“Monster Hunter: World” Review

By Hannah Sexton
Correspondent

A game once just popular in Japan has now exploded into western markets. The franchise “Monster Hunter,” developed by Capcom, has always been fairly straightforward.

The game consists of hunting and gathering in a world where giant dinosaur-like monsters and even god-like behemoths threaten the very survival of humanity.

The hunter can equip different kinds of weapons, each more fantastical than the last. Unlike most Japanese role playing games (JRPGs), there is no class system and no leveling up system. In order for the hunter to get better they must hunt big monsters and take materials from them to craft better weapons and armor.

Instead of a class, the various weapon types determine what a hunter does. For example, a hunter who uses a bow hunts differently from one who uses a hammer.

The games have always been simple in terms of plot. The player is a new hunter who has just arrived when suddenly the village they are assigned to is attacked by a giant monster.

The player must learn to survive in the area by doing quests that involve gathering herbs, ore, and insects, as well as hunting small monsters. Then they gradually build up to bigger and bigger monsters as they advance in the game until they finally hunt the god-like monster. “Monster Hunter: World” follows this formula as well, but the gameplay mechanics are really what made this game different from all the others in the franchise.

         Before, the area where the player (or players, in multiplayer) would hunt would be divided into different zones. When a player reaches the threshold of one zone, the game took them to a loading screen and loaded the next zone. “World” no longer has zones, so players are always potentially within reach of a monster.  

Another key difference is the use of the environment against monsters or even the player. A few games before “World” took advantage of cliffs and trees to allow the player to jump onto a monster’s back and ride it. But in this game there are poisonous plants, toads that produce paralyzing toxins, and spider webs that entrap monsters. 

‘“World” is allowing players to take advantage of the environment to use against monsters. Before, there were single use items that players would have in their inventory that they used that fulfilled the same purpose as these environmental hazards. But now a player must pay close attention their area to maximize the use of these traps, without getting hurt themselves.

“Monster Hunter” games have also traditionally been on a console, but “World” is the first to be released on PC. To veteran hunters who are used to holding a controller, using a keyboard and mouse is a new challenge in an already challenging new world.

Overall, however, “World” is showing that “Monster Hunter” games can adapt. Instead of just adding new mechanics like riding, or new weapons, Capcom has shown that the franchise can receive a complete overhaul but still keep integral parts of the game intact.

The game also still has a sense of deeper lore than what is being told on the surface. Experienced lore divers will know that even though “World” is indeed taking place in a brave new world, there are still mysteries and unanswered questions that could take hours of research to look into.

       “World” can be challenging to both new and veteran players alike but the games have always been known for their steep learning curve. If the new gameplay mechanics have seemed worrying, the game is still the same. The player is still hunting and gathering. And, in the end, there will always be a bigger and more frightening monster to hunt.  

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Coming out of the Trenches: A review of the new Twenty One Pilots album

By Peter Partoza
Correspondent

As per usual, a new week means new music hitting the airwaves. Coming fresh off of a much-anticipated wait, Twenty One Pilots dropped their new album “Trench.” The full album comes after a 3-year hiatus, and delivers 56 more minutes of emo pop for fans to enjoy. In addition to releasing the album, the group announced a tour that almost immediately sold out in all cities, and they released a new line of “Trench”-themed merchandise. 

Many of the songs bring you back to the original Twenty One Pilots sound, lighthearted harmony with a driving drum set and Tyler Joseph’s unmistakable voice. Switching between falsetto vocals and spoken word lyric styles, the new album is refreshing, but it feels like it’s missing something. The initial two songs of the album have a harder rock sound to them and the record starts off with a great hook, suggesting a departure from their traditional sound, but Twenty One Pilots quickly return to older form after just a taste of the new and improved that could have been. 

I am personally conflicted with this album. On one side, I enjoy the harder rock sound they featured in “Levitate” and “Jumpsuit” and want to hear more of the like. On the other side I’m glad that they’re back with more material that resembles their “Blurryface” album. That aside, there are plenty of things to praise: the lyric writing, the sound editing, and the overall feeling of the album, each song having its own story and commentary on life. 

