Wednesday, 27 November 2013

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream (1995) - Horror Videogame Review

When I first heard of this game a few months back I assumed from the title it was a hot new indie gem, but no! It is instead a 90's point and click adventure game based on the story of the same title written by Harlan Ellison in 1967. I love 90's point and click adventure games so was both delighted and surprised one had escaped my undead grasp...until now.

A global war waged, carried out by super computers designed for the task. One such super computer became self aware, naming itself AM and wiped out all of humanity due to the intense hatred it feels for it's creators. It saved the last 5 humans and keeps them trapped far down below inside the Earth. There it has tortured them endlessly for the last 109 years, making sure they can never die. AM is an angry machine, driven insane by the fact that it is the most intelligent thing in existence, yet it has nothing to do with it's vast intellect, trapped for eternity in it's own shell. AM sets a task for each of it's 5 captives, promising reward for completing the tasks, something it has probably done many times before, yet this time something is different, one by one the prisoners manage to overcome their flaws and succeed where AM computed that as impossible. Someone or something seems to be aiding the humans...

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream works fantastically as a point and click game. Each of the 5 characters have their own little adventure to play through, these can be done in any order. Nimdok; an old Nazi Dr finds himself in a concentration camp in the end days of World War II. Benny who used to be a brutal soldier finds himself in a strange primitive village where the inhabitants are forced to regularly make human sacrifices to AM. Ellen finds herself in an artificially created Egyptian pyramid where she discovers just why she is terrified of the colour yellow. Depressed Gorrister awakens to find himself heartless, on a blimp flying over endless desert. Lastly (or firstly, as I said, any order) Ted a confidence trickster finds himself in a medieval castle where a witch plans to sacrifice his one true love to demons.

Like the best adventure games you select various icons from a menu to do different actions (such as Use, Talk To, Look At etc). You explore the environments talking to other characters, and picking up items in order to solve various puzzles. Adventure games went away originally because the puzzles just got more and more obscure. Scream over comes this with an ever present hint option that gives you a cryptic clue on what to do next. It is quite clever in how it is written relevant to the character giving words that have double meanings.

Scream deals with some serious issues that I really was not expecting. A Nazi concentration camp is just the tip of the iceberg, though a big tip (what with you performing a cruel experiment on a child as part of Nimdok's story). Other issues that pop up include good old murder along with cannibalism, suicide, mental health, sex, and rape. Rape in particular was a big shock as there was such an interesting way it came to be explored in the game. Each chapter has a character deal with their past and is stand alone. These concise chapters not only stop you from becoming too lost, but also gives you plenty of variety, some better than others. For sheer enjoyment I would rate Ellen's as the best chapter, Gorrister's as the worst due to it's often illogical puzzles.

You can die, or otherwise fail a mission something which I am not keen of in point and clicks, this seems to have most effect on Benny's story as it is time specific so I found myself having to try and do that one 4 or 5 times before I worked it all out. Also you can complete the missions in different ways which effects the games ending. Each character has a kind of morality meter which changes depending on your actions. One mission for example sees you needing to get a heart. You can achieve this by stabbing to death one of the people you encounter and tearing out their heart. The good way sees you getting the heart from a corpse of a pig, so quite a difference. The final mission that takes place after all others was not very good. Adventure games tend to have a hard time coming to an end, this is sadly no different with a weak and disappointing ending.

Last topic is the voice acting. The computer AM is voiced by the writer of the book; Harlan Ellison! Knowing his story so well he is able to really give a great performance, he delivers his line with menace and glee, really coming across as a viciously angry being. I loved that he was given a human voice rather than some silly robotic voice. The other characters have terrible voice acting, or rather it is passable but all wrong. The 5 survivors are supposed to have been physically and mentally tortured for the last 109 years, yet none of them sound remotely scared, angry or anything other than bored. Ellen the most wrong sounding character is really sassy, talking about AM in an almost friendly way. The voices are all at odds for the situation they are in.

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is a good adventure game based on a great idea, I plan to read the book as soon as I can. As a game it excels with dealing with serious issues and is an interesting experience, well worth playing, it is just a shame the voice acting is so off putting (Ellison excepted) and that it falls into the trap of having a weak ending.


Monday, 25 November 2013

Hotline Miami (2012) - Horror Videogame Review (PC)

I had heard from many sources that Hotline Miami was a great game, but I never felt like it would really be for me. It is a top down shooter in which both you and the enemies you face can be killed with just one attack making for a strangely tactical puzzle like experience.

You play as a killer who each morning receives a phone call instructing him on where to go to carry out some assassinations. To do the job the killer dons an animal mask. That is pretty much it for story to begin with, but needless to say before the games end you get more reason for doing the murders.

The visual style and soundtrack combine to create a game that is pure heaven to play. The graphics are simple overhead 2D sprites but have a uniform feel to them that just works. The colours used are all garish 80's themed that work so well with the 80's style synth music. Each level has you after an intro sequence arriving at the location for your hit, these are all interior locations and range from offices, to restaurants, hotels and more. Despite a varied amount of locations they all look kind of similar due to the simplistic graphics. Enemies also all look pretty much identical, for the most part fighting goons in white suits. Large brightly coloured scores pop up for everything you do giving a strong arcade feel.

