Tag: adventure (page 1 of 4)

Game Review: The Walking Dead

Here, take this. It’s my zombie card. I’m turning it in because as of this writing, I have never read the graphic novel The Walking Dead, nor have I tuned in for the television series. What I know of the series has been gathered from snippets of others’ conversations, posts on Tumblr, and good old-fashioned deductive reasoning. I know it’s a zombie cataclysm tale (‘apocalypse’ is an inappropriate word as it means ‘revelation’ and not ‘disaster’), there are only a handful of survivors, they squabble among themselves because homo homini lupus, and one of the survivors on the TV series played Murphy McManus from The Boondock Saints. So I downloaded the episodic video game of the same name developed by Telltale Games with only the barest knowledge of what I was in for.

Courtesy Telltale Games

Our story begins with Lee, a college professor, handcuffed in the back of a police car on the highway out of Atlanta. While the police scanner carries information regarding some sort of city-wide disturbance, the officer behind the wheel seems more interested in his own stories, and determining if Lee is, in fact, guilty of whatever he’s accused of. The car hits someone walking across the highway, and in the resulting crash, the police officer is killed. Lee struggles out of the car and with his cuffs before the police officer reaches for him, but more due to an appetite for brains than as a plea for help. It is only the first of many challenges Lee will face, and considering some of the choices that lay ahead, it may well be one of the easiest.

Once you get into the game, you will discover that you have stepped not into a shooter or even an RPG, but something far more reminiscent of games gone by. Playing this game reminded me of long nights of pixel-hunting in the likes of Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, Day of the Tentacle, Grim Fandango, and Full Throttle. Telltale has done episodic adventure games in the past, but many of them have seemed to be more whimsical fare, at least in presentation. The Walking Dead is quite earnest in its subject matter, its writing, and its characterization. There are going to be some characters you downright hate in this game, but they’re so well written and acted that even as you want to hit them, you can understand the motivations behind their unreasonableness for the most part.

Courtesy Telltale Games

But by far, the standout character is Clementine. Normally, child characters are either irritating to the point of losing all sympathy or become a huge burden to the adult characters through either their own ill-conceived actions or exploitation by others. Clementine, however, is different. At eight years old, she manages to survive outside her parents’ house and helps Lee when he arrives. She has a very solid sense of right and wrong, and some of Lee’s choices involve whether or not to tell her the truth. She will remember if you lie to her, as well; The Walking Dead does a great job of keeping track of choices Lee makes, big or small. It feels very natural to have characters reference things that happened two or three episodes ago as you go about trying to stay alive and sane in the wake of unchecked horror.

So the story is good and the characters top-notch; what about the gameplay? Well, that may be one of the biggest strikes against The Walking Dead. As a point-and-click adventure game, there isn’t a whole lot of actual game to be had. While some items can be small or hard to see even as you move your mouse all over the screen, none of the puzzles are terribly complex. What combat there is exists in a very simplified form, and while the occasional timed sequence does liven things up, hammering the Q key to escape the grip of a zombie is about the most complex thing you’ll do to fight the undead. Then again, there are plenty of games and mods out there if all you want to do is blow off zombie heads with a shotgun like you’re in Army of Darkness or something.

Courtesy Telltale Games
“I said, we’re closed!”

There are two modes of gameplay, one which gives you hints and tips as you play regarding where to click on items and what results will come of the choices you make, and one that keeps the UI as minimal as possible to maximize your immersion. As much as I preferred the second mode, as it yanked me into the story in an incredibly absorbing way, the first is good for those who are unfamiliar with adventure games or terrible at puzzles. With the hints on, the story is not held up by your hunt for the right battery or candy bar. Turn them off, and the atmosphere and tension increase significantly. As much as the straightforward design of the game could be seen as something of a flaw, the power of the narrative and the humanity of the characters is what stands out, and the game has the good sense not to get in its own way. The cell-shaded art style harkens to the graphic novel, while the character’s voices and the game’s episodic nature gives the TV show vibe. It’s the best of both worlds, and you get to put the boot into some zombies yourself rather than reading about or watching other people do it. I don’t see how this isn’t a win all around.

