Friday, 30 October 2009
Happy Hallowe'en! After last year's double bill of sweaty illogic, I think a skew in the direction of bleak realist is in order. Embedded for your existential horror is Alan Clarke's 1989 the Troubles short Elephant. Partly based on actual police reporting, and the brainchild of then producer Danny Boyle, Elephant dispassionately tracks eighteen sectarian murders. The removal of any political or ideological agenda stumps justification, it's just killing. Likewise, no reasoning is ever offered, instead you get ethereal Steadicams zoning like an accomplice. This being a BBC production, and given their increased presence on YouTube, you'd figure they'd want to shout it from the rafters that they used to produce thought provoking mind splinters like this? Not a bit of it! This was uploaded by a fan under a misspelled name.
Tuesday, 27 October 2009
Gameplay hype for BioShock 2. For this follow-up, 2K Marin have gone for hysterical sequel inflation. Case in point? The original's vaguely believable cobble-guns remodeled as bitchin' steampunker artillery, including an obligatory chaingun. Enemy designs look culled from the early design document rejections detailed in prequel tie-in artbook BioShock: Breaking the Mold. Can't really blame Marin for picking over leftovers, a lot of those barmy character drafts had mileage. It's a regression though. In Breaking the Mold, Robb Waters had this to say on BioShock's foe cast:
"(We) decided that we didn't want this to be another Doom sorta thing. We wanted our characters to not be zombies and not be monsters, but be these unique humans that were kinda screwed up. They weren't zombies, and you could sorta empathize with them. They retain their humanity, because that's a much scarier notion than just a big monster."
2K Marin's lore contribution? Rot-faced lunatics! Hulking tank men! Death-match gameplay! Still, you're not going to sell on the boring bits are you? Before this all gets too snide, I want to point out that the flooded areas look splendid, like a baroque snowglobe, and the taunting overseer voice hits on a nice little meta-truism for seek and destroy mold video games. Looks like the lithe Big Sister enemy is a constant nuisance too, shades of Claire's story from Resident Evil 2 then. Quite right! If you're going to steal, steal from the best.
Monday, 26 October 2009
Sunday, 25 October 2009
Hostility pervades Far Cry 2. Even when working for the interchangeable factions that rule this African playground, adventurers can expect no quarter. Out in the field, your approach will always be deemed dangerous, and you will be constantly attacked. After all, you are an invader. Far Cry 2 teaches you to avoid human contact, and covet loneliness. It's a disquieting ambiance than informs a central thesis of unbridled amorality. Even though the bare narrative thread is contextualised by the idea of a police action, the majority of your missions are pathological. Tasked with tracking a phantom weapons trafficker called The Jackal, players find themselves at the beck and call of indigenous militia and circling mercenaries. Notions of heroism or justice, endemic to this genre, are entirely absent. Players must commit great evils to reach a goal. This isn't war as an exercises in chest inflating glory, it's a colossally messy affair balanced on the whims of madmen.
Far Cry 2 is also unusually uncooperative. Sacked guard posts refill endlessly with aggressors who enjoy clairvoyant lines of sight. Equipment rots and degrades, requiring constant upkeep or outright rejection. Missions are rarely expedient, briefs are prone to wild digression thanks to an interfering ally cast. Even the experience of playing is fraught with inconvenience; unpatched the game has a tendency to corrupt saves, patched, missions and characters go astray barring side-quest completion. Deep in the wonderfully bloody-minded final act, my game got into the habit of freezing and crashing. The whole frightful experience was shaking itself apart. Irritating though this was, I couldn't help feeling this added something to the overall experience. Far Cry 2 is about illness, both physical and mental. It seeks to simulate a particular state of mind in which social contracts and morality cease to matter. You have dreadful objectives and no-one cares how you accomplish them. It's also a sandbox of ineffective colonial folly; wilful men of alleged civility drawn to new frontiers, with a mind to bending the country and its people to their designs. Naturally it resists. Far Cry 2 is a ruinous path of hubris, you cannot change this world, the greatest good you can do is to affect an escape. Far Cry 2 is a staggeringly immersive game that repays patience in spades.
