Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Not The Final Battle - X-Men: Apocalypse, Reviewed

For the third time in three months, we have a superhero movie that pits those who either had been or will later be allies against each other: Batman v. Superman, Civil War, and now, X-Men: Apocalypse, just in time for a G&G outing to boot!

In the opinion of many fans, BvS lacked the characterization and rationality to be an effective story over all its spectacle, while Civil War succeeded in giving us a tale of internal conflict that also contained tremendous action set pieces which looked and sounded like they were ripped from the pages of the comics that inspired them. On which side does this third of the re-booted X-Men movies fall?

In the middle, kind of, which is all right with me.

The X-Men movies have had two major strengths as a franchise. First, their allegorical elements about exclusion and persecution ring true for anyone who has felt like an outsider, whether they are a black teenager, a first generation Muslim immigrant, or someone questioning their sexuality. The whole premise of the X-Men is an insightful mentor, Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) bringing together a group of 'gifted youngsters' to defend the world, human and mutant alike, from the depredations of evil mutants, in the hopes of bringing these two species together.

Playing the Malcolm X to Xavier's MLK is Magneto, portrayed here for the third time by Michael Fassbender, (a most worthy successor to Ian McKellen), who wants to subjugate mankind under the so-called homo superior, after seeing his parents taken away into Auschwitz. In First Class and Days of Future Past, Fassbender walks a tightrope between folk hero and terrorist, but in Apocalypse, he drifts from a wary fugitive to co-opted catspaw of the real villain, the eponymous Apocalypse, with surprisingly little impact.

In the comics, the immortal En Sabah Nur is trying to build a better world for mutants by pitting them against each other, feeling that this conflict destroys the weak and permits only the strongest to survive. As a Nietzschean-style cream-rising exercise in social engineering, I suppose it has its merits, but in the movie, even an excellent actor like Oscar Isaac is stymied at giving any sort of nuanced portrayal of Apocalypse.

Make no mistake, Isaac gives as much gravitas as he can to Apocalypse, but despite the incredible array of powers he has absorbed from other mutants over the centuries (super strength, teleportation, mind control, power enhancement, fusing people into walls, etc., etc.), he comes off as a crowing bogeyman, and about as relatable as the Rhino from the old Spider-Man cartoons. I haven't read too many Apocalypse stories, and his modus operandi of "FIGHT!" doesn't have as much appeal to me as the more political and allegorical X-Men tales, but he has his fans, and I don't know how they will feel about this largely clichéd interpretation.

In fact, once he co-opts four classic X-Men into being his 'Four Horsemen' (Magneto, Angel, Psylocke, and Storm), the action becomes so mutant centric and world shattering that there isn't room for the broader exclusionary tale that has been the hallmark of the best X-Movies, and that's a shame.

But all is not lost.

The second great strength these movies have are excellent casting and characterizations, and while the bad guys may come up short, the good guys more than make up for it, especially for long time fans like myself.

Watching the demonic-looking Nightcrawler try to resist being forced to fight the winged mutant Angel in an electrified cage match is a great treat, and watching a teenaged Cyclops discover his optic blast powers to devastating effect mixes thrills with empathy adroitly. Watching him meet Jean Grey (Game of Thrones Sophie Turner, who, as an actress, is mostly very pretty), likely to become the extra-powerful Phoenix, is bittersweet as well. (Really, Cyclops is the character I feel got the shortest shrift in the first X-Men trilogy, and fervently hope he is given the opportunity to be the brilliant but troubled team leader he is in the comics.)

Since Days of Future Past, Jennifer Lawrence's Mystique has become an inspirational figure for many mutants, a far cry from her detached villainy in the comics, and something her movie iteration wants little to do with, despite her tireless efforts to rescue exploited mutants like Nightcrawler. Nicholas Hoult does a wonderful job as both the studious Hank McCoy and his feral alter ego Beast again, but isn't given much to work with here, because the next fight is always right around the corner.

When the powers are used, they are used imaginatively and effectively, although  actually (pushes eyeglasses up onto bridge of nose), Cyclops' optic blasts do not generate heat the way they are depicted here; they are strictly concussive in nature.

(Ahem) Sorry, where was I? Right, the powers: Nightcrawler's teleportation is shown as being as dangerous and unpredictable in close quarters here as they were at the beginning of X2, but are described in a manner that suggests limitations ("As far as I can see, or any place I have been to before."). Storm's flight is less like Superman and more like a wind-rider (as is appropriate!), and her lightning bolts are just as devastating as they should be. And being set in the 80s, her mohawk look here is completely on-point and well pulled off to boot.

