Outlast (2013) PC review

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Outlast is a game I am of mixed mind about. On one hand, it can be absolutely terrifying but on the other hand, the actual game part of this supposedly survival horror game is lacking.

Let us start with what I liked most about Outlast.  It has an impeccable presentation, with the grungy and dirty Mount Massive asylum with strewn viscera rendered in sickening detail sprinkled throughout. The texture work is superb with excellent attention to detail that persists throughout every section of the game. The overall visual quality is excellent and the night vision mode when using the camera, combined with the ever present noise filter give the game an appropriately dirty look that truly does look like a found footage urban exploration film. The game is also quite dark in the Doom 3 sense, so use of the night vision mode is frequently necessary.The only gripe I have with the way the game looks is that in the camera mode without night vision, there is quite a bit of what appears to be really serious chromatic abberation which just makes me think the developers are adopting a bad trend in modern video game graphics or the journalist protagonist deliberately bought a terrible camera for some bizarre reason.The performance at maximum settings is also flawless.

The sound work here is also quite strong, but the score lacks variety in mood, chiming in mostly during chase sections with the bombast of a slasher film. There are a few exceptions of quite tense and creepy ambient tracks during exploration, but these have less presence in the game.

The other aspect of the game I liked is that it manages to successfully build a creepy and disturbing atmosphere that is not totally reliant on jump scares or being too relentless with symbolism. And while there are some shocking moments, they aren’t presented in a way that straddles the line between proper horror and over the top death metal album cover art edginess that players of Outlast 2 might see. The denizens of mount massive are well voiced and have designs that are disturbing stapled faces that make them appear like crosses between Frankenstein and Leatherface. The whole feel of the game is as a whole, quite unsettling.

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Now for the stuff I did not like too much. The actual mechanics of the game are rather slim. Whilst there are times where there is genuine panic, rudimentary stealth or some very light platforming, the whole thing is basic. That said, it is a step above a walking simulator, but not quite as in depth as proper  recent survival horror titles, such as Alien: Isolation or Resident Evil 7which as far as I’m concerned are currently the gold standard of first person horror games. How Outlast works is that you are totally defenseless and armed only with a consumer grade handheld camera, which is used pretty much only for seeing in the dark.  So when you encounter an enemy, you are only able to piss your pants and either make a beeline to point B or hide in a locker or under a bed. This lack of combat, combined with the inability to do anything other than run and hide (no weapons, no ability to make distractions, etc.) and rather tight spaces with linear design mean that every enemy encounter will play out in almost exactly the same way. The rudimentary stealth also works best on the rare occasion when there is a bit more space in a given area. At least you have a decent movement speed and can sprint almost indefinitely if you want. You also have to manage your battery resources for the camera, but on normal difficulty, batteries are plentiful enough and battery life is enough. It is not really a resource management mechanic of any significance and feels superfluous as a whole. But because the game sticks so strictly to defenceless horror game protagonist ethos, there is no way for the game to progress. Because the mechanics are so simplistic and have very little variety, there’s not much else to say.

With the story, to be honest I didn’t pay too much attention to it. But from what I gathered it was something about uncovering supernatural scientific experiments gone wrong. It’s all pretty basic stuff and the plot takes a backseat to the core experience since most of the plot comes from notes and documents that you can read throughout.

2013’s Outlast then is a decent horror game whose strengths lie primarily in its incredible presentation and unsettling atmosphere, with some admittedly quite tense moments throughout like navigating the pitch black courtyard at night and having to shimmy tiny platforms along the walls in the dark. However, the basic mechanics are lacking the quality and depth of survival horror. Even in spite of my gripes with the game, it is still something worth experiencing, especially if you can get it for cheap. The lack of depth really prevents it from greatness as it sits a step above walking simulator but not quite survival horror.

6.7/10

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Alien: Covenant (2017) Review

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There is a line in this new entry to the Alien franchise and sequel to 2012’s Prometheus relating to the new kind of alien, the Neomorph and other nasty creations, that is something to the effect of them being a kind of hybrid. This statement seems to also be a descrition  of this film as a whole. It feels like a mixture of Alien, Aliens and Prometheus (although closer to the latter two) that mostly works.

The story begins with a short prologue and then we are introduced to the crew of the Covenant, who are responsible for this colony ship going to a planet named Origae-6. However, after a brief delay having to repair the ship, they receive a rogue transmission, pinpoint it and then go to its point of origin as a detour as it appears like it will be a habitable planet. Of course, in true series fashion, everything goes to shit when crew members become infected with the parasite that gives birth to these aliens.

In regards to the characters of the film, David and Walther (Michael Fassbender) are perhaps the most developed and well performed, whereas the rest of the crew which includes the surprising appearance of Danny McBride as a guy known as Tennesee, are rather underdeveloped.  We do know that most of the character pairs are married, but this seems like a rather lazy way at establishing character relationships. Our crew captain is established as a religious type, but the film makes little use of this. Daniels (Katherine Waterson) is our Ripley type of character and the voice of reason in the film, but isn’t quite as charismatic as Sigourney Weaver’s role as Ripley. During one of the sequences in the first act, one of the characters locks another in a medbay room with a convulsing patient and the motivation behind doing so is unclear and is only explicable in the sense of people being very irrational in such terrifying situations, but she could have easily let her out of the room before the alien came out. This is just one example. If there was a little more time devoted to developing the characters and their relationships, the film would have elevated itself to a higher dramatic and tragic register in particular sequences.

That said, there are quite a few sequences, especially those towards the end of the first act that are full of suspense and terror, as well as body horror, such the aforementioned medbay sequence, which is masterfully presented and has it’s own simple, but original moments. Other sections, particularly towards the end of the second act get quite bombastic for what is grounded in horror, but is nevertheless exciting. A sequence in the final act feels like a mesh of the climax of both Alien and Aliens. Additionally, the aliens are often more in full view rather than skulking in the shadows, which is why the film feels stylistically closer to Aliens as opposed to Alien. The pacing of the film is generally quite good, with the expeditionary creeping dread of the first act and the slower, slightly more ponderous second act. The third act, however, felt a wee bit hurried and some parts of it would have benefited from being slightly longer. There is also some closure for the cliffhanger of Prometheus too.

The film looks great too,continuing the general Giger design as well as an area of the film that looks like a science fiction version of an ancient city that looks like a cross between Rome and Persepolis as its aesthetic base. However, the film was shot digitally and doesn’t have the same gritty look as the original and the colour palette is largely the same as Prometheus. The lighting is effective and nice looking, but the look of the interior of the Covenant seems a bit anachronistic since the technology appears to be more advanced than the original Alien film despite taking place before it. I don’t know why this is the case, but I hope it isn’t a retcon that segues into a remake of the original.

The CGI is also often far too obvious and the quality of it is mixed, but never dips to awful territory.  It must be difficult trying to maintain the terror of a monster that has been in the popular consciousness since the original film almost 40 years ago, but Ridley Scott is lucky that much of the legwork is done by it’s inherently unsettling and grotesque design combined with being an intelligent creature that must be outwitted, rather than requiring mere brute force.

In spite of my problems with the film, I still found it very entertaining and there wasn’t a point where I felt bored or uninterested. While it may stumble in regards to character development and a few other things, it does manage to balance the styles of various films in the franchise in a way that is while not masterful, is surprisingly deft. In that sense it is derivative, but there is also enough originality that it doesn’t feel like just a remix or going through the motions. It is not as great as the original and probably the second best thing to come out of the franchise recently (the best being Alien: Isolation. Go play it if you haven’t already). It is a strong sequel to Prometheus and hopefully is a sign of good things to come for the final instalment of this Alien prequel trilogy.

7.5/10

Kids (1996) Review

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Written by Harmony Korine, which you may or may not know from the criminally underrated Spring Breakers, and directed by Larry Clark, Kids is a confronting film about urban youth culture in the United States at the height of an AIDS epidemic. Many are likely to view this film as immoral (indeed, that’s what the general critical reception seems to have been at the time of release) due to it rather explicit depiction of of sexuality and drug use amongst teenagers and children.

But let’s get away from moral concerns, at least for the moment.

Kids does not seem to have any sort of traditional narrative structure, however the plot is loosely about Telly’s (Leo Fitzpatrick) desire to deflower virgins and him and friend Casper go about their day skating, hanging out with other low life waster types, doing drugs and going to parties. Meanwhile, a morose and bleary eyed Jennie (Chloe Sevigny) tries to come to terms with finding out that she is HIV positive.

The film is unarguably fixated on sex, considering the way almost all male and female characters talk about that and almost nothing else, except weed. Huxley once said that an intellectual is someone who has found something more interesting than sex, so intellectuals these kids definitely are not. Certain sections of the film capitalise on it’s exploration of this topic in clever ways. One sequence has Telly and friends discussing sex and revealing their attitudes towards it and intercutting between Jennie and friends also discussing sex. Each group’s attitudes are often directly contradictory and this is one sequence that is quite well executed and manages to feel like something insightful.

The performances in the film are hit and miss, with it being very obvious that this is the first feature film of most of these actors. The narration done by Leo Fitzpatrick, which is used sparingly and to essentially bookend the film, is poorly delivered. Ewan McGregor he is not.

I also found that, while the characters are portrayed in a way that comes across as believable, I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likeable. In fact, most of the male characters, especially Telly and Casper in there actions, motivations and mannerisms come off, at least to me as predatory to women and that cunty grin of Telly’s is something I wanted to smack right off. Even Francis Begbie, Sick Boy and Mark Renton in Trainspotting manage to have some redeeming qualities. The closest thing to a likeable character is Jennie, although I felt, despite sympathising with her, that she lacked depth. This seems to be because of a relative lack of screen time between her and the antics of Telly and co. as well as the lack of any sort of narrative structure. The pacing at times can also seem quite slow even with a 90 or so minute run time.

What I think gives the film much of it’s impact is it’s staunch committment to realism. The camera work is often handheld and the general feel is almost like that of a fly-on-the-wall documentary, which makes it feel more raw, more real, which works with the non traditional narrative structure. It is not always shot like a documentary however and traditional cinematic camera work is still utilised, but it is seamless. The narrative, style and pacing of the film is also constructed in such a way that can be seen as promoting safe sex also does not intend to cast moral judgements on the characters, which is a smart move. Moral judgements on the characters here are fully intended to come from the audience and I thought most of the characters were scummy wigger degenerates.

Still, despite these issues I have just described, I would still recommend Kids. It is an interesting low budget independent film that is for the most part pretty well crafted and intelligent.  If you’re a parent, it’ll definitely be a film that keeps you up at night

7/10

T2: Trainspotting (2017) Review

 

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“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life . . . But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?” – Mark Renton in Trainspotting (1996)

Twenty years after choosing life, Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) returns home to Edinburgh from self imposed exile. Begbie (Robert Carlyle) is in prison. Spud (Ewen Bremner) is still a fucked up skaghead,seperated from his wife. Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) is, well, Sick Boy. Still scamming, hustling and being a genuine manipulative sociopath. And Diane (Kelly MacDonald), in a brief cameo, seems to be doing quite well for herself.

With the return of director Danny Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge returning with the original cast, they have created a brilliant sequel. As an adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s Porno (as well as including some other elements from the original Trainspotting novel that were not in the first film), it is quite good in that it’s not 1:1, but keeps the core character relationships and plot beats intact, as well as borrowing many scenes and reworking them so that they fit the film and feel fresh (such as the scene in the bathroom stall or the Begbie=Evil=Fear sequence), even for those of us who have read the novels. The focus on the character relationships of the core characters and them dealing with their pasts of drug addiction, betrayal, petty crime and violence.

They reminiscence about their youth and their regrets (like when Renton is explaining ‘choose life’ to Veronica, a character loosely based on Nikke Fuller-Smith from Porno) and do their best to make it in a world that has changed so much when they have not. We also see Begbie, who remains a looming and terrifying presence, who returns to a son that is unlike him in every way and through it, although very briefly, we see a softer side of Begbie. The trials and tribulations of Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie are compelling stuff that succeeds in making you feel a wide range of emotions. You might even feel like your heart has been warmed at a few point, which is something I never thought I’d say about this series considering the amount of obscenity, crime and depravity the core characters engage in during the films and novels. You might even be driven close to tears, or at least I was, considering the attachments I had towards the characters and the climax of the film will have you, to use a cliche’: on the edge of your seat.

Stylistically, this film is similar to the original yet also wildly different. It is about 30 minutes longer than the original, it has a generally slower pace that matches the themes of the film, Danny Boyle’s style has a strong presence and the lighting is often superb,reminiscent of some of his more recent films, such as Trance. In regards to the comedic elements, there are still quite a few hilarious and well crafted moments, but there’s no gut busting funny gross out sequences, such as the Traditional Sunday Breakfast scene. They add the right amounts of levity, adding to the emotional texture of the film. Flashbacks to the original film are also used to great effect and the music is a mixture of tracks from the original soundtrack and plenty of new ones, which are perfectly utilised to enhance the emotional register of the sequences they’re used. And as a whole add to the overall theme of changing times.

T2: Trainspotting, while not as funny as the original is both a great sequel to a classic and adaptation, whose characters are compelling and the film as a whole is tragic and reflective, and at times hilarious. It leans heavily on the original film, so if you haven’t seen that or it’s been a while, watch it first. Fans of the novels will also get a bit more out of it, not only emotionally, but certain sequences, such as the 1690 sequence, will be enhanced. It is also a genuinely moving film and maintains Danny Boyle’s position as one of Britain’s best modern feature film directors.

9.5/10

Yakuza 0 (2017)PS4 Review

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Getting a copy of this game was a hassle. I intended to buy it the week it came out, but by the time I went to my local stores, it was sold out. I had to wait at least two weeks before I could find a copy, but when I eventually saw it in the shop, my eyes beamed and I bought it instantly,finally able to play the incredible game within.

Yakuza 0, a prequel to the long running Yakuza series, which is highly popular in Japan and East Asia more generally, but rather niche in the West, has finally graced our consoles with a localised version this year. Being a prequel and requiring little familiarity with the prior games in the series, this is the perfect entry point for those that yet to experience it.

The story in this game focuses around the two playable characters, Kazuma Kiryu, who starts off as just a low level yakuza doing debt collecting jobs and Goro Majima, an exile of the yakuza who wants to get back in, but is forced as being a money maker for his boss in the late 1980s. After Kiryu is framed for a murder in the Empty Lot in Kamurocho (a fictionalised version of the Kabuchiko district in Tokyo) and Majima is tasked with assassinating someone by the name of Makoto Makimura, they find themselves embroiled in different groups fighting and infighting over this tiny patch of land and punch,kick and stomp their way through and making their mark in the Tojo Clan.

The main storyline of Yakuza 0 is a gritty and compelling crime drama that is well written and the performances, whilst I cannot understand Japanese, are full of emotion so in my view they are as a whole, quite good.

There is another side to the writing Yakuza 0 and those are the wacky and often genuinely funny side quests. There is one where you have to assist a dominatrix in learning how to berate her clients better or another where you accidentally agree to buy a young kid a porno magazine, which turns it into a mini stealth mission. Or another where you pretend to be a producer or someone’s girlfriend, there is plenty of variety in the narratives of the side quests,which provide a nice counterbalance to the furrowed brows and tense stand offs in the main story.

As far as the actual mechanics of the game goes, there are two pillars: combat and mini games.

The combat here is of a more traditional brawler style, different to the current trend of making variations of Arkham Asylum combat. This means that you’ll usually have to counter manually, block using L1, strike with square and triangle, grab, pick up weapons or guard break with circle and dodge with x. There are also brutal special moves called HEAT moves that range from curb stomping someone’s face, ripping their teeth out with pliers,suplexing people on rails and pouring boiling water on the faces of goons, delinquents, yakuza and anyone else who gets wide with you. Generally trash mobs are quite easy, although later in the game they tend to have bigger health bars, draw weapons more often and get a few more moves under their belt but the biggest challenges tend to come from some exciting boss fights. It’s not at all a difficult system to get used to but it does have two issues worth noting. At times, it can feel a bit like I’m just button mashing as opposed to games with more finesse, like Devil May Cry 3 or Metal Gear Rising, but in spite of this it’s still lots of fun. The other is that the way lock on works is pure shit. You have to hold R1 to lock on, but most of the time, except for certain moves that require it, it’s pretty useless and not helpful when fighting large packs of guys seeing as there’s no reticle placed on your target, so who you’re actually targeting can be very vague and moving around in time can become a hassle.

There are also three fighting styles per character (4 if you do what’s required to unlock the last one). They are Brawler/Thug, Rush/Breaker and Beast/Slugger, being medium, fast and heavy respectively and you can switch between them in the middle of battle. As Kiryu, I mostly used the brawler and rush styles in combat, whereas with Majima, I tended to use his styles more evenly,as Kiryu’s beast style is best only in tight areas with lots of weapon pick ups, which are not always around. Majima’s breaker style is also very effective crowd control as he spins and kicks while woohooing as if he’s Mario. Each style also has it’s own upgrade tree that while they look like sphere grids, they function as regular old ability trees. You upgrade by ‘investing in yourself’ through Yen, which is the single currency used for everything in the game, from buying food and items, upgrading yourself, buying real estate, gambling and so on.

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There are a shitload of side activities in Yakuza 0. You can play Sega arcade classics, such as Space Harrier and Outrun, use the claw machine, go bowling, play pool, darts, mahjong and more. You can play shogi, which is like a Japanese version of chess that I am absolutely terrible at due to how it deviates from chess throwing me off entirely. There are rhythm games, such as karaoke that are lots of fun although I wish it had more songs.The dancing minigame is quite interesting as it takes a unique spin on rhythm games. There is a grid on the on the screen and each button press will appear at a square on the grid and you must traverse the grids to be able to press it in time, whilst traversing as many squares to get there in order to maximise your score. It’s counter intuitive at first, but once you get the hang of it, can be quite fun. You can also use the telephone club to hook up with girls and watch erotic soft-core videos for a bit of titillation and to recharge your heat bar. There are lots of others that I did not mention and you can easily spend a shit load of time on these, especially if you’re a completionist type. On that note, the game took me just under 61 hours to finish at ~45% total completion.

The other two major mini-games, which have their own quest-lines attached to them are the real estate management and cabaret club; both of which are necessary if you want to be able to upgrade all your fighting styles fully.

How the real estate management works is you use your money to buy property in an area to gain a greater share and run out the billionaire that monopolises it. Then, you get managers (which you obtain through the completion of substories usually) and security guards that you assign to an area when starting collection to maximize profit in addition to using advisors to upgrade the rank of each property. Then you wait, collect the profit.Sometimes you will have to do a money battle, which amounts to mindlessly mashing X, take on the area boss in a bet over 10% area share in a mini game and after you have 90% share, you take them on in combat. Rinse and repeat 5 times. It can feel quite tedious, to say the least, considering how you can only invest in upgrading a property once per collection round.

Majima’s mini game questline follows a similar premise of taking over turf to beat rivals, but it is far more engaging than real estate. The cabaret club has you manage hostesses by preparing the business for opening by choosing which girls you are going to have on per session, which area’s fans you are targeting and customizing the clothes, hair, facial features and accessories of your platinum rank hostesses, as well as training them through karaoke or disco dates and customer service training, which is a dialogue that helps you level them up. These dialogues are actually quite engaging as the lip syncing, voices and back stories of the girls all feel believable. Then when you open up, you must keep customers happy by assigning girls to guests trying to make as much profit as possible, and assisting the girls by reading their hand signs to know if they’re ordering a drink or want the menu or whatever. It’s a rather simple mini game but surprisingly addictive and the grind feels much less tedious than the real estate mini game.

Aesthetically, the late 80s rendition of Kamurocho and Sotenbori, with their neon lit streets and plenty of detail,rendered at full 1080p 60fps and despite some low quality texture and low poly models here and there, the game generally looks quite nice. Cutscenes look even better running in real time but 30FPS. The soundtrack is also varied and generally quite enjoyable too. However, there are many elements of the game that demonstrate it’s limitations as being developed with the PS3 in mind, like the difference in lighting models between certain cutscenes and dialogues (you will know when you see it) and how there is loading times between interiors and the overworld. Thankfully, these load times are quite short.

Yakuza 0 is a game that juggles so many elements, especially tonally, and manages to do it very, very well. You will laugh, cheer, feel hype, tense , sad and sometimes a little fuzzy and much more and just have a generally good time punching guys in the face.  If you’re the type of person who refuses to watch a foreign film out of stubborn refusal to read subtitles, then this is not the game for you, but for everyone else, definitely give it a look, for it is sure to please long time fans and newcomers alike.

8.5/10

 

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (2017) PC Review

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The Resident Evil series has had it rough after the fourth entry in the main line series. It’s sequel, Resident Evil 5 is routinely laughed at for the ridiculousness of Chris Redfield punching the shit out of a boulder. It is also routinely and rightfully criticised for it’s poor partner AI that is forced on you if you don’t have a friend to play with. Resident Evil 6, while it’s combat mechanics are surprisingly quite good, every other aspect of it’s overall design is questionable. With Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, I am pleased to say that Capcom has put the series back on it’s feet.

One of the first things you will notice about this latest entry in the 20+ year old franchise is that it does not utilise the fixed camera angles of the original 3 games, nor the tight third person camera of 4, 5 and 6 but rather opts for a first person perspective that has become ubiquitous with contemporary horror games. This change in perspective is very effective in RE7. For example, in cinematics, such the dinner table scene, where the Baker family tried to make protagonist Ethan Winters eat some rancid looking human organs, which made me wince and recoil in disgust. Likewise in early sequences when Ethan suffers horrific bodily mutilations.

The storyline is also surprisingly good and well told. The set up is that the wife of Ethan, Mia, has been missing for three years but then receives a message from her in Dulvey, Louisiana, setting Ethan off on a mission to rescue Mia from the Baker’s estate. It all sounds very Silent Hill 2 and I was concerned before the game came out that the plot of this would just be a SH2 rip off. Thankfully, it’s not. Whilst the general trajectory of the story will be of little surprise to veteran Resident Evil fans, it is still skillfully executed and shows a positive level of restraint that never lets the game veer into a level of campiness that would put the game at odds with itself. Skulking around the decrepit houses on this plantation also reveal an incredible attention to detail that provides background information on the Baker’s life, which despite them being the primary antagonists of the game, had me feeling pity for them.

