Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-10-31 10:08:00

Friday The 13th

1 hour 45 minutes

If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise…

As cheesy as they are, the big horror movies of the 80s have a certain charm to them. Cheesy as hell, outright stupid in places, but still always watchable. The Friday the 13th series, one of the biggest of the time, was arguably more serious than the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise – well, to begin with, at least – but it still had some moments of dumb fun before becoming outright silly in its final instalment, the downright hilarious Jason X. It’s probably worth mentioning that that was also my favourite entry in the series, a film comparable to Army of Darkness in terms of genre switch and sheer excellence. Since ‘reboots’ are the marketing buzzword of the week, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to do a more serious remake. The results are, predictably, less than great.

You all know the story: Jason Voorhees goes ballistic against a bunch of retarded horny teenagers. The film opens with a replay of the end of the first original film in the series, before skipping forward some years later. A group of teenagers are looking for the ultimate weed patch while on a camping trip. Within the space of the first 20 minutes, they’re all butchered mercilessly. We’re then introduced to a new bunch of teens, going to a plush woodland cabin for the weekend. Unfortunately, these guys last slightly longer, everyone resisting the temptation to off a new conveyor belt of idiots every 20 minutes.

(Incidentally, why hasn’t anyone done this in a movie yet? It’d be hilarious!)

This being a remake, there’s a slightly different take on the original concept: the idea of Jason going apeshit at a summer camp has been dropped, in favour of a more typical ‘house siege/running around the woods’-style story. Rather than the slaughter being spaced out evenly throughout the film, there’s one big blood orgy at the start, then pretty much nothing for about the next hour before the murders begin again in earnest. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the rest of the cast were even remotely likeable, but I haven’t wanted to see a bunch of idiot teens get ripped apart so badly since high school. There’s one guy, a stoner, who’s halfway cool, but, of course, he dies horribly. Jared Padalecki is probably the only person you’re likely to recognise, playing Clay, a guy looking for his sister, who was part of the group killed at the start. He’s also the only remotely sympathetic guy in the bunch, only emphasized by the fact that he’s pitted opposite Travis Van Winkle, playing, as Sir Laurence Olivier would put it, ‘a gigantic douche of no singular redeeming value’. Kudos to the guy for playing such an utterly convincing dick, but he doesn’t even get an interesting death, which highlights the other major problem of the film.

Let’s face it, you all watch these films for the same reasons: you want to see idiot people dying in fun and interesting ways. There’s no shame in it, that’s the primary draw of them, after all. But no, this is a Serious Reboot for Serious People. Can’t be having any of those wacky shenanigans here! So everyone gets offed in a variety of incredibly samey ways, every last one involving impalement or stabbing in some way or another. If you were one of those boring types who has to write a lengthy thesis or two on phallic imagery in modern cinematic blah de blah, you’d probably have a field day with this one. Me? I’ll be sitting over here, bored out my mind. And I still won’t be finding the film much more entertaining.

If there’s one thing the movie does right, it’s that there’s none of those knowing winks to camera. There’s a couple of musical cues that you might recognise, but other than that, it’s entirely fanservice free (if you don’t count the mandatory boobs, of course – this is the Extended Edition, after all). But really, I can’t remember the last time I saw a more boring movie, and that’s the last thing you want to say about any horror film. It counts double when you take into account that it’s based on a series that’s still popular nearly 30 years on. I don’t ask for much in my horror movies: I don’t mind if they don’t scare me, I don’t care if the effects look atrocious, but if they’re not entertaining, that’s an immediate fail right there, and Friday the 13th falls hard at that hurdle. Stick with the originals, kids, this isn’t worth your time.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-10-25 11:26:00

Armour Hunter Mellowlink

12 30-minute episodes

Every so often, you encounter one of those forgotten series. An old show that’s good, but for some reason, never caught on as well as others. You say the name ‘Dragonball’ or ‘Sailor Moon’ or ‘Doraemon’ and there’s a good chance that even non-anime fans will at least be familiar with it. Then you have the Guyvers, the Mazinger Zs, the shows that have a decent-sized fanbase, but no recognition outside. And then you get to the Moldivers and the Gal Forces and the Sol Biancas and for all their quality, you might as well just give up there and then. Ain’t no way anyone other than you has heard of those ones. Filed alongside these unremembered shows is Armor Hunter Mellowlink, and if there was any justice in this world, it too would be considered one of the greats.

