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Entertainment

Volume 86 (Fall 2014 - Spring 2015)

Controversial Practices in the Gaming Industry

Call Of Duty Advanced Warfare 13991332947595Video games, as a newer medium of entertainment, have seen their fair share of controversy. Many are aware of at least some element of this, even if they don’t play video games themselves. I remember hearing from my grandparents (who don’t play video games) about “violent video games” such as the infamous Grand Theft Auto series. But what many non-gamers (and even some dedicated gamers) haven’t heard of are the controversial business practices within gaming.

Franchises such as Call of Duty, Assassins Creed, or Madden are the poster children of annual video game franchises, the merits of which are open to debate. An annual franchise is a series of video games, such as Assassins Creed, with at least one major release every year (in recent years, Assassins Creed has actually started to release more than one game in a year). On the plus side, for fans of the series, this means more content. However, critics argue that this also means a shorter development cycle for each game, and less improvements from one game to another. Proponents claim that the large development teams allow them to develop games more quickly, without sacrificing quality. One thing’s for sure: a $60 game every year will likely generate more money that a $60 game every other year, provided people buy it.

Imagine if there were a new A Song of Ice and Fire book released every year. On the one hand this would be great—more content for fans. However, previous novels were written over the course of several years. Would the same quality stay constant if they were both written and released in under a year? Getting back to gaming, there appear to be some annual franchises that have managed to keep quality more or less constant (such as Pokémon). However, other franchises once seen as the pinnacle of their genre, such as Call of Duty, have fallen out of favor, at least somewhat. Some, such as vocal gaming critic Angry Joe, believe this is a result of lack of innovation due to the rushed development cycles of annual franchises. 

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A Guide to Summer Must-Reads

beach bkgdThe snow is finally melted, the UGG boots and winter coats are put away, and the sun is out to play! Now that the weather has finally changed and it is nice outside, put down that television remote, pick up a book, and go outside and enjoy the sunshine. Not sure on what to read? Check out one of these 2015 “must-read” books.

#1. “The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she passes the same scenery, including stopping at one signal that allows her to watch the same couple sharing breakfast on their deck. She watches them each day and starts to feel as if she knows them; she’s even named them  Jess and Jason. But then suddenly she sees something. Something that is so shocking that it changes everything. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police and tells them everything she knows, but then becomes intimately intertwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone else involved. The question is: has Rachel done more harm than good? 

This instant #1 New York Times Bestseller is a must-read if you are into psychological thrillers! If you are a fan of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, then you will absolutely love this book.

#2. “The Walking Dead” Novels by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

In The Walking Dead universe, there is no greater villain than The Governor. These novels, along with the other books in the series, teaches readers how The Governor became the man that he is, and what drove him to such extremes. They also give a different perspective of how things went down in the television series. If you are a fan of The Walking Dead, these books are a must-read!

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"Little Boy" Tells a Big Story

Little Boy movie poster 640x480If a loved one was away fighting in a war, wouldn’t you do anything to bring them home safely? That’s the premise of Little Boy, a film about a young boy whose faith is tested as he promises to do everything within his power to bring his dad home safely from World War II.

Little Boy, released by independent film studio Open Road Films, opens with a narrator recounting his hometown, the fictional O’Hare, CA, telling us his story set on the homefront of World War II. The narrator remembers his childhood as we focus in on Pepper Busbee (Jacob Salvati), a young child who, according to the narrator, has no friends other than his father whom he fondly calls his partner.

Pepper is very small for his age, a short 39 inches, and never seems to grow taller. In fact, his short stature is a reason that Pepper is bullied by the other children, including Freddie (Mathew Miller). As the doctor’s son, Freddie nicknames Pepper “Little Boy” in order to avoid being punished by his father (Kevin James) for calling him a midget. This “politically correct” nickname sticks, and before long, the entire town is calling Pepper “Little Boy,” which, aside from being the title of the film, has an important connection to the war as the story unfolds. Without giving away too much, it is important to remember the name of the atomic bomb that is released on Hiroshima.

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"Elite Dangerous" Misses its Mark

Elite Dangerous 3Elite Dangerous has one of the most impressive foundations I’ve seen in the space simulation genre. The controls are complex yet precise, the sound is phenomenal, and the graphics are riveting.  Put all of this together, and you have one of the most atmospherically immersive space-sims I’ve had the pleasure to play (and I’ve played quite a few). Unfortunately, Elite Dangerous has a substantial fatal flaw: its lack of depth and content.

