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Monster Hunter World: Iceborne

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Monster Hunter: World was released in 2018 to a stunning amount of success, critically and commercially. The notoriously fiddly Japanese franchise has always enjoyed a sort of niche fame, but for the first time ever, general audiences were coming to the party. Now, this is often the point where good games go off the rails, as the need to satisfy a wider market dilutes what made the IP special in the first place. Happily, this proved not to be the case with MHW, and the title retained its notorious difficulty and staggering depth of RPG elements, while adding relatively easy online functionality and many quality-of-life improvements. Now the first major expansion is here, Iceborne, and it brings a lot to the party, and it’s all pretty bloody great.

Iceborne continues the cheerful, but ultimately inconsequential, Monster Hunter: World story and introduces a new (and better designed) hub called Seliana and enormous exploration area, Hoarfrost Reach. As the name suggests, the Reach is an icy environment which necessitates winter clothes and hot drinks to prevent stamina depletion. As expected, it also means a shitload of new monsters are available to hunt, kill, and craft new weapons and armour from their various bitties. It’s basically Monster Hunter business as usual, with a new Master Rank difficulty and a few new moves added to each weapon. Oh, and you can use your slinger as a grappling hook now, to fly over and weaken parts of the monster you’re battling. While individually these changes and additions don’t feel like much, when combined it feels like you’re playing the best version of this game thus far.

Of course, once the main story is complete, Iceborne is all about the endgame and grinding for better armour, weapons and decorations. This is a game, after all, where fights can go for 45 minutes+ and even after all that time, end in failure. That aspect of the franchise hasn’t been diluted at all, and it’s something that won’t be for everyone. Finding the best builds for specific fights, joining them up to take on increasingly powerful enemies and carving new weapons to experiment with, is just as engaging – and pleasingly logical – as always and if you enjoyed that in MHW, it’s even better here. That said, Iceborne is a lot better with capable friends to help you. Certainly, you can request help from randoms, but nothing beats the sense of well-oiled camaraderie, as you best genuinely arseholey creatures like the returning Tigrex or the blade-tailed Glavenus.

Ultimately, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne is a massive, involving and game-changing expansion to one of 2018’s best games. It’s something of a niche proposition, so do your research before you make the leap to make sure it’s your jam, but fans of challenging, methodical, satisfying and strategic combat should be on this like Scoutflies on monster shit.

 
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Nekrotronic VR Experience

Our roving reporter got a first hand demo by the filmmakers themselves, of the Nekrotronic VR experience, and he also got the goss about their hopes for an R rated Star Wars!
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The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan

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2015’s Until Dawn from developer Supermassive Games was an ambitious attempt to create the experience of a trashy horror movie in which you, the player, could influence and change the outcome. Featuring a stunning performance from Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody), gorgeous visuals and a lively and inventive story, it was a surprise hit that spawned a VR spin-off and prequel. 2019 ushers in the next major project from Supermassive, The Dark Pictures Anthology project, where a series of standalone genre efforts will try to recapture that Until Dawn magic. Man of Medan is first cab off the rank and while it certainly has its charms, it lacks the lunatic thrills of its predecessor.

Aside from an extremely effective prologue set during WWII, Man of Medan is a contemporary tale about four Americans who hire a boat to go diving in a submerged wreck, hoping for adventure or gold. What they find, instead, are vicious pirates, bad weather and a huge, rusting hulk of an abandoned ship… that might just be haunted.

The concept of a ghost ship lost at sea is wonderful, and for its first half Man of Medan is extremely effective and atmospheric. Voice and motion capture performances are stellar, and the moody lighting, graphics and audio are top notch from the get-go. However, around the back half, and we’ll keep it vague here to avoid spoilers, a twist occurs that desperately undermines the narrative to such a degree that it never really recovers.

Until Dawn also featured a divisive twist, but it was in keeping with similar genre efforts, whereas Man of Medan’s game changer feels like it’s been lifted from an Uncharted sequel. This means that no matter which ending you get – or how many of the cast you manage to keep alive – the proceedings feel extremely anticlimactic.

On the plus side, Man of Medan is still enjoyable, and the addition of a co-op mode adds a new layer of intrigue, further enhancing the feeling of an interactive movie. You’ll certainly be engaged through the 4-6 hours it takes to complete a playthrough, but the achingly deflating (and frankly predictable) twist in the back section pretty much ensures that you won’t be making multiple runs.

