Available on Xbox One
Rated M for Mature
Developed by Insomniac Games
I was dead set on hating Sunset Overdrive. The first XBOne title that anyone gives a shit about outside of a re-releasing of five mediocre sci-fi shooters, Sunset Overdrive positioned itself to be “cool” and “quirky” and “not like all those other cover based shooters for SQUARES.” This seems an odd message to send to Xbox owners, since samey shooters have pretty much been their bread and butter since people forgot what Unreal Tournament was and declared Halo to be an innovative masterpiece.
For a long time, Microsoft has been the big boy on campus for the “real gamers” (please ignore Nintendo since the Wii was a toy for your grandparents), but from the start of this console generation they have been looking wobblier than a drunk two-legged dog. First there was the whole “always online” fiasco, followed by an executive telling people without internet connections to move to a “real city”. Now their celebratory cries announcing the release of a $100 cheaper Kinectless version almost drown out the collective sighs of everyone who remembers that their insistence that the console wouldn’t work without the Kinect is the reason it cost $100 more in the first place.
I won’t lie, I’m a bit salty. The original Xbox came out on my birthday, and oh how I did squeal with delight when my parents gave me my first “big boy” console. A monolithic underdog of its time, I too marveled at the crisp visuals of Halo and the frantic party action of Fusion Frenzy. Previously I had only owned a Sega Genesis and PlayStation, which I only owned Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot for. As I felt the heat radiate off of the massive black box and the colossal controller vibrate in my hands, I could feel my testicles’ descent into manhood. Years later, after the midnight release for the Xbox 360, I quickly learned that while I had grown older, everyone else on Xbox consoles had miraculously stayed screaming pre-teens who believed headshots gave them pubes. I switched to PlayStation on a whim, was embraced by the scaly chimeran love of Resistance, and never looked back.
So that being said, no one will really be surprised to hear that after Crackdown and the Gears of War series (main series only, I don’t spend my money on full priced spinoffs), my Xbox 360 didn’t see much love until Remedy forgot to announce that Alan Wake would come to the PC at some point. My XBOne has fared worse, little more than a $500 coffee table conversation piece since I concluded the surprisingly satisfying Ryse.
Meanwhile, the avalanche of “60 minutes of exclusive content” given to the PS4 versions of games has solidly cemented it as the new entertainment system of choice for many previous Xbox fans. While I’m sure that the fandom is enough to keep the XBOne alive, I see many people switching to PS4, but not the other way around.
All right, Ted, 4 paragraphs in and you still have yet to talk about Sunset Overdrive! That has to be a new record for you! No, true reader, I can easily sit through eight whole dates of awkward conversation skirting before I tell a girl I like her! Still, there is a point to all this exposition. I don’t think anyone is oblivious to the fact that the game came out a whopping 35 days before I wrote this. So, why the delay? Well, first off, my boss didn’t give me the game until a week ago, the day before I started a new job, so thanks for that, Steve. Please hold all this responsibility for me while I tell people how it’s your fault. Secondly, almost all the reviews for the game had come out by the time I had already received it, so I figured I could take my time with it and not rush a 30+ hour game to meet deadline. What I found is that Sunset Overdrive is not only a content rich and deeply engrossing title, but might actually be the most compelling new title on the new console market to date.
This is a bit baffling, since the game received some mediocre scores from some very big names. This game was a big deal for Microsoft, as they had wooed their previous enemy Insomniac Games into making an early life XBOne exclusive. This was big news, and given that other Xbox exclusives have included showstoppers like Gears of War and the original Saints Row, anything less than perfection would not be tolerated. With a relatively low Metacritic score of 82% and a score of 7/10 from the traditionally Mountain Dew Doritos flavored Gametrailers, it seemed like this game was destined to be a forgotten last cough of the XBOne. And yet, one by one, friends crawled out of the woodwork to tell me the game was actually pretty decent. Eager to suss out the truth, I clenched my jaw and fired up the game.
After spending the time with it that I did, I can say that the game is certainly better than an 8/10 rounded. I can see some flaws, and I can see how some people might give it an 8/10, but as an aggregate that is far too low for the game. People giving this game anything less than a 9 should be the outliers, but somehow have become the majority. So, to address this, along with the review, I’m going to attempt to explain why people really weren’t keen on Sunset Overdrive.
Let me start off by saying the game is certainly smug. It throws around memes like your father does empty beer bottles, and with about as much respect for their integrity. There is no denying that a guy shooting an exploding dog going, “Wow. Much killing. Much awesome. Most boom,” is obnoxious. The moment the words “awesomepocalypse” come out of someone’s mouth, it is only a natural human response for your hand to ball into a fist. If the game were to have a celebrity lookalike, it would be Dane Cook. But just like you cannot judge a book by its cover, you cannot judge a game by how punchable its face is.
If you stick with it, you’ll actually find the game is pretty cleverly written. There’s a difference between being obnoxious and being funny, and Sunset Overdrive is that kind of “goofy guy of the group” funny that at first seems desperate but enough beers in makes you laugh. And just as alcohol makes women more attractive and that old guy at the bar seem like not such a bad guy, the chaotic punk-infused action of Sunset so does lull your brain into simplistic bliss. The jokes evolve past simple memes, and the protagonist’s quips begin to grow on you. There’s an old saying somewhere along the lines of saying that its impossible to explain a joke, so I will just say that the moment I fired my empty pistol and a little flag popped out that said “bang” on it in big cartoon letters, I started chuckling and didn’t stop till the credits rolled.
