Spring 2013 – Creative Writing

For anybody interested, here’s a sampling of my work from my Creative Writing class this semester, two poems and a short story.


progrs natural she sed he sed feyt thei sey
ths is hwe wii rool wii joyn and splt
kiip svgry at bei

fine werds they remayne.
soyl is saecred AND blud is a meens.
progres divyne He said He said HOLY He saye.

For Destiny to Manifest and mame,
Be bold, democratize,

When growth is the tyrant to pray-se,
Silence the mavericks.
Profit IS progress, HE said she said, fair gospel, we say.


Is it too late?
Are we worthy to save?
Progress is natural, now it is natural. Now we can’t help but
Keep our savagery in play…

I Feel

I trapped My Inhibition,
up against the warm wall:
the storm wall to curb
the never-ending monster’s ball.

Have YOU ever walked away?
It stays, the mute feeling…
To lie, worry and strain

But now it’s groan has grown,
and I feel it in my bones…

These bones are all I know…

…these bones are all I’ll know…

The Fires of Man

I’ve had many missions, but this one was different. This one was mine. I was a soldier without orders. A man without a god.
I stared out the window of the shuttle as it zoomed toward the stars. Earth was burning. It wasn’t covered in our mistakes, not entirely, but soon it would be. Most of what was deemed important was ablaze — D.C., Shanghai, London, Jerusalem. It all burned in a multitude of reds and oranges.
The view wasn’t as horrifying as it should’ve been. In fact, from above it was serene, almost beautiful. It was a palette deserving of an artist, the fires juxtaposed against the dark waters that encompassed most of the planet.
I didn’t really know why I was here. Maybe it was for Anna. Or maybe I was just tired. Maybe I just didn’t give a shit anymore. The why and what didn’t matter, though. I chose this, not some bureaucratic warmonger with his head up his ass.
I couldn’t tell if my mental posturing was confidence or doubt.
I’d seen and done too much to be shocked anymore. Humanity had been a melting pot of fear and excitement since the Ark first drifted toward Earth. Even now, as we left behind a raging inferno ready to explode, any others on board likely felt a buzz of anticipation with their dread. And I understood it. Very few people had seen the Ark in person, mostly just scientists. The rest of us viewed the marvel through our televisions, wondering if it was actually real. Even I had never seen it in person.
“Is this your first time?”
I looked across the aisle at the girl with the English accent. She couldn’t have been older than twenty-five, young to be afforded a trip to the Ark.
“Yup. You?”
“Same here.”
I shot her a look of camaraderie. We sat in silence, staring at the fire.
“It’s scary, you know. Being out here, above something like that,” she said with a nod toward the planet. “Knowing we were just there.”
I should’ve said something. Don’t worry about it. It’s not as bad as you think. Anything to take her mind off the bleak and desperate future we faced. To let her know that everything would be all right. She had all the fear and none of the excitement. She was just a kid.
“Are you scared?” I finally said.
“Yes.” she whispered.
“Don’t be. These things have a way of working themselves out.” I couldn’t tell her what I knew. That soon, there’d be nothing to destroy the world over. I felt like a little boy again, a boy with a secret just begging to be told.
“I don’t see how we can come back from this, though.” she murmured. “You’d think we’d all be able to take a step back and be disgusted by what we’ve done, at the very least exhausted, but it all just keeps burning.”
“This isn’t anything new. There’s been war as long as we’ve been here. World wars, cold wars, arms wars, space wars… that’s all we know how to do. But we also knowhow to stop a fire almost as well as we know how to start one. We’ll come out the other side, one way or another.”
Our eyes hovered on one another before being drawn back into the dance of fire.
The shuttle docked at the ISS shortly thereafter. It had gotten colder the farther we got from Earth, and it was a relief when the temperature finally stopped dropping. I undid my harness and stood up, stretching my legs and admiring the now vast view of space outside the shuttle’s windows.
We couldn’t see the Ark. Not yet.
She and I walked out together, stopping at the security checkpoint on the narrow bridge between the shuttle and the station. I hadn’t realized the shuttle only carried the pilot and the two of us.
