OS Cover Image

OS Cover Image

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Merlin: The Series 3 Finale Teasers

1. As you see in the image, it's time to gather around a certain table...but how, why?
2. Merlin must face his ultimate, most dangerous adversary yet!
3. The Great Dragon makes his fourth appearance- will he help defend Camelot?
4. "I still remember the bumbling idiot who burst into my life"
5. Morgana survives to fight another day in the Arthurian legends, but will her fate be different here to what we think?
6. Morgause has been in the background throughout Series 3, but not anymore...
7. How can the immortal army be defeated?
8. Rumour has it a certain sword might answer the previous question!
9. Who is the Lady of the Lake, will we find out here?
10. Prepare yourself: not everyone will make it out alive...

Halo 1 Remake Set For 2011?

Halo: Reach (10/10) was one of the biggest video game releases of this year, so chances are fans will be eagerly anticipating what the next game in the series might be- and it turns out they might not have long until they find out! 343 Industries have taken the reins of the Xbox-exclusive franchise since Bungie crafted their swansong in Reach, but rumour has it that instead of immediately heading towards Halo 4, the developer will return to the series' roots...literally. Halo: Combat Evolved is, according to the UK GamesMaster magazine, to be given a high-definition remake for release in Autumn 2011. The publication, released monthly, claims that "industry chatter" has revealed that "a HD re-release" is on the cards "to pave the way for Halo 4 in late 2012". At present, there's been no confirmation or denial by Microsoft, but expect a resolution to this interesting speculation very soon!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Top 5 Releases To Look Out For This Christmas

There isn't long now until Christmas and inevitably the end of 2010, but there are a few more releases in and outside of the cinema that you might want to think about getting in line for...
5. SUPER MARIO ALL STARS: 25TH ANNIVERSARY- As the title shows, our good friend Mario is 25 whole years old now (in the real world, anyway), so this Wii re-release of his original adventures, Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 2, Super Mario Bros 3 & The Lost Levels should be worth a look for fans. At only £20, and featuring a history booklet and soundtrack spanning everything to Galaxy 2, it's a real collector's item!
4. GULLIVER'S TRAVELS- Jack Black, Catherine Tate, Billy Connelly and James Corden all star in this comedy adaptation of the classic novel (which also served as the inspiration for a theme park) about a man amongst a world of midgets. Yes, really.
3. HARRY POTTER: FILM WIZARDRY- The HP saga is coming to a close next summer, but before that is this new book which features a menagerie of classic Rowling creations (e.g. Galleons) which we caught glimpses of in the films but never got a proper look at. For £15, this should be a worthy contender for your cash!
2. NARNIA: VOYAGE OF THE DAWN TREADER- Prince Caspian proved a real let-down for the Narnia adaptations with its lack of magic and thus heart, so it falls to Voyage to restore the glory subtly glimpsed in The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe when it was its best. Can it do it? Judging by the trailers...yes!
1. TRON: LEGACY- This tops my Most Wanted list this Christmas despite never having seen the original Tron (which I'm told is a sci-fi classic) simply as the combination of Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde and so many other big names might just have to be seen to be believed...expect my review on each of these releases in December!

First Epic Mickey Reviews Are In

Does Epic Mickey do everything producer Warren Spector has been claiming, does it "make you cry" with its emotional plot, are its graphics "the best on the Wii"? As Fable and Call of Duty have shown before with producers attempting to reach for the sky with their speculation, it's best to level your expectations when approaching the 12+ rated title exclusively for Nintendo's console if critics have anything to say about it. 1Up.com start their review by saying "if [they] hadn't been playing Epic Mickey for review, [they] would have put it down as the first few hours are so boring", noting that the camera and controls "can be terrible", but that Epic Mickey is redeemed by its choices, the reviewer stating that "[they] want to go back into the world to see what would happen if [they weren't] nice!" and giving it a B. Meanwhile, ONM rated Epic Mickey 8.5/10 for an "original, dark setting" and "huge replay value" but "average plat-forming" and "occasionally bland graphics". Simply put, if you've been waiting for Epic Mickey since its announcement in January (unlikely, but plausible) then it isn't by any means a bad game for you, but mind you didn't take too much heed of Spector's hype-machine before you press play.

Biggest Hits Of 2010

There have been tons of disappointments this year, true, but we shouldn't let them overshadow the releases that lived up to the hype throughout 2010. Here are my top five...
- Okay, so most of the fun derived from what Halo 3 set up back in 2007, but the single-player campaign was much more consistent (though predictable) than before and the multi-player component was at its best and could easily last for years to come!
4. ASSASSIN'S CREED BROTHERHOOD- Everyone was worried that just a year between entries would make the Creed franchise stale, but Brotherhood proved the opposite, instead being the best instalment yet, hence why another entry is on its way in 2011.
3. DOCTOR WHO- After the excellent End of Time bid the Tenth Doctor farewell, most fans feared that Matt Smith would feel like a back step for Who, and yet his Doctor has been amongst the best incarnations we've ever seen, the rightful successor to David Tennant. And thank goodness: imagine the uproar had Series 5 gone wrong!
2. HARRY POTTER & THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: PART ONE- Just about the whole of 2010 was spent building up to the beginning of the end for Daniel Radcliffe's Potter, so it was a welcome sigh of relief that Part 1 was the epic adventure it should have been!
1. TOY STORY 3- Any of the other four releases could have come top, but it was through Toy Story 3 that Pixar proved they still had it: humour, horror and emotion formed seamlessly to give us a strong contender for Film of the Year, nay the Decade!

