16 July 2008

The Bourne Conspiracy Review

A game based on the Bourne series of movies was always inevitable. The brutal, energetic fight sequences, along with the sporadic gunplay would always segue quite well into a game. And so along trots The Bourne Conspiracy from developer High Moon Studios, who's only previous credit before this one is the excellent Darkwatch for PS2.

The first thing you'll notice about Bourne is that he doesn't look like Matt Damon. In a rather perplexing move, Damon called himself out after seeing the violent content of the game, which seems oxymoronic to me, but anyways - the game doesn't really suffer for the lack of Damon's likeness, although it could have indeed been made better by his participation.

The game starts with the famous Wombosi killing that drove the plot of the first movie - with you stepping straight into Bourne's shoes and into a fist fight. And this is where the game shines - the simple yet deep hand-to-hand system allows for a huge number of combinations, with X linked to light attack, Y to heavy attack, and a held press of either to a powerful kick attack. That gives you 8 possible 3-hit combos, and 4 2-hits, but that's not what makes the combat special. No, that crown goes to the takedown system - linked to the B button, it's context sensitive and hugely entertaining. Executing hits on a target builds up an adrenaline meter, and once you've got a certain amount of the stuff, you can hit B and you execute one of Bourne's patented quick takedowns - anything from cracking the guy's skull off of a radiator, to slamming him into a circuit breaker, these are hugely violent and brilliantly satisfying to pull off.

Further more, when you're playing boss fights, there are usually special items littered around your battlefield - think phonebook, fire extinguisher and pen, then you're more or less there - and these briliantly evoke some of the more elaborate takedowns from the movies. It's a fantastic system, implemented in a challenging and engaging way. It's just such a shame that the game falls down on other counts.

The first and most frustrating is the shooting gameplay. Whilst High Moon have done an admirable job of being able to switch seamlessly between hand-to-hand and shooting, there's simply not been enough effort put into the actual shooting mechanics for it to be satisfying. There is a good idea in the 'ranged takedown' mechanic, but when you're just dodging from cover to cover, the controls simply feel to hands-off, and too inaccurate for you to really get into it. A system more akin to Gears of War would've been nice, but what's here is simply not wieldy enough for a lot of the things you're required to do. This, in particular, raises its ugly head when you're asked to shoot fuel tanks on an ATV, and the innaccuracy of it will have you pulling your hair out in frustration after the 17th attempt at it.

Second, it's far, far, far too short. You'll be lucky if you get 7 hours out of the first play through, and considering that a lot of games these days incorporate 15 hours with multiplayer, this came as something of a shock. The story is fine - it elaborates and expands upon some of the stuff only hinted at in the movies - but it just feels half-arsed. They could well have included Supremacy and Ultimatum, but it's clear that they were instructed to hold that part back for a sequel. It does, however, beg the question of why they're charging full price for it.

Achievements offer some factor of replayability, but to be quite honest, some of them are obnoxiously difficult to obtain (intriguingly, one of the trickier ones is scoring under 10% accuracy...), and others are so worthless as 'achievements' that you wonder why they don't just give you 1000G for simply putting the disc in.

In short, Bourne is, for once, a decent movie tie-in game that is hampered by slightly clunky shooting mechanics and a cripplingly short campaign length. Certainly worth a rental, but little else.

Ross' Rating:

15 July 2008

There's a hole in my sock...

And my toes are poking out. Need new ones...

So yeah! Saw Kung Fu Panda - and apparently I liked it. Go figure, huh? You may or may not have noticed the Shrek bashing - and yes, I was really annoyed with the third one. The fact that it warranted enough money to earn a fourth and fifth sequel (all announced at the same time) grinded my gears something rotten. But nothing to be done, really.

Also watched Hancock, and I'd give it 5/10. It was just too schizophrenic for my liking - it was like they took the first half of My Super Ex Girlfriend, injected it with alchohol, then cemented it onto the last half of The Kingdom, then just made all the characters the same. I kinda enjoyed it (3/5 for enjoyment), but it only scores a 'fair' 2/5 for quality of film, mostly down to some great special effects and deccent performances from Will Smith and Jason Bateman.

Wall-E's in the cinema this week! Yay! I absolutely can't wait - that and The Dark Knight may well make this one of the greatest summers for film for quite a while now. I've got it on good faith from a non-reviewer mate who's seen the former that it's absolutely brilliant - completely different from all of their previous fare, and all the better for it. Both have scored 5 stars from Empire, but to be quite honest that hasn't affected my expectations at all. Can't wait, can't wait, can't wait!

That's about it really. My skills are needed elsewhere! Toodles.

Kung Fu Panda Review

Dreamworks Animation SKG are a quirky bunch - when they're not milking the Shrek the Cow, they do come up with some original films, and whilst they never reach the heights of the other animation behemoth Pixar's outings, they're usually entertaining but forgettable affairs.

Not so with Kung Fu Panda - which is perhaps a sign of things to come that maybe, just maybe, Pixar need keep closer guard of their Animation Kings crown.

