GTA V Review: Why I Disagree With The Reviewer

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Author's Note: It has been a very long time since I've done this, so I'll likely post a link to this in the General Games Discussion for further debate later on. I'm not going to respond as much, because I have college (studying for my bachelor's in computer science), but rest assured... I am not going to simply post and run.


This past week, Gamespot's review of Grand Theft Auto V was posted, and to say that the response was inflammatory would be a vast understatement. I'm sure Ms. Petit's inbox is simply overflowing with detractors calling for her to quit, as well as death threats. Even Feedbackula weighed in, basically calling the very people they rely on for their show childish and immature over their handling of the review.

I absolutely disagree with a lot of the more abusive commentors. There's a right way and a wrong way to voice dissent with an opinion. The wrong way is "You need to be fired LOL u suck as a reviewer go die in a fire." At that point, it's merely venting, and serving no constructive purpose other than to get you banned.

The right way? "I respectfully disagree with your assestment of the game, here's why. *proof*" I admit it's not as cathartic as wishing ill on someone, but it will let you keep your account, and both you and the person you disagree with may learn something.

Putting my money where my mouth is...

I disagree with Ms. Petit's cons in regards to the misogyny and "political muddiness" she experienced playing GTA V. I feel as if she may have missed the trends of previous games and forgotten that two principles appear to operate in GTA's worlds.

1. Satire

Satire is the use of exaggerated and (occasionally) comical elements to show criticism of some (or many) aspects of a society, a corporation, or a lifestyle. Some of the best modern examples are Terry Pratchett's "Discworld" novels and the movie Idiocracy.

The heart of each GTA game is an satiric version of American society, politics, and attitudes to things like guns and property. You can walk into Ammo-Nation and buy a fully automatic rifle for a few dollars. You can break into a car, take it for a drive through the streets of Liberty City, Vice City or San Andreas, gun down dozens (or even hundreds) of innocent bystanders, torch the car when you're done, and not only will nothing happen (as long as you outwait your "wanted level"), but the game will simply replace the people and cars as if nothing happened. Even the talk radio station in each game is filled with characatures of political pundits on actual radio and TV stations (such as Fox and MSNBC).

Such exaggeration is meant to show the player the flaws in U.S. culture and politics. GTA is not subtle or shy about its contempt for the American way of life, either.

When viewed from this perspective, the issue of the treatment of women by GTA games becomes less of something to be contemptuous of, and more of a spark to create discussion ("Why do the characters feel it's okay to beat a hooker to death for a refund on their money? Why is every woman a stripper?"). The misogyny is exaggerated to shed light on the actual (apparent) treatment of women in popular media (something that can be debated).

2. Unreliable Narrator

I've become very aware of this convention in recent months. After reading John Dies At The End (the movie wasn't nearly as good as the book) and This Book Is Full Of Spiders, and watching The Life Of Pi, this particular narrative structure has become quite fascinating to me, and I'm actively looking for new books and movies that use it.

A prime example of the technique is in The Dark Knight. Every time the Joker brings up the scars on his cheeks, the story behind them changes (as per the Madman version of the technique).

To such a character, especially a criminal, everyone around them will appear differently than they would to a "normal" person. All women are shrewish or slutty (because that's all the character cares about); all cops are corrupt (Officer Tenpenny in San Andreas); no one can be trusted, because everyone will turn on you (Lance Vance, Sonny Forelli, half of CJ's old gang, etc.).

Seeing the torture scene and the paparazzi mission in GTA V, it's clear that at least one person is self-servingly trying to distort the actual events to clear their conscience.

Because of those two story-telling techniques, I respectfully disagree with Ms. Petit's criticism of GTA V, and her reasons for giving it a lower score.

********************************************

...and that is how you voice dissent in a mature, reasoned way.

Need Help!!!

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After teasing the hell out of the kids for a few weeks, my wife finally let me hook up the Wii she got the kids for Christmas.

The reactions were varied:

Wife: "Now I can go out and get Wii Fit!!!" (I restrained myself pretty well by not correcting her, and calling it "Wii Fat.")

The little ones: "Cool!!!" (They're younger than 10, and the Wii's target audience, so I let that one go, too.)

Teenage son: "Pretty good. Let's see what this puppy does." (...I have officially failed as a gamer parent.)

I kept my mouth shut. Over the past few weeks, I've seen exactly 4 games out of the entire Wii library that I have any interest in whatsoever. It's as if the developers have completely and utterly abandoned those of us who have had a Wii inflicted upon us.

