Game Review: Syndicate [Hard Drive Archive]

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Author’s note: I wrote this not-so-nice review back in early 2013 as a facebook note. The fact that I mention both Gamefly AND Block Buster in this same article probably dates this piece a considerable amount. Also, as a bit of an ironic twist, I ended up actually buying this game three years later for less than five bucks at a second hand shop, and I’ll still occasionally play it when I can’t bother to fish out my copy of Perfect Dark 64.

The Syndicate series is a bit obscure in the video game world, even by cyberpunk standards. Though most people, myself included, were barely out of their diapers when the first game came out in 1993, I did in fact manage to play their sequel Syndicate Wars on the PC. By the way, good luck finding a copy of either, unless you want to pay Ebay over one-hundred dollars and use DOS-box to run the damn things. And much like its two predecessors, the new game can be just as hard to find as a rental if you don’t have a GameFly account. I almost had to beg the only Block Buster store within fifty miles to reserve a copy for me. This massive inconvenience alone, no thanks to the (but largely enviable) burgeoning online mail-in rental industry could be a topic I could post an entirely separate thread about, but I digress.

Syndicate, the reboot to the 1990s cult favorite, tells the story of a corporate-dystopian future where — no surprise — corporations have become the new nation states. The game is a First-Person-Shooter, shown to you through the perspective of Miles Kilo (the surname, no doubt a clever reference to the Executive Producer’s favorite pastime). Kilo works for Eurocorp, one of the major conglomerates that control the world in this dark anarcho-capitalist future. Your protagonist at the start of the game has been implanted with a Dart 6 brain chip — the latest in corporate wet-ware — which allows the player to see the world in a digitally augmented reality state. This device also allows you to remotely hack terminals, as well as humans who you can then either control them in order to turn them against their allies or force them to commit suicide.

You’re then teamed up with the very sociopathic, Merit, whose pastimes include: shooting innocent civilians, blowing up buildings, and talking about how awesome the female scientists’ racks are. Another supporting character is the inventor of the Dart 6 chip, Lily Drawl, who is supposed to be Kilo’s moral compass throughout the story even though she has no qualms watching you put holes in the bodies of other people at close range.

The acting, as well as the story, seems phoned-in. Kilo, I’m sure for budget purposes, remains the silent protagonist who has to be strung along by the other characters otherwise he’d probably just sit there. Merit’s voice actor sounds crawling on lips drunk, which interestingly enough makes his stupid antics in the game almost plausible. Lily Drawl’s voice actress seems to be the most competent, but doesn’t give a whole lot of range for you to feel invested in her emotionally. Even the writer for this game, Richard Morgan, cyberpunk author of Altered Carbon and Market Forces, doesn’t seem to be trying.

The story itself is pretty basic: a lone man, who has worked for corporations his whole life, has a crisis of conscience after a job goes bad and is now being hunted by the very people who’ve worked with him his entire career. True to EA form, the game also has a conclusion that is open-ended enough to warrant a sequel, which is required by law nowadays in the video game biz, apparently. It’s a story-mode so paint-by-numbers predictable, it could’ve just been a list that Morgan had to check off as he wrote the script. Whether you’re a Chomsky-leftist or a hard line Ayn Rand acolyte, there’s very little intellectual-wank-material to be had here.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, you’re still getting a half-way decent shooter. However, if you were an old fan of the previous games RPG elements, you’ll be severely disappointed. Most of the squad-based tactics have been taken out and replaced with you working with an NPC to complete mission objectives. Even my favorite aspect of the series, which was the economic management of your corporate enclaves and the upkeep of R&D for your trench coat assassins has been completely tossed out. Though to make up for this, the player can earn cash or experience points that can be put towards augmentations that give you certain perks like X-ray vision, optical-camo or faster cool-down times in between using abilities. The guns are stylish, but nothing you haven’t seen before in any other FPS, with the exception of two: one that can shoot through walls and another whose bullets can track a target around corners. You won’t be able to travel to wherever you want to either like you did in the previous games, but will only be whisked away to exotic locals if the story permits it. The game is much more linear, shootier and turns the hacking mini-games into single-click, wait-’em-out-before-they-shoot-you-out time crunchers.

