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Friday, 29 October 2010

Fable 3 Impressions

Fable 2 was good, but nothing special as an Xbox 360 exclusive due to tedious combat and an not-altogether compelling storyline, so it remains to Fable 3 to prove the series' worth as a key franchise for Microsoft. From what I've seen so far, though, that might be the case: elements old and new have been intertwined to provide an instantly engaging, better crafted adventure which is more accessible to the likes of me that didn't spend their childhoods working for yet another Level Up. The premise is as follows: your brother is one heck of a tyrannical king, and as you are booted from the castle you must gain followers to start an uprising, derail the throne and ultimately take your rightful place as ruler of Albion. Though the choices you make are sure to be the most game-changing part of Fable 3, even the early tutorials are comedic but more importantly fun to play (a trait the predecessor lacked at times), giving me high hopes for a well-rounded game that a) has lots of replay value and b) could well be a contender for Game of the Year.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 Impressions

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 is perhaps the most anticipated game of the year for sci-fi fans, and with my hands on a final copy I ripped open the packaging and gave it a whirl. Of my experience with the title so far, well, as Darth Vader would say: "Impressive. Most impressive." The graphics of Starkiller himself look great, and each location is instantly recognisable from the lore of Star Wars. On a whole, the title seems more like a cinematic single-player experience than anything else, offering intense plot that's darker than before, nostalgic cameos from fan favourite Jedi and bounty hunters and above all a better game-play experience. With this in mind, all seems set for a 10/10, right? Perhaps, but rumours persist that the game is heartbreakingly short on the easier difficulties, and indeed having read that my two-hour (yep, really) plowthrough of seemingly two long (but compelling) levels was in fact of four levels, and that my pressing trip to Dagobah would signal the game's half-way point is quite worrying given that only extra costumes, challenge maps and lightsabre colours will add replayability. My full review will be posted at some point in the next week...may the Force be with you until then!

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed DVD Review (4/5)

Did you buy Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II in a GAME store today? Then you'll also have been given a free DVD boasting a "cinematic movie" version of the original game. In reality, its a compliation of all of the cut-scenes from the 2008 title, but has been put together well enough that at first you may not notice. The traditional opening crawl of the saga remains intact and establishes the epic nature of the videogame, but quickly you'll notice how old the title's graphics engine looks two years on! No matter: the story was easily the best part of The Force Unleashed, a fact which remains true today. If you weren't there when the first game was released, then here's the premise: Darth Vader recruits a Secret Apprentice to hunt down the last Jedi and ultimately overthrow the Emperor...or so Galen Marek thinks- and that's where the plot starts to twist, big time. The 'movie' itself is well crafted for the most part, but sometimes the lack of a lightsaber fight taken from the actual game after a clip with two enemies brandishing sabres (then seeing one lying near-dead on the floor) is jarring to say the least. Overall, though, this re-cap is a neat free bonus, and should persuade you to get the sequel at GAME.

Michael McIntyre Life And Laughing Review (4/5)

Michael McIntyre's fast success story in Britain is one overlooked by most of us as we see his hilarious antics on DVD, so his new autobiography- Life and Laughing- is a welcome surprise for fans. McIntyre effortlessly combines gags from his shows with the trials and tribulations of being a kid, a teenager, a film writer and ultimately a comedian, and it is this combination that can make the book such an easy read sometimes. However, this mixture is also a double-edged sword, in that at times the author seems to get so carried away with his wit that readers may forget at which point in his life they have reached as this reviewer frequently did. A common question many ask is just why so many celebrities release the story of their lives so early into their career and often this question popped into my head as McIntyre attempts to find content to bulk out his teenage years and stages the one main romance of his life as a love story forged in Hollywood. If anything, though, there's a clear indication this is only the first part of a longer tale to come, perhaps in a decade when the hottest name in British comedy has hit his absolute height and had a wealth of new experiences. Even if it seems too soon, I would recommend any fan of the rising star to put this great read on their Christmas lists!

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back Retrospective (4.5/5)

It has been three decades since the second instalment of the Star Wars trilogy hit cinemas, but does Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back stand up as one of the great classic movies of all time even today? Well yes, it does! Though its opening sequence is perhaps less eventful than the original Star Wars, chronicling the flight of an Imperial Spy Droid from a Star Destroyer to the ice planet of Hoth, immediately we are reminded of the vast universe of the saga. Mark Hamill gets the spotlight for a time, but soon enough Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher are staging a rescue for Luke from a well-animated Wompa beast. Darth Vader (David Prowse) also makes a quick return, and the terror installed in kids of the '80s still doesn't seem misplaced as the cloaked villain storms the corridors of his ship, killing generals and ordering invasions as he goes. Luke's later venture to Dagobah provides some of the only fun to be found in Empire, introducing viewers to Yoda, a comedic creature later revealed as a Jedi Master- a revelation which could debatably have surprised newcomers even more than the famed "I AM YOUR FATHER" to come. But when that does come, boy is it effective: John Williams' soundtrack builds tension fabulously through the prior lightsaber duel in the clouds, and Prowse and Hamill do a fine job in their respective roles throughout. In the 21st century, Empire loses a few marks for a jarring middle section which moves between too many locations, but overall it still makes for a compelling watch for any audience.

Halo: The Xbox 360's Flagship Franchise?

