The Night of the Rabbit

Come with me for an adventure of such whimsy! Yes the whimsy is strong with this one! Magic! Adventure! Animal People! Vague environmentalist messages! …. WHIMSY!!!

Daedalic Entertainment are an interesting company that produces interesting games. It doesn’t always work but they’re always interesting one way or another. I’ve already reviewed A New Beginning which is, as far as I’m concerned, a complete disaster. I started Edna and Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes but for reasons totally unconnected to the game I haven’t been able to do much of it. What I’ve seen, however, I’ve enjoyed. Daedalic have this very weird blend of excellent games paired with some pretty terrible ones. It’s always clear that a lot of work has gone into their world building but in A New Beginning this came at a serious price.

The Night of the Rabbit is a point and click adventure starring Jeremiah Hazelnut, a boy with a dream of one day becoming a magician. He seems to live this idyllic life in a little cottage with his mother just on the edge of a city and is quite obsessed with adventuring in the countryside. One day he receives a mysterious letter and, after performing a magical ritual, summons the Marquis de Hoto, an anthropomorphic rabbit with big red eyes, who says that he is a magician/wizard/treewalker who would like to take young Jerry on as an apprentice. Of course Jeremiah accepts and is taken to a world of other anthropomorphic animals. Jeremiah begins his training to become a magician but along the way discovers that the world is in danger and he must use his newfound magic to save it.

Yup, this is one trustworthy looking dude

Yup, this is one trustworthy looking dude

Now normally I have very little to say about the gameplay of point and click games because it’s always the same, it just depends on how well the puzzles are crafted. Daedalic seemed to decide that they wanted to do things a little differently and as such introduced quite a few mechanics to the game to break up traditional puzzle solving, they’ve also really streamlined how you interact with everything. There’s a day/night cycle for one thing that you can switch between in order to find new items and speak to people in different situations. There are also magic spells you can use to further the backstory as well as tools to solve puzzles. The unfortunate thing is that as the game goes on these mechanics become less and less useful to some of the later spells have one or two uses in the entire game. You would think that a spell that can create illusions would be fun and useful but it has about two uses in the whole game. The puzzles themselves are well crafted, with a few real headscratchers put in there for good measure.

The story is well told and there is a ton of backstory to find. The joke I made at the beginning about the amount of whimsy in it is quite apt. This game is absolutely full of whimsy. This is a game where the line “On a day in Summer Vacation anything is possible!” is said multiple times and is said seriously. But you know what? It really works, it’s not embarrassing, it’s just funny. Whether or not this is intentional is hard to know but if it works then why question it? The story itself is pretty well told and does build to a really epic conclusion. It’s a shame then that a lot of the ending is taken up with a massive, and I do mean massive, exposition dump. This is probably what the game does least well in terms of storytelling, there are some great long sections of explanation and exposition which could have been told in a more natural way.

Hang on, hang on! I think I've got the next bit of the story somewhere in this hat.

Hang on, hang on! I think I’ve got the next bit of the story somewhere in this hat.

Some of the earlier parts of the game don’t feel like they measure up to the epic nature of the ending. Particularly, I think, the relationship between Jerry and the Marquis. The Marquis is incredibly important to the plot but he and Jerry actually interact surprisingly little. You can talk to him through most of the game but he pretty much says the exact same thing each time and can remind you of your objectives. It feels like he and Jerry should have had more screen time and developed a relationship. For one thing I think it would have added deeper levels to the finale.

To be honest I think this is a criticism I have with many modern adventure games. They don’t tend to build up character relationships enough. The reason that The Walking Dead worked so well was that you actually cared about Clementine, she and Lee have a really deep relationship that the player is invested in. I think that many games want to create this sort of relationship but aren’t willing to put in the time it takes to actually pull it off.

This is probably the biggest complaint I have in the story, Jerry and the Marquis should have developed their relationship to a much deeper level in the story.

Oh and maybe less of a relationship with this little bastard.

Oh and maybe less of a relationship with this little bastard.

The art of the game is pretty brilliant, the sets are excellent and the characters look really interesting. It’s something that does make an adventure game that much more fun, actually enjoying what you’re looking at. I don’t think there was a single set that wasn’t interesting for one reason or another.

For those who enjoy collectibles there are a ton of them in this game, many of which have a bit of an impact on the story. Some of them are more frustrating than others and I did give up on some. Some of them tie directly into the story, giving hints and clues, while others are just collectibles. One such collectible are a series of playing cards which you can use to challenge pretty much everyone to a game of Quartets (basically Go Fish!). This does get boring very, very quickly, and has little to impact the plot. It’s just a little side thing that some people might find enjoyable but I thought fell flat.

Now I can’t finish my review without talking about the game’s environmentalist message. Yes, it has one. Don’t ignore it because of that, it’s not like A New Beginning. For the most part the game is pretty subtle about it and does a good job of critiquing many things about modern life, such as instant gratification and false spiritualism, and the environmentalist message plays into it. There are a couple of moments, however, when it becomes quite heavy handed and annoying. Some giant moths start talking about a terrible flood of stick grey fluid that is evil and destructive… yes, cement. They also talk about this foul smelling mountain that caused some creatures to start acting crazy… a landfill. It’s not bad but it gets a bit heavy handed at those points to an eye-rolling level. I think they could have left those bits out and kept the environmentalism stuff subtle.

Although I do enjoy giant hippy-looking wizard.

Although I do enjoy giant hippy-looking wizard.

