Mini Review: “Black Magnetic” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”)

Well, I was in the mood for another “Doom II” level, so I thought that I’d check out a rather interesting-looking cyberpunk WAD from 2015 called “Black Magnetic“.

Surprisingly, I actually returned to the “GZDoom” source port for this WAD, since – unlike a lot of other modern WADs – it’s actually compatible with a version of GZDoom that will actually run on my computer (version 1.8.10, if anyone is curious. Normally, I just use “ZDoom” these days though).

So, let’s take a look at “Black Magnetic”:

Not to be confused with Metallica’s “Black Album” or their “Death Magnetic” album.

“Black Magnetic” is a single-level WAD that includes new music, sounds, voice-acting (for several monsters), monsters, textures, item sprites and weapons.

The easiest way to describe this WAD is that it’s almost kind of like a mixture of “Quake II”, “Quake” and various 90s cyberpunk games. But, at the same time, it’s also it’s own thing as well.

Seriously, the lighting in this level is gloriously gothic and wonderfully cyberpunk 🙂 And, yes, this is probably a GZDoom-specific thing.

And just look at this awesome skybox from the beginning of the level 🙂

Even though it contains a fair amount of sounds, health item sprites etc.. from the classic “Quake” games, this level sets itself apart because of the way that it handles difficulty.

Instead of throwing large numbers of monsters at you, this level contains a slightly smaller number of more powerful monsters. In other words, the zombie soldiers and cyborgs you’ll be fighting are pretty much as powerful and well-armoured as you are (or, in some cases, more!). Even the creator’s description of the WAD tells you that you’ll need to take cover a lot.

Yes, this battle isn’t as ridiculously easy as it might appear at first glance. Yes, it’s techically a cover-based shooter, but a good one WITHOUT regenerating health!

And, yes, the imps now want to add your technological and cultural distinctiveness to their own. Resistance is futile.

Likewise, some of the new monsters in this level have a rather fiendish trick up their sleeves. When certain types of cyborg enemies die, they release a few “Heretic”-style metal spheres which roll around randomly. When these spheres stop rolling, they explode and spray nails in all directions. Needless to say, as soon as one of these enemies dies, it’s usually a good idea to run or to find something to hide behind.

Yes, once you see these, then RUN!!

The level’s weapons help to add to the difficulty too. For starters, you don’t have any melee weapons whatsoever (although ammo for weaker weapons isn’t exactly in short supply). Likewise, you don’t really gain any seriously powerful weapons until relatively late into the level. What this means is that you’ll spend quite a lot of time using a pistol, shotgun and/or assault rifle that feels slightly under-powered when used against the level’s well-armoured monsters.

Yes, you’ll get a Super Shotgun (with a new sprite) and the devastator from “Duke Nukem 3D” a bit later on but even these don’t make the game as easy as you might think.

Yes, the Super Shotgun can kill some types of enemies with a single close-range shot, but the reloading animation seems to be very slightly longer than in “Doom II”. Likewise, the devastator is suitably powerful, but ammo for it is fairly scarce. Plus, it’s worth saving some devastator rockets for the final boss battle too.

Yes, these are the Cyber-Baron monsters that you may have seen in other WADs, rather than ordinary Barons.

In terms of the level design, it’s pretty much what you would expect. The level is complex, non-linear and of medium-sized. It’s a good example of mid-late 1990s-style level design and it is wonderful to see here. In terms of length, this level will probably take an experienced player about an hour to complete (although a lot of this is due to the added difficulty from the new monsters and weapons).

In terms of background music, this level uses one of the more dramatic pieces of background music from “Quake 2”. It’s basically heavy metal and it sounds awesome 🙂 The only annoying thing is that it also includes the radio messages from “Quake 2”, which can sometimes make you think that there are monsters nearby when there aren’t.

