Tag Archives: Action

Review: The Fate of the Furious

fate poster
via Coming Soon

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

PG-13 / 136 mins.

Action / Crime / Thriller

Starring: Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Dwayne Johnson

Director: F. Gary Gray

Things are changing in the world of the Fast and the Furious.

Paul Walker has passed away due to a tragic car accident, meaning his character Brian is not returning in future installments.  The stakes continue to rise as Dom and his crew get their selves wrapped up in global conflict.  Dom has turned on his family!?  Things are certainly changing as the street-racing-turned-blockbuster-action-franchise returns with its eighth installment, The Fate of the Furious.  Even though Fate serves up a delightfully fun and silly experience its beginning to feel like there is an onset of series fatigue.

Of course, this is a natural for a series that has been around for sixteen years.

fate 1
via Universal Pictures

In the franchise’s eighth ride, directed for the first time by F. Gary Gray, Dom (Vin Diesel) is placed under the grasp of an international terrorist who goes by the name of Cipher (Charlize Theron).  She meets up with the former street racer in Cuba and all it takes is a single photograph for Dom to change sides, supposedly betraying his “family” in the process.  This is the narrative hook that has been captivating fans of the series up until its release.  It is an outlandish premise, and at times unbelievable, but the reasons for his “betrayal” are satisfying and make sense.  In fact, this is probably the most coherent plot the series has offered in a while.  What is even more satisfying is the secret plan that Dom formulates while working for the other side and the way in which it all turns out in the end.  It is a ton of fun and there is some fan service that will make any Fast fan giddy with excitement.

Charlize Theron’s Cipher is one of my favorite villains this franchise has seen.  She is equal parts cunning and ruthless.  She does some pretty messed up things during the movie’s run time and you will end up hating her by the end.  Past villains in the series have been hit or miss, but I am confident when I say that Cipher cements herself at the top.  Unfortunately, the worst part about her character is that we do not see enough of her in action.  She spends the lion share of her time in the movie aboard her plane within the confines of her headquarters.  She is rarely on the ground getting her hands dirty and we certainly never see her behind the wheel.  Charlize Theron is an actress who is going to be starring in the action-thriller Atomic Blonde (who’s trailer we see before the movie) so it is quite a shame that she never throws a punch or swings a kick.

fate 2
via The Hollywood Reporter

Despite Dom and Cipher being the centerpiece of this movie’s plot, it is the other characters that make this movie such a delight.  Dwayne Johnson reprises his role as the super-cop Hobbs.  He has a ton of great moments and this movie would not have been the movie it is without his presence.  What is most entertaining is his relationship with Deckard Shaw, played by Jason Statham.  The two despise each other (which is understandable) so when forced to work together, things get interesting.  Jason Statham is one of my favorite parts about this movie.  He is a fusion of humor and seriousness and he plays both parts amazingly.  The fact that the team is totally cool with him despite his murder of Han in cold blood is a little weird, but the movie does a respectable job at making him a redeemable character, especially during a laugh-out-load scene involving a plane gunfight towards the end.  Then there is Roman, Tyrese Gibson’s character.  Did you think there was not enough Roman in previous installments?  If you said yes, then you are in for a treat.  Roman reprises his role as the comic relief and his character is constantly a joy.  Every line he mutters made me laugh.  Just wait for the Barents Sea scene…it is tough to not laugh.

The rest of the cast is fine.  Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) is now happily back with Dom.  Tej Parker (Ludacris) and Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) are still the hackers of the group.  Kurt Russell makes a return as Mr. Nobody, along with series newcomer Scott Eastwood, who plays the “little nobody.”  His character did not do much for me.  I am sure he is going to be in future movies, so good for him.  He has some funny moments but he ultimately seems like a boring stand-in for Paul Walker’s character.

fate 3
via iMDB

The action sequences in Fate come from the same brand of ridiculous that the Fast movies have become famous for, but they pale in comparison to previous movies.  There are only so many things you can do with cars, which is the inevitable problem with a series like this running for so long.  It is hard to top set-piece moments like the aircraft scene in Fast 6 and the skyscraper jumps from Furious 7, but Fate still has its fair share of crazy action moments.  There is a zombie car sequence in New York which is essentially Day Z but with cars and the submarine chase that has been heavily featured in the trailers offers some insane excitement.  Reality is constantly thrown out the window and the approach to some of these situations can be laughable, but that is what makes these movies so special.  I am not here to question the physical plausibility of such scenes.  I am here to eat popcorn, turn off my mind, and enjoy the blockbuster action in front of me.  That is something these movies tackle perfectly.

Another complaint I have with the movie is its recycled gags and plot points that it comes to.  Hobbs gives a stern speech in the beginning but it is revealed that he is giving said speech to a girls’ soccer team.  Roman and Tej are still vying for the admiration of Ramsey.  Those are just two examples.  Of course, this is a symptom of series fatigue.  The series’ writers are falling back on the same tricks that they have pulled in past movies, which is a little concerning.  The movie switches things up by placing Dom on the villain’s side, but with two more movies left, the writers are starting to run out of places to go.  The Fate of the Furious is a very familiar feeling movie, but maybe it is starting to become a little too familiar.  This familiarity does not just stop at gags and plot points.  The movie falls into a lot of similar tropes that have been common for the series.  This is not necessarily a terrible thing considering how great the past three movies have been, but this sort of laziness is not going to fly for much longer.

fate 4
via Dark Horizons

Despite inklings of fatigue, The Fate of the Furious still manages to take viewers on a thrill ride, offering a lot of dumb, silly action.  If you are coming into this series fresh without any knowledge of the previous movies, your mileage may vary with this movie but if you have been a ride-or-die fan since day 1, you will find a ton to love with this movie.  With a ninth and tenth installment imminent, I am eager for this franchise’s future.  I am hoping it sets up for a strong finish.

fate score


Review: Horizon: Zero Dawn

horizon cover
via Amazon

Horizon: Zero Dawn (2017)

PS4 / Rated T

RPG / Action / Adventure

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Developer: Guerrilla Games

In the months leading up to Horizon: Zero Dawn’s release I thought it was just a unique third-person action game starring a very capable female machine hunter named Aloy roaming around a seemingly post-apocalyptic open world full of tribal inhabitants and bad-ass looking robotic dinosaurs…or whatever you want to call them.  It just looked like a cool third-person action game and I did not think twice about it.  It was an anticipated title of mine but I did not think it was going to blow me away like it did.  Like damn…this Guerrilla’s first foray into this genre of games really impressed me on almost every front.

horizon 1
via US Gamer

Aloy’s tale begins during her days as an outsider, living off the land with her father Rost.  The two having been together for the better part of her formative years, until the day Aloy decides to put her skills to the test by participating in the trials, with the goal of joining the tribe that shunned her and her father years ago.  After a successful day at the trials (among other things that I will not spoil) she becomes a member of the tribe and soon begins to learn secrets about who she really is, and the deeper mystery that blankets the world of Horizon.  It is the looming mystery of this semi-familiar post-apocalyptic world that acted as the driving force that kept me playing through the game.  The game’s scope starts off small but as you begin to meet new characters and venture farther into the world, things start to open up and things get crazier as you begin to learn about the machines, why they exist, along with a host of other mysteries.  There are a lot of crazy ideas and concepts boiling under the game’s surface…more than you would initially imagine.

