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Update on existence, game of 2013, greetings...

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Hey y'all, how you doing? My gosh, it's been a long time since I last did, well, anything of any sort of substance here on GS. At least haven't done anything since the site was updated, so I feel like a right dinosaur posting here in this new-fangled blog set-up. Heck, do people still read blogs? I don't know, but there are a lot of people here which I regret not being more in touch with, too many to simply post here. SO... I wanted to write something and send it into the world wide web, see who among my apparent "followers" (because friends is so camp) notice my existence.

First off, the exceptionally retentive of you may remember that about three years ago I started studying medicine. That's a major factor as to why I started to visit GS quite a bit less; it's unfortunate, my prioritization goes towards playing as many games as possible within the timeframe I have. I'm sort of selective in that way. I have a bit more latitude at the moment since I'm writing by BSc-study (for the interested, it's about the effect of a decrease in blood cultures due to economic constraints on the diagnosis of blood infections, prognosis and treatment). I sort of make my own schedule, as terrifying and wonderful as that is. Anyway, enough about me personal life.

As promised in the title of the blog, I'm going to talk a bit about my game of 2013. Another stellar year has gone by, a bunch of brilliant games with a lot of variety; particularly, Nintendo had a great year with Super Mario 3D World, Zelda: Link Between Worlds and the third-party titles Bravely Default and Pokemon Y. Last of Us was fantastic and Ni No Kuni has really engrossed me as of late. However, there is absolutely no competition - Bioshock Infinite blew me away last year.

Remember when I told awful jokes in the captions? Good times...

I haven't been spare on my fascination with the world of Bioshock. Rapture had me from day one, with its dark corridors, creepy atmosphere and demented populace. Everything about it shouted character, and along with the clever combination of shooting and blasting plasmids, it had me hooked. Infinite is really a continuation of the first two games' essence, but in a completely new setting. Of course, it's a transition from the deeps of the ocean to the blue of the skies, but it's also so much more. Infinite explores so many strands of storytelling - time travel, reality, fiction, stereotypes and dreams, all melded into a story entrenched in religious and tyrannical themes. Those themes alone are really enough to justify the trip to Columbia, with its pristine architecture and early 1900s atmosphere, it's a wonderful world that never gets old. At the same time, more modern technology is superimposed onto it all, with an explanation that is oddly coherent. Don't want to spoil anything, so let's leave it at that.

The gameplay remains a bit on the floaty side, but I still absolutely love how the shooting handles. The twitchiness of most first-person shooters is blissfully absent, replaced by crazy guns, crazy powers, crazy enemies in crazy environments. In between are moments of more calm, where you have a chance to actually observe the world you're exploring (unlike in the first installments where you see everything post-breakdown). This evens out the carnage of the action, giving you more time to gather your bearings and look around. Indeed, on a whole, Infinite is even more story-driven as compared to the previous entries, and it works to the game's benefit.

The ending is also completely unforgettable, one of the absolute best I've seen. It changes how you view everything that has happened before in the series. Absolutely extraordinary work. I literally love BS: Infinite, and I have no problem calling it my game of 2013.

In other gaming news, I'm playing Dark Souls 2 at the moment. Having a great time, though I didn't quite grasp what would happen when you joined the Company of Champions (apparently, it makes the enemies on the par with their New Game + equivalents) - man, did the game become difficult fast :P

Hope you all have been doing great in the past year, I sincerely do. Hopefully, I stumble upon some of you on the comments sections. Remember, I'm the lonely, silhouetted guy from Limbo. See ya around, folks ;)

-Jón M. (aka Calvinsora)

Xenoblade Chronicles review

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Hey, everyone, how y'all doing? Since I'm done with my first year now, I have a bit more free time so I decided to write a review to celebrate! Here it is, my review of my game of 2011: Xenoblade Chronicles.

SCORE: 9.5/10.0



Pros:

+Fantastic battle-system with plenty of customization options

+Long, high-stakes story, filled with interesting characters

+Wonderful music score and great voice-acting

+Hundreds of side-quests

+Beautiful world full of wonder



Cons:

-Some lag in bigger battles



Every so often a game is released that is magical. A game that reminds you of why they have the potential to not only engage you, but transport you into a world that is unlike anything you've ever seen. A game that defines the golden standard of entertainment for its respective genre and even for its medium overall. These are lofty words, but words that perfectly describe the genius of Xenoblade Chronicles, a "Japanese" role-playing game by Monolith Soft. It's not only that it does almost everything better than its contemporaries, but brings this reviewer back to the days where simply inhabiting the game's world gave a sense of joy. With an amazing, well-paced and high stakes story, fantastic combat, great music, wonderful visuals and incredible length, XBC proves that there's still life in the ol' Wii; and more importantly, it proves that there's still life in a genre that has seen much better days.



A long time ago, two giants, Bionis and Mechonis, waged a solitary war in an otherwise empty world. Their gargantuan swords clashed again and again, their bodies being chipped away by the repeated blows. Eventually, both stopped in their tracks, swords interlocked in their final swings. Eons later, life has sprouted on their decayed husks, creating colonies and becoming one with the inner workings of the giants. The story focuses on Shulk, a young man who live on Bionis in a little town called Colony 9. Along with his friends Reyn and Fiora, they live a peaceful life. Peaceful, that is, until the denizens of Mechonis (the Mechon) attack, leading to multiple casualties and the partial destruction of the entire town. Among the casualties is a close acquaintance of Shulk, who will not be mentioned here to avoid spoilers. Shulk, driven by his desire for revenge, sets off to defeat the Mechon and get to the bottom of exactly why they attacked in the first place.



