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Review: Avatar and Bulletstorm

May 6, 2011

Last week, I mentioned that there was nothing going on in the news. Apparently, the universe was compensating for the news that hit last weekend. On Sunday night going into Monday morning, SEAL Team VI shot and killed Osama bin Laden. And now, Avatar and Bulletstorm!

First of all, I loved the visuals in Avatar. The film is…well, it’s absolutely beautiful. The planet Pandora looks photo-realistic (except for those damn flying mountains. Yeah, it looked amazing, but goddamnit, science does not work that way.), the creatures were amazing, even the fire looked good, which is not an easy task.

The visuals just make every thing else all the more disappointing. The story is Dances With Wolves…IN SPACE! I mean, my God. It takes almost every plot point from the movie. Injured soldier, sent out to the boondocks to pull security, meets the natives, learns their ways, and falls in love. I know that the researcher characters were supposed the heroes, but I just couldn’t sympathize with them. And I can’t bring myself to blame the actors, not when Sigourney Weaver is in the picture.

In fact, I was more entertained by the general and the CEO, the designated villains of the story, just for how huge they played the role. And the whole movie, the ecological subtext seems to be lecturing you about how white people/humans are bastards for taking the land/”Unobtanium” of the native people/giant blue cat people. I mean, I hate to compare it to FernGully, but…if you replace Na’vi with fairies, humans with Australians with suspiciously American accents, and “Unobtanium” with lumber, then it’s fucking FernGully.

And on that note, “Unobtanium”? Are you fucking kidding me, writer/director James Cameron? I mean, for God’s sakes. “Unobtanium”. Look, there are ninety four naturally occurring elements, sixty nine of them are metals, and nine of those are precious metals, plus coal, oil, and natural gas, fucking pick one.

I’m actually a little tired now. Pointing all this out was physically taxing. Avatar is a pretty good movie if you go in and turn your brain off. But I haven’t been able to pull off that little trick for a long, long time.

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Okay, Bulletstorm. I thought it was pretty good. Epic Games has essentially said with Bulletstorm “It’s okay to just want to shoot things without a story getting in the way.” It really seems like they’re trying to go back to the origins of shooters, back to the days of DOOM and Wolfenstien 3D, when “These guys are evil, you should probably shoot them” passed for a story.

And the hell of it is, it works. It works really, really well, in part because of the manifold ways to kill your enemies. Shooting is not your only option. I’ve long been a proponent of greater game-story integration, but I have to admit that it’s nice to see that there’s a developer willing to more or less dispense with the story. And I’m equally glad that it was Epic, after the job they did with Unreal Tournament.

In the final tally, Bulletstorm doesn’t have too much in the way of story, but this is one of the rare times when that isn’t a bad thing.

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