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sagat
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Member since: 12.01.2009

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      06.09.2010 16:40
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      Worth a place in anyone's PS2 collection.

      Coming from the rather remarkable Clover Studios (creators of the likes of Okami and Godhand), Viewtiful Joe is an essential piece of Playstation history. Harking back to the glory days of scrolling beat em ups, Clover have introduced some ideas to keep the modern gamer interested. But has it worked?

      As these things often go, your girlfriend has been kidnapped and you need to save her from the bad guys in the world of cinema, saving our world along the way. In time honoured style, nobody really gives a damn about these things, its just an excuse to visit a variety of locations.

      As you brawl through each world you accumulate points which you can use to purchase new abilities and talents. By the end of the first level you have a core of skills which you can then boost via the shop. Joe is able to slow down time (thus evading enemy attacks and dizzying opponents), speeding up time (and unleashing a flurry of attacks which can set the enemy on fire) and zoom in, which allows him to do dash and spin attacks. Each of these moves diminish a meter, which should it run empty, will revert you to puny human form (although it does recharge nice and quickly).

      The game itself is simply lush, with 2D cell shaded graphics. The animation is smooth with plenty to entertain the eye, especially when in slow mode. The enemies are rather generic looking, but this is in fact a good thing due to the level of detail that takes place in the backgrounds of levels.

      The gameplay is superb, with three difficulty levels which all over a big challenge. Newcomers are definitely advised to try the easier settings and build their character up in stature before taking on the harder side of things. It would have been better if the game explained that you weren't expected to be able to complete it on the higher settings from the off (a problem Capcom also presented us with in Dead Rising).

      Controls are simply and easy to get to grips with. The zoom in feature is initially activated by the right thumb stick, but it can also be used via the Square button, which makes it far easier to use.

      Levels have a variety of puzzles which can usually be beaten by using Joe's special abilities. These can be frustrating for those who are here simply to brawl, and despite considering myself fairly smart (probably), I had to resort to using online guides for the odd puzzle.

      Bosses are presented in an old school style, with a quick cut scene to remind us that there is a plot going on, before brutally killing you before you work out there pattern and weakness. After you work this out, they are disposed of relatively easily.

      As a fan of the genre, the designer and the publisher, I would definitely recommend this as a game worth trying out, especially as it is so cheap to pick up these days. Newcomers to the genre may find it a bit frustrating at first, but a run through on the easier difficulty settings will make attempting the higher ones a bit more bearable. Well worth a purchase!

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    • Lips (Xbox 360) / Xbox 360 Game / 69 Readings / 68 Ratings
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      07.01.2010 19:20
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      A flawed product

      Lips is Microsoft's answer to Sony's Singstar series, where players warble along to songs and are graded according to performance. It can be played with up to four players playing in a variety of song modes. The question is, does it work?

      The answer isn't clear-cut unfortunately. I bought this for my girlfriend for £49.99 from HMV and having looked around a bit more, it can be bought for as cheap as £39.99 so have a shop around! (and possibly don't leave all your Xmas shopping til the 24th!)

      For your money, you get the game and two USB mics. According to the manual, the mics can also be used with Guitar Hero and Rockband, which may be of use to some. These mics do require AA batteries to operate as well. I found them easy to set up and activate with the Xbox.

      Included with the game is also a download code to claim five free songs from the Lips store. On entering my code, my Xbox downloaded a file and then nothing happened and I couldn't find the file it had downloaded. Upon trying to re-enter the code, I was told it had already been claimed, which left me a little miffed.

      The game comes with forty songs, ranging from the good (Roxette- The Look), the bad (Timbaland- apologize, that Akon song) and the ugly (Touch my body- Mariah Carey). To gain more songs, you can buy the other disc, although you can't apparently buy single songs from it off the Lips Store which is ridiculous, or shop in the Lips Store. Songs cost 160 odd points, so about £1.25, which is the song along with the original video, which is a nice touch.

      The track listing includes:
      * "California Love" by 2Pac feat. Dr. Dre and Roger Troutman
      * "Don't Matter" by Akon
      * "Barbie Girl" by Aqua
      * "The Tide is High (Get the Feeling)" by Atomic Kitten
      * "Loser" by Beck
      * "Don't Phunk With My Heart" by Black Eyed Peas
      * "Heart of Glass" by Blondie
      * "Love Generation" by Bob Sinclar
      * "Don't Worry, Be Happy" by Bobby McFerrin
      * "Bubbly" by Colbie Caillat
      * "Viva la Vida" by Coldplay
      * "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club
      * "(I Just) Died In Your Arms" by Cutting Crew
      * "Hey Baby" by DJ Ötzi
      * "More Than Words" by Extreme
      * "Big Girls Don't Cry" by Fergie
      * "She Drives Me Crazy" by Fine Young Cannibals
      * "Broken Strings" by James Morrison feat. Nelly Furtado
      * "I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz
      * "Heartless" by Kanye West
      * "Just Dance" by Lady Gaga
      * "The Fear" by Lily Allen
      * "Around the Way Girl" by LL Cool J
      * "Touch My Body" by Mariah Carey
      * "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye
      * "U Can't Touch This" by MC Hammer
      * "How You Remind Me" by Nickelback
      * "Always on My Mind" by Pet Shop Boys
      * "Hey There Delilah" by Plain White T's

      * "Disturbia" by Rihanna
      * "Millennium" by Robbie Williams
      * "The Look" by Roxette
      * "Oh, Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison
      * "I Don't Feel Like Dancin'" by Scissor Sisters
      * "Push the Button" by Sugababes
      * "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears
      * "I Get Around" by The Beach Boys
      * "Lovefool" by The Cardigans
      * "Apologize" by Timbaland feat. OneRepublic
      * "Ready, Set, Go!" by Tokio Hotel
      Now I am not as clued up on music as I used to be, but I find it hard to justify the inclusion of the likes of Colbie Caillat (she has an oodle of songs on the store too, so obviously some dodgy PR tricks going on somewhere) or Plain White T's. Why have 'Around the Way Girl' when you could have had something like 'Mama said knock you out', not only a better song, but more fun too.

      As a result, unless you splash out at least a tenner extra, it is going to be hard to sing more than a couple of songs before getting bored. Perhaps they should have created theme discs in the Singstar mould instead of trying to create something for everyone, that falls flat.

      The game is nice and easy to navigate, although the song selection screen is extremely irritating as whichever song you hover over, it will play a brief clip, but this plays over and over until you move it or decide. Once a song is selected you can play in versus or duet mode. Versus is simple enough with the highest point scorer winning, but duet appears half finished. For example, Roxette's The Look is nicely split into male and female parts, although the size of these parts is very different, for this song I thought it worked. However, with Paula Abdul's Opposites Attract, you share equal duties of Paula and the Cat. It would be nice to have an option of the type of duet you want.

