Saturday, 15 October 2011

Supernatural: Time to Die?

“I kinda feel good Dean” Says Sam at the end of the last episode of Supernatural and thank god. It's felt like for the past two or three seasons every other episode involved Sam and Dean in some kind of emotional talk, tears in their eyes, Sam furrowing his brows because he's conflicted at whatever the hell was going on and Dean talking about his daddy issues again over a glass of scotch. Perhaps this means we can get another few episodes into the season before one of these pops up again but with 23 episodes a bloody season lets not hold our breath.

I don't know how I started watching this show again. After season five I remember thinking enough was enough. The story lines had become too grandiose. Gone were the interesting and unique monsters, in were demons disguised as humans. They also seemed to have replaced the light-hearted fun moments of Sam and Dean on the road to Sam and Dean are on their periods having a good cry about their crappy lives, again. Plus, I have lost count of the amount of times the two brothers have died or made some kind of sacrifice. It seems the two have a competition to see which one can be more self sacrificing and, to be blunt, it gets pretty disgusting. Because half of the situations they end up in can be solved without one of them dying, but they have to act all noble and crap to prove...I don't know, that they're willing to die again? They've both even been to Hell once and suffered countless tortures at the hands of demons, Sam himself being tortured by Lucifer and Michael in 'The Cage' (the badass way of saying Hell).

Somehow, season six pulled me back in. The storyline certainly was an improvement but sadly, it can't hold up to the more grounded stories of the first two seasons. Essentially, they are Hunters, people that drive around and dispatch of all kind of nasties like ghosts, werewolves, shapeshifters and anything else that goes bump in the night. So it can be a problem in the later seasons when they're dealing with things they can't possibly kill. It's a shame since in the earlier episodes they would turn to their Dad's trustful journal, read up on what they were hunting and go and kill it. It was suspenseful because we, the audience, knew that they were doing a dangerous job and they could easily die. It was kill or be killed. Now the big monsters are things Sam and Dean have no hope of even hurting, never mind hunting down and killing. So we spend a lot of the time watching the brothers dick around and cry because their life is so hard, while red-neck Bobby gives them more beer and says something red-neck.

Since each season is over 20 episodes, this means a lot of filler episodes that are boring and don't add to the over-arcing story. Plus, as mentioned, the creature design has dropped to an almost shameful level where even the most basic of demons seem to be disguised as humans. It would appear the staff have given up on creative creature design and thrown all the budget at getting 80's rock ballads put into the show. Yes we know, Sam and Dean are deep characters that are multi-layered. They're tortured, tragic, brave and so forth. Can I not just see a demon with some horns? Christ, even Buffy managed to keep the demons in there all through it's seven seasons.

Whether this will be Supernatural's last season, I don't know. In American the show is on a Friday slot, the place where TV shows go to die. Perhaps that would be best as one more season wouldn't do this show any favours.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Dark Souls Diary: Day One

Whenever the subject of favourite games pops up in conversation, I'm often the first to step in, thump my chest and proclaim Demon's Souls as one of the best games ever. Owning two copies of the game and completing multiple playthroughs, I consider myself a veteran of From Software's brutal action RPG. So having done what I can in Demon's Souls, I've been waiting with bated breath for Dark Souls ever since From Software announced it as Project Dark. Considering the sheer amount of time I've put into the predecessor, I assumed I would go into the successor knowing all the ropes, prepared for anything the game could throw at me. How wrong I was.

Dark Souls' first act of cruelty was its avoidance of me. My usual online retailer dispatches their game early so I normally get my games a day before release date. Thursday arrived and I headed to my parents house to pick the game up only to find the red 'in-your-face' you were not home slip locked away in the letter box, to which I had no key. Using an elaborate method of folded pizza menus, my girlfriend and I were able were able to retrieve the slip of paper and headed to the sorting office to pick the game up. However, upon flashing my ID, I was told the postman was not yet back from his round and that they'd be closing soon. I began to think that perhaps Dark Souls didn't exist, and everything I thought of the game was some euphoric dream I had come up with whilst overdosing on Demon's Souls and diet coke. I climbed in my girlfriends car and spent the rest of morning in a sulk like a child that had just been told Christmas wouldn't be arriving until tomorrow because Santa was stuck in traffic. But I finally have it. Dark Souls is in my possession.

