Tag Archives: Horror

Review: Palmystery

palmysterylogo
via Itch.io

Palmystery (2017)

PC / NR

Horror / Cartoon / Adventure

Publisher: Paloma Dawkins

Developer: Paloma Dawkins


It only takes a matter of seconds before Palmystery starts to get…puzzling.  The game, designed by Paloma Dawkins, is illustrated as a “surreal horror cartoon video game.”  It is cartoonish and there are some surreal moments…but it is not necessarily horrifying in anyway.  In fact, the game is more unsettling than scary…with brief moments of relaxation thrown in between.  Allow me to explain.

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Palmystery is littered with hands.  There are hands galore in all shapes and sizes.  There are big hands, small hands, foreboding hands, hands wagging their finger at you begging you to come closer, hands growing like grass, and hands that form all triangles, which act as the gateways between each colorful and outlandish scene.  According to Dawkins, the game features Palmistry, which is the foretelling of the future through the study of hands, more commonly referred to as “palm reading.”  There are sparse references to Palmistry, however, besides the introductory moments that have you walking through a castle corridor, with the various signs of Palmistry adorning its foreboding walls.

This is not an extensive experience, only taking about a half hour to play through.  You explore a host of colorful scenes that take you to a variety of surreal landscapes.  Some are more comical and lighthearted than others.  There are also some cartoon characters that you will meet along the way.  Dawkins’ little animated creatures are all in various states of panic…and some will be playful, only to get swept up into space the next.  There are a lot of tonal shifts that will most likely throw you for a loop, but it paints an intriguing portrait of Dawkins’ mind.

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Dawkins explains in a blog post that this game is a portrayal of her feelings after Trump got elected as president.  “It stirred within me a darker side to my cartoons that I want to explore,” she goes on to explain.  This explains the shifts in tone that are present in every scene that you explore.  There are a lot of conflicting emotions as you witness these scenes taking place in front of you.  It is unsettling…but can be relaxing as well.

Perhaps the most relaxing portion of the game is the game’s final scene, which places you in a purplish water world.  There is a cartoon deer that is prancing around in the water, dancing from diamond to diamond which float around in the landscape.  While this is taking place, hypnotist Andrea Young facilities a little session of meditation.  It was not the turn I was expecting the game to take, but I cannot really complain.  It was an unexpected way to unwind after a mysterious and confusing experience.

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I am not going to pretend to understand what was going on in Palmystery.  It is a genuinely weird experience that always keeps you thinking.  I believe that was the intention though.  You are not supposed to understand everything that is put in front of you.  It is supposed to be complex in a funny and bizarre way.  It makes perfect sense when described as a product of Dawkins’ mind, who might have been experiencing the same feelings after Trump’s election.  Palmystery is certainly not a game for everyone, but it will certainly leave you uncomfortable and chill at the same time.

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Review: DOOM

doom-cover
via Pinoy Tech Blog

DOOM (2016)

PC / Rated M

First-Person Shooter

Publisher: Bethesda, Zenimax Media

Developer: id Software, Certain Affinity, Escalation Studios


DOOM doesn’t waste any time before throwing you right into the action.  There’s a demonic invasion…and it’s your job to kill every single demon that falls in your path.  DOOM is a constant thrill ride from start to finish, turning the notch of intensity up with every level you play.  I’ve only played the game’s campaign, but that was all I needed out of this experience.  I just needed an excuse to kill a lot of demons…and DOOM delivered in every way.

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id Software has created a game with a hell of a lot of style.  (Pun certainly intended…yay for bad jokes!)  The game’s initial moments, which have you donning the iconic suit of the Doom Slayer, immediately set the mood and tone for the rest of the game.  As you make your way to an elevator, the main theme starts to play and we get the game’s title sequence.  Perhaps the best part of it all is the final beat of the song, which perfectly syncs up with your character cocking his gun, ready for the hell-bent mission awaiting him.  It’s the perfect introduction for the game, immediately putting you in the right mood.  It’s always important for a game to nail its initial moments, and DOOM’s first impression is outstanding and wild.

Understandably, the story tends to take the back seat for most of the game.  DOOM takes place on Mars where a UAC facility is being invaded by the evil and demonic forces of Hell.  You play a man who wakes up on an alter in the bowels of the UAC facility.  Upon freeing yourself from your chains, you quickly find your Praetor Suit, the suit that turns you into the Doom Slayer.  You then begin to realize that the facility’s demonic invasion has been enabled by Dr. Olivia Pierce, the game’s main antagonist.  With help from Dr. Samuel Hayden and the facilities’ VEGA system, your mission is to prepare yourself to stop Hell’s forces and end the demonic onslaught for good.  There’s nothing complex about the plot which mainly serves as an excuse for you to make your way through the Martian facility and eventually the pits of Hell.  It’s hard to knock the game because of its story since the game clearly knows what it is all about and why people are playing it.  You’re here to kill demons and DOOM clearly recognizes that, which is a good thing.

