Monday, August 14, 2017

Castlevania - Netflix Series Impressions

Adapting any video game to film or media has never been a high point. Something goes awry, be it sticking too close to the source material or straying far, far away from it. When a Castlevania anime series popped up on Netflix, I expected to be underwhelmed. Maybe it was going in with such expectations that let me leave the small series arc with a sense of optimism.

The Netflix series opens by doing away with the expectation of a young warrior off to fight an ancient evil. A young woman seeks Dracula's library to learn sciences that would help in healing her village and Dracula, intrigued by her purpose, entertains her and even falls for her. Many in the town see it as witchcraft and she is burned at the stake. Dracula goes from unsympathetic to justifiable as he unleashes his revenge on a town. The one love he had in the world, taken by those who did not understand.

Where do we find our hero, Trevor Belmont? Drinking in the pub far away from the mischief, looked down upon by the locals, his family name disgraced, getting into a drunken brawl before stumbling away to his own devices.

It was a refreshing change of pace, where Dracula would be established as the villain being a villain for villain's sake and our hero having his life together and nothing but praise and adoration from those around him. The story may not make any huge plot twists or devices, but the simplicity of picking the story up at this point was intriguing.

Most surprising is the sheer gore showcased. The games always had such a simplicity to it, that to see guts and body parts splitting apart took me aback, especially when it involved children. The show does not hold back at all. But when you unleash an army of hell on an entire village, ignoring such casualties as a possibility would be unrealistic.

The voice acting is standout. Nothing feels forced or unnatural, even side characters deliver dialogue to the tee.

For four episodes at twenty three minutes a piece, you can easily burn through the series in a day. It also reveals an odd bit of pacing and little payoff. Simon just begins to gain his resolve and assemble his entourage when the series ends. A lackluster but humorous ending battle, an expectant alliance; it all felt a bit rushed.

Animation is alright. Some of it looks great, like the animation of fire. But characters feel a bit stiff, looking more like a 90's cartoon than modern day animation. Growing up with animation like this, it was not a huge distraction, but for the anime junkie I can understand it being bothersome.

Despite having Castlevania in its name and familiar faces like Alucard or Trevor Belmont, this just did not feel...Castlevania. Maybe the atmosphere is all different, or the lack of any real sequences fans could relate to experiencing in-game, but for now it just feels like a new show that I am watching with Castlevania plastered on its surface.

A second season is inbound and I am interested to see where the supposed trilogy arc will ultimately culminate. Familiar names and creatures are fun to see in a Netflix series but hopefully the second season will provide better overall pacing, animation, and incorporation of Dracula's castle with more elements from the game. Given the short runtime, it is worth the watch for the witty retorts from Trevor alone.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Frontier Defense 2.0 - Titanfall 2 Impressions

The AI typically acts as score fodder in Titanfall 2; running around in small clusters begging to be used to boost your team or cooldown for a new Titan. Frontier Defense looks to turn that on its head much like the original Titanfall mode, providing a co-operative experience against the AI alone.

A team of four is dropped off onto a random map and must hold back five waves of grunts, titans, and flying drones from destroying The Harvester. It acts as a "defend the objective game" that evolves into working together to cover every angle the objective can be hit from, including across the map.

The first waves start simple with grunts and a single Titan to overcome. As the waves increase they intensify, with such enemies as Nuclear Titans that slowly lumber toward the objective to hit with massive damage or Arc Titans that drain the shield and emit and pulse of damage that makes close quarters difficult. Soon you find your team dividing lanes to stem the tide as drop after drop of enemies pile up to be managed. Even mortar Titans drive you out from your shelter as they pepper the shield of your objective from across the map.

You are not completely to your own devices, as a setup phase before each round will allow you to purchase equipment with money earned from the previous round by surviving the wave without dying, being MvP of your team, or preventing the Harvester from taking damage. Such items available for purchase include permanent arc traps that can temporarily disable enemies at a choke point, Sentry turrets, and even a nuke that can allow you to take a Titan with you upon your Titan's demise. Managing these costs and dispersing currency to your team to make sure everyone has a boost will help in controlling the waves of enemies.

The more you play the mode, the higher your Aegis rank advances. Your Aegis rank is tied to the Titan you chose to use, and makes them grow in power the more you play. Northstar, my personal favorite Titan to use, gained a slew of bonuses as I completed each match; the tether traps I usually send out would explode, my railgun would recharge faster, and even the cluster rockets I fired would be better. Every titan gains improvement in this way, some strengthening abilities to others strengthening armor and shields.

All this powering up is to help in tackling the more difficult modes; ranging from Hard to Insane.

It is hard to complain regarding free content, but the mode grew predictable after hitting your 3rd Aegis rank. You knew which maps had the mortar titans, which map had the flyers, and what wave they occurred. I found myself...bored. Bored during the initial waves, waiting for the real challenge in waves 3-5. By the time I had unlocked the harder difficulties and felt like I had the rank to make it happen, I became bored with the mode. Sure the tougher difficulties require coordination and communication to overcome, but the aesthetic reward you get must be paid for with purchased content, lessening my resolve to dive into the effort.

While the Aegis is able to power you up, it also limits team composition. If I am grouped with a bunch of people that lack an Ogre Titan to soak up damage, then we are automatically at a disadvantage and I must level another Titan up all over again. It is an insane grind just to allow you to even use a Titan that is needed on higher difficulties, and by the time that rank is reached you find yourself itching to play the shorter, more enjoyable competitive multiplayer modes.

Despite the shortcomings I found myself coming back to up my Aegis rank and see the potential power my Titan could have with each upgrade. It is an entertaining mode, but you find yourself gravitating back to the multiplayer to remind yourself what makes Titanfall so great in the first place.