The end of May and the start of June saw some releases I took part in (L.A. Noire and Kung Fu Panda 2) while Trion Worlds allowed a week free of their MMO, RIFT this past week. I also attended several family gatherings with the in-laws.
To start, let us talk of gaming. L.A. Noire is a visually ground breaking title. The use of full facial recognition/capture along with decent models allows for a more immersive (and to some, a venture into uncanny valley) experience. Being a police officer on the streets of 1940's Los Angeles allows for one to act like they are in a stylish detective/crime movie of that era. The game is easy to play, especially for anyone who is familiar with Rockstar's other more free-roam games (Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption), though there is less freedom for behavior due to the in-game restriction on morality. Killing civilians with gunfire or your car earns you a bad score and gets you in trouble with your higher ups in the police department. This may rankle a few expecting a GTA experience. Where the gameplay takes a swerve is the investigation aspect, either from gathering evidence at a crime scene or in the questioning of suspects and witnesses. Crime scene investigation isn't quite pixel-huntingly bad as adventure games of old like Monkey Island, but not everything your character snatches off the ground is going to be relevant to the case, either. Where the difficulty (I feel) increases is in trying to discern truth from lies while talking to people. Make a false assumption and your investigation will suddenly go astray or even come to a halt. It doesn't help that your character acts like a total dick to someone he feels is lying or even when he doubts their description of events.
Overall I am impressed with the game and pleased to have purchased it, but for me, due to the difficulty in getting investigations right (and the habit of starting over when I screw up) means I won't replay it much, even with the upcoming DLC planned for it.
The other bit of gaming experience has been with Rift and while easy to write off as a World of Warcraft clone, it does shine in a few areas. The standard MMO controls apply here, movement and gameplay are unchanged between this game, WoW, AION, or any other MMO really. Trion Worlds borrows a page from more recent MMOs by giving the player visual rewards when they achieve a new level, complete a quest and earn in-game achievements (which have sort of snuck into gaming these days as carrots on the end of sticks) That bright flash and upbeat musical cue gives the player additional sense of accomplishment over just knowing their experience bar filled up or they earned some coins. What does make Rift stand out is the amount of customization available for a character's abilities. While most games have you select a class and once you do there's abilities you train up that are the same for everyone of that class, and then specialties gained through subclasses or talent trees, Rift has each class earn all its abilities based on what talent trees the player chooses as they earn them. That's right, until you pick a specialty, your character doesn't know anything. Good thing the very first quest rewards you with, "Pick your first talent tree". As one puts more and more points into their chosen tree, they earn more basic abilities, from damaging spells to buff and debuffs to other utilities. There are eight trees per class to choose from, and some that go beyond the typical genre defined per role (tanking rogues and mages that heal? Amazing!) that allow one players character feel drastically different than someone else's of the same class. Until the"ultimate" build combinations are discovered and cookie-cutter copied off websites at any rate. The other aspect to the game that makes it stand out are the Rifts themselves. While some are predetermined and can be dealt with normally, in the manner those familiar with public quests like from Warhammer and Champions, some can open more spontaneously and suddenly everyone in the zone should muster together to fight the invaders, lest their questing experience be ruined by these infiltrators messing up the local wildlife and quest giving NPCs. Effectively being in a raid at a character level under 10 to kill a big bad was kind of astonishing. I am not certain if this novelty will enhance the game in the long run, or, if at higher level, become frustrating especially if there are few people on to help deal with it. Where Rift falls short is the graphics department. Character animations aren't superb, some look outright dumb (like most of the jumping ones), and others are recycled (both humans and elves do the same emotes with their rival-faction counterparts). There are only three races per side and very, very little diversity between them. You can be human, dark-skinned human, really tall human, elvish, dark skinned and alien eyed elvish or a dwarf. Whee. Another problem is with the textures of the ground and NPC detail. Until I put the graphic sliders on the "ultra" settings, scenery and animal textures were blurry and ugly. Ultimately Rift is solid and has some interesting innovations, but it won't be taking the current top held spot any time soon.
Lastly for this entry is the movie. I do not often rate movies beyond "This was a good film." or "That movie was a waste of my money." however I think some words need to be said on this piece. The first film established the setting. It gave us our main character and our supporting cast. This film delves into the story behind our main character. Yes, there's a guy being evil, and evil must be stopped by our heroes, but what this film, ultimately, was, is the story of Po. Who he is, where he came from, where he stands now. This movie had far less martial arts and instead focused on our hero primarily (almost to the exclusion of the Furious Five, to be honest) and instilled another life lesson for us to learn (Embrace and accept pain of loss, but do not let it overwhelm you). Apparently through this inner peace we can fling fireworks around. Kung-Fu Panda 2 is a fun movie with deeper storytelling than before. It blends traditional animated segments with CG in an interesting way (Po's repressed memory flashbacks are told in hand-drawn scenes) However, due to the elements that are character driven, there is less action and therefore it feels like a slower paced film. Perhaps fitting for a movie about a ponderous panda.