Review – Horizon: Zero Dawn

A great action game full of robot dinosaurs.

Growing up, I was always obsessed with dinosaurs.  I knew every dinosaur by name and my parents bought me a ton of dinosaur books.  I even bought one of my old favorites recently for my incoming newborn.  When I saw the trailer for Horizon: Zero Dawn, I was immediately intrigued.  The game blends two of my favorite things in the world: a post-apocalyptic setting and dinosaurs.  Actually, the dinosaurs are  robots, but functionally they act like dinosaurs.  The game also features a strong female lead who shoots a bow.  My wife loved the new Tomb Raider games, so I bought this one for her because I knew that she’d like it.  I also knew I’d love it, so I’ll admit to an ulterior motive.

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Combat

The combat in Horizon is excellent.  It’s hard to describe, but the tactile feel of the bow is really impressive.  When you shoot it and hit the side of a dinosaur, it has a punch to it that most games don’t have.  You can shoot an entire clip in Call of Duty or Battlefield and the guns don’t have the same feeling you get from the bow in Horizon.  It’s really great.  There are a number of skill points you can invest in as you move through the game that add cool and interesting abilities to your character.  This is not new to action games, but a lot of these abilities add dimensions to the combat that elevate this game above your average action game.

There aren’t a ton of weapons in this game, but the ones that are present are great.  Like I said, the bow is outstanding.  Many games use bows, but this is probably the best video game bow I’ve ever used.  Outside of the bow, the tripcaster was especially good.  The Tripcaster lets you place a tripwire on the ground, and the wire is rigged to an explosive.  Since stealth plays fairly heavily into the combat, it is very satisfying to set up a complex series of trip wires and then lure enemies into them.  While the number of weapons in this game is low, each one had something interesting to add to the combat.

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Fighting the robot dinosaurs is the real meat and potatoes of this game.  Most of your time spent in Horizon is spent fighting giant robots.  Each of these robots can be scanned for weak points.  The weak points typically have some kind of weakness, fire, frost, or electricity.  Horizon introduces a new kind of weakness called tear.  Tear is a stat that you can increase on your weapons, and it increases the likelihood that you will tear off a component when you hit a robot.  Horizon slowly introduces new dinosaurs as you explore the gigantic world map.  There is a large variety of dinosaurs, and seeking out every last one helped motivate me to explore every corner of the world map.

While shooting dinosaurs is a pleasure in this game, shooting humans is not much fun.  The combat dragged for me when I fought the humans.  They were either too few — which made them easy and boring, or there were so many in one area it felt impossible to get past them.  I hope in the inevitable sequel they either limit the human enemies or revamp them.

Story/Characters

Horizon’s main character is Aloy.  She’s a strong woman who overcomes all odds.  She’s a little tropey in that way, and I found her personality to be a little wooden.  Most of the NPC’s she meets through out the game aren’t much better.  The facial animations and overall graphics are great, but I didn’t find the characters to be written all that well.

The story however is really cool.  There’s a reason the world of Horizon is post apocalyptic, and finding out how we got from present day to robot dinosaurs was really interesting.  There’s some cool twists and turns that I didn’t see coming.  However, there’s a lot of Die Hard-esque set pieces in this game and even though I was playing a game about robot dinosaurs, I found some of it to be a bit unbelievable.  This game is definitely not shooting for realism.

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Conclusion

Horizon is easily my favorite game this year so far.  It’s a game that combines many things that I already like and features some really impressive combat. Despite some small shortcomings, it’s an extremely well polished action game.  My wife and I are both playing through it separately, and  we compare notes every couple of days.  I’m probably going to start over again, I am still addicted to the combat in this game.  Check it out if you like dinosaurs or fun.  Thank God one of my anticipated games this actually turned out decent.

A Close Call

My wife and I went through a scare last week.

I’ve been trying to post twice a week, Wednesday and Friday.  I’ve been fairly consistent since November, but sometimes things come up.  The reason I didn’t post last Friday is because my wife texted me when I got to work that she thought something was wrong with the baby.