The good news is the next Dark Pictures entry, Little Hope, looks fantastic so hopefully the project will get back on track in 2020. However, it has to be said, Man of Medan doesn’t quite live up to its supermassive potential.

 
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Control

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Office jobs are scary and weird, it’s an indisputable fact. You lob up to a strange, utilitarian space, spend hours with people you don’t necessarily like and pretend to care about various menial tasks and bureaucratic bullshit; all so you can make enough money to continue existing as a productive member of society. That’s to say nothing of the interdimensional beings who want to colonise your brain with their strange, unknowable consciousness and make you their slave. That last example is, perhaps, a problem unique to the Federal Bureau of Control (FBC), the main location in Remedy Entertainment’s newest brain-bending game, Control.

Control, at its most basic, is a third person action adventure that puts you in the shoes of Jesse Faden, a spunky young woman with a mysterious past and a couple of big secrets. Jesse is on the hunt for her missing brother, and her investigation has led her to the FBC, a gargantuan building whose dimensions seem to shift and change… and why are there so many office workers levitating limply in the air? Surely that’s an OH&S violation. It soon becomes clear that spooky, potentially world-ending shenanigans are afoot, and before the first act concludes Jesse is made director of the FBC, witnesses extremely scary events and develops telekinetic powers. From there, Jesse must investigate the Oldest House (the name given to the building) and unravel the mystery of The Hiss, the enemy that seems to have possessed so many unfortunate humans.

Plot-wise Control is a staggeringly ambitious effort, with a storyline that features wonderful twists, meaty lore and a sense of mood and place that rival the likes of David Lynch and David Cronenberg. Black upside-down talking pyramids, levitating, glowing-eyed ghouls and morphing sections of building are used to terrific effect, offering both fear and awe in equal measure. Gameplay-wise, things are a little more generic, with the game feeling a lot like other third person action/adventure titles; although to be fair, when Jesse develops the ability to telekinetically hurl objects at her enemies and limited flight, you’ll find yourself changing up your tactics accordingly. Still, the main reason to play Control is the story, which you’ll do so in about ten hours, and it’s absolutely worth the effort, even if the ending(s) are a little confounding.

Ultimately, Control is a stellar story, absolutely dripping with atmosphere and jaw-dropping imagery and while the gameplay is a tad familiar, fanging office furniture at your enemies with your mind never gets old, and the labyrinthine depths of the Oldest House are bound to stick with you long after the credits roll. And hey, maybe chuck a sickie and spend some time in a slightly less terrifying office.

 
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Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden

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What is it about games where you scavenge for scrap in the ruins of the past, why are they so damn satisfying? Is it the catharsis of confronting the fear of society’s collapse in a safe environment or perhaps a frisson of sick glee at watching what happens to the world after it burns? Whatever the reason, the post-apocalypse is a provocative backdrop for media and used to great effect in tactical adventure game, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden.

Mutant Year Zero puts you in the trotters and flippers, respectively, of Bormin (a gruff pigman) and Dux (a duck bloke), as they embark on a quest handed to them by The Elder, the wise overseer of The Ark. The pair swiftly becomes a trio, with more characters introduced along the way, with various different skills that you can swap out as needed. This is a good thing, because the world of MYZ is deadly, brimming with insane Ghouls, homicidal robots and deadly cults, all of whom would be delighted in doing unspeakable things to your body meats.

Gameplay-wise, MYZ can be broken down into two distinct modes: exploration and combat. Exploration is when you lob around the various areas on the map, searching for scrap, weapon parts and loot. You can use what you find to beef up your gear back at the Ark, or spend it on much-needed med kits and grenades. Combat is the inevitable result of what happens when you run into the antisocial elements of the wasteland and takes place in a turn-based system similar to the likes of XCOM or Divinity: Original Sin. It should be noted that combat is tough, especially in the opening hours, so using stealth pre-battle to silently kill as many enemies as you can is not only recommended, it’s essential to survive. Each mutant has various powers they can use – wings to gain a high vantage, thick skin to absorb damage, mind control to even the odds – which adds new layers of strategy to the proceedings as the game progresses.

