The Long Way Home: IT Chapter Two (2019) Review

Written by Andrew Busch // Edited by Drew Beyer // Header Image from Warner Bros.

Andy Muschietti’s IT Chapter Two (2019) begins with a simple premise that hurls us back into Stephen King’s twisted universe. When a gruesome attack occurs outside of the Derry summer carnival, it becomes clear that the horror the Losers’ Club swore to destroy in their youth has returned to plague their hometown. IT Chapter Two returns to Derry twenty-seven years after the events of IT (2017) in an attempt to raise the stakes and heighten the horror of the first chapter. The film packs tons of scares into its two hour and forty nine minute runtime, but not all of the scares are effective and the plot that connects them is thin. As Chapter Two ratchets up the scale of the horror it loses sight of the intimate character moments and subtlety that made the first so memorable. Despite some enjoyable moments, IT Chapter Two feels like a jumble of horror elements instead of a complete experience.

One of the strongest elements of IT is the core cast of characters and their undeniable chemistry. IT Chapter Two retains some of this spark through Eddie (James Ransone) and Richie (Bill Hader), though the youthful energy and crude jokes have been replaced by something more serious. This shift in tone differentiates Chapter Two from the first film, as Chapter Two makes an effort to develop its characters and show how they have changed through the passage of time.The film displays the major life transitions for each of the Losers after the credits rolled on the first film. Ben (Jay Ryan) has changed from the shy, new kid to a successful and confident real estate mogul. Bill (James McAvoy) is a writer whose work is being adapted into Hollywood films, making him a stand-in for King himself. However, Chapter Two abandons this character focus after the first act, prioritizing scary clown jump scares over intimate character beats. This choice is frustrating because the beginning adds depth to the characters by exploring their individual memories of their traumas. It is astounding that a movie this long contains so little character development after the opening thirty minutes. 


Bill Hader, Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, James Ransone, Isaiah Mustafa and Jay Ryan. (Warner Bros.)

The story structure also weakens Chapter Two. While the film makes an ambitious attempt to have seven characters share the screen, the solo scenes from the different characters end up feeling repetitive in the second and third acts. In most cases, these scenes all boil down to encounters with Pennywise in another form. These moments effectively build suspense and stunning horror imagery, but they get exhausting when presented back-to-back-to-back. Plus, the scenes start to fall into a clear pattern. The character visits a place from their past, encounters Pennywise, finds their item and happens to escape by the skin of their teeth. This formulaic structure reduces the impact of the film’s attempts at tension and horror.

While the film misses the mark as a blockbuster horror epic, the score elevates its scenes and improves to the original sounds of IT. Benjamin Wallfisch returns from the first film and Bladerunner 2049, providing the film with a hulking 45 track, hour and forty-five minute album of frightening music. Wallfisch’s ability to create variation without sacrificing cohesion strengthens the album. From the quiet, ominous piano ballads on “Losers Reunited” to the grating, nauseating swells of string instruments and horns on “Spider Attack”, the songs on Chapter Two’s soundtrack each sound unique while sharing musical elements that contribute to the overall cohesion of the score and develop a distinct aural aesthetic for the world. For example, the ominous piano melody and somber string progression on “Come Home” is similar to “27 Years Later”. The song draws the listener into its eerie production with its twinges of hope fluttering in the background, only to tear down the facade of safety and devolve into a menacing warble of swelling strings and distorted screaming. Rather than have two similar eerie tracks, Wallfisch goes an extra step to give each their own sonic identity.

The same can be said for the more intense tracks, as a song like “Miss Me Richie?” features booming percussion, grating violins, and chimes while “Home At Last” blends a similar string arrangement with horns and electronic elements to create a buzzing swarm of instruments that pull back for just a moment before hitting like a ten-ton truck. Even though the film’s story structure features repetitive elements, Wallsfisch’s soundtrack remains inventive throughout. The score elevates the film’s scares and is one element where the film achieves its epic ambitions. 

A good score, character development and a solid story structure are all important elements that compose a strong film. But everyone knows that the core of any work of horror is the answer to the question: “Is it scary?” It is hard to pin down an answer for IT Chapter Two, as there are some genuinely creepy moments alongside scares that just don’t land. For example, there is a scene where a little girl encounters Pennywise while following a firefly. Every word Pennywise delivers from the shadows heightens the tension, establishing a slow and quiet sense of dread before exploding into an effective conclusion. In the interest of not spoiling the good scares in the film, suffice to say that there are scenes that will stick with you after the credits roll. However, not all of the scenes work. Sometimes there’s confusion about the tone, as the film cannot decide if some scenes are played straight or for laughs. For instance, there’s a moment where a giant, dilapidated statue of Paul Bunyan chases Richie (Bill Hader) that is hard to take seriously. Regardless of the film’s intentions, the real takeaway is that some of these scenes could have been cut to both decrease the runtime and highlight the genuinely good scares that are peppered throughout.


While some moments are goofy, others will stick with you after the credits (image from Warner Bros.)




IT Chapter Two is an ambitious attempt to translate over a thousand pages of King’s revered novel to the big screen. At its best, the work captures the essence of King’s characters and features some imaginative scares set to an epic score. And at its worst, it struggles with character development, story structure and some ineffective scenes. Muschetti’s desire to stay as true to the text as possible causes him to slightly lose sight of the things that made his first film such a success. Despite these pitfalls, IT Chapter Two still features enough of the wild horror moments and youthful spirit of Muschetti’s first film. While it might not be perfectly constructed, Chapter Two is an enjoyable return to a small town where an evil clown is less terrifying than your memories of growing up.

IT Chapter Two is out now in theaters.


IT Chapter Two (2019) poster

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) Review

Written by Andrew Busch // Edited by Joe Ahart // Images courtesy of Netflix and the Verge

Dan Gilroy’s Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) is a playful horror-satire that targets the world of contemporary art’s self-absorbed social elite to deliver a clear message about the distinction between art as a commercial commodity and art as genuine self-expression. The film follows a group of high-rolling influencers and gallery owners in Miami Beach during Art Basel, the antithesis of Gilroy’s previous film Nightcrawler (2014), which featured con men and crime journalism. But thematically, the two films are closer than they appear. Just like Louis Bloom of Nightcrawler, a majority of the film’s characters are motivated by their individual greed and desire for further influence in the industry. In its most successful moments, Velvet Buzzsaw is a film that carves out a unique narrative within the horror genre with engaging performances from a seasoned cast. However, when all is said and done, the film ultimately suffers due to the absence of genuine horror as well as its heavy-handed critique of capitalism.

