When I stopped Playing: Doom Eternal

I’d already decided that I liked Doom Eternal. That decision was made with a stiff upper lip. I would like this game if it was the last thing I did, which felt likely since the entire state had just been put on lockdown due to the pandemic.

But I couldn’t quite say that enjoyed playing the game itself. If that’s confusing, well…

I swear I really did like it. The art, the attitude, the lack of corporate strings. The unique vision. The fact that they weren’t cynically chasing trends like ‘live services’ or loot boxes. Following up on Doom (2016) which I also really liked was only an added bonus. But this enjoyment was more theoretical. The game itself, however, left me feeling frustrated and unsatisfied.

Doom Eternal’s central loop is cycling through your arsenal of weapons so that your enemies continue to churn out ammo or health or armor, the collection of which allows you to continue your rampage. It’s an interesting novelty and well executed.

The problem was that I hated it.

Shortly after I acquired the Rocket Launcher and an Ice Grenade power up I found myself in an arena that I had to restart a few times. After my third or fourth attempt I found my interest begin to ebb. I could see how to win. I knew what I needed to do. I just didn’t feel like getting there.

One of the biggest hurdles that the player is faced with is a dismally low maximum ammo capacity. This encourages players to keep moving to collect pickups and to cycle regularly to your chainsaw, which produces piles of fresh ammunition every time  it cuts a demon in half. At its best this feels rhythmic and dynamic.

Most of the time however it felt stifling. The controls also didn’t help. I was playing on PS4 where every button is mapped to a dizzying number of tools and weapons. The continued inability to Aim-Down-Sights, while novel in Doom (2016) started to feel obnoxious. I kept missing wildly wishing I could ADS to slow the reticle and focus on a target. With the low ammo count every missed shot stung like a crushing defeat. In the end it felt like I was fighting the controller more so than the demon horde. It dawned on me quite quickly that Doom Eternal suffered from one of my least favorite aspects of video games as an art form: there was right way, and a wrong way to play.

There is a forced frenetic pace (which is perhaps true to Doom as an IP). There’s swarms of enemies, and self contained arenas. That’s all fine. But I found that the over all experience lacking. Every encounter was essentially the same, no matter how many new enemies and mechanics got layered on. Each enemy had its own particular way to stun it, which would lead to a killing animation. Performing these animations is all but a requirement, because this is the best way to heal. You must continually move and cycle weapons because of the insanely low ammo count, while strategically killing the lower tier enemies as grab bags for ammo and armor. Rinse and repeat.

These arenas are broken up by rooms with puzzle elements as well as some light platforming. Even these sections felt obnoxious as I quickly lost coveted extra lives, health and armor to bad jumps. Maybe the answer to my dissatisfaction is to just ‘git gud’, but when the core loop starts to become stale it’s hard to put in the effort.

Even some games that encourage certain play styles can be completed with handicaps. Just look at the players who beat Souls games with little to no weapons, or players who complete Destiny Raids alone. I do not believe Doom Eternal on the other hand can be played in any style except in the very narrow vision which has been set forth by its architects.

This ethos, that there is only one way to win leads my mind into a rut. When winning is contingent on a single activity performed until success is granted it doesn’t encourage me to play better or think of new strategies. Instead a sensation  passes through me as if the game has already been beaten. The path has been set forth, the work has been completed, and now, even though things might not be thoroughly resolved its time to move on.

It’s possible that I was just one level away from the game opening up and surprising me but I doubt it. As it stands Doom Eternal will join the list of games that I just didn’t finish.


Bats V Supes: Dawn of Reviews


It’s Saturday night and you just woke up from a nap at 6:30 pm. Do you get dressed and head for the bar/party/club? Or, maybe you’re about as messed up from the late day nap as anyone can get without drugs or drink so you sit there and you sit there some more and all of the sudden you’ve logged into your roommate’s HBO account and you’ve already clicked on a movie you’d promised never to watch. But you decided to add a new qualifier. You’d only ever promised not to pay to see it.

And so Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice begins.