One particular song that truly resonated with me was “Neon Gravestones.” The song speaks on the way our current culture treats death, especially with celebrities, often seeing these high-profile deaths as a way to increase reputation. In the song Tyler Joseph asks his fans to promise, “If I lose to myself, you won’t mourn a day, and you’ll move on to someone else” refusing to let his death be glorified, and instead celebrating the life that was lived. Though it may not be everyone’s favorite kind of music, I still recommend it. The album is timely with World Mental Health day just passing on Oct. 10, and I appreciate the lyrical contribution to the ongoing dialogue about mental health. 

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Book Review: The Dictator’s Handbook

By Steven Hicks
Correspondent

Popularized by online personality CGP Grey’s video “The Rules for Rulers,” “The Dictator’s Handbook” is an exploration of the incentives that drive leaders. While the primary focus is on governmental rule, the book also examines the behavior of CEOs and other types of leaders.  

The basic concept of the book is that power is derived from a coalition of supporters. The smaller this coalition is (as a proportion of the total population) the more the leader is incentivized to behave as an autocrat. In contrast, larger coalitions promote more democratic behavior. The book has two primary drives; to prove this point through both logic and real-world examples, and to use this point to illustrate the rules by which leaders behave. 

The arguments presented are compelling and occasionally even profound. The authors do an excellent job of keeping their personal political views out of their arguments, so long as the reader agrees with the basic proposition that democracies are better places to live than autocracies or dictatorships.  

There are certain sections of the book where politics do slip in, particularly during the section on foreign aid. However, the points made there are largely couched in personal experience and presented with enough caveats that it doesn’t read like sermonizing or moralizing. While there are a small handful of calls to action throughout the book, they are relatively apolitical in the sense that they do not play to typical liberal or conservative sensibilities.  

The focus is on illustrating the behaviors of leaders when they are given certain incentives so that readers can be educated when interacting with politics. It should be noted that while the book largely avoids hot-button political issues, it is by no means a book everyone is going to agree with. The arguments are grounded in cynicism, and this aspect gets more intense as the book goes on.  

Overall, “The Dictator’s Handbook” is an intriguing, compelling book. Despite the heavy and involved topics, it explains the basics well enough that more complicated ideas presented later on do not seem confusing. However, it does demand a tolerance for dark subject matter. The examinations of real world autocracies can be upsetting and occasionally even disturbing. “The Dictator’s Handbook” is uncompromising and unnerving, but is ultimately a rewarding and fascinating look at how leaders operate. 

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Out and About: B-24 Crash Site on Humphrey’s Peak

By Sean Hernandez
Correspondent

Off the beaten path on Humphrey’s Peak lies a hidden piece of history that has been a part of the mountain for 74 years. On Sept. 15, 1944, a B-24 crew returning from a training mission flew headlong into the mountain after veering off course in poor weather conditions.

To this day the wreckage remains on the mountainside. If the excitement of climbing the tallest point in Arizona isn’t enough, then you’ll be pleased to know that this attraction on the mountain makes it a little more adventurous.

The best way to get to the wreckage is to take the Humphrey’s Peak Trail. Starting at the base of Snowbowl, the trail begins through an open meadow and makes its way into a dense aspen forest. The trail quickly begins to ascend, at times with a steep incline that can take a lot out of someone in combination with the rise in altitude. 

There is no published route to the wreckage site, so it’s recommended that anyone who is attempting to find the wreckage either have a guide or a GPS device to check the location once off the trail. About seven switchbacks into the trail, there is a large rock field next to the trail. Crossing over this field and heading north up the mountain is the most direct route to the wreckage.  

Our group decided to continue a little further up before going off trail. Packed with ribbons to help remember the way we came, we began trekking through the wilderness. We wound up over the wreckage which was nice since we didn’t have to climb up any more of the mountain. The rest of the day was spent gradually descending the slopes, examining the wreckage as we went. 