When I was playing this game however, there was one game that kept coming to mind whenever I attempted a cyber-brain hack or a corporate infiltration (which was able as subtle as a shotgun shell through a door and I’m not kidding about that), that game being Deus Ex 3 (or Deus Ex: Human Revolution if you insist on it). Syndicate not only was trying to make you forget all about the previous, much better versions that came before it, but also the fact that a much better cyberpunk game from last year was still on the market. It had all the aspects of a Deus Ex game, without the open-endedness of the story-line or gameplay. Though it might be fairer to state that Syndicate is probably the best sequel that Perfect Dark 64 never got, it doesn’t even have repertoire of choice in weapons and gadgets that justify the label. It was almost depressing playing this game as it tried to so hard to impress me. Trying so hard to awe me with its graphics, trying to so hard to pull my heartstrings with Kilo’s tragic past, trying to throw as many flashy explosions and sleek skylines at me as humanly possible. It was like a younger, less competent child, attempting to outdo their much older, smarter and beautiful sibling, and like any good parent I was going to validate Syndicate’s need to feel special. However, I could only bring to give it just enough attention so that it may feel just a little less hopeless about its disposition all the while giving Deus Ex the preferred treatment behind Syndicate’s back. I probably shouldn’t go into parenting.

The Disaster Artist Is A Love Letter To The Young & Struggling Artist [Article]

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The first thing that can be said about this film is that The Disaster Artist cannot really be understood without seeing The Room first. At the same time, The Room also can’t be fully understood without reading the Disaster Artist.

I saw The Room sometime in the year 2010 when I was still in college. It had taken me awhile to get around to it, but by that time any self respecting American pop culture buff was being required to watch it as a right of passage. I became obsessed with that movie and my fandom can be proven by the two videos that I posted lauding both the film and the tell-all book that surrounded it.

The Room has been quoted as being the “Citizen Kane” of bad movies, but I’d argue that it may also go down in history as the height of transgressive cinema of the early 21st century. It was a perfect storm of bad acting, cinematography, and writing despite having an incredibly simple plot: a soon-to-be-married woman trying to hide an affair from her fiance. It was also under absurd management by being also produced, directed, written, stared in as the main lead, and solely financed by the man who became the enigmatic legend behind The Room itself: Tommy Wiseau.

I was one of the few crazy enough to buy a signed copy of The Disaster Artist when it came out in the fall of 2013, and I was even most ecstatic when the book got adapted into a film. Now that all that exposition and self-indulgent fan nostalgia diary nonsense is out of the way, I can finally tell you how good the movie actually is. But first…

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Proof that I ain’t no liar!

The Disaster Artist follows the author of the tell-all book and friend to Tommy Wiseau, Greg Sestero as it takes place five years prior to the making of The Room. It starts with the then struggling 19-year-old, Greg, a self-conscious actor trying to make it in Los Angeles, meeting Tommy Wiseau in the same acting class together. The movie starts off in the same way that the books does and more or less follows their journey together ending at the night of the premiere of Tommy’s film.

Throughout the movie you see the struggles of both aspiring actors. For Tommy, a man who is clearly much older and less talented, becomes the fodder for the audience’s second-hand embarrassment as he blunders and fails through the grueling and punishing process of being rejected by Hollywood along with his eccentric wardrobe, mumble vampire accent, and ego-inducing shield of self-denial. Greg is juxtaposed as the too-self-aware, but slowly succeeding actor who initially latches onto Tommy’s relentless optimism and finds that positivist attitude to be the push he needed to succeed.

