Monday, February 24, 2020

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon review


    This movie should have really been a bigger hit than it was. I am a huge slasher fan if you've ever checked out my many reviews on the subject and commentary but it's a genre that doesn't get much critical love. If you actually want to talk about good slasher movies versus fun ones, there's only about a handful of them: Halloween, Scream, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Until Dawn (which was a video game), and this movie right here.

Leslie in costume.
    You can argue with me on this list and name your own favorites like Candyman, My Bloody Valentine, or whatever but I'm not arguing specifics just generalities. The majority of slasher films are designed with a minimal eye to character development and a focus instead on the gory spectacle as well as eye-candy. It's not me putting down the genre, it's just me stating that it's a visual rather than intellectual feast.

    Behind the Mask is a beautiful homage to the slasher genre in a way that arguably elevates the entire thing. It is a dramatic comedy, deconstruction, parody, and reconstruction all in one. The first two-thirds of the movie are a delightful send-up of documentaries as well as slasher movies as a whole while the remaining third is an entirely serviceable example of them. The first two-third are sort of a combination of slasher movie and sports drama where we get the perspective of a man who wants to be a slasher movie villain and has spent his whole life prepping for it.

Robert Englund's third best role after Freddy and Willy from V.
    The premise is a documentary crew led by Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals) has been invited to do a piece on the making of a slasher. In this world, Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers are all historical figures referred to by name. Leslie Vernon (Nathan Baesal) claims to be a local boy who "died" in a tragic accident but has since returned for revenge. He indicates that slashers may actually have nothing supernatural about them, at least he doesn't seem to possess any such qualities, and are actually just extremely well-trained individuals who use special effects to appear as unkillable monsters.

    Leslie is the perfect deconstruction of your typical slasher in that not only is he not a menacing silent killer but he's incredibly talkative and not the least bit physically imposing. He's disarmingly charming and it's easy to understand why Taylor and her crew go along with his preparations for a killing spree. It's impossible to believe Leslie is serious about murdering people and that he'd be vicious enough to do so until he (spoilers) proves otherwise.

The slasher fodder.
    The movie's one serious flaw is that they never spell out that Taylor's crew don't believe Leslie is dangerous right until the end when they're so rudely disabused of said notions. I felt the movie would have been stronger if they'd explained why these documentarians are continuing to film and go along with Leslie if they believe he's a fake. Because the alternative, that they actually believe he's planning on going on a killing spree is even more peculiar. Just a short conversation which says they're grad students with nothing else to film, think they're filming an "alien autopsy" style hoax, or just having too much fun would work.

    Taylor Gentry follows Leslie Vernon around and serves as our POV into the twisted mind of a guy who spends months, even years, to set up his killing spree. This includes setting up parties in the middle of isolated locations, providing a selection of victims, rigging the places with various traps, selecting weapons, and stalking the "Survivor Girl" that he will have heroically defeat him.

Leslie looks like everyone else.
    We even are introduced into concepts like "Ahabs" who represent the Doctor Loomis or Nancy-esque figures of slasher movies where someone knows they are a danger and tries to stop them. Perhaps the movie's best in-joke is the appearance of Robert Englund as Doc Halloran, who was Leslie Vernon's psychiatrist and reveals that he is a genuinely dangerous lunatic. There's also a guest appearance by Zelda Rubinstein from Poltergeist.

    My favorite part of the movie is when Leslie visits the home of his mentor Eugene (Scott Wilson), who is implied to be Billy from Black Christmas. He's apparently retired from murder and taken up residence with one of his Survivor Girls. I loved Scott Wilson in The Walking Dead and he does an excellent job here. There's a wonderful re-watch bonus to this film after you finish it the first time as all of Eugene's scenes gain a sinister quality they didn't initially possess.

