Posts Tagged ‘x-box live’

Farewell to The Rev

December 29, 2009

Today, The Rev died.

James "The Rev" Sullivan

For those who don’t know, James “The Rev” Sullivan was the drummer for the metal band Avenged Sevenfold. Yes, people die all the time. Sure, I’ve never met the man. The impact of his passing is nowhere near what a family member or friend would give.

But still.. it sucks.

I have to imagine that how I feel right now, is how young rock and roll fans felt when they found out Keith Moon, John Bonham, Cliff Burton, or Randy Rhoads died. It’s a meloncholy, blah feeling. A talented artist I enjoy has passed away far before the time he should’ve, due to reasons unknown. The future of a band I enjoy immensely is up in the air.

Avenged Sevenfold has a special place in my life.

In the fall of 2008 I spent most of my time working at a factory in town called Menasha. I would wake up at 5 AM every morning, work until 2:30, come home, and split time between bumping around the internet and playing X-Box Live. I mainly played the game Halo 3 with a variety of friends.

It was on Halo that a good friend of mine introduced me to a girl we had went to school with, yet I never talked to. (We knew each other as kids, come to find out, but that’s a story for another day.) Her name was Ashley. We hit it off right away, it seemed. We would talk for hours on end, a couple nights a week, playing games with one another while talking about a variety of topics. There were times we’d play Halo, even though we didn’t want to, just to talk to one another.

One day Ashley left a bulletin on MySpace asking anyone interested if they would be interested in going to a concert with her in November. Of course, I said, I’d be more than interested. Being a rock music enthusiast and live show addict, I couldn’t turn her down! The bands playing were Saving Abel, Shinedown, Buckcherry, and Avenged Sevenfold.

I had heard a song or two by each band, and didn’t dislike anything by them. I had seen Saving Abel open for one of my favorite young rock groups, Airbourne, so knew what they had to offer. It seemed like it would be a fun show, and if nothing else, I could find a few new favorites. It was a huge bonus that I could get to spend some time with an attractive young lady that seemed interested in me.

The night of the show came around, Ashley and I had a connection, we enjoyed the concert and had a blast. The entire night was very memorable, and I could write for hours about the experience. However, today I will only focus on the impact of Avenged Sevenfold on me that night and beyond.

After Buckcherry’s set ended with a disgustingly interesting 13-minute progressive rendition of their hit single “Crazy Bitch,” I sat there with Ashley talking about the show we had witnessed so far. Shinedown certainly left a massive impression. I enjoyed their singer’s passion for rock and roll, the depth of their lyrics, and the tightness of their compositions. Plus, their bassist played his four-string with a pair of drumsticks, how sick is that? They were an instant favorite and I ended up buying their shirt and album that night. Buckcherry’s set couldn’t end fast enough for me, as I felt their ballads were tame and their rock songs were repetitive, derivative, emotionally bankrupt, and sleazy for the sake of sleaze. I didn’t enjoy them at all.

Queensryche blasted over the PA while they set up the stage for Avenged Sevenfold, randomly enough. I wasn’t expecting to hear a chunk of the Operation Mindcrime album that night, but it pleased me and got me pumped up for A7X (of whom I had only heard “Bat Country and parts of the “Waking the Fallen” album before). Ashley couldn’t stop talking about how huge the mosh pits were going to be, how hard she was going to bang her head, and how brutal riffs were about to pound me into the ground. Sure enough, I counted FORTY-FIVE Marshall amps stacked on top of eachother on the back of the stage. Damn. This was going to be intense.

Sure enough, it was. The lights dimmed down. The only light on stage was a green spotlight on a keyboard front and center. A built man with sleeve tattoos, sunglasses, and shaved head began playing a haunting organ melody. I had no clue what was about to happen, and I could feel myself tense up. Ashley grinned at me wide as the crowd cheered, the band members running onstage. Synyster Gates began playing a beautiful intro.

All of a sudden, the built man playing the keyboards (M. Shadows) ripped out a long, fierce scream. Typically not into screaming, I braced myself and winced. What was I in for?

One of the best damn shows I’d ever seen, that’s what I was in for.

It was all uphill from there.

