If a tree falls in a forest, and a mythological gigantic ape picks it up to use it as a weapon, does it make a sound? Yes, that sound is me in the theater audibly uttering “wow” through a giddy smile. This is the true test Kong: Skull Island has to pass or fail. Could it not only entertain but “wow” audiences with its spectacle? Fortunately, it unquestionably amazes with its stunningly-crafted CG and scale, but it’s at the expense of smooth dialogue and strong characters.
In the latest Kong retelling, the story is as thin as you’d expect, since the emphasis is on the origins of these monsters. As the Vietnam war comes to an end, a group of determined scientists implores the government to send a military escort with them to an undiscovered island. Along the way, said scientists hire a tracker (Tom Hiddleston). Separately, a photographer tags along (Brie Larson). The plot broken down in a sentence is essentially “some dummies go to Kong’s island to study things.” I’m never a fan of being reductive, but a film isn’t supposed to make it so easy to do. Regardless, I suppose that’s not why we eagerly watch these types of popcorn blockbusters.
Commendably, Warner Bros. Pictures employs one of the strongest ensemble casts you’ll see in a movie all year. Hiddleston, recent Oscar winner Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Toby Kebbell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, and Jing Tian star, to name a few. The film also features a Straight Outta Compton reunion with cast members Jason Mitchell (Easy E) and Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre). The casting aspect alone held so much promise on paper, but this potential felt largely squandered.
Sam Jackson and John C. Reilly are clearly taking liberties and enjoying it in their respective roles, but everyone else is strikingly forgettable. There’s attempted interplay between a couple of the marines that ultimately falls flat. Heavy-hitting actors Hiddleston and Larson are simply present to be a conduit of plot details for us, the audience. Most of what they do while on camera is react with the best surprised expression they can muster. Sure, the two have distinct occupations but it’s merely an excuse to carry them into this dangerous adventure. Not to mention, Hiddleston’s James Conrad did very little tracking at all. As far as definitive personality traits, I didn’t notice any from Hiddleston, Larson, or the many other expendable individuals.
As I touched on, Reilly and Jackson are a blast to watch as they chew up their scenery. Whether improvised or purposefully written, the jokes never seem to land pre-Reilly. Like he does in his prior comedic work, he has a natural delivery and general presence that inspires laughter. Jackson as Colonel Packard recited some insane lines in the vein of a cheesy ’90s action villain with such hilarious conviction. The duo was nothing short of a joy to see perform.
We have to praise the real star of the show: Kong. Everything about him in Skull Island exceeded my expectations. If your primary complaint of 2014’s Godzilla was “where’d that enlarged lizard thing go?,” prepare to be satisfied. Kong appears in the first 3 minutes, and they don’t hold back as a means to build tension (which I personally appreciated in the latest Godzilla effort). At times, he’s spotted merely walking around the island, and every frame he occupies feels majestic. Terry Notary put forth a tremendous motion-capture effort that added a surprising amount of nuanced personality to the familiar beast. More than that, Kong is written with a layer of ingenuity. In his several oversized-creature battles, he uses his surroundings and tools he might spot at random to their full potential to aid him in bringing down his enemies. Kong himself should satisfy the majority of moviegoers.
Another facet I appreciated from the picture was director Jordan Vogt-Roberts‘ work behind the camera. There are plenty of carefully constructed frames with a remarkable colorful concoctions. After the movie rushes past certain crudely-written scenes with one-dimensional supporting characters, Vogt-Roberts squeezes in intricately vibrant set pieces. Whether it’s a fast-paced action sequence involving an abundance of fire or Kong purely looking at a sunrise, he shows off his knack for capturing the beautiful production design in a visually-palpable way. Unfortunately, he’s not given many opportunities to display these skills on more than a couple occasions.
I may have levied quite a few criticisms against this flick. Nevertheless, a visit to the theater to see Kong: Skull Island on the silver screen is a good investment. If you expected occasional astounding visuals and fantastic monster fights, then Skull Island will distribute that in spades. Anticipating tangible character development and dialogue that doesn’t make you cringe is simply too much to ask. While we always prefer a satisfying mixture of both, Kong is still an enjoyable (literal) giant blockbuster. Also, don’t forget to remain seated for a post-credits tease. You’ll start to see how the larger Warner Bros. MonsterVerse starts to connect, and it’s very exciting.
Well, it’s that time again. It’s almost March and I haven’t written an article for this month yet. Better go over another short selection of things I hate.
Every year. Every year, without fail, I have to sit through posts on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, etc. all rallying around the idea that somehow, this year was the worst year of all time. “Okay no I know I say this every year. But this time for real, 2016 was the WORST. Fuck you, 2016!”