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via ONRPG

Besides the campaign’s objectives and waypoints, the other force that drives you through the game is the metal soundtrack that accompanies your every action.  Unlike most games where the soundtrack is mostly passive, DOOM’s soundtrack is an active soundtrack, one that really motivates you to kill the demons that step in your path.  The soundtrack, written and composed by Mick Gordon, is full of gritty and electronic metal.  It pairs with the game perfectly and does a great job at painting the game’s atmosphere.  There were many times where I was bobbing my head to the beat of the music while murdering hordes of demons onscreen.  It just felt right.  It made for some kick-ass moments.  It’s an example of a well-realized soundtrack that really jives with the game it’s accompanying.

When it comes to the actual act of demon slaying, this aspect of the game felt great as well.  The combat is extremely smooth and fast, which worked perfectly for this game’s style and feel.  The game runs nicely as well, which also enhanced the gameplay.  There’s a variety of guns that you unlock as you make your way through the game.  These guns all felt right and the upgrades that you acquire through skill points that you collect also make for more varied gunplay.  The shotgun and the heavy machine gun are your best friends, but weapons like the Gauss Cannon and the rocket launcher are a good way to go when battling tougher and beefier enemies.  I never felt like I was using the same weapon for too long.  I was constantly switching weapons to give myself the advantage when battling certain enemies, which is great from a game design standpoint.  There are also glory kills, which allow you to “finish off” enemies when they are low on health.  The advantage of performing a glory kill is that the enemy drops health when performed.  These kills were a novelty in the beginning, but they begin to grow old as you advance in the game.  The variety of these kills tapers off quickly and they become quite repetitive.  I never stopped performing these kills because of their benefits, but it’s a shame id Software didn’t do anything to change up the formula.

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via WCCF Tech

There’s no shortage of demons for you to kill in the game.  The game relentlessly throws demons your way left and right, which makes for a thrilling experience.  It’s non-stop action from start to finish with little bits of respite sprinkled throughout.  The enemy variety is great, starting you off with a couple of measly demons.  As you progress your way through the game, more enemy types are thrown into the mix, each with different strategies and move sets.  By the time the final level comes around, all the enemy types are joining forces to get a piece of you, making for some hectic late game firefights.  In addition, there are only a couple of boss fights in the game (three to be exact) which were a little underwhelming.  The three boss fights, including the final boss, were epic and grand in scale, and a lot of fun, but I would have liked to see a little more.  There were a good deal of open rooms with waves of demons coming your way.  It would have been nice if some of these rooms were actually boss fights, especially earlier on in the game.  This is only a minor complaint with the game however, as the action is still very relentless and a ton of fun.

I only played the campaign, so I can’t speak on the multiplayer modes or the Snapmap functionality, but the campaign alone is enough for me to recommend this game to anyone who hasn’t already taken the dive.  DOOM’s campaign is extremely polished and it has a ton of style which is established right from the get-go. The combat is great and only made better with the superb soundtrack that drives you through the experience.  At the end of the day, I came to DOOM because I wanted to kill endless scores of demons, and I can’t think of any other game that nails this experience better than DOOM.  Get ready to kill a lot of demons…Doom Slayer.

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Review: Stranger Things

stranger things poster
via Following the Nerd

Stranger Things (2016)

Netflix / TV14

Drama / Horror / Mystery

Starring: Winona Ryder, David Harbour, Finn Wolfhard

Creators: Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer


Netflix’s Stranger Things just screams 80’s nostalgia.  Literally every single corner of the show is just dripping with love for the era.  The show merges psychological thrills with horror, something that would fit perfectly in the 80s.  There’s even influence from guy like John Carpenter, Steven Spielberg, and Stephen King…in more ways than one.  In its concise eight-episode season, Stranger Things manages to layer on depth with every episode, delivering one of the most intriguing and mysterious stories of the year.

stranger things 1
via Dread Central

Mystery begins upon the disappearance of a boy named Will (Noah Schnapp) after a night of Dungeon and Dragons with his friends.  His friends, Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) are a group of AV-club misfits that gave me strong Goonies vibes.  After the disappearance of her son Will, Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) starts to go mad, calling upon the help of town sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) to help investigate the strange disappearance.  It’s only a matter of time before shady government agencies and supernatural events start to make an appearance, cementing the fact that something deeper and more nefarious is taking ahold of the peaceful town.