Glee: The Best Of Season One CD Review (2/5)

Let's be frank: if you're even considering buying this CD release, then chances are you watched the whole first season of Glee and/or are an avid collector of any merchandise related to the US comedy. However, despite the "Best Of" heading, this disc has basically been produced to bridge the gap between seasons for those of us still awaiting Series 2 in the UK, and while there are certainly some impressive tracks on here, The Best Of Season One feels unnecessary given all of the numbers have been released already and the target audience will likely have purchased those releases on day one. Mercy, Rehab and Jessie's Girl have been added (having never been available on CD), but none of these are substantial enough to warrant another £10 investment, and neither are the karaoke tracks on the second half of the set. All in all, while all 20 tracks are most certainly worth a listen, this isn't really the place to do so.

Merlin Series Four Details Revealed

Merlin producer Julian Murphy has revealed the nature of the Series 3 finale, the reason for the change in episode number for Season 4 and the possibility of more stories after next year's run. In an interview with SFX Magazine, Murphy noted that Episodes 12 and 13 of the current series are "very special" in that they "set up the direction that [Series 4] is going, giving a good glimpse of the future". Last night, viewers saw Camelot overrun by an immortal army as the treacherous Morgana took the crown from Uther and all seemed lost. Murphy promised "game-changing stuff" for the conclusion to the story, currently set to air next Saturday the 4th of December. Meanwhile, when drawn on why next year's run has reduced the number of episodes from 13 to 10, Murphy conceded that the move was "brutually about money", reminding the interviewer "Merlin is an expensive show to make...the BBC have had a really tough hit". Despite this reduction, there seems to be light in the tunnel: "We are discussing with the BBC a fifth series for 2012 and there is talks of specials, ways we can fill the gap". The future of the show may not yet be confirmed, then, but fans can at least enjoy the formation of the Knights of the Round Table as Series 3 ends!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Biggest Disappointments Of 2010

2010 has been a great year for entertainment, but for every Deathly Hallows: Part One there's been a Robin Hood, for every Mass Effect there's been a Medal of Honour. Let's take a look at some of the most anticipated releases of the year that flopped in this countdown of the worst disappointments we've had this year...
(2/5)- Dull, repetitive and overly familiar, this supposed summer hit left all too much to be desired as it attempted unsuccessfully to put stars such as Stallone, Willis and Jet Li together in an action flick. A wholly expendable watch.
4. DOCTOR WHO GAMES- Fans finally got their hands on Wii and DS games based on the Doctor's exploits in time and space, and while they were adequate (I enjoyed the Wii version- 6/10- despite its difficulty spikes), you couldn't help but wonder why more time and cash weren't put into the project.
3. PREDATORS (2.5/5)- Tip to film producers: if you're going to try and resurrect a long-dead franchise such as AVP, don't use every aged trick in the book while doing so. The rag-tag team of characters, the psycho colours of Predator vision and the forgettable plot made Predators feel like a wasted opportunity to bring alien horror back. Here's hoping the sequel innovates!
2. MEDAL OF HONOR (5/10)- After Modern Warfare 2 (9.5/10) and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (9/10), the reboot of Medal of Honor had a lot to live up to- and just didn't cut it. The graphics looked hideous, the lousy frame-rate made for jumpy battles and worst of all little to no respect was paid to the Afghan conflict MoH imitated. EA need to step up their game for the sequel!
1. SCOTT PILGRIM VS THE WORLD (0/5)- But all these missteps pale in comparison to the atrocity that was Scott Pilgrim: there was no heart, the acting was one-dimensional and the comedy was lost on the audience it was aimed at. If this flick proves anything, it's that the hype is sometimes wrong!

LEGO Star Wars III Hits February 2011

The LEGO video game franchise by Traveller's Tales proved an instant hit from the moment it debuted with LEGO Star Wars: The Video Game (8/10) right up till this year's release of the great LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (9/10), so TT Games are set to return to the Star Wars saga once more and refine the game-play mechanics even further with LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars, now with a confirmed release date of 18th February 2011 in the UK. The game, based on the popular family-orientated animated series, will feature 20 story levels set on multiple planets and encompass Jedi lightsaber duels, Clone and Droid gunfights and even a bit of light strategy to keep the franchise fresh and innovative, yet retaining the accessible but fun game-play that LEGO games are known for. Expect the Force to tremble somewhat when this exciting title hits British shores very soon...

The Hangover: Part II First Image

May 26th, 2011 sees the release of The Hangover: Part II, a fully fledged sequel to the comedy hit of 2009 starring Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifenakas, and here http://uk.media.movies.ign.com/media/020/020064/imgs_1.html you can see the first publicity still for what is likely to be another hilarious instalment. From what is displayed, we can see that the gang are in an airport (unlike their road trip to Vegas last year) and not looking as happy to be in Thailand (the confirmed destination for Part II, where Stu is having his own wedding) as they were for the casinos (not to mention Mike Tyson) of Vegas. No-one knows yet just what comedy antics Alan and co. will get up to in Part II, but look out for the trailer while watching films from January onwards.

