South Park: The Stick of Truth and The Fractured But Whole

I’ve decided to review both The Stick of Truth and The Fractured But Whole as I have very similar thoughts on them. In these role-playing games, you play as The New Kid, who has moved to South Park with his family. He then goes on adventures within South Park that start as innocent games with the kids of the neighborhood but quickly become involved in the sort of wackiness you’d expect from the South Park franchise.

If I had to say one thing, it’s that your enjoyment of these games will be measured by how much you enjoy South Park. I happen to really enjoy the show so therefore I enjoy both these games.

The two games effortlessly capture the feel of the show. Although the visuals aren’t going to be taxing on any hardware, they perfectly replicate South Park, with The Fractured But Whole having a bit more visual flair. Additionally, both games feature the same voice actors and songs from the show, plus the over the top, satirical and highly offensive humor audiences have come to expect from South Park.

I find The Stick of Truth to be the funnier of the two. Part of that has to do with the fact that it’s referencing older episodes of South Park, which I am more familiar with. The Stick of Truth also has much more relentless pacing compared to The Fractured But Whole. Finally, I found some of the running gags in The Fractured But Whole became a bit repetitive for their own good.

 

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It’s also worth noting that even though Australia now has an R18+ rating for games, the government still felt the need to censor The Stick of Truth.

 

The Fractured But Whole is the longer game, taking me 16 hours to complete compared to 7 hours it took me to beat The Stick of Truth (which was admittedly a fast playthrough that would have skipped a fair amount of sidequests.)

Both games have turned based combat, with The Stick of Truth having a Japanese RPG style whereas The Fractured But Whole has a turned based tactics system that plays out like a simplified version of X-COM or Jagged Alliance 2. This gives The Fractured But Whole a more in-depth combat system that really comes into play during boss fights, where the player must use different strategies to win. The Stick of Truth, on the other hand, is rather simple, where all the player has to do is spam their most powerful attacks to win. Then again, I’d argue some of The Fractured But Whole‘s balance is less than ideal, especially on the highest difficulty, which relies on reducing the player’s damage and increasing enemy’s damage output by ridiculous amounts.

In both games, you have to select between various classes. With The Stick of Truth, I feel this is rather pointless and I honestly never noticed the difference between any real differences between any of the three classes I’ve played.

Classes in The Fractured But Whole, however, plays a much more important role. Instead of choosing between one class, the player is given access to multiple skills from multiple classes as the game progresses. These skills also relate to different attributes, Brawn, Brains, and Spunk, which can be improved via artifacts and DNA strains, which replace weapons and armor from the previous game.

When not engaged in combat, the player will spend their time exploring the town of South Park. To search every part, one will have to use abilities that are unlocked as the game goes on. The Stick of Truth is more enjoyable in this aspect as the interactions are a lot quicker to perform. For some reason, the developers of The Fractured But Whole decided it’d be a great idea to bog down these interactions with an awkward interface and cutscenes.

Despite their flaws, I’d recommend both these games unless you despise South Park. I’d assume that’s a pretty small group of people considering both these games were published by Ubisoft.

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Good Time

Good Time is a thriller starring Robert Paterson as Connie, who after a botched robbery, must find a way to get his mentally handicapped brother Nick (Ben Safdie) out of police custody.

This movie may have a very simple premise, but its execution helps it stand out. Directors Josh and Ben Safdie do a great job of putting the viewer in the moment, effectively using close-up, hand-held camera work. Combined with the pulse-pounding synth soundtrack from Daniel Lopatin and bright neon lighting, Good Time makes for one hell of a rush.

This is also a gritty movie that does not hold any punches. Connie is the furthest thing from a good guy. Even his intention of helping his brother is arguably misguided. I can see some viewers being turned off by this, but I didn’t mind too much. The movie never tries to make him out as some sort of hero or thug with a heart of gold. That being said, I wish this movie did expand a little more on Connie’s motivations. The movie Victoria which has a similar style and pacing to me had a more likable protagonist who still makes some hard choices that fall into a moral grey area.

Robert Pattinson is fantastic in the role of Connie. He manages to juggle the character’s  panic and conman-like charm easily. The performances around him are also great, with Ben Safdie being the other stand out.

Overall Good Time isn’t exactly an easy recommend. It grabs the viewer by the throat at takes them on a wild ride with a character that is far from being a noble protagonist. It’s also a bit hard to sympathize with him during the events, but despite that, I found Good Time to be a good time.

If you enjoyed Good Time, I’d also recommend you check out the movie Collateral. This is another thriller that has a similar story and makes use of hand-held camera work. In my opinion, it is the superior film, with better characters and a more interesting story.