The best part of it all?  These crazy plot points that you encounter later in the game are extremely satisfying.  Any writer can throw together some hogwash that connects the dots and explains why things exist the way they do, but Horizon’s writers give some satisfying answers that are actually plausible…all things considering.  It is a fantastic bit of science fiction that comes to an end in a pleasing way.  I would be fine with the story ending the way it did, but I would be open to another iteration in the series, in whatever form that would take.  The game has done very well for Sony at this point, so I would not be surprised to see a sequel in the future.

horizon 2
via Forbes

Now let’s talk about powerful and capable protagonists.  Aloy serves as the backbone for the entire story.  If there was no Aloy…the game’s story would only amount to a withering skeleton.  I was infatuated with her character, as she was tough but also smart.  Over the course of the game she unravels a whole bunch of eye-opening revelations that would make the average person nauseous.  The way in which Aloy interprets what she sees is what makes her character so fascinating.  She is a very well-written character that deserves utmost praise.  The rest of the game’s cast were also strong.  I was most intrigued by the game’s various social structures that they present to the player.  Maybe it was just me, but the ratio of women to men leaders far favored the women.  In fact, this is probably one of the most diverse games I have ever played in terms of its various characters.  That is not necessarily a selling point for me, but it is certainly a breath of fresh air from some of the other games out there.

Perhaps the game’s biggest draws at a surface level is its combat, specifically versus the hordes of deadly machines that you will come across in the world.  You fight a fair share of human enemies while overtaking bandit camps and other locations, but the lion share of combat involves those dope machines that you have seen from the trailers.  What makes these machines unique are the various components and weak points on their bodies.  It is a fool’s errand to rush into a fight, spraying and praying with your bow-and-arrow.  Each machine has a strategy that works best for taking them down.  Using Aloy’s focus ability, which is a scanner attached to her ear, you can analyze the machines and plan the most viable fight strategy.  Perhaps tripping a machine with a tripwire and then sending a barrage of arrows in its direction towards its weak point is the way to go.  Shooting a machine’s cannon of its back might be a better approach.  Nothing is more satisfying than giving a machine a dose of its own medicine.  There are many different strategies you can take, which is a sign of engaging gameplay.  I love these types of games where tactics are just as important as the weapons you bring into battle.  You can have the best weapons in the game, but could have your ass royally handed to you on a platter by one of the Behemoths if you do not know what you are doing.  Another aspect I adored about the game’s combat is its sense of scale.  The machines you fight in the beginning are small and manageable, but as you discover new monsters they begin to get bigger and more terrifying.  It makes taking them out on your own that much more rewarding.

horizon 3
via Imgur

Horizon’s world is chock full of collectibles and side quests for Aloy to partake in.  However, this leads me to one of my minor gripes with the game, and that is its side quests.  I was never bored during my time with the game’s side quests, but a good bit of them fell short in the writing department.  Some quests are just your basic “go kill x number of x machines,” while some are a little more substantive and provide some interesting stories.  Unfortunately, a lot of these quests just fall a teeny bit short of greatness.  There was one quest in, for example, involving a father and his estranged daughter.  It starts off as a simple “find my daughter” quest, but then it evolves into something a little more distressing.  The game’s writers had something great on their hands, but did not do anything with it.  They set up a remarkable story, but then proceeded to swing and miss on its execution.  There were several ways the quest could have gone down, some more impactful and darker than the others, but the game’s writers took the easy way out wrapped the quest up prematurely.  This is just one single (and vague for fear of spoilers) example of some side quests that did not quite hit the mark.  This small shortcoming is what sets this game apart from games like the Witcher 3 and the Fallout series, where the side quest writing is stronger.

To no surprise, the game looks very beautiful.  I mean, they did not put a photo mode into the game for decoration.  There are a lot of different environments that you will explore, ranging from dense forests to arid desert plains.  Each of them look stunning at various times of the day.  I often found myself marveling at the incredible vistas that were a commonplace.  The character models looked just as beautiful, but I found that there seemed to be some technical issues during scenes of dialog.  There were some prominent lip-synching issues that were hard to not notice and the character animations during some of these scenes looked too robotic.  There were times were their upper-body movement did not seem natural and at times it felt like I was watching two animatronics at a Disney Theme Park.  Fortunately, aside from these issues, Horizon looks remarkable.

horizon 4
via iDigital Times

All my expectations for Horizon: Zero Dawn were met and sometimes even exceeded.  It is one of those games where I will instantly recommend it to you if you own a PS4.  If you own a PS4 and have not played Horizon yet…I do not know what you are even doing with your life.  I do not think the game unseats Uncharted 4 as my favorite PS4 exclusive, but it sure does give Naughty Dog’s masterpiece a run for its money.  Bravo to Guerilla Games for delivering an absolute barnburner of a game.

horizon score

Review: Power Rangers

power rangers poster
via IGN

Power Rangers (2017)

PG-13 / 124 mins.

Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

Starring: Dacre Montgomery, Naomi Scott, RJ Cyler

Director: Dean Israelite

I like to have fun at the movies.  There is a place for more complex and deeper stories, but a big fun, dumb action movie acts as tasty junk food from time to time.  The reboot of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers, simply titled Power Rangers, is that type of movie for me.  It is a ton of fun and the cheesy b-tier action sequences will keep a grin on your face from beginning to end.

power rangers 1
Photo by Kimberley French

Am I the biggest Power Rangers fan?  Definitely not.  In fact, I do not have the same affinity that some have for the beloved Saturday morning TV show.  I have watched the show a couple of times in my youth, but it was not something that I truly cared for.  I understand the show on a basic level, but never went out of my way to dig deeper.  Because of this, my expectations for the movie were at an absolute minimum.  I also had a couple of beers before the feature, so this might have attributed to my liking of this movie.  Let’s face it…beer can help make a lot of things better.

