Author Archives: Jarrod Cunliffe

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Dead Space 3 Review

Developed by: Visceral Games
Published by: EA
Media Reviewed: PS3

What’s with survival horror games these days? Developers are constantly forgetting that “survival” and “horror” are very much the only two words that make up the genre, instead substituting large action set pieces that feel more suited to Call of Duty. Resident Evil is a perfect example that has gone down a terrible path that Capcom has only recently decided to address. The latest entry into the amazing Dead Space saga falls victim to this hyped up testosterone-fest and, as a result, is the weakest in the series.

Oh craaaaaaaaap!

Oh craaaaaaaaap!

In case you missed my double review of 1 & 2, feel free to orient yourself with the messed up world of Dead Space here. I’ll wait.

All done? Welcome back. Two months after Isaac Clarke and Ellie Langford escaped, Isaac is living in a run-down apartment on an unnamed lunar colony (where his rent is overdue) and the romantic relationship many fans expected of those two has come and gone, much to Isaac’s chagrin. It was two months, dude. Your last girlfriend committed suicide and haunted your visions, I think you can get over this.

Anyways, things are never calm in the life of Engineer Clarke and in the words of a certain big deal, things escalate quickly. Two soldiers, Captain Robert Norton and Sergeant John Carver, break into his apartment to inform him Ellie is missing. At the exact same time, Unitologists (those creepy religious zealots) attack the colony and unleash a Marker-induced Necromorph attack. Y’know, the usual. And thus begins the third adventure. Soon, Isaac and crew head to a backwater planet, Tau Volantis, where the Marker signal originates and discover just where these Markers — and Necromorphs — come from. The plot features the usual twists and turns, but the final revelations, despite bringing all three games together, don’t have quite the impact they should.

Rocket maaaaaan, burning out his fuse up here alone...

Rocket maaaaaan, burning out his fuse up here alone…

The game plays almost exactly like the second, which isn’t a bad thing. Neither is the new crafting system, once you get used to it. Isaac can now create his own custom weapons. It’s a little daunting at first, but you’ll soon get a handle on crafting different items and weapons. Want a line gun with an under-barrel flamethrower? Or a grenade launcher with a shotgun? Or a plasma cutter with a force gun? Why not? The possibilities are quite varied and rather fun to experiment with, provided you have the resources found around the different environments.

Speaking of which, the environments in this game are varied from entries one and two, but not necessarily in a better way. The frozen wastes of Tau Volantis immediately bring scenes from John Carpenter’s The Thing to mind, but sadly, fans of the classic ’82 thriller might be disappointed. The creep factor of walking through an “abandoned” ship or base is all but gone walking through a blizzard with low visibility in the daylight. This is where the “horror” I mentioned above suffers the most. The Necromorphs by themselves aren’t scary anymore — you need the atmosphere and the fear of being attacked anywhere, anytime, to ratchet up the tension. Putting Isaac in a blizzard with 10-12 Necromorphs popping up from the snow isn’t scary — it’s annoying. “So? When you’re running low on ammo and survival is at stake, that’s gotta be nerve-wracking, right?” I hear you ask. Sure it would — if ammo was ever something to worry about. I never (not once) ran out of ammo while playing on Hard. Granted, there’s a plethora of unlockable game modes and difficulties once the credits roll once: Classic, Pure Survival and Hardcore will appeal to fans of the first and second entries in this series. It’s just a shame these aren’t default options.

"And then, she was all, 'Why didn't you have haunting visions of me?' and I was like..." "Dude, are you gonna be like this the whole time?"

“And then, she was all, ‘Why didn’t you have haunting visions of me?’ and I was like…”
“Dude, are you gonna be like this the whole time?”

Perhaps the biggest controversy surrounding the pre-release of Dead Space 3 was Visceral’s announcement of co-op. Fans were of the immediate belief that this would ruin the horror and tension, as having a military sergeant with an assault rifle right there beside you feels more like Aliens and less like Alien. Visceral responded by saying Carver (the second player) would see and experience things differently than Isaac; Carver is affected by the Marker and suffers the guilt of losing his family, seeing hallucinations reminiscent of Isaac in Dead Space 2. Regardless, the first problem with co-op is finding a match with someone that doesn’t want to be Carver. It was tricky for me (on PSN, anyway), but once I got a random player (yeah, I don’t have friends) to suit up as Isaac, we got underway. I can say that despite the spookiness of Carver’s mental state (unseen giggling children is always creepy), co-op doesn’t do anything positive for the Dead Space franchise. The only response the game can take against two well-armed guys is to throw a large number of enemies at once; not one or two in a tight, dark corridor, a la Dead Space. There are some that will enjoy blasting Necromorphs with a friend, there are some that won’t. It’s up to you.

 "I SAID NO COOKIES!"

“I SAID NO COOKIES!”

