Tuesday, 19 October 2010

What's Wrong With Star Wars?

To celebrate the news of Star Wars' glorious transition to 3-D, its time to sit down and really think about what this means. This means we have to sit through the prequels again. In 3D. Right? Perhaps you're one of those people who can live with the prequels, who thinks to themselves "hey they're not all bad, sure in the context of the originals, they're a little shaky, but hey, they're still quality films" all while wringing their Yoda doll a little too tightly. Look, I'm as guilty as anyone. So bedazzled by Episode One's epic 3-way lightsaber fight was I, I declared "it couldn't have been better!" like some starstruck idiot. True. How a little distance clears the mind. But back then, in the context of the promise of two more prequels yet to be, it was unthinkable that they might turn out as bad as they did, and hope is a powerfully misleading ally. It was only after all three were in the bank that I could really look back, pick it apart properly, and come to the grim realisation of what they had done to the beauty of the Star Wars universe.

Perhaps you haven't realised the folly yet. Perhaps you still live in the world where there are 6 good Star Wars movies and not just 3? Then do I have the video review for you! This epic piece of internet genius is a 90 minute review of just episode 2, Attack of the Clones, brought to you by a man effortlessly gadding along the tightrope of madness and genius. Now 90 minutes, nearly as long as the film itself, may seem a little over the top, and after the first couple of minutes, you will most likely declare it physically impossible to listen to this guy's voice for that long. That's just what I said. And yet, after 80 minutes there I was still, unable to ignore the clarity, the wisdom, the hilarity and the cold hard truth of every word this man was monotonising. It is brilliantly funny, and absolutely spot on in every detail, particularly his relentlessly logical dissection of the "romance" at the heart of this episode in parts 4 & 5. Inter cut with interviews and DVD extra footage, it exposes Lucas' cold hard businessman heart and the plain nonsensical plot strings & thought processes behind each scene, and ultimately his nasty, mean spirited rape of his own creative work. No, I cant even talk about it myself, it's still too painful. Just watch and laugh your socks off, til the tears come.

Continue uh, "reading" for the rest.. if you really don't have time, skip to part 7 for a particularly damning summary of how George ruined the force and the lightsaber, the most beloved facets of the originals, in one fell scene..

Now go checkout the review of the Phantom Menace... Just 70 minutes this time..

Continue Reading..

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Treehouse Hands On (Off?) : Kinect

I was lucky enough, thanks to avid reader Puressence, to get a chance to take Kinect for a proper test drive in Microsoft’s central London lair, the Kinect galleries. At no doubt meteoric expense, they have hired out a labyrinthine exhibition space in Covent Garden as part of their UK tour, and filled it with screens and toys. The top level, the galleries themselves, comprise several looping video screens and installations, as well as a stage area where the bold and the small can try the games out for an extended period in full view of often baffled members of the public. Downstairs however, in the bowels of the building, lies the heart of the affair – 3 (only 3?) living room setups where you can finally try Kinect out properly. For the briefest of brief 30 minutes, I got hands on (we need new terminology, no hands required) with some of Kinect’s launch line up. Read on for the verdict.

Our guide asks us if we’re aware of Kinect? Yes we’re aware of Kinect sonny, stop wasting our precious 30 minutes and get the screen on! Kinect adventures is up first, and is a suitable title to get that precious first Kinect moment. As I stand in front of the screen, up pops my avatar, and the instinct to pull all kinds of shapes is natural and irresistible, so I do. To my squealing delight, the avatar mimics my moves perfectly, with no noticeable lag. Amaaazing. But, much as I just want to screw around with the avatar, there’s a game to play, and moments later, I’m flying off downstream in the raft adventure. Puressence leaps up to join in, and his avatar appears next to mine almost instantly, true drop-in drop out gameplay. Now we’re jostling down the river side by side, physically leaping to hit the jumps, timing between us to get double jump style airs, and swerving back and forth across the wild rapids. Motion sickness, palpable. But it’s hard to take in as I’m marvelling at how my avatar moves back and forth within the dinghy as I move towards and away from the camera, it hadn't occurred to me that 3d movement would allow this.

Next up, we’re no longer cooperating, time for a little mono a mono shape throwing, a la hole in the wall. As our avatars progress along an on-rails, well, rail, collectible tokens appear in groups ahead of us, and we must pull a shape to maximise our collection. Puressence proves more flexible, beating my score by a mere handful. This is war. And so onto bubble popping – this sees our avatars flying around a chamber like Charlie and grandpa on Fizzy lifting drinks. We flap our arms out here in the real world, and there onscreen, up float our little avatars. What follows is an orgy of looking extremely silly as we try to grab the most bubbles. I forget who won that one..ahem.

Next up, a sit down, I’m bleedin’ knackered! So we sit back to watch our lovely assistant, who lacking a suitable internet moniker, I shall dub “Nicky”, takes Kinectimals for a test drive. A fuzzy little tiger cub is selected and out it trots, to much cooing from all concerned. Voice control isn’t implemented yet, we’re told, and despite a rather self conscious trainer, we did witness the cat stand on one leg, get firmly stroked, play dead (most amusing) and lick the screen a bit (ew scrabbles!). A quick trot around the assault course looked rather dis-kinected as the cat charged through everything without attempting them, but our organiser assured us, much to our relief, that it was simply because Nicky was being rubbish.

So we kicked her off, and got Puressence back in charge, with a little Lady Gaga action on Dance Central. I tell you what, rather him than me, this looked shattering. I have my doubts that I’m going to be able to play this game, it looked very hard, although he did foolishly select “hard”. Now that’s ambitious. Anyway, the dancer’s limbs onscreen were almost permanently red, indicating that some degree of fail was occurring, and Puressence scraped a couple of stars, and narrowly missed a coronary. The report was in; fun! The game looked as slick and stylish as the videos suggest and is going to be a ton of fun in the privacy of your own home. Expect some very silly parties in the near future.

Next, a few minutes to squeeze in a quick “Sports”, the assistant selects 100m vs, much to Puressence’s horror, as I step up fresh from my rest and ready for action. Again, the moments between the games provide the most entertaining parts for me, as I limber up, my avatar does exactly the same onscreen, a small thing we will all get over pretty quickly I’m sure, but it’s hard to convey how odd it is to witness, and how cool it’s going to be. I mime adjusting my shorts, he’s up there doing it! Brilliant! But again, the moments passing and we’re here to race. Knees up is the key comes the word, so we’re off – knees up on the spot puffing to the finish, and I’m in by a nose, I cross the line my arms raised, whooping. It’s all happening out here, and in there. Round 2, another victory. I pull a few Hussein Bolt poses, but now our time is up.

Sooo, verdict? It’s fun. It’s a lot of fun. I was very much a Kinect Adventure’s cynic, but it was probably the highlight of the session, although I would have liked to have had a bowl, and I still get the feeling sports would have been a wiser choice for the hardware bundle. Oh well. The responsiveness of the avatar was amazing, as in, like really quite impressively good, but it’s telling that the real highlight was the in between moments – I remain largely indifferent to the line up – these games are for mum, gran and the brats and will be wheeled out at Christmas never to be seen again. The technology itself though seems, in our brief moments together, to be a genuine leap forward. To have it mimic you so accurately, so smoothly was a little unnerving, and this is just with a cartoony avatar, the concepts being dreamed up by talented game designers, I simply can't imagine (that’s why im not a game designer). For this reason alone I hope Kinect gets embraced by gamers – the internet h8torade continues to flow freely most places you look, but the technology represents such a potential shift away from the status quo I can’t help but be excited. Combining play with the existing controller(s) and any number of as yet unannounced peripherals and functions, the possibilities are mind boggling. So if not a day one buy, pretty soon after. My biggest fear for the system, is that if gamers don’t embrace it, and it becomes the new wii, Puressence will have to toil through mountains of awful and potentially life-threatening shovelware to keep up with his gamerscore whoring. I guess that’s inevitable, and pretty funny.

Also quite funny, some grainy footage of us looking ridiculous. This thing is win.

Continue Reading..