Making matters more interesting, the boys stumble upon a peculiar girl, simply named Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), who seems to be the answer to everything that has been occurring.  She’s scared and keeps to herself, but her powers go beyond all understanding.  Her background is something of an enigma.  Over the course of the show we get flashbacks to her past which involves a lot of lab experiments and a dark past.

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via IGN

The best part about Stranger Things is the layered story that it piles on every step of the way.  The premiere episode is crazy by itself, but things take a plunge with each episode, whether it’s a new reveal or element key to the events taking place.  The show goes places, for better or worse.  Overall, the show does a good job at delivering a thrilling story but some of the supernatural elements are left out to dry with little explanation.  The various characters give some convoluted clarifications towards the latter half of the story, but they don’t always feel satisfying.  When I say the show goes places, it goes places.  Sometimes you just have to suspend disbelief in order to fully enjoy the story.  Despite this, the events wrap up brilliantly, yielding a satisfying conclusion, albeit a little predictable.

Winona Ryder is by far the stand out performance here.  She plays a distressed mom that is crazy about finding her lost son.  She starts off just like any other worried mom but as time goes on she plunges down a dark road of hysteria that involves talking to Christmas lights and putting holes through walls.  It’s not a good look, but Ryder does a fantastic job at portraying all of these emotions.  There’s also David Harbour’s performance as Sheriff Hopper.  At first I wasn’t sold as he seemed like he didn’t really want to apart of what was happening, but when we discover his backstory, things start to fall into place his performance gets better with time.  Even the child actors did a good job with their roles.  With child actors, their performances can be hit or miss, but Bobby Brown, Wolfhard, Matarazzo, McLaughlin, and even Schnapp did really well.  It’s also worth mentioning that Mike’s sister Nancy (Natalia Dyer), her boyfriend Steve (Joe Keery), and Will’s brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) all did fine jobs as well.

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via Dread Central

The presentation elements of the show are what make Stranger Things so appealing.  As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of nostalgia elements that give the show 80’s flair.  The title screen is an obvious callback to Steven King’s novels, mimicking the same font and look of any of his titles.  Jaws movie posters adorn the walls and songs like Toto’s “Africa” play in the background.  Speaking of music, the show’s soundtrack is on point, all the time.  The music is super synthy and the unnerving audio cues amp up the thrills.  Stranger Things is an example of perfect sound design.  Even the visual effects feel like they’re fresh out of the 80’s, which is good and bad.  The monster animations are cheesy and strobe lights apparently mask some of the effects-heavy scenes.  Perhaps it adds to the show’s character, but the effects feel out of place and kind of lazy in 2016.

What we have with Stranger Things is a love letter to shows of its ilk.  The 80’s influence is real and ever present.  The Duffer Brothers, directors of the show, have a great piece of television on their hands.  There’s already been a lot of talk surrounding the show, which makes a second season a good possibility.  I’m all for another trip back into Stranger Things but I don’t want the show to carry on past three seasons at most.  There’s value to shorter and more concise TV shows that tell one-off stories.  Stranger Things, which might be my favorite show of the year so far, has me dying to see more.

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Review: The Walking Dead: Michonne

michonne cover
via PC Gaming Wiki

The Walking Dead: Michonne (2016)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Telltale Games

Developer: Telltale Games


The Walking Dead games are what put Telltale Games on the map.  Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true but they have definitely given the company the most success.  Both season one and season two of their episodic adventure games based on the comic books were critically acclaimed and set the company on the right direction.  With Telltale’s latest installment in the franchise, The Walking Dead: Michonne, they decided to take a different direction in more ways than one, but some of these directions don’t pay off in the end.

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via YouTube

Unlike the previous two adventures, The Walking Dead: Michonne hones in on the story of Michonne, a protagonist from the comics.  She’s a stoic figure who doesn’t really talk much unless she needs to.  She’s also dealing with some psychological demons involving her two dead daughters, which is the aspect of her character that the story focuses the most on.  For those wondering, the story takes place between the comic’s issues 126 and 139.  (I haven’t read the comics myself, or seen the show for that matter, so I wouldn’t know.)

Another thing that Telltale does differently with Michonne is its three-episode format, unlike the normal five-six-episode format that most are used to.  There’s nothing wrong with going down the short-form adventure route, but it makes developing a meaningful and impactful story pretty difficult.  It can be done, but it’s tough to do.  Unfortunately, Michonne falls short of giving us an impactful story, which is due in part to the short time we have with the characters.  I grew attached to Michonne, as she was the main protagonist, but all of the other side characters and antagonists meant nothing to me really.  They had their moments, sure, but I wanted to spend more time with them in the end.  Just like the previous games, there will be deaths and tough decisions to make, but they ultimately didn’t matter to me in the end.  It also doesn’t help that the episodes were short in comparison.  I just didn’t feel that attached to what was going on onscreen.

