Games: Always Sometimes Monsters Review

May 29, 2014

It seems to me that these days, a lot of the best and most innovative games are found down towards the cheaper end of the market.

Over on the PS4, I think the most fun I’ve had has been on Mercenary Kings, which came free with my Playstation Plus subscription. I haven’t reviewed that, incidentally, because I’ve got a long way to go before I’m even close to completing it.

But the big budget games like Watchdogs or Infamous: Second Son don’t grab me. Just by looking at them, I don’t feel like I’d be playing something particularly fresh, but rather just the same old, same old with spruced up graphics.

The game I’ve been playing the most these days looks like it could be a SNES game and it only cost me £6, but with a 9/10 review on Euroganer, I decided to give small Toronto Indie studio Vagabond Dog’s RPG, Always Sometimes Monsters a shot.

Always Sometimes Monsters Review: What Is It?

It’s an RPG about choice. At the start of the game you’re faced with a number of different potential characters to choose from and from there, the story is one of a down-on-his luck character having 30 days to make it to his ex’s wedding in a bid to win her back.

Along the way, you are faced with a number of moral and ethical dilemmas to get by, as well as having to spend time working menial jobs like loading boxes in a factory and working in a slaughterhouse to get by.

What Did I Think?

Well the first thing to say is that the game offers tremendous value. For £6 I managed to get a good 7 hours of play-time out of it, which is not to be sniffedat at all. On that basis alone if it was anywhere even approaching good, it would be

It certainly has a nice retro look to it

It certainly has a nice retro look to it

worth the purchase.

And it is good, but perhaps not quite as good as some of the reviews suggest.

I didn’t find myself as intensely troubled as some reviewers by the moral dilemmas on offer. For example, at one stage I was faced with a choice of winning a car race either by going through a series of mundane tasks to win the car parts I needed to improve my chances (such as coming out on top in a boxing tournament, which seemed like it would be long-winded and fiddly) or cutting my opponents brakes and potentially causing his death. I chose the latter. And while all his kids were there to witness his death, I found the whole thing quite amusing, rather than beating myself up over a bad decision made in haste.

Now that particular example is perhaps telling of my experience with the game as a whole.

For the first half of the game, I was engrossed, and found myself playing through it at some rate. The choices were interesting, and the gameplay mechanics – such as the need to maintain stamina by buying/catching and eating food – were fun to carry out. And the story was interesting too; I wanted to get from one place to the next in a quest to win back my girlfriend, who I got the choice of naming at the start (I chose Nerys by the way, while my own character was called Sutekh).

And in those early parts of the game, I felt that what I did really did matter and influenced the game.

Later on though I wasn’t so sure. There didn’t seem to be any real consequences for my actions, and by the time I got to San Verdano, it felt like almost all the choices I made looked like they had become irrelevant.

Some of the story-arcs of characters – like the publishers wife or the girlfriend of the guy in the trailer park – went nowhere, some of the things I was supposed to be able to do – like get extra work with my union card or get a job working as a bouncer in the strip club – didn’t happen, and also, the stamina meter stopped being an issue at all.

That was a bit disappointing, and so was the way the game ended.

Without wanting to spoil it for those who want to play it, having saved it first and then played through a number of different scenarios from the casino until the end of the game, it all pretty much led to the same conclusion.

And to me, that’s the big problem with these games that suggest you have a choice in how it will develop; you don’t. All roads will kinda lead to the same place, and that’s especially true of a game that starts with a flash forward to the end.

Nevertheless, those issues aside, the game was one that I wanted to play through until the very end and actually see how all the different potential scenarios would play out, and that counts for a lot.

Always Sometimes Monsters: Final Thoughts

So ultimately, I would say that it was flawed but still ultimately quite enjoyable.

Well worth the £6 but don’t think it’s quite as good as some of the critics are saying.


Films: The Two Faces of January Review (or “Well It Looks Good”)

May 20, 2014

In amongst the relentlessness of big budget disaster and superhero movies, I was pleased to find that there was something different to see at the cinema this week.

