29 June 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Review

Another summer, and another blockbuster season is upon us. So, I ask you - who better to open it than the king of the summer blockbuster? The creator of Bayhem? The man himself? Well, unfotunately, it seems that this is to be ranked among Bay's lesser outings. It seems that instead of Bayhem, he allowed himself to go Baywire.

To explain - the first Transformers movie was required to be good. Required to be coherent, make sense, to ensure a profit so that sequels can be greenlit. This one has no such foibles, instead Bay is issued with a bigger budget, and quite a significant dollop of creative liberty. Some of the stuff that is eventually thrown in...well, it more than emulates Bay's previous dynamic of 'everything but the kitchen sink'. We get the Fallen, we get female motorbike Autobots, we get Constructicons, and only one of them is given a half-decent explanation. We also get a hefty dose of a certain pretty young thing named Megan Fox - in slow motion, from multiple angles. So essentially, Bay seems to have been temporarily posessed by a 13-year-old Transformers fan, and got to it.

Don't get me wrong - what's here is thoroughly entertaining. But so was the first one, and this one did require to at least be as good as its predecessor, if not better than. But the problem is that there's just an enormous amount of stuff that's very cynically designed to cater for the 15-year-old pocket-mining demographic. From the extreme close-ups of Miss Fox's backside (glorious though it may be) to the wise-cracking hillbilly Autobot twins, and a tiny, treacherous Decepticon that has for whatever reason developed the tendency to hump legs like a randy pomeranian. The final straw is giant set of Constructicon wrecking balls (read: testicles), just to add that little bit of stupidity to what should've been something of a spectacle.

And what spectacle. The Transformers themselves have had a huge upgrade - their faces now looking expressive and Bay is bold enough to give some of them closeups. They've recieved tweaks elsewhere, too - the special effects team have truly outdone themselves: exponentially increasing the already intricately detailed models. Again, Bay makes a change from the previous movie, keeping the camera as static and wide as possible during the various robot brawls that happen, ditching the previous' shaky, hand-held feel for a more traditionally cinematic one. This change may seem minor, but it vastly increases the scale of the battles, giving them more depth and weight. This, coupled with the incredible sound design means that you feel each clash of metal, and wince as each explosion pulses through you. Spectacle is definitely the word.

The non-CGI performances are adequate as well. Shia LaBeouf is still as relatable as ever - although this time he's saddled with an over-blown 'chosen one' story that seems a bit too below him to prevent him from phoning it in. Fox's job is merely to pout, and Josh Duhamel's is to act tough in the face of over-whelming odds. Both pull them off - though whether 'admirable' can be applied gets by only on benefit of doubt. John Tuturro makes a welcome return, and when he's not entertaining the notion of Transformer bollocks, he's perhaps the second best thing in the film.

The plot is utter hogwash - as is to be expected from a Transformers movie. But this one seems to have gone a bit over the top with the bullshit. From the aforementioned Chosen One story to the quasi-Jesus-like resurrection of a Transformer, it's all-over-the-place and completely discardable. Which is a shame, considering the first had a clear direction, with a MacGuffin and everything. It was tight and straight despite its silliness - Revenge of the Fallen is not.

Script-writers Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Ehren Kruger do, however, manage to construct a decent script around the flimsy plot, so you'll never find it confusing per se. Their dialogue is solid, too - and when they're not forced to grapple with the plot's more juvenile elements, a lot of their quips do hit the mark. It's just such a shame that they couldn't've had a better plot to work with, as well as not being able to do with out the temporary insanity of Bay.

At the end of the day, it seems like Michael Bay has tried for a little too much scope in his first sequel of the Transformers franchise. Second in length only to Pearl Harbour in Bay's filmography, it seems to suffer for it. A tighter, more ordered story would've been welcome, but it's easy to forget the ridiculous plot when the big bad robots are beating the crap out of each other.

24 June 2009

You know what I hate?

Gourangas. Don't know if it's an Edinburgh/Scotland-only thing, but if you've seen them, you know what I'm talking about. They're the pseudo-terrorists who harrass people for money to support their religion, is essentially what they do.

