Review: Dredd 3D 4.5 stars (how awesome is that)

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Dredd 3D

I was skeptical and didn’t expect much from the remake of the Judge Dredd. If you saw the Stallone’s version you probably remember it as not-quite-that-great but passable sci-fi action. Aside from doing visual facelift and a more symmetrical smirk from Karl Urban there’s not much that could be done to remake that comic book based flick. Except this isn’t a remake, but a second take on putting original Dredd comic books on the large screen. And the movie turned out to be pretty cool.

Sure, some might complain about this not being a high-grade drama, but those kind of people don’t go to pure action movies. They probably also complain about the Expendables (both 1 and 2) and Kill Bill too. Dredd 3D is more like Kill Bill but with less katanas and more shooting, more explosions, more action.

“Standard” sci-fi things from the first movie (giant robot, flying cars) didn’t make it here. Grueling and dark semi-futuristic, but more plausible things such as even more crime, new super-drugs and urban warfare within one large building certainly did. Dredd did get a rookie-sidekick that can read minds (somewhat unreliably, but I would write it off to the heat of the moment) and a trusty multi-purpose weapon. The nature of the drug (that it slows down time) gave an excuse to include many slow motion moments, which, although being close to the “bullet time” is not as annoying and is made prettier. Bodies and bullets fly everywhere.

The outcome is pretty much predictable, but the ride itself is quite fun. Bonus points for awesome soundtrack, full of electronica.

Bayonetta 2: Wii U only, with a side of marketing BS storm

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Wii U, the new Nintendo console, is finally getting announced, and a few games with it too. Bayonetta 2 being one of such announcements. Except, there’s a bit of a firestorm over the whole thing, due to the fact that Bayonetta 2 will now be Wii U exclusive. Both Nintendo and Bayonetta fans are not amused.

Aside from some mega-vocal idiotic fan minority that curses Platinum Games and promises violence, regular fans are also upset, though keeping their emotions in check. I am upset too, as I loved the original Bayonetta — it’s fun, sufficiently violent, and has plenty of laughs in it too.

I am mostly upset over Marketing BS that Platinum Games spits out:

Bayonetta is a brand that we want to see become stronger, reaching the hands of more and more gamers, so we have continued to consult with SEGA, the previous game’s publisher, on how we can make sure this takes place. Our answer was a new partnership with Nintendo.

Sorry, but if you really want to reach hands of more gamers, then you publish your game on all platforms. It’s not that Wii U offers something extremely new and different (aside from tablet controller, which is generally useless for dynamic action game that Bayonetta is), it’s simply catching up to the current PS3/Xbox 360 platforms (heck, it’s still behind in some capabilities). So, you just hope that this new platform will do well enough and you will ride a wave of success, being one of few new games amid the bunch of ports of older titles.

That’s ok. Just say so. Or say “Nintendo agreed to finance our game development so it will be Wii U exclusive”. Which would also be fine. But babbling about expanding game reach while contracting availability? Sorry, but that upsets me.

Can you imagine screams of Nintendo fans if next Mario game would suddenly became Playstation 4 exclusive? Exactly. First Bayonetta started out as being on multiple platforms, so “be thankful that second one comes out at all” essentially means “you have to buy Wii U or you’re not fan enough”, and for many it’s not an option. Mostly because Nintendo has been building Wii platform as a family/casual gaming (with a large tidal wave of marketing tie-in crap-games), so it would be like buying a $360 game. I’m not going to play anything else that is Wii U exclusive, and getting yet another box for just one game doesn’t make much sense. Hence, I won’t play Bayonetta 2.

I guess one possible option is to rent both Wii U and Bayonetta 2 in one package. As long as that can be reasonably priced. But odds of that happening are also small.

So my only hope is that Platinum Game survives a drop in title sales (face it, Wii U won’t be able to catch up to PS3 and XBox 360 sales numbers in many many months) and then re-publishes Bayonetta 2 later for other platforms. Or just bring Bayonetta 3 to Playstation 4, Xbox 3 and Wii U. I can hope, right? :)

p.s. I probably should curb my enthusiasm for a chance of Bayonetta 3. As second installment will be linked to the brand new hardware platform, odds of selling more than 2 million copies (1.05 mil PS3 + 0.83 mil Xbox 360) are low. Which means the next round of negotiations with SEGA will be from a worse position :(

American Apparel: never ever give them email. Ever.

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So… a while ago I was stupid enough to order something from American Apparel online and used my real email — it was for a friend of mine, and ordering process was easy and experience was pleasant like a nice and sunny day. Fantastic.
Except afterwards I got an email with marketing blah. Oh well, I’ll just unsubscribe then. Click on Unsubscribe, yes, I do want to unsubscribe. Confirmation in my email box, reading “one last goodbye”. Ha-ha-ha, I was so naive.

