bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Disney Pixar’s Cars (PlayStation 2)

Disney Pixar’s Cars, game of the movie, is an incredibly difficult game to write about. Unlike most movie tie-ins, Cars isn’t actually a standard collect-em up platform. That would be a bit difficult to achieve considering the characters, nor is it a racing game, which is partially surprising, but at the same time not, as you wouldnt be able to get a feel for each of the characters.

The game is set in a sandbox environment, a little like GTA but without all the violence obviously, based on the setting of the film, they’ve populated it with all the characters of the film and thrown in a few basic races, mini games and some minor customisation. Add to that the fact that many of the original voice actors for the film have put their talents onto disc for the game also and you have a pretty tidy package.

Pixar’s films are famous for being just as much fun for adults as they are the kids, but sadly the games have never had that same feel, Cars is no different. It quickly becomes incredibly repetitive, the in game sound bites become irritating and it all feels like a cheap attempt to tick all the boxes for a perfect videogame cash in on the biggest kids film of the year.

This isn’t helped by the fact that the game has been made far too easy, there’ barely any need to break, and one could question whether you could get away with not steering, meaning its next to impossible to actually lose. This is all well and good as it means the kids wont feel like they’re struggling with the game (which is probably one of the major problems with society today, but thats not for bitparade to discuss). The game quickly becomes the modern day equivalent of a poorly executed interactive movie.


How the Joker plays his ultimate joke

Like everybody else, I recently visited my local cinema to watch Todd Phillips’ “Joker”, I decided to make some notes on the bus home and then return them a few days later once I’d had time to think on them. I’ll get this right out there by stating that I really quite liked the movie, sure it hangs off of Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, but thats why you hire an actor of Phoenix’s calibre, its rare he phones in a performance and the majority of the time you find yourself watching him rather than everyone else in the film, I for one think Gladiator would have been a much poorer film without his casting.

I think it goes without saying that from this point on there are alot of spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to know what happens, then stop reading now.

There’s a widely held belief that Joker is about a man who suffers from a variety of mental health issues and potentially has a personality disorder that is pushed over the edge and becomes The Joker. I can see exactly why people think that, its the story thats being told throughout the film, but I put it to you, who is telling the story? Is it Arthur Fleck or is it The Joker?

I think its the latter.

Whilst this is a standalone movie at this point, and this can often be the case with the medium the character is taken from, with many different writers and film makers over the decades offering their own take on The Clown Prince of Crime. However one constant is that we have never really been told the characters origins. Sure there are parallels with Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. A guy, down on his luck anyway, struggling to cut out a career as a comedian, goes through a period of time where things get worse and worse for him. In the case of The Killing Joke its one bad day, with Joker its prolonged over a few days or weeks.

So why do I think its The Joker himself telling this story and how do I think this is revealed.

There are a few things that contribute to this. The most obvious point is his relationship with his neighbour Sophie, as everyone is aware, there is no relationship, as we see when Arthur lets himself into her apartment and when she discovers him there she (justifiably) freaks out. The one sided element of this relationship is really driven (or heavily hammered) home later in the film when we are shown a few scenes where the two had been together which would then flick to show she wasn’t in those moments with Arthur at all.

There’s alot of serial killer tropes being ticked here too: Lives at home with his Mother, has no friends, people at work creeped out by him, his job isn’t a Regular Joe kind of job, a history of mental health issues; one of which weirds people out, abused as a child, no Father figure, obsesses over false idols, creates false relationships and fantasy scenarios.

There’s a sense that he over embellishes. I’ve seen a few complaints that the scene on the TV show goes on too long and I think thats entirely the point, he quite clearly likes telling a tale and the longer he can keep this going the more attention he gets.

Then we get onto his history and the tie in to the DC Universe, Arthur Fleck is the illegitimate love child of Thomas Wayne and one of his employee’s (Penny Fleck) thus making him the half brother of his ultimate nemesis, Bruce Wayne aka Batman. Add in that the final riot just so happens to take place, and is kind of the cover for, the murder of the Waynes and it places the Joker’s story as being “aah thats why he and Batman were destined to face off against each other time and again”, some have labelled this as a lazy tie in to the rest of this particular universe and I totally get that, I think its a lazy embellishment on The Jokers part.

