racist for good measure too.

It’s amazing how much of a free pass people give Nintendo, especially a Mario game. If anyone else released this exact game, every review would be full of criticisms: Too little health, too much “try and die” gameplay, too linear, etc. Instead, it’s mostly, “Best Game Ever Made!”

Let’s use one example. You have three health, with an occasional red mushroom that doubles it. (These are usually found before a boss battle.) To offset the decrease in health, Galaxy has occasional save points within a galaxy, and there are plenty of ways to get an extra life. (By the end of any session, I’ll typically have twenty or more… of course they reset back to five every time you reload. Bah.)

But let’s say another game does this, say something with space marines or a dude with a gun. People would be screaming that repeatedly killing off the player isn’t gameplay or game design, it’s sadism. Why isn’t it more next-gen? What about letting the player save anywhere? Where’s the open-endedness? Why is there no player choice? Where’s the branching narrative?

None of these are particularly great criticisms of Super Mario Galaxy, but no one would dare raise any of these kinds of issues for a couple of reasons. One is that it’s never had these features. Of course it never was in 3D until Mario 64, so I’m not sure why we don’t expect it to evolve more with the times. Super Mario Galaxy isn’t exactly a re-imagining of the franchise for the Wii—it’s merely a better version of Super Mario Sunshine—but no one would accuse Nintendo of resting on its laurels, of not challenging its players, of not pushing gaming forward.

You don’t dare criticize a big Nintendo game. You would receive so much hate, threats, people saying you hate gaming (and possibly Jesus), and attacks on your overall credibility for daring to offer (possibly legitimate) criticism.

Like Spring Mario. I fucking hate Spring Mario. Yeah, a spring wrapped around Mario. It’s cute. But who thought it was a good idea to take the best thing about a Mario game—running! jumping!—and throwing it out to make the movement horrible, and the jumping even more horrible? And why would you build entire levels around horrible movement and jumping?

So can you love Super Mario Galaxy and hate Spring Mario? Probably not. Clearly I hate gaming. And freedom. The terrorists have won.


So, I started my Saturday morning with a lovely, 11:20AM showing of No Country For Old Men, which is as bleak a movie as you may see this year. It’s about mythology, or at least how bullshit most mythology really is. It’s about romancing a past that doesn’t exist. It’s about fate, or at least its cousin dumb luck. It’s a movie about a guy who finds money, but it’s really just about a bunch of shit that happens. It’s about random violence, and horrible, horrible planned violence.

And it has Javier Bardem giving the year’s most chilling performance. And Tommy Lee Jones giving a profoundly sad one. And Josh Brolin giving a surprisingly subtle and fantastic one. And Kelly Macdonald doing an amazing job hiding her Scottish accent behind a thick Texas drawl, and breaking your heart in the process.

I’ve read the book (by Cormac McCarthy), and it’s a pretty faithful adaptation by those lovable pranksters the Coen brothers. But it’s by far their most straightforward movie in years. It’s not clever, it’s not snarky. It has black humor, and it looks gorgeous. It moves slowly, lingering over every pool of blood. And it has almost no music, just a lot of ambient sounds, like someone unscrewing a lightbulb. It’s full of tension, but has little action.

So, go see it, friend-o.

Thank god someone’s still doing big, dumb, and a fun muzak. Here’s “Tick Tick Boom” by The Hives.

(We’ll see how long this embeddable video lasts; for some inexplicable reason, Universal Music doesn’t let you embed “official” versions of its videos. Weenies.)

Also, I’m buying as much music as possible from’s MP3 service. If emusic didn’t require a monthly subscription, I’d be buying it there. Support non-iTunes (or non-DRM) music stores.

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