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.

Nexus 7: Nice Hardware, Disappointing Software

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So, I’ve spent a few days with Nexus 7, the 16Gb version. And so far the experience is generally nice, and most of the positive aspects are definitely hardware based. I went for 16Gb because there is no memory card slot, and, unlike Google-ville, I don’t live in ever-connected utopia (especially as the tablet doesn’t have 3G either) and would rather have the files being on the device instead of suffering through downloads and having useless tablet when WiFi is not nearby.

The tablet feels a bit heavier than it “should” be by looking at it (and it gives you that “crewman of the star ship Enterprise” look). Definitely solid, and well constructed. Back material feels nice, though when you put the tablet down it gives that “thunk” that makes you a bit worried about what might happen if you’re not careful enough.

Screen is nice. Mine had one dead pixel from the beginning, but for now the screen doesn’t separate (if it will, the unit will be exchanged). Sometimes the screen looks a bit odd, like somewhat washed out in the brighter part of the spectrum, and default wallpapers are just awful. Horrible banding on the background doesn’t accentuate the screen, sorry. Generally good enough for reading, but every so often it would flicker while adjusting the brightness (probably a software glitch). Touch sensitivity is also good, and everything feels rather responsive. Mostly due to the habit, I frequently try to grab the unit “the wrong way” — with camera downwards :) But that’s what you get for not having even one button. Shame, really.

Specs say that the speaker is stereo, but frankly I haven’t noticed. Mostly because the form-factor is rectangular so there isn’t much space between left and right speakers hiding behind unified grille. When watching movies, just like with iPad, all of the sound comes out of one end, which is kinda silly (you get stereo sound squished into the right side, ha-ha). It’s good enough for the notification sounds.

It would be lovely if there was some sort of a light for notifications. A tiny LED, blinking when something happened? I guess I am too used to my Motorola phone, where I can always say what’s going on without even turning on the screen.

Charging seemed to be extra slow. Plugging it into computer’s USB port didn’t do much and after staying plugged for half a day it gained, maybe, 35% of charge? Standby time seems to be good enough, and, frankly, iPad also takes forever to charge. And I don’t think it even warmed up while being charged, though playing one of the Zombie games definitely made left/bottom quite warm.

And now the bad part: Jelly Bean in it’s default form is just awful. Gosh, I knew I didn’t enjoy “pure” Android UI but this is ridiculous. It’s like a severe case of experience schizophrenia, and each instance hate each other.
Aside from lock/volume buttons, everything else is done with screen buttons. So you always have that black mourning strip at the bottom. Yet for the “purity” of the experience you don’t get “menu” button. You get ugly wire-frame-like “back” (which sometimes turns into “down” to hide the keyboard), home and app-switching. I keep trying to hit the apps-switching, forgetting that that is not the Menu/Settings thing. Sigh

Some places have Settings dots at the top, others at the bottom. Adding that to the menu makes things somewhat more confusing, as in some cases there’d be maybe one useful function (aside from some “licenses” or “about” things).

Homescreen has no notifications. Which means if you cleared the notification area from mail’s message, you won’t see that there is 20 unread emails until you actually go into the mail program. I mean come on, everyone does the little number-on-top-of-the-icon thing, including custom Android launchers. But noooo, not the Jelly Bean.

Exchange mail and Google mail are, essentially, the same, but you can’t have one unified incoming mail view. On the other hand you also can’t hide the actual folders in the “main” view, so no, you can’t have a list of incoming mail. There’ll be a strip with Inbox, Draft, Sent on the left. Plus when looking at the body of the message, you get ugly header with generic icon, that theoretically should be updated with the picture of the contact (I’m kinda scared to allow some mailing contacts to be added, as everything is synchronized across the cloud).

Scrolling in half of the cases is sideways (applications, which then flips to widgets) and in half — down. So you’ll have to guess which is what (generally you get clues in terms of partially off-screen text), but speed of scrolling is quite good.