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via Rocket Chainsaw

Speaking of decisions, the game plays just as you’d expect.  Telltale hasn’t reinvented the wheel with Michonne, giving you an all-too-familiar gameplay experience.  You will participate in quick time events.  You will pick dialogue choices.  You will walk around small little environments.  You will make some pivotal decisions.  These decisions don’t really have consequence however.  The decisions also weren’t that hard to make either.  It almost felt like Telltale was just laboring through the motions, pumping out a paint-by-the-numbers experience similar to their other games without really putting any thought into what they were doing.

This is all a shame because The Walking Dead: Michonne has a gripping drama in its hands.  Michonne has a tough and quiet exterior, but on the inside there is a bevy of bottled up guilt and sadness that literally haunt her as she moves along.  During her travels she comes across a friendly crew of sailors as well as a small band of vicious and deadly survivors.  How she deals with these new people, as well as the situations she is thrust into, are by far the most enticing aspect the game has to offer.  Telltale has an interesting story to tell, it’s just too bad its brought down by some of the more technical facets of the game.

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via Game Over

If you were a fan of the previous Walking Dead installments by Telltale (which most probably are) then this might warrant a look.  There’s some cool stuff the game brings to the table, but just know what you’re getting into.  Wane your expectations.  If your new to the series, then it’s hard to justify a play through of The Walking Dead: Michonne.  I would recommend the previous two installments, but that’s about it.

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Also available on PC, Mac, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, iPhone, iPad, and Android.

Review: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

ethan carter coverThe Vanishing of Ethan Carter (2014)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: The Astronauts, Nordic Games, EuroVideo Medien GmbH

Developer: The Astronauts


Never have I felt more alone while playing a video game than I have in The Vanishing of Ethan Carter.  The game literally throws you straight into the world with no guidance or hand-holding.  I’m serious, the game straight up tells you that from the very beginning.  There was a lush landscape in front of me that was just calling my name.  The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is game chock full of discovery, beauty, mystery, and sometimes horrifying imagery.  There’s some weird things going on and it’s your job to investigate.

ethan carter 1
via Push Square

Players assumes the role of a nameless detective who’s tasked with finding a missing boy.  As a detective, you have the power to rip holes in reality, giving you visuals of horrible crimes that have taken place within the game’s world.  It’s necessary to go around and put these visuals together to solve the mystery of the missing child.  A lot of this legwork involves stumbling upon a rift in reality in the environment and then proceeding to investigate the rift.  A lot of these investigations involve piecing together the events of crimes and forming a clear picture of what took place.

The game sets a tone of loneliness as there is no one to be found as you roam around the gorgeously lush world.  The sense of discovery that the game provides is immense.  The game doesn’t tell you where to go…leaving the exploration to the player.  There’s forests, lakes, cottages, and caves that you will end up exploring.  Each of these environments are beautiful and look wonderful on the PS4.  I haven’t seen the PC version but I can only imagine that the visuals are heightened on the platform.  Sometimes it’s a little tough to figure out where you need to go next, but you’ll most likely stumble upon the places you need to go without having to worry about it.

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via New Game Network

The amount of interaction you have with the world is limited, but the game does a good job at enticing you to move forward.  Most of the gameplay involves pressing a button to open up a visual of a previous crime or walking around and piecing together different events of a crime. There’s also some lite puzzle solving, but nothing that will drive you crazy. That’s about it.  There’s not much to be found in terms of gameplay, but the exploration more than makes up for the lack of interaction that you have with the world.  There was a multitude of times where I just wandered away from my objective and just took in the sights and sounds.  There were many vistas and landscapes that seemed screenshot worthy.  In fact, 98% of the game is screenshot worthy.  98% is an arbitrary number…there’s no science behind it.

Remember the game Everybody Has Gone to the Rapture?  Yeah, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is basically that game but better in almost every way.  (Graphics wise, the two are comparable) In both games you are walking around the environment piecing together the events that took place prior.  There’s a sense of mystery and intrigue in both games, but TVOEC captured my interest way more than EHGTTR.  The story in TVOEC is a lot more interesting and gave me more incentive to explore and dig deeper.

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via New Game Network

I feel like The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a game that passed everybody by.  It didn’t make a big splash when it was first released and the talk surrounding the game waned as weeks went on.  Hell, I even passed up the game when it first came out.  I remember looking at it and having interest in playing it, but I never went back to it.  I am glad I finally visited this short and unique experience.  Its full of interesting ideas and intrigue-driven exploration.  The game also looks fantastic, probably one of the prettiest I have seen in years.  It’s an extremely immersive experience that is worth sinking some time in.

