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I’m gon’ take you for an easy ride (The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, 2013; Mafia II, 2010)

Familiar with XCOM turn-based tactical games series? If not, it’s worth checking out, provided you fancy this kind of games. I could even write more about them, along with Shadowrun Returns.

Today, it’s The Bureau: XCOM Declassified that get my attention, an exception among these XCOM games: while it retains a bit of the tactical game spirit, it mixes it in into a third-person player. Not surprisingly, the game got lot of cold or bad reviews. So I did not even tried it until it got very cheap, despite having enjoyed XCOM: Enemy Unknown and it’s expansion XCOM: Enemy Within.

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Let say first that for a game released in 2013, graphics are not bad but neither smashing. The elephant in the room: being a realtime third-person shooter, this XCOM cannot have the chessplay gameplay of the other turn-based XCOMs. It’s something else. And it’s actually kind of fun, enjoyable -very Mass Effect 2-ish- with well-thought level design. The gameplay could prove boring/redundant over time but the game is short, finished in less than 14 hours, including minor missions. There are 2 DLC to extend the game lenght but, according to comments, the first in 10 minutes long -I don’t even understand how you put a price on that (0,05 €?)- while the second is ok but not making much sense in the whole story.


Anyway, the main story is set in the 60’s and it feels like it. It properly complement the rest of the series, it’s worth it, provided you get it on sale.

Another third-person shooter, set almost in the same period, easily found on sale these days is Mafia II.

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Likewise, the main game is a bit short: less than 17 hours in hard difficulty. By comparison to GTA-series, it’s damned short. But graphics are very nice, still decent even though the game was released 4 years ago. The only reminder that the game is actually that old are the few cutscenes that are pre-rendered videos clips: on my box and screen they are damned ugly (pixelated) by comparison the clean real-time rendered cutscenes.

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Not only graphics are nice but the environment (including the radio) is consistent. Add to that a good story that follows the codes of mob-related movies and you have this Mafia 2 experience.

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Boys, I am feelin’ mean.

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Your turn to drive I’ll bring the beer, it’s the late, late shift, no one to fear (End of Watch, 2012; Drogówka, 2013)

It’s hard to avoid cameras handled by individuals these days, is it not? Seems to me that Orwell got it wrong by large, mass surveillance is not the work of a Big Brother at all.

David Ayer and Wojciech Smarzowsky both made a movie out of that fact. Both are showing coppers at work: in End of Watch,  you got Los Angeles Police Departement street cops going on patrol with action cameras; in Drogówka, “Traffic Departement”, you got Polish traffic cops getting taped or taping with smartphones.

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Both movies share this aspect of stolen footage. But, obviously, they depict something a bit different: different places, different concerns. The first is more about gangs, the second about corruption.

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I’d point out that End of Watch main plot, unlike Drogówka’s, stops to make any sense at some point, loosing completely touch with plausible reality.  But that’s not exactly what matters. What matters more is the behaviors and relationship both movies describes. And both are worth being watched in this regard. Not to mention that they both have very entertaining action scenes.

The left newspapers might whine a bit, But the guys at the station they dont give a shit, Dispatch calls are you doin something wicked? No siree, jack, were just givin tickets.

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With the words of farewell from a garrison valiant and proud: Grieve not little darlin’ my dyin’ (State of Decay including DLC Breakdown & Lifeline, 2013-2014)

The zombie trend seems a bit off now (it’s pirates now: you can add Crossbones to the list) , so I guess that’s a good time to mention State of Decay. I already mentioned here the comics the Walking Dead and numerous video games that relates directly (Telltale The Walking Dead) or indirectly (Left 4 Dead), I’ll avoid redundancies. Let’s say this State of Decay is a bit of a GTA in The Walking Dead: third person view, open world.

Yes, it does look like a character from The Wire

Two DLC has been released. I do sincerely hate DLC but, in this case, since the game is cheap and they are cheap too, it’s acceptable.

The main game is a campaign – kind of easy, you’ll travel through a map following missions, fetch resources to escape. Breakdown allows you to replay on the map of the campaign with an increasing difficulty level – each successful escape actually increase it (endlessly?). Lifeline provides a new map and a new campaign kind of king of the hill mode.

