The Entire World Is Waiting For The Power Of Steam – Steamboy

16 11 2016

Steamboy (Sunrise - 2004)

In 2013, animation Director and co-founder of Studio Ghibli; Hayao Miyazaki created a film which he announced was going to be the last before he retired. The film was called The Wind Rises, and it was a film that followed a young man who dreamt of designing the ultimate aircraft, and so the story took us on a history of his young life, career, romantic relation, and a retrospective history of his country, eventually leading the young man to his pivotal moment designing the aircraft of his dreams. There is one slight issue however with the company he works for, being the ones to foot the bills; the only option is to design it to the benefit of a company contract, and at that time in Japan’s history the only contract work for airplane manufacturers (or at least those shown in the film) is to build them for the sake of war. So while the young man does get to design his dream plane, he has to come to the eventual realization of what the plane’s purpose is to be. It is a very interesting idea for a story, looking at great inventors, the things they do; but also what they have to do in order for them to be allowed to build such things!

The Wind Rises (Studio Ghibli - 2013)

Released in 2004 by Toho, produced by Sunrise and Directed by Katsuhiro Otomo; Steamboy is a Steampunk animated action film set in the UK and follows the adventure of a young inventor who has to come to terms with the realities of the world of inventions and of course save the day from threats very close to home. Touted at the time of release as being the most expensive Japanese animated film of all time, Steamboy took 10 years to produce, and is only the second major animated release for Otomo following his milestone film Akira in 1988.

Akira (Toho 1988)

In 1863 in Russian Alaska, inventor Lloyd Steam (Patrick Stewart) and his son Eddie (Alfred Molina) have discovered a pure mineral water, which they believe they can turn into a powerful steam based energy source. During an experiment however, everything goes wrong with Eddie being engulfed in freezing gases, but leaves a strange spherical object being created. Three years later, in Manchester England, great-grandson of Lloyd: Ray Steam (Anna Paquin), a young inventing prodigy receives a strange parcel containing the spherical object plus some designs relating to it. Two men then show up called Alfred (Mark Bramhall) and Jason (David S. Lee) claiming to be from something called the Foundation and who want the ball. Ray refuses to give it to them, and is surprised to see the arrival of his grandfather. Ray makes a run for it, and is eventually chased by a strange steam automotive vehicle, making his escape on his own Monocycle. The chase leads them onto the railway tracks, with the automotive being pushed into a river, and Ray being rescued by Robert Stephenson (Oliver Cotton) and his assistant David (Robin Atkin Downes). Things don’t last long however, as while the train is en route to London, Ray is kidnapped by the Foundation thanks to their Zeppelin.

Ray finds himself in a dining hall, and being introduced to members of the O’Hara Foundation which includes Scarlett O’Hara (Kari Wahlgren), the spoiled granddaughter of the foundation’s chairman, and Archibald Simon (Rick Zieff), a company executive. Ray then meets his father Eddie whose head has been greatly altered by the accident, now with only a few strands of hair and a helmet covering one half of his head, as well as other metal components all along his body. Ray and Scarlett are taken on a tour of the facility dubbed The Steam Castle by Eddie who says he wants to use it to enlighten mankind’s vision of science. Ray is recruited by his father to help finish it off, but when asked to help in assisting to turn off a valve, Ray finds his Grandfather trying to sabotage the whole thing. He tells Ray that the purpose of the castle and the O’Hara’s foundation is to sell weapons to Britain’s enemies at the Great Exhibition the following day and shows Ray evidence of this. The two eventually reach the core of the castle, and pry away a steam ball, one of three used to power the castle, but they are then surrounded. Ray makes an escape but Lloyd is recaptured. Ray manages to run into Robert Stephenson telling him about his father and the steam castle, and hands him the Ball thinking Stephenson can be trusted, but discovers that Stephenson’s motives are near the same; to build an army for the purpose of keeping Britain Great.

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At the Great Exhibition, the O’Hara foundation shows off their weapons to generals from around the world, exhibiting their steam-powered soldiers, miniature aircraft and submersible men. At this moment, Stephenson launches an attack on the foundation using his steam battle tanks. With the exhibition now a war zone, Ray steals the ball back from David, and rigs it up to use it as a sort of jet pack. In the foundation’s control room, Eddie, straps himself into the machine and while under powered orders for the castle to launch. The building sheds its skin to show a great behemoth like structure, a big black floating castle, which then engulfs the city of London in a big freeze. The royal navy in vain try to shoot it down, while Stephenson attempts to pull it down with his trains. Ray manages to get on board the castle reuniting with his father and Scarlett, but is too late to stop Lloyd from shooting Eddie. With Eddie having disappeared into the machine, Ray and Scarlett assist Lloyd in getting the castle back over the Thames as the machine is too unstable and likely to explode. At the last-minute, Eddie having deflected the bullet with his metal body decides to lend a hand, revealing Lloyd’s original intention for the Steam Castle: to be used as a giant theme park. Ordered by his family to save Scarlett and leave, Ray makes his way back to the control room, straps on a jet pack and leaves the castle just as it explodes, sparing most of London in the process.

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Can a film justify its release if it does not have much of a plot? Steamboy is an interesting film; on the one side it’s very well researched, and is somewhat surprising to see a Japanese animated film set in 19th century England and feature locations such as Manchester and (‘of course’) London, as well as feature great moments of a country’s history such as the Great Exhibition and famous faces like Railway Engineer Robert Stephenson. I am not saying this can’t be done, I am just saying how well and detailed it all is but you would not exactly expect for a film from Japan to be set in this country during that period. Of course, this film does also have big outstanding and unbelievable moments, interesting characters and great themes; much like you would expect from the man who made Akira: or should you? That’s the point though of seeing it isn’t it, or at least most might think so, that because this man-made an iconic film from the 1980’s, one of cinema’s all-time great animated films, that is why we should see it; no other reason right? This film is of course heavily touted for being from Katsuhiro Otomo, the same director of Akira; but is that the reason why we should see this film, or should it be that it’s a happy coincidence, and that this film should really be its own thing. I think that is where this film sort of collapses. There are some good things about this film: It does feature big moments of disbelief, and it features themes and ideas as well as argues the differences between progress and greed as well as the blessings of science, but only a little bit really, as all that gets entrenched in delivering the Akira experience, with big moments, wonders of awe and nothing else really. It has it’s moments, moments of philosophy that intrigue that inspire, and the story develops this a little bit; but possibly under the belief that he had to deliver a 19th century version of Akira rather than explore these ideas and create something that was its own identity, Otomo just sort of skipped all that. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Akira, I would just rather watch Akira rather than something that is not a near carbon copy of it (Force Awakens).