Graphically, the game’s isometric view is perfect for the material, and the character models brim with little details that sell their mutant origin. The enemies, similarly, are well designed and slickly animated, lending the game a sense of polish that’s genuinely surprising from a relatively small studio like The Bearded Ladies. Story-wise MYZ is a delight, and while your eventual playtime may only be 15-20 hours (comparatively short for the genre), it’s all killer and (mutant year) zero filler.

Ultimately, Mutant Year Zero: Road to Eden is a slick, engaging and cleverly designed romp through humanity’s desiccated ruins. Brimming with engaging characters, a vivid world and tense, tough combat it’s an intense joy to play and one of the best examples of the tactical adventure genre. Plus, you can give your pigman a jaunty top hat so, you know, obviously a timeless classic.

 
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Daughter of the Wolf

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There are endless ways to tell a compelling story in an icy environment. A common element is tension, and this is often what keeps us coming back for more. David Hackl’s (Saw V, Into the Grizzly Maze) Daughter of the Wolf is no such film.

It follows Clair Hamilton (former MMA superstar Gina Carano), an ex-military specialist whose son is being held hostage. She must use her father’s (Richard Dreyfuss) inheritance for a ransom to get her son back, before it’s too late…

The story, while familiar, could have been executed really well. Unfortunately, it just comes off as underwritten, with little personality, and reeks of a generic rush job.

Visually, it is quite stagnant, the desaturated colours making it look lifeless. The editing is at times unintentionally comical and doesn’t allow the audience to take the narrative seriously.

The film is a slow burn but there are multiple jarring tonal shifts that take you out of the experience. The script also suffers from repetitive and melodramatic writing. This isn’t helped by some over the top, hammy performances.

Apart from that… Gina Carano does a decent job with the material – her character has little substance and while there are flashbacks that give the audience insight into her past, they don’t help us invest in her struggle. Supporting player Brendan Fahr  (Wynnona Earp) has good moments and on-screen chemistry with Carano but unfortunately, this is underutilised.

The film uses wolves as symbolism and while the ambition is admirable, it just comes off as confused and goofy. These scenes feel forced and cause the narrative momentum to stop. The ending of the film is also a head-scratcher.

Daughter of the Wolf could have been an outstanding film in the right hands. As it is, it feels like a project that was simply a paycheck.

 
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Once Upon a Time in London

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If you like burly men with brylcreemed hair shouting at each other in ‘Laahdan’ accents and continually reminding you that, despite their nefarious ways, they’re simply gentlemen who look after the people what lives here, then you are in for a treat with Once Upon a Time in London.

Starting in the 1930s and set over the course of three decades, director Simon Rumley recounts the real lives of two of the biggest names in old London town: Jack Comer and his protégé Billy Hill. Comer (Terry Stone, who also co-writes the screenplay) was a hardnosed racketeer who, if the film is anything to go by, was a big believer in putting the boot to someone who overstepped the line. Which would appear to be everyone in London apparently.

Hill (Leo Gregory) was a wiseguy who knew what side his bread was buttered in any given situation. He practically woos Comer over with a fan letter he sends during an extended period in prison. Soon, the two men are working together, but it’s not long before allegiances get in the way of business.

On the surface, Once Upon a Time in London looks suitably glossy, giving its best against the likes of Brian Helgeland’s Legend. Particularly in the early part of the film where it evokes the Woodbine tinged era where the death penalty loomed heavy over the criminal class, meaning it was better to be done for maiming a person than killing them outright.

Taking a break from the violence, there’s a surprisingly sweet little moment where everyone, regardless of where they are on the criminal food chain, is shown to be brought together by the end of the Second World War. And it’s fair to say that both Stone and Gregory certainly look the part as a pair of miserable desperados.

However, the film’s issues outweigh the strengths. The screenplay never gets its hook into an actual narrative that serves either character. We just bounce back and forth between them yelling at each other and yelling at their girlfriends, wives and colleagues. Also, strangely for a film that spans as many years as it does, there’s minimal attempt to make the cast look like the age they’re supposed to be portraying. When Comer is called up for duty during the war, it’s hard to suspend disbelief that the 40-something Stone is in his late 20s. And whilst no one has to look exactly like their real-life counterpart – Roland Manookian, for example, resembles a young Udo Kier rather than Mad Dog Frankie Fraser – it seems a strange creative decision to have the pinnacle of British thuggery, Ronnie and Reggie Kray, barely look like brothers, let alone twins. Mild complaints, maybe, but when they all dogpile on each other it distracts.

