Enslaved: Odyssey to the West

Game, Review

Yesterday I finally finished Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. Great great game. Under appreciated and under sold.

It tells the story of Monkey, a brute man that is really flexible and versatile. Gameplay and game story wise, this character makes much more sense those characters on Assassin’s Creed, parkouring around. He is a humble and simple man, that was captured as a slave. He finds Trip, a beautiful and resourceful girl that faces the same destiny. However, their destiny changes when the transport airplane suffers a problem and crashes. Trip and Money survive. Trip wants to return to her father and see the opportunity to so something really bold: uses a device to enslave Monkey using a special collar. Or he helps her to return to her home, or he dies. If he tries to remove the collar, he dies. If he gets too far from her, he dies.

He wants to live. So he decide to help. So the game starts.

The gameplay is basically a combat and 3D exploration and parkour. In a sense, is a mix of old Mario 64/Lara Croft, with Assassin’s Creed combat. It sometimes require some puzzle solving, but generally they are very easy. The combat is rudimentary and only require some tactics and button smashing. Bosses are difficult, however. Time to time, the mechanics change to something special, like controlling a gun turret, but 99% of the game is very straight forward. In fact it is probably my biggest complain about Enslaved: Odyssey to the West: after while, you will not get anything new to do. It’s just repetition of the same things. That is the reason I played about half of the game, stopped and only returned several months later, with the mission in my head to finish it once and for all. It was surprisingly good, nevertheless.

Oh, there is another thing: every time you die, you are moved back to the last checkpoint to try again. Great. HOWEVER, you are forced to see the cinematic that often are played before the action. Every time. If it a difficult part like a boss, I bet you are going nuts for the time wasted. Developers, never (I repeat, never) do this. It is super annoying.

The visuals is a big big plus here. Even for a older game (originally released in 2010), the game is still gorgeous. It have personality, flavor. The scenarios are all very pretty as well the characters. Money and Trip show emotions in a level that more modern games still struggle to accomplish. The animations are great and fluid very plastic.

The story is also a great point for the game. It is original, personal and compelling. You will love the couple. The protagonist is likable! What a great feature, so rare! The companion is a bit arrogant but she is also very likable. Only the third guy, named Pigsy, falls into the typical NPC of boring, arrogant and annoying. Yet he is cool. 3 characters total and the story is still super cool. Great achievement. The ending is a bit of “the architect moment in the Matrix”, trowing a lot of information to give it all a closure, but it is really great and memorable. The main “villain” is also played by Andy Serkis, which plays the main character Monkey, is a big surprise (dont worry, it is not exactly a spoiler).

Overall it was a great experience. I believe is is a new classic. The same kind as Blade Runner, that was critic acclaimed but a commercial failure.

My grade: 8

Metacritic: 70

Sing

Cinema, Review

I was wandering in the giant wasteland of TV shows, changing channels every 15 seconds, when I noticed that animation Sing was about to start. I decided to give it a try, but I had no expectations about it. For me it would be another cashin animation movie.

When it ended I felt super surprised about how good it is. I was crying like a baby, but it something I do often. 😛

The movie is about a theater owner that dreamed about having a great and successful show but got failure after failure. Deeply in debt, he decided to create a singing competition. It attracted hundreds of contestants, which one with a unique style. The narrative is very predictable, but nevertheless very emotional one. The main themes is believe in your dreams. But there is a bit of father-son relationship for some characters. They don’t run away from the typical stereotypes. And there a very few surprises along the way.

Visually stunning, the song selection is very nice (could be great, however) and the characters are very well realized. My personal favorite is the chameleon assistant. 😛 The cast is very good here, with solid performances. Some of them I did not noticed who as who. I dont know if the actors actually sang for the movie, but I doubt it.

Very good pop corn time movie to watch with the family.

My grade: 8

Metacritic: 53

Rotten Tomatoes: 73%

Queen of Katwe

Cinema, Review

Just after watching a fun and light comedy with Sing, another channel started to show Queen of Katwe. I heard good comments when it was in theaters, so I decided to keep up the marathon.

