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Technological Dissonance This isn't easy for me to say, so I'll just come right out with it: I have a Borderlands 2 problem. Thanks to playing until the wee hours of the morning several nights this week, I'm running a serious sleep deficit. I kept telling myself the late nights were necessary to get a good enough sense of the game to write this blog post, but that's only partly true. The fact is I'm an addict. Right now, Borderlands 2 is my drug. The depressing thing about this admission is that I thought I'd kicked the habit. You see, I'd already experimented with the original Borderlands. After sinking a good chunk of my life into the game, I burned out and dropped it cold turkey. The Borderlands high was no longer enough to distract me from the cold realities of the game, specifically the labor intensive looting and relentless mission grinding required to keep progressing. When Borderlands 2 came out, I thought I could play responsibly and quit any time. Big mistake. Bags hang heavy under my eyes, yet I'm still plotting to stay up and play a bit more tonight. Too bad I won't be able to use "research" as an excuse anymore. Doling out Critical Hits would be a good way to decompress after writing, though. Addicts are good at justifying their behavior. After my experience with the first Borderlands, you'd think I'd have built up a resistance to the game's central hooks. Turns out I'm just better at noticing when I succumb to them. A couple hours into the sequel, I caught myself chasing the dragon again, compulsively looting in the hopes that the next body, the next crate, the next toilet would hold some exotic new weapon or item. Attempts to stay up and play just one more mission inevitably turned into longer quests for enough XP to reach the next level. I can't help myself. At this rate, it seems inevitable that I'll burn out again. Borderlands 2 is, after all, quite faithful to its predecessor. Gearbox might as well have called the game More Borderlands, because that's exactly what it is. The formula has been refined a little, but the sequel is essentially the same only on a grander scale. In some ways, that's a very good thing. I loved Borderlands' open world, and Pandora is even bigger this time around. Although the landscapes feel vaguely familiar, there's definitely more variety in the terrain, particularly early on. That said, the actual environments are relatively spartan. In the years since the first game, I've been spoiled Rage's richly detailed wastelands. While Rage strives for realistic graphics, Borderlands 2 sticks to the pseudo cel shaded treatment introduced with the franchise. This graphical style's hard edges have been smoothed out thanks to the addition to FXAA support, and splashes of eye candy have been added through a handful of lighting and other effects. Still, it's clear you're looking at a game designed with console constraints in mind. A lot of the textures are blocky and pixelated, a stark contrast to the high res surfaces on display in some of the latest PC games. No wonder Borderlands 2's installed footprint is less than 6GB. Fortunately, the cartoonish graphical style softens the blow of the relatively low fidelity assets. The excellent art direction produces great visuals even if the graphics aren't pixel perfect. It feels like Gearbox's artists had more freedom to be creative in Borderlands 2. Maybe they've simply grown more comfortable with the stylized graphics. The designs are bolder, and there's more diversity in everything from the architecture to the characters. The sheer number of characters is way up in Borderlands 2, whether they're enemies charging with guns blazing or friendlies trying to convince you to take on another side quest. The varied enemies provide fodder for more interesting combat, and the NPC interactions make the world feel more alive. A lot of those NPC conversations provide additional context for the larger narrative, adding depth at least breadth the story. To be honest, the story hasn't really grabbed me. The dialog is fantastic, though. Borderlands 2 is peppered with genuinely funny one liners that don't feel forced or horribly out of place. The offbeat humor is of the more mature variety; if this were a cartoon, it would probably air on Adult Swim. At its core, Borderlands 2 is a first person shooter with solid mechanics and old school sensibilities. The open world affords players a certain degree of freedom in how they approach each enemy encounter, which is a nice change of pace from the linear, heavily scripted sequences that have come to permeate modern campaigns. Rather than being led through the game, players can choose their own adventure just the right gun for the situation. Borderlands 2 has guns. Lots of guns. Too many guns, in fact. Much like the first game, there are countless variations on a handful of base weapons. The behavior of each one is unique, but they're far more similar than they are different. The worst part is figuring out which guns and other items to carry in your limited inventory. Managing the contents of your painfully small backpack is a constant struggle, since each new level