Still Wakes The Deep - title

I keep being drawn to games developed by the Chinese Room, despite always being disappointed by them. Their games always represent the things that people dislike most about "walking simulators". But since I don't have any inherent dislike for walking sims, I keep giving The Chinese Room another chance. Still Wakes The Deep caught my attention by being described as "John Carpenter's The Thing set on an oil rig". The Thing is a masterpiece of horror, and one of my favorite movies ever.

I had visions of Still Wakes The Deep being a story about inter-personal paranoia in the claustrophobic and isolated setting of an oil rig that is gradually being overtaken by a Lovecraftian alien threat. That's only partly true though, as Still Wakes The Deep plays up the cosmic horror element, while downplaying the paranoia element and replacing it with simpler themes about interpersonal relationships and the artificial walls that people tend to put up between themselves and the people they care about.

An oil rig is a great setting for horror, combining dark claustrophobic corridors with the terror of being stuck at sea.

Alone, together, on an oil rig

The setting of an oil rig is an interesting one for a psychological horror story or video game. The environment is completely enclosed and claustrophobic, with little-to-no escape. People are forced to live and work together in close quarters, and their survival is largely dependent on one another. Being stuck in such a setting, with people who you can't trust, would surely be terrifying.

The short length of Still Wakes The Deep does hurt it a lot. Specifically, the inciting incident happens very early and suddenly, with little-to-no build up or transition between "normal" and "everything's gone to shite". I never felt like I got a chance to really get to know any of the supporting characters, to the point that I wasn't even sure what their names were, or which character was being referred to when a name came up in a document or conversation. Similarly, when I find any given body or corpse, I have no idea who it's supposed to be. I had a brief opportunity to snoop around in a few characters' cabins at the start, but all that really told me was that the boss is a hard-ass, and there's one other character who might be a racist, neo-fascist prick. Other than that, there's like one opportunity to have a brief exchange with each of the main supporting characters, and it's all optional, and most of it is more about the state of the rig anyway.

There's hardly any time to explore the rig or get to know the crew before the inciting incident.

The brief intro, and fact that the rig goes to shite so quickly and suddenly, means that there's also never an opportunity for the player to get a feel for the setting itself. I got about 20 minutes to walk through a couple hallways, some crew cabins, the mess hall, and the main deck, and then it's right into the horror, with the rig literally falling apart around me. From here on out, it's hard to ever get a sense for where, exactly, I am on the rig, or how the different sections fit together or relate to one another. When floors and walls literally start collapsing, I can't tell one hallway from another. This is despite the fact that the game loops the player around through the same mess hall and lounge, that we saw in the intro, like 5 or 6 times throughout the game. Despite revisiting this same location multiple times, I never really recognized it until I was inside the lounge or mess hall. Every set piece just feels like a semi-random series of corridors and obstacles in which all I have to do is push forward on the analog stick to get where I need to go. There's no open-ended exploration whatsoever, no hidden secrets, and no alternate paths.

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Over the years, I have frequently recommended that people stop buying new games from AAA publishers at retail. Don't buy them at all, or if you do, wait for a sale, or buy it used. This is because the massive, international, conglomerate corporations that publish these games are sleazy, scummy, or outright evil.

They underpay their employees.

They abuse their employees with cultures of crunch.

They hang the Sword of Damacles over their employees heads with the perpetual threat of layoffs.

They report record profits to their shareholders and award billion dollar bonuses to executives on a Tuesday, and then lay off hundreds or thousands of workers on Wednesday because they "can't afford" to keep them.

Some publishers even have active cultures of sexual harassment and abuse of female employees, which their HR departments are happy to cover up or sweep under the rug.

They harass and ostracize transgender employees and hold their healthcare hostage.

They fight against unionization.

They overcharge for their products.

They sell un-regulated gambling to minors.

They sell half-baked or broken products at full price.

They cancel promising upcoming products with little-to-no rhyme or reason.

They want to take away the consumer's right to own the media that we buy.

The list goes on...

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I've always seen Fallout as a bleak and cynical video game series. Yes, it has humor, but that humor is, itself, very dark and cynical. As such, the goofy, slapstick humor of the early episodes of Amazon Prime's Fallout TV show were a bit off-putting for me.

Around episode 3 or 4, however, the tone begins to shift. From then on, this show is Fallout through and through. It is violent. It is graphic. It is cynical.

Amazon did a fantastic job with the cast. Ella Purnell is fantastic as the innocent and naïve vault-dweller (named Lucy) who serves as the audience surrogate for exploring this world, as well as an adaptation of the player avatar for all of us who tried to play the first game's Vault-Dweller in a "good karma" playthrough. Aaron Clifton Moten has a weird, detached quality to his performance as Maximus, as if Maximus is half sleep-walking through the events. As weird as the performance is, it does give a genuine sense that Maximus is just completely callous and desensitized to the violence and cruelty of the Wasteland, and he only ever seems to perk up when that cruelty gives way to some kind of comfort or happiness.

The side characters are also well cast and entertaining. From Kyle MacLachlan's vault-daddy, to Matt Berry as the voice of the Mr. Handy robots, and all the Wasteland inhabitants and vault-dwellers in between, everybody is great.

But the real show-stealer is Walton Goggins as the movie cowboy-turned-ghoul bounty hunter Cooper Howard. He steals every scene he's in, and gives off just the right combination of confidence, charm, and antagonism befitting such a gun-slinging cowboy anti-hero. We also see empathy and vulnerability in his character, especially in the flashbacks to the pre-war times.