      Next you can choose to have the original video to sing over or some slightly different backgrounds and game modes. One has a bomb about to blow, and correct notes help to fill a bucket of water to extinguish it with.

      Although I have been critical of the game design, the singing itself is great fun. The volume on the mics can be adjusted, so that the original song still comes through, which is great for those dodgy singers. By shaking or clapping your mic, you activate an instrumental effect, ranging from tambourines to finger clicking, depending on the song. I found that this sometimes takes a split second to register, meaning that you are acting out of step with the song (it is not my sense of rhythm I promise).

      Points are awarded for hitting notes in key and on time and even rubbish vocalists like me can rack up a half decent score. At the end of a song, your points are totalled and you will see how you compare to the rest of the Live community, should you be logged in.

      Make no mistake, this is a game for people with friends, and proved to be a great hit over Christmas. I can't see it being much fun as a solo player, although I am sure some aspiring superstars will find amusement from it.

      If the song choice was better/cheaper then this would be a must buy party game. Unfortunately, I find it hard to recommend a game which costs an extra £20 or so in order to get decent use from it. Without extra content, this disc is found very wanting. The Live community has been assured that new songs will constantly be licensed, but the songs currently licensed are a very strange and curious selection.

      If you have a good few friends, a load of booze and some points to spare, then I definitely recommend this for a giggle, but I have to question the longevity of it.

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      • More +
        01.12.2009 10:10
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        Not as good as the original, but not as bad as it could have ended up.

        So, Darkman returns, with a new role, new challenges and new plot holes. Liam Neeson and Sam Raimi didn't obviously didn't see it as a good career move to return, so we have Arnold Vooslo taking on the Darkman role with Bradford May directing.

        In this sequel, Darkman must once again take on Durrant and his goons in order to rid the city of crime and evil. Along the way we have those comic book staples; the intrepid female reporter, explosions, a mad scientist, scheming goons and crazy new weapons.

        I loved the original Darkman and so on sitting down to watch this, I was fully prepared for it to be horrifically naff. Initially, I was not disappointed. The first ten minutes of the film fill us in on the events of the first and retcon some of the facts. The crime lord of the original is ignored and we are told that Durrant was top of the tree, and actually survived his fate from the original. Then we are greeted with an over the top action sequence of Darkman getting involved in a drugs deal gone wrong. To say I was unimpressed with this is a massive understatement. By disregarding the events of the first film, fans are annoyed (why change the voice of the computer?) and newcomers confused (there is no explanation of Darkman's abilities other than his face is mashed up). The events around Durrant's fate make no sense e.g. a coma victim just lying around a mansion. The good news is that things actually do improve.

        Bradford May's CV is pretty unimpressive and that definitely shows in this straight to video sequel. The scenes can tend to be a mind bending mess as the camera shoots all over the place. The special effects are pretty ropey, in the same mould as the original, but have an endearing charm to them. Darkman's mouth never seems to move when talking and some of the vocal editing for this is shocking.

        Vooslo is now a veteran of rotting faced performances, having taken on the role of The Mummy in later years (more importantly, he also appeared in one episode of the frankly sublime, Nash Bridges, according to IMDB). I definitely preferred Neeson in this role as Vooslo is far cooler under pressure and does not seem afflicted by the same madness that ate away at Neeson. Vooslo comes across as a mixture of Highlander's Adrian Paul coolness, Neeson's well spoken dialogue and a South African. His accent ranges from English gent to full on South African and I found this quite disorientating at times.

        Larry Drake returns as Robert G. Durant. I loved him in the original as he was a far more interesting villain than the Lex Luthor-lite that was Strack. His character is so amusing and awesome, we can eventually ignore the premise of his ridiculous return. Durant was an excellent highlight of the first film, but definitely upstaged by Neeson's performance, here he dominates as Vooslo takes a more relaxed attitude.

        The plot itself has even more holes than the original (which is quite an achievement when you think about it) but progresses at a decent pace so you don't have much time to dwell on the ridiculousness of it all. It doesn't have a particularly coherent structure to it either and feels extremely disjointed. For example, the inclusion of the news reporter sub-plot is absolutely pointless and resolves itself in a ridiculous manner, it seems just to be there to pad out the running time (which is just over an hour and a half)

        The problem for the film is that all its best parts were essentially done better in the original. The face swapping is always fun, but is used less this time around and without the comedy of Raimi's direction. If you were a fan of the original, it is worth a watch once you get past the hideously annoying opening scenes. The fact Peyton is played by a different actor makes the change in character direction a bit more bearable. If you can over look the obvious problems of this sequel, it is a fun watch. All the characters, except Darkman, have become more exaggerated and as such are fun to watch. This film also features the worst looking strippers and prostitutes I have ever seen. If that isn't enough to make you want to give it a watch, I don't know what is.

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        • Football Manager (PC) / PC Game / 70 Readings / 70 Ratings
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          25.11.2009 20:16
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          An awesome return to form.

          So, once again, its that time of year when Football Manager (or still Champ Manager to us oldies) returns to shop shelves everywhere, tempting us to part with our hard earned cash the latest stats and players. After last year's abomination of a game, can FM regain a place in our hearts?

          The short answer, for me anyways, is yes. Last year's installation issues are a distant memory. This took me about an hour to install (I had to do it twice due to not installing DX9 initially and having to go through it all again, there may be an easier way!) and loaded up straight away. The initial load for my first time took about five minutes, which did cause me to panic, but every time since has been about a minute. Similarly, the first patch is already live and installs with no problems, which is a beautiful thing to behold.

          Starting the game is simple as always; enter your name, date of birth, nationality and management history before selecting a team and getting things underway. The advanced wizard will tell you how it thinks your system will cope with the requirements of the game. I had half a star for my graphics card and one and a half for performance (my laptop is about six years old). As such, I have been playing the game on a small database, with just the Premiership, going down as far as Coca Cola League 2, whilst running the actual game in old skool 0D commentary mode.

          In terms of performance, the game runs extremely quickly, faster than 08 did on a large database. Processing results and fixtures does not slow the game to a crawl and is pretty bearable (I have played as far as my third season). The match engine performs well as it should do in the commentary text only mode, and unfortunately I cannot comment on the 3D engine, but general feedback on forums suggests it is an improvement on last years foray.

          The presentation of the game has massively changed, making the game far more welcoming to novice players. Your backroom staff give you more advice than ever before, going into far more depth than previous iterations. They will give you weekly updates on how they feel the team can be improved with regards to tactics, training and player interaction. Another coach will also give you an indication of how sensible they feel this advice is, which is a nice touch. Be careful of blindly following their advice as different players react very differently in the same situation.

          The menus have been softened allow ease of navigation. It is here that the game drops points for me. When I play a match, I like to use split view, with one window alternating between motivation and ratings, and the other displaying assistant manager feedback. The game randomly remembers this between games, and even between halves, which is very frustrating and it keeps trying to push me back into viewing the 2D or 3D engine.