Anyways, I have no beef with the Hare Krishna religion. Not one bit. They may well be right, who knows? But the thing they I hate about them is that they don't remember faces. We have one, on the Royal Mile - and she has asked me no less than 14 times. The first few times I was quite nice to her, but said no. But she just doesn't remember! So today, I actually had to tell her to fuck off! Do you actually realise how bad it feels to tell a Hindu to fuck off? Terrible, is how bad.

If she just had a memory of faces, it'd be fine! But no, she just can't. So please, if you're visiting Edinburgh...don't humour them. Smile at them, and so 'no thank you'. Do not engage them in conversation - this part is very important. Just keep walking, and you can make the residents of Edinburgh distinctly less grumpy!

Anyways, still not much going on. Apparently the Fringe sold more tickets in its first week than it has ever done in any previous year, which is fantastic. There's a lot of flak being thrown at us for last year - and they're even getting at our throats for the tiniest mistakes that any box office system would make, like printers running out of paper or there being a 10 minute queue when we first open! It's just ridiculous, to be frank. So the huge number of sales we've managed to power through is a massive boost to the organisation's morale, which is no small thing!

But like I said before, the next movie review coming up is Transformers 2, so watch out for that one!

Until then, adieu, fair readers!

22 June 2009


Sorry for the lack of updatage, have been a bit bogged down in work and general laziness.

Work's going well, althought there're a whole host of arseholes out there, and most of them seem to be converging on me. There was a bitch of a lady who came into the box office. Now, I was very nice to her, got her order through and all that jazz, but when it came to printing out the tickets, I ran out of things to print them onto! I was struggling with fixing it, because I couldn't get my head around which way they should go in, so my supervisor came over and helped me fix it.

Got it fixed and continued printing, and my supervisor hung around for whatever reason - probably just to check that she had done it right. Anyways, the order printed out and I checked that it was fine - which it was. I then gave the tickets to the lady and asked her to check it too, just in case. Both her and her husband checked it and both said it was fine, then they left. My supervisor was present throughout.

So the counters closed (they close at 3pm) and I moved back up to the phone room (we also do phone bookings, obviously) for the rest of my shift. 5pm rolls around, and I get a call from the same woman. Now, she didn't cotton on to the fact that it was me who served her, so she just started talking about this 'clumsy bearded man' who messed up printing out her tickets, and claimed that one of her tickets was missing!

Not only this, but she also claims that she told me that she was missing a ticket, and I did nothing about it! I had to contain my anger as she blantantly lied through her teeth! I just about managed to not shout at her - I was very civil and suggested that she revisit the box office and sort it out with the supervisors, because it's quite difficult to sort that kind of thing out over the phone. But she can't make it in until Wednesday, and lo-and-behold, I'm once again on the counter on Wednesday! So I'm actualy goig to be present while this woman comes in and lies through her teeth at me once again!

I mean, what the hell? How can someone be that fucking cheeky? Seriously, it does my goat in. Then there's the gimps who complain about shows being sold out, despite the fact that they're calling for the first time two weeks after sales have opened. What the fuck do they want me to do? Stop everyone from buying a ticket before they do? Fuck off, I say.

This is why I can never be the boss. I would just tell everyone to fuck off, and my company would go down the toilet faster than you can say 'DON'T FLUSH!!!', thanks to bad rep garnered from me telling the majority of the morons out there to fuck off, and they're the ones most likely to complain. Oh well...I'll just stick with the writing gig for now!

That's about it, really. Haven't seen anything for ages, but there's a semi-anniversary coming up in that I'm reviewing the sequel to the first ever movie that I review on this blog! Yes, Transformers Colon Revenge of the Really Big Robots is to be seen this coming Sunday, and I have to say I'm tentatively looking forward to it.

Anyways, adieu for now, fair people of the interwebs! And whatever you do...don't....touch....anything!

12 June 2009


Well, a lot's been happening as of late. Lots of things announced, lots of things played and watched, lots of general goings-on.

Fee's away to Australia, which is sort of gutting. Going to be on my own for 19 days...and not really sure what I'm going to do with myself. It'll probably end up that I behave no differently, to be quite honest, but it's at the stage where I'm just a bit down about her leaving!

