Splinter Review

Splinter (2008)

Starring: Paulo Costanzo, Jill Wagner, Shea Whigham
Directed by: Toby Wilkins

The Premise

It's a bad day out in the country when yuppy city couple, Seth and Polly (Paulo Costanzo and Jill Wagner, respectively), are kidnapped by a pair of meth-addled fugitives, Dennis and Lacey (Shea Whigham and Rachel Kerbs, again, respectively), while on a botched camping trip for their anniversary. Some vehicle trouble leaves them broken down at a gas station with a bit of a parasite problem...

The First Stitches

The movie begins with a vertical pan over a lonely gas station. The attendant (played by Charles Baker) walks out and sets up a lawn chair  while munching on a bag of chips. Just as he settles, a noise catches his attention. Curious, he gets up to investigate the rustling in the grass only to find not only is something there, but it definitely isn't safe. Before he is able to attempt to back pedal, he is quickly taken down and torn apart by the shaky cam monster (in this case, a greasy, wet dog).

We jump to a couple in an SUV spiriting down the highway and onto a side route in the final leg of their camping trip in the wilderness. They find their spot and quickly begin to unload their equipment as the scene then jumps to another couple an undisclosed distance away. This pair's truck has obviously broken down on their apparent run to Mexico, so they've no choice but to continue their flight on foot. Back to the city slickers, some lack of outdoor preparedness mixed with some tent trouble sends them back on the road to find the closest motel they can. Soon they are waylaid by the fugitive couple by way of the classic hitchhiker ruse, who then force themselves into the convenient ride. Into the night, their troubles truly begin when they hit something that causes a blowout (among other damages) that sets into motion their inevitable break down at a desolate gas station.

"Oh shit...! He's about to start talking about the mo--"

Mending the Seams

Plot: I believe this movie had a pretty intriguing, albeit contrived, narrative. There were several elements that felt specifically forced -- the couples meeting on the highway and Seth's convenient pre-degree knowledge of biology to be specific -- but while these mechanics are in a way clich├ęd, the rest of the story keeps itself fresh with a different take on the "parasitic zombie" concept.

Characters: Let it be said I loved most of the characters in this movie. I've always been a bit of a Paulo Costanzo fan and I feel this performance did not disappoint. Each of the main actors did a fantastic job portraying their character, the show stealer easily being Shea Whigham's character, Dennis Farell. I was really pleased with this character as he didn't seem quite the typical jock -- there was a certain charm about him that really kept the story rolling. He was an asshole, yes, but he was also possibly the best character in the movie.

Window Licking -- You're doing it wrong.

Setting/Atmosphere: I liked the overall darkness and disparity of the scenery in this movie. At first I wasn't sure how I'd take to the gas station scenario, but as it moved along it felt appropriate for a good cramped and isolated location. I was impressed with the amount of tension built up as the story progresses. The only thing I didn't really like, though, was the lack of imagination in using the scenery. I was hoping for a scene involving an escape attempt that would maybe leave one of the survivors (or maybe even another random motorist) stranded in the bathroom from closer to the beginning, but instead we get the lobby and the cooler. That's it. On the plus side, they did use this space well and as the story develops, there is more of a sense of the store being under siege.

Special Effects: One place I was very happy with this movie was the special effects. I loved the look of the attendant slumped over the truck and the arm scene in the third act. The severed fingers in the second act were also on my list of favorites. And I may be wrong about this, but some of the effects with the blood during this scene may be explained with ferro fluids for all you budding horror effects artists out there.

I want one of these for my coffee table.

But that being said, there were parts I wasn't very fond of. The shaky cam previously mentioned and the scene with the "amalgam" monster towards the end. I felt the constant shaking, while denoting the speed at which the parasite makes its victims move, was a bit on the irritating side. The CG shot of the monster was also a bit disappointing as I feel it didn't really do the creature justice. There was also a scene after the police officer that involves a detached arm that I couldn't help but laugh at. These issues, though, were relatively minor as for the most part they don't last very long. The rest of the effects in the movie are most definitely spot on.

