Due to Bad Times at the Qt3 Movie Podcast Recording Software, we had to use a back-up in which Christien Mulanski’s voice is way quieter than anyone else’s. You’ll have to keep your hand on the volume knob and surf our various volume levels, which will make it our most interactive episode ever.
I’m not sure there’s anything particularly new or even special about Strange Brigade. You could call out its commitment to serial pulp adventures set in the 40s. Or, as it’s known these days, Indiana Jones. These characters and their weapons are the trappings of an era when a pilot was called an aviator and pith helmets weren’t ironic. Steamer trucks full of weapons and nary an assault rifle in sight. Zeppelins, tents and short wave radios at excavation sites of ancient Egyptian ruins, an incredibly annoying announcer trying his darndest to sound like announcers of yore. You gotta give developer Rebellion credit for their commitment to the aesthetic.
But really, Strange Brigade is the simple act of shooting powerful guns at monsters. And lobbing the occasional grenade. And even more occasionally popping off some magic power because, well, that might as well be in there if we’re going to have zombies and skeletons. For the most part it works splendidly. Simple, gratifying, quick, accessible, with a unique sense of character, to boot. So why have I stopped playing?
The first four of hopefully lots more Williams tables for Pinball FX3 just came out this week. Williams Pinball: Volume 1 is $10 DLC that adds Fish Tales, The Getaway, Junk Yard, and Medieval Madness, which all feel dated…in a good way. They’re among the physical tables from the days of yore, from actual stand-up pinball machines that exist in the real world, now ported into Pinball FX3 thanks to Zen Studios’ licensing deal with Williams. They introduce an odd dilemma for those of us who’ve been playing Zen’s tables all these years.
Pinball FX’s physics have been criticized as “floaty” or “soft”, and it’s not an unfair observation. Their tables are made to play by their own rules, with their own feel for where the ball should go and how. They never claimed to model actual steel balls rolling down actual inclines, bouncing off actual bumpers, and flipped by actual flippers. You could say their physics are stylized, which has freed Zen Studios to do some truly strange things with their tables. That’s just part of the identity of Pinball FX. There are other videogame pinball options for people who put a priority on real world physics. But with these four new tables, when you play a standalone round independent of the unlockable bonuses and wizard powers, you have the option to choose a “difficulty” setting. The choices are Arcade Mode or Tournament Mode. Arcade Mode is Zen Pinball as it’s always been. “Floaty” and “soft”, if you will. But Tournament Mode is their brand new physics model, presumably built to bring a sense of fidelity to these classic tables. And boy, does it feel different.
It feels so different that it doesn’t feel like Pinball FX anymore. It feels faster, and less forgiving, which is probably why Zen calls it a “difficulty” setting. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s like playing a whole new game. Who could object to getting a whole new game? And if you don’t like it, you don’t have to play it. But if you do like it — which I really do — now you have four tables that play this cool new way, and 78 tables that don’t. Now you might find yourself wishing the 78 other tables would get their own Tournament Mode. Now you might find yourself understanding why people bitched all these years about “floaty” and “soft” physics. Really, it just means I have to make hard choices as I mess around with these new tables. Get used to the new physics? Or pretend they aren’t in there? There are separate leaderboards for each mode, and although part of me winces at leaderboards splitting off in so many different directions, it does give me more options to beat my pesky friends who play Pinball FX3.
But what’s most puzzling to me is that now I like these tables that I didn’t think I would like, and not necessarily because I actually, you know, like the tables themselves. I like how they play. I like Tournament Mode physics. I’m coming around to the actual tables. I’m sold on Getaway, which is fast and flashy and open and growls like a muscle car. It wants to move. The pinball whipping madly around the crazy racetrack at the top of the table will never get old. It also means I’ll never have to play V12 again. Have you tried that table lately? Ugh. Junk Yard and Fish Tales are kind of junky and weird, but it feels nice to play these old fashioned designs for a change. Medieval Madness, however, just feels superfluous, given that Zen already has a jokey generic fantasy table called Epic Quest. But you can’t play Epic Quest in Tournament Mode, so Medieval Madness has that going for it. This will all be a non-issue as soon as Zen releases more Williams tables, especially the real classics like Pin-bot or Bride of Pin-bot, which give that much more weight to the new physics. But please hurry, Zen! It’s a very confusing time for some of us fans.
Founders Breakfast Stout won a drawing for my Patreon review requests. Since I wouldn’t have any idea how to write about beer or what to even write — it’s bubbly, it tastes like beer, there’s words and hopefully a picture on the bottle, three stars! — I cheated and enlisted the help of actual beer connoisseur and Qt3 Movie Podcast co-host Christien Murawski. Together we review the beer in video form while we drink it! It’s a Let’s Drink, complete with a rating at the end.
“I’ve only got one chance at this,” Lara says urgently.
