A Brief Update

A while ago I briefly wrote about Nier Automata. Specifically, how I had finished the game once but was planning to do so again twice more before writing a review. I wrote that with the best intentions, underestimating just how engrossed I’d get in other games (namely Personas 4 and 5), as well as other work outside of the blog. As such I’m putting it on the back burner for now: I’d still like to write something about it, but if I do, it’ll be a “thoughts on” piece sometime next year. As for articles in the near future: Game of the Year list is coming tomorrow, and I’ll be reviewing Assassin’s Creed Origins, which I’m playing at the minute. Might write a “thoughts on” for the Call of Duty World War 2 campaign as well, because I’ve got some thoughts on that and few of them are positive. Anyway that’s the rundown for the coming days, and that’s the end of this brief update.

By James Lambert

DLC Review: Resident Evil 7 Not a Hero and End of Zoe

(Please note that due to the nature of “Not a Hero” and its main character, a certain reveal at the end of Resident Evil 7 will be spoilt in this review. You probably know about it at this point but on the off chance you don’t and still intend to play the game, bear that in mind)

Resident Evil 7 got the year off to a surprisingly excellent start back in January. After years of mediocre to terrible instalments in the long-running survival horror series, “Biohazard” as it was subtitled was both a return to form and a breath of fresh air, both for the series and the genre as a whole. As well as a sort of fun variety show in the form of two paid DLC packs, the game’s end credits promised free content to come starring the new, normally proportioned Chris Redfield. After a long delay it finally released earlier this month, free as promised and alongside paid DLC “End of Zoe”, combining to tie up the few remaining loose ends left at the end of the main game.

First up, Not a Hero, in which Chris Redfield pursues Lucas Baker through a mine in order to give him a satisfying conclusion and some more screen time. Amusingly, after a lot of speculation on the nature of the new, blue-logo’d Umbrella Corporation and Chris’ role with them, the game just flat out gives you a document that says “Okay, here’s what’s going on with Umbrella now” and proceeds to explain it. Basically the new Umbrella are attempting to make up for the company’s past forays into giant monsters and zambambos by cleaning up any bioweapon-related mess it can get its hands on. Chris is here to investigate Lucas’ work with “The Connection”, the company he was feeding information to about Eveline and her effect on his parents. The entire DLC follows Chris’ trek through the mine from the end of the main game, dealing with traps, a new form of Molded (more on them in a second) and Lucas being his usual charming self. While not quite the all-conquering action hero he was in Resis 5 and 6, Redfield is still more capable than Ethan, being better equipped and capable of punching stunned Molded to death. That’s not to say it’s suddenly turned into a first person shooter though; it’s the same mix of action and horror as in the base game, and certain parts of it are genuinely quite creepy. The aforementioned new Molded is a wailing, paunched creature with abnormally long arms, only vulnerable to a certain type of ammo, and is first encountered on a trip down to a dark, dusty crypt like part of the mine filled with toxic gas. Given the short length of the DLC the tone is rather hectic and desperate; unlike Ethan, Chris has no downtime (not literally- there is a save room), it’s a constant push forward through deathtrap after deathtrap, being taunted by Lucas until you finally confront him, which while not quite what I imagined, is still satisfying. After his story disappointingly petered out in the main game it’s nice to see one of the game’s best new characters get some room to breathe. As DLC goes, Not a Hero’s rather good, even more so because it’s free. It continues the good work started by the main game but in a microcosm, with just enough good ideas and cool stuff to last the run time, as well as more Lucas, which is undoubtedly a good thing.

This is where things get a little messy. Poor Zoe Baker, left behind by Ethan and Mia, has apparently been wandering the swamps around the Baker estate for weeks. Suddenly, for some reason, she becomes encased in a white mold and rendered unconscious. Not that white mold that signifies a character is dead and about to disappear, but a new kind of white mold that cleanly removes the infected person’s clothes and conveniently just covers their private parts. Anyway, just as she’s about to be rescued by Umbrella in comes Jack Baker’s brother Joe, a well ‘ard old man who lives in the swamp and beats Molded to death with his bare hands. Having mess up Zoe’s chances of being cured, it’s up to Joe to punch his way to an antidote, along the way getting into an almighty scrap with Swamp Thing and bringing a conclusive end to the story of Resident Evil 7. To a certain extent I’m in two minds about End of Zoe. On the one hand, it’s fun, its hand-to-hand combat is a great idea and it really changes how you play it. These two pieces of DLC represent the two sides of Resi 7: Not a Hero is the serious, effective survival horror and End of Zoe is the goofy, outlandish sense of humour. On top of that, the game gives a satisfying conclusion to the game’s story, and to (SPOILERS) Jack Baker, who gets a do-over after his weak final form and irritating boss fight. Both fights with his new Swamp Thing form are a welcome change, are far closer in both tone and form to his other two fights, and offer a showdown and death far more fitting for the character. (SPOILERS END) On the other hand, and what holds it back somewhat is its length and price. At just over an hour and a half, with no extras other than a time attack mode with the exact same areas again and at twelve pounds, it’s over priced. Presumably they were thinking people would play it as part of the season pass or newly released “Gold edition”, and under those circumstances it’s more fairly priced. Maybe they thought it was fair given that Not a Hero is free, and that does soften the blow, but taken on its own, twelve pounds is a lot for what you get. Still, it’s very enjoyable when it lasts, apart from the sections breaking up the melee combat in which you have to deal with alligators, who kill you in one hit. Fortunately they can usually be dealt with by throwing cobbled together spears at them, but there’s one section right near the end where you just have to slowly wade past them and it’s deeply frustrating. When it’s just you sneaking and boxing your way past Molded it’s great, and story-wise it’s strong enough to be worth playing. Both pieces of DLC come together to tie things up nicely, and mark a fitting end to one of the best games released this year.