Black Christmas, I gave you a heart (I ripped out).
    The actual slasher movie part of the movie is also excellent, albeit truncated but not really that much more than many slasher movies. Leslie Vernon has prepared us for his murder spree for the rest of the film and seeing his plans all come together in horrifying detail is wonderful. I'm actually leaving out the big twist of the movie and I'm pleased that it caught me by surprise despite my familiarity with slasher movie tropes.

    This movie came out in 2006 and this is one of the films I recommend picking up in Bluray. The movie commentaries are great for this film and give a lot of insight into the production, writing, in-jokes, and other stories. I think this is one of those films that stands up to deep analysis and is born from a tremendous love of the genre. Still, if you just want an enjoyable experience watching a slasher film with a brain then this is it. The more you know about horror movies, the more you'll enjoy this film.

9/10

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Cute but Fun Story


Waking up this morning at 7:30 due to the fact it could be anywhere from 8 AM to 12PM when I would receive my couch and chair, they arrived at the shockingly appropriate time of 9:00 AM with my chair.

"Awesome, where's my couch?"
"What couch?"

You would think this would be the punchline for the joke but we're still in set up mode as the delivery men were mostly worried I'd blame them but I wasn't. So I went to call Big Sandy about it but they don't open to 10:00. However, they made some calls and my wife made some calls and we got answers.
Two in fact.

1. It came in late. [not true] So it didn't get put on. [Again, lies]
2. It is a mix-up at the warehouse and they should be blamed.
[Not true]. They will call us back immediately after it's fixed. [Not true]

Waiting until 12:00 PM with my wife having her hair appointment, I went down to get myself some Chinese food and noted that it is in the same block as the Big Sandy Outlet. So I went inside there

."Hey, where's my couch?"
"What couch?"

Still not the punchline.

It turns out that the Big Sandy Outlet was never called by the warehouse [neither was the warehouse] and were mortified that their customer didn't get their couch because, at the end of the day, they actually would like people to keep buying from them.

They asked me to sit down (in a big comfy chair - thankfully, they had a lot of those) and went to investigate the couch I didn't get. It was noticeably about 10 feet away from the floor model of the couch that was identical to the one I bought and wanted for my living room.

They were very polite before admitting the person who my wife had contacted and who had sold me the couch and said they would get right back to my wife and me--had gone home for the day.I was starting to get irritated at this point.But after many many minutes, they admitted that he'd filed the paperwork wrong and not actually ordered the couch or written down that I'd paid for it [though this argument was not very convincing as I had the receipt].

Faced with this, I went to get lunch...next door...and returned to hear that they HAD FOUND MY COUCH! Or just actually placed my order.It will arrive tomorrow at 8:00AM to 12:00PM.

*cue laugh track*

The Chicago Folios review


    THE CHICAGO FOLIOS is one of two supplements successfully added as Kickstarter stretch goals for the wildly successful CHICAGO BY NIGHT 5E for VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE. Chicago by Night 5th Edition updated the famous city supplement to the year 2018 and  brought substantial changes to the Windy City. Furthermore, it had a wonderful effect on games as a whole as like the web series LA BY NIGHT by Jason Carl, it illustrated to many fans how the new setting was supposed to work on practice. We understood how the Camarilla, Anarchs, Elders, and Neonates were meant to interact in a post-Gehenna War world.

    The Chicago Folios is best described as a book of adventure hooks. It also has a number of NPC write-ups and Loresheets but is primarily a book designed to give you a bunch of ready-to-run short stories if you don't have any ideas for the evening. These aren't full Chronicles like "The Sacrifice" in or even "Baptism by Fire" but a rough outline of a story as well as three or four ideas on how it could end. There were dozens of these in the back of Chicago by Night 5E and I very much enjoyed them all.

    The adventure hooks are, for the most part, fairly low stakes. These are not adventures about admitting the Lasombra in the Camarilla but more like settling the individual fates of one vampire or another. Sometimes, they're not even that like a hook based around helping an Ancilla turn an empty building into a new Elysium. But if house flipping isn't your idea of what a dark creature of the night should be up to, there's still plenty of solid hooks like resolving the issue of Gengis' "Anarch List" and dealing with a group of Thin Blooded murderers who are engaged in Blood Bank robberies that threaten the Masquerade.

