Bioshock: A Radio Drama Part 2

The second part and finale of the Bioshock backstory, which leads up to the actual game itself, is everything you expect and more, given the first act’s conclusion. The death of Frank Fontaine and the corporate takeover of Fontaine Futuristics by Andrew Ryan is the catalyst of the beginning of the end for the Rapture dream. A newcomer by the name of Atlas certainly doesn’t help, but the fact that Ryan sent in Rapture’s police force to shut down Fontaine Futuristics doesn’t help the man’s claim of free enterprise Laissez Faire Capitalism.

Rather than focusing on an ensemble cast like the majority of part 1, part two dives deep into Bill McDonagh’s character arc. Out of all the characters, he is the most normal in terms of his trajectory. He starts and ends the story the same man morally, but his attitude towards Rapture and Ryan has degraded like the city itself. It’s a shame his story is told primarily through audio logs found in the game, as in this adaptation of the book “Bioshock: Rapture,” Bill acts as the everyman for the listener–and the actor certainly does a good job of getting that across.

Everyone else in Rapture either stays the same or becomes an even worse version of themselves at the beginning. For example, Dr. Suchong takes science too far and dies in a similar way to Frankenstein’s monster killing the famous doctor in Marie Shelly’s gothic novel. Tenenbaum has a transitive arc, going from former nazi scientist experimenting on children to genuinely caring for them and horrified at herself at how she could do something so horrible.

Part two is more of the same. There’s a genuine amount of service to the fans, especially during the end credits–which act to foreshadow the events of the first game in a unique and interesting, similar to post-credit scenes in super hero movies.

4.5/5 Stars

Fugue State

One word: “Mind blowing” is all that comes to mind when thinking about “Fugue State.” From both a production and story standpoint, this short 45 minute production from BBC Radio 4 is everything you expect from a modern audio drama, but plays with the structure of a traditional narrative.

The setup was brilliant. In fact, you don’t realize how brilliant it is until your 3/4 of the way through, because you’re enjoying the story as it unfolds. The way the creators used the medium of audio to their advantage by crafting a story around it, rather than the other way around, is brilliant. The story is deeply layered. It’s a different kind of depth than something like the dialogue in “Powder Burns.” Rather, it’s the techniques that have been used by audio dramatists for almost a century, molded together in a different and unique way.

With all this praise, one thing that bothered me was the ending. It was too abrupt. After hearing the credits, one’s reaction would probably be one of “it’s over?” For someone who’s been listening to audio dramas of all shapes and sizes, the moment of getting lost in a story for the mind is a rare phenomenon indeed and one I haven’t experienced since my introduction to audio drama podcasts. This was both a huge nostalgia trip and a cohesive story. Something that is a hard thing to do.

The film “Interstellar” is a good movie to compare this story with. Both have elements of wonder involving space and the ideas they posit are completely unimaginable by human standards. In “Interstellar” the people who made it possible to get from Saturn to another galaxy are referred to as the mysterious “them.” By the film’s climax, we still aren’t sure with 100 percent certainty who created the wormhole: aliens or humans. As the character Polly explains in the audio drama, the human mind can’t comprehend what happens when it has truly “blown.”

Therein lies an inherent problem with the “Fugue States” ending. The explanation for the mystery which drives us along for the majority of the tale is, for the most part, too abstract. This isn’t like love, where it can be somewhat quantifiable in the sense that we get sweaty palms or our nervous around those who have strong feelings for, but something beyond comprehension. On a microlevel, this is commonly referred to as non-humanoid characters. Whether they’re aliens or something else, fictional people who are so out there in both appearance and customs are too far removed from human culture that we can’t empathize with them. That being said, the metaphor of the ant was well done and gave a good enough explanation to make the concept not completely alien to us.

All in all, “Fugue State” is worthy of the praise it has gotten, from both the story and the “wow” factor it invokes if you just think about it.

You can listen to it here.

5/5 stars

The Death of Captain America (Patreon Exclusive Review Preview)

 

The aftermath story of Marvel’s Civil War is a story which holds no punches, but those punches are rather soft. Unlike its predecessor, “The Death of Captain America” doesn’t have the luxury of falling back on other heroes and villains in the Marvel universe, when things get a bit dull. This is primarily a Captain America tale, or rather, the repercussions of his death to everyone who both knew him and knew of him.

There are a plethora of characters in this story, not as grand as Marvel’s Civil War, but enough to keep it mildly interesting. The political undercurrent which kept the story afloat barely gets by with simple tropes. The main cast includes Agent 13, Bucky Barnes, the Falcon and many others on both sides of the compass of good and evil, including those in the morally grey area.

