Tuesday, September 29, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Supernatural: Dead in the Water"

If you go down to the lake today, you're in for a big surprise!!!
One of my greatest fears, ever since I was a very young child, has been water. That primal fear of the unknown, not knowing what could be in there that would try to devour me or else drag me down into the abyss, never to be seen again. I hated the beach (I hate it now for a completely different reason) or really any water I couldn't see the bottom of back then for that, and rarely went into the water and if I ever did, I never went alone.

This episode is the one that confirms there is just some crazy shit out in the water that wants to kill you.

We begin with a teaser, as we have so far. A pretty young blonde things heads out to the lake outside her home, strips down to a bikini, and - in a very Jaws-esque scene is pulled under the water never to be seen again.

Elsewhere, the brothers Winchester are partaking in one of many diners that litter the Canadian American highways, where Dean is stopped from partaking in the Boob Plate special by Sam, and so relents and tells of a potential case he might have found - the "disappearance" of the young woman in the teaser, Sophie Carlton. Her drowning is apparently the third one this year. Curiously, however, no body was recovered. Sam uses this, however, to segue into a conversation about their missing father, which Dean in turn uses to give Sam crap for suddenly being interested in John's whereabouts now after having spent two years at college.

Ah, the joys of the Winchester brand of brotherly love!

As you'd expect, of course, the two go to the hunt. Arriving at the Carltons' house, they first interrogate the brother Will, who denies it was a natural drowning - Sophie was apparently quite the swimmer. At Will's request, the pair do not interview Mr. Carlton, who merely sits on the dock outside their home looking distraught.
"And you expect me to believe in the spirit too? Why?" "Because it's real!"
So, it's time to run into law enforcement and watch them be ineffectual. The Sheriff denies that anything crazy happened, even saying they dragged the lake and did a sonar sweep, finding nothing as Will said. Also, the Sheriff mentions the dam is about to break...and pardon me for the Linkara-esque sing-song Plot Point voice. Nevertheless, with Sam and Dean having no idea about it, he's suspicious about them being with the Wildlife Service. Suspicions are stopped, however, when the Sheriff's daughter Andrea Barr (played by Amy Acker) and her son Lucas come in for a visit.

Naturally, because he's all kinds of Fred hotness, Andrea gets hit on by Dean and later chastises him for his incredibly lame pick up line of "Kids are the best, huh?" as she takes them down to the nearest motel. Sam, likewise, gives Dean grief for his nonsense, challenging him to name three kids that he even knows.

Later, Sam has put on his research hat and found that Sophie Carlton is not remotely the first death to occur in such a manner, others having happened over the last thirty-five years. Sam doesn't think it's a lake monster, since things like Nessie have hundreds of eye-witness accounts and there's all of bupkis here.  The name Christopher Barr comes up, and  they realize that it's Andrea's recently deceased husband. Lucas barely survived, and now doesn't even speak after the traumatic event. Dean notes that watching one of your parents die isn't something you just get over.

...what's that? Hidden depth within the mind of the sex crazed, gun happy maniac?

Sam and Dean end up joining Andrea and Lucas at a nearby park in a way that totally doesn't scream "Stranger Danger", Dean going over to talk with Lucas. Or rather, at Lucas, since the boy is understandably speechless after his traumatic event. Still, as I jokingly said before, we actually get a great character moment for Dean as he tries to connect with Lucas, both on the level of a child and connecting it to his own backstory in losing his mother, even drawing Lucas a picture of his family and telling him that even if he thinks no one would believe him about what he saw, he would.

It doesn't seem to work...but after Dean leaves, Lucas looks at the picture with some interest.

Dean and Sam talk with Andrea, and she talks about everything going on after her husband's death....and Lucas comes up, bringing Dean a very detailed picture of a house.
Supernatural Drinking Game: Take a drink every time the background is clearly green screened in driving scenes.
Meanwhile, we return to the Carlton family. The father is still destitute, understandably so, as Will encourages him to eat before the sewage backs up into the sink and the stench kills him...just kidding, but he is very, very dead following the malignant force in the water coming up and forcing him to drown in the sink.

Later, Sam comes in and reports the news to Dean. Back at square one, they try to figure out what it is and bat around a couple of ideas. With the lake draining, however, they know that whatever is in the lake is running out of time. They also know that it has something to do with Bill Carlton...who every recent death seems to be connected to.  They go to question him, but he's less than cooperative in the wake of his children dying.

Dean thinks he's not telling them something, and then - seeing the front of the Carlton House - pulls out Lucas's drawing and finds that it matches it almost perfectly. They return to Andrea, who is skeptical of Lucas actually giving them any information, but is eventually convinced to relent when Dean and Sam question her as to whether or not she thinks the murders have been more than simple drownings.

So we get another scene of Dean talking to Lucas, who is still rather without words. Dean gets a little more overt about his backstory, connecting Lucas's fears after losing his Dad to his after losing his Mom. He encourages Lucas to be brave, say that its what his Dad would have wanted and, for the first time, Lucas actually reacts - putting down his crayon and looking up at Dean. While he doesn't actually speak, Lucas does give Dean another drawing - a church and a two-story house.

After some talk about how traumatic experiences can help make one (sort of) psychic (because plot hole otherwise), Sam comes up with a plan to look for the churches, and he and Dean share a bro moment over the things that Dean said to Lucas before they arrive at the church...finding the house as well and entering it, meeting an elderly woman and asking about a young boy who lives there...or lived there. The woman's son, Peter Sweeney, disappeared over thirty years ago, supposedly having ridden his bike home from school...and never showing up at home ever again.

As they leave, Dean finds a photo that puts Bill Carlton with Peter as boy scouts in 1970.

At the lake, Bill has gone into suicidal depression, talking to the lake about how he finally realizes what's going on and what the lake wants.

Sam and Dean head back, theorizing that Bill did something to Peter - possibly even killing him - which would make Peter now a vengeful spirit out for...well, vengeance. They return to the Carltons just to find Bill heading out on a boat to the lake...which gets lakenado'd in spite of their protests. They return to the station, news of Bill's death having reached the Sheriff and the others. When the Sheriff suggests that Andrea and Lucas go home, Lucas has a panic attack and latches onto Dean, desperately trying to tell him something, but being unable to do so.

In his office, the Sheriff talks to them a bit more on the nature of the incident, having been briefed. He doesn't believe this, of course, and he's apparently checked on their fake IDs. He's not up for the nonsense, however, and gives them the ultimatum of either being arrested or getting the hell out of town for good.  Naturally, Sam and Dean take option two...

Back at Andrea's home, Lucas is drawing late into the night when Andrea guides him towards bed, leaving a black, inky void drawn in crayon on one of his paper pads. She gets ready for a bath afterwards because fanservice that will quickly turn into horror. Back on the road, Sam and Dean stop at a turn to head toward Milwaukee and turn back, because the episode isn't over yet. Dean rationalizes that the spirit isn't at rest because Lucas wasn't okay...and he sympathizes with that.
That moment when  you wish you'd called that plumber...
Andrea, meanwhile, learns that it is indeed not safe to go back in the water. The spirit strikes and, somehow through its control of water, locks the doors so Lucas can't get in either. But the door breaking powers of the Winchesters are much stronger and Sam manages to pull her to safety. Later, as Sam questions Andrea, Dean goes sorting through books. Andrea explains that she heard a voice telling her to "come play with me". In the basement, Dean finds a book marked "Jake - 12 years old" and finds a photo of the Sheriff's old Boy Scout troop...which includes Bill Carlton and Peter Sweeney, proving Dean's hunch that not all is said and done.

They all suddenly notice Lucas staring out at the lake and, when he heads towards it, they follow. He stops on a particular patch of ground, and Dean suggests that he and Andrea get back to the house while he and Sam get to digging, finding a rusty old bike. Sheriff Jake arrives, however, and puts both the boys at gunpoint. Dean gives the Sherlock Holmes resolutions to the mystery - Jake and Bill drown Peter in the lake and buried the bike, the sole remaining piece of evidence.

Andrea rushes out and tries to talk him down, while Sam and Dean try to get Jake to deal with the reality of the situation. Andrea is naturally hurt at the revelation that her father could murder someone. Jake admits to everything, but swears it was accidental...which does all of jack to justify his actions or assuage the ghost, who goes after Lucas when he sneaks down to the dock to retrieve one of his army men in the water...and Peter pulls him in.