Worst of all, the odds of getting a real gaming system in the near future (like an upgraded PC) are slim-to-none. It's enough to make me want to scream.

That's why I need your help. The games I may be interested in are "No More Heroes 1 and 2," "MadWorld" and "Dead Rising." If anyone has any other ideas, let me know.

Oh... no, I am not interested at all in anything with Mario, Zelda, or Metroid, and I really can't stand JRPGs (not enough character customization). Anything else is fair game.

What I'd Like To See In The Next Decade: A Game For Adults Only (EDITED)

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Author's Note: It has been a long time since I did one of these, so if it seems a bit rough, bear with me.

Also, this isn't the place to argue whether or not this is, indeed, a new decade. Technically, it's still the first decade; psychologically, it's the next one. It's not big deal.

Finally, as always, my views are my own; feel free to disagree. ;)

(NOTE #2: Thanks to BrunoBRS for pointing out that it was Nintendo and not Microsoft that refused to release "Manhunt 2" w/ an AO rating; that has now been corrected. :D )

It's the rarest sight in the gaming world... rarer than the unicorn, or Loch Ness Monster, or Bigfoot. It scares the console manufacturers so much that they refuse to allow a publisher to distribute any games that receive one:

Adults Only ESRB rating

Scared yet?

In the upcoming decade, I would like someone, once and for all, to release a game with one of those on the box. Furthermore, I would like to see it done that way on purpose, not accidentally like "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas." It has nothing to do with wanting to play such a game: quite honestly, I doubt I would play such a game unless it had a compelling story, or fell into one of my preferred genres. It has more to do with the continued misperception of gamers as immature, and shattering that stereotype once and for all.

Just to recap, two games have stumbled into this "forbidden zone" of gaming in recent memory:

"GTA: SA" did so inadvertently, when intrepid gamers (doing what they do normally) stumbled on the "Hot Coffee" sex minigame. The furor that followed (further inflamed by then-Senator Hillary Clinton) resulted in a re-rating of the game, which caused retailers to pull all copies from the shelves, and Rockstar/Take-2 to re-release the game with the "offending" content removed.

"Manhunt 2" received the dreaded "AO" on its first trip through the ratings process. Nintendo and Sony put their feet down and said, "no release on our consoles." Subsequently, the game was recut to eliminate the "objectionable" material, the game was re-rated M, and everyone was happy (though PSP owners were very happy when they were able to hack the game to its pre-ESRB-friendly state).

Why Do We Need An AO Game?

In the long run, the continued caving-in of the games developers/publishers is hurting the adult gamers who crave something other than the standard generic shooters and rhythm games (the "safe" bets). I would have gladly paid to play "Six Days In Fallujah" for example, simply because it promised to be a lot more than "just" another shooter; the perception that immature teens would treat the events in the game too lightly led to its cancellation, however. Slapping an "AO" on it would have ensured that the content was experienced only by those mature and responsible enough to handle it.

Another benefit would be treaing adults like responsible individuals. Too frequently, the media blasts violent or sexually explicit games because "the kids might play them." If we're old enough to maintain a residence, a car, and a job, what makes you think we're not old enough to keep an AO game out of our kids' hands?!?

Finally, games would be put in the same category as such media as movies and music, and therefore not given "special" restrictions that they don't warrant. The idea that a computer-animated decapitation is somehow more disturbing than any of the hundreds of thousands that can be seen in the movies is laughable... or that viewing a naked 3D animation of a woman is more "damaging" than watching "American Pie" uncut on cable.

How Can This Be Achieved?

This is the "pure speculation" part of this editorial; you can likely skip it and still not miss anything of substance. :D

As far as I can tell, there are only three current developers who could pull this off:

Rockstar Games may seem to be the easy bet here. They've proven that they are perfectly willing to not only push the envelope, but set the thing on fire if it gets in there way. What they haven't proven is their willingness to stand behind their games and fight for them as they intended them to be played; each time the dreaded "AO" comes their way, they make cuts to keep their "M" alive.

Relic Entertainment may seem like a baffling choice, but their real-time strategy games are as bloody as it gets at the moment; it wouldn't take much to push their Warhammer 40,000-licensed games to the next level of violence. If certain aspects of WH40K were implemented into "Dawn of War" the rating could very easily hit the AO mark.However, the impersonal nature of RTSs may actually work against such a high rating.

Bioware is my pick for the first AO game, simply for two reasons: "Mass Effect" (which allows you to take another character to bed; if it went a tiny bit further, BOOM!) and EA Games, which came to Bioware's defense over the ME controversy and actually has the resources to leverage the console manufacturers into loosening their restrictions.

