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    • The Losers (DVD) / DVD / 32 Readings / 29 Ratings
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      22.02.2013 18:43
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      Not a bad watch on TV, but mostly medicore.

      The Losers

      Action movies are common among cinema these days. Comic book films, too, are something we see yearly. Some are obvious, like those Marvel/DC films, while others are a bit more subtle. The Losers is based on a series from Vertigo, and it is mostly quite faithful to the source material in that it's dumb, loud and tries to be a humorous ride along the way. That's all well and good, but the problem is that The Losers does nothing to stand out amongst other action films, feeling like a typical A-Team style movie. That, and problems such as choppy action scenes, mostly dull dialogue and an unsatisfying ending bring the film down even more.

      The Losers are a group of elite-black ops military men, consisting of 5 members led by Clay, played by Jeffery Dean Morgan. Sent on a search and destroy mission, they realise the compound is filled with kids and, against the orders of their client, they infiltrate it and take out the military while preventing the kids being bombed. Things deteriorate from there though as Max, their client, tries to blow them up in a helicopter, only to unintentionally kill 25 children. The group go into hiding, but Clay is tempted by revenge as a female fatale known as Aisha lays out a plan to help them get revenge. It's your typical plot, but at least the drive of revenge is there to keep you going. Not offensive in any way, but not particularly notable.

      The Losers is your standard action-fare, bolstered by a mostly tight pace. Key events happen so fast, whether it's the aforementioned helicopter-crash or betrayals, that you may miss it should you blink. The film rarely opts to put their characters out of action, as only a handful of moments are dedicated to dialogue between the squad as they prep for the next bombastic fight. Those looking for a big, dumb and loud film to pass a couple of hours easily will find The Losers will scratch that itch, but under the same token it is also completely difficult to recommend for those looking for more. There are never any intellectual moments, nor are there truly any awesome action scenes to interest those outside of genre aficionados who get a kick out of action. The film also feels a tad overstretched at times, mostly during the last dozen or so minutes.

      The problem is that those looking for above-average action will too come away disappointed. There are a lot of things The Loser gets wrong. Perhaps the most criminal is the dialogue, which is completely hit-and-miss. While Chris Evans' character gives us a laugh-a-minute, the rest of the characters lack any kind of humour. Some characters are meant to be more macho, and that's okay, but others - such as Columbus Short's Pooch - crack plenty of jokes, but rarely do they succeed. One cool, laughable scenario comes when Chris Evans pretends to shoot guards with his mind (the guards unaware they're being sniped in the distance), and this is followed by Columbus Short telling a stupid "Your Momma" joke. It's constantly back and forth.

      Similarly, the acting here is mixed to say the least. Chris Evans' is definitely the highlight here: you can tell he is having fun with the role, but he doesn't feel the need to overact or play it completely for laughs. He's supposed to be the brainy guy, and he plays this pretty well. Outside of that, Jeffery Dean Morgan gives a competent performance, but you'd expect more from a leading role. Idris Elba is completely brooding and unappealing, making his character unlikable from the start, while Columbus Short overacts and is rarely funny. Oscar Jaenada has very few lines of dialogue, but does have some badass sniping sequences, while Zoe Saldana certainly doesn't act poorly, but feels a tad miscast. Sequences where she tries to act tough fall completely flat in most regards.

      Perhaps the biggest misstep of The Losers is the action itself which is let down by two things. Admittedly, the locales are lush and impressive, as well as varied. There's filming all over the place from Miami to Rio Grande, and it certainly is easy on the eyes. The action itself is unappealing however. The problem is that most of the action scenes are littered with slow-mo jumps; not long segments of slow-motion, but small parts which slow then speed up. It feels like you're playing a video game with a poor frame rate, making the action sequences feel choppy. There's certainly some eye-opening moments, like a hugely awesome segement involving a plane and a motorcycle colliding. But it's all dragged down by lacksluter special effects, which seem to be taken from 2004 rather than 2010. It makes everything seem fake and the action loses its lustre. The 12+ age rating also ensures the violence is completely bloodless, making the film seem juvenile.

      It sounds like The Losers is completely impossible to recommend, but despite its blatant problems I still didn't find myself hating it entirely. The brisk pacing, beautiful locales and humour - mostly from Chris Evans - makes it a bit more appealing than the crop of schlock that comes from this genre. It's also faithful to the comics, meaning fans of the graphic novel should find value here. Unfortunately, The Losers is dragged down by hit-or-miss humour, mixed acting and choppy action scenes with poor special effects. Those looking for a cheap, mindless action film would probably find good value here if it's shown on the TV or very cheap on DVD, but outside of that The Losers remains mostly mediocre.

      5/10

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    • Frost/Nixon (DVD) / DVD / 40 Readings / 39 Ratings
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      20.02.2013 11:24
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      An excellent look at the tense interview between Richard Nixon and David Frost.

      Frost/Nixon

      As we and the film industry move through time, many biopics that portray real life events are starting to emerge. The problem is that some of these can be sensitive topics to cover, and the film ends up coming short because they just feel shaped around said event rather than giving us true insight into what happened. Frost/Nixon, the 2008 drama from veteran director Ron Howard, has no such problem. He gives us an electrifying, intense look at what many describe as a "boxing match" between ex-president Richard Nixon and TV personality David Frost. Thanks to strong acting, sharp direction and tense pacing, Frost/Nixon is simply brilliant.

      Set in 1977, two sides seemingly come together to help build each other's reputation. Nixon wants to renew public interest and regain the trust he's lost after the notorious Watergate scandal. On the other hand, we have the TV personality David Frost. He wants to spread his influence worldwide, and thinks interviewing Nixon will do that. Frost essentially gambles all his money, spending millions on this interview, while Nixon agrees and thinks he can control the questions being asked. What actually happens, however, is a tense ballet of questioning as Frost catches Nixon off guard, only to have the man raise his defences. It sounds like a dull story, but Howard ensures it's constantly interesting with tight pacing, interesting characters and great direction.

      Howard sets up Frost/Nixon almost as a metaphorical boxing match. We spend the first part watching these characters prep, as Nixon prepares responses to questions he thinks will be coming up and Frost conjures up testing enquires about Nixon's troubled reign as president. It may seem a little slow, but what it does is build up for the tense, gripping conflict which occurs after. It also gives an interesting insight into how TV production works. Once we hit that point where Frost and Nixon begin filming, things become tense real fast. No doubt due to the performances, we feel every sigh of frustration these characters show and every outburst of anger is one which leaves you biting your nails. The way Howard directs this, building up character and tension, is simply stellar. Because the motivations behind the two characters are given so early on, you know conflict is inevitable, and it becomes like a ticking time-bomb waiting to implode. And boy does it.

      Frost/Nixon is undoubtedly bolstered by its powerhouse performances. There is somewhat of an ensemble cast here. Kevin Bacon makes an appearance as Nixon's Chief of Staff and gives a noteworthy performance anchored by aggression. We also get appearances from Rebecca Hall, a possible love-interest for Frost, Sam Rockwell, Oliver Platt and Matthew Macfadyen. These guys all give great performances, but the real stars of this show are Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, playing Nixon and Frost respectively. They don't just play these real-life people: they embody them. Langella looks weirdly similar to Nixon, and his performance is spot on. Sheen is on top form, bringing real personality and character to Frost. You can feel the anguish, frustration and emotion pulsing out of both these characters, and its criminal neither of them won accolades for it.

      Howard seemingly balances two themes here. Though Nixon's interview is obviously a central theme, he also celebrates television itself and how it was changing society at the time. There are sequences with mockumentary interviews, immersing you into the story as well as giving the other actors a chance to flex their skills. As mentioned, Howard offers a fascinating insight into the way Television works, and much of it applies today meaning it has some relevance. At the same time, he creates a lovingly real vision of the 70s - he doesn't overload you with obvious homages to the period, but keeps everything subtle and more effective. The only real obvious aspect is costume design, which is decidedly 70s, but that makes the most sense of course. There's even a tribute to camerawork, as Howard lovingly focuses on characters during the interview to reveal every emotion. There's so much more to Frost/Nixon as a simple political drama.

      Are there any flaws to this excellent film? Maybe. One problem perhaps is the depiction of Nixon: though Langella's performance gives us insight to the frustrations and trials he was experiencing, you do perhaps feel that he isn't devious enough. There are moments when Nixon decidedly tries to slime his way through - such as trying to dictate his interview questions and giving long-winded answers to press on filming time to avoid being asked about Watergate - but at the same time, you don't feel as much detest towards his personality as you perhaps should. Maybe it's because Langella's performance is so good you enjoy watching him, but considering Howard seems to dictate which characters fall into which moral category, it seems odd that you almost like Nixon.

      But it's not nearly enough to ruin the film. Ron Howard has hand-crafted a fantastic film which doesn't shoehorn itself into one single theme. It not only explores the duel between Frost and Nixon, but also seems to lovingly pay tribute to the 70s, Television and Camerawork. As we watch Nixon and Frost prepare themselves for the interview, you can't get the idea out your head that this is represents some kind of boxing match, and the training serves as a build up to the tense and uncomfortable atmosphere which is emitted from the interviews. Everyone's performance is great, especially Sheen and Langella, and at just around 2 hours long, it feels perfectly crafted. Even if you aren't necessarily a fan of political films, this is simply a must watch masterpiece.

      9/10

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      • The Sweeney (DVD) / DVD / 29 Readings / 28 Ratings
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        12.02.2013 16:01
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        Best left incarcerated

        The Sweeney

        In a world where remakes and reboots are popping up more frequently, this often clashes with the drive many directors have to make their productions darker, grittier and more adult. Many will probably assume this fate has been given to The Sweeney, a 2012 update of the 1970s TV show. But in actual fact, those who watched the two Sweeney films produced will actually note that these contained a higher level of violence and nudity compared to the show, as the Movie-space allowed more flexibility in this regard compared to TV. That being said, Nick Love's reimaging of the show is a different beast, as it can feel more like an overstretched TV show. It is also dragged down by a lacking script and uninteresting acting.

        After preventing a robbery in a warehouse, the Flying Squad celebrates in awe of their successful bust. But things go downhill quickly, as the squad is under watch from Internal Investigations. This is all worsened by the fact that squad leader Jack Regan - played by Ray Winstone - is not only stealing loot from robbery scenes in order to pay his informant, but also having an affair with the wife of Steve Mackintosh, the boss of Internal Investigations. This comes to a head when an investigation begins over a robbery turned violent. The plot is entirely predictable, lumbering around for a good hour until things pick up with some obvious, but fast-paced, plot twists. Many will be able to easily follow the story, and it will never tax the brain cells.