Due to the cold temperatures and dry climate that are present on Humphrey’s Peak year-round, the B-24 wreckage is well preserved. Broken sections of aluminum wings and fuselage are still just as shiny as they would’ve been when the plane was still flying. The wreckage is spread over several acres of a rock field which can be at times difficult to maneuver. 

On its own, hiking Humphrey’s Peak is a challenge. Adding the element of going off the trail increases the difficulty immensely. Anyone looking to take on this hike should make sure they are in good condition for the hike, have proper hiking gear and plenty of water, and a guide whether that be other people or a GPS. The chance to get up close and see the wreckage made all the aches and pains worth it. 

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No to Brett Kavanaugh

By James Ritchey
Correspondent

With a 50-48 vote on Oct. 6, Brett Kavanaugh was elected by the Senate to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court left by a retiring Anthony Kennedy. After weeks of controversy, hearings, investigations, and rash political divide, the Senate voted almost entirely on partisan lines to guide the legal system for the next decades.

While Brett Kavanaugh has experience and knowledge to qualify him for the position he was placed in, his conduct both in the past and in his confirmation process demonstrate that he is undeserving of the position.

Before Donald Trump was elected president, his campaign published a list of 21 judges that could potentially replace Justice Antonin Scalia after his death.

On this list was Neil Gorsuch. Not on this list was Brett Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh was not added to the list until Nov. 2017, when it became more clear that Justice Kennedy may retire.

Nearly all conservative speakers remarked that any judge on the lists of potential appointees would be a great choice, and one they would be happy with. So, the addition of Kavanaugh raised some suspicion.

Kavanaugh is the only justice on the list who has publicly stated he does not believe a sitting president can be indicted. In light of the Robert Mueller probe into the 2016 election, this question was raised often and has not yet been clearly answered.

If this fact does not bring up enough suspicion of a potential compromise of objectivity on the Supreme Court, then the allegations that arose after his nomination on July 9 definitely do.

After his nomination, the American Civil Liberties Union, a non-partisan group, stated that Kavanaugh’s record “demonstrates hostility to international law as a constraint on government action as well as an unwillingness to hold the government to account when it violates the constitutional and human rights of U.S. citizens and noncitizens,” which violates principles that the Supreme Court was built upon.

As part of his nomination to the Senate, documents from his past career were provided to Senators to review to help establish his ethos. Even though hundreds of thousands of pages of documents were released, the White House used its executive authority to withhold over 100,000 pages of records, leaving senators with a distinct gap in determining Kavanaugh’s objectivity.

With this mounting inability to truly determine Judge Kavanaugh’s potential for serving on the Supreme Court, credible allegations of sexual assault and disorderly conduct arose.

Although most of the allegations concern events that happened in Kavanaugh’s high school and college years, Kavanaugh’s insistent denials raised even more suspicion. In the hearing when accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified, Kavanaugh appeared incredibly emotional, subjective, and unfit to hold such an influential position.

As the controversy heightened, the Republican Party refused to admit that any wrongdoing had occurred with Kavanaugh at any point in his life. Among dodged questions and angry responses to Senators, Kavanaugh’s nomination was never in jeopardy from any Republican politician.

Regardless of mounting controversy, and proven subjectivity, and obvious emotionality, no Republican authorities ever moved forward with nominating another judge. There were over 20 well-qualified, White House-approved judges, yet the GOP insisted on sticking to their guns instead of working for compromise.

Kavanaugh is now in a position of extreme power that he does not deserve as he has proven his inability to remain objective and free of emotion in high-impact situations. While other judges may have been better choices, United States citizens are now under the influence of a Supreme Court Justice who will affect their lives without sufficient regard to legal principles.

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Christopher Robin: A trip down nostalgia road

By Peter Partoza
Correspondent

Disney fans have been buffeted with live-action remake and sequel after sequel of classic movies, such as “Toy Story,” “Cars,” “The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and countless others. But with “Christopher Robin,” a nice change of pace has hit the cinema scene.  

