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Nightcrawler | Riff Racer

Racing around for news and tunes.


MOVIE REVIEW // Nightcrawler

Movie summary: When Louis Bloom, a con man desperate for work, muscles into the world of L.A. crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story. (IMDb)

First things first, I didn't plan on watching so many Jake Gyllenhaal movies in such a short space of time, but I'm glad I have because he's so damn good in all of them. Nightcrawler is a special case though, with his weight loss for the role of Louis Bloom giving him a gaunt, almost ghoul-like appearance which fits the character perfectly considering his determination to glamourise violence and death.

And Bloom really is a disgusting individual, although it's difficult to say whether he has psychological issues, some form of disability affecting how he interacts with others, or if he's just a plain, amoral psychopath - that's not to place those three things on an equal footing, nor to say they're synonyms for each other. Gyllenhaal just plays him in a way that can suggest all three at various moments, although definitely trending towards the last of those options.

The reason I'd say Bloom is a psychopath is the flat-out evil choices he makes - and we're talking about engineering situations that seriously harm the health of others, if not killing them. Mental health issues and disabilities can obviously cause issues, but they don't make a person evil or so utterly self-centred either - and Bloom's world definitely revolves around only him.

Nightcrawler is a great movie and provides a fine example of a villain protagonist in contrast to Prisoners and the character of Keller Dover. Bloom is unquestionably a bad guy and I don't think there's a single other person who feels at ease around him even for a moment unless they barely know him. He knows how to mimic friendly behaviour to get what he wants, but will drop the façade immediately if he has to.

The two characters who act as contrasts to this are a very young-looking Riz Ahmed, who is desperate for money and goes along with Bloom up to a point, but is moral enough to draw a line that ultimately costs him more than he could have imagined; and Rene Russo's Nina, a news director who gets more than she bargained for by dealing with Bloom and is ultimately corrupted by him.

Nina's character is really great too, because it's clear that she doesn't have any great personal feeling for Bloom, but ends up pressured into sleeping with him and, thanks to his manipulating of both events and the footage he captures, ends up succeeding and clearly feels that it was worth it in the end. Russo is great in the role and perfectly captures someone slowly sliding down the slippy path into utter amorality herself.

I also have to praise just how great this movie looks, especially the excellent, but also the range of colours used considering how much of Nightcrawler takes place at night. Director Dan Gilroy knows how to keep things visually interesting, while Gyllenhaal does the rest - just a perfect combination of director, actor and subject material.

Nightcrawler won't be for everyone though, because of just how grim and grimy the story and characters are, especially Bloom. He's undeniably great character to follow and I do appreciate that he never apologises for who he is or how he behaves - there's no self-delusion as with Keller from Prisoners. Louis Bloom is a horrible human being who goes from strength to strength and it's disgustingly enjoyable to watch.

Nightcrawler is a great movie and another fine example of just how talented a chameleon Jake Gyllenhaal is as an actor. His Louis Bloom is not likeable in any way, shape or form, but is so damned interesting to watch purely from a "what low will he stoop to next?" standing that how inhuman and repulsive he is doesn't even matter. That this movie looks so great too is merely the delicious cherry on top of a grimly delicious cake.

[9/10 - Great]


GAME REVIEW // Riff Racer

Game summary: Race the music to stay in sync. Score big by pulling off jumps, drifts and rolls. Challenge other racers to your favourite tracks. Have you got what it takes to win at your favourite song? (Steam)

Riff Racer is a game very much in the vein of something like Audiosurf and, just like that game, when this works, it really works - unfortunately, it doesn't work anywhere near as often as it should, with some baffling design decisions that wouldn't be considered acceptable for an AAA game, never mind an indie title like. In fact, some of the choices make you wonder what the developers were thinking.

The big, 'AAA' issue is that this game requires an internet connection for you to be able to add new songs to race. This means that you're not just reliant on servers working forever - which they'll need to if you want to play this game years from now - but also hope that glitches that cause problems identifying a connection don't crop up, which is a known issue that still hasn't been fixed in the half-decade since release.

The question I have is why is there an 'always-online' requirement at all? Why can't Riff Racer just wait to sync results with the server, or - if that's not possible - just let the player know that any scores they achieve on a new track won't be counted. Regardless, a central, core part of the game is entirely cut off until you find a workaround for a glitch or hope the servers come back up.

Even when the servers are working, however the tracks are created doesn't work that well either, meaning it's possible to find yourself racing courses that have blind corners and/or jumps that send you flying off-course with no advance warning. The fact that this issue also keeps occurring on a regular basis means that this was just as intentional as the required internet connection.

Then there's the art style, which can look good in still images, but is stuck in a weird halfway-house between intricacy and simplicity. There really should be either more detail to everything in the game to make it more interesting to look at, or strip away some of the more complex designs so you can focus on the racing and sense of speed - this works really, really well in Audiosurf.

Now, if you have a internet connection, find a song that doesn't generate tracks that feel like they're trolling you, and aren't bothered by the art style, then there's a very good game hidden away in here that can be highly enjoyable to play. The problem is that Riff Racer takes a little too much effort on the part of the player to get there, which is ridiculous for such a simple concept that's not particularly original either.

Riff Racer is a great idea for a game that's similar to Audiosurf, but there are some highly-questionable design choices that ruin the experience. Server connection issues, poor track design and gameplay relatively disconnected from the actual music playing all mean that I just couldn't enjoy this game to any great degree - when it works, it's brilliant, but requires far too much from the player than should be the case.

[4/10 - Disappointing]



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