Category Archives: Gaming/TV/Books

blood

Blood

Platform: PC
Release Date: May 31, 1997
Developers: 3D Realms/Monolith Productions
Players: 1 (solo campaign)

THE LOWDOWN
When most people think back to early first-person-shooter games, they automatically recall classics like DOOM, DUKE NUKEM, and QUAKE, all of which emerged in the mid-to-late 90′s. It’s no surprise, since all of the aforementioned spawned highly successful franchises, spanning a wide range of sequels, consoles, and even film adaptations. If you really put people to the task, they may even remember oddball titles like HERETIC, POSTAL, or the satirical REDNECK RAMPAGE. However, in 1997 a game developed by 3D Realms and Monolith Productions was released. A game that, for all its worth, still seems to fly under the radar more often than not. A true FPS for the horror fan, chocked full of horror references that would make any genre buff smile! That game… was BLOOD.


COOL STORY, BRO!
BLOOD places you in the character of Caleb, a freshly resurrected gunslinger and former leader of a cult known as The Cabal, who worship the long-forgotten god Chernobog. After rising to the top of The Cabal, he and his fellow cult leaders are summoned before the god, and then savagely murdered for an unrevealed failure. At the start of the game, he has no idea why he has been brought back to life, but knows he must find Chernobog to gain answers, and to extract his vengeance. Throughout the game, Caleb is a merciless killer with no regard for life whatsoever, deriving a certain glee from each enemy he must vanquish on his quest.


WHY IT’S RELEVANT
Never in a million years would I bash DOOM, DUKE NUKEM, or heck, even WOLFENSTEIN 3D. Without those trailblazers, the FPS genre of gameplay wouldn’t have exploded in popularity the way it did. And certainly, games like DOOM, D.N., OR W3D have horrific elements to them; whether you’re fighting demons on Mars, mercy-killing beautiful women ensnared by tentacle monsters, or gunning down Nazis, there’s a high enough creep-factor to satisfy any horror gamer. But the fact is, those games were never intended to be full-on horror games. That’s where BLOOD is different. You don’t start the game wielding a gun and attacking demons in a futuristic or modern setting; you start off in a goddamn cemetery (right beside the “Morningside Mortuary”, for all you Phantasm fans) brandishing a pitchfork!

Your weapons range from somewhat normal firearms like a flare gun, a sawed-off shotgun, and sticks of dynamite, to downright bizarre items like a voodoo doll, aerosol spray cans employed as flamethrowers, and even an experimental rifle named after Nikola Tesla! And lucky you, you get to use all of these weapons to take down level after level of flesh hungry zombies, bloodstained butchers with meat cleavers, insane cultists, gargoyles, giant spiders, and more! The stages lead you through some uber-creepy settings, including the previously mentioned cemetery and mortuary, as well as a carnival, an abandoned hospital, a train station, and more. As I said, the stages and the enemies are both tailored to appease the horror fan. And in 1997, in the midst of all the other first person shooters that were being released, this was exactly the sort of game I was looking for!

As I mentioned earlier, the game is rife with horror references. Throughout the six episodes the game is broken up into, there are references to: PHANTASM, ARMY OF DARKNESS, H.P. LOVECRAFT, JAWS, FRANKENSTEIN, THE SHINING (you need to traverse the hedgemaze on your way to the “Overlooked Hotel”… and if you keep your eyes open, you’ll even spot the frozen body of Jack Torrance!) IT’S ALIVE, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (in episode 4, look for Freddy Krueger’s sweater and hat on the wall of the house), FRIDAY THE 13TH (plenty of nods to the series here as you travel around the cabins of Crystal Lake…), and DAWN OF THE DEAD.


THE GORESCORE
Flesh hungry zombies, psychotic butchers, pitchfork brutalities, flare-gun fatalities… I think it’s pretty clear the game is bloody violent. I mean, it has the word right in its title! Gorehounds will not be disappointed.


LAST WORDS
I don’t know how difficult it is to get ahold of the game these days, or even how feasible it is to the run game considering it was originally released on DOS. However, if you’re lucky enough to find a Windows friendly version (or even run the game through an emulator) you’ll find BLOOD to be a truly satisfying gaming experience. I’ve included a video of the introduction, first level, and the ending of BLOOD, so choose carefully how much of the game you want to see. Much like DOOM, DUKE NUKEM, and all the other FPS games I’ve mentioned throughout the course of this review, BLOOD has an extremely high replay value. The first level alone never gets old, and in this reviewer’s humble opinion, BLOOD succeeds where many modern horror games fail. Though the graphics by today’s standards leave much to be desired, the well-crafted gameplay and macabre levels never fail to leave you wanting more!

 

buffy

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1992)

Directed by: Fran Rubel Kuzui
Written by: Joss Whedon
Starring:
Kristy Swanson
Luke Perry
Donald Sutherland

As this is my first review for The Blood Theatre, I feel I should begin by introducing myself. My name is Drew Comerford, but I’m better known for my role as “Patient 1” from Blood Theatre’s “Devil’s Night”. No not the impressive patient with the blank face that falls like a champ, the other guy with the 14 seconds of screen time and the ADR coughing. I enjoyed working with the Blood Theatre crew, and as a massive fan of horror movies myself I was totally onboard to write some reviews. When I was discussing with Ali which movie I could start with the topic of B-movies was brought up. I am B-movie fanatic. For me to enjoy a movie it has to be either really good, or realllllly bad. There is no gray area. More often than not I will enjoy a bad movie more than a great movie. Looking back at some of my favourite terrible movies I was instantly drawn to one in particular. One written by someone you may have been hearing a lot about recently, Joss Whedon. (Hold for applause)

Yes before he made the third highest grossing movie of all time Joss Whedon made a far lesser known movie about a bubbly teen that is destined to be something far greater than she ever imagined. Despite the films poor reviews and failure at the box office, Whedon was eventually able to bring the idea back to life with the darker and well-received television series of the same name, but we’ll get to that later. So without any further ado, here is my review of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

“Into every generation, a slayer is born…” The opening scenes set the tone for the entire movie.  It starts with a gothic period piece that briefly explains the vampire slayer lore, and then immediately cuts to a much brighter scene introducing Buffy who is cheerleading at a basketball game. It’s a perfect blend from dark to bubbly and after these two scenes you know exactly what you’re in for with this film.

Over the next few scenes we’re introduced to the entire core cast, and to me BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER is one of the most hilariously casted movies I have ever seen. First we go to the mall where we’re further introduced to Buffy and her friends. Buffy, played by Kristy Swanson is instantly a dislikable character. She is portrayed as a selfish teen that is way beyond ditsy, certainly not anything close to the Buffy we know and love from the series. However, even though this isn’t considered canon to the series it is an origin story and some character development does happen by the end of the film. Even more dislikable than Buffy are her friends, one of which is portrayed by Hilary Swank. We’re also introduced to Pike, the bad boy love interest played by Luke Perry (who we all know is a total badass), and his sleazy friend Benny, played by David Arquette. My favourite casting ever is Donald Sutherland as Buffy’s watcher Merrick. Apparently one thing they don’t teach at the Watcher’s Academy is how to approach teenage girls without coming off as a total creeper. If you want her to go to the graveyard with you, don’t lead with that and certainly don’t try to catch her after cheerleading practice when she is alone and half naked in a school gym. Meeting someplace other than the girls change room is another great way to avoid being arrested. All kidding aside, as always he is an excellent actor. Last of our leading characters are the villains, Rutger Hauer as the Vampire Lothos and his disturbingly creepy henchman who is of course played by Paul Reubens.  Also Stephen Root is the principal, which is awesome.

If you’re a fan of cheesy movies you’ll probably enjoy BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. There are a couple notable scenes that deserve mention. One of my favourite scenes is when Pike gets a midnight visit from his freshly vamped friend Benny. Pike is sleeping but for some reason he has music blaring in his room (Again, total badass). Benny shows up at his bedroom window on the second floor, hovering in the air because vampires could fly until about 1994.  The performance from David Arquette is almost as hilarious as Luke Perry’s soul patch. Another excellent and cheesy scene is Buffy’s training montage that for some reason is set to “Ain’t Gonna Eat My Heart Out” by Divinyls. Also Buffy appears to be practicing her kamekameha in the mirror. This movie also proves once and for all that vampires are almost as good as teen wolves at basketball. Honourable mention for the basketball scene: Ben Affleck as “Basketball Player #10” (uncredited). The last notable scene I’d like to mention is Paul Reubens’ death scene. His delayed death is so funny and it is perfectly delivered by Reubens. It actually sounds exactly like what I imagine PeeWee Herman’s death would sound like. (link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WT2syd-_HVU )

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER can’t be compared to the series, but it does have certain similarities and “Whedonisms”. The dialogue is very Whedon, and the scenes with Merrick and Buffy in the graveyard feel very similar to the graveyard scenes with Sarah Michelle Gellar and Anthony Stewart Head. It was obviously not intentional since Joss can’t predict the future, but near the end of the movie Luke Perry actually starts to look like Spike. If you are expecting this to be like the cult series, don’t get your hopes up. Even Joss has stated that it didn’t turn out how he envisioned it. In my opinion as a fan of Joss Whedon and cheesy b-movies, it’s still an enjoyable flick if only for a laugh.  I’d recommend it to any fans of the BtVS series, b-movies, The Lost Boys, or Ben Affleck.

Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bqQ3fLq-y9U

Buffy_Season_(1)

Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Season One)

Created by Joss Whedon
Media Reviewed: DVD

This is possibly the best writing assignment I’ve ever had to complete. For the first time in my life, I was able to sit down and watch an entire season of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and claim productivity. I’ve been a fan of the series since I was a kid, so over the next couple months I will be sitting down and watching the entire series again then posting my reviews of each season. Since TV seasons are quite different from the films that we normally review at The Blood Theatre, I came up with a reviewing format that I will be using as I work my way through the series. For each season I will review the story arc and the big bad of the season, the regular cast and guest stars, and some best and worst episodes or moments. Starting immediately with Season 1 of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

I will admit that for some people Season 1 is hard to get through. It stumbles a bit at first and has a serious cheese factor that some people just can’t handle. Personally, I love it. It’s not my favourite season, but it’s definitely in my top 3.  It doesn’t take long to realize that this Whedon guy certainly knows that he’s doing.  His quirky dialogue and made up words (coined by his fans as Whedonisms) begin to take form almost immediately.  This season is quite clearly what Joss Whedon wanted the preceding film of the same name to be. I once saw an interview with Joss where he describes that the title explains it all, and he’s entirely right. BUFFY is a funny word, VAMPIRE is a scary word, and SLAYER is an exciting word.  That’s everything that this show is in a nutshell.

