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All reviews - Movies (22) - Games (8)

The evolution of a franchise continues

Posted : 4 years, 6 months ago on 17 June 2013 03:47 (A review of Resident Evil 6)

The Resident Evil series has traditionally been characterized by four main attributes.

1) Over the top, campy storyline
2) Creepy horror atmosphere
3) Resource conservation
4) Annoying puzzles

The game has slowly changed since RE4, moving toward a more action oriented, roller coaster experience rather than haunting isolation and cautious exploring. Many fans have criticized this move, but after playing the last three installments I believe this is definitely the proper direction for the franchise to have moved in.

For one thing, Resident Evil was never going to be a better horror game than its main competitor, Silent Hill. They both have atmospheric tension, but the "jump scares" of Resident Evil were never going to rival the slow building psychological horror of its smarter cousin. In that vein, Resident Evil needed to evolve or die. There's only so many times you can be satisfied with a game that makes you spend half its length backtracking through the same rooms finding keys, cards, cranks and emblems to help you move past the next absurd puzzle left for you by insane, millionaire bio-terrorists.

The more recent Resident Evils have tapered off on the puzzles and key fetching, leaving only a trickle of that tradition behind in Resident Evil 6. Resource conservation was still a factor in both RE4 and RE5, but RE6 leaves it in the dust by making hand-to-hand combat more effective and giving all defeated enemies the chance to drop items. I welcomed this change because it made the game more fun and versatile and because the idea of "conservation" was always an artificial construct to begin with. No matter what part of a RE game you're in, the game designers had to leave you the bare minimum of health and ammo to get through the next segment or risk making your save file worthless, possibly necessitating a restart. But the only reason that would ever happen would be willful stupidity on the player's part (using up your items, saving and only using one save slot.) Therefore, the conservation aspect of Survival Horror games has always been overblown.

The horror atmosphere of Resident Evil is very much still present. There aren't as many jump scares as they're used to be, but that's probably because our heroes are more powerful and experienced. It makes sense that they're no longer surprised by old fashion shuffling zombies when they have to fight armed J'avo and giant mutant creatures on a regular basis. Our characters have become a more hardened breed (and so have the gamers controlling them.)

The Resident Evil storyline is more fun than ever. RE6 gives us a multi-layered plot unveiled in four separate but occasionally interwoven campaigns. There are seven playable characters, all with unique motivations for stopping Umbrella's latest schemes. The drama gets hammy at times, but that's to be expected (and it's part of the fun, really.)

To the extent that I had gripes with the game, they could have been addressed with a little more thought and tweaking. The game no longer allows you to scan through your equipment or select items while paused. This doesn't make the game any more "realistic" in a meaningful way, and it certainly isn't helpful. I lost count of the times that I was just trying to take stock of my inventory and I either got ambushed from behind, or an enemy ran up to attack me before I could close the item menu and react. Resident Evil needs to adopt a "wheel" system that temp-pauses. This has been done in countless other games and would have been easy to implement. The "cover" system in RE6 is trash to the point of being almost unusable, but that's ok because you don't actually need it. I don't know why they bothered with such a shoddy and unnecessary feature.

The other major source of frustration in RE6 was the lack of instruction while fighting the final bosses of each campaign. Each powerful boss is (in between shooting and dodging) a series of quick time events and mini-puzzle elements which must be solved before you can truly hurt the boss and move onto the next stage of the battle. The problem is, you're usually too busy trying to stay alive to figure out what you're supposed to do. The game gives you only vague clues, and no clear communication on what to do or how to do it. This was the most unfortunate aspect of RE6, as the boss fights look and feel epic, but the stunted gameplay subtracts from their enjoyment.

On the plus side, we can now, finally, move and shoot at the same time (long time RE fans rejoice!) In addition to more effective unarmed combat, there are new evasive tactics like side rolling, the run / slide, and jumping backwards and shooting from the ground. The skill system also allows you to customize your character to the play style you enjoy, a flexibility that no past Resident Evil has offered.

Although it's been bumpy at times, the evolution of Resident Evil has definitely been a good thing. Nostalgia for the old games creeps back occasionally, but I've definitely enjoyed the newer titles. Resident Evil 6 can frustrate at times, but at its best, it's a captivating thriller and an action extravaganza that no summer blockbuster can compete with. Games like RE6 have made big budget action movies largely irrelevant, because now you can immerse yourself in these exciting feats instead of just watching them.


