Review

2017: THE YEAR IN REVIEW, PART ONE: ASSASSIN’S CREED TO LOGAN

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First of all, an apology: this blog is pretty much dead. Retrospectively, all of the posts I ended with the promise of a return to glory are much akin to the apocalyptic ravings of Harold Camping (RIP). Nothing happened, but then nothing was lost either, so we continue living our lives as normal albeit with the faint sadness of expecting another Malteser only to find that they’re all gone. I’m not saying I’m disappointed the Rapture didn’t happen, but in a world in which our leaders include a woman who runs through wheat and at least two man-children with missiles, it might have been the kick in the arse we all need.

Of course, one year ago when I made those false prophecies, I did fully believe that the blog would be reignited. 2017 however has been a whopper for me, not least because I now work in Japan, and am busier than a busy bee that has started his or her own business.

Living in the Land of the Rising Sun is great (heated toilet seats in convenience stores being a winter highlight) but unfortunately it’s kind of killed my cinematic momentum. Going from a job in the UK that let me see as many new films as I like, for free, to a country which either doesn’t get the films I want or gets them 2-3 months late has been tough. There’s an awful lot I regret not getting the chance to watch, but that’s not going to stop me from stepping up to continue my annual tradition: reviewing every new film I have seen this year (‘new’ meaning a UK release date in 2017). Despite spending half the year in Japan, that’s still THIRTY NINE FILMS.

Yes, folks. For a short, beautiful moment, like a butterfly from a cocoon, this blog is alive.

行きましょう! (more…)

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2016: The Year in Review, Part Three: Don’t Breathe to Rogue One

Disclaimer: the following post is physically and mentally challenging, and should under no circumstances be attempted if you have not read Parts One and Two first. Think of it like the end of the TV show Raven, where the kid has to walk along the path and dodge all the swinging axes and shit. Got that? I’ll be waiting here with the axes. You have been warned.

DON’T BREATHE, 13/09/2016

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Following Green Room earlier in the year, Don’t Breathe is another thriller that cranks up the tension so much that I was in physical discomfort throughout. In the film, a trio of house burglars break into the home of a blind, old man, hoping for an easy haul. Unfortunately things don’t go to plan, and they get more than they bargained for when said blind, old man turns out to be a hardened war veteran. Harbouring a dark secret, the certified badass proceeds to seal the intruders within the house and methodically hunt them down through hearing alone.

Long shots and painful usage of silence keep you at the edge of your seat with unrelenting suspense, and when that suspense is broken by intense panic and visceral violence, it’s like being jolted awake from one nightmare and into another. It’s intentionally hard work and unpleasant, but its craft is rather masterful, and if you want something to shake up your cold, dead heart, Don’t Breathe is one to watch. Just beware of the doggo – it’s no friendly little pupper, that’s for damn sure. (more…)

2016: The Year in Review, Part Two: Hardcore Henry to Kubo and the Two Strings

Haven’t read Part One yet? If not, you don’t deserve to be here. This is like a private club for the people who have already read my first ten reviews, and let me tell you, there’s some absolute gold in there if I do say so myself. Want to join this club and have some super fun times with even more tippety-top reviews? Well get back there and read ’em, and come back a changed person. No need to thank me, I’m just that nice a guy.

HARDCORE HENRY, 10/04/2016

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Shot entirely from a POV perspective, Hardcore Henry may well be the most accurate video game movie to date, and there’s no license to be seen. Taking inspiration directly from the dumb first person shooters that anyone who’s ever held a controller has surely played, the film is like a non-stop 80-minute journey through action game tropes, such as:

– a conveniently silent protagonist
– a villain with questionable motives (and inexplicable telekinesis)
– a series of clearly defined levels
– gameplay tutorials
– objectives marked on a map
– NPC allies
– boss battles
– a turret section
– an escort quest
– a sniper level
– skill-enhancing, self-administered syringes just left lying around
– a final showdown capped off with a quick time event

Reveling in its loud and over-the-top stupidity, Hardcore Henry’s relentless pace and breathless action never once lost my interest. It’s often hilarious too, whether it be the sheer ludicrousness of it all, or the smattering of well-handled comedic moments (one involving a horse and the theme to The Magnificent Seven had me laughing for minutes). Sharlto Copley particularly is a comic revelation in the film, perfectly embodying the video game spirit in the role of super-soldier Henry’s body-swapping guide.