Story Arc and the Big Bad
If you can get past the teenage angst and the hyena possessions you’ll find an enjoyable storyline underneath. The Master is a frightening and mysterious villain, and perfect for a first season to the series because he takes little focus away from the characters that you’re just learning to love.  He is featured in almost every episode, but the main plot is really only mentioned in a few. With only the viewers seeing his plans unfold in the darkness, Buffy and her friends are treated to the popular “Monster of the Week” television format. The writers play the format well and it keeps it new and fresh for most of the season. This season does seem to get the basics from the Monster Book of Monsters out of the way pretty quick. Did I just reference Harry Potter in a Buffy review? Yes readers, yes I did. Moving on, by the basics I mean this season introduces some of the regular contributors to monster movies such as witches, robots and invisible killers right away. These weekly monsters keep you interested until an amazing and thrilling finale.

Cast
This season is of course where we are introduced to our four lead cast members that (aside from a serious lack of Giles in season 6) stick around for the entire series.

We’ll start with Sarah Michelle Gellar. I’m sorry Kristy Swanson, but the Buffy you portrayed is nothing compared to this one. She’s quirky and funny, stunningly beautiful, and she kicks some serious vampire ass. She has perfect comedic timing, and when the opportunities arise she can act the crap out of the heartfelt scenes.

Some people will always see Alyson Hannigan as the band camp girl, but to me she will always be Willow. She is instantly lovable due to how adorably nerdy and naive she is, and her chemistry with her costars holds the entire cast together from the first scene they share.

Fun fact about Nicholas Brendon: He decided to get into acting because he heard that it would help his stutter. It must have worked because I have never once noticed any stutter.  The comic relief of the series and the most relatable character for any young nerdy guy, Xander is without a doubt one of my favourite characters to ever grace the small screen. He steals almost every scene he’s in consistently as the series continues.

Anthony Stewart Head plays Giles, the father figure to every character since the only revered parent on the show is Buffy’s mother.  He’s the perfect person to play the only adult cast member because he manages to be serious, intelligent, and strong while still being an entertaining person to watch.

Angel is also in this season, but I’ll say this. I don’t like Angel on Buffy. There I said it. Please don’t hurt me, 90’s teenage girls. His spinoff is great, but he is angstsy and depressing and he turns season 2 into a really long chick flick. BUT THEN HE GOES EVIL AND BECOMES AWESOME. But then he gets sad again and he’s less awesome. BUT THEN HE HAS A SPINOFF AND HE’S AWESOME AGAIN. But we’ll get to that over the next few reviews.

Cordelia has the same problem as Angel. BtVS’s Cordelia is the worst; Cordy on ANGEL however is one of the best examples of character development done right from any television series.

Bests and Worsts
The best is an easy choice.  “Prophecy Girl” is a stellar finale. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry. Gellar and Head’s performances are spectacular in this episode. The tear filled dialogue they share really shows how much Giles really cares for Buffy and you sympathize with the fact that she is just a kid in way over her head. It also has one of my favourite last lines before Buffy slays: “You have fruit punch mouth”.

The two part premier of  “Welcome to the Hellmouth” and “The Harvast” is another great story, and a perfect first adventure for our heroes.

The worst episode in my opinion is “Teacher’s Pet”. Xander narrowly avoiding being raped and beheaded by a giant praying mantis is a bit heavy for season 1.

Honourable mention: “The Pack”. I made a reference to this episode earlier when I brought up hyena possessions. A lot of people hate this episode, but for me it’s actually one of my favourites. It almost seems to have a subtle underlining message about bullying that I can definitely relate to. It is definitely one of the cheesiest episodes in the series, but at the same time it pulls at my heartstrings a little bit. I just don’t like seeing Willow cry.

Final Words
Season 1 is a pretty fun season. I’d say in my rating system from worst season to best, Season 1 takes the bronze.  If you can’t handle anything super cheesy, maybe start at season 2. If you can’t handle sappy chick flicks either, then maybe start at season 3.

Coming soon: My review for the really long chick flick turned horrifying monster movie with an abstinence message and a sword fight. Stay tuned.

buffy 2

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 2

Created by Joss Whedon

Before I start I have to withdraw a few of my comments from the previous review that I made about season 2. I did make it seem that it really was a long, cheesy chick flick but that’s only a few episodes. It had been a while since I watched the season, and I remember the girly parts dragging a lot more than they did. There were only a few episodes where the Buffy/ Angel relationship got a little too heavy for my liking. I also left out one thing about the DVD menu that carries on to this season as well. If you have Netflix, I recommend you watch the seasons there rather than on DVD because the DVD menus are really annoying. For starters there isn’t a “Play All” option, which is irritating. Not only that but the first two seasons have a dumb cinematic thing that plays every time you switch from an episode menu to the main menu and back again. It is a real pain because you end up spending a few minutes just trying to switch to the next episode. A fine example of what the Internet memes call, “First World Problems”.

Story Arc and Big Bad
There really isn’t much of a main story happening in the back ground until Angelus shows up. Angel loses his soul and without it he goes back to his old bloodthirsty ways and becomes Angelus. Angelus teams up with new Big Bads Spike and Drusilla to form one of the best combinations of villains the show sees. It’s a good thing their story line is so good, because up to that point in the season the writers aren’t playing the Monster of the Week format very well. It’s really a boring first half of the season, with very few episodes that actually stand out from episodes from other seasons.

Spike and Dru

Spike and Dru

Cast
Our main characters develop more and more as the show continues. The biggest you’ll notice in this season is Cordelia, starting from the first episode of Season 2 “When She Was Bad”, where she has her first redeemable moment in the series. The further into the show you get the more she grows on you, until the end of her run on Angel where you’re absolutely in love with her. I also have to mention the introduction of some lesser characters that end up becoming series regulars in later seasons. We’ll start with Oz, played by Seth Green. Willow’s smart, sarcastic, musically inclined, Werewolf love interest. His dry and sarcastic wit is perfectly delivered by Green, and he quickly became one of my favourite characters.
Nobody can simultaneously terrify you and make you laugh as much as the power couple that is Spike and Dru. Juliette Landeau plays the insane and evil character of Drusilla so convincingly, and James Marsters is so funny and lovable despite being pure evil. I’d also like to thank Marsters personally for not having his security attack me the time I literally bumped into him at Fan Expo in Toronto. I was waiting in line for the Spike and Dru panel, which I unfortunately was way too late to get into. Just when I had given up waiting to get in I turned to leave and physically ran into Marsters. I apologized and said hi and he said hi back and awkwardly waved. The look on his face said “Thank you for not attacking me.” It was a pretty awesome moment for this young nerd, despite the awkwardness. Back to the review though, he is an incredible actor in every thing I’ve seen him in. Whether he’s Spike, Brainiac or making out with John Barrowman on Torchwood he is always an enjoyable reoccurring actor in nerd culture.
I also want to take a moment to talk about Angelus. As someone who didn’t really like Angel in season 1, this is the point where I realized Angel is actually an interesting character and David Boreanez is an insanely good actor. Watching him turn evil Angel on and off is so impressive. He is a truly terrifying villain.

Angelus and Willow in "Innocence"

Angelus and Willow in “Innocence”

Bests and Worsts
The best episodes of this season were fairly obvious choices for me. “Innocence” and the finale episodes “Becoming Part 1 and 2” were far better than any other episode from this season. The finale was a perfect ending to not only a season, but to a tragic love story. Between the acting from Gellar and Boreanez, the fight choreography, and the incredible story unfolding, “Becoming” is a truly captivating two-part episode. Joss Whedon has said in interviews that Innocence is one of his favourite episodes. The idea of being in love with someone and seeing them change right before your eyes is an idea that is relatable to most young people in love, and Whedon depicts it perfectly. Aside from those episodes, this season does fall short in many episodes. As I mentioned before they don’t play the monster of the week format very well this time around. The monsters are either very boring or embarrassingly cheesy, and this is coming from someone who enjoys some cheese with his horror.

Closing Thoughts
Season 2 isn’t my favourite season. As I did with the last review I’ll rate it in comparison to the other seasons. I would say that this season is my fifth favourite out of the seven seasons of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

Coming Soon
Season 3! One of my favourite seasons! Lots of Oz, lots of Faith, and of course, Mayor Richard Wilkins!

index

Dead Rising

Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360

Dead Rising was my first foray into the current generation of consoles. I remember being at a friend’s house in late 2006, jealously excited to play this new zombie game for the new Xbox 360. “It’s only one player,” my friend reminded me. I didn’t care; we’d take turns when the horde inevitably ate us. When it was finally my turn, I wanted to do everything. I wanted to take a road pylon and beat a zombie to death with it. I wanted to put a Servbot mask onto one of the damned and laugh hysterically as it stumbled around blindly. I wanted to rev up a lawnmower and run straight into the mobs of undead, psychotic grin on my face all the while.

I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I didn’t have time to.

Dead Rising has a ton of potential and can be really fun at times, but is bogged down by wonky controls and poor design choices. If you don’t mind looking past the flaws though, you’ll find a mindlessly fun zombie killer.

Of course, it’s not all mindless. There is a story to be told, but in usual Capcom fashion whenever zombies are involved, you’ll have to just smile and nod politely. Photojournalist Frank West gets a tip that the National Guard have sealed off the town of Willamette, Colorado. Frank hires a helicopter to fly him into town in order to discover what’s up. While flying in, he notices several mobs of people attacking each other and decides to take some photographs. This is the player’s introduction to the photography element of the game, but more on that later. Landing on the roof of the mall, Frank tells the pilot to pick him up in three days. Meeting other survivors in the mall, Frank quickly discovers the dead are rising (gasp!) and he’ll need more than just his camera in order to survive and find the truth.

