Public Information Broadcast Part 2

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For anyone actually reading these words I’ll have a new website at some point soon(ish) maybe,free of ads and all that annoying stuff. I utterly fail at coding though, so I have no idea when it will be ready, it will have pretty much the same stuff as here although hopefully more people which actually be aware of its existence and it might actually get the occasional page view, which would be kind of new.

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This is a public information broadcast.

I am now writing for Geek Pride.

My writing is under my real name and can be located here.

As I am only human this means posts here will become somewhat less regular and more erratic.

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Press Start

Tomb Raider from Crystal Dynamics is the long awaited reboot of one of the most enduring icons in modern gaming. Things have moved on a lot in the gaming world since 1996 when Lara Croft first introduced herself to the gaming community with a combination of puzzle solving, gunplay, platforming and the occasional T-Rex.

 A lengthy hands on prologue plays out showing how the young Lara’s ship becomes wrecked upon the strange island of Yamatai and a scared Lara has to fend for herself and try to find her shipmates.

 The emphasis this time around is to show what happened to turn Lara Croft into a hardened adventurer that takes everything in her stride and fears nothing. There’s a profound added sense of realism which really helps sell this idea. The Lara Croft here isn’t some fearless Indiana Jones type but rather a young woman from a monied family with an interest in archaeology, a high level of fitness and a sense of adventure.

 Rhianna Pratchett’s writing really helps sell the character of Lara and makes her completely believeable as a real person, this impressive multi-layered writing is aided by a real emphasis on a grounding in reality and some excellent voice work from Camilla Luddington (who also provided motion capture for Lara’s movements as well), not since T.C. Carson’s portrayal of Kratos has a voice matched a character so well.

 Surrogate father figure Roth is another main character and the two communicate via radio early on and it’s Roth’s ressurance in Lara’s ability that spurs her on at the beginning and when the two finally meet up again the relief that Lara feels is tangible but this is rapidly followed by the realisation that Roth is injured and isn’t going to be taking charge so things are up to Lara.

 Other characters feature as seen via a video recorder that Lara finds which fills in the backstory as to how they ended up where they are but the other characters are rendered unmemorable thanks to the development of Lara’s character, with only Roth having any weight as the Lara’s companion for a time. Although James an archaeologist who comes across as condescending and later on proves to be a coward too features as well as a friend Sam amongst others. Although the video camera is a neat device for showing how Lara was ignored by James when debating the ships course and it wasn’t until Roth got involved that things changed which explains the dynamic between Lara and Roth.

 The world of Yamatai is impressively rendered from the start, with lucious forest complete with animals, ramshackle huts, caves, waterfalls, ancient ruins and the rusting wrecks of old planes just a few of the things to be seen.

 There are numerous cinematic scenes, emphasis on the cinematic you won’t be wanting to skip any of this, which often bleed seamlessly into gameplay which can actually catch players out due to not actually knowing you’ve regained control as Lara is falling down a waterfall or sliding down a hillside.

 Weapons are found items which look convincingly worn and realistic and can be upgraded at campfires which serve as hubs saving progress and allowing gear to be upgraded using salvaged parts and skill points to be spent on numerous skills which can be learnt as the game progresses.

 The gameplay itself is broken down into a balance of platforming with various other options opening up as the game progresses, one example being a climbing axe which allows access to other areas, and combat with the inhabitants of Yamataii. Whether it’s wolves in a nod to the games past or scavengers out for blood. The balance between these is just right and prolonged gun battles are rare and justifiably so as this isn’t Gears of War. Gamers that have played the older Tomb Raider games will be pleased with the Hidden Tombs that are scattered about. These are self contained areas without enemies that feature puzzles to solve and are a welcome diversion from the main story.

 There are numerous collectables scattered throughout from journals from various characters giving the history of the island from their perspective and various archaeological relics which Lara gets endearingly excited about.

 This realistic approach has both its postives and its negatives. Early on Lara finds a makeshift bow and arrows (shades of Katniss Everdeen) which will become a fundamental tool in her adventure (used for both silent ranged kills and stealth kills on nearby enemies) but at first is used to hunt deer which in one of the many great character moments she apologises to after killing, it’s quite some time before Lara stumbles across her first gun. Other endearing character moments include her reassuring herself as things progess with sayings like “Okay you can do this Lara”. The first time Lara has to kill someone it’s a harrowing experience and provokes a reaction the likes of which is never seen in gaming, with Lara retching and shaking at the visceral and moral line she’s just crossed and breaking down into tears.

 One of the negatives is it’s so realistic and well rendered that there’s arguably an element of voyeuristic exploitation as Lara’s struggles continue. The early stages have Lara clearly shivering in the cold and rain whilst struggling to light a fire and that’s the least of her problems as the story unfolds. Before long she’s covered in grime and blood a mixture of her own and from other sources. It’s a credit to the work done in crafting Lara’s character to actually evoke an emotional response to these situations but things get surprisingly brutal at certain points and some of the death scenes could be straight out of a horror film, especially given their nature of playing out for a few seconds before fading to black. The first time you see Lara impaled through the neck on a tree branch or crushed by a boulder and twitching with the last remnants of life it’s definitely a shock and there’s worse than that.

