Friday, October 24, 2014

Microreview [book]: Valor, by John Gwynne

Not bad, but the problems of Malice worsen...


Gwynne, John. Valor. Orbit: 2014.


Buy it here.


In my review of author John Gwynne's first installment of this trilogy, Malice, I pointed out the extreme difficulty, as a reader, in suspending my disbelief that some 'good guys' would continue to serve an antiChrist-like figure even after he starts showing his true nature. Such guys include legions of samurai-like ninja supersoldiers who had spent their entire lives preparing to serve the prophesied avatar of the good god, one half of the world's Zoroastrian battle between light and darkness (complete with angels and demons). But even if they're completely unable to tell right from wrong, and even if we as readers are willing to swallow this wildly improbable state of affairs, Main Baddie Nathair's right-hand man, Veradis, continues to be such a good soul in this volume and to serve Nathair loyally—even after seeing his friends murdered by Nathair's other right-hand man, the "angel", and his pet giant—that I have to draw the line at him.

Gwynne is obviously building up to a Big Reveal, when Veradis will realize the error of his ways, switch sides to Main Good Guy Corban and (it's looking likelier and likelier) fall in love with Corban's spunky sister, but the sustained dramatic irony, an annoyance in the first book, is an extremely distracting cacophony here in book two. Much of the suspense in the book is built around different characters (finally!) figuring out who's good and who's bad, and that sort of thing got old quickly. Essentially, it's melodrama: we the readers are meant to empathize with poor misunderstood Corban and hate slimy pretender Nathair, grow furious with each new betrayal of the latter and cheer for each narrow escape by the former. That formula worked fairly well for book one, but here in Valor, it's not doing it for me anymore—I feel like Gwynne tried to milk this angle for too long.

On the other hand, in world with such starkly delineated notions of good and evil, once the battle lines are drawn, there won't be much left to do but have a Big Fight, and Gwynne wisely reasoned, I suppose, that having Corban and Friends on the run, constantly harried by foes, makes for better entertainment than a 500-page battle. Only trouble is, the extended chase scenes follow a predictable formula as well: each time, Corban manages to escape, but almost invariably loses another person precious to him, a member of his (as they literally call it) 'pack.' So I didn't even need to glance at the number of pages remaining in the book to know when I was getting near the end—let's just say the steady attrition of Corban's buddies takes its toll, until there obviously wasn't any more mileage Gwynne could get out of it without sacrificing a Main Character (you know, the kind that Storm-trooper types can never hit no matter how many times they fire their ray guns!), since he'd run out of Second-Tier Important Characters Whose Death, While Sad and All, Doesn't Really Change Much (you know, the kind people like J.K. Rowling sacrifice instead of really important characters so there can still be a happy ending! Just imagine the stink everyone would have put up if, instead of one of the totally expendable Weasley twins, it had been Ron—or Harry!?!?—who fell at The End!).

In Gwynne's world, bad guys hit their targets, alright, but only if they're aiming for second-tier nobodies!

You might be sensing by now that my tolerance for authors who have melodramatic cake and eat it too is rather low. I'd prefer to see an author unafraid to sacrifice the Ned Starks now and again, because it makes the story weightier to know that even those hard-to-hit Main Characters are vulnerable—in short, it places the Happy Ending in jeopardy! But Gwynne, at least so far, is having his Storm-trooper stand-ins fire and miss (or at least, hit only the equivalent of the Weasely twins).

The vaguely post-apocalyptic setting remains interesting, as does the under-populated human lands—but the latter are definitely firmly within a Celtic/Western European middle ages paradigm, and I'd say that particular brand of fantasy has been war-hammered almost to death by now. I hope that Gwynne can raise his game for the titanic final volume in the series, which I will look forward to reading—even after the slight disappointment of Valor.


The Math


Objective Assessment: 7/10

Bonuses: +1 for continuing the cool blending of post-apocalyptic world with Mithraic/ Zoroastrian struggle between angels and demons, light and dark

Penalties: -1 for continuing to milk the dramatic irony/melodrama angle for all it is worth, -1 for keeping Main Characters safe at the expense of the second tier of supporting characters

Nerd coefficient: 6/10 "Still enjoyable, but the flaws are (getting) hard(er) to ignore"


[I know what you're thinking. "A 6/10? That's harsh!" Not so—at NOAF, that means Valor is a cut above the typical fare out there.]