The set-up is not all that complex, but from the get-go the story is incredibly gripping. Shulk is not a typical hero who is omnipotent and selfless. In fact, his hunger for revenge can be chilling, and he often makes incredibly irrational decisions as a result. This is only one example of how the game's characters are not just cookie-cutter archetypes that are only there to fulfill the status quo. This humanizes the characters, making you care for their trials even though you may not always agree with their actions. The entire first half of the game is focused on introducing the cast, their dreams and ambitions, their personalities. This is of course interspersed with action, but it's an important prelude to the events of the second half. At that point the stakes go way up, and it ends with some truly important questions about the very nature of humanity and life itself. It's not just a tale of revenge; it's a tale of redemption, sacrifice, love, purpose and courage.



As might be expected by the aforementioned setting, the world of Xenoblade Chronicles is far from ordinary. You are literally trekking on the remains of a colossus, with areas corresponding to the various body parts it possesses. The sheer scale of the environs is therefore mind-blowing. When you travel around the arm, for instance, you can look down and literally spot areas where you've gone before hundreds of meters below you. And what's truly astounding is that the Wii runs this without a hitch. Sure, you aren't getting high-definition visual exuberance, but XBC puts 99% of other games' artistic design to shame. Every area has an insane attention to detail, right down to the last blade of grass on a rolling meadow, populated with all sorts of creatures from your wildest dreams. Variety is the key descriptor of the various areas of Bionis. From sulfurous swamps and treacherous glaciers to humid rainforests and floating island paradises, there's so much to see and experience simply as a tourist in this virtual world. Just taking in the scenery is a worthwhile venture that is almost therapeutic in its efficacy.



Most importantly, the game lets you explore the world fully and fluidly. In structure, it's a freeflow RPG that, though following a linear narrative, lets you stretch your legs and breathe whenever you get to a new location. For instance, the first area can take only a couple of hours to complete if you just do what you must to get ahead in the story, but if you go beyond those confines and do as much as you are offered to do at that time, you can easily spend up to ten hours just in the first colony. The game is filled with side-quests that are either timed or open to you for as long as you wish. These number in the hundreds and range from collection quests to monster hunts. These will sidetrack procrastinators easily but aren't at all distracting or vital to the finishing of the main quest, and they of course award you with treasures as you complete them. You may also open up new conversation options in the town you're doing side-quests for, ultimately building up a complete and interlinked community of which you are a part, which serves as an ingenious impetus to taking part in them even if the spoils aren't to your liking.



When this reviewer says it's freeflow, what's meant is the game's approach to combat in relation to exploration. The battles in the game are not random and you can see enemies in the foreground and choose whether or not you want to engage them. So if you see an enemy, you can bring up a combat menu, lock-on and plan ahead for the battle, often finishing some buffing-up beforehand. This combat menu is the core feature of the game's battle system. It's comprised of a number of spheres that each signify a particular ability, except for the middle one that has various options you can scroll through. When combat is initiated, you proceed to auto-attack immediately, and that only stops if you choose to use an ability instead (or move out of range). Those that have played Final Fantasy XII should feel right at home here, though there are obvious differences between the two with closer inspection (no Gambit system here). There's a wealth of different moves you can learn and execute, so there's always something new to experience in the heat of battle.



The combat is constantly enjoyable and fast-paced, and since you can micromanage your abilities and powers so thoroughly, you feel in charge of every moment. You can level up the various abilities with ability points you gain in battle, put on various equipment that are almost ludicrous in variety, level up special attributes through continuous battle and share those attributes between party members dependent on how much they've fought together. You can also manufacture specific crystals to put onto your equipment and boost its stats further. All of this makes it impossible to just wade into battle unprepared, you'll have to think long and hard about your party's set-up and pick what combination suits you best.



XBC works hard to always have something for you to do and even with all I've mentioned in regards to side-quests and fast and furious battles, this is only scratching the surface. Exploring the gigantic world is rewarding in more ways than one. By finding a new area, you are instantly rewarded with experience, and for special secret areas, that bonus is buffed up even further. By building up connections between different characters, via fighting or quest-solving, you can unlock special conversation points where you learn more and more about each and every character. While you walk around the environment, you'll also be able to mine crystals in caves and pick up area-specific items that you can put into a collection book. Once a row or page in the book is finished, you get awards. This is just a quick overview of other, but still not all, things you can do in XBC's world, and the sheer variety of things to do makes the game up to 100 hours in length for the dedicated player, though if the story is the only thing you're interested in, it might be a bit shorter.



One thing that hasn't been discussed is the music. The soundtrack in XBC is a wonderful thing to behold, and almost every piece perfectly complements the circumstances in which it is played. It's a fully orchestrated track which can vary from sad and haunting to jovial and upbeat. The voice-acting is also worthy of mention, since due to the localization being focused on Europe, the voices all have a British accent. To be honest, this is a pro in and of itself. Not all of the voice-over actors are equally as good, but in general, their job is executed with panache.



After all this gushing, can there possibly be something wrong with such a title? Well, yes, but those problems aren't at all very distracting. The most prominent is that in big battles, for instance against bosses or large groups of foes, the game has a habit of slowing down to a crawl. It usually goes away after some moments but it does get distracting and breaks the flow of the battle. Also, some of the side-quests are rather dull, consisting of you talking to a number of set characters and that's pretty much it. The lack of necessity in finishing these lessens the blow, but it's in stark contrast to the usual entertainment you can gain from finishing the game's myriad optional requests.



The Wii has had its fair share of rough patches, but with the recent releases of some truly extraordinary games (Super Mario Galaxy 2, Zelda: Skyward Sword, New Super Mario Bros. Wii, The Last Story), it's gained its place in gaming history as a fantastic and worthwhile console. Xenoblade Chronicles is the cherry on top, the defining title that designates how far developers can go on the little white box. It really is one of the finest games of this generation and will most certainly become a cIassic as the years go by.



