- Premium reviews
- Express reviews
- Reviews rated
- Ratings received
Retro City Rampage (PC)
Everyone seems to be going mad over the latest 'theatrical' trailer for GTA V, which is kind of bemusing seeing as it looks no different to the soulless endeavours of previous incarnations. Apart from the occasional fun mission the franchise seems trapped in an endless cycle of taking itself far too seriously (like it needs to somehow legitimise the violence on screen with plot) and introducing ever more mundane features. There's an 18-hole golf course available to play this time round; all of a sudden Red Dwarf's 'Better than Life' is becoming a fully realised Johnny Gangster virtual reality. If any game needs a return to its anarchic roots - where hilarity, fun and mowing down lines of Hari Krishna's in a tank reigned supreme - Grand Theft Auto would be that game.
Yet whilst Rockstar seem to have no intention of returning to Grand Theft Auto's original 2-D top-down, multi-directional blast of carnage and destruction, Brian Provinciano has spent the last decade crafting an 8-bit open-world action parody based on the styling of the big bad franchise. At first glance Retro City Rampage appears to be the GTA V we really want. Pure hokum where blowing the shit out of anything is everything, albeit with a gaudy looking colour scheme. But look deeper and a cornucopia of zany eighties and nineties references, smart satire on the current state of the gaming industry and tonnes of other funny shit emerge that raise Retro City Rampage above its elementary sandbox design.
The first thing you notice about Retro City Rampage, however, is it's not really 8-bit. At 44mb in size there's much more scope to do cool stuff than was ever possible on the revered C64. Purists may bulk at this and suggest the game is a bit of a cheat, but does anyone really want to relive the torturous ball-ache of a tape-deck multi-load? No, of course they blinking don't. Instead, what Retro City Rampage does get right is the all important ethos and feeling of playing an 8-bit title. The pixelated, garish colours and chipset sound are central to this, as are some exquisite keyboard controls. Of course, the frantic speed of out running coppers in stolen vehicles, the perfect collision detection, super sleek scrolling and head bobbing ditties are all up to modern standards but it's likely to make many an old school gamer flush with joy. More so because Retro City Rampage is such barnstorming fun!
Capturing the essence of the original Grand Theft Auto marvellously the simple get in a car, run pedestrians over and bludgeon randoms with whatever is at hand mechanics provide Retro City Rampage with an instant pick up and play quality. Additional quirkiness in the shape of picking up pedestrians with your bare hands and launching them at other passers by along with a range of power-ups (including roaming around the city as Death to slay mortals or jumping on the heads of pedestrians as if they were Goombas) shows that nowt here should really be taken seriously. Once you get bored of endless hit-and-runs and blowing shit up for chuckles then the simple and not too lengthy plot kicks in. Aware of the tendency for sandbox games to become derivative all too quickly (one amusing sequence features a CV for a job with the Go-Go-Busters that lists 'driving from A to B' as a key skill) Brian has in many ways attempted to diffuse any encroaching tedium.
Missions are short and punchy; not the life-sapping endeavours of genre contemporaries. The 8-bit basis also makes the most of said missions by turning them into retrospective mini-games. Memories of Paperboy, Smash TV and The Legend of Zelda, among many, many others are wonderfully evoked. The missions are also frequently hilarious, as are the many eighties caricatures you happen to bump into. Dr Buttnick, The Jester, Vanilla T Cube, Doc Choc and his DeLoren time machine, Guybrush Threepwood, the cast of Saved By The Bell, the aforementioned Go-Go-Busters; its endlessly referential. Any game that quotes Bill and Ted's 'what number are we thinking' gag is obviously doing something right; that it also pokes fun at the practices of modern game developers midway through makes it deserving of your attention at the very least. To a child of the eighties the satirical nature of Retro City Rampage just dilutes any boredom further. However, as these old gits are the target audience much of the content will fly over the heads of younger gamers.
Tellingly, the length of Retro City Rampage is just right. There's enough meat on this bone to provide a short fix of carnage and mayhem which doesn't outstay its welcome. Trophies, free-roaming, rampages and collectibles provide additional longevity, especially for building up a decent high-score as you look to scale the heights of the online leaderboards. However, one area Retro City Rampage does struggle with is the challenge provided. It's just not difficult enough; well, not for old school gamers anyhow. For one thing given the small size of the sandbox environment, bribe tokens for dodging the police are far too abundant. It pretty much means that massacre sprees can be managed and controlled with relative ease and without fear of actually being apprehended. Additionally, fail a mission and one can continually retry until successful and, in general, it does not take long to meet with success. There are some tricky episodes for sure, especially when the game converts to some sideways scrolling platform action, but competent gamers should get through these sections with relative ease (me use keyboard; me successful). This is a long way away from the original GTAs testing five lives and out dynamic and makes for a somewhat missed opportunity in providing that true feeling of a hardcore 8-bit challenge.
Still, this is no game changer. Retro City Rampage remains a quirky and inventive, silly and daft, chaotic and frantic reminder of what gaming should be like. Plenty of hidden substance, with a well-defined (eighties) style to ensure the parody is cleverer than you would initially give credence, but above all damn good fun; not soulless bobbins that requires the almighty piss taken out of it. And for that, Brian must be thanked. Taking on the mantel left by the likes of Archer MacLean, Tony Crowther, Jeff Minter, Sensible Software and many others synonymous with eighties game making, Retro City Rampage is a step back in time (thanks to Doc Choc) to a more colourful (despite lots of monochrome) period of game design. It's also quite retro-tastic! So, you nineties kids that missed out first time round, don't fear the garish colour scheme, tinny sounding soundtrack (which is actually Turrican-esque in quality) or the kitchen sink style route of referencing gaming culture. Here is your chance to catch-up and learn just what the expectations of GTA VI should be. Murder rampages haven't been this much fun since DMA Design...
If you haven't heard of the name Manfred Trenz then you're knowledge of gaming history is pretty piss poor. No doubt this also means you've never heard of The Great Giana Sisters (better than Mario, so much so Nintendo had the game quashed out of existence) or Katakis (better than R-Type) which were both single-handedly programmed on the Commodore 64 by this German game-making genius. So it may also be a stretch for your tiny and constantly confused little brains to recall his most well-regarded title. Turrican (and its superlative sequel) was a mesh of Metroid and R-Type that redefined the platform shoot em' up. Long story made short - Turrican was freaking ace!
The plot, of course, is simple retro-gaming bobbins. A once-impressive society on the planet Alterra has just been destroyed by Morgul, a rogue AI gone mental. All organic matter has been turned into tinned dog food. Morgul's mechanical minions now patrol the planet's surface happily setting upon anyone daft enough to land on Alterra. However, the Turrican has been sent to reclaim the planet from the hordes of robotic gits that currently pollute it and he's got a couple of big fecking guns to help him do it...
Now, do not let the silliness of the above put you off as there truly is much to be admired about Turrican. Firstly, the expanse of the game is vast. Five distinct worlds comprising 13 levels of blasting is not to be sneezed at and that's before divulging the simply mesmerising size of each stage. Like the canyons of Lara Croft's boobage, they are absolutely mahoosive! Importantly, this is where Turrican added a real dynamic to the more lazy horizontal-scrolling shooters around at the time.
For instance, the exit for each level is not necessarily at the standard far left of the map. Instead the multi-directional and nonlinear platforming (reminiscent in style to Metroid) through carefully constructed labyrinth levels encourages exploration. Descending the bowels of the planets surface or carefully scaling Morgul's tower in search of the elusive exit offer necessary alternatives to otherwise bland, repetitive side-ways scrolling (see Super Probotector or Castlevania IV). In addition, two fantastic vertical scrolling stages, where the Turrican straps on a jet-pack to tear a new one out of the minions of Morgul, adds further diversity to the package.
Unlike Metroid, though, Turrican is no plodding puzzler with infrequent sorties of action. Bar the very tough Giger-esque section which is mostly devoid of action, the pace is frantic and constant as waves of enemies look to hinder your progress. Luckily, there are an assortment of power-ups available, the kind more commonly found in pure shoot 'em ups like R-Type, but these work equally well in Turrican's platform jumping environment. The standard multi-shot or lazer blast are complimented by limited use of grenades, mines and power lines; yet further variety is added by the inclusion of more original firepower.
The lightning arc remains a fairly unique piece of weaponry in gaming history. A beam of lightning that the Turrican can arc around his body, it cleaves through enemies like a hot knife through butter and is particularly useful when things are getting a little too chaotic. Then there's the gyroscope - less original as it's not really all that different to Metroid's morph-ball - that allows the Turrican to transform into a spinning wheel of death. Handy for squeezing through small gaps to secret areas and avoiding enemies that are tougher than vindalooed mutton (when in this form the Turrican takes no damage), the gyroscope provides a further dynamic that enhances Turrican's gameplay.
Such a formidable arsenal is well required though, especially when encountering boss styled enemies. Here, Trenz once again tells conformity to do one and rather than boss battles occurring as uniform 'guardians of the exit' encounters, the behemoths of Morgul's army frequently pop-up in the middle of a stage. The first level has no boss encounters for instance; however, a huge metallic fist that looks to crush the Turrican into the ground like a pestle and mortar appears almost immediately at the beginning of stage two. The unexpected nature in the occurrence of such boss battles pretty much fine-tunes the games balance. Whilst on the surface it looks like a simple platform shooter, there is much more depth and a unique freshness on show in Turrican.
Most importantly, though, the challenge is commendable. Whilst jumping around and blasting away was what the phrase 'piece of piss' was invented for (and makes Turrican instantly engaging), just the three lives and three 'continues' ensure that it will not be completed at the first attempt. Equally, a strict time limit means wrong turns on the vast maps are harshly punished. Yet this is balanced by the numerous extra life tokens and well hidden power-up blocks located within each level. Once again, finding them encourages exploration and ensures slow progression can be made with each crack at the game. The balance between the number of lives available and the games toughness, for instance, is pretty much spot on. They become less frequent as the game progresses and will quickly deplete in the more bastard hard maps of later levels, but given time to develop knowledge of each stage the player can gradually edge a little further into Morgul's domain, alleviating any sense of building frustration.
Complementing the superior game design are the well-oiled basics. Collision detection is right on the money and the graphics are as smooth as a Cadbury's Caramel. In particular the huge bosses are well defined and move incredibly swiftly - the battle with a giant mechanical piranha is pretty much amazing - and the parallax scrolling on the vertical jetpack levels is a joy to behold. Chris Hulsbeck's music throughout is also ace. From some pumping tracks for the early levels, to a curious Big Trouble in Little China themed ditty as the Turrican descends into the underground labyrinths of Alterra, each matches the level scenario perfectly. None more so than the lack of music for the Giger themed levels. Replaced by heavy breathing and teeth chattering throughout, it makes for an unsettlingly atmosphere that fits wonderfully with the evocative horror themes of the environment.
If there are any criticisms, the odd graphical glitch does make an appearance and some platform jumps that require pixel-perfect precision are painfully annoying. The final confrontation with Morgul is also a little bit pish! But this really is small fry when compared to the quality that exudes from every other pore of Turrican's essence. Put it this way, the release of Turrican virtually sounded the death knell for the C64 at the beginning of the nineties. Trenz, who programmed the game single-handedly pushed the capabilities of the machine to the limit with total success that everyone else thought "well, we may as well give up now - nothing we programme is ever going to better that." Nothing ever did (well, perhaps Turrican 2, but that's another story). And whilst Manfred needed a small team of monkeys from Factor 5 to assist with the Amiga conversion, it is also instilled with the same approach to perfection. Everything is just as it should be. Little could be improved.
