Stranger Things Season 2 Review

**WARNING: Full Spoilers Below**

When we open on season two of Stranger Things it’s a year later. Everyone is still trying to move on from the events of last season. Mike can’t get over Eleven, the Byers family is still trying to get passed what happened to Will, and for whatever reason, Nancy is still dealing with the death of Barb.

It’s because of this that the first several episodes of Stranger Things feel like an epilogue to the first season. Showing us how people have tried to move on, but failing to set up what’s going to happen in this new season. In fact, several characters get stuck in that rut for almost the entire season.

Mike for instance, doesn’t do much except whine about missing Eleven and being a brat to the new girl, Max. When he isn’t doing that, he’s being sidelined by staying near Will for several episodes. It isn’t until the last two episodes that he finds something interesting to do and contributes to the story in a meaningful way.

Which brings us to Will. Will was a mcguffin in the first season, the reason the story was happening in the first place. Now that he’s safe and back in Hawkins, you’d imagine they’d give the character room to grow. Instead Will is back where he started: a plot device. Save for a few lines of a dialogue in the first two episodes, Will does nothing but scream a whole lot. And by a lot, I mean entire episodes. By the last two episodes, Will is literally tied to a chair, a bed (twice).

Mike and Will aren’t the only characters given nothing to do for the majority of the season. Will’s mother, Joyce, continues over worrying about Will. I wish the Duffer brothers would allow Winona Ryder to make any other expression than that ridiculous wide eyed worried look that’s stuck to her face until the very ending of the show. At the very least they introduced Bob into her life (played by Sean Austin), one of a few new characters this season. Unfortunately their storyline doesn’t really go anywhere.

There was drama to be mined with Bob. How do the kids feel about their mother dating someone new? How do they feel about potentially having a stepfather? What about everything that’s gone on in the past year, how do they explain that to him? All of this is sidestepped in favor of Will Byers’ screaming. And while Bob isn’t given any room to grow as a character, he lends himself to the plot fairly well. In other words, he becomes useful as soon as its convenient and then is immediately disposed of. At least he was likeable, I guess.

Billy, older brother of Max and one of the other new characters, serves even less of a purpose than Bob does. He’s your cliche high school bully, who couldn’t give a crap about anyone else but himself. The issue is that we’re stuck with Billy being an asshole to anyone and everyone he comes across until he’s knocked unconscious by his sister. The only interesting scene he’s given is when he nearly seduces Nancy’s mother, not that it serves any purpose for either character, it’s just a fun gag.

Max is the only new character who is given a proper arc and given some real character development to work with. She’s fierce, and doesn’t put up with anyone’s crap. But she’s also alone, and doesn’t trust easily. Yet over the course of Stranger Things’ nine episodes, she learns to becomes one of the party members, and her growing relationship with Lucas is one of this season’s highlights.

The other two kids of the party, Lucas and Dustin, are given much more room to grow and contribute. Lucas finds himself steadily falling for Max, while grappling with the fact that this friend Dustin also has feelings for. The two have great chemistry and it makes for the fact that they sidelined Lucas for a few episodes last season.

Dustin, meanwhile, finds himself a little pet that manages to be something more dangerous than he could imagine. It’s this storyline that brings Steve and Dustin together in what can only be a match made in heaven. Who would have thought that these two could play off one another so well? It’s a shame that it took the show five episodes to get there.

“It’s a shame it took five episodes to get there” could be the motto of this season. Most of the story – and characters – are stuck milling around, inching closer and closer to what’s actually going on. This glacial pace would be fine if it meant we’d learn more about the characters. But most of them are stuck in place, unable to start their new arcs until almost halfway through the season.

There’s also a lack of focus. Last year, everyone was focused on one thing: looking for Will Myers. It wasn’t long before almost everyone was on the same page. This year everyone is off doing their own thing, without real knowledge of how it all ties together.

It doesn’t help that there isn’t a real villain this season. Last year we had the monster, but we also had the government scientist played by Matthew Modine. He was a presence of mystery and conflict. A human element that we could see as the antagonist. The monster itself was imposing and constituted a real threat whenever it appeared. So much so that Eleven nearly sacrificed herself in order to kill it.

Yet this year we’re stuck with the smoke monster from Lost. It isn’t until the eighth episode that we’re given some look into its motivation, but it never appears to us in the way the demigorgan did in the first season. Instead we’re stuck a herd of a demidogs (as Dustin calls them) which is not only silly looking, but kind of downplays the level of fear everyone felt from one in the first season.

This doesn’t mean it’s all bad though. Hopper’s storyline with Eleven is a direction I didn’t expect this season to take. He’s trying his best to keep her safe while also teaching her how to be a real kid. It’s tough, and it certainly isn’t easy, especially when your kid has psychic abilities. But there’s a real warmth there, which is explored until the very end, when Eleven – whose real name is Jane – officially adopted by Hopper.

Nancy and Jonathan finally stop playing around, which means, I hope, that the love triangle between them and Steve is over. Especially given that Steve spent the latter half of the season being Dad of the Nerds instead of hanging with Nancy like he did last year. It’s a more natural direction for both characters and I appreciate that the writers found something better for them to do.

Then there’s episode 7. If you’ve been anywhere on the internet you’ve no doubt heard of the seventh episode of Stranger Things being a “controversial” episode. In reality it’s what’s called a “break away” episode. Where we break away from the main plot in order to spend time somewhere else, doing something else. In this case, it’s getting back story on Eleven and her cellmate when she was a child.

