So you bought a GameCube for the Resident Evil series. You bought and played those games. You bought and played Eternal Darkness too. But Resident Evil 4 came out in January, and that, frankly, was a long time ago. So since then you’ve been looking at your GameCube thinking about maybe selling it. Maybe you could trade in all those games and the console for a bunch of store credit towards an XBox 360…
Be honest. The thought has passed your mind more than once…but the XBox 360 isn’t out yet, and before then, there’s one last title on the GameCube that’s going to interest you. I won’t pretend to keep you in suspense because that title is obviously Geist since this is a review of that game.
If you’ve been looking at reviews of Geist, you’ve probably already decided against it. Maybe you’ve been glancing at the screenshots and thinking about how much Geist looks like a step backwards from Resident Evil 4. The lukewarm reviews aren’t all wrong. There are good reasons why Geist hasn’t been getting the kind of reviews that other games coming out around it have, and they’re mostly technical. It’s not just that the graphics are average for the Cube and woefully behind what you’d normally expect from a title overseen by Nintendo. The game has frame rate issues, often stuttering very noticeably. Three times I ran into glitches that forced me back to a previous saved game. Three times too many. It’s rather linear, the character designs are rather uninspired (as are the names of some of the enemies…Imps? Hmmn…).
But Geist is one of the most original First Person games I’ve played in a long time. If you review Geist on the terms of a FPS, it’s going to fall short of Halo and Darkwatch and Half Life 2 and those types of games; and if you try to play it as one, you’re going to be disappointed. The key here is that Geist isn’t trying to be Halo or anything other than Geist, and if you can look past its flaws and are willing to let it be itself, you’re going to have a blast.
Linearity isn’t so much of a problem when you spend a good amount of time doing things you’ve never done before.
So you may be asking what it is all about. Well, you play as John Raimi, an expert in biological and chemical threats, often pursued by governments to help out with covert operations and the like. You’ve been sent into the Volks Corp to help extract your mentor and close friend, Thomas Bryson, as well as find out whatever you can about what they’ve been up to while you’re there. Just as it looks like you’re going to get away, one of your team turns and starts firing on you and everyone else.
You die…and the game really gets going.
In this early mission you get a sample of what Geist would be like were it just a first person shooter. The controls are pretty tight, but the weapon you’ve been given, along with the AI of your friends and enemies, leaves a little to be desired. A monstrous boss fight spruces it up and is the first real hint at what’s going on at Volks, precisely the sort of thing we horror fans are interested in, but it’s shortlived.
It’s a shame then, that Geist first presents you with its flaws and is probably to blame for most people not giving it a chance, or dwelling on those issues, but it does serve as a nice contrast. It’s almost sleight of hand. It almost feels like N-Space is saying, “Look how generic this is! Man, I bet you’ve fought through dozens of levels just like this before in other games, and I’m sure this isn’t the best. Aren’t you bored of this? Don’t you just wish something different would happen for once?” I couldn’t swear that was their intention, but the moment you find yourself a spirit in a computer simulated world designed to brainwash you, the real meat of the game is ushered in like a breath of fresh air.
See, you’re a spirit now, and spirits can’t hurt or touch anything. They can, however, possess things, and through this you can interact with the world around you. As a ghost everything moves at a crawl, giving you time to really soak in your surroundings. You can’t stay as a ghost indefinitely though, as your spiritual energy slowly drains away whenever you’re in the spirit plane. You can absorb energy from plants, or rather more simply, possess something. This fully refreshes your spirit energy. It’s important to note though that you’ll rarely be dying as a spirit.
I’m not honestly sure why they bothered with the idea of spirit energy because it’s rarely on your mind and rarely needs to be, but it’s certainly no flaw and will probably be good for at least one or two tense moments in the game.
Being a spirit is very useful, as it lets you scope out your surroundings unseen and undetected. You can see where any threats might be, plan the best way through a given environment, and strategize in game before trying it out. Of course, you can’t do much of anything without a host, which includes getting past doors, and you can’t just possess people at random either. Occasionally you’ll find spirit slipways that let you slip through a crack in a door or through a ventilation shaft, but apart from that, doors are going to require hosts.