Velvet Buzzsaw’s biggest appeal, and arguably most enjoyable elements, are the performances from its star-studded cast of characters. The two leads of this enormous cast, Jake Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo, are incredibly memorable and are able to bring complexity to characters that it would be easy to feel unsympathetic towards. Gyllenhaal stars as the eccentric Morf Vandewalt, an influential art critic that evaluates the aesthetic appearance of everything with cutting cynicism. Once again, Gyllenhaal is at the top of his game as he subtly transitions throughout his performance from confident and collected to neurotic and explosive by the film’s end. Russo co-stars as a seasoned gallery owner, Rhodora Haze, with a cold demeanor that is befitting of her place at the top of the art world’s food-chain as she uses new artists for her personal gain. Russo’s performance expertly sells Rhodora’s ruthless nature while also delivering some subtle hints of the character’s vulnerability despite her calloused attitude.


In Velvet Buzzsaw Gyllenhaal’s explosiveness is on full display.

The film also boasts some incredible supporting characters, each one adding to the discourse of the film’s commentary on art and capitalism. Josephina (Zawe Ashton), Coco (Natalia Dyer), Piers (John Malkovich), Damrish (Daveed Diggs) and Gretchen (Toni Collette) each have different relationships with art. For example, Piers (John Malkovich), is a famous artist on the decline who struggles with both his alcoholism and his own search for meaning in his art. On the other hand, Josephina (Zawe Ashton) is an employee of Rhodora that is clearly more drawn to wealth and fame than any level of artistic expression. As a result, Gilroy’s biggest accomplishment in Velvet Buzzsaw is the level of detailed characters that he is able to achieve, not only keeping the narrative interesting but also adding to the overarching conversation occurring throughout the film about art’s relationship with capitalism.

However, despite the fact that Velvet Buzzsaw successfully captures a multitude of perspectives, the film gets bogged down in its repetitive and heavy-handed critique. While there is nothing wrong with the message that it presents, by the time that film reaches its conclusion the same message has been delivered dozens of times. Viewers are left with a singular, clear-cut message about the stark divide between those driven by greed who profit from art versus the individual artist who creates art for the sake of self-expression. Consequently, instead of being presented with a complex discussion, the film’s potentially unique perspectives feel underutilized. The message is simply too cut-and-dry as each scene repeats the critique that art is a victim of commoditization, while straying from any ambiguity surrounding this issue.

But, the most egregious problem with Velvet Buzzsaw is the absence of horror from this horror-satire. I would even go so far as to say that it is uncertain whether Velvet Buzzsaw can actually be labeled a horror film at all. It has a couple of gory scenes sprinkled throughout, but up until the last fifteen minutes the overall tone is mostly satirical. The main culprit behind this misstep is that unlike the level of detail given to each of the characters, the horror story at the core of the narrative is underdeveloped and unfocused. Even though a collection of haunted paintings is certainly a unique idea, they don’t quite amount to an interesting antagonist. It might sound obvious, but the main problem is that paintings cannot move. This removes a huge amount of tension from the film as the outcome becomes pretty predictable when one of these paintings is present on screen.

Aside from the obvious practical challenge that haunted paintings present, the root of this issue is the fact that the antagonistic force is actually hundreds of artistic works. Frankly, this threat is so nebulous that it overcomplicates the film and it becomes a challenge to identify what to be afraid of. Part of this flaw might have stemmed from Gilroy’s focus on the film’s ensemble cast. In an interview with Sean Fennessey of the podcast The Big Picture, Gilroy offers a quick look into the thought process involved in shaping the film’s horror component: “When Robert Elswit, our cinematographer [and I] sat down, we watched Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist because we came up with the idea that we wanted to create a believable world with believable characters that are experiencing unbelievable events. We were trying to make it credible and we felt that those were two template films”. Gilroy clearly identifies that his objective was to establish a real world with genuine characters in Velvet Buzzsaw, which he experly achieves. But, he neglects that his horror equation is missing a concrete threat to its characters like the cultist neighbors or the demon of his two template films. Consequently, it feels like Gilroy might have been jugging a few too many elements when creating Velvet Buzzsaw. While the effort he makes to add depth to his characters is intensely satisfying, the horror that drives the plot is tragically lost in the mix.

Even though both subtle critique or horror might not be Velvet Buzzsaw’s forte, its originality and detailed character work are commendable in a genre that is infested with remakes. In his same interview with Fennessey, Gilroy touches on his search for originality as he states:  “I am always looking for things that haven’t been done or [I am] trying to. I sort of see myself… I see all writers and artist as prospectors. You are wandering around the desert kicking rocks trying to see things. And it just feels like I try to find worlds that I have not seen fully examined in a movie before” (The Big Picture Podcast). With Pet Semetary, It: Chapter 2 and now Child’s Play set to release in the coming months, Gilroy responds to the current boom of Hollywood reboots by creating a fresh amalgamation that is part Art Basel and part gore fest. The balance of these elements is far from perfect, but regardless Velvet Buzzsaw is a film worth watching because it refuses to play it safe. It throws out the playbook on horror then sets it on fire to deliver a unique, intensely enjoyable satire about the dangers of greed.

Velvet Buzzsaw is out now on Netflix.


Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) poster.

Back to Haddonfield: Halloween (2018) Review

Written by Andrew Busch // Edited by Drew Beyer // Images courtesy of Bloody Disgusting, The Wrap

If the dozens of horror movies I’ve watched in my lifetime have taught me anything it’s that you can have nightmares while you are awake. But my biggest nightmare isn’t aliens from another planet that use humans as incubators or chainsaw-wielding killers that craft masks from human flesh. Instead, I am deathly afraid of watching as horror classics come back from the dead each year because of modern reboots. The bad news is that the epidemic appears to be getting worse with the number of remakes and sequels to past horror films reaching critical mass. In the next year, Suspiria (1977), Pet Sematary (1989) and The Grudge (2004) are scheduled to be rebooted accompanied by a slew of sequels like It: Chapter Two (2019), World War Z 2 and Happy Death Day 2U (2019). All of these films indicate that the horror genre is looking grimmer than ever for moviegoers searching for originality.