I’m lining her up to make a jump I know she’ll easily make. Why did Square Enix decide to make her say “I’ve got one chance at this”? First of all, it’s not true. I have literally unlimited chances. But this isn’t even a particularly tense moment. Yet someone at Square Enix’ Montreal studio wrote that line, someone told actress Camilla Luddington to say those words in the sound booth, and someone decided to put that audio bit in front of this jump, which is just another of the dozens upon dozens of unremarkable jumps in this insipid retread.
I shouldn’t have been thinking about a dumb line at that point in the game. The climax was in high gear. Serious action was supposedly happening. The fate of the world was hanging in the balance, or something. I should have been caught up in the game. The line should have tapped into my sense of urgency at getting Lara where she needed to be. But by this point, I had been hate-playing Shadow of the Tomb Raider for some time, the same way I hate-watched Walking Dead or Lost. I’ve come this far. Might as well see it through.
If you come to this movie expecting something from the director of Blue Ruin and Green Room, and from the writer of I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, you will be bitterly disappointed. If you don’t, you will be merely disappointed. Either way, you will sit through a slow and meandering thriller [sic] that flirts with mysticism and biology, but eventually wanders out into the wilderness with no place specific in mind. Director Jeremy Saulnier and writer Macon Blair seem curiously uninvested in this adaptation of a novel. Hold the Dark plays out as if it were thrust onto a director and writer who don’t quite know what to do with it. It lurches along like something based on a book that doesn’t lend itself to a screenplay.
The story and tone live in the same latitudes as a Scandinavian crime potboiler, but minus clarity or focus. It begins intriguingly enough. A woman calls upon a naturalist to track down the wolf that killed her son. He’s ambivalent about the whole thing, and he even has ulterior motives for answering her call. As you’ll discover over the course of two hours plus a little change, the movie isn’t even about this.
Jeffrey Wright is one of his generation’s greatest actors. So why is he spending so much time playing characters who are mostly just confused? His role in Hold the Dark is too similar to all those hours in Westworld he spends not knowing what’s going on. Compare this to Wright in A Single Shot, also a slow dark thriller about violence in remote rural tracts, in which he’s devastated because he knows precisely what’s going on. At times, it’s not even clear whether Hold the Dark is about him. At times, it’s about whatever is going on with Riley Keough and Alexander Skarsgard, who are the opposite of confused, but aren’t inclined to share with the rest of the movie what they know.
The real standout moment in Hold the Dark is an encounter between James Badge Dale and an actor named Julian Black Antelope. Dale is a typical outsider sheriff you find in movies, policing people he can’t possibly understand, but not for lack of trying. He is compassion and justice in a situation where compassion doesn’t help and justice doesn’t exist. Antelope is an aggrieved Native American left to wither in a backwater village. He looks like Christopher Lee and he’s even got a touch of Lee’s imposing presence. Hold the Dark explodes into life during their scene, and here you can see Saulnier bringing in the poignance of Blue Ruin and the cruel bite of Green Room. The exchange between these two characters belongs in a better movie.
Taylor Sheridan wrote and directed Wind River, which is what Hold the Dark feels like it’s attempting. Both movies try to express how different it is in the remote northern wilderness. How the air and land and people are of a piece, and none of those pieces fit neatly into the modern world of cities and multiculturalism and social safety nets. Both movies are punctuated by bursts of horrifically plausible violence. Both movies have important points to make. But only one movie manages to bring together its characters with its setting and its themes. It’s not Hold the Dark.
Machi Koro sure is cute. The quaint fields, orchards, bakeries, and cafes. The sushi bar and flower stand and pizza joint. Even when it gets serious with tax offices, furniture factories, and airports, it’s still cute. It refuses to be anything other than a lightweight opportunity for a few folks to roll dice and pass around cardboard coins. Someone eventually gathers enough cardboard coins to finish his city. Presumably fun was had.
What I appreciate most about Machi Koro is how every turn is everyone’s turn. In other games, the act of rolling dice is something you do for yourself. It’s my turn, it’s my roll, the number is my result. You’ll get your own result from your own roll on your own turn. The simple twist in Machi Koro is that although we take turns rolling, the result is for all of us. If you roll the right number, you’ll activate my buildings. This means there’s technically no down time, that it’s always everyone’s turn. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you do pacing right.
Among the many great things about the first State of Decay was its post-release support. The Breakdown DLC added infinite replayability to the core game along with progressively greater difficulty as you got further, with unlockable characters along the way. It very nearly turned State of Decay into a rogue-like. But that was five years ago, before we were kicking the term “rogue-like” around so freely. Then the Lifeline DLC shifted the tone, action, setting, and progression someplace new, with new kinds of characters who played the game differently. So what happened with State of Decay 2 that we get this new Daybreak DLC?
Daybreak is nothing you haven’t seen before, done better. It adds a four-player horde mode, played on a single unimaginative map, as a drawn-out and repetitive slog to unlock gear to draw out the repetitive slog even further. Along the way, bits of gear might trickle into your actual State of Decay game. But your time would be better spent just playing State of Decay 2 to find more stuff instead of grinding away at this half-baked horde mode to discover, oh, look, I got a new kind of hammer in Daybreak that now I can buy in State of Decay 2. Frankly, I would have been more excited by unlockable hats.
Daybreak is always and only four players, so if you can’t find an online game, some bots will tag along. They better because there’s no adjustable difficulty or variable challenge levels. You just live through the same number of waves, comprised of the same creatures, throwing themselves at the same wall, with the same clock counting down the same amount of time, culminating in the same cluster of superzombies with their thousand hit points, every time you play. Every single time. Each like the last. Except maybe you have a new type of shotgun or grenade. If you want State of Decay minus the expansive maps, dynamic crises, characters with personality, and constant threat of the unknown, Daybreak is for you!
However, please make sure you haven’t played Metal Gear Solid: Survive, Strange Brigade, Fortnite, or any of the other games actually designed to do zombie horde modes. Daybreak is glaringly bare bones compared to the game designs it’s aping. It chugs along, herkyjerky and weirdly clumy, trying to do something it wasn’t built to do. I have yet to have a smooth multiplayer experience in State of Decay 2. Yet someone at Undead Labs or Microsoft is intent on making it a selling point.
Previously, Undead Labs’ approach to State of Decay has been to embrace what makes it unique, to double-down on the idea of open-world resource management and community survival, with zombies, vehicles, and a vivid sense of place. It stands apart from Dead Rising, Left 4 Dead, Resident Evil, 7 Days to Die, and anything else with zombies. But Daybreak feels like it was made by someone who has no clue what makes State of Decay special. This $10 DLC has no interest in standing apart, much less participating in State of Decay’s unique identity. Instead, it plays like a weak attempt to pander to people who aren’t playing State of Decay, leaving the rest of us to wonder what happened.
If one of your questions when you started up Strange Brigade was “Can I be a cowboy?”, you were in for disappointment when Rebellion released this ebullient monster-massacring smorgasbord. Instead, you had to content yourself with an African tribal warrior woman who could leech health, a Midlands England version of Rosie the Riveter with a mean uppercut, a Nathan Drake-alike who gets some sort of bonus for finding secrets, a North African Indiana Jones with a smart mustache you won’t be able to enjoy because the characters tend to face away from the camera, and a soldier dude who I haven’t played so I don’t know what he does. But no cowboys.
So I’ll give you three guesses what you’ll find in the $7 Texas Cowboy Character Pack. $7 seems a bit much for a new character, especially since there’s already so much content in the game. Speaking of, even if you don’t buy a $7 Texas Cowboy Character Pack, the padlocks loitering off to the side of some of the score attack screens have been replaced with new score attacks. These frantic over-the-top speedruns throw an assortment of the game’s superweapons at you and challenge you to keep your score multiplier up. They’re bite-sized remixes of the campaign levels turned up to 11, and a perfect example of why Strange Brigade deserves the adjective “ebullient”.
Spintires started as an obscure survival horror game for trucks, played out in the unfamiliar gloom of a Russian wilderness, featuring vehicles you’ve never heard of. The B130, the C4320, and of course the K700. Don’t forget the plucky little UAZ-469! As it has found its way to a wider audience, it has been slowly pried from the obscurity of its Russian gloom. When publisher Focus Home Interactive rebranded it as Spintires: Mudrunner, they added driver avatars that made it less creepy. Who wants to play as a sentient truck? Now they’re scooching back the Russia to make room for America. Just as European Truck Simulator could only hold out for so long, Spintires could only hold out for so long. Nothing says America like big-ass trucks doing truck things!
The American Wilds expansion — teased in this trailer to the blare of a harmonica because what could be more American? — will be released October 23. It will add homey American maps with American buildings and presumably less gloomy American skies. But more importantly, it will add American brand names. What could be more American than brand names? It’s like when wargames eschew the Eastern Front of World War II, or the Arab/Israeli Wars, or Napoleonics. In the largest videogame market in the world that isn’t called “China”, who wants to play a game where you can’t even be America?
According to the press release, American Wilds consists of…
…a number of highly-requested additions, including 2 new sandbox maps inspired by the rough lands of Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota, new challenges to tackle, and seven of the most iconic US trucks from household brands including Hummer, Chevrolet and Western Star.
I’m not complaining. The game deserves a wider audience because there’s nothing else like it. Most driving games are about speed. But Spintires is about the point of contact between machine and earth. It’s about mud, mass, and traction. So long as the sheen of American color and corporations doesn’t change that fundamental part of the game, they can slather it in whatever American trappings they want. Give it a MAGA hat for all I care. After all, Spintires is already about sullying yourself because you’re struggling with the burden of unwieldy baggage in a churned up quagmire.