Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Undoing of a Leader by his Own Fears...

With this incident we really got to see what our Prime Minister is made of and nobody, regardless of political association, should like what they see.

Harper's attempted attack against Liberal Jean Chr├ętien’s vote subsidy was just the start of it but when you think about what it would have meant to Canada the timing could not have been worse. The original point of this subsidy was to limit the influence of corporations and unions on government policy because they were essentially prohibited from making big donations. When these kinds of wealthy institutions get their hooks in we start seeing all kinds of signature legislation being lobbied like, for example, deregulation of banks.

In a time when the world is reeling from the results of such policies Harper thought it wise to get that ball rolling again in Canada. Did he not see how illogical that was? Was he so blinded by the short term wounds his political enemies would have suffered that he didn't see this policy to be the opposite of what all Canadians were hoping for?

That is a leadership test that he, Steven Harper the man, failed miserably and that's a serious problem because leadership should be his priority. He should not his party's attack dog, he has a country on the verge of crisis to run.

You can say what you want about the coalition but it happened and that in itself shows a willingness for three of the four parties to work together and unify, an act that completely caught Harper off guard. It's not just that our Prime Minister can't do this himself, he can't even envision it happening under any circumstances amongst his peers. What is a man so unprepared in this way doing running a minority government? Our whole country needs to ask itself this question.

What the coalition did do is bring about the most shocking turn yet, a descent into divisiveness that only Sarah Palin could be proud of. Desperation caused our country's leader to malign a huge swath of our citizenry and in a televised address he created an 'us' versus 'them' paradigm where days ago none existed. It's obvious now that Harper's civility towards people who think differently than him is a thin veneer. There are apparently 'real' Canadians and others who are foreigners in all but name who have no place forming a coalition against HIM.

The Bloc may indeed want sovereignty, albeit privately these days, but they are still Canadian citizens, today, and mostly likely tomorrow too. They have a say in our collective destiny. They are not second class citizens and their involvement in any Canadian process should not be held up as suspect or vaguely labelled as dangerous. Any attempt to do so, as Mr. Harper did, should be appalling to all Canadians.

The last thing Canada needs is a leader who will gladly stoke these flames of disunity, where one half of our country is seething at the other half. Did America's latest string of elections teach both him and us nothing?

Harper's legacy is that he lead the Conservatives back in force on the national stage. That's a notable accomplishment that all die-hard Conservatives and Western Canadians who support the party can be proud of. Even they however have to see that he has to step down now for the good of the country. Being a Prime Minister is bigger than his vindictive agenda, he's clearly ignoring that, and in doing so demonstrates that he is unfit to lead. So long as he remains in power the divide will grow.

That there is no clear alternative does not excuse his deep and dangerous unwillingness to rise to the occasion that the times require of him. At least with a coalition the spirit and guiding principles of a minority government; of working together despite differences of opinion, would remain intact.
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THAT is the government we voted into office.

I support the Governor General's decision to prorogue Parliament however. Harper will eventually have to answer for his actions but in the mean time Her Excellency is giving a chance for tempers to cool off and for both sides of this issue to come up with measured responses. Hopefully out of this break some true leadership will emerge.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Path of Least Resistance... Ice Burn Eh? Seriously, Why Am I Not Getting Paid Huge Sums of Money for These Pithy Pearls?

Resistance 2 from Insomniac Games is the highly anticipated sequel to the fairly enjoyable Resistance: Fall of Man. Insomniac is one of Sony’s prize jewels, an exclusive PS3 developer who makes big hits on a tight time schedule. This time around however, for the very first time in fact, I wasn’t pleased with their output. This game has its moments and is sure to be enjoyed by many but I’ve played too many shooters to accept a second-rate product from a first-rate company, especially in the saturated season we fortunately find ourselves in.

Resistance 2 continues the story of Nathan Hale and an alien invasion that takes place on an alternate earth in our World War II era. The all-powerful Chimera have filled America’s skies with massive warships and are exterminating the nation in a maelstrom of nuclear fire. Playing Hale you will visit various locales throughout the States, gun down the inhuman enemy in droves, and perform the standard suite of special forces-type missions that are always used in games to explain how one man can destroy whole battalions of troops, detonate massive pieces of architecture, and change the course of a war.

Resistance 2 achieves an impressive scale in terms of both the size of its enemies and the amount of them on screen at a time. To do this however they had to sacrifice a large degree of detail. This isn’t so bad when the game has you in large, outdoor spaces but when Hale goes indoors to military bunkers the game looks cheap. The only time the game’s many indoor segments look pretty are when you are traversing through predictable alien environments with their mirror-like sheen, weird geometry, and utter absence of anything else. Just what are the aliens doing with those acres of empty real estate? Even when the environments of Resistance 2 look okay they don’t ever live or breathe. The atmosphere throughout the game is thin.