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In this game, you can play as many characters as you befriend: you handle a group of survivors that are all playable. Each of them have skills that can be improved, so obviously there’s some sort of selection process, natural or at your convenience. These guys gather resources. And, obviously, the group will survive only if it can defend against zombies, at which end you create a base and set up outposts. Soon enough, you are playing something comparable to what is described in The Walking Dead comics. The only missing part is non-zombies hostiles (ie: they should work on that).

This car color is not redNumber of available cars drastically decrease each Breakdown level

The game has been described in some reviews as buggy.  Except for a problem with loading savegame (core dumped on exit/load: workaround), I have not noticed major issue. Sometimes, cars parked near your camp aren’t fixed even though you have a proper workshop set up in camp – so you’ll have to restart the game: not critical. Sometimes collisions are handled in a messy way and you loose a car in the process: not so terrible (ok, in Breakdown, car tends to be rare; but there is a hero to unlock to workaround it). The ranged weapon seems to have a weird distance limit (beyond which you can hit but never kill: so basically you just waste ammo and attrack crowds): well, shoot short range, I think that’s a feature more than a bug. The motion blur when graphics are set to max is ugly: set graphics to high setting and it’ll loose the cheezy motion blur.

Some sort of Recreational Vehicule

Breakdown could look a bit repetitive. It’s actually kind of addictive. You start with basic characters. First levels, you improve them and unlock new ones (often with specific know how) by doing challenges. Clearly, an undeveloped one could not withstand any fight say of 5th level; focus on character with melee fighting skills, since that’s what save your life when you get surrounded; avoid shotgun, there is only one shotgun ammunition type, and looking at the results, it looks like it’s some sort of birdshot (pellets – spreading wide, slow down multiple foes but rarely hit them in the face enough to actually get a kill), definitely nothing like brenneke (slug: one projectile only, making heavy damage and sensibly accurate for the range used in the game). Cars are also very useful for crowd management in first levels; going backward you can ram hordes like mad. At later level, you’ll find that car takes too much damage so it’s better to use other means (one molotov cocktail should be enough to kill a horde running towards you since they’re packed). You switch to the next level whenever you want as soon as you fixed your RV (yes, that should remind you of something). And then you’ll restart from a different position with 6 guys you selected from your group. Even though some places to set up camp seems best (more space, more outposts etc) some of the worse can actually be fun to play. I started level 5 setting up to The Alamo (“Overall, the Alamo is difficult to defend”), temporarily I thought. But its central location in an area with lot of resources is a good tradeoff for poor security. And putting lot of people inside, I did not find it hard to defend at that level.

Remember the Alamo
I’ve only started playing Lifeline, I cannot comment it much so far, except that is seems to up the difficulty level even more. You have one base, only one available, and incoming orcszombies must die. Hey Santa Anna we’re killing your soldiers below, that men where ever they go, will remember the Alamo.

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Minns ni än, för länge sen… (Potop, 1974; Ogniem i mieczem, 1999; Mount & Blade: With Fire & Sword, 2011)

Familiar with Henryk Sienkiewicz? Ever watched Quo Vadis? No? Ever heard about a mess in Central/Eastern Europe about Russia, Ukraine and Crimea? Interested? Then Sienkiewicz’s Trilogy is worth a look, even if, or because, it’s about this area in 17th century and not nowadays.

Ogniem i mieczem, “With Fire and Sword”, the most recent movie, is the adaptation of the first book. It depicts Khmelnytsky Uprising: a cossacks‘s rebellion against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth rule that, at some point led to the idea of Ukraine as autonomous state, which won’t really happen durably until 1917. The movie is kind of fast-paced. The little story is kind of simple though, it opposes two characters, Jan Skrzetuski and Yuri Bohun, in war, the later being a cossack, and for the love of some girl.

Potop, “The Deluge”, the second movie, way older, is the adaptation of the second book. As the title suggests, it’s about the period following Khmelnytsky uprising called in poland Potop szwedzki, the invasion of the Commonwealth by swedish forces of king Karl X Gustav. The main character, Andrzej Kmicic, will notably take part in the defense of the Jasna Góra monastery in Częstochowa. The story is much more subtle than Ogniem i mieczem. Even though Bohun isn’t all evil, Kmicic is a much more complex character, feeling always on the wrong side and forced to be for honor.

I haven’t watched Pan Wołodyjowski, “Colonel Wolodyjowski”, yet, simply because so far I did not manage to get an original version in proper quality. Even though it’s the first movie (1968!), it’s the last book of the trilogy nonetheless. As such, it should be about wars between the Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire in the late 17th century.

