Game Review: Red Dead Redemption 2

Sadie is Bae-die

“Hold on, Arthur. Them’s a lot of words comin’ at us!”

There are some who will not be able to surmount the tedium of riding a horse through scenic landscape. For those people, Red Dead Redemption 2, the latest opus from Grand Theft Auto creator Rockstar Games, may be a tad on the boring side. However, if you’re interested in a deep, beautiful, and rewarding slice of interactive literature, look no further.
The story is as follows. You play as Arthur Morgan, a member of Dutch Van Der Linde’s gang of outlaws. You steal carriages, rob trains, and murder countless people (whether or not they deserve it). That ‘whether’ bit is the center of the moral quandary. When the walls are closing in, should you live life amorally? Or should you try for REDEMPTION? It’s up to you to decide, and that’s the fun part.

The not-so-fun part is how slowly it all unfolds, according to some naysayers. You really are locked into playing Arthur’s story, making this narrative more along the lines of Geralt’s in The Witcher than say the free-wheeling randomness of Skyrim. There are some random bits, strangers lurching out at you from the side of the road with advice or peril. You can be a white hat or a black hat and dress yourself in the skin of whatever you catch. The open world is picturesque. So much care was given to every blade of grass, the placement of every hillside, that it is stunningly awful when something glitches, and a man goes flying hundreds of feet in the air.

The glitches, thankfully, make up a small percentage of the overall experience, and they remain one of the few reminders that you are not in-fact inhabiting this world yourself, but playing a simulacrum. Upon finally completing the somewhat bloated and hilariously overlong story- (fans of Persona 5 will likely find that game neat and tidy by comparison) there is a palpable loss of something magical. Not that the game has faltered, just that the dream has ended. It does indeed have an ending. And the paltry offerings of the online mode will never live up to the beauty and wondrously drawn characters of the main story.

What makes the writing so wonderful is its restraint. Gone is the madcap insanity of Grand Theft Auto V. It even manages to avoid going comically mundane like that game did. Although most of the missions boil down to a shoot-out, there is a concerted effort to make each story set-up interesting or at the least mildly distinct. Getting to know each character proves to be rewarding as well. Like a good Mass Effect, you really do develop feelings for your crew. (But unlike Mass Effect, you don’t get to bang them. This is of course an oversight.)

The game takes extra care to dovetail into the events of the first game, being a prequel. It really did remind me of Hemingway, specifically For Whom the Bell Tolls. It’s imperfect, but no less beautiful for being so. It seems to express both the sublime of nature and the staggering reality of being unable to outrun your past. Since that last bit’s all you really get out of The Great Gatsby, I suggest substituting Red Dead Redemption 2 as it is vastly more fun. There’s romance, tragedy, joy, and so many horses you might grow hooves yourself. This is truly a game that wants you to take your time and appreciate life, because unlike Red Dead Redemption 2, life is fleeting.

Game Review: Horizon Zero Dawn


It took me a very long time to get through this game. Everyone said that the story sticks the landing, so I stuck it out too. They were right. Horizon Zero Dawn has a fantastic story and beautiful enough cut-scenes to be a great animated movie. It’s the gameplay that I’m not too sold on, both in comparison to its open world contemporaries like The Witcher 3 and Breath of the Wild, or even as a standalone franchise.

There’s something not sticky enough about Horizon‘s combat. It always feels loose and lackadaisical. Critical hits and type advantages never seem to do enough damage. Every combat mission is basically the same, so it’s never clear whether it might be wise to use a blast sling, a tripcaster or even my melee staff. That’s up to my discretion, but unlike in Arkham Knight, my multitude of gadgetry feels more like a utility belt packed with balloon animals. Fights with big beasts, the selling point of the game, are often brutal and tedious affairs. Beasts are the post-apocalyptic equivalent of bullet sponges, eating arrows and bombs until you’ve brought up your scanner and pinpointed their weak points.

The scanner is really lousy too. It’s like Arkham Knight‘s detective vision, but it slows your movement speed considerably, so you can’t effectively use it mid-combat. You have to be crouched nearby, in pre-fight surveillance. This would all be well and good if the weak points on the beasts stayed highlighted. That effect fades. Rather than sending out a pulse mid-fight like the scanner in The Division, the scanner in Horizon oddly segments strategy and combat into stages. That would be functional in a game that felt strategic, but at the end of the day you’re still firing a hundred arrows into a giant robot crab.