It's difficult to imagine an enemy type more lowly and worthless than Smash TV's basic grunt mobbers. Armed with what looks like a 2x4, these witless drones excitedly froth about interminable studio sets, just asking to be annihilated. Utterly useless in the singular, these bullet soakers only really pose something like a threat when you're knee-deep in a clipping, overlapped mess of them. The crypto-fascist media outlet that shills Smash TV's central, lethal, gameshow must have got a job lot on knuckle dragger clones. Bald headed, stocky, and wearing ill-fitting lime t-shirts, these chaps are only fit for clogging up your personal space. As Smash TV trundles on, you'll begin to miss these fragile nobody men. Later Boss enemies demand a satirical amount of shooting before they vacate the premises. Endlessly blasting away at an undamagable two-headed mecha-cobra deep in stage 3, vague memories of Takeshi Kitano's NES prank title Takeshi no Chosenjo began to bubble up. Was I really going to have to hit this monstrosity 20,000 times?
Smash TV is sheer repetition. In order to pass a screen you'll have to blow apart thousands upon thousands of enemies. The game isn't a reward miser either, prizes pop up with staggering regularity, as do swaying wads of screen-filling currency. Post stage totaliser screens take forever to log your spoils, the ascending whistle note accompanying your increasing bank balance strays into the kind of pitch that gets dogs excitable. Smash TV is excess. The player is constantly bombarded with feedback. More enemies. More prizes. More everything. This Xbox Live iteration even allows the player infinite continues to finish the show. You'll need them. The game is mercilessly hard; space-clog tank-men aren't encumbered by their grotesque size, they can rapidly glide to all corners of the screen, better to smother you with their caterpillar tracks. For this player, Boss battles became psychotically resourced wars of attrition. My sweaty little gladiator man, endlessly reinforced by lookalikes, facing blubbering mockeries of flesh and metal. An unseen audience cheers the carnage. That experience was easily worth the 400 point asking price.
Saturday, 24 October 2009
Friday, 23 October 2009
How do you sell an untested, potential franchise kicker starring a lethally hirsute, porno-secretary chic, gymtastic Witch? After scratching their heads long and hard, Sega's PR department decided to focus on a brassy glassy brand shove for Hideki Kamiya's Bayonetta. Nothing sells video games like doll head lick gurns! Sex shill aside, Bayonetta's got chops - was it ever in doubt? - the 360 incarnation managed a startling 40/40 score in a recent issue of vapid Japanese gaming periodical Famitsu (PS3 SKU trailed with 38/40, technical issues cited). Quite the coup for both Microsoft's system, and frame count action games in general. All signs point to pick-up minded, less fussified remix of Kamiya's earlier awesome simulator Devil May Cry. Time for a pre-order root!
Monday, 19 October 2009
Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit is a squarebound thump of chrysalis body atrocity. A wound-faced aggressor is ejected from a sky-society, landing chump first in a boiled desert realm staffed by changeling undesirables. Ryan's tome has gene code in common with muscle-bomb wasteland manga, but rather than base the cataclysmic body-shifting in psychic chakra energies, or interminable training regimes, Ryan has skewed scatological new flesh. He repurposes the form of the pugilists, bodies hide loathsome shade forms, evolved to be effective in a utilitarian clobber-chain. Every injury inflicted is another opportunity to realise building block body grue as biologically alarming predator aspect. Nothing is waste, everything is function. Prison Pit is a space-plane combat scroll, detailing the long-lost art of excretion as weapon. All the best to Mr Ryan. I hope this sells a million, leaving him no choice but to release a hundred more just like it.
Sunday, 18 October 2009
Friday, 16 October 2009
Kawajiri's preoccupation with combative, unkillable men meets an undying 80s fantasy franchise. Retail opportunity! The future is rubble, policed by Fourth Reich spider-bots and ruled by an ageless, Saturn worshipping, strat-shredding, Ziggurat dweller. Into this predicament wanders a trench coat wearing ronin who quickly hooks up with a pragmatic female soul, then establishes strained ties with the local freedom fighters. Forever war flashbacks detail a millennia long feud between the two lead immortals, of which this is but the latest stage.