One of my favorite things from the movie, as well as one of my biggest issues, are the characters.  The five unlikely rangers include Jason (Dacre Montgomery) as the Red Ranger, Kimberly (Naomi Scott) as the Pink Ranger, Billy (RJ Cyler) as the Blue Ranger, Zack (Ludi Lin) as the Black Ranger, and Trini (Becky G.) as the Yellow Ranger.  The cast gels well together and they are all really likable.  They are quippy and humorous, especially Billy, who often steals the spotlight.  What makes his character even better is the fact that he is on the spectrum.  Most movies are hit or miss with their depictions of characters on the spectrum, but Power Rangers actually nails it and produces a fantastic character.  Despite how likable this crew is, almost all over their backstories and character moments are botched.  The first half of the movie, the weaker half, mostly serves to introduce the characters and their backstories.  It plays like a glorified YA novel.  There were a lot of character moments, besides Billy’s, that just felt flat on their face and could not get back up. Becky G’s character missed the mark. Zack’s story? Ehh…. Kimberley’s backstory? Kind of unimportant…and the same goes for Jason’s. I just could not get behind their stories. They were either poorly written or just plain uninteresting.

power rangers 2
Photo by Kimberley French

But what about the other characters?  Bryan Cranston voices Zordon, the Ranger’s mentor in their endeavors.  There is also Alpha 5, Zordon’s trusty robotic assistant, who is voiced by Bill Hader.  The two do a great job with their respective performances, especially Hader who serves up some of the movie’s more humorous moments.  The final notable character in this band of 90’s cartoon characters is Rita Repulsa, played by Elizabeth Banks.  She acts as the main villain in the movie, and god bless her for it.  Elizabeth’s character ranges from serious to tacky, hamming it up for the majority of the movie.  I really liked her performance and thought it brought along its fair share of laughs, but I might have preferred her character to take a more serous tone, especially during the movie’s final act.  I thought some scenes lost their intended tone because of her.

Power Rangers takes some time to morph into high gear (sorry…bad pun) but the final act is where it begins to take off.  There are some nostalgic callbacks that will make any Power Rangers super fan giddy with glee and the action that ensues fits perfectly with the show’s attitude.  The final fight includes some great shots and it is especially hard to not get hyped when Kanye West’s “Power” makes its way onto the soundtrack.  It was a full thirty minutes of B-movie action that just made me smile.  Sure it was corny. Sure it was laughable at times.  Sure, I had some beers in me so maybe it was the alcohol talking, but I really enjoyed the final act. There was even a galactic bitch slap that left me dying of laughter in the theater.

power rangers 3
via IMDB

Power Rangers never takes itself too seriously with its lighthearted fare, which might be a negative to non-fans. However, the original series was just as corny, so for the reboot to mimic that style is all the movie really needed. If you’re not a fan of the Power Rangers, then maybe this is not the movie for you. I went into this movie not expecting to be a fan…but I walked out pleasantly surprised. This movie is not winning any Oscars…but it was big, dumb fun…which I need every once in a while.

power rangers score

Review: Doctor Strange

via Nerdy Rotten Scoundrel

Doctor Strange (2016)

PG-13 / 115 mins

Action / Adventure / Fantasy

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams

Director: Scott Derrickson

I am pretty much at the point where I will go to see any Marvel movie when it comes to theaters.  I have reached a level of confidence with these movies, knowing full well that I am going to enjoy the product that is presented to me on screen.  Maybe I am going to get burned one of these days, but that has not stopped me yet.  Doctor Strange was one of the few Marvel movies that I was not totally hyped for.  I have no affinity or familiarity with the character, so I had absolutely no clue what I was getting myself into in terms of the story it was going to tell and the characters it was going to present.  These preconceptions quickly fell to the wayside as Doctor Strange turned out to be one of my favorite movies of the year.

via Wallpapers Insider

There was a brand of complexity to this movie that made it enticing and engaging from the start.  We are quickly thrown into a world were reality is promptly turned on its head as sorcerers manipulate the world around them in alternate dimensions.  Based on the trailers that I saw before going into the movie, I knew that this movie was going to be complex and abnormal.  It only took a couple of minutes before what looked like London was being manipulated as if it were a kaleidoscope.

But let us get this out of the way right off the bat: Benedict Cumberbatch makes a great Doctor Strange.  Going into the movie I was unfamiliar with the superhero, his origins, and his personality.  After some conversations with some people, I was told that he is intelligent, egotistical, and kind of a wise-ass.  I quickly made connections, relating him to Tony Stark, who happens to be one of my favorite characters in the Marvel universe.  After seeing Cumberbatch deliver a role that matched these traits down to a T, I quickly realized that I was going to enjoy this character.  He sells the role perfectly which makes him instantly likable, or not likable if you are not a fan of wise-cracking know-it-alls.


Although the movie is structured around him, his supporting cast is great as well, especially when you look at the names that adorn the cast list.  Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Mordo, a master sorcerer who finds Doctor Strange, a broken (both physically and emotionally) neurosurgeon on a quest for healing, and takes him to a secret place where he learns about things like mysticism and alternate dimensions.  There’s also his love interest Christine, a fellow surgeon who’s played by Rachel McAdams.  Although her role in the movie is semi-small, she still does a great job with it.  Tilda Swinton plays the role of the Ancient One, a mysterious sorcerer who’s essentially the teacher, bringing Strange under her wing.  Finally, Mads Mikkelsen (of Hannibal fame) plays Kaecilius, the movie’s primary villain.  He has the looks of a fallen sorcerer turned evil, but he was the one character that had me wanting more.  There’s not much to his character, which was unfortunate.

The story involves Doctor Strange looking for healing after suffering from a bad motor accident that heavily damaged his nerves in his hands…his tools on the surgeon’s table…his claim to fame.  His ego drives him to find curing, but he is essentially put in his place by the Ancient One who opens his mind to the world of mysticism and sorcery…a world Strange never knew existed.  He then takes on the path of knowledge as he quickly learns about the world of sorcery.  In his studies, he starts to learn about darker magic and begins to uncover some darker secrets that spell trouble for the Marvel cinematic universe.

via Just Jared

In my opinion, it is the movie’s visuals and cinematography that really make Doctor Strange shine.  Like I mentioned before, the world is constantly being manipulated by the sorcerers in the mirror dimension (a dimension that “mirrors” the real world but the actions that take place in it have no effect on the actual real world), giving the movie an Inception-esque appearance.  There were multiple times throughout the movie where I was like, “huh, this would make for a really bomb-ass wallpaper!”  There are some other scenes, like the surgery scene in which Strange’s astral body (I’m not going to explain that) is directing Christine who’s operating on Strange’s physical body.  There’s some cool cinematography going on in some of these scenes that really make this movie a visual delight.

After going into Doctor Strange with absolutely zero expectations, I can officially say that I am sold on Doctor Strange as a character and I am excited to see his role in the larger Marvel cinematic universe.  The movie’s cast is nothing to scoff at and the movie delivers some of the best visual effects that I have seen in a long time.  Even if you have no familiarity with the characters, like I did, Doctor Strange is still worth checking out.