The game is, in my opinion, a bit pricey for what it is, it’s $20 or £16.99. For an adventure game like this I would say that’s a bit much, it’s really a game to get when it’s on sale and I don’t doubt it will be sooner or later.

I enjoyed Night of the Rabbit, it’s fun and interesting and is taking point and click games into interesting directions mechanically. I really like the world that has been created and while I don’t know if a direct sequel would work I would really enjoy seeing more games in the same universe. The ending does turn into this spiral of awesomeness that I would like to see expanded upon but I doubt that we’ll see this sort of thing again. Daedalic like to create universes and then leave them unless there’s a direct sequel. So I would like to see more but I’m not holding my breath. Still, the game is good, if pricey, and I am glad I played it.

image011

Also is Churchmouse Jr. real or is Churchmouse Senior just insane? I just can’t tell!

 

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Film Rant Time: Kick-Ass 2

Despite the name I’m not always going to use this feature to talk about things I don’t like. There are a lot of ‘review’ shows and blogs about that mostly talk about how rubbish a particular thing is with maybe a last few words suddenly saying “I actually liked this.” It becomes less of a review and more a ‘how comically angry can I get about this?’ game. I already talk about many games that I like so I would like to extend this to films as well. I like the feature name but this will be less ranty and more… critiquey?

So let’s get down to business (to defeat…) and talk about Kick-Ass 2. 

The idea of superheroes in the real world is not really an original concept. It’s been done a number or times, most notably with Alan Moore’s excellent series Watchmen. Kick-Ass, created by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., is this idea of realistic superheroes taken to gritty, dark, and depressing extremes. I say this mostly about the comic, for those who have only seen the film trust me when I say they lighten it up so much. 

Kick-Ass is about American high-school student Dave Lizewski, played in the films by Aaron Taylor-Johnson who one day decides that he wants to try and be a superhero despite no skills or real motivation. As is to be expected he is mostly a complete failure, getting beaten nearly to death a number of times while mostly only managing to help a small number of people on a very superficial level. But that’s okay because it’s more about the fantasy of the new persona for Dave, since in his normal life he is nerdy, unpopular, and has a hopeless crush on the token ‘hottest-girl-in-school’ (Yes it’s clichéd). Unbeknownst to Dave, however, there is in fact already a real superhero duo and they do have the skills, the equipment, and the training: Big Daddy and Hit Girl, played by Nicholas Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz respectively.

If you haven’t already seen the first film and you think you might enjoy it then I do recommend it. It’s not even nearly as depressing as the comic and has this interesting mix of horrific scenes, ironic humour, and straight up goofiness. It’s fun and it’s odd. I’m now going to talk about the sequel which takes place a little after the end of the first film and is, in part, about Hit-Girl attempting to regain her childhood and reintegrate into society. As with Elysium I will keep the spoilers to a minimum until I mark the spoilers section. Oh and if you’re offended by bad language then you may not want to read on as I will not be censoring any of the names.

They're here to fight crime and get beat up... at least one of them is.

They’re here to fight crime and get beat up… at least one of them is.

Visuals

Like the original the film has this blend of bright and dark in its visual style. The costumes of the many (and I do mean many) supporting heroes are bright, campy, and ridiculous. In normal Kick-Ass style this is set against more gloomy and dull images of the city and makes more a nice, if sometimes cringe-worthy, contrast. It’s meant to look realistic and as we all know realistic means gritty so that’s what most of the real world parts look like. 

The fight scenes (of which there are many) are well choreographed and interesting to watch, with the usual high intensity of blood that anyone who has seen the first film or read any of the comics should have come to expect. There’s also a surprising amount of bodily fluid scenes. Kick-Ass 2 definitely takes a leaf out of the adolescent and gross out humour which the first film lacked. There are numerous instances of vomiting and one of electrically induced diarrhoea, I’m not kidding. It’s a little bit cheap and it’s a shame. It’s one of the main differences between the humour of  first and second film, the first had a little bit of cringey humour but mostly derived it from the really odd circumstances being portrayed. The second goes much more for poop jokes, masturbation jokes, penis jokes, and impotence jokes too. It does certainly feel a lot cheaper than the first which was by no means high brow already.

One thing that I kept noticing throughout the film was how careful the film team had been in concealing Dave Lizewski’s body. Considering in part the film is about Kick-Ass actually training and becoming, you know, a superhero I was just waiting for the Captain America ‘Suddenly MUSCLES EVERYWHERE’ moment and it most certainly arrives.

But you'll have to wait and see it! Or... I don't know google it or something. If you put Kick-Ass 2 into google images it already comes up with 'Shirtless' as a possible refined search.

But you’ll have to wait and see it! Or… I don’t know google it or something. If you put Kick-Ass 2 into google images it already comes up with ‘Shirtless’ as a possible refined search.

Characters

Most of the characters in the sequel have been set up in the first film. Dave Lizewski is still a high-school loser to a degree (they play it up a bit more at random points) and Mindy Macready is still the Rorschach of this drama. Perhaps a bit more of an emotional one. Some of the characters from the first film get a bit more of a starring role, most notably Dave’s nerdy high school friends who get their own little character arcs. Some others drop off the map completely, in this case Dave’s girlfriend Katie who has one scene where she breaks up with Dave over a misunderstanding, makes a penis size joke and then promptly disappears from the plot.