The story centres on Mellowlink Aliti, last surviving member of his platoon. His unit sacrificed for unknown reasons, sold out by corrupt officials and blamed for their deaths, as well as a whole bunch of other miscellanious crimes they had kicking around the office, Mellowlink is out for revenge on his former superior officers. Armed only with the outdated anti-mech rifle he was issued for that disastrous last mission, a weapon easily as tall as he is, Mellowlink is determined to make every last one pay for his comrade’s deaths, starting from the bottom of the pile up.

The show’s a spin-off of Armoured Trooper Votoms, a much larger series that, admittedly, I’ve yet to see. But while the larger details, like who the players are in the frequently-mentioned war are, are probably meaningless to anyone unfamiliar with the parent show, the story itself is easy to follow. Its your typical revenge story, but with giant robots, which makes it that much more interesting (giant robots make everything better, just try and deny it). Okay. slight exaggeration, but the giant robots are surprisingly more than a way of spinning money through toy and model kit sales. One of the interesting things about the show is that, for all the mechs – Armoured Troopers, or ATs – running around, Mellowlink never once uses one. It’s suggested that he’s part of an anti-AT squad, hence the gigantic gun and title. So, here you have a regular human, running around capping mecha 4-5 times his size. It’s amazing that it’s an ideat not utilized more often, since the fight scenes are nothing short of gripping. Seeing a single unarmed squishy human making sport of a squad of heavily armed and armoured combat suits is a sight to behold. It’s a shame that most shows tend to lean more toward the ‘unstoppable behemoth’ end of things, since it’s also a sight I’d love to see more often.

The other great thing about the show: the entire thing remains almost 98% bullshit deus ex machina-free. Okay, there’s one or two moments where Mellowlink gets exceedingly lucky, but the entire rest of the time it’s due solely to planning and skill. See your opponent dodge a certain way to avoid a booby trap? Set up another to catch him off-guard mid-dodge. Your opponent has a certain victory pose before killing an unarmoured opponent? Counter the pose and strike while he’s defenceless. Potential love interest demanding to join you in a fight where she’ll almost certainly be a liability? Wait for the obligatory ‘staring into each other’s eyes’ moment, then slug her in the gut, rendering her unconscious – and therefore safe – the entire fight. It’s a refreshing change to see a character win by fighting smart, rather than overpowering their opponent and just plowing through them. And the fact that, with hindsight, you can see how he’s planned all this in advance – a throwaway comment about a car jack is responsible for one of the most satisfying reveals in the show – makes it that much sweeter. Something I’d argue we need to see more of these days.

Mellowlink is a gem of a series. The show was made in the late-90s, so for anyone more familiar with the more polished animation of recent years, it’ll come as a complete culture shock. But the roughness of the art and animation just gives it a real charm you don’t see too often these days. Mellowlink is an excellent series, and a welcome change for anyone sick of power levels or giant robots designed as toys first and foremost.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-10-23 07:15:00

Hideaki Sena – Parasite Eve

320 pages

I want to be your parasite god, so I can show you what you really are

Okay, time to make everyone really paranoid for a second. In an average day, out of all the actions you take, how many can you say for certain are actually yours? That sudden urge to get something to eat, to go into a shop, to call someone. Are you entirely sure it’s all you? Can you say with absolute certainty that everything you say and do is all your own decision? Or is there something urging you to take certain decisions on occasion? A little voice, a tug, an instinct making you think that this idea would be better?

Are you sure that you are really you?