This has been a communique from Zhaoyun, glasses-wearing academic by day, superhero sf/f aficionado by night, and one of the Main Characters at NOAF since 2013. Vive la resistance boutonneux! 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Thursday Morning Superhero: Halloween ComicFest Edition


This Saturday marks the third annual Halloween ComicFest.  While it has only been around since 2012, Halloween ComicFest has grown each year and has quickly become an annual tradition for many families.  This will be the second year that our household ordered packs of the mini-comics to pass out to trick-or-treaters.  The books were a massive success last year.

Find out if your LCS is participating by checking out the link here and make sure to dress up in your best costume as many comic book stores have additional events and contests associated with Halloween ComicFest.  If they don't have a costume contest, snap a picture of yourself holding one of the ComicFest comics and submit it to "The Greatest Halloween Costume Contest Ever" here.  In addition to a lot of great prizes, you could take home a gift certificate to your LCS worth either $500 or $1,000!

There are 19 total comics that will be distributed on Saturday, and instead of my usual pick of the week I am going to breakdown my top selections for this weekend.  Keep in mind that each store has its own distribution policies on the comic books.  They purchase the comics at cost to provide to you for free.  Make sure you say thanks!


Pick of Halloween ComicFest:
Scooby-Doo Team Up: HCF Edition #1 - I still have fond memories of the Scooby-Doo and Batman crossover from my youth and am excited to read this all-ages comic book with my kids.  Batman and the gang team up to uncover the mystery of a giant Man-Bat that has been causing trouble.  Sounds like loads of fun for the whole family to enjoy.

The Rest:
Afterlife with Archie #1 - Recommended for teen readers and older, this is a story that involves Archie and his pals are taken to the grave and back in what is dubbed the Arch-pocalypse.  Nice palette cleanser the other zombie comics on the market and very appropriate considering the recent demise of Archie.  Featuring Sabrina the teenage witch and zombies, this classic reprint is not to be missed.







Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight Halloween Special Edition #1 - Relive the first chapter in Jeph Loeb's classic Batman: Haunted Knight, in this special reprint.  Set on Halloween, this tale features an all-star cast of villains and is a must read for any Batman fan.  And to be completely honest, while I say I am doing this for my kids, I just want more comics for myself!








My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic HCF Edition #1 - I am not a brony.  I'm not!  Nothing wrong with enjoying good stories with my daughter.  Seriously though, the creative team behind the new ponies do a great job writing entertaining stories with very relatable characters.  My son pretends not to enjoy them as much as his sister, but he is a fan.  Halloween ComicFest really has something for everyone and is a great excuse to put on your best MLP costume, go to your LCS and have fun reading about ponies.


POSTED BY MIKE N. -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Our Approach to Reviewing: Embrace the Gray

Recent events have put focus on negative reviews and so-called “hate blogging,” which I guess just means regular blogging but with added invective. These conversations bring to mind other recent discussions among authors, critics and fans in SF/F, not least of which those centered on author/reader interactions, interpretive space and the role of review outlets, such as this one. Reflection on these topics has, in turn, inspired me to further articulate the approach we take to reviewing creative products--not just books, but films, comics and games as well.

This is not to say that our way is the only way. Other sites do things differently than we do, and that makes me happy. I enjoy reading a whole range of review styles. Some reviewers only write about books they would recommend; others are much harsher than we are. Criticism must encompass a range of styles and approaches, and even the most negative can be useful in “moving the needle,” as Justin Landon recently put it in a discussion on twitter. (Emphasis on "can"; in other cases, it does no such thing.)

With all that in mind, here is a further articulation of our approach to reviewing:


1. This site does not, as a rule, engage in “hate reviewing.” We may be indignant or frustrated with something we encounter, but we try to be fair and highlight both positives and negatives. On the flipside, this site also does not engage in “review cheerleading,” wherein reviewers uncritically promote the text at hand.