And what really frustrates is that Rumley manages to let a more interesting narrative thread slip out of his fingers before the opening credits have finished. Comer was a man proud of his Jewish heritage. So, when noted fascist, Oswald Mosley, came onto the scene, Comer rallied up the troops to take him on at one of his Blackshirt demonstrations. Unfortunately, the film merely shows Comer giving an impassioned speech about taking down Mosley before the credits start and we forget all about it for the rest of the runtime.

A shame because that’s your film there; a veritable army of despicable morals up against a motley crew of hardnosed crims. It could be lean, mean and biting. Literally, everything that Once Upon a Time in London isn’t.

 
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Domino

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If you’ve had your ear to the ground, then you’ll likely already know about the production troubles that plagued Domino, the first film from Brian De Palma in seven years. Since production began in 2017, rumours of financial difficulties, cast changes and even production being put on hold after the first take have circulated the internet for some time.

De Palma himself, in a move reminiscent of Thomas Alfredson when discussing The Snowman, has shown no remorse when talking about the challenges he faced on set. Well, it’s two years later, Domino has finally hit Australian shores and the question is, was it worth the struggle? The short answer: sort of.

The plot sees Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Christian, a Danish cop on the hunt for the ISIS member who killed his partner. Having left his partner exposed after borrowing his firearm, Christian appears to carry some of the blame for his death. Joining in his hunt is Alex, a fellow cop played by Waldau’s former GOT co-star Carice van Houten.

Unbeknownst to either of them though, the ISIS member, Ezra (Eriq Ebouaney) is actually in the employment of shady CIA operative Joe (Guy Pearce), who is holding Ezra’s family hostage until he carries out a series of assassinations on other ISIS members.

We follow both Ezra and Christian separately for a large part of Domino. And when we’re not following them, we’re looking over the shoulders of a sleeper cell of terrorists as they plot one violent act after another.

What we’re looking at here is a dense film filled with numerous characters and subplots. So, it’s no surprise that the film comes in at a running time of – checks notes – 89 minutes? No, really, what has the potential to be a behemoth with a labyrinthic plot has been condensed to less than an hour and a half, and it shows.

Plot threads dangle and resolution seems to have been left to the wayside. It’s not a spoiler to say that at one point, Pearce literally walks off-screen never to be seen again. It could be the fault of screenwriter Petter Skavlan (Kon-Tiki), whose dialogue echoes tinny throughout. The more realistic possibility, however, is that Domino was a much longer film that someone somewhere has decided to cut their losses on, shave as much off as they could and still call it a movie; a similar fate that befell Keanu Reeves’ Daughter of God in 2016.

That said, the narrative problems genuinely aren’t an issue for the first half of the film. With a bombastic score that has De Palma’s fingerprints all over it from one note to the next, Domino carefully sets up its stall, giving us insights into the lives of its leading players and setting out the landscape on which they’ll move.

Later on, there’s a stellar rooftop chase between Ezra and Christian that genuinely makes you catch your breath. Then we tip over the halfway mark, and Domino hurtles towards the finish like De Palma’s using roller-skates on a greased-up slide, almost mitigating all its good intentions in one sloppy final act.

In all honesty, if the film hadn’t been so evidently manhandled by its editor, what remains still suggests that Domino is far from being the hidden masterpiece you’d want it to be. Pearce’s pantomime performance jars with the furrowed brow of a tone that’s reflected through the rest of the film, for example. Additionally, it seems a little too soon after the events of the Christchurch shooting to be including a scene where a terrorist attack at an awards show is shown from the shooter’s POV. Yes, the film is technically two years old, and could never have predicted the horror, but it still sticks in the craw considering the superfluous nature of the scene.

Overall, and despite its good intentions, Domino starts off strong but is unable to stick its landing. Embrace it for its bloody-minded approach to recent politics, and you may have yourself a good time. However, it’s impossible to say that this is one of De Palma’s finest.

 
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Wolfenstein: Youngblood

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2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order was as perfect a reinvention of a dusty old franchise that exists in modern gaming. Developer MachineGames took a fun-but-shallow shooter and imbued it with pathos, whimsy and a shockingly good story, all while retaining the splattery Nazi-killing fun times one expects from the Wolfenstein name. Then, in 2017, a sequel Wolfenstein: The New Colossus launched to even more acclaim, and continued the rebooted franchise’s bloody path of victory. It seemed that MachineGames, and by extension Bethesda, could do no wrong… and then Wolfenstein: Youngblood arrived.