Stuff I Liked: The way characters’ prejudices and preconceptions come into play naturally, and are discussed with maturity. The natural flow of dialog. The environments that provide diversity and move the story along without feeling forced or out of place.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: Occasionally characters moved with stiffness or unnaturalness, and I’m not talking about the Walkers. A bit more puzzle variety might have been nice. I hope your Q key is in good shape.
Stuff I Loved: Lee. Clementine. The subtle soundtrack. The way friendships were formed and tested. The very real handling of matters like food supplies, fuel, and human understanding in the face of the ongoing calamity. The moments that made me stop and think, or gasp in alarm, or well up.

Bottom Line: The Walking Dead wants to tell you a story. It wants to bring you into this vision of our world and show you what can happen when people are thrown together due to something beyond their control. It seeks to use zombies the way they’re most effective: not as target practice, but as a means to show humanity at its absolute worst and its undeniable best. It does all of these things extremely well, and you should definitely invite it into your home to do its thing.

Game Review: Bastion

Saying goes that a proper story starts at the beginning. This one ain’t any different. Not all video games roll out to store shelves full of glitz and glamor, backed by big studios with lots of cash. Some are quiet affairs. Some are carefully assembled by a small, tight-knit group of fine people with a singular vision and talent coming out their ears. Don’t let the name fool you. Supergiant Games is anything but, ‘cept in the dreams department. It’s those dreams, after all, that gave us Bastion.

Courtesy Supergiant Games

Bastion’s set in Caelondia. It was a nice enough city, once. Plenty of innovation, opportunity for those after it, haves and have-nots, just like any city. It was nice enough, before the Calamity hit. Nobody really saw it coming. Sure there were rumors of new hostilities between Caelondia and the people out past its walls, the Ura, but nobody expected this. Nobody expected the world to just stop working the way it should. Nobody expected the land to all but disappear, bits of it floating in great seas of empty air. Nobody expected any of it, least of all the Kid.

Don’t know if he’s got a proper name, or if we’re supposed to saddle him with one. He’s the first warm body we meet in Bastion, though, and just about every move he makes is narrated. Good thing, too. Things are a bit violent and chaotic in the wake of the Calamity. All sorts of beasts, creatures, and foes come at the Kid from all sides. We watch the whole thing from above as he goes to work on all comers with a variety of tools, long arms, and some really interesting surprises. He’s capable, this Kid, but he ain’t the only survivor of the Calamity.

Courtesy Supergiant Games
He’s got a mean swing.

I mentioned his actions are narrated, right? Turns out the narrator’s a character, too. Goes by the name of Rucks, kind of a seasoned older fella with plenty of stories of his own. Seems that way, at least, but his focus is on the Kid. Even as the Kid rolls, blocks, fights, and explores, Rucks is filling us in on what Caelondia was like before the Calamity, what the Kid’s coming up against, and how the Bastion can fix things up. Right, almost forgot. The game takes its name from your home base, a sort of last-resort refuge for folks from Caelondia who could make it out of the Calamity. Not that many did.

When the Kid does find survivors, their stories get told, too. Rucks ain’t shy in that regard. Takes a little doing to get all the details, but it’s definitely worth it. As the Kid’s doing his thing, he’s earning back parts of the world, which he brings to the Bastion and changes into upgrades for his weapons, improvements to the Bastion itself, even fresh bottles of spirits from Rucks’ private stock. The best thing about all of this is how seamless it is. Other places might see you moving from story to gameplay to upgrades and back again with audible clacks and clunks. Not Bastion. If it’s got seams, they’re pretty stylish ones.

Courtesy Supergiant Games
Calamity really tore things up. Down to the Kid to make it right.

Normally this’d be where someone like me’d do a summation of the experience, lay out likes and dislikes, maybe even tack on some arbitrary number. But I ain’t gonna do that to ya. Not this time. This is different, and deserves different treatment. It’s a fine tale as well as a fun and challenging distraction, well worth your time and effort to seek out. Art’s gonna pull you in. Music’s gonna stick with you. Best of all is that it’s available to ya just about any way you please. Consoles, digital distribution, hell, you could buy it through Chrome and play it literally anywhere. So what’re you waiting for? Find your way to the Bastion.

Story like this ain’t gonna tell itself. You gotta make yourself a part of it.


Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.