Working with two federal agents trapped in the mall with him, Frank is sent on several different “Cases” (story missions) that need to be completed in order to advance the story. These occur at specific times in that 72-hour window Frank has before being rescued. And this is my first major gripe with the game. I hate – nay, loathe – time limits. 72 hours may feel like a long time, but it’s not standard speed. One minute of in-game time is only seconds of real time. When you’re needed to be at a specific place in the mall, you’d better be there well ahead of time. The mall itself is huge and fairly accessible; however, the hordes of zombies between point A and point B can be a hindrance quite quickly. More than once I found myself running as fast as Frank would go, using every shortcut and praying one of those undead bastards didn’t grab me, lest I be late for the Case that began in 10 minutes (game time) on the other side of the mall. The game doesn’t end if you miss a Case, but you won’t get the best ending. After beating the game though, I was okay with that. The characters are largely forgettable, the plot half-baked (and changes depending on your ending). Instead, I would use the 72 hours and run around like a maniac, finding newer and better ways to end the dead.

Throughout the game, Frank will earn PP, or “Prestige Points”. These are Dead Rising’s version of XP, and all kinds of things can give Frank PP including killing zombies, saving survivors and completing missions. After leveling up, can increase Frank’s inventory, health, speed, damage, etc., or give him a new move to use in combat. Some of these moves are powerful and look really cool the first few times, but you’ll soon forget about them because most are just too damn awkward to bother with. To perform a Wall Kick for example, you must “press X while pushing the Left Stick in the opposite direction of the wall the moment you make contact with it.” Huh? Maybe it’s just me, but I sure won’t remember to do that, especially if I have a broadsword in my inventory instead.

The rest of the combat system can be quite fun, however, especially when you find a weapon that can do some real damage. Almost everything in the mall can be used as a weapon. Beat up a zombie with a mannequin? Check. Take a cash register and smash some skulls? Check. Wield an electric guitar in a manner Pete Townshend would be proud of? Check. It really is fun to just pick up a potted plant beside you and crush the undead with it. There’s a “Zombies Killed” counter in the corner of the screen, and seeing that number well into the thousands by the time you’re finished the game is not uncommon. There’s even an achievement to be unlocked if you manage to kill 53,594 zombies (the population of the town) in ONE play-through. I’m not much of an achievement junkie, but I’m proud of earning that one. Besides, you unlock Mega Man’s Buster Cannon as a reward! How sweet is that? Dead Rising isn’t an outright survival horror game, but there are times when the horde is closing in and you’re so desperate for a weapon that you’ll pick up a bench to fend them off. These can be intense moments, even if they don’t occur all too often.

As mentioned earlier, Frank’s a photojournalist. He’ll need photos in order for anyone to believe his story. The camera around his neck becomes another aspect of gameplay. Pictures taken will be given a rating in several different categories such as Horror, Drama, Outtake (Comedy), even Erotica. Bonuses will be given depending on the photo. There are even “Photo Op” moments throughout the game that, if captured, yield large PP boosts. For example, after reuniting an elderly couple, snapping a shot of the two embracing is a touching moment and you’re rewarded for it. Otherwise, photography isn’t used too often, and can be all but forgotten in the heat of the action.

Dead Rising has a lot going for it; a sandbox setting, thousands of zombies to be killed, and hundreds of weapons to use. But you’ll need to look past the flimsy story, awkward controls and maddening time limits in order to enjoy the heart of the package. If while watching Dawn of the Dead you think to yourself, “Man, I’d love to do that!” I’d first recommend a shrink, followed by a play-through of Dead Rising.

gaming2

Dead Space 1 & 2

I’ve decided to combine these reviews, because after playing both of EA’s Dead Space games, I’ve noticed the two are almost identical. (Note: There will be some spoilers in the description of Dead Space 2, though only in the description of the story. I’ll keep the gameplay section spoiler free).

In 2008, EA Redwood Shores (now known as Visceral Games) released its newest creation, Dead Space. A hybrid of survival horror, Alien and The Thing, the game puts you in the role of Engineer Isaac Clarke. In the year 2507, a crew sent to investigate the distress call from another “planet-cracking” ship, the USG Ishimura. Attempting to dock with the now-silent vessel, Clarke’s ship malfunctions and crashes into the Ishimura, leaving him and the crew stranded. As they begin to explore the ship they soon find a new kind of horror known as the Necromorphs, an alienparasite that reanimates and reconfigures dead bodies into twisted terrifying creatures. Clarke has a personal reason to find out and stop whatever’s happening — his girlfriend Nicole was posted on the Ishimura. Searching for a way to get off the ship, his girlfriend and what this Unitologist religion has to do with some “Marker” all while battling the Necromorphs, means Clarke has his work cut out for him.

*SPOILER ALERT*

In Dead Space 2, released in 2011, Clarke has survived his escape from the planet and the destruction of the Marker. Clarke now finds himself on Titan, Saturn’s moon, being interrogated about the events of Dead Space and committed to a mental institution for his ramblings. It’s not long however, before Clarke is released from his cell in the midst of a Necromorph attack. Running for his life and plagued by demonic visions of his dead girlfriend, Clarke must piece together his sanity in order to survive.

*END SPOILERS*

Gameplay wise, the Dead Space series is very reminiscent of Resident Evil 4. An over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective, stopping to aim and fire weapons, looting ammo and money from the environment and enemies, shopping for items and upgrading your equipment, the list of comparisons goes on and on. However, this setup works – especially if you’re a fan of RE 4. The first game takes place almost entirely on the Ishimura and the second on Titan Station; both give the sense of something gone wrong from the outset. In both cases, blood is everywhere; the ship is a mess and the necromorph infestations allow the buggers to appear from anywhere. Although most enemies are scripted, it’s not uncommon for one or two to simply “pop” out of the ceiling behind you at any given moment. This adds a lot of tension to the game, as you’re never really sure when you’re completely alone. The most unnerving part of the game is when you stop for a moment and just look around. Listen to the sounds of a dying ship/colony. From the far off screams and roars, to the unexplained whispers just behind the walls, I found the game is scariest when there isn’t a seven-foot-tall monster jumping out at you. (Side note: Why do developers feel the need to add an elementary school section to horror games? I feel they’re capitalizing on my now new found fear of dead, possessed children.)

A huge part of the games is the dismemberment of enemies. The Necromorphs don’t simply roll over when shot in the head, as a good zombie ought to. Clarke must use his weapons to blast enough limbs from the creatures in order to put them down for good. Using what’s called “kinesis”, Clarke can even take limbs from fallen foes and fire them into live ones, effectively impaling them. These games aren’t for the squeamish.  I’m a fan of the HUD elements. Isaac’s health is shown on his RIG, as a hologram going up his spine. His weapons all have a holographic display for ammo, and a video or audio box pops up whenever a character wishes to communicate. The objective marker that appears when clicking in the right stick makes things a bit too easy when trying to figure out where to go, but can also be adjusted to show the nearest store, upgrade bench, or save station.

The soundtrack is minimal and this works in favour of the game’s atmosphere. It does a decent job of following the traditional trills when an enemy bursts from the darkness, but otherwise the atmosphere carries the bulk of in-game sound. Cries, moans, snarls, growls, all of the sound effects do a decent job of adding to the overall feel. As an aside, I personally like the way the game mutes almost everything while you’re in a vacuum. Most sci-fi games and films seem to think that sound waves can travel through space; it’s always nice when reality is understood and implemented

Problems with the games are few and far between. Both games look highly polished and there were no framerate issues for either. 2 did suffer from low-res issues at times, especially when looking at the Necromorph “growth”. One pointless gripe is Clarke’s ‘stomp’ move, used to smash open boxes for goodies. It’s hilariously overpowered. When stomping on a corpse to recover ammo or credits, it’s possible to see limbs crushed and destroyed. The same applies for regular humans; try stomping an unfortunate soul and you’ll see its legs, arms or head detach. I guess those suits really pump up your leg-power.

There are several “space” situations in both games, tying effectively into gameplay. As the damage to both games’ areas grows, the effects such as vacuums or zero-gravity can and do make frequent appearances. In zero gravity, Clarke must manipulate himself through the environment in order to solve engineering puzzles. Both games do this differently, which I’ll touch on momentarily. In a vacuum, Clarke’s suit uses an (upgradable) air supply, but fighting the Necromorphs while your O2 meter slowly counts down adds another sense of urgency.

Differences between the two games are actually few and far between. The first game worked so well that Visceral took the old “If it ain’t broke” adage seriously. Aside from the new locations, the only real differences I noticed:

  1. Perhaps most noticeable, Isaac is the silent protagonist in Dead Space. In 2, he becomes fully voiced and the game is all the better for it. Gunnar Wright does a decent job of portraying a guy just trying to keep it together.
  2. Multiplayer: Dead Space 2 joined the long list of single-player sequels that throw together an online mode simply to “extend” the life of the game. I’ll be honest; I didn’t even try to play online, simply because it doesn’t fit with the rest of the Dead Space atmosphere.
  3. Zero-G: A minor note, but noticeable. In Dead Space, Isaac “jumps” from location to location while weightless. In 2, he now has thrusters that allow him to go anywhere. This obviously allows more freedom, and works better.
  4. The usual sequel stuff: New enemies, new weapons (though not as many), new difficulty levels (there are five in Dead Space 2; the highest allows you to save only three times) and new locations.

Visceral has done a fantastic job of creating a world in which space feels dangerous, not wonderful. Over two games, you’ll come to sympathize for Isaac Clarke and his struggle just to survive. Do yourself a favor and play these in order. The gameplay differences won’t throw you for a loop, but the story is such that to play the second without having beaten the first is a disservice. If you’re a fan of sci-fi, survival horror, Alien, The Thing or just love some good ol’ clichéd monsters jumping out at you, give the Dead Space series a try. Altman Be Praised.