Despite the simple gameplay Hotline Miami never gets boring, it is hyper addictive. Death comes often but you always instantaneously respawn at the last checkpoint you got to so it is never a chore to die. Each level is like it's own little puzzle, goons will attack you on sight but a well placed punch can knock their weapons out their hands. All weapons kill with one hit on most enemy types, while throwing weapons and opening doors on bad guys stuns them. Guns are powerful and can be used from great distances, but the flip side of that is many times you will suddenly be killed from someone off screen. When your in the grove and systematically taking out foes left, right and centre it can be a real adrenaline rush. Once a mission is done (that usually just involves everyone in the place your at) it is your job to leave the location. Bodies stay where they fell so it can be oddly grim making your way back to your car with the droning song that plays and dark visuals combining to really get you to question just what you have done as you walk past tonnes of corpses (kinda reminds me of Travis Bickle at the end of Taxi Driver).

To spice things up you get a variety of different animal masks that give you various perks such as the pig mask that gives you more ammo in your guns, or the giraffe mask that lets you see further ahead in the stages. Also some stages are made more with plot in mind than fighting, including one stealth stage that was not the greatest. Before and after each stage you get an interactive story element  that added a lot to what would otherwise just be a ton of shooting.

Hotline Miami is a very violent game, blood is everywhere, and your character finishes off enemies in the most brutal ways, such as stamping on their faces till they explode, or gauging the eyes out of one boss. My favourite weapon was the katana sword as it literally ripped the targets apart. Again music must be mentioned as I have never seen such a fantastic marriage between visuals and sound. Each tune seems tailor made for the killing fields and to be honest had me bobbing my head about in appreciation for the dance beats!

At around 20 missions (that includes a bunch of levels after the end credits) and with a fairly engaging, bizarre plot that reminded me a lot of Killer7 and a definite dirty feeling that you are not remotely a good person, this is something really worth playing and feels so utterly fresh. So brutally violent, so fun to play and such a thumping soundtrack. Not the longest game in the world (around 4 hours to play through) but is a cheap price so essential.


Sunday, 24 November 2013

God of War III (2010) - Horror Fantasy Videogame Review (PS3)

Finally I have finished my quest to play through all God of War games in chronological order! I must admit by the end of God of War II I was feeling pretty worn out with that particular style of game. Regardless of all that I jumped right into this one hoping the vastly better graphics would spur me on to excel.

Taking place immediately after God of War II you as Kratos; the fallen God of War are assaulting Mount Olympus with the aid of the Titans. During your climb you are attacked by Zeus (the whole reason for the attack on the mountain) and cast down to the Underworld. Now you must once again climb to the top of Olympus, dispatching Gods left, right, and centre as you go, searching for the 'Fire of Olympus' that will give you the ability to finally destroy Zeus.

A lot better looking than most the previous games it was a joy to get crisp graphics back even if locations tend to have a plastic sheen to them which was a tad strange. By this point, and I'm sure it was a combination of both my crazed mission  and the God of War formula but things got a bit dull at times. Dull is the wrong word, I guess just a bit predictable. There are only so many mythological figures to encounter and fight and I pretty much did it all.  Most the enemies return from previous games, so you get your snake women, zombie soldiers, cyclops, centaurs, and others. All fun to battle but not many new enemy types with the exception of cool stone statue men and packs of scorpions (as well as Mama Scorpion for a fun boss fight). Talking of bosses the ones here are real fun, as per the plot the bosses are many with various Gods out to get you, from fighting Hades in Hell, to fighting Poseidon whilst clinging to the back of a Titan all are multi-staged and fun to do, always leading to a bloody finale. Best boss of the game goes to Hercules though, so satisfying, though fighting a gigantic Titan was a very close second!

As with all the other games this is a third person adventure game with plenty of puzzles of the switch pulling and block pushing variety. This time around you get access to five different main weapons. The Sword of Olympus can only be used when your rage metre is built up. As well as that you get your chain blades as per all the games, as well as some soul hooks, electric whip, and my personal favourites; giant metal gloves that are super powerful. Each weapon type has it's own magic type and as well as these you get access to God powers as you progress. These include the light of Helios (his screaming severed head) as well as a darn useful magical bow, and super speed to top things off which can be used both in and out of combat. Kratos still has the ability to glide so this is incorporated into some of the larger open areas.

God of War III starts off epic but when you have plummeted to the Underworld the game reverts to normal level design, not very exciting but does the job. This is a more traditional Underworld than the flames and skulls of previous ones. A lot of the game also takes place in Olympus itself with the remaining section being set in a huge suspended labyrinth halfway between the two. The sections where you go between the various locations are always fun as you are either flying up or falling down a vast tunnel with plenty of fireballs and wooden platforms to avoid. Labyrinth is the main dungeon of the game and while it is very simple to get through it is a uniquely designed contraption that reminded me a lot of the Cube film.

