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Devil May Cry 5

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Video games, as a medium, have evolved so far beyond their earliest forms. What once existed as a brief diversion, an amusing gimmick, has now attained levels of sophistication impossible to have imagined even a couple of decades ago. Titles like God of War (https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/god-of-war-2/) and Red Dead Redemption 2 (https://www.filmink.com.au/reviews/red-dead-redemption-2/) have raised the storytelling bar so high, legitimising video games as an art form capable of nuance, pathos and depth. All that being said… sometimes it’s fun to just beat the shit out of a bunch of demons, hey. Sometimes it feels good to unleash colourful carnage on deserving foes and look good while doing so. Devil May Cry 5 scratches that particular itch like an itch-scratching pro.

Devil May Cry 5 is the latest installment in the strange but stylish series from the good people at Capcom. Although the series was rebooted with DmC: Devil May Cry in 2013, this is a direct sequel to Devil May Cry 4 which dropped in 2008. Confused? Of course you are, but to be honest, familiarity with the series is an optional extra at this stage. Because what Devil May Cry is about, and has always been about, is spectacular action, and oh good (Dark) Lord does this game deliver.

Practically, you’ll be playing as one of three rotating characters. There’s Nero, the arrogant youngster with interchangeable arm attachments; Dante, the classic demon slayer with sword and guns; and V – the lanky, tattooed emo newbie – who can’t actually fight himself but commands a demonic bird, big cat and enormous golem. He also reads poetry to amp up his dark powers and no, we’re not even joking. These three characters have vastly different play styles, unlockable skills and alternate weapons. Even completionists are going to have a hard time experiencing every single trick of the trade during a single playthrough, which is where Devil May Cry 5’s “Son of Sparda” mode comes in handy, basically the title’s version of NG+.

This trio of unlikely friends travel through a pretty ordinary story, that time jumps a little too much for its own good, but essentially the narrative is a delivery system for action scenes. And the action is buttery, fast-paced, exciting, visually spectacular and original. The sheer feeling of unbridled glee as you tear a motorbike in half and smack fools as Dante, or ride your own rocket arm as Nero or leap atop your golem and curb stomp some evil, is genuinely wonderful. After a slew of excellent, but deliberately-paced story-based games, it’s a rare joy to just shut up and fight.

Devil May Cry 5 is, quite simply, a fantastic action game. The story is threadbare, the dialogue frequently appalling, and geez it would have been nice to have a playable female character along with all the NPC eye candy, hey Capcom? But all those concerns will evaporate like a demon’s freshly-slaughtered corpse when the aggressive metal cranks up and the next pulse-pounding blue begins. Slick, gorgeous and utterly addictive, Devil May Cry 5 is a terrific ball-tearing action extravaganza of ultraviolence and chaos and one not to be missed.

 
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Trials Rising

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The Trials games are weird, narky little titles that absolutely should not work and yet somehow, against all odds, do. The premise is thus: you’re a little 2D bloke (or lady) and you ride a motorbike through increasingly evil courses involving the need for speed, precision, stunt skills and nerves of steel. The tracks get harder and more elaborate and the player gets sweaty and more frustrated, until you either run out of tracks (unlikely) or rage quit (extremely likely).

And yet despite obviously being a lower budget title, with 2D courses and occasional moments of graphical glitching, Trials games are utterly compelling. Trials Rising, the latest incarnation, is no exception to the rule and in fact features some of the cleverest, most devious and darkly diabolical courses in the series’ history. You’ll cackle with laughter as your manage to just survive an insane jump leaping through fire, you’ll punch the couch in spit-flecked frustration as a second later you’re coat-hangered by the lip of a ramp you hadn’t previously been aware of. You’ll repeat the courses over and over again, trying to shave precious seconds off your best time, and why? Because the real metagame of any Trials title is beating your mate’s high score.