Apparently, the night before she hadn’t felt the baby move all evening.  She noticed it, but didn’t think too much of it.  In the morning when she woke up, the baby still wasn’t moving.  She got up, showered, had breakfast, and headed to work.  All the while the baby still wasn’t kicking.  My wife wasn’t worried too much the night before, but in the morning she became increasingly scared that something was wrong.  She had been experiencing some other weird issues recently, so after a few hours at work we decided that she should call her doctor.  When the doctor heard what was going on, he said that she should immediately go to the hospital for a full exam.  This all happened within a four hour window.

The sequence of events for me that day went like this:

  1. Go to work
  2. Get a text from my wife who has not felt the baby  move for 15 hours
  3. Frantically Google the symptoms she’s having and finding a bunch of horror stories on line
  4. Waiting for her to get service to respond to my texts
  5. Get the order from the doctor to go to the hospital
  6. Driving 30 minutes to meet my wife in the hospital
  7. Wait for the exam

In the time between getting the text from my wife and meeting her in the hospital, I had a sense of fear and panic unlike anything I’ve had as an adult.  Most of the time, my life is easy.  I don’t have things in my life that cause me to have true fear or dread.  The possibility of my wife having a late term stillbirth put a deep fear into me.  It was absolutely terrifying.  On top of my fear, I was scared for my wife.  My wife is an amazing woman, but she’s very emotional.  I didn’t know how badly she would handle a stillbirth, but it would have been a terrible reaction.

Thankfully, the baby turned out to be fine.  I don’t talk about my faith too much on this blog, but I was praying the whole time for God to save my baby.  I was terrified driving to the hospital, because I didn’t know what kind of news I was walking into.  When I walked from my car up to the hospital and into the maternity ward my legs felt like rubber.  It honestly felt like someone else was walking for me and I was just along for the ride.

When I walked into the room, I walked into good news.  I truly believe that was God intervening in my life.  However, I know that not everyone has such a good experience.  I read a lot of their stories that day on line.  What a horrifying thing to go through, my heart goes out to those whose story doesn’t end as well as mine did that day.  If you or your partner is pregnant, don’t hesitate to get checked out.

On a more positive note, I have made some progress on the crib.  I uploaded some pictures of one of the side assemblies, there are pictures below.

Review – Mass Effect Andromeda

Ok so I wrote up a big post recently about Mass Effect. I think I made my adoration for the first three games pretty clear in that initial post.  I wrote that post in anticipation of the new Mass Effect game, which came out a few weeks ago.  Unfortunately, the game is terrible.  I hate it.  I was hoping to finish this game to push out a full review on this blog, but I can’t bring myself to play it anymore.  I’m done, I’m tapping out. I’m just going to touch on a few things here, I really don’t want to bring any more attention to this game than it already has.

Open World

The open world setting is not working out for Bioware.  They tried it out first with Dragon Age: Inquisition and they’re continuing with it here in Mass Effect Andromeda.  I had a hard time getting through that game because of the open world trappings.  I like Bioware games for the world building and storytelling that is unique to their games.  A lot of those elements come together through the specifically curated levels and dialogue between characters.  When you open a game like that up to an open world setting, you’re giving up a lot of the control you have over the player.  Fill that world with a ton of boring and meaningless filler content and you have a game that feels light on Bioware magic and full of boring content.

This was prevalent in Dragon Age: Inquisition, but they’ve doubled down on this concept in the new Mass Effect.  Most of the quests I’ve been given up to this point are fetch quests that are more at home in an MMO.  The quests that are part of the main storyline aren’t all that interesting in and of themselves because I’m not interested in the characters or story (I’ll get to that next).  But I also don’t like them because many of them use the open world environments instead of specific, well curated level design to tell the story.  Nothing about the locations you visit feel special, it all just feels like a big empty world that can be reused and recycled for fetch quests later.

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Characters

Ok this is the big one.  The reason I fell in love with Mass Effect in the first place was the characters.  When I met Garrus, Wrex, Liara, Tali, et al, their personalities were unique.  They were quirky.  They were well defined.  Some of their personality traits may have fallen into trope territory, but because this was a new series — in a new universe — in a fun game — it was easy to forgive that.  In this new game, the characters feel like retreads of previous Mass Effect characters.  Drack is maybe the biggest offender here.  I literally can’t tell the difference between him and Wrex.  He’s almost a one for one stand-in for Wrex.  He has a granddaughter and he left the Milky Way, so there is a little bit of contextual difference.  But the core of the character feels like a carbon copy.

