Thursday, May 23, 2019

Five Reviews: Games and Movies of 2019

Avengers: Endgame


There are two views of Avengers: Endgame - the standard and the meta. The standard view is to just judge the story and events in the context of the MCU. On that level, it's pretty average. The time travel storyline is, as expected, very wonky and silly, breaking its own rules at several points. The action is not as good as in Infinity War and Thanos has lost all of his gravity. There are some funny moments, and the ending is strong - particularly the sendoff for the four original main Avengers. However let us consider the meta view - the wider idea of what Endgame represents. It is the culmination of over a decade of planning and production. From that perspective, it is an incredible creative achievement. Few studios have the nerve to even try such a feat. To see so many of my childhood heroes on screen kicking ass is just cool, even if I dislike many of the specific artistic choices. I appreciate Disney for bringing this into the world. However I am not especially interested to see where things go from here with the MCU given Disney's shameless politicization and commodification of so much of modern childhood. Endgame is, thankfully, a great opportunity to step away. Thanks for that, Disney.

Grade: B

Shazam


Shazam is a mediocre and pointless movie. It's so blah that in some ways it is even worse than Suicide Squad. That movie was aggressively bad but there was so much noise and energy that you at least got the sense that they tried. Shazam is just really bland. The action is lame for the most part, as are the special effects. It's just completely forgettable. My hope going into it was that since it is primarily a kids' movie it would at least be funny. It wasn't. Comic book movies are often badly written and/or poorly acted, but rarely are they just flat out boring. DC has managed to accomplish this twice now, as Batman v Superman to everyone's amazement managed to be boring too for much of its middle section. The best that can be said about Shazam is that it is well-intentioned. The child actors give decent performances and there's nothing offensive about it. It's a fine diversion for elementary school kids I suppose.

Grade: C-

Resident Evil 2: Remake


I complain as much as anyone about the constant rehashes and remakes today when it comes to video games and movies. I understand why companies do it - it's easy money and in spite of what audiences say, when we follow the money, we see that remakes are just a safer bet for studios. With that said, I still appreciate a well-done remake. Resident Evil 2: Remake is a textbook example of how to do a remake well. It maintains the spirit of the original game almost perfectly. You have the same setting and characters just updated to look much better on modern systems. The atmosphere is fantastic, the challenge is just right thanks to the three difficulty levels, and there is solid replay value thanks to the two characters and "2nd run" scenarios. It's also easy to mod on PC, so there's that too. It's so good I would recommend it even to people who don't like survival horror. Play on the 'Assisted Mode' difficulty with some costume mods and have a comfy time.

Grade: B+

Devil May Cry 5


Capcom had a good start to the year with Resident Evil 2: Remake. It followed up strong with Devil May Cry 5, a crowd-pleasing fan-focused sequel that washed away the stain of the ill-conceived DmC: Devil May Cry. In many ways it is the same formula as Resident Evil 2: Remake - better graphics, classic characters, variable difficulty, and tight gameplay. It helps that the humor is on point, the characters are fun, and the controls are solid. Devil May Cry 5 has a few flaws that keep it from being in that A-level tier though. The story is not great. The environments could use more variety. I did not love playing as V, the weird summoner character. The music is a mixed bag. Still, these blemishes aside, the foundation is there for some great DLC or a special edition down the road. I really hope we get a playable Vergil (and maybe even Trish and Lady too) and some other content.

Grade: B+

Sekiro


Sekiro is the best game of 2019 thus far and may be a strong contender for GOTY. It is a master class in how to do a true single player action RPG. The story and overall aesthetic are fantastic. It is not as open-ended and vague as other From Software games like Dark Souls or Bloodborne. With Sekiro we get real cinematics and a much clearer plot progression. There are four different endings, all of them moving and appropriate in their own way. What's more the level design and gameplay are fantastic. Challenging as ever but immensely satisfying once you master the sword combat. The ability to jump and use a grappling hook adds an amazing sense of verticality to the interconnected world. The music is nice too if not as memorable as other From Software games. I especially loved the Fountainhead Palace. Just a gorgeous environment with so much to explore both underwater and up in towering palaces and mountains. Sekiro has one key weakness that is actually a compliment; there's just not enough of it. It needed a bit more - weapon variety, build variety, character customization - something to give me more reason to come back to it. I don't miss the multiplayer and it would not really fit with the story anyway. However Sekiro may be just a bit too stripped down for its own good. Still, an amazing experience. Doesn't quite surpass Bloodborne for me, but it is up there.

Grade: A-