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Bohemian Rhapsody (Movie Review)


Bohemian Rhapsody is an exploration of the lives of one of music's greatest, most unique bands, Queen, with a particular focus on its lead performer: Freddie Mercury. While it's a fantastic showcase of hit Queen songs and what may be an iconic lead performance, the film itself is anything but unique, following the tired formula of every music biopic you've seen before.


Journeying from his humble beginnings working at Heathrow Airport in 1970 to his peak at 1984's Live Aid, the spotlight is on Freddie Mercury as he and the rest of Queen dominate the world of rock and roll. The film is approachable to Queen fans new and old - from never even hearing of Queen to having "We Will Rock You" tattooed on your elbow, anyone will be able to go into this and be thoroughly entertained... mostly because of actor Rami Malek's portrayal Mercury. 

While other members of the cast are great, including an unrecognisable Michael Myers in a small role, they all feel like place holders in comparison to Rami Malek. An actor's portrayal of a non-fictional character can often get lukewarm reception, coming off as more of an impression rather than embracing the figure they're pretending to be. Malek's is on the other end of the scale: literally becoming the character. Perfectly capturing Mercury's teeth-licking, eccentric flamboyancy isn't the only reason Rami Mercury is an Oscar-worthy performance, he also nails the larger-than-life personality that Mercury used to mask his inner turmoil. Rami's performance should be shown as an example to acting and film school students for years to come as a demonstration of how he raised the bar of what people should expect from a biopic lead.


He goes from being determined to reach his potential, making his mark on the world, to struggling with figuring out who he is and wondering if he's satisfied with the answer. It's a story that goes surprisingly deeper into the darker side of Mercury than casual Queen fans may have expected, but I'm glad it did. It achieves what a lot of biopics aim to do: getting the audience to know the subject better, which in turn gives them the urge to research further after viewing and learn more about the things that the film couldn't show or didn't have the time to. However, this can be a double edged sword, as the film itself didn't go nearly as deep as it could have.

Although there's a big focus during the second act on Mercury struggling with his sexuality (especially during his tour in America), a lot of these instances are often brushed over, merely implying that he's been shagging a lot of guys, hurrying the plot along for the sake of a PG-13 rating. For a film that's expected to cover the pain a man has felt throughout his life, I'd have gladly taken a R-rated Freddy Mercury film with a rougher structure. One that really gets into the grit of being torn between two worlds. It would've given a much better essence of the conflict he felt through all those years.


Malik flaunting his talent throughout Bohemian Rhapsody's spanned 14 years is a gem that's of course only matched by the music. The film's best scenes are when the whole of Queen are on a session of song writing discovery or conflict, thinking of new ways to improve their music which turn out to be the origins of an iconic song. Whatever they're arguing about is thrown into the background when one realises something that might make their music better. It's impossible to not smile at these musicians having fun as they create new songs or play them in concert. Somebody to Love, We Will Rock You, Another One Bites The Dust, Fat Bottomed Girls: listening to takes of Mercury's original recordings, mixed with soundalike Marc Martel, added to Malek's passionate physicality with each performance made me feel like I was listening to these songs for the first time.

On the other hand, it's disappointing that they played it safe. The set list for the film is mostly made up of the same songs you've probably heard at every pub's "rock night" in the last fifteen years. They're great, yes, but a film based on a band that released over 150 songs could have at least thrown in some of the lesser known ones, giving casual audiences something they haven't heard before to really enhance the experience. Furthermore, most scenes featuring a concert performance are sped through in montages far too quickly. There's too many of these kind of moments, and they do nothing but make viewers think "I don't care about that manager story. Go back to singing and guitar riffing!".


What truly stops this diamond in the definition of rough from being a priceless jewel is the absolute drag that happens with the obligatory "falls from grace" part of the story. As a part of one of many rewrites of true events, Freddie gets too full of himself, at the influence of an outside party, and isolates himself from his friends, crashes and burns, before realising he needs the power of friendship before everything's back on track as it should be. This kind of story arc should sound familiar too you as it's basically featured in almost every aim-for-success film you've ever seen. Shifting history around a bit to make a biopic more streamlined and easier to watch is fair enough but when a rewrite still leaves the film at 134 minutes and still makes it feel even longer, it'll make anyone sigh as they're debating whether to even give Bohemian Rhapsody a rewatch.


Final Thoughts

Appropriate for the decades it's set in Bohemian Rhapsody is like two bumps of cocaine. You snort the first, feeling energised and revitalised by everything you're seeing, be it Rami Malek giving a career-best performance or one of the best playlists for a "get psyched" mix. Eventually the first instance of coke will make you crash hard, as does the end of the film's second act. You'll feel weary. Confused. Wondering how you got where you are. Just wanting to be alive again. Then you finally crawl over to that second bump. It gloriously charges through your nostrils. You are once again energy incarnate. You're doing mental backflips. The Queen Live Aid performance at the climax makes you feel the equivalent of riding a unicorn on a guitar-shaped road into the sunset.


