Review: “Alien Intruder” (Film)

2017-artwork-alien-intruder-review-sketch

“Alien Intruder” is one of those cheesy B-movies that I’ve seen on the shelves of second-hand DVD shops for years, but didn’t actually get round to watching until the day before I wrote this review.

Before I go any further, I should probably point out that this review will contain MAJOR SPOILERS, and lots of sarcasm.

So, let’s take a look at Alien Intruder:

alien-intruder-dvd-cover

“Alien Intruder” is a sci-fi movie from 1993 which is set in the distant year of 2022 and, despite it’s title and cover design, has absolutely nothing to do with the “Alien” films. The film begins with the crew of a spaceship called the U.S.S Holly fighting each other with laser guns and flamethrowers.

All together now, "It's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere..."

All together now, “It’s cold outside, there’s no kind of atmosphere…”

And, yes, this futuristic laser pistol seems to have been made out of a power drill of some kind.

And, yes, this futuristic laser pistol seems to have been made out of a power drill of some kind.

After this, two military officers arrive at New Alcatraz to select four highly-skilled prisoners to serve as the crew of the U.S.S Presley, a vessel that has been tasked with the dangerous search mission for the U.S.S Holly.

 "But, sir, why can't we recruit the crew from... you know.. the actual military?" [Not a quote from the film!]

“But, sir, why can’t we recruit the crew from… you know.. the actual military?” [Not a quote from the film!]

As well as offering the prisoners their freedom if they accompany one of the officers on this mission, the military officers also tell the prisoners that they’ll get to enjoy regular visits to “Weekend” – a virtual reality enviroment where their fantasies are fulfilled– during the journey. These rough, tough and “Oh So Manly (TM)” prisoners, of course, have just one thing on their mind:

Yes, some good old film noir crime-solving, in the tradition of Bogart and... Who am I kidding? This is about the only part of this scene that is even vaguely safe for work...

Yes, some good old film noir crime-solving, in the tradition of Bogart and… Who am I kidding? This is about the only part of this scene that is even vaguely safe for work…

But, as the U.S.S Presley gets closer to the U.S.S Holly, the simulations start to go violently wrong and a mysterious woman called Ariel starts appearing in both the real world and the virtual world….

Could she be the... ALIEN INTRUDER?!?!? *dramatic music*

Could she be the… ALIEN INTRUDER?!?!? *dramatic music*

Whilst I’d like to describe this film as a sci-fi horror film, it really isn’t. It’s a dark comedy film (with some occasional action movie and adult film-style elements). It’s less like “Alien” and much more like an “edgy” and “politically incorrect” version of “Red Dwarf“. It’s also one of those films that kind of knows that it’s “so bad that it’s good” and plays it for all it’s worth.

Pretty much all of the characters are basically two-dimensional cartoon characters, which lends the film an extra layer of ridiculousness. It’s a film about a group of idiotic cavemen on a spaceship in the middle of nowhere and an evil alien who is trying to seduce them because… well, the actual explanation is hilariously silly.

The film implies that she's a hallucination caused by an intelligent alien virus. Yet, instead of trying to keep the crew alive so that the virus can spread across Earth as fast as possible when the crew return, the virus tries to kill as many crew members as possible just for the sake of doing so. This story makes no sense!!!!

The film implies that she’s a hallucination caused by an intelligent alien virus. Yet, instead of trying to keep the crew alive so that the virus can spread across Earth as fast as possible when the crew return, the virus tries to kill as many crew members as possible just for the sake of doing so. This story makes no sense!!!!

Again, I really don’t know why anyone thought that it was a good idea to market this film as a sci-fi/horror film. Yes, there are one or two slightly disturbing violent scenes, but – as a whole – this film really isn’t even close to the horror genre!

 One of the characters even looks a bit like a cross between Rik Mayall and Duke Nukem, for heavens' sake! His personality is closer to Donald Trump's though.

One of the characters even looks a bit like a cross between Rik Mayall and Duke Nukem, for heavens’ sake! His personality is closer to Donald Trump’s though.

The set design in “Alien Intruder” is… variable… to say the least. At it’s worst, some scenes look like they were filmed in a supermarket warehouse and, at it’s best, the set design almost reaches the level of an episode of “Red Dwarf” from the 1990s, or a decent low-budget 80s sci-fi movie like “Trancers“.

Still, some of the locations look pretty cool. Not to mention that I really miss gloomy, misty 1990s style low-budget sci-fi set design too :)

Still, some of the locations look pretty cool. Not to mention that I really miss gloomy, misty 1990s style low-budget sci-fi set design too 🙂

All in all, “Alien Intruder” is hilariously silly! Yes, this is the kind of film that you’d expect to see at 1am on some vaguely sleazy freeview channel. Yes, it’s the kind of film that would never get made these days. Yes, even the film’s “shocking twist” ending is more funny than scary. But, as long as you don’t have high expectations or take it seriously, this film is hilariously silly.

If I had to give this film a rating out of five, it would get three.

Advertisements

Review: “Total Recall 2070 – Machine Dreams” (Film/ TV Show Pilot)

2017-artwork-total-recall-2070-pilot-review

I can’t remember when I first heard of “Total Recall 2070”. But, once I’d heard of a Canadian TV series from the 1990s that looked like “Blade Runner“, I just had to watch it. There was only one problem – it bizarrely never received a UK DVD release.

Luckily though, a while before writing a review, I found a reasonably-priced second-hand US import DVD of the feature length pilot episode “Machine Dreams” on Amazon. Surprisingly, this episode was released as a stand alone straight-to-DVD film in the US.

So, I was curious to see whether even a fragment of this TV series was worth all of the waiting and searching. In a word, yes.

But, before I go any further, I should warn you that there might be some PLOT SPOILERS in this review.

