Aqua Teen Hunger Force Zombie Ninja Pro-Am Is A Weird Golf Game

When I think about the animated Adult Swim show Aqua Teen Hunger Force many things come to my mind. The weird villains, Carl, the numerous name changes it had towards the end and that one time people thought their street ads were bombs. One thing I don’t associate with the series is golf. So it’s bizarre that their first major video game is a golf game.

Aqua Teen Hunger Force Zombie Ninja Pro-Am is a title that sounds more like someone took a few darts and chucked them at a board covered in different and unrelated words. The title also fits for a series that had a name that was so unrelated to the actual show that the creators kept changing it.

The game was developed by Creat Studios. They also developed two video games based on the American Chopper reality TV series. ATHFZNPA was released on the PS2 in November 2007. This was 2 years after the Xbox 360 was released and nearly a year after the PS3.

The actual gameplay is a strange mix. A large portion of Ninja Pro-Am features the stars of the show, Master Shake, Meatwad and Frylock, playing golf. The game uses the standard three-click system, where players hit a button to start a meter, hit it again to set the power and finally hit the same button again to set accuracy.

However, Ninja Pro-Am isn’t just a golf game. This is nice, because the golfing is pretty boring and not very good.

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ATHFZNPA also features on-foot combat with enemies, including radioactive living trees and giant crabs that were originally found on their neighbor Carl. Combat controls are simple, having players hit the X button to bash enemies with their golf club.

Does adding mediocre combat to a bad golf game help improve the game? Sort 0f. It at least adds a bit of novelty appeal to the game. It also feels true to the show. Of course Master Shake and the gang go to a golf course and start getting into fights. Honestly, compared to some of their other adventures this is fairly tame. But you don’t just fight enemies and play golf. Ninja Pro-Am also includes kart racing!

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At certain points in the game’s short campaign, players are forced into a race against different enemies. Using golf carts, the trio of living food items speed across the course to win. Similar to the combat, the kart racing sections are simple and serviceable. Though like the combat, it at least makes the game feel even weirder and different.

Many of the villains and other characters from the show appear in Ninja Pro-Am. One of my favorite villains from the show, Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past from the Future, is one of the two commentators who provide introductions to each of the various golf courses. The other commentator is ESPN’s very own Scott Van Pelt. I’m not sure how the developers got him to do this, maybe he really liked the show?

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Regardless of how he ended up in the game, he adds a perfect amount of reality to the proceedings and pairing him with the absurd Cyberntic Ghost is wonderful.

That is the main reason to play this game or at least to look up the cutscenes on YouTube. The writing and voice acting feels like it was ripped out of the show. Many of the cutscenes were actually included on the season 6 DVD of ATHF. These scenes and the commentary intros are easily the best part of the game, assuming you like the show.

If you hate Aqua Teen Hunger Force, you will hate this game and probably more so than I did when I played it years ago. I at least was able to enjoy the comedic cutscenes between the boring golf gameplay and dull combat. If you just can’t stand the show or find it dumb, this game is going to be a miserable and annoying mess to play.

All cutscenes from the game

While (deep breath) AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE ZOMBIE NINJA PRO-AM is a bad game. It’s also the kind of game we just don’t get anymore. Licensed games are now found mostly on mobile phones. Which is fine, I enjoy some phone gaming. But I miss these awful and strange games based on TV or movies we used to get on consoles. Maybe they weren’t great, but they had a sense of personality and quirkiness to them that most licensed games today lack.

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If you can find a cheap copy of Ninja Pro-Am for PS2 and enjoy the show it was based on, I totally recommend checking this game out. And if you don’t have a PS2 or can’t find a copy, you can find all the cutscenes up on YouTube and they are certainly worth a watch for fans of ATHF.

Source: Kotaku.com

Taiwanese game mocks Chinese president, and Chinese gamers review bomb it

Review bombs are stale beyond being cliché but here’s one with a novel twist: A game included a mocking reference to China’s president got review bombed on Steam by Chinese gamers, and the Taiwan-based developer has apologized.

The game in question is Devotion, a horror game that launched on Steam on Feb. 19. The Verge wrote about it shortly after its premiere, noting how its setting and mechanisms are familiar to the dear departed P.T. It has a substantial following on Twitch.

