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Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines (Video Game)

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Platform: PC

Developer: Troika

Publisher: Activision


Hey lick, what’s up? Man, last night was a blast. I hooked up with some Brujah Anarchs downtown and mixed it up with some Cammy bluebloods. Those rich boys with their fancy popguns couldn’t touch us. Tonight I’m supposed to rendezvous with this wackjob Malkavian who supposedly hacked into a Sabbat mainframe. Says he can tell us where the Giovanni goombahs are storing one of their pretty little ancient doodads. It’s supposed to make your Blood Buff twice as powerful, so I figure we deserve it more than those lousy diablerists. What do ya say, you up for eating Italian tonight?

If any of that made sense to you, I’m about to make you very, very happy. Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines lives up to its hype. Well, mostly. It has issues, but none of them are severe enough to warrant passing up on the game.

Let me back up a bit for those of you who don’t own 20-sided dice and wouldn’t know LARP from a carp.

Vampire: The Masquerade is one of the most popular traditional tabletop role-playing games in history. Part of White Wolf’s “World Of Darkness” mythos, V:TM is set in a world of modern vampires who live in the shadows of the real world. The mythos establishes the society that these modern-day bloodsuckers live in. First, there’s the Camarilla, a system of government and rules meant to keep the “masquerade” (keeping knowledge of vampires and their existence from human society) and to maintain order between the seven dominant clans. Opposing the Camarilla is the Sabbat, rogue vampire clans that make the Cam look like boy scouts. In the middle are the Anarchs, vampires who live in areas not dominated by Camarilla “Princes” and not bound by its laws.

Each vampire clan has it’s own unique traits and weaknesses. For example, the Brujahs are the rebels; violent, passionate vampires who tend to be bikers, metalheads, and other non-conformists. Toreadors are surprisingly human, with strong passion for the arts and powerful seductive skills. Ventrues are the leaders of the Camarilla, the royalty of vampires, excelling in business and domination of their opponents. I’ll leave the other clans for you to discover on your own.

The ancient feuds and competitive nature of the clans bring us the Jyhad, the overarching battle for dominance and control in the vampire world.

That Jyhad is the basis of the role-playing game and now, this amazing piece of work from Troika and Activision called Bloodlines.

To anyone who has ever played the traditional RPG, it’s all here. They actually managed to cram in almost all of the features of that original system, from feats to frenzy. The level of detail is amazing, and shows a clear devotion to the source material. The design is right, the look is right; it’s all there.

In Bloodlines you play a newly embraced (aka: turned) vamp who finds themselves caught in the middle of a massive power struggle for the fate of Los Angeles. The legendary Free Anarch Baronies of LA are in turmoil, as the Camarilla has moved in and set up a new Prince over the city. This new Prince doesn’t have a very firm grasp on the city, as the Anarchs, the Sabbat, and…other factions still hold large portions of town.

You start by doing errands for the Prince to earn your keep, but soon find yourself becoming the key player in a power struggle not just for the city of Los Angeles, but possibly for the future of kindred and kine (vampires and humans) as a ghost ship has arrived at the port carrying a very old box…a box that just might contain a harbinger of “Gehenna”, the vampire name for the apocalypse.

Let’s take it from the top. The character creation is fantastic. You can either make your own character from scratch or answer a series of questions and have the game create the basic character for you. You can play as any of the primary seven clans, and choose to be male or female. This is far more than a cosmetic choice, as the conversation choices throughout the game change based upon which gender and clan you choose to play. My female Toreador seductress was met with much different responses than my wacky Malkavian male.

This is really the game’s strength. By creating a game that fits all seven clans and both sexes, you are given the freedom to actually role-play within a video game. An example that comes to mind is a mission given early on that involves the destruction of several works of art. I was playing as a Toreador…and Toreadors worship art above all else. To actually destroy those paintings would have gone directly against my nature as a character, so I was given the choice to turn it down, with appropriate drama queen Toreador responses. Even though it showed that I “failed” the mission, I was REWARDED with experience for the response! In short, we now have an RPG that awards you for making decisions based on the role of your character, as opposed to your own personal choice. It adds a whole new depth to the experience.