The episode itself was fine. It’s nothing special. In fact, the most frustrating thing is its placement in the season. It could have very easily switched with episode six, allowing a clearer flow of action and drama. Episode six is exciting and thrilling, but that’s all tempered when we put it all on hold to watch Eleven try to discover herself.

What’s even more frustrating is that she doesn’t learn all that much. All she discovers is a “punk” sense of fashion (and I’m being generous here), and that maybe she doesn’t have the heart to kill like she thought she did. This episode could have easily been inter cut with the stuff going on in Hawkins and kept the momentum that started up in episode six.

While the first five episodes are kind of a slog, the action really picks up in episode six, and then again in episodes eight and nine. It’s here that Stranger Things begins to feel like itself again. The action swells and as a third act, it’s one of the best in television. The characters reconnect and their reunion is touching. To call some of these moments heartwarming would be an understatement. The ending is especially sweet, and will make you smile while – possibly – holding back tears.

Overall, the second season of Stranger Things is full of really low lows, and then comes back around to deliver some of the highest highs we’ve seen in both seasons. I just wish that there had maybe been an episode cut and things sized down so that there was a clearer flow and better pacing. It feels like a show that spends its first half in act one and them immediately jumps into the third act. It’s awkward and considering how well the first season was done, a bit of a disappointment.

If the question is, are the highest highs better than the lowest lows, I’d say yes. Maybe that’s all that matters.


Mindhunter Season 1 Review

**Minor spoilers ahead**When you start Mindhunter and you see the grim opening sequence beside the name David Fincher, you might think that this is going to be similar to his other work. It’s possible, you wonder, that this draws influence from movies like Se7en and Zodiac. Mindhunter starts off like it might be dark tale about the discovery of the psychology behind serial killers and how the definition came to be.

Mindhunter is nothing like this. After an interesting opening scene, it dives head first into the minutia of the FBI. How they work, why they work, and why they’re such stubborn assholes when it comes to learning new things. If nothing else, you’ll come to understand why our government works at a snail’s pace.

In case you’re unaware of Mindhunter and what it’s about it. It takes place in the 1970’s as a pair of FBI agents and a professor in psychology work together in order to identify and classify why serial killers do what they do. Essentially, it’s the beginnings of behavioral psychology and profiling in the FBI. It is in many ways, based on true stories from FBI agent John E. Douglas.

The main character, Holden Ford (played by Jonathan Groff), is nothing short of a wet fart. He wears a suit everywhere he goes, always looks confused, and is desperate to be special. It’s kind of sad to watch at first, but the show never tries very hard to make you root for him. I couldn’t stand Holden at the beginning of the show, and over the course of the show I liked him even less. What was once a meek little man became a little man with a whole load of arrogance. His arc is nothing more than frustrating. There are ways to make the audience love and hate your main character – it’s why people love antiheroes. Holden isn’t an antihero though, he’s just an asshole.

The other main characters fair a little bit better than Holden does. Holt McCallaney plays Holden’s partner, Bill Tench, a more hardened agent who really just wants to play a lot of golf. His gruff attitude is a nice anchor to Holden’s bewilderment at everything he sees. Most of the time I couldn’t help but feel like Tench was supposed to be the audience in a sense, chiding Holden whenever possible because he’s so insufferable.

Anna Torv plays their psychologist consultant, Wendy Carr. At first Wendy is a breath of fresh air, someone who provides a nice balance of professionalism to the FBI agents. Unfortunately as the show goes on, she’s given less and less to do except sit in her office and scowl at Holden’s mistakes.

Also – for whatever reason – each of the characters are given subplots about their lives outside of the FBI. Holden’s involves a girlfriend (Hannah Gross), Tench’s is about his family, and Wendy’s is about… a cat?

It doesn’t help that Hannah Gross can’t seem to emote more than a general scowl and her tone never breaks from bored indifference. This subplot runs all ten episodes and peaks in about episode seven in a scene involving a shoe. Despite that, it continues for three more episodes, dragging the audience along for slowest ride of them all.

Wendy’s story starts out rather strong. We discover that she’s gay, dating a coworker, and is forced to hide her true self from everyone around her. But then the series moves her to the FBI headquarters, and gives us scenes where she tries to feed a cat with a can of tuna. If you’re wondering what any of this has to do with the rest of the series, you’re not alone.

Bill Tench is the only main character with a worthwhile story. He and his wife just adopted a son, and Bill is struggling to balance his work and home life. This is made worse by the fact that their son refuses to talk to them and they simply cannot figure out why. Bill is really the only sympathetic character in the entire show and I appreciate the lengths they went to humanize his struggles.

Like most crime shows nowadays, Mindhunter falls into the trap of having its killers be the most interesting part about it. Perhaps its unavoidable, in a way. But I found that shows like Hannibal were able to balance both their killers and their cops in a way that made them both interesting to watch.

Mindhunter on the other hand, revels in its killers. From Ed Kemper to Richard Speck, Mindhunter’s best scenes are when it lets its killers talk. Each of the four killers the FBI interviews steal their scenes, making them the highlight of the show. In fact, I’d say that the scene with Richard Speck is the best scene in the entire show.