Yes, it even has the close-up eyes at the beginning, like "Blade Runner" :)

Yes, it even has the close-up eyes at the beginning, like “Blade Runner” 🙂

As you may have guessed from the title, “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” is based on Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 cinematic classic “Total Recall” and it features both the recall machine and the nefarious Rekall corporation. If you’ve never seen “Total Recall”, it’s a film set in a cyberpunk future where a company called Rekall gives people virtual reality holidays by using technology to implant artificial memories into their brains.

“Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” follows trench-coat wearing detective David Hume and his partner, who are investigating a mysterious shooting at the Rekall facility.

And with that kind of moody lighting, you can tell that it probably isn't going to just be a routine investigation...

And with that kind of moody lighting, you can tell that it probably isn’t going to just be a routine investigation…

After a gunfight with several rogue androids, the androids get away and Hume’s partner is killed – but the Rekall corporation don’t seem too happy about co-operating fully with the subsequent investigation.

Soon, Hume finds that he’s been assigned a new partner (called Ian Farve) and has been reassigned to desk duty.

On the plus side, Farve seems to be in his element behind a desk.

On the plus side, Farve seems to be in his element behind a desk.

But, after an Eastern European woman with no prior criminal history and no apparent motive is arrested for kidnapping, there seem to be some strange elements to the case that prompt Hume and Farve to investigate further…

Since “Total Recall” and “Blade Runner” are both based on stories by Philip K. Dick (eg: “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” and “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” respectively), “Total Recall 2070: Machine Dreams” takes a lot of influence from “Blade Runner” too.

Yes, this is pretty much “Blade Runner – The TV Series”! Again, why didn’t this entire TV series, or even just the pilot, get a UK DVD release?

Seriously, this is basically a low-budget version of “Blade Runner” and it is awesome! Yes, the precise details of the story are somewhat different to “Blade Runner” but there are a lot of wonderful similarities. To say any more would spoil the story but, if you like “Blade Runner”, then you’ll be right at home here. Everything from the grizzled detective to the philosophical issues in the film is pure “Blade Runner” and it is amazing!

For example, this scene is a really cool homage to "Blade Runner", although the events of it play out somewhat differently....

For example, this scene is a really cool homage to “Blade Runner”, although the events of it play out somewhat differently….

However, that said, this is bascially “Blade Runner lite”. In many ways, this is more of an amazing sci-fi noir detective thriller than a slow, contemplative, intellectually deep masterpiece. The plot of this film contains a certain level of complexity, but it’s a lot more “streamlined” than the plot of “Blade Runner” is. If anything, the pacing and plot of this episode reminded me of a cross between an “ordinary” detective movie and an episode of “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex“. Which is never a bad thing!

Thankfully, although the episode quite obviously sets the scene for a larger TV series, the film’s story is (mostly) self-contained. Yes, there are a couple of small plot threads that are left hanging, but there aren’t really any major cliffhangers. The main story of the episode is resolved by the time that the credits roll. Likewise, the US DVD thankfully seems to be free from any puritanical American TV censorship too.

The acting in “Total Recall 2070 – Machine Dreams” is reasonably good and is what you’d expect in a TV show or low-mid budget movie. Hume is your typical weary and cynical film noir detective character and many of the other characters are fairly well-acted too. But, the stand-out character in the episode has to be Ian Farve, who manages to be both subtly amusing and intriguingly mysterious at the same time.

Although, if you're a cyberpunk/ sci-fi fan, Farve's personality and demeanour is probably a plot spoiler in  it's own right.

Although, if you’re a cyberpunk/ sci-fi fan, Farve’s personality and demeanour is probably a plot spoiler in it’s own right.

The set design in “Total Recall 2070” is surprisingly good too, considering budgetary limitations. Yes, the film contains a few (surprisingly good) examples of late 1990s CGI landscapes, a few “futuristic” locations that look like something from “Red Dwarf“, a few scenes set during the day and a few repurposed “ordinary” building interiors. But, there are also some truly spectacular set designs here.

In particular, both the interior of the police station and the street outside look like something from “Blade Runner”.

Yes! The set of EVERY TV show should look like THIS!!!!

Yes! The set of EVERY TV show should look like THIS!!!!

Seriously, this is a TV series that looks like "Blade Runner". WHY don't we have this in the UK?!

Seriously, this is a TV series that looks like “Blade Runner”. WHY don’t we have this show in the UK?!

Yes, the street location is re-used for quite a few scenes but it’s busy, visually complex and atmospheric enough to stand up to a fair amount of screen time. Likewise, the police station gets the whole “cyberpunk noir” aesthetic right in quite a few scenes – with stone carvings and pillars, an array of glowing screens and lights, a gloomy atmosphere and lots of interestingly-shaped windows. It looks really cool:

Plus, it gets the "ordinary film noir" thing right too. There's even someone with a trilby hat!!

Plus, it gets the “ordinary film noir” thing right too. There’s even someone with a trilby hat!!

All in all, this episode is amazing! Yes, it isn’t quite as good as “Blade Runner”, but it’s still probably one of the coolest pilot episodes that I’ve seen! It’s dramatic, atmospheric, visually spectacular, thrilling and filled with cyberpunk goodness 🙂

Yes, it’s as much an ordinary detective thriller as it is a sci-fi film, but no doubt that the sci-fi elements are probably expanded on during the rest of the TV series. My only real criticism of it is the lack of a UK DVD release of the entire series! Seriously, this shouldn’t be some kind of obscure single-DVD US import. It should be a large, well-worn boxset on my DVD shelf!

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Mini Review: “Tears In The Rain” (‘Blade Runner’ Fan Film)

Well, although I hadn’t planned to write an extra review tonight, I happened upon a really interesting-looking “Blade Runner” fan film on Youtube called “Tears In The Rain“. Although this fan film was released in January, I somehow didn’t even hear about it until earlier tonight. So, I thought that I’d review it.

Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS.

So, let’s take a look at “Tears In The Rain”:

“Tears In The Rain” is an 11-minute unofficial prequel to the original “Blade Runner” created by Christopher Grant Harvey. Taking place in some unspecified year in the early 21st Century, the film follows a Blade Runner called John Kampff, who travels to a diner in order to retire a Nexus-3 replicant called Andy Smith.