I lined up behind her at the checkpoint as she stepped forward nervously. She’d never told me what she did, but the ISS only required guards and scientists these days. She didn’t look like the former, so I’d assumed she was a scientist, and probably profoundly gifted considering her age.. It occurred to me then how silly it was to guard something so few could reach and that none could destroy. I smirked, catching a stern look from one of the guards.
“Something funny?” he said. His thick Russian accent made it hard to understand his words. For a moment, all eyes were on me.
“No sir.” The less I made myself known, the better.
The woman handed another guard her identification.
“You’re hear to see Mr. Ignis?” he asked, the German vaguely more understandable than his buddy’s Russian.
“Yes, I’m a consultant for MI6 looking to discuss the vessel’s architectural and systemic structure.”
“Ah, so we’ll see it opened soon?” he flirted excitedly.
“That’s the plan,” she said, her smile slight.
He scanned her identification again before handing it back to her with a smile. “You’re all set!”
“Thank you.”
I reached into my jacket pocket and caught her before she entered the next room. “Hey!”
She barely managed to catch the crudely carved wood totem.
“Take it. It’s been with me to hell and back.” What I’d said back on the shuttle was true, but I hadn’t chosen the best words to tell her there’ll be a tomorrow for us.
“Oh, no, that’s very nice of you, but I can’t possibly take this.” But she hadn’t tossed it back.
“How about you give it back when we leave?” I asked, knowing she wouldn’t have the opportunity.
She looked down at the totem in contemplation. “Deal.” she said, grinning. “What are these letters? AD?”, pointing to the etching on the totem.
“A reminder.”
She pocketed the totem, puzzled.
I smiled, watching her through the glass doors of the next room as they sealed behind her.
“Sir? Sir?” the German asked.
For a moment I was dreaming, forgetting our paths would never cross again.
I stepped forward and handed the German my credentials, remembering why I was here. He eyed me suspiciously, clearly made nervous by my identification.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
“I’m on orders from the President of the United States to speak with the head of research and development on the Ark.” I tried to hide my exasperation.
“And you have no documentation for your visit? Nothing from the President?”
“Buddy, have you seen the news? The President was attacked less than 24 hours ago. Last I heard, he was being airlifted to an undisclosed location in critical condition. You see this?” I insisted, pointing to my sooty jacket. “We barely got out of D.C. alive. Half the world is burning, and you’re asking me if he had time to fill out the necessary paperwork?” It was better to be brash than wooden when you were selling a story as false as mine.
We had been attacked, that much was true. But I had no idea what had happened to the President or any of the others. Whoever it was this time had gotten ballsy and bombed a large area of the Capitol building. It collapsed, but I was lucky enough to walk away with just a few scratches. I started searching through the smoke and rubble for the POTUS when I realized what would come next; the United States would strike at the country that seemed responsible. They simply couldn’t let an attack of that magnitude slide. Then we’d be the aggressors and they the victims. A vicious circle.
Or rather, continue. It was what had been going on since we found the Ark years ago. It was hard to blame humanity for retaliating against itself, but then again, it was also hard to forgive them. I’d never thought I’d abandon my duty, but I think my patience just run out. When the world is ending, loyalty burns as easily as money and gunpowder.
“What is the purpose of your visit?” he said, obviously irritated by my lack of cooperation.
“That’s between me and the man I need to speak to.”
Several seconds passed as the guard deliberated. I leaned in and whispered. “Listen, you and I both know that someone in my position doesn’t need to state their business, let alone give you what you’re asking for. Let’s make this easy on the both of us.”
He looked at me briefly, unsure of what to do. “Ok, let him through.”
They knew I had a gun. They just didn’t think I’d use it.
