Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Batman: Arkham Asylum

Okay, there is a vegan - I bear his no-egg eating self no ill-will - barring my way from entering the wide world of WordPress. I won't get into it, suffice it to say, he has not posted in a year, and he has a name similar to my own. I'm working on it, in the mean time, I am also posting a Batman: Arkham Asylum review. I've played Mass Effect 2 and Alan Wake, I'm playing Halo: Reach now, but I wanna talk about Batman.

Holy crap, it is a crime against nature that I have only now played this game. A crime! I should be locked up, and if I am locked up, I should have my ass handed to me by Batman. That would be a pretty awesome way to go, except he doesn’t kill people. So, the only chance in snowy Hell of that happening is if it’s Tim Burton Batman I’m dealing with, which I’m not. I’m dealing with Rocksteady Games’ Batman.

And what a Batman! The design is spectacular, and color me shocked, Jim Lee was one of the main guys behind the game’s character design. Go. Figure. Jim Lee is one of my favorite Batman artists, his work on “Hush” was incredible, and some of that design returns, only now with twisted tweaks and design to fit the atmospheric Arkham.

Within the first fifteen minutes, it’s already easy to see why B:AA got game of the year. It is addicting, messed up, a total ride. The detail in the environments is incredible, and will often form a jaw-dropping matrimony with the character design. Like, when you encounter a cell stained with muddy hand prints. The person in the cell keeps on changing. One moment he’s Commissioner Gordon, and in the next, he’s Batman. I have to admit, this is somewhat of a poor example, because as cool as it was, it was not a precursor to a Clayface fight.



I probably shouldn’t bitch. B:AA promises a sequel, and with that sequel, some villains missed in this first installment. I still have trouble wrapping my head around calculating the man hours Rocksteady would need to build this kind of world. And even though combat with villains like Clayface, Two-Face, Puppeteer, and Black Mask are missed; their absence is in no way a game breaker. The villains we have in this first game are excellent, and the boss fights are strong in this one. Remember how you had to find the patterns in your badguys back in the day? Koopa jumps twice, then shoots the fireball, so you gotta run under him, and jump on his head – yeah, that kinda stuff, only this time it’s Rodeo Night at the Mutated Inmate Corral.

Screw this, Princess. I got my own pipes to clean.

It tests your wits as Gotham’s greatest gumshoe when determining your opponents’ weaknesses, but I won’t go into it now, because this ain’t no damn walk through! You came here for pixels, and more than likely... pies!

Seen here.

The combat in the game is great, and sees you pulling off some sick moves that would even make Altair go: "DaYUMN!" I guess one of my major qualms with the combat was that I couldn't interrupt major combat animations to counter the baddies. The little ones flowed seamlessly into a counter, but if you're doing something like knocking someone out, the animation is a death trap when you're surrounded, and desperately pressing Y. I can totally understand a psycho inmate in clown make-up being able to interrupt me when I'm trying to knock out one of their buddies, they take whatever break they can against the Bat. I should be able to stop my own doling out of ass-kickery to keep someone from cold-cocking me, no matter how involved in the "Render You Unconscious" arts I am.

Just saying.

There are several ways you can tackle this game. You can take the Frank Miller route. You can run into every room, Bat-a-rangs a-blazing, ready to take the entire roof down with you and your monstrous chin.

Or, you can employ the stealthy Nolan Method by terrorizing your opponents with fear tactics, traps, and a voice that makes gravel look like silk.

... Or am I the only one who talked like that while they were playing this game?

Moving on.

There is a third option in this game. You may miss a meal or two, and you may develop and unhealthy fascination with wordplay - wherever that might appear - but you won't care because you'll be too obsessed with trying to solve the Riddler's hidden puzzles. That's right, the Riddler has left behind a legacy of riddles for you to solve, and once this starts, it is safe to rename the game "Batman: I Will Never Leave Detective Mode So Long as I Live, You Can't Make Me Asylum."

Fuck you.

For all of you Batman: Animated Series fans out there, you are in for a treat. Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy, and several of the original cast from the animated series return to lend their incredible voice talents to the game. However, I should caution you, Kevin Conroy's reading of Batman is about as energetic as a toothbrush. The man has clearly moved on.

I'm... Batman?

I don't know whether to be happy or bummed out that this game rocks. One on hand, I have not only an excellent Batman game, I have an excellent game. On the other hand... nope, no other hand. This game rocks, and major kudos to the team behind the Scarecrow segments. There are moments where the Scarecrow traps you in a nightmarish world of flashbacks and distorted reality. You face several versions of yourself, all of them going mad in their own asylum's cell, you are confronted by the cadavers of your parents, you enter a hallway that turns into the alley where your parents were killed, and you are changed back into the scared little boy you once were.

