Mystery Road [2013] Movie Review

Mystery Road [2013]

Mystery Road [2013] 
Director: Ivan Sen
Writer: Ivan Sen
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Starring: Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten
Running Time: 112 minutes

Mystery Road is a slow burn thriller with western elements set in the dusty Australian Outback. It’s a film that’s not afraid to take its time setting up the story, and its methodical pacing is both a blessing and a curse.

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Movie Review: Cheap Thrills [2013]

Cheap Thrills [2013]

Cheap Thrills [2013]
Director: E.L. Katz
Writers: David Chirchirillo, Trent Haaga
Genre: Comedy/Thriller
Starring: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton, David Koechner
Running Time: 88 minutes

Craig (Pat Healy) is having a really bad day. In a matter of just a few hours, he receives an eviction notice and loses his job as an auto mechanic. Now unemployed and staring at the very real possiblity of his family (a wife and infant child) being homeless, Craig attempts to find solace at a nearby dive bar. While drinking alone, he is approached by Vince (Ethan Embry), an old buddy he hasn’t seen in five years. Right away it’s clear the two have little in common anymore. Craig is a family man, no longer the skater and partier he once was, whereas Vince still has the same low ambitions he has had since high school.

Their awkward small talk is interrupted by a loud and boisterous man at a nearby table. This is their introduction to Colin (David Koechner) and his trophy wife Violet (Sara Paxton), a rich couple who are spending an absurd amount of money without a care in the world. Seemingly bored and looking for action, Colin starts proposing a series of dares to his new acquaintances in return for increasing amounts of money. The propositions start off innocently enough — $50 for whoever does a shot of tequila first, $200 for the first person to get slapped by a woman at the bar — but as the night progresses, the stakes get higher.

Cheap Thrills [2014]

Though darkly comedic to the end, the film really kicks into gear when the group of four go back to Violet’s house. The dares get increasingly vulgar (think bodily fluids) and violent (think blood, lots and lots of it). To get into specifics would be a great disservice to the film — seriously, do not even watch the trailer — as half the fun is seeing just how far these two men will go to make some quick cash.

Craig and Vince are the perfect targets for such shenanigans. Craig is, of course, looking to gain some income to keep his family afloat for the next several months, while Vince sees this as a way to make his life even easier. Though the two of them had been friends long ago, their relationship is now flimsy enough that neither is afraid to take drastic measures to make sure they get the cash.

Cheap Thrills [2013]

Pat Healy, the great indie character actor, and Ethan Embry both do so well in this. Healy, in particular, is frightening in his progression from everyman to a testosterone-fueled competitor. Sara Paxton excels as an emotionally vacant wife, but it is David Koechner who steals the show. Best known for his work in comedies like Anchorman, Koechner is much different here with his nice guy persona. There is a certain tension every time he is on the screen simply because he is so unpredictable. The fact that he is so generally friendly at first makes it so jarring — and fearsome — when he pushes his contestants further and further into increasingly volatile dares.

Although it may sound like a simple thriller, there’s more to Cheap Thrills than meets the eye. The film can be looked at as a commentary on the YouTube generation, a group that watches other people get hurt for their own amusement (it seems every day there’s a new fight video that goes viral). In fact, Violet is documenting the entire evening by taking pictures every time the guys do something senseless. There’s also an allegory of the rich controlling the poor (i.e. the 1% versus the 99%). But regardless of how you want to look at the film, it’s not something you will be forgetting anytime soon. Don’t be surprised if this is considered a cult classic in the next several years.

8/10

Top 10 Video Games of 2013

Last year was another terrific one for gaming, as no less than three games received perfect scores from me. It was another strong year for indies as well, especially on the PC and PS Vita. There were still plenty of titles that I didn’t get to play (Assassin’s Creed IV, Saints Row IV, XCom: Enemy Within, and pretty much every Nintendo game), so this may have to be updated at some point. For now, here are my top 10 video games of 2013:

Honorable mentions: Tomb Raider, BattleBlock Theater, The Stanley Parable, Killzone: Mercenary, Muramasa Rebirth

#10 – Rogue Legacy
Rogue Legacy
#9 – Tearaway
Tearaway [2013, PS Vita]
#8 – Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons
Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons [Xbox 360]
#7 – Defiance
Defiance [Xbox 360, 2013]
#6 – Outlast
Outlast [PC]
#5 – Dragon’s Crown
Dragon's Crown [PS Vita/PS3, 2013]
#4 – Gone Home
Gone Home [PC]
#3 – Grand Theft Auto V
Grand Theft Auto V [Xbox 360]
#2 – Bioshock Infinite
Bioshock Infinite [Xbox 360, 2013]
#1 – The Last of Us
The Last of Us [PS3]

What was your favorite game of 2013?