Music/Audio: There was a lot I liked about the audio quality of this movie. The sound effects were a perfect compliment to the already dark atmosphere and quite honestly, this movie actually made me cringe in a few parts, which I really didn't expect at first. The visuals were a big part of that effect, but what really sold it was the sickening sound effects. I also liked the nauseating clicking/gurgling sound the parasite causes its host to make while hunting its next source of food.

"...so what are you saying?"

The Binding Stitch

While there are some things I would have liked to see changed for this movie, I can't deny it was a fun ride and I'd definitely do it again. This movie was fun to take in because it stays simple and straightforward, not bogging itself down with plot twists and the like. There were some moments when the overall effect was a bit lacking, but it wasn't anything worth a serious gripe. I would recommend this movie for purchase to anyone who needs a good semi-gory flick to kick up their feet and turn their brain off to every now and again. For all else, it is worth at least a rental/viewing for being a little different than the rest.

Killing Floor Review

Killing Floor (2005/2009)

The Premise

In London, England...

When a military cloning and genetics operation goes wrong at Horzine Biotech, chaos ensues as the streets are overrun with hordes of undead-like "specimens", led by the chaingun and rocket launcher toting cyber-mutant, Dr. Kevin Clamely (now known as The Patriarch). In a last ditch effort to stem the outbreak, the British government pulls together the last surviving remains of the British Army and Special Branch police officers and divides them into teams charged with the task of resisting and wiping out the plague of "specimens".

The First Stitches

A while ago, I was introduced to this interesting first person shooter called Killing Floor. At the time I hadn't played much, but it was certainly intriguing at face value and so I had to make a note to pick it up through Steam when I got a chance. Luckily, it was on sale recently, so I was able to snatch a copy and give it a try.

Mending the Seams

Story:  While it's honestly just about negligible (you can literally jump into this game with zero fucks given and still enjoy it to almost no end), the game's value is increased with a simple plot that puts you almost immediately into the fray without a long and overblown spiel. And don't get me wrong, I do love detailed and entrancing stories, but for this game, it's just not needed. From the beginning, the point is to jump from the pan to the fire and save England! We don't have time for bullshit stories, just go now! Move! Move! Move!!

But seriously, for those who prefer a bit more detail to the debacle, there is a nice little synopsis here.

Gameplay: Killing Floor is a wave-based, sci-fi horror FPS (First Person Shooter) based off a mod for Unreal Tournament 2004. Typical gameplay ranges from 1-6 players per room, While available game maps vary in size from tiny two player test maps to enormous "full game preferred", more open maps, the defaults are balanced somewhere in the middle and can work well for either solo or multi-player gaming. The overall experience tends to work well as even though the environments aren't exactly interactive (beyond breaking glass and closing/opening/welding doors) they tend to still extend a claustrophobic or hopeless atmosphere. Sometimes that feeling is even manifested in the form of a kitchen. A biiiiig kitchen.

This map can be downloaded through the Steam workshop.

And what would these maps be without a nice cache of weapons to defend them with? A big ass zombie buffet, that's what! In Killing Floor, you start with a small arsenal of weapons (you can count them all yourself, thank you) including several handguns and Magnums to shotguns and assault rifles to the ever-overcompensating L.A.W. Rocket Launcher. Each weapon has its own damage and recoil which makes your choice or preference mean a little bit more as you must compensate for "off-perking". Ultimately, though, how you want to play is up to you.

Characters: Each player can choose one of  7 perks: Field Medic, Support Specialist, Sharpshooter, Commando, Berserker, Firebug and Demolitioner. Each perk grants specific benefits to the player which include such buffs as increased assault rifle damage, "cannot be held by clots" and faster syringe recharge. But since you can't just get something for nothing, each perk begins at level 1 and must be leveled through specific actions from your character. On the plus side, these actions are pretty much based on the benefits the perks give (ex: Sharpshooter grants increased damage with head shots, so naturally, you will level this perk by performing head shots) and for the most part, the weapons that are typically used in that field (ex: As a Pyromaniac...well, I'll let you figure that one out). That being said, it is possible to level a perk without actually choosing it, so long as your actions meet the criteria.