Count some Chinese players as not big fans, though. Germany’s Spiel Times noted that the interior decorating of Devotion’s apartment includes a poster that says “Xi Jinping Winnie-the-Pooh moron.” This is a big no-no. Xi is notoriously self-conscious about comparisons to Pooh Bear, to the point that China’s super-chill censors sometimes crack down on just the image of Pooh, whether or not it accompanies POTPROC. It was enough to worry folks about the Chinese launch of Kingdom Hearts 3, which features the character.

Devotion’s jab is a lot more overt. It probably does not help that the game is set in Taiwan, either. In 570 reviews in English, the game has a mostly positive reception. There are 18,380 reviews overall, however, a majority of them bad (9,015 thumbs down, versus 5,841 up). That gives it a super-accurate mixed reputation on the Steam storefront page.

Red Candle Games posted an apology which said the inclusion of the poster was a “purely an accident.” Apparently it had been some kind of a placeholder asset and a “version synchronizing problem” left it in by mistake. “As a game company, Red Candle Games has immense room for improvement,” the studio said. “We are deeply sorry for the trouble it caused to everyone, and that we sincerely ask for the forgiveness of our players.”

A ResetEra user (via Eurogamer) noted, however, that most Chinese gamers’ ire drew not from the mockery of Xi, but rather, they felt like the game was mocking mainlanders for being tricked into buying something that makes fun of him.

The user noted that a scan of social media channels for Red Candle Games’ founder and lead designer turned up several posts showing his political views, including support for Taiwanese independence and recognition, an extremely controversial and antagonistic stance to mainland China.

Review bombs on Steam are a time-tested way of registering disapproval or protest for reasons that usually have little to do with the game’s artistic merit or value as a consumer product. Steam has tried countermeasures to limit their impact in the past, to little meaningful end. The Epic Games Store, which launched in December, does not yet feature user reviews; review bombs are a big reason why, and the company says it wants to have controls to prevent them.

Source: Polygon.com

The Best And Worst Hairstyles From The Resident Evil Franchise

The Resident Evil series is filled with zombies and monsters, but it also contains some awful and amazing haircuts. Some of these haircuts are styles I would try or wish I could try. Other hairstyles featured in the series are terrible or bad ideas for folks who need to shoot and move around a lot.

 

The Best Cuts

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Leon Kennedy (Resident Evil 4)

Let’s just get this one out of the way. If you’ve played Resident Evil games, you probably knew Leon’s lovely hair was going to appear on this list. I can’t deny that I’ve thought about buying that jacket and growing my hair out like this. Though I don’t think I’ll ever look this good.

Over the years Leon has modified his haircut a bit, sometimes it’s longer or sometimes the color is different. Yet through all the changes it always look great, though I prefer his RE4 hair over all his other styles.

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Jessica Sherawat (Resident Evil Revelations)

Jessica always looks fashionable and memorable. Her outfits and hairstyles are some of the most stylish the series has ever seen. Not all of her outfits make practical sense, like this one leg dive suit, but her hair is perfect. Fashionable for sure and yet, not something that will get in the way while fighting zombies. Not all RE characters understand this concept as we will see later.

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Jessica is the only character in this list that appears in both the bad and good sections! She has multiple looks in the game and while these two pictured above are great, her other haircut isn’t very good.

Excella Gionne (Resident Evil 5)

There aren’t enough folks rocking bee hive hair in video games. Sure, Excella is a villain who is doing terrible things and working with the evil company Tricell, but look at that hair. It’s so tall. I imagine a bee hive haircut is really hard to manage and you need a lot of hair. So sadly, I don’t think I could rock this cut.

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Excella’s hair is actually hard to fully capture in a single image. It often gets cut off by the camera. Also, don’t type in “Excella RE5″ into Google without safe search on. That tip basically applies to all the women characters in Resident Evil. Unless you want to see a Licker sticking its tongue into multiple places a monster shouldn’t stick a tongue. You do you.

Albert Wesker (Resident Evil 1 Remake)

Sometimes simple is best and Wesker is a perfect example. He doesn’t care about fashion or hair trends, he is too busy being evil. He just wakes up and slathers his hair in two cans of gel, slicks it back and grabs some shades. Maybe not the most inventive or fancy look on this list, though I respect how great he looks. Doing something simple, but doing it perfectly is impressive.

