Sunday, 8 April 2012

REVIEW: The Darkness 2

Jackie is back and his battle with the darkness is renewed as he faces a new enemy ...

The Darkness was one of the first titles I played on PS3 and enjoyed it thoroughly. Mainly the idea of going around ripping people apart with evil tentacle-like arms and exacting your revenge was a tempting experience. So with arms open, it was time to embrace The Darkness again but this time, a lot more shooting at the same time as ripping people apart.

As far as the narrative is concerned, Jackie has pushed The Darkness deep inside him and become the head of the mafia. However, a group called The Brotherhood are out to suck The Darkness from Jackie and use it themselves. The Darkness wants to keep within Jackie and admits it is holding his old lover's soul inside it, therefore using it as blackmail to control him. Jackie uses The Darkness and goes on a killing rampage. The story, and visuals, are straight out of a comic book and works on a completely ridiculous yet enjoyable level.

What I enjoy most is the classic redemption, Jackie as a character works because he's the classic anti-hero. His little soliloquies during loading screens give an insight into his persona that's better than a usual 'Loading....' screen. The other characters are quite boring and classic archetypes. However, his relationships with these characters are mirrored in the asylum scenes that add an intriguing dimension to the game.

Narratively, it holds up, even when getting ridiculous it's self-aware and doesn't apologise for being a classic, fun shooter. The gameplay is smooth and varied enough to keep your interest throughout and it gets increasingly tougher the more you move on. The tactical part of shooting out lights and having to take out enemies at the same time and in different order means that you are constantly on edge and never comfortable, which makes for a more exciting experience.

Overall, the game is a bit of fun that is a lot better than a lot of fodder out there, and although isn't anything particularly new or different, it knows what players wants and plays up to it. It doesn't try to do something it knows it can't and keeps it simple, which is definitely best for a game like this. The story might be cheesy and a bit stupid, but is definitely worth spending some time on.

 Rating: 7/10

REVIEW: The Hunger Games

One of cinema's most profitable successes already, this futuristic reality TV show fight-to-the-death proves kids can watch mature content, and enjoy it.

So if you were thinking this is like The Running Man crossed with Battle Royale with a pinch of Big Brother, you'd be completely correct. Though in my mind, that's a good thing. I love films like this, a simple idea that's not too far from our own love of reality TV and boiled down to the base need of survival.

The Hunger Games is set in a future that has clearly come out of a 'rebellion' and to prove that the rebels are still submissive, they have to give up a 'tribute' which is a child between 12 and 18 as part of TV show The Hunger Games. A show where there can be only one winner, and you must kill everyone else. Along the way, you are supposed to impress 'sponsors' who pay to give you stuff while you're in there and generally speaking, the producers will do what they can to make it interesting. We follow Katniss, who is a bit of a tomboy and a good hunter, her male counterpart is Peeta who is a bit pathetic and fancies Katniss. With a little help from Woody Harrelson as their mentor, they enter the games and try to survive.

The cast and general acting in the film (apart from some other contestants) was impressive and Jennifer Lawrence really does hold the film together with her wide-eyed innocence yet tough demeanour and martyrdom sensibility. I loved the art direction, the capital they travel to is a wondrous spectacle that is full of imagination, the fashion and money that clearly floats about screams sheer consumerism much like the capital of any country. The contest itself is sometimes nail-biting and you have really built up a connection with Katniss to care about her - something pivotal to the film and it's success. It's mature themes are also commendable - I've always stated that kids films need to be darker, that this is what we remember as adults and that children are smarter than we think they are. They cannot be spoon fed issues and information, they enjoy learning it for themselves and like any well-rounded adult mind, they don't want everything to be smelling of roses - it's unhealthy. They want danger, fear, and a safe embrace of the dark and though this film isn't exactly that, it's a step in the right direction.

There are a few points which do let it down. Namely, there is a lot of time spent before the games begin. I'm all for context and building up tension but I felt that a whole film had gone by and we've not even started the most interesting bit. There are some quite cheesy scenes about hope, sacrifice, love etc. that, for a kids film, is acceptable, but also makes it slightly tedious.

Some parts also don't make sense, such as when she is waiting up a tree and they refuse to try and get her until she comes down, when the dogs just appear - is this virtual reality? Clearly not. So what happened there? Why are they aiming fire at her? Surely it's better if she stays alive to fight? Also there's not much post-games and I thought this would be quite important. I understand that it's the first book of a series but, it could have had a better ending. Her male counterpart Peeta was also so whiny and pathetic that the whole time I wanted him to hurry up and die. The sponsors bit also was a bit lost on me, and it didn't make much of an impression. However, my main grievance is that this should have been at least a 15. The lack of gore, violence and blood makes it feel strange and fake. If someone was gutted by a sword, there would be blood, but there's hardly anything on screen. Not great for a fight to the death, so the whole time I felt on edge with this blood lust that was never satisfied. It doesn't feel right and is like when kids dress up as fantasy characters and pretend to fight in the woods - it therefore lacks that bite that it so needed and becomes a bunch of kids faffing about. A bit of a shame.

Overall, it was enjoyable and fun and great for kids, but I'd prefer to watch Battle Royale.

Rating: 6/10

REVIEW: Alan Wake - American Nightmare

Alan’s back … but can he a-Wake from this American Nightmare?

Readers of this blog will understand I have a lot of time for Alan Wake, a flawed yet engrossing game with an existential crisis of a storyline that will make your brain bleed in its over the top complexity. American Nightmare tries it’s best to sum up what has happened, so that it may be possible for gamers who haven’t played previous Wake titles to drop in. However, it just becomes a stark reminder of how convoluted the whole story was anyway. The matter of fact is that I like waving my torch around and shooting things in the dark. Well, there’s a whole lot of that in this stand-alone title.

Microsoft Studios have tried to up the ante a bit by making this title more action based and less ‘survival’ than its predecessors. Wake has a whole host of weaponry and ammo and batteries are plentiful, making you a lot less aware of saving supplies and concentrating more on the killing. Where it would have been an option to flee at some point in Alan Wake, this American Nightmare chapter makes it obvious they want you to go in guns blazing – and I’m happy to oblige.

Alongside this there are new monsters, characters and a bit more about Mr. Scratch meaning the story has clearly progressed since Wake disappeared. What seems to have happened is he is caught in a time loop which is a good and a bad thing. It's good because I like Groundhog Day, but it does mean you sometimes watch cut sequences three to four times, that you get used to the locations and find yourself doing the same thing repeatedly. The storywriters try to manage it so it speeds up each time, but essentially when you find yourself repeating what you’ve already done twice, on purpose, it becomes annoying. Another factor is I didn’t get close to dying once, I whizzed through the entire game in about 4 hours (which is quite healthy for a downloadable game), but overall I enjoyed this a lot.

The action has picked up a bit, and whether this will translate into Alan Wake 2 remains to be seen, but it’s a nice stepping stone to get there and even though the story is as ridiculous as ever, it’s still an enjoyable experience. The repetition really did let it down, whether it mattered to the story or not, perhaps some liked this? But for me, it was slightly lazy.

Rating: 6/10