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Paladin_King Blog

Games Completed - Fable III

Games Completed

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - Jan. 10

Vanquish - Jan. 22

Dead Space 2 - Feb 6

Fable III - Feb. 19

Fable III

Yeah, I'm a little late posting this, but I've been busy. Also, consider this a warning. There will be SPOILERSin this one. Nothing overly specific, but spoilers nonetheless.

With that out of the way, let's talk about Fable III and let's start with its positives.

Despite it's short length (and man is it ever short for an RPG, but by this point, it's expected from Fable games), I found Fable III to be a very well paced game. I was really pleased with that given that it was one of my biggest complaints about the last game, particularly from a story-telling perspective.

Essentially, the game sees you traveling from land to land, attempting to recruit each people to your side in an attempt at revolution against your evil brother. What this means is a methodical and well paced game that sees you steadily visiting each land, meeting its people, doing some missions for said people, and ultimately recruiting them until you're ready for the big revolution. What this means, though, is that there is a definite sense of progression in the game from both a story and gameplay vantage-point. You feel your allies increase along with your power and you feel yourself moving towards the big finale. This sort of pacing isn't anything new (Dragon Age also did it well, and admittedly, Fable 3's structure is similar - roving from land to land recruiting folks), but it works and it works well. It keeps you playing the game and it gives steady doses of accomplishment.

Though it's very simple by RPG standards, I enjoyed the leveling system for much the same reason. There's a very tangible feeling of progression here. Rather than simply showing you an abstract grid with holes to fill-in, Fable 3 puts the skillpoint system into an actual gameplay location, one called the Road to Rule. The road is littered with various treasures chests, containing basic combat/ranged/melee upgrades to social abilities to job efficiency, each chest costing a certain amount of XP to open. Sets of chests are also barred by gates, which only open as you progress past certain points in the game. All told, this sytem makes the whole leveling system feel real, enhances that feeling of progression, and is quite satisfying.

As far as the story goes, it's nothing to write home about, but it's servicable enough. To the devs' credit, they throw a major, major curve-ball around 2/3s of the way through, switching the villain into something far, far nastier. The swap in villains turns an otherwise drab story on its head, turning the game into something you weren't at all expecting it to be, something far different in tone and substance from what the game had built itself up as. It's a welcome surprise and a fun twist. It also helps that the voice acting is rock solid. Certainly, it also helps that Fable's world is as light-hearted as ever, always filled with comedy. In particular, there are a couple of side missions that are unbelievably uproarious. One in particular, called "the Gamer," must be seen to be believed in its satire of the "real gaming world."

I also admit that I enjoyed the magic system, even if it is as simple as ever. Mixing combinations of two magic powers is fun, charging up super-blasts is fun, and giving each power a single-shot and blast-radius version is a fun idea. The blast-radius is also incredibly satisfying, particularly when charged up.

But Peter Molyneux is known for the little things he tries to put in his games, with mixed success. One thing he does this time around that definitely works is the segment of the game where you become king. At this point, standard gameplay stops, and you begin a carefully scheduled resource-management game, filled with moral choices, frustrating sacrifices, and small victories. It's the one part of the game where Fable 3 really flexes its decision-making process and it's a lot of fun moving from one scheduled royal decree to the next.

Unfortunately, as I said, Molyneux's "little things" are a mixed bag. One thing he tries his best to jam down our throats is the new "hand holding" mechanic. You can now hold characters' hands to guide them through certain locations or protect them. It sounds simple enough, but it's fairly broken. It's not broken in a way that will really stop the game or shatter gameplay, but it's embarassing nonetheless. Unable to account for speed and terrain, characters will often break grip and the hand-holding becomes a simple "follow me" mechanic and nothing more...albeit occasionally with outstretched arms or hands clasped to nothing. And when the terrain gets interesting, yeah, things can get rough as your NPC friend gets caught on stuff.

But the major points of the game can't eschew criticism either. In particular, the melee system is something of an embarassment. It's not broken and it's completely functional. The problem is that it's grotesquely simple. It's all one button. Even blocking. You can throw the odd unblockable strike if you charge up, but otherwise, there's nothing to it. There's no variety in combos or anything like that. Hell, you can even pretty much get through the game without blocking at all. Just hammer the attack button. It's pretty sad really.

Then there's the fact that Fable 3 tries to do things that ultimately have no real impact on the game. Take the whole getting-married-having-a-kid and raising a family aspect that Molyneux is so proud of. It's all well and good, but the problem is that it has no bearing on the game itself or its story. Your wife and child end up as non-existent, unimportant characters who are nothing but burdens.

Fable 3 also has quite an extensive real estate management system, but again, it all seems a little pointless and half-baked. You buy property and make money, but there's not much that's actually worth spending money on. For example, I got through the game with no problem with only the hammer and pistol that I started with, never having to buy weapons. In fact, the only thing I found worth buying was the odd set of health potions. That's it.

So that's the thing really. From the family, to the shops, to the real estate, Fable 3 relies too much on its gamers' own initiative. It doesn't provide enough encouragement or motivation to ever explore everything it offers. There's not enough reward and, hell, the game barely even mentions this stuff. There's no story mission that has you purchasing goodds or buying real estate. Hell, even finding a weapons shop can be a task, given the troubling lack of a real map.

Beyond that, there are also little glitches here and there. The game does have moments of slow-down/lag and frame-rate drops, which is kind of inexcusable given that the graphics, while not bad, are nothing to get excited over.

Oh, and as a final negative, the last boss absolutely sucks, is utterly disappointing, and is incredibly easy. But I guess that's the biggest failing of Fable III: it's too damned easy. I am by no means a gaming god. I get thrashed in any game I've tried to play online. But I got through Fable III without getting knocked out a single time and I never upgraded any of my weapons. That's pretty goddamned ridiculous, if you ask me.