Dead_Space_3_PC_game_cover

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.

 

 

deadpixels

Indie Game Review: Dead Pixels

Platform: xBox360
Release Date: 9/15/2011
Cost: $1.00 (80 Microsoft Points)

THE LOWDOWN:
Absolutely rockin’ old-school sidescroller that’s chock full of zombie blasting carnage! With the look and feel of an old NES game, the short levels and smooth gameplay is heavily addictive. Multiplayer co-op allows you and your friends to kick back in a retro environment, and unleash some pain on horde after horde of 8-bit flesheaters! You can tell that the game was made by fans of the zombie genre, since there are countless homages sprinkled throughout. When you enter the shop the merchant greets you with a friendly “Hello Stranger!” welcome, the shotgun is called a Boomstick, and one of the zombies spits green acid (remind you of any games that left you for dead?) It’s fast, it’s fun, and man, it’s only a buck! You can’t go wrong!

plague

Indie Game Review: Plague

Platform: xBox360
Release Date
: 8/19/2011
Cost: $1.00

THE LOWDOWN:
Next up is PLAGUE, yet another game which only costs a measly little dollar (or 80 Microsoft points) to download. I agree, this game is definitely stretching it as far as being considered “horror”, but it does take place in a post-apocalyptic future, so that’s good enough for me! Just like DEAD PIXELS was fun game play that paid homage to the zombie genre, PLAGUE is a fast-paced action game that’s reminiscent of early 2D side-scrolling shooters like CONTRA, NARC, or the oft forgotten METAL WARRIORS [side note: "Metal Warriors" is one of my all-time favorite games, and if you've ever played it, let me know!] The levels are one big homage (there’s an obvious SUPER MARIO BROS level, a GALAGA level, and even a subtle BUCKY O’ HARE stage) and the weaponry ranges from your basic rocket launchers to “black hole” guns, and even a rifle that shoots out a controllable “centipede” like from the early arcade game! True, some of the levels are just impossible to play through without dying a dozen times, but with unlimited continues and a roster of fun characters to choose from, who cares? PLAGUE is the perfect game to sit down with a buddy and rock through all the insanity that the the co-op mode has to offer!

svz

Indie Game Review: Samurai VS Zombie

Platform: xBox360
Release Date: 02/01/2010
Cost: $1.00 (80 Microsoft Points)

THE LOWDOWN:
 If it wasn’t for my cousin who downloads these $1 games like a fiend, I probably wouldn’t have reviewed as many of these Indie horror games as I have. Overall, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by most of the games I’ve played. Although they’ve all been pretty repetitive and lacking any sort of compelling plot, they’ve been entertaining, and well worth the 80 Microsoft points. But then along came SAMURAI VS ZOMBIE… which teaches you the true meaning of mind-numbing repetition. Gamer beware, this game is sure to build mini-biceps on your thumbs, because all you’re doing is mashing the gamepad in an effort to slash as many zombies as possible. And man-oh-man, are there ever a lot of zombies to kill. I don’t know what it is about this game that gets old so fast, because to be honest, the overall production values are decent. The gameplay is smooth and the cell-shaded graphics are well-rendered… but perhaps it’s the sheer monotony of it that makes the game so… boring. No, it can’t be that, because THE $1 ZOMBIE GAME was just about as monotonous as you can get, and yet I could play it for hours. I think what it all comes down to is that it feels like work to kill the zombies. The swords aren’t slicing off limbs, there are no “one-hit-kills”; you’re just hacking and hacking away in an attempt to whittle down their life-bars with no satisfying payoff when they finally succumb to sweet death. It’s too bad, because the game did have potential. Regardless, this is one that, having played through it, I just can’t recommend.

the$1zombiegame

Indie Game Review: The $1 Zombie Game

Platform: xBox360
Release Date: 10/06/2011
Cost: $1.00

THE LOWDOWN:
So speaking of games that only cost a dollar… here’s one that hearkens back to the style of the original Playstation. There’s not much by way of storyline… it’s essentially just level after level after level of zombie slaying, within the same confined area. Before each round starts, you get a little snippet of the main character’s journal, which is definitely worth reading, since it gets darkly humourous as the game progresses. Each new round presents you with more, and faster, zombies. Your firearms change as well, giving you a new specialty gun every round, along with a side pistol that has unlimited ammo. It’s pretty brainless, but it’s fun nonetheless. There’s nothing more satisfying than firing a mini-gun into a horde of about twenty zombies and just watching the screen fill up with red mist! Worth every penny.

LegionofMonsters

Legion of Monsters TPB

Dennis Hopeless (writer), Juan Doe (artist), Wil Quintana (colours), Dave Lanphear (letters). $15.99

If you’re the person who enjoys having fun while reading your horror, look no further than Marvel’s Legion of Monsters mini-series. Collecting issues #1-4, LoM is a hilariously intriguing look at some of Marvel’s most prominent creatures of the night: The Legion’s leader, the vampire Morbius; with Jack Russell, the Werewolf by Night; The Living Mummy, and Manphibian all leads in the story.

Acting as a monster policing force, the anti-heroes are at work to round up stray monsters and pull them into the depths of New York City where they can live freely. Naturally, something stirs up problems with the underworld leaving the monsters in a state of chaos. Monsters start attacking each other and begin rampaging amongst the surface world.

Enter Elisa Bloodstone – monster slayer. She is set up early in the story as someone who tricks monsters into trying to kill her via stereotypical monster-movie lore:  Elisa dancing in a bedroom in her underwear while the monster sniffs her “innocence” out. Unfortunately for the unnamed monster, this means total doom.

Elisa realizes there is a problem with the monsters and teams up with Morbius’ monster police to help solve the problem. Quickly established as funny with tons of wit, the story turns into a murder mystery with the characters trying to solve the reason why monsters are trying to kill everything.

Writer Dennis Hopeless hits the nail in the coffin with this story. Each page is guaranteed to make you feel worried for the team, wonder what could happen next, or even just laugh out loud.

Monster-driven dialogue is not something that is seen too often with stories, let alone comic books. Hopeless manages to give each character a distinct voice, as well as their own sense of humor. While Morbius and Bloodstone are shown as the leads of the story, the supporting roles are necessary as well as natural feeling as any friendship would be – whether you’re a monster or not.

Playing off that, Hopeless shows the reader that monsters aren’t entirely monsters either. The characters have emotions, feelings, and love for one another. Despite being hideously grotesque, monsters like Manphibian remind the reader of that ‘loser kid’ from grade school who grew up to embrace his loser-dom.  Morbius is smart, witty, and is looking for love in all of the wrong places. Although they are monsters, they are just as human and colorful as everyone else in our lives we could think of.

And colorful does not even begin to explain the excitement and thrills that comes from Juan Doe’s art. Images are flashy, tastefully cartoony, and brilliantly executed. Everything moves with excellent fluidity. Lines are clean when needed and disrupted when required. Doe has such a strong feel about the mood Hopeless wants to create that it would be as if they were in each others heads.

Meanwhile colorist Wil Quintana excels at tying the mood of the story together between Hopeless and Doe. Bright colors are never overdone, while even the darkest of colors still compliment Doe’s pencils and inks. Given the mix of the monsters available, Quintana has a lot of room to play around with colors, and he doesn’t seem to fool around with it at all.

While the series only lasted four issues, the trade paperback is an excellent way to make this book quickly accessible to enjoy at your own leisure and pass around to your friends. Although we may not see anything from the Legion of Monsters any time soon due to poor sales figures, this story stands out as being one of the best monster-books in a long time. Easily re-readable, action-packed, and funny- you’ll be demanding more from the Legion as soon as you close the book.

Grade: 9/10

Resident Evil 1

Resident Evil

Platform Reviewed: Playstation

Pretty fitting for a first review! The game responsible for the term “survival horror” debuted 16 years ago on the Playstation and has since become a cultural phenomenon. I could spend hours talking about the various effects and affects this iconic series has had (and maybe someday I will), but I’ll focus for now on the original classic.

Set just outside the fictional Raccoon City, the S.T.A.R.S. (Special Tactics and Rescue Service) Bravo Team is sent in to investigate a strange series of murders involving cannibalism in the Arklay Mountains. After losing contact with Bravo Team, Alpha Team is sent in to find them. After encountering a not-so-friendly pooch in the wild, the team is chased into an ‘abandoned’ Mansion. Players choose to control either Jill Valentine or Chris Redfield before setting out to find Bravo Team and discover the chilling secret behind this disturbing house…

And you know the rest. Or at least, you SHOULD know the rest. This game has been around for awhile, released on almost every system and was even completely remade for the Nintendo GameCube in 2002. Some might argue that the core gameplay hasn’t held up over the years. I tend to disagree. Restrictive controls (not being able to move and shoot is a core game mechanic for [most of] the series to this day), unchangeable camera angles, no HUD, etc. all add to the “survival horror” feel the game strives for. Seeing that first zombie turn around can still give me chills.

However, the more you play through the game, the more you come to realize where and when the scares are coming. Anyone can jump out of their chair the first time those dogs burst through the windows of that corridor. Not so much the 6th, 7th and 8th time. The dialogue sure leaves something to be desired (“Master of unlocking.” Enough said). Graphically, the character models obviously look rough after 16 years and two console generations, but the pre-rendered backgrounds can still look sharp with detail.

Despite these shortcomings the game still does an awesome job of forcing you to run rather than fight a good 75% per cent of the time, depending on how well you manage the ammo and your inventory (Jill has eight slots, Chris only six). The Director’s Cut edition added a “Beginner’s Mode” for newcomers, and an “Arranged Mode” that changed the location of almost every major item as well as enemies, for an added challenge and a refreshing change for players who learned to predict where everything was.

