KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

What have you been watching?

Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby octoberpumpkin » Thu Mar 16, 2017 2:18 am

Oh good, thank you. I've been seeing ads for a while so I wasn't sure how long it had been out!
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby Australia » Thu Mar 16, 2017 5:44 pm

It doesn't come out here until May so you can fly over here and watch it if you're desperate.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Tue Mar 21, 2017 7:57 am

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard (2017)

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Basic Summary: A man searching for his wife is trapped in a mansion with its unhinged residents.
Genre: Survival Horror
Systems: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Created by: Capcom
Directed by: Koshi Nakanishi
Written by: Richard Pearsey
Designed and Programmed by: Hajime Horiuchi, Keisuke Yamakawa, Yosuke Noro, Tomofumi Ishida
Starring: Todd Soley, Katie O'Hagan, Jack Brand, Sara Coates, Giselle Gilbert
Story-Gameplay Ratio: 5:5



For the unaware, Resident Evil 7 follows Ethan Winters, husband to the long-missing Mia Winters. Three years after mysteriously vanishing with only a cryptic video message left behind, Mia sends Ethan an equally cryptic email telling him to pick her up at a Louisiana plantation owned by the Bakers, a farming family who also disappeared some time ago. Ethan treks into the bayou and throws caution to the wind, entering the seemingly abandoned manor to reunite with his wife, only to find himself maimed and trapped within the sprawling property. Running is not an option: the Bakers are still very much alive, and they're prepared to hunt Ethan for as long as it takes to accomplish whatever they have planned for him...

Spoiler: show
I can admit when I'm laughably, ludicrously wrong about something. Like many in the gaming world, I was highly skeptical of this game upon its announcement; I saw it as a desperate attempt to salvage Capcom's sinking ship of a franchise by ripping off better games like P.T. and Outlast and hinging it all on ghosts and a cliched family of cartoonish, generic, semi-immortal cannibal hillbillies. I'm happy to report that I couldn't have been more wrong. While influences from those games are clear and obvious, Resident Evil 7 is its own beast, its threats are far more than meets the eye, and it's something I never imagined another Resident Evil game could be: scary as hell.

Well... for the most part. Let's establish something up front -- I love the game overall and think it's a very cohesive whole, but there is a definite across-the-board decline in most elements a little after the halfway point, especially the horror. It's not as bad of a drop as certain other recent horror games, but it happens. So without further ado, we get into it.

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Getting the presentation out of the way first, the graphics are obviously stunning. Part of it's to be expected just by virtue of it being a triple-A game in 2017 (or perhaps not -- have you seen that Mass Effect: Andromeda shit?), but the visual style is still excellent and worth highlighting. The mansion and surrounding property are brought to life through rich attention to detail, layers of dust and decay, and expert blending of light and shadow, all contributing to the crushing atmosphere that the horror feeds on. The enemies are all visually arresting in their own body horror-filled ways, whether the twisted Molded enemies or any number of grotesqueries associated with the Bakers -- a certain mid-game boss fight is in the top running for "most soul-scarring thing I've seen in a horror game." Surprisingly, the game doesn't rely on actual blood and gore all that much; it's a very graphic game when blood does start flying or bodies start warping, but it's far cleaner overall than something like Outlast, and more psychological for it.

As for the sound design, you'd be shocked at how such a simple thing as occasional creaks or bangs from distant parts of the house can keep you perpetually on edge. The Baker plantation never feels safe even if you're in a save room, due in no small part to the fact that it's rarely ever completely silent, so you're always training your ears or checking your corners just in case someone or something is storming up behind you. The voice acting is doubtlessly the best the Resident Evil series has ever delivered even when Jack Baker's shouting his corniest lines at you, and for once, there's genuine pathos and emotional content that isn't sabotaged by a ridiculous line or performance. Finally, on the music front, there's not a lot on offer other than the save room theme (perfectly haunting even though it signals a brief respite) and "Go Tell Aunt Rhody" (the trailer music and main theme, which I've come to appreciate much more than when I first heard it).

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Gameplay-wise, Resident Evil 7 makes the bold decision to transition to first-person rather than the series' normal third-person perspective, and this was exactly the right move. The shift in perspective puts you right in that house in a way third-person viewing just can't, and the view from Ethan's eyes is often used for scares and trickery that just wouldn't be possible traditionally. The controls are tight and responsive, interacting with the environment and using items is simple and intuitive enough, and the gunplay is smooth and intense no matter how overpowered your weapons get. Saving at the answering machines and managing your inventory in classic RE-style storage crates also enhances the experience.

(EDIT: Disregard what I wrote earlier about not being able to manually move your inventory; I am a complete fucking numbskull. Apparently you CAN, it's just kind of an obtuse thing that the game doesn't point out and I never once noticed it. So that's my sole complaint about the basic gameplay mechanics out the window.)

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While there are some puzzles here and there, they're ludicrously simple (save an excellent deathtrap you're forced into solving midway through the game), so I'll focus more on the combat aspects of gameplay. Oftentimes, fighting enemies in this game is just as horrifying as wandering through a pitch-black room full of ominous noise. The basic enemies, strange humanoid blobs called the Molded, are surprisingly anxiety-inducing to fight for most of the game due to their resilience, many methods of entering your environment, and general creepy appearance and backstory. It helps that they're relatively sparse until the last act, thus maintaining the psychological emptiness that the horror thrives on. However, they do get oversaturated later on, and despite some of them having different forms, it doesn't alleviate the loss of Resident Evil's typical monster variety. On the other hand, the boss encounters with the Bakers deserve great praise; they're all creative in setup and execution, presenting you with horrifying sights in a confined environment and forcing you to use your brain to figure out the proper method of dealing with them. The aforementioned soul-scarring mid-game boss is so well-executed that I almost quit the game, unable to deal with the sheer terror I was feeling.

