One Hell of a Good Time: The Doom Eternal Review You’ve Waited an Eternity For

I finally, finally finished playing Doom Eternal a couple of days ago. I took my sweet time with it. I savored every minute of it. And by “savored,” I also mean that I stressed my brain out trying to find every collectible and complete every time trial.

Now that I’ve finished the game, it is time to tell you, my Above Average readers, my thoughts on it. It’s time to go into the good, the bad, and the ugly of Doom Eternal with a deep-dive review.

Side note: This game is not ugly. I just wanted to type out “the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

Just in case you’re not in the mood to read a lengthy review, I’ll tell you my base impression. Doom Eternal is high-octane fun, definitely engaging to the millionth degree. The only things holding it back are a few story decisions (but who plays Doom for the story anyways) and a couple of odd gameplay inclusions.

Anywaysies, let’s rev up our chainsaws and pop out our flame belcher! It’s time for a Below Average review of Doom Eternal!

Story

Doom Eternal takes place after the events of Doom (2016). A demonic invasion is taking place on Earth as soon as the game starts. The Doom Slayer (or Doomguy as he is colloquially known) preps himself for battle in his Fortress of Doom.

Side note: It remains unclear how he got this floating fortress in space or what happened directly after Samuel Hayden teleported him away after the first game.

What follows is a rampage. The Doom Slayer needs to take down three Hell Priests in order to stop the invasion on Earth. Once that is complete, the Slayer can focus his attention on the Khan Maykr, a highly-advanced being who is responsible for Hell’s forces taking over countless worlds in her quest to use “Hell energy” to sustain her race.

Annnnnd that’s pretty much it for plot.

I don’t know if this counts as spoilers, but the Doom Slayer accomplishes every single one of his goals. He stops the invasion by killing the Hell Priests, he defeats the Khan Maykr, and then he goes along on his merry way.

It’s a straightforward story, and I appreciate that. However, things are muddied up a tad thanks to a plethora of Codex entries. See, throughout the game, one of the items you can find and collect are these Codex pages, texts that extend your knowledge of Doom lore.

You learn about Hell’s hierarchy, the rise of the Maykr society, the fall of Argent D’Nur. It’s a bunch of cool stuff, and a lot of it is interesting. However, it can get a bit confusing, especially when coupled with the Codex entries from the first game.

For example, in the first game, Argent energy was said to come directly from Elemental Wraiths trapped in Hell. The Wraiths’ souls made a Well that stores this hellish energy, and that’s what insane and idiotic human scientists were trying to tap into as a resource.

Doom Eternal complicates the process a bit. According to new Codex entries, Argent Energy is made using energy from Sentinels and the power of tortured souls in Hell, and it is then purified by the Elemental Wraiths due to Maykr technology.

Confused?

Yeah, me too.

It’s a minor grievance though. I’m not playing Doom Eternal for the story.

My bigger story gripe actually deals with how the game handles the Slayer himself.

In the first game, players were never removed from the Slayer’s perspective. You stayed in first-person mode no matter what, always looking through the eyes of Doomguy. When he opened a door, you saw his hands appear in front of you to lift it. When he picked up a new gun, you saw him hold it up to his/your eyes to inspect.

Doom Eternal makes the dubious choice of pulling players out of Doomguy’s shoes. On occasion, there will be a cutscene, and the “camera” will float out of the Doom Slayer’s eyes and instead hover around him cinematically so you can see his body from a more remote perspective.

I’m personally not a fan of this.

Call me old school, but I liked the immersion of being the Doom Slayer from Doom (2016). I liked feeling like his actions were my actions. In Doom Eternal, I felt like I was buddy-buddy with the Doomguy instead of being him.

And to add insult to injury, they actually have the Doomguy speak at one point.

Ugh. Noooooooooooo.

I did not like that one bit. I’m not going to grab a torch and pitchfork about it, but it definitely took me out of the game to hear the Slayer suddenyl growl “Rip and tear” in a totally contrived fashion.

My final thoughts on the story would be a low-key appreciation for the multiple locations it took us to. It often felt like we (the Doom Slayer and I) were going all over the place in a short time span. That dizzy variety of places, while befuddling my grasp on plot points and objectives, did give me some great arenas.

Which leads me to my next section…

Environment

Doom (2016) had fairly bland environments. You were either on Hell or Mars, and both locations were always tinted either shades of red or shades of grey.

Doom Eternal blows its predecessor out of the water when it comes to environments.

You’ve got the devastated landscapes of Earth during the demonic invasion. You’ve got the garish colors of Urdak, the Maykrs’ home world. The fiery environs of Hell are dangerous and mesmerizing. Even the somber nature of the Sentinels’ realm stands out from the crowd.

Plus, each of these locations offers up great arenas. Since mobility is prized in Doom Eternal, the maps have to be designed to allow a greater rein of movement. There are bars to swing from, lifts to propel you into the air, and ledges you can clamber onto. These mini-arenas are all superb.

In between arenas, there are quiet moments where players can explore the area for secrets. Cheat codes, collectible figurines, and music albums to hang around your Fortress of Doom are scattered throughout Doom Eternal, and looking for them is half the fun of the game.

The one downside to the environment is the platforming. In order to break up the constant stream of combat, developers decided to include light platforming mechanics.

These suck eggs.

Maybe it’s just me, but I loathed those weird gravity lift things on Urdak that would propel you through the air. They inconsistently launched you to sections of wall that you could “climb” on. And I could never get the timing exactly right the first time around. I either messed things up with an ill-timed double-jump, aimed my body right where it didn’t need to go, or plummeted to my death after failing to properly grab onto a wall.

I do not play Doom for platforming.

‘Nuff said.

Gameplay

However, platforming brings me to my next point. See, all that jumping and climbing and launching is meant to space out how often players are dancing in an arena. You can’t have players in combat 24/7.

But combat is where Doom Eternal shines the most. It is near goddamn perfection.

It is utter bliss to be running around an arena tearing up demons. What was first presented to us in Doom (2016) has been fine-tuned in Doom Eternal. Every weapon on the weapon wheel has a purpose to take down a demon, and every demon has a weakness that can be exploited. Cacademons can swallow a grenade from your combat shotgun. Precision shots from your heavy assault rifle can eliminate a Mancubus’ arm cannons. A Whiplash can be frozen in place with an ice bomb.

In the first game, you picked your favorite weapon (cough cough Super Shotgun cough cough) and stuck with it. In Doom Eternal, you need to constantly switch out to weapons that can better help you deal with specific demonic threats.

And the demons are gorgeous visually.

I mean, they’re ugly as heck.

But they’re designed to be ugly beautifully.

Every time you shoot them, chunks of flesh are torn from their bodies, a more rewarding manner of visibly letting players know they’re doing damage than a health bar receding above their heads.

The only demons that have a health bar are the big bosses, the Gladiator, the Khan Maykr, and the Icon of Sin (kind of). Those are intense but fun fights that truly test your mettle as a gamer.

My one major gameplay gripe has to do with the Marauder.

I hate that guy.

The Marauder is an enemy type that pops up from time to time to ruin a player’s day. The big issue with him is that he operates kind of like a boss. You have to time when you attack him perfectly. His eyes will flash green right before he swipes at you, meaning you have to shoot him with a heavy duty weapon at that exact moment. He can zoom around you very quickly, utilizing a dash feature similar to the one you as the Slayer possess. However, if you try to crowd him, he pulls out a shotgun that deals a massive amount of damage in one shot. And if you try to get some distance on him, he sends a ghostly hound after you that nips at your heels until the Marauder can catch up to you.

