Daily Archives: December 19, 2012

Air Buccaneers Review

Air Buccaneers sounds like it started life in one of those wildly speculative contemporary forum threads. You know, the kind that start out with a question like “Dude, what if Skyrim had pirates?” A few posts down, another person, perhaps caught up in the excitement over BioShock Infinite, then cracks that airships might make the experience even more enjoyable. Before long, the thread erupts into a half-serious discussion about how awesome it’d be if these pirates and Vikings use these ships to battle each other, and everyone would agree that it was perhaps the best idea that no one would ever make.

Except it was made, and several years ago at that. Air Buccaneers first appeared as popular mods for the 2003 and 2004 releases of Unreal Tournament that pitted Vikings and buccaneers against each other in dirigibles outfitted with cannons, and at its height, this outlandish formula enjoyed a respectable level of cult popularity that eventually inspired Guns of Icarus. It worked so well, in fact, that it’s hard to fault developer Ludocraft for keeping core adjustments to a minimum aside from the expected updates to the visuals and the UI. The few new changes tend toward welcome changes to accessibility, such as a new perk system and the way it ditches the need for two people (or, as in UT2004, shoddy AI) to man the cannons in favor of a simpler one-button fuse and fire system.

To win you need to work with your team.

But such changes do little to diminish the cooperative challenge so loved in the original; if anything, they heighten its intensity. Then as now, there’s no room for lone wolves in Air Buccaneers. It never lets you forget that this is a game about teamwork and the dynamics of battleship crews at heart, and few games do such a great job of hammering down the importance of all hands on deck pulling their weight. It’s worth mentioning that smaller ships like cogs and the aptly named kamikaze allow some personal glory, but they’re mere sideshows to the massive rickety battleships that lumber about the unfriendly skies.

There are no fixed classes; instead, players take part in roles that can change depending on the situation. For my part, I spent the majority of my time with Air Buccaneers as a Cannoneer, the guy who mans one of the cannons lining either side of the ship and adjusts their trajectories while the fuse counts down. Other roles include Defenders, who patch damage to the ship and shoot down cannonballs and airmines with muskets–not so realistic perhaps, but neither are Vikings with cannons–and Guerrillas, who grapple from ship to ship and take out enemy crews with sword and gunpowder (although, alas, with melee animations that rank only a rung or two above those found in Minecraft). It’s this visceral act of boarding enemy ships and fighting that goes a long way toward providing a marginally superior multiplayer experience to the similar Guns of Icarus Online.

And then there’s the Captain, who stands at the helm and steers the mighty gasbag across the wastes of the frozen north. This might have been a boring task in lesser hands, but in Air Buccaneers it emerges as the most essential and demanding job on the ship. It’s the captain who barks out most warnings about approaching ships, and it’s the Captain who dips and raises the ship to avoid incoming projectiles. In its best moments, no other role feels so rewarding. Catching an enemy ship by surprise from above counts as one of the most satisfying moments I’ve experienced in an multiplayer game this year, particularly when my crew used the extreme proximity to destroy the enemy ship by rigging one of the cannons with a flamethrower.

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The Guilt Trip Review

A quick glance at the poster for The Guilt Trip, and this thought crossed my mind: ‘Really? Seth Rogen and Jennifer Aniston in a road movie?’ But looking closer (and actually reading the text) I realized I was in fact peering at a photo-shopped Barbra Streisand squeezing the face of Seth Rogen. The two had never before connected in my mind before this moment; but after watching them convincingly play mother and son, I fear they may be forever intertwined.

Written by Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love) and dedicated to his own mother Joyce, The Guilt Trip opens with a series of voicemails from the film version of Joyce (Streisand) giving helpful tips to her son Andy (Rogen) for his upcoming trip home to New Jersey. Andy, a scientist turned inventor, plans to drive from the east to the west coast for a series of meetings, pitching his cleaning product to retailers.

After the widowed Joyce tells him a story of a long-lost love, Andy Googles the name and discovers her former flame now lives in San Francisco and is unmarried. So, Andy invites his overbearing mother to join him on the road trip, secretly planning to reconnect Joyce with her ex at their final stop.

Along the road there are more laughs than I had anticipated, thanks to Barbra’s fish-out-of-water Jersey girl Joyce and Seth’s great comic timing. The two have a really nice chemistry together, and are completely believable as mother and son. But as the trip bears on, you begin to root for the lovable Joyce over Andy, whose annoyance at her smart advice starts to grate.

 Of course Andy is written to be a bit of a brat as he heads towards his predictable “learning” moment. You can guess what will happen next: the two will fight, he will then make the Big Speech, she’ll forgive him, and ultimately, they will both change. That may be all audiences need from a film like this – a few giggles contained in an unchallenging premise – but the formulaic feel strips the movie from having any real stakes.

The run time is only a touch over 90 minutes, but it feels longer. Again, that’s because you know where it’s headed, and you want to hurry up and get there.

There’s also not enough of the ‘guilt’ promised in that glossy poster. Joyce is loud, yes, and maybe cares too much, but certainly doesn’t guilt Andy into anything, and it’s clear he asked her to join him not out of guilt, but of genuine care for her happiness. But it is a nice punny title (originally the film was called My Mother’s Curse).

On the technical side, there’s distractingly obvious green screen in most of the driving scenes, and many times you can clearly see studio lights reflected in Seth’s glasses. These careless details take you out of the story and, in my case, into a daydream about what Babs was really like on set.

On the whole, thanks to a great pairing, The Guilt Trip is harmless fun. Streisand revels in her unglamorous role, and the two are definitely a much better option than the Rogen/Aniston film created in my mind.  (“Coming to theatres everywhere… He’s a former geek, she’s the beauty queen who bullied him at school, but together, they’re in for a trip of a lifetime!”)

THE VERDICT

Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand’s fun double act would have been better served with a less formulaic script, but their lovely chemistry will offer easy laughs for anyone wanting a simple holiday movie.

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