Ironically, Trials Rising’s biggest problem is the opposite of most AAA games. As a critic one gets wretchedly tired of reviewing yet another tentpole title that doesn’t revolutionise or even vaguely evolve the core gameplay or mechanics, yet Trials Rising has done that and, uh… it’s not great. See, the way you unlock new tracks in previous Trials games was by getting better and better scores on existing tracks, which unlocks new areas. While that mechanic still exists here, to some degree, the main method of unlocking involves grinding random tracks that have new objectives like “30 back flips” or “finish in under a minute”. This sort of randomised content would be fine if it was optional, but it rather steals the thunder – and indeed the whole joy of progression – from previous games.

Other additions to the formula like online multiplayer and the ability to do tracks with your mates are fun, if inessential, but the progression system is a real bummer and feels antithetical to the precision and discipline required to “git gud” at these games.

Ultimately Trials Rising remains a worthy addition to a somewhat niche series, and features some of the most clever, wonderfully torturous tracks in the masochistic series’ history. However a new, frankly baffling, progression system steals the game’s thunder in a confounding fashion. Well worth a squiz for veterans and newbies alike, however, particularly if you have a group of competitive friends whose tears you wish to drink like salty, salty wine.

 
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Anthem

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Here’s the elevator pitch for Anthem: you’re on a strange world, spectacular and beautiful, that is chockers with deadly fauna, shonky humans and an ancient power you barely understand. The good news? You’re in a freaking Iron Man suit and you can fly all around this daunting, picturesque landscape, getting into adventures with your mates who are along for the ride. Sounds good, right? Well, the even better news is that the game’s by BioWare. You know, the people who brought us the Mass Effect and Dragon Age series’? So you just know the characters will be fleshed out and the story intriguing.

It’s a great elevator pitch, and a great concept, so why then is the actual result so bland and lifeless?

Perhaps the problem with Anthem is the fact that it’s an online shooter/looter, a genre of game best represented by Destiny and The Division. This is new territory for BioWare, it’s true, but even grading on a curve, Anthem is shockingly light on narrative hooks and any atmosphere that extends beyond the admittedly pretty aesthetics. This is less Mass Effect 2 BioWare and more Mass Effect: Andromeda BioWare.

On the plus side, the flying is fun, and the mountainous, vertical terrain looks very cool. You’ll fly through the air, soaring past waterfalls and grazing creatures and shoot through alien technology, and gape in awe at how beautiful it all can be. This sense of spectacle won’t last long, however, as you’ll soon realise just how shallow and repetitive the gameplay is, even by shooter/looter standards. The combat feels okay, the missions are deeply unimaginative and the villain of the piece, called “The Monitor” is one of the more forgettable villains in recent memory.

The biggest problem with Anthem, however, is that it simply doesn’t feel that great to play. Flight is cool, it’s true, but the shooting and exploration are just adequate. There’s none of that addictive Destiny-style shooting that practically floods your brain with endorphins every time you pull the trigger. Instead, you’re left with an experience that’s just sort of… okay.

Even if you can look past the numerous technical flaws, the frequent drop outs, insane loading times and a staggeringly clunky User Interface, Anthem just isn’t that good of a game. It’s average in a sea of better products and while it may fix its various problems down the track, right now it’s a tragic waste of potential.

 
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Backtrace

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Following a bank job, Macdonald (Matthew Modine) and his fellow bank robbers do a back-woods rendezvous with shady partners in order to split the cash. The only wrinkle is that Macdonald and his fellow thieves already divvied the cash up and buried what they adamantly believe is their share of the $20 million spoils. The shady partners are none too pleased and a shoot-out ensues, seeing Macdonald’s accomplices all violently dispatched and Macdonald himself legging it through dense woods. During this tense escape, Macdonald cops a bullet to the head and thus a permanent bout of amnesia.

