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

Top 5 Most Ridiculous Outfits

You get a mixed bag when it comes to video games outfits. Some look absolutely amazing with some cool and intricate designs. But it seems for every good outfit there is an equal and opposite ridiculous outfit. Ranging from the bizarre to the impractical this is the top 5 most ridiculous outfits:

Number 5

Teddie (Persona 4)

I umm-ed and ah-ed about putting this one on here because it is intentionally ridiculous and it works so well with the rest of the game. For those not in the know, Persona 4 is a… complicated game. It’s a bit like a mix between a JRPG and a social simulator. You have the fighting in dungeons with weird monsters but you also have to get to know your friends better in order to acquire upgrades and bonuses. Mostly the character designs are pretty normal anime style without too many bizarre costumes (the cross-dressing “Miss” Yasogami pageant and the real pageant aside). But there’s one character who never fails to look ridiculous: Teddie the… bear?

Do you… do you really look at that and immediately think bear?

Teddie is a bear, apparently, that lives in the alternate world that’s on the other side of the television. He is fairly cowardly and is mostly concerned with stopping the disruption that’s been happening in his world. Once he befriends the player he evolves a little more, even to the point of existential crises. Also, you wouldn’t think a character that looks like this would be the most sexually aggressive, but you’d be wrong, Teddie basically hits on anything that moves. It’s impressive for someone in a hollow bear suit. Did I not mention that the suit he’s wearing is completely hollow? Slight Spoilers Ahead Well, it starts out hollow. Teddie just gets creepier when he gets flattened after a boss fight and, after doing enough sit ups, grows a human body. It really does make this a ridiculous outfit. Especially since he puts the bear suit back on every time you go into the dungeons. Spoilers End. It’s a pretty ridiculous outfit but then Teddie is a ridiculous character. If you want to learn more about Teddie, the investigation team, and you have about 100 hours or so to spare then I suggest heading over to Giantbomb.com and checking out the Endurance Run.

Flat Teddie is even worse

Number 4

Shahdee (Prince of Persia: Warrior Within)

You’ve been ordered by your Empress to take a ship of demonic sand monsters off the coast of your home in order to raid and destroy another ship that’s approaching. The weather is uncertain but pitched sea battle is. You know there is a great warrior on the ship too. Looks like it’s skimpy armour o’clock!

It’s also important to make sure that the first thing everyone sees is your arse. Perfect battle strategy.

Shahdee is one of the early bosses in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (the second game in the Sands of Time trilogy) and she is a pretty tough character what with her two large swords that she wields with great ease. So why did she choose to wear practically nothing? Ok I suppose it allows for flexibility but shouldn’t you be more concerned about the many pointy things heading your direction? Besides if she stands about in the rain like that she’s going to catch a cold. Who is she trying to seduce anyway? Her crew are entirely sand monsters. Is it meant to be the enemy? They’re kinda busy what with the aforementioned sand monsters. Oh well, I’m sure Shahdee has her own reasons for dressing in armour that, if you melted it down, might cover a small book.

Nothing getting past that impenetrable wall of steel

Number 3 

Altair (Assassin’s Creed)

You can count pretty much all of the Assassin’s Creed protagonists in with this one. You’re part of this great league of assassins, ready to kill quickly and dispassionately. You hide in plain sight amidst the crowd before striking with your hidden blade. That’s the plan anyway, in reality you were spotted almost immediately thanks to the ridiculous white cloak and cowl as well as the weapons strapped to you while everyone else is wearing some more practical, and era friendly, outfits.

Awww yis, blending in seamlessly

I’m sure there’s some lampshaded explanation somewhere in the game where they say “The Animus just makes him seem so prominent for Desmond’s sake”. Why would it need to do this? He’s already always the centre of the camera (we’re assuming Desmond is essentially the player here) and he’s the one you can control. You’re not going to lose him yourself because you walked into a crowd. But apparently Desmond has some sort of agnosia and can’t recognise Altair (or his other ancestors) without them being bright white and covered in intricate weaponry. What’s the point in have a hidden blade when the rest of you is covered in swords, daggers, and throwing knives? Remember, kids, if you’re trying to keep a low profile then you shouldn’t also try to look cool. That just leads to guards shanking you as you try to complete your mission.

Number 2

Catwoman (Batman: Arkham City)

The Arkham series are pretty damn good games. It captures the feel of Batman really well while still allowing for challenging gameplay. It’s also great to see the villains and allowing some of the less well-known ones to get showcased, even if briefly.  But you know what does annoy me about the game? Catwoman. For me the best incarnation of Catwoman is the Michelle Pfeiffer Catwoman from Batman Returns. I never liked it when she is portrayed as effortlessly perfect (I really hated the Catwoman in the Dark Knight Rises). So it’s a bit disappointing when they decided to play up the effortless sex-kitten style when it came to her appearance in Batman: Arkham City.