If you were going into Mindhunter expecting another great David Fincher story about serial killers, you won’t find one here. Mindhunter revels in its slog and threatens to bore you to tears before you manage to get to anything interesting. But when it does present something interesting, its around just long enough to convince you that this show could be something. Then it’s several hours more of watching these characters that don’t matter. In terms of Netflix originals, there are better ways you could be spending your time. In terms of David Fincher projects, just go back and watch Se7en or something.

Suicide Squad Review

Imagine, if you will, two versions of a movie. Each scene is written out on note cards. One side is for the cartoony, colorful version of the movie. The other side is for the darker, grittier version of the movie. Then, for whatever reason, someone decides to put them all in the same box, and shake it violently. A single version of the movie is then made by pulling scenes from this box. One scene is from the cartoony version, while another is from the gritty version. For whatever reason, this is how the movie is made.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is how Suicide Squad was made.

There’s no joke about this either. Reports have surfaced since the release of the movie that there were two cuts of the movie. One was dark, the other more cartoony. Both were tested with audiences and for some reason, Warner Bros. decided to take “the best parts” of both and create what it’s in theaters today.

Instead of anything remotely cohesive, we received a tone deaf, inconsistent movie that is fun and colorful one moment, and utterly dramatic and “emotional” the next. It’s confusing, jarring, and makes for a frustrated viewing experience. The worst part is that you can very easily tell which version of the movie each scene belongs to. That’s how different they are from each other and how jarring the shift in tone is.

Let’s start with the basics though. The Suicide Squad is a team of villains from the DC universe pulled into a black ops team by Amanda Waller. She’s afraid – understandably – that the next Superman we get might not be for truth, justice, and the American way. So she wants to build a team of people with abilities in order to combat such threats. Enter Task Force X, aka the Suicide Squad.


Under the command of Rick Flag – Joel Kinnaman, doing the worst Texas accent since Chris Pratt in Jurassic World – the squad is lead through Midway City in order to combat a swirling ring of magical trash that’s started to tear the city apart. Unfortunately, the plot doesn’t get more interesting than that. Nor does it get more complicated. The Suicide Squad is there to do two things: rescue someone, and kill the bad guy. Their rescue target takes about a minute or two to figure out and “twist” of who it is falls flat. The villain on the other hand, is such a non-presence that sometimes you forget there was a character there.

The movie generally lacks drama or consequences. While there is something pushing the team forward through the plot, it’s so thin and uninteresting that you don’t even care. The Enchantress, played by a very bored Cara Delevingne, does so little in the movie that she’s hardly a threat. The “relationship” between her and Rick Flag is almost existent on screen. Instead it’s told to us several times by various characters. Because that’s going to make the audience care, right? The fact that the two share only three scenes together doesn’t do them any favors. Even her brother, whose name I don’t even recall anymore, serves a role as “the big henchmen” only to disappear after a single action sequence.

The team itself is comprised of eight members. If that sounds like too many to you, then you’d be correct. Many of them don’t do anything of note in the whole movie. Slipknot – spoilers – gets murdered in his second scene in the whole movie. He’s so pointless he doesn’t get a special intro like most of the other characters. Katana has a total of four lines in the movie and doesn’t affect the plot in anyway. It’s referenced, kind of, that she might be friends with Rick Flag, but no backstory is given into that relationship whatsoever. Therefore, she’s a pointless entity within the movie. Other members worth mentioning in the pointless category are: Killer Croc and Captain Boomerang.

Less pointless are some of the main headliners. Will Smith shines in the movie as the hitman Deadshot, and even Margot Robbie manages to be bearable as Harley Quinn (even if her accent fades in and out throughout the movie). The two have really good chemistry and actually develop something of a friendship over the course of the movie. Their scenes together are easily the most interesting in the movie and it’s a shame that one of the more unpleasant elements in the movie distracted from this.


Before getting into that though, it’s worth noting that alongside Smith and Robbie, Viola Davis is perfect as Amanda Waller. She’s exactly as you’d imagine the character to be: cold, ruthless, and calculated. She’s even scarier than some of the Suicide Squad members. My hope is that, if this movie doesn’t get a sequel, she will continue to appear in other DC universe movies.

The flashbacks in the movie are an odd element. Because not all the characters get one, and not all of them are necessary. Harley Quinn receives the most attention in this department and most of them are unnecessary. Of all the characters in the movie, she’s the most well-known and needed the least amount of explaining to audiences. Instead we got three flashbacks, all that involve Joker, that don’t really add much to her character. It felt like an excuse to add more Joker into the movie, which it really didn’t need.

The Joker is by far the worst element of the movie. Jared Leto plays some kind of gangster version of the Joker that’s extremely unappealing. More offensive than that is the fact that he doesn’t do anything in the movie. If he were to be removed from the story completely, it would not affect the main plot whatsoever. There was potential there for something interesting to happen, but instead it does the exact opposite.

The action in the movie is fairly rote. It’s basically your standard fare, not making any special use of the character’s abilities or what makes them interested. Most of them are against fodder anyways, and it seems like most of the scenes were put in the movie in order to fill time. This and the flashbacks for certain characters, could easily have been cut in order to make a tighter film.

The most frustrating thing about Suicide Squad is that when it works, it works really well. There’s a good movie in there somewhere. The first thirty minutes of the movie are awesome. It’s colorful, cartoony, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The character intros that the members get are well done and fit the tone they’re going for in that moment. Unfortunately, it’s once the mission gets going that things bounce back and forth every other scene. It’s maddening that movie like this was made.