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The film’s characters are a real odd bunch and (international released version) are played by some top-notch quality actors. Much like what was stated above, some characters are minor-ly developed and are actually going in the right direction but are lost in what is a rather convoluted and unused plot. The issue that this film has with its characters is that it’s hard at any one point to actually know who is good and who is bad. Ray Steam is obviously the hero of the story, but it’s just obvious if somewhat boring. The character is nicely set up and has reason to explore and discover as he is lost without his heritage and is in a world that he would rather be doing something else in, but other than that there is no real reason for him. He tries to be brave and do the right thing, he is just not a decent enough character to really get behind or enjoy. Someone like Scarlett is a lot more interesting. She actually develops over the film’s timeline, going from a toffee nosed brat to a proper hero and someone worth rooting for. Yes she starts off in a situation where she is horrid and someone you have no affection for, but as the film develops she becomes a good character, so why she couldn’t be the protagonist is beyond me. That is the thing though with this film, there are two solid female characters, Scarlett and Emma (Paula J. Newman), but Emma gets 3 minutes of fame and is never seen again, but she was interesting compared to Ray who is just useless. The issues with good guy bad guy just continue throughout. Yes, the henchmen are bad, but that is their point and Archibald Simon on the other hand is just a pleasant annoyance who can’t stop talking. Robert Stephenson is nicely done, but it’s sad that someone who should be a sort of helper, a guide or assistance in times of such peril turns out just to be as horrid and bad as the somewhat…..Supposed to be…..villains. His assistant David pretty much covers this role with ease, and it would have been more interesting if David per say was the villain out of the two and was something of a manipulator, and so Stephenson could then be the helper, with a villain by his side that needed defeating. Lloyd is of course a good guy but the story does the right thing of teasing his intentions and asking if he is bad or good, and then reveals his intentions correctly and stays that way, I just don’t think the mad professor look really does him any favours. Eddie meanwhile is of course the big bad villain and is voiced brilliantly, and much like Lloyd is teased into his role, but he just keeps changing his mind. His intentions and motives are there as to why he is who he is, but why would the villain suddenly change sides like that at the end. He should be a boss to fight, a hindrance to overcome, not someone who is like: “Oh well, let me give you a hand!”

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The voice acting works in some of the film’s favour, and boasts acting talent like Patrick Stewart, Anna Paquin and Alfred Molina, but it’s not fully utilised I feel. Scarlett is voiced nicely and actually sounds and feels real, compared to Anna Paquin whom does a good job in a male voice role, but in the form of the voice that most people believe how British people speak. Speaking as a British person, I do not speak like that, I have actually yet to meet someone who does. Both Alfred Molina and Patrick Stewart are British; and they don’t speak like that; and they’re in this film! It becomes near offensive the more it gets touted. Maybe instead of hiring people to create a generic voice that does not actually exist, maybe they should hire British actors to do the job, because then it would be a lot more realistic (and less offensive). When it comes to the voice overs in this film the only ones that really do anything I feel are those of Patrick Stewart and Alfred Molina. Patrick Stewart’s character is not seen much of to truly enjoy, but it’s still good when he is on-screen, although possibly a bit loopy and mad. Alfred Molina though I feel really carries this film. It’s a voice of reason and passion, and although the character struggles to really find his place in this film, the voice over does the character tremendous and enjoyable levels of entertainment and justice. It’s just a shame about everyone else really.

The film does have its recovery sections, it’s not all collapsing. The animation is nicely done and works well to really capture the beauty and spectacle of 19th century England, especially London. The fleet of vessels on the Thames, the beauty of the city’s iconic buildings and structures, to the animated engineering of its own infrastructure. Add to this the machines and contraptions of the story’s fictional contents like the steam-powered soldiers, the monocycle, and of course the mighty Steam Castle in all its forms and you have this well-made world which has added benefits. I do think the animation style and colouring loses a bit in comparison to the film’s contemporise like the recent works of Studio Ghibli for example, but when close up the details are superb. The film’s soundtrack Composed by Steve Jablonsky) is an additional benefit too as it creates mostly sounds and ambiance rather than pieces of music. The music does have its moments of grandeur like the launch of the steam castle or the chase within, to moments of peace too like Ray’s theme, Scarlett’s theme, and of course the music behind the blessings of science monologue. Now while not insinuated within the soundtrack itself, there is one piece of music though that does come out in relation to the film: That of its theme from the trailer: Full Force; the adventure and steam-driven music that creates and encapsulates moments of awe and wonder, but creates a level of seriousness and tension to shine out loudly.  Although the film does tout some of that wonderful adventure but still steam punk driven piece of music here or there, it’s this piece of music which shines out for the film’s soundtrack, even though it is really non-existent, but it’s iconic and memorable enough for you to remember it in conjunction with this film.

Generally it feels like something of a shame altogether, because I was expecting more. Steamboy has its likable moments and bits to enjoy, but the story is so convoluted and makes more room for big moments rather than a properly developed plot. It’s one of those occasions where the trailer delivers more than the film. Steamboy is something of a quick storyteller; it just dashes from one thing to another, not developing nor explaining, creating interesting moments but not diving into them sacrificing its potential in the process for something else, but no reveal as to what. It comes with great voice talent but does not really use it effectively, it has interesting characters in the wrong roles and it has spectacular ideas that are just ignored. On the plus side the animation is delightfully detailed, and has music that has its occasions which are used well. Yes it has its big moments which are nicely done and very creative, but a film like this should be more than that. It should not be living in the shadow of its legendary predecessor and working hard to live up to be like its bigger brother. It should be blossoming like a flower, being independent and making its own path, then and only then can it have a chance to be on an equal footing and be appreciated the same way, rather than just being a clone in a different setting.

