20 April 2014

Roundup: PSN Downloadable Games

Happy Easter and Passover! Aside from heartwarming, faith-building religious celebrations (and pretty unrelated but associated secular traditions), my kids and I took advantage of some PlayStation Network sales going on this weekend. A simple tweet would have sufficed for passing these along, but I decided to share my impression of one in particular:

Jurassic Park: The Game - Full Season
Released 11.15.2011
1 player
$0.99 (This weekend only!)

One of the things I've come to love about downloadable games is how much more affordable they are than disks. We've been known to pay the dreaded new release price on games like Lego Marvel Super Heroes, usually as gifts, even though the price always drops over time. We make sure we'll like these games before buying, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't prefer to pay less (legally, of course). With Jurassic Park: The Game, we got all four chapters of Telltale's episodic story for only a dollar, which means I'd be happy even if it was only okay. That's what I was expecting based on reviews, but after completing Chapter 1 today, I'm even happier with this deal. It's more than okay.

I'm a huge Jurassic Park fan (I've read the book more than any other, and consider the movie a classic), so maybe I'm easy to please. Then again, knowing the material as well as I do, it was also possible I'd be extra critical. The game is based on the first film, taking place during and after its events, so I do wonder why Chapter 1 hints at a larger, free-roaming group of velociraptors when the movie Park only had three that didn't escape until the last act. Maybe Telltale pulled some material from the book, which ends with the discovery that the raptors had built an underground nest and were breeding all along (a concept explored in the movie relative to other species). In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the writers did pull from the book, given the subtle scientific details woven into the game's story and extras. I don't recall Harding having a daughter in the book, so they're clearing picking and choosing; still, that strikes me as both appropriate and agreeable, and in many ways results in a story that feels more Jurassic Park than the sequel films. Michael Crichton, the book's author, was reluctant to write the sequel (The Lost World), but I wonder if he ever considered a story that runs concurrent to the original, as these writers did.

The main complaint I noticed in reviews is that there's more story than game. You know those cinematic moments in other games where you lose full control of your character and have to press the right sequence of buttons to survive something dramatic? That accounts for most of the gameplay here. There's no free roaming, no traditional fighting, no leveling up, etc. It's like a "choose your own adventure" novel on screen. However, if I'm being honest, the story and characters are what draw me to video games in the first place; once those run their course, I quickly lose interest in repeat play-throughs, competition modes, and elusive trophies. (The Batman: Arkham series is sort of an exception to this...but that's because it's Batman.)

In other words, Jurassic Park: The Game has surprised me with its authenticity, tension, and depth, and I'm very interested to see how Chapter 2 will pick up on the cliffhanger ending of Chapter 1. The deserved Teen rating and single player restriction means it's not a game I can share with my kids yet (much to their disappointment), but once they're ready for the movie itself, they'll be ready for this.

And while I'm on the topic of downloadable games, here are the others we've collected. Prices are subject to change and not all are exclusive to the PSN.

05 April 2014

"Noah" Review (Binary Style)


I'm going to tackle this one "good vs. bad" style, mostly in hopes that doing so will help me decide what I think! Don't continue if you want to see the movie fresh, though I'll leave out major spoilers.

The Good

  1. The performances. Everyone is good, but Emma Watson stands out the most, in part because her character really redeems the movie (in more ways than one). Russell Crowe's changing hair style is an impressive performance of its own.
  2. The plot seems to develop around the idea "What if Noah didn't know exactly what God wanted him to do or why?", or in other words, "What if Noah misunderstood his mission?" The faithful, bible-believing side of me was uncomfortable with that at first, but I quickly recognized the value in debunking the notion that prophets are perfect men and God's BFFs. I think the portrayal of doubts, fears, and mistakes is far more realistic and, in a sense, encouraging.
  3. As an extension of the above, I like the turmoil Noah and his family undergo when faced with their own weaknesses. "Survivor's guilt" is a believable conflict, given the situation, and overall, the movie does a good job reminding us that the story of Noah, despite its end message, is a tragedy.
  4. Family heritage, priesthood, and patriarchal blessings play a large role in the disguise of supernatural relics and healing powers. Cool by me.

The Bad

  1. The Watchers. Going in, I knew the movie took liberties and was completely comfortable with that. (As my wife put it, we already know where to look for spiritual reinforcement. This is entertainment.) I even like the explanation for why the Watchers look and act the way they do, and their redemption provides nice foreshadowing. But they are just too familiar. Ents if they were rocks instead of trees. Everything about them screams The Two Towers, which is why so many reviews are referencing The Lord of the Rings. As a plot device to protect Noah's family and heighten tension, they are far too "stock."
  2. I was actually so prepared for creative liberty that I am a bit disappointed by the lack thereof. In other words, if the movie isn't going to feel obligated to the scriptural account (short as it is), why not push the boundaries a bit? Despite several moments of genuine, gut-wrenching surprise, too much of the movie feels safe. For example, why go to the trouble of designing extinct/under-evolved animals if you're only going to show them in vague groups from a distance? Or why not merge the biblical account of the deluge with its equivalent in other religions and cultures (The Epic of Gilgamesh, for example)? The attempt to satisfy both the literal and the literary falls short.
  3. Likewise, the attempt to merge ancient and modern worlds is unnecessary (an assumption that the bible is outdated) and clumsy. Anachronistic technology is an interesting idea (who knows what they'd figured out in the antediluvian world?), but a welding helmet? How random.
  4. I don't know if the environmentalist/vegetarian agenda is necessarily trying to replace the traditional message about death and rebirth, but it definitely butts in several times. You have to roll your eyes a bit when the religious apology for animal products -- that God gave man dominion over the beasts -- is put in the mouth of the disgusting, overindulging villain.

That's a tied score by my reckoning, so I guess I'm saying I didn't hate it, didn't love it, but could be pushed further one way or the other with a second viewing or a really persuasive interpretation. Because I'm flaky like that.

And while I did approach this film as a very separate entity from the scriptural account of Noah, I will add that, for me, that story is most significant as a foreshadowing of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, whose life and teachings bear a message of mercy and hope.-- a message left intact in this telling.