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Story has never been the RE series' strong suit, even back in those halcyon days when it didn't suck, so color me surprised that the plot is -- for the most part -- quite good. The initial sequence of events sets up quite a few intriguing mysteries and surreally spooky elements the likes of which have never been witnessed in an RE game, and the entire first half slowly trickles fractions of answers to you in the many files throughout the environment (make absolutely sure you scour every room for them, because they're vital to your understanding of later story beats). A wide variety of tonal shifts and environmental change-ups bolster the narrative rather than harm it, and it easily flexes to incorporate even the campiest aspect and make it feel at home with the serious plot and raw terror. I found myself growing increasingly more engrossed in learning what happened to the Bakers even as I was practically shitting myself running away from them.

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Unfortunately, that third-act downturn does hurt the story a bit, and you can pinpoint the exact moment when the problems start arising -- with the game's single choice, signaling the end of the second act. This choice, which dictates whether you'll get the "good" or "bad" ending, is unquestionably my biggest problem with Resident Evil 7. It is one of the most asinine choices I've ever been asked to make in a video game: it's fueled by stupidity and random misfortune, renders a major plot point for the first two-thirds of the game completely defunct and pointless, has no reason to be where it is, wastes its own potential by virtue of having no setup, and -- worst of all -- takes an active and malicious pleasure in punishing one character involved and practically shoving a corkscrew up your reproductive organs for daring to care about that character. Minor, vague spoilers:
bullshit
I shit you not, that character is not allowed a happy ending even if you favor them in your choice; if you like them more than the character you're forced to prefer, it's really a choice between them vanishing from the rest of the game (and possibly dying offscreen, but it's ambiguous) and graphically dying in agony right in front of you merely a minute after you choose them before everyone goes on to completely ignore that death. It's bad writing and a metric shit-ton of wasted potential, and I can only hope a sequel or upcoming DLC addresses it.


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From that point on, the story lifts back up, but it still takes a hit once the clear answers start coming. Some plot points are paid off satisfyingly, even brilliantly, and I grow to love these parts even more as I look back on them. I also like the ultimate reveal of what's been happening in concept. It's just the execution that leaves... a lot to be desired. A plot twist to do with Mia's disappearance initially rattled and impressed me, but it only hurts her already weak character in retrospect; granted, depending on the choice you make beforehand, you could get a very good, bittersweet scene that pays off that whole character arc in a way that's so superior to the proper path, I wish wasn't considered the "bad ending." There's also a very sad exposition scene from a surprising character that enriches the whole story even more, and the content of the final area -- up to the last part of the boss fight -- is downright poetic. However, I didn't like the direction the story took for its final act, the actual ending is a bit of a letdown, and the final twist left me shrugging (and waiting for the thankfully free upcoming DLC that promises answers) instead of reeling.

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With all that wrapped up, let's discuss the characters. The main protagonists are Ethan and Mia Winters, and... they're not great. Ethan is a mostly silent protagonist who only reacts sporadically, and while I love his one-liners and how quickly he stops giving a shit about being freaked out, he doesn't have much of anything in the way of proper characterization. As for Mia, I don't want to give too much away about where and when she actually becomes a character, but following a sterling introduction that's one of the game's highest points for me, she quickly becomes an annoying, useless damsel in distress, falling victim to something I absolutely despise in writing: the expectation that we will care about her just because Ethan cares about her, without giving us any real reason to do so ourselves. This makes later plot points involving her especially infuriating, even as the game tries to sell you on her later to middling effect.

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Other than those two, the only friendly face you'll find in the game is Zoe, a mysterious girl who calls you over various phones to give you advice on your goals, warn you about upcoming threats, and generally keep you alive. She doesn't get much in the way of in-game development (it's mostly down to some notes, a DLC where you play as her, and your own thoughts and feelings), but I quite liked her. You learn who she is relatively early on, but I won't spoil it just in case; even without getting explicitly developed, she's an immensely sympathetic figure, and I wish she was better served as the game goes on. I always welcomed her calls, as no matter how abrasive and sarcastic she can be, they put you in contact with another sane voice and mark a new path for you to take through the crushing darkness. Shame that her character arc doesn't meet a satisfying conclusion, because she's a way better female lead than Mia.

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And what of the Bakers? These cannibalistic, seemingly unstoppable hicks seem like ridiculous Texas Chainsaw Massacre ripoffs at first, and I was certain they'd sink the game for me, but they're actually near-flawless, being the most complex and memorable antagonists the Resident Evil series has ever spawned (prior series bad guy Wesker was a memorable villain, but not at all nuanced). Whether you're facing hulking father Jack Baker, insect-obsessed mother Marguerite, or sadistic genius son Lucas, everyone is as richly characterized as they are terrifying. And they are all terrifying; for as much as they are well-written characters, they're perfectly served as the main threats of the game, and each one brings a new and memorable breed of horror to the table -- even the paralyzed grandmother is able to get in on the action in her own special way. I went in thinking I would be laughing at them and hating their inclusion, but I walked away appreciating them as some of the best video game antagonists I've stumbled across in quite some time.