Top 10 Films of 2013

Brace yourselves, folks, because the top 10 lists are going to be running wild here this week! First up is my list of favorite films from 2013. There are still quite a few I want to see from last year (i.e. Blue is the Warmest Color, American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis), but I couldn’t wait any longer to share this top 10.

Honorable Mentions: Fruitvale Station, Frances Ha, Dallas Buyers Club, Mud, The Conjuring

#10 – Gimme the Loot
Gimme the Loot [2012]
#9 – Stoker
Stoker [2013]
#8 – The Place Beyond the Pines
The Place Beyond the Pines [2013]
#7 – Gravity
Gravity [2013]
#6 – Her
Her [2013]
#5 – Nebraska
Nebraska [2013]
#4 – The Wolf of Wall Street
The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]
#3 – The Hunt
The Hunt [2013]
#2 – Before Midnight
Before Midnight [2013]
#1 – 12 Years a Slave
12 Years a Slave [2013]

How about you? What’s your favorite film from 2013?

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]

The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]

The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Terence Winter (screenplay), Jordan Belfort (book)
Genre: Biography/Comedy/Crime
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
Running Time: 180 minutes

The Wolf of Wall Street is exactly what I expected it to be — a wild, drugged-out ride through the career of a larger-than-life criminal. Sex, drugs and profanity profilerate the screen. It’s so over-the-top in its debauchery that it’s bound to infuriate those sensitive to such content. One of the very first scenes, in which Leonardo DiCaprio snorts cocaine off the backside of a hooker, tells you all you need to know about what the next three hours hold. If that doesn’t deter you, well, sit back and enjoy one of the craziest films you’ll see all year.

Set in the late 80s and into the 90s, the film follows the rise and fall of a cocky young stockbroker named Jordan Belfort (DiCaprio). While he starts out fairly mild-mannered as a married man, he begins spiraling out of control after accepting a profitable job selling penny stocks. As his wealth begins to accumulate, so does his lavish lifestyle. He forms his own company, Stratton Oakmont, hires a handful of friends (mostly drug dealers) and then molds them into successful brokers. Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) becomes his right-hand man, and Belfort scores himself a new hot wife, Naomi (Margot Robbie).

The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]

Belfort’s excess and fraudulent behavior catches the eye of FBI agent Greg Coleman (Kyle Chandler). The two of them play a bit of cat-and-mouse as Belfort starts shoveling his money to a Swiss bank account. He always seems to be one step ahead of the game, yet he simply doesn’t know when or how to stop. Naturally, his habits lead to his downfall.

Does Belfort change? No, not really. The more money he makes, the more out of control he gets. He throws spectacular parties for his employees, most of which are full of cocaine, Quaaludes and orgies. He’s a pretty awful guy all around, yet DiCaprio manages to make him so damn charismatic. Leo’s performance here is both batshit crazy and also one of the best in his career. Watching him dance, scream and jumble around while strung out on ‘ludes is worth the price of admission alone.

The Wolf of Wall Street [2013]

The supporting cast is absolutely terrific as well, with no weak links anywhere. Jonah Hill often goes into frightening territory with his character, but his drug adventures with DiCaprio make for many of the film’s best moments. (On a side note, who would have ever thought Hill would have *two* Oscar nominations? Dude deserves them though.) Matthew McConaughey has a great scene in which he acts as a bit of a mentor to Belfort, leading him in an awkward-but-amusing chest pounding chant. Rob Reiner, Spike Jonze and Jon Favreu all have notable bit parts, but perhaps the biggest surprise of the film is Margot Robbie. This Australian actress is the perfect counterpart to DiCaprio, even managing to steal a scene or two from him. She’s definitely one to keep an eye on in the future.

The Wolf of Wall Street‘s excess may be a bit too much at times, and it does bear quite a few similarities with Goodfellas, but Scorsese is still in top form here. The dark humor is so twisted and off-the-wall that I found myself laughing often, and quite frankly there is never a dull moment within the film’s three hour runtime. If you can handle the vulgarity, this one will not disappoint.

