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  • Blumhouse Brings a Slate of Horror Games to Summer Games Fest

    Horror heavy hitters Blumhouse Studio have dipped into video games by crafting a full slate of titles that are a perfect fit for the indie horror scene. Described as “weird and subversive” the games come like their movies, with lots of different flavors of horror, from  murder farming sims to intense psychological nightmares. Blumhouse premiered their roster of games at SummerGame Fest, teasing 6 titles for this summer. Their first title, Fear the Spotlight features 90s horror with a classic teenage narrative full of twists and turns. Needless to say there’s never been a better time to be a horror game fan and Blumhouse is happily leading the charge.

  • Review: Belle & Sebastian Bring Some Love to the Salt Shed

    It took me a second to realize, but Belle and Sebastian have been in the game for 28 years with a dozen albums under their belts and a hefty mount of singles that are as cherished as the songs on the records. With that sort of longevity and consistent quality, you know you're going to get a whirlwind of a show. Last weekend at the Salt Shed, Belle and Sebastian did that very thing, transporting everyone at the show to the spot when they first heard the band's beatific sounds for the very first time. Before the main event could take over, fans were treated to a double bill of openers. Most shows on the tour only featured one of the openers, but this night got something a little special. First was Haley Heynderickx and her small band serenading the crowd with beautiful songs. Great tracks off of I Need to Start a Garden really took hold of the reverent audience keen on adding Heynderickx to their must listen lists. The Weather Station  followed Heynderickx's gorgeous set with one of her own. Backed by a fuller band, Tamara Lindeman really took in the moment and delivered her songs with a conviction that was greatly appreciated. Sprinkling new songs in with some great favorites like "Tired To Tell You," "Robber," and "Parking Lot," really made for a well rounded and interesting set. Lindeman's lyrics are full of these little moments that grant you feeling a deeper understanding. Whether it's a love song relating herself to a bird ("Parking Lot") or lamenting the capitalist in all of us "Robber," Lindeman is just able to open up and find a morsel of truth we might have missed. During the latter portion of the set the Weather Station were joined by Macie Stewart, adding even more quality instrumentation to the incredible set. Then it finally came time for Belle & Sebastian to take the stage and they did not disappoint. With a band that has been pretty stable the last decade (featuring Stuart Murdoch, Stevie Jackson, Sarah Martin, Chris Geddes, Richard Colburn, Bobby Kildea, and Dave McGowan), there was no doubt we'd be getting a well-oiled sound machine. Honestly, we got a little more than that as Belle and Sebastian's sincerity and talents were as great as the first time I saw them nearly 20 years ago. Belle and Sebastian's set list was rife with favorites from all the eras of the band's masterful career. There were of course a few albums that weren't represented like their work associated with movies (Storytelling & Days of the Bagnold Summer), but for the most part we got an incredible look at the band's immense catalog. "If She Wants Me", a personal favorite of mine, details a break up and the insecurities that can plague the situation. It goes on into full sad boy lyricism while maintain the crux of the song and realistically so many of the band's songs "But life is good and 'It's always worth living/At least for a while'". At some-point in the set Murdoch leaned over to Jackson and remarked "Stevie do we suffer?" and was met with "It's terrible Stuart", once again jokingly underlining some aspects the songs' ethos. But no matter how much suffering their songs may hold, they sound hopeful and glorious. Everyone at the Salt Shed was going with flow that was masterfully lead by Murdoch. "Your Covers Blown" is dancey and energetic, making everyone in the audience move to it's grooves and pleas to leave the scene and join something better. "Pizza New York Catcher" oozes with unbridled love despite its hints at things not working out (although Murdoch assured the crowd it does). The Life Pursuit was my first Belle and Sebastian album (technically Push Barman to Open Old Wounds came out right before it but that was a collection of previous singles) after I found out the band and had voraciously listened to their previous catalog. The songs on that album mean a lot to me and the three that found themselves on the setlist really rang out with all the nostalgia gleaming. "Dress Up in You" was absolute prefect as Murdoch, with occasional harmonizing from Martin, laid out the friendship full of melancholy and resentment with pitch perfect accuracy. When the line "The men are surprised by the language/They act so discreet, they are hypocrites/So fuck them too" arrives so did the crowd eager opportunity to sing along. It's a moment of impassioned , even if it is coming from an exasperated situation. One of the biggest highlights of the night came when the stage was filled with audience members invited to join the band and dance along to songs. There was so much excitement and joy beaming form those on and off stage, catapulting "If You Find Yourself Caught in Love" into the stratosphere. The song started off with its twinkling keys before bursting forth with it's undoubtedly pro-love, anti-war anthem that raised everyone spirits. The encore ushered out the night with more favorites. "Fox in the Snow" a song that is so emblematic of the band that one couldn't help but sways away as the background display had little flakes gently snowing down. "This Is Just a Modern Rock Song" kept that vibe going, letting the atmosphere in the Salt Shed feel as light as a cloud before it was time to go. Here we were met with another The Life Pursuit track: "Another Sunny Day". The song full of love before it all goes away at its end felt fitting as all thing, including fantastic concerts, come to an end. While so many of Belle and Sebastian's song have these sad notes amidst the love and joyful instrumentation, it's important to remember the highlights. Thankfully this show was full of them. All photos by Julian Ramirez This post was originally published on Third Coast Review.

