big red ramblings: 002 A Ramble and A Review

First a little bit of ramble before we get to our main event. In October, a new MMO set in the DC universe titled DC Online will be released. It has been known for a long time that the game would be available for both the PC and the PS3. What has not been now officially confirmed until a few days ago, is the fact that cross platform play between the PS3 and the PC will not be happening. To quote the developers, ” Each platform has been optimized separately for the best and most balanced experience, so PC players play with PC players and PS3 players will play with PS3 players.” This strikes me as an extremely worrisome development, and here is why.

Console ports of games that were developed primarily or conceived initially as a PC game can be tricky things. Take Dragon Age from my favorite video game developer Bioware. When the game 1st came out, I still had my old crappy PC so naturally I bought it on PS3. I was super stoked for this game, having loved old Bioware games in days of old like Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights. Yet after only a few weeks of play, and about 40 percent of the way into the game, I stopped playing, moved on to other games, and sold my copy. This was because while not a outright bad game, neither the graphics nor the gameplay ever really clicked with me. Later once acquiring my new PC, I noticed that Dragon Age was available for dirt cheap on Steam thanks to a sale. Having repeatedly heard how much better than PC version of Dragon Age was compared to the console versions, I decided ‘what the hell’ and purchased the game. The difference in experience was like a night and day. The game played dramatically better, a unsurprising fact considering that Bioware had been forced to deliberately dumb down gameplay thanks to the limitations of console controllers versus the sheer adaptability of a mouse and keyboard. Also much improved where the graphics, proving that while the current consoles are impressive machines, they still cannot match up to high end newer PCs.

Which brings us back around to DC Online and the forced separation that will be occurring between PC and the PS3. I have already been on the fence about DC Online for quite some time now thanks in large part to my limited budget/time and the fact that, less than a month and half before the game comes out, we still have almost no concrete details about gameplay and other systems. I also remained unsure about which version I should buy, since both versions had their pros and cons. This announcement has only raised by uncertainty more, since I hardly want to play a lesser version of the game on the PS3. It is situational uncertainty like this, which causes me to turn to reviews. I know, I know. These days when I mentioned reviews, at least half the time I get eye rolls from whoever I am talking to. Which I do find annoying to be honest. I am not saying that we should blindly follow whatever critics tell us to do. I am all for individuality and personal taste, but sometimes objectivity is needed. But that is a ramble for another day…
I still have a great deal of hope that DC Online will turn out to be a great game. Either version. But for this gamer at least, no money is exchanging hands for this product until a great deal more information becomes clear.

And now for something a little different. I recently read a really interesting book (as in, for those who might be a little confused, the kind without pictures) and thought I would share my thoughts on it with you. Expect reviews of many different types of medias, and not just comic books, in the weeks and months to come. FYI, for those who these things matter to, the first book in this series is currently being turned into a TV movie by the BBC.

Book Review:
One Good Turn
Written by Kate Atkinson

Have you ever been walking down a busy street in a metropolitan location and had the sudden urge to stop, look around you, and wonder what kind of connection you might have to all these total strangers? Or have you ever thought to ask how the simple act of their walking the same street at the same time as you could profoundly impact your life? I strongly suspect that Kate Atkinson has, and once you read her excellent new book One Good Turn, the superior follow up to her 2004 instant classic Case Histories, you probably will too.

Retired private detective Jackson Brodie, star of the aforementioned Case Histories, wanted nothing more than to take a vacation in Edinburgh, Scotland while repairing his relationship with his ever more distant girlfriend. Unfortunately, the occurrence of two seemingly unrelated events, the first being a hit and run car accident turned nearly fatal beat down and the second Jackson discovering the body of a dead woman, will ruin these plans. Jackson soon finds himself on the case, despite the better judgment of both himself and Louise Monroe, a single mother police inspector assigned to the case who ends up working parallel to Jackson’s own efforts. Eventually Jackson and Louise, along with nebbish mystery writer Martin Canning and opinionated housewife Gloria Hatter (whose individual stories take up a large portion of the novel’s narrative), are forced into a violent final confrontation with the murderous and unhinged madman responsible for all that has transpired.

In One Good Turn, Atkinson weaves the lives of what should be otherwise fairly mundane and ordinary characters into a greater whole that operates both as a well written and exciting mystery and as a fascinating character study of the ways a group of strangers lives can intersect in unexpected or unasked for ways. Much like Case Histories before it, Atkinson refuses to let the often low expectations that people have for the mystery genre prevent her from telling a story of genuine depth and import. She also never once looses the darkly sardonic, yet not completely cynical, sense of humor that has always been a trademark of her writings. This in turn produces a novel that is, at times, uproariously funny and at other points almost painfully real. The novel can be dark at times, yet it never loses the essential hopeful nature that is its core. It is important to be clear on this point; One Good Turn is not only the most fun and enjoyable great literature you are likely to have read in ages, it is also a mystery of the highest caliber well belonging in any list of the greats such as Doyle, Christie, and Chandler.

The novel accomplishes this in so many ways and so seemingly effortlessly that it is hard to know what exactly to highlight. Still no discussion would be complete without at least a brief examination of the phenomenal characters that populate the story. These include Martin Canning, whose realism as a person boring and mundane remains strong, even while as a character he goes through the novel’s most compelling and memorable journey. Similarly memorable, albeit in a completely different way, is Gloria Hatter. Seeing the world through her often delightfully off beat and slightly twisted point of view is a genuine joy to read (“Gloria had never understood why you would want to wear an instrument of torture and death [the cross] as an ornament.” “[Gloria was] wondering if hitting her daughter about the head with the basting spoon would reprogram her brain a lot faster…”) and in all honesty she is so strong of a character that she could easily support an entire novel of her own. As for the book’s other two leads, Jackson and Louise, while they are not as flashy, they remain among the most realistic, likable, and believable examples of detectives the genre has ever produced.

Over the course of two novels, Kate Atkinson has proven herself to be every bit the master of the mystery. Whether a reader is looking for a compelling story of crime and answers, a riveting dissection of a diverse group of characters, or a simple and entertaining yet multilayered read, they are certain to find what they need in One Good Turn. By all accounts, Atkinson is already working on the next book in the series. This is terrific news for readers as by novel’s end they are likely to agree that One Good Turn deserves another.


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