    Indeed, I think the best adventures of this are the ones that designed to be run in a single night with a beginning, middle, and end. Some of the adventures benefit from being more a premise than anything else. "The Black Rose Society" is a group of Toreador who are engaged in cannibalism of Thin Bloods among other horrific Ashwood Abbey (see Hunter: The Vigil) Sabbat-esque decadence. The only solution for humane Kindred is to burn the place down but this is going to make them a huge number of enemies. The Second Inquisition stories show horrifying Nazi-like experiments taking place alongside them trying to stop genuinely monstrous Kindred.

    I think it's very possible to also combine a lot of these adventure hooks into a Chronicle that is quite exciting if you work at it. Multiple vampire plots occurring simultaneously can substitute for a larger storyline in the background or add to one as we see in Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines. You can also combine all of the tiny little plots into one big one.

    In addition to the adventure hooks, there's a good number of awesome NPCs spread throughout the book. These include some old favorites like the Wolf Pack, Al Capone, and Shejana as well as a totally new cast of characters. I especially liked Arden Canty, the Priest of Caine who has recently moved to Chicago after defecting from the Sabbat and losing faith in its due to its atrocities. I do have a minor complaint that Joshua Tarponski (a.k.a Blackjack) receives a stat write-up but not a full character write-up with his history, plans, and associations. I feel like he's  character who deserved a full write-up.

    Much to my surprise, this book ties into CULTS OF THE BLOOD GODS and includes the addition of The Church of Caine, Church of Set, Cult of Mithras, Ashfinders, the Bahari, and a new weird cult devoted to a severed tongue among its adventure hooks. I felt a scene where a Bahari member compares Caine to Ted Bundy was a bit ridiculous since they worship a goddess who kills pregnant women but that's on me. There's a few characters who didn't quite land with me, including one who attempts to interpret the Camarilla through a patriarchy lens that I feel undermines characters like Helena and the Sybil. Really, the world of V:TM should be a bit of a refuge from real life struggles as we're all united in our disdain for the real inferiors of our society: humans.

    The big benefit of this book is that it actually gives some solid answers on things that have been asked by players since the new line started: including the state of the Sabbat and the status of the Ravnos. According to this book, the Sabbat in North America have collapsed and no longer are holding territory. They have since been reduced to terrorist cell-based groups engaged in campaigns of sick mind games. One of the best bits of in-game fiction is a suicide note from a man completely broken by exposure to the "new" Sabbat. The new Sabbat are pretty much the old Sabbat but their horrifying treatment of mortals is now being treated seriously. No longer are they the Leatherface, Hydra, and Joker sect so much as the Ed Gein, ISIS, and John Wayne Gacy sect. As for the Ravnos, character Shejana is now treated as Caitiff with saying her clan is now gone in what is either the Week of Nightmares or a second traumatic event. Chimestry is also replaced with either Dominate, Obfuscate, or both.

    There's a selection of new Loresheets in the book including Descendant of Menele, the Convention of Chicago [for Camarilla characters], and a few others. I feel like there's a missed opportunity here as there ren't many Anarch Loresheets and they had their own section. A Maldavis and Anita Wainwright Loresheet would have been appropriate here. I really loved the Goblin Roads Loresheet, though, as I did a short story about a Psychopomp in Darkened Streets. The book finally ends with a bunch of Tremere rituals adapted for 5th Edition and I feel these are desperately needed for anyone who wants to play a mage.

    The art in this book is incredible. I loved the art in Chicago by Night 5E and felt it was a great improvement over the edgy photo-quality images of the main book. The Chicago Folios steps it up a notch, though, and many of the pictures tell actual stories. Really, I think this book is great and a solid 4 star entry into the World of Darkness' libraries. This book is presently only available for Kickstarter backers of Chicago by Night 5th Edition but will soon be available on Drivethru RPG in PDF as well as Print on Demand (POD).

