Month: April 2021

Mortal Kombat

It’s been a while since 1995’s ‘Mortal Kombat’ the first attempt to bring the hit game franchise to the big screen. That was a cheesy, funny, sometimes unintentionally, but enjoyable film that clearly struggled with its budget limitations. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, it boasted an excellent soundtrack and immortalised CaryHiroyuki Tagawa as evil sorcerer Shang Tsung with a great scene stealing performance. The actor returned to the role in Netherrealm’s recent Mortal Kombat games to not only voice the character but have his likeness appear in digital form.

2021’s Mortal Kombat from director Simon McQuoid has a bigger budget, better costumes, features the gore and viscera the games are known for and shows the advances of digital effects, despite this it’s a distinctly disappointing attempt at rebooting the franchise. This new Mortal Kombat film is a lot like early comic book films, where people were just supposed to be happy that a character that they knew was on the big screen, regardless of how good the actual film was.

This is a big case of style over substance. This Mortal Kombat has numerous moments that look great, a prologue set in 16th century Japan featuring Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) and Hanzo (Hiroyuki Sanada) is excellent, Kung Lao (Max Huang) making his entrance via teleporting through the floor, Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) conjuring up a huge flaming dragon , Raiden (Tadanobo Asado) appearing via a cluster of crackling lightning and more. The problem is as a whole this is a boring and unengaging slog of a film. A big chunk of its running time is devoted to a new character Cole Young (Lewis Tan), the least interesting of all the characters in the film, discovering he is one of Earthrealm’s champions.

Despite featuring a dozen or so characters from the games, the only ones that really stand out are Kano (Josh Lawson), who is essentially taking the comic relief place of the bafflingly absent Johnny Cage, Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim), who is excellent as a stoic and menacing villain, and Hanzo aka Scorpion (Hiroyuki Sanada), who only appears in the prologue and the final scenes.

So much time is dedicated to Cole Young that characters like Liu Kang, who is one of Mortal Kombat’s original core characters, are relegated to being glorified background characters rendered flat and boring. There’s also the problem that Shang Tsung’s (Chin Han) plan hinges on killing Earthrealm’s champions before the Mortal Kombat tournament actually happens, despite this being against the rules put down by the completely absent Elder Gods.

‘Nobody who plays Mortal Kombat cares about the story!’ Many will no doubt declare, yet the story mode on the latest game is written considerably better than this turgid effort. This film seems to be written from the perspective that some good costumes, blood and viscera and the occasional impressive but all too brief scene can compensate for the lack of an engaging story, characterisation and a good script.

SUBVERSE

Subverse pulled in £1.6 million in funding on Kickstarter, a sum which put it into the top 20 highest funded games on the platform despite being from a new indie developer that had never made any games and being an ‘adults only’ game.

This early access version appearing after 2-3 years of development is the first time anyone besides a select group of their backers has been able to play the game. Upon release the game made it into the top seller list on Steam despite being effectively hidden on the platform.

Subverse takes place in the Prodigium Galaxy ruled by the Imperium. The story features the Captain recruiting crew members for his ship the Mary Celeste as they plan to overthrow the Imperium and have various misadventures along the way.

Subverse takes place in the Prodigium Galaxy ruled by the Imperium. The story features the Captain recruiting crew members or “waifus” for his ship the Mary Celeste as they plan to overthrow the Imperium and get up to various misadventures along the way.

The game is made up of several different aspects, space combat, space exploration, turn based ground combat, a visual novel and XXX content.

The overall aesthetic is well done and the character designs are great (and will undoutedly lead to fan art). The visual novel aspect introduces the world and the various characters. The voice acting somewhat surprisingly is also very good, particularly the main characters. The Captain’s character could be summed up as being a bit like Marvel’s Deadpool. The humour is self aware, 4th wall breaking jokes are common, as are jokes about bodily functions and genitals. Some of it is funny. Some of it is cringe inducingly bad.

This scattershot humour undermines some surprisingly deep world building and fleshed out characters. The three characters that feature are DEMI, the Mary Celeste’s on board android, who was formerly the property of an abusive space pirate (who is the first antagonist) and liberated by the Captain, Lily, a former military sniper turned xeno biologist (with an intimate relationship with her creations) on the run from a tyrannical military general and Killision aka Killi a pirate queen and survivor of the Vanneran race, a people that had their home planet destroyed by the Imperium who lives for vengeance against those that destroyed her home and scatterd her people amongst the stars.

These characters, brought to life brilliantly by the voice cast, don’t seem like the characters in an ‘adults only’ game.

Elsewhere there are other problems which grate against the character work. The Veil is a deeply conservative religious order trying to stifle sexuality throughout the galaxy, Lord Azzorion is a highranking figure in The Veil and also the only gay character in the game. This is the punchline to various ‘jokes’.

Subverse seems to be presenting a message of sexual liberation and hedonism in the face of stifling religious conservatism, something that seems like potent social commentary, but it also features various ‘jokes’ about sex workers and frames the only gay character as a sexual predator.

The cognitive dissonance on display really is quite profound.

Space combat is pretty simplistic. The ship has two attacks, a standard one, and a more powerful one that has limited fire, there are also metres for both shield and hull integrity. There’s a small variety of enemies but as things progress it becomes more challenging. There are boss fights and story oriented events, defending a space station from enemy fire and a race to destroy a runaway ship amongst others. You can select a character to join you as a co-pilot, which means your limited attack changes.

The turn based ground combat is similarly basic. Move, attack, defend, special attack and passive abilities, that’s pretty much it. There’s no cover system and the camera is locked so no zoom or rotation. At present ony one character can be taken into battle joined by a selection of “Mantics”, creatures created in the Mary Celeste’s lab.

The distant fixed camera means things are pretty undetailed, although special attacks do feature a brief on screen image featuring the character making the attack. Of the two characters available for combat, Lily, a sniper with a passive ability to heal another team member, is profoundly better than Killi who is a close quarters fighter.

Space exploration involves searching the five systems that make up the Prodigium Galaxy, although only one is currently available. Systems are made up of different nebulas which consist of planets and other things, investigating planets lead to either space combat, ground combat or events.

The Captain’s ship Mary Celeste is made up of several different sections which feature different interactive elements, from the Brdige where new missions can be selected, the Lab where new Mantics can be created and more besides.

Oddly for a game made by a developer previously known for well produced, if notorious, XXX short films the XXX aspect of Subverse is the most underwhelming. Upon recruiting a new character after completing a story mission a XXX scene unlocks, but this is the only XXX scene that has any context.

Players earn points which can be used to unlock what are essentially high end XXX GIF animations in a system called Pandora. This is seperate and completely removed from gameplay with no context for any of the animations.

StudioFOW has addressed some of these issues in a recent update saying upcoming ‘Devotion Quests’ will provide context for XXX scenes and other changes will be forthcoming as further Acts are released.

This speaks though to one of the biggest problems facing Subverse going forward, exactly who are they aiming this game at? As the cliche goes ‘Nobody watches porn for the story’, but with Subverse StudioFOW are seemingly trying to please both those that want a ‘game’ with a story, characters,etc, and those wanting XXX content. To really succeed they need to appeal to those who didn’t back their Kickstarter and had never heard of Subverse before, how, and whether, they can pull this off remains to be seen.

Subverse in its current form is undeniably skeletal in nature, the characters, voice acting and general presentation is where the main appeal lies but they’re undermined by some dubious humour and writing and those looking for XXX content might be left searching elsewhere.

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