Replayability 2
Design 2
Story 1
Sound 2
Gameplay & Mechanics 2

Score: 9 bats out of 10

Okay, seriously, the story is not that great, but this game has everything else going for it. The controls become second nature, the look of the game is matched by a great sound crew and voice cast, and there are several aspects of this game that will bring you back again and again. Now excuse me, I got some riddles to solve.

Lunch will be served in the cafeteria, psychos! Make sure you bring your tray, we have several options to choose them, each of them inspired by your fellow inmates. - Arkham MGMT.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Location, Location, Location

So, P&P is getting a little wander lust. I may have become a WordPress convert. A lot of my friends use it, the hubby uses it, I heard the President of the United States uses it*.

*Requires citation.

Anyway, it looks awesome and way more user friendly, so I'm going to be taking some time to transition the site over to WordPress. I've got a lot of games under my belt recently, so during that transition, I'll be working on recipes and reviews to get this sucker on the run again.

Thanks for your patience, hope to see you in the new kitchen!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Gone Fishin'

Yeah, it's been a while, and it will be a little while longer until I can get my Batman post up here. A lot has been going on this end of the blogpool... again! I don't want to get too into everything. After all, you're here for the food and the games. I will say that my partner, Andy, and I have tied the knot. We're heading back down south at the beginning of August. Also, I got into culinary school, and that is really exciting. Navigating AI's financial aid office, however, is not. So, as events unfold and things settle, I will go into more detail. Until then...

Mom is taking me out to the famous spa. She loves this place, and we've always wanted to go together but either I've been too far away, or had plans, or something of that nature. So, now that I'm getting ready to move again, Mom has pounced, and I'm glad she did. When I move far away, we don't really get to see much of each other. The trip is a perfect chance to cut loose and have fun before the big move.

So, I'm gonna plug my friends' sites really quick because they're awesome and you should really go read their stuff!

11 Word Movie Reviews
Derek is a good friend out on the west coast, he also knows a thing or two about movies. Brevity is the soul of wit, and when it comes to film, man, does this guy have it all! So, if you are looking for brevity, soul, and wit, check out the 11 Word Movie Reviews.

Attempts at Ressurecting a Muse
Blogger and friend Trish finds and creates art in everything. You will find everything here! Photography, geckos, cupcakes, baby birds, handstitched projects, recipes, Ford Explorers looking for a home, and you'll see just how blue hydrangea petals can get on Attempts at Ressurecting a Muse.

Burn, Baby, Burn!
He loves to cook and has no hope for our future. Okay, that's a bit melodramatic, but when you use the books, movies, and music around you to explore the possibility of a dystopian future, it's nice to have a little comfort food to fall back on. Mike breaks down some of his favorite dystopian works and serves up some awesome nosh to go with in his blog Burn, Baby, Burn!.

Crunk Acoustic
She's my best friend, my sister from another mister, my soul, my heart, and my hetero-lifemate. When she isn't changing your life with her food, she is jamming with her new band The Piecycles, and navigating her way around guitar chords and soulful singing. Creative, hilarious, and moving, she will get your toe-tapping at the Crunk Acoustic.

Elephant Talk
Answering the cry of: "There is no good music out there anymore" is Kevin. In his blog, Kevin checks out some of the newest artists on the scene. Not only that, but he pays some groovy love to the bands that came before them. This guy loves his music, and no matter the genre, he'll tell you all about it in his own brand of Elephant Talk.

Feeding Your Addictions
"The foodie lives to eat, and to eat to live is definitive boredom". Life and food go hand-in-hand, and Fatema shows you just how great living can be with the right amount of seasoning and the sound of your favorite ingredients hitting a hot pan. Satiate that hungry monkey on your back by Feeding Your Addictions.

Managing the Game
He's a big man with some big talent. Chris's range spans from make-up design, to artistry, film, and managerial stint(s) in the gaming industry. The industry can be at times unforgiving and at others wholly rewarding, and Chris breaks down his experiences in design, creativity, and Managing the Game.

Sara Crawford
I owe this girl a lot, and you owe it to yourself to check her out. Music, movies, plays, you name it, she does it, and she does it in a way that will make your head giddily spin. One of the most creative people I know is way more than this website, but the links and pages are a great way to start your introduction to Sara Crawford.