Sherlock Holmes 2 First Image

After the phenomenal success of Sherlock Holmes (5/5), the new adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic novels starring Robert Downey Jr, in 2009 it seemed only natural that a sequel would be announced. Sure enough, Sherlock Holmes 2 is set to hit in 2011, and the article image is our first look at what might be coming. From this, we can see Holmes, Watson and a new female addition to the cast in what seems to be a battlefield, all looking pretty beaten up, so already we can assume that the sequel may have a darker, grittier tone than the original (quite a feat considering the elements of torture and dark magic that came into play there). Of course, this is all just speculation, but expect the first trailers for SH2 to trickle out next summer!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Splinter Cell, Assassin's Creed Return In 2011

Ubisoft Montreal announced the latest instalments of two best-selling game franchises today: the Assassin's Creed and Splinter Cell series will continue in 2011 on Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The former, announced just days after the release of the current instalment Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (10/10), will feature a new time period, location and assassin, while the latter will continue Sam Fisher's epic tale on from Splinter Cell: Conviction (8/10). More news as we get it on these thrilling sequels...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Game Of The Year 2010 Nominees

It's November, and pretty much every anticipated game of 2010 is in stores now- but which one stands out from the crowd? I'll be scouting out the answer from my readers, but here are the nominees:
MASS EFFECT 2 (360, PS3, 10/10)- This hit combined improved shooting mechanics, detailed character models and a gripping plot for one of the best sequels of all time, leaving fans desperate for the final instalment in the trilogy.
RED DEAD REDEMPTION (360, PS3, 9.5/10)- For all of its glitches, Red Dead was perhaps the most faithful rendition of the Old West in gaming through the eyes of cowboy protagonist John Marston, and thus makes the list of sheer admiration for its realism
SUPER MARIO GALAXY 2 (Wii, 10/10)- Given the console it's on, criminally this gem was overlooked by most gamers, but Nintendo owners got a sensational improvement on the original Galaxy (9.5/10), with a stunning orchestral soundtrack to boot.
HALO: REACH (360, 10/10)- A hard one to rate, Reach's best moments were only possible because Halo 3 (10/10) laid the groundwork for them. Despite the plot not being up to the Chief's standards, this got a 10 for all the possibilities available online.
ASSASSIN'S CREED: BROTHERHOOD (360, PS3, 10/10)- Once again, Brotherhood stole many of its ideas from Assassin's Creed 2 (9.5), and yet it used them so much more gracefully than that title, and the multi-player makes for an even more worthwhile package!
Expect the final verdict on the Game of the Year this December...

Gran Turismo 5 Reviews Are In

The first critic reviews have finally arrived for Gran Turismo 5. The PS3 exclusive, announced at E3 2005, has seen a wealth of delays and near-misses in terms of its production, so Sony fans have had a long time to wait with only the Prologue edition as a substitute. So, has this racing game delivered the goods? Apparently not: IGN rated it 8.5/10, stating that it's a "10/10 simulator but 5/10 game", praising the graphics and game-play but wishing the single-player modes were more substantial given the five-year wait. Meanwhile, CVG gave the title 8/10 for "great handling" and having "tons of cars and tracks" though noting that the tracks themselves "aren't pretty" and that "organising online races is a chore". Whether Gran Turismo 5 could have ever really lived up to the hype fuelled by the wait is up to debate on forums; either way, those who have been eagerly anticipating playing the latest in the popular racing franchise only have to wait until this Friday to decide for themselves.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood Review (10/10)

High praise, is that score above: the original Assassin's Creed (5/10) did nothing much to impress, held back by tediously repetitive fighting mechanics and an overly-complex plot, while in contrast last year's Assassin's Creed II (9.5/10) came pretty near to perfecting the franchise formula, and given that it's been just a year since that spectacle of a title the score Brotherhood gets from me should be as a much a surprise to the reader as it was for this reviewer. Simply put, where the original failed in plot and the sequel was too easy to beat, Brotherhood rights both those wrongs but in turn adds a wealth of new possibilities for strategic players, none more so than the titular team of assassins we can recruit as Italian hero Ezio Auditore- now gamers can plan their assaults on key Borgia strongholds by placing their team in crucial positions around a building, ready to strike on Ezio's mark. As if that weren't enough, the combat has seen dramatic changes of its own, as enemies are able to counter your counters, forcing you to adapt and chain kills before you're the next corpse. This element of newfound tension also carries over to the multi-player, which despite all worries works superbly, adding huge longetivity to what might have been a one-play title. Or not...contrary to previous instalments, players can now return to every mission they complete in the hope of fulfilling more challenging objectives (you can traverse the Colosseum at your own pace, but what about in 8 minutes?) to unlock new costumes and awesome weapons. If it hasn't already come to your attention, there's a lot of value here for your hard-earned cash, and perhaps more so than Halo: Reach, Brotherhood injects new life into the AC franchise when it didn't even need it!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 Review (5/5)

The end is almost here- and Part 1 is perhaps the best way of opening the finale, combining violent wand battles, ominous signals of the end and even some light comedy in an effort to sustain the excitement that could have been lost through the flick's 'road trip' tone in any other film. Somehow, in some way, Deathly Hallows: Part 1 never ceases to be utterly compelling viewing, even through tedious episodic scenes which see the famed trio of Harry and co move from scenario to scenario at an alarming rate. Speaking of Radcliffe, Grint and Watson, all three leads do their jobs superbly here, boosting stamina with humour and/or angst as the seemingly impossible task of destroying Voldemort's Horcruxes becomes ever more out of reach. They're part of the reason that Hallows: Part 1 never lets up, but cameos from film greats like Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans and Dobby (apologies, but the house elf is amongst this reviewer's favourite Potter characters!) add more depth to an already layered epic of an opening. What truly gives the film its shocking effect (I was shaking) is its climax: a knife, a grave and a wand are the only hints I'll give at the sensational cliff-hanger that (somewhat) abruptly give way to credits. Seriously, while the pacing is a bit off at 145 minutes, and you'll be left begging for more, the latter can only be a good thing! Honestly, this is 2010's Avatar, and deserves (nay must) to be seen by all.