To cite example of the former, the lowest score I’ve ever given to a book is 3/10, for James Lee Burke’s crime novel Cimarron Rose. Yet even a book I describe as “a Long Island Ice Tea of cheap well liquor from a North Hollywood dive served up by the guy who played Mr. Belvedere's stunt double on Fantasy Island” also gets a nod for prose that is “vivid, tense and atmospheric.” And Burke is a really talented writer (see this other review); he just happens to have written what is, in my opinion, a pretty bad book.

Conversely, I can highly rate George R. R. Martin’s first three Song of Ice and Fire books for the richness of world-building, intricacies of plotting and depth of characterization—among the best I’ve encountered in epic fantasy—while simultaneously noting how problematic they can be in other respects (the casual rapeyness, the exoticizing of Eastern cultures, etc.). Generally speaking, liking a given text does not mean you have to approve of or even tolerate everything about it, while finding elements of a text objectionable does not mean you can’t enjoy or appreciate other things about it. (This *should* be commonsense, but in a world of 140-character arguments, purity often wins over nuance.)

Our scoring system is designed around this assumption of “grayness” and consequent rejection of essentialist logic. If selected at random, books should score on a bell curve—a Gaussian or normal distribution, centered on 5/10. However, because we do not select books entirely at random, our score distribution is skewed to the right. Nevertheless, we believe that both extreme high and low scores should be ultra rare. That means the vast majority of things we review will by definition do some things well and other things less well.

2. We believe that books, films, comics and games are conversations among creators and consumers, and not the sole "property" of the writer. As Robert Jackson Bennett put it, "when you bring your own perspective and state of mind to my stuff, you are by default changing it – giving it nuance, color, beauties, associations, problems, and conundrums I could never hope to. The human mind is a wonderfully, tantalizingly strange thing, and it is endlessly more complicated than any book could ever be." At the same time, we believe that authors (and other creators) do have vast ranges of special insight--on intentionality, on inspiration, on authorial context and on what never made it off the cutting floor, as well as more obvious things like "what I'm planning to do with these characters in book two." In a sense this reflects the classic emic/etic (i.e. insider/outsider) distinction in anthropology--the insider has specialized knowledge not available to the outsider; the outsider has critical distance. As such, we support author/reader interaction and enjoy hearing about the creative process from the creators themselves. We just don't think their opinions are the only ones that matter.

3. As a rule, we avoid drawing inferences about creators-as-people from the fictional texts they produce. In other words, just because we decide a book contains “problematic gender relations” doesn’t mean we’ve concluded the author has problematic views on gender in the real world. It just means the author has produced a text that we find problematic on the issue of gender. If it becomes a pattern over time, we may conclude that the author’s writing generally displays problematic attitudes on gender. We would still be careful about drawing conclusions about the author’s actual feelings or beliefs--especially when we're in negative territory--unless there was significant corroborating evidence from outside fictional texts (e.g. public statements, behaviors, etc.) to back that up.

4. We also assume most authors, comic creators, filmmakers and game developers implicitly understand that this is where we are coming from, and most of the time they do. If they do not, we will reiterate the position that we stick to the text and don’t judge individuals solely on the fiction/films/comics/games they produce. If our language is sloppy on the distinction, we will make note of that and strive to be clearer in the future. If, however, it is the creator who can’t distinguish between criticism of text and criticism of person, then there really isn’t much we can do about that.

5. We present ourselves as a group blog with a carefully crafted institutional voice, but note that we are simultaneously a collection of individuals with different assumptions and interpretive frameworks. We don’t always like or dislike the same stuff, and may strongly disagree with each other, as in this case.

6. In the end, nerds of a feather, flock together is a fundamentally critical project, which seeks to provide honest and trustworthy recommendations to genre readers. Yet we also accept the fact that opinion is fundamentally subjective. Arguments, such as those found in reviews, are just opinions with supporting evidence—a case, if you will, predicated on that supporting evidence. We strive to produce good arguments in our reviews, but understand that no argument could ever convince everyone. This is a good thing—life would be awfully dull if everyone just agreed all the time, and no one would ever learn anything. What would be the purpose of reviewing then?