System sans Setting
He'll break it down, and build it again, probably better than it was before. Whether this is a video game, a treadmill that refuses to go down stairs without a fight, this paragraph, a plothole, or an idea, Stephen will find a new approach, a new solution, and a new way of mastering the game in System sans Setting.

The Hollywood Projects
Last, but in no way even close to least, there never was a boy who loved film quite the way this one does. Young at heart, wise with a pen, Andy's got a way of not only seeing movies, but discussing them. He takes a look at some of the best, and where he might tell you he wrecks the whole sha-bang by ranking these best, I'll tell you he gives you a whole new way to watch film in The Hollywood Projects.

I'm still collecting a couple more sites that I want to put up, so they'll be hanging around soon. If anyone I know has read this, and has a site or blog they want me to plug, just give me a holler! Until then, check these guys out. You'll be in for a treat!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Red Velvet Cake

I can't believe it. Finally! We have lift off, we have red velvet cake. Now, there were a few tricks I wanted to try in making this cake. One of them being the addition of champagne to the recipe, which is not uncommon in cakes and breads. However, I was laid off, so buying champagne was not a luxury I, literally, could afford.

The household has taken a heavy hit, but me and my boyfriend are still going strong. We still need love from friends and family, something we have had no short supply of. In fact, our cup runneth over with all the support we've been getting. We really owe you all one.

So, here's a recipe for some cake. Yeah! Treat yourself right with a big glass of cool milk to wash this one down, because we are dealing with a classic S'uthern delicacy. It's rich, it's sweet, it's bright red, it's delicious. Here it is, the long awaited:

Faith's Red Velvet Cake; or Classic Southern Red Velvet Cake

A dusting of cocoa powder is a good sub if you don't have an red powder on hand.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cocoa powder (reserve some for dusting if you would like to decorate with it!)
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk, room temp.
2 large eggs, room temp.
2 Tbl. red food coloring
1 tsp. white distilled vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
(See Below For Frosting Recipe!)

First step: Start your engines! Preheat your oven to 350 (F). This recipe asks for 3 9x1 1/2 inch round cake pans, but I had 2 and the cake was unchanged. Grease 'em up!

Next, assemble your dry stuff. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder.

I love sifting dry ingredients. I don't bake that often, but when I do, this is my favorite step.

Next, it's time to get a little wet. In another large bowl, assemble your wet ingredients! Whisk the oil, buttermilk, eggs, food coloring, vinegar, and vanilla.

Here's where the hand-me-down standing mixer comes in - thank you, mom! Start incorporating your dry ingredients to the wet stuff. You're looking to get everything combined into a smooth batter, and then STOP! Over mixing and over beating is not healthy for a fledgling cake.

It looks like Dexter Morgan made this cake.

Next, evenly distribute your batter to your pans, and put those puppies in the oven for 30 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick resurfaces clean. 15 minutes in, you'll want to rotate your pans.

When time is up, take out your pans, run a knife along the edge - between the cake and the pan wall - and then invert the cake onto a plate. Now, flip that onto a cooling rack, or in my lack-of-supplies example... another plate. Let your cakes cool completely.

Once my cakes cooled, I inserted a knife on the side, and started turning the cake. This split my two cakes into four.

Next, begin frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting

1 lb. (16 oz.) cream cheese, softened
4 cups sifted confectioner sugar
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp. vanilla extract

You can use a standing mixer with a paddle attachment for this, or you can used a hand-held electric mixer. I went for the second, seeing as it was a b-day present from my boyfriend's mom. It's awesome!

In a large bowl, mix the cream cheese, sifted sugar, and butter on a low speed until combined. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes.

Now, reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the vanilla extract, and raise the speed back up to high and mix briefly, or until fluffy again. Store in the refrigerator until the frosting is a bit stiff, and then frost away. You're gonna get messy, just be prepared! Once you have finished frosting your cake, slice, serve, and go, "Mmmmm!" It's that simple.

You can really tell a cook went at this cake, not a baker. It's not my strongest area of expertise. With a little practice, I know I can have a more delicate touch with future baking experiments. And hey, so can you!

Stay tuned for the next post, which will hopefully come much sooner than this one did. I will be checking out 2009's "Game of the Year" Batman: Arkham Asylum.

(Final slice of red velvet cake coming soon!)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mirror's Edge

Back again! Things sure have been up in the air lately, but it's nice to be posting again. During the hiatus, I got to meet Andrew Radical's son. There's a little chef in that kid! Not only that, but your gastronomic gamer girl has her first podcast up and running with the unquestionable genius known as Joey the Mad Scientist. You can check us out here!

You know, I like to run. I just got into it. Once you get past certain hurdles in the beginning; a shortness of breath inspired by lungs still eradicating cigarette tar, a pain that settles in the general tit region until you get a sports bra, and after you assure your feet that you will have a better pair of shoes for them to slip into by next paycheck (suckers!) you hit a point where it all becomes more manageable. And then? Yeah, it starts feeling awesome. A mile is possible. And then two. And then three. Before you know it, you become that asshole who likes to run, and flashes peace signs at the end of a race.


This bitch?

She’s gotta run.

Mirror’s Edge was developed by EA owned Swedish company DICE, and published by EA back in 2009. The parkour adventure was received relatively well, and EA has stated that this first installment will be part of an epic on-foot trilogy.

Not too far into the future, the promise of Big Brother has come true. As per his instruction, everything is painted a hue of white, blue, orange and green, and when people talk on the Interwebz about how much they hate this color scheme they disappear. So, to get around this, “Runners” are employed to deliver messages by foot, often times bounding and leaping across buildings, plummeting to their death, and then repeating the process until they have reached their destination, or a tutorial level.

Follow me into madness.

In this last respect, that’s where you come in. You play Faith, a Runner with a turbulent past now back after a “nasty fall” (lol). Your boss, Merc, runs you through your paces. You leap across buildings, shimmy across ledges, shoot down ziplines, bounce between walls, beat up your friend in a disarming tutorial that is actually foreshadowing the way your mind will eventually fall apart, and shortly thereafter your sister is framed for the murder of mayoral candidate Robert Pope.

The reason for his death is at first unknown and unmotivated, but considering his platform of “change” meant no more totalitarian keggers, it’s not hard to see how Big Brother might have wanted to put an end to his political career. Helping the police force continue their 24/7 4th Reichteousness Party is Project Icarus, an urban summer camp mostly - definitely - developing their own breed of super parkour ninjas to take out Faith, as well as the whole Runner organization.

As Faith you are both a threat to the regime and acrophobics everywhere. The game definitely succeeds in giving you an idea of depth as you leap buildings, and when you fall you get to stay tuned for the entire descent until you end with a wet crunch at the bottom. Driven mad by her sense of duty as well as the constant cycle of life and death, Faith has started to see red.

Objects that can give you an extra leg up in your skyline navigation will illuminate in red, which is awesome in a bleached world where the building across from your ledge sort of bleeds together in a white perspective blur. This is not such a big problem until you are running at full speed, and need to make that jump, but can’t see the bloody edge. Rare, but those moments suck.

See, the game is supposed to be a lot like this.

And to its credit, once you get a good “flow” going (I still can’t believe they called it flow) it is a lot like that, and there is a certain achievement to sticking each landing and then some. Sometimes this is marred by the fact that you have died for the kergillionth time and are in fact retracing your steps. As much as I would like to save in between the really long ass checkpoints, Mirror’s Edge does not come with a manual save feature. Instead, it prefers to keep me immersed in a Sisyphean grind that has me grinning like Dae-Su in Old Boy by the end of one sitting.

Smile and the world smiles with you.

I’m a huge fan of immersive game play, but I’m past the point of feeling like my “immersive experience” can be shattered just by saving my game whenever it tickles my thumb-numbed fancy. Let me save!

Would hate for you to miss your- kyai! - train!

If gravity was not enough, you also have to deal with the fuzz, and they range from hall monitor to full-on S.W.A.T. You have the option of lighting the swine up, or you can drive yourself to a frenzied, obsessive end by attempting to beat the game without shooting a single one of ‘em. To do any of that, of course, you have to disarm them. Now, you do have the ability to slow time down to make it easier to disarm, but the recharge is ass. You can also beat the donut-loving tar out of them, too. Also, you can do none of these and see if those hours of Rock Band have improved your sense of timing. A weapon will go red when you can take it, and this effect lasts for half a millionth of a nano-second.

It's good to want things.

Recovering from a pistol or rifle whip is wicked, and the recovery is mercilessly slow, as one can expect after getting their face bashed by weapons. By the second cold cock you are down on the ground… and back to retracing your steps again. Would be awesome to see this system revisited and tweaked, and maybe I’m picky, but right now the whole “let’s get Beelzebub himself to design our disarm system” thing just isn’t working for me. Sorry.

Thank you! I'm here all game!

So, you have wall-running, major leaps, shimmying, disarming, beating up, shooting, and tumbles, and you have to do all of these effectively enough so as not to wake up on the ground, shivering and fetal as the day you were born. The jumps, the wall-running, and everything else acrobatic is the puzzle game lurking beneath an action game façade. Now, I love me some puzzle games, and the idea of combining the two is certainly intriguing, but the execution just fell flat for me. Perhaps if the action part of the puzzle game was as tight as the puzzles themselves, but even those were suspect sometimes for reasons I won’t go into. Suffice it to say the whole shivering, fetal position thing happened.

Assume the position!

The game really is not all bad. It can be really fun. The time trials were a blast, and as long as the game stuck with the outside levels, I was more than happy to keep exploring new ways around them. Some cut scenes are in-game, which absolutely will always get a nod from me. Not all cut scenes work this way though. In between levels you are treated to some really stylish cinematics that remind me of a pop-anime paper animation.

Would you like to try my Kentucky fried gun?

Sort of like Gendy Tartakovsky’s stuff, especially the kind of Samurai Jack stylings that are sorely missed. But that’s a whole ‘nother something-something entirely.

Sorely missed.

Rounding out the basket of goodies this game can boast is a pretty awesome soundtrack. Lisa Miskovsky provides an awesome theme in “Still Alive”. She is not alone, the soundtrack also comes from artists like Paul van Dyk, Armand Van Helden , Junkie XL, and Benny Benassi.

I would definitely check out any future Mirror’s Edge games, and I definitely don’t regret playing it. There is some fun to be had with this game, and there was so much potential that when the game did trip up, I could not help but heave a sigh. Not just out of frustration, but out of disappointment. Because where the game is good, it's good, but unfortunately those moments of sheer gaming bliss are just too far and few between. The bad parts of the game make it hard to enjoy the better game just waiting to happen. I expected a much more minimalist game, but instead got an overcrowded Portal. Perhaps the trip ups would not be so bad, except in a game like this the slightest misstep usually means the biggest fall.

SCORE: 5 out of 10

Replayability 1
Design 2
Story 0
Sound 1
Gameplay & Mechanics 1

Where there is replayability in the time trials as well as exterior levels of the game, and where the design of the game really was sharp and complete, the decent sound track could not save a leaden story, nor could it change the fact that the controls were just too shaky to ever really get a clear handle on. I’m still going to check out the sequel, but I really would like to see some changes in the future. This one’s a diamond in the rough, it just needs the right push to really shine!

Stay tuned for the dish inspired by the game: Red Velvet Cake!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Shrimp Etouffee

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It should be crawfish etouffee, but after exploring the better part of the triangle area the only thing I could find were pre-spiced, shredded crawfish tails. Good for a quick fix or making crawfish cakes... Mmmm, crawfish cakes -

But ultimately not what I need!

Maybe a nap?

Engagin’ Cajun

Cajun cuisine has an interesting history. Back in the day, French settlers had made a name and place for themselves in what we now know as Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Back then, this province – which also extended through east Quebec and Maine – was called Acadia. After some dispute with Great Britain (aka the French and Indian War) over the colony of New France, the Acadians were driven out, and eventually settled in the south of modern day Louisiana.

Their rustic French cuisine began to change as they migrated. They incorporated any and all available ingredients as they went: rice, corn, sassafrass, crawfish, sugar cane, and game meats such as quail and rabbit. This ever growing cornucopia of ingredients rest on a backdrop of several influences – African, Spanish, Native American, German, British, and French Creole, just to name a few.

In my opinion no two similarly titled recipes are the same, they will always differ in essence. Take chili for example! I use cinnamon, chipotle, cayene, adobo sauce, ground ancho chiles in my chili, and then cut the heat with juice from one cough secretingredient cough and honey. On the other hand, my dad liked to put liquid smoke and every chile ever discovered by man and alien into his, cutting it with nothing but a challenging glare. Both of these are acceptable chili, but they are nothing alike. What ties them both together are the characteristics of chili – heat, beans, meat, spices - but the executions are totally different. The same holds especially true to some Cajun recipes.

Uncle Hootchey likes his with hootch!

Cajun recipes are notorious for this behavior, often building new flavors with varying ingredients around a structure that remains essentially the same. For example, gumbo is a thick broth stew made with roux, a holy trinity, a slew of meats and the all important okra, which is from the African plant okingumbo. However, the dish has also come to represent a stew you can throw pretty much anything into. As long as you have your thick stock, your trinity, and your okra (or gumbo file), you can do whatever you want with it.

Sometimes that means making it a work of art.

Etouffee is a little different. The recipes do not usually vary too much on this one. Etouffee is the past derivative of the French word “etouffer” which means “to smother”. When you make this concoction it engulfs whatever you serve it on in a thick, savory magma that is altogether heart warming.