Doctor Who: The Essential Companion Review (4/5)

The fifth season of Doctor Who had a fair few stand-out moments: from the Doctor crashing his TARDIS into Amelia Pond's garden, to Amy's discovery of the true purpose of Starship UK to the Time Lord's grand speech in The Pandorica Opens, the 2010 series had enough to please all Who fans. This CD guide to the season is comprehensive and detailed, to the point that all 13 episodes get a thorough plot analysis by Alex Price (Francesco in The Vampires of Venice) but in a way which doesn't alienate the casual audience. The aforementioned stand-out moments get heavy coverage here, so every fan can pick their favourite scene and "skip" to it right off the bat. The 2-disc format does wonders for the set, splitting the season into Amy's story (Episodes 1-5) and Rory's (Episodes 6-13) while incorporating side characters. The main flaw of the release is that at times you'll miss the on-screen footage of those memorable scenes, but for fans this is a unique way to experience Series 5!

Brotherhood Impressions

So...Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood- WOW. Having played the first couple of sequences, I can already see this may well be Game of the Year material (watch out Reach and Mass Effect 2!) thanks to a much improved combat system, often epic campaign and interesting side quests. AC2 was no slacker, so beating it was always going to take a hell of a sequel, and that's why it is such a surprise that Brotherhood already seems to be eclipsing its predecessor just a few levels in! Desmond has a bigger role to play here should you let him, in that after a tense 45-minute segment roaming modern-day Italy you can choose to leave the Animus and find pieces of Ezio's armour in ten-minute play sessions at night. As I mentioned, the combat in both 15th and 21st century Assassin's Creed has been given an overhaul, with it now being harder to simply counter every attack as your enemies take the flank, grab you and force you to change tactics. That being said, the challenge still won't come from the main story (as with all AC titles) but achieving full synchronisation, to the point that you perform each mission in the unique way Ezio would have (e.g. throw this leader into the scaffolding to defeat him). This spin on regular AC game-play provides enough differentiation to offer vast replay value, but to see whether Brotherhood is as great as it should be (not to mention if the multi-player is worth it) come back later this week for the full review (apologies for the delay- it's a BIG game!).

Saturday, 20 November 2010

What Films Are Out This Christmas?

Much as I hate to admit it, this year's Christmas movie line-up pales in comparison to Sherlock Holmes, Invictus, New Moon and a little flick called Avatar all being on the big screen last Winter. So, is there any reason to venture out into the cold once more (albeit only until you reach the cinema) after you've seen Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (even if you're considering not, I'd recommend it simply 'cause there ain't much else to come in 2010- my review tomorrow night!)? Turns out there might be; The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader hits theatres on December 10th, telling the tale of Edward and Lucy Pensieve as they unwillingly venture back to Narnia to aid Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) in a quest to find the isle of Aslan (have they really gone and lost the famed lion again?), and while the prequel named after the aforementioned Prince sucked (2/5) this third film looks to have potential. Meanwhile, those wanting a few more thrills can see Unstoppable this week. Starring Denzel Washington and based on a true story, the flick focuses on a train sent out of control, set to crash into unsuspecting kids' carriages in just hours, with only two men standing a hope of 'stopping' it. Meet The Parents: Little Fockers is also out very soon, so if you're a fan of Ben Stiller, Robert De Niro or Jaws (wait and see) then it might be worth a watch. The big ones to look out for, however, are coming on Boxing Day in Tron: Legacy and Gulliver's Travels, the former a sequel to Disney's classic sci-fi starring Olivia Wilde and the latter an adaptation of the great novel featuring Jack Black, James Corden, Billy Connelly and Catherine Tate. Hope for good things in both of these, but weep somewhat for the lack of another Avatar...

Doctor Who: Return To Earth Review (6/10)

Doctor Who hasn't had a particularly illustrious history in video games: Death to the Doctor (1997) was an awkward mish-mash FPS that threw in every enemy it could find, then the Top Trumps game did nothing more than what it said on the tin, and even the recently freebie Adventure Games for PC were nothing special. With a Wii and DS game out focusing on the Doctor and Amy, does the former do the series justice? Not as much as you might want, but to be fair it tries its hardest. It's difficult to start this review without mentioning the lame graphics- models of Matt and Karen's characters are hideously retro, the environments would pass for a low-key Nintendo 64 title, and the Cyber-Men and Daleks look too one-dimensional. However, once you're past this striking flaw, the plot will for the most part engross you to the last: the Doctor and Amy search the SS Lucy Gray for human survivors, only to find a Cyber-plot to take control and in turn a Dalek ship ready to exterminate humanity in search of a Time Axis. By the show's standards, this is an epic yarn, and the only thing stopping Return To Earth being a great Who game is, sadly, its game-play. Puzzles are the main course here, but the Wii's hit-or-miss pointer controls can often mean unfair deaths, and frequent difficulty spikes will annoy the casual viewer this game is aimed at. All in all, while for the hardcore fans of Who there's most certainly enough here to persevere through, casual viewers best steer well clear if they're also fans of such greats as COD.

Kinect Adventures Impressions

Whether you like it or not, if you buy Kinect you'll also get Kinect Adventures packaged in at no additional charge. Like Wii Sports helped showcase what the Nintendo motion console could do, Adventures gives an overview (of sorts) as to how the £130 camera you've just bought works, and as far as bundles go, you could do far worse. The use of Avatars once again signals that this is aimed at the casual audience, and yet the controls are so intuitive that hardcore gamers won't be able to help themselves from giving mini-games such as River Rally and Space Streak a go just one more time. Where Adventures finds its problems is in its length: there's no story mode here (as we expected), so once you've tried the 5 types of games (don't be fooled by the box saying there are 20 adventures- it's really 5 with variations) the novelty begins to wear off- fast. For this reason, while Kinect Adventures is a neat package (especially for free) to show you the ropes with the peripheral, I would recommend you buy another Kinect-compatible title so you get some real use out of it!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Glee Live Hits The UK In 2011

Some were surprised that US comedy-musical series Glee proved such a hit with UK viewers so familiar with fantasy and soap drama, but nevertheless Glee Live will now début next year at English theatres. The production, first premièred on its American tour in 2009, is a concert combining many of the best songs from the first season such as "Don't Stop Believing" and "My Life Would Suck Without You" and starring the majority of the show's cast including Cory Moneith and Ryan Murphy. Fans in Britain can get ready to see their favourite cast members live on stage at the London O2 on the 25th and 26th of June, or alternatively at the Manchester REM on the 22nd. Plus, Irish Glee fans (who knew?) can be excited by the knowledge that Glee Live will première in Dublin on the weekend of the 2nd July.

