Each January, I make a list of the movies that I want to see that coming year. It’s usually filled with big-budget, over-blown action flicks, because that’s what I like. This year, I had to revise my list a couple of times because I overlooked a few items that should appeal to me. One of those revisions included Baby Driver. At first glance, I wasn’t too sure about the Edgar Wright penned and directed flick but I decided to give it a shot. I’m glad I did.
Ansel Elgort is Baby, the film’s protagonist. A perfectly apropos nickname given his youthful looks, but “Baby” is all audiences know the character by throughout most of the movie. Nicknames are also a recurring trend in the movie, in which a team of thieves are gathered by the mysterious Doc (Kevin Spacey) to pull off complex heists. Think the Avengers, but they steal stuff and don’t have super powers.
The plot of the movie is thin by most standards; Baby is in for “one last job” before leaving his life of crime behind him. Naturally, the plan goes off the rails and all hell breaks loose, leaving Baby to adapt if he wants to survive and live his happily ever after.
Edgar Wright is a director who manages to put his own spin on different film genres. He breathed new life into zombie movies with Shaun of the Dead and made a legitimately fun comic book flick with Scott Pilgrim vs the World. It’s easy to expect Wright to deliver a fast-paced yet super fun heist movie, which he manages to do.
Despite the weak plot, the movie is a blast, mostly because of the characters that Wright has created. We have Baby, deep and mysterious and into a wide range of music to which he has an unnatural attachment. The audience is only allowed brief glimpses into his past, but it’s enough to puzzle together why he is the way he is. We’re also given an expository explanation as to his need for music at all times, which is delivered in a delightfully clever way by Mr. Spacey himself.
Then you have Bats, played by Jamie Foxx. “Bats” is short for “Bat-Shit,” indicating how crazy the character is. We’re given nothing about Bats’s past, yet Foxx’s portrayal of the character intimates just how deep his psychoses run. Foxx is great in this role and makes it really easy for audiences to hate him.
Then there’s John Hamm’s Buddy. An enigma for most of the film, it’s hard to gauge which way Buddy goes. He’s a bank robber, sure, but he’s also the only one who’s ever shown Baby any respect. Hamm imbues Buddy with a dead-eyed stare and cool charisma that makes him look like he was ripped right out of a Tarantino film, which makes him a perfect fit for the world of Baby Driver.
With how much we give credit to Edgar Wright for his direction and the actors for their delivery, we also need to recognize the editors, Jonathan Amos and Paul Machliss. I’m sure much of the film kept with Wright’s vision, but Amos and Machliss cut it so that it gels perfectly. A lot of the fun of the movie is within the action sequences, where the gunshots and sound effects sync up with the film’s soundtrack. It’s subtle at first; you almost don’t realize it’s happening but when you do, it adds depth to the scenes.
Speaking of the music, I can’t ignore the soundtrack as it’s an important element of the film. The song selections work brilliantly with the on-screen actions. Similar to the way Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 handled its own musical numbers, Baby Drivers takes innocuous song choices and pairs them with intense, frenetic action. A tire-screeching police chase set to “Bellbottoms” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion? It works. An explosive gun fight in a dirty warehouse with Button Down Brass’s “Tequila” as the back drop? Flawless. (The soundtrack also features Ducky from NCIS and I never thought I’d type that sentence but here I am.)
There’s more to Baby Driver than just cool characters and an OK plot; it’s a movie that delivers an experience. From the very start, and I mean at the start of the vanity logos, the film includes a low level hum, just like the one Baby hears from his tinnitus. It accompanies almost all of the moments that aren’t occupied by music or explosions and is persistent throughout, making the audience feel just like Baby does. Sometimes it’s noticeable, sometimes it isn’t. Either way, we get a better idea of how Baby hears his world.
Baby Driver isn’t perfect, though. Baby’s world is turned around when he meets a pretty, perky waitress named Debora (Lily James). Debora’s goal is to cut and run out of town, a goal that Baby doesn’t realize he has until he meets her. James is lovely in the role but her part just runs flat. We get some back story into her character but it’s nothing of any significance. She has a whirlwind romance with Baby but she doesn’t actually change him in any way. We’ve already seen that he has a conscience despite what he does for a living; all Debora does is make him want to run away from the life he built in Atlanta.
