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All reviews - Movies (141) - TV Shows (2) - Books (4) - Games (19)

"Red Dead Redemption" (PS3)

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 12 July 2017 06:46 (A review of Red Dead Redemption)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS


John Marston, a former outlaw, is forced by the federal government to hunt down the members of his old gang.

Oh, the enemies I'm going to make for this one! I'm just going to say it upfront: I did not like this game. I know I'm in a small minority on this, but I can't just pretend I'm as enraptured as everyone else. On the contrary: this game made me angry! I simply couldn't condense my thoughts to 250 words, so I've decided to make this a longer review than usual, turn this into an epic rant. Also, fair warning: this review will contain spoilers.

Before I start ranting, though, I will admit that the game looks stunning. The graphics are stellar, and the map is meticulously planned and detailed. The most fun I had was riding around admiring the scenery, especially on clear starry nights. A lot of the character interactions made me laugh, too. But that's where my compliments end. Everything else was just plain torturous!

At every turn, this game found some new way to piss me off; there are too many examples to count! But the main source of my rage was the pacing of the narrative. At first, I was only mildly interested in the story. The goal was to stop Bill Williamson, and that single clear-cut goal is what held my interest as I assembled a team to storm his fort. But when it turned out he wasn't even there, I was furious! That was my equivalent of "our princess is in another castle". And none of what followed piqued my interest in the slightest, probably because the game had teased me into thinking the assault on the fort was the climax; I felt like it should have been over already, and I was resentful that it had put me right back to square one. The rest of the game kept extending that tease: every single mission promised the goal would be achieved right away, only for the game to keep saying, "Soon. You've got to do this one thing first," over and over and over again! I wasn't angry at the characters for endlessly using me: I was angry at the game for dragging itself out for no good reason whatsoever! The longer it kept going, the more enraged I got, until eventually I was literally screaming at the TV! Some missions turned out to be dead ends, which made me say out loud, "Oh, fuck off!" This game felt like my own personal purgatory: it was constantly dangling one simple goal in front of my eyes, only to continuously snatch it out of reach. Even towards the end, when you're finally reunited with your family, the game still just keeps going! I was wailing by that point: "Why are you still making me do missions I don't enjoy?!"

'Cos yeah, I hardly found any of the missions superficially fun either. Many of them were essentially identical to earlier ones, just repeating something I didn't even like the first time. And let me tell you, I really started abusing the "skip checkpoint" feature (that's one thing I'm thankful for: that the game was considerate enough to give you an easy way out if you fail too many times), especially whenever I had to ride and shoot at the same time! I generally suck at video games, and in this case I just could not hit moving targets! I grew to rely on the slow-motion Dead Eye mechanic just so I could hit them, but sometimes it just wouldn't activate! I read something about having to charge it, but why was that necessary?

The only reason I kept playing, kept enduring all that hell, was because there was still an end goal and I wanted to reach it. This wasn't like L.A. Noire, where I gave up about halfway through the third chapter (Homicide) because it seemed like there was no goal other than to solve each case and, again, the process was just tedious. (Actually, between those two examples, Bully and the fact that I have no interest whatsoever in playing GTA, I've decided I'm just not a fan of Rockstar Games in general.)

And that's all I have to say. Believe me, I wanted to like this game, especially given how immensely popular it is. But like I said, it just kept pissing me off! Ultimately, it's one of only two games to date that I've actively disliked (the other one being Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone on PS1). Sorry for beating it down like I did, but as it's one of the most beloved games in recent memory, I felt you deserved the unabridged version of why I can't chime in with that praise.


My rating: 40%



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"Far Cry 4" (PS4)

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 8 July 2017 07:20 (A review of Far Cry 4)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS


To fulfil his mother's dying wish, Ajay Ghale travels to Kyrat to scatter her ashes. Before he can accomplish this, though, he must end a civil war between the Golden Path and Pagan Min's forces.

