Review

2016: The Year in Review, Part Three: Don’t Breathe to Rogue One

Disclaimer: the following post is physically and mentally challenging, and should under no circumstances be attempted if you have not read Parts One and Two first. Think of it like the end of the TV show Raven, where the kid has to walk along the path and dodge all the swinging axes and shit. Got that? I’ll be waiting here with the axes. You have been warned.

DON’T BREATHE, 13/09/2016

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Following Green Room earlier in the year, Don’t Breathe is another thriller that cranks up the tension so much that I was in physical discomfort throughout. In the film, a trio of house burglars break into the home of a blind, old man, hoping for an easy haul. Unfortunately things don’t go to plan, and they get more than they bargained for when said blind, old man turns out to be a hardened war veteran. Harbouring a dark secret, the certified badass proceeds to seal the intruders within the house and methodically hunt them down through hearing alone.

Long shots and painful usage of silence keep you at the edge of your seat with unrelenting suspense, and when that suspense is broken by intense panic and visceral violence, it’s like being jolted awake from one nightmare and into another. It’s intentionally hard work and unpleasant, but its craft is rather masterful, and if you want something to shake up your cold, dead heart, Don’t Breathe is one to watch. Just beware of the doggo – it’s no friendly little pupper, that’s for damn sure. (more…)

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2016: The Year in Review, Part Two: Hardcore Henry to Kubo and the Two Strings

Haven’t read Part One yet? If not, you don’t deserve to be here. This is like a private club for the people who have already read my first ten reviews, and let me tell you, there’s some absolute gold in there if I do say so myself. Want to join this club and have some super fun times with even more tippety-top reviews? Well get back there and read ’em, and come back a changed person. No need to thank me, I’m just that nice a guy.

HARDCORE HENRY, 10/04/2016

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Shot entirely from a POV perspective, Hardcore Henry may well be the most accurate video game movie to date, and there’s no license to be seen. Taking inspiration directly from the dumb first person shooters that anyone who’s ever held a controller has surely played, the film is like a non-stop 80-minute journey through action game tropes, such as:

– a conveniently silent protagonist
– a villain with questionable motives (and inexplicable telekinesis)
– a series of clearly defined levels
– gameplay tutorials
– objectives marked on a map
– NPC allies
– boss battles
– a turret section
– an escort quest
– a sniper level
– skill-enhancing, self-administered syringes just left lying around
– a final showdown capped off with a quick time event

Reveling in its loud and over-the-top stupidity, Hardcore Henry’s relentless pace and breathless action never once lost my interest. It’s often hilarious too, whether it be the sheer ludicrousness of it all, or the smattering of well-handled comedic moments (one involving a horse and the theme to The Magnificent Seven had me laughing for minutes). Sharlto Copley particularly is a comic revelation in the film, perfectly embodying the video game spirit in the role of super-soldier Henry’s body-swapping guide.

Like The Matrix crossed with Call of Duty, it’s crazy, exciting and tons of fun, and is self-aware enough that its narrative shortcomings can be forgiven. Hardcore Henry is a blast. (more…)

2016: The Year in Review, Part One: The Hateful Eight to Batman v Superman

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As many people will tell you, often, everywhere, all over the internet, all the time, 2016 has been a brutal year. We’ve lost many great actors, artists and musicians, we decided to fuck off out of the EU, and a bumbling, racist idiot has been put in charge of one of the world’s superpowers. It’s also been a year in which pretty much nothing has happened on this blog, and for that you can blame muggins here’s futile skirmishes with motivation (or, more appropriately, lack thereof).

It can’t all be bad though, right? Even when we’re in the shit, there’s always entertainment to keep us chipper… right? Until recently, the pervasive doom and gloom of the year had me thinking that 2016 has been kind of a dud for films. Now though, the more I think back on the films I’ve seen over the past 12 months, the more I realise how great some of them have been.

I’ve faced the pitchforks for defending two of the most hated releases of the year, found a modern horror film that actually scared me, and had the pleasure of watching what is, I fully believe, the best sci-fi since 2001: A Space Odyssey. Perhaps most significantly, it was at the beginning of this year that I fully discovered my love for the films of Studio Ghibli, and getting to see their latest on the big screen, as well as going on a Ghibli adventure of my own, are memories I will keep with me for a long time. How are those for teasers?

