Review: “Resident Evil 3” (PC Version) (Retro Computer Game)

Well, because I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Transition” by Iain Banks) and because I had a bit more time whilst reading another novel, I thought that I’d take the chance to replay an old favourite of mine 🙂

I am, of course, talking about Capcom’s 1999 survival horror classic “Resident Evil 3” (or, more accurately, the PC port of it from 2000). After all, I’ve reviewed the film adaptation of this game and the novelisation of the film (but I haven’t got round to re-reading S.D. Perry’s novelisation of the game yet). So, I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t reviewed the actual game itself yet.

This is a game which I first played on the Playstation during the early-mid 2000s and then replayed it at least once when I found a version of it that ran on the PC (during the late 2000s, if I remember rightly). So, I thought that I’d replay it yet again – albeit in “easy mode”, mostly for time reasons.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Resident Evil 3”. Needless to say, this review may contain some (unrealistic) GRUESOME IMAGES.

*Sigh* I miss the days of budget games, second-hand game shops and when the BBFC was hilariously over-zealous about displaying age certificates on games.

The events of “Resident Evil 3” take place during the same time period as the events of “Resident Evil 2“. It is the late 1990s and the American city of Racoon City has been infected by a zombie virus, leaving the streets crawling with the undead.

Jill Valentine, star of the first “Resident Evil” game, must explore, puzzle and fight her way through the city and reach safety. Not only that, there’s also a giant mutant called “Nemesis” chasing her too.

And, yes, he’s the kind of gnarly heavy metal monster you’d expect to see on an Iron Maiden album cover.

One of the first things that I will say about “Resident Evil 3” is that, whilst I should be cynical about it, I absolutely adore this game 🙂 Even though I’m more nostalgic about “Resident Evil 2”, I’ve probably replayed this game more times than any other horror game. It’s just the right mixture of challenging, spectacular and fun. This is probably because it was designed for both die-hard fans of the series and for people who are new to the series.

On the one hand, things like the slightly more action-packed gameplay, the “easy” difficulty option (on the PC at least) and the game’s (ridiculously silly) costume design were designed to appeal to the “mainstream” and/or “casual” gamers of the late 1990s/early 2000s. But, for fans of the series, the game contains numerous awesome call-backs and references to previous games in the franchise – with the core gameplay not being too different either.

Not only does Brad Vickers have a cameo in this game, but you also get to explore part of the police station from “Resident Evil 2” too 🙂

Surprisingly, this dual focus actually works really well and it turns the game into it’s own distinctive thing. But, I should probably start by talking about the gameplay.

Whilst the exploration, puzzle and combat gameplay is fairly similar to the previous two games and is something of an acquired taste (eg: modern gamers might take a while to get used to the movement/combat controls, the animation that plays every time you walk through a door, the fixed camera angles, the limited inventory space and the obtuse puzzles), there are numerous cool additions which help to give the game more depth and drama.

Whether it is the much wider range of locations to explore, the fact that there’s now a “dodge” move (and an auto-aim feature), the inclusion of exploding barrels or the fact that this game contains refreshingly limited early versions of over-used modern things like quick-time events and a crafting system, this game feels a little bit more action-packed and “cinematic” than the first two games in the series. Yet, unlike what I’ve heard about some of the later sequels, this game doesn’t lose it’s identity and turn into a generic mindless action-fest either.

Yes, the only “quick time events” in this game are a few multiple choice questions 🙂

Likewise, the only “crafting” here is a fairly basic gunpowder-mixing system 🙂

This is helped a lot by the inclusion of difficulty settings (in the PC version at least) – if you play on “hard mode”, then the game is more of a traditional survival horror game, with fairly limited ammunition, limited saves and lots of other things that really help to ramp up the suspense and tension. Yes, the auto-aim makes the game a bit easier than previous instalments, but it’s still reasonably similar.

If you play on “easy mode”, then you get unlimited saves (but you still have to use fixed save points) and lots of extra weaponry – which makes the game a bit more relaxing, action-packed and “casual”. So, you can choose what type of game you want it to be – which is really cool.

On “hard” difficulty, this game is a tense, challenging old-school survival horror game.

But, on “easy” difficulty, it’s more of a wonderfully badass action-horror game 🙂 [and, yes, the exploding barrels are also there in “hard” difficulty too]

Still, one change I’m a little ambivalent about is the lack of character selection. Yes, there are technically two playable characters (eg: Jill and Carlos) – but the game switches between them automatically at certain points in the story. In other words, you don’t get two separate campaigns in the way that you did in the previous two games. On the one hand, this means you only get half a game. On the other hand, it does make the story a little bit more streamlined and varied.

