Sea of Solitude

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I love a good multiplayer game. Even as a kid, playing on the old Famicom, games were an experience best shared with friends.

I enjoyed having friends come over to play Battle Toads or Double Dragon. Arcades were fun because I got to play games like Street Fighter 2 or Marvel Super Heroes against other players. In that regard, I love any game with a creative PVP component. Not necessarily a dedicated PVP mode, but something like Dark Souls where other players can invade your game and be an actual threat to your progress or more recently a game like Hunt: Showdown where it’s the player vs the environment vs other players.

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The monsters in Hunt Showdown are scary, but the players are scarier.

If my Steam page is anything to go by, multiplayer games are my thing. As much as I love a good single player, story driven game, I like being able to share my progress. Wither it be the gear I’ve collected, or that one particular weapon that’s rare to find, all that endeavour is made that much sweeter when you can “Ride it through Ironforge”.

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In the Division, you get the best gear to go up against the best players.

Co-op games are also what I used to actively look for. Anything that lets me share my game time with close friends is a plus. Sadly though, as the years go by, there have been fewer titles I’ve been able to enjoy with friends. Maybe it’s title they are not interested in or due to time constraints, we are not being able to log on at the same time, I just haven’t been gaming with my friends as much as I used to. So often, games that require an active co-op component, have become sad experiences where I’m teaming up with strangers, just to make objectives or gather loot, without the fun you get when gaming with that close pal.

Recently though I found a game that took that forced solitude and made it fun.

Sea of Thieves has been a game I’ve been eyeing for a while and after the fairly recent “Anniversary Update”, which added a whole slew of new content,  I decided to finally get it.

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In Sea of Thieves you play a pirate. You pick a pirate from a set of randomly generated characters and then you’re on your way. The goal is to loot, sail and hand in treasure to various factions in the game, to level up your reputation with them so that you can be a “Legendary Pirate”. When you achieve this, a whole set of grand story adventures open for you to pursue. You have different ships you can choose from and all of them need some number of crew to man, which lends a co-op mechanic to it.

Going in I knew very well I’d be playing the game by myself, as in, not with friends, so I started rummaging through forums and guides to see what the experience might be like for a solo Pirate and every one suggested the game was better with people you knew and can cooperate with.

Regardless of this I bought the game and I’m glad I did.

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Look at this guy. How could i not have picked him?

I approached the game with a certain mind set. To just have fun. To not worry about making ranks or collecting gear, but just to explore and play the game as it comes. what I found was, this way, taking to the seas was almost a therapeutic experience.

Whenever I play anything, like Dark Souls or The Division, I become obsessed with min-maxing builds or gear scores and rare items, but I took none of that with me into Sea of Thieves. I wanted something different from it.

Turns out, I enjoy sailing by myself. The mini game of attending to the sales, checking the map, watching out for dangers, creates an experience that I haven’t gotten from other games. I enjoy exploration in games too and the open waters of Sea of Thieves made exploration fun again for me.

 

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Even when I open the ship up to a random crew, I don’t mind meeting other players, regardless of how competent they are. When I do have an “open crew”, I have already decided that that nights adventure will be where ever that crew takes me. In that regard, I have been lucky to meet pirates who were more than happy to show me the ropes.

BUT even on my own, every time I set sail, the adventure has been grand. There are nights that every thing sails smoothly and other nights see me collecting chests and making long voyages, only to lose said chests to storms or giant sharks. A few times I’ve been stopped by other players who ask me what i’m doing or what treasure I’ve looted and I just tell them. So far even these Pirate raids have been great, because I have ZERO issue with my loot being taken. I already had my fun simply sailing and looking for it.

I think it helps that my Pirate looks like a really nice guy, because most ships don’t take my stuff.

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“Seaward ho! Hang the treasure! It’s the glory of the sea that has turned my head.”
Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island

One time, some players even boarded my ship and looked around. I told them that I’m just starting off and I’m looking to make money to “buy a new peg leg” and they laugh and bid me farewell.

This one time though, a player did try to shoot my ship out of the water. I had nothing on it as I had JUST come back from handing in a whole heap of treasure. I ended up leading the dude on a very cool chase. He kept after me, so at one point I locked the wheel, jumped off my sloop and swam to an island from the safety of which I watched my ship sail around and around, with this dude trying to sink it. Eventually he gave up and I managed to get back on my ship and carried on mucking around.

You can find yourself a number of reviews and videos that talk about all the gameplay to be had in Sea of Thieves, but what I didn’t expect to find was the calm solace I get from it. The quiet moments of reflection I enjoy as I drift along with my thoughts, to the sound crashing waves and the bliss of no expectations.

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I can not remember the last time I had genuine fun with a game. Not playing to grind or beat a boss, but just playing for no other reason than for actual fun. Sea of Thieves is a great experience in that regard and I’m glad there is a game like it. In this day and age of competitive shooters, loot boxes and 200 hundred hour story “experiences”, I’m glad there exists a game that just wants you to enjoy it.

 

Brightburn: More of a faint light.

I was very excited for Brightburn. I remember seeing the trailer for it last year and immediately falling in love with it. The actors, the premise, the style of it, everything intrigued me.

As the posters started rolling out, I loved those too. I made some fan art for the film and did some doodles whenever the movie popped into my head and I even tried to get myself a poster for the film to celebrate it on my wall.

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Bit of office doodling. 

The premise of Brightburn is one that has been explored several times in comics. What if Superman were bad?

Brightburn is not a Superman movie though. It’s about a couple living in middle America, trying hard to have a baby. After many failed attempts, one night something crashes near their farm. Something supposedly from outer space, with a little baby inside it. The couple raise the child as their own and all seems “normal”, until the child hits puberty and the couple notice that their little boy has super powers.

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Another bit of fan art I did. 

So it’s totally a Superman movie and I would be very interested in reading about how the writing team managed to get this far into the plot without DC comics slapping them with a Lawyer. Like, an actual lawyer, that you swing by the feet, head first into the dudes who wrote this.

So this kid ends up being bad. Not evil, because that’s like a construct right? BUT bad, as in, he is not a good boy.

He starts full on murdering people because (minor spoilers) he might be some kind of sleeper agent for an alien race and a space ship activates him, instructing him to “take the world”.

That spoiler means nothing. In fact, a lot of the plot means nothing, because though the movie is well acted, it is very poorly written and executed. There is not applause here for the plot, because as I said, it has been done to death in the comics. BUT this is a story that literally works best on paper, or comic news print to be exact.

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In the comics it is kind of exciting to see Superman go off the rails. He is such a boycott that to see him go nuts and unleash his full rage, can be a nice change of pace. It’s also exciting because then you get to see heroes like Batman, or even the entire Justice League, have to deal with what is essentially their MVP. Even if it’s an alternative version of the Man of Steel, the idea is still exciting.

What’s not exciting is watching a super powered being tossing ordinary people around for an hour and a half.

After a decent amount of set-up, where people make dumb decisions and have stupid reactions to things because it’s a horror movie, the Brightburn goes full Red Kryptonite Superman; and it just wasn’t fun. I know horror movies are meant to be scary, but there IS a certain element of fun to them. Though there is a lot of blood and gore in Brightburn, the movie doesn’t fully commit to being either a horror movie or a superhero movie. It doesn’t pile up the scares, not does it seek to subvert superhero tropes. The only subversion is blatantly displayed as the premise of the film and the rest of it just sort of plays out.

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As mentioned, watching this kid (Brandon is the character’s name) tear up town’s folks gets dull fast. I enjoyed the gore and some of it is very cringe, but I wish there was more to it. Even in something like Halloween or Friday the 13th, the characters can somewhat believably TRY to fight back and that makes it thrilling.

The film does look great and is well directed (by David Yarovesky) and the stars Elizabeth Banks and David Denman carry it well. Though Banks is very annoying in this, due to the way her character is written. I found myself gravitating to Denman’s character a lot. He plays the unhinged father figure very well and there is a certain endearment to his character.

Jackson Dunn does a decent job of being a creepy horror kid. Though a lot of his cool bits are either behind a mask, standing around ominously or being fully rendered as CGI. I wish they explored his character beyond “Evil Clark Kent”. With a few writing tweaks, the film could have been a throw back to children centred horror movies like The Omen or The Pit. Maybe even Bloody Birthday or Fire starter, if you want to explore a sic-fi angle.

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Evil kids have long been a staple of horror

The film also attempts setting up a sort of extended universe, mentioning other Super powered or super natural beings causing havoc else where and I wouldn’t mind seeing that explored. In fact, if this movie gets a sequel, it would instantly make it better. Because this first film overall feels too much like a giant set up. It is origin story right till the credits. 

Maybe in part two, they could have people who know how to somewhat fight Brandon and even the odds a bit. Even if they ultimately just die, it will give the film some sort of odds to root for. I think Brian and Mark Gunn missed the mark with this one, but i want to see them keep going. Maybe grab Josh Trank in on it as well, because exploring concepts like Brightburn are his thing. If they can take the film past more than just a “cool idea” and mix it with those other characters the film mentions, this could be a cool mix-up of the super hero genre that is choking the market.