All in all, with Resident Evil 6 on the horizon and games like Revelations and Operation: Raccoon City also arriving in 2012, the franchise shows no signs of slowing down. Yet for all these new additions, it doesn’t hurt to stop and return to the roots of the franchise, where it all began 16 years ago.

re4

Resident Evil 4

I love video games, I really do. I grew up with a cartridge-in-hand, always ready to save a princess from another castle or retrieve a ludicrous stash of stolen bananas. However, the greatest part about being a gamer and a horror fan is that there’s an entire library of games designed to satisfy one’s innermost desire to live a horror film, and place them smack dab in the middle of their worst nightmare. Although admittedly I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my midnight jaunts through the ashen streets of Silent Hill, there is a place I prefer to visit more: Raccoon City. Yes, my personal favourite horror game franchise is the ever-popular RESIDENT EVIL.

Resident Evil 4: filled to the brim villagers who love barbeques a little too much...

Resident Evil 4: filled to the brim with villagers who took their love of bonfires to an unhealthy level…

The series is made up of strong game instalments, all featuring memorable characters and a compelling storyline that urges the player to delve further into the corrupt tale of the Umbrella Corporation in an effort to reveal their sinister, grandiose plans. While I’ve enjoyed every RESIDENT EVIL game I’ve ever played (yes, yes, even GUN SURVIVOR, but more on that later) RE:4 remains in my top three all-time favourite games. And here’s why:

I love when franchises — be it games, films, or books — are able to evolve. The RESIDENT EVIL games, with a few minor exceptions, had all featured the same basic gameplay and structure, until RE:4 came along and flipped the Resident Evil Universe upside-down. By taking an old character and placing him in new surroundings, the game immediately became compelling and interesting again. RE:4 is not only driven by addictive gameplay and visually engaging graphics, but also by the story which expands the mythos into new, previously untouched territories.

The game opens with a car: exotic music sets the tone as a lone vehicle clunks along across a dirt road in some undisclosed remote European village. Leon Kennedy (who you might remember from the second RESIDENT EVIL game) sits in the backseat, being driven by two hired men. Through the opening sequence, your objective is revealed: the President’s daughter has been kidnapped by a radical terrorist, and it is up to you to locate her and bring her back safely. The zombie incident at Raccoon City is just a mere memory, and at this point there’s no reason to even believe that anything out-of-the-ordinary will happen. Poor naïve, Leon. Of course we know better.

Doctor Salvador. There's probably some sort of commentary on the European healthcare system in here somewhere...

Doctor Salvador. There’s probably some sort of commentary on the European healthcare system in here somewhere…

Generally speaking, a video game needs to hook you in the first level, otherwise what’s the point in going on? Luckily, the opening chapter of RE:4 is arguably the best in the entire game. You begin exploring the backwoods in a very Blair Witch meets Transylvania type setting. Coloured by a sparse autumnal palette, the air is heavy and the sky dimly lit; crows watch as you walk down the path toward the village… toward what will become the most harrowing experience of your life. I could go on in great detail, but that would be ruining the experience for first-time players. Let’s just say, it’s not long until you’re face-to-face with a menacing character named Doctor Salvador: a hulking brute with a burlap-sack mask and a gassed-up chainsaw. And keep in mind, this is only about two minutes into the gameplay.

In the chapters that follow, you find yourself racing through a variety of castles, caves, and warehouses, all in an effort to complete your objective. A mysterious merchant greets you at every checkpoint with a coat chock full of ammo and weaponry. You are reunited with old friends, and introduced to some of the most twisted monsters you’ll ever see.

I first saw my cousin playing RESIDENT EVIL 4 on his Gamecube and had no idea what he was playing. The over-the-shoulder gameplay and the setting was so different from the REs that I knew, I was surprised to learn it was the latest franchise instalment. I’m not even embarrassed to say that in addition to being one of my all-time favourite games, it’s also the game that I’ve purchased the most, owning copies for Gamecube, Wii, and most recently, xBox360. It really is that good.

To quote the gun-toting Merchant: “What’re you buyin’?”

The answer, I hope, is RESIDENT EVIL 4.

Resident Evil 2

Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City

Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360

When I first heard about Operation Raccoon City last year, I was pumped. Playing as Umbrella in the aftermath of the Raccoon City outbreak and fighting the heroes I’ve played as sounded like an awesome concept.

Unfortunately, what sounded cool in concept has fallen flat in execution.


I really wanted to like this game. And I did, at first. But ORC very quickly falls into a monotonous rut that it never really gets out of and becomes the one thing a video game shouldn’t: boring.

The story (and there’s really not much of one) is simple: you play as a member of the Umbrella Security Service’s Delta Team, codenamed “Wolfpack” who are dispatched in the wake of Resident Evil 2’s Raccoon City T-virus outbreak. You’ll start in the Umbrella Lab where William Birkin is attempting to take the G-Virus and sell it to the military. Following HUNK, Wolfpack travels through the lab and ends up in a confrontation with the mutated Birkin. After being chased throughout the facility, HUNK pushes you out the door and you move on. Odd. After that, the story structure completely collapses. The team’s goal is usually to kill survivors, destroy evidence of Umbrella’s involvement, etc. For the most part, the missions make sense and were exactly what I expected to do as a cleanup crew. However, very quickly you’ll realize that’s pretty much all you’re doing. The six team members all have different specialties, such as Beltway (Demolition), Bertha (Medic) or the guy I stuck with, Vector (Reconnaissance); however, there’s no camaraderie between teammates, no back stories save for the paragraph in the character selection screen. You’re quite literally going from place to place in order to help Umbrella. Some people might not have a problem with that; I do. I expected more narration from a game with the Resident Evil brand. Are these characters so indoctrinated by Umbrella that they honestly don’t have a problem gunning down U.S. military forces? I guess I shouldn’t have said one of their goals was to kill survivors; you won’t see anyone alive aside from your team and the military. I realize it’s a city-wide outbreak, but surely other people have survived. Why not have the U.S.S. encounter a refuge of survivors and let the player choose whether to spare them or kill them? Umbrella doesn’t seem to have a problem leaving Wolfpack out to dry, so why should Wolfpack care if they completely follow orders? It doesn’t make sense. The ending is just as terrible. Without spoiling anything, there is an instance of morality that could have been really well done; instead, if fails miserably and the choice is made without any reason. Well, I shouldn’t say that; the audio in my final cut scene didn’t work, despite my reloading it over and over again. So I basically don’t know what happens. There aren’t any credits to signify you’re done, you simply return to the character selection screen with the very first mission reloaded and ready to go.

Right from the get-go, you can tell the game was designed for multiplayer co-op. The pre-game lobby allows you to choose your character (and what characters the A.I. will play as) and even has a countdown before launching the game. I realize you want people to play the game together, but it’s clear developer Slant Six Games gave the multiplayer more thought than the single-player.

Usually I stay clear from multiplayer games. I don’t have the need to compete with other players. Co-op games are usually the farthest I’ll go and only if the game is worth it. In ORC, multiplayer is almost a necessity and not in a good way. The A.I. that governs your team offline is downright broken. More than once I had characters stuck in the environment, shooting at walls, or simply standing still and not doing anything. Not to mention the fact that they’ll charge into any situation and die needlessly, waiting for you to revive them. Online, all players are needed to advance to the next area. Offline, you can run through and open the door or push the switch allowing you into the next area and have your team magically spawn beside you, healed and ready to go.

ORC is a third-person shooter with a cover system, a radical departure from traditional Resident Evil games. A red flag went up in my mind when I read it was a “snap-to” cover system without a button press. I feared getting snagged on any piece of the environment while just trying to run through. Thankfully, this didn’t happen all too often. In fact, I found I had to force the game to acknowledge I was in a prime cover location. Throughout the campaign, you’ll take on various enemies from zombies to U.S. Special Ops to the various B.O.W.’s that have been unleashed. A neat aspect of gameplay is the infection system. If you or your teammates are swarmed or attacked by zombies, you have a greater chance of becoming infected. If this happens, you need to use an Anti-viral Spray, or succumb and turn into a zombie yourself. It adds a sense of intensity and urgency to keep the undead away from you. I would say “you and your team”, but if they become undead, all you need to do is kill them and revive them. They’ll get up, infection free and ready to go. WTF? Why would I waste my Anti-viral Spray on a squadmate when I can cap him in the head and pick him right back up? Another issue that pops up is ammunition. In an ironic (and I’m sure unintended) similarity with other RE games, you will run out of ammo constantly in this game, resorting to your pistol more often than not. The pistol has a Quick Draw function that occurs by holding either L2 or the Left Trigger. In this mode, the game becomes a stick shooter, with your character firing in the direction the right stick is pushed. It works well enough and can be used when surrounded by zombies, but your pistol is so weak and the auto-targeting won’t go for the head so it becomes almost trivial. The ammo problem might work if this was a survival horror Resident Evil, but this is a cover-based action romp. It’s hit and miss. There are times when you’ll have to resort to your melee attack as both of your weapons are empty, yet other instances when you can stand right beside a giant crate full of ammo and keep refilling yourself over and over. If you swap weapons with a fallen soldier, you’ll get full ammo for that weapon. If he had the assault rifle, and I’m using it, why do I need to pick up his gun? Can’t I just get the ammo for my own? It’s just another head-scratching design choice.

I’ve ripped on this game pretty hard even after telling you I enjoyed it for awhile. When you first get into the fray, the game does look good and play well. Slant Six clearly did their homework when it comes to Resident Evil lore and locations. Even though the story isn’t canon, they still take a lot of Resident Evil 2/3 into consideration and you’ll travel through some familiar places while shooting at familiar faces. My biggest problem is just the execution. There are a ton of great ideas in ORC, but rarely do they come across as anything but contrived and weak. For example, you’ll collect data disks that can be turned into various laptops for XP rewards and concept art, but why can’t I read some of them? I’d love to see different anecdotes from people, as Resident Evil games past have done. I also found out halfway through the game that there are hidden cameras you can destroy for XP bonuses (supposedly to prevent people from knowing Umbrella was involved). That’s great, but no one told me that at the start of the game and I’m not about to trek back to the first mission and start searching. After the third or fourth mission, you’ll start to get bored of all the mindless killing and traveling from point A to B.