A little heads up about this recipe. I would definitely recommend following the philosophy of mise en place with this one.

Seen here mise en place-ing

Make sure you have all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go! Makes the process much easier. Also I made my own shrimp stock for this one, but you can pick up any stock you prefer at your local super market.

Shrimp Etouffee

6 Tbl. Vegetable shortening (Crisco!)
½ cup of flour
2 cups diced sweet onion (1 big onion, or 2 small ones)
2 cups diced red bell pepper (about 2 peppers)
2 cups diced small celery
2 garlic cloves, chopped
(1 Tbl. Crab boil, optional)
4 medium sized tomatoes, diced
½ tsp. White pepper
½ Tbl. Thyme
½ tsp. Paprika
½ tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. Cayenne pepper
1 Tbl. Red pepper flakes
2 Bay leaves
1 quart stock (try and go with a shrimp or seafood stock)
¼ cup chopped green onions
2 lbs. Shrimp
(2 Tbl. Honey, divided, optional)

Start with your roux. There is a handy-dandy way to make this in your oven, but I suggest trying it out yourself on the oven first. You know, just to get the experience of working with the closest thing to napalm without having to join the military. Seriously. This stuff gets hot, so be careful!

No joke. Be. Careful!

Roux is a great thickener, but can 1) burn easily 2) burn you easily. The trick is to keep stirring and build those arm muscles up. Melt your 6 Tbl of shortening in a deep pan over medium heat, and start whisking in your ½ cup of flour. This will take you about 10 – 15 minutes of whisking, or until your roux starts taking on a darker color, close to that of peanut butter or caramel. I chose to keep my roux “blond” to better taste some of the veggies, but you can go darker if you like. In fact, it’s recommended by Paul Prudhomme himself!
And that guy knows a thing or two about Cajun cookin’.

As well as fly honeys.

Once you are satisfied with your roux, mix in your diced onions. I tossed mine in the first tablespoon of honey. By the way, if you can get it, try to nab some galberry honey, it’s perfect for savory cooking and glazes. You're going to start caramelizing your onions in the roux. You'll hear lots of hissing at first, but just keep the roux moving until you've completed incorporated the onion. You'll get some major clump age

But that's okay!

When the onions are soft, nearly translucent in the roux mixture, add your diced garlic, bell peppers, and celery. I dice my celery small, they become little nuggets of moisture, texture, and taste that just melt in your mouth. Love it!

Cook for another 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

In the mean time, start getting your herbs together. I actually put the paprika, cayenne pepper, and red pepper flakes in my coffee grinder and gave them a spin for a ruby red and spicy essence. Add your diced tomatoes and stir for 2-3 minutes with bay leaves and your gathered spices. Be sure to reserve about a table spoon of the herbs.

Now! Start whisking your stock (and 1 Tbl. crab boil) into this mixture until everything is incorporated and ready to boil.

Have I mentioned all the stirring yet?

Once you hit that boil, turn the heat down, get your almost finished etouffee to a simmer. Stir this occasionally over the next 45 minutes, and try to resist the alluring, piquant scent coming from the kitchen. Give the etouffee a taste every now and then, you may want to season, salt, or pepper more!

On the side, toss your cleaned, de-veined shrimp in the reserved herbs. I also threw in that second tablespoon of honey.

I halved my shrimp, but you can choose to dice or leave whole. Either way, your etouffee will be delicious.

Total eclipse of the saaaauuuuuce...

Add the shrimp and the green onions and continue to cook your etouffee for another 7 - 10 minutes, or until your shrimp is cooked through.

Clean the drool off your chin, and serve over rice. I topped mine with diced green onion.

Bon App!

Coming up next week - for realz this time! - Mirror’s Edge.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Left 4 Dead 2



I didn't finish Mirror's Edge. Maybe that was because Mass Effect 2 took off with me like an intergalactic pied piper, whistling promises of space exploration, anticipated enhancements far surpassing its first venture, and reunions with alien allies that would fight by my side, pledge loyalty to my cause, and put out. All of this, I could not be denied, I had to follow. Maybe that's it. Another way of saying it could be that we picked up an HDTV that my boyfriend has been relentlessly plying for all things baseball, hockey, and anything else that requires a protective cup. Not that I blame him, I've always liked sports, which has granted the Olympics headway in dominating the living room where I do a majority of my work (and meth). Of course, none of this is an excuse, and as much as I love sports I don't think I'm alone in the observation that if one even tries to come between a man and his sports...

