‘White-Washing’ Ghost in the Shell

GITS

Connor Thomas wrote a phenomenal piece about “Racism in Film: Movies and Society Part 8.” In it he mentioned that “in no other place can racism project itself across so many people’s minds” so blatantly. He provided an excellent analysis of the history and overall trends set in Hollywood and some harrowing statistics. For that, I respect him even more as a writer and a person.

The interesting thing is the timing and release of his article. As some may already be aware, further controversy has been sparked by the promotional picture of Scarlett Johansson portraying Major Motoko Kusanagi in the upcoming live action version ofGhost in the Shell. I personally can both defend and attack the studio’s decision to cast Scarlett Johansson (and I will) in this adaption of the 1995 animated film. It is worth mentioning that I do not watch a lot of anime (the majority of what I watch is the Ghost in the Shell franchise because of its cyberpunk nature). In fact, I do not consume a lot of TV or film altogether; rather I play an inordinate amount of video games (Just check my article history on The Roundup). Ghost in the Shell however is in my top three movies of all time (The other two being The Departed Good Will Hunting). To further understand the significance of this animated film, I will attempt to explain the premise so the larger implications for Scarlett Johansson’s casting can be understood.

According to the Google film synopsis Ghost in the Shell is described as a “Japanese animation (in which), cyborg federal agent Maj. Motoko Kusanagi trails “The Puppet Master,” who illegally hacks into the minds of cyborg-human hybrids. Kusanagi’s pursuit of a man who can modify the identity of strangers leaves her pondering her own makeup, and what life might be like if she had more human traits. With her partner, Kusanagi corners the hacker, but her curiosity about her identity sends the case in an unforeseen direction.”

Ghost in the Shell, the intellectual property as a whole constantly bombards the viewer with incredibly philosophical dilemmas and situations. It makes the viewer question possible outcomes of further cybernetic and neurological breakthroughs. The symbolism and message that was intended to be told by the creator is encompassed by a thought provoking action film. In my opinion it succeeds in doing so. This mainly conveyed through the protagonists, Motoko Kusanagi’s monologues and actions about her own interpretation of her very existence as a full body cyborg.

For the uniformed reader or critic the idea of Scarlett Johansson playing the lead for a remake of a Japanese anime seems like blatant “whitewashing.” Yet, out of all cases of whitewashing this one actually has some defend-able points (I am presenting them; I do not support them). Let me be clear though, Hollywood needs to absolutely be more open to casting Asian actors in more roles, preferably not roles that are stereotypical interpretations of Asian culture. For example, why not cast an Asian actor for an ethnically ambiguous character (a role that isn’t defined by facial structure or specific race)? There are plenty of roles that do not have to be played by mainstream Caucasian actors. Let it also be worth mentioning that more races should be cast in mainstream film as a whole (please do not feel as if I am catering to one specific race).

Here is how I will be devil’s advocate and defend the decision for the casting of Scarlet Johansson(I will argue against it later). In the original film,  the Major is a full body cyborg. In 2027, when the film takes place, everything that arguably makes a human can be replaced by cybernetics including one’s brain. Motoko Kusanagi is for all intensive purposes literally a ghost (soul) in a shell (body). She lacks any actual ‘natural’ body parts, even her own hair. Although her complete backstory is argued by viewers, she is by no means a ‘normal’ human. In the society that the series takes place in, however, this is accepted (for the most part). The populace can place their soul or ghost into an artificial body or shell if they choose. In this society race isn’t really an issue because one’s race can be altered by merely obtaining a new shell (if they have the physical capital to buy one). The Major operates out of Japan and is arguably Japanese, yet in nearly every portrayal of the character, she appears ethnically androgynous. In some iterations she appears more ‘Caucasian’ in others such as the ARISE ova; she dawns a more ‘Asian’ appearance. Note this is all relative to the viewer.

Essentially in the case of the original Ghost in the Shell, the Major has a Japanese name but certainly not a typical ‘Asian’ appearance. This is because of the entire cyborg-cyberpunk world that the characters live in. This is not our world. It is important to mention that the Major is not the sole Japanese character who simply does not appear to have Japanese origins. Batou (pictured to the above) is a near full body cyborg and colleague of the Major. Like her, in each iteration of the series as a whole his appearance differs. These characters’ roles are so ethnically ambiguous that in my opinion the live action portrayal of the characters as a whole is unimportant if the sole goal is to get the main message across. The focus for the entire film isn’t really as much about the characters as it is about what it means to be human. More specifically, something that is synthesized in a lab can feel and be accepted as being human. This is accomplished by using the Major as a vessel for doing so. The film especially touches on deep analyses of humanity and life after death. I will explain why Scarlett Johansson is seemingly ‘perfect’ for this in a bit.

GITS2Personally, the plot for Ghost in the Shell depends so little on race  it could be adapted to fit any kind of futuristic metropolitan setting whether it be in North America, Europe, the Middle East, etc. Once again this is due to the cyberpunk setting and the technological level that society in a whole has advanced to globally. Other successful animes that have made their way from Japan to become mainstream franchises, such asAttack on Titan, Fullmetal Alchemists, Dragon Ball Z,  for the most part do not focus on the specific race of the characters but instead more on the environment and issue at hand. I give this choice in creative design credit for their success in the West. Basically, just because it is an anime does not always mean that all of the characters have to be Asian. You would be surprised by how many people believe this to be true. These plots do not have to cater to race to be successful; they transcend that entire barrier as a whole. Anyone who has never watched Ghost in the Shell, however, just sees the Japanese name, in this case Motoko Kusanagi, and freaks out before understanding the plot and reasoning as to why Scarlett Johansson could possibly make sense when it comes to casting. This kind of assumption proves that the individual that is criticizing this decision has no understanding of the plot in the slightest degree.

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SPOILER. The Major kind of dies in a sense near the end of Ghost in the Shell. Well, her body that had been acting as a vessel for her very soul is destroyed. She eventually ends up in a cybernetic body of a young girl but that isn’t the point because before that she bonds her very ‘mind’ with an artificial intelligence and possibly the internet as a whole. This may be a lot to fathom at once but just listen to where I am going with this. The Major at this specific point in the film lacks any physical presence in the actual world. She has transcended into the very cloud of data that flows throughout the world. This philosophical commentary for a cyborgs life after her apparent death (she actually doesn’t end up dying for good) is the main focus for the entire 82 minute long film. NOT RACE, nor any kind of IDEOLOGY or POLITICAL AGENDA. The film’s purpose is to propose various possible theories and revelations about life after death for something that arguably was never truly alive. The Major after questioning her humanity and whether she even is human literally becomes a part of the internet, something an actual human more than likely can’t. From this viewers have argued over the years if she was ever even human at one point or merely an artificial intelligence that was given bodies that reflect her supposed age.

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Scarlett Johansson has played several roles that make her a suitable choice to play the Major (except you know being white). From a physical standpoint she has already learned the choreography and has portrayed a character who uses the same kind of combat style as the Major: Black Widow in various Marvel films. She has already proven that she can portray a convincing artificial intelligence in Her. The entire concept and her acting abilities to portray the Major in sequences that lack a body or physical form is corroborated by her performance in this film. In Lucy she was able to not only provide believable combat skills, but she also proved to be able to commentate on higher states of consciousness; not to mention deep analysis of the brain and its potential. Off the top of my head, I cannot name an actress who is more qualified to portray the Major based off of past performances. This in itself is intriguing and disappointing, but I will mention why eventually.

The last thing that is a ‘good’ thing that Scarlett brings to the film is her appearance and name. Personally, I would argue that if a mainstream actress was not attached to this live action film few would be interested in it to begin with. The source material is by no means new; the original movie is over 20 years old. There is also a stigma in Hollywood that films with foreign origins for the most part won’t be successful because the general public doesn’t accept them or they will not understand them. My opinions on this and my overall disapproval could be an article on its own. Basically without a major A list celebrities involvement, I could not see this film ever being pitched to audiences and studios, let alone be successful.

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To further quell blind hatred towards the casting of Scarlett Johansson, it is noteworthy to say that the manga publisher for the original Ghost in the Shell, Kodansha was impressed with the amount of respect being given to the manga. In an interview withThe Hollywood Reporter, Kodansha’s chief international business director, Sam Yoshiba stated, “Looking at her career so far, I think Scarlett Johansson is well cast.  She has the cyberpunk feel. And we never imagined it would be a Japanese actress in the first place. This is a chance for a Japanese property to be seen around the world.”

If the original publishers of the source material have no issue with the Major being portrayed by a non-Japanese actress then I cannot see any further reason to detest the idea of Scarlott being the Major (besides her being white). It is also important to mention that the audiences in Japan do not feel offended by the casting of Scarlett in the role either.  One commenter from this cached thread of comments even points out that, “Even though in the Attack on Titan manga, the characters were foreigners, the movie version was all Japanese people, so I’m not going to complain.” The issue that should make people mad that was hinted at earlier is the lack of diversity in Hollywood.