Christopher Robin tells the story of an adult Christopher who has left the Hundred Acre Woods and has been through the rollercoaster ride of growing up. Those who grew up with “Winnie the Pooh” are pulled in, easily identifying themselves with Christopher Robin as they watch him go through schooling, falling in love, going to war, and starting a family, all within a brief montage in the opening portion of the movie.  

The movie cuts to a view of Christopher Robin, now a workaholic with a strained relationship with his family. Trouble at work adds to Christopher’s stress and begins to push him further and further away from his family, causing him to send them to his childhood cottage for the weekend as he works.

As Christopher aged and grew, Pooh eagerly awaited the return on the other side.

Coming to the movie’s present time, Pooh discovers that he can’t find his friends one day. He decides to venture through the door Christopher Robin would always come through to visit and play.

As Pooh comes through the door he enters our world and through story driving coincidence, Christopher Robin and Pooh reunite.

After realizing that the tree Pooh came through no longer has a way back to the Hundred Acre Wood, Christopher is propelled into a journey to his childhood home, all the while carrying the lighthearted Pooh with him.

As the movie goes on, Christopher Robin’s adult cynicism and stresses begin to clash with Pooh’s childlike wonder and simplicity, making it a recipe ripe for not only comedy and cartoon antics but also somber moments that bring the viewers back to the idea that they are no longer children.

As strange as this sounds, this movie was not made for children. Hear me out. Children being brought to this movie will enjoy the simple comedy that Pooh and friends bring, but the real meat of this movie is the idea of when a child such as Christopher Robin grows up.

It grips those who have already gone through that transition, playing on the heartstrings of those who miss a simpler time. If I had to say one message that this movie had, it would be that “it’s never too late to be a kid again.” “Christopher Robin” is a feel-good movie, which, if only for a short time, will bring you away from the negativity in the world and leave you feeling better than before.

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Music Review

By Peter Partoza
Correspondent

Another week, another slew of new music coming out from artists across the spectrum. Logic is back with a brand new single, and he’s not holding anything back. “The Return” features the same aggressive unopposed lyric style he’s built his career on, and yes, he’s still got it.

Dropping names on big brands like Nike and Audi he takes a no-holds-barred approach, calling out the music business for how it still seems to deny him his place in the franchise and instead lumps him in with the mumble rap crowd.

A fast flow and a driving beat paired with powerful (and explicit) lyrics ensures he plants another flag in the rap genre, calling out other artists to push against the current rap trends and bring more types of his style of lyrically based music. Logic recently announced a new album coming soon, “Young Sinatra 4,” set to release Sept. 28, so keep an eye out.

Sliding over to the rock scene, Bring Me The Horizon’s new song “MANTRA” brings back the group after a two year hiatus.

Filled with resonating electric guitar, plenty of cymbal crashes, and the same pseudo-electric style they’ve shown off in the past, “MANTRA” brings a new story to the group, starting the song off with “Do you want to start a cult with me?”

The remainder of the song continues with lyrics speaking to those who feel like they are drifting through life with no purpose, stuck in a rut, and those who are “chanting that same old MANTRA.” No word as of yet on when the next album from them will drop, but with the release of this new song and its music video, you can expect more in the coming months.

Moving away from the more mainstream artists, a new face is making his way onto the scene. Alec Benjamin is an up and comer and his new song “Death of a Hero” features an acoustic and ambient tone with melodic lyrics.

The song laments the “death of a hero,” i.e. the moment you move out of childhood wonder and begin to see the world and people as they truly are without the veil of perfection attributed to icons. This is a good song for those rainy days or times where everything just feels too real. Benjamin is a Phoenix native and has released multiple other singles, and can be found on major music streaming and downloading websites.

There is no word yet on whether we can expect an album or not from the new kid on the scene, though, so fans will have to wait with bated breath.

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Album Review: “The Burning Cold” by Omnium Gatherum

By John Mills
Diversions Editor

At least two albums released on Aug. 31. The bigger of the two was Eminem’s “Kamikaze.” The one that caught my attention was Finnish melodic death metal band Omnium Gatherum’s “The Burning Cold.”