The premise of Elite Dangerous is simple: you play as the pilot of a spacecraft who sets out to make his or her way in a sci-fi styled universe. When playing Elite Dangerous, you will literally forget that you’re staring at a computer screen and not actually in a space ship. Elite Dangerous forgoes drama for realism, and this is one of its best features. When you accidentally crash into an asteroid, shattering your cockpit, you will see warning lights, but there will be no sound (true to the actual conditions of space).  It makes the game as a whole feel more believable, and it’s easy to get drawn in as a result.

The ships, space stations, planets, and even space itself are beautifully designed, with painstaking detail. Every ship has a number of unique graphical features, even the early-game ones that you want nothing more than to sell for a better ship. For me personally, one of the highlights of buying a new ship was seeing the new cockpit. Unfortunately, as the game is right now, the cockpit and the exterior of your ship is all that you will ever see. You’re never allowed to get up and leave the ship, or even walk around it (all exploration is via your ship).

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“Constantine” Lights Up NBC

constantine-originalDC Comics originally came up with John Constantine for the Hellblazer series, and since its first issue in 1988, both the series and character have been iconic in the comic book industry. Constantine, known for his trench coat, skinny red tie, and near-constant smoking, made his way to the big screen in 2005, as portrayed by Keanu Reeves. However, the comic series ended in 2013, being replaced with the Constantine comic series that features the New 52 John Constantine, who is both younger and was the leader of Justice League Dark, a version of the Justice League that focuses on the supernatural heroes/heroines and their otherworldly foe.

While the newer run of Constantine's comic legacy has been met with criticism, this reviewer feels the jump to television was a great move. Premiering Oct. 24 at 10 pm, the show, so far, features the iconic characters, chilling special effects, and a sense of disturbance and dread without the need for jump scares and other cheap tricks.

Beginning in the Ravenscar Mental Asylum, the pilot episode shows Constantine encouraging the nurses to give him electroshock therapy, saying, "Some days, you need to forget. Others, you can't," giving a hint at the personal demons that plague him. He doesn't stay locked up for long, because after an argument with a psychologist who tries and fails to convince him that demons aren't real, Constantine follows a trail of cockroaches to a possessed woman painting on a wall. After exorcising it, he sees the message was for him: "Liv Die."

This is a not a misspelling—Liv Aberdine, the only daughter of his late friend and mentor, is being targeted by an 'inner circle' demon and is going to die without his help. His dark past starts to get in the way at times, as he is forced to recollect the events that led to him checking himself into Ravenscar during a car accident.

The viewers learn, through flashbacks and comments from those who were there with him, that he was involved with an exorcism a few months prior to the show's opening. Instead of just sending the demon back to Hell, he summoned a more powerful demon, expecting to be able to command it to do his bidding and drag the lesser demon off. Instead, it dragged a nine-year-old girl named Astra to Hell.

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Emarosa Returns with “Versus” for Fresh New Sound

emarosa_versus_RGB-1024x1024Rise Records' post-hardcore outfit Emarosa released their third studio album titled Versus on Sept. 8, 2014. This release marks their first since their 2010 self-titled sophomore album and their first to feature new lead vocalist Bradley Walden.

The band parted ways with previous front man Jonny Craig in 2011 and stated they would continue writing music without him. After months of perceived media inactivity, they announced in mid-2013 that Walden would assume Emarosa's lead vocal duties from then on and that he would record a new album with them. This album became Versus and Walden did not disappoint on these recordings.

Emarosa established a welcomed presence in the alternative music industry with Craig. Their two albums recorded with Craig, Relativity and Emarosa, featured atmospheric and hard hitting guitar-driven instrumentals as Craig's distinct voice soared overtop. His trademark soulful tones, coupled with the ability to also sing with edgy, raspy belting, gave the band a crossover sound between R&B and alternative rock and gained the band exposure.

Walden's performance on Versus shares many similarities to Craig in terms of soulful crooning and powerful belting over aggressive music. Versus delivers hard rocking tracks that will please listeners who appreciate Emarosa's past discography. However, this release also has a newfound sense of experimentation and maturity that sets it apart from Craig's era. Walden's voice features deeper and smoother tones than Craig's. Rather than singing over the music, his melodies dig into the songs with a sincerity not present in the past releases.

Versus features tracks incorporating elements of pop and indie rock, which are two styles not prevalent in the band's back catalog. This exploration gives each song on the album its own distinct sound. Walden shows listeners his versatility as a vocalist, as his voice fits seamlessly across the eleven tracks.

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The Verdict on Robert Downey Jr.’s “The Judge”

the-judge-movieThroughout his long acting career, Robert Downy Jr. is best known for playing the superhero Iron Man, but his most recent performance in The Judge is sure to reinvigorate Downy Jr.'s image as a serious actor.

