Review: Rogue Trooper (PC)

Atmosphere: A.  Full of dark and brooding colors and environments, it nevertheless has a crispness and completeness to it that makes exploration a pleasure.  Very high production values for the time (2006) and still looks decent to me today.  The soundtrack (both music and FX) is absolutely fantastic, with rumbling militaristic bass beats in every action scene, fun screams and satisfying gun reports.

Intelligence: B.  Conceptually weak on science but better than most games.  Where it really shines above however is the script and directing of the entire plotline.  There are many cliches, but soldiers speak and think like soldiers and the GI does not screw around; he never sways from his course of duty for a moment, even when characters such as the “high-ranking enemy cliched slutty chick” show up.   The player interface is also very well-designed, and getting him to do very deadly things is extremely easy and entertaining.

Involvement: A.  I found this game highly addictive from the start, with an interesting and unusual storyline (rich with background information that thankfully isn’t retold much here), good character progression and fun abilities to gain with each new level.  Making head shots and stealth kills never really gets old.  The idea of walking around in a poisonous atmosphere (and all your enemies suffering in various ways for this fact) is also a lot of fun.

What will annoy you:

Multiplayer.  Alas, every good game seems to be missing something big, and for this one, it is a rich multiplayer experience.  You are limited to only a few maps with specific mission criteria and no deathmatch.  Personally I’m fine with that last omission (since I love co-op), but with so few options to choose from, it would have been a simple way to expand their available options in network play.  It is even more disappointing because the game has a wonderful combat system and is high quality in nearly all other respects.  And perhaps most relevant of all, at this time (the end of 2010), despite the fact that this game has a devoted (if small) following, lack of good multiplayer has left this gem of a game all but forgotten.  The last few times I have checked, there has not been a single online game up and running anywhere in the world.  That is a crying shame.

Ease.  This game is very easy if you have any FPS skills.  Sure, you can die quickly in the wrong spot, but you’ll quickly find all kinds of ways to “game” the system.  For instance, no matter what difficulty level, a headshot with the standard rifle is always a kill.  Walking around crouched makes you deadly silent and much harder to spot by the enemy than appears reasonable.  Even at the highest difficulty you’ll end up getting enough salvage for all your upgrades and any ammo you need, and in the end you’ll rarely use other weapons.  Micromines are versatile and powerful, and completely free to use, so you’ll almost never employ grenades.  Setting up the tripod as covering fire creates an invulnerable distraction that can kill things forever, while you walk around with a pistol that has infinite ammo, apparently as much power as the rifle, and can make the same head shots (plus it sounds fantastic, like every other sound effect in the game).  You’ll even headshot snipers with your pistol from across maps.

Weapons.  While very cool in concept and effect, unfortunately most weapons pale in comparison to the standard rifle/pistol at higher difficulty levels.  This is because enemies have more hit points, which reduces the effectiveness of even shotguns at short range so greatly that you’ll just go for a headshot instead.  Grenades are very effective but I find it hard to use them when I could just lay down a large pattern of Micromines instead (which can kill even the heaviest units after a few drops), without costing a thing.  Simply put, if you’ll play this game you might as well spam all your other weapons whenever you please just to have a bit of fun, because you’ll never actually need them save for a few specific circumstances.

Bugs.  Only a few, and most of them forgivable, but they’re there.  Occasionally you’ll find yourself getting stuck when trying to climb up a ledge from the wrong position or jumping at the wrong angle.  Less serious errors include being unable to cancel out of certain motions when done by mistake, which can lead to deaths during combat.  Reloading from the last checkpoint is, however, very fast and never requires much backtracking.

Review: Tron Legacy

Atmosphere:  A+.  Despite all of the modernization and environmental redesign, the Tron universe is very recognizable, and seamlessly executed with visuals and (of course) the Daft Punk soundtrack.  Details are everywhere, but rarely threaten to drag the film down the slippery slope of Michael Bay-ish overpowering sensory noise.

Intelligence:  C+.  Based entirely on preposterous ideas and inexplicable plot devices, it nevertheless does offer a few nice novelties and twists, and maintains passable cohesion in this limited and expected scope.  The script dialog for each actor is surprisingly appropriate and reasonable for their characters.

Involvement:  B+.  Direction and acting are actually quite good (especially Jeff Bridges), but pacing is occasionally a problem.  The characters have adequate development and should be somewhat genuinely interesting even to non-fans of Tron.  The storyline (if not the science behind it) largely resolves itself naturally with only a few eyebrow-raising moments, and is pleasantly surprising in substance.

What will annoy you:

Plot devices.  Many are slap-you-in-the-face obvious for anyone who has seen the previous film or has half a brain.  Others are just cliches dressed in new clothing, blurring the line between “program represented as human facsimile” and cheesy heroism/romanticism as a tool to quickly further the story’s progress.

Deviation.  Tron made decent attempts to connect real-world computing technology with observable phenomena in the digital world.  Tron Legacy received more of a dreamworld treatment where things just “were” a certain way, and I missed this connection to the original universe.  I certainly wouldn’t have wanted a 50’s-style educational discourse anywhere in the middle of the film, but a few more intellectually stimulating tidbits here and there would have been welcome.

Marketing.  The official trailers for the movie take various scenes out of context and give a false impression of the final product.  They seem to focus on outlandishness and tired cinematography, and it’s unfortunate that people might be turned off from what is a much more impressive film in its totality.

Follow-through.  I and many other movie-goers waited through all of the credits, fully expecting at least one tie-up of certain open points of interest (I’m pretty sure you’ll think of at least one or two when you see it), but alas, none were to be had.  Hopefully this is just to keep you guessing and waiting for a sequel.

Digital Actors.  While extremely impressive, I didn’t consider them up to Avatar standards (the new baseline in motion capture technology) and was surprised at how easy it was to see the lack of humanity in them.  This may partly be due to the fact that we as human viewers are hard-wired to scrutinize other human faces much more carefully than alien-hybrids, but I’m reasonably certain there is a technological gap here.

Sam Flynn.  He’s kind of a dumb-ass compared to his father.  This isn’t a huge gripe, except that he’s the lead character.  But, at least he isn’t half as annoying or limited in range as Sam Worthington in Avatar.

Resolution.  It’s not that there were gaping plot holes; it’s that the ideas behind them were gaping in intelligence.  More than one plot point was resolved in fine fashion while also leaving me puzzled as to why it was required.  It’s difficult to explain without giving away spoilers, but you may get one or two head-scratching moments even before the heavily-foreshadowed tie-ups take place.  “Reintegration” is one that burns in my mind so badly that I have to mention it here without worrying too much over what it reveals, because I am sure you’ll remember it also.