Looking back at Demon's Souls' tutorial, it was a very basic run through of controls and the use of items until eventually you come up against a demon five times your size that swats you down like a fly, killing you in one blow. This, of course, is supposed to happen. This progresses you to the Nexus, the games central hub. In Dark Souls' tutorial, you begin in the Undead Asylum as a prisoner. You escape your cell with no weapons except a broken sword. Depending on your class, you pick up a few weapons (I went with the sword and shield Warrior class) and then have to face off against the Asylum Demon. Thankfully, I survived, but I think you'd have to beat this demon in order to progress and anyone unfamiliar with 'Souls' worlds would wonder how they could over come such odds in the bloody tutorial.

Your only place of safety
Having beat the demon, you move on outside where a giant raven flies down, picks you up and sends you to the island of Lordran and this is where your quest begins. Already things are different from Demon's Souls. There is no longer a central hub as the game is now open world. Your only place of safety are bonfires, a place to rest and refill your Estus flasks. Estus flasks are the healing item of the game, so you can't go farming herbs like you did in Demon's Souls. You have a limited number and bonfires can be far and in between so knowing when to heal already becomes a tactic itself. Using bonfires also re-spawns all the enemies on the map (except bosses and some of the more unique ones) so choosing which ones to use, and which ones to kindle becomes a hard choice. Kindling? That is when you offer some of your humanity to the bonfire, strengthening it and increasing the amount of Estus flasks you get from that bonfire. Humanity is a new precious item in the game which depends on your state - living or undead. Using humanity on yourself at the bonfire makes you living, giving you more health and able to use some of the online capabilities. If this all sounds wholly confusing so far, well, it should. Dark Souls wants you discover much of this for yourself but this what makes the journey such a memorable one.

Starting at Firelink Shrine, I had no possible idea of where to go. Talking to a few of the NPC around the area I decided to move on. Following a path and killing a few enemies, I ended up in Undead Burg, a place that resembles Boletaria Castle from Demon's Souls. This is the place your journey begins and you get to put your new found skills to the test. Already the familiarity of the predecessor will be known well to Demon's Souls veterans. Combat is familiar, having you block, dodge and tactically wait until the perfect opening on your enemy so you can strike a killing blow. And oh yes, there is death. A lot. It's amazing how much Dark Souls brought back all the horrible memories of dying in Demon's Souls. Death is unexpected and comes frequently. Bravado is often punished while patience and perseverance is rewarded. I think it was around the two hour mark the honeymoon period was over and anger and frustration began to creep up on me. It was also around this time I felt confused. Yes, there was familiarity to Demon's Souls but the differences began to show. The aesthetic looked different. Where as before you were often walking down dark grim corridors, Undead Burg had me crossing stone walkways as the sun shone brightly above. With no central hub, I was unable to repair my equipment that was slowly degrading with every use and death and using the online capabilities, such as leaving messages, remained a mystery. But it's best not to dwell on these things. If you push on and explore and check items you collect, a lot more options open up to you and things become clear. Eventually I found a merchant that sold me the item to rate and leave messages for other players. That's one problem solved at least.

Taurus Demon: There's no shame in running
What the fuck is that!? Oh it's the Taurus Demon, the games first big bad boss. Stepping out onto a walkway, this massive bullheaded monstrosity appears from nowhere, wielding a hammer so huge it could destroy a small country. Combat is an intense experience in Dark Souls. Since your precious souls hang in the balance (Souls: the game's one currency you obtain from killing enemies, used to level up, repair and buy new equipment. Die and you lose them) every encounter requires patience, methodical thinking and quick reflexes. So when it comes to boss fights, the heart pounding, edge of seat battle that you must win can be paradoxically euphoric and heartbreaking. Because boss fights are the likely places you will die. Dying sends you back the last bonfire you were at and yes, all those enemies you went through to get to the boss have re-spawned. It's normally the chance of reclaiming your lost souls that spurs you on. The last place you died will have left a bloodstain. Make it back to that stain without dying and you can reclaim your dropped souls and humanity. But frustration is your worst enemy in this game. Running back and trying to slice and dice your way through enemies is one sure way to make sure you never recover those souls. I managed to beat Taurus Demon after three ties after discovering a very useful tactic. Even so, besting a foe, especially a boss that has ended your life - that is the euphoric feeling you play Dark Souls for.

