After a fifteenth season plagued by NFL preemptions and the launching of a more modern, “rebranded” CSI:Cyber, it is no surprise that CSI would be ending in some fashion soon. Immortality, billed as a movie by CBS, but basically what would have been a two-part episode during a normal season of the show serves as the end of the longest running show in the CSI universe. I should probably mention before starting in on the CSI series finale itself, that this show was delayed on the East Coast due to a NFL game – the exact problem which led many to speculate last year that the show was facing cancellation. Despite being on the West Coast, the scheduled recording I had on my DVR did not go through. Luckily, the CSI series finale was available on demand and I caught it Tuesday afternoon, with it apparently expiring later that night. Had I slacked a little, I would have missed the finale entirely, further backing the complaints that die-hard fans of the show have had for over a year now with CBS making it difficult for them to catch the show.

That said, the episode does work as an end cap for the series as they were able to get Marg Helgenberger (Catherine Willows), Paul Guilfoyle (Jim Brass), and surprisingly William Petersen (Gil Grissom) who last appeared on the show in 2013 in a cameo voice over appearance and hadn’t been seen on the show since another cameo in a video clip in 2011. Apparently George Eads (Nick Stokes), who exited the show in Season 15, was not interested in appearing in the finale.

The plot of the episode revolves around the enigmatic Lady Heather character played by Melinda Clarke, hence Grissom being involved once again. I was never a big fan of the Lady Heather / Grissom plot line so of course an internal groan when I saw this was what the finale was based around. I’m sure anyone that was into that story line found this intriguing but I was more interested in why Grissom and Sara Sidle had split up – which thankfully the episode also went into detail about.

The CSIs are working to track down the mastermind behind suicide bombings happening around Las Vegas by individuals that appeared to be under control of someone remotely giving them suggestions. One of the locations bombed is the hotel that Catherine owns, so she returns to Vegas to get involved. Brass also worked security at the hotel that was bombed so that is how they get him involved in the case. Grissom is found in San Diego as he’s now working as an environmental activist trying to bring down shark poachers. When a key is found on one of the bombers that implicates Lady Heather in the case, Sheriff Ecklie insists on Grissom being involved.

During the investigation, Sara and Grissom spent a lot of time together and we get a peek into what led to their separation. Eventually, Lady Heather is cleared of involvement in the bombings and the actual suspect is revealed. In a tense moment, Catherine, Morgan Brody, and Greg Sanders discover three car bombs in the parking garage of the suspect’s apartment building. While at the exact same moment, Sara and Grissom confront the suspect who has a suicide vest on in his remote cabin. The CSIs in the parking garage all cut the correct wire at the same time and prevent the building from exploding and Grissom, now an explosives expert due to his activist lifestyle is able to determine the suicide vest wasn’t armed and the suspect is taken into custody.

The final scenes play out with face to face between Grissom and Lady Heather where Gil admits that Heather helped him realize that he still loves Sara. Catherine has decided to leave her job with the FBI and return to run the Vegas crime lab as Ted Danson’s D.B. Russell has decided to leave Vegas and effectively join the cast of CSI: Cyber. Sara is named head of the lab, but before she can take the position, she sees the interview that Grissom conducted with Lady Heather and leaves to meet Grissom at his boat and heads out to sea with him as the credits roll.

While the finale was quite predictable, as expected for a network TV show, it still hit a lot of the points a series wrap-up needs to hit. We get the reasoning as to why Ted Danson is joining the new show. We got closure about Elisabeth Shue’s character by way of a D.B. Russell comment about her passing as she ended Season 15 in a coma. We also got closure on the Gil Grissom / Lady Heather / Sara Sidle love triangle. All in all, it was an effective finale, but did fall into a lot of the clichés that CSI: Las Vegas became known for in recent seasons.

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 Review
(Columbia Pictures)

I went in to Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 only vaguely remember watching the first one on Blu-Ray in 2010 during some downtime when I was sick. I turns out it really doesn’t matter that I didn’t remember much beyond “Kevin James is an inept rent-a-cop” because the movie seems to go out of its way to both recycle gags from the first film, while simultaneously trying to ignore what transpired in that film’s plot.