Far Cry 3 is one of my favourite games of all time (I never played any of the others), so I confess myself somewhat disappointed in this follow-up, mainly because the story is just not that interesting. In Far Cry 3, the story was all about an ordinary guy finding his true calling as a hunter and a warrior, and as the tale progressed, you could tell just how much he was enjoying it. But here, Ajay is basically forced into fighting for these people despite no indication that he wants anything to do with it, just because they expect him to follow in his father's footsteps. So, while it was still superficially fun to do all the same activities from the last game – liberating outposts and so on – it rang hollow because I never cared about why I was doing that.

Still, it does have several cool new elements of its own. I always loved riding elephants, for example, and flying in the buzzer was my favourite way to travel.

Now, the ending… Let's just say the one I got gave me mixed feelings, inspiring both great respect and great anger.

I still enjoyed this game, but it just seemed like a pale imitation of the one-of-a-kind experience I had with Far Cry 3.


My rating: 70%



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"The Lego Batman Movie" (2017)

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 8 July 2017 07:18 (A review of The LEGO Batman Movie)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS


A cooler-than-ever Batman must deal with the usual suspects as they plan to rule Gotham City, while discovering that he has accidentally adopted a teenage orphan who wishes to become his sidekick.

I was actually dreading watching this movie, because I found the trailers distinctly offputting. I wanted to see Batman, not a spoof of him. And at first, the movie was exactly what I feared: the character was a complete show-off.

But when the movie calmed down and the family-themed story emerged, I ended up really getting into it, finding it engaging and even kind of touching. It allowed me to easily stop thinking of this character as Batman, but just a grief-ridden guy trying to find something he could call family again.

Another big surprise that I really took to was the gallery of villains the Joker recruits in the Phantom Zone.

I have to say, I love this movie's take on Barbara Gordon: a highly skilled cop who's her father's replacement as commissioner.

Another highlight for me was seeing Alfred don a Batsuit – and one reminiscent of the Adam West one, so it's like the old Batman fighting alongside the new.

One reservation I had still holds true, though. Why did this even have to be Lego? It barely has anything to do with building or imagination.

In conclusion, I have mixed feelings on this movie: I hate it when it's spoofing Batman, but I love it when it's doing its own thing.


My rating: 65%



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"Don't Hang Up" (2017)

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 8 July 2017 07:16 (A review of Don't Hang Up)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS


An evening of drunken prank calls becomes a nightmare for a pair of teenagers when a mysterious stranger turns their own game against them – with deadly consequences.

I think this movie might have set a record: literally the moment I saw the main characters, I immediately despised them! I hated their habitual prank calls just for online popularity, and I hated them all the more for being so loud and rambunctious. So at first, I was fully supporting the stranger when he started punishing Brady: he deserved it. I drew the line at the kidnapped parents, though – which also made me think, "Well, Brady, now your antics have put innocent lives in danger! I hope you're proud of yourself!"

I had slightly more sympathy for Sam because he seemed to have much more of a conscience, plus he was smart enough to spot the clue that gave the game away.

I'll give the movie some credit for trying to buck the trend of horror characters acting stupidly. Our heroes try to do the sensible things almost immediately, but they're prevented from either calling the police or leaving the house. But the things the villain pulls get to the point of absurdity; you start to wonder, how exactly did he hijack the cell phone signal, and how does he have that much control over the house's power?

Overall, it's just another disposable horror flick. It tries to be smarter than the genre's average, but that also ends up being its undoing.


My rating: 45%



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"Spider-Man: Homecoming" (2017)

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 8 July 2017 07:13 (A review of Spider-Man: Homecoming)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS


After the events of Captain America: Civil War, Peter Parker tries to balance his life as an ordinary high school student in New York City while fighting crime as his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man, as a new threat, the Vulture, emerges.

Like many others, I was glad when I heard Marvel Studios would be doing a Spider-Man movie; I hoped they'd show Sony how it was done. And for the most part, they did. :) This is, hands down, the best depiction of Spider-Man we've ever seen in a movie: Tom Holland perfectly captures both the humble high school geek and the wisecracking hero.