The most violent God of War yet, there is so much other the top gore with the bosses themselves getting the most pain, Hermes for instance having his legs hacked off, while Hercules has his head bashed in until it is a mushy pulp. One QTE events sees you beating someone until the screen drips red with blood, the QTE itself is never ending, was only after a few minutes of frantically tapping the circle button that I stopped and realised I could have finished at any time! The death of the Gods have vast negative impact on the world, with various plagues and curses being released. By games end the world is truly messed up.

Kratos is an angry guy, and a selfish one as well, so determined to kill Zeus that the destruction of the world means nothing to him. I actually felt bad dispatching the Gods, they are just trying to protect their world. One part of the plot I really did enjoy though was the many references to all the games that came before, even references to the PSP Chains of Olympus appear in huge numbers. For someone who has done all the games in a row this was a nice treat to get so much fan service.

All in all God of War III was a well crafted end to the series, it did not do anything radically different, but it did look great doing business as usual, and for a series as base as this that is no bad thing.


Saturday, 23 November 2013

Autumn: The City (2003) by David Moody - Zombie Horror Book Review

First off I must mention that I met David Moody a week ago, it was a pleasure to meet him, he was a friendly and interesting man. The Autumn series of zombie novels are as I have said many times before my favourite horror series. Autumn: The City is the second book in the series and a vast improvement on the first (though that too was a good book). Some mild spoilers ahead but if you have not yet read Autumn then you should probably read that first anyway!

A lot of The City takes place at the same time as Autumn. The first book followed some survivors heading out into the countryside to escape the undead menace. Here, as the title kind of implies much of the book takes place in a city. A large group of survivors are holed up in a University complex but their every move brings more and more of the undead to their location. Meanwhile a group of soldiers emerge from an underground bunker where they had escaped to prior to the disease that wiped out most the worlds population. The virus still lingers in the air so the soldiers must wear full body suits when outside. On a recon mission to the city one of their number; Cooper gets separated and by chance discovers he is one of the naturally immune. Meeting up with the survivors at the University they formulate a plan to make the journey to the bunker and to safety.

The most unique thing about the zombies of the Autumn world is their ever changing behaviour. Around the first half of the book takes place over the same time span as the first book, later more changes are displayed in the undead as they start to get angry and more violent. Everything is bigger this time around, there are more zombies, more survivors, more action and the plot while simple is exciting. The fast pace of the story led to me being unable to put the book down after the first forty pages.

I admit when it comes to book reviews I suck, in general I spend far too much time talking about plot rather than the craft of the thing. Moody is great at creating images in the mind with his descriptions, I swear reading the thrilling finale it was almost like I was watching a film, I could hear the characters talking, I could picture where they were and what they were doing. One thing I do always struggle with is remembering just who is who, mostly due to the large number of characters. Ones such as Cooper totally stick in my mind, but quite a few of the sub characters such as the old University guy, the angry bloke who wants to get drunk, and the doctor all just meld into one so I am eternally confused just who is talking.

The sheer number of the zombies is really something to picture, though the bodies are far more frail than other zombie fiction so they are no problem for any of the survivors to dispatch or even force their way through. One of the messages of the book though is that they are legion, it doesn't matter how many you kill there will always be more, and even just by killing them you attract more as in a dead, silent world any sound is a beacon shining out.

Autumn: The City
just gets better as it goes along, I immediately went straight onto the third book in the series as soon as this one was finished, awesome stuff.


Friday, 22 November 2013

Stalled (2013) - Zombie Horror Film Review

Now I do enjoy a good zombie comedy but they can be hit and miss, from the highs of Gangsters, Guns and Zombies to the lows of Dead and Breakfast. I was not sure what to expect of Stalled, I wondered how a film that takes place almost exclusively in a toilet stall could sustain my interest for 90 minutes, no matter how funny. Stalled was the final film shown at this years UK Festival of Zombie Culture.

On Christmas eve loner janitor W.C is in the female toilets of the office he is employed by to fix a speaker. It is also the night of the staff Christmas party so when some party goers enter he quickly hides away in a cubicle so that he is not seen. Whilst hiding a zombie outbreak occurs (as these things do), it is not long before W.C's cubicle is surrounded by the flesh hungry undead. Bonding with an office girl; 'Evie' in a cubicle a few doors down they begin to plan a way to escape their trap.

Stalled manages to never get boring, no mean feat when 95% of the film takes place in a cubicle. W.C is not a particularly likable character, he is a bit of a pervert, and has various personality traits that make it hard to support him but his and Evie's relationship is an interesting thing. You never see Evie talk, instead the camera focuses on a drawing W.C has done of what he imagines the girl to look like whenever she speaks. This led me to think that the girl was all just a figment of his imagination, especially as thanks to the low budget it is very obvious the girls voice has been dubbed in as does not sound like she is actually there. She is an essential character though and forces W.C to confront just what sort of person he actually is.