One of the very first things that I will say about this short film is that it is remarkably true to both the spirit and the look of the original “Blade Runner” (kind of like the official prequel anime to “Blade Runner 2049” was).

Although it is probably bordering on heresy to suggest this, this low-budget fan film is possibly more “Blade Runner” than “Blade Runner 2049” was in terms of style, atmosphere, dialogue, tone, characters and music.

Seriously, I loved “Blade Runner 2049”. But, there really wasn’t enough of this in it!

A lot of why this fan film is so true to the spirit of the original film is because of it’s small scale. Unlike the vast barrage of different locations in “Blade Runner 2049”, this fan film focuses on a tiny number of detailed locations (like how most of the original “Blade Runner” just took place in a few buildings and a couple of streets). Likewise, the drama of the film is a lot more small-scale too. Again, this is much more in keeping with the original “Blade Runner”.

Yay! Small-scale drama 🙂

Plus, the dialogue and acting in this fan film is amazing. The main centrepiece of the film is a discussion between Kampff and Andy in the diner. Whilst Andy dies from a slow-acting poison, Kampff taunts him about his memories and expresses jealousy about the enhanced lives of replicants. This discussion is filled with the kind of philosophical exchanges and ambiguity that you would expect from a “Blade Runner” film. Plus, the ending to this fan film is absolutely genius. But I won’t spoil it.

Like in both the original “Blade Runner” and “Blade Runner 2049”, this fan film explores the theme of the replicants having more humanity than actual humans. Throughout the film, Andy comes across as a friendly, likeable old man.

His costume design also evokes both Chew’s and J.F.Sebastian’s outfits in the original film too.

Kampff, on the other hand, comes across as a cruel man who seems to relish the task of killing replicants. Not only is this in keeping with the themes of the original film, but it also highlights the fact that the Blade Runners are probably the villains in the official films.

Seriously, I cannot praise the chillingly understated menace in this scene highly enough. This actor needs to be in more films!

Of course, being a fan film, there are some clever references to the original film too. Although the verbatim quoting of Deckard and Leon’s dialogue when Kampff and Andy meet seems a little bit contrived, there’s an absolutely brilliant scene where Kampff points out that one of Andy’s artificial memories involves his wife leaving him for J.F. Sebastian. When Andy questions how Kampff knows this, Kampff says that it’s an “inside joke” and then talks briefly about J.F’s terrible love life. Then there’s also the part where Kampff talks about how he can tell someone is a replicant by looking at their eyes.

[Edit: Plus, of course, Andy’s name is a reference to the androids in “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?” too. How could I have missed this?]

Although he doesn’t appear in the film, I’m curious about Voight too. Where’s his film?

In terms of music, this fan film is beautiful. Whilst the film features new and original music, it is very much in keeping with the general style and tone of Vangelis’ spectacular score for the original film. Likewise, the film includes some brilliant “Blade Runner”-style ambient background noise too. The musical consistency in this low-budget fan film evokes a consistent atmosphere in a way that the more varied music in “Blade Runner 2049” doesn’t always achieve.

In terms of special effects, lighting and set design, you wouldn’t believe that this film was apparently only made for $1500! The film covers up it’s low budget status very well by initially dazzling the viewer with a really cool-looking CGI sequence and then spending the rest of the film in a small, but convincingly detailed, futuristic diner. Seriously, this film looks like it was made with ten times the budget it actually was. My only complaint is the heavy use of lens flare in some scenes, but this can be excused since it helps to cover up the low-budget set design.

J.J. Abrams take note, this is one of the few situations where lens flare actually improves a film.

All in all, Hollywood needs to hire the director of this short film to make the third “Blade Runner” movie! If he can do something as spectacular as this for just $1500, then imagine what he could do with even a small Hollywood budget! Although the “Blade Runner” films were never box office blockbusters, this unofficial fan film shows that this amazing series could potentially have a glorious future as a more low-budget thing.

Plus, this fan film focuses on the heart of what makes “Blade Runner” Blade Runner. I’m talking about small-scale drama, ambiguous characters, semi-realistic set design and an oppressively gloomy – yet visually beautiful- atmosphere. Best of all, since it’s a non-commercial fan film, you can watch it for free on Youtube. Even though it obviously isn’t canon, it’s still a must-watch if you even vaguely like the “Blade Runner” films 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Mini Review: “Miasma” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ ZDoom)

2017-artwork-miasma-wad-review-sketch

Well, it’s been at least a couple of weeks since I last played a “Doom II” WAD, so I thought that I’d take a look for one called “Miasma” that won a Cacoward in 2016.

As usual, I used the ZDoom source port whilst playing this WAD. From what I’ve read, it will work on most other modern limit-removing source ports, although it apparently might cause problems if you’re using ZDaemon. But, if – like me – you’re using an older computer, expect a little bit of slowdown in a couple of the more monster-filled areas of the level. Whilst this didn’t render the game unplayable, it was slightly annoying nonetheless.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Miasma”:

screenshot_doom_20170214_201920

“Miasma” is a large single-level WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” which contains new music and textures. One of the first things that you will notice when you play this WAD is it’s very distinctive green/brown colour scheme. Whilst this adds some atmosphere to the WAD, it isn’t really as distinctive as the blue colour scheme in “Swim With The Whales” or the purple/brown colour scheme in “Stardate 20X6“.

You’ll notice that I’ve just mentioned two fiendishly difficult “slaughtermap” WADs and there’s a reason for this. “Miasma” is vaguely reminiscent of both of these WADs but, whilst it’s a good WAD, it doesn’t quite reach their high standards for a number of reasons. Whilst the distinctive colour scheme, the challenging gameplay and the slightly eerie music wouldn’t be too out of place in those other WADs, there are some significant gameplay differences.

Well, sort of...

Well, sort of…

The main difference is that, in some ways, this level seems to be too large and too complex for it’s own good. Although this is something of a change from the more linear nature of many “slaughtermap”-style WADs and it’s a sign that the level’s creator spent a lot of time making the level, it also means that you’ll spend quite a while wandering around in circles whilst completely and utterly lost. This is also compounded by the fact that many of the level’s locked doors are…. completely optional.

