Thursday, 30 April 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine Review (Some spoilers)

How can I sum up my feelings on seeing this movie in one word? Well, I can do no better than quoting Wolverine who keeps screaming “Arrrgghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!” while flexing his impressive muscles and looking up at the sky. Perhaps Hugh Jackman keeps doing this because he knows how bad the movie really is? This prequel makes X-Men 3 look like a masterpiece. I am a huge fan of the X-Men series and had high expectations for this film but I am, sad to say, very disappointed. Why? Let me explain …

What made the first three outstanding was that they were intelligent, well written, well directed and solid pieces of entertainment – even the much maligned 3rd film (which I happen to like). Remember memorable quotes such as “You are a god among insects. Never let anyone tell you different.” How about the thrilling opening sequence of X-men 2 with Nightcrawler single-handedly breaking into the White House? Not a single scene in X-Men Origins: Wolverine manages to capture that magic. The script, and direction is pretty lame and the film is, for want of a better word, generic at best. The studio has clearly gone for playing it safe and are just plain lazy. What’s surprising is that the Director, Gavin Hood, is both the writer and director of Tsosti – which is a beautiful and powerful film. It’s a shame he didn’t bring some of that Tsosti magic to Wolverine.

The actors try to do the best they can with their clunky clich├ęd dialogue but try as they might, they can’t save the film. Liev Schreiber as Victor Creed/Sabretooth is, to be fair, good as is Ryan Reynolds as Wade/Deadpool. I don’t want to sound like a broken record but the script and directing really lets them down. The film is CGI mad and has some of the worst blue screen effects I’ve seen for a long time. There is virtually no chemistry between Wolverine and his love Kayla Silverfox (played by Lynn Collins) and, it’s the apparent murder of Kayla that is supposed to form the crux of Wolverine’s rage and decision to accept an offer from Stryker (played by an oddly underwhelming Danny Huston) to have Adamantium fused to his bones *sigh*.

The whole sequence for the Adamantium fusing process is utterly daft. Wolverine lies above the water while (a) the process is explained to him – sort of (b) he asks for a new name tag, it’s then made, delivered and then he wears it (c) the process is explained to Generals watching … oh it does go on. And then, in the blink of an eye, it’s over. What? Hmmm? Eh? And why the heck does Gambit, one of the coolest X-Men around stop the fight between Wolverine and Sabretooth? Half of the things in this film just make no sense. Like the way Wolverine just walks off on the Island after realizing his love is still alive. And don’t even make me talk about the memory wiping Adamantium bullets *sighs again*. It’s the small details that make a film brilliant – the things you remember and think about. Trouble with this film is that you remember the details for all the wrong reasons. I could go on writing about why this film doesn’t work but thinking about it is making my head hurt.

In short, give this missed opportunity a miss. Munial, you have anything to add my friend?

AdaPANTium more like!

Yeah, I think you nailed it S1n, I'm not sure what I can add. I never had particularly high hopes for this to be honest, not least of all because Wolverine is pretty much the least interesting of the characters in X-men, but I was shocked at how poor this flick turned out. The opening montage of the two brothers featuring in every American war since the civil war set the alarm bells ringing from the off. Straight away, plot holes and questions are raised; why are they fighting in wars? What's their motivation; patriotism, love of killing, what? And how does no one notice their habit of getting shot and not falling down, or that Liev Schreiber keeps leaping about the place on all fours? And since when is Sabretooth indestructible anyway? All this before the film has even started proper. What we're then subjected to is a 90 minute study of mediocrity. The dialogue is risible. The plot is incoherent and supremely lazy. The visual effects are cheap looking and the action is tepid and uninspiring. The whole thing reeks of movie making by suit wearing committee, and gives weight to the whole reshoot/Richard Donner rumours.

The cast, as S1n points out, never stood a chance with a script this bad. No one is actively poor in this film, but no one gets to shine with characters so paper thin. For a back story origin film, there is a shocking absence of actual back story aside from stuff that happens, crowbarred into the chain of events to drag the characters kicking and screaming from one contrived set piece to the next. No motivation, no explanations. Wolverine spends much of the film trying to avenge the death of his true love who isn't dead at all, the realisation of which does nothing to calm his fury at his brother, who I was shocked to realise is the same Sabretooth of the original Xmen film - (this also makes little sense). Taylor Kitch's Gambit is a massive waste of a great character who flounces about like a tit, adding nothing and pretty much just getting in the way. Some of the members of the mutant strike team are marginally cooler, Agent Zero is a ridiculously good shot, back flipping about the place and causing the enemy to drop dead all at once, much like me
when I play counterstrike. Ryan Reynolds is also mildly entertaining as the fast talking (should have given him some decent dialogue) sword wielding Wilson, but he is let down by more mediocre visual effects, and the finale battle between him as the creepy looking Deadpool and the brothers, now united for no reason at all, a top a chimney stack also for no reason at all is so daft as to completely destroy any sense of excitement or spectacle. The whole plot is riddled by things that simply make no sense, and all the little nods to previous films are ham fisted and clumsy; the third act appearance of a weirdly chubby looking Patrick Stewart does little to tie this into the universe in any way.

In short, garbage. Unmitigated toilet.
I really can't recommend this for anyone, fans of the films will despair that this is even worse than Last Stand (which was a bad movie, c'mon S1n!) and fans of the comics will probably want to commit seppuku. I'm sure it will be very lucrative for Fox. Most fellas don't need too much arm twisting to catch a comic book movie at the best of times, and there's enough screen time of Jackman with his shirt off to encourage the ladies to perform said twisting, but don't say we didn't warn you.

Treehouse rating


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Thursday, 23 April 2009

PS3 brings exclusive Batman content to the table, wins console war

S1nnerman and I have one of those friendly banter with undercurrents of potential violence console relationships. He's PS3, I'm Xbox, we both own the superior console. He has the state of the art, silent running, future proof, all powerful black panther entertainment centre, while I have the pinnacle of pure-bred gaming machines with an unmatched games library and peerless online play. He points out mine sounds like a plane taking off and is likely to drop dead at any moment. I observe that most cross platform games look better on mine despite the mighty cell, and that he essentially owns an expensive dvd player. We both of course have better exclusives than each other. Killzone? Ha I think not he cries. Pfft I respond, big whoop, where's your GOW? We're on GOW III fool, he retorts. Gears 3, I chortle, what have you been smoking?? This can go on for days. In fact, it's the never ending verbal diarrhoea of two souls who both know they're right, and it's one that's been played out since the dawn of man. With rocks.

The undeniable truth regarding the exclusives however, is of course that I'm right! Gears, Mass Effect, Fable, Left 4 Dead, maybe even Halo! Never mind the AAA downloadable content around at the moment like the Fallout trilogy and GTA4. No, maybe when Team ICO drop something, I might have call for jealousy, by which time I may even pick one up as it will be 2020. That's what I thought anyway. But no, I 've cause for envy sooner than that with the news on Batman: Arkham Asylum, as reported on Kotaku. The game looks great. I am excited for the game. What I would also be excited about is the chance to play as the Clown Prince of Crime himself! And not in some half assed beat em up kind of way, but in a sneaky, silent take-down with uproarious cackling afterwards across a series of exclusive challenge maps kind of way. In fact I'm not even sure I can imagine what the game play as the Joker will be like, but it would clearly be awesome with alot of potential for acid spewing flowers, electrocuting hand buzzers and er, deadly toxic lipstick with which to subdue your enemies? Although yet to be officially confirmed, the evidence that was, apparently inadvertently, on display in Home is fairly compelling. Damn you Rocksteady and by association Sony. You finally made me green. Shaddup S1nner!

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Sunday, 19 April 2009

Review: Star Trek

Star Trek is a divisive business. Many millions love it. Some love bits of it, there being several perspectives of the Star Trek universe to love- I myself am a TNG man, while S1nner prefers DS9. The rest of the world find it to be a mysterious phenomenon beloved by geeks, deviants and mathematicians living in mum’s basement, and wouldn’t be seen dead watching it. This is a movie for the old school trekker to see how their beloved characters got started, but at the same time it's so much more. This spring, all and sundry will be united for JJ Abram’s latest trek through the stars, for he has furbished us a movie that is a refreshing and bold sci-fi action story, true to the universe and its characters in every sense, but with the kind of cool and mesmerising realisation that puts George Lucas to shame. If Star Wars 1-3 had been half as exciting as this movie, we would all still be into Star Wars, which lets be honest, we're just not anymore are we? A review follows, some spoilers are present, but not a huge amount beyond what you may have gleaned from the trailers and your own deduction, but if you want to be unspoilt, I urge caution.

Phew! Now that we're off the front page and can talk openly, the most interesting thing, and arguably the biggest spoiler, is that this is not as we have been led to believe just a telling of the Enterprise’s beloved first crew’s early days a la Batman Begins. How difficult would that have been to get right without causing problems of accuracy for the massively anal fan base? No, Abrams has trodden a different path, as have his Trekkers; from the opening scene, this is Star Trek 2.0; a total reboot of the universe, but brilliantly implemented within the boundaries of the existing canon. How can this be? I'll tell you. Some of it.

Star date badoobedoobedoo, a massive unfriendly ship has emerged from a wormhole in space and sets about being beastly to everyone nearby in a brilliant pyrotechnic space fight. Powerless in the face of apparently futuristic and superior technology, the captain of a federation starship is invited to parlay, but ends up being brutally murdered by a clearly quite upset Romulan baddie, Eric Bana's Nero. Up steps Kirk Sr. to save his surviving crew, including his freshly born son, by bravely sacrificing himself by drawing fire while everyone hot foots it in shuttles. This, any Trekkie can tell you, does not happen. This is not what happens to Kirks dad, who does indeed live long and prosper, this cheeky ship from the future has changed the universe. It has changed it into Abram’s version of the universe, and as in Lost, fate and destiny play a big role here, as we watch how the characters come to end up in Star Fleet and take up their places in history, alternate reality be damned.

We watch slices of Kirk and Spock's upbringing on Earth and Vulcan, how they came to be who they are, each section zipping the plot along nicely and gradually bringing all of the characters into the mix. Kirk is the brilliant but troubled roughneck, all confidence and bravado prone to driving cars off cliffs and starting bar fights, who joins Starfleet because Captain Pike dares him to. He tries and fails to pick up the alien linguist Uhura along the way (that joy befalls another fella) but does manage to buddy up with the cynical space hating Bones, who becomes the conscience to the swaggering jock. Meanwhile on Vulcan, Spock is bullied by logical terrorisers for being half human, which becomes a bit of an ongoing issue for him, and ends up driving him to Starfleet in an almost illogical display of defiance. Once at the academy, a sun washed haven for the body beautiful, the focus is still firmly on the characters as Spock and Kirk have their first professional run-in, and then damn it all wouldn’t you know it, Eric Bana in his big naughty ship comes along and gets everything moving again, and these still wet behind the ears trekkie wannabes are straight in at the deep end as his evil plot comes moves to the next level.

What follows is a thrilling affair that gets everything it turns it's hand to right. Action set pieces are order of the day, and deliver amazing and original thrills of all variety. Aliens look amazing- an early appearance of a long faced creature sat between Kirk and Uhura at the bar as he tries to pull her steals the scene, and he doesn’t do anything but just sit there. Kirk's brief sojourn to Lost Planet is also a welcome, if frivolous, one but does provide a great excuse for some big monsters to make an appearance. The aforementioned outer space phaser play, and the special effects generally, are consistently top notch; ships are big and beautiful and more functional than we’ve seen previously, and there are also some great designs here for things we’ve not seen before at all. Design is great all round in fact, especially in the sound department; entering warp now delivers a bassy kick to the guts just as you might expect it to, and phasers now pop and fizz like futuristic guns should.

There’s plenty of humour to be had, much of it stemming from the characters nuances and the script is riddled with plenty of subtle in jokes that will probably be missed by most of the audience (I’m sure there were several I didn’t spot) but the fate of the guy in the red top on the away mission was appropriately never in doubt, and quite hilarious in execution. The plot itself is intoxicatingly intriguing, an although I’ve outlined some of the premise and early scenes, nothing has been mentioned here to give away the really juicy stuff, because it’s all just too juicy, and full of nice surprises to be read on a mere blog.

The cast themselves all deliver top drawer stuff, a fantastic mix of casting and performance. Spock is particularly noteworthy; Zachary Quinto, in a blindingly obvious but nevertheless spot on piece of casting, simply is Spock, all logic and analysis but with that pesky human side simmering away underneath it all. Karl Urban is also fantastic as Bones, delivering a performance Deforest Kelly would be proud of “Dammit man I’m a Doctor not a physicist!". Oh yes, they go there. The rest of the cast are all present and correct, there's Chekov with his wacky accent, oh look Sulu has a cool sword, ah Uhuru is a whizz on the ear piece. Oh yes, and Kirk is fleshed out admirably by Chris Pine, but who only really reeked of Kirk by the end - probably deliberately, they grow up so fast those kids. The only vaguely bum note is Scotty, played by our very own Simon Pegg, whose character is too slight, too much the stooge to be totally satisfying in what was already a pretty humorous film. Eric Bana gives good snarl as the villain Nero, but his motivation for the havoc he wreaks, or at least how he lays the blame, is a little thin, and could probably have used some more time onscreen.

While we're on the niggles, there is also some serious disbelief to be suspended about the little things. Like why is it so easy to get promoted in the Federation these days? Many of the key characters end up in their jobs on the whim of a commanding officer who must have been reading the script. Scotty in particular just turns up and is suddenly chief engineer somehow? Also in the future the galaxy's only defence is it seems the Enterprise and it's crew. When it hits the fan, it's down to them and only them to save the day. Did they not think to leave a few defences dotted about the place? Maybe a couple of F14's, just in case? If that's the spirit why do starships have phasers at all? The cinematography might also turn some people off; the camera is prone to moving around a lot, particularly on the Enterprise where flashy lens flare is abundant, in what looks to have been a bid to give a kind of ER style urgency to the proceedings. I also have a sneaking suspicion that the focus puller on this movie forgot to wear their bifocals on one day as several close up head shots seemed glaringly out of focus to me, but were probably left in to continue the rough documentary feel.

All told though this is a fantastic achievement. These niggles are just that, and if you're going to nit pick to that degree you have no place in the universe, this version or otherwise. No, this is a completely successful and very satisfying reboot of a franchise so bloated with history it must've appeared impossible to write a new retelling of the origins without treading on the fan's toes. But that's just what they've achieved and the writers can now allude to and involve all the beloved lore, but with a freedom unheard of that can now be taken in any direction they please, should more films follow, which of course they will. Full of nail biting action and fantastic humour, this is a real crowd pleaser that will leave everyone grinning, Trekkie or no. Space is cool again, and it took a Star Trek movie to do it! Insert live long and prosper joke here.

Treehouse Rating


Boldly goes.

Star Trek is released in the UK and much of the rest of the universe on the 8th May.

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Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Review: GTA Chinatown Wars

It’s been while since there was a bona fide must buy game for the DS. Professor Layton was a blast – an enjoyable oddity, definitely worthy of attention, but never destined to be carried around compulsively for a quick puzzle on a tube, months after purchase. Likewise, it’s been a long while that anything has persuaded me to leave my Korg DS10 at home. GTA Chinatown Wars is such a game. A game of such sweet, melodic harmony that you want to weep and thank the person sat next to you on the bus that such a gem of a game was brought to light, and may mean you’ll never turn your ds all the way off again. This is pure bred, brilliant design, from the opening screens to the final sound byte. Rockstar have surpassed themselves in connecting to what makes a system unique and have exploited every inch of the DS’s hardware to bring a thorough bred GTA game every bit as engrossing as its forbears and bringing the same humour and style to the party, but with a heavy sackful of new tricks on its meaty shoulders. You're going down to Chinatown..

You are Huang Lee, a young triad returning to Liberty city delivering a treasured family heirloom from your recently murdered gang boss father to your uncle. The sacred sword that’s been in your family for genera- oh yeah sorry, won by your dad in a card game, is promptly pinched by assailants unknown on your arrival in the city, and you are left for dead in a sinking car in Liberty harbour. Without the backing of a spiffy 3d engine, the cut scenes throughout are presented as stylish cartoon cinematics much in keeping with previous GTA art styles, and suit the game perfectly. These seamlessly introduce plot and mission, and are consistently well made. Worth a mention is the brilliant written dialogue which crackles with humour worthy of happier GTA times when your protagonist wasn’t always moaning about the weight of the world and instead revelled in a good dick joke.

You quickly run into a cast of characters also more reminiscent of earlier instalments, wacky in disposition and outlook and perfect foils to your dry sarcastic protagonist, they introduce you to the struggle underway between the triad under bosses to secure their claim on an impending power vacuum as ageing uber triad Hsin Jaoming nears the end of his reign. Perhaps you'll get a chance to avenge your father and get back the sword along the way.

So the plot, characters and cinematics are up to snuff, as you would be right to expect from Rockstar, but what of the gameplay? In a word; stunning. The game is viewed from an old school top down view, slightly isometric and presented in gorgeous cel shaded style which gives the world a unique edge right away. People lack a huge amount of detail being as they are, little more than blobs of pixels, but in the context of the street and with so much detail on the screen, the overal effect is amazing considering it's your little ds chugging these visuals out. Sound is likewise top notch, the streets are alive with people who all talk at you (I’m still a virgin!), and the radio is full of surprisingly sophisticated instrumental tracks that could easily appear in a “proper” console version of GTA. What’s really amazing though is the scope of the city crammed into the little cart. Rockstar have managed to faithfully recreate the Liberty city of GTA IV (less a couple of the more boring islands, who liked Alderney anyway?) down to every last corner, and what you have is a fully realised urban playground in your pocket. It’s all here; hijack any vehicle, beat down any pedestrian - you'll recognise many of the locations and landmarks if you've played GTAIV. But then there’s so much more brought to the gameplay table thanks to the inspired use of the touch screen.

On the one hand, it’s your ever present tool used to interact with inventory items in your pda, select weapons and maps as well as the various stats screens it's so much fun poring over in GTA. But then it’s also used for an ever changing series of disposable mini-game tasks, never revelled in but trotted out to not be seen again for ages, and all the more effective for it. Steal a parked car in GTA CTW (ok this happens a fair bit) and rather than speeding off, you’ll be required to hot wire it via the touch screen, simulating unscrewing of cover plate, and twisting of wires, or just jamming a screwdriver in the key hole and twisting until it starts. More expensive cars even have computerised immobilisers – no match for your perfectly timed touchy code cracking. Use the screen to toss grenades and molotovs, tattoo your crew (!), assemble sniper rifles, search dumpsters, start boat motors, search stolen van panels for drugs the list goes on and on.

But ah, the drugs, oh the sweet, sweet drug dealing! Amazingly I haven’t seen this game in the pages of the Daily Mail yet (ban this filth etc!) but GTA CTW features a fully fledged drug dealing meta game that is in itself as addictive as crack coated haribo. Discover the dealers dotted around Liberty City and they’ll occasionally send you an email to let you know when they have sale on or if they’re trying to get hold of something specific. Keep an eye on supply and demand and you’ll quickly find yourself earning a packet, and before you know it you’re racing across the map to get to a dealer who is paying big for acid that you just happen to have a stash of you picked up cheap days ago in anticipation of this very moment, cos you
just gotta have that profit! Buying drugs is a bit riskier – go for a bulk purchase and you may attract the attention of the cops, who will chase you down and if caught relieve you of your hard won merchandise. Which is the most painful experience I’ve come across in recent gaming memory – finally a consequence to getting busted. The drug dealing game is, it quickly becomes apparent, where you’ll make your money. Missions pay out miserably at first so to get on the property ladder you’re going to have to get your hands dirty.