Fallout (Amazon) - Walton Goggins as Cooper Howard © Amazon.
Walton Goggins steals the show, even if his make-up leaves a little to be desired.

The lower budget of a TV show does make itself apparent with some of the makeup effects and one character's digital de-aging effect looking pretty bad. Walton Goggin's ghoul makeup looks more like he's cosplaying the Red Skull than being one of the rotting zombies wandering the wastes. I'm wondering if this was the result of a contractual requirement that the actor's makeup not be too uncomfortable or hide too much of his face, because other ghoul characters and extras that we see in the later episodes look pretty ghoulish.

But other than that, the show looks good. The Wasteland has that eerie beauty that we come to expect from a post-apocalyptic landscape. Whatever money was saved on Walton Goggins' makeup must have been spent on the Power Armor costumes. The Power Armor costumes look fantastic and move surprisingly well for being such a large and bulky practical effect. Being an actual costume (or maybe a puppet?), the Power Armor has an appropriate dirty and weathered look to it, and doesn't clash with the scenery in the way I usually expect a CG character to look.

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The Twilight Zone VR - title

I like the original The Twilight Zone TV show. I wouldn't call myself a huge mega fan or anything, but it's easily my second favorite show from the 60's. Heck, The Twilight Zone might even hold up better than the majority of original Star Trek episodes, and the show is probably more progressive too. For one thing, it isn't loaded with as much of the casual sexism and fetishization of women that keeps popping up in Star Trek.

In any case, the PSVR2 release of a Twilight Zone game kind of came out of nowhere. I saw a preview of it on my Google news feed on my phone the day before the game went on sale on PSN. Heck, the PSN didn't even have it listed as "coming soon". It didn't even show up in the store until it was released, and I immediately jumped on it and bought it.

The game is a small anthology of 3 short, original Twilight Zone stories with some contemporary themes. I was glad to see the game divided up into multiple chapters, and for these chapters to apparently be playable in any order (even though I opted to play them in order anyway). The Twilight Zone really works better as short stories like this, as the premises and twists rarely (if ever) hold up for longer stories. In fact, trying to pad some of its stories into an hour runtime or longer was one of the biggest problems with CBS and Jordan Peele's recent reboot.

You are about to enter The Twilight Zone.

As a tiny nitpick, I will say that I don't understand why Pocket Money chose to use the term "chapters" instead of "episodes"? The use of the word "chapter" implies a small section of a larger story, with that small section not being a story in itself; while the word "episode" would imply self-contained stories that may relate to or follow one another, but which have their own beginning, middle, and end that does not necessarily depend on the other episodes. Yes, all 3 chapters do refer to one another, and seem to take place in the same continuity, and one of them kind of acts as a prequel to another. Regardless of those connections, each chapter is a completely independent, self-contained story that does not at all rely on the events of the other chapters in order to understand what is happening. You can play these chapters in any order, or play any one of them without playing the others, and it wouldn't make any difference to the perception or interpretation of the stories. And in fact, the game is perfectly willing to let the player play them in any order.

Each of this game's chapters takes about 30 minutes to an hour to play, and the whole game should be playable in 2 hours (give or take). Any of the chapters may take longer depending on how many times you might have to repeat some of its more tedious stealth or shooting sections. So these little VR stories hit the sweet spot in terms of length, and they don't over-complicate their gameplay such that it distracts from the story being told. In terms of story-telling, Pocket Money Games puts up a really solid product here. The actual game, however, is a lot less solid.

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Oh, boy. Here we go. The Matrix: Resurrections is basically The Last Jedi of Matrix movies. If you hated The Last Jedi, then you'll probably hate this for much the same reason. Similar to The Last Jedi, The Matrix Resurrections is all about the creative pressure to live up to toxic fandom expectations, and it's predicated on a twist that a lot of fans might consider to be "unfaithful" to the original trilogy.

Personally, I liked The Last Jedi much more than most. I think it's the best film in the sequel trilogy, even if it does make a lot of very hard missteps. And the stuff that I liked most about The Last Jedi happened to be the stuff that most other people were most offended by.

Despite the similarities, I doubt that The Matrix Resurrections will be received with the same level of vitriol as The Last Jedi was. For one, we've seen a lot of these sort of cynical deconstructions of fandoms and sequel expectations since The Last Jedi released, and so I think a lot of the public is desensitized to it now. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, The Matrix Resurrections doesn't commit as fully to its cynical view of the franchise. While that might appease many fans who just want to see another "Matrix" movie, it's probably the biggest reason that I felt disappointed by The Matrix Resurrections.

Personally, I enjoyed the first half of the movie, but was immensely disappointed with the second half.

The Matrix Resurrections - sad Keanu
© Warner Bros., 2020.
The Last Jedi - jaded Luke
© Disney, 2017.
The Matrix Resurrections reminded me a lot of The Last Jedi, but without the guts to commit to its polarizing twist.

This review will be pretty spoiler-y, as I will be talking about the plot twist. So consider yourself warned, and watch the movie before reading further if you don't want to have it spoiled. Though at this point, just telling you that there are spoilers at all is probably already a spoiler, so what's the point of the warning?

...

If you care enough to not be spoiled, have you watched the movie yet? If not, then I'm assuming you don't care. OK. Good. Let's continue.

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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