 

High Hell Review

High Hell is a first-person shooter developed by Terri Vellmann and Doseone. The objective is to burn through levels as fast as possible, by completing a set of objectives. These objectives range from collecting/destroying something or killing someone. Every five levels, a boss fight occurs. Additionally, you can find dolls, burn money and kill enemies to help max out your top score. Finally, you are racing against the clock to complete levels as fast as possible.

Visually the game is great, with its cell-shaded graphics. There’s also a level of silliness to the environments which is rather charming. That said I found the look to get repetitive, even with the game’s short runtime.

I also enjoyed the music. It’s the kind of electronica-dubstep stuff that I assume robotic people listen to in clubs as I stay home and play violent video games such as High Hell. It’s high energy and perfect for this game.

There’s just one problem: High Hell can be beaten under an hour in your first playthrough. The idea is that you’re supposed to play through over and over again, completing the game as fast as possible or getting a high score.

I’ve played through this game twice, and both times after beating it I just shrugged my shoulders and said: “Okay then.” I feel no need to play through it again and it’s a shame because I think this game is one element away from being brilliant. If the campaign had multiple paths that lead to different levels or needing to complete different objectives, it’d be so much more engaging. Failing that, a level editor or a random level generator of some sort would add so much more to this game and elevate it to something I could easily recommend.

It’s a shame too because the actual gameplay is solid. The AI is aggressive, and also duck to avoid your attacks. The player needs to keep moving and hit accurately to be successful. That said it’s very minimalist. The game only has one weapon and although I can understand the need for some simplicity, I feel a few additional elements would be nice. Something like a grenade that you can only use once per level would really add an extra layer to the game.

Unfortunately, the developers seem to feel that the game is completed. This game is one step away from being an indie gem, but as it is, it will only appeal to a niche audience. To be fair it’s priced right at $10 US but I could only recommend this if you’re a perfectionist.

 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Directed by Martin McDonagh (In Burges and Seven Psychopaths), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a dark comedy/drama that focuses on the small town of Ebbing, Missouri after the murder of Angela Hayes. Her mother, Mildred (Francis McDormand), takes it upon herself to place three billboards up to put pressure on the local police to make an arrest.

Although I personally didn’t love this movie, I can see why critics have given it rave reviews. This is a well-executed film that is politically incorrect in the best way possible. The story is engaging and most of the performances are brilliant.

Francis McDormand is truly amazing as Mildred Hayes, a seemingly unstoppable woman who’s not afraid to speak her mind. Woody Harrelson is also great as Sheriff Willoughby, and Sam Rockwell does a good job as the racist nitwit Deputy Dixon. That said Lucas Hedge as Mildred’s son, Robbie, was rather bad but he doesn’t have much screentime so he doesn’t distract too much.

One thing I did enjoy about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is that its characters are often crass, offensive, and downright horrible. Even the protagonist, Mildred, does things that will make the viewer angry. Despite its political incorrectness, the movie never goes to such a low that it feels like pure shock value.

What I didn’t like about the film was its humor. I personally have never been a fan of the awkward humor that was popularized by shows like The Office. That said I did laugh from time to time, but not as much as I think the movie wanted me to.

My other issue was a character that appears about 2/3rds into the movie. I don’t want to go into details in fear of spoilers, but I felt their presence was a little convenient. With all that said, these flaws are either relatively minor or just my own personal biases. I’d highly recommend checking Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri out if you get the chance.

The Nice Guys – Old School Perfection

The Nice Guys is a buddy-cop action-comedy directed by the legendary Shane Black, known for writing and/or directing movies such as Lethal Weapon 1 & 2, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, and Iron Man 3. In the film, down and out detective Holland March (Ryan Gosling) and thug for hire Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe) work together to search for a missing woman.

In an age where directors like Michael Bay and Zack Synder seem determined to fill action sequences with CGI monster/robot/superhero fights, it’s refreshing to see a movie that focuses more on its characters than it’s setpieces. That said, the action scenes are certainly a lot of fun. They’re also well edited without quick cuts or any shaky cam to give you motion sickness. Additionally, the characters involved in these sequences are ones the viewer will actually care about.

Although Russell Crowe is great as the rough and tough Jackson Healy, Ryan Gosling truly steals the show with his excellent portrayal of Holland March, a bumbling fool of a detective who can’t seem to get anything right. As a character, Holland March is certainly against cast compared to the more stoic roles Ryan plays in movies like Drive and Blade Runner: 2049, but it works perfectly. Angourine Rice is also great as Holly March, Holland’s curious and somewhat crude teenage daughter.