Of course, there's always the possibility that a big-name developer could create the needed game on the PC (where the AO restriction doesn't apply), hype it enough to make it into the AAA sales category, and bypass the (decidedly skittish) retailers by making it digital sales only. It's very slim, but it has potential.

Conclusion

A big-name adult game needs to happen at some point in order for gaming to be taken seriously as a medium, in much the same way as movies and books are taken seriously. I'd like to see it in te next decade, and I'd really like to see it succeed.

Three Concerts and GTA Thoughts

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Last August, I got to see Creed live for the first time ever. I have wanted to see them for a while now, and their spectacular implosion at the beginning of the decade put that on hold (I thought it would do so for good).

It didn't start well: the opening bands were unknowns: a local band named Lunica (or Lunika? they didn't really make that clear) who played a kind of hard rock with violins(!); Like a Storm, from New Zealand, came next, and basically played grunge covers and swore their heads off (which jarred harshly with Creed's styIe). If their intentions were to make us thankful for the headliners to step on the stage, they did their jobs; if they were looking to sell records... not so much.

What's frustrating is, for the dates following Saratoga, Staind replaced them as openers. I would have preferred that to the schizophrenic mess I was subjected to.

Creed stepped on the stage, though, and blew us all away.

You may not like their music, or their message (that always confused me: how can you be against a world of equality and love?!?), but if you ever see them live, that will not matter: on stage, in person, they stop being a band, and transform into a phenomenon. It's hard to put into words how much singer Scott Stapp's charisma and guitarist Mark Tremoni's on-stage chemistry combine to create a perfect storm of music and showmanship that sweeps you up and transports you.

The only negative? They played one song from "Full Circle," which they had not released (neither the song nor the CD were on hand to listen to for two more months); either they needed to release the song ("Overcome") before the tour, or refrain from playing it.

Otherwise... even 5 months later, I'm still blown away when I think of that night.

Next up:

My son talked me into taking him to see Trivium at a local club venue (Northern Lights) in November with my cousin's oldest son and their friend. I'm not repeating that mistake any time soon... it ******* hurt.

For the record: I'm not a fan of Trivium. I saw them live in 2004 when they opened for Iced Earth, and was more impressed with the band that was on before them (Beyond the Embrace). The only reason I was there was to act as guardian for three underage kids who wanted to see their favorite metalcore band... which happens to be Trivium. *sigh*

It started okay: the first of the four bands on the ticket was Dirge Within, a band I had never heard of. They impressed me a lot with their stage presence and musicianship (enough to go out and find their debut album, "Force Fed Lies"... not great, but solid groove metal that reminds me somewhat of Machine Head).

The next band up was Whitechapel, a deathcore band... and that's when things got rough. Their fanbase is the kind of hardcore crowd that considers it an honor to put someone in the hospital, and they don't care who. Consequently, we ended up at the edge of two mosh pits, and got pummeled quite a bit before security started to clear things up.

In the span of 45 minutes, the night went from "cool!!!" to "anyone got an aspirin?" My cousin's kid got the worst of it: the next day, my son (who's in the same homeroom) informed me that he'd discovered a chipped tooth and a broken nose.

To make matters worse, Whitechapel sucked. It was like 3/4 of an hour of listening to someone vomit while WW III was going on around them.

Then Chimaira hit the stage... and they owned the stage. Trivium could just as well have headed back to Florida at that moment, because they were NEVER going to top Chimaira that night (I'll admit to a bit of anti-Trivium bias on that score, though, to be fair). I had never heard Chimaira before that night (never heard of them either), however, and I have regretted it since. I actually went out over then next month or so and picked up their entire catalog on CD, and have been listening to them pretty much non-stop since... yes, they impressed me that much.

(If you're a fan of Machine Head, "The Impossibility of Reason" is a solid introduction to what I firmly believe is a truly amazing group of musicians; I might just write up a review of all 5 of their discs in the next week or so.)

Once they left the stage, Trivium came on and my brain just checked out. The kids had fun with it, though, so it was (sort of) worth it.

Last show:

Trans-Siberian Orchestra's annual show came through in mid-December, and, as usual, we went to go see it. As usual, they put on an amazing show... but there was a definite change in the atmosphere from previous years.

For one thing, the second half of the concert was devoted mostly to music from their new album, "Night Castle." The new CD is good, but very dark; because of that, the resulting mood was kind of anti-Chrstmas when a "Night Castle" song was played. As my friend put it, "I wouldn't have been surprised to see Lucifer strut out on stage in the second half with a guitar and join in." :|

Now... on to the games:

So far, "San Andreas" has impressed me the most gameplay-wise. There's so much to (too much, it seems like sometimes) that you just can't get bored even if you try. I really wish it had "Vice City's" soundtrack, though (there's nothing quite as surreal as shooting random civilians to "Peace Sells"...).