I spent quite a while searching for keys and new parts of the level and only happened to stumble across the exit by accident whilst revisiting a monster-filled area I’d barely managed to escape from earlier. There was no real sense of achievement or logical progression to this, just a sense of “Oh, there it is! At least I don’t have to go round in circles again“.

How... Serendipitous.

How… Serendipitous.

This extreme non-linearity occasionally makes some of the level’s more dramatic set pieces feel somewhat cheap. You can spend quite a while fighting your way through a horde of monsters or trying to escape one of the level’s fiendish set pieces, only to find that all of your effort has been for nothing.

Sometimes all you’ll recieve for your efforts is a new way to return to an area you’ve already visited. Generally speaking, highly-challenging areas of a level should reward the player with some kind of genuine progression (eg: access to a totally new part of the level) – and this seems to be missing in some parts of this level.

After a lot of searching, I found this place. And, after several attempts, I managed to escape from this monster-filled pit and... ended up near the beginning of the level. Well, THAT was a waste of time!

After a lot of searching, I found this place. And, after several attempts, I managed to escape from this monster-filled pit and… ended up near the beginning of the level. Well, THAT was a waste of time!

As bizarre, heretical and counter-intuitive as it might sound, this level would have probably benefitted from a little bit of linearity.

No, I’m not saying that it should be a boring “Call Of Duty”-style corridor level. But, whilst there should be explorable areas and a few short alternative paths, there should be a slightly clearer sense of where the player should go next. Most great non-linear FPS game levels achieve this by making the level just small enough that the player will find where they’re supposed to go after a few minutes of searching. But, with a level of this size, you often don’t even know where to start looking.

Fun fact, this isn't an essential part of the level. It's a ledge that you can jump onto that will allow you to reach two monster-filled areas that aren't hugely relevant to the level.

Fun fact, this isn’t an essential part of the level. It’s a ledge that you can jump onto that will allow you to reach two monster-filled areas that aren’t hugely relevant to the level.

That said, this is a good level. It’s the kind of level that requires perseverence, skill and a good knowledge of the “rules” of “Doom II” to complete. Plus, whilst there are some reasonably good set pieces where you’ll have to use tactics to fight or escape large numbers of monsters in claustrophobic areas, there are also a few more “traditional” parts of the level (in terms of monster numbers and placement) that help to add some variety to the gameplay.

The beginning of the level is more like a traditional "Doom II" level in some ways.

The beginning of the level is more like a traditional “Doom II” level in some ways.

The set pieces are thrilling and well-made, but they are rarely that surprising. They’re just slaughtermap set pieces that require you to dodge or fight ludicrious numbers of monsters until you can find a switch of some kind. They’re really solid but, if you’ve played a few slaughtermaps before, there’s rarely any kind of serious “wow” factor to these parts of the level. They’re often just good, ordinary slaughtermap set pieces.

Visually speaking, this WAD looks pretty cool. Although most of the WAD just looks a little bit like a slightly more gothic/cyberpunk version of “standard” Doom II, there are some brilliantly designed areas that look a bit more atmospheric and dramatic. Plus, one cool touch is that the chaingun zombies now have green sprites instead of red ones. I love WADs that have a distinctive colour scheme (Ancient Aliens” truly excels at this) and this WAD doesn’t disappoint here.

 This part of the level looks really cool. I wish more of the level looked like this :)

This part of the level looks really cool. I wish more of the level looked like this 🙂

Plus, this slight adjustment to the chaingun zombie sprites fits in with the aesthetic of the level really well too 🙂

Another cool thing about this level is the music. The main background music in the level is simultaneously eerie, relaxing and slightly retro. Whilst it doesn’t always complement the fast-paced thrills of some areas of the level, it helps to add a bit of extra atmosphere to the level. Plus, another cool touch is that the safe room music from the original “Resident Evil” plays during the stats screen at the end of the level.

All in all, this is a good “Doom II” WAD, but I don’t know if I’d call it a “great” one. Yes, the extreme non-linearity and size of this level probably took a lot of effort to make and it’s probably an interesting design experiment. But, strange as it sounds, this level could have probably benefitted from being just a little bit more focused and compact.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might just about maybe get a four.

First Impressions: “Blade Runner 2049” (Film)

Although I originally hadn’t planned to see “Blade Runner 2049” at the cinema, I had a sudden spontaneous moment of inspiration yesterday and decided to see it.

But, since I’ve only seen it once, this won’t be a full review. No doubt, after I’ve rewatched it at least once more when it comes out on DVD, I’ll have formed a suitably detailed opinion about and understanding of the film to be able to review it fully (although I’m not sure when I’ll post said review). But, I wanted to write about it now too.

So, this is a long, rambling “first impressions” article – based on just one viewing of the film. I’m still forming my opinions about the film, so this article will also help me with this too. It might also explain why this article is such a long ramble as well. This article will also contain a lot of comparisons between this film and the original “Blade Runner”.

“Blade Runner 2049” is a different film to the original “Blade Runner” in many ways. I’m still not entirely sure if it’s as good, better or worse. Although many of my comparisons here will sound negative, this is only because they’re the easiest comparisons to notice. But, even though some parts of this article may sound cynical, “Blade Runner 2049” is a very good film. But it is also a sequel to a perfect film.

This article will contain SPOILERS, but I’ll mostly try to avoid major ones.

Firstly, the story of “Blade Runner 2049” is really good. It’s deep, compelling and confident enough to move at a pace that feels right.

Yes, there are a few elements of the story that I don’t fully understand (I’ve only seen the film once, after all) but it keeps the complexity, humanity and depth of the first “Blade Runner” film. The film’s story also has several plot threads that are left intriguingly ambiguous too, such as a group of replicant rebels that the main character encounters at one point.