Bohemian Rhapsody could've been one great high of love, pain, excitement and acceptance. Sadly, that sweet, Class-A powder got diluted with the hazardous chemical that is a messy reworking of history into a generic plot. If you get the chance to watch it again, fast forward when you realise it starts to drag. Go straight to the build up to Live Aid. Treat yourself to that one great high.

Rating: 7/10

Lost Games: Junji Ito's Uzumaki on Wonderswan


Foreword: 'Lost Games is a series of articles where I research and explore the games that we may never get a chance to play due to them never being released in English-speaking countries and having no available English translation, whether it be fan or official.'

In 2019, the indie horror adventure World Of Horror will be released on the PS4, Switch and Steam. Many (including myself) are really excited to play it due to its retro 1-bit Macintosh style aesthetics and an art style that pays tribute to the twisted manga comics of Junji Ito. While it is undoubtedly the definitive Junji Ito (style) horror game, believe it or not, it isn't the first. There were actually some officially licensed adaptions of Ito's iconic Uzumaki comic released for a handheld console called the Wonderswan. Produced by Bandai and developed by Game Boy designer Gunpei Yokoi, it was only ever released in Japan, meaning it is an unlimited source for lost gaming. While gamers in the west have been able to play some of its library without the need for translations, the vast majority is gated off to those who cannot speak Japanese. It's a fitting console for two games based on a niché Japanese horror manga to end up on really. A big shout out to user Opipeuter at MobyGames, without him, not much would be known at all about these games.

Uzumaki: Denshi Kaikihen


This one is nothing too exciting, effectively just being an interactive version of the manga. Played vertically (something that the Wonderswan could do), the game displays images, with text appearing over the top, telling the story. The interactive bit comes into play when the player is provided with opportunities to decide the choices that main character Kirie takes as she investigates the spiral curse of Kurôzu-Cho (see the second screenshot below for an example of a choice screen). As the game was released for the original Wonderswan with its monochromatic screen (colour versions of the console did come later), it plays in black and white. While at the time (2000) a lack of colour might have been a reason for Japanese players to choose another handheld console over the Wonderswan, I personally believe this game is a rare example where a lack of colour actually works in its favour. While the images on screen don't perfectly re-create Junji Ito's incredibly detailed artwork due to graphical limitations, the game still does a fair job of capturing the grim creepy atmosphere of the original, with its lack of colour matching the original manga and further exemplifying how unknown everything we're witnessing really is.



Uzumaki: Noroi Simulation


Released just a month after the previous game, Uzumaki: Noroi Simulation is the real interesting game of the duo. While the first game had players take on the role of Kirie as she investigates Kurôzu-Cho's spiral curse, in this game you are the spiral curse. 
At the beginning of the game, Uzumaki Sen'nin or "the spiral master" explains your role, then you are presented with a map of the town (pictured below), with your aim being to torment as many people as possible with the curse, including Kirie.
You spread the curse by travelling to various locations on the map and talking with the townspeople, as well as getting hold of important items. Items are used to make the curse more potent in specific areas, as well as interacting with specific people. The more havoc you wreak, the more areas open up.
Despite its sadistic premise, Uzumaki: Noroi Simulation provides a really clever take on the Uzumaki property. Whoever at the development HQ pitched this idea, I hope they got a pay rise for such a bat shit crazy, yet absolutely brilliant idea. It'd be like a SimCity game where you play as the natural disasters. While I'm not missing out too much on Uzumaki: Denshi Kaikihen (I can just read the Uzumaki manga) it really does suck that we never got this one. While Junji Ito's creations have gained quite the reputation over time, this game is still unknown enough to be overlooked when it comes to fan translations.

 


So, have you ever played a Wonderswan? Are you reading some Junji Ito horror this Halloween? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter, or by leaving a comment below.

Movies to Watch and Avoid This Halloween


Halloween is just around the corner, and this year my colleagues and I decided to do something a little different. Instead of compiling another list of games we recommend, we decided to pick the best – and worst – horror films we’ve seen this year and tell you about them. To give the team more freedom, we decided not to focus on films released in the past year, but ones we’ve seen for the first time whether they’re old or new. The following entries were written by each member of our team, so beware of any spoilers – and watch these films (or not) at your own risk!