8/10

Friday, February 14, 2020

Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey review


    HARLEY QUINN AND THE BIRDS OF PREY is the best movie I've watched this year aside from KNIVES OUT and that was on streaming. Mind you, it's only February and I think this film is far from flawless but this is a film that deserves to succeed. It is easily my favorite of the DCEU except for Wonder Woman and Margot Robbie does a fantastic job in making the kind of zany supervillain adventure that I've made my living writing with the Supervillainy Saga.

Margot Robbie is adorable in this movie.
    Harley Quinn was a big influence on my love of supervillainy tropes and my writing in general. If you have an objection to my citing this, then just move down a few paragraphs and I'll get talking about the movie. I loved her in Batman: The Animated Series when she liberated herself from the Joker in "Harley and Ivy" and continued my enjoyment for her when she showed in the DC comics universe during "No Man's Land." In addition to inspiring Cindy Wachkowski a.k.a Red Riding Hood, she also helped refine the idea of the supervillain protagonist.

    Harley has always had an issue, though, which is the fact that she was introduced with the Joker. When the animated series was going goofy and fun with Harley, the comic books were doubling down on the Joker as a disturbing monster clown straight from your nightmares. Harley's love of the Joker seemed incongruous given it's less like falling in love with a colorful but evil criminal and more like falling in love with John Wayne Gacy (a.k.a Pogo the Clown) or Manson.

    This actually was a serious flaw for the Suicide Squad because generally the people who like Harley Quinn as a protagonist, like her as someone who gets away from the Joker and becomes her own woman. However, like Supergirl, her origin is intrinsically tied to the Joker's. As such, Suicide Squad had some definite problems with the fact it's about Harley Quinn and yet had to include Jared Leto's Joker that didn't really have room to exist in an already packed storyline. Executives also assumed people liked the Joker/Harley Quinn when, in fact, it is an anti-ship. People love seeing them broken up. I like to think it's the same mistaken attitude that led Thomas Harris to believe people like Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter together.

Harley and Black Mask play off each other wonderfully.
    Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey is a story that gets Harley Quiinn as a character. It is part of why I absolutely loved this movie because it is about the damaged but enjoyable titular character forging her new life post-Joker. It has some flaws due to the premise, which I'll get into later, but these are minor issues. This is a solid film full of action, colorful characters, enjoyable snark, and weird off-the-wall Gotham City kookiness that I enjoyed. Go see this in theaters because it's one of those films that benefits from a huge screen.

    The premise is Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie, duh) has broken up with the Joker but is struggling with her lack of respect in the criminal underworld. Feeling like a big statement is the best solution, she blows up Ace Chemicals with a gasoline truck. Now wanted by the entire Gotham City Underworld and GCPD due to the fact she no longer has the Joker's "protection", she ends up involved in a scheme of B-list Batman villains Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) and Victor Szass (Chris Messina).

    Apparently, there's a diamond that has been laser-coded with a bunch of Swiss bank accounts and Black Mask wants it but it's been grabbed by pick pocket Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco). Throw in Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), and Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and you have a helluva good movie. Sort of.

An excellent team of heroines.
    There's a lot of stupid as hell complaints about this movie like the fact that it's not sexy enough (this is not true by any healthy heterosexual male libido's standards--and undoubtedly some queer ones). They also complain about Black Canary's race change (I actually had more difficulty with the fact Mary Elizabeth Winstead is the least Italian-looking woman I've ever seen). There's also the fact Cassandra Cain is in-name-only which I have to agree with. It's weird because they could have called her Harper Row or even made her Stephanie Brown and it would have made more sense.

    Everyone does a great job acting and my biggest regret is that they didn't just call this the Harley Quinn movie because the Birds of Prey play only a minor role in this movie. It's like calling Iron Man 2 the Iron Man and Black Widow movie. Yes, you're technically correct but Harley is the star and the reason you should see it. Margot Robbie plays Harley as a bad person but not an evil one and she's mesmerizing on screen: sexy, funny, relatable, likable, and just terrible all once.

