Tag Archives: Kidnapping

Review: Heavy Rain

heavy rain poster
via Giant Bomb

Heavy Rain (2010 – PS3) (2016 – PS4)

PS4 / Rated M

Action / Adventure

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe

Developer: Quantic Dream, SCE XDev Studio


Losing someone you love is one of the toughest things we have to go through as humans.  It’s even tougher if they’re young.  You end up asking a lot of questions and you sometimes question yourself, especially if you had a chance at preventing the loss.  In Heavy Rain, a game by David Cage and Quantic Dream, a father loses his child and is on the brink of losing another.  Feelings of guild, depression, love, and contempt all rear their head as he tries to save his son.  How far are you willing to go to save someone you love from the clench of death?  This is the primary theme that drives Heavy Rain, as well as its four main characters.

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Tension has been rising as a serial killer, calling himself the “Origami Killer,” has been killing innocent children by kidnapping them from their parents and drowning them in rain water.  Their deaths are marked by the presence of an origami figure, placed in the kids’ cold lifeless hands.  The latest victim is Shaun Mars, son of Ethan Mars, one of the four playable characters.  He’s kidnapped during the course of the game and he only has a couple of days to live.  It becomes a race against the clock as Ethan is given a set of trials that test his love for his son and his willingness to go through hell to save him.

Meanwhile, you play as three other characters who are all concurrently after the Origami Killer in one way or another.  Norman Jayden is a criminal profiler who works for the FBI.  He is contracted by the town’s local police department to investigate the recent killings and he uses the help of his gadget ARI (Added Reality Interface) to help with the investigations.  Madison Paige is a freelance journalist and photographer who ends up meeting Ethan at a local motel.  It’s through this chance meeting that she starts to become involved in the Origami Killer’s doings and she begins to start a private investigation of her own.  Finally, there’s Scott Shelby, an ex-cop turned private investigator who has been contracted by the Origami Killer’s victims’ families to investigate their murders.  Each of these characters, including Ethan, have their own stories and motivations that drive their actions.  The game flips between perspectives, giving you control of each of these characters as the game goes on.

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There’s a lot of heavy material that the game covers and there’s a lot of tense moments that will make you sweat, quite literally.  There’s a lot of twist and turns, including one big one towards the end that caught me off guard.  However, after going back and examining the events that led to this twist, everything made sense and came together, which is an indication of a really well-written twist.  There’s also some plot-holes here and there, but they aren’t too offensive and they don’t detract too much from the story.  The performances were also really well done.  The characters you play as and interact with were all motion captured, which really helped convey emotion and feeling.  You could see the emotion in character’s faces, giving them more life and believability.

The game is an adventure game where all of your choices affect the story in ways that are predictable and not so predictable.  Gameplay mainly takes the form of quick-time events and dialogue choices.  If a character dies due to a failed quick-time sequence, then the story goes on.  There’s no game over screens to save you.  The story is constantly adapting to your choices (and your mistakes) and contains a multitude of different endings based upon the story’s happenings.  A lot of games claim that your choices affect the story but there are few that have high-impact decisions.  Every little choice you make in Heavy Rain affects the story in big and small ways.  Even the smallest of details, like the color of a character’s clothes, can play a big part in the way the story plays out.

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One of the things I really liked about the way the game handles its quick-time events is the way they conveyed emotion through these events.  As you play through the different sequences, buttons will appear on the screen indicating a quick-time event.  Sometimes these indicators will be calm and stable while other times they will be shaking uncontrollably.  This can lead to some frustrating moments where mistakes are easy to be made, but this works in the game’s context.  If a character is nervous and at the precipice of danger, then they are more likely to make hasty decisions and mistakes.  You always know what the character is going through based on the presentation of the quick-time events, which is brilliant and works really well in conveying story without explicitly describing how a character feels.