The Two Faces of January – running at 96 minutes – is talked up as the sort of thriller Alfred Hitchcock would have made.

High praise indeed.

So is it any good?

The Two Faces of January Review: What’s This One About?

Set in 1962, an American stockbroker who has swindled his clients out of their money goes on the run – along with his young wife and a young American working as a Greek tour guide – after he accidentally kills a Private Investigator who has tracked him down at a hotel in Athens.

Why it’s called The Two Faces of January is beyond me though.

The Two Faces of January Review: Who’s In It?

A much-older-than-the-last-time-I-saw-him Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac star.

The Two Faces of January Review: How Highly Is It Rated?

It gets 7.0 from a mere 550 people on imdb, 80% on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 73% from Metacritic.

Critic reviews in newspapers/online media are generally positive.

The Two Faces of January Review: My Thoughts

I like what this set out to be.

It’s unusual for a movie to be made in such a deliberately old style these days. Or maybe it’s that it’s rare for the ones like this to actually make it to the cinema on a national level.2faces

And it looked great.

A combination of excellent location filming, top-notch attention to detail in terms of costume & design and especially the use of the sort of incidental music you’d expect from a film made in that era meant that The Two Faces of January encapsulated the 1960s thriller wonderfully.

Even the way the main plot just started from the very beginning and ended without protraction made it feel like it was a movie from a by-gone time.

The acting too was perfectly acceptable.

But the thing is, a movie can’t just survive on a stylish look and passable acting; there has to be a solid plot to go with it.

This is where I would say it was a slight let down.

By no means was it bad, but it lacked any sort of twist or urgency, especially for the middle 45 minutes, which dragged on. It felt as laid back as the warm Greek surroundings.

If I was to criticise it for anything else, it would be that some of the decisions made by the characters seemed a bit contrived. Isaac’s Rydel character didn’t come across as stupid, and yet the bit where he allowed MacFarland to buy the plane tickets was exactly that. If you’re on the run and fearing a double-cross, you don’t let the guy who might turn on you buy you a ticket on trust.

It didn’t feel right for that to happen.

Should You Go To See The Two Faces of January?

Like I said above, it’s not a long film, so it has that going for it, and it’s nice to see an old-fashioned thrilled make its way onto the big screen in 2014.

But it was lacking a plot that really grabbed me, so I couldn’t go out of my way to recommend this.

I do hope to see more films like it in the future though.


Scottish Cup Final 2014: The One That’ll Go Down As A Damp Squib

May 20, 2014

Well that was a damp squib, wasn’t it?

In the lead-up to the Scottish Cup Final between Dundee United and St. Johnstone, I just didn’t feel as tense or excited as I had in the days and weeks before the 2005, 2008 (League Cup) and 2010 finals. Personally, I think that’s because I’d witnessed us winning the cup in 2010 and therefore was shed of my “Scottish Cup Trophy Virginity” (that’s something that every Dundee fan currently living still has, and probably will have 1o0 years from now, but that’s another story) having not been to the Cup Final of 1994.

Either way, I just didn’t feel as pumped up about it as I should have been.

While in 2010 I couldn’t even touch my breakfast, in 2014, it went down fine and I even went to work for a couple of hours before heading through.

But even when I was there, the whole thing seemed flat.

The Cup Final Display: Looks great on TV but takes away from the atmosphere inside the ground

The Cup Final Display: Looks great on TV but takes away from the atmosphere inside the ground (Picture Courtesy of Ritchie Patton)

Why?

Well you could argue it was because of the performance, but I don’t think that’s valid. Oh sure, the game itself was a disappointment for Dundee United fans, as a mixture of great tactics for St. Johnstone, poor performances from some United players and a huge slice of bad luck came together to ensure a deserved St. Johnstone win, but it wasn’t like the United end was bouncing up until victory was out of our reach; it had been like that the whole time.

The entire Cup Final Experience was crap this time.

And I’d put that down to a few reasons.

1. Cup Finals Should Be At Hampden

I’m not sure why Hampden Park comes under as much criticism as it does. I like it, and always have. I get that the layout of the stadium means that some seats offer crap views, and I also get that it’s located in a stupid part of the world. Of course the National Stadium should be in an easy to reach, central location rather than hidden away in Glasgow in an area with limited parking and no sign posts to show people how to get there, but it is where it is.

