Shadowrun Returns!

I was a huge fan of the old Shadowrun game for SNES when I was a kid. Based on the tabletop RPG, Shadowrun was a unique blend of fantasy and sci-fi and its cyberpunk aspects were way ahead of its time. When I heard there was a Shadowrun game coming out for the Xbox 36o I was extremely stoked. Disappointment abounded when the game turned out to be a First Person Shooter instead of an RPG. Granted it was an innovative shooter, but it touched on NONE of the aspects or storylines that made Shadowrun great.

Fast forward to today and I’m stoked once more as a REAL version of Shadowrun is on the horizon and due out for PC and iPad at the end of July. Take a look at the gameplay footage for Shadowrun Returns. It’s got everything I remember (and then some!) and the addition of a full editor is one of the best decisions the design team could have possibly made. If you’re a fan of Shadowrun, whether it was the SNES game or the original tabletop RPG, it’s hard not to be excited for this.

This is exactly the game that I was expecting when the 360 version was announced. And it only took six years…

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Handwritten by the Gaslight Anthem, Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith, Len Wiseman’s Total Recall Reboot, and Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain

Handwritten by the Gaslight Anthem

As I’ve posted before, I’ve been waiting for this album to release for a few months now and after listening to it multiple times over the past week I can safely say it’s been well worth the wait. Gaslight Anthem fans will find themselves completely at home with Handwritten, their fourth studio album.

Anthem has always cultivated a gritty, 80’s, punk-infused sound and they have continued to refine that sound with their latest release. As they age, they’ve perfected the almost bushido-like art of knowing when to smooth the edges and when leaving them rough will likely benefit the listener; it’s an art that’s far too rare in this era of music.

I won’t go over the entire album but I will make mention of some of my favorites. 45 is a tribute to Anthem’s predecessors and a throwback to the vinyl era. Hearty and nostalgic, this may be one of my favorite tracks ever, second only to The ’59 Sound. Too Much Blood cuts deep into the perils of being creative and putting so much of yourself into your art. As a writer, this song hit VERY close to home. The closing song “National Anthem” is very reminiscent of Springsteen’s I’m On Fire (too often, The Gaslight Anthem gets compared to Bruce Springsteen but to be honest I’d like to hope they don’t mind; there are worse artists to be compared to). It also marks Anthem’s first acoustic song and in my opinion they nailed it. Mellow, soulful and raw, I can’t help but think of a specific woman from my past as they quietly sing about life, love and loss.

Sadly my enthusiasm to purchase this album bit me in the ass as I was completely unaware of the existence of a deluxe edition with three extra tracks, two of which being covers of a Nirvana and a Tom Petty song respectively. I’ve since downloaded all three but I would have liked to have them on the disc and I’m seriously just considering ordering the deluxe and giving my copy of the regular to a friend. If you’re a CD collector like me, don’t make the same mistake I did.

Lyrically, the Gaslight Anthem is evolving as they learn how to weave that grittiness into poetry and I find myself turning their words over and over in my lead long after the songs had ended. That’s the mark of a great band.

 

Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith

Penned by the same hand that wrote Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Seth Grahame-Smith finds himself this time stepping in the alternate fictional shoes of the Three Wise Men with the aptly titled Unholy Night. Admittedly I’m not a religious person but from what I little I remember from Sunday school class, said Wise Men appeared, gave gifts and then departed, never to be mentioned again. It’s a perfect stomping ground for Grahame-Smith’s particular brand of revisionist history.

Rather than learned men and kings from far away lands, Gaspar, Melchior and their leader Balthazar (also known as the notorious master thief called “the Antioch Ghost”), are death row prisoners who manage to escape the dungeons of the mad King Herod, narrowly avoiding their own executions. During their flight, they make a stop in Bethlehem and stumble into a well-known stable where a young woman has just given birth to a supposed messiah. Content to take their leave, Balthazar reconsiders when Herod’s soldiers quickly shift focus from tracking the fugitives, to slaughtering all first-born sons in the kingdom. The Three Wise Men decide to escort Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt and thus begins the adventure.

I found this book to be a little bit more straight forward than Vampire Hunter. Without the constraints of the memoir format of the previous book, Grahame-Smith was really able to demonstrate his ability to work with prose and I look forward to new books from him in this more traditional story-telling format.