When you’re a spirit, people have an aura. If the aura is white or yellow you can’t do anything to them; if it’s red you can dive on in, but to get them from white to yellow and yellow to red you’re going to have to scare them. Yes, while Geist is occasionally scary, most of the time it’s requiring you to be scary. After all, you are the ghost.
While there’s usually only one way to scare someone, it still makes for some rather devious puzzles, and the results are almost always rewarding. To scare someone (or an animal) you possess inanimate objects, try and get the person’s attention, and then do something spooky to freak them out. It’s really unique and a lot of fun, and being the ghost feels mischievous and playful, even if all you’re really doing is triggering pre-made scaring routines.
Possession isn’t just for scaring though, as some inanimate objects can be used as weapons. Explosives can be possessed and exploded (and in the case of grenades rolled up to your enemies first) and gun turrets always come in handy.
Really though, at its heart Geist is an adventure game. You’ll play through extended periods where there is no combat as you try and possess the desired person, hopping from animal to person to object to person in a hope to move up the food chain and get into the next area. These puzzles are pretty well balanced too, challenging without ever really reaching the blind frustration levels. The characters somehow become endeared to you as you scare them, and once you’re in control you’ll probably feel a degree of responsibility for them.
Indeed, some hosts are key, and this is where you’re likely to see all your “Game Over” screens, because if a key host dies, that’s just what you’ll get. One of my quibbles with the game is that there’s no visual clue which hosts are and aren’t crucial to keep alive (though it is usually pretty obvious). Something like that would have helped prevent some annoyance.
As alluded to before, the combat in Geist is only straightforward if you play it that way. An armed host has unlimited ammo, though not unlimited clip size, so you can still get caught reloading if you aren’t careful. To just walk through areas using one weapon would indeed be boring, but once you get comfortable with leaving your host in the middle of combat, more options open up. Either by just being able to fly around and see exactly where your enemies are hiding, or by being able to possess gun turrets behind them, or explosives right next to them, there’s regularly a lot more you can do than just stay in your host and shoot your way through.
Blowing up an explosive crate an enemy is hiding behind is made even more rewarding by the fact it drops you back into the spirit plane, and you get to watch his flailing body sailing through the air in slow motion.
One particularly favourite section of mine has you protecting an unarmed NPC from a barrage of armed guards while you have no available hosts, and you can only get through by possessing the objects in the environment.
Geist isn’t beyond trying to scare you either. About the midway point monsterous critters start popping up and things start to get even more supernatural and demonic. It never reaches the level of shocks that the best horror games do, but it does has its moments, including a favourite one of mine where you’re taking a female scientist through a burning laboratory infested with little critters.
Towards the end of the game you’ll often find that your host gets possessed by something else, which starts trying to guide them towards that cliff edge, or towards those flames, as you button mash and wrestle with the control stick trying to keep the host alive and force the enemy ghost out. It’s another neat touch, and it can get fairly tense in areas populated with enemy spirits.
The pacing of the game is really the most commendable thing. It’s always giving you something different, pacing out the story, puzzles and action all rather well. The story mightn’t be the best, but through a combination of cutscenes, exploration, and written material, things slowly come together rather nicely.
So while Geist is technically flawed, and while the first person shooting parts are average, that’s only one string to the bow the game gives you, and as such you’ll rarely be bored. The difficulty curve is well done, apart from one of the boss battles about a third of the way through that’s disproportionately hard, until you work out that it sends its attacks towards your spirit, and then it’s just flat out boring, as you wait for it’s almost impossible to dodge attack slowly completes. Fortunately, apart from that the game is usually just the right side of challenging.
Finally I would be remiss to mention the multiplayer, which sadly just highlights how much of a mistake it was for Nintendo to ignore the internet. It’s a lot of fun first of all and is unique enough to make it memorable. Even better you can have 8 players in a game, but only by using “bots.” It’s split screen only, unfortunately, but fun enough that you’ll probably give it a few tries and want to test it out with real players.
The three modes are simple enough for people to pick up and understand quickly, great for a split screen game. Deathmatch is what you’d expect, only it’s just the deaths of hosts that count. You can’t kill spirits in this mode, you just hop into a host that has a weapon you like, and go after another possessed player. You can change hosts, but it leaves your previous host vulnerable for a few seconds in doing so. Then you have capture the host which focuses on a platform usually in the middle of the level. In this mode you guide hosts to this platform, and then you dematerialize them for points. If they’ve killed other hosts, that point value is added to their point value. It’s different but simple to get to grips with and probably my favourite mode.
