Category Archives: Review

Replay – Cities: Skylines

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There’s no serious way I can make Cities: Skylines sound sexy and I’ve tried at least six different drafts of this. It lacks the explosive action of popular games like PlayerUnknown’sBattlegroundsOverwatch, or anything that involves murdering people. Cities: Skylines is the complete antithesis of games like that: it’s slow, very mellow and about procedural growth. I’d forgive you if this is where you started tuning out but if you can, bear with me.

It probably explains a lot I smoke a decent amount of weed before zoning out for the next four hours in what is surely a bizarre stupor to any bystanders. There is no decipherable action to let you know you’re doing right aside from numbers being green, happy sounding noises, no angry looking icons floating above buildings, and the bright green smiley face at the bottom of the HUD telling me I’m doing a-ok. That’s not to say there aren’t frustrating moments. After all, nothing like spending an hour trying to revive a city imploded by my own lack of foresight.

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Skylines is without argument the best SimCity-esque game on the market today, beating out even the originator itself, SimCity. Of which was deeply shamed back in 2013 so badly EA had to do a LOT of damage control and probably won’t be heard from ever again. The goal is very simple: develop your provided property into a growing town and supervisor its development and growth into a full-blown city. However actually doing this is another, as unlike in SimCity 4 (the last decent SimCity), it’s pretty possible to fail making a town from the very start.

This is a supremely menu driven game, and many of your questions you’ll come across during your time building cities will often be answered looking for data within the myriad of menus, though perhaps not so obviously. Skylines asks the player to think ahead in terms of how to proceed, because while not impossible, it’s hard and damaging to your city to try and re-build segments after they’ve already started growing independently.

Your endgame is to create as large as city as possible, anyway you want so long as it is financially sustainable. This means watching your budget, finding ways to squeeze just a little more money from your properties without pissing off your constituents, and giving your city time to develop organically by letting its simulations run a bit. You’ll want to throw stadiums around and grow as fast as possible, however too fast growth can also mean your artificial population bubble will burst hard when the weight of the city collapses upon itself because you didn’t let its population catch-up to your rapid growth.

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Unlike the aforementioned SimCity, the world of Skylines feels organic and alive. Your citizens, each and every one, can be selected, followed and studied. They are born, they grow, they work, they die. They also unfortunately move into cities at the exact same age, causing what’s known in the Cities: Skylines community as a “death wave” if you grow a huge chunk of your city at the same time. Good luck keeping your cemeteries open.

Perhaps the biggest complaint against Cities: Skylines is the developer’s tendency to create weak DLC and charge premium prices. I don’t have any of the paid-DLC installed (there are bits of free DLC that are quite a bit of fun), but I can say I don’t feel like I’m missing anything. It’s also hard for me to justify spending $12.99 USD to include natural disasters, a feature I find myself asking why the fuck would I pay so much for. Seems like something basic that should’ve been included from the onset.

You could spend $5.99 USD to supplement the free Match Day DLC (which gives you the ability to place a large-scale football stadium in your city) with four actual recreations of real football stadiums such as FC Barcelona, Chelsea, PSG, and Juventus. Again, you might’ve missed where I said this $5.99 DLC just has four stadiums. This is the type of crap I was talking about.

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Look, again, none of this sounds sexy, like, at all. Cities: Skylines is meant for a particular audience: one tired of random violence and into methodical, zen-like construction. I enjoy the steady grind of slowly letting a city build its economy up itself. There is a sense of peace and focus I’ve never quite experienced with other games. Sure, it’s easy to zone out but the game also calls for a measure of attention to make sure your growing city doesn’t decay from within so easily. There is no end, just the infinite potential of growth and seeing what kind of civil creator you are. Or at least until you misappropriate the city’s funds.

 

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At the Movies: The Dark Tower

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Among author Stephen King’s more whimsical stories (in as whimsical Stephen King tends to get), The Dark Tower follows young Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), a troubled young boy with ominous visions of a tower keeping evil from spreading unchecked in the world, children being tormented by the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey) using their essence to destroy the tower, and a mysterious Gunslinger (Idris Elba) who can stop this Man in Black from destroying the tower. The Dark Tower follows this plot-line pretty religiously, but this movie is a case of the journey being much better than its destination.

