Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Creature Feature - American Gothic album review



For the unfamiliar, Creature Feature is an American Goth Rock duo that is set to drop their third album, "American Gothic", on December 24th, just in time to haunt the holidays. I was lucky enough to receive my CD two days early, and after spending some time with the album I can assure you that American Gothic is a worthy installment to Creature Feature's discography.

The band has always been heavy on synthesizers, and American Gothic is no exception. The songs are well composed and have strong, memorable choruses to go with the detailed verses. The songs tend to be pretty formulaic and dependent on repitition, but Creature Feature seems to be content with sacrificing complex choruses for the dark and twisted fun that they've become associated with. The band has gotten more experimental, though, as can be heard on the 80's pop rock sounding "Here There Be Witches" and slow, doomy "A Feast for Worms". The riffs come and go smoothly and most of them hit pretty damn hard, and the album is altogether very well produced.

There is a noticable shift from the horror movie inspired songs of The Greatest Show Unearthed and It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, as this album has a pretty consistent lyric theme. I can't help but wonder if this was intended to be a concept album like their side project Dead Beat, because there are at least five songs (so, half the album) about death and what becomes of body parts. The Netherworld, A Feast for Worms, and Dem Bones are what happens after death, while Nearly Departed and Wake the Dead are about the rise of the dead. The theme of decay and ressurection is found is in almost every song. I have to say I'm a little underwhelmed coming from past albums that dealt with aliens, molemen, cannibals, and ghosts all at once.

The band released six songs as singles, which struck me as very odd, considering that there are only ten songs on the entire album (so 60% of the album was released beforehand). After several listens of American Gothic, their single choices don't surprise me. The first half of the album is significantly stronger in every way: it's catchier and more memorable, there's more energy in the songs, and the lyrical themes vary much more. By the second half, things slow down and almost blur together into a progressive take on the Creature Feature sound. Ordinarily this would be a nice development, but in contrast to the opening half that isfast and fun, the slow and morbid second half is almost boring until you get into it. Speaking of boring, the final album artwork is pretty plain compared to the detailed single artwork that has been released.




On the note of blurring together, the actual lyrics of most of the songs sound forced and stressed. This is not a new issue for Creature Feature; almost every song has some awkward lyrical placement that flows uncomfortably. The band makes it work and it doesn't deter from the quality of the overall album too much, but certain songs like The Netherworld and Dem Bones make it hard not to notice how poorly the flow has been optimized.

Overall, this album was extremely enjoyable and captures the sound of Creature Feature perfectly as well as demonstrating the experimental and progressive side of the band. It's still not clear which direction the band is going to head in, but whatever it is, it's going to sound spooky and halloween-y to boot. I'm not great with numerical scores, but I'd give American Gothic a solid 7.9/10

Pros:

  • Familiar Creature Feature sound as well as experimentation
  • Tight and catchy instrumentals
  • Clean and deep production

Cons:

  • Awkward lyrical organization
  • Limited theme exploration, very "same-y"

American Gothic as well as Creature Feature's previous two albums are available for purchase via http://villainsandvaudevillians.bigcartel.com/category/creature-feature-albums, as well as iTunes, Amazon music, and other digital retailers. The band struggles with piracy and a lack of fan support, so I'm sure a purchase would be very much appreciated by the fiendish duo.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Metro: Last Light Review (PS3)

PLEASE NOTE: Reviews are intended to gather more information on games and hear other people's opinions before you purchase it yourself. This review captures no one's opinion but my own- you can use it to influence your opinion but you should keep an open mind and acknowledge that opinions can greatly differ. Thank you.



I'm not entirely sure what I was expecting when I went in to play Metro: Last Light, but admittedly it wasn't much. From the gameplay I had seen, it was simply a Russian first person shooter set it the future that would mildly entertain me. After completing the game last night, however, I have to say that Metro: Last Light is one of my favorite games of all time and is comparable to Bioshock in many ways, including the gripping story. Last Light is based off of the novel Metro 2033 (also the name of the first game) and the author assisted in the writing of the game, and the benefits of that are demonstrated very clearly throughout the in game universe. Although the gameplay isn't anything revolutionary, the story is spectacular and memorable. It's one thing to have an indie game with a fantastic story, but when you pair it with solid gameplay and pretty graphics, you get a beautiful piece of art.

Metro: Last Light takes place in the year 2034 after the surface world is destroyed and uninhabitable by humans due to radiation from nuclear war. As a result, the human race has taken to the Metro, the subterranean train lines located all around Russia. Within the Metro, there are three main groups trying to take control: The Red Line, or the communists, Reich, a rather large group of Nazis, and the Rangers of the Order, who are the 'good guys' who try and save the Metro from going to Hell (moreso than it already has). The player takes control of Artyom, a Ranger with a mysterious connection with the Dark Ones. The Dark Ones are a race of incredibly strong and stealthy creatures with psychic abilities that feared and attacked the humans living in the Metro. Because of this, Artyom is ordered to fire missiles and wipes out the Dark Ones. The game starts off with a sighting of a living Dark One, and you are ordered to go find it. I did not get the chance to play Metro 2033, but the opening of the game was still able to explain everything to me exceptionally well. The story is long and emotional, as you develop relationships with other characters and make story-altering decisions. The voice-acting is all very convincing (except for when characters cut each other off, there is an awkward second of silence) and I felt connected to the world not in a chummy way (like Zeke in Infamous), but on another level (like Rapture in Bioshock). Metro: Last Light is very artsy, but not in a pretentious teenage girl kind of way, but it sends a lot of messages including political statements, stances on morality, etc. Not to mention the story itself is very interesting.