Howl (2015) – Picked by Harrison Fleming


Harrison: I discovered our first film in HMV's horror section just three weeks ago. Howl is an independent, British horror directed by Paul Hyett (the special effects designer for The Descent and The Woman in Black) and starring Ed Speelers as harried ticket collector Joe. On the last train out of London on a stormy night, Joe has to deal with rude, condescending passengers. Suddenly, the train grinds to a halt and the driver vanishes trying to investigate the cause. Joe and his remaining colleague, a stewardess (played by Holly Weston), are left alone to protect the passengers from the driver’s killers: a pack of hungry werewolves. I enjoyed Howl far more than I expected to for two reasons. First, the characters feel less like your typical horror cast and more like living, breathing people. You'll hate them at first for treating Joe like dirt, but later you learn things about the characters that really flesh them out. The second reason’s the werewolves, which are different from the more wolf-like breeds we see nowadays. Imagine the Wolf Man crossed with an Uruk-hai and the result would look something like Howl's beasts. Better yet, they're brought to life through good ol’ practical effects making them all the more fearsome. Critics on the DVD cover call it “the greatest werewolf film since An American Werewolf in London”, and for all intents and purposes it lives up to the hype.

The Pyramid (2015) - Picked by Harrison Fleming



Harrison: Last year, I saw the Film 4 premiere of Gregory Levasseur's The Pyramid. Produced by Alexandra Aja (director of 2005's version of The Hills Have Eyes), the film follows a team of archaeologists into a newly-unearthed pyramid in Egypt. As you might expect, things soon go wrong as the team are trapped and forced to survive deadly obstacles and hellish creatures. Sadly, the film's setting isn't the only thing that should've stayed buried. The Pyramid styles itself as an Egyptian take on Blair Witch, but it constantly breaks from its found-footage format to follow the cast from a third-person view. Worse still, the threats leave a lot to be desired - although there aren't any mummies for once, the CGI traps and creatures are underwhelming. Worse still is the film's ending: a run-of-the-mill jump scare that caps the film off far too soon. If you ever find it on TV, or in the shops, stay well clear of this one.

Hereditary (2018) - Picked by Ben Williams



Ben: 2018’s definition of “what the hell was that?”. When a family matriarch (mentally disturbed old lady) dies, members of her family become haunted, leading to a story of unravelling mystery and scenes that will leave your mouth agape. These scenes are not of a random monster popping out of the corner at the last second of a silent moment like every other horror, mind you, as Hereditary takes the principle of “expect the unexpected” and flips it on its head before dunking it into a cocktail of horror, drama and thriller, creating a true sense of fear and unease.
Hereditary takes the tropes that have come to be expected from the horror genre and uses them to trick you. As the story progresses, you expect outcomes to situations to be the worst possible imaginable, before being slapped with something that is even more disturbing than you possibly could’ve imagined. Whilst you would normally anticipate a dark corner of the screen to be the entrance for a screaming demon, there may only be a subtle movement, only for the sole purpose of it putting you into eerie discomfort. The indescribable anticipating dread you’ll feel throughout the watch is what will make you come back again and again. You won’t stop thinking about it for days, wanting to know more as to how a film could make you feel this way. It’s truly an example of what horror should be.
When a filmmaker has their directorial debut, it’s expected to be mid-tier blockbuster padding, filling the cinematic voids that pop up between the big budget releases. Horrors are usually the biggest culprits, being jumpscare-fests that lack in substance with mediocre box office returns. With his first full feature, Ari Aster manages to lay the foundations for redefining the horror genre. 

You’ll meet the closing credits with either a sense of confusion or wide-eyed emotional trauma.

Paranormal Activity (2009) - Picked by Ben Williams



Ben: Despite cementing a new love for the found-footage genre, the only good thing about Paranormal Activity is its shroud of surprise that immediately gets pulled off after watching it for the first time. After the removal, trying to rewatch the home movie of two bad actors with spooky noises is as mind-numbing as listening to your co-worker talk about their latest session of “drinks wid da gurlies”.
Newcomers to jump scares in 2007 may have got something new out of Paranormal Activity if they were under the age of 15 at the time, however, having to sit through scenes of nothing in order to build up to even the slightest thump in the night gives me goosebumps in thinking of the immense boredom that could await me.
Being the best out of a six-film franchise, it’s an example of how horror gradually became regarded as the movie genre equivalent of processed meat, the quantity vastly exceeding the quality.