It tells the story of Phiona Mutesi, a real life girl from the village of Katwe, in Uganda, that end up being a very good chess player. It is a very typical against-all-odds and follow-your-dream kinda story. The poor girl have to face all the prejudice for being women and poor (but not about being black, because the whole movie is basically on Uganda, which such thing is non sense) to get a place under the sun.

Her unexpected success transformed the lives of her family and of the many people of her village. She became a celebrity at very young age, which influenced her personality. Year after year, she start to behave as a spoiled kid, believing that she was invincible. With the family support, she realizes the most valuable things in life in the end.

The acting of the protagonist, from Madina Nalwanga, is excellent. The whole media focused the attention to the beautiful Lupita Nyong’o that plays Phiona’s mother, but the real star here is Madina. Phiona is portrayed as a timid, introspective girl, but Madina played in a way that it still makes the character very very likable. You cheer for her. Even being in a chess match!

The other kids are also really good. It is always a challenge to work with children.

My main complain with the story is the sub plot of her older sister. I dont know if the book that was based on uses this character to a greater purpose, but in this motion picture this subplot, while gives hints about the whole situation of Phiona and her mother, does not go anywhere relevant.

The visuals are great. The poverty is displayed in a way that brings emotions but is not there to provoke shock. The African colors and styles gives it a very distinctive and beautiful look.

My Grade: 7.5

Metacritic: 73

Rotten Tomatoes: 92%

Orwell

Game, Review

Following yet another recommendation from Rock Paper Shotgun, I decided to give this small little indie game a try.

The game address the theme of governmental surveillance. The Big Brother. It’s definitively a reference to the US’ Edward Snowden case from 2013.

But unlike what traditional dystopian stories generally do, Orwell puts you in the shoes of the oppressing regime. To be more fair, you control a simple security agent, which makes you more a pawn than a King. It’s a similar position that you take from the excellent Papers Please. Following the rules and d questionable things is part of your job. You need to put food on the table after all. After the first negative (or at least not constable) impressions, you will get used to the job, and things get easier to digest.

Your official job is to track terrorist threats, listening to phone call, see video camera feeds, and read social media from targets. But these tools are available to spy on virtually all citizens, potential criminals or ordinary folk alike.

At very beginning of the game, the country suffers a major terrorist attack and the country is in a political crisis. It’s your job to find the responsible ones. You even have a lead. He might be innocent, but your investigation opens connections. Connecting one person to another, like teacher-student, neighbors, father-son, brings you new potential suspects.

A really good thing that I noticed while playing is that, without direct intervention of the game, reading the news, I created some conspiracy theories. I was trying to link dots, trying to see the “big picture”, trying to make sense of the chaos of facts and information. The game throws at you several misleading information, and like real life, you will have to filter what is relevant and what is not. It fascinated me.

The mechanics of the game are quite unique. Not revolutionary, but unique. If the theme is close to Papers Please, the gameplay reminded me of Her Story. Using try-and-error and some deduction, you try to to reveal the missing gaps. If you didn’t like Her Story, don’ worry, here the story is more traditional. Everything is scripted like and adventure game. You will not make an relevant change in the course of the story during game.

As a short game, I liked very much. I heard that they are doing a sequel, which is good news. I will be glad to try it also.

PS: yes, the game Orwell is a direct reference to Eric Arthur Blair (aka George Orwell) and his book 1984.

My Grade: 7.5

Metacritics: 77

Assassin’s Creed: Unity

Game, Review

Like Batman Arkham Knight, this game of the Assassin’s Creed franchise was launched in a very rough state. There are thousands of videos in the YouTube showing crazy situations, mostly because the AI, but also due poor collision detection and graphical glitches.

And as Batman, I played the game long after the launch, after the developers patch the patch the patch of the patch of the game.

And as Batman, I played a buggy game.