And this leads me to Mount & Blade. Mount & Blade is a video game that mix FPS and RPG. You live in some sort of sandbox where some entities are always at war. You ride horses, do commerce or conquer castles and towns, steal for merchants or chase bandits. Take an oath to a king or support a claimant to a throne. Whatever you want. Until recently, I mostly played Mount & Blade: Warband. That’s the improved version of Mount & Blade. Mount & Blade: With Fire & Swords exists too. But it did not sound appealing to me at first, when I tried it a while ago: guns (why?), seems a bit more buggy, less available mods (especially not the diplomacy mod).

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“With Fire & Sword” featuring a quest named “The Deluge” inviting you to go defend a holy site in Częstochowa? Ogniem i mieczem and Potop, yes, that’s it: this standalone transports Mount & Blade into the era and places of Sienkiewicz’s Trilogy. That’s definitely a good match, different factions in constant wars, with plenty of lords doing whatever crap, merchants in the middle, fights, Mount & Blade sandbox style fits the ambiance.

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It should be noted that the default map and entities names (Polish Commonwealth instead of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, etc) are not satisfying at all so you’ll definitely want to download and use the Neo Native mod, which does not change the gameplay but fixe these. Sadly, regarding quests, many little bugs or counter-intuitive issues will probably force you to use “cheats” (in some case, it’s unavoidable), but the experience is nonetheless worth it.

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Alike the rest of the M&B series, you can play for hours just to make little progress, collect some weaponry, improve your army. The FPS engine is kind of precursor to Chivalry: Medieval Warfare/War of the Roses: depending on your weapon, you can swing, trust, jab, etc in different directions depending on mouse moves. The engine allows also some kind of tactical approach to fights: you can give specific orders to calvary/marksmens/infantery -and I found in With Fire and Sword that the mix calvary/marksmens is overkill-, like holding a position/following you/charging, spreading in or out, etc. But in the end, especially when you are attacking town and castles, it’ll be more a matter of numbers than anything else –  so when you reach the point where your army is strongest than any other else, fights get repetitive and dull. Especially since the interface is kind of clumsy when dealing with numbers (for example, when you win a fight, you can often make prisonners out of the still alive defeated guys: for each guy you have to click once, you cannot do multiple selections, etc) So you can play for hours, days, but actually that’s probably the first hours that are most interesting. Fäkta på och framåt gå, I slutna täta led

June the 2nd Update: I managed to get a decent copy of Pan Wołodyjowski and must say I was a bit disappointed. The historical part is really secondary, the fight sequences are a joke. Not that it should not be watched, but it’s really not up to the level of the movies that followed.

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We are the kids of the 80’s, we don’t go to school we’ve given up (The Millers, 2013-2014; Surviving Jack, 2014)

Now it’s official, 80’s are hip. Family life too. Good, because Parks & Recs/Modern Family are getting more and more boring every episode – if actors are fed up with their characters, how could we not be? So any new stuff is welcome, like The Goldbergs are already mentioned here, set in the 80’s.

You got The Millers too: set in current time (no Freaks & Geeks clothes and colorset so) jokes are a bit expectable but there are nonetheless good lines served by good comedians (Gob Bluth/Devon Banks for one, not to mention Leon Black). It’s definitely not heavy heavy like Parks & Recs or Modern Family were when they started since the characters are much more conventionals. But, right now, it’s much better than these two and maybe it’ll be like Happy Endings in the end, improving over time. They already got the comedians and the writers, that’s not too far a stretch.

There are some other family-stuff related series being aired that I really don’t want to mention here (The Fosters? Seriously? – no, I wont even comment the pitch), just because I’m polite.

And there is Surviving Jack: set in the 80’s, with a famous comedian, and worthy of being so, as main character (Chris Keller/Elliot Stabler) suddently in charge of his son looking like a copy of Barry Goldberg. So far (only three episode aired, and I watched only one), only the main character seems to have any depth. But that’s still more interesting than recent Parks & Recs/Modern Family (I know, that’s harsh). Come on boys let’s do a shot There’s nothing else for us to do.

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Inconsistency #4: Unsere Mütter, Unsere Vater/Generation War E03

Called Generation War in English (traduttore, traditore), this TV mini-series is a decent german historic fiction depicting the (mis)adventures of five germans during WWII. It’s in general quite satisfying, each of the five characters shows a different perception of the events, and none of them is either overly bad or good.

