Silent-Hal / Member

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Silent-Hal Blog

A Tale of Two Raptures

Bioshock 2 was something of a revelation for me. Prior to its release I'd viewed it with a certain amount of scorn. Sure, playing as a Big Daddy could be cool, but everything about it looked too similar. Too familiar. I felt that the sequel to such an important game as Bioshock should be similarly as original and groundbreaking. Well, I was wrong. Bioshock 2 is one such example where familiarity does not breed contempt, but rather that warm, comforting feeling you get from meeting an old friend.

While the game improves the core play in a number of key ways (better combat, more open level design, more varied minute to minute gameplay) it is with its story, however, that Bioshock 2 surprised me the most. Bioshock 1, at the time, felt like a very stand-alone tale that seemed to end in such a way that would make a follow-up difficult. So what did the developers do? They approached it from a different angle. With Andrew Ryan dead and the mysteries of Rapture now revealed to you, the focus has been shifted to putting more depth to one of Bioshock 1's most interesting histories: the bond between the Big Daddy and his Little Sister. This new focus gives the story the kind of emotional heart that the original could only dream of. While the story of Rapture seemed fairly closed at the end of Bioshock 1, now it feels remarkably open and full of possibilities. There's no big twist, no real mystery, just good old fashioned storytelling at its finest.

To Eleanor Lamb, Subject Delta is her Daddy, and he would move Heaven and Earth in order to be reunited with her. The game did a fantastic job of making me care about what happened to these characters. It especially hits home when you've been a good little Big Daddy, rescued the Little Sisters and received the good ending. I won't lie, I found it hard not to cry when I saw that ending for the first time. And if you harvested them, well, you're just a cold-hearted bastard, aren't you? :P

Is it a better story than the one Bioshock 1 had to tell? That's hard to say, and it really boils down to personal preference. The first game's plot was more bold, shocking and intelligent, looking at the nature of free will and Utopian ideals, while Bioshock 2 holds no such lofty pretences, opting for the deceptively simple, age old story of a father trying to find his missing daughter. Personally, I think I'd go with Bioshock 2, because it made me care. And in the end, that's what really matters.

I think Heavy Rain just dropped a bridge on me.

What the Hell? What. The. Hell? I knew this game'd have some shocking twists, but I'm honestly speechless. There are so many red herrings as to the true identity of the Origami Killer, but when the game comes along and actually reveals their identity, it's a complete shock. Just... what the ****, game? Though I was right about one thing...

[spoiler] That it'd be one of your playable characters the whole time. You just didn't know it yet. [/spoiler]

Anyway, I've finished it, and got a (reasonably) happy ending to boot. The choices were meaningful (for once), the story was excellent and it was really hard not to get attached to some of the characters. Not to mention the best use of QTEs in any game to date. They were used so effectively and to such dramatic effect, I just can't see this game giving as immersive an experience if it were all done using a more traditional control scheme.

If developers catch on, this really could change the direction of the adventure genre. I'd certainly like to play more "interactive dramas" if they're as good as this. Even if this does just end up being a one-off thing, it certainly changed my perception of just what a video-game can be. You've never played anything else like Heavy Rain, I can guarantee you that.

Unbelievable experience from start to finish. I can't wait to go through it all over again.

Horror Review: Saw VI

I'll admit it right now, I am a Saw fan. They may not be the best films ever, but they've been consistently enjoyable and generally gripping throughout the series rushed time-span. Over the years they've become less and less stand-alone and more like an annual horror serial, always ending on a neat twist and cliffhanger that provides anticipation for the next entry. It may seem like a cash cow to some, but I think it's an approach that works with the series' narrative $tyle.

The only real major misstep so far has been part V, which did little to further the plot (and even now part VI is out, it's "game" still has little relevance), had fairly boring kill scenes for the most part and did a pretty poor job of really fleshing out the Hoffman character as a believable Jigsaw successor (which was especially disappointing after Saw IV's end reveal).

Thankfully, Saw VI manages to dodge past most of V's problems and seems to go a way towards getting the series back on track. I'd say it's probably the best one since part III.

Aside from an admittedly OTT opener (even by series standards), the story picks up pretty much straight from where V left off. With Agent Strahm now permanently off of his trail, Hoffman sets on completing Jigsaw's final game, while his fellow officers become increasingly suspicious of his intentions. The subject of said game, in a more topical slant, is health insurance exec William, someone who, by job description, essentially chooses who lives and who dies. Predictably, it turns out that he had previously prevented John Kramer (whom we know had been suffering from a brain tumor) from getting access to treatment that may have helped to cure his condition.

Unlike IV and V, the trap sequences are all fairly inventive and all share a central theme, in which the test subject must decide upon the fate of other participants. There's one in particular towards the end that really is a doozy, and is probably the furthest the series has ever gone in terms of the "oh God, that's ****ing gross" factor. It really reminded me of how similar some of these films are to Cube, if any of you have ever seen that (this one and III in particular).

While Tobin Bell and Costas Mandylor both do a great job, a lot of the performances for the more secondary characters are really quite weak and do bring the film down overall. The over-amped editing $tyle is also still a minor annoyance. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It's also pretty heavy on flashbacks (a necessity when you kill off your main character, I guess), with most of them being sort of "and this was also happening during part _" type stuff, which can get in the way sometimes.

The ending was also fairly well done, inevitably leaving it open for the next film but being intense/significant enough that I didn't really care. It seems like there may be a major change of status quo when Saw VII comes around, but I guess I'll have to wait and see. Which brings me to my next point: the movie seemed a little too short. I know 1 ½ hours is the standard kind of length for these films, but this one really could have benefited from another 30 minutes or so. It moved along at such a brisk pace in its second half that it doesn't really give you enough time to digest what's going on.

Overall, if you don't like the Saw franchise then this one won't change your mind, but if you're a fan, then you don't want to miss it. I for one enjoyed it. And just for kicks: Saw VI > Paranormal Activity :P.

7/10

Horror Review: Shutter (2004)

Say Cheese...

Now, my exposure to the Asian horror genre has been, at best, limited. As a regular survival horror player I've come into contact with titles like Fatal Frame and Siren but the only film from the genre I'd seen had been Ju-On: The Grudge, which I didn't like all that much. The constant barrage of awful remakes didn't exactly encourage me to try and track these films down either.

So, it was with a certain level of caution that I sat down to watch Shutter, not really knowing what to expect. The basic premise didn't do much to make it seem much more than a standard ghost story. And you know what? I thought this movie was great, one of the best horror films I've seen in the past few years.

It's premise is simple enough and may be vaguely familiar to anyone who has ever played Fatal Frame. Photographer Tun and his girlfriend Jane are travelling home from a wedding reception when they suddenly collide into a woman who has stepped out into the middle of the road. In a panic, they quickly drive away, leaving the seemingly injured woman behind. They check around later but apparently no body was ever found. Wracked with guilt over the incident, both Tun and Jane start to experience strange nightmares and ghostly images begin appearing in Tun's photos...

I know, I know, that doesn't really sound like anything special or even original, but this film has such a wonderfully fleshed out story arc that revealing anything more would be a disservice. There's more going on than it initially appears and it's done so that both the main characters and the inevitable vengeful ghost come across as sympathetic. The ghost attacks in this film aren't random, our raven-haired spook has a very understandable reason for tormenting her particular targets and there's a certain level of poetic justice to a number of these scenes, particularly the ending.

Part of what made this so enjoyable to watch is that I actually found it scary. I'm never usually scared when watching horror flicks but I was on the edge of my seat ever since the first big scare (it's a really obvious one too, and it still got me). There's a very palpable sense of dread that runs through the movie so you'll forgive it for the occasional SUDDEN NOISE type moments (most of which succeeded in making me jump).

Even if the film doesn't succeed in frightening you, there's still plenty of atmosphere here for you to enjoy. The film is beautifully shot and has a nice melancholic soundtrack. There's one scene in a pitch black room lit only by the flash of a camera that is particularly nice to look at.

Also worth a mention is the quality of the film's acting. The two leads do a great job of selling what their characters are going through. Tun in particular is portrayed very likably and provides a rare strong male role to root for.

If you're a fan of these sorts of films or horror films in general, I definitely recommend you give Shutter a try (and avoid the American remake as best you can). It may have been a little derivative but it rocked anyway.

I'll probably be posting more of these reviews as I continue my education on Asian horror cinema, so stay tuned if you liked this one :).

P.S. RIP Michael Jackson, you will be missed. It's always a shame to lose someone so talented.

Videogame Storylines

Ah, the videogame story. Having a good one can help make a mediocre game good and a great game even better. Not everyone plays games for the story of course, but for me it's one of the main reasons I play. Sure, movies and books can, and often do, tell excellent stories, but games have always been a more stimulating prospect for me. They're not tied down to typical storytelling conventions, they can tell stories in ways that cinema and literature cannot. And I find that fascinating. You are the hero of the tale, you get to play out the story as you see fit.

Now that I've gotten that brief introduction out of the way, I'd like to present to you my 10 favourite game stories so far. Each one is a story that ended up meaning something to me, and in the world of videogames, that's pretty rare.

10. Valkyria Chronicles

This World War II meets Disney story may not seem like much at first, but over time it deals with a number of mature themes and scenarios. War, love, death, prejudice, treason, sacrifice, it's all here in some capacity and it's used in a way that I wouldn't have expected from a game that seems quite light on the surface. Over the course of the story I really learnt to care about the rag tag group of soldiers that make up your squad and it really tugged on the heartstrings when some of them inevitably come to harm.

9. Half-Life 2

It just goes to show how some of the simpler stories can end up being some of the best. Told entirely through in-game chatter and events, Half-Life 2's story of the one Free Man rising up to topple a tyrannical alien regime is a ****c one. After the events of HL1, Gordon Freeman has become a legendary figure, inspiring hope and spirit through to the human resistance as he takes the good fight to the Combine.

8. Prince Of Persia: The Sands Of Time

The first entry in arguably gaming's greatest trilogy, unlike many other franchise starting games, The Sands Of Time works because it tells an excellent story in it's own right. The Prince's quest through time to rewrite his mistakes and save the woman he loves isn't particularly original, but when it oozes this level of charm and fun it doesn't really need to be.

7. Shadow Of The Colossus

Another deceptively simple story, the true nature of SOTC's plot doesn't reveal itself until the very end, when the consequences of slaughtering the game's gentle giant's comes crashing down around your head. I won't spoil that here, but suffice to say, the ending moments really make you look back on the game's events in a very different light.

6. The Darkness

If you shoved The Crow and The Godfather in a blender, the end result would probably look something like this. Based on a comic book series by Top Cow, Starbreeze have gone above and beyond the source material to craft a crime drama worthy of the big leagues. The characters are all excellently realised, far beyond the 2D cardboard-cut outs that they often were in the comics.

5. Fahrenheit

Set up almost like an interactive movie, with each of the game's levels being an individual scene, your enjoyment of this game depends primarily on the strength of it's story. Luckily enough, it doesn't disappoint. Taking control of supposed murderer Lucas as well as the detectives trying to catch him, you get sucked into an occult murder mystery that quickly spirals out of control. The game's ending isn't quite up to snuff, but the first 2/3s are some of the most gripping in gaming.

4. Bioshock

Like the aforementioned Half-Life 2, Bioshock forgoes the use of conventional storytelling techniques, presenting itself as you play, delving deeper and deeper into the depths of it's failed utopia, Rapture. Despite the use of a number of high concept science fiction ideas, Rapture never once stops feeling like a living, breathing world. Terrible things happened there, as you soon become explicitly aware.

3. Forbidden Siren

An apocalyptic retelling of an old Japanese folktale, where a nun was granted immortality after consuming the flesh of a merman, Siren's story is a completely unique approach to horror gaming. Told in an unchronological fashion and featuring an ensemble cast of 10 playable characters, you must gradually piece events together to discover the truth as to what has become of the rural Japanese village of Hanuda. The game constantly toys with your expectations, sometimes jumping forward in time only for you to be attacked by a twisted version of a character who was previously under your control.

2. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

A prequel to the entire series, MGS3 depicts the tragic story of Big Boss and how he eventually becomes the terrorist that we see in the original Metal Gear. Taking influence from James Bond, among others, this story of espionage, betrayal and true patriotism is blockbuster entertainment of the highest order. If only MGS4 had followed a similar example.

1. Silent Hill 2

There's always more than meets the eye. Everything in Silent Hill 2 has some sort of hidden meaning just below the surface. Not a single detail has been included haphazardly, for what James sees hasn't been conjured up by just anyone. Silent Hill calls to people like him, feeds off of them, makes them suffer. With Silent Hill 2, Konami have forged what is perhaps the deepest, most intelligent story in gaming. From the the complex characters to the rampant symbolism to the final, breathtaking revelations, a journey into Silent Hill 2 will be one that most gamers won't forget in a hurry.

So, over to you guys. What are your opinions on the subject?

P.S. It's my birthday :D!

Live Long and Kick Ass

Space: the final frontier...

Having just got back from what has to be the best summer blockbuster I have seen in years, I don't really know what to say. JJ Abrams has taken a once tired, past it's prime franchise and injected fresh new life into it. This is Star Trek, boldly going where no one has gone before. It's new, it's exciting, it's relevant.

Since the film isn't tied down to the vast recesses of Trek lore, due to it being set in an alternate timeline of sorts, Abrams has had room to take the franchise in some thrilling new directions, crafting a sci-fi epic that every blockbuster this summer, and many summers to come, should be measured against.

The threat that time-jumping villain Nero poses to the Federation feels very real and there's a great sense of danger and intensity throughout proceedings. Not once did I feel that everything is going to be okay just because this is a prequel, Abrams throws that notion out the window right from the outset.

Forget everything you know about Star Trek, because the rules have been completely rewritten. In this new, reimagined Trek, anything goes.

The recast Enterprise crew feel perfect in their roles, with Zachory Quinto's performance as Spock being a particular highlight. Kirk and Spock are the main heart of the film, but everyone gets a chance to shine. There are many fan-pleasing moments in the movie, from the ending narration (you know the one) to the presence of old face Leonard Nemoy.

Overall, I loved the movie. It exceeded all of my expectations and, as a Star Trek fan, I couldn't possibly have asked for more. Not since the original Star Wars trilogy has a sci-fi movie been this likable. As the first film of hopefully many new adventures for the starship Enterprise, this is one hell of an opening.

The day the whole world went away...

I just finished watching the latest trailer for Terminator Salvation and man, I'm just speechless. I'm blown away by how good this film looks. If you haven't seen it yet, go do it right now. I can wait. You done? Good.

I was sceptical at the thought of yet another sequel at first, but any doubts I may have had are gone now. It's safe to say the series is definitely going in the right direction. After two films that did nothing but rehash the original (though T2 does kick serious amounts of ass), we finally get to see the Terminator universe from the other end of the spectrum. It's good to see a return to the dark, bleak tone of the original after the last few installments. The scene where 'Marcus' discovers what he really was was just awesome. This is what we needed to see, a first hand view of the war that we've only ever seen glimpses of in the previous movies. I love how it seems to focus on the creation of the T-800 model. It should make for some really dark, sinister moments.

Christian Bale was an inspired casting choice for this movie. He perfectly fits the dark, serious angle this film seems to be going for. And no matter what anyone says Christian Bale > Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnie's emotionless killing machine was perfect for the first movie but fell a little flat when he was shoved into the protector role in the sequels.

So yeah, I'm pretty stoked. The Terminator is one of my favourite movies of all time. It's a true sci-fi ****c and this looks to be the definitive sequel I'm been waiting for for a long time. Hopefully the genuine article impresses as much as this trailer :P.

In other news I've had the rather odd experience of suddenly becoming interested in the JRPG. I've never really cared too much about the genre in the past (I played some Pokemon and Final Fantasy when I was a kid but that was about it) but that all changed when I'd finished playing Valkyria Chronicles. It's not a traditional JRPG by any means but it was the game that sparked my interest. Since then I've bought a bunch of 'em, mainly on my PSP. This includes: Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII, Tales Of Eternia, Persona 3 and the two Star Ocean remakes (First Departure and Second Evolution).