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Portal 2 has toys

You: "Have you heard?!? Stephen Merchant is to have a starring role in Portal 2!!"
Me: "Orly? That's all very exciting, but I am trying to play angry birds"
You: "and they've announced loads of weird new tools and game elements.."
Me: "WHAT!! SHOW ME!!"

Yes, of infinitely more interest to the average British gamer than Merchant's continued domination of the quirky English accent with naturalistically awkward delivery market, is the reveal of the mind bendingly awesome toys we'll be playing with next year, which isn't that far away any more. It's gubbins galore in this sequel to the instant classic first person puzzler - a pant shreddingly exciting development, or bowel janglingly bad sign? Portal was special because of its simplicity and had little need of frill or pomp; a couple of portals, a few turrets and a vat of acid was plenty, so should we be worried? Of course not you silly goose, this is VALVE we're talking about, all will be well. More than well, if these typically cheery Aperture Science videos are aught to go by.

Come, come see the rest.. you monsters...

Bouncy blue goo, should work nicely with the slippy red goo, but larks o lordy, what a mess we're making.

The Excursion funnel hurts my mind just watching. This game is going to be confusing.

The Thermal Discouragement Beam; this is a euphemism for "laser"

Bouncing madness

This one sucks.. the walls.. off the walls..

Oh and, go on then, Stephen Merchant as Wheatley. I have no problem at all with using him, I find him an amusing and highly talented chap and besides, it's always nice to see English robots. Still, it's a bit of a departure for Valve to use such a well known talent - although perhaps outside of the UK, and the reach of those terrible Barclays adverts, he remains sufficiently unique for the average gamer. We'll see. Watched them all now? Ok good, now go back and read all the brilliant tiny small print on them - such as the back-story behind repulsion gel, as Aperture Science's second attempt at a dietetic pudding replacement..

Continue Reading..

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Treehouse Review: Predators

"The sequel the original deserved" hailed exec producer Rodriguez and director Nimrod Antal. Did it, really? Why, what had it done? What did that most beloved of Arnie classics really do to deserve this shonky squib of a quasi-remake of a movie? I’m not sure, but I do understand what they meant - Predator does deserve a sequel of suitable largesse. Predator 2, for all it's 80’s charm and Danny Glover, wasn't exactly what fans were expecting, and the less said about the cross pollination with the Alien universe the better. But sadly we’ll have to keep waiting for this mystical holy grail of monster-mashery, as this drab little number, which Rodriguez professed to contain “everything he would want to see in a Predator film” is a mildly entertaining romp, but little more, and certainly never reaches the dizzy heights of the original.

Adrien Brody (wait, wat?!) heads up a cast of roughnecks and ne'er do wells all dropped into the same situation, being, falling through the sky above a dense forest with various weapons of choice strapped to them. Initially no one knows what the hell is going on – each remembers a light, then awaking falling. What is clear is their similarities. Each is a stone cold killer of some form or another, either snatched from a warzone or maximum security prisons – there’s Brody with his big arms and gun. There’s Danny Trejo with his big knives and guns, there’s Alice Braga with her big ol' rifle, and various other people with either big guns or big attitudes – including the silent be-suited yakuza and the mouthy death row inmate – who unfairly doesn’t have any guns. Oh and there’s also a friendly family doctor. What on earth is he doing there eh? Well in a deeply obvious ‘twist’ we find out later.

Suspicion of kidnapping initially falls on each other and there follows lots of shouting and general pointing of various guns. Eventually they hit upon the idea that they should have a look around – so they do, grumbling and bitching about who’s toughest the whole while. We of course know the truth, and the little band of campers quickly catch up, that they are in fact in an Alien rainforest and about to be hunted by the most famous trophy collector(s) of all, the fearsome Predator(s). Well three in fact, hence the titular plural. Forget the notion of hundreds of the blighters though, three is the magic number (although we see another chap later on, so its 4 tops) the shot you may have seen in the trailer where Brody's body is lit up by countless little laser sights is simply not in this film – a shockingly misleading deception.

So comes to pass what you might expect, we get some predator style 1st person shots and the group quickly start losing members. Hunters themselves, the gang quickly recognise the tactics being deployed against them – we see packs of unconvincing predator dogs used to flush them out, wounded/dead comrades being used to unsuccessfully lure in more of the group, and eventually a full on showdown reveals the band of predators hunting them – a rather uninspiring bunch – they’re predators, what do you want? I don't know, heaven forbid this might bring something new to the table. After momentarily escaping them by jumping off a waterfall (hey just like Arnie!) the group get picked up by none other than Lawrence Fishbourne – who has been here on the planetoid for several years evading capture, going slightly mad and apparently eating all the pies. The guys is FAT now and it’s a little embarrassing to have to even mention it, but he’s supposed to have been hiding in a wrecked spaceship for years eating space rats, so seriously, why is the guy so fat?! Fail. Forced from hiding, in a blindingly stupid and incongruous move by Fishburne, who's supposedly evaded capture all these years but can't keep hidden in the presence of a film crew, what's left of the group move into endgame, and take on those alien sumbitches.

There’s nothing in Predators that’s overtly awful. The action is fun, the visuals are on the whole pleasing, the characters are diverse and interesting in a cardboard cutout kind of way, and each competently portrayed by the ensemble cast. Problems start at the top - Brody never convinces as the tough guy lead – his beefy arms which he must be very proud of, simply cannot do enough to detract from his adowable widdle face and you can't shake the feeling that he's wandered in from some less explosive movie by mistake. The rest of the crew are just not given enough to do to be interesting, or cared about, and like ten pin bowling pins simply wait to be cut in half. The loveable grunts of the original, this bunch are not. One sequence sees the yakuza chap, who has luckily found a samurai sword, engage in a little mono a mono action with one of the Pred-gang, in a nod to the fight we never saw between Billy the tracker and the original Pred, and this sequence is a winner if a little pointless, 'scuse the pun.

On the whole we’re left feeling this about the whole affair; was there any actual point to that? It’s not fun enough to satisfy your action craving. It’s not bloody enough to sate your gore hound. It just sits there on its haunches, beaming its little tri-laser sight into your eyes, until it decides to stop. At times it feels like a remake - what with having the same soundtrack, and scenes reflecting the original, but this just serves to highlight the lack of originality, and while it may reflect the original, the scene you're watching is never superior. Where are the quotable quotes? The mystery? The fear? The totally pointless inclusion of the mysterious doctor character is actually saved as a kind of surprise twist – look away if you really don’t want to know – turns out, he's a serial killer! And decides the final reel of the movie is a good time to start killing his companions, although they're almost certainly his only hope of survival. Hm, that makes complete sense, and nicely illustrates how misguided the creators were in uncovering where the horror lies in a Predator movie. You get the feeling the writers were scrabbling around trying to find the meat left on the bones of what was a fairly sound concept, but instead found only the gristle. Not the essential addition to the universe we were hoping then, but really, in the shadow of such great company, so much a product of its age, is that ever really going to happen? Tough to recommend on it's own merits, but worthy of a rent if there’s nowt on the telly.

Treehouse rating

2 out of 5


Continue Reading..

Monday, 23 August 2010

Treehouse Mini Review: Limbo

Another demo that leads to an instant purchase – Limbo is a 2D platform puzzler like many others – guide the character across the landscape avoiding the traps and pitfalls. What makes Limbo uniquely irresistible is its delightfully melancholic presentation. A beautifully minimalist, grainy art-house black and white landscape is yours to traverse, as you, a nameless silhouette of a boy, awake in a dark and murky forest – all deep shade and eerie mist. Like crossing some macabre children's book dreamscape, the woods gradually introduce you to the game’s wicked intentions, and devilish sense of humour.

Here, physics are king with its rules all closely observed (except when they’re not) and the boy’s fragile little body, in its little schoolboy shorts, proves easy prey for the spiky pits, the powerful beartraps, the tumbling rocks and any one of 4 million other ways you can meet your demise here. Death comes hard and fast- the gore (which can be turned off) is surprising initially but is simply a logical conclusion of the world. Fall on a spike, there you stay, all spiked and dead. Each death is silently contemplated for a few moments before a nicely reactive checkpoint system means you never have to retrace a section or jump prior to the one you just died on.