However, it's not all sunshine and roses on the villainous front. The final act of the game throws a new, important antagonist into the mix after a cavalcade of twists, and... well, this villain is very much a mixed bag for me. On one hand, I found them to be derivative, generic, and not nearly as enjoyably scary or well-developed as the Bakers; I've seen everything this character brings to the table done in a much better way elsewhere. Their appearances just as often jolted me out of my immersion as they did spook me, and I questioned why they had to take so much prominence. On the other hand, the way they ultimately play into the game as a whole is stupendous, building foreshadowing through seemingly inexplicable scares, subtle environmental clues, and your own preconceptions to ultimately pull off an amazing left-turn reveal that contributes to the narrative just as much as certain revelations about the Bakers do. I guess it's ultimately up to your tastes whether you appreciate the character or not.

All in all, Resident Evil 7 was exactly what I'd desperately hoped it would be, and what I was sure it wouldn't be: a terrifying and enjoyable horror game. It scared me more than any game has in quite a while, yet I almost never grew tired of playing it (save some tedious stretches toward the end) and I wanted more when it was over. While it does experience a third-act drop in quality, this isn't nearly enough to sour the experience, and I'm confident in saying that even though this gaming year is already packed with contenders just three months in, this game will surely be one of my favorites of 2017. Highly recommended to anyone who likes getting freaked out, or just wants to see the former king of survival horror reclaim its throne.

Rating: Welcome To The Franchise Revival, Son

I would like to give brief thoughts about the two Banned Footage DLCs in postscript, since I've bought and played both volumes. The six bonus content offerings across both volumes are listed below, from the one I least enjoyed to my favorite, spoilered for length:

dlc
- Nightmare (Vol. 1): A fairly standard, but well-executed "Horde Mode"-type diversion that has you fending off waves of Molded and visits from Jack in the mazelike basement, replenishing your resources and buying new weapons between waves. Challenging and diverting, but only worth playing if you really like the combat.

- Ethan Must Die (Vol. 1): A hilariously difficult love letter to Dark Souls that pits you against absurd odds, littering the house with traps and Molded and forcing you to gather supplies on your way to a lethal boss fight -- all with only one or two hits worth of health. Obviously, I didn't beat it.

- 21 (Vol. 2): A few games of blackjack where the loser is tortured and killed -- simple enough. The basic mode doesn't wear out its welcome and is quite a fun, twisted diversion, but delving into the Survival and Survival+ modes for new opponents and challenges gets old quickly, unless you're really into blackjack.

- Jack's 55th Birthday (Vol. 2): Just... fucking fun and hilarious nonsense. You wouldn't believe me if I tried to describe it to you. It's not complicated and it can wear thin gameplay-wise, but I just love that it exists.

- Daughters (Vol. 2): The only DLC that's an actual story so far, and a prequel to the game's events at that. I loved this one a lot for how it depicts the events before Ethan's arrival and changes up the gameplay to suit your new perspective, but for such an important thing, it passes by way too quickly. Had it been paced better and spent more time with how things were before shit hit the fan, it would be my unquestioned favorite.

- Bedroom (Vol. 1): The best of the bunch, and such a masterpiece of tension and puzzle-solving that it outclasses some of the game's peaks. It's functionally a "room escape" game requiring you to solve various puzzles and find hidden items for the ultimate goal of unlocking your path to freedom, but with a twist: every so often your captor comes in to check on you, so when you hear them coming, you have to scramble to put everything back the way it was and get back to where you're supposed to be to avoid arousing suspicion. I'd recommend buying Vol. 1 for this alone, and if it was switched with 21, Vol. 2 would be perfect.
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Last edited by KleinerKiller on Fri Oct 13, 2017 10:42 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby Doodle Dee. Snickers » Wed Mar 22, 2017 3:23 am

KleinerKiller wrote:
Get Out (2017)



Your review was the reason I went to see this movie, and I'm damn glad I did.

I was afraid it was going to be a jumpscare fest, especially with that bit in the beginning, but it was rare that the movie resorted to it. It was the kind of horror movie I best like: taking its time to work up to the action, creating a Stepford-esque sense that something's wrong here. The TSA character was funny as fuck (I want him to teach me about all the serial killers), and the acting was superb.

The racial-esque aspects were particularly sharp, most notably the father and his overcompensation. The party where everyone was being like...low-key (or sometimes, not so low key) racist was pretty good.

In fact, what struck me the most was how well-rounded this movie was. There was horror, but there were also moments of levity. The pacing was excellent, and the movie was short enough that it didn't outstay its welcome.

That said, I called the big twist at the beginning of the third act.

Problem is:
Spoiler: show
I'm talking about the girlfriend, by the way. Problem is that when he was breaking out of the house, I was saying "No, don't leave that bitch there, get her. Kill the shit out of your girlfriend" and I don't think it impressed the woman I'd taken with me.


All in all, I'd say this is the best horror movie I've seen since another one it shares DNA with: Skeleton Key. But do take me with a grain of salt, as I usually don't watch horror movies.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Wed Mar 22, 2017 3:36 am

Doodle Dee. Snickers wrote:
KleinerKiller wrote:
Get Out (2017)



Your review was the reason I went to see this movie, and I'm damn glad I did.


Image

That's pretty much the whole reason I do these -- 'cause I like sharing cool shit and it feels good to spread it to more people. Knowing that someone was convinced to check something out (especially something as great as Get Out) because of my words is just wonderful. Much appreciated, Doods.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby octoberpumpkin » Mon Mar 27, 2017 10:30 pm

Get Out is still playing here today, hopefully it will still be this weekend. I'm super excited!