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The Grayscale: Cracks in the Pavement

The Grayscale is produced by Critical Point Theatre and has all the makings of a great Twilight Zone homage, from the opening of the opening and closing to the meat of the story. If there was one problem this first story has its with the story’s conclusion.

Let me explain. See, the opening few minutes sets up the series, and then slowly focuses in on a single character. This character is the one we follow for most of the story. It’s straight-up horror of the Lovecraftian variety, but the writing is nowhere near the pinnacle of that sub genre. It’s not bad, but at times it can be bland. Other times, in particular, the metaphors the writer used to describe the monster were simple, but do its job quite well.

Everything was good until the sappy, it was all just a dream ending. The falling action and denouement was rushed, making the climax feel just like every other Lovecraftian horror story. I can understand not straying too far away from the genre, but there’s an homage and then there’s downright rehashing of tropes.

By far the best part of this episode was the opening and the slow zoom in on a single character. The “voice in your head’s” The middle and meat of the episode was okay and the ending felt like every other Lovecraftian story out there. Still, this is definitely on my list of things to listen to when I have downtime.

4/5 Stars

HUNT the TRUTH: Season Two

After the first season, hope of a good audio drama of the Halo franchise seemed like a dream, especially since this was simply a continuation of the same show. I will admit that the second season starts off much stronger and answers many of the questions I had back in the finale of season one. After the first few episodes, however, things follow the same downward spiral as they did the first time around.

The pacing is all over the place and the setting and characters change every episode, making it hard to root for anyone, even the protagonist. We’re supposed to feel sorry for her, but all I felt was boredom whenever she told the listener why they should give a damn about her moral dilemma. To some extent I could sympathize, but not to the extent the writers probably wanted to achieve.

Another thing which boggled my mind was the tie-in with Halo video games. Having the Master Chief disappear in the middle of the story had no impact on it whatsoever. In fact, why was it even included? The only reason I can think of is they wanted to connect it to Halo 5: Guardians on a story-driven level, but what they got was more of the same from season one–a marketing ploy, rather than a story.

Overall, Hunt the Truth season two is more of the same. If you liked the first season, you’ll like this even more as it adds something slightly different, just not different enough from its predecessor to warrant a grand slam rating.

4/5 Stars

King Falls AM (Episodes 1-5)

King Falls AM is a podcast audio drama masquerading as a radio station for a made up town where nothing is as it seems. What makes this show interesting isn’t so much the story, but its format. The first couple episodes don’t seem to link together in any meaningful way, but when episode three roles around things started getting twice as good. The witty banter between the two co-hosts and their guests is one of many examples of what makes King Falls AM a great listen.

The show is very much the audio drama equivalent of cinematic formalism where form is king and content is second. That’s not to say the story isn’t good, but it plays more of a secondary role to the production as a whole.

You don’t really get a sense of the setting and scope of the project until episode five, when a plot thread is tied up from two episodes prior. Rather than answering the question with another question, the creators use horror in a comedic way to essentially tell the audience: “yeah, we know it doesn’t make sense, but it sure as hell’s entertaining.” Some people might have issues with that, others not so much.

Needless to say I’ll be continue to listen to this series with increasing interest as each episode slowly peels back the layers of complexity that creators have set up. Whether or not there’s an endgame remains to be seen, but I’d be lying if I said this isn’t an entertaining ride.

5/5 Stars

The Fall Season One

An audio drama about the fall of Lucifer hits all the beats you’d expect from a “fall from grace” storyline, but at the same time forgets the promises inherit in the genre. For example, the catalyst for Lucifer beginning to question God is quick and abrupt, much like Anakin’s in the Star Wars Prequels. Now I hate to compare this with prequels, but both stories have similar problems. There’s no love interest in “The Fall,” but it does have a relatively strong relationship component between Lucifer and Michael. Though, at times, it can feel a little over the top. Melodramatic, if you will. “Corny” is perhaps a better word.

Created by radio personality/DJ, Dayn Leanordson with voice work from audioblivious productions (the people who brought you “Natural Selection.”) Fun fact: I learned about “The Fall” after listening to Dayn’s episode on The Roundtable Podcast and hearing about his take on the original “fall from grace” story arc. I had no idea he and audioblivious worked together on this until around episode three. Small world.