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A large portion of people online have been demanding that Rinko Kikuchi, a Japanese national (she was in Pacific Rim) be cast as the Major instead. I personally think this makes sense as well. Especially if you want to cast a quality Japanese actress for a film that requires a wide skill set. I blame yet again the lack of a wide range of Japanese actresses (that would appeal to mainstream audiences) specifically to play this role. What I am trying to get at is if Hollywood finally decided to cast more Asian actors and actresses then there would be a larger selection of people to cast for the role of the Major in this live action adaptation. For this film to succeed at all it needs an actress that has a proven skill set and is a household name. I am not saying at all that white actresses are better by any means; the crummy thing is that the majority of the current actresses that fulfill these two requirements are Caucasian (mainly the second requirement). Plenty of Asian actresses have the skill set for the Major; they just lack something they cannot control. The characteristic that also works against the whole whitewashing idea is the previously mentioned fact that this role could be played by anyone of any race that meets the prerequisites. It just so happens thanks to the ill nature of Hollywood that this happens to be Scarlett Johansson.

When it comes to the whole idea of Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi I can personally understand the pros and cons of casting her and as to why she was chosen. This still does not excuse everything else Hollywood has whitewashed in the past and inevitable future but I feel as if this movie isn’t the best example of whitewashing. Rather society as a whole does have an issue with whitewashing but in this case directed its frustration toward a single film instead of a wider pattern in Hollywood. To further understand this struggle in Hollywood for diversity I will once again direct you to Connor’s piece mentioned in the beginning.

Review: Dark Souls 3

“Some day the flame will fade and only embers will remain.” This exact quote has been rehashed and muttered by countless characters in the Dark Souls franchise. The climatic end to this trilogy is a spiraling descent into utter madness which forces the player to examine the game worlds darkest motifs. For the uniformed, the Dark Souls series is noteworthy for two things: its difficulty that expects the player to learn and adapt to his or her surroundings and its relatively abstract lore and history. FromSoftware dark-fantasy RPG series from the outside perspective appears to lack any sense or overall story. This is a shallow and misconstrued examination. Like the difficult gameplay that forces the player to learn on their own, the story in itself parallels the gameplay very much so. The lore and story, the implications of a grand overarching story are all in the game; the player must simply look for it. Whether it is told through abstract dialogue with various side characters, to the item descriptions for the player’s gear, to the very architecture and environment that is presented to the player, a story is in fact present. This story is cyclical in nature. The world of Dark Souls is poetic, a never ending struggle between the darkness of the abyss and the light of the first flame. Yet the idea of the light being the “good” and the darkness being “evil” is never truly expressed. Each game has the player either ending the age of fire or plunging the world into utter chaos but according to the game’s lore embers always remain and the fire is rekindled. This remains true even in Dark Souls III if the player chooses to do so.

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You may be thinking, “Get on with the review already!” However, I cannot express how essential this struggle and cycle is when it comes to the central tenants of this games and the franchise. Games as a whole encompass more than the gameplay presented to the player. The specific way developers choose to feed players story varies significantly. FromSoftware’s unique approach throughout this titular franchise stand out personally. The player ultimately wields the power in Dark Souls III to either continue the previously mentioned cycle by feeding the first flame or leaving it alone, walking away from the player’s supposed destiny. The final choice effectively sees the world plunged into an eternal darkness with the player consuming the first flame and ushering in a world without light. These endings can be interpreted dozens of different ways, but I will spare you by not going into detail.

DSTweetAfter already playing the game early thanks to the early release in Japan and by making a Japanese PlayStation Network Account, I finally was given the oppurtunuty to play the North American version this past Monday (4/11). To mark the beginning of my character’s journey on my PC version I tweeted out at Xbox and the games official Twitter account “And the descent into utter rage begins….. @DarkSoulsGame @Xbox I hope the Elite Controller can take it.” I by no means expected an actual response from Xbox’s Twitter account but oddly enough I received a response “@TheHuntGilbert Good luck, Hunter. Try not to go Hollow!” This was a kind and genuine response which happened to clean my mental pallet for the struggles I was about to endure. It is worth mention that “to go Hollow” is an in game mechanic in all games that slowly begins to make the player character look rotten and dead after each death.

To further understand the game it is worth explaining the RPG elements that Dark Souls III has. The player earns souls, a form of currency by killing enemies and selling items that are used to level up their character. Skill points are allotted into which ever category the player wants. This ranges from adding additional points to your Vigor trait (that grants the player additional health) to luck (which can increase the drop rate for items after killing enemies). The catch is that if the player dies they lose all of their souls. The game allows the player to regain these souls by treking to his/her point of death and simply picking them up from the ground. If the player dies again before doing so the souls are lost forever. This mechanic which has been in all Souls games has led countless players into fits of rage and frustration for essentially being sent backwards on their overall progress (at times countless hours of progress can be lost).

The variety of traits allow for the player to customize their character to fit their own playtstyle. Whether you choose to use a sword and shield or a spear and staff Dark Souls III allows the player to further decide how they will go about their trek to the first flame. Magic can be used as well, the variety and ability to decide between, hexes, miracles, pyromancy and normal sorcery form a perfect synthesis and variety of magical power for the player to wield.

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One of the key tenants of every Souls game are the incredibly intimidating and elaborate boss fights. The series challenges the player to analyze each and every bosses move set on the fly while. Through countless deaths and at times fits of utter frustration, the strategy behind each boss is revealed. Most bosses have two stages, for example the first boss Iudex Gundyr begins the opening fight by wielding a large axe like weapon. Roughly halfway through the fight a dark serpent emerges from his back forming two enormous hands. The entire fight changes from a range battle to a more up close and personal engagement. In general, the change in fighting styles in boss fights in Dark Souls III becomes expected. At some times the health bar of the boss will come back altogether. This only occurs in a small amount of boss fights. Overall each boss fight proved to be incredibly enjoyable and difficult at times. Several bosses have some gimmicks but I felt as if they added to the overall presentation of each boss. Whether the gimmick was a specific weapon used to kill the boss or specific weak points that were the sole points of inflicting damage, each one felt necessary for the overarching engagement.

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The average enemies encountered between boss fights have a enormous variety. Whether it is undead hounds or holy paladin knights, each and every enemy has their own unique move set for the most part. Some enemies may be larger scale versions of other enemies or maybe enemies that share the same weapon types strike the same way. The majority of the enemies in my opinion are push-overs in one on one engagements. On the other hand gangs of the exact same kind of enemies can prove to be quite the hassle. Meanwhile, certain enemies, especially in later environments prove to require almost as much precision and focus that is normally required in a boss fight. It is worth mentioning that most gear used by enemies can be eventually recovered after slaying said enemy (the drops do not always drop at a certain 100%). Fan favorite weapons and armor pieces from past games make appearances throughout Dark Souls III. I won’t spoil as to which ones return but some will absolutely create an essence of nostalgia. This applies to characters from past games as well. Some other reviewers claim that the game attempts to cater to players nostalgia from the past games too much. I personally find a perfect balance between new content and older gear.

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It is worth noting one last new addition to the franchise: weapon arts. This new addition to the robust combat system adds unique move-sets to each kind of weapon. In some cases one of a kind moves are bound to each individual weapon but this does not apply across the board. Using spells along with these weapon arts uses FP, or the purple/bluish bar beneath the HP bar and above the stamina bar. FP is regained by either resting at a bonfire (waypoints used to warp across the world) or by chugging an Ashen Estus Flask (a consumable item that is refilled at each bonfire or upon death). Excluding weapon arts the formula for a Souls game is still present in Dark Souls III. It is worth mentioning that combat is somewhat quicker than that of the combat in previous Souls games. I personally corroborate this by the fact as to how fast combos are when using weapon arts.

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As previously mentioned the plot of the game is to reach the first flame. However, for the player to do so they must first hunt down and kill the Lords of Cinder. These are 5 different associates that all share some sort of power found within the first flame. In order to rekindle the first flame their souls and life force must be transfuse into a vessel that will then replenish the life force of the flame. The player character is this vessel. At first the task of hunting down 5 individuals may seem daunting, especially since two of the individuals are in fact not one specific person but instead a group of individuals that all share the soul. The game does make the whole process easier since one of the 5 individuals that holds one of these souls is already waiting for the player at the Firelink Shrine, the hub for the gameworld. That leaves 4 other Lord souls that need to be stripped from their current holders. The first and last soul are set to specific bosses due to how the game progresses while the other two can be retrieved to the players choosing. I personally found that killing Yorm the Giant was a far easier task than killing Aldrich, the Devourer of Gods, first. Yet I will leave the entire process up to the reader/player.