The film also includes a few cameos from other characters, mostly Batman, since most of the Suicide Squad members are Batman villains. One of the more interesting scenes in the movie is Deadshots flashback, where Batman comes to arrest him. If nothing else, this movie’s biggest crime is making me want a Batman movie where Will Smith is the villain.

Overall Suicide Squad is a mess. It’s a poorly made movie that’s made even more frustrating by the fact that there is potential there. This could have been a fun movie. But it’s a movie that symptomatic of Warner Bros. current position, and it’s unfortunate that it got swept up in all this. If you’re looking for a reason to see Suicide Squad, you won’t find one here. In fact, you should just wait until the movie is on TV some time, and you catch it accidentally.

Ghostbusters (2016) Review

I’ll just come out and say it right here in the very beginning of the review: the new Ghostbusters movie is totally worth seeing. Despite what you may have heard from angry man-children about the movie being a rip off of the original, the all female cast, or any other random “concern” they could pull out of their hats, Ghostbusters is a funny and well made film.

So there you have it. That could be the whole review. You should definitely go see this movie. But if you want to get into the nitty-gritty of the film, read on below. The film does a lot that’s worth talking about and I feel like I would be doing the movie a disservice if I didn’t dive into what made the film tick.

The movie opens with one of the fastest first acts I’ve seen in my life, with Kristin Wiig’s character Erin being up for tenure review at her university. She’s currently a big name physicist, but she had an “unfortunate” past with the paranormal and is now doing everything she can to hide that from her current employers. Unfortunately for her, her former best friend Abby (Melissa McCarthy) has put the paranormal science book they wrote up on Amazon for all to see. It’s the first thing you see when you Google Erin’s name.

So she marches down to Abby’s workplace to demand that she take the book down. But after some exposition and an introduction to Ghostbuster’s highlight character (Kate McKinnon’s Holtzmann), we’re off to the races. Erin is back tracking ghosts and her estranged relationship with Abby is instantly repaired.

It’s then the movie moves into your more familiar origin story. They find their base of operations, get better equipment, and so on and so forth. Nothing about the story of Ghostbusters is necessarily breaking new ground in the story department, but it does so with heart and humor. That more than can be said for most movies these days.

The movie is funnier than the trailers give it credit for. Characters like Leslie Jones Patty and Chris Hemsworth Kevin are standouts in the film, providing a lot of the movie’s funnier moments. Hemsworth especially is adorably funny as the beefcake who thinks that covering his eyes means he can’t hear anything.

Special mention has to be given – again – to Kate McKinnon’s Holtzmann. The character is easily the most “out there” of the four, but she owns that weirdness in a way that makes her incredibly endearing. The other characters don’t berate her, or get annoyed her antics. They accept her quirks and embrace them. It’s a celebration of weirdness.


It’s worth noting though, that of the main characters, Holtzmann’s back story is pretty much unexplored. All the other characters have time dedicated to where they came from and who they were before ghost hunting was their thing. But for Holtzmann, part of her character involved being gay. Paul Fieg has confirmed as much, but said they had to cut all mentions of it due to “studio pressure”. It kind of explains a touching moment at the end of the film, that may seem out of place to many who don’t know this ahead of time. It’s unfortunate that her character got a chop job because of close-minded pressures, but at the same time it’s a testament to McKinnon’s performance that the character stands out despite that.

Moving along, if the first act was too short, the third act is a tad too long. The final battle takes on many forms and seems a bit over drawn, like maybe a segment could have been cut. But it’s fun spectacle of colors and action in way that brings Ghostbusters into the modern action genre. It’s also capped off by a few great jokes involving our very own Kevin.

If Ghostbuster has a glaring flaw, it’s its need to reference the original movie. As a reboot of a “beloved” franchise, there’s a reasoning behind bringing back those who came before you. To that effect, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Sigourney Weaver all have cameos in the movie. Some of them are better than others, like Hudson’s cameo. Others such as Dan Aykroyd’s feel out of place and are given way more screen time than they deserve. The only glaring omissions are Rick Moranis and Harold Ramis. Ramis, who died before the release of the movie, has a dedication to his name at the very end.

Other than that, Ghostbusters is a fun film that celebrates smart, weird, and kick-ass women. It’s funny and has a charm to it that’s unique to something like Ghostbusters. It keeps the spirit of the original film while pushing it forward to the modern age. As stated above, Ghostbusters is a well made movie that absolutely deserves your attention, if nothing else for some standout performances from characters you may not expect them from.


Captain America: Civil War Review

Even though it has the title “Civil War”, it actually has very little to do with the comic storyline it takes the title from. There’s the core starting point: registration for all super-powered beings on earth. And like in the comics, Tony Stark sits on one side while Captain America sits on the other. But that’s about where the similarities start and end.

This version of Civil War deals with the search for the Winter Soldier after he supposedly blew up a political conference, killing several high profile people including the father of The Black Panther. This sets him on a quest for vengeance, Tony Stark wants to arrest the Winter Soldier, and naturally, Captain America wants to find his friend and keep him safe.

