Sci-Fi Review – Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (dir. by George Lucas)


Attack of the Clones is, at least in my opinion, the worst Star Wars film ever made. Hands down. That is not to say it’s not mildly entertaining, but it demands a great deal of good will from its viewer to keep him from sneering at the movie constantly, especially if said viewer is a fan.

Christ, where do I even begin.

It’s important to note that Episode II is a transition movie. If that’s not clear enough, what I mean is that it’s a movie that exists to connect both the childish, yet potentially endearing Episode I, and the much darker and edgier Episode III. Episode II is somewhere inbetween these two moods, trying to make the transition smoother, disastrously so. It’s catastrophic in many levels, but mostly because of Hayden Christensen’s Anakin Skywalker. We’ll get there soon.

Episode II starts as a movie about politics. Now, I like fictional world politics as much as the next person. I honestly do. Especially in a space opera setting. But in Star Wars the politics are dull and barely explained. Padmé Amidala’s two terms as democratically elected Queen of Naboo (wait, what?) are now over, and she continues her career as a politician by becoming a senator. The story begins by trying to make it interesting that people are trying to kill Amidala, on what appears to be politically motivated crimes. We don’t get much context, except that she opposes some other senators. Palpatine, being the super trustworthy guy everyone always knew he was, assigns the Jedi Order to protect her, and finds that Obi-Wan is a suitable bodyguard for Padmé, considering their friendship way back in Episode I. Of course, Obi-Wan must take his apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, with him. And hilarity ensues.

Now, you’re probably familiar with whom Anakin is to become, and you probably know whose father he is, so this movie must establish one very important thing; an origin to the affection between future Lord Vader and an unwitting woman, so that we can learn whose womb was it that those guys from the original trilogy came from. Therefore, in addition to being about lackluster politics, this is a movie about love.

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DAMN SON.

Now, I have to agree with Padmé. You can preach all you want about how you have a massive crush on Hayden Christensen’s mini braid, but that piercing sex offender gaze made me uncomfortable. Throughout the first act, Anakin goes from flirting with the poor woman to actively doing stuff very similar to sexual harassment. I mean, seriously, look at this lecherous, leering asshole.

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Darth Vader has always been regarded as one of the greatest villains of cinema, but I never figured that he was also one of the sleaziest. 

I wish this was the only problem with Anakin. Maybe it’s not Mr. Christensen’s acting, but the poor writing (though I suspect that, considering his absence in major movies this decade, his acting was definitely a factor). Young Skywalker is a very gifted Jedi, being immaculately conceived by midi-chlorians and all (I can’t stop laughing), and he is painfully aware of his skills, which he shows through an overpowering arrogance. Now, arrogance when done right can be charming, and perhaps that was the intention; to make Darth Vader a badass even as a teenager, a daredevil, someone who just barely succeeds, but does it with style. Anakin, however, comes across as impudent, annoying, and exceedingly stupid. It seems Anakin can’t go two scenes without doing something that would displease the Jedi council, and entirely aware of it too. ‘Cause that’s just how he rolls. James Dean from a galaxy far far away.

Second act comes. Anakin grows more and more adolescent and fascist. More politics happen. Then there are some cool action scenes that seem to save the film. Obi-Wan is written as barely having a personality, aside from comments that try to make it evident that he is growing older and grumpier, even though he can’t be much more than 30. Regardless, he is arguably the saving grace in the main cast, at the very least as far as really cool fights go. He pilots fighter ships, he fights with a lightsaber; the man sees some action. It’s almost depressing to see an actor of Ewan McGregor’s caliber being reduced to action hero and grumpy mentor to an angsty teenager.

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Their dynamic is oddly reminiscent of Gran Torino

Jar Jar also appears. Fan favourite Jar Jar. I feel this is worth mentioning because in an extremely important scene he proposes (as stand-in senator for Amidala) to convey supreme power to Chancellor Palpatine. Yes, that Chancellor Palpatine, and I have to wonder why they couldn’t task this burden to an unnamed senator. Don’t people hate the poor gungan enough? It’s as if George Lucas is just fucking with his public to see how far they can go, at this point.