And guess what? I really like them, especially the two Star Ocean titles. It makes me feel bummed that The Last Hope is currently a 360 exclusive. I could always get Till The End Of Time for my PS2 but the picture quality on my TV isn't the best (it's too damn dark most of the time). I never really knew (nor cared) what I was missing out on until recently.

That's about it for now. Hal out.

Saw - a retrospective

*Spoilers for those who haven't seen the films* 

Hello Mr. Hindle...

4 years and 4 sequels on from the original film the Saw series has made some huge waves in the box office and is currently on it's way to becoming the most successful horror movie franchise of all time.

To many, the Saw franchise is just an excuse for people to watch other people get killed in a number of disgusting and inventive ways and the series probably is just that for a chunk of the audience. But, for me, the Saw films are more than just mindless violence. They provide what so few modern horror films bother to anymore: a compelling storyline and a strong sense of moral ambiguity. Jigsaw isn't a murderer by definition. Instead he puts people in life threatening situations to test their will to survive. While the films have become increasingly formulaic as time has gone on they've, at least in my opinion, never stopped being interesting. 

 

Still my favourite of the 5 films, the first Saw pretty much single-handedly created the torture porn craze that the horror genre has refused to move away from to this day. Despite it's reputation the first film in the series is surprisingly low on gore compared to it's sequels, with only the infamous amputation scene being truly cringe worthy. In the days before apprentices and huge elaborate mazes the first Saw also has a much simpler and as a result more personal story. It's about 2 men trapped in a horrible situation and their attempts to escape. That's pretty much it. While the film does get more elaborate as it goes on, it doesn't deviate too much from the central premise, with the true identity of the Jigsaw Killer kept hidden until the film's closing moments.

The first of many sequels, Saw II was perhaps the most successful at trying to emulate the film's success. This time around the game involves a a group of people trapped in a house and forced to complete a series of life threatening tests in order to gain access to the antidote to a deadly nerve gas circulating through the building. One of the unfortunate victims is the son of a detective who, along with a squad of fellow officers, has apprehended the Jigsaw Killer. This is where we get our first real glimpse at the man behind the (pig)mask. While John Kramer the man was largely in the background during the first film, Saw II brings Jigsaw's motivations and outlook to the forefront. 

Saw III and Saw IV rarely deviate from the successful formula set up by the first 2 films. Saw III's plot introduces former test subject Amanda as Jigsaw's apprentice and Jigsaw's attempt to test her to see whether she is worthy of carrying on his legacy. However, unlike Jigsaw's tests, Amanda's games don't have an escape and always result in the death of the subject. Saw III is also notable for killing off the series' central character and moral heart Jigsaw, who from then on only appears in flashbacks.

To work around Jigsaw's death at the end of the third film, Saw IV's plot runs in parallel to the events of Saw III. By this point the series was firmly in formulaic territory. Saw IV is by far the weakest entry in the series in my opinion, though it is notable for fleshing out Jigsaw's backstory and setting up reoccurring character Detective Mark Hoffman as Jigsaw's 2nd accomplice and eventual successor. 

Saw V however deviates slightly from formula of the past two sequels. It's mainly a cat and mouse game between Jigsaw successor Hoffman and FBI agent Strahm. After Hoffman and himself are the only survivors of Saw IV's events, Strahm becomes increasingly suspicious of Hoffman and investigates his involvement in the Jigsaw killings. Meanwhile Hoffman attempts to tie up all the loose ends, while making sure the games continue. I viewed Saw V as a sort of return to form for the series. It was certainly an improvement over the last sequel, for me at least.

The series has managed to build up a lot of momentum over the past few years and it doesn't look like it's going to die down anytime soon. With Saw VI on the way next October hopefully the series will receive a real resolution. If not, it will be at least be the last Saw to feature the magnificent Tobin Bell in his role as the Jigsaw Killer. Saw has always been a quality horror series in my eyes, the best in recent years, and hopefully it remains that way for years to come. 

My PS3 + GTAIV = Bricked (Updated)

Okay I get home after purchasing a copy of Grand Theft Auto IV expecting to have a great first few hours with the game.

I loaded the game up and made the initial installation on the HDD without incident. The trouble started in the game's opening cutscene. For some reason after a few minutes the audio partially cuts out, the background noise keeps playing but the dialogue, sound effects and music are muted. I try and quit the game to restart it and try again, but my system then freezes. I perform a manual reset and then complete the 12 steps that Take-Two have posted to help temporarily fix any problems.

When I next insert the GTAIV disc, the game isn't registered by the system and won't start up. I figured that I could just go back tomorrow and get a new copy of the game without trouble. But when I try to play Dark Sector, that game won't play either and neither did Oblivion or Assassin's Creed or Jericho etc...

Now my PS3 won't play any games whatsoever. If this was caused entirely by GTAIV than why did R* allow a game with this many problems to be released. This is the most p***ed I've been in a long time.

Update: Thanks for the input guys :). The guys at Gamestation were pretty helpful and replaced my faulty system for me (though I did have to travel around to find a store that had PS3s in stock). They even gave me the Gran Turismo 5: Prologue bundle :D! I don't think the system's crash was caused entirely by GTA, but I'll probably wait until R* release a patch before I try and play it again.

Games of 2008

Alone In The Dark.

I have been pretty impressed by what I have seen so far in this revamp of the survival horror series. It looks suitably atmospheric and it seems to be attempting to break the usual survival horror mold by including a lot of variety in its gameplay. Should be worth a look.

Condemned 2.

Though haven't been able to play the 360 original I am very excited at the prospect of playing its sequel. First person survival horror hobo bashing mixed with CSI type investigation sequences seems like my kind of thing.

Grand Theft Auto IV.

Having played through and enjoyed Grand Theft Auto: Vice City on the PS2 I am looking forward to seeing how the series first next-generation entry turns out. The added emphasis on realism and the fully populated, sprawling redesigned Liberty City make the game stand out. The story of an eastern block immigrant trying to find his version of the American dream sounds interesting as well.

Prototype

The idea playing as a shape-shifting, government experiment gone wrong in a huge sandbox environment sounds too good to pass up. Hopefully this delivers.

Devil May Cry 4

The Devil May Cry games were some of the fastest and most intense action games of the last generation and judging from the recent demo, that it going to change as the series makes the jump to PS3. The introduction of new kid Nero should spice things up as well.

Resistance 2



The first Resistance is one of the best games FPS I have ever played, but Resistance 2 looks like its going to blow it out of the water. I can't wait to get back in Nathan Hale's boots and massacre me some Chimeran hordes.

Dead Space

As a huge survival horror fan, its hard to contain my excitement for this title. Taking its ques from great sci-fi/horror movies and games like Alien, The Thing and Doom 3 this looks like it going to be one of best horror titles of the past few years.

Killzone 2

The first Killzone was a rough diamond of sorts. I thought it was a good game, but it had too many flaws to keep it from becoming a truly great game. This sequel however immediately caught my eye with its dark and oppressive atmosphere. Hopefully this game fixes the faults of the original and then some, though it will at the very least be one of the best looking games to ever hit consoles.

Silent Hill V

I have great faith that The Collective will give us another great Silent Hill experience. From the videos and screens I have seen so far, they definitely have the look and atmosphere nailed. Silent Hill has always been one of my favourite game series and though this fifth installment probably won't reach the lofty heights of the second game, it is looking to be another great addition to the series.

Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots

With this being both Kojima's last Metal Gear game and the last in the series to feature Solid Snake, MGS lis going to go out with a bang. Everything about this game looks epic and it looks like its going to push the PS3 to its limit. Long live Metal Gear Solid 4, my most anticipated game of 2008 :D.

Now Watching: Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem and Saw IV

Now Listening To: Come Clarity by In Flames and Crows Fly Black by Tarot

Now Playing: Devil May Cry and The Orange Box

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