So, how did I come to this conclusion? Mostly due to the final scenes where The Joker is talking to a psychiatrist in what I presume is Arkham State Hospital, we cut to this at the moment The Joker is being worshipped by a mass of people in clown masks, he tells a joke that the psychiatrist thinks is awful whilst the viewer is tricked into believing that she is the Social Worker we saw Arthur talking to repeatedly earlier in the film (though it is two different actresses who do look very different from each other).

All of this shows us that Phoenix’s Joker, like Heath Ledgers Joker in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and Alan Moore’s Joker, is an unreliable story teller, the inconsistencies, fabrications and embellishments create a tale that from very early on feels incredibly surreal, that it shares a similar tone to Martin Scorsese’s Robert De Niro vehicle Taxi Driver only further cements my feelings in this regard, and I kind of feel that the casting of De Niro as Fleck’s idol/father figure in this whole scenario is purposefully done.

Of course, I could be giving Todd Phillips too much credit with all of this.


Books, Close Encounters Book Club

V for Vendetta – Alan Moore, David Lloyd

Once a month for the past few months I’ve been attending a book club at my local comic book store, it’s called “Books Without Pictures” and has focused on novels, now they’ve started up another club, called “Books With Pictures” we’re we read a comic book/graphic novel/whatever you want to call them. Our first meeting centred around Alan Moore and David Lloyds “V for Vendetta”.

Both David Lloyd and Alan Moore provide an introduction to the book and its hard not to look at the political climate we currently find ourselves. They mention tabloids voicing ideas of concentration camps in order to deal with the aids epidemic of the 80s (when V for Vendetta was written), now we have a climate where the US are seperating families they don’t want living within their borders and where, in the UK, the atmosphere is such that everyone is turning on each other dependent on whether you voted Remain or Leave and the disinformation we are fed from our politicians and media is such that once you delve into the content of V for Vendetta itself, its not difficult to see that the world Moore and Lloyd have created becoming a reality, even without a third World War to create it.

It’s literally impossible to not hear the broadcasts of Fate ending with the line “Make Britain Great again”, and not immediately think of Brexit, UKIP, Farage. Of course it was Margaret Thatchers electoral campaign slogan long before the European Referendum was even a twinkling in the eyes of our politicians, and of course V was written as a response to Thatchers Britain.

Very early into the book V blows up the Houses of Parliament whilst reciting the nursery rhyme “Remember, Remember the Fifth of November”, as the events take place between 5th November 1997 and 5th November 1998. The Houses of Parliament, underneath where Guy Fawkes was discovered protecting barrels of gunpowder intended to blow up the House of Lords and kill King James I as part of the Gunpowder Plot. My thoughts during this moment in the book turned to how we see those events now, I always felt the way I was taught about it at school was a little confusing and my memory of those lessons is very shady, however, I wonder how relevant it is now? Halloween seems to be the focal Autumnal celebration now and Bonfire Night has fallen down the pecking order, though when I was a kid it was most certainly the other way round. Kids would pull Guy’s along on their sisters toy prams or go-karts and call out “Penny for the Guy” and families and neighbourhoods would have big gatherings to let off fireworks, now those firework displays are extravagant but authority run affairs and I wonder, has its lost its meaning? Also, what was its meaning, was we supposed to be celebrating the discovery and failure of the plot or is it a celebration of a right to protest? I’m not entirely sure it would have been i. originally allowed or ii. celebrated quite as long as it were (from 1605 to present) if it was the latter, but it does seem to me that Alan Moore wonders this very thing in the article printed in the back of the book.

There’s alot of uncomfortable moments within these pages, the treatment of Evey throughout the book borders on abuse, she eventually takes up the mantle of V during the closing moments, but her journey to get there is rather tortuous. First she’s rescued from an attempted rape by V, he takes her back to his “Shadow Gallery” but provides her with no answers and it does feel like she’s kept prisoner by her grattitude towards him saving her, she then offers to help his cause and is put in a position where her youth and sexuality is used in order to lure a bishop whom V has an agenda against into a false sense of security.

Later she questions his methods, unhappy that she has been used in order for V to kill the Lilliman (the bishop) and is then abandoned by V. She finds herself in the company of Gordon Deitrich who takes her in, the pair live together for some months and eventually form a relationship that is short lived when Gordon is murdered. She tries to take revenge on Gordon’s murderer but is caught before she can enact her plan and imprisoned and tortured for information on V, which she refuses to give. When ultimately, after months of physical and mental torture, a threat is made on her life, she states she’d rather lose her life than her beliefs, it is revealed that it had been V doing this to her all along in order for her to learn the ordeal he was put through at the hands of the people who ran the Larkhill Resettlement Camp where he had been experimented on (and where the people he has murdered all worked).

It’s during this time that I really began to wonder just what V is up to, everything that comes from his mouth is hidden in riddles, rhymes and quotes, he gives the impression that he wants to overthrow the current government and bring about his view of Anarchy (wherein people rule themselves), but his actions are born of revenge and mirror those of the very people he is fighting against. The character, and our worlds adoptation of his mask, would have you believe he is a freedom fighter, but he himself is not above imprisoning, torturing and killing people to get whatever it is he wants, not to mention him spying on people using the governments own monitoring systems.

Once the bigger elements of V’s plans are put into place there are some really excellent moments, during this period The Eyes (video surveillance), The Ears (audio surveillance) and The Mouth (radio broadcasts) are all nullified and the people of Britain are given three days where they are able to do whatever they please. Of course, this leads to rioting and looting, but there’s one moment amongst all of this, where a young girl, out delivering newspapers, utters the word “bollocks” out loud, her parents are around to hear her and she knows that The Ears cannot hear her, she can’t get into trouble, and feeling free she begins to repeat the word louder and louder, amongst all of the oppression prior to this moment and the chaos that comes from V’s actions, this one little girl has that moment we all have when we’re younger where we suddenly realise that we can swear outside of our parents earshot and not get in to trouble for it. Maybe thats Freedom.


bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: George of the Jungle (Nintendo DS)

After being spoiled with the delight of playing Teenage Zombies, I was hoping for something similar from George of the Jungle, and quite frankly, even if I hadn’t if played Teenage Zombies first, George of the Jungle would be a great disappointment.

Theres a lot wrong here, first off, it looks and sounds like a Gameboy Advance title, such a shame when we know the DS can do really great loking sprites, it also sounds like a GBA game, again a disappointment after hearing the sort of sound quality the DS can output in games in like Elite Beat Agents. But worst of all is that it plays absolutely terribly.

George of the Jungle is a side scrolling platform title, but the characters movements are incredibly sluggish and it makes the levels presented to you unentertaining and tiresome. I find it doubtful that a man that lives in the jungle is as immobile and as slow as George is here, and its this that lets the game down most as theres some interesting level design here that could make the game mildly entertaining if only George didn’t move slower than a pensioner on market day.

Unfortunately this is the way of licensed titles, and after a recent output of slightly better licensed games (see Bleach: Blade of Fate as an example, albeit in a different genre), it seems that to really get the best out of a license the development team need to absorb everything about what it is they’re basing their game on, and it seems that that just hasn’t happened here.

Movies, TV

El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie

As most of the people reading this will be aware, on Friday Netflix released El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. The movie, released 6 years after the end of the main TV series, follows Jesse Pinkman after his escape from Jack’s compound at the very end of the final episode.

Thats not where things start exactly, we’re first treated to a flashback (a commonly used tool in El Camino) of a conversation between Mike and Jesse in which Jesse informs the former that he intends to leave the drugs business, they discuss Jesse’s possible future, which is a theme that crops up time and time again in El Camino.

When we return to the present, Jesse is literally driving away from the slaughter that Walter White had committed, screaming, turning down a side road to avoid the Police he see’s on the horizon and ultimately ending up at the house old friends and accomplices Badger and Skinny Pete are living in. The pair take him in, help him get cleaned up etc and aid him in evading the Police using a plan that feels far too clever for the pair. It was great to see these three back together, Badger in particular was one of my favourite characters during the shows original run. It’s a pity we didnt get a little longer with them, and it was really endearing seeing Skinny Pete taking on a homely and caring role in order to get Jesse back on his feet.

Mike, Pete and Badger aren’t the only returning characters, in fact there’s a few of them which both make and break the movie for me, the vast majority are in flashbacks however. The major positive was the return of creepily friendly and (as we already know) completely unhinged Todd (or as I call him “Not-Matt Damon”). We, through Jesse, spend alot of time with him prior to the moments in the show where Jesse kills Todd. This time is there to show how broken Jesse became, which was portrayed better over the running time of the shows seasons rather than the limited time afforded to it in these flashbacks even though the Todd ones take up a meaty section of the film. It also gives us the information to understand alot of Jesse’s actions in the present day, with Todd telling Jesse about the money he keeps in his apartment and Jesse’s need to get to it in order to carve out a new life for himself. During his search for the cash we’re treated to an excellent bit of film-making (in my opinion) when we’re given an above camera shot of the entire floor plan of the apartment with Jesse ripping the place apart (literally, I don’t just mean throwing furniture around, he literally pulls the plaster off the walls) to find it. The whole sequence kind of reminds me of playing Hotline Miami, and the music would almost fit that games soundtrack too.

It’s Jesse’s plan to create his new life that cause the most problems for me. Choosing to visit “the Disappearer”/Ed who aided Saul and Walter both abandoning their lives and going into hiding (with the latter returning for the events of season 5 and the former going off to work at a Cinnabon as we find out in Better Call Saul). We know Jesse had the opportunity to use Ed’s services back on the show, which he ultimately rejected, but it feels a little too much like the writers are leaning too heavily on those events, both to cause more tension and keep the plot ticking over (Ed wants Jesse to pay for the services he declined and for his services this time, Jesse is a little short on the cash needed so has to resort to getting that before Ed can move him on). Ed gives him the opportunity to go it alone, basically saying that with $248,200 he could get very far away very easily provided he’s careful, but for whatever reason Jesse decides to enter into a very dangerous situation in order to get the rest which feels entirely unnecessary.

Thats not to say that this harms El Camino entirely, its an entertaining couple of hours and it kind of feels good to be back in that world again, especially with Jesse who always seemed to be the heart of the show. However, it does feel like the writers couldn’t help themselves, especially when they shove a flashback featuring Walter White in there (with Bryan Cranston wearing a skull cap that makes his head look huge). Early on we’re told that White did in fact die at the end of Breaking Bad and I personally felt thats all we needed, it felt like Vince Gilligan was pandering to the fans too much at this point.

It’s a nice enough send off to the show, but if thats what Gilligan intended this to be then it feels really weird for it to have been made six years after Breaking Bad ended, particularly whilst Better Call Saul is getting so much praise in certain quarters (though it has reminded me I need to get back to that show as I dropped off it in Season 2 I think). I think it mostly feels that way because the present day stuff takes place so close to the end of the TV show and the cast are showing 6 years of aging, especially Jesse Plemons (“Not Matt-Damon”/Todd), and overall I think I preferred how Breaking Bad ended prior to the release of El Camino.

#throwbackthursday, Final Fantasy, Final Fantasy IX, Gaming

#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 12

Two weeks ago we left Lindblum, walked through Qu’s Marsh again and found a tunnel entrance that had been cordoned off. We made our way inside…

Through the tunnel we arrive at an excavation site where we are chased by a monster on a monster drawn carriage, it ultimately catches us throwing the group into battle. Defeating it stuns it for a while, leaving us to a chance to create some space whilst trying to escape which is finally achieved when Zidane jumps a gap in the bridge we’ve been running along.

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However, there’s little chance to rest a Lani, one of Brahnes bounty hunter appears in a staircase. She declares shes been looking for the Princess and when Zidane asks if he has met her before Dagger tells him off for flirting. Lani isn’t trying to return Garnet to Alexandria, she wants the pendant the Princess wears around her neck, she threatens Dagger and we’re thrown into another battle. Thankfully Vivi enters into Trance and the whole thing is over quite quickly with Lani retreating, stating she’ll “let you guys go for now”.

We head down the staircase Lani appeared from, this leads us to Fossil Roo, where wild Gargants follow roots in the ceiling. Picking flowers for them to eat allows Zidane to ride them around the tunnel system. There’s a treasure hunter in the cave system who is baffled that we aren’t there to look for treasure, Zidane tells him they’re tying to get to the Outer Continent and he replies that the caves are like a web, he dosn’t know how far it goes, but has a rough idea of what direction they should head in.

Nearby I notice two Moogles, one is Stiltzkin, so it looks like he did make it out of Cleyra after all! He tells Zidane he had been hurt so bad that he couldn’t move but he’s now recovered and back on his travels, then sells me a pack containing a Phoenix Pinion, Remedy and an Ether for 555 Gil. The other Moogle is Mogki, who Kumop asked me to deliver a letter to:

“From Kumop to Mogki

Stiltzkin visited me!

He said he found a place that
seemed interesting, and then he left.

I wish he stayed longer, kupo.
Where did he go, anyway?
Let me know when you find out! Kupo!”

He also has a letter from Kuppo, though he doesn’t know who Kuppo is

“From Kuppo to Mogki

I’m bored, kupo!

I’m so bored, I’m going to hide away!

Try finding me inside the cavern!

Hint: I’m behind a wall…”

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As before I pick flowers to attract the Gargants in order to ride them. There’s currently two routes, on to the North and one to the South, I take the Southern route first, which splits but the Gargant will only follow the route that isn’t blocked off by water, activating switches changes which route is open. For now, the route I can take only takes me to a treasure chest which only contains a set of Fairy Earrings. Status effects really play a part in Fossil Roo, I regularly have to use Echo Drops to cure Silence and keep having Trouble cast on me, Trouble leads to the affected character sharing any damage received with the rest of the party. I go back to the central area and take the Northern path and activate the switch there. Following the new route gets me an Ether and takes me to another switch which changes the path for the Southern route.

I eventually come across a miner who lets me use his pickaxe in exchange for a potion. Whilst chipping away I free Kuppo from the wall he had been hiding behind. I don’t have any mail for him but he does want me to deliver a letter to Kupo, who if I remember rightly is in Alexandria. I spend a further ten minutes or so chipping away at the rock face but only get a few Ores for my troubles, there’s probably something better there but I haven’t got the patience to keep at it and leave the area. Theres also a Lamias Tiara in a chest near here, this item allows Dagger to learn Clear Headed, Confuse and Float. Once I’ve gotten that I activate a switch that opens up the route that takes me to the exit of Fossil Roo.

Leaving Fossil Roo does in deed bring us out at the Outer Continent, just as Cid thought it would, and just like he said, there’s no Mist here. Outer Continent is a brown rocky land, this is the first time I come across a Cactuar, which I stupidly think I can take on, then it uses 1,000 Needles on Quina and wipes them out, so I try to flee but am unsuccessful in doing so which leads to what I think is my first Game Over.

When I load back up, I explore what I can off the Outer Continent at this point and come across a marsh, here I find Mogster (though I’m not sure how he got here from Qu’s Marsh on Mist Continent) who gives me directions to a “flat shaped building like a bridge” saying I should go there first. Looking at the map I head in a Westerly direction to where Mogster told me to go and discover Conde Petie.

#ThrowBackThursday – Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 1
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX Playthrough Part 2
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 3
#ThrowBackThursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 4
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 5
#ThrowBack Thursday: Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 6
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 7
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough Part 8
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX Playthrough part 9
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fantasy IX playthrough part 10
#ThrowBackThursday Final Fanatasy IX playthrough Part 11

bitparade, Gaming

bitparade: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (Nintendo DS)

Did you ever spend a few hours huddled round a PlayStation with a multitap and four controllers connected, wrists and fingers hurting as you, once again, tried to take the gold in the 100m sprint on Konami’s International Track & Field? I know I did many a time, and thats essentially what we have here, but on the DS.

This is the first time Mario and Sonic have both been in a product together, officially anyhow. but don’t let this sway you either way as theres nothing here to suggest that its anything other than a means to shift units. The game itself is pretty solid and fairly enjoyable, with it using pretty much every aspect of the DS within the confines of each event, for instance, the 100m sprint, unsurprisingly, has you scrubbing away at your touch screen like a madman, something I assume isn’t really all that healthy for the machine in the long run, the cycling has you hammering away at the shoulder buttons, whilst changing “lanes” to pick up stamina items with the d-pad, Table Tennis gets you to you the d-pad and face buttons and the long-jump incorporates some use of the microphone in order to get you to fill up an “inspiration” metre before taking your jump which seems to have some small effect on the overall distance of your jump.

Most of the games are pretty much by the numbers as you’d expect them, they’re certainly not pushing any boundaries, but some work better than others. The fencing, for instance, comes across as quite confusing and the touch screen controls feel very random as to ether you are successful at parrying or not. The rifle shooting happens to be my favourite of all of the events on offer (16 in total) as it happens to be both simple yet challenging.

The game offers three different modes for single player, Single Match, Circuit where you are given 3 or 4 different events to do and you have to be the overall winner on points after all the rounds are over, and Mission where you are required to do different things (such as using Shadow in the 100m Sprint and not letting Sonic pass you). This all amounts to there being much more to do for the single player than previous games in this genre, but its multiplayer where these games always stand out as being most fun, and MaSatOG is no different via playing 2 player single card play I had access to 6 events which were easy to play and enjoyable whilst still competitive, however, there is no WiFi play available on the game which seems to be a bit of an oversight on SEGA’s part.

Mario and Sonic at the Olympic games appears to be a well built game, that looks pretty good graphically for a DS game, although certainly not on par with Phantom Hourglass, and its perfect for a bit of light hearted multiplayer fun, but I really wouldn’t recommend playing it too often, if only for the sake of your touch screen.


Reservoir Dogs

Imagine living with someone for nearly 18 years and in that time watching many, many movies, some of them your favourites, some of them theirs and some of them movies that neither of you have ever seen before. During that time you’d pretty much know what films each of you haven’t seen and surely there should be no surprise? Well, looking through my “100 Must See Movies” my partner, whom I have three children with, announced she’d never seen Reservoir Dogs before!

Now this confused me, I’m certain I’ve watched it since we met (I obviously watched it before we met), and thats not to say we only ever watch films together as thats not always the case (work, sleep, life etc means thats not always going to happen, not to mention individual tastes, there are films she loves I dont enjoy so will do something else when she fancies watching them, as is the case for every couple out there). So one day recently, once the kids were at school, I cooked us up a meal and we sat down and watched the film that introduced the world to Quentin Tarantino.

Reservoir Dogs wasn’t my first Tarantino, I think that was technically From Dusk Till Dawn, its also technically a Robert Rodriguez movie as he directed it (Tarantino provided the script), which also started a lifelong infatuation with Salma Hayek. Anyway, onto the film itself.

It’s a very simple affair and going back to it now we’re reaching what feels like the end of Tarantino’s career (there’s been alot of noise about Once Upon A Time in Hollywood being his last movie, but then I’m sure that happens with every film he makes) you can see alot of the stuff thats become what people look for in a Tarantino movie.

Most notable, and obvious, is the dialogue, there’s something very distinctive about Tarantino’s dialogue. Not just the language used, but the references being thrown around, but the tempo of the dialogue is always the giveaway in his films. It’s very fast paced, back and forth, everyone trying to out do each other throughout. It grabs the attention but it can also be exhausting and whilst it felt fresh in Reservoir Dogs, that element of each character trying to be a bigger character than the last makes it difficult to want to see more of these characters. I get that their not really supposed to be likable, with Mr White being the only one with any semblance of some humanity, but it also makes them feel very one dimensional. He does get better at this, but we’re not looking at his other films, we’re looking at Reservoir Dogs.

He does like to let them act though, they really are given every opportunity to show us just how good they are and its no real surprise that he’s managed to work with most of the long-term big names in Hollywood at least once with many of them returning for multiple films. Here whilst the two characters we, arguably, spend the most time with are Harvey Keitel and Steve Buscemi, who both put in excellent performances, the two stand out performances in my opinion are Tim Roth and Michael Madsen (the latter of which appears in many of Tarantino’s movies). It’s easy to say that Roth over-acts the dying man, but I think thats the point. Yes he’s dying and desperate, but he’s also trying to be a believable criminal, he’s the only one who’s background isn’t known to their boss and, being an undercover cop, he has to make sure he’s not found out or no one is going to get him the help he needs.

Michael Madsen seems to excel at playing an unhinged, menacing bastard and thats more than obvious here. You always get the sense that one comment is enough to push him over the edge, but not into the mad shouting crazy man that you’d expect in any other movie. No, Madsen is cold, calculating and appears to enjoy seeing people suffering, be it physically or emotionally. He knows what buttons to push to get someone to that point, but also enjoys playing the game to get them there rather than just simply pushing and pushing. He’ll push, back off and give the impression that its not him thats the problem, its everybody else, then applies the tension again.

There were a few points where I had to explain things to my partner, or remind her who was who, but she did seem to enjoy it. She was a bit confused that Tarantino didn’t show the heist at first but then grew to understand that that wasn’t the point of this film, that thats every other heist film out there and I did say that if she wanted to see something like that we could always watch something like Heat or Ronin (I think she’s seen the former, but I’ve never watched the latter with her). Overall though I think she enjoyed it and, for me, its one I love returning to mainly because of the performances mentioned above (though its not my favourite Tarantino, that goes to Deathproof).


#ThrowBackThursday ESWAT: City Under Siege

Retro Game Club this week, this time the group voted to play a SEGA Mega Drive/Genesis game I’d never heard of before: ESWAT:City Under Siege. This Mega Drive version is based on the arcade game Cyber Police ESWAT that also saw ports to a variety of other systems including SEGA’s own Master System.

As mentioned above, I’d never heard of ESWAT so I’d gone into this without any nostalgia attached to the title. First impressions are that its what I’d describe as a side scrolling action game. It’s not an all out ” run ‘n’ gun” like Metal Slug and its not a side scrolling brawler like Streets of Rage, its also not a “proper” platformer. It does, however, feature platforms to jump across and shooting, the group has likened it to SEGA’s Shinobi games, but with a futuristic setting and I’d have to agree with that, though my experiences with Shinobi are very limited.

First start off fine, you control a typical cop looking character, walk from right to left (and then left to right as you make your way up the platforms in the first level) and shoot enemies as you go. The second level is a little more technical and it took me a while to get past the second levels boss. This was because I knew you could crouch, then I figured out you can walk and shoot whilst crouched, but I kept standing up to turn and being shot, I’d like to blame the PSP’s d-pad for this, as just holding crouch and moving felt cumbersome, but it was all on me really as it took me ages to realise you could also change the direction your facing whilst crouched. It still took me a few attempts to get past though.

However, its the third level where things really take a turn. You’re suddenly put into what looks a little like a Robocop suit but with jet thrusters on the back. This allows you to stay in the air but you only have a set amount of fuel and, honestly, its best saved for the boss battle, provided you can get there as the difficulty level really gets ramped up with the number of on screen enemies increased greatly and all placed at very different positions. It’s also the first time you have to select different weapons but the game never tells you any of this so there’s alot of trial and error involved that would have, if I weren’t using save states via my emulator, seen me just quit and not bother returning.

Level 2 is the interesting, with you having to nagivate a prison rail system through multiple directions before entering the cells themselves and dispatching the enemies, I ultimately gave up at the boss for level 5.

Being honest, it was a trek getting that far, ESWAT is very much of its time, its also cashing in heavily on the popularity of the Robocop movies in the late Eighties (this version of the game was released in the same month as Robocop 2 premiered in cinemas in 1990, whilst the previous versions of the game arrived the year following the first films release). It’s a competent game at best and its certainly showing its age, that the difficulty level ramps up so drastically in level 3 gives the impression that there was very little outsourced playtesting going on for this version of the game, and its not as though its a properly difficult level, as once you know the mechanics, progression is as simple as before, the issue with it is that the game play changes with brand new mechanics thrown in with no introduction to the player (beyond the suit appearing on the idle and title screens).

