Stranger Things

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If you haven’t heard the buzz then you’ve been living under a rock this weekend. Stranger Things is the new Netflix series by the Duffer brothers and it has me absolutely hooked. This review is spoiler free, because who would want to ruin something this good?

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The show is a cross between Twin Peaks, The Dark Tower, and Silent Hill, with hints of Poltergeist, Evil Dead and just about every great paranormal or horror movie thrown in for good measure. The show itself is set in small town in the mid 80’s and is centred around a mysterious government facility, a child with supernatural powers, and the disappearance of a small boy. All of that in your average small American town where nothing much happens. If that wasn’t enough to peak your interest in the show then I’m not sure what will.

Just a late night game of D&D, what could go wrong?
Just a late night game of D&D, what could go wrong?

Stranger Things also features a stunning cast. Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers plays an amazingly engaging character as the mother of the missing child. Her emotional range, and level of performance in this series is astounding. David Harbour as the town Police Chief Jim Hopper does a fantastic job of taking the cliché role of the sherif that you have seen a dozen times before, and giving it a life all his own. The whole cast need to be commended on their work on this series, and their roles are fueled by some of the most excellent writing I have seen in a television series (if you can call Netflix shows that) in a very long time. The story is as well written and told as if Stephen King (It, The Stand, The Shining), John Carpenter (The Thing, Halloween, They Live) and Clive Barker (Hellraiser, Night Breed, Candy Man) all had a party one night and wrote the script.

Listening to The Clash on the Hi Fi
Listening to The Clash on the Hi Fi

You can’t talk about this show without also talking about the special effects, sets and sound design. All of which are spot on for what this series needs to be. The filming is crisp and clean, and a level we expect with todays flurry of HD shows, but the treatment of the footage, combined with the excellent set design and propping make it feel like we’re watching a period series. From the posters on the walls, to the toys in the basement and the way the kids play D&D and how that is incorporated into the story, nothing seems over the top or out of place. Even the special effects, though seemingly digital overall, look like they are the 80’s practical effects that made movies from that period awesome. The sound design is also out of this world. Beyond the mix of popular music from the time from bands like The Clash, and modern covers like Perter Gabriel’s version of Heroes (originally by David Bowie) the inclusion of the synthesizer track as the main them for the show is brilliant.

This show has something for everyone, mystery, suspense, drama, action and horror.

If you haven’t seen it yet, then what are you waiting for?

I played Until Dawn, until dawn.

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Last weekend was pretty technologically rough for me, and being without the Internet I did what anyone in my position would do, I went down to my local video game store and bought a copy of the 2015 horror video game Until Dawn. Then played it until I was done, which worked out to be dawn the following morning.

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Until Dawn is brought to us by Supermassive Games. Creators of such memorable content as Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock, Killzone (The HD remaster), and Little Big Planet 2 (the PS Vita port only). So… you know, it’s those guys. If you haven’t heard of any of those games, don’t feel bad no one else has either. And they don’t matter, because we’re here to talk about Until Dawn!

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The premise of the game is simple, a group of teens go into a cabin in the woods, and things go wrong. They return a year later on the anniversary for the last year’s horrific events, and more horror ensues. This may seem like a story you’ve heard before, even the characters themselves may seem familiar. The jock, the bitch, the geek, the innocent girl and so on. But let me assure you that there is little about them you have seen before. The game uses all of the classic horror tropes to lull you into thinking one thing, and then violently shifts you into another direction. And it does a wonderful job of it.

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The game is based around a choice system, meaning what you do at certain points will directly effect the game later on. Though the story is linear, it could pan out in any number of ways as it has dozens of branching paths. The game equates this to the butterfly effect; a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world, and a hurricane hits somewhere else instead of sun shine. At it’s simplest definition that is how the game works. However I get the strong impression that the developers watched a scene from Jurassic Park to get their full definition of how the Butter fly Effect actually works. Wherever the source, the game engine works pretty well. Most game changing events are obvious as they are about to happen, but the trick is you don’t know what they will effect nor do you know when that effect will happen.

This game mechanic is very similar to the 2010 Quantic Dream game Heavy Rain. In fact some gamers think that the same team made Until Dawn because elements of the games seems pretty close to one another. It’s the execution and pacing of Until Dawn that sets it far apart from its predecessor.

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It’s a very cool game, and very well designed. The cast of real actors like Hayden Panettiere and Peter Stormare make the game feel all the more like you’re watching an actual high-end horror movie, and not just playing a linear video game. For a console the graphic rendering is also far above what I would have expected, and the sets, atmosphere and sound really make this someone that should be experienced in a home theatre setting or with a nice pair of headphones.

I had a great time playing through the game, and would recommend it to anyone who would like a solid 10 hours of being entertained, and maybe a little spooked along the way.