My problem with Shutter Island…

August 26, 2010 § Leave a comment

… is best explained with this quote from a review of another movie:

First it’s hard to connect with a movie when it tries so hard to ‘fool’ you or to keep you guessing; is this a dream, is it not, is it a dream within a dream? Who cares? Just commit to something and get on with it.

That said, I guess my issue is more to do with the film presenting the blindingly obvious twist (it’s all in his head) without actually saying it, and then proceeding to lead the audience down the garden path for the rest of the film until it says “STOP! Now, here’s the real answer.”

Here’s the kicker, though: the above quote is from a review of Inception by Michelle Alexandria, of Eclipse Magazine. And yet, I really loved Inception; couldn’t shut up about it, in fact. So I don’t know why I feel that the criticism applies so strongly here and not there, when they are quite similar movies – both dealing with shifting and unreliable realities, from the perspectives of troubled and traumatised narrators, and both coincidentally starring DiCaprio in the leading role. I really need to see Inception again, just to see if it holds up a second time round, and maybe so I can figure this paradox out.

WE NEED TO GO DEEPER!

Also, I couldn’t resist – from the same review:

The last 30 minutes was a complete mess, featuring three or four dreams all happening at once. I did think Call of Duty: Modern Warfare would make a pretty cool movie since one of the dreams was a blatant rip off of the game. I kept thinking, man I wish I was home playing some Spec Ops and not stuck here watching this movie. [My bold – ed.]

I’m glad I wasn’t the only person thinking this. Further, I think she’s right: the third layer (or as I like to call it, “The Snow Level”) is where I got bored, where it suddenly turns into a mindless action scene from a James Bond movie that drags on, and on, and on, and on, and– well, you get the gist.

As I said, I loved Inception, but I also think this review raises some interesting criticisms of the film.

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The summer drought; finally my final impressions on Final Fantasy XIII; and so-called misogyny and misandry

June 6, 2010 § Leave a comment

Well, the summer drought is well and truly here. Just looking at the GiantBomb release schedule for the UK, there looks to be very little in the way of major releases coming out in the next month or so. Got to say, it’s kind-of welcome, since I’ve quite a few games on my shelf I’ve been meaning to play more of. Bayonetta, in particular, is one regret of mine, and its presence on the “To do” pile is a symbol of great personal shame.

I’ve just managed to finish Final Fantasy XIII, and, I’ve got to tell ya, reviewing that game would be an absolute nightmare. Fortunately, someone’s done my job for me. That man is Chris Kohler from Game|Life, Wired’s online gaming publication, and you can read his review here. It’s definitely a weird one, FF XIII. In some areas it makes some rather brave steps forward, but they feel misjudged, yet it’s also a game trapped by its heritage and its conventions; and, not unlike the recent Alan Wake, it also looks like a game that started out as very ambitious in the original design but was then scaled back to fit time and financial constraints. So, a bit of a mixed bag, then.

From the gaming blogosphere, there have been two instances of controversy: one from Hoyden about Town, where they accuse the creators of the Xbox LIVE edutainment title Privates of misogyny; the second, a reaction against the satirical Hey Baby FPS game, in which you, playing as a woman, gun down dozens of men who are catcalling, harassing and chasing you through the streets of some modern day metropolis.

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Death of a Community

October 24, 2009 § 1 Comment

Last weekend Robert Bowling, Creative Strategist for Infinity Ward, casually dropped a large, megaton-sized bombshell on the PC gaming community: Modern Warfare 2 – sequel to 2007’s critically acclaimed, best-selling hit – won’t have dedicated servers or mod support built-in.

Since then, e-petitions have been signed, journalists have tweeted, and other industry figures have weighed in. Public opinion seems to be split into two camps: most are outraged; others are nonplussed. Meanwhile, Bowling has attempted to calm the waves of discontent through a blog post, defending Infinity Ward’s decision and reassuring the PC community that this is, in fact, a step forward.

Tom Bramwell, editor of Eurogamer.net, had this to say in response:

IW man’s blog about why IWNet is a good thing suggests he doesn’t understand why the concept so upset people in the first place.

And this is the point. The heart of the issue doesn’t lie in a list of pros and cons; it lies in a philosophy – a set of principles that have been at the core of the PC gaming experience for as long as it’s been alive.

