Friday, March 22, 2013

Silent Hill Series, pt. 10

Silent Hill: Revelation 3D -- No Time To Explain! Get In the Vest!

One of the first things you see in Silent Hill: Revelation 3D is Pyramid Head operating a merry-go-round. Other sights include a ghoulish nurse getting tasered in the cleavage, Malcolm McDowell transforming into a Silly Putty monster, and kids in Ranger Rick makeup eating decayed flesh birthday cake. This is the point where a typical Silent Hill fan would put a bazooka to their head and pull the trigger (bazookas have triggers, right?), but let’s keep going for the sake of professionalism. And giggles.

I’m quite happy to be revisiting my Silent Hill review series, if only to explain, with relish, how terrible and retarded this movie is. It’s a direct sequel to the first Silent Hill film adaptation, which, if you recall, I thought was fairly acceptable. Nothing much is acceptable about Revelation, but somehow, I am inclined to be kind to it as long as I can also tear it a new asshole. Maybe it’s because I watched this one with my best friend and was mildly baked. There’s “hate-watching” and then there’s “baked-watching.” So I’d put Revelation on the revered list of shitty films that you can’t help but enjoy on some delinquent level. It was clearly made by fanboys -- the type of fanboys who sit around talking about how much COOLER something could be if it only had THIS and THIS and AWESOME BADASS WOOOOOO! Oh, do they work hard to please us.

Now I’m going to do what the movie does in buckets, and explain stuff. Revelation is based on Silent Hill 3 and is actually a close adaptation of the game, apart from certain not-very-minor character changes. Spoiler alert: the first film ended with heroine Rose DaSilva (Radha Mitchell) dying or something, leaving behind her husband Chris (Sean Bean) and possibly supernatural daughter, Sharon. Some years have passed, Chris is now calling himself Harry Mason (OMG, LIKE IN THE GAME!!!) and Sharon goes by the name of Heather (Adelaide Clemens). They move a lot and change their names because...well, Heather just sort of accepts her dad’s non-explanation, but the real reason is that the Order of Silent Hill wants to drag Heather back to their shitty town so she can become a vessel for their god. Story of all our lives, right? Heather begins to have awful maybe-nightmares, Chris/Harry gets abducted, and it’s up to Heather to seek out answers and get explained at. A lot. A whole goddamn lot. Yeah, I’d say the worst thing about Revelation is its script. There is soooooo much ham-handed explanation. Reminding us what happened in the first movie. Outlining the convoluted story behind Heather and Alessa Gillespie. Reiterating the stakes. Even trying to explain Pyramid Head, as if he needs it. Occasionally, the movie takes a break from endless exposition to have Heather run around and react to things.

It’s a good-looking movie, I’ll give it that. Heather galumphs through a string of diseased environments (OMG, LIKE IN THE GAME!!!) and you can almost smell the filth and communicable diseases. Even the real world looks grotty. The monsters are pretty cool too, a mix of the usual suspects and brand-new creations. Sadly, it seems as if we still can’t forget about fucking Silent Hill: Homecoming, which was a big aesthetic influence here. No subtlety, no understatement, no quiet moments. Revelation refuses to pause for breath, which makes it an inferior sequel indeed. And, inevitably, blood and digits and pointy objects are always being shoved up the cameraman’s nostrils, because THREE DEEEEEEEEE! Ah, well, the film’s more than satisfying in the fucked-up, Jacob’s Ladder-style imagery department, though it’s never all that scary. I’d say the niftiest sequence takes place in a mannequin storage facility (OMG, LIKEINTHEGAME!!!) occupied by a nicely unsettling boss...uh, I mean, boss. I mean monster.

All of this nonsense would be a lot harder to digest if not for Adelaide Clemens as Heather. I have no idea who she is, but they nailed the casting. Like her onscreen mom, Radha Mitchell, Clemens mainly has to act terrified yet determined, and run around unsanitary hallways while demanding answers, dammit! But Clemens takes the easy role and ridiculous dialogue and makes it quasi-believable; she’s vulnerable, she’s badass, and I even bought that she was a teenage girl. Thank God for her, because the film’s a one-woman show; apart from Heather, none of the characters have much screen time. This cameo club includes not only Bean and Mitchell, but also Martin Donovan as private detective Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger returning (very briefly) as Dahlia Gillespie, Malcolm McDowell as whoever the hell he is, and poor, poor Carrie-Anne Moss as the evil and eyebrowless zealot, Claudia Wolf. And, of course, the Vest. Adelaide Clemens totally rocks Heather’s signature poofy white vest, and the filmmakers treat said article of clothing with nerdy reverence. Chris/Harry gives her the Vest for her birthday, and later she rips off her coat to expose the Vest, and the Vest stops giant monster knives and is probably made of angel hide, who knows. The Vest is way more compelling a character than Vincent (Kit Harington, who, by appearing alongside Sean Bean, is probably making Game of Thrones fans very confused). In the game, Vincent is a sleazy, villainous, embezzling member of the Order who gleefully fucks with Heather’s emotions and is old enough to be her uncle. In this movie, Vincent is a dreamy teenage love interest with pouty lips and a very poorly-telegraphed “secret.” Ugh. Thanks to this switcheroo, Detective Douglas -- a dependable sidekick throughout Silent Hill 3 -- gets about two freaking minutes of screen time here. Again, ugh.