Both have stuck to their roots: the Scottish stray seeks to keep himself ostracised, whilst the Roman imperialist throws in with whatever ideology is currently pushing an expansionist agenda. Highlander: The Search for Vengeance's hysterical highlight comes in the form of a near-miss memory reel - the token MacLeod pursues his quarry over endless continents and centuries, relentlessly coming up short. It's a believable insight into the psychotic urges of these eternal, grudge holders. They're all each other's got. As this is a Kawajiri flick, action is brisk and accomplished. It's a shame his Western paymasters took it upon themselves to hack out chunks of nuance though. There's tell that it was all restored for a vaporous Director's Cut edition available in Japan. If I ever track it down, I'll let you know.
Neil Marshall's love letter to stunted outpost civility, and despairing post-apocalyptia. A mega virus has left Scotland quarantined, the North anonymous, and London quaking. When riot cases start breaking in the capital, thuggy fascists dispatch slinky killer Rhona Mitra to scout out survivors and cures up in Alba. There, she finds various subsistence tribes calibrated to widely disparate genre disciplines. Doomsday is a magpie grab-bag of late 70s, early 80s wasteland vintage. Marshall has fashioned a modestly budgeted retrospective best-of. Spot the references! Mad Max! Aliens! Escape from New York! Cannibal Holocaust! Excalibur? The list trudges ever on. Thankfully, Marshall has a fan's eye for the material, adding gonzo flourishes as he pillages - Road Warrior car clod collisions account for fragile human cargo, spraying gallons of grue on impact. It's double reward feedback! Marshall's only major beat misstep is ditching the invaders' tech-might in the medieval section. Who doesn't want to see plate armour knights folding under a relentless hail of bullets? Maybe Marshall wanted to sidestep a Bedknobs and Broomsticks cue? Destined for infamy.
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
Tease shill for Koei Tecmo's upcoming Hokuto no Ken Musou brawler. Hopefully Europe can expect a fully localised Dynasty Warriors: Fist of the North Star? Pretty please? Signs are at least vaguely promising; both of the Gundam iterations of Musou made it over here, and Discotek Media have licenced the complete Fist of the North Star TV series, to be issued as four DVD boxsets in the US sometime in 2010. Tie-in? Fingers crossed!
Sunday, 11 October 2009
Friday, 9 October 2009
Anyone with fond memories of the BBC's horror-mockumentary Ghostwatch is well advised to check out this trail for Oren Peli's Paranormal Activity. Despite being completed sometime in 2007, the film is still stuck in a distribution merry-go-round; Miramax did their usual edit-flirt, before the property ended up at Dreamworks. One terrified Steven Spielberg later, Peli was being lined up to direct a superfluous remake. In-house screenings were set up for prospective retool screenwriters, who left said shows a'shaking an' a'quivering. Remake ditched, the original flick's domestic release was then lost to distribution wranglings between Dreamworks and Paramount. Confound it all! So far, Paranormal Activity has been snuck out to American college crowds, who are lapping it up. Director Peli has requested that those interested in seeing the film head to eventful.com to register interest. If demand hits a million, there are vague promises about a proper theatrical roll-out.
More cross-pollination. What do you do if you have notionally undesirable product? You lie about it. Or, at least allow it to be misunderstood. Zombieland has romantic comedy plotting, with hodgepodge horror flourishes. It's two separate, gender baiting joybuzzes, clumsily aligned for mass-market appeal. It's a date movie! How was it sold? The dream was stricken survivors trapped in a terror world with a game show rule-base. Kill of the Week! bleated the trailers. Turns out there's no kill propaganda being beamed into the public's pliant mind, the gags swamping advert real estate are just Family Guy style digressions designed to add a bit of flavour to down-time. Oh well. Settle in for a laboured attempt to clone the wonderful tonal dynamics at play in Shaun of the Dead. Stir in an ever-present voice over that over-explains for dunces, and you end up with something closer to Scrubs' twee life-lessons than actual dispatches from the apocalypse. Zombieland is a toothless danger-world, full of characters that regularly elect to endanger themselves just to advance well trodden women-as-treasure machinations. Also, who the fuck uses a toilet cubicle in the wasteland?