He did an excellent job of weaving in characters from the original biblical story. Joseph and Mary are refreshingly portrayed as regular people rather than the saints that 2000 years of religion have built them up to be.  Herod is a masterfully crafted villain who walks the line between calculatingly evil and absolutely insane. Cameos by John the Baptist and a certain up-and-coming Roman soldier (whom Jesus will encounter again 33 years later) are worked into the story at the right time and in perfect doses. Gaspar is remarkably opportunistic and Melchior is demonstrably one of the greatest swordsmen of all time (not to mention absolutely ruthless once a blade is placed in his hand).

And then there is Balthazar. Balthazar is the lynch-pin of the story as we see this great escape tale told through his eyes. I’ve read other reviews in which readers found him unlikable at first, but I was a fan of his character from the get-go. The more that was revealed about his past, especially his childhood, the more I liked him. His transformation from a selfish, singularly driven thief, to reluctant protector made him someone I wanted to root for.

I tore through this book quicker than I usually do (I read multiple books at once which typically results in my taking a very long time to finish one). That’s a pretty good indication of how engrossing the story is. I’d recommend this one regardless of whether you enjoyed Grahame-Smith’s previous novels or not. It’s sure to suck you in. 

 

Total Recall

I’ve never understood the perception of remakes. Whenever a filmmaker takes a beloved classic and decides to remake it there is this bizarre expectation that the movie be exactly the same as the original. When this doesn’t turn out to be the case, people flip out. Why would anyone want to see the same movie with merely a new coat of paint on it?

As soon as I saw trailer for Len Wiseman’s new Total Recall I knew that was the direction it was heading in. I try to avoid reviews before I see a film (I’m in total agreement with Chuck Klosterman in that I never understood why someone would want to be told the inherent value of a piece of media before they actually experience it) but I usually keep my eye on the aggregates via rottentomatoes.com. Sure enough, Total Recall was getting trounced.

What some people do not realize is that this film isn’t actually a remake of the 90’s film. Like its predecessor, this film is an adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s short story, We Can Remember it For You Wholesale. To be fair, neither film is a very faithful to the source material; they both take liberties. Each film follows certain plot elements but neither is a verbatim adaptation.

Look, I get that the original film was a cult classic, I really do. But you know what? I’ve already seen that Total Recall. I want a new interpretation. Whenever I go to see a remake I try to do it with the mindset of the original having never existed. Of course that’s easier said than done with certain films, but as a whole, that perspective usually yields a decent result. And you know what? The new Total Recall movie was a good film in its own right.

They did away with the entire Mars plot and stuck to an Earth that was almost completely ravaged by chemical warfare, leaving only a small area of Europe known as the United Federation and Australia which is now known as the Colony. The Federation is populated by the rich and the Colony by the poor (a rather blatant allegory for the current 1% vs 99% sociopolitical discourse currently being waged in this country). Each day the Colonists travel on a transport to the Federation via a giant hole bored directly through the planet known as The Fall. We’re introduced to Douglas Quaid and events in the film play out similarly to those in the short story and 90’s film but in a much more grounded way. Overt political overtones aside, I felt that this plot, while less campy, was also less clunky. It flowed in a more even manner.

Rather than choosing to be influenced by the first film, Les Wiseman’s decision to pay homage to other classic sci-fi films succeeds with flying colors. There’s a little bit of Logan’s Run, a little Starship Troopers, a LOT of Blade Runner and a smattering of other classics that can clearly be seen. Robots, flying cars, futuristic weapons, a Rekall facility more akin to a drug den and The Fall itself (the gravity shift when the transports hit the earth’s core was pretty damn cool) all lend a great deal of credibility to the film.

It was well casted. Kate Beckinsale was an absolute badass; no surprise there as the Underworld films (also directed by Wiseman) have cemented her role as a Hollywood Queen of Badass. Bryan Cranston as Cohaagen did a good job of portraying that kind of controlled megalomania that the character required. Jessica Biel did the optimistic freedom-fighter gig well. And Colin Farrell spent a good deal of time channeling his character from the Recruit, which was surprisingly fitting especially in the scenes where Quaid was either confused or kicking ass.