If you’re familiar with Parasite Eve, it’ll more than likely be with the PS1 game series. Released in 1998, it was described as the first ‘survival horror RPG’, and while fun, it was a seriously flawed game. I’ve actually been playing it myself recently, and finding myself getting frustrated with the awkward pre-rendered environments, a kink that would be worked out in its spiritual successor, Vagrant Story. But this is a review of the original book, not the games, so let’s forget about them for a moment.

If you’ve played the first game, you’ll already have some idea of how it all begins. The story focusses on Toshiaki Nagashima, a scientist working in the field of biological research. After his wife is rendered braindead in a car accident, Toshiaki arranges for her organs to be donated. However, he feels compelled to harvest some of her liver cells for experimentation. However, it’s soon revealed that the accident was no accident, and what caused it is looking to expand its empire.

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that the central concept is a goofy one – “Oh noes, my cells are evil and have turned against me” is, at first glance, kinda dumb. But think about it: an unseen enemy, forcing you to do its bidding and you won’t be aware of it until it’s too late? terrifying if done right. And here, a few translation flubs aside, it’s done remarkably so. The first half is very dry. The writer, Hideaki Sena, has a background in medicine, and it shows, large swathes of text being used to discuss medical procedures or experiments in mind-numbing detail. It’s medical porn, plain and simple. More than once you’ll find your eyes sliding down the page as the steps of an experiment are run through in depth. It’s authentic, sure, but doesn’t make for the most exciting reading. Once the primary villain makes Her presence felt, things start getting much better, with the final third being a desperate race to stop Eve, as she has now named herself, from evolving to the next stage. Again, there’s a tendency to go indepth into the the genetics and biology, when you want the writer to concentrate on the big gloopy superbeing that can set people on fire, but when it does, it’s worth it.

If you’re a fan of the games, you’ll probably be wondering where all the hideously mutated monsters are. Well, bad news is, there aren’t any. This is closer to the Ring/u school of horror – slowly building up til it drops everything on the reader in one big clusterfuck of fire and mutilation. It’s hard going at times, and the translation has a number of glaring flaws – upon hearing his wife has been in an accident, Toshiaki groans like he’s been asked to do the dishes, for example, and the onomatopoeia chosen for Eve’s movements is the none-more-chilling sound ‘flap’. Know fear and despair. But still, it’s well worth a read, especially if you’re familiar with the games. Finding out exactly what that ‘incident’ in Japan was all about adds a few things to the original, even if it does introduce a plothole to the narrative. Apparently the second printings of the bookfix a lot of the errors, so a first edition, while a nice thing to have, may not be the best thing to get. Either way, worth a look for the curious and the fans.

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Overclocked On Caffeine v.1.1 2009-10-21 05:51:00

Silent Hill 0rigins


Mirrors are more fun than television

Prequels have a very bad reputation. Oh, the intent is fine enough: showing what the world was like in the Before Time, letting us see familiar faces and the events that shaped them, that kind of thing. But all too often, they devolve into brainless fanservice, burying you in an avalanche of knowing winks and sly glances. You can hear them pissing themselves with sheer glee as one character tells another that their brother will never betray them/will be the death of them/could be the greatest of us all, or some other ironic comment, rather than trying to get some actual tragedy or pathos out of the events. And woe betide if you don’t have any working knowledge of the original, since you’re going to be left wondering every few minutes if you just saw something important. So yes, to your average viewer, prequels are never a good idea.

Silent Hill 0rigins is a prequel to the original Silent Hill. It’s also, not very good, though in its defence, that’s not entirely the fault of its status as a prequel. Give it its due, it sucks on its own merits.