    Ewan McGregor's Black Mask is vain, petty, childish, comical, and monstrous in equal measures. It is a "oh, wait, of course he is good at being a supervillain" moment when you stop to remember he was the co-lead in Moulin Rouge. Over-the-top is something he can do quite well. Really, he could have played the Joker and done a fantastic job. It's also a shame that he's unlikely to make a return as an ongoing nemesis.  He's also a much better antagonist to the power levels of the protagonists as the biggest mob boss of Gotham City makes more sense as a foe for Harley Quinn than someone like the Enchantress.

The best Renee Montoya you're going to see.
    I haven't seen Rosie Perez in much but I liked her grizzled 80s cop movie (lampshaded in the film) vibe as well as the fact she was the only Gotham City official who wasn't a complete screw up. Apparently, Jim Gordon wasn't inclined to fire Steven Williams' Captain Erickson (probably because he killed Jason Voorhees) despite his gross incompetence and probable corruption. Jurnee Smollett-Bell's Black Canary is a bit underdeveloped but I want to see her in future movies. She's also got an amazing voice.

    Weirdly, my biggest complaint about this movie is that it has a few too many action sequences. They're wonderfully done but the character of Harley Quinn and her interactions with everyone are enough to carry the movie. I kind of wanted more of her wacky and bizarre life as a citizen in a town that goes from hyper-realistic to haunted amusement park in the space of a few city blocks.

     Okay, maybe I have two complaints. One minor issue is that this film really didn't need to be R-rated and if you wonder why I think that's a bad thing, I think it's because Harley has a massive preteen and teenage girl following that parents will be keeping from this movie's box office. This is a colorful and cartoonish film that didn't really need the inserting of such ultraviolence as removing the faces of gangsters as well as a few dozen of the f-bombs dropped. It felt like it was going for edginess for the sake of edginess.

    In conclusion, See this movie, you won't regret it. There's great action, great comedy, great style, and a solid soundtrack that almost never misses. The things people liked most about Suicide Squad (Robbie and its jukebox musical status) are replicated here with better stunts as well as writing. The acting is great, the characters are 90% representations, and Gotham City is well-represented. This is just a fun film and deserves to be a huge success.

9/10

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

99c Bookbub deal for Agent G: Infiltrator


 Hey folks,

If you haven't checked out my AGENT G series, it's available for 99c this month from Bookbub. It is a contemporary cyberpunk series that follows the transformation of our world into a dystopia ruled by megacorps. Agent G is a cybernetically-enhanced assassin who has had his memories erased by the sinister International Refugee Society, a megacorporation that uses its charity status to hide a murder-for-hire business that caters to the ultra-rich. He'll receive them back if he serves them for ten years.

Available here

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Knives Out (2019) review


    The mystery novel is something that has always had a rather large air of classicism to it, that I've often felt has been lost somewhat in imitation. Agatha Christie was a woman of means herself but part of the fun of her novels was the fact the wealthy were exposed as a bunch of cheating, lying, backstabbing assholes. Which was true to the life of the time period and today, I say as someone who grew up as part of the Country Club set before my family went from multi-millionaires to middle-class thanks to a certain 2008 Financial Crisis. People remember the big houses and quirky personalities but forgot the fact that they were meant to parody the Ruling ClassTM.

Game of Thrones-esque chair of knives.
    Knives Out is a woke movie that, unfortunately, wears its white liberalism on its sleeve while simultaneously also engaging in some condescending compassion as well as unintentional racism. This lowered my score of the movie somewhat but I admit that I still enjoyed its entertaining mystery as well as colorful cast of characters. It may read very much like a rich white man calling out rich white men (and women) ala Zach Snyder's Sucker Punch but the solid performances as well as great writing help rescue the story from mediocrity. Did I mention it's by Rian Johnson, my archenemy since The Last Jedi? Well, he should stick to mystery stories right now as the references to Clue (1985) fully justify this movies existence alone. I love that film.

