XIII – Review

XIII is a first-person shooter based on a Belgian comic book series started in the mid eighties that took inspiration from Robert Ludlam’s The Bourne Identity. I have never read the comic books so that isn’t what initially drew me to the game when it first came out; XIII was originally released in November of 2003. I was in love with FPSes and cel-shaded games at that time and this was a godsend. I played it probably six months after it came out and I remember liking it, but not loving it. Recently I’ve had the urge to play it again and since it’s a pretty short game I decided to go ahead and play it.

The game is centered on Steve Rowland, aka XIII, who suffers from amnesia. Apparently he has assassinated the president! Things aren’t what they initially seem as XIII globe trots to figure out if he really is the president’s assassin. Along the way he learns of The XX, a group that has ties to the assassination and which he is a member. It’s worth noting that David Duchovny does the voice work for XIII; Adam West and Eve also do voice work for key characters in the game.  It’s also worth noting that they don’t do that great of a job. Adam West gives a performance that seems… like an Adam West performance, the downside of that is that I don’t view him as a serious actor, it’s simply my frame of reference for him, every time he speaks, I hear his dialogue as sarcastic. Eve’s performance wasn’t terrible but David Duchovny’s was, he doesn’t sound committed early on. My biggest problem is there isn’t a ton of exposition that these characters are involved in. Most of XIII’s dialogue consists of one-off questions or statements until the end of the game when he becomes more aware of his past, which is fine for his character but did they really need to get David Duchovny to voice him? I’m sure investing in the game would’ve been better but attaching these “high profile” celebrities probably helped sales in the short term.

Blowing stuff up with the rocket launcher, hopefully a baddie.

Well anyways, the game is an FPS and a competent, if not boring one at that. There isn’t anything I can think of gameplay-wise that it excels at as compared to other FPSes. Nothing in particular was bad about the gunplay and action, but seeing a group of bad guys didn’t excite me, nor did I have different strategies for taking them down. This could be due to the heavy emphasis on sneaking around and a general sense of espionage. Much of the game’s levels require you to remain unseen and this sets it apart from being another “run and gun” shooter, but there is much trial and error and after a while, failing due to something minor gets old. A problem I had later on was hiding bodies. Throughout the game you have the ability to pick up and hide dead bodies, but early on you don’t need to, so towards the end when hiding bodies is a necessity, I found it hard to reprogram the way I had been playing the game up until that point. And with missions that required sneaking, it seems there were varying degrees of AI attentiveness which made it frustrating when something that worked previously, all of a sudden did not.

In gunfights the enemies never seemed lethal and I never felt that I died because they outsmarted me, only ever because they outnumbered me. Whenever I saw an enemy, I just stood in place and shot until he was dead, this method was helped by the abundance of medkits but playing on a harder difficulty would potentially require a change in strategy.

My favorite part of the game without a doubt was the art-style which was brilliant. The game holds up visually and I attribute this to the cel-shading. While nothing in the game is very detailed, the art-style helps offset this and lets everything pop. The graphics weren’t the only thing inspired by the comic book though. Whenever you get a headshot, a three part comic book panel pops up showing in detail the projectile entering the targets head; similar to this, if an enemy falls from a high location another panel comes up showing their descent. In parts that require stealth you’ll need to sneak up on enemies and when you move slowly or stop, you can see their footsteps as indicated by comic book onomatopoeias.

What happens when you get a headshot.

The last thing worth noting is the multiplayer and the exclusive modes depending on which console you purchase the game for. Anyone purchasing XIII this long after it’s come out, I imagine isn’t purchasing it for the multiplayer. It’s competent but not high on my list with friends over, but the game has bots and plenty of maps so it’s worth trying out alone. One big concern of mine is the lack of a dedicated grenade button. Throwing a grenade requires switching from a gun proper to the grenade, and this creates a different dynamic that I found unappealing for a multiplayer match.

The Xbox version (which is backwards compatible with the Xbox 360) has an exclusive mode titled Sabotage. This is a class based mode where one team plants bombs on three bases and the other team defends. The GameCube has The Hunt, which has everyone chasing around Death and shooting him to get points. With each shot he gets smaller and faster and if he touches you you’re instantly killed. The PlayStation 2 has Power Up, as well as The Hunt. Power Up plays out like a normal deathmatch except crates throughout the levels hold everything, from weapons and health to random power ups like invisibility and invulnerability. Although I didn’t play the PC version, it includes all three “exclusive” modes. Overall I found The Hunt to be the most fun and it’s something different from other games; unlike the rest of the multiplayer, this is something I want to try with friends.