Review: Luke Cage Season 1

luke-cage-s1-posterLuke Cage (Season 1) (2016)

Netflix / TVMA

Action / Crime / Drama

Starring: Mike Colter, Simone Missick, Theo Rossi

Creator: Cheo Hodari Coker

He just wanted to be left alone, but the city needed a hero.  That’s one of the things I love about Netflix’s host of Marvel TV shows.  The featured superheroes, or vigilantes as some might say, never revel in the spotlight that is thrust on them.  They never bask in the glow of praise (or hate) that gets thrown their way.  They just do what they feel is necessary.  They get the job down because it’s the right thing to do.  Luke Cage, the star of Marvels’ Luke Cage, was just the neighborhood guy, hanging out at Pop’s barber shop in Harlem.  However, after his name gets tarnished he needs to fight to clear his name and save his neighborhood.

via gamers.vg

Some superheroes wear capes; others wear hoodies full of bullet holes.  The one thing that Luke Cage absolutely nails, among other things, is its titular hero.  We got a taste of Mike Colter’s Luke Cage in Netflix’s other series Jessica Jones, but this time around he’s front and center.  He’s an ex-con who literally just wants to be left alone.  He’s the neighborhood guy that everybody loves.  He also has superhuman strength and durability, which comes in handy more times than not.  The show doesn’t waste any time in showing you that Luke’s bulletproof.  I was going to count how many hoodies he lost because of bullet holes…but I quickly lost count.  Colter brings a toughness to the role that I really like.  He also does a good job at portraying a man who has a lot of demons, demons he wrestles with all season.  Luke’s a complex character, one that ever so relatable.  As a white male, I would be lying to you if I told you that I related to Luke Cage, but there is a massive demographic of young black males that will quickly identify with Luke’s character, especially in light of the events in current society.  This isn’t by accident either.

Another aspect that show creator Cheo Hodari Coker nails is the story, full of great supporting characters as well as villains.  Like all of Marvel’s Netflix shows, the story stays grounded in Harlem, a city full of gangbanging and corruption.  One of the neighborhoods’ biggest players is Cornell Stokes (Mahershala Ali) who goes by the name of ‘Cottonmouth.’  I absolutely adored Ali’s performance as the classy gangster hungry for power.  Nothing made me giddier than the show’s iconic scene that has Cottonmouth demonstrating his power in front of a portrait of late rapper Biggie Smalls.  It’s a great example of the show’s fantastic cinematography.  Cottonmouth’s not the only player in Harlem though.  There’s also councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard) and Herman “Shades” Alvarez (Theo Rossi).  Both give great performances, along with some other villains that I won’t mention in fear of spoilers.

via News Times

But who’s on Luke Cage’s side?  At first, Luke’s relationship with Harlem detective Misty Knight (Simone Missick) is a rough, but the two slowly warm up to each other as the season moves on.  They both are in search of justice and want to make sure that it’s found, no matter the cost.  It’s also refreshing to see Rosario Dawson get substantial screen time as Claire Temple, a good friend of Luke’s.  We have seen Dawson in both Daredevil and Jessica Jones as Claire, but only in smaller, more supportive roles.  This time she’s a prime part of the story, helping Luke find answers and seek justice in any way that she can.  She has experience tending to heroes like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, which makes her a qualified sidekick on Luke’s quest for vengeance.

The first couple of episodes chug along at a slower pace, but the story quickly picks up at a faster and more thrilling pace.  Although the main focus is Luke’s quest to avenge Pop’s (Frankie Faison) death, we also see bit and pieces of Luke’s past as an ex-con and how he became the superhuman that he is now.  I think these bits of backstory are neatly framed within the context of the story and they never feel too egregious.  They also play a big part in developing the characters and their motivations in the story.  Even though I enjoyed the show’s story a great deal, it was still lacking a thing that all good stories need: conflict, which might seem silly when you see Luke Cage fighting his way through gangsters and taking bullets like hunting target.  “Of course there’s conflict, what are you talking about!?”  Sure, there’s a surface level conflict, but I never felt like Luke was ever in real danger at any point during the course of the season.  There’s clever ways that the plot tries to build roadblocks in Luke’s mission, but I always knew in the back of my head that Luke was going to be just fine.  That’s the problem when you have a character that is, literally, bulletproof.  There were, of course, an abundance of thrills but these thrills were the byproduct of well-choreographed fight scenes and action moments…never the byproduct of conflict.

via Digital Trends

Let’s circle back to a positive aspect of my time with Luke Cage and that is the show’s production and style.  Everything from the imagery to the show’s amazing soundtrack play a big role in putting you in the city streets of Harlem.  I already mentioned it previously, but the scene including Biggie’s portrait is a perfect example of the show really embracing Harlem’s culture.  There’s also the soundtrack, which is heavily influenced by old-school rap.  It even boils down to the show’s episode titles, all of which are references to the classic rap duo Gang Starr.  The show’s creators really understood the culture and setting that they were working with and hit a hole-in-one in terms of Harlem’s look and feel.  It did a great job at placing you in the beating heart of Harlem’s neighborhood.

If I had to rank Marvel’s Netflix shows as of right now, I would probably put Luke Cage above Jessica Jones but below Daredevil.  Regardless of its place among its sister shows, Luke Cage still excels on its own.  There’s a few blemishes, specifically with the conflict for a near-invincible vigilante, but the story delivers a wonderful cast of characters placed in the beautifully painted depiction of Harlem.  Ever since I saw Mike Colter’s Luke Cage in Jessica Jones I knew I wanted a full-on show devoted to the character, and Luke Cage delivers and succeeds in its mission.  But seriously, Luke really needs to buy some higher-grade hoodies.  Don’t they sell bullet-proof hoodies?


Review: No Man’s Sky

via Moby Games

No Man’s Sky (2016)

PS4 / Rated T

Action / Adventure

Publisher: Hello Games

Developer: Hello Games

What do you get when you mix together a fresh new idea, an unconventional publisher-developer relationship, a massive development cycle, and hype levels the size of space itself?  You get No Man’s Sky, a game that I really wanted to like.  Sean Murray and the team at Hello Games promised to make an expansive game rooted in boundless exploration and science-fiction nostalgia.  They teamed up with Sony to bring a console exclusive that would be revolutionary to gaming.  Unfortunately, the game was treated like a AAA game with the size of an indie studio.  When you pair that with a plethora of broken promises and an unclear scope, you get a game that lets a ton of people (like myself) down.

via Gear Nuke

Again, I really wanted to like No Man’s Sky.  The game brought and touched upon a ton of different concepts and ideas that would have made for a fantastic game if handled with a little more care.  The prospect of getting in a space cruiser and flying through the endless expanse of space, exploring different planets and their wildlife on the way, is an idea that should get any sci-fi nerd bouncing with excitement.  On top of that, a fluctuating space economy and the ability to interact with different alien species paint should have made No Man’s Sky the space exploration game we all were waiting for.  So where did it all go wrong?  Why did the game fall short of its expectations?