However, this is short lived as both men reach a brick wall in their budding careers as actors (Tommy’s fall coming much sooner than Greg’s) and are forced to realize that they may never be able to make it in Hollywood. It is then that the bizarre seed is planted inside Tommy’s mind to simply create and star in his own film and have Greg be cast as a major co-star.

It is here that we then see the main focus of the film and the book come to life as the audience becomes enveloped in the behind the scenes look as to how this production beat all the odds and managed to even see the light of day at all.

For fans of the Disaster Artist, they get a taste of the book’s major highlights in the film such as: the insane first encounter with Greg meeting Tommy, the funny-but-embarrassing script readings in the Italian restaurant, the big move to LA, Tommy’s flame out and eventual writing of the screenplay, The Room’s funny and perverse actor auditions, The Chris R show down, Tommy barking orders at crew members while naked and doing a sex scene on set, the production crew mutiny, Greg’s falling out with Tommy, the insane ad campaigns, the lying, the manipulations, the rejections, the redemption, and eventually the premiere itself.

For fans of The Room, they also get proper fan service with the actors in the Disaster Artist re-enacting real scenes from The Room verbatim all the way down to the sets and costumes, which gives the film an added authenticity to the source material as well as a meta vibe to the whole experience.

Overall, it conveys the essence of the book. However, having said that, the film does have it’s problems. Firstly, since it’s only ninety-minutes long, certain parts from the book had to be cut, but it also made the film come off as being incredibly rushed. For those like myself who read the book, it felt like whiplash watching whole chapters being condensed to minutes or even seconds on screen while being forced to endure the film’s need to hit the hyper-drive button as quickly as possible in order to move on to the next plot point. I also thought that it didn’t provide a good enough transitional period for the audience to slowly see Greg’s growing resentment over Tommy and his ego alienating Greg, while Tommy’s jealousy over Greg’s “Hollywood success” becomes an even larger wedge in the friendship. Greg’s depiction in the film is also too optimistic during the filming scenes of The Room, lacking the self-awareness that was made clear in the book as Greg describes in detail how much he grew to hate being on set with Tommy and knowing that The Room would go on to become a massive flop in theaters (well before it’s eventual rise into cult film status).

These issues can be ignored, but what obviously can’t be denied is the influences and forces that guided Greg, Tommy, The Room, The Disaster, and film adaptation. At it’s core, both the book and the film are a lesson in the struggles of making it as an artist in today’s modern world and the unintended consequences of never giving up on one’s dreams. As a writer, I often find myself wondering if my work will ever be recognized, far from the worries of any established artist wondering if they’re being taken seriously or treated as a joke after hitting that lucky, one-in-a-million chance of getting famous. However, as Tommy and Greg soon find out, whether it’s success, in film, art, or writing fame is earned for reasons and circumstances that often out of one’s own control; and with that fame comes with it it’s own kind of baggage.

[Review] Terminator Genisys [Hard Drive Archive]

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Author’s note: this was a review that I wrote on facebook at the time of this movie’s release. After reading this again — two years later– I still agree with about 99% of what I had to say about it.

So, yeah, Terminator Genisys…

The short answer: Not as bad as I thought it was going to be be.

The long Answer: Considering the idea that just plain not doing another Terminator film was completely off the table, a reboot was kind of inevitable. The time travel continuity of the film franchise was so mangled after T2 that people eventually stopped caring (T1-T2 has Judgement Day set in 1997, then in T3 it`s 2006, then Salvation and the short lived Fox TV series pinned it to 2011). Genisys does us the favor of at least nuking that continuity sink-hole for good, but not before nuking L.A (again) to chronicle Skynet`s rise to power.

As its own film, Genisys is much better than Salvation; the latter mentioned film really just an example of Saving Private Ryan with robots, a.k.a Christian Bale: The Movie: The “We`re Fucking Done Professionally” TMZ Freakout World Tour. And when compared to Terminator 3, Genisys was, thematically-speaking, much better written than T3. Whereas Terminator one and two took the concept of “No Fate, But What We Make” and ran with it, Terminator 3 didn`t so much throw that idea out the window so much as stuff it in a rocket and shoot it at the sun. With the world once again ending in 1997, Skynet going full-blown Doc Brown in 2029, and the themes of free will and the idea that the future can be changed being brought back into the fold, Terminator finally gets the clean slate it so badly needed.