XIII was a short and overall mediocre game. It ended with a sense of satisfaction although it does have a cliffhanger ending that leaves many questions unanswered, but for those dedicated enough to want closure, there’s the comic book. The art style was fantastic and while the gameplay isn’t the best, it’s competent enough to stick with it to see the end.

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Pluots

Two spring flavor pluots.

Pluots are a hybrid fruit combining plums and apricots. They’re often referred to as plumcots and there is great confusion about the differences between the two, even to me. I found an interesting article on Slate Magazine that talks about this confusion and helps clear it up; I’ll add a link at the end.

I’ve had plums before but I only remember eating them as a kid and I’m fairly certain I’ve never had fresh apricots. This was my first time tasting a pluot. I bought a few and they look just like a plum, although there are many varieties. The ones I bought were grown and sold by Kingsburg Orchards (who are located in Kingsburg, California) and are of the Spring Flavor variety.

One of the pluots I'd bitten into.

I washed them off and began eating them; at first I cut a few slices off but then I decided to just bite into them. The first thing I noticed was the sweet scent they emit. The flesh was whitish/yellow and very juicy. They didn’t taste very sweet; in fact they tasted tart and maybe a little bitter. I’m not much for unsweetened food so I didn’t like them that much; I also found the texture unappealing. Like I said, they were juicy but the meat almost fell apart, I’d say it was kind of soggy. I’d be willing to try different varieties of pluots but after this initial experience, I can’t say I’m a fan.

Kingsburg Orchards website
Slate Magazine article

Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars

A close up shot of the finished product.

After making blueberry pancakes I still had a lot of blueberries left so I wanted to make something that would use as much as possible. I was browsing the internet for something I thought sounded good and I came across Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake Bars on foodnetwork.com. I happen to really dig cheesecake and this recipe turned out to need a lot of blueberries.

I first had to take a trip to my local grocery store and purchase the ingredients as I had almost nothing that was required. Once I was home I began making the crust. I needed to smash up nine graham crackers, add sugar and cinnamon, then add half a stick of melted butter, mix it all up and break it down well. Having broken the crust down well, it needed to cook for twelve minute. With that in the oven I began making the filling.

In a large bowl I dropped in the cream cheese, eggs, and sugar and then proceeded to zest and juice two lemons. After mixing the filling well, which was conveniently around the time the crust was done, I dropped it into the cooled down crust. I then added 1½ cups of blueberries, making sure to spread them out better than I did with my blueberry pancakes. That needed to go into the oven for thirty-five minutes and cool for a couple hours before eating.

Once we started eating it, it went fast. I think I was a little overzealous zesting and juicing the lemons as the lemon taste nearly overpowered the blueberries, but I like lemons so I’m fine with that. If you don’t want the lemons overpowering the recipe, I’d recommend using two small lemons or zest and juice one large lemon. All in all it probably cost $40 to buy everything but the majority of the ingredients required a fraction of what was there.

The recipe

Blueberry Pancakes

Recently an idea popped into my head. I work in the produce department of a grocery store; I ought to eat produce often, not just for my health but to be able to answer questions like “how is this.” Currently I don’t eat totally healthy although I don’t eat terribly either. My plan is to buy something from produce and eat it straight or make something with it. The first item… blueberries!

A nearly empty case of Naturipe blueberries.

The blueberries were on sale: an 18oz container for $2.99, normally $5.99. They are super fresh as I purchased them on the day they were delivered; surely a benefit of buying fresh produce is knowing the delivery schedule. Naturipe is the brand and they are grown the US, specifically where, I’m not sure. The case says they are sold out of Naples, FL and checking Naturipe’s website showed me the location of their farms in Florida.

The blueberries are plump and juicy. Biting into one reveals the pale green flesh and a somewhat tart taste. My first thought was to make blueberry pancakes. I bought a case of Hungry Jack pancake mix for a couple of dollars and on the side of the box there is a recipe for blueberry pancakes which I decide to use. I made the batter, dropped in some blueberries and then off to the griddle I was.

Once completed, I got myself a plate, slapped some butter in between the pancakes and dug in. The initial pancakes only had a few blueberries in them whereas the last couple had upwards of eight. Next time I try blueberry pancakes, I’ll have to portion out the berries better. They added tartness to the pancakes and juiciness when bitten into. Personally I’d prefer to not have the whole blueberries and rather smash them together and make a glaze. The pancakes were very simple to make; all I had to do was make the batter and plop the blueberries in. All told, I spent about seven dollars: three for the blueberries, three for the batter and two for the syrup.

Picross 3D – Review

Before picking up Picross DS, I had only heard of picross through snippets in magazines and until I played it I had no idea why it received these mentions, when there had only been one game released in the US. Once I had got it, I was instantly hooked. I’m a fan of Sudoku and crosswords and for those who have never played picross, it compares to those games favorably to those kinds of games.

