Monday, September 24, 2018

007: Everything or Nothing (PlayStation 2) Review

1997's Goldeneye 007 for the Nintendo 64 is regarded as one of the greatest first-person-shooters of all time and for many is the best game based off the James Bond films.  The fun single-player campaign combined with the hectic split-screen multiplayer solidified the game's status in the years to come.  Although plenty of Bond games have come out in the intervening years, none have really managed to outshine the Nintendo 64 shooter.  They've been good, mostly, but as they say, nothing can't beat the original.  Enter 007: Everything or Nothing.  Released in 2004 for the PlayStation 2, Nintendo Gamecube, and Xbox, this third-person-shooter, for me personally, is the best Bond game ever made, so let's find out why.

After an opening prologue in which James Bond steals a Soviet device about to be sold off in a secret meeting between two rival nations, the game begins proper with the secret agent infiltrating a research facility in Egypt.  The place is run by terrorists who have kidnapped a scientist who created nanobots that are capable of repairing nuclear reactors.  He destroys the facility and saves the girl, who is being held on an armored train; afterwards, Bond is sent to Peru to investigate the whereabouts of agent 003.  The agent is being held captive by Nikolai Diavolo, a former KGB student who was also a student of Max Zorin, the villain from the James Bond movie A View to a Kill.  Diavolo wounds 003 and escapes, and before dying, 003 tells Bond Diavolo is heading to New Orleans.

Once he's thwarted the villain's attempt to destroy the levees surrounding New Orleans using the reverse-engineered nanobots, Bond heads back to Peru and infiltrates Diavolo's mansion posing as a rally-car driver.  One things leads to another, and Bond discovers Diavolo plans on using the nanobots to destroy the Kremlin, take over Russia, and eventually all of Europe.  With the help of a geologist he met prior, the British secret agent must find a way to stop Diavolo's diabolical plan before it's too late.

Rappelling off burning office buildings is nothing compared
to what happens later.

If you thought Agent Under Fire's story was a bit out there, well you ain't seen nothing yet.  Killing world leaders and replacing them with clones is one thing, but a story where the former student of a dead Bond villain wants to take over Europe using NANOMACHINES, SON, goes a bit too far.  The ridiculous nature of the plot feels like an extension of the over-the-top nonsense seen in the 2002 film Die Another Day, but since this is a video game, the crazy set-up the developers devised is excusable.

Look past the nonsensical narrative and the game itself looks, feels, and sounds like a proper Bond adventure.  The voice cast is brimming with star power, as it includes Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, John Cleese, and Willem Dafoe, who plays Diavolo, and the sound and art direction are incredible.  Plus, the game's set-piece moments are truly something to behold.  You'll chase down a speeding, armored train as it barrels through the Saharan desert, infiltrate a nightclub in New Orleans, and freefall off a cliff-side to prevent a woman from falling to her death.  It's breath-taking stuff, to say the least.

Eschewing the first-person-shooter formula found in previous games, Everything or Nothing is a third-person-shooter, and the change in perspective has resulted in a drastic overhaul to combat, gadgets, and the level design.  Just like in modern third-person-shooters, James Bond can crouch behind or stand in front of objects for cover.  To aim at enemies, you hold at L1, which locks on to the nearest foe, and fire away.  A targeting reticule lets you choose where you want to shoot someone once locked on to them.  Truth be told, if you've ever played Grand Theft Auto IV, the aiming system will feel familiar.

Combat's bigger emphasis on using cover means the enemies have received a considerable increase in intelligence and lethality.  No longer are they idiots like in Agent Under Fire.  In that game, their poor intelligence meant you could breeze through missions with tease, even on higher difficulties, not the case here.  Goons in this game will take cover, flank Bond, try to flush him out with grenades, and just do their best to be a nuisance.  They'll even run over and pick up weapons off of dead allies and are even capable of disarming Bond if he's too close.  Adding to the challenge is the revamped health system.  Bullets can take away a lot more health than in prior games, so if you're not careful, death will be swift.  However, making good use of the secret agent's weapons and gadgets can make things easier.


There are a number of guns to acquire in each mission, including pistols, shotguns, submachine guns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, and a rocket launcher for good measure.  Ammo is at a premium, though, and given the increase in challenge, it's best not to run-and-gun.  Later on, a dart gun is added to Bond's arsenal that can knock out foes, but its range and ammo capacity is extremely limited.  This weapon is most useful during stealth sections.  Speaking of which, many levels give you the option to use stealth or do things loud and noisy, except for one level that's an instant mission failure if you get spotted.