Finally you have Hunt, which is the most unique of all the modes, but sadly also the one to offer the least maps. This is humans vs ghosts. Humans have anti-ghost weapons and kill ghosts for points. Ghosts possess the humans and try and walk them into spiked pits, flames, exposed electrical wires and other environmental hazards. The human can force the ghost out with use of their grenades or by hammering the A button. It’s fun but not particularly balanced.
So all in all, Geist provides you with a lengthy, unique adventure, and a fun if not overly deep multiplayer mode (crippled by the fact its split screen only). If you can see past its technical flaws and can approach the gameplay in the right way, there’s a lot of spooky fun to be had. I don’t doubt that it’ll be a sleeper hit, and I hope to see a much more polished sequel somewhere down the line.
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A Demon Within Review – Familiar Possession Beats To A Dreary Tune
Directed by Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau
Possession flicks don’t often hold a long shelf life in the horror community, with Ayush Banker and Justin LaReau’s A Demon Within suggesting why. Hands emerging from the darkness, exorcisms, anxious priests – you’ll see it all again as you’ve seen it before. Early scenes glimmer a polish unlike equal indie products, but that’s just the devil playing tricks on you. Once the film’s main satanic takeover begins, cursing teens and stony glares become the been-here-before norm. Low-budget filmmaking isn’t an immediate detractor like some high-society snobs may believe, yet it’s surely no excuse either. Today’s review being an example of both mindsets.
Charlene Amoia stars as Julia Larsen, a divorcee who moves into Crestwick, Illinois looking for a clean start with daughter Charlotte (Patricia Ashley). Their dusty toucher-upper is a quaint, aged farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, complete with electrical issues and weird noises at night. Nothing to worry about, right? Julia’s focus is better directed towards town doctor Jeremy Miller (Clint Hummel), who she immediately hits it off with (after almost hitting *him* with a car). She’s eating stir-fry at his place one night, all things going well, and that’s when it happens – Charlotte is possessed by an evil force who enacts its sinister plan. Charlotte may physically be present, but only as a vessel for “Nefas.”
Without hesitation, A Demon Within lays predictable groundwork as small-town haunters have for decades. Charlotte’s new home is already infested with a spiritual squatter, Jeremy bottles (and drinks down) a blemished past that’s exposed too late, there’s plenty of characters sneakin’ up on one another – never with much “oomph.” Charlotte’s teeny-bopper voice drops to truck-driver deep at the height of possession, but it’s a distracting sound design that alone strikes little fear. Serious scares are attempted, be it a pitch-black basement slashing or Charlotte’s hide-and-seek pounce, just never delivered. An inconsequential failure to unite tone and atmosphere.
Performances are…well…rigid, to say the least. Amoia and Ashley strike a surprisingly likable chemistry as living humans, but once Ashley goes demonic, chemistry bottoms out. The way A Demon Within positions Charlotte when possessed is utterly dull and undefined; Ashley playing an unenthusiastic harbinger of death. It’s bad enough that Hummel’s tortured doctor masters the emotional range of Mona Lisa and the town’s pastor is hardly a scene stealer – but to have a demon be so vanilla (without a side of nuts, no less)? Getting past the limited lighting and Charlotte’s manly demon voice is hard enough, let alone her mostly relenting threats.
Making matters worse, the film’s third act is hardly a religious salvation that flows with ease. I had more fun watching Julia stammer over pizza and beers with Jeremy than their final fight against ghastly hellspawns. The truths of Jeremy’s past leak out in flashback form, only to reveal his stubborn inability to comprehend one’s own possession encounter in the very house Julia bought (useful information, eh?). The local priest shows up in the nick of time, a few cutaway jolts attempt cheap thrills, and some holy water mucks up an old painting – but again, minimal notability. Er…not even minimal? Shaky last-minute framing makes it hard to even notice the touch-ups to Charlotte’s face that signify her unholy imprisonment, even worse than blackened CGI mists.