By James Lambert

Netflix The Punisher Review

I’m in two minds about Netflix’s foray into the world of Frank Castle, one of my very favourite comicbook characters. The trailers had me weary right out of the gate when they spotlit a CIA conspiracy being responsible for the murder of Castle’s family, as well as an apparent reticence to have the man himself appear in costume, a costume that personally I’m not a big fan of. Still, I wasn’t going to leave my main man hanging, and besides one scene I enjoyed his appearance in Daredevil season 2, so I gave it a go.

Cruelly, the first episode teases what I would want from a Punisher TV series: Frank in costume killing off the last remnants of the criminal groups involved in his family’s deaths, a sweet sledgehammer fight and a brief appearance from the Gnucci crime family. Two Homeland Agents who appear to be analogues for Detective Soap and Lieutenant Von Richthofen show up, if I hadn’t seen the trailers I would have expected an ultra-violent, vigilante rampage cherry picking the best parts of Garth Ennis’ sizeable run on the character. Tragically that’ll have to wait, because the remaining twelve episodes are an extended origin story of sorts, in which Frank and partner Microchip enact a drawn-out plan to kill the men behind the men in relation to the deaths of the Castle family, punctuated with the odd action scene, hampered by a woeful subplot and finishing on a burst of extreme violence. The A plot, Frank and Micro enacting revenge, is strong enough; the two have an unexpected chemistry, helped along by Jon Bernthal’s rather different interpretation of the character. Whereas the comic version is a man of sheer unflappable focus, cold and steely eyed but with a surprisingly active sense of dark humour, Bernthal’s Castle is a hot-blooded, emotional and personable berserker. He can laugh and crack wise, he can be caring, he can relate to other people openly, and when called upon to handle action scenes he throws himself into them with brutal, bellowing aplomb. He’s a man clearly ruined by his tragedy and wracked with survivor’s guilt, with a skill set and unending font of unbridled rage waiting to be turned on anyone who deserves it. Two scenes in particular at the tail end of the series go far beyond anything Marvel’s done before, including both seasons of Daredevil. Elsewhere the aforementioned analogues, actually named Madani and Stein have a solid dynamic of pain in the arse go-getter and “Let’s not piss off the wrong people” sidekick, though Stein doesn’t have all that much to do. Madani is the stronger character, acting as a driven, motivated voice of reason, dedicated to the pursuit of justice for an illegally executed Afghan police officer, and a much needed ally for Castle. The characters are uniformly good, the exception being the two catalysts for the woeful subplot I mentioned earlier: a phoney vet complaining about how the government’s coming to TAKE OUR GUNS and a PTSD-riddled young man who gets dragged into his bullshit orbit with catastrophic results. This brief look at the gun debate, the treatment of veterans and the epidemic of law enforcement shooting unarmed suspects are clearly an attempt to address or at least examine real world issues, but the rushed approach, their actual effect on the plot and the general way they’re handled mean the show is way in over its head, and none of it works. This ties into another problem the series has in that at thirteen episodes it’s too long; a solid eight to ten would have been enough, as it stands it’s bloated. Cut out the entire subplot with the two vets, focus on Frank, his targets and the two Agents on his trail and this would have been a tight, lean intro to a potential season 2 more in line with the comics. That’s not to say its actual form is bad, it just could have done with some trimming.

Overall The Punisher is a success, in spite of taking a detour from the comic. For the most part the characters are well-written and likeable; Jon Bernthal’s Frank is compelling and it’s nice to see him let off the leash and Madani makes for an interesting counterpart, but surprisingly it’s Micro who acts as the heart of the piece, his connection to Frank and their developing friendship being genuinely touching, to the point where I’d gladly accept him as part of the universe going forward. As a Punisher fan I appreciate this take on the character and his world, and I do believe if you’re unfamiliar with either you’ll still get something out of this. It could do with more action, all told, but I’m hoping Netflix will bring along a second season to handle that, where they can just write a long list of bad guys from Garth Ennis’ run on the character and send Frank after them one by one.

By James Lambert