So the Marauder forces you to stay midrange with him, doing this slow-paced gun battle as you wait for his eyes to flash green before you shoot.

This in itself isn’t a problem. However, it becomes a problem when they stick the Marauder in a regular arena situation with a bunch of other demon types around. You can’t do a one-on-one battle with him until after you’ve dealt with the other demons. The Marauder halts the otherwise seamless flow of combat present in Doom Eternal.

And don’t get me started on that time trial that includes a Marauder.

Side note: Time trials are brief timed encounters with a group of four or five demons. One of them involved a Marauder. Imma be honest, I cheesed that fight so hard. I glitched it out so I “won” the fight without having to fight him.

At its best, Doom Eternal is an intense ballet of gunplay, with players switching out between weapons and grenades to take down the endless onslaught of demons. It takes skill, which makes the game feel like a challenge to overcome.

If you’re not staying on your toes though, a fight can quickly devolve into a jumbled juggle as you try to keep an eye on your shields and health while also running around trying to take down demons with a low ammo count on all weapons.

Music

In order to make players feel like a bad-ass even while they’re struggling with the intense gameplay, Doom Eternal has given us yet another pumping soundtrack.

I have never felt so alive and empowered as when I’m listening to Mick Gordon’s genius track while shooting down a horde of demons. He accomplishes in-game magic with his music.

I never thought metal and synth would be my thing, but it has slowly become one of my go-to sounds for feeling exhilarated. I feel unstoppable when listening to it. Even if I’m dying over and over and over again.

Final Thoughts

I would never say Doom Eternal is a bad game. It’s fantastic. However, it is most definitely not a relaxing game for me. My brain has to stay on high alert whenever I play it because it is one of the most intense gameplay experiences I’ve ever gone through. It’s a game I prep myself for, and I’ll drink a cup of coffee before I pick up a controller. That’s in stark contrast to the way I’ll play something like Super Mario Odyssey, slumped on my couch with a grin and a cup of tea.

And while I’m not fond of the changes made to the way the Doom Slayer is perceived, he remains one of my most favorite video game protagonists to play as. I’m not the best gamer. I’m below Below Average if I’m telling the truth. But Doomguy has always made me feel like a bad-ass, and that’s a sure sign a game can be tough and empowering at the same time.

I rate Doom Eternal a thrill-ride-through-Hell-that-is-a-gazillion-times-more-fun-than-it-sounds-and-it-already-sounds-hella-good.

No Eyes Will Stay Dry: A Silent Voice Review

I’m a mild to moderate manga reader and anime watcher. Like, I’ve read all of Death Note, but I’ve never read Bleach. I’ve watched a chunk of Naruto, but I haven’t even scratched the surface of Attack on Titan.

That said, I have friends who are avid manga and anime consumers. They are the ones who reproach me for never having seen Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood or for reading an issue of Shonen Jump. They also advise me on absolutely everything I should be watching/reading.

Side note: Demon Slayer is apparently really, really good.

Of all my friends who watch anime, my good buddy Bubba is probably the best. (Hey, shaka brah!)

Since this whole pandemic started, we’ve been watching movies with each other using Discord or Xbox Live. From Blade Runner to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, we’re chewing through films.

One of the movies we settled to watch was A Silent Voice, an anime film made in 2016 that hits you right in the feels. As of this writing, it is on Netflix.

It’s honestly a very touching story. Using blunt symbolism and dialogue left unspoken, A Silent Voice dives into tough subjects like bullying and depression. I approached this movie with absolutely no expectations, and by the time the credits rolled, I had to wipe my eyes and sniff snot back up my nostrils.

Needless to say, I thought the film was good.

The plot revolves around a boy named Shoya, who was a merciless bully to a fellow student named Shoko. Shoko is deaf, and it is this that forms the basis for her getting bullied. Egged on by his “friends” and classmates, Shoya is relentless in being mean to this girl.

However, after leaving middle school and entering high school, things have changed. Shoya elects to make up for what he’s done to Shoko, and spends the rest of the film desperately trying to make amends.

I seriously don’t want to spoil the ending, so I won’t detail how this situation is resolved, but it is a damn roller coaster of emotions.

The genre of the film is clearly slice-of-life, focusing on Shoya and Shoko’s teenage and childhood years. In the grand scheme of things, nothing dramatic or remarkable happens, but the emotional revelations the story places in your lap are enough to keep you engrossed in what’s going on.

A Silent Voice is based on a manga, so, as with anything that gets adapted into a film, there are parts that feel unexplained or rushed. While some might take this as a con of the movie, I feel like it contributes to the concept of peeking at the flashes of Shoya’s life.

That leads to one of the major draws of the movie. The manner in which the characters are examined perfectly encapsulates the overall message of the story. You don’t always know what is going on with a person below the surface. The film successfully conveys this in the way it gets you to (eventually) sympathize with a bully. Plus, there is a near-end-of-the-movie twist that emphasizes that point even further, showing that just because a person looks happy doesn’t mean they’re not struggling.

While it can get heavy-handed, the symbolism in the film is one of its strengths. At one point, Shoya feels like he can’t interact with other people without hurting himself or them. He effectively cuts himself off from socializing with classmates. The film demonstrates this by having every person who isn’t Shoya’s family bear a giant X on their faces. Shoya never meets their eyes, and the movie ensures that viewers can’t as well. This feature of the film is one that only an anime could successfully pull off.

Needless to say, the story covers some triggering topics, with suicide being referred to several times. I think it is handled well, especially with the notion that no life is worthless being incredibly stressed by the end of the film. Anyone can come back from the edge, and while forgiveness does not come easily, it can be found in the unlikeliest of places. Though I did cry, the movie’s end left me with a positive feeling.

Bubba and I like to make jokes throughout our movie-watching, but A Silent Voice managed to temper them. It’s a sobering and poignant story.

I rate it a silent-and-resounding-success-that-should-be-seen-at-least-once.

Beautiful and Broken: Ori and the Will of the Wisps Review

This was perhaps one of my most difficult reviews to write.

Normally, when I love a game, a burst of enthusiasm propels me forward when typing up how I feel about it. If I hate a game, my disgust and loathing would likewise fuel my writing.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps straddles that divide.

If you read one of my previous posts, you’ll know that Ori and the Will of the Wisps burned me with game-breaking glitches and bugs that permeated the entire experience. The game actually made me cry with how broken it was.

However, I will never review a game here that I have not completed, so I made sure to power through these issues before writing a review.

And here it is.

I want to focus on the game itself for my review, but I also don’t want to ignore the bugs that plagued my playthrough. So before I dive into the game, I’m going to list the bugs I encountered and stress that when I finished playing the game (about two weeks ago), a patch had not yet gone through to address them. Do not assume they have been fixed by the time of this writing.

The bugs I came across are as follows:

  • Slowed frame rate when many enemies were on the screen
  • Glitching into walls and becoming unable to get out unless the game was restarted
  • Inability to access the main menu
  • Hiccups every time the game automatically saved
  • Freezing when opening the map
  • Triggered boss encounters causing black screen
  • Loss of audio
  • Increased poor performance if play-time exceeded two hours

That said, the rest of this review will focus on the game minus the bugs (though I may gripe every now and then). Still, do not disregard this list as it very much impacted my enjoyment of the game.