For me, Hampden means you’re going to a special event.

Getting to Hampden to watch your team means that they have achieved something (assuming they aren’t playing Queen’s Park of course).

So to have the final at Celtic Park – a stadium that you can go to watch your team play once or twice a season – didn’t feel quite so special.

Instead, it just felt like any other game.

Moreover, it meant there were less people in the centre of Glasgow. I parked in the Buchanan Galleries like I usually do, and walked to Central Station to get a train to the ground. Normally there are hundreds of fans milling about in club colours, excited for the big kickoff. Not on Saturday. On Saturday, I walked through the city centre as the only person wearing obvious club colours. Decked out in Tangerine – or Safety Orange to be precise – I looked and felt like a right dick.

It only got worse on the way back to the car too!

2. Terrible Event Planning

But even if you allow for the game to be at a different venue and the related issues, that doesn’t excuse the lack of build up and atmosphere in the ground on the day.

So who’s to blame for that?

I would say mainly the SFA.

As far as the SFA goes, whoever was in charge of the tannoy should have been playing some club related tunes in the build-up to kick off. Like every time I’ve been to Hampden for Finals or Semi-Finals, there should have been a rendition of Love is in the Air to get the United fans going, and some airtime for whatever song the St. Johnstone fans sing.

That gets people up for it; it gets them excited and in the mood, and it gets the people who are only there for the day – the non-fans who go to Cup Finals only – feeling part of an occasion. My strongest memory of the 2010 final was  the singing before the game; it was electric and it got the hairs on the back of your neck standing up.

But there was none of that. So the call to action was gone.

I had some words with a few Celtic fans on Twitter who were angry that I’d dared to suggest that there was a lack of atmosphere in Celtic Park, because there apparently always is on big games for them. But you’ve got to remember that before kick-off, they play the Celtic songs. People don’t just randomly start singing You’ll Never Walk Alone in unison.

Tunes play a big part in atmosphere; there’s just no doubt about it.

But even beyond that, there were other niggles too. Some fans couldn’t get in to the stadium for 45 minutes after they arrived because of turnstile issues, while the Main Stand only had one employee at times manning the concessions stand. That might seem trivial, but when people disappear for 25 minutes of a Cup Final because of the length of time it takes the staff to serve pies, then it’s going to dampen the mood.

3. The Display

Now this is a controversial one, but I think there’s merit in what I’m saying here.

Don’t get me wrong; I think the amount of work that went in to making that display on Cup Final Day – from the people who raised the money for it, to the guy who designed it to the dozens of helpers who went along on the Friday to painstakingly put each card by the correct seat – was top class. Everyone involved should be proud of their efforts.

But the thing is, if people are too busy holding up a piece of paper to generate an audible atmosphere right before kick-off, then it affects the occasion. And I think it did on Saturday.

It also doesn’t do anything for the fanbase, because they can’t actually see what the display looks like at the time, and with the best will in the world, if that is the difference between a player being motivated to play well or not, then that player needs to get a grip.

4. The Weather

It might seem a small thing, but a Cup Final on a day with crappy weather is not as good as one on a gloriously sunny day. I’ve been to enough of them to feel the difference.

Would It Have Been Different If We’d Won?

You might read this and think this is just sour grapes from a guy who went to Glasgow to see his team lose the Cup Final.

I can understand that, but I can assure you it’s not true.

I’ve got no problem with St. Johnstone winning the cup and am pleased for their fans. If it had been any other team – especially Aberdeen. Dundee or the Old Firm – I wouldn’t be happy at all, but I don’t mind our local rivals and think it’s good that they’ve won a major trophy for the first time.

Yes, I’d have been happier if United had won, but my sense of deflation was there long before we lost.

It just didn’t feel like a cup final, and reading what people have been saying online about it, I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.

So roll on next season and Hampden being back in play.

Hopefully we’ll be back there again, and we’ll leave victorious!