I enjoyed your RE:7 review and reading your thoughts. I watched an LP but it's too spoopy for me to actually play
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby octoberpumpkin » Sun Apr 02, 2017 4:50 am

Aiight we got to see Get Out and it was good, I enjoyed it! A really good balance of humour and horror, although it really wasn't all that scary. The characters were pretty well written and realistic in my opinion. It could have been scarier would be my one critique

Even my bf, who thought he would hate it, said it was a good bit above average in his books!
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Sat Apr 29, 2017 3:46 am

What Remains of Edith Finch (2017)

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Basic Summary: The lone survivor of a seemingly cursed family returns to her old home to rediscover the fates of her lost loved ones.
Genre: Experimental, Environmental Narrative Game
Systems: PS4, PC / Mac
Created by: Giant Sparrow
Directed by: Ian Dallas
Written by: Ian Dallas
Designed and Programmed by: Chris Bell, Joshua Sarfaty
Starring: Valerie Rose Lohman
Story-Gameplay Ratio: 9:1

For the unaware, What Remains of Edith Finch follows Edith Finch, the last living member of the Finch family, whose lineage has always been filled with tragic deaths. Following her mother's death, Edith inherits and returns to her family's long-abandoned property, hoping to come to terms with the untimely losses and traumas that ground her loved ones to nothing. Thus, she enters the towering house to methodically rediscover and chronicle what happened to the various branches of her family tree -- and, in some way, relive their final moments herself...

Spoiler: show
I'd been keeping an eye on this game for years since its announcement, and deliberately avoiding almost all information about it. Finally getting to buy and play it the day after its release, I expected some kind of horror game, or at least a very twisted and possibly supernatural drama. What I didn't expect was one of the most touching and relatable -- if still very morbid and satisfyingly weird -- explorations of the human condition I've gotten to play in a long time, and while it wasn't quite what I expected to be paying for, I'm more than happy with my purchase. Let's get to it; I'll try to keep spoilers as light as possible, to the point of not even including a trailer, in hopes of preserving the magic for those who decide to check it out.

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This is one of those games where gameplay is more in service of moving the story along than anything else, though it's not quite a "walking simulator" thanks to some rudimentary puzzles and gameplay change-ups. The base gameplay has you slowly walking and occasionally crawling through the old Finch manor, sporadically peering in peepholes or examining objects, and looking for journals and other texts that trigger flashbacks. Throughout this, Edith narrates on her memories of the past and what she knows of her ancestors, while the subtitles appear in the form of rather beautiful scrawls on parts of the environment -- all dialogue in the game produces this kind of text, whether it's Edith speaking or someone in the flashbacks, and it's effective while being surprisingly unobtrusive. Your path is very linear once you start on it, despite the initially open appearance of the world, but you're taken through every area you would want to visit anyway and it helps with the pacing. Other than the occasional finicky transition from walking to crawling, I have no complaints here.

The flashbacks, meanwhile, form the meat of the game as you take control of one late Finch or another in their last minutes of life; these preserve the "interactive movie" feel you'd expect from a game like this, but all of them give you some kind of simple-but-unique task, be it mundane (ex: swinging on a swingset or taking photos) or something more startling and surreal, and I loved all of them. Whatever interactivity you're given helps immerse you in the story and central character, and makes you feel partially culpable in whatever fate befalls them. One sequence in particular toward the end of the game left me genuinely agape at how well it utilized the repetition of a pretty dull task to make its point. However, their true brilliance lies in the stories they tell, which I will get to momentarily.

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The presentation is pretty much the only thing that's exactly what I'd expected, and all the better for it. The house and surrounding woods are gorgeous and rich with subtle detail, and despite the linearity, there are plenty of out-of-the-way details and examinable bits of scenery that make the world feel as lived-in as it needs to for the story to work. The messy state of a table, the placement of a cherished belonging, or the preserved interiors of a sealed room tell stories all on their own, and I was constantly latching onto small details like these in an attempt to piece something together about the larger story. The flashbacks maintain all of this while often focusing on more vibrant and colorful environs, no matter their actual tone. Playing on the PS4, I did notice a lot of lag and texture pop-in in the early goings, but these issues mostly vanished after the first flashback and they never interfered with the immersive atmosphere. As for the music, each flashback has a piece to accompany it, whether an original composition or one of a surprising number of licensed tunes (a famous horror theme being one of my favorites), and while I don't have a lot to say about the soundtrack, each one communicates exactly what it tries to and the overall result is consistently stirring.

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All of this in service of What Remains of Edith Finch's core: its story, both the flashbacks across the Finch family tree (literally represented by a tree drawn in Edith's journal that gets slowly filled in) and the story they ultimately tie together about Edith herself. Each of the flashbacks is creative and beautiful, but also deeply morbid and at times nauseating despite the lack of violence or gore; you know from the start that each will chronicle your character's death, and you're placed behind the eyes of everyone from a paranoid, doddering old man to a one-year-old baby and everyone in between. Opening up each document and flashing into a different person's eyes always carries a sense of dread. Yet the point of these sequences isn't just to shock or disgust. Through incredibly effective use of narration (brought to life by a cast of stunning voice actors whom I sadly can't locate a full list of to credit), distinct tasks and visual styles, and realistic personal touches, these segments quickly get you engrossed in each person's life and give you a complete sense of their personalities and desires so they feel like real people.

