“In a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, I think Wrench is the perfect embodiment of the spirit of Watch_Dogs 2.”
Characterisation in video games is consistently improving and there’s no better representation of that than with Ubisoft’s sequel to Watch_Dogs. With Watch_Dogs 2, we’ve received a great cast of characters, with equally talented actors playing them. Though they are all standouts in their own way, the reception to the character of Wrench, an endearing and humorous character that manages to eschew stereotypes and subvert many expectations, has been nothing but positive. We managed to wrench away Shawn Baichoo, who plays the character, from holding off his adoring fans for just long enough to ask him some questions.
Shawn has done voice and motion capture work for numerous games and has been involved in several Ubisoft projects, including every single mainline Assassin’s Creed game (that’s a lot of games). He also motion captured all of Adam Jensen’s (lead protagonist) takedown moves in the very well received Deus Ex: Mankind Divided (2016), and is the voice behind the lead characters in both Outlast (2013) and the upcoming Outlast 2 (2017).
How did you first get involved in the competitive industry of voice acting and motion capture for games?
I started off with theatre studies here in Montreal, intending to make a career of theatre, film and television, with hopefully some voice work (original voice for animation, ideally) thrown in. But I gravitated towards MoCap kind of naturally, as an extension of voice work for video games, as well as my stunt fighting and movement background. And after a rather fortunate encounter with a guy who was in charge of the MoCap for AC2 [Assassins Creed 2] (at the time), Ubisoft gave me a shot a few weeks later, it went very well, and I started working for them since then on various projects. It’s a relatively small community here in Montreal, so once you start working and people get to know what you can do, it can often lead to other opportunities within the industry, which is great.
A good deal of game companies are infatuated with getting big-named actors to play leading roles. How important is it for the industry to give more opportunities to fresh talent?
Well, as a relatively unknown actor, I’d say that it’s very important to give opportunities to fresh talent. MoCap is a pretty new field, and as such it presents a lot of opportunity for people who are willing to explore it. There’s a lot of diverse talent out there with a lot to offer, so having an eye out for fresh talent is is not only good for us actors, but also good for the companies, as look and recognizability tend to play a smaller role in games than they do in movies, for example. So someone who doesn’t have a ‘star’ factor can still be given a shot and compete, if you will, with bigger actors on relatively equal footing (without the price tag that usually comes with stars). That being said, I totally understand the desire some companies have to add some ‘prestige’ to their game by casting names, but Ubisoft, who made Watch_Dogs 2, always seems to cast according to the needs of their games, not based on star power necessarily. After all, a good game is what sells, not how many stars are in it.
The game contains great chemistry between the characters. Were the recording sessions done individually, or were the other cast members in the studio together?
All of the cinematic scenes were shot in the studio with the cast and a terrific director (Jean-Francois Rivard), which was essential for group cohesion and chemistry. We all got along great, too, which helped a lot. A lot of the team-speak was done together in studio, while on occasion we had to do a few pickups together while in different cities, so those sessions would be connected over Skype.
The first game was notorious for having somewhat forgettable characters. Was there a noticeable effort from the cast to rectify this for the sequel?
Not from the cast, really, but definitely from the writers. After all, it falls to them to craft the characters and the stories they tell. That being said, we were all very focused on the relationships between our various characters and how to keep things both natural but also entertaining and fun. I think we succeeded! The writers didn’t play into stereotypes, and there’s a wonderful, organic kind of diversity to the cast that makes them all super relatable, without it falling to pandering or tokenism.
The cast of Watch_Dogs 2 is quite diverse. Is character diversity an issue the industry still needs to improve upon?
Absolutely. And I think Watch_Dogs 2 is a great step in that direction. But they handled it without being preachy or in-your-face about it, which I think it the way to go. Marcus being black certainly affects his story and his relationships with the world, but it’s never the point or the driving force of the story. I think it’s a nice balance.
I think people like DEDSEC so much because they’re easy to identify with in many ways. There are so many stories to tell out there, from so many interesting perspectives, that I really think the more we embrace that in all our media, the more we’ll all benefit.
Were there any disagreements about the decision to show Wrench’s face, or any other decisions regarding the character?