Sam and Dean jump in after as Jake sees the mutilated, ghostly visage of Peter in the water and his horrified. Sam and Dean are unable to find him. Jake, in a moment of redemption, gets into the water and begs Peter to take him instead. Peter pulls him under as well and Sam and Dean go in after him. They return with Lucas, but Jake is lost, thus ending Peter's vendetta and reason for existence.

We get the wrap up, Sam reminding Dean that they're not going to save everyone, and saying their goodbyes to Andrea and Lucas - the latter of which has begun to talk again, and who Dean teaches the importance of Sabbath to.  Naturally, with their lives in shambles following the death of most of their family, Andrea and Lucas are both up for some very, very serious counseling in the future. Andrea, however, ends with a very optimistic note that she has to hold on to the fact that her father did love her and Lucas, and was even willing to sacrifice himself to save them. With that, Sam and Dean head off down the road to another adventure...

Again, we're still in the Pretty Good territory for episodes, but that's the case with a lot of Season 1 stuff, as I've said before. Though even at this point a vengeful spirit isn't new territory (as we saw in Pilot), this is a nice twist on what we already have seen and a rather unique MO for a vengeful spirit. It is actually a shame that more of these kinds of things weren't tried as time went on, just going the "OMG! Ghost!" route without a lot of uniqueness to them.

We also get some good character bits for Dean, in which he gets teased by Sam for his dislike of children...only to find one that he actually relates to based on the similarity of their situations. It is clear that there is something far deeper under all the snark, booze, and cheesy pick up lines even this early on the show. Not that Dean lets it show all that often, of course.

Next week, we're going into October and thus hitting up a few high notes or horror. To begin, we're gonna have an adventure with...there's...something...on the wing! Some...thing!

Actually, there's something on the plane as Supernatural gives us our first look at what will become a very, very recurring adversary over the next few seasons. Stay tuned!

Supernatural is the property of CW and Warner Brothers.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, September 25, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Doctor Who: Shadows of the Vashta Nerada"

"Almost every species in the universe has an irrational fear of the dark, but they're wrong. Because it's not irrational..." - The Doctor, "Silence in the Library"

One of the greatest strengths of Steven Moffat as a writer is taking something relatively mundane and making it absolutely terrifying. One of the most prolific examples would be the Weeping Angels - aliens that resemble stone statues that can only move when they're not being observed and can send people back through time with a touch, feeding on their remaining years. Another one, arguably more terrifying, is the Vashta Nerada. While they, themselves, are not shadows they can exist within any shadow. While they largely feed off of roadkill or the like, they have been know to consume a human or two every now and then.

As the Doctor himself once said, not everyone comes back out of the dark...

So, naturally, it seems like a horror-themed game built around them would be a truly terrifying thing, right? Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.

Shadows of the Vashta Nerada picks up right where TARDIS from last week ended, with the Doctor and Amy landing in London during the 23rd century after the Great Flood...and being attacked by a massive shark. In the cold open they manage to escape it, but the corridor they came down is destroyed and thus cuts them off from the TARDIS.

...which wouldn't be a problem if the Doctor kept that Stattenheim remote he had in his second incarnation, but whatever.

They wander through the corridors, the Doctor giving Amy a little (history? Future? Future history, let's go with that) future history lesson about the place before we discover the first of the puzzles that will torment us and, shock of shocks, it's actually something new! A very Simon Says-esque keypad that, after some jiggery pokery with the sonic screwdriver, forces the player to click a specific sequence of numbers in order to open a door.

Simple enough, though pretty tense when you've got the Mega Shark breaking through the glass tubing of the corridors to come and eat you.

Oh and, as you'd expect, the number of numbers needed in each sequence increase. Have fun!

But navigating through the corridors eventually rewards us with more of the story, namely running into one of the crew of the seabase telling the Doctor about "the sickness" that has taken everyone on the base, and the base's computer - Jones - won't open the doors because of a quarantine. So the Doctor plays around with its logic circuits and eventually gets it to agree to unlock the doors...but not open them.

Inside, however, they find some survivors and backstory, backstory, backstory, and its not just the illness attacking the crew, its Vashta Nerada, demonstrated in true "Silence in the Library" fashion when the lights go out and then one of the crew is literally stripped to the bone. Apparently, the Vashta Nerada, the illness and the Mega Shark all started two days ago with a giant flash in the ocean.

With the lights going out, the Doctor resolves to get the generator back on, and we partake in another mini-game through the corridors where he uses the sonic and the player must time two rotating circles of green light to match up with a third inner circle in order to temporarily turn on the lights so he and Amy aren't eaten.

But anyway, this is a review - not a walkthrough - and the rest of the game is pretty much what you'd expect from a story with the Vashta Nerada. An enclosed space, hapless humans there to be picked off like so many apples on the low-hanging fruit tree. The game does add in some new puzzles, namely the keypad and the rotation circles to open doors and turn on lights.

And while it does do some of the old - more wire puzzles and more sneaking around through corridors that are set up suspiciously similarly to those in Blood of the Cybermen - the dev team did at least admittedly take some pains to add some new things into the mix.

Nothing more to say than this: Remember, kids, don't eat the sea pumpkins.

And it's fitting that Shadows is the last game before October, since it will be our lead in to Horror Month! Stay tuned!

Doctor Who: Shadows of the Vashta Nerada is now available from BBC and BBC Wales Interactive.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Supernatural: Wendigo"

...umm, spoilers, show?! GAWD!
Something that is severely taken for granted in horror, particularly in horror films and television shows of today, is that the less you see of something (not more) the scarier it is. This is the episode that, to me, points out just how this show was just so damn good in the earlier seasons and one of the points on which it falls horribly, horribly flat later on in the show. But those are disappointments to come.  For the moment, we can enjoy the sweet, sweet wonderfulness that is "Wendigo", taking yet another bit of urban myth and lore and making something utterly spectacular out of it.

After a brief montage to recap the audience on what's been going on, we begin in Black Water Ridge, Colorado - the place where John's coordinates were to send Sam and Dean. However, we find neither father nor brothers as we apparently have stumbled onto some campers out in the woods. One of them sends out a video message to his family before they all get picked off one by one at the hand of unseen assailant.

We then cut to the next day in Palo Alto, California. Sam approaches a grave with flowers - Jessica's. He speaks at length to it, telling her how sorry he is for not protecting her. As he goes to place the flowers at her grave, however, a hand bursts from the grave and grabs at his wrist! Only a dream, alas, as he jerks up in the passenger seat of the Impala. Dean questions him about it, even offering to let Sam drive for a bit (something Sam finds shocking), but it goes nowhere before Sam wants to get on with the plot.

And on with it they get, being just outside of Grand Junction, Colorado. Dean mentions they dug around Stanford for a week with no answers as to what killed Jessica, so has made the decision that finding their Dad is the only way to figure out what they need to do, being that the thing that killed their mother reappearing and John's sudden disappearance can't be a coincidence. Sam checks the map and says there's nothing out at Black Water Ridge...just forests.

They check out the Ranger Station and while they try to pose as students working on a paper, they end up being pegged as friends of someone named Haley. Apparently, her brother Tommy - one of the men in the teaser - went out into the woods and hasn't come back yet. Being always looking for a hookup, Dean manages to get the permit off of the Rangers.  Outside, Sam takes a very "shoot first and ask questions later" approach, which surprises and even impresses Dean.

Heading to Haley's, they fake ID their way into her good graces and get some exposition about how Tommy would have never left them hanging for so long. They check the photo that Tommy sent in the teaser, and learn that Haley has hired a guide to head out and find Tommy herself - being that the authorities are completely useless in Supernatural as we will often see.
"Well, it started with picnic baskets, but then the bodies started to pile up and..."
At the bar, Sam has apparently done his research, and there have been may disappearances over the last few decades - every twenty-three years, like clockwork. He's also slowed down the video Tommy sent enough to show the shadow of something against the tent. And, Sam's learned of one of the survivors of a previous attack. An old man, who confirms to them via his story and a nasty looking set of claw marks across his chest that whatever attacked him and his parents...definitely wasn't a grizzly bear.

The brothers, in leaving, discuss what it could be. They narrow down the list, coming to the conclusion from the old man's story that it's corporeal, so they can kill it. Outside, Sam is pissed when Dean suggests that they tag along with Haley and her group to protect them. While it clearly unnerves Dean, he says nothing. The next morning, they meet up with Haley, her other brother, and their guide. There's some snark exchanged, particularly about Dean's attire (he doesn't do shorts), before they get under way.