I will also admit that the combat can be a bit aggravating. The game insists that you stay “cool” to build up your combo meter. This involves acrobatic gameplay such as bouncing off of cars or dumpsters, running off of walls, vaulting over ledges, and grinding on rails. Once you get the keys down, traversing the city is easy and a blast. In the heat of combat, trying to switch between your fire gun and spear gun to maximize damage while trying to figure out which direction the camera thinks backwards is so that you can turn around on the pole instead of drop down into an underhang can buy you a trip to Home Depot for some materials to fix that controller shaped hole in your wall. At times, the game’s desire to be stylish can get in the way of its ability to be playable. In this review, this will be the sole point deduction for the game. While it certainly does not make the game unplayable, at times I found it slightly hindered my enjoyment.
Outside of that little bit, the guns are awesome and feel awesome. I read in some reviews that the guns weren’t creative, to which I would counter with a request for them to provide any other game in which the first weapon you receive is a flaming shotgun that looks like a penis. Oh, I’m sorry, was my flaming shot-cock not cool enough for you? Here’s a teddy bear grenade launcher. There are entire freaking levels where they just have you use new weapons, like a gun that lures a murderous robo-dog using a robo-cat as bait. Sliding along rails and raining indiscriminate death with a freeze gun that I have modified to drop exploding teddy bears when enemies die is a level of balls-tingling joy I have not felt since I used a car as boxing gloves in Hulk: Ultimate Destruction.
Progression is pretty simple. You buy guns with money the monsters drop and cosmetics with money the people drop. Collectibles unlock new AMPs, which are basically the game’s plasmids. Weapon AMPs change the properties of weapons, while player AMPs give you boosts like flaming bounce jumps or a knockback dash. As the player builds style, these AMPs kick in, and you go from feeble peasant to Lord Murderton of the Kingdom of Pain. While towards the end this makes the game a bit easy, I cannot stress enough how much having a flaming cock- gun makes me care so little about that.
The story is fine. They never explain why you have these crazy acrobatic powers, but it doesn’t matter. They never explain how the survivors stay alive, but it doesn’t have to. I am a big believer in games not having to answer all the questions I have, as long as the game works for what it is doing. I do not care how Rapture got built, as long as it serves as a dystopian nightmare. I don’t care where Anakin Skywalker came from; I just want Darth Vader to force-choke people. The storyline for Sunset is surprisingly robust for how stupid the game is and does a more than admirable job of tying the whole package together.
As far as content goes, along with the lengthy main story, there are 56 challenges and a few hundred collectibles to get. Collectibles unlock new amps, and challenges give you money to buy new stuff with. Guns level as you use them, reaching maximum power at level 3. The map is larger than Infamous: Second Son and benefits from abundant fast travel points. It is large enough and diverse enough to be interesting, but not sprawling enough to be a turn off. The same thing goes for the challenges. There is enough variety between races, weapon challenges, score attacks, and destruction challenges that every time you walk up to one of the spinning green icons, it feels more like an exciting “what’s next” than a grind. As far as the collectibles go, they are collectibles. You collect them. You will if you are a completionist, and you won’t if you have a job.
All right, so the content is vast, gameplay new and exciting, combat fun if a bit clumsy in closed spaces, story better than needed, and humor great. The graphics are great too, but seeing as how this is a next gen game, it only seems reasonable to talk about graphics when they fail to water eyes. So why did this game get so many mediocre scores? To be frank, I wouldn’t be too surprised if many gamers were turned off by the game’s attitude. As I said before, the game tried to be “different” and “edgy” and “not what all those LAMEstream games are all about.” This message seems horribly desperate coming from Microsoft, who seem to have divined that they would now be the underdog and therefore need to pander to youth culture. Yeah, man, we aren’t like those jocks that play CoD and beat up nerds; XBOne is the console of the kids who know what it’s like to have a real personality. By the way, please buy these 5 Halo games in one. So, you can’t really blame critics from being turned off right away by what seems to be Insomniac’s blatant attempt to out-youth-culture Second Son.
I don’t want to attribute all the hate towards Microsoft bashing, but how the fuck do we live in a world where Killzone: Shadow’s Fall scored an aggregate 12 points higher than Ryse? Sure, Ryse’s quicktime events didn’t punch you in the nuts if you failed them, but at least it wasn’t another samey shooter that critics have been complaining are ruining the industry. You know, the same critics that give a different style new IP launch title in a relatively untouched setting 12 whole points lower than the fourth main franchise installment in a samey shooter series. Seriously, guys, the Xbox already cut off the Kinect, the arguably only compelling feature of the console, to appease you. Does it have to cradle the balls too?
Sunset Overdrive is fucking great, and if you don’t think so, you don’t know how to have fun.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor
Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.
On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.
The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.
While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.
What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.
While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.
The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell
Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law
Directed by John Law
I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.
The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.
The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.
The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.
Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
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