  • Let's Get Physical: Upcoming Blu-Ray/4K Releases for June 2024

    This is looking like a good movie for movies as some must haves for me are rolling out in the coming weeks. So take a seat while I lead you down my top movie picks for the month of June! You can see a good chunk of the upcoming releases over at Blu-Ray.com's site! Immaculate 4K - June 11 When I saw Immaculate in theaters, I was awestruck. Despite the subpar showing (damn screen had a huge stain right in the center), Immaculate is an impressive throwback to horror films of the 70s. Rife with references to Giallo films and Sydney Sweeney giving mesmerizing performance, Immaculate stands as my favorite horror film of the year (still need to see The First Omen). The story is pretty straightforward and if your in any way familiar with its religious setting, you'll see a lot of things coming a mile a way, but it never detracts from its quality. The ending alone is one of the best in recent memory, balancing the extreme with a bit of measured tastefulness that is often forgotten. Chinatown 4k  - June 18 In my constantly rotating favorite films of all time, Chinatown is consistently in my top 5. This 4K transfer has been available digitally for a while, in fact I bought it when it was initially released years ago, but nothing beats a physical copy. The film is massively influential, surprising amongst animated films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit (which may have originally been the inteded concept for a Chinatown sequel) and Zootopia, and is enthralling. This release also has a Blu-Ray featuiring the actual sequel The Two Jakes, which is not a great movie, but a reasonably entertaining one directed by star Jack Nicholson and fetureing a very good performance from Meg Tilly (who I wish would have pursued more acting roles). NOTE: Yes I'm aware of the crimes of Roman Polanski, and my enjoyment of this film is no excuse of them. Fuck Roman Polanski. Blue Velvet 4K  - June 25 There are plenty of Criterions released every month and they are always worth a look, but I'm highlighting Blue Velvet because it's so damn good. David Lynch is one of my favorite directors and this movies sits right in the middle between his more straightforward work and his more... surreal work. It is also an ideal representation of his directing style when it comes to actors, giving you both the melodramatic cadence from Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, Kyle McLaughlin's performances and the extremely stylized grittiness of Dennis Hopper's insane villain. Blue Velvet is weird, uncomfortable, and a must have. The Guyver 4K - June 25 I was introduced to the anime through a bootleg VHS that was bought at a flea market, so it's safe to say I ADORE Guyver. The American live action movie featuring Mark Hamil, certainly not starring as early marketing material would have suggested, is very much of its time. Hard B-Movie vibes with a dash of cheesiness and incredible practical effects, which is expected with co-directors Screaming Mad George & Steve Wang and producer Brian Yuzna at the wheel, The Guyver is undeniably fun. If you have an nostalgia for Japanese tokusatsu or early Power Rangers (I know, I'm sort of repeating myself), The Guyver is for you. Other Films you should check out this month: Bad Lieutenant 4K  - June 4 RoboCop 2 4k - June 18 Matinee 4K - June 25 Purple Rain 4K - June 25 The Sadness 4K - June 25