One reason is reality of the game’s planets versus what we were promised over the course of the game’s prolonged development and PR cycle.  If you watched any of the game’s demos, you probably saw a lush and vibrant ecosystem, filled to the brim with a wide range of mystical creatures roaming about.  It’s a setting that looked ripped from a painting.  It was beautiful, and it got a lot of gamers excited to explore the game’s randomly generated planets for themselves.  We all bought a ticket for the hype train.  We all bought in to the Sean Murray’s tremendous vision, one that might have been a little too far-fetched.

via Segment Next

At the end of the day, No Man’s Sky is just a game.  A game with limitations, just like any other game.  What Hello Games was promising fans was a game that would exceed technological innovation.  Instead, what we got were computer-generated planets that looked barren and empty, usually with some sort of radiation or extreme temperatures that make exploration a major pain in the ass.  Instead of these mythical creatures we saw in pre-release footage, we got a fair amount of atrocities that looked like the by-product of an animal creation algorithm gone wrong.  Remember EA’s character creation game Spore?  The creatures that you encounter in No Man’s Sky look like Spore rejects.  The ecosystem in the actual game just doesn’t match up with what we saw leading up to the game’s release.  This made planet exploration a bummer, especially when I started to see a lot of the same animals and planets over and over again over the course of my travels.  Random generation is great, but the limitations of such a system started to become apparent after my visit to my fifth planet.

Besides flora and fauna, you can also explore abandoned outposts, monoliths, and other structures, some populated and some empty.  Inside these buildings you can find new items, upgrades, money, and directions to other locations of interests.  The variety of these buildings, just like the animal and plant variety, starts to quickly wear thin as the buildings you explore start to become super familiar as you go on.  The monoliths, which are essentially ancient alien structures, are the most intriguing structures to explore as they offer the most variety and they also look amazing as well.

via Investor Place

The universe of No Man’s Sky feels empty as well.  Talks of a space economy and different alien species that you could interact with made me believe that the world we would be exploring would be a living and breathing galaxy.  Instead, members of these different alien species stay in the same spots, whether it’s in a space station or a planet’s outpost.  They talk in foreign tongues which makes it next to impossible to feel like you are actually having a conversation with an alien.  You can find tomes throughout the galaxy that help you understand these species’ languages, but this doesn’t help the fact that these NPCs that you encounter are lifeless quest givers.  The space economy does deliver in that you can find different prices for materials in different space systems, but I don’t think these prices are determined by any meta-statistics.  If I were to sell tons of iron to a space trader, the price of iron across the galaxy would not go down, which is a shame.  A space economy that actually reacted to players’ buying habits would be amazing.

Combat, whether it’s on foot or in the sky, is largely underwhelming.  While exploring planets, you have a multi-tool, which allows you to mine for materials as well as fight enemies.  You can upgrade the tool with better upgrades and abilities as you go.  When exploring planets, your only enemies are aggressive creatures and the flying sentinels that scour the planetscape, waiting for someone to cause trouble.  The creatures are easy to take down with your multi-tools’s blaster but the sentinels become a real nuisance as they traverse through the air.  The gun combat doesn’t feel great and I often found myself recklessly shooting my gun in an attempt to destroy the sentinels.  Combat does get easier with subsequent upgrades, but it never felt fun, which is a big problem.  In the air, your space ship has blasters and lasers that aid you in taking down pesky space pirates you track you down if you have any valuable cargo on board.  These fights were the most frustrating of them all.  The space pirates zoom by you and do nimble acrobatic maneuvers through the air as you try to shoot them with your sluggish aim.  Your best bet is to park yourself in place and turn your ship around in an attempt to take down the enemy ships.  This, again, was not fun at all and was the source of a good amount of deaths.  In fact, most of my deaths in this game came at the hands of space pirates.  Luckily they have no interest in your cargo as you can go retrieve your lost goods in the same place where you went down.  There are no stakes to these fights, which makes them a little easier to swallow.

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Up to this point, I have probably talked about half of what you do in No Man’s Sky.  The other half you may ask?  Well, you are going to spend a lot of time with inventory management, which is another major detriment to the game’s experience.  The thing I like about No Man’s Sky’s user interface is the inspiration it draws from Destiny’s user interface.  Unfortunately, navigating through your inventory becomes a hassle thanks to the limited space that you have right from the get-go.  Your Exosuit (your spacesuit) has an inventory as well as you ship, which usually has a larger inventory.  These inventories are pretty small in the beginning which makes resource mining a pain.  I constantly found myself having to sacrifice some materials in order to make room for rarer materials and items.  It also doesn’t help that suit and ship upgrades take up inventory spots as well, which makes upgrading your gear a tougher decision that it should be.  Your inventory space should never get in the way of upgrading your gear.  In order to expand your inventory, you either have to purchase suit upgrades at outposts or obtain bigger and more expensive ships with more space.  Again, as a player you should never have to upgrade your inventories in order to make them useable.  Moving resources and items around in order to make room for other things is a big portion of the gameplay, which is a major shame.  It starts to become a drag really quickly.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that half of your playtime will be spent in the game’s inventory menus.  You’re going to be managing your inventory a lot…which is not my idea of a good time.

Finally, I feel like I need to talk about the multiplayer aspects of the game, rather the lack of multiplayer features that the game has to offer.  You have the choice to name the systems, planets, animals, and plants that you discover in hopes that another player will stumble upon your discoveries.  Why else would name these things?  However, the reality of such a massive random generation algorithm means that millions of planets are being created.  Sean Murray has made it pretty clear that the chance of stumbling upon someone else’s discovery are pretty slim.  Over the course of my playtime, I found nothing that was discovered by someone else.  Because of this, I found myself skipping the naming process, sticking with the randomly generated names that the game gives to these different aspects of the universe.  I stopped claiming ownership of such discoveries, because in the end, they don’t really matter.  Realistically, no one is going to stumble upon your discovered planets…which is a damn shame.  This is the theme of No Man’s Sky.  It’s a damn shame.