Gender plays a role as well. Another early mission involved getting into a well-guarded house full of drug dealers and cult members (don’t ask). A male character or a character with low seduction would probably have to either storm the place or sneak in. As my steamy Toreador all I had to do was give some sweet talk to the guy guarding the front, then I was able to waltz in and do what I liked…including convincing the boss to send his guards away and leave us alone so I could suck him dry and leave with his goodies.

Console gamers may think this sounds a lot like Knights of the Old Republic, and they’d be right. There are many elements of Bloodlines that resemble that amazing X-Box RPG. For one, the game is huge. Very, very huge. You’ll meet literally dozens of characters, all fully realized with animations and voices. The ability to choose your path also exists, if to a lesser extent than KotOR. No matter what path you choose, you’re still going to be an undead monster that feasts on the living. The choices have less to do with good and evil and more to do with exactly what depth of evil and what separation from humanity you choose.

Much has been said about the fact that Bloodlines makes use of the Source engine. For those of you who have been under a rock for the last year, that’s the Half-Life 2 engine. Needless to say, the game is gorgeous. There are several moments where you just freeze in your tracks and admire the view. Even with a relatively mid-range system, you can run at a surprisingly high resolution and with most effects active. One major problem I did have was an apparent bug that kept me from disabling combat effects. Late in the game, as more enemies swarm around you and frequently fire automatic weapons (so the game has to paint muzzle flashes and bullet hits in a hurry) there are major instances of “stuttering” and near-slideshow frame rates. You’re supposed to be able to disable those in the options, but even unchecked, the effects continued along with the crappy frame rates and stuttering sound.

Technical glitches in general are a bit of a negative point when looking at the game as a whole. The usual First Person Shooter glitches are present. You’re often stuck trying to get an NPC to move out of a door or pathway, or you’re stuck trying to clear a waist-high pile of debris that just seems “sticky”. I suffered a few seemingly random crashes to the desktop and a couple of lockups as well. As nifty as the Source engine is, it comes with a bit of technical baggage that affects the overall enjoyment of the game.

Unfortunately, the Source engine also causes the other big negative to the game: combat. The 1st-Person combat is, admittedly, great. This is what Source was built to do, and it does it well. The problem is, you only engage in 1st-Person combat when you’re using firearms. If you’re engaging in melee or unarmed combat, you jump into 3rd-Person mode. I’ll come right out and say it: Source just wasn’t built for this, and it shows.

All too often, your view is jerked around while the camera tries to fit inside environments while also keeping focus on your character. Because you still have to aim your attacks, you find yourself spinning around wildly all too often while trying to get a bead on a moving target. Unlike the intuitive point-and-click nature of firearm combat, you’re really using your mouse to pivot and aim a cursor…even in 3rd-Person view. Because both you and your opponents have similar physical responses to both attacking and being hit, melee and unarmed combat usually wind up being wild clicking sessions, madly trying to stay on target and cut the widest path of destruction possible. This shouldn’t be the case, considering the very detailed combat system that follows the rules of the original RPG, but it’s the only way one frequently has a chance of defeating a target close up.

Here’s the kicker: because of the way the game is balanced, you will find yourself sticking to melee or unarmed combat 99% of the time. Except for the rare boss or swarm of human characters, your firearms won’t be of much use until late in the game when you get the really awesome firepower. Vampires shrug off all but the biggest firearms, and there are some truly powerful melee weapons available early on without the need for expensive ammo. Because of the nature of the Vampire character creation system, you generally need to choose a path fairly early on if you want to have any luck at finishing the game, so you’re often locked into melee or unarmed combat for MUCH of the game, until you have the skills you need maxed out and can drop some into firearms. If you drop enough points into ranged combat to really be proficient with firearms early on, you’ll wind up terribly short in your disciplines or the lock picking/hacking skills you so desperately need throughout the game.