It's a worthy statement: since the Xbox 360 has launched, not one, not two, but four Halo games have been released onto the console and with more sure to come from 2011 onwards courtesy of new developer 343 Industries, the Microsoft-exclusive franchise shows no signs of slowing down. But does that make it the series destined to be associated with the console? Let's take a look at each of the instalments...

HALO 3- Ironically enough this title was said to be the 'flagship title' for the Xbox 360 in 2007, the game that every owner should purchase- and what a game it was. Superb HD graphics, a plot which culminated the trilogy successfully and the best game-play mechanics since the original made for what was then the series high. 10/10

HALO WARS- The announcement of a strategy-based Halo took everyone by surprise, but Ensemble Studios proved it could be done with Halo Wars, an excellent spin-off/prequel telling a tale set decades before Combat Evolved, and allowing players to control armies of Spartans as they pleased. This only faltered with slowly fading replay value and a lack of DLC, but Halo Wars was a shock hit for most fans. 9/10

HALO 3: ODST- This was what, for me, let the side down on 360. ODST followed a group of rag-tag human troopers as the city of New Mombassa crumbled around them, and attempted a free-roam structure at times. Trouble was, most of the game had me wishing I was back in a mission, not trying to find one. A solid plot and the introduction of Firefight kept this as a decent Halo, but nothing more. 7/10

HALO: REACH- Now boasted as the 360's flagship title for 2010, Reach combines all the best elements of the series including an amazing prequel campaign, improved Firefight, a huge online world to create and excellent replay value. Where Reach falters is in its occasional unwillingness to innovate from past games, but the sheer value of the title at just £40 is incredible. 10/10

So is Halo the flagship franchise for the Xbox 360? I would say yes: the sheer amount of games already out here in comparison to just two on the original Xbox shows the dedication Microsoft is putting in to the sci-fi story, and suggests that we will be seeing a lot more of the Chief and his friends before the console dies!

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Dark Knight Will Rise In 2012

Viewers have been left in the dark since 2008 as to the future of the Batman movie franchise, but today a title has emerged for the third film. Due to be released in July 2012, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES will be the final instalment in what has now been revealed as a trilogy of modern-day Caped Crusader flicks. Little is known as to what the plot may encompass, but fans can be sure of an engaging and often harrowing adventure for Bruce Wayne's alter-ego given the nature of Batman Begins (2005, 4/5) and The Dark Knight (2008, 5/5, now famous for being the second highest-grossing film of all time), and director Christopher Nolan has made the revelation that rumoured antagonist the Riddler WON'T play a part in the movie, so make of that what you will!

Avatar Sequels Are On Their Way...

What has been left up to speculation by James Cameron in the months following the release of his epic fantasy film Avatar has now been confirmed by 20th Century Fox: Avatar 2 will hit cinemas in December 2014, and Avatar 3 in December 2015. Looking ahead much? Apparently not- Cameron has issued a press statement that the flicks, rumoured to be filmed back-to-back with the same award-winning CGI technology as their predecessor, will be "self-contained films" but "also fulfil a greater story arc" and have the goal of "expanding global audiences' expectations for the richness of the visual world and the power of storytelling" (so no pressure on the cast and crew, then!). No plot details have been released yet, but earlier this year the director sparked discussion that Avatar 2 might involve the creatures that lie beneath the surface of Pandora. Bearing in mind that those release dates are subject to change, fans can rest assured that they'll be able to fit in quite a few repeat viewings of the original before the sequels arrive!

Star Wars & Fable Reviews Are In!

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 and Fable III both hit consoles this Friday, and the reviews of both sequels have started to arrive online. The general consensus for Force Unleashed 2 seems to be that if you are a Star Wars fan, there is enough in the at-times thrilling story and improved game-play to make up for the brevity of the main campaign: GamesRadar rated it 8/10, praising "substantial improvements to the Force powers" but noting the game "doesn't innovate or do new things", while Game Informer gave it 8/10 for "still letting you harness the Force like never before" but "losing some of its magic due to how short it is", noting that most hardcore gamers can finish it in a brief 5-7 hours. Fable 3, meanwhile, has been received well more consistently with critics, with IGN giving it a 8.5/10 for being "the game Fable II should have" and "more accessible to newcomers", as well as Computer And Video Games.com awarding it 9.2/10 due to "thoroughly entertaining quests", "more elegant RPG elements" and being able to make "choices with consequences." To put it simply: buy The Force Unleashed 2 if you are a fan looking to continue the storyline in between Episodes III and IV, and Fable 3 if you want a long-lasting experience where you rise to become King through a revolution, then must face the promises you made!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

SJA: Death Of The Doctor Review (5/5)