Since this is a Bond game, there are gadgets to use.  Gadgets include a grappling hook for climbing walls or rappelling off them, a cloaking device that renders Bond invisible for a short period of time, grenades shaped like coins, a network tap that lets him hack nearby turrets, and Q-spiders.  These small robots can be used to explore what's ahead or reach areas Bond himself can't reach.  The previously mentioned coin grenades come in explosive, strobe, and EMP variants.  Using gadgets is a great way to gain the drop on enemies or to discover hidden goods like ammo and armor.  Bond moments, an in-game achievement system found in Agent Under Fire, is back, and many of the accomplishments are either easy to get or are a bit elaborate to pull off.  For example, in one of the later stages you can send a Q-spider to an area you won't visit until the final level.  If you kill the guard after he opens the door to an armory, it can be accessed later when you're on the last stage.

007: Everything or Nothing is a blast.  The third-person-shooting is great, the levels are a lot more elaborate and filled with plenty of alternate routes, and it's just a thrilling experience from beginning to end, but it's not perfect.  The lock-on system is iffy; sometimes, pressing the lock-on button when a bad guy is near doesn't register or locks on to the wrong target, which is annoying.  The checkpoints aren't evenly spaced out, either, making some of the end-game stages a bit of a hassle to complete since dying puts you back at the beginning of the level.  It's also a short game, not as short as Agent Under Fire, but the campaign will only take four-to-five hours.  Yet, a ranking system in the campaign and local multiplayer, which includes both co-op and competitive options, help extend the game's longevity.

Though the game was released in 2004, it still looks fantastic.  Environments and character models look great, and the scope and size of many locales allows for some breathtaking views.  Sound is also excellent.  As stated before, the voice-acting is top-notch and the cast features many of the actors from the films like Pierce Brosnan and Judi Dench, even Richard Kiel, better known for playing the henchman Jaws, reprises the role, with metal-toothed behemoth acting as Diavolo's right-hand man.  The game's music is also great.  It's cinematic, bombastic, and it keeps things rolling in high gear, and there's even an original song created for this game called "Everything or Nothing" by singer Mya.


As I've said before in plenty of other Bond game reviews, the James Bond series is one of my favorite film franchises of all time.  However, when it comes to video games starring the secret agent, Everything or Nothing is my all-time favorite.  Sure, the story is a bit bonkers, but there's no denying that it sports the high production value of the films, what with its stellar voice cast and visuals.  Fortunately, the developers didn't skimp on the gameplay either.  The switch to third-person means the game is less run-and-gun and puts more of an emphasis on taking cover, but not to the point of making the combat tedious.  A wide arsenal of guns and inventive gadgets helps keep the gameplay fun, as does the varied and frenetic roster of missions.  Some people say Goldeneye 007 is the best Bond game ever, but in my book, it's this game.

Final Score: 8/10

Monday, September 17, 2018

Coming Soon to a Screen Near You

They say he can't be killed.  No matter how hard they try, he finds a way to come back.  Time and time again, whenever it seems like writer's block or fatigue from the real-world sets end him once and for all, he shows them that he's not finished.  Reviewing games and movies is a dirty job, and someone's got to do it.

Welcome to Drive-In of Terror 3: Dream Warriors, hosted by the macabre maniac himself, William Lowery.  Join me this October for back-to-back reviews of horror movies and games.  This year's grisly selection of films will focus on the one of the icons of horror, John Carpenter.  We'll take a ride in Christine to go get some Silver Shamrock masks, take a blood test to see if I'm a Thing, and avoid the fog while doing so.  Plus, we've got games to chill you to the bone, including a video-game sequel to The Thing, two Resident Evil titles, and Dead Rising 4: Frank's Big Package.

In addition to a dose of terror every Wednesday and Friday in October, you can also expect two VHS Revival-exclusive reviews during the month of frights, as well as an interview with Lee McCoy, creator of the Youtube horror channel Drumdums.

So, sit back, grab a Dr. Pepper for the late Tobe Hooper, and grow a mustache like Tom Atkins as we prepare ourselves for Drive-In of Terror 3: Dream Warriors!


The Predator (2018) Review

In 1987, director John McTiernan made Predator.  What starts out as a masochistic action film quickly morphs into an intergalactic version of The Most Dangerous Game as an alien from a far-away planet hunts and picks off a team of military commandos until only one member of the unit is left.  Exciting, tense, and an all-around blast, Predator has gone on to be regarded as a classic of both the action and science-fiction genres.  Three years later, a sequel arrived in the form of Predator 2, which added more gadgets for the Predator to use, a metropolis for it to cause havoc in, and a healthy heaping of Danny Glover, Gary Busey, and the late, great Bill Paxton mixed into the chaos.

