Tom Chick

The best games of 2019 (so far)

, | Features

Look, you and I both know calling something “the best” is really just a way of jumping up and down and shouting to get your attention.  It’s shameless, I know. But now that you’re here, let’s dispense with the semantic bait. Let’s just say these ten games from the first half of 2019 have most effectively captured my attention, my imagination, and my time.  Which, to be fair, is pretty much my definition of “best”.  

But first, the disclaimer.  I haven’t yet played Total War: Three Kingdoms, inkle’s Heaven’s Vault, or Zen Studio’s Oprencia.  I petered out before making much progress in Far Cry: New Dawn, Metro: Exodus, and Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2, all of which I was mildly enjoying in the hopes they might get better.  I may never know. Also, I understand there’s a Crackdown 3, but you either have to hook up a useless Xbox One in your living room or wade into the hip-deep torturous inconvenience of the Microsoft Store to play it.  I love Crackdown as much as the next guy, but I have my limits.

I was enjoying Anno 1800 and World War Z immensely — immensely! — but both of them managed a critical failure that cancelled all my progress, and therefore all my enthusiasm.  In the case of Anno 1800, I hit a scripting bug in the campaign that brought everything to a screeching halt, but without me realizing it until a few hours of citybuilding later. The bug was eventually fixed, but not for people who had already run into it.  So many hours down the drain. In the case of World War Z, I couldn’t change the game’s resolution. In the course of troubleshooting the issue, I Googled solutions, edited .ini files, rolled back graphics drivers, and waited on Focus Home Interactive’s non-existent technical support.  Eventually, I resorted to the nuclear option: a full uninstall and reinstall. That’s how I discovered the Epic Games Store doesn’t have cloud saves, and furthermore Focus Home Interactive’s online servers can’t be bothered to store a 4kb user_progression.dat file that tracks all your progress, but only exists on your hard drive. Without that file, the server thinks I’ve never even played.  I guess Focus Home Interactive expected me to back it up on a 5 1/4 floppy. 

So much for all that. On to the ten best!

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Best Thing You’ll See All Week: I Am Mother

, | Movie reviews

It’s nice to see there are still angles to explore in the “rogue AI” genre. As well as the “people in a bunker” genre. I Am Mother straddles both by suggesting a maternal robot — that may or may not be a rogue AI — programmed to repopulate post-apocalyptic humanity by cultivating thousands of embryos stored in a sealed bunker. It will start with one little girl. With Rose Byrne’s voice, a nifty production design for a robot that smiles, and a promising newcomer as the daughter, I Am Mother has all it needs down here.

The movie begins with an infant. As older children were swapped in during the expected growing-up montage, I was worried we were headed for Alicia Vickander. But just as the children started looking like Vikander, I Am Mother stopped short with a capable young actress named Clara Rugaard. She carries most of the movie on her own, which is no mean feat. Her job is a lot like Sophie Thatcher’s in Prospect, but harder because she doesn’t have Pedro Pascal tagging along. It’s just her and Rose Byrne’s carefully modulated voice piped in over a lumbering robot that looks barely a generation past what Boston Dynamics has been doing.

As the movie proceeds, it’s confident you’re smart enough to see the twists. It knows you know math, it knows you understand casting decisions are never random, and it knows you know how AIs work. In fact, it’s so confident you see the twists that it doesn’t even play them as reveals. So if you’re awfully proud of yourself for guessing what’s going on, you’re watching the wrong movie. A lesser movie would be about these reveals. I Am Mother is instead about the motivations and decisions behind them.

In fact, the final shot is a bit much. It’s almost as if the movie is asking you if we’re done here. “You’ve figured it out, right?” it asks. “Right?” Sometimes being maternal involves a little finger wagging. Yes, I Am Mother, I understand today’s lesson. Sheesh, Saturn 3 was never this strict.

I Am Mother is currently available on Netflix.

Worst thing you’ll see all week: Brightburn

, | Movie reviews

Brightburn isn’t Brightburn enough.  Early on, it suggests some truly freaky angles to the familiar Superman story.  We all know the Superman story. An alien child comes to Earth, is adopted by wholesome parents, discovers his superpowers, saves world.  But Brightburn suggests we can’t assume that last bit because children can be evil little shits. Which, really, isn’t very provocative. “I gave you Lord of the Flies for your birthday,” a father tells his bullied child in the movie Cold Pursuit, “All the answers you’ll ever need are in that book.”  

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