Doctor Who: A Christmas Carol Preview

The Doctor has been off our screens for quite sometime now: having finished his first season in the role, however, Matt Smith has been busy filming the 2010 Christmas Special, and we got our first glimpse of the episode tonight on the Children In Need show. Doctor Who has a long-established history with BBC's charity show, from clips of the Christmas Special each year since 2005 to a fully-fledged episode back in 1983 still regarded as amongst the best stories of the sci-fi. This year saw a trailer for the special, dubbed A Christmas Carol, debut after Matt and Karen Gillan held a tea party with two physically-challenged children in the TARDIS, allowing them to pilot the coveted time machine! From what this writer could make out, A Christmas Carol will be a darker, more impactful Christmas Special, offering a perhaps-tragic spin on Dickens' tale of the same name. Michael Gambon (aka Dumbledore) and Katherine Jenkins are both co-stars in the hour-long special currently scheduled to air on Christmas Day, and from what we've seen already the episode could be one of the best stories of Doctor Who yet!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Harry Hype: Why? Part Two

Word-of-mouth proved to be key in the Potter success story, with the British awards and nominations for The Philosopher's Stone gaining major interest from US readers, and as this interest developed, US covers were made for the region's own release of the first book. With sequel The Chamber Of Secrets in 1999, Rowling fast became established as a key English writer, and so Warner Brothers approached her about adapting the original book into a movie to test its popularity on the big screen. Potential directors were lined up, with the list including even Steven Spielberg, but it was Chris Columbus who got the role of helming The Philosopher's Stone. Next was the casting, at which point three little-known actors were found to portray the leads of Harry, Ron and Hermione in Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. The Philosopher's Stone hit cinemas in November 2001 and was a global success, leading Warner Brothers to see potential in continuing the film adaptations in parallel with Rowling's regular book releases. From there, Potter-mania has consumed the planet, with Rowling and the film cast being internationally recognised as icons and the brand as a whole said to be worth around 15 billion pounds. The truth of what definitely made the story of the Boy Who Lived, then, is yet to be revealed (perhaps a documentary in the near future?), but one thing we can be sure: the franchise will be remembered for decades to come as the kick-start the 21st century needed and got!

LEGO Pirates Of The Carribean Set For 2011

Well, this was unexpected: fresh from the release of LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars next February, Traveller's Tales will produce a new title, LEGO Pirates of the Carribean: The Video Game in May 2011. The game will consist of 20 different story levels, spanning from the original blockbuster The Curse of the Black Pearl to the latest film On Stranger Tides (also out in May) and feature over 70 playable characters from the movie universe (LEGO Keith Richards, anyone?). Already Traveller's Tales have produced some pretty impressive titles for kids such as LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga (8/10) and LEGO Harry Potter: Years 1-4 (9/10), and judging by this announcement their popular LEGO franchise shows no signs of slowing down!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Doctor Who Games: Why The Hate?

Given the frequency of Doctor Who-based articles on the blog, you'll have already worked out that I'm a massive fan of the show and its science-fiction universe. What you may not know if you do not fall into the same category is that two Doctor Who games are set to be released on the 19th of November- Evacuation Earth for Nintendo DS and Return To Earth. Predictably enough, the former sees the Doctor and Amy (as usual portrayed by Matt Smith and Karen Gillian) attempt to safely get the human race away from the planet Earth before solar storms make it uninhabitable, while the latter takes place (for humanity) hundreds of years later as the time travellers then attempt to return the humans of the future to their planet now it is safe to live on once more. Standard Who-plots, and yet both games have recieved pretty dismal reviews, with the DS game getting average 7/10s mostly while the Wii has been getting only 1s or 2s- but why? I am of the opinion that the series cannot be faithfully converted into a video game as the plots rely so much on the titular character's intelligence, wit and often far-fetched schemes to save the universe that adventures based around puzzles, plat-forming and stealth really don't fit in with the show's tone. Clearly, these two games are evidence towards my thoughts given their reception, but worse still the ratings (3+, 12+) seem to imply that BBC Games simply commisioned these titles to gain money for Christmas and not provide Who for gamers, a trait much worse than simply making a few mistakes in a year-long development. Whether the new Who games are as bad as the critics claim, I don't yet know, but expect my review of the DS' title (Evacuation Earth) next month!

BioWare Set To Announce Next Title

BioWare has a heck of a good reputation nowadays in the world of video games, having crafted the much-loved Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic series, the superbly deep sci-fi trilogy Mass Effect and the evolving Medieval drama Dragon Age already, and now it seems that they are set to reveal their next title. The Spike Video Games Awards, airing this December the 11th, will, it has been confirmed, play host to the company's announcement of their latest franchise, and the screenshot shown here is out first glimpse at what that might be. The mention of the word 'Vostrok' has already got Mass Effect fans wondering whether, in fact, Mass Effect 3 is about to finally be revealed, however a barcode also released codes for the word 'steel', and given BioWare released a title called Shattered Steel in 1986 other gamers predict a sequel to that is coming. Are either of these predictions correct? Come back to On-Screen on the night of the awards (December 11) for the exclusive reveal...