  • Album Review: Finom Finds Another Version of Themselves with Not God

    If there is any constant in this world, it's Macie Stewart and Sima Cunningham's ability to evolve. It's something I've noted in every review of their experimental band Finom's albums. Each one offers something complexly new, but inimitably theirs. From their early beginnings with their self-titled EP to their full length releases Parts and Fantasize Your Ghost, Stewart and Cunningham have changed their sound even within their releases themselves, never truly letting their creation become stagnate, which in turn has resulted in songs that sound fresh with every re-listen. Even their name, which I have purposefully neglected to mention, has changed. They have gone from HOMME to OHMME to Finom, not necessarily under their own accord, but Stewart and Cunningham have rolled with the changes. Their latest release and first under their new Finom name, Not God, is a worthy addition to their catalog. Featuring production from Jeff Tweedy, who they have frequently collaborated with in the past, Not God really embodies the band's gentler side. That's not to say there aren't the expected moments of brilliant sonic dissonance, guitars crashing into each other, and the pairs' sharp lyrics. It's all there, but with a rounder and more polished sense of self. That album kicks off with "Haircut", the strongest connection the louder aspects of Finom's sound and their strongest singles. Odd and catchy as all hell, it really captures your attention as it's near nonsensical lyrics ("written following the stream of suggested words" from Stewart’s phone) can't help but put a smile on your face. "Yeah, I’m sorry but I’m not gonna wanna it’s the time of day I can get my haircut" the duo harmonizes in a hallucinatory repetition that lend credence to that absurd excuse. After that the album turns to the ethereal aspects of the band with "Dirt" and "Naked", albeit at stark ends of that feeling. "Dirt" yearns for love ("I want to be loved, I’m impatient") with the pairs voices soothing that painful waiting while "Naked" is seemingly fully in that love ("What a different way to live/Happy here with love to give") as it quickly treks along with sharp instrumentation. "Hungry" is one of the few tracks on the album that let's itself indulge in some uninterrupted guitar madness, really finding itself in a massively loud explosion at it's finish. "Not God" teases you with a guitar rise that could have come crashing down, but thinks better of it ans stay steadfast as the lyrics question everything: "If you’re not God, then what are you?". While both these tracks hearken back to earlier Finom stylings like "Haircut", they completely shed themselves of it, too. That's honestly one of my favorite things about Stewart and Cunningham, their ability to be so malleable as it embracve what makes them uniquely them while pursuing the new and different. Later on in the tracklisting comes "Cyclops",which is rife with violent fantastical/biblical imagery of it's title's creature and bloodied teeth before blurring the lines once the initial chorus of "Nobody cares about your band" launches. It then feels like it steps into a reality familiar to ours, ending shortly after another burst of that harsh chorus. It's the shortest song on the album, but it packs as much of a punch as the longer tracks. It's on the final song on the album, "As You Are", another high point in Finom's discography, where everythign falls into place. It's the band at their clearest and my favorite track on the album. The song sets the table with some dark imagery ("I killed the bugs I called my friends and used their guts as ink") before finding Finom at it's most meditative and subsequently loving. "I will love you as you are, deep into my grave" Cunningham and Stewart sing with a full understanding of its finishing statement as much as the day to day reality ("All that you do, I want to do"). There are so many lines in the song that emanate this joyful connection. The song reminds be of the closing track of Fantasize Your Ghost "After All", another song of theirs that feels like an outlier but remains as true to the band's ethos. It's a perfect ending with its twinkling chimes before only drums lead listeners off. You can listen to Not God on your favorite streaming platform or purchase the album over on Finom’s webstore, Joyful Noise Recording’s site, and Bandcamp. Finom will be performing at Metro on November 2nd. Tickets are $20 in advance. This post was originally published on Third Coast Review