***

POSTED BY: The G--purveyor of nerdliness, genre fanatic and Nerds of a Feather founder/administrator (2012).

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Buy This Bundle: Humble Mozilla Bundle

Nine Indie Games, Pay What You Want, Demo in the Browser


What’s up with indie game bundles? They really started with the original Humble Bundle. The concept was simple: you get a handful of indie games, DRM-free, pay what you want. Since then, they’ve added Steam keys, different platforms, charity donations, choosing how to split your money, and other features, but the concept is generally the same. Indie game bundles might seem like a really bad business decision, and maybe it is, but it undoubtedly leads to more people playing your game than they would’ve if you waited for the next big Steam sale, or tried to market it by yourself.

I’ve bought a huge amount of indie games through indie game bundles, so I like to share the love and call attention to good bundles from time to time. Many times, friends of mine have missed out on indie game bundles because they’re almost always limited-time affairs, and that’s a shame. Not necessarily the time limit, but also the lack of awareness. I don’t actually gain anything from people playing more good indie games, as I have no connection to any game developer, but I love it when people discover great games because I recommended them.

Today, I want to call attention to the Humble Mozilla Bundle. Five games, eight if you beat the average, and nine if you pay more than $8. The charities benefiting from this bundle are Mozilla Foundation, CodeNow, and Maker Education Initiative. It ends on October 28th. The highlighted feature of this bundle is that all of the games can be demoed in Mozilla Firefox for free, in the browser, without any plugins. It’s really kind of neat, if not entirely practical, to see in action! But let’s talk about my three favorite games in this bundle.

FTL: Faster Than Light - FTL is like Battlestar Galactica the video game, if you only focused on the constant need to keep moving, and crew management. It’s a game where you control a starship with a small crew that’s running from a rebel fleet. You explore star systems, answer distress calls, trade for fuel or weapons, and blow up aliens, slavers, pirates, and rebels. In combat, you can pause time to issue orders for manning a particular station, or putting out fires, or fighting enemy boarding parties. It all sounds fairly complex, but FTL is one of those games that is easy to play, but hard to master. It’s a lot of fun if you love space sci-fi.

Super Hexagon - Super Hexagon is pure arcade fun. It has two controls, rotate left and rotate right. You use these to navigate your triangle through a fast moving maze. There are only three levels, but it is quite difficult, especially if you don’t have quick reflexes. The chip tunes soundtrack is really great, and perfectly fits the pace of the game.

Aaaaaaa! for the Awesome - This is a really weird game. It’s a first-person freefall simulator. The goal is to get close to as many obstacles as you can without touching them, while giving thumbs-up to supporters, the middle finger to detractors, and spray-painting particular obstacles. It’s totally score-driven, so if you do badly, you can still finish a level. Give the demo a shot, because I can’t possibly describe this in a way that makes sense. It’s really satisfying to get through a level with a huge score all through quick, fine movement. The quirky sense of humor in this game is fantastic.

Those three alone would make this bundle worth it to me for a minimum of $8, and then you would also get Zen Bound 2, Osmos, Dustforce DX, Voxatron, Democracy 3, and a secret ninth game that will probably be revealed very soon. And even if you only beat the average (currently $5.67), you’d still get eight good indie games for less than the price of most of those games alone. Check them out, and I hope you find them as enjoyable as I do!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Microreview [book]: The Falcon Throne by Karen Miller


Good foundation, poor execution



The Falcon Throne is a political epic fantasy that takes place in the medieval realm of The Tarnished Crown. This first installment in the projected quintet by Karen Miller centers on the neighboring Duchies of Harcia and Clemen, and the neutral territory of the Marches in between. Belfre, unruly heir to Harcia, dreams of reuniting Harcia and Clemen under one king (him), while his younger brother Grefin just wants everyone to be happy. Meanwhile in Clemen, the disavowed Duke Harald is usurped by his bastard cousin Roric, who also just wants everyone to be happy. Harald’s son Liam, believed dead, stews in the Marches awaiting his rise to glory, while a prince thought long gone does the same.