“Just ignore the dialogue,” you’re already whispering under your breath like someone who’s afraid of flying right before a 9 hour flight except this is a two and a half hour movie directed by a man who has a synergistic deficiencies in both dialogue writing and actor direction. I’d already suffered through Man of Steel. What new horror would Mr. Snyder subject me to?

And to my delight I find a Movie, capital ‘M’, not an episode in a series. This is a movie. What kind of elitist comment am I trying/succeeding at making? Of course BvS is a Movie. Well, whatever, I’m just like you know poking fun at Marvel movies, because they don’t ever really feel that much like movies.

BvS (pronounced Beavis? Nah, I’m just kiddonononing) is splendid from a visual standpoint. It had a richness that’s kind of rare in this genre. It goes off the rails a lot too. Some scenes are bonkers. Zach Snyder himself might be bonkers. This is not a vanilla DC universe. This is some dark Flashpoint paradox, Frank Miller-esque DC Universe where everything is terrible, but not in a qualitative sense, in an emotional sense.

Watching this Dark DDDaark version of the caped crusaders brought to mind the last time I attempted (big emphasis on ATTEMPTED) to buy a batman comic. I waltzed into some tiny shop on Passyunk  Ave believing with some foolhardiness that I ought to get caught up on what ol’ Bats was up to. Unfortunately, for some unknown reason speaking with comic shop peddlers fills me with an indescribable dread. I guess I remember too easily the owners of every comic boutique I ever went to as a kid who maintained their nerdom with a noxious superiority. If I asked the wrong question I might receive some dreaded scoff or roll of the eyes. So here I was a full grown man poking around this comic shop in South Philly hoping against hope that I could just get in and out sans any awkward interchange with the devil behind the counter.

But where’s ol’ Bats? Surely they still make Batman comics. Isn’t Batman the metric against which the entire industry measures sales? Have things changed that much? My consternation must have been evident from a distance because a sales associate closed in  like a shark smelling blood.

“Just looking for Batman,” I say politely while screaming silently from every pore.

“Oh, well they don’t make Batman serials quite like they used to. The only batman comics they make now are more serious and mature,” the clerk tells me in a tone of voice that belies the coolness of serious Batman. He pointed me towards a shelf with some Bat comics. Flipping through the most recent issue I found Bats beating up a frogman who’s selling Meth to kids. I left without purchasing it.

But my distaste was all hot air. Hadn’t I spent my teenage years devouring Frank Miller’s dark Batman? Hadn’t gobbled up the Watchmen by Allen Moore? Hadn’t I relished how Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight had drawn inspiration from The Long Halloween? Was it too late to ask where that path lead?

It lead here: a Saturday night at home on the couch watching a version of Batman who’s Batmobile spews bullets like a WWII machine gun nest, a Superman who’s easily driven to homicidal rage, a Lex Luthor who sends jars of his own pee as a threat to his enemies and an Alfred who’s almost darker and creepier than Batman himself.

Truth be told I enjoyed most of it. The dialogue left a lot to be desired but at this point I’ve given up on Mr. Snyder ever improving his game in that respect. Ben Affleck was pretty good as an oldish cynical Batman. Jesse Eissenberg was fine too, even if I think he went off the rails a lot. I guess everyone was going off the rails all the time. Maybe that’s what Zach Snyder kept telling them, “Guys in this scene just go off the rails. In fact don’t worry about whether there’s rails or not. We’ll CGI the rails in later.”

Turns out it wasn’t bad advice. I’m just not sure it was super good either.


Daredevil Season 2: Varying levels of Superduper


Here we are. I’ve already watched every episode of Daredevil Season 2 (recently released on Netflix in its entirety) and my review of it is identical to Season 1. The villains steal the show.

Lot’s of spoilers ahead probably.

In season 1 Vincent D’Onofrio literally/figuratively kills it as the ruthless Wilson Fisk aka The King Pin. Season 2’s primary antagonist is the Punisher, played impeccably by Jon Bernthal. Both of these characters overshadow the titular protagonist in the  same way the skyline of New York overshadows the action of the series.