And then, in the third act, we are introduced to the big bad: Count Dooku, played by the late Sir Christopher Lee. You’d think that bringing this legend of acting might infer that this character is the highlight of the cast. Might have been. Dooku is a character full of potential. He’s obviously evil, but with just the right amount of idealism to seem more shades of grey than the cruel, pure black villains the series are accostumed to. But apparently all he does is some exposition, then pave the way for the epic arena fight scene that kind of defines this movie as a Star Wars film (perhaps one of the only things that defines this as a Star Wars film), some more exposition, a lightsaber duel (a really cool one, wrapping up the whole two things that make this a Star Wars film), and then he’s gone, apparently having started a war. The movie is over, without fully explaining why things escalated, and who exactly Count Dooku represents that the Republic is at war with.

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WAR AGAINST WHOM???

I’m serious when I say this can be an entertaining movie. The fight scenes can be fun and you can laugh at what ridiculous situations the actors are subjected to. But it’s mostly incredibly dull. It’s a film that throws you into an extended torrent of politics you need to understand beforehand to appreciate, and that lead to Clone Wars, a pretty cool spin-off that most people never got to see and that might as well have been properly included as crucial to the continuity since it’s much better than this. As a standalone film, the story is a confusing, rushed mess even at two hours long. As a Star Wars film, Attack of the Clones makes it obvious that the series is not infallible. Horribly, gapingly, obviously not infallible.

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Horror Review: Silent Hill 2


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Horror and psychology are two things that interest me. I currently major in the latter, and would do so in the former if I could. From that, one might assume (correctly) that I like psychological horror. This is part of the reason why I believe, and will try to convince you of, that Silent Hill 2 is the best game ever made.

Ok, that might have been sudden, but bear with me.

Firstly, context. As the game’s plot goes, you play as James Sunderland, and you have been a widow for two years when suddenly you receive a letter from the late missus, Mary (which is never a good sign), beckoning you to the town of Silent Hill, where you two once visited in a happy vacation. In your confusion about where the letter came from, you follows its instructions (I realize some of you wouldn’t, but imagine you live in a universe where “Silent Hill” isn’t synonymous with “absolutely fucking terrifying”), finding a completely different town from the one you vacationed in with Mary.

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Now, fans sometimes disagree about which is the best Silent Hill in the series (though the most self-entitled “hardcore fans” will say that Silent Hill 2 is the gospel). That’s understandable. Generally, Silent Hill games deal with the occult and demonic creatures, while Silent Hill the Second differs from the other ones. It is very abstract where the others are… less abstract. The psychological symbolisms are there in every game if you look for it, but it’s delicious icing in an otherwise already delicious cake. People don’t always stop to appreciate it.

Silent Hill 2 forces you to appreciate it. It doesn’t much care about the pagan lore of its foggy, homonymous town. The subject is barely touched upon, and when it is, you may not even realize it’s relevant to the series as a whole. The lore is there to prove that this is indeed part of the series, but this is a game that stands alone on its own. There is no evil, quasi-satanic clergy trying to foil your attempts of survival and/or rescuing your loved ones.

The standalone structure of Silent Hill 2 makes it great even for the potentially uninitiated to the series, who only knows the games as “that ones with the fog and the monsters”. Silent Hill 2 is almost a spin-off, barely connected to the continuity of the saga and more focused on the characters that compose its plot. This is a straight up story of people who are, on an emotional level, profoundly tormented, and why they are tormented, and how they are tormented.AngelaKnife2

While playing, you will stumble upon aberrations roaming the streets and buildings of the small town. You see, Mary’s illness that led to her death took a toll on James, and this toll becomes material through the town’s power. His feelings from watching Mary’s transformation from a vibrant woman into a miserable terminal patient are shown in the monster’s designs. Anger for not understanding why this had to happen to the woman he loved and for her becoming emotionally abusive from the pain of an undisclosed illness. Sexual frustration from being at her bedside to the very end, unable to be with her, but also unable to leave her. Everything is a reflection of James’ damaged psyche. The game explores some very grey areas of human morality through its development of James’ good and bad personality traits, all of which are too human.