The Russian who’d scolded me earlier led me through the station. I didn’t know whether it was out of courtesy or suspicion. I didn’t know the Russian’s name. I don’t know why expected anybody, least of all the guards, paragons of stoic service, to proudly display their names on tags like cashiers at a grocery store. We walked past a number of massive windows, but I still hadn’t seen the Ark.
We came to a hallway with a series of doors and stopped. The Russian turned and knocked on a door, blank save for the number 122.
“Doctor? Someone is hear to speak to you.” His Russian hadn’t become easier to understand.
A man, 45 maybe, opened the door, tall and slender with greyish-black hair. He wore a suit, white shirt, black jacket and tie underneath his lab coat. It was an effortful getup. We could’ve been mistaken for brothers.
“Yes?” he asked, clearly distracted. He scanned the guard expectantly before looking me over.
“This man has business with you,” the Russian said. I thought I heard distaste in his voice.
“Uh, could we speak in private?” I asked the doctor.
“Yeah, yeah, sure.” he answered.
I walked into his office, noting the displeasure on the Russian’s face as I shut the door.
“Yes, well, my name is Doctor Ignes. What can I do for you?” the man asked as we sat, him behind his desk and me in front of it.
Ignes. The same man the girl on the shuttle was here to see.
I didn’t answer him. I’d unnerve him first. We sat in silence and stared at each other. This was it. There’s no going back now. I remembered everything that had happened, everything that had led me to this point. I remembered why I had to do what I was about to. It was time to be the bad guy.
“Excuse me sir, but I–”
“Shut up.” I said, pulling out my 9mm and balancing it on the arm of the chair. For me, it was over. I wouldn’t leave this station alive.
He put up his hands without the slightest show of emotion. If he was scared, he hid it well. We sat. Silence bothered most people. When others opted for more…extreme methods, I’d always gone with more subtle intimidation.
“We both know that I’m a dead man. The question is; how much time do I have left?” I paused. He had to think I was crazy. Maybe I was. “Here’s the deal. You’re going to take me to the station’s central command center. When we leave this office, there won’t be a gun pointed at you. But trust me when I say that if you say anything, DO anything that I deem irregular, I’ll pull my piece so fast you won’t finish your sentence. And in case you doubt me, remember: I’m a man with precious few minutes left ahead of him. I won’t hesitate to take you down with me, but play your cards right, and you’ll walk away from this alive.”
“Are you done?” Ignis said impassively before breaking into riotous laughter.
I wasn’t thrown by his maniacal cackling. At least not enough for it to change anything. I cleared my throat, motioning towards Ignis with the gun.
“Alright, alright, you are the man!” he said devilishly, a smile still spread across his face as he laughed erratically between words. He stood up, making his way around the desk. I sprang up from my chair, my gun not six inches from his temple.
“I didn’t tell you to move.”
“Ah, but you said we would be heading to the command center. You do have precious little time, yes?”
He’d thrown me off my game. He may be a scientist, but he didn’t act like one.
“Let’s go,” I said, pushing him in front of me and out the door as I concealed my weapon. I leaned in, whispering. “Remember what I said.”
“Oh, I have a wonderful memory. I’m a scientist after all.”
“What did you say your name was?” Ignis asked as we walked.
“I didn’t.”
The man would not shut up. He was different from the preoccupied version of himself that had opened the door. It was as if the head of research and development on the Ark was no more than a child with multiple personality disorder. At this point I wished I’d knocked him out back in his office. There was a chance I could’ve found my way on my own.
“You know, up here, in the stars,” he looked out the station’s windows, motioning with his hands, “I’m very powerful. People trust the man that keeps them alive.”
He turned to me as we walked.
“I can send you back to Earth and away from your death as if this never happened.”
“Keep walking, pal.” I said, putting a strong hand on his shoulder to remind him who was in charge.
“As you wish, Mr. Secret Service.”
He hadn’t seen my identification, and the guard hadn’t mentioned who I worked for.