As for the graphics and visual design, they are awesome 🙂 Yes, even with the PC version’s enhanced graphics, the game’s 3D models and CGI cutscenes still look pretty dated. However, this game has aged really well visually thanks to all of the really awesome pre-rendered backgrounds, dramatic camera angles and dramatic lighting. Seriously, I love old-school pre-rendered backgrounds and this game is an absolute work of art 🙂

Seriously, the background here could almost be something out of “Blade Runner” 🙂

And just check out the awesome lighting here 🙂 Seriously, people knew how to use lighting properly during the 1990s 🙂

And just look at all of the background detail here 🙂

In terms of the game’s horror elements, whilst you shouldn’t expect something genuinely scary (unlike, say, “Silent Hill 3), this game is a pretty decent horror game.

In addition to all of the suspense that things like the limited inventory, saves and/or camera angles can provoke – this game also uses jump scares slightly more frequently and effectively than the previous two games in the franchise usually do.

Boo!!! With the exception of the “Dog” scene from the first game, this game has some of the best jump scares in the old “Resident Evil” games 🙂

Other horror elements include the creepily unwelcome return of the series’ giant spider monsters too. Likewise, you can also find lots of ominous in-game documents describing the spread of the zombie virus. Plus, of course, there’s also a really awesome scene where some zombies quite literally rise from the grave….

This is so cool 🙂

In terms of the writing and the characters, they’re “so bad that they’re good”. Whether it’s the series’ traditional hilariously awful voice-acting, the gloriously wooden script, the minimalist characterisation/story or the ridiculously silly costume design….

Note how these experienced, well-trained zombie fighters wear sensible protective clothing like sleeveless vests, tube tops and mini skirts.

…. This game is utterly hilarious. But, this is part of the charm of the series. It was the 1990s, a more laid-back age when “dramatic” games could be hilariously silly. When games were still “low culture” in the same way that old pulp novels, horror comics, B-movies etc.. were.

Plus, in addition to having better 3D models, the ability to skip cutscenes/ door animations and the inclusion of more difficulty options, one interesting feature of the PC version of the game is that the unlockable costume selection option in the Playstation version is unlocked by default (and also now contains something like eight different options too).

And, yes, you can play as the “Resident Evil 1” version of Jill too.

In terms of the game’s music, it is the kind of dramatic, suspenseful, spectacular orchestral music that you’d expect from a classic “Resident Evil” game. In other words, it is absolutely epic 🙂

All in all, whilst this game is a bit of an acquired taste, it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂 If you miss classic survival horror games, if you want a gloriously cheesy “B-movie” of a game, if you want to wander the streets of a post-apocalyptic city or if you just miss the creativity of the 1990s, then this game is well worth playing 🙂 If you want a tense survival horror game, play it on “hard” difficulty. If you want a fun, slightly quicker and gloriously silly action game, play it on “easy”.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, then I’d personally give it a five 🙂 But, more objectively, it’s probably more like a four or a three and a half.

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Review: “House On Haunted Hill (1999 Remake)” (Film)

Well, for the next review in my “1990s Films” series, I thought that I’d take a break from the comedy genre and re-watch one of my favourite horror movies.

I am, of course, talking about the 1999 remake of “House On Haunted Hill”. Surprisingly though, I’ve only seen a few clips of the 1950s film that this movie is based on (the only William Castle film I’ve actually seen is “The Tingler”. In fact, I saw it at the cinema.. but that’s a different story).

Although I first encountered this terrifying, but somewhat overlooked, modern horror classic on late-night TV when I was about fourteen or fifteen (and got a DVD of it a few years later), it has been way too long since I last watched it.

So, without any further ado, let’s visit… the House on Haunted Hill! Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS and CREEPY IMAGERY. Likewise, I should probably warn you that the film itself contains some FLICKERING/ STROBING EFFECTS. (although I don’t know if they’re fast or intense enough to cause problems or not)

“House On Haunted Hill” begins in 1931 at the Vannacutt Psychiatric Institute For The Criminally Insane. It’s a fairly ordinary evening – the orderlies are doing their rounds and keeping their records up to date, whilst Dr.Vannacutt performs cruel experimental surgery on one of the patients. However, his malevolent dissections are interrupted by a violent riot.

Egads! A cacophony! I fear that there may also be a scuffle too! Nurse, fetch me my duelling sabre!

In the ensuing chaos, the institute almost burns to the ground – with very few survivors managing to escape.

And, yes, there’s even an old-fashioned newsreel about it! This film is awesome!

Flash forward to the late 1990s and debonair theme park owner Steven Price is showing off his latest attraction, “Terror Incognita”, to the press.

