Syberia 3 (2017) Video Game Review

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After 13 years of waiting, this game was finally released and much like Kingdom Hearts fans waiting for number 3, fans rejoiced.  Compared to the original 2, Syberia 3 was eager to give back to fans by not only being available on PC, X-box One, Nintendo Switch, and PS4, but by also selling premium editions which included artwork, an art book, the game’s soundtrack, a 23 page comic book (which is also sold on comixology), a poster and a small figurine of the main character, Kate Walker.  At £100 for the console versions  and £40 for the PC version (which excluded the figurine and had everything else in a digital form) on release date, I chose to get the PC/Mac version, simply because I didn’t have the money.  Anyway.  Lets read about it.

Our story begins sometime after the events of Syberia 2.  Hans Voralberg, the last heir of the Voralberg automaton factory, has finally accomplished his goal by finding Syberia with Kate Walker, and then riding on the back of a large, wooly mammoth into the arctic sunset.  Such an ending then brought up the question – What happened to Kate Walker?  Well, in Syberia 3 we see this;  Kate ends up travelling (by foot) through the vast snowscape, until she collapses .  She is then found by a tribe of Youkols, natives to Syberia who haven’t changed with the times of the world around them.  The Youkols are on a pilgrimage, a long path to a land where their Snow Ostriches can partake in their mating season (or go extinct).  Kate wakes up in a hospital, where she is sharing the  room with Kurk, the young guide of the Youkols, who lost his leg and needs a prosthetic.  After finding out that there are people who are not only trying to stop the Youkol Migration, but also aiding the New York Detective, Nic Cantin, who was sent by Kate’s ex-law firm employers to find her and place her under arrest for various charges – Kate makes it her goal to not only avoid capture, but also to help the Youkols (and their ostriches) finish their pilgrimage.

Now to discuss components:

First of all, this game really nailed the artwork!  Benoit Sokal, a comic artist himself, worked as both author and art director, and contributed in the concept art.  The art itself was mostly done by Amanda Goengrich and Sebastien Bousquet.  I love how everything is presented with tons of quirks, much atmosphere, evident steampunk mixed with 20th century Russian stylisations and a very european charm that’s either found in european cinema or Wes Anderson movies.  The art book was a lovely addition to this also.

The graphics are…almost understandable, since this game was in development hell for so long and visuals in video games have grown so much since then – It’s safe to say the graphics are a mixed bag.  When I first bought the game, I was presented with the option of “beautiful but with fewer frames per second” or less detailed and faster.  I close detailed and slower – and I did rather enjoy the graphics around this time, despite the cinematic lag in framework.  However, about 3/4 of the way in, a patch was created on the PC/Mac version, and when I played the game afterwards, I could no longer choose my presentation.  In the end, the game did play a lot faster, but the textures were evidently worse.

The gameplay animation for this game, much like its previous chapters, is terrible.  It’s made even worse when you consider it’s 2017 when you look at it.  I can compare it to the animations in Frogware’s Sherlock Holmes PC game series, which were as stiff as the Tin Man in the middle of a good oiling – but I guess it has become a running trend – that while Sokal gets amazing artists, his renders, animators and possibly his choice in software, leave a lot to be desired.

The cutscene animation is better than the gameplay animation by a long shot – but when compared to its contemporaries, it’s pretty ordinary at best.

The gameplay has an inconsistent quality with a number of curveballs thrown in.  Several puzzles were very easy, others had me wandering around lost for 20 minutes.  But many-a-times you need to think outside the box.  Such as 1 particular puzzle that seemed to require a code, when in actuality, I just needed to smash it with something.  Little things like that which can go over your head.

The voice acting seems to vary in quality, depending on the character.  I played it in english, but when I watched the cutscenes again in French it sounded (and looked) so much better!  Much, much more endearing.  Makes me feel like I’m watching a Jean Pierre Jeunet film in places.  But since my ear to the quality of french voice acting is limited, I can only talk about the english version.  The voice for Kate Walker (Sharon Mann) is by far the best, while many other voices don’t seem to match the characters, especially Mr Steiner the Clockmaker (who sounds like a bank clerk than a grizzled artist) and Olga the evil doctor (who sounds 30 years younger than she looks).  They sound so much more in character in the french voiceover.

The characters are what you would expect from the series.  With the exception of Kate herself, many are there for a short time.  Full of character?  Yes.  But their time in-game doesn’t always last, as the story likes to progress rather quickly (depending on how good you are at this sort of game).  During their short stints, you basically know who they are in their appearance, the environment and their dialogue by the end of it.  Which, to be honest, can take great skill.  Enjoyable, and 1 of the better aspects of the game.

The Story’s actually very good when you’ve been following the rest of the series and manages to maintain a consistency.  It’s like the series has been able to continue without much time gone past.  It’s colourful, funny, and full of twists and turns to the point of finding its 1 problem after another as an amusing wink to the audience.

The music by Inon Zur is 1 of the best parts of the game.  A mixture of Tribal music, chanting, wooden instruments, brass and some strings, it manages to provide an oddly magical sound to the game that would have otherwise suffered without it.  You feel the adventure, the mystery, the danger (in a quirky, theatrical way), the struggle, the sadness, the longing, and the hope, which are just some things I love about it.    Even when the game’s over, I’ll be sticking this on for some ambience or pondering.  Really, really great stuff!

Would I recommend Syberia 3?  Maybe.  It depends.  As a whole, and within context of the times in which it came out, it’s safe to say that Syberia 3 is not as good as its previous chapters.  It struggles to make any impact on the modern market, the attempts to give back to fans have possibly been thrown back at them (with their broken statues in £100 premium editions) and at times it feels like the world has very much moved on without it.  It’s the little fishing boat chasing the large cruise liner containing the Triple-A developers.  As someone who creates things without “going through the system” – I actually feel for this game and its developers.  It’s created by people who tried, and wanted it to succeed.  They had hopes of it doing well and putting the franchise back on the map, and it ended up being disappointing, even when I was willing to accept all of the things that they would have been ashamed of themselves (which was usually in the animation department more than anything else).  Fair play to them, they managed to get the game out there after 13 years with some wonderful qualities to it.  But the whole thing feels bittersweet.  If they release Syberia 4, I’ll be ready for it.  Whether it’s an actual game or a Comic-book-continuation that’s similar to how Buffy, Angel and Firefly are still going in comic form, even when the show has finished or been cancelled.  Either way, as someone who enjoys Sokal’s work, may this story keep going somehow.