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While Wesker and his slicked back hair has appeared in numerous games, I always prefer the RE1 Remake take on this hairdo. There is a lot of volume in in this version of the classic look.

 

The Worst Cuts

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Rachel Foley (Resident Evil Revelations)

I’m all for hair styles where some hair is draped over the eyes, but there is a time and place for this kind of look. Hanging around a party – sure this is fine. Fighting zombies and other nasty creatures – maybe don’t do this? Rachel eventually becomes a monster herself and her hair grows into a part of her body and ends up covering more of her face.

Rachel is great example of how a great hairdo can go bad. If even one of her eyes was left exposed, I probably would have moved this to the “Best Cuts” section. Sometimes a hair cut is too dumb to be good.

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Jessica Sheraway (Resident Evil Revelations)

Remember those stylish looks from earlier up on the list, well this is before those fashionable styles. This is back when Jess worked as an agent for the FCB during the Terragrigia incident. What was that? A utopia ocean city was infested with monsters and blown up using a super sun laser. You know, just your an average day in Resident Evil.

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I fully appreciate that some folks love this look. I found a ton of great cosplay showcasing this outfit and hairdo. So just remember that this list is solely my opinion and honestly if you disagree, you probably have more fashion sense than me.

Morpheus D. Duvall (Resident Evil: Dead Aim)

Look at this Sephiroth cosplayer. I don’t have anything against folks who cosplay. But Resident Evil villains shouldn’t look like they fell out of a Final Fantasy game. Also, I love his name. Morpheus D. Duvall is so weird and yet mundane. “Hello, I’m Mr. Duvall. I’m here to destroy the world.”

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His mutated form goes in a different direction. It looks like an outfit from a Marilyn Manson video from the late 90s or early 2000s. It is scarier than his basic human form and the hair gets worse. Fleshy appendages are not an ideal replacement for hair.
 

 

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Raymond Vester (Resident Evil: Revelations)

Look at that hair. The color, the shape, the amount of it. Everything combines to create a haircut so bad that I almost wanted to call it good. Sadly, I can’t in good conscience call this hairdo great. How much time do you think Raymond spends working on this every morning?

I didn’t realize how many characters on this list were out of Revelations. I’m not sure why that game had such a high concentration of bad and good hair cuts. Maybe the smaller scale of the game and being more of a spin-off allowed them more freedom. It seems giving RE developers more freedom equals more amazing hairdos. I suggest to Capcom they quickly green light a Revelations 3. The world needs more outrageous hairdos like Raymond’s.

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This is of course not a complete list of every Resident Evil hairdo. If I forgot one you loved or hated, leave it in the comments. Or maybe just share more photos of Leon’s amazing hair. I wouldn’t mind that.

Source: Kotaku.com

PDP’s LVL50 headset — the one to have, if you have more than one console

I’ve fairly given up on the idea of having a truly wireless multi-console headset, with chat. I was able to do this seven years ago, using a Turtle Beach setup that ran $249.95 MSRP and needed firmware updates. But work it did — hell, it even paired with my iPhone — and it handled four consoles, even if the back of my entertainment center looked like C-3PO’s pubic hair.

Thanks largely to the fact the PlayStation 4 will accept USB mikes but the Xbox One won’t, such one-size fits all ambitions are frustrated, likely forever, for the multiplatform power user. (There is an Xbox One set from Astro Gaming that I’m told will work with a PlayStation 4, or you can buy multiple standalone base stations to be sure. Either way, one of those units is $299.99)

Comes now PDP, whose multitasking peripheral solutions we’ve appreciated before. A week ago, they launched their LVL50 line which, for game-like prices, makes buying a couple of headsets a reasonable idea for those who have multiplayer favorites on both PS4 and Xbox One. And at $49.99 for a wired pair, $79.99 for wireless, you don’t sound like you’re inside Iron Man’s helmet, either.

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No, these headsets are not cross compatible, and there’s no effusive, pointilistically technical rundown of the audio capabilities to give — they work, and that’s it. (Moreover, the wireless pair that PDP asked me to try, for Xbox One, worked right out of the box — and that is literally the first time that has ever happened for me.)

Wired cans (I tried ones for the PS4) work just like any headset with a 3.5 mm jack (which means, yes, they work with a PC, microphone too; but my premise here is multiple consoles). The audio is clear and sufficiently loud, but wired, you’ll be adjusting that and the chat audio from the console itself. Its lone frill is the mike mutes when you flip up the boom (it’ll lock into place to let you know when it’s all the way up). As for the cord, the good news is that it doesn’t get in the way. The bad news is it’s only four feet long. This is something more appropriate for a PC (and even then, I don’t have much range of motion plugged into my desktop monitor). If you buy wired, you’ll need an audio jack extender.

The extension cable notwithstanding, I could recommend the wired LVL50 if you just need a headset-and-microphone for your secondary console, and you don’t want to go with whatever Microsoft or Sony packed in the box years ago, assuming you did not throw it away like I did. If the game is anything you’re sinking a lot of hours into, go with the wireless (I tested the Xbox One’s).

It’s for the convenience mainly — but also because you get a chat-specific volume control on the headset, and an extra audio mode, a bass boost that delivers some strong atmospheric sound. Wireless function is handled by a dongle — so if you have an OG Xbox One, keep that in mind, as its USB ports are not in convenient locations. The unit charges with a mini-usb cable (provided, but no adapter) so keep that in mind, too.

Performance Designed Products

I have a soundbar with surround-sound satellites on my television, and the directional audio in the LVL50 gave me better situational awareness in Tom Clancy’s The Division than they do, so that’s a plus. As for the chat microphone and audio, PDP is touting a “bi-directional noise-canceling microphone with passive noise filter.” More or less it works as intended in that I could understand others and they heard me. I didn’t notice anything startlingly clear (or wrong) with that end of the audio. One thing, though, on the wireless headset, know that turning the chat volume all the way up completely mutes the system audio, and vice versa, per a test I ran with the Xbox One’s voice message thingy.

Multi-console setups may be a first-world problem but if you’ve gone in for both a PS4 and an Xbox One, PDP’s price points make dedicated headsets for both not too ridiculous an extravagance. At any rate, I have more confidence in the stability and quality of these things than in just whatever off-the-shelf thing I could find at the Walmert.

We may never go back to the days of a true all-in-one solution, and I wouldn’t say two of these headsets are the next best thing. But they’d still be cheaper than that Astro rig I mentioned, if not as convenient.

Available in GameStop or through PDP.com. We tested a wireless Xbox One unit and a wired PlayStation 4 headset, both provided by PDP.

Source: Polygon.com

The New Driftboard Is Breaking Fortnite Save The World [Update]

GIF: MarkTheSisterFister (Reddit)

Recently, Epic Games added a new driftboard into Fortnite. This hoverboard allows Battle Royale players to quickly move around the map and pull off tricks in the air. However, in Save The World the new board is breaking the game in a few different and annoying ways.

The Driftboard was added in update 7.40 and is available in both modes, Battle Royale and Save The World. This isn’t always the case with new content in Fortnite. For example, the planes added in Battle Royale haven’t appeared in Save The World. (Though players did find a menu option related to planes in Save The World.) But many players aren’t happy about these new hoverboards coming to STW because they are breaking the mode and causing a lot of frustration.

One of the biggest and most annoying bugs is the way Driftboards can randomly shoot players off across the map. This can happen if players attack the board before getting on it or if a player is hit by an in-game enemy while riding the board. Sometimes the hoverboard reacts by flinging the rider into the sky.

While the slingshot bug might be the most dramatic glitch, the Driftboard is broken in a bunch of other ways in Save The World.

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Players have discovered that the board will cause AI turrets to stop working properly, can block players from accessing Storm Chests and can be abused by players to get around going AFK. A player can just stand on a board and the game never flags them as AFK, which allows players to exploit others who are playing and completing missions.

Fans feel like adding the Driftboard to Save The World was a bad idea and that the board needs to be removed or fixed. And the funny thing is, Save The World players already had access to a hoverboard that worked fine and didn’t break the game. The new Driftboard isn’t even that much faster than the old board.

Luckily, to avoid most of these issues players can just never hop onto any of the Driftboards that spawn in STW maps. Considering how buggy they seem to be right now, that’s probably the best strategy.

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Update (6:33 PM EST)

Epic Games has confirmed that Driftboards have been disabled in Save The World. No word on if they will return or if they are gone forever from the mode.

Source: Kotaku.com

Microsoft’s Sending a Confusing Message With Its Hololens 2

Screenshot: Microsoft

When Microsoft introduced HoloLens four years ago, it allegedly changed the industry. But did it really? I mean, you can’t really buy a HoloLens, and its applications have largely been relegated to an assortment of niche enterprises purposes and potentially the military. To me, Hololens was incredibly promising tech that always seemed like it was on cusp of greatness, but was missing one or two critical elements from making that happen. The Hololens 2 seems to be fixing that and Microsoft spent a good hour talking up how this will be the enterprise tool of the near future, but some weird messaging intended to entice us non-enterprise people certainly muddled the message.

But first the part of the message that wasn’t muddled. The HoloLens 2, Microsoft’s ambitious mixed reality headset, could be the second chance Microsoft needs. From the start, with HoloLens 2, Microsoft is hoping to address three of the biggest critiques people had about its first-gen headset: immersion, comfort and value.

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Screenshot: Microsoft

For immersion, Microsoft says it has doubled the HoloLens 2’s field of view without decreasing its 47 pixels per degree-of-sight resolution (that’s very close to the coveted 60ppd some claim is the point individual pixels can no longer be distinguished by the human eye). But on top of that, the HoloLens 2 now has eye-tracking and iris scanning, so you can log into your headset just by putting it, while the headset tracks your vision in order to identify what you’re looking at.

But the biggest upgrade to the HoloLens 2’s immersive abilities is fully articulated hand-tracking that allows you to interact with the holograms as if they were real. And as a nod to overall usability, the HoloLens 2 also features improved microphones so you can do things like call faraway apps or objects to your side without needing to physically walk over and grab them.

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As for comfort, Microsoft says that to create HoloLens 2, the company first scanned the heads of thousands of people from various races and ethnicities to create a headset designed to be comfortable on pretty much anyone. Microsoft claims putting on the HoloLens 2 should be as comfortable as putting on your favorite hat.

Screenshot: Microsoft

The HoloLens 2 is construced out of a mix of plastic and carbon fiber, so that what little weight there is sitting on your head, rests evenly without pinching or pushing on pressure points. All told, Microsoft hails the HoloLens 2 as three times more comfortable than the original.

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However, the HoloLens 2’s biggest hurdle is making it economically attractive to potential clients. Currently, Microsoft says businesses require between three to six months just to develop the software needed to make its headset worth using. But with the company’s experience deploying HoloLens over the last four years, Microsoft claims it has used feedback from customers, and tools developed during that time to create software packages suited to workers in medicine, architecture, and others industries.

Screenshot: Microsoft

Another way Microsoft HoloLens 2 could provide value is that it can also serve as a telepresence machine, allowing workers from all over the globe to collaborate with each in a shared virtual space. At Microsoft’s press event at MWC, the company showed a demo where employees from Mattel were able to view 3D models of upcoming toys in virtual space, so as to better understand and improve their design without needing to physically be in the same room. Microsoft even claims to offer the ability to simply say a word and have HoloLens 2 create a hologram that of that object. These objects can then be grouped, shared, and organized however you want.

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And for all the companies who previously were forced to customize their headsets to fits their individual business needs, Microsoft is launching a customization suite that allows business to tweak the HoloLens 2 to fit their needs. So for industries like construction, Microsoft was able to partner with Trimble to create a HoloLens 2 headset featuring a certified work site safe helmet built in.

And of course, with Microsoft massive investment in cloud computer through its Azure platform, HoloLens 2 should have the ability to connect to servers to build and share holograms with ease.

Yet towards the end of today’s event, Microsoft began to confuse its own message by talking about something that might make enterprise customers nervous—an open ecosystem. Micrsoft laid out a few tenets to govern how HoloLens 2 software works and operates and is pledging that the HoloLens app store will be open to all sorts of developers, will feature open web browsing, and will be based on an open platform accessible to all levels of users and developers.

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Then it brought out the head of Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite, who spoke of how delighted he was the HoloLens 2’s application platform would be open and made a pledge that Epic Games would be committed to an open ecosystem as well.

Open ecosystems and game developers aren’t usually what one associates with enterprise-focused platforms like the HoloLens 2 appears to be. Those comments all seemed to be intended for the rest of us. Nods that one day the Hololens could move out of the enterprise space and into our homes. Just don’t expect that anytime soon. Microsoft’s second-gen mixed reality headset will be available later this year, and will go for a one-time price of $3,500 or be available for monthly payments of $125 a month. That’s at least $1,500 less than the original HoloLens, but still far from what any general consumer would want to spend.

Source: Kotaku.com

Far Cry New Dawn Players Love The Judge And Think They Know Their True Identity

Far Cry New Dawn is set nearly 20 years after a nuclear bomb has hit Hope County, the stetting of Far Cry 5. While many were killed in the blast and aftermath, some Far Cry 5 characters survived. Fans of Far Cry New Dawn believe The Judge is a surviving character from the previous game and a very important one too.

In Far Cry New Dawn players can find a silent and helpful gun for hire simply named The Judge. This gun for hire never speaks, unlike other gun for hires who will often talk about events happening around the player or locations they visit. The Judge will occasionally make some grunts and groans, but that’s it.

While The Judge might be silent they have still built up a big fan base. A lot of New Dawn players love The Judge. On Twitter and Reddit, fans are sharing artwork of the character and sharing photos with the silent warrior. Some even think The Judge is cute! “Who needs co-op when you’ve got The Judge,” said Reddit user hxcdrummer.

But who is The Judge? The character never talks or takes off their mask, so it takes a bit more digging to figure out who this masked friend might be.

New Dawn spoilers ahead!

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Sprinkled throughout the game, fans can find clues and conversations that heavily hint at the The Judge being The Deputy from Far Cry 5.

The Deputy was the player character from Far Cry 5. They were a young rookie officer who became wrapped up in all the cult killing business of the game. Along the way The Deputy helped the folks of Hope County fight and defeat Joseph Seed and his deadly cult.

A conversation Carmina has with The Judge seems to be one of the most direct hints of the character’s real identity. In Far Cry 5 players help Nick Rye and his wife with the birth of their first child, a baby Carmina. In New Dawn, Carmina is now an adult and will mention to The Judge how her parents told her the story of how The Judge, before they were silent and wore a mask, helped during her birth.

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So what happened to the hero of Far Cry 5?

It seems after the bombs fell and destroyed the world, The Deputy became a believer in Joseph Seed. Players can find a note which heavily implies this is the case. In the note it seems The Deputy wants to help “judge” the world and seeks forgiveness and too be reborn. So why does The Judge never speak?

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One theory is that Seed and his cult cut the tongue out of The Judge’s mouth. Fans point to a conversation The Judge can have with the granny sniping Nana. She wants to help The Judge which makes The Judge cry. When she asks them to speak and tell her what’s wrong, The Judge just cries more.

Based on all of this evidence and more clues found in New Dawn, it seems certain that The Deputy and The Judge are one in the same. Though Ubisoft hasn’t confirmed this yet. I did reach out to them, but they didn’t respond with an answer.

Source: Kotaku.com

Warhammer’s Diablo-esque Chaosbane introduces its dwarven slayer

Quick grammar stipulation: In regards to Warhammer: Chaosbane’s Dwarf Slayer, “slayer” modifies “dwarf,” not the other way around. Because it’d be the definition of punching down (heh) if there was a class devoted to killing off every last Gimli.

According to the Warhammer lore here, dwarves take a slayer’s oath to die in combat against a formidable adversary. Something tells me a hack-n-slash dungeon crawler video game will satisfy that requirement immeasurably. But it all sounds like a dwarven catch-22 to me: If you want to be a slayer, you have to die in combat; only those who survive that battle become slayers. I dunno, man, just go with it.

Bragi Axebiter is the slayer dwarf for Warhammer: Chaosbane. He sounds like Groundskeeper Willy. His main method of dealing damage is a spinning axe attack. He also has some limited range attack capabilities. Fight with him long enough, and he’ll Hulk out with bloodlust and kick ass galore.

We’ve already seen the human fighter (“Captain of the Empire”) and high elf mage, that leaves the wood elf, who will likely be your prototypical sylvan ranger, if the Gauntlet-like division of labor here bears out. Warhammer: Chaosbane is being developed by Warhammer creator Games Workshop and recently got a June 4 launch date for PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One. Two closed betas will be held in March and April.

Source: Polygon.com

First teaser of BBC’s His Dark Materials introduces the cast

His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman’s 20-year-old trilogy of young-adult fantasy novels gets an all encompassing adaptation beginning this year on BBC. The Beeb dropped a teaser trailer this morning revealing the stars but not much else.

Dafne Keen (Laura Kinney in Logan) portrays the series’ main character, Lyra Belacqua. James McAvoy (Professor X) is Lord Asriel, Lyra’s scientist uncle. Lin-Manuel Miranda is Lee Scoresby, the Texan balloonist/father figure who helps Lyra along her way. Ruth Wilson (Showtime’s The Affair) is the villain Marisa Coulter, the ruthless agent of the Church. Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon on The Wire) is Dr. Carne, the Master of Jordan College.

The first book in Pullman’s acclaimed series was published as The Golden Compass in North America in 1995. That was adapted into a film by the same name in 2007, starring Nicole Kidman as Coulter and Daniel Craig as Asriel. That was a middling success, both with critics and at the box office. The second two books were never adapted.

The BBC greenlit the show all the way back in 2015, and ordered a second season last year. This new series spans eight episodes. HBO co-produced it with the BBC, so it’s possible this will premiere sometime after Game of Thrones concludes.

Source: Polygon.com

Reveling in the gut-punch ending of Best Picture contender The Favourite

In The Favourite, Yorgos Lanthimos’ dark comedy of royal intrigue, manipulation is the main form of currency enabling women’s empowerment.

Portraying a 17th century social milieu in which men want to “look pretty” (the sculpted, powdered wigs become more outrageous in every scene) and women want to wield authority, Lanthimos erects a precarious structure that threatens to topple with every new power play. The script crackles with snarky, sometimes anachronistic wit, like a Mean Girls version of As You Like It. The thrilling cinematography, which often uses a flailing fisheye lens, mirrors the chaos of the drama that unfolds within the palace, as well as the volatility in Europe at the time. The three women (a queen, a lady in waiting, and a servant) snarled in the central royal pas de trois all want different things. The film has garnered heaps of praise — not to mention 10 Oscar nominations — but even so, the ending of the film is one we’ll be talking about for ages.

To talk about it, we need to start at the very beginning: Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) wants comfort and reassurance, driven by a nearly-constant quest to appease her various appetites, both physical and emotional. She doesn’t always seem to understand that being queen is a full time job, and her petulance and tantrums make her difficult to please. Lady Sarah Marlborough (Rachel Weisz), the queen’s first lady in waiting, has become a de facto advisor on matters of state, due to her highness’ lack of discipline and focus, but also endeavors to placate her majesty’s uneven moods.

Abigail (Emma Stone) is a newcomer at court, a lady whose social status has fallen drastically due to her father’s irresponsibility. Despite having suffered a good deal of abuse and hardship, Abigail’s resourcefulness and ambition allow her to ascend quickly from scullery maid to lady in waiting, a position that enables her to become closer to the queen and attain the position of “favourite.”

Abigail’s first foray into sycophancy occurs as a result of being pranked by a fellow servant, who doesn’t warn her to wear gloves when washing the floors with lye. The painful burns prompt her to sneak off to the forest on a stolen horse and gather herbs for a soothing ointment. When the queen has a painful attack of gout, Abigail applies the ointment to the sores erupting on her legs. Lady Sarah orders Abigail whipped as punishment for her impertinence at entering the queen’s bedchamber without permission, but when the ointment offers relief, Sarah reconsiders and offers Abigail a better job and a room of her own.

Abigail contrives to let Queen Anne know she was responsible for this medicinal witchery, and soon enough is enchanting the queen with her other talents. It soon becomes clear that Abigail is extraordinarily self-aware, and confident that her risky behavior will result in elevated status. Emma Stone’s effortless ability to telegraph her quick-witted subterfuge is delicious to watch.

Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in the film THE FAVOURITE
Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz in The Favourite
Yorgos Lanthimos/Fox Searchlight

Abigail takes to being a lady at court like a duck to water: her previous social status and education serve her well. A footman who spied her in the woods starts following her, and the two begin a rather spirited flirtation. But Abigail seems ill-suited for emotional entanglements, as relationships seem to be purely about control and acquisition for her. Indeed, women’s sexual relationships with men seem fairly inconsequential and prosaic: Anne remains childless despite 17 pregnancies; Sarah’s husband is kind but middle-aged, more a helpmeet than a lover; and Abigail makes little distinction between seduction and rape.