9/10

Movie Review: Her [2013]

Her [2013]

Her [2013]
Director: Spike Jonze
Writers: Spike Jonze
Genre: Drama/Romance/Sci-Fi
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Scarlett Johansson, Rooney Mara, Olivia Wilde
Running Time: 126 minutes

In a world where a man can marry a video game character, is it really all that far-fetched that someone could fall in love with a computer operating system? That’s exactly what happens to Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) in Spike Jonze’s new film, Her.

Feeling more alone than ever after an unwanted separation from his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), Theodore purchases a brand new operating system with advanced artificial intelligence. The OS has its own unique female identity named “Samantha” (voiced by Scarlett Johansson). Samantha’s witty demeanor and intellectual philosophies intrigue Theodore, and the two of them quickly form a friendship. For the first time in months, he feels invigorated and ready to crawl out of his self-induced shell. Perhaps this broadening of his horizons is what pushes Theodore to seek out more than a friendship.

Her [2013]

On paper, this sort of relationship is odd and offputting. Yet in the world of Her, it’s not all that absurd. When Theodore announces his new girlfriend to his friend and neighbor, Amy (Amy Adams), she doesn’t flinch. After all, people are constantly talking on their smartphones in their own little worlds (though in Her, small earbuds have replaced phones).

While Theodore is walking through the futuristic Los Angeles, we are constantly shown dozens of people at a time, all of whom are talking at once — but never to each other. This is clearly a form of satire from Jonze, and it’s a bit sad just how much it hits home in today’s day and age. We have never been able to be so close to others yet remain so far apart. Quite honestly, I suspect we’re not too far off from having advanced AI like Samantha.

Her [2013]

And what a character she is! Brought fully to life with some truly impressive voice acting from Johansson, Samantha has quite the personality. It’s easy to see why a lonely soul like Theodore could grow so smitten with her. She’s funny, intelligent, open-minded and caring; basically, she’s the whole package, just not in physical form. Even Theodore’s friends grow attached to her; at one point, the two of them do a “double date” with another couple, and it never feels awkward at all.

There’s a lot to like in Her, from the performances (especially that of Phoenix, who honestly deserved an Oscar nod) to the wonderful score by Arcade Fire. My only beef comes from the ending. It was a bit too abrupt and nonchalant for my liking, though admittedly the final shot is a beautiful one. With so many ideas in place, it’s possible that everyone will pull something different from Her. Technology, relationships, compassion, humanity… can an operating system really take the place of a human? Is that sustainable? All I know is that given the time, we as humans will keep trying to find ways to make it so.

8/10

Month in Review [December 2013]

In order of viewing:
1) Barry Lyndon [1975] – 8/10
Barry Lyndon [1975]

2) Nebraska [2013] – 8/10
Nebraska [2013]

3) Killing Them Softly [2012] – 6/10
Killing Them Softly [2012]

4) The Hunt [2013] – 9/10
The Hunt [2013]

5) Grand Illusion [1937] – 8/10
Grand Illusion [1937]

6) It’s a Disaster! [2012] – 6/10
It's a Disaster! [2012]

7) Undisputed [2002] – 6/10
Undisputed [2002]

8) Solaris [1972] – 6/10
Solaris [1972]

9) The Passion of Joan of Arc – 10/10
The Passion of Joan of Arc [1928]

10) What Maisie Knew [2012] – 7/10
What Maisie Knew [2012]

11) Lovelace [2013] – 5/10
Lovelace [2013]

12) Gimme the Loot [2012] – 8/10
Gimme the Loot [2012]

13) Ikiru [1952] – 9/10
Ikiru [1952]

14) The Bridge on the River Kwai [1957] – 8/10
The Bridge on the River Kwai [1957]

15) The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug [2013] – 7/10
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug [2013]

16) Gone with the Wind [1939] – 8/10
Gone with the Wind [1939]

17) How to Train Your Dragon [2010] – 7/10
How to Train Your Dragon [2010]

18) Passion [2012] – 3/10
Passion [2012]

Video Games Completed:
1) Stick It to The Man! [2013, PS Vita] – 8/10
Stick It to The Man! [2013, PS Vita]

2) Tearaway [2013, PS Vita] – 9/10
Tearaway [2013, PS Vita]

TV Shows Finished:
1) The Sopranos [Season 4]* – 10/10
The Sopranos [Season 4]

* denotes rewatched

Best of the Month: Not only is The Passion of Joan of Arc the best film I watched last month, it is also my favorite from the entire 50 Movies Project. For recent films, both The Hunt and Nebraska impressed me quite a bit.