Notice the blue squares that have been marked in and the faded clues on them.

Before making the transition to 3D, picross was played in a grid (5×5, 10×10 etc.) and to complete it you’d fill in boxes by the clues given to you on the outside of the rows and columns; once completed, an image is revealed. I would have been happy with more puzzles for picross but instead they went and added another dimension which changes the game dramatically, yet it still retains familiar elements that make it picross.

In Picross 3D you are now given a 3D grid, that you can rotate and “look into” to figure out the image. Each image is completed the same as it has been in the past: each row and column still has the numbers that tell you how many of those boxes you need to fill in. The controls are superb and allow you to maneuver the starting grid easily and without any confusion. The game has a great, and lengthy, tutorial explaining every aspect of the game clearly and repeatedly which will help new players learn invaluable techniques and practice using logic to complete examples puzzles.

Creating a school bus with the creation tools.
There are more than 350 puzzles, and if my experience with the game is any indication, it’ll keep anyone busy for a long time. Whenever I play, I typically do a handful at a time or pop in some music when playing for extended periods; I seem to play it every night just before bed. Once you finish with the included puzzles, you can get online to download more, for free, for what looks like will be a long time to come. Even whenever I finish everything, I foresee myself going back and starting a new profile to do it all again, the game has a good ability to allow you that opportunity; once completed, I can come back to a puzzle and not remember how to quickly solve it, or remember the image until it’s revealed.

And if you’re the type of person that likes creating in games, Picross 3D also scratches that itch. There is the ability to create your own puzzles and then share them locally or submit them for themed contests. Without a dedicated community to share with, I can’t see the creation being that much of a draw, unless you have a friend or two who are into that aspect of games.

For only $20 it’s hard not to recommend, and with the amount of puzzles included, it’ll remain in your DS for a long time, but if you’re not a fan of games like Sudoku or crosswords, check it out before running to the store, regardless I highly recommend getting Picross 3D.

Super Street Fighter IV – First Impressions

Super Street Fighter IV Logo

I’ve always wanted to get into the Street Fighter games but have never tried or really had the chance. I bought a copy of Street Fighter II Turbo for the Super Nintendo a long time ago at a garage sale but I probably haven’t put in even an hour. Recently, while over at a friend’s house, we decided to pop in Street Fighter IV; coincidentally, this was a few days  before Super Street Fighter IV came out. My two friends were in a similar situation as me, they’ve played a bit of Street Fighter in the past but came away not liking it.

We played it that day and all that time was spent learning about the game. We were figuring out how to read the moves and what everything meant. This was a few hours of nothing but learning; we were fighting matches but they weren’t competitive.After this, I am of the opinion that if you want to get into a fighting game, you can’t do it alone, you need to have someone else who wants to learn as much as you do.

A day or so later my friend went out and purchased SSFIV and we’ve moved onto that. Throughout this I’ve stuck with Ryu, wanting to be able to perform all his moves on command (I still have trouble doing his Shoryuken and the two quarter circles for his Special and Ultras) but have tried a few other characters. They have each done the same thing, but with different characters. I have since purchased SSFIV and an arcade stick. The arcade stick, I think, has improved my technique and I can now play the game for long periods without a sore thumb. Now that I have the game I’ll probably write a review of the game once/if I play something besides versus.

Grandia: Day Three

When I left off yesterday I thought I was getting ready to fight a boss and that’s kind of true. Justin has a Spirit Stone from his father; it’s an ancient artifact and it opened a door that no one else managed to iin the Sult Ruins. Inside were two psychedelic rooms where I met Liete of Alent. She took Justin and Sue into outer space, or perhaps it was just an illusion. She convinced Justin to travel to the new continent to meet her. Upon exiting the area Colonel Mullen tried to capture Justin and Sue but they got away. Colonel Mullen doesn’t seem like a bad person as afterwards he burst into laughter and was happy Justin was so daring.

To get to the new continent I needed a passport; Justin and Sue learned they could get one from a partly crazy, old adventurer. I took a train to the Leck Mines, south of Parm. Once there Java, the adventurer, required they pass a test to get his passport. I traveled into the mines and explored it until I met an orc king who I subsequently defeated. Java gave them the passport and I headed back to Parm. To get to the new continent the group had to travel by ship but Justin thought Sue should stay in Parm. Justin sailed away the next day alone and without telling his mother, but she left him a note saying that she knew. After exploring the ship I found out that Sue had snuck on! Justin and Sue were back together and since she is considered a stow-away, they are required to do some manual labor.

TOTAL TIME PLAYED: 04:41:36

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