It’s a weird dynamic, in a way, considering the relationship Wright shows us between Baby and his foster father, Joe (CJ Jones). Joe is deaf and uses a wheelchair, casting Baby in the caregiver role. Their relationship is so natural and authentic that I would find Joe a more believable reason for Baby to escape the world that he’s entrenched in. I guess you just can’t beat a pretty girl when it comes to movie tropes.
Leaving aside the stale plotline and few shallow characters, Baby Driver is a remarkable film. It’s a fun, upbeat romp in a summer overloaded with drab, ennui-filled popcorn flicks.
In the spirit of gaming month, I naturally began to ponder games that made an impression on me. Sure, I could talk about games that I grew up with, games that inspired a tattoo choice, or heck, I could even talk about my most favorite game of all time…but that’s all been done before. What about the other games that made an impression? Shitty games, wonderful games you’d never play again, or what about the weirdest game you’ve ever played?
For me, I encountered the weirdest games on my PlayStation 2.
It was a console I owned on the cusp of adulthood and the first one I bought all the games for, which led to some questionable decisions.
Ever move to a new town where you don’t know anybody? Ever fall in love with the girl next door? Ever try to improve your reputation by kissing the entire community? That’s basically the premise of Chulip.
Chulip is hands down one of the weirdest games I ever got the joy of experiencing. Part dating sim and part puzzle/adventure, players take control of a young man hellbent on winning the heart of his new neighbor. When his letter writing endeavor goes awry, players must then retrieve the pieces of the letter. The catch? You have to kiss people for them.
Whoa, whoa, WHOA.
Kiss people?! Yes, that’s the basic premise to this quirky little game. Each NPC has different requirements for scoring a kiss that range from counting people in a set amount of time to making contact with aliens. Yep, aliens. The game also follows a 24 hour schedule with different NPCs showing up at different times, making it quite the endeavor. It’s an interesting concept out of Japan, a place where kissing isn’t really done in public, but in Chulip, you’re encouraged to kiss EVERYONE. Your lip based promiscuity is the only way to make the best love letter, but proceed with caution! If a kiss is initiated improperly, you could be slapped or “hurt” enough to make your character lose heart!
I messed up many kisses on my way to true love (I even got shot a few times by a policeman!), but in the end, it all paid off as our hero fulfills his dream of romance with the girl next door.
Check out the trailer below and tell me, what was the weirdest game you have ever played?
E3 is the stuff that gamer dreams are made of, even nearly a month after all the announcements. It is never too late to report on hype, so here I am sharing the E3 experience, as told by some guy watching from his couch. I have been following the event for 14 straight years now, and it is customary for me to been write out my thoughts and reactions to all of the announcements. This is my gamer holiday, my gamer Christmas…E3 is my gamer Mecca. Allow me to take you through my journey of E3 2016, and why I think it was one of the most successful trade shows in the history of the business.
Living Through the Hype
There is nothing quite like the Electronic Entertainment Expo for a passionate gamer like myself. Every year E3 acts as a temperature check for hype of the industry, but more importantly it proves that this industry isn’t going anywhere. It is as healthy as it has ever been and while a trade show like E3 may not be around forever, it will take a new form in terms of being a hype generating machine. We need trade shows and press events like this, and while more and more studios, companies, and developers drop out in turn of trying out their own personal conferences, one thing is for sure, there is nothing in this world quite like the week of E3.
This year there weren’t any “next gen consoles” to announce, it was just all about the games, and boy howdy were there some interesting looking experiences. Sure Microsoft tried to sneak in a few words about their slim line system as well as their .5 step up labeled the Scorpio, but they did it with class and it took up minimal time of the press conference. You would think Sony would have spent so much time on showing VR games that are near impossible to show in a press conference setting, and while they did show up with some news, it was such a small fraction of time that they took up. Everybody who showed up for E3, including EA, Ubisoft, Bethesda and Nintendo, came to win. They came to murder the competition and explain why their games are the experiences you should be playing this fall and going forward. I think all of them had strong showcases (with a few major stumbles from EA) and delivered on the one currency that matters in this industry…hype.