The story is really, really good though. Don’t let my gripes about the combat fool you. It is an epic sci-fi tale with heart. Things start slow, but get considerably better by the three-quarter mark. That being said, the dialogue is not as strong as the story, often sounding wooden and awkward. There aren’t any memorable laughs or real moments of levity. Usually the game’s humor is grim, a cynical reminder of mankind’s weakness. Likewise our hero Aloy is a humorless, by-the-numbers, future-cavewoman-detective. Aside from Aloy, the only vaguely interesting performance comes from Sylens, an uncanny valley version of Lance Reddick who is constantly encouraging you to succeed while chastising you for doing it wrong.

A great game like The Phantom Pain feels like a buffet compared to the minuscule ill-sustaining meal prepared by Horizon Zero Dawn. There the gameplay was the meat. Each location was a chance to open up your toolbox and be creative. The gameplay loop of Horizon boils down to hoarding plants and fire arrows and walking through the bushes to your next destination. Aside from the story, everything in Horizon: Zero Dawn was better when John Marsden did it eight years ago.

Game Review: Far Cry 5 (PS4)


I’ve seen a lot of people complaining about the political messaging of Far Cry 5, everything from people believing it’ll give Doomsday Preppers and real-world cultists new verbiage for their beliefs to those who don’t believe it goes far enough in taking a stand against Trump’s MAGA minions.  It’s true that Far Cry 5 lets its cult member villains wax poetic about the corrupt bureaucracy and immorality of modern society, but to claim that any of these monologues includes a new lexicon for your local well-armed militia may be pushing it. As noted in other reviews, Far Cry 5‘s political satire is skin deep. It references catch phrases, MAGA included, that have swept the meme-ridden media landscape, giving voice to pat expressions of political propaganda that probably didn’t need another loudspeaker. But then again, can the same work of entertainment really be criticized for being too problematic while simultaneously not going far enough?

Such is the case with Far Cry 5, an action-adventure video game where your rookie Montana deputy gets inextricably involved in the eradication of a cult run amuck. The opening scene sees our hero and his police posse attempting an ill-advised arrest on the Manson-esque cult leader known as Father. Shit goes awry, and soon you’re off on an explosive open-world quest to rescue the members of your team who’ve been kidnapped by Father’s sidekicks, his two creepy brothers and the fatally intoxicating Sister Faith. Most of your time will be spent liberating hostages, blowing up bright red silos, and recreating action movie sequences to the best of your ability.

The game gives you the option of exploring any of the three regions- each controlled by a different evil sidekick- hopping between them and completing missions as you so choose. I went for Sister Faith’s region first, as it felt the creepiest and most engaging. Though the inclusion of zombie-esque drugged out cult-ies is questionable, the fun of taking them down is palpable. The other two regions are fairly similar, but are controlled by forgettable villains whose schtick oscillates between maudlin and cornball. When they’re monologuing, I suggest you skip the cut-scenes and grab yourself a Coke.

The fun of the game, and there is plenty of it, comes from the side missions and the wacky party members- including a bear named Cheeseburger. Very little of the fun comes from progression in the main story, which may be thought of as a momentary distraction from the thrill of adventure. For those sick of open-world games and craving a focused narrative, Far Cry 5 may disappoint, but if you are like me and wanted a more refined take on Just Cause 3, you’ll be in luck.

Now then: I’d like to talk briefly about the game’s ending, but it is a MASSIVE SPOILER, so please turn your eyes off if you have not completed the game. The so-called ‘good’ ending of Far Cry 5 is hilariously ridiculous, making almost no sense. Whoever wrote it wanted to seem clever and failed miserably. Oh well. At least we’re treated to one of the most jaw-droppingly insane endings to a game ever.

Spoiler-fearing citizens gone? Good. The game ends with a series of nuclear detonations, a failed escaped attempt, and the conclusion that you’ll be locked with Father, the evil cult leader, in a bunker for the rest of your life. Game Over. The ‘happy’ ending of the game results in your character ultimately failing and being punished for his or her attempts to save the day. It seems to be implied also that the supposedly bat-shit cult leader was actually a soothsayer- how else could he have predicted this outcome?- or an international terrorist, because otherwise I can’t even begin to explain how this turn of events came about.

