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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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)

Rouge Legacy Review

I’ve been really obsessed with Rogue-likes lately. I don’t know what it is, but I can’t get enough of them. Games like Spelunky and Risk of Rain has taken hold of my attention. Rogue Legacy is no different. It takes the basic concepts of a Rogue-like and adds on to them with some unique ideas.

The story of Rogue Legacy is simple and barebones. Most of it is presented through diary entries and tells the story of a man’s exploration into the castle. Your goal is to battle through the four areas of the castle and then take on the final boss.

You will play as his several – perhaps hundred – children. Every time you die, you get to select from one of three different children. Each one has the potential to be a different class, each with their own stats and abilities. On top of that, each child with have a few traits that differ them from their counterparts. Most of these stats won’t affect gameplay and are more for humor’s sake. For example there’s a stat that turns everything black and white, or makes you afraid of chickens. One of my favorites makes the entire game look like it came out of the Matrix. But there are a few select stats that could make or break a run. Ones that increase or decrease your size can change how far attacks knock you back, if at all.

The crux of any Rogue-like is the gold. Your money is everything in Rogue Legacy. It buys your equipment, your runes (which gives extra gameplay mechanics), and allows you to level up your various skills. Unlike other Rogue-likes, dying will not completely reset your progress. You’ll still keep any equipment you earned and bought, and any levels and skills you gained. That said, the castle does reshape itself every time you enter it. And – even more devastating – you have to surrender all your gold to gate keeper at the beginning of every run.

This heightens the tension of each run. You want to make sure that you get enough gold to spend on leveling up or unlocking that new weapons. The last thing you want to get nearly enough gold, only to get killed by a random flub. Then you’ve got to start all over.

But that’s half the fun. When you choose from the three different children, you’re choosing the kind of run you want. Do you want to get more gold? Go with the miner class. Thinking of taking on the bosses? Then the hokage is the way to go. Some of the classes aren’t as useful as others. I found that playing the magic based classes were not nearly as satisfying or fun. The magic area of Rogue Legacy is pretty lacking, only giving you one spell. It doesn’t make sense to surround an entire class around such a limited concept.

Aside from the magic based classes, Rogue Legacy is an exceptionally fun game for anyone who is interested in Rogue-likes. It’s charming and has a great sense of humor. The gameplay mechanics are sound and easy to use. I recommend using a controller though, because the PC controls make absolutely no sense. The game is available on most consoles, and even the PS Vita. But I played it on Steam, so a controller is an absolute must.

If Rogue-likes are you kind of poison, I cannot recommend Rogue Legacy more. It falls along the lines of Spelunky and Risk of Rain as a classic example of the genre.