As an agent of hype, I go out of my way to be overly excited about any and all games. Pushed release dates, games that won’t come out for another 3 years, and completely out of context CG trailers do not put me off. Speculating on these games that are not out yet is one of my favorite activities to do. I like to build my own story and elevate my own hype on these experiences that are years out, and then the payoff of getting them when they finally do arrive is unmatched to any feeling this industry can evoke. Has my hype ever turned against me? Sure every once in a while, but I don’t let that ruin future potential to be excited about something. I’d rather be excited and let down than spend the road to launch being pessimistic and worried. Gosh that just seems incredibly draining; I’ll take the hype any day. So we all get it now right? We are on the same page? E3 gets me hyped and now it’s time to break this year’s conferences wide open. I just want to focus on my personal High and Low of each conference.
This was the first conference of the week and by far the weakest, but I think it set expectations correctly for my mind (and hopefully yours) to be efficiently blown by the coming conferences. What was not lacking however was how they started the conference. That first game announcement is the hook, and blowing out Titanfall 2 at the top of the show was an amazing idea. That game showcased so well, and the single player trailer got me more than hyped to get back into this series. I really enjoyed the first game, and it is quite easy to tell we live in a post Titanfall FPS world now that all games have taken their locomotion mechanics. It’s hard to find a shooter nowadays that you aren’t jet-packing, double jumping, and wall running around, and that’s totally okay but just remember who pioneered it! Titans seem to have personalities and characteristics now, and I have a feeling that will be on full display in the story mode. It is very hard to top the new whip though, which adds to your maneuverability as well as works as a melee weapon. Gosh, the end of that trailer where the two pilots are in the sky and whipping towards one another…that’s how you evoke mass excitement!
Unfortunately I have some negative things to say about this conference. A few things really rubbed me the wrong way, and the biggest offender Mass Effect. This was the year to show that game; this was the time for a blowout. Mass Effect Andromeda is coming out next year and we already suffered a delay this year. After the trailer showed, we knew nothing more than what we did a year ago and that is a MAJOR issue. Did I enjoy the trailer? Of course I did, I will enjoy anything with Mass Effect in it. Was it a tease? Overwhelmingly so. We need to know more about this game, and this little trail of breadcrumbs is just not enough. We need facts, we need gameplay…we need some real news Bioware.
The upsets did not end there however, EA was nice enough to bring up the Star Wars games and that is pretty much all they did with them. They might as well have just had somebody come on stage and say, “They exist!” I love seeing Amy Hennig with Visceral talk about Star Wars, and I love seeing dudes in mo-cap suits playing with lightsabers with the Respawn logo in the background. Seeing glimpses of in engine screen shots is always welcomed…but I just needed more to get that level of hype I love to dwell in. If wanting more is the worst thing I can say about this conference, then to me I’d say they still did pretty well.
Bethesda really knew how to pick up where EA faltered. They came out strong with a Quake announcement and then it never let up until the conference’s end. The high point of Bethesda’s hour for me was the new Prey trailer. I had no idea I was watching a Prey trailer until I saw the title reveal. I was never a big fan of the first game but was excited about the idea of the sequel announced a few years back. Well now that’s out and this reboot/rebrand is in. The narrative that the trailer showcases is awesome. I was so drawn in by this man who ends up speaking to himself by the scene’s end while living a Groundhog’s Day experience as he relives the same day over and over. Who is this man, what is happening to him, and how does he fit into the real story? I don’t know, and I don’t need to know. The trailer sets a tone that I am interested in and I cannot wait to see how it all pans out.
I wanted to give Skyrim Special Edition as my high for this conference but I have put 300 hours into the original, and despite me being the one of many who feverishly asked for this game, I would feel bad to give it a highlight spot when something new and fresh like Prey should get some of my much deserved limelight. So while Skyrim SE is probably what I am most excited for, Prey is the real show stealer here.
It is hard to nail down a low point for this conference, and heck pretty much every conference going forward. At gun point I would have to say there was a bit of a stumble with announcing the Fallout 4 DLC. I thought it showed well, but it was too quick, and I guess I figured there would be a much bigger announcement. Perhaps those expectations are unfair because Far Harbor DLC did just come out, but for a conference I guess I just hoped for something a bit more than adding working conveyor belts to your settlements. This just comes off nitpicky and that is because it is. The conference was great and it is hard to find anything negative about it. For the new kids on the conference block (this is only their second year at E3) they really knocked it out of the park.