When I said Silent Hill 2 is the best game ever made, of course I acknowledge that as an opinion. It is, instead, a personal favorite of mine. However being the fantastic psychological thriller it is, most people who played it would say that Silent Hill 2 should be featured in the annals of videogame history as a masterpiece, and you’d be hard pressed to convince them otherwise. The only exaggeration would be claiming you won’t find a better game, as that is subjective. Just understand that many of us are still looking for one. It’s such a unique videogame experience, and one you should play yourself to understand the beautifully conceived characters.

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Except for this one. Laura’s a little twerp.

Review: Sunless Sea


Sunless-SeaI acquired Sunless Sea by impulse as soon as I heard it was a “story-driven roguelike”. I had heard of it before as a “lovecraftian ship navigation simulator”. So happens it attempts to be both, and executes its proposal with laudable competence. Sunless Sea is Uncharted Waters: New Horizons for the SNES meets Eternal Darkness for the Gamecube. It is Sid Meier’s Pirates with a Doctor Who, wacky kind of horror, eldritch and horrifying in its own right. It is fantastic, and scary and fascinating.

Sunless Sea evokes the mysteriousness of the oceans during the age of discoveries and displaces it into a fantasy, steampunk, victorian London to create a setting appropriately unknown. Your home port of Fallen London (Which as it implies, is London after falling into the earth. Get with the program.) is the only mostly safe place in the underground sea referred to as the Unterzee. As soon as you set sail from Fallen London, there’s no telling what you’ll find, with bat swarms, giant crabs and rat pirates being some of the most tame enemies you’ll encounter. The Unterzee is appropriately feared by those that dwell in it, and your own terror is only one of the things you must manage, lest despair drives you into joining the ghosts in the sea. Mind you, this is not a metaphor, there are actual sea ghosts who, on occasion, wail for you to join them. Your ship’s light brings some comfort at the cost of precious fuel. You must balance the intake of fear with the diminishing fuel and food supplies. It is a game of management. as well as exploration.

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But most of all, it’s story-driven. There is no single story to speak, but all of them are superbly written. You travel from port to port, from tale to tale, every one of them as eerie as the previous and never the same as any other. The seas are ruled by the gods of Salt, of Stone and of Storm, and you seek their favour, only hoping not to displease any of them. Spider-silk and mushroom wine are common trading goods, while human souls and uncensored romantic novels are illegal commodities. Every island you visit is a story. Every game update is a new set of stories added. It is a fascinating, ever expanding world for the fantasy and horror writer and all its consumers.

If I had to describe Sunless Sea in one word, it would be “enigmatic”. More extensively I’d describe it as dashingly green and black. But it offers too much content; it’s too original to be summarized so briefly. As a roguelike, it is unconventional. As a horror story, it is promising, and as an indie game as a whole it is very successful. I can only hope the Unterzee becomes richer and richer with its programmed updates, and so should you.

 

Horror Review: The Evil Within


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The Evil Within’s announcement was met with huge expectations for being an original horror title directed by Shinji Mikami, creator of Resident Evil, benchmark of modern horror videogames. Over the years he personally directed a few projects with very fluctuating results, but his leadership of the Resident Evil games was competent, and they only really squandered when he cut ties with the series after his involvement right after Resident Evil 4, which many regard as one of the best games of the last decade. No pressure in this new intellectual property then.

And I’ll just straight out say it. It’s a disappointment. It would be hard not to be one. But it’s not a normal disappointment. If it were I’d give it a passable review and say that people might enjoy it just for the effort. However, The Evil Within is, pardon me, utter piss. I realize negative reviews are very “in” nowadays and people do them just for the sake of it, but this one is sincere. I wouldn’t buy something on retail price crossing my fingers, HOPING, it would be such a mess. I spent cash on this shit. This money was invested. I wanted it to give some return in the form of entertainment. Which was wishful thinking, of course.