Spoilers Ahead

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After slaying all of the Lords of Cinder and combing their ashes in the Firelink Shrine the player is warped to a recognizable location to any player that has played Dark Souls I, The Kiln of the First Flame. This is when the entire game series clicked for me and I had an epiphany as to what I thought the series was trying to tell the player. As previously mentioned the average individual simply doesn’t put forth the effort to understand the cryptic nature of the story provided to the player in each game. The significance as to why the player has returned to this location is quickly revealed as the player treks up a steep slope of ash. Basically, the Kiln of the First Flame is where the first ever Lord of Cinder linked the First Flame. His name was Gwyn, Lord of Cinder (below on the right). The player kills him in the first game and then links the fire themselves or refuses to. Regardless of the players actions someone has linked the flame and when it was about to die out again an additional person linked the flame with the souls they have accumulated over their journey. This process has repeated itself so many times by the timeline in Dark Souls III that the Kiln of the First Flame is now littered with ashes of the charred individuals that linked the First Flame along with all of their weapons they brought with them.

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The player upon entering the inner ring of the Kiln initiates the boss fight with the final boss, The Soul of Cinder. The thought behind this fight by the developers actually made me sit down and write out my thoughts in order to retain what I had just accomplished by beating this boss. The Soul of Cinder is in my opinion tied for the most difficult boss in the game alongside the Nameless King which is actually an optional boss. The reason why this fight is so difficult is because of two factors: the open nature of the fight/lack of cover and the bosses moveset. The boss is literally all of the Souls that have been sacrificed by countless individuals warped into a single flaming set of armor. Through further logic since it is the culmination of all of these people into one being the boss itself can utilize all moves that the player can use from all three games! This gives the Soul of Cinder the widest variety of moves to kill the player. There are so many moves that I encountered only a 1/3rd of them on my first try. This in turn means that a player will have to either get really lucky on their first try or die multiple times in order to learn all of the bosses moves. When the player finally eliminates the Soul of Cinder’s life bar it takes a knee and the fast paced classical music that has been playing in the background is replaced by a musical queue associated with Gwyn from the first game. In other words a rampant symphonic score is replaced by a slow melodic piano. The Soul of Cinder then begins using the exact same moves as Gwyn from the first game. I found this touch incredibly nostalgic and kind of sad in a sense. Even though countless souls have sacrificed themselves to the first flame, the original soul still retains some sort of control over the warped and mangled body; thousands of years after the fact. The fact that the game ends in the exact same environment against the exact same final boss from the first game seems poetic. This on top of the cyclical nature of the games story feels oddly like the right way for the series to end.

Spoilers End

https://i2.wp.com/www.iamag.co/features/itsart/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/dark-souls-3-6.jpgDark Souls III is an astounding end to the well respected Souls series. As much as the public is aware, this is indeed the final game in the series. I personally am completely okay with that. Sure not having any more entries in one of my most beloved franchises is a sad idea but I would rather have the developers not recycle and rewash a franchise to death. The ending to this game also ties up the series in a sense so that is also a plus. For once there are no open endings and for that I am thankful. If you feel like embarking on an arduous trek through a realm of darkness, go pick up Dark Souls III.

Verdict: 9.5/10

Questionable Intentions? Apple VS The Fed

Many Americans may sadly be desensitized to mass shootings in the United States. This can be corroborated by the lack of surprise when the news of an additional mass shooting occurred this past December in San Bernadino, California. Ironically, the largest backlash against the handling of this shooting stems not from gun control but instead the handling of personal storage and data on devices. Two months later the public interpretation of this tragedy is not focused on the weapons utilized or even the potential “religious” factors to the incident (it is worth stating this attack does not reflect the teachings of Islam in the slightest degree). This was a cruel attack potentially “justified” by extreme interpretations of Islamic scripture – i.e ISIS.

Instead, the majority of the public uproar is revolving around the handling of a single iPhone, in this case the personal cellular device of one of the attacks perpetrators, Syed Rizwan Farook. This began when a US federal magistrate ordered Apple to help the FBI unlock the now deceased Syed’s iPhone. This was ultimately the result of the FBI’s inability to unlock the phone. FBI director, James Comey pointed out that federal agents have been unable to unlock the phone which could potentially shed light on the extent of influence on the two perpetrators by radical Islamic terrorist groups. The difficulty to unlock Syed’s iPhone can be traced to the encryption software that Apple began to support on their phones back in 2014.

For those uninformed on encryption, it is “the conversion of electronic data into another form, called ciphertext, which cannot be easily understood by anyone except authorized parties.” Apple noted that they could not unlock the phone/software even when potentially faced with a court order. Apple had consumers’ privacy in consideration when this software was initiated. The FBI and the majority of Federal investigative agencies have been in disagreement with Apple ever since this software was implemented. The FBI argues that Apple is “obstructing justice” to a degree by not providing the Fed with a back door which would be used to bypass the encryption. This argument has been brought up multiple times which makes this specific request for access to the phone’s memory the most recent attempt by the Fed in their struggle to gain an advantage over consumers privacy. In other words, what is not only the rights of this single deceased individual but also the rights to privacy for the average American citizen are at stake.

Image: Apple Introduces Two New iPhone Models At Product Launch

This court order from the federal judge essentially was an order for Apple to provide access to the phone as stated earlier. The point of contention is the fact that Apple “declined to provide voluntary” help to the federal investigators. The 40-page filing stated, “Despite … a warrant authorizing the search, the government has been unable to complete the search because it cannot access the iPhone’s encrypted content. Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily.” In my opinion, the fact that the FBI is incapable of decrypting the device is either a preposterous lie, or the FBI is far more incapable than many have perceived when it comes to cyber forensics and data surveillance. Both warrant a need for distress. On one hand, the FBI does have the potential to gain access to the phone but instead seeks to have legislation written that would allow them access to all Apple devices that have this encryption software through a “back door.” This could, in turn, lead to the beginning of a slippery slope form of legislation that would potentially allow the Fed to be given “back doors” to all encrypted devices regardless of manufacturer. In other words, it would be the first step towards greater restraints on the data privacy of American citizens.

Personally, the more frightening alternative is the idea that the FBI along with every other investigative agency (I.E. – NSA, CIA, DOD Cyber Warfare Teams) lack the ability to truly unlock this device. This, of course, would be embarrassing if proven true in my opinion. The Fed prides itself that these agencies have the best minds and equipment at their disposal when it comes to retrieving information. This is substantiated by the Edward Snowden leaks regarding the NSA and its questionable forms of action and surveillance. If the Fed is unable to crack the encryption on an iPhone 5C, which is what they are claiming, shouldn’t Americans be a little more worried about threats to national security via cyber attacks? I am not claiming that the process of bypassing this encryption is easy by any means, but the Fed wants me to believe that they are giving up after about 2 months of investigation? If that is indeed the truth and the Fed isn’t attempting to infringe on American’s rights then there is a larger issue at hand. Just last week the Director of National Intelligence delivered the yearly threat assessment. He stressed that “China continues to have success in cyber espionage against the U.S. government, our allies, and U.S. companies,” Clapper emphasized. “Beijing also selectively uses cyber attacks against targets [and] its beliefs threaten Chinese domestic stability or regime legitimacy.” Potentially this whole case is supplementing the idea that the United States is increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks. While at the same time the U.S. claimed it “planned the major cyber attack(s) on Iran if nuclear talks failed.” Yet, I continue to digress from the main point of debate, the fate of Sayed’s phones data and potential the right to American’s own personal data.

Apple is fighting back against this call for “back doors” on their user’s devices. Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote and published an open letter late this past Tuesday (2/16) “pledging to fight a judge;s ruling that it should give FBI investigators access to encrypted data on the device.” He stated, “The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals.”

This addresses the idea that by unlocking this one device Apple would then be held responsible for unlocking additional phones if asked. Cook added “Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government. We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.”

 

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Some have criticized Apple for taking this approach to handling the investigation including Donald Trump who said he “would ‘force’ Apple to hack” the iPhone. From an outside and ill-informed perspective, this may seem as if Apple is working against the Fed. Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai stated that Apple by “helping the FBI try to get into the phone used by Syed Rizwan Farook would sabotage the security of tens of millions of American citizens.” Opinions echoing this view towards the case and investigation were also expressed by executive members of Twitter and Facebook. The tech and online information community as a whole have somewhat agreed that unwanted consequences would result if Apple provided this “back door.”

Cook pointed directly at the same point I made earlier about additional legislation regarding surveillance. He “suggested that the government could use the same legislation cited in Tuesday’s ruling to demand that tech companies build surveillance software to intercept customers’ messages. ”  This potential domino effect of evasive legislation against Americans could entail lasting negative aspects on the average innocent American’s everyday life. Simply put “the implications of the government’s demands are chilling.” Cook like every other individual that sees the negative potential of these “back doors” is somewhat afraid of the results. Lastly, Tim Cook attempted to explain the overall idea of the situation in more simple terms. “Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices,” Cook said. “In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.” 

I personally am not afraid of any of my personal data or private communications going public or be monitored by the Fed. I express my opinions and will gladly answer or be the victim of the repercussions that mindset may entail. In other words, I have nothing to hide. Essentially, I am not ashamed of anything I have said in the past. This doesn’t necessarily mean that everything I discuss online is without a bias or negative tone/implication, but I am not one to hide behind a screen or anonymously harass people or deal with illegal actions/situations.