Elsewhere, it seems Tommy and one of his friends have been hung up to die by a malevolent force that stalks through one of the old mines that were mentioned as being in the mountains. Despite his protests, Tommy is unable to do anything to save his friend as he suffers a grizzly off-screen death. Back at the plot, Dean and Roy - Haley's guide - have a dick measuring contest before Hayley finally calls Dean out on it, not believe that he and Sam are rangers as they say. He explains everything about what they're doing...leaving out the supernatural side of things...which seems to placate her.

He also mentions having brought provisions, holding a bag of M&Ms.

Remember this. It will be important later.
"Have I got something on my neck?"

They start heading off again, eventually finding Tommy's camp site from the teaser. Haley starts pulling a Tea Leoni in Jurassic Park III before Sam quiets her, reasoning that whatever did this is probably still out there. Dean pulls an Aragorn, figuring out from the tracks near the site that the creature dragged at least one person off for later. From that, he narrows down their list of potential supernatural suspects. Dean heads over to a grieving Haley, doing his best to give some hope, before they hear someone screaming for help in the distance.

They rush off, but soon the voice fades off and Sam urges everyone back to camp...where their packs have been taken. Roy tries to pawn it off as simply some nutjob out there trying to steal their gear and cut them off, Sam pulls Dean aside for a little heart to heart. Getting John's journal from Dean, Sam determines that they're up against a Wendigo. Sam resolves to get everyone the hell out of there, but they're not having it. Eventually, they decide to bunker down for the night, since a Wendigo is apparently even more Nightmare Fuel-worthy at night.

That night, Dean and Sam have put up symbols to block off the Wendigo, explaining to Haley and the others. And finally, when they have a moment alone together, Dean confronts Sam on his change in attitude since they left Stanford. Sam's upset because John's not here, and sees no reason why they should stay, saying they should get everyone back to town and then hit the road. To retort, Dean pulls out John's journal and says that he wants them to pick up where he left off.

Saving people, hunting things. The family business.
Behold Haley, awed as most heterosexual women are at the sight of Jensen Ackles...
Still, while Dean is very much up for doing just as John says, Sam refuses this, saying he has to find out about Jessica's killer. Dean promises him that they will find them, but that Sam can't let that anger keep fueling him, because it will eventually kill him.

Keep those words in mind. There are many instances where that particular statement is going to hurt later.

Sam asks how Dean handles it, and Dean mentions people like Haley and her brother. Saving people from the monsters that live in their world is how Dean justifies his rather miserable existence, and is an integral part of his character that will be show many times over the next few seasons...and lampshaded to hell and back in later seasons as well, one episode in particular. Dean also adds the other way to deal with it is killing as many evil sons of bitches as he can.

Case in point when someone starts screaming for help in the darkness, Dean telling the civvies that it's just a trick. It's a rather tense scene as the camera pans around through the darkness and foliage of their campsite, the music adding to the tension as Roy takes potshots until he hits it...and then is stupid enough to leave the protective circle. Dean and Sam run after him, but are not witness to a pair of beast-like hands pulling him up into the trees.

The next morning, Dean gives Haley a lecture on the supernatural and some more of his and Sam's backstory gets dropped. Sam, resolving to kill this evil son of a bitch, works with Dean to drop some exposition on Wendigos. Once men, now monsters who have lived for centuries eating human flesh. Because, as the old saying goes, there ain't no party like a Donner Party.  Wendigos also keep vicitms alive in case of harsh or lean times. Haley asks how to stop it, and Dean begins prepping a molotov. With that, the party heads through the woods - Sam and Dean oddly taking the two civilians to fight the crazed death creature.
If you're a Wendigo, dealing with hunters is a snap!
Soon they realize that they've been following a trail set by the Wendigo and have fallen into a trap...demonstrated by the sounds of a roar from the foliage. Roy's body falls from the trees to spook the group, and they bail, Dean and Haley actually coming face to face with the thing and are...taken...Sam and Haley's other brother find Dean's molotov igniter. They find a trail of M&Ms left by Dean.

See? See? Didn't I tell you that would be important?

The trail leads them to an abandoned mine. They head in, sneaking around as the Wendigo mucks about with its daily routine of being creepy and just off camera. The duo, however, fall through one of the mine shafts and find...Haley and Dean having been hung up by their wrists! Luckily, they both seem to be alive and relatively well all things considered. Also in the cavern is Tommy, alive and well as we were led to believe and in good enough shape for a jump scare. Also, to replace their lost molotov plan, Dean has found flare guns that are apparently in fine working condition and they still have flares to fire - how convenient!

They head out, by realize that the Wendigo is home. Dean and Sam hatch a plan, Dean heading off after giving Haley merely a wink when she asks what he's about to do...and then goes off yelling at the top of his lungs, making himself the bait. It seems to be working...until Sam and Haley and her brothers are caught, Sam trying to hold it off while they run. It jump scares at Sam, but he responds by shooting at it and once more fleeing...though it quickly becomes clear that the four of them are cornered.
Burn, baby, burn! Wendigo inferno!
The creature lumbers toward them out of the dark, still never clearly seen as it prepares to devour them...and here, my readers, we have Part One in the ongoing series "Dean Winchester is a Motherfucking Badass". With a flare gun, Dean blasts it through the stomach. In the resulting inferno that erupts, the creature's entire body is reduced to ashes. Hell, yeah!

And for the wrap up, the group has returned to the Ranger Station and Haley's younger brother is telling the story of the grizzly that attacked them. Haley and Dean talk, Dean cheapening the moment as he does when Haley mentions she doesn't know how she could ever thank him. While we don't have the first of several of Dean's onscreen ladypleasings, Haley does tell Dean also that she hopes he and Sam find their father, and gives him a peck on the cheek before climbing into the ambulance that's taking Tommy off. And if fanfiction is any indication, that's all that shippers need for this sort of thing.

Alone at last, Dean tries to reassure Sam that they will find John. Sam says that he knows...but in the meantime, he's driving, which Dean allows and the two take off.

What I said before, I'll say again. "Wendigo" is a great episode, and it's probably one of the best in the entire series for a single reason - you barely see the creature in question. Granted, Supernatural didn't have the largest budget ever when it started, but instead of using that as an excuse to do bad costuming or to just be lazy, they instead put to use the horror trope of "the less you see of something, the scarier it is". The titular wendigo is never fully seen, either being only split second appearances that you actually have to pause the show to see or always glimpsed in shadow.

Of special note are the scenes that used the camera panning around to great effect, building up tension and dread of a malignant, unknowable force that was going to pick them all off one by one and there was virtually nothing they could do to stop it. Indeed, even when they know what the creature is, they know it's going to be a tall order killing it off.

Also, the appearance of the Wendigo when we do see it is pretty menacing, a nice payoff to all the build up of it barely being glimpsed. It looks beastial, alien, a hideous, twisted mockery of both man and beast. Kudos to the production team for the design and the work put into making it happen. It's really very, very good stuff.

Sam and Dean are great, as (almost) always, and their chemistry is really good here as Dean has to play the rational one to get Sam back on track and not on the road to self-destruction. It's really nice and I honestly would have loved to see more of this come out. Sam and Dean also allow for exposition to be told to Haley and her brothers in a way that doesn't feel so clunky. Very natural and fluid as they have to explain why these people are so hilariously out of their depth.

And really, that's all there is to it. This episode is pretty much the height of good monster work on Supernatural. This is the benchmark by which all other creatures will be judged, at least by me for the purposes of these recaps.  So, the verdict is - this episode is just fantastic. The creature is good, the chemistry between the two leads works to perfection, even the characters of the day aren't too bad. It's all really great. Really, really, really, great!

So...next week, water water everywhere...as long as it's not Hoenn again...

Supernatural and all related materials are the property of the CW and Warner Brothers.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, September 18, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Doctor Who: TARDIS"

In Doctor Who, the TARDIS is a technological marvel. Standing for Time and Relative Dimension in Space, the Doctor stole it a long, long time ago from his native Gallifrey and - while it always hasn't worked perfectly - he's been traveling through time and space in it ever since. But what is probably the most fantastic part about it is that it is bigger on the inside than the outside. From the outside, an onlooker sees nothing more than a simple blue box with a little light atop it. Once inside, however, the true nature of the TARDIS is revealed.