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Things that go "bump" in the night still work

Posted : 4 years, 7 months ago on 10 May 2013 03:52 (A review of The Blair Witch Project)

Despite the huge hoopla that surrounded it thirteen years ago, I had never seen The Blair Witch Project until last night. My observations :

Pros

1. Effective
2. Good performances
3. Proof that less is more


Cons

1. One trick pony
2. Very short at 80 minutes
3. The plot device that caused them to "lose" the map was ridiculous
4. Spawned an entire genre of "found footage" films, none of which were nearly as good.

I would have given it a 6/10 if it were not for the aforementioned plot device which was straight up laughable. Even leaving the map out in the open and having the "Blair Witch" take it would have been more believable.


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Tarentino is back!

Posted : 4 years, 7 months ago on 7 May 2013 06:05 (A review of Django Unchained)

Django Unchained was an entertaining breath of fresh air and a return to form for Quentin Tarentino. I was bored for all but 5 minutes of "Death Proof" and either bored or asleep for the excruciating 2 and a half hours of "Inglourious Basterds", so I was a little worried when i saw that Django was almost 3 hours long. Thankfully, that long run time passed in what felt like minutes.

Django takes everything about the traditional western and turns it on its head. Instead of a white hero on a white horse and a bunch of comically stereotyped minorities we get a black hero on a dark horse poking fun at the violent, racist period that's been glorified over and over throughout film history. The best example of this is the scene which shows the first ride of (what will become) the KKK, a bunch of clueless idiots complaining that they can't see out of their poorly made hoods; only to be scattered by a simple distraction.

There are wonderful performances from the heroes and villains alike, but I thought the most enjoyable aspect of the movie was probably the soundtrack. It draws on music from just about every era and hearing a modern rap song while our main characters mosey-ed along on their horses made me laugh and applaud.

The ultra-violence of the gun fights is well filmed and comically absurd (giant ribbons of shooting blood), an effective combination of action and comedy. This is contrasted with the other violent parts of the movie, demonstrating just how brutal American slavery of blacks was for a long period of our short history. Some might call these scenes over the top or unnecessary, but they miss the point. They are exactly what is needed before Django can justly carry out his revenge on the slavers and ride into the sunset.


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Potent, but far from perfect

Posted : 4 years, 7 months ago on 4 May 2013 06:15 (A review of BioShock Infinite)

Bioshock Infinite is a fine game, but perhaps not as fine as the reviews would lead you to believe. It crafts an engaging tale and the shoot-em-up gameplay with bio powers is what we've come to expect from the series, but it has its fair share of flaws.

For me, the gameplay felt like a step back from the first two games in many ways. The limitation on two equipped weapons seemed needless and was frustrating at times. The Sky-lines, while visually incredible and providing some of the more exciting moments of the game, were not well integrated with the combat engine. Attempting skyline strikes was more trouble than it was worth and shooting while zipping around the skylines was often a waste of ammo.

As a game world, Columbia is undeniably creative and unique, but not nearly as engrossing as the twisted halls of Rapture. With its dark atmosphere and frightening half-human, half-monster enemies, the first Bioshock was a shooter/horror hybrid that could keep me on pins and needles. Infinite rarely came close to that feeling, and most of its enemies were cartoonish in nature (the one exception being the frightening "Siren" that could resurrect seemingly endless dead foes.)

The plot is the strongest aspect of Infinite, but it has problems as well. (Minor spoilers in the next two paragraphs.) Like all plots that involve time travel and alternate dimensions, Bioshock Infinite creates its own logic to operate on. This, however, leads to many "why?" and "why not?" questions that can only be answered with "plot convenience." The twist in the original Bioshock was a more simple, elegant device and as a result it felt a lot more authentic than the one in Bioshock Infinite that relies on a tangled web of pretend physics. This, however, I was happy to overlook in exchange for the emotionally powerful ending that the game offers; an ending which is undoubtedly one of the best of this generation and maybe one of the best ever in videogames.

