, | Movie reviews

There can be a thin line between homage and pandering. Turbo Kid, which lands with a resounding thud on the wrong side of that line, is a reverse engineered attempt at 80s nostalgia. With its bright Reagan era palette, thinly veiled Nintendo Power Glove, and earnest post-apocalyptic cheese but soft-pedaled BMX bike aesthetic, it’s meant to recall movies like Megaforce, Metalstorm, Ice Pirates, and Spacehunter. If you can name the subtitles of any of those movies, Turbo Kid thinks it’s for you!

But reverse engineered nostalgia requires a deft touch that eludes this group of filmmakers, who have all the energy and know-how of a crowdsourced movie crew. Without that touch, you’re liable to end up being as bad as your source material, and all the more cringe-worthy for aping it. It takes a Robert Rodriguez to craft a Planet Terror. For some reason, Turbo Kid is chock full of tone-deaf splatter humor. I’ve seen my share of cheesy 80s post-apocalyptic movies shot in rock quarries. I don’t remember any of them being showered in blood and viscera. Turbo Kid eventually has to whip out an umbrella against it all.

Michael Ironsides, looking more like someone’s grandfather than Michael Ironsides, seems to have lost his appetite for chewing scenery, which results in a curiously laidback villain. He’ll get to you when he gets to you. The highlight of this weirdly cloying enterprise is the wide-eyed Laurence Leboeuf as the hero’s love interest slash sidekick. Leboeuf brings almost too much energy to every scene, playing her role like a souped-up Cheri Oteri crossed with a blissed out Jodie Foster. The movie can barely contain her.

Turbo Kid is available for video on demand.

, | Game reviews

Fran Bow has been committed to a mental hospital. It’s 1944. Her parents are dead. She misses her cat terribly. She suffering serious side effects from her medication. But at least she seems to be doing better than the other children in the hospital. Or is she? How reliable a narrator is Fran Bow?

I don’t want to say too much about Fran or her unfolding predicament, because the real value of this indie adventure game is its darkening mystery. But Fran stands out for being an Alice in Wonderland without the self-aware “oh, I’m so dark and edgy” of many latter-day Alices in their wonderlands (you’ll find an amusing Alice in Wonderland easter egg late in the game).

Although the main character is a ten-year-old girl, this is an adult game. If Fran Bow was a movie, it would be rated R for gratuitous gore and extreme images. It’s more Silent Hill than, say, Double Fine. The story doesn’t shy away from Fran being a girl either. One of the adult characters you meet will give you the inventory item you need if you “sit on his knee” or “give him a kiss”. These aren’t options, of course. Fran knows it’s skeevy and she’s having none of it. But it serves as a creepy reminder that a story about a ten-year-old girl can have different kinds of peril than a story about a ten-year-old boy. Let’s move on. The game certainly does.

After the jump, child’s play Continue reading →

, | Game reviews

Part of Trajan is a pretty cool “points salad”. You pick some bit of the board and take tiles or move pieces. Your Roman legions are conquering the Germanic barbarians or your workers are building a Roman something-or-other or you’re vying with other players in the Roman Senate or collecting gladiators for the Roman bread and circuses. Each of these things gets you points. It’s very stately and boardgamey and Roman. You feel like you’re wearing a toga.

But there’s a price to pay in Trajan, a classic — I would say “infamous” — boardgame by Stefan Feld. Before you sample from the points salad, you have to scooch some colored doo-dads around a series of bowls. It’s called a mancala. Mancalas are an ancient African tribal thing that uses dried beans and gourds. It’s not very Roman. Why is this the price of entry for taking my turn as a Roman dude doing Roman stuff? Why did Stefan Feld put this between me and the rest of Trajan?

The mancala all but consumes Trajan. It’s not my turn yet, but like everyone else playing the game, I have my head down studying the bowls. Let’s see, if I move the pink bean two bowls over, then next turn I can move four beans three bowls over which will let me, no, no, that’s not quite right because then I’ll jump the bowl with the two beans I need to later on do the thing I need to do. I mean, really, fuck these beans. Sorry for saying that. But it has to be said. Fuck these beans.

Elysium, which is twice the game Trajan will ever be, is much less complicated but every bit as bad.

After the jump, damnable columny Continue reading →

, | News

Canadian developer Longbow Games made quite a splash with Hegemony I, set in ancient Greece, and Hegemony II, set in ancient Rome. The schtick in their strategy games was a unified real-time world where you didn’t have to sit through a long loading screen every time you fought a battle. The battle just happened, right there on the strategic map, the same way actual battles happened in history. That’s realism.