Lo and behold, it’s time for me to crawl out of hiding and commence my annual tradition of reviewing every film I’ve seen in a cinema from January to December. Writing over 30 reviews in one go is a mammoth undertaking, and once again I regret not starting this earlier as it can be incredibly hard to remember a mediocre film seen almost a whole year ago. No battle is easily won, of course, and I shall power on for all that remains good in the world. There will inevitably be sacrifices, mostly the time that I could be spending playing Overwatch or watching One Piece, but I will write for what is right, and become legend.

As King Theoden once said:

Arise! Arise, Riders of Theoden! Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered! A sword day… a red day… ‘ere the sun rises! Ride now! Ride now! Ride! Ride to ruin and the world’s ending! Death! Death! DEATH!

Forth, Eorlingas! (more…)

A Colossal Pain in the Neck

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When I sold my PlayStation 2, I sold a piece of my heart with it. Being neck deep in the Xbox 360 phenomenon at the time, and playing such great games as Lost Odyssey and Bioshock (the latter of which I never actually finished after a friend ‘kindly’ spoiled the twist for me), I didn’t think I would miss it. How wrong I was, for with the console also disappeared some of the first games I ever genuinely loved.

I can remember well the first time I was properly excited for a game. It must have been around 2002, when ten-year-old Tom was discovering the magic of gaming through his swanky new PS2. It was my first console, having only previously owned a trusty GameBoy Colour, and the effect it had on me could be likened to the Spanish discovering America. No, not the brutal pillaging of the native population, but the window into a whole new world of opportunities. That, and a demo disc featuring some game called Airblade, which I definitely gave more time than it probably deserved.

Anyway, demo discs were, as Super Hans says of crack cocaine, really moreish, and I soon started building up my collection of official PS2 mags. I would put hours upon hours into these little game snippets every month, playing demos for games like War of the Monsters religiously until I could fork out the pocket money to buy the actual game. Aside from the demos though, it was all about screenshots. In the ages before YouTube and video reviews, these little squares were portals into the games of tomorrow, teasing us to the point where we just had to see them in motion.

One day, I opened an issue and saw the coolest thing my little eyes had ever seen – Devil May Cry 2. I’d never played the first installment, but I became totally consumed with these images and counted down the days until the game’s release. When I finally played it, it was everything I ever hoped it could be and more, and it completely changed the way I felt about video games. After I rinsed it, I bought the original Devil May Cry and my first proper gaming obsession was born. Along with Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, it’s probably one of the main reasons I’m such a disgustingly massive nerd.

Post-DMC, images of another, more unusual game began to captivate me, and its eventual demo sold me on my next fixation. This was a title that changed my views on gaming in another, very different way, and is still one of my favourite games of all time. It was, of course, Team Ico’s majestic Shadow of the Colossus. (more…)

Quick Review: Titan Souls

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Ever wondered how Legolas felt as he slayed the Mûmakil, sliding down its trunk like Middle Earth’s Tony Hawk as it skidded to a halt? Well, the closest you can get to that is playing Acid Nerve’s minimalist arcade boss-rush game Titan Souls (PC, PS4). Shrouded in ambiguity and invoking 2005’s unforgettable Shadow of the Colossus, the game has you exploring a bleak fantasy landscape searching for great beings known as Titans, whom you must eliminate with a single arrow.

Titan Souls’ controls are easy to learn but hard to master. One button lets you roll and sprint, another looses your arrow and pulls it back towards you. Shooting and recalling your arrow requires you to stand still, so choosing the most opportune moments to do so becomes the crux of defeating the game’s 19 Titans. It’s up to you to find their weakness and deliver that one, deadly shot.

The player also goes down with a single hit, meaning you will die an awful lot. In fact, I died 328 times. It’s a mean challenge, but quick restarts encourage you to persist, studying each boss’ patterns and formulating plans. Learning and improvement are key; some foes can be killed within seconds with the right knowledge and skill. All this culminates in immense satisfaction when you finally defeat the Titan that’s been mugging you off for the past half hour.

Beautiful pixel art and music enhance the game’s spacious world, however, between offing Titans, there isn’t much to do in it besides some basic puzzles. It can be infuriating trying to locate remaining Titans and, as you trek across empty spaces, you’ll wish there was more to do. As a pure boss-fight experience though, Titan Souls has enough variation to keep you invested for its five hours, and a masochistic hard mode that will make even the toughest warriors weep.