Interrupted by a phone call from his brother relaying news that his mother had passed away, successful but arrogant lawyer Hank Palmer (Downey Jr.) exits a Chicago courtroom for his childhood home in rural Indiana. As he travels, we learn that his marriage is crumbling and his relationship with his daughter, Lauren, is strained. The audience can quickly gather that Hank has a lot of animosity towards his childhood home, and is extremely reluctant to go there.

The three Palmer brothers, Glenn, Dale, and Hank, are reunited at their mother's funeral. Glenn has a family and business in town, and Dale seems to be socially awkward and married to his camera. After several references to "The Judge," we meet this infamous character in the form of Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall), a serious local judge for over four decades and patriarch of the Palmer family.

Although happy to see his sons after so long, The Judge greets Hank with a stiff handshake, which infuriates him. Pieces of his past slowly unfold the longer he stays with his family. It is revealed to the audience that Hank and his brother Glenn were involved in a terrible car accident as teenagers. As a result, Glenn's promising future as a professional baseball player was shattered along with his arm, and the boys' father harbored resentment towards Hank, blaming him entirely.

The audience also learns that the Palmer past is a hard one. The Judge once let a young man in court off easy for a crime because he saw reflections of Hank in him. Unfortunately, the young man was released from the short sentence and murdered a young girl, revealing that Hank's father is so harsh with him out of love and a fear that Hank would become a felon.

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Live Your "Fantasy Life"

fantasy-life-characterHave you ever wanted to wear a cape while walking your dog and holding a sword? Maybe you wanted to make a name for yourself hunting monsters and fulfilling the requests of a glowing, chattering butterfly. Or perhaps you wanted to live in a fantasy world where you can change professions at will, and wander around at your leisure, doing anything from saving the world to interior design. Whatever your desire, you can do it in Level 5's new role-playing game (RPG) Fantasy Life for the Nintendo 3DS.

The major draw of Fantasy Life is the freedom given to the player. The game starts with players customizing every aspect of their digital avatar. They could create one that resembles themselves, or literally have stars in their eyes and blue hair. They are also afforded a living space that they can decorate however they please. After picking their initial lives and meeting with the king, they are free to do whatever they wish. There is a main storyline, but it can be pursued at any pace.

In fact, there is so much to do that completing the story may itself become a fantasy. Players can easily get lost gathering materials, fighting monsters, exploring new areas, doing quests for non-player characters (NPCs), or trying to rank up their lives.

Objectives, both story and miscellaneous, are kept in an easy-to-reach journal and are organized by story, life challenges, and quests for other characters. Completing story objectives and challenges awards the player Bliss points, which allows them to unlock bonuses such as the ability to carry more items, or to adopt a pet. The more bliss a player obtains, the better.

One of the other major draws of the game is its life system. Each life is synonymous with a job the player can have. Possible choices include Paladin, Mercenary, Angler, Carpenter, Blacksmith, Miner, Woodcutter, Tailor, Cook, Alchemist, Wizard, or Hunter. Each choice gives the player certain skills and abilities that are unique to the class, with some offering the ability to collect materials by mining or cutting trees, and others to create armor and weapons, clothes, or furniture. As players complete challenges associated with the classes, they gain ranks which unlock more skills, special moves, and crafts that they can create.

These classes can be changed at nearly any time, and the player retains any skills and abilities they learned previously. Skills are leveled up as they are used, meaning players only need to change a class long enough to learn its particular skills before returning to their favorite life.

Aside from skill sets, types of items a player can equip, and certain interactions with characters being restricted to having a certain rank in a specific life, classes do not affect how the player can interact with the world.

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Lena Dunham is “Not That Kind of Girl”

lenadunhamNot many TV stars can make the tough transition from actress to writer. Lucky for Lena Dunham, her fantastic writing skills ensured that debut book "Not That Kind of Girl" didn't turn out just okay—it was incredible.

The book focuses largely on Dunham's adolescence and self-discovery phases growing up. She mentions a lot of her firsts: first relationship, first sort of online boyfriend, and first therapist. It is a delicious read in the sense that her words are so powerful and enchanting that you can't put the book down. A lot of people criticize Dunham for how she got her start in the business and how her family connections helped her get to where she is. I feel that her connections might have helped her get her foot in the door, but her talent is what has secured her spot not only as an actress, writer, producer, director, but also as one of the most creative people of our time and the voice of a generation.