Beyond the sketchy combat system, I have a very, very unique complaint, something I’ve never complained about before.

The game is too damn long.

This actually ties back into the combat problems. While early on, you’re frequently given different non-violent routes to solve quests, the end of the game turns into a dugeon hacker with the last two big combat sections lasting, seemingly, forever. Enemies respawn, and due to some design limitation or another, tend to be identical. After awhile, you start to know how Neo felt during the big Mr. Smith fight scene from Matrix Reloaded; oh joy, it’s another anonymous tunnel or office building level and another wave of identical security guards/SWAT guys/Chinese henchmen to slash through so I can get to the next door or stairwell. Unlike the similarly-massive KotOR, you aren’t left with the desire to go back through it all again immediately. Like many early cuts of feature films, I wish they would have sacrificed some of the lengthy action sequences in order to make it a tighter experience and less tedious in those final areas.

While those are all valid complaints, that’s about it. Everything else is simply delightful. The voice acting is, without a doubt, the best I’ve ever heard in a game. The storyline is taut and full of wonderful twists and turns. The role-playing experience is amazing, giving the player unrivaled ability to choose their own solutions to the problems set before them. Fans of the traditional RPG will find many love letters dropped by Troika, from famous characters out of the “WoD” mythos to non-vamp critters that will be very, very familiar. Oh, and it’s really pretty to look at, too.

If you’re a fan of V:TM, this is a must-have. If you love RPG’s, this is a must-have. If you’re a horror fan who loves survival horror, well, you may want to think about expanding your horizons and taking a walk through Los Angeles by night. If you’re an action-fan looking for some mayhem…err, try Half-Life 2 or wait for Call of Cthulhu.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go meet a guy at an Internet café. Says he has some interesting new gaming technology to show me and he’d like to take me out for a bite to eat. Sounded a little weird, say his name is Schreck…probably a foreigner or something. Wish me luck!


4 out of 5

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Through the Cracks – Trick or Treat (1986) Review

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Starring Marc Price, Tony Fields, Lisa Orgolini, Glen Morgan, Gene Simmons, and Ozzy Osbourne

Directed by Charles Martin Smith


I have been a horror fan for more than half of my life at this point. Meaning I have seen most of the quality horror offerings under the sun. But that said, every once in awhile a classic sneaks past so we wanted to create this “Through the Cracks” review section for such films.

Case in point, I had never seen the Halloween horror flick Trick or Treat until last night. I know, right? How the hell did that happen? But these things do happen and so for everyone that has seen the flick a million times, this will be a review of the movie from a super horror fan that – at the age of 33 – is seeing Trick or Treat for the very first time.

Now let’s get to it.

First off you have to love the movie’s plot. Mixing horror and heavy metal seems like a given, yet preciously few films Frankenstein these two great tastes together.

Like many of you out there, I am a big metal fan as well as a big horror fan. The two seem to go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Or Jason and horny campers.

I dig bands like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and even those hair metal bands (Dokken forever!) and I’m well aware of the legends surrounding playing these records backward.

Off the top of my head, the only other flick that combines the two to this degree is the (relatively) recent horror-comedy Deathgasm. I say more horror-metal flicks! Or should we call it Metal-Horror? Yeah, that’s a much more metal title.

It only makes sense that someone, somewhere would take the idea of “What if Ozzy Osbourne really was evil and came back from the dead (you know, if he had passed away during his heyday) to torment a loner fan?” Great premise for a movie!

And Trick or Treat delivers on the promise of this premise in spades. Sammi Curr is an epic hybrid of the best of the best metal frontmen and his resurrection via speaker is one of the great horror birthing scenes I have seen in all my years.

Add to that the film feels like a lost entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise. More specifically the film feels like it would fit snugly in between two of my favorite entries in that series, Dream Warriors and The Dream Master.

This movie is 80’s as all f*ck and I loved every minute of it.