There’s an argument as to whether fans would want a hero rendered into the form of just a ‘regular person’ who makes mistakes and is vulnerable, since after all avatars in gaming are arguably supposed represent what the gamer could never do or be and this to an extent takes that escape away.

 Then there’s the ‘sex symbol’ vs ‘feminist icon’ argument which has gone on and on as long as the character has been around. There has been a deliberate move on the part of Crystal Dynamics to get away from this by jettisoning the hotpants of old and replacing them with far more practical cargo pants. Ofcourse there will be those that will argue that Lara is still wearing a skimpy low cut top as though this is part of some patriarchal plan to perpetuate the sexualisation and exploitation of female characters in games. Although logically speaking I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch for a young woman relaxing in a warm environment to be wearing a skimpy top which is exactly what Lara is doing at the start of the prologue.

 Despite these points there’s no denying that Tomb Raider is an excellent example of how to relaunch franchise and will be hard to beat when it comes to Game of the Year polls.

 

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At The Drive In

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is summoned back to his family’s estate by his brother’s fiancee Gwen (Emily Blunt) after his brother goes missing. Reuniting with his estranged father Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) after some twenty years living in America with his Aunt. News of a beast stalking the surrounding countryside sets Lawrence out on a quest to find the beast and also piques the interest of Inspector Abberline (Hugo Weaving).

 What could’ve been one of the worst acts of film sacrilage being a remake of the classic Universal horror starring Lon chaney Jr, has turned out to be one of the best examples of gothic horror in a long time despite being stuck in development hell for years. The mist shrouded village of Black Moor, the Talbot estate and the 19th century London settings evoke a spine chilling atmosphere the likes of which has been missing from the big screen for some time. Del Toro puts in a fine performance as the haunted Lawrence, holding his own opposite Hopkin’s Sir John, with the two playing off each other impressively. Blunt makes for a good paramour and Weaving’s Abberline provides some wry humour.

 The creature effects come from master Rick Baker who is undoubtedly the go to guy when it comes to werewolves it has to be said, with a good balance between computer generated effects and prosthetic work. The first appearance of the beast at a gypsy encampment is a masterful display of carnage and suspense with villagers and the like being mauled and ripped apart by some unseen thing as Lawrence becomes lost in the pandemonium. A set piece with the Wolfman running across the rooftops of London is another stand out.

 Despite boasting some genuinely great imagery, with Del Toro’s Wolfman looking up at tower bridge under the light of the moon making for a stunning scene, its predictable plot which expands upon the original film but fails to retain any sense of mystery to developments lets it down.

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Fictional Reality

Slaine is one of the core characters featured in long running British anthology comic 2000AD and one of the few characters that’s nearly been around as long as Judge Dredd, first appearing in 1983. Based on Celtic myth with Slaine himself being partly based on Cúchulainn from the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology.

 Written by Pat Mills,founder of 2000AD and co-creator of Slaine, The Wanderer is the follow up to the acclaimed Books of Invasions trilogy and features a collection of stories about Slaine’s further adventures in Tir Nan Og (The land of the young).

 One of the most immediate things about Slaine The Wanderer (and The Books of Invasions trilogy) is the amazing art of Clint Langley. An eye popping combination of painting, photo manipulation and digital art which is stunning,hyper detailed,atmospheric, psychedelic and grotesque often within the space of a few panels.

 Despite running for years and having a deep mythology and back story a knowledge of it isn’t a prequisite for enjoyment here,which is a rare thing. Whilst longtime fans of Slaine’s world will already be familiar with the intricacies of Slaine’s relationship with Ukko the dwarf, new readers will probably pick things up pretty quickly thanks to Mills deft characterisation.

 The stories here feature a mix of ideas and imagery , an ominous tower in ‘The Gong Beater’, facing up against a twisted merchant enslaving innocents in ‘The Smuggler’, coming up against old foes the Cyth in ‘The Exorcist’ and partaking in a brutal game in ‘The Mercenary’. There’s also some distinct humour throughout mostly coming from Ukko the greedy dwarf, in ‘The Smuggler’ he convinces Slaine to take on a devious merchant because one of his slaves looks like Slaine’s lost wife Niamh, the fact he will be there to take the merchant’s plentiful treasures is just a convenient side effect.

 The presentation of this volume much like the Books of Invasions trilogy is immaculate, a hardback with large format high quality glossy pages within which really amplify the effect of Clint Langley’s already impressive art.

 Slaine really deserves more recognition for being one of the best fantasy creations since Robet E Howards Conan and could easily support a film adaptation much like the critically acclaimed Dredd.

 

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At The Drive In

On a busy Friday at an understaffed fast food restaurant stressed manager Sandy (Ann Dowd) gets a phonecall from the police. An Officer Daniels (Pat Healy) claims that Becky (Dreama Walker) one of the employees has stolen something from a customer and asks Sandy to detain her until he arrives. Sandy obliges, then officer Daniels starts asking for more help from Sandy.

 Compliance is like a slow motion kick to the stomach.