A lot of the effects and the humour reminded me of Peter Jackson's early work; Braindead, and Bad Taste, icky, gooey and bad looking in an interesting way. A lot of the humour was a bit too puerile for my liking, such as when W.C throws used female hygiene products at the zombies as a diversion, just gross. But there is lots of cartoon violence with lashings of blood and gore, and even a zombie rat thrown into the mix that keep things rolling over on the icky front

It is also really quite funny in places. The office party was a fancy dress one so you get zombies in all manner of dress. Early on some kind of super hero bursts into the room with dramatic music playing, then a close zoom on the helmet of the hero reveals it is just another zombie, other ones I recall where a zombie Santa Claus, zombie Christmas pudding, and even a zombie Jesus.  At times Stalled almost takes on a Lee Evans style silent comedy with lots of exaggerated goings on as W.C wrestles with his predicament. A mid film sequence in which W.C takes some Ecstasy to try and help his fear was hilarious thanks to a great dancing montage, the highlight of the film right there for me. I also really loved the ending, simple, but effective

So while Stalled is certainly not the funniest film in the world it was certainly something different and did not get tedious. Each of the five films I saw at the Festival were ones I would gladly watch again, this one was a great one to end on, helped in no part by the amount of alcohol drank no doubt.


Thursday, 21 November 2013

Battle of the Damned (2013) - Zombie Horror Film Review

The penultimate zombie film at this years UK Festival of Zombie Culture and one I was looking forward to seeing thanks to it starring 80's action star Dolph Lundgren was Battle of the Damned. Now I was not expecting anything at all ground breaking in this mash up of sci-fi and horror but I was expecting some mindless fun.

It starts with text on screen explaining that a zombie outbreak led to a city somewhere in Asia being sealed off from the outside world, trapping both infected and uninfected alike there. Dolph plays Max Gatling who heads up an operation to enter the forbidden zone and rescue the daughter of a V.I.P (who just so happens to be the man responsible for the outbreak in the first place). With most his squad killed by the ravenous ghouls, and the allotted mission time limit up Max decides to stay in the danger zone rather than evacuate to complete his mission. He soon finds the girl and a bunch of survivors she is holed up with, but nothing is ever easy as not only is there a group of malfunctioning robots rampaging through the city but also the place is due to be fire bombed at any time, so Max has his work cut out!

Battle of the Damned was enjoyable, though certainly not a film that tries to convey any sort of message of any importance. From the heroes name alone you can tell it is an ode to the 80's action films of old. Dolph is starting to look his age now but spending most his time contained in the futuristic military suit thing it is only when he pauses to make plans that this is really seen. Every time he goes to read, his character puts on these ridiculously old man reading glasses that just had me and everyone else laughing out loud. Side character suffer more, the daughter of the V.I.P (Melanie Zanetti) comes across like Asia Argento, a bad-ass first seen battling zombies in a convenience store with a shotgun before a cool chase sequence, she is in fact not bad. Matt Doran as her romantic interest Reese though just looks weedy, is hard to take him seriously. The rest of the characters are mostly forgettable with the exception of Elvis who becomes almost on par with Max for skills, and I enjoyed the character of Duke (A bad guy in a weaselly kind of way).

The previously mentioned robots were a cool inclusion. I really can't think of a single zombie film out of the hundreds I have seen that have featured robots. Scenes where waves of the undead advance on the giant machines were pretty awesome in all honesty. The special effects while not stellar are still good enough. Why zombies are trying to eat the robots that do not even look remotely human though I do not know!

The plot is nothing special, I wouldn't expect it to be but the fact the city is to be carpet bombed is something that comes out of nowhere and a late twist was really pointless. With montages, traditional 80's action heroes and plenty of one dimensional characters this is a modest love song to the films of old. That in turn does limit it's ideas though as genius robot inclusion aside there is not any innovation.

With plenty of zombies, plenty of action, and of course those robots Battle of the Damned knows exactly what sort of film it is and gives you everything expected of it. A good film to drunkenly watch with friends.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Wasteland (2013) - Zombie Horror Film Review

The fourth film to be shown at the UK Festival of Zombie Culture 2013 was Wasteland in its world premiere. Out of all the films this was the best one in my opinion. It was described as very bleak before hand but it does actually have a ray of hope shining through. It was made better by the fact the cast and crew were sitting a few rows down from me which was cool.

After zombie Armageddon starts in Britain Scott and the love of his life; girlfriend Beth head out to the remote countryside where they hole up in a shack hoping to escape the worst of it. Worried about her London based family Beth leaves on a mission to find out if they are ok. Holding on to hope that Beth will one day return Scott remains at the shack, his only contact with the outside world being a short range radio with which once a day he communicates with a fellow survivor. As long as there is a chance his love will return he will not leave the shack.

Wasteland was made with apparently a very low budget and is a character piece, mostly focusing on Scott Miller (played wonderfully by Shameer Madarbakus) and his day to day life scavenging for supplies. His clothes are in tatters, his home is in a terrible state, and he has to deal with the ever present threat of zombies even out in the middle of nowhere yet he has hope with much of his time spent reminiscing about Beth. This is shown via a series of flash backs that help break up the present and give you an insight into what his mindset is like.

For much of the 90 odd minutes running time it is all low key, Scott does battle zombies but he does not usually go out of his way to do so. His view being that people who try to be heroes die, there are a few action sequences though that do ramp up the excitement where he proves himself to be a capable foe of the undead when he has reason to. Other characters are few and far between, the majority undeveloped and sharing brief screen time. Scott's radio friend was my favourite, just a voice yet essential as a way to show Scott's inner thoughts without going into long monologues too often. Also the voice has a great little story of it's own going on that reminded me of audio diaries from horror videogames. Wasteland is clever in helping build up an impression of Beth as this wonderful being yet the reality may not be as angelic; clues such as her leaving Scott in the middle of the night without telling him and leaving a mysterious letter for him point to the fact that everything we see and hear for a lot of the film is just Scott's perspective.