We establish everyone believes Jake to be troubled, and rightfully so. His father died in a fire, his mother is now smitten to a man seemingly trying to get rid of him as quickly as possible, and his constant visions of the Dark Tower is driving his mother into depression. However Jake knows deep down inside he isn’t crazy, and he begins seeing his visions in real life.

People with lose fitting skin seemingly wearing it as a costume are hunting psychically gifted children to harvest their energy to destroy the Dark Tower protecting infinite Earths. During a daring escape, he follows his visions to a strange house that transports him to a different world: one broken by evil forces. It isn’t until he finally finds the Gunslinger does he know his visions are true.

Truth be told, most of the power this film holds is in the fast developing relationship between Jake and the Gunslinger once you slog past the rather slow intro. Their journey to battle the Man in Black hits a pretty by-the-numbers route through the film’s middle segments. Granted, the action scenes and locales were cool haunted locations, a strange amalgamation between magic, technology and the Old American West.

The Man in Black, who really should just be known as McConaughey with dyed black hair, played it with very little enthusiasm. It felt he put more work into those Lincoln commercials they he did with the albeit very simplistic Man in Black. He has no ulterior motive other than being an evil prick bent on world domination. He has totally dominion over all men, conveniently except for our Gunslinger and to some degree even Jake.

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The movie comes to something of a halt once we reach the climax, the finale duel between the Man in Black and the Gunslinger. While certainly CGI filled, its conclusion filled me with this flat sense of “meh”. On the one hand, I had enjoyed the film up this point. On the other, I had wondered if this was really the end. I found myself enjoying the fantasy world they were inhabiting more so than the people in it. Frankly, I didn’t give much a shit about them to be honest. I was more sad we couldn’t spend more time amalgamating modern New York into the twisted vision of mid-Earth, but I’m good with what I got.

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The Dark Tower isn’t quite as epic as it hopes to be, even if what’s at stake is the fate of multiple Earths. It feels flatter than it does appropriately epic, which it’s set-piece moments certainly called for. Elba played the quite straight man well enough, Taylor played the precocious child-hero well, and McConaughey could’ve been anyone else really. In fact, I spent a decent amount of time going through a roster of alternate villains who could’ve really provided the character the presence it sought. Maybe this one was a job for Mel Gibson? Certainly was fire and brimstone enough.

I had gotten this vibe that they wanted to leave enough room open for a sequel, but I feel pretty confident this one’s wrapped up. The Dark Tower was a fun romp but didn’t really leave me wowed. I wanted to be, the idea seemed cool, the stakes were plenty high, and Elba did a good job being a gun-slinging badass. Just a shame none of it really added up.

I think a lot of people are going to shit on this film, which is not totally fair. The Dark Tower was a lot of fun in spite of a few things, and I’m grateful it aimed high trying to cram quite a bit into an hour and a half. Something shit like, oh I don’t know Transformers still hasn’t learned. For that, I give The Dark Tower a thumbs up at least.

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Pic Sources: http://www.thedarktower-movie.com/site/galleryhttp://stephenking.com/darktower/

TV Theatre – The Belko Experiment

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To put it in its most simplest terms, The Belko Experiment is a film about violence for the sake of violence. It will probably share a similar audience to the likes of Saw or any slasher that gives the filmmaker an excuse to show over an hour’s worth of gore non-stop. The set up is an international group of people put together in a bizarrely nice building in the middle of nowhere Columbia.

They all work happy corporate lives until one day a voice on the intercom tells them they have to start killing people or they will die at random. Who these people are, the cast, the antagonists, whomever it’s all irrelevant. People have to die when the voice says, so sayith the voice.

In fact, there is little plot here anyway to make these characters relevant. Not that the film is concerned with it. No, the prime focus is to get you sitting on the edge of your seat ruminating how the next sucker is going to die a shitty death. Because that’s why you came to see this movie: stupid people dying shitty deaths.