I still want the poster though.

Who Watches the Watchmen? We should.

2009’s Watchman film is a polarizing film. Some people love it, others don’t get it. And that’s really what it is: The people who don’t like it, don’t get it.

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Watchmen 2009

Because as a fan of the comics it’s based on, I can not say that I loved it, but I did not hate it. I loved the visuals, that looked like the comic panels being brought straight to life. I guess artist Dave Gibbons is to thank for that, because Director Zack Snyder didn’t have to visualize much of the great scenes, there were literally laid out for him.

The casting was great too. All the characters did such great justice to their comic counterparts. And the stuff that wasn’t in the comics, like the music, elevated a lot of the films scenes.

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Who needs a Story Board?

There were missteps here and there I think. First of all, I don’t think Snyder real got the use of the violence in the comics, because he uses it very gratuitously in the film. The scene with Rorschach chopping up a dude comes to mind. The way that story arc plays out in the comics has so much more depth to it, where as the film just frames Rorschach as a psychopath. There are pacing issues too.

BUT the the biggest issue I think the Watchmen film has is that the movie going audience of 2009 was just not ready for it.

You see, The Watchmen comics hit shelves at a time when people started taking comics seriously. There were tropes and conventions that were in place and Watchmen aimed to shatter those conventions. It wasn’t as black and white as the good superhero taking on the evil bad guy. It greyed the lines and subverted tropes and conventions. so it ruffled the comic medium and even though we didn’t know the characters we were reading, we could relate them to heroes we do know and love. (or hate).

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Comic culture is now film culture

BUT movie audiences didn’t have this in 2009. Sure we had the X-men movies and Spider-man, but it wasn’t enough to embed the Superhero culture into cinema goers like it is today.

Having unrecognisable heroes also didn’t help. Originally, Alan Moore wanted to use the newly acquired Charlton comic characters that DC had secured for themselves, but was able to because DC had other plans for them. so Moore had to create his own characters, which wasn’t an issue because they all represented a certain comic hero archetype which readers recognised. Again, this was not something the movie going audience were unfamiliar with at the time.

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The intended Charlton characters that were replaced with Night Owl, Dr Manhattan, Silk Spectre and Rorschach respectfully.

After 10 years of Marvel movies, and DC’s attempts, those who only watch the movies and don’t read the comics, are ready now. I think they are ready to explore the themes and subversion of Watchmen.

Try it.

Get a Marvel fan or a DC fan to check out Watchmen. Especially someone who hasn’t seen it and tell me what they thought of it. They won’t declare it “the greatest comic book movie ever”, but I bet you they will take away a few points that will make them appreciate the film.

Because I think 2009s Watchmen is truly a film that was ahead of it’s time.

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Fantastic Horror

In 2012 the superhero film genre had become a steady staple of contemporary cinema long enough to warrant a few jabs at it. The year before, James Gunn had put out Super, which was a hilariously violent look at the genre’s tropes and the year before that Matthew Vaughn’s watered down adaptation of Kick Ass did the same.

BUT it was Josh Trank’s Chronicle that really stood out for me as the perfect “anti-suphero” film. Every comic book fan has fantasied about what he or she would do if they ever got super powers. The idea of the “every man” getting powers is what sold books like Spiderman or Captain Marvel. Director Josh Trank and writer Max Landi’s exploration of this in Chronicle is one of my favourite takes on the idea. Honestly, if I had superpowers, you’d all be screwed.

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With great power, comes great responsibility. Trank and Landis explored this well in Chronicle

Chronicle was a movie about teenagers with superpowers, but it wasn’t a superhero movie. It was more an examination of the human condition when said human is given immense opportunity. Putting it like that might give the film a lot more gravity than it may deserve, but that’s how I saw it.

A few years later, when I saw that Josh Trank was going to be directing a Fantastic 4 reboot, I didn’t think much of it. I was indifferent to the 2000s films, though I did enjoy the “so good it’s bad” Roger Corman produced film from 1994, and aside from maybe the Human Torch, I didn’t care much for the characters in the comics either.

Soon Trank’s film was upon us and after seeing all the negative reviews I just didn’t bother watch it.

Fast forward to recently and I had just finished watching Venom, despite all the negative reviews the film had gotten, and I kind of liked it. Kind of. I wasn’t bored watching it and I thought Venom turned out great in it. I also never cared either way for Tom Hardy before, but I enjoyed watching him lose his shit in this movie.

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Venom explores a lot body horror themes made popular in the 80s

The thing is though, I had gone into Venom after watching a string of 80s body horror films. Mostly a lot of David Cronenberg stuff like Videodrome and The Fly, and my personal favourite Scanners, which is pretty much Cronenberg’s version of the X-men. So by the time I got to Venom, I was in the zone. I liked the film enough to look it up online, because there were certain elements and themes in it that felt too decidedly linked to a lot of Cronenberg’s work and from the reading material I found online, this was apparently what director Ruben Fleischer had in mind. He not only blatantly stated that he drew inspiration from Cronenberg, but also another 80s icon of horror and action, James Carpenter.

I could see this. It was there. BUT it just wasn’t there enough. Also, a lot of what was happening in Venom, I had already seen in the Leigh Whannell film Upgrade. (Which was one of my top three films of 2018)

After enjoying Venom, I thought that I give Fantastic 4 a shot. Because if Venom was not as bad as the critics made it out to be, then maybe I’d find some kind of merit in Fantastic 4 too.

Boy… was I…

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Not your average superhero film

 

…right.

Fantastic 4 is not a superhero movie. I think every critic who hated it, was expecting the same antics from the mid 2000s films. These guys were not there to save lives and be heroes. Instead, Josh Trank’s Fantastic 4 film explored the same themes and elements he stirred up with Chronicle. Normal people, dealing with extraordinary shit. It was very much evident that Trank had no interest in making a “Marvel Movie”, he was making a Cronenberg film. Fantastic 4 felt like Scanners more than it did Avengers and I think the studio realised this too late and tried very hard to “fix” this with reshoots and rewrites, but they couldn’t do it. As a result, we got  a mess of a Superhero movie and the wasted potential of a big budget body horror film.

Spoilers!

You see it. You see what Trank was trying to do. In the way Reed Richard’s bones crack when they stretch, or the screaming face of Johnny Storm as he ignites back to life after being turned into burnt out husk. Ben Grimm begging to be saved from the rock incrusted shell he is mangled into and Victor Von Doom, oh my god don’t get me Started on Dr Doom. Those few seconds of him walking around and tearing people apart was pure joy to watch. It was a great scene that belonged in a movie that had the balls to embrace the director’s vision more.

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Dr Doom is a better villain in 30secs than a lot of other characters from modern Superhero films

The whole movie could have been a masterpiece if the Studio would have simply committed to the decision they had made when they hired Trank. I mean really, what else would you expect from the man who made Chronicle?

And it’s not that Trank didn’t have respect for the property. Reading online, it seems that as a kid, Trank was a fan of the Fantastic 4. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Trank told journalist Josh Rottenberg:

” It’s always been a dream of mine to make a movie of this size and specifically with a property that I grew up loving. For me, it was always Fantastic Four and X-Men”

He also went on to say that as a teenager, he would write Cronenberg inspired scripts about people with all sorts of powers and he felt that a movie like Fantastic 4 could expand on some of the themes he explored in those stories. He had in fact pitched the idea of a horror infused Fantastic 4 film to Fox’s President of Production, Emma Watts, who had approached him with the franchise.

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Cronenberg’s early films explored a lot of themes that were one or two notes away from being a “super hero” film. 

Sadly though, as mentioned, I think somewhere along the lines, the studio executives got cold feet. Or Trank’s ideas maybe have really been too far out there, but whatever bits and pieces of his ideas that did stay in the film, made it a worth while watch for me, because I could see it! I could see the movie Trank was trying to make and I loved it.

As we end the month with Avenger’s End Game, for me personally the Superhero thing is wearing thing. It would have to be an absolute favourite character getting a film for me to get hyped for whatever else Marvel or DC are cooking up. BUT movies like Fantastic 4, Venom or even box office hits like Logan, could explore other aspects of the genre. Or like Logan, subvert the genre.

In fact, after Fantastic 4, I really am excited to see what else Trank has to offer. I hope he gets a project that allows him to get all his influences in without compromise. I’d like to see him do something like a Scanners reboot. Not a remake of the first film, but an actual fresh take on the idea. I think he would certainly get David Cronenberg’s blessings, who was totally cool when he heard about Trank drawing influence from his work for Fantastic 4.

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David Cronenberg

“It’s fine” Cronenberg told Haleigh Foutch from Collider, “Once you’ve contributed your voice to the cinematic conversation, it’s out there and it’s up for grabs, absolutely. So I don’t complain. In fact, I take it as a compliment.”