The musicians (including the amazing Rev himself) launched into a series of delightful churning riffs. Apparently this was their song “Critical Acclaim.” I watched, slack-jawed, as M. Shadows and The Rev exchanged incredible vocals. The Rev sang as he pounded away, viciously keeping time with double-bass insanity. M. Shadows practically rapped, in pseudo-Rage fury while Synyster, Zacky Vengeance, Johnny Christ, and company blasted my eardrums with their sweet heavy metal. This was delightful. This was what I had been missing out on by not being a metal fan for most of my life. This was music I could get into.

The whole concert was amazing. I loved the yearning chorus of “Afterlife.” I dug the country/blues tinges of “Gunslinger” and “Dear God.” I nearly fell over at the majesty of dueling solos during “Bat Country.” The lusty “Scream” stirred the animal within me. My fist pumped during “Unholy Confessions” and I made a poor attempt at headbanging to “Almost Easy.” Ashley far out-classed me in that department, with her long dark locks whipping around her head as she cackled, rocking it out to her favorites.

All in all, it was a great show. Whenever I spoke of the concert, I’d always make note of how impressive The Rev was. The only other drummer I could think of that compared to his versatility was Deen Castronovo. The Rev not only banged and thundered, he could be tasteful when he needed to. There was a new drummer I could add to my list of favorites, alongside Peart, Portnoy, Gavin Harrison, Chad Smith, and Steve Smith.

Ashley and I ended up bonding over Avenged Sevenfold several times after that concert. We would watch their videos on MTV’s website. I discovered Ashley’s amazing, soaring singing voice whenever she would cover “Afterlife” playing Rock Band 2. When I needed a laugh, she would provide with her “Duckie Dance,” flipping unseen foes off while snarling out the “Shh, be quiet, might p*ss somebody off…” parts of “Critical Acclaim.” She cackled at me one night, when I was exhausted and not in my right mind from a long day of driving, as I stated that “Scream” was a “modern heavy metal version of ‘Stone in Love’ on steroids.” When I spent a gift card from Christmas in a Target in another town, I purchased the self-titled Avenged Sevenfold album.

Avenged Sevenfold's self-titled

During long, cold days and treacherous nights I would grow exhausted and frustrated with my life. I’d vent by playing the game NHL 09 with a group of my friends. “Afterlife” was on the soundtrack, and would cycle as an ‘entrance song’ for our hockey team as we took the virtual ice. I have vivid memories of Woodbridge, Kuhner, Russell, Benson, Riding, and Chidester ripping onto the ice together as A7X blasted furiously, heralding the arrival of The Heartlanders. We also played “Afterlife” and “Critical Acclaim” while playing basketball at Russell’s private gym.

I needed to keep myself pumped up as I slogged my way to my humdrum factory job. What better way to do that than crank A7X while going to work? One of my favorite album sides to listen to on my trips to the Menasha plant was the first side of the self-titled record.

There’s video evidence of me playing Rock Band drums to “Afterlife,” my own awkward untalented tribute to The Rev. The video even includes me singing some incorrect lyrics badly. I remember the night clearly though, I had immersed myself in the song, became one with it and truly had “a moment” with it.

Early in our relationship, Ashley and I would take long drives for the hell of it, listening to music and talking about our hopes, dreams, and feelings. We would go back and forth between her favorites and mine. Somehow we could always agree with no fighting on listening to Avenged Sevenfold. My soundtrack of 2009, and for my relationship with Ashley is packed with the band’s work.

I vividly remember the day after Michael Jackson died. Ashley and I had a long conversation while parked on the side of high street about the effects of major celebrity deaths, or the deaths of any musician or athlete. Ironically we discussed how Ashley’s stepfather would need to be held if a Tennessee Titan were to die early. Steve McNair was shot and killed the next week. I thought about how I would feel if I lost a treasured Cincinnati Bengal…recently Chris Henry fell off a truck and perished. I recall all too well Ashley and I laughing about us being middle-aged and married, going through a midlife crisis and following the bands we loved in our youth, and travelling with Avenged Sevenfold on their 2035 Retirement Tour….