And speaking of how this film brought other minor classics to the forefront of my brain, let’s talk about the film’s central villain, Sammi Curr. This guy looks like he could share an epic horror band with the likes of Mary Lou from Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II and the Drill Killer rocker from Slumber Party Massacre Part II.

Picture that band for a moment and tell me they aren’t currently playing the most epic set in Hell as we speak. I say let’s see an Avengers-style series of films based on these minor horror icons sharing the stage and touring the country’s high school proms!

In the end Trick or Treat has more than it’s fair share of issues. Sammi Curr doesn’t enter the film until much too late and is dispatched way too easily. Water? Really? That’s it?

That said, the film is still a blast as director Charles Martin Smith keeps the movie rocking like an 80’s music video with highlights being Sammi’s rock show massacre at the prom and his final assault on our hero teens in the family bathroom.

Rockstar lighting for days.

Even though the film has issues (zero blood, a rushed ending) none of that mattered much to this horror hound as the film was filled to the brim with striking horror/metal imagery and a killer soundtrack via Fastway and composer Christopher Young.

Plus you’ve got to love the cameos by Gene Simmons (boy, his character just dropped right out of the movie, huh?) and Ozzy Osbourne as a mad-as-hell Preacher that isn’t going to take any more of this devil music. P.S. Watch for the post-credits tag.

More than a few of my closest horror buddies have this film placed high on their annual Halloween must-watch lists. And after (finally) viewing the film for myself, I think I just may have to add the film to mine as well. Preferably on VHS.

Trick or Treat is an 80’s horror classic. If you dig films like Popcornand if you put the film off like I did, remedy that tonight and slap a copy in the old VHS/DVD player.

Just don’t play it backward… God knows what could happen.

All said and done, I enjoyed the hell out of my first viewing of Trick or Treat. But what do YOU think of the film? Make sure to hit us up and let us know below or on social media!

Now bring on Trick or Treat 2: The Prom Band from Hell, featuring Sammi Curr, Mary Lou Maloney, and Atanas Ilitch’s Driller Killer from Slumber Party Massacre Part II!

  • Trick or Treat (1986) 3.5
3.5

Summary

Charles Martin Smith’s Trick or Treat is a sure-fire Halloween treat for fans of 80’s horror flicks, as well as fans of heavy metal music.

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User Rating 3.59 (22 votes)
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AHS: Cult Review – Clowns, Cults, Politics, and Peters

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Starring Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, Billie Lourd, Cheyenne Jackson, Frances Conroy, Mare Winningham, and Allison Pill

Created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk


** NO SPOILERS **

It’s here. We’ve reached the end. The newest season of “American Horror Story” has ended and now we are here to provide you guys with our season review of AHS: Cult.

Spoiler free.

To start things off let me say I’m not the world’s biggest fan of “American Horror Story”. It breaks down like this: I enjoyed the absolute hell out of the first season of the series (“Murder House”), couldn’t get through “Asylum” (I know, I know, I’ve tried), dug “Coven” for what it was, really enjoyed “Freak Show”, and again I couldn’t get into “Hotel” or “Roanoke”.

That’s the story of me and “American Horror Story”. Plain And simple. But what did I think of the new seventh season of the notorious horror anthology series? Let’s find out.

Back when the seventh season of AHS was first announced (then going by the title “AHS: Election”) I was immediately intrigued by the new season because I heard it would not include any supernatural elements. Like the fourth season, “Freak Show”.

Now I’m a fan of ghosts and weird creature-men with drills for d*cks, don’t get me wrong. But the series has thus far relied almost exclusively on horrors of the supernatural variety (other than “Freak Show”) so this major change of pace was again welcomed by this guy.

Instead of vampires, aliens, and witches this season relied on terrors of the mind. Psychological fears and anxieties. The horrors man does to man. Deep issues.

Oh, and clowns. Like a lot of clowns.

