Lucien’s Review: A Plague Tale: Innocence

A Plague Tale InnocenceThis is a game that really flew under the radar for me, but I’m glad that it finally got my attention.  Apparently this snuck up on a lot of people, and as such leads me to believe that sales are not going to be especially good.  Which is a bummer because this is a game that is really worth your time if you’re like me and looking for a good story.  The comparison has been done between this and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, but while I don’t totally agree with the comparison, I see how people got there.  It’s a AA game, with a price tag to match, but with gorgeous visuals and a LOT of heart.  Let’s talk about it.

The story goes that Amicia de Rune is a noblegirl living in 14th Century France.  It’s a nice day until a mysterious force kills her dog and the Inquisition come calling, forcing her and her little brother Hugo to flee.  Now, with only her little brother and the various allies she meets along the way, Amicia has to find a way to stay alive, stop her little brother’s sickness, not get eaten by nightmare-inducing plague rats, and get back at the people who took her life away from her.

This game has a lot of things going for it.  The first is the visuals.  This game is gorgeous!  It’s fantastic use of setting and both ambient light and ambient dark is just phenomenal.  There is also how they animated the endless hordes of rats.  Those things are equal parts creepy and vivid.  There isn’t a single area where I would say this game’s visuals faltered.  Every character is expressive and looks the part.  The setting looks harsh as you’d expect from the 14th century.  Thanks to books like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series, people tend to romanticize that time period, when in reality it was pretty awful.  Kings by that time period were not living the kinds of lives you think.  So yeah, it looks amazing.

Next up is the performances.  This game is pretty damn solid.  Both in English and French.  I wanted to play in the latter for immersion’s sake.  Get that whole feel for being in a French story.  But English is pretty fantastic as well.  Amicia definitely steals the show.  You can see her transition from a sister who has a responsibility put upon her to someone who genuinely cares for Hugo.  Speaking of, he also isn’t that bad.  Apparently it was a young girl who did his voice, and she’s no slouch.  Child actors is always a risk, because FAR more often than not, they suck.  Like, a lot.  But in this case, they nailed it pretty well.  I believed that this is an actual little kid.  It’s not perfect, but given the competition, they are definitely bringing their A game.

The side characters almost all have a lot of charm to them.  We don’t get a huge amount of time to know them, but the three that stuck out to me most were Milia, Roderic, and Lucas.  Milia and Amicia’s banter makes me think that they could be actual besties, if things hadn’t have ended the way that they did.  Hopefully they find each other again.  Roderic is just such a lovable thug.  Just this adorable, lovable thug.  But the biggest side-character who stands out is Lucas.  He has this obsession with being an amazing alchemist that you can identify with.  He’s quirky but smart.  And the relationship he develops with Amicia makes me wonder if one day they could be a thing.  It would be charming.

The mechanics of this game are where your mileage can vary.  See, here’s the thing about Amicia – she’s a teenage girl living in a time when most people battle you with swords and arrows.  As such, she’s definitely at a hardcore disadvantage.  And when I say hardcore, I’m not kidding.  One hit and she’s dead.  That’s it.  At no point does she gain more ability to take damage.  As such, the tool at your disposal is stealth.  This is a stealth game through and through.  It’s all about using your sling, alchemy, and the environment to your advantage.  And enemies are not completely oblivious.  What’s more, it’s about using the very rat hordes you are trying to avoid to your own advantage.  It’s also in your best interest to make the most of your surroundings and search everywhere, since there is crafting loot in the strangest of places, but worth your time to check.  You can also find neat collectibles that have their own stories.  For my part, the only frustration was when you are forced to defend a point from attackers and you still can only take one hit.  That got frustrating pretty quick, since you only have your sling as a weapon and that has wind-up and cool-down.

One thing that is always fun is the boss fights.  I know, in a game where you can literally take one hit, that sounds like a recipe for disaster.  But you learn to use your surroundings to your advantage, and be strategic in how you play.  There is a fantastic mechanic you unlock later that makes two of the fights just so fantastic.

Another thing that caught my attention in the game is the sprinting mechanic.  It looks so ridiculous.  Hugo has it worse, but Amicia is no better.  They look like wind-up toys.  It’s a little nit-pick, I admit, but you do have to do it often, and it never stops being funny.

Overall, this is a pretty fun little game.  It’s middleware, and I’m okay with that.  I miss the days when there were the big AAA games, and AA games like this where devs could take risks and really do something unique.  If you think this is up your alley, I’d recommend checking it out.

Final Verdict
8 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Advertisements

Lucien’s Review: South Park: The Stick of Truth and The Fractured But Whole

So, I’ve been really lonely and depressed lately.  What this usually leads me to do is game.  The last time I was like this, I played through the Mass Effect games (the first three.  We don’t talk about Andromeda) so much that I know all of my favorite character’s dialogue by heart!  No joke, that’s how much I know those games.  This time, I decided to see if these two games based on the South Park universe were any good.  I’d heard good things, especially with the first and less for the second, so I figured I would see for myself.  And let me tell you, I wasn’t disappointed.  In fact, they exceeded my expectations in every way.  I’m gonna do reviews for both games here, so this will be kind of long.  Let’s get to talking about it.