Final score: 9.5/10.0

Top 10 games of 2011

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Well, well, well, another year has passed. What do you say, it's almost March? Hogwash, the year is young and I'm not at all late with this! Impossible. Anyway, let me sum up how this will work. I didn't quite get to play as many games this year as in 2010. University isn't so accommodating when it comes to free time. I even have a number of absolutely awesome games that I just haven't been able to get to yet (Arkham City, Uncharted 3, LittleBigPlanet 2) and others that I haven't finished (some of which are on this list anyway because they rock). However, I can easily point out the best of the best, and I'm not going to break my little yearly tradition. It will be short and sweet this time, no frills, just pure gaming awesomeness! 2011 was a great year, and these are the reasons why:

10. Dead Space 2 (PS3)

-I don't know how many hug jokes I've made regarding the Dead Space series... it's just so tempting.

Though I dare say that I was a bit over-enthusiastic when I first talked of this game, I can't deny just how meticulously made it is. Dead Space 2 represents the possibility that you can shift gears in a series and really, truly make it work. It may not have been NEARLY as scary as the first (I'm still petrified while playing the first installation), it plays smoother and has better pacing instead. On top of that, it just looks brilliant, dark, murky and foreboding. Being able to segment the enemies, cut them apart and mince 'em makes the combat consistently different. A very worthwhile thrill-fest.

9. Pokemon White (DS)

-This might as well be Black, I have no idea and I don't care.

Being a long-time Pokemon fan is a commitment. Not only do you have to get every game, but you must also criticize, not just say "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". And Pokemon needed some fixing. I liked Diamond and Sapphire, a lot actually, but it needed some freshness. Not novelty, just freshness, and that's something White has in spades. With a complete new roster of (quite bizarre) Pokemon, some new bells and whistles and a new take on the familiar, White reminds me of why I loved the series in the first place.

8. Minecraft and Terraria (PC)

-Yeah, I've totally made this type of house.

Two games at once. Oh yes, I just went there. These games are far from being the same, they're in fact quite different in a number of ways. However, since I haven't completely delved into both of them fully, I decided to generally put my combined experience of both as one entry. I just love the freedom, the possibilities, the adventure. It's a simplification of what gaming is about: just play. Explore, mine, build, create, micromanage, sometimes fight; it's just a strangely therapeutic and enjoyable format that I never grow tired of. Or haven't so far, anyway.

7. Portal 2 (PS3)

-*Insert fresh new meme here.*

It's rare that a game manages to so eloquently portray its ideas as the first Portal. It came, it saw, it conquered, with its clever puzzles, brilliant story and slick look. Portal 2 again comes, sees, conquers much to my surprise, by being longer, smarter and more varied which is a feat in and of itself. With more diverse characters and puzzles, Portal 2 is deserving of awe from minute 1. It's also a riot, with Stephen Merchant's Wheatley being a highlight. No game tested my gray matter so much and so consistently, and I thank it for that.

6. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)

-You got a thingamajig!

After being slightly disappointed by Twilight Princess, I wasn't quite in good spirits with the Zelda series. Skyward Sword renewed my faith. Sure, it's got a lot of backtracking later on (seriously, the Water Dragon mission), but it's got brilliant gameplay (and usage of the Wiimote), fantastic dungeons and a brilliant visual design. It's like a beautiful pastel painting adventure, and this is a game that dares to change what needed to be changed. Welcome back, Link, I look forward to your next epic quest.

5. Super Mario 3D Land (3DS)

-Too... much... nostalgia...

Seriously, why do people not talk more about this game? Is it because it's a handheld game? I will be honest here and say it straight out: this game is better than Super Mario Galaxy. Not 2, that's a truly hard order to top, but the first one. It's that good. The platforming is sublime (blending old and new brilliantly), the controls work exceptionally well and the levels are vignettes of beauty, created so compact, yet so intricate. It's a bit short, but makes up for it by being filled with variety. Mario once again shows that platforming is an art-form in and of itself.

4. L.A. Noire (PS3)

-Blinds just make everything cIassier.

Another game that just isn't getting enough recognition. It nails the L.A. atmosphere to a T. I just couldn't get enough of driving around the city on my sweet retro car. This game is also about police work, obviously, but it's the atmosphere that binds everything together. Inspecting a crime scene in L.A. Noire is just like being transported into another world, same with running after a suspect, stopping a bank robbery or interrogating a potential murderer. Also, the face technology is amazing, but you already know that, don't you? Just splendid, what more can I say?

3. Dark Souls (PS3)

-Get used to this screen. OK, not so low-res, hopefully, but get used to it, seriously.

I thought long and hard where to put this game on the list. I really, really like it, but haven't played all too much of it. I will, with time, but so far, I can only say that I've tasted its misery, not delved into it. It is without a doubt amazing. It takes the best ideas of Demon's Souls and implements them with more polish and finesse. The battle system is exceptionally methodical and the bosses are still From Software's greatest achievements. It's an RPG that knows what it's doing and is very, very proud of it. And brutal about it, but that's just a bonus.

2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (PS3)

-This is totally a fair fight...

I never, EVER expected a Bethesda game on PS3 to rank this high on any of my Top lists. I've always been a bit annoyed towards Bethesda for reasons I won't go into here, but Skyrim is simply stunning. I've spent exorbitant amounts of time playing Skyrim and still have so many side-quests to finish. It plays incredibly well, looks beautiful, has consistently different dungeons, satisfying combat, a rich world and is just endlessly playable. The PS3 version is also far from bad, I may just be lucky but honestly, I had little to no problem with it. Anyway, FUS RO DAH!

1. Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)

-This game is simply too beautiful. I know I'm overly sentimental, it's who I am *sob*

If there's one spot that was decided a long time ago on this list, it's the first place. No game last year is quite as magical as Xenoblade Chronicles. It's not only an exemplary JRPG in its design, but also proof of how much can be portrayed on a slightly more limited software that the Wii is. The game's epic scale seems effortless, boasting huge worlds packed with gorgeous vistas and elusive secrets. The battle system is both dynamic and exciting, combining many familiar implementations into something wholly original. XC's story is great (actually haven't quite finished it, though), with unique characters and actual British voice acting (shock). Side-quests are ludicrous in number, so there's always something to do. Fantastic music adds to the grandeur and if I haven't mentioned it clearly before, it looks amazing. I could fawn over it longer but I won't until my review in the future. Anyway, US, get ready for one of the best RPGs this generation this year.