Matt Smith's first season as the Eleventh Doctor proved indescribably popular, bringing in new viewers but exciting fans of the classic era also, and the character of Doctor Who himself was much-loved as a mixture of old and new. His appearance on the fourth season of The Sarah Jane Adventures had already been arranged before the Series 5 finale of Who had even aired, but it is unsurprising that this story has been amongst the most anticipated since the spin-off debuted in 2007. What a blessing it was, then, that Death of the Doctor proved everything a viewer could want, and so much more! The premise saw Sarah Jane taken to UNIT with Rani and Clyde to mourn the supposedly deceased Doctor, only for them to discover (with the help of former companion Jo Grant, brilliantly portrayed once more by Katy Manning) that the vulture aliens the Shansheeth forged a trap to open the TARDIS and stop deaths from occurring across time. When this scheme is finally revealed, you may find yourself feeling a sense of empathy towards these clearly monstrous antagonists, thinking- wouldn't I do the same if I could go anywhere, any when? On top of this, Elisabeth Sladen, Anji Mohandra and Daniel Anthony do superb jobs as always in the lead roles, with Sladen particularly getting the emotions racing as she mentions the Tenth Doctor's regeneration and Anthony getting the fun job of raising an issue with the number of times the Doctor can change (and you thought it was 12!). However, amidst the superb plot worthy of an episode of Who, realistic injections of death's effect on a relative through Sarah Jane's reaction and the believable villains, the final word must go to Matt Smith: his Doctor is on fine form here, sharing tear-jerking scenes with Jo, updating us on the situation with Amy and Rory (here's guessing the Orient Express adventure has been and gone) and generally being the Doctor everyone wanted him to. This is sheer perfection for children's television, and wouldn't be out of place on Saturday primetime either (start the protests!)!

Red Dead: Undead Nightmare Out November 26th

Red Dead Redemption (9.5/10) is by far one of the best action-shooter titles of the year so far, and its DLC support by Rockstar on Xbox Live and Playstation Network has been mercifully strong for gamers with access to the internet via their consoles. But what about those who don't? The developers are looking to fix all that: the Undead Nightmare expansion pack is due to hit both networks today, encompassing a new campaign where the dead rise from their graves and plague the Wild West- leaving John Marston to find a cure- and a host of multi-player modes against the Zombies, but instead of simply leaving it at that, Rockstar have announced that the expansion, along with all of the other DLC packs released since Red Dead hit retailers, will be packaged on one single disc to be released on the 26th of November. The game, titled RED DEAD REDEMPTION: UNDEAD NIGHTMARE, will retail for £25 and not require the original Red Dead Redemption to play. Fans of the original who can't buy the DLC should make sure to buy this release judging by reviews posted of Undead online!

2011: The Best Year For Games? Part Two

But there's more! Whereas the list might have stopped there regarding 2010's line-up, 2011 seems to boast more great hits for gamers to purchase...

NINTENDO 3DS- Need I say more? If you haven't already heard, this new handheld console will boast actual, Avatar-scale 3D capabilities for gaming franchises everywhere, and could very well revolutionise the way we play. The launch titles include Nintendogs; Mario Kart; Professor Layton Vs Phoenix Wright; Metal Gear Solid and Kingdom Hearts, but it remains to see whether the console can justify its £200 price tag!

THE MOTION CONTROLLERS- This is where the big gamble is at: both Microsoft and Sony will have their respective motion controllers, Kinect and Move, out by this Christmas, but with little to no hardcore games coming out for either (the launch line-up targets the casual audience) in 2010, next year will be the true test for both peripherals. For Xbox, Fable 3 (Autumn 2010) will integrate Kinect and Child Of Eden (Spring 2011) will be the first gamer-orientated Kinect-only title, while on PS3 the main focus will go to Little Big Planet 2 (Spring 2011) for its level-building concept. Keep checking On-Screen for the latest reviews of motion video gaming!

SUPERHERO MANIA- If, however, you prefer to play with a controller, then 2011 just might be the year for you to give the superhero genre a go. First up is Thor (Spring), the hammer wielding Norse God (of sorts) who crashes to modern-day Earth and must defend the planet from ancient foes, clearly a great premise for a video game and movie (hence why there is one of each). Next is Captain America: Super Soldier (Summer), starring Chris Evans in the lead role and based around the flick of the same name, tasking players with testing out a suit of immense power. If you want a title that is guaranteed to be great, though, look for Batman: Arkham City (Autumn). Arkham Asylum was a superbly crafted single-player experience and perhaps the game of 2009, so this dark sequel could prove to be quite the hit next year.

SHOOTER SHOOTOUT- And, as 2011 nears its end, we get the traditional flurry of shooters. Call Of Duty will supposedly get two entries next year, one by newcomer Sledgehammer Games and the other Infinity Ward, though the latter is yet to be confirmed. Meanwhile Battlefield 3 could easily storm the online charts upon release, and given Medal of Honour's moderate success another trip to Afghan could be in store. Expect sales of these shooters to, as ever, be insanely high for no reason.

2011: The Best Year For Games? Part One

We've had a pretty decent run of games this year- Red Dead Redemption, Halo Reach, Call of Duty Black Ops, Mass Effect 2 and more to come, but NEXT year seems to be shaping up to be something quite different altogether. Join me as I take a look at which titles gamers should be excited about in 2011...