I just can’t loathe this movie, despite how badly it rapes the source material. The makers of the first film seem to have gotten what makes the original three or four games so effective. The makers of Revelation don’t get it at all, but they so desperately want to look cool. They’re like eleven-year-old boys playing with action figures. There’s so many “OMGLIKEINTHEGAME” moments, from Heather’s vest (which probably had its own trailer) to the frequent appearance of  Robbie the Rabbit, and beyond. All of these shout-outs unroll before our eyes on a silver platter, begging to be approved of. Most of the major iconic sequences from Silent Hill 3 are recreated with care, and then at the climax, they declare “Screw it!” and give us something that I will only identify as a “Monster-Off.” It is either the worst and most offensive crime to be inflicted upon the esteemed Silent Hill brand, or shamefully brilliant. It’s followed by an ending that not only sets up a threequel, but very blatantly invokes two -- TWO -- other games in the series. Jesus, this movie is a retarded puppy. You threw the ball and the puppy waddled after it, rolled in rotten meat-lover’s pizza, took a shortcut through the sticky dildo factory, and ultimately brought you an aborted walrus fetus instead of the ball -- but when that retarded puppy looks up at you with its wet, clueless, hopeful eyes, you just have to give it a pat on the head.

But you never throw the ball for it again, because you’re not fucking retarded yourself. Let’s get someone classier on the next film, hmmm? But Adelaide Clemens and Sean Bean can come back; they’s cool. Kit Harington should stick to M-rated epic fantasy television. Carrie-Anne Moss needs to locate her long-lost film career. I’ll play Henry from Silent Hill 4; check out my stoner gaze! Anyway, farewell until the next time they drop some new disrespectful Silent Hill product into our laps. Or until they remember why it was originally so amazing. If.


Thursday, March 7, 2013

Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time

Checking another one off the Cautious Enthusiasm list!

I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for a new Sly Cooper game. To give some historical perspective, this series blew me across the room once. I’d played the demo for Sly 2 and said “meh,” because the demo was put together by retards who hand-picked the least interesting parts of the game to showcase. When I finally tried out the full version, there was sunlight and roses and little angels with trumpets because it was AMAZING. And that was that. But there were only three games! The first, Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, is fun but very short and a bit forgettable. It functions as a beta for Sly 2: Band of Thieves, which took the concept and blew it up into a delightful mishmash of stealth mechanics, sandbox environments, and awesomeness. Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves followed along dutifully and was solid but overstuffed, with too many playable characters and vehicles jostling for attention. After that, the developer, Sucker Punch, closed the curtain for the time being. Sucker Punch has yet to make a bad game; even their debut, an obscure N64 platformer called Rocket: Robot On Wheels, is put together well, and they’re now known for another great franchise, InFamous. But what of Sly?

Thieves In Time, the fourth entry in the series, was made by Sanzaru Games, who don’t have much under their belt but did port the original Sly trilogy for the PS3. I was really nervous about this, but it turns out to have been an advantage: they’re well acquainted with the mechanics but are humble enough to not fuck with the formula. This is astounding: apparently Sanzaru began developing Sly 4 WITHOUT PERMISSION, and when they showed off their work, Sony was sufficiently impressed by the quality (or the massive balls on display) to give the green light. Imagine if that story had had an unhappy ending. We wouldn’t be gifted with Thieves In Time, an extremely enjoyable and faithful-to-a-fault fourquel. Apart from a luscious graphical facelift, nothing much has changed. Playing through the game, I realize that I didn’t really need anything to change.

The Sly games take place in a cell-shaded world of talking animals that dances somewhere between high-tech present-day and Noir. Sly Cooper is a suave raccoon who’s also descended from a long line of infamous thieves. Fortunately for the hapless victims of the world, the Cooper family upholds a strict code of honor and only steals from total bastards. The plot of Sly 4 picks up where the last game left off: Sly’s been semi-retired for awhile, faking amnesia in order to be with his sexy girlfrenemy, Inspector Carmelita Fox. Then he discovers that someone appears to be altering history -- Cooper history in particular. So Sly leaps back into action along with his two ever-faithful sidekicks, Bentley the nerdy, wheelchair-bound turtle (who wants to find his missing girlfriend, Penelope), and Murray the musclebound hippo (who wants to punch everything in the world). They travel back in time (Carmelita gets yanked along, of course), and uncover a sinister plot spearheaded by a shady individual called Le Paradox and several other time-displaced evildoers. Along the way, Sly’s ancestors are dragged into the mix as well. Because that wouldn’t mess up history, oh no!

