Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Drive-In of Terror II: Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick (PS2)

Franchises never die, plain and simple.  Even after the story has reached its conclusion, there will be continuous demand from the fanbase for more.  Sometimes, the requests can be satisfied; after all, ten years after the release of Star Wars Episode III, we got not just a new trilogy of Star Wars movies, but spin-off films as well.  Yet, there are many instances where the promised new entry never happens.  For a long time, there was loose talk of Ghostbusters 3, and every time the project looked like it would get off the ground, a snag occurred.  It took so long for a new movie that one of the key actors, Harold Ramis, passed away, hence the existence of the 2016 reboot.

So, what does all of this have to do with Evil Dead?  Like Ghostbusters, there was a lot of talk about a fourth entry starring everybody's favorite demon slayer, Ash Williams, yet nothing arose.  Eventually, the story continued in 2015 with the excellent TV series, Ash vs. Evil Dead, but during the mid 2000's, publisher THQ took the chance to capitalize off of the popularity of the series and the demands of the fans by releasing three different Evil Dead games, starting with Evil Dead: Hail to the King, released in 2000.  Then came the sequel, Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick, released in 2003.

After eradicating the Deadite menace once again in Hail to the King, Ash has been in a state of depression every since his girlfriend, Jenny, died in a bus accident.  While drowning his sorrows away at a bar in Dearborn, Michigan, a local public access show, Mysteries of the Occult, is filming a live episode featuring an interview with a friend of Professor Knowby, Professor Eldridge.  To carry on what his colleague started, Eldridge has been investigating and analyzing the infamous Necronomicon Ex Mortis, a.k.a. The Book of the Dead, going so far as to write a book exploring its history and mythology.  Unlike Knowby, he doesn't believe the book poses any threat, and proves this by playing the recordings of Knowby reading the passages.  Immediately, a portal opens up above the TV station, unleashing evil spirits all over Dearborn.  Realizing the Deadites are back, Ash jumps into action to figure out how to close the portal and to confront Eldridge for his grave mistake.

Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick's story is serviceable, if a bit too predictable since the major beats are obvious and can be seen from a mile away.  Without going into too much detail, let's just say some characters have ulterior motives regarding the Necronomicon, and Ash is going to teach them a lesson for meddling with the forces of evil.  Speaking of which, Ash is the most developed out of the cast; like his film counterpart, he's cocky and in over his head, but when people are struggling how to eradicate the monsters, he knows the easiest thing to do is to slice and shoot.

Another positive is the creativity in how the writers explore the concept of time travel, which was introduced in Army of Darkness.  As the game progresses, Ash finds himself traveling between different time periods to stop the Deadites.  Said eras include Colonial America, Civil War-era Dearborn, and a post-apocalyptic version of present-day Dearborn; even better, he'll also assist his ancestors and acquire weapons pertaining to the current setting.

Eschewing the survival-horror mechanics of its predecessor, this is an action-adventure, open-world game in which players will slaughter hordes of Deadites, complete tasks, and find items necessary for progression and survival.  Levels are small sandboxes that allow the gamer to freely explore the surroundings and accomplish objectives in whatever order as they please.  When the game begins, Ash only has his sawed-off shotgun and a shovel found not too far from the starting point.  Weapons can be held in both his left and right hand, with firearms and melee weapons occupying his left, and strap-on devices like the chainsaw useable in his right hand.

There's a sizable selection of weapons for Ash to find throughout the campaign; besides a shotgun and shovel, there are also handguns, swords, throwables like dynamite and Molotove cocktails, plus crazier contraptions like a flamethrower and Gatling gun.  All firearms take ammunition, which can be picked up from fallen enemies or by searching the environments.  Combat itself has a strong, arcade feeling to it, and in certain regards, is a refined version of the fighting system from State of Emergency, an earlier title by developer VIS Entertainment.  Like that game, Ash is constantly swarmed by large groups of Deadites asking to be sliced up or shot, both are which are satisfying to pull off thanks to a snappy lock-on system and some cool combo moves.

Yet, the mechanics aren't perfect; eliminating Deadites and other monstrosities at long or medium-range is manageable, but when they're up close, fighting them is clunky, as there's a slight delay whenever pivoting Ash in different directions; thus, it allows the bad guys to pull off a lot of cheap shots.  A block is available for use, but due to the delayed reaction time, it's best to stay mobile.  Also, bad guys are capable of pinpointing your exact location, regardless of where you are, and even when normal humans are nearby, they'll still focus on Ash.