Indeed, within the TARDIS there have been rooms seen and mentioned such as the main console room, the library, the swimming pool, bedrooms, and so much more. Indeed, the inside of the TARDIS is almost a whole world all its own. Several of the television episodes have been set within the TARDIS, some using familiar rooms to the viewers and others still introducing new rooms with new functions entirely to add on to the closest thing the Doctor has to a home. So, naturally, a game set inside the TARDIS sounds like a neat time. The player could explore the depths of the place and perhaps get little nods to previous companions and delve into Doctor Who history as the other games have done in their own subtle way.

...and by "subtle way", I mean having collectible trading cards that are scattered around Skaro, an Arctic research base, and the TARDIS for some reason.

The plot picks up with Amy giving the Doctor grief for his regular bad choice of vacation spots, with him trying to find some way to not be sucked out of the TARDIS...and he gets sucked out of the TARDIS because...time wimey technobabble.

Yes, there's an explanation, but it's Doctor Who, it's ultimately not important to the story. See also: Every Doctor Who episode ever.

So, after the universe's worst game of charades, Amy is sent into the TARDIS's Drawing Room to find things to make a tractor beam and pull the Doctor back in. However, she unfortunately releases a time-eating entity known only as the Entity and when the Doctor gets pulled back in, he and Amy get separated by one thousand years. But when you've got a time machine, the distance of one thousand years is barely the blink of an eye and the Doctor gets to work on some jiggery pokery while Amy tries not to be eaten by the time-creature.

It may just be the fact that I'm playing these back to back, but I'm not overly fond of this one. The references are nice, but the game play has no real variations. Then again, it's all supposed to be in the same series, released relatively close together, so maybe it's better to think of the games as one big game altogether.

And in that case, it's alright. But I'm taking each separately so, yes, this game is good. Not all great, I still have problems with the character models, and I would have liked to known more about the Entity (which comes across as a proto-version of House from The Doctor's Wife), and I would have liked to see more of the TARDIS, but those are relatively minor complaints. The puzzles are starting to grate on me however, largely because they aren't puzzles. There's really no challenge to them, even if you do have to use trial and error - which you shouldn't - to solve them.

What this game does give is a chance to learn just what some of the things on the famous TARDIS console do. One of the trademarks of the show has always been the Doctor running in a seemingly hapzard manner around the console to manipulate the various levers, buttons, and switches to keep the big blue box flying, so it's kind of interesting to see just what it is he's doing when he's doing all of that,

Other than that, not too much to say. Less story than last time and less locale as well, Doctor Who has done more with less and what we do get is admittedly very nice.

Doctor Who: TARDIS is now available from BBC and BBC Wales Interactive.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Supernatural: Pilot"

Just in case you mistook it for Lawrence, Kansas in the year 3000....
There are many myths and legends that have permeated the folklore of various cultures since the beginning of time. It's where were get some of the best stories that are most often told around campfires in hopes of frightening the children. But none of those things could ever be real, could they? Enter Eric Kripke and his show that, in 2005, came on the air...and sadly, as of 2015 - ten years later - hasn't gone off the air, but we'll get to the disappointments when we get to them.  For now, however, we can focus on the good. And for the most part, I can tell you, Season 1 of Supernatural is pretty damn golden.

The simple story of two brothers connecting over their missing father and sticking a boot up the ass of any monstrous son of a bitch dumb enough to rear their ugly head in the meantime. Pretty damn simple and yet fantastic and something that was actually well spaced over five seasons...and then dragged out long, long after the concept had completely run out of steam.

But again, disappointments are for later. For now, we have some good.

We begin in Lawrence, Kansas, twenty two years ago, at the home of the Winchesters. Mary (Samantha Smith) is taking her older son Dean to put his little brother Sammy to be when in enters father John (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Indeed, it seems to be the idyllic picture of domestic bliss for the pair and their sons...but not so if the creepy music and flickering of electronics are to be believed. Mary gets woken up by crying from the baby monitor...but there's a strange interference. Going to the door of Sam's nursery, a shadowy figure shushes her and - thinking it's John - she leaves, taking notice of a flickering light as she heads downstairs.

...finding John sleeping on the couch! The music swells as she bolts back up the stairs to Sam's nursery, cutting away just before her agonized scream breaks the deafening silence of the night. John, being somewhat like but not completely the badass he will become, snaps awake and immediately bolts up the stairs to find...the nursery empty save for Sam in his crib. Comforting his infant son, John notices a drop of blood fall into the crib, and looks up to see his wife pinned to the ceiling. her body exploding in flames as John screams his protests and takes Sam out. Handing him to Dean, he orders him to take Sam and run outside.

The young boy does so, stopping only to look back right before John rushes out to pull them both out of harm's way while the windows explode from the flame. With a fade across, the emergency response teams are on the scene, and we end on a shot of the Winchester men huddled together on the hood of what will become a very, very familiar car before the series' end.

Immediately, we've been drawn into this world with fantastic elements and have been given what will be the motivation for the three main characters in this Season...or, rather, two of them, but I'll get to that.
"Hellooooooooooooooo, Nurse!"

After the title sequence, we are introduced to little Sammy all grown up (Jared Padalecki). In the present of 2005, he's a student at Stanford University with a potential free ride to law school next year (having gotten 174 on his LSAT). He's even picked up a sexy girlfriend named Jessica who shows off her Hello Nurse cosplay for Halloween. Indeed, it's all sweet and picturesque and any of my readers who have actually seen a horror movie will know what happens by the end. Not to mention people who have actually seen the show.

Needless to say, we need someone to keep this from turning into a romantic comedy so, in the middle of the night, enters the grown up Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) in the middle of the night, breaking into Sam and Jess's apartment and being the snarky asshole we'll all come to know and love. The pair square off before Sam realizes who he is, Dean chiding him for being out of practice. The commotion brings Jess into the mix as well, getting introduced to Dean for the very first time. After Sam refuses to be pulled away, Dean tells Sam that their father's been on a "hunting trip", and he hasn't been back in a few days.

His stern expression falls almost immediately, Sam asks Jess if she will excuse them for a moment.

Outside, Dean and Sam get into a discussion about what happened in the twenty-two year gap between their house being burned and the present of 2005. John became determined to hunt down the thing that had killed Mary, and thus he (and eventually Dean and Sam) became a hunter. As Sam puts it, he and Dean were "raised like warriors". Sam, however, got sick of the whole crusade and left to go to college, John saying that if he were going to leave, he better not come back. Dean, however, wants Sam's help now to find him.
[Insert Fangirls Here]

Eventually, Sam is convinced to at least hear the details, John having been investigating disappearances along the same five mile stretch of road over the last two decades. Three weeks later, however, Dean hasn't heard anything from him...until he received a voicemail from him the previous day, telling Dean that they're all in danger. Sam notes it has EVP or "electronic voice phenomenon" on it, and Dean flips the record over to play the hidden message behind John's words - a woman saying she can never go home.

Sam agrees, but only if he gets back first thing next Monday, though Dean chides him for living the domestic, he doesn't say no. We get a shot seen where Sam gives Jess a cover story before he takes off with his brother.

We cut away to a man riding down the highway at night when his radio starts to pick up interference. He finds this strange. More strange, in fact, than a deathly pale woman in white standing at the side of the road that seems to flicker in and out of vision every so often. He stops, asking her if she's having car trouble...and she tells him to take her home, so he tells her to get in. He tries to make small talk and ogles her breasts, whereupon she begins seducing him...and he takes it, heading down the road to her "home".

They pull up to a dilapidated and boarded up shell of a house, where he finally begins questioning things...and the woman's voice becomes clear as the source of the EVP from John's message when tells him she can never go home. Thinking it's a Halloween prank, he turns to ask her where she lives...only to find that she's gone! He gets out, failing to notice the mark of the handprint she made on his windshield slowly moving away as though an invisible hand has moved. He makes the horror movie fatal mistake of calling out to the darkness and creeping around looking for danger. After a jump scare crow, however, he's convinced to flee in his car.
Be advised! Hitchhikers may be vengeful ghosts trying to kill you!
He drives like mad back down the highway, not aware of the Woman in White in his backseat until its too late. He pulls onto a disused bridge and we get a shot from the outside of the vehicle as blood splatters against the fogged up windows, obscuring out vision from the goings on inside. From the screams and the blood splatter though, it's pretty obvious to everyone.

...they're making cookies, right?


The next day, we get a short scene of Sam and Dean in Dean's sweet ride - the Impala - as Sam chides Dean over his use of scammed credit cards and his collection of cassette tapes. Dean, of course, asserts his dominance over the music choice by blaring some AC/DC before they roll on down the road. As they approach Jericho, California  (the end of the trail they have of John), Sam gets off the phone having learned that nobody in the local hospital or morgue matches John's description, so there's a good chance he's still alive. They also roll across the murder scene from the previous night and Dean takes to the use of fake IDs to pose as U.S. Marshals to the cops.

Dean gets fresh with them a bit, but they do manage to get the information that they don't know what's going on, just a reaffirming that all the victims were men and were all along this one stretch of road. The boys bicker afterward, Sam not approving of Dean's lack of tact...just in time for them to meet with two people from the FBI and the Sheriff, adding to the already suspicious cops's suspicions about the pair.

Heading into town, they find a woman named Amy putting up missing posters for Troy - the victim from the previous night and her boyfriend. Sam and Dean pose as "uncles" to get more information. From Amy and a friend of hers, they suss out some of the local stories about a woman who was murdered decades ago, and now her spirit hitchhikes and anyone who picks her up disappears forever. With no further leads, the boys hit the internet. Dean coming up with bupkis until Sam takes over and decides to look for suicides, rather than murders, which brings up Constance Welch - a woman who apparently jumped off the very bridge the murder took place on just after she drowned her two children.
Sammy does the research, Dean does the killing...sometimes even in that order.

Back on the bridge, Sam and Dean have a little heart to heart, Sam insisting that he needs to get back to his life, though Dean tells him he needs to live up to who he really is.  Sam, of course, retorts that he doesn't have a responsibility to any of them...and even if they kill the thing that killed their mother, she isn't coming back...for which Dean puts him angrily up against one of the bridge supports for and tells him not to talk about their mother that way.

Just one of many, many acts of brotherly love that Supernatural will give us!

Before they can continue on that trek that makes the fangirls swoon, however, they're interrupted by Constance recreating her dive of the bridge just before she makes the Impala turn on all by itself and charge the brothers. While Sam avoids just by stepping outside of the railing, Dean takes the full dive off and lands in the muddied water, coming out smelling like a toilet, as Sam so eloquently puts it. Of course, Dean's more worried about his beloved Impala.

Later on in the morning, they return to town and get a motel room, the desk clerk reading Dean's fake credit card and revealing that John's alias bought up a room for an entire month. Breaking in, they find the place in disarray, papers scattered about and many more taped to the walls, as well as defensive measures such as salt and cat's eye shells. From his A Beautiful Mind spread, Sam figures out what John did - Constance Welch is a Woman in White.

Because, even as a Woman in White she is a ghost, they resolve to dig her up and bury her...though John had not figured out where she was buried, so they decide to follow the lead to her still-living husband, Joseph. Sam also tries to apologize for early, but Dean tells him "no chick flick moments", leading into the first "jerk" "bitch" exchange of the series.
A bit later, Sam tries to put in a call to Jessica as Dean heads out to get some food...only to be intercepted by the police, who have apparently caught on to the fake...well, everything. Before he's arrested, however, Dean manages to call Sam and arrest him, allowing Sam to escape just in the nick of time. Even in the interrogation, Dean is flippant and screws with the Sheriff...until the Sheriff pulls out a well-worn, leather notebook...whereupon Dean immediate changes his tone. The Sheriff also reveals a page that has only "Dean 35-111" in John's handwriting, which is apparently of interest to the Sheriff, who demands to know what it means.

In the meantime, Sam heads out to meet Joseph Welch and questions him about his late wife. Joseph tells that he buried Constance on a plot by their home, but could not stay there himself in the home where his children died. When Sam brings up the legends of a Woman in White, however, Joseph angrily denies any implications that he was ever unfaithful to his wife and angrily tells Sam to get the hell off his property.

Back at the station, Dean's once more regained his belligerent attitude, screwing with the cops until he gets handcuff to his chair pending them answering a 9-1-1 call about shots fired somewhere off. Unfortunately, they were dumb enough to leave him with a paperclip (because, as CinemaSins has often pointed out, you can open any lock in movies and television as long as you have something straight and metal), so Dean rolls his Open Lock skill and gets high enough to break loose and escape.

He shortly after calls Sam, jokingly chiding him for putting in the fake 9-1-1 call and tells Sam about the notebook - their father's journal, which John never goes anywhere without. He also reveals the meaning of the numbers - coordinates for wherever he's going next, something John learned in the Marines. Before there can be more of this revelation, however, Sam is accosted by Constance Welch...who demands to be taken home. Sam refuses, and from there...things get frightening as the Impala once more becomes animated and drives to the former Welch residence.

From her words, however, Sam works out that she's scared to go home...and she tries to seduce him, despite the fact he's never been unfaithful. But as Constance tries to suck Sam's face off (not literally) and dig her nails into his heart (somewhat literally), Dean comes along and sacrifices the window of his beloved car to nail her with a bunch of salt rounds. Sam, striking inspiration, drives right into the front of the Welch House.
Seeing a picture of herself and her two children, Constance grows enraged and it seems the boys are in for a world of hurt...until the ghosts of her two children arrive and force her to come to grips with the truth of things and she gets disintegrated, leaving only water. Apparently, Sam's hunch was correct - he found her weak spot. Of course, Dean is once more concerned about the car...nobody, after all, wrecks the car.

Later, Sam has worked out the coordinates John left to Black Water Ridge, Colorado. Though Dean wants to haul ass, Sam reminds him that he has that interview on Monday that he can't miss. This time, Dean doesn't give him grief and agrees to take him home. Upon their return to Sam and Jess's apartment, Dean notes that they made a hell of a team before he drives off. Entering, Sam calls out for Jess, heading in to find the bathroom door slightly cracked and the shower running. He flops back onto their bed, eyes closed, as he relaxes back into his average mundane...wait, was that a drop of blood on his forehead?

Ohhhh, what a feeling...when you're burning on the ceiling...
Yes, like his father before him, Sam looks up to see his beloved pinned to the ceiling, her face frozen in terror before she bursts into flames. Dean returns just in the nick of time, once more pulling Sam out of the inferno as he did on that night twenty-two years ago. Once more, earlier similar to that night, emergency response teams are on the scene with a fade across to it. However, unlike that night, there is not a final, stoic scene of the Winchesters huddled on the hood of the Impala.

Instead, Dean walks over to Sam at the secret weapons compartment in the trunk (disturbingly very open to where cops might see it), where Sam is loading and prepping a gun before throwing it in, claiming they have work to do.

I will say this is still as great an introduction to the show as it was ten years ago. Through the character of Sam, the audience has a natural surrogate. Sam has been out of hunting for at least a few years now, and so his relearning of concepts can give the audience a clear window into the world and provide exposition in a far less clunky manner...most of the time, anyway. Hence, it makes more sense when Sam and Dean discuss new creatures whenever they're incorporated into the series' mythology.

Immediately, it's clear that Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki have good onscreen chemistry. Honestly, if I didn't know any better, I'd say these two had been brothers all their lives and it really does show in their performances. This does carry throughout most of the show, thankfully. To give credit where it's due, even in a bad episode, their acting (usually) can at least make a bad episode tolerable. Though it will be a while off, I will go ahead and give a spoiler warning that this does not remotely apply to Season 7.

At all.

No, I mean it.

But as I've said before, we'll get to the disappointments when we get to them.  For now, we can just enjoy the good.  And much good there is in "Pilot". Come back next week when the show continues into one of my favorite episodes of the entire series - "Wendigo".

Supernatural and all related materials are the property of CW and Warner Brothers.
For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, September 11, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Doctor Who: Blood of the Cybermen"

A base in the Arctic...an alien force that has long lain dormant that threatens to take over, picking off the members of a scientific research station one by one as it seeks to destroy everything that makes humans human.

...huh, sounds vaguely familiar. Anyway, here's Blood of the Cybermen.

We begin with a man on a snowmobile apparently running and freaking out about something he's seen. In flashbacks, we see that an archaeological expedition has uncovered something undisturbed for centuries - a Cyberman arm. The Doctor and Amy, meanwhile, land at the ice floe where the man has apparently crashed his snowmobile and passed out. There's a quick bit to free him, moving around to get some water from the glacier through sonic screwdriver jiggery pokery to reive the man and then doing some platforming to get him out and the three of them back to the TARDIS.

And admittedly, these reviews following City of the Daleks are probably going to be a little shorter in the gameplay description department because...well, they're pretty much consistently the same. This is good, since it pretty much keeps it where anyone can pick up any of the games in any order and play them. It also means there's not a lot of variation or difference, and most of the mini-games can be won by just the rote method or just good ol' careful timing.

As for the rest of the plot, though, it's actually a really good one. The entire crew of the research station, as seen in the teaser, have been turned into "Cyber-Slaves", infeceted with a technoorganic virus that overwrites their humanity and makes them more like Cybermen.

Oh, right...history for people who don't know...basically, the Cybermen are like the Borg from Star Trek...in the way that the Borg are a gigantic and shameless rip-off of them. For the non-science fiction inclined (and if that's the case, why are you here?), they're aliens that want to convert all life in the universe into them. Simple enough.

So we have a really kind of chilling backdrop of Cybermen sending out a virus that completely removes humanity and turns anyone infected into a mindless drone that serves only the will of the Cybermen. Creepy.

This episode is also a homage to the Classic Doctor Who episode "Tomb of the Cybermen", which is admittedly more what they're ripping off than The Thing From Another World, though that connection is at least cheerfully acknowledged in the beginning by the Doctor and Amy, so plus there.  Still, Tomb of the Cybermen did come out before John Carpenter's version of The Thing, the most well-known iteration and it's Matt Smith's personal favorite episode so it stands to reason that they were more playing off of Doctor Who history than blatantly ripping off.

This one, akin to "Tomb", has the Cybermen being awakened from their icy grave, which will more certainly mean the end of the human race. Naturally, the Doctor has to stop it.

And naturally, baring a few game overs, he does. As we come to expect.

Really, that's all there is to it. There's some nice homages to the sci-fi of old, both Doctor Who itself and others and, while the plot is rather predictable, it's just pretty good. No real complaints other than those I brought up in City.

Doctor Who: Blood of the Cybermen is now available from the BBC and BBC Wales Interactive.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

MadCap's Mad Rantings - "The End of a (Dragon) Age"

I'm here today to talk to you all about a betrayal that has struck me so deeply that, even as I type this, I am shaking with rage. As those of your who are so inclined may know, the final DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition came out yesterday. Trespasser looks pretty damn awesome from the trailer. Promising not only a finale to the story of the Inquisitor, as well as some explanations from Solas about his sudden disappearance at the of the Main Quest - more striking if you sparked up a friendship or a romantic path with him, which I did with my Human Mage Inquisitor Adaon and my Female Elf Mage Inquisitor Delsenora, respectively. So, naturally, between a Qunari uprising and a final story to play as the Inquisitor in, I thought it would be utterly spectacular.

So I went looking up the DLC on the Xbox Live Arcade.

...it wasn't there.

I didn't freak out, seeing that XBLA had had some delays before on occasion, so I went looking it up to double check when the release date was, see if there were any problems afoot...and that's when I discovered the above link, and discovered the thing that has enraged me so: Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 were skipped over for this DLC.

That's right. The final part in a story that was released on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, but is entirely unavailable for them in lieu of the next generation consoles.

What. The. HELL?!

I've been with Dragon Age since the beginning. In fact, the first game that I ever reviewed was Dragon Age II on this very blog! Way back in 2011, I was inspired by it to take up game reviewing. And while I was far kinder to it than most critics were at the time, I praised many aspects of it - particularly combat that was actually involving in comparison to Origins.  I later reviewed Origins, which I loved. I mean loved. Even now, it stands as one of my favorite games of all time, largely because it gave not only the single-player experience in medieval fantasy (something which, otherwise, I have to go to Bethesda to get), but also it had a sense of urgency and scale that was sorely missing from Dragon Age II.

And coming off the coat-tails of Christmas 2014, I reviewed Inquisition, which brought back a great deal of the urgency that had been missing since Origins. And while I say this, these games were by no means perfect, not even Origins for all of its bright, shiny perfection. But all three of them had something unique, they actually made me care about the story and the characters.

Through brilliant writing and character development, Bioware created characters that I've come to love for one reason or another. Deeply nuanced characters who have a great deal more complexity than meets the eye (yes, even Isabela), which helped contribute to making the world all the richer for the experience. You care what happens to them (well, not Fenris) and, by extension, you care about the world around them and its fate. Through the player character, you get to share in that world, witness and experience their triumphs and their tragedies.

So, I think it's fair to say that I'd gotten invested by the point of Inquisition. The overall story was good, if dragged out a fair bit, and I wanted to see it through to its conclusion. And as the Inquisitor stood victorious within Skyhold following the defeat of Corypheus, I felt like I had completed the third piece of a grand trilogy that was leading into so, so much more.

Now? I'll never know, unless I hear about it second hand or play it from a used disc borrowed from a friend...which, given EA, might not even be an option in the future with all the goddamn DRM.  Electronic Arts, with all their wonderful business decisions of the past, have ruined yet another franchise that they hold. Good job, you lot! Good job indeed. You only suckered people into this world through three games and now that you're at the end do you hold the ending over the heads of those still in the last console generation going "nyaaaaah!" like a smug jackass of a schoolyard bully.

Now, I can already hear the people out there who will say "Well, Madcap, why don't you quit whining and switch to a next gen console just like everyone else?" Here's a simple answer for that: Shut the hell up. A slightly less simple answer is me answering your question with another question: "If EA didn't intend to release the DLC for the previous gen consoles, then why in the name of Andraste's flaming knickers did they bother to release a version of the game that was on the previous consoles?!" I would say it doesn't add up, but this is like subtracting any sort of sense that it might make to the point of sucking it and the entire matter into a black hole made out of the suckiness. No, I'm not going to slap down four hundred bucks to slap down another fifteen just for a single game...no, scratch that, the ending of a single game. No, scratch that, the ending of a single game after playing all the way through it again.

To compare this entire thing, people often still ask me about Aliens: Colonial Marines and why I'm still - almost three years after its release - ragging on about a game to the point that Randy Pitchford has me blocked on Twitter for it (no, I'm not kidding, he really does). It's because I had such love for the original Aliens film (I'm actually a big fan of the two Alien films that anyone cares to talk about), and I knew it deserved one hell of an adaptation. But it was even more than that. Randy Pitchford got up and lied to the gaming community for twelve solid minutes about what would be contained in Aliens: Colonial Marines.

Basically: He got up and lied, later said it was the gamers' fault for "imaging a perfect game", and yet he still has a job for reasons that will forever confuse me.

This, however...this is worse. That's right, worseDragon Age: Origins was, in its beginnings, a "dark" fantasy adventure classic, a genre that had been sorely dying and awash with mediocre attempts at it by lesser companies. With Bioware doing the writing and world building, given their pedigree with other games like Neverwinter Nights and Knights of the Old Republic, it was sure to be a slam dunk for Electronic Arts any way it went. And went it did, being such a slam dunk that it became a franchise.

But I was willing to fight for this one. I didn't immediately jump on the EA hate train just because. I liked Bioware from earlier projects and they once more came through with a great story that I enjoyed immersing myself into. Simply put, they created this world that was - while using facets from every fantasy adventure ever - was something relatively new and something I very, very much enjoyed. Again, outside of Bethesda, good single player role playing games are very, very hard to come by. So when the only other game in town puts something out, you go for it.

I won't be any more.

Electronic Arts has officially joined Gearbox Studios on my list of developers and publishers that I will never again purchase a product from. Without even doing anything that actually destroys the world I have come to know and love, or so much as harming a single character within it, EA has put a torch to Thedas for me, and the flames rise ever more.

Now, because of this, even if I can go back to Thedas...I won't. Sorry, Bioware. As long as you're with them...I can't do this anymore...there's nothing but ashes left, thanks to this.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, September 4, 2015

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Doctor Who: City of the Daleks"

In 2010, the BBC saw the insanely increasing popularity of Doctor Who, being that the entire series had been brought to wider mass appeal and far, far better story after the sacking departure of Russell T. Davies from the role of executive producer on the show. Now with Steven Moffat leading things, it was time to get into the untapped market (more or less, considering earlier Doctor Who video game releases) of video games that don't rely solely on Flash to play.

Enter the "The Adventure Games" banner - with the intention of making "interactive episodes" that could plausibly be fitted into the canon of the actual television show and provide fans of the series with a way to become more involved in the world of Doctor Who. Definitely a brilliant idea, though how does it come out in the execution? That's what I'm here to take a look at - and in four parts, no less. Yes, I know there are five and I will get to the "Gunpowder Plot" in due course.

Like, say...around November, perhaps? Eh?