We had reached what looked like the command center. We must’ve come during everybody’s off-hours. It was deserted except for a guard sleeping in one of the chairs. I noted the exits and emergency buttons, planning my move.
And then I saw it. the Ark.
It didn’t look like an extraterrestrial artifact. It was smaller, much smaller, than it appeared on television. Set against the massive backdrop of a burning planet Earth, it seemed even more a crime to fight so savagely for something so small and unknown.
It was then that the girl from the shuttle walked in through one of the room’s other entrances. She had earbuds in, her head buried in the table of information she carried.
“Ah, pretty young thing, isn’t she? Girls from across the pond are always the naughtiest,” Ignis remarked casually.
I put a firm hand on his shoulder again. “What’s the sequence to release the Ark?” I asked through clenched teeth. I had to get rid of him soon.
“See, I knew you were smarter than the average Joe. Despite our best efforts to destroy it, it’s proven itself indestructible. In fact, I’m beginning to think we’ll never get in. Not at the rate you guys burn. It’s a shame, really. Forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest.”
I wished the girl hadn’t walked in, but I didn’t have much time. Ignis was a time bomb waiting to go off.
“Yeah, whatever, so what’s the sequence?”
“Well if you really want to know…” he said like a performer on stage. He whispered it to me like a child whispers the name of their crush. Ignis. That was the code. Egotistical bastard.
I sat Ignis down next to the sleeping guard.
“DON’T do this,” he said threateningly. I saw now a flash of something different in his eyes.
“Fuck you,” I murmured under my breath.
I slammed the butt of my gun into Ignis and the guard’s skulls one after the other. They hit the floor, unconscious. I ran over to the nearest emergency button, my suspicions confirmed when the doors of the room slammed shut. The color and sound of the alarm startled the girl, who hadn’t noticed us and screamed when she saw the bodies lying still on the floor.
“Everything’s alright,” I said to her. “Everything’s fine. It’s not what you think.”
I ran over to the console, hoping to figure out how to enter the code into the machine. All of the station’s doors had likely sealed. Guards would’ve been here otherwise. The doors probably required the deceivingly simple Ignis code to reopen. I knew I had all the time in the world, but I still felt rushed. Maybe it was the planet on fire near the border of the window.
It took several minutes, but I’d finally reached the system’s command prompt.
“Stop right there, Mr. Secret Service.”
I turned around, pulling out my gun and taking in the worst situation imaginable.
“Step away from the console,” Ignis ordered, his gun to the head of the girl from the shuttle. Fear shaded her eyes, and I inched away, slowly lowering my gun.
Ignis’ laughter was the only thing I heard before he shot me.
A quick flurry of pops rang through the room. One, two, three. I’d raised my gun instinctively when he fired, letting off two shots before my arm faltered.
I was on my back, coughing up blood but still able to move. The bullet hit me in the stomach, which only gave me a few minutes to live. It was then that I realized it was deathly quiet. No talking, screaming, or shooting. Even the alarm had stopped. I looked up, scanning the room.
Her body was on top of his. Two bullets for two people. She was supposed to go home. I was supposed to save her.
I pulled myself onto the console, entering the letters I-G-N-I-S into the computer. A deep groan came from the station.
I looked through the massive window. The clamp holding the Ark slowly began to open as the station went silent again. By the time anybody realized what had happened, it will have drifted back into space. Back where it came from. The clamp retracted back into the station, releasing the Ark. It was done.
I sank slowly down, leaning my back against the console. I felt the warm blood on the floor. It could’ve been mine, hers, or Ignis’. I didn’t know. I looked down and found the totem, spattered with blood. A reminder. I squeezed it in the palm of my hand in comfort.
Some will curse me and some will hail me. Too many are already dead. I watched out the window as the Ark slowly drifted into the darkness. There was no fire or explosion, no destruction. We couldn’t throw any at it. It had to be let go.
Now there was nothing left to fight over. Now we would see if we could find out way back. If we could forgive ourselves yet again.


