Assassin’s Creed Loses Its Charm When The City Is No Longer The Star

A tale of true cities.

It took two hours to see the opening title of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, and just one more before I knew I was done with it. And that moment of realisation came at the most unlikely of moments – just as I stepped out of my longboat onto the shores of England, not far from where I spent the first eighteen years of my life . It’s not a common thing to have your actual home town in a video game when you’re from the Hampshire green belt, and I’d anticipated a more glowing reaction.

However, as I opened the map and saw the sprawl of space ahead of me, with the towns and icons dotted around the sparse rolling hills, I finally realised why Valhalla – or Odyssey or Origins before it – just had not clicked. And it took the mucky streets of Unity‘s Paris and Syndicate‘s London to bring it all into focus.

Continue reading “Assassin’s Creed Loses Its Charm When The City Is No Longer The Star”

(Re-)Review – Absolute Drift on Switch is still absolutely vital, and now also portable

I first reviewed Absolute Drift way back in the before-times of 2015 (when I was deep in my lead-with-an-almighty-anecdote phase, apparently) after having met developer Dune of Funselektor demoing his game at a stall in Vancouver’s Chinatown. It’s clear that I loved the game (if fact, it was pretty much love at first sight, from the beginning), and this love only grew stronger as I played it for hours on PC, then on PS4.

You can imagine my glee, then, when I saw the Switch version was incoming.

Absolute Drift is the perfect game for dipping in and relaxing after a hard day, so I was curious as to whether the port would capture that again. Well, thanks to a copy provider by the publisher, I can tell you that I’ve been back in its gloriously minimalist settings for the last week, and it is somehow better than ever.

Continue reading “(Re-)Review – Absolute Drift on Switch is still absolutely vital, and now also portable”

VAFF Review: ‘Secret Zoo’ is a great idea that falls a little flat

Secret Zoo

How do you save a zoo when you have no animals? ‘Secret Zoo”s answer to that central question – let’s dress up as animals and pretend – would be ideal fare for Edgar Wright or Shinichiro Ueda to turn into a heartfelt, zany adventure that builds to a glorious climax. Unfortunately, even though it’s a great concept with moments of brilliant execution, the frequent drops in pace serve just to tantalizingly dangle what might have been.

Continue reading “VAFF Review: ‘Secret Zoo’ is a great idea that falls a little flat”

VAFF Review: ‘Curtain Up!’ is a wonderful reminder of the vital importance of the arts

There’s some important context here: I trained as an actor, then director, then slipped into being a drama teacher for stage and screen. In the UK I taught young adults, but my first teaching job when I moved to Vancouver was at a Korean residential school. Here, I was one of a small team who had to teach performance skills to a throng of nine-year-old Korean kids, then direct them in a final performance (first The Wizard Of Oz, then High School Musical) for all their families. It was a wonderful, exhausting time, and there’s nothing to underline the absolute life-changing power of theatre then to watch young actors discover it in real time.

So go and watch ‘Curtain Up!‘, not just because it’s fantastic, but also because you’ll have a precise peek into that exact part of my life.

Continue reading “VAFF Review: ‘Curtain Up!’ is a wonderful reminder of the vital importance of the arts”

VAFF Review: ‘The Closet’ is a terrifying story of botched parenthood, told through a mix of genres

The Closet

From a very early point, you’re under no illusion as to what is going on in ‘The Closet‘, the first feature by Korean director Kwang-bin Kim. It’s common for other Korean horrors to slowly shuffle towards their true nature, hiding clues in events that could easily be passed off as coincidence. Not here; it’s no spoiler to tell you that the closet in question is an ethereal doorway through which a ghost possesses, then steals, an unhappy little girl. However, ‘The Closet‘ defies expectations by constantly weaving through related genres as it tells its story – horror, thriller, even comedy. It’s not until the final third do all these disparate pieces slot together, and the result is mostly satisfying.

Continue reading “VAFF Review: ‘The Closet’ is a terrifying story of botched parenthood, told through a mix of genres”

Review: ‘Scare Me’ is more hilarious than scary, but it has a sting too

Scare Me

I can’t do religious or mental horror. For whatever reason, I get no enjoyment at all from jump-scares, or possessions, or demonic interactions. So when I say I love horror movies – and I really, really do – I definitely mean those films that have an extra action or comedy element. For instance, I can’t wait to find time for my The Thing double-bill (2011 then 1982, for that glorious dog crossover), but I also really want to find space for Sam Raimi’s wonderfully entertaining Drag Me To Hell before Halloween is over.

I always have a little bit of trepidation when starting an unseen horror film – will it strike the right balance for me? So when I began Shudder’s Scare Me, I was wondering how far the premise would stretch before the scares came in. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried; if anything, Scare Me is much more placed as a dark comedy, but it is one that is unafraid to show its love for horror when it truly counts. It’s also one of the best films you could choose to watch for Halloween.