The story goes that panda named Po - voiced with zeal by Jack Black - is selected by Master Oogway to be the next Dragon Warrior in what can only be described as a freak accident. The Dragon Warrior is a chosen one, destined to defend the land against the dastardly Snow Leopard and kung fu master Tai Lung. There's a hitch, though - Po is a little fat, a little lazy and far too enthusiastic for his lack of skill, and the fact that he's been chosen as the Dragon Warrior does nothing but anger the Furious Five - a crane, viper, mantis, tigress and monkey, all kung fu masters of their respective styles - and their mentor Master Shifu.

Anyone familiar with Kung Fu movies will recognise the formula - young guy, crap at kung fu, must defeat old grand master to achieve respect from those he covets. So no points for originality - but it more than makes up for it in the execution. Featuring a beautiful design ethic that is a magnificent throwback to the over-saturated days of Bruce Lee movies, it looks absolutely incredible. But where it really shines is in the execution of the kung fu sequences. From an energetic and breathless escape sequence where Tai Lung breaks free from his own personal hellhole prison, to a hugely inventive and entertaining piece of chop-socky on a slowly and inevitably collapsing rope-bridge, they're positively brimming with invention, and more importantly, it presents us with what computer animation is truly capable of within this context.

That's not to say that it isn't funny - it is, although not as laugh-a-minute as one might expect from the studio that brought us Over the Hedge. Interestingly, Kung Fu Panda completely sidesteps the trend of animation these days of throwing in gags for parents only amid the gags aimed squarely at the kids. Instead, it favours a more broad approach - a shotgun to Shrek's dual handguns style, if you will. It's more broad, but the effect is the same - the audience is still laughing, but here the kids and the adults are laughing together, which is a brilliant achievement for the screenwriters and the directors both. That these laughs come from both physical and verbal comedy makes the achievement all the more striking.

If there are criticisms of the movie to be voiced, they are three-fold. The moral of the story is a little too on the nose for my liking ('beeeee yourseeeeeeelf, pleeeeeeease!'), but then again it is a kids' movie, and subtlety isn't exactly your average nose-picking 10-year-old's strong point - but it is, at least, delivered with some finesse, which raises it above the run-of-the-mill childrens' fair.

The second is perhaps that it's maybe a little flabby to begin with - the excellent, shadow-puppet/anime style dream-sequence aside - giving a real false impression of itself by issuing lukewarm gags and little-to-none of the inventiveness displayed later on in the movie.

Finally, there is a gamut of voice talent that is absolutely wasted - with Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman's Shifu and Ian MacShane's Tai Lung being the only performances that'll stick in your head. There are other, really quite major Hollywood stars lending their lungs here, but you'll be hard-pressed to identify them unless you snuck a peek at the IMDb page before you went in. It's a shame, but this - and all my other quibbles, for that matter - are minor even in the worst of lights.

What's here is very entertaining, and possibly Dreamwork's best outing since Shrek II paved the road for the its franchise to go all tits up. It could even be mentioned in the same breath as Pixar's lesser outings - a fine sign that a studio who was spending far too long wallowing in its own thick, green arrogance has finally pulled the finger out. Definitely worth a look.

Ross' Rating: 7/10

10 July 2008

Woo for 2AM!

Yup, 2AM, and I should be fucking asleep. Only I'm not. Joy of joys, huh? So might as well regale you lot with some tale of debauchery and heroism. Either that or just ramble about random crap. I like the idea of the latter. I could go into debauchery...but we all know what happens when I do that...so I shan't.Been watching Dexter as of late. It's absolutely superb - I wasn't really expecting to enjoy it as much as I am. It's a perfect mix of the dark, bleak serial killer stuff and police prodedural, with a fantastic dose of pitch black humour. Case in point - Dexter's at an 'Addiction Anonymous' thing, woman standing pouring her heart out about how she needs the drugs, and Dexter's sitting there thinking he needs to sharpen his knives. Genius.

Michael C Hall is perfectly cast - his bluff demeanour fitting the character brilliantly. That and I really do like the development of the character as well - I won't give anything away, but the way it delves into Dexter's psyche is one of the most interesting facets of any TV show I've seen for quite a while now.

Fee's graduating tomorrow - well, later today depending on your definition of tomorrow - and I'm trotting along to the aftermath. Not at all fazed by the fact that I'm not going to the...eh...math, seeing as the damn tickets cost far too many pennies. I kinda object to charging the graduates themselves for heading to their own freaking graduation, so I guess even if I had been invited, I'd've not gone out of principle. Still, apparently I'm to 'keep her sane' whilst her family bicker over vegetarian food. Should be good!

Then it's up to the Cairngorns for a wedding. That's the weekend taken up in its entirity - joy of joys - but at least I get to wear my kilt for it. Haven't worn it to a formal event for absolutely ages, so it'll be fun to look the part for once!

Poked at Raider's for the first time in absolutely ages - wrote a page or so, which was fairly impressive. I think I'm really gearing up for having all of September being a mad rush to get the thing finished - I know exactly where it's going, it's just getting it down on paper (well, digital paper) that's been the problem. So September and some of October off to finish the damn thing. Gotta stop calling it that - it's my book, not some 'damn thing'. Bad Ross, bad!