Get Out (2017) - Picked by Lewis Cox



Lewis: A movie that came out of nowhere and received rave reviews across the board,
Get Out stars Daniel Kaluuya playing the character of Chris, a black man concerned about how the parents of his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) will react to him because of his race when he goes to visit them. Feeling like an alternative take on the Stepford Wives formula, Get Out hides a sickeningly dark premise behind what seems to be nothing more than a hunky dory setting filled with people who just seem a bit ignorant, if not slightly behind. While Stepford Wives' talking point was gender, Get Out's is race. Get Out manages to go much deeper than the average horror movie, balancing elements of suspense, mystery, thriller, and even satirical comedy within its 103 minute run time, but it does so with such impressive control, whilst providing a thought-provoking social commentary that is sadly more relevant now than it's ever been. Get Out will provide you with a heavy dose of creepiness this Halloween, whilst leaving you with a message that you'll be thinking about way past November.

The Forest (2016) - Picked by Lewis Cox


Lewis: The (sadly) infamous "suicide forest" of Aokigahara in Japan seems like the kind of morbid location that a horror movie would thrive in, and for the most part this 2016 movie manages to utilise the mystery and intense despair of such a setting well. Starring Game of Thrones sweetheart Natalie Dormer, The Forest details the story of a concerned American woman going into the suicide forest to find her twin sister (also played by Dormer) who was last seen entering it.
The film takes a long time to set up, but it still kept me interested. The location was intriguing and the atmosphere was constantly foreboding. Even the set up of Dormer's character and her relationship with her sister seemed surprisingly genuine for a horror movie. I was gripped to find out what scares awaited. The problem is, by the time the spooky stuff actually happens, it not only feels incredibly underwhelming, but it's also over way too fast. We spend nearly two hours watching a pretty decent set up only for the movie to go from zero to one hundred in the last ten minutes before finally finishing on a really gimmicky, unsatisfying twist ending. This one definitely had potential to be quite memorable, but its pacing is completely off, and its scares are a sad case of too little, too late.

Carrie (2013) - Picked by Liv Gamble



Liv: Perhaps it’s no surprise that my horror movie recommendation is based on a novel by the master of horror himself; Stephen King. It’s the second remake but is, by far, the best of the three versions. This one is set in the modern day rather than the late seventies and, despite such a change, the inclusion of today’s technology, trends and culture really works – especially when we consider how stark, suffocating and almost medieval Carrie White’s own life is, in contrast to the regular, modern lives of her schoolmates.
Naturally, Chloe Grace Moretz is a great fit for the role of Carrie – quiet, unassuming, and plain. Julianne Moore plays Carrie’s mother, Margaret White, and her performance will have you convinced that she really is a full-time religious fanatic. Everything in this film is an improvement from the original movies and only compliments the novel, from the memorable first scene in the locker room showers, to the bloody and violent finale. This is definitely one to see.

Gerald’s Game (2017) - Picked by Liv Gamble



Liv: Another horror movie (this one a Netflix original) based on a novel by the King, but one that I wouldn’t personally recommend. While the movie tries so hard and could be considered halfway decent, it simply misses the mark. Much of the novel’s plot relies heavily on suspense, which can’t always be reliably translated onto the silver screen. The same goes for one of the story’s villains, the ‘Moonlight Man’ – reading about him conjured up an image that terrified me, but seeing him brought to life was more of a disappointment than a thrill.
There’s also the added issue of the traumatic childhood memories that Jessie must relive while trapped. For me, these flashback scenes fell flat – the acting was a little wooden, the characters didn’t seem true to the novel, and something key to the story had been changed. In short, it felt like a lot of the novel’s original spirit was lost through this adaptation, and scares were in very short order.

What movies are you watching (or avoiding) this Halloween? Let us know via the official Alt:Mag Facebook or Twitter pages, or by leaving a comment below. We're always looking for new movies to spook us!

Four Games That Hide Their Horror


It's October, which means that the spooks are out in full force. During the scariest time of the year, it's best to be on your toes at all times, as with Halloween spirits running high, you never know when your friend might get the urge to trick you into playing a cute game that isn't all that it seems. Luckily, much to the relief of concerned UK soccer mums, I gain much enjoyment

Why Every Adult Should Watch I Love You, Man


You know what's better than having a great best friend? That best friend being Jason Segel or Paul Rudd. I Love You, Man is almost a decade old but that doesn't stop it from holding up as a wonderfully lovable comedy. Featuring a star-studded cast, it presents what's now my favourite onscreen pairing for a buddy comedy in the last ten years.


Paul Rudd plays Peter, newly engaged and just

Florence is a Mobile Game Like No Other


It’s no secret that the mobile phone game market is oversaturated. Just browsing the most popular releases brings up nothing but a bunch of godawful freemium garbage, all with the same generic roaring-with-lots-of-teeth character as their app icon.


But if you dig deep enough, sometimes you can strike gold. And no, I don’t mean micro transactions, but a game that functions without them.

Life Is Strange: Before the Storm (Game Review)


Life is Strange: Before the Storm is an interactive story that lacks the unique selling point of the original Life is Strange (having the power to rewind time) and instead focuses on being a character piece for this instalment's protagonist in the same coming-of-age, indie theme. To make Before the Storm, original developer, Dontnod Entertainment gave the reigns over to Deck

Avengers: Infinity War (Movie Review)


With the arrival of Ant-Man and the Wasp, I wanted to finish something I've put off for far too long. Three months ago, Marvel Studios released its nineteenth film, Avengers: Infinity War. I went to see it at the cinema, and wound up seeing it three times - half because of a poster promotion and half to see if the long-awaited film was worth the wait. This review is mainly for those who missed it in cinemas and are waiting for its release on Blu-ray and DVD on September 3rd. I'll keep spoilers to a minimum, but nonetheless beware!


After being teased and discussed in previous films, the Marvel Universe's greatest threat finally appears: The Mad Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin). With his generals, the Black Order, he sets out to gather the six all-powerful Infinity Stones and wipe out half the universe. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) returns to Earth to warn Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), but with the Avengers torn apart after Captain America: Civil War, they are forced to join with two new allies: the Time Stone's guardian Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch); and Stark's young protégé Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Meanwhile, Cap (Chris Evans) and his fugitive band of Avengers come out of hiding to protect Vision (Paul Bettany), who is now a prime target for Thanos due to the Mind Stone powering him. In space, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) meets the Guardians of the Galaxy (Chris Pratt et al.) and recruits them to help secure the remaining Stones, and forge a new weapon to kill Thanos. However, the combined might of the Avengers and Guardians may not be enough.


As the culmination of everything we've seen so far in the MCU, Infinity War has a lot to achieve. As well as unleashing its ultimate villain, the film faces the challenge of packing the universe's entire cast into one film. Some, inevitably, didn't make the cut - but the main stars of the previous films are all here (or accounted for, in the case of Ant-Man). The film's main cast includes eighteen characters and, miraculously, they're all given a decent amount of screentime. Directors Tony and Joe Russo achieved this by splitting them up into smaller groups, each with their own mission. Everyone has a part to play however big or small, and they're all kept busy. Better still, the teams change as the film progresses, resulting in members clashing with each other. If you want to know how Iron Man and Doctor Strange would treat each other, or how Spider-Man would behave around Star-Lord, you're in for a treat. The heroes' interactions with each other make for the film's funniest moments, bringing much-needed relief to an otherwise grim story. However, some characters get more attention than others; and with Thanos in the picture, there's no time to catch up with their offscreen exploits. If you want to get the most out of Infinity War, you must watch all the films before it.


Whoever you root for, Infinity War's main star isn't one of the heroes - it's the Mad Titan himself. Josh Brolin portrays Thanos using the same motion-capture tech created by Weta for the Middle-earth and Planet of the Apes films. This not only makes him an impressive CG character, but an incredibly expressive one too. And thanks to Brolin's performance, he's one of the deepest villains the MCU has ever seen. Through the course of the film, you'll get to know his backstory, his mindset, and his reasons for finding the Infinity Stones - and unlike his comic counterparts, he isn't threatening the universe to "court death" in some way or another. There's method in the Titan's madness. He's also the strongest enemy the Avengers have ever faced. If you doubt that a purple alien giant could give Earth's mightiest heroes a tough time, you're in for a shock. He proved me wrong in the first five minutes. The Black Order are just as formidable, but sadly, they're nowhere near as fleshed out as Thanos. In the comics they're Thanos' adopted children and his strongest warriors, but on screen they're Children of Thanos in name only. However, their collective body count makes up for their lack of personality.


From the opening scene, Infinity War is the darkest film yet in the MCU. Like villains out of Game of Thrones, Thanos and the Black Order rack up a huge body count - and everyone they kill is a beloved character. It couldn't be more appropriate for a threat that's been teased for so long, but it may be too much for some people. Some deaths are especially hard to watch, pushing the film's 12-rating to its very limits. I wouldn't show this film to children. The film's tone is much, much darker than any Marvel film before it, and some may find it too tragic after the more light-hearted films we had last year. The Russos are filming a sequel to conclude Thanos' story, but it won't make Infinity War any less upsetting. I strongly recommend tissues whether you think you'll need them or not.


After ten years of waiting, Avengers: Infinity War made good on its promises - but between the huge cast and its dark tone, it may be too much for some fans. If you've seen the film, leave a comment below, or feel free to write to us on our Facebook or Twitter; and tell us if you're buying it on September 3rd!