Okay, fair word of warning here: I love the SH series. It redefined the then-burgeoning survival horror genre beyond all recognition upon its release ten years ago. The other main front-runner in the genre, Resident Evil went for traditional shocks, showing you things you were more than likely already scared of, but bigger (a spider the size of your thumbnail is not scary – a spider the size of a van, on the other hand…). It was classic Hollywood jumpscares, and looking back, frankly, they’re laughable. I played the first game again recently: even with the most infamous scares, like the dog window (you know the one I mean) there was barely even a twitch. Going back to the first Silent Hill, on the other hand, you realise that, regardless of the fact that the graphics have aged badly over the last decade, it’s still scary. Play it on a PSP with the lights out and headphones on and watch your complacent smugness fly out the window as you’re scared shitless by a so-called ‘old’ game. The second set the benchmark for storytelling, not just for survival horror games, but arguably for gaming in general, knowing exactly how much to say and how much to merely hint at, leaving many of the finer details for the player to work out for themselves. The third simply had the unfortunate luck to come after the second, being an underrated but still good sequel to the first, and the fourth tried to do something new, but failed in the attempt.

There was no fifth Silent Hill game. This isn’t the flauros you’re looking for, move along.

The deck was stacked against 0rigins from the start really. Of the original Team Silent, only Akira Yamaoka, was to be involved, and, outside of the music department, he had been relegated to ‘creative consultant’ or something equally vague. The game itself was being handled by Climax Studios, better know for such games as Battlezone: Rise of the Black Dogs and Disney’s Lilo & Stitch 2: Hamsterveil Havoc. But fear not, they claimed they were big fans of the series and wanted to do it justice. They knew their shit, and they were itching to prove all the naysayers wrong. All they needed was a chance to prove themselves.

SH0 is set about seven or so years before the original. While on a job near the town of Silent Hill, Travis Grady, a trucker, nearly hits a figure on a quiet road. Trying to find out where the person went, he goes for a wander in the countryside and eventually stumbles across a burning house. He rescues a girl from being burned to a crisp (well, more of a crisp by this point) and gets back outside. And that’s the point where the story pretty much collapses on itself.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a story here, and it’s an okay one, except for two details. First off, it’s a prequel, yet Grady’s involvement with the larger plot is almost non-existent. He runs into most of the major cast, but doesn’t have any real impact on them or their goals. He unwittingly assembles an important McGuffin one Harry Mason would later find somewhat helpful, but you can hardly say he plays any major role, or makes any amazing revelations about anything we already know. Well, that’s not true, the game clarifies one minor fan theory about the relationship between Lisa Garland and Dr. Kauffman. SWEET SAMAEL IN THE OTHERWORLD, EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS WRONG!!! Is your mind shattered? I know mine is.

Trav’s story, on the other hand, involves a trip he took as a lad with his parents, when his mother got herself committed to an insane asylum after she tried to kill him. Yup, turns out he has a Dark and Twisted Past with the town, and it’s keeping him here because… well, see, that’s the other problem with the game. It all falls apart when you realise there’s literally nothing keeping him in this town. His primary reason at the start is to find out what happened to the girl he rescued. Fair enough, I can respect that after saving someone, you’d want to at least know if they’re dead or not, right? But once he confirms that, and the town’s started doing its spooky shit (more on that in a bit) he’s determined to stick around for no goddamn reason.

Let’s take a moment and compare the motivations of the heroes of the games, shall we?

Silent Hill: “I’m not leaving this town until I find out what happened to my daughter.”
Silent Hill 2: “I’m not leaving this town until I find out who sent me that letter and what happened to my dead (?) wife.”
Silent Hill 3: “Stay in this town? Me?! Fuck that, yo, I’m getting the hell out of here!”
Silent Hill 4: “I’m only here so I can get out of my fucking flat, I don’t even want to be here!”
Silent Hill 0: “I’m not leaving because someone keeps leaving me vague clues about where to go next and it really annoys me when people do that!”

Clearly, Travis is a man driven by an OCD urge to punish people who mildly annoy him. That, or he has a fetish for being led about by the nose everywhere. Worthy and admirable traits for any hero to possess. Sorry, did I say ‘hero’? Darn, I meant to say ‘easily manipulated fuckwit’. I always get those two confused.