If anything, Turrican highlighted that console-based gaming could be brought to the home computer market. Not only that, it showed the home computer could trounce anything developed for the new super consoles. Playing like an arcade quality title - no, kicking seven shades of shit out of arcade quality titles - Turrican was more than just a handy little shooter. Its sheer vastness and scale, coupled with the originality of its platform shooter ethos, proper awesome boss encounters, varied level design (the Giger level is wonderful) and a well-balanced difficulty level has ensured that it is as fondly remembered today as it was back in the day by righteous Commodore owners. I've just had a great blast replaying it on WinUAE (high score of 1,308,750 - beat that you monkeys), which simply confirms Turrican remains an amazing game!
Speedball 2: Evolution (PS Mini)
The good thing about the PS Mini version of Speedball 2 is that it's not a remake. Surprising given this is supposed to be an 'evolution', although the title has more to do with the 20th anniversary release on smart phones and I-Pads than any serious messing around with the core game mechanics. That way lays the blunder and fluster of the 2008 PC version, which kind of forgot what made Speedball 2 genius in the first place and in the process of making it look new and fresh properly bodged the game to shit.
Instead it's back to basics for Evolution with the metallic and fascist styled hyper violence looking very much like a straight port of the Amiga version. Oh, goody! Everything you expect to feature in Speedball 2 is there; bonce domes, warp gates, score multipliers, the little jig players do after they score and the now iconic shouts of 'ice cream' are all present and correct alongside the 2D playing field and crisp multi-directional scrolling. Even though some additional controls have been implemented you can still mash your way through teams using one button, just like back in the day with the mighty zipstick. So far, so much like the Amiga version.
Of course some additional material has been added. The graphics have been given a little gloss and are more colourful than the pure metallic tones of the original. This may irk some purists, but it does little to distract from the fact you're playing Speedball 2, a game enshrined in the 16-bit ethos, on a next gen system. Most of the main differences lie within the management screens and the league structure, which have been re-vamped. The management section does nothing new - it's still all about training your players and dipping into the transfer market - but it's now much easier to navigate through the newly furnished (and somewhat colourful) management screens.
The league structure has been lengthened to include seven additional teams that form a longer challenge than the simple two division season play and knockout cup of Brutal Deluxe. The knockout form of the game remains unchanged, but an Intergalactic Cup and Champions League now follow the regular Division 1 and 2 seasons, obviously with the pretence to elongate the game. The additional teams are largely alien based, tougher than their human counter-parts and each has their own individually styled pitch that deviates from the typical metallic playing field. Again, this is likely to piss off purists, but is no big deal.
So, all spectacularly perfectomundo then? Well not quite. Rather sadly Evolution is more Milk Cup than Champions League. Whilst on the surface Evolution looks like Speedball 2, tastes like Speedball 2 and sounds like Speedball 2 it soon becomes obvious that one is not quite playing Speedball 2. There are two game-breakers that prevent this from being so. The first is the manic pace. It doesn't exist. The PS mini version is pedestrian and lethargic in comparison to the original. Even against the best teams available the player can take their time implementing strategies in a largely unhurried manner. The frantic hyper pace, so essential to making Speedball 2 an absolutely brutal and hardcore challenge has, rather sadly, not been maintained. When this is coupled with a less intuitive AI that frequently neglects to use the score multiplier (even when standing right next to it) or constantly fails to ruthlessly beat ones players to a pulp, it makes for a Speedball that is way too blinking easy.
Bolting on further elements of competition in the season mode, therefore, simply exists to perpetuate the longevity of the game in the absence of any real challenge. There really should be no reason for you to completely obliterate teams from the off. And whilst the new alien races do pose rather difficult to beat at the start, trouncing five star-rated teams, constantly, by the time you have a fairly mediocre three star team just makes Evolution less fun than it should be. Worst of all, Super Nashwan have been nerfed to buggery. I said SUPER NASHWAN HAVE BEEN NERFED TO BUGGERY. Beating the arch-nemesis by a clear 100 points first time round is just plain unforgivable!
On the surface this is Speedball 2; it just doesn't feel or play like Brutal Deluxe. For older gamers looking to rekindle the old magic of the Amiga original, this is a rather tepid and disappointing evolution. It provides a short burst of fun at the start, but after 30 or so matches of outright victory, interest predictably wanes. The Intergalactic Cup and Champion's League are merely fraudulent bystanders compared to Brutal Deluxe's bastard hard approach to keeping one intrigued with slow tantalising progression. Newbies who were just a sproggling in their parent's eye circa 1990 may get more out of Evolution. It might be a bit tougher for those without previous Speedball clout and pose a greater challenge, particularly where the alien teams are concerned. But for this jaded old git, Speedball 2: Evolution is a disappointing, missed opportunity to reach out to younger gamers and expose them to what gaming used to be like. Instead it simply lends more weight to the argument that few modern games have a decent level challenge. Which is a damn shame...
DEAD SPACE (PS3)
Shortly after the release of the PS3 it looked like survival horror had gone tits up on the new-fangled system. Resident Evil for so long the standard by which all other survival horrors were measured, suffered a distinct lack of survival and horror in its fifth outing (and tension, atmosphere and thrills to be honest) but did the utmost to make up for these failings with an irritating AI companion and quick-time event sequences that were, to be fair, complete shit. It was sad to see this once great franchise relying on the brand to sell rather than the previously awesome and often terrifying gameplay. This presumably had gone walkabout and relocated to EA Redwood Studios whom were putting the finishing touches to a new breed of terror - the brown trouser inducing Dead Space, the saviour of survival horror! Well, almost...
Dead Space's plot is a simple one. After intercepting a distress signal from the mining vessel USG Ishimora, the engineering crew of the USS Kellion arrive to investigate the circumstances surrounding the ships subsequent silence. Instead they promptly crash land in the Ishimora's landing bay like a bunch of inept goofs only to find themselves the next batch of baying victims for the deformed humanoid creatures on board that have seemingly replaced the Ishimora's crew. Stranded and slightly pissed off that his girlfriend may have become one of these slathering beasties, Isaac Clarke picks up the nearest plasma cutter for 12 stages of sheer terror and Necromorph blasting whilst trying to piece together just what in the blue hell has happened on board the Ishimora.
All sounds a bit B-movie on paper, but luckily Dead Space is from a similar school as the rather amazing Uncharted series. That is, borrow heavily from already established sources and add new shit to help make a unique title. So, take one large claustrophobic ship and lashings of atmosphere from Alien, dispense of the singular beastie and multiply it by a billion like James Cameron did with Aliens, then add some interesting weaponry, methods to kill said beasties and a protagonist from the Gordon Freeman school of total silence and you near enough have a winning formula on your hands.
Other than the third-person perspective the first thing you'll notice is Dead Space's magnificent environment. The Ishimora is the first monster you encounter. All but dead with shadowy corners, daunting light sources and the ramblings of the maddened crew scratched in blood on corridor walls the deeper into the ship you descend (marvellously they start off in English before mutating into some hybrid alien script). It makes for an oppressive, tense atmosphere where every door that opens and every corner turned has the players stomach churning with unease. And this unnerving, continuous sense of pervading dread, which is prolonged throughout the game, is established right from the start and the terrifying initial encounter with a Necromorph. Coming through the ceilings and floors to devour other members of the Kellion's crew, a weapon-less Isaac has to leg it through darkened corridors, past these nefarious creatures to reach the sanctuary of an elevator. The impact of this opening blast of adrenaline sustains the horror for much of the rest of Dead Space.
With their arms replaced by razor-sharp stabbing thingy-bobs, some deft speed and the ability to pop up from anywhere owing to their navigation through the ships air ducts, the Necromorphs are the stuff of nightmares. They're not easy to kill either. One of the more original aspects of Dead Space is that body and head-shots, the typical go to areas of most other shooters, have limited effect. Instead, as you're told three times in the space of three minutes after that initial encounter (sadly, Dead Space does have an element of 'gamers are morons' about it) shooting off the limbs is a much more effective tactic.
Luckily, Isaac has a number of useful talents at hand to help hinder the attacks of these rather brutal creatures. First off, being able to move and shoot at the same time is an absolute joy (something else also lacking in Resident Evil 5. Throw in the ability to slow down the Necros using stasis generated from Isaac's power-suit (very, very handy) and hacking off the sinewy limbs required becomes slightly easier. Be warned though stasis is only a finite resource! The weapons at Isaac's disposal are also pretty cool. Rather than opting for the hackneyed, clichéd guns of many previous shooters all of the firepower in Dead Space are industrial tools that Isaac manipulates into death dealing mechanisms ideal for slicing and dicing. Even though the Ripper is not particularly effective, the spinning circular saws that you can swing through Necros are so much more satisfying than simple blasting and causing endless explosions. Finally, kinesis allows Isaac to pick up and move objects which can also be fired in the direction of enemies; handy for when low on ammunition. It's like a less refined version of Half-Life 2s gravity gun. Not quite as fun, but damn useful at certain points.
There are loads of other neat extra touches in Dead Space that complements the above. Isaac's silence is welcome. After all, there's nothing more annoying than having some tosser speaking on your behalf. More so because it just sucks away from the ensuing terror! Isaac's power-suit is also pretty sweet. Ensuring the play area features no icons whatsoever, all the relevant info about Isaac's well-being comes from his suit. Health is shown by a panel of lights down the suits spine, whilst the main inventory pops up on a handy visual display generated from the suit. This also displays the audio and visual transmissions Isaac locates on board the Ishimora in a more intense way than Bioshock could ever hope to imagine. The audio for one crew member who decides to hack his own arms and legs off in order that he cannot transform into a Necro is utterly haunting.
Still, despite all this juicy goodness, Dead Space is not without fault. Of which there are quite a few actually. And despite being on the cusp of greatness, these flaws are enough to generate a little bit of tedium in proceedings. The main problem with Dead Space is it conforms to a template from which it never really deviates. Whilst the dismembering mechanics and oppressive atmosphere are a constant joy, there's little differentiation in level design. The plodding by the numbers way-point system, which is more a design for plot convenience than for any notable gameplay purpose, is an irritating bug-bear. So, after the first couple of levels of near-linear action and frequently following the directions given by one of the Kellion's other survivors, you pretty much know how subsequent stages are going to pan out. Personal investigation - the hallmarks of the early Resident Evil games - is virtually non-existent. This is neither helped by the length of each stage. At around 45 minutes to an hour to play through they're pretty lengthy and whilst this certainly increases Dead Space's longevity, it does not prevent Isaac's carry and fetch butt-monkey shtick from becoming an increasingly repetitive chore. In essence once you've seen the first few stages you've pretty much seen most of the game. Even the scare tactics become obvious and repetitive the further you descend into the bowels of the Ishimora.
Additionally, Dead Space's challenge is undermined by the frequency of save points and ammunition, the plasma cutter being far too good and the lack of some stonkingly tough Necromorph encounters. For instance, if the threat of the Regenerator was a constant factor in the pursuit of Isaac across the Ishimora (a bit like the Nemesis in Resident Evil 3 which had you constantly cacking it) then Dead Space would be truly masterful. Sadly, the appearance of this not quite as tough as nails as it should be Necro is all too brief, meaning there's too much mild peril in the place of pure outright terror - especially the massively shite final big bad, which makes for a woeful and underwhelming finale. The plasma cutter essentially makes the rest of Isaac's arsenal irrelevant. The regularity of save points just adds to the lack of challenge. All too frequent and often unnecessary, it makes one hark back to the days of occasional typewriter ribbons and the lesser spotted typewriter.
Still, despite these annoyances, Dead Space cannot help but be an engrossing title. There is no way of being anything but impressed by the terrific atmosphere, and turning the lights out and the volume up just adds to the whole interactive movie-styled effect. The plotting is equally admirable. Although it does feature one major plot-hole, the audio and video transmissions you pick up along the way make for a tantalising storyline that effectively aids against tedium. Whilst the gameplay may dwindle at certain junctures, the plot intrigue encourages you to plough on. And to be perfectly honest, spaying the ships walls with the gizzards of Necromorphs as you splice them apart is always jolly good fun. In all Dead Space is not the car crash that befits Resident Evil 5. It is instead a great survival horror, certainly one of the schlockiest out there, but it panders too much to modern gaming sensibilities (i.e. it's not massively challenging) for it to be considered a real classic.
TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL
Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine), two affable yet clueless hillbillies, are on holiday looking to do some fishing and drink some beers whilst patching up Tucker's new vacation home (which looks eerily like the log cabin from The Evil Dead). But they're not alone in the woods. Some frat-brats have also decided to pitch up a tent and party. One skinny dipping session later, where Tucker and Dale save one of the hapless college girls from drowning, turns into a simple misunderstanding where the remaining bunch of students presume their friend kidnapped and likely to suffer unspeakable evil at the hands of the duo. Fearing for their lives that Tucker and Dale will come after them next, the remaining frat-brats decide to strike first blood by harassing and hounding the care-free hillbillies for the rest of the night.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil is a welcome return to the horror ethos of old. Gone is the stale, tedious torture porn of the last decade, replaced by a homage to what once made the genre great; lots of gore, balanced by entertaining comedy moments and featuring an intelligent satirical streak that belies the lead duo's relative stupidity. Unsurprisingly, the reversal of norms is what initially makes Tucker and Dale a compelling watch. Here the usual Brady bunch of backwards, inbred, deep-south archetypes are a warm, friendly duo that unfortunately look like they might be a couple of unpleasant psychos. The college gang are typical fresh-faced smart-asses, but with deep-rooted prejudices and at least one psycho nut-job amongst them. That the frat goofs seemingly accept everything observed at face value is where much of the initial farce derives; 'hey, we've got your friend' calls a friendly Dale once they've pulled her from out of the lake, only to be met with cries of terror.
With the set-up complete, the film just gets on with the lovingly crafted punch-lines; dispatching the incompetent students via hilarious accidental deaths that befit their mis-reading of situations. A sequence with a wood-chipper is not exactly unexpected but still reaches the echelons of horror-comedy genius (thanks mainly to Tudyk's brilliant reaction). This is almost bettered by a chainsaw sequence involving Tucker and a horde of restless bees that will have you chuckling away like a gibbon. Proof that someone running at you screaming with a chainsaw in hand doesn't necessarily mean they're attempting to kill you. And any film that has the blonde bird with the massive norks splashed with gore in between the mayhem for simple chuckles is always onto a winner.
Tudyk and Labine, as needs be for the titular leads, are excellent throughout, providing Tucker and Dale with banter and warmth reminiscent of Val and Earl in Tremors. They're incidental characteristic traits are delightful, from Tucker pouring beer onto his ever growing list of injuries for medicinal purposes to Dale's photographic memory being of little use to his erstwhile social awkwardness. Most of the laughs are generated by the twosome, be it their own interpretation of the bizarre circumstances happening around them ('suicide pact') to their explanation with the local law enforcement about the host of dead bodies littered all over their property ('Hidy ho officer, we've had a doozy of a day'). Without such an endearing partnership, Tucker and Dale would easily be a less engaging watch. The students are also much more spunky and memorable than the usual brand of college personas that you almost feel sorry for their ineptitude. Jesse Moss is particularly excellent as the slightly unhinged Chad who leads the mayhem against poor old T&D, whilst Katrina Bowden is rather plucky as the damsel in distress.
Parodies are a tough concept to deliver, yet Tucker and Dale succeeds largely on the underplaying of the situation. It's less nudge, nudge, wink, wink, look how clever we are (i.e. it's not unpalatable shit like Scary Movie), instead opting for a more seamless transition into routine horror, but one that tells convention to ever so slightly do one (kind of like Bubba Ho-Tep). Sure, the plot loses its way in the last third - the appearance of an improbable newspaper cutting from 20 years previously positing a big revelation is incredibly hackneyed - and the 'don't judge a book by its cover' platitudes are as obvious as Wayne Rooney sporting new hair follicles. But at only 90 minutes long these do little to undermine the carnage and laugh riot that has already preceded. Tension, chainsaws, laughs and bucket-loads of gore, but not how you quite expect it, Tucker and Dale vs Evil is a unique entry into the genre. It also happens to be rather wonderful.
Overall - A rare gem of a movie. Tucker and Dale are cult characters in the making; sequel please!
Director: Eli Craig
Screenplay: Eli Craig and Morgan Jurgenson
Tyler Labine... Dale Dobson
Alan Tudyk... Tucker
Katrina Bowden... Allison
Jesse Moss... Chad
Philip Granger... Sheriff
Brandon Jay McLaren... Jason
Christie Laing... Naomi
Chelan Simmons... Chloe
Travis Nelson... Chuck
Alex Arsenault... Todd
Adam Beauchesne... Mitch
Running time: 89 minutes
© clownfoot. February 2012
Most modern games are insubstantial shit. Take sand-box adventures for instance. Fun for all of a few seconds until you recognise playing pool is way more fun with real people, in a real bar, with real beer. Meaningless side-games only exist to detract from the fact that mindlessly running over people in stolen vehicles is dull and tedious in the long-term. The Sims; fun for all of a few seconds until you realise that earning real money, buying your own house and kitting it out with your own stuff is way more fun. Modern Warfare; amazing graphics that simply mask the bland, tedious level design suggesting most gamers are idiots that would somehow prefer style over substance. Oh!
I could go on.
Of course, I say most modern games. There is the odd occasion where a title sneaks out thinking it is still sometime between 1984 and 1998 and that words like 'challenging', 'unique' and 'tough as mittens' remain in common gaming parlance. So, if Portal 2 is the Head Over Heels of the modern age that would make Danish developers Playdead's latest title 'Limbo' the natural successor to Delphine Software's rather spectacular (at the time) Another World. Well, kind of the same, just more macabre, less colourful and with a silhouetted protagonist that you kind of end up caring for rather than a goofy, ginger-haired scientist tossbag.
Limbo's plot is quite simple: small boy wakes up in a somewhat haunting and bleak forest with his sister missing. He has to find her whilst navigating a surreal monochrome landscape and the deadly, brutal traps lurking within its dark underbelly. That's pretty much it. Playing very much like a horizontal scrolling platform adventure, Limbo's roots are aligned with old school retro-gaming conventions. Instant deaths and immaculate timing are routine and hark back to bastard hard single-life Spectrum games like Treasure Island Dizzy. Yet the touch of the modern ensures it's not insanely frustrating as was the case with games of yonder. The puzzles have been logically and lovingly crafted with the difficulty level spot on, meaning that even the short attention spans of most modern gamers will revel in the challenge (instead of immediately searching for an online walkthrough).
The mechanics behind the instant deaths, for example, are actually a quirky design necessity, rather than an infuriating bollock ache, to aid the player in game progression. So, stepping on an unseen pressure pad usually ends with the protagonist getting squashed into mangled little pieces. You've now learned not to tread on said pressure pad again. When confronted with blow-dart wielding humanoid figures further on, back-tracking and leaping across the pressure pads leads to their mucky end instead. Simples! Likewise, the punishment for making a simple error in judgement when leaping over a circular saw is much more restrained than in the pixel perfect days of Dizzy. After the protagonist's body is mangled and shredded in an impeccable display of quality gore, you are simply returned to the beginning of that puzzle to try again. Dizzy would have required you to begin all over...
Added to these design mechanics is the games unique style. This, if anything, is what makes Limbo a highly memorable gaming experience. It's not just a game; Limbo is art! The visuals are utterly compelling in both conveying the surreal dream-like quality of the nightmarish environment and, in the absence of a more elongated plot, generating the emotional high-points that make you care for the little boys plight. The lack of colour, the foregrounds in shadow tempered by the greys and whites of the parallax scrolling backgrounds, ensures the hazy macabre reality is an unsettling, yet awe-inspiring experience for the eyes. As soon as the protagonist wakes and begins his journey, you're thrown into a feverish night-terror straight out of a graphic novel. The accompanying silence and minimal sound throughout simply enhances this atmosphere. As do the few segments of lively action that take on a film like quality, especially the sequences involving a giant fecking spider. Running away from that behemoth, whilst applying pin-point timing to every leap, certainly makes for a welcome change of pace to the more plodding puzzling aspects of Limbo.
Then there's the little boy; a shadowy, silent silhouette with two piercing bright eyes who is animated superbly to convince this is just a little boy. It's simply remarkable that such a diminutive avatar can create the much needed pathos the longevity of the game relies upon. Of course the range of deaths in store and the discombobulation of his body parts at these junctures kind of helps. Every time he is impaled on sharp spikes, falls long distances before breaking his neck (or legs, depending on which way up he lands), carved into little pieces by circular saws or mashed against the ceiling by hydraulics is one more time you regret your latest action. After all, this is a lost little boy, in a nightmare world, looking to find a way out, whom you've just killed because of your complete ineptitude. The lack of a driving plot may irk some, but the conditioning Limbo works on the player to see the little boy through to sanctuary at the end of the game (his forlorn, piercing eyes are incredibly affecting) is a compelling driving force throughout. Indeed, Limbo works, in many ways, due to the care and attention afforded to its style, which ultimately complements the substance. Just looking at the game has much reward!
Sure, there are complaints. Gradually, the oppressive forest environment is replaced by a detritus strewn, lifeless industrialised shitscape - Limbo starts to lose its way around this point. The puzzles seem less enjoyable and limp without gigantic spiders, brain slugs and shadowy humanoid figures perpetuating the lurking danger. The static puzzles that seemingly frequent the last third just seem like more of a chore. And once you do reach the end the ambivalent finale is likely to leave some gamers with an unsatisfied taste in the mouth (although for my money the symmetry and minimalist explanation of the conclusion makes Limbo wonderfully thought-provoking, not underwhelming).
It's also a relatively short game and should only take four to five hours for most competent gamers to complete, which brings into question longevity. Although for seven quid you can't really complain. Like Portal beforehand, the length of the game is moot when taking into consideration the unique appeal that Limbo provides. In a medium of never-ending first person shooters, Limbo is a refreshing change to the norm. In addition, there is one Steam achievement (complete the game losing only five lives throughout) which is an old school hardcore gaming convention. This certainly adds further scope for play, it's just a shame that Playdead did not think to include this in Limbo from the outset - that would really have sorted the men from the muppets.
But these are fairly inconsequential points. Limbo remains a highly impressive title and certainly much more than you would expect from an independent developer. Its artistry is beautiful despite the depressing bleakness. The puzzles are challenging and superbly crafted without the unnecessary frustration. The simple 2-D platforms are retro enough to give older gamers a refreshing tingle, yet it's world away from Mario. Witness the traps that are of the skull-crushing until you're mashed to a pulp variety. Vastly different to dodging Goombas and getting smashed on mushrooms. Limbo is, therefore, the perfect blend of old and new; perhaps that's why it plays so damn well!
Overall - Probably one of the best games of 2011. A beautiful nightmare and a real treat for retro and modern gamers alike.
Hardware requirements - Should run on most half-decent PCs (2 Hhz processor) with a five year old graphics card. Only takes up 150MB of hard disk space .
Where to buy - Download it from Steam for just £6.99. Bargain! Limbo is also available on the PS3 and X-Box 360 with no real differences in each conversion.
© clownfoot, January 2012.
HALF LIFE 2 (PC)
The problem with being the sequel to one of the greatest games ever made is that you're the sequel to one of the greatest games ever made. Just how in the blue hell are you supposed to top the original resonance cascade and Gordon Freeman's rise from PhD boffin to gun-totting, alien arse-kicking hero of awesomeness? Even the most erudite Vortigaunt is likely to scratch his nuts in irritation whilst pondering the answer to such an impossible conundrum. Yet, fear not mere mortals. Gaming Gods Valve were on the case and considering they rarely, if at all, goof up, Half-Life 2 must surely have been in safe hands. However, John Romero (of Doom and Quake fame) was also considered a first-person shooter game-making genius before the sheer awfulness of Daikatana, so perhaps we shouldn't get too far ahead of ourselves with the superlatives just yet.
"Rise and shine, Mr Freeman. Rise... and shine." With the G-Man's cryptic words ringing in Gordon's ears, the man with the crow-bar is finally awoken from his lengthy stint in stasis and re-inserted into a world much changed following the Black Mesa incident. His time has come again, apparently. Gordon may have prevented one hostile alien takeover, but the portals created by the original resonance cascade did not close, remaining open for any charlatan or shit with a big enough army to plough through, exploit and enslave humanity. Just like the Combine have managed during Gordon's extended rest. Stepping off the train into the dour, oppressive atmosphere of City 17, unarmed and unknown, Gordon's insertion is primarily to save humanity. Again. Not bad for a theoretical physicist turned one-man army...
Beginning at the exact point the original game left off with Gordon in stasis, albeit some 15 years later, is a pretty good start on the track to besting your forefather. If you're going to borrow a plot device from anywhere else you may as well borrow it from Aliens (curiously a sequel that out does the original - coincidence?). The art of successful sequel-making is usually best attributed to more of the same, yet entirely different. So whilst the stasis concept allows for Gordon's first step into City 17 to be a world away from the journey through the bowels of Black Mesa, there really is little change in the main game dynamics.
Firstly, it remains a glorious first person shooter with magnificent depth. City 17 and the world beyond are highly immersive arenas continuing in the vein of the original that story progression is just as central to blowing the shit out of everything for maximum entertainment. As before, the initial chapters set about enveloping the player in a bewildering environment lacking the nice tidy answers and spoon-feeding common within the genre, and introduces some wonderful little touches that give the world definition instead. The video screen of Dr Wallace Breen (former head of Black Mesa) welcoming new arrivals to the safety of City 17 is offset by Combine troops lining humans up against a wall for nefarious purposes further into the city. Not everything is as Breen would have you believe. Mechanised striders briskly moving between the city's tower blocks and a routine sweep and clear of one building all add to the feeling of a dishevelled European state run by Stasi type overlords.
Again there are no objectives, no cut-scenes, no inventory page; everything is shown within Gordon's (your) eye-view. Barney and Dr Eli Vance (who frequented Gordon's original adventure) show up to fill in the gaps about what happened at Black Mesa and the aftermath following Gordon's disappearance, before providing the initial inertia (and crowbar) that moves the storyline in that familiar unrelenting way. Similar to the original, a good hour will have passed drinking in the surroundings before Gordon is thrust into action in attempting to escape the City. By this time you're so immersed in the Half-Life universe that putting the mouse and keyboard away for the evening will be the last thing on your mind. This is how movie-styled gaming should work!
Once it does arrive, as before, the action is pretty much spot on. Scripted events burst into thrilling skirmishes (with the obligatory pounding music) benefitting from classy AI that renders enemies complete bastards to take down. The Combine will throw grenades, dodge the one's you chuck at them, communicate with each other and attempt to out flank you, back off if you're getting on top and duck behind cover. Tactical nous and strategy are required to get through each set piece - there are no moronic enemies running into your line-of-sight here - and the AI is smart enough that no one single battle ever turns out the same. Attempt to re-load from a save point and the enemies will not appear in the exact same locations as the previous run-in. After all, this isn't some sloppy, shite FPS experience, like Modern Warfare 2.
Added to this similar feel are new elements that breathe fresh life into proceedings. This is where Valve succeeds where most others fail; generating sheer variety in level design. Two levels featuring a hover-craft and buggy, which allow Gordon to zoom around expansive environments outside City 17, are great fun balancing involving puzzles (using a crane to move the buggy to a higher ground) with high-octane action sequences (a brilliantly conceived helicopter gunship chase). If there is one disappointing aspect that could be directed the sequels way it's with the reduced amount of weaponry available. Gone is the Alien firepower from the original, along with the likes of the rail-gun. However, Valve has simply replaced these items with refreshing and original concepts. The plasma rifle is a neat addition; the Antlion pheromone is simple genius. Throw this Antlion queen body-part like a grenade and a horde of Antlions appear at the location it lands to fight alongside Gordon. It opens up a whole raft of additional tactics from the typical point and shoot style engagement. For instance, under heavy fire from a big fecking gun with no way past unless you want to be turned into mincemeat, the Antlions are perfect cannon fodder and a handy distraction for Gordon to dodge to more convenient cover. Furthermore, chuck the pheromone into a group of Combine and just watch the Antlions tear them a new one. Marvellous!
Yet this is nothing compared to the uniqueness of surely the best and most intriguing weapon ever crafted for an FPS title. The gravity gun seems like a little bit of a novelty at first, designed purely to show off the wonderful physics implementation of Valve's Source engine. It simply pulls objects within range towards the gun that can either be fired away or dropped to the floor. That's it. However, you soon realise that the gravity gun potential and the game world are hugely inter-linked, providing a whole set of entirely new gameplay options. Sure it does the basics, such as retrieving ammo and health kits from out of reach places or crafting makeshift pathways across a desert teaming with Antlion's underneath. But the real show stopper is the combat options that become available with the gravity gun. So how about pulling a fridge off the wall to use as a shield from enemy fire and, when close enough, flinging it as a piece of shrapnel death towards the Combine motherhumpers. Cool, huh? Oil drums can be fired as grenades, circular saws used to slice enemies open; in fact, any piece of debris lying about can be picked up and used as a weapon, transforming the gaming environment into something much more deadly.
The gravity gun ensures the Ravenholme section of Half-Life 2, an area that resembles a gothic horror novel filled with the terrors of the Black Mesa's resonance cascade, is one of the best designed (and most chilling) levels ever seen in the genre. A bombed out, abandoned town devoid of civilians (apart from one deranged priest) but host to a horde of head-crab zombies is made evermore difficult by the lack of ammo for your regular weapons. The gravity gun becomes vital in slicing, dicing, pummelling and burning your way through this most absorbing chapter. Half Life 2 would no doubt be a great game without it, but with the gravity gun's added dimension it just reaches a whole new level of awesome.
Ravenholme itself is just one of Half Life 2's many 'wow' moments, yet there are so many more spine-tingling encounters in the game that you'll be creaming in your jeans with glee throughout the whole experience. The sentry gun sequence in Nova Prospekt is not only feck hard, but a truly adrenaline pumping experience. Few other games manage such an ingenious close-encounters battle with such refined success. A roof-top battle against the striders observed in the games prologue is simply beyond superlatives and yet this is bettered by a sequence in the city square that can only be described as War of the Worlds on shitloads of cocaine. Bringing such behemoth machines down with a solitary rocket launcher, whilst hiding in the havoc and destruction caused by their obliterating weaponry, is absolute gaming heaven.
Even in the games more subtle moments there is poise and purpose. Taking a serene ride through the bowels of the City 17 citadel (yet another 'wow' moment) merely adds more style and substance to the magnificent storyline. Frequent conversation with the Vortigaunts enlightens one further to Gordon's being (and their dichotomy with the elusive G-Man). Small touches such as drop-ships touching down and having enemies disembark to engage Gordon elevates the game mechanics away from the annoyance of poorer titles where enemies can just spawn randomly. And unlike much of the next gen console first person shooters, it's not all over in a couple of seconds like a teenager rifling through his Dad's collection of porn. Half-Life 2 is much classier than that.
So, if you have somehow managed to miss the underlying message to all this, Half Life 2 is the perfect sequel. More of the same, but with added bits that make it reek of awesomeness. Sure, some will moan that come the end there is no conventional boss to defeat (like any of the strider or gunship battles are in any way a piece of piss) and that there remain a number of unresolved questions, this really doesn't prevent Half-Life 2 from being constantly challenging, highly immersive and, on more than the odd occasion, absolutely spectacular beyond mortal words. Resonance cascade topped. Grab your crowbar and rock on!
Overall - The measure by which all other single-player first person shooters are judged. Kneel before the Freeman!
Hardware requirements - released in 2004, Half-Life 2 will run on all modern PCs with a half-decent graphics card.
Where to buy - Download it from Steam for just £6.99 or purchase as part of The Orange Box (the greatest compilation box-set ever released) for £14.99.
© clownfoot, September 2011.
Before the arrival of my little boy I was quite afraid. If the wife's pregnancy and the upcoming labour wasn't enough to keep me constantly on edge, then the advice from family, friends, work colleagues, the NCT group and random strangers down the pub about the post-birth after-life was almost enough to send me rolling down the cliff-side. All I had to look forward to from this point to the end of eternity was incessant mountains of poo, sleep deprivation, an end to all social activity and incessant mountains of poo (so important it needs to be said twice). Not to mention that if the little man had colic then I would effectively rise one morning after a month of non-stop crying as something resembling a shuffling brain-eating zombie.
And for a time at the beginning of this new adventure I thought they would be right. At the birth, my boy came out covered in poo. Typical! He was also fairly ill for his first the ten days in the world, spending a short time in the hospitals neonatal intensive care unit (a really humbling experience) and needing a course of antibiotics to overcome the illness. The antibiotics had an unfortunate after affect. On his third day the little one would plaster my right arm with fiery orange liquid death that was fired like an Exocet missile from his tiny little bottom. It could have been a full-on chest shot except the squeak of a fart encouraged me to take a side-step. Most of the evil just arched across the room instead, destroying the wall on the other-side (a good nine feet away). I'd never seen anything like it. The tiny extra bit he squeezed out for simple chuckles after the main course still haunts me to this day. Walking into the nurses' ward to ask for help I felt like the guy from Robocop who crashes his van into a tub of toxic waste. "Help me, I'm melting..."
Luckily, such early encounters with unbelievable amounts of baby poo have guarded me well for all future nappy changing events. Rather than freak-out like a complete goof, I made the decision that where the little one was concerned I'd simply suck it in (an intake of breath, not the poo) and get on with things. As such, I'm now a Zen master of nappy changing! More to the point it shows for all the stuff people tell you prior to the birth, you really don't know how you're going to deal with things until you're actually in the danger zone. Thinking about changing nappies during the wife's pregnancy made me feel icky; post-birth, what's the big fecking deal!
Yes, he is a rubbish sleeper and my social activity has been reduced to virtually nothing; people were not wrong about that. I originally thought, rather naively, that babies arrived from the womb fully understanding the sleep process. Do. They. Bollocks! No, you have to train them how to sleep, which is pretty much like attempting to train a puppy not to lick their plums. Yet even here there are hidden bonuses. I've worked out I can survive through the day on just four hours of sleep and remain effective at work, rather than wander around like a perpetually clueless goon. Likewise, although my social-life has been stunted this has had a great effect on my physique. I feel more energised from avoiding beer, not to mention the weekend hangover has been vanquished, and I'm much thinner and fitter than before.
Which makes me question, why does no one tell you about these benefits before having a baby? Why is it always 'covered in poo', 'you'll be walking about like a zombie' and 'the first few months are hell'? Additionally, why does no one tell you about the wonderful things that happen as your child slowly grows into himself? Perhaps it's down to the simple joy of letting you find out and experience the more amazing things for yourself, at undisclosed times when you're least expecting it.
A case in point, the other week I was moving a suitcase which involved raising the metal handle into its full position so that it could be easily pulled along the floor. So, I raised the handle up, got distracted by something and slammed it back down into the hidden position. The little tinker was watching on and decided this was the funniest thing he had ever seen. The belly laugh and his chuckling were so infectious I did it again. And again. And again. In total I did this with the suitcase handle about 20 times and the little man's uncontrolled joy never ceased; he just kept chuckling away like a gibbon. The action I was carrying out was not in the remotest bit funny, but in a child's world it was a moment of wonder and sheer amazement. Oh, to be a child again, huh?
So, almost nine months of being a father have passed and he's already standing himself up and cruising with the aid of furniture. It's been an incredible journey so far. Here's to the next set of adventures as he grows into a toddler. Although, if at all possible, if you could avoid hosing me down with liquid shit again, that would be nice...!
© clownfoot, September 2011. Article can also be found on my blog at http://clownfootsinversemidas.blogspot.com/
CRANK 2: HIGH VOLTAGE (2009)
The main criticism thrown the way of Crank was that it suffered from flat, unimaginative action scenes. The proposed mayhem and gratuitous violence was stilted, somewhat restrained and didn't quite match the glorious absurdity of the bonkers, stupidly high-concept plot. Well, Crank 2: High Voltage is a whole new level of 'feck me, that's awesome' and as sequels go, it puts everything right that didn't quite work in the original. Its bat-shit insane, but with the balls to really tell good taste to take a hike and features so many off-the-wall bonuses that it remains joyously entertaining to boot!
Of course the starting point is slightly mad, carrying on from the exact point the first film left off with Chev Chelios (an outrageous Jason Statham) plummeting to his death following a mid-air punch-up with eternal nemesis Ricky Verona. Scraped off the tarmac and bundled into a van by Triads he is kept alive so the Chelios 'super' heart can be extracted from Chev as a donor to an ageing gang-leader. Given an electronic replacement during the surgery, which he has to keep juiced up with enough charge to keep his body ticking over to avoid death, Chev is more than a little pissed and goes on the rampage to get his indestructible heart back, whilst eating more electricity than you could throw at Frankenstein's monster.
So far, so sounding like the original flick, and in many ways it is fairly identical. Previous cast members (Amy Smart, Dwight Yoakam, Efren Ramirez) make an appearance; Chev and girlfriend Eve (Smart) go at it again in a public place with much hilarity; the central concept is no different either. Statham simply uses any form of electricity to keep himself completely wired, rather than the red bull and shots of adrenaline from previously. The main difference is, this time round, everything is turned up to eleven. Maybe even twelve! So Smart has transformed from a drippy girlfriend into a pole-dancing nymphomaniac; Ramirez returns but as Venus, twin brother of Kaylo, albeit with a nasty case of physical tourettes (What? Exactly!); Chev's happily sticking pump-action shotguns up bad guy's arses for chuckles and rubbing himself alluringly against old ladies for a spark of static electricity (both genius); and it all plays out in non-stop unrelenting carnage. Everything just seems much stupider for the sequel, which simply adds to the fun!
Added to this are sequences from the left-field that just make the whole silly endeavour attain another plane of magnificent magnitude. The Godzilla styled punch-up with an over-sized Chelios (and papier-mâché head) destroying a power station is just inspired. Daft, but inspired! The 'f**k you Chelios' dream-sequence is equally brilliant, even throwing up a completely bizarre cameo by Geri Halliwell as Chelios' Australian accented mother. The public sex scene... well, you have to see it to believe it (although fair-play to both Statham and Smart for being such good sports). And the finale is just so spectacularly over the top, especially the one final dollop of ridiculousness provided by writer and director's Neveldine and Taylor that you can't help but grin like a baboon.
Of course some people (let's refer to them as idiots) won't enjoy it. The car crash nature of throwing every bonkers idea at the wall and seeing what sticks just will not appeal to everyone, particularly those who, ironically, look for realism in movies. Plus there's the gratuitous sex scene (cover your eyes prudes), some nasty self-harm involving nipples, sushi being made out of elbows (eek!) and the Stat's regular use of the big C - although here brilliantly rhyming it with Cantonese doesn't better the forehead joke from the original. It's an 18 for good reason. You're not going to see a pole-dancer get shot in the chest and her silicone boobs ooze out all over the place elsewhere, that's for sure.
But for those that can stomach its pure cartoon styled silliness Crank 2 is a deliriously bonkers soup of high-octane action, laughs, uber-violence, boobs, explosions and moments of spectacular nerve (the Godzilla sequence - I mean, did the producers not read the script?). It's lovingly crafted and edited superbly to generate such a frenzied exasperating pace, the Stat has never been better, everyone else buys into the pure mayhem of it all convincingly, and in this day and age where action films are generally soulless affairs (ahem, The Expendables, ahem) Neveldine and Taylor have provided a rip-roaringly refreshingly and entertaining movie. More films like this please!
Overall - Pure style over substance. Pure nonsense from start to finish and utterly pointless. But my, oh so brilliant and entertaining!
Directors: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Screenplay: Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor
Jason Statham ... Chev Chelios
Amy Smart ... Eve Lydon
Dwight Yoakam ... Doc Miles
Efren Ramirez ... Venus
Julanne Chidi Hill ... Dark Chocolate
Jose Pablo Cantillo ... Ricky Verona
Reno Wilson ... Orlando
Keone Young ... Don Kim
Art Hsu ... Johnny Vang
Joseph Julian Soria ... Chico
Ling Bai ... Ria
Clifton Collins Jr. ... El Huron
David Carradine ... Poon Dong
Corey Haim ... Randy
Certificate: 18 (violence, sex, language, more boobs than you can shake a stick at)
Running Time: 96 minutes
© clownfoot. June 2011
DEAD MAN'S SHOES (2004)
'God will forgive them. He'll forgive them and allow them into Heaven. I can't live with that.' And so begins the vengeance movie to end all vengeance movies, not that there's anything drastically original about Dead Man's Shoes at first glance. The simple tale of one man returning home to exact revenge on the bullies of his mentally impaired brother, complete with typical slow-burning flashbacks to build up the extent of the crime, seems little different to most other vengeance flicks. But with a complex protagonist for whom few easy answers are offered, a sense of genuine, palpable terror displayed by his quarry and some fine scripting, Dead Man's Shoes excels against many of its contemporaries.
Firstly, however, who would have thought that Matlock, Derbyshire could be shot so beautifully? Whilst the likes of Old Boy and The Crow glimmer with style, there's something a good deal more terrifying about the low-budget action being encapsulated in this small bubble of middle England. The normality of the situation, turning credibly more oppressive and stifling as Richard's (the utterly brilliant Paddy Considine) brand of personal justice grows into something much more sinister and severe is masterful. More so when you consider the fine-tuned ambiguity director Shane Meadow's employs to allow the audience to empathise with the rag-tag crew of petty criminals being terrorised. Sonny's (Gary Stretch) breakdown at one point is remarkable and poignant. Even real bastards, it seems, are regretful of their past when death is on the line. Yet because most of his followers are merely guilty by association, the movie questions the true hall-marks of evil and, beyond that, whether such retribution is justified. It's wonderfully thought-provoking stuff. Even simple scenes such as Richard's reconciliation with his brother are multi-layered when magnified by the films conclusion. Watching one man stare into the abyss and glance at the monsters reflected back at him has never made for such compelling viewing.
Paddy Considine throughout is simply mesmerising. Easily the best British actor working today, he flits between caring and thoughtful consult for his brother to convincing tough guy/nutjob in a heartbeat. It's a magnetic and engaging performance of the titular anti-hero, almost topped by Tony Kebbell's brilliantly understated role as Richard's younger brother. On top of this, there's some fine humour (see the 'goonies' pimp my ride Citroen) juxtaposed against otherwise harrowing scenes (you may struggle to view an ordinary suitcase in much the same way again after watching this) and several stand out moments that seemingly kick sand in the face of Hollywood's finest. Richard's and Sonny's meeting when each weighs the other up is tantalising, intense and to the point in every way that Pacino and De Niro failed to manage in Heat. Likewise, few films have convincingly portrayed a bad acid-trip quite as well as in one particularly outstanding and terrifying scene here.
Sure, Dead Man's Shoes is hellishly dark and utterly brutal, but there's much more on show than in the simple bobbins of Taken. It belies its typical genre conventions, and when you consider the low-budget approach to it all, you can't help but think Dead Man's Shoes is perhaps one of the finest British films ever made. Yep, even better than the seminal British vengeance flick Get Carter. It cannot come more highly recommended than that.
Director: Shane Meadows
Screenplay: Shane Meadows and Paddy Considine
Paddy Considine ... Richard
Gary Stretch ... Sonny
Toby Kebbell ... Anthony
Seamus O'Neill ... Big Al
Stuart Wolfenden ... Herbie
Paul Sadot ... Tuff
Certificate: 18 (deservedly so)
Running Time: 90 minutes (of genius)
© clownfoot. May 2011
UNCHARTED 2: AMONG THIEVES (PS3)
The studio executives responsible for converting classic video games to the movie screen are a bunch of clueless, morally bankrupt, bastards. Bastards made of piss. Foul smelling acid piss that would melt your face off in an instant if they so happened to be pissing on your face. Which they are, every time you shell out cash for one of their movies! With making a shitload of money the sole object of such an endeavour, rather than actually putting in the effort to make a half-decent film, said executives have gleefully raped and pillaged their way though our collective gaming memories, reducing much loved characters and titles to a shambolic mess of their former incarnations. Angelina Jolie's take on Lara Croft? A CGI-swamped piece of awfulness. Paul W S Anderson's Resident Evil musings? Utter wank. JCVD's Streetfighter 2? Pitiful! These executives should be placed on a bonfire alongside the charlatans that think incessant remakes and sequels are what humanity really needs. Quickly, light a match so we can burn all these feckers and their money before Half-Life is bastardised all to hell...
