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291 reviews in total 
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3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Lives up to the hype, 20 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

See, I enjoyed The Witcher 2 (TW2) as much as the next guy (stupid Kayran boss fight notwithstanding), but I felt the game wasn't as great as the first title of the series, the developers' eye-popping debut. So, although perfectly fine in its own right, it felt like a small step backwards. (Okay, so maybe I did enjoy it slightly less than the next guy).

The Witcher 3, however, is an improvement over TW2 and captures the same kind of fun I had in the first episode. The game features a Bethesda-like world in terms of scale and detailed locations, and BioWare-like attention to narrative and characters; the freedom of the first Witcher and the better combat of the second. Writing is stellar (the two intertwining main missions in Velen, for example, are phenomenal), NPCs memorable - they never feel like quest-delivering automatons. And Novigrad is the BEST city seen in a cRPG since Baldur's Gate 2.

Also interesting is how studying the monsters' local Wikipedia is not merely a curiosity for lore fans, but an asset when confronting those creatures, as you learn their weakness to "signs" (magic) and alchemy. There is a certain amount of preparation before each major fight which goes beyond the usual "get your best equipment and a ton of health potions".

My main gripe is how the "Witcher sense" used during investigations (to find clues about monsters) feels too much like an instant-win button. The lack of challenge drains some fun from these segments in terms of gameplay (although narrative connected to them remains compelling). For example, you follow the tracks of some hunters and find a griffin's abandoned nest, then protagonist Geralt automatically deduces everything there is to know about the creature. It's not possible to MAKE A MISTAKE and prepare poorly, unless you deliberately ignore the suggestions.

Soundtrack is atmospheric, voice acting brilliant - one of the rare fully-voiced game where I follow every dialogue instead of just reading subtitles and skipping through dully-delivered conversations. Graphics are solid, loading times perfectly acceptable (shorter on my PC than those in Dragon Age: Inquisition, for example): certainly nothing like the first Witcher's endless pauses.

It's possible to import a save from The Witcher 2, but also to recreate previous choices made in the second game (but not those in the first one) in a conversation during the prologue.

Pieces of Eight, 12 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The best entry in the series after Assassin's Creed 2, Black Flag proves a game can overcome several flaws as long as it manages to be fun.

A high-budget pirate sandbox action/adventure where you can sail around the sea from Kingston to Nassau, board enemy ships during naval battles, roam crocodile-infested swamps, run parkour-style on the roofs of Havana, dig for buried treasures in small atolls... I mean, how can one not love a premise like that? It's an instant winner.

Characters are vivid, voice acting solid, dialogues written with surprising flair. History provided here is the usual "based on real events" baloney; pirates are romanticized into brave rebels. Whatever - don't play Assassin's Creed expecting reliable history lessons. Sadly, the modern-day Abstergo plot, the series' tiresome framing device, just refuses to go away and die. What would you rather do in a pirate sandbox - take control of your ship in the middle of a storm or speak to your boss in a corporate office? Every time the game shifts to a modern-day sequence (thankfully, not often) it's like getting commercials in the middle of a blockbuster.

Black Flag features some dubious design choices. Insta-failure stealth missions are grating; they would be less annoying if the stealth system was exceptionally well thought-out, but this isn't the case. Enemy AI has its issues: for example, sentinels are remarkably unaffected by the disappearance of their comrades. Combat is once again dominated by the stupidly overpowered counter attack; and, speaking of overpowered, special mention goes to berserk darts, which allow to complete many missions with absurd ease. Overall, you'd think stealth and combat would be more polished in a series about assassins.

Still, the game is better than the sum of its parts and highly enjoyable - in particular, its mix of naval and terrestrial exploration (journey to far away islands to visit jungles filled with jaguars and Mayan ruins) is fantastic. The series is still coming short of greatness, but its high points (this and AC2) are undeniably compelling.

For another entertaining (but sadly underrated) sandbox in the same setting, try Pirates of the Caribbean (2003).

A proper sequel to Origins, 13 April 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Talk about overcompensating. Fans (rightly) complained Dragon Age 2 was too short and small, and BioWare developers dish out one of their biggest RPGs yet. Strongly inspired by Skyrim, Inquisition is overflowing with locations to visit and things to do... too much so (the irony!). Quests are everywhere, sprouting from every conversation; however, many are of the "collect 10 wolf pelts" MMO variety. One could argue those are not mandatory, except they kind of are: you need at least SOME grinding to gain enough "power" points, which unlock progression of the vastly more interesting main quest.

Overall, while not as good as the first chapter of the series, Inquisition is a step forward from the second - it feels like DA2 done right (without cutting corners). The classic "chosen one leads a special group against an ancient evil" trope is narrated with flair; lore is interesting (although the codex collecting it is poorly organized); voice acting is strong, companions mostly well-developed; exploration is back (climb mountains, ride mounts, find secret locations); the strategic elements of being a faction leader (planning quests through counselors, managing a stronghold, holding trials) are compelling. Combat is on the easy/chaotic side, but at least friendly fire is not tied to difficulty setting anymore; character building is simplistic, but race selection is back; companion approval level is wisely hidden from the player.