All in all, this is a surprisingly challenging and inventive level that has a really cool mid-late 90s cyberpunk look and atmosphere to it. It’s dark, it’s futuristic and it’s industrial. Yes, this level borrows quite a bit from the first two “Quake” games, but it’s very much it’s own thing at the same time. Whilst the way that the level achieves it’s difficulty may seem slightly frustrating at times, it’s a great example of 90s-style innovation in the modern day.

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

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Mini Review: “Xmas Doom 2015” [WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom” (?)]

Well, in keeping with tradition, I thought that I’d review a Christmas-themed WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom”. The surprising thing was that, when I was preparing this review, finding a Christmas WAD that I hadn’t played was surprisingly difficult. There really don’t seem to be that many of them out there.

Still, I eventually found a WAD called “Xmas Doom 2015[Note: Unfortunately, the only place this WAD could be found was on Dropbox.], which seems to be an updated and expanded version of the classic “Xmas Doom” WAD.

As usual, I used the ZDoom source port when playing this WAD. Since the download of “Xmas Doom 2015” doesn’t come with a text file, I’m not sure if this is the right source port for it. But, whilst playing, I noticed a few graphical glitches (eg: missing skybox textures, strange-looking floors etc.). So, it might be worth trying this WAD with a different source port.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Xmas Doom 2015”:

“Xmas Doom 2015” is a ten-level WAD (well, technically eleven) that includes new weapons, monsters, textures, sounds, music and sprites. Although the WAD includes an episode selection screen, the second episode seems to be unfinished at the time of writing (and the first level of it is literally just an empty room). So, I’ll only be reviewing the first episode.

One of the first things that I will say about “Xmas Doom 2015” is that it’s something of a mixed bag. There’s some great stuff in this WAD and there’s some… less than great... stuff too. So, I’ll start with the good stuff and then move on to all of the problems with this WAD.

First of all, some of the new levels are amazing 🙂 My favourite levels, by far, have to be the third and fifth levels. The third level is set in a busy shopping street and it just oozes 1990s Christmas nostalgia – complete with brightly-coloured textures, falling snow and the kind of silly 90s-style humour that used to be common in computer games.

Go away.. hur hur.. we’re, like, closed.

And there’s a festive Arch-vile too 🙂 It’s a Christmas miracle 🙂

Likewise, the fifth level is set within a giant cinema and it is a joy to behold 🙂 Not only are there lots of 90s movie references but, if you grew up in that decade, then it will almost certainly evoke lots of nostalgia.

“2012”! Gasp! What kind of a strange temporal anomaly is this?!?!?

But, hey, at least there’s a Super Turbo Turkey Puncher 3 machine 🙂

The fourth level probably deserves an honourable mention too. It’s set within an American-style shopping centre and it contains the same goofy humour and 90s nostalgia as the third and fifth levels, although I preferred those two levels.

Even though I preferred levels three and five, this sarcastic sign about “Quake” in level four made me laugh though.

Likewise, some of the new weapons and monsters in this WAD are fairly good. The best new weapon, by far, is the pistol – which features a new sprite and a simply epic new sound effect. It’s also a slightly more powerful weapon, although this is balanced out by the fact that a short reloading animation plays after every ten shots or so.

The BFG has also been replaced with a sniper rifle (with a telescopic scope) and the plasma cannon has been replaced with a Duke Nukem 3D-style freeze gun.

And, in “Duke Nukem” style, the chainsaw has been replaced with a snow blower. This is hilariously silly!

The new sounds and music in this WAD are also fairly decent too, with MIDI renditions of many classic Christmas carols -as well as some hilariously cheesy new voice-acting too (for some of the monsters and the final boss).

As for the new monsters, they’re mostly good too. There’s a mixture between the monsters from the original “Xmas Doom”, silly 1990s-style cartoon monsters, some “traditional monsters” and a couple of new monsters in the style of classic custom monsters. The best one of the new monsters has to be the new version of the Pain Elemental, who has been reimagined in the same style as the “cacobauble” monsters from this WAD and other Christmas WADs:

Unfortunately, there’s only one of these monsters in the entire WAD though 😦

So, that was the good stuff. What about the bad stuff?