Harry Hype: Why? Part One

You don't need me to explain the sheer impact the Harry Potter franchise has had on the modern world: J.K Rowling's seven-book saga about the Boy Who Lived has now sold over 500 million copies across the world, translated into over 70 languages since its début in 1997, while Part 1 of the final adaptation is already predicted to be the top grossing film of 2010 (quite an impressive position to be in given the releases of the new Toy Story, Twilight and Shrek movies this year also, not to mention Inception). The question I want to ask is...why, and how? At first glance, the tale of a wizard scarred at birth, attempting to live a normal life but ultimately being forced to face his destiny doesn't seem like an original premise, not least one that could stretch seven books (or eight films for that matter). Indeed, at first it seemed that Rowling's Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone might not even be published, until a then-little known publisher named Bloomsbury decided to take a leap of faith- and I bet they're glad they did! Even then, however, reviews were merely positive on the day of release, with The Scotsman claiming it to be "a hugely entertaining thriller" and a writer for the Guardian stating he had "yet to see a child put it down". Perhaps the first sign of hope for the series was in the fast-growing amount of awards it recieved: in 1997 alone, Philosopher's Stone recieved the National Book Award, the Smarties Children Award and a British Book Award. Despite all this, I think one oh-so-common factor of human life was what gave Rowling her break- word of mouth...(Continues tomorrow)

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

SJA: Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith Review (4.5/5)

The season finales of The Sarah Jane Adventures have always had a reputation of finishing each wave of 2-part adventures with a whimper rather than a bang, and though perhaps still not the perfect story, Goodbye Sarah Jane Smith goes some way to proving that not every series has to end on its low note. The title is decidedly ominous for a kids' show, yet soon on fans will work out that the tragic climax that could perhaps one day exist for Sarah Jane Adventures isn't coming here (if the announcement of a fifth season months back didn't highlight that already). Despite this, we do get more than a glimpse at darker themes for the season here: Sarah-Jane's age; the threat of mental illnesses and the idea that a new team might have to be formed under the guise of Julie Graham's simply fantastic anti-hero Ruby White are all considered in Part 1, ending on a predictable but nonetheless scary cliff-hanger for kids to ponder on for a day. Part 2 is undeniably weaker, with Graham's White being given less to do other than make idol threats which never come to fruition, while the inclusion of Luke Smith (Thomas Knight) and K-9 (John Leeson) seems unnecessary and for old time's sake rather than a fully-fledged appearance for the fan favourite characters. No matter what its flaws- deceptive title included- Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith was the best finale yet to the best season of SJA so far!

Monday, 15 November 2010

An Idiot Abroad DVD Review (3.5/5)

Ah, Karl Pilkington, what an innately strange mind you possess: throughout the eight-episode television series An Idiot Abroad, you've made us laugh, cry in frustration at your ability to see the wonders of the world in a different light, then laugh somemore. Stephen Merchant and Ricky Gervais have made intermittent cameos at the opening and midway through each romp to iconic locations such as the Christ the Redeemer statue and the Great Pyramids, but this truly has been your show, and most of its strengths come from its sole dependence on your views and wise-cracks. Wise-cracks, you might ask, Karl? Well, at times it did seem as if you couldn't decide between sharing your true thoughts on such grand spectacles as the Taj Mahal or gaining an additional million viewers for Sky One and more importantly your payday. No disrespect meant, but if anything you should have stuck to your own opinion more frequently so as not to acheive the opposite effect which often prevailed as you tried to inject awkward humour into more serious situations. Nevertheless, this reviewer is sure that a cult following has already risen from the show's flaws and is already amassing on Facebook to ask for the Season 2 you clearly dread, and those who are interested by co-star Ricky's appearance on the cover of this DVD could do much worse then to pick this release up.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Kinect Sports Impressions

While testing out Kinect for review, I was given one launch game to truly see whether the sensor was worth it: Kinect Sports. Though it isn't exactly the same as the bundled title Kinect Adventures (no such luck on having a look at that, but expect a review soon!), this is a brilliant way to show off the capabilities of Kinect and uses much the same formula of Avatars facing off against each other. The sports on offer include Table Tennis; Track & Field; Football; Boxing and Baseball, each a wildly different experience from the last and all boasting superb control schemes. If you feel daunted at the lack of a controller here, there are tutorials shown before each game begins, though given that just about everyone has seen the sports played out in real life and these move much in the same way as reality hopefully few will make use of these guides- it really is that simple to control. Clearly the focus here is near-primarily on multi-player, and it's neat seeing videos the camera has filmed of your best moments in the sports to further show what is possible with Kinect. While Kinect Sports is very shallow, the Avatars don't look as natural on 360 as Miis do on Wii, and the novelty will wear off after a few hours (a trait which reportedly carries through to most of the launch games), there is no denying the controls are totally responsive, and nice touches such as Chariots of Fire playing as the replay of your 100m sprint shows in slow-motion or Monster being boomed out in the replay of your final crushing blow in the boxing ensure this will be a great distraction with mates on Christmas Day.

Kinect Impressions

Kinect certainly has its work cut out: the Playstation Move (7/10) and of course the Wii (needs no score- a great console) are already out and popular with their intended family audiences, with the former even attempting to breach the hardcore gaming world with remakes of Resident Evil 5 and Heavy Rain. It's clear that Microsoft's motion sensor for Xbox 360 needs to be something of a revolution to make a stand- does it deliver? Upon booting up the 360 with one of these large cameras attached, you'll see a very different Dashboard that allows for hand and even voice controls to access games, achievements and saves, designed in a manner that will prove Marmite with owners due to its clearly family-orientated colour scheme. Head into any launch game and that feeling of casual-orientation will carry through, but not to worry as we've already seem games like Rise of Nightmares and Child of Eden will shift the balance to long-term fans of Xbox also! Moving around menus feels as seamless as you might have anticipated, yet infinitely more so if you weren't expecting much (in many ways I fell into the latter category, so was overwhelmed). Calibration issues do sometimes rear their heads, I'll admit, but navigating the new Dashboard felt simple and accessible to a relative newcomer to motion gaming. Put simply, while I wasn't expecting too much from Kinect, I should have: it truly has the potential to move the industry of gaming (and easily global industry) forward in the foreseeable future, and once a 'killer app' is released (the launch line-up leaves a fair bit to be desired) I would advise you take a leap of faith with the £130 investment. This is amazing stuff, stepping up the motion game forever more...

Best Shooter Of 2010- My Verdict

So who wins this competition of great shooters? In essence, no-one: though for me Halo Reach was undoubtedly the high point of FPSes released in 2010, nothing I've seen this year has really brought something new to the table, to the point that the FPS is becoming a rapidly tired genre for gamers such as myself. Reach is definitely this year's top shooter, but even then it still felt often like Halo 3.5, and no matter what revolutionary changes Bungie had made I suspect this would have always been the case. Black Ops turned out to be a showcase of just how much the world of FPSes needs a rest for a while, lacking any sufficient innovation to make it seem like a worthwhile purchase over Reach or even prequel Modern Warfare 2, and it's for this reason that I am getting increasingly worried as to the annual COD instalments (another of which is set to hit around the same time in 2011, along with another Medal of Honor) ruining a once-magnificent type of game. Yes, Halo: Reach is the winner, but in this writer's opinion something needs to be done to resurrect the FPS genre of gaming- and fast!

Best Shooter Of 2010- Part Two

The second half of 2010 has brought us four other strong contenders for the title of best shooter of the year, so before my final verdict take a look at the best of 'em...
HALO REACH (10/10): Ever since Halo 3: ODST (8/10) hit stores but proved to be nothing more than an expansion pack for the sensational climax to Bungie's sci-fi trilogy, fans were left begging that Halo: Reach would deliver the goods- and boy did it. From an epic yet tragic tale of a planet's downfall to the same great Halo shooting (albeit with engaging new set-pieces such as a war in space!) we know and love, Reach was everything its predecessor wasn't, and gave amongst the best value for £40 ever with its Forge, Firefight and Theatre online modes.
MEDAL OF HONOR (5/10): Nothing could have prepared this gamer for how much of a disappointment Medal of Honor was: the graphics were dismal, the plot too incohesive to understand- let alone enjoy- and the game-play too buggy to make it anything more than average. However, in its defence EA's latest did provide thrills and light relevance to the ongoing Afghan conflict.
FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS (8/10): New Vegas ironically didn't bring much new to the field despite its title, remaining a near carbon-copy of Fallout 3, albeit with a vaguely changed plot and some forgettable additions, yet for fans of the series it was still as fun as ever, and the engine has to be commended for still looking fresh five years on.
CALL OF DUTY BLACK OPS (7/10): Where Fallout could be forgiven due to some originality in places, Call of Duty could not after years of the same ensuring that in Black Ops the novelty had truly worn off. Not Zombies, not new online modes, not even a deeper campaign could stop the feeling that we've seen it all before.

Best Shooter Of 2010- Part One

Call of Duty: Black Ops is finally out, and in that case the final big first person shooter of 2010 signals it's about time for my naming of the best shooter of the year (don't worry, your chance to give your verdict will come very soon!). So, without further ado, here are the contenders...
MASS EFFECT 2 (10/10): Not so much a shooter as a role-playing game, Mass Effect 2 sent shockwaves through the gaming world with its excellent visuals, sublime shooting mechanics and stunning plot, and is still one of my favourite titles of 2010.
BATTLEFIELD: BAD COMPANY 2 (9/10): This had the hefty job of matching up to Modern Warfare 2's dominance of Fall 2009 (9.5/10), but Battlefield: Bad Company 2 nearly managed to top it, providing endless online fun, a comedic and epic tale, plus some great new setpieces to boot. Battlefield didn't prove a top seller, but it put up a damn good fight.
RED DEAD REDEMPTION (9.5/10): Once again more RPG than shooter, Red Dead put its ultra-cool 'Dead Eye' slow-mo gimmick to superb use, bringing a little bit of the Wild West back into everyone's lives, and with a great yarn to watch once it picked up its pace (if you missed it, go back and buy it- you won't regret it.)

Call of Duty: Black Ops Review (7/10)

"What happened?" That was my first thought upon completing of Call of Duty: Black Ops' campaign mode, running in at just under six hours. If you have been craving a flight in the helicopter seen making mincemeat of a Vietnam settlement at the demo in E3 2010, then crave no more: it's here in full. If you've been hoping that the story would get that much deeper so as to give the long-running franchise some legs, don't worry: the impossible has been done by Treyarch. But for every silver lining there has to be a cloud to necessitate that clichéd metaphor's discovery, and in the latest COD there is one heck of a gaping cloud that makes frequent requirement of silver linings, never more apparent than in the aforementioned examples of expectation. Yes, the helicopter section is still here, and it's fun...while it lasts, which is the best part of around ten minutes. Yes, the plot is deeper, throwing in a major twist which this reviewer could not have anticipated, but a twist that makes the plot seem utterly pointless in many ways, not least that it's been used before in different context. Worse still, Treyarch fail to make any meaningful connection with the gamer of the horrors of Vietnam battle, simply avoiding the mention of the bad stuff and playing music of the time to seem 'cool'- big mistake! The much-vaunted Nazi Zombie mode does make its return as promised, but bar new locations there's nothing different on offer here, to the point that it feels like filler for the lack of Modern Warfare 2's excellent Spec Ops campaign. As ever, if you loved last year's online multi-player, then next-to-nothing has changed here and thus you'll love it again. That last sentence can be applied to most of Black Ops; in fact, many fans will just be sheerly outraged that so little attempt has been made by Treyarch to differentiate from Infinity Ward's excellent Modern Warfare 2 (9.5/10)! I'm giving credit here for the same great graphics, replay value and gameplay that Call of Duty still possesses, but overall this feels like a misstep for the franchise, and should force FPS developers to be more creative!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 Teasers