Microsoft was up next on Monday and just like the last few years, they really came out swinging. Sure they opened with an announcement of a slim model which is good, because it just gets it out of the way so the focus can turn to what matters, games. After watching this conference I thought there was no way that Sony had the lineup to usurper Microsoft this year. More on how that turns out later.
Microsoft had so many highs that it’s hard to pick one. It is so easy to go with something like We Happy Few which felt like a completely Bioshock inspired game. Every fiber of my being is shouting at me to write about Scalebound and their awesome presentation…but deep down I know that what wowed me the most was Sea of Thieves. During the entirety of it’s on stage demo (and its following hands on impressions from trusted industry types) I was just thinking of how many friends I knew who owned a Xbox One…and how do I get them to buy this game so we can all go on swashbuckling adventures together. Luckily it will take no convincing because the game speaks for itself. Want to meet up in a tavern and drink with friends? Go for it. Find a treasure map on the island you are on? Go look for it! Want to rob people coming out drunk from the local tavern? By all means do it. The real meat and potatoes is boating up with a crew and hitting the high seas. Out there you can run into sea monsters, or worse, other ships with their own crew. Each crew member has a function. One needs to man the sails, the other the anchor, somebody needs to be in crows nest navigating, and a trusted pirate friend needs to be at the helm. Everybody has a function, and everybody must be communicating to ensure that the dangerous ships and crews you face out there will not lead you to a watery grave. The first thing I am doing? Loading up my boat with booze, pals, and instruments, and we will sing sea shanties all the way to Davy Jones’ locker.
There were next to no low points in this conference. I feel that I do have to point out that I thought ending with the big Scorpio reveal (Microsoft’s .5 console) was a misstep. Really Microsoft? This is the thing you were most excited to show us? Well, I was not excited and while I understand why these .5 systems exist, I do not care to upgrade at this moment in time, especially if all games will continue to work on the current versions of the consoles. Was it a bad announcement? By no means, I thought they did a good job at giving us the information…but I just don’t feel it was the announcement to end on.
Ubisoft, Ubisoft, oh where art though Ubisoft? Seriously this is the Ubisoft I have always wanted. No annual Assassin’s Creed to slow the conference down, and the weird ecstasy filled dance party at the top of the show was their only “weird moment.” Never before has Ubisoft came out so strong at E3, and that is probably why they are suffering form a corporate hostile takeover by Vivendi. You’re looking too good these days Ubisoft! In any case, Ubisoft focused on all the right things and ended their conference with a big new IP. Sure at surface level Steep seems just like a snow extreme sports game, but is much deeper and you have a community enriched experience filled with so much freedom in terms of traversal and activities. While this was a big moment, it is far from game of the show material.
The moment of hype comes in the form of, South Park: The Fractured But Whole. Not only is this an insanely fun title to say and type, but it also showcased wonderfully. Trey and Matt (the creators of South Park) came out and discussed their heavy involvement in the game. They gave us a very funny trailer which completely satires the blueprint of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase system. If that wasn’t enough, we get three awesome gameplay snippets. The demo itself was filled with great South Park jokes, and Matt and Trey themselves just seemed so excited to show off this game. It was such a treat to see them so passionate about this project. They were very vocal about how demanding The Stick of Truth was and it seemed like they would never do a game again…yet here they are. Guys and gals, it is more than we deserve as gamers!
The low point was hardly low. If anything this is just another positive masquerading around as a negative. I am not a big Watch Dogs fan, so there was not much the sequel could do to get me on board. I thought the first game was hollow, the main character to be as interesting as a wet rag, and found every single mechanic to be less than a game like Grand Theft Auto V. However, this showcasing of the sequel actually has me looking at the game in a much more positive light. The game seems fun, the new character comes off as interesting, and all the little mechanical gripes seemed to have been fixed. Am I back in? Nope, but I can and will recognize that this game does seem to be in good shape. I feel the demo went on a bit long but in the end it did what it set out to do, and that was showing off that they were indeed listening to the fans and their complaints of the original. That is classy as hell Ubisoft.
Sony my Sony, my sweet and fair Sony…you had so much riding against you this year. You have constant lack of first party games, and all of your delays on properties announced last year are more than noticeable. I had little hope you would take the W this year. Well that’s what I get for thinking. I had figured that they would come out; talk too long about VR and their new .5 system upgrade. Instead you pulled the rug out from underneath us all, and proved why you are still leading this generation.