I'm making it sound like my time with Dark Souls has been a relatively easy and pleasant one. I wish I could say this is true. Having spent nine hours in the games company, I have died 35 times, not including the times I forgot to mark down a death from being too angry to remember. It got to the point where even enemies I bested with ease seemed to be killing me and anger got the better of me and petty revenge caused me to become sloppy in my tactics. At no point did this become more apparent then the Bell Gargoyle fight. Having made my way into the Undead Parish and my death count was stacking up, I encountered this boss. The first fight began well and I figured I was in for an easy ride. However, once you have it's health bar is down to the half way point, a second Gargoyle joins the fray and they start using the tactic of fire. I spent most of the fight pathetically backing away with my shield raised, healing when possible and unable to find an opening to attack. I would guess I died around 15+ times at this boss fight alone and at one point I had to shut the game off and catatonically stare at the wall while I thought of tactics to best these two bastards. It was here I explored the area some more and heard the loving sound of a blacksmith at work. Finally, a place to repair and reinforce my equipment. With a new found sense of vigour, I went back to face the two bastards that had ended me too many times before. Perhaps it was luck, or the new tactic using a sword and spear that helped me win, but I did it and all those hours of frustration seemed worth it. After the fight, you climb the tower and ring the bell. I heard this bell being rung a few times whilst in Undead Parish and that was the sound of another player beating the boss. Standing at the top of the tower, the bell tolling away, I looked over and saw the sheer size of the world. Where do I go from here?

After that, I needed some rest. Fatigue had got the best of me and playing a game that requires an incredible amount of mental concentration whilst tired is just a recipe to lose. But I slept soundly, knowing I ended one of the hardest boss encounters I had come across. A world of wonder, horror and endless discovery awaits me in Dark Souls and once the sun goes down I'll be back in it's strange and fascinating world. Watch this space for part two.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

[REC] 2: Review

[REC] was easily one of the best and scariest horror films of 2007. I may even go as far to say that [REC] is one of the best horror films in the last decade. It sounded like an utterly nausea inducing idea, pitting a camera crew in a quarantined hotel with hell of a lot of zombies and no possible escape. But the film remained completely compelling from start to finish, with the 'shaky cam' adding to the dread and isolation, as the characters quickly become zombie chew one by one as they made their way around the darkened and claustrophobic corridors. I would of thought that hand held mockumentary style films would only suffice for one film as showing a piece of footage that aims to be 'real' only really works when its presented in a single package with an air of mystery surrounding it. So I was surprised when [REC] 2 was announced and I was cynical about it as I was with the first film. So I finally sat down to give [REC] 2 my undivided attention and I can say that I was pleasantly surprised.

The film picks up right where we left off and quickly cuts to a S.W.A.T. that is being sent to to the apartment block to escort some dude from the Ministry of Health in. We get a quick look at the team, learn their names and have a quick equipment check to show us that this time they have about 50 bazillion cameras mounted on each guy so we won't be able to miss any of the action. Rather then spending too much time on this, [REC] 2 quickly tosses this aside and gets right to heart of the story after the questionable ending of the first film. Things are quickly answered that throws the whole 'zombie' thing right out the window and replaces it with a nice dose of demons and possession (if you didn't guess from the ending of the first).

The film can be moderately scary throughout, throwing in some truly tense moments. You can't help rolling your eyes at some of the horrendous decisions some of the characters make, sending some off alone or watching others pump round after round of lead into some of the possessed, mouth foaming crazies when earlier on in the film we found a simple shot to the head would suffice. Despite following a team around that is armed to the teeth, the film manages to give off a strong atmosphere. With the buildings power off, everything groans and creaks and footsteps can be heard pattering and thumping around on the higher floors. I was enjoying the film a lot until things took a very strange turn.

Half way through the film the camera breaks and suddenly we switch to another group of characters that have found their way inside. A group of kids, defying all the quarantine sighs, police, choppers and the impenetrable bubble that the building has been coated in, decide to sneak in because it seems like such a good idea. I don't get what it is with kids and wanting to fuck everything up. Look at 28 Weeks Later. Two kids sneak out of the quarantine, bring the infection back and pretty much get everyone killed. People should just do the decent thing and keep their kids on a leash.
While this was a pretty ballsy and annoying move, it worked. We're thrown in with another group of survivors that have no weapons and no way to defend themselves but to continually record everything on their shitty camera. They cry, they scream and they beg to go home. Just as you start feeling a bit sorry for them, the film decides to rectify its mistake by having one of them die and scarring the other two for life leaving us again with the story driven S.W.A.T.