The character of Red Mist/Chris D’Amico also returns, with Christopher Mintz-Plasse reprising his role. He gets promoted to the role of primary antagonist after an incident involving a tanning bed, a set of bondage toys, a couple of guns, and his mother, which leads him to become the world’s first supervillain, dubbing himself The Motherfucker… don’t ask. He recruits a number of henchman into his group known as the Toxic Mega Cunts, and he proceeds to generally give racially insensitive villain names to all of them. They are really enjoyable to watch and I can’t help but feel the actors protraying them were trying to have a lot of fun. Similarly the supporting hero cast also have a chance to shine with some bizarre and entertaining names and origins. Notable names include Donald Faison as the bat-wielding Doctor Gravity and Jim Carrey as the ex-mob enforcer turned born again Christian superhero Colonel Stars and Stripes.

The acting is pretty spectacular and remains entertaining throughout. It really does feel like people were having fun with their roles even during some of the more intense moments. I should also mention a little cameo appearance of Iain Glen who plays Chris D’Amico’s uncle and, technically, the leader of the D’Amico family now. For anyone not familiar with the name Iain Glen then you might remember him as Jorah Mormont from Game of Thrones. I kept waiting for his accent to slip and for him to say “Khaleesi”.

And so the crew of slightly pathetic superheroes marched off to battle.

And so the crew of slightly pathetic superheroes marched off to battle.

Plot

You know what, I was really surprised by the plot here. The trailers made me think that the plot was going to be Hit-Girl struggling to adapt to life in high-school while Dave Lizewski tries to turn her away from her past as Hit-Girl. Maybe that’s just me but that trailers certainly made me think that. Turns out I was wrong, it’s the reverse. Dave is bored with his life again and wants to go back to being Kick-Ass and is encouraging Mindy to stay as Hit-Girl. Most of the plot is about the consequences of trying to be superheroes in the real world, just like the first, but with the added danger of the creation of The Motherfucker, the world’s first supervillain.

It sounds, when written down, that it’s just a re-hash of the first plot but there’s enough variety and twists and new character development (and bodily fluid jokes) to feel like a very different beast from the original. The moments where Mindy manages to ingratiate her way into high-school life are very entertaining, mostly due to her reactions to the various situations.

Down this road leads only to spoilers, that and Castle Vampire

The main motivation of Chris D’Amico, aka The Motherfucker, is his hatred of Kick-Ass. After the events of the first film he wants revenge over the death of his father and is prepared to go to extreme lengths to get it. Kick-Ass himself has been training with Hit-Girl but she is forced to give up that life once again as her adoptive father does not want her to continue life as Hit-Girl but rather to try and grow up normal. Kick-Ass is despondent at losing his partner and thus starts teaming up with likewise “superheroes” many of whom are even more pathetic than he. As the film progresses we see Mindy try and live a Hollywood high-school life and, ultimately, pay the price. These bits are quite entertaining, particularly a brilliant scene with a One Direction rip off that is weirdly hilarious. But the main thing we want to see a Kick-Ass film is for are the superheroes. Kick-Ass 2 doesn’t disappoint here as Kick-Ass’ team quickly grows to a huge number, 

But The Motherfucker has also been creating an army and beings to wipe out police and costumed heroes alike, just to get back at Kick-Ass. As a result costumed vigilantes are all arrested in a very Keene Act way and Dave Lizewski’s dad admits to being Kick-Ass in order to protect his son. The Motherfucker, continuing his revenge plot, arranges to have Dave’s dad murdered while in custody. As a result Kick-Ass, Hit-Girl and the remaining superheroes team up once more to fight The Motherfucker and his henchmen.

It’s quite a standard superhero plot with the realism touches that really make it interesting. There are a few duff scenes, mostly the ones with the cheap jokes, and, bizarrely, the most unrealistic scene is the “revenge” scene of the popular high-school girls. It’s odd considering the subject matter that this is the most unrealistic scene.

You’ve survived the spoilers, well done.

The Motherfucker's costume... it's not subtle

The Motherfucker’s costume… it’s not subtle

Themes

Themes of a Kick-Ass film… well I know I’ve gone on about it so far but the main theme of the film is the realistic depiction of superheroes. Many characters start talking about how this sort of thing doesn’t work in “real life” and that people like Dave and Mindy should just try to lead normal lives. But ultimately the film is at odds with its own ideas as its portrayal of real life is pretty unrealistic. The high-school life is a complete Hollywood idea of high-school with all its fun archetypes. I’m not American so I don’t know how realistic these ideas are but I can’t imagine they’re particularly close to reality.

But Kick-Ass has always excelled when it comes to the reality of superheroism and the consequences of leading such a life. So the film does a very good job of showing that while it is cool, which is undoubtedly is, it has unique problems to do with how to merge your life with and without the mask, the dangers you face yourself, and ultimately how it affects your relationships with other people. Kick-Ass 2 does a good job of exploring these themes further, it just falls short when it comes to portraying normal life. Maybe that’s a bit strange but I think the film just does the bizarre better than the mundane.

This is Mother Russia, she's basically the Bane of the film

This is Mother Russia, she’s basically the Bane of the film

Final Impressions

If you really enjoyed Kick-Ass then you will probably enjoy the sequel but might find there are some real disappointments in store. It’s still entertaining and the fight scenes are brilliant but it’s a more heavily flawed gem than its predecessor. I wouldn’t call it bad, not at all, because I enjoyed it immensely but I think that for the potential third film they should stick mostly with the heroes and villains and stay away from the issues of ‘real-life’. Oh and they should move away from the vulgar humour. The only reason that I enjoyed those scenes was that someone in the front row of the cinema seemed to really enjoy them and had a very distinctive laugh. 