Chris Evans does a remarkably effective sleazy performance.
   The premise is Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), millionaire mystery writer, dies mysteriously and his family soon enters into his huge house. The Thrombey family is a mixture of conservative uber-rich and bourgeois bohemiams. It's the kind of family where one can be extraordinarily racist while thinking being racist is the worst thing you can be called. While a left-leaning anarchist lunatic in real life, I appreciated Rian Johnson taking pot shots at the Left side of the class divide as well as the right.

    While Don Johnson plays a smarmy rich white guy who hates illegals, we have Toni Collette playing a transparent parody of Gwyneth Paltrow who has made her "fortune" selling snake oil wellness supplements that appeal to rich New Age West Coasters. While Don Johnson has an Alt-Right troll as a son, Toni has a liberal activist daughter who has never had to work a day in her life. The kind of person, a generation or two earlier, would have paid well for a Che Guevera t-shirt.

Daniel Craig does an incredible Southern Poirot parody.
    The thing is that I grew up among the super-rich and know this is not a parody so much as just a straight depiction of how the uber-wealthy are completely divorced from reality. Well, not even the uber-wealthy. They're part of the 1% but not the 1% of the 1% like the Bruce Wayes and Lex Luthors of the world. This is a weird distinction to make but Harlan's fortune is about sixty million dollars and while that is a huge amount of money, what it really means is that it's enough to pay for all these spoiled rotten jackasses and their hobbies masquerading as businesses but not so much that they won't be out in the cold if Harlan ever cuts them off. He's the sole source of the money and his death means whoever inherits the fortune becomes the new family patriarch/matriarch. Divided among them, even 60 million will go fast because they are house cats who'd never survive in the wild.

    Contrasting to this collection of not-so-different jerks who remind me far too much of a bunch of people I knrew growing up is Marta (Ana de Armas), Harlan's live-in nurse has become his surrogate daughter, probably because she takes care of him and she's not objectively terrible. Marta is a beautiful saint and hard-working innocent who literally throws up when forced to lie. Ana de Armas is charismatic enough that the somewhat flat character is still a joy to watch, especially when trying to befuddle both the Thrombey family as well as police investigators.

Marta has a nice doe-eyed look even if she's a bit 1-dimensional.
    I think the movie is overly forgiving toward Harlan, treating him as a noble man who wants what's best for his ungrateful genetically related sponges. I believe Willy Wonka said it best that if you wonder how a child (or adult) becomes a spoiled waste of space then you should blame the parents. Harlan is financially abusive and emotionally manipulative but the movie treats him like a saint. Frankly, he seems to be the worst of the lot as his only response to his awful family is to cut them off.

    While I harp on the classicism on display in the film and that it engages in a "both sides"-esque duality, I think they really do nail the fact that they're all a bunch of people who have been warped by their privilege. His eldest daughter, Linda (Jaime Lee Curtis), is the most successful of them and believes she's self-made but did it with a million dollar loan. Gee, can't imagine who that's a joke about. However, he's also employed his son, Walt (Michael Shannon), for years while constantly shutting down every idea he's ever had then summarily firing him for "his own good." Even the seemingly sympathetic and beautiful liberal college student Meg (Katherine Langford) has spent 400K on tuition with no sign she's close to getting her degree or that it's in anything useful.

A truly all-star cast.
  The real star of the show is Daniel Craig's character, Benoit Blanc, who is a Southern gentleman detective who fulfills the Hercule Poroit role. A genius and master detective, he immediately figures out every single member of the family is hiding something terrible as well as has motive for murder, but needs to fish out the clues as a result. I found his character great even if I genuinely hate his accent and think he should have kept in Logan Lucky. I'm actually interested in seeing another movie starring this character despite how ridiculous the character sometimes was.