Amazing gymnastic skills, lessened only by the constant check to make sure her boobs haven’t fallen out.

There is an argument for overly sexualised female characters that goes “By what right do you proclaim that this material is offensive? I enjoy looking at it as well as enjoying the game. The sexualisation is an addition that is enjoyable and causes no harm.” This is normally shortened to “Stop spoiling my fun!” Well if you really want to sit there and look at sexy Catwoman pictures then there are websites (most of them DeviantArt) ready to cater to your needs. Games don’t need to have this unless it is somehow vitally important to the plot. She is supposed to be an unsurpassed thief but clearly no one told her that it might perhaps be easier, when she’s climbing all over the walls and ceilings, to zip her top up. Seriously, it’s essentially the most prominent feature of her otherwise rather bland look. I think that it annoyed me is why I’ve put it so high.

Some sort of glue has to have been employed

And Number 1

Dante (Dante’s Inferno)

 

O Muses! O high genius! now vouchsafe
Your aid! O mind! that all I saw hast kept
Safe in a written record, here thy worth
And eminent endowments come to proof.

This is actually from the Inferno, the first part of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, (Canto 2 Lines 7 to 10 to be exact). What sort of impression, when you read the poetry, do you get of Dante himself? Florence born Italian poet with a love of the Roman poet Virgil? Or perhaps the muscle-bound crusader with cloth stitched into him? (Seriously Dante wasn’t even born during the Third Crusade. But let’s not get into the liberties this game takes or we’d be here forever). When you want to be taken seriously as a warrior in hell you know you’ve got to look the part. Apparently Dante likes to go for the ridiculous:

You know, I think it’s just because I keep trying to picture him writing fanboy poetry about Virgil while dressed as this.

So we have ridiculous armour that isn’t going to protect your vital organ (they’re called vital for a reason), but on top of that we have a red cloth cross sewn into his chest. Oh and you can’t see it in the picture here but that spinal column he’s carrying is actually an enormous scythe. All you need to add here is some really laboured breathing to show off the pecs to full effect. It really is just trying to imagine the actual Dante dressed like this that makes it so ridiculous. I suppose if you play the game you have to play it with the mindset of “Someone heard about the Divine Comedy and decided to make up their own stuff because their ideas are waaaaaay cooler than all that Italian poetry rubbish.” The game itself could top this list, even though it’s meant to be about ridiculous outfits. I understand it’s all over the top stylistically speaking but they could have done something to stop Dante from looking quite so silly. Nothing says ‘Take me seriously! I’m so dark and brooding!’ like having your bare chest out with a piece of cloth stitched into it.

I’M GOING TO SHOVE THIS SCYTHE INTO YOUR FACE!! – Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy (Canto 6 Line 23)

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.

 

My Top 5 Scary Characters

Muahahahaha! Welcome, dear reader, to the chamber of horrors! Well, my chamber of horrors, because this is my personal top 5 scary characters. I doubt you’ll agree with most of them because, let’s face it, what’s scary is subjective. Plus a number of these are things that used to scare me when I was younger and have just stuck in my brain. As usual I’m keeping spoilers to a minimum but it depends on your idea of a spoiler. So without further ado:

Number 5

Game: Puzzle Agent

What? A harmless little puzzle game? A harmless little funny puzzle game? What could be scary in a very simple game about an FBI agent in charge of the Puzzles division going off to investigate a crime?

Character: The Hidden People

Do not mess with these gnomes

Besides everything?! The art in this game is pretty cool but goddamn it makes for some terrifying people when they scream. But even worse than that is the little red gnomes known as the Hidden People. I think most of the terror comes from the fact that you just aren’t expecting this game to be scary. Then suddenly killer gnomes everywhere! What’s worse is that they sometimes just appear while you’re doing a puzzle. So you’re concentrating very hard on the game and suddenly these creatures appear! Not cool, Puzzle Agent, not cool.

Number 4

Game: Condemned: Criminal Origins

Maybe the only genuine horror game on this list, Condemned: Criminal Origins puts you in the role of Serial Crimes Unit officer Ethan Thomas as he investigates a series of brutal, ritualistic murders in a city that is slowly going mad. Fighting your way through armies of mad homeless and drug addicts while making your way through various abandoned locations is bad enough but one of the scariest bits of the game…

Character: Serial Killer X

Get ready for death, Agent Thomas, it will come visiting again

There is a sequence towards the end of the game where you have been making your way through an old farmhouse, locating clues and solving riddles. Near the end you are confronted and get chased by a serial killer. This sounds pretty standard but this game does this scene so well. The killer is about the same strength as your character and he’s clever, much cleverer than the other enemies you fight. He’s also a little faster meaning that once he retreats and you chase after him he’s already gone. Now it’s a game of cat and mouse as you each try to find the other and get the upper hand, waiting for him to come behind you with a rusty pipe. Oh and it’s not in some dark, dank villains lair, it’s in a house. A normal house, just like one you might live in.