Let’s do this.

Story

Ori and the Will of the Wisps tells a touching tale very much in the same vein as its predecessor, Ori and the Blind Forest. It picks up where the first game left off, with Ori having saved his/her forest and adopted Ku, the offspring of Kuro (antagonist of Blind Forest). Ori and Ku live with their family of Naru and Gumo, spending inordinate amounts of time playing with each other, eating, and teaching Ku how to fly.

Unfortunately, Ku’s wing has been damaged since she hatched, so no matter how much she wants to, she is unable to soar like she is meant to. However, thanks to Ori holding onto one of Kuro’s feathers and Gumo’s ingenuity, they finagle a way to let Ku fly again.

During a test flight, Ori and Ku travel far beyond their home and get caught up in a storm. They land in a place called Niwen, which once had a Spirit Tree just as Ori and Ku’s land of Nibel does. Sadly, Niwen’s Spirit Tree, a willow, has fallen to decay, and the denizens of this place are prey to the vicious creatures and corruption that come with it.

It’s up to you and Ku to bring life back to Niwen and somehow make your way back home.

I do not want to spoil the conclusion, but I will say it hit me right in the feels. Even with my frustration with those glitches, the ending reminded me of why I’m a fan of Ori and his/her world and the themes that were also in Ori and the Blind Forest.

If you loved the first game, Will of the Wisps gives a satisfying conclusion (or new beginning) to Ori’s story.

Exploration

Ori and the Will of the Wisps tickled my fancy as a video game completionist. It’s as pleasant as it ever was to collect everything and see the percentage of the game completed slowly climb up.

Ori’s traversal options are expanded, and not always in the way you think. Blue moss provides sections of the map where Ori can grapple between spaces, like Spider-Man. Packed sand creates caverns where Ori must burrow through in order to reach objectives.

These new options for moving Ori around feel absolutely natural to Ori’s familiar moveset, and it does not take long to get used to.

Will of the Wisps also gives Ori a few more items to collect aside from Life, Energy, and Spirit Light. You can gather Gorlek Ore to build up your home base at Wellspring Glades. You can also collect Spirit Shards to upgrade Ori’s abilities. The collect-a-thon continues, and I loved every minute of it.

I 100% completed Ori, gathering every item, doing every side quest, and beating every encounter.

Oh, but one glitch I forgot to mention prevented me from getting the achievements related to collecting everything. So yeah…there is that.

Combat

It took me a while to get used to Will of the Wisps’ new approach to combat, but afterwards, I can recognize that it is an improvement upon the first game.

In Blind Forest, the Heart of the Spirit Tree, Sein, traveled with you. It was Sein that attacked Ori’s enemies. Sein blasted them with a dazzling light that you could upgrade over time.

In Will of the Wisps, Sein is no longer with you, leaving Ori to fend for himself/herself. As such, he/she is given an arsenal of weapons that players have to buy or collect.

This improves the combat of the game as it now requires players to pick and choose what weapons they want to use in battle. You no longer spam an attack button so much as you perfectly time a shot from an arrow, a jab from a blade, or a swing of a hammer. Combat becomes a beautiful dance that perfectly matches the manner in which Ori moves through the world.

Environment

If Ori’s movements are a sight to behold, then the environments of the game are doubly so. Every location is a work of art, beautifully rendered to convey both practical and thematic concepts to players.

In the Mouldwood Depths, the eerie yellow and blue lighting gives off a sinister vibe that all is not right in this place, and players soon learn that to go into pitch black darkness is deadly, making those glowing lights safe havens along the way.

I honestly believe the locations in Will of the Wisps are even better than they were in Blind Forest because they are so distinct from each other. Inkwater Marsh, the place where Ori first lands on Niwen, is a swampy and wooded area. Baur’s Reach is a spectacular icy world, as beautiful as it is deadly. Luma Pools feels like an alien tropical paradise, with strange pink foliage and crisp pools of water to explore.

If I could spend hours just staring at screenshots of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, I would.

New Additions

As with any good sequel, Will of the Wisps adds to the formula created in Ori and the Blind Forest. Perhaps for the first time when playing a sequel, I heartily approve of every addition.

Combat shrines are placed at certain points on the map. These Shrines give players a chance to test their skills fighting a variety of opponents. I only had supreme difficulty with one Combat Shrine, and that was because I was insisting on using a specific weapon that was, looking back, really not suited for the enemy types thrown at me.

Alongside Combat Shrines, Spirit Trials are also speckled throughout the game. These things are a bitch and a half, I shit you not. They’re basically timed races that require you to use every one of Ori’s traversal abilities to perfection. I spent more than half an hour on several of these races (because I wanted that 100% completion for the whole game). Part of the reason the bug that broke my game made me cry so much was because I lost the progress I’d made, including completing one of the Spirit Trials. Had to do the damn thing twice. However, if your game isn’t bug-riddled, Spirit Trials are basically fantastic challenges to overcome.

Ori also picks up Shards in Will of the Wisps. These Shards are what allow him/her to upgrade his/her abilities. This gave the game more of an RPG bent that I was not averse to.

Will of the Wisps gave players a central hub, in the form of Wellspring Glades, where they could relax and meet interesting characters. Populating the world with characters made the game breathe better. You no longer feel like you and Ori are alone against the world. Rather, you and Ori are handling dangerous situations for critters who, while cute, could not cut it against some of the bosses you go up against.

Speaking of bosses, yeah, Ori and the Will of the Wisps gives players boss fights. These are basically epic fights against massive creatures, complete with a mega health bar to deplete. They are way tougher than a normal enemy encounter, but they are not impossible. (I’d prefer a million boss fights to five Spirit Trials.)

Final thoughts

Honestly, the game is phenomenal. I could see that even through the tears obscuring my vision as I factory-reset my Xbox after a near-bricking bug. It challenges you as a gamer, giving you a Dark Souls-esque rush when you beat a particularly tough moment, all while being wrapped up in fantastic game mechanics and artistic visuals.

But even though my review of the game is largely positive, I can’t, in good conscience, recommend Ori and the Will of the Wisps until its issues are patched out.

I rate Ori and the Will of the Wisps a heart-breaker-because-you-can-see-how-beautiful-it-is-beneath-its-flaws-almost-as-if-someone-tore-up-Van-Gogh’s-Starry-Night-and-then-taped-it-back-together.

The Rise and Fall of the Tomb Raider: A Review of the 'Survivor Series'

While waiting for Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Doom Eternal to come out, I finally completed the Tomb Raider “Survivor” series, as the latest games from Square Enix have been called. My friend Bubba (hello, Bubba!) gifted me Shadow of the Tomb Raider a while ago, and I finally finished it.

My thoughts on the three games in the series are decidedly mixed, but for the most part, they’re positive. And as I wait for the only games I made plans to purchase this year, this is the perfect time to review these Tomb Raider games I played.

If you don’t have the time to read a lengthy review, all you need to know is that the first game is the star of the series in my opinion. It gets worse as the trilogy goes on. But, if you want to go more in-depth about each game, let’s get into it!

Story

Tomb Raider

The first game sees Lara Croft transition into her future role as the iconic Tomb Raider. She’s a young student going out into the field to test out her theories. She’s looking for the lost island of Yamatai, and she has mentors and friends accompanying her. But when her ship gets shipwrecked on the island and the situation is more hostile and mystifying than she originally thought, Lara has to survive the harrowing experience using her smarts, skills, and not a small bit of luck.