Art Style: *****

Graphics: **3/4

Gameplay Animation: *1/4

Cutscene animation: ***1/2

Gameplay: **3/4

Voice Acting: **1/2 (**** in French)

Characters: ****1/4

Story: ****

Music: *****

Overall: ***1/2

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016) Video Game Review

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Right, we’re now on the last game of the Nathan Drake series known as Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End.  What is entailed when it’s called a thief’s end?  So much is left up for interpretation.  But that’s for you to witness.  So here we go.

Our story starts with Nathan Drake on a boat in the middle of the ocean with another man by the name of Sam.  The sea is incredibly rough due to a huge storm, and they are being chased by a huge militia.  Their boat is basically destroyed.  Several flashbacks happen to provide us with some more backstory to Nathan, including his time at the Catholic Orphanage and his time in prison in the late 90s.  We then see where Nate is, several years after the events of Uncharted 3 – He’s now retired from adventure and living an honest life working as a diver for a Marine Salvaging company.  He’s back with Elena, and their life is nice…but a bit boring for them.  However a job offered to Nathan in Malaysia seems to provide him with some excitement…His life then changes when Sam – his older brother, whom he thought dead, has returned with a request. He broke out of jail with the help of a ruthless man, who wants a huge payout from Sam in exchange for his life, through treasure.  The treasure?  Henry Avery’s $400 million fortune from the 1695 gun heist – a huge stash that has allured the brother since they were teenagers.  Reluctant at first, then giving into temptation – Nathan lies to Elena, saying he is taking the job in Malaysia – and with the help of Sully, they head to Italy to retrieve their first clue – the St Dismas Cross (a wooden idol of the thief to whom Jesus Christ said “On this day you’ll be with me in paradise”).

Now to venture into the details:

The graphics…The graphics are absolutely amazing, as it not only surpassed what The Last Of Us had accomplished, but it managed to be easily 1 of the best looking games on the PS4.  Much like the original trilogy was on the PS3 (before it was remastered on the PS4), it flows at the cinematic frame rate of 30 frames per second (The trilogy flows at 60FPS on the PS4) which provides a nice touch…and when you consider the size and detail of the game…maybe it’s for the best at this time, unless the Playstation 5 offered a 60 frames version.

The art style is absolutely inspired!  So much variety in the scenery, so much to look at.  A truly organic looking game.  I really went all out with the game’s Photo Mode.  Adoring everything that was presented to me, and almost wishing it was real.

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This view…

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This inside joke…

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This mood…

The gameplay…if you didn’t think they could have upped the gameplay from Uncharted 2, you’re in for a surprise.  Along with Nate’s melee attacks being improved yet again, We’re also given new ways of attacking and getting around.  You now have the option of driving, whether it be by boat or by jeep (rather than just being the gunman all the time), the ability to take out hordes of soldiers using only stealth (much like Metal Gear games), and of course…the grappling hook.  Which adds more to the puzzle aspects of the exploration.  I had an incredible amount of fun with this, and didn’t feel any boredom from it.

The music for the first time in the series’ history is not done by Greg Edmundson, but rather Henry Jackman, whose CV includes Kingsmen: The Secret Service, Big Hero 6 and both Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Civil War.  To be very clear, this doesn’t stop the game from having a highly memorable score in its own right.  By not having its original theme song, it instantly suggests a change in direction or simply something new…and that something new is from being played on the next generation system.

Uncharted 4 has a bittersweetness to it when you consider that Amy Hennig, the Director and 1 of the 3 writers of the original trilogy, wasn’t involved in this game.  However, despite her absence, the story is excellent.  Really excellent in fact.  If you’ve journeyed with these characters before, then you’ll notice that this is the series’ storytelling at its most advance and well polished.  While The Golden Abyss was full of one-upmanship in dialogue – Uncharted 4 managed to make this game absolutely hilarious.  The banter between all of them, not just Nate, Sully and Sam, is fantastic.  It remembers the importance of fun, but at the same time it manages to avoid some cliches.  This game is also where you see Nate and Elena’s relationship at its most mature, as it is here we see Elena’s greatest acceptance of who Nate is and what he does, as well as Nate’s feeling that he really has something to lose.  The main villains, Rafe Adler and Nadine Ross, would in their own right be pretty scary.  Rafe is a smirking, selfish, millionaire psychopath who reminds me of pro wrestler Mike “The Miz” Mizanin, while Nadine, a paramilitary leader, is more or less a South African Melina May – You don’t get into a fist fight with her.

Would I recommend Uncharted 4?  Yes – if you’re a human being.  Uncharted 4 took what made every instalment before it great, and created what is likely the best possible outcome.  It’s refined, yet with more to see and do.  It’s possibly 1 of the funniest games I’ve ever played.  So full of life and intrigue.  If this is the last time we ever play as Nathan Drake, I don’t mind, because it might never be topped.  An absolute pleasure of a video game.

Graphics: *****

Art Style: *****

Voice Acting: *****

Characters: *****

Story: *****

Music: *****

Gameplay: *****

Overall: *****

Syberia 2 (2004/2015) Video Game Review

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We return to Syberia!  Or lets just say, our journey towards the title land continues.  If you haven’t played Syberia 1 yet, then don’t read this, as I’ll probably be spoiling some of the previous instalment.  To commemorate the recent release of Syberia 3 after 13 years of waiting, here is Syberia 2.