Once again though, Quicksilver steals the show.

Evan Peters has come such a long way from Kick-Ass's friend Todd, and he gets a couple of brilliant setpieces in which to display his speedster abilities. The first does so in a non-fight (a pleasant change of pace!) that mixes humour and heroism delightfully well, while the second, well, let's just say even the strongest villain should probably refrain from picking a fight with someone that fast, and leave it at that. The quips fly just as quickly, but since the last film though, he has figured out who his father is, which adds just a hint of emotional complexity in a movie sorely needing some.

The word 'apocalypse' comes from the Greek and means 'to uncover or reveal', which is why the Biblical book of Revelations is also called the Apocalypse of St. John. So what is revealed in X-Men: Apocalypse, and who should go see it?

Well, if you don't like superhero movies, this one won't change your mind they way something like Winter Soldier might have, so dragging along an unwilling companion is probably a non-starter. But there is much more to like than to dislike, all in all, and even if `the third movie is always the worst' as Cyclops asserts while the young mutants walk out of a screening of Return of the Jedi, this film is a far cry from the mess that the first X-Men threequel ended up being,  Best of all, despite being a complete story, the stage is now set for a great lineup of newer X-Men in the next film, likely set in the 90s.

If you like well-depicted comic book action in general, or this big slate of legendary mutants in particular, or are even just a fan of 80s nostalgia, X-Men: Apocalypse is a fun way to spend a couple of hours, even if its message of acceptance and bravery is just a smidgen more understated this time around.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

G&G XI Day 2: Runnin' & Gunnin'

Wednesday night's gaming and drinking session ran into extra innings, as it always does, so Thursday got off to a bit of a slow start. We did have enough time to play the Aliens tabletop game before lunch though.

Apone gets up close and personal with a bug.
It's not quite as tension-producing as the original Space Hulk, but the Alien placement is completely random, so it is not unheard of for one of the beasts to drop on a Colonial Marine from the ceiling, incapacitate him and carry him off into the ductwork before any of his comrades has had a single chance to react. Tough luck, Leatherneck!

The miniatures are a little basic, but good for the mid-80s when they were made.

The game supports up to nine players, at least in theory; since the scenario follows the movie fairly faithfully, no one is allowed to use their pulse rifles, which means a handful of players can be left controlling a terrified gyrene armed only with a pistol of incredibly limited affect. The parallels between these unfortunates and the red-shirted security officers from Star Trek are well deserved.

"Hey Top, what's the op?"
Still, as a team game, everyone can kibbutz and share strategies, and we managed to eke out a victory by having 7 uninjured Marines escape Sub-Level 3, including Hicks, Sgt. Apone, and both smartgunners, Drake and Vasquez. (Semper fi, Hudson and Dietrich!)

If we play the next scenario (Operations), we get all these Marines, PLUS Ripley! (and Newt, and Gorman, I guess...)
After lunch it was time for our first marquee game, Formula Dé. This Formula 1 racing game has been a G&G staple for years, partially because up to 10 people can play it, but also due to its elegant mechanics. Turn order proceeds from the leader to whoever follows him, and so on, making passing incredibly important. This year we had the pleasure of playing on an extra-large course, as I had received the elusive Zandvoort 2 track for Christmas, which connects to Zandvoort 1 from the core set.

We like big boards and we cannot lie...

It made for a long and challenging race, but Scott pulled his way up from starting in 7th position to winning the race by an enormous margin through a combination of cagey playing, bypassing the pit stop, and potentially soul-endangering luck (although no contract with the Devil was found amongst his documents during the standard post-race debriefing by the marshalls).

"You haven't heard of Scotty? He made the Zandvoort Run in under 12 parsecs..."

1/3 of the way into the first lap, Scotty isn't even in the front 4!

The victor and his faithful 30-sided/sixth gear dice.

There was a bit of an extended break for dinner, but it was completely worth it, as Jeff had prepared an enormous batch of thinly sliced and marinated Maui-style ribs that he grilled to perfection.

Serial grilla!

Filled to bursting with fire roasted pork, we staggered downstairs to return to Serenity Gulch using the old Legends of the Old West rules from Warhammer Historical.

Pete's assortment of sharp-dressed men; not a stetson in the bunch!

Hitch and The Emo Kid draw down on Dapper Dan.

Truth be told, this game doesn't support big groups terribly well, at least not in a straight-up fight scenario, but we still managed to have a good time.