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Also available on PC.

Review: The Babadook

the babadook poster
via Rotten Tomatoes

The Babadook (2014)

NR / 93 mins

Drama / Horror / Thriller

Starring: Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall

Director: Jennifer Kent


Everybody remembers the classic ritual of bedtime stories.  As kids we would brush our teeth, put on our pajamas, and then climb into bed excitedly as we would wait for night’s fairytale or children’s story.  At least that’s how I remember it.  The Babadook, an indie horror flick directed by Jennifer Kent, is an example of bad parenting.

the babadook 1
via Cine-Nerd

The movie stars troubled mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her delinquent son Sam, played by child actor Noah Wiseman.  Through the use of flashbacks, we discover that the two are grieving the death of their father.  Things are not easy and over the course of the movie we watch as the two spiral down a dark path.  Sam is a problem child, throwing frequent tantrums that begin to turn violent.  He’s fascinated with the idea of fighting and protecting his mother from monsters.  This soon leads to a mysterious book, called “The Babadook,” which Sam asks his mom to read.

This is where the bad parenting comes in.  The book is introduced around halfway through the movie and by that point Amelia should have noticed that her son wasn’t doing well.  The decision to read her son a (rather frightening) book about a dark monster who lives in the dark side of the bedroom is probably not the best.  As one would expect, this drives Sam’s mental state into a deeper downward spiral and things start to go pretty bad very quickly when the demonic book starts to haunt their house, and everything in it.

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via Joblo

I’m normally not a huge fan of horror movies; not because they are dumb but because the premise behind most of them are stupid and often times predictable.  The concept behind The Babadook is not entirely new, but it provides enough dumb fun to make it enjoyable.  A lot of the scenes, especially the ones dealing with the storybook, are kind of silly and stupid, but they aren’t bad enough to make the movie unwatchable.  I found myself snickering a lot more than getting scared, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Speaking of getting scared, the movie is generally tame when it comes to the spooks.  Although, there are some disturbing scenes and imagery that will make anyone cringe.  One of the best parts about the movie is its reliance on disturbing imagery, rather than jump scares, to frighten viewers.  It made the movie feel less cheap and gives the movie a more authentic quality.  The imagery used during the storybook sequences are really well done and the pages literally come to life on screen, which was really fun to watch.

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via TVQC

Performance wise, you can take it or leave it.  The movie primarily focuses on Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, with some supporting cast here and there.  Their acting isn’t necessarily the best, but it is good enough to be passable.  In the end, I didn’t really care because when all’s said and done, The Badadook is a B-movie affair.  The acting took a backseat for me, as I was too caught up in the fun that was happening on screen.

Perhaps the big takeaway from The Babadook is that you shouldn’t read your young kids a dark storybook about the monsters that make noises in the night.  C’mon, that’s a disaster waiting to happen, as evidenced by the movie.  There are a plethora of better horror films out there, but this one holds its own as being a dumb fun kind of movie that you can just give a mindless watch.

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‘Bone Tomahawk’ Is My Bone Daddy

bone tomahawk posterBone Tomahawk (2015)

NR / 132 min

Horror / Western

Starring: Zahn McClarnon, Patrick Wilson, Kurt Russell

Director: S. Craig Zahler


A review by Tristan Mowat of Evade Gismo

Whatever you’re doing right now probably isn’t as important as watching this movie. It is customarily routine for me to keep a watchful eye on interesting films in some of my favorite genres: Horror and Westerns. I think we can all raise a guilty hand to being some form of genre fanboy or girl. Neglecting a shitty flick for a great set or setting- for the flavor of the story alone. But we need those bad movies don’t we? They are just as important as the good ones because, of course, they elevate the great films and show us what ‘good’ is supposed to look like.

You ever find something online so perfect that you covet it and share it with your friends with your own ‘trust me it’s awesome’ seal of approval? Only to watch those friends turn around- claim it as theirs? Isn’t it hard not to claim it as your own treasure? And doesn’t it hurt a bit when your friends fail to acknowledge that it was you who found it in the first place? This is one of those treasures for me but I’m sharing it with you guys in case you might have missed it.

It is what it looks like. It’s a Western Horror movie. Two things I’ve unknowingly and unconsciously desired for quite some time. Probably ever since i saw Unforgiven as a kid and fell in love with the Western genre. It’s well written, all the sentences are complete and courteous. With every syllable perfectly accounted for. Back in the good ole days when using slang was like saying ‘CUNT’ to your grandmother.