The world building is solid but not complex. We have courts and jousting and travelling merchants and people from various places who look different depending on their origin. There are downtowns and districts and healers and witches. Half way through we get Exarches as well, which I am assuming are priests of the new religion that exists in contrast to the old “pagan” ways, but no one seems to like them or their religion so I’m not really sure. Anyway, the story itself is intriguing, albeit not original: courtly politics and heirs thought dead, waiting to grow up and reclaim their thrones (sound familiar?).

The foundation is good but unfortunately the delivery falls short. The telling of the story is very one-dimensional, as there are no hidden layers and Miller doesn’t let us figure anything out for ourselves. We don’t need to worry if someone is lying, because we are told in the next line “he was lying,” and we don’t need to wonder if the letter was a fake because the text quickly states “the forged letter.” This is good in a way I guess, because since the book is fairly long (almost 700 pages) it allows you to more or less graze over dialog without absorbing every word, knowing that you’re not going to miss anything. This type of read is needed here, because the characters are all very flat and rather uninteresting. Everyone is either mean or nice, good or bad, no in between.

The lack of character development is most noticeable with the women. I get it, it’s a patriarchal medieval society and they think of women as horses, valued only through their bloodlines and ability to reproduce. I’d be okay with that if Miller didn’t give us the female perspective, but once we get inside the women’s heads we discover that all they think about is sex and babies. Well, unless they’re an older woman, then they are just crotchety and mean. Almost every adult female character has some sort of relationship to sex and a baby, even if it’s a dead baby’s head that tells her who to have sex with. There is one female character who, upset with her father’s choice of arranged marriage, exacts her revenge by taking birth control (baby) and committing adultery (sex). Yes, because she was forced into a loveless marriage she seeks to deny her husband a rightful heir and deceptively put the son of her lover on the throne (sound really familiar?). The only female character who shows any signs of hope is Catrain, but every time she does or says something independent her mother scoffs and likens her to her father.

My final issue is kind of petty, but worth mentioning because it really effected the ease of read for me. I’m not a language prude and I like a good, well-timed curse as much as anyone, but the word f--k is used so much in this book that it is jarring. It doesn’t fit in the context of a medieval setting and I really wish Miller would have developed a world-specific expletive to use it its place (Hood’s balls!). I’m sorry, I just can’t picture dukes and lords walking around saying f--k, f--k, f--kity, f--k all the time. Also, “feggit” is constantly used as a slur among the common folk, as in “don’t be a feggit,” and this really bothers me too. About half way through the book we do get a world-specific expletive (cockshite) and I really wish Miller would have gone back and did a find and replace for all the feggits.

All in all though, once I got past these misgivings and accepted it for what it was, the story and its world were captivating at times. The prologue initially grabbed my attention and when that storyline started to creep back in it left me wondering what was going to happen next and kept me reading on. Because you don’t need to hang on every word, The Falcon Throne is a book that can be blown through on a rainy weekend, despite its length, if you don’t have anything better to do. But remember, this is just the first in a five-book series.

The Math

Baseline assessment: 6/10

Bonuses:  +1 fairly solid world building

Penalties:  -2 for giving women a voice and doing NOTHING with it
                  -1 for too many f--ks and feggits

Nerd coefficient: 4/10 “problematic, but has redeeming qualities”

----
Tia

Reference: Miller, Karen. The Falcone Throne [Orbit, 2014]

Friday, October 17, 2014

Forza Horizon 2

[Forza Horizon 2, Turn 10 Studios, Microsoft Studios, 2014]

Why so serious?

Sony and Microsoft treat their respective flagship racing franchises with extreme stern-faced rigidity. They aren't racing games, they're racing simulators. They take the actual cars into sound studios and record their engine noise. They re-create authentic race tracks from around the world. They're so photorealistic that you often can't tell the game from a NASCAR broadcast. They allow extensive customization of your cars, to an annoying point in Gran Turismo in my humble opinion, but I'm not much of a gearhead. If I were more into that sort of thing, I have no doubt I would prefer it to Forza Motorsport. But I take my car to Jiffy Lube to get the oil changed and I couldn't tell a header from a heater coil, so I prefer Forza's more simplified upgrade system. 