For twenty years, the series laid dormant, not accounting for a pair of cross-over movies with the Alien franchise and a slew of merchandise that came out as well, but in 2010, we got Predators.  Gone was the city setting; instead, it was back to the jungle, albeit on a place far away from Earth, and stuck on the rock was a gang of individuals with nothing in common, except for being cold-blooded killers.  This year, everyone's favorite dreadlock-sporting alien returns with The Predator, released on Friday, September 14.  In the director's chair for this go-around is Shane Black, who starred in the original and has had a successful writing and directing career.  So, what could go wrong?  Well...


On a hostage-rescue mission in Mexico, a sniper (Boyd Holbrook) and his team are attacked by a Predator, whose ship crashed not too far from where they are.  The alien wipes out most of the unit, except for the sniper, who manages to incapacitate the Predator.  He steals the creature's gear and sends it to his P.O. Box back in America, but not long after doing this, government agents find and arrest him.  The equipment makes its way back to where he lives, and his autistic son, Rory (Jacob Tremblay), takes the package to his room and begins to examine the contents.  One of the devices he activates emits a signal that alerts a Predator that had been following the one from the beginning, so he makes is way to Earth. 

Elsewhere, Quinn, Rory's father, is interrogated by the government, who are keeping the Predator from earlier in a research facility.  He's put on a transport bus filled with soldiers that were all detained for various reasons, but the vehicle doesn't make it too far since the Predator breaks free, goes on a rampage, and escapes.  Quinn and the soldiers take control of the bus, bringing along a researcher named Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) that was chasing the escaped alien.  They make their way to Quinn's hometown to save his son, who is ambushed a pair of dog Predators.  The gang saves him, but not before they run into the Predator, who is confronted by the Super Predator that has just arrived.  The Super Predator kills the fugitive alien before setting its sight on the group, who are in possession of the stolen alien tech.


As the fourth installment in the franchise, sixth if you include the cross-overs, The Predator attempts to deepen the mythology of the series by exploring why the alien race comes to Earth to hunt.  While an interesting idea on paper, the results are far from good.  The movie reveals the Predators have been harvesting DNA from other species in an attempt to better their own kind, as well as to create special hybrids.  What could have opened up the possibility for crazy, new takes on the Predators falls flat on its face.  Aside from the introduction of Predator dogs, there aren't any other weird monstrosities for the humans to take on, but wasted potential is far from the movie's main problem.  Let's start with pacing.

Too often, the movie jumps from one location to the next, with not much context as to what the current setting is.  New characters show up, only to disappear and never be seen again.  There's a recurring contrivance of people leaving, only to reappear a few minutes later with something necessary to further the journey.  Never are we shown how they manage to obtain what they need, which comes off as lazy.  About two-thirds of the way in The Predator, a few of the group members leave to find a means of transportation so they can continue their pursuit of the government bad guys.  While this happens, a shoot-out takes place between the good guys and bad guys, and when it's over, the ones who left have returned with a news chopper they found who knows where.

The cast themselves is a mixed bag.  Quinn, leader of the ragtag team, is a good enough hero, but the standout is the group of soldiers he teams up with.  What sets them apart from your normal action protagonists is that they're mentally damaged in different ways.  Some have been detained for committing crimes, while others suffer from mental illnesses like PTSD and Tourette's syndrome.  The problem is that the writing and direction of the flick diminishes these misfits to nothing more than a group of chatterboxes who don't know when to shut up.

Comedy takes center stage in The Predator, which is surprising for a series of films about an intergalactic alien that collects human skulls as trophies; unfortunately, it's not good.  Dialogue is loaded to the brim with quips, quips, and more quips.  Whenever a character isn't delivering exposition, they're making a snarky remark.  Too often, these scenes where the protagonists banter back and forth trading jokes drag on longer than they should, and it diminishes any tension or dread in later scenes featuring the Predator or Super Predator killing people.

Going back to the cast, next is Rory.  Similar to the Loonies, Rory suffers from a mental illness, in this case autism, which is fine, but given how we learn the Predators are trying to become the ultimate species by harvesting lesser ones, why go after someone who has an ailment?  I understand that the Super Predator realizes the kid is a secret genius, but wouldn't harvesting his DNA in turn afflict his own kind with autism once he returned back to his home planet?  It would have made more since to have Quinn be the target of interest, given how he's quite adept at combat and too knows how to use Predator tech.
When there's no one left to turn to, maybe you can call...
The B-Team!