Dead Space 3 isn’t a terrible game. The gameplay is identical to previous entries and there are a few moments that might actually freak you out (getting an Arctic Suit in the basement on Tau Volantis. *Shudder*). That said, it all depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for. If you’re a huge fan of recent Resident Evil games and want nothing more than gory, guttural action, give Dead Space 3 a go. If, however, you prefer your horror survival-ly (yeah, that’s now a word) and you enjoyed the moody atmospheres of the first and second, unless you’re absolutely determined to see the story through to its end, you’re better of letting this one go.

 

 

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The Walking Dead (Season Two) Review

Developed by: Frank Darabont
Media reviewed: Blu-ray

After the short but sweet six-episode first season, zombie fans were undoubtedly excited to learn that AMC’s The Walking Dead’s second season would be longer — by seven episodes. Okay, so that’s still not a full season, but hey — more zombies, right? Sadly, more episodes doesn’t always mean more action/plot/character development. The departure of series developer Frank Darabont didn’t help; fired after “differences” with AMC, the new showrunner, Glen Mazzara had some tough shoes to fill. There are some intense highlights from this season, but there’s also a large abundance of (forgive the pun) dead time, where not much really happens. If you can get through it, however, you won’t be disappointed.

"Riiick! Dinnertime!"

“Riiick! Dinnertime!”

STORY ARC AND BIG BAD
Just like in season one, the Big Bad is a hybrid of zombies and human nature. This season, human nature is personified in a certain member of the group. If you’ve seen the first season, or read the comics, you’ll know who I’m talking about. After the CDC’s explosion, the group decides to hightail it out of Atlanta and head to Fort Benning. After getting caught in the world’s deadliest traffic jam, the group loses Carol’s daughter Sophia when walkers attack. Carl is shot in the ensuing search for her and Otis, the hunter responsible, leads Rick and the group to Hershel’s farm. Fans of the comic know this place. They’ll recall the group’s relatively short stay with Hershel’s family. The show’s writers, however, decided that the group needs to spend the remainder of the season here. It’s a questionable choice and after some of the mid-episodes begin to drag on, even non-comic fans will begin to wonder what’s up. It comes together in the season finale though, and even confused comic fans will smile upon seeing the direction to which season three is headed.

CAST
Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes: Rick’s leadership is developed this season as he struggles to keep the group safe and on Hershel’s farm. Constantly butting heads with Shane, Rick tries to keep his “good for the group” mentality in check.

Jon Bernthal as Shane Walsh: Shane takes on a completely new tone right from episode one. His love affair with Lori now over, Shane tries desperately and subtly to win her back, while trying to wrest control of the group from Rick. Bernthal displays an awesome transformation from hero, to anti-hero, to antagonist.

Sarah Wayne Callies as Lori Grimes: Yup, still hate her. A major revelation midway through the season (comic fans know) threatens the relationship between her, Rick and Shane.

Scott Wilson as Hershel Greene: The owner of the farm, Hershel is a likeable and old-fashioned farmer that helps nurse Carl back to health.

The remainder of the cast stays largely unchanged from season one. Hershel’s family are added, but other than Maggie and Beth, you’ll forget about them.

See? Still fashionable.

See? Still fashionable.

BESTS AND WORSTS

[Spoiler Alert]

I don’t have a favourite episode per se, but I DO have favourite moments: Shane’s gradual transformation after shooting Otis was darkly forboding and as I mentioned earlier, really well done. The scenes in “18 Miles Out” between Rick and Shane were just awesome and the final scene of episode seven, “Pretty Much Dead Already” was absolutely heart (and gut) wrenching.

Worst is another tough call, as there were just so many draggy parts. If I had to pick one episode, however, it would be number five, “Chupacabra”. Merle fans were delighted to see Michael Rooker’s character appear again (if only in hallucinations), but the entire episode felt rather pointless and trite.

FINAL WORDS
This season had it’s ups and downs, but if you’re a zombie-fan (and who isn’t?) you’ll look past the slower moments and enjoy the intense ones. Comic fans know what’s coming next in season three and are perhaps most excited (nervous?) to see what happens next when The Governor appears…

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The Walking Dead (Season One) Review

Developed by: Frank Darabont
Media reviewed: Blu-ray

With the return of season three after its hiatus, I feel it’s more than fitting we begin some extensive (not to mention long overdue) Walking Dead coverage.

I’ll admit it. I was slow to start the Walking Dead television show. Partially because I didn’t get AMC, but also because I didn’t think they could pull off Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore and Charlie Adlard’s  graphic novel and keep it going. I was (and still am) a huge Frank Darabont fan after his various Stephen King adaptations, but I was hesitant. By the time I caved and picked up season one, I was well ahead in the comics. I was fully prepared to nitpick each and every detail and felt guilty doing so. After all, we should be watching to enjoy, right?