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Desires are, in fact, a recurring theme the game examines: in almost every segment, the character's immediate wants and longtime dreams are often what leads them to their demise. This trope is often used for dark irony and moralizing fables, but this story never chides them for their goals and Edith rarely laments what they did, despite the visible grief that each causes in the survivors; because of their desires, their last moments are often somewhat peaceful, and their lives somewhat fulfilled. The parade of deaths becomes a celebration of life, no matter how fleeting and troubled, and this results in a lot of them carrying even greater emotional weight (especially if there are any elements of their lives that you can relate to). Added into the mix is a great deal of symbolism and ambiguity; not all of the fatal circumstances are concretely resolved by the end, and only some can be sussed out with a bit of thought about the visuals the story presented and the late character's speech. I'm not usually a big fan of such vagueness in stories, as I feel it's used as a pretentious crutch too often, but it's blended just the right way so as to feel like part of life's unanswered questions rather than a genuine unanswered narrative beat.

While these sequences are lovely and profoundly disturbing, the plot that ties them to the present doesn't become clear until the very end. The initial walk through the house and Edith's vague commentary give some hints, as do contextual clues and inferences throughout the sequences, but the events of the house's abandoning and Edith's reasons for compiling everything are saved for the very last string of sequences. After you've filled in every portrait on the family tree, you're treated to a finale that, while not exactly shocking if you've been paying attention, is done so well from moment to moment that I was still almost (almost) brought to tears by the time the credits rolled. These last scenes perfectly tie off the last arcs left unresolved and offer up a final statement on the thematic content of the journey, and some parts that could be cheesy or cliche take on a fresh and surprising new light. A simple, yet genius design choice during the credits is just the heartstring-tugging cherry on top.

In the end, What Remains of Edith Finch isn't a life-changer of a game, but it's not one I'm going to forget any time soon. It's yet another game that has made me reflect on life as I know it, and the fact that it delivered such a profound statement through twisted deaths and deliciously surreal imagery is certainly a bonus. If you're a fan of interactive movie-style games, you can handle the visible and implied deaths of children, and you don't mind getting your heartstrings tugged in a thoroughly non-manipulative way, this one can't be missed.

Rating: A Tree of Life
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Last edited by KleinerKiller on Fri Oct 13, 2017 10:43 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby octoberpumpkin » Sat Apr 29, 2017 9:17 pm

I've been hearing a lot about this game but I wasn't super sure about it. I will defo be checking it out now though!
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Sat May 27, 2017 11:57 am

Samurai Jack S5 (2017)

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Basic Summary: A traumatized samurai wanders the land ruled by his old arch-enemy.
Genre: Action, Drama
Created by: Genndy Tartakovsky
Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky
Written by: Genndy Tartakovsky
Starring: Phil LaMarr, Tara Strong, Greg Baldwin, Grey DeLisle
Episodes: 10
Channel: CN / Adult Swim



For the unaware, the fifth and final season of Samurai Jack follows the titular Jack, a samurai flung into the dystopian future ruled by his demonic nemesis Aku. Fifty years after Jack's last adventure, things have changed dramatically, and not for the better: he's somehow lost the capacity to age, nearly all of his allies have died around him, the time portals he would have used to prevent Aku's rise have been destroyed, and worst of all, the sword he was destined to slay Aku with is gone. Now Jack wanders from place to place, having abandoned his goals, desperate only to survive and stave off the hallucinations brought on by his failures and self-loathing. However, with the war between Jack and Aku at a standstill, a new enemy has surfaced to test his remaining resolve: a pack of elite warriors known as the Daughters of Aku, trained from birth by cultists to track down and eliminate the elusive samurai. Jack must gather all of his remaining strength to defeat the Daughters and get his life back on track, but he has no idea what awaits him when he picks up a blade again...

Spoiler: show
The original run of Samurai Jack aired when I was very young, and while I watched it on and off over the years and liked it, I was unable to grasp the finer qualities of Genndy Tartakovsky's magnum opus. When this more ambitious, mature final season was announced after more than a decade of absence, I rewatched the whole thing and was finally able to appreciate the gorgeous animation, meditative tone, and how deliciously slimy Aku is as a villain. So my expectations were high when this finally premiered to mostly rave reviews. We live in an age of innumerable continuations of classic shows; is this one worth your time?

The answer is a resounding yes... for the most part.

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To start, the greatest boon Samurai Jack had in its older days, before cartoons aimed at younger audiences were allowed to tell ongoing stories and have character development, was always its presentation. The richly designed world, impeccable animation with numerous stylistic shakeups, and effective use of long silences and ambient noise played a critical role in earning it a fanbase; those qualities have not only survived the long wait, but they've evolved and flourished. The quality of animation on display is truly stunning, whether Jack is navigating another of the show's trademark colorful and surreal cityscapes or running for his life through a lifeless wasteland. The character and environmental designs are top-notch, the many fight scenes range from great to utterly, brutally spellbinding, and there are too many other brilliant little touches in the presentation -- including Legion-esque focus on aspect ratios and split-screens -- to cover properly. And while the addition of blood and gore to this world could threaten the aesthetic, the violence is used sparingly and effectively so that each drop feels like it has an impact in the world. No matter what, the show is always a visual feast, and it's exactly the level of quality one would want out of the show's final season.

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Before we get into the layers of the story, there are a few main characters to examine, the first being none other than our leading man. Jack was always something of a cipher in the old seasons, a nigh-unflappable do-gooder driven to take down Aku and help as many people as he could along the way. The more focused story and necessarily darker themes allow him to actually come into his own as a complex protagonist, and early episodes function as character studies as much as they do slices of the plot. Far from the grizzled old badass one might expect, he's completely falling apart for most of the story, screaming at the air as he hallucinates and barely resisting the urge to kill himself. It's disorienting to see the stalwart hero mentally and emotionally crippled to such an extent, but these changes always feel like a natural progression of the story rather than pointless edginess, and the narrative takes him to places that suit his new characterization extraordinarily well. Phil LaMarr really gets to flex his voice acting chops in the role, and there were points where he nearly brought me to tears with how he conveyed Jack's torment. All-around perfection.

