Month: August 2015

Volume (PC) Review 6

Volume (PC) Review

Volume, developed by Bithell Games, best showcases just how fun virtually pilfering from the rich can be; especially when it inspires the poor to do the same in the real world. A third-person top-down stealth game highly reminiscent of the first two Metal Gear Solid titles, Volume has a clever and thought-provoking story that raises a plethora of questions. Is the main protagonist really doing the right thing by stealing from others, or is he an ignorant fool thinking that he could actually make a change? Volume is also a joy to play, containing highly varied rooms to plunder and simple mechanics that make for one of the most satisfyingly challenging stealth games I’ve played in years. However, it’s not without its flaws, as a few poor design choices often get in the game’s way.
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You assume the role of a young thief named Robert Locksley who, with the help of a forgotten AI and a tool called Volume, reconstructs virtual rooms and areas to steal from and then broadcasts his work to the entire world. The real kick is that these rooms are ripped straight from the archives of Guy Gisborne (voiced by Andy Serkis), a corrupt and power-hungry businessman-turned-ruler and his equally vile associates. By doing this, Locksley gives people the perfect guide on how to successfully steal from these powerful individuals in the real world without getting caught. It’s a fascinating premise that deals with the modern age (internet, live-streaming), and is essentially a refreshing take on the classic Robin Hood story. It’s well acted—Andy Serkis, though not having that much to do, kicks it out of the park—and despite its dark premise, Volume still manages to evoke some clever humor and quirky dialogue. The only problem is the way in which the story is presented; it’s told through brief conversations and emails you can find along the way. This often distracted me from progressing through the levels; especially given the fact that you’re timed for leadership purposes. But this issue is masked a little by the terrific writing.
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Volume’s one hundred bite-sized levels will take a total of five to six hours to complete, with each level lasting about a minute to three minutes. Each level is isometric. They’re crafted around you from the ground up and contain glistening shards of polygons that form stylish architectures. Volume is a visual splendor, to say the least. These levels often contain intelligent AI guards and dogs, turrets, and traps that the player must overcome in order to get to the next level. They never feel old or humdrum, despite the staggering number of these levels; instead, they carry over new mechanics you just learned and blend them with newer techniques to make for a refreshing gameplay experience. Volume does its best to constantly keep you on your toes and challenge you.

Sneaking past guards is just as important as distracting them by whistling, and you always have to keep moving around the environment as the levels essentially are gargantuan puzzles you have to solve. To add to the difficulty, you have to collect all of the special glowing orbs spread throughout the level in order to advance. Enemy variety is great, as different guards force you to always come up with eccentric solutions and ways to get past them. Volume doesn’t have combat, making it a truly hardcore stealth game, but with all that said, the biggest issue is its checkpoints. Each level has several of them littered throughout and the player can easily get spotted, run over to the furthest checkpoint he/she sees, die, and start in a much more advanced position without getting caught. This basically breaks the game, allowing it to be easily exploited. That’s the one poor design choice that should’ve been avoided by the developer.

Volume (PC) Review 3
Volume (PC) Review 4

But for every little flaw Volume has, in the end, it makes up for them with its engaging story and enjoyable gameplay. Plus, long after the game is finished, there are still levels to replay for leaderboards, and a level editor that gives you pretty much the entire tool set at your disposal to play around with.

Dragon Age: Inquisition Trespasser DLC Coming 5

Dragon Age: Inquisition Trespasser DLC Coming

Good news for those players addicted to Dragon Age: Inquisition, new story DLC is on its way.  Trespasser is the upcoming DLC that will tell a whole new story that is set two years after the main game. What happens to a world-saving organization when the world no longer needs to be saved? Well Trespasser will explore what it is like.

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Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl (Comic) Review 6

Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl (Comic) Review

After a 5 year hiatus, powerhouse creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are diving back into the world of Phonogram. Originally published in 2006 as a limited run, the title is described as “a warped autobiography” (emphasis on warped) by author Gillen who uses the stories of his past to reconcile its loss. Despite supernatural elements and improbable events, Phonogram is about growing old. This third volume of Phonogram focuses on the character Emily Aster as she tries to cope with a dual-personality; it follows issue 3 from volume 2 that focused on the same. The timing of releasing this third volume works in perfect synchronization with the pair’s other title The Wicked + The Divine, which is also published by Image and has been met with commercial and critical success. Gillen’s scripts and McKelvie’s art form a melodic partnership and are an excellent representation of visual storytelling and a well-made comic.
phonograminsert2Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl is not for the uninitiated; those who are new to comics might want to work their way up to this complex story. While the visual storytelling is fairly straightforward, the script’s depth causes the story to jump around in time and space, as well as introduce new abstract concepts, all of which may be challenging to someone who is unfamiliar with the Phonogram universe or the comic medium. While each volume of Phonogram is meant to function as an insular story, fans will be rewarded for their loyalty. Volume 3 contains minimal exposition; just enough to get you caught up and in the universe, so familiarity with the first two volumes is well-served but not a necessity.

Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl (Comic) Review
Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl (Comic) Review 5

In a world filled with superheroes, it is refreshing to see a script that uses the supernatural as a device rather than a gimmick. In Phonogram, music is magic, but that magic is not the point. Instead of focusing on the character’s extraordinary abilities, the story is centred on their development and follows their very human evolution. McKelvie’s art is right at home in this universe that is at once familiar but also slightly off-kilter. Expressive faces emoting in close-up frames emphasize the human element of the story; combined with Matthew Wilson’s vivid colours, they place Phonogram in its own unique universe that is beautiful and compelling. This is all the more impressive given that, at its core, Phonogram is about the aging process, lost youth, identity crisis, and multiple personalities. These are all difficult subjects for a social medium, but the supernatural elements provide a platform to explore different ideas.
phonograminsert4It was worth the five-year wait between volumes to see how far both Gillen and McKelvie have grown as creators. In the wake of their other collaborations, the team has evolved into a dynamic partnership who has mastered the art of visual storytelling. Gillen’s braves human stories in extraordinary circumstances, and McKelvie illustrates them in a fresh and vivid way. Phonogram reminds us that there are deeper themes to explore through comics; that they are symbolic stories like any other, but they can still be a source of entertainment. Gillen and McKelvie’s collaborations continue to be rewarding to read in so many ways, and will undoubtedly continue to be. Look for issue 2 of Phonogram: The Immaterial Girl on September 9

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Turbo Kid (Movie) Review 6

Turbo Kid (2015) Review

Turbo Kid falls into that peculiar new genre of deliberately “so-bad-they’re-good” movies that kicked off with Grindhouse (or more specifically, the fake trailers in Grindhouse). It’s a weird style of filmmaking that, on the low end like the Sharknado movies, delivers genuine garbage that thinks it gets away with it thanks to half-hearted stabs at irony. On the high end, like Hobo with a Shotgun or Black Dynamite, the movies work as comedies and also mix in an oddly sincere appreciation for the trash entertainment they are mocking. Turbo Kid thankfully falls into the higher end of the spectrum, and even if it’s not the finest example of the new B-movie format, it’s at least strong enough to find the cult appreciation it was made for.
turbokidsinsert3Munro Chambers stars as a sweet and lost teenager living in an apocalyptic setting that looks like a combination of landfills and garbage dumps. He piddles away his days collecting old toys and comic books in between rounds of fatal chases with the bondage biker gangs who run the remaining semblance of society. One day, he makes his first friend in the impossibly perky Laurence Leboeuf. Through a series of deliberately corny montages, they become fast friends. Then, they raise the ire of the evil boss man of the land (he’s played by the great Michael Ironside and has an eye-patch, so you know he’s trouble!). Ironside sends out his army (led by a henchman who loves flinging around saw blades) to crush our plucky heroes. Thankfully, they find a New Zealand cowboy (Aaron Jeffery) and a functioning Turbo Kid suit (complete with an “exploding head” laser gun) to help their cause. So things just might work out.

Turbo Kid (Movie) Review 4
Turbo Kid (Movie) Review

Yep, as you may have gathered, things are pretty ridiculously dumb in Turbo Kid land; but thankfully, lovingly and reverently so. It’s the feature length debut from the Canadian filmmaking collective of co-directors Francois Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell (aka RKSS: Road Kill Super Stars), and the gang clearly has a deep affection for the bargain bin VHS trash heap of the 80s. Their film mixes and matches bits from Mad Max rip offs, BMX Bandits, Scanners, Captain Power, and seemingly every other low-rent 80s/90s genre production into a mixtape of tacky delights. Colours are bright, gore runs rampant, emotions are sincerely sweet, music is synthesized, and everything is absurd. It’s the type of move where you laugh at limbs being chopped off one second and then smile at a sincere biking montage the next. Sure, it’s for a select audience, but the RKSS folks are clearly part of the audience and know how to serve up what trash-loving cultists crave.
turbokidsinsert1Their cast is also quite good and game, from Chambers’ innocent ass-kicker to Leboeuf’s adorably annoying sidekick and Ironside’s cartoon supervillain (the Scanners/Starship Troopers character actor is clearly having a ball and his joy is infectious). Turbo Kid finds just the right balance between sincerity, stupidity, and irony for this brand of B-movie homage to work. It’s arch and silly, yet all done with love and genuine hilarity. That balance is harder to pull off than it seems, and the RKSS team deserve praise for managing to do it. Granted, their feature length in-joke might feel a bit long, even at a trim 93 minutes, and it serves up nothing in the way of meaning or subtext; however, for the folks who will appreciate this sort of thing (aka the people who would consider watching a movie called Turbo Kid in the first place and are primed to laugh at the 1997 future setting), it’s a hoot.