Besides an eclectic selection of firearms and other devices, Ash acquires a spell book that can be filled with spells throughout the game.  Some of them act as offensive measures, like launching a lightning storm or a meteor shower, but many others are for solving puzzles.  Specifically, a multitude of spells allow Ash to possess different Deadite types; for example, there's an area filled with undead protecting mission-critical items, so the player needs to find a spell that can allow Ash to take control of one of them; then, he can sneak in, grab the stuff, and head out without firing a single bullet.  Using spells takes up energy, but getting more is tedious since it only drops from enemies, and in small portions.  Whereas health can be filled from dead foes or health packs, no such items exist for magic.

These issues pale in comparison to A Fistful of Boomstick's biggest problems, the lack of a map and easy boss fights.  Initially, finding your way around isn't much of a hassle, but in later stages, it can be a pain to figure out where you're supposed to go due to the winding nature of levels and lack of architectural variation, the latter which adds to the feeling you're wondering around in circles.  I'm not afraid to admit there were times when I caved in and pulled up a walkthrough, something I usually don't do, only because I didn't want to be stuck in this endless cycle of looking for clues.

Then, there are the boss fights, which are a joke, to say the least.  Each beast has very obvious weaknesses, and in most cases, the fights start Ash off with the required tool necessary to defeat them, so you don't have to worry about figuring out the solution yourself.  As such, these grotesque creatures can be taken down within a matter of minutes; additionally, the game is short.  When you know what you're doing and not lost, beating the story can take roughly five to six hours.  Aside from a challenge mode, which involves killing Deadites within a time limit and under different parameters, the replay value is low.  Although there are cool extras you unlock after each stage including concept art and an enjoyable "Making of" video featuring Bruce Campbell.

Visually, the game is nothing to write home about.  The high on-screen enemy count is cool, but the whole package looks average with basic and uninteresting designs for both the locales and civilians that inhabit the stages.  Also, for some reason, Ash's face looks like somebody pressed an iron on him.  Sound doesn't fare much better.  As expected, Bruce Campbell is great as Ash; the remainder of the cast gets the job done, but do little to stand out, same applies to the music.

Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick delivers chaotic action by the boatload and features some cleaver ideas, but it's held back by confusing level designs, lack of challenge, and an underwhelming presentation.  Though not bad by any means, the game lacks memorability and had the issues been straightened out, this could have been a hidden gem.

Final Score: 6/10

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Special Announcement II: The Quickening

Hello people of the internet; rest assured, the remaining reviews for Drive-In of Terror II will be published within the forthcoming days.  In the meantime, I have something to share.  While surfing Twitter the other day, I stumbled across a site known as VHS Revival.  Imagine a Youtube channel devoted to cult movies, like Brandon's Cult Movie Reviews or Good Bad Flicks, but in the form of a website that publishes articles.

After reading through multiple articles on their site, I decided to get into contact with them about writing articles.  Through some conversation, they have decided to let me onboard, to say this is great is an understatement.  Things will function very much like the Cubed3 gig, so expect a link to my latest articles when they get published.  The first one can be expected within the next few days, and will cover the 1989 horror/comedy C.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud.

As always, stay tuned for the latest and greatest from a man whose goal is to critique and be honest, yet also entertain.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Drive-In of Terror II: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

You travel to another dimension.  A dimension not just of sight and sound, but of zaniness and intellect; a place where one man follows his goal of reviewing whatever he can get his hands on, so long as it isn't related to unholy terrors like The Garbage Pail Kids Movie or Manos: The Hands of Fate.  In this regard, you have just crossed over into the territory known as GamerGuy's Reviews.  Submitted for your approval, a review focusing on a film, but not just any ordinary picture, but one that is based off what is arguably one of the greatest television shows ever made.  That movie is 1983's Twilight Zone: The Movie.

Like the landmark series, the film features four, separate stories, each created by their own director who brings their style to the forefront in these productions.  Before the first segment kicks off, we are treated to a prologue where two men, played by Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd, cruise down the open road as music plays.  When the tape malfunctions, they begin discussing and play a game where one person hums a song to a TV show, and the other must figure out what it is.  This series of events leads them into a talk about The Twilight Zone and their favorite episodes, before Aykroyd's character tells the driver to pull over so he can show him something scary.  Said fright involves him turning into a blue demon that strangles the man to death.