On the positive side, work's picking up. Had my first day of phone sales today, which was interesting to say the least. Was in for two-and-a-half hours and only took four calls, which seems a little ridiculous. But these were BIG orders, people booking their time at the Fringe with almost military precision. One guy spent upwards of £500 on tickets to various things, which was fairly impressive - not just for the amount of money he has to throw at it (I was only planning on spending about £100...), but also the meticulous detail with which he'd planned out the seven days he'd allocated to the Festival! It was quite daunting to say the least. Then there was the guy that had a huge order, but since he had been waiting so long to get served, his phone ran out of batteries! Quite shit to be honest, but he got his order fixed by someone else after I left - feel a little guilty (I could have been quicker), but I know it's not my fault. It's everyone who's so eager to get their tickets that they clam up the phone lines...oh well. I suppose on the flipside of the coin, they're the ones who get the big tickets first, like Bill Bailey or Jimmy Carr...

Loads of stuff going on the world of video games, not least the newly reinvigorated E3. To go into it in too much detail would take up a good four pages, so I'll just summarise my thoughts:

1. Microsoft's press conference was awesome. Loads of awesome exclusives, plus some great new multiplatform ones.

2. Natal is genius, and it put PS3's motion control to shame. You could tell the guy knew it as well - when he first stepped foot on the stage, he was nervous as hell, stuttering and everything! He got a bit more confident throughout - because, on any other day, it'd've been awesome. Just not that day.

3. Considering a switch to Rock Band, thanks to Rock Band Beatles, the awesome-looking new drum-kit and the fact that Green Day - yes, I'm apparently a 15-year-old boy, but I'm past caring - have committed themselves to Harmonix and not Red Octane. (Apologies for the rubbish picture...couldn't find a better one!)

4. Super-psyched about Halo 3: ODST and Halo: Reach. The ODST gameplay footage looks amazing, and it seems there's going to be a Gears of War 2 Horde clone called Firefight, which - whilst, obviously, not the most original of ideas - will, I think, fit very well into the Halo 3 gameplay. Coupled with new maps for H3, along with a Reach multiplayer beta invitation means ODST is shaping up to be a fantastic purchase.

5. Lots of people are moaning about Left 4 Dead 2 being downloadable content masquerading as a new game, but I reckon that actually this is a good thing. It gives them an opportunity to refine the game further - remove bugs, add the melee weapons, new weapons, new enemies - and so long as they do actually support L4D2 with downloadable content instead of going straight to L4D3...then it could work out for the best, to be quite honest.

6. DJ Hero = retarded but genius at the same time...not sure why I think that...

Those're the major points, not even covering the whole host of other stuff that's getting released!

So yes, despite the recession, we are living in exciting times for video games. 2008 rocked, and 2009 looks set to rock harder!

Anyways, adieu!

2 June 2009

Velvet Assassin Review

There's been something of a hole in the stealth-based market for a while now, what with Splinter Cell: Double Agent being relatively rubbish, and Conviction now on the horizon and looking good. Metal Gear was off doing it's own thing - becoming some kind of 'conflict simulator' instead of a true-blue stealth game - and somewhere under the radar, in slinks Velvet Assassin.

Taking the Splinter Cell formula and injecting it with that most beloved of historical periods for video games: World War II, Velvet Assassin puts you into the shoes and anachronistically tight jumpsuit of Violette Summer, a British assassin working in Nazi-occupied France and Germany. We're introduced to Violette as she is lying heavily sedated in a hospital bed, and the bulk of the gameplay takes place in her head as she remembers the missions that got her into her predicament.

Velvet Assassin actually makes quite a good impression of for the most part - starting with genuinely engaging story and dialogue direction, synergised with a beautifully stylised graphics engine. A few rare visual glitches and ommisions aside, the game looks absolutely fantastic - shadows are black as hell, lights are sharp and saturating, creating an immersively tense atmosphere. Of particular note are the sunlight effects, with gorgeous sunsets portrayed with suprising amount of work gone into the glow that sunsets invariably imbue objects with.

