When the original Halo came out for the Xbox in 2001, it was truly a ground-breaking game. The story was rich, the combat was advanced, and the AI was truly a step above what had been the norm at that time. I spent an unbelievable amount of time playing the first three Bungie games, but after 2007's Halo 3, I took a much-needed break from the series. In 2008, Call of Duty IV came out and took the first-person shooter in a better and different direction, which I then followed.
As of late, the COD series has gotten far too stale and has been surpassed by Titanfall. But the next game in that series isn't expected for another year or so. Fortunately, the demo for the new Battlefront game was fantastic, and I thought that game would hold my FPS needs for the upcoming year.
But when the reviews started coming out over that last several days for 343's Halo 5, I became intrigued. The overall consensus was that the new game had a decent campaign, and an excellent multiplayer, with a new mode called Warzone that was fantastic. So, I decided to download it, if for nothing else, to have some good old nostalgia.
I've played several multiplayer rounds and a bit of the campaign, and I think the reviews are pretty spot-on.
The Arena mode is like Halo multiplayer of the past. It looks sharper, but the pacing and gameplay is pretty much the same. It's still fun, especially after being away from it for all these years.
Warzone is definitely where it's at, though. Large maps, 24 players, NPC bosses, bases you have to capture, loads of different weapons and vehicles, long matches. But what really sets it apart is what's called a REQ system. You earn points via combat which you can then use to gain REQ cards which can give you all sorts of bonuses, from added damage, to different types of weapons, to different vehicles. The stronger the REQ, the longer it takes during the match to unlock it. So by the end of the match, players are using much stronger bonuses, and the balance is kept in tact. Warzone plays huge, and it's a ton of fun.
The campaign does feel an awful lot like campaigns of old. I most often skip the campaigns in modern FPSers, so it doesn't bother me much.
Gamespot's 8.0 and IGN's 9.0 (both loving the multiplayer and being lukewarm on the campaign) seem to be in the right ballpark. For me, I think I'm going to have fun playing Halo 5, here and there, for at least a couple of years. Warzone has definitely breathed new life into the aging, much-loved series.
The new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens debuted this week during Monday Night Football. Immediately, people took to Twitter to declare how awesome it was and how excited they were about the upcoming film. Ticket sites crashed because of monumental demand. And I was, as I have been for awhile, strangely ambivalent. There was a time when I was enormously excited about the upcoming Episode VII, but that was a long time ago, seemingly in a galaxy far, far, away.
So why do I think that this may not be the great movie that everyone else expects it to be? A few reasons:
1. When Disney had approached David Fincher to direct this film, I was immensely excited. When J.J. Abrams got the job, my excitement tempered. J.J. can be a terrific director, but he is hit or miss (Star Trek vs. Star Trek Into Darkness). One problem that I have with J.J. is that he expects the audience to suspend disbelief to an oftentimes outrageous degree. This can wreck a film faster than just about anything.
2. The Episode VII trailers are unimpressive to me. Great candy shots, but too much fast action, Spiderman-like, CGI, that doesn't feel real.
3. The recent inside Hollywood buzz is that this is not going to be the excellent film that most people think it will be. Buzz is often wrong though, so I hope this time it is.
4. Unlike that last three films, by bringing in the original cast, if this film is awful, it will have a harmful bleed-over effect on the first three. There's just too much riding on it. Too much weight = too much pressure, which is rarely ever good.
5. Most importantly—when I heard who was hired to write the first draft, I was outrageously excited. There could be no better choice than Michael Arndt. But when he left the project, rumored to be because he and J.J. couldn't agree on the focus of the story, my expectations for the film fell off a cliff.
Now, do I hope this film is terrific and it helps everyone reconnect with the Star Wars of old? Yes. I'm going to go into the theatre hoping beyond hope that I'll be blown away.
Do I think that is the most likely possibility? No. My guess is that it's going to be better than Episodes I, II, & III, but not as good as Episodes IV, V & VI. It should make an absolute killing at the box office, and I'm confident that most people will be satisfied.
But, I'm not buying an advanced ticket this time around. No midnight showing for me. I'll pay for an early matinee a couple of weeks after the debut.
And yet, I hope I'm wrong. I hope it's knocked out of the park. And I hope the future Star Wars movies are done well too. But confident about this, I am not. I've lived long enough to know better.
I've spent several hours playing the new Star Wars: Battlefront beta and had a blast the whole time. I bought the original version many years back and quickly got bored of it. It was too cartoony and couldn't hold its own against the Call of Duty series.
I've been a Call of Duty fan from the very beginning. Obviously, COD IV was the game changer. It was so much better than any other first-person-shooter of the day and propelled the franchise to unprecedented sales.
And then came 2010, and Activision's firing of Jason West and Vince Zampella, the co-founders of Infinity Ward—the creators of COD IV and the COD: Modern Warfare series. Instantly, I knew without a doubt, that was the beginning of the end for the COD franchise.
West and Zampella went on to co-found Respawn. Activision, meanwhile, published one marginally better COD game after another. Respawn, in March of 2014, came out with Titanfall, which not only redefined the FPS genre, it remains the best FPS game on the market to this day.
So a few days ago, this new Star Wars: Battlefront demo came out, which I didn't have high hopes for. But, minutes after diving into the beta, I realized it too was a genre pusher. It had the scope of Battlefield, but without the negatives. There were actual fronts. People didn't line up waiting for vehicles. The massive amount of players actually worked in teams. And above that, it looked beautiful and was just plain fun.