SRyYQZ.0.0You may be led to believe that the villain of this film is someone named Zemo. He has nothing to do with his comic book counterpart in this film and more or less meanders around the movie. His entire purpose exists to be a plot mechanic instead of an actual antagonist. He moves around the world, causing problems and setting up things in order for the movie to move along. But in the end he does very little, especially since his plan hinges on people being in a certain spot at a certain time, at the same time. It’s all very convenient and kind of damages the impact of certain scenes.

But the real action of the movie has to do with Cap and Stark. Their relationship has always been one of begrudged friendship and that’s been crumbling steadily since the opening of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Things go into overdrive over the course of the film, and thanks to a third act revelation, pretty much falls apart entirely. Civil War is a movie that – like other Marvel movies – you can more or less enjoy without having seen the others, but things wouldn’t have the same impact if you’ve been following the movies since the beginning. These characters have come super far since the original Iron Man movie and this movie feels like a culmination of that.

There are a few additional standouts. Black Panther is pretty amazing in this movie. Chadwick Boseman’s fits the role so well that the movie is immediately better when he’s on screen. I’m definitely excited to see how Black Panther’s solo movie turns out.

3058531-1280_captain_america_civil_war_black_pantherThe other is of course the one and only Spider-man. Spider-man is one of the best and worst things about Civil War. Tom Holland is great in the role, and Spider-man’s action scenes are great. But you can tell that Spider-man wasn’t meant to be in this movie originally. The plot literally stops for fifteen minutes in order to introduce Peter Parker and get him up to speed with the rest of the movie. It’s unfortunate, as the movie suffers from enough pacing problem as it is.

Of course the most important aspect of a mash up movie such as this is the action. What we really want is to see our favorite heroes knock each other around and boy does this movie live up to that. There’s a really good fight between both “teams” in the middle of the movie where everyone from Spider-man to Ant-man gets to show off their skills. The fight kind of suffers from a “why didn’t you open with that” mentality a bit, but otherwise it’s really exciting.

The fight towards the third act is not only way more brutal, but more tragic. It’s here that you realize the damage that’s been done by both people can’t be repaired easily and both are looking to spill blood. This one isn’t made for cheering and popcorn fluff, it rings more sad than fun.

captain-america-civil-war-still-1The movie also attempts to deal with some heavy themes, as most comic book movies do. In this case it’s the idea of a world police and the freedom to choose. It’s here that the movie feels almost too short, as the ideas aren’t nearly as explored as they could be. The movie takes more time dealing with the comic book-y aspects of the plot and sort of passes off the debates of these themes after the first act. By the time the movie finishes, you’ll forget entirely that the movie began because of a registration act.

Overall Captain America: Civil War is a great film. It isn’t as tight as Winter Soldier, or even Guardians of the Galaxy, but it ranks up there as one of Marvel’s top films. The implications of this film on the wider MCU are large and will no doubt take their toll on films to come (in a good, dramatic way that is). It’s worth remembering that this is the last time we’ll see most of these heroes – Black Panther and Spider-man not withstanding – for several years to come. So for things to end on a tragic note is bittersweet, but one that feels earned over the course of three Iron Man movies, two Avengers movies, and three Captain America movies.

Fallout 4 Review (PC)

**Fallout 4 Spoilers Ahead**

Expectations are a funny thing. They can turn even the most perfect game into something disappointing. When you think you’re getting one thing and then you get another, there’s going to be some questions there. That’s kind of the mindset I had after playing Fallout 4 for a few hours. By the end of my time with Fallout 4, nearing thirty hours or so, I realized that Fallout 4 was a really good open world shooter, and a terrible role-playing game.

The last time we got a Fallout game from Bethesda was in 2008. In the time since though games have changed a lot. It’s natural to think that Fallout 4 wouldn’t just be Fallout 3 with a shiny new coat of paint on it. But instead of an evolution of the systems and the gameplay, we got some add-ons and bunch of systems simply stripped out from the game.

Fallout 4’s story begins just before the bombs fall. It’s interesting to get a look at what pre-war life looked like, but in the end it doesn’t do much in terms of influencing the rest of the game. The best part of the opening is the character designer, which is easily the most welcome addition to Fallout 4. No longer do you have the most basic of character tile sets. Now there’s a highly customizable creation tool that lets you make whoever you want – male or female. It’s something I hope that other games will steal because its easily the best part of the whole game.


The main characters are also fully voiced. It’s nice that has been upgraded for the modern days. Unfortunately Bethesda decided to change the dialogue system to something similar to Mass Effect’s. It’s not a wheel so much as it is just four choices where one is almost always “sarcasm” and the others are a random assortment of emotions. Not only does it make it tough to know exactly what your character will say, but it’s impossible to actually be “evil” in the game. You can do horrible things occasionally, but there’s a lack diversity in terms of morality.

Like all Bethesda stories, the main quest is lackluster. I won’t go into details on it but let’s just say it’s somewhat similar to Fallout 3 for the first half of the game. There then becomes a point where you can choose between one of four factions and doing so will net you a different ending. The issue is that with the way the quests unfold, you’re driven down one path without ever knowing that the others are available. The game does very little to communicate this to you. I had to look at a guide to find out myself.


The inability to communicate is a theme that runs throughout the core of Fallout 4. The game does very little in the way of teaching you how to play the game. After the tutorial teaches you the absolute basics, you’re turned out into the world and left to your own devices. The issue is that the game doesn’t tell you how to use important things like VATS, or how to use the settlement system whatsoever.