Simply put I couldn’t care less if the Fed had access to my phone. They would have access to the conversations I partake in my average, uneventful life. This, however, is my prerogative and my opinion does not reflect society as a whole, nor do I expect people to feel the same way about this topic. Americans have a right to the protection and privacy of their data. Whether they utilize this right is completely up to them. I personally derive this thought process to the right to bear arms in the second amendment: you have the right to have a gun but you by no means have to have one. This opinion regarding privacy in my OWN OPINION reflects how privacy is handled by the Fed. If an American does not wish to have their data monitored or tagged then they have the right to that. In my case it doesn’t matter, I am very transparent and blatant with my actions and doings.

If the FBI is given the opportunity to create or be allowed to have these “back doors,” as referenced in this case, Americans would be one step closer to losing their privacy rights. A right that each individual has to a degree. We as a society cannot allow for this man’s rights, regardless of what awful crime he committed, to be set aside because in the end all Americans will be affected. Is additional surveillance needed to make you feel safe? I would argue not, I feel safe as is. In the end, the ends simply are not justified. So what if the Fed gains some more intelligence regarding an attack that already occurred? This probably won’t be the last radicalized terrorist attack to hit the United States, so are losing your privacy rights really worth it when it will have little effect on the grand scale of terrorism? My answer no. Americans have the right to freedom of information and privacy. I applaud Apple’s display of conviction against the Fed which is kind of ironic considering I am a Microsoft/PC guy myself. Needless to say, I am against the “back door” method proposed by the FBI.

 

Fallout 4 DLC Details Revealed

Bethesda revealed the details to its first three add-ons that will supplement Fallout 4‘s vanilla content. These three add-ons are titled as follows: Automatron, Wasteland Workshop, and Far Harbor. The last of the three interests me the most personally (more on that later).

The first DLC, Automatron, that will be released drops in March. The description attempts to relay shallow details regarding its content – “The mysterious Mechanist has unleashed a horde of evil robots into the Commonwealth, including the devious Robobrain.Hunt them down and harvest their parts to build and mod your own custom robot companions.”  The press release also notes that the player will be able to “choose from hundreds of mods; mixing limbs, armor, abilities, and weapons like the all-new lightning chain gun.”

I personally have high hopes for this DLC pack because I have spent a ludicrous amount of time crafting various items, armors, etc, in Fallout 4. The lightning chain gun sounds amusing as well.

The second DLC, Wasteland Workshop, appears to lean a little bit more on the sporadic side of the crazy spectrum. The description alone hints to what I mean. “With the Wasteland Workshop, design and set cages to capture live creatures – from raiders to Deathclaws! Tame them or have them face off in battle, even against your fellow settlers. The Wasteland Workshop also includes a suite of new design options for your settlements like nixie tube lighting, letter kits, taxidermy and more!”

The mere thought of capturing something as powerful and fierce as a Deathclaw and having it fight against other opponents not only excites me but also seems a little off the rails when it comes to logic. Hey, this is Fallout though so nearly anything goes. New design options for my already complex settlements will provide me with plenty more to do when this DLC drops in April.

 

Far Harbor, the final DLC as previously stated interests me the most. It also has the highest price tag ($24.99) out of the three DLCs which can be purchased as a whole through a convenient season pass.

This DLC will take the player to an entirely new region that is currently not on the map. Description as follows – “A new case from Valentine’s Detective Agency leads you on a search for a young woman and a secret colony of synths. Travel off the coast of Maine to the mysterious island of Far Harbor, where higher levels of radiation have created a more feral world. Navigate through the growing conflict between the synths, the Children of Atom, and the local townspeople. Will you work towards bringing peace to Far Harbor, and at what cost? Far Harbor features the largest landmass for an add-on that we’ve ever created, filled with new faction quests, settlements, lethal creatures and dungeons. Become more powerful with new, higher-level armor and weapons. The choices are all yours. ”

Far Harbor DLC

This description alone, along with the higher price hints that this will certainly be a larger scale DLC. Large scale story based DLC such as this one excite me the most. Honestly this is reminiscent of the Dawnguard or Dragonborn DLCs for Elder Scrolls V. I personally have a theory regarding the release of future unannounced DLCs. Since this can all be purchased under a single season pass I am proposing the idea that this will be the first of several “seasons” of content. The end of each “season” will have a larger scale DLC such as Far Harbor that will add additional land areas to Fallout 4. This is all speculation but I have a feeling gamers can expect more hints at future DLC at Bethesda’s E3 event this summer. In other words this will not be the last pack of DLC for Fallout 4.

On a final note, Bethesda announced it will continue to cater to its loyal fan base through several free minor updates for the game. It is also worthy noting that both the survival mode and the Creation Kit are currently in testing at Bethesda. So basically more free content will be coming to all you wastelanders.

Review: XCOM 2

Statistically, a 95% chance to hit a target seems like superb opportunity to take a shot on a target. XCOM 2 has reinforced the opposite mentality. This turn based strategy game developed by Firaxis Games  forces the player to make risky decisions on and off the battlefield. This sequel to XCOM: Enemy Unknown (of 2012) proves to be even more difficult than the reboot for several reasons. For those still unaware about the premise of the game (did the thumbnail not give any clues?), the XCOM series involves aliens, mainly killing them for the betterment of humanity. I personally have enjoyed my time spent with the game thus far. XCOM 2 rewards players that take their time in between turns to craft a formulaic plan for battle.

The premise for XCOM 2 takes place 20 years after the events of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Basically, humanity was invaded and overwhelmed by a coalition of extraterrestrial beings. At first, during the events of the first game, the world banded together to form the XCOM Project. The XCOM Project was a multi national reaction force designed to combat the aliens. Although the player could actually win and beat the aliens in XCOM: Enemy Unknown, the canon ending is that the XCOM project failed. In between the previous game what is left of XCOM has been forced to fight as a guerrilla unit that lacks the support from multiple nations. Instead the player leads the remnant of XCOM from region to region across the world in their own commandeered alien supply-ship. In a sense, the player and therefore the story is basically that you are the last hope for humanity waging a hit and run war against the aliens. Yet it isn’t that simple, a lot of society has changed since the aliens essentially became humanities overlords.

Through propaganda and the use of superior technology, the majority of humanity has been convinced that the aliens are in fact here to help humanity become a more intellectually enlightened race (hence the statue of the alien symbolically helping the fallen human above). In other words, at times you will be fighting soldiers that somewhat resemble humans but without going into spoilers it really isn’t the case. Major cities have been constructed by ADVENT, the organisation that governs humanity, and humans are flocking to these cities in order to obtain remedies and a life style previously thought as impossible by standard means. The player over the course of the game begins to realize that through this indoctrination, almost brainwashing, the majority of humanity has lost the ability to be free. It is up to the player to uncover the aliens true intentions and to ultimately free humanity. This will be accomplished by raiding ADVENT coalition compounds, researching better technology and liberating various populaces from the aliens spheres of influence.

The minute to minute gameplay of XCOM 2 can be described at its core: a turn based tactical game. The player controls a squad of soldiers beginning with only 4. This can be increased by upgrades to a larger fighting force later in the game. The battlefield, or area of combat, is divided into tiles that represent places where your soldiers (or your enemies) can move. Depending on the class of your soldier, the amount of tiles you can move varies. In addition to movement, players need to keep in mind their surroundings. This of course is because there are several forms of cover your soldiers or foes can utilize as protection from attacks. The three forms of cover are no cover, partial cover, and full cover. It is up to the player as to where they want to move each turn. Some places may be safer locations though during battle. Another catch to this game is that turns basically revolve around two turn actions. Simply put, a soldier can run into cover or shoot. These turns continue for the player until all of their units have performed actions. Then, the enemy performs its own turn. There are a variety of actions or abilities that the player can use ranging from throwing a grenade to reloading your soldiers’ weapon. I will go into detail about the abilities in a little bit. Objectives for each mission (which the number of missions vary on each play through but the game takes around 30 hours to beat) range from destroying enemy monuments to extracting VIPs. This variety allows for diverse missions that differ in the time it takes to complete them. I have had missions that last 5 turns to missions that take over an hour to complete.

The meta game for XCOM 2 involves racing around the world gathering supplies, intelligence, and manpower in order to combat the alien threat. The events excluding specific missions are all procedurally generated in order to provide unique levels and objectives that will be the player’s own. In other words, your second play through may provide an entirely different start bias and equipment drops from enemies. The player will need to make contact with various other lesser resistance groups to gain supplies to research better guns, armor, equipment, etc. All of this while on the run from the ADVENT coalition may seem overwhelming, but I became some what desensitized to the idea of always being on the run. The raiding tactics the player utilizes almost made me feel like some sort of an insurgent or freedom fighter depending on your own point of view. The odds are nearly always stacked against the player, this made decisions like deciding to research an exo skeleton over new magnetic weapons a rough one to make. The game expects the player to adapt and over come these obstacles over time.