Cinema has made the superhero a “norm”, something we’ve all gotten too used to. It’s in off beat visions from directors like Trank, that we can hope to be excited again. Bright Burn, the James Gunn produced film that blatantly turns the Superman mythos inside out, as me interested. And Gunn’s own third Guardian film… maybe.  A little. If only to see how much leeway Disney and Marvel gave him to entice him back.

What are some no-traditional superhero films you like?

 

 

 

 

An ode to my uncles

So this week my uncle Ernest is visiting us from the States. Getting excited for his visit, I couldn’t help but reflect on what it was like growing up with my uncles. While the bulk of “dad duty” was carried out by my grandfather, my uncles played a decent roll in shaping a lot of who I am today too.

My uncle Ernest was always the “Cool Uncle”. He had the fancy car, he listened to the cool music and I remember always hovering around him to get in on that “cool” when I was a kid.

It was my uncle Ernest who got me into good music as a kid. I remember him obsessing over JT Taylor and Kool and the Gang. I used to listen in on his records and CDs when he’d play them in his room and I remember sitting up with him some nights as he’d watch Kool and the Gang music videos. Yes, there was a time when people would actually watch music videos, on video tape no less.

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When my uncle Ernest was in Australia, he’d send back VHS tapes of shows and movies he record for us over there. When he came back, he brought a giant suitcase full of these tapes. We didn’t have regular TV back then (early 90s) so I would spend days and nights obsessively watching these movies. Robocop, Predator, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, we had all of these on VHS and these are my favourite movies till this day.

My uncle Ernest also introduced me to computers. Back in the day he had a Commodore Plus/ 4 that he would let me play games on. I remember sneaking in many hours of Jack Attack whenever I could. Later on when I got a Famicom, he and I would play soccer on it, and I’d hit the reset button and run off whenever he’d be winning.

Good times.

Then there’s my Uncle Ronald. My uncle Ronald was the “Fun uncle”. He’d always have a smile on his face and he’d always be joking around. When I was a kid, my uncle Ronald would lived outside of Suva, so sometimes I’d spend the Term Three Holidays with him. He was heavy into Bruce Lee and I remember he would always have Bruce Lee movies literally lying around the house. He’s the one who not only ignited my love for Kung Fu movies, but also my favourite movie of all time; Evil Dead 2.

I was 9 when I was over at his place in Nadi when my uncle was literally like: “you wanna watch this movie? There’s one part where main boy cuts his hand off and fits a chainsaw to it to fight monsters” and I was like: “yes”.

It was Evil Dead 2 that made me want to be a film maker. I did’t know it at the time, but when I got older and started understanding film better, it was Sam Raimi and his Evil Dead movies that made me wanna make my own short films.

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Like I said, my uncle Ronald was a huge Bruce Lee fan, still is in fact. It was always an experience watching Kung Fu movies with him because he would explain all the techniques we’d be watching on screen and he would talk about the kind of training Bruce Lee would go through to do the things he would be doing. We’d watch Jackie Chan films too and till this day, every time I watch a cool Kung Fu flick, I remember my uncle Ronald. He was a martial artist himself. I can’t remember what discipline he did, karate or kung fu, but he won a lot of competitions for it. We used to have a picture in our dining room of my Uncle Ronald and all his trophies.

My uncle Ronald was a great artist too. He loved drawing characters in Martial Arts poses and as a kid, he’d always encourage my drawings. I remember him telling me to “stop drawing monsters and draw other things” and I’d try, but I always went back to the monsters.

My third uncle was more of a family friend, but I always remember him fondly as Uncle Rana. He worked with my Grandmother with the Ministry of Health and was a Doctor from Nepal. He was heaps of fun too. Always joking around, he had a great sense of humour and I used to love going over to his house to hang out.

When I turned 14, it was Uncle Rana who gave me two CDs that changed the way I saw music forever; Pearl Jam’s Ten and Nirvana’s Nevermind. It was Nirvana that made me want to learn guitar and be a musician at the end of High school. I still have both those albums.

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Dr Rana was a also a huge comics fan. We’d spend hours talking about comics and he even gave me some of his comic collection. He was a huge Iron Man and Spider-man fan. Those talks and those comics is why I’m still a comic fan today. He made being a nerd look cool. He was a Doctor, with a great job, a wonderful family and he never stopped being a big kid. Whenever I think about hanging with Uncle Rana, I’m reminded to enjoy the things I love and never take life too seriously. In fact, dong exactly what I love worked out ok for me.

Never really growing up with my “real” dad, it was nice to have my uncles around. I owe a lot to them and I wouldn’t be half the man I am today without them. I hope one day I can be this kind of influence on my own kids or at the very least, be a cool uncle myself.

 

The Sum of all parts: Reflections on Disability in games, movies and comics.

I am not a disabled person. All my limbs are attached and all of my senses are enabled. I can not begin to understand the hardships a disabled person goes through in their day to day lives and I apologies in advance if anything I say comes off as ignorant. 

Last week I finished Sekiro, the latest game from From Software. As per their usual effort, the game was fantastic. The coolest part of the game for me was the hero’s prosthetic arm, that turns into all kinds of weapons and tools as you progress through the game. Upgrading and getting better at using these tools, greatly helps with beating what is probably one of the hardest games I’ve played.

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Seeker’s prosthetic arm is featured heavily in all promotional art.

Skip to this week; I started watching a new Anime called Dororo. I saw a glimpse of it online through a recommended video and thought it looked cool. The clip I saw I was a dude fighting a giant spider lady, which I think is a staple of most Japanese anime and games, but what caught my attention was that the hero has Swords for arm! And he looked so bad ass jumping around, slicing and dicing stuff.

I immediately got my hands on all the episodes and binged half of it.

Somewhere in the middle of watching these episodes, it occurred to me;  I went from playing a game that has a hero with a missing limb, to a watching an anime that has a hero with missing limbs and what I loved about these characters was essentially a result of their disability.

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Hyakkimaru from Dororo with his prosthetic arm blade.

This stirred an interesting thought. In games and a lot of other media, the limitation of the disability is often turned into an opportunity for something bigger. Granted, these are works of fiction and are exaggerated stories, but what I found interesting was more the idea of  writers and creators jumpstarting characters from a disability and then making us the reader or the viewer, totally accept their condition and move on.

Where in “real life” we see disability as a limitation, comics, games and even cinema have a tendency to make it an advantage.

The most exaggerated example of this would be Daredevil. I say exaggerated because Matt Murdock lost his sight due to a chemical accident, but that same chemical also enhanced his other senses. So he is sort of a “Super” Disabled person. The comics sometimes bring up his blindness in creative ways, but over-all though, his “radar vision” can bee seen as being better than 20/20 vision. Very rarely is Daredevil’s blindness seen as a sign of weakness and other heroes fight along side him without hesitation or concern.

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Daredevil’s radar vision.

 

There is a great article on comic heroes with disabilities over at CBR.com that’s worth a read. Link

A character that sort of brings the “Blind Hero” concept closer to home would be Zathochi, The Blind Swordsman. Zathochi is a fictional character featured in one of Japans longest running film series of the same name. Unlike Daredevil, people around Zathochi do see his blindness as a weakness and this results in them seeing him as feeble or unthreatening. That becomes their biggest mistake though, because as the name implies, Zathochi is deadly with a sword. The hero himself often plays his disability to his advantage, appearing unassuming and harmless. I’ve only seen two of his films, as the are hard to find here in Fiji, but Zathochi went onto find success in 26 films, including a sort of reboot back in 2003.

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The unassuming blind swordsman.

There is no explanation to Zathochi’s abilities aside from him being a master of his craft. He lost his eye sight due to an illness as a child and the viewer is left to assume that he became the hero he is through time and practice. This is interesting because as I had mentioned, often these fictional disabled characters are augmented in outrageous ways that the real world can not deliver.

Adman Jensen, the protagonist of the best selling game Deus Ex, loses his arms in an explosion. As a result, he is outfitted with Bio-Mechanical prosthetic arms that come loaded with all kinds of deadly features, that enable him to continue his work in bad assery and security detailing. The actual missing limbs soon becomes irrelevant as Adam and the player add upgrades to what are essentially weapons. The world of Deus Ex lends itself to this mind set of accepting artificial limbs because it features a society built on augmentation. Everyone has an artificial “something” and a prosthetic is seen as an enhancement and not a replacement.

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Adam Jensen is made deadlier with his prosthetic arms.

Sekiro on the other hand, seems to constantly remind the player that the hero has a missing arm. With motifs and symbolism, though our hero has transcended the loss of his limb, there is a constant subversive battle in his head (and the players head) that reminds him of his loss. From the ninjas who trained to fight with one arm, to a giant dragon that’s missing its left limb, which actually represents an internal conflict the hero has to resolve.

The very name of the of the game Sekiro, translates to “one armed wolf”.

