Review: Tales from the Borderlands Episode 5

via PS4 France
via PS4 France

Tales from the Borderlands Episode 5 (Vault of the Traveler) (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: 2K Games

Developer: Telltale Games, Gearbox Software


The Borderlands games never made it to my list of games I have played.  They were interesting in concept but over the years I have watched them come and go without a second thought.  This is why it’s surprising that I liked Tales from the Borderlands so much.  The story did not seem like the key piece that kept players coming back to the Borderlands games, but it turns out I’m wrong in saying that.  Telltale Games has given us a fantastic first season in Pandora and the series’ finale, Vault of the Traveler, wraps everything up in a tight package.

via Vandal
via Vandal

Tales from the Borderlands has been on its A-game ever since episode one.  The humor and writing has been superb and the acting has been phenomenal as well.  This game featured one of the most charming and most hilarious stories I have played in a while.  In fact, it was probably my favorite series that Telltale has put out.  Tales might not have had the seriousness and emotion of some of the studio’s other choice-driven games, but it established its own footing as a much different breed of animal.

The series’ final episode wraps everything up pretty nicely.  The story of Rhys and Fiona is brought to an end and the conclusion is pretty satisfying.  Loose ends are tied up and everything plays out the way you would expect it to.  There was no major plot twists or groundbreaking moments, but it didn’t really need any of that.  Rhys, Fiona, and friends eventually make it to the vault and everything is happily ever after, just as you would expect.  There is a moment involving one character hovering on the brink of death, only to be brought back to life in the most random way.  It was the only part of the episode that rubbed me the wrong way.  The story would have had a bigger impact if they stuck with their decision to kill off the character, but instead they decided to settle with the easy route.  Its fine the way they have it, but I would have liked the story more if they decided to go with their original decision.

via Vandal
via Vandal

Another thing that the episode did well was the numerous callbacks to previous seasons.  Some of your favorite characters from previous episodes, as well as some of the ones you probably forgot about, all happen to make their way into the finale in a variety of different ways.  Part of the episode involves the building of a team for the final fight with the Vault of the Traveler.  Depending on the choices you made in previous episodes, some characters from previous episodes might not be able to join your team.  It was satisfying to see the full picture of your choices and how they affected the different people you have met during your adventure in a larger scale.

The episode’s climatic moments were some of the greatest parts of the series.  The final fight was tantalizing, providing non-stop action that would fit right at home in a Transformers movie.  Although it was just a series of involved quick time events, it was still fun to power through the fight.  The final fight felt pretty good and it really seemed like the entire series was building up to these final moments.  Nothing was better than finally taking out the final enemy with the teamwork from the team that you assembled.  It made for some great moments.

via IGN
via IGN

Tales from the Borderlands might make me consider playing some of the more core Borderlands games.  Telltale proved that the series has a good number of stories to tell, interesting stories full of crazy humorous stories.  Based off word of mouth and critical reception, I would not be surprised if we were to get another adventure in the universe of Pandora, which makes me super excited.  The story of Rhys and Fiona came to a fantastic close in season one, but I would love to see another story open up with a whole new cast off zany characters.

tales from borderlands e5 score

Also available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android

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Review: Life is Strange Episode 5

via Game Soul
via Game Soul

Life is Strange Episode 5 (Polarized) (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Square Enix

Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment


The greatest part about choice-based storytelling games is watching the effects of your hard decisions transpire into multi-dimensional stories.  Telltale Games have made a majority of these games to this day but a small studio named DONTNOD Entertainment, a Square-Enix studio, released Life is Strange’s first episode all the way back in January of this year.  The game, in similar vein to the Telltale games, gave us a game full of player choice framed within a unique story about time travel and the consequences of such a power.  Over the previous four episodes, a lot of choices had to be made and the consequences were very real…but none of this matters at the end of the series’ finale, Polarized, which is a real bummer.

via PS4 Home
via PS4 Home

Polarized takes place right after the bothersome events of the fourth episode, which provided us with probably one of the biggest plot twists of the season.  It was a twist that you couldn’t possibly see coming, no matter how hard you think about it.  Anyway, series protagonist Max Caulfield starts to realize the true nature of her powers and how messed up she has made things.  A lot of events have taken place since the first pivotal moment in Blackwell Academy’s bathroom with Chloe and Nathan, and things have only gotten worse.  Max starts to ponder if all of this is her fault.  Are her powers, which seemed good at the time, actually hurting people more than helping them?  That is the question that is thrown around constantly during the duration of the finale.