For now, however, let's see the BBC putting out their best foot forward with City of the Daleks.

...oh, right, there might be all of four people on the planet who don't know what Doctor Who is. Basically, for my American readers, it's the British-equivalent of what Star Trek is to our culture, science fiction that is often used to address real life issues of humanity within the bounds of fantastic places and times in both our past and future...and sometimes it has episodes of farting aliens (I did mention I really, really prefer Moffat to Russell, didn't I?).

The show, most often, follows a character known only as the Doctor. He travels around in time and space in a time machine that's bigger on the inside than the outside,  and he more often than not has a human companion who travels with him. Beyond that, you don't really need to know anything to get into the show or to enjoy the games that will follow, though being a fan most certainly helps.

The game begins with the Doctor (voiced by Matt Smith) and his companion Amelia "Amy" Pond (voiced by Karen Gillan) in the Doctor's time machine, the TARDIS, about to head back to London in 1963. When they arrive, however, they find things a little less rock n' roll and a little more Escape from New York, as it seems that London's been pummeled into rubble and the Doctor's dreaded old foes - the Daleks - are the culprits.

What follows is a jaunt around the war-torn London where the Doctor and Amy must sneak around several Daleks on patrol to follow a woman into the Underground, and here is where most players will experience their first irritation. You see, the visual range of the Daleks is somewhat decreased and they project handy little green cones that let the player know just what they can see at any given time - internal sensors be damned.

The irritation comes, however, when a player hits that range and then is immediately one-shot killed by a Dalek. For sections where the player is required to sneak, they're usually locked into a stealth mode until they either complete their objective or are caught. Those players who aren't as familiar with sneaking around are likely to get burned quite a bit if they don't learn to be patient and learn the Daleks' movement patterns. Of course, when you do, the game is really insultingly easy in that regard as you can literally walk right past a Dalek without them so much as vaguely noticing that their greatest enemy is within arm's reach (figuratively speaking) of them.

This becomes even more hilarious when the Doctor later builds a device out of science that can blind the Daleks entirely.

Also of note is Amy. There are several sections where Amy tags along with the Doctor in his sneaking - in fact, most of them - and it's important to note that if she gets shot, she'll likewise die and you'll have to start the section all over again. Not a big deal, but make sure to time your movements to include her as well, when necessary. In the event that you do get caught, however, don't panic, just get behind cover. You see, the Daleks are routinely known for giving up on finding an enemy - particularly one so prolific on their threat board as the Doctor - if they just hide behind a computer bank or some other form of cover for a few seconds.

There's also item interaction, which allows the player to access little mini-games to further the plot, such as rerouting the power in the London Underground by doing a little connect the dots via wires in a fuse box or matching Dalek letters to disable a security feed in the Dalek City. A little tedious, but nothing too taxing on one's sanity, they're all fairly straightforward. There's also the occasional pushing around of objects and climbing, both of which are done by a prompt that generally isn't too finicky about showing up when the player comes near the object.

I will say, for those who are diehard fans of adventure games and were drawn in by the banner under which these games are presented, you're probably going to be very disappointed. As I stated above, the mini-games are not all that difficult and even the fetch quests to pick up items don't fall under the insane adventure game logic of "that axe you could use to hatch a trap door open you need to use instead to give to the old woodsman who will give you the key", though given Doctor Who's use of technobabble, the logic is roughly just as sound. Still, there is no complexity of that kind to it. The Doctor needs an item, the player sneaks around and gets the item. Nothing to it.

The only real criticisms I have for the game are in the voice acting and the animation of the human(oid) characters. While both Matt Smith and Karen Gillan are fantastic actors on the show in live-action (Smith being my personal favorite Doctor as of this writing), their voice acting is...a bit disconnected from things, though I think that has a lot to do with the animation which is rather like they took 3-D models of both actors and stretched layer after layer of Silly Puddy over their faces for that bizarre, Uncanny Valley sort of look.

As for the plot, it's a stock Doctor Who.  The Daleks are being menaces, they have an artifact of Ultimate Doom, the Doctor learns of the plot, does Doctor things, and eventually everything is sorted out because wibbley wobbley, timey wimey. While it does have some challenge for younger players (as it is intended for) and those who are not versed well in stealth or adventure games, it will hardly scratch the itch of anyone who considers themselves "teh hardcore" in either genre. Still, it is enjoyable and I could very easily see this episode being right there in with many of those of the Matt Smith era.

City of the Daleks is, all things considered, a good first step for the Adventure Games brand.

Let's see if the momentum continues next week. Pack up your parkas, flamethrowers, and blood-testing kits, everyone! Next time, it's Blood of the Cybermen.

Doctor Who: City of the Daleks is now available from the BBC.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

From MadCap's Couch - "Sliders: As Time Goes By"

"¿Por qué , se han pavimentado el paraíso y pusieron un montón parkiing !"
Remember back in "Time Again and World", when I said that the storyline mechanic of multiple parallel worlds wasn't exactly necessary to tell a good story? Or even a decent story? Guess what we have this time around? More of that.


Actually, I joke, but the entire thing just feels incredibly unfocused and spotty. The idea itself isn't so bad, but - like many things in Sliders - the execution is what absolutely kills it dead. A lot of this episode is just plain unnecessary, and really does feel as though three different scripts were railroaded together with a vague plot weaving through them all. One is a little bit "Love Gods", one is a little bit "El Sid", and one as I said is a little "Time Again and World", and it forms a...very curious hybrid that really should have seen a few more rewrites.

...if not been canned completely because it rips off three episodes that we've already seen.

So without further adieu, we begin with the Sliders on a street corner in the New Republic of España with a bunch of other Caucasian illegal immigrants. It seems on this world, the Americas were taken over by the Spanish, not the Anglos, and illegal immigrants from Canada are a common thing. Which is so believable. I mean, next time, they're going to go to an Earth where pigs refuse to eat Jews or something like that!

All pork aside, the Sliders are lamenting their situation as being among the working class when Arturo nearly picks a fight with a fellow laborer before a man comes up in a truck offering work...followed directly by a hit squad of the INS. The crowd scatters, Quinn falling and hitting his head in the escape...and yet still managing to escape despite being within spitting range of one of the INS jeeps. The other Sliders, however, aren't so lucky and end up being taken in. In his escape, Quinn makes it all the way back to the 'burbs and eventually makes his way to a townhouse...where the title sequence picks up.

Quinn makes his way over the stone fence, crashing someone yard and succumbing to his head injury. Staggering about before slumping against a wall, he's accosted y two guard dogs...and a woman who he seems to recognize - a maid by the name of Daelin. He seems shocked and she confused by his shock, but Quinn passes out before he can say any more. There's a crossfade and he awakens in a bed, having been tripped down to his underwear so the show can't be accused of only serving up fanservice for the male audience.

They save that for Season 3.

Good God, do they save that for Season 3...
For my female fans (and male fans who swing that way) behold...O'Connell Abs!
Daelin returns and they talk for a bit, Quinn telling her that he knows her. They went to grew up and went to school together, even dated for a while until she moved away in the tenth grade. Naturally, because she's not the Daelin of this world, she has no idea what he's talking about...not that this keeps Quinn from being all lovestruck over her. And quite right, too, seeing that she's been mentioned so frequently in so many episodes as the great love of Quinn's life. Like in...

...and then there was...

...well, that one episode...umm...

...yeah, no, she's never been mentioned. I'm also not giving any bonus points for anyone who guesses how many times she's mentioned after this. Spoiler alert: Never.

The wubby dubby nonsense is curbed by Quinn recognizing Daelin's fiancé from a photograph - Dennis, the man that Arturo nearly got into an argument with at the corner. Daelin naturally freaks out, but this too is stopped by Daelin's boss coming in just as Quinn gets hidden in the cellar. There's all of a second of tension before Daelin leaves.

In the same court room we saw in the beginning of "The King is Back", Arturo, Remmy, and Wade are being placed on trial where a lawyer is trying to get them any excuse that they can to get them off the hook and not deported back to Canada (not a short ride considering that they're filming in Vancouver), but is exasperated when they provide her with nothing. Despite an impassioned speech and defense, the Judge throws the book at them - deportation to Canada.

By the way, enjoy that scene with Arturo, Remmy, and Wade. Because this is pretty much all any of them do in this episode.