Like the original film, this sequel raises more questions than it answers. Interestingly, the film’s conclusion focuses entirely on a powerful moment of human drama, with the after-effects of both this moment and the greater significance of the film’s events left unshown – kind of like in the director’s cut of the original “Blade Runner”. So, it’s good to see that the film doesn’t spell literally everything out, and still leaves a lot to the imagination.

This film is actually a lot slower-paced than the original “Blade Runner”. Although there are some frenetic moments, most of the film has a surprisingly slow and contemplative tone to it. But, even though the film feels longer than it’s gargantuan 163 minute running time, this actually works in the film’s favour, since it almost feels like a TV mini series.

There are lots of lingering close-ups, silent moments and slow conversations. Whilst this is in keeping with the original “Blade Runner”, that film tended to use these kinds of moments slightly more sparingly in order to give each one a greater level of dramatic significance. By contrast, the cumulative effect of all of the many “slow” moments in “Blade Runner 2049” is to give the film a more intimate, artistic and human tone. This also makes the film feel more modern too.

The atmosphere of the film is very different to that of the original “Blade Runner” too. Although I still can’t think of a way to articulate this fully, it feels very different in many ways.

One example of this is how the city in “Blade Runner 2049” feels like a much sleazier and more vicious place (eg: nude holograms, high street brothels, anti-replicant graffiti, sweatshops, utilitarian architecture etc..) than the coldly indifferent, but warmly old, city in the original “Blade Runner”.

One interesting thing about the film is that the location design feels a lot more spartan than the intricately cluttered locations of the original “Blade Runner”. Although it is really awesome that this film reveals a lot more of the “world” of Blade Runner, it feels like all of this extra breadth sometimes comes at the expense of depth. The smaller number of locations in the original “Blade Runner” (due to the budget limitations) left a lot to the imagination and allowed for a much more focused aesthetic and atmosphere.

The set design in this film often feels a lot more spartan, post-apocalyptic and utilitarian when compared to the complex aesthetic of the original film.

Yes, there are still beautifully bleak cyberpunk cityscapes (including the Tyrell building 🙂 ), a kipple-filled “old future”-style casino (where Deckard now lives), some 1960s/70s style brutalist architecture and some interesting use of orange mist. But, on the whole, the film feels like a more minimalist “Blade Runner”, grounded more in post-apocalyptic realism than in awe-inspiring visions of the future.

A good example of this is Officer K’s apartment. Although the kitchen looks a little bit like the kitchen from Deckard’s apartment (and there are a few wall tiles that are similar to Deckard’s apartment), it is a rather stark, cramped and featureless apartment.

The bare walls are a cold shade of grey/blue, and the room feels cramped rather than cosy. Again, this might reflect the fact that Officer K is clearly a replicant. A fact emphasised by the fact that the only company he has in his apartment is a hologram.

But, saying all of this, the film’s stark location designs also serve as something of a blank canvas that places a much greater degree of emphasis on the characters and the story than on the world of the film. So, I can understand this creative decision – and, from this perspective, it works fairly well. This film is a lot more story-focused than the original “Blade Runner” was.

“Blade Runner 2049″‘s depictions of violence are both in keeping with and different from the original “Blade Runner”. One of the central themes of the original “Blade Runner” is that violence is almost always presented as slow, painful and ugly. It is meant to be shocking and aversive, rather than slick or thrilling. Whilst “Blade Runner 2049” stays true to this philosophy in many scenes, the violence in the film sometimes has a cruel quickness to it that sometimes feels a little bit too slick (but, other times, brilliantly emphasises the cruelty of certain characters).

Surprisingly, although I’ve been comparing this film to the original quite a lot, there are some interesting connections between the two films.

Deckard (who probably isn’t a replicant) actually makes a few appearances later in the film. However, the events between the first film and the sequel have turned him into a grumpy, bitter, paranoid old man who seems like a tragic shadow of his former self.

Likewise, the scene with Deckard, Wallace and a clone of Rachel is unsettling and shocking – but the dramatic value of this scene is left somewhat understated.

But, on a lighter note, the scene when Officer K visits Gaff in an old folks’ home is a pretty cool scene (with Gaff even making an origami sheep, perhaps as a reference to “Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep”). Plus, one central object in this film is a small wooden horse that Officer K finds – which is a rather interesting parallel to the unicorn from the original “Blade Runner”.

Officer K is a really interesting protagonist. He’s a replicant Blade Runner, who knows that he is a replicant. This has a huge effect on the style, tone and narrative of the film. Although the film briefly shows him encountering anti-replicant bigotry during a few early scenes, his replicant nature is often a much more subtle and understated part of the film.

As a character, he’s also shown to be something of a blank slate too – often being something of a nice guy who is also brooding and tough. His curiosity, artificial memories and quest for self-understanding is also one of the main driving forces of the film.

The film’s main villain, Niander Wallace, really doesn’t get enough screen time. Yes, he’s meant to be an evil version of Eldon Tyrell, but he only appears in a couple of scenes – which kind of makes him seem a bit more like a cartoonish villain. An evil hipster with a god complex, a sadistic personality and a love of slavery. Yes, there’s something to be said for leaving his character slightly more mysterious. But it is interesting how he stands in contrast to the more paternalistic, but seemingly benevolent, character of Eldon Tyrell.

The film’s police chief is both similar and different to Bryant from the original film. Although she’s a lot more professional than Bryant, there’s a paranoid bleakness to her character which fits in really well with the atmosphere of the film. She mostly treats Officer K as an equal, even helping him escape from scrutiny at one point. But, she’s also something of a complex character since, during one drunken conversation, she almost seems to view Officer K as a novelty or a machine when asking about his memories.

A more interesting parallel between the old and the new film is how the film’s artificial memory designer seems to be a lot like J.F. Sebastian. The memory designer is ridiculously talented but, due to an auto-immune disease, she cannot leave Earth and also has to live in a futuristic glass bubble that is reminscent of the holodeck from “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. As a character, she’s really interesting (and I’d love to talk about her more), but she really doesn’t get enough screen time.