Forza Horizon 2, although it is a top-notch driving simulator, takes a more fun-loving approach to the driving game genre. There are a multitude of game modes that all take place in an open-world environment set in France and Italy. You can choose to take part in them by marking their location on a map and your GPS will guide you to the location. Then you actually have to make the drive there, unlike most racing games where you just start at the track. There are also several bonus activities that Turn 10 added to the game to make the open-world experience more engrossing.

Gameplay types



Horizon Solo

The Horizon Solo portion of the game will be the most familiar to race game fans as it contains the traditional single player race mode. However, it also has some new welcome additions that make this game unique. The Solo game type options are as follows. 


Race


This mode will be the most familiar to Forza fans. It acts just like Forza Motorsport races with a few important deviations. First and foremost, as mentioned above, you have to drive to the races. You aren't just magically transported to the starting line. Once you arrive at the race's starting point, you are prompted to hit 'X' in order to begin. The other way it differentiates itself from the franchise's big brother is the Rally and Off-Road Races. Not only does this game offer you the chance to take a Subaru WTX STI tearing through the vineyards of France's wine country or a Cadillac Escalade shredding underbrush in the Italian countryside, but many of the races required you to take your pristine Bugatti Veyron slipping and sliding down asphalt backroads. Although purists may consider that a sin, I found it was a refreshing change of pace, if a little difficult to control. 


Showcase



There were Showcase Events that began automatically after you completed a regular Race Event. In these creative additions, you had to race alternative forms of transportation. These included a Jet, a high-speed train, hot air balloons, a troop transport plane, and a crop-duster. These were, by far, the closest races in which I took part. I was able, for the most part, to win the regular Race Events handily. I only managed to beat the train by 0.15 seconds. The Showcase Events were highly enjoyable and yet another example of Turn 10's creative, outside-the-box thinking when it came to creating this multi-layered title. 

Bucket List



The Bucket List was one of my favorite additions to the Forza franchise. In Forza Motorsport, if you wanted to drive a McLaren P1, you had to save up over a million credits and purchase it yourself. With the Bucket List, you were able to drive many of the game's most desirable automobiles for free. There were Bucket List challenges spotting the map all over the place. They contained challenges like catching big air, driving through the woods at night, time trials, and barely missing oncoming traffic, all while in some of the cars dreams are made of. 

Bonus Boards


Placed all over the map are boards like the one seen above. They offer the player one of two things, either an XP bonus or travel discounts. The XP bonus boards are pretty self-explanatory. They give you XP, period. You just have to track them down and run them over. The travel discount boards lower the cost for the player to fast travel. Rather than driving halfway across the map to begin an event, you are often given the choice to fast travel there. However, it comes at a price, often between 8,000 and 10,000 credits. Depending on your bank account this can be worth it to save time or it can be too expensive for your taste and not worth the savings in time. I rarely used fast travel, but it was worth it on occasion to save myself a ten minute drive just to do a race that only paid 5,000 credits. 

Online Multiplayer

There were fewer options when it came to the online multiplayer, but it was still a (mostly) enjoyable break from the ordinary racing game experience. Top 10 and Microsoft still have a few bugs to work out when it comes to the multiplayer modes, but I'll get to that a bit later. 


Car Meet



When you boot up FH2, you are immediately taken to a Car Meet. These are locations all over the map where you can challenge others to head-to-head races. You can examine other players' rides, check out their stats, and pick one to take down. It is a convenient and well-constructed way to find other players interested in online one-on-one competition. The one downside I found, usually for the person in the other car, is that it didn't match you based on the level of your car. I was able to take on a level B Corvette with my level S2 Lamborghini. I loved it, but I suspect the other player didn't have such a good time when I blew past him like he was standing still.