As far as controversial content, though... I don't get it. What makes GTA such a target? I can pretty-well guarantee that there's more violence in a Troma Team film, and more sex in "Basic Instinct," than I've seen in "San Andreas." The language is a bit raw (in fact, that, to me, is the most off-putting aspect of the game... not the use of obscenities, but the prolific use of them: after a half-hour, I was kind of bored with hearing f-bombs and n-words thrown around, and wanted just a plain old-fashioned "what the hell?!?" to pop in and make my day), but so what?

There is an editorial in there, though... I'll see if I can refine the details in my head a bit more, and try and pop that up in the near future (I'll not make any guarantees, though... I've learned my lesson on that score).

Until then... later, my... um... can't use that one, and it confirms that I need to switch back to GTA III and finish it soon. :lol:

No More 2009!!! YAY!!!

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"So... where the **** have YOU been?!?"

Actually... nowhere. I haven't felt like posting anything in a while, simply because it was either:

a.) Not very interesting.

b.) Evil (like my wife's car being stolen, then recovered 2 months later... only to have to fight the insurance company to keep it).

c.) Depressing (like a death in the family).

d.) Political (I ****ing HATE politics... so hearing about the latest atrocity perpetrated by Washington tends to make my blood boil a bit more than normal).

...so I've basically stayed away to keep my life from dragging everyone else into my misery.

Fortunately, the year is now over, so I have some things to look forward to... like our son's reaction to the fact that my wife bought a Wii for Christmas (which she is saving for Little Christmas in 4 days)...

...or beating GTA III (which I finally picked up, having borrowed a copy from a friend; after I gave it back, I picked up the full GTA trilogy set w/ "Vice City" and "San Andreas"), which could take a while (not really the kind of game I enjoy... which may spark a later blog... hmmm...)...

...or writing about some new bands I've found (if you're a metalhead, go find Dirge Within's debut album "Force Fed Lies" NOW... if not, check out Creed's new album "Full Circle," one of the best rock albums I've heard in a long time)...

...or just easing myself back into the flow of life on GS.

That is all. Have a great year, and I hope you had a great Christmas. :D

.

I Can't Think of a Clever Title

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After the last blog, I told myself, "Self, don't write when you're feeling down. It looks bad."

...so, I didn't. See how that worked out (as in, nearly disappearing for a month and a half)?

I also refuse to even think the words "it can't get any worse" (because it always can).

At the end of the week that saw the deaths of Ed McMahon and Farrah Fawcett, and the recall of Michael Jackson to his home planet, I got a phone call from someone I hadn't heard from in 4 years, telling me to check the newspaper... specifically, the obituaries.

That's how I found out a co-worker and good friend, who I hadn't seen o heard from since he went over to the Phillipines to do missionary work, had passed away.

Now I remember why I was happy to leave that job: some people just don't know how to deliver bad news.

Out of that long, fuzzy weekend of parties (my youngest graduated from pre-school) and funerals (well, more like a memorial service... no body, since the Phillipines hadn't released it yet), I got the distinct feeling that maybe... just maybe... it was time to kick myself out of my fugue and start living again.

So... I got my mind back together. I tried to determine if it's a mid-life crisis, but decided the whole transition from midnight-shift convenience store clerk to programmer qualified nicely... since that's over: end of mid-life crisis.

I also got dragged to another of my wife's concerts: REO Speedwagon, Styx, and .38 Special. Styx put on an outstanding show, but REO almost ruined it by making it political (is there anything more annoying than dealing with a preachy singer for 2-3 minutes between songs, when you are at the concert to escape from the crap he's preaching about?!?). .38 Special was... well, there.

The highlight, though, was a special on tickets for Creed on August 11th. Looks like 5 of us (my wife, our oldest, his friend, one of my friends, and me) are going; it's going to be epic.

In other news...

I found some good books at a flea market on a road trip out in the middle of nowhere: State of Fear by Michael Crichton (it will change the way you look at global warming) and The Face That Must Die by Ramsey Campbell (has to be one of the most off-beat horror writers around... definitely an acquired taste). I also found a $5 copy of Jason X (awful movie I've seen several times... I saw it, and immediately had to have it) and Far Cry (finding a second-hand PC game anywhere is notable these days... makes me hopeful for the future of mankind).