However, his thrilling premiere is interrupted by a phone call from his wife Evelyn who has just seen a segment on TV about the institute and wants to have her birthday soiree there. After an argument, he agrees to it, but decides to rewrite the guest list and make some theatrical alterations to the party to spite Evelyn.

And, yes, as his name suggests, Steven Price bears at least a passing resemblance to Vincent Price.

However, when the guests show up to the institute, Steven is shocked to see that they weren’t on his revised guest list. Evelyn doesn’t recognise the guests either. The guests are completely bewildered too. Still, the show must go on.

Given the institute’s horrific history, Steven has decided that he’ll add a bit of spice to the party by promising anyone who manages to stay the night there one million dollars. What could possibly go wrong?

Oh…. that’s what could go wrong.

One of the first things that I will say about “House On Haunted Hill” is that it is pretty much a perfect horror movie!

It is an absolutely brilliant mixture of knowing theatricality, vintage-style horror, late 1990s style gothic horror (think J.K.Potter, Cradle Of Filth album covers, Tim Burton, Marilyn Manson etc..), dark humour, creepy set design, psychological horror, suspense and gruesome horror. And, yes, it isn’t a movie for the easily shocked!

Even though this is one of those horror films that will scare you the most when you watch it for the first time, I was still surprised at how creepy this film remains after several viewings. Even when you know what to expect – the atmosphere, style and premise of the film will probably still subtly creep you out.

Seriously, even the opening credits are at least mildly disturbing…

And, yes, this film has style! I usually wait until near the end of a review to lavish praise on a film’s set design and lighting design – but, this film is often a visual masterpiece!

Not only is it filled with loads of really cool gloomy lighting, but the creepily mysterious institute (which is a chilling mixture of art deco architecture and something a bit more “Silent Hill“-like) is one of the things that really adds a lot of extra atmosphere to the film.

It’s a glowing coffin, filled with several smaller coffins!

Ah, I KNEW that hiring Gunther Von Hagens to do the interior design was a mistake!

I say it in all of these reviews, but people REALLY knew how to use lighting well during the 1990s!

Likewise, this stylishness also extends to the film’s dialogue, which contains some brilliantly witty and acerbic lines. Although this film is a scary one, it doesn’t take itself ultra-seriously either. There’s just enough cynical comedy to lull you into a false sense of security, so that the later parts of the film will be extra scary by contrast.

In addition to the film’s disturbing backstory, one thing that really helps to make this film more creepy and suspenseful is the fact that it’s basically a survival horror videogame in movie form.

If you’ve played games like the original “Resident Evil” or “Alone In The Dark“, you’ll know what I mean by this. Most of the film takes place inside a locked building, where the characters have to fend for themselves. Like an old-school survival horror game, the main focus of the film is on both exploring and trying to escape a dangerous environment.

You have entered the world of survival horror…

The scary setting of the film is also complimented by both the cast of characters and the writing. Both Steven and Evelyn are brilliantly theatrical and creepily unpredictable characters. The bitter and acrimonious relationship between them also provides equal amounts of dark comedy and chilling suspense too.

Seriously, this is far from the most menacing confrontation they have with each other…

As for the other characters, the institute’s nervous caretaker also helps to add a sense of paranoia to the film. Likewise, the mysterious guests are a mixture between ordinary and eccentric. Seriously, although this film doesn’t contain a gigantic amount of characterisation for some of the characters, both the acting and the characters really help to make this film what it is.

The film’s pacing is really good too, with the narrative remaining fairly focused throughout the film. Likewise, the film uses suspense expertly whilst never feeling too fast-paced or too slow-paced either. Best of all, the film tells a satisfyingly complete story within the space of just 89 minutes too!

In terms of the special effects, they still just about stand the test of time. Even the few CGI elements in the film are dark, subtle and/or mysterious enough to still look ok by modern standards.

For example, this scene involving an evil Poirot-like character uses a really cool oil painting style CGI effect that still looks really cool, even to this day.

Interestingly, although this film contains some very well-made gore effects, it isn’t really that much of a splatter film. Even in the grislier moments, this film often still aims more for “disturbingly creepy/grotesque” rather than “buckets of blood“.

Well, except for the scene featuring a literal bucket of blood, of course…

Musically, this film is superb! Not only does the film’s soundtrack contain the kind of gothic orchestral music that is reminiscent of vintage horror movies, but it also contains an absolutely amazing cover version of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)” performed by Marilyn Manson. This song plays twice during the film and, on both occasions, it adds instant atmosphere and drama.

All in all, “House On Haunted Hill” is an excellent horror film! The tone, style and atmosphere of it is an absolutely brilliant blend of old-school horror and late 1990s gothic horror.