        The Sweeney's origins are within the Television space, and in a way Nick Love's update of it resembles a TV episode stretched to nearly 2 hours. This mostly in regards to how the film plays out: much of the film slows down to demonstrate police procedural as Winstone and crew investigate the robbery which, itself, doesn't come into play for a good chunk of the film. Up until then, you are forced to watch character development as we gain an idea of which character fits into which role. Winstone is explosive and a dirty cop in every sense of the word, while Plan B's Carter is almost the complete opposite for a significant chunk of the film. The problem is that none of the characters feel that interesting or even likable, and the film consequently chugs along at a slower pace while Love attempts to fill out the middle parts between each action set piece.

        This is due to the fact that no one gives a particularly notable performance. Winstone does somewhat standout, mainly because he's regurgitating the role he always plays: the hardnosed thug who doesn't take any business. It can be entertaining to watch, but as he utters a phrase "I'll hit you so hard" - which isn't too distant from threats he's dished out in other films - you can't help but feel a sense of déjà vu. On the other hand, Plan B should stick to music. His performance is artificial, dull and completely poor. He fails to add anything to the movie, which hurts considering a good 20 minute chunk of this film focuses on him. There's plenty of other talent here, including Haley Atwell and Damian Lewis, but the script fails to bring out any of the talent out. The lead actor of Homefront should not be so dull!

        Perhaps The Sweeney's only saving grace is that, when it decides to kick it into gear, the film is actually somewhat entertaining. The car chases stand out, echoing something like Bullitt (though not to that level of quality, of course) with quick cuts inside and outside the car while maintaining a steady camera unlike recent films. There are some queasy moments of violence, such as Winstone shooting someone's hand or Plan B shoving a pistol into someone's wound, and they stand out amongst a wave of dull characters and an underwhelming script. A tense bank-robbery scene which comes around the mid-point of the film is exciting, and lasts a good 20 minutes, making it the high point of the film. No doubt, the action scenes are bolstered by solid choreography and well-shot scenes of our fair London City, creating a sense of immersion.

        That's the thing: The Sweeney feels like a movie of constant highs and lows. Many of the best scenes really are fun, especially the aforementioned Bank Robbery chase through London. These moments immerse you, but then you are knocked out of this with the force of a sledgehammer by sloppy scenes. The script isn't believable, highlighted by an early scene with the team celebrating with perhaps some of the most inane dialogue I've heard. Love also haphazardly tries to re-create the show, particularly with Winstone's character. He tries to imply that Reagan has some kind of sex appeal, enticing Haley Atwell - which is about as believable as Brett Ratner winning a Best Director Oscar - into an affair, with not one but two uncomfortable scenes of sex between them. Not something you want to be watching while eating.

        So the best way to think of The Sweeney is if the hit 70s TV show was warped, twisted and violently dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Nick Love poorly tries to mix nostalgia with modern tropes, and none of it comes together smoothly. On the plus side, its story is easy to follow and it has some punchy action scenes, tight choreography and well shot moments. But this is all crushed by the fact none of the film is believable: characters feel like cardboard cutouts, with a flimsy script which doesn't challenge any of these actors' abilities. Love tries to imply Winstone has the same level of appeal as his 70s counterpart, which is totally silly. Those who can tolerate thin characters and dumb dialogue may find joy in its action scenes, but otherwise this is easily avoided.

        4/10

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        • Marvel Avengers Assemble (DVD) / DVD / 37 Readings / 35 Ratings
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          06.02.2013 18:01
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          Popcorn action made tasty. Extremely tasty.

          Avengers Assemble

          As X-Men essentially popularised the superhero genre back in 2000, moviegoers have been bombarded with adaptations of both Marvel and DC comic heroes throughout the past decade. Some, like the aforementioned X-Men film, were great while stinkers like Daredevil left viewers sour. The past four years, however, have seen Marvel working towards their most ambitious project yet: Avengers Assemble. As both superheroes and actors unite together for a blood-pumping action film, Avengers raises the bar for Marvel superhero movies considerably, delivering a close rival to The Dark Knight.

          It's worth noting that those who haven't watched the films allocated to "Phase One" of The Marvel Cinematic Universe may find themselves somewhat confused, as references and characters from the five films in this phase are frequent. The overarching plot is simple though: Loki, brother of Thor, is enraged from discovering his adopted origins, and wishes to unleash an army called the Chitauri. Nick Fury places all his chips in the Avengers project - the assembling of the world's greatest superheroes as one team - in order to stop this madman unleashing world destruction. But it's not all he bargained for, with members of the team conflicting and a hell of an argument at the mid-point. All told, it's not exactly food for thought.

          So, you're probably thinking how an earth does this raise the bar for superhero movies if it's got such a basic plot? For starters, this is the culmination of teasing which has occurred for years. At the end of The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 1/2, Thor and Captain America, little teasers hinting at an Avengers film popped up, slowly but surely increasing our anticipation. The five films in Phase One which preceded Avengers are all solid in quality, particularly Iron Man, and it allows viewers to connect with these actors and characters before they unite in this film. Make no mistake: everything comes full circle in The Avengers and its immensely satisfying to watch.
          But Avengers Assemble itself has so many positive traits that the film itself is entirely watchable, if a bit confusing, if you jump straight in without any experience with the previous films.

          This is no doubt due to director Joss Whedon. His directing and screenplay are simply fantastic: every action scene has punch, every witty one-liner hits the mark - with some which are just laugh-out-loud funny - and it all just feels great to watch. Though it has some moments with darker tones, much of Avengers Assemble is upbeat and exciting, contrasting The Dark Knight's constant brooding. Highlights include the exciting encounter between Thor and Iron Man a little way in, as well as the staggering 30 minute action scene right at the end, which is so satisfying you could watch that sequence multiple times and never get bored. And it smartly avoids the negative traits of modern Hollywood Blockbusters, for example not having that irritating shaky-camera which nauseates me to no end!

          That being said, Whedon doesn't skimp on the Hollywood Budget. Many scenes throughout are visually impressive to watch, whether it's the revealing of the invisible Heli-carrier, the explosive fight sequences or the simply bombastic final fight sequence in New York, depicting a beautifully destroyed city. Most of the costume design is great too, though Captain America's suit looks somewhat cheap as if it could be brought from Toys 'R' Us. The Hulk is brought to life using a motion capture suit, and needless to say it's probably the best looking Hulk in terms of live-action Marvel films. We've sure come a long way from the 2003 outing. It manages to constantly surprise you too, especially watching new Iron Man equipment being utilised in the final fight.

          Avengers Assemble is perhaps the most humanistic film from Marvel to date, making it easy to connect with what happens. Despite the large cast, every character is given equal time to explore their human side. We see how Captain America feels after being comatose in ice for decades, waking up in a completely different America. Bruce Banner describes how he copes with his "big guy", and the psychological effects it has on him. The two agents, Black Widow and Hawkeye, frequently reminisce upon old operations and how they felt after it, as well as making literal comparisons to their past. Every character gets plenty of screen time, and the human script brings these comic book heroes to life as well as makes them easy to connect to.

          The great acting helps this. Robert Downey Jr. is always a treat to watch, as his snarky and narcissistic personality is both hilarious and intense when he conflicts with other heroes. Chris Evans is a believable leader - something which wasn't explored enough in his solo film outing - especially in that last action sequence where he issues commands with ease. Scarlett Johansson feels more developed, especially during an emotional conversation with Loki, while Jeremy Renner is appropriately badass as Hawkeye. But the real star of the show is Mark Ruffalo, replacing Edward Norton as The Hulk. Norton was great, but Ruffalo is an excellent replacement, giving perhaps the best Hulk performance to date. You feel his emotional torture when he is human, giving so much weight to this character like never before. Other actors include Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury, Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson and Tom Hiddleston returning as Loki, and they all do an admirable job and deliver their lines with justice to Whedon's typically challenging scripts.

          There is a level of patience required with this film. For one thing, its 2 hours and 17 minutes long, making it one of the longer superhero movies to come out (though it's eclipsed by Dark Knight Rises' bloated run time). It definitely isn't a bore most times, with a solid balance of action, comedy and drama to keep things fresh and interesting. That being said, it can feel like the first half of the film is taking a while to get into gear, though once you hit that intense argument aboard the Heli-Carrier the pacing is kicked up considerably. And if you break it down, Whedon really hasn't created a product which is different from other Marvel works. It is, however, a product that is of significantly higher quality: anything before this actually seems boring compared to the scale and excitement present here, and any moviegoer surely can't ask for more than that.

          So yes, this isn't great in the Citizen Kane sense. The simplistic story has been done before - and more than likely in other Marvel films - while it's long running time may seem bloated to some. But Whedon's craft here is simply excellent, featuring some of the best fight scenes to ever grace a comic book film. Nothing is more badass than watching Iron Man and Thor duke it out for the first time. The technical aspects are top notch, the acting is great, and it's everything followers of Marvel's Phase 1 have been waiting for after those devilish teases. It may be a popcorn flick, but this one is covered in caramel and whipped cream, resulting in a scrumptious film. Now comes the long, torturous wait for Phase Two and what will transpire.

          8/10

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          • Match Point (DVD) / DVD / 33 Readings / 33 Ratings
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            04.02.2013 10:59
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            Thrillers don't get more stomach-wrenching than this.

            Match Point

            For those who don't know, Match Point is a tennis term for the winning player being one point away from victory. Match Point, Woody Allen's 2005 film, utilises the sport to create several symbolic moments. That is just a part of why this taut, engaging thriller is great. Even if you strip the film down to the bare essentials, you still get a stomach-twisting vision of infidelity and inner-conflict fuelled by the powerful class system. And that is why it's excellent: non-active viewers can engage on a level that it just keeps you on edge constantly, while more deconstructive viewers can appreciate all of its metaphors and themes.

            Match Point's premise is simple at a glance. We follow Chris, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, a retired professional Tennis player. He strikes a friendship with the wealthy Tom Hewitt after an enigmatic conversation involving a love for opera. Chloe, Tom's older sister, falls in love with Chris and the two begin dating. However, things become difficult once Chris meets Nola, Tom's current fiancée. A seductive American actress, needless to say Chris falls in love with her. What Woody then begins to demonstrate is a pain-staking affair with moments of tension as Chris carefully plans Nola around his worklife. Things take an unexpected turn about twenty minutes near the end, and it's an interesting shift which still wrings tension. It's a simple plot, but Allen never hesitates to twist our stomach as he shows the psychological effects this affair is having on not only Chris and Chloe, but also Nola as she becomes frustrated.

            Those who follow Allen closely known he is a director of mixed blessings. It feels like for every Manhattan he makes, he churns out mediocrity such as 2012's To Rome with Love. Match Point, however, was created after 12 years of lacklustre success, and most would agree Match Point is a welcome return to form. That being said, it's got some issues which mostly stem from the fact Allen is forced into the UK due to budget from the BBC. Almost like a tourist, Allen explores the UK with both hits and misses in accuracy, making the film feel obviously constructed at times. The appearance of James Nesbitt and Ewen Bremner near the end of the film highlight this, creating a duo of stereotypical characters which make the film feel somewhat silly, though they don't completely spoil the film. Some of the dialogue feels clunky and odd at times too, which is a shame because it's more noticeable in the grand scheme of things.

            That being said, Allen's direction is still top notch. He has a knack for well-shot scenes, and this doesn't disappoint, with great visual moments such as the opening part depicting a tennis ball bouncing off a net, representing the sides of luck. Allen also cleverly integrates pieces of opera, which strangely fit their designated scenes perfectly. However, Match Point is different to his usual repertoire of films, being one of many which the director doesn't star in himself. This symbolises another element Allen has removed from the proceedings: comedy. There are very few moments which will have you laughing: instead, Allen constantly drains us emotionally and pulls at our hearts. It's not an easy film to watch, particularly if you are sensitive to displays of sex, but moreso because Allen gives such weight to the three leading cast members - Meyers, Mortimer and Johansson - that watching this seedy love triangle occur is plain difficult. You feel angry because Meyers can't commit: he is bored with Mortimer, yet he doesn't want to lose to the luxuries and high-class job which comes with her engagement, creating an intriguing debate over class.

            Taking Match Point down to its simplest terms, it works as a tense psychological thriller. As mentioned, we frequently experience the psychological effects of this affair on Chris, Chloe and even Lola. You feel like it's a pressure cooker rising, waiting to explode. This is heightened by the way Allen shoots the scenes between Chris and Lola. It feels like Allen deliberately portrays both characters as sloppy, with them kissing in public and discussing their relations in public coffee shops. You feel uneasy because anyone could be listening, and that would be the catalyst needed to implode this affair. You also feel tense when Chris is around Chloe: she beings to notice changes in Chris, and the constant calls from Lola while he is with her arouse interest and suspicion. You can't help but be on edge constantly, waiting for this affair to somehow be exposed.

            Perhaps that is why, then, the shift in events near the end of the film really hit you. Again, things begin to build up, and you suspect something is about to happen, but Chris' mannerisms are so unpredictable that you're unsure what he is about to do. The events which occur leave your jaw dropped, and yet none of the tension is dropped as we focus on what happens afterwards. It becomes a different ball game, yet Allen carefully leaves the audience in a state of unease despite what happens. Those who go in with analytical minds will indeed get a kick out of the tennis allegory which comes full circle, as well as the many themes of class, guilt and luck. Oh boy, does luck play such a pivotal role in this film.

            Without strong actors, however, the film arguably would have failed. Thankfully, most of the talented cast seem to bring their A-game here. Rhys Meyers is perhaps the weakest. He is not awful mind you, but Allen makes it difficult for us to really like him because you sometimes feel his actions border on idiotic. That being said, you empathise with him because Rhys Meyers gives an emotional performance: you feel every ounce of conflict he does. Emily Mortimer, on the other hand, is extremely likable. Her bright, peppy performance makes her a charming character - which is cruel because you feel awful watching Meyers cheat on her. Johansson was simply outstanding, giving probably her best performance. She is cruel, seductive and yet entirely human. Her frustrations are easy to relate to because she never really acts the way she is portrayed by the cold mother-in-law. Other actors such as Brian Cox, James Nesbit and Matthew Goode have minor roles, and don't contribute a great deal to the film, but give solid performances none the less.

            Match Point is a great film, and the return to glory Woody Allen needed. It's a change for sure, shying away from Allen's more comedic films in favour of cruelty and tension and this combined with Allen's tendency towards English stereotypes and clunky dialogue make Match Point dissatisfying for some. But those who go in with an open mind will find a tense, emotionally draining psychological thriller with twists and turns which leave the viewer shocked long after the credits roll. The performances are mostly tight, giving weight to the characters and making their actions more difficult to watch. Those with a passion for less violent thrillers and deeper, psychological studies will find Match Point to be sheer brilliance, and yet anyone looking for a rousing tale which requires little effort to follow will be equally engaged.

            8/10

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              21.12.2012 13:19
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              A refreshingly old-school 2D platformer.

              Perhaps one of the few PlayStation-era platform heroes not to become completely soiled when moving to the next-gen consoles, the Rayman series has managed to remain consistently good throughout the last generation, even if the hero has gone 'Rabbid' mad as of late. But now, Ubisoft delivers their first full-fledged 2D platformer in more than fifteen years with Rayman Origins. Harking back to the glory-days of the original Rayman on PSone, Origins has a lot going for it - charm, artistic merit and humour. But is it enough?

              Origins' extremely thin story probably isn't worth describing; what's important is that the game takes place over the course of four main worlds. In these worlds are levels which Rayman and his posse must traverse, punching the lights out of anything which stands in their way. Each level lasts around ten to fifteen minutes, but the game makes up for this with a good few dozen levels between the four worlds. Levels usually end with a tricky situation regarding the series' trademark cages, where you must destroy the enemies nearby to be able to free the trapped Electoons. It's a pretty simple structure, but levels are filled not only with enemies looking to take you out, but also plenty of platforming challenges to boot.

              Movement is a key element in Rayman. At first, you have limited amount of acrobatic moves. But once you start freeing Nymphs trapped in certain levels by the Darktoons, more abilities become available. This includes gliding, running up walls and swimming underwater. As you start gaining more abilities, the levels start to become more exciting, with thrilling new acrobatics required to scale past the ever-increasing difficulty. The game puts an extreme emphasis on speed, with most of the game's platforming challenges requiring a running start to execute safely, and this creates an exciting pace to Origins. The controls, thankfully, manage to keep up with this brisk action, meaning any death throughout the game is usually due to the player's mistakes rather than cheap situations.

              Combat can come off as a tad clunky. Punch moves are static, so if you're slightly off by a few centimetres you'll miss all your punches and the enemy will most likely knock your lights out. A spinning move somewhat alleviates this but can also put you at risk of death if the enemy happens to be on a smaller ledge. There are also heavy shooter sections, where you ride a Pink Mosquito through a level, most likely suffering from crumbling debris, all the while enemies are around for you to take out. These sections come quite frequently and can be pretty challenging, but they're mostly shallow sections with the player holding down the shoot button and dodging nearby debris.

              Origins puts a heavy emphasis on collectables and there are quite a few of those around the game. Most levels contain two extra hidden cages, sneakily hidden and easy to miss. You also can collect Lums in the level, in the form of single lums and giant coins which reward about 25 lums. Players are usually tasked with collecting at least 300 of these, and this will fill in an Electoon in a medallion. The three cages in each level also contribute to this, as well as time trials unlocked after completing the level once. Time trials require speed and finesse as well as care, because dying will send you back to the beginning of the level. It can be incredibly addicting trying to complete all the medallions in each level, as even some of the shooter levels have required amounts of lums collection. This means Origins has some serious replay value, especially considering how many levels the game has to begin with.

              There are also special levels where you chase after a red box containing a red tooth. Each of the hubs in the four worlds contain a level, and these challenges demand a level of adeptness - jumps need to be timed perfectly, speed needs to be constantly maintained and death-traps are frequent including debris falling and deadly pitfalls. Players who fail to take account of any of this will likely suffer multiple and frequent deaths. Once you collect all 10 of these teeth, you unlock a special level. By far the hardest in the game, I won't spoil the motif for it but let's just say only the best players will be able to full experience this level because of it's extremely steep difficulty, but at least it's not required to complete the game.

              Origins is not without its issues, however. Players may feel somewhat disillusioned by the game as they reach the mid-point, where the game basically instructs you to complete even more levels in the same four worlds. Granted, the levels change to fit with new powers gained beforehand, but you can't help but feel a sense of déjà vu, meaning the game becomes somewhat of a slog towards the end. The difficulty curve is also somewhat problematic, with a majority of the game remaining mostly cakewalk-easy until the very last levels, in which the game becomes incredibly difficult, especially in the last section of the game with incredible death-traps and challenging new enemy types. It's very jarring and somewhat frustrating.

              The biggest strength of Origins is definitely the visual aspect of the game. The artistic gold Ubisoft has created here is simply gorgeous. Characters come to life with beautifully smooth animation and great attention-to-detail, and the humorous goofs the characters perform add greatly to the overall charm. Levels look vibrant and lovely, and each world stands apart from one another including the dark underwater sections only illuminated by small bugs keeping away dark tentacles from the player, to the ice-capped environments with touches of fruit seared into parts of the level - the levels show great variety from each other and throw in plenty of new surprises. Origins is a great artistic showcase for hand-drawn 2D animation and creates a very strong sense of style in the process, adding greatly to the game's overall appeal.

              The sound isn't quite as spectacular but is certainly decent in its own right. The main point is the music, which fits in nicely with each level. For example, in the searing heat of the Mexican-style kitchen level you partake in, fitting music combining the game's own squeaky voice-overs with a deep opera male and guitars, which add to the action nicely. The game's selection of crazy voice-overs can become somewhat stale after hearing Rayman's flippipigoop after dying the 20th time, but they do add to the game's charm when they aren't completely getting on your nerves.

              Platformers have become a rarity these days, so it's refreshing to see Ubisoft taking a crack at the genre again. It's clear Ubisoft Montpellier had great fun creating this, putting all their time and effort into the game's wacky sense of style as well as revisiting the old-school gameplay of many older platformers. The results are a game which will appeal to both younger audiences unfamiliar with the series and old-school gamers who cherish the memories of the original Rayman back on the old Playstation. It isn't without its flaws, such as a jarring difficulty curve and a somewhat weaker second-half, but overall the game shines with its fun platforming action and fantastic sense of style. Fans of 2D platformers would do well to pick this up.

              Visual: 10
              Audio: 8
              Gameplay: 8
              Value: 9
              Overall: 8

              Also posted on www.thepixelempire.net

              ---Other info---
              Players 1-4
              Supports HD up to 1080p
              No Xbox Live support
              Amazon price: £12.95
              Game price: £12.99

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              • More +
                11.12.2012 15:24
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                Those wanting their favourite songs without the hassle of making playlists will find this perfect.

                Note: This review is based on the Fourth Generation version of the IPod Shuffle.

                Are you tired of having to cycle through reams of albums to find the song to fit your mood? Can't be bothered to scroll through all your music and make smaller playlists to isolate your favourite songs? Then the Ipod shuffle may just be for you - a tiny MP3 that doesn't even contain a screen, this 2G music player is perfect if your answer to the above question is yes. It's not a pitch-perfect device, but this little beauty is great for those wanting varied music on the go.