First up, we have Stick of Truth.  A game that is riffing on fantasy RPG games, it tells the story of our voiceless protagonist, New Kid.  You create this character, but they never speak.  Something that is made a point of ruthlessly in the game, riffing on games that do that.  Our new kid just moved into town, and just happens to get roped into a struggle between Cartman’s Kupa Keep, and Kyle’s Drow Elves over a mythical object – the Stick of Truth.  A stick that can enable you to do anything.  However, it seems that New Kid is harboring some secrets of his own, and all of it plays together in a narrative that only the creators of South Park could tell.

There is a lot to talk about in this game.  The visuals are just perfect for something set in the South Park universe.  It really does feel like you’re watching an episode of the show.  Since all the voices are pitch-perfect for what you expect from the characters, the role-playing of this felt great.  Part of me really gets why the animation style of the series meshes well to video games.  Since it is done on computer, I have to figure there wasn’t a whole lot they had to tweak.  Though, getting to see Canada as an 8-bit world with 8-bit gaming music was adorable.

Combat in the game is basically a Final Fantasy game, with a few caveats.  Your character chooses their own class, and then you play through the game getting to add on to it as time goes by.  The amount of abilities you get is limited, and you can only change so many things.  Leveling up is also pretty basic.  That’s the thing about the game – it’s pretty basic in the controls and how you play.  Combat does incorporate QTE segments in both offense and defense to either get extra damage or extra defense, respectively.

But you don’t come to this game for deep mechanics.  You really, really don’t.  If you are playing a South Park game, you came to play for the experience of being inside an episode of the series, but longer.  And this is a long game.  I ended up having a good 24 hours through just the story.  Which brings us to this – is the humor on point?  Yeah, for sure.  It’s absurdly violent at points (the abortion clinic scene was so unbelievably grotesque.  I loved it), unbelievably raunchy (the scene fighting the gnome under your parents while they’re fucking is just too good), and doesn’t pull that many punches.  That being said, it is pretty standard for what the average observer would expect from a game in this genre.  Like one of the early season episodes.  That’s not a bad thing, but it does have you having to check your expectations.  And how it all ends is just too funny.  It’s so stupid that it’s perfect.

Overall, this is a solid RPG riffing on games in this genre, along with the fact that it is a South Park game.  Trey and Matt definitely didn’t take things too seriously, and that’s for the best.  I like that they have no problem making fun of their own work.  That’s mature, and while this game is decidedly not, if you wanted to play through an episode of this franchise, this is the perfect way to do it.

Final Verdict
8 out of 10

The first game got a TON of praise.  Just tons of it.  People loved it across the board, save for the moralizing people who don’t like any game anymore because you can’t please those people and it bothers me that now Sony is actually trying to.  However, the sequel got a much more tepid amount of praise.  People seem reticent to pile it on for this one, which I think is genuinely unfortunate.  The Stick of Truth was funny.  The Fractured But Whole was fucking hilarious!  This game too so much more risks, and dammit if that didn’t pay off.  At least to me.  I can see why people would be hesitant to say nice things about it in mainstream gaming journalism outlets.

See, in the last couple seasons, South Park riffed on PC culture and it wasn’t nice about it.  Hell, it fucked it up the butt and when people were yelling, they just shrugged and went about their day.  This game is following in the vein of those episodes, and it’s funny to watch.  Let’s talk about it.

The plot goes that a year after the events of the previous game, New Kid is still the King and all is peaceful in the Kingdom.  Until their game is interrupted by The Coon, who tells our hero and his friends that there is an opportunity to get their superhero franchise off the ground.  Now our young hero is thrown into a new world, and a new plot that gets more and more ridiculous as time goes on.  All for the purpose of saving a cat and getting $100.

Some people were complaining the combat in this game was kind of dumbed down from the previous entry.  I would disagree with that.  While you don’t have much of the QTE stuff, it made things harder by making it so you have fewer choices when you are in combat of what to do.  In the last game, you could use healing items and then attack in the same turn.  Here, you have to make choices, and since your enemy can hit for a TON of damage and healing items don’t just fall out of enemies every minute, you have to be smart.  What’s more, most summons only have the specific number of times they can be called into battle, and then they are done.  This game makes you think on your feet, but thankfully, give you a much bigger toolbox to play with.

See, you get superhero powers, and as the game goes on, Cartman keeps adding to your increasingly-ridiculous back-story which gives you a bigger toolbox to play with, that you can customize to whatever play style you want.  What’s more, before every battle you can do this.  So if you fuck up and die, you get another shot to change up your roster, you skills, and the augmentations you have.  There is depth here, just different from the last.  And if you ask me, some of that stuff did need to be toned down.  The streamlining of things in this game made it much fun for me.