Not only has it stood the test of time well, but it’s the kind of film that also still has the power to be creepy after repeated viewings. It’s a film that manages to be terrifyingly dramatic whilst not being “ultra-serious” either. It’s also (sort of) the cinematic equivalent of an old-school survival horror videogame too, with a strong focus on scary exploration and constant danger.

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

Review: “Blue Streak (Film)”

Well, the next film in what seems to be turning into a series of 1990s film reviews is a comedic heist/detective thriller movie from 1999 called “Blue Streak”.

Although I’d vaguely heard of this film quite a few years ago, I hadn’t seen it before. But, since it sounded interesting and was going fairly cheap second-hand, I decided to check it out.

So, let’s take a look at “Blue Streak”. Needless to say, this review will contain SPOILERS.

And, yes, this is a DVD from the days when film studios added small print to DVD covers about the BBFC increasing the age rating due to the special features.

“Blue Streak” begins with an elite jewel thief called Logan (played by Martin Lawrence) pulling off a thrilling high-tech heist in a skyscraper in Los Angeles. Things start out fairly well for Logan and his accomplices, and he is soon able to purloin a rather impressive diamond.

A daring late-night heist in a heavily-guarded building in the middle of a large city? What could possibly go wrong?

However, thanks to a betrayal by one of his accomplices and a couple of unfortunate coincidences, the police are soon alerted. On the run from the law and threatened by his traitorous accomplice, Logan manages to get to a nearby building site and hide in an air vent. But, he realises that it’s only a matter of time before the cops find him. So, he conceals the diamond in the vent and hands himself in.

Two years later, Logan is released from prison and decides to go back to the building site to pick up his diamond. However, there’s just one problem…

The building is now a police station.

After a failed attempt at sneaking into the station, Logan quickly realises that the only way that he’s going to get hold of the diamond is to impersonate a detective. However, although he just planned to sneak in and grab the diamond, his disguise is perhaps a little bit too good – since he quickly gets assigned a partner and sent out to investigate crimes. Needless to say, hilarity ensues…

Even more amusingly, Logan is also told to teach his inexperienced new partner how to be a detective.

One of the first things that I will say about “Blue Streak” is that, like a couple of the films from the 1990s I’ve reviewed recently, it is just fun to watch.

Not only does it work really well as a comedy film, but it also works fairly well as a mildly suspenseful light-hearted thriller film too (since Logan’s former accomplice is after him, since Logan gets involved in a major case and since Logan still also has to find that pesky diamond too).

The premise of this film is also fairly clever too. This certainly isn’t an ordinary detective movie! Not to mention that the fact that Logan is somewhat out of his depth also easily allows for a good mixture of comedy, action and suspense too.

For example, in one scene Logan accidentally ends up in the middle of an armed robbery at a cornershop. Having very little police experience, he hides behind a row of shelves whilst the robber and the shopkeeper have a dramatic shootout. Outside the shop, Logan’s new partner rigidly follows police procedure to the letter.

And, yes, this part of the scene is played in a hilariously stuffy and serious way.

By a slight twist of fate, Logan then apprehends the robber… only to discover that he is none other than his old friend (and accomplice) Tulley, who is somewhat surprised to see him. Logan then tries to help Tulley escape before his partner makes a dramatic entrance.

However, Tulley ends up fleeing down a one-way alleyway and ends up hiding behind a dumpster whilst the police gather at the other end of the alleyway. Disregarding procedure, Logan strides down the alleyway (as the other cops look on in awe) to “confront” Tulley. Of course, the two of them then end up having an absolutely hilarious argument with each other.

So, yes, the premise of the film allows for an enjoyable mixture of comedy, action and suspense.

Needless to say – the comedy elements of this film are absolutely brilliant, with a lot of the best comedy in the film coming from both Martin Lawrence and Dave Chappelle’s hilariously funny performances as Logan and Tulley. This is especially true in scenes where Logan and Tulley end up arguing with each other.

Interestingly, in the special features on the DVD, the makers of this film point out that the film ended up containing a lot more “Logan & Tulley”-based scenes than originally planned, purely because these scenes are so hilarious.

Not only is this film filled with all sorts of amusingly irreverent, ironic and informal dialogue but, like a lot of good comedies, the film also includes a variety of different types of humour.

In addition to the comedic dialogue, there’s also character-based humour, slapstick comedy, “double act“- based humour, farce, parody and satire too. Although the humour in this film isn’t always the most sophisticated thing in the world, it is rarely predictable and it works really well.

The film’s action/thriller scenes are also fairly well-handled too. Unlike in some action-comedy films I’ve seen, the emphasis remains firmly on the comedy. Whilst the film might contain a few dramatic gunfights and suspenseful scenes, these are often used as a basis for amusing dialogue or slapstick comedy rather than just as an excuse for a spectacular gunfight or car chase. Even so, the action in some later scenes of the film is handled in a mildly more “serious” way.