For all it's low key approach it is a shame that the need was felt to create an explosive action packed finale that felt at odds with the rest of the film. The use of green screen for a stunt didn't look that great but with the low budget that's understandable, but the plot point that saw an uncommon object just happening to be in an everyday place as if that was the most normal thing in the world completely ripped me out of the experience as it felt so 'filmy', a shame.

Despite what I saw as a weak ending I still really enjoyed Wasteland thanks to some decent locations used, a solid story and great acting by Madarbakus. As usual for this week guest blogger Lucinda will be providing a second opinion.


Second Opinion:

Out of all the films that I saw this was by far my favourite. Madarbakus was amazing and played his role so well, considering he was alone for about 85% of the time so he had to be strong. I loved how Beth was put on this pedestal by him, yet the reality of her isn't the greatest. It was beautifully written and acted and was a complete and utter pleasure to watch. As soon as it's released I demand that you see it. You will not be disappointed!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Zombie Hood (2013) - Zombie Horror Film Review

Zombie Hood was the second film I saw at the UK Festival of Zombie Culture 2013. This was filmed in Nottingham for an estimated budget of £7,000. I don't know if the title was a reference to the Kidulthood films but both feature angry, violent teens so it sure felt like it (switching on the brain for a moment though it is far more likely it is a play on Robin Hood). Guest blogger Lucinda will be giving her opinion after the review.

Zombie Hood starts off in a night club in Nottingham city centre where a girl assumed to have had too much to drink instead turns out to be a zombie; attacking other clubbers in the toilets before security arrive to deal with her and also get attacked. Olly Murs lookalike Rik (Richard Lee O'Donnell) rescues a girl and together they leave. Meanwhile the zombie outbreak is in full swing, all over the city people are turning into the walking dead. A disparate group of survivors including troubled teen Sam, creepy old man Bill, Police Officer Dermott, and a little girl among others decide the woods outside the city are the best place to hide out until help arrives.

The initial outbreak in a crowded night club was a good idea, I really enjoyed that part, but for me the later change of setting to woods (which I imagine was due to budget constraints more than anything) really dulled the experience. Having been to Nottingham it was fun to see a film set there, not so much some non-descript woods that could have been anywhere in the world is all I'm saying. Some allusions to Robin Hood what with the woods being Sherwood Forest and all, but still not exciting.

Onto dear old Bill (played by Harry Keeling). Now Bill is first found hanging out down an alleyway, most likely in a seedy part of town, he calls over a little girl and offers her sweets. This somehow gets him a pass to the wood hangout where he gains another girl "I gotta look after my girls!" to paraphrase one of his Bill-isms. After a request for more sweets when some of the survivors head off to a pub to have a hilarious desperate fight with some zombies over a box of crisps he then has an accident off screen in which he somehow hurts his bottom (never stated exactly what happened) and spends the rest of the film in a wheelchair conveniently brought back from the ill fated Battle of the Snacks. While his inclusion does outright stop Zombie Hood being a true horror it does make the film a joy to watch at times with the whole is he/isn't he paedophile sub-plot going on that is fun for the very reason that I am almost certain it was accidental.

Other characters do not fare so well. For some reason there are far too many side stories going on. The film frequently goes to a new set of characters and follows them around for a bit before they usually end up getting killed. This just led to confusion for me, and I did get a bit lost with just who everyone was. A more focused tale would have worked better I felt. Bad boy Sam is just plain irritating, being a teenage criminal who does nothing to create any sympathy. He shoots at Policeman Dermott pretending to mistake him for a zombie, later tries to rape a character and still is almost welcomed back by the group when he next appears. Sometimes giving evil characters some depth to them works well but I gotta admit it is enjoyable seeing simple one dimensional bad characters getting their comeuppance.

Now it may sound like I was not impressed with this film but despite everything it works well as a zombie film. The zombies look and act like zombies and have a feel of danger to them and there are plenty of them, including zombie children which is always fun, and the make up for the zombies is pretty decent. The acting also was not bad for the budget, there were not really many terribly acted parts. I also liked how the film was split up by different times and days, a neat idea to give a sense of the progression of time.

A lack of imagination for where the plot should go as well as the loss of identity thanks to what seemed like lots of unrelated tangential stories are what really made Zombie Hood lose it's impact with me, the characters meanwhile are what stuck for me, by turns realistic, one dimensional and just plain fun they made what could have been something awful into something that's simply not bad.


Second Opinion:

My honest opinion of this film is that I really struggle to remember what happened in it. I just didn't enjoy it that much, the saving grace was Bill; the guy you always suspected of being a paedophile. How bad does that sound? It's done in a very amusing way though. I'm not saying that I didn't feel for any of the characters either, as there were some cheers in the room when a not so nice character met a gruesome end (mine being one of the loudest!).