But just like the last game, you didn’t pick this up because you wanted deep mechanics.  You did it so you could play an episode of South Park.  In that regard, this game does the formula even better.  Never have I felt more like I was in this world with these characters than I did in this game.  What’s more, since your character can customize their character sheet, You can change how you get interacted with.  Role-play-wise, this was a great game to get sucked into with the universe.  Plus, the narrative is so much better.  Stick of Truth was fun, but here they go all out.  Everyone is foul-mouthed.  There is PC culture that is seamlessly mixed into that world because it basically takes place where the episodes of the series have already happened.  You have to mesh with the madness, and hot damn!  It’s too funny. They take real chances with some of the stuff they go into.  My favorite of the Lovecraftian monster that is horribly racist, with racist cops feeding black people to it.  Their black characters have a bad habit of being urban as fuck.  They riff on the whole cis/transgender stuff.  There are no punches held back, and the game is better for it.

What’s more, there is something about how the narrative turns out that had me in stitches the first time because it felt so South Park.  When you have Stan at the end asking everyone “you be taking this seriously,” it feels like the best episodes of the show, where him and Kyle are trying to get everyone to see reason, but Cartman still wins in the end.  Plus, we have that great child-like naivety of Cartman combined with the diabolical master-mindedness of him that is just a joy to watch.  I will say that the final act does get draining as it is one boss-fight after another, but that aside, it’s great stuff.

I genuinely do love both of these games.  They both are charming and funny and great to play.  But this game is the better of the two.  Without a doubt, it does the formula better.  What’s more, it feels like it genuinely continues the narrative from the first game.  It doesn’t just forget that that stuff happened, and there were plot threads that were unresolved.  The whole narrative comes to a nice conclusion.  I don’t know if there are any plans for a sequel, but to be honest, I’d be okay if there weren’t.  This game ends on a nice note.  You really are doing a disservice to yourself if you haven’t picked these games up.  But if you wanna start here, I don’t blame you.

Final Verdict
9 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Unplanned

I know what some of you are thinking – Lucien, what are you doing talking about the latest piece of pro-life crap?  Well, I’ll tell you.  See, a girly-mate of mine hit me up a couple days ago and asked if I would go see this film with her.  Way she put it, there had to be something here that would be worth talking about, right?  She was right.  After watching this terrible cinematic abortion (pun intended), there is plenty to talk about.  Let’s get down to it.

When I saw the Pure Flix logo, I knew that I was in for something really special in terms of bad film-making.  Pure Flix has produced some of the most unapologetic shit in the Christian film genre.  But for whatever reason, they make their money back.  In spades.  I guess it’s because they makes movies on a budget of nothing and the Christian audience who wants their opinions fed back to them by bland characters that they can shove themselves inside of like a skin will pay to see this shit.

This particular film has the tagline “based on a true story.”  Yeah, I’m sure it is.  Just like the film I’m Not Ashamed, which exploited the death of a victim of the Columbine school shooting, I’m sure this will be true in name only.  The film tells the story of Abby Johnson, a women who went from director of a Planned Parenthood clinic to a pro-lifer who stands with the best of them.  The level of unsubtle this film goes talking about Planned Parenthood is eye-opening.

There’s this big disclaimer at the end of the film that says that Planned Parenthood has nothing to do with the portrayal in it.  I guarantee that a lawyer made sure they put that as big as they possibly could.  Because holy shit!  This film goes so far out of its way to make Planned Parenthood to be as evil as possible.  For starters, this film is shot like a horror movie.  The inside of the clinic is drab and dark.  The hallways are painted ugly colors and the lights are barely on.  Not to mention this film has a tint at the edges to always make the shots inside it be darker.  I swear, they might as well have had blood all over the walls with how evil they are trying to make this place out to be.

But it doesn’t end there.  For starters, right off the bat, the film beats you over the fucking head with the fact that one of the services Planned Parenthood does is abortions.  When our all-perfect protagonist is starting out and makes the absurd jump from pro-life to working there, you have a woman at the college telling her all about how Planned Parenthood just gives out contraception and does abortions.  Telling her that they do tests for STDs?  Nah.  Check-ups for women?  Nope.  Mammograms?  Fuck that!  We have an ideological screed to sell to people who don’t think critically!  After all, they believe in God.

Then we have the fact that the main character talks about how she used to be a saleswoman for abortion.  That’s all she did.  She talks with what sounds like pride about the fact that she could sell abortion the way a used car salesman does cars.  Except better.  All she does, day in and day out is sell abortion.  Then we have a bit where my favorite character in this film, a boss woman named Cheryl who I started calling Baron Von Evil for how utterly unsubtle she is (I seriously love that character.  She makes Saturday morning cartoon villains blush with how she is a single-minded scum-bag who hates everyone who disagrees with her, motherhood, marriage, and Christianity) tells a gathering that they have to pimp even more abortions.  They actually have her making an analogy that abortion is where Planned Parenthood makes their money, comparing it to fries and a drink at fast food.  This character is too much.  I loved every second she’s on the screen.  Hell, they have this bit where, after getting a restraining order against the main character, she then violates it herself just to be a bitch to the woman.  It’s great.

