When XCOM: Enemy Within turned into ‘Aliens’

xcom site recon

Last year’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown was one of my favorite games, largely because it left so much room for play sessions to turn into their own little emergent stories.

This week, a huge expansion to the game, called Enemy Within, was launched, and I’ve delved back into the game to try out the new stuff. The other night, I suddenly found myself playing until about 3 a.m. because one mission grabbed my attention and arrested my ability to think of anything else for a good hour — the emergent narrative, about my squad of soldiers fighting to repel an alien invasion of Earth, was in many ways akin to the horror and tragedy of films like Aliens.

Since it was so tense, my favorite experience with the game so far, I ended up laying it out on Twitter across something like 30 updates. I didn’t realize it would be as long as it was until I was midway into it, but I couldn’t just stop in the middle — I still found it too compelling. Because it seems like such a great example of some of the very interesting storytelling only games can do, I thought I’d put it up here, with a little more context.

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‘Mama’ is a Deeper, Gentler Kind of Twisted Monster


Warning: Spoilers for the film Mama herein, as well as Sinister and maybe Paranormal Activity. I might spoil nine or 10 other movies just because I’m on a role.

Mama, the recently released, Guillermo del Toro-produced horror movie about two feral kids who are rediscovered and brought back to society, certainly has a few missteps built in. The way it handles its monster, however, largely isn’t one of them.

One of the things that most bothers me about many monster movies is the lack of said creature’s ability to actually become menacing.

Much too often, ghosts, demons and other creatures are used in service of Being Ominous. You know — they pop up now and again, or a character turns and what was previously hidden turns out to be hiding something awful. And many times in horror movies, the character will cry out and then blink and the thing will be gone.

That’s dumb. What’s more, it’s irritating.

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‘Sinister’: How Sound Changes the Audience’s Role


A few weeks back, I checked out Sinister, a horror film with Ethan Hawke that inevitably is a member of the “creepy children” genre that’s become especially popular lately, but has always been popular on the greater horror landscape.

While the movie itself is intriguing without ever being especially captivating — I kind of tire of horror movies in which there seems to be no real danger, other than drawing the attention of spooky entities — it does some very cool things with sound throughout. It’s that use of sound more than anything else that drives both the surreal nature of the story and presentation, and the oppressive atmosphere of the movie.

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Six People Only: The Stakes of The Walking Dead

walking dead 5

I’ve got my pick for my favorite game released this year, despite a few more titles trickling out in the next few weeks. It is, far and away, Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead adaptation.

The thing that’s remarkable about The Walking Dead is how well it tells its story. There’s the zombie plague, of course, but much more frightening are the lengths to which the remaining humans must go to survive. Sometimes they save and help one another. Sometimes they form unbreakable, close bonds. Often, they’re forced to be incredibly hurtful to one another, and undergo some incredible tragedies.

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Paranormal Slacktivity: Time to End the Franchise

paranormal activity 4

I’ll admit that I have a soft stop for the Paranormal Activity movies, and really, anything that includes demons and demonic possession. You might argue that, four movies in, all of the Paranormal Activity movies have been basically the same, and you’d be right — but underneath is something of a progression in a story about a demon and the hell it has unleashed on a family, in slow stages, to reach its goals.

Except, that is, in Paranormal Activity 4. I was able to give a pass to, and even fully enjoy, the earlier three movies because they move along the greater demonic storyline, if slowly. But the fourth movie feels more cash-in than ever before, and lacks almost completely anything that pushes the story forward. It leaves more questions than answers, there are some gaping holes in the fabric of the underlying plot, and it sort of feels like it’s time to bring the whole thing to a halt.
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