NO, FUCK YOU BRADLEY. 2016 is an artifical construct, a useful unit by which we can tell how much time has passed. It’s as arbitrary and meaningless as your corduroy jacket with the elbow patches you call your professor jacket, you irrelevant moron.
It’s not original, it’s not funny, it’s not even a good rallying cry because guess what? You’re going to say the exact same thing 12 months from now! We’re two months into 2017 and I could write an actual, full fledged, not well received novel about the horrible events from this year, but nowhere do you see “Fuck 2017!” Nah, gotta wait until you have to throw away the Thanksgiving leftovers and wrap a present for your estranged cousin who just showed back up in the family after being in a cult and we all have to pretend it’s okay. Some strange combination of holiday stress, the reminder of mortality, and the end of a time period makes people look back on that time and think “you know what, so many bad things happened this year. There’s no WAY next year will be as bad. In fact, you know what…”
“This year’s gonna be my year!”
Is it? No really, is it though? If it’s your year, how’s it gonna be my year?
Listen. Bradley. My dude. The weird importance you place on arbitrary time markers is understandable, but ultimately as useless as your “fine dining for cats” start up idea. If you didn’t make last year your year, why did you wait until it was over to try again?
And this shouldn’t be taken to discourage anyone from trying to better themselves. If you really needed something as dumb as New Year’s Eve to start losing weight, writing your novel, or quitting smoking then lemme be your Dick Clark cause I got balls to drop.
I’m just saying keep trying all the time. Go after your goals with as much fervor today as tomorrow as next week as summer as December all the way until you die. Don’t wait to go get what you want, and don’t blame the year if it doesn’t go right.
When someone disagrees with you and ends a sentence in “right?”
Me: “I don’t know man, I just didn’t like Majora’s Mask that much. It was fine, but kind of stagnant in places and the pacing was awkward.”
Them: “I mean…it had the best story, right?”
Internal me: You manipulative motherf-NO. THAT’S WHY WE’RE ARGUING.
External me: “….YOU MANIPULATI-”
If we’re in a debate about something, the purpose of which is to leave the other party with more understanding of your position and views and maybe even to convince them, the absolute WORST way you can come at me is with some “X is true though, right?” nonsense. If I thought X were true, why in Master Splinter’s name would I be actively providing evidence that it’s not?
What are you even doing? Are you trying to duck season, wabbit season my ass into agreeing with you?
You can’t Zac Efron your way into a “well okay, I guess you’re right.”
I’m just tired of making a case for something and in the middle of it, have every point we’ve both made undermined by “…buuuuut I’m right though, right? Like what you’re saying it objectively wrong and I’m just right?”
Next time I hear a sentence ended by a “right” and a condescending tone, you’re gonna catch this right hand to yer gob I swear on me mum.
Though the Yakuza series has been around since 2006, when Yakuza eventually came to the West, it had it’s share of problems. Overrun with horrible dubbing and poor marketing strategies meant that the series never received the fair chance it deserved.
Fortunately for fans of this franchise, the Yakuza series in it’s entirety was a mega success in Japan, so Sega continued to produce more games in their mainline series for the next eleven years. With this expanse of time the game finally found it’s stride, growing in quality, perfecting the storytelling and character development, and really making a name for itself in the open world genre.
While the Yakuza series takes a lot of inspirations from beat ’em ups like River City Ransom, it carves out its own identity in this 3D, open world, story focused action game. Yakuza 0 is the culmination of everything Sega has gotten right with the series, and the best part is, you don’t have to play any of the other games to appreciate this one.
In the timeline of the series, Yakuza 0 takes place at the very start of the whole Japanese crime focused epic, subsequently becoming it’s own origin story. The series always stars the gruff but easy to cheer for Kazuma Kiryu. Throughout the series, we know this character as becoming a force in his Dojima Family clan of the Yakuza. Here we find our favorite beat ’em up badass is much younger, much brasher, and not quite the Yakuza we have come to know and love yet.
Yakuza 0 takes you on a ride with Kiryu as he is set up and accused of murder on a cash collection job gone bad. The rest of the game sees Kiryu attempting to clear his name as his once colleagues turn into enemies.
In a new deviation, the player will share the gameplay time with another main character, a series favorite named Goro Majima. Throughout the arc of the series, the player never learns too much about Majima – other than he has impeccable style, he takes care of business, and it’s always incredibly exciting whenever he shows up. Now the player gets to embody the man at the start of his crime career with the Yakuza.