A special praise for the Dragon Age Keep, which allows to customize decisions from previous games to import in Inquisition.

Sheckley, not stirred, 10 April 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Robert Sheckley's The Seventh Victim is one of those short stories which, along with The Veldt, Sentry and The Test, made dystopian science fiction one of my favorite genres as a teen.

La Decima Vittima turns this terrifying tale of a future where murder becomes a social game into a campy farce. A few clever bits aside (probably courtesy of satirist Ennio Flaiano, who has a writing credit), this feels like Blade Runner lampooned by Austin Powers.

Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress costar. Director Elio Petri nailed the oppressive atmosphere appropriate for Sheckley's classic... but did so in a different movie (his remarkable Indagine Su Un Cittadino Al Di Sopra Di Ogni Sospetto).

At least La Decima Vittima shows how brilliant Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451 adaptation is: to see how terribly wrong it could have gone, you need to look no further than this.


1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Bare necessities, 20 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Not since Disney and Looney Tunes classics an animated series aimed at children made me laugh so much.

This Russian cartoon about a grumpy but good-natured bear dealing with hurricane-like toddler Masha is a gem: hilarious, breathlessly paced and visually compelling, with a color palette of rich greens and browns.

The stroke of genius was keeping the bear mute (along with all other animals), which somehow makes his straight man attitude - and annoyed reactions to Masha's disasters - ten times funnier. Comic timing is impeccable.

Add to this a catchy soundtrack and secondary characters like two loser wolves, a thieving rabbit and a disco-obsessed pig, and the result is amusing for both kids and adults.


The 'Burbs (1989)
What have you got in the cellar, Herr Klopek?, 19 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

You know that little movie you've watched dozens of times? The one few of your friends know, but you could quote all day long? (My brother and I still refer to weird neighbors as "Klopeks").

That's The 'Burbs for me. A small gem by Joe Dante, this black comedy follows a bunch of nosy neighbors investigating a strange family. Ominous noises erupt from their cellar at night; dark shapes dig in the garden at unlikely hours; when an elderly man disappears, schlub Ray (Tom Hanks in one of his best comedic roles) and his pals get increasingly suspicious.

The movie co-stars a young and pretty Carrie Fisher as Ray's wife Carol, Corey Feldman and Rick Ducommun as a petty conspiracy theorist. Best of all is the great Bruce Dern as unhinged senior veteran Rumsfield, a mix between John Goodman from The Big Lebowski and Clint Eastwood from Gran Torino. In a sort of casting gag, Henry Gibson as the Klopek patriarch sees the other side of his famous Fright Night role.

Thanks to Dante's deft touch and to the sly performances, even little moments shine. My favorite is probably the sardines scene: Carol attempts to take charge of the situation and have a civil meeting with the Klopeks, who offer them a nasty-looking snack with pretzels and sardines. Rumsfield keeps badgering and pushing the neighbors ("Hans! A FINE Christian name... Hans Christian Andersen!"), with Ray uselessly trying to deflate tension with the most trivial excuses; when the situation escalates, Ray jumps from the couch and rushes to the bathroom. It's silly, but has me in stitches every time.

Even throwaway lines are brilliant ("He is not coming out until he resembles the man I married!" says Carol about Ray; "We don't have that kind of time!" is the casual reply).

Jerry "Earworm" Goldsmith provides one of his best comedic soundtracks, throwing in everything from sinister organs to Morricone-inspired electric guitar blasts.

Brisk, clever and endlessly quotable.


0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Problem, officer?, 12 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This visually impressive stop-motion animated movie puts a spin on H.G. Wells' classic The Time Machine: its underground-dwelling Morlocks - here a diminutive race called Boxtrolls - are harmless beasties with a penchant for steampunk, unjustly feared and discriminated by their smug Eloi - here class-obsessed citizens of Cheesebridge. A boy adopted by the creatures, with the help of a surface girl, fights against the attempts of ruthless town exterminator Snatcher to destroy the Boxtrolls.

Vocal talent assembled is impressive; as much as I like Nick Frost, Simon Pegg, Elle Fanning and Isaac Hempstead-Wright (Game of Thrones' Bran), the standout is an unrecognizable Ben Kingsley in a magnificently loathsome, scene-stealing turn as Snatcher.

Much like the authors' previous effort Coraline, this isn't aimed at small children. It's not as creepy as the brilliant Gaiman adaptation, but it features a certain amount of grotesqueries - like a character's face horribly swollen after an allergic reaction - not really suited to toddlers.


1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Hugely improved expansion, 12 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Forget dragons, shady corporations and cyberpunk shamans: the biggest mystery about Shadowrun is why Dragonfall was initially marketed as a DLC, which usually implies "short and overpriced". Far from it, Dragonfall is actually an EXPANSION, longer than the original campaign (Dead Man's Switch), and a huge step forward from every point of view: plot, characters, gameplay.