Heavy Rain was initially released in 2010 on the PS3, but I have been playing the PS4 remaster, which gives the already good looking game a complete HD makeover.  The game looks amazing and even the slightest details like the boxes you find in a convenience store are all retouched and redone in a higher resolution.  The game still looks a little dated at moments but the gorgeousness is undeniable.  Unfortunately, the movement mechanics were not redone for the remaster.  Movement is handled by pressing down the right trigger while moving the stick in the direction you want to move.  It’s a dated mechanic that does not hold up well at all.  I often found myself running into walls and scooting past an object in an environment that I wanted to interact with because I was trying to grasp the character’s movement.  It’s not a thing that gets better with time either.  I was still having annoyances with the mechanic late in the game.

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David Cage’s game took the gaming industry by storm when it was first released.  Heavy Rain, despite some of its mechanical woes, still holds up extremely well today, thanks to some of Quantic Dream’s remastering work.  There’s a thrilling story to be told, one that will most likely move you in one way or another.  All of the characters are dynamic, interesting, and even relatable in some ways.  Heavy Rain was on of PS3’s best games and that quality still stays true today.

heavy rain score

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Review: Taken 2

taken 2 posterTaken 2 (2012)

PG-13 / 92 min

Action / Crime / Thriller

Starring: Liam Neeson, Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace

Director: Olivier Megaton


Dating Bryan Mill’s daughter is probably a daunting, and scary, undertaking.  He is a retired CIA agent, who has a particular set of skills that can make anybody’s life hell if he wanted to.  He also has an unbelievable love for his daughter, which causes him to be extremely overprotective, to the point where it starts to become a little weird.

Taken 2 is a ridiculous movie, even more so than Taken.  Imagine a full-size bear rolling around on a beach ball with a party hat on it’s head.  Yeah, that is ridiculous, just like Taken.  Now imagine this same bear on a beach ball with a party hat, except this time he is juggling a set of flaming torches while tightrope walking.  Yes, Taken 2 is more ridiculous than its predecessor.

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The action all starts whenever Lenore (Famke Janssen) and Kim (Maggie Grace) decide to surprise visit Mills (Liam Neeson) while he is in Istanbul for a business trip.  You can only imagine where this is going.  At the same time, the group that Mills heavily destroyed in Taken is out for vengeance, and they know that Mills happens to be in Istanbul.  Rade Serbedzija (Murad Krasniqi), the father of the guy who took Kim in the first movie, is the main guy leading the operation to seek vengeance on Mills.

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One day on their vacation, Mills and Lenore go out on a little date while Kim stays behind to catch up on some relaxation.  While on their date, Mills and Lenore catch on to the group of men trying to kidnap them, and they try to lose them, but it only ends up with them both being taken.  At the hotel, Kim still happens to be in contact with Mills, and he tells her to hide.  She almost gets taken herself, but luckily the gang doesn’t find her.  It’s now her turn to play hero and get her parents out of trouble.

While keeping in contact with Kim, Mills basically walks her through all the steps she needs to take in order for him to find out where he and Lenore have been taken.  It’s only a matter of time when Mills and Kim finally escape together, and they have to finally figure out how to get Lenore.  It’s here that the movie gets insane, once again.

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The thing that is great about Taken 2 is all of the moving pieces that are part of the film.  The plan that Mills conjures up seems much more involved, and much smarter this time around, than his previous plan in the first movie.  There are also a lot more high stakes action in Taken 2.  The whole movie just felt like the stakes where raised, which kept the tension levels pretty high.

However, when a movie becomes so predictable, you can only keep those tension levels high for a certain amount of time.  You know that Mills will somehow find a way to get Lenore back, unscathed and fresh as a spring day.  He’s going to make it look easy, and he is going to utterly devastate anyone who opposes him.  It’s this kind of knowledge that makes any sticky situation that Mills gets himself in seem insignificant.  It’s never a matter of “Will he?”, it’s a matter of “How he will” get himself out of these situations.