Back at Daelin's little home within her employers' home, she has apparently been told everything by Quinn and has even gotten to take a look at the timer. She thinks it's all far-fetched, and naturally so. But Quinn manages to woo her with visions of a non-Spanish controlled America. She seems to buy it, though worries for Dennis since she can't leave him behind being that he's being deported. Quinn agrees to help her if she helps him.
"What's this?" "A very brief cameo."
Even night falls, and Quinn and Daelin head out to a car...finding Charlie O'Connell! Actually, it's not Colin Mallory (who we'll get into in Season Four), but Daelin's brother who is a member of a group that helps the illegal immigrants. Here, he tells them that the group has tracked where the bus that will be taking Dennis and the other Sliders is going and the best place to intercept. The next morning, they're all thrown onto the bus where we have some banter from the group and some ill-natured jibes against Canada that I imagine the writing staff and all would have had after two seasons up in Vancouver.

A bit later in the morning, the resistance hijacks the bus and gets the immigrants off just in time. Daelin's reunited with Dennis, Quinn with the other Sliders, and the day seems saved...until more INS come and surround the group. It seems that Dennis had double crossed them! Daelin is distraught, and her brother shot by INS when he attempts to attack. However, the Sliders have gotten open their vortex and the rest escape...Quinn spending a moment to look forlornly at Daelin cradling her brother's body before he too jumps through.

Now what feels like it should be the end of an episode is only about a third of the way through, the Sliders appearing in a park and seeing a bench painted over for an advertisement for the "San Francisco Lions" football team. Clearly, they are not home, but it's definitely closer than the last. The others ask Quinn about the next window, but he's off being all brooding and emo. Arturo debates having a word with him, seeing his state, but Remmy takes it upon himself to do so...mostly because Arturo has all the bedside manner of a wood chipper.

At the Lamplighter, Quinn pours his heart out to the Crying Man. He sympathizes, relating a story from his own storied past and even suggests that he could look her up on this world - pointing him to the telephone book in the back. Naturally, because it's the late Nineties and people can actually read and even have cause to use a phonebook, Quinn finds the address...and meets Daelin in a sob-fit. She invites him in and...well...
Was flannel even a thing after the 90s?
...long story short, on this Earth, he moved in Tenth Grade instead of her and she's now married to the Dennis of this dimension - a loser punk who's greatest contributions to the world are his band that isn't successful and their daughter. So basically, this guy is a douchebag in any reality, much like Biff Tannen. Needless to say, Dennis is an abusive jackass and the home situation is about as good as you'd expect - that is to say, not at all. Dennis and Quinn get into a row which ends in Quinn decking him a good one before promising to help Daelin and her baby.

This translates to him finding his double on this world who - conveniently - never got over Daelin either and giving her the number and address and shipping her off to Seattle with her kid.

And no, he never actually appears on screen, but considering Quinn has a phone conversation with him...

Times The Sliders Have Run Into Their Doubles: 12

Later, at the park, Quinn fills Remmy in on what happened and the group gets ready to leave...Wade asking Quinn if he's alright before they slide. After a lengthy vortex sequence, we arrive on Quinn, Arturo, and Remmy in prison uniforms in a cell, and naturally looking pretty damn confused. Buckle up, kids, because I'm going to spoil the shocking twist of this part: time's running backwards for everyone but the Sliders.

Why yes, it is bizarre and completely out of place, thank you for noticing!

Basically, they're in prison, the timer's running up instead of down to when the next vortex will open, and they have no idea what's going on. They learn that they're serving a life sentence for the murder of a police officer - Daelin Richards. They're reunited in the court room with Wade, Quinn figures out time is running backwards in this universe from their respective, and they all plead guilty and are released from their handcuffs and out into the world, no muss no fuss.
"Professor, this makes no sense!" "Shut up, Mr. Mallory, the episode's almost over..."
Arturo brings up Stephen Hawking's theory of Time's Arrow to explain why everything's going backwards...which is still completely pointless, but nevermind that now...Quinn still can't deal with the timer, being that he has no idea what he can do. The others want to bunker down until the Slide, not the stupidest idea, but because we still have to have a plot, Quinn insists that he try and save Daelin's life. He reads details of the murder and believes he's ready to go, though Arturo dips a bit into Middle Eastern folklore, referencing the story of An Appointment in Samarra to bring up that they have no idea what the consequence of interfering with the timeline would be.

So, naturally, Quinn goes and takes this advice to heart when he tears a hole in the fabric of reality.

There's a bit of running from the cops and Arturo explains why the timer is running forwards instead of backwards...because it's adhering to the laws of this universe. Which is funny, considering that none of you are falling in line with the physical laws of the universe - i.e., you're still going forwards instead of backwards - but again, nevermind it.

They split up to avoid the cops and time reverses yet again. Quinn and Remmy end up running into Daelin and the real killer, and Dennis being a sniper covering Daelin. Naturally, Quinn Mallory Super Genius decides that the best way to alert an undercover cop that they're being set up is to scream it loudly at the top his lungs for every Tom, Dick, and Jane to hear as you rush to aid said cop. However, both Daelin and the man are shot...though this time, because of Quinn's interference, she was only winged in the shoulder.

Dennis reveals himself as, once again, her fiancé, and Quinn wanders off distraught as the backup and an ambulance are called. Not all is well as Remmy tries to console him, however, as Arturo brings up that there's a hole in the sky, leading to graphics straight out of an Atari Jaguar game. It seems that Quinn has torn a hole in the fabric of time. Shame we don't get Quinn baring any actual weight of any consequences for dooming an entire universe to cosmic destruction, but we're three minutes from the episode ending and the Vortex opens and they enter, with them landing in the park on another world with the normal flow of time seemingly restored.

Remmy points out the phone booth to Quinn, just in case he wants to give a call to Daelin on this Earth, and Season Two ends with looking to it, and then looking back toward the camera looking defeated...
[Insert "Crawling In My Skin" Here]
...well, that just sucked!

No, I mean the entire episode. It's one big gigantic mess that needed many, many more rewrites or, if they'd wanted to be even better, not have been attempted at all. This episode feels like three separate scripts that were sent through a paper shredder and then glued back together into one using pieces from the bin.

There's a love interest that we don't care about and never will (and I'm not knocking the actress, she's actually pretty good by Sliders standards) because she was brought on without even a passing reference beforehand, the second part of the plot on the Earth with her abusive boyfriend is so heavy-handed that it hurts, and an entire world where time flows backwards is interesting and really deserved its own episode to fully explore, but it makes absolutely no sense to throw that in as the third part of the story.

Actually, any one of the stories presented could have been made to work. They could have been fleshed out more, given more reason to be invested in the events that happened. All this episode is, ultimately, is Quinn being a lovesick puppy over a woman we've never met before and will never hear about again, and us being meant to feel bad because he keeps losing her in every world he visits where he meets her.

Also of note is the near-complete lack of the other Sliders. They don't do anything. In particular Wade, who all but said the words "I love you" to Quinn directly, not being involved in such a major life event for Quinn. This man who they've built up her having a romance with, and then when suddenly this great romantic love of his life suddenly comes in, she gets sidelined and shares all of one line of dialogue alone with him.

Compare to "Obsession", which I also didn't like, but where it at least showed Quinn's reaction to the events of Wade's almost marriage to Dick Roman. But when Quinn has an almost identical romance subplot, we get an episode that Wade's barely in. There was opportunity to develop character here, to further the romance between Quinn and Wade, and the writers chose to essentially throw her into background character status.

Which is about the same treatment that Remmy and Arturo got, though Remmy was at least thrown a bit of a bone at supporting Quinn's doomed venture. Other than that, though, the remaining three Sliders are completely unimportant and ineffectual in their own series, and I remind you that one such episode we've seen had a subplot of Rembrandt getting it in with his old high school girlfriend and Wade teaching a bunch of hippies astrology.

Altogether, this is not a well formed or well thought out episode and, as a season finale, it pales in comparison to "Invasion", which should have been the finale. I can only guess that executive meddling from Fox caused this to be placed as the finale, because otherwise someone Tracy Tormé was smoking something awesome.

However, the topic of executive meddling brings me to some news about this series. I have, as of this writing, completed reviews of twenty-two episodes of Sliders - that's two seasons of the show, and about an entire season of a standard television series in America. Given the nature of what we'll be getting into in Season 3, I have decided that I'm going to take a break from Sliders. Don't worry, I will be getting back to it (it's practically begging for me to tear it apart), but for the time being I need to take a break and refresh myself with something I enjoy...

...come back next time, when I will have hopefully figured out just what that is.

Sliders and all related materials are the property of Universal.

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