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The same, alas, cannot be said for the other half of the oh-so-important rivalry. With the tragic death of voice actor Mako Iwamatsu, it was a given that the dark lord's presence wouldn't be felt the same way in the final season, but he really could have been utilized to better effect nonetheless. Greg Baldwin (who has previously carried on a number of the late Mako's roles) does an admirable job of imitating his distinctive voice and cackle, and whatever minor problems I had with him were assuaged by Aku's character being taken in interesting new directions. The idea of the arrogant, cocksure demon king setting into a sluggish malaise with the entire universe conquered and his nemesis MIA is a potentially great concept, but while it makes for great gags, Aku just doesn't appear enough throughout the season for it to have an impact. Notably, he and Jack almost never interact directly, depriving us of the original show's most entertaining dynamic for much of the runtime and leaving a few events toward the end feeling a bit hollow. It's a pointless waste of a beloved villain, whether or not his voice stands up to Mako's.

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There are quite a few other new and returning faces, but the last ones I'll highlight to avoid spoilers are the new threats: the so-called Daughters of Aku. Cold, efficient, and perfectly evenly matched with Jack, they're arguably the most dangerous threat ever faced in the series, and while I was worried they would fall hard into the cliches about child soldier squads raised by psychotic matriarchs, I was riveted whenever they prowled onto the screen. They're the source of quite a few excellent scenes, and they get lovely bits of subtle character development and expression that make them more sympathetic, but don't detract from their menace. In their standout episode, they actually manage to be terrifying, and it's the best episode of the season in no small part thanks to their impact. One among them in particular gets much more depth than her sisters, but I can't comment on specifics for spoiler reasons.

Their mother, the High Priestess, is also a prominent antagonist, but she doesn't get nearly as much characterization and her motives are rather generic and indistinct, so there's less to talk about with her. Mostly, I just appreciated Grey DeLisle's glorious scenery chewing. "GO! KILL! THE SA-MU-RAI!"

So with that, we come to the story. By now, Aku's diminished presence aside, I've painted the picture of an unmissable masterpiece, a ten-episode cartoon that could very well have been my Show Of The Year. And you know what? It is that. Up to a certain point. To show what I mean by that, I'll divide the story up into three distinct acts: Act One (eps 1-3), Act Two (4-6), and Act Three (7-10).

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It's in Act One that the final season of Samurai Jack is unmatched by anything I've seen on TV this year, with the possible exception of Legion. The first three episodes are the best the show has ever delivered, and some of my favorite episodes of a Western animated series in general. Ludicrously high praise, I know, but this trio of episodes more than earns that praise. The premiere is a bit of a table-setter to prepare you for the next two, but even it is thoroughly engrossing and a perfect way to be drawn back into a familiar world rendered in darker shades than before, and it concludes with an impressive battle against a hilarious one-off villain. The next two episodes, though, are where the show really shines: Jack's mental state is given more limelight in a lot of poignant scenes, and the Daughters of Aku first rise to prominence in a series of incredible battles, including my favorite sequence in the whole season: an intense cat-and-mouse pursuit through a shadowy temple in the second episode, during which the animation, atmosphere, and music are all pitch-perfect and multiple "HOLY SHIT" moments happen one after another. This act is reason enough alone to watch the season, even if you have little experience with Samurai Jack.

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Act Two picks up literally seconds after the end of Act One, and while it isn't the flawless masterpiece Act One is, it's still extremely high quality and thoroughly compelling, albeit one that starts to exhibit the flaws that end up badly impacting Act Three. Mainly noticeable on reflection is that Act Two isn't so much Jack's story as the story of a new companion who accompanies him, and while this had the potential to be the worst thing ever, the character is well-built-up here and goes through a great (if completely predictable) arc that feels earned in the context of the show. Jack is still a major player throughout these episodes, despite not being the main focus for the most part, and a very interesting recurring tease from Act One finally comes into prominence in this act, though I'm of mixed feelings about what it ultimately leads to and the lack of answers about certain aspects. Act Two ends with another standout scene, and one that marks a definite transition point in the tone of the story, and it initially seems to promise great things for the last part.

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Well... it doesn't, really. Act Three isn't bad by any means. I don't regret watching it. It's just that compared to the immeasurable brilliance of Act One and the shining highlights of Act Two, it feels inferior in almost every regard. It's less polished, less subversive, less surprising. The pacing goes off, and pivotal moments just kind of happen. It feels like an unnecessary regression back to the olden days of non-serialized Samurai Jack, rather than a reclamation of former glory as I suspect Genndy intended it to be. The seventh episode packs too many critical turns into too short a time so it feels too easy by the end, though it's redeemed slightly by another amazing and brutal fight scene that breaks up the unevenness. The eighth episode, on the other hand, is 100% filler for some reason and exists only to develop something that could easily have been slotted into a more plot-relevant episode, at a point when the story should really be taking more focus than it is. And the ninth episode feels like more wheel-spinning until the climax, when stakes are finally raised for the finale. All in all, time is not used as effectively as it should be, and it's almost unbelievable that the same minds responsible for Act One thought this was on the same level.