          Similarly, your shortlist is not as accessible as you would like, hidden away inside your personal settings, instead of under transfers or searches which is curious. Generally, I prefer the new methods of navigation (although the skins themselves are far from great), but they still require work.

          The tactics screen has a tactic creation screen which allows newcomers and veterans alike to craft the formation of their dreams. Gone are the arrows of old, replaced by different names for each position, so you can choose whether that central midfielder plays as a defensive midfielder, playmaker, central midfielder, attacking or supporting player. You still have a variety of sliders you can apply if you so decide and they do appear to work rather pleasingly!

          During matches, you have the ability to apply touchline commands, which still take time to implement, which is rather curious. Again, reading reports from others, they claim they work, but I actually play my commentary matches rather quickly, so stick to my sliders.

          The computer AI is brutal at times and will make you want to destroy your PC. Tactics need far more tweaking than in older versions, especially towards the end of a game, where failure to close off a 1-0 lead can see you pegged back for a draw, or even a shock defeat.

          Similarly, the Sports Interactive forum is brimming with people moaning of being gimped in the second leg of a tie they were dominating. I too was the victim of horrible AI. As Arsenal, I had to qualify for the Champions League. I beat Fiorentina 2-0 at Highbury and made my way to Italy for the second leg. I calmed things down, settling for a counter attacking formation. The game started and I immediately conceded! Luckily Fabregas got me the away goal and we went in at the break in a comfortable position of 1-1. The second half starts, Senderos gets sent straight off for violent conduct, swiftly followed by Diaby on the stroke of the 60th minute. Fiorentina get a 2nd, and I am still ahead on aggregate. Then, good fortune for me, as their central defender also gets his marching orders. Just as things start to look up, I conceded in the 75th minute. Still leading by away goals, we made it to the 89th to be told there were 2 minutes of injury time. Somehow, in the 96th minute of extra time, Fiorentina get a winner and I crash out, relegated to the depths of the Europa League! Grrrrr!

          To be fair, results like this happen every week, and generally if you adjust tactics as you go, the game reflects life, so I cannot complain too much.

          Player interaction is still a work in progress. I won a pre-season friendly against Luton 5-0 away from home. Having clicked the 'continue' button by accident, I didn't give a final team talk, resulting in team members moaning that I wasn't giving them enough credit. This issue was still raising its head six months into the season, which is frustrating to say the least. The Boardroom appears to be a fairer place with your failure to progress in a contest balanced by the quality of opposition who knocked you out. The Fans appear to be idiots (perhaps just like real life) who moan when you sell rubbish reserve team players, saying they deserved a slot in the team. Similarly, if you lose, they will moan about team selections. One curious screen told me they felt that Ramsey deserved a spot ahead of Fabregas.

          Press conferences are still pretty naff. Once you learn what answers will elicit which response, the novelty wanes rapidly. The problem is that you are often forced to sit through them to prevent your assistant manager giving a response which randomly annoys everyone. The responses can cause upset amongst the squad for silly reasons as well. When I suggested that my new superstar De Rossi may like to talk Italian with Mannone, he got all stroppy and took over a year to properly regain faith in me.

          Transfers are a tricky one. Average players require megabucks to secure for your team e.g. De Rossi of Roma required £60 million odd to gain his signature. Similarly, scout reports of cheap players rated under £5 million will tell you that bids of over £20 million will be required to secure their signature. I cannot decide whether this is realistic or not, as there are arguments for both sides in all honesty.

          One minor quibble is that bidding for certain players, and especially staff, can result in them saying that they have no interest in signing for your team and a massive contract would be required. They then reject your contract offer before waiting two weeks, publicly declaring their interest in working for you and eventually sign for a much smaller contract.

          Big teams are much more proactive in signing up young players, which makes an interesting/frustrating change from previous versions were you could happily assemble a team of future superstars.

          Two options I would love to see added are-

          i) the ability not to be sacked- its not an option I would use, but I am sure some newcomers would welcome the option if they fine tuned it appropriately.

          ii) the option for your assistant manager to run the actual matches, or at least stick to your tactics, and leave you to run training, tactics and transfers. I love to dabble in the transfer market and mess around, but find myself getting too frustrated with matches going wrong.



          So, this version is not perfect, but the majority of flaws from previous versions have been fixed. The match engine itself is the best I have encountered so far (although there are no doubt ways to abuse it), it is just the additional features such as press conferences and man management that need further tweaking. But the good news is that this is a humungous improvement on last year's migraine inducing monster.

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          • Cocktail (DVD) / DVD / 62 Readings / 61 Ratings
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            24.11.2009 08:47
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            A classic example of 80s cinema- plotholes and all

            Tom Cruise is a funny one, an artist of two halves, a bit like Jacko. In his younger days, he was fresh faced, charismatic and everything he touched turned to gold. Nowadays he is a just a bit weird, and in all honesty, borderline scary. As a result, he almost appears to be two different people. Looking on IMDB, the last good film I could see was Jerry Maguire back in 1996. Painful to say the least. Here we have Cruise riding high on the likes of Top Gun, The Color (sic)of Money and (ahem) Legend (a poor man's Krull really)

            Cocktail tells the story of Brian Flanagan (Cruise), recently out of the army and trying to live the American Dream and make something of himself. He starts bartending and finds out he is amazing at it. He is taken under the wing of master barman Doug Coughlin (Bryan Brown) and learns not only the trade, but a few things about life and love along the way.

            The first thing you need to do when watching this film is leave logic at the door. Otherwise you will just end up doing yourself a mischief. Several parts of the film do not make sense and the characterisation is all over the place, despite (or perhaps because of) this, it is a great film to watch (probably with a woman, lets be honest here) and is a lot of fun.

            Cruise is at his best here, all dazzling smiles and a show off to boot. The bartending scenes are pretty cool in all honesty and I don't think anyone could begrudge his performance. Brown is superb as Flanagan's jaded mentor, offering advice, tough love and cynicism at every turn as he tries to educate. Inevitably, the relationship sours over a, possibly schizophrenic, love interest (her actions make no sense AT ALL). Can Flanagan and Coughlin make up and live the dream of owning their own bar?

            As I said earlier, nobody is going to watch this and consider it a masterpiece of cinema. There are several plot holes which I wont go into detail here as it does spoil the story. As we all know by now, this is nothing unusual for this type of 80s flick, but what is interesting is the little touches that go unnoticed. For example, the art gallery scene is hilarious (possibly hilariously bad) in the way it plays out, but as the scene climaxes, Cruise turns and threatens to lamp his current love interest. This is no mere case of mistaken identity, he actually considers planting one on her (hey Im all for equal opportunities)! As would be expected, these little insights into Cruise's character are never explored, but I found it interesting anyways.