  • I Took My Mom to ACEN 2024

    The Anime Central convention was this past weekend as of this writing, and with it came a plethora of cosplayers and nerdy enthusiasts from all over. Despite being an anime convention, ACEN is more known for its cosplay.  With arguably the most cosplay out of any of the localized conventions, ACEN generally stands above all the rest. Along with that, it’s also one of the few cons that goes 24 hours which then also leads into its title of being one of the more salacious enthusiast cons around, so why on Earth would I bring my mother? For context, my mother and I haven’t always seen eye to eye growing up. She started going through menopause at the exact right time for me to be an angsty angry teen, but nowadays, being a father myself, we’ve definitely hit that best friend stride. I’ve finally grown to understand where she was coming from, and she’s settled into a more adventurous lifestyle in her retirement. Despite being a supportive mother to two very nerdy sons, she never once accompanied me to a convention. That was usually my fathers domain. Then, two years ago, she asked to finally tag along and experience what I always loved in that type of community atmosphere. Enter ACEN, one of the biggest conventions in the Chicagoland area. Along with C2E2 and Fan Expo (formally Wizard World), ACEN stands as a pillar of nerdy gatherings, and one I wanted her to experience. Encompassing the majority of the Donald E. Stephens Convention center and the attached Hyatt, it stands to host famous voice actors and celebrities alike. With areas to play board games, video games, choreography competitions, cosplay photography, contests, shows, theater rooms, and even two accompanying night raves, there’s a lot to be said about it as an event. I had warmed her to the experience with the Fan Expos and C2E2s but now it was time to dive into the weird world of ACEN. On the walk in, I provided her with a primer of the necessary lingo, and things to expect. She was familiar with the cosplay but less so on the sheer magnitude. I was practically getting whiplash as she ping ponged around trying to get photos of all the cool Star Wars costumes she recognized. A little liquid courage from some Gin and Tonics plus some food cart Sushi and we were off to the show floor to explore. There’s a lot to see at a con like this. Vendors selling art work, homemade crafts, fashion, and of course, like any good shopper, we had to see it all. This led to a lot of questions regarding sexy body pillows, furries and BDSM attire.  Which brings me to one of my favorite things about the con community: Inclusivity. To best answer any questions she had, we engaged with the community, asked questions and were happily given thoughtful answers. The fans want to engage with everyone. As long as you are genuine, the courtesy is returned right back. Throughout our experience, I was able to give some brief interviews with other parents who were there with their young children. What came of these conversations were glowing praise on how the fans treat their own. With mutual respect and care. The parents felt safe, and were excited to share in their children's interest white engaging in a positive culture. The show floor had tons of family activities for all ages, so no matter the fandom, there was something for you. We concluded our trip with the Oriana Peron cosplay drag show, which blends the classic nerdy cosplay with a full drag presentation. Musical numbers spilled out from the stage into the audience, with lots of participation from the crowd. My mother clapped along to each song, while the cast performed impressively. Jumping off the stage into splits, impressive dance maneuvers and cartwheels were only some of the impressive feats that were displayed at the show. My mother, along with the rest of the crowd was left in awe. I did later return for the rave, but I chose to leave my mother out of that particular event. In the end, she really enjoyed her experience at ACEN. We came for the cosplay but left with a comradery that comes from something like an ACEN or Fan Expo. Community. Nothing will ever replace the community felt in these kinds of fandoms. A desire to share in something you love with other like minded individuals and having my mother there only emphasized this value. Leave your gatekeeping elsewhere, here, as they say at Olive Garden, you’re family. We came, we saw, we conquered. Until next year ACEN!

  • A Perfect Evening at the Salt Shed with Waxahatchee and Good Morning

    Sometimes you need the right balance of calm and invigorating music to make your weekend settle just right. This past weekend the Salt Shed was home to an evening full of amazing musicians that did exactly that. Sold out far in advance, Waxahatchee and Good Morning took to one of the best venues in the city and gave the crowd an evening of perfect songs. The evening started off with Australian band Good Morning, really setting the stage for the evening softer and more melodic atmosphere. While the band is typically the duo of Liam Parsons and Stefan Blair, for this opening tour spot they had a full band to make their dreamy and tender jams all the more impressive. Performing tracks primarily from their latest album Good Morning Seven, Good Morning deftly maneuvered through the set. While I was initially unfamiliar with the band, I was instantly hooked by their sound which had that throwback feel of hidden gem of a bygone decade. "$10" finished off their set, underlining their laid back presentation with a delicate exclamation point. The sold out show felt truly special as I walked through the crowd. Ready to swoon their nights away to Katie Crutchfield's voice and guitar, the diverse crowd was full of listeners new and old. It was the type of crowd Waxahatchee rightfully deserves. Now it should come as no surprise that Chicago came out in droves for Waxahatchee as she has a strong connection to our fair city. Last year, Crutchfield was unexpectedly at Empty Bottle performing with Bonny Doon. Her touring band features a few familiar Chicago musicians like Colin Croom, Clay Frankel, and Spencer Tweedy with Eliana Athayde and Cole Berggren filling out the remainder of the lineup. So as they stepped on to the stage to the tune of Cheap Trick's "Southern Girls", the Chicago vibes were more than alright. Crutchfield started off her time on the Salt Shed stage with Tigers Blood's opening track "3 Sisters". It seems like with every Waxahatchee release there is a song that feels like ether the perfect opener or finisher to a live show. "3 Sisters" easily fits that bill as it's familiar cadence and Crutchfield's unwavering voice gives the song an anthemic feel. The setlist was full of Waxahatchee 's latest output, eschewing her early albums in favor of her more refined sound. Now for most early fans like myself, I could see that being a slight to her more indie rock beginnings. But considering just how pristine and focused her work on Saint Cloud, Plains (with the incredible Jess Williamson), and Tigers Blood it was a welcome treat. In fact she played the entirety of the Tigers Blood for the Salt shed crowd that night, full immersing them in the album's unbridled confidence. Having seen Plains a couple years ago, I was ecstatic to hear a pair of songs off the project again. Espcially since they were "Line of Sight" and "Hurricane", two songs that rank high for me in the Crutchfield and Williamson's songbook. "Hurricane" in particular with it's notions of being too much to handle but still worthy of love felt completely perfect tucked in the latte half of the night. "Baby, I'll come back to you" echoed through the room with purpose, delighting the packed house. The encore sent everyone off with a trio of songs: "Oxbow", "365" and "Fire", capping off one of the more beautiful nights I've had at the Salt Shed. These photos and review were originally published at Third Coast Review.