It’s a stand-off, in Mexico. Now, if only there was some quick and pithy way to describe this unusual situation….

The set design, special effects and lighting design in this film are all reasonably good too. Thanks to the focus on practical effects and the relatively small number of action scenes in the film, the special effects are pretty much “timeless”.

Likewise, the film’s locations all look reasonably ok and, best of all, the film also contains some really cool lighting in a few scenes too. However, most of the lighting in this film is fairly “realistic” and “modern” when compared to the cool high-contrast lighting in a lot of other films from this decade. Still, there’s a little bit of classic 1990s-style high-contrast lighting in this film (especially in the earlier scenes).

Seriously, more of the film should have included lighting like this!

Not to mention that lighting and visual style during the opening credits looks really amazing too 🙂

In terms of the music, the most memorable music in the film consists of a couple of rap songs. Interestingly, the DVD’s special features also include a few music videos too although, at the time of writing, I haven’t got round to watching these yet.

All in all, “Blue Streak” is a fun, funny, feel-good film. Not only is this film a really good comedy, but the crime/thriller elements of it also work reasonably well too. Yes, it isn’t a “serious” thriller movie or anything like that, but it still contains some enjoyably light-hearted action and suspense.

Plus, at a lean and streamlined 90 minutes in length, the film moves along at a reasonable pace too. Seriously, if you want something to cheer you up if you’re in a slightly gloomy mood (like I was when I started watching it), then you can do a lot worse than this film.

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

Review: “The Thirteenth Floor” (Film)

A couple of months before I wrote this review, I was in a bit of a cyberpunk mood (well, more so than usual) and amongst other things, I ended up buying a second-hand DVD of a film called “The Thirteenth Floor” after seeing it recommended online. I then… left the film in the middle of a pile of DVDs for several weeks.

However, since I seem to be in a “watching films” kind of mood at the moment, I finally got round to watching it and, wow, what a film it is! So, let’s take a long and rambling look at “The Thirteenth Floor”….

But, before I go any further, I should warn you that this review will contain MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS. Sorry, but there’s no way to talk about this complex and intelligent film properly without spoilers.

If you don’t want it spoiled (and it’s really best if you don’t), then all I’ll say is that if you like films like “Blade Runner”, “Ghost In The Shell” (1995) etc.. then this one is worth watching too! Seriously, watch it!

Interestingly, the DVD cover art depicts a moment that is only implied through dialogue in the film. But, the film’s tagline is a massive spoiler though.

“The Thirteenth Floor” is a cyberpunk film noir from 1999 starring Craig Bierko, Gretchen Mol, Dennis Haysbert and Armin Mueller-Stahl.

The film begins in a swanky hotel in Los Angeles, 1937, with a rich old man called Fuller (Mueller-Stahl) writing a letter and handing it to a bartender.

I say! This is quite the evening!

He tells the bartender to give the letter to a man called Douglas Hall, before taking a cab home to his antique shop and falling asleep. As soon as he falls asleep, he wakes up… in 1999. Fuller is, after all, the inventor of a pioneering virtual reality device (that also contains highly advanced artificial intelligence).

Yes, videogames really WERE better in the 90s!

However, something is on Fuller’s mind. He goes to a bar and makes a phone call. But, before he can finish his call, the back door opens and he sees someone outside. He talks briefly with this mysterious man, who then promptly stabs him to death.

The next morning, Douglas Hall (Bierko), a senior member of Fuller’s company receives a call from Detective McBain of the LAPD (Haysbert). McBain has questions about Fuller’s death and considers Hall to be a suspect in the case.

Naturally, their first meeting looks very “Blade Runner” like.

Things become even more complicated when, upon arriving at the company’s offices, Hall and McBain meet Fuller’s daughter Jane (Mol). A daughter that Fuller has never mentioned before.

And, yes, this scene is also fairly “film noir”-like too.

Suspected of murder and puzzled by Jane’s sudden appearance, Hall decides to take a look inside the virtual reality program for some answers…..

One of the first things that I’ll say about this film is… wow! Where do I even begin?

Just like in “Blade Runner”, this film blends cyberpunk and film noir elements in a really interesting way. Not only is the film a really great blend of “classic-style” 1930s noir and gloomier late 1990s film noir, but this is complemented by some great acting, plot twists, set design and hardboiled storytelling. The idea of a man trying to clear his name is a classic staple of the noir genre, and this film puts a really great cyberpunk twist on it.

Fun fact: The computer voice-over in this scene was probably the inspiration for GLADoS from “Portal” (2007). Seriously, their voices sound eerily similar.