The gameplay in Metro: Last Light is for the most part your average first person shooter. You can carry up to three guns at a time (swapping with whatever you find throughout your journey) and each type of gun can be upgraded in several different ways. You also get a knife for when you run out of bullets or when you want a stealthy kill. Stealth is a surprisingly large part of the game as you spend most of your time alone trying to get past Nazis or Reds, so you have several options for quiet kills. There's the stabbing I mentioned earlier, you can also use throwing knives (which are recoverable), and if you're lucky, a single shot from a silenced gun won't alarm anyone. You also get a flashlight which runs out of power relatively quickly and requires you to manually charge it, or you can use a lighter (which gives away your position almost instantly and provides barely sufficient light). The gameplay to me was fantastic in combat, but it was a little difficult to maintain bullets. I had to complete an entire bossfight with only throwing knives, and I would not recommend taking that approach. I do, however, really appreciate all the effort that they put into immersion: You can put on a gas mask for when the air is impure (mostly on the surface) and you have a watch that counts down how much air you have left, which can be increased by finding or stealing filters from corpses. If blood or water gets over your mask, you can tap L2 to wipe it off. Your lighter can be used to burn cobwebs and light torches, both of which are completely optional. The developers added so many ways for you to interact with Artyom and make sure he doesn't die and that's a very respectable approach. I know that there are usable grenades, but I went through the whole game without using a single one so that should say something about their importance. Exploring is done very well, as you get the chance to go to the main stations throughout the Metro and you can hear stories from beggars, eavesdrop on citizens speaking, even pay for a stripper. There are plenty of secrets and fun things to find in the Metro, and that's always a nice touch. All in all, the gameplay was very enjoyable but really nothing terribly unique besides the massive difference between stealth and combat.



The graphics were quite nice, in my personal opinion. The character models on mutants and soldiers were very clean looking, even moreso on key characters. You could also see emotion in faces very clearly (although not nearly as clearly as Infamous: Second Son) and the backgrounds were great. There are many times where you are shown what's left of Moscow and the decaying city looks great. Well, it looks terrible, but graphic-wise it looks great. Once again bringing up Bioshock, the only real complaint I have for the graphics is that everything, despite it being clear what it is, has sort of a gross jelly texture to it. Now, in Bioshock this was barely noticable and in Metro: Last Light even less so, but it was there and it was a tiny bit annoying.

Most people neglect soundtracks in video games, mostly because they don't stand out unless you're focusing on the music. Metro: Last Light, however, has a beautiful OST with tracks that capture each situation that they are presented in. If you're sneaking by and something sees you, the music gets tense but remains beautiful. When you walk through Metro stations or anywhere that there is a radio, you hear pseudo-traditional russian music that makes the situation a little more haunting. And during large events, as always, the score is intense. I listen to a lot of video game music but I only purchase albums that really stand out. Metro: Last Light is one of those games.



Replayability is probably the game's weakest point, but that's not inherently a bad thing. There are multiple different endings and paths you can go down, but Metro: Last Light is a lengthy game and I didn't feel the need to go through it again. You can select chapters to replay, and I did two just for some trophies, but after that I felt satisfied. There is no multiplayer which is definitely a good thing because it would end up being a generic FPS and would lose focus on the incredible singleplayer. Maybe it's just me, but the way I see it is once the credits roll, you're done. There is a harder mode that you can play on, but it's paid DLC and that's just straight up bullshit.

Metro: Last Light is an interesting and compelling take on the nuclear apocolypse scenario that echoes Bioshock in it's haunting environment, expert storytelling, and solid gameplay. The graphics are nice and the environment is detailed, but the developers literally removed the hard mode and made it paid DLC, which doesn't look good. Overall, I'd give Metro: Last Light a 9.25/10 and I strongly recommend it to everyone, particularly Bioshock fans. Metro: Last Light is available for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Devil May Cry Review (PS3)


PLEASE NOTE: Reviews are intended to gather more information on games and hear other people's opinions before you purchase it yourself. This review captures no one's opinion but my own- you can use it to influence your opinion but you should keep an open mind and acknowledge that opinions can greatly differ. Thank you. 