So yeah, ultimately, it's Fable 3. It does a bunch of stuff right, but also ends up feeling too simple with a handful of half-baked ideas and another handful of potential that's fun to explore. In other words, if you purchased either of the first two games and played through them, it's hard to really complain about this one given that it's guilty of the same crimes. It's the same old Fable: satisfying in its own way but possessing a lingering, half-assedness.

Score: 7.0

Games Completed in 2011 - Dead Space 2

Game Completed

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - Jan. 10

Vanquish - Jan. 22

Dead Space 2 - Feb. 6

Dead Space 2

Unsurprisingly, this was the first game I've purchased in 2011. I have the good fortune of working just a couple blocks from both a Future Shop and a Best Buy, so grabbing a copy of a game at store opening is easy.

The best thing about Dead Space 2 is that Visceral Games have taken an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude to the game. With Dead Space 1, there's little that can be cited as major flaws in the game. As such, Visceral don't go about reinventing the wheel here. Everything you loved about the first game is full and intact in Dead Space 2.

You get your awesome sound effects and lighting, for starters. While I didn't find Dead Space 1 the most frightening experience, and the same goes for Dead Space 2, I cannot deny Dead Space 2's use of tension at certain points of the game. The atmosphere is absolutely rock solid, as one would hope from a Dead space experience. The world of Dead Space 2 is so compelling and so bloody dark that it immerses you with some ease.

Although it's the same as it was in the first game, I also need to once again comment on just how freaking awesome the dismemberment mechanic is. Through this mechanic alone, combat never feels boring. It's continually unique and, more than that, incredibly satisfying. Crippling an enemy's movement, getting surprised by a legless necromorph who's still alive, the delightful squishy noise you get from severing a limb...there's just so much to love about the dismemberment mechanic. Best of all is how it makes frantic portions of the game all the more hectic; it gets damned hard to concentrate and aim at limbs when being assaulted by multiple enemies, possibly from different directions, or when something really nasty is bearing down on you. The dismemberment mechanic ultimately boils down to how well you can keep a cool head; no matter how chaotic and desperate things get, it requires the cold skill of a surgeon. It basically forces the gamer to create order out of chaos. It's a beautiful thing.

But all of that was in Dead Space 1, so let's talk about what was added. First and foremost, I absolutely loved all of the new enemy types. There are a lot more necromorph types this time around and all of them are creative and well-thought out. They inclusion in a swarm of necromorphs can give a battle a whole new depth or, in some cases, a new enemy type can, alone, lead to some great set-piece battles. Regardless, the massively expanded enemy pool leads to a much more varied combat experience. More than that, they also all look great on an artistic level.

I also have to mention that as good as the graphics were last time around, Dead Space 2's graphics are most definitely improved. Things look more polished and generally more impressive. Rather than just resting on their laurels and trucking out the same engine, Visceral have basically updated their game, and that's appreciated.

Telekinesis, I felt, was also a bigger part of this game than the last. At least, I felt I was using it quite a bit more. Whether it's the elegant and generally satisfying puzzles, lifting boxes and obstacles out of the way, it seemed to be more of a presence this time around. In fact, you can even pick up pieces of dead necromorphs, or conveniently placed pointy objects, and use them as offensive weapons. Very cool.

One addition to the game though ends up being completely wasted, however. Certain parts of the game will require Isaac to travel through air or service ducts. It's as claustrophobic and tight as you'd expect. From the first time you do this, you think "this ain't gonna end well." Yet...for some reason....Isaac is never attacked during these portions. Hell, he's not even remotely threatened by anything. You just crawl from point a to point b on a linear path, never obstructed or threatened by any enemies, dangers, or obstacles. Hell, the ducts, for that reason, end up giving you a sense of invulnerability; nothing ever happens when you're in there and it's always totally safe. That feels like a complete reversal of how it should feel. Crapped and confined, you should feel more at risk, not less. It's a completely wasted opportunity and given how nothing is done with it, it'd've probably been better if the developers just left it out entirely.

I also felt that the new guns were a bit of a mixed bag. I ultimately felt that the plasma cutter and line gun were still the go-to guns. Like last time, some weapons are just indisputably better than the rest, even if the flamethrower does suck a little less this time around. There isn't a lot of balance. Not that any gun is broken for good or bad, just that some are better than others no matter how you slice it.

I should also mention that I did find the last couple of levels a bit trying. Not overly difficult persay, just annoying. It sees the return of the old "invincible enemy." Clearly the developers felt that an invincible, regenerating enemy adds fear and tension but honestly? It's nothing more than irritating. Worse still, unlike last time, you don't even get the satisfaction of ultimately killing the bastard. If you're going to be hounded by something, at least be allowed to eventually get even. I thought that was a written law of gaming somewhere.

The story, however, is solid. It's hard for me really to objectively assess it in comparison to the last game's. I can tell you that Dead Space 2's story and world are very good and better than those of most games. However, it's always hard to compare a sequel's story to its predecessor's because, no matter how you slice it, if it's in the same time period with the same main character, you've lost some of the freshness of it all. You have familiarity that you didn't before. You know all about the marker, the necromorphs, and all of that, so it's harder to be surprised or amazed. So in that sense, the story overall, while good, ultimately isn't as solid as the first time around.

That said, what pulls it to being about even are that the characters are better this time around. Namely, your female friend/companion, Ellie. Ellie is a really great, likable character. Her relationship with Isaac never feels cliched or forced and is always natural. It's really easy to like her and care about her and I thought this was helped by Visceral's wise choice to dodge any real attempt at a romantic subplot between her and Isaac.

Speaking of Isaac, I enjoyed finally getting to meet him this time. He talks frequently, we see his face often, and he has a real personality this time. I felt that that ultimately added to the overall experience of the game. He felt very human throughout, tortured but heroic in an understated way. He was a really good protagonist and, now that we've gotten to know him, a face more than capable of carrying a major gaming franchise.