And then a week later I got another email.
Um… didn’t I unsubscribe? And got that Last Goodbye? Fine, I’ll do it again. Unsubscribe link clicked, everything is done, confirmation with second “last goodbye” received. Well, this time it’s for real, right? Wroooong! Ten days later — new email. “Get up to 70% off top designers today!”

WTF? At this stage their online systems are already behaving like an obsessive girlfriend that you just can’t break up with. It got me very angry. So, I blasted an email to a few addresses from their web site. Michelle reassured me that everything was removed manually and she let their team know about that glich (well I thought it was a glitch, right? I was naive) and I won’t hear a peep from them again.

That was in February of this year. Guess what happened today? That’s right. It’s been a whole half a year and their systems decided that I was bored and certainly need to get Yet Another Advertising Email from them.

This time the email included this perfect little gem:

You’re receiving this email because you purchased something from the American Apparel Online Store, but didn’t subscribe with us. Subscribe to our mailing list to receive exclusive offers, invites to sales and updates on our latest styles!

What! The! F*ck?!
You didn’t subscribe with them and that’s the reason they are sending you an email? You can’t win. If you subscribe, you get the email (duh, cause you’ve subscribed) and if you don’t subscribe you get one anyway. Except this time there’s not even a pretend “unsubscribe” link, because I haven’t subscribed, ha-ha-ha.

I guess I have to block everything that has their domain from ever reaching my mailbox ever again. Did I say “ever”? Aren’t companies supposed to follow CAN-SPAM act? American Apparel certainly doesn’t seem to give a hoot.

If you absolutely have to buy something from them, do it offline. Or use throw-away email address, because you’re not getting off of their mailing list ever again.

Bye, Sprint, hello Straight Talk

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Well, I did it. I joined the ranks of people who scare the cr*p out of wireless carriers — prepaid users!

Mostly I’ve done it because Sprint pissed me off one final time™
Out of major carriers Sprint has been one of the last one(s) to offer unlimited data (now T-Mobile is back with their new unlimited plans) plus their prices used to be alright. Night and weekends from 7pm, unlimited mobile to any mobile, US+Canada messaging (yeah, I was surprised to learn that they don’t charge extra for texting people Up North), 450 “anytime” minutes, unlimited data, WiMax. Not bad. Plus I had a discount. Then they added “FU Smartphone Users” $10 fee, cancelled special hardware update perks, and in the last billing cycle wrote that I need to “re-confirm eligibility when upgrading your phone”. I know, they’re short of money, but cutting more and more of perks brought their price to the point where prepaid plans are cheaper. Their 3G is waaaay slow, WiMax is still spotty if you’re on the go, and upcoming LTE network is a bit off.

So I went back to GSM. Specifically, to Straight Talk. It took me a while to figure out which one of the MVNOs to choose. Practically all of them have a full range of plans, and generally all have sucky data options. I chose ST because:
a) they give you a choice between AT&T’s network and T-Mobile’s network, so I am familiar with the coverage, and you can use locked phone with corresponding SIM card.
b) $45 buys you unlimited talk/text/international text/data

Wow. I mean Sprint still charges you *for receiving* of international text messages. And here everything is included. I don’t use that many minutes for talk, but their $30 plan has only 30Mb of data, so, that was a no-go. AT&T’s network is bigger in my area, so I went with that. Minus is that you have to buy their SIM for $15 (unlike all the other providers, where SIM is a dollar) but I wrote it off as an “activation fee”.

Good:
– Native AT&T coverage
– International text is included
– Unlimited minutes
– Voice mail included
– Samsung Galaxy S II SkyRocket works just fine
– HSPA+ network is faster than both Sprint 3G and WiMax (I hit 3Mbps down)

Meh:
– Visual Voice Mail is not supported (the AT&T’s one, though iPhone version also doesn’t work)
– No LTE per APN restriction — don’t care much as HSPA+ is fast enough, though in retrospect it means I would have been better off with unlocked T-Mobile’s Galaxy S II, giving me more options should I decide to switch to T-Mobile’s SIM
– No call log/text log. Not critical, as minutes are unlimited, but sometimes it’s convenient to be able to log into your online account and copy/paste phone numbers etc

Bad:
– Data shenanigans, and it’s the biggest minus (but mostly on AT&T’s SIM plan).