Which brings me on to the cyberpunk elements. At it’s core, this is a film about both the ethics of artificial intelligence and the nature of reality. Not only are the AI characters in the virtual 1930s world shown to be just as human as anyone else, but they can also occasionally swap consciousnesses with people in the “real” world too.

The “real world” of 1990s Los Angeles, of course, being another virtual reality simulation run by a couple of people from the 2020s. And, yes, this film came out the same year that “The Matrix” did.

And, despite using less CGI, it still manages to look cooler than “The Matrix”

The idea of swapping consciousnesses is central to this film. Since, when a human isn’t connected to the virtual world, their “character” reverts to their own pre-programmed personality and leads their own (very different) life, often experiencing the change as a disturbing bout of amnesia.

This also allows for some “Jekyll and Hyde”-style storylines later in the film (which is foreshadowed by, for example, how a mild-mannered IT guy’s virtual 1930s character is actually a violent criminal).

Yes, this guy is much better offline than online…

In addition to all of this, the consciousness swapping also allows the film to introduce elements of “the uncanny” too by, for example, having a “good” character suddenly get taken over by an evil personality (without the other characters realising until a little while later).

Like “Blade Runner” and “Ghost In The Shell” (1995), this is a film about the nature of humanity. It poses the question of whether a suitably advanced computer program really is that different to human consciousness. But, it even goes further and suggests that it may even occasionally be better than human consciousness. The film’s main villain, of course, being a person from the 2020s who treats the simulation like it’s.. well… a videogame.

Likewise, at one point, another character from the 2020s comments that the film’s version of 1990s LA is the only simulation where the characters have made their own simulation. This taps into the idea that creativity is an essential part of humanity. This theme is later explored through the fact that the film’s main villain has become drunk with the power that this offers him. Likewise, the last line of dialogue from the 1990s is when McBain tells the people from the future to leave the simulation alone – as if the computer program is actually a real, living, place.

Plus, the first text in the film is a famous quote from Descartes.

In addition to all of this, by being a film about a simulation within a simulation, this film taps into the idea of an “unreliable reality“. Whilst this trope is used more often in the horror genre, it is used to great effect in this film too. This includes things like an AI character from the 1930s freaking out slightly when he realises that his world isn’t real (which also foreshadows the film’s main twist too).

Seriously, I cannot praise the plotting in this film well enough! There so many clever little hints towards the main twist (like an old arcade game with a broken part etc…).

Likewise, even the film’s artificial 1930s setting contains some very subtle and intentional “modern” anachronisms too – such as a man from 1937 talking about how he served in “World War One” (even though the second world war hadn’t happened yet). Or the fact that the panel of judges at a lindy hop competition is briefly shown to be more diverse than they probably would be in pre-civil rights America.

Seriously, at the time of writing, I’ve only seen this film once and I’ve probably missed loads more subtle stuff. Seriously, I’d bet that there’s probably some subtle 2020s-style stuff hidden in the film’s 1990s locations.

Hmm… maybe it’s “hiding in plain sight”?

Another interesting thing about this film is that, although it is very much a cyberpunk film, it also subverts the tropes of the genre slightly too. When we eventually glimpse the future world of 2024, it isn’t a grimy, neon-lit futuristic dystopia. Although it is visually implied that climate change has caused sea levels to rise, the future is presented as a bright, happy utopia.

Well, I wasn’t expecting THIS…

In the cyberpunk genre, virtual reality is often presented as an escape from the grim realities of life. It is also something that gives power to the downtrodden (eg: “hacker” protagonists etc..) and it is often something that is shown to be “better than life”. However, in the utopian future of this film, virtual reality just seems to be a way for people to add a bit of thrilling danger and grittiness to their otherwise happy and peaceful lives. It’s a really clever twist on a familiar element of the cyberpunk genre.

In terms of the lighting and set design, this film is brilliant! Whilst the set design is mostly more “film noir” than “cyberpunk”, there are some really cool location designs.

For example, Hall’s apartment is quite literally a homage to Deckard’s apartment from “Blade Runner” – even down to the old photos and the Ennis House-style tiles on the walls (plus, the fact that Hall isn’t a “real” person could also be a reference to the “Deckard is a replicant” theory about Blade Runner too. HOW did I not notice this foreshadowing?!).

As soon as I saw those tiles, I knew that I was going to love this film! I can’t believe it’s not “Blade Runner” 🙂

And the lighting! Seriously, there’s everything from ominous red and blue lighting to more futuristic green lighting. People certainly knew how to use lighting well in the 1990s!

And just take a look at this gorgeously vintage hotel!