                I was given the IPod Shuffle as an 18th Birthday Present. I workout at the Gym, and while my MP3 is good, I definitely was interested in the idea that I could have a device which would shake up the bands I listen to and allow some more variety. A sense of amazement came over me when I first got the device. Coming in merely a small glass case which could fit in the palm of your hand, the presentation is pretty attractive from the get go. Things get more interesting once you crack open the case: you know the MP3 is small, but even the cable used to hook up the device to your computer is small compared to other music devices, as well as the instruction manual. It certainly stops the place from becoming cluttered with cables. It's all immediately appealing, so the Shuffle scores points for at least giving a pleasant first impression.

                Setting up the device is relatively simple, though be warned you need internet access if you don't have ITunes installed to your computer. The installation of ITunes is quick and painless, so those without it won't have to go through too much stress. From there, if you have music in Windows Media Player, for example, you can import the music into ITunes, though some formats of music are incompatible with ITunes, meaning you may have to rip your CD again through ITunes. Of course, you can download music too through the ITunes store. Those who have ITunes already with music downloaded to it can easily start transferring their music to the Shuffle, meaning putting your favourite tunes onto the device is almost a breeze.

                Downloading music to the device is quick, so you could essentially have your Shuffle set up and filled with your favourite songs within 20 minutes, if that. When it comes to the device itself, it is mostly of good quality. The music playback is great: it's loud, the bass is pretty audible for once and the headphones which come with the device are good, if somewhat uncomfortable at times. The buttons are mostly clear and okay to use. The play button doesn't feel too stiff, so pausing is easy, and same goes for the skip and volume buttons. Holding the play button down allows you to lock the device, freeing up space which could've been taken up by a Lock button. Perhaps the most interesting feature is the optional "Voiceover" button which allows you to allow a robotic voice to inform you of the current song and artist. It can even tell you the percentage of battery charge left and what playlist you are listening to, though be warned you need memory free to install the Song Identifier part of the Voiceover.

                There are some nagging problems with the Shuffle despite its positives. Perhaps the most notable is the small amount of memory it holds, which while understandable is also limiting, especially if you happen to enjoy longer songs which take up more memory, essentially meaning more repetition could ensue. On the bright side, 2G is certainly a lot more than the Generation One Shuffle's measly 512MB memory. The shuffling is not always perfect either, as sometimes clumps of songs from the same artist will play in quick succession. The switch on top of the device also leaves a lot to be desired. Acting as both the power button and the shuffle button, all too often is it ridiculously easy to accidentally shuffle your playlist when you are trying to turn the blasted thing on, which is confusing when you first start using the device.

                Complaints notwithstanding, the IPod Shuffle is perfect for those on the go. It allows you to assemble your favourite songs and stuff them all onto one device, saving you the time required to scroll through all your music or create a playlist on other devices. That being said, anyone who is expecting to fill their device with all their music will come away disappointed at the Shuffles limited memory capacity. The device is well made, but some confusion with buttons and an irritating power/shuffle button can cause headaches. But the device's sound quality is excellent, and those with IPods already will be pleased that their music is compatible. If you're looking for a device to store a lot of your music on, then the Shuffle probably isn't for you, but those looking to cherry-pick their favourite tunes and put them altogether will find appeal, especially at a cheap price point of around £45 compared to other devices.

                -----Extra notes-----
                Colours Available: Black, Silver, Purple, Pink, Yellow, Green, Blue
                Connection: USB 2.0
                Minimum Operating System Required to Sync:
                Mac - 10.6.8
                Windows - XP (SP3)
                Battery Life: 15 hours

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              • Okami (PS2) / Playstation 2 Game / 26 Readings / 24 Ratings
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                04.12.2012 13:28
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                Not perfect, but a fitting game to end to Sony's console.

                By 2007, the PS2 was starting to respectfully fade into the past as the PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii took over as the primary gaming consoles. And sadly, most development priorities shifted to the next-generation consoles, meaning the PS2 became victim to mostly shoddy editions of newer games in its last couple of years of life. Thankfully, a few games came out that would help send of this console with a bang - one of those games being Clover Studio's Okami. This epic journey is definitely unique among the PS2's library of games, which in itself is a feat considering how late into the console's life it was released. It's got some issues which hold it from being spectacular, but there is no doubt any adventurer will find a mostly great game in this little gem.

                You take the role of Amaterasu, a god whom takes the form of a white wolf. The opening describes an epic confrontation, from a hundred years, before between the god Shiranui, the warrior Nagi, and Orochi the eight-headed beast. The fight ends with Orochi being sealed away by Nagi's powerful sword and Shiranui being cast into stone. Jump back to the present, and some buffoon decides to pull out Nagi's sword, unleashing Orochi on the world again. But Shiranui, reincarnated as Amaterasu, is freed too and, along with the bug Issun, she must rid the world of the evil which has consumed it. Along the way, the two companions meet a cast of interesting, unique characters whom they must help to progress. It's an interesting story, filled with great Japanese lore, wacky yet innocent humor and plenty of exciting moments, even if it takes a while to get going.

                Zelda is definitely the first comparison you'll make when you begin to delve into Okami, though most PS2-exclusive players will more than likely be unfamiliar with this style of gameplay. Some players will find Okami gives a negative first impression, as a 15-minute opening scene will bore some players to sleep. And even a couple of hours into the game, it feels like the player is stuck doing mostly menial tasks such as digging turnips out of a field before a crazy old woman smacks you. The game opens up a lot more as you progress however, and more of the map becomes explorable, more abilities are gained and the scope of the quest opens up considerably. Players may not stick with Okami because of its slow-burn pacing, but anyone who does will find great enjoyment in the later parts of the game.

                The main quest of Okami will take about 30 hours to complete, which is incredibly long compared to most games. You'll travel across the whole land completing a wide variety of tasks, all of which are usually marked on your map. The game usually does a good job on guiding you where to go next, though there can some ambiguity as you switch between each of the game's acts. There's also a lot of side mission stuff, including tasks from locals, collectibles including stray beads and just tons of treasure waiting to be found. Adding that stuff on top of the already lengthy quest means Okami can keep you busy for a while, and even if you just focus on the game's main quest, you'll find yourself busy for a semi-large amount of time.

                The main feature of Okami is its Celestial Brush, and this is where all of Amaterasu's powers come to life. With the press of the R1 button, the game shifts to a blank canvas where you can draw shapes. While you can draw anything, only specific shapes will activate the wolf's powers. Her special abilities include rejuvenation, which can restore life to plants possessed by evil, a strike move and more unlocked as you progress, which add up to thirteen in total across the whole game. Puzzles may require these moves, and they can also be used in combat on specific enemies to your advantage. The drawing mechanism works well mostly, but sometimes can be spotty as shapes just don't register. And while it's a cool mechanic which adds to the game, it's a shame most of the shapes are just simple lines and circles - it would have been awesome if more complex drawings were needed.

                Perhaps one of the more serious issues with Okami is the game's difficulty curve, which borders on a cakewalk, and hardcore players will certainly become bored with this game. Combat doesn't even provide the game with much challenge with most enemies standing around waiting to be attacked. You can equip multiple weapons from three categories, as well as buy items from shopkeepers to assist you, but it doesn't really add spice to the mostly shallow combat. The boss fights are a different story, requiring some thinking-power. They even will challenge you at times - my only death was during one of the game's later boss fights - though most require dodging attacks and waiting for an opening. The only problem is that these fights can become repetitive, as a majority of the bosses need to be fought twice, and one boss is fought three times, which just borders on trite.

                What really stands out in Okami is the game's sense of style, created by a perfect visual presentation. Like a Japanese ink painting which has come to life, the familiar cel-shaded style has never been done with such finesse. Stunning moments pepper the experience, in particular the scenes where you rejuvenate an area, and it transforms into beautiful, bright greenery. The game is an artistic masterpiece, but also a technical marvel with no noticeable issues to speak of. The sound is good too, though not as strikingly impressive. With oriental Japanese tunes and catchy sound effects littered throughout the game, it definitely fits with the theme of the game. The voice work will receive mixed reactions, as some will either be charmed by the random garbling or annoyed. Considering how much dialogue the game has, you should pray it's not the latter you fall into.

                As one of the last big games to be released on the PS2, Okami creates experience most PS2 users will find unique. It brings the closest thing to Zelda onto Sony's aged platform, and Clover has done an admirable job in creating an artistic showcase through the game's incredible visuals. It's not a perfect experience - its sluggish beginning will detour impatient players, and the game's breezy level of challenge will turn off players weaned on more hardcore experiences. But anyone who is looking for a memorable, beautiful experience will find Okami to fit the bill perfectly.

                Graphics: 10
                Sound: 8
                Gameplay: 8
                Value: 9
                Overall: 8

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                • Across the Universe (DVD) / DVD / 20 Readings / 19 Ratings
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                  01.12.2012 21:20
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                  Not for everyone, but will be loved by some.

                  A movie with the music of Beatles? Sung by other people? You must be bonkers! It's hard not to approach Across the Universe, the 2007 musical film, with a bit of cynicism considering the above, but don't let the premise scare you too much. Stringing a mostly typical love-story together with reinterpretations of the Sixties Band's classics, there's both enjoyable and frustrating aspects to this movie which, ultimately, hold it back.

                  Taking place in the 60s and 70s, Across the Universe focuses primarily on a British-lad called Jude. Bored with the constraints of living in England as a boatworker, he travels to America and meets enthusiastic Max as well as his quieter sister Lucy. What begins is a trip around the US, complete with new characters to meet and some trippy experiences, as well as the looming threat of the Vietnam War.

                  Unfortunately, the seams behind ATU begin to strain here. Boatloads of characters are introduced, but director Julie Taymor never gives us an opportunity to become attached. The speed of which new characters are added into the story becomes tiring, and the stereotypical roles they fulfil compound this problem. Max stands out a bit more above the others when we begin to see the Post-effects of Vietnam on him, but it is explored with such little depth that it feels wasted. In general, the plot follows a pretty standard route which most will be able to predict quickly, making ATU feel like a generic romance tale. The film also feels a tad overlong - crossing the two hour mark by about ten minutes, the film will have you wanting a finish sooner rather than later.

                  What rises above the average plot is the musical heart pumping out of ATU. The Beatles are famous for the high-quality music they pumped out, but of course we're not judging the original music here. All of the music featured in the film is covered by several of the cast. One of the most impressive moments are the haunting interpretation of Strawberry Fields, as the violent destruction of the Vietnam War combines with the frustration of an artist, and features a good duet from Jim Sturgess and Joe Anderson. Perhaps the worst of the bunch, however, is the god-awful interpretation of I Want You (She's So Heavy), being literal to the point of blunt and complete with terrible special effects. A lot of these numbers, however, fall sadly in the middle, with far too few of these taking advantage of extravagant dreamscapes and most of them simply moving the story forward.

                  The cast present isn't all-star, but none the less they help add charm to the movie. Jim Sturgess takes the role of protagonist Jude, and his acting is usually competent enough to prevent unintentional laughs. His singing can vary - a beautiful cover of Something is followed by a strained singing of Revolution - but it is usually solid and far from poor. Evan Rachel Wood, who plays Lucy, has a beautiful singing voice, but her acting is pretty average. Perhaps the stand-out here is Martin Luther McCoy, who acts decently but serves as a terrific singer. His covers are almost always spot on. There are a few cameos too, such as U2 frontman Bono and Eddy Izzard, and their covers are solid enough and feature perhaps the most visually dazzling musical numbers, with a LCD-induced I Am the Walrus standing out.

                  The movie does an admirable job of trying to re-create the setting of an 60/70s England, America and the Vietnam War. England, in particular, with its tight alleyways and grey ports feels realistic. The depiction of America is pretty solid too, and while certainly constrained by the 12+ age limit, the Vietnam sections feature some minor blood and dank surroundings, meaning it could've turned out a lot worse. Unfortunately, the dialogue somewhat takes you out of the immersion it could have created. On frequent occasions, characters use multiple curse words which feel odd and displaced. Not that, decades ago, everything was innocent, but it feels awkward none the less.

                  There is definitely an entry barrier surrounding Across the Universe. Those who come expecting Beatles music in its original form won't be entirely satisfied, though the range of covers sung by multiple actors are usually at least solid. The story's thickly predictable plot is encumbered by mediocre characters and a bloated length. Having said that, the film is filled with enough interesting, enjoyable or downright extravagant moments which make it easier to sit through the film. Some interpretations of the music work great while others don't work at all, but more often than not the film settles for mere competency rather than daring to create truly vivid dreamscapes. It's certainly not the best film to feature the band's music, but anyone interested in a competent musical should be mostly satisfied, if not wholly impressed.

                  6/10

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                  09.11.2012 09:41
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                  Can feel stitched together, but still a very fun experience.

                  Sleeping Dogs endured something of a turbulent development process. Originally True Crime: Hong Kong, United Front's open-world sequel was cancelled by Activision, before being picked up by Square Enix and rebranded Sleeping Dogs, due to licensing issues. It attempts to capture the dark nature of Hong Kong's criminal underworld, with shooting, hand-to-hand combat and driving taking place in a fictional Chinese city, all weaved together by a story surrounding an undercover cop. Though most of the game borrows elements from many of its peers, United Front has crafted an enjoyable and exciting experience, even if you'll see all the city has to offer a little bit too quickly.

                  You take the role of Wei Shen, a Chinese undercover cop. Arrested after a drug deal that goes wrong, he is offered a place in a Triad organisation by his old friend Jackie. Despite some reluctance, he is initiated into the group and goes undercover to track down Sun On Yee and bust him. The story itself is a rollercoaster, as the challenges of being an undercover cop, with the risks of detection and also the attachment to those around you, is portrayed through the game's cut-scenes. We start to see conflicts arise in Shen as he must decide between his duty as a police officer, and the loyalty he has instilled with the members of the triad organisations. Many moments will have you wincing with tension, and it's a genuinely enjoyable ride through the grim underbelly of Hong Kong.

                  Sleeping Dogs is a free-roaming game and, much like its peers, the game's story progresses through thirty missions where, after conversing with someone, you must complete lengthy, multi-layered objectives. There's also tons of stuff you can do on the side including Favors, where you help locals by completing small tasks such as driving a car into the ocean for insurance, and Events, which range from busting a robber to collecting debts, by any means necessary. Shen can buy vehicles to drive around in, food and drinks which give special perks such as health regeneration, and clothes which also can give special bonuses. There's also collectibles including Shrines which increase your health and lockboxes which reward money and sometimes clothing. The activities are fun, and will divert you from main story pretty quickly, but sadly it ends rather quickly as you could see pretty much all of the game's content in around 20 hours of gameplay, which is pretty short for a free-roamer, and there's no multiplayer component to sustain life-support.

                  The core gameplay of SD is mostly comprised of spare parts. The city is fairly large, but navigating it is easy as you can either drive or walk around. The walking also integrates some parkour-style moves where Shen can climb certain objects and jump smaller gaps. Driving takes some notes from the more aggressive racers such as Burnout. There's 90 or more vehicles, and in these you can perform handbrake turns and special shunt moves, which if executed enough times on nearby vehicles, can take them down. It certainly adds an element of excitement to police chases as you ceaselessly shunt the nearby police officers to gain some ground. And don't think Shen can get off easy because he is undercover: police, when in the higher heat levels, will mercilessly take you down should you slip up. You can also hijack vehicles by driving closely to them and jumping onto them, somewhat mimicking Square Enix's other free-roamer Just Cause 2, though not to such a ridiculous degree.

                  Shooting is pretty standard fare, with a lenient aiming system making it easy to line up headshots, even if it takes two to actually kill them. There's also a basic slow-mo move you can perform, a la Stranglehold, by vaulting over cover, which is useful but not exactly original. Hand-to-hand combat, on the other hand, is bloody brilliant. Though very similar to Rocksteady's Batman games, the brawling here is violent fun. The game uses a free-form system, and combos can be unlocked by completing missions, as increasing your Police, Triad and Face ratings unlocks more abilities. You can also find special Statues for a Dojo master, who will then teach you special combos for fighting. These add some real depth to combat, especially considering certain variants of enemies require more than just mashing on the X button, and the brutal environmental kills, including impaling someone on a group of Swordfish heads, are just icing on the blood-soaked cake.

                  United Front has crafted a fairly detailed imagining of Hong Kong. The city feels alive, with tons of shops, pedestrians and drivers populating the area. In particular, Hong Kong comes to life during the night, with neon signs illuminating the city and making it feel like an luminescent dream. Outside of that, the game looks solid with a smooth frame rate, attractive environment textures and detailed, albeit somewhat stiff, character models. Civilians rear their ugly heads however, during favours, showing a stark contrast to the main characters of the game. The sound is somewhat weaker, mainly due to the limited radio stations which feature only a handful of songs each and start to grow irritating quite quickly. The voice work is better, with some strong voice work from the English cast and mostly good Cantonese accents, and there are even moments where they speak their native language.

                  Sleeping Dogs may be seen as stitched together by the more pessimistic of gamers, as it mostly borrows elements from games in a wide variety of genres, but United Front has used these to craft an enjoyable journey into the dark criminal underworld of Hong Kong. The story goes a long way to making the game more exciting, the activities are mostly fun to partake in and the brutal martial arts combat system is an absolute blast to take part in. It's just a shame that the experience is so brief, with less than the average amount of gameplay you'd expect from these kinds of games. Having said that, it definitely stands amongst its peers, and you'll certainly have fun with the short time you spend with Wei Shen.

                  Graphics: 8
                  Sound: 7
                  Gameplay: 8
                  Value: 7
                  Overall: 8

                  Also posted on www.thepixelempire.net

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                  12.08.2012 10:34
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                  Only diehard Sands of Time fans need apply.

                  Ubisoft seems keen to press into the fans that this latest edition in the Prince of Persia franchise is as close to The Sands of Time, the lauded and oft-compared 2003 instalment, as it can be without fully remaking it in HD, even stating on the back of the box that it's 'from the creators ofThe Sands of Time'. This stems from the last game, the 2008 edition which changed the Prince in an all new direction with a beautiful artistic vision and modified gameplay which mostly strung a chord with audiences, but displeased hardcore fans of the older games back in the last-generation days. So we get The Forgotten Sands, which basically emulates what a HD version of the Sands trilogy would look like. But it also brings with it some old troubles and new ones too, meaning it fails to live to that legacy.

                  TFS takes place in the seven year gap between The Sands of Time and Warrior Within, acting as a bridge between those two games. Once again, you take the role of The Prince, whom is visiting his brother Malik. He learns that his palace is being attacked, and when they meet up Malik assures The Prince the solution can be found in the palace vault. This comes in the form of Solomon's army. This, however, majorly backfires, and it releases an army even more terrifying than the one already attacking. Separated, The Prince must reunite his and Malik's medallion to stop this. However, Malik is becoming greedy with power, and it seems that he is becoming lost in a gluttonous rage. It's boosted by some good voice acting, but overall this plotline is mostly background noise, and doesn't hold a candle to its predecessors, particularly The Sands of Time.

                  Moving through The Forgotten Sands is pretty straightforward. The game follows a mostly-linear path, with a few alternate paths for collectibles called sarcophagus. These give extra XP as well as health and energy replenishment. Most are pretty obvious, some can be spotted in cut scenes, and a couple are fiendishly hidden. Unfortunately a lack of level select means that if you miss any, then you're pretty much buggered. These make collectibles more frustrating than value-extending. This is coupled with the fact that you can blow through the game in not even 8 hours means the game is pretty poor value for money. But, to be honest, value has always been somewhat of an issue for the modern PoP games.

                  But those games made up their lack of value through the quality of their gameplay. Don't get me wrong, The Forgotten Sands is far from poor -it's a perfectly capable game in its own right, but it feels like a step back from previous games in many respects. But there is good - mainly, the platforming is smooth and fun as ever. It also marks the return of challenge, something which the last game lacked severely, and some of the challenges here can cause heated anger. But it's never cheap, just sometimes complex. The Prince has his standard moves - jumping, wall climbing, wall running and more. However, there's a lot interlaced with these normal moves too.

                  You gain many abilities, both for combat and platforming, throughout the game. The first you acquire, and a main staple of the series, is the rewind feature. If you fall down a pit of death, with sharp spikes waiting, you can rewind time to avoid this. It's a bit clunky, as sometimes the rewind feature stops when you are in seriously awkward positions and in one case, not stop at all despite running out of power. You also gain the ability to freeze water in time, meaning new walls, poles and other items are created. You later gain the ability to do a dive dash at enemies, which while technically a combat ability, is mainly used to scale large gaps. And you can even use this to jump onto vultures in mid-air. It adds some nice variety to the platforming.

                  Puzzles are also present and pretty fun here. The basic cog-turnings and simple gear puzzles are bit lacking at first, however, once you start to acquire your other powers, then the puzzle design opens up really well. The best are the ones which mix together platforming and puzzles. One example is later in the game, where streaming waterfalls are used to descend a long drop. However, you must tactically turn your Flow Powers on and off, while still jumping to make sure you make the jump to the next couple of waterfalls. It's much more interesting, and is definitely up there with the previous games.