            The highlight of the film is no doubt the world weary Coughlin. Spouting pseudo-philosophical insights and dishing out some hilarious bouts of tough love, he is by far the most interesting character and I have no doubt that his Hustler story would have made a more interesting film than Cruise's Color of Money that we see here. Coughlin is no doubt in the right regarding their first falling out, but is it pride or stupidity to let Flanagan find out in the way he did? Any other way would have been less exciting I suppose, but for some one as experienced in the ways of the world as Coughlin, some of his decisions (including his actions at the end of the film) seem incongruous with the character.

            All in all, not a bad film. And it does the job it sets out to do. I can think of plenty of 80s movies I would rather watch again, but this was by no means an awful experience.

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            • Terminator Salvation (DVD) / DVD / 57 Readings / 57 Ratings
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              18.11.2009 18:42
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              not worthy of the franchise name

              Terminator Salvation is set in the near future, with the Resistance fighting against the motorised forces of Skynet. John Connor is still an important part, but does not appear to be the military leader we were promised. Throw in a prepubescent Kyle Reese (well almost) and some random dude from before Judgement Day, and the adventure begins.

              Well, let's start with the good. The effects are pretty damn impressive, with the new giant size terminators dominating the screen. It is a shame we don't get more close-ups of the Hunter Killers, but such is life. The explosions are pretty cool, but nothing that really stunned me. Arnie's CGI cameo is awesome and in keeping with his earlier appearances. To be honest, that was about it.

              With regards to the bad, let me first emphasise that I am a big fan of the Terminator franchise and as such, a lot of the things I complain about may not bother a normal person. The main complaint is that the world created does not make sense in terms of reality, some of it directly contradicting what we were told in Terminators 1 and 2.

              Let me make an easy to digest list!
              1) How the hell are humans getting airplane and helicopter fuel in the future? This definitely does not compute.
              2) How come normal assault rifles can destroy terminators, when we already know they are useless?
              3) Why are terminators so bad at killing people? Instead of throwing them around, just stab them through the eyes!
              4) What is that centre all about?
              5) Why does Skynet need a computer interface? Surely it would just be an access point similar to those we see R2D2 plug into.
              6) How come so many buildings have survived nuclear attack? Not to mention fallout.
              7) Why do they fanny around with Kyle Reese when he is number one on the hit list?

              It just strikes me as lazy writing, especially as factors such as aircraft really are not necessary for the storyline. The storyline itself is acceptable enough with your fair share of clichés and cringe worthy moments (I actually winced when the pilot removed their helmet, revealing GASP... a woman!). The ending is pure crud with a myriad of plot holes and impossibilities to leave us fanboys frothing over our keyboards. In an effort to disguise these failings we have weak fanservice in the form of quotes from the old films as if hearing 'I'll be back', 'What day is this?' or 'Come with me if you want to live!' will suddenly make anyone with a brain or memory suddenly love the film.

              The acting is passable with Bale all intense military leader trying to do the right thing, and that other bloke doing a wooden impression of Keanu Reeves. The soundtrack is all sinister strings and loud bangs; they didn't even have the original, awesome intro music.

              Overall, this is a pretty lacklustre instalment in the Terminator Universe which seems to decline with every instalment since the original two. I did hear a rumour that this was the start of a new trilogy, which leaves me with little hope that the series will be redeemed.

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              • More +
                17.11.2009 18:53
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                Not the most impressive

                The Descent follows a group of young ladies who descend into the depths of the Earth on an innocent pot holing adventure and get more than they bargained for. It's a pretty simple premise and I am sure you can guess the sorts of troubles that they get into.

                The problem I found with the film was that the second half simply did not live up to the expectations of the first half. After the initial shock of the opening scenes, tension is built nicely, with some mild characterisation (of which the major twist that we come back to later is clumsily hinted at) and the film is progressing well. The scenes really capture the claustrophobic atmosphere and I found myself gripped as events unfolded.

                Sadly, once the horror scenes kick in, the film goes limp. The monsters that greet our intrepid adventurers are unoriginal at best, with their abilities poorly thought out (so they live underground, but go above ground to occasionally hunt, yet they are blind?) The camera work becomes confusing in the cramped conditions and the final scenes are ridiculous and confusing in their implementation, which is a shame.

                The characters themselves are rather bland and far from memorable. We only really explore two of the girls and as a result, the later scenes get very confusing as we try to work out who has gone where and who is in the monster's larder.

                Whilst I did enjoy the first half, there were far too many plot holes and poorly thought out story devices for me to really enjoy this film, although my missus loved it. If like me, you are one of those annoying people who say 'hang on, how does that make sense if...' then this may well not be for you!

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                • Plane Scape Torment (PC) / PC Game / 49 Readings / 47 Ratings
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                  09.11.2009 18:08
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                  An excellent investment for hardened RPGers

                  I have been a fan of games that have used the Infinity engine for some time now. I started out on the original Fallout, before moving onto Baldur's Gate and, more recently, Icewind Dale and Neverwinter Nights. Many moons ago I played Planescape:Torment (known as PT from hereon in) and found it boring and pedestrian with a terrible combat system.

                  My mistake was trying to play it as I had played the likes of Baldur's Gate, for PT is correctly regarded as one of the greatest ever Role Playing Games, coming from a time when the name actually meant something.

                  The beauty of 2 dimensional games is that they tend not to age as badly as 3 dimensional. Whack a filter or two over Megadrive and SNES games and some still look pretty sweet. Try the same on early Playstation and Saturn games and the results are pretty damn ugly. PT benefits from some patches to play it in widescreen and touch up the whole game engine, so be sure to download these before play.

                  In PT, you are the Nameless One. You awake on a mortuary slab with a disembodied, floating, sassy skull for company. Your quest is to find out just what has been happening to you. So far, so standard, but the difference here is that within the game, (except for the most extreme circumstances) you cannot die. Should your health points be reduced to zero, or you decide to disembowel yourself, or rip your arm off, you simply awaken at a restart point with full health and any companions you should have, patiently waiting for you.

                  This probably comes as a relief to those of us who love to constantly quick save and restart should things go wrong, and it is an interesting game mechanic. Some critics believe that this mechanic damaged the story and characterisation as there was no harm in sending the Nameless One off to battle, leaving companions to cower a safe distance away. I feel that to level this criticism completely misses the point of the game.

                  Let's be honest now, the Icewind Dale games were good fun, but little more than a series of battles with a bit of waffle in-between. PT proves to be the polar opposite of this. Whilst you can battle your way through the game, to do so would be to miss out on a great deal of fun along the way.

                  The developers and writers have spent a huge amount of time and effort creating a wonderful world within the city of Sigil for the player to explore. Quests are abundant and NPC's provide genuine entertainment and interest. On my first play through I kept my character as a fighter, but massively boosted the mental statistics, resulting in an intriguing and fascinating adventure.

                  On your journey of self discovery, you can recruit party members or completely ignore them. I completed my first game with only four companions and I am sure I could have managed with less. The real joy comes from interacting with these companions, learning their histories and opinions, romancing them and then betraying them as you see fit.

                  The story is an absolute joy to discover, with plenty to be found, even on multiple play throughs. Quests often have multiple solutions depending on what type of character you wish to play as. An interesting character mechanic is that you can switch between thief, fighter and mage at will by talking to your party and learning new skills.

                  I felt that combat was slightly underdeveloped compared to other games in this engine. Spell animations are absolutely awesome, although can drag on a bit once you have seen them a few times. The battles felt nowhere near as satisfying as the likes of Baldur's Gate, with enemy AI extremely poor as constant thief backstab-> runaway worked on just about everyone. However, with a plot this rich and rewarding, you will find yourself avoiding battles simply to try and outwit your opponents to discover more of the story.

                  The graphics are luscious and rich with the city of Sigil well represented. Characters animate well and I had no problem with slowdown. There are a wealth of modifications and patches that can be downloaded to restore missing content and add additional quests which are well worth investigating. The voice acting is excellent with characters conversing in an odd oldee style of English which matches the setting beautifully.

                  Overall, I think I preferred the action of Baldur's Gate to this game, which you have to invest a great deal of patience and attention in. Whilst the story was glorious and engaging, I am not sure if I will seek to constantly play through as I have found with other games such as Fallout. Planescape: Torment will not suit everyone and is definitely not one for newcomers to the genre, but for those with the patience and time to invest, it is a glorious experience which I am glad I came back to.

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                  • More +
                    10.10.2009 14:18
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                    Why does SNK hate us?

                    SNK are one of the greatest game's designers in history. I do not think that statement can be argued with. Metal Slug, Fatal Fury, World Heroes, King of Fighters, Shock Troopers and Samurai Showdown are all simply awesome franchises. The Neo Geo was a thing of myth when I was growing up. Costing about three times more than the fantastic Megadrive and with games retailing for around £300, it was unreal to this child. Adverts for their games would be seen in the back of Mean Machines and Sega Power, with the reader unable to grasp just how anyone could afford to play this behemoth.

                    Sadly, SNK have gone the way of so many classic companies. Their games could not be played on current hardware, resulting in massively inferior ports, so they only really had support in the arcade. With the death of arcades in the mid 90s, they needed a change of strategy. They started to port their games to the latest generation of systems, that could finally handle their requirements. Playstation 2 and Dreamcast gamers could finally play their games (although in many cases, the ports were still terrible). One of these games, was Garou: Mark of the Wolves.

                    Garou was released in the late 90s as an answer to Capcom's Street Fighter 3: Next Generation, it featured a rebooted Fatal Fury cast with few returning characters, new bosses and a new defense system.

                    Sadly, it did not receive further iterations unlike SF3 as the initial game promised so much. Due to the decline of arcades, few people played it until its home ports, and now it comes to Xbox Live.

                    The game costs 800 MS Points which I think is about £8. The Dreamcast version goes for about 5 times that, the PS2 port is in Japanese and an original arcade port/Neo Geo cartridge will cost several hundred, so it's a bargain!

                    The cast is a decent size, which will be welcoming for newcomers who are often put off by the sheer size of the roster in the likes of King of Fighters. Terry Bogard returns with a new outfit, but all other entrants are new (although some have similarities to other characters in SNK's worlds). In total there are 12 regular characters and the 2 boss characters can be played as well.

                    As usual, we have a diverse range of fighting styles, with your heavy hitting wrestler types looking to pull off a 360 grab, to combo heavy ninjas. The plot revolves around a new King Of Fighters tournament in South Town with Geese's son Rock entering to blah blah blah. Who cares about plot? We just want to crack skulls right?

                    The game system itself is one of SNK's better efforts. You have a life bar and a super combo bar, so everything is nice and clear on screen. A new concept is the TOP bar within your life bar. You choose which third of your bar you want this to kick in and when it does, you slowly regain health and deal more damage.

                    Garou uses the standard four button layout seen in many of their other games, which suits the Xbox pad nicely, as we don't have to rely on triggers and shoulder buttons unless you want to. Unfortunately, with the dpad being rather naff, some moves are rather tricky to pull off and if you aren't lucky enough to have a joystick, then you will definitely want to map some button combinations to the shoulder buttons.

                    Garou introduced the Just Defend system, seen in later KOF and crossover games. When an opponent attacks, pressing back at the right time will counter this attack and help to put you in control. It works very similarly to SF 3's parry system but is used more defensively, instead of allowing counters straight after.

                    During fights, turtling and hiding from your opponent too much can result in a guard break, allowing your enemy a chance to punish you accordingly, so Just Defend comes in handy to reduce the chance of such situations.

                    The combo system is gloriously fun to play with. The two levels of combo meter provide different results, sometimes allowing you to combo them together for horrifically damaging results. Certain button combinations allow you to cancel various moves, providing opportunities to further link and combo to your hearts content.

                    Garou's graphics are simply gorgeous, even a decade on. Personally I prefer them to that of the equally awesome SF3: Third Strike, but they do fall short of the lieks of Fist of the North Star and Guilty Gear titles. The characters are animated smoothly and the backgrounds are nicely varied with plenty of action taking place. The sound track is similarly fitting, with plenty of catchy and suitably dramatic pieces (even a rather random remix of Robert Miles' Children in there). We have some wonderful Engrish voice acting, which brings its usual blend to proceedings. Terry Bogard's 'Are you OK? Bustaaaaaah Wollllf!' is as hilarious as it is satisfying to land.

                    Where the game does fall down is in its implementation on a next gen console. Playing on my sexy 42" flat screen results in big borders either side of the fight, filled with artwork of Rock and Terry. I could not find an option to turn these into regular black borders, which was annoying.

                    Similarly, all we have is the most basic of game modes. The training mode does little to help newcomers to the game who do not understand the concept of 'footsies, 'fireball traps' 'cancelling' and the like. SF 4's trials went some way to address this issue in modern games, but was found horribly wanting, so it is a shame SNK haven't looked to develop their own version to help noobs.

                    The biggest appeal of this is in online play, but surprise surprise, SNK manage to annoy everyone by ballsing it up big time. On launch, the net code was universally panned and it appears that everyone stopped playing. You select if you want a ranked or simple player match and then sit there waiting for someone to join. SF2HDR's lobbies and SF4's single mode waiting were far superior and cannot be that much more difficult to implement.

                    I bought this about 2 weeks after it went live and have only played one person on line. The connection was pretty decent and I would love to play more, but it appears that most people have already given up on this game which is a tragedy. As someone who has now invested in three console versions of this, I feel no guilt in saying that if you are a fighting game fan, then get your PC hooked up to your TV and play this on GGPO (which is sadly not an option for me).