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XBox 'Live Your Moment' TV Advert

July 11, 2009 § Leave a comment

While playing 1 vs. 100 you will often be bombarded with the same couple of placeholder Microsoft Xbox ads that are currently doing the rounds. Now, ever since I’ve seen these ads on television, I’ve found them creepy and generally uncomfortable to watch. I never really pinned it down before, but now I know why I find the adverts so distasteful: they remind me of this and this (skip to 3:31 to see what I mean).

So, when watching these ads I am either reminded of someone have a stroke or being brainwashed by Jim Carrey; neither of those two associations are that positive, in my eyes. But, as I’m sure it will be for everyone else, it’s a subjective reaction, based on my own set of recollections and experiences. Personally, I think those ads are damn freaky, but I’d be interested to know what other people think.

Oh, and also: I’d forgotten how many great lines there are in Batman Forever. The film is kind of a joke and can now be seen to mark the beginning of the end for the franchise (until Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan managed to revive it, that is) but Jim Carrey is just awesome in the film, as is Tommy Lee Jones. It’s so goddamn hammy but I love it. And Nicole Kidman is so hot in it. And Drew Barrymore plays one of Two-Face’s groupies.

Fan-tastic. 😀

'Gears of War 2': My Final Thoughts (and on Games Criticism in general)

May 21, 2009 § 1 Comment

If I had reviewed Gears of War 2 halfway through the game’s solo campaign, I might have easily given it a mark of three — maybe four — out of five. I’ve just finished the campaign mode — some of it offline, some of it online — and have had a chance to sample the various multiplayer modes to a reasonable degree. As it stands now, I’m not sure I could give it any less than five. I’m trying to work out exactly where the gameplay turned into fun from tedious, but if I had to put my finger on it, it would have to be when the game became more difficult, when it started throwing more enemies at you harder, faster. I think that maybe at the beginning the pacing was too slow; perhaps that was it. Whatever it was, I come from finishing the game with a desire to play it again, it was so enjoyable. (I may even pick up the original Gears of War if I can find it cheap enough.) There are few games which have true replay value, so this represents to me a hallmark of undeniable quality.

My point is that this, again, shows up that you can’t review games until they’re finished — period. Yes, sometimes there are some absolutely dire games that never get good, no matter how far you play through them. But it is often that games straddle a murky area between average, good and outstanding, and which need a thorough playthrough in order for a reviewer to work out whereabouts, exactly, they stand. You see, that grey area (as you probably can guess by the name) is pretty vague, and what at first can appear as average can boost itself to good, even great, depending on what happens further down the line. Although I understand you can’t put lipstick on a pig (thank you, Barack Obama) I would still feel very uneasy about giving a review of a game I had not completed — or, at least, not got most of the way there to completion. To me it’s like walking out of a film before it’s finished: no film reviewer can do that, write a review and have it taken seriously; why should a video game reviewer be able to get away with it?

Joystiq have recently introduced a feature called JoystiQuitter. Now, I completely understand the sentiment behind this feature and the reasons behind its creation. Further, they don’t call it a games review and say outright that they never finished the game. I, myself, posted a quasi-review on Splinter Cell: Double Agent, which I also never finished and posted this fact outright in the review itself. There is nothing wrong with this kind of writing – after all, life’s too short to be playing awful, awful games to completion, just ’cause. And yet I still feel uneasy. Why? Honestly, I think it has the potential to set a bad precedent in games journalism, encouraging a kind of laziness on behalf of the reviewer. The JoystiQuitter feature itself is harmless, but my worry is that there may be some games which are unfairly overlooked because of this kind of reviewing.

Maybe if a game doesn’t grab you within a few hours then that’s the developer’s problem for not making a compelling game, but maybe it’s the reviewer’s problem for not persevering? Whether some people like it or not, reviews are opinions — grounded in certain facts, sure, but opinions, nonetheless. Maybe the reviewer was having an off day, was in a bad mood, whatever; parallel to that, maybe they were in a good mood, a forgiving mood. A reviewer could have a crappy day and write off a game without giving it its fair share of the benefit of the doubt. And this is not just a case of some reviewers being “bad” and others being “good”. Everyone can have a bad day; it happens to the best of us.

I stand by the opinion that while you can get an initial impression of a game in a couple of hours session, it is only with a thorough playthrough that you can get a reliable indication of that game’s quality. While there is a place for this type of “reviewing”, it should never become par for the course; it can never and should never be accepted as a true and complete method for reviewing a video game.

(733 words.)

This Week’s Film/Games Reviews — 18/05/09

May 20, 2009 § Leave a comment

This week I should have a review up on Shane Meadow’s 2008 film, Somers Town.  Also in the next week or so will be my review for Bionic Commando: Rearmed, available for both XBLA and PSN.