What helps these performances excel is the fantastic script, provided by Shane Black and Anthony Bagarozzi. Every protagonist has a clear motivation, and there’s never a moment they feel either too stupid or too smart. If I had one problem with the writing, it’d be the villains. Although serviceable, I do feel there was potential for an interesting dynamic for a certain villain due to their relationship with another character.

On top of an interesting investigation come many hilarious moments, often involving snappy dialog and fantastic visual gags. Despite this barrage of laughs, the humor never takes away from the gravity of what’s occurring in the movie. This can be a very delicate thing to balance in a crime comedy, and The Nice Guys pulls it off without issue.

Finally, the soundtrack is certainly appropriate for the time period. It also never becomes overbearing like Atomic Blonde did with its music.

It’s a shame The Nice Guys was a failure at the box office. This movie is the perfect counterweight to the endless barrage of comic book schlock and CGI nonsense that seems to populate action movies these days. If you’re looking for an entertaining flick, you cannot go wrong with The Nice Guys.

The Later Half of 2017

With the year coming to an end, I’ve decided to compile all the new releases I watched/played that were not mentioned in my post The First Half of 2017.

Movies:

I No Longer Feel At Home In This Word:

I didn’t even bother to review this one. As I watched this movie I just kept thinking of how much Super did a similar premise better. Watch Super instead. Super is love, Super is life.

Dunkirk:

With a fantastic score from Hans Zimmer, seemingly random bombings and artillery strikes and gritty camera work, Dunkirk, despite not being very violent, is an intense war movie that is well worth a watch. The only fault I have is the out of order editing that doesn’t really add anything to the movie.

Atomic Blonde:

A thriller with no tension, overbearing music, a boring story, and mostly bland characters. This type of MacGuffin plot has been done better so many times before. Director David Leitch can put together a good action scene, but everything else around said action falls flat. Ronin is a fantastic example of a similar premise in a spy film that does it so much better. Watch Ronin. Ronin is love, Ronin is life.

Marvel’s Defenders:

Although much better than the trainwreck that was Iron Fist, Defenders has done little to restore my faith in the Defenders series. The Hand organization is an unengaging antagonist and the Iron Fist still comes across as a whiny asshole. Despite that, the rest of the cast does a good job, and their respective series all still have potential.

Kingsman: The Golden Circle:

Another unnecessary sequel that tries to one-up the previous film, but just falls flat on its face. I’m honestly going to pretend that this one never happened and I’d advise you do the same.

The Wheelman:

Drive without the style. Locke without the good writing and amazing lead performance. Victoria without the whole movie being filmed in one take. Collateral without the brilliant main performances and awesome gunplay. Take your pick of movies with similar premises, and I ensure you The Wheelman will pale in comparison every time.

Blade Runner 2049:

It’s a little slow at times, but Blade Runner 2049 was a very engaging film with fantastic visuals. I enjoyed it more than the original, and it’s probably the only movie from 2017 I can’t wait to watch again. I’d highly recommend this one if you have the patience for it.

The Punisher (2017):

Despite the perfect casting of Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle, this series was a real dud in my opinion (which admittedly seems to be in the minority). The story was bland and by the numbers. The characters were unengaging and the action was uninspired. This type of ‘one soldier/ secret agent in a conspiracy’ premise has been done a thousand times before, and it’s been done much better. At least the Iron Fist wasn’t in it.

If you’re looking a good Netflix series based on the premise of a soldier in a conspiracy, I’d highly recommend you seek out Nobel instead.

BoJack Horseman Season 4:

A fantastic continuation of what is becoming one of my favorite shows. I feel Season 4 added a storyline that helps separate it from the previous three. With plenty of laughs and emotional moments, BoJack Horseman is an easy recommendation for me to make.

The Killer (2017):

To think that if this had been made a few years ago, I would’ve probably never of heard of it. It’s really cool that Netflix is bringing foreign films like this to a wider audience. The Killer isn’t perfect, but I found it rather entertaining despite the large amounts of CGI blood and somewhat odd pacing.

Longmire Season 7:

I didn’t review this season in fear of giving away too much of the previous seasons. That said I felt this was a solid ending to a show that’s a bit hit and miss. Like always the portrayal of Native-American issues has always been done with maturity and respect, without ever feeling like it’s trying to pander to a certain audience. I’d also say the lead performance by Robert Taylor is spot on. In fact, it’s so good I was surprised to learn he was from Australia. That said there times where people act irrationally to a level that goes beyond ‘dramatic license’, and some plotlines got a little too convoluted. I’d give a cautious recommend to Longmire if you’ve run out of shows to binge watch on Netflix.