This movie probably will share a lot of similarities to the 2000 classic Battle Royale, but unlike Royale, The Belko Experiment invests no serious time on its cast and spends more keeping the body count going as fluidly as possible. Which is cool if that’s what you were expecting coming into this movie like I was.

To that end, the violence is pretty amusing and even at times somewhat thrilling, even if everyone is moving at a very by-the-numbers pace. At no point are you going to be genuinely surprised by anything. The movie sometimes tries to pull at emotional strings that just aren’t there. Instead, it’s at its best when it stops trying to talk and just lets the rage fly.

At the end of the day, if your thirst is for a horror movie more concerned with being grossly violent than genuinely scary, then yeah, The Belko Experiment can help with that. In fact, for just that purpose it’s pretty good. Just maintain that level of expectation and everything’ll be alright. Maybe just maybe don’t eat spaghetti or something with tomato pasta. Or do, if you’re sense of humor is that morbid. Again, this movie would probably be for you.

Just like this little review, the movie ends somewhat abruptly leaving you with the feeling they want to build a fuck load of sequels to this because Saw did it. If nothing else, it looked like this movie was a lot of fun to make for the actors.

At the Movies Double-Feature: The Emoji Movie and Valerian and the City of Thousand Planets

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Every summer there’s always those movies. The ones where you ask yourself, “why?” For fun yeah but, like, why this? Movies cost a lot to make, so you would think it since it takes a ton of effort on the part of animators and so many others, that. I wouldn’t be asking for much for it to be decent right? So as it is every summer, there’s the turd. The Emoji Movie is that turd.

The movie revolves around Gene, who is supposed the “meh” emoji. He’s not like the other emojis where their faces are set and don’t ever change. Gene, on the other hand, goes through all kinds of faces. He just doesn’t want to be a “meh” emoji. At first it caught my attention and I wanted to see where they were going with it. But 20 minutes into the movie and I just so badly wanted something to happen.

The plot of the movie involves all the emojis living in a phone, and Gene discovers the owner, Alex, is planning to resetting his phone, deleting everything. Now when I saw the previews I was excited thinking it would be funny and we would get a chance to see how emojis live day to day life in this fantasy world. I mean, isn’t that at least sort of the point for these movies?

Anyway fuck it, the film was a waste of money. I could say more but honestly what’s the use? The Emoji Movie makes it seem like the writers ran out of ideas and out of random they decided to make an emoji movie with no good story to go with it. I’ll give it the animation was decent but I feel bad for the people who had to animate a script my niece would’ve done a way better job with. That’s it, that’s what I have to say about The Emoji Movie.

As for Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, just like The Emoji Movie, was decent to watch because of its fancy visual effects. For the plot, it felt very poor plus the acting wasn’t there either. It all felt a bit goofy when the actors were trying to be serious. Either be willing to have fun or be serious, but don’t try to sell me whatever this was.

If the storytelling was a bit more thoughtout I believe it could’ve been great. Both Rihanna and Cara Delevingne are trying to make a stamp for themselves as actresses but they have a long way to go still. Rihanna’s scenes were too short and Cara just had that “I want to laugh look” while trying to be serious at nearly all times. The only part that seemed decent was at the point they were trying to sava Cara from being eaten.

Valerian kinda obviously has a Star Wars vibe going on, which was something I think sorta saved this movie for me. I don’t like giving spoilers so this is all I’m saying about the films, but honestly I gave you as much details as the films really gave me. They’re both entertaining movies to a degree thanks to their looks but beyond that they both have horrible plots.

 

Review – Strike Vector EX (PC)

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Strike Vector EX is about one thing and one thing only: high-speed dog fights. Flashy, bright, colorful, dizzying dog fights. EX offers a basic, but addictive package with a decent single-player campaign and addictive online modes. Technically while EX is a re-release, with the original version released in 2014 to mixed reviews, I’m reviewing it on its own merit. EX feels like an amalgamation of Ace Combat and Star Fox Zero, which is a compliment.

Piloting your vector (those fancy jets) involves two modes: stationary and fast. This probably sounds obvious and stupid, but the ability to stop on a dime and make impossibly fast turns is a huge element to this game. You can also zoom in when stopped at snipe at enemies, but obviously in a game like this staying still for too long is you begging to be shot down.