But we also have some really insulting stuff.  Not even gonna go in to the whole “a fetus isn’t a baby” thing, because that just leads to arguments where you can’t win with them.  I defer to George Carlin to the pro-life argument broken down to its simplest parts.  But they make everyone who works there out to be either completely callus, or just downright evil.  The inciting incident (sort of.  There is a bunch of non-linearity in this movie that is just bad.  Like they have a flash-back within a flash-back.  A BIG cinematic no-no) has a character who is basically miserable, being treated like meat by the doctor who has ZERO bed-side manners and a nurse who is cold and unfeeling.  And our main character, who is not medically licensed in any way, just happens to be helping him with an abortion.

Which brings me to something else about this film – their knowledge of how medical law works is absurd.  I don’t expect something by Pure Flix to be anything approaching even-handed, but how stupid do they think their audience is that they aren’t gonna notice some of this stuff?  Like we have a scene where an underage girl is brought in to the clinic to get an abortion, by her EVIL father who is basically forcing her to do it.  Something to know about this film – men are treated as either holy Christian virtues, or total misogynists.  But we have this girl brought in.  There’s a complication, and she is bleeding out.  They keep her in this waiting room where they just line her up along the wall with a TON of other women after having a procedure.  Bullshit right there, but let’s not get hung up on the little stupid crap.  They take her back to an operating room, and from there they have the asshole doctor patching her up.  But get this – not only do they not have her taken to a hospital, but Baron Von Evil tells them to lie to her father and say nothing, otherwise they would be liable.

I’ve worked in the medical industry.  I’m getting my education to go back into it on the social work side, combining medical coding education with my current job as a caseworker.  So I know a thing or two about HIPAA.  Let me tell you, there is so much that either the filmmaker didn’t know (because they’re stupid), or just decided to willfully omit from this (because they’re evil).  Any major operations on a minor would have to be authorized by the parent.  The parent has a legal right to know what has happened to their child.  Not to mention, all medical information has to be coded into their chart.  Those charts can be requested by the parent/guardian of the child at any time.  So Baron Von Evil had the doctor perform major surgery without notifying the father, made sure not to notify the patient, and would then subsequently have to falsify the records, which since there would have involved at least five people who were in the room, and whoever controls the chart records.

Do I have to tell you what a legal shit-storm would follow if they did that?  Because Planned Parenthood gets Federal funding, they have a larger obligation to transparency.  Not to mention the medical industry can audit them at any time if there is suspicion of malfeasance.  This would NEVER happen!  Not to mention, they do major surgery on this kid, and then have her back in that same waiting area with all the other women sitting in the damn chairs!  Are you kidding me?!  No doctor that is worth their license (or nurse, for that matter) is gonna tell you to put a patient who just had major surgery in a fucking chair.  They’d be hospitalized and told to be kept at least overnight for monitoring.  This film is so fucking dumb.

And we’re not even done.  Let’s talk about the “acting” in this movie.  Aside from Baron Von Evil, who made me smile every time she’s on the screen, everyone in this film was decidedly terrible across the board.  The one that really got me was the child actor who played the main character’s daughter.  That kid was ear-grating.  Can Pure Flix stop making movies with children?  They are universally bad.  Well, all their movies are bad, but the bad child actors in their films just make them worse.  Then there’s the husband, who couldn’t have sounded less convincing with anything he said.

There is also this wonderful stark contrast with the people involved in Planned Parenthood and the ones who are Christian.  See, the Christian characters all wear bright colors and have upbeat, positive attitudes.  They want to help, and they really care.  While they make sure you know that the EVIL liberals like me are not to be trusted.  In fact, they even make the argument that the main character is in danger from some of them.  You know, because us pro-choice types are out there attacking and killing anti-abortion protestors all the time, right?  And not pro-life people killing doctors.  No, that never happens.  Say what you will about the radical left of today, but this film’s portrayal of my side of the fence was more than a little insulting.

Someone who was a friend to me had an abortion when she was 16.  Her boyfriend used her as a living flesh-light, and her insular family didn’t explain contraception to her.  I didn’t know until she asked me to be there with her when they had the procedure done.  Later on, she told me what a difficult decision it was for her.  The family was drowning in poverty.  She literally couldn’t afford to have a child.  Not to mention it would have destroyed any chance she had of making a future outside of the poverty she came from.  It wasn’t a choice she made lightly.  People who knew and who came from the same religious background she did had a bad habit of calling her a slut and a whore.  But in this film, they make sure to tell you that THEIR version of pro-lifers aren’t like that.  No, they don’t ever say that sort of stuff to women.  In fact, they condemn it vociferously.  A pity that this movie’s fantasy world and real life don’t match up like that.