In order to combat this alien threat, you as the player must become well aware of the perks and proper uses for various kinds of weapons. Yet since you are a rebel faction, you and your soldiers cannot depend on abundant resources and new equipment. This idea leads into a new feature for the series: Weapon Modifications. Whenever one of your brave soldiers terminates an enemy there is a chance that modifications or rare resources will be dropped. These modifications like the auto-loader for the shotgun above can provide your XCOM operatives with an unconventional edge against the alien overlords. Some modifications work better with different operatives and armaments. I personally found that by adding an extended magazine modification to my main sharpshooter’s rifle proved to be the proper use. This allowed the rifle to take more shots without having to reload the weapon. Weapons and gear can however be lost forever if the operative using the gear is killed and their body is not recovered. My advice is that you never leave anyone behind, dead or alive everything and everyone is useful in this game.

Now let’s look at the variety of aliens your team will face off against. In the beginning of the game, the majority of your enemies will be humanoid troopers and somewhat lanky “sectoid” aliens that can attack your soldiers telepathically. As the game progresses, different enemy types will be revealed. Without going into spoilers you as the player will have to fight some seemingly unfair engagements. It is all achievable, I personally at the time of writing this have already beaten the game on the second hardest difficulty and am currently trudging through the most difficult setting. Ultimately, the enemies encountered will push the player to their limits and at times the game can be incredibly frustrating. Missing a shot with a 95% chance to hit it can be infuriating and is incredibly common. I cannot stress enough the importance of persevering through this lengthy campaign. Yes the game will be unfair at times, yes a single failed mission can scrap your entire play through but in the end every successful mission is truly earned. Whether it is earned through countless attempts or the loss of your soldiers that you customized after your friends, the game is worth it in the end.

XCOMSquad

Lastly, as I briefly touched on it in the title of this review, the player can choose to fully customize the various soldiers they recruit throughout the game. Like in my XCOM: Enemy Unknown play through I named the majority of my soldiers after people who I know or unique fictional individuals or celebrities. Since the game has a permadeath feature, if any of these soldiers die they will be gone forever. This makes loses in my squads seems even worse since, for example my friend Joe died while trying to disarm a bomb on the third mission. These creative customizable features allow for awesome squads such as the one above. Having Big Boss from Metal Gear Solid 3, Mr. Wester as a sniper, and Nick Cage in my A-Team squad with several of my friends and myself makes for some amusing missions and losses. I found myself at times losing track of how much time I was actually spending customizing my soldiers and their load-outs. This immersion however made the game all the better.

Verdict: 9/10

Hunter’s Top 10 Games of 2015

Unlike 2014, there was a large quantity of seemingly stellar video games this year. In fact there were so many excellent titles this year I decided to compile a list of my own. These are my top 10 games of the year. However, I did take into account review scores and critical reviews from noteworthy reviewers and websites in order to eliminate some of my own bias. The outline of each title will be represented as following [ Game Title – Developer (Platform(s)) Noteworthy Awards]

*NOTE: No Sports Games or HD Remasters will be on this list

#10. Halo 5: Guardians – 343 Industries (Xbox One) VG Hunter 8.8/10

I will certainly get a lot of flak from Xbox fanboys for placing their beloved Master Chief in the number 10 slot on this list. However, I can back this placement up by the fact that the only awards it yielded this year all had to do with being the best Xbox One game of the year (that isn’t saying much when you look at 1st party Xbox games). I enjoyed the game a lot but excluding the warzone gamemode the game was sort of a disappointment. With a setup Halo 2 esque ending combined with abysmal writing and the fact that you never really hunt the Master Chief (even though the marketing campaign made this out to be a legendary hunt for the ultimate super soldier) I felt lied to honestly by the developers. Gameplay on the other hand is smoother than any other Halo game, and that is saying something since Halo is known for its simple but skill based gameplay.

#9. Splatoon – Nintendo EAD Group No. 2 (WiiU) – Game Awards Best Shooter & Best Multiplayer Game

Who would have thought one of the best multiplayer experiences of 2015 would be on a Nintendo console? I might (absolutely will) get some hate for placing this game ahead of Halo 5, but Splatoons simple and fun gameplay. Basically the object of the game is to cover as much of the map as possible with your own teams color of paint while covering the areas that the other team has painted with their own. Sounds simple? Well in most cases it is just that: simple. Yet this game for some odd reason gave me a since of pleasure and achievement even though i was completing a childish task. The art style is adorable (yes I used that word) and fits the game quite well. This game is playable by gamers of all ages and skill levels. That is why it was placed on this list, due to its availability, relatively balanced gameplay and somewhat lack of violence.

#8. Tales from the Borderlands – Telltale Games (PC/PS4/PS3/Xbox One/Xbox 360/ OSX/IOS) IGN 9.3/10

Honestly when it boils down to voice acting and overall writing for a game, Tales from the Borderlands delivers and then kills the standard for narrative and storytelling. With a cast including Troy Baker (The Last of Us, Bioshock Infinite, etc), Nolan North (Uncharted, Batman Arkham Series, Assassins Creed, etc), Ashley Johnson (The Last of Us, The Avengers, etc) and countless other noteworthy voice actors, this game is full of talent. This five part Telltale series explores the world of Pandora from the Borderlands franchise. Although the gameplay is simple point and click puzzles with quick time combat moments, the writing focusing on the characters is absolutely astounding. The humor and overall lack of morality is exactly what a player should expect from a game taking place in the 2K’s beloved game world. I found myself laughing hysterically countless times during my endeavors on the surface of Pandora. Yet, I also found some of the player choices and moments to be incredibly thought provoking. If you want to play a game just for the story and you have a somewhat sick but great sense of humor pick this game up on its various platforms of availability.

#7. Rocket League – Psyonix (PC/PS4) The Game Awards 2015 Best Independent Game & Best Sports Game

Rocket League is the end product of combing football(soccer) and high speed rocket-powered cars. This title that has been released on the PC/PS4 so far (Xbox One in February) is simple from the surface, but truly has some depth to its gameplay. The object of the game is simple: knock a giant ball into the other team’s goal while protecting your own. Basically it is soccer with rocket cars, hence the name Rocket League. Whether you are playing a 1v1 or a chaotic 4v4 the gameplay in Rocket League is simple but effective when it comes to providing a spark of excitement to the player. Dramatic saves and goals will more than likely be plentiful in your own experiences with this fantastic indie game.

#6. Super Mario Maker – Nintendo (WiiU) Giant Bomb’s 2015 GOTY Awards Best Game

Nintendo finally made the game that their fans have been asking for decades, a game that lets the player make stages using Super Mario’s assets and set pieces. Super Mario Maker allows gamers to make everything from simple levels to seemingly impossible death traps. The community since the game has been released have created quite the variety of levels. The simple interface allows for fans of the series of all ages to have the ability to make levels that they can play and share with friends and family. Since there are thousands of player created levels the game has an incredibly high replay-ability so as a gamer you will certainly get your bang for your buck.

#5. Undertale – tobyfox (PC/Mac-OS) Destructoid PC Game of the Year 

Undertale proved once again that fantastic games do not have to have fantastic graphics or come from the minds of a Triple A developer. This PC/Mac title shared some basic RPG elements, but honestly this game belongs in its own category altogether. Each of the game’s boss fights had its own unique and signature aspects and features. The game also gives the player the ability to play the entire game without killing a single enemy. The class RPG elements combined with the neat puzzles and animated/energetic non-playable characters is a nice touch. The combat is essentialy a bullet hell style system that gets progressively harder as the game moves on. Basically the player has to guide a little heart around in a box, dodging various things that will in turn hurt the protagonist. Undertale was a game that main stream gamers never saw coming, I for one am glad that gamers got this neat little game.

#4. Bloodborne – FromSoftware (PS4) Golden Joystick Awards 2015 Best Original Game & IGN PS4 Game of the Year

Bloodborne absolutely was the best original game of 2015. The games ahead of it on my list all are sequels in various game series. Bloodborne was an entirely new IP (Intellectual Property) all together. The PS4 exclusive was dark, difficult and quite foreboding. From the minds behind Demon Souls Dark Souls, Bloodborne proves to be ever so difficult as the titles it takes elements and tropes from. This hack ‘n slash RPG stands on its own though by divulging far more plot elements than the other games made by FromSoftware. The Gothic art style and brooding setting in a dilapidated city stained by the blood of monsters and a psychotic populace was a nice touch to the aesthetic of the game. The gameplay does not hold the player’s hand in anyway. The game expects the player to be smart, it respects your intelligence and therefore provides the player with a difficult but rewarding style of gameplay.

#3. Fallout 4 – Bethesda Game Studios (PC/PS4/Xbox One) Game Awards Nominated Game of the Year 2015

Some readers may believe that this title should be closer to the best game spot, I however feel quite the opposite. Fallout 4 was no doubt a good game, it told a far more meaningful story and the new chunk of the American Wasteland that players got to roam in was full of incredible stories, moments and sidequests. Yet, the same thing can be said about Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas. Sure the game added a nice settlement feature and crafting but it lacked something special that would make it truly feel next-gen. There was simply no feature that could set it apart from the other games if all of the games appeared the same graphically. None the less the game is a fantastic RPG that is second only to the #1 game on this list. The game itself is what one would expect from a Bethesda style RPG, but I wanted more, something else was missing that is keeping this title from being higher on the list. Still a fantastic game though.