We begin our journey right where we left off in Syberia 1 – After deciding she wanted to help Hans Vorelberg find Syberia Island, rather than give Hans’ signed contract to pass the deed of the automaton factory to another toy company through her bosses in New York – Kate Walker continues her journey at the cost of going home to her family, friends and work.  Meanwhile, Kate’s Law Firm has sent Private Detective Nick Cantin to search for Kate and bring her home.  The Automaton Train makes a last stop in the last piece of civilisation in the area, Romansbourg.  A very small town that’s divided in 2 – On top is the higher level, for those who look down on everyone, and on the ground floor is everybody else.  Those who live in the higher levels include the Station Master and the monks in the monastery.  On the ground floor are civilians trying to get by…even to the point of craftiness and selfishness.  With Hans’ health being an issue and Oscar showing more humanity despite telling everyone he’s only designed for a particular purpose, Kate does all she can to make it to the end of the journey, and not only see if Syberia is real, but if Mammoths actually exist…Because what adventure doesn’t have hiccups?

Now to discuss details:

The art style is as good as ever, and some adjustments have been made here and there.  The grainy but quirky backdrops have been replaced with a smoother, more painterly style.  However there is a lot more snow in this game compared to last time, so that could be easily done.  The character designs and the towns are very interesting and full of life, despite how little time some of them have on screen.

The graphics are roughly the same as before – occasionally better and occasionally worse.  Much like Syberia 1 it’s very rough around the edges and clunky, with fixed backgrounds.  Occasionally it snows and there are more character animations.  But 1 or 2 animations are…not great.  One in particular comes from Kate walking up to the Monastery – There’s a bird that flies away in our direction when Kate comes into scene.  It’s a great idea.  But if Kate is running, she will actually overlap the bird!…It was never destined to look like a Naughty Dog game, even in 2004.  But rather it’s a platform for some great imagination, art and storytelling.

The gameplay animation, believe it or not, is a little worse.  This was never a strong point in the series, but dear goodness it didn’t do well here.

The cutscene animation is an improvement, with some very nicely presented cut scenes, including the Cabaret Scene, the Escape and the screen were Kate basically flies.  For 2004, they were nicely done and occasionally reminding me of Final Fantasy 8 and 9 cutscenes for the PS1 (which were designed as PS2 graphics prototype presentations).

The gameplay is around the same.  Excellent puzzles, much exploration and some tight spots that could occasionally make you feel lost.  My advice is to go everywhere and touch everything..and use your head.

The Voice Acting, depending on whether you’re playing this in english or not, is slightly worse, despite how cartoony they’re meant to be with some characters being particularly annoying.  Kate and Oscar are fine, but the ‘villains’ are a bit weird…as are the Youkol (yes, you finally meet the Youkol mentioned in Syberia 1)

The Characters serve a greater range, and even have a more long-term villain to act as a Maguffin for Kate.  I like that both Kate and Oscar are developed more, with Kate being more sarcastic and annoyed than before, as well as Oscar…I guess everyone gets to that point while on an adventure.

The story maintains the same feel as the original, but it’s also a different story altogether.  Before it was about searching for Hans Voralberg and now it’s about getting Hans to Syberia.  The roles of the train, Ivory Dealers, Bear, the Chasing Detective and Hans’ health also add a nice sense of urgency to the journey.

The music is by a different composer this time – instead of being by Dimitri Bodiansky and Nicolas Varley, it’s by Israeli-American Inon Zur.  It maintains the same charm and character as the previous chapter, but at the same time the influences used make it clear that you’re no longer in Europe and very much in Russia from here on out.  It borrows a bit from traditional Russian music, as well as Eastern Orthodoxy chants and Tribal music.  There is also a part of the game where the theme reminded me of Edward Scissorhands…which was interesting.

Would I recommend Syberia 2?  Yes I would.  It’s roughly as good as the first 1 and is a continuation of the story for those who want to know what happened after last time.  If you became a fan of the series through the first 1, then you’ll be happy to know you’re not going to be disappointed with this 1, all while maintaining its charm and good points.

Art Style: *****

Graphics: **1/2 (****1/4 in 2002)

Gameplay Animation: *1/4

Cutscene animation: ****1/4

Gameplay: ****

Voice Acting: ***3/4

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****1/2

Overall: ***3/4 (2017) **** (2004)

Ghost In The Shell (2017) Movie Review

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Dear goodness…the amount of crap this film got while it was in production was staggering, and the amount of crap it’s getting now that its been released to the public hasn’t actually subsided.  “They’re whitewashing a Japanese story by casting an American in a Japanese role”  “It’s a hollywood movie – so of course they’re going to mess it up, since it’s something we love and they want to destroy it for profit!”  “How dare you… in general!”  But is it really as bad as they say? – lets find out.  Keeping in mind, I’m a Ghost In The Shell fan who enjoys the movies, TV show and Manga.  So here goes:

Set in the near future (around 2029, since the manga is a product of the late 1980s), our story revolves around Major Mira Killian (Major Motoko Kusanagi in the other stories and played by Scarlett Johansson), who awakens after what seems like the aftermath of a horrible accident involving a refugee boat.  She finds herself lying on a table.  Her body is that of completely augmented cybernetics – a robot body that resembles a human being is nearly every way.  The only ‘old’ thing about her, is her brain, hence her ghost.  Shortly after this, she is flung into working for the anti-terrorist organisation known as Section 9, which includes Chief Daisuke Aramaki (played by Takeshi Kitano from that kooky Japanese game show Takeshi’s Castle), ex-ranger Batou (played by Pilou Asbæk, aka Euron Greyloy in Game Of Thrones), full-human detective Togusa (Chin Han), behind-the-scenes guy and tech specialist Ishikawa (Lasarus Ratuere) and the sniper Saito (Yutaka Izumihara).  When a hacker is using other augmented cybernetic beings to kill off key figures at a Hanka Business Conference, it’s up to Section 9 to find out who this hacker is, and to stop him.