This was a rather rushed list, so I'm sorry if there are any minor mistakes. The Oscars are on live right now and I'm not going to miss it despite it being about 4:00 am right now. I hope it was enjoyable and not to clustered, and I hope that this year will prove to be even better.

With kind regards to everyone,

Calvinsora

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo review

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Hey there, everyone. Hope you had a great Christmas season :) Anyway, here's my review of the awesome film from David Fincher based on the first book in Stieg Larsson's Millenium series. Hope you like it.

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It may depend largely on where you live (more specifically, if you live in Scandinavia or not), but when the Millennium trilogy came out in theaters in 2009, it caused a major splash. With a very sombre and brutal styIe it blended the mundane and the extreme in a very effective manner. It was a fantastic example of what you can expect from Swedish film-making at its very best. Few need introduction, however, to who David Fincher is. Having made such dark and compelling masterpieces as Se7en and Social Network, few have reached his zenith of directing in the modern age of filming. So it at least intrigued me when David was recruited to direct the anglicized version of the Swedish legend. The best news of all, though, is that not only does David and his team stand up to the task with great vigilance, but actually makes a film that is independently brilliant, standing at least on par with the original film adaptation.

The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo is the first of three episodes in an overarching story focusing on two central characters: Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), writer for the magazine Millennium, and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a rude, brash but brilliant computer hacker who not only affects Mikael's life greatly but has a past that is obviously bubbling under the narrative's surface. When Mikael is sued for libel by a very influential (and rich, of course) businessman, and fails to win the case, he loses much of his credibility as a journalist, outside of having to pay a fine and go to jail. So when he's offered a hefty sum of money to help retired CEO of Vanger Industries - Henrik Vanger - with a certain problem, he jumps at the offer. So what is the task he has been hired to do? To solve the supposed murder of Harriet, Henrik's niece, who suddenly disappeared many years ago and never returned. This plunges him into a net of lies and secrets, where the list of suspects ranges over an entire family, the very family he now lives in close proximity to.

The plot is a very dense affair, and there's a lot happening at all times. As with the first one, its various complexities are translated to the screen with relative ease. In fact, it's not hard to be fully aware of what's happening at any given time, while no depth has been sacrificed in the process. Most of the thanks for that should go to Steven Zaillian, the film's screenwriter. Not only does he accurately represent the version of the tale we know already, but he puts in even more detail that seems to have been completely missing in the Swedish version. For instance, we barely even knew anything about Mikael's daughter before, but here she's not only revealed and fleshed out, but is also an important component of the story itself. The editing is also brilliant, which deftly separates the important from the pointless, making for a more compact and exciting experience.

Fincher also takes note to put his own mark on the film as with any of his previous works. He's put a lot of work into making the movie true to its original source, seeing how it happens in Sweden and all the characters have Swedish names and Swedish accents. It comes off as bizarre at first but works surprisingly well as you go along. It's a stark contrast to what could have happened if less care had been put into the transfer from one culture to the next. So we get the cold yet charming environs of Sweden interspersed with Fincher's various visual cues and emphases. Lighting, setting and colors are all strikingly apparent, creating a mesmerizing atmosphere that sucks you in and sticks in your mind. This can work both as comforting and exceptionally disturbing (as any viewer will see when about a third is over), where orange and white both serve as warm and sickly in different circumstances.

His fantastic work reflects in the great job of the cast. Daniel Craig does well as Mikael, portraying first and foremost a man that is no James Bond, no action hero that can brave gunshots and death threats. He is the first to eventually abandon any vestige of the Swedish influence, going back to just being his British self. However, in no way is he a bad choice here. Rooney Mara, however, is the shining star. Her portrayal of the menacing Lisbeth is simultaneously haunting and vulnerable, creating a character that is simply unforgettable. Her presence is all-encompassing and even though she is cold as ice almost all the way through, she retains a sort of humanity, something we can relate to. This opens up the chance to also feel sorry for her and all that she has had to go through. This is vital to not make the character too extreme and Rooney shoots and scores in one of the best character roles of 2011.

The supporting cast does a stellar job as well, with highlights being Cristopher Plummer as Henrik Vanger, Stellan Skarsgård as Martin Vanger and Yorick van Wageningen as the inexplicably disturbing Bjurman. The music is also fantastic, created by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. It's more subdued than their previous work on Social Network but it works perfectly for the gritty atmosphere and cold climate.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is an example of how to put your own spin on a common story. The pacing is brilliant, the music is sublime, the acting outstanding (particularly Rooney Mara) and the overall narrative is translated brilliantly from what was already a superb yarn. There's not much else to be said, it's a must-see and among the year's very, very best.

4 stars out of 5

Christmas greetings + game impressions

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Hello my friends, and happy Holiday season. I know I won't be around on Christmas to say this to you all, so I'll also say happy Christmas! Anyway, now that the exams are finally over (along with some food poisoning and painful weight loss), I can finally game some and spend time on something other than anatomy, histology and embryology. Just so that this isn't an empty "HEY, I'M BACK" blog, here are some impressions of games I've been playing:

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

-Whip it, whip it good!

I don't know if those reading have gotten the full brunt of it, but I have been rather critical of the Zelda series before. Twilight Princess was great, but it lacked the impact and freshness of many of the previous titles. Not only that, some of the features of the series, like combat and puzzles, have been wildly inconsistent and often a drawback. Skyward Sword, on the other hand, is a masterpiece. It has the bravado and daring of the older titles, while retaining that which made the series great in the first place. It takes steps to greatly improve the combat with the great usage of Motion Plus (it sometimes goes haywire, though, which is unfortunate) and the puzzles too are boosted by the creative ways you can interact with your new toys. The dungeon design is great as well, though not always outstanding, but overall, I love the changes the game makes and the progression in general. It's a clever, innovative title in the series and one of the Wii's best.