I’ve also tried the new Google auto-card feature, but so far I haven’t done enough things for it to be useful. Yes, it shows weather. And if you have something in the calendar, that will show up too. But that’s about it. Showing path to work is useless because as soon as I take the tablet out the door, there’s no WiFi (and for whatever reason, default Jelly Bean doesn’t want to connect to tethered connection, only my laptop does that). But it’s fun to play with.

I guess I’ll have to try to find an alternative launcher (my favorite Go EX launcher is currently having some widget problems, and I haven’t seen any other good alternatives for the tablet devices so far), which is the only blessing.

p.s. Oh, and because Nexus 7 has the NFC circuit, Google Wallet actually installed and seems to be working. I suppose it wasn’t meant to be used for paying for things, but given that people take photos with an iPad, I should try to pay for a burger with a Nexus, awkward it may be… :D After all, I’ve wasted about 30 minutes on trying to activate the Wallet functionality due to low WiFi signal…

The Dark Knight Rises: huh?

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So, I have finally watched the Dark Knight Rises, the very last (for now) part of the Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga. And my primary reaction was “Huh?”.

I suppose I was a bit tired when watching it after a long day. I’m also not a big Batman fanboy — I mean I like the idea and some of the movies were alright, but I haven’t read the comic book, so I can’t really say, what plot lines the movie was based on and so forth. For me, this was just a continuation of the Dark Knight. And quite unsatisfying one at that.

Spoilers and whining below, you’ve been warned.

First of all, the movie didn’t seem to make much sense. Bane as the Evil Terrorist was supposed to both lure Batman out of retirement, torture him (for betraying that cult?) and destroy him and the city? Really? Which part was the main one? If destruction of Batman (pardon moi, attempted destruction of Batman) was such long and convoluted process, I’m scared to think how many weeks it takes him to make a breakfast for himself.
The Batman was “retired” due to Harvey Dent incident, what’s the point of trying to force him back into the suit?

If the Gotham City was supposed to be destroyed due to being a corrupt and bad place, why doing it after it was somewhat cleaned up? Why not trigger the bomb immediately, if that’s somehow was a grand idea of the cult? Or was this a clumsy and convoluted attempt to combine a personal vendetta with business of cult? Not sure.

Bane seemed a rather boring character in all. I suppose it was the mask, which restricted him to over-gesticulating and bulging eyes from time to time, plus extra pretentious speeches. At certain moments he was somewhat difficult to understand too. His motivation beyond “evil guy who wants to kill Batman” didn’t make any sense, nor did most of his actions. Heck, the Joker, who was an agent of chaos, seemed way more interesting than Bane.

Catwoman was rather fun — she had most one-liners, but there wasn’t much of her in the movie. She was instrumental in the final outcome, of course, but still, could be a bit more fun in terms of “cat-fight” between the Batman and her.

Miranda’s actions seemed clunky and odd. Revenge? Perhaps. Even after what her father did? Her involvement with the Batman seems just a fling, all while he also seemed interested in Selina and then, surprise, this billionaire girlfriend turned out to be a fake revenge-driven nutcase. Mmmm… okay…

Blake/Robin got a lot of screen time, and for a while I expected him to turn out to be the mastermind behind Bane’s madness with some greater purpose hidden somewhere in the shadows, but no, he’s just the Robin (or, perhaps, Batman’s replacement in the future movie).

Fights and chase sequences were rather fun. Gadgets weren’t quite plentiful but also fun, especially the new bat-motorcycle :) Other than that, the movie was kinda Meh — typical set of action genre inconsistencies (what, stock exchange suddenly forgot how to roll back fraudulent transactions? why didn’t Batman rip off Bane’s important-looking mask during any fights? death of the city by multi-month-long timer bomb?).