As you would expect, the film has a lot of rather interesting themes and motifs that can’t be fully deciphered on a first viewing. For example, there’s probably some significance to the fact that one character is called Joi and another is called Luv.

Joi is shown to be a companion hologram who is designed to please her owner (and she goes from being a 1950s-style housewife who makes holographic food for Officer K near the beginning of the film to being the kind of brave co-investigator/companion that Officer K needs during later parts of the film).

Luv is shown to be a coldly cruel and sociopathic replicant who seems to be completely devoid of all love or emotion (other than perhaps anger or fanatical loyalty to Wallace). On a side note, she’s also something of an “evil detective” character, who contrasts perfectly with Officer K in this regard.

There are lots of interesting comparisons to make between Joi and Luv, but one is that they both represent opposite extremes of the concept of obedience (which links in to the themes of slavery, exploitation etc.. in the film). Joi is willing to risk her life for Officer K, and Luv is willing to kill if it furthers Wallace’s objectives.

There’s probably a lot more parallels and thematic stuff going on in this film but, again, I’ve only seen the film once. Hence the limited number of examples here.

Musically, the film is interesting – containing things as diverse as loud dramatic music, Elvis music and even a rather dramatic use of the “tears in rain” music from the original film. However, although the music fits the film reasonably well, it doesn’t quite have the consistency of Vangelis’ soundtrack to the original “Blade Runner”.

All in all, I’m still forming my opinions about this film. It’s a very good film. It’s a work of art. But it is also very different to the original “Blade Runner” in terms of characters, themes, atmosphere, visual design, pacing etc.. too.

Review “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines [With Unofficial Patch]” (Classic Computer Game)

2017-artwork-vampire-the-masquerade-bloodlines-review-sketch

Well, with Halloween approaching, I thought that I’d review a classic computer game from 2004 called “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” that I only played for the first time this year.

I bought a digital copy of this game when it was on special offer on GOG earlier this year and, although it seemed to be slightly on the pricier side of things for a game of that age (even when it was on offer), it was money well spent 🙂

Interestingly, the version of this game available on GOG comes with an unofficial patch pre-installed. From what I can gather, this patch fixes many bugs and problems with the original version of the game. I’m not sure if this patch is included in versions of the game sold on other sites (eg: Steam), but it’s probably fairly easy to find on the internet if it isn’t.

One other thing that I should probably point out is that at least some of the minimum system requirements listed for the game on GOG (eg: a 2.4 ghz processor) seem to be somewhat over-inflated, especially considering that this game uses an early version of the Source Engine! I was able to get this game to run on a 1.8 ghz single core processor (with the graphics settings on low). Although, if you’re obsessed with framerates, you’ll probably be dismayed to hear that I only got about 20-30 FPS – but the game was still very playable.

Finally, I should probably warn you that this review may contain some minor SPOILERS.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines”:

vampire-the-masquerade-title-screen

“Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is an action role-playing game which takes place in Los Angeles.

You play as a freshly-created vampire who is due to be executed because the person responsible for turning you into a vampire didn’t get permission from the city’s vampiric elders. However, the aristocratic Prince LaCroix is feeling unusually merciful, and spares your life on the condition that you serve him.

As you can probably tell from the public executions, these vampires are a rather old-fashioned lot.

As you can probably tell from the public executions, these vampires are a rather old-fashioned lot.

Soon, you find yourself thrown into a web of conspiracies, politics and crime. To say too much more would be to spoil the game’s brilliantly complex story, but – like in any role-playing game – you get to have a certain degree of influence over how the events of the game play out.

The character creation options in this game are slightly strange. In addition to choosing your character’s gender and stats, you also have to choose from one of seven “clans” – each one has different specialities and abilities. However, each clan only has two character models – but your character can find alternate outfits (which also serve as a type of armour) throughout the game.

From everything that I’d read before playing this game, it’s apparently best to avoid the “Malkavian” and “Nosferatu” clans on your first playthrough since these choices cause quite significant gameplay changes.

Although there is also a quiz that you can take which will help you choose your clan, I ended up going for the Tremere clan for the simple reason that I got to play as a cool goth character who wears shades at night and can use magic spells.

 This game is amazingly badass :)

This game is amazingly badass 🙂

One of the first things that I will say about this game is that it is atmospheric. Seriously, it’s been a long time since a game has made this much of an impression on me! The style and atmosphere of the whole game is vaguely reminiscent of a brilliant TV show called “Angel“, albeit with a gloomier and more cynical atmosphere.

Although “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” isn’t the kind of horror game that will literally make you jump out of your chair with fright, this isn’t to say that it doesn’t contain any horror.

Although there are small amounts of many different types of horror (eg: psychological horror, supernatural horror, startling horror, body horror, gory horror, implied horror, gothic horror, Lovecraftian horror etc…) sprinkled throughout the game, most of the horror is almost subliminally subtle and it comes from the bleak and amoral hidden world that your character lives in and the hard choices that you are forced to make.

Often, the “evil” choice in any situation is presented as being the easier and/or more rewarding of the two. So, expect to feel disgusted/disturbed/creeped out at yourself at least once or twice after you finish playing.

For example, you can annoy this character by taking the moral high ground and refusing to vandalise a local art gallery for her. Or you can vandalise it, get money, get experience points, end a blood feud and make a new ally. Your choice.

For example, you can annoy this character by taking the moral high ground and refusing to vandalise a local art gallery for her. Or you can vandalise it, get money, get experience points, end a blood feud and make a new ally. Your choice.

But, a lot of this gloom is offset with some truly brilliant moments of dark comedy, which help to prevent the game from becoming too depressing. Most of the time, the humour is kept fairly subtle, but it’s great to see a game that doesn’t take itself entirely seriously….

Like good old Officer Chunk, a heartwarming beacon of friendliness and goodwill.

Like good old Officer Chunk, a heartwarming beacon of friendliness and goodwill.

 Turning the corner and seeing THIS is pretty much the game's only jump scare. But, it's only an adorable statue, with a hilarious note next to it.