One last thing: as you might have heard, Dead Space 2 no longer takes place on a single ship. Rather it occurs on a sprawl/city. At first I wasn't a fan of the idea, but over time, I came to appreciate it quite a bit. It adds a larger number of possibilities when it come sto where the game can go and I feel that the gamble did in the end pay off.

So, bottom-line? While it's familiar now, that doesn't change the fact that Dead Space 2 is just as good as Dead Space 1. While it may not be as fresh, the minor improvements pull it about even, I'd say. Some might lament that it's too similar to the first game but to them, I ask: did you not like the first game?

Score: 9.0

Games Completed in 2011 - Updated

Games Completed in 2011

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - Jan. 10

Vanquish - Jan. 22


For me, this was the most surprisingly good title to come out in 2010. The game had very little hype and what we ultimately got was way better than we had any right to expect.

As far as third person shooters go, the mechanics here at base level are about as good as I could hope for. The shooting hit detection is bang-on, the accuracy and range between different weapons is elegantly well-handled, and most importantly, the cover mechanic is bang-on, which is often the make it or break it these days when it comes to third person shooters. While the cover mechanic may not quite be at the level of a Gears of War or Uncharted, it comes close enough to the point where it's not at all worth complaining about. It works well and is fully functional.

So basically, Vanquish follows the third person shooter template. But what does it bring to the table? Quite a bit, actually. Vanquish essentially blends the Gears of War/Uncharted model with the fast, frantic, and frenetic madness that can only be found in Japan. Enemies run rampant, bullets fly all over the place, and there are robots galore.

More than anything though, it's the pacing. This game simply does not let up. I can't emphasize that enough. It's a constant white knuckle ride that is all action, all speed all the time. Despite the necessity of taking cover, the game always feels like it's perpetually in motion, perpetually moving quickly, never getting bogged down in a shoot-and-take-cover stalemate or quagmire. It's a fast and frantic game that never stops to take a breath, which is quite the accomplishment given that the take-cover model doesn't always lend itself to that sort of gameplay.

A lot of this is thanks to the now famous rocket dash mechanic. Basically, you've got an energy meter that allows you to rocket boost about (imagine a rocket powered dash that lasts as long as your meter does). It's not only incredibly useful, allowing you to match the speed of the game, but it's also a hell of a lot of fun and feels incredibly satisfying.

Perhaps even more satisfying is Vanquish's use of bullet-time. A lot of games have done bullet-time, but I really have no complaints whatsoever about Vanquish's take. It's always fun, always satisfying, and is great when it comes to tipping the odds. I also enjoyed how it automatically kicked in when you get low on health, provided you have something left in your energy meter; this significantly reduced the number of cheap deaths, as it gives you a chance to escape ambushes, etc.

That energy meter adds a lot to the game really, as it actually gives the game a desperate sort of resource management. Sure you can do a lot of damage when in bullet-time, but how close to empty do you want to try to push it? After all, if you run your meter down to empty, you overheat, a state that makes you feel pretty vulnerable. And it's not just bullet-time either...what if you need that rocket boost to escape an enemy attack, but used almost all of your meter on bullet time? It's gripping stuff and juggling it on the fly is a lot of fun.

I also wanted to make a quick comment on the graphics: they're really pretty darned good on a technical level. I was very much surprised at the quality given that this game is a pretty small production when compared to Modern Warfare/Gears/whatever. That such a small production and more obscure title could crank out such a pretty game is a pleasant surprise. Whether it's gameplay or cutscene, the graphics never let you down at all.

Unfortunately, the same can't truly be said about the graphics when it comes to the artistic side. Quite frankly, the character designs, the enemies, and the world itself are incredibly bland. Hell, your character doesn't even look like a leading man; he looks that bland. The color palette and the designs themselves just don't inspire. It's really, really bog standard stuff and, well, kind of uncreative.

And that's the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Vanquish's greatest fault: it's story and it's characters. Put simply, they suck. The script is weak and the story is at different points non-existent and incomprehensible and by the end of the game, it ends up just being flat-out dumb. Characters are also completely two-dimensional archetypes. At times, the characters are so familiar and such run of the mill stereotypes that its downright painful. The story is so goddamned boring, standard, and worthless and the characters so blase, that it ultimately makes it hard to give a damn what's going on.

That puts Vanquish in a weird position: as far as gameplay goes, it's absolutely spot-on. However, can a third-person shooter succeed with such crappy characters, atmosphere, and story? It was a weird experience for me. At times, I had to force myself to sit down and play the game, but when I did, I absolutely loved what I was playing.

That said, the mechanics do have their flaws. The enemy AI isn't perfect and the enemies themselves are the blandest of the lot and could use a little variety. Furthermore, the guns didn't feel quite satisfying enough to fire.

I also felt that melee attacks were far underpowered. They did nowhere near enough damage to merit causing an overheat each time you used a melee attack. It was a pointless nerf that made me scratch my head.

It's also worth mentioning that the game truly is short. I took my time and couldn't reach 7 hours. There's also limited replayability, unless you're masochistic enough to want to play through its aptly titled "God Hard" mode.

Bottom-line: Rock solid gameplay meets bargain bin story, world, and characters.

Grade: 8.0

Music I'm Listening To (with Reviews!)

So, every month there's around 4-5 cds that I listen to on heavy rotation. That's not to say that that's all I listen to, but you know, it's the stuff that stands out. Some old, some new. Mostly metal, but not always.

Here goes:

Dawnbringer - Nucleus

Let's make this clear right now: this CD is a goddamned monster. I had no idea who these guys were before hearing this disc upon recommendation. At first I thought....derivative band name and album title. How good can it be?