#2. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain – Kojima Productions (PC/PS4/PS3/Xbox One/Xbox 360) – PC Gamer Game of the Year 2015 , Game Awards Best Action-Adventure Game , IGN 10/10VG Hunter 10/10

Hideo Kojima’s final iteration in the Metal Gear franchise was my personal favorite game of the year. The reason why it is not number one on this list is due to the fact that I already gave it a perfect 10/10 on my website and it seems too bias to place it in the top spot. The gameplay and overall aesthetic of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is precise and surgical down to the actual frame rate and presentation of the game. I have to give credit to the now defunct Kojima Productions for optimizing the game on every single platform it was released for. Yet, the best experience can be found on the PC version of this open-world stealth and action-adventure game. The gameplay is the best in the series and this title traces its roots from a phenomenal pedigree of previous games. Even the cinematography and overall animations seem ahead of rival game developer’s games. Everything from the dark and gritty opening Hospital prologue to the mind boggling twist ending fits in seamlessly with the gameplay. The level of customization and wide variety of player choice regarding nearly everything the game has to offer (ranging from combat, mission selection, loadout customization) combined with the Clash of Clans esque base building meta game bundles this game into an action gamer’s nirvana. Hideo Kojima went all out on his final installment for the franchise.

#1. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – CD Projekt Red (PC/PS4/Xbox One) – IGN Game of the Year 2015  & Game Awards Game of the Year 2015

Oddly enough I didn’t write a review for The Witcher 3 out of respect for the title. No true words can describe the vast open world that is this game. I played the game twice first on PS4 then on PC. I beat the game to total completion on both platforms and enjoyed every minute of gameplay. CD Projekt Red ended The Witcher series with a game world that not only is incredibly large in scale, but also has depth and detail to back it up. The depth and detail can be used to describe the game world’s art design as a whole as well as the actual story and sidequests blended with the lore of the series. The game as previously stated is an open world game that takes elements from quick swordplay and rpg elements and the product is intense combat. Whether you are hunting a Griffon or fighting off a horde of bandits each swing that Geralt (The Protagonist) takes with his sword seems fluid and organic, like a deadly dance combined with silver and steel. The story is incredibly well written and takes several elements from the book series that the game is based off of that previously were not used in the games (Witcher 1 & 2) before it. If you enjoy fantasy worlds full of sidequests, extravagant set pieces and countless hours of gameplay you should go pick this game up.

Final Fantasy VII Remake – The Facts

A bunch of news has come out of PlayStation Experience (PSX) over the past weekend. The biggest news in my opinion came not from a new game’s announcement but rather new details regarding the Final Fantasy VII Remake. Up until this past weekend all gamers knew about this highly anticipated remake was the fact that it was a thing and that it was coming to Playstation 4 first.

Gamers still do not have a release date but they did get another awesome trailer combined with some impressive gameplay. My first impressions of the gameplay is the fact that it appears to be incredibly similar to what we have seen of Final Fantasy XV & even Kingdom Hearts. In other words the gameplay is not the traditional turn based combat that was in the original Final Fantasy VII. Instead it appears to be fast paced strategy combat that visually looks very hack n slash. Obviously the latter half of my description is wrong since the game will utilize some turn based elements combined with real time action combat.

TweakTown Enlarged Image This of course has made some fans of the original game upset since this remake lacks true turn based combat that was in Final Fantasy VII. I personally believe that this was a smart move. The original Final Fantasy VII had an incredible story. It combined several noteworthy themes ranging from opinions on the environment to the purpose of Gods while not attempting to break out of its own medium. Therefore, I think that the new combat system will be easier for new players to get engaged with the retelling of this classic story. True turn based Japanese Role Playing Games (JRPGs) are sadly becoming less common in the West. Square Enix might be attempting to gain the attention from a younger generation of gamers. The countless hours of grinding in a traditional JRPG, something FF VII was, is simply not relevant or enjoyable when received by the mainstream gaming audience. The original game will be 20 years old in 2017, it’s time that this story was retold not only to the original audience but also to a new wave of gamers. This new combat system is far more inviting than the orthodox combat of the original. I personally am all for it.

Lastly it was also announced after the gameplay reveal that the Final Fantasy VII Remake will be released in parts (It also runs on UnReal Engine 4!). So gamers shouldn’t expect to play through this entire story on one disk alone. Square Enix has yet to explain what exactly this means but I know that this also made a bunch of fans of the series upset. I personally am fine either way, I’m just glad this is finally a thing.

Review: Rise of the Tomb Raider

*This review is exclusively for the Xbox One version of the game.

Few students at Jesuit had any idea that such a cinematic and well-polished game like the Rise of the Tomb Raider was being released the same day as Fallout 4. In fact, the majority of gamers had no idea that the next game in this series reboot was even coming out. Although, I blame the fact that the game is currently only on Xbox One 360 as well as Microsoft‘s poor marketing for the title as reasons why few seem to be aware of this outstanding game. 2013 was the year that Lara Craft and the Tomb Raider franchise finally received a decent reboot. The majority of gamers were surprised by Crystal Dynamics’ reboot of the franchise. I, for one, thought that Tomb Raider 2013 was one of the best games of the year obviously behind the DICE Game of the Year award winner, The Last of Us, as well as the enjoyable Grand Theft Auto V. The Tomb Raider reboot replaced the violent, overly-sexualized version of the protagonist with a well-mannered, naive and serious iteration of the character, motion captured and voice by the lovely Camilla Luddington. The game acted as the origin story that transformed the naive archeologist, shipwrecked on an island full of danger, into a female protagonist that was a survival specialist and fully capable of holding her own in a gun or even fist fight. Rise of the Tomb Raider furthered the character’s development and proved to flesh out more of her background and beliefs.

Spoilers for the story from here to the last paragraph.

Rise of the Tomb Raider has Lara Craft in a race against a sinister organization called Trinity in an attempt to reach the lost city of Kitezh. Her journey takes the player from Syria to Siberia, which is honestly a great juxtaposition between two incredibly different environments. All in an attempt to find the secret to immortality, an idea the science community dismissed her father. Now Lara, after the events of the first game, is attempting to continue her father’s work. The overall experience in Rise of the Tomb Raider is a cinematic masterpiece that draws elements from other successful games in this genre such as the Uncharted franchise. The journey that takes place in this title is not only a literal physical journey but also a journey into the very psyche and beliefs of the heroine protagonist.

 

Gameplay is a mixture between run and gun mechanics and simple to complex puzzles. Honestly, the gun-play on the Xbox One Elite Controller felt a little janky and the sway for the weapons even in the late game was ridiculous. I also disliked the fact that Lara apparently forgot all of her skills from the previous game such as fire arrows and her various bow skills. The weapons, for the most part, excluding the shotgun and the revolver, also felt incredibly ineffective at dispatching attackers. The bow was actually the most useful tool later in the game. It has the ability to fling fire arrows, poison arrows and explosive arrows at enemies. Yet, these skills are relearned later in the game even though she already possessed them in the first game. This brings me to address the new crafting system that is in the game. Lara now can pick up even more materials throughout the game in order to craft Molotov cocktails, IEDs, and poison traps along with several other means of killing attackers. You can also use materials to make better gear and ammunition pouches which are necessary on the more difficult challenges.

 

The enemies in the game range from wolves and lynxes to heavily armed mercenaries and even ancient “deathless” warriors that, surprisingly, can actually die. The way the player approaches all of these enemy types is supposed to force the player to change their playstyle, but I found myself just spamming IEDS and explosive arrows. This strategy worked on even the more difficult settings. The ability to craft bandages on the go also adds a safety net to the player’s health. If you are ever in a tight situation simply bandage up and continue killing. I just didn’t find the game to be that challenging besides two puzzles, one of which I spent way too much time on. My best advice for the puzzles without giving them away is simply: do not over think it. The puzzles may seem grand and complex, but in reality, all of the things necessary in order to solve them are presented to the player in a simple fashion. Any competent player will by no means have to watch a walk-through or how-to-video on any of the puzzles.

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Lastly, I felt that the writing in Rise of the Tomb Raider was far better and less convoluted than the previous game. The 2013 reboot depended too much on supernatural elements and rituals. This one also has an antagonist, the Commander, that you can actually relate to,  who must either complete his task or die while saving his sister. The game also uses tropes and themes from religion, but it doesn’t use them as a crutch for its own story and pacing. Although the story does have its fair share of poor pacing segments, the writing outshines the blemishes. Several significant plot twists and a betrayal conform with the rest of the plot and do not feel thrown in there for pure shock value.