Controlling Sly revolves around stealth sneaking and context-sensitive acrobatics, with the circle button doing most of the work for you. You bound across rooftops, walk on wires, balance on the pointy tips of things, and pick the pockets of derpy guards. Each character plays differently, some better than others (I’ve never found Murray’s beat-em-ups very interesting). You get a chance to play as all the historical Coopers, each with their own skills, and Sly also picks up special costumes that allow him access to hidden areas and (for the first time in the series) provide a reason to revisit levels. The story missions are a nice selection of challenges and minigames. Action platforming, button-matching, arcade-style shooting, timed sprints, vehicle courses, boss battles, FPS shenanigans -- everything gets its moment. Or you can ignore the story and just explore the sprawling open levels. Collect all the clue bottles to recover an extra-special treat, or seek out treasures that you must spirit back to the hideout before the clock runs down. These sidequests (criminally absent from Sly 3) add tons to the playability.

So I obviously like Thieves In Time. Does it redefine the series? Not at all, for better and for worse. Like I said, I didn’t need it to be different, but I also kinda felt like Sanzaru was carefully following a checklist. One thing I noticed was that the game is never very difficult, whereas the original trilogy could ramp up the challenge quite a bit at times. There was also less variety in the missions: I got sick of having to tail the baddie-of-the-moment while they conveniently outlined the details of their evil plan out loud to themselves. Fortunately, most of the villains are funny and interesting. Most but not all. Main antagonist Le Paradox is barely present (the earlier entries had this problem too) and his eventual appearance, as well as the not-really-a-final-boss-fight, are anticlimactic. The levels are fantastic, each one a visually-striking playground of high vantage points, disorienting pathways, and hidden crannies. (The only level that flops is the Ice Age; it seemed like the developers got really excited about the concept and then, too late, realized they had no good material to fill it. Also, the Ice Age villain, a jive-talking bear in a pimp suit, should be stoned to death for racism.) It’s understood that the Sly franchise depends upon a certain formula. Better to recreate the best aspects and be satisfied, though I still feel they could’ve taken things a little farther.

There is one thing they took farther, for which I am incredibly grateful, and that’s the character of Carmelita Fox. Up until now, she was a ball and chain that dragged the series down. See, Carmelita is basically Javert from Les Misérables with furry boobs and a taser gun; she hates all lawbreakers and believes in an entirely black-and-white world. Every scene where she totters impotently after Sly while yelling, “I’m gonna GET you!” is a scene that lessens the game. Ironically, she was worst in the best entry, Sly 2, which presented Carmelita as a shrill, clueless fuckup who, at one point, failed to realize she was dancing with her arch-nemesis, even though his brilliant disguise strategy was to wear a tuxedo and NOT TAKE OFF HIS THIEF MASK. Anyway, yeah, I have issues with Carmelita. To my happy surprise, Thieves In Time makes her into...a person! Holy shit! She’s forced to rethink her own philosophy; after all, she’s been cozy and romantic with Sly for awhile. She knows him now (also in the biblical sense, bow chicka bow wow). And she finally takes the time to see that his criminal acts serve a larger good. So she’s conflicted. She doesn’t know where she’s gonna stand once everything is over. I found myself warming to Carmelita in a way I never had before, so kudos!

On the flip side of character development, I do have a huge, angry nitpick. Without spoiling too one point in the game, a character who we thought was good turns out to be evil. Shocking twist! Yeah, but shocking in a shitty way. I kept waiting for the character in question to turn out to have been brainwashed or something. Nope -- they’ve been secretly evil all along. Not only does this reveal come out of nowhere, it is completely untrue to the character in question. Up until this point, NOTHING about them has implied that they A) are a power-hungry megalomaniac, and B) have been planning to backstab Sly and co. from the get-go. It is a cheap, false twist. And it’s not properly resolved, either: there’s a rushed, obligatory emotional crisis; the revealed villain is beaten to a pulp; and our heroes stroll away, dusting off their palms. “Yeah, good thing we deal with painful betrayals of friendship on a daily basis!” The whole sequence made me facepalm. Maybe the next game will take the hint and repair that whole misguided subplot before it’s too late.

I said “the next game” even though I’m not sure there will be one, because I insist on optimism. Despite erring a little too much on the side of caution, despite befouling one good character, the folks at Sanzaru did such a bang-up job with Sly’s world that I can’t imagine them not being invited to continue. Of course, it depends on the success of Thieves In Time. Will it introduce new players to the franchise? Will it be dismissed as obsolete? Or will they be able to follow the example of Halo and bless the world with an entire second trilogy? Fingers crossed, because Sly Cooper presides over a way cooler, more engaging gameworld than fucking Master Chief. In my teeny little opinion, anyway.

VERDICT: A big raccoon squee! Wait, do raccoons squee?