Road Trip


Road Trip is basically just like the single player races, but instead of going up against AI Drivatars, you're racing real players. Groups of up to 12 real players are pitted against one another in the same races in which you can participate in single player mode. I found this not only offered much more of a challenge than the Drivatars, but it also brought on a seriously heightened number of crashes and paint trading. Where the Drivatars went out of their way to avoid hitting you most of the time, real people aren't so careful. 


Free Roam




I honestly didn't really get the purpose of Free Roam. The only difference I could tell between it and the Horizon Solo mode is that there were actual players roaming the streets instead of Drivatars. Both offer the ability to join Road Trip activities, but Free Roam didn't contain the races, only Road Trip and the bonus boards. Since you could also enter the Road Trip races from single player mode, as well as drive freely around the map without taking part in any formal activities, this game mode seemed mostly redundant and extemporaneous to me. Maybe I missed something, but that was my personal experience when I tried it.

There were some...issues


Unfortunately, there were several glitches that popped up while I was playing the game, and nearly all of them had to do with the multiplayer side of the FH2 coin. The one problem that occurred during single player mode was that paint jobs failed to actually stick to the car. In one instance, my Lamborghini Huracan LP 610-4 refused to change paint jobs in the menus. No matter what design I added to it, the car remained in its black-and-orange paint. In the game itself, the changes I entered showed up just fine, so it was a very minor glitch. So minor, in fact, that I almost didn't mention it. However, this is a report on the issues I had with the game so I decided to put in everything from the mundane to the major. I also had an Acura NSX that refused to change color. In the garage, I changed it from the original white to a reflective blue chrome, but when I took it out of the garage to use it, the car was as white as the driven snow. A simple system reboot fixed the issue and I eventually got my sapphire-tinted Acura, but not until I had tried to make the change at least three times without success. 


A slightly more annoying glitch was opponents' cars tendency to seemingly hop around magically by a couple of feet to either side.in Online Road Trip. It reminded me of the animation from Max Headroom. For you readers under 30, you're going to have to ask your parents about that reference. It was a decent commercial by 1980s standards that inconceivably became a sensation and spawned a horrifically bad TV show. I thought I could be having issues with my Internet, but I ran Speedtest on it and came up with 23 Mps download speeds so the problem wasn't on my end. Although it didn't really effect the gameplay as my opponents weren't gaining any sort of advantage by the glitch, it really effected the overall experience by drawing my focus away from the race and placing it on those magic dancing automobiles. 



The real problem I had with the game was the lag. It was significant in many of my multiplayer matches. All motion stops, then you teleport forward 20 feet into a tree. The game seems to pause itself just long enough for you to fly off the road and out of contention for first place. I even saw lag on a load screen a couple of times. The view was panning across a panoramic scene of a French vineyard when it briefly stopped, then picked up again a few feet further to the left. While the lag didn't make the game unplayable like others I've seen, it was pretty annoying when it happened. That said, I'm not the world's biggest online multiplayer gamer and the solo campaign is fun enough by itself to justify purchasing this game. I'm simply reporting my experience,  both the multitude of good stuff and the anger-inducing tidbits. I'm just a humble game critic, here mostly to entertain and hopefully enlighten just a smidge, if possible. I guess my point is that you shouldn't forego FH2 because of the minor flaws, which don't ruin the overall experience and could be patched in the near future. 

soundtrack


The plethora of music in this game is fantastic, rivaled only by Grand Theft Auto and its seemingly endless options when it came to radio stations. The game contains nearly 150 different tracks spread out over seven widely varied radio stations, each with its own theme. The tracks were chosen by UK DJ Rob da Bank, host of multiple shows over the years on the BBC's Radio 1. The stations are as follows:
  • Pulse - Laid back pop, nu-disco, and electronica
  • Bass Arena - House, electro, and techno
  • XS - Indie and alternative rock
  • Hospital Records Radio - Drum and bass
  • Innovative Leisure Radio - Music from the LA-based indie label
  • Ninja Tune Radio - Tracks from the legendary trip-hop/acid jazz record label
  • Radio Levante - Classical music's greatest hits
Although I take issue with Bass Arena's definition of its tracks as electro and techno (I'm somewhat of an underground purist when it comes to these genres), I generally enjoyed the melange of options the game provides. There's nothing quite as exhilarating as going neck-and-neck into the finish line while the 1812 Overture is blaring through your speakers.  

