Political Games: Wolfenstein Controversy

 

row_wolfenstein_ii_stealth_1496826977

In this first entry to a new editorial column on this site, I will be looking at the recent controversy surrounding the upcoming Wolfenstein: The New Colossus.

So what has gotten people so riled up about this latest entry in the long running series? Since the game is set in an alternate history of 1960s America that seems very much like a more violent, pulpy version of Man in the High Castle, naturally this is going to raise some eyebrows considering the current political climate. Even more so since the official marketing material uses phrases such as “Make America Nazi Free Again” that makes the game seem like it will be some overtly political, hamfisted commentary on current events. The developers of the game, Machine Games, have stated that they don’t intend for the game to be a commentary on current events and, considering the nature of modern game development for large titles, I believe them. However, that won’t stop audience reception, particularly from the left or just mainstream American politics in general from interpreting it through the lens of Trump’s presidency, Charlotesville, Pepe the Frog and brown shirt hysteria. It is definitely a controversial marketing slogan, but it has successfully generated enormous amounts of extra buzz for the game.

But what wasn’t expected was blowback. A significant amount of people on the net, on internet forums, anonymous message boards, twitter and so on have reacted negatively to this campaign. A line from the coverage of this at A.V Club  simultaneously explains the situation and irritates me:

“It’s a weird day-and-age we’re living in right now, where “Nazis are bad” has become an actual political stance, as opposed to a bit of basic, obvious wisdom.”

The reason this irritates me is because of it’s almost Francis Fukuyama level of misinformed arrogance. The belief that being opposed to a particular political ideology is somehow not a kind of political position is absurd. The belief that it’s just obvious that nazis are supposed to bad is pure ideology and stems from years of atrocity propaganda, school systems, soviet and hollywood films and so on. Those who share the opinion of William Hughes of AV Club need to re evaluate, as arguing that nazis being bad is self evident is the opinion of the brainwashed.  The opinion of the lead voice actors of the game in response to the same controversy mimic the same arrogance. Additionally,  Hughes claim that the anti-nazi marketing is “shockingly brazen” or brave somehow is laughable, considering being anti nazi is among one of the safest political statements to make publicly in the current year, next to support of homosexual marriage.

Fun activity for my readers: approach any person you know, or a stranger, and criticise the party line on national socialism and the Nuremberg myths and watch as they recoil and call you brain washed. But I digress.

The ride doesn’t stop here, however. Pete Hines, who is the guy in charge of PR at Bethesda, responded to the controversy. He said:

“Wolfenstein has been a decidedly anti-Nazi series since the first release more than 20 years ago. We aren’t going to shy away from what the game is about. We don’t feel it’s a reach for us to say Nazis are bad and un-American, and we’re not worried about being on the right side of history here. It’s disturbing that Wolfenstein can be considered a controversial political statement at all.”

There are a few things going on here. The notion that the Wolfenstein series has always been explicitly anti Nazi in any expressly political fashion is shaky at best. Sure, it has always involved shooting nazis since Wolfenstein 3D, but the context of that game was so simplistic that is was simply about being trapped in a castle and shooting your way out. And if the series was ever expressly political, I must have missed it in between the skeleton warriors, robo dogs, mecha hitlers and dual wielding sniper rifles. However, the political aspects of these games have, up until relatively recently, tended to be in how audiences have engaged with the games. Look at your typical coverage for games in this series, outside the recent controversy, or WW2 games in general and you will often see statements to the effect of how awesome it is to kill nazis, sometimes on the basis of the enemies simply being nazis, to body counts and how the games provide a fully guilt free killing experience. Commenting on the “nazis being bad” and necessarily un-American part would be  mostly repeating myself or straying too far from the topic, but I would add that Pete Hines should brush up on his history, particularly the German-American Bund, George Lincoln Rockwell and also how the eugenics movement was first pioneered by early 20th century progressives in the United States.

00872a-700x335

To go back to audience engagement. My simple theory is that while these games, at least up until recently, have had little in the way of explicitly political content, the political character comes through via the player. How this works is that a substantive amount of players, when going into playing a game series like Wolfenstein, bring their own beliefs and prejudices to the experience, which allows for the fully guilt free aspect to hold.  What this effectively does is create a feedback loop: player believes nazis are evil, they then play a game where you kill nazis who are positioned as antagonists, which then in typical video game form provides the player with enjoyment that in these cases might feed back into the initial belief held prior to engaging with the game. All this can only functionThis is all a very schematic explanation of course, but I think it is potentially useful.