Ultimately, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a brief but well-written action-packed experience. I enjoyed the more realistic and linear plot over the previous games’ themes. Whenever you are done with Fallout 4 and you have a Xbox One, I highly suggest picking this game up. Please do not get it on the Xbox 360. It simply can’t compare to the better looking and faster-running version on the Xbox One.

Verdict: 7.8/10

Review: Fallout 4

There are spoilers in this review, you have been warned.

There is certainly a unique aesthetic and feel to nearly all of the games developed byBethesda Game Studios. They have a phenomenal record and pedigree for creating games that exhibit all of the key elements needed for a successful open world role playing game (RPG). Fallout 4, their latest title is no different. The game attempts to be the most ambitious game in the franchise by allowing greater player choice and adding additions to the already superb gameplay. For those unaware of the history behind the Fallout franchise, allow me to give you a quick summary as to where this game takes place, the overall themes and tone of the games, and most importantly its genre defining gameplay.

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The world of the Fallout franchise is a grim post apocalyptic wasteland devastated by war over resources that culminated in mutually assured destruction of China, the Soviet Union and the United States of America (hence the name sake in reference to nuclear fallout). Like the previous games, Fallout 4 takes place in the remnants of the post nuclear wasteland of the United States. Specifically in this addition to the franchise, the game takes place in the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth is essentially Boston and its surrounding towns, including Salem, Quincy, Concord, and Lexington. Locations such as Fenway Park and CIT (a play on MIT) are also present in the game. The environment of Fallout 4 is littered with hideous creatures that have been mutated by radiation during the 200-year period between the nuclear exchange and the beginning of the game. Humans are also for the most part your enemies in all Fallout games. Whether they are cannibals, organized raiders, religious fanatics, or ghouls changed by the effects of radiation, humans can hardly ever be trusted in this game. Like previous games in the series, the very environment can kill you; well the better explanation is that pockets of radiation and radioactive waste will slowly kill you. So players always have to listen to their Geiger counter in order to stay alive. The basic idea in all of the games in the franchise is to basically just survive and find and complete the story along the way.

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I personally wanted to break down the overall aesthetic of the game and several unique environments for the beginning of this review. For starters I would just like to point out my favorite environment in the entire game that is right above this paragraph. This location is called the Glowing Sea, it is basically a low-level players hell, but it provides players with a different perspective of the series’ game world. The Glowing Sea is the area that is in close proximity to the ground zero of the nuclear strike that devastated Boston. The environment is void of any kind of sustainable terrain or plant-life. The player has to venture through this radioactive hell in order to progress the story through a specific quest. During which the player will encounter some of the most disgusting and tough enemies in the entire game. This on top of being the single most radioactive place on the entire map excluding the two nuclear reactors you venture to during the game makes this journey tedious and difficult. The player is constantly being attacked while also taking radaway (a medicine that magically gets rid of radiation, HURRAH for REALISM!) in order to keep the amount of rads that are affecting their body at a low rate. It is next to impossible to walk through this area without radiation suit or power armor along with dozens of radaways on the higher difficulties. I personally fond this journey to a cave at the edge of the map, past this area, as the most memorable part of the entire game. The fear of nearly always being killed by mutated beasts or radiation combined with how long it takes to traverse this location adds to the overall feel of how futile your journey appears to be until you finally reach your destination.

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Another location Diamond City, which is a town constructed inside of Fenway Park, also proved to be a unique environment. I personally enjoyed seeing humanity attempt to rekindle what is left of society inside the ruined baseball stadium. Overall the game looks good, but not great. I have been running the game at 4K in 60 frames per second and I have been kind of underwhelmed. That being said I absolutely love the art direction and usage of such a wide variety of colors in the games palette. Unlike previous games such as Fallout 3 or Fallout New Vegas, Fallout 4lacks the saturation that plagued 3 or the ugly sepia tone that made New Vegas seem straight out of Dust from Counter Strike Source. The textures at time, even on my PC were muddy at times, while at other points in the game I was caught off guard by the beauty of some in environments. For example, the previously mentioned area, The Glowing Sea was oddly beautiful, even though it was an absolute wasteland. I personally have yet to play the game on console, but the reports from IGN andDestructoid (which gave the game a 7.5/10) pointed out the low frame rate including drops to a pitiful 0 frames per second on the Xbox One. The game literally cannot run better than 30 frames per second on the Xbox One, and even so it hardly ever is at 30 frames to begin with. Sadly, the PS4 which by no means would get 60 frames per second was also handicapped by Bethesda’s decision to lock cap both consoles frame rates’ even though the PS4 would arguably have higher frame rate. Non the less, the only complaint I have for this entire game is its few graphical flaws, its inability to run steadily on console and its recycled animations which I will touch on later.

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The weapons and armor in Fallout 4 are few when it comes to base models but make up for it by being modular and open to customization. The ability to change so many things about my favorite handgun that I customized in the game, a .44 magnum I named the Wild Wayne in game, made me honestly care about my gear and weapons. I always fond myself scavenging derelict buildings in search of materials that I could either use to upgrade my gear or my settlements. The latter of which is a new feature that allows the player to create small little villages that can house settlers and companion non-playable characters. I will not go into detail about this feature since it is actually optional when it comes to completing the game and holds only little value in the overall meta of the entire game. A positive side effect of having customization for the player’s gear allows for various play styles to be used in the game. I fond myself using the armor taken off of a secondary antagonist, a cyborg named Kellog, that I killed about 1/4th of the way through the game combined with my .44 magnum and silenced sniper rifle as a solid strategy for combating enemies in the wasteland. Of course some enemies require a more brute means of destruction, I am looking at you super mutants and death claws. In these specific encounters I decided to personally equip more “personal” weapons such as the semiautomatic shotgun above that holds 32 shotgun shells. When that specific weapon wouldn’t suffice I would always end up using my laser Gatling gun that I nicknamed “The Duke,” because it just sounded cool. I will not touch on the vast variety of armor sets that the you can find in this game just out of necessity for time. That being said some of the armor types are brutally effective at not only protecting your player but also being incredibly intimidating.

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The writing and overall character design and voice acting is easily the best in the franchise (sorry Liam Neeson, you were pretty cool in Fallout 3 though). The witty reporter to the right, Piper, proved to be sarcastic and deadly with her words. Her trench coat attire and paperboy hat were just the final touches on a near perfect companion in a Fallout game. Back to the writing though, the Fallout games have never taken themselves this seriously. Topics ranging from if inhumane medical experiments are worth it for the greater good of the human race to are synthetic humanoids worthy of human rights are all tackled in this game. I attribute this more serious writing to the themes that are laid down in the beginning of the game. I am talking about the fact your husband or wife (depending on which gender you choose to play as) is killed in front of you and mysterious people take your son away from their dead body in the opening sequence of the game. This combined with the fact that your character actually lived in the world before the nuclear attacks, thanks to being cryogenically frozen in a vault right after the attacks. This gives the world a different perspective since you character constantly comments on how things were before the attacks and entertains or confuses other characters that never had the opportunity to live in a time before the bombs dropped. Ultimately the games main story begins as a journey to find the player’s son named Shaun. However, it soon becomes more complicated than that. For starters the player believes that their kid is only an infant when they finally wake up from their deep sleep. After which clues hint at your son being around 10 years old, which the player’s character accepts as the truth. Oh how gullible of the player’s personality to actually believe this.

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During this journey countless characters such as my favorite character above, the synthetic robot-hum detective, Nick Valentine, inform the player that a shadowy organization is up to no good. The organization, which calls itself the Institute is responsible for creating the synths, which are synthetic humanoid robots. These creations range from clearly being robots to resembling humans down to the exact detail. This is where the theme about are synthetic humanoids worthy of human rights,that I mentioned before comes into play. Nick, who is easily the most well written character in the game, is a proponent that synths are sentient and self aware, that they deserve to be treated as equals to humans. Other groups, such as the Brotherhood of Steel (you might recognize them from other games) believe that synths are a disgusting invention created by the Institute that are abominations to humanity. In addition to the creating the synths, the institute is fond to be responsible for taking your son. In fact your son’s DNA helped the institute create the synths since your son was a perfect specimen for a non-radiated human. This on top of the fact that the Institute is also harassing the “normal” humans from their subterranean base beneath CIT (once again a play on MIT) makes them at first appear to be the antagonists or at least the “bad guys.” However, after finally reaching the Institute the player realizes that the group isn’t exactly what you expected.