“Spoiler alert” but the first Paul Blart movie ends with Blart saving the day and getting married. In this completely unnecessary sequel, they essentially retcon the marriage by having Blart’s new wife leave him eight days after the end of the previous film. They also repeat a gag several times in the film where no characters in Blart 2 seem to really care about the events of the first film, except Paul.

The premise of the film is that Paul Blart receives an invention to go to Las Vegas for a security guard convention. Paul and his daughter Maya head to Vegas where they check into the Wynn resort (product placement – including a Steve Wynn cameo towards the end of the film). It turns out that the very same night Paul Blart is in town, the villains, led by Neal McDonough, are planning to execute a heist to steal all of the valuable art from the resort.

Of course, it’s a Paul Blart film, so hijinks ensue, Kevin James rides a Segway, falls down a lot, and blunders his way to success.

I felt bad for Neal McDonough, as he does a serviceable job as an action-comedy villain, but all his appearance did was make me think of his run as Robert Quarles on Justified. When your lead villain makes you pine for something else that the actor did that was significantly better, it is never a good sign.

It wasn’t until the film was over that I realized I watched something that was rated PG. That confused me as throughout the film I was trying to figure out exactly who this movie was made for. You’d think with a PG rating it was marketed towards kids, but a trip to a convention in Las Vegas and thwarting an art heist don’t seem like plot points that would interest most kids. I then figured maybe it was made to appeal to teens, as the B-plot of the film is Blart’s daughter learning she was accepted into UCLA for college and deals with Paul losing his daughter because she is growing up. However, I don’t think many teens would like this film either, beyond an ironic viewing perhaps – as it the comedy gags are quite juvenile.

The movie isn’t terribly made. Believe me, I’ve seen far worse films that weren’t as well made as Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2. But, it’s not even something I’d call “fair”. It just exists.

I suppose this film was made for fans of Kevin James, since that is the only condition I could see recommending this film to someone. If you’re a Kevin James completist, then by all means, watch Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2.

Mat Mania title screen
(Taito)

Originally released in Japan as Exciting Hour – The Prowrestling Network, developer Taito unleashed Mat Mania on North American arcades in 1985. Pro wrestling fans may remember 1985 as the year of the first WrestleMania event and when pro wrestling began its ascent into mainstream popular culture. The timing couldn’t have been better as Mat Mania is one of the first professional wrestling games that players could quickly pick up and begin playing almost immediately.

Earlier games, such as Data East’s 1983 game Tag Team Wrestling, employed a convoluted system of scrolling through a list of maneuvers that had to be quickly selected in order to successfully attack the opponent. Mat Mania simplifies things a great deal by having a “kick” and “punch” button. Once you grapple a groggy opponent, a series of moves can be executed using directional moves with the joystick and pressing the punch or kick button. The simplification of the controls was key as that it made significantly easier to pull off suplexes, body slams, and piledrivers in Mat Mania when compared to previous pro wrestling games in the arcades.

Mat Mania is a two-player game, but in its initial release, the players alternated turns and both faced computer controlled opponents. An update to the game came in 1986, called Mania Challenge, allowed versus play and introduced a second playable character with the same set of moves as the single player hero, Dynamite Tommy.

The non-playable characters are mostly racial stereotypes by today’s standards, but each one appears to be modeled after real wrestlers working during the Eighties. Taito did not sign any wrestlers to a licensing deal. Instead the developers played fast and loose and patterned their characters, sometimes obviously, after real life grapplers.

The playable character, Dynamite Tommy, is believed to be patterned after Dynamite Kid (real name Tommy Billington). Coco Savage appears to be a combination of Bobo Brazil and Kamala the Ugandan Giant. The Insane Warrior, seems to be at least partially based on Road Warrior Animal and the “Mad Max / post-apocalyptic punk” gimmick that several wrestlers working at the time. The Pirania is a masked luchador styled wrestler that is said to closely resemble Mil Mascaras. Karate Fighter has a martial arts gimmick and is patterned after the Great Kabuki and other martial arts based wrestlers of the time. The final boss of the game is Golden Hulk, clearly modeled after renowned wrestler Bruiser Brody, but later altered for the North American market to more closely resemble Hulk Hogan, who was the biggest thing going in the United States at the time.