The Dark Knight Rises – Review

“The legend ends”.

Boy, what a way to leave your mark.

Signaling the end of the road for both Bruce Wayne and Christopher Nolan and co., it’s fair to say that a lot hinges on the The Dark Knight Rises. Legacy has always been an important theme in Nolan’s Batman films. So with that in mind, it’s interesting to see anticipation reach a fever pitch as eager fans determine whether or not Christopher Nolan really has pulled it off. I couldn’t be any more delighted to quell your doubts with a resounding “YES”.

Set eight years after the events of the Dark Knight, Batman has taken the blame for Harvey Dent’s rampage in order to preserve the hope of Gotham’s citizens for a brighter future. The Dent Act, a rigorous set of laws named after the late White Knight, has all but wiped crime from the city streets. But Batman has been branded a murderer and Bruce Wayne hasn’t donned the cape and cowl since, disillusioned with the lie upon which the Gotham has been built. Things have been quiet. Too quiet. Enter Bane, a hulking, methodical terrorist intent on complete and utter destruction. To say any more about the plot would be to ruin your experience. Pro tip: brush up on Batman Begins.

If The Dark Knight was a Batman-Joker duet, Rises is more an ensemble piece centered around Bruce Wayne. This is Christian Bale’s film through and through, and he owns it with his most powerful, poignant performance (three P’s!) of the trilogy. And really, as the final chapter in Bruce Wayne’s story, Bale’s performance is the emotional and thematic core of the film. With a little help, he carries the film into cinematic history. Speaking of a little help–

Bane. After seeing the film, just his name should remind you just how terrifying this force of darkness really is. Whereas the Joker was more an anarchistic child (with a knife), Bane is more akin to a calculated dictator with a purpose. He’s as physically intimidating as he is intellectually and a perfect counterpart to Bruce Wayne’s incorruptible alter-ego. For his appearance alone, Tom Hardy deserves all the praise he’ll receive. You wouldn’t use the words “ripped” or “jacked” to describe someone of Bane’s physical stature. Massive is a more appropriate term. But beneath his physicality, Hardy delivers a truly exceptional performance. Playing a character whose face is almost entirely obscured has its challenges. But Hardy makes it look easy with his expressive eyes, unnerving voice, and sheer presence.

The outrage over Anne Hathaway’s casting as Selina Kyle nearly mirrors that of Heath Ledger as the Joker. But rest easy, as Nolan once again proves that we should just trust him. Hathaway is remarkable as the infamous thief (never mentioned as Catwoman) and provides some much needed comic relief, as well as a more ambiguous, endearing side of herself.

John Blake, on the other hand, is an idealistic rookie cop that more closely resembles a young Jim Gordon or Bruce Wayne. Joseph Gordon-Levitt delivers a performance that is uniquely his own, which is impressive considering the caliber of talent he shares the screen with. Gary Oldman is stellar as always, playing a disillusioned Jim Gordon who’s being eaten from the inside out by his lie about Dent. It’s the troubled root of the story and has a lasting impact on the world-weary Gordon.

Michael Caine turns in a particularly standout performance among an already extraordinarily talented cast. Alfred has been with Bruce since the beginning, acting as a father figure the boy never really knew. It’s telling then that some of the most unforgettable moments come not from explosive action sequences but quiet, moving scenes between Bruce and his ever-faithful butler.

Morgan Freeman returns as Lucius Fox, the Applied Sciences head and lord of all Bat-gadgets. He’s not given as much screen-time as many of the other players but nevertheless contributes to the guidance offered by Alfred and Gordon. Miranda Tate couldn’t have been played by a more fitting Marion Cottilard, who Nolan was so intent on having join his cast he actually delayed filming of the movie so she could have her baby.

Hans Zimmer’s score for Rises is exceptional and once again proves why the Nolan-Zimmer combo is one of the deadliest in Hollywood. There’s a pulsating, dark score that feels like it’s constantly moving forward throughout the movie. Zimmer’s soundtrack is the best of the trilogy because it manages to capture the scale and scope of the conflict in addition to the intimacy of the character drama.

With The Dark Knight Rises, an example has been set for how to properly employ the trilogy format. Nolan has proven that one aspect of storytelling rises (ha) above all others: consistency. Both The Dark Knight trilogy and the Lord of the Rings films, arguably the only other trilogy to be truly exceptional from beginning to end, tell one story over three installments. The events of all three films have direct consequences for each other, and that leads to a strong sense of continuity that audiences care for.