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For starters, it turn out that the leader of the Institute is actually your son Shaun. He reveals that it has actually been 60 years since he was taken away from your spouse while the three of you were frozen in Vault 111. This explains why he is so old and is dying of cancer (cough spoiler). Shaun reveals to the player that the Institute has actually been striving to attempt to reverse some of the effects of the nuclear attacks on the environment and is actually working to preserve the human race. They created the synths to act as pseudo slaves or as he phrases it “custodians.” Regardless, if you believe in sentient beings having absolutely no free will and being controlled by literal masters (symbolism much, slavery? Containment?) then you may side with the idea that the synths deserve this treatment. I personally found myself playing through the game three times at first to experience all three options when it comes to how you as the player believes they should be treated. My first instinct was that I should side with the Institute because honestly, putting the whole slavery of sentient creations aside, the Institute was actually completing essential scientific work for the betterment of the human race. The second time I sided with the Brotherhood of Steel and obliterated all synths and destroyed the last haven for any chance of a future for the human race (bleak right?). This option is arguably the worst of the three because all synths are exiled or hunted down like animals and humanity is doomed due to the destruction of the research the Institute has spent 150+ years working on. The last option has the player side with the Railroad (I am aware you can side with several more factions but they have little impact on the synth issue). This group of scientist and thieves is attempting to learn about and collect the Institutes research while at the same time freeing synths because they believe they are equal to humans. From my own personal moral perspective I felt that this was the best decision. Although the Institute is destroyed, along with the Brotherhood of Steel’s Commonwealth chapter, the Railroad secures the Institutes research and synths are freed of their bonds to their masters. Regardless of which decision you choose as the player, your son dies due to sickness either the villain (if you side with the Brotherhood of Steel or the Railroad) or as an ally (if you sided with the Institute). Also I forgot to mention if you do not side with the Institute you plant a fusion bomb on their nuclear reactor and nuke a good chunk of Boston.

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I know I glanced over a important part of the game, the perk system and VATS but honestly they are incredibly self-explanatory and are expected in an RPG. Not to mention the same exact system can be found in Fallout 3 and New Vegas. Overall I have enjoyed my time in Fallout 4, I know for a fact that I will spend plenty more time in the game. The game has its positive and negative factors such as how it looks and runs (the picture above isn’t from the game but actually a live action trailer). Nonetheless the game is a worthy addition to the franchise. Could it have been better? Absolutely, almost no games are perfect. If you have plenty of hours and the grades to spare some time in the Commonwealth, I highly recommend picking up Fallout 4.

Verdict: 9/10 on PC. 8.5/10 on Console.

 

Review: Halo 5 Guardians

After installing a massive 9GB day one patch, hundreds of thousands of Xbox One owners booted up 343’s newest title, Halo 5: Guardians. 343 had a lot to make up for after the release of Halo 4. The multiplayer community in the previous game was bored with the content after a mere two months. At the same time the story was incredibly predictable and gameplay was repetetive excluding a couple new bells and whistle. I personally have not been a fan of the series since Halo 3 (which is easily one of the two best titles in the series), yet Halo 5: Guardians surprisingly has changed my feelings towards the series. This game, by no means is as good as Halo 3, but it certainly plays well for an FPS. Take this how you will, but Halo 5 does not play or feel like a traditional Halo game. I thought it was kind of odd to even associate the gameplay with the series, that’s how different it is. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is up to the player.

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For starters, Halo 5 looks great. The assets from the previous games that have been reused in previous games have been completely redone, providing a much needed face lift for the franchise. According to my El Gato capture device the game runs natively (yes that’s a real term) around 900p and is up scaled to 1080p. This was planned by 343 in order to have a close to 60FPS so the shooting mechanics seemed as clean and smooth as possible when compared to how choppy Halo 4 was. However, the game is by no means a precise and surgical 60FPS that one can see in a title such as Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, the lowest my El Gato capture device ever read on the game was around 48 frames per second during larger scale battles. This honestly didn’t matter that much to me because I was surprised by the visual quality of the effects in the game. Also, the moment to moment shooting normally stays around 55-60 FPS, so you will notice when the drop occurs but it doesn’t take that much away from the quality of the game. I just would like for developers to stay true to their promises since 343 explained that the reason why they down scaled the resolution of the game was in order to have the game locked at 60 FPS, this game is not locked at 60 FPS.

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Back to the effects, Halo 5 sounds and looks great. 343 stepped away from the sepia tint that they used for Halo 4 and instead replaced it with a vibrant palette of colors. The mere amount of variety when it comes to the hue of the different primary colors used in this game made me pause at first because this is easily the best looking Halo game (and that is putting the fact that it is the newest iteration in the franchise aside). The sound design from gunshots to the sound of a Banshee exploding all sound genuine and honestly realistic. Each gun makes distinctive sounds which are varied enough and recognizable enough that players can tell what kind of weapon enemies are attacking them with before they even see the enemy. This is incredibly useful on harder difficulties since every bit of intelligence on your enemies can help you succeed in battle. I am just glad that 343 didn’t decide to lazily cut and paste sound bits from the same weapon and apply it to all guns that fire bullets or plasma.

Contrary to what the marketing behind this game might have informed you about the story of Halo 5: Guardians, is the fact that you hardly play as the series protagonist, The Master Chief, at all. In fact you only play as Chief and his friends from Blue Team only in 3 out of the 15 missions in the entire game. This angered me since earlier this year, 343 claimed that Halo 5 would follow two stories interwoven together. One following Master Chief and Blue Team, while the other follows Spartan Locke and Fireteam Osiris while they attempt to hunt down the former. To “Hunt For The Truth.” Instead players are given a campaign and plot twist reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid 2. In Metal Gear Solid 2, the game was marketed as the next stage in the protagonists story, Solid Snake, instead players realized that they were instead going to play as a new character, Raiden for the majority of the story. This game was marketed as the next title in Master Chief’s story yet I felt like this was more about Spartan Locke and his crew. I wouldn’t mind this if 343 actually attempted to flesh out the characters of Fireteam Osiris. Sure players are given short dossiers on each member of the team, but none of these facts or backgrounds are expresses successfully in the game.

The use and explanation for Blue Team, Master Chief’s long time friends and comrades is also set up and executed in the game with an incredibly sloppy approach. To the unaware players, Blue Team is the codename for the Master Chief and his fireteam. Originally comprising around sixteen Spartan IIs, Blue Teams roster was decreased due to the deaths of over half of its members before or during the Fall of Reach which takes place earlier in the series timeline. Blue Team, like all of the other Spartan II supersoldiers were kidnapped as children in order to be augmented and trained into the  most effective fighting force in the history of humankind. The relation ship between the Master Chief and the other three Spartans, Linda-058, Frederic-104, and Kelly-087 is reminiscent of a real brotherhood that one would find in real military units. Halo 5 does an absolutely atrocious job of attempting to flesh this dynamic out. There is literally one line said by Buck of Fireteam Osiris (voiced by Nathan Fillion) during level 4 of the campaign that explains to the unaware gamer that Blue Team has completed more operations than any other fireteam and that they are a family. That’s it, nothing else is mentioned in game to further explain the actually incredible dynamic between these characters.

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Multiplayer in Halo 5 has proved to me that old franchises can be successfully reinvented in order to appeal to a larger audience and to remain relevant to gamers. Halo 5 currently features two forms of multiplayer combat, Arena & Warzone. Arena is essentially the gamemodes a veteran player would expect to find in a Halo game. Gamemodes such as Slayer, Free for All, and my personal favorite SWAT are all under this category. They all have a new twist however, these gamemodes are limited to 4v4 and are incredibly fast paced. This is partially due to the fact that gameplay in Halo 5 is fast paced and constantly moving. These Arena gamemodes also have a new ranking system to them that is incredibly similar to that of MOBA games such as League of Legends & DOTA 2. I felt that this added a much needed competitive nature to the game and would make it appeal to more hardcore gamers. This was needed in my opinion because Halo typically has an incredibly low learning curve and normally lacks any need of skill at the surface. These new additions of jump jets and cambering along with dashes help raise the learning curve for this franchise in a well executed fashion. The other gamemode that I have been playing non stop is Warzone. Warzone at its core can be described as Titanfall mixed with Battlefield with a touch of MOBA elements. Warzone puts two teams against each other on a large map that supports close combat infantry engagements along with large scale vehicle combat. The two teams fight over control for 3 different points, typically two armories and a center stronghold. By controlling these points the teams gain points. The objective is to be the first team to reach 1,000 VP points. Simple enough right? Wrong. Along with worrying for the other team, players must also worry about incredibly strong Covenant or Promethean enemies that will spawn in at different locations at different times during the battle. If a team manages to kill one of the computer controlled opponents they will normally earn a large amount of VP points that will be added to their team’s total and will also more than  likely gain a powerful weapon from the now dead enemies inventory. These along with several other features that I will let players discover on their own adds some more complicated elements to the gamemode.

I found Halo 5 to be exponentially more enjoyable than Halo 4. That isn’t saying much though considering how much of a dumpster fire Halo 4 was. Halo 5’s new elements breath life into a struggling franchise and helped it become the best selling Halo game of all time. Whether this is due to the fact that it is the first exclusive shooter on the Xbox One or the fact that it is available to a much wider audience since it is rated T for Teens and not M is up to your interpretation and analysis. Halo 5 is by no means the best game in the series but it does succeed in reinventing itself but it also loses some of its original appealing factors by doing so. None the less Halo 5 is miles ahead of Call of Duty Black Ops 3 (Do not expect a review any time soon for that pitiful “game”) and proves to be an enjoyable experience when you put the flaws in the story aside.

Verdict: 8.8/10