Well, the first thing to mention is that – if you’re using an older computer- the second level is pretty much unplayable. Seriously, it slowed down to a single-digit frame rate as soon as I started playing it. In the end, I was forced to use cheat codes (eg: ZDoom’s “freeze” command and the no clipping cheat) to move on to the third level. This is a real shame since the second level looked like it would be really cool:

For a 1990s-inspired WAD, why is it that my mid-2000s computer will only allow this level to run at a decent speed if I use the “freeze” cheat. And, yes, the skybox is missing – although this might be a “ZDoom” thing.

Likewise, strange as it sounds, this WAD would have been better off without the original “Xmas Doom” levels near the end.

Yes, they’ve received a few improvements (eg: there’s a text explanation for the final puzzle, there are some texture changes etc..) and a few “improvements” (eg: the annoying addition of dense fog to a monster-filled area). But the style of gameplay in these levels is so jarringly different from the earlier levels and it doesn’t really go well with the rest of the WAD. In a way, these levels almost feel like padding more than anything else:

Yes, “Xmas Doom” is a good WAD. But, it works better on it’s own!

This WAD would have been a lot more fun and streamlined if it’s creators had just kept the first 5-6 levels and the new final boss level and left out the original “Xmas Doom” levels. Seriously, this would have worked so much better as a completely original WAD.

In addition to this, some of the new weapons aren’t that great. The super shotgun replacement alternates between acting like a super shotgun and like a rapid-fire shotgun seemingly at random, which can waste ammo quickly. Likewise, the chaingun seems to be no more powerful than usual, but it has a short “spinning up” delay between clicking the mouse and the gun actually firing.

Likewise, one of the new monsters is perhaps a bit too creepy for a fun Christmas WAD. Basically, the pinkie demons have been replaced by enemies who look like short balaclava-clad terrorists. At first, I thought that they were just evil elves but, if you’re killed by one of them then the ZDoom death text states that they are… possessed children. WTF!?!? (the monster name is a “bewitched boy” or something like that, I think). For a “goofy” Christmas WAD, this seems a little bit too dark.

Yeah, dark humour is an essential part of classic FPS gaming. But, this is perhaps a bit too dark.

All in all, this WAD is a really strange mixture of good and bad. At it’s best, it sums up the brilliant “so bad that it’s good” silliness of the 1990s whilst providing mildly-moderately challenging gameplay and lots of wonderful 1990s Christmas nostalgia. But, some elements of this WAD don’t work that well.

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

Review: “Dark Shadows” (Film)

First of all, a bit of background. “Dark Shadows” was an American horror-themed soap opera that ran for a ridiculous number of episodes during the 1960s and 70s. I don’t think that it ever got a UK broadcast, and only a fraction of the total number of episodes seem to be available on DVD here. But, from the episodes I have seen, it’s brilliant. It’s low budget, cheesy and “so bad that it’s good”.

It’s a slice of classic black & white gothic vampire melodrama, complete with creaking sets and slightly wooden acting. Needless to say, it was only a matter of time before Tim Burton ended up making a film adaptation and this is what I’ll be reviewing today.

Needless to say, this review may contain some mild SPOILERS.

Although I was vaguely interested in this film when it came out in 2012 (to the point that I bought a DVD of the original 1960s “Dark Shadows” TV series), I only actually got round to watching it on DVD earlier this year. But, is it any good? Let’s take a look:

The box art looks awesome for starters 🙂

“Dark Shadows” begins in the 18th century with the wealthy Collins family moving from Liverpool to the north-western United States in order to set up a fishing buisiness. This business thrives and soon a small town called Collinsport grows. With their newfound wealth, the Collinses decide to build a giant gothic mansion called Collingswood. Because, why not?