What I was not willing to overlook is the giant false equivalency that the game creates halfway through its storyline. The game goes to great lengths to show how the powerful figures of Comstock and Fink have created a brutally oppressive, dystopian world of racism and worker abuse with a slowly building resistance movement in the background. Then, suddenly, when the resistance springs into action, they're immediately painted as blood thirsty terrorists who are somehow as bad as the oppressors they're revolting against. This is done for no good reason but to give your main character more targets to shoot at. That was a major disappointment and sacrificed a good deal of integrity that the story might have had. While the major theme of Bioshock has always been extremist ideologies, the writers incorrectly defined resistance to oppression as an ideology. It is not.

While I'm offering a fair amount of criticism for this game, I still greatly enjoyed Bioshock Infinite. This is yet another game where the story was likely stronger than the gameplay that brought it to life. Critics of narrative games love to endlessly point that out and say "YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!" What those "gameplay is all that matters" fanatics fail to realize is that while the medium of videogames will always have greater artistic potential to create interesting new methods of gameplay, videogames will ALSO still have the potential to tell stories more immersive than film and literature can hope to, because they make you an active participant in the story rather than just an observer. Even if the way you can interact is limited, or the "choices" aren't really choices, there is still great value in the ability to shift someones perspective from passive to active, and Bioshock Infinite takes great advantage of that.


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Any Way The Wind Blows

Posted : 4 years, 7 months ago on 20 April 2013 04:49 (A review of Life Of Pi)

I enjoyed Life Of Pi thoroughly from the beginning until just before the end. The movie is undoubtedly beautiful and the story is quite engaging. It's always a good sign when you look at your watch and two hours has flown by like nothing.

The graphics are dazzling, the scope is grand, and the film really captures the myriad emotions that one must experience when lost at sea.

Where this film gets into trouble is its muddled message, which isn't surprising since the message is "spiritual." Ultimately it's asking you to believe that fiction and truth are a legitimate choice, and if you choose fiction because it helps you get through life, then that's ok.

The problem here is a lack of intellectual honesty. Pi says these things, but he also says that it was his father's (the atheist) reason and clear eyed view of the world that actually kept him alive. He admits that the fiction (religion) is nothing but a coping mechanism for his trauma. I also didn't buy the idea that after hearing his sordid tale (which he tacitly admits is not true) the writer interviewing him would suddenly believe in "god" or take on some spiritual awakening.

I loved the twist at the end, but not what it represented. Great job by Ang Lee directing this film. I would rate it higher if the message of the story was more consistent and meaningful.


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Ehhh...

Posted : 4 years, 7 months ago on 20 April 2013 04:29 (A review of Lincoln)

I found myself very underwhelmed by "Lincoln." Perhaps I simply heard too much hype before watching it, or maybe it just had too much quaint Americana for my tastes. All I know is that the movie didn't teach me anything I didn't already know, and half the subject matter (his struggles with his wife and son) seemed to be there only to kill time. Also, a lot of the courtroom drama fell flat, in my opinion.

The part I liked the most was when one of Lincoln's cabinet said "You're going to tell another story, aren't you? I don't think I can listen to another one of your stories right now!"

Me : "Right there with ya, dude."

Steven Spielberg hasn't "wowed" me since the 90s when he made Jurassic Park, Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. Between this and Indiana Jones 4, it might be time for him to hang it up.


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The Impossible Dream

Posted : 4 years, 8 months ago on 17 April 2013 05:23 (A review of Silent Hill: Revelation)

My reaction to Silent Hill - Revelation was pretty much the same as my reaction to the first Silent Hill adaptation. Visually, the film does a really good job of creating the look and feel of Silent Hill. Story wise, it's a mess. It's a mish-mash of elements from several of the Silent Hill games. If you haven't played Silent Hill 3 in particular, you'll have no idea what's going on.

They front-load 30-40 minutes of the movie with exposition because that's the only way they can even attempt to craft a coherent narrative for people who haven't played the games. They did a somewhat better job of this then was done for the first movie, but that's not saying much.

The middle of the film was actually quite enjoyable. Once you scrap the idea that this movie is going to deliver any interesting dialogue or a plot that matters, you can enjoy the brief journey through Silent Hill and the few decent scares that it offers.

The end of the movie was completely lame. Heather defeats the dark host of Silent Hill in a laughable way, and then we watch Pyramid Head engage in a clumsy duel with a new boss monster that was pulled out of someone's ass. A very underwhelming ending, but pretty much what I expected from a 90 minute adaptation.