You shouldn’t compare the The Dark Knight and Rises. They certainly fit well within the series together, but they’re also two very different films. Audiences were so enamored with Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker that they almost forgot about the man behind the cowl. The Dark Knight serves as the dark, psychologically disturbing second act, while Rises, while no less thought-provoking, acts as the series emotional climax. Rises is more a hybrid of the previous films, and serves to bring the story full circle. It shares the same storytelling style as Batman Begins but has the dark, unsettling nature of The Dark Knight, and that’s why it’s such a fitting conclusion to such a beloved story. You can tell Nolan took what he learned from the previous two films and painstakingly devised a story that would tie Bruce Wayne’s story of struggle and redemption together in a satisfying way.

I could go on and on about what makes The Dark Knight Rises such an achievement. It easily has the best performances, score, and cinematography of the trilogy. But its story is what will stay with you the most.

I realized just how special this story was in a particular scene involving Bruce Wayne (no spoilers!). Wayne wasn’t in his Bat suit, but Zimmer’s two note motif for the Batman was surging behind him. That alone gave me so much to think about, the fact that one of the film’s superhero crescendos centers around the man behind the mask, not the hero themselves.

Lately, I’ve come to the realization of what separates those who are truly great at what they do and those who simply plateau. Those who possess unimaginable talent and work ethic and those that stagnate and are unable to push the boundaries of what’s possible. The former continually tops themselves. Each project is clearly better than the last. Nolan is the epitome of this idea.

With Rises, Christopher Nolan puts everything he’s learned in the 10 years he’s been telling Bruce Wayne’s story to not only obliterate the dreaded three-quel curse, but also permanently change the cinematic landscape in a satisfyingly profound and artistically mature fashion. Quite simply, this is his best work yet.

Bravo, Mr. Nolan.

– KZ

The Dark Knight Rises Trailer Collection

The Dark Knight Rises is such a big movie, it’s changing up my schedule.

Normally, I write up reviews on Wednesdays and share either a trailer or piece of music on Fridays. But given that I haven’t seen the Dark Knight Rises yet, I figured I’d switch the two around. I like so many others am seeing Christopher Nolan’s final Batman film at midnight, so you can expect my review to go up Friday morning.

In the meantime, I’ve gathered every trailer Warner Bros. has released for the film so far and centralized them all within this post. However, I’m leaving out all the IMAX tv spots, simply because there’s WAY too many of them and they all show mostly the same footage.

In addition, here’s a great interview with Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale about which scene in the trilogy was the most important. This article will also get you caught up on Batman Begins and the Dark Knight if you haven’t seen them in a while!


See you all on the other side!

– KZ

Netflix Review – 07/16/12

You may be a Netflix subscriber and, if you’re like me, find the films available via the Instant Streaming option underwhelming. Luckily for you, each Monday I write up a post showcasing new arrivals and hidden gems I’ve seen and recommend.

Adaptation (2002) – A lovelorn screenwriter turns to his less talented twin brother for help when his efforts to adapt a non-fiction book go nowhere. Adaptation is one of the more unique dramedy’s I’ve seen, and for that alone it should be on your queue. But underneath its eccentric, ingenius story is some witty dialogue, perplexing notions, and fantastic performances from Nicholas Cage (playing two characters), Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper in an Oscar-winning role.

Boys Don’t Cry (1999) – The story of the life of Brandon Teena, a transgendered teen who preferred life in a male identity until it was discovered he was biologically female. Boys Don’t Cry stars a young Hilary Swank in her first breakout role. She won an Oscar for her portrayal of a vulnerable, lost transgendered teen, and for good reason. Swank is fantastic as Brandon Teena, and her performance throughout the character’s journey superbly exemplifies why LBGT members need our support, acceptance and most of all, love.

Rango (2011) – Rango is an ordinary chameleon who accidentally ends up in the town of Dirt, a lawless outpost in the Wild West in desperate need of a new sheriff. Rango was a bit of a surprise to me. I really enjoy animated movies because their point isn’t to tell a mature story with heavy thematic material, but to entertain and amaze. In this regard, Rango is no different. Discovering who you really are is a universal theme told in all mediums. But Rango tells its story with an overwhelming amount of cleverness and repartee that makes it standout from the genre, much in the same way Pixar films do.