David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018) is by all means an enjoyable horror film, but despite the reverence it pays to John Carpenter’s 1978 original, it is hard to ignore the film’s status as a modern reboot. The worst part is that this isn’t even the first time Hollywood has tried to resurrect the series. After the five sequels to Carpenter’s film, Halloween was first rebooted just over ten years ago with the release of Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007) and followed up by Halloween II (2009). So Halloween (2018) is actually the second modern reboot and the eleventh film in the franchise.


All ten Halloween films excluding the newest film. (Image courtesy of Bloody Disgusting)

Halloween (2018) begins by erasing the nine films separating it from the original. It explains how Michael Myers was caught and institutionalized on the night of the babysitter murders in 1978. This very same night continues to haunt Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in the present leading to a rocky relationship with her only daughter, divorces, and a constant fear that Myers will eventually return for her. Unsurprisingly, Myers escapes during his transfer to another prison and what ensues looks an awful lot like the night he first escaped nearly forty years ago. While a reliance on series tropes and an unimaginative plot line bog the film down, the new John Carpenter score, the well executed action sequences, and Jamie Lee Curtis’s performance make this reboot genuinely worth your time.

Just about every horror fan knows Carpenter’s 5/4 main theme from the 1978 film. Now, after nearly 36 years, Carpenter has stepped back into the franchise, this time with his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, to score his first Halloween film since Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). With Carpenter’s hands back at the wheel, Halloween sounds more menacing and angry than it has ever been.

Tracks like Michael Kills Again and The Shape Hunts Allyson feature moments of heavy bowed guitar as frantic high hats ring and distorted bass lines pulsate in your ears. Songs like Laurie’s Theme are more subdued with suspenseful piano work and ominous string arrangements backed by the familiar hum of bass. Without question, Carpenter’s works on Halloween (2018) are the heartbeat of the film, and the new sounds he has created in collaboration with his son and Davies, updates the original score from 1978 for the modern era. As you watch the film you will notice hints of the same main theme peppered throughout, along with reworked tracks like Laurie’s theme that reflect the worsening anger between Myers and Strode. The result is a respectful homage to the original film’s score without leaning too far into nostalgia.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t use past tropes as creatively as the score. One example in particular is how Myer’s mask is presented on screen at almost every opportunity. I understand that everyone should know he is the star of the show, but the close ups feel a bit played out by the time the film reaches its climax. The plot also feels like it borrows too heavily from the original movie’s premise. Once again, the plot revolves around Myers’s inevitable escape from prison. Using the original film’s visuals and central plot wastes any potential room for creativity by keeping things safe.

But Green does take some risks with his action sequences. This is the franchise that started the slasher genre, and this new installment doesn’t disappoint when things get violent. Halloween’s gruesome sequences almost triple the amount present in the original film, yet Myers’s ferocity remains sparse enough to avoid complete oversaturation. Green also executes some brilliant scenes that are sure to impress even casual horror fans. One of these moments is a single-take scene where Myers moves from house to house leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. Green revealed to The Wrap that there were eleven takes of this scene and that the eleventh take is the shot present in the film. Not only is this scene an impressive feat of filmmaking, but it also illustrates how mechanical and merciless Myers is.  


When things get violent Green’s film shines. (Image courtesy of The Wrap)

On a separate note, Myer’s confrontation with Laurie is the film’s shining moment. The enmity between the characters that the score heightens finally explodes in their showdown with impressive results. However, to set the record straight Jamie Lee Curtis’s kickass performance as Laurie Strode is the real reason for this success, not the lumbering giant in the rubber mask. From the beginning of the film, Curtis really sells Laurie’s evolution as a character. She is no longer the helpless babysitter she was in her teenage years. Now, she is intense, armed, and incredibly lethal as she has spent nearly 40 years calculating her revenge. But the most compelling piece of her character is how the past has caused paranoia to rule her life. Curtis keeps this trauma at the forefront of her performance, making Laurie a remarkably deep character by horror movie standards.

As much as I want to hate Halloween (2018) for being another reboot cash-grab, the film is actually so well executed that I have to recommend it. Between its score, action, and Curtis’s performance there are more than enough intriguing elements at play for the film to be worth your time. Green turns over a new bloody leaf for the franchise and is able to harness the aura of the classic slasher for a modern audience. And while I still believe that the graves of classic franchises should remain undisturbed, I am glad Myers has come home to Haddonfield.

Halloween (2018) is in theaters now.


Mandy (2018): Review

Written by Andrew Busch // Edited by Drew Beyer // Images from IMDb

Mandy (2018), directed by Panos Cosmatos and written by Cosmatos and Aaron Stewart-Ahn, is a dark and grotesque revenge film that begins as a light, sugary dream. As the film opens on a nondescript location someplace near the Shadow Mountains in 1983, the main character Red (Nicolas Cage) works as a logger, while Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) works as a cashier at a nearby gas station. This opener also establishes that two main characters are living a picture-perfect romantic dream while secluded in the idyllic wilderness of the pacific northwest. But with the introduction of Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache) and his outlandish cult of junkies, the pleasant and natural dreamscape where the film begins sharply devolves into a suffocating and vile nightmare filled with gruesome violence and demonic cenobites.

One of strongest aspects of this film is how the score follows this same transition. Co-scored by Randall Dunn and the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, the soundtrack unravels throughout the film to match the tonal shift of the plot from quiet and sleepy tracks to strident and sinister. The opening scenes of the film depict Red and Mandy’s relationship through quiet string arrangements and gently swirling synths (Mandy Love Theme). At the same time, later action sequences feature dizzying guitar feedback and heavy riffs by Stephen O’Mally of Sun O))) as well as pulsating synth loops (Burning Church & Forging the Beast). Consequently, the evolution of the films score represents the film’s descent from serenity to the macabre. Similarly, it helps sell the fiery bloodlust of Cage’s character after his peaceful, pastoral life is disrupted.