This movie is stupid.  It’s insulting to an organization that does so much for women that aren’t related even tangentially to abortion.  It’s ironic because this movie talks about an idea that is true – that giving contraception to women reduces the amount of abortions.  That’s true.  But the same people who made this shit are the same people who say that abstinence is the only path.  Because they’re fucking dumb.  I got annoyed a lot in the movie.  There was a long stretch of this film just shoving their stupid ideology down my throat. and me wishing I was anywhere else.  To quote Mr. Plinkett – It gave me AIDS!  Don’t watch it.  This is pure horse-shit.  I told the girly-mate I mentioned at the top of this that if we ever decide to watch a Pure Flix film again, It’s gonna be at home where I can yell at the screen.

Final Verdict
3 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Two great movies in one day.  I have the two DVDs at once plan with Netflix right now, so yeah.  That all worked out really nicely.  And man, what a movie this was.  Worth the wait, honestly.  I remember when all the reviews were coming out about this film, and everybody screaming its praises to the moon.  Having finally gotten a chance to see it, I can see why.  I have one major issue with the movie, but aside from that, it’s pretty great stuff.  Let’s talk about it.

The story goes that there is one Spider-Man.  Peter Parker.  However, when Miles Morales happens to gain him some spider powers, and then subsequently end up in a bad situation where he ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time, he figures out there are more Spider-Men.  A lot more.  In universes entangled with our own.  From there, he’s on a mission, both to come to terms with his powers, and to save the city and more importantly his family from annihilation.  As origin stories go, this one is definitely unique.

What I want to talk about first is the animation.  This film goes out of its way to be like a comic book, and it’s awesome!  It’s genuinely weird to me that this came from Sony Animation.  The same studio behind all kinds of cinematic abortions in the last few years.  This film looked and felt like a comic book.  The use of color in this film was absolutely out of control.  What’s more, because there wasn’t the limitation of a camera and a set, the film had some incredible shots that makes me realize that while I did love Spider-Man: Homecoming, the film really didn’t capture this character in a way where being this character feels vertical the way Sam Raimi’s and this film did.  I missed it.

Next up are the characters.  All the versions of Spider-Man in this movie had so much charm.  I love that they got Nicholas Cage to do the voice of Spider-Man Noir.  However, the thing that held this film together is the relationship between Miles and alternate universe Peter Parker.  The chemistry between these characters as a growing bond of mentor to student is believable and you feel for them by the end as they are saying their goodbyes.  But those weren’t the only good characters.  Miles’ dad and uncle both have so much presence.  You can feel the relationship between them and our main character.  With the dad it’s the fact that his son is growing up, and he wants to stay connected with him.  Then there is the uncle, who is something of a mentor to Miles and in the one scene we see of them bonding while engaging in some criminal activity, you buy it.

I will say that this movie is also one of those films where diversity works.  Instead of the unnecessary preaching of Spider-Man: Homecoming that comes from the character they got as the new Mary Jane, we have a character who has his own ethnic identity, but it’s also tied in with the New Yorker identity, and it feels genuine.  See, they did something in this movie that a lot of REALLY bad modern Disney diversity beating-you-over-the-head films don’t do – they made a character first.  Miles is a character, with his thoughts and struggles and personal life, with his identity being second.  That’s believable.  And it makes me like the character.  If only the rest of Hollywood would take a fucking hint.

The action in this movie is incredible.  I will say that the villains weren’t especially interesting to look at, but the action itself had this smooth, seamless quality.  I’m starting to realize that in animation, you can make fight sequences for this kind of movie work so much better.  In the MCU films, everything is so much CG that you start to think that you might as well just be watching something like this.  Since they’ve teased a sequel, here’s hoping that we get more interesting villains and can see more of these interesting fights.

Oh, and something else I want to mention is that while so many Disney films lately have a REALLY bad habit of having bad jokes intertwined with all their movies to diffuse any and all tension, this film doesn’t do that.  There is a LOT of self-referential humor, but it’s all done with some excellent timing.  Not to mention them poking fun at the concept of characters from various universes.  I realized watching this movie that Spider-Pig is by far the most dangerous of all these characters.  Since he comes from a universe with cartoon physics logic, still able to use that in a dimension where things that do that hurt a lot worse, there is really no limit to how much destruction he could cause.

So, what’s my beef with the film?  It’s simple – the ending.  I get that I’m not a kid, and these movies are primarily made for children, but the cynic in me found how utterly sappy the ending to this movie was kind of gag-inducing.  I don’t know, maybe I’m getting too old for this stuff.  I’m not saying everything has to be super dark.  Not at all.  But for the love of Groj, can you PLEASE stop ending movies with big hug sequences?  Just putting that out there?