The settlement system, which is ultimately pointless and has very little impact on the rest of the game, is full of complexities and little intricacies that the game almost goes out of its way to avoid telling you. It’s sad because it can actually be kind of fun to build your own base, even if it means nothing in the end.

Moving along, one of the improvements Bethesda made to the Fallout series are the companions. They’re no longer lifeless entities that are designed to hold stuff for you and shoot things. They have personalities and opinions, and are actual characters. You even have the option of romancing them, which typically results in a very sweet exchange of words, and then an extra perk. It isn’t much, but it’s a step in the right direction (for those wondering, I chose Piper. Because she’s the best).

The best.

Much of Fallout 4’s world is lifeless and that isn’t because of nuclear fallout. It’s a world that doesn’t feel very lived in. More to the point, many of the quests are super boring. The writing is simple and they all end up in a shoot out. The number of side quests that can be resolved without violence can be counted on one hand. It’s sad because Betheda games are supposed to be about letting you play the game you way you want to. But this game feels like they built a shooter, so they needed people to shoot things as much as possible.

That isn’t to say the shooting is awful. It’s actually miles better than both Fallout 3 and New Vegas. But that’s about the only thing. The skills system has been completing stripped out and now the perk system has been reworked to include some of that stuff. In the end it waters down the ways people can customize their character. And even though the game offers to ability to spec for different types of playthroughs, the game itself really only wants you to take things that make it easier to kill stuff and harder for you to die.

Fallout 4 also comes with the “expected” set of glitches that Bethesda games usually do. The game crashes, doors don’t open, quests don’t end, and so on and so forth. For me the biggest issue was when I couldn’t actually get the ending I wanted because the next Minutemen quest I needed refused to trigger. So I had to take another route just to see what the end game was like.

In the end I felt like I had kind of wasted my money. I came into Fallout 4 expecting a game full of interesting RPG systems that would help me build the character I wanted and experience the world of the game in a unique way. Instead I got a game that felt like Borderlands set in the apocalypse and the shooting wasn’t as good. Considering how excited I was after waiting seven years for a sequel to Fallout 4, getting something like this was crushing.

Fallout 4 has some redeeming qualities to it. It looks great, the companions are improved, and the character creator is the best in existence (sans maybe Black Desert?). But those don’t outweigh the fact that the game isn’t really a role playing game anymore. It’s a shooter set in an open world with RPG like elements. Ultimately, that’s a bit of a bummer.

Until Dawn Review

Until Dawn, developed by Supermassive games, is something of a sleeper hit. Published by Sony and released exclusively on the PS4 just a few days before Metal Gear Solid V, it wouldn’t have been a shock to hear you might have missed it. But the truth of the matter is that Until Dawn is totally worth picking up.

Clocking in at about ten hours or so, Until Dawn is full of your typical teen horror cliches. The difference here is that Until Dawn knows this and revels in it. Each of the characters fits the role you’d expect. There’s the hero jock, the sex obsessed blonde, the slightly off kilter guy, and the final girl. There are more characters than that, but that’s the gist of it.

One by one you’ll play as each character through various chapters, each of them being an hour “until dawn” when everybody believes they’ll get rescued. Throughout each chapter you’ll do some light puzzle solving, and do your best to not kill the character you’re playing as – or the person you’re with.


That’s the real kicker of Until Dawn. Unlike a typical horror film, you get to decide if the characters live or die. Everyone can live, they can all die, or somewhere in between. It’s all up to you. Some of the choices are obvious, others are sneaky. The best part is that you’ll have no idea when some decision you made in chapter two will come back to haunt you (no pun intended).

The story takes a few interesting twists and turns, but over course of the game the story begins to delve into other horror genres. The issue here is that it does nothing to justify their inclusion in the story and eventually everything gets turned inside out. At some point you’re not even playing the same type of game. One minor character is literally included just for exposition of the new story elements before getting killed off. It’s an unfortunate inconsistency given how fun and interesting the first two acts of the game are.

Until Dawn also brings back some motifs from old horror games. The movement controls are reminiscent of games like Silent Hill, but upgraded for the modern age. Fixed camera angles make a wonderful return. Things like this help the game call back to its predecessors in the genre. It makes me hopeful for the future of the horror genre as well that these older mechanics have a place in modern games.

The scares in Until Dawn are few and far between. The game does its best to create more of a creepy atmosphere and only occasionally throwing “monsters” at you. This works to an extent, but becomes an issue late in the game when you know you have nothing to fear until the game says otherwise. A smoother balance would have been appreciated.


That said, one of the most interesting aspects of the game are these sections where you’re removed from the action and placed in the office of one Doctor Hill. Here you will answer some questions and participate in a few of the activities the good Doctor has developed for you. Doctor Hill is playing by Peter Stormare in something of a revolutionary performance. In fact out of all the characters, he’s the most interesting one. Again, it’s unfortunate that he disappears towards the end of this game.

You may be sensing a theme here with the third act of the game. But that shouldn’t discourage you from checking out what’s one of the most conceptually interesting games of the year. It’s certainly unlike most AAA titles being released nowadays, and the faults of the game’s ending don’t damper the fun that’s to be had in the first two thirds of the game. If nothing else, this game might be the start of a new path for horror games to build on.