The initial concept for Wrench, I believe, was more of a tough-guy, ass-kicking kind of character, but the man who hired me (Lars Bonde) saw him differently, and thought that combining my unique comedic stylings and energy with such a look could be really interesting. He wasn’t wrong! I think Wrench is so popular, in part, because he’s not what you’d expect. He’s a real person with real passions and fan-boy and geek-out moments, as opposed to some tough, dour, flawless, effortlessly cool and detached (read: boring) kind of person that, frankly, we’ve seen before. I think it was always planned to show his face, however, so no disagreements there. I personally love the idea.
Wrench is portrayed as having a social disorder that is helped by the covering of his face, and he acts noticeably different when the mask is removed. Was this challenging to convey?
Sure, but I was very lucky to have such a great director guide me through some of Wrench’s most vulnerable moments. So while it was challenging, it was also very rewarding. There’s also the fact that I can totally relate to why Wrench wears the mask, as I’m someone who often is filled with self-doubt and can feel socially awkward (I hide it well, though), and I battle insecurity like everyone else. Being able to hide behind something and not let the world see/judge you for who you really are (especially if you don’t like yourself) can be a powerful thing. But sometimes that mask has to fall so we can take stock of what’s really important.
Did you have any input into the dialogue of Wrench, or any ad-libbing?
Oh, yeah, tons. The writers were really great with that, they were totally flexible and encouraged us to make the dialogue our own, which I did with fervor. In my case, it also helped that the writers got to know me throughout the process, so they adjusted Wrench’s dialogue to fit my personality a bit better. Also a great idea, I thought.
Wrench is playable for a small section at the end of the game. Can we expect to see more of Wrench in the upcoming DLC?
I certainly hope so! I love playing him. Unfortunately I can’t talk about any upcoming projects (if any), for if I did I would be beset upon by the Ninjas of the Non-Disclosure Agreement and never seen again.
Do you share any personality traits with the character of Wrench?
Oh yeah, definitely. His sense of humour, his love of movies, games, science-fictions, pop culture (I’m a huge geek), his loyalty, his passion for things, those are all very much me. Where we differ is in his technical savvy, his disregard for the law and his tendency to blow things up. But those are all things that are perhaps easier to enjoy in the power fantasy that is a video game, so that’s fine by me (I like not being in jail)!
If you could add any emoticons to the repertoire of Wrench’s mask, what would they be?
Hypnotic swirls, sound waves that match his voice, some kind of middle finger emojis… oh, and the smiling poop emoji. So many uses for that one. Perhaps with Wrench mask 2.0?
People seem quite taken with the character of Wrench. Why do you think this is?
I think people connect to him partially because the guy playing him (me!) has a lot in common with the fans, and the team behind Watch_Dogs 2 managed to convey that in a really effective and entertaining manner. There’s also the fact that his mask and look give him anonymity… so anyone, really, could be Wrench, which is a fun idea. When I was a kid I loved Iron Man for that very reason. I could be the one in the suit! I also think (in all humility here) that he’s a fun, entertaining and downright funny character, and people love that kind of thing. In a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously, I think Wrench is the perfect embodiment of the spirit of Watch_Dogs 2 in many ways.
If you can, can you tell us a bit about the character you play in the upcoming horror sequel, Outlast 2?
I play Blake Langermann, a news camera man, who find himself (as well as his reporter wife, Lynne) in an increasingly terrible and terrifying situation after his helicopter crashes in a remote location. You can guess the rest… or actually, you probably can’t. I can’t talk about the story but I know firsthand that it’s going to be pretty intense, and very disturbing. I had a bit of trouble with a few bits, that’s for sure. I also think it’s going to top the first one in terms of atmosphere, game quality, and the number of times you’ll have to change your pants.
And lastly, this is somewhat self indulgent, but Wrench seems to have some kinky interests. Do you view him as sorely on the straight side of the sexuality scale?
To be honest I don’t think anyone is solely on the straight (or queer) side of the scale. I think we’re all queer to some degree (even if it’s minor), it’s just a question of how much we embrace it or hide it away. While I played Wrench as a fairly straightforward hetero cis-male (that’s who I am, after all), I allowed him to have the same degree of comfort and familiarity with his more ‘feminine’ side that I do. Which is to say, Wrench isn’t macho, or sexist, or at all afraid to express behaviour that could make other more ‘rigid’ men uncomfortable. Part of why Wrench does it IS to make Marcus a bit uncomfortable (it’s his way of playing), but the other (probably larger) part is that he’s not afraid to express just how much he loves Marcus and thinks he’s cool. It doesn’t have to be a romantic love, but something I love about fiction (whether it be movies, games, books, animation, whatever) is that fans can read whatever the hell they want into it. I’ve received fan art, [erotic] fan-fiction, etc for Wrench with Marcus, and I’m totally fine with that. The point of all this is for people to escape into whatever worlds they want to, so if that includes one where Wrench is queer, or kinky, or whatever, I say more power to them!