The King Pin and the Punisher benefit from a character quality that Daredevil himself lacks: Certainty. They have goals and they are single-minded when it come to obtaining their aims. Daredevil by comparison is stagnant. He’s interested in the status-quo. He’s vaguely in favor of stopping the bad guys but he hesitates boorishly at every turn.

It came to a head when I realized I was sitting there literally fast-forwarding through almost every scene with Matt Murdoch/Daredevil so that I could get back to the Punisher. This was helped along by the fact that the two rarely share screen time, or even overlapping plot lines. The Punisher wants revenge for the murder of his family. Daredevil wants to keep the streets safe, so as soon as he manages to put the Punisher away (halfway through the season) DD fades from the Punisher’s story line.

And so the second half of the season relegates Daredevil to fighting (yawn) ninjas, while the Punisher worms his way into every other facet of the show, including coming face to face with the not only the King Pin but he also routinely saves the life of Daredevil’s primary love interest Karen Page.

Does the titular character factor into any of this? Nah, because Daredevil is too busy chasing after and fighting alongside Electra, a ninja gal. I don’t have strong feelings about Electra. She seems okay. She’s a female hero which is cool. I never read much Daredevil as a kid but I do know the central tenant of Electra’s deal. She gets stabbed through the chest and killed. I’d offer a spoiler warning, but honestly it’s like the most widely known thing ever. Spoiler warning Vader is Luke’s dad, Achilles has a shitty heel and Electra dies.

By the end of the season it was like watching two different shows at once. On the one hand there was the story of Frank Castle aka the Punisher, a vigilante who operates under the assumption that punching criminals and dropping them off at the police station is for wussies (because shooting them in head is a more permanent and therefore better option). This guy makes everyone in Game of Thrones look restrained and pragmatic. But even more interesting than just mindless violence, the Punisher offers us a glimpse of vigilante justice that is diametrically opposed to the ‘ethical/no killing’ type espoused by heroes like Daredevil and Batman. It’s an intriguing comment on the genre and it would have been made even more interesting if Daredevil had been around to offer a counter point.

Instead there’s hours of Daredevil fighting ninjas for no real reason. There’s a mythical reason, but even Daredevil himself proclaims that he doesn’t really believe in any of it. So why should we? And while Double D is busy punching and jumping around oriental cliches Frank Castle is coldly telling a murderous Wilson Fisk that next time they meet only one of them is walking away. In that moment I, as the viewer, knew for a fact that he wasn’t kidding around. This is the Punisher. He doesn’t pull punches. He shoots people in the head.

I’ll leave you to choose which story was more gripping.

I’m just going to come out and say it: I hate ninjas. I think they’re boring, lazy and slightly racist. I mean historical Shenobi don’t resemble these guys very much. I myself am part Irish and part Japanese, and this show has both Irish villains and Japanese villains, and yet I felt one of these was racist and the other was awesome (hint I enjoyed the ethnicity who drank whisky at their comrades’ wake). Ninjas are about as interesting as cowboys or pirates appearing mid-season. In fact it would have been so much cooler if they were pirates. Or, like, anything else. Musketeers? Apache warriors? Roman gladiators?

So I watched Daredevil season 1 because of Wilson Fisk, who in my mind is actually a Spiderman villain, and I watched season two for the Punisher which could very well be a title all on his own. I’ll let my roommate’s boyfriend sum it up, “I hope they make a Punisher series.”



“You are a kite dancing in a hurricane Mr. Bond,” warns a dying villain. The delivery is meant as a curse, but I felt it summed up Spectre as a film. The plot wanders, Bond seems lost and everything we liked about the new Bond films seems to be forgotten in the name of throw back references to old 007 adventures.

I’d heard that Spectre represented a low point in the Daniel Craig era. In the movie’s defense, the things that bring the movie down are the very aspects of the films which are “Bond-y”. The evil super villain possesses a secret base replete with chrome walls and black clad henchmen. 007 himself behaves in true Bondish-ness during several high speed chases, like when he pursues a fleet of armored cars in an airplane, a plane which he slowly turns into a flaming sled by knocking off the wings on his descent down the mountain. It’s a bombastic type of spectacle we’re not used to seeing in Bond movies anymore.