  • LudoNarraCon Starts...NOW! Fire Up Your PC for Great Narrative Games and Panels You Can Attend in Your PJs!

    Do you remember 2020? I'm sure we all do. But do you remember that feeling of "when am I ever going to get out and do something again?" specifically? We do, and as a journalist who covers conventions of all sorts, I was particularly sad my con season was no more. Then along came LudoNarraCon, an online convention just for narrative games that I could attend in my PJs (by then in its second year). I still got the panel experiences, the sense of community on the Discord - and I got to experience a bunch of amazing games, some I'd go on to own and beat later down the road, or even review post-release. We've been in this thing for five years now, and the selection of games Fellow Traveller, who runs the con, brings to the table never disappoints. You'll see some familiar faces from years past, including selections from last Ludo like Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical and Death Trick: Double Blind, along with brand new games that are pre-release, sequels to much loved indies like Genesis Noir's follow-up title, Nirvana Noir, and - well...more! But that's not all you'll get - and we encourage you to dig deeper into this online convention. Fireside chats and panels are just as worth attending as the ones we suggest you go to at "IRL" cons. Narrative games aren't just one thing or another - there are all types of actual games from RPGs to visual novels and cozy games - all tied together with a strong narrative. If you're someone who can't put down a good book or binges an entire series - these are games you can really sink your teeth into, and the fireside chats and panels give you a unique and often overlooked opportunity to speak with the devs and creators themselves. We especially encourage people to get involved if they have any interest in game development, as it provides a priceless opportunity to understand more about what makes a game work, and what makes a narrative sing. Every single year, we find at least a few games that make us appreciate games as art even more, and take our breath away. We'll be hard at work in our comfy clothes, stuffing our faces with snacks and digging into demos while we listen to the Ludo crowd tell us about their journeys and their art, and even if you can't attend the whole thing online, we suggest you check out the lineup, find some things you're interested in and dip your toes in the water. We'll see you there!