Underrated Games: Sunset Overdrive


Let me refresh your memory. It's 2013 and Microsoft's brand new flagship console, the Xbox One, was revealed at E3. It would be an understatement to say the whole thing was anything short of an unmitigated disaster. Microsoft's reveal went as follows:

TV.
Must be turned on and connected to the internet at all times.
TV.
Users must use Kinect.
TV.
No borrowing your friend’s games because of DRM.
TV.
Major Nelson acting like a complete tosser.
TV!!!

Gamers were pissed, and longtime Xbox fans deserted the Xbox One in favour of the much more player-friendly PS4 (anyone remember this little zinger?), but the sad truth about the whole situation was that this anger drew our attention away from what really mattered: the games. When they weren't barraging us with information about how the Xbox One could play TV (you know, like a TV already can), the trailers Microsoft did show for Xbox One exclusive games at their press conference went mostly ignored. One of these games was Insomniac's new game, Sunset Overdrive. In all honesty, even with its excess 'tude and cartoony visuals, the trailer felt bland, and by the time it was released in October 2014, gamers were too busy playing their PS4s to care. Those who did own an Xbox One probably just picked it up because they needed an exclusive to make the purchase of their VCR-looking monstrosity worthwhile. Those who probably wished they had The Last of Us Remastered got the total opposite, and probably ended up trading it in. But if there was ever a game that got unjustly swept under the rug, it's Sunset Overdrive.



Let me cut to the chase. I adore Sunset Overdrive. I want to scream it from the rooftops as I grind along them, firing explosive teddy bears at energy drink-addicted zombies: Woooo! Sunset overdrive is fucking awesome! I resent that crappy trailer I saw back at E3 for completely underselling the energy, wit and charm contained within this game. Oh and did I mentioned that the gameplay is like a mix of Tony Hawk meets Jet Set Radio meets InFamous? That, my friends, is what I call an awesome recipe.


After creating a character using a character creation system not dissimilar from that of the Tony Hawk games (I picked the female character, because why not), you are thrown head first into the colour-soaked world of Sunset Overdrive. Your character is busy working, picking up empty cans at a launch event for in-universe drink company Fizzco's new energy drink OverCharge Delirium XT. Suddenly the new drink starts turning the customers drinking it into mutant zombie creatures (known in the game as OverCharge Drinkers, or simply OD). Naturally your in-game avatar runs for their life. This is where the gameplay starts. Sunset Overdrive is a third-person shooter game with extremely ridiculous traversal elements that defy the law of gravity. You make your way around Sunset City by wall running, air-dashing, zip lining, performing parkour, acrobatics, and water traversal, all whilst shooting down ODs in your wake. Controls are smooth, and there's always something to move you to your next destination, whether it be a wire to grind on, or a car to bounce on. This means you can move from one side of the map to the other, chaining moves together Tony Hawk-style, without touching the ground, and nothing stopping your momentum. Movement is always fluid, and stylish as hell, no matter how you want to mix up the route to your next destination. If the traversal in Insomniac's upcoming Spiderman game for PS4 is anything like Sunset Overdrive, then you Spidey fans should prepare yourselves for the best. Spiderman. Game. Ever.



Your character, after making their way to safety, joins up with various friendly characters across Sunset City to become part of the "awesomepocalypse", and fight the OD hordes, enemy factions know as SCABs and even killer Fizzco bots. These friendly characters send you all over Sunset City, running errands, and fixing what is broke, all whilst chattering back and forth with your avatar over radio. All of the non-playable characters in Sunset Overdrive are brilliantly eccentric in their own individual ways, and your main character's interactions with them always find a way to tickle your funny bone. Never once while playing this game did I find myself cringing at a joke that missed the spot — every joke had me smiling or laughing out loud. The sense of humour Insomniac implanted into Sunset Overdrive is an absolute treat to behold. While your character has the same lines regardless of their gender, I do recommend choosing the female character, as there's just something extra special about the sass the voice actress delivers her retorts and one liners with. Your main character is constantly ragging on everyone, and it's hilarious. When they're not doing that, they're also breaking the fourth wall, announcing things during missions like "I didn't even have to check GameFAQs" when the game teaches them a button combination for a new move or commending the fact that the game puts them back where they just were if they fall off a tall building during a mission.