Right, that's it for tonight. Should probably make another attempt at sleep. Night!

3 July 2008


So - as you may or may not have guessed - my blog takes it's name from Ben 'Yahtzee' Croshaw's website. And recently he's completely confounded me - he's a funny guy, and I honestly wish I could be half as funny as he is, but his most recent rant on web comics seems completely out of sorts. Yes, he's taken potshots at everything from the state of the video games industry to Gamespot firing Gerstmann to - indeed - the webcomic industry itself. But to go on a fully-fledged rant about something more or less unrelated to reviewing video games seems wrong somehow. Don't get me wrong, I laughed at the rant and I do agree with some of it (mostly about the whole miscarriage story-line going on at Ctrl+Alt+Del) - but it still left something of a bitter aftertaste. Still, if he can make me laugh even doing something that I don't agree with from a moral stand-point...well, the guy must be doing something right.

Nat's been and gone - that was fun while it lasted. Lots of Wii-age ensued, along with seeing two movies in three days, that rocked. Seeing Jamie was fantastic too - and apparently he's up in Edinburgh indefinitely, so I shall have to see him again!

Getting close to finishing House, and I've got to say it's fantastic. Quite how they made such a likable arsehole, I will never know - but they pulled it off. Can't wait for the finish of season 4 - apparently the end of it is an absoulte doosey.

After that, it's on to Dexter and after that, the X-Files. So that's a lot of watching to do! Woo hoo!

Until next time kiddies...remember to play nice.

2 July 2008

1 July 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian Review

So! Narnia 2.0 has trotted onto our screens, and I'll readily admit that I rather enjoyed the first one - so was more or less looking forward to being regaled with another tale of Narnia. Unfortunately, I came out of the cinema completely underwhelmed.

So, a year has passed for the Pevensie children - being, as they are, adults now trapped in human bodies - but in Narnia, more than 1,300 years have gone by, and a race of humans known as the Telmarines have invaded Narnia, and hunted the native inhabitants more or less to extinction. The titular Caspian, a Telmarine prince, has been driven from his home thanks to a plot by his uncle Miraz to over throw the Royal line, and so Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy must rally behind him to retake Narnia.

I'll get this out the way first - Prince Caspian annoyed me. Not the movie itself, but the character - Ben Barnes may well be a very fine actor, but when you saddle even a ridiculously fine actor with an absolutely horrifically annoying accent, you're going to rile some folk up. To be quite honest, I struggled to emphasise with his - or indeed that of the rest of the Telmarines - plight, simply because I couldn't figure out where their accent was supposed to be from. Quite what was wrong with just letting them speak in a natural-sounding accent is beyond me.

This isn't the only problem when it comes to actors - two, possibly even three of the central actors are turning out to be rather poor choices for their roles. William Moseley comes out the worst of the bunch - he certainly possesses the physical chops to pull off an action-heavy role like Peter, but lacks the necessary acting prowess to pull off some of the more emotional moments. He also tries his very hardest to give something vaguely fearsome in his battle cry, but I've been more terrified by sloths on Valium. Then there's Anna Poppawell as Susan, who now seems content to turn up and look pouty, only she's not exactly Scarlett Johansson, and so she successfully brings nothing to the role bar a stale reading of the lines.

Georgie Henley is perhaps the biggest disappointment. After the mischievous glint present in her eyes in the first movie, she's now just another competent child actor that - whilst better than the two eldest of the four kids - is still merely solid and nothing more. It's perhaps surprising, then, that Skandar Keynes as Edmund comes off with the most kudos - he's somehow managed to naturally extend the spoiled, arrogant brat in the first film to a world-weary teenager with a ready wit and a wicked edge to his grin. To say that he underplays it to great effect is something of an understatement.

The quality of the actors playing humans is particularly disappointing, given the array of brilliance that infuses the CGI characters. Eddie Izzard provides a charming - albeit rather prototypical - portrayal of Reepicheep; the only disappointment being that there's so very little of him. Peter Dinklage puts in a rather fantastically grumpy performance as the dwarf Trumpkin, along with some understated performances by the CGI-enhanced centaurs and satyrs.

It's also a huge pity that the fight sequences - in the first half of the film at least - are completely bloodless. Not just literally - this is a PG movie, after all - but also figuratively; there's just not the spark of energy and excitement that the battles in the first film had. Fortunately, they pick up after the half-way point, culminating in an absolutely terrific final confrontation that starts with a man-on-man duel and ends with a full-scale battle completely with collapsible ground. It does decided to devolve into deus ex machina, and whilst it's explained and developed properly in the source novel, here it just feels tacked on.

In all honestly, it falls down to Andrew Adamson's direction. Having come in fresh from the Shrek movies, he seems only able to competently direct things that don't have grounds in reality! It's unfortunate, really, because this did have the potential to be a thoroughly entertaining film. It is instead merely an average one - technically a better achievement than the first one, but somehow worse for the experience. Worth it if you're a fan of Narnia and you're able to work past Ben Barnes' ludicrous accent, but missable if you occupy the space outside that particular intersection of oddballs.

Ross' Rating: 6/10