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Though Sekiro’s prosthetic arm is featured so heavily in all of the games promotional material and is eluded a lot to in-game, I haven’t seen much on the developer talking about specifically creating a disabled character. Because from a  character perspective, it isn’t an issue. As the Sculptor in Sekiro mentions:

“The limb you have lost will give way to something more… useful. You’ll learn to appreciate its worth.”

Wether this is a narrow, exploitive way of looking at the matter of disability is open to debate and I am by no means an expert on the subject, but merely a casual observer. Though, I do feel that in a day and age where the subject of inclusivity and representation is so widely discussed, there is something positive (if not perfect) with the way creatives approach disability in media.

Disability in real life carries a lot of stigmas and often the bigger battle that people who live with disability face, is trying to get others to see them as just people; to not be fixated on the parts of them that are missing, but to focus on the whole person that is there.

 

If you are a person with disability, what are your thoughts on how disability is presented in games and comics? Are there certain characters you find yourself drawn to because of their disability?

 

 

Fonu: A work of Science Fiction, set in Oceania.

Fonu is a short story set in the South Pacific many years from now. Devastated by storms, technology and progress, the region is now New Oceania and it belongs to The Trinity, a conglomerate of three Eastern companies who realized it was easier to “develop” the region working together, rather than competing against.

As a young girl does her best to survive in New Oceania, she hears chatter of  The Trinity finding something of great importance in what’s left of the oceans. She doesn’t know what it is, but she knows The Trinity can not be allowed to have it.

This is a short story I wrote for an anthology that didn’t happen. Looking at it now, it could definitely been written better, but I still love the ideas and themes. DM me if you want to collaborate something based on this. I working on turning it into a graphic novel.

 

Fonu

By

Clarence Dass

 

1.

 

New Oceania belongs to the Trinity. Over 9 million square miles of land and sea, cordoned off to create the biggest commercial sector on the planet, controlled by three powerful East Asian countries that one day realized there was more profit in working together than against.

There was much to find in Oceanic waters and the Trinity had a market waiting for all of it.

With the passing of time, technology grew and soon the fishing vessels that hauled the daily catch grew too. They became too big to dock at the old harbors, so giant sectors of reclaimed land was raised, made of soil and rock at first, before turning into extensive land masses of steal and concert, that stretched from the main land out to sea.

The coastal villages were the first to go, but with pockets lined, the Pacific Governments did nothing to stop this extending foothold into the Pacific by the Trinity; and by the time the Pacific people realized what they were losing, it was too late.

By now, hundreds of Trinity fishing vessels were scattered across the region. Like giants they stood against the horizon, catching and shipping massive tones of fish out of the South Pacific every day.

Then the storm hit.

The Tahitians called the storm Toa, named after their God of war, and it was seen as Nature’s way of fighting back, but the Trinity was resourceful.

At first the sheer size of the vessels that dredged the oceans allowed them to withstand the storm’s winds.  Storm-suits were introduced; a fusion of hydraulics and metal fashioned into an exoskeleton, that allowed workers to man the surface of these vessels under the most extreme conditions.

As the storm grew stronger however, more decisive measures were taken.

Spending billions of dollars, the Trinity moved their operations away from the raging winds and rain on the surface to the more manageable currents under the sea. Soon the Ocean floor was lined with facilities that stretched for miles, their lights glowing in the darkness of the depths like ghosts.

This move from the surface to underwater was later affirmed with the invention of the Hydro Drive, the greatest discovery known to man, patented and owned by the Trinity.

The science behind the Hydro Drive is hard to explain, but it’s basic functionality is to move mass from one body of water to anther, essentially teleporting it great distances at the blink of an eye. With this in place, it was only a matter of time before the Pacific waters were stripped dry.

Today the only life you’ll find in the old South Pacific waters are the Synthetics; mechanical frames designed to grow a meat substitute to mirror the marine life now long gone from these waters. They swim in schools like the real thing, only given away by the eerie blue glow that lines their artificial flesh.

There is a market for it. So it exists.

Today the surface of New Oceania is a barren wasteland. Under the hold of a storm that never sleeps and a benefactor that has all but driven the Pacific people out of their homes. The few islanders who do wander the New Oceania, do so as scavengers and are seen by the Trinity as outsiders that need to be policed and controlled.

Outsiders in the waters that were once their gift from the gods.

 

 

2.

 

Fonu watched the storm clouds boiling at a distance. Every now and then a finger of lighting would strike the horizon and she would count the seconds till the roar of thunder that followed. She never got too high though, as the storm was close. The boom of it shook the metal walls around her and echoed down the halls of the Nostromo, the submarine vessel that was taking her and her crew to the walls of New Oceania.

She was counting down another lightening strike when she heard someone clear their throat behind her.

Turning she saw it was Raj, awkwardly standing at the door, looking sorry for taking her away from her concentration.

“Are they ready?” she asked

“They are all waiting for you. Igi has already briefed them, but want’s you to go over your part

“Then lets get started”

Fonu let Raj lead her through the narrow halls of the sub. She hated tight spaces and she wanted to hold back and follow so that Raj would not see the effort she had to exert to keep her composure. Fonu was convinced it was all over her face.

Luckily the last narrow hall they turned lead into a fairly open room. A metal table adorned its center, sat with a group that was loud in discussion as the two entered.  As she took her place at an empty seat at the head of the table, the chatter stopped and she could feel the pins of eyes fixed on her.

Next to her was Igi, a huge Samoan man who looked just as uncomfortable as she did. With his huge hands he whipped the sweat from his brow, sweat which despite the sub’s cooling vents, seemed to pour out of him. Shifting his weight he stood up to address the room.

“Alright, so this is the person who brought us here” he said gesturing towards Fonu. “let me just introduce you guys to her before we go on, or better yet, lets just go around the table and you can introduce yourselves”

The man to the right of him immediately spoke up.

“I’m Vili and I hate being this close to the wall”

“You have to excuse our Fijian brother here” interjected Igi, “he is our resident dick head”

“No, really” insisted Vili “I don’t appreciate being dragged out here with fuck all information, so close to the Trinity wall, where they could pick us off any minute”

“If you would bear with us Vili, Fonu will be explaining why were are here”

“And who the hell is she?” fumed Vili “she’s not a Hammer Head, I’ve never seen her before”

“Ok, I can see this is getting us no where so stuff introductions” Igi sat down annoyed and pointed around the table, “that’s Vili, Marica our biology expert, Ben our logistics person, and you’ve met Raj our very own arsonist”

“I prefer demolitionist and that’s very different from being an arsonist” spoke Raj under his breath, which stirred a bit of laughter to ease what was clearly a cloud of tension rising in the room.

“We are the Hammer Heads” continued Igi, “long story short, we try our best to fuck things up for the Trinity  and today we’re here with Fonu because she has something for us that sounds very interesting, so Fonu if you will”

Now Fonu is even more nervous. She pushes her chair back and looks over at Raj, who sends her an equally nervous smile.

“Five days ago I was in a bar off the coast of PNG” starts Fonu “There I met with a friend of mine who works with the communications branch of Trinity. He said that he and his crew where asked to take an extended leave of absence from their work.”

“So you friend got fired, what the hell does this have to do with us?” bursts Vili

“Vili, come on bro” pleads Igi, “just let her finish”

“My friend was Papua New Guinean, the rest of the crew that were told to leave were also Islanders, he said that there were all replaced by people the Trinity had brought in from their main land. My friend thinks there were replaced because the Trinity didn’t trust them”

Fonu gave a quick glance around he room to gage some sort of response from the crew; they seemed curious now.

“A day or two before this, there was high communications chatter amongst the execs of Trinity, what my friend gathered from this was they where planning on moving something”

“Moving what?” asked Marica

“I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s important enough to garner this kind of secrecy and because of that of that I thought I’d let Igi know”

Igi stood up beside Fonu, giving a comforting squeeze to her shoulder.

“Fonu and I have been friends for a long time and I’ve been trying to get her to join us for a while” he turned to face Fonu, “I was glad you called”

“So where do we fit into all of this” asked Vili “we don’t even know what they’re moving”

“Whatever it is, we’re going to find it and destroy it” says Igi, slamming his fist into the table.  “we’ve been trying to make some kind of dent in their operations for a long time and this just might be break we need”

“So that’s why were here in this sector” Ben finally joins in, “this is the region where they have their Hydro Drive”

“That’s right” smiles Igi “if we’re lucky, Raj here can make a Boom big enough that we smash whatever it is their sending through and the Hydro Drive as well”

A look of concern crawls over Marica’s face, “But how are we even going to get in there?” she asks half in thought to herself, “The Trinity will be patrolling those waters like mad”

“That’s why we have the sub” assures Igi, “we’ll get as close to the wall as we can under water and then we’ll use Storm Suits to swim in undetected.

“Storm suits?” Vili looks surprised

“Fo’ sure” Igi smiles “our boy Ben here managed to secure us some Storm Suits, he got them at a Steal too”

“You’ll like ‘em bro” Ben says to Vili “I got us some nice Fiji Government commissioned ones”

Villi seems unimpressed, “This is going to suck” he says getting up to walk away.