Turning the corner and seeing THIS is one of the game’s very few jump scares. But, it’s only an adorable statue, with a hilarious note next to it.

As for the location design, there are gothic areas that look like something from “American Mc Gee’s Alice”, there are nightclubs you can dance in, there are “film noir”-style city streets, there’s a creepy haunted house, there are… so many cool places.

 Curiouser and curiouser, this is like "American McGee's Alice" all over again :)

Curiouser and curiouser, this is like “American McGee’s Alice” all over again 🙂

And, just look at that cityscape! It almost looks like something from "Blade Runner" :)

And, just look at that cityscape! It almost looks like something from “Blade Runner” 🙂

And this pier :) The music that plays in this part of the game is really cool too :)

And this pier 🙂 The music that plays in this part of the game is really cool too 🙂

The gameplay in “Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines” is a really interesting mixture of things. You can switch between a first-person and third-person perspective at will, and this allows the game to include a dazzling variety of gameplay types like melee combat, first-person shooting, exploration, stealth segments, puzzles, moral choices etc…

In addition to this, the game includes some vampire-specific gameplay features. For example, you need blood in order to use your character’s special abilities. But, you have to be careful how you drink blood – if a passer-by sees you drinking someone’s blood, then you lose a “masquerade” point and, if you drink literally all of someone’s blood, then you lose a “humanity” point. These are two scores that you have to be very careful about preserving, since bad things tend to happen if either score gets too low.

Of course, you can avoid this risk by either buying blood from a rather dodgy guy who lives in the hospital basement, by consuming any rats that happen to be scurrying through the sewers or by either seducing or paying another character (and pretending to kiss them, whilst secretly drinking their blood). As I said earlier, it’s a game which will sometimes leave you feeling slightly disgusted at yourself after you play it.

The health system in this game is kind of interesting too. Although it includes the dreaded regenerating health, this game handles it in a fairly sensible way that actually helps to add some challenge to the game (rather than just turning it into a toned down “god mode” cheat).

Yes, this game has regenerating health. But, it’s the good kind of regenerating health..

Although your health regenerates, it does this very slowly – giving the player an incentive to avoid damage. Although health regeneration can be accelerated by drinking blood, there aren’t really any “health items” in the game (except possibly the “elder vitae” item). So, combat in the game can end up being more challenging than you might expect.

Although this game is a fairly non-linear thing, it also includes some truly brilliant set-pieces too – which also help to keep the gameplay interesting. For example, at one point in the game, there’s a “Timesplitters”-style area where you have to defend the gates of a cemetary against hordes of zombies for five minutes. This is so cool!

And, yes, there's even a "BRAINS" damage bar when the zombies attack you. This game is awesome!

And, yes, there’s even a “BRAINS” damage bar when the zombies attack you. This game is awesome!

Surprisingly, the huge variety of gameplay types here all work fairly well. Even though I normally loathe and despise stealth mechanics in games, this one isn’t too frustrating. Not only is there a meter that clearly tells you how much attention nearby henchmen are paying to you but, if you increase the right stats, then you can be right next to an adversary and they still won’t notice you as long as you are crouching.

Even though I'm literally crouching next to these two heavily-armed guys, they don't notice me. Finally! A non-annoying stealth system!

Even though I’m literally crouching next to these two heavily-armed guys, they don’t notice me. Finally! A non-annoying stealth system!

Seriously, the only flaws I found with the gameplay is that a few of the game’s puzzles confused me enough to make me check a walkthrough and that some of the quests involve a bit too much “back and forth”, which is especially annoying given the loading screens that appear whenever you enter or leave a defined area in the game.

Yes, some of the messages can be interesting. But, still, these screens can get annoying after a while.

Yes, some of the messages can be interesting. But, still, these screens can get annoying after a while.

Likewise, at two points, the game randomly froze up and demanded that I inserted a disc. Thankfully, closing the program and starting it again solved the problem on both occasions. But, since games sold on GOG are meant to be DRM free, this sudden intrusion from the malingering ghost of the game’s original DRM wasn’t exactly welcome.

Thankfully, this only happened twice and didn't happen when I restarted the program and reloaded my saved game. But, still... it was annoying!

Thankfully, this only happened twice and didn’t happen when I restarted the program and reloaded my saved game. But, still… it was annoying!

The game itself is split into four outdoor “hub” areas, various buildings and a fair number of mission-specific areas. The hub areas are large enough to be interesting to explore, but small enough that you won’t get lost for too long either. You can also travel at will between any hub areas you’ve unlocked by finding a taxi (which is a New York-style yellow taxi, despite the game being set in California).

The "Downtown" hub has a wonderfully 1990s-style "film noir" look to it :)

The “Downtown” hub has a wonderfully 1990s-style “film noir” look to it 🙂

And, later in the game, you also get to visit Chinatown too.

And, later in the game, you also get to visit Chinatown too.

Although there are some missions that you have to complete in order to progress, there are also optional missions that you can accept in order to gain more money or experience points. Some of these are interesting, some required me to use a walkthrough, some I completely missed altogether and some of them can be repetitive and dull.

Interestingly, the later parts of the game switch to a much more action/stealth-based style of gameplay. Amongst other things, the level before the final boss battle bears a strong resemblance to something from “Deus Ex” or “Half Life”. Like in “Deus Ex”, this is a level that you can complete using either stealth or mindless violence. Or both.

In terms of the dialogue and voice-acting, this game is absolutely stellar. Not only is the dialogue realistic, witty and filled with fascinating background information, but it’s accompanied by the kind of voice-acting that seems so natural that you usually won’t even think of it as “voice-acting” (the only exception is a character called Brother Kanker, whose voice acting is unintentionally hilarious). This allows the game to carry off some truly spectacular dramatic moments that might leave you shocked and some moments that will make you laugh out loud:

Glad to see that the game devs haven't let financial considerations affect the game in any way...