The soundtrack is largely forgettable, though the sound effects work well enough (even if I did have a few instances where my gunfire wouldn’t register). You’ll even hear a few familiar ones such as the item pickup noise from RE: 4 & 5. The voice acting is average, although the characters don’t speak much. It’s nice to see that different characters have different accents, as Umbrella is an international corporation; it’s just too bad they don’t say anything worthwhile.

At the end of the day, this is a Resident Evil game in name, characters and “story” only; the gameplay mechanics are completely unfitting and the poor design choices just bog it down even further. If you have three friends that love Resident Evil (or three friends that don’t mind mowing down zombies and running from place to place), convince them to pick up a copy and you might be able to enjoy yourselves. But for lone wolves like myself, you can play far better Resident Evil games (and far better cover shooters) without this boring mess.

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Resident Evil: Survivor

Oh boy.

You’ll have to forgive me, but I can’t think of any other way to start off a review of RESIDENT EVIL: SURVIVOR. In the fall of the year 2000, Capcom released the latest instalment of the ever-popular Resident Evil franchise, this time deviating drastically from the usual third-person gameplay and putting you smack dab behind the eyes of the protagonist. RESIDENT EVIL: SURVIVOR was the first in the line of the first-person “Survivor” series, and would be followed by four sequels: SURVIVOR 2 CODE VERONICA, DEAD AIM, UMBRELLA CHRONICLES, and THE DARKSIDE CHRONICLES. All of which, by the way, are better than the game I’m about to review.

...that's not why he's hunching, you perverts.

…that’s not why he’s hunching, you perverts.

At the time of its release, I had already collected and played through all of the Resident Evil games. When SURVIVOR was released, I thought nothing of it, and purchased it right away; I had no idea at the time that it was a first-person shooter.  My initial reaction to the game was, however, fairly positive. As a fan of FPS games, I didn’t mind the change, although I did find the aiming system clunky and irritating at times – especially when playing for an extended period of time.

Of course, I hear what you’re saying: “Why play the game for so long, then? Why not just save the game and take breaks?” Unfortunately, SURVIVOR doesn’t offer the ability to save your progress. If you can’t finish the game in one sitting, you’re shit out of luck. Trust me, this is perhaps the most irritating aspect of this game. I can’t tell you how many times I would get near the end only to either (1) die, or (2) have to go somewhere, leaving me with the option of either letting my Playstation sit idle for hours, or sacrificing my progress.

The gameplay puts you behind the eyes of a man suffering from severe amnesia. Unaware of who he is, he struggles to survive the zombie-ridden streets of Raccoon City, all the while attempting to figure out his true identity. The characters are all new – with the exception of a very brief Leon Kennedy reference – however, the enemies are classic RE monsters. Lickers, moths, tyrants, hunters… all of them fall victim to your well-aimed bullets as you traverse the unsettling stages which take you everywhere from back-alleys to government facilities and abandoned hospitals. The graphics haven’t held up over the years, but the sounds are still genuinely unnerving.

Truth be told, I have good memories of playing this game. It was a go-to favourite for my cousin and I to play on our afternoons of gaming, as we would alternate levels and see just how far we could make it before having to turn off the console and lose our progress. We played it so often that we still reference some of the ridiculous dialogue to each other (“…am I Vincent…?”). However, I can understand why the majority of gamers rate it so low, and consider it to be the weakest instalment of the Resident Evil franchise.

"Let my pixelated hands hug you."

“Let my pixelated hands hug you.”

As an aside, I feel that the game would have been better received had it provided the option to actually play through the levels with a gun controller. Unfortunately, only the Japanese release was provided the option; it has been rumoured that the North American version did not allow the gun in order to avoid controversy after the (then) recent Columbine school shooting.

Although the FPS RESIDENT EVIL games for the Wii are undoubtedly superior, I still maintain that SURVIVOR is goofy fun, if you’re in the right mood. Pixelated graphics and clunky gameplay aside, it’s guaranteed to make you miss the old era of Playstation 2, and remind you just how far video games have come in such a short period of time.

silenthill

Silent Hill

Platform Reviewed: Playstation

This one comes second ONLY because Resident Evil just celebrated its anniversary and technically founded the survival horror genre on the consoles. But I’ll be straight up honest, right off the bat – I like Silent Hill more. There will be several comparisons to Capcom’s game, so please bear with me.

Since its release, Konami’s Silent Hill has always been the “rival” to Capcom’s blockbuster series. Yet ironically enough, Silent Hill does a lot more towards setting a survival horror tone than the so-called “founding father”. In the first game, you are Harry Mason, an everyday guy who wakes up from a car crash to find his daughter, Cheryl, missing. He enters the quiet and foggy namesake town in order to search for her. He soon finds all is not right in this abandoned village – an air raid siren sounds, followed by a permeating darkness, from which twisted creatures emerge, hell-bent on ending Mason. Harry’s only hope is a flashlight (and thank the gods there’s no battery to deal with) and a radio that emits static whenever monsters are near. This is the aspect that Resident Evil fails to address. Mason is an average Joe. He’s not a member of a special police unit; therefore, he has no practical firearms or weapons training. Swinging a stick or a knife around to defend from the roaming beasts adds an urgent sense of survival to the game that Resident Evil just can’t match.

The visuals (although rough by today’s standards) are all rendered in real-time, unlike the pre-rendered backgrounds of Resident Evil. This works for and against the game. While you have more control over the camera, some of the buildings can look downright ugly (and not in the dilapidated, creepy sort of way). What it may lack in graphics, it more than makes up for in pure atmosphere. The Mansion was, for the most part, well lit. In Silent Hill, darkness is an actual symptom of the evil. Whenever that air-raid siren starts to wail and that blanket of black starts to descend, my stomach clenches up ever so slightly. From roaming around town, to heading into an elementary school (oh gods, the school…) and even a hospital (of course), the locals are creepy and fitting, populated by more and more disturbing creatures. The game’s controls are a lot less restrictive than its rival, as you can move and shoot at the same time, as well as control the camera in certain instances (Side note: Control-wise, the way I look at it, a trained special-forces member would stand his or her ground to fight an enemy. The rest of us would run away firing blindly just to get to safety). There are four possible endings plus one joke ending, yet only one canonically leads into Silent Hill 3. I’ll let you figure that out for yourself.

Just like its rival, the Silent Hill franchise shows little signs of slowing down. It releases its newest addition this year (this month, actually) including an HD collection of Silent Hill 2 and 3. The atmosphere, creatures, almost everything about Silent Hill will creep you out, spook you, make you jump and just straight up unnerve you. If you tire of mowing down wave after wave of zombie fodder and are looking for an actual survival horror experience, look no further than the quaint little town of Silent Hill.

The latest installment, Silent Hill Downpour, hits shelves this Tuesday March 13th.

Silent Hill image

Silent Hill: HD Collection (Konami, 2012, Xbox 360/PS3)

Well, if you’ve been reading any of my other reviews or forum posts and/or know me even in the slightest, you’ve probably already guessed what score I’m going to give this collection.

And you’d be right.

But it’s not my avid fanboy-ism taking hold, I assure you! The Silent Hill HD Collection is an awesome update of two of survival horror’s greatest games, in one convenient package! And for less than the price of a regular retail game! Bonus! Exclamation point!

For those of you that haven’t played a Silent Hill game before (blasphemers), I’ll try to fill you in. Silent Hill is the name of a small American town with a rather shady and downright evil past. To the unfortunate civilians that manage to stumble upon the town, a typical itinerary might look something like this: Walk through mysterious thick fog, find radio, hear radio emit static, monster appears, kill monster with makeshift weapon, hear air raid siren, witness walls and floor peel away into darkness, find flashlight, put flashlight in convenient chest pocket, complete soul-wrenching quest to fight literal personal demons.

All jokes aside, the (early) Silent Hill games are truly the peak of the survival horror genre. In this collection, you get Silent Hill 2 & 3, frequently hailed as the best in the series. You might be asking why the first wasn’t included – it was released for the Playstation in ’99 and to completely overhaul the graphics would have taken a helluva lot longer. If you’re worried about continuity, you only need to be half. Silent Hill 2 actually has nothing to do with the first game (save for the town itself) and can be played on its own. Silent Hill 3, however, is the direct sequel to the first game and might require a playthrough of the first (which is available to PS3 owners on the Playstation Store; sadly, 360 owners might have to Wikipedia/YouTube the plot) in order to truly understand everything.

Naturally, I started with Silent Hill 2. Our protagonist James Sunderland has received a letter from his wife Mary, asking him to meet her in their “special place” in Silent Hill. Wow. Scary. Well it gets even scarier when you consider that Mary has been dead for three years. Despite that little setback, our hero makes the drive to the town, stopping at a highway restroom to reassure himself that he’s not crazy. This is widely regarded as the best game in the series. While I can agree it’s the best story, in my opinion it’s not the scariest. James’ tale is one of emotion and a rich psychological atmosphere, tackling controversial subjects such as incest, sexual frustration, torture and of course, murder. I have to say, after watching the intro cinematic, I was immediately disappointed to see that the graphics hadn’t appeared to change at all. I told myself it was a pre-rendered cutscene, so the in-game graphics would be different.

Boy, I love when I’m right.

I was blown away as soon as I took control of James. I’ll admit, given the recent trend of “HD” remakes that seem to do nothing more than paint a fresh coat of pixels over the main characters while leaving the environments to suffer, I was skeptical that I would see anything different here. But Konami has set the bar in putting the “HD” into HD collections. Not only do James and the other character models look much sharper, but the environments have been completely overhauled with that fresh pixel paint. Granted, it’s not perfect and you’ll still be able to tell you’re playing an HD upgrade, but it’s really refreshing to play these games with this level of polish.

My only gripe would have to be the fog; it swirls around you and looks a bit too crisp for its own good. The fog is supposed to obscure my vision. If they’d left it in low-res, it might have worked in the game’s favour.

Silent Hill 3, as mentioned above, is a direct sequel to the first game. Our protagonist this time around is 17-year-old Heather (to say any more would ruin 1’s story) who finds herself in a shopping mall running an errand. After encountering an odd private investigator, Heather escapes – only to find herself trapped in the Otherworld, pursued by a cult that needs her for some unknown reason.