So it’s a good film that maybe needed a bit more polish before being sent out. Still enjoyable even for its flaws.

Oh all right, here you go.

Oh all right, here you go.

SolForge

Well it’s happened, I’m all moved in to my new place in a completely different part of the country and I have internet back. So now I think it’s time for me to tell you about a free to play game that I’ve been having a lot of fun with.

I’m a big fan of board and card games (if only I could find more people to play with) and I like being able to build a good deck. SolForge is a Collectible Card Game Video Game. For those who don’t know the difference between a Collectible Card Game (CCG) and a Living Card Game (LCG) a very rough guide to the differences between the two: Living card games are generally bought in large packs and with regularly released expansions. They contain the full set of cards required to play the game. Collectible Card Games normally release starter packs and then require you to buy booster packs and get lucky to get some of the cards you want. LCGs are more expensive as a rule but you have that certainty of knowing you’ll get all the cards you want while CCGs are cheaper but can work out quite pricey with bad luck.

Stone Blade Entertainment’s SolForge, however, is a free-to-play CCG and so is quite interesting. An overview of how it works: In SolForge the players have to play cards in order to defeat enemy cards and bring the opponent’s health from 100 down to 0. As you play the game your cards start out quite weak but every time you play one it levels up and the next time it appears in your hand to play it will be much stronger. These cards fall into two categories, creatures can be played in your lanes and act as your units, attacking the opponent and their cards whilst defending you. Secondly you have spells that you play to provide bonuses to yourself or weaken the enemy.

Rwaaaaaar! You will never defeat me and my deck full of legendary cards!

Rwaaaaaar! You will never defeat me and my deck full of legendary cards!

You can customize the decks you use quite freely, being able to choose thirty cards and two out of the four races available in the game. They each suit a different play style and can be combined to create some very interesting combinations. Some races can flood the battlefield with units, others can be levelled to become practically unkillable, some utilise spells more. It’s a game where you can really adjust your style. It’s a lot of fun to mess around with the races to try and work out what’s best for you.

Each race is pretty unique from the abilities to the art and let me tell you that the art in this game is pretty amazing. Each card has a little image that changes and advances as the creature levels. The design is impressive making it a lot of fun to look through the cards and their various forms.

The game is far from perfect, the wording on some of the cards can require a second or third reading before you actually understand what it means. It just makes it a little clunky which is unfortunate. There is also quite a heavy reliance on luck. Not only in getting the cards you want for your decks (which I’ll explain about later) but in having them show up at the right time. There is a skill in knowing how to level your deck but there are many times when the difference between winning and losing is just down to getting lucky with cards.

Pardon me a moment while I build some better cards

Pardon me a moment while I build some better cards

So how to get cards in a free-to-play? Well the free to play mechanic here is that you can spend real money to buy in-game gold which you use to purchase the various forms of booster packs. The more expensive the booster pack the more (and better) cards are inside. But you don’t have to fork over money if you want to get better cards. For those playing a purely free-to-play style then the game offers daily rewards for logging in, winning your first and third matches. You are rewarded for this in silver and in random cards or booster packs. Using silver you can only buy the basic booster packs and the skins for your game but the game is pretty generous with giving you the slightly upgraded booster pack too.

So the game can become more of a chore if you’re just trying to get some better cards. It’s like punching a time-card and waiting for the chance to get better things. If you’re looking for constant variety in your gameplay then you’ll either have to keep spending money or look elsewhere as the variety available without paying in SolForge may not be enough to keep you interested.

However the game is still in Beta with plans for a campaign and a tournament mode in the works. I look forward to the campaign because the lore that Stone Blade has created is very intricate but at the moment only available on their website. As it stands in current Beta you have the option of battling against the computer in three difficulties or against human opponents both off and online.

It’s free to play so there’s not much to lose by checking it out. If you’re a fan of deckbuilding games then you’ll probably have a fun time at least for a while. I look forward to seeing how the game develops and will keep trying to farm those booster packs.

SolForge will have your money! You will get the pretty cards!

SolForge will have your money! You will get the pretty cards!

Film Rant Time: Elysium

I doubt this will be a regular feature here at Polar Bear Gamer but I felt it necessary for me to have a little talk about a film I’ve recently seen.

Elysium is a science fiction film directed by Neill Blomkamp of District 9 fame. The film is set in the not too distant future where overpopulation has split the world into two classes, a majority lower class who live in squalor on an overcrowded Earth, and a wealthy upper class that live on an orbital space station known as Elysium where they enjoy a comfortable lifestyle waited on hand and foot by robotic servants and (and this is one of the main points of the film) have excellent healthcare.

Matt Damon stars as Max, a lower class citizen with dreams of ascending to Elysium along with his childhood sweetheart Frey. But the years have torn them apart and Max is now a car thief on parole trying to earn an honest living. After an accident at work Max is exposed to a lethal level of radiation that is set to kill him in five days. Fortunately for him he gets given some magic pills that mean he will not suffer the effects until death (apart from when the plot requires it of course). Not wanting to die Max starts to concoct a plan to get to the one place that can save his life: Elysium.

As a set up it isn’t bad, magic anti sickness pills notwithstanding, and the images of Earth it portrays, with a crowded ghetto for L.A., look impressive and imaginative. I think the best part of the film is in the early stages and parts of the middle. But let’s get into the film in detail.

Ah I see the problem here. It's your acting, Matt, we might have to do a complete reboot of your acting circuits.

Ah I see the problem here. It’s your acting, Matt, we might have to do a complete reboot of your acting circuits.

