Oxenfree | WandaVision, Episode 7 | Species
Ghosts, witches and aliens? It's not even Halloween!
Game review - Oxenfree
Game summary: A supernatural teen thriller about a group of friends who unwittingly open a ghostly rift.
I try and go into games (and any other media, really) without any preconceptions in order to judge each title on its own merits rather than what I hope/expect it to be. This can be tricky with hugely popular titles as images, videos and opinions pop up everywhere, but for something like Oxenfree - well received, but not a revelation - it was fairly easy to do and I went in knowing nothing about it at all.
The reason I have to explain that is because the game does a strange thing of setting up one premise before abandoning it for another - at least, that's how it felt to me. Like I said, I had no idea what Oxenfree was about and the first two-thirds felt like it was building up a supernatural mystery/puzzle and that figuring everything out would be how the story resolved itself.
Instead, you end up pitted against a malevolent force that you have to outwit and it feels lesser somehow for it. The ending isn't what I'd label as 'bad' or even 'disappointing', but the majority of the game felt like it was building up to what could've been a truly cathartic climax and it unfortunately never arrives. Others who play it might feel differently, but my opinion plummeted the closer the game got to ending.
It's such a shame too because of how well done most of Oxenfree is: I like the art style and animation; the score is fantastic; and the voice acting is out-of-this-world brilliant, including a real-time dialogue system that makes for some of the most realistic conversations you'll ever hear in a videogame, being able to interrupt or talk over people - or missing out on saying anything at all if you don't react quickly enough.
Erin Yvette, who voiced Sasha in Tales from the Borderlands, voices the player character of Alex here and is excellent. In fact, she's so good it makes me wonder why she isn't a more well-known performer like Laura Bailey and given more lead roles. The rest of the cast is pretty good too, but we spend so much more time with Alex than any of them and Yvette absolutely nails it.
As for the gameplay, it's pretty simple and anyone should be able to pick it up and play it as Oxenfree is quite sedately-paced and is far more centred on dialogue and investigation rather than action. The main story is pretty short to get through, taking just a few hours, although there are 'collectibles' of a sort to pad things out for more detail if you want, but I gave up after collecting a few as they didn't really add much.
Oxenfree is enjoyable enough for what it is, but it does feel like it could've been so much more with a premise that sets up a mystery to be solved and ends not just in bleak manner, but also a more mundane 'protagonists overcome antagonists' climax. The first two thirds of the game are excellent though, and I cannot praise the real-time dialogue system enough - more games should use this.
TV review - WandaVision, Episode 7, "Breaking the Fourth Wall"
Episode summary: Monica plots her return, Wanda navigates unsettling complications, and Vision forms a new alliance.
Up until the reveal of a Westview resident's true nature at the end of the episode, I was prepared to write off "Breaking the Fourth Wall" as a failure. Wanda and Vision barely do anything, but neither does anyone else, which is frankly ludicrous. Vision is stuck on the periphery of the episode and the town with Darcy, Wanda is close to giving up and Monica makes it inside the town... again.
The final two episodes are going to have to be pretty special based on this, as it feels like WandaVision is struggling to keep a lot of plates spinning at the moment and it could all come crashing down at any moment. This episode is so 'bitty' that it's hard to really praise anything other than the ending as the story jumps from place to place and moment to moment but never offering anything of substance to justify it.
As for that ending? I think a lot of people - especially comic book readers - knew it was coming at some point, but it was the manner in which it was done that excelled. Flashing back to previous episodes to provide some more details while also creating new questions would've been good enough, but the montage is set to one of the best songs in the show so far, elevating the sequence and the episode as a result.
WandaVision's seventh episode is a bit of a let-down relative to how good most of the series has been so far, with an ending that just about saves it from being a genuine disappointment. It's just too slow-paced and feels like the show is adjusting the pieces on the board to set them up for whatever the finale has in store rather pushing forward to any great extent.
Movie review - Species
Movie summary: A group of scientists try to track down and trap a killer alien seductress before she successfully mates with a human.
I'd forgotten how good a cast Species had until seeing the opening credits and the likes of Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker listed, then being surprised by seeing a very, very young Michelle Williams as the child version of Sil, the central antagonist of the movie. To see so many well-known faces in such a poor movie just fried my brain.
I do have some sympathy for Natasha Henstridge, who plays the adult Sil, as she was just short of her twenty-first birthday before Species came out - a very young actress in her first film role and what people remember most about her is the fact that she takes her clothes off very regularly. Thanks to ending in a big action scene where Sil is fully alien and replaced by CGI, she doesn't even get to finish the movie either!
Just a quick note on that CGI and how good the animation of Sil is. Don't get me wrong, it has by and large dated predictably badly with the alien models not matching the lighting and clearly being fake as hell, but at least the creature moves well and feels like it has some weight to it. I honestly think that if the model was refined and better composited into the scene, it would improve the ending immeasurably.
As for the cast, Kingsley seems to know he's in a bad movie and is just rolling with it; Madsen acts like he's in a non-stop action movie and jumping/crouching into scenes like a kid playing with his friends; Whitaker seems to be taking it all far too seriously and makes his character come of as goofy; while the rest are all somewhere in-between. You just can't take any of them seriously because it feels like characters from different movies with different tones all stuffed into one and nothing done to make it work.
I do feel like Species is almost as much a waste of a premise as Lifeforce was, and it feels like this would work much better as a TV show than a movie thanks to how much gets left unanswered. I know there were sequels to this movie, but I'm not going to watch them. But still: a HR Giger-designed bio-mechanical alien that needs to be impregnated rather than doing the impregnating - and loose on Earth? That could be great.
Then there's the fact that whatever alien intelligence sent the instructions on how to create Sil is never explored - or the fact they give Earth the knowledge to created an unlimited clean fuel supply. What about the Sil experiments that failed (if there were any)? Or the growing mass that threatened to kill two of the team that comes from the same source? So much to be explored and little or nothing done with it.
Species has an interesting set-up which it wastes completely, with a ridiculously good cast where no two people seem to know what kind of movie they're in. What could've been an iconic new alien menace is wasted on sleazy schlock and a dumb plot that seems to be deliberately stupid until you realise the movie wants you to take everything seriously and... no, just no.