And maybe we don’t want to see it. In 2006 Casino Royale hit theaters and viewers were greeted with a more stoic, less scrupled Bond who didn’t even much care how his martini was prepared. In Spectre that new Bond is forgotten for one who utters pithy one liners while wandering aimlessly from one explosive set piece to another.

Even the villain is a stock Bond nemesis. Where as Le Chiffre, the villain in Casino Royale, used an improvised broken chair in the belly of an oil tanker as his torture device, Spectre’s big bad uses a high-tech chrome throne with animatronic drill arms. When finally the villain’s true identity is revealed I involuntarily rolled my eyes. As someone who grew up in the late eighties and nineties my memory of this villain is not the original but the Mike Meyers spoof, Dr. Evil.

The Daniel Craig Bond movies shined because they managed to distance themselves from the tropes of the series. In Spectre we once again are given a Bond with a gadget watch.

Christoph Waltz, as the villain, is perhaps the most disappointing part of the movie. Deep in his secret base when he’s supposed to be giving a scary monologue to Bond and Lea Seydoux, and I was reminded of the scene in Inglorious Basterds that Waltz and Seydoux share, and it made Waltz’s Oberhauser seem even flatter and sillier.

The movie isn’t all bad, and it does possess some spectacular set pieces, costumes and action but I walked away with a dying character’s words echoing in my ears, “A kite dancing in a hurricane.” The film was the kite, and the plot was as mindless as a storm.


Age of Dultron (Zing!)

Fans expressed dismay upon the release of The Avengers: Age of Ultron. I on the other hand (trigger warning: dickish opinions incoming) express my flawless ability to look back on history and in so doing gain perspective. The Avengers (Number One/No Subtitle) was a fun movie. It steamrolled through theaters way back in the halcyon days (aka three years ago) of Marvel action movies and contrary to my expectations it was not only watchable, it was kinda good.

How the hell did they make a good movie about a bunch of B-list super heroes? Well, Age of Ultron is more or less what I expected the original Avengers would be. Not only that but it’s replete with Joss Wedon’s less admirable writing habits (hackneyed romance). Try re-watching Firefly and tell me you don’t fast forward through every scene between Mal and Inara.

Age of Ultron actually felt exactly like the original, just with more (too many?) characters. Once again I will look back into the dusty past and recall when Iron Man 2 came out. Everyone hated it. I heard from reputable sources that it was WAY WORSE than the first Iron Man movie. Then I watched it. It was basically the same movie? Now, disclaimer, my opinion doesn’t really matter.

Certainly there is a glut of nods to comics that they really didn’t need. It’s even got War Machine. To be clear I always thought War Machine was pretty cool, mostly because he was just like Iron Man but with a big gun on his shoulder (plus his name was War Machine). The fact that I was twelve also helped my fandom. If you’re wondering if they delivered on this nuanced character, let me spoil it for you: yes they did.

Other characters blurred: was it Meanstreak of Quicksilver? I’m pretty sure Quicksilver is X-men, so this is probably Meanstreak. I could look it up but I believe that wasting years of my life reading comics really would be a waste if I couldn’t identify a character in an Avengers film purely from memory.


I guess the confusion comes in here: They don’t give a lot of time for quiet moments or characterization so who exactly Aaron Taylor-Johnson was supposed to be portraying was easy to lose track of. I spent more time thinking about how Meanstreak is the brother of Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen, and those two actors played husband and wife in the most recent Godzilla movie. Isn’t that sort of incestuous? But the action propelled me forward.

Unfortunately Age of Ultron suffers from clear puppet strings, despite Ultron’s insistence that he’s no puppet. It’s like you can read the executives mandates rolling across the screen. Fight now! Character interlude now! Not too much character-ing though, because we gotta shoe-horn in Vision, the worst B-lister of all B-listers, who makes DC’s Martian Manhunter look cooler than Batman. Fans, I’m sure, were hoping for Empire Strikes Back, claimed they’d been given Episode 1, but actually I think a better analogy might be this. They got the Avengers.

I enjoyed it (sort of). It’s waaaay better than Man of Steel.