Unfortunately, Longbow’s attempt to Kickstarter Hegemony III didn’t take. Was it because it was set in pre-ancient Greek times, before Alexander came along and made everything cool? Was it because Hegemony II was already plenty good and full of open-ended content? Was it because strategy game fans are too stingy to pony up a mere $30,000? Canadian dollars, sure. But, still, only thirty thousand of them. Whatever the case, Longbow was all, like, screw Kickstarter, we’re going to do it anyway and hope people just buy it when it comes out. That time is now. Hegemony III is out today on Steam for less than thirty bucks.

The thing about a Hegemony game is that the gameplay trumps the setting. I have no idea who these people are when I select one of the four factions in the basic campaign. The Veii, the Valathri, the Velch, and the Clevsin? I think I’ve fought all those guys in Star Control, but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. Hegemony III’s objective-based campaign will walk you through the ins-and-outs of being, say, a Veii in the olden days. But for everyone else, there’s the grand campaign, where you aren’t limited to just four factions. Let’s take a look.

After the jump, I came, I saw, I froze up because I didn’t know which one to take. Continue reading →

, | News

Just in case you were planning on playing any new games, Blizzard has released the 2.3.0 patch for Diablo III on the PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. It adds a new snow biome called the ruins of Sescheron. It is physically impossible to say the name of this new place without sounding like you’re drunk. The ruins of Sescheron (hic!) is where you’ll find the Horadric Cube, except now it’s called Kanai’s Cube because the name Horadric Cube was taken. Throw legendary items into this doo-dad to collect and catalog their powers for use in crafting recipes. Gotta catch ’em all! You can also more easily assemble sets of gear that were previously the domain of the random numbers generator’s cruel tyranny. Basically, your newfound Cube leads you down a whole new rabbit hole of crafting, guaranteed to keep you from playing other games for weeks to come.

Among the other changes, the Torment level now goes up to X. Adventure Mode, a.k.a. the Only Way To Play, has been adjusted to feed into the new crafting sink. Among the usual adjustments to the different classes, the largest chunk of text is devoted to Witch Doctor changes. Remember, kids, time spent in Diablo III not playing a Witch Doctor is time wasted!

Here’s the complete list of features.

, | Movie reviews

Someone needs to attack a van carrying mental patients to a treatment facility. Don’t ask. So he brings along his mentally disabled younger brother, who hasn’t taken his meds that day. The younger brother freaks out and shoots everyone. Later, the younger brother will dry hump a kidnapped girl while she’s passed out and tied up. He’s in the running for the worst possible guy you could bring along on a heist.

The twist in Big Sky, a movie where the big reveal is that kids were allowed to play unattended near a swimming pool, is that one of the patients being transported is an agoraphobe. The only way she can travel is closed up in a big metal box, which means the heisters didn’t see her. Now she has to set out under the big sky because her mother, who was riding in the van, is slowly bleeding to death from a gunshot. So the agoraphobe wraps herself up in cloth, puts on some gloves, and sets out across the desert, taking tiny baby steps, one at a time, very slowly. Meanwhile, her mother bleeds out. Big Sky is not about people doing effective things.

The character who takes the biggest slice of Big Sky’s dumb character cake is an addled druggie who attacks the agoraphobe heroine out in the desert. She has pepper spray to defend herself. She brandishes it. He takes it from her. Then he pepper sprays himself in the face. This actually happens. He pepper sprays himself in the face. He holds down the nozzle and waves it around his face as if he were applying spray-on sunblock. This allows the heroine to escape. Imagine a bad guy disarming someone by taking her handgun and then just going ahead and shooting himself. There’s a term for this in drama: deus ex moron.

These are the sort of characters who inhabit Big Sky, a thriller that goes to such ridiculous lengths to generate its supposed thrills that you’re still going “wait, what?” while it’s carrying on as if it just made sense.

Big Sky is currently available for video on demand. Support Qt3 by watching a guy pepper spray himself on Amazon.com.

, | Game reviews

There are three stages of Conflicks: Revolutionary Space Battles. The first is before you’ve even played, when you see the game’s intro, which you can watch here. The wacky combination of European history, but in space; the Industrial Revolution, but with chickens; and that awesome artwork means I want to play whatever this game is. The second stage is finding out what this game is. A real-time strategy game with…an Angry Birds interface? If there’s one thing crazier than that intro, it’s space combat based on flicking your ships around the screen without even the benefit of an iPad.