GENEPOOL

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The Lost Reviews – Big Pharma

19 10 2016

big-pharma (twice circled - 2015)

You know when you played Theme Hospital (assuming you did, because, you know; why wouldn’t you?), did you ever think to yourself: “I could be doing so much more here, why don’t I leave the life of being a Hospital CEO and go into Pharmaceutical Production?” Well chances are that you thought no such thing as for one; Theme Hospital was a game, not real life or an RPG, and for two; you were really quite content with the game you were playing at the time. If it were the case though that one day while playing Theme Hospital and you actually thought the above statement, well now you can – not in Theme Hospital, but in a game that focuses on the production of Medicine based products.

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Big Pharma (produced by Twice Circled) is a game where you the player are managing director of a pharmaceutical company. You start your company off with a small brightly coloured interior warehouse and a few inventions and ingredients at your disposal to which you can use to create cures for illnesses. All you need to do is put these assets into production and sell sell sell.

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Game play is very simple; in your empty warehouse you need to use one of the holes in the wall to import an ingredient, and then use machines at your disposal to meet certain requirements before either finishing off the ingredient mixture or upgrading it to be a cure for something else. Once that is done, you need to turn the current ingredient into a manufactured cure by putting it through a pill maker, and then transport it to another hole in the wall to name it and sell it. Later options at your disposal include creaming the drugs instead of selling them as pills, and even packing them. The game though is not as easy as it sounds as machines, conveyor belts and equipment take up space (turning it into a mini puzzle game in the process) and you have a limited area, plus in some cases are required to create a catalyst in order for some cures to be upgraded. The game though is not all about Medication Manufacturing, as it’s also a part business and research sim. You will be required to hire explorers and researchers to discover new ingredients and new machinery, while at the same time use their down time to provide you with upgrade points. At the same time however, you need to be concerning yourself with making money too, as production costs can be quite astronomical, and your company is in competition with others.

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Big Pharma is a nicely animated little game. The game graphics are nicely detailed, but not too detailed so can work on most machines without a fuss. The Animation though is superb. It can be quite mesmerizing watching the ingredients progress along the conveyor belts, changing form and colour as machines work on them, and watching the machines work is a nice little added extra, and comes with a form of animation very similar I find to that of Theme Hospital. Watching the water boil in the Dissolver, or seeing ingredients pulped in the Agglomerator, working their way down the production line and being made into either pills or as a cream. It’s really fun to watch and nice little bits like that really help this game to provide a detailed experience.

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The game; all be it relatively fun and still pretty unique, does have its short comings. For one, I like the idea of creating a production line, but the production line does seem to be rather slow, I did not know that Conveyor belts started and stopped every second, I thought they just kept going? It can take a while for the process to complete and when you need money fast, but the conveyors only move at one speed (which is sort of move and stop, move and stop), or the other cases where you are trying to reach a deadline in the game’s objectives mode, it can be very annoying. You can of course speed things up with the mystical speed change options in the bottom left of the screen, but you may as well just keep it up at full speed in that case just to speed up the game and make the conveyors more realistic. The objectives are not bad and it is pretty fun going through each one, just to give you something to do in the game, but with your mind on reaching a certain objective, you may as well ignore everything else in the game, and concentrate on what you need to do rather than what else you could be doing. Then once you have done enough and or have reached your goal, you do have the option of getting a better score than the basic score which is a nice added add-on, but by this point you may as well just speed up the game in places or end the level just to be done with it and do something else.

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Most of the cures you make can be upgraded relatively quickly on, but they require the use of machines you have not unlocked yet, in which case I found myself spending time and money in researching the things I needed each time before sending anything in production, just to be able to give the game the best I could. The other thing though is the Catalysts. The game comes with a very comprehensive tutorial mode which is very descriptive and also very fun, but each time I tried to do a catalyst in the real game, I would not achieve it. Making catalysts is supposed to be hard, but when you are doing everything right, the catalyst still does not make itself, and it can be very annoying, especially as sometimes you need that upgraded cure to move on.

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Big Pharma is one of these Production line games that have begun to make a real appearance in the industry along with other games like Factorio. Making a production line is a good fun idea and when combined with making product to sell turns the game not just into a factory based game but also a resources and economic game, where you need to concentrate on not just making a good product but also turning a profit. I like that idea, and when combined with the games look, idea and animation, it makes a good fit that is at least to begin with a fun game to play. But as the game progresses and its short comings come to light, it becomes a game that I was once excited to play but now don’t really see a future for. Maybe I like my games with a little more realism in its depictions of production, but for its slow speed, but also relatively pointless extras during its objective based gameplay, I feel that this game was once fun, but then just ended.

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GENEPOOL





The Giant Lizard And The Giant Plant – Godzilla vs Biollante

25 05 2016

Godzilla vs Biollante (Toho Co. Ltd. - 1989)

How much of a Gardener are you? Ok, weird question I know. I myself am not much of a gardener, I don’t know much about growing plants, last year I tried growing one in my room but due to the lack of an instruction booklet, I wasn’t very good. Not to mention my failures in the past trying to grow and look after Bonsai Trees. I am just generally bad at it; but how about you, what are you like? As I probably do not know who you are; you may have to just tell me in the comments, but if you are a talented gardener there are some kinds of plants you may want to avoid growing. Obviously there is such a thing as a Triffid; in which case you may want to give that one a miss. Though growing a Triffid is probably not all that a bad idea compared to growing a Biollante. Not there is anything bad in that either if you are talented enough to grow a Biollante; it’s just probably not a very good idea.

Red Rose

Released in 1989 by Toho, directed by Kazuki Omori and produced by Shogo Tomiyama; Godzilla vs Biollante is the 17th film in the Godzilla series and the second film in the Heisei series following directly on from The Return of Godzilla released in 1984.  This time around Godzilla returns to attack the good friendly people of Japan once again, this time however having his own body caught up in a large scientific conspiracy which ultimately leads onto the creation of a brand new and terrifying monster known as Biollante. This film is something of a one-off departure in the series as it refrains from the tried and tested but simple formula of Giant Monsters just fighting each other, and goes in to explore man’s desire to create and prolong life and what the consequences of such actions can be.

