Daredevil: Season 2 Thoughts

I’m halfway through the sophomore season of Daredevil and I don’t know what to make of it. I love several things about it. Jon Bernthal was born to play The Punisher – his sheer physical presence, his look and his tantalisingly gruff voice all help create the most memorable character on this show to date. The action scenes are tremendous, an impeccably lit and choreographed one-shot fight scene in a grimy corridor and stairwell make for one of the most impressive pieces of action I’ve seen on a TV show. Despite this, there’s just something about this season that makes Daredevil a less appealing show than it was in its first season run, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Maybe it’s the lack of focal, singular villain, akin to what Daredevil’s first season had in Wilson Fisk and Marvel’s other Netflix show Jessica Jones had in the delightfully disturbing Kilgrave. Here there are antagonists, but no central big baddy behind which we can really love to hate or revel in each and every despicable act that they commit. Maybe it’s just the direction they’re taking this story arch; it all seems very tried and tested when placed against something like Jessica Jones, the narrative of which felt fresh and different, and simply didn’t allow for any breaks in the plot. Or maybe it’s just that I have reached my Foggy Nelson endurance threshold, for I have come to realise that he has possibly gained himself a place upon my illustrious Worst Characters In Television list. I groan every time he makes an appearance on screen, and it is increasingly clear that Matt and Karen have a much better time when he’s not third-wheeling all of their hangouts. Okay, this is probably more of a personal point of criticism so I don’t think I can hold it to the show, but I just thought I’d say it anyway. All in all, I’m going to finish this season, but the first half hasn’t enthralled me as much as the first season did, for whatever reason. Elodie Yung’s Elektra has just been introduced, so I’ll see how they weave her character into the seasons overall arch as these next half-dozen episodes play out.

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The Witness 

The Witness is a breathe of fresh air, both in terms of its art style and its design philosophy. The art and the environment are bold and genuinely spectacular. The way the colours and textures blend together in an always-aesthetically-pleasing way is stunning, as if Jonathan Blow (the mastermind behind The Witness and critically acclaimed indie-darling Braid) was challenging himself to make every game screenshot work as a beautiful desktop background. Also, the colours pop with vigour, so rare today in a games landscape so often populated with a muddy palatte of greys and browns.

However, it’s in the game design and its over-arching design philosophy where The Witness truly excels. The only tutorial in the whole game are two button prompts in order to tell you how to move and how to select objects. There ends the hand-holding of the player. The rest is up to you. See a vast castle with a detailed, intricate maze system on the perimeter? Go. Find a windmill with a mysterious tunnel which appears to carry on forever? Go! You’re thrust head first into the world of The Witness with no direction signs, hint popups or notifications patronising you like the majority of most games in the past couple of generations were crammed with. The Witness comes with no lifejackets, you just have to swim and see where the current takes you. 

Mr. Robot

I felt compelled to pause Mr. Robot in order to tell you about Mr. Robot and specifically Rami Malek, the star of the much aforementioned Mr. Robot. The show itself is fantastic; an intelligent, stylish and gripping story in addition to stellar performances and a sublime synth soundtrack is a recipe which, so far, is living up to all the hype which has preceded my viewing. Tying it all together, however, is the standout performance given by Rami Malek in a difficult, complex and hefty central role. Elliot Alderson is a inimitably intelligent guy plagued by social anxiety, insomnia and a deep rooted depression with which he helps satiate with a healthy appetite for morphine. He also self-evaluates himself as some sort of vigilante, viewing his actions as for the best no matter how many people he and his actions hurt along the way. He is a cauldron filled with intense, interconnected mental illnesses and addictions in various forms. So, all in all, this character has a lot of rungs to its ladder, and Malek’s portrayal conquers each rung with confidence and authority. Each facet of his performance is impressive. The vacant stare as he is trying to construct the reasoning behind a stunning revelation recently revealed to him – the cogs whirling behind the eyes are visible for all to see as you attempt to construct an explanation along with him. The aching, shaking sweats of a period of cold-turkey are visceral and numbing to observe, the lucid fever dreams of guns and crack dens only seek to amplify the feeling. These instances are mainly the physical aspects of a performance, of which he nails, but it’s in the dialogue and the interaction between characters where Malek really excels. The nervous, snappy replies to ignorant questions voiced by someone Elliot knows he’s smarter than – the self-confident, almost gleeful responses to questions voiced by someone Elliot has hacked and knows everything about. I haven’t been so captivated by a performance given by an actor in a TV show for such a long time, and Malek continues to impress in everything he appears in. Watch Mr. Robot.

Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate

I skipped last years Assassin’s Creed game for two reasons. One, because the marketing emphasis in the run up to the launch of Unity was heavily focused upon co-op, rather than the long single-player campaigns that the series is known for and of which my interest is firmly placed. And two, because by all accounts each and every version of the game was an unrelenting train wreck full of bugs, warped textures and stop-motion frame rates, which is hardly an incentive to get stuck into the new release of a series of which my interest in was steadily and gradually decreasing.

So it’s a big relief to say that I really like Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, because it is essentially everything that Unity isn’t. There is no tacked on multiplayer or co-op mode, it’s gorgeous and runs smoothly, and the characters, story and missions are unique, fun and interesting.

Set in the smoggy, rainy streets of Victorian London, Syndicate follows twin assassins Jacob and Evie Frye as they strive to eliminate the templar presence which has a stranglehold on England’s capital. The game captures Victorian London excellently, portraying the disparity between the rich and poor with quality art and level design. You aren’t just slaying your enemies in grimy, smokey factories, you’ll be slaying them in magnificent, ornate manors and grandiose parliamentary buildings. The verticality of Assassin’s Creed helps in this aspect; as one second you could be evading pursuing aggressors through a dingy, cobbled back alley but with a couple of leaps and swings you could be scurrying along the rooftops of a factory owner’s mansion overlooking a vast, immaculately kept garden complete with patrolling Templar guards. The environmental and gameplay variety goes a long way in terms of leaving you wanting to keep plugging away at the interesting story.

The real hook in this year’s game however is the two leads, Jacob and Evie Frye. They bounce off of each other terrifically, not just conversationally and in terms of entertaining banter, of which there is plenty, but also in terms of personality and character motivation. Jacob’s primary motivation is to remove the oppressive Crawford Starrick, one of the most powerful business owners in all of London and the Grand Master of the British sector of The Templars. His focus is more politically leaning than Evie’s, and he cares greatly about removing the Templar threat, no matter the method used. Evie’s primary focus is that of locating the pieces of Eden, ancient occult technology which the Templars are anxious to get their hands on. She believes in its abilities and the power it possesses. She’s far more academical, more interested in studying and learning the history of the order of which she is apart of. Sure, she cares as much as anyone about overthrowing the Templar tyranny, but she wants to do it correctly, and in the right way. The contrast between these two playable characters creates a great hook on which to hang your campaign upon, and Evie Frye has emerged as my favourite lead character in an Assassin’s Creed game to date.

It all adds up to a complete and well-crafted package which brings the series back to its roots in a way which is good for all concerned. It’s a good feeling to be excited about something again, after a good number of years of dreading what will be wrong with the next issue. Welcome back, Assassin’s Creed. Please don’t let me down next year.

Fallout 4 and The Art of Bug Maintenance

I emerged victorious after a long and bloody battle with a couple of burly Super Mutants who wanted nothing more than my head on a skewer. I popped a stimpak and took a deep breath, assessed my surroundings and checked the map on my PipBoy. Nearly there. It had been a tough journey, one hampered by the aforementioned Super Mutants, a few good-for-nothing Raiders and a particularly nasty Feral Ghoul who just wouldn’t stop jumping at me. But all of that is behind me now — I’m the King of the Wasteland, nothing can stop me now. Suddenly, a band of Raiders emerge from behind me, screaming and shooting in overwhelming numbers. I turn around just in time to see the world slow to a frightening ten frames per second, allowing me enough time to get a good look at the rough textures upon my attackers faces – the awkward, unnatural nature of their animation. I’m no longer the King of the Wasteland. I’m playing a game alone in my bedroom. Immersion over.

This has been a problem plaguing Bethesda Game Studios’ tentpole RPG’s ever since 2006’s Oblivion. The studio seems to get a pass on their technical woes due to the ambitious nature of their open-world games, but is this free pass acceptable? Should we expect more from these games after all these years, or are the bugs just an accepted part of these games which have such a wide scope?

I think the answer lies somewhere in between. There’s a line between silly and frustrating that both the Fallout and the Elder Scrolls series have straddled perilously for the last decade or so. In a peculiar kind of way, seeing an object levitating or spinning as you walk into a room is quite endearing and harmless, as is dispatching an enemy only to see their bloody corpse rotate and contort in on itself like some kind of apocalyptic version of The Exorcist. Those are the kind of bugs that fans of the series have come to expect, the kind that make you hit the share button and show your friends the time you sent a vile mutated mole rat spiralling far over a distant hill with just one whip of your pistol.