If you enjoyed [REC] you will certainly get a kick out of this sequel. Following a highly trained S.W.A.T. gives you a sense of safety, as the helmet mounted camera gives us a clear look at their trained and professional exteriors. It also manges to be scary by tearing this away from you when they find they're training is about a useful as slapping a possessed lunatic across the face. The separate camera's for each team member is used effectively, allowing us view to some horrific death scenes and its full of the blood and guts we've all become accustomed to in these sorts of horror films. The story takes some questionable turns and doesn't quite know what to do with itself but knows it wants to be something a little different from the usual zombie films that flood the market today. Overall [REC] 2 is a worthy but unnecessary sequel.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Super 8 & CGI - Opinion Piece

I have wanted to write a blog for a while now. Since this is my fancy new blog that I rarely use, I figured I should start trying to put more stuff on here. So let’s forget about reviews on films, games and whatever I try and talk about on here and let’s have a good old bitch about stuff.

I recently went to see a couple of films at the cinema with my girlfriend. The first film we saw was Super 8 after many adverts told me it was something special. I was sceptical. First of all, it was J.J. Abrams, one of the creators of Lost and I probably don’t need to tell you what a dire show that was. And then there was Cloverfield, the monster film to end all monster films but turned out to be a bit pants when you realized you never saw the monster and these people have an incredibly fancy camera because everything is perfect so how come I can’t see anything – you get the idea. Anyway, I watched Super 8 and I left feeling quite hollow. Was I expecting great things? Not really but I was expecting something fun and enjoyable. Perhaps that is asking too much. You see, it felt like the film didn’t quite know what it wanted to be. Clearly we had a group of kids all trying to make a low budget (and hilarious – easily the best bit of the film) super 8 zombie film. One of them is dealing with the loss of their mother, this strains things with his Dad who won’t hug him, there’s a love interest and now there’s a monster running around after a train wreck. Abrams tries to implement the old Cloverfield trick in that you don’t get the see the monster that much and tries to create some kind of atmosphere to the film. But this being a 12A it can’t really be that scary or gruesome so you’re left with some mildly exciting scenes with a monster you can hardly see and when you do it is just a CGI created thing anyway.

It feels like it’s in the same vein as old monster films in that a restricted budget and easily breakable animatronics meant the film makers had to be creative. They had to build the tension and have some interesting characters to boot. Watch Jaws. Spielberg has said the music was their shark. Even after reading that line I reckon you’ll be thinking, perhaps even humming the theme right now. It’s memorable and when watching Jaws and that music builds up, you know the shark is there. If you have seen Super 8, can you even think of the music from that film? Or do you simply remember the special effects? This I think detracts from the whole movie going experience. Everything is CGI these days. I’m not an old bastard reflecting on the days of yore when films seemed more real; I’m only 24 but I still feel films don’t need a bloated budget filled with explosions and special effects to be good. This is why when the monster finally reveals itself in its entirety towards the end of Super 8, I just sighed, checked my watched to see how much longer I had to watch this tripe. It seems from the older films I do watch, budget was a problem but the directors strived to make an enjoyable film with what they had and got more creative with it. Art through adversity. Even if you watch a film with shoddy special effects, they seem to have some charm to them; you can almost applaud the film makers for at least attempting it. But when everything is handed to film makers on a silver platter, you end up with soulless films, almost cartoons, which just feel fake and hollow.

And yet, I went to see Rise of the Planet of the Apes and absolutely loved it. It had a great story and was well-acted, well written characters and a nice dose of action towards the end. Even being full of the dreaded special effects it at least had some power and reason behind it, rather than mindless explosions and giant monsters to keep your eyes locked on the screen at all the flashy things happening.

I don’t want to be a hater of CGI; it can be used to great effect. Hell, even Jurassic Park looks fantastic to me. But unless you make something special with it, all your work will be remembered for is ‘that bit with explosion in it with the thing’. And surely as a creator, you want a bit more recognition than that, right?