Worst of the Month: Brian de Palma’s Passion is an awful, awful film. Aside from a few stylish touches, it plays out as a generic, made-for-TV 90’s sleazefest. Rachel McAdams comes across as a weak ripoff of her Mean Girls persona, and Noomi Rapace is completely out of her element. Just think, this is from the same guy who directed the original Carrie.

And that’s a wrap for 2013! For the year, I watched 221 films, finished 43 video games (including DLC content), read 3 books and completed 20 TV show seasons. It was a fun year, but I highly doubt I will be able to sustain those numbers in 2014.

Stay tuned later this week for the grand finale of this year’s project!

Video Game Review: Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

Stick It to The Man!
System: PS Vita/PS3
Genre: Adventure/Platformer
Developer: Zoink Games
Publisher: Ripstone
Price: $12.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: December 3, 2013

It seems like every Tuesday there is a fun, new indie title that hits the Playstation Vita. Last week was especially fruitful, as it brought about the strategy RPG, Rainbow Moon, and Stick It to The Man!, a bizarre and oftentimes hilarious adventure from Ripstone.

In the aptly titled Stick It to The Man!, you play as Ray Doewood, a hard hat tester who gets knocked into a coma thanks to a freak accident. His world is turned upside down when he awakens to find a large, 16-foot pink spaghetti arm sticking out of his head. To make matters even stranger, his newfound appendage allows Ray to read people’s minds. This new talent becomes especially useful when Ray finds himself on the run from a mysterious chain-smoking figure known only as The Man. It’s your job to “stick it” to The Man while also saving your girlfriend from his evil clutches.

With dialogue penned by Adventure Time writer, Ryan North, the game’s wacky storyline never ceases to amuse. During my playthrough, I ran across all sorts of people — a pregnant man, a zombie jazz band, a woman with a white teeth fetish, and even Santa Claus himself. Best of all, every single one of these characters can have their minds read. In the creative world of Stick It to The Man!, anything seems possible.

Stick It to The Man! [2013, PS Vita]

The gameplay is a mix of platforming and point-and-click adventure. The platforming parts aren’t all that difficult, although there are a few tricky bits where Ray has to swing past enemies (usually The Man’s henchmen) in order to get to the next area. The adventure elements come into play when Ray needs to use his pink spaghetti arm. The Vita version takes advantage of the system’s touch controls by allowing you to physically touch the areas where you want to use this arm. This is much easier than using the right analog stick, especially since you will be using Ray’s spaghetti arm quite a bit.

Each of the game’s ten chapters are loaded with puzzles, most of which require some sly mind reading to solve. Occasionally, after hearing someone’s thoughts, a sticker will pop up in their thought bubble. Ray can then grab this sticker with his giant arm and apply it somewhere else that might make sense. Certain buildings and other parts of the screen can also be pulled back (again by using the touch screen), revealing more characters and objects that can be used to solve puzzles.

The solutions aren’t immediately obvious, especially since so much of the game’s demeanor is offbeat with seemingly random situations, but they do make sense in the end. There is also a helpful map that points out possible areas of interest, thereby lowering the chances of getting stuck. There were still a few areas where I was seriously scratching my head as to what to do, but a little bit of trial-and-error was usually enough to get me by.

Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

One area where Stick It to The Man! really excels is its overall presentation. The world is set in a beautiful 2D paper environment that has an almost Burton-esque aesthetic. On the audio side, a great deal of attention was put into the voice acting — every single one of the 100+ characters has their own dialogue, all of which is well done. The game’s snazzy jazz soundtrack is also a good fit for the overall style, as is the title screen’s inclusion of the 60s psychedelic jam, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)“.

Now, for all of its positives, there are a couple of minor issues worth noting. For one, on the Vita’s smaller screen it can be occasionally difficult to see the small white outline where a sticker can be placed. There were times where I would waltz right on past an object that I could have used to solve a puzzle, unbeknownst to me. I also noticed some sporadic drops in audio, where the dialogue would cut out for a split second, thereby creating a slight delay. Hardly anything game-breaking, but issues nonetheless.

