Archive for November, 2010

Link O’Clock

Posted: November 26, 2010 in Musings
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What are you talking about? This totally counts as one of my two a week.

Alan Wake: The Writer
Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode 1
Dead Rising 2
The Walking Dead: Episode One
The Force Unleashed II (Wii)
The Walking Dead: Episode Two
GoldenEye 007
The Walking Dead: Episode Three

Black Ops Wii Will Have Zombies Too
First GoldenEye Wii Reviews Are In
Reggie: Wii To Sell 15m More Units Before Wii 2
Black Ops Patch On The Way

Call of Duty: Black Ops Wii Details Revealed
Deadly Premonition Review
James Bond 007: Blood Stone Review
GoldenEye 007 Review

Saw 3D Review – They Saved The Worst For Last


Aliens Vs Predator Review

If there are movie monsters more deserving of having a slew of classic games and film based around them, then they haven’t been invented yet. Weirdly, the idea of an Alien and Predator knocking heads has been around since the ‘90’s and has so far only produced one true classic (on the PC) and two utterly appalling films. Can a new version of an excellent idea finally win through? Sort of.

You are an Alien, a Predator or a human Marine, all of whom have to assert their own dominance in a massive planetary war. The Predator has come to hunt the Aliens produced by the Queen, while the Aliens have to escape the human captivity and the Marines simply have to survive beyond all the others.

As befits a game with three hugely different paths, the playable characters each have their own satisfying and fun ways of playing. Best of which is easily the Alien, a creature that moves incredibly fast, runs on any surface and attacks silently from the shadows. It’s gore-soaked stealthing that works very well and fits the creature perfectly. If only it was a few levels longer, it would be fantastic.

Playing as a Predator is a mixed experience, attempting to combine the stealth afforded by invisibility with the gun-toting chaos of the human campaign. At best, you’re sneaking up behind humans you’ve cunningly managed to separate and slicing off their heads with your claws. At worst you’re leaping around trees trying not to get shot, cursing at how the hell anybody could spot an invisible monster, desperately chucking spears at people below.

The weakest of the three is easily the Marine campaign, something that’s even more disappointing considering that the first two missions are excellent. Initially, it seems as though you’re playing in a survival horror – rooms draped in shadows, the catcalls of Aliens off in the darkness, an occasional terrifying blip on the motion sensor – but very quickly becomes a generic monster shoot-‘em-up. It’s especially disappointing that you feel like you can take on an entire swarm of Aliens and even a few Predators – surely the complete opposite of the intention of the creatures.

Just to keep you coming back for more, there are four difficulties to play on, the hardest of which (‘Nightmare’) removes all the checkpoints and guarantees to turn the air blue with rage. There are also secrets hidden around – audio logs, Predator trophy belts and jars of Alien goo – but finding them is frustrating work. Only the audio logs can be examined and grouped on the main menu, while Predator trophy belts can usually be scanned from a distance away. The only way to know whether or not you’ve found all the Alien goodies is by seeing your stat screen – displayed at the level’s end.

Multiplayer is entertaining online, seeing groups of Aliens, Predators and Marines throw down for some organised bloodlust. A variety of different gameplay options and some excellently designed levels add for a satisfying and amusing collection of carnage – watch the hilarity as a group of people performing stealth kills turns into a murderous daisy chain. However, it can take a damn long time to set up a match and everyone gets kicked out to the main menu on the game’s completion.

All in all, it’s not a classic title by any means of the imagination. With one and half of the three campaigns being well worth the time investment and a fun, if patchy and inconsistent, multiplayer, this is not the best iteration of cinema’s most famous monsters. Game over, man. Game over.


The A-Team Review

It must be the time for the unlikely ‘80’s revival, what with Stallone’s career, Mickey Rouke’s return and even a Yogi Bear film all being resurrected for a comeback. Fortunately, this big-screen version of cult classic The A-Team is firmly on the side of worthy of returning.

Col. Hannibal Smith (Liam Neeson) is head of a special Alpha Unit – or A-Team – that runs extremely covert operations in modern day Iraq. The team, consisting of Templeton ‘Face’ Peck (Bradley Cooper), ‘Mad’ Murdock (Sharlto Copely) and B.A. Baracus (Quinton Jackson) carry out missions with no mess, no casualties and only using parts found to hand. All this comes to an end, however, when they are made patsies for the murder of their commanding officer and framed with the theft of printing plates capable of making US bills. Now, with the four incarcerated in separate prisons and their names smeared in the mud, it’s time for a plan to come together…

It’s a big, dumb movie that aims to make its audience laugh. It might not have much to do with the original TV series (besides making perfect operations based on scrap metal), but it at least acknowledges that the show was really quite silly. The A-Team is all about mindless entertainment.

And, yes, it is exceedingly mindless. The film is essentially a series of plans coming together and being executed, but what makes it work is that the operations are so slickly filmed and so cleverly crafted that you’ll find yourself caught up in trying to guess how they intend to get away with it.

The cast are excellent, with a gentle, humorous bond that feels realistic and always managing to back each other up. Quite how new actor Sharlto Copely (in his second role after District 9) manages to fit in alongside Liam Neeson and Bradley Cooper is testament to his incredible talents.

Perhaps the film’s main weakness is its lack of an antagonist for the first hour or so. The first half of the film is meant to be a mystery, with the team trying to figure out who set them up, but it does mean that things are forced to be a little bit confusing, with CIA agents and military personnel interchanging regularly as the chief villain.

If you like your films a little more grounded in reality, then you’ll totally hate The A-Team. If, however, you prefer a small dose of escapism mixed up with pitch-perfect comedy in a film that doesn’t want to make you think too hard, then you could do a lot worse than this film. For instance, you could be watching the Yogi Bear movie.

For some reason, I really like the few zombie-related killing achievements available on the 360. Since the first Dead Rising challenged me to try and eradicate the population of Willamette (53,594), I’ve gone out my way to try and accomplish them. I spent hours planning my route, divising the quickest methods and finally executing the original Zombie Genocide achievement and it was time well spent. While the six hours of driving over zombies may have frequently drifted between being horribly stale and incredibly funny, I was rewarded for my hard efforts with both an achievement and a new gun – the Real Mega Buster, which is every bit as great as it sounds.

Left 4 Dead had the same achievement (Zombie Genocidest – 53,595) and while I never quite got it – it’s a hard one to get, and downloading ‘The Sacrifice’ for some reason wiped my progress in zombie slaughter – I always did my best to do as much damage as possible. I even went for the same achievement in Prototype (Trail of Corpses – 53,596), although that takes significantly less time, thanks largely to a tank armed with a small tactical nuclear device.

Imagine my joy when I saw not one, but two incredibly silly carnage achievements in Dead Rising 2 – Zombie Genocide 2: Genocide Harder (53,596) and Zombie Genocide Master (72,000). I knew I had to go for it.

The difference this time was that it took so much longer to get around to even attempting. Firstly I found that I had to earn $2 million in order to buy the SUV. Then I discovered that I would needto find a cunningly-placed magazine that would triple the SUV’s damage endurance. On top that, I discovered that I would need to manage my time like a bastard.

My first attempt ended after 12,000 kills, when I realised that I had wasted too much time and a quick bit of maths told me that I was never going to make it. Essentially, you have 76 in-game hours to achieve this – the first four are to allow you to gather all the things you need and to begin. After that, you have to kill a thousand zombies an hour, every hour.

It was really quite depressing. You have to be focussed in order to avoid the many obstacles in the way and you also need to keep a constant count of how well you’re doing versus the clock. Adding to that the fact that you have to save and reload after every lap (otherwise you can’t keep the SUV) and you have one tricky bastard.

By the end of the run – which was completed in installments over several days – I was exhausted. I’d gotten the achievement, but what was the point? For the first time, I really felt like I’d wasted my life. I didn’t even get a cool new weapon.

Prototype Review

Posted: November 12, 2010 in Review
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Prototype Review

The superhero genre has always lent itself fairly well to mixing with other genres, but perhaps the most underused combination is that with sandbox games. The last great success was perhaps Activision’s game of Spider-Man 2 which featured the entirety of New York, a limitless range of ludicrously over-the-top superheroics to be performed and the voice of Bruce Campbell. Sadly the next two attempts were flawed, with both Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man 3 lacking in the fun department, although playing as nemesis Venom in Ultimate was fairly good fun. Now it’s time to prove once and for all that superpowers and sandboxing go hand-in-hand, and the result is a stonking good experience.

You are Alex Mercer, a man whose day begins by waking up dead with a ludicrous amount of deadly new powers and a craving for blood. With no idea who he is or what happened to him, Alex must work with his sister Dana to piece together the puzzle of his past. Complicating things slightly is the fact that New York is currently experiencing a slight zombie outbreak.

To start with, the city of New York is utterly massive and teeming with things to find, see, do and complete. However, this being a game based around the concept of destruction, you’ll probably spend most of your time blowing the shit out of the city and sniggering to yourself. It’s not a criticism – hell, it’s always bloody good fun – but it does seem to lessen the overall experience that there is literally nothing else to do apart from mindlessly slaughter anything and everything.

Alex himself is a fantastic protagonist – emo hoodie aside – and the feeling of genuinely fluid movement allows the player to really become immersed in the game world with ease. Alex can leap, sprint, run up walls, backflip, roll, do up to two extra jumps in mid-air, transform his and, later on, hijack tanks and helicopters. You really get the feeling of actually being a force out of control, which is why aimless killing fits so well with the rest of the game.

There’s a pleasing variety of main missions and side quests thrown together. Side quests see you forced to push your control of Alex to the absolute fore, with objectives ranging from killing specific targets with specific weapons, running a race across rooftops, using the glide ability to sail down onto a target and a massive free-for-all brawl between the military and the infected. Main missions also see a wide range of things to do, from sneaking inside military installations to protecting convoys and just plain ol’ blowing the hell out of everything within a time limit. There’s a much larger scope of activity on offer here than in, say, GTAVI and you can always be guaranteed to have a good chuckle at leaping into a helicopter and using it to destroy your pursuers before flying away.

Adding an extra option onto the violence and carnage is the stealth ability. Alex can consume literally anyone take on their appearance, allowing him to calmly walk inside a secure building, select a target and stalk them before consuming them in total silence. It’s a small feature, but it adds a slight option onto the usual murderous spree and helps to shake things up a bit.

It’s a fairly lengthy game and if you want to complete everything, you’re looking at putting in over twenty hours at the very least. It’s also highly replayable, with three difficulty options and the ability to restart the story from the beginning with all the powers you gain by the end. There’s an impressive scope of things to keep you coming back for more long after you’ve finished the story.

The downsides are the same as they are for most sandbox games – there only seems to be a set way of doing anything and any action you choose will inevitably result in carnage and death. After a while it does get a bit tedious to constantly destroy everything – even after you finish, there’s no way to use Alex’s powers for good and battling the zombie-spawning hives doesn’t seem to actually abate the spread of the virus.

Still, if you want an open world game with a superpowered protagonist that manages to combine paranoid conspiracy thriller plotting with zombie apocalypse and simultaneously lets you watch a city slowly get overrun by an infection, you could do a lot worse than Prototype. For anyone who has a slight problem with nothing but merciless slaughter, however, you might want to stick to Imagine Babies.


Batman: Arkham Asylum Review

The Dark Knight has made some great comics, brilliant films (as well as some crap ones) and even some tasteful underwear, but he’s never made a truly excellent game. In fact, the last good Batman game was based on the film of Batman Returns during the SNES era. Since then, the Caped Crusader has had to make do with terrible games that involve beating up identikit goons and exploring boring grey areas. While Arkham Asylum almost does the exact same thing, it gets away with it simply by having a genuine love for Batman.

Bats has managed to thwart the Joker yet again and is bringing his arch-nemesis back to Arkham. But something feels wrong to the world’s greatest detective – Joker gave up way too easily for Batman’s liking and so the Dark Knight accompanies his prisoner deep into the Asylum itself. That’s when the Joker, aided by Harley Quinn, springs his trap – releasing all the inmates and imprisoning Batman inside the Asylum. Now Batman is forced to battle through his worst enemies, his most terrible nightmares and his darkest hour…

The first thing you’ll notice about this game is that the combat is utterly brilliant. It’s such a deceptively simple system – X to attack, Y to counter, B to stun, A to dodge – but all of Batman’s attacks are context sensitive depending on the position of the enemy. You might unleash a punch, kick, backhand or spinning heel kick, it all depends on where Bats is standing. You don’t have any control over what attacks Batman uses, but you’ll always feel like you’re accessing Bruce Wayne’s unlimited physical prowess.

The second thing that will strike you like a Batarang to the face is how well-written it all is. Arkham Asylum benefits from an excellent script by comic scribe Paul Dini, who gives Batman and Joker some truly cracking dialogue. Additional villains Quinn, Poison Ivy, Killer Croc, Mr Zsasz and Scarecrow make up for their limited screen time with fantastic interview tapes that flesh out their backstory and characters. It allows the player to truly convince themselves that they are actually stepping into a rich tapestry formed by seventy-plus years of comics.

On top of the cracking script is the game’s marvellous voice acting. Head of the class is Mark Hamill as the Joker, a flawless performance that manages to capture everything memorable about the character all at once. Following closely behind is Kevin Conroy’s amazing Batman, who manages to make the character relatable, heroic, sympathetic and never resorts to using Christian Bale’s booming shout. It all adds up to probably the most absorbing and immersive superhero game ever made.

The variety of things that Batman can do is outstanding. You essentially have just two choices: you can fight, or you can sneak. The fun part is choosing exactly how to go about doing this. You could knock out one guy and hide in the shadows, dispatching of his friends as they come to investigate. Or you could drop down from a gargoyle statue, grab a goon and tie him up as a warning to the others. The choices might not be endless, but they’re damn good fun.

You’re also backed up by a sterling soundtrack and wonderful visuals. The gloomy appearance of the island meshes brilliantly with the moody music and the two always go hand in hand to make the experience intense and enjoyable. Batman also has a variety of great gadgets that can be upgraded and improved throughout the game and a fantastic ‘Detective Mode’ visor that enables the player to see hidden objects and the locations of enemies.