It makes way for a satisfying and very reflective finale.  The consequences of her decisions make her ponder if she is making the right choices.  Exploring these situations leads her to travel between different realities, desperately trying to find the right choice that makes everything right, the choice that makes everything normal again.  Obviously, traveling between a number of different realities in time leads to some adverse mental and physically effects on Max, causing her to break down after a while.

via VG24/7
via VG24/7

Finally, all of the time and reality travelling catches up to Max, putting her in a nightmare like sequence that pretty much takes us to the end of the episode.  Although these psychological and often times pretty dark sequences make for some great moments (At one point Max is sitting in a snow globe on the mantle in Chloe’s house staring at herself as a young child.  Pretty powerful stuff.), a lot of the gameplay during these moments was pretty frustrating.  There’s a weird portion of the nightmare where you have to sneak your way through a series of hallways, locker rooms, and outdoor areas on the way to the distant lighthouse.  Characters like Mr. Jefferson, Nathan, and the principal (among others), are trying to look for you with flashlights.  Avoiding the lights was pretty frustrating and I just found myself spamming the time rewind button in order to make it the end goal.  It stopped being fun after a while and turned into an actual nightmare.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the episode was the final decision at the end.  I DON’T WANT TO SPOIL ANYTHING SO IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED, STOP READING THIS PARAGRAPH.  The final choice that you have to make revolves around either sacrificing Chloe to her fate of getting shot in the bathroom to save Arcadia Bay or saving Chloe for good, letting Arcadia Bay get eaten up by the apocalyptic storm.  It’s a touch choice to make but it’s binary in nature, making the choice pretty cheap.  If you choose to save Arcadia Bay, then all of your choices you have made in previous episodes don’t matter anymore because everything is back to normal and everybody is okay.  If you choose to save Chloe, then Arcadia Bay is totally destroyed by the storm…once again almost negating the choices that you made previously.  It’s kind of a crappy way to end a choice-driven story.  A good choice-driven story should wrap up in a variety of different ways depending on the consequences of your choices.  Life is Strange throws all of this into the water, giving us either ending A or ending B, and not much else.  It’s pretty frustrating, especially since the story had a ton of potential.

via MMGM
via MMGM

It’s sad to see such a great new series come to an end in such a bad way.  I had an awesome time with the game and its refreshing and original story.  It was intriguing and often thought-provoking and the decisions that you had to make were pretty meaningful for the most part.  It’s a shame that all of these choices are written away during the game’s final moments. In the end, I have to applaud DONTNOD and Square-Enix for their Life is Strange, but it could have been so much better.  It had the potential to be so much more.

life is strange e5 score

Also available on PC, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360

Review: Steve Jobs

via Film-Book
via Film-Book

Steve Jobs (2015)

R / 122 min

Biography / Drama

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Kate Winslet, Seth Rogan

Director: Danny Boyle


Tech genius and Apple pioneer Steve Jobs lived a fascinating life.  His persona is a complex one full of ups and downs.  In fact, it’s so complicated that it makes recounting his story very difficult.  His story has had a good number of retellings over the years, but only one really stood out to me and its Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs.

via The Slanted
via The Slanted

Written by Aaron Sorkin and Walter Isaacson, author of the book the film is based on, Steve Jobs stars Michael Fassbender as the titular visionary.  Unlike your normal biopic, the movie chooses to focus on three key product launches; the Macintosh in 1984, the NeXT Cube computer in 1988, and the iMac in 1998.  However, it’s the backstage action that takes place minutes before each launch that gets the screen time.  In these scenes, we see Jobs interacting (but mostly arguing) with five key people, his accounting assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), good friend and co-designer of the Apple II Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogan), CEO of Apple Jeff Scully (Jeff Daniels), programmer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), and his ex Chrissan Brennan (Katherine Waterson).  We also receive some touching scenes with his daughter Lisa.

The dialogue and banter that is thrown around between the characters is what makes the movie so special.  These scenes are well orchestrated and hectic, capturing the ferocity and self-centered personality of Steve Jobs.  These conversations were tense, probably because of the looming start times that hung over each of the launches.  Whether it was debugging software code or talking with the nagging press, Jobs had a lot thrown at him seconds before hitting the bright lights of the stage, and he somehow managed to keep it all together.

via Brunch News
via Brunch News

The weight of most of the problems thrown Job’s way led me to believe that some of the events in the movie might have been a little over exaggerated.  I highly doubt that minutes before Jobs was to grace the stage, Chrissan walked into his dressing room to spill the news of her health and demand some money for doctors’ fees.  Although these moments made for tantalizing drama, I do not think these kinds of discussions took place in the backstage setting.  It’s hard to knock the movie for this though because it made for some great cinema.