Since the game isn’t out yet, nor have I played any kind of demo or preview build, there is not too much else to talk about for the moment. However, the last thing I will say, in defence of Wolfenstein: The New Colossus  is that aspects of the backlash are misguided, especially the opinion that the game is necessarily going to be shit because of the politicised marketing campaign. In fact, in all likelihood, the game is likely to be quite good on the whole, considering Wolfenstein: The New Order was a fantastic shooter that also had a great soundtrack and amazing visuals and artistry. Although the story was quite bad when it jumped the shark at magical jewish concrete that was completely baffling and in the precarious position of being between hilarious and cringe worthy. But the rest of it is mostly good. My speculation is that stating the game will be shit because of this marketing is just signalling from people trying to impress their internet friends. In any case, the game is not out yet and I don’t know when I will get around to playing it. Hopefully, the game will be good and all this politicised marketing that suggests reading the game in relation to current events will just be marketing. But Bethesda have opened the box and can’t close it and shouldn’t be offended or surprised when there is such blowback from the alt right.

Advertisements

Blade Runner 2049 (2017) Review

blade_runner_2049_holo

The sequel to Blade Runner,coming 30 or so years after the original, has tremendous shoes to fill. The original, or rather, the various different edits of the original, have become a classic over the last 30 years, with its marvellous synth heavy soundtrack, deep existentialist themes that is perfectly encapsulated with Roy Batty’s tears in the rain monologue at the end. It still has tremendous visuals, with it’s futuristic rain soaked cityscape and noir lighting that has come to define the cyberpunk subgenre aesthetically speaking.

The sequel, from the very beginning, impresses. The synth heavy soundtrack is large, but also capable of the touching subtlety of the Vangelis compositions from the original. I do not think Vangelis composed the soundtrack for this one, but the score here is very much in line with the style of the original, although with it’s own flavour as it is less jazzy and often more drum heavy. Some of it sounds like it would be at home in a Perturbator track.

The visuals also impress. Like the soundtrack, it manages to maintain the style of the original with it’s rainy cityscape, dense and dirty streets and ubiquitous advertisements and text of Asiatic languages as well as Russian. The newest part of the aesthetic comes in the form of holograms that play a role in the overall story and plenty more pinkish hues than I remember from the original. There is also the irradiated wasteland of what was once Las Vegas that feature colossal statues and a yellow-orange hue to the overall look of this section that does a good job of fitting with the dystopia and the world described in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and as part of Villeneuve’s filmography.  The film is simply a visual feast all around that perfectly captures the original film and novel, while adding it’s own new elements. Officer K’s (Ryan Gosling) apartment is a little more neat than Deckard’s, but also more barren and the Tyrell building is as golden as ever. However, there is a slightly less industrial vibe in the visuals compared to the original and instead something more ecological, which is a good change as there is a genuine move to expand the world building that is highly successful. While there is certainly a nostalgic element to the film’s aesthetics and even in the narrative, it does not rely on it. High tech low life, it is cyberpunk to the core.

statue

As far as the plot goes, I do not want to say much for fear of spoilers, but what I will say is that it is a compelling mystery that is very well paced, especially considering the run 163 minute run time of the film. It’s twists and turns do an excellent job of expanding on the existential ideas that The general premise is the same as the original, except now we follow a replicant blade runner with a holographic waifu who has investigates the potential birth of a child from a replicant mother. One thing I did not like about the delivery of the narrative is the occasional flash back to scenes in the film that explain the plot, especially towards the end, which I felt were wholly unnecessary and were probably a decision made by the executive producers after test screenings.

In regards to the performances, they are good all round here, although there is nothing quite as good as Rutger Hauer’s performance as Roy Batty, nor does it quite reach the emotional heights that the original did with the Tears in the Rain speech.

Blade Runner 2049 is not just a cynical cashgrab on 80s nostalgia, nor was it made because Ridley Scott needs a new boat: with Dennis Villeneuve at the helm, this sequel to the classic film,and as one of the few films I was actually looking forward to this year, delivers in spades. Not only is it an excellent sequel, it is also excellent as a stand alone piece. Go see it.