MARVEL VS CAPCOM 3: FATE OF TWO WORLDS- Though it has got one hell of a title, the next in the popular beat-em-up series looks set to provide the best graphics, game-play and online lifespan yet, with heroes such as Spider-Man, Hulk, Ryu and Nathan Drake all set to fight it out in arenas form both universes! (360, PS3, Out Spring 2011)

STAR WARS: THE OLD REPUBLIC- Star Wars games have improved ever since LEGO Star Wars in 2005 to the point where Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (and its sequel, which has been getting solid 7s and 8s from critics) showed the full extent of the Force. But there was a time, believe it or not, where the saga adaptations didn't need improving- namely Knights of the Old Republic- and this online role-play game may provide the ultimate multi-player Star Wars experience. (PC, Summer 2011)

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: SKYWARD SWORD- As Mario has hit his platforming high on Wii with Super Mario Galaxy 2 (10/10), it's time for fan favourite Nintendo icon Link to return to the limelight in the company's big hitter for 2011. Set in the Hyrule hardcore followers know and love, Skyward Sword will use the Wii MotionPlus to its full potential for sword-play and archery, so expect good things! (Wii, Summer 2011)

GEARS OF WAR 3- The climax to a grand trilogy of Xbox 360 exclusives, Gears Of War 3 was pushed back in order to allow for a near-perfect finale next year packing an emotional plot, tight weapon mechanics and online modes with endless replayability. Aside from Kinect, this is the game Microsoft are pushing in 2011. (360, Autumn 2011)

2011: The Best Year For Films? Part Three

PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: ON STRANGER TIDES- Did it seem wrong that Captain Jack Sparrow's adventure had to end with Will and Elizabeth's come the climax of At World's End? Worry not, then, as the good Captain will return to roam the seas in search of the Fountain of Immortaility next Summer. Fan favourites Geoffery Rush and Keith Richards return here, but expect a film far removed from its predecessors!

KUNG FU PANDA 2: THE KABOOM OF DOOM- This was an unexpected film to be revealed given that Jack Black's fun animation of 2008 seemed to close off the story of fat panda Po as he beat the ultimate demon of Kung-Fu. Oh well- the panda and co-stars Angelina Jolie and Jackie Chan did fine jobs, so if they keep that up in 2011 all will be well

THE HANGOVER 2- This, on the other hand, anyone could have seen coming: the original Hangover was a shock hit in 2009, but a deserved one all the same (5/5), so a sequel was bound to come about simply for logistical and financial reasons. Nothing has been revealed of the plot yet, though we already know to expect laughs aplenty in Vegas!

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS- Not so much a sequel as a revamp for a dying franchise, First Class picks up where Origins: Wolverine (2.5/5) left off, tasking Professor Xavier with training a group of mutants into the first X-Men, and showing how his relationship with future nemesis Magneto began to crumble. Marmite stuff, to be sure.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN PART ONE- Depending on your gender and age, you may cheer or groan at this one. Taking the same approach as Harry Potter in splitting the final book into two, Breaking Dawn hits cinemas in November 2011, and will show the ramifications of Bella's choice to marry Edward Cullen while closing off each plot strand but inevitably leaving fans on a cliff-hanger until Summer 2012. If you're a girl, be very excited, and if you're a boy, well, don't worry: it's almost over.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS 3D- Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel was perhaps the worst follow-up I have ever seen (1/5), so news of yet another instalment did not bode well in my view of the franchise (which started off admittedly decent in its first entry, 3.5/5). No plot details whatsoever have been released yet, but provided the music's good at least we can anticipate a film with potential (given the original's popularity) as a feel-good hit to end 2011.

2011: The Best Year For Films? Part Two

And yet more sequels await us still...2011 is shaping up to be a brilliant year for movie-goers, and as I've already mentioned, it's in the sequels where the brilliance is really at. Here are a few more to look forward to:

SHERLOCK HOLMES 2- On the 26th of December 2009, a sure-fire hit was born in cinemas with Sherlock Holmes, an adaptation of the classic Arthur Conan Doyle detective's adventures starring Robert Downey Jr. Far stretched from this year's modern Sherlock- penned by Steven Moffat- this harkened back to the classic days of film, so a sequel which introduces arch-nemesis to Holmes, Professor Moriarty, can only be a good thing.

TRANSFORMERS: THE DARK SIDE OF THE MOON- The second Transformers flick wasn't well received by fans or newcomers, therefore it's up to Michael Bay, Shia LeBeouf and co to bring the robots back to the big screen with a bang, especially without the lure for male fans of the attractive (to say the least) Megan Fox. Good luck, team...

SPY KIDS 4: ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD- It seemed the Spy Kids franchise had met its natural end in 2006 with Spy Kids 3: Game Over (as if the title didn't say it all), but we now know a fourth instalment is in production for Summer 2011, if anything sure to kick start a new trilogy of films with the introduction of a new family of spies, and featuring stars such as Jessica Alba. This could be a surprise hit!

FINAL DESTINATION 5- You'd think a series of horrors such as this would fast get predictable and stale and you'd be right: unless like me you were new to the franchise, the fourth instalment must have been obvious and only pleasing through its gore. Despite that, what gore it is! There's no denying the franchise's fun humour through the darkness, meaning there could be hope yet here.

PUSS IN BOOTS- Another surprise entry, this spin-off to the Shrek films clearly focuses on Antonio Banderas' fun protagonist from the later flicks, a god-send given that the feline character was often more likeable than the rest of the fairytale characters and the obvious energy the past Zorro puts into his voicing. We know little of the plot yet, but expect some fun cross-overs in this Shrek 2 prequel.

2011: The Best Year For Films? Part One

The title would be a bold statement, I'll admit, but believe me, next year's line-up of films is already shaping up to be one of the biggest and altogether grandest yet. The specific reason for this possible accolade can be summed up in one word: sequel. 2011 looks to be the year of the sequel (overtaking such clich├ęd titles as the year of the dog- oh wait, that may have another meaning), and below are just a few examples of why that can be nothing but a good thing...