Clear the streets!

I think next year we will need to introduce loot counters or some such to keep things from degenerating into a big mob on Main Street (not that such an outcome is completely bereft of charm!).
Big Joe and Wendell Kane take the high ground of The Emporium Saloon,,,to absolutely no effect.
And of course, hockey jerseys with broad sleeves are contraindicated for games involving pointy miniatures and lightweight scenery. In that aspect, at least, both sides got away clean!

Dapper Dan returns fire, as viewed by Big Joe and Wendell Kane.

G&G XI Day 1: Shirts and Stones

This past weekend was one of our annual excursions to immaturity, Gaming & Guinness. An opportunity for our circle of friends to summon back those who have moved away and have them convocate in an appointed place to play games, drink beer, and most importantly, enjoy each others' company.

There was some concern that I might not be able to attend on some days due to an immense project at work nearing completion after nearly three years, but my employer generously accommodated me. This was fortunate, as one of our out of towners arrived early giving, a handful of us a chance to squeeze in a game or two prior to the official opening.

Not only that, but Rob got to experience being picked up in style, as Pete donned his chauffeur outfit and drove him from the airport to the venue in the 1953 Bentley that his father has ceded to him now that he no longer drives. Rob expressed amazement that the engineers of the mid-20th century not only saw fit to leave space in the front for an iPhone, but also provided a laptop workspace in the back. (It's actually a spring-cushioned record player, but can certainly be re-purposed with the lid closed.)

Before I could join them, however, I needed to sort out some chores at home: paying the bills, getting the oil changed, and then loading up a ridiculous amount of stuff for what is, at its heart, a four night sleepover for grown-ass men.

For the record: no, not everything that got muled over got played with. On the other hand though, I wasn't the only person bringing games, either.

Jeff generously permitted us to play the inaugural game on his Risk: Legacy board, which was quite a privilege. A fortunate meshing of oppositional types in the Southern Hemisphere coupled with massive attrition enabled me to take North America early in the game, whose five bonus armies helped me to hold on to for the win, and which I promptly re-named Fitzylvania as the victor.

Prior to my running out to the airport to pick up Island Mike (the last of our number) from the airport, we also had time to play a round of Timeline. It's a clever game where you have to guess where in a timeline to place certain events, in this instance, music and films. It starts out easy, like "I know Back To The Future came out after Blade Runner and before Nirvana's Nevermind," but eventually comes down to "I'm guessing that Night of the Hunter came out between Godzilla and Singin' In The Rain..."

Earl is a tough opponent in this edition, as he can typically place 95%+ of the movies in the deck within a year of their actual date, but gives up a bit of his edge with music. I also think it is cute that the youngest player gets to lead off play, giving them a slight theoretical advantage, but not discernible against this particular set of competitors. I foresee more sets of Timeline appearing in the future.

After the gang was all assembled and pizza ordered, Jeff unveiled this year's swag: custom hockey jerseys!

He had told us he was working on something cool, then had us provide our favourite quote, cocktail and number, in order to maintain secrecy. Those who know us are unlikely to be surprised that although some of us ended up wearing traditional numbers (including a three-digit iteration)...

...fully half of the attendees chose something less conventional, such as the symbol for pi.
Apparently this is appropriate for an electrical engineer.

For Earl, it's "everything or nothing".

We still had time before dinner to complete an 8-man game of Tsuro, a clever geodesic tile-placing game that usually only takes 15-20 minutes to play, and ended with a tie, which is rare.

After dinner, we got in a couple of rounds of the dice version of Bang!, a spaghetti western game where you have to guess who the outlaws are who want to kill the sheriff, and who are the deputies who want to protect him. Obviously, a fast-paced game that engenders such confusion and animosity is well suited to this group, and the fact that rolling a beer symbol allows you to heal someone while rolling three sticks of dynamite blows you up is just the icing on the cake at that point.

Afterwards, we proceeded downstairs for the first Car Bomb of the weekend, and ended the evening by playing a bunch of games from the Jackbox Party pack on Mike's Playstation 4. Quiplash was the hands-down favourite, allowing each player to read their question and supply a funny answer through their smartphone or tablet. The game then pairs them up and presents them on the bigscreen for players to vote on them.

I'm sure some of the winning answers were in good taste and publishable, but none of the ones I can recall, so I'm afraid you will just have to take my word for it.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Pulp Heroes Returning

The first half of the 20th century saw a preponderance of magazines printed on cheap, coarse paper, so grainy that illustrators had to shade their pictures with techniques like pointillism and cross-hatching to prevent the ink from bleeding and smudging. These text-heavy magazines were called 'pulps', and often featured adventure stories featuring larger than life characters, similar to what would begin appearing in fully illustrated colour comics in the 1930s.