    In conclusion, this is a solid movie and entertaining from beginning to end. Unfortunately, I feel like its politics are a bit less enlightened than it thinks. I do think that the characters are wonderfully trashy (in the way only the spoiled elite can be) and true-to-life, though. I would have liked a more nuanced Marta and less hammy Daniel Craig but it was a great film that I still enjoyed. It's not as good as Murder on the Orient Express but it was a fine comedy as well as a good whodunit.

8.5/10

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Resident Evil 2 (Remake) review


    I am a huge Resident Evil fan. It is something that dominates my gaming love even though I am terrible at playing them. Seriously, I'm both a fraidy cat as well as terrible at puzzles as well as zombie hunting. I somehow managed to screw up playing Resident Evil 4 by not realizing you were supposed to fight all the enemies versus running away. Thus, I ended up running out of ammo and weapons due to so much being from loot drops. Yes, that has to be a special achievement for video game players.
Oh Claire, if only you existed. *ahem* Uh, ignore that.

    Resident Evil 7 is the apex of my love of the series due to the fact that it managed to be incredibly scary but also easy enough for me to play it through. Despite this, I actually am really late to the party in playing this. Why? Because Resident Evil 2 was such a classic I wasn't sure I could return to it even with the fact it would be using the RE7 style of gaming. Also, despite the fact I have an unwholesome and weird teenage dork's lust for Claire Redfield despite the fact I turned 39 last year. Our love may be fictional but will never die.

    Given this game was a massive success on every conceivable level and has helped usher in the RE franchise to the second decade of the 21st century. There's nothing I can possibly say which will probably make fans of the franchise pick this game up (as they already have). If you're not a fan of the series then I suggest you start with either the Resident Evil remake or Resident Evil 7, which are both great starting points.

Love Mr. X. He's the gumshoe that Umbrella needs.
    So, really, this is just my impressions on the game rather than a proper review-review. It's a great game, you should probably get it (albeit after the other two). Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy are the two most lovable characters in the RE franchise even more so than Jill Valentine (I'm not even counting Chris here). I actually wish Claire showed up more than she has and she got her own movie, Resident Evil Revelations 2, plus Code: Veronica.

    The premise if you've somehow missed the entire series is that Racoon City is the suburban town on the Canadian border where Umbrella conducts the majority of its unnatural experiments. It is, unfortunately, overrun with tens of thousands of zombies. The Umbrella Corporation has lost control over the G-Virus (separate from the T-Virus) and everyone is going to die. As bad as this is, it's even worse for Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy. Claire is looking for her missing brother Chris and Leon is joining the Racoon Police force on the worst day possible.

Getting tired of Claire pictures? I'm not.
    The plot is mostly an excuse to get you to the Racoon City Police Department that is an amazingly effective set piece. While it's a little strange that the place looks more like a art museum than a police station, full of secret passages and puzzles, I still had a lot of fun with the place. They've also changed it enough that there's at least bathrooms this time around. There are also a few more offices and holding cells to give the impression this actually could be a place where police work is done of the non-zombie hunting variety.

    The tension in Resident Evil 2's remake is impressive as you have to deal with zombies coming in through the doors, mutant Lickers who are far more terrifying than the actual undead, and a sense that no place is truly safe throughout. In the original RE2, the character of Mister X was a minor presence and ultimately forgettable. Here, he's now a character that stalks you throughout the police station once he appears and he's terrifying. Well, kind of terrifying. He looks like an enormous blue-skinned private detective that could star in his own anime. He's actually kind of adorable.

I still ship Leon and Claire even if Ada is his OTL in canon.
    Eventually, you'll escape from Raccoon City's Police Department and go on a journey to other locations like the Raccoon City Orphanage and either try to save the precocious Sherry Birkin (Claire) or deal with the beautiful Ada Wong (Leon) that is basically a woman that escaped from a Bond movie into a George Romero one. Generally, the game is structured so that you play one of the heroes before playing the other's adventures with a few continuity errors between. Indeed, the changes of what you have to do is part of the game's charm and replay value.