Visuals

The film’s strongest area and I would expect nothing less from the director of District 9. The overpopulated Earth looks scummy but not so bad that you couldn’t imagine anyone actually living there. It looks like a slum in a third world country and that’s pretty much exactly what it’s meant to be. A brief bit of text in the beginning tells us that Earth’s population has exploded to unsustainable numbers. As a result Earth looks pretty much how you would expect it. The droids that make up the police, security, and apparently prison forces also look excellent and were probably my favourite part of the design, a shame they didn’t delve further into the robotics.

But to contrast, Elysium itself  is really, really boring. The idea of the orbital ringworld hovering above Earth like a moon is pretty good but every shot of Elysium itself makes the place look so boring, just the same area copied and pasted again and again. I would think that, given the technology to manufacture liveable habitats in space, humanity could have gone for some interesting designs but apparently everyone just wants to live in what seems to be the typical Hollywood enormous mansion with attached pool design.

The contrast is nice and the robotics look excellent but Elysium is just so boring that, aside from the excellent healthcare, it doesn’t seem like the Olympus or Asgard that they are trying to convey.

Elysium: Where aesthetics take a back seat to “Ooh quick, make everyone look rich!”

Characters

I’m going to include acting in this and since I already made a joke about it in an image above you can already guess at what I will say. Our protagonist Max is… boring. His motivation is justifiable, the desire to get to Elysium and to prevent his death, but so much more could have been done to flesh him out. Instead we basically just see Matt Damon being Matt Damon, which sometimes works but alas here does not. He’s very much a Hollywood protagonist with just enough flaws to seem human and rogue-ish. His love interest, Frey, has almost no character at all and we see this in her acting. Her primary motivation is looking after her daughter who has ‘advanced stage leukaemia’. Despite this, however, the daughter doesn’t look gaunt or sickly or anything, heaven forbid a Hollywood child look anything but cute in order to win over the hardened heart of the main character with a story about a meerkat and a hippo (Cue retching noises). Seriously that child should look skeletal by this stage.

Aside from them we have Jodie Foster playing Jessica Delacourt, the Elysian Secretary of Defense. Her speech is baffling with strange inflections and an unidentifiable accent that makes her sound less like a human and more like an alien that is infiltrating humanity and has only just learned how to talk. Her motivation is to take control of Elysium because the current government doesn’t want her blowing stuff up. The whole political plot on Elysium is really simplistic. She is aided by Agent Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley who you may recognise as Wikus van der Merwe from District 9, who is a psychopath and apparently the only Earth operative that Jodie Foster has. For some reason they’re pretty lax on security on Elysium. He plays his role well enough but there isn’t enough in the character to make it worthwhile, he’s just a typical psychotic agent character.

The only main character that I felt had some depth to him was The Spider, the head of a criminal organization that, among other things, deals with illegally ferrying people up to Elysium. He is the only character that’s really worth watching in the film and that actually has some depth to him. He gets demoted to more of a sidekick later in the film and that’s quite disappointing but the early and mid scenes with him are some of the better ones.

I’m on the lookout for prawns!

Plot

To warn you in advance you are now entering spoiler territory. I’ll do a quick summary of what I felt about it and give you a warning when I actually get into the spoilers.

The plot is very Hollywood with a simplistic “I need to get to X or else I/this small child will die!” with the added complication that Max is being hunted for some information he possesses. It’s pretty boring and generic with no real twists to speak of. It’s not hard to guess at what is going to happen next at any given point.

Here be Spoilers, Yarrr, Proceed at your own Risk!

Oh my but the third act to this film is boring, really boring. To give an added summary of what has happened: Max bargains with The Spider to get a ticket up to Elysium in order to heal his radiation poisoning, but in order for Spider to give him a ticket Max has to complete a job for him. Spider outfits Max with an exosuit that will allow him to be as strong as a droid in order to complete his job of capturing a billionaire and basically downloading his brain into Max’s. However, this particular billionaire is engaged in a coup with the Jodie Foster character and in his head has the code for a reboot program that has the potential to put anyone in charge of Elysium.

For obvious reasons, Jodie Foster wants Max for this information, after the heist goes bad and the billionaire defense contractor ends up dying. After an annoying scene where Frey manages to save Max’s life after what should have been a fatal stomach wound (Don’t worry, he’s up and about after a few hours, ’tis but a scratch), Frey and her daughter are captured by Agent Kruger. After discovering the bargaining chip he has, Max lets himself get caught and promises to give up the information in exchange for him being healed on Elysium. Things go south again and Max ends up crashing on Elysium with Frey, killing Agent Kruger, and getting caught again. Spider manages to sneak onto Elysium in order to bust Max free but the newly revived Kruger (They play fast and loose with the whole immortality thing in this film, Kruger can basically get resurrected after having most of his head blown off but a being shot in the chest, ain’t no coming back from that) outfits himself with an exosuit and kills most of the crew.

The whole film ends with Max defeating Kruger, getting to the core to unleash the reboot program, and him sacrificing himself after giving this pointless and boring speech to Frey, and making Spider the new president of Elysium and turning everyone on Earth into Elysium citizens. As a result medical robots and ships are automatically dispatched to Earth to cure everyone’s illnesses.

Everyone’s illnesses.

Everyone.

Maybe ten or twelve billion people.

HOW DOES THIS HELP ANYONE? THOSE SHIPS COULD MAYBE CARRY FIFTY PEOPLE EACH, IT WOULD TAKE FOREVER!