“You better be going to get your rest bro” says Igi “because we’re hitting the Hydro Drive base in the morning.

 

 

3.

 

It has been an hour since the Nostromo went underwater and now Fonu stands staring out the window into the darkness of the depths. Talk about being thrown into the deep end, going from being a quiet admirer of the Hammer Heads to getting ready to take part in seems be their most daring mission yet.

“This could be huge” says Raj as he hands Fonu a cup of tea. She takes it with a “thank you” smile and has a sip. “If this goes well we could really stick  it to the Trinity” a hint of worry on his voice.

“I can’t believe I’m doing this” Fonu says, blowing on her cup, “Yesterday I was just a girl working a bar and now I’m going up against the Trinity”

“It’s scary” says Raj “and it’s alright to be afraid. Some times I wonder what I’m doing here too”

“What are you doing here?”

“My people have a weird history with Oceania. The first generation of my family to set foot on these islands were pretty much slaves, tricked into coming here with the promise of good fortune and that’s kind of how this whole mess started“

“The promise of fortune” added Fonu

“Yeap, when the Trinity started flashing it’s money and building things that we thought would help the islands, we couldn’t see what the true cost would be. We know now that nothing coming for free, there is no such thing as good will and every one is out for their own gain”

“What island were you from Raj?”

“My family lived in Fiji and a lot of people hate me for being a Fijian”

“Because Fiji spear headed the Trinity’s work”

“That’s right. Fiji was the first to sign over so much and it worked out for us for a bit, but now we have nothing. Fiji soon became the main base of operations and the Trinity spread like a virus from there.”

“So you’re here to fix that?”

“Hell no” says Raj with a laugh “I’m here to blow all of it up. Every damn Trinity thing I can bring down makes me feel a little bit better”

They share a laugh and continue to stare out the window; soon Raj is back to his nervous self again.

“It’s going to be dangerous out there, are you ready?”

“No” says Fonu

“Neither am I”

 

4.

 

The Nostromo was less than a mile away from the wall. No one had slept. It was 5am when the alarm to gather in the lower deck came on and everyone was there waiting before Igi walked in.

“So as you know, this thing stretches all around New Oceania” Igi is referring to the wall a head. “It is built in sections, so there are a few gaps here and there, not big enough for something like the Nostromo to get through, but big enough for us to swim through in the Storm Suits”

Igi scans the room, giving an opportunity for anyone to ask a question or pass a comment, but no one says anything so he continues.

“Once we’re past the wall, the Hydro Drive Facility is about a mile away from where we enter. The Storm Suits have been modified with water thrusters that will allow us to get there with little trouble. There will be drone patrols though, so we’ll have to look out for them, the suits monitoring software has also been collaborated to warn us when these drones get close.”

“What about the Trinity Security?” asks Vili

“I’ve fashioned mine and Igi’s suit with a scrambler” Ben answers promptly, “we’ll be pulsing the scrambler every few meters to make sure the drones don’t pick us up”

“Once we get into the Facility, we find the Hydro Drive and cover Raj as he set ups the explosives to take it out” Igi continues

It’s Fonu who interrupts next “Cover Raj how?” and she is answered by the sound of metal clicking and locking into place. She turns to find Vili cocking a riffle of some sort.

“What the fuck?” Fonu takes a step away from the gun, “no one said anything about guns”

“What did you think Trinity is going to do once we get in?” says Vili with a laugh

“let us walk up to the Drive all cool?”

“This is crazy Igi, I don’t want to shoot anyone” Fonu’s voice is breaking

“And you won’t have to” Igi is now cocking his own gun “We only have two of these and Vili and I will be using them. Besides, most of the facility is automated, we’ll hardly come across anyone”

“This is bullshit” exclaims Fonu, “I didn’t agree to this”

“Fonu, get real, this isn’t some bullshit Green Peace protest” an anger boils in Igi’s voice, “the Trinity doesn’t fuck around and neither do we, If you want you’re welcome to stay in the sub, but I take no responsibly for what happens to you if the Trinity finds it”

Fonu doesn’t know what to say. She begins to walk away only to hear Igi again

 

“We’ve got no time to muck around now, suit up, there’s the wall”

 

 

5.

 

Fonu was at the peak of her anxiety as she climbed into her Storm Suit. The worn padding that lined the inside of the suit did little to make her feel comfortable. In fact, it only made her break out in a sweat. She felt her feet find the bottom of the leg shoots and then she slid her arms into place. Her own arms stopped about half way down the suits arms, where they met a panel of buttons and sliders that she could feel with her fingers.

Raj stepped up to place her helmet.

“You’ve used one of these before right?” he asked has he slid the helmet over her head.

“Once, when I was younger. My dad had one for scavenging”

“It’s easy. Once it comes online, you just move around like you normally would and the suit will do the rest. In fact, let me introduce you to your suit”

As he spoke the helmet sealed shut in place letting out a hiss of air and for a moment Fonu could not hear anything. The vacuum of the helmet made her ears ring and she fought the feeling to gasp for air. Then the suit lit up and a display sprawled out in front of her.

“Systems online” rang a voice in her headset as the green glow of information screens lit the inside of her helmet. She could hear Raj again, though his voice sounded like it was coming through a radio.

“Ok, so you see all that stuff on the screen” continued Raj, “that’s your heads up display, it’ll tell you everything you need to know, from the amount of air you have left, to how fast your going and if you look the bottom left, you have the directions for your thrusters”

Fonu scanned the display until she found what Raj was referring to. There was an impression of her left and right hands with moving indicators that promoted various functions.

There were other dials and numbers telling her things like her body temperature, wind velocity and an outline of the suit that showed the various parts of it and what condition they were in.

The oxygen was all she cared about.

“I’ll be right behind you if anything” said Raj as he walked towards his own suit “so don’t worry about anything”

Easier said than done thought Fonu. The suit began to cool as its ventilation functions caught up and Fonu was grateful for that because it made it just a little more bearable.

Soon everyone was suited up and Igi made his way towards the front of the crew so they could all see him. Fonu noticed that she could see little figures on her display that represented each of them and from the monitoring system she also saw that Igi’s heart was racing.

“Ok everyone, into the pressure chamber” Igi called out as he made his way first.

They entered a smaller room, the floor of which had a line running down the middle as though it could open up. Fonu will find out later that it indeed does.  The walls of the chamber were made of reinforced glass and through it she could make out the Trinity wall. It stretched as far as she could see to either side and it rose high above them like a giant of metal and concert. She had no idea how deep they were, but it was deep enough for her to see the sea bed.

Fonu grew even more nervous.

As the doors shut behind them a red light filled the room and a second later a series of vents along the side opened up to let in a flurry of water. Within moments the chamber was filled with water and then the floor opened and gave way, dropping the crew into the depths. As Fonu sunk out of Nostromo, she looked up to see the exit hatch close above her, then a hum started as the hydro tubes along her back and at the bottom of the Storm Suit’s feet started pumping water.  She found herself suspended in place.

“That’s the suit keeping you steady” she heard Raj say, just follow the directions on the side and keep up with us”

She followed the instructions on screen and as she began to thrust forward, she looked up to see that the others were already making their way towards an opening in the wall.

Though it wasn’t hard for her to keep up, she moved cautiously, the darkness of the depths making her feel uneasy. She forced her self to focus on the glow of the helmets ahead of her, fearing what she might see if she lost a glance at the emptiness around her.

As she grew closer to the gap in the wall though, a faint glow began to appear. Igi was waiting for her at the gap, letting the others go in first.

“You’re doing well” he said as she got closer. She heard a remark from Vili, but it was under his breath and she couldn’t make out what it was. She was going to say something back, but then she saw the sight ahead of her.

The wall must have been over a few hundred meters thick, which meant that they had to travel a few hundred meters between the wall segments before they got through, but this went by easily as she was transfixed on the massive complex she could see s laid out before her.

Though the Hydro Drive facility was still a good mile or so away, they could see it clearly, its light as bright as day. It looked like an entire city, built under water. With towers and glass walk ways bustling with blinking lights. Fonu did not like what the Trinity were doing in New Oceania, but she could not help but be marveled by their ingenuity.

The crew came out of the gap and were on a sort of underwater hillside, looking down at the facility. Igi positioned himself on a rock and turned to face them.

“There it is” he said “we have to keep low and get there as soon as we can. Like I said, we’ll pulse every couple of meters so we don’t get picked up by any security drones, but just be careful”

And with that, he launched himself off the rock and down the hill. The others followed.

Fonu stared directly ahead, mesmerized by the structure in front of her. She had heard stories of this place, but to see such a thing with your own eyes was something else.

A glimmer of light distracted her and she turned to see a patch of  light at a distance. As she squinted, knowingly the Storm Suit brought up a smaller display on the side which zoomed into the area she was looking at. She then realized that she was staring at a school of fish.

