Stranger Things Season 3 Lives Up To The Hype!

Stranger Things is Netflix’s biggest show, not by viewership, that is The Office, but by mindshare. Everyone talks about Stranger Things and looks forward to bingeing it when it comes out. Media outlets post articles about it in the months and weeks leading up to its air date, and then think pieces are released after. It is must stream TV, and you have to stream it before spoilers are everywhere. The only place you can watch it? Netflix. Netflix needs the show to be good, and season three might be its best yet. Season one is was a mystery, season two expanded the lore, and season three amps up the action and tension.

A couple years have passed since season two, and the residents of Hawkins Indiana are going about their lives. After all Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) ended the threat at the end of season two, so there is nothing to worry about. Unless of course the Russians are trying to bore holes in to another dimension. That would probably be bad.

What I love about season three is that it really leans in to the 80’s action movie tropes. Of course their are Russians, and if you are fan of movies from that decade, there are a lot of other fun things you will notice as well. While, tropes and call outs are fun, the best part is still all the characters, they are as good as you remember them. Mike (Finn Wolfhard) can get a little annoying, but he is supposed to be. Stranger Things season three is also much more tightly scripted than two. It builds and builds until everything blows apart.

If you are a fan of Stranger Things, you have probably already seen season three, but if you are not a fan, it is well worth watching. I don’t think Netflix knew what Stranger Things was going to be when it greenlit the series, but now it needs it, and if it keeps getting better, we may start to need it to. I hope we don’t need to wait another two years for season four.

Woody Goes On One More Ride In Toy Story 4!

I am not sure how Pixar does it, every time I think I am done with the Toy Story franchise they bring it back and make it great. Toy Story 3 was the perfect ending to the Toy Story series, so I wasn’t too excited about a fourth big screen outing, but here we are, and it is great. I am not sure it is as good as 3, but it is close. Which is a minor miracle.

Woody (Tom Hanks) isn’t having the easiest time at Bonnie’s (Madeleine McGraw) house. He is just another toy to her. Things get even more complicated when she brings home a spork she made in to a toy named Forky (Tony Hale), and it is now her favorite. Woody will have to do his best to mold this spork in to the friend Bonnie needs him to be. Woody will need some help, and luckily he runs in to old flame Bo Peep (Annie Potts) who is more than up to the task.

The writers found another interesting story to tell about the Toy Story crew, and that is why this movie works. From the trailers it just looked like it was a retread of movies 1 and 2, but it is its own thing. It still follows the Pixar formula: gut punch in the opening minutes, and then a journey of self discovery with an emotional conclusion, but I don’t see them ending that story loop any time soon. It is a good one, and there are a lot of tales you can hang on those bones. Pixar loves it when everyone gets a good cry in the movie theater.

There is not much left to say about the cast, it is excellent, but most of the old crew isn’t given a lot to do. It focuses a lot on Hank’s Woody, Pott’s Bo and the new characters. Which may be disappointing for some, but like always, Pixar found the best people for the job, and everyone fits in perfectly. Plus, they worked in Carol Burnett and Betty White, so listen for that!

The Toy Story films have always been a showcase for how far the visuals in computer animated films have come, and Toy Story 4 does not disappoint. They are very close to making real life quality images, without falling in to the ‘uncanny valley’. I have recently re-watched the last three Toy Story movies, and while they look good, 4 blows them out of the water. It is stunning.

I didn’t want to like Toy Story 4. It felt like they were milking something that should be left alone, but they managed to find a new worthwhile tale to tell, and look great while doing it, so I guess I will not doubt them in nine years when Toy Story 5 comes out.

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite Isn’t Quite The Sum Of Its Parts

When Pokémon Go came out, people came down on it hard (including myself) for being a shallow experience. There was nothing to do but walk and swipe, and to the developer Niantic’s credit they have added a lot of the fan requests to the game, but the core gameplay loop remains the same. Niantic must have taken all that criticism to heart because Harry Potter: Wizards Unite has a lot of things to do, but it can’t quite bring all those pieces together in to something cohesive.

There is a story to Wizards Unite, magical stuff has leaked out in to the muggle world, and you have to go find all these “foundables” and defeat all the “confoundables”, so that the magical world stays secret. Which is a surprisingly good setup, but the problem isn’t with the story. The problem is that there isn’t the same compulsion to play that Pokémon Go has.

I think the problem is that it is too overstuffed. Yes you still walk around and find stuff, but then you have to trace out a spell, then you have place the picture of the image in your book, you have to pick up potion components, then brew your potions, and be sure to be stopping by all the inns and greenhouses for more potion stuff and spell energy (Pokéballs). You need more to do? Good, you can update your profession’s skill tree, dungeon crawl at fortresses, play the mini-game to brew your potions faster, and don’t forget to read all the text pop-ups from Harry and some new friends.

There is just sooooo much to keep track of. It is a lot to handle while walking. Pokémon Go’s simplicity makes it the perfect thing to do while walking around, and it adds the thrill of finding something new, or getting enough of a Pokémon to evolve it. With the amount of things you have to do in Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, you have to stop every five feet, so instead of walking, you are standing around like a creep.