The Burning Cold does a lot to be more appealing to people who might not be completely sold on the melodic death metal category, and is a thoroughly enjoyable album all the way through.

The “Burning Cold” opens with a purely instrumental track, “The Burning.” As an opening track, it establishes both the tone and some of the commanding chord progressions that follow throughout the album.

The track also sets the stage for what is a heavily instrumental album. Vocals are certainly present, but as is the case with a lot of non-American melodic death bands, understanding the lyrics is a secondary factor to the overall enjoyment of the music.

After its instrumental opening, the next two songs, “Gods Go First” and “Refining Fire,” are both high energy tracks, filled with expansive drums, driving lead guitar, and steady bass work.

Lead vocalist Jukka Pelkonen does not disappoint either, delivering a strong performance, growls and all. After these two header tracks, the album settles into a bit of a more defined groove with “Rest in Your Heart,” a track that echoes the opener “The Burning” in a lot of good ways.

“The Burning Cold” has a greater use of synthesizers and electronic influences than one usually finds in melodic death metal.

However, thanks to some excellent mixing, it blends well into the rest of the instrumental work. The guitar, bass, and drums still take center stage, and the electronic work functions as a pleasant accent rather than a defining trait.

However, compared to bands like Amorphis or Dark Tranquility, the presence is still noticeable.

Standout tracks of the album have to be “Over the Battlefield,” “Be the Sky,” and the “Frontline.”  All are powerful, driven tracks, but stand out for their pacing, composition, and follow the themes of the album while standing as their own tracks.

Strong vocals dominate these tracks, with that special blend of death growls and normal lyricism that just isn’t found in American bands.

The best praise I can give the album is that each song flows together without getting lost in the middle. It’s pretty common for good metal albums—especially melodic death metal with its emphasis on melody and flow—to still only have one or two standout tracks.

That’s the normal, and Omnium Gatherum breaks the normal in a full-bodied embrace of the best aspects of the genre.

“The Burning Cold” is probably one of the best albums of the genre this year, and a contender for one of Omnium Gatherum’s best.

It is available on Spotify, Google Music, and Youtube. If you’re looking for your next metal fix, give Omnium Gatherum a try. You’ll be glad you did.

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Book Review: Red Army

By John Mills
Diversions Editor

The mid-to-late 1980s saw the rise of the techno-thriller as a literary genre. In similar sense, it also saw a wave of novels written about a theoretical outbreak of WWIII amidst rising tensions during the Cold War.

Tom Clancy’s “Red Storm Rising” is probably the best known of these and is an early example of the tropes that would come to define Clancy’s writing.

Conversely, “Red Army” by Ralph Peters bucks the in-depth explanation of tactics, vehicles, and weapons that brings “Red Storm Rising” to some 800 pages and instead takes an in-depth look at the men behind and inside those vehicles and weapons.

Perhaps unsurprisingly based on the title, “Red Army” is a character study of the Soviet fighting man and how he reacts to the many unique stresses of combat.

“Red Army” was published in 1989, only a couple years before the Soviet Union dissolved. Consequently, the book received a fair amount of bemused criticism, as people rightly observed that the unity of the USSR necessary to undertake the invasion portrayed obviously didn’t exist when it was written.

However, these critics are missing that what “Red Army” has to say about the men who fight a war, and, more specifically, the Soviet men who would have fought WWIII, is as accurate as any western writer has ever gotten.

Ralph Peters was a US Army Intelligence Officer for many years before writing “Red Army,” and he wrote the novel with the express ideal of ignoring the technological aspect of the respective militaries.

Instead, we get fully three-dimensional characters, from the general whose family has fought for Russia in one way or another for the last three hundred years, to the scared infantryman who has only been in the army for a year, to the grizzled and vicious airborne veteran of Afghanistan.

Everyone has a family they wish to return home to, to wives or girlfriends for whom to survive, to children they hope to see grow. It is unfair to say the human drama is the best part of the novel, because it is really the core of the novel.