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via Segment Next

I could go on for multiple paragraphs, but this review is starting to run long.  There’s a bevy of great ideas and systems that No Man’s Sky implements, but they all feel half-baked and undercooked.  Black holes, Hyper drives, puzzles, and the mysterious Atlas are aspects of the game that I haven’t talked about.  However, none of these things managed to stick out because they were either mishandled ideas or cheap by-products of another random generation.  I admire Hello Game’s commitment to fixing the game and trying to make it a better experience for players after the game has launch, but a lot of these problems could have been fixed if expectations were tempered and promises weren’t made.  The No Man’s Sky we were expecting versus the No Man’s Sky that was put on shelves are two different products that tell two different stories.  One could have been a defining addition to gaming history while the other was the product of a hype train gone off the rails.  I wanted to like No Man’s Sky so much, but in the end it’s a game that just can’t get into.  Who knows, maybe the game will be different in a year’s time with the developer’s plans to update the game, but I don’t think I will be making the return trip into No Man’s Sky.


Review: Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows

batman e1 cover
via PlayStation 4 You

Batman: The Telltale Series – Realm of Shadows (Episode 1) (2016)

PS4 / Rated M


Publisher: Telltale Games, WB Games

Developer: Telltale Games, WB Games

Batman has been made great again.  Recently, Batman games have been hitting it out of the park, but it wasn’t until Rocksteady Studio’s Arkham series that the series found its stride.  They portrayed a grittier side of Batman, a vigilante willing to do anything to serve and protect the grungy city that is Gotham.  What about Bruce Wayne?  Everyone knows that Batman’s identity is the rich bachelor Bruce Wayne, but we’ve only had glimpses of him in the video games.  With the mission of exploring both sides of the caped crusader, Batman: The Telltale Series comes to us with the first addition to its episodic series, “Realm of Shadows.”  The episode finally lets us take the role of both Batman and Bruce Wayne as one fights crime in the night and the other navigates the tricky landscape that is politics.  It’s a fascinating start that occasionally gets bogged down in a lot of unnecessary backstory.

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via Press A Key

Characteristic to most Telltale games, Batman’s strongest suit is its story which is more multi-faceted than any of the studio’s games.  In the first episode alone we are introduced to a multitude of different subplots.  The game does a good job at splitting up the amount of time you play as both Batman and Bruce Wayne.  As Batman you patrol the city streets at night, keeping the city of Gotham safe from goons and other evils.  On the other side, players navigate Bruce Wayne around the sphere of Gotham’s elite socialites.  Defense Attorney Harvey Dent is campaigning to take spot of mayor from the corrupt Hamilton Hill and it’s up to Wayne to support him and get him to that spot.  Unfortunately, your forced to support Dent, whether you want to or not, but the extent of Wayne’s support is determined by the player.  The Batman segments are about what you would expect but making choices as Bruce Wayne is really unique and sometimes stressful.  Every single little detail, down to a simple handshake, can change Gotham’s opinion on Wayne, which makes every decision you make pretty important.  As it turns out, entertaining a schmoozy dinner party is a lot harder than you would think.

Hamilton Hill isn’t the only form of conflict that players will have to deal with.  As Batman you stumble across the sneaky Catwoman who has her eyes on some sensitive files that she needs to obtain for her employer.  In attempt to put a stop to her shady dealings you let her get away, but she comes back in a rather unexpected way, one that will bring some deeper and unwanted trouble.  There’s also the powerful crime boss Carmine Falcone who has his hands in many of Gotham’s webs.  His criminal dealings have been driving the city into a hole and his many connections could put a wrench in Harvey Dent and Bruce Wayne’s political campaign.  Finally, we’re also introduced to Bruce’s childhood friend Oswald Cobblepot, who could be an alley or a nuisance depending on how you approach things in Gotham.

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via MMoga

The story, which also includes series favorites like Vicki Vale and Commissioner Gordon, is pretty fascinating and has the possibility of going in many different directions, hopefully.  There’s one facet of the story that falters however, and that is the insanely unnecessary amount of backstory that is apparently crammed into every nook and cranny.  Anyone familiar with Batman’s story knows that Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed in a theater alley and that the city of Gotham is pretty ugly and corrupt.  Unfortunately, Batman feels the need to belabor these points way too hard.  Your constantly reminded of these facts over and over again.  This backstory is probably necessary in some sort of fashion for those unfamiliar with the caped crusader’s story, but do we really have to talk about the death of Bruce’s parents every five minutes?  Hey!  Hey!  Remember when your parents died!?  Yeah that must suck huh.  There’s even a couple at Bruce’s dinner party that describes the death of Bruce’s parents in brutal detail.  These examples of bashing the player over the head with repetitive backstory is a sign of weak writing, which is a shame since the rest of the story is really well-written.  I’m willing to bet that this type of backstory is going to stop after the first episode, but the inclusion of all this repetition is pretty bad.

There’s three gameplay modes that players will become familiar with over the course of the episode and the rest of the series.  Firstly, the traditional style of Telltale’s adventure games is the main slice of interaction that players will take part in.  You choose your dialog options, which in turn helps shape the story that you want to see play out.  Then there’s the quick-time events, which come into play primarily during Batman’s segments.  Quick-time combat isn’t new to the Telltale games, but Batman’s combat feels a lot faster and requires a lot more focus.  There’s a meter at the bottom corner that fills up with each successful button press during a combat sequence.  When the meter fills up, you have the ability to perform a finisher, a move that involves two button presses instead of one, something new to the Telltale games.  Obviously the combat doesn’t rival Rocksteady’s Arkham combat, but Batman’s combat is fast and fluid, and a lot of fun.  Lastly, we the first episode contains a detective sequence that involves scoping out an environment examining various areas and objects, connecting them together to piece together what took place at the scene.  It isn’t too challenging to play detective, but the first episode’s segment was a fresh change of pace and pretty unique.  There’s also a segment that involves planning out a plan of attack using Batman’s investigative abilities.  I hope we get a lot more of these types of play styles over the course of the series as they were some of the best parts of the episode.

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via VG24/7

Again, the game’s presentation style is similar to Telltale’s previous games, but with an improved engine to boot.  The improvements aren’t drastic, but the game’s art style and lighting do the series a ton of favors.  The game feels like a comic book brought to life, which is the best case scenario for a game like Batman.  The voices for both Batman and Bruce Wayne (voiced by well-known voice actor Troy Baker) are fine, but they could be better.  Troy Baker fits into the role of rich bachelor pretty well, but it’s Batman’s voice that could use some work.  The vigilante alters his voice, giving a bass-boosted voice to the character.  The voice just sounds way too heavy for my liking.  Turning down the voice’s bass levels would do the character wonders.

I am heavily anticipating future episodes from the series, which should all release by the end of the year if things go according to plan.  The first episode closes its doors with a bunch of open sub-plots that leave us with a lot of questions and excitement.  There’s also a massive wrench thrown into the story at the very end that could spell a lot of problems for Bruce and his family’s name.  It comes out of left field, but provides a unique angle, one that hasn’t really been explored in Batman media.  With the absence of a need for backstory, the future episodes could be something special and fun for fans of the caped hero.  What are you waiting for?  Get out there and help change the face of Gotham City.