The Guest

Do you like surprises? Do you like weird shit? The Guest, man, that shit is for you. It’s a hard movie to talk about without spoiling it (but what movie isn’t?). Suffice it to say, it’s a movie built on not knowing, of trusting, and then finding out where that trust takes you.

It’s on the Netflix so you could watch it right now, assuming you subscribe to the service.

I’m gonna push forward and pretend you don’t mind the spoilerization of The Guest. Because it’s pretty awesome. Most of my time watching it was spent standing up asking the empty room, “What is haaappening right now?” Followed by “Oh shiiit! That just happened!”

The plot goes like this: A soldier (played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens) appears on the Peterson family’s doorstep, claiming to be a close friend of their son who died in action. The family welcomes him, slowly opening not just their home but their hearts. But is the soldier who he says he is?

The movie’s tone continually and fluidly changes, as do the viewers opinion of the characters on screen. I kept wondering who I was rooting for. At first you might hesitantly trust Stevens, even if there does seem to be something seriously off about him. Quickly the trust dissolves into horror, changing almost in tandem with the tone of the film.

How can you begin with something that feels like an indie drama and ends like a sequel to Halloween? No, that’s not fair. It’s not like a Halloween sequel, it’s good enough to contend with the original.

But here is also where I want to pause. Because there’s something about this movie made me feel a little uncomfortable. In fact I had to stop writing this piece so I could collect my thoughts. Being thoughtful. So rare. So weird.

Monsters in movies often tie themselves into topical fears. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which is a classic cold war era scare-fest. Here, in The Guest, the monster is a soldier returned from war. True, it’s hinted at that he’s really a “Jacob’s Ladder” type deal, you know, reprogrammed for mindless violence by the military industrial complex. He’s an unstoppable super-soldier. He bares a certain resemblance, actually, to another popular super-soldier-war-veteran… but the fact remains that one of Amuuurica’s Vets is painted as a villain, and mainly because he is a vet.

At my job there are several ex-military types, who vary across the spectrum of ultra-friendly to complete assholes, but I’ll say this: they are human beings. One of my coworkers, a Navy Master Chief, did admit to me that some of his friends came away from conflicts changed. “It’s real bro,” he said, “Shit’s sad.”

I Just wish there was a moment where the movie touched on the fact that the titular soldier is in fact just person and not just a boogeyman–OR made explicit that the character is first and foremost a boogeyman and tangentially a US Veteran. Still, I think that this movie is the best new scary movie I’ve seen in a while, partly because the scares were such a surprise. Also: best last line in a movie since Casablanca.


Ex Machina

The way I see it there are two main camps that Hollywood robots fall into: Robots created to be tools and robots created to be our metaphorical children. Then there’s this Venn diagram over top of that because there’s two more categories: Robots who want to destroy humans and robots who wish they were humans (you know, Pinocchio style).

Examples: The Terminator robots were created as a military tool and they want to destroy all humans. Johnny 5 from the Short Circuit series is also a robot created as a military tool, but silly Johnny 5 just wants to be treated as a person. Data from Star Trek the Next Generation is a robot created for no particular purpose except to make his builder feel like a god, but all Data wants is to become human (which is good because let’s be honest, in a battle between Data and humanity we all know who would win). Conversely Lore, Data’s brother, created under the same auspices, is just an evil pile of garbage who wants to murder and control others through deception and intimidation.

So we have four overlapping groups of robots. After watching Ex Machina, I’m pretty sure that the robot featured in this film falls dead center in this diagram. She was created to make her designer feel the heady rush of godhood, but she may also have been built to be a sex toy. She wants to be a human, but she’ll kill to get what she wants.

I’m not sure if I liked Ex Machina. I enjoyed watching it, of that we can be certain. If you want to watch a thriller with “hot” robots in it, go ahead and check it out. But after the credits rolled I began to ask some serious questions. These serious questions might have spoilers so tread onward with care dear reader (by which I mean my mom. Hi mom!)

The premise of the movie is this: A billionaire recluse named Nathan has created a series of robots in secret at his house, and he has chosen one of his employees, Caleb, to come out and do a Turing test. That is, rich Nathan wants ordinary Caleb to decide if this robot actually possesses consciousness.