That being said, Nicolas Cage delivers another polarizing performance in Mandy as he takes the emotions of heartbreak and rage into an entirely different stratosphere. Whether you love him or hate him, Cage has an undeniable explosiveness on camera and his manic, exaggerated performances are often times unforgettable. The actor told Variety in September of last year: “You show me where the top is and I’ll let you know whether I’m over it or not, all right?” (Variety). This film is no exception to the reputation he has built for himself in recent years. In one scene, he screams from a toilet seat while downing half a bottle of vodka in his underpants. In another, he lights a cigarette from the head of a burning corpse.

nicolas 2

Nicolas Cage is as extra as they come. But in Mandy, he proves to be the perfect casting choice.

These over exaggerated moments throughout the film prove that Cage has a talent for acting like a complete maniac on screen, yet his performance in scenes before his rampage leaves something to be desired. In fact, before his bloodthirsty quest for revenge Cage is surprisingly silent and uninteresting. The absence of emotion at the beginning of the film makes his transition to frenzied vengeance hard to buy. But when all is said and done, Cage’s performance is far from a bust. He is as irascible, psychotic and unpredictable as his most infamous appearances like The Wicker Man (2006) and Vampire’s Kiss (1989).

Unsurprisingly, the most successful moments of the film occur when Cage’s spastic presence is paired with the film’s equally exaggerated action sequences. While these scenes are sparse, the few that are present throughout the film’s two hour run time are enough to make the film worth watching. Without giving too much away, these scenes end in everything ranging from decapitation to one character crushing another’s skull with their bare hands.


Some major inspiration may or may not have been taken from Hellraiser for character design.

But even though the score, the action sequences and Cage’s performance make for a wild ride, the plot disappoints by never straying from revenge film tropes. This tried and true formula makes for a convenient catalyst that drives the plot in recent films like John Wick (2014) and Django Unchained (2012), but the main problem is that films in the genre fail to ever fully develop the characters that set the plot into motion. Mandy makes this same misstep as the female lead, Andrea Riseborough, is given very few lines and ultimately a miniscule part in the overall plot. It is clear from the outset that Riseborough is a means for the plot to justify Cage’s over the top acting. The film cultivates a unique aesthetic through the dark tone and exaggerated imagery, but the plot by comparison feels uninspired.

In its best moments, Mandy is a window into a dream or even a deep descent into nightmare. Its dark lighting and somber tone is expertly matched by Dunn and Jóhannsson score to pull viewers deeper into its dreamscape. The action sequences are also intensely satisfying as Cage’s bloodlust develops on screen. But the lack of memorable performances aside from Cage and the recycled plot line do not give viewers much to grab onto. Each of these factors make Mandy a successful experiment in tone and grotesque violence, but a failure to develop human characters or a compelling plot. If you are looking for a moody piece of horror or even a slow burning thriller, look no further. But if you are searching for a human experience, Mandy might be a dream you’ll want to wake up from.  

Insomniac’s Spider-Man Stands at an ‘Amazing’ 87 on Metacritic

Written by Nick Farinola // Edited by Andrew Busch // Images courtesy of Insomniac

That’s right webheads, with almost 90 critic reviews logged into metacritic, Insomniac’s rendition of Marvel’s beloved web-slinger sits at an amazing 87 score. As of September 5th, exactly two days from its scheduled September 7th launch (or a little over one if you plan on picking up the game early at Gamestop), there are 83 positive reviews standing against a meager five mixed and zero negative reviews. Spectacular? You bet! reviewer, Callum McAvan, scored the game a whopping 100 writing, “A joy from start to finish. It is not only one of the best games to be released this year, it is one of the defining games of a generation.” Here I am thinking that no other game this year could possibly outshine Santa Monica Studios’ near perfect God of War sequel. The praise doesn’t stop there. Andrew Reiner of gave the game a 9.5 out of 10 writing, “Excitement is delivered consistently from the outside of play right up to the last story frame, which is a real shocker that contains a reveal that will make the wait for the sequel almost unbearable.” I wasn’t exactly expecting a great narrative from this game, but IGN reviewer Jonathon Dornbush seems to agree, “But what I didn’t expect from Spider-Man was to come away feeling just as fulfilled to have inhabited the life of Peter Parker.” Game Rant summarizes the final product perfectly, “Spider-Man is a great superhero game, a great PS4 exclusive, but most importantly a great game all its own.”

All of you optimistic skeptics can now take a breath, Insomniac’s Spider-Man is another hit for Playstation 4 users. From the fast and fluid nature of combat and web-slinging to the surprisingly emotional narrative to the endless upgrade system that’ll keep you busy until the three-part DLC chapters titled “The City That Never Sleeps” arrive in October (The Heist – a black cat-centered story), November (Turf Wars), and December (Silver Lining), this game seemingly transcends the typical superhero game. Just for fun, and because I enjoy playing the Devil’s advocate, let’s take a look at some of the more mixed reviews.


Spidey counting up all these positive reviews.

Rick Lane of The Guardian gave the game a three out of five stars, which somehow translates to a 60 on metacritic. Serving as the lowest score so far for the game, I’m curious as to what aspect(s) bothered him. Metacritic used this line from his review to represent his score, “This game shows tremendous love for all things Spider-Man, and the ending packs a punch he would be proud of. But Insomniac relies too much on its hero to elevate the world built around him, with the result that the game wears thin some time before its powerful conclusion.” Seems a bit vague, wouldn’t you say? Diving into his actual review on the website, I found that there are some pacing issues in the game’s narrative. Although Lane praises the story as “surprisingly rich,” he thought the second act felt stilted, and the third to be downright rushed. What really seemed to be the icing on the disappointment cake was the confusing absences of Spidey’s supervillains. He writes, “Aside from the last two encounters, the superhero-versus-supervillain set-piece fights are confused, messy and ultimately disappointing.” Luckily (or unluckily depending on your view) the boss battles are few and far between.

There you have it folks, Insomniac Games (known for their awesome and somewhat underrated Xbox exclusive Sunset Overdrive in 2014) has created a fresh Spider-Man game that is as awesome as Spider-Man 2. Are you picking up Spider-Man for your PS4 this weekend? Let me know why or why not in the comments, and have fun swinging around New York City!

Insomniac’s Spider-Man releases on September 7th for the Playstation 4 console exclusively.

“The City That Never Sleeps” DLC is priced at $24.99 (or $9.99 each), but you could also get it in the Digital Deluxe edition (including the game and the season pass) for $79.99.       

A Few Reasons to Keep Your 3DS Around

Written by Colin Burns // Edited by Andrew Busch // Images courtesy of Nintendo, Polygon and IGN

It’s been nearly a year since Nintendo released their big gamble of a handheld/console hybrid, the Nintendo Switch. By nearly every measure, the Switch is a success and gamers are faced with the same dilemma they see with every new generation of hardware. The excitement of the Switch is causing many Nintendo loyalists to jump ship and abandon their trusty 3DS systems in favor of the newer, cooler tech. That’s why I’m here to shout, “WAIT!”. Before you drive yourself mad choosing what color joy cons to buy, let’s take a look at a few reasons why you shouldn’t cash in your old pal, the 3DS.

1. Smaller games you probably missed.

Despite a rocky launch, the 3DS library grew into one of the most diverse and quality collections of games around. Sure, you’ve got your Fire Emblems and your Pokemon, but there are a number of excellent titles that flew under the radar and warrant another look.

Crimson Shroud


Looking for a numbers heavy D&D style RPG adventure complete with actual dice rolls? Look no further than Crimson Shroud. Helmed by Yasumi Matsuno (the creative mind behind Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics and Final Fantasy XII) Crimson Shroud packs a lush, weighty world with tons of atmosphere into a small eshop title. The game features Matsuno’s masterful understanding of classic fantasy story telling. Battles play out in Dungeons and Dragons fashion with the player selecting an ability and using the touch screen to roll the dice to determine the outcome. It’s a fun little gimmick that doesn’t feel out of place and makes good use of the 3DS’ unique features. Any RPG fan should dig out their 3DS and download Crimson Shroud as soon as possible!

Attack of the Friday Monsters


Sure, you’ve probably dropped hundreds of hours into Animal Crossing: New Leaf but you probably neglected to download another great “slow-life” game on 3DS, Attack of the Friday Monsters. Friday Monsters comes from the mind of Kaz Ayabe, a name better known in Japan for the My Summer Vacation series. You play as a small Japanese boy in the 1970’s and spend your days running around town, collecting cards, playing made-up games with your friends and obsessing over superhero TV shows. The game captures the undeniable carefree spirit of childhood and just like your childhood, it seems to end just when things were getting good.


Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers


Back in 1997 when Soul Hackers was originally released for the Sega Saturn, the Mega Ten series of RPGs was still incredibly niche and it wasn’t until the 2013 3DS port that the game made it to the west. The game is your standard 1st person dungeon crawler but features all the flare of the Megami Tensei games. The story’s mixture of tech and demons is signature Megami Tensei and Soul Hackers’ story ranks among the best in the series. Though some of the graphics and systems are dated, the 3DS version offers a few modern conveniences like the ability to save anywhere inside a dungeon to ensure the game is still playable in the modern era. Even the most hardcore Mega Ten and Persona fans may have overlooked Soul Hackers but it is a meaty RPG that deserves to be played.


2. Lack of Switch backward compatibility.

This is an obvious one but a lot of people don’t consider it until it’s too late! Dozens of noteworthy games will only ever be on the 3DS and you’ll never be able to play them on the Switch. Say two years from now, you feel like jumping back into the fantastic Super Mario 3D Land – well then you better hold onto your 3DS. Also, thanks to an abundance of ports and remakes, the 3DS is the optimal console for some of the best games of all time. For example, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D and the remake of Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga are reasons alone to dust off your 3DS again.


And don’t forget, the 3D effect was put to pretty good use in some games like The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. And I wouldn’t count on them releasing a 3D Switch anytime soon. Do you own any other piece of tech with glasses-free 3D? Probably not. The 3D functionality is an interesting footnote on video game hardware history and you owe it to yourself to preserve your ability to experience it.


Image from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (Courtesy of Nintendo)

3. You love your 3DS and your 3DS loves you


Robin Williams and daughter Zelda Williams play the Nintendo 3DS in an image from a promotional video. Williams, an avid gamer, died earlier this week.

Would you really sell off your 3DS for just over a hundred bucks? Your 3DS was with you through mundane study halls. It was always there on long flights. Remember how happy you were as you saw that green streetpass light flash? Or the dread of watching your light begin to flash red halfway through a Bravely Default boss battle. Your 3DS has been through a lot with you. Sure, if 10 years from now you feel like replaying Pokemon Sun, you can probably go on eBay and cop a 3DS for cheap. But, it won’t be the same as dusting off and opening up your old friend.

Your 3DS is part of your gaming history and you shouldn’t ditch it so lightly. Maybe you have an awesome Pikachu themed 3DS XL or maybe you’ve got a fancy new 3DS with colored buttons and faceplates. Regardless of which variety you have, you chose it for a reason. You may have been through a lot together, but there are still games that you both have yet to play that are more than worth your while.

Star Wars Battlefront II: Review

Written by Andrew Busch // Edited by D. Matthew Beyer // Images courtesy of EA

Caught amidst a torrential storm of shit-posting, down-trending Reddit comments, and sheer mockery of their loot box progression system, EA was battered and beaten over a game that should have been a complete layup.

So what went wrong? Star Wars Battlefront II launched on November 17th and continues to be regarded as one of 2017’s most infamous releases. Specifically, reviewers and internet meme stars directed their hatred at EA’s loot box system which did not even try to disguise the pay-to-win nature of the game. For everyone unfamiliar with this term, pay-to-win means exactly what you’d expect. A player can spend real world money in order to improve their in-game characters or abilities. Whoever spends the most money will have the best upgrades, weapons, items and thus be the best at the game. In short, this is a huge deal and I am not really surprised that a big business like EA found a way to turn a AAA game into a goldmine of micro-transactions. But now that these micro-transactions have been disabled and the in-game cost of buying your favorite heroes has been decreased, I think it’s time to give Battlefront II an unbiased, objective review as a game instead of a hodgepodge of predatory business decisions.

Before I start talking about EA’s shiny new game, we have to go back to a long time ago in a galaxy not so far away. If you were a fan of Star Wars as a kid like I was, then you remember the feeling of your eyes widening as the epic space saga unfolded on the silver screen. Regardless of sequels or prequels, Clones or Stormtroopers, Anakin or Vader, Star Wars sweeps you up into its sprawling universe, especially when it came to games. So, if you happened to be a Star Wars fan with an Xbox or PS2 in the mid 2000s it is pretty safe to say that you also had the first two Battlefront games made by LucasArts and Pandemic on your shelf. I will never forget sitting down by myself or at my friend’s house utterly entranced by hours of Galactic Conquest, fighting for the good of the universe as the Republic or snuffing out the light of all hope as the Empire. These first Battlefront games deserve their special place in our hearts. But maybe we should all leave behind this nostalgia. EA’s Battlefront II will never be the games that engrossed us in our childhood. And contrary to what some people think, the fact that these games are different does not make them bad. In fact, I would argue that this latest installment is ultimately a triumph for Star Wars fans.

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At the heart of this triumph is Battlefront II’s intense, gritty, and smooth combat system that inserts you into the heat of battle. Even more so than EA’s first game, I find myself continually having those “Star Wars moments”. I know it sounds cheesy, but when you roll out of the way of a crashing Tie Fighter, then heroically vault over a fallen rebel comrade and start roasting some Imperial fools into shawarma kababs with your giant laser Gatling-gun you will know what I mean. The fast-paced combat in this game is extremely rewarding. You will definitely get killed by your fair share of grenades and shotguns, but the feeling when you make a great play will have you screaming, “now this is pod racing”.


Arial combat is user-friendly while maintaining the blazing pace of Battlefront’s heart-pounding action.

On a separate note, the distinct cosmetic look of each class is a brilliant new addition. For example, the clone Specialist has sleek armor and a futuristic visor for spotting ladybugs at four thousand meters, while the Heavy has more bulky equipment and a battle-ready skirt for flexing their progressive style choices as they blast droids into oblivion. Slight changes in armor marking and appearance also take place as you play on different maps throughout the Star Wars universe. The clones with green armor that you play as on Kashyyk have a different armor style than the Episode II era clones you play as on Kamino. Similarly, Hoth features the Empire’s snowtroopers while Tatooine is occupied by the desert Stormtroopers with their orange shoulder pads. These differences might just seem like small cosmetic changes, yet they go a long way to give players a more genuine sense of immersion. These efforts also show that EA is committed to what every Star Wars fan values: the details.


The class system in Battlefront II is a welcome change.

The class system in Battlefront II is also a nice callback to the original games. Specialists, Heavy, and Assault classes have returned while the Officer class is a bit of a new creation. The revived class system gives players freedom to experiment with new weapons and also the opportunity to experience the distinct abilities that each class has up their sleeve. This aspect alone is an improvement from EA’s first modern Battlefront venture that allowed players to switch weapons and abilities without any real organization. Unfortunately, these abilities or “star-cards” do pose some problems to balancing the multiplayer as some, like the shotgun for the Assault class, are way too overpowered even at their earliest upgrade stages.

However, the glaring problem with the multiplayer is not the overpowered star-cards. Instead, it is the fact that players that score early kills always end up sitting at the top of the leaderboard. To borrow a term from League of Legends, this “snowballing”  runs rampant in Battlefront II’s multiplayer matches. Basically, just as a snowball rolling down a hill gets larger and faster over time, the players who perform the best early on are able to hold on to their momentum as well as increase in strength due to the various characters and heroes that are available for unlock. For instance, players that get to unlock characters like the jet trooper the quickest will eventually be able to build up kills until they are the first to unlock heroes. After unlocking these heroes, many players continue to stay at the top of the leaderboard because of how easy it is to maintain a killstreak with them. Moreover, the people that have the best start to a match will eventually be able to pick heroes every respawn because of how unstoppable they have become. While this is definitely fun for players with a high skill level, it is disheartening to get obliterated by the same asshole playing Darth Vader time and time again.


Getting constantly killed by heroes is frustrating, but when you finally take one down you are heavily rewarded.

On the other hand, Battlefront II’s campaign does not create the same magic that I found in its multiplayer experience. The initial premise peaked my interest as the story stars a badass anti-heroine commander named Iden Versio, the leader of a small team of special forces soldiers called Inferno Squad. But regardless of how strong Iden is as a character, she is not given enough time to develop the depth that she deserves. The campaign’s also suffers because the abridged timeline constricts a story that initially had some promise. What is especially frustrating is how certain characters just suddenly change their deeply held convictions within a couple of missions at most. My last gripe about the campaign is that it is simply too easy, especially for veteran players of FPS games. Unless you decide to rush headlong into combat, the single-player is pretty much a cake walk as the enemies are just cannon fodder between each mission’s objectives.


At first Iden is an intriguing character, but she is never given enough time to develop organically.

Star Wars Battlefront II is by no means a perfect game. Its multiplayer has some balancing issues and its campaign is a lackluster and  fizzles out before its given any proper time to bloom. We also shouldn’t overlook the fact that this game was almost a pay-to-win venture and another manifestation of the firm hold that corporate greed has on just about every aspect of our lives. Yet, all negative experiences aside, this game is some of the most fun I have ever had with Star Wars. Its fast and addictive combat pairs perfectly with the authentic atmosphere created by each playable map across the sprawling universe. And by no means is this game a replacement for the Battlefront of your childhood, but it is a welcomed new opportunity to see Star Wars in all its epic space-laser-shooting, lightsaber-wielding glory.

Going Hands-on with PUBG’s Miramar

Written by Andrew Busch // Edited by Drew Beyer // Images courtesy of PUBG Corp.

With over 20 million copies sold while still in early access plus winning best multiplayer game at this year’s Game Awards, expectations for PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds are reaching astronomical levels as the game creeps towards its official release. Slotted for December 20th, PUBG’s 1.0 patch promises many improvements ranging from sound design to vaulting mechanics that will help modernize the sometimes crude 3rd person shooter. Yet the main reason the update has gamers on the edge of their seats is that it comes with the game’s first new map, which the developer says will be bigger and more detailed than its predecessor.

PUBG Corp debuted the trailer for this new map, a desert area called Miramar, last Thursday night during the game awards and announced that the map would go live on the game’s test server at midnight. This perfectly calculated marketing move sent players— myself included— rushing to our steam libraries so we could be the first to brave the sands. I was dying to know if Battlegrounds could recreate the same addictive magic of the initial map in the new setting. And for a game that added only a handful of weapons during eight months of early access, an entirely new map was a huge deal.


The jet ski is one of the new vehicles exclusive to Miramar.

And after going hands-on with Miramar, I definitely have some reservations about PUBG Corp’s newest addition to PUBG. While the map changes the scenery and adds some exciting new towns to explore, it feels a bit too empty and expansive even with a hundred players per match. Ninety percent of the map is covered in sprawling desert with nothing for cover besides the land’s natural changes in elevation. Not only does this lead to frustration when you can’t seem to get the high ground before all those other assholes with their 8x scopes, but it also takes focus away from some of the map’s more intriguing areas. Specifically, the coast of Miramar features five islands that players can plunder for loot which often go ignored as the play area continually constricts towards the center. In fact, out of my dozens of matches on the new map the zone has only fallen on the outside islands once.


Aside from a few areas on the coast and the five islands this entire map is nothing but sand.

Despite my reservations, Miramar ultimately feels like a step in the right direction for Battlegrounds with its increased level of details and sense of immersion. The differences between the generous number of towns dotted around Miramar impress me more than the first map’s towns did. Each seems less like the copy-paste settlements of Erangle due to the new building types and even a couple of unique structures. For example, you can fight for your life inside a Luchador ring in El Pozo, while Pecado has a huge casino and a large arena brimming with loot. A few other highlights include a graveyard, the hulking structures of a water treatment plant, and even an abandoned prison to explore and keep you coming back for more. Each of these new additions prove that PUBG Corp designed Miramar with its own unique character, a successful move that gives this new map more longevity than its predecessor.

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The slight adjustments and tweaks to the gameplay on the test server furthers PUBG Corp’s commitment to improving the game, as the mechanics are still steadily improving. The most notable addition is the new vaulting mechanic. It’s a relief to not have to run around low walls or fences now. The freedom to go over instead of around objects opens up opportunities for new combat tactics. However, the system as currently implemented is far from perfect and you will sometimes still find yourself jumping into walls instead of over them.

Another nice change is the added ability for passengers in vehicles to use bandages or take boosters. It just makes sense that passengers should be able to do more than shoot and lean out of windows. On the other hand, the added kill-cam system mechanic does not even pretend to work correctly. Most of the time when you choose to watch your death you will see the enemy that killed you shooting into the sky or a nearby wall to land their kill. If you are anything like myself I’m sure that the words, “broken fucking game” have escaped from your mouth in some combination while stomping across the battlegrounds. But just like everything we have seen from PUBG’s previous updates, these things will get better over time.


weapon 1

The map also features a few new weapons. None of these are game changers but some, like the R45 revolver, pack a pretty big punch.

As it stands from the test server, PUBG 1.0 is a mixed bag of the good and the ugly. Battleground’s newest map provides to players even more hours of intense action in a new and improved setting. The details in its new towns and unique buildings give the map character that was sorely missing from the copy-paste feel of its original map. However, the empty void created by the desert instills a lingering hollowness that takes away from even some of the most exciting areas of the map. In a similar vein, the game’s added vaulting mechanic enables some new strategies, yet other times it’s frustratingly clunky. But if you are a fan of the game or regularly play with friends, this latest update might be exactly what you are looking for to spice things up on the battlegrounds this holiday season.

Check out Miramar’s debut trailer here:

Cuphead: Review In-Progress

Written by Andrew Busch //  Edited by Drew Beyer // Images courtesy of Studio MDHR

Studio MDHR’s Cuphead is a run-and-gun side-scroller that follows closely in the footsteps of 2D action titans like Megaman and Super Mario. Like these predecessors, the game requires precise timing, platforming skills, and pattern recognition to beat bosses and progress through the four main areas of the game. But, Cuphead is much more than an attempt to recreate the glory days of side-scrollers and platformers. It is a unique game with its own challenging twists and incredible art style that pays homage to the era of 1930’s Cel Animation.

Don’t let the cheery and nostalgic art style fool you. Cuphead is a challenging game that demands dozens of attempts to beat just a single boss or level. In fact, some of these battles are akin to encounters in Dark Souls or Bloodborne. However, Cuphead offers a different kind of challenge. You won’t need to do any extensive back-tracking in Cuphead because the frustration comes from the sheer unpredictability and difficulty of the bosses. The multi-phase combat gets even more challenging with each stage causing you to constantly change your strategies and adapt to the new moves that each enemy has up their sleeve. And with only three or four hit points (depending on player upgrades), the margin for error is extremely small.


Cuphead’s bosses require some perfect timing and focusing on the pace of action. If you lose the rhythm of the battle things stop going your way.

This leads to my major beef with Cuphead. The game lacks consistency. In some ways, you could spin this positively. The fact that the stages for each boss aren’t always the same gives the game replay value. It also allows for the stars to align at certain moments giving you that one perfect opportunity to beat a boss. However, for the most part this randomness creates unneeded frustration and will have you bringing up the menu to hit “RETRY” when you get an undesirable stage during a boss fight.

Hilda Berg is a perfect example of how inconsistency will break you. As you battle her, she takes the form of certain astrological symbols. Once you damage her enough in her normal form she will always turn into Taurus in the second stage of the fight. However, after beating her normal form again in the third stage she can change into either Gemini or Sagittarius. This is where all you can do is hope that luck is on your side. If you get Sagittarius, you are screwed. He is a giant centaur that shoots humongous arrows in your direction surrounded in a cloud of small stars. This isn’t a normal arrow. It is a giant tracking missile with laser precision. If it doesn’t ruin your day one of the stars that hunt you down will. On the other hand, if you get the Gemini Twins you have smooth sailing ahead. They just make a portal that shoots a straight line of projectiles in a counter clockwise pattern that is pretty easy to dodge.

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This incongruent split between the difficulty of Hilda’s phases is an example of how randomness destroys your agency as a player in Cuphead. More often than not, it is up to random chance if you will beat a boss. I found that if I got the right phases I was set up for success, but if I got unlucky I would eventually just start hitting “RETRY”.

At the same time, the fact that Cuphead does not grant players immediate gratification for their efforts is a reason why I keep returning to the game. If I ever have a few spare minutes I will take a crack at a boss battle. Each time I learn just a little bit more and get even closer to success. This element is not only rewarding when you finally take down one of the Devil’s debtors, but it also keeps the game extremely addicting.


Boss battles are tough, but the feeling of overcoming all odds is what keeps me coming back.