Monday, 18 November 2013

Meteletsa: Winter of the Dead (2012) - Zombie Horror Film Review

My aim this week is to desperately bash out reviews of each of the 5 films I saw at this years UK Festival of Zombie Culture before my ageing brain overwrites my memory of them. Already they are starting to slowly blend into one, like soup...yes, like soup. Meteletsa: Winter of the Dead is Russia's first ever zombie film. As a bonus for the five films watched there shall be a brief second opinion after each review by guest blogger Lucinda.

A snow storm hits a City in Russia, this wouldn't seem strange but for the fact it is the middle of Summer and that the arrival of the storm coincides with the outbreak of zombiegeddon (somehow, inexplicably related). Soon Konstantin a journalist in Moscow to cover a protest is on the run from undead hordes, teaming up with a young girl who happens to be the daughter of a ruthless local tycoon; Khan. Meanwhile the cameraman Konstantin was due to meet gets caught up with the scary Khan and his men and is roped in to film the businessman's efforts to save the town and seize power allegedly in the interests of 'the people'.

Influenced by the likes of Dawn of the Dead Meteletsa seeks to give some social commentary with its zombie action. Khan says what he is doing is for the good of the people but in reality he is using the outbreak as an opportunity to take out his political enemies. An early scene in which he gives a speech to the camera about how the local government has failed the city and how he is going to go sort out the trouble and restore order is a good indication of his selfless drive. His drive for power comes at the expense of his own family, often inadvertently putting his daughter in danger to achieve his goals. He is not much more than a thug in a suit but steals the film with his twisted motivations.

Being a 2012 film there is a lot of CGI used, unfortunate as it never looks as good as real effects. Digital blood sprays are no substitute for real gore, thankfully many real props are also used, dead bodies really look dead with missing limbs, heads crushed and general mayhem appearing to have been done to them. The film is also quite large in scope with lots and lots of zombies being used, often of the running variety. The zombies for the most part are coated in blood which was cool to see.

The plot has been done to death but has some actually quite good characters in places, as I said Khan is great, while later on a battle priest armed with a huge fire axe makes a good impression, racking up a crazy body count (one sequence in which he was in the background hacking up zombies was hilarious due to the amount of severed heads flying everywhere!). The journalist is not great, nor is the Kahn's daughter, both completly forgettable and acting like idiots. A traditional hero character is introduced in the form of Captain Igor Knyazev but his good looks and earnest actions made him immediately irritating, nothing exciting at all about him. Being in Russian with subtitles it is hard to gauge the vocal acting ability of many of the cast.

Meteletsa is by the numbers in general but has some good ideas. Parts of the film shot from the cameraman's perspective where interesting and sneaked in found footage to a more traditionally shot film. Despite the almost clinically clean look to the mayhem and lack of many new ideas it isn't a terrible film and could have been far worse. Plenty of great looking zombies and plenty of violence and people being eaten and killed.

Meteletsa: Winter of the Dead may not be the most unique film out there but does its job. Now if you think this was a lot of words about nothing just wait until later in the week when my memory has totally faded!


Second Opinion:

Watching the first zombie film out of Russia was certainly an experience from the beginning. I felt so sorry for Zombie Ed (the festival organiser) as there were a few technical issues that made the film suddenly stop and start. This made it hard for me to get into if I'm honest.

I really did enjoy the film though, the priest totally stole the show for me. It was comical at the amount of decapitated heads he managed to amass. He really was a bad-ass mofo for a religious man.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The UK Festival of Zombie Culture 2013

I returned today from the 7th annual UK Festival of Zombie Culture that took place on the Saturday. Last year I also went but arrived late in the day so made a point of staying in Leicester this time so I could get all 13 hours of zombie goodness! There were six films shown during the event.

Leicester is a place I find stupidly hard to navigate so despite Phoenix Square being a 10 minute walk from the hotel it took us a good half hour to find it. Arriving there did not seem to be that many people as expected, of course this was due to the fact the majority of the visitors were in the cinema screen for the first film that we didn't realise was actually on.

The three minute zombie challenge was the first place visited. Up to last year Dead Rising was the game used for this, but this time Dead Rising 2 was used. I have owned the game for the longest time but have yet to get around to playing it which was a boon. The three minute zombie challenge is quite simple; kill as many zombies as you can within three minutes. I felt like I got off to a good start but then I kinda ran out of weapons, it took an embarrassing few minutes before I finally grabbed a plant pot and hurled it at a bunch of undead taking out four and gaining the top spot with around forty five dead. Not actually that impressive seeing as only one person before me had tried and my pitiful record was soon beaten. My friend Lucinda then tried, she managed an awe inspiring eight kills before becoming zombie food.

A few authors were in attendance including David Moody. He is by far my favourite zombie author (responsible for the amazing Autumn series) and I had to make amends for being too shy to talk to him last year. He was a delight to talk to and while I did geek out slightly on him hopefully was not too over the top. He seemed like a really nice guy, and had some interesting things to say. Wayne Simmons; another zombie author was also there and while I have never read any of his books I was compelled to pick up Flu the first of his Irish zombie novels as sound like they should be interesting. He too was really friendly, so meeting them both was a real highlight of my day!