All of these issues with the story, writing, and characters reach their breaking point during the film's third act.  For the next thirty minutes, the audience is treated to a poor-man's retread of Predator as Quinn, his son, the Loonies, Bracket, and the surviving government agents are hunted down by the Super Predator in the woods.  In very predictable fashion, most of the cast is picked off until only a few individuals are left.  This sequence lacks any suspense whatsoever, given its rushed nature, and in keeping with tradition, one of them disappears for a few minutes, only to reappear at the last minute to help stop the villainous Predator.  Adding salt to the already gaping wound is the ending.  I won't say much, but if you've ever heard of The Guyver, you'll be ready for one of the dumbest moments in cinematic history.

In spite of everything discussed, The Predator is not a total loss.  Effects-wise, the movie looks good.  The highlight effect is the regular Predator seen in the first half of the film.  It's brought to life with practical effects, no CGI whatsoever, and it's amazing to watch in action, especially during the scene where it makes its escape.  On the other hand, the Super Predator was created with CG, and though not as impressive as the one made with practical effects, the creature looks alright, but some of the visual effects can get sloppy, especially during the third act.  Another highlight is the score done by Henry Jackson.  The music draws much inspiration from Alan Silvestri's work in the first two Predator movies, and it's great, it's just a shame the soundtrack is attached to a movie not so good.

Before I conclude this review, I want to address an elephant in the room regarding the making of The Predator.  For those who don't know, a good portion of the movie was re-shot prior to the film's release.  As a result, a lot of scenes devoted to fleshing out the characters and plot were swept under the rug, so much so the third act you see in the final product is different from what had originally been shot.  Remember how I mentioned the film doesn't really utilize the hybrid concept they set up?  Well, the original plan was to have the gang chase down the Super Predator, and during this sequence, the big, bad alien sends out failed hybrid test subjects to throw them off.  Sounds cool, right? Fox didn't think so.
It's got practical effects, so 10/10.

It's debatable whether or not the stuff was cut could have improved the movie.  The dialogue, especially the humor, would still be very hit-or-miss, but at least the ideas and crazy moments planned could have made for a more unique and entertaining picture than what we got.  At the end of the day, The Predator is an underwhelming flick.  What should be a return to form for the series feels instead like a half-baked product.  The story is nonsensical, haphazard, and all over the place, and the characters leave a lot to be desired.  The effects may look nice and the score is well-done, but it isn't enough to save a movie too dumb for its own good.  The Predator is less a proper entry in the series and more akin to a straight-to-video knock off.

Final Score: 4/10

Monday, September 10, 2018

007: Agent Under Fire (PlayStation 2) Review

Licensed video games are hit-and-miss.  The idea seems simple, take a popular brand and a make video game both fans of the franchise and the general public will enjoy, but 75 percent of the time, licensed titles are rushed, poorly made experiences that are more of a cash-grab than a genuine effort.  James Bond is one of the lucky few where the good games far outweigh the bad ones.  There have been duds, including 007 Legends and Goldeneye: Rogue Agent, but the rest of them are pretty good, or at least decent.  Is 007: Agent Under Fire a view to a kill, or should we just let it live and let die?

James Bond is dispatched by MI6 to Hong Kong to investigate the whereabouts of CIA agent Zoe Nightshade.  She had been looking into the business practices of Identicon Corporation before she disappeared.  Bond discovers Nightshade is being held captive by the company's CEO, Nigel Block, but he later saves her and the two escape, taking a mysterious briefcase with them.  After fleeing from Bloch's goons, they head to the docks to meet with R, head of MI6's technology department, but just as they arrived, and assassin pulls up and fires a rocket launcher, killing Nightshade and stealing the briefcase.

After retrieving the case from the assassin's henchman, Bond learns the case held blood samples from eight world leaders.  Later in the game, it's revealed Nigel Bloch is working with Malprave, a woman who intends to kidnap the eight world leaders, kill them, and replace them with clones.  Bond also discovers Zoe Nightshade is still alive, and that the one he rescued was a clone.  With the help of MI6 and the CIA, James Bond attempts to thwart Bloch and Malprave's plan before it's too late.

Wait a minute, you're not Remington Steele!