Between the more streamlined plot, the excellent style and the great cast, Wiseman pulled the pieces together well and it worked. If you’re a fan of sci-fi I recommend checking it out. Just try to keep in mind what you’re seeing is someone else’s take rather than Arnie with some shiny new duds.

 

Heavy Rain

Admittedly I’m way behind when it comes to PS3 Games. I’ve been gaming on the 360 and the Wii for years now but the PS3 really didn’t have any proprietary titles that I just HAD to play the way the other consoles did. It wasn’t until I was in the market for a Blu-Ray player that I decided to spring for a PS3. Had I known about the existence of Heavy Rain I’d have sprung for the new console long ago.

Created by Quantic Dream, well-known for their innovation, Heavy Rain is an interesting kind of game in that there really isn’t anything else out there like it. Anyone who’s been reading my reviews for a while knows that in gaming I value story above all other aspects of gameplay. The game plays out like an interactive story, but in a much deeper way than just directing where the story goes. You’re invested in a way that most games can’t reach because of other aspects that get in the way.

 Heavy Rain tells the story of the Origami Killer told through the perspective of 4 different characters, an investigative reporter, a private detective, an FBI agent and the father of the Origami Killer’s most recent 10-year-old victim. You move the story along through a series of quick-time events that allow you to manipulate the environment. Certain decisions must be made on the fly, others can be thought about for a period of time before you need to decide.

The story in and of itself was excellent, that is to say, the story I experienced. Everyone who plays this game will have a completely different outcome depending on what you said and the decisions you made. I’m choosing to say very little in terms of the plot to avoid spoilers, but I will say the use of the rain as a major plot element was absolutely brilliant. The plot twists kept me guessing and in some cases took me completely by surprise, which is hard to do because I’m typically pretty good at calling those kinds of things.

If you’re like me and you’ve only recently jumped on the PS3 train or you’ve been passing Heavy Rain over in favor of more standard faire games, definitely check this one out. One thing I will note is that the beginning starts off rather slowly. Power through. Once you get to the meat of the story it becomes apparent that the slow beginning was necessary to establish the motivation of one of the characters.

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn and Patiently Awaiting The Gaslight Anthem’s Handwritten

So I just caught the trailer for the new web-series Forward Unto Dawn and I have to admit I’m a little excited. Granted it’s not the epic full-length feature film helmed by Peter Jackson that we were promised, but I’ll take what I can get. 

The Master Chief’s appearence around the 2:15 mark officially elicited an involuntary “woo hoo!”

On a side note, It’s release day for the new Gaslight Anthem album and Amazon has yet to release the mp3 downloads for purchase. It’s frustrating to say the least because I’ve already heard the first song on the LP and I can’t wait so sink my teach into the whole thing.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron Trailer

So I’ve viewed this trailer about 10 times. All I can think afterwards is “how the hell was High Moon able to cram more of my childhood into a two minute trailer than Michael Bay was able to in three full-length feature films?” Take a look and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

Transformers: Fall of Cybertron is High Moon Studios’ follow up to their wildly successful and incredibly well-done 2010 title, Transformers: War for Cybertron. Serving as a prequel of sorts, the Cybertron games take the Transformers franchise back to a time only briefly touched upon in the various cartoons, movies and comic books: the conflict initiated by Megatron between the Autobots and Decepticons which resulted in the near-destruction of their world. It’s obvious that this franchise was made by developers who were fans of the original Generation 1 cartoons, toys and comics for fans of the original Generation 1 cartoons, toys and comics.  

The trailer is chocked full of “that’s awesome” moments and little nods to the past incarnations. Optimus carrying an injured Bumblebee and the brothers-in-arms handshake they share. Starscream’s attack countered by a typical brawny punch from a grisled Ironhide. Megatron stomping on the body of a dead Autobot with a villianous sneer. The Combaticons combining into their gestalt form of Bruticus. And Grimlock, Grimlock, GRIMLOCK! Next to Optimus Prime, every kid from my generation loved Grimlock and his inclusion in this sequel is sure to draw some smiles. The music for the trailer, The Humbling River by Puscifer is just icing on the cake, tying everything together with a haunting anthem that totally fits the mood.

If a trailer is this exciting, anticipation of the August release is going to make the summer crawl.