  • Apple's New Ad Celebrates the End of Creativity

    Whenever tech giant Apple releases something major, it usually comes with a slick ad that worms its way into the cultural lexicon. The company’s catalog spans generations at this point. Dancing silhouettes dominated billboards and television when the company first released the iPod. In the 90’s, Apple burrowed the phrase “think different” deep into our brains. When it first released the Macintosh, the accompanying ad played on themes from 1984, depicting a woman smashing the face of big brother by throwing a sledgehammer at a large screen. This week, Apple announced the new iPad Pro with an ad attempting to show how the device contains all the elements one might need to create…anything. “Just imagine all the things it’ll be used to create,” wrote CEO Tim Cook on Twitter Tuesday above a video of the commercial. The ad slowly pans over a record player to the tune of “All I Ever Need Is You” by Sonny & Cher. The shot eventually widens to reveal a host of items - a piano, trumpet, books, paint, drum set, television, guitar, globe, a classic arcade game cabinet with the words “game over” onscreen, and more - sitting on a large hydraulic press. As the music plays, the press crushes everything slowly. Paint splatters over everything. Glass from the game and a television pops and crunches. Camera lenses explode. The top of the press finally meets the bottom, pauses for a moment, and slowly lifts up to reveal a thin iPad. The implications are both obvious and crushingly dystopic. Most of us have been walking around for a decade or more with a device in our pockets that can tell the time and weather, give us directions anywhere, play music, take photos and video, and access humanity’s largest evolving archive of knowledge, among other things. We take it for granted in the same way earlier generations took the ubiquity of broadcast television and radio. Those of us that grew up as the analog world became digital witnessed an explosion of creativity, affordability, and access to worlds we may have never otherwise wandered through. This ad however, doesn’t show that. Books exploding into pulp because one can theoretically access them on an iPad doesn’t mean people will actually have access to them. Creating, recording, or performing a song on an iPad or laptop is a completely different experience than doing it with a guitar or piano. Admiring a portrait on a screen is different from hanging one on the wall of your living room. Watching the destruction of the tools of creativity in slow motion isn’t just jarring, it gives us the idea that none of them are necessary anymore and have less value. “This is not making things better. This is just making some people insanely wealthy, at the expense of all of us,” wrote actress and director Justine Bateman on Twitter, including a screencap of a 2017 op-ed written in the New York Times by Eve Ewing. “Tech and AI means to destroy everything.” Actor Hugh Grant also posted to Twitter about the ad, saying it shows “the destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.” A few people have already recut the ad to show it in reverse, where instead of the hydraulic press crushing everything, it slowly reveals the items, suggesting they’re springing forth from the iPad. And though that version is many times better than the original, it still doesn’t exactly feel right. While a digital version of something analog opens up access to an incredible array of tools for creativity for people who might not be able to afford the money, time, space or have other impediments to use or enjoy them, they don’t replace them. Nor do they replace the talent and skill it takes to master them. And though they open up new avenues for creation all to themselves, the idea that we need nothing else but a pocket computer to create art, music, literature, photography, and more cheapens everything. For Wall Street, corporate behemoths, and various techbros, this seems to be the end game. As they continue to push LLMs and other types of generative AI on the world, they extract as much value and meaning out of art and culture as possible. They’re selling the idea that not only can literally anyone write a book, make a picture, or create a video game without much or any skill or effort, but it doesn’t matter what that creation is, so long as it vacuums up a pile of money and spits it out onto the stock market.

  • Heading Out Juggles Lots of Concepts With Middling Results

    One of the old adages of game development is if you do too many things, you end up doing none of them particularly well – that is, too many concepts and genres tend to spoil a game. Sometimes, however, a developer breaks this rule, throws all their ideas together and they stick – but Heading Out is not one of those games. That might sound harsh –  and don’t get me wrong: Heading Out has its merits, but it just tries to be too many things. Heading Out, at its core, is a racing game with rogue lite elements, and some visual novel/narrative game elements. It really tries to do a whole lot all at once. It’s ambitious, and lots of its execution actually comes together into a coherent game which is impressive enough considering all of the disparate elements. There is also a strong sense that Heading Out is meant to be cool. It's very stylized, with the racing segments in black and white, and random encounters illustrated in a digital hand drawn style. But it feels like it's trying really hard to be cool, and the whole thing comes off a bit corny, in an endearing way. Dialogue delivery is an issue, and mostly full of misses. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is written sloppily, with clumsy,  heavy-handed social commentaries. Even as someone who agrees with most of the political ideology espoused in Heading Out,  I still felt uncomfortable with just how hard it leaned into it. This will certainly reduce its review score. Which is too bad, because it should have a low review score because it’s just an ‘okay” game. The basic gameplay premise is that you’re a racer and you are outrunning your fear. You even have to answer somewhat personal questions about what you’re potentially outrunning. It adds some personal touch to the story, but again, ends up feeling simultaneously invasive and eye roll inducing–most of the time.The story is told by a narrator with a southern drawl. He invokes memories of Bastion. Every bit of description and dialogue is read by him, except for the radio’s talking heads. As you travel across the States toward your ultimate goal, you will have the opportunity to choose your route. Each route has different opportunities for random events, and careful planning should be considered so you have enough money for each stop. This is represented using an overworld map where you actually do most of your traveling. You can actually control the speed of your little dot as it travels across the map –  but go too fast and you’ll burn up extra fuel and get the attention of the cops. Any problems that arise that you can’t solve through money can be solved through racing. If you don’t have money for fuel, you can run from the cops. If the cops try to stop you, you can decide to run instead of waiting to be detained (as fear is ever creeping towards you). Heading Out’s racing is its marquee feature, and it’s a surprisingly good racing game. It’s not great–just good. The different cars you can unlock handle well, with a difference between pavement and road. There are many different camera angles, even a cockpit view–something that was completely unnecessary, but absolutely awesome. As you race across different states the scenery changes. But it’s a cosmetic illusion, as most tracks are very same-y, with none of them really standing out. Damaging your car in a race can have lasting effects. If your car totally breaks down, fear will catch up to you and your game will end. You also have to worry about fatigue–you need to sleep or use items to stay awake to outrun fear. While you drive across the states your reputation is important. The more good deeds you do, the better off you are generally. You can also do things that will make you seem like a dick, often for short term gain. In fact, it’s pretty obvious that doing the “right” thing helps in the long run moreso than any short term gains. But it also sometimes means more racing. Heading Out isn’t a bad game. It tried to do something different, and it’s “okay” as a result. It does get a little heavy handed in its political messaging, which I feel like takes away from any potential message it could have. While driving in Heading Out feels fun, its very basic and gets repetitive very quickly. If you want a unique narratively driven, rogue lite driving game you might want to wait until something better comes along–if that combination even manifests again. Heading Out is available now on PC via Steam. A Steam key was provided to us for this review

  • Bleak and Provocative, Indika Stands Out with an Absurd, Profound Narrative

    I first played Indika during the Steam Next Fest, and it was one of the standouts for me (along with Children of the Sun). I knew Indika would be strange–but I didn’t realize how strange it was going to get. And its demo only showcased a fraction of Indika’s brilliance. It’s one of those rare pieces of art that makes you step back and reassess your belief system. In Indika you play as the titular heroine as she grapples with her faith and contests the devil in her ear. Shunned at her convent, she is sent off alone on a task to deliver a letter. Along the way she meets an escaped prisoner with an arm that is rotting off. He takes Indika hostage, as they set off in search of a literal miracle. While narrative heavy, Indika uses gameplay elements not only as a way to throw an obstacle in front of the player, but also to disorient the player or give them a different perspective. Therefore, each gameplay segment could almost be classified as a minigame that is self contained and never really repeated. Flashbacks to Indika’s earlier life are creatively told in a warm pixel art style that is in sharp contrast to Indika’s almost photorealistic graphics. Not much is bright and colorful in Indika, however, as most of it takes place in a bleak, frozen Russia full of rusting industry. Even so, Indika is surprisingly graphically impressive. It’s not just its near photorealism but a superb art style that ties it together. Beyond its graphics, camera angles are utilized in ways that they otherwise often aren’t in video games. Indika herself is smart, but timid. She knows her way around machines, and while she’s often the voice of reason in the story, she inwardly doubts everything she says–and believes. Indika wants so badly to rid herself of the voice in her head–and to just fit in. But the other nuns can see her oddness, and even her outbursts, and she is overtly ostracized. Even so, she takes the absurdities of the world outside of the convent in stride as grisly, horrible things seem to be commonplace in this world. There is also a strange play on perspective in Indika that makes the world seem like a strange place that is simultaneously familiar and terrifyingly different. Animals are larger than you would expect. Machines are impossibly large, with designs that make no concession for worker safety, and would be absurd in the real world. One of the most brilliant things about Indika is its clever use of gameplay to reinforce the philosophical message of the game moreso than actually bolstering your playing experience. There’s an experience meter that is employed in Indika, and you can even choose different abilities once she hits higher levels. But it’s all futile–even the game tells you so. Indika is obviously trying to be a good, devout nun. But none of the points that Indika is accumulating can ever offer her the salvation that she seeks. And worst of all, it won’t remove the devil on her shoulder–the one that’s literally speaking in her ear, taunting and debating her in a way that makes her doubt everything she believes. Indika is an amazing accomplishment. I never would have guessed  that a game where you play as a nun would be a game of the year contender for me. Surreal, bleak, absurd and haunting, Indika is easily the best narrative game I’ve played all year. Indika will be available for PC via Steam tomorrow. A Steam key was provided to us for this review

  • Let's Get Physical: Upcoming Blu-Ray/4K Releases for May 2024

    It's a new month an you can't keep the physical releases down! There are tons of great movies getting first time releases on 4K, special steelbook releases, and so much more. So join me on this look at a pretty great release month for physical media. You can see a good chunk of the upcoming releases over at Blu-Ray.com's site! One from the Heart 4K - May 7 So this one had been on my must see list since it came to my attention a few years ago. Francis Ford Coppola has always been a fascinating figure to me, especially considering how successful and tumultuous his career has been. One From the Heart is maybe the height of Coppola's lofty goals for the future film making, save for his upcoming Megapolis which is his current Schrodinger's Cat (will it be a successful return to the screen or and under seen commercial failure like  One From the Heart). I digress, given the films stature as the thing that pushed Coppola's production studio in turmoil and a "what could have been" of cinema, it's a must buy for me. (Side note, this one is selling out in places, so maybe get it sooner rather than later.) Dune Part Two - May 14 C'mon. I've already gushed about the original adaptation of Dune, so clearly this second part of the most recent adaption is on my radar. And considering how effective the second have of Frank Hubert's novel is under Denis Villeneuve's flawless direction, I couldn't not recommend this. It epic and satisfying as a story all its own, while leaving just enough mystery and want for the following novels to be adapted. now will; we ever actually see the the God Emporer on the big screen? I doubt it. So let's enjoy what we have in front of us. The Lair of the White Worm Wal-Mart Exclusive SteelBook - May 14 This isn't a "new" release, but it is a steelbook edition of a really fun and goofy film. Filled with all the weird dry humour you'd expect form an 80s English production,. The Lair of the White Worm has all the charisma you could hope for plus some early roles form Peter Capaldi and Hugh Grant! With Walmart taking the baton from Best Buy's fallen physical media department (and likely Target's upcoming departure from anything not AAA Hollywood), this is also just a great way to support physical media. Honestly never thought I would be encouraging Walmart, but here we are. (Oh, and fair warning, image quality may not be the greatest on this release if it's still the original Vestron release, but it's undeniable watchable as is!) Crimson Peak 4K - May 21 I am of the camp that Guillermo del Toro is a top tier filmmaker and Crimson Peak is very close to my heart. It's del Toro at his most gothic, which given his latest films may feel a little odd, but it serves as the last bastion of his early work before he became the genre hopping king he currently is. This film getting a 4K release is one of the reasons Arrow Video is always on my mind as one of the best physical media labels around. Cry Baby 4k - May 28 I'm a John Water fan since I was way too young and saw Pecker and Cecil B Demented. Since then I've seen everything else he's made and Cry Baby seems to be one his more accessible films (which seemingly came right after one another in the late 80 and early 90s). When my fairly normal and well adjusted friends and family laud a John Water's film, you know its something special, subverting its subversion so much that every one can find something in it. Other Films you should check out this month: The Crow 4K - May 7 Narc 4k - May 21 Shinobi - May 28 Cemetery Man 4K - May 28 Girlfight - May 28 Bad Lieutenant 4K  - May 28

  • C2E2's Biggest Day of Cosplay Brings Even More Amazing to the Floor

    We spent this last weekend at the largest convention center in the northern hemisphere with tens of thousands of other nerds to bring you all that's good from nerd world as the convention season starts to heat up for 2024. Early indications are that cons are back in a big way, and cosplay, which had been a little less frequent as the pandemic was more front and center, is now bouncing back to be what we'd gotten used to seeing here in Chicago - it's absolutely amazing. If you've never gotten the chance to go to C2E2, it's one of the conventions run by ReedPop. If that doesn't sound familiar, we're sure NYCC and Emerald City Comic-Con do. But wait, there's more! Because ReedPop actually runs conventions all over the US and globally, including South Africa, Australia, and beyond. And once C2E2 rolls around, it's time for the international Crown Championships of Cosplay. That means cosplay on a whole 'nother level, with folks who have competed and won at their regional conventions and literally sometimes travelled from the other side of the world to compete for the crown. And that means, C2E2 is the place to see and be seen for cosplay, whether you're a competitor or just someone who enjoys the art. We've seen amazing things that never see the stage, and crazy costumes that walk the floor and go on to take the crown. In fact, last year's winner was from right here in Chicago and went on in one night to take Nationals and become the ultimate Crown Champion of Cosplay. Here's just some of what we enjoyed Saturday on the floor. Stay tuned for a special gallery from the contest! Special thanks to our amazing photographers, Alex Orona, Aaron Cynic, Julian Ramirez, Pearl Shin and Mariel Bokor for capturing these amazing cosplayers!

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