Continue reading “Review: ‘Scare Me’ is more hilarious than scary, but it has a sting too”

Oculus Quest 2 is an incredible leap into an untethered VR future, but at what cost?

Oculus Quest 2

It’s hard to properly capture how amazing it is to slip into Oculus Quest 2’s alternative dimension. I’ve owned and play a plethora of VR headsets over the years – from the second iteration of the Oculus Rift years ago at an expo, where the blurry Godzilla-style city smashing game made me sick to my stomach in seconds, through to my own Gear VR, Oculus Go, and PSVR. Each has dangled the promise of VR immersion, but with enough caveats (overheating, low resolution, screen door effect, clunky setups) to stop them from realising the medium’s potential.

So it’s with a mixture of triumph and trepidation that I can tell you, after two days with the newly-released Oculus Quest 2, the dream is finally here. Triumph, because it not only removes those lingering issues but its cable-free, high framerate/resolution experience exceeds even your highest expectations. The store is packed with great games and experiences. Digital delivery is quick and easy.

But trepidation because this is very much a Facebook machine, in ways you maybe hadn’t anticipated, which could very well outweigh its incredible potential.

Continue reading “Oculus Quest 2 is an incredible leap into an untethered VR future, but at what cost?”

VIFF Review: ‘The Town Of Headcounts’ is a bleak, brutal comment on control

The Town of Headcounts

George Orwell’s 1984 has somehow become even more meaningful in the last few years, as those who clearly think it had a happy ending extend their reach through deception and deceit. Its central message has been updated and traced several times onto the current issues of many places. Yet somehow, Shinji Araki’s The Town Of Headcounts uses this same template in a fresh way to paint a metaphor of life in Japan that is as relevant a statement on Japanese culture as Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite was to Korean. The end result is a brutal, shocking parable that will stick in your mind long after the credits have rolled.

Continue reading “VIFF Review: ‘The Town Of Headcounts’ is a bleak, brutal comment on control”

VIFF Review: Beauty Water’s message gets lost in a weak narrative

Beauty Water

Beauty Water‘s central premise holds so much promise for shining a light on the dangerous popularity for constructive surgery among young women. Especially in the film’s native South Korea, women are increasingly putting themselves through regular procedures to attain a vision of beauty incessantly targeted at them from both local and foreign media representations. The idol business is booming, further increasing the pressure. So it’s a real shame that Beauty Water elevates this idea with some significant body horror, only to throw it away with a weak script and inability to focus on the issues in any depth.

Continue reading “VIFF Review: Beauty Water’s message gets lost in a weak narrative”

VIFF Review: ‘Special Actors’ will leave you with a feeling of pure, unpretentious, happiness.

Special Actors

It’s not often Matt and I both feel compelled to review the exact same film for the site. In fact, it’s only happened once before, with 2012’s Skyfall prompting two different Bond takes. It takes something truly special for us to feel compelled to both write about it.

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Shinichiro Ueda’s Special Actors.

Continue reading “VIFF Review: ‘Special Actors’ will leave you with a feeling of pure, unpretentious, happiness.”

Game Review: Carrion is a slippery, skittering delight

Carrion

That horrible feeling that sometimes follows a decent mid-afternoon nap – who am I, where am I, where is everyone – is the starting point for Carrion. Except here you need to add what am I, as your first action is to slop across the floor in a clot of slopping tendrils, with a tiny razor-lined mouth in a perpetual silent scream. And that feeling never fades, instead driving you forward with a singular motivation: get out. 

Continue reading “Game Review: Carrion is a slippery, skittering delight”

Simon’s Favourite Films & Games of 2019

Best of 2019

As 2019 gradually fades into obscurity, it’s time for my yearly tradition of somehow ranking subjective experiences. This year is easier for me, though, as my free time has virtually disappeared (as you can probably tell from my complete lack of writing). As a result, I’m no longer diving deep into complicated experiences until they yield their goods. My metric is simple – is this fun? Does it inspire me? Does it make me feel? And if the answer is no – from a really early point – then it gets pushed aside.

Movies are easier to get through thanks to a much shorter time commitment than a game, so instead, they just get thrown in the outbox. My list of games, though, is more an example of the need for good design throughout – and how a jump in style can put me off forever. So let’s take a look!

Continue reading “Simon’s Favourite Films & Games of 2019”

VIFF Review: Feminist Live Reads ‘Some Like It Hot’ has women playing men playing women (and totally rocks it)

Feminist Live Reads: Some Like It Hot / VIFF 2019

Sitting comfortably alongside VIFF for a number of years, Feminist Live Reads reaches through the fourth wall to give an even more intimate experience to the moviegoer set. And their love letter tonight to ‘Some Like It Hot’ was part live theatre, part jazz performance, all brought together by some of the most versatile women you’ll ever hear tearing through Billy Wilder’s electric script.

Continue reading “VIFF Review: Feminist Live Reads ‘Some Like It Hot’ has women playing men playing women (and totally rocks it)”