A Demon Within tries, fumbles, and tries some more, but it’s best treated as a reminder of better exorcism stories that exist elsewhere. Even something like The Vatican Tapes is an improvement over this possessive redundancy, hokier than the honky-tonk love song that plays atop a pizza-chain flirt scene. There’s something to be said about getting out and creating original horror, but herein lies the problem – this ain’t *that* original. With harsher scares and tension, such a fate could be ignored. As-is? It’s hard to see past anything more than a January release placeholder.
A Demon Within is a seen-it-before possession thriller that brings nothing new to the conversation. Not the worst, but also not a “hidden secret.”
Desolation Review – The Joy of Being Rescued and All the Surprises That Come With It
Starring Raymond J. Barry, Brock Kelly, Dominik Garcia-Lorido
Directed by David Moscow
It’s those random, once-in-a-lifetime encounters that only a select few get the chance to experience: when we as regular participants in this wonderful thing known as The Rat Race, stumble across a soul that we’ve only witnessed on the big screen. I’m talking about a celebrity encounter, and while some of the masses will chalk the experience up as nothing more than a passing moment, others hold it to a much larger interior scale…then you REALLY get to know the person, and that’s when things get interesting.
Director David Moscow’s thriller, Desolation follows shy hotel employee Katie (Lorido) and her “fortuitous” brush with Hollywood pretty-boy Jay (Kelly) during one of his stops – the two hit it off, and together they begin a sort of whirlwind-romance that takes her away from her job and drops her in the heart of Los Angeles at the apartment building he resides in. You can clearly see that she has been a woman who’s suffered some emotional trauma in her past, and this golden boy just happens to gallop in on his steed and sweep her off of her feet, essentially rescuing her from a life of mundane activity. She gets the full-blown treatment: a revamped wardrobe, plenty of lovin’, and generally the life she’s wanted for some time.
Things return to a bit of normalcy when Jay has to return to work, leaving Katie to spread out at his place, but something clearly isn’t kosher with this joint. With its odd inhabitants (a very creepy priest played by Raymond J. Barry), even more bizarre occurrences, and when one scared young woman cannot even rely on the protection from the local police, it all adds up to a series of red flags that would have even the strongest of psyches crying for their mothers. What Moscow does with this movie is give it just enough swerves so that it keeps your skull churning, but doesn’t overdo its potential to conclusively surprise you, and that’s what makes the film an entertaining watch.
While Lorido more than holds her ground with her portrayal of a woman who has been hurt in the past, and is attempting to place her faith in a new relationship, it’s Barry that comes out on top here. His performance as Father Bill is the kind of stuff that wouldn’t exactly chill you to the bone, but he’s definitely not a man of the cloth that you’d want to be stuck behind closed doors with – generally unsettling. As I mentioned earlier, the plot twists are well-placed, and keep things fresh just when you think you’ve got your junior private investigator badge all shined up. Desolation is well-worth a look, and really has kicked off 2018 in a promising fashion – let’s see what the other 11 months will feed us beasts.
Got your eye on that shining movie star or starlet? Better make sure it’s what you really want in life – you know what they say about curiosity.
Wolf Guy Blu-ray Review – Sonny Chiba As A Werewolf Cop In ’70s Japan
Starring Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Nami, Kyosuke Machida
Directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
Distributed by Arrow Video
As virtually every American adaptation has proven, translating manga to the big screen is a job best left to Japanese filmmakers. There is an inherent weirdness – for lack of a better term – to their cultural media that should be kept “in house” if there is to be any hope for success. Ironically, the stories are often so fantastical and wildly creative that a big American studio budget would be necessary to fully realize such a live-action vision. But I digress. Back in 1975, Toei Studios (home of Gamera) adapted the 1970 manga series Wolf Guy into a feature of the same name. Starring the legendary Shin’ichi Chiba (a.k.a. Sonny Chiba), who at that time was in his prime, the film combines elements of crime and psychedelic cinema, delivering less of a werewolf film (despite the title suggesting otherwise) and more of a boilerplate crime caper with a cop who has a few tricks up his hairy sleeve. I should stress it is the story that plays fairly straightforward, while the film itself is a wild kaleidoscope of strange characters and confounding situations… mostly.