On the other side, however, is the kind of issue that prevents progress, issues that make you feel like the game has no respect for the time you have put into it – and have now maybe lost – due to technical woes. Errors that force the game to crash are present, although the most profilic and the most troublesome of issues plaguing the console versions of Fallout 4 are undoubtedly frame-rate related. These kind of issues that players are having makes it harder to stomach, harder to forgive Bethesda for not fixing the issues that have been so prevalent in their games for such a long time. Some would argue that the games that Bethesda Game Studios likes to make have too many variables in order to be sufficiently focus tested, considering the fact that the majority of objects in the game world are available to be picked up and moved, and will stay there in perpetuity until moved again. This is a huge part of the Fallout or Skyrim experience, and helps make these games so unique. The world is your sandbox, and everything in it is yours to do what you wish with. That sort of ambition comes with a price, and it seems like BGS are more than willing to pay it instead of change their ways.

Regardless of any bugs that the game may have, it hasn’t stopped it from reaching a huge audience, with more than 12 million copies shipped already. But with each release of a Bethesda Game Studios RPG, this conversation will rear its head once more. The majority seem content to put up with the jank that these games offer alongside their ambitious nature, but I’m waiting for the moment the shark is jumped. The moment when the fans demand that their favourite worlds are technically stable as well as creatively fulfilling.

Metro Redux

So having just finished The Witcher 3 plus its DLC pack Hearts Of Stone and the fact that major Autumn releases of this year are still a few weeks away (Fallout 4 please hurry), I figured I’d need something to keep me busy whilst I wait. I briefly (by briefly I mean I picked up the case in a shop and instantly put it down) considered Assassin’s Creed Syndicate after hearing a  fervour on Twitter but decided that I’m still not ready to get back into that franchise, so left that one to lie for the time being. I found myself precariously gazing at my game collection, both digital and physical, and having little to no willpower to play anything. So I took to the PlayStation Store. There I found a little treat entitled Metro Redux, a package of the remastered PS4 editions of both Metro games from last generation, for a staggering price of £8.40. I found my game to keep me entertained until Fallout.

Having played the first game in the series Metro 2033, I decided I’d head straight to Metro: Last Light, the sequel which came out in 2013. You would be forgiven for mistaking it for a game made from the ground up for the current generation – the frame-rate goes a long way, the textures are smooth and the dynamic lighting would be exemplary for a game being released this year. But the games greatest asset is its atmosphere. The game just a terrific job of familiarising the player with the world of Metro even if, like me, they aren’t well versed in the world’s lore. You get the sense pretty rapidly that post-apocalyptic Moscow could may well be the last place on earth you would wish to find yourself; the surface is a wretched, radiated wasteland adorned with mutated beasts which are the stuff of nightmares, thus humanity is forced underground into the titular metro, seeking sanctuary in the dark train tunnels of the city. The gameplay is greatly refined from its predecessor also, as the gunplay is tight and satisfying and the stealth isn’t frustrating and unforgiving. The game allows you to play in both ways, all guns blazing or sneaky, without fear of punishment which is refreshing and freeing in a genre which is very accustomed to hand-holding. The only thing that’s blighting my experience so far is the sparing use of linear sequences which takes all of the freedom awarded to you in the minute to minute gameplay and replaces it with on-rails-esque levels of movement, but these are few and far between so haven’t really impacted my enjoyment of the finished product all that much.

Metro: Last Light is the perfect in-between game, and Metro Redux is the perfect way to play it. If you’re looking for something to get your teeth stuck into between the autumn’s marquee releases then you’ll find no better solution, especially at that asking price.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is a daunting prospect. Anecdotally I’ve heard accounts of people putting 50+ hours of work into the game and yet seeing their game completion percentage still languishing below 20%. I find myself at odds with the game, simultaneously excited to delve into the seemingly unlimited depths that this game world has to offer me but yet I can’t quite shake the feeling that this is yet another game which has more content than I have time to consume. Sure, I’m going to finish the main story missions, that’s a given. But I tend to be a completionist when it comes to these open world games (I have the Platinum trophy for both Far Cry 3 and Far Cry 4 and am still striving to complete the percentage wheel in Batman: Arkham Knight) and the sheer amount of stuff in this game is, at this early stage, thoroughly incomprehensible and scary. The idea that I can put several days of gameplay into something and yet still not have experienced even half of the product is just scary. Theoretically, this shouldn’t be a problem. More things to do and more content is a good thing right? Yes of course, but the length of a game can be at odds with the amount of free time available to the player. I would have killed for this to be out back when I was a student in a tiny flat in Portsmouth attending ~3 lectures a week and drinking copious amounts of cheap squash. But alas, full-time employment is not conducive to the completion of a game with a fortnights worth of content. However much it pains me to say, I don’t think I’ll really get stuck into the depths of Metal Gear Solid V, but my word am I having fun scratching at its surface.