I was trying hard not to write it off, but was struggling to find the enthusiasm to play it after an initial couple of plays and its only really with the end of the month arriving and me wanting to write this post that I gave it any more time. It’s easy to see why I’d never heard of ESWAT, I was normally a generation behind during this period in gaming and it seems that even then ESWAT was the type of game that pretty much found its way to the dusty cupboard of games no one really talked about, which whilst I’m all for preservation of gaming history, its hard to make a case for anyone really missing this or of it being a bad game that ought to be remembered.

Books, Close Encounters Book Club

The Lies of Locke Lamora – Scott Lynch

Book Club get together week again and for September we had been reading “The Lies of Locke Lamora” by Scott Lynch.

“The Lies of Locke Lamora” is about an orphan who becomes a thief in a city where certain rules are in place, the key one for this tale is the “Secret Peace” whereby the nobility are protected by the gangs of thieves that operate within the city of Camorr. The tale is split between two narratives, one being the core plot about Locke Lamora as an adult alongside his group of Gentlemen Bastards who do indeed break this Secret Peace but do so in a manner where said nobility hide this fact due to the shame of being led down a path of deceit due to the share level of plotting and planning that Locke provides to his small group of thieves. The second narrative covers the training of four members of this group (Locke, Jean and the twins Calo and Galo Sanza), there is a fifth member, Bug, but he is only introduced in the former narrative where he is a Gentlemen Bastard in training under the tutorship of the other four members.

At its heart, The Lies of Locke Lamora is a mafia story. I say this as the setting feels like Lynch has taken influences from Renaissance era Italy, and also because there are a number of gangs but all of them have their own territory and all answer one boss, their Garrista, who takes a cut of everything each gang steals, though the breaking of the Secret Peace by Locke and his companions isn’t known outside of the Gentlemen Bastards as they put up a front, only delivering minimal (but believable) amounts to their Garrista, Capa Barsavi.

However, during one particular scheme, for which the Gentlemen Bastards look to earn tens of thousands of “Crowns”, things begin to unravel.

It’s at this point I have to admit that I struggled with the first half of the book. It was laying a lot of ground work, introducing the world, its rules and characters, whilst also trying to weave Locke’s plot to steal a huge amount of money from a noble, Don Lorenzo Salvara, and his wife. It’s not that these moments were particularly dull, its more that there was so much plotting and Lynch seems to be taking great pride in describing minute details of characters clothing that it often felt like you weren’t making any progress through the story itself. But as people begin to figure out who Locke is and begin to plot against him behind his back, and as things begin to fall apart from Capa Barsavi at the hands of the “Grey King” and we start to see characters for who they really are, everything begins to move along at break neck pace.

This all comes to a peak when things go from bad to worse for the Gentlemen Bastards and the reader is left feeling, much as the troupe do, like there’s no way out. Fortunately for Scott Lynch he’s written a character here that (ad-libbed) “works best when he doesn’t know what he’s doing”, meaning that there’s always an opening for Locke and co to escape peril, though it goes without saying that, during a particularly exhausting moment in the tale, not everyone makes it through leading to some very heavily revenge filled closing chapters.

The thing I enjoyed most of all though was the city of Camorr, it felt grimy and lived in and the people we got to meet along the way really helped flesh it out. The Salvara’s were very naive throughout, despite Locke feeling like he was struggling to fool Dona Sophia Salvara, whilst any time we spent with The Falconer there was always a sense of dread, that things were going to go awry, but one moment that really stuck out was during Locke’s first ever plot whilst he was still being trained by Father Chains. He had been tasked with stealing a dead body to provide to some Black Alchemists as they had no legitimate way of obtaining a cadaver, though once he had managed this particular task, he couldn’t help himself but increase the risk of the task at hand in order to obtain a higher reward (in this case, money) and feigned having his purse snatched (by one of the Sanza’s in disguise), but the way in which the people in the district rallied around him (as he was feigning being an apprentice of one of the churches) and provided him with money (and had the local authorities try and find the purse snatcher/Sanza twin) really drove home that these people, despite not having the best of lives, really valued each other and, for me, that gave real character to the city as a whole alongside Lynch’s excellent descriptions of each district that Lamora or Jean Tannen visited.