An unseen killer, known only as “The Tiger”, prowls the streets at night slashing victims to death and leaving behind no trace. Beat cop Akira Inugami (Sonny Chiba) is on the case, and he has an advantage over his fellow brothers in blue: being a werewolf. As the opening credits flashback shows, Akira is the sole survivor of the Inugami clan of werewolves after a slaughter wiped out the rest of his kind. Now, as the last of his brethren, he uses his acute lycanthropic skills, under the auspices of the moon, to track down underworld thugs and solve cases uniquely tailored to his abilities. As the lunar cycle of the moon sees it growing fuller Akira’s powers, too, increase to superhuman levels.
Searching for this mysterious “Tiger”, Akira is led into a subterranean world of clandestine government organizations, nightclub antics, and corrupt politicians. One night, Akira is attacked and taken prisoner by a government research lab that wants to use his blood to create werewolves they can control. Only problem is – which they don’t realize – Akira’s blood cannot be mixed with that of a human; the only end result is death. Miki (Etsuko Nami), a drug user with syphilis, comes to Akira’s aid and proves to be quite useful. She holds a secret that has the potential to vastly change Akira’s world but, first, a showdown with the criminal underbelly looms on the horizon… as does the fifteenth day of the Lunar Cycle, when Akira will be made nearly invincible.
First, some bad news: Sonny Chiba never attains full werewolf status. This is not that movie. Sure, he growls and snarls and sneers and possesses many of the traits of a werewolf but in terms of physical characteristics he more or less remains “human” the entire time. Yes, even during “Lunar Cycle Day 15”, a.k.a. the moment every viewer is waiting for, to see him turn into a wolf. Instead, he just winds up kicking a lot of ass and taking very little damage. To be fair, a grizzled Sonny Chiba is still enough of a formidable presence, but, man, to see him decked out as a full-on kung-fu fighting werewolf would’ve been badass. The film could have done better at tempering expectations because it builds up “Day 15” like viewers are going to see an explosion of fur and flesh, instead it’s just plenty of the latter. Aw, well.
Lack of werewolf-ing aside, the film plays out a bit uneven. The opening offers up a strong start, with The Tiger attack, wily underworld characters being introduced, and a tripped-out acid garage rock soundtrack (which I’d kill for a copy of). But Second Act Lag is a real thing here and many of the elements that may have piqued viewer curiosity in the first act are scuttled, and although the third act and climax bring forth fresh action and a solution to the mystery it also feels a bit restrained. Then again, this is Toei, often seen as a cheaper Toho. Wolf Guy serves as a good introduction to Akira Inugami and his way of life, which makes it a greater shame no sequels were produced.
Presented with a 2.35:1 1080p image, Wolf Guy hits Blu-ray with a master supplied by Toei, meaning Arrow did no restorative work of their own on the picture – and it shows. Japanese film elements, especially those of older films, are often notorious for being poorly housed and feebly restored. This transfer is emblematic of those issues, with hazy black levels, average-to-poor definition, minimal shadow detail, and film grain that gets awfully noisy at times. The best compliment I can give is daylight close-up scenes exhibit a pleasing level of fine detail, though nothing too eye-popping. This is a decidedly mediocre transfer across the board.
The score fares a bit better, not because the Japanese LPCM 1.0 mono mix is a beast but because the soundtrack is so wildly kinetic, exploding with wild garage rock and fuzzy riffs right from the get-go. Dialogue has a slight hiss on the letter “s” but is otherwise nicely balanced within the mix. Subtitles are available in English.
“Kazuhiko Yamaguchi: Movies with Guts” is a September 2016 sit-down with the film’s director, who reflects on his career and working with an icon like Sonny Chiba.
“Toru Yoshida: B-Movie Master” is an interview with Yoshida, a former producer at Toei who oversaw this film and many others.
“Sonny Chiba: A Life in Action, Vol. 1” covers the man’s career up to a point, with the remainder finished on Arrow’s other 2017 Chiba release, Doberman Cop.
A theatrical trailer is also included, as is a DVD copy of the feature.
- Kazuhiko Yamaguchi: Movies with Guts
- Toru Yoshida: B-Movie Master
- Sonny Chiba: A Life in Action, Vol. 1
- Theatrical trailer
While the film might be a bit of a letdown given what is suggested, fans of bizarre Japanese ’70s cinema – and certainly fans of Chiba’s work – should, at the least, have fun with this title.
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