IMDB is showing that the budget for the movie was $1.8 million. So virtually nothing. With all the great acting littering the story you can almost see Kurt Russell reading the script and calling all his friends to climb on board. Everyone is here because they fell in love with the script. Clearly they are not as interested in the money as they are with telling a unique story. It’s original, oddly compelling and suspenseful.

You will hear us talking about tension and suspense a lot, so you’re going to have to get use to that. It’s an intriguing device in storytelling. It’s cheap (pretty much free) but rarely used effectively. But when it does- WHOAH BABY! Although the tense moment means nothing without the payoff. Usually the payoffs, in this case, look like somebody getting their head blown apart, point being the film doesn’t chise out on you. Also the jaw bone tomahawks are magical and can cut anything in half. The action is very brutal and gave my wife a rough ‘sleep.’ The violence here felt like a rich meal –  something you can understand and fill up on with a few bites.

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So the deal here is some drifter walks all over some cannibalistic native predator monsters ‘sacred ground’ and get chased into town. They kidnap sheriff’s deputy and some hot chick doctor. Sheriff “old Kirtypants” heads out to recover them. Nice and simple, like a western should be.  The ‘savages’ are a cartoonish version of a ‘Native’ It’s the furthest thing from human. I’m glad they took the enemies to the extreme physically, it would have been awkward if they hadn’t gone so monsterish.

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All told this was a well thought out surprise from, not a first time director, but someone getting the hang of things. Thanks Craig Zahler your bones are really sharp.

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Review: Until Dawn

until dawn coverUntil Dawn (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Horror / Adventure

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe

Developer: Supermassive Games


It’s that time of year again!  The fall games season is here and 2015’s holiday season looks like it is going to be ripe with new releases.  Some might disagree, but I think the season has been started with the release of the PS4 exclusive Until Dawn.  The game has gone through a weird developmental cycle, announced back in 2012 as a PS3 horror game that would heavily involve the PlayStation Move.  Things went quiet until 2014 when the game was re-announced as a PS4 exclusive horror game.  Sony’s well of PS4 exclusives has been pretty dry recently but Until Dawn brings the water back into the well.

via WCCF Tech
via WCCF Tech

The game hones the influence of movies like Cabin in the Woods and Scream, putting you in control of eight teenagers who have gathered at a cold and desolate mountain resort on the anniversary of their friends’ death.  The gathering was put together as a way to cope and move on from the unfortunate events that took place the year prior, but things start to go south as something sinister starts to peek its head in the darkness.  Things start going bad pretty fast as the teens are flung full force into a deadly marathon of survival and terror with the respite of rescue awaiting them at dawn.

What makes this story engrossing is the choices that you have to make as the story plays itself out.  The game emphasizes the “Butterfly Effect,” where all of your choices that you make, whether big or small, have impacts and consequences later on in the story.  I tend to be skeptical when games boast these kinds of features, but with Until Dawn, the prospect of multiple branching story outcomes is present at every corner.  It was amazing to see the effects of your choices in places you wouldn’t expect.  Situations like whether or not you choose to shoot a squirrel in the first episode (the game is broken up into ten episodes, much like a TV show) can have major repercussions later in the story.  I found this to be fascinating and it drove me to complete multiple playthroughs to see where my choices would lead the story, and like the game boasts, I got drastically different endings.

via Leader Gamer
via Leader Gamer

Story wise, it’s hard to figure out if the game was taking itself seriously.  Why you ask?  Well, the game is one big horror trope fest.  Literally, the entire game is littered with almost every single horror trope you could imagine.  The teens split up, jump scares get you out of nowhere, a grandfather clock dings, a heroine in distress walks around a house in your bath towel, and almost every character makes extremely stupid decisions.  I want to believe that the game wasn’t taking itself seriously, but I couldn’t really tell.  Other story elements started to fall apart towards the end as well, including a subplot about a mysterious psychologist.

It’s a shame that the story wasn’t the greatest, because the actors involved with this game were phenomenal.  Familiar faces like Hayden Panettiere, Peter Stromare, and Rami Malek stand in as the teenagers through the magic of motion capture.  The team at Supermassive Games have outdone themselves, doing a great job at bringing the characters to life.  Their facial emotions are way better than any other characters I have seen in games these days and they actually look like real people in their movement and actions.  Each of the actors and actresses sold their characters pretty well, despite the type of material that was put in front of them.  I have to admit that they all deserved better, but they did a pretty good job with what they had.