9/10

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (2005) PC Review

20170906182756_1

One of my first impressions of Chaos Theory is how well it has aged, for the most part. The introductory cutscene sets up context of the story: the year is 2007 and the North Koreans and Chinese are performing manoeuvres and holding the contested Yellow Sea area in east Asia. Tensions are flaring with Japan over their re-armament that flaunts the post war constitution. This struck me immediately as something that feels like it is ripped from the headlines of the last few year, as if the writers of the game had some powers of clairvoyance and slammed all the geopolitical tensions of the region into one spy thriller.

As for the game itself, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is widely regarded as a classic in the stealth-action genre, with very much emphasis on stealth. In moment to moment play, you will be sneaking slowly through ships, banks, warzones, apartments, military bases and various other mostly urban looking  locations during the game’s ten or so missions. The stealth mechanics of the game have a decent amount of depth to them, where your chances of being detected are determined by how illuminated you are, which is a sliding scale, as well as line of sight and sound, the latter being determined by movement speed. This system works well most of the time, although there was one instance where it didn’t. I was under a walkway in the third last mission and I was crouched,completely still and completely shrouded in darkness. I was also out of sight, then the guard suddenly turns on a dime and shoots me with pinpoint accuracy. The shooting occassionally has inconsistencies like this as well. At one point, I was similarly stationary, aiming with the silenced pistol and I had my crosshair perfectly on the head of a guard who was sitting down. I shot and missed. Admittedly, things like this weren’t too common for the 5-8 play time of the single player campaign, but when they did happen, they were frustrating.

Stealth is also undoubtedly the best way to play this game, despite the load out screening offering an assault kit. Even though I did use the recommended or stealth loadouts through all of the campaign, any time I got into a high action situation, usually because of a fuck up or two, and the slow movement speed, combined with the controls and tight spaces in the level design make a run and gun approach insanely difficult. And this is not to say the controls are bad; they’re not. In fact, they are very easy to get used to and using the mouse wheel to control movement speed is excellent. It is just that the controls are best suited to stealth play.  Additionally, slightly more customisation for mission loadouts would have been welcome. You also have takedown moves that knock or kill enemies in a single hit, which is incredibly useful in tight moments as a kind of panic button when you’re right by an enemy and you’re suddenly spotted. I also found it useful using it sometimes after luring one or two enemies with some noise, running around the corner, throwing a flashbang and then sprinting up to them to knock them out (or cut their throat).Sam’s goggles also have multiple modes, from binoculars, to night vision and thermal vision, as well as a fourth mode which I never used because I never understood what it was for. You can get by mainly just using the night vision mode, since with thermal vision I only really needed to use it in the Hokkaido level.

20170914171029_1
In fact, most of the shooting you do here will likely be less shooting of enemies and more shooting out of light sources to give yourself more darkness. Or you can just turn off the lights at the switch. It’s up to you. However, this has the drawback of making guards suspicious, so use with caution. Sometimes it is best just to use the regular light levels of a room when figuring out your plan of action for a particular room. This game rewards patience, a degree of planning and quick thinking when the situation calls for it.

The visuals here have also mostly held up quite well, at least the environments have. The use of light and shadow here are fantastic and make the environments look quite great. The environments are a texture pack away from passing as a more modern game, but even in their current state they aren’t too bad for something released in 2005. Character models, however, are generally not so good, except for Sam, mainly because the faces look quite bad. There’s a good reason the Metal Gear Solid series used face masks on most of its grunts. Cutscenes, owing to them being pre rendered, also have serious compression artefacts and don’t scale well to higher resolutions, but they’re usually not that long and are minimally watchable as far as technical quality goes. The game also doesn’t support widescreen from the menu settings so you have to either do a .ini edit or use a fan made patch, but it is not too much hassle to do so.

The soundtrack is also quite good and has quite a bit of variety from fast paced almost jazzy sounds to sounds that reminded me a little of Harry Gregson Williams’ score in Metal Gear Solid 3. However, the music tends to play only when guards suspect you or you’re fully detected so if you’re especially good, you might not even hear the music.

In terms of the writing, the story that I summarised earlier is pretty serviceable spy thriller kind of stuff. The best writing in the game are Sam’s interrogation dialogue with guards and the radio banter with Grimsdottir, which Michael Ironside delivers perfectly. While the main plot is serious, there is still plenty of humour in the game, which mostly works, except for that time guards talked about the new Prince of Persia game, which was a cringeworthy moment.

Speaking of Prince of Persia, there is also other product placement in the game from gum to deodorant, which is really distracting whenever it appears.