That is not to say Harry Potter: Wizards Unite isn’t fun. It is, but it seems that Niantic over corrected due to the complaints about Pokémon Go, and the game suffers for that. Still, it is a solid base, and if they get enough Harry Potter fans playing, I am sure they will tighten things up like they did with Pokémon Go. If you like Pokémon Go, or you are a Harry Potter fan, it is worth trying out. If nothing else it is fun to make up your avatar picture like you are a resident of the Wizarding World.

I Have Finally Finished Red Dead Redemption 2!

It only took me eight months and eighty hours, but I finally did it. I finished the main story for Red Dead Redemption 2, and it was quite the ride. While my brother did it in only fifty-eight hours, he missed many of the side stories. Honestly after looking around, to get most out of the narrative you need to invest at least seventy hours. Which is crazy to think about. My only problem with this is that a lot of the middle feels like they are stretching it out. It is not filler per say, but we all know what is going to happen, and they force you to play through every beat of it. An editor should have gotten out the red pen.

In this day of people wanting games to last forever, I can see why they left everything in, but I didn’t do any of the hunting, fishing or gathering quests. Just ones with a story, and I know I missed a couple of those too. It is a shame that a lot of people will feel some fatigue or just never make it through to the conclusion. Had the story been forty hours with all the extras, I think this game would have been even better, and people would have been given the time to explore a bit more. The way it is now just feels indulgent. Like giving people a whole cake instead of just a slice, and then giving them a smaller cake at the end for dessert. It’s a lot of cake, and most people will probably not have the stomach for it.

If you can make it to the end, it is rewarding, and it dumps you off in a great place before the start of the first Red Dead Redemption. It then lets you roam around and do whatever you want in the game world. Even see all the locations from the first game, but that is up to you. Again, it is a little indulgent to add areas to the game map you don’t even need to visit in the campaign or its epilog, but go for it if you want to. For all of you that haven’t gotten there yet. Maybe get some coffee, but keep pecking away at that cake. You will be happy once you finish it, and the little cake at the end too.

Hands On Xbox Game Pass For PC!

During Microsoft’s E3 briefing they launched the new Xbox Game Pass for PC. Much like Game Pass for Xbox, you pay $10 a month, (currently $5 a month during its beta period) and you get a collection of games that come and go from the service much like Netflix. Also like Netflix, all original Xbox Game Studio Games get added to Game Pass day one and will not leave the service. Since I already have Game Pass and Xbox Live Gold, I got to combine those two services and upgrade to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate. Which includes Game Pass for both PC and Xbox, and Gold. I have a little over a year before I start paying anything (I had a whole year of Gold and a couple months of Game Pass, so it gave me credit for all that), but once I do, it will be $15 a month for all the Xbox services.

That is all well and good, but if the service is not any good, it is a waste of money. So far it seems like a winner. You need to have your computer on the latest version of Windows 10 (1903), then you need to download the new Xbox beta app, and then you will see a list of games that you can download and play. The new Xbox app is a big upgrade over using the Microsoft Store for finding and downloading games. All the games are organized in a much better fashion, and it has a sleek way of showing you the games you have installed on a little left hand bar, that way you are never more than a click a way from playing your games. Unlike say Steam, where if you are in the store you need to click on your library tab and then scroll through a bunch of uninstalled games to get to the game you want. Now, to be fair I have hundreds of Steam games and there are less than a hundred games thus far in Game Pass for PC. How sleek it will be a few months or a year from now has yet to be seen.

There are some annoyances however. For one, once a game is installed it is added to your Start Menu, but if you don’t ‘own’ the game, you need to first launch the Xbox app, and then start the game from there. I am guessing that is so it can make sure your Game Pass subscription is up to date, but if that is the case, why add Game Pass games to the Start Menu at all? Also, there need to be more tabs in the new Xbox app, like a built in way to check out Achievements, or search for Xbox Groups. In order to do that you need to open up the Xbox Console Companion App, but I would rather just use one app if I could. The new Game Bar helps a little with this, but I would apricate a more complete solution.

All in all, Microsoft has another winner on its hands. It has found a way to bring a lot of value to gamers, and an odd way for gamers to get around the Epic Store. A lot of Epic’s ‘exclusives’ are now on Game Pass since Microsoft bought Double Fine and its publishing arm, and all games for the Xbox are already on the Microsoft Store, so Epic can’t do anything about a game company selling the PC version on that same store as well. Loopholes are fun aren’t they? It is also an easy way for friends to insure that they have a lot of games in common if they want to play together. They can both just look in their Game Pass library and pick out something that sounds fun.

I am not sure how much I will use Xbox Game Pass for PC, my PC is a little long in the tooth, but since it is included in the services I am already paying for, it is a nice bonus. Game Pass also let me see if my PC is up to the task of running Metro Exodus, it mostly is, but it has a few little hiccups. If you are a PC gamer, I would say it is something to be aware of for sure, though you may want to wait a little bit for the roster of games to fill out and for the Xbox app to get a few more features. Then you can get your money’s worth out of your one month $1 trail period.