As the game progresses from wood to cave to mountain to factory floor, the tricks and traps become ever more fiendish and a lot of trial and error becomes necessary – so determined are Playdead to separate your head from your shoulders. Leaping through one set of apparent death traps will usually lead you straight into the arms of another – but these tricks are so mischievous, so cheeky you can’t help but smile as you fall to a horrific death for the umpteenth time. The demo itself climaxes with a huge spider you’ve bothered previously picking you up as you struggle helplessly tangled in its web – even the language employed to make you buy the game is irresistible – Push x to “Abandon the boy”. Who could be so cold?

The why’s and the wherefore’s of the world are never revealed. This is Limbo, in it you will encounter others like yourself, suspicious and unfriendly. Also the bodies of several others, which can be put to good use several grisly puzzles. We do find a special someone by the end, but whether or not it is your sister, as the marketing blurb will have you believe, is academic. Music is minimal, the sound of your feet crunching through the undergrowth and wind in the trees suffice as part of a rich and evocative soundscape.

The boy himself is a joy to handle – not used that line for a while – he has a real sense of weight and movement and scrambling up ledges or leaping from chains to safety he sometimes seems to control himself unbidden, so responsive are his twitchy little feet. Comparisons with Braid are an obvious start, but aside from the 2D and platforming, little else here is similar. Emotionally, its closer to Shadow of the Colossus – the sense of isolation and desperation is immense.

At 1200 MS points for a little under 6 hours play, Limbo may seem pricey – but it is 6 hours of pure platforming joy that’s fun to revisit. You will simply not be able to put it down until you've reached wherever it is you're trying to get to. It’s also a great play for new/lapsed gamers so simple are the controls and captivating the presentation. Go on, give it a whirl.

Treehouse Rating: 4 out of 5

Plays like a dream

Continue Reading..

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Horror Corner: Splice

Playing God is generally frowned upon. Whether it’s the raised eyebrows of the neighbours, or the total annihilation of the planet, in movies the outcome is fairly consistently never beneficial, no matter how noble the intention. So it is with Splice, the gloopy bio-horror from Cube director, Vincenzo Natali. While searching for a new protein that can fight disease and secure vast wealth for their shadowy, but oddly low on security bio-engineering company, rockstar bio-chemists Sarah Polley and Adrien Brody set about creating a new life form, a splice of animal and human DNA. And wouldn't you know it, things don’t go to plan, but where they do go will have you choking on your popcorn in this brilliant B-movie with brains.

So yes, rockstar bio-chemists. Don’t tend to see a lot of them on the whole, but then this wacky couple aren't your average white coat nerds, and with their bijou apartment, covered in Japanese manga and toys, and sporting a neat line in achingly hip outfits, these two are well deserving of their Rolling Stone Magazine cover. But behind closed doors, all is not well. Sarah has parent issues in a back story of abuse only hinted at and Adrien is alone in wanting to expand their family. Things aren't all rosy at work either – after a major breakthrough in creating a pair of “new” creatures – Fred and Ginger – the pair are ordered to start harvesting the slug-like monsters so they can actually start making some money out of them. But these cute little balls of fat are a mere precursor to the potential the tech keeps hidden. Polley is convinced to include human DNA in the splice is the key to ending all major disease, but of course this would be playing God slightly more than just using lots of animals to make blobby beanbags, and so their French paymaster gives ‘em a slap with no dinner, and says a firm ‘non’.

Undeterred, and rather naughtily, the ker-azy pair set about their task in secret. After some good ol' fashioned montage of the many, many failed attempts, a breakthrough, hurrah, a successful genetic cocktail of animal and human DNA is developed over Chinese takeaway. But what’s this, to Brody’s ineffective whining, Polley runs off with the goop and actually injects it into the company’s mecha-womb – “don’t you want to be sure we've done it?” she opines – Broody Brody, shrugs - ok , wasn't doing anything else this weekend anyway.

And so the thing grows, and things kick off proper. From the moment of it’s birth, ‘Splice’ is rather more forthcoming about its intentions - this is pure, if not simple horror. Initially a purely cgi creation, the creature at first resembles some kind of hairless monkey bird, terrified and cute it hooks you in with its sweet little face – some might say, I would have stamped on it. But as the movie progresses and Dren as she is named, grows to maturity, things get increasingly disturbing. As soon as she’s given a little dress and starts to resemble a little girl, a feeling in the pit of your stomach grows suggesting the wrong-ness that’s coming. Polley and Brody attempt to keep up the pretence of scientific study, but we and they know, this is their baby that never was.

Of course, if you’re going to play god, much like playing with fire, you’re going to get some kind of injury. And so it follows. As Dren grows up she becomes increasingly more difficult to hide from the rest of the company (precisely why no one ever visits the lab upstairs is somewhat of a mystery) so the little scamp is relocated, first to the basement, then Polley’s childhood farm, aptly the site of her own torment. Dren grows up and out, and displays remarkable cognitive ability, and a rather less laudable interest in Brody. Increasingly restless and curious about the outside world and its inhabitants, she become increasingly rebellious and rude to her parents, just like a typical teenager really. Lest we forget she’s bred from various animal DNA her fast athletic grace and deadly tail stinger frequently remind us we need to be rather more scared of Dren than her would be parents are. Needless to say things don’t go well, especially for the cat.

Don’t expect a Species clone – this is no monster slasher flick – much more is the focus on the personal relationship aspects, and the moral implications of their actions – so cavalier are they towards the creation of life that they bear the full weight of the consequences when things do inevitably go south. There are some lovely moments – so unpredictable is the creature and its motives, we spend much of the film in a cold sweat at what might happen – and when some things do actually happen, they are so unthinkable you wont know whether to laugh or scream- one in particular is so cringe worthy, it must rank as the most awkward moment in cinema – in a good way. At other times, possibly in a bid to make up for a perceived slow pace, Natali rather over eggs the pudding – one episode during a press conference is so over the top I initially thought it must be a dream sequence – but no, there’s fallout, it actually happens. The final act is also a little wobbly – David Hewlett's ineffective boss character is such a pushover he doesn't feel convincing, and Dren herself in her final incarnation feels somewhat wasted, although the grisly dénouement is satisfyingly disturbing.

Missteps aside, the overall tone of Splice is near pitch perfect – it gives you the creeping fears as many competing niggles and worries are thrown into the mix and spliced together – fear of the unknown, of science, that some mad corporation is in all likelihood doing this as we speak – but on a personal level there’s the angst of raising children and how as offshoots of our makeup we’re directly responsible for their development and actions. The acting is top notch throughout, Brody in particular wringing convincing emotion from his wuss-bag character, he needs do some serious acting to sell some of his actions, which amazingly, he does! The creature itself is also a remarkable piece of work, rarely less than utterly convincing, it’s a real achievement of live action, makeup and cgi effect that as a whole is deeply unsettling - Delphine Chaneac delivers a chilling turn as the matured creature, as unpredictable and schizophrenic as your evil pet cat.

Splice remains firmly in the b-movie camp of course, it wont be picking up any Palme D'ors any time soon, but as schlocky monsteriffic entertainment, you could do a lot worse. Full of wrong-ness and unspeakable taboos, this is a damning indictment against science and indeed, having children! If you were erring on the whole pro-creation thing, Splice may put you off parenthood for good.

Treehouse Rating:

3 out of 5

What's the worst that could happen?

Continue Reading..

Saturday, 21 August 2010

You got Russian History in my Tetris

Well, the Summer's been long and busy, so now I sheepishly creep back into my tree house to turn the lights off and start consuming some media. The poor place is looking a bit run down, wallpaper peeling, windows besmirched with grime, the bird-feeder's empty and there's a suspicious squirrelly smell about the place. Lets get cracking filling this place with light and noise again, hooray!

To kick us off, behold a fairly extraordinary piece of video setting the entirety of Russian history to the sounds of Tetris. Viewed from the perspective of a humble worker, the man who arranges the blocks will hammer the tune into your brain in no time flat. With fabulous animation and some lovely acting, its an all round winner - you can check out more comedy tunes from the 2 man band, Pig with the face of a Boy at their website. Go and say hello! Now, where can I purchase some squirrel remover? I am the man who is scrubbing the blocks lalala...

Continue Reading..

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

E3 Mayhem!

So the 3 big have all shown us their wares – after the 1st official
day, Monday not officially counting as part of the show proper, Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony have dazzled us with the future of gaming for another a year – hard to believe it’s been a whole year since last time. And now as we sit back reeling from the technological marvels of the last 48 hours, stroking our beards, and mulling over who “won”, S1nner pierces the swirling fogs of misguided thoughts by pointing out to me, “it’s not the winning, we’re all gamers”. And how right he is, we are the winners for we get to keep the spoils from all three. Surely now we can put aside these childish notions of who had the best show, who had the least cock ups, who Won? You’d think so anyway, fact is Nintendo won, here’s why.

Nintendo have done a complete volte-face since 2009. Last year’s showing was marked by a firm focus on the dull – family games, shovel ware, wii fit. Tee-dee-ous. And after it, many ninty fans stood, Skywalker style, over pyres of burning Nintendo paraphernalia, weeping openly into the night. Well, they’ll wish they’d just put it in a box in the attic this year because Nintendo, clearly stung by the reception last year have come out all guns blazing. This year the focus was firmly back on the hardcore, with nary a shot of a happy family in sight. The show kicked off with a new Zelda game for wii, looking fairly gorgeous and marred only by some apparent technical glitches, Miyamoto-san showed us some sweet new weapons and full 1:1 motion control with Wii motion plus (looks like I’ll finally have to actually stump up for it after all – and seriously, why hasn’t Link always had a whip?!)

Old school fans rejoiced as killer announcement followed killer announcement ; Kirby (looks genius) a Goldeneye remake, Donkey Kong Country, and finally Kid Icarus. The last announcement was slightly diluted for me, being as it was being introduced on a brand new piece of hardware, the Nintendo 3DS. It’s been on the horizon for a while, but we got our first glimpse of the sexy minx, and despite not being able to appreciate the thing in 3d, this is clearly a do-want situation, at defcom 9, and represents what will be my fourth purchase from the DS family. Goddammit. Full 3D without the need for glasses, a sexy widescreen, analogue stick, built in 3d camera, and all the goodness we’ve come to expect from our DSi’s which can expect to be Ebay’d pretty damn quickly once this puppy drops. With a ton of 3rd party support too and some top games being announced, even as we speak, this looks to be a real winner.

Yes, Ninty was on top form, all the heavy weights coolly threw in their pitches, masterminded by Reggie and flanked by Satoru and Miyamoto, the guys were up there having fun.

A concept sorely lacking at yesterdays Microsoft presentation which was characterised by painful sequence after painful sequence of guys and girls HAVING FUN ARRGH! As in the kind of fun you have when you look off stage and someone is aiming a rifle at you; “have fun I says” the mystery sniper hisses. Anyway I digress - the pained fun being had couldn't totally hide the great tech on display- as Natal became “Kinect” in a terribly clever fusion of “Connect” and “Kineticalisation” which means “to flail”. Yes, Natal is no more, and I’m sure the new name will grow on me, like a fungal infection. No, none of the presenters seemed at ease, perhaps the burden of going first, but little humour was on display following what most agree was a fairly disastrous showing the night previous by the Cirque Du Soleil. Honestly, who thinks this stuff up?

“Kinnect” still has much to do to convince as the focus was, in a weird taking up of the Nintendo mantle, fairly focused on the family. True outside of the Kinnect piece, there was exciting showing of core games; Gears of War 3, Halo Reach and some wholly remarkable footage of Metal Gear Rising – slice and dice baby – and yet the abiding memory is of several people leaping around onstage to some rather second rate looking family titles. Ohno. That said, it wasn’t by any means doom for Nata- Kinect – the demo of the new UI was freaking sweet – “Xbox, make me a cuppa” – will be heard in my house as soon as I have one – the voice control being both awesome, and clearly the way forward for mankind. So too was general minority report style navigation of the menus sweet to behold, and cause for real excitement. Other demonstrations – less so. The 8 year old with her virtual tiger was inconceivably cute, and I did want to play with it (the tiger yes?) , and was impressed by its fidelity and responsiveness and tripping it up with the skipping rope in bullet time, but see what am I saying? Am I really excited for a virtual cat you can pet? Damn, guess I am a bit. But only for the technology you understand.

The fitness game demo’d, while deeply dull in itself, still revealed quality potential in the system which continues to impress with its full body mo-cap. So too did the dance game, which should have had me staring through my hands in horror, but actually looked like a ton of fun, and may even actually help me improve my already highly advanced dance skills in the pursuit of da ladeez. The Starwars lightsabre demo, suspiciously unplayable, looks kinda fun, but suffers for being on rails - I still can’t help but feel that something is lacking, and I hope that Msoft don’t rule out the inclusion of a left handed nunchuck style joystick for character control – we don’t need a wand for the right hand, we can just scan in a ruler or a banana for that, but how are we supposed to move around these game worlds accurately? I guess time will tell what their plans are but I really hope there is a sit mode for at least some games.

The final bombshell though was the announcement of a new 360 sku, which had been rumoured previously, but said rumours failed to convey how deeply sexy the new box would be. I was instantly smitten, sign me up for this sleek, whisper quiet finger print magnet, available in the UK in just 4 short weeks time for £199 – hand it over!

Sony meanwhile went last but didn’t come last – I’m sure Sinner will have much to say on their showing. They too were having lots of fun on stage, lots of 3d gaming, bit moot for me at present, and Kevin Butler giving an impassioned speech about what gaming means to him that hit a lot of right notes – if this is all true and it’s what Move has in mind sign me up (man do I really have to buy 3 new consoles this year?!). The Move demonstrations didn’t show as much as I’d hoped – I’ve seen some stunning tech demos online, but I guess E3 is no place for such tinkering, here we need big games, and Sorcerer fit the bill nicely, all spell casting and fireball making – the interface looked slick and responsive.

Sadly lacking was any sniff of The Last Guardian, but bizarrely compensating for its absence was Gabe Newell showing off Portal 2 and declaring that the PS3 would be the definitive version! Have the Gods taken leave of their senses?! Truly bizarre. Anyway, a nice trailer ensued so I’m fairly stoked for that - Dead space 2 looked decent too with a brief gameplay snippet. Their inevitable subscription model was announced and they showed a bunch of PSP stuff.

Yes all told lots of quality gaming, and the outpouring has only just begun in earnest – now it’s up to the journos of the world to all run round a massive building for 2 days, playing all the latest games and getting paid for it. Damn their eyes. Lots of updates, links, trailers images and dat to follow no doubt.. Truly we are all the winners though, for now we can all look forward to the fruits of their labours, and leave behind this embarrassing grapple over who’s respective flag bearer “won”.

Besides, like I said, it was Nintendo.

Continue Reading..

Monday, 17 May 2010

Horror Corner: The House of the Devil

There have been good things said about Ty West’s 80’s retro horror film The House of The Devil. With a freshness rating hovering around the mid-80’s, this has been a generally well received little horror flick, applauded for its tightly crafted suspense and atmosphere of foreboding, all delivered in a cheesy, classic 80’s style. As a keen horror fan, and general admirer of the most consistently hilarious decade yet, nothing could be more appealing than a cleverly executed (wink wink) 80’s horror yarn – what a brilliant idea to juxtapose the look and style of a simpler form of cinema with more modern, sophisticated writing and cinematic techniques to really get some surprising results – what a fantastic opportunity to really confound some expectations. What a massive waste. For every 5 reviews heaping praise upon this film, there sits one unhappy lump that just didn’t get it. I say "didn’t get it", I think they got it just fine, for I am indeed one of these moaning minorities – The House of the Devil is simply not a very good film by any standards and like many others who didn’t get it, I’m left scratching my head at how it has managed to garner such widespread adoration.

Lets be clear – making a movie today that looks like it was made in the 80’s is a great idea. Here the movie is massively, wildly successful. Everyone’s hair is right, the big bombastic rock song over the cheesy credits is just right, the grainy film and tinny sound design is all just right. As a piece of retro tributism, this is top class stuff, absolutely no doubt. But the funny thing about 80’s films, specifically 80’s horror films, much like their action film cousins, is that they were by and large, crap. Shonky writing, inappropriate music, wonky plots, floppy scenery, terrible acting, risible dialogue and little regard for decent continuity. Yes the 80’s had it all, and by George we loved them anyway. True, returning to many of our most feared 80’s slasher flicks these days can leave us cold – is it that the films have grown old or that we have? (it's the films stupid). Regardless, to take the trappings of the 80’s and lay it over a framework of modern horror is undoubtedly an exciting postmodern concept. Except Ty hasn’t done that. No, he’s just gone and made a straight 80’s movie. Hmm.

So we join our heroine flat hunting, Joceline Donahue’s Samantha is looking to move off campus away from her noisy shagging roomie. She needs cash fast and luckily (?) spots an ad for a babysitter. She gives it a call and leaves a message, only to be called straight back at the payphone by a softly spoken gentlemen. Alarm bells ring already, this is great, it’s like being back in the 80’s! After some umm-ing and ahh-ing, Samantha and buddy drive out to the remote spooky house to do the job. Welcomed by a suitably creepy Tom Noonan (last seen by me as Cain in Robocop 2, further enhancing my 80’s vibe) it is explained that the job is actually to look after Cain’s ageing mother and not the kids at all. No problem, the cash is king. Meanwhile, Samantha’s ride runs into a spot of bother on the drive back to college, in what it emerges as the only genuine shock of the film, but which at this point we take for a sign of the many wonderfully unexpected things to come. We were all of us, deceived.

In a nicely slow burning twisting of the tension, we now witness young nubile Samantha gaily setting about her babysitting duties. She watches TV. She reads her books. She listens to bad rock music on her massive walkman, while footloosing it around the house, all the while we look through our fingers in anticipation of the HORROR ABOUT TO BE REVEALED… oh, nothing happened? And this goes on. She dutifully orders pizza as she was instructed to several times to (bit suspicious) she explores darkened spooky corners of the house, behind which probably lie unspeakable horrors (they do in fact, we see some, but their reveal is so mundanely handled it might as well be a potting shed), she discovers boxes of mysterious photos of strangely absent other people and eventually the third act limps in and Ty remembers to put some "horror" in.

The intention here was clearly to build an air of so much mortal tension that by the time the levee breaks, the audience will be a gibbering wreck. Except of course, we know what’s going to happen. Everyone knows that a film called house of the devil, in which a nubile babysitter desperate for money who's been persuaded to babysit a probable witch hag by a deeply creepy man and his wife is more than likely to end up tied to a pentagram about to be sacrificed to satan. We all knew that was going to happen Ty. What we expected was for you to mix it up a bit, bring some of those modern ideas to the table, on top of your already very modern idea of retro-styling. But instead, when the climax does come, it is exactly as a film in the 80’s would have done it. The witch hag is revealed as a deeply unscary midget with a mask on, the family a bunch of satanic devil worshippers intent on bringing their dark lord into the world through the sacrifice of a babysitter. The fights and murders that break out are as poorly executed and laughably bad as any of the finest 80’s b-movies. The ending is as stupidly daft as 1985 cinephile might have been happy with, but to churn it all out these days as is, without adding anything conceptually new or exciting is just pointless. Today, we frankly expect a bit more. We were hanging on for a shock that never came, a scare that had some teeth. Not necessarily gore or monsters or modern effects, but surely something could have been achieved without breaking the 80’s spell? Instead, that interminably slow 2/3rds of the film, that at the time felt so tense and full of promise, becomes on reflection little more than a very long, slow, uneventful time filler. And yet still critics argue that Ty is the master of the slow burn, one even going as far to compare him to Hitchcock! What are these people smoking? I get that the build up to a dramatic event can often be better than the event itself, but there is a ratio at work here, for every ten minutes of nothing going on onscreen, I expect to be this scared by the payoff. Sadly this film has no such ratio, and by the end, I wasn't even this much scared.

By sticking so doggedly to the brief of recreating the look and feel of an earlier time West has created a hollow, damp squib of a movie. Technically excellent in the near perfect cloning of a bona fide 80’s style, and with solid performances from everyone involved, the tension and excellent atmosphere of dread carefully cultivated in the first half collapses into farce in the absence of a suitable climax. You may as a result end up feeling massively cheated, in a way a bad modern movie just couldn’t deliver. I can watch bad 80’s bargain bucket movies whenever I like, I don’t need to sit through a modern film pretending to be a crappy 80’s movie, only for it to turn out that it really is a crappy 80’s movie after all! A great disappointment after such a promising setup, and a massively wasted opportunity.

Treehouse Rating: 2/5

80's hairdos were scarier

Continue Reading..

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Grave of the Fireflies - DVD Review

Every now and then a film comes along that’s more than just entertainment and escapism for 90mins. Every now and then a film comes along that envelops you so tightly and completely that you simply can’t escape its grip. Grave of the Fireflies is this type of movie. It’s not a happy film. You won’t want to eat popcorn while watching it and I defy you to not start crying. In fact, I would be willing to bet money on this film making the hardest and coldest of hearts melt.

Read on for a full review.

Grave of the Fireflies is not a new movie. In fact, it was released in 1988 and is an adaptation of a semi-autobiographical novel by Akiyuki Nosaka. Knowing this makes the film all the more gut wrenchingly powerful. It’s just taken me a long time to get round to writing this review perhaps because I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t be able to do it justice.

This film had a profound impact on me when I first saw it years ago and I’ve never forgotten it. I was expecting a light & fun anime full of quirky characters and a surreal storyline. But that’s not the experience I had. It was the first film to make me realise the affect of war on ordinary citizens because that’s what this film is about. It’s not about the million dollar explosions. It’s not about the technology or some super-bad kick ass hero who wins the day and gets the girl. This is the story that those films don’t show you. It’s a story about the relationship between two orphaned children, a younger teen Seita and his even younger sister Setsuko. It simply charts the struggles they go through to survive post the Kobe fire bombings in Japan towards the end of World War II. Forget Hurtlocker – this is the ultimate anti-war film ever made. It shows how indifferent people can be to even the needs of desperate children – and this includes their aunt. It is, given that it is based on a semi-autobiography, a damning depiction of the negative consequences of war. This story is probably being experienced right now throughout the world's war zones. And if that isn't a damning indictment on how the world works, then I don't know what is. At the best of times I have a very dim view of society and its sense of false morality and this film, through such a simple and moving portrayal of the experiences of two children, does nothing to make me change my view.

I’m trying really hard not to say too much about the film without giving anything away. All I can say is that if you’re in the ‘right’ frame of mind for an intelligent film that is truly an emotional experience, then this is the film for you.

Treehouse Rating: 5/5

Continue Reading..

Thursday, 8 April 2010

I didn't realise I wanted to be a cowboy..

..until now. Why have I previously been so seduced by roaming devastated post apocalyptic dystopia with silly laser guns and radioactive mutants? Or rain slicked city streets, to get on trains and go to bars, in a grotesque mimicry of my tedious real life? Why the hell have I not been yearning a simpler existence? - the open fields, the picturesque creeks, the lonely mountains? The sound of blowing off an outlaws heads with a shotgun, hog-tying a bank robber and a-spitting to-baccer? No, I clearly haven't been paying attention as this, looks, awesome.

Red Dead Redemption just buzzed into my game-dar in a massive way. It had always been a little blip - "oh Rockstar are making a cowboy game" I mused, idly munching on a piece of toast while reading the paper "that will be cool" - but this multiplayer mode is tantamount to a cowboy MMO! You know what that means?! It means I can totally ambush douchebag x-bot posses with my superior l337 skills and infinite, badass patience. The potential is undeniable! A totally free roaming single player world, teeming with players and gangs of xbox parties? I will happily hunt pigs in the hills by some lonely mountain pass, in the mere hope that some bunch of lost douchebags will come by to be picked off with a sniper rifle and the carefully laid explosive I rigged on the bridge. "Oh no" they will shriek into their little headsets, "its Munial, the posse hunter, an he dun shot ma horse!".