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There’s a pretty reasonable amount of content here, from a cheesy, but fairly meaty single-player that’ll help you hone your skills, to the real jewel: the multiplayer. You can include bots if you’d like (they’ll join your matches by default if not enough humans are around which will happen unfortunately more often than I’d like), but the real joy is being locked in a tense fight with other human pilots thirsting for your blood.

The customization options available are relatively shallow. You have your choice from a small number of weapons ranging from the conventional gatling gun to the more irritating homing cluster missiles. You can also separate yourself from others by coloring individual elements your ship (head/body/wings) with a wide array of colors, most needing to be unlocked through play.

The modes are pretty standard: death match, team death match, capture the flag, demolition (two teams must destroy each other’s bases target by target),  bounty hunter (accrue more points than other plays by collecting coins or killing players), and king of the hill where two teams compete for the designated territory. While not genre defining, they’re good modes for a game built on a pick-up-and-play premise.

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The thing about Strike Vector EX is that as it is, there’s a lot of good in it that justifies its very soft price tag ($11.99 USD). While there aren’t a whole lot of flashy modes and baubles to distract, it’s core gameplay is more than solid and can get addictive. It’s fast, easy to grasp, and more importantly makes me feel like I’m really involved in a high-speed mecha dog fight. At the time of writing the online community is quite shallow, but the game is also young. I’m optimistic more will see the light of this very shooter.

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UFC 214: The Fallout

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Taken as a whole, I want to say, “Holy shit what a fantastic card!” but that wouldn’t be entirely true. To be sure, there were some low moments, perhaps none more lower than Tyron Woodley’s title defense, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s take this a step at a time. I’m just going to cover the main card.

Match #1 Jimi Manuwa vs. Volkan Oedemir(w) LHW

Jimi Manuwa has made a name for himself knocking people out. Until he started getting knocked out. Newcomer Volkan Oedemir straight knocked Manuwa out within 42 seconds of the first round. Oedemir has now entered the UFC’s radar. Manuwa might be on an undercard next year or something.

Match #2 Donald Cerrone vs Robbie Lawler(w) WELT

Immediately began with Lawler charging at Cerrone and delivering an onslaught of punches, where the only reasonable response was a flurry of his own. The first round was a tug of war over momentum, with both men absolutely laying into each other. Lawler wanting to take Cerrone off his game and just overwhelm him from the onset.

The second round was much slower, though no less vicious. Cerrone attempted to keep Lawler at bay with leg strikes, though Lawler began pressing the fight harder. Cerrone, for his part, kept Lawler at bay by throwing fast combos in response. The third round saw Lawler seemingly waking up and going on the offensive against Cerrone, kicking him in the stomach. This seemed to stunt Cerrone, who afterward became much more cautious. Cerrone kept counter attacking, but ultimately the judges viewed Lawler as the unanimous victor.

This fight easily needed two more rounds, it had all the makings of a title fight, though it very likely carries with it potential title implications in the future. Though probably not the immediate future UFC brass hoping Georges St. Pierre agrees to fight Woodley (very likely with title implications).

Match #3 Cris Cyborg(w) vs Tonya Evinger Featherweight Title

Truth be told, people outside Evinger’s training camp probably didn’t think much was going to be made of this fight. After all, Evinger took the fight on short notice and went up a weight class to fight Cyborg at her best form.

Evinger did an excellent job of evading Cyborg’s power strikes while eating some lesser, though still stinging shots. The game plan seemed to be something out of Rocky, where she would hope to simply tire out the champion then make her moves. After all, she was most certainly not going to out speed or out strike Cyborg in a straight boxing fight. It would’ve been suicide.

This all lasted until the second round where Cyborg managed to wrestle Evinger into the cage then delivered a devastating knee strike right to her face. This sealed her fate and the fight, as she crumpled and Cyborg did what she has mostly done: deal punishing strikes. Fight was ruled a KO. Cyborg becomes arguably the women’s featherweight division’s first legitimate champion.