After the jump, you’re on your way to the third stage of Conflicks. Continue reading →

, | Game reviews

Better games than Cosmonautica have struggled with how to make commutes interesting. Flying across the reaches of empty space, which is pretty much what spaceships do, isn’t really a good thing to make a game about. Because what are you going to do when you’re not having a space battle? The same thing you do on a car trip? Listen to podcasts or books on tape? Chat with your buddy? Play “I Spy” with your kids? Zone out? Zone out is the answer provided by most games about flying through space.

Unfortunately, Cosmonautica doesn’t have a good answer, so zone out it is. Hit the fast forward button and wait. It didn’t seem like it was going to be that way when you first started Cosmonautica. You thought you would have a role to play when you first watched your crew scurry about in that precious cutaway view of your ship. Maybe you’d have to coordinate your crew the way your coordinate sims. But no such luck. They take care of themselves entirely. You’re just a spectator in a game where there’s nothing interesting to see. Just zone out until you get to the next space station.

After the jump, we’re still not there yet. Continue reading →

, | Features

The latest pick for the Quarter to Three Classic Game Club, chosen by WarpRattler, is Monolith’s cult classic TRON 2.0. Developer Monolith was at the top of their game when they released it in 2003. This was the Monolith that gave us No One Lives Forever, putting that same level of world-building, charm, and personality into the TRON universe.

WarpRattler explains why he picked it:

my dad found a copy at TJ Max (???) on clearance and bought it for me, but it wouldn’t work on my computer. I would’ve been…fourteen or fifteen at the time, I think? The game had been out for at least a couple of years. I later ended up giving it away to a friend without ever getting to play it, and my current copy came from a thrift store earlier this year.

Oddly enough, I did play the Gameboy Advance spinoff when I was younger. From what I’ve heard, it turns out some of the promo materials I got for TRON 2.0 from Comic-Con waaaaaaaay back when I went in, I think, 2003 ended up involving concepts that weren’t in the final Monolith game, but did end up in the GBA game.

TRON 2.0 is available for $9.99 on Steam. You’ll want to download the Killer App mod, which requires the unofficial 1.042 patch, and works on either the Steam or retail versions. The mod combines a couple of popular visual mods, adds in content (all for multiplayer, I think), and visual upgrades from the Xbox port, and offers widescreen support and a few other tweaks.

If you want to play TRON 2.0 and participate in the conversation, join the discussion thread here. Click here to see the earlier picks for the Qt3 Classic Game Club.

, | Game reviews

Fifteen minute games that aren’t silly or overly simple for two players. Why is that such a rare category? It seems like an ideal way to showcase interesting gameplay concepts. My current favorite is Cold War: CIA vs KGB, which is a series of quick rounds of Blackjack But With Special Powers, situated inside a metagame of agent-based bluffing to win control of classic Cold War countries like Nicaragua, Cuba, and Vietnam. Hey, look, it’s Afghanistan! The more things change…

Rise of Cthulhu, a fifteen minute game that isn’t silly or overly simple for two players, isn’t quite as hearty as Cold War. It’s certainly not as polished (Cold War has been reprinted by Fantasy Flight, and this year they even published a Star Wars version called Star Wars: Empire vs. Rebellion). But it does a great job showcasing an interesting gameplay concept. Namely, the orderly arrangement of sets of cards, with just enough chaos shuffled in the mix to earn its Lovecraftian theme.

After the jump, madness, I tell you! Continue reading →

, | Movie reviews

20 years ago, Russian director Sergei Bodrov’s Prisoners of the Mountain was nominated for a foreign language Academy Award. That should have been his cue to jump into the sarlacc throat of Hollywood. It didn’t happen. He’s spent the last decade doing internationally funded historical epics starring people who don’t make box office in America. Somewhere in there, he also directed Seventh Son, which was Legendary Pictures’ hope for their own Lord of the Rings. Hence the impressive talent assembled behind the scenes, including Bryan Singer cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, who recently shot Drive for Nicolas Winding Refn; longtime Martin Scorsese production designer Dante Ferretti, whose other credits include The Name of the Rose, Cold Mountain, and Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd; and John Dykstra for visual effects, whose career began with Silent Running and then a modest sci-fi project called Star Wars. But after Bodrov completed Seventh Son, it sat on the shelf for more than two years. This year, it was unceremoniously defenstrated into the dreaded January release window, alongside Jupiter Ascending. It flopped.