As for the multiplayer modes, I don’t think you can even play them these days without using game ranger or similar programs, so I do not know how the multiplayer holds up. It’s best to treat it as a single player experience these days.

Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory is a game that in spite of its age manages to hold up quite well, for the most part. It has some annoyances and rigidity to the movement and lacks some of the mechanical improvements that occurred in the genre over the last decade. But it still remains a mostly very well designed game that is a lot of fun and a good challenge even on the lower difficulty settings. I would definitely recommend it for people to replay or even check out for the first time.

8/10

Resident Evil Vendetta (2017) Review

mv5bmjg1mjc1zwityje4yi00mdazlwi5zgytotk1n2zin2uyntqzl2ltywdll2ltywdlxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvynzewoti0mji-_v1_

Normally, I wouldn’t review let alone watch a tie in film for a video game (at least these days) but, since I won a copy of Resident Evil: Vendetta on blu ray in a competition, I decided why the hell not, lets give it a watch. And to my surprise, I found myself able to enjoy it, even if it is a film that is pretty much just dumb action with a simplistic plot.

So, what is the plot of this film? It is the same as it always is for much of the series: some villainous asshole has access to bioweapons and causes a zombie outbreak and it is up to our heroes to stop them. Simple stuff, if a bit stale in its set up and execution, especially since this is the bread and butter of the series, so a shakeup would be appreciated. Our heroes in this film are long running characters from the series: Chris Redfield, who is still with the BSAA, Leon Kennedy who after the events of Resident Evil 6 seems to have become a cynical alcoholic (cliche character development and archetypes 101) and Rebecca Chambers, who is now an accomplished scientist that has dedicated herself to curing all these viruses that just keep cropping up in the series.

The problem with the narrative in the film is that it just assumes we care about the characters of the film, owing to the films place in the canon of a long running series. The film, especially in the middle, spends time delivering unnecessary, somewhat repetitive exposition. It is especially unnecessary given that most of the people who would be watching the film have familiarity with the series: we know the score. Instead, it should have focused on trying to develop the characters in interesting ways. The only character I felt some care towards is Rebecca. The main villain, who to me looks like a cross between Wesker and Howard Hamlin from Better Call Saul, had the potential to be interesting, even sympathetic, considering his motivation of revengeance from all his loved ones being bombed in a drone strike. But ultimately, his motivations don’t quite pair well with his actions in any way that is convincing and he really is just a crazy asshole who is being evil for the sake of it. We also have a mysterious and sexy blonde henchwoman that seems to have a tragic backstory but she is also woefully underdeveloped as a character.

maxresdefault
There are also other times, like in the middle of the film as well, we have plot threads that are established, such as the apparent return of the Los Illuminados cult being an imminent threat that goes nowhere. Is this a setup for the next cgi tie in film? Is it set up for Resident Evil 8? In any case, the way it is presented here is completely pointless.

Now, I have been shitting on the narrative of the film quite a bit. But let me talk about the good stuff for a moment.

The films opening sequences has Chris and a squad of soldiers checking out a decrepit mansion in the middle of nowhere (sound familiar?) that immediately brings to mind the Spencer mansion. And this sequence of the film does set up some rather spooky, if familiar, horror vibes with strong pacing. Sure, there are jump scares, but they’re effectively placed and mostly have proper build up. The strong pacing is something quite surprising that applies to the film as a whole too: apart from a slight lull in the middle, It’s spooky in an Aliens  kind of way.

The animation of the film is also quite good, with expressive emotions and excellently choreographed action, which I will get to in a moment. The motion capture performances are excellent and the voice acting for the most part is serviceable. Nothing stands out as particularly good or bad in terms of the voices.

44298367314466785459

The real star of the film is the action in the final act. The film throws off all restraint and accelerates at a breakneck pace, delivering zombie dogs chasing Leon on a motorcycle, him doing all sorts of acrobatics, then Chris and Leon infiltrating a compound to rescue Rebecca, doing all sorts of crazy hand to hand combat and gun fu that is the baby of The Raid and Equilibrium. I don’t want to spoil all the action scenes for you, but suffice to say, this is a very strong final act that is incredibly entertaining and arresting in its baffling ridiculousness. I loved it.