Whilst it lacks the complex, neon-drenched futuristic locations of a film like “Blade Runner”, the set design here is still absolutely gorgeous. So is the lighting too. Seriously, this film may not be the artistic masterpiece that “Blade Runner” is, but it certainly comes close at times!

All in all, this is an intelligent, well-made, complex cyberpunk film that manages to cram more into it’s lean 96 minute running time (seriously, I miss the days when films actually had editors) than many films could even dream of.

Like with many great works in the cyberpunk genre, it is filled with philosophical complexity, emotional complexity and narrative complexity. Yes, it isn’t quite as good as “Blade Runner”. But, this is like saying that an amazing piece of art isn’t quite as good as the Mona Lisa.

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

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

Well, although I’d vaguely planned to play and review a strategy game called “Eador: Genesis”, I seem to be more in the mood for FPS gaming at the moment.

So, since it’s been a couple of weeks since I last reviewed a “Doom II” WAD, I decided to use the ‘random file’ feature on the “/idgames Archive” again and, after a couple of goes, I found a rather interesting-looking level from 1997 or 1999 called “Woodburn“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port [v 2.7.9999.0 ] whilst playing this WAD. The notation that comes with the WAD seems to suggest that it might have problems if you use “Legacy”. However, it will probably work on most modern limit-removing source ports.

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

“Woodburn” is a single short “vanilla” level (eg: no new textures, monsters etc…) for “Doom II” and “Final Doom”. But, what it lacks in length, it certainly makes up for with fast-paced and challenging gameplay.

Ok, it’s mostly “challenging by late 1990s standards” challenging, but still….

One of the first things that I will say about this level is that it contains a lot of imps. Whilst large numbers of monsters are nothing new in “Doom II” WADs, “Woodburn” is somewhat different to more modern “slaughtermap“-style levels for the simple reason that it consists of lots of claustrophobic corridors and balconies, many of which are within view of other imps and/or other projectile-firing monsters (in fact, there isn’t a single hitscan monster in this level!).

Yay! Projectile dodging!

What this means is that the difficulty in this level is less “strategy-based slaughtermap gameplay” and more “difficult, and occasionally cheap, traditional-style ‘Doom II’ gameplay“. Because you often don’t have a lot of room to move or dodge, this forces you to play in a much more aggressive way than in many other monster-filled levels (which often favour strategy, retreating, circlestrafing etc..).

Although this would be an interesting change of pace, it is let down slightly by the ammo distribution throughout the level. Although you’ll have enough shotgun and plasma rifle ammo to deal with the many imps (and one arachnotron) in the first half of the level, expect to start running a bit low later in the level. This is especially annoying since it is at this point that the level begins to introduce more mid-level monsters.

Yes, good ammo management matters more than you might think. Running away can also work too…

Even though you get a chaingun and several large boxes of bullets during this part of the level, it is too little too late. This is especially true considering that you’ll also be facing narrow walkways filled with revenants. Luckily, all of these segments of the level can be dodged in various ways.

Yes, you probably don’t want to stay on this walkway for very long…

As for the level design itself, it’s surprisingly good. The level is a small, but complicated, multi-layered maze that is well within the tradition of classic non-linear “Doom II” levels.

The claustrophobic corridors and platforms also help to add extra challenge to the level too (even though this can veer into “cheap difficulty” territory sometimes). Likewise, there is one clever segment where you have to cross a large slime-covered area, whilst avoiding teleporters that will transport you into an inescapable tower that is surrounded by monsters.

However, if you have jumping enabled, then it’s more escapable. Which brings me on to…

… I am not sure if this level is meant to be played with jumping enabled (if your source port allows jumping). Theoretically, this level can probably be completed without jumping. But, the level is somewhat more forgiving if you use jumping occasionally. So, choosing whether to jump or not probably allows you to vary the difficulty slightly.

For example, to get the yellow key, you have to stand in the middle of a large area of radioactive sludge and wait for a platform to descend. Whilst this normally wouldn’t be an issue, it’s very likely that you’ll only have a few health points remaining at that point. So, jumping onto the platform as early as you can might not be a bad decision.

All in all, this is a fun, furious and challenging level that will probably provide you with 15-30 minutes of entertainment. Yes, the difficulty can sometimes feel a little cheap and the ammo distribution isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fun and reasonably well-designed little level.

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

Review: “eXistenZ” (Film)

2016 Artwork Existenz review

Well, it’s been ages since I last reviewed a film, so I thought that I’d re-watch an interesting cyberpunk movie that I haven’t seen in years. I am, of course, talking about David Cronenburg’s “eXistenZ“.

I remember seeing this film on TV when I was about fourteen or fifteen and being absolutely amazed by it. Sometime later, I got a second-hand copy of it on DVD but never got round to rewatching it until shortly before writing this article.