On top of this, the dialogue is poorly written, and the back stories given to the characters are boring.  One of the human companions, Liam, bores me to tears.  His companion quest revolves around fetching a movie for him to watch on the ship.  The player character is also annoying.  This may just be me being crabby about the game, but everything he says bugs me.  I really hate the characters in this game.

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Story

Ok so the open world sucks, the characters suck, but at least the story is going to be interesting right?  Nope.  Story sucks too.  I think it was a smart choice to set this game in a different galaxy and in a different time from the first games.  It distances this story from the first trilogy in a smart way and gives the writers a lot of breathing room to do different things while remaining in the same Mass Effect “universe.”  However, the premise alone can’t bear the narrative weight of a 40+ hour game.

The story revolves around you as a young man or woman being tasked with finding a planet for the human race to colonize.  It makes video game “sense” to have one person go out into the galaxy and be responsible for this task, but it doesn’t make actual sense.  It’s a hard premise for me to buy.  It seems like they could have put more effort into explaining why you as a young person get to have control of this nice expensive ship and have full control of what you do and where you go.  Even going back to being a Spectre would have been more believable, even if it pulled a bit heavily from the original games.

Moving into a new galaxy, you’d think there’d be a bunch of new alien races.  However, we get only one new race to cooperate with, and one antagonistic race.  The plot twist with the antagonistic race is foreshadowed so bluntly it practically slaps you in the face.  I also hate that the primary bad guy is just a super sized version of his lackeys.  It feels like something pulled out of a dumb action movie.  It just sucks.  Bioware has so many good games and stories under their belt that this kind of tropey story telling is incredibly disappointing.

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Conclusion

I waited five years for a  new Mass Effect game.  The last one was in 2012, and it didn’t live up to the previous game. I was hoping that Bioware had spent the last five years figuring out where they went wrong and fixing it for this new game.  But it seems that the direction they are taking is a more corporate route.  It feels like EA has a bigger hand in the direction their games and stories go, which is a big shame.  I was hoping that Dragon Age: Inquisition was just a one off, but it looks like this is the kind of game that Bioware is interested in making from here on out.  I will not be buying another Bioware game again, until I hear something has changed.

I tried hard to push through all of my frustrations and finish this game, but I just can’t do it anymore.  I have a crib to continue working on, I have a pregnant wife to care for, I have a life to live.  I want to spend my free time doing things I like to do, not pushing through a bad experience just to see the end.  Maybe they turn things around in the back half of the game.  I doubt it, and I’m not sticking around long enough to find out.  What a bummer, the pedigree of this series is so high that this game had the potential to be an all time great.  Instead, this game is so bad that after 20ish hours I’m giving up.

Under the Bridge – Red Hot Chili Peppers

This is one of my favorite guitar songs ever.  The intro is one of the most recognizable guitar intros ever.  The verse lick that John Frusciante plays is pretty simple, it’s structure is built on triad chords with Hendrix-esque accents here and there.  But it just sounds so damn good.  It’s one of my favorite songs to play, the arpeggio at the beginning is beautiful and I love the way the chord structure flows throughout.  The echo Frusciante uses at the end of the song is great as well, and I have a preset on my Spider amp that replicates that same sound.

UFC 210

A great night of fights, marred by the ineptitude of the New York State Athletic Commission.

Before I talk about these fights, I have to address the issues the New York State Athletic Commission (NYSAC) had leading up to and during the fights for UFC 210.

NYSAC Drama

Pearl Gonzalez was slated to fight Cynthia Calvillo at UFC 210.  Late in the week last week the news broke that Pearl was being pulled due to breast implants that she had previously disclosed to the athletic commission.  This is a problem because not only did Pearl disclose the implants, but the rule was implemented for boxing years before MMA was even a thing.  The UFC worked it out with the NYSAC, but for a short while it seemed the pay per view was going to lose a fight.