The plot and ideas that encompass the Silent Hill videogame series are rich, deep and result in an incredibly fulfilling horror experience. Frankly, no horror movie will ever compete with them. A 90-120 minute movie cannot replicate the suspense of a 15-20 hour survival horror game. I question whether a TV series could do it, even under the most competent direction. (The Walking Dead doesn't count. No mystery element, no philosophy or psychology, mostly just short bursts of action in between long periods of melo-drama.)

This is a realm in which games have transcended both film and television, and until a great writer and director work together to create a true survival horror film, it will remain that way.


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The greatest film you'll never recommend

Posted : 4 years, 9 months ago on 27 February 2013 07:21 (A review of Antichrist)

Having seen "A Serbian Film" and "Antichrist" within a week of each other, I can safely say I've seen two of the most disturbing films ever made, back to back. The difference is "A Serbian Film" was pure schlock and "Antichrist" actually has some meat to it.

The film is shocking, provocative and difficult to analyze, but the themes are definitely there. It essentially takes everything about religion and creation myth and turns it on its head in a brutal way. It's a nihilistic steak with a side order of gender issues. If I had to categorize it, I would call it a Horror / Suspense Thriller / Paranormal / Mind Fuck very much in the vein of famous Russian film maker Andrei Tarkovsky (who the movie is dedicated to.)

This is a film only for the strong of stomach and mind. The sense of despair and paranoia it creates is overwhelming and it left me saying "W...T...F" more than a few times. That said, I'm dying to watch it again and plumb its depths even farther, and that's a sign of a great film.


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A western RPG worth playing

Posted : 4 years, 11 months ago on 14 January 2013 07:11 (A review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution)

I've heard and read quite a bit about the original Deus Ex, but I never actually played it, so I went into Deus Ex - Human Revolution with no real expectations, just a hope that it could live up to it's extremely cool announcement trailer. Thankfully, it did that and more.

Human Revolution does what a lot of RPGs set out to do, but few actually accomplish, and that's have a legitimately meaningful story. It's not just a dramatic tale of government corruption, warring international corporations and the resulting social strife and insurrection. It IS all those things, but more importantly it tackles the issue of Transhumanism in a very serious way.

All of the plot points and dialogue in the game center around the benefits and dangers of human augmentation and how that technology would change the world in very sudden and drastic ways. This game is less a character study (which is what a lot of RPGs are) and more a showcase for potent themes, intriguing ideas and difficult questions (which is what great art does.)

The gameplay has a bit of a learning curve, but ultimately it's a mix of sneaking around, shooting action, hacking (twitch puzzles) and exploration. I was very pleased to see that there was almost always more than one way to accomplish the game's objectives. The game will punish you for trying to strong-arm your way through everything and reward you for patience, careful observation and being a "ghost" (accomplishing goals through stealth.) Should your patience run out, or you simply prefer conflict, fighting is always an option and you can develop your abilities in that direction instead.

The graphics are nice, if a little dated for 2011. The soundtrack is a techno/synth mix reminiscent of Blade Runner; a perfect accompaniment to the game's setting. Together they produce the tense atmosphere of a world on the brink of total chaos. It's apparent from the start that human civilization is at a cyberpunk crossroads.

This is the first western RPG to truly impress me in a long time. There have been a slew of good rpg-lite shooters (Bioshock, Fallout 3, etc) but none of them have the narrative weight of Deus Ex - Human Revolution.


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The small action RPG with a big heart

Posted : 4 years, 11 months ago on 13 January 2013 07:44 (A review of NIER)

Nier... the small action RPG with a big heart. It tried my patience at times, but I'm glad I stuck it out.

The gameplay is not overly challenging (on normal difficulty) but the magic abilities you gather over the course of the game offer you a fair amount of variety and keep it interesting and fun.

The emotionally powerful story is where this game truly shines. The game world provides a sorrow drenched atmosphere that makes you feel like things could end badly at any minute. The sense of hopelessness makes you want to protect and save your ailing daughter even more. This is the driving force behind the main character and the story in general, since her fate is tied to the fate of the world.

I put 35 hours into the game initially and then replayed certain portions so I could see its three optional endings. Overall, I quite enjoyed Nier.


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