When Marvel Comics set out to create an uber-film bringing together Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and the Hulk (and SHOULD include the Wasp or Ms Marvel at the very least), there was something standing in their way. It was not the worried, furtive glances of fanboys or the daunting task of condensing decades of continuity into what amount to two-hour snippets. No, the problem was that another film called The Avengers already existed. Thankfully, most of the civilized world seems to have forgotten about it. I wish I could.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Based on a 60s spy-fi series of the same name coming to us from the BBC, The Avengers introduces us to John Steed, shining star amongst the good dozen or so secret agents we see in the employ of ‘The Ministry’. He is tasked with finding and questioning Dr. Emma Peel, an eminent meteorologist, on some strange goings-on in the atmosphere and the fact that she’s apparently killed someone. Mrs. Peel, since we’re not being quite so formal, is understandably curious as to how she could be in two places at once and thus joins Steed in tracking down the true mastermind behind the atmospheric shenanigans, a graduate of the Blofeld School for Evil Geniuses and recipient of the Dr. Evil Impractical Domination Plot Award, Sir August De Wynter. … No, it’s not a clever nom-de-plume.

The TV series was sadly before my time. I recall my father gushing about it from time to time, how Steed’s cool demeanor under fire lent a sort of tongue-in-cheek aspect to the action and intrigue, and Diana Rigg in a black catsuit was nothing to sneeze at. From what I understand, however, the premise of the show began somewhat grounded but eventually grew to incorporate some of the more esoteric aspects of the James Bond films while simultaneously delivering subtle parodies of eccentricities of the contemporary British lifestyle. For some reason, the writer and director of 1998’s Razzie contender seemed to be under the impression that all of this idiocy was to be played 100% straight. Maybe this confusion was caused by the apparent fact they need to share a brain.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

‘Straight’, by the way, here has the meaning of ‘straight as a length of rebar made from indestructible space metal and about as pliable.’ The actors tasked with modernizing these icons of their age, Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman, seem to be so mechanical and uninvolved in their actions and delivery that I had to wonder if I was actually seeing the actors or some very advanced animatronic doubles who had been programmed to emote by mole people who’ve only seen human beings through fractures in the earth’s crust, most of them under Madame Tussaud’s. Even Sir Sean Connery isn’t having fun in this thing, and he gets to preside over a meeting of evil masterminds while dressed in a bear costume. And before you think that’s a bit odd, let me expand on the scene by saying they’re ALL in bear costumes. It’s like they decided part of their world domination plot included cosplaying as the mascots for the Grateful Dead.

As for the British influence, I think the only things the monobrained writer-director superstar tag team know about the Brits is that they drink tea and have accents. It seems that every single opportunity they get these people are having tea. Steed even has a fucking spigot in his Bently for the stuff. With cream already added. Red phone booths, double-decker buses, no anachronistic, staid and trite Britishism goes unreferenced because that’s funny, right? Oh, this isn’t a comedy? It’s a big-budget blockbuster? Well, the action is at least engaging. At least it would be if there was ever the vaguest hint of danger, suspense or even excitement projected by our cast. I know it’s a lot to expect for a movie like this to verge towards realism, but last I checked lightning striking a metal rod extended in a man’s hand did not lift him into the air as if the gods of Olympus decided they wanted to raise the villain up just to personally dismember him with their immortal nectar-stained hands. But by then I’d pretty much given up on the movie making any sense whatsoever.

Courtesy Warner Bros.
Did you think I was kidding about this?

It only runs 90 minutes long but it feels a lot longer. It takes itself far too seriously to be campy and goes for too many idiotic laughs to approach the quiet desperation of truly British films like Trainspotting. Attempts at innuendo or chemistry fall flatter than the deck of an aircraft carrier and have about as much subtlety. The plot makes absolutely no sense and skips around without warning, the special effects are bland and uninspired and I couldn’t help but think you should be getting a lot more entertainment or at least some fucking fun out of Voldemort, the Bride and James Bond himself all being in a spy-fi movie together. It’s no wonder Marvel steamrolled this macaroon-smelling turd on its way to production. The Avengers from 1998 is best left forgotten. Find the TV series if you’re curious, and hopefully the movie of the same name coming out next year will be a better time at the movies overall, even if the inclusion of only one girl is a bit perplexing. The ’98 flick had a few more, including double Uma Thurmans. And if nothing else, at least Eddie Izzard got to wear some fabulous shoes. But when executive transvestite fashion’s the highest compliment you can pay the picture instead of just an amusing observation… you get the idea.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.


Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.