In "Igor: Or, My Internet Boyfriend Died and So Can Yours," she talks about her 'internet boyfriend' whom she never me and later finds out has died. Dunham finds herself becoming infatuated with her new online suitor (like she does with most things throughout the book) and wants to learn everything about him. When she finds out through a mutual friend that has physically met Igor that he has passed, she feels somewhat heartbroken. Out of all of the chapters in this book, I really, really enjoyed this one. The premise that she found herself caring for this boy that she had never met only to lose him was just so tragic—almost like an episode of "Catfish" with no ending.

In another chapter of her glorious book, Dunham discusses therapy. Therapy isn't for everyone, but in her case it wasn't so much about deciding whether or not to go to therapy, but rather who would be her therapist. She talks about forming a special bond with her therapist and later having that bond become overwhelming to the point where she had to get a new therapist. Eventually, she found out that her therapist had a daughter her age, and they would later meet at college and become friends—a happy coincidence for Dunham.

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“Ultimax’s” Place Within the “Persona” Series

persona4ultimaxAs a "Persona 3" fan, I felt let down by the plot of "Ultimax" (although the "Persona 4" fan in me was satisfied). Within the "Persona" series, "Persona 3 and 4" are night and day. "Persona 3" is about gaining strength by facing one's own death. The Latin phrase "Memento Mori" is displayed during the opening sequence; it is then translated as "remember that you will die" (and a lot of people die in this game). Every time there is a fight in "Persona 3," the main characters raise a gun-like object (called an evoker) to their head and pull the trigger.

"Persona 4," on the other hand, is much more feel-good (and funny). In stark contrast to the "Persona 3" color pallet of dark blue and dark green (meant to symbolize rot and decay), "Persona 4" has vibrant pink and gold. Though it has several deaths, they are nothing close to what "Persona 3" does, neither in the number of deaths nor the importance of them. The theme of "Persona 4" is enjoying one's youth and finding inner strength by accepting oneself. Also, the evokers are replaced with tarot cards. In "Ultimax," these two games are fused together—this may not bother newcomers or "Persona 4" fans so much, but "Persona 3" fans will likely be disappointed.

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“Persona 4 Arena Ultimax” Fights Off Competition

If you are a fan of arcade fighting games for their mechanics and design, then you don't even have to read any further—this game is perfect. If, on the other hand, you care more about its narrative, then there are several factors which may detract from your experience.

"Persona 4 Arena Ultimax" is an arcade-style fighting game, developed mainly by Arc System Works in the style of Atlus's hit series "Shin Megami Tensei: Persona." The game itself is considered to be a spinoff within "Persona" because while it is not a core title of the series (like "Persona 3" or "Persona 4"), its events are considered canon to the "Persona" series plotline.

As a disclaimer, I haven't played a lot of fighting games (three that I recall are "Smash Bros," "Dissidia Final Fantasy," and "Injustice: Gods Among Us"). However, with that said, the mechanics, look, and sound of "Ultimax" all appeared to be flawless, and they have been received as such by critics. The difficulty when playing against computer opponents can be easily adjusted (in the context of Story Mode, it can even be automated) so no one should be prevented from enjoying this story by a single tough opponent or difficulty grasping the controls.

However, while I thoroughly enjoyed the gameplay itself, depending on the mode that one plays there is either too much or too little. In Story Mode, expect at most two percent of your time to be devoted to gameplay (it is essentially a visual novel broken up by the occasional short lived brawl). In other modes, such as Arcade Mode, you will find a skeletal story. One of my personal favorites, GoldenArena Mode, removes story entirely, but adds in character progression (you level up, increasing stats and learning or finding abilities). There's definitely room for improvement, but it's refreshing to see that sort of mode in an arcade-style fighting game.

The music and cut scenes of "Ultimax" deserve special mention. Although the music probably isn't everyone's taste, it is the epitome of its genre (mostly j-pop and j-rock). The same can be said for the anime-style cut scenes. A good measure of whether you like this or not is if you watch and enjoy anime; if you do you probably will like "Ultimax." If you dislike anime and aren't an arcade style fighting game enthusiast, you'll probably want to steer clear of this game. My only criticism is that I personally feel that there should have been more cut scenes (it felt like, and I'm being generous, 15 minutes of them, counting all of the story episodes and the opening).

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Contact Information

CAMPUS LOCATION
The Outlook
Jules L. Plangere Jr. Center for Communication
and Instructional Technology (CCIT)
Room 260, 2nd floor

MAILING ADDRESS
The Outlook
Monmouth University
400 Cedar Ave, West Long Branch, New Jersey
07764

Phone: (732) 571-3481 | Fax: (732) 263-5151
Email: outlook@monmouth.edu