Characters like The Shadow, The Spider, The Green Lama and many others made their debut in the pulps, some going on to other mediums like radio, television, comics, or even the movies. Some are legendary archetypes, like The Shadow, while others are period curiosities, like The Green Lama. Despite a current low ebb in popularity, one of the poster boys for pulp longevity, Doc Savage, may be returning to the public eye courtesy of a major motion picture.

Clark Savage, Jr., could give Bruce Wayne a run for his money in terms of overachievement; from Wikipedia:
Doc Savage's real name was Clark Savage, Jr. He was a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher, and, as revealed in The Polar Treasure, a musician. A team of scientists assembled by his father deliberately trained his mind and body to near-superhuman abilities almost from birth, giving him great strength and endurance, a photographic memory, a mastery of the martial arts, and vast knowledge of the sciences. Doc is also a master of disguise and an excellent imitator of voices.
Most interestingly to me, where Batman works largely independently, this scientific superman still found it useful to surround himself with a coterie of mortal assistants, each of fulfilling a specialist role in Doc's loosely affiliated organization: 'Monk', an industrial chemist with an ape-like physique; 'Ham', the capable attorney who is also a dab hand with the sword-cane he carries; 'Renny', the construction engineer who is so big, one of his pastimes is punching the panels out of wooden doors, and many others.

Doc Savage is notable amongst pulp characters in that all of his periodical adventures found new life in paperback, remaining popular right up through the 1970s, and was made into a movie on a previous occasion, but not a particularly noteworthy one, by most accounts.

Writer/director Shane Black (whose new movie The Nice Guys I simply cannot see soon enough) has been a Doc Savage fan since childhood, and the gazillions he made for Marvel after making Iron Man 3 gave him the leverage he needed to start the ball rolling on bringing his idol to the screen. Casting such a film can be challenging, though: you need an impressive physical specimen, but they must also be able to convey scientific confidence and moral authority. Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson wouldn't necessarily have been my first choice, but it looks more and more like he could be the one Black is zeroing in on.

Back in March, he said, "Doc Savage is sort of in the ether now. We’re hoping to make it sometime next year. I would very much like to do Doc with a fellow named Dwayne Johnson if we can make that work. I made a decision that Dwayne is the guy. It’s on the back burner while he’s busy." And in a recent Instagram post, Johnson showed a script he said he hoped he would be working with Shane Black on in 2017, without divulging the title.

I'm not familiar enough with The Man of Bronze myself to say how good a thing that may be, but I know Black is more than enough of a fan to remain confident in his choices. There aren't a lot of dumb people who can do comedic timing as well as the former wrestler, so I have high hopes that the two of them can pull it off.

I also appreciate that Black is intent on keeping Doc Savage a period piece, and is not interested in updating it to modern times, which I think is a good choice; the period between the two world wars was one of the most fertile for adventure fiction, which is why it suited Indiana Jones so well, and many others too. A time of tremendous unease so and growing international tensions, while more and more remote areas of the planet were explored, for better or worse. Technology and the occult both figure prominently in tales of the time, especially in the pulps.

While the idea of a hyper-competent leading man would lead most people to think of Batman (detective/industrialist/inventor/martial artist et al), the best modern incarnation of pulp idealism is probably the 1984 cult hit The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension.
Peter Weller plays the titular character, a neurosurgeon, particle physicist, martial artist, rock star and test pilot, who encounters the evil Red Lectroids in the Eighth Dimension while driving his prototype Jet Car through a mountain thanks to his invention, the OSCILLATION OVERTHRUSTER (capitalization intentional). Backed up by Rawhide, Reno of Memphis, Perfect Tommy and the rest of the hard-rocking scientists who perform with Buckaroo as the Hong Kong Cavaliers, he solves the riddle of Planet 10 while discovering the truth about the woman who is the spitting image of his late wife, slain by the malicious Hanoi Xan, leader of the World Crime League.

It's a lot to take in, and as a result did not perform terribly well at the box office, despite (or perhaps due to) being directed by the man who wrote another cult classic from the 80s: Big Trouble in Little China. As the logos doodled across my high school binders can attest, I was a dyed-in-the-wool member of Team Banzai, and I was not alone. You could always count on seeing other fans at cons in the 80s, who clamoured tirelessly for the sequel promised in the end credits of the film. A TV show entitled "Buckaroo Banzai: Ancient Secrets and New Mysteries" was tantalizingly close to production (a visual effects demo reel was included on the DVD) a decade ago, but never came to fruition...at least, not yet.