At the time I played the second game in the series, Assassin’s Creed 2, I did not commented in the blog. I don’t even recall if I had a blog at the time (in fact I did have, because I played it in 2010 and it was mentioned in the 2010 year review). Anyway, it was one of my favorite games of all time at that point. I really enjoyed every bit of it. And I appreciate it even more when I finally when to Italy and could see in real life the places that I have been before in the virtual life.

Back to Unity, it felt flat to me.

The visuals are great, I cannot deny it. Seeing the Eiffel tower at the horizon (even for a brief moment because the main game is before its construction) was full of emotions. The crowd ragging against the monarchy is super cool (the crowd on the streets are not, because the pop and change visuals in front of you), the buildings are also very detailed. The character models are good, but the uncanny valley occurred to me: all seemed creepy.

The gameplay is the typical Assassin’s Creed fashion. The main difference here is that it does not work right. I believe that the developers wanted to put so many climbing and parkour points across your path that very often the character does something different that the player intended. It starts to climb in a weird point or get over a ordinary table. I had several moments that I died because I was not in full control of the character. The combat is ok but the armors and weapons all fell the same. There is no special strategy here.

The story is laughably bad. The MAIN character is boring. The main one. That Arno starts begin a anti-hero that is converted to a blindly good hero in a snap and is moved mostly by boring motives. I could not care less. The girl follows the same path. The secondary characters, in most part, are not good and when you think they are going to grow in the story, you have to kill them. That in fact a kinda problem in the AC universe, because they are built to assassinate people, their opponents, so most story lines end on killing them before some good conflict emerges

Napoleon is a quite nice fellow

[story plot here]

The recurring structure of the story is:

  1. there is a enemy
  2. you are sent to kill him,
  3. by doing so, you discover that there is, in fact, a bigger boss

And the cycle repeats. Is is not an accident that I cannot remember a single villain.

The side quests and collectibles, all boring. When finding a chest containing… nothing… is fun? The only collectibles that I compelled to do is open the map climbing strategic towers and evolving my own bar to a certain level that it generates loads of money. Getting flags or chests or entering the catacombs were too dull to for me.

The present storyline, against Abstergo, was only briefly mentioned. There is none in this game that reveals anything.

The overall felling is that I had to finish the game for the sake of my compulsive behavior. No reason to recommend to anyone, except if you are French (I suppose it would be awesome to have your own city mapped like this).

My Grade: 4

Metacritics: 70

My Neighbor Totoro

Cinema, Review

This 30 years old cartoon is still a charm.

This Japanese animation showed me the importance of being open to alternative views. The theme and pace of the movie is completely different from the western animations.

The story is about 2 girls (and their dad) moving to a new house. Nearby there are some fantastical creatures that co-exist in this world.

The pace is super slow. But not dragging-type of slow. It is contemplative kinda slow. They present the characters step by step, thru small events. The two kids will slowly conquest your heart. They are so adorable. It was a great pleasure to care about someone, on the contrary of many of the western movies and games, that I could not care a thing about them. I loved  Mei and Satsuki.

The visuals are great. Like watercolor paintings and classic anime style of drawings. The Totoro character is particularly funny! The other creatures are cool, but they are not throughly explored, so I cannot say they are great. The music is a bit sparse, with long moments of silence.

My mainly, maybe only, complain is the abrupt ending. With much spoilers, at a certain point of the story there is a big problem that the characters try to solve. But at any point it as said that is was the major final problem. I was personally expecting to, after solving it, to get to the final major problem. It ends in moment that I was not expecting to happen. It left the story with too many open questions, too many mysteries. When the credits started to roll I was shocked.

It is a short excellent movie. It ends suddenly but the whole ride is a enjoyable one. Totoro (the character) is now among my favorite anime characters ever.

Totally recommend you to watch it.

My Grade: 8

Metacritic: I could not find it (!)

Rotten Tomatoes: 93%

Hacksaw Ridge

Cinema, Review

I wanted to watch the latest Mel Gibson movie as a director because… it was Mel Gibson. I understand that Gibson plays a nuts role in most peoples minds, but as  a director, he is a quite talented one. I did not know much about the movie, except it was about a war (probably second great war, based on the trailer) and Gibson was the project leader. It was enough to make me curious.

After 30 minutes into the movie, I had to admit that I was hooked. Cool characters, cool story, very nice production.

Now, after seeing it entirely, I have to say: WOW. What a great movie it is! I was not expecting this quality.

Gore

If you have heart problem, have kids with you watching or do not support violence and gore, keep away form this picture. It has it all. Like some super-realistic WWII movies (like the superb Saving Private Ryan), Hacksaw Ridge shows the battles in a visceral way. Gibson is very familiar with this, because Braveheart and Passion of the Christ are also displaying violence in its crudeness.

But for all of these movies, the crude violence is informative. It sets the tone of despair and importance of simple acts. You can see the real courageous and the cowards. The cost of the victory and the burden of the defeat.

Religion

One of the major themes is about religion prejudice. It dedicates half of its time talking about how the military (and society in general) are very prejudicial against religious people, specially those fanatics. It tries to convince that, despite the fanaticism, all people should be respected. Quite bold and powerful message in times that Muslim fanatics are doing so many terrorist acts.

But the political argument was not about muslins, but about Gibson himself. It is well knowing that Mel is a very religious person. In the last past movies, he always touched the subject. Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto address some religions views and practices. I felt that Hacksaw Ridge, sometimes, seems to be made only for the purpose of justification of his own behavior and believes.

But despite the original intention an violent aesthetics, it is a must-see.

My grade: 9

Metacritic: 71

Rotten Tomatoes: 87%

The Swapper

Game, Review

I bought The Swapper yesterday because I heard good things about it. And man, I loved the game.

It is a platformer puzzle game, like the classic Braid, but the major feature is the ability to create a clone of yourself and migrate the controls to it. It might be considered a form of teleportation, but your old ones will still be there. It opens opportunities for several interesting challenges. It also uses, [minor spoiler alert] at mid game, a similarly feature as VVVVV that is changing the direction of gravity. The puzzles have a nice and steady evolution in difficulty, combining the new features each time they are added to your repertoire.

The only thing that I was a bit confused it the collectible orbs. For a completionist like me, and a pleasing game like The Swapper, I felt compelled to collect of of them. But the counter that shows in the UI does not have a one-to-one relationship to the amount of orbs you collect. At the beginning of the game, it is one-to-one, but in later stages, each orb you get adds you dozens into the orb counter. It is confusing to track the general progress you are making. I guess the developers wanted to make the reward the player more the more complex the puzzle is, but I did not fell this way. This orbs are not just optional. In order to progress, you have to collect a certain number of them to open locked areas. But in most cases, you have to collect almost all orbs possible to reach the required number, so it turns out to be even more useless the multiple orb value per orb collected intended feature. Minor complain thou.

The game have a very great visuals. Dark and a bit spooky, but not in the way of horror games. It is designed to be just uncomfortable, just like Limbo and (presumably Inside, but I didn’t play it yet). But unlike Limbo, it rarely inputs pressure. You are always in a lonely and calm journey. It imprints the sense of loneliness, desolation, mystery and insanity.

The overall theme is a science fiction. During the game you face several dialogues and recordings of a technological discovery. It present the theme in a more philosophical approach, similar to Talos Principle. However, due the super short texts and obtuse ways to tell it, it does not feel very mind melting like Talos. It was a bit unsatisfying. A professional scientist would never write a log in such enigmatic way. It would be much clearer and direct to the point. This obtuse style of storytelling is typical on horror and mystery games, novels and movies. They rely on telling the audience so little that you do not understand the meaning way to the end. Despite it, I like the approach.

The game is short, which I would say that is a plus, because it gives the sense of completion and that it is not dragging you for hours for the sake of appearing more substantial.

I totally recommend this game. One of the best indies and best games overall I played this year so far.

My Grade: 8.5

Metacritic: 87

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

Books, Review

I first “met” Yuval Noah Harari in a TED talk last year. He was talking about Nationalism vs. globalism: the new political divide. I like him and his ideas. Very interesting and compelling. I didn’t know at the time he was a writer. By accident, I found his book.