In terms of the mechanics and design of the game, everything from the shooting to the inventory management and sneaking around work really well. The shooting is tight and responsive, with weapons such as the shotgun feeling and sounding powerful, to the SMG’s high recoil or the kick of the 44 Magnum, every weapon feels different and satisfying to use. Even the knife is satisfying to use and can be quite effective, at least in one on one encounters with standard enemy types. Enemies are also threatening and can take quite a few pistol rounds before they can die, which is especially terrifying in the early game where ammo is scarce, so it’s often better to run away. One time after I had picked up the shotgun, I was in the boiler room and quite a few of the molded, which look like a more earthy and grotesque crossbreed of Regenerators and BOWs, had spawned and were giving chase, so I managed to headshot a few and kit the rest until they were all dead. It was tense and exciting. Boss fights, at least the early ones, are especially terrifying and thrilling at the same time. Enemies also telegraph their attacks, which gives you enough time to get a shot off, run away, or crouch to dodge, but you must still be quick about it if you don’t want to be hit. One disappointment is that there are very few different standard enemies.

Stealth mechanics, meanwhile, are very rudimentary, so there’s no lockers or closets to hide in to remind yourself of your high school days,  but it works well enough to be tense yet never frustrating.

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Save rooms and item boxes return and general inventory management return through an interface that is dark and minimalist, but still easily readable and intuitive to use. The save rooms are comfortable spaces which play a melancholic but relaxing tune that is incredibly comfy.

While inventory spaces and item combinations are much more streamlined and forgiving, you will still be making regular trips backtracking to item boxes. But since your movement speed is decent and the levels are designed quite tightly, the backtracking never becomes tedious. There is also a slight bit of handholding in that the map screen tells you what your objective is, but there’s no objective markers that trivialise the game and insult the player, but nor are you under threat of being regularly confused or forgetting what you had to do in case you returned to your game save after not playing for quite some time.

The game is also expertly paced and shows a lot of variety and influence from a variety of different horror titles. One minute you’ll be skulking through the guest house with nothing, the next you’ll be defending yourself against a crazed enemy and then skulking around the main Baker house, finding items and solving puzzles and playing a cat and mouse game with the patrolling Jack who functions much like the Xenomorph from Alien: Isolation, although thankfully frustration is avoided since he can’t one shot you, at least on normal. The best puzzle is a later game escape room, whereas the rest of the puzzles are things like rotating an abstract object in front of a light to match the silhouette of a painting. These puzzles are largely simple and while not entirely brain dead, they aren’t exactly head scratchers of old Resident Evil or the Silent Hill series. Speaking of Silent Hill, the overall progression is more like that than the first Resident Evil where instead of being singular location with shortcuts,loops, different pathways and so one, each area in RE7 is more like a discrete area and it works well here.

The campaign as a whole is quite lean, as I beat it in 7 hours and 42 minutes. Some online have complained about this length, but this length, for a decent player on a first  time playthrough is quite standard for games in the horror genre. The original 3 Silent Hill  games took me about this long, or a bit less to beat.Horror games as long as Alien: Isolation are quite an anomaly. Here is a good balance between quality and quantity. There is also replay value in the Madhouse difficulty mode, which is unlocked upon completing the game, which I will probably play on when I eventually revisit the campaign some day. But what it does is not only makes the enemies tougher or Jack faster, but item placement is changed, checkpoints are removed and saves are limited like how they were in classic Resident Evil.

In terms of the presentation, the game is near impeccable. Sound effects are all excellent and so is the voice acting and overall performances with the Baker’s Southern intonations that are both menacing and highly entertaining that deftly walks a fine line between serious horror and camp. The graphics too, as well as the attention to detail, with deep black shadows, excellent animation, texture work and extremely detailed character model. While there is occassionally a low res texture or two, the visuals as a whole are quite great. Enemy designs are creative and often highly grotesque.

The only downside to the visuals is that they can look blurry at times. When I first started playing I thought my eyes were going to shit since the game looked like a layer of vaseline had been smeared on the camera, but it turned out this was due to the anti aliasing setting it was on, which I promptly changed down to FXAA and all was well. Additionally, the motion blur effect here is quite good and I usually don’t like using it in games, but I recommend turning it on. It’s actually quite nice in this game at high framerates.