First of all let me talk about the technical issues. Full disclosure; I played the PC port; not a good option, apparently. To be honest I only had one issue with it, but I understand that “it is not a good port” because this piece of trivia was bombarded on me by my peers. So don’t buy the PC version, it’s bad (maybe until they release some patches). That being stated, we’re left with “the game”. The real horror.

Probably under the pretense that this would make the game scarier, the development team decided that the camera just had to be forever stuck on letterbox view. This is not just pretentious, it is an OBSTACLE. It takes maybe a third of everything in your field of view. Your eyes are hindered by two monstrous gaps of black bars, top and bottom. And you need to actually look at stuff to be able to pick them, so you can only imagine how this is cumbersome on the playing experience (By items, I mean ammo, medicine, documents, same kind of thing that was in Resident Evil). Are you a fan of collecting stuff? A perfectionist maybe? You’ll either spend more time than you should inside one map to make sure you’ve gotten everything or you’ll forget that. Chances are you’ll miss items either way. This camera is out of this world. It is a monster incarnate full of spite toward you. Catching inbound enemies is an equally hard job, as the lack of proper vision of your immediate surroundings makes it hard to realize if you’re being chased, or to know exactly how many enemies are around you. This might lead to some unintentional scares if that fancies you, but fact of the matter is that it’s simply put, bad camera mechanics. And let’s not talk about the obtuse amount of film grain. That being said, this title is not entirely offensive on a visual scale. The art and graphics are quite nice, even if hamfisted on the gore. It’s just too bad it’s so hard to see it properly.

Apparently it actually covers something around 45% of the screen

Actually, it seems to cover something closer to 45% of the screen

A document early on the playthrough makes a point of telling you that the protagonist, Sebastian Castellanos is one of the fastest ever policemen of Krimson City to rise to the rank of detective (I feel like the name of the city might have been suggested by me when I was 14 and thought I was really death metal) . You will quickly notice though that Detective Castellanos isn’t the physical marvel he is laid out to be. The act of sprinting in the beginning takes a full 3 seconds from top speed to complete exhaustion. At his best, Sebastian can run for ten seconds before needing to stop and breathe in the middle of a full herd of enemies (which he WILL do if you rely on sprinting too much). He’s not a very good shot either, even at ranges close to point blank he’ll miss often unless you upgrade his weapon. Walking is awkward, running away is awkward, shooting is awkward. Some of these can be improved by buying common sense into the game in the form upgrades for the character with green goop. Seriously, that’s their currency. I confess to maybe having missed something, but I don’t think that part was ever explained.

If you think objectively about it, Resident Evil was awkward. Even the fourth one. The controls were always strange at best. It comes to me that, while people were begging for a new, good Resident Evil, Mikami acknowledged their wants and needs. That’s what The Evil Within is. I mean, the zombies are there, the alien controls as well, and it’s ever so slightly scarier, which was another major complaint, since some viewed the Resident Evil series as having swayed from survival horror to mostly action with some horror elements. In this sense, people got just what they asked for: A survival horror made by Mikami that is very much like Resident Evil. However since Resident Evil 4, Mikami directed two titles, a four year gap between each of them (2006, 2010, and The Evil Within in this Gregorian year of 2014), and the other two were not even close to being horror games. So what we got is a newly released outdated survival horror with ten year old survival horror mechanics.

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What happened!? I heard there was a good game in here!

The sad realization is that maybe Shinji Mikami isn’t a master of horror. The Evil Within isn’t very scary past the few initial chapters, where you’re completely powerless (and maybe this was this game’s real element, which in my opinion he failed to realize). Some of the more tense parts orchestrated by him come from trial and error, when some scripted event or other makes you face something new, something you’re totally willing to fight against. Then, upon closer inspection, you notice your head has just been pulverized by this new thing you perceive. So it occurs to you that you don’t fight this thing, you run from it. Of course, that’s after you died. Not very fair, honestly. The story is intriguing, but extends itself far too much. My interest was gradually lost on what could be a great mixture of body and psychological horror. It failed because while the art was on the right spot, the writing lost its way and somewhere it just became a zombie game. And I hoped it would pick up again. It never did.

