Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (2012)

The Epic, Legendary Weapon of Plus 10 Mediocrity

I was really interested in playing today’s game for the span of 20 minutes, and then I constantly forgot about its existence.  It looked interesting, and every time I was reminded of the game I felt like I wanted to play it, and then it went right back into forgotten status.  Either the game didn’t excite me that much or I now have Alzheimer’s.  Eventually, the length of time that I would forget about the game got longer and longer until it was eventually nowhere to be found in my brain.  Then a sale that made the game $10 reminded me of it, so I picked it up.  I cannot imagine any game that is so bad I would not like it for only $10!  Except maybe Duke Nukem Forever.  I bought that too, but that review will have to wait for me to confirm my suspicions.  For now, let’s see how it went with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, written by R.A. Salvatore, with art direction by Todd McFarlane, developed by 38 Studios and Big Huge Games, published by Electronic Arts, and with the voices of John Cygan, Abby Craden, Jim Cummings, Siobhan Flynn, Adrienne Barbeau, Kirsten Potter, and Eliza Schneider.

As in most RPG games like this, you play as “Someone.”  But he’s dead.  Game over.  OR IS IT?!?!?  No, of course it’s not.  Why would you even ask a stupid question like that?  With the help of the experimental Well of Souls, and the gnome experimenting on it, you are brought back to life sans any memories you had.  No time to worry about that now though; the evil Tuatha Deohn are attacking!  So you pull a rusty sword out of some dead guy and get to work fighting your way out of the tunnels before they collapse on the Well.  Then you meet a Fateweaver named Agarth (John Cygan) who tells you that your revival has left you without a fate, and thus able to write your own.  Now people can start calling you the Fateless One!  Hooray!  You also meet a sexy elf lady named Alyn Shir (Abby Craden) who seems to know you, but is pretty tight-lipped about it.  Also, the Tuatha are being led by Gadflow (Jim Cummings), who wants to kill everyone for the favor of his god Tirnoch (Siobhan Flynn).

This game was not without its problems, but overall it worked for me very well.  I would say one thing that did not really work for me was the story, but it’s not really Salvatore’s fault.  This guy got talked up so much for how good he was at writing fantasy stuff before I played this game that I thought the story would blow me away.  It did not.  I won’t be reading any book he wrote (or any book anyone wrote, for that matter) but I expected a lot more for how much talk I heard before playing the game.  Instead, it just seemed like any other sword and sorcery game plot, slightly modified, and with all the names changed.  By the way, can we agree upon a set of fantasy types and just stick with it?  How about “demons” instead of “Tuatha”, or “elf” instead of “Dokkalfar” and “Ljosalfar”, or “dudes” instead of “Almain?”  It’ll save us a lot of confusion in the future.  I suppose it was a new enough idea for me that the main character died before the game which split him from fate when he was revived, but it wasn’t mind-blowing.  Also, for a game about a guy who has broken from fate and now can choose his own destiny, the game is pretty linear.  None of my choices ever really felt like they had much impact.  Of course, there’s also a chance that I missed big chunks of the story because I spent most of the game skipping dialogue and not even bothering to read it.  Yeah, that means you can take what I say about the story with a grain of salt, but every character in this game had about three pages of dialogue and you’d want to have gone through all of it in case it opened up a new quest, but this game would’ve taken me all year if I really invested myself into talking to everyone.  I also took issue with the big reveal of the protagonist’s backstory, but not with the story itself.  I can’t really take issue with that story because I don’t know what it was.  That’s due to the fact that Alyn Shir tells it to you with no subtitles as you’re walking around fighting Tuatha, so I could barely make out anything she was saying.  And this story, by the way, was something they had been building up to for the entire fucking game!  I had to go to the game’s Wikia page to find out what they had been saying.  There was also a big storyline about helping a General find a special, powerful, mystical spear that she later throws at a boss and it’s never spoken of again.  Couldn’t I have maybe gone down there and picked it up after I beat the boss?  And speaking of legendary weapons, it really got on my nerves that at least twice during the game I would complete a mission and be awarded with the greatest weapon, forged by Jesus in the fires of Mount Doom, quenched in the waters of Lake Minnetonka, and kissed by Jessica Alba to imbue it with magical sexiness … only to find out that the weapon was far inferior to the regular weapon I found on a random dead body while roaming the wilderness.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about the look of the game.  It looks really good, and I have no complaints … Just kidding.  I always have some complaints.  Thought the game does, in fact, look good, enjoying that is hindered by the fact that the camera is usually pointing down, not allowing you a good look at the lush landscapes and fantastic skylines.  There were also a couple of goofy moments that you could find when talking with other characters.  They would either make strange gestures that were out of place from what they were talking about, or your character would be burying his chin in his chest while trying to talk to a dwarf.