The logistics of the conclusion- that the villain had somehow either planned or predicted a nuclear holocaust- go so far beyond the realm of internal logic that it feels more like a fuck you to reality than a satisfying conclusion. However nothing in the game had really built in any particular direction, so the fact that the ending was a surprise was enough of a shallow victory to elicit some chuckles from me. This is Far Cry after all. Exciting it is, but smart it is not.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Baby Driver


The best thing going for Baby Driver is that it’s very memorable. Like a lot of Edgar Wright’s work the imagery leaves an impact, though unfortunately, the dialogue less so. Fans hoping for a return to comedic form like Hot Fuzz or Shaun of the Dead may be disappointed by the lackluster dialogue, but it’s clear here that Wright is stretching beyond the expected to give us something a little more Tarantino-inspired than we’re typically used to. The music and camera movement are vibrant and fill the flick with life beyond what its paint-by-numbers plotting does. There’s a vibrancy the supercedes the average filmgoing experience and rewards the viewer with a bit of old-school sensory overload, though far from the bewildering spectacle of say Transformers.

The movement isn’t quite Cuaron but it’s a step in the right direction, aping the colorful musicality of the dance sequence in 500 Days of Summer while grounding the story in a bit more gritty reality. There’s still a bit of goofball charm here, and like fellow white nerd Tarantino before him, Wright seems to take great pleasure in scripting lines for a tough-talking mildly psychopathic black badass, here played enjoyably by Jamie Foxx. Jon Hamm and Ansel Elgort fill their roles finely, but don’t give them any added panache either. The real pathos comes from Lily James as Deborah the love interest. She is acting her proverbial balls off in every scene, seemingly filling in the blanks of her character development by making the romance palpable with her gaze.

The script goes from fun-loving heist comedy to violent 70’s fetishism at a gradual pace, but thankfully in a movie about a badass driver, there are few slow segments. The violent acts of the finale make up for some of the cliche dork-ery of the story. The blind old black man that Baby cares for was cute, but felt a little hokey and ultimately fell flat for me. Unlike in Tarantino’s films or Wes Anderson’s where the music feels like a character unto itself, here the music merely drives the plot amicably from place to place as the exciting action sequences ensue. Surely it’s no different than any other action movie in that way? There’s an added charm here that puts Baby Driver ahead of the pack. 

Spellbound Sword Passes 100,000 Reads!

This post is a post of appreciation for my fans, friends, family and readers who’ve helped my book get as far as it has already. That’s right, your eyes tell no lies. Spellbound Sword is officially past the 100k reads mark! I’ve had that milestone in my mind for quite some time now, but never did I believe we might actually get here. Every day I thought the popularity might wain. Call it imposter syndrome or anxiety or fear or what have you, but you’ve proven me wrong, and I couldn’t be more delighted. This is a cause to celebrate!

Thank you so much to everyone who’s stuck with this book and read it beginning to end, putting up with my spelling errors, logical fallacies, and other first draft nincompoopery, not to mention my habit of replying to comments I deem ridiculous with further ridiculousness. (Some might call this trolling. I call it ‘interacting with my fanbase.’) You are all very much appreciated, even those of you who leave mind-boggling comments at the bottom of the screen. I could not have achieved this without you, even the people who started the book and said, ‘Nah, not for me.’ Haha, the jokes on you, you impersistent suckers! I’ve used your reads to achieve this monumental goal, so even your hatred fuels the fires of my creativity!

All kidding aside, I feel really great today. My life has not always been wine and roses. Anxiety, frustration, and personal issues have often left me a mess of discombobulation, unsure of which way to push forth. My previous novels have not seen much praise. When I started Spellbound Sword I thought, well, if no one likes this one, I’m going to give up writing forever. I was convinced that I had misled myself all these years, that I just didn’t have it in me to produce anything of actual value. And now here we are! Just a brief year later and you wonderful lot have ballooned my success to untold fortune! (Now if I could somehow get paid at some point, I might be able to abandon my commitment to artistic poverty- but, ya know, baby steps…)

Thank you once more for your help and kind words. I’m going to keep writing and editing, working on this book and its sequels. I hope you enjoy all the twists and turns to come, and I hope we can keep growing this audience until it eclipses the solar system.


Matt Shore