Stuart’s Television Review – May 2014 (including Continuum, Game of Thrones, Legends House and More)

May 16, 2014

It’s been a long time since I’ve written one of my Entertainment Review posts, with the last one being back in February, and with the US TV Season drawing to a close for another year, it’s time to catch up.

Here are my thoughts on some of the shows I’ve been watching lately…

24: Live Another Day

Yes, Jack is back (three words that have probably been used together in just about every single review of the show since it made its return last week) and this time he’s in London.

On hearing the news that Kate Ramsay, with her smug smile and Auton-like face had been killed off in Neighbours, I watched it again

On hearing the news that Kate Ramsay, with her smug smile and Auton-like face had been killed off in Neighbours, I watched it again

What can you say? Well it’s the tried, tested and a little bit tired formula all over again, with the first three episodes focusing on the Level One villains who will ultimately be killed off by someone higher up than them on the food chain.

But it’s been a while since 24 was on our screens and so even though it’s not breaking any new ground, it’s still entertaining.

I’m gutted about Maurice being killed off between seasons though.

The Big Bang Theory

As much of a fan of this show as I am, there’s no doubt the quality is going downhill. It’s not going downhill as fast as Kaley Cuoco’s appearance (cue angry feminist comments being left), but it’s still suffering from a drop in quality. Much of that has to do with the repetitiveness of it all, but with some level of character development in the past few weeks, I’m still confident that this is a show that will still be worth watching next year.

Castle

Castle, meanwhile, is a show that is going from strength to strength. But for one episode in the 2012/13 season that was a rushed clip episode, it has remained one of the most consistently entertaining shows on TV.

The recent instalment with the mobster who still believed it was the late 1970s was well written and superbly funny.

If you’ve not given this show a go yet, do so ASAP.

Community

It’s been cancelled! Nooooooooo!!!

Creatively, you could argue that it was time for it to go, because it finished on a happy ending and for the characters to still be hanging around Greendale for another year would just seem tenuous.

But I’m still disappointed as I’ve been mostly enjoying this latest season. With the exception of the episode centring around the phone app – which turned into yet another post-apocalyptic, Hunger-Games style war – it was of a high standard throughout.

My favourite episode – and one that I would implore you to watch, even though it didn’t get the ratings in the US – is the GI Joe one. By presenting most of the episode in an authentic GI Joe cartoon from the 80s, it was just one of the smartest/coolest/geekiest things I’ve ever seen.

Continuum

Now here’s a show I’ve just recently starting watching.

And better yet, Doug Willis is back!

And better yet, Doug Willis is back!

A Canadian Time Travel/Police Drama that is somewhere between Life on Mars and The Butterfly Effect, I have been thoroughly enjoying this, and would recommend it highly.

Starring Rachel Nichols from the final season of Alias, it has had me hooked for the past week of binge watching. Now I’ve read some people say it’s a bit too complex for them, and I can sympathise with that, but I’ve had no problems keeping up.

After a few episodes, I was wondering how they would keep the show fresh and interesting, but they’ve managed that by developing the storylines and characters and not being afraid of making key changes to the dynamic.

What I also like about it is the location. Because the show is made in Vancouver and primarily uses lesser known Canadian actors in the cast, it gives the show a different look and feel to the majority of shows from across the pond filmed in New York or Los Angeles.

On the whole, I’d give this a hearty thumbs up.

Game of Thrones

I just don’t get the hype.

I’m a few episodes behind on this, and that says it all about my desire to see this show.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Game of Thrones is bad – indeed I think it’s quite good – but the way you read people fawning all over it on social media baffles me.

It especially baffles me that some of the people who think it’s the coolest thing going are the sorts of people who’ll go out of their way to criticise shows like Doctor Who as being “sad”. It’s apparently acceptable geekery.

Personally, I do think it’s a case of style over substance, and has several issues, including a cast that is too expansive for the average viewer to fully invest in or even recognise the characters they play, and a narrative flow that is uneven at best.

There are some episodes where nothing happens, and if people weren’t willing the show to do so well, you would be right to say that the storyline with Daenerys Targaryen (I had to look her name up there despite watching this from the start) is moving at far too slow a pace.