CARS 2- Wait, stop laughing! Despite everything, the original Cars film by Disney Pixar was a strong contender for the best animation of 2006 with the introduction of Owen Wilson as Lightning McQueen and Larry 'The Cable Guy' as the hilarious Mater. Sure, it won't perhaps hit the same brilliant heights as Toy Story 3, but the talking cars' returns are nothing less than welcome.

THOR, CAPTAIN AMERICA: If these two unique super-hero flicks seem odd choices, they aren't- Thor and Captain America will continue the recent trend by Marvel Comics of introducing Avengers characters and forming a team for that comic adaptation in 2012. As the strands of this multi-franchise arc draw together, things can only get better!

DIARY OF A WIMPY KID 2- The original Diary Of A Wimpy Kid adaptation was a hit with the younger audience, and its sequel will release in March next year (the films are currently being shot back-to-back). Though this won't appeal to seasoned viewers, the first film showed a clear sign of a strong franchise to develop with potential.

HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS- PART TWO: We are about to get the first part in the finale to this epic series on November 19th, 2010 but everything will go crazy as the final ever Potter movie hits cinemas in July 2011! We've no idea where the book will be split and what cliff-hanger awaits us next month, but expect a masterpiece!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Merlin Returns In 2011

Fresh off solid ratings in its opening seven episodes of the third season, BBC fantasy drama Merlin has been confirmed for another series of episodes in 2011. Set in medieval times, Merlin chronicles the famous wizard's rise to power alongside the future King Arthur, and his struggle to keep his magical abilities secret until the time comes for Camelot to discover him. Series 3, currently airing on BBC One, gives Merlin his toughest choice yet: as nemesis Morgana uses her royal heritage as a safeguard, the protagonist must make a terrible choice- does he kill her, revealing himself to a King who kills magicians, or leave her alive, and risk the destruction of the Kingdom? Viewers will have to wait until December 4th for the epic season finale to discover his decision, but even now the BBC have released some plot details for Series 4, set to begin filming in March 2011: "[The BBC] both delight in the continuing success of Merlin, and relish in the chance to take the series to the next level with the introduction of the Knights of the Round Table". Several of this group have appeared in Merlin already, but given their relevance to the beginning of the Arthurian legend, could the fourth series send the show off? Merlin will return next September to BBC One and BBC HD.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Social Network Review (4/5)

But how do you get 500 million friends if your acting comes at the cost of a film's entertainment? At times, The Social Network borders on being something truly special, throwing in a mixture of comedy, drama and time shifts to keep the viewer engaged amongst the confusing figures and facts which are constantly sent their way, but the casting of such unknowns as Jesse Einenburg (though adequate given his protagonist's general awkwardness) and Armie Hammer might quickly put many off before the flick has even hit its halfway point. Having said that, Andrew Garfield- set to be the next Spider-Man when the Marvel revamp hits in 2012- and Brenda Song (famous for her role in Disney Channel hit The Suite Life of Zack & Cody) bring The Social Network out of its potential depths with some superbly emotional sequences near its climax, and these scenes easily prove the classic it could have been with different decisions by the casting director. If this factor proves the deciding point for your viewing of The Social Network and you come to the decision that it isn't worth watching, bear this in mind: amongst the bad acting and often overwhelming numbers, there is an intricately-directed flick with true reverence paid to Facebook's real-world creators that will easily serve to be educational for the majority of audience, and for the most part it's a totally enjoyable, not to mention intelligent movie.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 Impressions

Lucasarts have never been ones to miss a challenge for the Star Wars video game franchise. From first-person-shooters to real-time-strategy titles, they've pretty much done the lot, though not once have they realistically shown what it would be like to actually BE a Jedi Knight. With Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, however, they came so damn close, only missing out due to its repetitive nature and often awkward control scheme. Enter Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2, the demo of which I played today. Right from the off, you'll notice the already impressive graphics have been ramped up to a scale that is disturbingly realistic and that the plot is much more compelling already than that found in the first. Plus, the two lightsabres you're quickly handed instead of one makes for an engaging new game mechanic using dismemberment (hence the 16 rating). The controls have clearly seen a revamp, too, with targeting objects becoming simpler due to less being on screen or usable (not nearly as bad a decision as it might sound). From this writer's point of view, the only place where The Force Unleashed 2 might let the side down is in its often repetitive game-play: slashing through stormtroopers can only be entertaining for so long and though several scenes such as Starkiller's freefall through the spires of Kamino are cool to play first-time through, they leave lots to be desired in terms of gaming originality. Whether this matters will show upon the game's release this Friday, but given that COD and FIFA are now so predictable, The Force Unleashed 2 could easily be seen as the best Star Wars game ever!