Overall, this is a really good film.  It captures the character so well, and was a fun ride from start to finish.  That finish was a little weak, but nobody’s perfect.  Not even a film.

Final Verdict
8 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Overlord

Let me take you all back to a magical world in cinema that we’ve been at several times.  It’s a place I like to call “great movies that nobody ever saw.”  See, modern Hollywood is out of ideas.  Definitively.  Between the sequels and remakes, movie theaters are filled with giant piles of shit.  Mostly.  There are the occasional diamonds in the rough, but overall, it’s a lot of cash-grabs, bland sequels, superhero movies, and straight-up shit from Sony Entertainment.  That company needs new management.  But then you get movies like this.  Genuinely good movies that nobody knows about, mostly because they had the unfortunate luck of coming out at the exact same time as some other movie that was popular, and shit.  Which brings us to the movie we’re talking about today – Overlord.  A movie that works as both a World War II film, and works as a zombie movie.  How they were able to do this without turning it into schlock, I don’t know.  Let’s talk about it.

The plot goes that the day before D-Day, there is a mission to destroy a German radio tower so their air power isn’t hindered in the attack.  Believe it or not, but the premise for this film is based on an actual mission that happened.  Needless to say, but things go south, and now those who are left have to finish the job.  But things are about to get a LOT more complicated, as it seems there is more to the village they are infiltrating than just soldiers and a radio tower.

When I told a coworker about this film when I saw it in theaters, he said “I’ve seen that Call of Duty game before.”  This premise had all the potential to be complete garbage.  See, when you make movies like this, where the concept is ridiculous, you have one of two choices.  Either you can acknowledge how silly it is and be schlock.  Or you can go all the way and take the ridiculousness seriously.  This film decided to do the latter.  It didn’t ride the line at all.  This is essentially Saving Private Ryan with zombies.  And it works!  This director has some real chops on him to actually make a premise this off the wall work.  Kudos.

This film has some great set design, good acting by some people I’ve never seen before, and excellent pacing.  The soldiers have the whole “we don’t like each other at the start but bond as brothers” concept, and they make it work.  You believe the chemistry that grows between them as the film goes on.  Our main character is Pvt. Boyce, a peaceful and very scared young man who has been thrown into not just war, but now a Lovecraftian nightmare.  As the film goes on, you see the transition where not just the reality of war, but what he is stuck in hardens him.  Then there’s Cpl. Ford, the leader of the crew who is a grizzled veteran, but he doesn’t appear to just be cold-blooded.  You can see that war has changed him, and there are moments where he does actually be a good leader.  Finally, there is our young French female lead, who ends up helping the Americans because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Since this is a zombie movie, gotta talk about the creature effects.  The lab in this game is something straight out of a B-grade horror movie, but because this film just takes everything about the concept so seriously, it has this creepy charm.  What’s inside, however, is anything but charming.  There are some real monsters in there, but the film is genuinely smart about how they do it.  Pacing in this film is excellent, and the scene where Boyce is stealthily trying to escape after ending up there has some really great usage of audio and silence to lead in to some freaky shit.  But the film doesn’t hang on it all too long.  It’s not gore-porn.  There are genuinely grotesque things, but the movie has a plot that it doesn’t forget about.

That’s worth mentioning too – the great thing about this movie is that it’s not just a zombie movie.  Throughout the entirety of it, there is the objective of destroying the radio tower, and they have to get it done.  Even as everything is going to shit and the Americans feel they have no way out, the mission has to come first, no matter the cost.  What’s more, the weapons in this movie have that great World War II feel.  The guns here look and sound weighty.  You can see shells flying out.  When their carbine are empty and there’s the beautiful ping, it sounds right.  This film looks and sounds the part of its time period.  Little details like that go a long way for me.  Plus, when people get shot, it’s violent.

Overall, this is a genuinely good movie.  With all the endless crap that gets remade, there are some moments where you actually get to see something cool, and it’s pretty great.  This film had the unfortunate reality of coming out at the same time as the latest in the long, sad history of CG abortions related to Dr. Seuss movies.  It sucks that movies that are so mediocre get to detract from things that are worth people’s time, all because of fucking name recognition.  Oh well.  That’s Hollywood for ya.  Sucking the life out of all the cool shit, one big-budget cash-grab at a time.  But for real, now that it’s out on video, check it out.  Stream it, buy it, whatever you feel, but definitely check it out.  A good movie in two genres, that could have been complete shit.  Kudos.

Final Verdict
8 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown

You know what feels good?  When you have something that lives up to the hype.  Something surpassing it is rad as fuck, but given how often things crash and burn and don’t live anywhere NEAR up to the hype, it’s pretty fantastic when something you are hyped for lives up to all your expectations.  And this game did just that.  It was amazing.  I haven’t played something this fun in years.  A lot of games I’ve played lately have been just okay or mediocre, but this was such a breath of fresh air in my life.  Ever wanted to RP as a pilot in Top Gun?  I just got done rewatching that, ironically enough, so I did!  This game gave me and a girly-mate of mine the closest that we’ll ever get to a dream we had, but can never have due to physical problems.  For me it was a head injury and the fact I’m a giant.  For her it’s being mute because of an illness.  But we got to feel that rush.  Lots to talk about, so let’s get down to it.

