From a pet bear and a mummified mummy to smallpox pandemics and rumours of equine coitus; the events in the deliriously decadent period piece The Great, starring Elle Fanning as Catherine The Great and Nicholas Hoult as her husband Emperor Peter III, couldn’t possibly be true. Could they?
Generally speaking, childhood is an unfathomable nightmare full of dark mystery and morbid misunderstanding. See, when you’re a kid, you don’t understand how the world works, don’t fully grasp the insidious banality that infects the human condition, so you tend to view things in the shadowy, mysterious manner of a creepy fairy tale.
Game devs, Tarsier Studios, know this only too well. It’s why their previous title Little Nightmares was so effective at getting under your skin and lowkey spooking you out. They continue this proud and rather morbid tradition with Little Nightmares 2, a sequel that maintains its predecessor’s quality but perhaps doesn’t innovate as much as one might like.
Plot-wise, Little Nightmares 2 is light on detail and heavy on atmosphere. You play a masked boy named Mono who needs to wend his way through poorly-lit, scary as hell environments, solving light puzzles under duress. Sometimes you’ll come across terrifying adult characters, all of whom want to kill you, and either flee from them or kill/trap them in some fashion. Shortly after the beginning of the tale, you’ll join up with Six (the protagonist from the first game) and she will assist you along the way.
Over the four or so hours of play, Little Nightmares 2 sustains a genuinely uncomfortable, eerie vibe that becomes increasingly twisted and warped, particularly in the final third. The puzzles themselves are serviceable, although occasionally a bit repetitive, and the ending appropriately dark, but it’s the little details and genuinely imaginative monsters that remain with you after the credits roll.
One creature in fact – a squawking schoolteacher beast whose neck extends endlessly like “Sweet Henrietta” from Evil Dead 2 – is easily the most disturbing creature you will see this year, certainly a scarier proposition than most recent movie monsters. So, if your loins are sufficiently girded for discomfort, and you’re okay with the relatively short length, Little Nightmares 2 offers a grim and disturbing look back at the dark side of being a confused, lost child haunted by things beyond understanding.
Everyone's favourite movie encyclopedia, Leonard Maltin speaks with Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino and Andy Garcia via zoom, proving once again, that even the best of them can look pretty average living la vida covid.
After a series of popular genre efforts such as Solomon Kane and Silent Hill: Revelation, followed by a steady stream of episodic work on the likes of Strike Back, Iron Fist and Power, MJ returns to movies with a project that combines her knack for thrilling action with a message about conservation that is close to her heart.
Somewhere during the Assassin’s Creed series’ 20-something games, your humble reviewer found himself checking out of the series. Not completely, mind you. There were still highpoints. 2013’s Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag was a good ‘un and 2015’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was not without its charms, however the emphasis on janky combat over stealthy assassinations, of vast but oddly repetitive environments over smaller but more detailed locations, and the increasingly level-gated content, that all but required seemingly endless grinding (looking at you AC: Origins and Odyssey) put the series firmly in the “it’s just not for me” basket. It’s a surprise then, that Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, despite suffering from some of the above-listed afflictions (but we’ll get to that later) has gone down as easy as a frosty horn of mead and a cheerful after-dinner pillage.
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla tells the story of Eivor, a young (female or male, player’s choice) viking in AD 873 who leaves Norway to establish new lands in Anglo-Saxon England. Eivor is joined by bestie, and would-be king, Sigurd, his wife Randvi and a host of other Nordic chums, all with their own personalities and agendas. Over the course of the 60-something hour adventure, friends will become enemies, enemies will become friends and – of course – a mysterious ancient order of “Hidden Ones” will appear, giving the meta story its contractually mandated due. The thing is, the story is a really good one. Eivor is an intriguing lead and the RPG-light style of choices with consequences you’ll come across, add a new layer of player agency to the proceedings. This means, you’ll likely find yourself genuinely invested in the story, particularly in the relationship between Eivor and Siguard, a pairing that in true Shakespearean tradition, appears doomed from the beginning thanks to an early prophetic dream. In fact, the experience of playing the game feels a bit like binging a season of a surprisingly decent historical drama, even if some of the beats are a tad predictable.
In practical terms, Valhalla’s combat feels more grounded than Odyssey, with a pleasing sense of brutality and viciousness that feels appropriate for the subject matter. As vikings, you will pillage monasteries, burn enemies’ houses and flog anything shiny that isn’t tied down, which at the very least is a little morally ambiguous. You’ll forge alliances with various factions in England, performing tasks and solving problems, and slowly upgrade your homebase as you seek more and more power. It’s engaging, exciting stuff, which is somewhat undone by the ubiquitous Ubisoft second act that just drags on a bit too long. Other less than positive wrinkles are the bugs that, while tolerable, feel a bit out of place in a full price AAA game. Nothing breaks immersion like watching your horse fly off into the distance like a rapidly deflating equine dirigible.
Still and all, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is a big return to form for the series. A fascinating period of history gorgeously realised in a massive, expansive – but nuanced – environment with a solid story and intriguing characters. If you’re even vaguely interested in viking culture, and can handle a bit of grit and gore, Valhalla is a worthy longship ride into glory.
Creating a game that becomes a huge hit is a blessing and a curse. Just ask Supermassive Games, who are responsible for the very unexpectedly successful Until Dawn. See, Until Dawn gave players the chance to essentially direct their own slasher movie, attempting to save the likable characters, to kill the annoying ones and see what impact their decisions would have. It was a hoot of a game, particularly effective when played half drunk with your mates peppered around the loungeroom, and it was inevitable more of the type would be made. The first of these “Dark Pictures Anthology” games was Man of Medan, which had its moments but was undone by a rather pedestrian third act twist. The latest iteration is Little Hope and while it has its charms, unfortunately it’s not quite the classic it needs to be to get this series back on track.
Little Hope tells the tale of five characters who, after a bus crash, find themselves trapped in the creepy hamlet from which this game gets its name. Little Hope is a town with a dark past, involving witch trials, murder and all manner of macabre shenanigans, many of which you’ll experience as flashbacks, jump scares and dream sequences. This is prime material for a horror yarn, and the early minutes of the game are intriguing, however, as the story wears on, a lack of structure and identity creep in.
Until Dawn worked because it was mostly set in a creepy abandoned ski resort and large house. Man of Medan worked (up until the end at least) because it was mostly taking place on an abandoned boat. Little Hope has some good moments, but utilising a whole town in the context of a story like this feels too vague and formless. Similarly, the voice acting feels oddly disengaged and inconsistent, with even good actors like Will Poulter sounding wooden and listless in their delivery.
That’s not to say that there isn’t fun to be had in Little Hope. Remember that loungeroom with your mates scenario? That remains delightfully fun, you can even do online co-op which is dandy with a headset handy. However, a game like this shouldn’t require the addition of boozy sarcasm to be fun or scary, and sadly, it’s just not all that engaging a narrative.
Visually gorgeous, sonically okay, occasionally spooky but just too inconsistent, Little Hope is serviceable but more of a reminder of the lighting-in-a-bottle experience that was Until Dawn.