Smallville: Lazarus Review (5/5)

So, as Clark plummets to Earth with blue kryptonite in his chest, as Oliver is captured by an unknown man in the shadows and as Lois discovers the Blur's true identity...what next? That question has plagued fans for months (and will continue to do so here in the UK), but my sneak preview of Episode 1 of the final season has shown that Smallville is nonetheless in very safe hands for its climax. Dubbed Lazarus, the story sees Clark get clues about a final, dark trial he must face, intertwining conflicts and resolutions for Oliver and Chloe (the latter portrayed by Allison Mack, until now a season regular but this year only appearing in 5 stories) and the clones that Clark's nemesis had created to heal him after death (in case you're avoiding spoilers, I won't reveal that particular adversary, but sufficed to say for fans it provides some serious nostalgia). Each sub-plot is as intriguing as the last, and as Smallville has always done best, the episode teases several story arcs to come: what, or who is the dark force that's coming? Who has taken Oliver prisoner? How can Clark ever become Superman? And, for some hardcore viewers who have been with the show since its birth, just how does Jonathan Kent live? Once again, as per usual none of the answers are revealed here, but the superb acting, unbelievably engaging storyline and neat references to the past, present and future for Clark more than compensate- besides, the finale should neatly wrap all those strands up anyway!

R.E.D Review (3/5)

Does that score seem slightly lower than expected? It should: in the lead-up to its debut, the huge promo campaign has given off the impression that R.E.D (standing for Retired, Extremely Dangerous!) would be one of the top comedy/action flicks this year. Turns out that wasn't to be the case, though, as the movie- produced by DC Comics (of Batman, Superman etc) and Summit Entertainment (of Twilight), a combination which certainly no one saw coming- is way too lengthy, and its jokes too far and sparse in between the frequent scenes of tedium. The much-vaunted appearances by Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis are worth it, especially given the latter's all-too-brief cameo in The Expendables (2.5/5), and actually serve as the crux of the flick's likeability as well as the only part standing between it and the bargain bin. However, the plot has so many points which drag (Mirren and Freeman really should have got some more screen material in favour of the awkward relationship between the male and female protagonists) and becomes so unnecessarily complex for its genre that it will probably neither appeal to casual viewers or hard-core fans of the RED comics. If you can put up with the sheer tedium that crops its head every few scenes when Willis is alone with a sub-character, then R.E.D can truly be a great comedy, but bar the cast it to me feels like a missed opportunity.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Fallout New Vegas Review (8/10)

2008's Fallout 3 (8/10) by Bethesda Software proved a strong entry in the multi-platform series, only failing with its weak ending and dated graphical scheme. Now, two years on, we get Fallout: New Vegas, a spin-off of sorts to its predecessor (a fact highlighted by the lack of a numerical value) which doesn't encounter as many flaws with the plot, but now simply looks too ancient for next-generation consoles. The story goes that your character has been shot in the head, and must now search for his would-be killer, but given that this is Fallout twists and turns along the way will shift your perception of friend and foe, to the point that the game's climax will be shaped by the choices you make. It is and always has been an intriguing set-up, and what remains true of New Vegas is that if you liked previous entries, you'll like this instalment, and vice versa! The environments are often near identical to those found in Fallout 3, the cast uttering the same varied tones, and the free reign to do as you please still consuming all hopes of a truly powerful story-driven game. Nothing much has improved or changed in the two years since Fallout 3, but provided you enjoyed that, there's enough new on offer to warrant this purchase.

Smallville: Salvation Review (4.5/5)

A familiar trend for the ninth season of Superman series Smallville proved true with its finale: the premise was sound, but the execution was somewhat flawed. So, why the high score? Well, despite a near-total lack of drama in parts such as the confrontation in the Fortress of Solitude and not enough emotion coming from a clearly distraught Chloe Sullivan (who, through the script, seemed to veer towards pushing Clark away to New Krypton then being angry as he chose to leave!) at the thought of Clark's imminent departure, scenes including the opening pre-credits sequence where Clark's donning of the Superman costume and the return of Lex Luthor were teased, and the final "battle" sequences (especially as the Kandorians began to turn on Zod, at which point the tension was ramped up superbly) were of such a high calibre for what can often be a low-key and repetitive drama that they forced the finale to become unbelievably realistic and brilliant. The only true flaws other than those mentioned come from the US having seen Season 9's climax months before the UK and therefore spoiling most of the great twists for us, and that E4 will not be showing Season 10 (currently airing in America) here until early 2011, though these are more domestic problems than that with the show. Here's hoping Season 10 keeps up the great work done here!

DJ Hero 2 Review (9/10)

DJ Hero hit stores to a great reception in Fall 2009, packaged with a superb turntable controller and boasting a multitude of exclusive mixes. Here at On-Screen, we loved the variety, interesting graphics and longevity on display, giving the original an 8/10. It comes as a large surprise, then, for this reviewer to be upping the score by a whole mark one year on with the sequel, DJ Hero 2. Literally everything has been improved in some form: the graphics get even closer to real life while maintaining their cool, animated tone; the mixes (combinations of two songs) feature even more famous artists such as Lady GaGa and Queen than before and most importantly the occasional control glitches that were present in the first game have for the majority been ironed out. In contrast to Guitar Hero: Warriors Of Rock (5/10), which seemed to show an ageing franchise that deserved a rest (having started in 2003 and released over 20 titles!), DJ Hero 2 seems to indicate that the newly built series can only go from strength to strength. Admittedly, at times the difficulty can spike and make a decent star rating feel a little too out of reach, but that doesn't stop DJ Hero 2 from being the best music-rhythm title out on the market by a clear mile. Surprise of the year? It could well be.

Vanquish Review (7/10)

Amongst Halo: Reach, Medal of Honor and Call Of Duty: Black Ops in the great arms race of 2010 comes an unlikely contender from Japan: Vanquish. Made by the same developer of the crazy and whimsical slash-em-up Bayonetta, Platiunum Studios, Vanquish sends players to an alternative time-line in the future, giving them the chance to fight it out with demonic creatures, age-old rivals and giant bosses in intuitive ways. The slow-motion mechanic used for jumping and near-death confrontations works well for the most part, but sometimes feels at odds with the rest of the title, while the general shooting aspects feel as tight as those found in other third-person hits like Mass Effect 2 (10/10). Where Vanquish lets the side down in its story: there isn't much more than the premise I just outlined, and so those expecting a sci-fi epic on the scale of Bioware proportions will be greatly disappointed. Nevertheless, Vanquish is a more solid shooter than Medal of Honor (5/10) despite its lack of an online mode, and can be taken as a nice alternative once gamers are done with Halo: Reach (10/10) and COD (the review of which will hit a week after release)!

Tom Clancy's HAWX 2 Review (4/10)

The original Tom Clancy's HAWX for 360 and PS3 (4/10) was a soulless, uneventful flight simulation title, and the sequel, simply dubbed HAWX 2, is no different. The graphics on display are bright and somewhat strong with regards to the locales beneath the war planes you pilot, but those aforementioned vehicles look atrocious in the air, bearing similarities to visuals seen on that of the Playstation 2 or original Xbox. HAWX's game-play is as ever fun but mostly tedious once again, eventually bottling down to you shooting a horde of enemies out of the sky, going to the next location and starting the process over. Were HAWX 2 to mix things up a bit with major surprises, then the overall score above would be higher, but in short the sequel to the 2006 game is nothing different and therefore nothing better, hence the same rating applies!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

SJA: The Vault Of Secrets Review (4.5/5)

The Sarah Jane Adventures seems to be having its most confident run yet with the fourth season, a thought evidenced by the second story, The Vault Of Secrets. At first, the return of Androvax seems to simply be in place so that the Trickster doesn't appear in every season and become a stale villain who only makes regular SJA appearances, but Androvax's unexpected plight eventually makes for one of the best stories since the show's debut. The other returnees, the Men in Black from Doctor Who animation Dreamland (now known as the Alliance of Shades) add some much-needed humour to an otherwise emotionally-driven story, along with the sub-plot of Gita Chandra's investigation into the appearance of Judoon on Bannerman Road last year. This mixture of elements from both the show itself and its heritage helps give a layer of depth previously unfound in SJA, and therefore a better story to continue the series with. A lacklustre cliff-hanger (being a regular 'shock' for SJA most weeks) does hold this back from being a television masterpiece, but things surely cannot get any better from here on out. Oh wait, who's that coming onto the show next week...

Medal of Honor Review (5/10)

The FPS war of 2010 is on. Halo: Reach laid down the playing cards last month, garnering a spectacular 10/10 as one of the best instalments in the Xbox-exclusive sci-fi franchise, and renowned contenders Medal of Honor and Call Of Duty are also looking to vie for crown of best shooter this winter. The former has finally hit shelves despite controversy of its Afghanistan conflict storyline threatening a worldwide ban. Whether a ban would have been for the better, however, is in my mind up to debate: despite all its efforts to prove itself as a top FPS, Medal of Honor fails in every respect, and proves to be one of the biggest disappoints of this year. They say its what is on the inside that counts, but damn, if MoH isn't ugly then this reviewer doesn't know what is. Stairs are blocky, browns and reds on handrailings seem to merge into one disjointed blot, nearby and distant buildings couldn't be told as war-ravaged ones if they were placed in the latest FIFA, and even the vehicles look fairly sub-par. This general lack of effort by EA and Danger Close in the visual department left me feeling sour of MoH from the start, but a hideously slow frame-rate and gameplay which simply copies most aspects of last year's Modern Warfare 2 (10/10) simply added to the wealth of problems on hand. To its credit, Medal of Honor does make a valiant effort to respect our troops currently fighting on the battlefield, and never portrays the Taliban as completely evil. Also, DICE's multi-player has evolved pleasantly from Battlefield: Bad Company 2, though doesn't eclipse that title or COD 6, making overall for a failed revamp of a long-dead franchise that perhaps deserves a permanent rest. In other words...wait for Black Ops.

Doctor Who: Coming Of The Terraphiles Review (4.5/5)

Coming of the Terraphiles has proven a bold move by BBC Books for its beloved Doctor Who "New Series Adventures" franchise of novels, published all on its lonesome and written by famed sci-fi author Michael Moorcock. At 350 pages, it is no quick flick either, and in fact the sheer length of the hardback is where some marks are lost. I am not in any way an avid follower of Moorcock's work so know little of his general structures, but Coming of the Terraphiles takes its time to get going and even when it does there's little in the way of the epic battles, Doctor speeches or classic references that some of the best Who stories are known for. But thereagain, some stories are remembered for their laid-back, comedic approaches, and that is where this novel shines. The author fabulously recreates the on-screen dynamic of Matt Smith and Karen Gillan as the Eleventh Doctor and Amy respectively, though often the dialogue of the Doctor could easily be attributed to the likes of Tom Baker's or Patrick Troughton's Time Lords. Plus, multiple strands to the plot ensure that though it is a Who read, it feels like an episode through human perspectives (or indeed alien ones) on the situation. Fans of Doctor Who should expect a slow yet eventful romp through time and space that mixes writing styles of such greats as Russell T Davies and even Agatha Christie with its twisting mysteries, but not expect a style close to the main series with cliff-hangers and old monsters, instead revelling in the science-fiction masterpiece Moorcock has crafted (please don't let it be his only contribution to the franchise!).