If you want to read more about Shawn you can see the full list of projects he’s been involved in on his website: http://www.shawnbaichoo.com/bio/. Or you can find him at @ShawnBaichoo on Twitter.
‘Life is Strange 2’ Episode 5 Review – “Wolves”: A Worthy Send-off
The final episode of Life is Strange 2 may take a while to get going but it does offer a solid conclusion to the Diaz brothers’ journey.
Life is Strange 2 hasn’t made any bones about being a political game over the course of the last year. The 5th, and final episode, “Wolves”, doesn’t just continue with this message, it doubles down, and in a big way.
Set near the Arizona-Mexico border, “Wolves” follows the Diaz brothers on the final leg of their journey. Having escaped from the cult that held Daniel up as a messianic figure in the previous episode, Sean and Daniel are camping out in a sort of pop-up town filled with outsiders like themselves.
The location provides Life is Strange 2 with its final breath of relaxation before the story enters its high tension endgame, and it’s a much needed reprieve. Unfortunately, it does seem to go on a bit longer than the player might like, and that makes things drag a smidge.
To give you some idea of how long you’ll be spending in the village, 4 of the 6 collectibles are found here. So, yes, this starting area is the main place you’ll be spending “Wolves” in. To be clear, the area isn’t bad per se. There’s a lot to see, a scavenger hunt to go on, and a few interesting characters to speak with, including a surprise cameo from the original game. The bummer of it all is that players will be feeling the time here more laboriously simply because there isn’t much of anything happening.
In the 2nd or 3rd episode of this story it’s perfectly fine for an extended bit of down time. Episode 3, in particular, benefited greatly from allowing you to settle into the setting and get to know a diverse and likable new group of characters. However, by the 5th episode, players will be so eager to see how things are gonna settle up, they won’t be able to get out of this area fast enough.
On the upswing, once Sean and Daniel leave the village, the story moves at a pretty solid clip to the credits. As the key art and trailer for “Wolves” might suggest, the Diaz brothers do indeed challenge the border wall in the final leg of Life is Strange 2. Where things go from there, I won’t spoil, but rest assured that Daniel will absolutely go through the crisis as you’ve trained him to do.
By this I mean, you will see the final results of your choices throughout the game, and they’re pretty impressive. With 4 possible endings, and 3 possible variations on those endings, Life is Strange 2 can ultimately play out in a variety of ways. How yours plays out will, of course, depend on the choices you’ve made and how you’ve influenced your brother throughout your journey.
Either way, though, Life is Strange 2 closes off “Wolves” with an emotionally satisfying and generally fulfilling conclusion to your journey. It might be a necessary evil that the events can’t be intense the whole way through, being that this is not an action or combat-focused game, but the fact that things take so long to get going in the final episode is a bit of a problem.
Still, fans worried that Life is Strange 2 might fail to stick the landing can rest easy. “Wolves” might not be the best, or most satisfying, episode of the series but it does what it needs to do and it does it well, particularly in the back half.
‘Yaga’ Review: A Bittersweet Fairy Tale
Some games feel perfectly suited to their genres, as if they fulfill every ambition that their genre could promise. On paper, Yaga from the developer Breadcrumbs Interactive, should be one of those games. This roguelike RPG is meant to bring traditional Slavic folktales to life, and its procedurally generated structure allows the game to change in every playthrough, just like how the ancient fairy tales it’s based on can change in every telling. Yaga immediately shines on a conceptual level, but as a game, the most important question remains: will this fairy tale be enjoyable to play?