                  Unfortunately, it is somewhat let down by a bothersome camera, mainly because it feels limited. Most areas have a locked camera, with a zoomed-in angle. It makes it difficult to time some jumps, and can also funk with the controls as it changes what direction you need to press to jump towards your next area. The camera also has a tendency to become stuck on some objects, entirely obscuring your view again. This is a major problem where distance is key, such as judging what time you need to jump in order to use your waterfall powers to move onto the next stage. It can cause some frustrations, and cheap deaths.

                  Combat is also incredibly bland. Granted, the games have never offered the best fighting experiences, but the tendency for style over substance has usually prevailed, making for some fun to pass between the platforming sections. But here, the combat has been narrowed down to mind-numbing button mashing. You only have one combo placed on the X button, along with a kick to knock down enemies. You do also gain elemental abilities, such as fire chains you drag along as you move, stone armour which prevents you taking damage, and a whirlwind which does long-range damage. But, most of these just add powers to your standard combo. The game sinks lower when you acquire a special sword, which basically kills any enemy in one hit. It's just dumb.

                  Graphically, the game looks decent enough. The Prince moves smoothly across the environment, making the platforming as joyful as its predecessors. The combat too, despite its blandness, moves really smoothly. Enemy models are mostly quite repetitive; however the nicely detailed Titans and other large enemies add some needed variety. Environments are also detailed, with lush greens populating the gardens and beautiful reflections in the game's water-heavy levels. The graphics take somewhat of a dip during cut-scenes, however, with rough facial animation and some choppy frame-rates. The audio is solid, with Yuri Lowentha returning to voice The Prince. Some grew tired of The Prince in the 2008 outing, but here he is much closer to the Sands of Time trilogy, and therefore more appealing.

                  Overall, TFS will fill the needs of a hardcore Prince of Persia fan, especially if you hated the 2008 edition and loved the Sands of Time trilogy. It provides a nice filler between The Sands of Time and Warrior Within, along with the same fun platforming we've come to expect combined with some fun new puzzle mechanics. But it is let down in several regards - a frustrating camera can dampen the joy of the platforming mechanics, while bland combat will put most players to sleep. If you're desperate for some action in the Prince of Persia franchise then this will suffice, but anyone else should probably think before they buy.

                  Graphics: 8
                  Sound: 7
                  Gameplay: 6
                  Value: 4
                  Overall: 6

                  NOTE: This review is also available to read at www.ThePixelEmpire.net.

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                    22.05.2012 16:49
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                    Does nothing to help the reputation of Space Marines in gaming.

                    Since the dawn of games like Gears of War and Halo, space marines have become all the rage in video games. Given about as much personality as a block of wood and armour which clearly compensates for a lack of something down below, the space marine concept has become somewhat dry lately due to over-exposure. But now, Relic is delivering a game based around the entire concept of such characters, based in the Warhammer universe. Does it make blowing up anything standing in your way fun, or is it just another one of those space marine-games?

                    You play as Titus, leader of a squadron of Space Marines. Orcs have invaded a Forge World and it's up to you and your group to clear these enemies off the world. The story is not all very interesting. Cutscenes frequently punctuate the action, meaning the story certainly doesn't fade into the background of the game, but due to bland voice acting and repetitive voiceovers too (literally, the grunts in the marines have the same voice-over as the grunts in the Orcs) it certainly isn't engaging. Twists are abound, but they come as somewhat unsurprising because it's stuff which you're expecting to happen. And the unsatisfying ending will leave a cold taste in your mouth, essentially calling you the bad guy for the events which just transpired.
                    The game is divided into two sections - campaign and online multiplayer. The campaign is pretty basic, divided into five acts which contain multiple chapters each. Levels are completely linear, and if you don't follow the right direction an icon on-screen will inform you of which way you should be going. The strict linearity means you really can experience all the campaign has to offer on your first playthrough, and its deadly short clocking in at about 6 hours of length. The only reason to replay the campaign is to either find collectables you may have missed on your first run or mop up any achievements you may have missed. But overall, its strict path means that there's little room for replay value in the campaign.

                    Space Marine is a 3rd-person shooter, combined with a melee combat game. Titus carries up to four firearms and a melee weapon. It might sound odd, but Relic has made sure the game is smooth despite smashing two different kinds of game together. All the melee actions are mapped to the Face buttons, while shooting and aiming are mapped to the triggers and bumpers on top. It works very well, and makes sure it doesn't follow the Gears of War-syndrome by cutting out any cover kind of cover-system mechanic. Titus also has a rage mode, where after doing enough damage to enemies and the meter is filled, players can click both analogue sticks to activate. This puts Titus into a mode where melee attacks to more damage, and if you aim with your weapon time slows down and bullets do more damage. It's definitely useful in the tighter and more difficult situations.

                    Weapons are satisfying, whether they are melee or firearms. A semi-large variety of firearms can be picked up throughout the game, including standard pistols, sub-machine guns and sniper rifles, as well as plasma versions of these weapons. There are hundreds of enemies to kill, so Relic smartly enabled infinite-ammo for pistols so you don't come up unarmed in a fight. But, melee weapons also ensure this. You can find about 3 variations of melee weapons throughout the campaign - a chainsaw-style sword, a power axe and later in the campaign a giant Thor-style Hammer. The weapons pack a satisfying punch in Space Marine, meaning combat usually isn't too boring.

                    And Relic compliments these weapons by giving the player huge amounts of enemies to kill. Some fights have dozens of orcs running towards you and ready to kill you, and it's up to you whether you take them down with melee assaults or firearms. To avoid boredom, different enemy types are thrown into the mix, requiring somewhat differing tactics for success. You have standard orcs, which come in tiny and middle-sized forms that you can deal with in any kind of manner so to speak. Then you have the other, tricky kinds - the larger enemies, rather than brute force, require successful stun combos to weaken. Other enemies are sat in long-range distance with mortar-style explosives, requiring sniper rifles or long ranged weaponry.

                    It's definitely fun killing enemies in huge battlefields, where one blow can knock down dozens of enemies at once, but really this is all you do for the entire game, with no kind of variety for good measure, meaning it becomes a bore towards the end. Relic tries to shake things up at a couple of points. Two boss-fights are added in for good measure, but one requires you simply to do what you did before - hack away until they play dead - and the other is more of a fight against waves of enemies until you enter an action sequence with quick-time events. The game also shakes up its enemy types about three-quarters of the way through, with a new race of enemy making their first appearance due to troublesome circumstances. But, it just boils down to hacking at your enemies until they are dead.

                    Online, however, may salvage the player's enjoyment in this game. The game enforces a code from new copies of the game or purchasable access to the game's multiplayer component past Level 5. Though some may be annoyed with this feature, where essentially Relic will be asking owners of used copies of the game to pay for online multiplayer, it's still an enjoyable experience compared to its bland single-player component. The game injects a ranking-based system where kills and other actions in multiplayer level-up your rank. Once you break Level 4, you can fully customise your character and their class. 3 classes are present, from the machine-gun heavy grunt class to a class which packs you with a laser-sword and jet pack, making for insane fun online. You can partake in multiple modes from standard deathmatch to capture the zone, and a co-op mode is also presented similar to Horde from GoW (though it requires downloading to play). The game still has a healthy community, as I was able to find a full game within a couple of minutes.

                    Aesthetically, Space Marine is somewhat displeasing. Graphically, the game looks a little bit low-resolution. Character models for less-important people look blocky to a degree, though animation in cutscenes is usually good. Levels feel bland, with dark purple tints highlighting the battlefield and barren trenches populating the zones. Orc models look good, and the nasty effects from nailing headshots and melee executions are satisfying. Space Marine is a rather gory game, and the blood effects definitely add to the action. But Space Marine overall looks pretty bland. Sound is worse, however. The blimey-British accents most of these enemies contain is strange to say the least, and as mentioned before, multiple enemy/friendly types contain the exact same voice-actor. It's also rather annoying that almost every single enemy yells at you "SPACE MARINE", as if the game's title didn't give that away. The music is sparse and generic too, adding almost nothing to the action.

                    So Space Marine is, essentially, bland. The campaign is lacklustre, losing its fun a little bit over half-way through. The game's presentation, with dire sound and dull graphics, doesn't help this either. It has fun weaponry, but you can only kill so many thousands of Orcs before it becomes repetitive. And because it is so strict and linear, there's no reason to return once you've pulled your way through the first time. The multiplayer component is pretty fun however, with a good customisation system and a ranking system which will addict you, aping multiplayer components such as Gears of War and Call of Duty. But, considering so many games can offer you exciting campaigns as well as tight multiplayer experiences, that hardly means you should rush out and buy Space Marine. If you're looking for a cheap game which could peak your competitive interest, Space Marine may be for you but otherwise, steer clear of this bland shooter slasher.

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                    • RAGE (Xbox 360) / Xbox 360 Game / 23 Readings / 21 Ratings
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                      16.05.2012 16:53
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                      Not genre-breaking, but worthwhile if you're wowed by technology.

                      First-person shooters are a dime a dozen these days, and it's clear the genre is possibly starting to suffer fatigue. But now, FPS veterans id software, known for Quake, Doom and Wolfenstein - 3 key innovators in the FPS genre, bring a new game to the table called Rage. Rage has been in development at id for a good four years now, and is so technologically advanced it has been pushed onto a whopping 3 discs, something usually reserved for large role-playing games rather than shooters. So, is this shooter a revolution, or a mumble of random noise?

                      One thing is for sure, the story is not a key aspect of Rage. A large asteroid has hit planet Earth, and people are evacuated and put in cryogenic lifeboats. You play as one of those people, whose lifeboat crashes back down to Earth. You get a warm welcome, as Ghost Bandits immediately attack you. However, a nearby settler kills them and takes you to his settlement. You start doing jobs for him, but you eventually advance through the campaign to two main cities, both of whom house resistance forces against a group called The Authority. It's really quite bland, though the voice work and character interaction isn't too bad. It's just not particularly engaging.

                      Thankfully, despite the weak story, you have something else to immerse yourself in. This game, to be frank, is bloody gorgeous. You'll immediately notice that the game runs at a whopping 60 frames-per-second, something which games rarely can achieve today without sacrificing graphical quality. And Rage certainly doesn't do that. Characters are extremely detailed and beautiful animated. Locations are stunning, especially the cityscapes where civilians are randomly gambling to some video game or filling up water to a nearby fountain. The weapon models look sleek and sexy, and this applies to the car models too. The world is huge, and yet you never feel like the place repeats itself whatsoever. It does a great job of catching the same kind of post-apocalyptic vibe as games such as Borderlands or Fallout, but feels more alive than both those games.
                      Obviously, you can't judge a game based on its graphics, as easy as it would be. Rage is somewhat of a hard game to discuss, mainly because it's not extremely bad but doesn't reach extremely high heights. The game has a perfectly competent structure, something similar to rival wasteland trekker Borderlands. You find people, they give you a job, you go to the location required, kill whoever is in the way of completing such job, and come back for rewarding. It never really changes outside of that, so the game is somewhat repetitive. However, spice is thrown in with the varied enemy types and locations - one minute; you'll be in a cave fighting off mutants, the next a factory fighting off some hockey-mask and armour breed of bandit. Though eventually, the game does start to lose its lustre in terms of interest.

                      Luckily, the weapons in Rage are fun and funky to use. There are some RPG flavourings here for good measure, in terms of inventory spacing and ammo types. You can acquire a pistol, shotgun (in combat and sawn-off form), assault rifles, a crossbow and a rocket launcher, plus a badass weapon given for the very last mission of Rage. And each weapon comes with special ammo - pistols can acquire 'fat boys' which do double damage, shotguns get explosive rounds which are basically half-grenade, half-shotgun bullets and the crossbow can use electric bows, giving a nice shock to those half-wits hanging around in water. It's very fun to experiment with the different weapon ammo, especially when the variety of enemies increases. This definitely helps keep Rage interesting past the first two or so missions, especially once you start making enough money to buy ammo types yourself rather than scavenge for it.

                      You can also build a lot of weaponry yourself, with the game's makeshift item section. You will find scrap and items as you go through levels, and while some is complete crap used to help boost your bankroll by selling it, others can be used to make new items. You can build bandages to heal yourself in tough situations, EMP grenades, and a couple of other offensive items such as Sentry turrets, sentry bots and RC Cars which can be detonated to explode so long as the enemy doesn't shoot the darn thing first. One helpful item to those looking to scavenge every nook and cranny of the game is the lock grinder. This piece of tech opens doors which have special locks on them, and usually behind these doors are special scrap items to help you through your quest such as equipment to help build new weapons and items.

                      One major frustration, and probably Rage's biggest complaint, is the awkward and outdated save system. It's safe to say most games these days have adopted an autosave system, but perhaps id software is somewhere stuck in time. The game, truthfully, does have autosaves, but these only come when you move between the game's areas. Now, if you happen to make significant progress through a level, but die, guess what happens? Back to the beginning, my friend. Thankfully, you can use manual saves so in essence, this shouldn't happen unless you're forgetful. But, now that most gamers are accustomed to autosaves and the game just is barren when it comes to these, major rage (no pun intended) will be caused if you forget. I know, a couple of times, I lost nearly half-hour chunks because I forget to save and then some big grunt ends up killing me. Thankfully, the game isn't particularly hard, especially if you have bought the game in its 'Anarchy Edition', where you can unlock the game's best power suit as well as several weapons and a vehicle.

                      One thing about Rage is that it is almost as much a driving game as it is shooting. It's made very clear that trekking through the wasteland sections without a vehicle will most likely result in insta-death from bandits in crazy hot-rods. So, you acquire a vehicle fairly early on, and driving through the wasteland becomes a breeze. Thankfully, the handling of the vehicles and steering is much like any decent racing game would be, so you won't dread when you have to put the pedal to the mettle. But, don't think you'll be escaping combat in vehicles. Attached to your cars are machine guns, purchasable rocket launchers and more as you move through each tier of vehicle. You can put your driving to the test, as in each city there are several races, time trials, and special events called Rally Races where you try to capture as many points as possible to earn 50 points first, as well as destroying other vehicles.

                      There are plenty of other activities to keep you occupied if you happen to tire of the story missions periodically. This mainly comes in the form of sinning, or in less religious terms, gambling. There are several mini-games which require you to bet money to enter. Tombstones is a simply luck game where you throw a die, and if it lands on a target sign, the sheriff shoots a bandit. Each throw brings the bandits closer, and if you don't kill all of them after your third roll, you die and lose your credits. The quicker you deal with them, the higher multiplier is placed on you money. 5 Finger Filet relies much more on skill, as you try to avoid stabbing yourself with a knife for 5 rounds. It's not too bad for rounds 1 to 4, as the patterns are the same. However, good luck with round 5, where the speed is at its fastest, and the pattern changes each time. Strum requires you to remember the pattern the guitarist is playing, and keep adding more patterns each round as well as faster.

                      Finally, Rage Frenzy is a card game in the same vein as Magic: The Gathering, if you've played that before. There are 3 difficulty levels, each giving more cash rewards for victory. This game revolves around finding or being rewarded collectible cards throughout the game. It's good because you actually find use for your collectibles for once, rather than simply picking them up for the 100% completion or achievements. Each card has a damage level and health. Different kinds of cards do different painful things to your opponent's cards. You have standard foot soldiers, which shoot the other cards, as well as vehicles which serve to distract the opposing cards, grenades to damage all the enemies' cards and more.

                      It feels strange saying that Rage isn't fantastic value for money, because it's split into 3 discs. But, you come to discover that it's not quite the value you were expecting. It somewhat leads you on, because a vast chunk of the game takes place on disc 1. You spend close to 7 hours on disc 1, and I personally was thinking 'wow, this game must be pretty big'. But, in actual fact, disc 2 doesn't take even a couple of hours to polish off and finish the campaign. It feels rather unbalanced, and highlights that the reason its split into 3 discs is more technical reasons, rather than length. The final disc, then, is for the game's multiplayer component. Here, you can choose between competitive, with road rages and races, or co-operative, with special missions crafted specifically for that mode. However, I could find zero people to play Legends of the Wasteland with, but there were a couple of people playing in the Competitive mode. It was okay, but a bit too chaotic for my liking, though the game servers were incredibly stable despite the action going on.

                      It's safe to say Rage isn't quite the genre-breaker the developer name gave the impression of. It's definitely, however, a technological advancement into what this console can do, and is probably one of the best looking games made to date. So, in that way, Rage pushes the boundaries. It's definitely a fun shooter - the weapons are fun with all their cool ammo types, and the missions, though repetitive in structure, keep throwing different enemies at you to keep things fresh. And there's also a very good driving aspect to this game, as well as fun mini-games for a short period of time. It's just got some frustrations, minor and large, that hold it back from top-calibre, or even greatness. If you're intrigued, definitely find it for about £20 somewhere. I paid that for Rage, and though it's far from blockbuster, I don't feel its wasted money. But don't go expecting some evolutionary like Doom or Quake was back in the day.

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                      10.05.2012 22:14
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                      A quick-shot ride, but one which will definitely put a smile on your face, especially on the cheap.

                      Shadows of the Damned can be possibly misleading. On the back of the box, it states that the game is a 'Psychological Action Thriller'. While the game can mess with your mind, and there's plenty of action to go around, perhaps the last word should be changed to 'Joker'. This game is extremely strange, from the minds of Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil 4) and Suda 51 (No More Heroes). It will make you laugh, it will gross you out, and it will put you on edge at the best of times. But thanks to visceral combat and unique touches with its hellish world, Shadows of the Damned is pretty fun, if excruciatingly short.

                      You take the role of Garcia Hotspur, a demon hunter who perhaps has killed one too many bad guys. Now, legions of hell storm his apartment, take his girlfriend, and leave. Of course, Hotspur follows them into the pits of death, along with his bodiless companion Jonson. They descend into darkness, and are immediately taken through the darkest of gaming worlds where Goat heads and Giant Sushi creatures are used to light the way and a variety of morbid creatures present themselves to try and stop them both. The story is pretty light, though fairly prevalent in the course of things. There are some serious moments, especially near the end, but a lot of Shadows of the Damned is gags and jokes, some of which are hilarious while others fall a little bit flat, but thankfully it tends to lean towards the former.

                      The structure of Shadows of the Damned follows something like other Unreal engine games like Gears of War. The game is split into 5 acts, though it's closer to 4 as the first act is pretty non-existent. The game is further split into chapters, and each act has a different amount of acts. It is pretty much above 5, but a couple of the game's acts contain more than 5 chapters. The game is paced so that levels can shift in length, depending mostly on what kind of level it is. Some acts last a good half hour, and these usually require a lot of movement and exploration as well as shooting. Some levels are over in 10 minutes however, and these are usually the game's boss fights. It's very linear stuff, with very little chances to go off a set path.

                      So what is Shadows of the Damned? I'd say it's a 3rd-person shooter cum action adventure. The game borrows Resident Evil's shooting mechanics, unsurprising considering Shinji is involved in the project, albeit more fluent thanks to movement while aiming. It will probably take a bit of getting used firing by laser-sight rather than an indicator, but those who invested a lot in recent Resident Evil's probably won't have too much trouble. There's also a roll mechanic, which is key to combating some of the game's more troublesome enemies. Aiming is generally smooth, and though it'll take some getting used to, once you're comfortable it becomes like a glove on your hand.

                      There are 3 primary weapons to Shadow of the Damned. You get a pistol, shotgun and assault rifle essentially. The game uses the weapons as a gag, naming your pistol the 'hot boner'. It did crack me up once I actually noticed the gun was called that. Anyways, though it may seem like the weapon selection is limited, it's more focused and each defeated boss nets an upgrade to each weapon, meaning the guns change as you go through. You can't pick up anymore weapons outside of the 3, but the game changes these weapons to keep them fresh throughout the campaign. The 'Teether' evolves from a simple assault rifle into a multi-firing beast which can target multiple enemies at once, and the games 'Monocussioner', or shotgun, is able to fire multiple rounds at once and even turn into a grenade launcher later in the game. It's actually exciting upgrading your weapons in Shadows of the Damned, because they almost become completely different weapons.

                      There's a large amount of different enemy types you face in the game. There's plenty of standard-grunt Demons, but you also get wild variations of these. Some of these include enemies which can turn invisible, conceal themselves with body armour which can only be hit if they are knocked on their backs, and larger foes which require precision shots on their masks. There's also boss fights throughout the course of the game. Your first impression of bosses will probably be 'meh', because the first boss you fight is a middle-sized enemy which requires simple repeating of shooting light barrels to kill. However, the next boss is a large-scale goat-man-thing which is so huge; he doesn't even fit on the screen. There are plentiful bosses throughout the campaign, and all of which are usually fun and require some strategy to figure out.

                      So far, nothing here is pretty standout, but it's all executed very well. What pushes Shadows of the Damned beyond most normal shooters is the game's use of its setting. Hell is a dark place to be, and when the darkness completely takes over, it becomes an entirely different game. If a level is consumed by darkness, you have a few seconds before it starts to chip into your health, and you have to find either a goats-head planted on the wall and shoot it with the flare equipped with all weapons, or find a fireworks machine to light up the place temporarily. Enemies cannot be damaged while the area is consumed by darkness, meaning that it's incredibly risky staying in darkness for long periods. There are also some areas which require you to run through areas too thick with darkness to purge, and finding the exit before you die.

                      The game also uses the darkness as a form of puzzles. Some areas are blocked by demon gates covered in, what Hotspur calls them, 'Demon Pubes', and the only way to rid them off the doors is to enter darkness and shoot dark cores which are powering the door. Some enemies are actually killed by darkness, meaning tactical use of darkness can quickly kill off enemy forces. Of course, most are immune, and impossible to kill, so you have to be careful how you use darkness. Some enemies, including bosses, can be flared while in darkness to open up obvious red weak spots. The game's use of 'dark' makes it stand out as more than just another 3rd-person shooter, adding a layer of intelligence to an already solid game.

                      Unfortunately, the game slips with value. The campaign will probably take you about seven hours to complete. The game has 3 difficulty levels, and achievement hunters will notice that achievements for difficult don't stack, meaning to get 1000G you have to play the game 3 times on each difficulty. Whether you will want to will depend on your hunger for achievements. The game also has a funky collectible system, where finding red gems can allow you to upgrade Hotspur. Even if you find the 40 located in levels, you still have to buy about 40 to fully upgrade Hotspur and unlock the 75G achievement. You will probably screw this up on your first playthrough, I did, and you can either farm areas with infa-spawn enemies or find exploits to give you those extra 40ish gems. Again, it comes down to your fetish for achievement hunting. There are no multiplayer or other modes, meaning the game relies on its campaign to entertain.

                      The game has a great production. Graphically, despite some stiff movement animation, the game looks great. Enemies are well crafted, with a grotesque feel to them which reminds you you're in hell. The same goes with the levels, with some mutated interiors and exteriors which border on disgusting at times. The game also has a cool sense of style. Guns quickly transform from a lantern into weaponry at the click of a button, and one of the enemies serenades you in the game with operatic aria continually, and even Garcia exclaims how it is beautiful on his ears. Speaking of which, the sound design is strong too. The bloody spurts of decapitations makes combat brutally exciting, while mixes of rock riffs and quiet medleys from instruments like piano fit each scene perfectly. There are also the game's many uses of gags. Most of them are funny, such as a serious moment where Garcia and another demon hunter meet. The other hunter states 'Hard men like us don't mix together', only for Johnson to exclaim 'Is that a come on?'. A possibly serious moment, lowered by a funny gag. It's got some low moments, but overall its great stuff.

                      So overall, Shadows of the Damned is fun, clever, funny and short. The game has a solid shooting system, which while unfamiliar to some will be easy to pick up, which is also improved by the concept of darkness changing the world around Garcia. The game also has a terrific production, with its visuals and sound enhancing the experience. It's a bit on the short side, so those who are value conscious will be sketchy on Shadows of the Damned, but overall it is a very fun game which any action fan is likely to get a kick out of.

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                      • More +
                        03.01.2012 19:01
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                        A frightening game worthwile for horror fans.

                        The original Dead Space was a terrifying experience. Its new limb dismemberment mechanisms made it stand out from other horror games around it, and its dark atmosphere ensured scares came from all over the place. The sequel, Dead Space 2, is here and ready to scare fans and gamers new to the franchise alike. Boasting a terrifying new campaign, as well as multiplayer for those social gamers out there, Dead Space 2 aims to improve and outdo its predecessor. Does it succeed, or is it sucked into space with crushing disappointment?

                        Dead Space 2 follows 3 years from its predecessor. You return to the boots of Isaac Clarke, a man who seems to have been placed into a mental asylum because of the traumas of his past. Players can immediately see that he is being haunted by visions of his lost love, Nicole. The game, after a brief introduction, throws you into the heat. As you are being untied and freed, your saviour is infected by a necromorph and you are sent like a headless chicken to run through this overrun facility with all kinds of necromorph surrounding the place. After quickly escaping, you are left to fend for yourself, as Isaac searches to destroy 'The Marker', the object which caused the chaos of the first game's events, and is doing so again in its sequel. There are many twists and turns in this terrifying journey, but the star of Dead Space 2's show is Isaac. Players will empathize with his struggle, as bad luck seems to be with him. You can't help but feel Isaac just has no kind of luck, and as his mind starts to break down through the course of the game, it's all the more worse.

                        The game follows a similar state of progression unfamiliar to its predecessor. The game takes place over the course of 15 chapters, and follows a linear, corridor-shooter style. The game has a manual save system, though the game presents checkpoints to you as the save points are spaced out. The game doesn't let up with the tension and atmosphere. As I mentioned, the game starts with Isaac, strapped in a patient suit, and you are told to run as the place becomes infected with the necromorph. Generally, the game stays at a moderate difficulty, with most careless mistakes punished with death. A lack of ammo/health packs can leave some situations in dire straits, and these tend to make Dead Space 2 difficult. The worst case, however, comes from Chapter 14, where an invincible necromorph appears. He is frustrating to dodge, and can kill you sometimes in one successive hit. It makes Chapter 14 incredibly frustrating, and is a disappointing penultimate chapter to the game. It's not quite enough to dampen the whole game, but it's somewhat of a buzz kill to the experience.

                        Isaac dons the Rig, which he fashionably wore in the previous game. The concept around the rig is not only to be a suit, shield and fashion statement for Isaac, but also to remove any elements of the game's Heads-Up-Display. The health is displayed on the spine of Isaac's suit, while his stasis ability meter is placed a little in the top corner of it. Rather than pausing the game to view his inventory, you press the Back button to display the contents of Isaac's inventory at the moment in time, all while the game is carrying on around you. It adds an element of tension to the game, as equipping items could come at the cost of movement and cause death. You can buy new suits throughout the game by finding schematics throughout the game, and these add not only more inventory slots, but bonuses such as more damage with certain weapons and discounts at the store. You can unlock special suits by completing the game, adding replay value.

                        Combat, much like the first game, boils down to decapitations. And not the kind with headshots - doing that will end up making the enemies not only angrier but also more violent. No, it comes down to taking off each of the enemies' limbs one by one. The game uses a targeting system similar to something like Resident Evil: there are no aiming indicators on-screen, instead a laser from your weapon guiding your shots. Shooting a necromorph normally won't get you very far, and does little damage to them in the long run. Cutting off limbs, however, can kill an enemy ten times quicker, and even bosses can go down without much resistance if you aim for the limbs. It can be tricky to aim your shots, but a Stasis ability can slow down enemies for a short period of time, meaning you can aim easier. However, along with ammo, this is in short supply, meaning you must use these abilities and take your shots carefully. Spamming a necromorph while missing can only lead to a lack of supplies, and usually frustrating deaths will ensue. The game's combat is gory, with violent sounds such as the squish of decapitated limbs making combat more satisfying.

                        There's a fair variety of weapons throughout Dead Space 2. The standard weapon for most people will be the plasma cutter, the basic pistol of the game. There's also the Pulse Rifle, the game's version of an assault rifle, the contact beam designed to pound into any enemy nearby, the Javelin Gun which is like a sci-fi version of a spear-gun and plenty more. Weapons aren't too expensive, but upgrading them can be. The upgrades come in the form of power nodes, which you can either buy for 10,000 credits or scavenge around the game. The game uses the same upgrade system as its predecessor, with the Bench returning. You place nodes in ports, which may contain upgrades for weapons such as damage and reload rate, but could also be dead spots which chain to more upgrades. Weapons could require up to 30 nodes to fully upgrade, meaning multiple playthroughs are required for multiple weapons to be fully upgraded. Thank god for New Game+.

                        The horrifying Necromorphs return in Dead Space 2, along with a new gang of mates to tear you apart. Old enemies return - you have your standard necros whom simply claw at your, as well as breeders who make more enemies for you to deal with. Other enemies include a Necro who contains an explosive left arm and can slam it into the ground in your vicinity to deal damage, almost animal versions of the standard necromorph who can crawl on the walls and, as I like to call them, turkey necros who hide around corners and charge into you. Then there's the new necromorphs introduced: including child-like crawlers who run at you in packs, tiny necromorphs carrying explosives on their back and acidic necromorphs who can slow you down with their spit. The new and old combine to create a decent variety of enemies - all of whom are grotesque and disturbing.

                        The atmosphere is so thick in Dead Space 2; you could cut it with a knife. Dark corridors lightened only by fires started by the ominous enemies send shivers down your spine. The fear of any necromorph enemy crawling their way through the air ducts and charging at you through the nearest vent is terrifying. The game certainly doesn't skimp on the gory details, neither. Violent scenes are a common thing throughout Dead Space 2, especially when it comes to death. Enemies who grab you in a terrifying choke hold, only to deplete your last bit of health, forcefully execute you. These cutscenes put the fear of god into the player, as he realises what these creatures are truly capable of. Other gory scenes include when Isaac must use a tiny drill into his own eye, but one mistake could mean ploughing through his entire skull. The gruesome consequences are truly one of the most shocking scenes I've seen in a videogame.

                        Much like its predecessor, the game's campaign is pretty short. You could probably blow through the game in not even 8 hours, depending on what difficulty you start out on. There is more replay value to Dead Space 2 though, with its New Game+ feature encouraging multiple playthroughs. It can certainly soften the difficulty on harder difficulties, when you go in donning fully upgraded weapons and a fully upgraded suit. And Dead Space 2 is that kind of game worth experiencing multiple times, because of all its shocking moments. Unfortunately, Visceral Games decided they needed to add multiplayer to extend the longevity. With only a few maps, most of which are simple variations of capture and secure, not even playing as the Necromorphs can salvage this bland mode.

                        Dead Space 2's presentation definitely goes a long way to help adding tension and fear. The game looks great, with its amazing lighting empathising darkness and the feeling of being alone. The horrifying Necromorph designs also add another layer of scares to the game with the freaky designs sending chills down your spine, especially with the fantastic animation combining for the game's destructive executions on poor Isaac. The creepy sound helps add another layer of tension. The voice acting is pretty good, with Isaac standing out most. The ambient music adds tension to the game, and the pitiful screams of Isaac when he is being chopped up put the fear of god into you. The crunches and splashes of combat add a brutal feeling to it.

                        If you're looking for something to truly terrify you, then look no further than Dead Space 2. Its disturbing enemies and intensifying atmosphere will put most players into a state of fright, especially in the dark. The game's presentation definitely help back this up, making Dead Space 2 one of the scariest games on Xbox 360. The game backs up its chills with solid gameplay, including a variety of weapons to chop the Necromorphs into pieces. It's a bit on the short side still, but New Game+ adds replay value to it, even if tacked-on multiplayer does not. Those with a taste for the fearful will find Dead Space 2 very worthwhile.

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