Where do I even begin in breaking down the major highlight of this conference? How do I choose one? Heck, I could not even choose a game and instead talk about their incredible pacing of their showcases, or even their choice of not resting on their games announced last year. Hell I would even love to gush about the live orchestral performance that lasted through the entire conference. Instead of hearing about Kingdom Hearts 3, Final Fantasy 7, and Shenmue 3, we get a totally new roster of awesome announcements. Some we knew of, while others were major surprises. Is it worth me dwelling on how much God of War rocked me? Never been a fan of the series, but what I saw had me caring in a big way. What about the Heavy Rain inspired game Detroit: Become Human? Sure it was impressive but it was just validating what I already knew.
The show opened up with Syphon Filter’s developer Sony Bend studio and their new game Days Gone. While the trailer itself had a very Last of Us feeling, the real bread and butter came from the end of conference gameplay. Wow what an impressive stage demo. The game’s enemy, whom can only be described as the zombies (don’t call them that though!) from World War Z, moves like cascading water in tandem with one another like a wave of bodies. Well look at that, it seems this may have been my highlight of the conference. Sometimes you just have to work these things out on paper before realizing what really wowed you the most. It would have been so easy to talk about how awesome Horizon showed, or talk about the big Resident Evil 7 reveal with a PT like marketing demo. While all of these announcements are game of the show worthy, I truly feel that the surprise of Days Gone landed in a big way for me. The fact that so many people did not feel the same way alarms me, but we like what we like.
It is hard for me to pick out any moments where I felt the pace of the show was hindered. The show was nonstop trailers with minimal talking or presenting, so when those slow moments came with the Skylander’s reveal and the minimal VR…it was necessary to slow that heart rate. The amount of excitement that they built through the run-time of the show was so intensely satisfying that the down time ensured our poor little hearts wouldn’t breakthrough our rib-cage. Do I care about Skylanders? No I do not; I could not even begin to care less. Do I want stage time on VR? Not particularly, but they didn’t dwell on it long and moved right past it and back to their original pacing. What I am trying to say is, that I had little to zero issues with this conference and it should be the defining mold of E3 press conferences moving forward.
Living Post Hype
So with E3 now in our rear-view mirror, a lot of us have that post E3 depression. We’ve all heard so many good things about so many games that aren’t even close to being out. So you may ask, Kyle, how do we even cope with knowing we are so far away from so many great experiences? My answer, give into the hype. I am not saying blindly love and be excited for all of these things until they reach unobtainable levels of interest. What I mean is just give into the excitement, ride the wave of hype all the way to release. The excitement you get from pondering on a game on the horizon is unlike anything else. You will never have this road to excitement other than now, so why even fight it? Excitement and hype are good. For me there is no such thing as “over-hyped.” It is a term I see thrown around all too often. While the game may not have lived up to expectations, nothing can take away those moments of pure concentrated excitement that you felt all the way up to launch. It is a good feeling, so embrace it. E3 is a time where we all as gamers come together and get excited for our healthy industry. I feel that pessimism is in low reserves during this week. Of course it is re-birthed the week after and the internet goes right back to its awful self, but in that moment…we all have E3…we all have the hype.
Star Wars Battlefront
It’s basically Battlefield 4 with a skin of Star Wars on top. AT-ATs are on rails. There’s no space battles.
Those are all completely valid criticisms of DICE’s Star Wars Battlefront game. That being said, it’s also fun as hell.
The demo plopped two people down in a sort of objective-based wave killing mode in which you’re two rebels fighting off waves of Storm Troopers while trying to complete missions. We were skeptical at first, but once we were in the game taking down Imperial scum, we knew we’d be getting it. The combat feels fluid and the environments are gorgeous. The planet we were on appeared to be Tatooine with its desert motifs and high cliffs. Even just looking across the valley we were stationed in looked gorgeous.