The plot of this game is set in the alternate universe Earth of Strangereal.  Here, years after the Lighthouse War, the space elevator has been completed.  But the completion of it brought strife between the kingdoms of Erusea and Osea.  When Erusea declares war, it’s up to you as the silent protagonist, callsign Trigger, to bring an end to the conflict.  The plot of this game is more window dressing than anything, so don’t take it too seriously.  They just needed something to keep you invested.  And it isn’t terribly done.  There are some neat twists with neat ideas.  Such as when the satellite networks of both nation crash and everyone is on their own.  Wonder what would happen in the real world with such a situation.

What’s great about this game?  Everything!  For starters, the flying.  This game, you can pick two methods of flying.  You can have it be more simulation, or it can be more arcade.  Both methods are fantastic.  If you’re a newcomer to the franchise, I suggest going arcade.  Trust me, it does nothing to hurt immersion.  I haven’t played a fighter jet sim in forever, so that’s how I play.  Flying in this game is intuitive and fun as fuck.

The environments are gorgeous!  Though, there’s a caveat to that.  See, the developers wisely chose to stress framerate instead of backdrops for more advanced consoles, so when you get up close stuff ain’t always pretty.  But that was not an issue for me.  Overall the environments are GLORIOUS!  I play on a PS4 Pro, and holy fuck!  This game looks amazing.  The lighting is always pitch-perfect.  No matter what time of day you’re flying, it looks stupendous.  There were only a couple missions where the visuals bored me, but given the number of missions and all the parts of them that play a little differently, that is not a black mark against it.

So, what do you do in this game?  Lots, actually.  There are a couple basic types of missions.  You have your straightforward affairs of going somewhere and accomplishing an objective, though you almost always have something coming into the mix to eff things up or making things more complicated.  Then there are the dog-fighting missions, where you are pitted against foes, either the annoying-at-first drones, or ace pilots who are not playing around.  Then there are my favorite types of missions – smashing shit up!  These missions are typically wide open, and you are given one directive – blow shit up.  Lots and lots of shit.  You have a score you have to get to in order to succeed in the mission.  These missions are awesome, and I would have liked just one or two more.  It was great to just let out steam and go nuts.

Now, as this franchise has a pedigree of being very faithful to the fighter jets they are using, since while the world is fictional the jets are not, the big question becomes – what about the planes?  I can say, they are amazing!  For those of you who didn’t know, I live just down the way from an Air Force base, and my favorite days walking are when I get to see the F-22A Raptors flying around.  Those things are awesome, so getting to actually earn and fly one was a dream come true.  No joke, I was in love.  I think I still am.  But there are a TON of fighters, from models in America, Russia, Europe, and even China.  Since the actual corporations who designed these things are represented, they clearly went above and beyond to get it right.  The detail in the jets if phenomenal, and I cannot tell you how much I loved it.  Which are my favorites?  Alright, you greedy people, here is a list of my favorites, in order of my much I love them – F-22A Raptor, F-15C Eagle, and the F/A-18 Super Hornet.  Have to show love to that last one, given that the Navy is my jam.  Hooyah!

What are the downsides?  The characters in this game are all stereotypes.  Plus, there are plot points that go nowhere.  Like one of your own having a person who was close to uncovering something killed, but they never tell you what and you never see that character again.  I don’t hate them, but there isn’t a single memorable character in this game.  The plot is also WAY melodramatic.  I mean to the ENTH degree.  That being said, it does keep you going.  It was neat to get to the conclusion.  Most of that coming from the well-animated cutscenes that mix in real world stuff with digital stuff.  Neat effect, and pretty to look at.

Overall, this game was everything I could have asked for and more.  It’s not the most complicated thing in the world, plot-wise, but that’s okay.  The goal is to keep you invested to see it through and want to hop into the pilot’s seat again to dog-fight once more.  Plus, since all levels have a score, you keep coming back to one-up your score and earn more currency to buy planes.  It was hard to earn my F-22, but when I finally did, so worth it.  Part of me wanted to be wearing a flight suit while I played.  I felt the need.  The need, for speed!  This year is off to an amazing start, and this game has set the bar INCREDIBLY high.  I love it so much.  If you have even a passing interest in a fighter jet sim game, you CANNOT go wrong by getting it.

Final Verdict
9 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Review: Hunter Killer

Oh boy.  Oh boy oh boy oh boy.  Wanna see me let loose with some rage about a stupid movie that is stupid beyond the pale?  Wanna see me get annoyed at a movie that I got to see thanks to the good graces of a Petty Officer I know who got me an invite?  Want to see me lose my shit because of a film that is so dumb but who everyone will think is great because there’s shit blowing up?!  Well strap in, philistines, because we’re on Lucien’s Wild Ride now!  Let me tell you about the film Hunter Killer.