Friday, 29 April 2011

I Saw the Devil Review

Looking at American cinema, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Yanks take on revenge tend to involve the likes of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson angrily punching people and walking in slow motion towards the camera in a manner that can only suggest he’s about to whip his dick out at any moment. Korean cinema isn’t as bravado as that, focusing more on the emotional distress that all-consuming revenge has on the characters. With films like the emotionally gripping Oldboy to the cathartic violence of Bedevilled, it’s easy to see that Korean film makers do not wish to glamourize revenge but rather show it as a force that inevitably drives the characters into self-destruction. I Saw the Devil is no exception. While being overly long, this is once again, another gripping film from our Korean brothers which shows us things we simply wouldn’t get to see down at our local Odeon. 

Min-sik Choi as Kyung Chul
From director Jee-woon Kim (director of ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’, a film that donned a strap-on of confusion and skull fucked you), I Saw the Devil is a revenge thriller that sees Special Agent Kim Soo-hyeon (Byung-hun Lee) relentlessly pursuing psychopathic serial killer Kyung-chul (Mr ‘Oldboy’ himself, Min-Sik Choi) for the brutal murder of his pregnant wife. Pretty standard stuff, yes, but the deliverance of the film is pretty unique viewing in Korea’s quickly growing collection of revenge films. Not content with meting revenge out quickly, Soo-hyeon catches up with Kyung-chul, dishes out some pain and then lets him go but not before planting him with a GPS. It seems Soo-hyeon wants us to actually have a film to watch. So for most of the proceedings, we watch Kyung-chul act like one of the biggest bastards around, attempting to rape defenceless women and pick on old men only to have Soo-hyeon show up, beat seven shades of shit out of him and fuck off to wait for him to do something evil again.

Byung-hun Lee as Soo-hyeon
The two main characters both give a rock solid performance. Soo-hyeon is a stoic man, with his grief hidden under a mask of grim determination. We see this mask slip from time to time as his in-laws desperately beg him to end his pursuit of Kyung-chul. We watch his determination evolve into obsession as his pursuit for revenge consumes him until we finally see the wreck he becomes after he witnesses the consequences of his actions. However, Byung-hun Lee’s performance is over shadowed by Min-sik Choi’s embodiment of ruthless serial killer Kyung-chul. A character that completely lacks remorse or guilt that steals the spotlight as he scarily drags his battered and broken body from place to place, inflicting his pain on others. The scariest aspect is that Kyung-chul generally seems to be having fun despite some of the horrific things that are done to him. He’s bleeding, he’s limping and he’s rummaging through his own shit at one point, but all through it he cracks that smile we grew to love in Oldboy and his presence on screen is just something you cannot ignore. He is easily one of the most memorable and evil serial killers to grace screens since Se7en’s John Doe.
With two such opposite characters, you’d expect to be cheering on Soo-hyeon until the bitter end, hoping for a cathartic climax in which he will finish the evil bastard that murdered his wife. But the film does a wonderful job of taking the palette of black and white and mixing it into a great big dollop of grey. As the film progresses, you genuinely don’t know which character you feel more sympathy for. Maybe it’s because of Min-sik Choi’s electrical performance, but you can’t help but feel sorry for Kyung-chul and some of the things he has to endure throughout the film.  You feel bad when Soo-hyeon bursts him to ruin his fun when he was just getting his groove on, even though he was about to commit some atrocious act. Watching Soo-hyeon act like a man possessed also makes you wonder what kind of man he’s allowing himself to become and you will start making comparisons between the two as you realise they are becoming one and the same.

The violence in I Saw the Devil is what originally drew me to the film in the first place. Many reviewers claimed the film to be too violent; with one reviewer on IMDB claiming censors deemed it as ‘offensive to human dignity’. Instantly I had images in my head of people being beaten to death with their own arms, choked with their own intestines and raped with their own legs. The violence isn’t that gratuitous. The word I would use is unsettling. Look at violent films that plague American cinemas today like the Saw franchise. The reactions to these overly graphic death scenes is applause, or have the audience ‘ooing’ and ‘aahhing’ at some particularly gory, but creative, death scene. I Saw the Devil’s approach to violence is grim. It’s raw, gritty and can at times be over the top but some scenes will have you squirming in your seat at the general unpleasantness of what is happening on screen. This is also down Jee-woon Kim’s use of direction, occasionally letting us watch some of the squeamish moments and other times, cutting away and letting our imagination take over. Be warned though, the violence and general theme of the film treads into some very dark territory. Think of scenes from The Vengeance Trilogy and then crank up the violence to 11 and you get a good idea of what to expect.