 A controversial film which was met with contempt and viewers walking out of screenings as well as accusations of misogyny and exploitation when it was screened at Sundance.

 Whilst it is an excellent film it’s not an enjoyable one. It will undoubtedly provoke a strong reaction of disbelief at what’s happening but despite whatever rational logic will tell you this is based on something that actually happened and a cursary Google search will bring up plenty of details on the real life events.

 The core of Compliance is the notion of obedience and blind submission to authority.

 Dowd is impressive as the stressed Sandy and a bubbling resentment of the pretty and young Becky definitely comes into play when Sandy is told by Officer Daniels to comply with requests that become more unseemly. Any questioning of these requests is met with a reinforcement of authority and an explanation as to why they need to be done with Sandy slowly but surely giving in to the voice of authority.

 The desperate to keep her job Becky, an equally impressive performance from Walker, is soon detained in the back office seperated from her co-workers and wondering what’s going on. Sandy is told to strip search Becky and gets Marti (Ashlie Atkinson) to be a witness to the search. Becky is left naked apart from an apron.

 From there things get distinctly darker.

 It’s soon revealed that Daniels is no police officer but just a guy on a phone at his home just wanting to see how far people are willing to go doing what he says. Daniels manipulates Sandy and several others including Becky and Van (Bill Camp) Sandy’s partner via a combination of undermining them with constant requests for them to calm down and listen to him , call him sir to show they are listening, and offering them choices, one example being Sandy telling Becky she can either be strip searched or taken down to jail where she’ll spend the night as though there are no other options.

 As things progress Becky becomes more broken down by the humiliation of her ordeal and her perky personality is completely stripped away and Sandy’s resentment manifests in far more hostile treatment of Becky at one point agreeing with Officer Daniels that she should be punished for speaking to her.

 Shots of fries sizzling away, soiled utensils and the busy restaurant with it’s oblivious customers and Becky’s co-workers who don’t want to get involved because it’s the police, interspersed with shots of the broken glassy eyed Becky staring into the middle distance just add to the queasy feeling as events progress.

 Whilst Walker is undeniably attractive and spends a considerable amount of time in a vulnerable state accusations of writer/director Craig Zorbel being misogynistic or exploitative seem to be poorly constructed. There are numerous instances when the camera could have lingered on Walker but this doesn’t happen and there is nothing remotely sexy about Walker’s submissive state.

 With the knowledge that this did actually happen, the most unseemly aspects are actually taken from one particular incident, the viewing experience goes from passive to active and reactions to the events unfolding will be to question why would someone go along with these requests? Why would someone allow someone to do that? Most pertinently though is the statement ‘I wouldn’t do that’. When actually as is revealed at the film’s closing this didn’t just happen once but dozens of times although the details for seperate instances vary clearly a lot of people ‘did that’.

 Proof that sometimes truth really is stranger and more disturbing than fiction.

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Fictional Reality

Therese Wolf one of Snow White and Bigby Wolfs seven children finds herself wanting after her sister Winter being crowned as the new North Wind. With her father busy preparing Winter for her new role and her mother busy taking care of her brothers and sisters a toy boat received from an unknown benefactor is little distraction. This toy boat is more than it seems though and Therese finds herself going on an adventure to the strange land of Discardia the realm of broken toys, these toys are broken in more ways than one though.

 With Hellblazer’s cancellation Bill Willingham’s Fables will officially take the mantle of being Vertigo’s longest running comic with issue #126 out this month. This latest volume collects together issues #114 -123. This longevity is starting to show though, after the war with The Adversary, the main underlying driving narrative for the series was resolved in the War and Pieces arc finishing in issue #75 (around the time when most Vertigo series tend to finish) there’s been an evident lack of focus or drive in the series since.

 Therese’s time in Discardia is one of the darkest periods in Fables thus far, very much a twisted and grim take on the fairy tale trappings which the series is built on. The way this manifests shows Willingham clearly doesn’t lack for imagination or an ability to go into darker places. The underlying theme of this story is innocence lost and redemption and relates to the prophecy mentioned in the previous book Inherit The Wind.

 There’s plenty of darkly surreal imagery and characters, Mr Ives a large, ragged stuffed bear being just one of them.

 As well as Therese her brother Dare also plays a fundamental part in this story with her fearless brother determined to find her.

 Epilogue story The Destiny Game makes impressive use of its setting and its concise narrative

 The art by long time artist Mark Buckingham is as good as ever, especially at conveying the more disturbing elements featured in the Cubs in Toyland story with Steve Leialoha’s inks amplyfing the effect but Gene Ha’s art for The Destiny Game stands out with its more classical fairy tale elements.

 The sprawling ensemble cast of Fables and its numerous awards (14 Eisners and counting) ensure it will no doubt run on for a considerable time, at times though the lack of focus does make you wonder whether that is a good thing. The main narrative drive for the series is somewhat of a mystery now with The Adversary now dealt with and Mr Dark in the rear view mirror too, and the prophecy relating to Bigby’s cubs doesn’t seem big enough to hold things up. So the series is driving along but no-one besides Willingham knows the destination and some readers may not be willing to ride shotgun for the journey.

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