Okay, okay, we’ve played games with flimsier plots and dumber heroes. None that can top this are springing to might right this very second, but I’m sure there was at least one. Besides, it doesn’t matter as long as the gameplay’s up to snuff, right? Resident Evil’s storyline had dozens of incidents and plot details carved from finest whatthefuckium, and people still enjoyed them.

Would it surprise anyone to learn the gameplay’s not up to scratch? Didn’t think so.

Take a look at this map here:

Big, innit. That’s the second major stage. Not the last, the second. Actually that’s one floor of the second major stage. There’s another floor above that, and a basement as well. And, thanks to the game’s reality-shifting mechanic (you can move into the famed Otherworld at will simply by going up to a mirror), there’s two versions of it, so that’s a grand total of six floors you have to wander about! Okay, yes, most of the rooms suffer from the classic “The door is stuck/locked/actually painted onto the wall itself” thing, but seriously, look how many of the fucking things there are! And it’s not like things logically lead from A to B with a small sidetrip to C, D and E, oh no, everything is placed at opposite ends of the map from each other, resulting in lengthy journeys all over the place. There’s a costume to be unlocked if you complete the game in under two hours, and another for looking at the map less than 25 times. Frankly, both of those are bullshit: the asylum takes about two hours by itself, and it’s stupidly easy to get lost or forget where you’re going without outside help. I don’t mind backtracking as much as others, but done to this degree, it’s padding, plain and simple.

One of the biggest bugbears I have with this game is with the combat. Okay, Climax, buddy, I know you probably thought it was a good idea, but on behalf of everyone who played this game, DESTRUCTIBLE WEAPONS ARE NEVER A FUN GAMEPLAY MECHANIC! Lowering the durability/effectiveness of a weapon? Well, that’s just about forgiveable, as long as you’re not reduced to poking away at a tumorous mass the size of Godzilla with a wet teabag. But weapons that break outright is not on. Really, it didn’t work in the last game, and it sure as hell didn’t work here. And when that’s coupled with a weapon quick-select that’s anything but, you’re looking at a lot of very unhappy gamers, especially since, when they break, you’re automatically forced to go back to the basic 1-2 punch combo, that does bugger all damage. It’s a horrible idea, and a terrible design choice that makes you wonder what the fuck they were thinking. And don’t think gunplay’s going to be much better, because that’s just as fucked up. Shooting foes is all well and good, but then you’ve got to finish them off when you drop them. And shooting them again while they’re down is spotty at best, so you run up to finish them. Except, you’ve got about three seconds to do that before they get back up again, and the game’s mighty picky about letting you finish a downed enemy. So they get back up again, and you take a whole lot of damage from them and you vow never to fight another foe again. But that’s not that difficult, really, since the moment you put the lights off, you’re amazingly invisible to all! And since the stages are reasonably bright, you almost never need to have your flashlight on at all. Y’see, this is another thing you should be aware of, Climax: we avoid combat in survival horror games because we;re scared of it, afraid of going into battle unprepared, lest we get our shit royally fucked up. We do not avoid combat because it’s badly done and because, overall, it’s infinitely easier to just sidestep anything that confused its insides with its outsides.