What do you think? Have you seen any of these films? Leave a comment below!

– KZ

Dead Island – Review

Dead Island is a peculiar game. It doesn’t evoke the same emotions as its fantastic announcement trailer and doesn’t do anything particularly impressive with its ideas. But developer Techland’s foray into the zombie genre benefits from what I call the “X-Factor”: an intangible, unexplainable constituent that gives the game an undeniable charm and appeal. Regardless of its mildly frustrating shortcomings, I enjoyed Dead Island for what it is: an intriguing new IP that, despite its ambition, doesn’t quite meet its full potential.

Dead Island takes place on Banoi, a fictional island in the very real archipelago of Papua New Guinea. It’s home to a rundown city, maximum security prison, and even a luxurious resort that kicks off the story. Players choose the role of one of four characters and even though bios of each are available at the selection screen, they fail to amount to anything more. There is literally zero character development of any kind throughout the entire story. It’s not that it tries and fails to develop these characters: the game doesn’t even make an effort. While the argument can certainly be made that Banoi itself is a strong persona, none of the characters we follow are even given opportunities to grow or evolve. The lack of a developed character, any character at all, is a detriment to the story as a whole.

Initially, the zombie outbreak is intriguing. There’s an air of mystery to the island and the infection that was exciting within the game’s first few hours. I really enjoyed killing zombies and exploring the bedraggled bars, pools and bungalows that have been affected by the infection.

But as you’re given answers and gain a familiarity with your surroundings, that mystery soon disappears. What you’re left with is an undeveloped story that fails to effectively convey its theme of the breakdown of society, and the subsequent moral and ethical quandaries of the struggle for survival. It was a great, almost Walking Dead-esque approach, but it ultimately never pans out.

The laughably bad cutscenes and lack of character development don’t help either, though. Aside from the inherent lack of presentation or polish, many times I found myself simply not caring when something important happened to a companion I was traveling with or someone I was completing quests for. Its because these plot points simply happen as if they’re a part of a checklist rather than an engrossing story. There’s no exploration into the events surrounding the cast of characters or the characters themselves either. Dead Island’s story isn’t given the feeling it needs to deliver on these promises of emotional engagement, and the story suffers as a result.

In spite of its absent storytelling, Dead Island is by and large a solid visual experience. The areas you visit have a distinct style and great attention to detail. Running through the overpopulated slums of Moresby city or admiring the beauty of Banoi’s jungle is a ton of fun and helps stave off inevitable monotony. The amount of detail given to zombies when they’re being hacked to pieces is also gruesomely impressive and ensures that killing the undead will still be fun after hours and hours of gameplay.

Dead Island’s small visual quirks aren’t huge problems in isolated instances, but collectively result in an unavoidable element of inconsistency. While zombies and lighting effects look great, character models and textures are stiff and blurry. Improper lip-syncing is also a recurring issue, as are framerate stutters and texture pop-in. This isn’t a graphically impressive game but while its visual inconsistencies may be jarring, the great lighting effects and zombie destruction certainly help.

Dead Island has a fantastic score that really helps highlight the tension, despair, and intensity of situations. This is definitely one of the most overlooked game soundtracks of the year, and if you’re a fan of game music, I highly recommend you check it out.

Zombies are also incredibly realistic and terrifying. Having to quickly turn around or frantically navigate the winding routes of any given area is all the more terrifying when you hear an equally terrifying zombie horde behind you. And while the weapons sound great, the guns can sound a bit generic and boring, even if guns aren’t a central focus of the game. Unfortunately, the terrible voice acting does nothing to help the already underwhelming story.

Gameplay is really the meat of Dead Island but overall, it’s a mixed bag. Melee combat can be really fun, thanks in no small part to the aforementioned high graphical and sonic fidelity of zombies. Hacking limbs or breaking bones with anything from a cleaver to a hat rack is still fun and satisfying by the game’s 20th hour.

The considerable amount of loot ranging from new weapons to money to household ingredients also ensures gameplay always feels fresh and exciting. You’ll often feel like you’re performing fetch quests, but that’s ok. These take a backseat to the solid zombie combat, though the few shooting sequences do feel clunky and unnecessary.