It’s apparent that the developers fell in love with Call of Duty 4 between their first game and the second. All of the shooter mechanics have switched over, from the iron sights aiming, to the 'red screen' health regeneration, to the limited weapon inventory. This could have been a good thing if they were able to achieve such precise results as Infinity Ward did with their game, but Insomniac didn’t. The shooter controls are spongy and inaccurate despite fiddling with settings so instead of achieving the more satisfactory ‘stop and pop’ style of gun play you’re forced to ‘spray and pray’ instead. As well the HUGE crosshairs are awful, part of that word is made up of 'hair' as in: thin strand of, for a damn good reason.

Hale is a super-absorbent bullet sponge on normal difficulty and as a result you don’t need to respect the lines of fire. You wind up learning that it’s okay to be hosed down with the glowing tennis balls that passes for lethal ammo because they hit you to little effect. Perhaps they had to make this concession due to the number of enemies attacking you on screen but the end result is unrealistic and inconsequential feeling combat. When an enemy has you in its sights and is plunking away at you three, four, five times, you know you still can take a couple more rounds before you need to get behind cover.

This slavish mimicry to another game went to the point where it even worked against Insomniac’s established strengths. This company has always been great at creating a variety of interesting, imaginative, and even wacky weapons with which to dispatch your foes. In the first Resistance game you eventually had access to a huge variety of firepower and the strength in that was there was always a different way to approach a battle. In the second game they went with the 'two weapons only' mechanic which is fine for realistic shooters but not so good with far fetched enemies. Every time a giant-sized monster appeared on the screen I knew there would be a rocket launcher or similar heavy weapon lying in wait for me. In Resistance 2 you are told in no uncertain terms how to play their game, a little too much for my tastes.

Hand holding: every game needs it to a certain degree, to keep players moving along, but when it happens too much it becomes the unwelcome guest. I don’t know why Insomniac thought that pulling the player out of the game into even the most minuscule of cut scenes was a good idea but it abounds and is wholly unnecessary. Another gripe I have in this regard is a certain type of enemy that cannot be killed in any way. You have the ability to bring down a three hundred foot tall creature but this one type of medium-sized enemy remains impervious to any and all weaponry.

Taking this to its logical conclusion one should surmise that an impenetrible enemy will spell the doom of the human race eventually but worry not, for there are invulnerable humans to balance out this clear advantage. Hale gains companions in this game, annoying tough guys who cramp Hale's style and chew up scenery trying to justify their existance. Also, the enemies rush right by them to attack you. Apparently poor Nathan didn't get the memo to pick up his invisibilty device and so you get to watch wave after wave of Chimera ignore your teammates and come right after you. You can hide behind your buddies but hilariously this does you no good. You are the squad's resident spank-monkey so pucker up and yes sir, you may have another. This my friends looks and plays as half-assed and unacceptable as it sounds.

What’s at the heart of these design choices is a ‘play our way or the highway’ philosophy that exposes the limitations of what you can do in the game. Once players experience this stuff they lose immersion. These are old school shortcomings and I don’t mean that in the good way. Most designers have dropped these conventions and so I am perplexed as to why Insomniac went back to them, to old design compromises that weren’t even present in the first game?

Beyond the single player experience there is what seems to be a beefy cooperative game and multiplayer competition. If you liked the game mechanics then these are welcome additions that will add value to the disk. After finishing the game I briefly tried these modes and came to realise that there was no way I was using this particular shooter to grind through a bunch of levels and upgrades. I just didn’t like it enough to spend any more time with it.

Perhaps Resistance 2 to was going to be a higher quality game that got rushed to completion? Few companies have been as prolific this generation as Insomniac has and maybe this game is revealing where their development schedule is starting to tear at the seams. I'm guessing of course. The first Resistance game was treated by most, including me, with softer gloves because it was Insomniac’s first attempt at a mature shooter and there was much of their good work ethic in place to mitigate some of the freshman errors. Now with this sophomore effort we see the game they supposedly wanted to make with the experience of the first, and the end result is my own personal final verdict on the franchise: Resistance isn’t a very serious shooter and it doesn’t need to be followed any longer. I won’t just be trading in Resistance 2 but the first title as well because this series isn’t going anywhere I’m interested in. Oh well, there’s always Ratchet and Clank.