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If you have played a similar game like Heavy Rain, then you will most likely be familiar with the type of gameplay that is presented to you in the game.  Most of the interactions you will have with the game are in the form of quick time events and choosing between two choices in terms of dialogue.  You will have to move around the environment from time to time, but the game is more like an interactive movie.  There is also a fair amount of collectibles to pick up along paths and in rooms which serve as devices to feed you some of the backstory that the game decides to leave out from the main story.

I was pleasantly surprised with the experience I received from Until Dawn.  The story fell into a pit of well-trodden tropes, but it was easy to look past this because the game was just too damn fun.  It’s a game that I played with some buddies, experiencing the campy moments of horrific nightmares together.  The acting was superb and the game looked pretty great, probably one of the best looking PS4 games around.  With the abundance of outcomes present in the game, I would love to hear the kinds of experiences that other players have with the game.  It’s certainly a game worth talking about.

via Play Nation
via Play Nation

Also as a side note, if you hear a weird freaky noise coming from a not so friendly looking place, don’t go towards it, no matter how adventurous and curious you are.  It’s not worth it.  No, it never ends well.

until dawn score

Review: The Last of Us

via Taringa.net
via Taringa.net

The Last of Us (2013)

Rated M / PS4

Shooter / Action / Adventure

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Developer: Naughty Dog


I finally see why The Last of Us is regarded as possibly one of the best games ever.  When Naughty Dog released the game on the PS3 back in 2013, they instantly had a wildfire hit on their hands.  After some time, they released a remastered version on the PS4, which seemed to be the way to fully experience the game.  After not knowing anything about the game, I decided to give the game a run for its money.  It was by far one of the best decisions I have made, roaming the infection-ravaged countryside with two great characters.

These two characters I’m talking about are Joel and Ellie, voiced and mo-capped by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson respectively.  Joel is a man in his 50’s, who has already felt the pain of loss due to the deadly infection that has been spreading throughout the land.  Ellie, a younger orphan girl, has also been changed by the recent events, having survived an infected bit on her arm.  It’s Joel’s goal to get her to the Firefly’s, a rebel organization opposing the government, in hopes of possibly finding a cure for the infection that has been spreading throughout the country.

via playm.de
via playm.de

The journey that you take with these two wildly different, yet strangely attached, characters is a harrowing one.  During the course of the game, you travel across a good portion of the United States, only to see a place completely torn apart by death and destruction.  There is also an abundance of infected, as well as desperate humans that provide some tough opposition along the way.  It’s a tough adventure, with a lot of hardships that ultimately brings Joel and Ellie together.

It is hard not to get immediately attached to the characters that you meet along the way.  Naughty Dog did a fine job with the writing and overall storyline.  A lot of the dialogue comes in the form of natural reactions to the world that they are traversing.  They often try to make light of the situation, whether it be Ellie’s joke book or Joel’s wise cracks with some of the supporting characters.  It made the characters ultimately seem more relatable.  It is probably how I would react if I was thrown into the crappy situation that they have to endure.

via games.it
via games.it

I am also surprised I made it this far without talking about how gorgeous the game looks.  Granted, I experienced the adventure with the remastered version, which is exponentially better looking than its PS3 predecessor, but both versions look amazing nonetheless.  The apocalypse did some nasty things to the locations that you explore, but everything has a visual pop to it.  Being from Pittsburgh, I could not help but get all excited seeing the striking familiarities that the Pittsburgh section of the game contained, whether it be the big hulking yellow bridge in the distance or some of the other surrounding buildings and structures.  Naughty Dog but a metric-ton of detail into each and every location in the game, and their hard work pays off.  The remastered version even contains a “photo mode,” which gives the player some nice tools for creating some fantastic looking snapshots of some of the game’s greatest moments.

The third-person gameplay is executed nicely and feels great, but that was not too much of a surprise given the studio’s past work with the Uncharted franchise.  What makes this game different however is the lack of items that they give you.  Bullets are hard to come by and crafting using the various scraps and materials you will find around the world will largely save you in the end.  Every shot that you make counts, which makes combat situations a little tougher.  The game gives you options with each encounter that you face.  If you have an abundance of supplies, and your just feeling like a badass, you can go in guns-blazing.  You can also take the smarter and generally more effective stealth approach, taking your enemies out in silence.  You will quickly learn that silence is a beautiful thing in The Last of Us, because causing a lot of commotion can make your day go to hell real quick.

via IGN
via IGN

The enemy variety is alright, but could have been better.  You will encounter three types of infected along the journey, including Runners, Clickers, and Bloaters.  You will also fight a good number of humans as well, which provide a bigger challenge.  The infected AI is pretty easy to work around if you know what you are doing, but the humans are smart, and tend to give you more of a challenge.  It would have been nice to have a little more variety in terms of the infected enemies, because by the end of the game, it is pretty easy to dispatch the infected that they throw at you.

