Developed by Arkane Studios
Published by Bethesda Softworks
Available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC
Rated M for Mature
You know, I just realized I have no idea what the combat in Dishonored is like. I’ve heard it’s pretty good, but for all I know it could be just as tense and rewarding as a participation award in the elementary school talent show. I’m aware the games have combat, hinted at in the locked away skill trees I never bother leveling up. But I’ve always played these games as a non-lethal master of shadows. Not that I have any moral standpoint against killing. I always just feel like the game is judging me if I indulge my murderous impulses and go in guns blazing.
That being said, I’ve always really liked these games. The original Dishonored was a fresh return to form for Thief-likes, arriving just in time to save us from the 2014 Thief. I don’t remember much specifics about Dishonored 2, but judging by my review score I must have really liked it. I’ve liked most everything Arkane Studios has done, so surely more of the same with Dishonored: Death of the Outsider will be a hit! If Death of the Outsider was a $15 DLC pack, this would probably be the case. However, this is a $30 standalone titles. At the price of a full budget game, Death of the Outsider just does not deliver the content to justify the purchase.
That’s not to say it doesn’t do a lot right. Following in the footsteps of Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches, Death of the Outsider is it’s own full experience with an independant and developed story. It more or less serves as a sequel to both Dishonored 2 and the Knife/Witches storylines. Following the exploits of Billie Lurk, you embark on a quest to save your previous mentor Daud and assassinate The Outsider. It’s a lot to wrap up in just five levels, but Death of the Outsider tells its story quick and well. This is classic Dishonored, and what you learn from exploring the world does as much to flesh things out as the cutscenes.
Structurally, Death of the Outsider is on par with the best of Dishonored 2. The levels are well designed with many access points, and some of the more clever paths are genuinely tough to uncover. It’s true that there really isn’t anything quite like Dishonored’s level of verticality. There are some cool alternate objectives that can greatly impact how things play out. Take time exploring, and you will be rewarded. I assume the combat is also still good, but as I previously stated, I wouldn’t know.
That’s not to say that Death of the Outsider is just a carbon copy of Dishonored 2. Billie really does feel like her own character, with a unique arsenal and set of magic powers. She has her own version of teleport, a time stopping Foresight that lets you scout with ease, and a face stealing power called Semblance. Semblance steals your target’s identity (in the full sense, you actually take their face), allowing you to sneak into enemy lines and complete some objectives. There’s a combat ability called Void Strike, but I wouldn’t know how it stacks up. Billie also has her own special wrist gun that functions as dual crossbow/pistol, and a new hilariously effective hook mine that can be used both lethally and non-lethally. There are some returning staples like the grenades and spring razors, but overall there’s enough new to feel unique.
So there’s a lot good, but for every step in the right direction Death of the Outsider stumbles twice. There are only five levels, two of which are the same and a third recycled from Dishonored 2. The maps are also much smaller this time around, at about half the size of Dishonored 2. Seriously, even the level they recycled from that game is just cut in half. There’s only one new enemy, and ultimately it’s just a spooky version of the Clockwork Soldier.
While the new powers/gear is cool, it also feels hollow. You get some upgrades for your gear, but it all comes very fast and doesn’t feel super impactful. I had all the upgrades by the third level, and didn’t think twice about it. Aside from Semblance, none of the new powers are actually that new. They are just new takes on things you could already do, and more importantly can’t be upgraded. With no skill progression, your main form of augmentation comes from Bonecharms, of which there are 74. So yeah, prepare to hunt around for those.
My biggest gripe with Death of the Outsider comes from the story. I said before that I was pissed that Dishonored 2’s story relied so much on the Knife/Witches DLC, which came out a full year after Dishonored launched. I shouldn’t have to play the late DLC to understand the sequel. At the same time, I don’t think that DLC should be pointless fluff. In that regard, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider gets points for being an actual standalone game. You can buy it and play through it without owning Dishonored 2, which is a godsend if you jump platforms like I do. The story is pivotal for reasons I won’t spoil, and I expect it will have a big impact on the next game.
That being said, I don’t have any idea why I’m killing The Outsider. I get why I want to make nice with my old mentor who I tried to kill. I get that he wants to kill The Outsider as the source of all supernatural powers and his lifelong regret for killing the Empress. As Ted playing a Dishonored game, I never got the sense that The Outsider was the bad guy. He’s always just been an enabler on the peripherie, granting power to the powerless and letting them go about earning their revenge as they see fit. He never makes people do anything. He doesn’t call for blood and demand sacrifices in return for his gift. He just gives it to you, and then watches. The game’s also gone to some significant steps to make you feel bad for him, making the ultimate goal of murdering him off-putting.
I’d have to be pretty stupid to call Dishonored: Death of the Outsider “bad.” It’s just a decent, overpriced, short, dull episode in a series of games I really like. If this was a $30 indie title, I’d still say it was overpriced. It’s much more suited at the $15-$20 range. If it goes on sale, pick it up and get some decent kicks. But if this is the endcap to the series, I’m disappointed.
The Housemaid Review – Love Makes the Ghost Grow Stronger
Written and directed by Derek Nguyen
Vietnamese horror films are something of a rarity due largely to pressure from the country’s law enforcement agencies that have warned filmmakers to steer clear of the genre in recent years. The country’s exposure to the industry is limited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a handful of filmmakers out there that are passionate and determined to get their art out into the world. IFC Midnight has stepped up to the plate to shepherd writer/director Derek Nguyen’s period ghost thriller The Housemaid in hopes of getting it in front of American horror fans.
Aside from a few moments that delve into soap opera territory, Nguyen’s film is full of well-crafted scares and some surprisingly memorable scenes that sneak up at just the right times. For history buffs there’s also a lot of material to sink your teeth into dealing with French Colonial rule and mistreatment of the Vietnamese during the 1950’s. Abuse that, if you’re not careful, could lead to a vengeful spirit seeking atonement.
Desperate and exhausted after walking for miles, an orphaned woman named Linh (Kate) seeks refuge and employment as a housemaid at a large rubber plantation in 1953 French Indochina. Once hired, she learns of the dark history surrounding the property and how her mere presence has awakened an accursed spirit that wanders the surrounding woods and dark corners of the estate. Injured in battle, French officer Sebastien Laurent (Richaud) returns to preside over the manor and, unexpectedly, begins a dangerous love affair with Linh that stirs up an even darker evil.
Told in flashbacks, the abuse of workers reveals a long history of mistreatment that enshrouds the surrounding land in darkness and despair, providing ripe ground for a sinister spirit that continues to grow stronger. Once it’s revealed that the ghost has a long history with Laurent before her death, the reasons she begins to kill become more and more obvious as the death toll piles up. Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle among Laurent, Linh, and the specter of Laurent’s dead wife.
Powered by desire to avenge tortured workers of the past and the anger fueled by seeing her husband in the embrace of a peasant girl, the apparition is frightening and eerily beautiful as she stalks her victims. One scene in particular showing her wielding an axe is the most indelible image to take away from the film, and other moments like it are what make The Housemaid a standout. The twisted sense of romance found in a suffering spirit scorned in death is the heart of the story even if the romance between the two living lovers winds up having more screen time.
The melodrama and underwhelming love scenes between Linh and Laurent are the least effective part of The Housemaid, revealing some of Nguyen’s limitations in providing dialogue and character moments that make us connect with these two characters as much as we do when the ghost is lurking around the frame. What does help to save the story is a well kept secret revealing a connection with the housemaid and the apparition.
Honestly, if this was an American genre film, the limitations seen in The Housemaid might cause more criticism, but seeing an emerging artist and his team out of Vietnam turn out a solid product like this leads me to highlight the good and champion the effort in hopes of encouraging more filmmakers to carry the flag. Ironically, the film is set for a U.S. remake in the near future.
The Housemaid hits select theaters, VOD, and digital platforms TODAY, February 16th.
Using the real life history of indentured servants during Colonial rule, The Housemaid becomes more than just a self-contained ghost story, adding a good deal of depth to a story that could have just centered around a love triangle.
Scorched Earth Review – Gina Carano Making Motherf**kers Pay In The Apocalypse
Starring Gina Carano, John Hannah, Ryan Robbins
Written by Bobby Mort and Kevin Leeson
Directed by Peter Howitt
Let me preface this review by stating right off the bat that I’m a huge Gina Carano fan, and will pretty much accept her in any role that she’s put in (are you going to tell her no), regardless of the structure and plausibility behind it, and while that might make me a tad-bit biased in my opinions, just accept it as that and nothing more. Now that I’ve professed my cinematic devotion to the woman, let’s dive headlong into her latest film, Scorched Earth.