Since Stick It to The Man! is a cross-buy title, one purchase nets both the Vita and PS3 versions. For fans of adventure titles or just quirky humor in general, this is well worth a look. The 5-6 hour campaign is the perfect length for a title of this nature, and it’s quite easy to pick up and play. There really isn’t anything like it on the Playstation Network.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

Stick It to The Man!
System: PS Vita/PS3
Genre: Adventure/Platformer
Developer: Zoink Games
Publisher: Ripstone
Price: $12.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: December 3, 2013

It seems like every Tuesday there is a fun, new indie title that hits the Playstation Vita. Last week was especially fruitful, as it brought about the strategy RPG, Rainbow Moon, and Stick It to The Man!, a bizarre and oftentimes hilarious adventure from Ripstone.

In the aptly titled Stick It to The Man!, you play as Ray Doewood, a hard hat tester who gets knocked into a coma thanks to a freak accident. His world is turned upside down when he awakens to find a large, 16-foot pink spaghetti arm sticking out of his head. To make matters even stranger, his newfound appendage allows Ray to read people’s minds. This new talent becomes especially useful when Ray finds himself on the run from a mysterious chain-smoking figure known only as The Man. It’s your job to “stick it” to The Man while also saving your girlfriend from his evil clutches.

With dialogue penned by Adventure Time writer, Ryan North, the game’s wacky storyline never ceases to amuse. During my playthrough, I ran across all sorts of people — a pregnant man, a zombie jazz band, a woman with a white teeth fetish, and even Santa Claus himself. Best of all, every single one of these characters can have their minds read. In the creative world of Stick It to The Man!, anything seems possible.

Stick It to The Man! [2013, PS Vita]

The gameplay is a mix of platforming and point-and-click adventure. The platforming parts aren’t all that difficult, although there are a few tricky bits where Ray has to swing past enemies (usually The Man’s henchmen) in order to get to the next area. The adventure elements come into play when Ray needs to use his pink spaghetti arm. The Vita version takes advantage of the system’s touch controls by allowing you to physically touch the areas where you want to use this arm. This is much easier than using the right analog stick, especially since you will be using Ray’s spaghetti arm quite a bit.

Each of the game’s ten chapters are loaded with puzzles, most of which require some sly mind reading to solve. Occasionally, after hearing someone’s thoughts, a sticker will pop up in their thought bubble. Ray can then grab this sticker with his giant arm and apply it somewhere else that might make sense. Certain buildings and other parts of the screen can also be pulled back (again by using the touch screen), revealing more characters and objects that can be used to solve puzzles.

The solutions aren’t immediately obvious, especially since so much of the game’s demeanor is offbeat with seemingly random situations, but they do make sense in the end. There is also a helpful map that points out possible areas of interest, thereby lowering the chances of getting stuck. There were still a few areas where I was seriously scratching my head as to what to do, but a little bit of trial-and-error was usually enough to get me by.

Stick It to The Man! [PS Vita/PS3]

One area where Stick It to The Man! really excels is its overall presentation. The world is set in a beautiful 2D paper environment that has an almost Burton-esque aesthetic. On the audio side, a great deal of attention was put into the voice acting — every single one of the 100+ characters has their own dialogue, all of which is well done. The game’s snazzy jazz soundtrack is also a good fit for the overall style, as is the title screen’s inclusion of the 60s psychedelic jam, “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)“.

Now, for all of its positives, there are a couple of minor issues worth noting. For one, on the Vita’s smaller screen it can be occasionally difficult to see the small white outline where a sticker can be placed. There were times where I would waltz right on past an object that I could have used to solve a puzzle, unbeknownst to me. I also noticed some sporadic drops in audio, where the dialogue would cut out for a split second, thereby creating a slight delay. Hardly anything game-breaking, but issues nonetheless.

Since Stick It to The Man! is a cross-buy title, one purchase nets both the Vita and PS3 versions. For fans of adventure titles or just quirky humor in general, this is well worth a look. The 5-6 hour campaign is the perfect length for a title of this nature, and it’s quite easy to pick up and play. There really isn’t anything like it on the Playstation Network.

8/10

 
(A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review.)

Video Game Review: Defiance [Xbox 360]

Defiance [Xbox 360]

Defiance
System: Xbox 360 (also on PS3 and PC)
Genre: Third-person shooter, action RPG
Developer: Trion Worlds, Human Head Studios
Publisher: Trion Worlds
Release Date: April 2, 2013

Defiance is nothing if not ambitious. The latest effort from Trion Worlds (creators of the popular MMORPG, Rift) is a third-person shooter set in a large MMO world, with the caveat of being a tie-in for the Syfy show of the same name. Defiance also has the distinction of being a rare MMO on the home console market.