After seeing Styx, I hunted down a copy of Paradise Theatre on CD (oddly enough, my cassette seems to have disappeared). I'm happy.

Finally... I'm writing an editorial by the end of the week (barring an intervention). Keep your eyes peeled.

Have a good week, and stay warm. :)

Don't Need Any More Months Like That, Thanks

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Once upon a time, I mentioned that I had very bad luck with cars. Unfortunately, that trend doesn't seem like it'll end any day soon.

Last year, while on my way back from a job interview, the tread on my tire decided it was bored and parted from the tire itself. While I was driving the car. At 70 MPH.

My first impression was, "****, that's loud." Next thought was, "I had better pull over, because it's really hard to steer."

When I pulled the car over, I was shocked at the damage. The side marker light assembly was shattered, along with the lens. The tire was a total loss, and since I was leery of all tires at the time, I just replaced all four. Because I was still several miles from home and had no way of letting anyone know what had happened, I also got a cell phone for future emergencies.

Immediate cost: $250.

Fast forward one year...

New York requires that you bring your car to an inspection station once a year so someone can slap on a sticker that basically says "My car is safe to drive." I always thought it was a completely stupid rule: if a car is unsafe, I simply won't drive it, and I resent the $25 (it used to be $10 until emissions tests were required with the inspection) you have to pay for the "service."

In order to pass the inspection, you need all the lights and lenses intact. That meant I had to bring my car to an auto body shop to have them replace the damaged side marker light.

Cost: $40.

I picked up the car, and drove it home... and discovered, much to my dismay, that I was having a problem stopping. I had to jam my foot all the way to the floor in order to come to a stop.

Not good. Not good at all.

I waited until later that night (no traffic) and drove it across the street to the brake shop, and left it there along with a note to check the brakes, change the oil, and slap a sticker on to make me legal. I'm thinking it'll be a day (at most), about $1000 and NYS will be happy.

They called the next afternoon with really bad news:

That blowout? Turns out it did a number on the wheel bearing and spring on that side of the car. The broken spring cost me a strut on that side, too. Since the wheel bearing was wobbly, it caused to rotor to warp on that side and knock out the caliper as well.

In order to get me legal again, they had to (essentially) replace my entire front suspension and brakes. They also slapped on the "I'm safe, so bite me" sticker as well.

Cost: $2100.

That brings the total to about $2350... all for one blown tire.

I blame this on Seth Brundle. If he'd been smart enough to sweep for bugs, none of this would be necessary. ;)

It would have been easier to swallow if my PC didn't decide to get flaky on me at the same time: the cooling fan on my video card locked up (fortunately, I caught the problem before it fried the GPU) and XP decided it no longer likes my wireless mouse ("Fatal Error While Installing," even though it has worked perfectly since Super Bowl Sunday). I had to dredge up an old optical mouse to fill in while I puzzle out how to get the laser mouse to work (it might be a conflict with the wireless router; since I can't find the frequency data for the mouse, though, I can't be 100% sure on that).

(Oh... no, it's not the mouse itself. I have it running fine on my laptop.)

It wasn't all bad. I did manage to pry myself away from everything long enough to hit up a local CD store and pick up the latest Testament album (The Formation of Damnation is excellent; I've been listening to it a lot, and it refuses to get stale), a couple of older Testament albums (Souls of Black to replace my cursed cassette copy... long story... and First Strike Still Deadly) and replacements for two old Flotsam and Jetsam tapes (When The Storm Comes Down and Cuatro). Nothing will cheer me up like a good solid metal infusion. :D

In all the confusion and chaos, my idea for my next editorial has flown off to Brazil. Hopefully, it sends a postcard.

So... here's to a much, much much better June. It can't *nope, stopping right there before I jinx it*.

Fallout Alert! and American Soldier Review

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Last night, I was out doing a bit of shopping and stumbled on something I hadn't expected: a "Fallout Trilogy" pack. It has Fallout, Fallout 2, and Fallout Tactics on one DVD for $20.

Since I didn't have any of those (one of those weird oversights... I had plenty of opportunities to buy the first two games, and somehow never bothered), I jumped on it.

I haven't installed it yet, so I don't know if there are any technical problems. I'm not in a big hurry to play it, either: after years of RTSs, turn-based anything bores me to tears.

(Yes, yes, I know... I can recite the mantra: "Fallout should be turn-based and isometric"... and it is a cIassic... so I'll have to get over it.)

"...and people sometimes lose their vision of where it all came from. They're sitting in the lap of luxury in a country built on three and a half million deaths..." Soldier's interview recording on "Unafraid."