Maybe I’m being too critical here, but I think there are plenty of more entertaining TV shows out there and that this is the classic example of a show that is best watched in bulk rather than episode by episode.

But it looks nice.

p.s. Don’t get upset…this is just my opinion. If you like it then good for you 😉

Grey’s Anatomy

The GI Joe Episode of Community was one of the most inventive episodes of a TV show I've seen. Class.

The GI Joe Episode of Community was one of the most inventive episodes of a TV show I’ve seen. Class.

I can just see the anger on the faces of some blokey readers getting past my entry about Game of Thrones and then seeing me praise Grey’s Anatomy. How dare I!

It’s been a decent season of Grey’s, although probably the weakest one they’ve done.

Like a couple more programmes I plan on discussing, this is one show that could probably have finished for good here, with most of the story arcs of the characters being wrapped up nicely.

With original cast-member Sandra Oh leaving, and potential storyline exits for the likes of Meredith, Derek and Alex also hinted at in the last few episodes, it could well have ended here and nobody could complain from a creative standpoint.

But it will continue, and that’s not a bad thing. My only concern is that the end of season cliffhanger – that the new Head of Cardio is Meredith’s half-sister and the Chief’s long-lost daughter – feels like a Jumping The Shark moment.

Let’s hope it’s not.

Neighbours

I’ve got back into Neighbours!! Well..sort of.

Continuum - Well worth your time

Continuum – Well worth your time

Having read that one of the characters that put me off the show so much that I stopped watching it was getting killed off (the horribly smug Kate Ramsey with her Auton-like head), while the Living Legend, Doug Willis, was making a comeback, I decided to give it another go.

It’s been ok. It turns out that there’s been an almost entire turnover of cast since I stopped watching, but I’ve picked it up again.

I’m not hooked, but my brother and I are having a sort of ironic laugh watching it again.

Oh, and quite clearly Susan and Karl Kennedy are immortals. They just don’t age.

Revenge

Another show that probably should have ended this year is Revenge.

As hilariously bad, yet weirdly engrossing as it is, the whole point of the show was for an undercover Emily to avenge her father’s death and to bring those responsible for his incarceration to justice. And she did that.

And now everyone knows exactly who she is, removing that element from it too.

And yet it was renewed for another season.

Why?

Probably because it makes money, and that seems to be more important than making a creatively satisfying show.

The season ended with Conrad and Aiden murdered, Victoria in a mental institution and most ridiculously of all, David Clarke returning from the dead.

As much as I’m sure I’ll have a laugh when it returns, this show should have ended by now.

Scandal

And so should Scandal.

Olivia Pope from Scandal - a deeply unpleasant woman

Olivia Pope from Scandal – a deeply unpleasant woman

Here’s a show that has long outlived its welcome, despite only running for three seasons.

Unlike Grey’s Anatomy and Revenge, what’s even more ridiculous about Scandal getting a new season is that every storyline was wrapped up at the conclusion of the last episode. Why would it need to come back, and how can it come back without it seeming ridiculous?

The problem is that over the last season and a half, it moved away from being a show about a team of political fixers taking on a new case every week and put all its eggs into the one basket – Olivia’s relationship with the President.

And though I did watch the season all the way through, it got really fucking boring by the end. Every single episode had a scene shoe-horned in where Olivia and the President – a man who she’s having an affair with – talk about their feelings while that incongruous incidental music that makes me want to slam my fist through the TV played over it. Just awful.

But what gets me about Scandal the most is that – not unlike Shonda Rhimes other shows like Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice – the lead character is supremely unlikable. Olivia Pope is – I think – written to be a strong and independent black woman (with the “black” part being important, hence why I highlighted it), presumably because that’s how the show’s creator sees herself, but what she actually comes across as is an overconfident, hypocritical and deeply unlikable bitch. Meanwhile, the First Lady, who I imagine is written to be a villain, comes across as someone who is victimized and more often than not in the right.