In sum, if you have some familiarity with the Resident Evil video game series and can also appreciate ridiculous action movies from time to time, you will likely be quite entertained by the end. The film also has a surprisingly tight pace, but is let down by a lack of character development, a tonne of cliches and unnecessary exposition or irrelevant plot.  Don’t expect a particularly deep or amazing film, but despite its numerous issues, it still manages to be fun viewing.

6/10

Hard to Be A God (2013) Review

maxresdefault

Friends, I have finally managed to watch Hard to Be a God. This medieval science fiction epic is packed to the brim with mud, piss, shit,snot, blood, mud, shit and did I mention mud and shit? Alexei German’s final film confronts us with the dirtiest and most incredible visual rendition of a barbaric medieval world. Unfortunately, that is about all it does.

But before I discuss that, let me briefly explain the premise. This film centres around the idea of an enlightened Earth civilization searching space and they find this planet, earthlike in almost every respect, caught up in it’s own medieval period and on the verge of a Renaissance. Or at least, that is what the scientists believe. Of course, this doesn’t happen and they are stuck in this world of shit and barbarism. It is all very Star Trek but with a depressive Russian sensibility. The film primarily follows one of these scientists, Don Rumata, who the local people believe to be the son of a deity. Don Rumata has naturalised himself with this world and the film follows him as he does stuff. Beyond this, it is difficult to tell what the film is about. The biggest problem with this film is that not only does it seem to take forever for there to be any narrative to grasp on to. It is unclear what any of the character’s motivations are, except for a faction called the Order, who are basically analogous to hyper religious types, although exactly what they believe too is unclear. Don Reba’s motivations are unclear. Don Rumata’s motivations only become somewhat apparent closer towards the end. The film is also 3 hours long. It is obtuse in a way that at times reminded me of Solaris, except  Solaris had characters with motivations that were understandable, which made the characters resonate and the philosophical tone of the film work. Nor is it obtuse in a mind bending or surrealistic way that works like say, Inland Empire or deliberately nonsensical and absurd like Cosmos.

hard_to_be_a_god
What has happened here with Hard to be a God is the narrative structure was lost to the point where some things are just plain confusing. There is one sequence where Don Rumata is arrested for some reason that isn’t clearly explained, possibly heresy or something like that. Then the very next sequence he is free. This was very confusing, considering we didn’t see how he got free. Things just seem to happen in ways that don’t quite make sense, as if those sections had been dropped onto the cutting room floor. The philosophical veneer of the film doesn’t quite work either because of these problems with the narrative of the film and a lack of enough dialogue or exposition. This philosophical dimension only really rears itself fully towards the end, but it is not properly developed.

But enough complaining, let me talk about what the film does right.

What I did love about this film is that it has the most incredible and richly detailed mis- en-scene I have seen in a film like this. It’s shit filled world is presented in such fantastic detail that it is impossible to look away. Even with the problems with the narrative, the visuals of this film are so fantastic that on their own, they manage to keep the film engaging. Almost every frame is a grotesquely gorgeous painting. I also liked the long take style of filming that was smooth, sometimes claustrophobic but always drew me in. The way some objects got in the way, characters looking or sometimes talking to the camera, in combination with the positions and movement of the camera made it an immersive experience. The film also has some excellent performances.

Another aspect of the film I appreciate is in spite of the tone of pure misery it is going for, it is rather restrained in its depiction of violence. It would be easy for a film like this to bathe in blood, but this one bathes in mud and even though it has graphic violence of its own, it never become ridiculous. There is one sequence where Don Rumata is walking through the courtyard of the order and we are treated to these brutal devices of execution that are large wooden penises with spikes operating with some kind of drop and pulley system. They are caked with blood and the gore of woman’s interior, whilst the people attending the device explain how this works in such a matter of fact way. We don’t need the film to show us how it works, the information we get is enough to put the image in our heads and that is enough to be horrified. This sticks out to me as the most potent indicator of the barbarism of the place of Arkanar.

What else is there to say about Hard to be a God? There is little soundtrack to speak of and I have not read the novel the film is based on, so I am not currently any authority on how it compares to the source material. What I can say to conclude this review, however, is that I really wanted to like this film more than I did and that for me, it was a bit of a disappointment. It excels in the visual department, but in regards to it’s storytelling and philosophical intent, it falls flat. However, it is still worth watching if only for the excellent visuals on display, just don’t expect a coherent narrative.