unlocks a new suite of more powerful guns and accessories to pick up. The baddies get upgraded, too, ensuring that those who don't keep up are quickly outgunned. While it's tempting to blame the tedious inventory management on Borderlands 2's RPG influences, the other aspects of the game's alternate personality are much better implemented. Gearbox has managed to add more character customization options without making the process of tweaking your Vault Hunter cumbersome. Having the side quests better integrated with the narrative makes leveling up feel like less of a chore, too. The missions are still formulaic, but at least there's more motivation behind them. There are other things I don't like about the game, of course. Steering vehicles with the mouse still feels fundamentally wrong, and I had to edit one of the config files to tweak a sluggish LOD routine that caused some textures to appear blurry momentarily before sharpening up. Also, I can't shake the feeling that a lot of the game is set up for co op play rather than solo questing. Fortunately, my assassin is pretty badass on his own. Indeed, I have the Badass Tokens to prove it. So far, the Borderlands 2 buzz feels stronger than the high of the original game. Some of the rough edges have been smoothed out, and there's a certain confidence to the presentation a hint of swagger. Gearbox knows full well the potency of what it's dealing. At least for now, I'm still buying. 82 comments Last by ol1bit at 11:12 PM on 10/20/12 Sleeping Dogs will keep you up at night by Geoff Gasior 8:52 PM on September 13, 2012 Night falls in Hong Kong. Technicolor neon lights illuminate the darkness, their vibrant hue reflecting off the rain slick streets. Scooters weave through the traffic, and soon, so will I. But first, a pork bun. I try to think of what Anthony Bourdain might say as I chow down on street food, but I'm distracted. There's a clothing store down the street, and my duds have seen better days. Time for a new outfit an, ahem, massage. When in Hong Kong. The truth is, I've done far more objectionable things than pay for the touch of a woman. In just the last few nights, I've stolen several cars, caused multiple accidents, and leveled enough lampposts to light a small town. I beat a man senseless for not paying his debts. Another, I slammed face first into an air conditioner for having the nerve to take a swing at me. Then there's the group of unarmed thugs I savaged with an angle grinder. They didn't have a chance. I've spared some, including one guy I stuffed into my trunk after leaving his crew in a broken, bloody heap. He didn't last, though. Mrs. Chu, a dear old lady barely 4' tall, butchered the poor guy with a meat cleaver. I watched in silence from the corner of her kitchen; he had it coming. That's not even the worst of it. No, I've also been frequenting karaoke bars singing. What have I become? A Triad gangster, apparently. Except I'm also an undercover cop. My name is Wei Shen, and this is Sleeping Dogs. The premise for United Front's open world GTAlternative is intriguing. In reality, the narrative isn't nearly as dynamic as one might hope. Through more than two thirds of the missions that appear to make up the single player story, a smattering of in game cutscenes has told me that Shen is conflicted and sinking deeper into the gang he's supposed to bring to justice. However, at no point have I made any decisions affecting my fate. The story hasn't been particularly gripping thus far, either. Feels like a Hong Kong action movie I've seen many times before. I'll reserve final judgment on the story until I reach the final climax. Apart from side quests, the odds of completion are good. That's sort of a big deal, since I haven't finished an open world game since Crackdown. The last few Grand Theft Autos, I grew tired of within a few sessions. Sleeping Dogs is literally keeping me up at night. Just one more mission, I tell myself. While the storyline follows a predictable path, the missions offer a fair bit of variety. As a gangster, I've spent plenty of time unleashing all manner of violence on groups of baddies. The melee combat is reminiscent of the recent Batman games, complete with counter attacks against opponents who shimmer red when they're on the offensive. In addition to bladed weapons, power tools, and the tire iron lurking inside most trunks, the environment can be used as a weapon. Meat hooks hang from certain ceilings, garbage bins are distributed liberally, and an enemy's head can be smashed into just about anything. There are combos, too, from takedowns that would make Georges St. Pierre proud to spinning kicks that send bodies flying. You'll need to be strategic about using the various combat elements, since attackers have different weaknesses and a tendency to swarm in groups. When playing with a gamepad, the violence is engaging and satisfying. Still, the controls don't seem as tight as Arkham City; either there's some sort of latency, or I'm just not getting the timing down right. I do have a tendency to button mash, which may be affecting my ability to counter mid combo. The action feels much better than anything else I've played in the genre, though.