Number 3

Game: Space Quest IV

The Space Quest series is amusing, oddly charming, kinda freaky, and, quite frankly, a classic. So what, in these stories about an incompetent space janitor getting himself thrust into the role of reluctant hero, could possibly be so scary?

Character: the Cyborgs

The things are bad enough to look at, and then they scream.

Quite early on in this game you get introduced to the many different ways in which Roger Wilco can die. This game is so full of ways to die that the video showing all the possible methods is more than twenty minutes long. The first death shown on that video is what happens when one of the Cyborgs finds you. The mad lip twitch, raising their hand, and then screaming at you is terrifying and it’s so early in the game that you just aren’t expecting it. It’s pretty nightmarish.

Number 2

Game: King’s Quest VII

Like Puzzle Agent this game shouldn’t be scary, it’s  high fantasy and very cartoony with talking animals and a wicked witch and royalty saving the day. Yet this game has some incredibly freaky elements, from simple giant scorpions and trolls to living nightmares, murderous children, a woman who literally cried her eyes out, and…

Character: The Bo(o)geyman

Sadly there aren’t many good pictures of him. There are some videos on youtube that show you more.

I’m English so to me it’s always Bogeyman but the Boogeyman of King’s Quest VII is unlike any other. The level of the game with him is full of sadists and undead creatures but he is the worst. If you linger to long on one screen he’ll crawl up out of the ground, leap on top of you, and eat you. With his long, thin limbs, rotting flesh, and sharp teeth he’s scary enough but it’s worse to know that he’s always there, just waiting for you to be a little slow on a screen. There is a theme to warn of his coming that just ends up creating a Pavlovian response after a while and just causes panic.

And Number 1

Game: Thief: Deadly Shadows

The Thief series is probably the best example of a stealth game done right. Very few games have been able to implement stealth even half as well as these games, meaning that they have a pretty well deserved reputation. You play as Garrett, master thief, who is mostly just looking to rob enough people to keep himself in luxury for the rest of his life. Yet he seems unable to go even a few weeks without getting involved with zombies, trickster gods, cultists, and even robots. But there is one challenge that is probably the most memorable part of the third game.

Character: The Shalebridge Cradle

The Cradle remembers you now….

But wait, that doesn’t sound (or look) like a character. Well yes, you’d be right there. The Cradle isn’t like a character like the others in this list but it is a character in a very real sense. There is a malevolent presence there that manifests itself in a whole load of different ways. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Cradle was originally an orphanage and then became an insane asylum, while still functioning as an orphanage. This is an abandoned orphanage/asylum, how is that not the best horror combo ever?

The house manifests itself through Puppets, the remains of the nine insane patients which are wrapped in linen bandages and wear cages on their hands and heads. There are schools of thought which sat they aren’t undead like zombies but are just plain dead. Except the Cradle is controlling them. Oh and they’re almost impossible to kill. If they detect you they will scream and run at you and beat you. So you’re practically always on the lookout for them, holding your breath in case they can somehow hear you in game. But the Puppets aren’t all the Cradle had to throw at you. Beyond spirits of the dead, and the silhouetted Cradle Staff, you have to contend with viewing the awful history of the place and it’s methods of treatment. Quite literally re-living them. But the worst thing *slight spoiler alert* once you have completed the level, once you’ve done all your objectives, you can’t leave. The Cradle won’t let you, it remembers you now and it’s not going to let you go. This is the main reason I can give for calling the Cradle a character in it’s own right. *Spoilers end*

You do not want it near you. Ever.

So there we have my top 5 scary characters. Hope you enjoyed them and next week I promise we won’t be looking at another adventure game.

So see you soon, and don’t have nightmares.

MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

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.

Time to Regulate this Stuff!

Hello to everyone out there that stumbles across this place.

 

I’m (finally) going to start regulating this blog so rather than roughly one piece a week you shall now be expecting two. The schedule will go as follows:

Tuesday: Game Review

Thursday: Article

So look forward to regular pieces now rather than slightly random updates… yes I know this is now Wednesday but I was unfortunately ill yesterday and wasn’t able to complete my review. So expect that later today and another article tomorrow. As of next week they will be regularly sorted into Tuesday and Thursday pieces.

Cheerio, guys and girls, and see you soon.

From your friendly neighbourhood Polar Bear