There's a decent amount of detail elsewhere, both in the visual and sound design - Germans will banter with eachother as the go about their patrols, smoke cigarettes and generally hang about, but there's a real dark edge to the dialogue which paints each individual Nazi as just that - an individual. Whilst character models don't change significantly, personalities do - one Nazi is incredibly sympathetic, stuck on door duty whilst his relief is drunk and asleep; another is a nasty piece of work who suggests letting prisoners loose and shooting at them as they try to get away. It occasionally feels a bit too scripted, but for the most part the flow of the narrative is almost invariably improved by these little details.

A final artistic flourish is found in 'morphine mode' which - with the press of a button - slows down time, and allows you to either run for cover without being shot, or indeed silence that last enemy in the patrol who's about to see you. It's played out in a rather ingenious manner too, being equated to a fragmented memory that is jumbled up when, in the 'present', nurses administer morphine to control her pain. In the flashback, the air sudden fills with falling rose petals, and Violette herself sheds most of her clothes to be dressed in the night-dress she's wearing in the 'present'. It's actually a genuinely impressive mechanic that is both artistically and technically faultless, leading to some wonderfully savage takedowns of enemies

Lamentably, though, it lets itself down in two rather crucial departments - controls and the enemy artificial intelligence.

Let's start with the controls, because I can cut to the chase pretty quick - they're simply not responsive enough, and there's just not enough that you're able to do. Absent is a jump function, and whilst there is the ability to climb over obstacles, this is only available in certain areas and is ludicrously glitchy, with you frequently finding yourself stuck inside the crate which you were trying to climb on, unable to extract yourself. The aiming controls are also far too clunky to be useful, being not capable of sustaining a firefight efficiently beyond the first shot. This would be fine if the gameplay was entirely stealth based, as it'd discourage exposing yourself into a firefight. But once again, a stealth game insists upon an action-heavy section where you're expected to take out loads of oncoming enemies with your firearms - and these are a huge chore when they arrive.

They're incredibly counter-intuitive as well - left bumper for duck? Right/left on the D-pad to reload? Y to merely whistle to attract your enemies attention? What planet are we living on?

Next is the enemy intelligence - it's almost non-existent. Almost being a key word, because 99% of the time, the enemies are ludicrously stupid, following set out routes into shadows to investigate what lies within them, making taking them out more a question of timing than actual stealth. Now, this is an acceptable way of carrying out AI: not exactly state of the art (heck, the original Splinter Cell puts it to shame, and that's - what? - ten years old now?) but functional enough to immerse you in the atmosphere in the game. But what screws the pooch is the fact that every so often, enemies will display intelligent behaviour, tracking you down almost mercilessly, sometimes requiring you to backtrack a good chunk of the level just to get them to stop following you.

The obvious - and, according to Ockhams Razor, correct - explanation is that the developers were attempting to create semi-intelligent AI, but for whatever reason - almost certainly to get it shipped before Splinter Cell: Conviction - they cut some corners when actually implementing it. It's a frustrating break in the immersion so expertly evoked by the graphics and voice acting, as well as being generally frustrating anyway, with it being absolutely impossible to know when the AI will decide to go rogue. Some play throughs of levels will have no instances, whilst others will be absolutely plagued with them.

At the end of the day, Velvet Assassin just about manages to hold an interim place between Splinter Cells. A beautifully told story with fantastic atmosphere and - as a final addendum - well-thought-out achievements make up for the unfinished feel to the AI and controls. If you can look past the foibles, there's certainly a lot to enjoy when playing Velvet Assassin. At least until Conviction comes out...

Overall Score: 72%

Before I continue...

...allow me to elaborate. Essentially, I'm implementing a new feature in the games reviews section - Expanded Scores. These're essentially micro-reviews for games, and will always be tacked onto the end of a prose review, or they may well appear on their own. Essentially they're for getting the gist of a review across, so if you can't be arsed to read my wall of text, but still care about what I think, you can have a quick glance at the Expanded Scores!

They'll essentially look like this - and yes, I have IGN to thank for the main idea.

Click for Expanded Scores
(It'll only be hidden if there's a prose review preceeding it - if it's on its own, it'll be shown)

Overall Score: XX%

Obviously there are going to be some teething problems as I 100% sort out the code for it (at the moment its at about 90%), but hopefully this'll be a new and exciting feature that'll keep you guys interested!

Now! Onto a Velvet Assassin review!