Fast forward seven years and Macdonald is a shell of his former-self and something of a man adrift. He’s banged up in maximum security for a crime he doesn’t remember committing, receiving regular visits from Sykes (Sylvester Stallone), a cop who worked his case and lives in hope of him remembering his crimes. One day, a fellow prisoner poised-for-release named Lucas (Ryan Guzman) offers Macdonald a chance to escape, aided by seemingly compromised prison officer Farren (Tyler Jon Olson) and prison Nurse Erin (Meadow Williams). Macdonald is smuggled out of the facility, to a deserted location where he’s offered a chance to remember his fragmented past with the help of an experimental new drug that restores memories but also causes intense pain. Submitting to the drug, Macdonald is as hopeful at the prospect of restoring his memories, as his abetters are about locating the stolen money from the bank job he cannot remember. On the trail of the escapee is the world-weary Sykes, who’s partnered with the tetchy Franks (Christopher MacDonald), and the pair endlessly bicker while overseeing the manhunt.

Mike Maples’ screenplay is pedestrian, lacking plausibility or weight. There are some serious logic holes which are helped in no small part by the fairly capable cast, particularly Modine who’s rather excellent as a man without a past. The low-budget nature of the production means that most scenes (save the prison sequences) take place in abandoned forests, desolate roads, vacant houses and empty factories, which leaves the viewer with a weird sense of emptiness and makes the film seem stagey. There are twists (obviously Macdonald is something of an unreliable protagonist) which help keep the plot moving along at a decent speed and Thomas Calderón’s editing coupled with Australian Peter A. Holland’s camera work give the action sequences some much needed pep.

The nature of Stallone’s supporting role means that he probably spent only a few days on the set, but he does alright with the modicum of character that the script presents him with. Stallone wears the part like an old shoe, busting out his ‘crusty old cop’ arsenal of character traits and gravelly-voiced grump, carving out a pretty solid performance on the whole.

Overall, it’s a straight-up VOD B-movie and knows what it needs to do to get the job done.

 
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Metro Exodus

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You remember that scene in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds? Right in the opening, where Christoph Waltz is talking to that hapless dairy farmer about trying to uncover any Jews hiding in the area. Waltz is amiable, chatty and very decorous right up until the moment he isn’t, and a bunch of nazis are blasting through the floorboards and it’s shocking and scary and you can’t quite believe the tension has finally been expelled? That’s the feeling you get playing Metro Exodus.

Metro Exodus is the third, and possibly final, chapter in the Metro trilogy comprising Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light. The series has always been a criminally underrated slice of post-apocalyptic, first person action and suspense and hopefully with this entry will finally get the recognition it deserves.

The story revolves around Artyom – a robust but disillusioned man who, along with wife Anna, believes there are people and life outside of the claustrophobic confines of the metro system. Without getting into too many details – he’s bloody right and this fact sets him, the missus and a bunch of other characters off on a mostly above ground journey through post-apocalyptic Russia. This is a huge change for the series, and it works well for the most part. As atmospheric as the tunnels were in previous games, the change of location has added a lot more world building to the tale, and gameplay variety has increased.

The game is essentially divided into three large sandboxes that house the main missions, but also lots of side missions and environmental storytelling. The side missions aren’t 100% essential, but are really worth taking on just for the sake of getting a complete sense of the taste of texture of this grim, evocative setting.

It’s at this point we should probably bring it back to the Tarantino comparison, because Metro Exodus is a slow game. Artyom moves slowly, not sluggishly, but definitely with a certain deliberate pace. Most combat is best tackled in a stealthy manner, because death can arrive with little warning. You’ll need to worry about every bullet, because ammo is scarce, and even the ability to craft new ammo isn’t always going to help because the materials necessary to do so are also scarce. The game rewards thoughtful, meticulous forward planning and strategic thinking. Don’t get us wrong, it’s not a strategy game, and when the action kicks off, it’s frenetic and exciting, but the pace between encounters is not going to be for everyone.