I don’t understand the end of this film. It’s stupid. There is a reason that Elysium exists, as far as we are aware, there are not resources enough for everyone. I understand the whole social commentary thing but if your commentary’s solution doesn’t make sense then what have you really said? They never really address the issues of technology in this film (Like how a rocket launcher can produce enough energy to fire guided rockets into space, or where the hell Elysium gets its energy from) but we can quite clearly assume that this is not the Culture, it is not a post-scarcity society and resources still need to be managed. Maybe if we saw more of Elysium we would see people leading decadent, wasteful lives and use far more resources than necessary that could be put to better use. But we don’t, we see almost nothing of Elysium itself so I’m just going to assume that these people are normal people that are under the constraint of the resources available. So suddenly giving everyone access to these resources would end up destroying the planet and the sanctuary of Elysium. I’m not trying to justify the vast gulf between the classes that the film portrays but I’m suggesting that the solution given by this film makes no realistic sense.

The plot is boring and ends up not really making much sense. And yet most of what happens in the film is bent in order accommodate the plot. Our technology says we can make people immortal but we want to kill this character off, whelp let’s just pull the magic plot lever that makes everyone forget the technology. Seriously that annoyed me. The film does give a brief explanation saying that Kruger still has some brain activity but that’s just nonsense. No one in the state that he was in can have brain activity and if he does then someone just getting stabbed in the neck should be fine.

Spoilers end here, along with hope for this film.

Tell me it ends soon!

Themes

Elysium is a science fiction film and as such is used in order to give a social commentary on current issues. Issues such as immigration, class division, Healthcare, overpopulation. And yet it gives no real solutions to the problems it raises. Mostly what the film says about these issues is this: They exist. Yes they exist, we know they exist, the question is what do you think we should do about them? As far as immigration goes this film seems to suggest that a “We should let everyone in” solution is the best. I’m not the sort of person that hates immigrants and thinks they should go back where they came from but I also don’t think that “Let everyone in!” Is the right solution. It’s a really simplistic idea that just doesn’t stand in reality.

As for healthcare, I’m English and so have access to the NHS. It’s not a perfect system but I’m much happier knowing that I live in a country with free healthcare. This is probably more of a contentious issue for American audiences given the frankly shocking healthcare system they have. But Elysium, as with its other themes, offers no real solution to the problem it raises. The film doesn’t tell us enough about the issue of resources in order for us to judge whether or not another healthcare system would be viable. It just gives us a very simplistic outlook.

Class division is an interesting and very relevant issue and the film seems to end up favouring the idea of a classless society (I wonder how that stood with die-hard capitalists). Yet the issue is not viewed with enough detail. According to the film poor = good and rich = bad. This is because all we see are the people suffering on Earth and we see almost nothing of the people on Elysium. Seriously, we only meet about five people who live on Elysium and they are all government workers. Is this film really trying to tell me that not one person on all Elysium thought “Hang on, maybe we should do something about the billions of people suffering.” Not one rebellious teenager decides it isn’t fair? Not one charitable soul exists on the whole of Elysium. To put things in perspective: in English history the era with one of the biggest divisions between class was the Victorian era. During this time one of the very popular activities that higher class ladies would get involve with was charity work to help the poor. It just happened like that. I fail to believe that Elysium is that far removed that no one would wonder about the plight of those below, not even a little.

Finally, overpopulation is a big issue and one that does need to be addressed but Elysium doesn’t suggest anything about this. Despite it being the major issue of the film there doesn’t seem to be any birth control laws on Earth or Elysium and if the population has reached the stage that people have constructed a place to house people in space you would think that something would be in play to try and stop the population growth. It’s the uncomfortable thought I had through the whole film that we’re meant to root for all these people to survive despite the film warning against overpopulation. At least the film isn’t suggesting a cull but it does send some mixed messages about what exactly we should be doing.

One of the more interesting characters in the film is an animatronic parole officer.

Final Impressions

If you’ve made it this far into my little rant then you are a trooper and deserve your very own gold star… there you go, just for you.

Do I regret seeing the film? Well, it’s not a film I want to see a second time but I can at least appreciate some of the ideas and spectacle. That being said it is a major disappointment for me considering how much I enjoyed District 9. It feels like the ideas that created District 09 were here but had Hollywood Executives’ greasy fingerprints all over it to the point that it became unrecognisable. It’s a very generic film with lots of clichés and not enough interesting areas to make up for it .

Final verdict: Generally poor with a few mediocre moments.

The prawn is not happy about what happened here.

The Last Door

I stepped back from the window, tearing my gaze from the forest before the house. The crows had settled once more, I could feel their beady eyes watching me. But I cared not for I am a great big polar bear. 

It’s been a little while since last I wrote. There are several reasons for this including mild depression and the fact that I will be moving house soon. But enough about that, let’s just get right back into the swing of things with The Last Door.

The Last Door is a point and click (I know, so unusual for me) horror game set in 1891 in Britain. In it you play as Jeremiah Devitt, a young man who receives a mysterious letter from an old friend from his boarding school telling him to come to his house at once. When Jeremiah arrives he finds the place oddly deserted and beings to uncover clues that talk of strange happenings. The beginning of each chapter also shows us a little hint of what is to come with the player controlling a different character who is in the throes of a disturbing act.

The game is episodic with chapters 1 and 2 already released and chapter 3 is in the works. It is very clear that the developers took influence from the contemporary horror writers of the era (There’s even a nice H.P. Lovecraft easter egg in the second chapter). It does a very good job of creating that sense of the Victorian horror story with underplayed tension and this constant air of mystery that keep you enthralled.

