I like the 1993 comedy movie Groundhog Day. It tells the story of a misanthropic weatherman who is stuck in a time loop that forces him to relive the day again and again. But he is the only person who is aware of this phenomenon and who remembers the previous instances of Groundhog Day. Over a long time and hundreds of repetitions he slowly becomes a nice person and wins the heart of his lovely assistant which finally breaks the loop.
When I saw the trailer of Edge of Tomorrow it immediately reminded me of Groundhog Day. The movie promised to be a science fiction and action take on the same idea which appealed to me a lot. But as Silke and I often don’t feel like going to the cinema anymore (high ticket prices, not enough leg room, ridiculously expensive soft drinks, etc.) we waited for the Blu-Ray release which finally came out last month.
In Edge of Tomorrow an alien species called Mimics has invaded earth. Their sheer endless number of fast and powerful warriors have worn down all human military forces and conquered most of Europe already. Major William Cage, a PR specialist working for the US military, who tried to blackmail a superior officer to avoid a dangerous assignment suddenly finds himself with a combat unit that is going to take part in the invasion of continental Europe the following day. Branded as a deserter he receives no support from his unit and enters the battle on the following day without any combat training. The invasion turns into a massacre for the human forces. The aliens seems to expect the invasion force and manage to contain it at a beach. In the resulting slaughter Cage’s unit gets wiped out until finally Cage himself dies while blowing up an alien. In the next moment Cage is alive, unharmed and back to the previous day. He remembers the invasion including his own death but nobody else seems to. Cage tries to warn his superiors but nobody is listening to him. He is again forced to take part in the invasion and dies another death which returns him back to the previous day once more. This cycle keeps repeating while Cage is frantically looking for a way out. He finally meets Rita Vrataski, a hero of the Earth defending force, during the battle. Rita immediately seems to understand what is happening to Cage and asks him to contact her after he has returned to the previous day. Together they try to find a way to use Cage’s extraordinary ability to defeat the aliens and save mankind.
The Edge of Tomorrow is a very good action and science fiction move. Aliens that actually look and act alien, impressive fighting scenes and a clever time travel plot all contribute to that. But there is also room for the human aspect. At the beginning Major Cage is a slippery opportunist who only cares about himself. But the crucible of the time loop slowly turns him into a hero and somebody who actually cares about the people around him. It is very commendable that the makers of this movie managed to preserve the essence of Groundhog Day this way.
The Edge of Tomorrow definitely met my high expectations. Prior to watching the film I wasn’t convinced that Tom Cruise was a good choice for the lead role. But the role fits him like a glove and he plays the character very well. Overall I wish there were more science fiction movies like this one which combine a good plot with impressive special effects.
A couple of month ago I noticed that a lot my PlayStation network contacts were playing the beta of a game called Destiny. The last game whose demo sparked that much interest was Mass Effect 3. So naturally I was curious and looked the game up online: a combination of a science fiction themed MMORPG and a first person shooter. Based on that and favourable reviews of the beta I decided to pre-order the PlayStation 4 version of the game.
Destiny is indeed a first person shooter and a well made one at that. Fast and nice looking graphics, big maps, lots of different enemies and an arsenal of well balanced weapons to fight them. Besides story missions that can be played alone or cooperatively Destiny also features various player vs. player modes which are in design similar to video games like Unreal Tournament. Destiny also contains some role playing elements: the player can choose between three different classes for the character which match the scheme found in many role playing games: Titan (Soldier), Hunter (Rogue) and Warlock (Mage). Each of the classes features three grenade powers, a powerful melee attack, a special jump and a Super. This super power is what distinguishes the classes from each other. Hunters e.g. get a Golden Gun which fires three powerful shots while Warlocks can trigger a powerful explosion by casting Nova Bomb. If a character reaches level 15 its second subclass is unlocked. This subclass provides a different set of powers which mostly notably includes a different Super. The player can switch between the two subclasses anytime but needs to level them up separately.