Another potential sticking point is a few moments where the game’s a tad rough around the edges. The voice acting is a bit dodgy – utilising the ubiquitous but senseless ‘speaking English in bad Russian accents’ technique that hasn’t died yet for some reason – and there are minor bugs here and there, with a couple of hard crashes along the way. This is by no means everpresent or game-ruining, and will probably be fixed in patches, but it’s noticeable. There’s a slight clunkiness to some of the movement too, with the melee attack in particular feeling strangely weightless and clumsy. Still and all, these are minor issues when set against everything that works in this sprawling, ambitious tale.

Metro Exodus is engaging, tense and occasionally frustrating, but always compelling. Beset by occasional quirks of its lower-than-blockbuster budget it nonetheless delivers a freight train worth of excitement and never flies off the rails. For those interested in a thoughtful, deliberately-paced thriller with Tarantino-esque explosions of shocking violence, intelligent world building and genuinely scary monsters Metro Exodus might just be the train to board

 
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Zero-Point

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Comprising of four episodes that are each approximately five minutes long, the political animated web-series Zero-Point wastes no time ostensibly exposing the injustices experienced by Indigenous Australians beneath the backdrop of a society policed by superheroes.

The series focuses on Indigenous Superhero Zero Point (Mark Coles Smith), who is part of a government superhero crime fighting syndicate, A.F.E.C.O (Australian Federal Extra-Normal Civil Operatives), that is determined to uncover and take down a mysterious villain, Samson (Steven Oliver), who is determined to reassert sovereignty.

Zero-Point is then embroiled in a mystery to discover what happened to his father, with the show able to touch on topical Indigenous issues including white-patriotism, the stolen generation, substance abuse, and racism experienced in the judicial system.

All the more impressive due to the short length of each episode, characters are fleshed out to the extent that the audience can rationalise and understand their motivations, with enough mystery left should there be a second season.

There is a distinctly rigid style to the animation that resembles an ‘80s cartoon, that when combined with the action scenes elevate the story to highlight Indigenous Australian struggles.

Zero-Point, as was the case for Black Panther, uses the confines of a superhero story to highlight the inequality felt by Indigenous Australians and is done so with a clear agenda that never feels overbearing.

https://zero-point.tv/

 
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Castle Rock: The Complete First Season

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The premise for Castle Rock could only go one of two ways: bloody great or bloody awful. The conceit is a drama thriller that takes place in the town of Castle Rock, the location of some of Stephen King’s most horrific tales. In lesser hands this could have rendered the series an inert collection of King fanservice, where every car is called Christine and every dog is a Saint Bernard. Happily, and surprisingly, the actual end result is a far more subtle and stranger proposition.

We’re slowly introduced to the weird world of Castle Rock through criminal attorney Henry Deaver (Andre Holland) who is drawn back into his hometown after getting an anonymous call to represent a strange young man called “The Kid” (Bill Skarsgard). Said character is a creepy amnesiac who had been kept at Shawshank Prison off the books, and seems to have a strange effect on those who he touches… Of course this is just the tip of the weird iceberg that Castle Rocks represents, and we soon meet possibly psychic Molly Strand (Melanie Lynskey), chirpy but quirky Jackie Torrence (Jane Levy) and Henry’s adopted mum, Ruth Deaver (Sissy Spacek).

In terms of Stephen King’s mythology, it’s Scott Glenn as Alan Pangborn who is the most direct reference point. Pangborn was the sheriff of Castle Rock for a decade, and in that time faced the sentient pseudonym, George Stark (The Dark Half) and owner of a store with an extremely dodgy returns policy, Leland Gaunt (Needful Things). In this series, Alan has a personal relationship with Henry and a very intimate relationship with his mum, Ruth. This leads to quality family drama and genuinely surprising twists and turns, with the viewer never entirely sure about who to trust.