Regardless. No excuse. I know. I do have two games ready for upcoming posts though - hooray!

Just another day in the bayou. Another fight for survival, kill all the undead rising out of the murky green water, set the Tank on fire, startle the wandering Witch, pray for your goddamn life the boat will come on time day in the bayou. New Orleans just isn't the same since the dead came back to life, and by the end of just another day in the bayou, it will just keep spreading.

Which is good, I mean, if you enjoy Left4Dead 2. Changing the setting and the characters seems a less than tentative step from humble juggernaut Valve toward a bigger end. Left4Dead 2 opens up a really titillating consideration for new vistas. Maybe the streets and sewers of Paris? Foggy nights in London? The cold streets of Moscow? Jesus. What about Tokyo? That's just a zombie nest waiting to happen.

Now imagine they all want to eat your brains. They're not unreasonable.

Considering everyone is on board, however. Left4Dead 2 faced some pretty ugly reactions upon announcing their intentions of release at E3 '09; from dedicated Left4Dead fans gathering thousands of fellow deadites to boycott the game, to accusations of racism and insensitivity in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Though many of these issues were met head on - “No, we have not forgotten L4D, there will be new content” and “Yes, that seems to be insanity you are suffering from, there are not just black zombies, and Hurricane Katrina has nothing to do with it in any case” – there is obviously a precedence there for the team to be aware of; the infected is one thing, it's the fans that are scary.

What do we want?!
Lots of attention!
When do we want it?!

But in a way, you have to give the fans some credit on this one. That is some gnarly devotion, and the first game really was that friggin' good. The Director was a huge step for enemy A.I that would reward and punish a player in a way similar to a kid luring out ants with some sugar before zapping them with a magnifying glass. Also, the use of cinematic tools brings a rich quality to the game that would be great to see more of in future Valve projects such as their Half-Life episodes. Tools like vignetting really elevated tension, color correction brought further detail in level design, and other elements such as film grain and sharpening gave the game a whole new visual sexiness. Cinematography and lighting became the player's “map” to a level.

In this case, yes, we do want to go towards the light.

How could Valve even think to top this sort of stuff? Especially with new characters no one knows, in a new city with new weapons no one has ever used and facing new special zombie friends. Now, I can get behind a game going against the grain of a typical video game sequel, but I'll admit that as a fan I could understand the skepticism. But then I got to play it and, no shit, it felt so good to be so wrong.

If only Nick were there, too...

You have your choice of four zombie baits: Coach, who is just what (awesome) his name (awesome) implies (and awesome). Nick, a con artist who would prefer the company of the zombies over his team and possesses my undying affection (call me). Rochelle, caught up in all the madness while she reported on the evacuation effort. And Ellis, your classic, Southern, bump-on-a-log who knows how to handle cars a lot better than people. They have their strengths, they have their weaknesses. Nick has ex-wives to spare should he run out of bullets, I'd call that a strength, while Rochelle's only weakness seems to be saying “son of a bee-sting”. They're plucky and mismatched, and they're also armed to the teeth.

(l to r): My husband, Rochelle, Coach, and Ellis

Because in this go around of L4D, you get melee weapons, and they are happy inducing. Electric guitars make a satisfying TWANG upon impact, and my Shaun of the Dead loving heart fluttered when I got to wield a cricket bat. There are tons of other melee weapons, and I won't get into all of them, suffice it to say that being struck with Boomer bile and subsequently assaulted by a horde of zombies ain't so bad when you got a chainsaw on hand. Don't worry, if melee isn't your thing there is a menagerie of firearms to choose from, some of them old friendlies like the shotgun and dual pistols, others newcomers such as the grenade launcher, magnum, and various species of rifles and shotguns.


You also have new equipment beyond the bullets, blades, Molotovs, pipe bombs, and happy pills. Boomer bile canisters can be thrown on Tanks, who are then jumped by tons of zombies – always a plus. Defibrillator units can resuscitate your team-mate, adrenaline shots will boost your speed and health for a brief period, and you can modify your ballistics with explosive and fire ammo. Laser sight extensions for your guns are also available! Hell yes, I... really didn't use most of this stuff. I mean, I dabbled in them, but when said defibrillator and explosive ammunition replaced my health pack, I quickly went back to my pack. A few of my friends swear by the modified pieces, but I just find them extraneous. A joke with a good set up, but once I heard the punchline... crickets. Still, pretty cool to watch a bullet set a zombie on fire. It's like a little Molotov cocktail in my gun.

Nick? Whoa, hold on, Nick. I thought we had something. Something magical! Something bigger and better than both of us!