The po-lice themselves are also nicely tweaked in gameplay terms. Now you can lose your wanted level by taking out your pursuers in satisfying prangs, leaving them piled at the side of the road. Once enough of them have been driven off, lie low and watch the stars vanish. It’s a nice logical addition that would be welcome in other iterations.

Also notably absent in GTAIV and reinstated here are the classic GTA missions that should always be a staple; taxi driving, ambulance driving, putting out fires, vigilante missions and crucially, rampage mode! Yes! Devastate enemy gangs with the huge array of weaponry, and watch as their little cartoon bodies run around screaming in flames. Yes this, is old skool, juvenile good times. Add in new funtimes like hijacking rival gang shipments, Ammunation delivery trucks or even raiding enemy warehouses and you've got a ton of fun and variety for every criminal mood.

Control is handled via the actual buttons. Imagine that. I was a little taken aback at first, I’d had it in my head that this would be a Zelda style touch screen led party, but the actual control of Huang is all via d-pad and buttons. This can seem a little unnerving initially, but you soon become accustomed to using those little buttony things you’d forgotten were there. Driving it should be noted is a particular joy once mastered – the ds helpfully aligns you to the road slightly (unless you turn it off) but you’ll still have
your fair share of prangs as you get carried away bombing down a huge straight by Middle Park and jamming it around the corner with the handbrake on. Bikes are also very fun, if a bit on the suicidal side. All of the vehicles handle uniquely and appropriately.

Downsides? Every now and again you’ll hit a mission with one of those annoying arbitrary timers that screws you over. Also, you may find it’s very easy to get unwittingly busted by a cop who manages to open your door although you’re accelerating away. The streets as well, while detailed and beautifully realised aren’t too dangerous. It’s rare to fear traffic like you learn to in GTAIV, – you can pretty much run down the middle of the road with impunity, often outrunning the traffic, and you rarely stick to the sidewalks. On reflection though this is almost certainly a well considered design choice more than a flaw.

Generally though, no this is a truly top class title with no real negatives that has left my xbox idle and my pc weeping. Every aspect of the design has been carefully considered and fine tuned to perfection. I haven’t even mentioned the zero load times, the option to save any time you like, the ability to replay every mission on a whim, hunting down the elusive cctv cameras, the multiplayer and stat sharing, the way you can hail a cab by whistling into the mic - there’s innovation in this games pores that in the hands of a lesser developer might have come off as gimmickry. In terms of design and being perfectly embedded in the system it’s on, this is simply the best GTA game so far. A brilliantly comic and very adult game for the most unexpected system that has too long been written off as the mainstay of shovelware and puppy simulators. It is a perfect joy to pick up and play for five minutes or five hours. I’m off to play it right now in fact, Boris is buying weed for a fortune and I’ve got a glut in my stash I ripped off the Spanish lords. Ka-ching!

Treehouse Rating


Handheld heaven

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Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Futuristic advertising will be vulnerable to hi-tech bluetooth graffiti!

Not really of course, no, this is another example of the astonishing creativity unleashed when someone really creative gets their hands on enabling tech, or as is the case more often than not these days, a wiimote. Martin Lihs' thesis turns a simple run of the mill back projected screen displaying a flash programme into a virtual wall that can be realistically interacted with (or bombed as the kids say) via a wiimote plugged into a snazzy looking faux aerosol can, complete with groovy internal lighting that changes colour when you select a new colour onscreen (instant win).

Ok, so you don't get a lot of walls or ads in public comprised of back-projected pc screens, but this is still a very very cool little project. Check out how the spray stays consistent with a real can (although admittedly my tagging days are over) and even accommodates virtual stencils. For more virtual wii-nius have a look at which is the amazing open source software that lets you create such applications. If only I knew how to code. Wait, it looks kinda easy..

Via Engadget

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