Realising the first film was actually playing we went in to catch the last 30 minutes. The Battery looked like it was a great film, about two men surviving the zombie apocalypse. The majority of the last third was set in a car under siege by the undead. Some fantastic acting; Jeremy Gardner was stunning as Ben and gave such an amazing, realistic performance. A lot of the shots were extended single takes that gave such a raw feel. The Battery managed to be both light hearted but at the same time quite harrowing leading to a strong finish. It is a film I would really like to see all of. The rest of the films I saw will be getting their own reviews throughout next week.

Meteletsa: Winter of the Dead was the second film shown, a Russian zombie film. Unfortunately the copy being shown was pretty broken skipping and freezing until around ten minutes in it was stopped and a back up copy used. A further five minutes until the aspect was corrected to properly fit the screen. A poor start then but in general Meteletsa was not bad, no real new ideas though.

At the festival were a variety of consoles featuring a variety of zombie games. I had a quick ill fated go of House of the Dead 2 on the Dreamcast. I like to think the gun was not properly calibrated but in truth I'm getting old! Been too long since I last played it so my trigger finger was quite rusty. As usual a lot of people were dressed up as zombies which is always cool to see. and slightly unsettling when they act in character.

Zombie Hood was film number three and probably the weakest of the lot. This Nottingham based film was not fantastic but really quite funny, I don't think a lot of the humour was intentional. I am not sure if the character of Bill was meant to maybe be inferred of as a paedophile but that was the case with unfortunate lines giving him an accidental creepy persona. Too many unimportant characters and a bare bones plot made this at times quite forgettable. The cast and crew in a Q & A after the film all come across as nice people and the director does hope to be able to make Zombie Hood into a TV series.

Film number four was Wasteland and was the best of the bunch. Much of the film focuses on one character; Scott who is riding out zombie Armageddon hoping for the love of his life Beth to return to him. Quite downbeat but also real in the feel to it with some great performances, just slightly let down by a over the top end sequence that felt at odds with the slow burn of the rest of the piece, amazing for the low budget used. This was followed by an interesting Q & A by the cast and crew.

The penultimate film was Battle of the Damned starring 80's action star Dolph Lundgren. Filmed in Singapore Battle was not amazing and had some questionable acting but was brain dead fun. The inclusion of zombie fighting robots was a treat it must be said.

Finally was this years zombie comedy film. Last year was the awesome Gangsters, Guns and Zombies (as well as Cockneys VS Zombies) this year was Stalled about a janitor trapped in a toilet cubicle during a zombie outbreak. I was not expecting anything as good as Gangsters and so was not disappointed. I wondered how a film set in a toilet cubicle could last ninety minutes without getting boring but Stalled just about manages it. Some of the humour was a bit too puerile but it was quite funny in places and ends strong.

All in all The UK Festival of Zombie Culture was a huge success, I really enjoyed it and am so glad I was able to be there for the whole event this year. Cannot wait for next years one! As I said last year Zombie Ed should be applauded for all the effort he goes to to make these events so enjoyable, a funny man whose dedication to zombies is inspiring.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

God of War II (2007) - Fantasy Horror Videogame Review (PS3)

On my endless quest to play through the God of War series I have just conquered the 5th chronological game (6 if you include the ios only God of War: Betrayal). I am starting to get a little fatigue I must admit but with only God of War III left I must battle on, much like Kratos himself would!

After becoming the God of War at the end of the first PS2 game Kratos leads the Spartans on a bloody conquest throughout the ancient world. Athena begs him to stop his warmongering  as he is making Zeus the ruler of Olympus mightily annoyed. Ignoring her Kratos decides to join his armies fight beaming down to earth as a gigantic God (I guess this is an ability he did not realise he could do previous as being a 60 foot tall invincible being would have sure made his quest in Ghost of Sparta a lot easier!). After being drained of some of his God powers and being attacked by a magically animated Colossus of Rhodes Zeus sends down a powerful weapon; the Sword of Olympus. Kratos is encouraged to put all his remaining God powers into the sword so he can defeat the Colossus but after doing so Zeus appears in person and betrays the God of War, using the Sword of Olympus to murder Kratos. Saved from oblivion by the Titan Gaia he sets out on a quest to seek the Sisters of Fate who are able to grant him the power to travel back in time and avert his deadly fate.

Quite a convoluted story but the story this time around is quite interesting, many long CGI cut scenes pop up throughout giving back story on the war between the Titans and the Gods. Kratos is at times reduced to a comedic character, none more so than the laugh out loud humiliation he receives in front of his faithful army. First being crushed by a giant stone hand as he gives a speech to his men then his armour falling off piece by piece. He is given real arrogance and it could be said he deserves what happens. The game has a fantastic end sequence which eclipsed anything that came before and made me pumped up for the next in the series.

The game surprised me at the lack of imagination at times in its level design. A lot of the game has you going down super linear pathways. It was cool to see swamp and lava levels but when it is pretty much a straight line it does take you out of the experience and let you know your just playing a game. There is nothing to rival Pandora's Tower with the main puzzle dungeon here not feeling that big and being quite easy to progress through. Puzzles seem a lot simpler this time around though some invention was used.