It also doesn’t help that Dead Island features some very floaty controls, or what I call the “ice-skating effect”. Your character will continue moving a fraction of a second after you release the left analog stick. This may not seem like it would be a problem, but it actually results in unresponsive controls that make it difficult for players to feel like they’re in control of their character. This issue also lends itself to the core of the melee system which, while it may be fun, has a serious problem. Because of these unresponsive controls, the melee system runs on the poorly designed principle that you WILL be hit by zombies, even when you feel you should have evaded their attacks.

Cooperative play is a nice feature for Dead Island that unfortunately contributes to the already inconsistent experience. You see, the story doesn’t take into account how many players are actually participating. This means I could play the entire game as Xian (the sharp weapons expert) by myself, but still see the other three characters I didn’t choose in cutscenes. The game acts as if the four of you are traveling not only in cutscenes but the gameplay as well, so you can imagine my surprise when these other characters continually popped up in cutscenes, acting as if we were traveling companions.

Closing Comments

Dead Island is a game that feels more like a basic design document than a fully realized experience. Its got a ton of ambition that pokes its head through glaring issues from time to time, but these are few and far between. But despite these blatant flaws, I found myself continually sucked into the expansive island of Banoi, eventually putting over 30 hours into the game. It’s just fun to play.

I’m not writing Dead Island off entirely, I’d actually like to see developer Techland take some serious time and build a more comprehensive, fleshed out and polished sequel, as I do believe that even though Dead Island couldn’t live up to its full potential, its ideas have a massive amount of potential nonetheless.

7.0 Presentation
The story slowly loses its mystique and feels underdeveloped and bare. Menus are a bit uninspired and clunky, but they get the job done.

7.5 Graphics
Texture pop-in, screen tearing, and clipping abound but environments, lighting and zombies alleviate these graphical irritants.

8.5 Sound
Generic gun sounds and atrocious voice acting don’t overshadow terrifying zombie cries and a phenomenal score.

8.0 Gameplay
Fetch quests, floaty controls, and bizarre cooperative design choices are counterattacked by a simple but indulgently fun melee system.

8.5 Lasting Appeal
Consistently new and improved loot drops and a persistent RPG system warrant a second 15-20 hour playthrough.


What do you think? Have you played Dead Island? Leave a comment below!

– KZ

Netflix Review – 7/9/12

You may be a Netflix subscriber and, if you’re like me, find the films available via the Instant Streaming option underwhelming. Luckily for you, each Monday I write up a post showcasing new arrivals and hidden gems I’ve seen and recommend.

Ronin (1998) – A freelancing former US intelligence agent tries to track down a mysterious package that is wanted by both the Irish and the Russians. Starring Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Sean Bean, and Stellan Skarsgard, Ronin is a thrilling heist film that both entertains and shows audiences how fast and overstimulating modern action films have become. Ronin takes its time developing the story and its characters and focuses on what really matters most in heist movies: not the heist itself, but the planning that leads up to the heist. It also puts forth the ingenious plot device that sometimes it’s not the answers that matter but the journey leading up to those answers.

King of California (2007) – An unstable dad who after getting out of a mental institution tries to convince his daughter that there’s Spanish gold buried somewhere under suburbia. King of California stars Michael Douglas in a scene-stealing role as the mentally ill father of his teenage daughter, played by Evan Rachel Wood. The film does at times stumble and fall into generic indie trappings, but it’s still a well-told story about the unique, eccentric relationship between these two characters.

What do you think? Have you seen either of these films? Leave a comment below!

– KZ

The Amazing Spider-Man – Trailer #1

Given the recent release of Marc Webb’s Spider-Man reboot and my review of the film, I figured the first trailer released for The Amazing Spider-Man would be an appropriate trailer for today’s post.

This teaser was released about a year ago, and even among the four or five trailers they released up until the film’s launch, it’s still my favorite.

What do you think? Have you seen The Amazing Spider-Man yet? What do you think of its teaser? Leave a comment below!

– KZ