The gameplay here was solid overall.  I remember hearing it being talked up by one of the people that worked on it about how it was so much more action-oriented than a typical RPG game would be.  It is more action-oriented than a typical RPG, but it’s not nearly as revolutionary as they made it out to be.  It handles a lot like Fable, and even more like a hack-and-slash game.  X is one weapon, Y is the other.  Just keep hitting the one of those you feel like using until the enemy falls down.  As you level, you can add a little more finesse to what you’re doing – like holding the button to charge, or attacking right after blocking – but I never really needed a lot more than that.  There is an achievement for killing enemies with your abilities, and I was very happy to get that achievement because it meant I no longer had to force myself to use the abilities since spamming X worked so much better.  You can take a stealth approach, but most cases I found that to be a waste of time because of other choices they made.  To make things more interesting, they set up some rooms to have ambushes when you entered.  But if you were trying to focus on stealth and you enter a room where the enemies instantly know where you are no matter what you do, it kind of proves that you should’ve just stuck to swords instead.  Ranged weapons come in handy from time to time, but you’ll probably devolve eventually into beating the shit out of your X button.

I’d like to take this moment to talk to games like this.  Game, when you have a set process of randomly deciding whether or not a corpse you just made will have items on them or not, can we not get that decision making process moving a little quicker?  Not much is more annoying than starting to head on your way down the tunnel only to look back and see that one of the corpses you left is now glowing and may potentially have a good item on them, forcing you to walk all the way back.  Random armor drops also got on my nerves in this game because of their armor sets.  They have some armor in the game that, when combined with the other pieces of the set, will give you added powers.  The problem is how rare it is to actually come across an entire set of the armor and still have them be useful just because the armor drops are randomized.  I think I completed two sets of armor in my playthrough, and one of them was given to me outright.  I also hated that the game made you babysit characters on a couple of missions.  If a non-playable character can cause me to fail a mission by dying because they suck and cannot hold their own against the one enemy that slipped past my attention while I was fighting the other 6, then for Christ’s sake give me the ability to tell them to stay somewhere.  It happened to me once in the game, and even reloading my game and trying again, I was not able to keep this bitch alive.  Just let me tell her to hold her ground at the entrance of the level so I can do my thing.  The level cap of the game was a bit of a disappointment to me too.  The level cap being 40 seems fairly low, especially since I got there with about another quarter of the game left, which didn’t really inspire me to go exploring much after that.  It’s also just a strange number to pick as a level cap.  Doesn’t 50 make more sense?  I think I’d now like to make a game with 27 as the level cap.  That would really fuck with people.  By far, the biggest disappointment of this game was the ending, but I can do this without spoilers so don’t worry.  That last boss was the easiest fight ever.  It was so easy that I was worried about the REAL boss battle that would probably be coming afterwards, but it turned out that was it.  I had a harder time being outnumbered by 6 midgets earlier in the game.

The achievements in this game are actually a lot better than I would’ve expected.  I assumed that an RPG would require me to do things that I would find so annoying that I wouldn’t even bother.  But you can probably get 1,000 Gamerscore in one playthrough if you know what to focus on.  I did it in 2 playthroughs, but only because my first playthrough I am just playing and not worrying about achievements, so I never really killed anything with abilities and I didn’t really care about harvesting reagents to use in the alchemy I didn’t care about.  And the hard difficulty isn’t really that bad anyway.

I had read that Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning could be described as a “dumbed down Skyrim” or “a slightly deeper Fable.”  Well I just wrote some 1,900 words that can best be summed up with those 6.  But it was a fun ride, wasn’t it?  There’s a whole lot of missions and a whole lot of people to talk to, but I eventually got bored with that and then it devolved into hitting the X button a lot.  It’s good, but not really noteworthy.  Worth a play, but also skippable.  If you can find it for $10 – as I did – you can get a lot of time killed with this game, and it’s pretty enjoyable overall.  But if you never get around to it, life goes on.  Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning gets “Baby’s first Skyrim” out of “And beat the shit out of that X button!”

Let’s get these reviews more attention, people.  Post reviews on your webpages, tell your friends, do some of them crazy Pinterest nonsense.  Whatever you can do to help my reviews get more attention would be greatly appreciated.  You can also add me on FaceBook and Twitter.  Don’t forget to leave me some comments.  Your opinions and constructive criticisms are always appreciated.

The Cannonball Run (1981)

The Cannonball Will Fall to the Forces of Islam!

The only inspiration I can think of for why I would watch today’s movie is the fact that it’s regarded as a classic.  Today was basically just another opportunity to fill gaps in my movie repertoire.  I will share with you what I knew about the movie coming in.  The movie is a comedy, it stars a lot of famous people, and those people are driving cars with a fair degree of frequency in the movie.  That is all.  But it’s a classic and I need to see them all.  How will I ever be taken seriously if I’ve never seen all the classically referenced movies throughout history?  …EXACTLY!  Well I put the movie on my Netflix queue and it showed up, and that brings us to my review of The Cannonball Run, written by Brock Yates, Hal Needham, and starring Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Farrah Fawcett, Jack Elam, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., George Furth, Roger Moore, Adrienne Barbeau, Tara Buckman, Warren Berlinger, Bert Convy, Jackie Chan, Michael Hui, Jamie Farr, Terry Bradshaw, Mel Tillis, Rick Aviles, Alfie Wise, and Peter Fonda.