“The Martian” Review

The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott, and based on the book written by Andy Weir is a surprisingly simple film. That isn’t a criticism, but if you read the book, you’ll remember that it’s filled with tons of scientific jargon. The film streamlines a lot of that and it’s to the film’s credit that it balances the science while trying not to confuse the viewer.

But the simplicity continues into the plot as well. It starts in a perfectly normal mission to Mars. The team is out and about when a storm hits. It’s too strong for them to stay on the planet, so they scrub the mission and begin to head home. But on the way to the rocket, Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) is struck by debris and left for dead. The crew simply cannot risk going back for him or everyone else might die.

But surprise! He lives! Of course he does or else there’d be no movie. So Watney awakens and has to survive on Mars until he can either be rescued or the next Mars mission arrives and can retrieve him. Most of the movie’s first act is Watney adjusted to his new situation. He never intended to stay on Mars by himself. But thankfully Mars is a botanist, so he knows a thing or two about growing his own food and surviving off the land.

There are two other subplots in the movie. One encompasses all the NASA people. At first they deal with the fact that Mark is dead and what that means for future Mars missions. Then they have to deal with the fact that he’s actually alive! Now they have to get him back. It’s here that the plot because stuffed with characters.

There’s the director of NASA – played by Jeff Daniels – the PR director, the leader of the Mars missions, the engineer, and a tech person. That’s probably not even all the characters. Many of them are played by very good actors. The cast includes Kristen Wiig, Mackenzie Davis, Donald Glover, Sean Bean, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. I’m probably forgetting one or two names but that’s already a ton of people for a subplot. Actors like Sean Bean only have two or three scenes in the whole movie. It’s kind of a waste of talent.

The second subplot of the movie involves the remaining crew. They’re currently on their ship, on course to earth, when they receive the news that Mark is alive. The crew is comprised of Kate Mara, Jessica Chastain, Sebastian Stan, Aksel Hennie, and Michael Pena. They have even fewer scenes in the movie than the NASA crew until around the third act when everyone comes together for the finale. Their characters are interesting, but they have so little time on screen that it’s hard to get attached to any of them.

Back to Watney though, his journey on Mars is akin to Cast Away. There are several major things that happen to him that cause you to wonder if he’s going to get off the planet alive. The interesting aspect of his is that Mark will explain why things went wrong… sometimes. When he tries to make water and nearly sets himself on fire, Mark will explain – through video diaries – what went wrong. But when other major things happen Mark completely ignores any explanation. It’s unfortunate and a bit confusing for the viewer who hasn’t read the book before.

Despite that, the movie thrives on Damon’s performance. He’s almost always acting with nothing else in the room with him and yet he makes his scenes completely interesting. There are times that he cheers that you want to cheer along beside him. You want to root for him, and it’s fun.

Mars is basically a character in of itself. Boy is it beautiful to look at too. The red and orange plains of Mars make you sit back and wonder about visiting another planet.

Another thing that was bothersome is towards the third act, all conflict flies out the window until the grand finale of the movie. Mark is supposed to make a very long journey in order to attempt something to get home. The whole thing is going to take seven months, but it’s entirely passed over by the film. So there’s a huge gap in time where everything goes right for Watney and doesn’t exactly make his rescue feel as rewarding as it should be.

That said, the film does do a few things better than the book. There’s an epilogue in the movie that shows the state of the crew and other characters after the mission. This is really appreciated as it helps the audience decompress from the anxiety of the climax. The book itself just sort of… ends. Full stop. It was a pacing decision that I’m glad the movie fixes.

Overall the movie is completely worth watching. It’s got some pacing issues and it makes you wonder why certain characters were ever there in the first place. But aside from those, it’s worth the charm of seeing a foreign planet like you never have before.

Batman: Arkham Knight Review

“This is it… This is how the Batman died.” Such are the first words of Arkham Knight, uttered by none other than Commissioner Gordon himself. Even if you’ve been living under a rock, or didn’t read the back of the game case, those words are enough to tell you one thing: this is the end of Batman’s story.

The hype is real, some might say, about this game. Rocksteady has developed two previous amazing entries in the Batman universe. They created a signature combat style that will be seen for years to come. More importantly, they showed that licensed games could be something more than just marketing tools for a larger film. The term “licensed game” is no longer as negative a term as it used to be. This is mostly due to Rocksteady’s work.

So naturally, everyone is looking to see how Batman: Arkham Knight will close out the story of the Batman. Will he die? That’s been the big question, alongside the identity of the Arkham Knight. Who is this new villain that Rocksteady created? How will they create a new and interesting story without the presence of the Joker?

And how about that Batmobile? The addition of the Batmobile being playable is the biggest change to the formula. The Batmobile allows you to travel the streets of Gotham City’s three islands at a breakneck pace. The vehicle also has a combat mode, where it turns into something of a hover tank. You’ll be using the combat mode to fight a decent amount of robot tanks throughout the game.

Batman-Arkham-Knight-5The problem, and perhaps that’s due to the hype surrounding the game more than anything else, is that Arkham Knight falls short in many areas. The most damning of which is the Batmobile itself. The vehicle is just a nightmare to control. This is especially true when the vehicle is in its tank mode. Not only does it move extremely slowly, but the aiming itself is difficult. More than anything else, it isn’t very fun. The addition of a slew of vehicle combat missions towards the end does nothing to improve this and only serves to highlight everything that’s wrong with the Batmobile.