Xenoblade Chronicles

-Come on, look at this game's beauty! It's crazy.

I don't know if I've mentioned Xenoblade Chronicles here before, but I love it. Love it, love it, love it. THIS is how I want my RPG, it's massive, focused and has more heart than most other releases, well, on any system this year. The combat system is wonderfully addictive, the amount of side quests is staggering and the story, though slow to take off, is great as well. This game, in fact, reminds me of the always overscrutinized FFXII, which remains one of my favorite games ever. It's a shame that it hasn't arrived in the West, but it will be released next year, so all you Americans reading this: BUY IT! It's just too good to describe in just a few paragraphs.

Resistance 3

-Deep down, all he wants is a hug.

Despite my very positive past review of Resistance 2, that game ended up being disappointed in my memory. It was more restrictive, more focused on pure flash than substance and felt like most of the effort went into the MP. This was sad, since I really liked Resistance despite it having some rough edges. For this reason, I was relatively pessimistic about the third main installment in the series. Much to my surprise, Resistance 3 turns out to be the series best so far. It takes the best from both 1 and 2, blends it together and then adds some of its own twists to create a truly memorable FPS. The weapons are bombastic, the enemies varired and vicious and the atmosphere is more thought-out and methodical. It's also not like CoD. Score!

Dark Souls

-I just feel this picture gives a good summary of the game's variety in atmosphere.

The more tenacious of my "readers" may remember that Demon's Souls, Dark Souls' spiritual forebearer, was my game of the year back in 2009. For good reason as well, it was a beautifully dark, deliciously brutal and endlessly engrossing game that showed me what it means to dedicate oneself to a game. Dark Souls is a truly worthy successor to such an amazing game, being bigger, more resourceful and dynamic than the first. To be honest, so far I find it easier than DS, but that's not the worst thing in the world, actually it's positive in many ways. As before, though, I do have a hard time puttin myself into it and a break is necessary to just get myself in the mood. I've gotten as far as Blight Town and it's getting rough, but I'll go through it as soon as possible, since it really is an enjoyable game.

That's all for now. I'm also playing Minecraft and Arkham City, though I've not gotten far enough in those to pass much judgement. To say the least, I have A LOT to play this Christmas season, and I hope you do too :) See you folks after Christmas.

With regards,

Calvinsora (Jón)

Limbo review + hello!

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Hello, all my universal friends of GS! Long time, no..... something. Anyway, I finally got to writing a review (writer's block is a dreaded thing), and decided to review the game that is in my avatar: Limbo. The review can be found here. Same "rules" as always, read if you wish, comment if you wish, like if you wish. There are a few changes to my reviews:

I only review in 0.5 intervals now. I'm starting to see the futility in such incredible precision in something as trivial as a score, it just makes things much easier.

I also don't have scores for individual facets of the game either. The reason is the same: not much of a reason for it.

Needless to say, I love Limbo, absolutely fantastic game. You can read my review for further impressions.

As for other stuff, well, I'm not gonna just ignore Skyward Sword here. Honestly, it's surprising to see such a strong response to a review. Now, I'll say it here: I don't think I'll end up agreeing with Tom. Skyward Sword looks to be similar in spirit to my favorite Zelda, which is Wind Waker, so I'm very excited to get to play it after the exams in December. However, I embrace all different opinions. They help me broaden my horizons and further appreciate the individuality of humanity. So folks, chillax.

In other gaming news, I'm playing Xenoblade Chronicles mostly now. An absolutely brilliant game through and through, we need more of these games from third parties. I've also been playing Dark Souls, gotten all the way past the Gaping Dragon, though I've decided to finish XC first.

Otherwise, not much to report. I've finally started studying regional anatomy and have finished those annoying chemistry courses, some rudimentary histology and embryology too. It's a blast, I now am quite proficient in the arteries, veins, muscles and bones of the entire upper limb. I've also become an insufferable git at home with me always making alludements to anatomy at every occasion. :P It's fun, to put it simply.

Anyway, hope everyone is doing swell :) And happy Thanksgiving soon, US.

-Calvinsora

Drive review

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Here's a review of the amazing film Drive, which is a five-star film for me, the second of the year. Hope you enjoy :)

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Drive is a magnificent film. It's rich, poignant, jarring and refreshingly different on almost every level. Ryan Gosling proves here to be a real contender on the acting scene(alongside his role in Crazy, Stupid Love). It's artistic and impactful in equal measure and, well, there's no film like it this year.

Ryan Gosling is the Driver, a stunt-man/mechanic that spends his nights helping criminals escape from their respective crime scenes. However, his life changes when he meets Irene (Carey Mulligan), his next-door neighbor. The usually isolated Driver starts hanging out with Irene and her son, Benicia, and eventually starts to fall in love. When Irene's husband gets out of jail, however, he exits it in great debt and is faced with either paying or losing everything he loves. So Driver decides to step in and help out. However, not everything goes as planned...

Drive is as much a study of raw emotion as it is character. Driver doesn't even possess a name and is for the most part a very quiet and singular character. However, it does in no way cause a loss of personality. Just by looking at Driver's relationship with Irene, it's amazing how pure and realistic it really is. Some might scoff in how they simply establish a relationship through simple glances, but Hossein Amini (the film's writer) understands fully that more can be communicated through eye-to-eye contact than with any words. It's a relationship built on mutual compassion, the will to be there for the sake of it and keep on being there.