A group of people get together with vastly different ideas on how to win a cross-country race called the Cannonball Run.  The main characters are J.J. McClure (Burt Reynolds) and his partner Victor Prinzi (Dom DeLuise), who have decided to drive an ambulance to avoid getting arrested.  A drunkard named Jamie Blake (Dean Martin) and compulsive gambler Morris Fenderbaum (Sammy Davis Jr.) dress as priests and drive a red Ferrari.  Marcie Thatcher (Adrienne Barbeau) and Jill Rivers (Tara Buckman) drive a black Lamborghini and wear skintight racing suits that they’re more than happy to zip the front down on to get out of a ticket.  Jackie Chan (Jackie Chan) and his engineer (Michael Hui) drive a high-tech, souped-up Subaru GL.  Seymour Goldfarb Jr. (Roger Moore) believes himself to be Roger Moore as James Bond and drives, of course, an Aston Martin.  Add two hicks (Terry Bradshaw and Mel Tillis), a Sheikh (Jamie Farr), a crazy doctor (Jack Elam), and a love story between J.J. and a tree-loving photographer (Farrah Fawcett) and you’ve got enough foundation for a movie.

I can’t say I’m fully clear on why this movie is popular.  It wasn’t a horrible movie to watch, but it really seemed completely pointless.  The movie feels like watching a cartoon in that the situations are ridiculous, the characters are way over the top, and there’s next to no point to the movie in the first place.  Basically, I didn’t enjoy watching the movie but, as best I can tell, they seemed to think it was hilarious.  You can see this in the outtakes that run over the end credits.  They were semi-constantly cracking themselves up, seemingly over nothing.  If only they had the ability to share that joy with the audience.  The only thing that really made me laugh in the writing of this movie was when Dean Martin was complaining that they should’ve been Methodists instead of Catholics because then they’d get laid.  I can attest to the fact that this is not true at all.  There’s one thing that I felt was truly watchable about this movie and it was the stunts.  They do a lot of really interesting things with the vehicles in this movie.  And not just the basic stuff that you’d expect, like driving really fast on freeways in super-fast cars.  Early on in the movie, they land a small plane on the surface streets of a town so that J.J. can pick up beer.  Through the entire race, the motorcycle team is driving cross country in a total wheelie as a cheap joke about the weight that the guy on the back of the bike has put on.  It’s a dumb joke, but a spectacular stunt.  There’s also a part where the James Bond car shoots out oil and the spin that the pursuing cop car goes into was the most violent and fastest spins I’ve ever seen a car go into.  They also have Jackie Chan’s car make a jump that they claim is rocket propelled.  Speaking of Jackie Chan, they also have a part in the movie where he fights a bunch of bikers that was probably the worst fight he’s ever participated in, but less because of him and more because of the team of Americans that probably had little experience dealing with this kind of fight scene.

As for the performances, I maybe liked about half of them.  Burt Reynolds didn’t seem that interested in participating in the movie, but this was actually a positive in this case as no one else in the movie seemed to understand the principles of restraint, or the benefit of being low key.  Dom DeLuise was possibly the best example of this.  First off, the guy looks like Mario from the Nintendo universe throughout the movie, but he also randomly decides to put on a superhero costume every now and then, just to make himself more annoying.  The other half of their travelling troupe was always enjoyable though.  First of all was Farrah Fawcett.  She didn’t do anything particularly bad or good in her performance, but boy was she ever a pleasure to look at.  The second part of it was Jack Elam as the crazy doctor Van Helsing, who was actually a proctologist.  He was pretty wacky, but I actually found him pretty amusing.  For much the same reason I appreciated Farrah Fawcett, I had the same appreciation for Adrienne Barbeau and Tara Buckman.  They didn’t impress in their performance, but they had some great cleavage.  Being too young to have much appreciation for the Rat Pack, the only thing I found interesting about Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. was that I wasn’t entirely convinced that Dean Martin was just acting drunk for his role.  I also thought the concept of Roger Moore’s character was amusing, but they never really mined in for any comedy.

I knew that Cannonball Run was regarded as a classic, but now that I’ve seen it, I have no idea why.  The movie doesn’t take itself seriously, and certainly makes no particular focus on the story, but if they were focused on the comedy of the movie they failed in almost every occasion.  It’s like a cartoon, but forgets that cartoons are made for stupid kids so they still made the movie too mature for the only audience that would find it funny.  The majority of the performances in the movie were either way over the top or somewhat disinterested in participating in the movie, but the stunts were pretty outstanding.  I’m happy that I’ve filled a gap in my movie knowledge by watching this movie, but I wish it had been any good.  You can skip it.  The Cannonball Run gets “These people make terrorists look like the Sisters of Charity!” out of “Da-Duh-DUUUUMB!”

Let’s get these reviews more attention, people.  Post reviews on your webpages, tell your friends, do some of them crazy Pinterest nonsense.  Whatever you can do to help my reviews get more attention would be greatly appreciated.  You can also add me on FaceBook and Twitter.  Don’t forget to leave me some comments.  Your opinions and constructive criticisms are always appreciated.