It seems The Evil Within has few redeeming features and is somewhat obsolete in a very weird way. The space reserved for its image projection is malevolent. The gameplay is unimpressive and clumsy. It is artistically well intentioned, but ultimately poor. It does have, however, a very nice character in the form of an otherworldly and cryptic nurse that helps you through the story during dreamlike sequences. Her personality and oddities make her seem like a character from a Suda51 game, maybe something learned by Mikami in his time working with Suda on Shadows of the Damned. Man, now that’s a good title. Suda is really good, isn’t he?

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Horror Review: Yahtzee Croshaw’s Chzo Mythos Part 2 – 7 Days a Skeptic


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Following the success of 5 Days a Stranger, Yahtzee decided that, no! A one hit wonder just wouldn’t do! He had more horror tropes to nod to, more space to cover! And speaking of space that became the setting of the futuristic sequel 7 Days a Skeptic. Most flawed of the series from a narrative standpoint, it might be, however the most horrorific of them.

Skipping a few centuries right into the the year 2385, 7 Days (a game awfully ominous when referred to like this) is played through Jonathan Somerset, experienced psychiatrist of spaceship Mephistopheles. On exploration duty for the Earth 7_Days_A_Skeptic_by_kyetxianFederation, the ship’s crew of Jonathan and five others find a sealed metal box adrift in space. Upon inspection, they find that it contains the remains of John DeFoe, character of some importance to the first game as players might recall. As the crew returns to their assigned duties, leaving the box unopened, Dr. Somerset realizes things start to grow veeeery eerieeee.

With a premise and aesthetical style reminiscent of sci-fi horror movies, particularly Alien, 7 Days is a nice shift while still retaining the characteristics that made its prequel scary. The isolation and inability to run away makes sense when away means out in the vacuum of outer space. Dream sequences still mix into reality, giving it an ethereal feel at times. And it further expands the tales of the series’ supernatural killer, giving him a more active role this time, which makes some parts really fucking scary.

It may sounds ridiculous and hamfisted at first to go from modern to futuristic in one game while still keeping the same themes, but it’s a title that does so unpretentiously. 7 Days a Skeptic is enjoyable and very very creepy and you should play it just for that. And if you don’t do it for the cold spike you feel while being chased by an insane murderer, play it for its sequels because, boy, it’s worth it. And I’ll get to that soon.

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Horror Review: Yahtzee Croshaw’s Chzo Mythos Part 1 – 5 Days a Stranger


maxresdefaultSome are not aware that Yahtzee Croshaw of The Escapist fame was somewhat famous as a developer before his venture into journalism. I myself am still a fan of his for his work making games instead of his deconstruction of them. And that’s mostly because of the Chzo Mythos Quadrilogy, a series that works as a homage to slasher horror films from the 70s and 80s, as well as an independent horror tale with firm Lovecraftian roots and damn good story.

In the first game, the more famous 5 Days a Stranger, you control Trilby, legendary gentleman thief named after a hat. Breaking into a mansion on top of a hill, a fine place to rob as horror tales go, Trilby finds that the window he entered through is inexplicably sealed. It is un-unlockable. It has become unbreakable. It is now thoroughly impassable. Even worse, he finds nothing of value, aside from four other prisoners of a strange house, equally confused with the situation.

Needless to say, people start getting murdered, it becomes a great deal of stress to the survivors as the mystery begins. Who is killing these people? How is this house so hermetically sealed? And we know why Trilby is there, but what about the others? Dream sequences start muddling into reality in-between the twists and reveals in this murder house. What they discover is strange enough to last for three other games.