Well, as soon as that first episode’s credits began to roll, I noticed changes all right — and I didn’t care. Frank Darabont is a name I will now trust vehemently. Yes, there are radical changes and departures from the comic, but I’m actually in favour of this. Now you can read the comics without necessarily spoiling the show (and vice-versa). Of course, this can backfire if it’s your solid strategy, but both mediums offer enough thrills, chills, kills and blood spills to keep any avid zombie enthusiast entertained for a long time.

"Woo-hoo! No traffic!"

“Woo-hoo! No traffic!”

STORY ARC AND BIG BAD
Well, the big bad is zombies. Spoiler alert. Though if you really want to get specific, then I guess human nature is the big bad. It’s not uncommon: any post-apocalyptic fiction usually deals with mankind’s nature in a lawless (sometimes irradiated) wasteland. This isn’t an exception. However, the zombies do take the spotlight as the immediate threat for the majority of season one. After sustaining a gunshot wound in the line of duty, Sheriff Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) awakens in an abandoned hospital to find the dead are quite undead and his wife Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies) and son Carl (Chandler Riggs) are missing. In a stroke of luck usually absent in post-apocalyptic tales, however, Rick finds his family along with his former partner Shane (Jon Bernthal) and a handful of other survivors. The short, six-episode season follows several plot threads from the comics while also adding in its own, and overall it works well to establish the characters and the absolute hell they’re trying to survive. The season finale involving the CDC is a bit far-fetched, but the final product has the perfect blend of zombie-killing and personal drama that is the foundation of Kirkman’s series.

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Even in the zombie apocalypse, group photos are still fashionable.

CAST
Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes: A former sheriff’s deputy from King County, Georgia, who awakens from a coma to find the dead are walking (go figure!). Brit Lincoln does a fine job as level-headed and born-leader Rick.

Jon Bernthal as Shane Walsh: Rick’s best friend and former partner, who helped Rick’s family escape the apocalypse. Shane’s character is really difficult to discuss without spoiling anything. Let’s just say it’s clear that Rick and Shane butt heads over what the group’s best interests are.

Sarah Wayne Callies as Lori Grimes: Rick’s wife and mother of Carl. I’ll say this right up front, I can’t stand Callies’ portrayal as Lori. Not since The Shining has there been a wife this annoying. Again, without spoilers, you’ll either love her or hate her. Probably the latter.

Laurie Holden as Andrea: A former successful civil rights attorney. Two lead females in this show and I can’t stand either of them. Andrea is the one character that didn’t translate from the comics well. Laurie Holden wasn’t bad in Silent Hill as Cybil, but plays Andrea as the whiniest and most obnoxious “tough gal”.

Jeffrey DeMunn as Dale Horvath: An old man who owns the RV around which the survivors have formed a community. Finally, a character you can’t help but love. Another Darabont regular, DeMunn’s Dale is a shining highlight in this cast of characters. What he sees in Andrea, however, is a mystery.

Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee: A former pizza delivery boy who is often sent on dangerous missions. Glenn is just awesome. From his “introduction” at the end of episode one, to his running and gathering skills, Glenn’s reluctance and fear of the situations he encounters comes across as natural rather than annoying.

Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes: Rick and Lori’s son. Riggs is fine as Grimesy Jr., but doesn’t really have much to contribute this season.

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon: A Southern hunter that prefers a crossbow. Everyone’s favourite character, apparently (and one not found in the comics). Daryl is badass, but I didn’t have the same fascination with him that everyone else apparently does.

 

Rick didn't quite understand how zombies worked after waking up from that coma.

Rick didn’t quite understand how zombies worked after waking up from that coma.

BESTS AND WORSTS
This is rather simple: the best episode is the pilot “Days Gone Bye” and the worst is the finale, “TS-19″

“Days Gone Bye” is a fairly faithful adaptation of the opening chapters of the graphic novel and sets up this world really well. Morgan and Duane — the father/son couple that discover Rick — are faithfully portrayed by Lennie James and Adrian Kali Turner, respectively. Morgan’s guilt and struggle with his wife’s recent zombification give an emotional context early on and the contrast in family situations between Morgan’s and Rick’s is crystal clear.

[Spoiler Alert below]:

“TS-19″ on the other hand, has absolutely nothing to do with the comic and in this case, that’s not a good thing. The CDC and Dr. Jennings’ use as expository devices just feel unnecessary. I don’t really care if this is a virus, a mutation or cosmic rays from Venus. The “escape just in time from the explosion” also felt way too Hollywood for this “realistic” cast of characters.

[End Spoilers]

FINAL WORDS
If you haven’t read, watched or played any form of The Walking Dead, you’re akin to a human survivor while the rest of us pop-culture zombies chow down. You can willfully ignore this leader in the (arguably over-done) zombie genre, or you can join the masses. Again, I’d choose the latter.