Michael Fassbender did a fantastic job of playing the man himself.  He really captured the arrogance and egocentric nature of his persona.  Jobs was a man that wanted to be remembered for his products and almost nothing else.  The successful launch of a product was all that mattered to him and Fassbender brilliantly brought the character to life in Job’s most vulnerable moments backstage.  He wasn’t the only actor to give a clap-worthy performance.  Kate Winslet succeeded in playing Job’s polish assistant, seemingly the only person who could stand up to Jobs and knock some sense into him during his lowest moments.  Maybe the biggest surprise was Seth Rogan’s portrayal of Wozniak.  Gone was the goofy dumb-guy character that we are used to seeing from him.  Instead, we got a stripped down and genuine performance worthy of high-praise.  He gave the right amount of emotion and enthusiasm, propelling himself to the status of a dynamic actor.

via Mouth Shut
via Mouth Shut

The greatest scene comes right at the end with a touching moment between Jobs and his daughter Lisa.  The whole movie was building up to that peak and it knocked the ball right out of the park.  Steve Jobs is not your average account of Job’s life, but it might be my most favorite.  Although some of the tales told throughout the two hour duration might have been a little too tall, I still believe that it paints the most realistic picture of an imperfect man.

steve jobs score

Review: Stories

via Fist in the Air
via Fist in the Air

Stories (2015)

Avicii

Dance / Electronic / House

Label: PRMD, Island


It’s hard to deny that Avicii’s brand of music has a specific brand of style that is different from what you typically see in dance music these days.  The Swedish DJ has already proved himself as being one of the most diverse electronic musicians and he continues to hone his craft with his most recent release Stories, his second studio album.  Stylistically, the album is beautifully complex in its sound and feel but tends to fall short in a couple of places, tarnishing the album’s overall execution.

via Standard UK
via Standard UK

Stories doesn’t waste time in turning up the energy.  The album starts with “Waiting for Love,” a song that Avicii premiered at this year’s Ultra Music Festival alongside the song’s collaborator Martin Garrix.  It’s a song that’s full of life and spirit, featuring some vocal work from Simon Aldred.  Next is “Talk to Myself,” a funky song featuring the smooth vocals of Sterling Fox and some strong eighties vibes.  These first two tracks demonstrate the ground that Avicii covers in terms of genres.  It makes the album feel fresh, never settling down with the same old tone.

After the first three or four songs is when I started to notice some of the problems with Stories.  Songs like “For A Better Day” and “Broken Arrows” are alright songs in their own regard but they just didn’t seem to stand out in the overall picture.  Maybe that’s the problem with having such a diverse sound; not every song is going to hit home with the listeners.  Not every song is going to live up to what it could be.

via Radio
via Radio

Just when Stories was starting to slow down, it was “City Lights” that came out of nowhere and revitalized the album.  The song, produced alongside Ash Pournoui, features some distorted vocals over an energetic beat that breathes with vigor.  It’s an electric song that stands as one of my favorites from the entire project.  “Pure Grinding,” the next song on the track list, keeps the energy going.  Featuring Earl St. Clair and Kristoffer Fogelmark, Avicii gives us a harsher beat that is thematically different from what were used to.  In fact, on his “Levels” podcast, the DJ even admits that “Pure Grinding” is different from what he would normally put out.  It goes without saying that Avicii is never afraid to experiment with different styles, pushing his boundaries of what he’s capable of producing.

Unfortunately, the album starts to fall into the same downward trajectory that it was on before “City Lights” picked it back up.  “Sunset Jesus” is a pretty nice sounding song and “Somewhere In Stockholm” is a genuine homage Avicii’s Swedish hometown.  The rest of the later songs don’t really provide anything to write home about.  Some of them don’t feel inspired as much as some of the others.  None of them are “bad,” but they just don’t live up to the levels of some of the aforementioned tracks.

via Beatland
via Beatland

The fascinating thing about Stories is the range of genres that Avicii uses to give us a fresh new collection of tracks, spanning pop, soul, funk, folk, dance, reggae, and more.  Not all of the songs are equal in execution and prominence, but for the most part, they are all pretty good.  Delivering an album as critically sound as 2013’s True was a formidable task, one that Avicii couldn’t ultimately execute on.  However, Stories is still a pretty good album when all is said and done.  It’s worth it alone for the wide variety of songs featured in the package.

stories score