Then the Troopers came. And as quickly as they came, they were gone, banished by our blasters. First wave down, no biggie. Hell wave two came and went almost as fast. Then more heavily armored troopers were introduced and we were still okay. Then a walker with the troops and we actually had to start using our abilities. First off, the jetpack is incredibly fun. Getting a huge, fast boost up in the air in these terrains is an absolute joy and one we’re happy to have. It’s just so much fun bouncing about through the valley it’s hard to focus. There’s also a shield for deflecting blaster fire while you try and make a getaway. The valley also spawns random powerups from a group shield to a sniper rifle, encouraging you to do more than just hole up with your partner. After six waves and many dead Storm Troopers, we made it out alive and with far more enthusiasm about this game than we came in with. Though it may not be Battlefront 3 we were all hoping for, it’s still a really enjoyable experience. The gameplay is solid, fast paced, and a hell of a lot of fun.
We didn’t know much about this game coming in to it aside from what we gleaned from the statues by their booth — it had a giant man with a teeny tiny head in it. On the last day at the last possible time we could, we hopped in line and got to be one of the last groups of E3 2015 to try the game, which is pretty damn cool.
Battleborn is a new FPS game made by the people behind Borderlands. As you’d expect, there’s a multiplayer cooperative story mode in which you and three friends pick characters and go through missions together . The main difference between this mode and Borderlands are the amount of characters to choose from and the variety of options with those characters. Each of the 24 characters characters has their own unique abilities and play style. Instead of focusing on massive amounts of loot, players don’t pick up different guns, but instead shards with which they can upgrade their characters. This shift makes character selection much more important as all you’ll really have are the characters abilities and your upgrades. The graphics are also not in Borderlands pseudo-cel-shaded style, but rather something more akin to TF2 with its cartoonish, smooth style. The characters are also supposed to represent tropes from the FPS genre from military testosterbros to wee, but powerful dwarf warriors.
There’s a story for this game, but honestly, unfortunately for 2K, they were right next to the EA booth and we couldn’t hear anything the characters were saying over blaring bass. Hopefully it’s as clever and interesting as the Borderlands dialog. Though we couldn’t hear the story, we did get to experience a really fun multiplayer mission in which four of us fought some spooky looking demons. The demo level was fun to navigate and it was great fun hopping in with strangers, all of us figuring out our cool abilities, and taking down baddies with great prejudice.
Battleborn isn’t just a co-op game, however, as it also has various multiplayer modes. One such mode that has been shown off already is called Incursion, and looks an awful lot like a MOBA in structure, adding to the argument that this isn’t just reskinned Borderlands. Gearbox has promised more modes by the time the game releases this year, so we look forward to seeing what this new game can offer when we get our hands on it.
The most surprising demo we got to try, we didn’t even know was in development until this show. RIGS is Sony’s competitive gaming title for its upcoming VR platform Morpheus. It’s a 3v3 objective-based FPS in which the goal is to accumulate a enough energy to throw yourself through a hoop and score a goal. You get energy by finding it throughout the map or by killing your opponents. There are three classes all with different attributes that you can choose from, all with their own attributes and abilities. The one we picked had a hover ability that proved quite annoying for the team to have to look up to aim. Hehe, suckers.
The VR part is interesting. Instead of aiming with the right stick, you have to look at your target to aim. Upon first hearing this, we were skeptical of how it well it would work, but it was surprisingly intuitive. Once you realize you only see more of the map by moving your head, it’s already natural to be moving your head to stare at the enemy, so you just need to keep it there to keep firing at them. The only bad thing about this aiming system is that if they start moving, you also need to be moving to keep your target on, so it’s actually not terribly difficult to get out of your opponents line of fire. Luckily, it’s that way for everyone so although it’s harder to keep a lock on your target, it’s also harder for them to keep a lock on you.
RIGS was only allowed to shine, though, because of all the VR headsets we’ve tried, the Morpheus was by far the most comfortable. To be fair, we’ve only tried various iterations of Oculus Rift, but that terrible elastic strap on the back makes the whole thing feel uncomfortable. Morpheus, on the other hand, has a piece that extends and contracts to allow you to slip it over your head, kind of like headphones. The padding is a lot softer, it feels more secure, and the experience of taking it on and off feels so much better than Oculus Rift that it’s incredible. The VR itself is also pretty good with very minimal screen door effect and a 120 Hz refresh rate, which should help a lot of people with their VR motion sickness.
If you have PS4, Morpheus is awesome and RIGS is a really great game to show off what it can do. Look forward to both sometime in the future because lol what’s a release date.