Throughout the fight I wanted to root for Evinger, who was doing her damndest to evade Cyborg’s very nasty punches. Cyborg clearly saw her as the lesser opponent though, many of her punches carried with it very bad intentions.

Match #4 Tyron Woodley(w) vs. Demian Maia (Welterweight Title)

The stinker of the night, unfortunately. Maia pressed the fight for much of it, while Woodley largely countered sparingly, but accurately. And the punches that were accurate gave Maia a very battered face, as he was visibly damaged by the fight’s conclusion. It was 25 minutes of frustration, knowing that it should be a tactical battle but instead was the type of fight no one’s going to want to re-watch.

Match #5 Jon Jones(w) vs. Daniel Cormier (Light Heavyweight title)

An intense match from start to finish, it absolutely did not disappoint. The fight lasted into the third round at the 1:57 mark. It began with Cormier relentlessly pursuing Jones, though Jones was able to use his length to force Cormier to miss most of his strikes. He was able to make some significant strikes to Jones, forcing him to play a bit conservatively. Very early on Cormier managed to punch Jones’ mouth piece out. Later in the round, Cormier and Jones butt heads causing Cormier to get a cut on his head. The referee ruled the incident an accident.

The second round saw Cormier become more confident, with Jones throwing strikes to Cormier’s head, but Cormier evading the punches, saying “Nope,” and shaking his head. Jones looked to be struggling at times, though he always managed to stay fast and elusive.

However in the third round, Jones began launching strong leg strikes that saw Cormier quickly lose his balance. Jones continued delivering fast strikes, not allowing Cormier a second to orient himself. This caused Cormier to fall to the mat near the cage, where Jones immediately descended and relentlessly beat Cormier into submission. The ref pulled Jones away and Cormier stumbled to his feet, clearly not all there.

The post fight was a surprisingly emotional scene for all parties involved. Cormier initially stormed out of the octagon, seen mumbling and teary eyed (given he was beaten pretty brutally that was understandable). Jones, who has been shit talking Cormier for a LONG time, instead was humble in victory and shout out Cormier for being his greatest rival.

Cormier, now outright crying, is attempting to compose himself while Jones took a second to challenge Brock Lesnar. Once Jones left, Joe Rogan very uncomfortably interviews a very visibly broken Cormier. Where Cormier goes from here is anyone’s guess, but Jones’ future is certain. The former champion has reclaimed the throne and everyone in the light heavyweight division has a VERY tall order ahead of them.

TV Theatre – Castlevania

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Netflix has shown they’re willing to be a little out-there when it comes to their original programming. Castlevania, from the Konami franchise that’s basically been abandoned to being licensed pachinko machines, is the latest in that trend. It’s an animated mini-series telling the story of Dracula himself raining literal hell down on stupid mortals for crossing him. The show is written by Warren Ellis who has penned some of the best comic book arcs around. That fact alone should make you feel more at ease that this is going to be good.

The season is extremely short with only four episodes that are no more than 22-23 minutes a piece. The animation is a bit inconsistent, with some scenes looking better than others (some of the action scenes are unfortunately choppy). However the voice acting and music help tie everything into a rather pleasantly cool show. It also makes certain this is not a cartoon for kiddies, as it revels in being a mature program from the copious, detailed gore to the pretty straight-up adult dialogue.

And speaking about pleasant, this show is incredibly gory and filled with lots of surprising dark humor. Did I say it was gory? It’s the type of mixture that had me reminiscing on HBO’s Spawn, though without the nudity (at least so far). It plays off its source material really well, though let’s not kid ourselves that Castlevania was ever really that deep to begin with. The franchise is about monster slaying and season one lays the groundwork of that well enough.

Season one was at best an appetizer, as inaugural seasons tend to be. However in this case binge watching this show should be mandatory. For example, I’d argue the 80 some minutes you could spend watching Castlevania would be better served than watching something like, I don’t know, Transformers: The Last Knight which was, ha ha, fucking horrible.

It surprised me in certain ways (the dark humor was legit very funny) and disappointed in others (super short, ends way too soon). I feel like I watched a very long trailer for a pretty cool TV series. I guess the question now is when does this series really start? Netflix has already renewed Castlevania for a second season.