But just because this new season didn’t include anything supernatural, that doesn’t mean the 11-episode season wasn’t filled with twisted visuals and horrifically disturbing acts. No, sir. This season boasted some showstoppers including S&M, gimps, and a house of horrors that wouldn’t be out of place in a Rob Zombie flick. It was all good.

But let’s backtrack a bit here.

Allow me to rundown the season’s plot for those who may be unaware. “AHS: Cult” tells the tale of a world post-election night. The literal dawn of Trump’s America. In one corner we have Sarah Paulson’s soccer mom, trying to fight through life with a series of crippling phobias (including clowns, holes, blood, and being a good person).

And in the other corner, we have Evan Peter’s angry, white (blue-haired) male, looking to seize Trump’s new position of power to bring about the end of… Actually, I want this to be a spoiler-free season review, so I’m just going to say the dude’s got big plans.

Like Manson-size plans. Let’s leave it at that.

With these two characters established, the new season then proceeds to send them spiraling into a collision course of political sabotage, intrigue, and clown-based nope, nope, nope-ing that can only end with one – or both – of them dead as Dillinger.

Overall “AHS: Cult” belonged end-to-end to Mr. Evan Peters. The young actor has continued to show his striking range from season to season of Ryan Murphy’s horror show and this season was no different. Peters’ turn as not only Kai, the blue-haired leader of the titular cult, but as infamous leaders such as David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Charles Manson – to name a few – owed this season.

I can only hope he doesn’t pull a Jessica Lange and opt-out of more AHS next year.

Speaking of top performances, “AHS: Cult ” showcases some other chilling and memorable turns with Alison Pill’s strangely vulnerable, put-upon wife character being the best next to Peters in my eyes. This actress needs to be in more films/TV!

Along with Pill, actress Billie Lourd killed it time and time again. The “Scream Queens” breakout star and Carrie Fisher spawn was yet again a highlight in her second Ryan Murphy series. Bet she has the starring role in next season. Mark my words.

Add to that, the season also boasts a handful of fun cameos, including John Carroll Lynch’s return as Twisty the Clown, Emma Roberts as a bitchy reporter that will do anything to end up on top, and Lena Dunham as SCUM Manifesto writer Valerie Solanas. The cameo cast killed it and I wish they would have been present for more episodes. What are you gonna do?

On the sour side of the season, I didn’t dig Sarah Paulson’s character. At all. But I’m sure that was the point. Right? I’m still not sure. But, boy, I wouldn’t even want to be stuck in line behind her at a Starbucks for three minutes, let alone spend the better part of this season’s 11-hours with her and her whiny bullshite. Urgh.

That said, she pulled it out by the finale. That’s all I’ll say.

In the end, I enjoyed this season as much as – if not more – than any other of the series. “Murder House” will still no doubt go on as my favorite season of the series, but “AHS: Cult” will rank third after season one and “Freak Show”.

While I was on the fence about the season after three episodes, the show ended up ditching Paulson’s character (and/or shifting her arch) after a lull so the episodes picked up quickly. Whenever the season turned its focus back towards Peters (in whichever incarnation he was playing at the time) the show got better and better. Every time.

Not a bad way to spend my Tuesday night for the past 11 weeks.

Bring on season 12.

  • American Horror Story: Cult (2018)
3.5

Summary

The seventh season of Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story was Evan Peters’ show all the way through. The young actor pulled out all the stops time and time again to make what may have been a lackluster supernatural-free season a winner.

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User Rating 4.13 (23 votes)
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The Axiom Review – A Stylish and Clever Slice of Independent Horror

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Starring Hattie Smith, Zac Titus, Nicole Dambro

Directed by Nicholas Woods


The Axiom is an ambitious, well directed, impressively acted and stunningly shot independent horror film that has just a few, teensy little flaws holding it back from greatness (and therefore will have to settle for just being really, really good, instead).

The first thing you realize when watching The Axiom is that this is a beautiful film. Everything is framed and shot in a lush and stylish manner, but one which is always tonally appropriate for the scene.