American Soldier

American Soldier- If you've listened to earlier Queensrÿche albums, it may be a bit of a letdown; taken on it's own merits, "American Soldier" is a powerful and musically-solid album.

The styIe here is more progressive rock than progressive metal: slower tempos, down-key melodies, and easily-understood lyrics. This is probably a conscious choice considering the concept: songs that tell the story of a soldier, from his viewpoint. The most increble part of the album, though, is its lack of a stand on the current and past conflicts: it simply tells soldier's stories and lets the listener come to their own conclusions.

According to the band, they conducted dozens of interviews with soldiers from World War II all the way up to Afghanistan and Iraq; they used recordings of the interviews in many of the songs. This gives the songs a sort of weight to the message that they otherwise wouldn't have.

The album starts with "Sliver," a view of boot camp that had me flashing back over 20 ago to Navy basic training; the song is slow (boot camp is not slow) but intense (which they did get right). It's followed by the first of several stand-out tracks, "Unafraid:" the lyrics of the song are segments of two recorded interviews, one with a Vietnam veteran, and another from a Recon Marine from Somalia; the only singing is in the chorus. The contrasting views give the song an incredible power.

"Hundred Mile Stare" is a bit too downbeat, but seems to be about pre-combat jitters (unless I'm listening to it wrong). "At 30,000 Feet" starts with a pilot's interview, and the slow-to-mid-tempo pace matches the tale of a bombing mission. "A Dead Man's Words" (standout #2) is slow-paced, but a unique, almost serpentine riff drives the song and sucks the listener in. "The Killer" (standout #3) is an odd-tempo song, but the almost-chaotic rhythm matches the inner conflict of a soldier asked to pull the trigger on another human being. "Middle of Hell" jars badly with it, however: almost too contemplative and dreamy to follow "The Killer."

"If I Were King" (standout #4) has an incredible emotional impact from the outset: an interview with a Marine telling the story of a friend getting killed in combat. The song itself is about dealing with losing a friend in combat: contemplative, sad, and intense. You can't listen to this song without tearing up.

"Man Down!" (standout #5) uses a variation of the sinuous riff in "A Dead Man's Words" to open, but changes to a more frantic, metalllic riff to tell the story of a soldier after he's back in "the world." "Remember Me" uses a simple melody and rhythm to tell the story of a soldier trying to hold together a marriage across thousands of miles and a war; it's not a great song, but holds its place regardless.

The final standout is "Home Again," an emotionally-stirring duet with Tate and his daughter about missing your children when you're in combat. Although Emily Tate's voice seems to be a bit robotic in spots, the overall performance is incredible.

...and then you have "The Voice." I'm not sure how it fits into the album, and unsure what it's really about. It ends the album on a sort of "wtf?" moment.

Rating: * * * ½ (song-by-song, it would be * * ½, but the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts)

I'm currently contemplating a massive editorial, so keep an eye peeled. Cheers for now! :D

Musically Inclined: Mindcrime I and II

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"I remember now..."

It was the spring of 1988. High school was fast becoming a distant memory. In another month or so, I would be shuffling off to Orlando, FL for basic training in the Navy (that boot camp no longer exists... it's a bit spooky if I think about it too much).

I had purchased Queensrÿche's first 3 albums the year before, after hearing "Gonna Get Close To You" on MTV (when it still played music :? ) and liking the creepy vibe to it. Their styIe was unique: not quite metal, not quite... er... not metal? They referred to it as "avant-garde;" today, it's called "progressive metal."

In '88, though, they released an album that changed the rules. It was deep, both musically and emotionally. It was socially and politically relevant (and remains so today). Most of all, it had a profound impact on me: having spent half of my life at the time living across the street from a prime nuclear target had left me a bit weary of the Cold War, and the move to the suburbs hadn't changed that.

last.fm Queensrÿche page (Note: while Operation: Mindcrime is available in full, Mindcrime II isn't.)

O: M

Operation: Mindcrime- This is the album that redefines progressive metal, and tells a deeply moving (and disturbing) story in the process.

***STORY SPOILERS FOLLOW***

The story is one of misguided rebellion, damnation without redemption, and betrayal. The central figure is Nikki, a young heroin addict who is recruited into a secretive revolutionary organization (who's goals remain hazy throughout this album) run by Dr. X. He is given a gun, put in an apartment and called on to perform assassinations. Every once in a while, he is visited by a prostitute-turned-nun named Mary, and they fall in love.