Now to talk about various factors:

First of all, the main 1s that people complained about – the casting, acting and characters.  They complained about whitewashing the film…even though it’s a multinational cast.  You have a Jewish American, American, Japanese, Danish, French, Chinese-Singaporean, British varieties, Fiji-Australian, Romanian and Canadian, among others.  To suggest any racism involved is complete madness!  Consider the possibility of them trying to please the culturally sensitive…and Ladriya?  Ladriya is new!  She’s played by a Kurdish-Pole from London named Danusia Samal, and why is she there?  Because in the source material the Major stands out by being the only female in Section 9.  You want a strong independent woman?  The Major in the anime and manga could beat up the rest of Section 9 with the possible exception of Batou.  They added a 2nd female to the team to avoid accusations of male-dominated workplaces in movies.  It also needs to be considered that there are justifications to such choices throughout the flick.  One of which would be a spoiler.  Another is to recognise a very subtle possibility, which is immigration.  The prospect of Non-Japanese people living and working in Japan.  It’s already happening.  What if some politician decides to open the borders, UK and US style, in Japan in the future?  It’s unlikely.  But consider everything.  It is a seemingly unwritten future doomed to repeat itself after all…then you take the narrative of Ghost In The Shell to thought – The Ghost In The Shell universe saw World War 3 from 2000 to 2015, the second Vietnam war from 2015 to 2024 and the second Korean war which takes place in 2024…That can merit immigration to some.  Was the acting world-class?  No.  But it worked fine and nobody was bad, even though Kaori Momoi would probably have been more comfortable speaking Japanese rather than english…but then again she isn’t speaking to a Japanese character.  They did their jobs pretty well.  Nothing stood out as amazing acting, but nothing fell into Tommy Wiseau territory either.  The characters, when compared to their anime and manga roles, were mostly moved a bit out of the way to focus on the Major and occasionally Batou.  We forget that this mostly happened in the 1995 anime movie as well, but we love that movie and don’t question it, so we continue poking at the flaws of this 1.  Did they tell a different story that isn’t in the source and is different to the 1995 version?  Yes!  How Batou got his eyes is different (in fact, it’s given an origins to those who haven’t seen any other material) and how the Major came to being is different…It is its own film borrowing from excellent sources, like samples for every rap song you ever loved.

The CGI and graphics can be a little hit and miss.  Where it works well, it’s fantastic, and where it doesn’t work as well, it’s pretty obvious…believe it or not, the presentation of traffic is pretty bad.  But the presentation of the Major’s building blocks and action scenes were really good.

The art style and decisions borrow a great deal from Cyberpunk and particularly from the legendary film Bladerunner.  People can argue that it “doesn’t cover much new ground”, but I say it’s a welcome return to some charismatic and likeable settings.  I miss good looking cyberpunk, and I’m happy to see it return in some way.  You’ll notice a lot of interesting choices, from ’90s haircuts to smoking to heroin chics to Hologram advertising to dark passages and night clubs…it has character.

The music is done by Clint Mansell, the english composer who has done every Darren Aronofsky film (and is famous for his composition Lux Aeterna) – he provides an excellent soundtrack that is pure cyberpunk and very 80s (in a good way).  At the same time, he manages to take Kenji Kawai’s score from the 1995 Ghost In The Shell and both faithfully and respectfully reintroduce it to the public with remixed elements.  The music helped make this film feel like a classic cyberpunk film…something I’ve hoped to see in a while.

The Story is easier to digest than its anime original and the manga, and for good reason, 1. It’s Hollywood, and 2. The Manga is chaotic with a lot of fine print about technology and engineering.  You’ll find the movie scattered here and there throughout the pages of what is a very episodic read.  Is it bad?  No, in fact it’s quite a tight film in its own right if you treat it as an interpretation of the series rather than a piece of the puzzle.  “The film was humourless” some people have said – well, the 1995 film was mostly humourless as well.  The manga and the Stand Alone Complex TV series are where you’ll find most of the humour injected into the characters.  Then there are the other films – 1 thing that wasn’t covered in this film that was in the 1995 version was sexuality and gender identity, as the Major’s body is designed as a mechanical replication of a woman, rather than 1 that has everything from before, including being capable of reproduction (If this is the future of the human race or man’s forced attempt at evolution, this factor is to be considered).  Here it was all about Major’s identity and questioning her own humanity, and sometimes that’s fine.

The Cinematography was done by Jess Hall, whose work includes Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz…And he did phenomenal work!  He stated that he wanted to pay homage to the anime through both his choice of camera (wide-angle with no lens distortion) and his choice of perspective.  While it’s a loose interpretation of the 1995 film with many differences, he managed to faithfully remake in live action some of the ’95 film’s most famous scenes, including the Major’s development, the shallow water fight scene, the rooftop scene and the boat scene, to name a few.  The lighting was well chosen, as was the colour grading.

Would I recommend Ghost In The Shell, the 2017 whitewashed hollywood-bastardised monstrosity that deserves to die 1000 deaths film?  Yes.  Yes because I know you’re a much more intelligent person than you’re letting on.  Yes because the madness of crowds is exactly what it is – a big pile of temporary fluff that comes and goes like fog.  Useless.  Boring.  Dying.  It is up to us to decide if we like this or not by seeing it.  While it’s not as good as the Anime film, or even other Ghost In The Shell related outlets…I see it to be a good starting point into the series (some even consider this an old persons series now…like Power Rangers, Transformers and Chips), and after that starting point you’re free to call it the worst of the bunch.  But in my opinion, it didn’t deserve all of the crap it got or the low ratings.  It is what it is, an easy-to-digest sci-fi movie that chose not to be overly complicated.  It’s also porn for a visual artist, especially in its photography, music and design.  I loved looking at it, so even during some of the different story elements, my eyes got a feast.