Tomb Raider excels largely because it is a beginning. Players get to experience Lara’s transition from an inexperienced and unsure explorer into the confident delver of history we know she becomes. It’s a fantastic journey to follow.

Of course, there’s a rampant case of Murphy’s Law going on, where everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Lara seemingly falls from one bad situation into the next, and it can feel like a rush of haphazardness. But this panicked type of storytelling gets the job done. It sets players on edge, heightening the peril Lara is in.

And by the time the game’s credits roll around, players are satisfied knowing that Lara’s story is only just beginning.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

The second game sees Lara a bit more experienced than in the first. She’s hot on the trail of a purported messiah, but the insidious group known as Trinity is after the same thing. Lara Croft must confront her past and her future as she is brought closer to the mystery of immortal life her father was always chasing after.

The fantastic thing about Rise of the Tomb Raider is the focus it places on Lara’s guilt surrounding her dad. Her father had an obsession with discovering this ancient culture, believed in it with a passion that drove his every waking moment, but people didn’t believe him. Lara didn’t believe him. So when he purportedly killed himself, Lara was understandably guilt-ridden.

It’s clear she’s continuing his pursuits in an effort to make up for her refusal to believe him. Obviously, there is a part of her that enjoys the discovery of artifacts and ancient history, but her father’s death is an undeniable reason for the turn her career has taken.

In the end, Lara has to reconcile doing the right thing with proving that her father was never crazy to the world. It’s a damn interesting concept, and Rise of the Tomb Raider handles it fairly well.

Another major draw of the second game’s story is that it introduces Trinity as an enemy, and having them on the field raises the stakes.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

The third game of the Tomb Raider “Survivor Series” has Lara accidentally set an apocalypse in motion.

Yeah, if you thought the stakes were high in the last game, this one really tries to lift them even higher.

While trying to stop Trinity from getting their hands on a Earth-altering artifact, Lara accidentally causes the beginning of the end of the world. She travels to South America to rectify her mistake and to see if she can’t stop Trinity once and for all.

Right off the bat, the third game has issues with Lara’s character development. The initial premise actually sets up a promising start. Lara’s obsession, eerily similar to her father’s, causes the death of hundreds of people due to floods, earthquakes, and mudslides. She has to accept the responsibility that her actions come with consequences.

But the game’s story doesn’t carry this theme through to a satisfying conclusion. Lara does not learn from her mistake, or at least you never really get the sense that she does. She saves the day doing the same thing she’s always done. Raiding tombs, shooting baddies, and hunting the shit out of the local wildlife.

Toward the end of the game, Lara has to make a sacrifice to stop the apocalypse, and for a brief moment, you get a glimpse of a weird kind of redemption. But instead of actually making the sacrifice, some hokey magic happens and…well…that’s it. Lara’s alive, her friend Jonah is alive, the apocalypse is averted, and Trinity is stopped.

Lara’s behavior is made to appear obsessive to the point of unhealthiness. And the idea that the beloved Tomb Raider is responsible for hundreds of people dying sets her up for some deep character development. But if you were hoping to see her cope with it or struggle with it, all you really see is her burying her head in her work as per usual and everything working out okay in the end.

Gameplay

Tomb Raider

The core gameplay for every one of the games in the “Survivor Series” stems from the first game. There is exploration, environmental puzzles, and combat. During exploration, Lara can find artifacts, complete challenges, and use those ever-present, video game “senses” to help her and the player locate important objects.

The puzzles involve a small amount of logic and a knowledge of how the game’s physics work. Whether you’re opening windows to allow some wind to push something out of the way or balancing carts with weights, they’re still fairly straightforward.

The combat leans toward stealth, with the bow and arrow being the preferred weapon to use in situations. The game rewards you more if you can sneak up on enemies to kill them than if you rush in guns blazing. However, there are those aggravating “action scene” moments that rely on trigger-quick reactions and QTEs to save Lara. On occasion, you might get confused trying to stealth your way through a section of the game only to realize you’re supposed to play it loud and proud. But overall, the combat is still incredibly fun.

Rise of the Tomb Raider

The second game starts to add the clutter. One of my least favorite things about sequels is when too many new mechanics are added that don’t really lend anything worthwhile to the experience.

Doom Eternal is giving me a flamethrower to incinerate demons.

Total yes.

Rise of the Tomb Raider gave me crafting.

Ehh…

I’m not against crafting in video games, but I personally felt like it didn’t add much to the Tomb Raider experience.

One of the good things Rise of the Tomb Raider added was rare animals to hunt. These intense encounters with predator animals always hyped me up. Nothing gets your blood working like a bear charging at you.

Plus, the snowy settings looked absolutely gorgeous and made the game feel different from the first based on looks alone.

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

As with the story, the gameplay took a nosedive for me in the third game. The crafting was excessive, and the skill tree felt useless after a time. And do you want to know how often I used the Perception herbs to find things in the environment? Zilch, after the tutorial showing me how.

There were too many weapons available to upgrade, and they all felt the same. As a matter of fact, combat felt terrible in this final game. It became…easy. Encounters frequently relied on stealth, so much so that if you had some handy foliage and mud to cover yourself with, odds were you would survive the situation no problem. This final game became a walk in the park for me combat-wise.

The environmetal puzzle, on the other hand, did get upgraded in this game. There were plenty of times when I got stumped because I wasn’t using my noggin properly. So kudos to Shadow for that.

But you know what never makes a game fun?

Water levels.

And Shadow of the Tomb Raider added water levels. Breathing was an issue when you were trying to explore, but after a time I gave up on exploring underwater because I didn’t give a damn. (More on that later.) But even when trying to make my way from point A to point B underwater, frickin’ piranhas showed up and fucked with me.

By which I mean they ate Lara.

The manner in which you “hid” from the piranhas felt forced, and their awareness of you was hard to detect until it was too late. Once that swarm of fishies found you, you were dead meat.

And the side quests were the worst!

That’s right. Side quests.

At one point, I was asked to fetch a ceremonial horn for someone. I trotted over to the man who was suppoed to have it, but he was angry because his wife was sick and his son had gotten arrested trying to get medicine. So I walk over to where the son is held, but the guards won’t let me see him. Then I have to approach these neighborhood boys and fetch a toy they lost that’s not two feet away. The boys then feel amenable enough to distract the guards. I approach the son and tell him he’s free. I finally skip back to the horn-holder, tell him his son is safe, hand him the medicine, and then receive the horn from him.

This was by no means an interesting story, the horn didn’t really come into play in the main narrative later on, and I can’t even remember what I earned for that side mission. A feathered outfit…I think. It is a prime example of what not to do for a side quest.

But perhaps the most grievous offense Shadow of the Tomb Raider committed was getting rid of the various voice actors used for found artifacts and journals.

In the previous two games, Lara would often come across ancient writings, old journals, recorders, and other such things that told small stories of the people who had come before. Different voice actors would lend their talents to bringing these documents to life. I actually enjoyed finding these things because I was eager to hear the story of events past, the inner thoughts of a character, or a place’s history. This was one of my main reasons for exploring.

In Shadow of the Tomb Raider, gone is the cast of voices used to bring documents, journals, and records to life. Lara reads them all.