Afterwards, the movie begins proper with the story "Time Out."  A businessman named Bill Connor (Vic Morrow) arrives at a bar with his buddies, infuriated that he lost a potential promotion to another individual, who was Jewish.  With frustration boiling, he launches into a rant about how he thinks other races are receiving bigger and better opportunities while those who are white don't.  This makes many of the customers mad, but when Bill storms out, he finds himself in Nazi-occupied France.  Confused as to what's going on, Bill is forced to run and evade the Nazi forces, who believe he is a Jewish man.  Soon, he ends up at a Klan meeting, about to be hanged by Klansmen for being black.  He escapes, only to land in the middle of the Vietnam War under the assumption by U.S. soldiers that he's a Vietnamese soldier.  Lost and unsure as to why he's hopping between these different eras, Bill eventually realize that this is punishment for his racist beliefs.

Following this gloomy scenario is "Kick the Can."  An elderly man (Scatman Crothers) arrives at a retirement home, noticing that the people there are miserable and hate the fact they are old and have been abandoned by their families.  Seeing this, he invites to play Kick the Can at night; when this happens, the old folks are young again, and relish the chance.  Next is "It's a Good Life."  Helen Foley (Kathleen Quinan), a schoolteacher, accidentally damages a kid's bike while leaving a diner to continue her travels.  She decides to take the boy, Anthony (Jeremy Licht), back to his home, where she is greeted by his overly generous family once she arrives.

Unbeknownst to her, Anthony is gifted with powers that allow him to do whatever he wants; this, this has the family on edge since one wrong move might mean facing the wrath of the young boy.  Finally, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" tells the story of John Valentine (John Lithgow), an author whose fear of flying has him in constant anxiety.  Making matters worse, an unusual creature shows up and starts tearing apart one of the wings of the plane he's on, but whenever he tries to their attention on the matter, it disappears, making those on the flight question his sanity.

As stated earlier, all four segments, plus the prologue, are handled by different directors, including John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller.  Not only do they bring their own style to the table, but there is a shift in quality with each segment.  The introduction, directed by Landis, is misleadingly calm before it's surprise ending.  The way this part plays out is like a scene from the beginning of An American Werewolf in London, also directed by Landis, where two hitchhikers get attacked by a werewolf while walking down a dark road and talking with each other.  Yet, the transformation and attack at the end of this part is more surprising than it should be, since what you think might be a simple joke turns out to be a lot more than what both the driver and the audience bargained for.

Though it succeeds at foreshadowing what is to come, the following segments are uneven in quality, to say the least.  On the surface, "Time Out" has an interesting premise regarding the consequences of prejudiced beliefs, but it's shaky pacing and abrupt ending makes the whole experience feel rushed.  Vic Morrow is good as the angry, racist businessman who receives the mother of all punishments, but as one watches his character Bill Connor get flung through these different time periods, you feel that there should be a lot more to what's going on.  Unfortunately, just as it picks up steam, it ends, and not in a pleasing way.

There is a reason for "Time Out's" abrupt closure, one that is very tragic.  Initially, Bill Connor was to have a redemption moment, something that would bring his trials and tribulations full circle.  The sequence involved Bill rescuing a pair of children as a Vietnamese village is getting bombarded with aerial attacks.  Sadly, while shooting the scene, the pyrotechnics that were being used set the rotary blades of a helicopter on fire, causing it to spin out of control and crash on top of Morrow and the two child actors involved in the scene.  Accidents during a movie that result in the death of somebody are tragic and unfortunate, and when these events happen, it veers the direction of a film wildly off course.  In the case of "Time Out," it left the filmmakers with no other choice but to end the segment on a dark note, one that is a reflection of the incident that happened.

Not helping matters is that the next segment, "Kick the Can," is arguably the weakest entry, which is odd, considering the impeccable talent whom was responsible for bringing this story to life.  A remake of the episode of the same name, "Kick the Can" explores the concept of how we handle age with all of the intensity of a Hallmark movie.  Director Steven Spielberg tries to tug on our heartstrings with its images of old people who are young again thanks to the magical powers of Scatman Crothers' character, but instead of being whimsical, it's a bore.

Fortunately, there are three things that save this part from being a total flop.  The first is Jerry Goldsmith's score, which is warm, inviting, and it fits the tone of the segment.  The next is Scatman Crothers as the kind, old man who shows the senior citizens that just because your old doesn't mean you can still be active and youthful, mentally speaking.  Finally, there is a decent message behind this act about how we shouldn't let the fear of old age get to us, and we should accomplish as much as we can in our time on Earth.  Regardless, the mediocre quality of "Kick the Can" makes Kingdom of the Crystal Skull look like Saving Private Ryan.