Graphics: ***3/4 (***** in places and **1/2 in others)

Art: *****

Acting: ***

Characters: *** (**** in ’95 and ***** in Stand Alone Complex and other movies)

Music: ****1/2

Story: ***1/4

Cinematography: *****

Overall: ****

Wrestlemania 33 Review (Spoiler Free)

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Movies, Video Games, Theatre…and now wrestling.  Or could it fall into the category of Theatre?  Either way, here’s my spoiler free review of both the Wrestlemania Pre-Show and the main show itself:

1. Neville vs Austin Aries for the WWE Cruiserweight Title:

This was a good match – I would have preferred it on the main card, but chances are, not enough people are watching 205 Live, and I can understand that…but you should, because it’s starting to get better.  They put on a 19 minute match that would have made an excellent TV Main Event, and Austin Aries even pulls out an old favourite from his past repertoire.  ***3/4

2. The Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal

This was the first chaotic match of the night and is effectively the equivalent of the opening match Battle Royal that New Japan has at Wrestling Kingdom on January 4th, only here there’s a big gold trophy that resembles Fezzik from The Princess Bride at the end.  The match had many wrestlers worthy of their own matches on the card, including the Smackdown Tag Team Champions the Usos, American Alpha, Dolph Ziggler, Sami Zayn and Luke Harper.  It also features the Wrestlemania debut of the Northern Irish Wrestler Killian Dain, who is currently being built as a monster heel in NXT as part of the stable Sanity, as well as the Wrestlemania debut of the 22 year old Rookie from China, Tian Bing.  The winner made me go “huh?  Really?”  But in general, it exists to get folk on the show and give them a bonus in their pay-checks.  *

3. Dean Ambrose vs Baron Corbin for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

Once again this felt like an okay TV Match between the 2, with some good moves executed by both men.  Little stood out, but hey, the IC Belt was defended at Wrestlemania.  **1/4

Now onto the Main Show:

The New Day are hosting.  Last year they came out dressed as Dragonball Z Characters and this year their theme was Final Fantasy (Because they’re nerds and this show is sponsored by Final Fantasy 14) – they did a good job in getting he crowd wakened up again.

4. AJ Styles vs Shane McMahon

What an excellent way to open the show!  And what a great way to show off what Shane has learned from 1 of the newest hobbies; MMA.  This match comes across as AJ Styles showing us why he should have been much further up the card and in the WWE Title match between Orton and Wyatt.  After his lack of direction in his final years in TNA Wrestling and his renaissance in New Japan Pro Wrestling followed by his WWE Debut last year (1 of the best 1st years WWE has had since Kurt Angle), it’s safe to say that Styles has a lot that he still wants to prove, and why not prove it by putting on the match of the night against the son of your boss, who is 46 years old and still a bit mental.  The match was just over 20 minutes, but it deserved each 1.  The spots were excellent, and included some very pleasant surprises.  Thoroughly enjoyed it.  ****1/4

5. Kevin Owens vs Chris Jericho for the WWE United States Championship

This is 1 of those matches that doesn’t stand quite as well without its story beforehand.  Throughout 2016 and up to this point, Chris Jericho (who, like Shane McMahon, is also 46) has had an excellent year which includes some good 4-star matches to his already legendary name.  Throughout this time he wrestled more often as part of a tag team. His partner?  The then WWE Universal Champion Kevin Owens.  Kevin Owens is 32, and when he was growing up, 1 of his favourite wrestlers was Chris Jericho.  Their duo was easily the most entertaining part of RAW for most of the year.  During which, Jericho captured the US Championship from Roman Reigns with the help of Owens in a Handicap match.  Then Jericho goes too far with the absolutely fabulous segment known as “The Festival Of Friendship”, where Jericho expresses to Owens his undying bromance with his favourite guy in the whole world…Only for Owens to turn on him like a fan who sees his Hero become something he hates (Think “The Incredibles”).  Later on, Jericho interferes with Owens’ match against Goldberg at WWE Fastlane, leading to Owens losing his title in 22 seconds and pressing on to this match.  It was a classic Hero vs Fan story on paper, and while it was a good match in itself, it was like watching a good main event on RAW.  ***1/2

6. Bayley vs Charlotte vs Nia Jax vs Sasha Banks for the WWE Raw Women’s Title

This match was under Elimination rules and ended up being well told.  You don’t have to guess who the faces and heels are in this match, and in terms of eliminations, much of the booking made a lot of sense.  It also has some pretty pleasant surprises.  Though it was just under 13 minutes long, the match felt short, which is what happens when you remember them wrestling for 20 to 30 minutes on NXT back in 2015.  I enjoyed it, but I felt it could have lasted 5 more minutes to make it that extra bit special.  ***3/4

7. Big Cass and Enzo Amore vs Cesaro and Sheamus vs The Club vs ??? in a Fatal Four Way Ladder Match for the WWE RAW Tag Team Title

New Day came out after everybody entered the ring to announce that this match went from a 3-way tag to a 4 way at the last minute – and oh how excellent that was!  A particular team of legend returned, and the crowd went absolutely nuts!  The match itself was excellent fun, but also about 5-10 minutes too short.  It was an action movie of a match with few pauses and something going on all the time.  The secret team haven’t missed a beat, and the new chants they created on the Indies rang throughout the arena. Really enjoyed this, and definitely woke me up after the last 2 matches didn’t rank with AJ/Shane.  ****

8. John Cena and Nikki Bella vs The Miz and Maryse in a mixed tag match.

The only people who would get anything out of this match are people who watch Total Divas.  However it wasn’t a bad match for what it is.  The Miz was actually very over with the crowd – but within the context that John Cena is used to having “Cena Sucks” chants, while The Miz has actually gotten really, really good over the last year.  You would think he finally hit his prime at 36, that’s how much of a smack it was.  Kind of surreal.  It was all very usual, and the post-match was a very sweet moment.  *1/2

9. Seth Rollins vs Triple H w/Stephanie McMahon in a Non-Sanctioned Match

At Summerslam 2002, Triple H wrestled this style of match against a then uncertain-if-he-wants-to-return-to-wrestling Shawn Michaels in what was a show stealing match that amazed fans who saw it either live or the next day.  However, the circumstances between this match and that 1 are quite different.  While Michaels was contemplating on returning after being out with a back injury from 4 years prior – Seth Rollins was only just about cleared to wrestle this match after an in-ring accident with the then-debuting Samoa Joe accidentally aggravated the very knee that not only put him out of action for 6 months, but also stripped him of the WWE Title, his match at Wrestlemania 32, and put him out for 2 months this year.  Desperate to make it happen, they turned this into a Non-Sanctioned match, and since it was a grunge match involving the Boss of NXT vs the 1st NXT Champion (who he built up to be a star and eventual WWE Champion), it seemingly wrote itself.  It was very story-driven with Rollins relegating his most dangerous moves to spots and even selling the knee during pivotal moments.  While the match went on for 25 minutes (Which, to be fair, could have been shorter and given to the 2 matches before this), it was still well done despite Rollins actually being in questionable condition.  Triple H was in excellent shape for 47 – like a bald, big-bearded version of his 2002 self and slowly turning into the Heihachi Mishima of WWE…or Kratos today.  It’s clear that at 100%, Rollins would have hit this match out of the park and put on at least 4.25 stars- but he did well despite his setbacks.  ***3/4