Well apparently the band is a very different beast from what it was before, and it shows. This CD is the definition of "kicking." It's an absolute rocker of a CD that will knock your socks off. It is indisputably metal, but is clearly heavily inspired by the likes of Black Sabbath and their more successful imitators. Everything has that old school, heavy haze to it. Yet underneath it all, there are the hints of the melodic death metal roots that the band has, at least in the guitar leads.

That said, the vocals are in the old school stoner rock category, and they work really well with the music. That said, it's mostly about those heavy stoner guitars. Crunchy riffs, wicked leads that occasionally verge on power metal at times, it all comes together so well.

I also rarely ever give much of a crap about lyrics, but the lyrics here are also fantastic. In fact, one song in particular, "Old Wizard," is basically carried by the sheer awesomeness of the lyrics. This is 1970s psychotropic high fantasy stuff right here, and it's a total blast.

Bottom line: this CD rocks and it rocks hard. I recommend that if you like rock in the slightest, that you give it a go. It doesn't matter if you're an extreme metalhead who loves his black and death or if you're just a guy who listens to radio rock with the odd smattering of Ozzy and AC/DC. If you've ever liked a rock band, you owe it to yourself to give this a listen.

The best thing I can say about this CD though is that except for one "just okay" track, every song is either killer or ridiculously killer. How often can you say that about an album?

Grade: 9.5

Tron: Legacy Soundtrack

I'm not a big soundtrack guy, to be honest. I have a few though, and the few that I have, I love. That said, I usually lean towards the big orchestral stuff. Gladiator, Lord of the Rings, you know what I mean.

Tron is the exception. I've always enjoyed ambient, epic techno that creates soundscapes. Thus, when I watched Tron: Legacy in theatres, the thing that hit me above all was the music. Well, that and Olivia Wilde's uncontrolled hotness.

The minute I left the theatre I knew that I simply had to own the soundtrack. If you've seen the film, chances are that you know what I'm talking about. The movie has a very distinct sound that's all it's own and is one of the few times where the music, at times, actually raises the movie itself, making the narrative feel even more awesome or epic than it otherwise would be.

All told, the soundtrack runs the gamut of the emotional spectrum. It is true that the main overture riff is used once in a while throughout the CD but you know what? I couldn't care less. Because that overture riff is bloody awesome.

Either way, this is big, expansive stuff and, for me, is a masterwork for Daft Punk. I can only pray that other movies follow Tron's footsteps where the music is concerned. This is a study in what an excellent score can do for your film, and that's raise the emotional bar to a new level.

Grade: 9.0

Down - Nola

Given that it's been 15 years now, I guess it's safe to call this one a ****c. At the very least, it's a landmark for a sub-genre, combining southern rock, sludge, and blues with frontman Phil Anselmo's Pantera stylings.

For those unfamiliar with down, it's the definition of "supergroup", at least as far as souther metal/sludge is concerned. You've got Pantera's Phil Anselmo, as well as Crowbar's main man, Kirk Windstein and Corrosion of Conformity's main man, Pepper Keenan, all jamming together with other members of Crowbar and Eyehategod.

The result is groovy, infectious, catchy, and really, it's comfort food for metalheads. It feels really sincere and in the end, it's just good, honest music. It's got that "average Joe, working cl(ass" feel to it with absolutely zero pretention. That's no mean feat given the big names involved.

Several of these songs are cl(assics. The first two tracks "Temptation's Wings" and "Lifer" are without a doubt two of the best songs that the band has ever put out. They're everything Down is at their best: groovy, catchy, crunchy, and instantly memorable.

That said, while other songs are good ("Stone the Crow" is a concert standard), I do feel that the CD starts to lose steam about halfway through. The songs suddenly start to blur together and don't quite have the vitality, inspiration, or uniqueness of the earlier tracks.

I'm not sure why that is, but it's almost as though the band's creativity dropped just a tiny bit halfway through. That's not to say the rest of the cd is bad, only not as good as the first half, which only makes it feel all the more tedious due to the comparison

Grade: 7.5 (though I'm aware that plenty will dispute that)

Electric Wizard - Black Masses

Electric Wizard has always been a band that I'd been curious about, but had only listened to a track hear and there. This was the first time that I ponied up the 16 bucks or whatever and picked up the CD (yes, I still buy CDs).

Overall, I'm glad that I did. This is stoner doom at it's finest. Now granted, I hate doom. I find it slow, tedious, and generally boring. Yet I enjoyed this CD. Huh?

I think it's because it's not that slow. But also, on Black Masses, Electric Wizard threw in a good number of infectious hooks and grooves in their paying homage to the stoner doom of the past. There's an old school haze here for sure. That said, unlike Dawnbringer's rocking good time, that haze is more atmospheric and dream-like. It actually feels like your listening to the CD threw a cloud of smoke just released out of a beat up Volkswagen van.

There's also a sort of malign, lurking evil to the CD that is fairly interesting. The occult lyrical content is a start, but so are the far-away sounding vocals that often come across as being mumbled or wailed. That's not to say that it's inaccessibly experimental: the dude is singing, it's just that there's a creepy ambience to it all.

All in all, this is a rare CD where you can get lost in its soundscape, while also bobbing your head to the riffs and the grooves.

If there's one thing I have to complain about, it's that CD is one of those ones where a couple of tracks stand head and shoulders over the rest, meaning you'll often find yourself coming back to those repeatedly and, as a result, neglecting the rest of the disc. Ultimately, you'll find that the groovier, crunchier tracks win out over the more ambient, more difficult to penetrate songs. Oh well.

Grade: 8.0

Misery Index - Heirs to Thievery

Did you really think we'd get through this without some heavy as hell, spine-ripping death metal? Think again!

I've been a fan of Misery Index for years. They're one of those bands that never let you down. You go to a Misery Index show or pick up a Misery Index album, and you know exactly what you're going to get.