The second issue was Daniel Cormier’s weight cut.  The new early weigh-in process was in effect in New York, and when Cormier weighed in he was 1.2 pounds over the 205 lb limit.  Seeing as this was a title fight, he was given an extra 2 hours to lose the weight.  He weighed in a little over 2 minutes later and hit the mark right at 205.  How does a person lose that much weight in 2 minutes?  When he weighed in the second time his coaches held a towel up in front of him because he was naked.  He put both hands on the towel while he weighed in.  This is an old wrestlers trick to hide a few pounds during weigh in.  The NYSAC didn’t investigate and accepted the weigh in.  The whole thing was super shady, and Cormier’s opponent Anthony Johnson is asking for an investigation and 20% of Cormier’s purse as a result.  This was absolutely the NYSAC’s responsibility, and this illustrates their immaturity and lack of experience.

The last issue was by far the biggest, and it had to do with the Weidman vs Mousasi fight.  In the second round, Weidman tried to take advantage of the new rule that defines a grounded fighter as a fighter with two hands on the mat.  You can’t knee or kick a grounded fighter.  Mousasi was aware of the rule, so he used underhooks to lift Weidman up and knee him in the head.  The knees definitely did damage, but Weidman appeared to be conscious and capable of competing after they landed.  The referee thought the knees were illegal because he had a bad angle, and when Mousasi lifted Weidman it was very hard to tell that the knee was legal, even on replay.  Dan Miragliotta was the referee for this one and he usually makes the right call.  However this was a super tight call and he had to make a split second judgement.

Another wrinkle to this whole mess is that replay isn’t available to the ref in New York yet, so he wasn’t able to review the tape before stopping the fight.  When he stepped in, he told Weidman he had 5 minutes to recover.  Weidman played up the injury I think, possibly to try and push for a disqualification win.  I don’t like when fighters do that, but he was taking advantage of the five minutes he was told he had.  While he was resting, Dan talked to the commission and the doctors and they told him on the replay that the knee was legal.  Dan reversed course and ruled the knees legal.

The doctors stepped in and examined Weidman.  Despite his protests, they called the fight off and Weidman was given a TKO loss.  Many rules and procedures were broken or disregarded throughout the whole process, and Weidman has excellent grounds for a no contest appeal.  Mousasi obviously didn’t want to win this way, and the sting of another loss does nothing good for Weidman’s trajectory in the middleweight division.

Any one of these three issues taken on their own would be a big deal. The fact that all three happened on one fight card — and the fact that this kind of stuff is happening regularly when the UFC visits New York — is indicative of the state of New York’s athletic commission.  If I was a fighter, I would not accept a fight on a New York card.  Hopefully smaller leagues will come to New York and let the NYSAC cut their teeth a bit.  But until that happens, I would not advise any of the UFC’s marquee fighters to put their records on the line in New York.

Fights

Cormier vs Rumble Johnson

The first matchup between these two was about two years ago.  Rumble Johnson is known for his one punch KO power, and Cormier is an all time great wrestler.  The first fight was great, Rumble hit Cormier two times cleanly with his powerful right hand.  Cormier was able to weather storm both times and grind out a rear naked choke in the third.  It was impressive because no one up until that point had been able to eat a clean shot from Rumble and remain in the fight.  Rumble has knocked out most of the top 10 light heavyweights at some point in his career.  I assumed we’d see pretty much the same fight this time, the only real question mark for me was whether or not Cormier’s chin would hold up.  It’s been two years and age has a real effect on fighters, so I could see Cormier getting knocked out if he got hit clean again.

The fight was extremely bizarre because shortly into the first round, Cormier hit Rumble with a right hand that clearly got his attention.  After that, Rumble chose to engage the clinch and wrestle with Cormier for most of the rest of the fight.  Johnson landed a clean left head kick on Cormier in the second, and while it clearly stunned Cormier, Rumble didn’t press the standup after that.  He continued to engage the wrestling, which is Cormier’s bread and butter.  Cormier eventually got into a dominant position on the ground and choked Rumble out.  Rumble’s best chance to win was in the standup, so it appears that he panicked when Cormier hit him with that right.  He went back to his base, which is wrestling.  Unfortunately for him Cormier is a far superior wrestler, so Cormier had an easier night than anticipated and retained his belt.