10. Randy Orton vs Bray Wyatt for the WWE Title

10. It’s hard to believe that once again the WWE Title isn’t the last match on the card – but when you consider who’s in the match, you can almost understand.  After 3 years of waiting, Bray Wyatt finally won his first WWE Championship back in February when he defeated 5 other wrestlers in the Elimination Chamber match, including AJ Styles, John Cena and Dean Ambrose.  At the Royal Rumble, Randy Orton defeated 29 other wrestlers to become the number 1 contender for any world title when he eliminated Roman Reigns last.  They had a story of “will he or won’t he” since Orton was part of the Wyatt Family when they were both scheduled to face other at this event.  But eventually they did when Orton burned down the house of Wyatt’s unseen mentor Sister Abigail.  The match was… good…boring, but good, if not a bit short (10 minutes).  There was some gimmick-nonsense involving huge, blown-up videos of maggots, worms and cockroaches appearing on the ring’s mat in order to “psychologically disturb Orton because Bray’s a psycho” – but other than that quite typical, but also quite anti-climatic.  ***

11. Brock Lesnar (w/ Paul Heyman) vs Bill Goldberg for the WWE Universal Title

People were actually scared of this match, or at least they weren’t necessarily looking forward to it…because this is their third match…and anybody who witnessed the other 2 can tell you a lot about what was going through their heads before either man stepped into the ring.  Their 1st match was at Wrestlemania 20 in 2004 – both men were leaving the company, the crowd didn’t get into the match, and it ended up being a 14 minute pile of dull, and more dull.  It was by far the most disappointing match, possibly in Wrestlemania history.  Fast forward to today, and Paul Heyman actually told a fantastic story about this feud.  That Goldberg is the heroic Knight, and Brock Lesnar is the beast he had to slay.  After the Knight beat the monster, he rode off into the sunset.  But the beast didn’t…instead the beast went to UFC and became an even more dangerous wrestler than ever before.  The Knight then returned after 12 years away, and showed the Beast that he “still had it in him”, by beating the Beast just over 1 minute.  Now it’s the third match.  This…is the best possible Brock Lesnar vs Goldberg match.  By far!  It lasted less than 5 minutes…and that’s exactly what it it needed to be.  The 50 year old Goldberg doesn’t do military slams anymore – it’s all about the spear and the Jackhammer.  Brock Lesnar is almost entirely about 2 things – german suplexes and F-5s…and that’s all they did…and it worked!  It was the best match they could have ever had against each other – no real rest holds, just 2 guys trying to get the pin early.  It was the match they should have had 13 years ago, but that’s okay.  They did it.  It’s settled.  We can now say they had a decent match.  Not quite Shibata vs Ishii.  But still good.  ***

12. The WWE Smackdown Women’s Title Six Pack Challenge, featuring Alexa Bliss, Becky Lynch, Carmella, Mickie James, Naomi and Natalya

This was the second chaotic match on the card, and despite to its position, it doesn’t mean it’s as highly ranked as the 2 world titles – instead it’s a bathroom break before the main event.  There was little to no structure in this match when compared to the RAW Women’s title earlier on, and the only memorable thing about it was probably the winner.  DUD

13. Roman Reigns vs The Undertaker.

This didn’t feel like it lasted 23 minutes…or at least I don’t think so, as I was running on yoghurt, bread, cheese and lots of water (forgot to buy energy drinks before the show and kettles are noisy at 5AM in a full house) – but anyway, here we are again, the 3rd Wrestlemania in a row were Roman Reigns is in the main event.  First he challenged for the WWE title, then he challenged for the WWE title again, and now he’s going after the unofficial wrestlemania title – which is to say that you had a match against The Undertaker at Wrestlemania.  Undertaker looked almost like his old self again with his hair all long and everything dyed black for the evening.  While he’s in vastly better shape compared to 3 years ago, it’s clear that age and injuries caught up on him long ago and it’s all borrowed time from here.  Either way, he managed to have quite a good match against Roman Reigns.  It was nowhere near the calibre of his matches against Triple H, Shawn Michaels or CM Punk – but it was still a fair match, despite its predictability.  The crowd was incredibly hostile towards Roman, and there was even a sign that said “Roman Reigns Is A Holocaust Denier”…I’m guessing some of us are trying to top the Wank-Pheasant sign this year.  The post-match was also incredibly memorable.  If you’re not sure about the match, at least watch what happened afterwards.  ***

In conclusion it was a good show.  The best matches were very good but not absolute classics.  A majority of them were above average and on par with good TV matches.  Some of them really brought my overall score down, whether it’s because they’re too short or boring or pointless or predictable in a bad taste sort of way.  The surprise entrants for the RAW Tag titles was the best part, Shane vs AJ was the best match, and compared to other Wrestlemanias, to say the least there have been much, much worse…more matches than a factory-full here.

Overall: **3/4

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (2011) Video Game Review

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We’re nearing an end here people…This is the second last Uncharted game that I’ll be covering for a while.  After this, it will be Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and when Uncharted: The Lost Legacy becomes available…well, you know the gist of it.