When he is ordered to kill Mary, he refuses, sparking his split from the organization. He tries to save Mary, but is unsuccessful; when he tries to run, he is caught by police.

***SPOILERS END***

You know from the outset that there's no happy ending: "I Remember Now" is not a song, but an introduction to Nikki in a mental hospital (I assume; that point isn't made clear, but can be figured from the context). "Anarchy X" is a short instrumental that serves as an introduction to the album. "Revolution Calling" introduces us to Nikki, and is a powerful song of disillusionment with the system. "Operation: Mindcrime" inducts him in the order, weaving some rap elements with jazz and metal, with an overall slow tempo to give the listener a darker feel. "Speak" picks up the pace to almost frantic, panicky levels to reflect the street-preaching tone of the song. "Spreading the Disease" maintains the tempo, while intoducing us to Sister Mary, Nikki's "outlet." "The Mission" is an interlude: Nikki is between "contracts" and brooding about his next assignment, while waiting for Mary; it sets up the possibility that Nikki is conflicted about his role in the organization, as well as his obsession with Mary.

"Suite Sister Mary" is the magnum opus of the album, though: after Nikki is given his mission, it starts with introspection, and becomes a duet between vocalist Geoff Tate and guest vocalist Pamela Moore (in the role of Mary). Since it takes place in a church, a choir is played in places in the background, which gives the whole song a very spiritual feel. Overall, the effect is very powerful.

After that, though, the album takes a very slight dip: the second half is hard to listen to after the climax of the story is reached, and only bad things happen to the protagonist from that point on. However, the songs are important to the whole album, and are very good in their own right.

"The Needle Lies" is frantic and angry, reflecting Nikki's feeling of betrayal and need to get away from Dr. X. "Electric Requiem" starts Nikki's slide into darkness, and is very spare, downbeat, and... short. "Breaking the Silence" tries to be sad and angry at the same time, but seems to come across as more defiant than either. "I Don't Believe In Love" (one of the singles from the album) is even more defiant: a long denial of Nikki's feelings for Mary; "Waiting for 22" acts as a sort of outro, and an intro to the next short track; "My Empty Room" is finally an acceptance of Mary's fate (3 songs too late).

The payoff for getting through all that conflict is "Eyes of A Stranger." Even though it, too, was released as a single, it fully deserves its "best of" status: powerful, vocally brilliant, and a masterpiece technically. It stands alone very well; as the finale of the album, it's a true cIassic.

Rating: * * * * (as a whole; taken song-by-song, I'd have to say * * * ½)

I thought Mindcrime stood well on its own, but when Mindcrime II was announced, I have to admit that I was psyched for it. The first album was a lot to live up to, though...

O:M II

Operation: Mindcrime II-It's 18 years later, and although the band is mostly intact (the only change is the departure of Chris DeGarmo), the music isn't quite the same as the first album.

***STORY SPOILERS FOLLOW***

Nikki has been locked up for 18 years, and is set for release. During that time, he has seen Dr. X in commercials for Xcide Pharmaceuticals, and realizes that his (admittedly warped) ideals were being used (abused, really) for profit, not real change.

It's time for revenge. For himself, and for Mary.

Long story short: he tracks down D. X, drags him into the church where Mary used to live, and kills him. Then, he kills himself.

***SPOILERS END***

Much of the problem with Mindcrime II is in the plot. It's hard to believe an ex-convict is able to get away with what Nikki does in the course of the album; it's even harder to believe that the story can be wrapped up as neatly as it is in the CD. Suspension of disbelief is difficult to achieve and maintain, and the album suffers quite a bit for it.

Another issue is Geoff Tate's vocals: the strain of singing full-out with Queensrÿche has definitely affected his voice, and the lack of his usual upper range is distracting.

Nevertheless, the album is pretty good. Not great, though.

"Freiheit Overture" and "Convict" are merely short introductory tracks. "I'm American" takes up the tempo early, a frantic look at how the world now seems in Nikki's mind upon his release. "One Foot in Hell" puts him back in the slums he started from, and the music reflects his anger and coming full-circle. "Hostage" and "The Hands" are annoyingly vague: they seem to chronicle a run-in with the law and a subsequent escape (though how a convicted murderer is allowed to escape from jail without a problem is way beyond me). "Speed of Light" reflects Nikki's confusion at the pace things are taking, or perhaps the pace at which events are unfolding (though, oddly enough, the song itself is down-tempo). "Signs Say Go" and "Re-Arrange You" start to move towards the confrontation with Nikki's nemesis.