Despite the fact that it’s a comparatively tiny number of pixels it also manages to look pretty awesome

The game has a retro pixellated art style (Hey, I’m not sick of it, I think it looks good), yet has more modern lighting effects which to a fantastic job of building on this tense atmosphere. It’s not always obvious what an object may be but if you can’t work it out and if Jeremiah isn’t going to tell you then it’s really not important enough to merit it. Besides, it’s much easier to get lost in the sets and backgrounds than in the tiny details.

The sound is also fantastic with all the effects keeping the theme alive and an original score which is available to download for those who help support the game. The music is excellent and helps heighten the creepiness and the tension. It’s not a frustratingly difficult game and most of the puzzles are fairly logical, if occasionally esoteric. More attention has been given to the atmosphere and the lore.

But what’s more important in a horror game than the scares. The Last Door does well in evoking the older style of horror stories where unsettling creepiness is given priority over jump scares and gore. There are some gore-scare moments but they’re few enough that when they appear they are genuinely scary. If you like a more sophisticated sort of horror then you’ll enjoy the horror in this game.

When you’re on your own in a spooky cellar with only a lantern to see by, it’s always handy to grab a crowbar (Best tool in any game)

So are there any problems with it? Well nothing that really breaks the game for me. Some of the subtitle errors are distracting but considering it comes from a non-English developer that is easily forgiven. Other than that the only problem I have is the problem I have with all episodic games. There is always this need to build up the tension but there is little payoff since it is waiting for the next chapter to explain more.

For someone like me who enjoys getting sucked into a story it’s a little jarring to have to put it down and come back to it later. Yes you can make arguments about savouring a good thing and there are technical justifications, the game is still being made after all. Nevertheless part of me wishes that games like would just be released in one go to really keep you hooked to the story.

Creepy boarding schools/hospitals for the win!

The game is still being developed and they are asking for donations at their website (Link below). You can play the first chapter for free and can donate any amount to unlock the next chapter or there are a few reward schemes for higher donations including access to all future chapters and the excellent soundtrack.

If you enjoy classic horror then I really recommend giving it a go and sending some money their way. These developers have an excellent grasp on what makes a good adventure game and what makes something scary. The whole game has this oppressive, unsettling feel that only gets heightened as the chapters progress. Give it a go and I urge you to help fund more.

Link to the Website

Alice: Madness Returns

Remember, Alice, not all here is as it seems. I’m not even here, nor a I speaking right now. In fact, you’re saying everything you think I’m saying. And now I’m a giant hippo or something weird… wooooooo….

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is amazingly recognisable. It’s one of the staples of childhood literature and has been adapted many times (even into a porn parody). People will probably have seen the Disney adaptation and it’s highly likely that you will have seen the Tim Burton adaptation of 2010 (which I hate but we can go into that another time). Because of the weirdness of the story it is almost always one that people like to twist, to make dark and scary. Surprisingly few manage to do it effectively.

Enter American McGee, an American game designer with an interesting childhood and just the right experience to make a dark and twisted version of Alice in Wonderland that actually keeps the ideas of the original story. The resulting product was a game called American McGee’s Alice. It’s still a pretty excellent game, though it has dated, and well worth the high reviews it received. The story is set after the events of Through the Lookinglass and features a slightly older Alice. A fire breaks out in Alice’s home, destroying everything and killing the entire Liddell family apart from Alice who is so wracked with survivors guilt she is institutionalised. To reflect Alice’s shattered psyche, Wonderland has become twisted and the Queen of Hearts has become even more tyrannical. Thus Alice is forced to return to Wonderland in order to help restore it, and in the process herself.

Wonderland's a little bit different

The sequel to American McGee’s Alice came some 11 years afterwards and is entitled Alice: Madness Returns. Alice is now 19 years old but is still haunted by her guilt and her insanity. Now, after her stay in Rutledge Asylum, she is being treated by Doctor Angus Bumby who is trying to hypnotise Alice into forgetting her trauma. But the treatment seems to be having little effect as Alice is hurled back into Wonderland where she is informed by the Cheshire Cat that there is a new evil destroying Wonderland and Alice must, once more, defeat it. Along the way she must piece her memory together so she can try and learn what really happened on the night of the fire.

The game itself is an third-person action puzzle platformer. As Alice the players must navigate the unusual environment of Wonderland, battle the various hostile creatures within, and mostly go from one character to another as they give her cryptic messages and, generally speaking, add greater confusion to the story. There is a real theme of industrialisation, with horrific mechanical monstrosities making up large areas of the environment. Many of the enemies themselves are made of Ruin, a sort of black, polluted sludge. The combat makes use of Alice’s agility as well as four weapons, which can be used for combo attacks.

She is not messing around with that Vorpal Blade

The combat is entertaining but can get a little stale. It’s mostly a matter of learning cues so you can dodge enemy attacks and then wildly swinging at them until it’s time to dodge again. There are quite a number of enemies with different forms of attack so there is variety and the animations on both Alice and her opponents look excellent. Even the designs are interesting to look at, from the sludge and machinery of the ruin to the Eye-Pot, a giant teapot with one red eye and sharp legs for stabbing and a nozzle for firing boiling liquids (maybe tea, who knows) at you. The platforming is well done, making use of Alice’s excellent manoeuvrability. There are some frustrating moments with the platforming but not usually anything that ends up with controller-snapping frustration.

