Saturday, June 14, 2014

Destiny Alpha - First Impressions

At Sony's E3 presentation, it was announced that Bungie's new FPS would be playable within the week of the conference. I've had a considerable amount of time with the Destiny alpha and I thought I'd give you my first impressions, as a longtime Halo fan who was both excited and skeptical before-hand of the game's goals.

New and familiar.

The game plays like you would expect, shoot, run, jump, melee, and it all feels very responsive and tweaked to near perfection. What struck me with the most happiness was the fact that it wasn't as easy as I was expecting. There is some serious challenge here and I found it in the only Strike available in the alpha. Damn, was that hard. In a Strike, fight through hordes of enemies and eventually fight a boss. I never got to the boss. 

It's easy to pick up and understand, but it seems like there are advantages to really practicing. Supers aren't really that easy to pull off and while they are very powerful, they do require a uniquely great sense of timing and precision. 

The world is massive and this is only the Alpha, which only lets you explore Old Russia and the Tower, the social hub of the game. I was playing on a friends PS4, so he's had considerably more time with it than I have, and we managed to come across several areas that neither of us had seen before, in the hours of gameplay online or first hand gameplay. We found caves with unique enemies, hidden chests with money and guns, and buildings that took us to dilapidated highways and abandoned shipyards. The variety in the environments are remarkably enjoyable and they all feel like they belong. It's a big game.

The world is massive and that means you'll need to traverse quickly. The inclusion of the Sparrow, a speeder hover bike mount that you can summon at anytime outdoors, is a wonderful inclusion. It's really fun to drive and it's incredibly useful in competitive multiplayer.

Speaking of competitive multiplayer, the Alpha ships with only one mode: Control. This is a typical, stay in the area and control zones, type of game, but the style of gameplay really switches it up. The inclusion of magic, summonable vehicles, and a vertical movement mode really make the game feel unique and though the game mode itself might be familiar, it's new and fun enough to warrant a many binges. 

There are other vehicles available too, including a Fallen Pike, which is essentially, your Sparrow but way more powerful and way more satisfying to fly. It's got guns and an ability to strafe left and right on a quick dash. This vehicle controls like no other vehicle I've ever driven in any game. The way it sways through the air is immensely satisfying and I wish I could drive it forever. 

The ability to emote is another thing that makes this feel really great. It's a hybrid MMOFPSRPG. You will encounter players on their own missions as you explore the world of Destiny. The world is a matchmaking lobby and it's seamless and satisfying. 

Public Events breathe life into the world, especially when several of you team up for a unified goal. It's such a satisfying experience, I can barely form the words to describe it. It's Halo meets Borderlands meets Lost Planet meets Shadowrun. It's friendly to the familiar and inviting to the unknown. Anyone looking to experience a unique game this year really needs to check this out. Destiny exceeded my expectations in every way possible and it did so in only one map. 

What's difficult is that Destiny isn't really easy to explain. Hearing about it doesn't do it justice and neither does watching gameplay of it. It really is something you need to play and immerse yourself in to believe. Fortunately, this alpha is a free way to do that for people looking to give it a chance and the beta coming July 17th can be accessed just by pre ordering the game.

There are several ways to experience Destiny for free, is what I'm saying, so if you can, try it out. You've got nothing to lose and everything to gain. 

If the game turns out to be a more lush version of what I've seen today, I'd gladly buy this game for every console I own. I believe this has the power to be a game changer and I'm excited beyond belief to get my hands on the beta this summer. Hopefully, I'll see you there.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

My Top 10 Rise Against Songs

With "The Black Market" just a few weeks away, I thought it was fitting to go through a list of my absolute favorite Rise Against songs. Before I get to the list, let's set some ground rules.

I: My list will not be based on commercial successes, just my personal favorites.
II: That doesn't mean that commercial successes won't be on it.
III: Some might surprise you.

Let's get started.

10: Elective Amnesia

A hidden track on Appeal to Reason, this song starts off softly and builds up into anthemic chorus of energy and anger. The lyrics follow the same build up, starting in a soft poetry and evolving into an anthem. Mix in a trademark Rise Against political message about the environment and the inevitable doom that awaits humanity if we continue to be careless in our existence and treatment of the planet, and you've got a killer track with some killer insight.

9: The Approaching Curve

The most unique song on The Sufferer and the Witness, this song is almost entirely a spoken word poem, and it's pretty awesome. It's about a couple that looks perfect from the outside but in reality is going through the same things we all deal with. Or is it? That's what I love about this song. It can be about a lot of things. It can be literal or metaphorical and both interpretations are deep, but opposites. A literal interpretation would make the song grim, but a metaphorical interpretation could make it strangely uplifting. 

Tim's voice is surprisingly fitting in the spoken verse, which makes the chorus all the more impressive. It's a unique gem that's usually overlooked. It's probably the only song they have that's even remotely like this, which alone justifies it's placement on the list. Given the complexity of the lyrics, it more than earns it's place. 