And then, finally, pay off. "The Chase" acts as a kind of counterpoint to "Suite Sister Mary:" although it is significantly shorter, it takes place in the same church, and is a duet (this time with Dr. X, played by Ronnie James Dio). The song itself is rapidly paced (almost panicky), and the differing viewpoints of Dr. X and Nikki act as mirrors to each other. Tense, powerful, and dramatic, "The Chase" is both a (sort of) satisfying climax and stand-out track.

Sort of satisfying, because it's frustratingly unclear whether or not Nikki kills Dr. X without referring to the Wikipedia spoilers. "Murderer?" makes this even more confusing by refusing to spell out what happened (although the song itself is very well done; it seems like the rest of the album is just a warm-up and cool-down for those two songs). "Circles" segues out of the confrontation, and into how Nikki deals with it.

...or, really, how he deals poorly with it.

The last third of the album feels slapped on. Although it's okay musically, it doesn't have the emotional impact of the last half of Mindcrime. The listener can actually skip to "All The Promises" and hear another stirring duet with Pamela Moore (reprising her role as Mary), and be done.

Rating: * * ½ (it had big shoes to fill, and couldn't quite do it)

Right now, I'm still deciding how I'll approach American Soldier. It's a very good album, and many of the songs are incredible (watch the video for "If I Were King"... the song is phenomenal), but I've been addicted to Mindcrime for about a week and a half and can't really give Soldier a proper listen.When I do, I'll post a review of it on it's own.

American Soldier, SPORE, and Harper's Point... oh, and other stuff

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So... after about a solid month of Iron Maiden, two brain cells collided somewhere, and I got the urge to dig out my Queensrÿche CDs (all 4 of them :? ). Among them is one of my absolute favorite concept albums, Operation: Mindcrime, which I've been listening to almost non-stop since the end of the last IM review blog.

(In fact, at the end of the week, I'll be putting my thoughts on that and Mindcrime II into a short review blog. Mindcrime confirmed for me that being independent politically was a wise move; it deserves its own place.)

At least, I was until I wandered over to the local Wal-Mart for coffee, and decided to look in the CD section. Lo and behold, QR has a new album out!

Of course, I snatched it up almost immediately. :)

It's called American Soldier, and I like it almost immediately. The band took the time to talk to actual soldiers from WWII all the way up to the current conflict, recording some of them, and used what they found out to write a concept album. It takes no stand on war; it just tells the stories of soldiers. I'm hooked.

I also picked up SPORE: Galactic Edition for the PC. The price was right (same price as the regular edition) and with the loosening of the restrictions they put on it, it seemed like a good idea.

It's pretty good: a bit cutesier than I ususally play (cartoony-bright and cartoony-violent) but it sucks you in. While the early stages are somewhat shallow, the last stage is trickier than it has any right to be. I'll play it for a bit longer, and then write up a review.

With the network TV season wrapping up, two shows have taken center-stage as "must-see:"

One is "Deadliest Catch." Season 5 is shaping up to be as good as the previous four: one captain has to sit out the season with health problems; all four boats have had massive upgrades (the Northwestern captain put $800,000 into its repairs and upgrades); two shows in, and there's already a tragedy at sea (an 11-man cod boat is down, and one man is confirmed dead, with 10 missing)... it's a tough show to watch, but I find it rewarding on so many levels.

The other is basically a 13-week-long murder mystery/slasher movie, "Harper's Point." Before the show, 6 people were murdered by a serial killer named John Wakefield. Years later, a resident of the island is coming home to get married to a rich family who vacationed there; among his guests is a woman who's mother was killed by Wakefield.

Oh... and there's a killer who's depopulating the island. Again.

So far, 3 weeks in, the body count stands at 6 (best kill: a man tied to the propeller shaft of the ferry to the island, with a scuba mask to keep him from drowning; propeller starts, man is sucked in... very clever).

I have 2 suspects in mind (in fact, I believe 2 people are involved in the murders, working at cross-purposes). I won't give anything away... I'll just say that I don't think Wakefield is back, like some of the characters seem to feel.

Last thing: NY is thinking of making gay marriage legal. I don't really care one way or the other about it, but I will say that it reeks of desperation on Gov. Patterson's part (his approval rating is somewhere in the teens, due to his miserable handling of the budget and economic crisis in the state: cutting jobs and funding for education, while taxing everything in sight and raising existing ones). This isn't a cause for celebration: the gay population of the state is being played as pawns for votes in next year's election. Hopefully, someone calls him on it, and the ploy fails. Miserably.

And I thought he'd be an upgrade from Spitzer. Shame on me. :evil:

That's all, folks. Have a great week. :D