Destiny provides a very satisfying first person shooter experience. The well tuned combat system, the elaborate map design and the smoothly working multiplayer mode all contribute to that. It is particular fun when you take on one of the challenging Strike missions with your friends. As the game doesn’t feature any get out of jail free cards (like e.g. Mass Effect 3 multiplayer’s Medigels or Cobra Missiles) team work and coordination are very important. You have to decide quickly whether you want to risk exposing yourself by reviving your team mate or whether you wait 30 seconds for them to re-spawn. The role playing part however is disappointing. There isn’t much story, only hints, very little dialog and no way for the player to influence the plot. And while the concept of the Super is interesting its excessive cool down times prevents the player from using it frequently. I end up using it even less often than I could because I want to keep it charged in case a really challenging fight is around the next corner. There are also very little customisation options for your equipment. Most armours look very much alike and you need an extra item to apply one of the predefined colour schemes. Acquiring good equipment is even more important than in other games because it is the only way to level up past level 20. But as so often in video games you either need a lot of luck or spend hours and hours of grinding to get the desired equipment.
I definitely enjoy playing Destiny despite the underdeveloped RPG aspect. It reminds of Borderlands 2 in a good way. And to be fair Bungie, the company who created Destiny, called the game a shared world shooter which is a reasonable description. They never promised to deliver the MMORPG that players were hoping for. Based on that I’m however wondering whether the game will really have a life time of 10 years as Bungie promise. It will all depend on future expansions to this game world.
I had it all planned out: when BioWare releases Dragon Age: Inquisition in October I would buy a PlayStation 4 (PS4), Sony’s new video game console, and enjoy playing this game on the new hardware in brilliant graphics. But my good old PlayStation 3 needed a proper farewell of course. I decided that Naughty Dog’s highly acclaimed The Last Of Us would be the perfect game for the occasion. It was supposed to be the last title I play on my good old console, beside the occasional match of Mass Effect 3 multiplayer of course. But no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy.
The first change of plan was due to a very pleasant surprise: my beloved wife gave me a PS4 as a birthday present back in April. But the next surprise wasn’t all that pleasant: BioWare postponed the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition until November. Fortunately Sony came to the rescue by releasing a remastered version of The Last Of Us for the PS4 . I therefore revised my plan and chose this game for the induction of my shiny new console.
On a quick glance The Last Of Us is a third person shooter. In a post pandemic world the player has to fight zombies and find supplies to survive. What sets this game apart is the story telling. It begins with an interactive prologue during which the player witnesses the beginning of the zombie apocalypse and the downfall of civilisation. It also introduces Joel, the main protagonist, and shows him during some of his defining moments. The main story begins 20 years later when Joel meets Ellie. By random chance Joel ends up in the role of Ellie’s protector and agrees unwillingly to bring her to a remote research station because she might be the key to the survival of the human race. But during the long and dangerous journey Joel and Ellie discover that there are worse things than zombies.
I’m a huge fan of video games which combine good gameplay with a strong narrative. And The Last Of Us delivers on both accounts. Because ammunition is scarce and the zombies outnumber Joel and Ellie you have to plan your fights very carefully. Stealth and good tactics always beat blazing guns. Often the best of course of action is to avoid open combat all together. In between the action sequences frequent cut scenes tell the multifaceted story. The player encounters a lot of characters which are all well written, realistically acted (via motion capturing) and excellently voiced. The game manages to stay clear of the stereotypes frequently used in video games and instead portrays all protagonist as real human beings with flaws and virtues. Playing The Last Of Us feels like being part of an interactive story. You are alway eager to find out what happens next. Good visual and sound effects complete a truly marvellous video game experience.
I greatly enjoyed playing The Last Of Us. While it definitely doesn’t push the PS4 to its limits (the PS3 heritage is still recognisable) it provides an exciting adventure. I grew fond of the characters during the course of the game and was a bit sad when it ended. I’m not sure whether I want a sequel. Probably not because The Last Of Us is just perfect the way it is and a sequel could ruin it.