More than that though, this is their fourth CD and, well, it may very well be their best. MI is one of those bands I love, who show an improvement with every disc. That said, the jump between Theocracy and Heirs to Thievery may be the biggest one yet. Certainly, they bring more to the table.

To describe this CD, I'm going to have to reference Corpsegrinder, famed Cannibal Corpse vocalist. I've been to a couple of CC concerts and I've always sort of scratched my head over how he always refers to moshing as "slamming." I figured that it may be an oldschool NY death metal thing, but he's the only guy I've heard consistently use the term.

With Heirs to Thievery, the term instantly makes sense. This is an album that sounds like and defines "slamming." It's destructive as hell, it makes you want to bang your head relentlessly, and it makes you want to slam your body into stuff. It's my favourite sort of death metal: technical mastery sure, but the heavy grooves come first. That's not to say that the speed isn't there as well of course.

The thing is that Misery Index with this album are so dedicated to catchy, primal rhythms and hooks that you can't help but be pulled in. If you hear this album, you will bang your head. It is absolutely irresistable.

And the drums. My God the drums. Without a doubt, this is Adam Jarvis' finest outing. I'm not sure what happened here, but it feels like he's either been cut loose, or that he's just grown as a musician. This is his fastest, but more than that, most precise and technically impressive performance. Kevin Talley who?

As with any Misery Index CD, I feel the vocals deserve commendation. They stand out, which isn't easy in death metal. Their decipherable, never feel monotonous, and are always violently dynamic.

That said, I've never been a fan of heavily political lyrics, but whatever. That's a taste issue, obviously. As far as DM goes, I couldn't hope for anything more slamming.

Grade: 9.0

Breaking Down UFC Fight Night 23 you may have noticed, I'm resurrecting my blog. First with the Games Completed thing, and now....I'm going to start breaking down and predicting MMA events using my intellectual mastery of the sport that is always 100% correct.

Or something.

We start out with UFC Fight Night 23, aka UFC Fight for the Troops 2, which will be happening a week from now, on Jan. 22.

Main Card

Evan Dunham (11-1) vs. Melvin Guillard (25-8-2, 2 NC)

Who will Win: Evan Dunham

How: Submission deep in the second round or sometime in the third

Why: Because this is a perfect fight for Dunham st(yle-wise. On the feet, he can use his long reach to negate Guillard's impetuous st(yle. Dunham showed a very effective jab in his fight against Sean Sherk, and that jab can be used ad nauseum to frustrate and ultimately pick apart Guillard, while keeping him on the outside, unable to land those power salvoes.

The kicker though is that Dunham is far, far better than Guillard on the ground. On his back, Guillard will be in deep trouble but even if Guillard gets to position, Dunham has a very active guard, which is something Guillard has struggled with in the past.

So Guillard's options here seem to be stand with Dunham and get picked apart, or go to the ground and get choked. Barring a lucky punch or trying his luck with in a wall-and-stall clinchfest, hoping that that doesn't help Dunham get it the ground, I don't see how he wins this.

Worse still, Dunham's cardio is a lot better than Guillard's.

Heavyweight Bout: Matt Mitrione (3-0) vs. Tim Hague (12-4)

Who: Matt Mitrione

How: TKO late in the first round

Why: It's always dicey picking a guy with a 3-0 record, but in this case, I think Mitrione is the safe pick. He may be sloppy as hell technique-wise, but he has the combination of real knockout power, a granite chin, and a big heart to give Hague serious problems.

Both these guys like to stand and trade, but the difference here is that Mitrione has the chin and the heart. I also can't help flashing back to Hague's seven second knockout loss to Todd Duffee. While he did last the full fifteen with Joey Beltran, I think Mitrione has the power to put him away.

Really, the Beltran fight shows exactly why Mitrione will beat Hague. Beltran is an even sloppier brawler than Mitrione (as shown in their fight against each other) and if Beltran can beat Hague, Mitrione can do it too, built as he is to follow a similar blueprint, with more ground skills.

Mark Hominick (19-8 ) vs. George Roop (11-6-1)

Who: Mark Hominick

How: A clear unanimous decision

Why: Because Hominick is basically a vastly superior version of Roop. Everything Roop is good at, Hominick is better at.

Both are muay thai stylists who pick their shots and are capable of pulling off submissions. The difference is that Hominick is the more technical striker here and also the guy with more experience and more accolades. I'll also hedge that he has the advantage in the power department.

Basically, this is like two wrestlers battling one another, but the difference being that one is a decorated high school wrestler and the other an NCAA stand-out. Similar st(yles, but one is less developed and generally sloppier.

Roop is damned hard to put out and Hominick is cautious and technical enough not to try to swarm him, so I'll go with the decision. That said, this is an ugly fight for Roop. Frankly, given the rumours of Hominick already being next in line for a shot against championi Jose Aldo, it already looks like the UFC is planning on Roop losing this one, and with good reason.

Heavyweight Bout: Pat Barry (5-2) vs. Joey Beltran (12-4)

Who: Pat Barry

How: TKO in the second round

Why: Because when it's striker vs. striker, technique wins. The technical kickboxer is always the smart pick when he's faced with a brawler. This is even more the case when the technical fighter has just as much, or almost as much, knockout power as the brawler.

Beltran is quite possibly the sloppiest brawler in the UFC's heavyweight division and he's going against a K-1 veteran here. That means a long night for him. Barry will have the sharper counters, which a seasoned kickboxer like him should find with ease against Beltran's wild hooks.

The real killer here though are the leg-kicks. Barry's kicks basically mean that he'll have many more weapons than Beltran will, which means Beltran will have more to contend with. Particularly those leg-kicks, which I don't see Beltran having a defence for or checking with any regularity.