The light was coming from the fine lines that ran along their side that glowed a faint blue. They were synthetics. They swam in unison in a spiral, shimmering against the darkness, seemingly oblivious to anything else.

Then as Fonu watches, their faint blue glow turns to red and they begin to slow down, the spiral shape they swam turning into a ball. Behind them Fonu could see a giant mass approaching and it scared her. She backed up into Ben who was behind her, also looking at what’s happening.

“It’s a fishing drone” he says in awe

Behind the synthetic fish appears what looks to be a giant metal sphere.  At its center is a giant circular light that glows red like a giant eye. As Fonu and the crew watches, the front of the sphere opens and long metal, tentacle like arms begin to crawl out of it. There are at least a few hundred arms, thick as a human arm but hundreds of meters long, and they move as though they were, each one of them, alive.

Some of them begin to usher the fish into the Sphere’s opening, while others start grabbing at the fish and pulling them in. The synthetics make no effort to swim away; instead they are completely docile and simply swim towards the Sphere.

“They’re programmed to swim into it” explains Ben.

They watched the Sphere complete its task. Silhouetted against the dark, like a giant sea monster from some ancient myth. As the final Synthetic swims into its jaws, the crew can see other red circles of light appear in the distance. Soon a sea of metal monsters are feeding around them.

 

 

6.

 

They had reached the perimeter of the facility and so far it seemed that the scrambler pulse had worked. No alarms were raised and no security drones in sight.

“We need to get to a terminal” ordered Igi “that way we can link up and then Ben can get a layout for this place. We’re coming up to what looks like a loading bay, we should be able to find something here somewhere”

As Igi had mentioned, most of the facility seemed to be automated, with not a person in sight. Following Ben, who in turn was following a series of cables, they soon came to a panel mounted to what appeared to be a set of cargo doors.

Ben pulled a wire from a fitting on the arm of his suit. He plugged it into a port on the panel and after a few button presses he breathed a sigh of relief.

“You got a map?” asked Vili

“Hell no,” laughs Ben, “all I did right now was blind the monitoring equipment for this area, once we get inside we should be able to find some sort of map”

Another button stroke and the cargo doors opened to compression chamber. This is one is much bigger than the one on the Nostromo, and it takes a while for the water in it to drain out. When it finally does, a set of doors open to what reassembled a warehouse. Inside they find; Nothing.

The place was empty. No worker drones, no personal. Whatever was going to happen tonight seemed to have required all other operations to be halted. This made Igi nervous as he could not believe the luck that has brought them this far unhindered.

Ben on the other had had no time for thought as he was already hooking his suit up to the console at the end of the room. The rest of the crew made their way past empty conveyor belts and storage containers to see that Ben had pulled up some sort of schematic for the building.

“Ok, so we have to make our way down that hall” he said pointing to a closed door behind the console, “in fact, what I’ll do is patch the way-points to the Hydro Drive to your suits computer and that should be able to guide you to…”

They saw the visor on Ben’s helmet splatter with blood before they heard the shot. Marica and Fonu screamed as Ben’s lifeless body hit the floor, while Vili and Igi turned, guns raised, to see that room was filled with Trinity guards.

At least twenty of them had taken up defensive positions through out the room, black visors making them seem faceless, the green lasers from their trained guns, finding their mark on the crew. They were in all black except for the one who stepped forward to address them, he was dressed in red. He raised a hand and the others lowered their guns.

“You are not supposed to be here” he spoke in a thick accent, “kindly put your weapons down and step out of the Storm Suits”

“What the fuck do we do man?” asked Vili under his breath, his gun scanning from one way to the other.

At first Igi says nothing, but then glancing down at the panel in front of them, he mutters;

“Just stay calm”

He looks down at Fonu, Marica and Raj who are under the console table, cowering.

“Raj, take the girls and head to the Drive, we’ll hold them off”

Raj says nothing.

“RAJ!” screams Igi, “pay attention bro, you gotta make a run for the Drive, ditch your suits on the way out, they’ll only slow you down, we’ll hold em off here”

Igi turns to Vili “we got this bro”

“we got this” spits Vili through grit teeth.

“Now, when we start firing you run for that door, ima hit the button to open it here”

“I can’t do it” Fonu cries

“Fonu, I’m sorry about all of this, but you can do this” Igi assures her. The Trinity guards raise their guns again, the one in red now falling back into cover.

“Now we’re going to start shooting on the count of three” says Igi

One

“No please wait” Raj begs

Two

Marica screams and begins to make a move

Three

A shot finds its place right into the back of Marica’s helmet. She falls face first and immediately a pool of blood surrounds her body. Igi slams his fist into the control panel and the doors behind them open. As Raj and Fonu make their way through, they hear the gun fire erupt behind them, the sounds of which muffle as the doors once again close.

Turning the corner Raj falls to his knees, taking off his helmet.

“What do we do?” he cries into his hands.

Fonu falls down next to him, blinking hard to get the tears out of her eyes. With a press of a button her helmet slides off and she quickly scrambles out of her Storm Suit.

“Raj, we have to keep going”

“But they’re all dead, we fucked up” Raj is shaking

“Listen to me” she grabs Raj by the face, “we have to keep going, you grab your stuff”

Raj gathers his explosive materials and Fonu grabs one of their helmets, the way-point map to the Hydro Drive blinking on the visors display. Turning the next corner, a loud siren begins to wail through the facility, whatever discretion there was to their intrusion is now gone. Fonu barely here’s the siren over the sound of her heart beating hard against her chest. Her only motive right now is to run with all her being. She glances at Raj between breaths to make sure that he is keeping up; the last thing she wants is to be alone right now.

Looking at the visor, she sees that the chamber housing the Hydro Drive is around the next corner, but as they come around they are greeted by a line of Trinity Guards with guns raised. Behind them, Fonu can see a group of men and women in suits. They look worried and confused, nervously chatting amongst themselves.

“Alright, that’s far enough” says one of the guards, “you don’t want to end up like your friends, so don’t do anything stupid”

Fonu and Raj stare at other, each expecting the other to give some sort of que, a que to anything. The guards begin to circle around them, the green laser sights of their guns flashing against Fonu’s eyes. She blinks looking away, her arms raised.

One of the guards quickly grabs her and kicks the back of her knees. She falls down hard and he holds her head down against the cold, tiled floor.

“You should never have come here” he mutters at her.

Another guard makes his way to Raj who looks as though he is on the verge of a panic attack. As the guard reaches for Raj’s hands, Raj quickly backs off and pulls a C4 satchel from his side.

“Nobody move!” he screams over the sirens “or I’ll blow us all the fuck up”

The guards immediately train their guns on him and the people in suits begin to panic.

“Just let her through the doors” he demands, gesturing to the room ahead. He has no idea if it has the Hydro Drive because every sign and written direction he has seen so far has been foreign.

The guards do nothing. Then one of the men in suits yells an order. Immediately the guard holding down Fonu lets her go. She rushes to Raj, who has his eyes fixed at the guards and people ahead.

“Raj what are you doing?” Fonu sobs

“What we came to do Fonu”

“But what do I do when I get in there?”

“I don’t know” grits Raj, “Just do something, there should be something in there for you to smash or pull apart”

Fonu starts to cry and the guards begin to move in closer

“Hey!” shouts Raj, his voice hoarse, “you back the fuck up!”

He turns to Fonu; “Go now!”

Fonu gathers herself and slowly walks towards the doors ahead. Half the guards turn to face her, their guns slowly tracking her. She walks past the people in suits who are horrified at the sight of her. They quickly move away and hide their faces. As she is about to make it to the doors a struggle breaks out behind her.

She turns to see the guards trying to overpower Raj. His screams competing with the sirens wail.

“Run” he shouts at her.

Fonu turns to see the giant sliding doors to the room ahead lowering down. Running as fast as she can, she shifts her momentum and falls on to her side, letting her body slide across the smooth surface of the titles, right under the lowering shutters.

With her eyes closed she hears the slam of metal on concrete as the doors shut behind her. Outside she can hear yelling. Orders being snapped over the screaming sirens, feet shuffling across tiles; but no sound from Raj

How was she going to get out here?

Fonu found herself in a giant room with high, curving walls which suggested a circular shape. She squinted her eyes at the ceiling but could not see it. The room was lit but a pale blue light coming from ahead of her.

And then she saw it.

A massive wall of blue light stood in front of her. It curved inwards away from her and stretched all the way up till it disappeared into the darkness.

Inside she could see water. It was a massive tank of water.

This was the Hydro Drive; but what were they so hard out to transport today?

She pressed up against the glass, the entire floor of the tank was lit with a dull white glow. In periods around the circumference, giant pipes feed into it and they seemed to be pumping water in and out. Suddenly a shape swam past her and she jumped back with a fright, landing on her back. As she stared up at the tank, beyond the glass she saw it.

It was there. It was…

A turtle.

No glowing lines on it. No Synthetic cuts where the segments of its body met. This was a real turtle, alive and swimming before her. This was impossible.