As Lady Sarah and Abigail vie for dominance, the Queen enjoys her role as the prize, needling Sarah about being jealous. That Sarah and Anne have a sexual relationship comes as something of a surprise, to viewers and also to Abigail, who discovers their secret while snooping for something else. She watches them, wide-eyed, then quietly sneaks away, to the sound of sighs.

Casually mentioning their “secret” to Lady Sarah while shooting clay pigeons, Abigail is made shockingly aware of how far Sarah will go to protect the queen and her own position. Later, Sarah carefully dresses the queen in leather armor for riding: it borders on fetishistic foreplay, but it’s also a moving display of intimate loyalty.

Seemingly undaunted by Sarah’s ruthlessness, Abigail uses sex as a gambit to elevate her status, and it works. Sarah can only surmise the queen is showing Abigail preferential treatment in order to exercise what little control she seems to have left, given Sarah’s necessary involvement in running the kingdom. But Sarah’s knowledge of Anne’s moods and proclivities allow her to best Abigail at her own game. Lanthimos creates a sort of horror version of the afternoon tea scene in The Importance of Being Earnest, with Sarah and Abigail one-upping each other’s displays of proper etiquette even as they plot revenge.

Then Abigail decides to play dirty, setting in motion events that cause Sarah to disappear for a few days. In that time, Abigail contrives to have the queen oversee her marriage to the besotted footman, and guarantee them palace lodgings and a generous yearly allowance. Her position is secured at last, and after Sarah returns, Abigail offers to bury the hatchet. The apology is every bit as manipulative as her earlier attempts to act subservient, and Sarah is not having it. This is not a story of women’s friendships, but of their attempts to build social fortresses to protect themselves, keeping the wolves from the door by any means possible.

Sarah is finally left with very few weapons, and when she takes a chance on using the most powerful one in her arsenal, the queen responds with swift authority, having Sarah banished along with her husband. Abigail is now the top lady in waiting, but her position also consists of being an intimate caretaker — and only that.

The queen, feeling dizzy, needs to hold onto something to remain standing and twines her fingers tightly in Abigail’s hair. The subtle camera movement, slowly side to side in a motion evocative of sexual rhythm, and Abigail’s firm but trembling lip, suggest she knows her role going forward will be less that of a lady in waiting who dabbles in court intrigue and more a nursemaid who will be required to perform increasingly undesirable tasks. The Queen’s established propensity towards overindulgence in foods that cause gastric distress demonstrates her self-destructive tendencies, but also the way she uses her own body to punish its caretakers. Abigail’s earlier scenes, where she falls in the mud, is forced to watch a stranger masturbate, and is thrown to the ground by her future husband, presage the humiliating, subservient position she finds herself in as the film ends.

Then there are the rabbits.

Emma Stone and Olivia Colman in The Favourite
Emma Stone and Olivia Colman in The Favourite
Yorgos Lanthimos/Fox Searchlight

Queen Anne’s seventeen pet rabbits, all named for her children who died, miscarriages and doomed infants, have been released from their cages since Sarah’s departure. Abigail initially took delight in them. Now she blithely tortures them.

In the final shot, as Abigail squirms in her cruel grip, we see the queen’s face shot from below, a blank mask of deteriorating health and deep grief. She seems unaware of Abigail’s presence, lost in some dark reverie. Over shots of their two faces, we see superimposed an image of the rabbits scampering across the floor of Anne’s bedchamber. They seem to be multiplying in a shadowy mound of trembling, twitching fur.

The queen’s emotional instability, brought on at least in part from the devastating loss of her 17 babies, is no longer kept in check by a loyal lover. She knows she is in decline, and Sarah’s absence drives home her deep loneliness. The work Sarah did to forge a complex and intimate connection with Anne will always elude Abigail, who cannot provide emotional comfort to anyone, not even herself.

The image of the rabbits slowly overpowers the women’s faces, a throbbing mass of animal fertility, a dark warmth offering cold comfort to the queen doomed to die without an heir, and who banished the only true friend she ever had.

It is an ending with a chilling message: we are our pain, and even as life comes to a close, that pain never abates. We should choose our friends and caregivers wisely, if we can, but if a queen cannot do so, what hope do we peasants have?


Peg Aloi is a film critic, witchcraft scholar, and pomologist whose work has appeared at Orlando Weekly, Broadly, and Film School Rejects.

Source: Polygon.com

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