Next week, perhaps the most anticipated film of this year will arrive at cinemas in the magical form of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part One. Set just months on from the devastating climax to The Half Blood Prince (4/5), it has a remarkably darker tone, asking Harry, Ron and Hermione to sacrifice their calm lives at Hogwarts for a life on the run, not to mention the near-impossible task of destroying Voldemort's Horcruxes and eventually defeating He Who Must Not Be Named...can it be done? You'll find out very soon, but for now here are a few hints as to what you can expect in Part 1:
1. What terrible deed must Hermione commit to keep her friends safe? (A brand new scene which you won't find in the book!)
2. A chase above the skies opens the film...with more than one Harry Potter!
3. Long-forgotten house elves, unforgotten headmasters and Mad-Eye Moody all have parts to play in saving the world- but who will make it out alive?
4. Much of the film takes place in a dangerous forest, and if you live near Bracknell you might just recognise it!
5. "I have seen your heart...and it is mine!"
6. Bill Nighy makes a great cameo.
7. The tensions are building among friends...especially Harry and Ron.
8. Hogwarts isn't in this one, but Godric's Hollow and the Malfoy mansion are!
9. "What do you know of the Horcruxes?" "If they exist, you really don't stand a chance!"
10. The flick will end on a cliff-hanger, but where?

Area 7 Review (4/5)

Sometimes flashes from the past are in fact hidden gems: Area 7 was first released back in 1995 as the second book in Matthew Reilly's Scarecrow trilogy, and upon being recommended to read it this reviewer was shocked at the sheer quality of writing on offer in this decade-old thriller. Area 7 follows Shane Schofield, a Marine given the task of keeping the US President (who remains strangely unnamed, likely to allow readers to picture any of their favourite- or perhaps least favourite- American icons in danger) alive as he attempts to track down a seemingly invincible foe before his country is consumed by nuclear warfare. Even ten years on, this premise is as simply thrilling as the genre's name would demand, and for the most part Reilly carries out on his promises by providing twists, turns and gunfights aplenty. It has to be said, however, that often the author's revival of thought-dead characters proves too unrealistic and obvious for this reader's liking to the point that even when a central protagonist "died" I already had grasped the outcome wasn't so grim. Indeed, that can be said of Area 7 too: some thrillers are remembered for their high-octane climaxes, and while this sequel boasts an engaging final battle the ending itself is a little too predictable to the point that most readers will be disappointed. Never mind that, though, as Area 7 is undoubtedly one of the most welcome blasts from the past I've read in a long while- recommended for action fans!

Doctor Who: The Complete Series 5 Review (4.5/5)

The odds were stacked against Doctor Who in 2010: David Tennant had retired from portraying perhaps the most popular incarnation of the character, as had Russell T Davies after his superb revival of the show five years back, and in their places were someone called Steven Moffat and a young newcomer named Matt Smith. How could things ever be the same? The answer: they couldn’t. The DVD box-set of the Fifth Season shows this, containing 13 episodes widely set apart from that which came before but boasting a scale so epic and ambitious you’d think you were watching a Michael Bay flick (albeit without the inclusion of dislikeable CGI robots or tiresome slow-mo effects). We see Doctor number 11 tackle the Daleks, Silurians and Cyber-Men as he always did, but now we get new adversaries like the Dream Lord (portrayed marvellously by comedian Toby Jones) and menacing Cracks threatening to tear reality apart. In fact, one hugely noticeable element of Season 5 is just how little is resolved with regards to this threat: though the immediate danger is over as the finale closes, the Doctor highlights what’s to come by saying “the universe isn’t safe…the TARDIS ******* here, now, but why?” I’ve left that word in asterixes not because it’s naughty but it’s best not to spoil the surprise. Sufficed to say, it’s a twist fans saw coming, but was nonetheless shocking territory for the show. Do any of the episodes found here let the side down? For the most part, no, but Victory of the Daleks could easily be seen as merely rejuvenating the Time Lord’s foes and nothing more, while The Hungry Earth/Cold Blood do tend to veer at times a little too deep into classic Who territory. Other than those missteps, Series 5 shows a programme on strong form, and next year looks only to continue this trend. Two great mini-scenes starring Matt and Karen Gillian can be found on the set to bridge the gaps between Episodes 1, 2, 5 and 6, plus a couple of in-vision commentaries and past trailers round off a set of incredible value.

Doctor Who Series 5 Soundtrack Review (4/5)

The fifth season of Doctor Who boasted some stunning music once more by Murray Gold, with his I Am The Doctor theme proving a favourite with this reviewer, but can two discs provide enough entertainment to get past the fact that, essentially, it’s a bunch of isolated tracks that are better served on screen? Yes, for the most part: at times the Series 5 Soundtrack can feel repetitive, jarring and unoriginal, but at other times it can feel moving, impressively disturbing or altogether exciting, and its with tracks such as The Vampires of Venice, The Sad Man With A Box and Onwards! which will really pack enjoyment and nostalgia for fans. The reason why this set scores as highly as it does, then, is that above all the times when you feel like turning off the player, a melody will kick in that engages you that bit longer, be it through a flashback to a great episode or a favourite tune at a random point. Either way, these releases can prove double-edged swords when the music gets samey but there’s certainly enough on offer here to keep fans such as myself happy!