Now we are hearing that the director of Clerks and Chasing Amy, Kevin Smith, has been given the opportunity to make a Buckaroo Banzai show for television, courtesy of MGM.

I have mixed feelings about this, despite having a lot of affection for Kevin Smith. He is a nerd's nerd, working multiple comic book and movie references into his 'Askew-niverse' pictures, and he claims to have a great love for the source material. On the other hand, he is unapologetically coarse and outside of comedy, his filmmaking peaked, for me at least, with Chasing Amy, nearly 20 years ago now.

I'm choosing to remain optimistic, based almost solely on his comment that he would like to touch base with the writer of the original story, Earl Mac Rauch. Rauch expanded his own script into a glorious neo-pulp novel which included the obligatory purple prose, larger than life characters and fantastical notions about the nature of consciousness, as well as footnotes suggesting a far wider universe, brimming with opportunities for adventure.

If Smith can capture even a portion of the flavour from Rauch's work, (which I re-read for the first time since high school this past weekend!) and has the same lucky lightning strike his casting choices as did the movie (Ellen Barkin, Clancy Brown, Jeff Goldblum, John Lithgow, and Christopher Lloyd!), then maybe at long last we will have the opportunity to see Buckaroo Banzai Vs. The World Crime League, nearly a quarter century later.

UPDATED MAY 30 2016:

Dwayne Johnson has confirmed today that he is indeed playing Doc Savage via a revealing Instagram post. Sounds like they are playing a bit of a 'fish out of water' angle, with Doc's being raised by scientists making him immune to most social cues. It's a neat angle, and The Rock has the comedic chops to make that work, so fingers crossed for this one!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Virtually Real

Virtual reality (VR) is one in a seemingly endless procession of technologically oriented terms that can mean any number of things depending on just who is using it. Once upon a time it was 'multimedia', but currently, and not for the first time, it is virtual reality.

In a column for PC Magazine back in the early 90s, showman/magician/raconteur Penn Jillette wrote about trying to explain to Hollywood people what VR is. He described it as wearing two televisions really close to your face, but they kept thinking it had something to do with travelling through telephone wires and setting people's hair on fire.

The idea of a computer generated environment that appears to be three dimensional to the viewer and allows some degree of interaction has been a big part of science fiction for years, most notably serving as an interface for the Internet in the works of William Gibson, in a time before most of us knew what that even meant. Electronic entertainment has dabbled in VR for quite some time, first by asserting that early three-dimensional systems like flight simulators were, in fact, virtual reality, even when displayed on crude 2D monitors. Early 3D displays like Nintendo's Virtual Boy were largely disappointing, lacking the computing horsepower and graphical intensity necessary to create a truly immersive experience.

Enter Pete.

Unencumbered by children, Pete has both the wherewithal and technical savvy to explore this new digital frontier, and when the first mass-market VR headsets were announced a short while ago, he jumped on the pre-order list for the HTC Vive and began assembling a PC robust enough to do it justice. About a week ago, he got all the pieces into place, took it for a spin, and was impressed enough that he called a bunch of us over to check it out.

I've never been a big one for PC gaming, preferring the simple setup of consoles instead, but even I can tell just by looking at it that the monolithic tower is not to be trifled with. There is a lot of space in the case, but that is because he has sufficient processing power and RAM on hand so as not to require overclocking his chips, which then belies the need for additional fans to ventilate the liquid cooling system he doesn't need. The graphic card itself (which cost more than the entirety of my last PC) asserts its presence with glowing green letters visible from across the room.

A monitor stands besides the case as one might expect, but the star of the show is the Vive headset, a pair of headphones and a pair of snazzy looking wireless controllers. Complemented by a pair of wall sensors Pete mounted high up in his library, it is an intimidating bit of kit to be sure, but with Pete's assistance, we all managed to gear up for a dip into the virtual realm.

First up was the tutorial, a necessity in terms of understanding both the controls and the limitations of the environment itself. Looking into the stereoscopic displays of the helmet, you appear to be standing in a normal room, but the furniture soon collapses into compartments hidden beneath the floor, revealing a large, industrial looking space. You can see both hand held controllers hovering in the air, their position and orientation relative to the helmet you wear, but neither hands nor thumbs visible at all, A hovering drone with a pleasing accent explains how the 'walls' of the play space become visible should you approach them. Fiddling with the suggested buttons deploys helium balloons, and if you should bop them with a controller, a tiny tremor supplies enough force feedback to cement the illusion.