    But for me, the game's appeal is the fact both Leon and Claire are incredibly charming characters on a surprisingly "realistic" set of reactions. Unlike characters in later games, this is all overwhelming and insane to them. They try and do what little they can to help their fellow survivors but it's as close to being trapped in hell as you're going to get. It's very different from Frank West who, even in the original Dead Rising, didn't have much reaction to events. It's also a matter of escape rather than day to day survival ala the Telltale Walking Dead games. Yes, these games drew from Resident Evil than the reverse but that's part of the fun.
Now the scariest villain in Resident Evil.

    I also think the Umbrella Corporation's ridiculousness is at just the right level of Bondian supervillain here. William and Annette Birkin didn't meant to create the apocalypse, so it actually has an appropriate level of horror. I also think the addition of the Raccoon Orphanage is appropriately horrifying as Sherry is a woman who struggles to escape the appropriately menacing Chief Irons in a stealth sequence that is some of the most hair raising in the game. We also find some truly twisted things they were up to with the city's lost and unwanted children inside. It's a big conspiracy but not quite as ludicrous as it would become with Resident Evil 5 and 6 or even Code: Veronica where they have their own secret island.

    Speaking of Chief Irons, they actually made the character more terrifying this time around than the ertswhile Norman Bates analog from the original game. While he has inappropriately absconded with the Mayor's daughter's corpse, he's actually much scarier this time around due to the fact he seems to have kept most of his faculties. He's interested in escaping the city and making a fortune from what he presumes will be Umbrella bribe money. That's a much nastier and more disturbing villain than a Hollywood serial killer with a badge.

Claire has taken to the artful smudges of Lara Croft's reboot.
   This plays like Resident Evil 7 for the most part but there's a lot of subtle changes that make it even tougher than the original version. Zombies aren't taken down by headshots anymore, even on Normal Mode. Instead, you have to put three or four headshots at the easiest to take them down permanently and it's just not worth it for the most part. Instead, you want to just disable a zombie whenever possible and dodge out of the way. It's a simple change but effective for making the helplessness of your situation all the greater.

    The game has a wonderful set of unlockables for each of your accomplishments in-game with mini-games and campaigns available just like in the original. In addition to playing Hunk and Tofu, there's the option of playing four additional "survivors" from characters killed in the main campaign like the Mayor's daughter, the Reporter, the Sheriff, and a Umbrella mercenary. I've been enjoying these but kind of wish they'd went with canon stories.

Once a man! Once a man!
    Is the game scary though? I think it actually is probably scarier than Resident Evil 7. A game will never be scarier than when it is tense and this game is very tense. I don't think it can quite pull off the tension of Alien: Isolation or Outlast where you're utterly helpeless. The only section like that is Sherry Birkin's. However, I think they did a fantastic job in making zombies intimidating again as well as giving you a sense of dread as to what you're going to encounter next. There's just enough humanity to the characters that you care about them as well.

    The big difference between Resident Evil and, say, Dead Island or Dead Rising is that there's a decent amount of effort to make at least some of the characters feel like they were formerly people. The designs of the zombies in RE2 Remake really make it clear every zombie was formerly a person. The story of William Birkin may be that he was an enormous pile of crap but he was still a person and that humanity makes his transformation into a monster all the scarier. The zombies here are not just a bunch of targets waiting to get shot. That's the real biggest appeal of the story and part of what made the Baker family so good as antagonists.

    In conclusion, this is not only a solid game but it's a magnificent game and I had an amazing amount of fun playing it. I'm looking forward to playing a similar experience with Resident Evil 3 this year with Jill Valentine having her adventures updated for 2020. Am I unhappy this is distracting from Resident Evil 8? Not in the slightest. This feels like a new game and it doesn't need all the baggage from the somewhat ridiculous timeline that has since emerged in Resident Evil canon, as much as I love it.

10/10