The fall from grace storyline is nothing new to fiction and just about everything plausible has been done to account for the switch from good guy to bad guy. Basically any of the seven deadly sins seem to be the go to source for character motivation. In this case it’s lust and greed for power. The inciting incident for Lucifer’s arc is instigated by another angel who, when we first meet him, is nudging Lucifer on the course we all associate with him. Much like Palpatine and Anakin from Star Wars. After that, he basically becomes a patsy for Lucifer with no real known motivational switch for his character from one who manipulates to one who follows.

Aside from the melodrama and quasi-believable story trajectory, “The Fall” is essentially a “the true story of [insert historical figure or mythological character here]”
type plot, where the writer takes great liberties knowing how limited the source material is. Given those limitations, the writer did a decent job of conveying those ideas into my head. The biggest problem on a conceptual level was that it could’ve been so much more creative. Everything about this has been done before, and it’s the lack of following through on what was set up that makes this relatively short season depicting the fall of Lucifer an average listen.

3.5/5 Stars

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The Strange Fate of Matthew Hornblower

My first BrokenSea audio production was both a frightening and exhilarating experience. “The Strange Fate of Matthew Hornblower” is a horror tale about a bar owner named Matthew, who falls in love with a monster in human guise. All the while his friends worry about him as he slowly starts acting more and more strange.

Already the more astute horror fans among you will probably think the monster to be a succubus (or in this case a succufish). There was no sense of suspense one might expect from horror stories nowadays–ones filled with jump scares. The closest this tale gets to that cliche of the movie medium is when the volume goes up and your heart is pounding afterwards. It’s quite effective and not something I’ve heard done in audio horror story. If you are easily startled, this story might get your blood pressure up, but for horror fans that’s probably a good thing.

One of the better aspects is the mystery behind the creature. The humming of the “Jaws” theme near the beginning is a perfect addition to the story as it adds a bit of foreshadowing. After all, a monster is scarier when the individual can’t see it coming, and audio drama is the perfect medium for giving the audience that sense of dread.

Overall “The Strange Fate of Matthew Hornblower” is a tale not for the feint of heart.

4.5/5 stars

Natural Selection

An audio drama from newly formed company Audioblivious Productions, this short piece borrows gracefully from the zombie and survival horror genre. The opening few scenes are there to make you sympathetic towards this father-son pair, and lead the listener into a false send of security. The scenes with the father and son feel a bit forced, but when shit hits the fan, watch out, because the tension only ratchets up from there.

After a scene where a pregnant pig is killed by other swine, all hell breaks loose, and the heroes must survive a night of living hell in the vein of a survival horror story. The creepy music and ambience only adds to the feeling of hopelessness the character’s face.

One downside of this piece is the acting. That’s not to say it’s not good, but given the context, the actors give performances are a bit over the top. This is probably due the usual audio drama over the internet most companies have in place. Most people probably won’t notice or care, but as a critic you tend to notice subtle things like that. The army officer who shows up near the end is a good example of the acting.

The story itself ends on a relatively sour note, almost as if the writer felt he needed to not only get the characters out of danger, but also justify the reasoning behind why the animals acted the way they did. The answer to both is a bit of a letdown as the story would’ve been fine without the reasoning aspect, because it doesn’t make sense.

All in all, the tone of the piece and constant state of anxiety for the listener as they wonder who’s going to survive make this audio drama short an excellent first episode for a new audio drama company.

4.5/5 Stars

Eclipse: An Original Audio Drama

What happens when the sun is nowhere to be seen and the entire planet is shrouded in darkness?

With this premise, it may sound like your typical “save the sun from exploding” mission, but that’s not the problem the character’s face. In fact the sun is fine. It’s merely being blocked out by a large banner.

The most noticable thing of this thirty-four minute audio drama is its humor and drama are so conflicted with each other, you don’t know when character’s are being serious or if they’re joking. Add in the problems that means for the overall tone and you have a coherent plot, but one that’s also a mess.

The plot was easy to follow and as long as you don’t ask how a banner could be large enough to block out the sun for the entire planet, you shouldn’t have any problems with it. Even if that particular pill is extremely hard to swallow.

It’s hard to tell whether the actors or the writer are to blame for a cast of dozens, where none of them feel like real people. The dialogue isn’t cringe-worthy, but could be better, and the acting certainly doesn’t help with believability that these character’s have lives.

The solution to the problem comes soon after they figure out the problem is, which brings in a problem of pacing. Right from the beginning, there’s no investment in anything. Character or plot. It’s like they didn’t care one way or the other what happened.

Despite all the complaints, it’s not so bad you shouldn’t not give it a listen.

3.5/5 stars