From start to finish, Yaga uses the rich source material of Eastern European history and folklore to create a vibrant, fantastical world. The entire game is framed as three elderly women telling the story of Ivan, a heroic blacksmith who has been stricken with the curse of bad luck. These women spin a fanciful yarn, one in which Ivan is constantly plagued by horrors from traditional fairy tales such as the hideous One-Eyed Likho, along with more realistic foes, such as a corrupt, overbearing Tsar. The game thrives on this balance between history and fantasy. Its world is filled with peasants who face daily, universal struggles with war and agriculture, while massive ogres and goblin-like Vodyanoys haunt the surrounding wilderness. This mixture creates a strong setting that finally gives Slavic history and mythology its long-overdue representation in games.
“Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.”
The frame story always remains the same: Ivan will always have to serve his Tsar while avoiding bad luck in every playthrough. However, beyond these core details, the old women are extremely flexible storytellers, often switching events around or changing story beats entirely. In some playthroughs, you may discover a woman raising an enormous chicken; in others, you may instead encounter a band of thieves waiting to rob you. You will frequently face important decisions to make that will dramatically impact the outcome of your quest. yes, you can always break into monster hideouts with hammers blazing to slay every creature before you; but more often than not, you are also given the opportunity to peacefully talk your way out of these toxic situations. Even more dramatically, oftentimes the game will zoom out to the old women storytellers and allow you to choose how they tell the rest of Ivan’s story. Yaga is at its best when it doubles down on this player freedom. It makes every moment engaging and allows its stories to truly come alive.
Yaga’s writing and presentation only serve to make this world even more striking. It features a distinctly dark sense of humor – for instance, a man may ask you to push a boulder into a well behind his house, but he will neglect to tell you that he has also thrown his wife into the bottom of that well ahead of time. Much of this dialogue is even written in rhyme, enhancing the otherworldly, fairy tale atmosphere. On top of that, nearly all dialogue is fully voice acted, with most voice actors delivering some eccentrically charming performances that make the game feel as if it’s a playable Disney film. The visuals look like they’re taken straight out of a Russian children’s book of fairy tales, while the music incorporates traditional instruments and language into an electronic, hip-hop fusion soundtrack that captures the cultural heritage that Yaga focuses on while connecting it to modern culture. Take the presentation and story together, and Yaga becomes a playable portrait of the lives and superstitions of Eastern European peasants.
However, this leads to the gameplay. Quests may be randomized each time you play, but nearly every one of them takes the same general format. One character will request help, and then Ivan will have to venture out into the world to fight some demons or recover an item. Worse yet, the levels are just as randomized in their procedurally generated design, and not in a particularly clever way, either: most of them likewise follow the same formula, being little more than arenas full of enemies connected by copy-and-paste environments. Many paths in each environment lead to nothing more than pointless dead ends. The combat has a satisfyingly simple basis, with basic moves like long- and close-range attacks, roll dodging, items to use, and a variety of different weapons to equip, although his trusty old hammer is generally the best choice. However, while this simplicity makes the combat enjoyable on its own, there is very little depth to it, and the inherently repetitive design of the mission only serves to highlight how paper-thin combat can be. Most battles involve little more than hacking away at enemies until they die, which becomes increasingly repetitive by the end of the roughly ten-hour campaign.
At the very least, the robust customization system helps add a little intrigue to the combat. As a blacksmith, Ivan is naturally gifted with the ability to craft weapons for himself to use. By scavenging parts and items from fallen enemies and treasure chests around the world, Ivan is able to create the most powerful weapons. Crafting is simple to use yet extremely ripe for experimentation, requiring only one base item and a handful of accessories to create unique new items. With dozens of components to discover and use in your forging, there are plentiful opportunities to create the best possible weapons.
“All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.”
The crafting system would be the standout aspect of the moment-to-moment gameplay if it weren’t foiled by another one of the game’s systems: Bad Luck. Ivan has been cursed with perpetual Bad Luck, which grows constantly throughout the game – whenever something good happens, Bad Luck is sure to increase. Whenever the Bad Luck meter fills all the way, Likho will appear and strike Ivan, generally breaking one of his weapons or stealing his money.
On paper, this mechanic makes sense, since it prohibits the player from becoming too overpowered and also fits into the folklore style off the story. In practice, however, it is an infuriating limitation on player progression and invention. It effectively punishes players for putting thought and care into their weapon crafting and character-building – at any moment it can all be washed away in bad luck, so what’s the point? Considering how enjoyable the crafting and combat systems are, it’s a shame that Bad Luck seems to exist solely to diminish the very best parts of the gameplay, leaving the game feeling like it cripples itself.