Like I said, long night for Joey Beltran.

Lightweight Bout: Cole Miller (17-4) vs. Matt Wiiman (12-5)

Who: Cole Miller

How: some point

Why: This was the hardest fight for me to call. While Miller has looked fantastic in his last two fights and Wiiman is coming off a "win" thanks to one of the poorest displays of UFC reffing in 2010, the fact is that Wiiman remains grossly underrated and can give anyone a good fight.

That said, Miller is the safe choice here. His recent wins are bigger and against stiffer competition and he seems more aggressive when it comes to finishing the fight and actively seeking that finish. Seriously, Miller has only been to decision once in the UFC and that was in 2007 against the famously hard to put away Leonard Garcia.

Miller will also have, as usual, the reach advantage and I also think his ground game is a lot more dangerous and dynamic than Wiiman's.

This is a battle to determine the true journeyman gatekeeper of 155 and I think Miller's got this. But like I said, Wiiman is always able to make it a fight, so I'm not counting him out at all.

Prelim Bout quickies:

Lightweight Bout: Cody McKenzie vs. Yves Edwards

Who & Why: Yves Edwards, because a salty veteran like him ain't falling for that.

Welterweight Bout: DaMarques Johnson vs. Mike Guymon

Who & Why: Johnson, I guess. I don't know. Neither guy is particularly good.

Featherweight Bout: Mike Brown vs. Rani Yahya

Who & Why: Brown, regardless of the late notice. He's desperate, he should kill Yahya on the feet, and I don't see Yahya getting him to the ground.

Lightweight Bout: Waylon Lowe vs. Willamy Freire

Who & Why: Freire via momentum and being a possible prospect.

Lightweight Bout: Charlie Brenneman vs. Amilcar Alves

Who & Why: Brenneman, because when you've seen very little of the other guy, it's usually best to go with the wrestlemonster.

Games Completed in 2011 - First Update

So...ever since seeing my good buddy bowlingotter's blog, I've been dying to start this. I just completed my first game of 2011, so let's go!

Games Completed in 2011

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood - Jan. 10

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood

What's Good: As far as the mechanics go, everything you enjoyed about AC2 is here in stride. Using your hidden blade for aerial assassinations and such is just as fun as ever. The counter-heavy combat is still satisfying, as are the stealth portions. Whatever you liked about the basics of the last game, you'll like here.

More than though are the tweaks, most of which are resounding successes. For instance, the addition of the crossbow is about as handy and awesome as it sounds. Long-range stealth weapon opens up so many possibilities and it's just a damned satisfying weapon to use.

I also found the combat system had been tweaked a little. You'll find yourself actually attacking a lot more, instead of relying 90% on counter-kills. Dodges feel more needed than in the last game and the addition of a kick to break opponents guards means that attacking can be as effective as the old counter-kill. The kick mechanic means that offence can actually be an advisable strategy in Brotherhood's combat portions, which is fresh.

There are other cool little additions as well: a parachute, poison darts, using your pistol in hand to hand combat, two-handed weapons that can be held onto, etc. All of these things are completely optional on the part of the player, but all work perfectly fine and add fun little touches as a whole.

The best thing about Brotherhood however is just how much game there is here. There's a lot of content and truly, it's one of those sandbox games where it just feels like there's so much to do at any given time. You'll often find yourself spending huge amounts of time between actual story missions. There are Followers of Romulus lairs to explore (basically, advanced platforming stages much like the sanctuaries last game), each of which offers a unique experience and atmosphere. There are Borgia towers to burnt. There are Guild Challenges. There's lots to occupy you.

I'd be particularly remiss if I didn't mention the Leonardo side missions, which simply must be played to be believed. Each one ends up with you commandeering a different, completely ludicrous, war machine. It's absolutely amazing and is contrary to anything ever offered in an Assassin's Creed game. It's Renaissance st(yled mass destruction and it's crazy fun.

Another of these things to pass the time with is the new renovation mechanic. In Brotherhood, you no longer do all your renovations in one place; rather, you approach what you want to renovate and do so. Similarly, you can collect money from any bank in the city, which saves a ton of time and really convenient. This also means that you'll have a lot more renovating to do, greatly expanding on that experience from the last game.

What's Not-so-Good: Thankfully, due to the amount of content here and a surprisingly length campaign and story, Brotherhood avoids the obvious pitfall of feeling like a full-priced expansion pack.

That being said, it's hard not to notice a lack of ambition here when compared to the last game. There's lots of fun little tweaks and additions, but outside of the multiplayer, there isn't much that's truly groundbreaking.

Perhaps most disappointing on this front is the fact that the entire game is confined to Rome. Given the full length campaign, this ends up making the surroundings feel a little drab and even monotonous compared to the last game. It's also the one thing that makes the game head a bit into expansion pack territory. Keeping it all in one city feels like an obvious bit of self-restraint on the part of the developers, and it also stops the game from feeling as grandiose an experience as AC2.

It's also worth mentioning that, however big Rome is, this also makes horse-riding a very minute part of the game, especially compared to the previous two Assassin's Creed games. You'll probably find yourself doing very little riding at all.

Then there's the story. It's not bad, but certainly not as compelling as the previous game's. Ezio is still a great character and his supporting cast (Claudia, Bart, Volpe, Machiavelli) are all solid. It's just that the actual story is fairly unambitious in concept and lacking in any twists, surprises, or anything truly compelling. It's a fairly basic story with your favourite characters, basically.

Then, we get the ending, which in typical Assassin's Creed fashion, is a bit of a mess. It's difficult to understand, it's a cliffhanger (again), and...well...the transition between the Ezio portion and the Desmond level at the end feels weird, as though we're playing two different games. It's even more of a disjunction than the last level was in the last game. The present-day sci-fi stuff still doesn't meld all that well with the historical portions.