The narrative is streamlined and focused, too. The overall theme is of a lowly hero trying to prove he's good enough for the big leagues. I also noticed that Spider-Man was at his most competent when he was trying to help people; while fighting criminals, he consistently got his ass kicked. And, while I appreciate that focus on valuing life, it did get kind of frustrating seeing the hero constantly fail. I'm all for imperfect heroes, but this movie went way too far.

However, my biggest complaint with this movie is, during the action scenes, there were some moments that were filmed so hectically that I couldn't see what was happening. I'm really getting sick of that!

Overall, it's not perfect, but still a solid, terrifically fun adventure that kept my interest thanks to a hugely likable cast of characters, led by hero who unquestionably felt like Spider-Man.


My rating: 85%



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"Baby Driver" (2017)

Posted : 1 month, 1 week ago on 8 July 2017 07:11 (A review of Baby Driver)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS


After being coerced into working for a crime boss, a young getaway driver finds himself taking part in a heist doomed to fail.

As this is a heist drama, the only way I could do justice to the story would be to describe the whole plot, and obviously I'd rather not do that. :) But it's not so much the details of the heist that hold your attention: it's the characters. Every single character is so brilliantly written and realised that you remember and grow attached to every single one. And on that note, the performances are all top-notch. Ansel Elgort is great as the eponymous Baby: he's equal parts funny, aloof and vulnerable, and his chemistry with Lily James is superb. One of my favourite cast members is Jon Hamm as Buddy, who's probably the character who changes the most over the course of the narrative.

But what makes this truly special is Edgar Wright's direction. He's simply one of the best directors working today, and his flawless eye for camerawork and editing is once again on full display here. Just don't go in expecting the full-on comedies he's done before. Yes, there are comedy elements, but they're there to enhance the connection to the characters so that we fear for them later on.

And yes, they do play the Simon & Garfunkel song the movie's named after. :)

I loved this movie. I'd say it's definitely a top contender for my favourite movie of the year so far.


My rating: 85%



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"Batman: The Telltale Series" (PS4)

Posted : 1 month, 3 weeks ago on 24 June 2017 01:33 (A review of Batman: The Telltale Series)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS


Bruce Wayne struggles to deal with newly surfaced damning family secrets while, as Batman, fighting a new threat: a militia group calling themselves "the Children of Arkham".

When I first heard that Telltale was going to do a Batman game, I suspected it might focus more on Bruce Wayne than Batman, which would better suit Telltale's style – and it'd be a welcome new approach. I predicted correctly, and the result didn't disappoint. :) The problems he has to deal with as Bruce Wayne in this story are, quite simply, stellar.

That's not to say it doesn't deliver on the Batman front, though. In particular, if you choose to visit Mayor Hill as Batman, the resulting scene is too cool for words! :)

Now, spoilers here, but what I love most about this game is how creative it gets with the Batman mythos, with some ingenious new twists. I love its idea that Bruce Wayne and Oswald Cobblepot were childhood friends. I love Bruce questioning the foundation of his entire crusade after learning the truth about his parents. I love who they picked for the Children of Arkham leader's identity, and the deeply disturbing reason why. And I love the Joker treating Bruce as a friend and partner in their first meeting, which adds a whole new dynamic to their future relationship.

Overall, I wouldn't say it's the best I've seen from Telltale story-wise, but it's still on par in terms of characterisation, respect for the franchise in question, and subverting your expectations.


My rating: 85%



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"Dragon Age: Origins" (PS3)

Posted : 2 months ago on 20 June 2017 06:33 (A review of Dragon Age: Origins)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS


An Archdemon is amassing an army of Darkspawn, and the player, one of the last remaining Grey Wardens, must work to unite the fractured armies and save the land of Ferelden.