Cuphead’s combat is also a major highlight of this game. The screen erupts with chaotic explosions of color as you battle your way through each major encounter. And while keeping up with the pace is sometimes difficult, its frantic action will continue to keep you on the edge of your seat. Also, the upgrades and new weapons, dubbed “firing modes”, keep combat from ever getting too stale. Each ability impacts how you approach a boss, how much damage you deal, and even how close you need to stand to them. This adds an added layer of strategy to the game and will cause you to make some difficult choices. For example, you could upgrade your character to have a dash ability that makes you invulnerable for a split second or use the same slot for an extra heart. These choices might seem small, but ultimately, they will make-or-break your success as you face some of Cuphead’s toughest enemies.


Be careful about which upgrades you purchase from the store. Coins are hard to come by.

Finally, this wouldn’t be a Cuphead review unless I talked about the beautiful art style and the creative characters that Chad and Maja Moldenhaur have dreamed up for this game. Each of their bosses and basic enemies feel and move like the characters of 1930s cartoons. Even though the game’s characters borrow from this tradition, they are all unique creations with their own personality. One of my favorite villains so far is Beppi the Clown. At the beginning of the battle he looks like a normal cartoon clown, but as the encounter escalates he becomes a monstrous, demonic, carnival-themed beast. The more that I play this game the more I realize that the creative art style that Studio MDHR delivers works as the perfect medium to deliver the frenzied action of Cuphead’s gameplay.

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Cuphead’s agonizing difficulty, explosive combat, and impeccable art style are just a couple of my favorite elements of this game so-far. Currently, I am only about a third of the way through the game so I am looking forward to returning to the Inkwell Isles to die another thousand times. And once I finally make it through Cuphead’s grueling tests of my self-esteem and patience, you will be the first to hear about it.


Buy this game if you want challenging, fast-paced gameplay with creative bosses and couch co-op.

Borrow this game if you are not as tenacious but are still a fan of unique art styles.

Pass on this game if you are easily frustrated and you don’t like more demanding gaming experiences.



Oh the Places You’ll Go: Agony, Scorn, and Other Upcoming Horror Titles

Written by Joe Ahart // Edited by Andrew Busch // Image courtesy of MadMind

The first time I saw footage of Agony, I was on YouTube looking for a new horror game to play. I noticed this game I had never heard of, and indulging my love for the genre, of course I had to check it out. The next ten minutes may have been one of the most disturbing gameplay demos I’ve ever seen. Walls and floors made of flesh and bone, lost souls constantly groaning in the background, and terrifying demons that would make Freud a happy man, made sure that the world MadMind Studios has created would be burned into my skull for a long, long time. In a morbid sense, I loved every minute of it.


Stylistically speaking, Agony’s grim and putrid world is brilliant. (Image courtesy of MadMind)

First person survival horror games have been mainstream for quite a while now, with games like Outlast, Amnesia, Alien: Isolation and the P.T demo (rest in peace) becoming an increasingly popular genre for game developers. And with this many entries comes innovation, as well as a recent trend that has begun to develop with the release of Resident Evil 7. VR experiences are currently creeping their way into bigger and bigger titles. Even Bethesda is giving Skyrim the VR overhaul, to give the certified classic game that extra level of immersion. Survival horror games are especially reliant on this same sense of immersion in both the atmosphere and the world, allowing the naturally restricted gameplay to remain challenging and fun rather than tedious and slow. It’s obvious that Virtual reality is a goldmine for developers. With a sizable investment, they can bring the immersive capabilities of their games to the next level.

As of now, Agony has not given any reason to believe that it will be supported on VR. Though time will only tell if VR will become a larger player, I think there is a benefit to hesitation with the VR medium. Rather than focusing on integrating a whole new gameplay style, games like Agony are keeping their attention on the surreal worlds they are building, thinking of bringing the genre to a new style rather than a new platform. Generating such a world takes an immense amount of both artistic talent as well as time to fully generate and build. There are no office buildings, spooky houses, or abandoned facilities which conjure a certain amount of familiarity. The world of Agony is unlike anything that a first-person horror has ventured into, with the world giving you no familiar ground to work with.

Another upcoming title which incorporates the same elements of a completely fantastical world is the two-part survival horror game Scorn. There is heavy artistic influence on this game from the late H.R. Giger, who essentially fathered the biomechanical style many people are familiar with. The liberties these games are taking with their worlds is something I look forward to; it is essentially a demonstration of what modern day computers and consoles are capable of running, and is taking advantage of the abilities to provide an artistic and fresh expression of horror.


Scorn has Geiger’s biomechanical style on lock. (Image courtesy of Ebb Software)

That isn’t to say that there can’t be a game that is both innovative and creative. There is another upcoming title which is incorporating the use of VR for its creative purposes, going that extra mile to show what the future of the genre is capable of. Stifled is a game which relies on sound, since your character is completely blind. By speaking into the mic, you are able to use echolocation to map out the surrounding area, and navigate the terrain. Stifled made an appearance at E3 this year, and gave a quick demo of what could be an either intense experience unlike any other game, or a silly adventure which involves non-stop screaming into your mic. Regardless, there is something to be said about the indie-game companies, and the creative juices that flow behind the scenes.


Here is an example of how the world looks in Stifled once you map it with your echolocation abilities. (Image courtesy of Clip Through)

Games in the past have proved that a gorgeous world and minimalistic gameplay can come out on top of the innovative titles that come out alongside new tech. Something that comes to mind is the game The Last Guardian, utilizing the gift of minimalism, with their world being the priority over their technical abilities. Both Agony and Scorn seem to be utilizing the same sort of minimalistic style, albeit a completely different genre. Survival/ survival-horror are kept minimalistic out of necessity to keep the player starved of any abundance of resources or power. The fact that these are so popular means that in the end, lots of gamers prefer an immersive world over immersive tech. Of course there is incredible potential in VR, but at this point it is still in the gimmick stage of being a hot Christmas toy, rather than the future of games.

It is difficult to say at this point whether or not these games will float or sink, as gorgeous environments alone are not enough to keep a game alive. But with affordable and mainstream VR close on the horizon, we are witnessing a creative boost from various indie developers which could potentially lead to a renaissance of not only the survival horror genre, but for any sort of game willing to go form over function. Agony is set to release at some point in 2017, and Scorn will release in 2018.

Watch the Agony and Scorn reveal trailers below: