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Science-Fiction Weekly – The Technomancer Impressions, Independence Day Review

by Andrew Reiner on Jun 28, 2016 at 10:00 AM

If you haven't read Entertainment Weekly's excellent cover story for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story yet, put aside a good hour of your time to dive into their extensive coverage. EW confronts director Gareth Edwards on the reshoot rumors (which we now know were blown way out of proportion), and dives deep into the film's lore to bring us new character details, including the surprising addition of Saw Gerrera.

Who is Saw, you may ask? He is a rebel extremist who first appeared in the fifth season of the Clone Wars animated series. George Lucas originally created Saw for a live-action television series, but it never got off of the ground, and he didn't want this character to be forgotten, and found a way to slot him into the Clone Wars. Saw is making the jump to the silver screen in Rogue One, and will be brought to life by Forest Whitaker. Introducing crossover characters in the film universe is a smart move by Lucasfilm, as it elevates the canonical ties to the books and animated series. Fans now know that everything is truly interconnected. Marvel should follow suit with its Cinematic Universe and bring Daredevil, Luke Cage, and the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to the big screen in some capacity, even if it is for the briefest of cameos.

Some of you harp on me for talking about Star Wars too much, and well, that isn't going to change any time soon, as it's the hot topic in science fiction (or space opera or space fantasy or whatever silly name we want to give it). The world of games welcomed a fun new Star Wars experience today in the form of Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Don't write this game off as just another Lego title. The game expands Star Wars' canon for the new universe, and even sees Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, and Daisy Ridley reprising their respective roles for new dialogue and story material. Yes, it's still a goofy Lego game at heart, but I think Star Wars fans will love its deep dive into The Force Awakens era.

Gamers also have the chance to play The Technomancer starting today. Full disclosure: We don't have a review of The Technomancer ready yet, but I did log a few hours into it last night and this morning, and can at least give you the bad news about its introductory moments and the tiny ray of hope that emerges as the adventure unfolds.

But first, for those of you who don't know what The Technomancer is, it's an action/RPG developed by Paris-based studio Spiders, best known for its work on Bound by Flame, The Testament of Sherlock Holmes, and Mars: War Logs, which this game is a pseudo sequel to. Players assume the identity of Zach, a newly recruited Technomancer stationed on Mars who is about to take the initiation to become a full-fledged agent of his order. Technomancers, like Jedi, are a mysterious group that lords over Mars, and are either feared or respected. Each Technomancer is gifted with the ability to channel electricity through his or her body to create lightning blasts and electrified weapons to keep the peace or exert their will, depending on if the game is played from a good or evil perspective.

Mars has fallen on hard times since its colonization decades ago. The surface offers harsh conditions for living, and water is scarce, leading to desperate measures for survival. The environments I've seen thus far contain just as much of a post-apocalyptic vibe as they do sci fi.

The Technomancer's story gets off to a rough start, and insists too much on inundating the player with a data dump of Mars' lore than easing them into the adventure at hand. After a brief character creation sequence (which allows players to pick from a small list of facial and hair options), Zach is thrown into an extensive combat tutorial that introduces four different fighting styles. At any given moment, he can shift between them to battle like a rogue, warrior, guardian, or Technomancer. This unique approach to combat works well, giving the player a true sense of power and ownership over the encounters. Zach's movements are a little clunky, and the adversaries he takes on are often fooled by evasive strafing to get behind them, but the combat has a nice flow to it. Whenever I use Zach's electrical arc blast (which is basically Force lightning), I can't help but draw comparisons to Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. This combat hits on many of the same notes as KOTOR. That's a promising sign.

My first mission sends me to Mars' surface to infiltrate a raider colony. As each group of these lightly-armed foes is defeated, the Technomancer's deep RPG systems come into frame. I earn new gear (all shown cosmetically on the character) that can be upgraded immediately. I equip a cleaver with two upgrades, giving me an 11-percent chance of a critical hit, and a 30-percent chance of ignoring armor. I also earn traps that I can set, and equipment used for crafting various items and tools. The experience I earn in combat bring points that I can sink into extensive talent, skill, and attribute trees. Again, Spiders wastes no time throwing all of this on the player. It's a lot to digest, but the menus are easy to read, and it doesn't take long to get into the flow of looting and upgrading.