I take no issue with Lara’s voice actress. None at all. But if I wanted these documents to be read in the same voice, I might as well just read them aloud myself. Lara reading everything took away the fresh perspective those recordings should have had. They became almost pedantic in nature, and I lost all interest in the side stories they would tell.

Final Thoughts

The “Survivor” timeline of Lara Croft’s stories is serviceable, but toward the end of the trilogy it tempers my enthusiasm.

However, despite my complaints, overall, I did enjoy the series. It has its flaws, all of which became more aggravating in the third game, but the good times I had while playing were not negated by them. Just…occasionally overshadowed by them.

I rate this latest Tomb Raider franchise a fun-adventure-game-series-with-some-glaring-issues-but-still-enjoyable-nonetheless-that-is-if-you-are-okay-with-some-of-the-most-gruesome-death-scenes-in-gaming.

Lose a Coin to Your Witcher: The Witcher Season 1 Review

I wanted to like The Witcher.

I really did.

I swear, I was the stereotypical PTSD Game of Thrones viewer who was looking for something to fill the massive hole in my life since Daenerys burned down King’s Landing. I expected Netflix’s latest series, The Witcher, to fill that gap.

It did not, to say the least.

I had to force myself to watch the entire season because with each passing episode I became more and more dissatisfied with it. I found myself actively waiting for good moments, suffering through endless parts that made me grit my teeth in annoyance.

I mean, I thought the 3rd and 7th episodes were great, but the rest…

I’m a huge fantasy fan, but The Witcher did not tick me off because it was a fantasy story. It was just a terribly-told story, in my below average opinion.

That’s where the blame for my irritation with the show lies, the storytelling/writing aspect. The acting was as good as it could be, and I thoroughly enjoyed the fight scenes.

If you haven’t seen the show, by all means, watch it for yourself and form your own opinion. As for me, I’m about to rail against the four things that brought my esteem for The Witcher so low.

The Confusing Timeline of the Narrative

Normally, I adore time jumps. Flashbacks, flashforwards. Bring ’em on, I say! Christopher Nolan, do your worst.

But The Witcher’s gaggle of timelines left me reeling.

These disparate storylines set in varying times were confusing and unclear. Unless you had a prior understanding for how the story was going to be told, the jumps from one narrative to the next were not intuitive at all.

This is largely because there is no real indication of when the story is set in a different time beyond what characters tell you. Geralt and Yennefer, at some point, just stop aging, so there is no real way to indicate how many years have passed since you saw them in previous episodes.

For example, after Yennefer gleefully obtains a position at Aedirn, the next episode shows her dissatisfied with her position there. And beyond what she says about having been at court for so long, you never actually saw her progress from happy with this position to unhappy with it.

I understand why it’s needed for the show. The creators clearly wanted to tell a certain story, and in order to get to it, they needed characters to have a bit of background without lingering on it for too long. Geralt and Ciri need to find each other at the end, so the whole course of events that lead to that moment have to be shown while simultaneously maintaining an audience’s interest.

But if they were focusing on story elements that they believed mattered, they sacrificed so much to get there. These narrative time jumps, while they do the trick of setting up these “shock value” moments when you realize how the plot puzzle pieces fit together, end up feeling incredibly forced.

Character Development

When Ned Stark died, you cared.

Why?

Because Game of Thrones spent nine whole episodes building up the kind of man he was, the kind of honor he carried within him, so that when you saw him executed, you felt it in your gut. You were shocked. Horrified. Bereaved even.

Did you care when Borch “died” in Episode 6 of The Witcher?

No.

Why?

Because you only met the man in that episode.

Geralt himself had only met the man in that episode, so when Borch purportedly fell to his death, Geralt’s horror-stricken expression feels completely undeserved.

True, Geralt is a good person, so that’s probably why he cares.

But as a remote viewer, there is no reason in the world for you to care what happens to Borch.

Thus lies the second problem besetting The Witcher. For all the time-jumping the narrative does, not enough time is spent in character moments. These moments could be incredibly small, but they’re needed to make you care. Geralts is who he is from the start of the show to the end of it, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, it’s a tad irksome when you’re trying to connect with a show that’s set in a fantasy world.

It’s already difficult to find something to relate to with a man who is a mutant monster hunter. You know what I mean?

The one character who gets you to care is, funnily enough, Jaskier. He shows up enough times, spreads his humor around Geralt’s surliness like flowers, and sings great catchy songs, so that when his life is imperiled by the djinn, you as a viewer have that, “Oh shit, what’s going to happen to him” moment.

But other characters fail to have their moments.

Take Yennefer as another example. On the surface, you care about her struggle to get power, to escape her past as a deformed and powerless hunchback. But absolutely no time is spent developing her desire to have children, so when she begins to act on her wish to have one, it leaves viewers a little nonplussed. It doesn’t feel like she wants one. In fact, Yennefer has to state that she does for viewers to know she does.

Which leads me to my other grievance with the show…

Show Don’t Tell

“Show don’t tell” is an age-old writing adage that illustrates the necessity of drawing in your readers to conclusions instead of just shoving it in their faces.

The Witcher fails at this completely.

More times than I can count, the show freakin’ just tells you what’s what instead of showing you.

Understandably, the show has a time limit, and it needs to get its story across as much as possible within that time. But if your story can’t be shown to viewers, it has to be told, then there is something wrong with the way you’re conveying the narrative.

The perfect example of this is when the Law of Surprise is first mentioned. The character of Duny shows up in Cintra to profess his love for (and his claim to) Pavetta.

He then embarks on telling this tale of how he saved Pavetta’s father’s life long ago, and in repayment for his actions, the King granted Duny this (stupid) Law of Surprise.

Side note: For those of you who don’t know, the Law of Surprise is this thing where you can just be “Surprise, bitch! Give me something to pay back the debt you owed me.”

When this happened, I wanted to scream.

Duny is freaking telling us very important plot points to our faces instead of, I don’t know, having us see him save Pavetta’s dad’s life?!

Before this episode, we had never met Duny. All we know about him is what is told about him and what he tells us. The episode where he is introduced is like a wormhole of show-don’t-tell mistakes that you can get lost in.

But the entire show suffers from this malady. Too many times are things explained instead of shown.

Let’s take a look at Game of Thrones one more time.

During the first part of the show, you hear the term “Valyrian steel” dropped more than once. It’s not initially told to viewers what Valyrian steel is, but you get the idea that it is very valuable. Swords made of the stuff carry extra value and seem rare.

Later, it’s dropped that Valyria is the place where dragons came from.

After that, it is revealed that Valyrian steel swords were forged using dragon fire.

Even further after that, it is shown that Valyrian steel can be used to kill White Walkers.

These revelations happened over the course of five seasons. It wasn’t just an info dump done in a single episode.

The Exact Rules of Magic

The price of using magic in the world of The Witcher is initially made very clear. During a lesson that Yennefer attends, young mages are shown trying to levitate a rock. When a girl succeeds at this, her hand withers and drys in front of them. Their instructor then reminds them that magic comes at a cost. She advises the students to pick up flowers on the desk before attempting to move the rock. Once the flower is in their hands, when the students lift the rocks, the flowers wither instead of their hands.

Simple, right? Magic uses energy, and you have to give an appropriate amount or else it will take a lot from you.

But immediately after that episode, the cost of using magic is never mentioned much again or adhered to in any fashion.