Despite an uneven first half, the remaining two stories, "It's a Good Life" and "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," pick up the pace tremendously.  While both are remakes of episodes from The Twilight Zone, they each benefit from their updated premises and increased production value.  With "It's a Good Life," Joe Dante retains the darkly humorous nature of the original episode, yet adds in a new character that may be able to turn Anthony's powers into something good.  Still, as you watch the segment unfold, the tension is incredibly high throughout, as Anthony's family pleases the demands of him to avoid incurring his wrath.

Additionally, this segment boasts a unique visual style that shines in the design of the house, as every section is based on the old cartoons Anthony likes.  There are also some inventive special effects on display, including a grotesque, monstrous rabbit and an out-of-control cartoon character that jumps off the TV screen and into the real world.  It's during these parts that you can tell this is just foreshadowing for Dante's next project, Gremlins.  Plus, like most Joe Dante films, veteran actor Dick Miller pops up in a small role as a diner employee.

Finally, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" takes the suspense and paranoia of the original and cranks the dial up to eleven.  Thought William Shatner in the original was paranoid?  John Lithgow's anxiety-ridden, manic behavior makes Shatner's take look mentally stable in comparison.  Given his fear of flying and uneasy composure, it's understandable that both the passengers and the crew doubt his claims that there's something on the wing of the plane trying to cause a crash by tearing off pieces and throwing them through the engine.

Speaking of which, the remakes takes what is an arguably goofy-looking creature and turns it into something that is most assuredly scary.  It's tall, slender, and has a wicked grin, indicating how much he enjoys causing mayhem.  It also knows how to do jump-scares right.  In the film's highlight, Valentine tries to get some rest to calm his nerves, but his curiosity tries to get the better of him, and when it does, he comes face-to-face with the beast itself, and in a split-second shot, his eyes bulge right out of his sockets.

Twilight Zone: The Movie is the very definition of a mixed bag.  Although it starts on a promising note, the first half leaves much to be desired, with one story that's a promising endeavor that is cut too short, and another that bores, a shame considering the person responsible for it.  The second half helps the film find its footing, yet one feels that the picture could have done more.  With only one original story and three that are retellings, Twilight Zone: The Movie doesn't quite live up to the pedigree of the series this film is based on.

Final Score: 5/10

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Drive-In of Terror II: Resident Evil VII: Biohazard (PS4)

In 1996, a genre that had received minor attention in the past became widely known by gamers when Resident Evil released for the PlayStation One, and that genre was survival horror.  Rather than focus on mowing down every single bad guy in sight, the focus of the survival horror genre lied within that word, survival.  Ammo and health were at a premium, and in many cases, it was best to avoid combat and focus on exploring your surroundings to look for keys and solve puzzles necessary for progression.  For a time, Resident Evil was the king of the genre, but things changed in 2005 with the release of Resident Evil 4, which brought action into the mix and shifted the perspective from fixed camera angles to an over-the-shoulder, third-person experience.

Fortunately, it retained many elements that made the previous games great, and its impact on the gaming industry is prevalent in many of today's third-person shooting titles.  Unfortunately, the next installments, Resident Evil 5 and Resident Evil 6, shifted away from scares and leaned more towards spectacle, with over-the-top set-pieces, exaggerated monsters, and protagonists so buff, they could punch boulders with their bare fists.  The future of the franchise was unclear after those two games, but in 2017, developer and publisher Capcom surprised everyone wit Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, a title that not only went back to basics, but still managed to shake the formula up via a new, first-person perspective.

Instead of focusing on the continuing adventures of series mainstays like Chris Redfield, Jill Valentine, or Leon S. Kennedy, the story follows Ethan Winters.  For the past three years, his wife Mia has been missing ever since she went out of town for business purposes.  One day, Ethan receives a video message from her, telling him to come find her.  He tracks her down to an abandoned house in a remote part of Louisiana, and though he does find Mia, Ethan also gets captured by a deranged family known as the Bakers, consisting of Jack, Marguerite, Lucas, and Zoe.  He's tied down and forced to eat disgusting food, but when a cop shows up and they split, Ethan takes the opportunity and frees himself.  With outside assistance from the daughter, Zoe, Ethan must save his wife Mia, find a way out of the Baker residence, and figure out what's going on.