But, when the Collinses’ son Barnabas spurns his former lover Angelique in order to betroth himself to his true love Josette, Angelique decides to exact revenge. Unbeknownst to Barnabas, she is a powerful sorceress – and she places a malevolent curse upon poor Barnabas. After his parents die in a freak seahorse-related accident, his beloved Josette finds herself mysteriously compelled to walk to the treacherous cliffs of Widow’s Peak.

Rushing to save her, Barnabas is too late and – in anguish- throws himself off of the cliff too. But, after dashing himself upon the cruel rocks below, he realises that he is unharmed. Not only that, he has become a vampyre – cursed to live forever and drink the blood of the living for sustenence.

Of course, it isn’t long before Angelique whips up an angry mob who, with torches and pitchforks in hand, decide to bury Barnabus alive in an iron coffin:

I guess that you could say that the vampire genre was something of an underground thing back then…

Two hundred years later, in the year 1972, a young woman called Veronica Winters is travelling to Collinsport in order to work as a governess for the remnants of the Collins family, who are still living in the crumbling Collingswood mansion. Whilst all of this is going on, a nearby construction crew happens to find a mysterious coffin buried underground and decides to open it….

And, yes, this is only the first few minutes of the film. Although the plot of “Dark Shadows” isn’t quite as convoluted as what I’ve seen of the TV show, I should probably point out that this film really isn’t about storytelling. Yes, this film has a perfectly acceptable story – but it isn’t really what this film is about.

No, this is a film that is all about witty dialogue, gothic atmosphere, dark humour and aesthetic flair. It’s more style than substance and, yet, it works so well. Seriously, my comment about style and substance wasn’t a criticism. This film has style!

My god! What sorcery is this!

Yes, this explosion is pink, and it looks AMAZING!

Yay! WHY don’t horror movies include buildings like this any more?

Seriously, in visual terms, this film is a work of art! I love almost everything about this film – from the intricately old-fashioned set design to the wonderfully gloomy lighting style that is used in many scenes.

Then there’s the brilliant costume design, which is kind of a blend of timeless gothic fashion and 70s fashion (which still seems to show some influence from the 1960s, which would be realistic in a rural community during the early 1970s).

And there’s also a hint of 1980s-style film noir too 🙂

But, the main charm of this film comes from the humour, the eccentric characters and the atmosphere. Most of the funniest lines from the film involve Barnabas being bewildered by the bizarre future of the 1970s and there are almost too many hilarious lines to list.

Throughout the film, Johnny Depp speaks in a hilariously old-fashioned way and this is an absolute joy to listen to. In addition to lots of brilliantly funny dialogue, there’s also a decent amount of both dark humour, character-based humour and slapstick humour too.

There has, unfortunately, been a steady decrease in the quality of American coffins though.

In addition to this, the film absolutely revels in the gothic elements of it’s story. There are crumbling mansions, secret passages, old crypts and all sorts of other wonderful stuff that the film itself seems to geek out about as much as the audience (probably) does. This film is awesome! And it knows it!

And, just for the hell of it, Alice Cooper even makes an appearance too. No, this isn’t a spoiler – his name is literally in the opening credits!

All in all, this film is fun! Yes, it isn’t particularly scary and the story isn’t really that spectacular. But, this isn’t a serious drama. It’s a piece of art! It’s a knowingly melodramatic dark comedy film crammed with hilarious dialogue. It’s a film about a group of eccentric characters who live in a creepy old mansion. It’s an affectionate parody of a cheesy old soap opera and an ode to old horror movies. And, surprisingly, it really works.

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

Mini Review: “Altar Of Evil” (WAD for “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

2017-artwork-altar-of-evil-wad-review-sketch

Well, it’s been a couple of weeks since I last reviewed a “Doom II” WAD, so I thought that I’d check out a rather interesting one called “Altar Of Evil” which was one of the runners-up for a Cacoward in 2005.

As usual, I used the ZDoom source port whilst playing this WAD.