Sadly, this is the only Perk I have above level 4.
And since they're the main focal point of the game, we can't forget the good ol' specimens. There are 9 normal, increasingly difficult enemies that will spawn regularly throughout the game: Clots, Gorefasts, Bloats, Stalkers, Scrakes, Husks, Crawlers, Sirens and the appropriately nicknamed (by me) Sir "Fuck yo' couch!", The Fleshpound. The aforementioned Patriarch is the 10th and final enemy at the end of every game. Each specimen has its own unique visual style that plays towards its abilities (Fleshpound below).

Graphics: Visually, Killing Floor is mostly fulfilling, the biggest compliment to the game being the specimens and the maps. Each specimen had a unique and terrifying design that makes mistaking them next to impossible. Clots are pasty white, Scrakes are tall with friggin' chainsaws on their right hands, etc. The default maps that come with the game show off various macabre scenes and locations, such as an eerie farm in the night, the destroyed Horzine offices, a creepy "abusement" park and a vacant mountain pass. The only issue I had with the graphics was mostly related to the age of the game and even then it's hardly an issue as it still looks very good. Character models tend to be pretty sharp as well, but unfortunately, the defaults tend to look a bit too similar to each other. If you so choose to expand your collection (via free or premium content), you will see a lot more visual options.

When he's not pounding flesh, he's pounding the pavement.

Music/Audio: One of my favorite parts about the game is the quality of music and sound effects. As you play through each map, there are random thrash metal (excuse me if I get the genre wrong) tracks that play thorughout each wave. During Trader time, the track drops to a tense beat, presumably signifying temporary safety; letting us know everything is alright for now, but any moment all hell will break loose. Throughout the general gameplay, when not being bombarded with voice chat quips, you can even hear audio queues from the player characters, such as for reloading or even when some enemies appear. There are also insults you can shout to players or specimens alike. And speaking of specimens, I did truly enjoy hearing the many Clots and Gorefasts gurgle and groan as they wander about the map looking for a victim to dispatch. Even the arachnid-spliced Crawlers have a distinctive tone to their repulsive chattering. The most easily identifiable of them all would have to be the Siren, though, as she is the only specimen to specifically wail to damage her enemies.

Extras: For some, one of the best parts about this game is its open availability for modding. You can even download the SDK (Software Development Kit) straight from Steam and get started creating your own content pretty much immediately. Some information about modding is available on the Tripwire Wiki.
As of this post, there are currently 435 individual entries and 201 collections of modded material in the Steam Workshop, including, but not limited to Doom 3, Doom 2 and Alien mods/maps, new character skins and even new weapons.

At the time of this post, I had no idea this was even a thing, so consider the shock mutual. 

The Binding Stitch

This is definitely one of my favorite games on Steam. The only thing that could be considered a downfall is that as a default, there is only one game mode, but, in my opinion, this is quickly negated by the fact that with some easily installed mod material, you can enjoy the game in different ways. As an example, the Doom 2 mod turns the game into just that. There are no waves to deal with, but actual stages. There are many different ways to change your experience, even if it's something as simple as a new weapon (you know you just looked up again) or skin. Killing Floor is definitely a good opportunity for any gamer who enjoys gory first person shooters. The loads of downloadable content alone make this game worth owning and maybe even gifting to friends (there are occasional sales). Just make sure to get some new shoes and be prepared to do a looooot of running. And when you're done playing, you should check out some of YouTuber, Iggy Hazard's vids, like this one. There's plenty of FPS madness to go around!

And also, for those who prefer PvP, it's not a  normal feature in the game, but there are servers set up for it. Cheers!