Your enjoyment of Yaga depends heavily on what experience you want out of it. If you’re looking for a deep and satisfying RPG, then it likely won’t deliver. Although it features satisfying combat and customization systems, the frustrating randomization of its level design and Bad Luck system only serve to foil these good qualities. If you are instead looking for a faithful, fleshed-out image of Slavic cultural heritage, portraying both the harsh realities of peasant life along with its fanciful folklore, then Yaga is a clear triumph thanks to its emphasis on player choice, its excellent writing, and its beautiful hand-drawn visuals and inventive soundtrack. All told, Yaga achieves a bittersweet ending: it’s bitter as a game but sweet as a fairy tale.
‘Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ — A New Height to Survival-Horror
If we can forget that Nemesis was a poorly designed rubber goof in the Resident Evil: Apocalypse movie, we can easily state that he is the apex predator of the series. The follow-up to Resident Evil 2 had quite a few expectations to fill and, for the most part, Resident Evil 3 delivered. While not so much a fan-favorite as RE2, there was a lot to like about RE3. The return of RE‘s Jill Valentine, some new intuitive controls, and, of course, theNemesis.
RE3 marks the first time in the series where you are limited to one character – Jill. Through this, the story is slightly more focused and straightforward – despite the plot being all about Jill trying to leave Raccoon City. RE3 director Kazuhiro Aoyama cleverly sets in pieces of RE2 to make this work as both a prequel and a sequel. If you’ve never played RE2 – shame on you – you would not be able to scout notable tie-ins such as the police station. With a large majority of the building still locked up, Marvin Branagh, the wounded police officer who helps you in the second game, is still unconscious and has yet to give anyone the keycard which unlocks the emergency security system.
Where RE3 really shines is in its latest entry of Umbrella Corps. bio-engineered tyrants called Nemesis. The hulking tank brought a new dimension to the series, invoking more cringe-inducing terror and stress than ever. As if zombies and critters jumping through windows weren’t bad enough, now you have to worry about an RPG-wielding maniac busting through a wall and chasing you around the entirety of the immediate environment – and chase is certainly brought to a whole new level indeed. It became a running joke when you would encounter a handful of zombies, but could escape unscathed by simply running into another room. Nemesis, on the other hand, will continue his pursuit no matter what room you run into. At the time, this brought a whole new level of detail in the genre. Knowing that at any given moment he will just appear and will certainly derail whatever key or plot item you’re quested to look for made Nemesis a very intense experience.
Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror.
The gameplay also takes a few different approaches in this game. There will be moments when you encounter Nemesis, or certain plot occasions where you will be prompted to make a decision. It was a great alteration to the series, as it added new layers and weight for the player. Another addition to the gameplay came in the form of control although as minute as it sounds, is having the ability to turn a full 180 degrees – yes you read that correctly. Resident Evil quintessentially coined the term survival-horror, and survival certainly predicates the genre. There will be times – if not numerous times, you will run out of ammo. When those moments used to occur, you would have to make your character turn in the slowest fashion imaginable to make a run for the door and to safety. It was those moments back then that would pull the player away from the action. With the addition of the quick-turn ability- which was actually first introduced in Capcom’ Dino Crisis game – it gave the player the chance to just cap a few zombies and dash creating more seamless and dynamic gameplay.
The level design of Resident Evil 3 is grand, if not grander than RE2. A lot of the setting and scenery take place in the open air of the city and a few other places around the vicinity. RE and RE2 mostly took place indoors, and those settings helped create unique moods especially when it is all about tight corridors adding a more claustrophobic feel. Aoyama definitely went with a bigger setting and atmosphere in the follow-up. The game takes you through a police station, a hospital, a local newspaper office, a clock tower and a factory. More often than not, though, people tend to forget the scope and grandeur of RE3. Not to mention you can only… spoiler… kill Nemesis with a Rail-Gun at the end.
Resident Evil 3 is the pinnacle of the series and the last of old-school survival-horror. It took everything that it did so well in the previous titles and made it bigger and better. Nemesis encapsulated fear and dread in ways rarely experienced at the time. The scene where he popped through a window and chased players through the police station has always remained a nostalgic moment, much like anything that comes through a window in the RE series. In fact, a bit of advice for anyone playing the first-gen of RE titles: beware of windows.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on May 16, 2016.
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