The scene where Olivia tells the guy having an affair with the First Lady that he has to stop sleeping with her or she’ll destroy him – while she herself is openly having a relationship with the President in front of his wife – took the cake.

This is one show I may not return to.

Two and a Half Men

This is not so much a TV show that I’m watching at US Pace, but one that I decided to get into recently by watching the DVDs from the start.

I feel quite underwhelmed by it, and it amazes me that it’s still on TV now.

A bit like when I watched the boxed set of NCIS, I just sort of drifted away from it by the third season.

It made me smile, but not laugh, and I found myself frustrated, hoping that Alan’s ex-wife would get some level of comeuppance. I even googled it to find out if she did.

But she didn’t as far as I can see.

Meh.

WWE Legends House

Hillbilly Jim is back on our screens in 2014. Result!

Hillbilly Jim is back on our screens in 2014. Result!

Finally, as a fan of WWE going back years, the idea of the likes of Hacksaw Duggan, Hillbilly Jim, Mean Gene, Roddy Piper and Jimmy Hart living in a house together is the perfect show.

Filmed years ago (as evidenced by the now UK based Ashley Roberts working as the host) but never picked up by any TV network, this has finally seen the light of day on the WWE Network.

And it’s crap, but a great laugh.

If you don’t know the characters, you won’t get it, but if you do, you will.

Simple.

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Movies – Stitches Review

May 10, 2014

Browsing through NetFlix last night for something to watch, it randomly suggested I watch Stitches.

On the face of it, I laughed and moved on, but I asked my brother to check what it got on imdb just to see how bad it was supposed to be.

The rating it got was average – 5.7 from just under 4,000 votes – but what was interesting was that it starred British stand-up comedian Ross Noble as the lead.

So although we weren’t expecting much, with our curiosity peaked, we decided to give it a go.

Movies – Stitches Review: What’s It About?

Ross Noble stars in an Irish Horror Comedy about a rubbish and unprofessional clown who dies at the hands of a bunch of kids at a 10th Birthday Party. Years later, when the birthday boy turns 16 and holds another party, he returns from the dead to exact his revenge.

Thoughts

Stitches is exactly what I expected it to be…crap but amusing.Stitches

At first I thought it was just going to be crap, with the movie starting with Ross Noble’s clown having sex in a caravan while his clown costume makes comedy squeaking noises, and then moving on to him dying in the most ludicrous way possible, but once it got past that it settled down a bit.

While Noble is no doubt the lead, the story is really about the kids who had been responsible for his death and the how they were coming back together for the 16th birthday party of Tom (played by Tommy Knight from The Sarah Jane Adventures).

That in itself made for a rather average – but certainly watchable – story up until the point where Stitches makes his comeback to terrorise the party.

And then it becomes as you would expect for a film that is sort of half way between Scream and Scary Movie.

Stitches picks off each of the kids who went to the party where he died one by one  – and a cat that annoys him as well for no other reason that the comedy image of him swinging it around a room – in the most ridiculous of ways. I don’t really want to ruin it by saying how he kills them all, but when he does one in by turning his intestines into a balloon animal and then finishes him off by sticking a pump into the back of his head and blows it up like a balloon until it pops, you’ll know the sort of ballpark we’re in here.

Gory stuff doesn’t bother me in the slightest, but this wasn’t really gory at all. The blood looking like cranberry juice being randomly thrown about the set and the style of death was just so ludicrous that I can’t imagine anyone would actually find it scary.

But like I said, it gave me a chuckle, and I think that was what they were going for.

From the point of view of an overall story, the only thing that confused me for a while was whether or not Stitches was actually there or whether it was all in Tom’s mind, but it turned out he was.

And as for the acting, it was fine. The only actors I recognised were Noble and Knight, and I can’t really see many of the other ones finding much success elsewhere, but it certainly wasn’t badly performed.

So I was happy enough.

Should You Watch Stitches?

Running at only 88 minutes, Stitches is the sort of movie you’d watch with your friends when you’re stuck for something to do one night.

It’s not up to much, but it’ll give you a laugh and it won’t drag.

I don’t feel my time was wasted here, and I don’t think yours will be either.