I’ll admit right now, I’m still playing through Silent Hill 3. I played the original on the PS2, so I know what goes down; but my backlog of games to play and review is steadily rising and I need to push onwards! However, I’m far enough in that unless the final act of the game is completely broken, I can make a sound analysis. The game is crispier (yeah, crispier) than 2, especially since we don’t have any pre-rendered cutscenes to suffer through this time around. My only gripe with this title would be the massive slowdown that seems to occur whenever there are more than a few monsters onscreen. The frame rate doesn’t dip; but the game slows almost to a crawl, as if everything is underwater (tip: when you find the Bulletproof Vest, which will slow you down in exchange for damage protection, don’t wear it). It doesn’t happen all the time, but it’s noticeable enough to get annoying.

From a gameplay perspective, both 2 and 3 are almost identical. James and Heather (like Harry in the first game) are everyday people, not soldiers. Combat is clunky and for good reason. Swinging a metal pipe or a stick with nails feels desperate, as you try to keep the horrifying creatures away from you. I did find that ammo was a little too plentiful, particularly in the second game, making things a little too easy. You can always bump up the difficulty (which remains separate from the Puzzle Difficulty, something a dunce like me is grateful for). Speaking of puzzles, 3 can be brutal in that regard. I can’t tell you how long I spent aimlessly walking and wandering with an item in my inventory that I knew needed to be used somewhere, just not where specifically. That’s part of the reason I haven’t yet finished it this time around. Despite beating it years ago, I can’t remember where everything is or goes. And since I only play at night, staring back and forth between a guide and the screen just kills the atmosphere.

Speaking of atmosphere (I’m a master of segues), it’s the area that Silent Hill absolutely crushes the competition. Mansions filled with zombies might make some uneasy, but Silent Hill can (and will) destroy your nerve. Play at night with surround sound (or headphones, if possible). The creature designs are grotesque and warped (Pyramid Head, the Mannequins, and the Closers in particular). The locales around town might seem quiet and dilapidated in the “daytime”, but once that siren goes off and the darkness descends, it gets scary. A scheme that can only be described as blood and rust seems to take hold; chains hang from ceilings, the streets become a grated walkway and a mysterious rain begins to fall. All of this is illuminated by the simple pocket flashlight both characters use. And hearing that radio emit static, along with the movement and vocalizations of the creatures off in the darkness (or even fog) is still chilling.

Speaking of sounds (last one, I promise), it’s the area right behind atmosphere that makes these games the best. The soundtracks – both by Akira Yamaoka – are gritty and industrial, ratcheting up the fear factor by several degrees. Silent Hill 2 has completely redone voiceovers too, in addition to the original voices. I gave the new voices a spin and was quite impressed. The actors are working with the clearly Japanese script, but they manage to sound more compelling this time around. The sound effects are also fairly decent; the monsters emit horrific vocalizations, but in true Silent Hill fashion, the most terrifying sounds are of the things you can’t see. Another 2 reference might seem lopsided, but bear with me: Heading down the Hospital stairs, a high-pitched squeal that can only be described as a cross between a baby and a pig suddenly burst from nowhere, scaring the bejeezus out of me. The best part is never finding out what exactly made that noise.

If you remember playing either of these games back in the day and want to do so again, by all means pick up the Silent Hill HD Collection. If you’re new to the series, this is a great entry point; however, playing 3 without playing 1 might confuse the plot. Regardless, you’ll still enjoy the atmosphere that both games create and you will get freaked out. Do yourself a favour and plan your next vacation in the quaint, quiet and terrifying town of Silent Hill.

-J-Rod (@JarrodC24)

Slender 2

Slender

Platform Reviewed: PC

There’s no time for pomp and circumstance about my return to Blood Theatre; you have some downloading to do.

Slender is a free-to-play game for PC that, at a whopping 55 megabytes, won’t tax your hard drive or your hardware. If MY laptop can play it, chances are your rig can too.

I’ve played the game ONCE for 10 minutes and I’m already reviewing it. Before you call shenanigans on my ‘thoroughness’, trust me when I say 10 minutes is all you need. This game is f**king scary.

You may or may not be aware that The Blair Witch Project is one of my favorite horror films, as being lost in the woods at night, hunted by a paranormal entity is quite disturbing. So when I found out the premise of Slender, I was immediately irked. That unease certainly didn’t go away when I booted up the game.

There’s no cutscene introduction, no main menu, just the title and bam: you’re in the middle of the woods at night with a flashlight, told to collect 8 pages. You can walk, sprint, zoom in (the perspective is first person through a camera) and that’s it. And thus the horror begins.

As soon as you collect your first page, an ominous-sounding pulse begins and you realize you’re not alone: a creature known only as The Slender Man is following you, with full intention of destroying your sanity. He resembles a man in a suit with abnormally long arms and a featureless face. You never see him move, but he gets closer with each note you collect as the soundtrack gets more and more suspenseful. If you manage to see him off in the distance and stare too long, the screen becomes static as your sanity slips away. If he catches up to you, the game ends. Literally: it quits you back to your desktop.

You can’t fight him, you can’t escape him, you can only delay the inevitable long enough to collect these 8 random pages. In my play-through, I collected six of the eight before the faceless bastard popped up behind me (and boy, did I ever jump).  My best advice: don’t look behind you. Never before in a video game have I ever been so nervous to do so.

I can’t think of many negatives, only because this isn’t an ordinary video game. The graphics are surprisingly decent, with dynamic lighting playing a huge role in setting the atmosphere. The only gripe I can think of thus far is the sound of crunching nature under your feet continuing even as I entered what seemed to be a fully tiled abandoned bathroom.

Do yourself a favor and download Slender. It might not seem like there’s a lot to it, but that works to its advantage: few games master fear in their entire length the way Slender does in 10 minutes.

 

SwampThing7

Swamp Thing #7 (Comic Review)

Scott Snyder (writer), Yanick Paquette (pencils, inks), Nathan Fairbairn (colours), Travis Lanham (letters), Paquette & Fairbairn (cover) $2.99

It may have taken seven issues, but we finally have our Swamp Thing. However, if you were complaining about not seeing our monster-hero of the Green until now, then I’d have to question if you’ve been reading the same series of Swamp Thing that I have.

Scott Snyder has built this series up without the “hero” being present, yet still drew in readers each month. How? He created a world where a hero was needed by keeping the soon-to-be Swamp Thing – Alec Holland – human. He re-established the story for new readers, while keeping it still interesting enough for older ones to want to come back to read. Building suspense and story along the way, the true horrors of the Rot were what kept everyone coming back. Each issue would end with the reader asking, Where is our hero? Not because Swamp Thing wasn’t there, but because there was no glimmer of hope left for the world.

Issue seven brings Holland with his last breath of air – the Rot has overcome him while the Parliament of Trees die, condemning Holland for not becoming the Swamp Thing sooner. Scott Snyder makes Holland remain human as long as possible not only to make his inevitable change into Swamp Thing that much more important, but to give the fear behind the series that much more power. The assimilation of the Rot, the terror it brings, and the death it creates – all of it boils into the climatic moment where Holland finally accepts his fate.

To sharpen the point, Yanick Paquette completely obliterates any sort of safe feelings with his artwork. An acid trip with trees and fire, Paquette truly adds depth and chaos to the story with his impeccable take on the nature Snyder built. Details are unbarred – the grit, the grain, the green – all building to the single-page awakening of the Swamp Thing puts any panels he’s done prior in this series to shame.

Colors are absorbent with rich shades of greens and stings of orange. The balance of colors for Fairbairn are something to strive for as a colorist. Even with such a limited color palette, the book glows with emotion and power.

As if they were meant for each other, Snyder, Paquette, and Fairbairn meld their story-telling into something glorious.

And that something glorious, to paraphrase Snyder is: “The monster.”

Grade: 10/10

 

WD-S1

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.

WalkingDeadS1-1024x576

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.

 

TWD-Arcade

The Walking Dead: Game Review

Developed by: Telltale Games
Published by: Telltale Games
Media reviewed: PS3

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve teared up in the last, oh, four or five years. After finishing Telltale Games’ latest production based on Robert Kirkland’s graphic novel, I’ll give it credit for adding another finger to that count.

These aren't zombies; this is Black Friday at Wal-Mart.

These aren’t zombies; this is Black Friday at Wal-Mart.

First things first: this game is set in the realm of the comics, NOT the show. It doesn’t make much difference, as you won’t encounter Rick’s group (well, most of it, anyway), but it is worth pointing out. You play as Lee Everett, a middle-aged man that’s sitting in the back of a police cruiser leaving Atlanta when the outbreak occurs. After your car crashes and you escape your bonds, you come across a young eight-year-old girl Clementine, whose parents were in Savannah when the shit hit the fan. Agreeing to look after her, the duo sets out — and thus begins one of the greatest and emotional duos in video game history.

Broken up into five “episodes,” gameplay is reminiscent of the PC point-and-click adventures of old. Moving one cursor around allows Lee to move, while the other interacts with the environment and characters. Throw in a few quick-time events when the undead start to appear and you’ve got the basic gist.The cel-shaded look makes it feel like a graphic novel and really immerses you into the world, but don’t let the cutesy look fool you: there are still zombies around and there are some absolutely brutal kills to be made.

The most fun is derived from the conversation system and the choices you have to make. Almost every conversation has four options (mapped to the face buttons) and a time limit to respond. You can usually choose the “…” if you’d rather keep quiet, or up to three other responses for the various situations you and your group finds yourselves in. It’s fantastic: do you want your Lee to be headstrong and selfish? Or compassionate and friendly? Do you care about Clementine or is she just a burden on your shoulders? There are so many ways to play and so many split-second decisions to make that multiple replays are practically a given. At the end of each episode, which take about 2-3 hours to complete, Telltale also lets you know by percentage how many players made (or didn’t make) some of the major choices that pop up. And trust me, there are some major choices that need making, often in a matter of seconds.

One of the greatest pairs in gaming history.

One of the greatest pairs in gaming history.