The Last of Us also included a multiplayer mode called Factions, which lets you side with either the Firefly’s or the Hunters.  There are three 4 v 4 modes; Supply Raid, Survivors, and Interrogation that all had their moments.  The combat is pretty much carried over from the single player mode, making familiar players feel right at home.  The multiplayer provided some fun, sure.  However, it is not something to write home about.  It’s your average run of the mill multiplayer mode that just feels tacked on like most games these days.  If you are playing The Last of Us, the single player adventure is probably all you really need.

via ae-infinite
via ae-infinite

One of the perks of playing the remastered version was the inclusion of the Left Behind DLC that went along with the game.  In this short but sweet experience, we get to see Ellie’s relationship with Riley, a good friend of hers from the military boarding school that they grew up in.  The DLC is mostly set in the locale of a local mall, which makes sense when you think about it.  What other place would to pre-teen girls want to go to?  The ending however leaves you speechless, and it hits you with such blunt force.  It is a curveball that you do not expect until it hits you hard.  The DLC also sheds light on Ellie’s first encounter with the infected as well.  It’s definitely worth the money and extra time if you have not dived into it already.

In terms of the greatest gaming experiences I have ever had, The Last of Us is definitely one of them.  I am not exactly confident in saying that it is my favorite game OF ALL TIME, but it ranks high on my list of top games that I have played.  The game takes you on an emotional adventure, full of thrills and hard moments that are sometimes hard to swallow.  The game looks amazing and the combat ranks high as well.  The Last of Us is a 1-2 knockout punch that will change you as a person, or at least how you look at games as a whole.  If you have not given the game a fair shake yet, do yourself a favor and educate yourself on one of the generation’s greatest games.  Do it.

the last of us score

Review: The Last Door

the last door coverThe Last Door (2014)

PC

Horror / Adventure

Publisher: The Game Kitchen

Developer: The Game Kitchen


 

There’s something about old and creepy mansions.  I don’t know if it is the long and endless corridors, the dusty multitude of rooms, or perhaps the antique and haunting portraits that adorn the walls.  There’s just something naturally creepy about big old mansions.  This is where The Last Door, a point-n-click horror adventure, starts off; a dark and seemingly abandoned mansion.

the last door 4

The episodic series, which spans four chapters, puts you in the shoes of Jeremiah Devitt who is on a mission to investigate and uncover the mystery surrounding his childhood friend Mr. Beechworth.  Devitt arrives at Mr. Beechworth’s mansion in Great Britain and finds the horrific sight of his dead friend.

As the tale carries on, Devitt starts to travel back to the place where the two first met, a boarding school, which now happens to be a hospital run by nuns.  It’s at this location where Devitt really starts to reflect on his past, and the foggy memory he has of the secret childhood society that he and Beechworth were apart of.

the last door 2

The story is not overly scary or horrifying, but there is a lot of creepy vibes that are infused through the chapters.  During the story, we see scenes of suicide, self-punishment, and gruesome death.  There were some aspects of the story that really put a nervous chill down my spine.  In the last two chapters is when things start to get serious, and the mystery starts to unravel.  The secret society that Devitt discovers he was apart of is dark and twisted.

But how does a point-n-click adventure game keep the atmospheric mood of horror throughout the game?  You would think that this genre wouldn’t fit well in the realm of point-n-click games, but The Last Door proves this notion wrong.  The environments and locales that you explore have an eerie and disturbing atmosphere and there are some nicely-executed jump scares that made me jump in my seat.  (I should mention that this game is best played with headphones in a dark room.  You’ll get much more out of the experience.)

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The gameplay is pretty simple, which is necessary for a game of this type.  I didn’t have to worry to much about the gameplay during my play-through, which helped keep me in the moment.  The first chapter had a couple of problems however that were later corrected in chapter 2 like character dialog and faster movement.  You have an inventory in the game in which you can store items that you find in the environment.  There were only a couple of frustrating moments that seemed like a pixel-hunt to find a specific item that I needed to progress, but other than these, items were pretty easy to find.  There are also some light puzzle elements that appear in some of the episodes that are pretty tough at times, and require some thought.  None of them seemed impossible though, given that the game gives you all the necessary knowledge to complete the puzzles.

the last door 5

The project, which was brought to life by a Kickstarter campaign has a lot of heart and soul that were poured into it.  The 1890’s Great Britain atmosphere that they give you is easy to get lost in the the game gives an intriguing story that is a mix of mystery and horror.  There needs to be more of these types of games that make their way to the light of day.  The Last Door doesn’t take too long to play through, but it offers a rich horror experience that can tide you over between this holiday’s bigger video game releases.