Turbo Kid (Movie) Review 1
Turbo Kid (Movie) Review 2

It’s hard to say how long this neon cheese homage trend will last. There are only so many times filmmakers can trot out the clichés of 30-year-old films for loving laughs. However, the Turbo Kid team have certainly made a strong case for at least one more effort slipping into the subgenre. Given how clearly low-fi the production was (funded by Canada and New Zealand and filmed in rural Quebec), the fact that they were able to deliver something this deliriously entertaining from scotch tape, pocket change, junkyard finds, and neon dreams is a testament to their passions and talents. It’ll be exciting to see what RKSS serves up next, but hopefully they have a few more of their own ideas to add to the mixtape next time. (Phil Brown)

Zombi (PS4) Review 6

Zombi (PS4) Review

It takes a lot to set a zombie game apart. In recent years, waves of titles have been released featuring what has now become a bog-standard premise: some cataclysm—often a horrible virus—has left the world in ruins with only a handful of survivors left to fight off roaming bands of the undead. These games usually take place in the same decrepit cities, put an all-too familiar emphasis on scrounging supplies from the environment, and task the player with creatively dispatching enemies while uncovering what caused the epidemic.

At first glance, Ubisoft Montpellier’s Zombi looks like it does little to deviate from this formula. But, even as it offers players a laundry list of tired post-apocalyptic tropes, it also introduces a handful of original mechanics meant to reintroduce tension to a genre that’s long since become too familiar.
zombiinsert1Most interesting is the game’s approach to environmental exploration. Rather than highlight important supplies like ammunition or medicine directly, the player must scan the environment to determine where these items are hidden. Originally released on Nintendo’s Wii U in 2012 (as ZombiU), Ubisoft Montpellier’s updated version reworks what was once a novel use of the system’s second screen to a simple button press. Similarly, the backpack inventory system, which requires the player to manage weapons, medicine, and other tools without pausing the game, takes place directly on the TV screen. While these mechanics are clearly designed with the Wii U’s unique control scheme in mind, their reinterpretation still works well to make familiar videogame systems—gathering supplies and using items—seem novel again.

Also unique is Zombi’s approach to the player’s death. Instead of replaying from a prior savepoint, the game picks up with a new survivor waking up in a safehouse, picking up whatever has been stashed in a nearby locker during past runs, and hunting down their old character—now zombified—in order to kill them and regain the items carried in their backpack. Considering how quickly death occurs, the fairly harsh penalties for failure do a great job of heightening a sense of danger.

Zombi (PS4) Review 1
Zombi (PS4) Review 2

These systems don’t do much to compensate for Zombi’s larger problems, though. The game’s version of London is pretty bland, its environments constructed of post-apocalyptic clichés like abandoned apartments, rubble-strewn streets, and grey skies. Its version of the Tower of London and Buckingham Palace are memorable enough, but the various back streets and catacombs that make up the bulk of the game are hard to distinguish from one another. (Sequences like replaying an area as a new survivor where the map’s checkpoint disappears are difficult to navigate without a blinking waypoint as reference.) And the combat is fairly weightless; melee weapons and guns connecting to enemies without any sense of real impact.

The plot does little to make up for these issues. There’s a decent enough hook in the game’s decision to contextualize its apocalypse through John Dee’s 17th century prophecies and biblical allusions to the world’s end. Still, these ideas are buried beneath prototypical zombie genre plot points—humans using social breakdown in order to kill for sport; exchanging favours for access to crucial supplies; assisting scientists in researching a cure.
zombiinsert4Without satisfying combat, noteworthy environmental design, or a compelling story to urge the player on, it’s really only Zombi’s few unique mechanics that warrant interest. And without being integrated into the Wii U’s second screen controller, their novelty is too diminished to have a lasting impact. In a vacuum, Zombi would be more exciting. But its devastated city, shambling monsters, and concentration on scrappy survivalism are all concepts that have been explored far too often to elicit any real excitement. There are some great concepts here; it’s just too bad that they’re presented in such a familiar context.



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