Thursday, 8 October 2009
Researching this atrocity, I was struck by one fact: it isn't the special effects creators of each creature that gets continued credit, it's the writers who worked on the original films. Whilst I have no problem with writers getting their due - neither series would exist if those people hadn't got their think on - it just seems an ethical dereliction to not name HR Giger as the creator of the Alien, nor Stan Winston as the Predator's.
Both species are broad ideas on the page, given fantastical, expressive life by their respective designs. Giger crafted an exoskeleton penis that wandered and loomed in its space-nest; Winston was given a brief that asked for a dog-man, instead he turned in an enormous Masai with dreadlocks and mandibles. The blueprints for both monsters were so strong that immediate sequels only sought to embellish them. In Aliens James Cameron and Stan Winston crossed the Giger form with a Black Widow spider, and gave us the Alien Queen. For Predator 2, Winston simply worked up some gee-whizz gadgets and gave the intergalactic hunter a steeper forehead.
AVPR: Aliens vs Predator 2 - Requiem doesn't turn in any radical reworkings of either creature: the Alien looks to be a mish-mash of the warrior suit from Cameron's film, and Alien Resurrection's lanky clones. Meanwhile, the Predator seems to be directly inherited from LA 1997. The directors, who choose to be credited as The Brothers Strause, don't appear to have any real interest in either monster, or their visual aesthetic.
Apart from a few mime sequences framed from a Predator viewpoint, the majority of this film is made up of scenes that establish the boring slasher prey; cut-out nobodies who hate their jobs and are bullied by stock jocks. These phantoms burn screen-time. When it does remember to return to the beasts, the film is slick with an almost impenetrable darkness. Both monsters are shot in tight, geography denying close-up. There's a presumption that they're clashing, but you can't be quite sure.
Experimentation is reserved for this instalment's big idea - a cross-pollination. The dreadfully named Predalien skulks about the place abusing barely established women and leading its pack of lobotomised insects. The Predator DNA splice has created a life-cycle defying super stud who can vomit up embryonic offspring. All the better to cram in as many targets as possible. It's worth noting that said children do not retain any of the Predalien's features, mediocre human alignment wins out there.
AVPR is a depressingly minor addition to either saga. The alien comes off worse, an Old God bio-weapon reduced to a sewer skulking bottom feeder. The Predator is at least allowed a baffling, bureaucratic mindset - dispatched to Earth on a clean-up mission, the hunter liberally applies a blue gunk to any shred of xenomorph evidence, instantly dissolving it. When a community cop stumbles across this cosmic clean-up operation does the Predator attempt to conceal his presence? Nope. He skins and maims the bystander, hanging up what's left for others to find. You get where he's coming from though. You've got to find joy in your work.
Tuesday, 6 October 2009
A global economic meltdown sees a rise in third-party politics in the United States. Spearheading the movement is Lex Luthor, whose empty promises and stern gazing see him installed as Commander-in-chief. Rather than address the modern Hoovervilles that have sprung up all over the country, he quickly assembles a task force of reformed nutters and super-stooges before framing Superman as a Krypto-addled danger. Batman to the rescue! Based on the opening strand of a World's Finest rebrand that ditched adversarial Millerisms and recast the duo as best pals, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is a slight brawler that delights in camaraderie.
Carrying over from their respective individual animation efforts, we have Kevin Conroy as Batman, and Tim Daly as Superman. The pair haven't shared airspace since Toshihiko Masuda's Superman: The Animated Series three parter World's Finest - Daly bowed out after his solo series, replaced by George Newbern for the Justice League run. The actors have an easy chemistry that carries the few non-action sequences. They play their super-identities as disarmed and comfortable in each other's company. As well as Jeph Loeb's plotting, this feature also inherits arc artist Ed McGuinness' visual inflections, albeit simplified for animation. His hero drafts are a curious mix of Masters of the Universe hyper-musculature and big eye manga. This aesthetic gives Public Enemies the overall effect of a child's play acting. Merchandised action figures, of which McGuinness' designs have spawned plenty, tossed together in vague scenarios dictated by whatever toy comes to hand. Heroes fight heroes, bare figures get gimmick upgrades, and a spoiled brat saves the day.