The movie version of 300 has definitely made an impression. It’s given us a ton of Internet memes, helped shape all sorts of workout regimens and pushed Gerard Butler towards being the stereotypical big scowly action star. But it also had the subtle benefit of introducing the world to Michael Fassbender. In between his memorable supporting turn in Inglorious Basterds and being exactly the sort of Magneto fans have been craving in X-Men: First Class, he took the lead in another period action-adventure called Centurion, but to say this movie and 300 couldn’t be more different is something of an understatement.

Courtesy UK Film Council

Fassbender is cast as Quintus Dias, a centurion serving as second-in-command at a Roman border post in Britain around AD 117. His garrison is destroyed and he captured by the vicious Picts. When he’s rescued, it’s by the legendary 9th Legion, which is given orders to stomp their way north to wipe the Picts out. This, unfortunately for the Romans, goes pretty horribly and Quintus tries to lead the handful of survivors home while a Pict hunting party lead by an exceedingly scary young woman tracks them down.

At first, Centurion seems more driven by plot than characters. Unlike other movies that establish their ensemble cast as quickly as possible, writer-director Neil Marshall carefully paces the opening to give us the information, atmosphere and tensions of the age before really diving into the characters we’re going to spend the next 90 minutes with. I haven’t seen any of Marshall’s other work – Dog Soldiers, The Descent or Doomsday – but he certainly seems to have a good grip on pacing in his writing, and clean shots in his direction, as well as an unflinching and visceral taste for combat.

Courtesy UK Film Council
With those metal weapons, Magneto would have sorted the Picts out in about 3 seconds flat.

As the characters begin to emerge, their roles grow organically out of the flow of the story. Most of them are cyphers or stereotypes, but their delivery is earnest and the writing of their lines decent without either verging into ham-handedness. When the 9th falls, it’s a sad moment, but it’s difficult to care as much as Our Lady of Soundtrack Sorrow wants us to. The deaths of individuals later in the story means far more than the wholesale slaughter of faceless Roman soldiers. It’s not that I’m expecting Marshall to compel us to care about all 3000 of the Romans, and the characters we do get are certainly better than many of their modern counterparts, I just feel that some of the drama’s a little overwrought.

This is a tale that owes far more to HBO’s Rome mini-series than to Ridley Scott’s Gladiator. As these characters grow and interact they do so in ways that seem earnest and unforced. Fassbender’s Quintus in particular shows not only brotherly concern for his fellow men but a growing bitterness at their circumstances and a grudge against both sides in the conflict. And neither the Romans nor the Picts emerge as the ‘good guys’ in the war. Keeping the moral ground gray between the two of them was very wise on Marshall’s part, as it keeps the focus on the dwindling number of actual characters caught between these rather dickish powers.

Courtesy UK Film Council
Trust me. She’s pretty scary.

While many other period pieces go for a stew of anachronisms, playing devil-may-care with the technologies and languages available to a given set of peoples, Centurion actually has a great deal of authenticity going for it. While the Romans speak English for our convenience, their arms and armor are right out of the Empire’s heyday, and the dwellings and lifestyle of the Picts is masterfully depicted, from their means of restraining prisoners to the status of their women. Between this, the characters and the smart plotting, there’s a lot to like about this movie.

It doesn’t quite delve into the naked melodrama of Edward Zwick’s Last Samurai or Defiance nor does it play up the violence or spectacle for its own sake as 300 does. Centurion opts instead to tell a decent story about survivors behind enemy lines and does that job rather well. The characters we do get are interesting and well-acted, the story never bogs down or feels overly contrived and the action feels authentic and visceral without being completely over-the-top, which all adds up to an enjoyable adventure story bordering on the excellent. It does everything right that pointless slapped-together flicks like The Expendables get wrong. Consider checking it out on Netflix Instant if you’re on the lookout for an action-adventure or period piece with at least a bit of a brain in its head. And while I mentioned I haven’t seen any of Marshall’s other work, considering he’s put together a movie about werewolf soldiers and one that’s described as Mad Max driving headlong into 28 Days Later… I think I’m going to have to correct that.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.