She quickly got up and ran up to the glass, pressing her hands and face against it. The turtle was swimming along the curve of the glass, gliding up and then down to keep a looping track.

It was beautiful. It’s long, slender fins gliding it effortlessly, the markings on its shell were so fine that they seemed almost painted on. Its underside shined white as the lights from the floor bounced off it.

There has been nothing alive in these waters for years. Where did the Trinity find him? What do they plan to do with him?

That turtle seemed to pay no attention to her.

It was like watching a piece of something ancient, totally oblivious to her, caught in its own place.

Staring at the turtle, Fonu didn’t hear the shutter doors opening, or the sound of rushing feet moving frantically towards her.

She doesn’t hear the shattering bang either.

She did feel her legs give way. She braced herself against the glass as she slid down onto her knees, looking down to see a red blossom gushing down her chest. Instinctively she pressed her hand against it, but the blood simply ran through her fingers.

Fonu looked up to see the turtle right in front of her now. Its giant eyes fixed upon her as it glided in place, staring at her like it knew her. She tried to touch it, but only smeared her blood across the glass. Looking into the turtle’s eye, Fonu felt her own eyes flooding with tears.

The room darkened around her as the sound of footsteps getting closer and frantic chatter, faded from her ears.

The last thing she would feel is a sense of immense sadness. Not because she knew she was going to die down here, but because she knew she was going leave him with them.

New Oceania belonged to the Trinity, but not the Turtle. He belonged to a time we will never see again.

 

THE END

In the shadow of a Bat.

Super heroes live cursed lives. No matter the flow of time or how the world outside of comic books change, our favorite heroes are doomed to relive over and over, the moments that we think bring out the best in them. Like Prometheus pushing a rock uphill, these heroes are punished for their goodwill.

Peter Parker for example; even though he grows older and inherits companies or watches his aunt die, every now and then a writer will take him back to high school, where he or she thinks the hero thrives best. Juggling the complexities of being a kid with the demands of being a (Spider) man is what readers love about the character, so it’s what the writer gives us. Over and over he is forced to relive his uncle Ben being shot, or Gwen dying in his arms. He has to get used to his powers, realize that said powers come with responsibility, defeat the villain and get the girl. Then in a few years he’ll do it all over again. He learns nothing because he isn’t allowed to.

Superman loses Krypton, the X-men are forever outcasts and the Hulk will never know peace. This is the price of their heroism.

In the mid 80s though, one hero got to overcome this.

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When Frank Miller set down to pen a new Batman story, some thing dawned on him. He was at the time, older than the supposed age of his fictional protagonist. The Caped Crusader that he grew up admiring was now someone he could be schooling. This idea didn’t sit well with Miller and it was that one reflection that forever changed the face of comic books.

What if Batman was old?

The premise seems so simple now, but Miller recognized the complexities that came with it then. He gave us a Batman that had lived with his parents death for years. Not only had it taken a toll on him, but the war he waged because of it, bent and broke everyone around him. Both those close to him and the ones that fought against him.

Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns sees a Batman were the years have not been kind. He is slower now. His ways aren’t well received by everyone. He is not the hero in blue tights, running around throwing bombs away; he is a vigilante in black, taking the law into his own hands. Gotham has changed or gotten worse. The criminals are stronger and faster, and Bruce needs to reached deep down into a literal pit of muck and depravity to make the fight even again. BUT unlike other heroes, Miller’s Batman doesn’t evolve to fit into his new world, instead he is a hard metal wrench forced into it. He is not faster, or slicker. He is old school. Miller understands that no one ever changes, but instead they get worse or better at what they do, until time decides otherwise. So it’s not necessarily Batman who has changed, but Bruce Wayne has gotten better at understanding what it means to be Batman.

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Batman is the idea and ideas are timeless.

One reason, Batman is as relevant today as he was 80 years ago, is not because he fits into every generation, but the fact that he always stands out. He is the outsider. In a comic full of detectives in suits, he was a man dressed as a bat. This is why stories like Gotham By Gaslight and Red Son are so good, because Batman is the sore thumb. The idea of someone like Jack Ripper is crazy and it unbelievable and good writers should never forget to make that the idea of a man, dressed as a bat to fight crime, is also crazy and unbelievable.

I think this is the fundamental idea that Miller embraces. Miller’s Batman is decidedly not a hero like Superman or the Flash. He doesn’t play by the rules or sit well with everyone. He is terrifyingly unhinged and not just a hindrance to crime, but a big middle finger to EVERYTHING that allows crime to happen. Miller writes Batman as the ultimate symbol of anti-establishment. Someone who must be stopped or taken down because he is messing up the status quo; someone who makes even the heroes uneasy.

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Miller also writes Batman to actually have a proper feeling about his predicament; what started as hardcore grief therapy is now something that makes Bruce feel alive. Miller’s Batman doesn’t relive his pain over and over again, instead he has come to live with it and in a twisted way; he makes the most of it. Bruce’s pain is now the city’s pain and he makes sure every last scumbag in Gotham gets a taste of it.

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Frank Miller’s Batman is brash, violent and ultimately a man “fighting crime” to simply exorcise his owns demons.

BUT it works. 80 years of comics and fandom proves that a lot of us can relate to a world so dark and bleak, that the Dark Knight; a man dressed as a giant bat, can be a ray of hope.

The Dark Knight Returns went on to give every hero something to strive towards and it gave me a context for every Batman story I’ve read ever since. Frank Miller and his Batman instilled in me the idea that it’s just as important to know where you’re heading, as it is to do whatever it takes to get there.

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Nioh: The Evolution of Soul-Likes.

I put off playing Nioh for the longest time. When it’s demos came out, I was still into the thick of Dark Souls 3. The month Nioh released, I was eagerly waiting for Dark Soul 3s Ringed City DLC. Usually when a DLC hits, I like to run a new toon, then I pick up weapons and find new builds to try, this way, the Souls games have really given me real value for money.

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Nioh became one of those games that “I’ll get to eventually” and soon not even that. I’d see it on my “Wish List” and it would pop up as a notification during sales, but by this time I just wasn’t in the mood for a “Dark Souls Clone”.

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Sekiro: Shadows die twice

However, in anticipation for Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, I was looking for something to tie me over till for Form software’s new release and the game that immediately came to mind was Nioh. Because I live an enchanted life, the day I decided to buy Nioh, it went on special on Steam. So I happily snatched up the Complete edition and expected at least a week or so of fun.

After tiles like Lords of the Fallen and Ashen, I honestly wasn’t expecting much. I figured if Nioh could keep me even remotely entertained, it would be worth the discounted price.

Then Nioh totally and utterly just blew my mind. 

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Nioh

The opening chapter of Nioh does nothing to give hints at it’s greatness. In fact, it only made stronger my hate for “Souls like” games. BUT once that opening chapter was over and the game opened up with layers and layers of gameplay mechanics, Nioh quickly made me hate myself for missing out on it’s brilliance for so long.

At a superficial level, Nioh compares to the Souls games in that it has a high level of difficulty and required skill (or patience). It has an attack and a harder attack, dodge rolls, a “stamina bar” and punishing boss fights. The world resets whenever you rest at a shrine, just like the bonfires in the Souls games (and the lamps in Bloodborne) and if you die, you drop your experience points at a spot you have to fight back to. If you die a second time, that pool of experience points is gone forever.

Couple that with a story rich environment, loads of great characters and a tendency to throw you into the deep end, you’d forgive the Dark Souls comparisons. Nioh soon transcends it’s forced comparative competitor though, feeling more like an evolution of the Dark Souls formula, even compared to From software’s own sequels.

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The first difference is Nioh’s Skill trees. You can not choose a class in Nioh, instead you play as William, an English adventurer thrust into Nioh’s Oni infested world. As you level up, you can put points into stats such as Strength, Stamina, Spirit and as you do so, you unlock points for three different skill trees. Points in Strength or Stamina give you Samurai points, which you then use to unlock moves for your weapons. Where in Souls games, you weapon’s moves are limited to the weapon type, which in turn varies if it is a fancy named weapon, in Nioh you can change your moves with the Samurai Skills. Want to end a combo with a kick? Spec for it. Want to dash in for quick hits and then somersault out? Spec for it. Want throwing stars, elemental buffs and more run speed? You can find items in the game world that does this, or you can spec to specialise in it. Sure there are certain cookie-cutter talents/ skills everyone should have, like parry or more Ki, but ultimately there is no wrong way to spec William because you play him however you want to.

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Nioh’s Stats and Skill tree is not dumbed down.

Ki by the way is the equivalent of Stamina. It’s a depleting bar that determines how many attacks, blocks and dodges you can do. When it runs out, you are left drained and open for an attack. BUT, as you spend Ki, you’ll notice a blue light flash around you and across the Ki bar. Hitting the Stance button as it flashes replenishes the used Ki and keeps you in the fight. Miss-time it and you mess up your Ki regen. it’s effectively an “Active Reload” feature that keeps the combat flowing, instead of forcing you to circle and wait for the Ki bar replenish.