However, there are problems…Pop`s (Arnold as the T-800) origin and his reasons for helping the protagonists are a mystery. It`s one of the biggest plot-holes in the movie, not helped by the fact that there`s now a T-1000 running around in 1984 L.A looking to kill anybody who comes out of a time-bubble. How both cyborgs got dispatched to the more distant past– and in turn, beating out Kyle Reese whose original purpose for being sent back to protect Sarah Connor in 1984 is kind of negated — raises questions that not even the writers of Genisys may know the answers to. There`s also the fact that Sarah Connor and Pops already have a time-machine built, and sort of expect you to roll with it, while they get convinced by Kyle to use it to go into the future (2017) for no other reason except that Kyle saw a vision mid slip-stream.

In the end, the movie makes a creative effort to actually bring something new to the table and play with our expectations on the movie series itself. Using the idea of multiple, parallel realities, it also helps explain away most of the changes and gives new life to a franchise that was probably better off left alone after the second film. For better or worse, however, the Terminator franchise has become something that Hollywood producers and fans alike will keep coming back to despite every rational voice screaming “NO!” at the top of their lungs. With what Genisys is offering, perhaps, people will finally realize that James Cameron is not going to do another Terminator film, Hollywood won`t stop making these films as long as we keep going out to see them, and that Terminator Genisys is probably as close to perfect as we`re going to get in the post-Cameron movie series.

B+

I just finished editing the first draft of my novel (and it finally has a title)! [Update]

Hi Everyone!

Another update on my book. I just finished editing it after nearly two months of painstaking work! Although it feels like two years ago, it actually wasn’t that long ago that I had completed the first draft on that fateful late August afternoon. Also the novel has a title now:

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Might be a bit flashy, but it makes for a decent placeholder for now. As always, I’m going to take a few weeks off before digging into Rough Draft 2: Tokyo Drift, but I’ll still be posting things on Nocturnal Muse Sessions. I also found out that I have seven posts to go before I reach 100, so I’m going to take it to the next level and really deliver on 100 posts in 2017! I’m off to a decent start so far with my latest chapter in the Austin By Night series if you like creepy-dark crime serials. Check it out and watch this space for more updates!

Sincerely,

Philip N.R Hauser

 

Austin By Night – Cassandra [Layer 12]

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Author’s Note: you can catch up on the rest of the series here.

It’s midnight and the water is pitch black, even with the infrared goggles on. I can hear my breathing in the scuba suit as I swim under the waters of Lake Austin towards the yacht floating in the middle of the river. A heavy bass, some kind of techno music is vibrating from the boat hit my body. I take more slow deliberate breathes.

As I surface I try not breathe out give away my position, but the music is so loud that it might not be an issue. As I peek over the side of the boat, I fire my first bullet at a man wearing sunglasses who spots me coming over the side. The gun recoils for a moment as the whisper quiet of the silencer makes my gun sound like muffled whap and his death a soft thud.

I catch the spare shell in my left palm and pocket it. The sky is dark, no lights, no sounds except the bass coming from the main cabin. I kill another man. Whap, thud, catch, pocket.

I see the white container on the bow of the yacht and I open it. Towels, these are what I’ll need. I open my hit kit and I see the lighter fluid. This will do just fine.

“Hey, Tom is that-“

Whap, thud, catch, pocket. I breathe deeply. I allow the let the medication take control. It’s better now. The voices inside me are no longer distracting me, but I still have nightmares. I wonder if there’s a pill that can keep me from dreaming.