As Dynamite Tommy, the player fights through the ranks of “The Prowrestling Network” with an announcer named “Cory.” introducing each match as if to a live television audience. The player can win by either pinning the opponent for a three count, or by count out if the opponent stays out of the ring for twenty seconds. Winning by submission or disqualification is not possible in Mat Mania.  Each initial play through the first five opponents go in a specific order, however, after beating Golden Hulk and becoming champion, the difficulty level is ramped up considerably and you face the same opponents in a more random order.

Being a pro wrestling fan as a kid, I gravitated towards Mat Mania, and later Mania Challenge, whenever I went to the arcade in town that had those games. It has good replay value as I’ve been able to track down a machine at various points over the years and quickly make my way up through the ranks as if no time had passed at all. While it is definitely very rooted in 1980s styled pro wrestling, it is a fun game and definitely a milestone as far as pro wrestling video games are concerned.

Fallout 3 - Game of the Year Edition
(Bethesda Game Studios / Bethesda Softworks)

Fallout 3 is the game that got me back into gaming after a lull from 2004 until 2009. A friend suggested that I really needed to play this game. He insisted to the point he let me borrow his copy for the XBox 360 and demanded I at least give it a chance. I sat down one evening to play the game and nine hours later I had no idea why the sun was up already. I went out later that day and picked up my own copy. 60 hours and many days later I’d done pretty much everything there was to do within the game. I also found myself eagerly awaiting the release of each new DLC adventure.

Over the past year, I’ve been playing through a lot of games on the Playstation 3 as I’ve been able to pick them up cheap; either on disc or by way of sales at the Playstation store. Usually around the end of summer I get in the mood to play a Fallout game and this time around I decided to pick up both Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition (GotY) and Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition for the PS3.

It had been a while since I last visited the Capital Wasteland, but I could not wait to give this game another play.

So, the main thing I noticed is how buggy the PS3 version of this game is. Major points off for that. I’m playing the GotY edition, and the game downloaded the newest patches when I fired it up the first time. I still suffered through multiple, we’re talking dozens and dozens, of instances of the game freezing without warning. I get that the Fallout games are buggy on any system, but I see why a lot of people on forums were calling this game unplayable. Compared to the many other titles I’ve played on the PS3, this one, hands down has had the most problems. Bear in mind that I haven’t yet fired up the New Vegas Ultimate edition, so it’s possible that game is even worse in this department.

I once again remembered I needed to get into the habit of saving often, much like I got in the habit of doing on my XBox 360 playthroughs of the game.

Taking away the massive technical problems, the game is still as great as it was when I first played it on the 360 years ago. I love the post-apocalyptic look and feel of the game. The story is compelling enough to keep my interest; but the real fun in a Fallout game are the side quests and seemingly endless random encounters awaiting you in the Wasteland.

It is nice having all of the DLC on disc here and available all at once. My favorite DLC is Point Lookout, as I like the eerie, swamp setting with the abandoned boardwalk amusement park. My least favorite is probably the Mothership Zeta DLC since, of them all, it took me out of the Fallout universe a bit. Running a self-contained story within the confines of alien spacecraft is a bit of a leap from the other more Earthly locales in the other Fallout DLC. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a lot of fun; but it almost seems like a one-off story outside of the canon of the series; like, say, the Zombie bonus levels in the Call of Duty games.

Gameplay is top-notch. I’m not a huge fan of RPGs in general, but appreciate the RPG elements that Fallout 3 makes use of. Likewise, I’m pretty terrible at first person shooters, but thankfully Fallout 3 has V.A.T.S. to make up for my terrible aim.

All said and done, I’ve probably invested around 300 hours of my life playing this game. As someone who played the original Fallout on my computer back in college, it is nice to see this franchise getting some love again with this game, New Vegas, and the forthcoming Fallout 4.