The premise of this movie is actually kinda interesting.  There’s an American sub on a mission to find out why another sub went dark.  After an attempted military coup in Russia, now the sub and a team of what the film alludes to being Navy SEALS (but never outright says) is on a mission to save the President and stop World War III.  Neat premise, but there’s so much wrong that my suspension of disbelief was broken beyond the pale.  Let’s get into why.  As I said, strap in.

For starters, I just LOVE how all of the Russians have such a perfect grasp of the English language.  There’s the barest hint of an accent, but that’s it.  They are American as fuck. Are people in this country just scared of subtitles?  Does the average dim-witted American just freeze up at the idea of having to read anything in a movie?  I got into a discussion with the significant other of the one who got me an invite to this special occasion (this was a special showing for a specific crowd of people) about how I hate subtitles in anime, so I’m sure this will sound hypocritical, but I’ve talked at length about how I have no issue with subtitles in a movie that is just a couple hours long.  In a series that I’m supposed to watch from start to end, having to read it all the time is what loses me.  I can’t feel connected with them as I’m constantly looking away from their performance to read what they’re saying.  Movies don’t present that problem to me.  It’s complicated.

The worst offender in the Russians speaking perfect English is the “President.”  This guy is American! He doesn’t even try to have a Russian accent!  This dude looks like some guy I would meet in Jersey!  I mean come on!

Next, the infiltration team.  I have SO many problems with these guys.  For starters – facial hair!  I have railed in the past about how it breaks immersion when I see guys who are supposed to be serving in the American military having beards.  Especially in the Navy!  You are never told specifically who these guys are, but the implication is that they’re Navy SEALS.  The Navy is rigid as fuck on this – no facial hair!  I’m hearing that it’s being fought right now, but as of the time of this post, the rules on this matter are clear – no facial hair in the US Navy.  But that’s not the only thing that bugs me about these morons.

The film tells us that these guys lost existence privileges when they go into Russia on this mission.  The idea being that they can’t be traced back to America.  Huh, that’s interesting, because they are wearing American gear, using American weapons and American tech!  Gee, I wonder which country they came from!  Having them get into civvies?  Russian military garb?  Using some other country’s weapons and tech to cover their tracks?  Nope!  We’ll just take away their personal effects.  That will totally be effective in hiding what nation you’re from.  Idiots.

Oh, and why is it that in EVERY movie about the military, you have somebody in charge who is all “let’s blow shit up!”  I love the series The West Wing, but that series had it too.  Granted, it was a little more subtle about it, playing it as tactical decisions, but still.  An actual Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would be level-headed and would know that immediately going to the extreme military option is not the smartest idea.  That they wouldn’t look at all possibilities and deliberate among their ranks to try and come to the safest approach.  But as I said, this is in every military movie, so I guess it’s par for the course.  Portraying leadership as sensible and level-headed?  Doesn’t make for good conflict in a movie and then a tacked-on respect moment later for the underling who got it all right and the commanding officer has to shake their hand or some dumb thing.

Speaking of commanding officers, the XO in this movie pissed me off.  This guy was an asshole.  There are multiple scenes of him arguing with the Captain in front of the crew on the bridge in very ugly ways.  That would never happen!  If this guy did this, I can guarantee that the Captain would have had MAs remove his ass from the Bridge.  You don’t do it.  It’s so ironic that Star Trek: The Next Generation handled this kind of BS better when Worf is First Officer when Data is in command.  Science fiction can’t do this better than real world analogues to the Navy.

And don’t even get me started on the CG in this movie.  It’s bad!  Like, low budget bad.  I was legit laughing in the scene where you have one of the infiltration guys behind cover and they are shooting at him, but you can clearly see that the bullet holes are CG.  That was awful!  That was like YouTube video levels of sloppy.  It was funny.

I could go on for hours about all the small details they got wrong.  Like, it’s not “oorah” in the Navy!  It’s “hooyah.”  Or the fact that how they portray Tomahawk missiles is inaccurate.  Or when they say “brace for impact,” it’s actually “brace for shock.”  Their mistakes in regards to Russian submarines.  But this post would go on forever if I did that.

What did I like?  Well, some of the military tech was cool.  Getting to see shit blow up is fun.  The violence actually looked like it hurt.  That’s rare in a PG-13 movie.  Or was this R?  I counted two “fucks” in the whole movie, so probably R.  In PG-13 you only get one.  Or did they change that?  I can never keep up.  Someone let me know in the comments.

This movie sucked.  If you like the spectacle and can turn your brain off to all the stupid shit and know nothing about the Navy, you’ll like it.  For me, I can’t do that, and I think this was stupid with a capital S.

Final Verdict
4 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick