Category Archives: Retrospective

Ace’s Games of the Year 2015

Happy New Year!

Ah, 2015. What a year. So much has happened in the past twelve months, it’s hard to know where to begin. The political climate has changed, wars have been waged, and humanity continues to stumble down the path to its inevitable destruction. Oh, and some video games came out! So let’s talk about those.

Please note that these rankings are entirely subjective and made in no particular order. I have, however, separated them into three categories: The Hall of Fame, in which I have placed my eleven favourite games of the year (Why top eleven? Because I like to go one step beyond. Hahaha references); the Hall of Participants, in which I have placed games I enjoyed very much this year but for whatever reason have not placed in the Hall of Fame; and the Hall of Shame, in which I have placed this year’s biggest disappointments.

So without further ado, let us open the pearl-encrusted gates into…

THE HALL OF FAME

Reserved for only the finest experiences of the year

Dying Light

This one came as a complete surprise to me. Hailing from Deep Silver, the creators of Dead Island (a passable zombie game) and Dead Island Riptide (a mediocre retread of a passable zombie game), it looked as if this would jump straight onto the bandwagon of “meh” games with nice trailers Deep Silver were in a habit of producing. But no! What was given to us was a fantastically fun fusion of Mirror’s Edge parkour gameplay and meaty zombie clobberin’, sandwiched between two pillowy slices of a reasonable story, with some genuinely creepy moments sprinkled in for zest (Screamer zombies… nuff said). On top of that, us poor folks in the UK who got the boxed version late received the season pass absolutely free, meaning the next – huge – expansion, The Following, will be absolutely free. I’m excited to see what the future holds for a game with such an admirable business strategy, particularly one that I don’t think got the recognition it deserved upon release.

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Hotline Miami 2

What is there to say about Hotline Miami 2 that has not already been said about Hotline Miami? It’s a winning formula – the plot stylings of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, a grimy 80s aesthetic and soundalike soundtrack by awesome synth artists like Perturbator and Carpenter Brut, and ultraviolence. It’s a walking paradox – ugly, yet beautiful. Short, bloody and confusing as hell, but made with such panache and confidence that it stands out as one of the best THINGS I’ve been exposed to in 2015.

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GOTTA GET A GRIP

Tales From The Borderlands

Oh, Telltale. We worried about you – stretching yourself so thin over two huge games. And while one suffered as a result, this one blew everyone away. Building off the established universe of Gearbox’s Borderlands series, TFTB manages to tie each story together in a meaningful way that doesn’t trample over existing plots (though it could be argued the previous games’ plots weren’t all that important in between blasting skags and raiders). Riotously funny, featuring an all-star cast of voice actors who all get stuck into their roles with charm and passion, and an ending that will make you grin from ear to ear, Tales From The Borderlands earns a worthy place in anyone’s game library.

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Bloodborne

From Software are not a company to be taken lightly. With their pedigree of freakishly-hard-but-somehow-fair Souls series, there was every opportunity for them to rest on their laurels and pump out another sequel. But not From Software, oh no. In Bloodborne, From took all the best parts of Dark Souls and combined it with a new, gothic Victorian environment and a more exciting and active combat system, rewarding players who face their problems head on, while still battering newbies into a bloody pulp. And yet it’s somehow still hugely fun to play! The very epitome of the phrase “git gud”. What a horrible night to have a curse, eh?

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“Aw, crap, not again.” – Every Bloodborne player ever

Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

We’ve come a long way since 1992. The global climate has changed, and World War 2 shooters have become passe, let by the wayside to make way for the “modern warfare” craze ushered in by Call of Duty. But sometimes, all we really need is a big shirtless muscular man with a big gun killing zombie Nazis and robotic dogs. 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order showed us that old-school shooters can be just as fresh and exciting as the new breed, offering a fantastic, well-told, pure single player shooter. There was no tacked on multiplayer, no fat to trim, just lean, mean raw gameplay. The Old Blood expands on the story of The New Order with great set-pieces, even more insane enemies, and a handful of cheeky nods to the elder Wolfensteins. It becomes the delicate icing on the already delicious cake offered by The New Order. Man, I’m hungry.

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The Witcher 3

I love CD Projekt Red. There, I said it. They are quite possibly the finest example of how not to be Konami in the gaming industry today – focused purely on making the customer happy in achievable ways. Game is bugged? Patch it. DLC ideas? Make them free. Big expansions? Make them worth the money and have cool physical bonuses (damn I love Gwent). Considering the base game is already filled to the brim with gorgeous, fully-voiced, extremely ambitious content, it’s a wonder CDPR haven’t collapsed into fatigue. But no, they’re still going strong, and their next game, Cyberpunk 2077, looks even more exciting. All hail CD Projekt Red, the saviours of gaming, and all hail The Witcher 3.

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Fallout 4

I have seen a brahmin glitch on top of a house at least five times now and I don’t care. Fallout 4 is exactly what I wanted and more. It’s huge, filled with content, features great performances from its main cast, and gunplay that isn’t RNG based, which in my opinion was a godsend. Sure, a lot of sidequests are repetitive, and the plot kind of loses steam in the third act, but there’s no wasteland I’d rather wander with a faithful dog (or journalist) by my side.

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Piper is best girl.

Until Dawn

These days, it’s hard to be spooky, and even harder to make a good Quantic Dream-esque interactive movie-game. That said, holy crap did Supermassive Games deliver with Until Dawn. Beautiful graphics, mind-blowing performance capture technology that somehow manages to steer clear of the uncanny valley (or maybe not, it IS a horror game after all), and featuring a story that has genuinely surprising twists, Until Dawn is a jumpscare you won’t complain about to your friends later.

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Mad Max

I am of the opinion that a game can be judged based almost solely on how good it’s shotgun is. And hoo boy, this one is a doozy.

A controversial choice, to be sure – Jim Sterling, thank God for him, dubbed Mad Max “Sandbox: The Game”, but for me it struck every note it needed to in order to make me nerd out in a big way. Maybe I’m just easy to please, but the opportunity to play as Max Rockatansky, beating the stuffing out of wastelanders and partaking in road wars, was too cool to pass up. And Mad Max doesn’t disappoint on that front, offering an authentic movie experience. The cars are loud, the crashes are meaty, and that shotgun? It epitomizes the word “BLAM”.

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Metal Gear Solid V

Konami’s sins may never die, and MGSV may be, in many ways, an unfinished mess of a game, but it still stands tall as an example of excellent game design. The Fox Engine is a fantastic piece of hardware, capable of rendering huge detailed environments at 60fps without sacrificing fidelity, and MGSV utilizes this to great effect. Sneaking through and eliminating outposts feels so natural and fluid that MGSV isn’t just one of my favourite games of the year, it’s one of the best stealth games ever, period. It made me laugh, made me cry (for more reasons than one) and made me accept once and for all that yes, maybe David Hayter being replaced by Kiefer Sutherland wasn’t the biggest mistake they could have made in this game.

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Persona 4 Dancing All Night

Not a day goes by without me thinking ’bout
The way the world stopped mid-motion
When you walked into my life and we connected
Like we shared the same mad potion
Couldn’t help but move
The threads of fate had spun us
Into each other’s lives by chance
All this energy’s got us inspired now.
We couldn’t stop it, just set it free, and
Dance!

Who saw this one coming? It’s so gleefully, wonderfully silly – something that has no right to work but dammit, it’s just so great. Great music, colourful graphics, a genuine sense of joy and good times, and more Persona 4 in general. If this is the way we’re saying goodbye to our favourite characters to make way for Persona 5, then I think I’m okay with that.

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Naoto is best girl.

HALL OF PARTICIPANTS

For experiences considered for the Hall of Fame but were excluded for one reason or another

Life Is Strange
High school angst + time travel = weird writing + actually pretty good game.

Mortal Kombat X
Best fighting system in the biz in my opinion. Let down by awful DLC. Warner Bros strike again.

Shadowrun: Hong Kong
Cyberpunk is my jam, but like the previous Shadowrun I didn’t get around to finishing it due to the ridiculously difficult final act.

Soma
Bonkers undersea horror from the makers of Amnesia. Good spooks, interesting story and ideas, but ultimately not all that scary in the long run.

Grim Fandango Remastered
A true adventure gaming classic. But it’s just a remaster. Exempt!

The Escapists
A cute little prison break game with some nifty gameplay. Still haven’t finished it though, so it’s exempt from the Hall of Fame.

Resident Evil Remake
A cracking remake of an already classic horror game, a 9/10 easily from me – but it’s still a remake of a remake from 2002. Exempt.

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Jill is best girl.

Apotheon
An unexpected Metroidvania-esque gem, but ultimately didn’t have enough to draw me in till the end.

Hand of Fate
A truly original game, and one I really need to get back into.

Resident Evil Revelations 2
A return to Resident Evil‘s golden age of good spooks, ammo shortages and running like hell. Nothing particularly spectacular, but I may have spent a little too much time playing Raid Mode.

Oddworld New N’ Tasty
A wonderful remake of the PS1 classic. Still a remake though – exempt!

Assassin’s Creed Chronicles China
A serviceable platformer that somehow manages to be about thirty times better than Assassin’s Creed Unity.

Shovel Knight
A very fun platformer that harkens back to classic NES games. Originally released in 2014 though – exempt!

Ether One
A quirky little puzzle game with interesting ideas and great voice acting, slightly let down by atrocious framerate issues and confusing gameplay.

The Fruit of Grisaia
A consistently entertaining visual novel, and the first part of three. Unfortunately, this game was originally released in 2012 – exempt!

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Michiru is best girl.

Yakuza 5
This one hurts to put in the Hall of Participants – no other game this year has quite “got” me like Yakuza 5. I shall say only this: fistfighting a bear is amazing. Shame this game is actually from 2012. Maybe step up the localization game, Sega?

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Skullgirls 2nd Encore
A solid, satisfying fighting game with fantastic characters and sound production. Haven’t really played enough of it to put it in the Hall of Fame though.

The Fall
A really interesting puzzle/platformer/shooter. But there’s just not enough of it – this is just act one! Still waiting on part two guys, chop chop…

Steins;Gate
One of the best visual novels ever made finally gets an official English release in the UK. Just because it’s not in the Hall of Fame doesn’t mean it’s bad – just that it was originally released in 2009.

Danganronpa: Another Episode – Ultra Despair Girls
I love me some Danganronpa, and this game scratched my itch. Sub-par gunplay can’t hide the impressive graphics for a Vita game, and an excellent story which gives series favourite Toko Fukawa ample screen time.

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Grow Home
An intriguing little almost-indie game from Ubisoft. Basic graphics belie a calming, addictive game, but I didn’t play enough to put it in the Hall of Fame.

Star Wars Battlefront
Yes, it was overhyped. Yes, it has its fair share of issues. Yes, EA’s business policies are perhaps not the best (A FORTY POUND SEASON PASS?). But the fact remains that Battlefront is an instant good time – fast action, nerd service up the wazoo, and simple mechanics. It’s also one of the few triple-A releases in recent memory that has worked properly straight out of the box, so I think that deserves some respect.

HALL OF SHAME

For the experiences that should have been good, but failed

Evolve

Left 4 Dead is one of the finest multiplayer experiences of the last generation of consoles. It was fast, fun, had direction, charismatic characters, and an attitude all its own. Most important of all, it was a rare breed – a multiplayer game entirely fun and playable on your own. Turtle Rock Studios, the creators of Evolve, also created Left 4 Dead, before they split from Valve. What could possibly go wrong with their spiritual successor? Er, turns out quite a lot. It’s almost as if they unlearned everything they used to great effect in L4D: boring characters, lifeless gunplay, frustrating mechanics, godawful framerate issues, rubbish stories tying maps together, no sense of progression, crap unlocks and, worst of all, boring monster gameplay. ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS SMASH THINGS AND MAKE IT FUN, IT’S NOT HARD. Never have I felt quite as betrayed and insulted by a game.

Game of Thrones: A Telltale Games Series

When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die – and House Forrester, the main house of this game, never wins. Losing is not fun. And no matter what you do, you will always lose. Never has the phrase “Your choices will have consequences” seemed more cynical, more tacked on, than in this game. At least Tales From The Borderlands worked – guess we know where all the effort went.

The Order 1886

Quite possibly the only game I’ve ever sold within a week of buying. I paid £40 for this game, and received about £5 worth of content. Say what you want about Quantic Dream and the like’s “movies disguised as games”, but at least they actually had gameplay. The Order 1886 is a four hour game masked by lengthy cutscenes and mediocre cover based shooting, along with one of the most pathetic excuses for an ending in recent memory. Pretty graphics can’t save this one.

Battlefield: Hardline

Battlefield, at it’s best, is a shooter series so intense you can practically feel the dirt in your mouth during a particularly involved multiplayer session. The main series may have sacrificed plot integrity to focus on multiplayer and nicer graphics, but it’s anything but boring. Now take that, remove the big explosions and vehicle combat. Remove the great feeling guns, and instead have pea shooter pistols. Make the plot even worse. That’s Battlefield: Hardline. Released at a time when police-civilian relations were already rather fragile, this crooked cop deserves to be locked up, and the key conveniently lost.

Batman: Arkham Knight

This game is practically the definition of the word “disappointing”. It’s a solid enough game – it’s part of the Arkham series, for goodness sake – but it’s utterly, painfully by the numbers. The plot isn’t all that interesting, the awesome new Batmobile sections soon becomes a slog through endless boring tank battles, the antagonist is utterly predictable, and the FORTY POUND season pass consists entirely of skins, lifeless fifteen minute missions, and MORE TANK BATTLES. And this isn’t even going into the wretched PC port, which didn’t even work properly on release, was removed from sale on Steam and then rereleased. The rerelease also does not work. Ridiculous.

Zombi

How do you make a zombie game boring? Port a Wii U game that ran poorly on it’s home console, and make it run just as poorly. Remove all the things that made the Wii U version unique, and change literally nothing else. This game is 5 hours long.

Dishonored: Definitive Edition

Hey guys, maybe our remastered game should run at a steady 60fps and maybe include some kind of incentive for people to buy it? No? Okay then…

Just Cause 3

Just Cau[LOGGING INTO SQUARE ENIX SERVERS]se 3 would hav[LOGIN FAILED]e been a lot better if Square Enix hadn’t implemented a ridiculous on[LOGGING INTO SQUARE ENIX SERVERS]line DRM sch[LOGIN FAILED]eme for a single player game, and hadn’t wri[LOGGING INTO SQUARE ENIX SERVERS]tten t[LOGIN FAILED]he story like a sodd[LOGGING INTO SQUARE ENIX SERVERS]ing 8-ye[LOGIN FAILED]ar-old. Stick to Mad Max.

So there you have it! The best (and worst) of 2015, in my opinion. Now, being primarily a console player, I’m sure there are dozens of games I’m not giving their due – Undertale being one that I’m sure will crop up time and time again – but maybe some day I’ll be blessed with the opportunity to play them. Until next time, that’s all folks. Good fortune to you in this new brave year of 2016, and may this year be just as filled with cool games.

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WHY ARE YOU SO FAR AWAAAAY

My Top 3 Miyazaki Films

Hello! Remember me? Probably not, since I haven’t posted anything in about a year, but HEY HO, LET’S GO.

So recently there was some sad news in the world of anime. Hayao Miyazaki, creator of some of the finest animated films – really films, period – of all time, announced his retirement after 30-odd years of sterling work. His list of classics with Studio Ghibli stretches into eternity, but I’m going to give you a quick rundown of my all-time top 3 Miazaki films. GO!

3. Howl’s Moving Castle

My third favourite Ghibli film (and so far the only one of my top 3 to be released on Blu-ray in the UK – come on, guys!) is Howl’s Moving Castle, the story of Sophie, an 18 year old hat maker who is suddenly transformed into an elderly lady by a wicked witch. She then goes on an adventure with Batman and Mike Wazowski in a walking mansion. Predictable stuff, really.

The real magic behind this story is the way that it engages you despite the fact for the most part you are following a geriatric, where most adventures are told through the eyes of the young and spry.

Far from making the proceedings boring, the frailty of Sophie adds a great deal of gentle humour to the story, and allows for much more use of magic and spectacle by the mysterious Howl. This of course all lends itself extremely well to the beautiful direction and wonderful steampunk landscapes. Its a really great feel good film, and deserves every second of its Blu-ray transfer.

2. Spirited Away

Haha! Bucking the trend here by putting what many consider to be Miyazaki’s masterpiece in second place. Don’t get me wrong, I adore Spirited Away, but my next choice just pips it to the post for me.

Spirited Away is the story of a young girl named Chihiro, who stumbles across a magical world with her parents. Before long, things take a turn for the worse, as her parents are transformed into pigs and she is left stranded in this Narnia-esque world, forced to work in a surreal bathhouse and figure out a way back to her own world.

Though incredibly beautiful, Spirited Away is certainly a bizarre film. A lot of things don’t make a lot of sense, but that’s fine – the world is supposed to be alien and confusing and… alive! You find yourself wondering what fresh character is around the corner – and rightly so, as the cast is huge – from boys that transform into dragons to giant babies to the equal parts intimidating and likeable No-Face (just look at him here drinking tea, it always cracks me up).

1. Princess Mononoke

Yeah, thats right, the one with Scully as a giant wolf. It’s actually kind of hard for me to say why I find this one to be my favourite. Sure, it’s easy to say why it’s good, but the best? I’ll just try to keep this short. The battle scenes are fantastic, there’s a palpable sense of tension and dread with the main character’s arm sickness, Mononoke herself is a really cool, interesting character… and just LOOK at it!

Watch it. That’s all I have to say.

Here’s to you, Hayao Miyazaki! I think I speak for all of us when I wish him a happy retirement. He certainly deserves it.

Reasons to watch Black Lagoon

Hello again, peoples and peoplettes! Now I know what you’re thinking – “Ace, you misspelled ‘review’”. Ha! No I didn’t. Today I’m being that proselytising guy and giving you five whole reasons why you should accept Black Lagoon into your hearts RIGHT NOW.

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1. The Plot

Black Lagoon begins with Rokuro Okajima, a Japanese office drone peon who gets kidnapped by pirates on assignment delivering a disk for his company. The pirates in question are mercenary delivery boys known as the Lagoon Company. Despite their initially rough treatment of him, Stockholm Syndrome (and/or Lima Syndrome, if you’re a pedant) eventually sinks in when his boss sends mercenaries to kill him and destroy the disk, forcing the newly nicknamed Rock to band together with the Lagoon Company to survive. Naturally, things only get more insane from there. Neo-Nazis, forgers, gun-selling churches, mob wars and killer maids are the order of the day for Rock and his new pals. Which brings us neatly to point two…

2. The Characters

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The Lagoon Company consists of four exceptionally interesting people:

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Rock, who you already know. He likes to wear a shirt and tie even to his unusual line of work and is generally a pacifist. But dare hurt a kid or a lady in his presence and you better not expect him to back down.

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Dutch, the leader of the pack. He’s a Vietnam veteran and captain of the WWII torpedo boat Black Lagoon. He’s intelligent, strong, and knows how to use a gun, not that he often does.

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Benny, the Lagoon Company’s mission control. He’s an expert hacker and awful shirt collector from Florida who likes to stay behind the scenes and away from the fighting.

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And who better to do that fighting than Revy, poster girl for the series and all-round badass smokin’, drinkin’, cussin’ gunslinger. She doesn’t take crap from anybody, with a short fuse and an itchy trigger finger to match. They don’t call her Two Hands for nothing!

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Along the way, the Lagoon company meet up with characters of all shapes, sizes and alignments in and around their scummy home base of Roanapur, including:

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A drunk, perverse nun with a gun.

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A hulking Neo-Nazi with a golden gun named Fritz.

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A stereotypically Chinese lady with a penchant for knives and her stoner Irish boyfriend.

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A fat Mormon with a flamethrower.

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Creepy Romanian twin assassins.

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A mad maid who is basically a Terminator.

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A yakuza who can split a bullet with his sword.

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And a teenage ‘cleaner’ with a chainsaw and a cancer microphone.

Among many, many, many more. And what better way to bring these characters to life than…

3. The Art

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Everything in Black Lagoon looks vibrant, alive, and beautiful. From the neon lights and tropical skies of Roanapur to the shimmering waters that the Lagoon Company finds themselves in, to the jungles of south east Asia, to the gloomy greys and muted tones of Tokyo. Anime has never looked prettier, more appealing a place to live in (aside from the guns and death and stuff). Even the smallest of objects have intricate detail, keeping the world full of constantly fascinating things to look at. It’s sublime. It’s amazing. It’s gorgeous.

4. The Dub

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Casting time at Ocean Studios.

The English dub for Black Lagoon is one of the best dubs of any anime I have ever heard. No, seriously. It’s almost perfect. Maryke Hendrikse sounds suitably psychotic as Revy, Brad Swaile is alternatively wimpy and a sudden badass and the rest of the cast of established Ocean actors including Brian ‘Over 9000’ Drummond and current pony-voices Tabitha St. Germain, Cathy Weseluck and Ashleigh Ball put in stunning performances. It’s arguably superior to the Japanese original version, which had moments of hilariously out of place Engrish. You see, the cast is canonically speaking English, but when they go to Japan there has to be a way to show the language barrier. It doesn’t quite work in the Japanese version, but in the English dub, everything comes together nicely to create a professional, well-acted aural experience from start to finish. Which leads me to…

5. The Overall

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Yeah, cheating, I know. But still, the point stands. Everything I’ve explained comes together to form something truly special. Believable character arcs and motivations, character designs that don’t get samey, stale and boring. A world that feels alive, from the seediest bars to the grimiest cities. A tone that neatly toes the line between grindhouse and realism. Balls-to-the-wall thrillride action sequences that leave you breathless. Less-than-likeable characters who are somehow compelling. An adventure that deserves to be seen. I will say it once, and once only.

WATCH. BLACK. LAGOON.

You won’t regret it.

And if you do, you shouldn’t.

Consider this a public service announcement.

Got that? Cool.

Here’s a little something just for…

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