When we meet Majima in this origin story, he is running the hottest Cabaret in town as part of his exile from his Yakuza family due to a botched job. Though in exile, Majima is given a chance to redeem himself and with a job handed to him by a Yakuza elite, but the job is a hit, and murder just might not be Majima’s game.
The narrative in this series has always been the star of the show, filled with amazing characters and well written melodrama. It plays out in a lot of moments like a Japanese soap opera about crime. Every other chapter has the player switching between the two main characters. With 17 chapters in all and every chapter as long as you want it to be thanks to all the side missions, Yakuza 0 can easily take you over 40 hours to complete.
Yakuza 0‘s plot revolves around a piece of land called the “Vacant Lot.” This piece of land is important to the rival Yakuza families as whoever ends up owning the lot will get a big break in the overarching Yakuza family. This begins a series of back stabs, betrayals, and switcheroos, that will keep you constantly guessing as to who is friend and who is foe. It is a long time before you even realize that Kiryu’s and Majima’s stories will even intersect. They seem so vastly separated that you would never guess that they would meld together so seamlessly by the game’s end.
While the player can take control of both Kiryu and Majima, the two characters play completely differently, both with their own styles of fighting. Kiryu and Majima each have three distinct styles that they can switch to on the fly, and all six of them are important to use at certain times depending on the type of enemies you face. These battle quickly become a dance of calculated stance swaps as you bring the pain to all that approach you.
The difficulty, while never hard, is always fun; especially as you are able to interact with items in the environment to use as weapons. You see a parking cone? Pick it up and slap somebody. Want to go a little bigger? Try picking up an entire Vespa and slamming it into your foes.
The moment to moment action is always present as “random encounter” populates the screen. You’ll notice gang member, delinquents, and men in black all over the streets waiting for you to interact with them, or sometimes they will run up to you and pick a fight. Maybe you actually want to brandish a blade or bat by taking them off incoming baddies or accumulating them through stores and the black market weapons trade.
When you are not fighting, you are exploring the 1988’s versions of fictionalized recreations of Tokyo’s Kabukicho Shinjuku Golden Gai areas, and Osaka’s Dotonbori areas. Kiryu is in the Tokyo area, while Majima is in the Osaka area. Each town feels different and has their own assortment of side missions that are called “Sub-Stories.” These stories have you interacting with a collection of interesting characters, ranging from perverts in their underwear, to arguing couples in need of third party advice. Yakuza 0 is filled with over 100 of these Sub-Stories, and each of them range everywhere from hilarious to heartwarming.
You can also participate in a series of mini games, such as karaoke, dancing in a club, buying and selling real-estate, running a cabaret club, going to a video girl club (as creepy as it sounds), among so many other little activities to lose your time in. None of these things are required to progress the story, but they all offer a nice respite away from all the drama of crime lords.
Sega has a very strong franchise on their hands, and it seems with each passing entry it gets a stronger reception in the west. This is no Grand Theft Auto clone, this is a game series that has made its own mark, and deserves all of its accolades. If you have never played the series, there is no better time than now, as Yakuza 0 is the first event to happen in the timeline. Later this year will see the release Yakuza Kiwami, a completely remade version of the first game.
Yakuza 0 is a fantastic beat em up game, with a bevy of RPG elements that help differentiate it from other open world games. So if you need a strong crime drama story, with excellent action mechanics, then look no further to the Yakuza series, and make sure you start it here with Yakuza 0.
Devolver Digital’s been on the forefront of publishing interesting indie titles and their latest is no exception.
Minit is about as minimalist as you can get — NES level fidelity, black and white colors, and chiptune sounds. In this game, you only have one minute to live and must complete tasks within that one minute before dying and respawning at your house. Any key items you collect in that time will stay with you, so you’re able to unlock more and more of the game each time, but you still only have one minute.
It’s an adventure puzzler — think Link’s Awakening — with a cool twist that’s definitely worth watching.
Coming to PC and “maybe consoles” mid 2017.
Beat Cop is the story of Jack Kelly, a detective who has been disgraced and thus demoted to a beat cop.
The player will write parking tickets, catch petty thieves, and try to make the neighborhood a better place. Or you can take bribes, encourage dissent, and get rich off of the suffering of the community all while trying to find out who framed you for murder.
The gameplay is like a point and click adventure game, except the game is always running even if you aren’t. It’s totally possible to be called to be in two places at once and just have to make a judgement call on which is more important. It’s a really interesting game that’s part Papers, Please, part LA Noire.
Beat Cop is coming to PC this spring.
Striker’s Edge is a game with a simple concept — throw projectiles at your opponent until they die.