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Tokyo is in ruins in the wake of Godzilla’s attack in 1984. The city is near completely destroyed as crews commence the clean-up operation. On the site, a piece of Godzilla’s skin is discovered and stolen by a group of soldiers, who in turn are killed by an assassin known only as SSS9 (Brien Uhl). The assassin takes the skin sample to the Republic of Saradia, to deliver them to the institute of Science and Technology, whom the President wants to try and turn the country’s vast desert into greenery and end the Republic’s dependence on foreign imports. Dr. Genshiro Shiragami (Kôji Takahashi) and his daughter Erika (Yasuko Sawaguchi) are enlisted to work on the project, but the labs are bombed, and Erika is killed in the resulting explosion. 5 Years pass by; and the Volcano known as Mount Mihara begins to spew lava but not yet erupt. Young Psychic Miki Saegusa (Megumi Odaka) and head of the ESP Institute Asuka Okochi (Yoshiko Tanaka) work with young children who all one night have a dream of Godzilla returning. Lieutenant Goro Gondo (Tôru Minegishi) and Scientist Kazuhito Kirishima (Kunihiko Mitamura) head up a project to turn some Godzilla cells into Anti-Nuclear Energy Bacteria, or ‘ANEB’; in the hope of having a weapon to fight Godzilla with should he return. Gondo and Kazuhito try to get Dr. Shiragami’s help who has since returned to Japan. He agrees only if he could have access to some of the Godzilla Cells before they begin work. One night, Shiragami merges cells of a rose with Erika’s DNA in it, with the Godzilla Cells. With other bio companies and the Republic of Saradia still wanting access to the cells, the bio company known as Bio-Major send two agents to Japan to steal them back, while SSS9 follows them. The three agents break into Shiragami’s lab and get into a fire fight, until suddenly, a giant vine attacks them, killing one of them before the other 2 agents flee the scene. Gondo and Kazuhito arrive to find out what happened and question Shiragami’s work there.

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At Lake Ashinoko across from the Lab, a Giant plant emerges which Shiragami calls Biollante. He explains that the creature is made up from the Godzilla Cells, a Rose, and Erika’s Soul. Gondo and Kazuhito meanwhile receive word from the government that Bio Terrorists have placed explosives at the top of Mount Mihara, and will detonate them, thus releasing Godzilla unless the Godzilla cells are turned over to them. Kazuhito and Gondo head to the meeting point, but both them and the Bio-Major agents are interrupted by SSS9 who shoots the Bio Major agent and steals the Cells. Gondo and Kazuhito try to flick the switch to disarm the explosives, but the timer runs out, and Godzilla is freed. The army is called out, and the newly built Super-X2 is deployed to attack Godzilla directed by Major Sho Kuroki (Masanobu Takashima), but the attack is mostly a failure. Godzilla instinctively heads for Biollante, sensing something like him, and he quickly dispatches the creature. The military set up a plan to counter Godzilla, but accidently set up in a location opposite to where Godzilla decided to go. On his approach to Tsuruga, Miki; using her psychic powers gets up and close to him, successfully diverting him to Osaka instead. Another plan is launched to attack Godzilla with the ANEB. Gondo and his men deploy themselves inside Osaka’s Business district, while Major Sho leads the Super X2 in another confrontation. The attack is something of a success with some ANEB even getting inside Godzilla’s mouth, but Gondo is killed in the attack.

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Several hours pass by but Godzilla appears to be unaffected from the attack. Acknowledging that Godzilla might be a cold-blooded creature, Kazuhito decides that they should try to increase Godzilla’s temperature. Another attack plan is put in place to raise Godzilla’s body heat by using the M6000 T.C. System, a weaponised open air microwave like weapon. The plan doesn’t really appear to work, however suddenly; Biollante returns in a new form much larger than Godzilla and attacks him once again. After a prolonged battle, Godzilla is able to use his Deathray on Biollante once more, but then exhausted falls on the floor near the ocean. Biollante disintegrates and spores fly into space. Shiragami, watching the scene and having seen an image of Erika in the spores is shot dead by SSS9. Kazuhito chases after him, and after a small fight, SSS9 dies after stepping onto one of the microwave emitters from the M6000 T.C. System. Theorizing that everything is now OK, and that the ANEB has worked, Godzilla awakens, the sea water having cooled his body temperature down and then returns to the ocean.

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Godzilla vs Biollante does standout more than most Godzilla films when it comes to its narrative output as it tries to be different by sending more of a message out than simply putting monsters in a city sized wrestling ring. It’s a pity that such writing craftsman ship was sort of abandoned after Biollante because this films narrative makes the foundations for a classic piece of science fiction; in a literal form at least. The film begins with a reminder of what happened in the previous film and immediately turns to show the remaining devastation. It acts like not just a reminder but a tie-in and a clever opening as it uses this setting to begin what becomes one of the key plots; that of the Godzilla cells. This use of the opening though, allows the film to work and act as more of a direct sequel than just an ordinary singular sequel or spin-off. To this end we get a film that creates and carries on the themes and ideas it creates. It makes me think of the aftermath of the 911 attacks and the memorials built to remember what happened. In this case though (and about 12 years before the 911 attacks) we see how buildings destroyed and even imprinted by Godzilla are kept and turned into their own memorials. These scenes are very brief, but the idea and attention to detail in a fictional setting (especially after 911) is impressive and incredibly believable to say the least. This though acts as more of an introductory narrative to get the film started and set up the past for audience members. The real narrative begins during the post opening title credits as it starts the process of describing the benefits of the Godzilla Cells and then it evolves from there as to what they can do and how valuable they are.

The Return of Godzilla (Toho Co. Ltd. - 1984)

Another narrative that is explored briefly is that of detecting Godzilla’s return and the departments involved. From here we get two viewpoints. One of the ESP institute, and that of a small department run by Gondo. These two pretty much work in tandem from the word go. This leads to a couple of funny scenes, well one scene and an idea. The scene takes place when the psychic children have a dream, and when asked to draw what was in the dream, it’s sort of a laugh out loud moment when they all hold up pictures prominently featuring an image of Godzilla in them. The build up to the scene is the suggestion that something has gone wrong, but the delivery is excellent, especially when the pictures reveal what the issue is, and the idea that all the children draw the same thing. The other scene (well, more like an idea) is that of a government department run by Gondo whose sole responsibility is the handling and planning of affairs including the preparation of defences in case Godzilla returns. For some (or at least me), it would be something of a dream job, but for Gondo however, it is more of a burden (or maybe even some form of punishment), as given the department’s sole purpose relies on Godzilla actually being around; it’s more boring than exciting as Godzilla is currently buried in a volcano, nor is a current threat. A further narrative asset on to this comes in the form of the Godzilla Warning system which helps drive the plot forward to Godzilla’s eventual rampage. The idea though of such a department’s existence is rather clever and fun and one am surprised that doesn’t come up more often. It’s sort of like: imagine a country like the UK, or USA, or Russia, China, or any other country’s ministry of defence having a small office run by no more than 2 or 3 blokes whose sole responsibility it is to watch and plan for attacks from Giant Monsters, despite the grand highly likely possibility that it will never happen……….but then it does.

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These strong starting points help to deliver early on a very in-depth idea based plot; but where you find strengths, you are bound to find weaknesses. As the plot develops, there is constant mention of the country of Saradia. This works in tandem with the conspiracy and secret agent story about a terrorist Bio group who are the ones in the end who release Godzilla. That scene in the end is pretty fun and suggests more of an imagination from them in comparison to others in film. I mean what’s more creative than threatening a country with a Giant Monster? But the ever-increasing mentions of Saradia, plus the mingling with its agents (who sound more Greek than Middle Eastern if that was supposed to be the idea) is just silly. It does not really provide anything or benefit the film except for a minor piece of backstory. In the end, it simply provides a reason for the SSS9 agent to keep running around; who is somewhat of a good thing, I think. The thing is, this story gets a little tangled up within itself, and always finds a way to divert itself. It’s supposed to be about the ethics of biology and science, and how rare/valuable biological material can be used to great effect when used properly, but also how dangerous it can be when used wrongly, and the consequences of such actions. The main one being (or at least should be) Biollante. The Problem Biollante has is that despite being in the title, she is seen very little of. It’s similar to the argument ‘suggesting’ the lack of Godzilla in the 2014 film (although I disagree). In this case however I find the issue is that despite being on even terms with Godzilla in the film’s title; Biollante is not shown that often to really warrant her name in the title. In fairness though, her appearance is early on enough to really include her, but after a few short-lived scenes and a fight with Godzilla, she disappears for nearly an hour. From that point on it becomes more of a film about a nation’s attempts to defend itself from a fire breathing atomic tyrant. I’m not saying that is a bad thing necessarily. In fact given the lack of such content in comparison to other films in the series; this is a real standout: but it’s not what it’s supposed to be about! Eventually Biollante does return, but only engages Godzilla for less than 10 minutes, before disappearing and showing a rose in space; but what does this even mean? It’s pretty similar to both Godzilla vs Destoroyah and Godzilla vs Megaguirus in that both films, despite once again featuring in the title; both monsters are pretty much side-lined for an entirely different and possibly irrelevant plot and just become mentions: although this is not so much the case for Destoroyah as he has much greater part than the instances involving Biollante and Megaguirus. In the case of Biollante it feels more like there could have been more for and of her (in this film).

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A point I feel brings us on quite nicely to talking about the film’s cast. Now I will attempt to do this bit quickly as I have still a lot more to talk about (not to mention a 100 metre tall lizard). The cast of characters is quite a nice build of memorable characters whether they be tertiary, secondary or primary, with all of them playing an interesting but still memorable parts, but of course you have some who are not as big as others. These are not necessarily bad or good, more like they have more a part compared to others, when you want them to have more of a part than others. Biollante does mark something of a start in the series for some tertiary characters who would become a mainstay for the series for many years to come, such as one Japanese Military official played by Koichi Ueda. These kinds of parts are usually tertiary, and even if portraying different characters in later films, they begin to get really recognisable due to the amount of times they are cast in small or even larger parts. Some of these occasions they can become rather annoying, but once in a while, they can do something better, sometimes perfectly. There are also other instances as well of characters from other films, mainly later in the series that turn up, and you instantly recognise them, as them. In this case we have one of the Super X2 pilots (Kosuke Toyohara) who would later appear in the lead human role in the film following on from this one (Godzilla vs King Ghidorah). Alongside him in the Super X2 role (sort of off the point topic I know), there is another character (Kyôka Suzuki), this time not a pilot, but featured well in the dynamic of the two roles being shown. Ok, they’re not shown in great depth compared to all the other characters, but they’re still memorable to the point they deserve a mention. There is also the case of a cameo appearance from Demon Kakka in a small role, but I had not heard of him until I had watched this film a few times, noticed him in a 10 second scene, and then looked him up. It’s a nice representation on modern culture of the time, but also a nice funny moment, especially given his appearance and what he says just after Godzilla is released. Now onto the primary cast. Kazuhito does have the sort of lead human role, but I find him rather bland and boring. Alright it’s not a great shout out to a strong cast, but I just have no feeling toward him or his character, and just feel like he is just in the way. On a similar case you have a character like Major Sho. He is presented like a sort of rogue or cool military commander, I just feel it doesn’t work. He has his moments and becomes something of a secondary hero saving Katsuhiro’s life at the end, plus his moments directing a counterattack are ok, plus the other moments where he is in more a professional capacity but still military, they are ok. I just don’t think he really delivers anything to benefit the film, he is less in the way than Katsuhiro, but I don’t get him.

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Next to them you then get leader characters, leaders and more mature characters like Gondo and Shiragami. Shiragami for instance plays something of a tragic version of Doctor Frankenstein. He creates a monster, but for a tragic reason, which then just causes more problems. It’s the sort of situation that is understandable, but goes against ethics. The character that loses someone, wants to bring them back and put things right, but does not have the skills. Is then given an opportunity but the end result is not what he really wanted, and chaos lets loose. He then becomes something of a standing assistant for the rest of the film, which is something of a shame, but he delivers it really strong, and in the end becomes the tragic sacrifice presenting something, presenting an idea. Maybe as to say as it started with him, it had to end with him, or that he succeeds in keeping his daughters soul, spirit alive, but he dies to accomplish it. I don’t really know, I am just guessing here, but something along those lines maybe. Despite his tragedy though, he is a nice enjoyable character and less of a scientific character that you usually get in monster films. Not of someone to explain what is going on, but maybe more like Serizawa from the 1954 film, someone who creates, does something else, but that something is questionable. On an opposite but equally enjoyable side we have someone like Gondo. Now I have already said a lot so I’ll (try to) keep it brief. He is a more witty character than a serious one in comparison to someone like Shiragami. He is in charge of a division of which he is the sole employee, he finds a way out and gets involved in a more important task with Katsuhiro and becomes a very respected and well thought about character. This level of development plus his level of character and on-screen time make his death more of a powerful one. It’s not just some character dying; it’s one you’ve come to care about. When he does die though, he goes in a great scene going near head to head with Godzilla, not many people can say they have done that.

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Asuka meanwhile who plays the female love interest to him is far more interesting and has real scene dynamic with all characters involved plus delivers power; providing reason to being in the scene. She is more of a leader than a supporter, and the film’s strongest form of human reasoning, even if she spends the third act as more of a questioner than an answerer. Her scenes with Miki (speaking of which) are a bonus. This is the first time Miki is seen in the film series, a character who would become the only mainstay of the Heisei series from this point on, and one of the longest running characters in the whole film series to date. This time around though, we finally get an introduction. Ok, I say finally, that is mostly due to how long it took fort me to see this film, due to release issues, but that time has passed so let’s move on. Now, she has reason and purpose rather than being someone included with no backstory until discovered, now she has been introduced. Miki this time is a very young girl, still touching teenage-hood, but her strength is already on show. She is mostly an informer to the situation and mostly works on a co-dynamic role assisting Asuka. There is actually more of Miki I feel in this film than others. Not in number of appearances, but more in who she is and what she can do. She plays more of an interesting part than being a background assist. It just feels like this was a film designed more for her character her role, and the others just included her, and it feels like something of a shame now, because it works.

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Right, I think that’s enough people talk, let’s talk MONSTERS! This film is one of those even rarer occurrences in recent films to feature new stuff, and in this case, we have a New Monster. Biollante (Masashi Takegumi) is very different to other Monsters, not saying that all monsters are the same. I meant more as in while all the others have something of a clean crisp look; Biollante is more of an abomination. Yes she is a plant, and begins looking like a giant rose with giant leaves and vines. Then transforms into something very large, even larger than Godzilla. Something with a huge crocodile like mouth and lots of sharp teeth (although those same teeth can be seen to appear in rose form, with is also very scary but still grotesque). Biollante is a scary creature, but her sweet cries, almost wisp sounds produce something else, suggesting something trapped inside the body of a monster. Suggesting possibly that Erika does live inside, but is crying for what has become of her, that she is no longer who she was. Biollante as a design is fantastic, and the concepts regarding her appearance and abilities including details such as spores, or the bodily moving mass despite the lack of Legs really produces a sight to behold. Here we have a creature that is more than a match for Godzilla, but not necessarily one you can use all the time. Biollante could make a return, but would require a well thought out plot like this to happen. For now at least, we have an incredible new monster on show, presented in a horrifyingly near realistic interpretation that will continue to scare and spook all those who want to give it a go, until we see her again.

Biollante

Which brings us nicely round to Godzilla. Yet another appearance for Godzilla (Kenpachirô Satsuma), but as that is who the films are about I suppose we can allow it. Godzilla is back in a similar role to those he had when he left in the 1970’s. Remembering of course that the previous film was more about him on the loose than fighting another monster, here he is back to fight monsters. This time though he is once again a (please excuse my language) ‘Badass Villain’. He is no longer out to save the world, but as the frightening force of nature who symbolises the destructive might of Nuclear Weapons on the world who made them, and as mother nature’s Punisher come to, well, punish. Yes, he is back and not happy. Setting up his role in the previous film and mentioning the previous film’s events, Godzilla of course starts off more as an idea, a non-existent threat, one who is there; but is not coming. This idea builds until his release from volcanic imprisonment. From there it is back to the city crushing, fire breathing leviathan we have all come to love so much. He maybe a baddy but we do love him in our own quirky way (right?). This time around though he has other quirky little bits we have not seen him do before, like get up close and personal with some characters, even to sneaking up on people like Gondo. Before he would never do something like that, just ignore it, but now, he is doing new scary things. His appearance has some issues I think, from an angle and to the sides he looks pretty good, like he used too, but now even more terrifying, but from the front, it sort of reminds me of King Kong vs Godzilla, where a direct front view looks rather flat, and like an entirely different monster. Apart from that though, it’s him. I don’t exactly know what to say other than to point out cool new traits in him that stands out more from what there are normally about him; I mentioned his look too, but other than that it’s the Godzilla we all love (again?).

Godzilla (Heisei)

Visually Striking! That is how I can best use to describe how this film is presented. The film contains a lot of visually striking moments, more than any other of the series films to date. Such scenes range from important narrative to just general background shots. Mount Mihara for instance features a lot early on in the film as that is where Godzilla is currently residing. Most of this coverage though is in the form of volcanic activity, but one sweet moment lies early on when Asuka and Kazuhito are talking in the foreground, and the active volcano of Mt. Mihara can be seen in the distance, a ring of red at the top, and the sound of the activity in the distance. I like that shot. But it’s not all reserved for Mount Mihara however.

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Other shots of spectacular note include the beautiful business centre of Osaka just before it gets pulverized, the area outside and inside Tower 2, the platform Miki stands on as well as when Godzilla is within reach, Godzilla’s lifeless carcass near the road, Godzilla sneaking up on Gondo, the many showcasing’s of digital battlefield mapping, the stormy weather near the film’s conclusion, the final battle seen on the hill-side, the military manoeuvres, the ruined remains of Tokyo after Godzilla’s rampage from the previous film and not forgetting of course, Godzilla’s glorious return from the Volcano he was put into, walking out in his own time to preserve the majesty of his reappearance. You see, I can talk about Special Effects, describing the uses of miniature sets and suits, but as we have already come to know these things, how am I supposed to rehash these every time and retain interest. On this occasion you see however, that it’s not the effects that stand out most here, but the visually striking shots of the world that becomes the battleground here, and those remain with me most than most things about this film. It is such a well-used piece of filmmaking, and those kinds of things should not be wasted by the audience, nor be forgotten in an analytic review.

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It’s not just the imagery that’s memorable either, as the soundtrack can say one or two things about that. Composed this time round by Koichi Sugiyama with his one and only entry into the Godzilla series; where he produces something that could be thought of as a black sheep to the soundtrack collection. Sugiyama produces a soundtrack that is a mix of the wonderful to the bizarre, the strange to the ridiculous, and the unique to the downright silly but overall has this relatively light feel to them. There is hardly a dark or heavy tune in there with the one main exception being the opening credits which is more of the original Dark Godzilla theme combined early on with this sort of repeating drum snare or even rasp that just captures your attention even before you see the head of the film’s lead Antagonist.

There is a feel of super hero type stuff in this soundtrack with those feelings coming out at times such as when the Super X2 comes out to play or when the countdown to Godzilla’s return comes to light. This piece in certain however also contains something of a possible trademark to his work on this film as it sort of diverts, changing feel and tune in a different direction. Yes this moment does sound a bit silly and a bit caper-y, but does ramp up the tension (although when it does change note it sounds very similar to the soundtrack for Airplane). Yes the soundtrack does have its silly points such as the Saradia theme tune, but generally, most of the soundtrack is rather fun and light and enjoyable to its overall core. Two pieces though that really stand out more than most are two points where the music is different, not just generally, but completely in comparison to the rest of the soundtrack. The first of these is the Bio Wars tune of which there are 2 versions. This I feel is like the filmmakers trying to include a sort of ultra-new wave Bond theme at a time when the Bond series was on Hiatus. It feels really sort of future spy like, I don’t know how best to describe that other than “listen to the guitar.” It’s a nice fun piece which adds a level of mystery and conspiracy, especially to scenes when including SSS9 in the middle and end.

The other occasion though has nothing to do with the composer. Much like the inclusion of a popular figure like Demon Kakka earlier on, the film tries to add a piece of popular music briefly. It adds a level of confusion as to what is going on, as it is used during one of the moments when you see through Godzilla’s eyes like you do in Jaws when he comes to the surface. It cuts in and plays. It’s different and rather fun, before getting cut off completely to feature a local rock concert being put on hold because of Godzilla being close by. It’s a nice fun little tune from Yuki Saito called Into A Dream. It’s similar I find to the inclusion of Claude Francois‘s Stop Au Nom De L’amour in X-Men: Days of Future Past as it enriches the film that little bit more in atmosphere, if only very briefly.

Godzilla vs Biollante is a very different film to the rest of the films in a series that is currently 30 strong (31 in July). It’s different in its presentation. It has great narratives relatively unexplored to this point and since. It features visually striking shots of what an Amazing country Japan is (one of which I still want and need to visit). It incorporates interesting characters, not forgetting terrific performances from both Godzilla and a brand new monster. It hosts a soundtrack that is relatively light, but also spectacularly fun to listen to. It is a very different film indeed; one made with such careful attention and craftsmanship and in the end produces one of the series most stand out and enjoyable films. While it may not be the strongest, most standout or best film in the series (depending on who you ask); what this film does provide is just a stellar excellence and an exceptional experience.

GENEPOOL





Book Review – Prey

13 01 2016

Prey (Michael Crichton - 2002)

Title: Prey

Author: Michael Crichton

Publisher: HarperCollins

ISBN: 0007796420

I remember back in the early 2000’s first hearing about Nanobots. It was the very early 2000’s and Robot Wars and its spin-off Techno Games were at their height, and I even collected the magazine Real Robots. There was no better time to be a fan of robots, and I was one, it was great. Well; my dad was looking through the newspaper and showed me the article on Nanobots, and the only thing I really knew about them was how small they were. Sometime later, about a couple of years I think, I remember watching and seeing something on Have I Got News For You about Nanobots and how such a thing would be a threat to society as Nanobots could reshape an Atom into anything theoretically, but at the moment only really Grey Goo…or something like that. Since then Nanobots are something which has come up every now and then, but surprisingly not in a very big way, or from what I have seen. Yes, they have had appearances in Video Games, TV, Movies and Books; but have somewhat never really stood out among the pack, and whose appearance since the mid-noughties sort of disappeared. I just find it odd that in the technology driven world of today, the subject of Nanobots doesn’t come up all that often. Put the subject of Nanobots in the right hands however, and you can easily end up with something very realistic, very terrifying and very believable.

Originally released in 2002 by Harper Collins; Prey is a Techno-thriller written by bestselling author Michael Crichton, whose previous works include The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, Jurassic Park, Airframe and Next. Much like many of Crichton’s works, Prey is a very science driven book that deals with the themes and ideas of it subject matter, backed up with tons of research and planning to not only produce a stunning piece of fiction, but also create the suggestion that such things are possible and are happening right now.

Unlike previous works of Crichton that I have read, Prey is told in the first person, whereas books like Jurassic Park and Micro are both third person. Prey follows the seven-day story of computer scientist Jack. He has been made redundant and is now working as a full-time father, looking after his children at home. His wife meanwhile is the Vice President of Xymos; a company based somewhere out in the Nevada Desert. Jack is beginning to find his wife rather hard to live with as she is starting to have a go at him for spending more time with their kids than she is. Meanwhile his family have started talking about strange men coming around the house. While all this is going on, out in the desert at the plant where his wife works, Jack is called in to help out when a swarm of Nanoparticles gets loose and every attempt to recover and destroy them has failed. As things begin to ramp up, Jack begins to learn the horrifying truths about both the Swarm and those around him, and soon is fighting for both his, and possibly humanities survival.

Prey deals with the subject of Nanobots, but not in the grey goo form. No, this story deals with the idea of using the latest technological discoveries to create new technologies and devices to better help mankind, and then what happens when such technology breaks loose from its programming and sets about becoming the new alpha predators. Prey is very different to the past experience I have had with Crichton. Just like Prey; Jurassic Park and Micro were very much about advancements in science and technology and what people will go to, to maintain control when they begin to lose it. Both of those books were focussed on a biological form of science, whereas Prey focusses more on the technological side than the biological side of scientific advancement. There is a lot more talk in this book about computer science than any form of biological standing. While it is certainly different in that aspect, much like Park still though, it goes into how easy it is to lose that control, but don’t think of that as some kind of Crichton Cliché, because the book does more than that. It starts out from the sane and believable world of a pressuring family life, to the in-depth loss of control in a hectic situation, to the near insane ending that just jumps off leaps and bounds until there is practically no-where else to go.

Prey is a big book, and follows the story of just one person, remaining entirely in first person all the way through. For a protagonist, Jack is a really connectable person. He starts off the book shopping for table placemats, and just grows from there. Much like his other books, the narrative is split into about three or four sections, each one highlighting a certain point. These get quicker as it goes along, but to begin with it’s just the story of a man who has lost his job and is trying to look after his family the best way he possibly can. As the early story develops, the issues between him and his wife grow, and you are brought into something of a domestic conspiracy as the book’s first bit builds to a crescendo that brings our hero into the real situation. This sets-up our hero and gives him something to live for and worry about while he’s away. Soon after though, he gets involved with the runaway swarm. Why is he brought into it? Because, ironically he has something to do with their creation in the first place. As a computer scientist; he worked on a program which becomes the main basis for the nanoparticle swarm. To begin with he tries to understand it best he can, but with issues all around him from several people it leads to him going from a consultant to a man of reasoning and action, but is then restricted on all sides, not just from the abilities of the Swarm, but the people he is working with. Eventually it leads him into the discovery of several horrible truths that lead to the action packed conclusion; along with some trademark Crichton clearing up of the facts, just to cover all the ground bases.

Prey is a really terrific read. I managed to obtain a copy of this in a book bundle from The Works for £5 (which included Next and Micro, although I already had Micro). It came at an interesting point for me as I was struggling with my current reads at the time, plus the obtaining of Prey got me all excited as to wanting to read another Michael Crichton book. I started with this one out of the two I hadn’t read in the bundle because this one had an essay at the front, and reading the point of view of Crichton in such a well written form as to the themes and ideas of the technology that inspired the book, is a great way to begin reading a book. Prey has been something of a breath of fresh air to me, as it is something very different to most other books I read all last year. Out of all the books (about 4 at the time) that I was reading, Prey was the book I most looked forward to reading a bit more of. It is a hard thing to describe, but the enjoyment I received from reading this book was unlike anything I have read in quite a while. Prey has a lot of personal issues and a background that is very easy to understand. It puts you in the situation that Jack is going through with impeccable description. It puts you in scenes from personal issues, to heightened moments of action. It also takes you on a journey of discovery and unleashes moments of mystery that make you want to keep turning the page to find out what happens next.

My feelings aside, Prey is a wonderful read. It has all the hallmarks of a Michael Crichton science fiction novel, while also delivering a constant punch of twists and turns as the book builds to its epic conclusion. While the book and its technology could be seen as a bit dated now, I don’t think that is necessarily the case. It makes the ideas of Nanobots a very serious and terrifying prospect, and one that should not be taken lightly to this day. It is very much a story of today, a world covered in people with electronic gadgets from iPod‘s and iPhone’s to Kindle‘s and even technology in devices that weren’t computerized before (like coffee machines). While it is not necessarily a story about the rise of neither machines nor computers, it is still a story about a serious threat; one that could easily lead from something found in our world today, and make humanity – not technology – obsolete.

GENEPOOL





REUS

13 08 2014

REUS Logo

Have you played Godus yet? I haven’t. Why? Because it’s still in early access and I don’t quite fancy playing a buggy game until it is supposedly finished to a point that it isn’t so buggy. It’s also why I have not played Folk Tale, MAIA, Prison Architect and War for the Overworld. All these are games I am eagerly anticipating to play, just not yet. But why am I talking about said games if the title suggests a 2D game with Giant Monsters in it. Well it sort of looks like games like Godus and Populous.

REUS World

REUS is a game about a world, a world that currently nothing exists, except for a group of Elemental Giants who each have the power over a certain type of land and abilities. One makes mountains and can create deserts and mines to mine (obviously) minerals. One can create oceans and sea life while another can create grass lands and fruit. Then finally there is a swamp giant who can create swamps and technology and sciences. What is basically a God Game where the giants are such entities and can create life and resources for the humans down below and provided the humans stay loyal to them, and not get to greedy, the giants and humans will stay in happiness together and some humans may join the giants unlocking new abilities for them. Although, the player has no direct control of the humans (a lot like Evil Genius) and if the humans get too greedy, they may declare war on each other, or even on the giants themselves which are not invincible. But if a race of man gets too powerful you can just destroy them, provided that you still have a giant that can?

REUS End

REUS is nicely designed and has a nice cartoony look about it and is also very colourful which is always a bonus. So even if the humans decide to go to war with each other, or sometimes you, at least it’s not all gloomy and horrible. The games mechanics are in the ability to give the peaceful/war like humans the things they need in order to survive/kill. So each giant while having maybe some similar abilities, each one does something different, and on top of that different types of region and the people that live on them require different kinds of resources. Grasslands initially require food, desert initially requires wealth and swamp initially requires Technology/Science. What do they require these resources for? Projects. As soon as a town is settled they begin building something which usually starts off quite basic and if accomplished thanks to the help of your giants, they grow in prestige (I think, it’s been a while since I last played it) and then may decide to upgrade that building into something better. By that point though, they require more resources and of different types. It is through this that they can get greedy and if you give them too much, equally so. But in order to achieve even these potential accomplishments the game introduces a system of multipliers. These are basically points in the resource system where combining certain things together will cause more abundance in those resources, and seemingly the strongest way of doing this is through the buildings themselves as they cause larger multipliers than the actions of the giants.

Reus Water Giant

The game while fun, colourful and perhaps playing in a more arcade style game than the standard RTS is also quite difficult as you need to inspire and provide for the humans, but also need to control them in some respects. But the game is very addictive and on your part you want to see the projects completed and do things to see them completed, but the multipliers aren’t as easy to complete as you think they are and can get quite frustrating as you try to use them to provide, but there is a real sense of accomplishment though when the projects are completed. And it is through such things that make me think of Godus as in that the humans create their own villages and building, and the same goes for this. And even when the humans decide to go to war, it is interesting to watch them do so. The world is beautifully animated, from the giants, to the humans, to even the plants and animals that live in the world and it is great to see so much diversity in the game, particularly from the animals themselves to the projects and if you are able to accomplish bigger ones, they lead onto even bigger ones. And if you are a game who likes accomplishments, there is an in-game accomplishment/trophy like system where in the lifespan of a single game you are able to accomplish a group of tasks you chose at the beginning of the game, that sense of accomplishment returns.

Reus Mountain Giant

REUS is an extraordinarily fun game. Addictive with a lot of replay value in a beautifully crafted, animated, colourful and even sounding world with lots to do and achieve while also trying to survive and do all of that within a predetermined amount of time with lots to unlock too, it is seriously good fun. Give it a try, I highly recommend this game (it’s both available on Steam and GOG.com, I have the GOG.com version).

GENEPOOL








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