The story takes place over three days, in which time we see the Soviets move from the East-West German border to the Rhine.

The incredibly rapid advance of Soviet forces, either directly through defending British and Dutch forces, or around them when possible, leaves the defenders off balance and unable to respond effectively.

Casualties are unthinkably high on both sides, but by maintaining an advance across several routes, the Soviets eventually force a favorable conclusion to the war.

“Red Army” is a deeply depressing book at times. Several characters we have spent dozens of pages with, learning who they are from top to bottom, are killed quite violently in the maelstrom of battle.

One commits suicide after his unit is cut off and overrun. Unlike novels written by authors with poorer skills of characterization, these deaths don’t feel cheap or forced. We care because they are small tragedies in a greater calamity.

Of the four biggest 1980s novels about a possible WWIII—“Red Storm Rising,” “Red Army,” “Team Yankee,” and “Chieftains”—“Red Army” is generally held as the best piece of literature. The others all have their place, but if you’re looking to get the best of them, go Soviet. 

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Video Game Preview: Call of Duty “Black Ops 4”

Breathing New Life into an Old Franchise 

By Sean Hernandez
Correspondent

The next installment in the Call of Duty (COD) franchise is less than a month away from release. The biggest concern I imagine most players have, including myself, is the ever-growing problem with franchise fatigue. After all the trailers are released, weary fans of the franchise find themselves asking the same question every year: is it worth buying the next one? 

    Game developer Treyarch is back again with “Black Ops 4,” the next attempt to keep the aging franchise fresh and fun. This year Treyarch decided to entirely ditch the solo campaign and focus only on multiplayer gameplay. The standard multiplayer game mode returns along with three brand new bizarre stories to tell in Zombies mode. 

The multiplayer beta took place back in August, but there is a lot to take away from the time spent playing. “Black Ops 4” continues with “boots on the ground” gameplay, staying far away from jump packs and wall running. The gameplay still feels very fast-paced but doesn’t suffer from the arcade playstyle of “Black Ops 3.” 

Some aspects resemble more refined combat roles and abilities from “Black Ops 3.” “Black Ops 4” takes direction from games such as “Overwatch” and “Rainbow Six Siege” and has upgraded from soldier classes to the use of specialists.

Each one is equipped with a loadout specially built with a specific purpose and play style in mind, whether it is a tank, defense or healer. The Pick 10, Create-a-Class-System returns along with a new gear category for customizing a specialist.

Treyarch has ditched regenerating health as well, adding a health stim to the soldier’s kit that can be used repeatedly to regain hp.

This makes for a lot more tactical gameplay since players now have a choice to heal up rather than just running in and getting shot. Additionally, fog of war has been implemented into the minimap on the player’s hud, with enemies only being revealed by being in the line of sight, firing their weapons, or through scorestreaks and specialist abilities. There are still some problems with certain specialists kits and gear that need to be balanced.

Call of Duty has also joined the Battle Royale Bandwagon with their own unique take on the genre known as Blackout.

After spending a few hours playing the Blackout beta, I can say that despite my doubts and resistance to the battle royale trend that this was a pleasant surprise that I never saw coming.

Blackout aims to be a cumulative experience filled with iconic settings, characters, weapons, and gadgets that span across the Black Ops worlds.

Eighty-player skirmishes can be played in either solo, duos, or quad teams. It’s a mix of your typical battle royale-style gameplay and the fast-paced combat COD has become famous for.

Vehicles added into the mix make traversing the map both an enjoyable and challenging experience. Anyone who plays “Player Unkown’s Battlegrounds” or “Fortnite” will likely enjoy the battle royale experience that COD has to offer.

Every year I worry that I’m wasting my money on the next Call of Duty. I fear that within a few weeks the franchise fatigue will kick in, even though there’s a lot of improvement and innovation in Black Ops 4.

To my surprise, there’s a lot to be excited about for anyone still on the fence about the next Black Ops.

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