Luckily, the reverse is not always the case in the gaming world (so long as you can ignore the swathes of film conversion cash-cows that are nearly always unrelentingly shit; Golden Eye - exception to the rule, obviously). Indeed, it's where game designers have instead borrowed heavily from the style and themes of movie genres and pasted such content into an original story arc and game dynamic that frequently derives success in the modern gaming world. Dead Space, for instance, is very much Ridley Scott's Alien, yet features its own wonderful creature design and engaging plot to add to the creeping, nerve-shredding tension. Red Dead Redemption is any Clint Eastwood or Sergio Leone western cliché you care to think about, which really is no bad thing. Grand Theft Auto has slowly become a pastiche of Scarface, albeit without an over-acting, shouty Al Pacino in the lead. And Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is, quite simply, what Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull should have really looked like!
Okay, so lead character Nathan Drake may not have a trusty fedora and bull-whip, or a PhD in archaeology, or be on the run constantly from Nazis, but what he does have is the hunt for an actual ancient relic as opposed to some bollocks alien artefact (ZING), which isn't archaeology Spielberg! Nathan does share Indy's common traits of being a smug, swarve git that gets all the girls though. He also shares a rather handy knack for getting himself into various states of mild peril. Take the cliffhanger opening at the start of Uncharted 2 for instance. Bleeding heavily from a bullet wound to the stomach and dangling by a thread as the creaking, derailed train he clings to stares down into the abyss below; it's a magnificent start to any game, let alone movie. Immediately the player is engaged. What the hell has happened here? How has Drake found himself in such a dire situation? And after taking control to assist Nathan from surviving near certain death, you're sure going to have fun finding out. So starts a kick-ass adventure that begins in a Turkish prison, takes in exotic locations such as Borneo, a bombed out Nepal, and the mountains of Tibet as Nathan attempts to locate Marco Polo's lost fleet and the legendary Cintamani Stone before nefarious evil-doers can get to it first. Not so he can put it a museum, of course, but so he can sell it to the highest bidder. Okay, so not very much like Indy in that case.
At first it may seem like Uncharted 2 is a bit of a Tombraider clone, yet it outdoes the Lara Croft vehicle on all fronts (apart from the obvious frontage), whilst managing to bring it's own gameplay mechanics to the fold. Nathan has some handy circus skills available that allow him to free-climb buildings, mountains, the north face of the Uxbridge Road - you name it he can climb it - but this is all done so much more elegantly than in Tombraider. Add to this some diverse, intuitive (rather than illogical) puzzles and you have a perfect platform jumper. The addition of a third-person shooting dynamic would normally jar against the running and jumping aspects (see Tombraider), but here it works incredibly well. Borrowing a cover system reminiscent of Gears of War is a smart addition, but the real winner is the fluid motion and control in targeting enemies and blowing the crap out of them. It's swift, easy and more reminiscent of a mouse and keyboard than any PS3 controller. Remarkable!
Yet there's more. Uncharted 2 also has room to entertain a stealth option allowing Nathan to creep up on enemies and partake in some instant take-downs or one-on-one punch ups. It's not Batman: Arkham Asylum's combat system by a long stretch and the stealth function is much more limited, but it certainly adds to the gameplay variety of the package. There's nothing quite like sneaking around the side of a building, jumping to a lamppost, hiding behind the attached advertising hoarding and dropping a grenade or two on the unsuspecting enemies below. BOOM! Of course with so many game styles involved there's always the chance that developers Naughty Dog might just over-egg it with the game mechanics. Just look at the wretched car-crash that comprises the god-awful Metal Gear Solid for instance! Uncharted 2, however, is exceptionally well balanced throughout. Just at the point where constant shoot-outs in the streets of Nepal might become slightly tedious, the game switches tact, leading to a lengthy puzzle section where dodging traps and reaching lofty places requires some expert leaping and, just before that starts getting a little dull, the balls-out wall to wall carnage resumes. The pace and variation in the gameplay is simply a joy. And that's without mentioning the major set-pieces that frequently occur...
There really is nothing quite like a huge tank crashing through a Tibetan village in chase of the player to set the pulse racing. It's a frantic, exhilarating sequence of legging it through claustrophobic alley-ways and ducking for cover on the roofs of bombed out stone buildings, with an unrelenting mechanical monster hot on your tail throughout. Terrific stuff! As is the gunship missile attack that fells the building occupied by the player at one point, which is simply pant-wettingly awesome. Not too be outdone, hanging off the side of train carriages whilst pulling enemies to their doom isn't bad either (although you will ask yourself how many smegging carriages does this blooming train have at one point).
There are simply stonking sequences after stonking sequences throughout Uncharted 2, yet the reason they stand out is not due to the sheer implausible Indy-esque audacity of each scenario, but the palpable cinematic visuals which accompany the game. Uncharted 2 is absolutely stunning to look at even when so much is going on. Jaw-dropping even. The detail is exquisite, everything moves unbelievably smoothly and the varying landscapes and backdrops are simply gorgeous to view. The train section, is simply amazing, spicing up what is a fairly generic gaming sequence into something fresh and invigorating. The production values just add a further breath-taking element to every gun-fight, every take-down, every leap; you could be forgiven for thinking you were watching an Indy film (not Crystal Skull of course) rather than playing what might otherwise have been a fairly standard arcade adventure game. That's how telling the visuals are. The PS3's capabilities are really pushed to the limit and boy, does it make Uncharted 2 all the better for it.
Indeed, Uncharted 2's cinematic credentials are perfect elsewhere as well. Acting throughout is quality with a terrific voice-cast assembled. Nolan North is charismatic and dryly witty as Nathan, exactly what's required for the central player character. His sardonic banter throughout with Chloe, Flynn and Elena makes the fil... sorry, game, genuinely entertaining and engaging. The script is also reassuringly self-aware. Nathan's comment of 'looks like we need to go up' when he's spent most of the game climbing stuff raises a wry smile, particularly when Elena responds that she would rather gouge out her eyes with a spoon than do any more fecking climbing (or words to that affect). Most importantly, though, the cut-scenes, usually a right sticking point in games of this type, drive the story forward in a meaningful way, rather than being as bothersome as a horny dog attempting to dry-hump your leg. They're generally concise, to the point and mean you can get back to gallivanting across the globe in search of treasure and shit before you can say suck on this Lara!
If there is anything to criticise then Uncharted 2 is a little slow to get going. So much so, that you may end up playing Batman: Arkham Asylum to death instead (it's more immediately engaging), before returning to Nathan and company some months later. The controls can also be a little fiddly, especially when attempting to take cover, resulting in some stupidly annoying deaths. And, in some ways, the finale is ever-so slightly disappointing...
Yet these are small fry concerns when considering the quite fantastic accomplishment Naughty Dog have delivered. They've managed to merge the cinematic style of the movies with some of the best gameplay yet seen on the PS3, creating a near-perfect form of future entertainment. Anyone with a PS3 should own this. Anyone without a PS3 should go and buy one so they can own this. Chuck your X-Box 360's on the fire with those bastard executives so we can celebrate in unison and pray that Nathan Drake's memory isn't sullied in the future by an ill-conceived big screen outing. For this is quite close to gaming perfection.
Overall - Time to hang-up the fedora and bull-whip Indy. Nathan Drake is the new treasure-hunter on the block.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is available as a PS3 platinum title for £19.99, but you can get it from Amazon now for £15.22.
© clownfoot, March 2011.
METALLICA - S&M
Music fans are a fickle bunch of easily offended twunts. Take the standard rule of thumb that applies to Metallica for instance. The long haired, speed-metal merchants creating the complex, orchestrated tracks of the eighties are to be revered; the more polished, manicured, hard-rockers of the nineties are little more than sell-outs taking a massive shit in your cereal. Talk about a slight over-reaction. It's not like they've been out clubbing baby seals, or voting David Cameron into head office. Seriously, children, rather than become stale and insipid, as is your want, Metallica just tried something a little different, as is theirs. Where's the harm in that you horde of gibbering baboons? Metallica rock, no matter which Metallica you listen to!
That even goes for their most obvious decent into Spinal Tap styled wankery. Metallica sharing the stage with a full blown symphonic orchestra might sound about as mad as using a box of soapy frogs to help conduct the electricity during foreplay, more so when you consider the project to be a live event, but it's really not the case. Despite the thrash and bash of their metal approach, Metallica have always crafted carefully articulated and orchestrated riffs that weave majestically into the pulsating noise of their sound (thanks mostly to the late, great Cliff Burton); little surprise then that their arrangements hold more than a passing nod to the compositions of a symphony orchestra. So, as left-field as it seems, symphony and metal are not the mere passing strangers one expects, and such a fusion makes for a tantalising prospect on the album's first play.
Indeed, after an initial listen your first response is likely to be thank the monkey gods Mark Ronson wasn't involved to bastardise Master of Puppets. We all know how Ronson near enough destroyed Radiohead's 'Just' with his wacky trumpets and silly trombones and as a consequence rightly deserves to be kicked in the bollocks for all eternity. Anyway, S&M sounds nothing like that rubbish. Instead real musician, composer and maestro Michael Kamen (whom approached Metallica with the idea of this collaboration) was on hand to conduct the San Francisco Symphony in providing the orchestral accompaniment to classic Metallica tracks where such an association might work. Accompaniment, key word that. Rather than smother the original tunes with unnecessary strings and horns (or wacky trumpets and silly trombones), Kamen's approach is much more subtle and refined, adding something to Metallica's electric, fizzing sound rather than attempting to out-gun and overwhelm the wah-wahing guitars and thumping drums. It makes for a rather unique and hugely spectacular combination.
More on that in a second though, as the key to enjoying S&M immensely, apart from getting past the somewhat pretentious gimmick, is getting used to the sensory onslaught the concept at first provides. Your precious little ears really will not know where to listen. Is it Hetfield's notorious growl that is the focus? The swooping violins? The fizz of a Hammett solo? Ulrich's ever-rumbling drum tempo? The crowd going nuts? Even though the orchestral accompaniment is well placed, such a unique sound is something the human brain has barely comprehended before. As such, it does takes a couple of listens of S&M for your mind to stop focusing on individual elements of the set - chiefly, how does the symphony actually fit against well known Metallica tracks and does it meet ones expectations - for all the components to glue into one glorious whole. Like any head-scratching conundrum (how to pee at a urinal next to someone much taller than you and with a hose like a donkey, for instance), stick with it and once everything fits into place it seems like perfection. And then you feel like an idiot for doubting Metallica's sheer awesomeness.
Master of Puppets has sounded little better and is an absolute rollicking ride (audience participation and all). The slow pace of Nothing Else Matters and the instrumental rhythms of The Call Of The Ktulu were made for an orchestral score and swoon with delight here, as does the swooping violins on Hero of the Day. By the magnificent transition at the end of the tup-thumping The Thing That Should Not Be into Fuel you soon realise this is no novelty album. The more muted symphony composition on Fuel and The Memory Remains stand out as the highlight of the whole set and certainly two of the more accomplished ventures of symphony and metal. Classics such as For Whom The Bells Toll and Sad But True are given a whole new lease of life. Perhaps most surprisingly is how well the speed metal on One and closing track Battery sound, with the fizzing guitars being relentlessly pursued by screaming strings and booming horns in a dash to the finishing line. Woah! Simply breathtaking.
Sure there is some filler included. Human, one of two tracks created specifically for this spectacle, is distinctly 'meh'. The inclusion of Until It Sleeps, Devil's Dance and Of Wolf Of Man also seem a little odd considering Metallica's extensive back catalogue (a necessity rather than choice, unfortunately, considering not all the most popular and classic tracks combined well enough with an orchestra). So whilst this is the closest you're ever going to get to a Greatest Hits it doesn't reach the heights possible due to the lack of Ride The Lightning, Fade To Black, Orion, Welcome Home, ...And Justice for All and Dyers Eve. Still, the replacements do a fine if not overly spectacular job. The only track where the ball seems to be dropped is, rather sadly, Enter Sandman. The S&M combination just does not work here and one of Metallica's most outstanding songs is relegated to something little more than slightly grating.
Still, these niggles aside, the album remains an absolute blast (and that's without even mentioning the joy of Bleeding Me and The Outlaw Torn). And the best thing about the whole endeavour? This is a live album. Some bands wish they could have studio sessions, with all the refinement that allows, which sounded this magnificent. Hetfield's vocals are on fine form, Ulrich and Newstead rarely, if at all, miss a beat, Hammet's solos are electric and suitably loud and the San Francisco Symphony are equally on the money. It's only the cheers and participation of the audience that remind you this whole crazy shindig is a live event. That's the true sign of how good this album is. Not just trying something barnstormingly bonkers and getting away with it by the skin of your teeth, but taking the time to re-create classic tracks, not destroy your legacy in one fell swoop, and to play with the utmost confidence that it will work. Work it bloody does!
So, what could have been way too high concept and gimmicky and sounded like pure nonsense on paper, has transformed into something sublime. Told you Metallica rock, no matter which Metallica you're listening to!
Overall - Turn it up to eleven, chill and relax to such wonderful noise!
1. The Ecstasy Of Gold
2. The Call Of The Ktulu
3. Master Of Puppets
4. Of Wolf And Man
5. The Thing That Should Not Be
7. The Memory Remains
8. No Leaf Clover
9. Hero Of The Day
10. Devil's Dance
11. Bleeding Me
1. Nothing Else Matters
2. Until It Sleeps
3. For Whom The Bell Tolls
5. Wherever I May Roam
6. Outlaw Torn
7. Sad But True
9. Enter Sandman
© clownfoot. March 2011
BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM (PS3)
God and Satan. Luke and Vader. Liverpool and United. Tango and Cash! All revered rivalries that have become part of popular mainstream consciousness. They all have another thing in common though. When it comes to rivalries, all bow down and worship at the feet of Batman's eternal struggle with maniacal loon The Joker. Since 1939, their battle on the streets of Gotham has become the archetypal conflict of good overcoming ever more diabolical evil. And like all good franchises their rivalry has continuously adapted to accommodate and relate to more modern audiences. From the high camp TV show of the sixties, to the darker take of Year One and The Killing Joke of the eighties, to Christopher Nolan's recent slant on The Dark Knight, one thing remains consistent; the unresolved love/hate, ying and yang relationship of these two titans of popular fiction. This remains the focus of Batman: Arkham Asylum, Bats' most recent foray into the gaming market.
Batman has once again captured Joker and quickly returned him to his regular berth at Arkham Asylum, home to the many loons and psychos (the captured ones at least) of Gotham City. But this time something doesn't feel quite right. Capturing Joker, by Batman's standards, was all too easy and the clown-faced goon seems comfortably at ease with his imminent re-incarceration. Add to that a fire at Blackgate Prison and the inmates, including a number of Joker's regular crew, being shifted temporarily to Arkham, it seems a little more than mere coincidence. Joker's up to something and soon enough the asylum has gone to total shit. The Blackgate prisoners have escaped, raining havoc on the overwhelmed and beleaguered prison guards; super criminals Killer Croc, Victor Zsasz, Harley Quinn and Scarecrow are running amok causing their own brand of deplorable chaos; and Joker has set himself up as the new warden of Arkham Asylum and wants a party. Batman is an invited guess. Joker's got a lot of surprises waiting for him...
The first thing you notice about Arkham Asylum is Rockstedy Studios has captured a particular mood perfectly. The atmosphere doesn't relate to any one previous Batman incarnation but elements from the graphic novels, the cartoon series, Tim Burton's edgy, gothic interpretation and Christian Bale's broody, isolated loner are all perfectly reflected in Arkham's plot, scenery and characterisation. It gives the game its own identity; refreshingly different from the mainstay of Batman's multi-verse, including a unique storyline for the game, yet featuring enough common elements of the Batman mythology to make the fanboys let out just a tiny bit of wee. The bonus is this sense of self gives Arkham Asylum a wonderful visual, cinematic style that certainly makes the most of the PS3s hardware. Lush scenery, marvellous character details (such as Batman's outfit slowly degrading as the evening progresses), and the immaculate voice work from the likes of Kevin Conroy and Luke Skywalke... ahem, Mark Hamill (whose insane take on the Joker will never be bettered), instil a quality that makes you often forget you're just playing a game.
So, style wise Arkham Asylum is particularly dreamy, yet you need not worry on the gameplay front; there's plenty of meat on that bone to satisfy even the most packed-out workhouse of starving orphans. An arcade adventure in the Tombraider/Uncharted mould with a third person perspective resembling Dead Space (behind and a little to the left), the game strikes a precarious balance between beat-em' up, platform jumping, puzzles and stealth as Batman roams the site of the asylum beating up prisoners and putting whatever Joker's got planned on hold. Sure it looks like it may be attempting too much at once with the inclusion of varied gaming devices, but they really do segue into one seamlessly. The key to this is three-fold; a quality control system that even a gibbon would find intuitive, the amount of gadgetry Bat's has at his disposal to takedown, evade and flummox enemies and the use of an ingenious "detective mode".
The control system is simply a case of less is more, particularly where Batman engages with more than one enemy in combat. Rather than go for the now typical button-bashing option of many modern beat em' ups, Rocksteady have instead paired back the fight system to just eleven combat options and have instigated an inspired free-flow combo system that makes combat an absolute joy. It's more about timing your blows, dodging and evading attacks and providing the odd counter to build up a combo bonus. What this makes for is fast and frantic battles typical of Batman's unique ability that is easy to pick up but requires a good dollop of skill. Challenging for sure, yet an absolute joy once you've mastered the system and are capable of laying the smackdown with x40 combos and flawless free-flows!
It's not all about combat though. Some of the toughest and most challenging parts of the game centre on large rooms filled with gun-totting goons that Batman can't get close enough to engage in a little hand-to-hand. Here, the requirement is on stealth and silent takedowns using the array of gadgets Bat's has at hand and the use of "detective mode". Such a mode gives Batman the ability to render the background in a darker shade highlighting the heat signals of enemies beyond walls and ceilings, allowing the player to formulate a plan of attack Predator style. Coupled with Batman using a grapple gun to swing around the scenario high above the heads of enemies, it allows for some interesting takedowns. Favourite of which must be hanging from a gargoyle, waiting for an enemy to pass, before pouncing on them and leaving them strung upside down calling for help. An exploding batarang thrown from the rafters is also good fun, as is using the bat-claw to pull enemies off and over balconies. Again, the difficulty is set just right for these sections. They are not easy, but slowly get to grips with the weaponry and tools in Batman's arsenal and they become a great challenge that is enormously satisfying once completed.
Yet there's still more available to do in the game. Exploration is encouraged throughout the Asylum by The Riddler who has left a series of riddles and clues for Batman to locate and answer; a challenge of brains over brawn. The sections with Scarecrow add an additional dimension to the gameplay as Batman's origin story and psyche are explored in a few sporadic but wonderfully nightmarish sequences. Venturing into Killer Croc's lair is also a highly tense endeavour and again adds an additional layer of gameplay to that already available. And throughout there are some delightful little touches. Joker's constant tannoy announcements and presence on the asylum's monitors to taunt Batman is an absolute delight (made more so because of Hamill). And the little nods to other super-criminals at the Asylum, such as locating Mr Freeze's and Two-Faces' cells is just enough for the fanboys to cream in their jeans.
If there is any criticism of Arkham Asylum it's that the boss battles aren't the challenge you'd expect. Apart from Scarecrow's excellently designed 'world' there's too little differentiation among bosses, and once you've defeated one 'Titan' the familiar Titan style boss that subsequently follows are all too easy to defeat. Indeed, whilst the final battle between Batman and Joker has a sense of fun and grandiose scale, as you'd expect from the Joker's madcap antics, it sadly fails to deliver and plays out like a damp squib. Additionally, over-use of the detective mode does make the game a little too easy (as well as ensuring the player misses out on the great visuals on show). Perhaps it would have been better to limit the use of this device, maintaining the degree of difficulty that exists in other parts of Arkham Asylum's design.
Still, these are minor quibbles. The plot of Arkham Asylum is enough to see the player through to the end and it's a story that good, give it six months, you'll probably want to play through again. In the meantime the free-flow combat and stealth challenge maps available, where you can undertake scenarios from the story mode and post high scores (lordy, a high score table; I haven't seen one of those since the mid-nineties!) and fastest times, are highly rewarding ensuring increased longevity. The 'Extreme' maps are actually as tough as vindalooed mutton; you'll be tearing your hair out for many moons to come but returning for more just because of the trophies available. These bad boys aren't easy to achieve.
In all, Rocksteady have done a marvellous job in producing a game for Batman fans without neglecting gamers, ensuring that for once this is the one time DC have managed to usurp Marvel. It might not make up for Krypto the Wonder Dog, but the visual style of Arkham Asylum, combined with the depth and variation of gameplay means that there's more than enough substance here to match the quality plot and characters. That Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are involved speaks words; this is easily one of the best titles available on the PS3 and makes the wait for Batman: Arkham City infuriating! Get. It. Now!
Overall - Batman and Joker still rule. Batman: Arkham Asylum is an awesome game that will do little to hurt that perception.
Batman: Arkham Asylum is available as a PS3 platinum title for £19.99, but you can get it from Amazon for a few less clams than that, £12.91 to be precise.
And I've obtained the platinum trophy for Arkham Asylum. Who wants to touch me?
© clownfoot, February 2011.
Predator 2 is a little like being a ginger-haired stepchild; pretty much unloved and ignored, especially when standing alongside its more popular sibling. The original Predator is, of course, magnificent. John McTiernan's smart and intelligent action direction (something he'd subsequently follow-up with Die Hard), Stan Winston's cracking creature design, the great characters, plotting and Arnie on top form made for an instant sci-fi classic. Predator 2, on the other hand, attempts to convince that Danny 'Roger Murtagh' Glover really can take on the masochistically violent alien and it's wealth of deliciously brutal armament (including bending light to render itself invisible) single-handedly. Danny Glover? Seriously? Oh dear. Oh deary, deary, dear. Shit, obviously, does happen...!
A new Predator has taken vacation on Earth, but this time the big-game hunt has shifted from the jungle of Central America to the streets of a humid Los Angeles being torn apart by drug-gang warfare. Columbians and Jamaicans are vying for control with a beleaguered LAPD in the middle attempting to reduce the carnage, meaning there are plenty of skull-shaped trophies waiting to be collected by the malevolent beasty. A couple of bloody massacres later, including the skinning alive of Lieutenant Mike Harrigan's (Danny Glover) partner, sets the game afoot. Harrigan is targeted by the Predator as the ultimate catch, a team of sinister looking secret service agents led by Peter Keys (Gary Busey) are tracking the Predators' movements in the hope they can capture the creature and Harrigan is intent on bringing the silent, invisible stalker to justice, despite having no real knowledge on what in the blue hell he is actually dealing with. But who will get to whom first?
Any appreciation of Predator 2 will largely depend on whether you can get past the ridiculous image of the normally mild-mannered Danny Glover as a tough, volatile, anti-authority cop that kicks a huge amount of arse on a regular basis. For many, Glover taking over the role vacated by Arnie (that's Arnie for crying out loud) is just a little more than a stretch of the imagination, especially as the Predator is no ordinary adversary but a seven foot ten behemoth of death and destruction. Indeed, it's this particular piece of peculiar casting which garners the most criticism and loses Predator 2 the love it probably deserves. Not that Glover actually does anything wrong playing way against type. His eyeballing of Busey in one sequence is bonafied hard and he does have the frame and stature throughout, as well as the character actor credentials, to do whatever is asked of him, but you still kind of wonder that if the role was given to somebody else - anybody else come to think of it - Predator 2 would unlikely be judged as poorly as it often is.
If you can get past this issue (and to be honest, is it really that difficult?) Predator 2 is a damn decent action flick that sticks to the originals origins faithfully. Especially when compared to how the central character (the Predator) has been portrayed and undermined in more recent incarnations. For one thing, the Predator has remained the absolute killer of killers and hasn't pussied out to become a tame, pale imitation of former glories (Aliens vs Predator I'm looking at you). There are plentiful of skinned bodies, mutilations and blood soaked walls of gore as the Predator cuts a swath of carnage through downtown LA. What it lacks in the mystery and intrigue of the original (here the Predator commits his first massacre right at the beginning of the film) it more than makes up for in spinal columns being ripped out, regular decapitation and the healthy use of new elegant weaponry to up the body count. The now classic three red-dots of doom are present and correct, but the addition of a spherical boomerang with a circumference that can cut through steel and a mesh net that pins victims to the wall before shrinking to slice through bones and sinew are ace! Predator 2, if anything, is perfect for the gore-hounds out there who appreciate well-constructed death sequences.
Additionally, said sequences are well shot with plentiful action. The opening shoot-out between a group of Columbian's and the LAPD gives the movie a pulsating start. In a couple of stand-out sequences director Stephen Hopkins even manages to wrack up the tension admirably. The Predator's attack on commuters on the LA metro is masterful and downright terrifying and whilst the slaughterhouse district sequence is a clear rip-off of the marines first sortie in Aliens (complete with video screens and Harrigan doing his best Ripley impersonation to save the day) if you're going to replicate any action scene that builds palpable tension it might as well be from the master.
Where Predator 2 really does shine, though, is the respect the sequel affords to the original film. Of course, this is perhaps more down to Jim and John Thomas following up their screenplay for Predator with the content of the sequel. So, the hints about the creatures background established in the first film are built upon logically and the rules of engagement behind the hunt become better realised (pregnant women and children are out of bounds for the Predator, for instance). This provides a neat link between each film that importantly reinforces the persona of one of cinemas most infamous beasts, despite the noticeable change of scenery, and advances the story so that it doesn't simply seem like a remake (Predators, I'm looking at you). Even Alan Silvestri's memorable score is re-used to great effect. However, one key difference here is only the Predator and Harrigan have any real characterisation. The remainder of the cast are relatively under-used - even the mighty Bill Paxton! Whilst Gary Busey does chew-up the scenery as Keys, it's essentially Busey playing Busey. Indeed, the script is fairly basic, opting for more of the action orientated approach of the original (and consequently more bodies and mutilations) but neglecting its intelligence, refined build-up and, crucially, the characters and machismo that inhibited the original. It's all just a bit too simple.
Predator 2, therefore, has some similarities but is a slightly different beast to McTiernan's original. Whilst the Predator utterly rocks as a blood-thirsty merchant of death the remainder of the movie is a little more bombastic and in your face; a little more simplistic in its design and pace; a little more post-pub Friday movie, disengaging your brain for a right good blast of old fashioned gloop and fun than something to be truly admired and revered; and, importantly, a little less like being a ginger-haired stepchild, especially when compared to the two Aliens vs Predator films and Predators that have since followed. That is, of course, if you can get past the Danny Glover factor...
Overall - For the action, sci-fi, gore-hound junky, Predator 2 really is a great little sequel and an entertaining blast in its own right. It's no match for the original and best, but a damn sight better than the recently released Predators!
Director: Stephen Hopkins
Screenplay: Jim and John Thomas
Kevin Peter Hall ... The Predator
Danny Glover ... Lieutenant Mike Harrigan
Gary Busey ... Peter Keyes
Rubén Blades ... Danny Archuleta
Maria Conchita Alonso ... Leona Cantrell
Bill Paxton ... Jerry Lambert
Robert Davi ... Captain Phil Heinemann
Adam Baldwin ... Garber
Kent McCord ... Captain B. Pilgrim
Morton Downey Jr. ... Tony Pope
Calvin Lockhart ... King Willie
Running Time: 108 mins
Certificate: 18 (Violence, gore, horror, one cracking sex scene, lots of swearing)
© clownfoot, January 2011.
FLIGHT OF THE CONCHORDS (Album)
The art of writing a gut-wrenching hilarious song is something that has always been on the periphery of modern music. Whether it's because audiences feel that the light spoofing of their favourite songs and genres by so called funny men (see Weird Al Yankovic) is somewhat taking the piss, or that such tunes frequently include a cornucopia of profanity (see Adam Sandler's wonderful contribution to the genre with the amusingly entitled 'Medium Pace'), either way mainstream audiences don't seem to care much about it. Likewise, it's a shame that Monty Python's 'I Like Chinese' and 'Finland' do not receive more acclaim than they deserve, simply because they're associated with a rather silly television programme first and foremost, and not the music scene. Let's hope that the same fate does not befall Flight of the Conchords...
Flight of the Conchords are probably best known for the award winning comedy show that has aired on the BBC recently. It follows the hapless misadventures of Jermaine and Bret, New Zealand's fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-folk band, and their attempts to break into the New York music scene. In reality, both Jermaine (Clement) and Bret (McKenzie) are a pair of successful comedians and musicians from New Zealand that have used the Flight of the Conchords double act to build up a rather cult following of aficionados. It's a well deserved following, as not only are the lyrics of their tunes filled with wonderful wit and charm (mostly based on their unsuccessful copulation with the opposite sex), but they can actually play guitar and sing as well. This album is essentially a collection of the best musical numbers from the television shows first series.
With what seems a far reaching knowledge of musical genres, the parody of songs on show is marvelously diverse. Barry White, Kraftwork and David Bowie, along with rap and reggae styles are all wonderfully mimicked by Bret and Jermaine for the audience's pleasure. But along with the ability to play such a diverse range of musical genres, the original and unique lyrics that accompany the tracks are what make Flight of the Conchords worth a listen. This is really, really good often soulful, touching music, not just daft throw-away parodies. Although they are often hilarious. And silly...
The stand out track is probably 'The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room)'. As the parenthesis suggest, the song is filled with a number of marvelous back-handed compliments to make the listener chuckle like a gibbon. Chief among them is the genius line of 'you're so beautiful, you could be a part-time model'. That the tune plays out like a delicate serenade (to the third best looking girl on the street), with subtle guitar work and some wonderful harmonies that accommodate the duo's hapless lyrics, is what makes it work so well though. Likewise, 'Business Time' is a wonderful Barry White ode to preparing for the odorous task of lovemaking (in Jermaine's world anyway). Using mundane elements such as cleaning your teeth and putting the trash out as representative of foreplay in the modern world, the song takes great pleasure in ripping on the chore that is intercourse (in Jermaine's world anyway). Plus, you can just about imagine Jermaine tripping over his own pants in a sensual way.
'Ladies of the World' and 'Leggy Blonde' continue with the theme of 'girls, girls, girls'. The latter is one of the more normal tracks on the album and subsequently stands out about as much as a fart in the wind, despite it's pastiche on dumbed down lyrics. 'Leggy' and 'blondie' are almost universally the only two words you'll remember from this somewhat mournful track. 'Ladies of the World', however, is another truly inspired tune, which bestows upon us Bret and Jermaine's understated appreciation of the female form. No matter the type of lady. Even hermaphrodite lady-man ladies. Of course, this simply allows for the super lyric of 'With your sexy lady bits, And your sexy man bits too, Even you must be into you-oo-oo!' This diverts, however, from the 'real' subject matter of peace and harmony being achievable in the world through the medium of beautiful and sexy ladies, encapsulated by 'redheads not warheads', 'blondes not bombs' and 'brunettes not fighter jets'. Or, it's just juvenile wonder lusting, simply because you can't get some, and any type of girl will do. Even lady-man ladies. 'Ladies of the World' is genius though, whichever way you take the song.
Luckily, there are a feast of other tracks that prevent the album from compensating too much on our luckless chancers' failure with the opposite sex. 'Hiphopopotomaus vs Rhymenoceros' are Jermaine and Bret's hip-hop alter egos and the fact they found words not only to rap against Hiphopopotamaus (bottomless, phosphorous, esophagus, metropolis, hypothesis), but rap awesomely well against Hiphopopotamaus speaks words for their talent. 'Mutha'uckas' is another quality tune where Bret and Jermaine take turns in venting their wrath at the simple-minded gimboids that make everyday life difficult for them. In Bret's case a verbal assault on the racist green-grocer for not selling him a kiwi ends with the line 'he's gonna wake up in a smoothie.' Again it's deliriously silly, but so wonderfully crafted that you can't help but chuckle out loud whilst tapping your feet in step to the beat. And of course, 'Foux du Fafa' is a wonderful reminder of how much fun it is to take the piss out of the French, using just random words from their vocabulary and applying a ridiculously strong accent.
There is much more on the album - The Kraftwork inspired 'Robots', the duo's fantabulous drug-induced Bowie impressions and vocals on 'Bowie in Space' (which comes across as a medley of differing Bowie tunes) and the Pet Shop Boys inspired 'Inner City Pressure' where the Conchords muse on lower-middle-class urban poverty - but to go into too further detail would perhaps spoil the surprise somewhat. And that's where the album is largely successful. You really don't expect much from it, yet it delivers in spades. Well crafted tunes, fabulous lyrics, parodies that revere the source material and endless chuckles, particularly as you'll find something new that tickles your diaphragm on second, third, forth, etc. listens, make this a real joy. You won't like every song ('Boom' and 'Prince of Parties' verge on the 'meh' side of the scale) but there's more than enough originality here to keep you engrossed and coming back to the album again and again. And then you can do the honourable thing - play it at parties and introduce your friends to the awesomeness of the Conchords! They'll love it. Trust me. If they can't raise a chuckle throughout any one of the tracks then they're probably dead inside and you should invest time in seeking new compainions...
Overall - What at first seems like silly nonsense instead makes for captivating, excellent music. Flight of the Conchords are fairly unique in the comedy, music, cross-over pantheon, which makes them a must listen. Do it!
Foux du Fafa
Inner City Pressure
Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros [feat. Rhymenocerous and the Hiphopopotamus]
Think About It
Ladies of the World
The Prince of Parties
Leggy Blonde [feat. Rhys Darby]
A Kiss Is Not A Contract
The Most Beautiful Girl [In The Room]
© clownfoot. October 2010