Thursday, 29 December 2011

Singularity - Horror Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

Time travel stories are always interesting, they just really satisfy an itch, who wouldn't want to travel through time, and who has done so and not screwed up time?  Timeshift was an early 360 game that was ok but let down by frustration, Singularity is a much better game that has elements of both Bioshock and F.E.A.R.

After a huge electromagnetic surge damages an American spy plane a small force of US Soldiers are flown to the small island of Katorga-12 that used to be under Soviet rule and where the surge radiated from. Another surge causes the helicopters to crash land killing most the Soldiers.  The island had been uninhabited since 1955 when an unknown disaster caused the Russians to abandon the island. Playing as Captain Nathaniel Renko your initial aim is to get to a radio tower for extraction.  While exploring the island you somehow enter a time portal that takes you back to the 1950's.  In the 50's you rescue a scientist from burning to death in a fire before time shifts back to the present.  You soon discover the present day has changed dramatically; the island is full of strange mutants, as well as Soviet troops, it seems the Soviet Union rules the world in this weird present, something has changed to alter the path of history.

The game has a very impressive start, exploring the island of Katorga-12 you are immersed in lots and lots of detail; posters, notes, and audio recordings, a real sense of place that brought to mind a very familiar Bioshock vibe.  The game is very slow to start and gives you a leisurely pace to explore and soak in the islands background.  Shapes are seen through windows, shadows pass you by, and when you finally encounter enemies they are zombie like and weak.  A jaunt through a School complete with bodies of children everywhere tells a wonderful visual story picked up by the scenes left behind.  About a third of the way through the game though this all stops.  From then on the game is a shooter in the F.E.A.R mould but with none of the breaks, just shoot out after shoot out.  The locations devolve into warehouses, sewers and laboratories that loose any sense of real locations that you would want to explore.

Time is used to great effect.  Soon in the game you locate a special wrist band that gives you time manipulation powers.  You can rapidly age enemies turning them into dust, repair destroyed walkways and crates, slow down time and levitate objects (Half Life 2 inspired).  Pockets of time give you ghostly cut scenes from the islands past while plot based moments see you travel back in time to fight 1950's Soviets that give old locations a lick of newness.  One great level sees you on a giant tanker that literally ages before your eyes using a nifty Silent Hill style transition from sparkly new to rusting and aged.  Small puzzles use time but these never get too varied.  A favourite is putting a ruined crate under a steel shutter and then rebuilding it to cause the shutter to open.

The game has a variety of enemies, the Humans are mostly cannon fodder but are armed with a variety of weapons and later ones wearing time manipulation impervious suits.  Monsters are not that excitingly designed, having the appearance of zombies, conjoined twins, giant spider type things, and irritating bugs that explode on contact and attack in swarms.  As well as your time wrist watch thing you have access to usual weapons such as rifles, pistols and rocket launchers.  These are given new looks to them but basically operate the same way as usual.  One cool weapon is a rifle where you get to control the bullet (like the sniper rifle in Jericho) and cool bouncing bombs that can be remotely detonated (and is used for a puzzle just the once).

The plot starts off really interesting but in the end falls apart due to bland characters of the main antagonist; cruel dictator Demichev, and good guy Scientist Barisov who are cookie cutter plain and predictable.  There is a late game twist that is kinda fun, though obvious.  Notes and audio diaries are interesting and give a sense of the island once being a living place, particularly good are the propaganda reels you can watch.

The game looks and plays great but does feel like at times it takes so much from games that have come before.  It has its Half Life 2, Bioshock, and F.E.A.R moments and does not really do anything more than imitate them.  Entertaining and fun but a weak plot, and bland locations stop this from being a must play game.


Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Another Earth (2011) - Film Review

Another Earth it has to be said is not technically horror, well ok, it is not remotely horror, but it shows such isolation and real life despair. I was convinced to watch this after two friends raved on about it, I was captivated from start to finish.

Another Earth has a kind of sci-fi background to it but mainly it centres on a lonely woman. The night a new planet appears in the night sky a talented young student Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) under the influence crashes her car into a family of three. A young boy and his Mum are killed, while the Dad; John Burroughs (William Mapother) is put into a coma. Four years later Rhoda is freed from prison, a shell of her former self suffering major depression. Lacking the courage to admit her crimes to the other survivor of the crash she instead poses as a house cleaner determined to make his life better. In the four years she has been in jail the other planet has gotten closer and is revealed to be a second Earth, identical in every way down to the people and places; a mirror Earth. Rhoda enters a competition in the hope of winning a seat on a Spaceship that is going to fly to the second Earth so that she can escape the misery of her life and start a new one.

Another Earth does not have much dialogue in it, a lot of the film is spent following Rhoda in her daily life, silent train journeys, walks, and working in her medial job as a high school janitor. She has lost her opportunity for a good life, shunning the company of others, obsessed with helping Burroughs whose life she ruined the day she killed his family. Burroughs is also a loner, spending his days locked up in his empty house, a mirror image of Williams he too has given up on getting any joy from life.

The characters really make this film work, Mapother and Marling perfectly portraying ruined shells who just no longer fit into society. Williams family don't understand her, old friends shun her and she has become obsessed with serving Burroughs. The second Earth story is clever in that by taking a back seat to a more mundane story it becomes in itself more realistic despite how stupid the idea of an identical second Earth appearing is. No explanation is given and is usually only talked about via TV and radios playing in the background of scenes. The growing relationship between the two main characters is well handled and apart from a stupid side plot involving some barmy native American, Williams works with at the school, the film is near perfect in its bleakness and loss of hope for the world. The ending managed to send a chill down my spine (somehow) and was a good finish to a thought provoking insular journey through one girls life.

No horror, not much sci-fi but lots of interesting thoughts within Another Earth, and a filmed style that totally absorbs you.


Saturday, 24 December 2011

Top 5 Christmas Horrors

I was sure I had done such a list before, but no, apparently not.  As I have been neglecting my blog so much lately I have not actually got around to watching any Christmas horrors for review.  Instead here is my list of the very best Christmas horrors I can think of. (A prize to anyone who can find my Christmas list as I am getting a very high feeling of deja vu).

5.  Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman

The first Jack Frost (lower on my list) was a funny slasher centred around Christmas.  The sequel obviously has a much lower budget, and a far more stupid story.  The Snowman believed dead has returned but this time he is stalking his victims at a tropical holiday resort.  Leads to issues of melting, and the appearance of little critter style evil snowballs.  Not very good, and the humour falls flat.

4. Black Christmas

One of the very first slasher films, predating John Carpenters Halloween this centred around a house where an unknown assailant picked off his victims.  The scenes with the killer are mostly filmed from his perspective which while a novel idea is kinda boring.  Not much happens in the film truth be told.  The film was remade a few years back but is not supposed to be good at all.

3. Jack Frost

From memory this film is about a convicted criminal who escapes from his prison van during transportation but gets in an accident with toxic waste and becomes a living snowman.  He stalks the inhabitants of a sleepy remote American town killing them in Christmas themed ways while wise cracking (I seem to remember one victim was killed by a deadly candy cane while someone else was strangled with Christmas lights).  I found this film quite entertaining.

2. Gremlins

Before the comedy Gremlins 2 came the more serious Gremlins (with a streak of black humour).  Everyone knows this film; A cute creature (a Mogwai called Gizmo) is brought by an inventor for his son Billy. After breaking the rules for looking after a Mogwai the town is over run by vicious and cruel Gremlins who delight in mayhem and murder.  A great scene with an old woman and her (Gremlin engineered) malfunctioning stair lift.

1. Home Alone

A young child (Macaulay Culkin) is accidentally left at home when his family go off on holiday for Christmas.  Kevin; the young boy learns of a plot by two dangerous (but dim witted) robbers to burgle his house.  With no one to turn to Kevin must defend his house the only way he knows how; by mutilation, torture and pain.  His house is turned into a house of tricks and traps and the two thieves are left near dead after the worst night of their lives.

So there you are, hope you all have a very scary, nightmare fuelled Christmas, and a terrifying New Year!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

F.3.A.R - Horror Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

I recently played through the F.E.A.R series again and then saw F.E.A.R 3 cheap so picked it up.  It quite average reviews when it came out, but having enjoyed the other F.E.A.R games I was looking forward to playing it, though kinda put off by the fact that it sounded like it was now geared towards co-op play.

Set 9 months after F.E.A.R 1 and 2 the game starts with Point Man (the silent protagonist of F.E.A.R) who has been captured by Armacham (evil corporation of the game world) and is being kept in a ruined prison complex in what appears to be South America.  His brother Paxton Fettel (one of the main antagonists of F.E.A.R, now a ghost after being killed by Point Man) frees his brother so that they can go back to Fairport where their mother Alma (spooky ghost woman who is pregnant after raping the protagonist of F.E.A.R 2) is about to give birth to god knows what.  Battling both the forces of Armacham, and the insane residents of Fairport the two must discover where their mother is.

The game certainly feels like a F.E.A.R game, plenty of intense shoot outs, use of slow down, and realistic environments. I always love how F.E.A.R usually sets its levels in locations that feel real rather than levels in a game.  This time around locations include the slums of South America, a supermarket, suburbs, an airport and City streets.  All are great fun to fight through and have incidental details such as signs, fake products, and objects, though it is a bit off putting that signs with convenient arrows usually are placed to guide you where to go next).  The suburbs in particular are kinda creepy, ruined house with walls covered in bloody symbols, and one solitary pram coated in blood.  The back story is that when The Vault was destroyed in F.E.A.R 1 (and 2, and F.E.A.R Files) it released a psychic wave that turned everyone caught in it into psycho cultists who draw Alma symbols everywhere, and mutilate themselves. Making the already devastated City into even more of a Hell hole.  The only sane inhabitants are the security forces of Armacham, everyone else is mad or dead.  How a City such as this was able to be completely destroyed and trashed by one corporation without the rest of America knowing is kinda a bizarre plot hole.

As usual the main people you will be fighting are soldiers who come in a variety of guises.  They hide behind cover, attempt to flank you, and panic when their squad members are killed.  Their Commanders are ace, giant armoured soldiers who can teleport through portals, usually walking out of the wall behind where you are hiding.  Cultists bring a nice 28 Days Later vibe to the game as they charge you armed with tools, or with explosives strapped to them.  Even with limbs and arms blown off they will keep running towards you, impervious to pain due to being under Alma's control.  Zombies are cool!  As usual some monsters appear, these are as usual blooming annoying to fight, monsters are always bad to fight in the F.E.A.R games.

The story is pretty terrible and confusing, and it is a shame that the last level of the game is turned into a dull story based slog through an Armacham facility that culminates in a frankly stupid boss battle.  A poor, boring end to an otherwise action packed game.  Weapons feel like they pack a punch, and some sections where you drive a Mech and fight helicopters, and other Mechs nicely split up the shoot outs.  A nice touch is that Alma's labour pains send shock waves through the City causing gaping holes to appear in the ground, and sending enemy helicopters spinning out of control.

Single player sees you first playing as Point Man, and then able to play as Fettel.  Apparently Fettel being a ghost has to possess enemies to fight, co-op sounds interesting in that he can help out by possessing an enemy and then taking out his comrades while the other player picks them off.  Sounds interesting.  Each player is scored depending on actions they take (such as head shots, and finding psychic links), and at games end the player with the most points gets to have his ending show.

I really quite enjoyed F.E.A.R 3, it does what it always has done, and that is provide solid, bloody shooting action.  Again not at all scary though!


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Bulletstorm (2011) - Action Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

Bulletstorm is a FPS action game that comes from Epic Games (creators of the Gears of War series).  The game is comical and action packed full of humorous violence and bucket loads of profanity.

Grayson Hunt and his crew have been hunting all over the galaxy for their ex commander General Sarrano whose orders led to them accidentally killing innocents.  Finally locating the General aboard his battle cruiser; The Ulysses Greyson drunkenly rams his ship into it hoping to kill the General.  Instead both ships crash land on the nearby planet Stygia.  Escaping the wreckage Greyson soon discovers the population of the planet are a bunch of murderous psychotic mutants.  Battling through the hoards Greyson and his injured cyborg crew mate Ishi set out to find the General.

The game reminded me a lot of Gears of War, the design of the characters just brought to mind the Gears but this game is a far more jaunty, comedic, yet incredibly violent one.  Killing enemies rewards you with skill points with which weapons can be upgraded, and ammo brought.  The more inventive ways you kill enemies the more you get rewarded.  Kicking enemies off ledges reward you with the Vertigo reward, while you get the Compassion bonus if you kill an enemy after shooting them in the nether regions for example.  There are loads of different skill points which range from impaling enemies on spiked surfaces, setting them on fire, shooting them in various parts of the body, or using your trusty leash to manipulate them into objects and creatures.

Your most trusted utensils at your disposal are your foot and your leash.  Kicking an enemy causes them to go flying backwards in slow motion giving you time to set up a suitable kill, your leash does the opposite grabbing far away enemies and flinging them towards you in slow motion.  The usual assortment of sniper rifle, machine gun, pistol and (four barrelled) shotgun makes their appearances and are joined by more different weapons such as a grenade on a chain that wraps itself around enemies before exploding, bouncing mines, and a rocket powered spear gun that spears enemies and pins them to walls.  All these weapons are violent causing enemies to blow apart, loose limbs, and heads, as well as be ripped in half.

The locations are surprisingly diverse, in fact the variety is one of the most exciting things about this game as they all look beautiful and really solid with the Unreal Engine used to great effects.  The backgrounds are stunning, one level sees you with magnetic boots walking down the side of a sky scrapper with the City below, another sees you working your way around a giant dam with the dam stretching out into the distance.  The planet you are on was created as a resort planet so there are plenty of beautiful vistas, night clubs, parks and tourist attractions.  Also mixed in with these are prisons, spaceships and caverns all looking amazing in their own right. The world feels like a real place with explanations for everything really.

For the most part it is all shooting but it never gets stale due to the different level designs such as working your way through a collapsed building, controlling a giant mechanical dinosaur, or an on rails segment fighting a Godzilla sized beast rampaging through the City. Full of cursing and inventive swearing and genuinely funny moments that are just insanity with witty dialogue.  The voice actors are all good, though the character of Ishi himself is a bit boring and plain.

The plot is certainly basic but is well told, at its heart it is a revenge story with your character Grayson Hunt on the tail of General Sarrano whose manipulations cause you to murder hundreds of innocents while under his command.  As Triskha says later in the game, its less about revenge though and more to do with atonement, after all it was Grayson who did all the killing, and it was his mission to destroy Sarrano that led to the death of his crew mates, and the mutilation and change of Ishi so if he can just do what he set out to do he will be able to feel less guilty.  The story of how the planet came to be over run with psychos and mutants is well told with visual imagery to suggest a hasty evacuation, and later a lot of the back story is filled out by the people you team with who relay rumours.

A very enjoyable game that looks and sounds great, apart from a weak story ending the games pace never lets up with action sequence after action sequence. Violent and great fun.


Sunday, 4 December 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Sci-Fi Videogame Review (X-Box 360)

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the third game in the Deus Ex series but is actually a prequel to the first 2 games, being set 25 years before Deus Ex.  Deus Ex is a first person shooter that also has heaps of RPG elements.  You are likely to spend just as much time talking to people as you are fighting them. The way you play influences how characters react to you leading to a variety of different outcomes.

Set in 2027 and starting in Detroit you are Adam Jensen the head of security for Sariff Industries who are in the field of human augmentations.  An attack at a lab by a group of heavily augmented mercenaries results in the death of Adams girlfriend; scientist Megan Reed as well as him being horrifically injured.  To save his life and with a nod to Robocop he is brought back from the brink of death by David Sariff who outfits Adam with a wide host of augmentations such as robotic arms and legs, and microchips that enable Jensen to become more than human.  While trying to track down the group responsible for the attack Jensen also has to cope with his loss of humanity and an erupting outbreak of violence by Pro Humans who want augmentation banned and people who see augmentation as the next step in human evolution.

The game like Deus Ex 1 and 2 has a very Blade Runner-esque Cyberpunk feel to it.  Set mostly in Cites the world is a dark, grimy crime filled place full of giant neon signs where the divide between rich and poor is massive.  The main locations are Detroit where Sariff Industries HQ is located, and Heng Sha Island in China.  Heng Sha exemplifies the rich and poor divide best having had a new City built on top of the old.  Above the rich live in granduer while below are slums full of whore houses and night clubs run by private military companies and the Yakuza.

The Cities provide a main hub to the games missions.  You always have your main quest line to do.  These usually involve you flying off to some self contained location to do a mission such as freeing hostages from a terrorist group at a lab, or infilitrating the HQ of a rival augmentation company.  Side missions are provided by characters hanging out in the hub areas.  These missions are usually quite simple, though varied enough not to get boring.

As you earn experiance new augmentations can be brought as well as old ones upgraded.  You can for instance gain the ability to fall from any height without taking damage, gain the ability to smash through walls with your fist, jump large distances, hack locks, breath poison gas, and a host of others.  These abilities are mostly all cool and give you a real advantage in battle and sneaking around locations.

You have a set space to hold weapons and items you collect, the usual assortment of pistols, machine guns, shotguns etc are avaliable.  These can all be upgraded by buying upgrades from black market sellers.  I found the most useful weapon I had was my pistol.  Upgraded to do more damage, a bigger cartridge, silenced, and a laser sight made it awesome.

The game is not really designed to be played as a traditional shooter.  It is at its best when you try to avoid combat by hacking security terminals to turn of cameras, or to turn robots and sentry guns against their owners, or bypassing enemies by stealth (you get the cool ability to turn invisible) or by using the many ventilation shafts dotted around levels.  The enemy A.I is kinda terrible so if you do engage in combat you can useually stay in one location while a line of enemies engage you one at a time until all are dead.  The boss battles are at odds with the game design though being compulsary shoot fests.

Human Revolution looks quite attractive, the mian colour used throughout the game is a golden hue.  The human animations are not that great, when you speak to characters they tend to fling there arms about in a weird way, and some of the character models are not that great.  The main cast is voiced well though, especially David Sariff who has an excellant voice actor.  Plot wise things are not that great, the story keeps you going on with a conspiracy by world leaders but there are not really any great surprises or hooks to keep you wanting to see what happens next.  The last part of the game does ramp up the story a bit though.

For the most part you fight normal humans, with only the boss battles really using augmented ones.  You get into narration based battles as well, such as using options to stop a man from commiting suicide, or talking a gun man into giving up his hostage he is holding at gunpoint.  These talky battles have no wrong outcome, if the man kills himself, or the gun man kills the hostage the game adapts to deal with that outcome.

It took me around 20 hours to complete I think, I had fun but the last 5th did get a bit tired.  It really does feel like a Deus Ex game, I was reminded heavily of the past games, especially the last part where you get to choose your ending.  This is no bad thing, I enjoyed the other Deus Ex's.  It is just a shame that there is not a more diverse setting to the game, the offices and facilities all start to blend together a bit.

A great game despite my complaints, a nice breath of nostalga even if the genre has been bettered by the open worlds of Fallout and Elder Scrolls.