Specifically — even though technically data is unlimited, people all over the web report that if you use it “too much” you get a warning, or get severely throttled, or outright cancelled for terms violation. That “too much” is very squishy and general consensus is that if you use under 2Gb a month and under 100Mb a day, you’re safe. I don’t use _that_ much data as I’m generally around WiFi networks, and so far I haven’t had any throttling and/or warnings. For those on T-Mobile SIM there seems to be less of a problem (perhaps T-Mobile charges Tracfone/Movil less, or their network is not overloaded like AT&T’s is). If you get terminated for using too much data, you have to call the support and ask them to turn your account back for a bit to be able to port number out (only active account allows porting out, but if you don’t care about your phone number that’s probably not an issue).

Another problem is that data is not very reliable. Frequently APN would just disconnect/become unresponsive after my phone is on WiFi for a long time. This manifests in data connection just “going away” (indicator shows that it’s connected, packets are outgoing, incoming once in a while, nothing works). Generally speaking after a bit it all comes back (sometimes it helps to switch phone to Plane mode for a while and then back, or do a quick reboot). Once it comes back, everything is fast and great. This doesn’t bother me too much, not yet anyway.

I also performed a number port, and that was an adventure. Looking back, I realize that I should have just ported my number when I activated freshly purchased SIM card. Instead I decided to run around with both phones and see which one fares better. But…

To port you have to call support and have a new SIM card shipped to you. I don’t know why, but their system simply doesn’t support re-programming of the phone number. So I’ve spent about 30 minutes talking to the support lady, then she shipped me out a new SIM with my ported number. Current temporary number got deactivated. Shipping took a few days (everything was free). Once I got the SIM, I had to call them again, to finish porting. That took another 40 minutes or so.

Representatives were very polite but it’s just a slow and tedious process. Then I was instructed to wait until my old Sprint phone stops working, and turn my phone back with the new SIM. All the remaining balance I had (about 20 days of unlimited plan) was successfully transferred. About an hour or two after finishing that lengthy chat number ported :) New phone said “Welcome to AT&T, your number porting is now complete”.

I should have simply ported number at the beginning, so if you know that coverage is fine in your area, just do that.

Otherwise, it’s a pleasant experience. And at $45 a month surely beats dealing with Sprint’s “let’s cut another little thing” issues.
Perhaps, when Sprint rolls out LTE everywhere I’ll switch to Ting. For now, Wal-Mart reselling Tracfone reselling AT&T is fine with me. Oh, and I get to roll custom roms on Galaxy S II :) AOKP JB ROMS FTW!

Update: As of October 2012 the data troubles seem to be gone, and I haven’t had issues with switching between Wi-Fi and HSPA+ in my area

Review: Darksiders II for PS3 – 4.5 stars

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Darksiders II for PS3

Frankly, I didn’t expect to buy the Darksiders II. While walk-through videos of the first game seemed nice enough, the ads for the second were all over the place. But what the heck, Fry’s has a sale, so I actually bought the game on the release day. And I don’t regret it.

Unexpected: while I thought this will be something closer to the God of War, which I love, the end result was somewhat different. It’s not as much slasher/button masher/platformer, but more of a puzzle game with elements of the button masher. Most of the time spent trying to find the right door, move balls into the position and fixing total disrepair of the world of Creators that speak with Irish accent. I don’t mind at all.

The problem so far is in a very uneven level of the puzzles. Either that, or I’m having way too many brain farts. Specifically, puzzles are either very easy and straightforward, or completely and totally confusing. Using “dusty the crow” to “help” doesn’t always do much — on a few occasions where I was trying to fix the “tears” to the forge it would fly to the door, I walk through the door, request scouting function again and it would fly right back to the door. WTF? Useless.

But most problems are bosses. It took many, many deaths to figure out that you’re supposed to roll the ball at the giant beetle (balls are all the rage in the game :P ). Slashing it while it’s upright just doesn’t work. Even if you are directly underneath it and, theoretically, should catch it in the belly. But noooo, only when hit by a ball bug flops on the side and then you can slash it. Really?

The “items” aspect is a bit odd. You’re supposed to manage the inventory and figure out which kind of mittens and flip-flops to equip to make the Nephalem do better in battle (Diablo III much? :)). Add to that the fact that there are two levels of menus, and navigating all options becomes more cumbersome than solving puzzles and killing monsters. But it’s a minor problem, hence half a star penalty.

Graphics is not bad, but not stellar. Once the game got stuck (big hall with one mask from the wall, that’s supposed to attack you, had a glich, and I’ve spent 40 minutes trying to figure out what to do, because mask simply stayed on the wall after I’ve killed summoned creatures).

Don’t care much about DLC at this point, just want to finish the story and see if Death does the opposite of his name and restore humanity, wiped out in the first Darksiders.

Now excuse me, I have a Hercules monster to punch in the face.