So, let’s take a look at “Altar Of Evil”:

screenshot_doom_20170302_133245

“Altar Of Evil” is a single-level WAD that contains new sounds, textures and sprites.

The first thing that I will say about this WAD is that it looks really cool, since it has a fairly consistent green/orange/black colour scheme and some wonderfully ominous lighting too. Although many of the new textures aren’t really that obvious, it still looks like a better version of something you would expect to find in the “standard” game.

Seriously, I love the lighting in this level :)

Seriously, I love the lighting in this level 🙂

The interesting visual design of this WAD also extends to the monster sprites, some of which have been altered in various ways.

Most notably, the imps now use a variant of the “Dark Imp” sprite used by various other WADs. They also fire green projectiles, which compliment the red projectiles that the Barons and Hell Knights now throw at you. Other notable monster sprite changes include a dark grey mancubus and three types of pinkie demons (eg: dark pink, blue and dark grey).

The blue pinkie demons are really cool, and they seem to be a replacement for the "spectre" monsters. So, WHAT are the dark grey pinkie demons?

The blue pinkie demons are really cool, and they seem to be a replacement for the “spectre” monsters. So, WHAT are the dark grey pinkie demons?

Yes, dark imps are nothing new. But, the green projectiles are really neat though.

Yes, dark imps are nothing new. But, the green projectiles are really neat though.

But, the main thing that gives this WAD it’s atmosphere has to be the new sounds.

Seriously, I cannot praise the sound design in this WAD highly enough – all of the weapon sounds and monster noises sound a little bit like a heavier and like a more “realistic” version of the kind of sound effects that you’d expect to hear in the original “Quake”.

The stand-out sound effects have to be the new super shotgun noise and the epic, thunderous roar of the BFG:

There's a reason why you'll run out of BFG ammo fairly quickly in this level. The new sound effect is just THAT epic!

There’s a reason why you’ll run out of BFG ammo fairly quickly in this level. The new sound effect is just THAT epic!

But, although this WAD has a lot of atmosphere, is the gameplay and level design any good? In a word, yes.

“Altar Of Evil” is an old-school non-linear level which still manages to be “streamlined” enough that you’ll rarely wonder where you’re supposed to go next. The level manages to be reasonably large without being too large (eg: you won’t really get lost when playing this level). There are a couple of cool little elements to this level, such as a pit in the corner of one room which Cacodemons rise out of and which you have to jump into in order to progress to the next part of the level.

As for the gameplay, this WAD contains a mixture of traditional-style gameplay and some mild slaughtermap elements. Throughout the very early stages of the level, you’ll be fighting reasonable numbers of monsters in relatively spacious areas. But, in later parts of the level, you’ll be fighting larger numbers of monsters in more confined spaces. This really helps to add some variety and challenge to the level, which keeps things interesting.

Yes, there are more monsters in this area than shown in the screenshot. Still, most of them are fairly low-level ones.

Yes, there are more monsters in this area than shown in the screenshot. Still, most of them are fairly low-level ones.

However, in terms of difficulty, experienced players will only find this level to be moderately challenging at most. Although there are a decent number of mid-level monsters (and the obligatory arch-vile too), many of the larger groups of monsters you will encounter in this level are mostly composed of imps, pinkie demons and/or cacodemons.

Yes, there's only one arch-vile here. Still, one arch-vile is objectively better than no arch-viles.

Yes, there’s only one arch-vile here. Still, one arch-vile is objectively better than no arch-viles.

Even so, thanks to the cramped corridors and claustrophobic chambers you’ll encounter in some parts of the level, even low-level monsters can pose more of a threat than you might initially think.

All in all, this is a really cool WAD. It’s extremely atmospheric, it manages to be both “new” and “traditional” at the same time, the gameplay is enjoyably challenging and some of the new weapon sounds are absolutely epic. It’s kind of like the original “Quake”, but with the much cooler aesthetic of the classic “Doom” games.

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

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.

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.