I recently bought Rearmed over XBLA after having been won over by the trial version (which is simply one of the funniest, most charming things I’ve played — give it a try if you haven’t already), and it got me thinking: demos are an interesting thing, aren’t they? They’re great for consumers — as I’ve usually never been more certain over whether I’m going to buy a game after having played a demo — but they’re a mixed blessing for developers. A bad demo, unrepresentative of the quality of the full version, can harm the reputation of game via word-of-mouth before it’s even released. It’s a strange irony that the new Bionic Commando, soon to be released in Europe, has suffered this fate — especially when considering how good the trial version of Rearmed was.

Be better than free, proclaims David Perry — legendary game developer, prolific bullshitter

May 12, 2009 § Leave a comment

This was picked up by a handful of sites I regularly visit, including Edge and Joystiq. It’s basically a redirect to a blog post made by Perry, which outlines some of his impressions over the fairly recent Pirate Bay judgment. He says some other stuff, but this is what sticks out, to me:

The REAL way to beat piracy is to focus on “convenience”, “quality”, “access”. I once heard a speech about the “right price” for music. That’s a price where you’d rather pay for the quality, proper meta-tags, “The Real Thing” etc. That’s nearly what iTunes offers, but it’s too expensive (as the speaker said after his analysis), and so the first company to actually work out that “not worth piracy” price, will suddenly make piracy “inconvenient”. You don’t have to agree, but it’s an interesting idea.

Like David Jaffe – another ‘Dave’ – David Perry is not afraid of saying whatever comes into his head at any given time, often making him look a bit of a jackass. The amount of rubbish this guy comes out with… You really just can’t take much of what he says seriously anymore. It’s why I was so surprised when I read this, as it is probably single-most important thing I’ve heard regarding the problem of piracy and how it should be dealt.

Now, there will always be some people who will try and get stuff for free, no matter what. However, there is another element to piracy, and that is that it frequently it offers the consumer a service which doesn’t exist under legal means. Mark Kermode talks about this in his film vblog, and the same applies with video games. But I can think of another example, specific to video games. There is a lot of talk about piracy on the PSP — the use of emulators to play ROMs of old 16-bit classics, PlayStation games etc. Instead of companies asking the question “What can we do to stop this?” maybe they should be asking themselves “How do we get in on this?” instead? There is obviously a demand for these games and it is because companies have failed to fill this gap that pirates have swooped in. Frequently, it’s not a case of people wanting to screw record companies, or games developers or publishers, but to have a product, have it NOW and in this or that format. It’s the companies’ failure for not providing this service, and if they were smart they would realise how much money is there and step up a bit.

And Perry’s comment about this kind of future-offering not being too expensive is also, absolutely, on-the-money. For example, if we look at what Sega’s served up with the release of some classic Mega Drive games on XBLA, we have Sonic 1 and 2, and Streets of Rage 2, all being offered individually for 400 MSP or £3.40. Consider that you can buy a retail packaged version of all of those games, plus 37 more, on the Xbox 360 for around £20 (making it around 50p per game), individually pricing games as high as £3.40 is absurd. Gunstar Heroes is coming out soon on XBLA, and I love that game to death, but I’m not going to pay that amount of money for it.

But this theory doesn’t just apply to film and video games; it applies to television, too. Why do people download their favourite television series instead of waiting for the box-set to come out or paying for an expensive Sky package? The answer’s in the question. Some people don’t want 100 channels of crap. They just want that TV show, they want it now and they want it cheap. While there are some people are will watch a TV show over again after a first viewing, I, myself, find that after having seen an episode of Lost or House, rarely have the inclination to revisit it. Why isn’t there a online digital rental service for the most popular TV shows, one which allows you to suscribe to a season or rent out individual episodes for a cheaper cost than buying them?

Currently, iTunes offers a full episode of The Wire for purchase at £1.89; why not offer a cheaper service which gives people access to the latest episode of their favourite TV show for the price of something around 99p, but with the caveat of only being able to watch it once or within a time limit before the episode can no longer be viewed? If such a service exists, I don’t know of it. And either that means that a) such a service doesn’t exist; or b) they haven’t marketed it well enough. Both are the problem of an industry and of businesses which, time-and-again, fail to keep up with the demands of the consumer.

So, I suppose this is my final message: stop punishing the consumer for your company’s failure to fill a gap in the market; stop your whining, and start doing something about it!

(823 words.)

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