8: Under The Knife

Also from Sufferer and the Witness, this song starts off with a riff that demands your attention and promptly sucks you in. It uses surgery and anesthetic as a physical representation of the struggles that people find themselves in when they're lost in their own problems. It's about moving on with your life despite the hardships that come your way. Of course, that's just one meaning. 

This is another song that's tough to decipher. It's extremely poetic in the way it's written. It's a song that very much reflects your mood when you listen to it. It's got a great riff, a beautifully written chorus, and it packs a huge punch.

7: Everchanging

This song is so spot on, it's scary. It's a song about love and how people grow apart. You'd be hard pressed to find another song on planet Earth that has more relatable lyrics regarding love. It's so well composed and well written that it deserves it's own "Top 10 Three Second Intervals of 'Everchanging'" list. It really is that good and the fact that it's also available in an acoustic suite, which more accurately captures the feel of the words, means this song is a no brainer for anyone looking for phenomenal songs, let alone good Rise Against tracks. The entirety of The Unraveling is pretty strong too.

6: Life Less Frightening 

This track off of Siren Song of the Counter Culture is both cryptic and straightforward all in one go. A nice instrumental introduction fades into a pretty great chorus. Like many of Rise Against's songs, this one is very open to interpretation. Though it's lyrics are tougher to capture, the music here is all amazingly well composed. From the introduction, to the chorus, to the soft instrumental bridge, to the build up to the final chorus, to the fading exit, it's a great track from a great album.

5: Architects 

Though 2011's Endgame wasn't as diverse as their previous albums, there was no shortage of brilliance in it. The record's opening track was a great example. Make it Stop was a close second with it's anti bullying message along with it's advocacy for gay rights, but musically Architects is just a cooler tune. A song about a generation of rebels refusing to give up the rebellious fire in their hearts, Architects captures the essence of what punk rock is about without alienating those who might not care to listen to it. Not only does it have a direct line of criticism to Against Me's "Teenage Anarchist" in it's bridge, it's also got some of the most powerful lyrics in a final chorus in any song I've ever seen. 

An unapologetic anthem for rebellious attitudes, Architects is a gem. Uplifting and empowering, it's a great listen for anyone trying to get pumped up for any occasion. 

4: From Heads Unworthy

It was a tough choice between this and Re-Education (Through Labor), but as good as that song is, I had to give it to this one simply because it's so under-appreciated. Mixing themes of love and rebellion against the powerful, From Heads Unworthy is a song that says what we all want to say and challenges us to progress and build a future where it's message isn't a call for action, but a remembrance of actions already taken. 

A ridiculously palpable chorus, an awesome tonal shift in the bridge, and an overall catchy melody, this song is a great song for any occasion. Top it off with an empowering final crescendo and you've got a winner.

3: Voices Off Camera

A great album always has a relatable song, and Voices Off Camera is nothing but. A song about the intricacies of social anxiety and feelings of alienation, this was one of the first songs that made me realize that music had more power than just a pleasant sound. Dealing with everything from fear of success and the expectations we put on ourselves to self imposed failure, Voices Off Camera is an introspective view of the individual who doesn't fit in. 

It's an anthem for the counter culture and it's pretty brilliant. 

2: Satellite 

Another under-appreciated gem off of Endgame, Satellite is a song about uprising. A song that lets the listener know that actual revolution and real change begins only when we take action. At least, that's how one can interpret it. Like many Rise Against songs, this has themes of politics as well as love. What doesn't change though, is the tone. The chorus is designed form the ground up to pump you up and get you excited. The song is empowering, and the best songs are the ones that make us feel like we can punch the moon. 

While it's lyrics and execution is fairly simple, Satellite is exciting, it's uplifting, it's energizing, and it's anthemic nature never gets old. 

Before we move on to number one, let's see some honorable mentions. These are songs that almost took number one, but ultimately couldn't stand up against the final number one choice. 

Honorable Mentions-
-Prayer of the Refugee
-Join The Ranks
-Heaven Knows
-Chamber The Cartridge

1: Survive

The Sufferer and the Witness was an amazing record and Survive is evidence. It's uplifting, it's powerful, it's strong, it's loud, it's relatable, it's depressing, it's sad, it's empowering, it's happy. It's a reality check. It let's us know that no matter how hard we might think we have it, we can always overcome it. It's how we overcome our problems that define us. What's great about this song is that it doesn't undermine the emotions of those who might relate to it. It doesn't say that your troubles are meaningless because you have it good in comparison to others. It tells us that life doesn't always go as planned and that life is hard, but we can't let it destroy us.

It's a powerful song, in lyrics, in composition, and in tone. It pulls no punches and the bridge is a barrage of tough love and it's great. There are many powerful Rise Against songs, but Survive might be the strongest. I still have yet to hear a song by anyone in general that's as personal and as heavyweight as this one. Songs like these save lives. I know that first hand. 

Thank you, Rise Against. I look forward to your new ventures. If I can understand the future by understanding the past as Satellite says, I have no doubt that "The Black Market" will be one hell of a record.

Tim McIlrath