Released about a month or 2 after Uncharted 3 came out on the PS3, The Golden Abyss was 1 of the first games for the Playstation Vita, and 1 that stood out for utilising the Vita’s unique controls.  What’s our story?  Well, it’s a prequel to Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.  Before Nathan ever met Elena, Chloe, Charlie, Eddy Raja or Harry Flynn (or so it seems), he knew Jason Dante, a smart-mouth used-car salesman archetype who happens to be pretty rich and capable of hiring an army as part of his work as an explorer (He also reminds me of the actor Saverio Guerra).  The other is Marisa Chase, who happens to be Dante’s partner, but who also doesn’t trust him.  The game is set in some old ruins in Panama, where Chase is trying to retrace her Grandfather’s steps.  Her grandfather, Vincent Perez, had found an amulet that was connected to the site and could lead to treasure.  However it becomes clear that Dante was doing more than he let on, as he reveals his partner isn’t Chase, but rather the paranoid, power-hungry warlord known as Roberto Guerro.

Now to discuss what parts are golden and what are of the abyss…or somewhere in between:

First of all, the graphics.  This game is the definition of what it means to play a PS3 on a handheld console.  It is very, very impressive, even to this day.  We’ve come a long way from Game Boy Color.

The art style could be best determined as this:  This is a Handheld game, therefore to save space, it is sometimes better if you have less to look at.  In this case, it comes with the visual variety.  Part of the appeal to Uncharted games is that the setting and backgrounds are constantly changing, with many numerous scenarios that could act as “levels” (or Chapters).  We would be given the insides of houses, museums, city streets, ancient ruins, mansions, beaches, mountains, jungles, trains, airports, undergrounds, rain, snow, shine, day and night, from seemingly all over the globe, and they make each game very different due to the chosen locations.  What makes The Golden Abyss different to the rest of the series in this area is the fact that you get the jungle, ruins, rivers, the inside of storehouses, small villages, caves, and cutscenes of Chases’ museum-like home…and that’s it.  The other games are a wild goose chase around the globe, and feel as such.  Here, our characters know that any treasure they’re looking for is in this area, but it’s a matter of ‘where, right here’.  Some could even argue that this feels like it begins in the middle of an Uncharted game, but the fact that the 1st half or so is a flashback will say otherwise.  Is it still a pretty game?  Yes, and it looks fantastic on handheld.  But the lack of things to see  when compared to the rest of the series could make the game feel a bit long.

The characters in general are at least as good, if not better, than Uncharted 1.  But it’s not in league with 2, 3 and 4.  It’s nice to see more of Drake and Sully, but this feels like a filler episode for these characters.  If 1, 2 and 3 (and 4) were their big, big adventures, then this was 1 of their more typical heists.  Nathan and Sully’s banter was the highlight of the game’s dialogue.  Jason Dante is a good “pest/asshole villain” in the sense that you wouldn’t mind shutting him up and dislike his decision to wear endangered species on his feet.  Chase isn’t a bad female lead, and is very different to Elena and Chloe in the sense that what she is involved in is literally out of her league – Unlike Elena and Chloe, she has little experience in fighting, and is very much book-smart.  She can even come across as a bit naive and a daydreamer – at times walking the thin line of confident and stupid…Which can be argued as a quality of Nate – but Nate is a professional in the other necessary qualities.  Guerro is your typical paranoid, power hungry maniac who would be a dictator in a corrupt government on some island south of Florida or India who would plaster his image on every street corner, and fit in well as El Presidente in the Tropico game series.  Not much else to say about him.

The voice acting, despite the lack of pauses in dialogue, is actually very good.  The writer could be seen as to blame more so than the actors, but they went with what they were given and did very well with it.

The story is good, but at the same time an element of it feels…like fan fiction.  Amy Hennig, 1 of the 3 original writers, was the story consultant, but it was actually written by John Garvin, who is also the director of the game.  Nate and Sully are about 70-80% accurate when compared to the trilogy, and while banter plays a role in the series as a whole (aiding in the enjoyment factor), the banter in this game feels…forced.  Yes there’s sarcasm, tall tales, locker room jabs and deprecating humour, but here it felt like it was being thrown as fast as possible against a wall.  In ‘Fortune, ‘Thieves, ‘Deception (and ‘End…finished it recently), there is a delicate balance between the narrative dialogue and the character-developing chit-chat, but here the chit-chat is…fast…very fast.  There are few pauses in between lines and if their minds matched their mouths, they’re thinking as sharply as Doctors and improv comedians.  It doesn’t have the same weight as the main series in terms of danger, highs and lows.  But it’s a decent side-episode that follows (most) of the usual formula…minus the round-the-world chase.

The music is once again by Greg Edmundson, and most of it is recycled from the trilogy.  It’s still fantastic though.

The gameplay is good, and likes to utilise the various characteristics that the Vita brings, including the ability to either tap your jump by pressing your finger on the screen at where you want to go, or by simply using the analogue stick.  You’re also given the mini-games that include cleaning dirt off items by rotating it with the back of the vita and cleaning it by rubbing the Vita’s screen with your finger, as well as creating charcoal rubbings of the stone patterns.  You also have to swipe your finger across the screen in the right direction as part of a sequence in order to perform a successful melee attack.  Outside of simply exploring the areas and fighting the traditional way, much of these gameplay qualities come across as very gimmicky, and not necessary.

Would I recommend Uncharted: Golden Abyss?  Yes – but I don’t recommend it in the same way I would recommend the Uncharted trilogy.  Is it a good reason to get a Playstation Vita?  It’s 1 good reason – but Gravity Rush, Persona 4 Golden and several digital PSP games would make it much more worthwhile.  Is it a necessary part of the Uncharted Series?  I don’t think so.  But is it a good instalment to the Uncharted series for those who can’t get enough Uncharted?  Yes.

Graphics: ***** (For the Vita, **** in general)

Art Style: ****

Characters: ***1/4

Voice Acting: ****1/4

Gameplay: ***3/4

Story: ***

Music: *****

Overall: ****

Syberia (2002) Video Game Review

 

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In April 2017 (as of this review), after 13 years of waiting and 8 years of development hell, fans of the series finally get the third chapter to this story, and to celebrate 15 years since the release of the first chapter of the series on PC, I’ll be reviewing Syberia.