I open the cabin. The heavy bass that I have been hearing is getting louder. A woman who I’ve seen before is surprised to find me here. She is the target and she knows it. Her eyes widen. Whap, thud…pocket. She tumbles down the stairs after the bullet exits her. The recoil is easier now. My body is not shaking anymore. More deep breathes.

It’s so bright inside the cabin that I have to remove my goggles. I hear a man screaming as the woman’s body rolls down the stairs and onto the floor. I sleuth down the railing of the narrow, white stair case and land in the cabin. I see a man digging into a drawer for something. His movements are slow and awkward. His face as he looks up at me seems to confirm something for him that I can’t understand. I fire at his chest twice and he falls to the ground.

I look in the drawer and see that he was going to grab a pistol. It looks bored sitting there. I look at the body in front of me as it flops around. I’m getting bored with this. I can’t feel anything anymore.

I watch him struggle. He rolls over and continues to bleed as he takes out his phone, but he drops it twice. He can’t even dial for help. A part of knows I should end him now, but I can’t help but be entranced by him and his struggle. His eyes are green. He has large green eyes. I can’t tell if it’s me or the medication that’s doing this to me. After about a minute of this, he movements start to get slower and slower until he finally stops. I then remember what I have to do. I soak the towel in lighter fluid and I light it on fire using the man’s zippo. I toss the flaming towel on his face and walk up the stairs.

It’s still pitch black outside. The lake is dark, the sky is dark, the coast and trees are dark. The white yacht rocks back and forth as I wait for the fire to spread to other parts of the boat. The light is all there is to see. I can’t help but find it fascinating: the fire growing larger and larger. I then get a phone call from my employer.

“Hello?” I answer.

“I saw your progress, tonight,” she tell me, “very impressive.”

“How were you watching me?” I ask, suddenly paranoid.

“Surveillance drone,” she answers, “the pharmaceutical branch within my company is liking the test data. They can use it to argue the medication’s military applications.”

“But, you wanted me to wipe out the competition here in Austin, right?” I ask her.

“Yes, that too,” she confirms, “as soon as you’re done, meet me back at the Austonian. We have other matters we need to discuss.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I tell her, “is it another competitor?”

“No, a possible employee,” she says, “have you heard of a man by the name of Logan Webb.”

“I’ve heard of him,” the name vaguely registers.

“We’ll need to do a background check on him,”

“Will do,” I answer back, “see you soon.”

I hang up the phone and continue to watch the fire engulf the yacht. I watch it until it sinks into the lake.

Copyright © 2017 Philip N.R Hauser

[Flash Fiction] Death Is Just Consciousness Looking For Life On Other Planets.

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“Are you ready, Mrs. Wilks?”

“I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, doctor,”

Patricia Wilks was 95-years-old. She was ready for her final journey. She had already finalized her will, as well as had her last dinner with her son, daughter, and the rest of their extended family. She wasn’t worried. Not unlike the dying from centuries past; but even so, her children couldn’t help but cry for her that night.

“Oh, don’t fret my loves,” she assured them tenderly, her voice a rusty calm that far eclipsed the sensuality and insecurity of youth that was once with her from decades past, “you’ll see me again. That’s a promise!”

“I just want to reiterate what we discussed earlier,” said the doctor, “your body will die, but your consciousness will be transferred to the satellite and will be sent out into space.”

“In order to see if there’s intelligent life out there, yes?” answered Patricia, “I’ve always wanted to travel into space.”

The doctor smiled. Charmed by her excitement.

“If anyone finds the satellite and opens me up,” asked Patricia, “what should I tell them? You’re already including a detailed history of humanity to go along with me.”

The doctor looked up for a moment. Contemplating the question with a pious air that didn’t do justice the level of thought and reverence that he gave it. He soon had his answer:

“Tell them about your life,” he said, “Tell them what it means to be you, to be human. That will be the one thing that these books, histories, sciences, and pieces of art will not convey. For if humanity can’t succeed to meeting those of you out there in space, there will be a record that we tried. That’s all we ask of you.”

“And I accept,” Patricia answered.