In terms of performances the entire cast are stellar, with Holland, Lynskey and Skarsgard doing superb work; however it is Sissy Spacey (previously cast in Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of Stephen King’s Carrie) who owns the show with a stunning turn as a woman beset by Alzheimer’s trying to hold onto the past for as long as possible. The seventh episode titled “The Queen” isn’t just the best of Castle Rock, it’s possibly the best hour of television from 2018.

Ultimately, Castle Rock is a risky genre experiment that pays off beyond all expectations. Certainly, there are questionable elements, the deliberate pace of the series left the final episode with too much to do and the ending hotly contested, but the journey to get there remains deeply satisfying. Plus this is the first series of (hopefully) many, so the lingering unresolved plot strands will no doubt be revisited at some point down the line.

The extra features are a tad scant here, with two featurettes that are essentially puff pieces, however the Inside the Episode mini-docos for each part are a great deeper dive into the more obscure elements of the story.

Castle Rock is stellar genre television and a loving homage to a master storyteller that can stand on its own. You don’t need to be a fan of Stephen King to appreciate it, but those who are even vaguely familiar with the work of Maine’s most famous son are in for a deliciously twisted treat.

 
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Kingdom Hearts 3

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Video games are weird, it’s just a fact. This is a medium in which one of the most successful iterations involves a heroic Italian plumber who jumps on evil mushrooms and rescues a princess from a spiky turtle. And another all-time classic is about an amphetamine addicted* hedgehog who attempts to acquire wealth and stay on the gear, running endlessly around diabolical mazes, grinning like a lunatic. The point is, games are so ubiquitously strange that it takes a truly bizarre entry to make one sit back and say: “Crikey, this is some weird shit!”

Kingdom Hearts III is such a game.

The plot is a byzantine nightmare, more convoluted than a thousand Inceptions, but the short hand is: a bunch of characters from Disney and Square Enix properties are on an adventure through various worlds from video games and movies to save the universe. Speaking in practical terms, that means a trio of heroes comprising Sora (young boy with silly hair and a keyblade), Donald Duck (sentient duck with a speech impediment, prone to rage) and Goofy (a creature we still don’t understand and perhaps never will) travel to far off lands to “discover the power of waking”. Congratulations if you understood the previous sentence, you’re absolutely in the minority.

The action plays out as a mixture of exploration, upgrading weapons and gear and combat loops, that are bright and sparkly and fun. You’ll spend most battles mashing the attack button, but eventually other combat moves unlock, including the inexplicable ability to use Disney theme park rides as weapons. You’ll do this, by the way, while interacting with all manner of characters from Disney and Pixar flicks including Frozen, Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and even Pirates of Caribbean (!?), amongst others.

The problem with Kingdom Hearts III isn’t the zany, surreal nutbaggery, it’s the ghastly writing and voice acting. Every line reading feels about a second too slow, with awkward Lynchian pauses between each leaden slab of mawkish word salad. Combined with the distracting decision to have the characters parrot some variation of “believe in yourself” every fifteen bloody minutes and it’s hard to escape the cloying tweeness. Still, there is an odd charm to Kingdom Hearts III at times. It’s a bit like watching a small child smacking together toys in a bathtub, hopped up on a sippy cup full of red cordial, unconcerned about things like logic and reason. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and you won’t always be in the mood for it, but there’s an undeniable appeal here for those willing to brave the eccentricities.

Although, and it bears repeating, crikey this is some weird shit.

*probably

 
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All the Devil’s Men

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Jack Collins (Milo Gibson) is an unstable, world-weary ex-Navy Seal who tracks US’s most-wanted and terrorist targets under the auspices of CIA outsourcing. His handler for the CIA, Leigh (Blade Runner 2049’s Sylvia Hoeks) offers him a job, despite the apparent PTSD Jack’s been suffering and the other mental issues that assail him.

He’s dispatched to London (on what sounds like the premise to a Mission: Impossible film) in order to take down a rogue CIA operative named McKnight (Elliot Cowan) before he procures a nuke from Russian gangsters.

