Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Quick Sips - Serial Box: Alternis [s01.05 & s01.06]

With the two episodes of Serial Box’s Alternis I’m looking at today, the series’ first season passes the halfway mark in impressive style. Though the project has been largely dominated by false starts and level grinding, the kid gloves come off and all bets are off as Tandy and the team deal with trying to learn to trust each other just as all hell breaks loose. It’s an impressive turn in the direction and pacing of the project, and if you weren’t absolutely invested before this, you will be after. To the reviews!


“Mingleglass Wood” by Jacqueline Koyanagi (s01.05)

No Spoilers: Now that the cat’s out of the bag wrt Tandy having designed large parts of Alternis, the team...well, really isn’t working very well together at all. Trust has been shot and especially Dante is steamed about it. With all that going on, the team needs a reason to come together again and all get on the same page. And what better than a scroll that literally falls into their lap—a scroll to a new area that promises...something. The episode is filled with action and a slowly rebuilding regard within the group and moments of cooperation outside the group that seem to point toward better days and brighter skies. So of course the ending hits like a ton of bricks, dropping the floor out from under everyone’s feet. It’s a thrilling, fun installment that holds of the carrot before being liberal with the cane.
Keywords: Video Games, Virtual Reality, Politics, Boss Battle, Teamwork
Review: So far the series has been building to the moment when Tandy would have to come clean with her team about why she’s there, about her role in building the game. And I like that now that it’s out in the open...well, there are still plenty of issues. Issues that Etta at least is picking up on (that Tandy doesn’t do well with be accused of lying, that the game is beautiful and the team has often been harsh on it, that Tandy seems a victim in all of this, of theft at the very least, and that complicates matters). And the work is starting to get done to put everything back together, to heal the rift that’s opened up in the party. How? By immediately going off and getting locked into a boss fight. Which requires the team to not only work well with each other, but with another team when the Russians show up to lend a hand. And I love the kind of hope that it builds, this feeling that maybe things will be okay after all, that friends are being made, that bridges are being built. Until it all comes crashing down.

The ending moments of the episode take all the progress that had been made in the previous sequence and shatters it, killing one of the team and putting everyone in immediate and extreme danger. And yes, I love that. Not just because I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS NEXT but also because it just amps the stakes way up. What happens when a character dies in the game hasn’t been answered yet, and so the question of if they’re dead For Real is a real thing. Which puts so much strain on this very fragile dynamic that the team was building, where maybe now they could start being friends, could start really trusting each other. To have this happen completely out of the blue, basically because they were too easy to trust the Russians...well, it changes things. And in a way it’s what the game I feel is really all about. They’re trying to maintain peace, but so many are still playing the game like it’s about winning, like it’s about killing, which is taking this beautiful thing that Tandy made and making it into something different and darker and more messed up.

The series continues to be a ride, and here the action intensifies and it really does feel like a _video game battle_ with the different phases, with the ominous voice-overs, with everything sort of working out as it did. And I really like that under all of this there is politics as well, that of course this isn’t just a _game_ but rather is how resources are getting determined (something that’s getting a bit dicey if the opening scene is anything to go by). There’s a lot being built but attention is sharply focused on the here and now, on staying alive, and it makes for a thrilling read!

“Battle Royale” by Maurice Broaddus (s01.06)

No Spoilers: Well. Shit just got real. After the shattering events at the end of the last episode, this one unfolds at breakneck speed, not only providing a roller coaster of a read but also strengthening the political mystery and tying it more closely to how the game is effecting and being effected by events in the real world. The chapter splits time between the three remaining team members, showing them dealing with the chaos of the free-for-all in different ways but definitely united as a team in ways they haven’t been previously. It’s a trail by fire (sometimes literally) and you’re going to want to remind yourself to breathe in this relentless episode.
Keywords: Video Games, Politics, Battle, Portals, Teamwork
Review: Well if I wasn’t all in before this point, I am not officially Hooked to this series. Consider this the mid-series finale because just wow, this is an incredibly framed action sequence (or more like three separate action sequences that dovetail into a single moment of near-ruin that just barely avoids further tragedy) that manages to get into each of the remaining character’s heads in some very interesting ways, drawing them through this gauntlet of death and coming through the other end into a place of numb shock and relief and oh right still sadness. To put it simply, I love it. To put it more complexly...well, read on.

So part of what I really like here is that the events of the last episode and the death of Ben could have shattered the party, could have set them at each other’s throats. They’re all hurting because Ben was...well, he wasn’t the diplomat and he wasn’t even all that cuddly but his gruffness was something that each person took comfort in. Dante might be the tank, but Ben was always the rock by which all the characters navigated. And without him, it might be easy to go off in different directions and lose themselves. Which, in terms of plot, is what happens. They all get separated, all end up in very different scenarios. Etta has to deal with fighting to the death. Tandy is constantly on the run, one step away from being fragged because she’s so much lower level than everyone else. And Dante finds himself strange emotionally vulnerable, sobered by what happened and how fragile everything is. It’s not just a game, which means it’s something he doesn’t entirely understand, and his humanity comes through more here, or at least his care for the rest of the team. And through these different action sequences where the characters are on their own, seconds from death, they come back together and stand back to back against a tide of enemies, finally firing on all cylinders despite it maybe being their last stand. It’s epic and satisfying and there’s just this rush afterward of triumph and relief before the story focuses back in again on the reality of oh right, Ben.

And with the opening of this episode and some of the observations in general, there’s definitely a feeling that things are building, that there are plots and there are plots within plots and things in the game and outside of it are ramping up. On the world stage, it looks like Russia killed someone. The Battle Royale seems to be a way of dealing with the real world fallout from that, only it seems like Russia had some advanced warning of what was coming. It all points to the fact that, cheating Canadians (still canceled, Canada!) aside, there’s a lot of moving parts to this, and probably some deeper games getting played than the team is aware of. Or, given the mysterious talk at the beginning of the episode, that _someone_ is aware of and who might be making too big a deal about Tandy not being trustworthy in order to cover their own nefarious plot(!!!). But it’s still too soon to speculate, and in any event the piece moves quickly and pays off on the build from the last few issues. Maybe now there will be a break, but whatever the case, it was an amazing read!


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