Glad to see that the game devs haven’t let financial considerations affect the game in any way…

The game’s story is the kind of deep, complex compelling thing that will keep you playing even during some of the more boring missions. Although I won’t spoil any major plot points, it seems to be one of those games which – like the film “Blade Runner” – makes you feel like you’ve only scratched the surface of something much greater. As you would expect, this is also one of those games that contains multiple endings depending on the choices you make during the game.

In terms of length, this is a full-length game… and then some! Seriously, this is the kind of game that pretty much demands to be binge-played in 2-4 hour sessions. Not only that, you’ll probably have quite a few of these sessions before you eventually finish the game. Whilst the game does a good job with holding the player’s interest throughout it’s marathon-like length, there are a few parts (especially near the end) that feel like unnecessary padding.

The music in this game is, in a word, amazing. Although most of it is the kind of ominous instrumental music that you’d expect in a horror game, it also includes a really brilliant licenced soundtrack too. One of the most amazing moments in the game was near the beginning, when I entered a nightclub (whose lobby was plastered with Bella Morte and Ghoultown posters!) and was given the opportunity to dance to a really cool gothic rock song called “Isolated” by Chiasm.

Yes, I literally spent something like three minutes dancing. It was amazing!

Yes, I literally spent something like three minutes dancing. It was amazing!

Likewise, another outstanding musical moment is when you are standing on the beach with an assortment of other characters and, over the rain and the crashing of the waves, Darling Violetta’s “A Smaller God” plays on a radio in the background. This moment is both relaxing and bleak, mundane and breathtakingly sublime.

All in all, this is probably the closest thing to a “perfect” game that I’ve played in a while. Even though it has a few small flaws, it contains a brilliant mixture of exploration, atmospheric storytelling, dark humour, gothic horror, subtle horror and thrilling combat. It’s a complex, fascinating game that is more than worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as classic games like “Deus Ex”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “Jonathan Creek – The Grinning Man” (Film/ TV Show Special Episode)

2017-artwork-jonathan-creek-grinning-man-review

Well, ever since I reviewed the most recent special episode of “Jonathan Creek” earlier this year, I went through a bit of a Jonathan Creek phase and ended up buying several second-hand DVDs of the show. Although I hadn’t planned to review any of them, I just had to write a review after watching a feature-length episode called “The Grinning Man” that was originally broadcast on New Year’s Day in 2009.

Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS, but I’ll avoid giving away anything too major.

“The Grinning Man” begins with an old-style film clip about a famous illusionist of the 1930s called Gessler who lives in an old mansion called Metropolis. This mansion is notorious for housing the “Nightmare Room”, a supposedly haunted room that causes all who spend the night there to disappear. Of course, a famous sceptic of the day insists on being locked in the room for the night to put it to the test…. and he disappears!

In the present day, paranormal investigator Joey Ross and her friend Mina are travelling through the countryside at night when their car breaks down. Thankfully, a car happens to be passing and the driver offers to give them a lift to the stately house that he works at. The house is, of course, Metropolis!

After an evening with several of Gessler’s descendants, Joey goes to bed whilst Mina persuades the caretaker to show her the infamous Nightmare Room. When she playfully suggests that they spend the night together there, the caretaker sternly refuses. But, he eventually agrees to let her stay and even agrees to lock the door for her, even though he won’t stay. Of course, when he returns the next morning, Mina has vanished!

Joey begins to investigate the case but, at the insistence of Gessler’s daughter, Jonathan Creek is also called in to assist with the investigation….

One of the first things that I will say about this episode is that it is possibly one of the best episodes of “Jonathan Creek” that I’ve seen. Although I’d heard bad things about several of the more modern episodes, this one is easily as good as anything from series 1-4.

Since the episode is about two hours long, there’s a lot more room for the story to build suspense and a lot more room for characterisation. One of the most outstanding characters in the episode has to be Joey Ross, who is as brilliantly cynical and sarcastic as you would expect one of Jonathan’s co-investigators to be. But, unlike Maddy or Carla, Joey has a lot of skills in common with Jonathan Creek.

Plus, since the episode begins with Joey being thrown into the middle of a mystery, she pretty much almost ends up being the main character of the episode too.

The main plot for this episode is, quite simply, stunning. Whilst a lot of the episode is spent building up suspense, this pays off brilliantly. The explanation for the mystery of the Nightmare Room is genuinely shocking and extremely chilling. Seriously, I cannot overstate how creepy this part of the episode is! Plus, like in all great episodes of Jonathan Creek, the solution is something that will startle you when you first see it, but will seem blindingly obvious in retrospect.

Seriously, this episode is an absolutely brilliant horror movie! In addition to the shocking main storyline, there are also a few other brilliantly creepy elements such as the titular “Grinning Man”, a creepy-looking Heironmyous Bosch painting that has a chilling backstory of it’s own. Parts of this episode also have a wonderfully gothic atmosphere, which is helped by some absolutely brilliant set design.

However, the episode’s many sub-plots are a bit hit and miss. There’s a hilarious, if somewhat silly, sub-plot about Adam Klaus that helps to add some comedy to an otherwise gloomy and chilling episode. There’s also a more conventional detective-themed sub-plot, where Jonathan and Joey have to investigate a kidnapping – which is a mildly compelling storyline but nothing extraordinary.

Finally, there’s something of a sub-plot about Jonathan falling in love with a fan called Nicola. This is probably the weakest part of the episode, given that they seem to go from meeting each other to being in a relationship within a ridiculously short space of time. In fact, this part of the story only really serves to add to the set up for both a comedic scene involving Adam Klaus and a joke at the very end of the episode.

All in all, this is an absolutely stellar episode of “Jonathan Creek”. The characters are brilliant, there’s some hilarious comedy and there are some genuinely chilling scenes that will probably linger in your mind for hours after you’ve finished watching. The only flaw with this episode is that it’s slightly too long. It’s still an amazingly good episode, but it would have been even better if the editor had removed the lukewarm romantic sub-plot and the more “conventional” detective sub-plot about the kidnapping. But, this aside, it’s a brilliant episode.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.