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The final scenes in the movie are also a big bummer.  The last movie ended with an intense firefight on a boat.  Taken 2 decided to tone back the conflict, making it much more low-key.  It’s literally just a game of fisticuffs as Mills takes out his final two opponents.  The death of the final man that Mills faces is kinda clever, but also not what I wanted.  I wanted a little more, something a little more climatic.

Taken 2 also bumped up the emotional level as well.  We got a lot more scenes between Mills, Lenore, and Kim, and their efforts to rebuild their family that once was.  Lenore is going through a bad marriage with her new husband and Kim dating a guy.  Mills is trying to fix his relationship with both of them, and he does make some great steps in the right direction.  If I had to feel satisfied with this movie, it would be with their family situation by the end.

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Taken 2 is still a fun movie because of the intense action that Mills gets himself into.  Liam Neeson is a lumbering giant that basically overpowers any body that tries to lay hands on what he cherishes the most; his family.  Taken 2 could have been so much more if it where a smarter movie, but instead we get some dumb thrills that still can bring a smile to anyone’s face.  Taken 3 is on the way, and I can only imagine what they are thinking of next.  Franchise fatigue is in the air, and only Taken 3 can help fix that.

 

 

Review: Taken

taken posterTaken (2008)

PG13 / 93 min

Action / Crime / Thriller

Starring: Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen

Director: Pierre Morel


 

“I don’t know who you are.  I don’t know what you want.  If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money but what I do have are a very particular set of skills.  Skills I have acquired over a very long career.  Skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.  If you let my daughter go now, that will be the end of it.  I will not look for you, I will not pursue you.  But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you and I will kill you.”

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Those words probably sound very familiar to anyone who has seen Taken, the thriller from Pierre Morel.  The words were spoken by ex-CIA agent Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) over the phone to the intruders who kidnapped his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace).  She was on a vacation to Paris with her friend Amanda (Katie Cassidy) when things started to go south after the kidnappers took both of them from their hotel.

Bryan Mills is the over-protective father who cares more about her daughter than anything else.  However, he is trying to repair the relationship with his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen).  There is a lot of things going on in the family, and it is the kidnapping that brings them together.  Sending your child to go follow U2 over seas is probably sketchy enough, and Mills was fully aware of this before letting her go on the trip.  It wasn’t a surprise when he got the phone call from Kim, confirming his prophecy.  Paris, of all cities, was probably the best choice of location for the movie.  Kidnapping young female travelers if probably something that has happened before.

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The story is inherently ridiculous, but the action is even more ridiculous.  Mills was a preventer for the CIA, which is basically a guy who was trained to prevent bad things from happening.  However, he might as well have been trained by some of the top Navy Seals in the country.  Mills was better than an entire team of Navy Seals.  He was his own one-man army.  He took down oppressors with ease; groups of them.  Seeing the tall and big Liam Neeson lumbering around the screen taking out his enemies with some high-level martial arts was pretty pleasing.

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All realism was thrown out the window immediately after Mills threw the first punch.  There is no way a retired agent would be that highly skilled.  It almost made the movie a borderline comedy.  “How was he going to get past the next gang of attackers” was the question that constantly circled through my mind.  I knew the answer already, but I wondered how ridiculous the action was going to be.

It’s probably a good thing that the action was so crazy, because it diverted attention away from the lack-luster story that was going on in the background.  It is never clear why Kim and her friend where the targets of the Albanian gang notorious for their work in sex trafficking.  There was some lame explanation about Kim’s stepfather’s foreign relations with the group, but it didn’t make too much sense.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Mills set the whole thing up so he could prove his skills and impress Lenore and Kim.  Okay, that might be far-fetched but any story could have fit in.

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If you look past the plot and can handle the laughable action sequences, Taken is actually a pretty thrilling movie.  There is a lot of tense moments (all made better by Liam Neeson’s soothing phone calls) that take place during the movie.  It’s also all set in front of a European backdrop that just makes sense for a movie of its kind.  Don’t take the movie too seriously, because that will just detract from the experience.  Just let it all happen in front of you, the happy ending will come.

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