If you're one of this game's many fans, I'm afraid I must disappoint you: I can't quite concur. At times, the game almost won me over. I always enjoyed talking to my companions, especially developing the romance with Morrigan, and I loved some particular sections: the Sloth Demon level (in theory, at least), the Brecilian Ruins, the escape from Fort Drakon, and the riddles protecting the Urn of Sacred Ashes. I could probably write a further 250 words or more just about my character's personal journey. :)

But it's all ruined by the most frequent gameplay mechanic: the combat. I hate this game's combat system with a fiery passion! Your attacks are sluggish, and the enemies seem to have an unfair advantage because they swarm you in insanely big groups and attack faster than you can fight back – or heal, for that matter! Maybe I'm just not a good enough gamer, but in any case, it's for this reason that I haven't yet seen the ending: because I found the final boss battle to be so gruelling that I knew my efforts to beat it would enrage me to the point that it would be hazardous to my health!

So my overall impression of this game is mixed at best. I enjoyed myself somewhat, but only when I wasn't fighting.


My rating: 65%


Actually, after writing that comment that I could probably go into detail about my character's personal journey, I decided to do just that. :) Check my blog post [Link removed - login to see] for a detailed account of how I played and what I felt was going through my character's head. But spoiler warning: I will be talking about some things that happen near the end.



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"The Walking Dead: A New Frontier" (PC)

Posted : 2 months, 2 weeks ago on 4 June 2017 03:35 (A review of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS


A teenage Clementine and a new survivor named Javier are brought together when a new threat worse than the dead arises.

Telltale's original Walking Dead game is still one of their finest achievements, a true masterpiece of emotional and choice-based storytelling. I wasn't a big fan of The Walking Dead: Season Two, though, because of how perpetually downbeat and depressing its tone was. This third season has a very different tone to the first two: it's heavy on action and excitement. I have heard complaints that it relies more on action than emotion, but I'll gladly take that over wallowing in melancholy like Season Two did. Besides, it still doesn't hold back on the emotional gut-punches, especially at the end of episode one.

Telltale's graphics are definitely getting better; there's a noticeable improvement in the character models here.

Now, I'm going to give a minor spoiler alert here, because I just have to comment on the ending (or at least the one I got). To my surprise – and relief – it ends on a hopeful and relatively upbeat note. Some people might see that as a cop-out, but given the nature of this franchise, and especially after having just played Mass Effect 3, I for one needed a happy ending!

In conclusion, I'm happy to say, Telltale's The Walking Dead is back in my good books. :) A New Frontier is definitely not as good as Season One (nothing can top that), but much more to my taste than Season Two.


My rating: 85%



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"Mass Effect 3" (PC)

Posted : 2 months, 2 weeks ago on 4 June 2017 03:30 (A review of Mass Effect 3)

FIRST IMPRESSIONS


The Reapers, built up since game one, have attacked the galaxy in full force, and Commander Shepard must work to unite all the surviving races against the enemy.

I love how the three Mass Effect games can be clearly distinguished from each other. This one is basically a war simulator, with a focus on managing your assets and making alliances to unite a fleet against the Reapers. Each time you open the galaxy map, you can see the Reapers present in more systems.

By now, my Shepard had fully become the hero the galaxy needed: a peacemaker who possessed the intellect to unite bitter rivals, but still had no sympathy for the Reapers. That doesn't mean he didn't feel the pressure, though, of so many people counting on him.

I have to admit, the main thing I wanted out of this game was for Shepard and Tali's relationship to work out. I desperately wanted to see them end up happy together – and to hear Shepard tell Tali he loved her, just once.

But now let's address the elephant in the room: the ending. I must fully echo the assessment you've most likely heard abundantly: I hate the ending with a fiery passion! I already wrote a two-thousand-word essay on my blog explaining why (see [Link removed - login to see]).

But aside from the ending, I was still very impressed with this game overall. It's every bit as fun, captivating and emotional as the other two. I just wish it had all ended differently.


My rating: 85%



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