Revisiting the conversation we had after Michael Jackson died, I know Ashley said she would need extra cuddling if we ever lost a member of Pearl Jam, Shinedown, or Avenged Sevenfold before their time.

As always, I look forward to extra cuddles with Ashley tonight.

I just wish it wasn’t for this reason.

R.I.P. James “The Rev” Sullivan.

The Rev, a drummer extraordinaire and man lost too young.

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Video Game Review- Modern Warfare 2

November 24, 2009

Modern Warfare 2

There’s a very good reason I haven’t been updating this blog very often, if at all, over the past two weeks. I’ve been busy taking down choppers, laying down suppressive fire, securing strategic points, and infiltrating enemy lines in the new blockbuster game Modern Warfare 2, the latest installment in the Call of Duty series.

I was one of the millions of gamers across the nation who pre-ordered the game and stood in line awaiting its release at 12:00 AM on November 11th, 2009. This experience deserves a paragraph of its own as I had never witnessed anything like this before. Our local Game Crazy store was SWAMPED with people when I arrived at 10:00 PM on Monday. Apparently people started showing up for the launch earlier in the evening, and others yet had camped out in anticipation of the store’s opening to nab the first number ticket. Yes, a friend told me that he had seen people in tents outside the store at 5:00 AM. Insane… but not as insane as the fact that a man bought the 18th spot in line for $100. Yes, somebody just couldn’t wait a half-hour in line to get his game, and threw away a Benjamin to jump the wait. I did envy the man who sold his spot away, however, as he basically picked up a free game and a half.

After 45 minutes of waiting (Fifty other people, including a grandmother and an on-duty police officer, were ahead of me in line), I finally received my copy. I raced home, blasting Rage Against the Machine’s hit single “Guerilla Radio” in preparation for this event. I brewed some quick raspberry coffee, raced upstairs, slapped on my headset and ripped open my case in a hurry. I smiled in satisfaction as I watched my friends log onto X-Box Live, one by one, all ready to join me in combat on Multiplayer. One friend of mine walked a total of four miles to get his copy, braving wind and cold as he trudged through busy city streets. That’s dedication, folks.

Modern Warfare 2 Screenshot

MULTIPLAYER

The past few Call of Duty releases have had similar multiplayer to one another. Call of Duty: World at War‘s multiplayer seemed like an exact copy of that of Call of Duty 4 (time period alterations aside). I was afraid that Modern Warfare 2′s online battles would fall into that same rut as the past few games. While they were good games, the series was stagnating and beginning to feel like expansion packs rather than games.

Fortunately, Modern Warfare 2 is a different animal.

Compared to the previous two titles, Modern Warfare 2 boasts much more customization, variety, and replay value in multiplayer. The game retains the unlock-weapons-and-perks-as-you-play style as the titles before, which in itself leads to hours of addictive play. This style is beefed up with all-new weapons, weapon categories, perks, perk upgrades, customizable killstreak and deathstreak rewards, and challenges. Guns can be customized dozens of different ways, as the more you kill, the more you unlock; silencers, scopes, camo patterns, grenade launchers, and various other attachments can be added to nearly any gun. Pistols, shotguns, and SMGs can be dual-wielded. The excess grenade use that plagued the previous Call of Duty titles has been mitigated by different perks and less ‘nades in your starting arsenal.There are a handful of different explosive weapons and grenades at your disposal. Instead of being confined to three different killstreak rewards, you can unlock and choose your own strike. Whether you prefer UAV recon and airstrikes, or care packages and attack choppers, or even a tactical nuke; you can completely customize your style of play.

The maps are larger, more detailed, less clustered, and offer a grab-bag of strategic points and opportunities. Whether you and/or your team decide to camp a location, rove the streets, surround chokepoints, or man the rooftops; there’s really no limit to the ideas and tactics you can employ on these playing fields. One controversial move the developers made was to force all players in team games to be in the party chat; one cannot talk in an X-Box 360 party and play a team game at the same time. While this takes away the opportunity to talk with your friends that are playing other games, you’re forced to cooperate and communicate with teammates, promoting strategic conversation and, of course, endless trash talk.