Rumble retired in the ring after the loss.  He said he was going to retire if he won or lost, the decision didn’t matter.  He has some other lucrative business opportunity that he’s going to pursue.  While it is a blow to the division and a blow to me as a Rumble fan, I’m glad to see a fighter going out before CTE sets in.  A lot of fighters push their bodies for too long and pay the consequences later in life.  I’m happy to see one of my favorite fighters go out in his early thirties, fighting for a title.  Especially given the fact that Rumble is a striker and he trains with Henri Hooft, he’s doing his brain a big favor going out like this.

Weidman vs Mousasi

Weidman has had some trouble recently.  He lost his title to Luke Rockhold due to an ill advised spinning kick he didn’t know how to throw properly, then lost his comeback fight to a devastating knee from Yoel Romero.  A fight which he was arguably winning up until that point.  Mousasi is one of those fighters who has the potential to fight at the top level, but always chokes when he fights a top 5 guy.  This was supposed to be his opportunity to break through and get a marquee win.  Weidman controlled most of the first round, while the second round was a bit more competitive.  Mousasi’s stand up is a lot cleaner than Weidman’s and he was winning the striking exchanges.  However, Weidman was taking Mousasi down pretty much at will.  It was a good fight, up until the knees were thrown.  Hopefully the fight is overturned to a no contest due to the incompetence of the NYSAC and the mistake made by Dan Miragliotta.  Weidman desperately needs a win at this point, and Mousasi deserves a chance to earn a legitimate win over Weidman.

Calvillo vs Gonzalez

I saw Calvillo fight on UFC 209, and I was super impressed.  She’s a team Alpha Male fighter, so living in northern California she’s a hometown fighter for me.  At 209 she looked big and mean, and her ground game was excellent.  She got the submission so quick at 209 there wasn’t much fight time to analyze.  This time we got to see her standup a little more as well as more of her ground game.  She was the superior fighter in both aspects against Gonzalez, who I’d never heard of before.  This was a good fight to showcase Calvillo and let her get an impressive submission win.  Calvillo is a star in the making, and hopefully the UFC recognizes that.  She’s a pretty girl with a lot of skills, especially on the ground.  Hopefully they can build her up first before throwing her to someone in the top 5 or 10.

Cote vs Alves

This fight was fun because it felt like a throwback fight.  Patrick Cote and Thiago Alves were relevant ten years ago, so to see two vets like this fighting each other was cool.  Alves looked like his old self, which was fun to see.  Cote looked like an older fighter just trying to hang with the younger guys.  The big wind ups at the end of the third didn’t do anything to change that perception.  I’d like to see Alves find success after this fight, but the 2017 welterweight roster is very strong.  I don’t see Alves beating anyone in the top 10. Seeing Cote hang his gloves up at the end of this fight on the main card of a big pay per view was great.  I honestly would have liked to see both fighters retire after this one.  Cote went out swinging and Alves could have gone out with a win.  I don’t see Alves getting many more after this one.

Brooks vs Oliveira

Will Brooks was supposed to be a huge prospect coming in to the UFC.  He was the Bellator lightweight champ before making the jump.  Considering the fact that Eddie Alvarez came over and won the belt, Will Brooks had a lot of cache coming into his UFC career.  He won his debut against Ross Pearson, but he lost to Alex Oliveira last year in a controversial fight.  This fight was supposed to get him back on track, but unfortunately for Brooks Charles Oliveira snapped in a choke early on in their fight.  Oliveira has been hot and cold in the UFC, and he was coming back up from featherweight after missing weight a few times.  Lower weight fighters moving up to a more natural weight has been a positive trend recently, Cowboy Cerrone and Kelvin Gastelum have both seen great success in cutting less weight.

Oliveira looked great, he was not intimidated by Brooks name at all and carried out his game plan.  I like Oliveira at lightweight, I hope he stays there despite publicly staying he wants to move back to featherweight.  I’m a big fan of fighters fighting at more natural weight classes.  For Brooks, he needs to get back in the win column.  The loss to Alex Oliveira was controversial, but there was nothing controversial in this fight.  Charles Oliveira was just a better fighter Saturday night.