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Review: Jason Bourne

jason bourne poster
via Live for Film

Jason Bourne (2016)

PG-13 / 123 min

Action / Thriller

Starring: Matt Damon, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander

Director: Paul Greengrass

Everyone’s favorite misguided CIA operative is back and he’s looking for more answers.  Jason Bourne has been away from the game for a while now, almost ten years.  The CIA wants him back in the force, but Bourne has other plans.  He’s moved on and he isn’t going to make it easy for the CIA to bring him in.  Director Paul Greengrass brings the dormant hero back to the big screen in his plainly titled summer thriller Jason Bourne, a film that sticks to its guns and packs a punch.

jason bourne 1
via Digital Trends

Matt Damon is back and fits comfortably back into the role of the blank-slate Jason Bourne.  It’s been a while since we’ve seen him in the role.  He’s older now and has a grittier look, but he’s still the same guy, looking for answers.  He’s laying low…keeping a low profile everywhere he goes, but this doesn’t last long when CIA director Robert Dewey (Tommy Lee Jones) demands that he’s brought back into the light.  Aiding him in the hunt, Dewey enlists the help of fresh-faced and capable hacker Heather Lee (Alicia Vikander) who’s pretty confident that she has what it takes to bring in the elusive weapon that is Jason Bourne.  Coincidently the CIA aren’t the only ones interested in Bourne’s whereabouts.  A familiar face to Bourne fans, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), is also looking to meet up with Bourne with the interest of handing over a bunch of top-secret files that could put the CIA, and its operatives, at odds.

The movie’s central plot is very much a game of cat-and-mouse.  Jason Bourne is on a mission looking for answers in his past while the CIA is constantly on his tail trying to catch him with the upper hand.  The action is very much by the books and should be familiar to anyone who has seen a Bourne film, but that doesn’t take away from the movie’s thrills.  The action sequences are tightly planned out and were very fun to watch come together, especially the bits in Vegas and Germany.  Director Dewey entrusts the help of a certain Asset, played by Vincent Cassel, who has a history with Bourne and wants nothing more than to be the guy that takes him out.  There’s nothing overtly special about Cassel’s rough and tough performance, but he still managed to be one of my favorite parts of the film.

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There aren’t too many breaks to be had in the roller coaster ride that is Jason Bourne’s action, but there are some pauses in between the dust that attempt to establish character and dive deeper into more complex issues in today’s modern society.  The character building?  Nothing to really write home about.  We get some backstory behind Bourne’s father, the main drive behind his question-seeking, but it doesn’t really go deeper than what most fans already know.  There’s some new answers brought to the table, but nothing earth-shattering.  On the other hand, Greengrass pokes at ideas like internet privacy and hacking culture, even referencing guys like Snowden, in an attempt to bring relevance to the film.  I admire these ideas, but nothing is really done with them.  They’re constantly brought up but then quickly forgotten about in the presence of guns and bullets.  Jason Bourne wants to say more, but instead lets its self-settle into familiarity, which is a tad disappointing given the presence of such ideas.

As far as performance go, this is Matt Damon’s movie and his only.  There isn’t much to Bourne’s character to begin with, as he’s painted with a blank slate, but Damon still does a bang-up job at portraying the figure.  Although Damon steals the light, Alicia Vikander brings a much welcomed fresh face to the table.  She’s a strong-willed and very intelligent hacker that is working to bring a change to the CIA.  As the film runs deeper, Bourne and Lee’s relationship gets a lot more interesting as the two work together to bring down the CIA’s internalized sinister dealings.

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Despite it’s by the book plotting and inability to tap deeper into some of the more relevant issues of today, Jason Bourne still manages to provide exhilarating fun.  It was fun seeing Matt Damon slip back into one of his iconic roles, even though nothing has really changed about the character this time around.  I would have liked for Greengrass to have gone deeper than the surface level on things like Snowden and internet privacy, but who knows where that story could have gone.  The movie sticks to what it does best, which works out in the end.

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Review: Independence Day: Resurgence

resurgence poster
via Trailer Addict

Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

PG-13 / 120 min

Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi

Starring: Liam Hemsworth, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman

Director: Roland Emmerich

It’s been twenty years since the aliens attacked the earth in Independence Day: Resurgence.  The fabled attack, which put humankind in jeopardy, took place on the United States’ Independence Day, an attack which gave America more than just fireworks.  Fast forward twenty years later and the aliens have come back, conveniently on the Fourth of July, to mount an invasion much bigger than the first rodeo.  With the absence of Will Smith and the presence of many issues, Resurgence doesn’t amount to anything more than a major letdown when stacked up to its predecessor.

via Entertainment Focus

I don’t think it’s fair to say that Resurgence would have been a better movie with Will Smith, but his absence left the cast feeling a tad bit emptier.  There are some returning actors that reprise their roles, like Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson, Bill Pullman as President Whitmore, Judd Hirsch as Julius Levinson, Brent Spiner as Dr. Brackish Okun, and more.  Unfortunately, most of the screen time is dedicated to the new cast of characters, who are generally boring and not very interesting.  Liam Hemsworth plays the young hotshot Jake Morrison while Jessie T. Usher plays Dylan Hiller, the son of Will Smith’s character.  There’s some others, but frankly I just didn’t care about them.  Maybe the one exception to boring new ensemble is President Whitmore’s daughter, Patricia Whitmore, who is played by Maika Monroe.  She has some great moments throughout the film that outshine anything that Hemsworth or Usher bring to the table.

A second coming of this deadly alien species is no laughing matter.  They essentially blindside the nations of the world, causing mass destruction and hysteria around the world.  The stakes are high as this is no laughing matter.  This is what made me question the film’s overall tone, which came off as, well…goofy.  There was an unhealthy layer of cheese that was splashed over every single aspect of the movie.  Characters were delivering punchlines and groan-worthy one-liners left and right.  I get that this is a summer blockbuster and that most people show up for the action, but c’mon, we deserved a little more.  The writing is laughable with many a plot-hole to be found amidst the rubble.  It’s one big cheesy mess that stumbles all the way to the finish line.

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via Japan Today

Another aspect that doesn’t do the film any favors is the plethora of characters that all vie for screen time, both old and new.  As I mentioned before, the returning characters seem to get overshadowed by the new.  This is surprising given the amount of odes and references to the original movie.  To be honest, I would have much preferred having a movie devoid of any of the new characters.  I was a little disappointed in the ample usage of guys like Goldblum, Pullman, and Spiner.  These characters had their moments, which make up most of the movies most solid pieces, but I just wanted an experience with more of these characters.  Sure, some of the new characters are integral to the story’s main plot, but if it were me, I would have written them entirely out of the plot, with no offense to any of their acting skills. The writing and the characterizations were the problem.