Jack’s assigned a team, in the form of operatives-for-hire Brennan (William Fichtner) and Samuelson (Gbenga Akinnagbe). Once in London, the group meet CIA compatriot Deighton (Joseph Millson) and it’s Deighton’s wobbly morality and possible connection to McKnight and his ‘is-he-or-isn’t-he-about-to-cross-everyone’ persona that leads to more violent shenanigans across London, in pursuit of McKnight and the warheads he’s trying to snarf.

There are double (and triple) crosses aplenty as Jack and Deighton continually lock horns and tread the well-worn path of bromance turned sour grapes.

It’s hardly an original format: the battle-weary warrior, the ‘Ronin’ looking for an end to the pain of existence. We get it. Writer/Director Matthew Hope is a dab hand at directing low-budget action sequences and on that front, if shoot-outs are your bag then there’s a fair bit of that to enjoy here. Other than applauding the filmmakers for wringing every drop from an all-too-obviously small budget, there’s little else to recommend this, except the sharply acidic William Fichtner, a hardened veteran of Hollywood supporting roles; he’s incapable of being anything less than enjoyable. As the lead, Gibson is unabashedly riding his surname’s coat tails (and his physical similarity to his dad) but physically, he’s got the goods, it’s just the underwritten script that leaves him – and the rest of the cast – twisting in the wind.

Overall, the fight choreography and action sequences are deftly executed but the brutally ‘by-the-numbers’ scripting, coupled with a considerable lack of character depth or humour, just annihilates any joy that could be derived from the film.

 
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The Cry

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Compelling four-part television drama mini-series The Cry will shock and enthral viewers.

Based on the novel by Australian author Helen FitzGerald, viewers will be on the edge of their seat watching this drama unfold. Over six-million people tuned into watch the show when it premiered on BBC One last year. The popular series also attracted 10 million plus plays via BBCs i-player.

The British-Australian co-production was filmed across the two continents (Glasgow and Melbourne) and features a strong cast – including Ewen Leslie (Top of the Lake, Safe Harbour), Asher Keddie, Alex Dimitriades and Jenna Coleman (Dr Who, Victoria) – each delivering powerful and convincingly-played emotive performances.

Adapted by Jacquelin Perske (Love My Way, Seven Types of Ambiguity), The Cry follows the lives of a young couple, Joanna (Jenna Coleman) and her husband Alistair (Ewen Leslie). Joanna and Alistair travel with their baby from Scotland to Australia to see Alistair’s mother, and to fight for custody of Alistair’s daughter against his Australian ex-wife Alexandra (Asher Keddie). Almost as soon as they arrive in rural Victoria, every parent’s worst nightmare is brought to life when their four-month old baby boy Noah goes missing. The already fragile relationship between the young couple quickly disintegrates as the public scrutiny intensifies and the mystery deepens.

There are echoes of little Madeleine McCann and Azaria Chamberlain disappearances and while the abduction of baby Noah is the catalyst and what drives this story, it’s the characters that provide the intrigue. The lines of truth and manipulation are blurred in this plot-twisting drama where everyone is a suspect.

Viewers will slowly despise Leslie’s character, who is smug, patronising and a completely unhelpful new father. “He earns the money; he wears the earplugs” Joanna justifies, explaining why Alistair never wakes to help with Noah’s night-time feedings.

Keddie is brilliant as the ex-wife to Leslie but it’s Coleman who excels, unravelling before our eyes. The English actress does not hide her feelings of loss, anger or confusion. She’s completely relatable as a struggling mother and viewers will feel her pain during the flight to Australia scene as she repetitively walks up and down the aisle trying to quieten her screaming baby and ignore the look of distain from fellow passengers. This intelligent drama provides a harsh view of motherhood at its most harrowing.

The Cry will not be relaxing Sunday night viewing, but audiences will find it grippingly addictive.