6.7/10

Bayonetta (2017) PC Review

20170606150437_1

With legs that don’t quit to the point where they are actually disproportionate and sporting guns on her heels,Bayonetta struts and flaunts herself with confidence. The game is a brazen, cheeky and lighthearted hack and slash romp that is self aware and relentlessly exciting, radiating confidence effortlessly.

The game falls in the tradition of character action games pioneered by titles like Devil May Cry, being a fast paced brawler that prioritises fast reflex and skillful combo memorization. A halfway decent player can create a speedy and fantastic spectacle that can end in torturous finishing moves that sometimes resemble some strange form of BDSM. One of the core mechanics here is witch time, which rewards skillful dodging and risk taking with a brief hit of slow motion, allowing you to start wailing on enemies with abandon,continuing a combo and juggling so insanely like an expert circus performer or Tekken player. This hack and slash brawling, while being a little more combo focused and button mashing than the older Devil May Cry titles is nevertheless requiring in skill and an absolute blast to play.

In regards to the difficulty, I did my playthrough on normal and let me tell you, it can be quite challenging and occasionally frustrating, especially if you want to get the highest mission ranking. However, it rarely becomes so frustrating as to feel unfair or make you want to throw your controller out the window. The only times I felt the game was a bit unfair were with some enemies that could stun lock you and hit hard, taking large chunks of health away. Another is that witch time appears to not work on some enemies for some reason that is not immediately clear. Another thing I would like to have is a few more immediate health restoration drops on the normal difficulty, especially after a particularly difficult mob or mini boss. That said, some sections where I had barely a sliver of health left motivated me to push harder in each section and sometimes to success. On continues, the game restores you health bar fully and boss battles have checkpoints, making them much more fair.

Speaking of enemies, there is plenty of variety between the standard enemy types that the game throws new ones at you almost constantly and mixing them with the previous ones, providing a pace that never leaves you bored. The enemies are typically some form of angel, that are all white and gold trimmed and bosses are impressively scaled and look like bizzare statuesque frankenstein beings with tentacles and wings and gigantic faces and legs that sport a white and gold trimmed aesthetic. One later boss looks like some weird cross between Volgin, David Bowie and the Phantom of the Opera, rocking robes that look like a catholic clergyman and decked out with peacock feathers. All these boss fights, in addition, are tremendously fun, with the Jeanne fights being particular notable highlights since they often have the best backdrops and are the most intense, reminding me of the Vergil fights from Devil May Cry 3.

20170606134251_1

The overall look of the game is stunning, with sharp high resolution textures, sublime animation work and environments that range from bright medieval cities with a slight gothic influence in the architecture to art deco near futuristic cities and the heavenly paradiso, Bayonetta will have you running, jumping and fighting your way through all of these. You will even fight on a plane, a rocket and on the sides of buildings, and by the end, literally kill god. The story isn’t the greatest, but it’s presentation is so enjoyable that it’s worth holding off on that skip cutscene button, at least on the first playthrough.

Did I mention that this game is completely ridiculous? Because it is and it revels in it from the absurd character proportions, unbelievable fight choreography in cutscenes and some weird story about the balance between light and dark and destroying the universe to create a new one. Oh, and demonic summons that are weaved from hair. Bayonetta herself , as I have mentioned, is cheeky and sexy, with a sultry and sarcastic British accent. She is just a fun character, both to play and to watch.

The score of the game too is quite idiosyncratic that goes from fast, poppy jazz renditions of Fly Me to the Moon during normal combat to a big orchestral score that builds and sounds like something that might belt out through the choir in a cathedral. It’s quite a strange sound mix for the genre, but it fits the tone of the game quite well.

In terms of game length, a playthrough on normal took about 10 or so hours, but this is something that is made to be replayed, with new unlockables, such as outfits, more techniques and weapons and increased difficulty levels that are a bit more well thought out than being a mere buff in enemy attack and speed and debuff in player health.

As a port of a game that is about 8 years old as of this writing, the PC version of Bayonetta is definitely the best. It performs flawlessly at high resolutions and my system doesn’t break a sweat at max settings with 8x MSAA. It looks sharp and the cutscenes, which I am not sure if they are prerendered or not, look fantastic although they’re locked at 30fps.  I would also recommend playing with some kind of game pad, considering that this game was not originally designed for keyboard and mouse. But if you’re feeling particularly risky, the keys are fully re bindable. As far as glitches and crashes go, I only experience one glitch on the plane section and one CTD somewhere else, but it was otherwise smooth sailing. The load times are incredibly quick too, making the combo practice feature during loads that were supposed to make them bearable on the console release, at least for me, became redundant.