It's this unspoken affection that anchors the entire narrative, for the most part. The build-up is masterfully executed, introducing the key players that show their true colors within due time. Drive in fact polarizes itself at a steady pace, being often simultaneously warm and tender; and then cold and detached. This is only more apparent in the latter half where the violence almost explodes off the screen, in complete contrast to the sentimentality of the movie's first moments. Instead of compromising the beauty, however, it amplifies it, makes us miss those golden moments but at the same time understand the motive behind it. A tragic tale befalls our hero, and we stand by him every step of the way.

The cinematography goes a long way in communicating the substance of the film. Everything is gorgeously shot, from sweeping panoramas of downtown to personal up-close shots of the characters. Lighting also plays a big part, often reflecting the circumstances, light signifying happiness and danger translating as dark. There's this feeling of serenity over the pacing too. It gets at times unbearably exciting and tense, but it goes at a manageable speed at all times. It's a sign of the amazing balance between the direction of Nicolas Refn and Amini's script. They compliment each other without a hitch, leading to a cinematic feast of sights, and sounds too.

The aural side of things is one of the most prominent as well. It's a shocking blend of 80's influence and new age ambiance that shouldn't under most circumstances blend together. However, in this case, it works surprisingly well in setting a mood that is truly unique. Also, props go to the sound men who have done a great job in making the most disgusting sounds in the movie sound utterly convincing.

Drive is a study in brilliant film-making. It's an artistic blend of action, love and sorrow. It leaves many of its questions unanswered and leaves much to interpretation, but that's one of the best things about it. It doesn't pander, it doesn't overstate, it feeds on the acting abilities of its cast to deliver something that is both indescribable and unforgettable. Drive is a film to celebrate.

*****

Uber short, temporary reviews

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Hello, dear folk of Gamespot. It's been... not so long, actually. But I realize one thing looking back at my blogs of this year: almost none of them are about actual appraisals of the games I've played this year. Egads! I get little enough free time as is, I'm here doing this simply because I just finished reading everything I was supposed to read for the chemistry course I'm in, so I'm pretty happy with myself. It's a thick 'un.

Anway, what I will do here is write very short reviews of the games I've finished this year to give a good idea of what I've been playing and enjoying. I'll also give impressions. Don't worry, I will find time to write full reviews, but just for fun:

Portal 2: 9.3/10.0

I loved the first Portal (by far the most awesome part of The Orange Box), so I had high hopes for the sequel. Much to my surprise, this game surpassed what I had expected. It's smarter, longer, funnier and a genuine blast to play. The pacing was for me not as nigh-on perfect as in the first title, but it's a minor gripe. The great co-op seals the deal. One of the must-play games of the year.

Bayonetta: 9.3/10.0

Here comes a game I didn't expect to like so much. I'm not that much into the hack 'n' slash genre (not at least as much as many other genres out there) but boy did Platinum Games do a one-two punch last year in terms of games. First Bayonetta, then Vanquish, two superb action titles. Bayonetta is styIish, addictive and accessible with buckets of crazy thrown at it for good measure. It's also highly replayable, which is a plus.

Alice in Wonderland: Madness Returns: 7.2/10.0

I generally did enjoy my jump into the rabbit hole. The problem is that it could've been so much better. The pacing is the culprit here, the levels linger on for far too long without offering sufficient spin on the areas themselves. The combat is also awkward and gets monotonous near the end. This is juxtaposed by the fantastic core design of the game and the enjoyable navigation parts of it all. I really love the atmosphere and lunacy prevalent in the game itself. It's muddled, but far from boring.

Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time: 8.5/10.0

I gotta say, I was disappointed by the first PS3 venture of good ol' Ratchet. In most ways, I agree with the assessment GS gave the game. I'm elated to see such improvement between the two Future titles, since ACiT does everything so much better, and adds a lot of clever twists to it all. It's fun to play, diverse and creative. I still find that it's time for Insomniac to tread new waters, since the weapon selection is getting a bit drab. Extra points go to the story, though, which is fantastic.

Metroid Prime Trilogy: 10.0/10.0

Yes, a hard, cold 10 goes to what is, IMO, one of the best offers in the gaming world. I don't think I need to say much, I've reviewed all three Prime games, but the controls have been perfected in the series, and there's no better way to experience Prime 1 and 2. 3 is also great in its own way.

Limbo: 9.4/10.0

The game in my profile, quite obviously. I love both Limbo and what it represents: a different take on the medium. It's engrossing, terrifying, dramatic, depressing, beautiful, disgusting, utterly brilliant. The puzzles are clever, the atmosphere is top-notch, the sound design is nothing more than a stroke of genius and the visual styIe... man, it's good. It's a bit on the expensive side, but regardless, there's little not to recommend about Limbo.

Pokemon White: 9.0/10.0

You know what? I loved Black. It changes virtually nothing about the core mechanics of Pokemon, but IMO, it doesn't have to. It's addictive and fun, always managing to make me want to catch them all. Not only that, it's got a fantastic post-game, so I look forward to playing more of it later.

Outland: 8.7/10.0

Fantastic visuals blend with a clever usage of the polarization technique of Ikaruga to make a memorable action game that is a cut above much of the competition. The combat is a bit stiff but overall, one of the better DL games on the PSN.

Impressions:

Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together: 9.5/10.0

I've talked of this game's genius before, but I can't overstate how smart this game is, not to mention fun. It's accessible as well, which is not so common in SRPGs. One of the best PSP titles to date.

Dead Space 2: 9.4/10.0

I just have to admire DS2. It does remove some of the scares the first game had, but adds so much else to the table. The pacing is better, the story is better woven and the action is high-strung and perfectly executed. And it looks bloody brilliant on top of everything else.

LittleBigPlanet 2: 9.3/10.0

It's almost scary how redundant LBP2 makes its predecessor. It builds upon everything the first game had, making everything simply better. The reason the score is not higher is that I still haven't connected my PSN account again after the trouble earlier this year. More on the game later.

Dragon Quest IX: 9.1/10.0

DQIX loses none of the series' focus to pander to a more social experience. It's still the great core DQ experience you'd expect with some great new frills to it.