I read it entirely in 2 days. Love it.

It is a comprehensive visual of the mankind. Several sub subjects are in my top interest subjects, like religion (in a scientific perspective), politics, economics and scientific advances. It dedicate several initial chapters explaining what we know about the origin of our own species. The point when we forked our hereditary tree from other primates and from other man-like species, like Neanderthals (in fact, he argues that it is not exactly like this). It is a 50000+ years analysis of the importance of agriculture, language and religion. The origin of states. It is mind blowing.

Then he enters in a revision of the know history, also, focusing one layer at time. He explains why the Homo Sapiens because the rulers of the planet Earth. Why we managed to be so successful. The book is very centered on religion and religion-like lines of through, like capitalism (yes… very thought provoking).

The book is mostly founded on science and data. But also on plausible extrapolations and reasoning. And his writing style is quite convincing.

It is not an accident it is a best seller. It is not an accident it is a loved book by many.

Simple: READ IT.

My Grades: 10

Good Reads: 4.4/5

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – Blood and Wine

Game, Review

Beautiful. This new expansion of my favorite game of all time, The Witcher 3, have a major single adjective. It all happens in a different territory of the main game. A vibrant and colorful Toussaint. It was clearly (and admittedly) inspired by southern France and Italy. The very first minutes into the expansion and your head will probably explode. It is gorgeous. The city of Beauclair is amazing. The mountain that is always at the horizon looks amazing (is it possible to climb it? I did not tried)

I started a new game dedicated to the expansion .Mostly because I player the whole game in the original TW3 game but when I bought the Season pass including both expansions, it made available the the TW3 complete edition for me. However, it does not include all the playing data from the original one, including achievements. Unfortunate. So I decided to test the feature that it generates a new game but the main mission was already finished. It works fine. Geralt started the game in level 25 or so with a basic high level armor and sword kits.

I also wanted to test the game using the Brazilian Portuguese audio, and English subtitles for the sake of from-to mapping of concepts. I was impressed the not only CD Projekt Red did a text translation of the game but a full voice over and the same for the expansions! That’s why they are my top 3 favorite developers. However, the Brazilian audio is a hit and miss. The actor choices are not perfect (Geralt is really cool, but there are some that are weird) but the most critical point is the pronunciation of the Witcher 3 specific things. They are a mess. Beauclair, Toussaint and even Geralt are pronounced differently actor from actor and even from the same actor in the same dialog tree. Using the English subtitles helped be to surpass the confusion.

[this post have mentions of the game story]

The gameplay continues top-notch. Added some extra features in the leveling system and the possibility to have your own vineyard. And getting a custom armor with the banners of your family is a very Game of Thrones coolness. However, I personally disliked one of the main recurring enemies: the giant centipedes. Not obvious why they are so difficult.

There are more jokes and culture references that the main installment. The mid-game side story in the world of fairy tales is super-hyper-mega bizarre. And I loved it! No further spoilers. Even inserted there as 100% out of nowhere plot.

The story is original but not particularly fun. The main villain is forgettable. It is a legendary character that you have to meet very few moments so you never are convinced that he is so good and powerful and charming and wisdom and cool as described by almost all NPCs that managed to know him. I would love to have more interactions with him, becoming friends and then being betrayed. The way it is now, I don’t care much about him. You companion, however, is much more likable.

The final mission (no spoilers) was a bit disappointing. There are a few problems: I locks the player in a series of events, the final boss have a multi step fight and if you die in the last stage, you come back just before the first. Even worse, it brings you back before a cinematic sequence. Arg. CDPR used the same technique on the main game. I hated it. I would never pass this unnoticed if I was called to do beta testing. I was a mix of relief and satisfaction when I finally managed to finish him.

 

 

Now I’m going to play the first expansion, knowing that I might be too powerful. If it half of the fun that I had, I would love it too.

The best game expansion I ever played.

My Grade: 9.5

Metacritic: 92