I should probably point out that the UK DVD edition of this film that I’ve got actually automatically loads your internet browser and displays an advert for the Sega Dreamcast when you put it in a computer. Although this was annoying (since it wiped out my previous browsing session), it was also an amusing piece of retro nostalgia too.

This review will also contain MAJOR SPOILERS…..

Anyway, onto the film….

“eXistenZ” begins with a famous game designer called Allegra Gellar (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) giving a public demonstration of her latest virtual reality game (called, unsurprisingly “eXistenZ”).

The game itself is housed inside some kind of organic “game pod” that the players access via an umbilical cord that is connected to a port in their spinal columns. Well, it’s a David Cronenburg film, what do you expect?

About halfway through the demonstration, a deranged member of the audience pulls out a strange-looking gun and shouts “Death to the demoness Allegra Gellar!” before shooting her in the shoulder. In the chaos that follows, Allegra ends up fleeing the demonstration with Ted Pikul, a security guard (played by Jude Law). They hide out in the surrounding countryside, and Allegra begins to wonder if her game pod was damaged during the shooting.

Of course, the only way to check that the game is still working properly is for Allegra and Ted to enter the virtual world of “eXistenZ”….

One of the first things that I will say about this film is that it both is and isn’t a perfect example of late 1990s cyberpunk cinema. Although the film revolves around a virtual reality world, there’s relatively little “Matrix”-like futurism here.

Not only is all of the technology (even the mobile phones) made out of genetically-engineered bio-matter but, unlike virtually everything in the cyberpunk genre, the film takes place entirely in a rural setting. There aren’t any rain-soaked, neon-lit mega cities here. For some reason that is never fully explained, all of the computer engineers and high-tech low-lives live in the countryside. It’s a surprisingly innovative and unique take on the cyberpunk genre.

Being a David Cronenburg film, the biological technology is used as a brilliant source of both body horror and/or sexual symbolism. Most of this symbolism went completely over my head when I saw the film for the first time, but I noticed it in virtually all of the bio pod scenes when I re-watched the film.

Although this is a film about technology (and how it can affect our thoughts, our free will etc..) the scenes set in virtual reality have more of a “realistic” dream-like quality to them. People act in strange ways, the settings are an uncanny combination of real and surreal, and there are other strange changes too.

Some of this surrealism is kept fairly subtle, like the fact that Allegra is pretty much perfectly ok a few minutes after receiving a fairly serious gunshot wound to the shoulder near the beginning of the film. Of course, this might just be the usual cinematic convention of near-invincible main characters, but the fact that the injury is relatively bloodless and doesn’t even seem to be that painful could be a hint that the film starts within the world of the game. A question which is left tantalisingly open at the end of the film….

The whole point of this film is that the characters can never quite tell whether they’re playing the game or are in real life, so this “realistic” dream-like quality works really well. In fact, one of the things I love about this film is the fact that it’s one of the few films that explores the concept of an “unreliable reality“.

One thing that surprised me when I re-watched this film is that the editing was a lot faster than I remembered. This film was made in the good old days when films actually had editors that prevented them from becoming bloated three-hour things. God, I miss those days! Even so, the editing can seem a little bit too quick at some points in the film – almost as if more revealing pieces of dialogue have been removed from the film.

This brings me on to the subject of characterisation – there’s a lot less of it in this film than I remember. Yes, some of this is probably to do with the fact that the characters’ behaviour is occasionally directly controlled by the game’s programming, but the characterisation seemed slightly more superficial than I remembered.

This is also possibly a reflection of the fact that the characters think that they’re playing a game, where the normal rules of reality don’t apply. For example, in one scene late into the movie, Allegra guns down another character in cold blood because he annoyed her (by suggesting that she defect to a rival tech company). Ted is, quite naturally, shocked by this – only for Allegra to nonchalantly comment that it’s just a game. Then, in a chilling twist, Ted wonders whether they’re still in the game or not.

Even so, the best character in this film by far has to be Allegra Gellar. She’s nerdily hedonistic, slightly obsessive and also a total badass at the same time. Seriously, although her dialogue and personality seem a little bit stylised at times, she’s refreshingly different from many other sci-fi protagonists. Ted, of course, is her slightly nervous and naive sidekick.

All in all, this film is both better and worse than I remember. Yes, it can be a bit fast, intentionally confusing and superficial at times but – on the other hand – it also contains a lot more philosophical depth, symbolism and innovation than you might expect from a Hollywood sci-fi film. Plus, it’s very 1990s too – which is always a good thing 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half. It isn’t quite as good as “Blade Runner”, but it’s still a very innovative, unique and intelligent sci-fi film.