Check out the game on Steam here.

The Horrors of (Star) War: A Day on the Battlefront

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“The force is strong in my family.

My father has it.

I have it.

My sister has it.

My dog has it.

My friend’s nan has it.

You have that power, too.”

– Luke Skywalker

I’m not the worst gamer. I know my way around the Souls series, I can face everything The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth throws at me and I’m a relatively competent Magic: the Gathering player (I should by all accounts be better, having played for upwards of twelve years). Though I rage quit Bit.Trip.Runner and gave up on Ocarina of Time’s infamous Water Temple, I’ve slaughtered Super Hexagon and made a lovely house on Animal Crossing.

What I really, really suck at however, is multiplayer competitive shooters.

With the somehow miraculous exception of the decent and free-to-play Ghost Recon: Phantoms, I have pretty much been awful at every competitive shooter I’ve tried. I always find myself getting killed in two shots by some fucker I didn’t see on the other side of the map, with seemingly nothing I could have done to prevent it. I have hardly known a kill streak, never opened a care package (whatever one of those is) and, really, never had a dandy time.

And so it was with some trepidation that I downloaded the beta for the forthcoming Star Wars Battlefront. The Star Wars licence and my nostalgic love for 2005’s excellent couch-based romp Star Wars: Battlefront II were enough to make me excited about the title, despite it firmly being the thing I suck at and, controversially, containing no single-player campaign. Who knows, maybe I’ll do ok… (more…)

Thor Blimey! 6 Reasons why Vikings is the Best Damn Thing on TV

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Hello.

I’ve been known to start these things with a witty comment about how long it’s been since I last posted here. Three months? Well, maybe I was off backpacking across Mongolia with the Turkic Khaganate, getting into all sorts of tussles with the Karluks and the Basmyls and the odd Mongolian death worm.

Six months? That can be easily written off as the time I completed the famed No Internet Challenge, a torturous yet ultimately worthwhile ordeal intended to test the mettle of even the strongest individuals of the Internet Age. During the challenge one must sit naked in a small, candlelit room with naught but a piece of paper and a single pencil for company and a steady stream of drip-fed grape pulp for sustenance. Some buckle within hours, madly scribbling outdated LOLcats and the words ‘top kek’ all over the parchment, using up all the space far too quickly and forfeiting due to the futility of it all. But not I. In handwriting only legible through a magnifying glass or by Ant-Man, I wrote a grand total of 1,821 Word of Tom blog posts. That’s 10.005 blog posts a day. Sadly these are now lost along with a small but not insignificant part of my mind (there comes a point where you really do need toilet paper), but I assure you it was a valuable experience nonetheless. [Wait, what do you mean I didn’t need to be naked..?]

With all that said, the nine months since my last post is pretty much unforgivable and for that I truly am sorry. Of course, I once again have an excuse, for during this three-quarters-of-a-year I have traveled to all of the major cities of the world (via Ryanair of course, I’m not made of money), not only to chronicle the price of eggs but also to sing the praises of a television show by the name of Vikings.

Beginning in 2013 and now three seasons in, Vikings was the first scripted drama to air on the TV channel History. The show tells the tale of legendary Viking ruler Ragnar Lothbrok and his hairy posse, from the frigid northern town of Kattegat to the brutal sacking of Lindisfarne monastery in 793 AD, to the shores of Wessex and beyond, merging real history and artistic license in the finest way possible.

To cut to the chase, the show is simply phenomenal, easily rivaling contemporary behemoths like Game of Thrones in terms of character, story and action. Some mugs say it even surpasses George R. R. R. R. R. Martin’s stab-stab-stab-athon. One of those mugs is me and, coming straight out of the stunning season 3 finale, I feel the need to tell you why. People like lists of things, so I’ll probably do that. It worked out ok for that German chap in the film. For the sake of keeping things fresh however, this definitely won’t be one of those cliche ‘Top 5’ lists. It will be the natural evolution of that system.

So, without further ado, here are my 6 Reasons why Vikings is the Best Damn Thing on TV.

And they all begin with ‘R’. For no reason. (more…)