Mirror's Edge iPhone Review (8/10)

Mirror's Edge (6/10) proved to be a Marmite-esque title for Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC: its dedicated fan-base highlighted the superbly colourful graphics and interesting scope, while journalists aplenty slated the release for a weak storyline and unforgiving difficulty spikes. Almost two years on from that instalment, we receive a port for the Apple iPhone, and it's safe to say this version will probably please more gamers than the original. Take the difficulty: while certain levels of this side-scrolling version are more challenging than others, the general challenge is never so overwhelming that casual gamers cannot hope to progress. Take the story: while, for better or worse, it played a large part in the original, here it is simply used in loading screens to give some game context, so can be given or taken and is neither weak or emotional. Take the graphics: iPhone titles barely ever look this good, and even the protagonist- Faith- looks realistic for a handheld instalment. All this seems to indicate a 10/10 iPhone game, but what can hold Mirror's Edge is perhaps the most vital element. Game-play is finely tuned, but the controls can be a touch unresponsive at key points in your speed runs across beautiful rooftop vistas, and so cause unnecessary deaths which may alienate some. However, overall Mirror's Edge for the iPhone is a much improved game, and now at 59p is essential for gamers.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Gollum, Goblins And Gandalf Get Their Greenlight

Just today, New Line Studios announced that Peter Jackson's latest Lord of the Rings films will begin filming in February 2011. The announcement comes after months of uncertainty regarding the films' status, including cast favourites Ian McKellen and Andy Serkis threatening to bail amongst all the twists and turns of pre-production. New Line Studios stated that the films, forming the plot of prequel The Hobbit, would bring "a definitive close" to the franchise that began its blockbuster reign in 2001 with Lord of the Rings: Fellowship Of The Ring. The Hobbit, released as a hardback novel in 1937, is set mere decades before what is in the fictional world of Tolkien referred to as the "War Of The Ring", showing Bilbo Baggins' first adventure with the mysterious Gandalf and a band of elves in a journey taking them through the caves, the mountains and into the lair of the dragon Smaug. Classic LOTR fanfare, then, and ripe for a film adaptation, or two in this case: New Line Studios also revealed that the rumoured two-part structure to be used by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in winter 2010 and summer 2011 would apply here, too, though no point in the book was set as the cliff-hanger. Serkis and McKellen are both set to return as Gandalf and the sinister Gollum- still in his early years of ring manipulation, a plot strand set to shape the entire LOTR saga- ensuring that The Hobbit may just be the "close" Jackson, the studio and most importantly the fans are waiting for.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Harry Potter: A Return, A Lost Dimension & A Worry.

It all seemed to be coming to a climax: Harry Potter, the multi-million book and film franchise, had finished its seven-book run and was nearing the end of its blockbuster dominance in cinemas as the two-part finale was set to air in late '10 and Summer '11. Now, everything seems set to change. JK Rowling earlier stated this week that another series of Potter books was not out of the question in the forseeable future, stating that she could "definitely write an eigth [and] ninth book". Rowling, 45, is currently writing a picture book aimed at children and unrelated to her Potter franchise. Meanwhile, Warner Brothers Ltd also announced that the first part of their epic climax of the film franchise, dubbed "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1" will not feature as a 3-D motion picture in cinemas this winter as previously planned due to time restraints and lacklustre technology. Director David Yates said of the decision: "[The crew] completely supports this decision [that] underscores the fact that Warner Bros put quality first". All sounds good, then, right? Warner Brothers are for once paying respect to a much-loved franchise by not simply ruining the first part with rubbish 3-D effects to milk the cash cow to its maximum yield, instead focusing on the emotional story. True, for the most part: Warner Bros has now revealed they may re-release the original six films in 3-D in the years to come after 2011. And this is that "worry" I mentioned. Is it not time to give the franchise a rest? Action figures, theme parks, annuals- we've seen the lot in terms of brand extensions, and want to move onto other film series and allow Radcliffe, Watson and Grint to move onto other franchises. Whether WB carries out on this possible threat remains to be seen...

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

SJA: The Nightmare Man Review (4.5/5)

Any fan would be forgiven for thinking that the Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures might lose a fair deal of steam entering its fourth season: aimed at children, the autumn CBBC serial focuses on an ex-companion of the Time Lord, as she and a team of teenagers (Clyde, Luke and Rani) face off against aliens in Ealing. Thankfully, though, this didn't seem to be the case in the first story The Nightmare Man, as we saw a devilish creature stalk Luke's dreams and the protagonist having to deal with his anxieties of going to college. It's a worry many of us can/or will be able to relate to someday, making this episode even more realistic than previous instalments. A decent mixture of horror, comedy and heartwarming emotion (Luke and K-9's departures from Bannerman Road are bound to bring a tear to some fans' eyes) ensured that, though it's dream-based narrative suffered from 2 slim 30-minute slots, the Nightmare Man was the best start yet to a season of Sarah Jane Adventures.