And another thing, Mr. Climax (why does that sound like a pornstar name?): your choices of weaponry. My suspension of disbelief is a mighty thing to behold. If you could hook it up and use it as a power source, mankind could travel to the stars. You tell me something works in a show because it does, I’ll buy it. Tell me those vials over there contain a virus that transforms some people into plain old zombies, but others into freakishly deformed abominations? Fair enough. Walk over first aid kits or magical glowy things to be cured of all that ails you? Not a problem. People can survive any number of explosive magical or physical attacks in battle, but the second we move to a cutscene, a simple prison shiv can end the live of even the biggest badass? Sucks because he was my favourite, but yeah, alright. So while I can get behind Generic Effeminate RPG Hero #712 being able to carry several million tonnes of equipment and supplies on his girlish form (but only ever up to a stack of 99 per item), something about its usage here pisses me right off. I mean, giving you tons of weapons like straight razors, screwdrivers, okay, they’re small and easily concealable. Sledgehammers, meathooks and pointy bits of wood? Bigger, but still well within acceptable limits. How about IV drip stands and lamps taller than the character himself? How about large gallon jugs of medicinal alcohol? How about filing cabinets, typewriters and portible TVs – often a dozen or so at a time? That’s the point where you start calling bullshit on the whole endeavour. You can get away with it in an RPG, because, by and large, you can say they’ve got advanced/ancient technology, or an airship or, fuck, magic or something. But this gets to the point of stupidity, then decides, “screw that, we can go further!” with a rousing ‘hurp, durp, fight the power!’ as its battlecry. The only reason I can think of for any of this is to make some of their other ideas, like the QTE attacks, for example, look like glorious successes by comparison.

Perhaps the biggest sin committed, however, is to the series itself. Climax claim they know their shit. I claim otherwise. Now, I’ll admit, I’m one of those freakish people who reads and studies things I’m interested in at great length. You ask me about any of the symbolism or plot elements in the first few games, there’s a better than average chance I can give you a fairly good explanation of why X = Y. And I’m not the only one. Even the most casual Silent Hill fan knows that the series is heavy in symbolism and meaning. It’s one of the cornerstones of the games, and probably one of the best things about it. And yet here, Climax have managed to do something amazing: they’ve managed to take all this symbolism and allegory… and miss the point entirely. One of the main references for the game is most obviously, Silent Hill 2. The opening – a character walking through a long, lonely stretch of deserted road – is taken almost verbatim from the earlier game. Travis is also a poor man’s James Sunderland, a self-deluding type with some vaguely sexual hangups if you squint a bit and tilt your head to the side, kinda. But you can’t force genius, and while everything came together right for SH2, they’re trying too hard to force it here, and it just rings hollow and artificial instead. They’re aping things with seemingly no understanding of why they’re doing it. Why is there a long walk through the fog from the start of the game? Because it was in SH2. Why are there holes that you have to jump into to progress towards the end? Because they were in SH2. Why is there a big scary man in an apron with a big sharp slicey thing that looks like everyone’s 1d4-headed monster violator? Why the hell do you think? There are, in fairness, a few big nods to the movie, but SH0 wants to be the second game so badly, it’s almost hilarious.

Are there any redeeming points to this game? Well, the music’s good, but coming from Akira Yamaoka, you’d expect that. But even here it seems half-hearted. There’s nothing on a par with You’re Not Here, Theme of Laura or even Room of Angel or Hometown. There’s a couple of nice ambient pieces, but otherwise, the soundtrack’s mostly forgettable. But the fact that ‘forgettable soundtrack’ is probably the thing the game does best least wrong alone should give you some idea of the thing as a whole.

Silent Hill 0rigins is a game that somehow manages to annoy me on three levels: as a Silent Hill fan; as a survival horror fan; and lastly, as a gamer in general. If it seems like I’m being a horribly nitpicky retard fanboy just because it’s not done by my beloved Team Silent, trust me, I’m not. Frankly, I wouldn’t really care who was responsible for it if the end result was any good. This is a bad game, plain and simple. The combat is terrible, the enemy designs amount to big chunks of meat with no real defining characteristics (and they have the cheek to reuse some of them – only bigger!), the final boss is Diablo, from the games of the same name and the whole premise the game hinges on – that it’s a prequel to the first game – is borderline false advertising. The game’s a gigantic con: you think you’re about to uncover something interesting, only to find that there’s nothing here you didn’t already know. It’s like two slices of prime Kobe beef steak glued onto either end of a cut of discount meat from a cheap butchers – literally, since the majority of the non-Travis related plot occurs at the start and the end of the game. Silent Hill 0rigins is a hideously misaimed game with none of the atmosphere or dread we’ve come to expect from the series, and an outright insult to anyone with any love for the series, or the genre in general. Avoid.

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