It becomes apparent from the opening title screen that this is a different kind of Resident Evil.  Though there is the terror of having a psychopathic family and disgusting monsters to contend with, there's also an underlying sense of uneasiness that permeates itself into the dingy setting.  Jump scares are plentiful, such as one moment where the father, Jack Baker, bursts through a wall to try and catch Ethan, but the lack of music throughout much of the game, combined with the dilapidated conditions of many of the locales, instills inside the player the feeling that they're being watched by someone or something.

The story and direction of the game takes much inspiration from a multitude of American horror films including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Saw, and even the Evil Dead films via a few visual and audio references to that series.  The influence of The Texas Chainsaw can especially be seen in the Baker family, whose run-down house, Southern accents, and gruesome actions call to mind the Sawyer family from Tobe Hooper's classic  Despite sounding like it's striving to be a more realistic experience, this is still Resident Evil in more ways than one.  There are unusual monsters called the Molded that populate many of the locales, and as the game progresses, the reasons behind these creatures and the strange powers the family has are revealed to be the result of a corporation trying to weaponize an unusual being.  Plus, a certain individual from past games shows up in the final cutscene, yet who this person is I will not mention.

Eschewing the focus on action found in recent entries, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard goes back to survival horror, and is more the better because of it.  Ammo and inventory space are limited, and a larger focus is put on looking for keys and solving puzzles that will inch Ethan one step closer to freedom.  Along the way, the Bakers and the vicious Molded will try to halt his progress any way they can.  Besides the shift in gameplay style, the game is played from a first-person perspective, and the switch works since his movement and speed aren't as swift as characters in other first-person games, almost akin to the tank-like movement found in the the first three entries.

To assist Ethan, there are weapons he can acquire, including a handgun, shotgun, and an assault rifle late in the campaign.  As stated prior, though, ammo is at a premium, so when fighting the Molded, aim for the head, and if necessary, use the knife in close encounters.  Also, take advantage of blocking to reduce damage from enemy attacks.  However, the Bakers are a different story.  Each family member has their own methods and abilities they use to try and take Ethan down.  Jack chases after Ethan with a giant axe, Marguerite, his wife, can summon swarms of insects with her lantern, and Lucas, the son, relies on traps and puzzle rooms that kill their victim when solved correctly.  When it comes to Jack and Marguerite, the best you can do is sneak around them since taking them head-on is suicide, and when you are discovered, run.  Unfortunately, Lucas is never confronted due to reasons that are best left unexplained.

To better even the odds, it pays to explore the locales, as health, ammo, and other items are hidden across the Baker estate, along with a host of collectibles.  There's chemical fluid that can be fused with gunpowder or herbs to create bullets and healing liquid, as well as a stronger chemical to create powerful variations.  Additionally, searching around will also net Ethan old coins that can be put into special bird cages to unlock access to steroids, which increase his health, a stabilizer that can decrease reloading time, and a state-of-the-art magnum that is rare on ammunition.  The most interesting collectible, though, are the VHS tapes.  When put into a VCR, this shifts the perspective to one of the previous victims trapped at the Baker estate, and though they are optional, playing through them will help prepare yourself for what is to come in the campaign.

Although Resident Evil VII's combat and exploration are nail-biting and rewarding, the puzzles leave a little to be desired.  Often, it's a matter of finding an item and putting it in the right spot, or manipulating an object so that its shadow matches the figure of a painting, which opens a passageway when done right.  They're not bad, they're just lacking that extra kick the rest of the gameplay has, yet the best one is a scenario where stealing a shotgun from a statue closes the door behind you, but by finding a broken shotgun elsewhere, it can be replaced and voila, Ethan has a new boomstick.  Even better, there's a way to acquire the broken one, fix it, and receive a stronger shotgun for your hard work.

Resident Evil VII's creepy, atmospheric visual design does much to draw you into the dilapidated house and other locations that encompass the game.  Sound is solid, featuring good performances from the cast, except for Ethan, whose monotone voice feels out of place in context of many of the situations he finds himself in, and the music gets the job done, but doesn't stand out.

Scary, tense, and fun, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard puts the series back on track through challenging but immensely enjoyable survival horror gameplay that is enhanced via the new point-of-view.  Some elements leave a little to be desired, but this is a great entry that shows the series is still alive and kicking, and that it has a few tricks left up its sleeve.

Final Score: 9/10