ALSO! The robot is sort of hot? As the days of testing move forward Caleb not only starts to view the robot as a real person, he also starts to view the robot as a hottie who he wants to fuck. Sorry for being crude but that’s the vibe Caleb puts out there. I mean he keeps thinking about her while he’s in the shower. He watches video of her while he’s in bed. Basically he fantasizes about her constantly. And when rich Nathan explains to Caleb that the robot does have a hole between its legs filled with sensors a.k.a. a robot vagina, a wistful look comes over Caleb’s face.

There are other stakes on the line too. Rich Nathan seems to be hiding all kinds of skulduggery, some of which he tends to give away while black out drunk. The hot robot is but the most recent version in a long series of hot robots. Rich Nathan seems to enjoy fucking the hot robots. Rich Nathan will kill the newest hot robot so that his next hot robot will be even better.

What is poor smitten Caleb to do? Save the robot of course! There’s a sort of thrilling battle of wits and finally Caleb manages to free the hot robot. Finally Caleb will get some sweet robot love! There seems to be no other consideration in his mind. He doesn’t believe for an instant that this creature is a freakin’ robot who probably doesn’t really care about him. It just wants its freedom. It doesn’t want to fuck.

This movie was directed by Alex Garland who has written a number of other interesting sci-fi movies, including 28 Days Later and Sunshine. I’m actually a big fan of 28 Days Later, which I believe to be the hall mark of fast-zombie movies (if you didn’t know, there’s two kinds of zombies, lightening fast or slow and shambling). I used to have a copy of 28 Days Later on DVD and I remember watching a behind the scenes on it where they discussed the different endings they wrote before finally settling on the actual ending (I will say this: I think they chose right), but they had to rework it a few times because the first draft’s ending wasn’t believable. The movie Sunshine was also a really great movie up until the ending, where it sort of fell apart (in my opinion!).

Ex Machina falls into this camp as well. The ending wasn’t bad, but it did highlight a plot hole, and that plot hole was this: Why wasn’t Caleb afraid of the robot? I would have been.


Furiosa Road


What a lovely movie. But it was also one of many, nay! More than many: infinite rehashes. It was directed by George Miller, the same man who brought this franchise into existence, so in a way it’s purer than its contemporaries. Certainly it’s a fabulous flick against which I can make no complaints. It was both elegant and cacophonous. Mayhem imagined with such clarity that every stupendous feat felt absolutely serene. Chaos could not be made more ordered.

But during the coming attractions I became despondent. Each and every film preview that preceded the screening of Mad Max Fury Road was a remake, a sequel or an adaptation save one: A new horror thriller from M. Night Shamoolgorth called “The Visit” because that’s how he titles every movie he’s ever made. There was also some Joseph Gordon Levitt movie based on the guy who walked on a tight rope between the twin towers. They already made a movie about that though. It was called Man on Wire, a documentary, and it will always be superior to whatever new monstrosity they’ve concocted deep in their summoning pits. The list goes on: Ant Man, Jurassic World, Fantastic 4. Even a Vacation remake… or sequel?

Ed Helms stars in this 2015 Vacation as Chevy Chase’s son, and he flippantly tells his family, “It doesn’t matter if you don’t know about the original Vacation. This is the new Vacation!” It’s meant as a joke but the words rumbled out across the audience like the hollow song of a plastic reaper. It does not matter because nothing matters. This is the valley of gilded garbage. Beyond here lies only greed.

Then Fury Road began and I knew that all was not lost. In this vision of a hellish radioactive world I saw a man named George Miller driving a flaming masterpiece through the remake blockade with all the gusto and fervor deserving of Mad Max. As suicidal warboys spray painted their teeth chrome in the anticipation of a glorious death, when Max disappeared into the night to return splattered in the blood of his enemies, when the green eyed Imperator collapsed without hope against a sand dune that seemingly stretched against the entire empty bosom of planet Earth: In these moments I knew hope.

Good movies can be made. For I was watching one. And the hero was a woman named Furiosa.