We call them Renaissance men, polymaths or omnidisciplinarians. The last two are more friendly for people of all genders who dabble with success in multiple fields of interest, but one of the first was Leonard da Vinci. Benjamin Franklin is another, but neither he nor da Vinci ever developed supersonic cars, practiced neurosurgery or battled evil space aliens. That we know of. For confirmed antics of that sort, we must turn to a lesser-known but quite impressive polymath by the name of Buckaroo Banzai. In 1984 a docu-drama following an adventure of his was released, sub-titled Across the 8th Dimension. Sure, it may seem like a mash-up sci-fi adventure parody, but I’m sure it’s just as much based on a true story as most things Hollywood slaps that label on these days.

Courtesy MGM

Dr Banzai began his adult life as a neurosurgeon, but a brilliant career in medicine felt too boring to him, so he took up super-science and crime-fighting as well as a rock career. His latest invention, the Jet Car, is supplemented by a tiny device of secret origin called the Oscillation Overthruster, which means the car not only achieves supersonic speeds but also drives through solid matter. The Overthruster was first tested in 1938, an incident that not only failed but lead to the possession of one of its inventors by the evil overlord of an alien race called the Red Lectroids. Thirsty for conquest but ill-equipped, the Red Lectroids were defeated by their peace-loving cousins the Black Lectroids and banished to the 8th dimension, which Buckaroo just drove through. Instead of citing him for speeding, the Red Lectroids try to get their paws on the Overthruster to free the bulk of their forces, which puts them in direct opposition of Buckaroo Banzai and his Hong Kong Cavaliers. Let’s just hope they save the world in time for their gig in Atlantic City.

If you think this premise sounds a bit silly on paper, you’re not far from the truth. In addition to the special effects and music that place this chronologically smack in the middle of “the big 80s,” the do-nothing-wrong Buckaroo may seem a bit stale for some, even verging into author or audience projection. Most of the special effects budget appears to have been spent on the Jet Car and the facial appliances for the various Lectroids, as the miniature work for the spacecraft we see is laughable even by the standards of Star Wars before Lucas started messing around with it. The movie certainly isn’t going to be blowing your mind with clever narrative construction or even that many interesting characters.

Courtesy MGM
What a guy.

Then again, neither did Flash Gordon or Total Recall. Buckaroo’s story has got its tongue firmly wedged in its cheek, and the smiles that pass between the Hong Kong Cavaliers are pretty infectious. Like any good parody, the movie is in on its jokes and knows it shouldn’t be taken too seriously. It’s one of those times where the MST3K mantra comes in handy. Unlike some other parodies, though, Buckaroo Banzai doesn’t go so far as to address or even acknowledge the fourth wall. The film is, for better or for worse, mostly concerned about doing its own thing.

In fact, that’s one of the biggest selling points for this admittedly silly and campy flick: it’s original. It’s indicative of a time where filmmakers, actors and special effects houses were keenly interested in trying something new and different. In this case, the goal was to create a character that harkened back to the pulp adventures of two-fisted yet erudite men of action like Doc Savage while including elements of super-science of the nuclear age. While Buckaroo’s polymath portfolio does verge on the ridiculous at times, the way in which he’s presented seems more along the lines of Ace Rimmer from Red Dwarf than any straighfoward Mary Sue type. You may scoff at his ability to pull hitherto unknown devices and parachutes out of his ass, but you can’t help but like the guy. He can’t spend too much time thinking about how great he is, dammit, there’s a world to save!

Courtesy MGM

In the end, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension is harmless, campy and very unique fun. I can’t say every modern viewer is going to tolerate some of its dated effects and conventions, as it was created before ironic artistic expression was as huge as it is, but it’s certainly not looking to be taken seriously as art or make a lasting impression on genre fiction. There are quite a few mainstay actors from the fringes of the cinema present, from Peter Weller’s aw-shucks Banzai to John Lithgow’s extremely insane evil overlord, from Clancy Brown’s warm and friendly cowboy to Christopher Lloyd’s acerbic nefarious crony. It won’t be the best science fiction, action/adventure or comedic spoof you’ve ever seen, but I can pretty much gurantee that when you watch Buckaroo Banzai, you’ll agree that you’ve never seen anything quite like it. And in a world of derivative spin-off cash-ins and adaptations ranging from reasonably faithful to face-palmingly atrocious, that’s absolutely nothing to sneeze at. Give it a try, and remember… no matter where you go, there you are.

Courtesy MGM
“Sir, I’m going to have to write you a ticket for breaking both the sound and dimensional barriers…
…and for not making the Jet Car out of something more aerodynamic.”

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