DmC Devil May Cry was never very popular among the gaming community, and it even got a lot hate from angry fans of the original series. Dante's hair change, a new developer (Ninja Theory, the people behind Heavenly Sword), and the complete revamp of the series had fans furious. Before February, when DmC was free on PS+, I knew nothing about the franchise besides the fact that it was based very loosely off of A Divine Comedy. I was in no position to judge the game as I hadn't played any of it, but as a fan of Playstation All Stars and A Divine Comedy, I always had respect for Dante. I actually preferred (and still do prefer) the DmC character design as opposed to the original quadrilogy's design. As I mentioned earlier, eventually the remake came to Playstation Plus, and Hell (no pun intended), there was no reason why I wouldn't play it. Here I am now, having just completed the game, and I have to say that it does not deserve the bad reputation that it has. DmC has some flaws in the gameplay and story, but overall I had a ton of fun playing it. I think that most people were taking it to seriously; if you play DmC for what it is, enjoy the humor, enjoy the story, and enjoy the badass weapons and combat system, you'll probably enjoy it as much as I did. Bear in mind, however, I have not played any of the original games, so I can't make comparisons in that field.



DmC is about Dante (a nephilim), Virgil (his brother), and Kat (a human girl assisting the two) attempting to take down the king of the demons, Mundus. Mundus has complete control over the media, marketing, survelliance, governments and everything that comes with if. The trio takes it upon themselves to remove all corruption from the world and free mankind from the secret captivity. The story overall is really cool, and some scenes had me really captivated. With the time that each character gets, they build up a solid background for the whole thing and it makes everything all the more interesting.  It also had a lot of connections to A Divine comedy, more than I would expect, but ill refrain from spoiling either story.

(VERY MILD SPOILER) Although I haven't played any of the older games, there is a part where a mop lands on Dante's head, resembling his classic look, to which he retorts "Not in a million years". I audibly said "Oh, come on!". The humor in the game is great, I just feel like that was a low blow. (/SPOILER)

My only issues with the plot are that at some points it's cheesy, and sometimes the voice acting is subpar. Towards the end of the game, there's a part where Dante screams and its sounds cringe-inducingly forced. Acting aside, however, the cheesiness is part of the appeal. It takes some getting used to, but once you realize that Dante is just an all around badass who will get things done however he wants, it gets really fun.

I've said this before and ill say it again: graphics don't matter, as long as they aren't noticeably bad, because that takes away from the experience. The graphics in DmC are pretty sharp, but I wouldn't call them 'good'. My main problem is the lighting: in the background and scenery, it's nice, but on characters faces and bodies, it's noticeably a series of differently shaded slivers. It's kind of annoying to see, but it doesn't detract front be actual game. Another big problem I have is that nothing looks textured, and what I mean by that is that you can't tell how something would feel. Everything looks hard and solid. When Dante spits on a guys face, you would think it was ice if you didn't know. Dante's jacket looks like it could be snapped if you didn't see it waving as he jumped around. There are some scenes where this isn't a problem, though, and it's not present at all in gameplay. It's just a little frustrating. Besides that, though, the graphics are nice and in some scenes things look very realistic.


Now for the important part (or so I would hope), the gameplay. It plays a lot like god of war, but if you haven't played that, you can go from enemy to enemy and just brutally go all out them, or do group attacks. Throughout the game you get a series of angelic and demonic weapons which vary in gameplay, and you can switch whenever you'd like, even chain different weapons into a combo. And it's not as if each weapon is just stab and block, no - there's a wide array of moves within each weapon, allowing you to mix things up constantly. The combat is easily one of the best parts of the game, providing a challenge where appropriate and fun everywhere. Transportation and exploring is fun, too. I personally didn't like how Dante felt when you walk him around, as it didn't feel tight enough for me, but you eventually get things like grappling hooks and double jumps and all sorts of good stuff. Scattered throughout each of the 20 levels are hidden doors and keys to unlock those doors, so even if you are playing a linear level there is a reward for looking for obscured hallways or things of that nature. The boss fights in DmC, though, oh man. DmC has some of the most enjoyable boss fights I've ever played; it certainly doesn't take the first place prize, but every boss provides a challenge, a reward, an interesting cutscene, and a puzzle. Unlike many modern games, you aren't told how to defeat the bosses. It's not painfully difficult to figure out, either. You'll just need to get creative.



Replay ability is abundant in DmC. The trophies are interesting (and there's an in-game count of how close you are to getting each), the levels have secrets to find, and there are different difficulties which unlock new costumes for Dante. I haven't had the chance to replay anything in the game yet, and I don't think I will anytime soon (Playstation plus has given me a massive backlog), but if I ever wanted to platinum DmC or even just replay it for the hell of it, I would have no trouble doing so. 

DmC feels a bit unpolished in certain areas, but the story is interesting, the humor is great, the gameplay is fun as Hell (this time the pun is intended), and there are all kinds of unlockables and secrets for you to further indulge in. I know the game didn't get that much attention, but the ending leaves a lot open for a sequel and I really hope that one is made. Overall I give DmC an 8/10, because there's so much room for improvement. I do feel that Ninja Theory did a great job, and I know that if they had the opportunity to make a sequel that it would be fantastic.