Playing the Batmobile in regular “car mode” is a bit of a different story. Driving it around can be fun at times, but vehicle is a bit too floaty and tends to spin out if it even touches something it can’t destroy. This is incredibly frustrating towards the end of the game when a number of precise jumps are required in order to pass. Fail, and you’re instantly destroyed and sent back to beginning.

It’s unfortunate because the Batmobile is actually a major part of the game. Most of the story missions and side missions force the Batmobile on you. There’s no way to avoid using it and that’s a shame because most of the other game play mechanics are fun. But they’re overshadowed by the magnitude of failure that is the Batmobile.

Among the things that do work in Arkham Knight is the combat. There are a good number of additions to the kinds of things you can do in the game’s combat. This includes a feature called a “fear takedown”, where surprising your enemies will net you the change to instantly take out three to five of them. It’s a fun way of changing up the combat and integrates stealth a bit more into the mix.

There’s also the team combat. Throughout the story and some of the side missions, Batman will team up with other known Batman characters. Such characters like Robin, Nightwing, and Catwoman are among those that you’ll find throughout the game. When you enter combat with the other character, they’re AI controlled until you build up enough meter to enter a “team takedown”. At that point your control will switch from Batman to the other character. Each of the other characters has their own unique items and move sets that make them fun to play as. It’s a great way to portray Batman and his sidekicks working together.

2855284-bak_sshot094bThe game also looks amazing. No longer held back by the previous generation of consoles, Arkham Knight takes full advantage of the new tech. Gotham is more or less covered in a never ending rainstorm. So everything looks sleek and shiny from the rain. All the character models look really good, especially those characters who have never appeared on screen before – like Oracle and Lucius Fox.

The voice acting is top notch, which is to be expected. There are a few changes to the roster this time around. Breaking Bad’s Jonathan Banks plays Commissioner Gordon, and Tara Strong plays Harley Quinn. Most notably though is the addition of John Noble as Scarecrow. Scarecrow takes the main antagonist role this time around, and Noble brings the kind of gravitas needed to make Scarecrow something worth fearing.

These newcomers work well alongside the already well established cast of Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker, and other well known voice actors such as Troy Baker and Nolan North. Also yes, the Joker is present in the story. I won’t say how, but it’s a fairly creative way that they pull it off.

Unfortunately, like most of the story elements in this game, they just don’t properly capitalize on their ideas. Many of the subplots in the game are left and forgotten. The mystery of the Arkham Knight has one of the lamest resolutions I’ve seen in gaming in a long time. In fact, if you’re paying even the slightest amount of attention to the story, it’s telegraphed long before the reveal. Not only that, the reveal is a trope that’s been explored in Batman stories so many times over that it just feels recycled here. It’s unfortunate because there was real potential to create a new and fascinating villain.

The story also backs out of some of its riskier elements. Because it’s the final chapter of Batman’s story, I thought that Rocksteady would allow themselves to take some risks. But alas, they wind up reversing most of them by the end of the story. They allow themselves such a small amount of room to do something interesting, that it winds up following the usual tropes you’d expect. It’s becomes predictable and kind of boring.

maxresdefaultFor a series that usually has a really great comic book story, it’s sad that they fail to pay off most of their plot lines. There’s a really interesting sub plot that gets solved in the most ridiculous way possible. It’s the exact opposite of the solution they present earlier in the game. It’s odd and kind of sticks out like a sore thumb.

That said, the first act or so of the game’s story is great. It’s when all the threads are introduced and everything seems interesting and original. The mystery of the Arkham Knight is at its highest and you can’t help but wonder why he’s helping Scarecrow. What is Robin working on that’s so important? Alas, none of these pay off in any interesting fashion by the end of the story, but it was fun while it lasted.

They also do something a bit off in that the game’s “true ending” as they refer to it, is gated beyond a progress meter. At first it’s just that you need to complete some more of the side missions. Okay, that’s cool. I understand that you would want people to see some of the side content before getting rid of the game entirely. And within the context of the game’s story it actually makes a lot of sense. But even after that, there’s a further “truer ending” that’s locked beyond a 100% completion. At that point I not only feel a bit lied to, but it feels like a cheap tactic to prevent people from reselling the game back to GameStop or wherever. Thankfully there’s YouTube to solve that problem.

The side missions themselves range between tedious to actually kind of interesting. Most of them involve the usual suspects of villains. The Riddler, Two-Face, and the Penguin are all involved in the side missions since this time around they have nothing to do with the main story. Most of those missions are the more tedious ones. But there are certain missions that involve some more underused characters like Man-Bat and Professor Pyg that are more interesting to play.  It’s hard to believe that it’s true with characters with names like they, but they are in fact the more interesting set of missions.

There are also a set of various AR missions that allow you to compete against friends in a leaderboard fashion. But from what I could tell, they were fairly boring and more or less like the challenge rooms from the past Arkham games. They’re easily passable and don’t really affect the overall game.

The story lacks cohesiveness and the Batmobile being forced on players for most of the game is frustrating. If it controlled better, it would be a much different story. But it’s easily the worst controlling vehicle in gaming since the original Mass Effect’s mako.  As a final outing for the Batman, this is a disappointing one. At least there are the other games to look back fondly upon and wonder how things could have gone so wrong at the very end.

(Also it’s worth noting that I played the game on the PS4 and did not suffer any of the technical difficulties that PC players are facing right now in regards to framerates and other issues)

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