Which brings us to the finale. The very last episode of Samurai Jack, the ending that fans have been denied for thirteen years. Expectations were impossibly high, and even material on the level of Act One would probably let some people down -- but nevertheless, I persisted through my feelings about Act Three and tried to believe Genndy would pull out something unforgettable. And... well... it's okay. It's fine. It plays out pretty much exactly how I expected it to play out, rather than any subversion on my expectations. The right plot beats are there, and there are some shining moments of awesomeness and catharsis sprinkled throughout its all-too-short running time, but I never felt like I was on the edge of my seat about what would happen next the way I was in Acts One and Two. The last couple of minutes also rubbed me the wrong way in how they were paced and how unearned some of it felt. In short, it just feels like the ending Genndy had always planned for the original run of the show, and it doesn't feel like many rewrites were made to fit this series tonally and otherwise. Though I will proclaim one thing: the final scene is the perfect image for the show to go out on, hands down. That's the only thing I have no problem with.

In the end, the final season of Samurai Jack starts off as a must-watch masterpiece, but it can't maintain that momentum the whole way through and it falters in its final four episodes. As a whole, and as the final season of such an incredible show, it's satisfactory even at its worst; I and many others were just primed for something more intelligent and unexpected than "satisfactory." When I look back on it, I'm going to think about the first three episodes before I think of anything else, and I would give the season my highest recommendations if only for Acts One and Two. Had the landing been stuck and the tone maintained, this would have been my undisputed Show Of The Year. As is, it'll be up there, but it's sadly just not a contender for the #1 spot.

Rating: Gotta Get Back, Back To The Past ("Past" Here Meaning The First Three Episodes)
  • 3

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Wed May 31, 2017 6:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Wed May 31, 2017 8:21 am

Stories Untold (2017)

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Basic Summary: Four experimental stories linked by a few ominous themes.
Genre: Experimental, Horror, Text Adventure, Puzzle Game
Systems: PC
Created by: No Code Studios
Directed by: Jon McKellan
Written by: Jon McKellan
Designed and Programmed by: N/A
Starring: N/A
Story-Gameplay Ratio: 7:3 (sort of)

For the unaware, Stories Untold is a collection of four tapes telling different novella-length stories: The House Abandon, The Lab Conduct, The Station Process, and The Last Session (yes, they are meant to be grammatically incorrect). The House Abandon follows you on a retro text adventure journey as you return to your family's old vacation home; The Lab Conduct places you as a volunteer in a mysterious experiment; The Station Process has you decoding radio signals through a snowstorm; and The Last Session... well, you'll figure that one out.

Spoiler: show
This is gonna be a weird one. Because, well, this game is unlike almost anything I've seen before, and it's definitely one of those games you optimally want to experience knowing as little about it as possible. It doesn't have conventional characters, at least not ones I can review, and its narrative/s must be absolutely kept spoiler-free. So what I'm going to do is go over the presentation, and then give a little chunk review to each story. If what little I've teased about the game sounds interesting to you and you want to experience it in the purest way possible, know that I highly recommend it and either go download it (through its website or on Steam) or watch the playthrough I'll link below. It's only a few hours long, so it's not a massive drain on your time either way.

MASSIVE EPILEPSY WARNING FOR THIS GAME. I don't normally put these up because I figure people with epilepsy tend to be good judges of what will affect them, but seriously, do not play this game if you suffer it and pay attention to the warning pop-up if you decide to watch the linked playthrough. It's pretty serious. Just letting you know.

- Recommended playthrough by Cryaotic, a lovely gentleman with a soothing voice, a pleasant sense of humor, and the capacity to get invested in the story, and who knows when to shut up and let the game do its thing, thus not detracting from the atmosphere: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pBRQEfoXJuE

Still waiting to be sold on it? Or did you finish and want to know what I think? Well, read on.

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The first thing to note about Stories Untold on a whole is that it's very retro, which it acknowledges in its Stranger Things-influenced opening credits and theme. However, it never feels like a nostalgia grab (unlike Stranger Things, in my opinion), and you can appreciate its aesthetics even if you're a child of a later decade like myself. It captures the feeling and familiarity of antiquated computers and text adventure games perfectly, and I had a blast seeing how radically different the four stories are in setting, tone, and presentation. Beyond that, there's also the feeling of playing a game within a game, and sometimes of a game within a game within a game, but the meta-ness is used to better effect than simply wink-and-nod mind-fucking. And without giving anything away, each story does atmosphere superbly well, and deserves to be enjoyed in silence and relative dim or darkness.

That's pretty much all I can say for the game as a whole before examining the four stories themselves. I'll keep spoilers to a bare minimum and mainly focus on the gameplay and my vague thoughts, but again, this is your chance to turn back if you want everything to be fresh and unexpected.

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The first story, The House Abandon, may be my favorite of the bunch -- though it's a very close split. It's also the shortest, clocking in at around twenty minutes if you aren't dicking around with no clue how it works. And despite my love for it, it needn't be any longer than that. In essence, you're placed in the room display you see in this screenshot, and you play a text adventure game (the titular The House Abandon) on the CRT to the left. As things advance, it starts to get a bit... weird.

Due to it being half the length and much simpler than the other stories, there's not a lot I can say without giving away its effectiveness. Suffice to say that when it starts to lean into its horror elements, which run all throughout the game, its atmosphere gets suffocatingly immersive and it pulls off tricks both unique and familiar with an energy and direction that makes them feel incredibly fresh. It ends exactly where it needs to, not giving too much away about what its content means, and then it's on to the next one. Brilliant stuff, and exactly what sold me on it.

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Next up is The Lab Conduct, twice the length and complexity of the first story. In it, you take the role of a volunteer sitting in a small lab with two directions you can look: ahead, at the equipment in the screenshot, or to the left, at a monitor on which you can refer to the steps and information necessary to run the experiment. This is the first story with full voice acting (which is pretty great throughout the rest of the game), in the form of your instructors, who constantly relay instructions to you about what they want to do next. It's your job to hit the right configurations of buttons and set the right dials for the experiments to move forward.