Agent Under Fire's story isn't mind-blowing by any means, but it gets the job done.  It offers everything you would expect from a typical James Bond adventure.   You can expect lots of action, crazy gadgets, fast cars, and equally fast women.  The cast of characters is forgettable, with the exception being James Bond.  He's just as witty, charming, and suave as he is in the films, plus he knows when to deliver a pun-filled quip when needed.  It should be noted the developers didn't have the rights to the likeness or voice of Pierce Brosnan, the actor who played Bond around this time, so they use a generic model who looks an awful lot like Sterling Archer.

Agent Under Fire features twelve levels of shooting, stealth, driving, and explosions galore.  Before you even start playing the game, it's best recommended to change the controls as the default set-up is quite awkward.  The button and control stick placement attempt to mimic Goldeneye 007's controls, albeit on a PlayStation 2 controller, which doesn't work.  Fortunately, additional options allow you to use a more modern set-up.

Each level has a handful of objective for Bond to complete, along with an army of goons to take on.  The game's objectives involve gamers doing things like gather evidence, rescue hostages, or sabotage the villains' schemes.  Some missions require the player to use stealth or non-lethal weapons to take out enemies, and if you're caught or kill someone, it's an instant mission fail.  Fortunately, the game features a slew of firearms and gadgets to get the job done.


Bond can wield pistols, shotguns, machine guns, sniper rifles, and more.  During stealth missions, the secret agent receives a tranquilizer gun with limited ammo.  There's no limit as to how many guns you can pick up, so feel free to amass a huge stockpile.  Bond will also receive gadgets from R to complete objectives and get past obstacles.  Gadgets include a cell-phone outfitted with various devices like a decoder which unlocks doors, a laser-cutter for burning off locks, a camera for taking pictures, and a grappling hook for latching on to vents.  Later missions equip Bond with a jetpack that acts like a super-jump, and when it's out of fuel, you'll have to find fuel stations to refuel it.

Gunplay works well, but it's a bit iffy.  The bullet spread for assault rifles and SMGs is a bit ridiculous, as they can easily spread all over the place if you're not using burst-fire.  Not helping matters is that the game really loves auto-aim, since the reticule will frequently lock on to nearby foes.  Agent Under Fire isn't too challenging, even on higher difficulty levels, making firefights a cinch to complete.  In addition to shooting, Bond will partake in on-rails shooting sections and stages where he drives around the level, blowing up bad guys and accomplishing objectives.  These parts are lots of fun and help spice up the gameplay, and the driving areas feature plenty of opportunities to gain major airtime.

One element that gives the game a bit of uniqueness is its scoring system.  At the end of each mission, the player receives points based on factors like how long it took to complete the mission, number of foes killed, and Bond moments accomplished.  Bond moments are in-game achievements rewarded by doing something James Bond might do.  For example, at the start of the first mission there are two ways to get in.  You can either use the decoder to unlock the door or use the grappling hook to get up to the roof, the latter of which lets you get the drop on a guard and steal his keycard to unlock a weapons armory.

Another way to earn a Bond moment happens at the end of a later level.  In it, Bond finds a submarine, along with Zoe Nightshade.  If you found the sub codes earlier in the stage, he commandeers the sub and shags Nightshade, but if you didn't, the two are knocked out by gas and the next stage starts with them locked in a jail cell.  Agent Under Fire is an enjoyable shooter, but it's also criminally short.  All of the stages take around five to ten minutes to complete, so you can easily beat the game in about three hours.  The ranking system and numerous unlockable extras provide incentive to replay the missions but getting all the bonuses only takes about a couple of hours.  Besides the campaign, there's also split-screen multiplayer, but I wasn't able to test it.

Little did these henchman twins
know what they were in for...

At the time of its release, the game looked decent visually, but it hasn't aged well.  The environments are varied and sport a nice artistic direction, but the graphics themselves look a bit jagged and the frame-rate takes a dip whenever there's too much action going on.  Voice acting is alright, and the music is decent.  It borrows a lot of motifs from the films and gets the job done, with the highlight being the always great Bond theme.

007: Agent Under Fire is a serviceable but competent shooter.  It has all of the elements necessary for a quality shooter, but the whole thing feels routine.  The weapon and gadget selection are varied, and the scoring system provides incentive to replay earlier stages in the pursuit of a better ranking.  However, you're left with a feeling of emptiness due to its short length.  Once the game starts, it's over in a flash.  It's like a dry martini that is neither shaken nor stirred, good enough, but leaves you wanting more.

Final Score: 6/10