As the mission unfolds, combat shifts to a hive of alien bugs that basically look like giant mosquitoes. These encounters are satisfying in that they show just how quickly Zach can transition from one foe to the next. My journey concludes with a battle against a towering mantis. The creature is revealed in a fun cinematic that captures the scale of the beast, but also shows off how nicely animated it is. Although I'm able to exploit the beast to get behind it, the best strategy is to dodge its attacks to get in close to take shots at her exposed heart. What I find in this moment is damage stacks for each uninterrupted blow. The bigger the combo, the greater the progressive damage. The battle is scripted to end before a final strike can be dealt, and instead leads us to believe Zach may have a few problems he needs to deal before he can be a true Technomancer.

I now find myself exploring the city and taking on missions for NPC characters. One mission introduces two companion characters that I can equip with weapons and upgrade just like Zach. To draw another comparison to a BioWare title, this city is reminiscent in design to The Citadel from Mass Effect. It's sprawling, but not too large in size. The soundtrack for this location is also a dead ringer for Commander Shepard's journeys. The city's waypoint system works well, and the map is beautifully sewn into exploration, but the missions don't hold much variety at this point, and mostly consist of short encounters with raiders. Interestingly, any foe that is defeated is not killed. The player has the choice to kill them post battle by draining serum from their bodies. Each time a body is drained Zach gains -1 Karma.

And that's where I'm at in the game right now. I'm enjoying the leveling, can't quite make out what is happening in the story, and am intrigued by the teases of moral choice and being able to walk the line between good and evil. Is it worth your time? I can't answer that yet, but again, I am having some fun, and want to see more. After the shakiest of starts, it's righted itself to a degree and has my full attention.

Right before saying goodnight to my wife and child last night, I panicked and thought my column wouldn't be complete without a review of Independence Day: Resurgence. Minutes later, I bolted out the door, drove to my local theater, and sat through this turd of a sequel. It's bad. Real bad. The original Independence Day movie had a number of problems (who can forget the dog and Mac PowerBook), but it was consistent in tone and fun from start to finish. Flash forward 20 years, and the sequel clearly wants to adhere to the same formula, even recalling most of the characters (sans Will Smith) to save the day again, but ends up being a mess of intersecting plot lines, some feeling so far removed from anything relevant that they bring the film to a screeching halt.

We also see characters transforming magically before our eyes. President Thomas J. Whitmore (played by Bill Pullman) begins the film in bad shape. He's suffering from nightmares, visions of alien symbols, needs a cane to walk, and isn't taking care of himself from the looks of his bushy beard and wild hair. About halfway through the movie, he drops the cane, walks without a hitch in his step, gives another rousing speech, shaves off his beard, somehow gets a stylish haircut, and decides he should be the one who ultimately saves the day. No one in the film bats an eye at his surprising transformation and demands.

The writing across the board walks a fine line between being cheesy and downright awful. It even stoops to two different urination jokes, a middle finger being flashed to the invading aliens, and Brent Spiner's old-man butt.

There's a great movie tucked inside of this trash heap of a narrative. It starts when the enormous alien vessel arrives and settles on Earth's surface. The spectacle of this event is awesome. After that, the only noteworthy moments are when Jeff Goldblum is on screen. He's genuinely funny and endearing in this film, and somehow manages to deliver great dialogue and acting despite the terrible plot twists, one that even includes a surprise reunion with his father, which makes no sense.

Off of the top of my head, I can't recall a sequel that is much worse than Independence Day: Resurgence. Director Roland Emmerich once again dazzles us with world-ending special effects, but the biggest disaster he ushers in this time is the story. Avoid it like the plague, people.

As always, I'd love to hear your take on all of the topics discussed in the comments section below. Thanks again for reading, and I'll see you again in seven days!