Yennefer creates portals to other countries without losing so much as a fingertip.

A sorceress is able to kill a group of men with a gesture, and all she gets is a bloody nose.

Another mage moves a fog around over a wide space, and I guess that fog came at a hefty cost, ’cause he just keeled over and died.

There is no explanation for why magic works the way it does.

Maybe I have been spoiled by the Harry Potter and Eragon series, but I very much like it when there are rules to how magic works.

I prefer the rules for spells to be spelled out.

In The Witcher, magic does what it does seemingly for the sake of the plot.

Concluding Thoughts

I feel like I’m the only one who got massively annoyed by The Witcher, and I don’t know why it’s bothered me so much. The last time I got this peeved at something I watched, I had just seen The Crimes of Grindelwald. (Huh, maybe bad stories with unexplained magic are my Achilles heel.)

But in case you liked it despite my tirade against it, don’t worry. You’re definitely not alone. I have friends ready to figuratively die to defend it.

Plus, I enjoyed the hell out of The Rise of Skywalker, so who am I to judge someone for liking The Witcher. This is yet another example of how diverse everyone’s tastes are.

I rate the first season of The Witcher an I’m-still-going-to-watch-it-because-I-desperately-need-another-fantasy-show-in-my-life-but-I’m-not-particularly-thrilled-about-having-to-sit-through-more-contrived-plot-devices-so-here’s-hoping-the-next-season-is-better-narratively-speaking-or-includes-enough-sword-fights-and-naked-Geralt-to-hold-me-over.

Cats Review / The What-Did-I-Just-Watch Rant

My base understanding of Cats before I went to go see the movie was comprised of two things:

  1. The movie is about cats.
  2. There’s a really good song called “Memory” in it.

That’s it. When I walked into the theater to see it with a group of friends, that was the extent of my knowledge about Cats.

Now, I know so much more.

And not much of it is good.

In case you don’t want to read any further than this because you just don’t want to have anything to do with Cats, let me leave you with the surface-level impressions.

For the first part of the movie, you might have no clue what is going on, especially if you had no idea that the term “Jellicle” is what the cat-creatures call themselves. There are only two good-ish parts in the whole film, and they are surrounded by what-the-actual-fuck moments. And lastly, while the movie is an incomprehensible piece of refuse, it is tremendously good for laughs.

For those of you morbid enough to want to stick with me, here is a brief synopsis of the “story.”

Side note: The word “story” is in quotes because, as you’ll soon see, the “story” of Cats is a nightmare of confusion, bafflement, and insanity.

Protagonist cat-creature Victoria is dumped by, I asuume, her human owner onto the street. Once there, she is introduced to the world of cats, except they’re not really cats. They call themselves Jellicle Cats, and I still have no idea if this means something.

The Jellicles basically act like dicks for most of the time, like a regular cat would, but they at least try to explain to Victoria what life is like for them. Apparently, Victoria got abandoned at a very special time. This particular night is a celebration for Jellicles because something called the Jellicle Choice is happening.

When they sang their songs about the Jellicle Choice, they weren’t especially clear about what it entailed. But from what I gathered eventually, the Jellicle Choice is made by this old lady Jellicle Cat. She picks one Jellicle from the group (thereby making the Jellicle Choice) to be reincarnated into a new life.

Yeah, I had no idea how that would work, but at this point in the film, I just decided to roll with it.

The majority of the movie is then consumed by Victoria being introduced to a bunch of different cats who all want to be the Jellicle Choice. And they all sing songs about it.

In between their songs, audiences are introduced to this mean Jellicle named Macavity. Macavity really really wants to be the Jellicle Choice, and he catnaps a bunch of Jellicles to try and eliminate them as possible choices for the old-lady cat. (Spoiler warning: His plan doesn’t work.)

In the end, Victoria convinces old-lady cat and the other Jellicles to make this other ostracized Jellicle the Choice. This ostracized Jellicle has the most beautiful voice, and she sings a song (the song) about the faded joy of her youth. Once all the Jellicles hear her song, the old-lady cat decides to indeed make Previously-Ostracized Jellicle the Jellicle Choice.

Side note: I have officially typed the word “Jellicle” more times than I’ve ever wanted to in my life.

The movie kind of ends once the Jellicle Choice is placed in a hot air balloon and sent into the sky to probably die a cold and lonely death.

No, I am not even kidding.

So clearly Cats has some story issues. It is painfully unclear what is going on at times. The plot is not cohesive, and the only structure it is given is by introducing Victoria to new Jellicles, which hardly makes for a good story.

When I left the theater, I actually Googled “what is story to Cats” and I read up on the history of the musical. Apparently, the whole thing was inspired by some T.S. Eliot poems, to which I have to say, “Ohhhhhh, now I see. Now I see why the whole thing feels plotless.”

For those of you not in the know, T.S. Eliot is a writer from the postmodernist era of literature. I actually really enjoy postmodernist literature and poetry. It makes for a delightfully intricate pattern of nonpatterns that relies more on inferences and paradoxes than straightforward narratives. But as you can probably guess from that last statement of mine, that’s not a good backbone for a movie.

See, postmodernism in literature is all about the unreliability of narrators and the impossibility of penning human nature into a strict narrative. Which is the opposite of a basic story.

In layman’s terms, postmodernism can make for terrible movies.

Cats also failed to grab my attention musically. (And it’s a goddamn musical!) The only songs I liked were “Memory” and “Beautiful Ghosts.” When those songs are sung, you actually feel yourself become mesmerized by the melody. You look into the eyes of the Jellicle singing and think to yourself, “Holy shit, you have understandable feelings.” But then the song ends and another Jelllicle starts singing some rubbish.

Now, I know a lot of people complained about the visual effects used for Cats. While they are disconcerting, they’re not that bad. Maybe I’m just used to bad graphics from my time with Mass Effect: Andromeda.

Only two things bothered me visually in the movie. One was the fact that some of the Jellicles wear fur coats.

I mean, they’re cats, they’re already sporting fur all over their bodies. There’s no reason for them to wear these extravagant fur coats.

Also…where did they get them?

The second thing that was a bit disconcerting about the visuals was how sexual they were. They’re doing some weird kind of ballet throughout the movie, but it feels highly sensualized. And the girl Jellicles have the faint outlines of boobs.

Weird.

Cats is only meant for two kinds of people in this world. You are either a really big fan of the musical and want to see the film version of it OR you are going to see it with some chums in order to chuckle and chortle over how bad it is.

I rate Cats an I-can’t-believe-I-spent-money-actual-cash-to-see-this-movie-and-now-I-have-to-mentally-justify-this-to-myself-for-the-rest-of-my-life-or-else-I-might-just-pull-a-Jellicle-Choice.

The Skywalker Experience: A Sort of Review for the Latest Movie

When Joker came out, I actually bailed on writing a review of it. I had the most tumultuous time after watching that movie and trying to suss out how I felt about it. I didn’t want to touch a review of it with a ten-foot pole.

The Rise of Skywalker came out last week, and it felt almost as divisive as Joker, which kinda freaked me out a bit about reviewing it.

But this is Star Wars we’re talking about here. I love Star Wars.

No way am I not going to talk about how I felt about the supposed end of the Skywalker saga.

Besides, the name of my blog should serve as a disclaimer that I have no idea what I’m talking about and will hopefully deter anybody from getting pissy about what I say. It’s a below average review, people.

Also SPOILER WARNING!!!!!!!!

So, basically, The Rise of Skywalker ties up the story we started in The Force Awakens. Rey’s journey with her friends is concluded, Kylo Ren’s “villain” arc is resolved, and Palpatine is introduced as the big bad. (Or has he been the big bad from the very beginning?)

With that said as a general overview, it’s time for my thoughts on it, right?

I loved it!

Yup, I’m solidly in the camp of people who enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. I had so much fun while watching the movie. I’ve seen it in theaters three times, and I probably wouldn’t mind watching it again. For me, it was a blast from start to finish. I was constantly entertained, and, at the end of the day, that’s what I want from my sci-fi-space-wizard films.

If The Last Jedi or The Force Awakens bored you a tad, The Rise of Skywalker won’t. There are these sweeping fights and escapes that seem to happen every ten minutes in the story, and who doesn’t like a good lightsaber fight, am I right? Plus, the callbacks to the original films, the prequel films, and even the prior sequel films, all hit the nail on the head. This movie made me look back fondly on everything that has happened in the Star Wars universe.

That’s not to say that it’s a perfect movie.

The Rise of Skywalker is rushed as fuck. The action is nonstop, so it doesn’t let quiet moments in the story breathe properly. (Tip of the hat to Danny, who worded this perfectly.)

Critics of the movie also appear to dislike it for two major reasons:

  1. It erases the tonal shift and overall plot changes of The Last Jedi.
  2. It makes Force usage and power levels ubiquitous.

To the first critique, yeah, I can see why that’s a complaint. If you adored The Last Jedi, The Rise of Skywalker might tick you off with how casually it dismantles the foundation its predecessor lay. Though to be fair, The Last Jedi itself deconstructed what The Force Awakens set up, so it’s a total case of what goes around comes around.

To the second critique…

Well…

It’s space magic. This isn’t some Christopher-Nolan-intellectual-head-scratcher or Martin-Scorsese-realistic-crime-thriller type of movie. If a director wants to introduce crazy-extreme Force powers in a Star Wars movie just for the heck of it, I’m more than willing to accept these surface-level changes.

And to those of you saying that it forever ruins the original trilogy…no. No, it does not. Those originals still exist. You can watch them, and they’re the same. If you so choose, you can ignore the sequels for the rest of your life. Don’t waste your time hating on these new movies and crying that they’re ruining your childhood when your childhood is over and done with, and it is essentially pristine thanks to the unalterable effect of having happened years in the past.

Anyways, let’s get into the nitty-gritty.

The big reveal of The Rise of Skywalker is that Rey is a Palpatine. Apparently, someone was willing to bone the Emperor, and he had a son. Presumably, this son grew up, got married, and had Rey, and he decided that he didn’t want her to be influenced by Palpatine in any way. That’s why Rey was abandoned on Jakku.

This revelation wasn’t given much breathing time, so aside from shocked expressions, we don’t see Rey processing it as much as I would have liked. However, it does explain why Rey is so OP. She’s got that Palpatine blood coursing through her.

As you might have guessed, this is what makes The Rise of Skywalker such a middle finger to those who loved The Last Jedi. The Last Jedi was all about deconstructing the importance of bloodlines when it came to the Force. It proudly stated that Rey was a nobody, and there was no rhyme or reason as to why she was strong in the Force.

I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t a big fan of The Last Jedi. The structure of the story felt a little off to me, and certain plot holes kind of grated on me more than usual. But for me, Star Wars is Star Wars, and I like seeing people try new things with it. So I was not upset about Rey’s lack of notable parentage. Its sudden reversal in The Rise of Skywalker also did not annoy me simply because I kind of expected the last film in the trilogy to shake things up once more.

And even though The Rise of Skywalker dismantled what The Last Jedi built, it funnily enough made me appreciate the black sheep of the sequel family. By far, The Rise of Skywalker is my favorite movie of the sequel trilogy, but I can now look back at The Last Jedi with more fondness than I did before.

The Rise of Skywalker also introduces new characters to the franchise, like Zorii, Babu Frik, D-O, Jannah, and the Knights of Ren. For the most part, these new characters are handled well, and their introductions, while rushed, are entertaining.

Well, all except for the Knights of Ren. When you first see them walking around, you’re all, “Ohhh, so cool. Hashtag squad goals.”

But then you realize they essentially do and say nothing important in the movie, and you feel a disappointment you haven’t felt since Boba Fett’s fall into the Sarlacc Pit.

But alas, that’s the way things go sometimes.

Fans of deep Star Wars lore also have a lot to dissect in The Rise of Skywalker. It introduces something called a Force dyad, and even I have no clue what that means yet. It does give me a hankering to buy Star Wars books as soon as possible, which might be what they intended to happen all along.

Which brings me to that whole Reylo thing.

Look, I’m not a Reylo fan, but I’m not not a Reylo fan.

The Last Jedi featured some definite chemistry between Rey and Kylo Ren during those moments when they were bonded in the Force. The Rise of Skywalker ups the ante for that in a major way. I was definitely shocked that they went as far as they did in establishing and solidifying Reylo as a thing, but it actually seemed kind of…logical? It seemed like a natural progression, in a weird way.

Still, there is a part of me that kind of wishes they had left it more understated than they did. I don’t need much romance in my Star Wars movies, and after Anakin and his I-hate-sand flirtations, I kind of reached my limit.

Side note: At no point does The Rise of Skywalker reach the cringe-levels that the prequels did. The prequels still hold first place when it comes to cringey, yet awesomely quotable, dialogue.

So yes, long story short, I enjoyed the heck out of this movie. I don’t need my Star Wars movies to be a top-notch critical experience. The Rise of Skywalker swept me up in a thrilling adventure and made me forget about my life for a good two and a half hours. And that’s exactly what the first Star Wars film did for me too, all those years ago.

Doctor Sleep Movie Review: The Shining Sequel We All Deserved

My friend Sidney and I have watched a strange collection of movies together. We saw Midsommar, Rambo: Last Blood, and Joker together, and if you’ve seen those three movies, you’ll know that it’s a major up-and-down experience. (The down part being totally Rambo: Last Blood’s fault.)

So when he invited me to see Doctor Sleep this past weekend, I was oh so totally down for it. I’ve learned that whatever movie I watch with Sidney, whether it’s good or terrible, it’ll be a side-splitting blast. Plus, Doctor Sleep had been on my radar since the trailer came out.

See, I’ve read both The Shining and Doctor Sleep, both written by Stephen King. I’ve also seen the Stanley Kubrick film, The Shining. And anyone who is a Stephen King fan knows that The Shining movie is a different beast from the book. There’s this huge debate about which version is better, and I’m honestly in the weird camp that really likes both. I don’t think I have it in me to dislike anything Stephen King writes, and Kubrick’s movie is one of my go-to films for when I’m feeling sick.

So, my first impressions when seeing that they were going to make a film about King’s sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep was confusion. How could they reconcile Kubrick’s vision with King’s? I mean, it’s obvious from the imagery and music in the trailer that it was a sequel to Kubrick’s film. But the story of Doctor Sleep that I knew from having read the book was deeply integrated with the events of King’s The Shining.

So I had no idea how the hell this new film was going to turn out.

Well, as it turned out, Doctor Sleep turned out fucking awesome!

They did it. This movie accomplished the impossible. It gave homage to Kubrick’s film while remaining true to everything about “the Shine” that Stephen King imagined.

Visually, the movie tries to emulate Kubrick’s The Shining where it can. The set decorations, the camera movements, the costumes of returning characters, they all make fans of Kubrick get a tingling in the backs of their heads. Even the music, those iconic horns, drums, and rattles will be reminscent of the film.

But story-wise, it is a child of Stephen King.

All too often, movies fail to capture Stephen King’s kind of magic. I think It comes the closest to embodying his kind of mysticism, but even then, given how every iteration of It falls short towards the end, I’d still say It pales in comparison to Doctor Sleep. Doctor Sleep shows audiences what the Shine is supposed to be like, and it does a fantastic job of it. I won’t spoil it here, but it’s mind-bending.

If you can recall from Kubrick’s Shining, when young Danny Torrance is calling out for help to Dick Hallorann, it’s conveyed to you by a high-pitched ringing, Danny shaking and drooling, and quick cuts to scary images. That was supposed to show how Danny uses his Shine to contact Dick.

Doctor Sleep blows it out of the water in this regard. The way in which characters use the Shine is phenomenally portrayed. It’s the best thing about the movie, honestly.

The one thing that bugs me about the movie is the lack of explanation for where those dang canisters come from. (Total spoiler, I guess, but if you don’t know anything about the movie, you won’t know what I’m talking about until you actually see it. So it’s a safe spoiler?) The canisters that contain the “Steam” look futuristic and high tech, but the True Knot state they’ve been around for ages. So what gives?

Anyways, bottom line, if you’re a Stephen King fan, you absolutely have to watch Doctor Sleep. It gives you those twisting narratives and deep emotions we love so well, and it gives Danny Torrance the ending he deserved.

I rate Doctor Sleep a surprising-delight-for-both-fans-of-the-King-and-Kubrick-classics.

We Were Here Review!

I have a friend named Fro who gets sent to these awful assignments in San Francisco as part of his work. While it majorly sucks that he’s sent there for weeks, it does make for some great Xbox Live playtime.

A few days ago, we thought we’d try out one of the games that was offered for free on Xbox Live Gold. It was titled We Were Here, and neither of us knew much about it except that it was an online co-op experience.

So, we both thought, ‘Why the hell not?’

What followed was the most enjoyable three hours I’ve ever spent playing a video game.

The controls are simple and easy to learn. The game is played in first person, so you have the typical configuration of right and left sticks controlling the camera and movement respectively. There are a crouch and a jump button, but since the game’s not a platformer, you don’t have to worry about those too much. A button to pick up items is the most important control, followed by the delightful walkie-talkie button.

That’s right, folks. The game insists that you abandon that Xbox Live party since the game’s in-chat system is an integral mechanic. The two players have to radio each other, using a bumper to pull up a radio that they speak into. Only one person can talk at a time, and in a game where the two of you are separated for the entirety of the game, communication is key.

In essence, We Were Here is a puzzle game. It was developed by Total Mayhem Games, and I’m so surprised no one else has struck the gold they did with this game concept. If I were to try and describe it in a single sentence, I’d say it’s an escape room in video game form.

One player is the explorer, and they have to make their way through a confusing and treacherous castle. The other player is the librarian, and they’re stuck in a room with charts, books, projectors, and paintings that can help the explorer on their journey.

Together, the two of you have to escape.

This game is absolutely delightful. I had a blast playing it, and I can’t say I’ve had the same experience while playing any other game.

It’s challenging, but not too hard, finding that perfect balance between testing your brain and breaking it. It really and truly relies on communication because the explorer and the librarian do not know what the other is seeing unless they’re told.

Fro and I actually had to say, “over” after we were done speaking so that we didn’t clog up the line of communication and speak over each other. And we really brushed up on our…describing skills.

Plus, the game has a touch of fright. When the explorer is in a certain area, some kind of monster haunts the hallways. Fro started flipping out over the walkie-talkie when he saw it, since he was the explorer, and I was just safely in my little library trying to help him out.

The ending to the game would be my only gripe, but I’m not going to say what it is so that I don’t spoil it for anyone. Let’s just say it leaves you thinking there’s more, when there isn’t. (Unless there is!)

We Were Here was perfect for a single sitting-game session. It’s available on Xbox and on PC. If you get it, I can guarantee you won’t regret it. Just be sure to play with a friend.

I rate We Were Here a play-with-a-person-you-know-and-can-joke-with-and-it-also-wouldn’t-hurt-if-they’re-on-the-intelligent-side.

Some Crazy-Ex Appreciation

Last time I wrote about a television show, it was about Game of Thrones, and we all know how that went.

After that particular roller coaster, I wasn’t sure how I felt about tackling a television show again. TV series are such a commitment. You invest a lot more time and energy when watching and reviewing a show than when you review a movie.

But after finishing up the show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, I knew I had to talk about it at some point. ‘Cause goddamn that show is subtly amazing. It’s like a sleeper hit show.

So this post is about giving some appreciation to a series that I think has gone underappreciated by the masses.

I got introduced to Crazy Ex by a friend of mine, one Andreya of TotesAndreya fame. A few years ago, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was all she talked about. She was avidly watching the show, claiming she felt personally attacked by the depiction of the main character, but loving every minute of it. She would play the songs from the show (it’s kind of a musical) in the car all the time. She highly recommended I watch it, and I eventually took her up on that.

Side note: Depending on the person who recommends something to me and how they recommend it determines whether or not I’ll actually give it a try. But once I decide I’m trying it, I damn well try it.

I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the title because it sounded too much like a rom-com, made-for-TV movie, but the show stuck some dynamite in the mouth of my expectations and blew me away. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is supremely self-aware, and if there’s one thing I appreciate in my shows and my friends, it’s self-awareness.

At first, Crazy Ex seems like a campy, corny comedy-romance that you catch on the CW all the time. But underneath that campiness is a scathing wit,and under the wit is heart, the willingness to bare the soul of a story.

Plus, it’s essentially a musical. And who doesn’t love musicals?

The premise of the show is wince-inducing. Main character Rebecca makes this decision to drop everything in her life to try rekindling something with an ex-boyfriend, even though he lives on the other side of the country and already has a girlfriend. What ensues is nothing short of cringe-worthy as Rebecca abases herself and puts herself in these embarassing situations all to win her ex’s favor. I’m telling you, this shit was more cringey than the Scott’s Tots episode of The Office.

But the show, by increasing degrees, starts getting real. It morphs from this cutesy romantic-comedy with a dash of zaniness to a clever and uncompromising look at mental health and character growth.

And when I say character growth, I don’t just mean that the characters on the show grow, though yes, that does happen. What I mean is that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend features a story that is all about what it means to grow as a person, what it means to develop your own character.

It’s hard work, and it’s a lifelong project, but the rewards are self-evident.

I did not expect to like Crazy Ex as much as I did. Now, I’m recommending it to my family, listening to the soundtrack as I work, and lining up to see panels about it at Comic Con.

So while Game of Thrones might have been a show that took up a great deal of my life with how much I loved it, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend changed my life. Yes, that sounds overly dramatic, but it’s not as dramatic as it sounds. It changed my outlook on certain ideas is all.

I rate it a must-watch-for-anyone-who-has-ever-felt-trapped-by-their-own-personality-and-is-looking-to-have-a-good-laugh-about-the-fact-while-simultaneously-confronting-it.