For what it's worth, I also felt that the whole "Brotherhood" thing was a little undercooked. Recruiting, and then using, assassins is never particularly necessary while leveling them all up and sending them on missions is a detached experience that ends up feeling like a chore. Certainly, it never feels like enough of a hallmark to merit being named as a key feature of the game.

Conclusion: Despite my griping, this is still a fairly solid experience. It's much less ambitious than AC 2 was, but I'd still recommend getting this regardless.

Grade: 8.5/10

Massive Anime Binge: What, Me?

Seriously, I've not really been into anime in years.

But see, my mom (who's Chinese) frequents a DVD place....and they were having a HUGE clearance sale as they were moving......and now I've got this giant stack in front of me, as I can't say no to a good deal

I've watched so little anime in my life time, that while I've loved all I've seen, I can actually list it off.

Hellsing, the Cowboy Bebop movie, Akira, Jin-Roh, most of Miyazaki's movies, Metropolis, Grave of the Fireflies, Galaxy Express, Fatal Fury, Street Fighter, the Animatrix (if that counts).

Seriously....that's all the anime I've watched in my lifetime, discounting random episodes of stuff like Pokemon/Digimon/Beyblade/Yugi-Oh.

So I started peeking around the store, knowing that my interests lie in horror/sci-fi/fantasy, and here's what I got. Some were titles I'd heard of, some were things I'd wanted for a long time (years), and some just looked cool.

Witch Hunter Robin: cost - $15

Synopsis: Some mysterious government organization hunts down Witches in modern-day Japan using tech/superpowers/forensics. Robin, a former hunter herself, ends up on the organization's bad side.

Reason I bought it: I'd seen a couple of episodes of this late at night and loved the concept and art.

Number of episodes: 26 (complete)

Serial Experiments Lain: cost - $12

Synopsis: Cyberpunkish story where the internet constitutes a plain of existence. A girl is contacted by a dead cl(assmate, who apparently is dead in body, but whose spirit is alive in cyberspace.

Reason I bought it: I love cyberpunk and have wanted this for years, but could never get it at a good price and proceeded to forget about anime.

Number of episodes: 13 (complete)

The Twelve Kingdoms: cost - $50

Synopsis: Some fantasy story about jealous kings, betrayal, destiny, legends, and assassination attempts.

Reason I bought it: Highly recommended and I didn't have any old school fantasy on my stack. I was told that I simply had to see this.

Number of episodes: 45 (complete)

The Last Exile: cost: $20

Synopsis: A fantasy/steampunk tail that centres around the adventures of two youngsters.

Reason I bought it: I'm a sucker for Japanese steampunk and Miyazaki's early flicks are my favourite as a result. This was also highly recommended and the art looked really good.

Number of Episodes: 24 (complete)

Paranoia Agent: cost: $20

Synopsis: A skateboarder randomly attacks five people with a baseball bat. A police investigation ensues.

Reason I bough it: Aside from the fact that it looked cool, it's made by a respected director I'm loosely familiar with, Satoshi Kon (I believe he did Perfect Blue) and a production company (Madhouse) that I've actually heard of.

Number of episodes: 13 (complete)

Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: cost - $20

Synopsis: Whatever the hell it was that Ghost in the Shell was ever about. Mumbo-jumbo about technology, robotics, genetics, and computers was all I recall.

Reason I bought it: It's Ghost in the Shell.

Number of episodes: 26 (complete)

Monster: Part 1 & 2: cost - $35 for both (were 20 each before the sale)

Synopsis: The back of the box is all in Japanese, so I'm not sure. But I believe it's something about a doctor in the 1980s at a German hospital who saves a young boy, a boy who then starts to manifest some really creepy abilities.

Reason I bought it: I've heard very good things about the manga and this seems to be one of the only good horror anime series around these days, apparently.

Number of episodes: 48

Total: $172.00

I'm thinking about going back tomorrow to grab the complete Escaflowne series and the first season of Full Metal Alchemist (they unfortunately do not have season 1). Both of those will cost me $20 each.

All the things I bought today have English subtitles and dubbing except for Stand Alone Complex and Monster, which are subs only. Monster I don't care, but would've preferred the dubs on Ghost in the Shell, as I'm familiar with that, but I'll live. None of these are bootlegs. They are legitimate Hong Kong releases. Prices like these are low even by Vancouver standards; it's because of the clearance sale. That said, anime prices in Vancouver are low anyway due to the gigantic Chinese population.

So....any anime nuts out there with recommendations (that aren't Inuyasha or Naruto)?

Dragon Age 2: My Hands-On Impressions from PAX

So, I was at PAX this past weekend and got a chance to play Dragon Age 2 and talk to the devs about it. It was pretty hush-hush; no recording equipment, we were constantly watched, and we had to sign legal agreements before entering their booth/tent.

So, Dragon Age fans, here is the information that I got, as well as what I saw, broken up into points for ease of digestion.

1. The graphics are substantially improved. The devs noted this as one of their key concerns. While the graphics are still not overly impressive, they are also no longer an embarassment or an eyesore. The game looks like it belongs to this gen. For those wondering, the PC version was not playable, only the two console versions. But yes, the graphics have gotten a big upgrade.

2. The auto-attack is gone. The designer stated that they did not like how combat left you as a "spectator" in the last game. The lead programmer said that he wanted to make it so that every time you pressed a button "something awesome happened."

You can still pause combat and open the radial menu, just like in Origins, but now, if you want to do a standard attack, you have to hit the attack button each time, much like your standard action game. Spells and special attacks are still mapped to the other three face buttons.

This improved the game, and the combat, A LOT.

3. The story is centered around a frame narrative. One of your party members, Cassandra, is attempting to get the truth about the life of DA2 main character (you), Hawke, from a rather sleazy looking dude. You play threw the tale as Hawke tells it. The dev says that it becomes clear that this sleazy dude doesn't actually know the true story, so your actions as Hawke in the game will determine what really happened. But the storytelling provides the frame.