I hated the first film in the trilogy, which is probably why I don’t find the whole Ra’s al Ghul arc interesting or fascinating. I prefer the action-y parts. Or ironic parts. Or funny parts. Which is why the Dark Knight movie remains my favorite. At least for now.

Prometheus: this is what happens when idiots get into space

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Prometheus

As many other sci-fi fans, I went to see the Prometheus. That “Non-Alien” Alien movie. Which is like a prequel but not quite, because writing clear prequel was too boring, so there. And I have to say I am both pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised. Pleasant surprise — visuals. These days nobody is afraid of the guy in a rubber suit, and even edge of the first Alien is a bit dull (perhaps due to video transfer, or something else, or audience is somewhat jaded with all the high-quality photorealistic horror on the screen). And in Prometheus visuals are taken to the whole new level. Industrial design, holographic screens, even space-suits with obligatory “light up the chin to add spookieness” elements were fantastic.
Unfortunately, everything else goes down-hill pretty quickly. Essentially, this is what happens when idiots get to venture into space under a pretense of “meeting the makers”. Yes, science fiction requires you forget about little inconvenient details but here the whole plot has those little details screaming at you left and right.
Unless original movie was about three times as long and a huge amount of story got left out in the cutting room’s hard drive somewhere…
Without giving out much plot (did I just say “plot”? When “Lost” guy is involved? A-ha-ha-ha. But you might still want to stop reading right now), here’s the list of the major gripes:

- The very first scene is pointless, pretty landscape aside.
- David’s behavior is very inconsistent. I guess they were going for “creepy childhood-like innocence” angle, but got something that makes me think of malfunction or “programmed for something they didn’t tell us” thing instead (I don’t expect three-laws-safe but still).
- Dream-reading sequence is interesting, but doesn’t lead anywhere
- Not a single scientist thinks about biological contaminations. Ever. I bet they were drinking out of puddles back on earth because it looked like water too, right?
- First contact protocols be damned in general. I am grumpy if woken up unexpectedly, what would you expect from some mighty (and potentially evil) alien?
- Weyland industries spent “trillions of dollars” for the mission and got a high-school drop-out of a biologist? Really? After jumping at every noise and acting scared he goes all “coochie-coochie-coo little snakey”? WTF?
- What the heck happened to the geologist? Some sort of a mutant angle I’ve missed?
- Why did they choose Guy Pearce for that role? Was there a giant piece of story cut out?
- In order to grow from small to gi-fraking-normous things generally need to eat something.
- For goodness’ sake, when running away from round tire-like object do not run along the path. At least go diagonally, if running to the side is out of the question.
- Where the heck is the battery :)

That should do it for now. Otherwise, please turn off your brain and enjoy pretty pictures.

Diablo III: Launch night mega fail

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So, the battle with Evil is supposedly on. Except for Diablo III this Evil is way more real, and it’s name is “Error 37″.

Yet again Blizzard managed to severely underestimate the load. And when hoards of users decided to log in… well… you get “Error 37″. Hardware is expensive, and buying enough for the launch is, apparently, too much to ask.

Official Blizzard CS twitter account keeps on asking people to try again, and errors just keep on coming.

Of course the primary problem is somewhat different. Why demand that people log in even in single-user mode? I bet a sizable number of users would be happy to keep exploring single-player campaigns thus sparing Blizzard total server meltdown. But, I guess, they are too afraid of being behind the times, with multiplayer baked in forever. And the auction houses too, which pretty much precludes being able to collect gear in single mode (“it’ll be hacked!”)

And, of course, when the server craps out with Error 37, you have to type in paste your password over, and over, and over again. Because, well, who thinks about little UX problems like that?

*Sigh*

p.s. So as the launch day comes to an end, Blizzard took the servers down a number of times, for “patching”, “addressing an issue” and so on and so forth. When I was able to connect, ping was jumping up and down like Shaman’s frog, going from green to yellow to red and back in a matter of minutes. And playing on “yellow” is already practically impossible. Mega-fail :(