Robert Chesley

What I WPR’d #5

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This time I’ll be talking about a lot of different stuff. I played a buttload of “Red Dead Redemption” and “Rock Band 3”. I’m also going to touch on a few of the TV shows that I’ve been consuming this season.

It’s been a while since my last segment. I’ve been busy. Playing games, working, and trying to spend what other free time I have trying to stream TV shows with my shoddy internet connection. Word to the wise, “high speed” does not equal anything less than 1.5 MB/sec. Unfortunately, I had to get a faster connection through the phone company so I’m spending an extra twenty six dollars for the privilege. It sucks, but it is kind of necessary. Considering this is the only “luxury” that I really need in my apartment, I don’t feel so bad spending a little bit more if that means I get a more reliable connection.

I’m going to mention that I was part of the “new xbox 360 experience” beta. All that meant was I got to try out the new dashboard before it released with Kinect. I like it ok. It’s pretty much the same but they did a little more cosmetic things that make it a little more appealing on the eyes. But because I am a part of this beta program my 360 was constantly updating. Before I had DSL and it wasn’t that big of a deal when it needed to update but the other day it took almost an hour and a half before I could start playing my games. I was getting frustrated. I don’t have much free time as it is, I want to get to the “meat and potatoes” of my gaming as soon as possible.

Outside of a few technical difficulties on my end, I really spent a good chunk of time on “Red Dead Redemption”. I’ve probably played close to sixteen hours or so. For the unfamiliar, “Red Dead Redemption” basically boils down to “Grand Theft Auto” in the old west. I’m a sucker for westerns. In fact, I think it is safe to say that a lot of my favorite TV shows and Movies are based on westerns. (“Deadwood”, “Firefly”, “There Will Be Blood”, Etc.) Not a lot of video games has explored westerns in a fun and entertaining manner. I’ve played “Call of Juarez” and while that series has it’s issues, it really just felt like playing “Call of Duty: Western Warfare”. The only other western style game that I can think of that I enjoyed somewhat was a game that came out in 2005 called “Gun”. In that game it was a semi-open world where you could explore the frontier and shoot anything that moved. You rode a horse, fought natives, saved damsels in distress, and tamed the wild wild west.

“Red Dead Redemption” feels a lot like playing “Gun”. It has a similar “bullet time” mechanic and the horses generally feel the same. What I like most about “Red Dead Redemption” is how immerse the narrative is. I spent hours and hours just riding my horse around hunting random animals and picking up plants. The atmosphere of the “old west” lends to “sandbox style” game play a lot better I think than even modern crime based games. The scenery is just as breathtaking. I watch a beautiful western sunset from atop of a mountain by a campfire. Rockstar has always put a little polish on their background designs and they add a ton to the enjoyability of this game. Horses feel “right” and so does driving a carriage or “quick draw” fights. The auto-aim is a little too forgiving and the mission structure, so far (I’ve only beat roughly 35 percent of the game), have felt far too similar to one another. Most involve you riding with a companion to a place where you shoot the bad guys and find the thing. The only variation on this formula sometimes requires you to race your horse or protect a carriage while shooting bad guys.

The saving grace of this game is the economics tied in with hunting and gathering things throughout the world. I find myself laying waste to any and all virtual animals that cross my path. The only small complaint about this is your character goes into an animation every time you “skin” an animal. Meaning it takes roughly 3 to 5 seconds before you can just be on your way. Since the best way to make money in this game is by killing animals and selling their hides, they should have made this far more streamlined and easier to use. The same goes for picking up flowers and playing any of the other mini-games. I found the AI to be really weak when it comes to poker, liar’s dice, and horseshoes. Too bad too, I like when games have robust mini-games that fun and challenging and add a lot to the “old west” feel.