I have to admit I am a novice when it comes to massively multiplayer online games, but Defiance‘s Borderlands-esque gameplay had me intrigued from day one.

Much like Borderlands, the core of the game revolves around shooting and looting. There are five chapters of main storyline missions, a handful of missions based on episodes of the TV show, and countless side quests. There is certainly no shortage of things to do.

Defiance [Xbox 360, 2013]

While exploring the in-game world, you will frequently come across others playing at the same time. While most people seem to be doing their own thing, occasionally you will see someone working on the same mission as you, allowing you to team up and work together. These types of encounters are when Defiance is at its best — it’s an especially great feeling to receive unexpected backup during a tense situation.

This is also an excellent game to play with friends. There are five co-op specific missions available, and main story quests can easily be started together as well (aside from a select few that are solo-only).

At the same time, if you prefer to go the solo route, the game can still be a blast. In fact, in many ways, Defiance feels like a single player game in an MMO environment. This is both a blessing and a curse. It’s nice to be able to do what you want without having to worry about others, but it’s also difficult to communicate with strangers online when you might want to. The in-game chat system is a disaster, as the only way to really talk to anyone else is by using the Xbox party chat function. There are a handful of default sayings and emotions that can be used, but these are laughable at best. Just being able to voice chat with others in the surrounding area would be a huge addition to the game.

On the plus side, anyone who has played a third person shooter will feel right at home with the controls. The game is easy to pick up and play, and combat is fine-tuned. There are a wide variety of guns to choose from, including traditional weapons like assault rifles and rocket launchers, as well as those infused with alien technology. Weapon types can be mastered over time, and the more you use them, the more XP you get.

Defiance [Xbox 360]

Now, even though there are quite a few weapons available, the game has a bizarre looting system. It’s quite possible to find a decent gun at the beginning of the game and just keep it for the rest of your playing time. Loot is plentiful, but it’s difficult to find a weapon that is significantly better than what you may already have. There are various forms of each weapon (ranging from white “common” types to the ultra-rare oranges), but each upgrade only slightly tweaks the overall gun performance. For a game that prides itself on looting, it’s disappointing that there is rarely anything useful to be found. It is rumored that Trion is performing a complete overhaul of the weapons system, however, so this may no longer be an issue at some point.

Defiance is constantly being patched, so the game is always worth keeping an eye on, even if you haven’t played in a while. A recent upgrade finally allowed for the release of more hard-to-find weapons, a much-welcomed feature. Most patches just fix bugs and glitches — of which there are many (more on that later) — but occasionally Trion will make some major changes. While it’s fantastic that the game is still being updated months after its release, it can get frustrating to try to play the game, only to find a number of patches being forced to download first. By the way, on your first time playing Defiance, brace yourself for a lengthy download of mandatory patches (I’m talking well over an hour, regardless of speed).

The in-game world is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, but there are always random events happening. At any given point in time, there is at least one Arkfall taking place. These events are where you will meet the most gamers. Arkfalls happen when massive chunks of alien ships fall from the sky, causing enemy scavengers and ark hunters (players) alike to fight over the wreckage. Successfully clearing out an Arkfall will net significant XP and loot.

Defiance [Xbox 360]

Aside from these random events, the wasteland setting is actually rather decrepid. There aren’t many memorable areas, aside from perhaps the ruined Golden Gate Bridge. It doesn’t help that the game is ugly — it could probably pass for an original Xbox title. A major sacrifice was clearly made in terms of the game’s visuals, and there are constant issues with graphical draw-in, disappearing objects and the like. This didn’t bother me too much, and in fact, some of the glitches are quite amusing, but it’s worth noting for those who prefer slick-looking titles.

What’s amazing is that even while Defiance has so many bugs and annoying issues, I still find myself coming back to the game. In fact, according to my Raptr profile, this is my most-played video game from the past year. The core gameplay, although repetitive, can be insanely addictive, and it’s a blast to play through the game with a friend. I love being able to earn XP in a variety of ways, and there are just enough tweaks and settings to keep the game fresh.

The suggested retail price of Defiance has dropped to just $9.99, and at that price, there is really no reason to take a flyer on the game, especially if you are a fan of third-person shooters. While it is by no means a perfect game, it’s still a fun adventure that serves as one of this year’s more underrated titles.

8/10