Isometric RPG Dead Man's Switch (which I enjoyed overall) started as pleasantly low-key, but the final act took a turn into something fairly cheesy and fanservice-heavy (with famous characters nonchalantly joining your group). In Dragonfall, premise, development and twists are far more compelling. You also get a crew of interesting, well-developed party members to interact with. Setting continues to be awesome - a cyberpunk Berlin where technology and magic coexist, with elves, trolls and droids roaming the streets.

Turn-based combat is fun, varied and well-designed. While the game is still very much railroaded, the player gets a bit more freedom than in the original campaign.

If this is where Shadowrun is heading, I'm along for the ride.


This War of Mine (2014) (VG)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A knock at the door, 12 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

A survival game where you control civilians in a war zone? I was HIGHLY suspicious before trying it, as I sensed bad taste... and I was wrong. Considering the bleak subject matter, This War of Mine is as tasteful and subtle as possible, with sober writing and supreme restraint when dealing with mature topics. Characters are normal, flawed human beings, the horror of war (and their choices when faced with it) taking a moral and physical toll on them.

Gameplay is elegantly simple and surprisingly addictive. You start with a group of 1-4 characters chosen among a number of pre-generated ones, each with a special skill - the cook consumes less resources while preparing food, the carpenter builds stuff with less material... - and personality - optimist, pessimist, generous, egoist, afflicted by a substance addiction. At day you manage the refuge's resources, keeping it warm, safe, crafting new tools, fighting off sickness, hunger and sleep deprivation and keeping morale as high as possible; at night, you choose one survivor to venture into the outside world to scavenge goods, trade and face potential hostiles. Combat is viable but appropriately messy - you are not a Navy SEAL here, just some poor guy handling a weapon to defend himself. Stealth is also an option; some maps are better avoided altogether, unless you are ready to face huge risks.

One of the best gaming surprises in the last ten years, and also with a strong replay value thanks to a certain amount of randomization in maps/encounters/group composition. And this is from someone who usually hates replaying games and has done so maybe 2-3 times in his whole life. Recommended.

It's not the years, it's the mileage, 12 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There are critics who point their fingers at Raiders - and Jaws, and Star Wars - because, regardless of their quality, they kickstarted the new wave of setpiece-focused blockbusters, with a detrimental effect on Hollywood. Fact is, Raiders is no more responsible for The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor than J.R.R. Tolkien is to blame for The Sword of Truth, Bram Stoker for Twilight, or Isaac Asimov for Transformers.

There is a main reason which makes Raiders a timeless masterpiece of adventure cinema and Kingdom of the Crystal Skull a piece of garbage: RESTRAINT.

Consider the elegance of action scenes. Spielberg's setpieces here are stylish, kinetic, with attention to spatial relationships, cause and effect. Every action by the hero has a direct result on his surroundings, and vice versa (see the legendary prologue, the iconic truck scene). Practical effects and stunts allow for a realistic, gritty feel... which goes down the drain with stupidly absurd acrobatics and a frame cluttered by CGI stuff (hello, Star Wars prequels!).

In Raiders, Indy gets dusty, bloody, beaten up: every battle takes a PHYSICAL TOLL on him - much like on John McClane in the first Die Hard (while in the last ones he is essentially a superhero, which DEFIES THE WHOLE POINT of it). If action has visible consequences, a sense of weight, it's automatically compelling. On the other hand, show the hero slamming on a hard surface after a fifty feet fall and walking away without a bruise (hello, Hobbit trilogy!), and everything INSTANTLY becomes boring.

And then we have the "Grandpa Syndrome", which pushes aged directors to film movies their grandchildren "can watch too" - laudable for family comedies, often disastrous for other genres (hello, monkeys and groundhogs in Skull, and Greedo shooting first!).

Restraint extends to the plot too. Everything is trimmed down, elegantly simple. A clear goal (find the Ark). High stakes (if Nazis find it first, they will gain terrible powers). Non-stop tension: Indy and Marion are constantly chased, on the run, at disadvantage, out of time - much like Han and Leia in Empire, and unlike in the SW prequels. Every scene advances the plot, every dialogue defines characters. Not a single frame or line is wasted. No pointless secondary figures (hello, Mac and Dexter Jettster and Tauriel!).

Of course, kudos to the fantastic script by Kasdan, with its endless quotable lines and the most wickedly ironic ending in action cinema; to Ford's charismatic turn - as a teen, I was convinced that between this, Blade Runner, Star Wars, Witness and The Fugitive, he could only make great movies... until Six Days Seven Nights; to John Williams' soundtrack, which is the stuff of legends.

A classic all directors and scriptwriters should revisit before inflating their blockbusters with useless bloat. Tight, muscular Raiders works as well now as it did 30 years ago... while Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Attack of the Clones, The Desolation of Smaug and A Good Day to Die Hard feel already stale.


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