The last lap



I had tons of fun playing this game. It was refreshing to experience a racing game that didn't have delusions of grandeur and act like it was an Air Force flight simulator that was vital to national security because it was necessary to train our fighter pilots for the country's defense, yet didn't stoop to Burnout levels of ludicrousness to entertain. Horizon 2 has all the real-world physics and true-to-life driving replication of its stern-faced older brother, Forza Motorsport, but it also has the guts to take some chances outside the box and, glitches aside, it definitely worked out for the best. In fact, in one way I found it to be even more realistic than Forza 5. The open-world design allows the player to drive off of the track into dirt, grass, or asphalt and the terrain acts like it would if you did the same in an actual car. Forza 5 limited you to driving on-track at all costs, reality be damned. They took it to the extreme in that if you strayed from the path, albeit onto concrete or dirt/grass, the cars reacted as if you had just pulled into a foot-deep pool of wet concrete and slowed to a 15 mph crawl. I found that unnecessary penalization to be more intrusive into my fantasy of being Emerson Fittipaldi behind the wheel of a Formula 1 beast than the few glitches present in Horizon 2. All-in-all, if you are looking for a racer that is built purely to put a huge smile on your face without delving into the realm of  the ridiculous, then Forza Horizon 2 is just what you've been waiting for. 


the math

Objective Score: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for having the chutzpah to try so many different things. 

Penalties: -1 for the glitches. None of them were bad enough to ruin the game, but I've come to expect perfection when it comes to the Forza franchise and they usually deliver. Here the issues occurred often enough to taint my overall impression of the game, if only slightly. 

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10. Well worth your time and attention. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thursday Morning Superhero

Halloween ComicFest is a mere 9 days away! Check to see if your local comic book shop will be participating here and plan for a day of free comics, costumes, and maybe even candy. Marvel stole the show at NYCC, revealing its 2015 event, Secret Wars. Jonathan Hickman will be the primary author of the series that is rumored to make reference to all prior events. Color me intrigued.  As for this week's titles, while I enjoyed them all, the pick of the week is one that allows me to share this hobby with my son.

Pick of the Week:
Skylanders #1 - It is a bit surprising that it took Skylanders this long to break into the comic book world, but as a fan of the series, it is worth the wait. This title not only adds a whole new level of depth to the characters my son and I have grown to know over the years, it also provides a great entry point to bring new readers into the comics medium. One thing I loved about the video game series is the way it bridges both creative play and video games, the addition of the comic book will provide new ideas and character depth to further guide the play when the TV is turned off. Great all-ages book that fans of the beloved video game franchise will be sure to love.

The Rest:
Death of Wolverine #4 - While I doubt this will have any major ramifications, Charles Soule penned an appropriate death for Wolverine.  His final moments bring him into the laboratory of Cornelius, the scientist who grafted his adamantium skeleton to his mutant bones. Without spoiling much, Wolverine dies a noble death and one fitting of a superhero.  While cheesy at times, Soule gave Wolverine a respectful end that will likely last a month or so.





The Sixth Gun: Days of the Dead #3 - As long as Cullen Bunn is spinning a tale in the Sixth Gun universe I will be on board. The backstory of the Knights of Solomon and the Sword of Abraham continue as the two clash in an attempt to claim Yum Kimil, the undead lord and master of Eli Barrow, for its own. The intent behind wanting Yum Kimil is unknown, as we set the stage to see how the two groups became intertwined with the six. Must reading material for fans of the original series.





Daredevil #9 - Matt Murdock may be up against his most formidable foe to date.  The children of the Purpleman, Kilgrave, have the ability to force emotion onto its foes.  Even with his sonar abilities, Daredevil does not have the ability to block his traumatic past when the children force him to revisit painful memories.  I am still not fully sold on Daredevil setting up shop in San Francisco, but Mark Waid has my full faith and I trust that he will continue his impressive Daredevil run.





POSTED BY MIKE N. -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.