Before proceeding onto the games, Pete suggested we try one of the immersive demos called The Blu, which transported the wearer to a sunken ship. Shoals of tiny fish darted about fixing the scale and middle distances, while a trio of manta rays swam overhead, casting shadows upon the deck. Trepidatiously we wandered over to the edge of the ship, near the railing, peering over the side at the reef below, but hearing a noise 'behind', turned in time to see an enormous blue whale swimming directly beside the wreck, pausing to survey us with its enormous eye.

Having seen many pictures and depictions of the blue whale, I have to tell you, nothing has cemented the scale of this immense cetacean in my mind the way this encounter did. Being able to direct my gaze where I wished, and feeling as though I was close enough to 'touch' it was a truly immersive experience.

But of course, this sort of computer technology has always been driven by entertainment, dating back to people upgrading from their VGA cards in order to play Wing Commander, so we started exploring Pete's library of demos and games.

Vive has elected to keep most of their games within a stationary paradigm for the time being, which a) reduces the odds of someone running to the end of their tether and pulling an expensive PC onto the floor, b) reduces the risk of injury from someone dodging into a wall or bookcase, and perhaps most importantly, c) reducing the occurrence of motion sickness (yes, for real!). As a result, the two games we played were variations on the theme of stationary first-person-shooter.

Space Pirate Trainer is a bright, upbeat target shooter, which sees the player equipped with a configurable pistol in one hand and a semi-translucent shield in the other. Waves of drones lift into view from beneath the platform you are standing on and begin shooting at you. The best defence being a good offence, shooting them prior to firing is one solution, but you can also deflect their shots with their shield or (most astonishingly) dodge them by sidestepping or ducking them. In fact, many players suggest abandoning the shield for an additional pistol, which not only doubles your firepower but helps create a heightened state of situational awareness, as dodging is now your sole defence.

A pulsating techno soundtrack saw us play many levels of Space Pirate Trainer, which has the scintillating allure of 'just one more game' that all classically addictive video games share, but is compounded with the unfamiliar feeling in your extremities that comes with actually using one's arms and legs. Best of all, the game is compelling enough that not a one of us felt self conscious about what we looked like, which, while wearing the helmet and gesticulating wildly at enemies no one else could perceive, is significantly silly.

Best in show had to be The Brookhaven Experiment, a zombie shooter that puts the Player in a darkened clearing with a flashlight in one hand (with limited batteries) and a pistol in the other (with limited bullets). Looking down reveals a small campfire, a rolled up sleeping bag, and other bits of camping equipment. Soon enough though, the moans of hideous undead creatures can be heard as they advance on your position. Several shots to the ten ring will drop them at range, while a shot to the shoulder will usually detach an arm, but a headshot stops them immediately...at least to start.

To conserve ammo, you might hold off, allowing them to close in order to ensure a headshot, but this stratagem is complicated by the fact that the zombies not only approach from all sides and require you to turn a physical 180 degrees in order to see behind you, but also move at different speeds. Most of us found ourselves surprised at one point or another, having turned around, expecting to see a monster several paces away, but instead being shocked by a horrible visage illuminated at point blank range by the flashlight. And subsequently, the muzzle flash of the pistol.

Suffice to say, the experience is convincing enough that Pete, a man rational in his outlook to the extreme, is disinclined to playing The Brookhaven Experiment by himself, or right before bed. It is definitely not a game for the faint at heart, as this video clearly (and entertainingly!) demonstrates.

Being a demo, there are only five levels to be experienced at this time, but the terrifying finish involves a building sized monstrosity, glimpsed in the background of an earlier level, lumbering over your position and revealing a terrifying maw full of teeth, just before fading to black. Again, the compulsion to see what's next, to finish the story, is strong.

After many false starts, it appears Virtual Reality has finally reached the mass market. Both HTC's Vive and the competing Oculus Rift are on back-order, with some early adopters electing to sell theirs on eBay for double the retail price. A VR system is expected for the PlayStation 4, and one would assume that the X-Box won't be far behind. It is a ways out of my reach for now, but the appeal is undeniable, and I will be very surprised if VR doesn't become the preferred mode for playing certain types of video games in very short order.

In the meantime, hats off to Pete, for sharing this new experience with his friends!