So for the first time ever, I don't think I'm going to buy the new COD game when it comes out this November. Instead, I'm going with Battlefront. I'm afraid that at best, Black Ops 3 will be a decent knockoff of Titanfall. At worst, it'll be much less.
I'm confident that Titanfall 2 will come out in 2016. Battlefront will feed my FPS needs until then.
This is also the first year in many years that I haven't bought a new EA Madden NFL or College Football game. Electronic Arts just doesn't bother innovating that series much. I'm glad they did spend money in developing the new Battlefront though.
When firms don't innovate, they may (and often do) bring in huge profits in the near term, but it's almost always at the expense of the long term.
Firing West and Zampella was clearly a huge mistake by Activision. Now, besides Respawn, EA is hitting the FPS space hard. For the first time since 2003, I'm not going to buy the new COD product. Activision better start getting serious about COD innovation, because I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one.
During my recent trip to MI, I talked about GOT with some friends and got their take on how the series will end. I've talked to many people here in Los Angeles about it, and I think there's a consistency in people's thoughts. It goes something like this:
A mix of characters, including perhaps Daenerys, Tyrion, Arya, Bran, and maybe Jon Snow somehow, will band together and defeat the White Walkers.
I don't buy this ending. Not with George RR Martin writing this thing.
This is how I think that RR will end, and must end, his fantasy tale:
First of all, I think people are confused by a major piece of the puzzle: who is the protagonist and the antagonist of this story? Once you understand who they really are, the story falls into place.
Is the protagonist Daenerys? No. Tyrion? No. Any of the kings, or those vying for the Iron Throne? No.
The protagonist is Jon Snow.
So what is his goal? Is it to take the Iron Throne? No. Save his family? No. Find love? No.
His goal is to free the people north of the Wall. That is the big revelation. The Wall was built not just to keep the White Walkers away, but to keep unwanted people out of the fertile lands of Westeros. Westeros cannot be fully united (Jon finds out the hard way) until that wall comes down.
So who is the antagonist? It's virtually every person of power who lives south of the Wall who has been partaking in this ridiculous and mindless Game of Thrones, which has lasted centuries. This is why Jon Snow had to die and will have to be reanimated as part of the White Walker army—it's how he gets out of his Night Watch oath so that he can join the side he has to, in order to become the true savior of Westeros.
The biggest speculation that people like to talk about is in regards to who birthed Jon Snow. Some people claim that Ned isn't even his father. They might be right, but I think that Ned impregnated someone north of the Wall. Jon Snow himself, and in particular, his life, is literally the Song of Ice and Fire.
So how does it all end? Here we go:
Jon Snow becomes part of the White Walker army, defeats its King, and leads the army, along with the Free Folk, down into the warmer lands of Westeros, to battle the royal families. Daenerys, the Lannisters, the Starks, the Baratheons, the Greyjoys, even the dragons—all dead at the end (almost all of them).
In the end, we see Jon Snow destroy the Iron Throne (my guess is with ice and sword), thereby liberating the continent, and we see the free people burn down The Wall. Jon Snow and the White Walkers return to the North (Jon had to sacrifice his former life for this victory), while the people of Westeros stay, free at last, in the South, and begin anew. (Ah, but there's one more scene).
Who lives? Probably Tyrion. Maybe Sansa, but I'd guess not. Brienne of Tarth? I'm guessing she goes down while taking the side of the North. Bran? Definitely lives. He'll play a large role in the new free land of Westeros. Ayra Stark? Yes, but will ultimately choose a life of her dangerous desire in the Free Cities (though she will probably play an important part in the downfall of the royal families).
The last scene has to be a reveal of Varys, seeing and acknowledging that this whole tale was a plan, conceived and set forth by him—and that it worked to perfection. In the closing moments, he reveals that he now has to see what he can do with Essos (which may be the complete opposite—he might try to put one person in power, just to see if he can manipulate another whole continent). Varys's clever mind wasn't blinded by rage, desire, and the need for revenge. Tyrion's clever mind, of course, was sidetracked.
RR cleverly tricked us. He led us to believe that the Ice was the White Walkers and not the people of the North. He led us to believe that the Fire was the dragons, and not the evil royal families that fought endlessly for a ridiculous throne and who built a Wall to keep out people who they thought were inferior to them. RR told us that winter is coming, but led us to believe that it was an actual weather event and not the rise of the Northern people. He even killed his protagonist. That takes guts. But the biggest secret that was in front of our faces the whole time, is that the Ice and the Fire together, by birth, is Jon Snow. Cool, huh?
I don't know how HBO will end the series. Since the last book won't be written, they might go for an uplifting ending. I hope not. Benioff and Weiss are talented, and obviously not afraid at this point to chart their own course. But, they have bosses to answer to. That's what worries me.
RR though has a spine of steel. He won't be afraid to kill off much of the crooked world and many of the people who tried to better it. We learned that with the beheading of Ned Stark, early on.
If I'm wrong, I hope I'm wrong because the ending is superior to the one that I think it is. But I don't believe that is the case. I might not have gotten everything right, but I think I've got the correct base path to home plate.
In case you haven't figured it out, George RR Martin is a genius. Thank God we're alive in the era where we get to read his books. This tale was not easy to think out. I'm convinced he knew the ending at the start, and deceived us like only a rockstar author could. Great job, RR, and thanks for taking the time to create this wonderful tale.
So now, do you finally understand why Jon's last name is Snow?