The second thing you’ll notice, and keep noticing as the film plays out, is that the movie really struck gold with this cast. Not only is there a total lack of the sort of stilted and unnatural acting seen in countless other microbudget horror affairs, but the performances are genuinely fantastic across the board. The main characters are believably chill and relatably normal in the early scenes, and the acting remains just as impressive once things start getting a bit more… intense. It’s not often that an independent horror film has so many good performances that it makes it hard to pick the movie’s acting VIP, but that is undeniably the case here. Taylor Flowers delivers what is probably the showiest performance (and does it very well, indeed), but the entire cast really is quite good.

The central premise of the film is both interesting and original, and touches upon the real life fact (given some recent attention in the ‘Missing 411’ books and documentary) that a lot more people sure seem to go missing out in the woods than seems reasonable, while simultaneously weaving all sorts of folklore, fairy tales and urban legends into the mix. It’s also clever in the way that it very naturally reveals aspects to the relationships between characters that serve to later – or sometimes retroactively – explain some of the more questionable decisions they make or attitudes they display. While that may sound like screenwriting 101, it’s surprising how many films fail to do this. The Axiom rewards the viewer’s attention in other ways as well, with many aspects of the movie that initially feel odd or unnatural receiving reasonable explanations (within the context of the movie) by the end. It’s not quite as challenging (or as rewarding) in this regard as, say, something like Session 9, but it does add a nice layer of complexity to the storytelling.

The film’s score, by Leo Kaliski, is also quite good. There may be a moment here or there where the music hits an overly familiar beat, but overall it not only fits the movie’s tone, but does quite a bit to help set that tone as well.

The only thing that I don’t feel the movie quite pulls off – and I’m trying to be vague here, because I feel like the less you know going into this film, the better – is some of the makeup effects work. The gore stuff is very well executed, but some of the other stuff feels like it was crafted with the intention of shooting it in a more… stylized manner. Instead, filmed as it is here, the result is sometimes less than impressive and can fail to make the impact that the movie seems to be implying that it should. And while some of what the makeup effects lack in execution is made up for with the ingenuity and creativity of their design, it’s still a bit of a shame when they don’t quite pull them off because, aside from a few niggles that I have with the writing, the effects are the only aspect of the film that occasionally fails to live up to the high level of technical proficiency that The Axiom otherwise demonstrates.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:

  • Man, the acting in this movie is really good. The dialogue may stumble once or twice, but these actors always sell it anyway.
  • Give back Mia Sara’s DNA, Hattie Smith!
  • If you’re going to put your female lead in shorts this small, I hope you’re not sensitive to viewers unleashing a nonstop parade of “Has anyone seen my pants / OH GOD WHERE ARE MY PANTS!” jokes.
  • “You just pop this here ‘Blair Witch Stick Person / Anarchy sign’ sticker up on that there windshield of yours, and them park rangers? Well – heh heh – they won’t bother you none, no sir.” Hmmmmm…
  • The film really is shot amazingly well – better than a lot of mainstream releases. Cinematographer Sten Olson has a real future ahead of him.
  • As does writer / director Nicholas Woods, for that matter. Any director who can get this level of quality out of their cast and crew on their first ever film is someone to keep an eye on.
  • “I’ll make a run for it and get help,” says the female lead, and I’m like “Yeah, let her go – she has no pants to weigh her down.”
  • The gore effects in the movie are both realized and utilized very well.
  • Welcome back to horror movies, “I’ll be right back” dialogue spoken unironically by and/or to ill-fated characters.
  • The Axiom
4.0

Summary

In the end, The Axiom is a solid and entertaining flick that manages to wring a level of quality and originality out of the somewhat tired “Don’t Go in the Woods” horror subgenre not seen since 2012’s Cabin in the Woods. The cinematography and acting are hugely impressive, it features a nice, unnerving score, the premise is original and captivating, and the whole thing moves at a nice pace that helps keep the film’s flaws from dragging it down.

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User Rating 3.95 (20 votes)
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