This PC release is without a doubt the definitive version of this Platinum Games classic. Especially if your only experience with the game is the shoddy PS3 version, you should definitely give the game another shot here. The game itself also remains a joy, with some of the best combat in the genre and a lighthearted and sexy style that is impossible not to love, unless you’re some kind of weird prude. This is an absolute must play and it’s only $20 on steam, so there’s no excuse not to get it.

9.5/10

Inland Empire (2006) review

06_inland_empire_optimum_bluray

Where do I begin with Inland Empire, David Lynch’s last feature film? Well, for one, it is a difficult film to watch in the sense that it is incredibly cryptic; probably Lynch’s most cryptic feature film to date. In saying that, it is also not his best but it is definitely worth a watch.

Let’s start with the basic plot. The set up of this film is that Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is set to star in a leading role in a new Hollywood production, where she plays a woman named Susan, in an affair with a man named Billy, played by Devon (Justin Theroux). Devon is warned by Nikki’s husband not to try and have an affair with Nikki. This is all within the first hour or so in the film and even with Lynch’s characteristically idiosyncratic way of presenting dialogue, this early part of the film is actually quite straightforward.

Where it starts getting weird is when the film within a film is being made: a person appearing but who isn’t actually there, sudden realisation that the line between reality of the film and film within a film are being blurred and a bizzare, dreamlike structure. The film cuts back and forth between different rooms and Nikki’s experiences, which are at times surreal and confusing. Like dreams can be, the relationship and structure from room to room are quite illogical in the eclectic difference; being able to cut to Polish streets, to a typical LA home, to gritty industrial looking apartments that are reminiscent of Eraserhead or the prison in Silent Hill 2. There are red velvet curtains and not-quite-chevron floors that made me for a moment think this film had some connection to Twin Peaks but when I didn’t hear anyone speak backwards, that theory was thrown out the window. There is also a room with anthropomorphic rabbits that seem to be in the world’s strangest sitcom, given the laugh track. Sequences in the film loop back around and into each other, creating a narrative structure that is non linear and very non traditional. As far as the structure is concerned, it reminds me very much of Lynch’s previous film Mulholland Drive as well as the Kurt Vonnegut novel Slaughterhouse Five.

So, without spoiling it too much, here is what I think might have happened in the film: after starting filming and then going through that strange alleyway, Nikki’s experience of reality and film became increasingly blurred, possibly even that there became multiple permutations of the same person that was at times able to remember and experience pieces of the different permutations. Space and time become disrupted, considering the unclear chronology of events that unfold. The identity of Nikki too through this surreal, dreamlike experience becomes fractured and disjointed. At least that is my basic interpretation and mapping of events throughout the film without spoiling too much.

One of the most distinctive features of the film, aside from Lynch’s characteristic use of a low, rumbling ambient soundscape that generates constant unease and full music tracks that punctuate the emotion of a given sequence, is the camera used. For this film, Lynch used a consumer grade digital camera that I believe was 480p and so the film has this unusual aesthetic that is subversive and discomforting, since this is not how we are used to watching feature films but instead home movies or television during the time of this film’s production. Or watching student films. With that, it of course appears dated on this technical level, but if you watch a 1080p version it looks fine most of the time due to the camera being rather steady. This was something I paid especially close attention to considering the original Blair Witch Project does look kind of shit on 1080p screens, even with an HD stream.

The performances as a whole in this film, especially Laura Dern’s are quite excellent, although she’s not quite a good a screamer as Sheryl Lee. Dern convincingly conveys the confusion of Nikki’s experience and the different personalities she seems to embody throughout, showing off a tremendous amount of range as well as subtlety.

Inland Empire clocks in at a three hour run time. It is a film filled with tremendous performances and the dreamlike and nightmarish surrealism Lynch often has deployed throughout his works in imaginative ways. Considering this run time, it can feel a bit slow, but the length is necessary since if it was too much shorter, there would be even less time to process what the hell is going on. It requires patience from the viewer and as I have said, it is Lynch’s most cryptic and difficult feature film to date, an enigma wrapped up in a mystery.  But don’t let that deter you since it is still surrealist excellence that should be appreciated by any Lynch fan, even if, like me, it’s not quite your favourite.

9/10