                    Garou is a bonafide classic of the fighting game genre, it is just a shame that it has been handled so terribly by SNK. If you have friends who would learn the game with you, then an investment is essential, if like me, all your friends are losers who prefer FPS, then give it a miss as you just cant get your money from the single player modes. For single player its bog standard 3/5, if you have real life friends, then easily a 5.

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                    09.07.2009 21:24
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                    Awesome

                    If you are new to the world of strategy games, then let me start by saying that this game is not for you. Pick up a Command and Conquer or Total Annihilation (remember that?) and learn the basics. Quite simply, Civilization is absolutely savage for newcomers, not only to the genre, but also to the series itself.

                    In a nutshell, you choose your nation from the many available, each with their own benefits, and then try to win first. Win conditions vary from obliterating all of your opponents with sheer firepower and force to building all Seven Wonders of the World and dazzling them into submission. I think so anyway, having had the game for over a week, I am still not quite sure as I have not got there yet.

                    Unlike just about every other game of this style I have played (except possibly Football/Champ Manager), there is no in-game tutorial mode. There is no easy start off where the computer holds your hand and tells you where to go and what to do. The game simply assumes you have been playing this game since the first instalment many moons ago. I admire its arrogance, but in a game this deep, this assumption is brutal.

                    You build cities, recruit armies, mine for raw materials and develop new technologies. Each new technology unlocks another, and if you have all the appropriate branches of the tree, you can build anything from hospitals to nuclear technologies. You are also able to change your form of government, such as Fascism and Communism, each with their own benefits and drawbacks.

                    The game world is relatively easy to navigate, with your mouse moving your view, and the cursors controlling your troops. It was quite frustrating that it took about three days before I realised that you could move units diagonally by dragging the mouse, meaning you could access those hard to reach gem deposits!

                    You can control your cities manually or leave governors in charge. Similarly you can put your men on autopilot with mixed results. Troops will generally wander off exploring quite happily and effectively. The problem comes when you want to manually take control as the game does not always pause between rounds to let you. There is probably a shortcut key I haven't found yet which does it mind.

                    As your nation progresses, you can interact with other players, trading technology or spying on their nation. There are a variety of difficulty sliders to adjust, which makes the game a bit more bearable for us n00bs. Interaction with these nations is a curious experience. Your advisors will tell you how well you measure up to your rivals in terms of culture, technology and warfare, and the interaction screen will tell you if they are cordial or rude towards you. Frequently, you are told they address you politely only to find an insulting phrase on the screen, which is confusing.

                    Similarly, if you enter another player's boundaries, they will warn you off. If you continue, you will eventually be attacked. When they wander through your territory, you can warn them off, to which they will sometimes give an apology, and then just carry on roaming! I found this extremely frustrating to say the least, especially if any further comment from you can result in all out warfare.

                    The game is incredibly immersive, with hours flying by as you promise yourself 'just one more turn... Oh no I will wait until my cathedral is built'. It is extremely addictive, I have to warn you.

                    The games take a huge amount of time to play through, and provide an excellent challenge. The sheer size and possibilities presented by the technology tree are a joy to behold. I am about eight hours into my current game with no sign of anyone budging just yet (although those pesky Incans do keep tapping me up for money due to my puny army!)

                    There is a huge modding community for the Civilization games, allowing you to download new maps, new units and set piece battles. You can find a mod for just about every major battle, from World War 1 to Star Wars.

                    Due to the newer sequel, Civilisation 3 Complete can be picked up at a budget price. It is definitely worth investing in if you want a strategy game with some serious depth to it.

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                    • Fright Night (DVD) / DVD / 59 Readings / 59 Ratings
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                      30.06.2009 11:38
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                      Superb vampire movie

                      Fright Night is a rather wonderful piece of 80s cinema, which I thoroughly recommend watching. Released in 1985, it is a cross between Tales From the Crypt, Rear Window and just about every vampire movie ever. Quite simply, randy teenager Charley Brewster witnesses new neighbours moving in next door and is convinced that the dashing Jerry Dandrige is a vampire. We follow him as he confronts Dandrige and tries to warn his friends and loved ones of the impending threat, whilst trying to recruit TV's most famous vampire hunter Peter Vincent to help his cause.

                      What follows is an absolutely fantastic movie. Given an 18 rating over here in the UK (although there is little to trouble us by modern standards) it offers the viewer a superb blend of horror, comedy and excitement. Chris Sarandon is perfectly cast as the dashing antagonist (you may have seen him in the similarly superb Princess Bride), causing mayhem and perfectly believable as a caddish vampire. The scenes with Amy (Brewster's girlfriend) are perfectly shot and ultimately believable, whereas they could have been clunky and unrealistic prompting the viewer to ask themselves just what is going on. William Ragsdale is perfect for the role of Brewster and provides the perfect balance between whiney teen and heroic man, something of a lesson for the modern likes of Le Beouf et al.

                      Perhaps the greatest role is reserved for the marvellously named Roddy McDowell as Peter Vincent (an amalgamation of Peter Cushing and Vincent Price didn't you know?). He plays his role absolutely perfectly, hamming it up at every opportunity whilst still retaining the audience's sympathy and making us root for him, even when he does let down our hero. Brewster's girlfriend Amy is played well and her choices are entirely believable, something which could very easily have gone wrong. Evil Ed is a bit annoying to be honest, but his screen time is limited, so it works well enough.

                      The story itself is pretty straightforward and easy to follow, with plenty going on to enjoy. Whilst the plot will not keep you guessing, it will keep you entertained. A few plot holes such as Brewster's fandom of the TV show, yet lack of knowledge of vampires, and Amy's strange hair change are the only criticisms I can level at it.

                      The sound track is full of 80s tunes I have never heard, and will probably never hear again. It suits the film perfectly and the nightclub scene is simply awesome! The effects in the film are pretty good by today's standards. It is just a shame that the wolf scene is so explicit, as if they had left a bit more to the imagination, it would have aged a lot better.

                      If you want something for a Friday or Saturday night, on the sofa with an other (significant or otherwise), you could do a lot worse than go for this one.

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                        16.06.2009 20:38
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                        A great rainy/lazy day film

                        Based on a classic piece of literature and the subject of numerous cinematic adaptations, The Count of Monte Cristo is surely on a hiding to nothing with this latest remake?

                        The plot is pretty straightforward; young lad is betrayed by friend over a woman and unjustly imprisoned, only to find a way to exact his revenge. As with any film of this nature, it is all about how well this is presented, that decides whether we really enjoy it or not.

                        A minor complaint to get out of the way was that the film seemed extremely dark in places. Several night time and prison scenes had me squinting to see what was going on, which was a pain, especially when I have not had the same problem with other films.

                        This film weighs in at just over a fairly hefty two hours and ten minutes, but I did not feel it at all. The film flies by, a little too quick at times, and the viewer is able to enjoy a great adventurous, swashbuckling romp.

                        The actors all play their roles well, although I found Luis Guzman a little too modern at times as Dantes' sidekick. Caviezel's performance ranges from irritatingly innocent teen to beguiling Count extremely effectively, although I feel he should have kept the goatee. Pearce's Mondego is dashingly villainous, abusing our hero, his own wife and family and other members of the aristocracy with wanton amusement, proving to be a joy to watch.

                        Whilst the plot is intriguing, the action exciting and the characters involving, I can't help but feeling a little under-whelmed by the whole thing. I did enjoy it, but just felt that too much was crammed into the film. Having not read the book, I cannot compare differences between the two, but the rapid flashbacks towards the end of the film sit uncomfortably, and indicate that the odd large chunk was left out. I would have loved the film to last another hour or so and really build up the tension of events. As things are, it just seemed a little too easy for our hero to achieve his aims.

                        Similarly, some of the characterisations such as Jacopo and the prison warden are woefully lacking and leave the audience trying to fill plot holes in the story. We never really learn what is so great about the chick either, which is a shame; Mondego's later exchanges with her are superb.

                        I watched it on a Sunday evening, in bed with a plate of cheesy nachos, and that definitely helped it. I wouldn't recommend it as a blockbuster to watch, but as a lazy Sunday film with some action, adventure and charm, you won't go wrong, I just wish there was more meat to it.

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                        • Plants vs. Zombies (PC) / PC Game / 58 Readings / 54 Ratings
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                          08.06.2009 14:49
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                          Great budget price for a game which will give hours of pleasure

                          Popcap are those remarkable folks who have brought us previous delights such as, Insaniquarium, Chuzzle, Dynomite and Bookworm Adventures. These budget price games usually sell for around £15, although you can play demos for free. These demos are usually the full version of the game, but are limited to 30 minutes play.

                          Plants Vs Zombies is a tower defence game of ridiculously addictive proportions. Zombies are trying to attack your house and eat your brains. You have to do some gardening and cultivate plants to stop them! There are five lanes of lawn, each consisting of several squares in which you can place plants. You place these plants strategically to stop the zombies from gaining entry. As the game progresses, you earn new plants, new locations and face new enemies.

                          You need sunlight to grow more plants, so get planting those sunflowers! Then, you need to attack zombies, so purchase the Pea Shooter. Suddenly, they are trying to swim across your swimming pool, so grow some lily pads and cover them in Chompers! At the start of each level, you will see the types of zombies which will attack you, so can prepare your arsenal accordingly, as you only have a select amount of slots to fill from a choice of about thirty plants. Do you want to purchase that sunflower upgrade to double your sunshine, or purchase that Gatling gun pea shooter and go all out offense?

                          As you kill off the undead, they will sometimes drop coins which you can click on early money. This money can be spent in your next door neighbour's shop. Crazy Dave will offer nuggets of wisdom whilst selling you upgrades and assorted items.

                          The graphics are up to Popcap's usual high standards. It is all presented in a comical style with plenty of humour in-between. The characters animate well, with amusing characteristics and personalities. The sound effects are satisfying, whether it be a zombie's demands for more brains, or a watermelon exploding on an enemy. The background music is fairly repetitive, but that seems to be the norm for this genre of game. The tunes are inoffensive enough, but you will find yourself listening to them in your head after an extended period of time, which is mind melting.

                          As you progress through the adventure mode, you unlock new game modes. These mini games can be fairly diverting, ranging from zombie bowling to zombie themed versions of old Popcap games. Whilst entertaining for five minutes, I can't see anyone playing them repeatedly. Survival mode is infuriating as hell, especially the hard versions. Getting to level eight of roof mode only to fight your defences obliterated by gargantuan zombies will have you crying yourself to sleep.

                          The main problem with this game is that it is insanely addictive. I find myself playing for an hour, then another, then another. I go to sleep picturing strategies and systems. It is insanely infuriating. For £15 there is a lot to uncover here. After completing adventure mode, you can replay it with all your new plants and power-ups, whilst finding yourself handicapped by Crazy Dave. You will want to complete all of the survival modes in order to purchase new gardens and grow the ultimate Zen garden.

                          Whilst I do spent a disproportionate amount of my time gaming, the problem with Plants vs Zombies is that it feels so pointless. I will spend hour s upon hours practising Street Fighter so that I can buffer into a 720, or grind out experience points by completing meaningless side quests in a Bioware game as I know it leads to something, online domination or plot advancement, respectively. I know that once I have finished this game by purchasing and unlocking everything, that I will never touch it again. I have this morbid obsession with it, almost resulting in self-loathing, because I know how pointless it is, but I still can't help but play it anyway.

                          Playing it is immense fun, do not get me wrong. Atomising hordes of zombies with your carefully co-ordinated attacks is fantastically satisfying, just that I feel a little dirty afterwards for having wasted so much time playing until 3am and spending the next day feeling awful, when I am supposed to be a responsible adult.

                          For the price, it is a bargain. I must have spent about ten hours on over the last week, and have unlocked about half of the game. If you enjoy this type of game, then buy it, but do not blame me if you can't get to sleep. Ever again.

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                          • Transformers (DVD) / DVD / 92 Readings / 88 Ratings
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                            26.05.2009 22:33
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                            I do not understand why they did this.

                            After watching the rather pathetic 'The Island' t'other night, it was with trepidation that I approached another Michael Bay film in the form of 'Transformers'. Unfortunately, from a young age, I have been a massive fan of the franchise, from its Marvel days with the likes of the rather fabulous Simon Furman, through to the dregs of Armada and Beastwars, culminating in the exceedingly good Dreamwave imaginings. As a result, I was terrified of what this film would bring, so you have to bear in mind that I am not someone who just remembers the name and likes big explosions. Suffice to say, I was left seething by the sheer hideousness of this film.

                            I do not understand why Hollywood studios buy up these franchises and then rape them for all they are worth. Transformers is a long defunct franchise. Why spend money on rights and names, when you could build something from scratch and simply call it 'Big Robots Meet Whiney Human Epic' and save a few quid without offending me. Sadly, this film warps, rewrites and generally urinates on all that was good about the franchise.

                            The original Transformers movie was epic. It had Orson Welles, Leonard Nimoy, a comprehensible plot and the fine piece of booty that is Arcee. It stayed true to the comics and pleased fans everywhere. I refuse to believe that any fan could honestly like these films as a part of the Transformers universe.

                            The plot of the film features a cube that gave life to the Transformer homeworld of Cybotron has somehow ended up on Earth, buried for yonks and now they are here to claim it back. A load of humans run around getting in the way and trying to control them. Everyone fights, the properties of the cube make no sense and the same is true for the ending. We have plenty of special effects and fight scenes, but these are far too confusing and unsatisfying.

                            Transformers originally was all about selling toys. You had the original Generation One of Megatron, Optimus Prime et al. The original movie, cartoons and comics basically just provided reasons for new types of robots from the excellent (Headmasters, combining robots) to the ridiculous (Targetmasters, Pretenders). In the comics, you primarily stuck to the activities of the Transformers. Spike Whitwicky and his dad occasionally turn up, usually resulting in Spike getting in the way (Spike getting annihilated by Shockwave is SWEET!). You also had a superhero type of group led by circuit Breaker who tried to kill Transformers for the government. That was it! The robots provided the plot and personality, from Hot Rod's reckless enthusiasm to Starscream's constant scheming to Grimlock's idiocy.

                            Fast forward twenty odd years and we have Shia Le Boeuf. I saw him in the new Indiana Jones and I never thought somebody could do so much damage to a franchise's credibility- until I saw this. He whines, he strops, he quips, he needs to be killed. The first half hour was just him being a dweeby teenager. Why does the viewer need any of this exposition? Where are the big robots? Anyway, then we meet Megan Fox, who gurns her way through the following two and a bit hours. The scene where we discover that....... dun dun DUHHHHHH!!!!!! She has a criminal record is surely up there with the greatest twists in cinematic history.

                            The franchise was never about humans, that was the point. Yet, it is one which has been completely missed. We have a fat computer geek (look its a black guy who is good with computers but likes hip hop!), some random jocks, an Aussie woman who somehow decodes everything ever, super top secret servicemen who are rather nasty, a heroic army dude with wife and baby at home blah blah blah. All of these characters are disgusting stereotypes who are completely superfluous to the events of the film.

                            Anyway, Shia goes to buy his first car with his dad (who actually does an excellent job as the dad, probably the only accurate character in the film) and we meet Bumblebee. But wait! In a treat for us fans, next to him is a clapped out VW Beetle, just like Bumblebee used to look like in the comics! Hurray! So the weedy, needy Bumblebee of old has been replaced with some hip muscle car character. This was a character who constantly got killed in the comics, yet can do all these cool moves now. Bah!

                            After about three hours of Megan and Shia talking about their feelings or something, we eventually meet Optimus Prime and the others. The Transformers have been updated from their original designs to look more like something out of a Gundam or Bubble Gum Crisis film. They have very little colour on them, making it very difficult to distinguish just who is who. This becomes increasingly frustrating in battle scenes, not helped by Bay's ludicrous direction- Yes, lets frame a fight scene with two massive robots through the broken window of a car door. Lovely. Couple this with his strange monochromatic filter (he used this in 'The Island' too) that makes everything look yellowy-gold and it all gets very confusing.

                            Megatron now transforms into a plane, which is acceptable, considering his gun form never made sense (but was great for pistol whipping your older brother who liked MASK- the pansy) but the viewer never really gets a sense of his greatness or sheer power due to his limited screen time. The final fight scene is sorely disappointing, and doesn't make any sense either.

                            What they should have done was remade the original or followed that up with 'The Legacy of Unicron' and then 'Timewars'. Bam! Instant success, three part trilogy, money spinning monster franchise and fans and newcomers alike can marvel at the greatness of Cybotron's finest.

                            I can understand why people did enjoy this film (probably because they are stupid), but for the fan it was horrific. It also caused a massive row with my missus as I insisted on pointing out exactly where everything went wrong, but it was her fault for asking my opinion. Yes the effects are impressive (although why not use the original sound?), but that does not make up for the awful direction, plot and acting.

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                            • The Island (HD DVD) / DVD / 61 Readings / 59 Ratings
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                              22.05.2009 15:27
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                              If you want dystopian action, watch Running Man

                              The Island stars Scarlet Johansson and Ewan McGregor, with main support from Sean Bean. Taking place in a utopian/dystopian future, the Earth has been scarred by some form of contamination. The cause of this is never fully explained, but given the nature of this genre, you generally assume it is some form of massive nuclear war. People live in a self contained unit which provides all their needs. These uncontaminated people work, play and interact with ach other under the watchful gaze of an inner government, seemingly run by Bean. Their sleep patterns, urine samples, diets and everyday interaction are scrutinised and analysed to remove individualism and any dissent. Every so often, there is a lottery, with the winner sent away to live on the Island, the last uncontaminated part of the open Earth. Lucky winners are allowed to move their and enjoy their freedom.

                              McGregor is growing tired on his existence and seeks more. He questions the bland uniforms he is forced to wear, the food he has to eat, the job he carries out everyday and the role of some of the other workers who live in different sections. Plagued by nightmares and growing increasingly insubordinate, the authorities monitor him closely. Johansson is his best friend within the compound and finds that she is the lucky winner of the lottery, and begins to prepare herself for her departure to the Island. What follows is a roller coaster adventure as they try to understand just what is really going on in their lives, and how they are being controlled. Or not as the case may be.

                              Taking huge influences from Brave New World, The Matrix, Equilibrium, 1984, Bladerunner and just about every other major sci fi release ever, The Island fell a bit flat for me. Only about ten minutes seem to be spent really exploring life in the compound, a further spent on realising what is going on, and the rest spent on wobbly chase and action scenes. My missus thought it was great and had seen it before (hence my watching it), but for me it was all pretty boring. The main problem is that there are too many plotholes for my liking. I will not go into detail here as they will spoil the plot, but I found them extremely grating, and I am one of those annoying people who will pull out plotholes, explain them to anyone else watching and explain just why it makes the film rubbish (luckily for her, my missus fell asleep pretty soon into it, although she did get an earful over breakfast the next day). One example is that in the future they have some form of hovertrain. Okay, so that is fine and believeable in the context of the film. Yet how come window cleaners still use the old rope and pulley system? They are working on a major building, so obviously must be on a good contract, so could surely afford it. Yes, I am that pathetic, but I don't care, because I am right.


                              The action scenes are fast paced and intense with heaps of CGI, but I found this quite jarring on more than one occassion. The camera spins and whirls around as it follows the firefights and escape scenes, but tries to do it far too quickly, resulting in the whole thing being rather disorientating. I just wish they had spent more time on building the story instead of turning it all into a predictable action flick.

                              In terms of acting, the main cast do a solid job. It would have improved the film if Bean's character had a bit more of a backstory, but obviously that was deemed unnecessary when we could just have another explosion. McGregor is someone I have always found likeable, and it was no different here (despite the plotholes with his memory- he can remember how to ride a hoverbike but not sex?!?). Some of his interactions later in the film are quite amusing. Johansson does not really do much, but then she does not have to, so again, a solid enough job.

                              Overall, if you do not mind gaping plotholes and are just looking for a braindead bit of action, then this film will suffice. But then, with so many other, better, films that can offer that, why bother watching this to start with?

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