 

That Stance button I mentioned, cycles your attacks from high, medium and low. High Attacks are slower, but more powerful, while low attacks are fast and allow for a responsive play-style that chips away at the enemy. Medium stance, as you’d guess, is a balance of the two. Each stance changes up the attacks of your weapons drastically.

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Weapons in Nioh are similar to loot drops in Diablo. You could have the same sword drop a few times throughout the course of the game and it never gets old because the stats on them are random. Some named items will have a few fixed stats, but you might have a nice sword that has back-stab damage and then find the same sword with increased close-combat damage. What if you want to keep both stats? Well, if the stat has  a “carry over” icon, you can merge that weapon into your preferred weapon. If your weapon is low level, this same merging can boost the level of your weapon if you merge it with a higher one. You can already see how the crafting system is a little more interesting than the Souls games.

Armour plays a huge part in Nioh too. You have various regular sets that drop off enemies, but you also have special named sets that offer Set-bonuses. These armour pieces can be merged with higher level items too, to keep them at a relevant level. And if you have that one cool armour piece that doesn’t LOOK cool, you can swap out it’s appearance with an item that does look bad-ass. Essentially, Nioh has a transmrog system like Diablo 3 and World of Warcraft.

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There is a multi-player component to Nioh too. You can Co-op certain missions and even duel other players. The best part of Nioh’s online component is that when players die in their games, they leave a bloody grave in your game world. Yes, just like the Souls games, but what makes these graves different is that if you interact with them, they summon a Revenant into your world, which is essential the hungry NPC ghost of another player, compete with their weapons and armour. If you defeat a Revenant, they drop a random piece of their gear!

So you could farm and grind for that one particular armour piece and weapon, or you can challenge a Revenant who may drop it for you. I will admit that this mechanic can be taken advantage of, as I was trying to farm a particular set of gear and because every revenant I fought was wearing the set, I had multiple pieces of the set in only a few hours of Revenant farming. (The set was the Warrior of the West and it is boss at low levels)

Not only do you have all these cool mechanics and gear to aid you in your quest to fight angry, demonic spirits, but you have a special Spirit animal of your own too. In fact, you have several to choose from , each one bringing a tweak to game play to complement your play style, or make up for something you may lack through your gear and build.

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The mission structure of Nioh is that of an open world map that has mission markers. When you finish a story mission or a side mission, it gets remixed and becomes available as an extra mission to farm gear and items. Every night there are new Twilight missions too, which are higher in difficulty but offer greater rewards.

The world of Nioh is divided into hubs, and the levels you play through often have multiple paths and short cuts to keep your adventures interesting. Exploration is rewarded with hidden weapons and items, as well as little Kodama spirits or tree spirits who offer blessings, depending on the hat they are wearing. For every five of these spirits, you get an extra health elixir, which is Nioh’s equalvalent of Estus flasks.

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Enemy design in Nioh is a thing of beauty. The horrors that inhabit the levels are visually distinct and do a lot to inspire both challange and dread. This goes double for the bosses, who have some of the coolest designs I’ve seen in a game. Because of the Japanese influence, these bosses are dawned in amazing costumes, or elaborate spiritual markings that fill the screen with both menace and delight. Add this to the wonderfully designed environments and Nioh is a feast for the eyes.

Nioh is honestly one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had. It’s the best thing I’ve played since Dark Souls 1 and though I’ve been comparing the two throughout this written piece, it does the game no justice, because Nioh is honestly a lot more than “another souls like”.

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“Only by living at the edge of death can you understand the indescribable joy of life.”
― James Clavell, Shōgun

The risk versus reward system of a title such as Nioh, is one of the more exciting mechanics in games for me today, where you want to explore and see what the world has to offer, but the threat of your embedding doom at the hands of even the game’s most trivial enemy, keeps the atmosphere tense and exciting. Growing as a player to tackle these threats is what I love best about games like Dark Souls and Nioh, and this challenge is what I think Nioh set out to replicate and succeeded at.

In fact, where Nioh was being compared to Dark Souls, as Sekiro approaches I wonder if it will live up to Nioh. I know these are different games, built on their own style and merit, but Nioh has set my expectations for changeling game-play at a whole new level. I’m buying Sekiro the day after tomorrow, it releases in four days, but I am going to make sure I finish Nioh before I move on to Sekiro. It is a great game that deserves it’s place amongst the those that are defining this generation of games.

 

Vampyr – A Cult Classic in the making

Sometimes a game just clicks and Vampyr really sank it’s teeth into me. No Spoilers.

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The first attraction for me was the genre and setting. I love anything to do with Vampires, BUT not these modern, cool vampires that hang in bars or glisten in the sunlight. I like the old stuff; the folk tales and the garlic and superstitious villages and towns people.

I like the Anne Rice setting and the old Christopher Lee Dracula movies. And at first glance of those early trailers for Vampyr, it looked like the game was into the same things too.

In the end though, it was the oddest thing about Vampyr that got me. It wasn’t JUST the setting, because though it’s old Victorian London looked nice, soon you would have seen all of it and most of it starts to look “samey”.

It wasn’t JUST the “Vampire thing” because I felt the game could have done more to embrace it. The devs could have played with sunlight more; in game, sunlight is an issue very briefly at the start of the first chapter. Weaknesses such as crucifixes and garlic  hardly come into play; there are mobs that walk around with giant crucifixes, but hardly use them, and I would have loved to see homes and establishments in game covered with hanging garlic bundles like in the old movies. In fact, aside from the Vampire theme, the horror theme of it is pretty subdued too. I wish the game had more nods to Vampire pop culture, but the devs are literally called “Dontnod” so maybe they really wanted to do their own thing.

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Horror Of Dracula. Hands down the best Christopher Lee Dracula movie.

The games combat, though enjoyable for me, is not a strong point either. I’ve read people complain about the combat, but the way I played was a lot of fun. I decided to embrace the whole vampire theme and the very first thing I leveled was my Bite and built my kit around that. Even though most things I read recommended against it. Because I’m a Vampire! My bite has to be the meanest thing about me.

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So Combat for me was, shadow teleporting to an enemy, stun them with my two-handed club, drink their blood, create a shadow explosion at their feet and then turning into a mist and disappearing into the shadows, ready to strike again. It looked great visually and it was fast and fun to play.

The overall ecstatic of the game I think could have been pushed further too. The menus and inventory worked just fine, but they looked so out of place for me. I wish the Devs had explored more period focused themes. Maybe make the dialogue choice boxes look like silent movie frames or pull more inspiration from the posters and art work of the time.

This could have extended into the lighting and atmosphere of the game. I loved the setting and scenery, but it wasn’t until I installed a nice ReShade for the game that Vampyr really popped for me visually. I can’t help but imagine how great the game would have looked in Black and White, like an old classic horror film, but with objectives and such marked in blood red. Or they could have gone for a Technicolour look, like those old Hammer films.

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Mucking around with ReShade

When you sum all these up, Vampyr starts screaming to be great. Great ideas that never really feel realized. BUT Vampyr is honestly one of the most engrossing things I’ve played in the longest time and that’s because there is one thing the game does extremely well and that’s the characters. NOT the story mind you, because that has it’s dips too, but the characters that populate the world of Vampyr are some of the most interesting people I have ever met in a video game. It’s if you could play Mass Effect and every character had the depth and care in their story that Mordin or Jack did.

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I switched between a ReShade setting called Cinestyle Filmic before settling on Aroma.

I cared about every one of them. I wanted to meet them all and hear their stories. This is what added life to the game for me. Exploring the world to find these people and then doing what I can to know them better.

The game has a mechanic that lets you get more XP from killing a citizen whose back story you have fully explored, but that’s not why I did it. I only killed 4 out of the 60 named characters for my first play through.  No, I did it because I genuinely loved snooping into their lives >_<

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I wish there was more of this kinda stuff

Vampye is pretty much Downton Abbey, but with Vampires. Everyone one is connected and everyone has something they’re hiding and so you do everything you can to uncover their secret. You talk to their friends, follow them around, go through their things, just so when they say something to you, you can turn around say “BULLSHIT! I KNOW YOU’VE BEEN DOING THIS!”

This is Vampyr’s strong point. And seeing how these are the same devs who made Life Is Strange, I’m not surprised. It’s moments of amazing character interaction, broken up with exploring and combat. And I loved it.

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Vampyr to me has all the makings of a cult classic. 10 years from now, it will be on some list of top 10 games that should have gotten more attention. It even gives me a Witcher 1 vibe at times, because the game feels thought out and lovingly put together, with actual ambition, but probably needs a sequel to reach it’s full potential.

Vampyr is a game that you should check out if you liked Life Is Strange or games like Oxenfree and Night in the Woods. You play it for the story, the dialogue and the characters. It’s not an action horror RPG, it’s a thoughtful exploration of the Human condition and how much blood you can suck out of it.