But the best things about the game are the style and the art. This is a beautiful game with absolutely amazing environments. Each section you play through looks unique and incredibly imaginative, fitting the theme of Wonderland very neatly. But even the dreary look of Ol’ London Taaan is imaginative in a very bleak way.

No seriously, she is NOT messing around with that Vorpal Blade

Besides the moments of frustrating platforming the game’s biggest flaw is probably that the combat can get a little same-y. However people will experience this to different levels and it is somewhat lowered on higher difficulties. Playing on some the hardest difficulties makes an enemy’s attack very punishing meaning that you have to keep yourself focused. But even with this the limited number of weapons, attacks, and combos mean that players with a more action-oriented mind may find themselves a little tired of the hack n’ slash methods by the end.

Also, if you do not enjoy looking out for secrets and collectibles then this may not be for you. The game is full of things to collect, teeth for upgrades, memories to piece together the story, bottles for… well, bottles mostly. The environments are fun enough to explore and interesting enough to look at but trying to find that one last hidden memory in the entire level can be very frustrating.

Beware the Eye-Pot, my girl, the legs that stab, the spout that spits.

If you are a fan of Alice in Wonderland then you’ll enjoy the many interesting approaches to the characters. It’s true that many people try to darken the stories of Alice but this is one of the very few times that it’s done well. Why? Well it’s mostly due to how Alice is portrayed. She doesn’t stare in wonder and everything around her but is just generally quite annoyed at how silly it all is. Very few adaptations seem to realise that this is how Alice is supposed to act.

Anyway, as a game it works well but the repetition and collectibles may put some gamers off. But there are much worse ways to tell a story of Alice (I’m looking at you, Tim Burton).

 

Sorry this one was a bit late, friends, various stresses have been catching up with me and I completely forgot to upload yesterday. Will continue with regular article tomorrow.

 

The Book of Unwritten Tales

Quick, I shall gather the other panserbjørne so we can take the Alethiometer to Mount Doom so we can destroy the Death Star and save Narnia. Enough references yet?

Hot on the heels of my Top 5 Adventure Games here we have The Book of Unwritten Tales, a game by German developer King Art. It is set in a fantasy world with a very typical armies of good versus the armies of evil story going on. But The Book of Unwritten Tales very clearly knows about the fantasy genre, the game is full of tongue-in-cheek moments and references to other works of fantasy and science fiction.

The game starts with the capture of the gremlin McGuffin who has just discovered the location of an artefact that could end the war. To his rescue comes Ivo, a wood elf princess who really needs more suitable clothing for adventuring.  McGuffin also visits Wilbur Weathervane, a naive young gnome who dreams of being a mage and an adventurer, and charges him with possession of a magic ring (sounding familiar) which he must deliver to the arch-mage.

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness… make fourth-wall breaking jokes

It’s a point-and-click adventure game, what more is there to say about the mechanics? It has the nice feature of hotspot highlighting which can be a controversial thing but is always handy. The interface is well realised with hotspots disappearing once they are determined to be of no use. You might think that makes this a very easy game but the puzzles are just challenging enough to still keep it interesting. You can also play as multiple characters at various points of the game, adding an extra dimension to puzzles when you need to think about who can do what (think Gobliiins).

The characters are pretty fantastic with some excellent voice acting. Wilbur is almost certainly the best but the others can definitely hold their own. Having characters that are a lot of fun to play is a god-send in adventure games. It just makes the whole thing much more enjoyable. The plot isn’t deeply involved but has enough twists and turns to keep you interested. It’s a very standard good vs evil story with unlikely heroes that you’ll find anywhere. It’s really the game’s humour that is it’s draw. Beyond simple references to other works the game includes self-aware jokes about how no one dies in adventure games, characters playing role playing games in a ‘fantasy’ world full of tax forms and insurance salesmen, and where the undead are forming an anti-defamation league in order to integrate into society.

Oh elves, even at high altitudes on the back of a dragon it’s important to dress skimpy

Problems with the game? There aren’t that many but there are a few that are a little nagging. Mostly it’s a problem with some of the puzzles. The game frequently builds up some complicated object hunt puzzles that end very quickly when a character simply gives you what you were after. For someone who plays a lot of adventure games this is a little jarring. At first it seems like a joke about some of the ridiculously complicated puzzles in adventure games but very quickly starts feeling a like a cop-out. Especially when the characters start talking about how they always have to go through a series of unlikely tasks in order to get an item off someone (are self-aware characters in adventure games a thing now?). It’s hard not to feel that the character’s complaints are unjustified when they’ve just been given so many things.

This does actually become a bit of a plot point in the late game that is quite fun but for the most part it feels like there were ideas that just got cut. You could argue that it cuts out padding from a game (and this is one that I would say is about medium length) but it would have been nice to have something there. The other problem with this game is the ending. Usually in adventure games you end on one last puzzle that you complete before actually finishing everything. The last puzzle in this game amounts to walking up some stairs. Then it just sort of ends, quite abruptly. It’s a bit unsatisfying and makes all the effort you put in feel like it isn’t worthwhile.

Just call me King of Puzzle Breaking

If you’re a fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series then you’re probably going to get a lot out of this game as it has a very similar sort of humour. The fourth-wall breaking is quite fun, particularly to adventure game veterans, and the characters are absolutely brilliant. Most of the puzzles aren’t that tricky but there are enough challenges to keep it entertaining. If you like your high-fantasy to have deep plot then you might find it a bit dissatisfying but you could do a whole lot worse. Had I finished this game last week it may well have gone on my Top 5 Adventure games, so just consider this an honourary number 6.