Combat is as it ever was, the same enemy types for the most part. Snake Women, Cyclops, Minotaurs, basic monster soldiers etc. New enemy type include exploding insect things and pig type monsters but apart from that it is business as usual. The QTE's needed for defeating enemies seem a lot friendly and more forgiving now. A lot of the bosses you fight are human enemies, or human in appearance, it seemed maybe the monster pool had been drained a bit as is the mythology. Jason and his Golden Fleece, Icarus, Pegasus, the Phoenix all these crop up for their part but there is nothing too exciting. The few monster bosses you do get to fight are fun, one in particular that was a multi tiered fight against a being made up of breasts and arms was a later highlight. A cool boss fight is also included in which you fight someone else while both in black silhouette that has a cool twist to it.

As usual you get experience to upgrade magic and weapons. Magic includes a stupidly over powered earthquake, Medusa head once again, lighting bolts and magical arrows. Not bad, especially when levelled up. Mid way you get the ability to glide that created some interesting new puzzles. While many locations are bland (including a terrible flying level) there are still some standout ones; giant horse statues and a level based around Atlas (still miffed at Kratos from what happened in Chains of Olympus). Both are huge in scope and quite well designed.

I expected God of War II to be a better game, some have said it is the best in the series but I just did not see that. It is fun and has a great end sequence but for the most part it didn't feel anything special,  I certainly did not have the urge to play through it in one sitting. The graphics are also not amazing in places, even with the HD treatment. For God of War fans it is unmissable though as a lot happens. Kratos is quite an angry man!


Banjo (2014) - Horror Film News

As per usual I am so far behind with all the horror posts I have on my to do list. Today it is the turn to talk about Banjo,a British indie film that judging by its trailer doesn't take itself too seriously. As an aside, I love the poster design!

A bullied office worker; Peltzer reawakens an imaginary friend he used to have called Ronnie (who appears as a caricature of Ronald Reagan) via a Ouija board in order to get his revenge on his co-workers and cheating girlfriend. However Ronnie starts to manipulate Peltzer to get his revenge in the most gruesome way possible and things begin to get out of hand.

I thought the trailer was fun for this, it has been described as a cross between Drop Dead Fred and Basket Case, the character of Ronnie reminded me of Freddy Kruger during his more comedic films, all over the top glee and weird prosthetics. Whether he is a real thing or just part of Peltzer's fevered imagination will be something to discover. It looks like the film is going to be quite gory and gooey if the amount of bodily liquids shown in the trailer is anything to go by.

Banjo is produced by Safehouse Pictures who were responsible for the not bad The Eschatrilogy: Book of the Dead, It has a Kickstarter page and has met it's modest budget of £5,000 with 15 days still left to go, so should go into pre-production in May 2014. Check out the trailer below...

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Scratches: Director's Cut (2007) - Horror Videogame Review (PC)

A year or so ago I started playing Scratches, I got quite far but ended up not finishing it. The other week I thought I would start it again for Halloween. Scratches is a first person point and click game that takes place in an old Victorian mansion.

In the 1970's Michael Arthate a horror author has brought an old Victorian mansion in which he hopes to finish his latest novel. From the moment he turns up at the remote place he is fascinated. Letters around the place speak of a cursed African mask that was stolen from a cannibalistic tribe and smuggled back to England which fascinates the young horror writer. His first night there he is awoken in the middle of the night, strange...scratching noises coming from the basement. Trapped at the remote house thanks to his car breaking down he begins to explore the house, looking for answers for all the creepy goings on he is encountering, determined to solve the mysteries contained here.

A point and click adventure that has you moving around by clicking where you want to go. Each place your at gives you complete 360 movement in a fixed position to explore your surroundings. The whole place is atmospheric and the sound effects and music create tension and scares. Scratches takes place over several days. Each thing you do in the house passes the time. Mostly you will be exploring the house looking for keys to open the many locked doors and solving simple puzzles that just require you to have the right item for the job. Each night you take part in a nightmare sequence as well as investigate the loud scratches. The night sections are pretty scary though also quite brief.

While I did enjoy the game it can be rather hard to find items hidden in the environment. More than once I had to resort to a walk through only to find out the reason I had gotten so stuck was due to not having picked up an item I needed. Items look the same as the rest of the games scenery and it doesn't help that they are also quite small and un-obvious for the most part. Frequent phone conversations with your agent and others help break up the exploring though the voice acting is pretty terrible. Exploring the house takes a while also as Resident Evil style each room you go into has a door opening animation which is a nuisance for back tracking which most the game is.

As well as the main game you also get a short game called 'The Last Visit' that takes place many years after Scratches with the mansion vandalised and in a huge mess. This was fun with seeing what had happened to the mansion but the actual game was pretty silly, used mainly to explain in more detail what you may have missed in the plot of Scratches.

The plot is interesting enough and vague enough that events are left open to interpretation, some nods to the works of H.P Lovecraft here. In all though it is not as scary as it could be and some sort of hint option would be useful for when you get really stuck. It never feels like you are in any danger at all which does detract from the experience. In short bursts it is fun but is not one I would be heading back to as just a little bit too slow paced.