Ok so I'm sure there's fun to be had actually forming a posse, but that's just not where the romance is for me. Real cowboys (bearing in mind - I'm English, we don't have cowboys, we have show jumpers, so my concept is limited) are lonely figures; dark tormented souls who find solace for the crimes they done, only in the arms of the forgiving gal he just paid for or at the bottom of a bottle o' redeye. The only good posse was the Young Guns posse and look what happened to them. Well, Billy was ok, but only 'cos he was a loner really.. No, a gang may be the best bet for survival but to really live, a cowboy's got to go his own way. Or at most, find his-self a Sundance Kid. Yeah, actually , that's the cheese. The way I figure it, that's some mighty fine ambushin country up ahead. If I stay here, and you get up on top o' that ridge, we'll see them sumbitch's coming before they even done had their biscuits.

This is going to be so much fun. Ya'll take care now..

Yeah single player looks pretty amazing too...


Treehouse Do-want rating: 6/5

Continue Reading..

Monday, 5 April 2010

Out with the old, in with the Who

As I’ve alluded several times, I was no fan of Tennant’s Doctor Who. I consider his time at the helm to be the dark days of Who, masterminded by a no-talent prancing puppet master, who had his banal characterisation dance about onscreen like some incredibly annoying know-it-all office clown. Aside from the odd enjoyable episode here and there, usually written by the now in charge Steven Moffat, Tenant’s time as the Doctor was plagued by poor writing, bad acting, toe curling self congratulatory self indulgence and awful, shameful, raping of beloved character’s memories. Perhaps the most upsetting thing was that I seemed to be the only one who thought so – nearly everyone universally applauded his shenanigans – I felt like I was taking crazy pills! So it was with much baited breath, and hope in my heart that I watched the first episode of the new series, with the shiny new Matt Smith as the Doctor, along with the promise of a shiny new companion and a shiny new Tardis. Surely now these mugs (ahem, that’s you, gentle reader) would now be reminded that Who can be a thing of greatness, not the risible kids show it had transmogriphied into, that used its status as a kid's show as an excuse for mediocrity. And after watching, and I don’t want to get ahead of myself in declaring that Matt Smith is an infinitely better Doctor than Tennant ever was on the strength of a single episode, but I can say with some assuredness and without hyperbole that Matt Smith, is an infinitely better Doctor than Tennant ever was.

Straight away, he’s more interesting to watch. Unlike the nervy, trying-too hard young fella I saw on Jonathon Ross, Smith’s Doctor is refreshingly in-human - weird and oddball, without any of the “wacky zaniness” (idiocy) of Tenant or McCoy. He’s playful, mysterious, knows what’s going on without telling everyone around him that he does, and after a process of learning as opposed to going "aaaahhh its a [insert obnoxious know it all answer here]" . He's funny, he's rude to people. Of course it helps that the writing and directing is much improved. Gone are the shackles of Davies’ tedious baggage; farewell Rose Tyler and her verminous kin, not to mention the total disaster that was Donna “shoot me in the teeth” Noble; don’t come back, your ham was well and truly baked many years ago. Instead say hello to the brilliantly played, and quite easy on the eye, Amy Pond, as played by Karen Gillen.

The first episode, always a tricky one for an incoming incumbent, sees the Doctor crash land immediately after the regeneration in a sequence that worryingly bore the glitzy thrill seeking of Davies’ tenure. A minor aberration, quickly rectified by a tasty new title sequence, and we’re into the episode. A ginger Scottish child is praying to Santa for help. Straight away; great – you wouldn’t get that kind of humour from Davies, he’d probably think people wouldn’t get it, or be worried it might offend someone. The Doctor appears, struggling out of the upturned Tardis, to declare “could I have an apple?” Regeneration has made him hungry it seems, but unsure what he likes, they set about cooking most of the fridge’s contents. It’s been a while since I actually laughed at an episode of Dr Who. This is looking promising.

So the story proper eventually sets in, Amy has a crack in her wall through which she hears voices. It emerges that a rip in space time (again, really?) is in her wall, and on the other side is some kind of alien prison. Prisoner Zero has, it seems, escaped. Just as the investigation is underway, The Doctor is called back to the Tardis which is , post regeneration, about to explode – a minor inconvenience, a quick 5 minute time travel will apparently sort it out. So off he trots to return directly, only by the time he gets back, in an immediately obvious to all but him kind of way (he didn’t have the benefit of the trailer after all) several years, not minutes have passed, and little Amy Pond is now a leggy ginger kissogram who looks rather handsome as a policewoman.

As the realisation that the mysterious Doctor character of her childhood has returned sets in, the mystery of the escaped alien picks up where it left off – having been happily hiding out for years in a room unnoticed by all due to some psychic dampening field or some-such, the toothy snake-like alien has been resident all this time in Amy’s spare bedroom, occasionally venturing out in the guise of patients of the nearby hospital where Amy’s nurse boyfriend works. But now the Doc’s back, the alien is revealed and the pursuing prison wardens, giant floating eyeballs natch, are looking to flush it out by incinerating the whole planet, so now he has but 20 minutes to save the planet, without a Tardis or Sonic Screwdriver which inconveniently exploded moments earlier in another thumb of the nose to Davies’ reliance on the handy gizmo as a solution to all situations.

It was a very promising start. Smith is charming and unusual with his wacky big face and a great ability to deliver lines in odd ways, Pond is (also) charming and believable as the frustrated Scot out of water, with a great range in equally nutty facial expressions. In their scenes together, there was already a nice chemistry, a plausible rapport between them- undoubtedly the benefit of casting decent actors and giving them vaguely sensible dialogue, not to mention an actual story/history together that developed nicely throughout. The new Tardis looks, well it looks okay, didn’t get a great look at it – it looks a bit cluttered to be honest, like its not quite finished yet – maybe it’s not? The aliens were hammy and Doctor Who-ish, but not in an offensively trite way (see; the Slytheen/the Ood/face of Bo/any one of Davies' dumbass brainchildren) – the shape shifting creature mimics groups of people, and gets confused about which mouth to speak out of, leading to man and dog barking furiously, or woman and children sharing one voice – logical, amusing, a bit creepy – hurrah, Dr Who is back!

So what didn’t I like? The bow tie. The hacking the internet to chat to NASA etc to get the "zero" message out was all a bit daft, in a Russel T kind of way, although Patrick Moore is always welcome. And even though Smith ultimately revelled in the victory, it was funny and not obnoxious, as Tennant inevitably was every time he opened his fat know-it-all face. Sorry, its my problem I'll deal with it - anyway, yes that was about all I didn't like, which is a fantastic turnaround from a programme I'd all but given up on - great start, keep it up kids!

Continue Reading..

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Review: Perfect Dark

The year 2000 was a splendid time for a happy go-lucky Nintendo fan. For that summer, they were blessed with the long awaited spiritual successor to the legendary Goldeneye, indubitably the finest console FPS of all time. What they got didn’t disappoint; a deep single player campaign with bond-esque objectives and gadgetry as well as a multiplayer mode that once again pushed the envelope and rekindled the sweaty 4-way fisticuffs typical of a marathon Goldeneye session. To revisit it now on its native N64 is an exercise in disappointment. Sure the look, feel and sounds are all present and correct, but the framerate and murky textures are not what you recall. No, back then all was laser sharp, tangy neon and inky blacks and you certainly didn’t have any framerate issues when you set off 20 remote mines at once. So the rebirth of Perfect Dark onto Xbox Live has been even longer awaited by those who know, promising as it did, the genuine article with HD graphics and, well, that’ll do actually. And now it’s finally here, available at a surprisingly restrained 800 points, has it survived the transition from our sepia toned memories..?

argh, she got me..

Short answer, yes. Its back, it’s looking better than ever and it hasn’t been mucked about with. Forget the ropey sequel spawned of a wholly different era and ethos, and look back to this lovingly crafted original which in many ways remains surprisingly advanced and more forward thinking than most fps' churned out these days. Here, mission structures are difficulty level dependent; meaning the difficulty you select from the menu directly affects the tasks and mission content you’ll see in the mission. (why isn't that a more common concept?) The fully worthwhile cooperative mode returns, now playable over Xbox live, as well as the way-ahead of it's time Matrix style "player 2 plays all the bad guys" mode, again reminding us just how much of a progressive title this was. The familiar blocky headed scanned faces of the old Rare team adorning the henchmen and characters have sadly been replaced by more contemporary fizzogs, and the textures updated, but the overal look remains firmly intact, and the synthy soundtrack and terrible voice acting is better than ever.

I- I haven't seen you before..?

The story is pure sci fi hokum- you are agent Dark, the sassy Victoria Beckham-alike protégé of the mysterious Carrington, a fat beardy Scottish bloke with piles of cash and a secret militarised organisation. Set in the not-too distant future of flying cars and blade-runner style city scapes (as much as that was possible in 2000, this is no Mass Effect 2), your mission is to uncover the conspiracy of a shady industrial organisation that may or may not (may) have something to do with aliens, the US president, and the intervention in an intergalactic war between 2 alien races (maybe). What you bring to the table are an assortment of smashing weapons and gadgets that were an improvement on Goldeneye’s Herculean inventory. Pistols, rifles, laser beams, bombs, mines, launchers, knives, crossbows, heat-scoped rail guns (oh yes) they’re all here, and each one featuring a secondary fire mode that often changes their dynamics in unexpected ways. The legendary laptop gun for example transforms your rifle into a deadly turret, gunning down enemies for you on sight, while you flick through the latest copy of FHM, (ok you’re Victoria Beckham, Cosmo then). And yes you can have it in multiplayer.

..my gun!

The levels are sprawling, meandering mazes, difficult to navigate in comparison to today’s subtly signposted worlds. The opening mission sees us join Agent Dark on top of the Datadyne building which we must infiltrate to retrieve a defecting doctor in distress. For part one of the mission, you descend down through the tower taking out security as you go. Part 2 is the infiltration of the secret basement laboratory, while the final section has you working your way back up the tower. This clever approach to the use of space, revisited a couple of times in later levels, never feels like recycling so different is the challenge for the remix sections. They can feel aimless at times however, and it is only due to the careful training veterans had back in 2000 that we can easily find our way – a newbie gamer today might be tempted to cry in frustration on learning the mission has failed because they didn’t plant that bug on a random console back at the start of the map. We've all been there agent.

But.. I cant throw a bug that high..

Where it was neither progressive nor very successful was in it’s enemy AI. These goons are fresh from an Austin Powers super villain lair; spot you and they’ll either start shooting in 4 second bursts (unless you get one of the buggers that just walks at you firing continually) and then they may leap to the side in a bid to dodge where you’re most likely firing. Half the time their gun may jam, much to their astonishment, before uttering a brilliant soundbyte as you finally off them. No there are no flanking tactics here, no retreat and regrouping – they will run at you until they get shot. What they lack in nouse, they make up for in deadliness, certainly on the fiendishly difficult Perfect Dark agent level, where if they sneak in a hit you will find half your health gone.

Any questions? No, good!

For all the leaps and bounds in the FPS genre over the last ten years, you’d be forgiven for assuming Perfect Dark is a pointless addition to your heaving collection, but you’d be sorely mistaken. The little touches remain as brilliant today as they were then. The way Joanna tilts her pistols sideways, gansta style if you get close enough to a bad-guy. The way you can disarm and knock- out every henchman if you so choose, some of them throwing down their guns pleading for you not to kill them. The ever entertaining shooting gallery, the spy-cam, and the spectacular return to what you thought was just a pretty hub world. No, Perfect Dark remains a quite brilliant and relevant shooter; never less than fun and full of invention, and with quibbles only worthy of mention because the overall standard remains so high, this is an essential purchase.

Treehouse Rating: 4/5

Ah, our star agent..

Perfect Dark is available on Xbox Live for 800 of your Earth points

Continue Reading..

Monday, 29 March 2010

Kick-Ass Review

I’m the kind of guy who eats desert before dinner. And so, in keeping with this tradition, I’m going to tell you what I think of Kick-Ass before I review it for you. In short, it has a bad ass script, it has graphic violence, dark x2 humour, one of the coolest 12 year old’s ever, plenty of laughs and thrills and geeks who rock. This is, in short, one hell of a movie. I really enjoyed it – A lot. Go and watch it. Now. I command thee in the name of all things 'Kick-Ass'!

For the rest of the review … read on my friends.

Truth be told, I’d never heard of the comic book of the same name by Mark Millar and John Romita so I’m not sure how much of a faithful reproduction it is. I’ll have to read the comic now and let you know. The screenplay is written by Matthew Vaughn (who also directs) and Jane Goldman (wife of Jonathan Ross). This is the same writing team/director from Stardust which, in my view, wasn’t that great so I was a little apprehensive about Kick-Ass. However, I needn’t have been. Surprisingly, Kick-Ass is only Matthew Vaughn’s 3rd film but he’s clearly at natural at directing. He builds tension, keeps the angles tight and knows instinctively how to show off great action. He’s definitely one to keep a close eye on and he has a new fan in me.

Anyway, the story is very simple and revolves around Dave Lizewski (played by Aaron Johnson), a nerdy teenager who wonders why no one has ever decided to become a real-life superhero. Don’t we all want to help when we see someone in trouble but don’t intervene because we’re too scared about our own safety he muses? How many of us have later stood in our bedrooms later and replayed the moment only in our own versions, we kick some butt and manage to snag a girl in the process? I know I have. So the story is grounded (somewhat) on a premise that we’ve all considered. Dave buys himself a costume and tries to fight crime very unsuccessfully. In fact, he nearly gets himself killed in the process (he’s pretty crap). However, once he’s captured on film trying to protect a total stranger from a beating he (or his alter ego, Kick-Ass) becomes an internet sensation.

While trying to help Katie Deauxma (fellow class mate and love interest) played by Lyndsy Fonseca, Dave ends up in an awkward spot trying to fight a bunch of violent criminals and is rescued a young girl named Hit-Girl (wonderfully played by Chloe Grace Moretz) who kills all the attackers in many violent ways and saves Dave sorry ass. There is a separate story here about Hit-Girl and her father, whose alias is Big Daddy (played by Nicholas Cage in his best performance for ages). Add now to the mix one serious crime lord Frank D'Amico played by the ever watchable Mark Strong and his wannabe gangster son, Chris D’Amico played by McLovin’. Erm I mean Christopher Mintz-Plasse who also doubles as the superhero Red Mist.

What we have is a story about a good guy wanting to do good and along the way he inspires people, get’s his ass kicked and also kicks ass. The set pieces are a hoot. The gags come thick and fast and this film hardly puts a foot wrong. It’s not bogged down with a heavy, political story line like Watchmen and you can just recline, switch off and enjoy.

Treehouse Rating: 4/5
'Kicks Ass' by name and kick ass by nature (Lame pun I know but better than saying this film kicks ass!)

Continue Reading..

Friday, 12 March 2010

A new era for consumers loom

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope, it's not Superman either. It's cloud based gaming and cloud based movies, music and any other type of entertainment you might want. This is fascinating stuff (even if I do say so myself!) and her is my brief view on some of the dramatic technological changes coming our way in 2010.

Look out for an announcement on June 17th as a new service that allows consumers (gamers) to play any game, at any time and without a console is officially launched. As consumers, we’re getting used to video/music/film on demand but gaming has not, so far, really taken hold in the same way. But I like my shiny black PS3 under my shiny black TV. Munial likes his Xbox360. But imagine a world where such hardware is not required. Imagine a world where all you need is a small adapter that plugs into your HD TV and your broadband connection and you have access to hundreds of games. No need to download them. They are just there. They exist in the mysterious ‘cloud’. All we mere mortals have to do is pay a monthly subscription fee and in of we go and play whenever we want (on our TV, PC or Mac). The service called OnLive and brainchild of Steve Perlman (WebTV, QuickTime) promises that it “will change the way that entertainment applications are created, delivered and consumed.” If it takes off and has mass market appeal, I do believe it could just be the single most important development for gamers worldwide. It would, quite literally, change the entire gaming landscape.

If this happens, what would Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft and for that matter, Apple do in a world where their hardware becomes obsolete? Would they try and compete with their own digital offering? What would stores that rely on the sale of tangible gaming DVD’s and Blurays do? Would they try and compete? I would argue that they could be surplus to requirements. Ancient business models in a world where technology is developing at a frightening pace. Don’t believe that such changes can happen so quickly? You only need to take one look at Kodak to see that you ignore a changing technological future at your own peril. In 1988 Kodak employed 145,300 people and made a profit of $1.17bn on $13.3bn in revenue. By late 2009, the payroll nose-dived to 19,900 with a quarterly loss of $111m. And why? It’s because Kodak failed to see the impact that the digital camera would have on its business. What’s worse is that Kodak invented the digital camera! But Kodak has fought back hard and expects strong demand in Asia to lift its digital revenues to about $7bn a year from about $5.5bn within three years. It’s been a painful transformation though for them but they had to learn the hard way. Another example is EMI. Whether companies can learn to change and adapt given they have strategies laid out for 5-10 years can make all the difference.

There is also an interesting development by the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE), a coalition with support from every industry involved in digital entertainment. It’s claimed that this new system will provide a revolutionary new way to enjoy movies, TV shows and other entertainment. The consortium, which consists of companies such as Alcatel-Lucent, Best Buy Co Inc, Cisco Systems Inc, Comcast, News Corp's Fox Entertainment Group, Hewlett-Packard Co, Intel, Lions Gate Entertainment Corp, Microsoft Corp, General Electric Co's NBC Universal, Viacom Inc's Paramount Pictures, Philips, Sony Corp, Sony Pictures, Toshiba, VeriSign, and Time Warner Inc's Warner Bros Entertainment are working on a "uniform digital media experience". The group wants "interoperability of devices and websites" and fair usage rights that will allow consumers to copy content for household playback devices as well as burn their purchased content to physical media for playback or storage. Each consumer would also be given a "rights locker", a virtual library where all video purchases would be stored and available for download again if ever lost. DECE will also have a logo that can be places on products and websites that will inform consumers on whether that site or product is compatible with DECE standards.

Both Sony and Microsoft have already started making strides towards a more coherent digital downloads market but as the competition heats up for this 'cloud' and all its content, I think it will be hampered by fragmentation, different technical standards and different DRM solutions. But, competition is good. There is likely to be consolidation in the industry with a company, perhaps like Amazon or Apple providing new leadership in this so digital of ages.

Let'sbe honest, I’m not a fortune teller. But even if OnLive or the DECE project don’t work commercially, important strides are being made to change the way we consume content forever. Whether we like it or not. Personally, I like it. My life is becoming more and more like Star Trek all the time.

Beam me up (to the cloud) Scotty ...

Continue Reading..

Friday, 19 February 2010

Heavy Rain Demo Impressions

There has been a lot of noise in the gaming world about Heavy Rain. I must admit, I wasn’t sure about it myself and wanted to reserve judgement until I had at least played the demo. Well, now I have and if you like being sucked into a game head first, to not just play but be in it, to revel in the atmosphere and find yourself in a moody, dark film noir thriller reminiscent of an interactive ‘Se7en’ – then this game is for you.

Heavy Rain is developed by Quantic Dream of Omikron and Farenheit fame. First things first, this is not a game for kids. There are serious, adult themes covered in this game (these are clear from the demo). There will eventually be four playable characters - an FBI profiler, a retired private detective, an architect, and a photo journalist. The aim of the game is to find the serial killer known as "The Origami Killer". Sounds like fun...

In the demo of the game you play as the FBI and the retired private dick. Hmmm. In the words of Dr Dre and Snoop, ‘Hold up’ (from The Next Episode). Should I call this demo a game? It wasn’t just a demo of a game. It was an experience. When my character had an asthma attack, I panicked. When my character was in a fight, I panicked. The music is excellent as are the visuals.I was experiencing an interactive movie of sorts. My heart rate shot up, my sphincter tightened and I was gripping my controller for dear life. All from a demo! Wow. The gaming mechanics feature Quick Time Events which mean that at certain key moments you have to make the right motion on the joystick or press the right button in synch with what’s happening to your character. It sounds lame. It sounds terrible. I thought it would be awful but it works very well. This isn’t mindless ‘X’ bashing but mimicking your actions on screen and it’s not easy. So, when you’re climbing a slippery, water logged and muddy hill, your QTE’s correspond to left leg, right leg, push up etc. *sigh* that is an awful description. I admit it. My writing skills have deserted me (again). But the gaming mechanic works. It’s not the same as the QTEs used in the God of War series or Heavenly Sword. Seriously, it works. Take my word for it. Or better still don't listen to me. The Demo is available on the PSN store. Download it. Play it. Live it. Let me know what you think. And then agree with me. I'm always right. Especially when I'm wrong. Which I never am. Ahem.

Treehouse rating: N/A
It’s not just a game, it’s an M&S game (sorry to those outside the UK who don’t get that).

Continue Reading..

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Mini Review: Chime

I’m not sure what it is that makes Xbox Live and music games such a good fit, but there it is, here comes another one. Brighton based Zoe Mode’s “Chime” popped up a couple of weeks or so back, and like Rez before it, is a unique, if less dramatic foray into interactive music games. It is a gorgeously simple and satisfying game, that is a lot easier to play than it is to explain. The player is presented with a silent grid into which you place blocks of various size and shape, in a Tetris stylee. All the while a “beat line” sweeps across the grid, which upon reaching your recently placed blocks , creates a sound. Fitting blocks together into rectangles creates “quads” which claims part of the grid for you as "coverage" – the aim of the game being to get 100% coverage of the board. These quads create musical phrases when the beatline hits them, and their complexity and point value is determined by how big you’ve managed to build your quad before it “expires”. As you play you gradually build the music track up and push it along through it's sections and verses. There's a bit more to it than that, but you can learn more at the game’s excellent website, or watch the trailer after the break.

All sounds a bit dry, but this is a bona fide little gem. The success or failure of such a game is always going to hinge on the music and how well its implemented, and here Chime is resplendent. While only 5 tracks are on hand, each is an auditory joy and provided by artists of real clout; we’ve got Lemon Jelly, a guy from Orbital , Mark Schulz (dunno him, but it’s a nice track, if the weakest) and er, Moby with a toe tapping working of electro pop “ooh yeah”. Crown jewel for me though is Brazil from Philip Glass – an epic orchestral reworking that’s all dramatic strings and woodwind, and wouldn't have sounded out of place on the Punch Drunk Love soundtrack. The interaction with the music throughout Chime is exceptional; you have real influence as you claim more and more of the game grid, starting gradually with plonky bloops and bleeps, gradually building the song up to tumultuous crescendos, all of which are seamlessly integrated into the gameplay, the rendition will vary each time you play it.

It’s no picnic either, it’s deceptively difficult to clear the board within the time limit, although with practice you can do this several times within a round. I found it initially difficult to shrug off my tetris mentality of fitting the shapes together, it’s not necessarily the best way to get the coverage you crave - those pesky quads won't go round corners, and it's easy to misplace a piece ruining your multiplier. The experience as a whole though is deeply relaxing, the music builds and builds, flutey trills and phrases bubble up as you put the quads together with hypnotic little visual flourishes, and before you know it the timer is running out and you’re cursing because you hadn’t noticed and you’ve only covered 98% of the board.

Even more remarkably for what is a fully formed, highly polished game, this is going on Xbox Live for a mere 400 MS points, or a little under £3.50 – an absolute steal which probably undervalues it – I’ve paid a lot more for a lot worse. Furthermore a portion of that goes to children’s charities via One Big Game Could this be the perfect game? Go buy it.

Continue Reading..