But it's not just the characters that make this game, but the scenarios your avatar finds themself in. Scenarios range from hilariously bizarre (finding a preppy kid's robot dog or tripping on prescription medicine whilst covered in leeches) to epic as fuck (chasing a train armed with missile launchers down the tracks of an elevated railway), or a mix of the two combined (fighting Fizzco's sweary, murderous flying blimp mascot Fizzie in the sky). Even though it is an absolute joy to zoom across the giant sandbox of Sunset City between missions, I was often doing so to get to the next part of the story. Sunset Overdrive has so many creative surprises up its sleeves, and never feels repetitive, mixing in new characters, areas, tasks and enemies. It oozes charm, and it'll have you grinning from ear-to-ear from the beginning of its campaign all the way to the very end. What's more, Sunset Overdrive trades difficulty in favour of enjoyment. Of course, you'll probably still die sometimes when the enemies start to swamp you, but it's no biggie, because even dying is a treat in this game. When your character respawns, they re-enter the action in a number of different ways; such as exiting the DeLorean or Egyptian walking out of a sarcophagus. After getting my ass kicked, these charming respawn animations would never fail to turn my frown upside down. Basically, Insomniac even found a way to make dying fun. Bravo, chaps. 



To aid you in your OD killing spree, you have an arsenal of wacky weapons at your disposal, ranging from a vinyl record gun to the aforementioned gun that shoots explosive teddy bears. You can also unlock traps, that are put to use when you're asked to do tower defence style missions, that involve fighting off huge hordes of OD. Examples of traps include a bounce pad that shoots out flames, and a valiant robot knight that mauls enemies with death-dealing tennis balls.
You can also give your weapons, as well as your character, awesome extra abilities using Amps, which are unlocked by completing certain story missions or by trading in crap you find dotted around the map, such as shoes hanging from telephone lines or Fizzie balloons. You can also unlock Overdrives by performing certain actions numerous times, which upgrade your combat and traversal moves, making them more effective, or so you take less damage from certain enemies, etc. Overall, the more badass your character gets, the more fun the game becomes, and that's saying a lot, considering it was already an absolute blast to begin with.



In my opinion, the biggest thing holding Sunset Overdrive back is its Xbox One exclusivity. Perhaps if it had found its home on the much more popular (and less controversial) PS4, its fate might have been a little different (Insomniac owns the franchise - so a PS4 port isn't out of question). While I don't believe a game alone can sell a system, if you do have plans to buy an Xbox One (or get one donated to you, like I did) with a list of games in mind, add this to your list. It's practically being given away these days - I spent a grand total of £3.50 at CeX for my copy. While it's sad that the game has fallen so deep into obscurity that it's being sold at such a low price, it's great news for any of you lot who might want to give it a try... I mean, what have you got to lose? I gave it a try, and what an absolutely stunning surprise for me it was. It is undoubtedly one of my favourite gaming experiences in recent memory. My only complaint is that it all eventually had to come to an end.


Have you played Sunset Overdrive? Do you, like me, shake your head at the passage of time because this game deserved way more attention that it received? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter, or by leaving a comment below.

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit (Game Review)


Before getting into the nitty-gritty of what this game is and why it's such a delight, I need to say this: play it.

Wisth The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit being a 2 hour, free-to-play, single player adventure on PS4, Xbox One and PC, you're basically being gifted a half-evening's worth of a wonderful experience, suitable for anyone that just loves a good story.


*Minor spoilers ahead*

Made by Dontnod Entertainment, the developers of the BAFTA winning game, Life is Strange, Captain Spirit is a spin-off that also preludes to Life is Strange 2. You play as Chris, a 9-year old whose mother recently died, resulting in his father becoming a full time alcoholic. Utilising his unlimited imagination, Chris dons his superhero persona, Captain Spirit, who has the power of making the world a bit more bearable. You play as Captain Spirit in the same view as how Chris sees his heroics in his own imagination, being a vessel of escapism from his depressing home life. 

Heroics

Don't think that means this is like an episode of Riverdale (a dimly bland teen drama show, for those who don't know), because not only is the character of Captain Spirit the product of a child's imagination, it's fully expressed into the game's soul. The studio and Unreal Engine logos building up to the title screen are styled with paper-crinkled crayon colouring, that's replicated by the look of the quick-time commands. The opening sequence greets you with audible waves of the soulfully calm acoustics and vocals of "Death with Dignity" by Sufjan Stevens whilst Chris is acting out a space adventure with his toys. As Chris finally assembles the components of the costume you helped design, you're treated to a delightful Sailor Moon-inspired transformation sequence going on in Chris' mind. Dontnod clearly shows how it's one of the best developers at Square Enix, being able to ready players for two hours of treading the fine line between a child's perfect world and a brutal reality. 