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective: 9.0/10.0

Creativity is the key-word here. The devs took a mechanic and ran away with it, forcing out every little detail they could to make it unforgettable. I do have to play more to have a solid judgment, though.

Ocarina of Time 3D: 9.3/10.0

For those who don't know, I got a 3DS this summer to replace my literally falling-apart DS Phat. And the game I got with it is of course OoT 3D. And I gotta say, it's lovely. With a cleaned-up interface, I can more fully enjoy the design of the game even more. I can more fully understand why the game has such ardent followers.

World of Goo: 9.5/10.0

I've only played the first world of this game and I'm absolutely in love with it (not in a weird way though!). It's tricky, wonderfully dark and humorous, with an amazing soundtrack. Can't wait to play more.

Super Meat Boy: 9.7/10.0

Officially my third-favorite game of this generation. The platforming is brilliant, the design is brilliant, the visuals are brilliant, the music is brilliant and the length versus cost really highlights the bargain that this game is. Absolutely brilliant (did you get that?).

The Witcher: 8.3/10.0

So far, I'm intrigued. The combat takes time to get into but once you do, it's pleasantly entertaining. Some pacing problems are present, though.

Bastion: 8.6/10.0

I've only played a bit, but so far it's shaping up very well. Love the design and humour. More on this game later.

Dead Nation: 7.8/10.0

Fun, bloody zombie-goodness. It is a bit overly simple, though, and needs a bit more variety to the design.

Stacked: 8.5/10.0

Surprisingly deep, clever and funny. It crafts a truly charming atmosphere while blending in some tricky but entertaining puzzles. Love the use of the silent-movie motif.

Whew, that's it for now. Reviews expected... 2023. That's all, folks ;)

-Calvinsora

Finally done bein' 18

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Well, the 19th of August is back again. With a vengeance! Needless to say, I am now nineteen years old and full of vigor and viscosity. Wait, scratch the last part. Full of life, that's it. There's very little special to say about the nineteenth birthday, to be honest, but hey, it's the limbo between eighteen and twenty, that's something.

Anyway, I just wanted an excuse to say hey to y'all. I've started studying medicine, 250 cracking pages of chemistry done, and a lot to go. So I won't be as active here as I've been before, though I was already being a inactive bore. However, I'll try what I can to communicate with all my friends here :) Hope you have a great week!

Btw, got Dead Space 2, LittleBigPlanet 2, World of Goo, Minecraft and Bastion as a birthday jamboree. Brilliant, eh?

Kind regards,

Jon (Calvinsora)

L.A. Noire review

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Hey folks, how are y'all? Anyway, here's my promised review of L.A. Noire, one of my favorite games this year. If you have the energy to read my review (any comments are welcome :)), and you liked it, I'd love if you thumbed up my review here. Someone decided to down-thumb my reviews in a row (some SW scuffle, most likely), so I need a positive quota :P I kid, but any comments are, again, welcome.

SCORE: 9.3/10.0

Pros:

+Incredible face-recognition technology

+Cool, brilliantly paced story

+Authentic atmosphere

+Great presentation

+Lots of extra content

Cons:

-Investigations can be very particular

-Interrogations can occasionally be confusing

Time spent playing to date: 20-40 hours

Difficulty: Just right

Review:

At first glance, L.A. Noire may look like nothing more than a 1940s version of GTA, with interspersed detective scenes and interviews with suspects. This first glance may even be close to the truth if L.A. Noire is only played for the gameplay itself. However, Team Bondi's first production is far more than the sum of its parts. It has to be taken as a whole, and when done so, it is a sumptous piece of atmospheric brilliance. It takes an incredibly fascinating time period in American history and utilizes it to it fullest extent. It's a living, breathing world filled with detail, and it's helped greatly by the amazing face-recognition technology framing the virtual town of forties' Los Angeles. It's far from being a crowdpleaser, but it never tries to be one. It's its own entity which manages to completely stand out of the crowd wearing a fedora hat and a pair of spit-shined loafers.

The setting is Los Angeles in the 1940s. You play as Cole Phelps, a war hero who is fresh off the battlefield and has gone back to the streets, as a rookie crimefighter in the Los Angeles Police Department. Not one to be just on par, Phelps quickly climbs the ubiquitous ladder of success by solving case after case, going from his humble roots as a police detective to the vice office itself and meeting with the city's seedy underbelly up close and personal. Noire's story is, to say the least, simple. However, it's in this simplicity where it can focus on other factors of the story instead. Authenticity, emotion, believability, not to mention drama, intrigue, heartbreak and betrayal. It's the trademark components of any story, yet none of it is far-fetched or out of place. It all fits into the weave of the narrative itself. It takes you into the heart of the police process while fleshing out multiple backstories to creat a satisfying whole. It's a true noire experience, grim, cool but with a surprising heart that gives off a sense of humanity and authenticity to every character.

One of the key aspects to the story's authenticity lies in the ingenious face-recognition technology the game possesses. Each of the game's characters has a respective actor who lends his face to the character's image. Through some technological magic, the human face's multitude of intricacies make it intact into the game, from a singular raised eyebrow to a fidgeting of the upper lip. The mouth actually moves in accordance to what is being said (which is far more impressive than one might think at first) and you can gauge the emotional status of a suspect by just reading his face. How this is used from a gameplay perspective will be explained later on, but as to how it benefits the overall atmosphere, it's groundbreaking stuff. This technology doesn't just extend itself to the main characters, every single non-player character in Los Angeles has a face that behaves normally. No dull eyes, black lines for mouths and emotionless expressions, you can really look at the NPC and see a person walking alongside you, not just an AI-controlled dummy. It makes the city feel alive, as if you really are a part of the fascinating world you play in. It would be easy to overstate this tecnology's importance, but it should not be understated either. Every character, no matter how relevant, feels unique and if believability is a game's intention, this type of face-recognition is the ultimate tool, lending depth where it previously never existed.