4. Due to this framing structure, the story is able to jump from important point to important point in Hawke's life. This means that Dragon Age 2 encompasses around 10 years of time. The first of these ten years occurs at the same time as Dragon Age: Origins.

5. The story is thus not a direct continuation of Dragon: Age Origins. All the characters are new. One of your party members is Hawke's sister, a sorceress named Bethany.

6. Your character from Dragon Age: Origins does NOT carry over into DA2. You play as Hawke, and DA2 is his story.

7. That being said, all the decisions you made in Origins DO carry over and affect DA2 in meaningful ways. The designer made explicit reference to who you crowned king, who you made king in dwarf-land, and what happened to Andraste's Ashes.

8. I'm not entirely sure what the story is, but it's clear that a big part of it involves the collapse of the Chantry....I think.

9. The game is due out in March 2011.

10. Hawke is pretty much the same kind of thing Bioware did with Commander Shepherd in Mass Effect. Though you HAVE to play as Hawke, you have total control over Hawke's gender, race, appearance, and class. I saw the same three options: Rogue, Warrior, Mage. For race, I saw elf and human. Not sure if there was dwarf. Mage was also locked.

11. I chose human warrior. For talents/special abilities I had Charge, Mighty Blow, and Cyclone (sort of a big shockwave attack). I had no passive buffs.

Overall, the game is a lot of fun and a BIG improvement over Dragon Age: Origins, addressing my key problems with that game (the graphics and the auto-attack).

As far as what I actually got to play, it wasn't actually a demo in the conventional sense. Rather, they just let us start a new game, and let us get as far into the game as we could in 20 minutes. So it was the first 20 minutes of the game.

It made great use of the framing structure as the demo went like this:

1. You start as as Hokk. You're with your sister battling Darkspawn and you are DESTROYING them. Every dude you kill literally explodes. You are faced with endless waves.

2. Cassandra interrupts the story, and we go to her talking to the sleazy dude. She tells him that that's BS, and not how it happened. This forces the the storyteller to insist on telling the tale from the beginning.

3. You're feeling with your sister and some family members, as well as a templar and his wife, from a village being ravaged by Darkspawn after the betrayal of King Cailan in DA: Origins. You battle waves as you try to make your way to a fort/wall of some sort. That's most of what you get to play.

State of the MMA Union: What I Plan on Doing

Thanks to hollendan (who can't read this), bowlingotter, and leads for the PMs. I'm caught up on the situation now.

Suffice it to say, this is disgusting. Given his recent actions, there is no way in which Erki can remain leader, nor is there any way that a union can exist without its banned members. Not on principle. We cannot have a forum that exists as, essentially, a fascist state.

Erki has said that he did so out of demands for respect and feelings of equality, which is laughable. He seems to have skipped from post edits and post deletionis to flat-out banning, which is insane.

Frankly, Erki has not shown himself to be rationale enough to be entrusted with the power he has. His actions are overly emotional and far too extreme.

He also guilty of the very thing he has banned others for: flaming, insults, fighter-bashing, you name it. He is, at the very least, as guilty as those he banned. That, regardless of what he says, is not equality.

There is no way that this union can continue under Erki. He has proven himself unable to wield the power that he has and, frankly, on ethics and principles alone, he cannot continue as leader.

Here is what I will do:

I'm going to make a new union. A couple of posters have asked that I do this, and that I lead it. I appreciate that thought and, so, I guess I'll do it (once I figure it out). I'll quickly promote several of you, including all who are currently mods and HollenDan....since the guy deserves it for taking this crap. From there, leading the union will be a communal effort. I'm not around 24/7, but will do what I can.

This union does not need to take effect if

1. Erki steps down


2. those who were banned are unbanned.

If these are technically impossible, but Erki is willing, I can email GS about it.

I will be forming this new union anyway. If Erki meets these two demands, I will shut down this new union. If he refuses to, well, we'll all have a new place to hang out.

I do not believe Erki will meet these two demands on his own, out of any sense of right. He will need to be pushed. Consider this "mutiny" that push.

Making a new union will require effort from you guys: we'll need to send out a lot of invites to members of this union who are unaware of what's going on. I'm hope I can get help with that.

So guys....any ideas for a union name? Maybe "The Fight Union" like the channel? I don't know.

I cannot stay in a union without guys like bowlingotter, hollendan, etc.

UFC Undisputed 2010: The Submission System is a Broken Embarassment

I'm glad I waited an entire year for a game with a broken grappling system. As a kickboxing game, it's fun. As a grappling game, it's a catastrophe.

I just, as an experiment, had 3 bouts in a row between Demian Maia and Drew McFedries on Beginner difficulty. I believe that is the guy with the highest sub offence vs the guy with the lowest sub defence.

He cannot be submitted.

Every fight would see me kicking his body until his stamina was dark red while I was bright green.

Takedown...then three minutes per round of rapid fire sub attempts from all positions, mostly from mount.

All sub attempts would begin when he had emptied his stamina bar....he'd be completely yellow, I'd be green. Once this happened, I'd rotate the stick as fast as possible.

It doesn't make a difference. Even with me charging and/or rotating the stick like a madman, McFedries can escape every single one of Maia's sub attempts despite having absolutely no stamina. It is literally impossible to submit the CPU. It doesn't matter how gassed the CPU is. It doesn't matter if you charge or "shine." It doesnt matter what fighters you're using. It doesn't matter what subs you go for.

Unless the CPU is rocked, he can't be submitted.

Against a human player, the system is fun. Against the CPU, it's a foul-up of epic proportions.

All I can say is: THQ, did you actually play-test your "shine" system against the CPU, or only against each other?