Like The Matrix crossed with Call of Duty, it’s crazy, exciting and tons of fun, and is self-aware enough that its narrative shortcomings can be forgiven. Hardcore Henry is a blast. (more…)

2016: The Year in Review, Part One: The Hateful Eight to Batman v Superman

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As many people will tell you, often, everywhere, all over the internet, all the time, 2016 has been a brutal year. We’ve lost many great actors, artists and musicians, we decided to fuck off out of the EU, and a bumbling, racist idiot has been put in charge of one of the world’s superpowers. It’s also been a year in which pretty much nothing has happened on this blog, and for that you can blame muggins here’s futile skirmishes with motivation (or, more appropriately, lack thereof).

It can’t all be bad though, right? Even when we’re in the shit, there’s always entertainment to keep us chipper… right? Until recently, the pervasive doom and gloom of the year had me thinking that 2016 has been kind of a dud for films. Now though, the more I think back on the films I’ve seen over the past 12 months, the more I realise how great some of them have been.

I’ve faced the pitchforks for defending two of the most hated releases of the year, found a modern horror film that actually scared me, and had the pleasure of watching what is, I fully believe, the best sci-fi since 2001: A Space Odyssey. Perhaps most significantly, it was at the beginning of this year that I fully discovered my love for the films of Studio Ghibli, and getting to see their latest on the big screen, as well as going on a Ghibli adventure of my own, are memories I will keep with me for a long time. How are those for teasers?

Lo and behold, it’s time for me to crawl out of hiding and commence my annual tradition of reviewing every film I’ve seen in a cinema from January to December. Writing over 30 reviews in one go is a mammoth undertaking, and once again I regret not starting this earlier as it can be incredibly hard to remember a mediocre film seen almost a whole year ago. No battle is easily won, of course, and I shall power on for all that remains good in the world. There will inevitably be sacrifices, mostly the time that I could be spending playing Overwatch or watching One Piece, but I will write for what is right, and become legend.

As King Theoden once said:

Arise! Arise, Riders of Theoden! Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered! A sword day… a red day… ‘ere the sun rises! Ride now! Ride now! Ride! Ride to ruin and the world’s ending! Death! Death! DEATH!

Forth, Eorlingas! (more…)

A Colossal Pain in the Neck

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When I sold my PlayStation 2, I sold a piece of my heart with it. Being neck deep in the Xbox 360 phenomenon at the time, and playing such great games as Lost Odyssey and Bioshock (the latter of which I never actually finished after a friend ‘kindly’ spoiled the twist for me), I didn’t think I would miss it. How wrong I was, for with the console also disappeared some of the first games I ever genuinely loved.

I can remember well the first time I was properly excited for a game. It must have been around 2002, when ten-year-old Tom was discovering the magic of gaming through his swanky new PS2. It was my first console, having only previously owned a trusty GameBoy Colour, and the effect it had on me could be likened to the Spanish discovering America. No, not the brutal pillaging of the native population, but the window into a whole new world of opportunities. That, and a demo disc featuring some game called Airblade, which I definitely gave more time than it probably deserved.

Anyway, demo discs were, as Super Hans says of crack cocaine, really moreish, and I soon started building up my collection of official PS2 mags. I would put hours upon hours into these little game snippets every month, playing demos for games like War of the Monsters religiously until I could fork out the pocket money to buy the actual game. Aside from the demos though, it was all about screenshots. In the ages before YouTube and video reviews, these little squares were portals into the games of tomorrow, teasing us to the point where we just had to see them in motion.

One day, I opened an issue and saw the coolest thing my little eyes had ever seen – Devil May Cry 2. I’d never played the first installment, but I became totally consumed with these images and counted down the days until the game’s release. When I finally played it, it was everything I ever hoped it could be and more, and it completely changed the way I felt about video games. After I rinsed it, I bought the original Devil May Cry and my first proper gaming obsession was born. Along with Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, it’s probably one of the main reasons I’m such a disgustingly massive nerd.

Post-DMC, images of another, more unusual game began to captivate me, and its eventual demo sold me on my next fixation. This was a title that changed my views on gaming in another, very different way, and is still one of my favourite games of all time. It was, of course, Team Ico’s majestic Shadow of the Colossus. (more…)

Quick Review: Titan Souls

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Ever wondered how Legolas felt as he slayed the Mûmakil, sliding down its trunk like Middle Earth’s Tony Hawk as it skidded to a halt? Well, the closest you can get to that is playing Acid Nerve’s minimalist arcade boss-rush game Titan Souls (PC, PS4). Shrouded in ambiguity and invoking 2005’s unforgettable Shadow of the Colossus, the game has you exploring a bleak fantasy landscape searching for great beings known as Titans, whom you must eliminate with a single arrow.

Titan Souls’ controls are easy to learn but hard to master. One button lets you roll and sprint, another looses your arrow and pulls it back towards you. Shooting and recalling your arrow requires you to stand still, so choosing the most opportune moments to do so becomes the crux of defeating the game’s 19 Titans. It’s up to you to find their weakness and deliver that one, deadly shot.

The player also goes down with a single hit, meaning you will die an awful lot. In fact, I died 328 times. It’s a mean challenge, but quick restarts encourage you to persist, studying each boss’ patterns and formulating plans. Learning and improvement are key; some foes can be killed within seconds with the right knowledge and skill. All this culminates in immense satisfaction when you finally defeat the Titan that’s been mugging you off for the past half hour.

Beautiful pixel art and music enhance the game’s spacious world, however, between offing Titans, there isn’t much to do in it besides some basic puzzles. It can be infuriating trying to locate remaining Titans and, as you trek across empty spaces, you’ll wish there was more to do. As a pure boss-fight experience though, Titan Souls has enough variation to keep you invested for its five hours, and a masochistic hard mode that will make even the toughest warriors weep.

Check out the game on Steam here.

The Horrors of (Star) War: A Day on the Battlefront

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“The force is strong in my family.

My father has it.

I have it.

My sister has it.

My dog has it.

My friend’s nan has it.

You have that power, too.”

– Luke Skywalker

I’m not the worst gamer. I know my way around the Souls series, I can face everything The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth throws at me and I’m a relatively competent Magic: the Gathering player (I should by all accounts be better, having played for upwards of twelve years). Though I rage quit Bit.Trip.Runner and gave up on Ocarina of Time’s infamous Water Temple, I’ve slaughtered Super Hexagon and made a lovely house on Animal Crossing.

What I really, really suck at however, is multiplayer competitive shooters.

With the somehow miraculous exception of the decent and free-to-play Ghost Recon: Phantoms, I have pretty much been awful at every competitive shooter I’ve tried. I always find myself getting killed in two shots by some fucker I didn’t see on the other side of the map, with seemingly nothing I could have done to prevent it. I have hardly known a kill streak, never opened a care package (whatever one of those is) and, really, never had a dandy time.

And so it was with some trepidation that I downloaded the beta for the forthcoming Star Wars Battlefront. The Star Wars licence and my nostalgic love for 2005’s excellent couch-based romp Star Wars: Battlefront II were enough to make me excited about the title, despite it firmly being the thing I suck at and, controversially, containing no single-player campaign. Who knows, maybe I’ll do ok… (more…)