Believability is therefore, quite obviously, the game's main focus and it wouldn't do to only focus on the characters. Everything else has been set in a similar mould, gameplay included. In part, L.A. Noire plays much like any other third person sandbox title. There's one big central world, and therein are various points of interest, the most important of which are the story missions. You get from place to place via snazzy cars and you get the choice of either letting your companion drive (and skipping to the final destination) or driving yourself and soaking in the sights. You'll most likely end up doing both in equal amounts. It can be relatively monotonous to drive long distances with nothing going on but the occasional chatter of the radio and the hustle and bustle of the city itself. In those cases, skipping directly to your destination is ideal. However, if you choose to drive, you can take on various police calls which range from simple thefts to gruesome murders. There's also much to behold by just going sightseeing. The game's rendition of Los Angeles is ridiculously detailed, with no area looking like another in the most literal sense. There are unique stores on every street, neon signs glowing at night, beautiful views atop a multitude of hills, architecture to gawp at and even specific districts that have their own unique flavor. To the person looking for action, this might seem insubstantial but if your pleasure comes from the detail, L.A. Noire is a feast for the attentive mind.

The meat of the game comes in the story missions, however. The focal point in these is the investigation, where you play detective looking for clues and stringing together pieces of evidence to come to one singular conclusion. Once you enter a crime scene, special music starts to signify the change of area. Each time you approach an item that can be investigated, a chime plays to help you along. You can then get a close-up of that item and carefully look at it from every angle. Once you've found all relevant clues, the music then stops. These investigations are usually entertaining and straight-forward. However, there are occasional exceptions. The game can be ridiculously specific about what is and isn't an important clue. In particularly big crime scenes, finding all the clues can boil down to simple pixel-hunting, hugging walls and scanning the entire area for just one, often useless, clue. Needless to say, this isn't fun and becomes tedious before long. Usually the game paces these investigations well, however, and they rarely overstay their welcome.

After you've investigated a crime scene, you continue on to the other important piece of the crime-solving agenda: interrogation. This is where the true pay-off of the face-recognition technology comes to light. Depending on how much evidence you gathered beforehand, you get to ask persons of interest (or POI) various questions. After each inquiry, you must choose one of three possibilities: the person is telling the truth, not telling you the whole story or is downright lieing to you. By reading the POI's face, you can ascertain what choice is the correct one. If he has a straight face, he's most likely telling the truth. If there's any sort of disturbance in the face, however, it's not so simple. Then you'll have to peruse your evidence and see what is inconsistent about their testimony, and then hit him with evidence if you accuse him of lying. This is, like investigating, usually a hassle-free experience. It's easily one of the game's most entertaining aspects, in fact, and makes you feel like a real detective. The game can be very particular in what it's asking for, unfortunately. The lines between doubt and lie are often laughably slim, and sometimes the game even expects you to understand when the person is lieing by omission. It's a lot to ask and might lead to not-so favorable results. Otherwise, it's an integral part of the experience and brilliantly implemented.

These two things aren't all you'll do in the story missions, though. Sometimes, a suspect will flee from the scene and you'll have to chase him down, either by foot or car. If by foot, you can variously run him down or threaten him with gunfire to make him surrender. If it's a car chase, things get even more exciting. Your partner will try to shoot at the fleeing party's tires, while you try your absolute best at pushing him off the road. The car chases are some of the game's most cinematic moments, emulating the action films of bygone eras perfectly. You might even have to participate in shoot-outs and stand-ups, both requiring pinpoint accuracy and skill with a gun. There are incredibly varied scenarios at every corner and just when you think Noire can't bring forth anything new, it does so with relative ease.

This applies to the aforementioned police calls too, so there's more than enough to do in the city of Los Angeles. You can also look for landmarks, special golden film reels bearing the titles of cIassic movies and gorgeous deluxe cars which you can drive as much as you want on the streets of the city. These are just little bonuses, but they're bonuses that make everything deeper and more realistic. All in all, the game should last the overall player over 20 hours, and if you're a fan of collectibles and finishing everything 100%, this number can be far exceeded.

From a presentational standpoint, L.A. Noire is very impressive. The much touted face-recognition technology has already been mentioned, but this would be impossible if the visual fidelity weren't up to the challenge. The faces not only act real, they look real, and so does the entirety of Los Angeles. You'd be hard-pressed finding a city that is more realistically represented as Noire's L.A., and it works magic for the overall atmosphere. The music does so as well, since it's a wide assortment of cIassic 40s music that blasts through your car radio combined with the original tracks that sound like they're straight out of a noire film (i.e. incredibly appropriate). The voice-acting is nothing short of superb. The actors also voice their characters, so the voice always fits the character that is speaking, and there is some great talent there to lend their voice. The most notable is John Noble, who is also known for his appearances in Fringe and in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. A stellar job in every way.

The atmosphere has been mentioned often throughout the review, and that's for a good reason. L.A. Noire is all about the atmosphere. Whether it's how you're actually penalized for hitting people and cars (by way of rank deductions at the end of the mission) to how there's detail in even the most unimportant places. There's a constant source of wonder in exploring the city itself, while fighting bad guys, inspecting crime scenes and interrogating suspects. How much you appreciate the game, however, is dependent on how much you value the atmosphere itself. On its own, the gameplay of L.A. Noire is incredibly rudimentary, but when tied to the story, the world, the technology and the atmosphere, it becomes something extraordinary. It's not just a game, it's like being the main character in your very own noire film. If that's something you find unappealing, then this is not the game for you. But if this has been your secret dream for years, you finally have a game to satiate your desire.

Story: 9.3/10.0
Gameplay: 9.1/10.0
Graphics: 9.6/10.0
Sound: 9.1/10.0
Replayability: 8.4/10.0

Final score: 9.3/10.0