While the game isn’t that long (you can breeze through it in around six hours), the staggering amount of things to do and see will keep you coming back for more time and again. In addition to the main game are the special Riddler Challenges, tiny secrets that the Riddler uses to assert his intelligence over Batman. Finding all two hundred and forty of them will unlock additional challenge maps, eight based on combat and eight based on Batman’s stealth abilities. Attempting to beat them all will require an enormous amount of skill and provide a welcome challenge to an already challenging title.

The only real downside to the game is that – Scarecrow aside – the bosses are a bit crap. They all have the same weak point and most of them are identical, just fought in slightly different sized rooms. The three appearances of the Scarecrow are a huge step away, forcing the player to sneak through a hallucinogenic nightmare that is nothing short of amazing. If only the other bosses were a bit more imaginative and relied on more than just one gadget being used over and over.

But, amazingly, that’s the only downside. The rest of the game is fluid and flawless, just like Batman’s combat mechanics. It’s a title that will delight Batman fans as much as any other player and finally the caped crusader has made a truly excellent game. In one single moment, Arkham Asylum has effortlessly managed to become the greatest superhero game in history.


Despicable Me Review

Posted: November 5, 2010 in Review
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Despicable Me Review

It’s a little surprising that it’s taken so long for supervillains to get their turn in the spotlight. With superhero films seemingly on the way out, the focus has finally shifted, bringing us not one, but two films about supervillains at almost the same time. While Will Ferrell’s MegaMind is still on the way, Steve Carrel’s Despicable Me is here and it’s something of a disappointment.

The pyramids have been stolen and the world is in turmoil over this latest diabolical scheme by an evil genius. This is especially bad news for Gru (Carrel), who is now on the brink of retirement and subsequent liquidation by the bank of evil. He hatches a daring plot to steal the moon, but the Shrink Ray he needs for such an activity belongs to his arch-nemesis Vector (Jason Segel) and the only way to get in will involve adopting three young orphans.

The promotional material for the film is always adorned with the image of the little yellow minions. After fifteen minutes, you’ll understand why – they are they only part of this film that might stick out in the memory. Blatantly stolen from the Rabbids games on the Wii, the minions offer what might be the few bits of comic relief in the film.

Despite being an animated comedy, the story doesn’t actually lend itself to humour with any ease. The main bulk of the narrative sees villain Gru slowly turning himself into a model dad and putting his life of villainy behind him, but it doesn’t happen with any degree of subtlety – it happens in one scene! Gru himself isn’t a very interesting character and the three children all seem like quite bland brush strokes – one doesn’t like Gru, one does and the other is indifferent. In fact, Russell Brand’s mad scientist Professor Nefario and antagonist Vector are far more interesting to watch than the main body of the film.

All in all, Despicable Me is a disappointment. The minions will keep children chuckling, but there’s nothing on offer for their parents to enjoy. Like Gru himself, it all seems a bit soulless.

2 stars

On watching Saw 3D in a cinema

Posted: November 1, 2010 in Musings
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I have a slight confession: I’ve never watched a Saw film in a cinema. Even the great first one. I’ve always abstained from paying for the honour of watching body parts get torn off, choosing instead to simply borrow the DVD from a friend. However, with the latest (and final) film getting the full Avatar-esque 3D treatment, I finally reached into my wallet and decided to go and see it.

While the film itself is complete bobbins (review on Movie-Moron soon), there was a bizarre feeling of community in the cinema screening. We (Nikki, her friend Sarah and myself) went to watch the preview screening on Thursday, the day before general release and were surprised to find the theatre packed the the gills. Even stranger, there was an even split between a male and female audience.

Nikki, being quite rubbish at watching horror films (she was terrified during American Psycho, while I laughed my head off) was understandably nervous about being surrounded by a group of gore fans and wanted to sit away from everyone else. However, we were soon blocked in by another group and couldn’t move. The bloke sitting nearest us apologised in advance if he cried during the film. This helped to relax Nikki a hell of a lot.

From my point of view, I’ve seen some incredibly nasty horror films in my time and hyperviolence doesn’t do anything for me. In fact, I find it funny. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the woman sitting on my other side was also chuckling her way through the film. It felt good.

As the film wore on and the deaths became more vicious/ hilarious, Nikki began huddling into my arm in an attempt to hide from the terror of it all. She was on the verge of leaving the cinema (and she would have been the only one, too) when a bloke from the row behind us leaned over and gave her a reassuring pat on the shoulder. Now knowing she wasn’t alone, Nikki was able to continue watching the film and felt a little better about the ordeal.

I’ve never experienced that kind of community vibe before in a cinema. The only things that have gotten close are the cheers at Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire began, or the half-arsed round of applause that followed Revenge of the Sith. It was lovely. In fact, I’m almost disappointed that I didn’t watch the other six Saw movies in the cinema. Almost.