On a technical level, there is a high level of polish. On a GTX 970, running at 1440p on settings that were a mix of High and Very High, I had a mostly smooth experience running at 60fps or higher for the vast majority of the game. Although sometimes I would experience inexplicable and massive drops in areas that I shouldn’t have, these were few and far between. It also has a suitable amount of graphics options that allow you the game to be scalable on a variety of systems and tweak the visuals to your liking, such as turning off chromatic abberation or motion blur if you dislike those effects. It’s an excellent PC port all round.

Resident Evil 7Biohazard is a game that as you can see, I enjoyed very much. It has a well told story, excellent presentation and will spook you good, especially if you play with headphones on and lights off; the way horror is meant to be played. This is a Resident Evil game that should be enjoyable for anyone of varying levels of familiarity with the series. A great horror game and great Resident Evil game. This is the best the series has been since Resident Evil 4 and is well worth picking up.

9.5/10

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review (2016)

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When I first heard about Rogue One, I have to be honest with you: I wasn’t particularly interested at first. ‘How could a movie about the retrieval of the death star plans be any good?’ and ‘it won’t expand the universe in any meaningful way’ were among my thoughts at first. But I finally saw the film recently, being fashionably late to the party and boy were my initial thoughts wrong.

The plot of this film is essentially what is described in the first paragraph of the opening title crawl in the first Star Wars. But there is a bit more to it than that. We are first shown a desolate, cold planet with black sands shot in Iceland. It kicks off with the Empire coming to this planet and Galen Orso (Mads Mikkelsen), the Empire’s top scientist who went into self exile, is being forced back into the clutches of the Empire to help complete the death star. His young daughter, Jyn Orso (Felicity Jones) then escapes with Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker). Flash forward and we see Jyn in prison and after being broken out during a transfer to an Empire labour camp. From there, she is thrust into the midst of the rebellion.

The plot as a whole isn’t exactly deep or surprising, but it’s got a solid emotional throughline that is easy to follow. Performances from the core cast are also generally quite solid and do a pretty good job given the material, although I felt that the overall characterisation of our core cast of characters was not as strong as it was in The Force Awakens but it’s decent enough considering the purposes and inevitable conclusion of this film. Still, the core cast was as a whole likeable, especially K2, a droid who takes the role of comic relief, providing a much needed levity and excellent bants. Donnie Yen’s blind mystic character is rather one note, but his performance in the action scenes is strong as per usual.

So enough about the plot.

In terms of how the film looks and sounds, it is incredible, with incredible cinematography in a variety of locations, from the bazzar of the mesa city of Jedha, a repurposed Jedi temple, the familiar Yavin 4 base all the way to the conclusion on the tropical Imperial base on Scariff, which is home to the last act of the film.This last act is an exciting and visually stunning long action sequence that like the film as a whole uses a combination of practical sets and effects combined with state of the art CGI. There are some seriously impressive and awesome set pieces here and throughout the rest of the film where the action is generally quite good and visually interesting. The more emotional death sequences here also feel a tad rushed, considering there are quite a few to get through and it just misses that higher emotional mark.

We also see Darth Vader kick some ass, which is pretty damn awesome and through just that short sequence, really adds to the overall character. The only bad thing I have to say about the visuals is that the CGI rendition of Tarkin (Peter Cushing) looks really unnatural and jarring during dialogue that use plenty of close ups. It’s noticeable and distracting considering little effort is made through the lighting, shot or edit choices to hide this obvious flaw.

Some people say that this Gareth Edward’s directed Star Wars film is better than The Force Awakens, I wouldn’t say that’s exactly true. It does some things better, some things not as good. But, as a whole, this is a fun space adventure that is visually arresting and action packed. While it does have some problems that come as a result of being such a stringent tie in to the first film, it still manages to meaningfully expand the Star Wars universe. If you haven’t seen it already, check it out.

7.5/10