Despite everything I have laid out so far, it’s hard to deny the fact that this movie’s biggest draw is it’s set-piece moments and its grand scope.  With a Roland Emmerich film, you should know what you’re getting at the door.  The movie’s visual destruction is one of its few redeeming qualities.  Destruction of areas like downtown London make for some eye-popping visuals full of bleak wonderment.  A lot of the fight scenes that take place in the air can get messy a times but there’s usually never a dull moment, visually.

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via Actucine

Just because something is bigger and more epic, doesn’t mean it is always better.  Independence Resurgence is a perfect example of this sentiment.  The marketing campaign behind the movie pushes the movie as a grand epic of destructive proportion.  The movie’s scale overpowers the original film, sure, but in terms of quality…this is about as bargain bin as it gets.  The movie is a visual treat and had its sparse moments, but everything else about the movie is as gross as the sloppy goo that spurts out of a dead alien carcass.  You welcome for that visual.

Independence Day Resurgence

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens Demo Impressions

E3 is here and the gaming landscape for the coming year is slowly starting to be formed.  The big publishers have come out swinging and a ton of big games have already been announced.  One of these games, perhaps smaller compared to some of the other titles, is LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  The game, based on everyone’s favorite movie from last year, comes out at the end of this month but a demo has been made playable to the public.

The demo focuses on one level in particular that occurs pretty early on in the game.  It takes place on the planet of Jakku and puts you in control of Finn, Rey, and BB-8 shortly after they meet up with each other for the first time.  Just like the movie, this meeting only lasts for a couple of seconds before they notice a group of Stormtroopers lurking around in search of Finn, a runaway Stormtrooper trying to break apart from his once evil ways.  You quickly grab Rey’s arm and start to run amidst the crowded streets of Jakku, thrusting you into the level’s start.

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via Digital Trends

Before I go further, it’s worth mentioning that the game is strictly based on the events of Episode VII.  The cut scenes and characters are fully voiced using the movie’s audio.  However, it’s been noted that there are some side stories to be told, ones specifically created solely for the sake of the game.  TT Games got the actors from the movie to come in to do specific voice work for these missions, which is pretty cool.

Upon starting the level, I quickly started to mess around to see what’s new this time around.  Anyone who has played a LEGO game before should feel right at home in terms of gameplay.  You still roam around the level bashing stuff and collecting studs.  There’s obstacles that block off secret areas until you go into free play, where you can play as all the characters.  You can also collect minikits that reveal more secrets up finishing a level.  It’s pretty standard fare for any Lego veteran.  Not much has been changed up to rock the formula.  The three characters you start out controlling are Finn, Rey, and BB-8.  Finn is your average blaster-wielding character who also has the ability to use a grappling hook to reach hard-to-access areas. Rey is more of a melee character, using her staff to devastate enemies up close.  Not to be outdone, she can also throw her staff to take enemies out from afar.  BB-8 isn’t a typical character, but he has some abilities that can come in useful.  First off, he can sneak through small openings to reach secret areas.  He also has a stun attack that can electrocute enemies.  Finally, he can operate rotary switches, opening up new parts of the level.  Your probably not going to use him much, but he sure does look cute flying around the level making those signature beeping noises.

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via Digital Times

As I started to make my way through the first part of the level, I was quickly introduced to the multi-builds.  In previous games, you can destroy objects to reveal piles of Lego bricks, which you could then build up to create useful objects.  With multi-builds, you can build different objects using the same pile of Lego bricks.  You indicate the direction in which you want to build the Lego bricks and then you proceed to put them together just like you normally would.  After your done using the first object, you can then break it down and build the other option.  It’s an interesting mechanic that encourages experimentation.  Sometimes you will build objects that are completely useless in the grand scheme of the level.  Other times you will have to build all the different objects in order to progress.  The mechanic was demonstrated a couple of more times over the course of the level, which was pretty neat.

After making my way through the first area, I then stumbled upon a broader combat zone, in which I was quickly forced to get to cover to avoid incoming fire from a group of First Order Stormtroopers.  This is the part where the firefight mechanics were shown off.  The game quickly turned into a lite-cover based shooter where I was able to move from cover to cover, finding opportune times to attack my enemies.  While behind cover, you can pop up using the left trigger and then shoot using the right trigger.  The controls weren’t hard to master and I soon found myself mowing down a bunch of troopers.  This is an early section, but I didn’t find this sequence particularly difficult.  I worry that these sequences will get repetitive as you get farther in the game.  I hope they either find new ways to freshen up the gameplay or they limit these sequences altogether.

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Once the Stormtroopers were neutralized, I kept on making my way towards the Millennium Falcon.  I was then introduced to SN-1F4, another droid character.  It’s a miniature sifter droid, so it doesn’t do much besides reveal secrets in the sand.  I used the droid to reveal some Lego bricks which helped construct a turret, a piece of heavy artillery that allowed me to shoot down some X-Wing fighters from the sky.  Once the coast was clear, the path to the Millennium Falcon was finally made clear.  In the movie, the reveal of the famed freighter was a special moment but in the game, there was hardly any fanfare upon the ship’s discovery.  It’s not that big of a deal but it’s those kinds of movie moments that I want captured in Lego form.

This led to the aerial portion of the level, in which you pilot the Millennium Falcon.  Just like previous Lego games, the first part of the sequence was totally on-rails.  As I made my way through, I eventually stumbled upon an open area where I was granted free reign.  The controls took some getting used to, but I eventually got the hang of them as I flew around blasting down more X-Wings.  I eventually reached the final portion of the level, which switched back to on-rail flying.  As I escaped from the inside of the Star Destroyer ruins, the level came to a close.  I got a glimpse of Kylo Ren’s character as he was sulking around in his Darth Vader themed room.  Staying true to the movies, one of his officers came to inform him about the BB-8 getting away, which infuriates Ren, sending him into a room-trashing tantrum.  It was good to see that the bouts of Lego humor are still what makes these games so appealing.

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via Comic Book News

I was only able to play through one level, so it’s unclear how many different levels are going to be in the main game.  If I had to take a guess, we’ll probably get around fifteen with the addition of side levels.  It’s also unclear if we are going to get an open world.  Not much has been said about this, now common, aspect of Lego games.  We might get some hub-worlds in lieu of one big open area.

There was lots to enjoy about the demo but it left some concerns as well.  The Lego series hasn’t been privy to change.  The classic formula has pretty much been the same for years now.  There are some new mechanics being thrown in this time around, but it’s hard to say if they will be enough to make this game stand out from the rest.  If you’re a fan of the Lego games, especially the Lego Star Wars games that gave the series legs, then you will most likely want to give LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens a try.  It’s looking to be a charming retelling of the big movie with a lot of cool stuff packed in for Star Wars fans.

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via Segment Next