This story is a lot clearer than House Abandon's, though much of it is still left to your inference. The gameplay that goes along with it is interesting enough, though it's in a middle shift between House Abandon's simple text adventuring and Station Process's involved complexity, so much of it just consists of following steps as you're told, which can get tedious until a shift about two-thirds of the way into it. Once the experiment's purpose becomes clear, the atmosphere gets quite tense again, and everything comes to a head in a much flashier and more elaborate manner than before. It's at this point where you'll also start to pick up on recurring symbolism, phrasing, etc, and be able to spin your own theories about how the stories might be connected either thematically or chronologically. All in all, a very good follow-up to the brilliant first story.

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Then we come to The Station Process, which is the longest (about 40 mins to an hour) and most complex of the four stories. Working in one among a network of Arctic radio stations, you're being transmitted a series of codes through your radio, while also coming to understand something as your colleagues speculate on why the codes are being transmitted.

The gameplay here is on a whole different level, simultaneously intuitive at a step-by-step level and difficult on a whole. You have to tune into the frequency listed on the transmission screen to get access numbers, and then you're tasked with inputting three strings of numbers, letters, and coding phrases before submitting them. To accomplish this, off to the left side is a long microfilm viewer containing everything from military phonetic alphabets to number correspondence charts, morse code translation to keyword substitutions, and more, along with unique slides for each transmission that tell you what kind of information each line is asking for. It sounds daunting, and it can get a little tedious, but it's also very intuitive to grasp and immensely rewarding when you decipher it correctly. (Also, my hint to you if you decide to play this, because there's one element that could be a roadblock: keep in mind that double-digit numbers like "20" and "14" are considered single numbers if it's asking for the second or third number in a sequence.)

This story unfolds quite well, though probably not at a particularly brisk pace with how complex the sequences are. The mystery is relatively straightforward and intriguing to start, and it makes great use of your limited perspective and isolated location to tease what's going on over scattered conversations and distant noises. Like the other stories, it also goes through a tonal shift at a point, though this one is simultaneously subtler and way more grandiose in how it changes things up. And its ending is very, very different from the other two, though exactly how I can't say.

(no image for the last section; it's too spoilery)


And finally, The Last Session, in which answers come and symbolic arcs conclude. I can't even talk about the gameplay of this part, much less a specific rundown of the story conceit, so instead, I have some thoughts to give. I'm going to put these thoughts in spoiler tags, even though I'm still being as vague as I can, because these opinions on the ending will color your perception of the early parts of the game.

Last Session
I'm of two minds about this finale. On the one hand, it seems to come out of nowhere at first, and it's not the direction I was hoping the game would go in. It's such cliched and well-trodden narrative territory, especially compared to how innovative and unpredictable the rest of the game is, that it almost feels like the creators ran out of ideas or thought the jarring surprise would be enough to be well worth the surreal and complicated buildup. I found myself rather disappointed, and ultimately wish the stories had genuinely been completely distinct from each other rather than even sharing major themes. A game that's just a collection of assorted twisty, disturbing, off-kilter scenarios would be amazing.

On the other hand, while the concept is tired and the first few gameplay change-ups don't give a good first impression, the execution is fucking masterful, and I found myself getting more and more into it the longer it went on despite my initial skepticism. There's so much foreshadowing and symbolism in the foreground and background of each story that reflecting on the game becomes a treat, and even things you most likely couldn't have predicted would be significant turn out to be key aspects of the various reveals. The story also goes to a much, much darker and more fucked-up place than the setup initially seems to let on, and the ending makes even the title of the game relevant in a surprising way. Then it ends on a note I didn't see coming, and which makes the whole game even more disturbing than it already was. So I genuinely don't know I feel about the decision to end it this way, whether I love it or don't love it.


Ultimately, Stories Untold is a magnificent little surprise unlike anything that's come by me in this gaming year, and while I may have some qualms about the finale, those minor issues don't sour my opinion of the whole experience. I highly, highly recommend playing or watching it, whether you're normally into this kind of game or not; if you can appreciate killer atmosphere (both when it's trying to be scary and when it's not) and layered storytelling with a distinctive vision, you can get invested in this. I don't know where it stands on my list of favorites in the year so far, but... I'll be damned if it doesn't stand out from the crowd.

Rating: Stories Worth Telling
  • 3

Last edited by KleinerKiller on Fri Oct 13, 2017 10:44 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby octoberpumpkin » Wed May 31, 2017 6:17 pm

I watched an LP of this! Seemed pretty nifty but the puzzles would be a bit too challenging for me and the story was harder for me to follow
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Wed May 31, 2017 6:38 pm

After some suggestions, I've belatedly decided to put my older reviews in spoiler tags for length and convenience purposes. So now, if you wanted to read something but couldn't due to the numerous images making it difficult, you'll have an easier time! Such fun!
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby Ladki96 » Sun Jul 02, 2017 8:25 pm

When are you going to do Wonder Woman? I like reading your reviews :)
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Re: KK's Great Big Random Review Thread

Postby KleinerKiller » Sun Jul 02, 2017 9:08 pm

Ladki96 wrote:When are you going to do Wonder Woman? I like reading your reviews :)


I don't know that I'll catch it when it's still in theaters, as there are a lot of other movies on my to-see list soon. I should get around to it when it's available on streaming services, though. And thank you! :mrgreen:
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