Directed by Peter Howitt, the backdrop is an apocalyptic world brought on by the imminent disaster known as global warming, and the air has become toxic to intake, generally leaving inhabitants yacking up blood and other viscous liquids after a prolonged exposure, unless you’re one of the privileged that possesses a filter lined with powdered silver. Filters of water and the precious metal are in high demand, and only true offenders in this world still drive automobiles, effectively speeding up the destruction of what’s left of the planet. Carano plays Atticus Gage, a seriously stoic and tough-as-nails bounty hunter who is responsible for taking these “criminals” down, and her travels lead her to a compound jam-packed with bounties that will have her collecting riches until the end of time…but aren’t we at the end of time already? Anyway, Gage’s main opponent here is a man by the name of Thomas Jackson (Robbins) – acting as the leader of sorts to these futuristic baddies, the situation of Gage just stepping in and taking him out becomes a bit complicated when…oh, I’m not going to pork this one up for you all – you’ve got to invest the time into it just as I did, and trust me when I tell you that the film is pretty entertaining to peep.
While Carano’s acting still needs some refining, let there be no ever-loving mistake that this woman knows how to beat the shit out of people, and for all intents and purposes this will be the thing that carries her through many a picture. There are much larger roles in the future for Gina, and she’ll more than likely take over as a very big player in the industry – hey, I’m a gambling man, and I’ve done pretty well with my powers of prognostication. With that being said, the thing that does hold this picture back is the plot itself- it’s a bit stale and not overly showy, and when I look for a villain to oppose the hero, I’m wanting someone with at least a shred of a magnetic iota, and I just couldn’t latch onto anything with Robbins’ performance – his character desperately needed an injection of “bad-assness” and it hurt in that particular instance.
In the end of it all, I’d recommend Scorched Earth to fans of directionless, slam-bang wasteland pics with a touch of unrestrained violence…plus, Gina Carano is in it, so you can’t go wrong. If you’re not a fan of any of the above, feel free to skate on along to another piece of barren territory.
Looking to get your butt kicked in the apocalypse with extreme prejudice? Drive on up, and allow me to introduce you to someone who’ll be more than happy to oblige.
The Good Friend Book Review – A Slasher Story for the Facebook Generation
Written by Marcus Sabom
I’m not usually a big fan of murder mysteries, but Marcus Sabom’s novel The Good Friend has certainly done a lot to make me reconsider my stance on the genre. Sabom, who is currently turning the book into a film, appears to have a real gift when it comes to keeping the reader on the edge of their seat
Usually, if you were told that a book contains an ensemble cast of four central characters instead of one main protagonist, you’d probably lose interest right away because we tend to connect with singular point of view characters more than we do with ensembles. However, Sabom proved me wrong in this regard, because each of the four leading women in The Good Friend were such engaging people with such real problems that I never felt like there were too many characters and plot threads to keep track of.
To give a brief overview of our four principal players, we have Sarah, who wants to be in a meaningful relationship after her asshole boyfriend dumps her, Alana, a slightly older woman stuck in a loveless marriage with a manipulative husband who tries to turn her kids against her, Megan, who has to deal with crazy stalkers, and Rita, who is traumatized by a vengeful psycho named Caleb after he attempts to belittle and humiliate her.
With this being a book set in modern times, they naturally use social media to broadcast their problems to the world. Now, we all know about the dangers of chronicling every step of our lives on social media, but Sabom takes things to a whole other level. Because after the aforementioned women post about their troubles on Faceplace (which is basically Facebook, but with a name Mark Zuckerberg can’t take legal action against), a masked killer begins to permanently put an end to their man problems. Whoever the knife-wielding psycho is, he’s clearly a mutual friend of all the women, because he obviously looks at their posts.
One of the only male characters in The Good Friend who wasn’t a complete asshole was Detective Jack Miller, a cop investigating the case of the misandrous serial killer. Miller is described as occasional leaning towards antinatalism, the belief that people should stop reproducing because the human race should not continue to exist. I’ve also always believed that human beings should stop reproducing because we are beyond saving, so I’m glad that Sabom was able to tap into an area that deserves far more open discussion rather than being a social taboo.
The book itself is just under three-hundred pages in length and uses relatively large text, so most readers will probably get through the whole thing in about three days. Whilst the prose was certainly easy to digest, there were a number of errors and typos that would be painfully obstructive to most of us, the most obvious being that it confuses the phrase ‘couldn’t care less’ with ‘could care less’, which, as you know, means the exact opposite.
However, if you’re looking for a easy to digest murder mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend is certainly an ideal recommendation. At the very least, the book should teach you not to make negative posts about people on Facebook or other social media sties, because a knife-wielding killer might be looking at your status.
An easy to digest slasher story that will keep you guessing until the very end, The Good Friend serves as a perfect reminder of the darker side of social media.
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