The system is reminiscent of Windjammers in that there’s two sides separated by a barrier and you have to use your reaction time, prediction, and special abilities to try and outplay your opponent. There’s not a tacked on story mode, no city building side quest minigames, just intense 1v1 or 2v2 action.
Striker’s Edge is coming to PS4 and PC in 2017.
Want more PAX South 2017 coverage? All you had to do was ask!
2016 was a great year for video games. It may not go down in the history books as the most memorable year in the industry, but it was a solid year for bitg AAA and indie games alike. As always, my tastes often align with games with amazing a story and characters. For the sake of transparency, I feel the obligation to point out that, to me, gameplay always takes a back seat to narrative, before diving headfirst into last year’s lineup. Without further ado, below is a subjective list of my personal top ten picks of video games in 2016:
10. XCOM 2
XCOM 2 is a pretty standard sequel. With 2K Games publishing, and Firaxis developing, they didn’t feel obligated to reinvent the wheel that drove the first game and I think that works in its favor. However, there are some major refinements to what is already there, and with the addition of destructible environments, the game feels new enough to not feel like a retread of the original. XCOM is easily one of the hardest games I have ever played, which forced me to lower the difficulty to easy, for the first time in my gaming career. XCOM 2 is no different.
Now I excuse myself from this gamer sin by reminding you all that I am usually not a fan of the strategy RPG genre…but this series is so good. Build up your base, manage resources, send soldiers to their permanent deaths on away missions, upgrade gear and weaponry using stolen Intel, this game is stuffed to the brim with activities that will ensure that each play through feels different than the last.
Walking simulators and linear narrative experiences have become all the rage in the industry over the last few years. Games like Firewatch are top echelon examples of this genre. Campo Santo developed and produced a scenery is always captivating. However, the final smidgen of immersion is thanks to this game’s amazing musical score. The big achievement, are the characters in this game. Delilah and Henry are so lifelike that they are unforgettable.
I still think about the brilliant performances of Cissy Jones (Delilah) and Rich Sommer (Henry) that even a year later I catch myself thinking of their interactions. The sense of mystery permeates through the entire run-time, and while the big reveal did come off as critically polarizing, I felt it was the perfect way to resolve the narrative.
8. Mafia 3
The gameplay loop of Mafia 3 is very apparent early on in the experience. This turned many off, but those who stuck with it experienced next level story telling that transcends average game narratives. I thought the mechanics of the game were good enough to warrant its repetitive nature, but there is certainly a case to be made against that I am sure. By the time the credits rolled, I was completely fulfilled by the characters and narrative.
The story is so paramount in the personal success of this game for me, that i found it incredible easy to overlook its shortcomings. Also, if era based license music is your bag, this game does to the 60’s what GTA: Vice City did to capturing the music of the 80’s. Developers Hanger 13 did a fantastic job of capturing what it feels like to be in late 60’s New Orleans. Check out my review here.
7. Fire Emblem: Fates
Handheld games are woefully underappreciated these days. Fire Emblem: Fates is a shining example of the quality Nintendo still puts out on its mobile systems. Intelligent Systems and Nintendo SPD really stepped it up from the last entry, Fire Emblem Awakening. The game has you managing relationships with characters, dealing with perma-death of said characters, and trying to pair them up properly to create the best children to help you in your quest.
You have 3 completely different stories to choose from, and each story represents your character on different sides of the same war. The run time is packed with cheeky humor, a very interesting tale about war, and some feel good character moments. Also the tactical RPG mechanics are above and beyond the others in the genre. If you own a 3DS, you should be playing this game. There should be a law.
6. Forza Horizon 3
Nobody warned me that I was going to be getting the best racing game of all time this year. Racing games always act as the perfect pallet cleansers for the bigger Triple A games that flood the market, so I try and pick up one racing game annually. I am a big Forza fan, and usually enjoy the simulation entries in the series more. Well there is a new love in town, and it is Forza Horizon 3. Playground Games has made trekking across the Australian landscape as beautiful as it is exhilarating.
The sacrifice of true simulation controls are for the better as these tracks often lead you through dense forests, and varied environments are more fun to traverse with the more forgiving controls. The cars still feel amazing to drive, each with their own varied feel. The amount of vehicles and customization to choose from are staggering and the freedoms each race offers ensure you will have a tailored event to every race you want to participate in. This is a masterclass racer that deserves all the praise it is getting.
5. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided reels in the big story moments to create a much more subtle and low key narrative. While the first game focused itself on more wide reaching conspiracies that could affect the world, this game was more about trying to investigate a singular terrorist attack. Now as the mystery unfolds you will see the larger conspiracies begin to showcase themselves but the story never feels as large scale as Human Revolution. This is by no means a bad thing. Edios Montreal made sure the world felt more fleshed out and detailed as you explored the HUB areas, picking up missions, items, and intel.
The story itself serves as a stepping stone to set up a much larger narrative that is sure to come in either DLC or the next main entry to the series. The characters, specifically the antagonists, can be archetypal at times but they never fall short of interesting. Adam Jensen never felt better to control, and this will be one of the few games from this year that I will go back and replay as I missed many of the completely missable side missions.
By the time Inside wraps up you will be left with so many questions that you will have to do a little research on yourself to fully understand. While some hate the post credits homework assignment, I loved it. Working towards understanding a complex and cerebral story in a visual medium is why video game narratives work so well. Collectively, fans worked together to pull in the major themes and ideas to cultivate quite the amazing answer to what it is you are exactly experiencing at the end of the game.
Inside’s aesthetics are simple but somehow always manage to be impressive. Developer Playdead uses light puzzle mechanics that are a welcomed feature and are challenging enough to make you feel smart when you complete them, but not overly hard and time consuming to the point of frustration. Come for the gameplay, stay for the graphics, leave with a wonderfully complex narrative. It is easily the most atmospheric game of the year. Check out my review here.
3. Quantum Break
Boy howdy what a polarizing game. This is a hard experience to gauge as it seems like a 50/50 split on people who enjoyed it and people who just did not like it. Remedy Entertainment, the developers, had the idea of having a game that is part playable video game, and part TV show, was bold and innovative, and for me it totally paid off. The TV section could have come off corny and boring, but they were everything but. The actors nailed their perceptive roles and the production value was high. I eagerly awaited the next episode at the end of every playable act.
The gameplay itself is some of Remedy’s finest. The shooting controls are tight, and they work brilliantly with the time manipulation mechanics. I feel powerful in this game, while never sacrificing the challenge. I think this is one of the most well performed games on the block, and the story is an incredible time traveling tale, that rivals even some of the best movies of the same subject.
2. Final Fantasy XV
This game had every right to be bad, but ten years in the making, it comes out the other side a not only playable but fantastic Final Fantasy game. The game is equal parts something old and something new. It always feels like Final Fantasy but the new combat mechanics are such a welcomed addition. After all, a complete overhaul of mechanics is the modus operandi of Final Fantasy, always exchanging a materia system, for a gambit system, never using the same mechanics more than once.
While the story is not present enough, and character motivations are hardly, if ever clear, I never felt robbed of the story or experience. Enough was there to deliver the big and small moments, and it created an interesting journey that has a very rewarding destination. This was the first Final Fantasy, I ever beat only to immediately start a new game over again. The adventure was addicting enough to make up for its noticeable shortcomings. Hajime Tabata and his team at Square Enix Business Division 2, finally brought us the Final Fantasy game we’ve been waiting for.
1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Never in my life have I seen revisionist history work so quickly. This game came out to dropped jaws, near perfect scores, and collective praise across gamers and critics alike. Fast forward a few short months, and people deem this game a disappointment, forgettable, and long in the tooth. Well, you’re all wrong, I am sorry to say.
The game IS objectively a technical masterpiece. Uncharted 4 DOES have some of the best performances and voice acting in the whole industry. You WILL experience one of the best original scores of the year. Uncharted 4 delivers stand out moments in both action and character in a way that Michael Bay wishes he could recapture. These are all undebatable things in my eyes, and not only does it deserve to be my personal number one, but it deserves the right to be called Game of the Year 2016. No other game comes close to deserving such praise. Niel Druckmann,and his team at Naughty Dog has created a near perfect experience, and it deserves your attention if you are a PlayStation 4 owner.
So there ya have it, a full year in review of the totally subjective best games of 2016. There are so many Indie games I wish i could further represent here. Games like Oxenfree, Virginia, Abzu, Stories: The Path of Destiny, Salt and Sanctuary, and I am Setsuna, are beautiful, narrative driven experiences that deserve a place on this list, and surely your absolute attention.
Plenty of big Triple A games did not make it either, but are worth the call out. Games like Doom, Titanfall 2, and Dark Souls 3 are also unmissable entries in their franchises. We were far from lacking as gamer’s this year. How did this year fair for you? Anything you felt I missed or overlooked? If there is one thing you could take away from this year, what would you say it is? For me I noticed a very obvious turn in the use of original scores in games. This has easily been one of the best years for the industry in terms of music. Share your list down below in the comments! Let’s chat about last year!