Look, first things first: the concept of a co-op Wolfenstein is actually a brilliant idea. The shooting is so kinetic, violent and gleefully gory that it’s perfect to share with a like-minded friend; and setting the action in the (alternate) 1980s of the game’s lore, with BJ Blazkowicz’s daughters – Zofia and Jessica – as the main characters is a fantastic conceit.

The problem is the execution is so far from what it could, and should, be that it’s at times hard to understand what they’re even going for. Some good remains, the shooting is still slick and punchy, the levels look pretty and there are occasional moments of shock or surprise that liven the proceedings. Unfortunately, there’s also a U-boat worth of bad, with dull level design, repetitive missions’ structure and a move towards Diablo III or Destiny-style mission structures and level gating – with the attendant grinding and bullet sponge enemies – which stands at odds with the breakneck pace of previous Wolfensteins.

Worse still, the major aspect MachineGames got so right before – the characters, the story, the wonderful dialogue – has been supplanted with often genuinely irritating sibling banter that makes one wonder if the Blazkowicz sisters aren’t suffering from recent and extreme head trauma. “Fuck yeah, dude!” one mostly interchangeable sister will bray to the other, as you sigh and run through the same small map area once again to trigger the next objective. It’s just not all that much fun, which is a hell of a shame.

Ultimately, Wolfenstein: Youngblood is a victim of its own prior successes. The New Order and The New Colossus were so good that they raised the bar to daunting levels, so that Youngblood’s sidequel experiment needed to be a lot better implemented to truly make it stand out. What we have, instead, is a repetitive, grindy, often very frustrating co-op experience that lacks the charm, polish and excitement we’ve come to expect from MachineGames. There are charms here, particularly if you’ve got a patient co-op partner, but ultimately Youngblood just doesn’t have the Reich stuff.

 
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The Shanghai Job

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Known as S.M.A.R.T Chase in the Chinese market, The Shanghai Job is a British-Chinese co-produced thriller that sees Orlando Bloom shirk off the shackles of popular franchises – see Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of The Rings – in order to reshape himself as bonafide action hero.

Bloom stars as grizzled security agent, Danny Stratton, who has been living at the bottom of a bottle in Shanghai since his last job, a year ago, saw him lose a valuable painting to a gang of professional thieves. For reasons unknown, Danny and his team are given one last chance to redeem their reputation by escorting a valuable artefact from one destination to another. Wouldn’t you Adam and Eve though? The same gang turn up to relieve him of said item, leaving Danny to work quickly to save what’s left of his expiring reputation.

Largely known for his TV work, director Charles Martin (Skins, Being Human) has put together a solid if somewhat silly action piece that sees Bloom charging around barking at people like Jason Statham whilst sporting the bleached hair of a Buffy-era James Marsters. He’s joined in his sprint across the city by a team of fellow security agents, including Full Contact’s Simon Yam. Riffing off the relationships within the Fast and Furious franchise, each member brings their one personality trait to the table that manages to both compliment and aggravate the others in the group. A quick shout out to the dubious Ding Dong (Leo Wu) who spends a large part of the film following a girl using his drone; his cutesy puppy eyes failing to cover the slightly creepy invasion of privacy.

Moving on… Whilst The Shanghai Job is nowhere near to being of the same quality as later instalments of the aforementioned franchise, it does give an indication of the direction the series could be taken should the higher ups wish to pursue it. The acting is definitely a mixed bag, but Bloom seems to be relishing the opportunity to do his own stunts and get his teeth into something a bit grittier.

Perhaps The Shanghai Job’s biggest issue is pacing and an over-reliance on the cliched. Seemingly realising that the S.M.A.R.T. team are running out of breath, screenwriter Kevin Bernhardt (John Rambo) throws in a damsel in distress into the third act which also sees a literal game of catch added to the mix. Presumably because everyone got tired of punching each other.

Derivative of a number of recent actioners, including John Wick, The Shanghai Job is certain to find its niche with a select few. And if all involved are willing to return and embrace the hyper-realistic absurdity of it all, there’s potential for more fun ahead in future installments.