I think one of my favorite modifications in this game was the improvement of the mini-events. In the first game you'd have to open a door, which would sound an alarm, and alert the zombies which would then pour onto your position with a firm determination to eat all your brains. In this game, let's say you open that same door door, and the alarm sounds, only this time you have to shut it off in a completely different area of the map. Until you shut that off, you will be assaulted by horde after horde after horde, and even after you have shut it off, the last wave still has to finish out. This ups the difficulty of the sequel considerably over the first one.

New specials like Spitters, Jockeys, Chargers, Lady Boomers, are all newcomers to the brain buffet, but they are not alone. Hidden in those hordes you are so desperately trying to dispatch are a few undead Easter eggs. There are zombies in HAZMAT suits that are immune to fire. There are clown zombies in the carnival level, and you can always tell they're on their way when you hear that ominous squeak, squeak, squeak amidst the groans and shrieks. Turned police officers have to be melee'd to expose a vulnerable back, considering their bullet proof vests protest their chest and stomach. Familiar special zombies like the Boomers, Smokers, Hunters, and Tank have also been spruced up for the sequel. This is one of my favorite things about Valve. They don't just finish a project, be that a character or design or weapon, without the intention of returning for more work, more polish. Just a little extra shine.

I mean, it was that or "Swallower". Technically, all zombies do that. No new ground being broken there, Romero.

If playing lonesome and alone in the dark isn't your thing, you can always hop on-line and make kindly, totally not abusive in the least friends via multiplayer! Nothing will bring out the beast in a gamer more than competitive FPS games. Still, it's refreshing in an almost sadistic way to know that somewhere out there is a person with nothing but burning hatred for you, a livid fury that only shines brighter as their attempts to veto you are denied over and over again. It's the kind of foam-at-the-mouth frenzy that can only be brought about when I had the chance to play a Jockey and run a survivor into a Spitter's acidic upchuck.


In multiplayer, you can rock it old school in your Member's Only jacket and Flock of Seagulls hair do if in this scenario L4D was released in the 80s. Versus brings you back to the roots of the game, switching you between Infected and Survivor through the span of a campaign. Survivor is there too, pitting you in a fight for your life against the Infected for as long as you can last. The only thing that could improve Survivor would be if I could join the game as an Infected. Nothing gets my griefing engine going more than playing the Infected, and the best place to vent this blood curdling talent is in Scavenge. This is a pretty cool one. The Survivors attempt to gather gas canisters to fill the tank of a racecar on display in the mall. This is a finale event in one of the campaigns, only this time you can play both sides of the fence which becomes an effort in concocting nothing short of pure, unadulterated rage fuel for some people involved.

It's like college all over again. Go VCU RAMS!

What's awesome about L4D 2 is not just that it has the Valve sticker and is automatically okay, you can see the work that went into the project. The graphics are smooth, the detail remarkable, the new characters entertaining, the levels and their scenarios tighter, more challenging, and definitely unique despite being tied together in a single, ambiguous plot. The fact there is an overarching story that travels behind the scenes of these levels connected me to the characters for the long haul, rather than connecting, disconnecting, and reconnecting with several different places and situations. Much more cohesive than the start-and-stop-start again of the first game. Mini-events and finale events also break up the monotony of the hike, and definitely kept me on my toes.

None of this is to say the first game was bad, not by any stretch of the imagination. The zombie frenzy has a tight hold on entertainment, and reinventing an approach to this graphic, brainy medium can be difficult. Instead of separating themselves from their predecessors, Valve paid homage and kept it simple. So minimalist, in fact, that they never really explain where the zombie breakout came from. All you had as a player in the first – and have as a player in the second game – was the rambling on the wall. The first game was a great achievement for Valve, but L4D 2 really meets all the potentials that may have been missed in the first game. When you play the game, you see these achievements, you feel it as that tension creeps back in and you keep closer to your team. Valve has managed to blend what we all love about zombie films and stories into an entertaining pair of games that I can only hope will keep growing, keep spreading, keep coming to get me.

Replayability 2
Design 2
Story 1
Sound 2
Gameplay & Mechanics 2
Score: 9 out of 10

Valve out does itself with this sequel, and shines better than ever even through all the blood and brains. There are some extraneous items in the game, but this does not render the game unplayable. Multiplayer has expanded, and so has the L4D universe. If you are new to the franchise, or are a veteran that wants to see L4D meets its maximum potential, you don't want to miss this one.

Stay tuned for the dish inspired by the game! We're looking at a ruby red crawfish étouffée.