Overall, if you’re a fan of Korean cinema, this is definitely worth your time. It is long, clocking in at 147 minutes, this sadly can make it feel a bit slow in places and can feel like the film has been padded out with some unnecessary scenes. It’s gripping and completely engaging but these scenes seem to diminish the film slightly as you occasionally find yourself checking how long is left, or looking at the clock. Despite this, I would definitely recommend this Korean revenge blood-fest.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Crysis 2 Review

There is one part in Crysis 2 that sums up my overall feeling for the game. In this sequence, you watch from a distance as Central Park rises up from the ground. To say this looks fantastic is an understatement but while you are watching this awesome spectacle, people you have been in radio contact with throughout the game shout in panic “Central Park is rising from the ground!” and “May god help us all…” A perfect example of just how over the top Crysis 2 can be. With a story that has little interest but stunning visuals, one cannot help but compare Crysis 2 to a summer blockbuster. But this is interactive entertainment and gameplay is where Crysis 2 really shines over other first person shooters.

Crysis - PC
From what I played of Crysis on the PC, it had stunning visuals in a massive jungle environment that allowed you to approach many of the missions in what gameplay style you preferred thanks to the Nanosuit. With the sequel now being available across three platforms, one could not help but wonder if Crytek would make a worthy sequel and retain the same quality we saw in the original. The answer is a mixed bag. 

I would like to give more information on the story but truth be told I could not care less. This is, after all, a first person shooter and I learnt a long time ago that FPS are not the place to go for a deep engaging storyline (with a few exceptions, of course). There are alien invasions, people trying to kill you for your ability enhancing suit and a deadly virus that is wiping out New York City. Maybe if I had bothered to complete Crysis I would be following the story better but even after reading up on the whole thing I cannot seem to bring myself to care about what is happening nor the characters.

Crysis 2
The setting for Crysis 2 takes place in New York City that has fallen under Marshall Law due to a deadly virus. This is also in the midst of an alien attack leaving the city a worn torn urban battle ground. It’s a bold step away from the open jungles of Crysis but some of the visuals in Crysis 2 look fantastic. Crytek throw all the punches at you, having you witness buildings explode, bridges collapse and helicopters crashing through more buildings. All of this is executed beautifully. I’m sure there are people that would happily go over the game with a fine tooth comb and complain there may be a texture off here and it may not match up to the original game. Ignore these naysayers. Crysis 2 boasts some of the best visuals today.

What truly makes Crysis 2 stand out from other shooters today is the Nanosuit. The suit enhances the player’s abilities, making you stronger, faster and giving you stealth and armour abilities. However, the suit does not make your character invincible or overpowered. Using the suit drains energy which means planning when and where to use the suit is always a must. Thanks to the tactical mode at the start of every area, you can easily plan your routes, choosing to take a stealthy option or grab the nearest and biggest gun you can find and blast your way through with your armour on. The choice is yours and it’s a flexibility we rarely see amidst the linear shooters that litter consoles today. You are even given a variety of upgrades, both for the suit and your weapons. These become unlocked as you progress through your first playthrough and remain unlocked once you finish the game, offering replay. Tweaking your guns to your liking is a very welcomed option. Attachable shotguns and grenade launchers, an assortment of scopes and laser sightings all allow you to customize your preferred weapon to your liking. You can even put a silencer on your shotgun for those that wish to feel like a supersized Anton Chigurh.

There are a few issues I have with Crysis 2. Unable to skip cut scenes can make starting a mission again after you have died tiresome. One particular instance that irked me was the beginning of a vehicle level. The level starts with you sat on a slow moving tank while you listen to people chatter over the radio. Each time I died I had to sit and listen to this conversation again and again. The radio chatter can also become annoying. There were a few instances when characters would be shouting over each other to get your attention and it is hard to hear what anyone is saying through the static and people incessantly bellowing in your ear. These small, personal issues aside, Crysis 2 can, in some ways, feel like a step back from the original. Essentially, you are still boxed in. While you are free to tackle many of the open areas whichever way you like, it loses the openness and freedom of the original. This isn’t to say the areas you have to tackle in Crysis 2 are not big. They’re just not big. But these ‘baby sandbox’ scenarios are so richly detailed it is easy to forgive this step back. In no way are the size of these levels more apparent once you complete one and have to find a way out of it. With the loss of freedom from the original, it can be a sad reminder that you are boxed in when trying to find the next check point that in some cases, can be frustratingly difficult to find, only to kick yourself when you realised you ran past the exit several times. The enemy AI can also make some dreadful errors. While they can easily put up a fight and make some areas quite a challenge, you will occasionally find a lone solider aimlessly running into a wall completely oblivious to what is going on around him.

With all that said, I wouldn’t let these few niggling issues stand in the way of something that feels incredibly fresh amongst first person shooters today. PC gamers may feel let down by what feels like a watered down sequel. But console gamers should rejoice at having something that stands out from the usual corridor shooters today. It looks great; the gameplay is solid and offers something very few shooters offer today – choice.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Fringe Season One

Do you enjoy TV shows like The X Files or The Twilight Zone? If so, then you should probably watch Fringe. Fringe follows an FBI agent, a mad scientist and his son as they investigate strange phenomena that dwell on the fringe of science. Throughout the series, you’ll see the likes of telepathy, spontaneous human combustion, telekinesis and other assortments of the weird and wonderful. Even though everything is given a scientific explanation, it is still science fiction with the explanations being just as out of this world and ridiculous as any supernatural phenomenon.

When you first watch Fringe you would be forgiven for wanting to pick up that remote and turn it off immediately. You will see Olivia Dunham (Anna Torv), the blonde and always pouting FBI agent. Peter Bishop (Joshua Jackson) a character quite poorly written early on in the series, with the writers not quite sure as to whether to make Peter a roughish badass or the sensitive hero of the piece, who is quick to disregard some of the more outlandish science one minute then willing to accept anything that’s thrown at his unshaven, punchable face the next. Plus he’s from the hateful, teenage angst fest of Dawson’s Creek, a show that is so bad even the thought of the theme tune makes me want to vomit. Finally, we have Walter Bishop (John Noble), a character I can’t really say anything bad about because he is simply a joy to watch on screen. If it wasn’t for this character, I would have stopped watching very early on. Am I glad I kept watching though? Absolutely because Fringe evolves into something incredibly enjoyable that is certainly worth your time.

If you have ever watched shows like Supernatural or The X Files, you will have a good idea of what to expect. Every week the team head somewhere to investigate some strange occurrence with some evil mutant or strange disappearance. They work, they solve, tea and medals for all. Some of the episodes can be great, being hosts to some truly weird stuff while some are just horribly boring. The real strength of Fringe are the over arcing stories that weaves threads in and out of the episodes, sometimes adding a little to tease you and sometimes dropping bombshells. This being from J.J. Abrams, you can expect a rather complex story but a very rewarding one as well. Mysterious events known at ‘The Pattern’, a huge conglomerate Massive Dynamics with its shadowy CEO William Bell who is also Walter’s old lab partner, a mysterious bald man in a suit that appears at every ‘pattern’ event know at ‘The Observer’, the mystery of Peter’s childhood and his illness that he has no memory of are just a part of what Fringe will offer. With so much happening, it is easy to think that Fringe would go down the same path as Lost, a show that asked too many questions and didn’t give enough answers which made it frustrating to watch. Thankfully, Fringe doesn’t work like this. Questions get answered and things get resolved making it even more watchable because you can’t wait to get the answers to some of the big questions. Yes, the little questions lead to big questions, the big questions lead to bigger questions and the biggest questions lead to the mind-blowing answer you’ve been waiting for.

If I have any gripes with season one it’s that it starts slow. It can take a few episodes to get into but the writing picks up and you begin to watch characters bond and they start to develop a rapport. This is particularly true to Peter and Walter’s relationship, which starts off rocky (due to Walter being in a mental institution for the last 17 years) but watching them start bonding as Father and Son is lovely to watch, especially since Walter is such a lovable character.
Also, with this being an American show, the series can be just too long, with some episodes being unnecessary. With 20 episodes, each lasting roughly 45 minutes, this is a lot of telly watching and sometimes you wish they would have cut a good 5 or 6 episodes from the series to at least shorten it and remove the duds.

Overall, Fringe grows into something truly spectacular. If you get the end of season one and witness the jaw dropping and incredibly powerful (and controversial) ending, you will be hooked on this TV show.