5_Days_A_Stranger04Made with AGS (Adventure Game Studio) in 2003, 5 Days a Stranger is a refreshing attempt of rescuing the genre, popularized by Sierra and LucasArts with titles such as Leisure Suit Larry and Monkey Island. It’s an excelent adventure game in its own right, being by the time of its release Yahtzee’s most competent game in terms of art, and from a game design standpoint, very well thought, aside from a few pixel hunt sequences which can annoy its player into resorting to a walkthrough, though that was long common in adventure games anyway. 5 Days a Stranger went on to win several awards as an indie adventure game. This, in 2003, was quite an achievement

Inspired by eerie hentai visual novel Nocturnal Illusion (very horrorific in its own right, pornography aside) and classic horror movies like Friday the 13th, 5 Days a Stranger is part of what ascended Yahtzee into internet fame. And besides all that, eleven years ago, it was evidence of how adventure games, which had fallen so high, could still thrive. An amateur game that served as an influence to many others adventure titles released in the last few years. Also, it’s free to play. A gem of the internet, indeed.

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Horror Review: The Walking Dead Season Two


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The Walking Dead by Telltale Games scarcely needs any introduction. Widely agreed to be one of the best games of 2012, its narrative dictated by your choices punched at the player’s gut with its strong emotional content in a subtle sidestory of atonement, fatherhood, and of course, survival, in the zombie universe of The Walking Dead.

Clem does keep that hair short, whether you like it or not.

Clem does keep that hair short, whether you like it or not.

However, the gameplay and its difficult choices were an illusion. A magic trick. As long as you looked at the story you didn’t notice how much you didn’t make a dent at the course of the storytelling. Two playthroughs will prove that the story is almost exactly the same, even if you interpreted protagonist Lee Everett two polar opposite characters. Not that it mattered, since it was made to play once; to become emotionally involved and keep your little saved game until next time, for the next season, much like the TV Series.

And so it came to pass that Season Two came out. Through the emotional roller coaster we go again, load your season one save for vaguely rewarding shoutouts to your playthrough of season one. This time the story is set two years after the its predecessor. You play as Clementine, Lee’s (now) eleven year old protegé. Having survived through the hell zombie apocalypses tend to dish out, young Clem is not the the little girl up in the treehouse anymore, having become sullen and untrusting, used to the bedouin life of scavenging and killing after society breaks.

The story does progress ostensibly slow at first. Episodes One and Two may appear as uninspired reflections of the original game and may be hard to tolerate for some, but it’s worth it. Seeing the full game, they are justified. The magic trick was being set up again, with more flair this time. As you start interpreting this little girl’s choices and behavior, you start to become emotionally involved again. Her persona becomes an extension of your own (Verily, in a way, you become an eleven-year old, which is super fucking weird). By episode three it’s all set, and you’re looking at the magic hand again, while the other supposedly weaves a defined scenario.

Reminder: Eleven years old.

Reminder: Eleven years old.

This time is different though. If in the first game you (Lee) took the role of leadership, in Season Two, you (Clem) are the pivot character. People want to do what’s safer for the child, she is the motive of concern of every survivor group, and being forced to take sides ultimately creates different paths that don’t end the same way, in contrast to Season One. The multiple endings pay off. Enthralled by this story, you’re encouraged to follow through it as if you were a wildly different person, with feelings and thoughts. You feel the weight of being Clementine.

From the beggining of episode three to the end of five, the last one, Clem is swept in a crescendo of intrigue. The group is trying not to break and she is often encouraged to voice her opinions, except when she disagrees with someone, in which case it doesn’t matter because adults know better. But that may also mean that she’s agreeing with another person, and her opinion is defended as the most important because the weakest needs to feel safe. You can’t seem to fix this group, driving it further into discord in fact. You may take one side entirely or try to keep things nice and easy for everyone, and in the end you are responsible for Clem’s fate. For better or for worse. The subject “Clem” and the subject “you” are sort of interchangeable in this paragraph.

The new season is more emotionally complex and more morally ambiguous. Really, it’s about the evil that men do rather than zombies. Though not an entirely original concept, Season Two does create a very nice example of it. It’s difficult to say if it’s better or worse than the first one. It’s just different. However, it shows improvement in its immersion and narrative, and proves that Telltale is capable of carrying on the quality of their own version of The Walking Dead.