After five episodes playing as the compassionate, selfless Lee, I was left feeling such an emotional rush that I haven’t felt in a video game since the original Metal Gear Solid (I had a thing for Meryl). Unlike the countless silent protagonists or super soldiers that you’ll play as in games lately, you’ll actually care what happens to these characters. Unless you’re a complete sociopath, that is. By the time the credits rolled and the final post-credits scene played out, I was eager for Season Two.

There are a few glitches that pop-up and unfortunately, some of them were game breaking. In episode four, for example, I couldn’t leave a particular room without falling through the floor. I had to reload an earlier save twice just to avoid it. Annoying and immersion-breaking, yes, but forgiven once you get back into things.

If you didn’t download the game episodically when it was released, there is a disc version now available for $29.99 — an absolute steal for the amount of gameplay, replayability and pure emotion you’re getting with this package.

4skull

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Twin Peaks (Season One) Review

Created by: Mark Frost & David Lynch
Media Reviewed: DVD

Who killed Laura Palmer? That’s certainly the question on everyone’s mind in the quiet northwestern town of Twin Peaks, just one day after the high school prom queen is found wrapped in plastic. As FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper arrives to handle the investigation, he – like the audience – soon finds that Twin Peaks isn’t exactly what it appears to be…

She was voted "Most Likely To Be Murdered And Wrapped In Plastic" by her classmates.

She was voted “Most Likely To Be Murdered And Wrapped In Plastic” by her classmates.

You may be wondering what the hell a review of this 23-year-old show is doing on The Blood Theatre. Re-read the “Created by” above and that should spell it out; Yes indeed, you know things are gonna get really twisted when Mr. Lynch gets involved and Twin Peaks is no exception. Together with Mark Frost, Lynch has created a world where the odd is obvious, the irregular regular and yet manages to coat it in a way that the audience (and executives at ABC, no doubt) can follow along. This is what made Twin Peaks the cultural phenomenon it is, with shows from Saturday Night Live to the Simpsons spoofing and channeling its weird nuances. Many people might be turned off by what appears to be “cheesiness”, but they’re missing the irony of Lynch – life IS cheesy and soap operatic. The first season is a strong debut for a type of show that today’s contemporary television is sorely lacking.

STORY ARC AND BIG BAD
With a show like this, this section gets a little tricky. You can blame Drew for making it. Right from the get go, the pilot episode draws you in. As mentioned above, the murder of Laura Palmer takes precedence and is at the forefront of everyone’s minds; however, the town has secrets that the investigation threatens to bring to light. A cocaine smuggling ring that may have ties to Laura’s death is pursued; conspirators plan the destruction of the town mill to make way for a housing development; the endless amount of adulteration (everyone is seeing someone else. You’ll get used to it); and of course, the “evil that lurks in the woods” – a mysterious supernatural force that haunts Cooper’s dreams and may be the key to everything. All of these events tie into each other in an interesting (albeit typically dramatic) fashion and lead up to a fantastic season finale that I won’t spoil.

CAST
This is one of those rare series where almost all of the cast members appear in every episode. With a cast as large as this, that’s no easy feat, but the writers pull it off in a convincing way. I can’t list everyone that appears, but the main three include:

Kyle MacLachlan as FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper:
What can I say about this man that hasn’t already been said? Dale Cooper is one of the most interesting, quirky, loveable and idiosyncratic lead characters that has ever graced the small screen. MacLachlan puts a lot of heart into the character and you can’t help but smile whenever he’s onscreen. His supernatural dreams yield disturbing links to the case in Twin Peaks and are honestly unsettling. Yes, I have a man-crush! I’m not ashamed!

Kyle MacLachlan (left) and Michael Ontkean are at their "Peak" together  and...are....like..."Twin"'s? Yeah, I've got nothing.

Kyle MacLachlan (left) and Michael Ontkean are at their “Peak” together and…are….like…”Twin”‘s? Yeah, I’ve got nothing.

Michael Ontkean as Twin Peaks Sheriff Harry S. Truman
Just like the President before him, the buck stops with Sheriff Truman. Now, Hollywood has raised us to believe that the “Feds” and “local law enforcement” are sworn and mortal enemies that only work together to stop the killers. I expected that to be true here as well, but I’m grateful that isn’t so. Harry is an awesome partner for Cooper and the friendship that grows between the two feels sincere.

Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer/Maddy Ferguson
Yes, even the dead girl needs to be played by someone. Lynch reportedly loved working with Lee so much that he wrote the character of Laura’s cousin Maddy specifically for her. It sounds cheesy, but it works; many of the townspeople are unsettled by how much she looks like Laura.

I’m not going to detail the cast any further, as writing about one and not another won’t do them justice. You simply need to see these characters interacting with each other and you’ll understand.

BESTS AND WORSTS

!kcor s’teL

!kcor s’teL

“Best” is a tough call, as the pilot episode is the first foray into this strange world and the season finale is full of revelations. But I’ll put my foot down and say episode three (or episode two for some, as the pilot apparently doesn’t count) “Zen, or the Skill to Catch a Killer” is my favourite. Directed by Lynch, it features baguette eating, mystical rock throwing, introduces fellow FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield (another personal favourite of mine) and ends with one of the most disturbing and iconic dream sequences in popular culture.

Worst is another tough one, but I’ll say episode seven (or six to those odd few). “Realization Time”, despite its name, it doesn’t quite have the revelations and instead acts as a springboard for the action-packed finale. Not a terrible episode, but you’ll wonder where it’s all going.

FINAL WORDS
If, like me, you’ve gone for years hearing faint references to “that Twin Peaks show” and never really investigated further, it’s time to sit down and experience it for yourself. Even if the Lynch-ian surrealism is too much for you (and really, if you think it is, try watching one of his films), just remember – this show was on TV at a time when The Learning Channel still meant it. Take a trip into Twin Peaks. I hear they’ve got damn good coffee…

 

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Twin Peaks (Season Two) Review

Created by: Mark Frost & David Lynch
Media Reviewed: DVD

Welcome back to Twin Peaks!

After the brilliant, albeit short, debut season for Frost & Lynch’s small town murder mystery (view the Season One review HERE), season two was all but inevitable. Yet, sadly, the full length of this season actually detracts from what made the first so special. There are plot lines that bear little importance, and ABC’s demand that the killer be revealed early on in the season leaves the remaining episodes scrambling to tie-in. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still plunge in to what is still one of the quirkiest and best shows ever to hit the air.

Carel Struycken as The Giant, just one of the many supernatural beings that Cooper encounters.

Carel Struycken as The Giant, just one of the many supernatural beings that Cooper encounters.

[Spoiler Alert: Although I won't ruin the major revelations of this season, I do need to discuss some of what happened at the end of season one. Fair warning.]

STORY ARC AND BIG BAD

After the amazing season one finale, things are a bit chaotic around Twin Peaks. Cooper lies bleeding in his hotel room; the mill has burned down, leaving Catherine and Josie missing and Shelly and Pete hospitalized; Nadine is in a coma after overdosing; James is in jail after being framed by Bobby…the list goes on. For the first few episodes, catching Laura Palmer’s killer is still very much the focus. However, the aforementioned request by ABC means that investigation is over just one-third into the season. The new “big bad” takes the form of Cooper’s former partner, Windom Earle (Kenneth Welsh). Earle is a formidable and psychotic opponent, with a deeper connection to Cooper that I won’t spoil. There are several plot lines that secondary characters go through that act as filler — which becomes quite obvious. These characters seem to lack much of the charm and Idiosyncrasies they held in season one. As such, these plots fall flat, most notably James’s encounter with a married woman that isn’t all she seems to be. I’m also not a huge Heather Graham fan, so her appearance (and subsequent love interest in Cooper) was unfortunate. Thankfully, all of these can be forgiven after watching the series finale. Without a doubt, this is the most disturbing, horrifying and chilling series finale I’ve ever seen. It more than makes up for the inherent lack of supernatural occurrences throughout this season. Some people may not care for its cliffhanging, but I absolutely love it.

CAST

Kyle MacLachlan as FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper
Coop is just as good this season as last. MacLachlan’s charm shines through, even as Cooper begins lying wounded on the floor.

Michael Ontkean as Sheriff Harry S. Truman
Once again, Ontkean is the perfect companion for Cooper and we get to see a more personal side of Harry late in the season for reasons I won’t reveal.

His high school chess club was cancelled after he kept murdering his opponents

He was kicked out of his high school chess club because he kept murdering his opponents.

Kenneth Welsh as Windom Earle
Cooper’s former partner that went insane arrives in Twin Peaks and serves as a satisfying foil to the good-natured Dale. Earle “plays” chess with Cooper as part of his twisted scheme. Welsh does a fine job in portraying a psychopath that wants to not only hurt Cooper, but has a darker motive behind his misdeeds.

David Lynch as Gordon Cole
A minor character, Lynch turns to acting as Cooper’s superior Gordon Cole. Essentially comic relief, Cole’s use of double hearing aids leads to cliched misunderstanding gags, but is just another addition to the kooky cast.

Just like last time, I won’t detail the remaining cast, as there are just far too many. Needless to say, they each go through some rather “interesting” events and issues (Keep your eye out for David Duchovny).

 

Miss Twin Peaks. Insert your own joke here.

Miss Twin Peaks. Insert your own joke here.

BESTS AND WORSTS
Unlike last season, this time I have no problem saying the best episode is the series finale “Beyond Life and Death”. It’s tough to say why without spoiling pretty much everything, but trust me; it’s incredible.

Worst is a lot more broad. After Laura’s killer is revealed, the series struggles to get back to an over-arching plot-line. Windom Earle’s arrival gives the law enforcement something to do, but minor characters suffer this transition, as the writers try finding other things for them to do. I can’t narrow it down to a specific episode; sadly, there will be a few that might leave you wondering if the wheels have fallen off.

FINAL WORDS
If you manage to stick with the show from the pilot all the way to the series finale, you’ll be able to overlook the few flaws and missteps that occur. This is a breed of show that is an endangered species. Frost and Lynch have crafted an incredible town that, once you enter, you’ll never want to leave.