Coming from the ZDF, so german TV, that’s a welcome change from the usual documentaries about neo-nazis (it’s flabbergasting how much attention received, during these last 20 years, from german TV, a sad bunch of more or less 2000 morons listening to cheap metal, wearing sort of camo’ baggies with paraboots, doing gigs in communal ballroom of villages of 25 inhabitants). No, for once, that’s kind of a clever portray of a complicated past. And, as such, it’s bound to rise mixed feeling. Are these five germans representatives, those this show help to understand the big picture, etc, etc. Whatever, I found it satisfying.

Until episode 3.

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Episode 3 makes absolutely no sense. They found the one Soviet commissar enforcing a no-rape of polish or german girls policy. OK. They also found the one US Army Captain that was fine working knowingly with an ex-Gestapo high rank officer to recruit new personel, in Berlin, for the denazified new Germany, and as soon as may 1945. OK. That’s overly misleaded and misleading. I wonder how these fucked up notions came to the mind of the screenwriter Stefan Kolditz. He should explain himself. I can enjoy some artistic license but historic fictions must have some limits.

But really, the most dramatic and major inconsistency is that we are presented with Polish Armia Krajowa as anti-semitic and given the impression that Poles were focused on being overly anti-semitic during this timeframe. Portraying as such Poland is a terrible joke. They had more pressing matters, serious foes to focus on.

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Of all countries invaded/annexed/puppet by/of Germany, that’s the one that no only had no noticeable collaborators or State collaboration policy, a fact rare enough to be pointed out – unlike France (obviously), Albania, Belarus, Belgium, Croatia Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Monaco, Netherland, Norway, Serbia, Ukraine, etc.

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Not enough? Of all occupied Europe, that’s also the one that had by far the largest underground Resistance with the Armia Krajowa (Home Army, AK, 380 000 men including jews in 1944, loyal to Polish exiled government) but also the Armia Ludowa (People’s Army, AL, circa 30 000 in 1944, pro-soviet) and the Narodowe Siły Zbrojne (National Armed Forces, NSZ, 75 000 men at its maximum, recognizing Polish exiled government and anti-soviet). Not to mention that the Armia Krajowa had the Konrad Żegota Committee, unique in Europe: its own committee dedicated to the rescue of the Jews. Even if it’s possible to find accounts of anti-semitism in AK, portraying the AK as such as a whole is definitely grotesque.

Unsere Mütter, Unsere Vater is worth being watched. But only until episode 3 – you can skip this offending hoax.

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Pour nous refaire des combats, nous avions à nos repas des gourganes et du lard rance, du vinaigre au lieu du vin (Long John Silver, 2007-2013; Black Sails, 2014; Expeditions: Conquistador, 2013)

Ahoy! Long John Silver, does it ring a bell? It should, that’s a character from Stevenson’s Treasure Island. And such, that’s also the title of a french comics by Xavier Dorison and Mathieu Lauffray. He was quatermaster under Captain Flint and this comic is kind of a sequel -the authors wrote they’d humbly rather call this a tribute-, the story of this pirate going to South America to find hidden treasures. I haven’t read Robert Louis Stevenson since so many years. I nonetheless felt with odd nostalgy this same ambiance of mysteries, treasons and struggles with the sea or forest. That’s a must read.

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So I was slightly disappointed it came to an end at tome IV, released during the second half of 2013. As such, Black Sails came as a good news – not a sequel but a TV-series prequel to Treasure Island. While being focused on the hunt of a treasure galleon, John Silver is there too, along with Flint real live and not as hearsay/legend. The general picture is consistent, there’s always something going on, that’s definitely good stuff. That’s a must see at the moment, at least if you like a bit of violence, dialogs, treasons and sex (but who doesn’t?).

Finally, I got Expeditions: Conquistador while it was on steam sale and had the good surprise to find the same keys ingredients: treasure hunt in an hostile environment with a team of moronic and fun lads and gals to deal with. Even though the game does not seems entirely bug free, even though sometimes I’m confused about the consistency of the difficulty (during fights, I tend to either get perfect success to total failure, not much middle ground), so far I enjoy the opportunity to play the Flint/Long John Silver somehow. So that’s a good buy, at least when it’s only sale.

Si l’histoire du Grand coureur a pu vous toucher le coeur, Ayez donc belles manières et payez-nous largement, Du vin, du rack, de la bière, et nous serons tous contents.