Did it deserve it? Who can say. Is it a bad movie? Maybe. Whatever. Do I count it among my guilty pleasures? You bet. This is no made-for-TV throwaway B-movie starring Adrian Paul alongside Syfy level production values. The top-notch behind-the-scenes talent comes through with a procession of imaginative set pieces. And in the lead, Jeff Bridges’ grumpy old wizard is a thing to behold. Imagine Gandalf crossed with Mr. Miyagi crossed with The Dude, but with the One True Beard and Mustache to bind them all. An astute Lebwoski-phile might figure his tavern intro as the bad-ass mage variant of “Hey, careful man, there’s a beverage here…”. He and Julianne Moore play their hero and villain roles as if they were exes at an uneasy standoff after a bitter divorce, but with crazy CG action sequences.

Although the two young leads are both duds, the rest of the cast is a lively group sparingly applied: not nearly enough Olivia Williams (Is there ever?), a brief but delightful Kit Harington appearance, and the distractingly hot Antje Traue (Man of Steel, Pandorum) bound up in a Ren Faire dress. To be fair, the costumes in Seventh Son are as aces as the rest of the production values. When Julianne Moore meets the ingenue, she takes the time to compliment her shoes.

The witch-hunters vs. witches world-building plays out a bit like The Witcher. In fact, this could be a Witcher movie, except for the fact that Bridges is such an unrepentant goofball. “It’s near impossible to battle demons when you have wet feet,” he grunts to his new apprentice, sending him off to get his shoes repaired, and reminding him to pick up flour, salt, grease, and bacon. “Fucking witches,” he will later mutter after briefly breaking down some backstory about the end of the world. He has a bitchin’ Bat Cave and the Witcher version of a Batmobile. It’s like he finished the main quest a long time ago and he’s at the level cap, so he can’t be bothered to do side quests anymore. This stuff is like DLC to him.

Seventh Son is available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it at Amazon.com.

, | Game reviews

Gathering Sky is an arthouse game/relaxation exercise/mildly interactive animated short about birds riding wind rails over painted landscapes and then something else. You can play parts of it with zero hands. Watch those birds flock. Chill to that cool cello. Here comes the the singer aah-aah’ing and ooh-ooh’ing, so you know you’re about to enter a new palette.

It was probably made at some indie jam games conference thing and then published on Steam so guys like me could wax poetic about it. But I’m not going to take the bait. Instead, I’m going to make a dopey list.

After the jump, ten things no one will ever say about Gathering Sky. Continue reading →

, | Game reviews

One of the surest ways to kill a franchise is to make a crappy sequel. Just ask The Matrix, The Godfather, Star Wars for the last ten years, the Batman games on the PC, and maybe To Kill a Mockingbird. I won’t know that last one until everyone else at my stupid library is done reading it and my turn comes up.

You can also ask Toy Soldiers, the ebullient tribute to shooting things that are running at you. We have a word for this. Tower defense. Unfortunately, it’s become a dirty word. Tower defense has become synonymous with throwaway indie games and free-to-play boondoggles squatting on wide swathes of wasteland in Steam and the Apple Store. But before it was a dirty word, Toy Soldiers was a best case example of tower defense because it was more than mere tower defense. It was lively action with a dollop of strategy. It was cute graphics nestled in dioramas adorned with miniature toys. It was brimming with personality, including the World War I flavor of the original game and the 80s Cold War action movie cheese of the later follow-ups. It was lots of replayability and wonderful splitscreen local multiplayer. It was varied weapons and crazy power-ups and daunting boss fights.

And now Toy Soldiers has a license to kill. Ubisoft has secured the Hasbro license, so Toy Stories: War Chest is a delirious mash-up of He-Man, GI Joe, Star Bright (is that even a real thing?), and Assassin’s Creed. The Kaiser is still around, too. And there’s a random fantasy dude with dragons and dice. What could possibly go wrong?

After the jump, what could possibly wrong. Continue reading →

, | News

Sometimes a screenshot catches your eye and makes you to want to know more about a game. That’s not the case with Fran Bow, a point-and-click adventure game out next week. I knew all I needed to know just from that image on the Steam store page. I don’t know what’s going on in that image, and frankly, I don’t care. I just want to play a game made by the folks who came up with that screenshot.

Actually, I lied. I kind of did want to know more. Just a little more. So I looked up the developer. They’re a pair of Swedes frustrated by the limitations of short film, video, and animation to tell the kinds of stories they want to tell. So they made a company, called it Killmonday Games, and took a photograph of themselves with one of them wearing a pig mask. All the words in those last two sentences make me want to play Fran Bow even more.

A Fran Bow demo is currently available on Steam. The full game is out on August 27th.