If you like more than one pop culture medium, the middle of fall necessitates your transformation into a quivering, overstimulated fan of “Fever Dog” mumbling “It’s all happening … it’s all happening…”
If you like nonfiction books seeped with pop sociology, that has meant shelling out for the latest Malcolm Gladwell white-covered compendium, Chuck Klosterman’s latest batch of essays and ESPN’s Bill Simmons gigantic Book of Basketball (unless Amazon tells you your book will arrive the day of a book signing in Chicago, and you’re all ready to go, and just waiting for the mail to arrive, and the book doesn’t come, and you check online to see where the book might be, and the location is blank, and ARRRRRGHHHHH).
Movie fans can feel the same way, and it’s probably just a few Twilight covers to go until Entertainment Weekly rounds up all the Oscar bait into one freezing night’s worth of reading material. Music fans can track the big holiday season releases, or just wait for every blog’s best-of-the-year lists for downloading enjoyment. And video games wait until the most opportune time to provide an interactive experience that seems like a better option with every family holiday gathering.
So how best to start this home stretch of the calendar year? I heartily recommend The Onion AV Club’s Inventory. The listicle (or charticle, if you prefer to keep your introductory vowels) has developed a negative reputation among high-minded online writers, who view the traffic-baiting nature of an arbitrary list as something akin to taking literary advice from the producers of the E! Network. But the AV Club elevates this fluff to an artform with limitless topics and by diving deep into its staff’s nigh-limitless reserves of pop culture knowledge. For example, the subtitle-mentioned list on “Manic Pixie Dream Girls” identifies a movie trend, then each entry details both what makes this archetype what it is AND how the crazy/unique/free-spirited female character has grown all kinds of stale in all kinds of movies. So you might get the satisfaction of shared knowledge or opinion regarding Natalie Portman in Garden State, while also filing a few new movies to seek out/avoid as you see fit.
Comparative residents of the AV Club’s “heaven” and “hell” on each page, as well as shorter lists from guest listers, keeps the book varied and readable straight through. But most likely, this will be the type of random reading perfect for coffee tables or bathrooms (my apologies for being redundant if you’re a sick creature with a coffee table in your bathroom). And, best of all, the gimmick lives in perpetuity on the AV Club Web site.
After playing through Uncharted 2 and Batman: Arkham Asylum on the Playstation 3, the same lifespan might also be in order. Let’s take Arkham first. Super-slick visuals bring Batman’s dance with the Joker in the criminal asylum to life, combining both realism of environments with a comic book’s flair for exaggerated human forms. The game wisely combines Batman’s role as badass with that of a stealthy detective. While you occasionally will be forced to mash buttons to take down a screen full of baddies, that soon will be followed by silently taking down a room full of henchman with guns. In each case, the controls allow for a variety of options to accomplish the objective, rewarding both timing and patience.
Comic fans will love the attention to detail among the variety of characters in the game. And while only some figure into the storyline, the ones that do provide satisfying and challenging boss battles. A few other notes worth mentioning:
- As a casual reader of the major Batman graphic novels, I didn’t give much thought to the Scarecrow. That officially changes a few hours into this game. The awesomeness knows no bounds.
- The collectibles/unlockables are spread nicely through the game, adding an element of open-world exploring if you so choose.
- The extended gameplay arrives in the form of challenge rooms. Both in the form of stealth and pure brawling, these are like the concentrated action parts of the game in easily accessed form. The game rewards sufficient combos in the brawling and specialty take-outs in the stealth, and even after playing through the storyline these standards provide great challenges. Recent downloadable content added some scenarios/challenges, and you’ll scratch your head to figure out how the top of the online leaderboards figured out how to knock out five guys in 35 seconds.
If you have the skill, this game will reward you with replay value. Still, by the end of a week with the game, I needed something to help dissipate the frustration of being good but not great.
A few hours into Uncharted 2, and that kind of frustration was a thing of the past. I bought my PS3 earlier this summer, and had heard good things about the original game while seeking out more recent games worthy of my hardware upgrade. Now I realize the error of my ways. The adventure game plays like the best combination of a James Bond and Indiana Jones mashup. Again, superb graphics immerse you into the world, and near-faultless gameplay keeps you there for as long as you want. The story and level design succeed in making the game more than just a succession of cutscenes amid cliffhanging jumps and shootouts (although there’s plenty of those), but a complete package that led Adam Sessler of G4TV’s X-Play to say it was the best single-player experience he’s ever played. And I’m inclined to agree.
The 24-plus levels of intricate detail would be enough of a tease to play through the storyline again. But the Naughty Dog developers weren’t just looking to hook people recreationally, they wanted full-fledged addicts. So you’ve got a bunch of treasure not related to the initial gameplay well-hidden throughout the levels. And then there’s the online mode. Now I’m about as much of a killer as Barney Fife in a deathmatch, but the game provides some nice alternatives for people like me. The co-op mode allows a group of three online players to play through two different levels, and another feature separates 10 players into teams with the goal of getting treasure into your team’s chest.
I rent most of my games through my Blockbuster Online in-store coupons. And most of the time, I part ways with a game amicably when the game is due. But with Uncharted 2, I will be hard pressed to keep a Bogart-level cool when our paths diverge.