Ozark Season 1:

Combining a constant sense of dread with superb performances, Ozark is certainly off to a good start. Although I had a few minor faults with some plot elements, none of it was too distracting to take away from my overall enjoyment.

Bright:

With a heavy-handed social message, unlikeable characters, and terrible writing, I found Bright to be an absolute chore to watch. There are some decent action scenes but that’s about it. There are plenty of better buddy cop films which may lack orcs, but make up for it in quality. Where’s director/writer Shane Black when you need him?

Castlevania (2017 Netflix Series):

This one almost missed the list because I completely forgot about it. That should say enough about how I felt about the show.

Games:

Pyre:

Whilst visually appealing with fantastic audio, Pyre‘s repetitive gameplay unfortunately holds it down.  That said I respect what they tried to do, and I can see this game clicking for certain people, just not me. I’d still recommend checking this one out just to experience it and form your own opinion.

Ruiner

Despite great visuals and a solid soundtrack, Ruiner had potential to be so much more. The story lacked depth despite the possibility for interesting themes, and the short length of the game did not compliment the high learning curve.

Battle Brothers:

I haven’t reviewed this game either, although I may do in the future. Battle Brothers is a turned-based tactics game where you manage a group of mercenaries in a medieval low-fantasy setting. Although I can’t say there’s anything outright wrong with the game, I found it to lack personality compared to games such as Jagged Alliance 2 and Silent Storm. I am also not a big fan of procedural generation which Battle Brothers relies heavily upon. Despite that, if you’re a fan of turned-based tactics games, there’s a good chance you will enjoy Battle Brothers and I’d still recommend it.

 

 

 

S̶u̶i̶c̶i̶d̶e̶ ̶S̶q̶u̶a̶d̶ ̶2̶ Bright Review

In a bold attempt to mash the Shadowrun franchise with buddy cop films such as Lethal Weapon and Theodore Rex, director David Ayer has created a film that follows in the style of his Oscar-winning movie Suicide Squad. With unlikable characters, painful and cliche dialog, hamfisted social commentary, and a bland soundtrack, Bright is sure to make you wish you’d spent two hours of your life doing anything else.

Bright is about two cops of the LAPD, Lt. Ward (Will Smith) and Jakoby (Joel Edgerton), who happens to be the first orc cop. Because social commentary, everybody is an absolute racist dick to Jakoby, even his partner. Honestly, I’ve never seen Will Smith so unlikable in a movie. He transcends being an anti-hero and is an absolute asshole, especially in the first third of the movie. They try and build the relationship between Ward and Jakoby, but it never feels earned. It doesn’t help that Jakoby isn’t particularly interesting either. You know you’re in trouble when the two leads in your buddy cop movie aren’t likable or interesting.

The two end up having to protect an elven girl, Tikka (Lucy Fry), who is a Bright, someone who can use magic wands. This puts them on the run from the cops, gangsters, and the evil elf who’s played by Noomi Rapace. The main villain’s motivations are boring ‘take over the world’ type nonsense that has been done one-thousand times before. I also found the story fairly predictable at times and overall I struggled to engage with the narrative.

The dialog in this movie is truly painful. If you took a shot for every pop culture reference, you’d die of alcohol poisoning. The same goes for poor attempts of humor. Buddy cop movies like Lethal Weapon, The Nice Guys or even David Ayer’s End of Watch are known for snappy, witty dialog that engages the viewer. As you can tell, I found Bright to have the opposite effect.

On top of this, there’s a huge theme of racism that is shoved down your throat right from the opening montage and throughout most of the movie. I respect racism is an important social issue but beating us over the head with ‘racism bad’ just feels insulting.

The soundtrack isn’t all that great either. Music is either hip-hop, heavy metal/punk or generic movie orchestral score that tries to elevate the importance of what’s going on. It could have been a lot worse, but it certainly didn’t add to the movie.

Some of the action was decent. I somewhat enjoyed the car chase that happens halfway through. There was also a lot of creative use of improvised weapons which I also liked. That said the action isn’t amazing, nor is it enough to save Bright from being painful to watch.

This is easily a contender for worst movie of the year for me. Just about everything failed to be interesting or even decent. I’d say David Ayer is a competent (although not brilliant) filmmaker but he needs to step away from these fantasy/comic book style movies and get back to the gritty crime-dramas people like him for (so long they’re not as bad as Sabotage).