I just recently acquired the newly released “Rock Band 3”. I’m a huge Rock Band fan, I own all the titles, I buy DLC constantly. (last I checked I had over 130 downloaded tracks.) I wasn’t a huge fan of the track list when it was released a few months ago. My stores were completely sold out of the “keyboard” controller so, instead of waiting for a back order I went ahead and just bought the disc copy. I would say that I was interested in a little over 25 percent of the soundtrack. Which is roughly 20 to 25 songs. While I was going through the track list a lot of it is dominated by “keys” and “harmonies”. Which are now permanent additions to the “Rock Band” ecosystem. I really liked how the career mode works now. In previous games, you had to unlock venues and cities by playing certain songs or certain set lists. In Rock Band 3, everything is streamlined so you are always collecting stars/fans and moving up to cooler and better venues. The character models look really really good, it seems like they changed up the “video style” when you are playing a song and the characters on screen seem to be a lot more dynamic than in previous games. Usually, no one pays attention to the background, but it is a noticeable step up from “Rock Band 2” and in someways “Rock Band: Green Day”.

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen the “dreamscapes” from “Beatles: Rock Band” make the cut so far. I would have loved to see a few of the more iconic songs have a “dreamscape” to go with them. I understand this makes the songs less “modular” and requires obviously more time that may not be worth the resources that Harmonix was provided. I don’t play the drums or bass that much when it comes to these rhythm games, so I can’t really comment on the quality of the “pro” drums. Outside of a few lucky customers, most people will have to wait a month for the “Pro” guitar to come out. I really can’t wait to try my hand at some of that.  The other real unfortunate thing is that now that Rock Band 3 is out, official song DLC that comes directly from Harmonix will no longer be backward compatible with older versions.  The reasoning is that it has something to do with how the songs are authored now make it impossible for them to be compatible with older architectures. This is doubly troubling now when Harmonix releases it’s upcoming Bon Jovi track pack you have to repay for songs that you may have already paid for when they came either on disc. This means you can be paying upwards of 5 dollars per song (if you want Pro guitar/bass) if you have already purchased it already. This is a slippery slope when it comes to this kind of DLC. Rock Band was one of the best examples of “platform” gaming meaning that you paid for the platform and you get to continue to use all the DLC in future expansions. I disagree with charging people who already bought DLC the full price just to include keyboard or harmony support. I will probably begrudgingly repurchase Rush and Who tracks when they inevitably have keyboards tacked onto them.

As for what I have been watching, I think it is safe to say that “The Walking Dead” is one of the best things to happen to TV in a long, long time. In fact, I can’t think of any reason not to just watch any original programming that AMC has been putting out the past few years. Everybody knows how brilliant “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” have been, but “Rubicon” and “Walking Dead” has pushed that envelope just a bit further. For the acting fan in me, the performances in just two episodes of “Walking Dead” has given me shivers. I genuinely care about each of the characters I’ve been introduced to so far. I love the pacing, the believability of the world, all the sensory information we get without anything being said. This is truly one of those gems that come on TV every once in a while. I really hope that we can get a good five or six seasons of  this show.

As for other new shows, I really love “Running Wilde”. It is a comedy in the same vein as “Arrested Development”. It stars Will Arnet and Keri Russel. This show is as close to “Arrested Devlopment” as we are  probably going to get. It features many of the same styles of jokes and the structure is roughly the same. Arnet plays a son of a wealthy oil man and Russel plays an environmentalist who used to be romantically involved with Arnet’s character. They meet up later in life, with Arnet trying to win her back.  It is only about five episdoes in right now and you can catch up with the series on Hulu. Although, unlike “Arrested Development” you don’t really need to watch all preceding episodes to really understand what is going on.

Other shows I’ve been really getting into this season have been “Dexter” (from what I understand this is the last season, and if you haven’t watched the previous season I won’t talk much about it as it is directly influenced by the forth season of this brilliant show), “30 Rock”, “Community”, and “Boardwalk Empire”.  “Boardwalk Empire” reminds me more of “Mad Men” than “The Sopranos” it seems be going  at a much slower pace then other shows of similar genres. Maybe this is exactly how “The Sopranos” was paced but it seems a lot slower than even that show.

Well until next time, which I will be talking a lot more about “Red Dead Redemption” and some other games I’m sure.  I’ll be at the Bad Religion/Bouncing Souls concert this weekend in SLC. If you have any little punk rocker in you,  you really shouldn’t miss this amazing lineup on Saturday if you are in the area or if they are coming through your town.

Robert Chesley is a geek of all natures. He mostly spends his time on the forums under the moniker Urzishra.

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