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US companies slash thousands more jobs in early March The first ten days of March have seen no let up in the destruction of jobs in the US. Large and small corporations, as well as state and local governments, school districts, public libraries and universities, are laying off workers in the most devastating slump since the Great Depression. The official unemployment rate reported last Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) of 8.1 percent was the worst in the US in a quarter century. The so called underemployment rate of 14.8 percent which also includes those who have given up looking for work and those involuntarily working part time gives a somewhat more accurate picture of the jobs situation. That figure jumped more than 6 percent from January to February. More than one in seven workers in the US an estimated 23.1 million people, according to the Economic Policy Institute were either out of work or underemployed in February. The percent of the population employed stood at 60.3 percent, down from 63.4 percent in December 2006. Forbes reports 15,890 layoffs at the 500 largest public companies in the first third of March, including 11,600 global job cuts at United Technologies. Officials at the aerospace, construction conglomerate and military contractor, headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut, indicated the commercial and housing construction slump was a key factor. United Technologies Chief Executive Louis Chenevert told the media, "The economic recovery, anticipated in the second half of 2009 now appears unlikely." As for aerospace, Chenevert commented, "It looks like 2008 was the peak for commercial and business aircraft production." Conditions, he noted, "have been very challenging." The acquisition of Schering Plough by pharmaceutical giant Merck for $41.1 billion, which will further enrich the companies' executives, as well as assorted bankers and lawyers, will mean the destruction of an estimated 16,000 jobs. Ongoing mergers in "big Pharma" are expected to lead to at least 35,000 layoffs in total. The Los Angeles Times noted: "The [various pharmaceutical] deals would be virtually impossible to complete if the banks had not received money from the Treasury Department under the Troubled Asset Relief Program. The bailout enabled them to lend the drug makers a combined $31 billion. "'These mergers are only happening now because the drug companies can get the money from the banks to make the deals happen,' said Dr. 'The TARP money is supposed to be loosening up credit and keeping Americans employed. They shouldn't be using bailout money to get rid of people.'" Delta Air Lines announced March 10 a ten percent reduction in its international seat capacity and nearly 2,100 'voluntary' layoffs. Delta's trans Atlantic and trans Pacific networks will be decreased 11 13 and 12 14 percent, respectively. This follows 6,000 cuts at the airline and at Northwest, before Delta bought the latter in October. As part of the continuing bloodletting in the newspaper business, McClatchy Co. announced March 10 it was cutting 1,600 jobs. The newspaper publisher has eliminated about one third of its positions in less than a year. Several of the chain's 30 newspapers, including the Sacramento Bee, the Kansas City Star and the Bradenton (Florida) Herald, have already indicated how many workers they will shed. Sources have told Florida media outlets that Disney is carrying out "massive layoffs" at its Disney World theme park in Orlando. Reportedly hundreds of workers have been let go, although the company would not confirm the report. A drop in tourism is responsible for the cutbacks. Fleetwood Enterprises, a maker of recreational vehicles (RVs), announced plans March 9 to shut down two eastern Oregon plants, resulting in 415 job cuts. A company official commented, "It's pretty difficult here. . We're no different from the places where manufacturing layoffs are happening across the state." The company's stock was delisted on the New York Stock Exchange in January. In 2006 Fleetwood sold 34,500 travel trailers in 2008, only 11,000. La Grande, Oregon, the location of one of the Fleetwood plants slated to be closed, already has an unemployment rate of 11.3 percent. In an especially brutal act, the Pontiac, Michigan school board voted March 9 to lay off every district employee, 622 of them, and call them back later "as needed." The Detroit News quoted Sheila Williams, 56, a paraprofessional who has worked in the district for 12 years: "This is not right because it's the little people who are getting stepped on." Eastman Chemical announced plans March 10 to slash 200 to 300 jobs in the next two months, many of them at its Kingsport, Tennessee headquarters. The company will also reduce the salaries of all US employees by 5 percent Other major corporations announcing layoffs in March so far, according to Forbes, include Deere Co. (325 employees at plants in Iowa due to weak construction demand); Northrop Grumman (750 administrative positions in California); Heil (waste and recycling collection trucks, a division of Dover, 180 jobs); General Dynamics (1,200 jobs cut "as turbulence in the aerospace sector continues"); US Steel (1,500 jobs through the closure of two plants in Ontario); and First Energy (335 workers cut to lower costs). Bean is anticipating layoffs this year, after revenue dropped for only the third time since 1960 and, despite company claims to the contrary, strong rumors are circulating that Apple is cutting jobs. The last week of February witnessed significant job cuts at Weyerhaeuser, JP Morgan Chase, Chesapeake Energy, Dow Corning, Coach and Micron Technology. Significantly, large job cuts are occurring in the legal profession. On Monday, four major firms White Case, Morgan, Lewis Bockius, King Spalding and K Gates cut some 300 attorneys and 522 support staff. In the 10 day period starting February 27, some 2,500 layoffs took place at well known law partnerships. . The layoffs have shocked many partners and created a tremendous amount of anxiety." There is no sign of a let up in the assault on jobs. Manpower International's survey of US employers' hiring plans came up with the worst figure since the company began polling companies in 1982. A net of 1.0 percent of firms expect to hire in the April through June period, down from 10 percent in the first quarter of 2009 and 15 percent from the second quarter in 2008. A company official commented, "That's about as bad as it gets with our survey." The Society for Human Resource Management, which surveys human resource professionals at more than 500 manufacturing and 500 service sector companies, reported in early March that this month's hiring expectations had taken "a precipitous drop from a year ago. Hiring is down in March by two thirds in the manufacturing sector and one third in the service sector compared with 2008." The Society called this "a dramatic reversal." Dayton, Ohio has the longest streak of consecutive quarters with job losses, 32 the city last added jobs in the fourth quarter of 2000. Detroit has lost jobs in 13 straight quarters, followed by Toledo (10 quarters), and then Cleveland. Daytona Beach and Palm Bay Melbourne, Florida, had nine consecutive quarters of job losses. The Economic Policy Institute reported March 10 that BLS figures indicate that job openings declined 7.2 percent in January, to three million, a decline of 32 percent from the start of the recession 14 months earlier. In January, there were 3.9 job seekers for every job opening and, given the jump in the February jobless figure, "there were easily over 4 unemployed workers per job opening last month." The jobless "are seeing their chances of finding a job grow ever dimmer."

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