I’ve spent nearly two days in game hours already playing the multiplayer with my friends, clan buddies, and even my girlfriend. There’s no thrill like unlocking a new, more powerful gun.. and the fun that follows in leveling it up and tricking it out with tiger camo and thermal scope. The “Chopper time.. hell yes!” and “AC-130 Gunship baby!!” moments that myself and my teammates have experienced have been very worth the battlefield grind it took to unlock the airstrike rewards. With the wide variety of weaponry and power-ups available, a team can mold a strategy for any gametype and any map.. and still have plenty of shoot-em-up fun.  Players can now customize their presence in lobbies with all-new unlockable Titles and Emblems. The multiplayer mode even offers third-person lobbies, a “mosh pit” that randomizes game types, and the thrilling “Game Winning Kill” cam. What’s not to like?

I have no qualms in saying that I believe the Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer mode is worth the price of the game alone.

Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Screenshot

CAMPAIGN

After several days of nonstop melon-popping and missile-dropping, I had to try my hand at the Modern Warfare 2 campaign. Of course, I chose to tackle it under Veteran difficulty, so I could experience the game in its most terrifying glory. With achievements to be unlocked, blood to be shed, and fun to be had; I was certainly looking forward to playing this.

At first, the campaign superceded my expectations. It was smoother and prettier than the other Call of Duty campaigns, yet still intense with all the fright and vigor of combat. Missions typically began and ended with interactive cut-scenes, and the loading screens connected the mission stories together with voice-overs and images. One critique of this campaign, which I also say about the other Call of Duty games, is that the characterization is a bit weak, many situations seem forced or disconnected, and some of the dialogue stale. That said, these drawbacks are minor enough that they don’t take much, if anything, away from the epic campaign.

There are many thrilling sequences and challenges in the campaign. From frantic truck rides through occupied Afghan cities to climbing icy mountains, from terrifying airport shootings to boat chases, and even a scene in outer space; there’s no shortage of unbelievable moments, popcorn-movie scenes, and fun-to-watch-and-play moments. The missions are all different enough from one another to keep the campaign fresh throughout, there are returning characters from the Call of Duty 4 campaign, and the surprising plot twists and shocking revelations make this one of the best stories in the entire series. There are images and scenes throughout the game that are downright jaw-dropping, ones that will be imprinted on my mind for ages to come.

Of course, there will be many moments where you find yourself constantly dying, pinned down by relentless enemy fire and struggling to find an escape route. This will be especially true if you decide to play under Veteran difficulty. The grind of going through fifteen lives just to make it through one city street, or taking one hallway, can be exhausting. Don’t give up, keep trying, try different movement and shooting patterns. Trust me. The game is rewarding when you tough it out through these exhausting moments. The shocking moments and fun mission varieties make up for the difficult challenges, no matter how long you find yourself hammering away at one part of the campaign.

Unfortunately, the campaign is a bit short.. but it’s definitely fun and interesting enough to tackle time and time again. This won’t win any awards for storytelling, but it’s very dramatic and worth your effort. I must mention before we continue that the graphics in this game are the best yet in the Call of Duty series.

CO-OP

There is no true cooperative campaign in this game. You won’t be able to unravel the plotline, gasp at the sheer grandiosity of the battles, and shudder at the brutality of war alongside one or more of your buddies. However, Modern Warfare 2 offers a new mode called “Spec Ops.” These are a variety of missions, challenges, battles, and even races that you can take on alone or with a friend. Depending on how hard the difficulty is, or how fast you complete the mission, stars are awarded based on performance and unlock new Ops to tackle. Many of the campaign’s thrills are offered without having to play all the way through to get to them. There are even a few Ops that don’t actually happen in the campaign, and are very worth playing on their own. With a couple dozen Ops, they offer replay value and a fresh take on the game’s addicting play.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Better graphics than ever. Thrilling, awesome campaign with its only drawbacks being brevity and a lack of major depth. An all-new co-op mode that’s fun to tackle alone or with a buddy. The best multiplayer in a Call of Duty game ever, which is saying a lot, with enough new features and a fresh feel to keep anyone playing for a long time to come.

Highly recommended to ANY gamer.. this is the best shooter I’ve ever played.. yes, better than Halo 3, which still holds a special place in my heart. But that’s a blog for another day.

Final Grade: A