Sunday, 4 October 2009
A motion-sickness baiting gallop, surfaces crawling with prickle-shock detailing, and enemies that crumble into evacuated heaps. This is Doom. Played in such close proximity to Wolfenstein 3D, Doom feels like a show-off remake of id's previous effort. Unlike Wolfenstein's passive architecture, Doom's landscapes are teeming with scaling, clashing textures. To eyes since trained to expect an unobnoxious glide, Doom can be a disorientating, untrackable experience. Rather than hamper Doom, this mismatch heightens the game's core narrative text: invasion. Hell has literally vomited itself over this Martian technopolis, warping it in ways we can't quite understand. Enemy types augment this experience - corrupted reflection Marines that devolve into brutish, animalistic shapes, and abstract utilitarian gore-cobbles. Little wonder it became the blueprint for an emerging genre.
Seventeen years away from cutting edge, Wolfenstein 3D's sprawling mazes of wandering Nazis retain a simplistic feedback charm entirely lacking from the brand it spawned. Booting it up today, the shock of the primitive is mitigated by a concise uniformity. Wolfenstein 3D's levels are easily tracked pastels and primaries, points of interest clearly signposted. The block colours give the game a crisp, readable clarity. A lack of browsable dungeon map is off-set by paper trail corpse retention, an atmospheric feature that has never quite caught on. Wolfenstein 3D's swaggering machismo - difficulty levels include 'Can I play Daddy?' for Easy, and 'I am Death incarnate' for Hard, as well as stages opening with the legend: 'Get psyched!' - frames the chubby foe renders as toys, and Wolfenstein as a grubbily interactive boy's own fiction.
Nine seasons in, and Smallville has barely developed. The show is still far more concerned with weaving dead-end romance elements round a licence frame, than examining pubescent superheroics. Clark Kent still hasn't developed a super-identity. Instead he's a hound dog sketch of Christopher Reeves' bumbling under-ego, a self-designed whelp fumbling with the strays around him. This viewer's priors with Smallville include an unusually patient patronage of Season 1, and occasional views sandwiched between better shows on afternoon E4. Back in its opening run, the show focused on throwing up increasingly convoluted Krypto-mutants to tax Kent's emerging powers. Heavily indebted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, that infant serial flirted with the promise of a full-on abilities reveal, that even to this day, goes unrealised. Transcendence be damned! Smallville instead conspired to sink itself into sludge arcs of souring interpersonal relations, and baffling stupidity.
In Season Nine opener Saviour, Clark still cannot fly. Likely a sop to budgetary concerns, and fears that the teenage target audience will revolt at any practically realised effect not bristling with computer generated after effects. Wires just don't cut it anymore! In-fiction, Terence Stamp, having graduated from Superman 2's Zod to this series' Jor-El phantom voice, persuades his son that the flight lack revolves around sublimated sexual urges. Cosmic misogyny dictates that a desire for female attention drags you down. It's a detail that's given a cack-handed superiority twist by Jor-El's constant needling: there's always an insinuation from Daddy that Clark's dealings with our 'lower' species has narrowed his horizons. Naturally, this all exists as excuse, and isn't explored in any more time than it takes to say.
The rest of the premiere ep sees Clark making brief headway in developing his Kryptonian vitality. He's cut himself off from society, and spends his evenings zipping around in a black trench coat, halting disaster. It's uniquely dispiriting to see an originator character of superhero fiction kitted out in clone ensemble. Kent actor Tom Welling is an ill-fit for neo-goth stylings. He's too squared and browned, the polar opposite to the Wachowski's palid insect agitators. It makes this embryonic Superman a gimmick chasing phony. Perhaps that's too harsh? Maybe the tailoring has less to do with decade late populist urges, and more to do with on-going ownership disputes? There's no excusing the execution though: repeated interludes see Kent grimly manning nose-bleed architecture, framed like Christopher Nolan's Batman. The kids have got their 'dark' Superman.
Capcom's cherubic Atom knock-off Mega Man, recast as a potty mouthed crushinator by Duane and BrandO. A worthy interpretation of Japan's combat Pinocchios; if you mess, they're programmed to ruin your shit. Website here.