You're given free reign to explore the house and snowy back yard as you please, completing Captain Spirit's heroic objectives and finding bits of lore lying around, rewarding you for your dedication in finding out more about Chris and his family's backstory. Whilst taking on Captain Spirit's missions, you choose how to approach interactions with Chris' dad, if you choose to interact with him at all. This is when Dontnod's emphasis on imagination starts to punch you in the face in the same way Chris' dad would in a drunken rage. You see mundane tasks transformed into the metaphorical adventures Captain Spirit sees them as. There's The Water Eater, a water-heater like monster in the dark boiler room that Chris has to conquer his fear of entering. You see a plumbing appliance as a terrifying spirit monster he must defeat in the name of justice. Or there's Snowmancer, an supervillain snowman whom you need to retrieve your stash of fireworks in order to blow up because reasons. 


The large number of nuggets of lore and easter eggs are slightly overwhelming, with me still missing some even though I was as thorough as felt I could be in a limited time frame. However, this is part of Captain Spirit's aim to to encourage replay, being incentivised with different items and interactions you may have missed out on the first time. For example, you may not figure out the locker combination to retrieve your stash of fire works in time in order to kill the snowy super villain. You may want to have another go at solving the pin combination to unlock in-game daddy's phone in order to play Mustard Party 2, an in-game Flappy Bird recreation with a sentient hot dog. How that alone wouldn't make you want to download this is lost on me. 


Charles

Charles, Chris' dad, is wallowing in grief both at the loss of of his wife and his glory days as a high school basketball star. Infused with a balanced breakfast of beer and a bottle of whiskey, he spends the majority of the game yelling at "inferior" athletes on TV and nourishing Chris with half-empty compliments or subtle portions of verbal abuse.The relationship between the two leads is the driving force of it all but it's elevated by the choices you make as you explore to progress the story. You can cook him some mac and cheese, do chores for him or become a minor annoyance by trying to heroically evaporate his bottle of booze with your mind. 
Chris' relationship with his dad is really what makes me want to play Captain Spirit again. Even though it's clear Charles loves his son, his grief and alcoholism are getting the better of him, being made clearer with an implied incident of physical assault towards Chris. Nevertheless, how you approach your in-game daddy is still up to you. 


For me in particular, I tried to avoid doing anything that would piss Charles off too much and have him give me a bulk pack of child abuse for Christmas. It's an obvious sign of great writing when you quickly care about a young child protagonist that much, seeing a door that was dented by a drunken-fuelled punch made me fear for Chris' safety, making me want to answer a ringing phone as quick as possible before the youngster had a whiskey tumbler thrown at his head.
I ended up partly regretting how I approached my time with in-game daddy as I watched a couple of other playthroughs. In-game Daddy doesn't always act like he wants to tear off your arm in exchange for a can of Budweiser. He can be occasionally sweet, giving you a high five and agreeing that you as his son and him make a team. You'll feel dreadfully torn towards Charles in the same manner as Chris, seeing him as the parent and role model his son has always idolised whilst also hating the fact the father's grief has been turning him into someone the young hero is admittedly becoming afraid of.

Loss

Loss is of course the main theme of The Adventures of Captain Spirit that is seemingly mostly expressed through Charles; with Chris only mentioning in passing at how wonderful his mother was when finding mementos, giving us insights to the type of person she was, be it an empty perfume bottle, an art magazine cover or a soul-wrenching song from her record collection. 


There's one particular scene in the game that will stay with me for a long time. One that's a culmination of everything you'll have been learning about Chris' life up to that point. Among Chris' objectives is to make his way through a maze of his creation, reaching his valued box of treasure at the end. Up to opening the box, I was expecting some toys or pretend weapons that will continue to heighten or support his escapism. Instead, there's a photo. A younger Chris in superhero get-up being held by his beautifully smiling mother. Music begins to play again. For a short while, there's no dialogue. Chris just stares at the picture, the back of his eyes visibly turn red before a single tear trickles down his face, as mine did in tandem. He's immediately dragged back down into reality, being reminded of what he's lost. 


Loss, its ramifications and coping with it are the heart of the game, making you see yourself in Chris. We've all experienced shares of not just loss but general experiences of sadness, fear and anger that we all wish we could escape from, even when we were children, being only able to reflect what the world was based on the adults around us. Unfortunately, they sometimes let us down. The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit captures that chest-clenching feeling of grief that comes with losing someone when you're young. However, it doesn't leave you to drown in dread, making sure you also focus on the happiness you shared with those who are now gone and the memories they left behind.  


The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit is an interactive reminder that it's okay to escape to imagination when the real world becomes too much to bear, as well as making sure you're there for those beside you who may be having an even rougher time. Though you might be the supporting pillar during a tragedy, it doesn't mean you can't ask for help. If you know where to look, friends and family will be there for you when you need them. 

Captain Spirit will do for you what the persona itself does for the game's protagonist. He'll make you smile. He'll make you cry. He'll make you remember that your only limit is your imagination. 

Rating: 9/10

 
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