Created by Belgian comic book artist Benoit Sokal, Our story is set in the early months of 2002 and revolves around a young woman named Kate Walker.  Kate is a Lawyer from New York who is on a business trip to Valadilene, a remote village in the French Alps that’s best known for its Spring-Automaton Factory (as well as the frequent use of Automatons in the everyday life of the residents).  On the day that Kate arrives, the funeral of Anna Voralberg, the owner of the Automaton factory, was taking place.  As of her demise, a Toy Factory in America wants to buy the Voralberg business, which is why Kate is there – to try and get a signature, go home to her fiancé, Dan, and get a good pay day out of it.  However…not all is as it seemed.  It is then revealed in one of Anna’s last confessions that her younger brother, Hans Voralberg, who supposedly died decades ago, is in fact alive, well and far away, and is officially the sole heir of the factory.  Now the goal has gotten enormous – Kate must find Hans – a man whose father was ashamed of because of mental disability (from a fall that gave him a permanent mental outlook of a 12 year old)…but is also the man who invented incredible automatons everywhere he went and expressed his fetish for Mammoths on top of that.  This leads to Kate boarding what was Anna’s Automaton train (which Hans invented), and along with the Automaton Train Engineer, Oscar (Also a Hans invention), she travels east, possibly in the direction of Siberia, and stops along the way when she has to wind the train up again and gather clues of his whereabouts.

Now to discuss the various bits and pieces:

First of all, the Art Style of Syberia, and the imagination that went into it, is by far the show stealer of the entire game!  I absolutely adore this game’s world and its visuals.  Consider this; Steam Punk mixed with Art Nouveau!  It’s like a match made in heaven, and I love it!  I love the fancy, curved building styles, I love the University that has Dinosaur and Ice Age displays in their halls and a full blown Botanic garden as part of the train station.  I love the creepiness of the antagonist figure’s lair, as you can sense both the madness and loneliness of this individual.  I love the Spa Resort and its intense isolation…There isn’t a visually dull moment in this entire game

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Look at that office!

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And this entrance!

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And these houses!

The Graphics were good for their day, with Kate and Oscar being the best looking character sprites.  But today we see just how rough around the edges it is.  The characters still have their visual quirks present, but at time you’ll be reminded of Sprites that came out during the later PS1 period, more specifically, Final Fantasy VIII comes to mind in terms of occasional visual quality.  When compared to Deadly Premonition, at times, you might even suggest that they are on par in places…and those are 2 games that came out 8 years apart.

The Animation can be divided into 2 parts, the cutscenes and the in-game; the cutscene animation was really good for what was possible in 2002, and while it looks like a PS1 cutscene today, the actual visuals it presents are still mesmerising.  The gameplay animation on the other hand left a lot to be desired and is incredibly clunky, especially on the console version.  I wouldn’t call it laziness, it’s simply a lesser emphasis or a buffering transition, much like the charming but choppy Sherlock Holmes games that frogware are still making.

The Gameplay follows the formula of the Broken Sword series, and its quality sometimes depends on what platform you’re using.  As a point and click adventure game on the PC/Mac, it’s a pleasure.  But on a console level, you’ll find yourself running into a lot of invisible walls and tread-milling against furniture.  On top of this, I’ve experienced an interesting difficulty spike – 1 were out of the 4 areas you explore, the second 1 is by far the most difficult because the area comes across as so vast and you’re backtracking so much between different parts of the level.  But at the same time, it’s possible that by levels 3 and 4, the learning curve levels out a bit as you get good at the game and the unusual demands of some characters become a normal part of progress.

The Voice Acting is 2 or 3 parts good and 1 part bad.  Kate Walker, Oscar, the phone call characters, and some of the more memorable characters were well done.  The only complaint that could be made was the transitioning of the dialogue.  Other than that, it was great.  The worst voice acting?  Definitely the NPCs in the Barrockstadt.  The best is Kate herself.

The Characters could come straight out of a Jean Pierre Jeunet, Terry Gilliam or Wes Anderson film.  They’re incredibly quirky and “delightfully french”…or maybe delightfully Belgian if we’re treating Sokal like he’s Hercule Poirot.  Kate herself is a likeable character, and as the story progresses she becomes more and more sarcastic and accepting of the absurdity of her adventure.  Oscar has his C3PO moments, and part of the humour between him and Kate comes from him indicating that he isn’t designed for anything other than what he’s designed to do..and has moments of double standards.  Their relationship is very like Captain Kirk and Spock in Star Trek, which adds a nice touch.  It’s also intriguing how Kate grows while so far away from home.  Just by the phone calls from her fiancé, her co-worker, her boss and her mother, you learn a lot about her – and as it all progresses, you notice the dilemma she’s experiencing.  This 1 job is costing her home life, her relationships, and she might get fired, and at the same time she is experiencing an adventure that she didn’t think would be possible when she arrived in France…it’s pretty well executed.

The Story is that of the quest – Kate is searching for Hans after finding out that he’s alive, and is doing everything she can to finish her job (her skills as a lawyer make her a strong persuader and negotiator), which also leads her on a journey of personal discovery and development.  Throughout the trip, she experiences sacrifice – mostly in the form of her home life back in New York.  It brings up the question of whether you should take the personal decisions and accept the risks, or go through the motions of what others expect you to do (in this case, all the time).

The Music is wonderful, and memorable, and capable of setting the scene while having a whimsical aura about it.  I’m even listening to it now as I write this.

Would I recommend Syberia?…Yup!  It has its flaws, and it has aged in several different areas.  But there are other areas that make for a timeless experience, and since it’s set in 2002, we can argue that it’s more of a period piece that mixes realism with surrealism.  Highly recommended if you want something different, and also recommended if you want a very good adventure game.  Syberia 2 is proving to be as interesting and fun, so you’ll hear more about that soon.  So, if you have a PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS2, Xbox, Mac or Nintendo DS…consider a look.

Art Style: *****

Graphics: **1/2 (****1/4 in 2002)

Gameplay Animation: *1/2

Cutscene animation: ****

Gameplay: ****

Voice Acting: ****

Characters: ****1/2

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****1/2

Overall: ***3/4 (2017) **** (2002)