Archive for the ‘From the Vaults’ Category

I just wasted an hour and a half of my life watching perhaps the worst film I have seen in a long time, Year One. As a result, I refuse to spend much more time reviewing it!

Knowing very little about this film, beyond the fact that talented comedic actors Michael Cera and Jack Black were the main stars, dressed as cavemen, expectations were limited. I was open to be impressed however…

First mistake.

Second mistake: thinking to myself after 10 minutes, “heyyy, give it a chance”.

What a ripe pair. The fruit looks nice too.

Year One tells the story of bumbling duo Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera), unsuccessful hunter gatherers who fade entirely into the background of their tribe. This dubiously vague set up supposedly acts as a catalyst for what ensues. Within minutes of the opening credits rolling, Zed seeks out and eats ‘the forbidden fruit’ in a moment of biblical iconography that distresses. Please don’t shoe-horn some semblance of religious allegory in here, please Harold Ramis, not after your brilliant work on Groundhog Day!

Good news (not a pun, just a happy coincidence), religion isn’t unnecessarily squeezed into an odd corner of this film to add a ‘’deeper’’ layer of meaning – the whole thing is centred around it! What starts off as an uninspiring, poorly-written situational comedy, progresses (a word I use loosely) into an exploration of Old Testament history. In fact, that’s bollocks. Year One no more explores the themes, traditions, contradictions or religious controversy of the Old Testament than does the Westboro church explore San Francisco during Gay Pride. The biblical references (the Tree of Knowledge, Abraham preparing to sacrifice Isaac, Cain killing Abel) all function as nothing more than a method of establishing setting. Beyond single references to homosexuality, the gender and existence of God, and the nature of slavery, there is nothing intelligent enough to warrant a second thought. The trials our heroes go through only serve to promote the romantic conclusion at the end, an inconsequential conclusion at that.

Jack Black: Loud. Michael Cera: Meek. Typecast typecast typecast.

From the outset we are made unsubtly aware that our protagonists each have a love interest, forming some kind of predictable romantic thread that traverses the film. Yet, with little to no exploration of these desired relationships, the viewer is left with a feeling of sheer emotional detachment rendering them entirely apathetic as to whether the couples get it together by the end or not – though it was always guaranteed!

So that’s the premise slated, now for the acting. Black plays the role with typical gusto, but unfortunately is supplied with a character who is so unbelievably one-dimensional that he’d be far better suited to a three-cell Andy Capp strip than a Hollywood silverscreen comedy. Disastrously, particularly for Michael Cera, the accomplished actors are given roles that play exclusively to their typecasts: Zed is loud, oafish and undeservedly egotistical about his abilities and looks; Oh is a meek, mild-mannered teenager whose social awkwardness becomes a perpetual limitation. Sound like something you’ve seen before? Add to this forgettable cameo appearances from Vinnie Jones, Kyle Gass, Paul Rudd, and Chris Mintz-Plasse and you have a recipe for comedic failure.

Year One is a mixture of predicable slapstick comedy and unimpressive action sequences, all wrapped up in a severely undeveloped biblical theme. Simply put, it’s not clever enough to function as a religious parody, or funny enough to work well as a comedy. Instead of wasting your time with this flick, my suggestion is to watch Monty Python’s Life of Brian, an unparalleled success in both of these areas…

… or read the actual Old Testament. It’s more entertaining than watching Cera and Black deliver a poor script, and there’s no cockney interlude from Vinnie Jones. Win win.

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Developer: City Interactive

Publisher: City Interactive

Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, PC

Price: £17.99 on Play.com

I have been waiting to pick up this title for a while now, excited about the prospect of a game devoted to sniping, something which is disappointingly underrepresented in gaming. Games like Modern Warfare (‘One Shot, One Kill’) and World at War (‘Vendetta’) have successfully demonstrated how heart-racingly exciting sniping can be, especially the latter. Finally, a game supposedly based on the long range shooting strategy. How could it go wrong? Find out below:

Sniper Ghost Warrior is perhaps best described as mediocre; enjoyable but certainly instantly forgettable.

The plot is practically non-existent, jetting you to location after location with little plot continuity or development. Narrative becomes a sacrificial lamb, rushed, unplanned instead promoting the games greatest (perhaps only) feature – the bullet time sniping accompanied by a vicious kill cam. Undoubtedly, this feature provides endless fun:


There is nothing quite as satisfying as popping an enemy in the head, rewarded with more that just some additional score points. A kill cam is the greatest reward a gamer could receive, providing them with a glorious view of their accurate, deadly shot.

Unfortunately, everything goes downhill from there. Sniping is heavily affected by an inventive realistic ballistics system. This ensures that environmental factors affect the trajectory of your bullet, exacerbated when you are standing instead of crouching or proning. It is refreshing that City Interactive have attempted to inject some gaming realism beyond the modern taste for photo realistic graphics. However, disappointingly this system is not without its flaws. On the default difficulty setting the user is provided with an additional red dot on the reticule which directly shows where the bullet will make contact. As a result, the environmental factors are entirely redundant. However, on higher difficulty settings the user is faced with the other extreme; wind conditions are so variable that perfect headshots are nigh on impossible. Moreover, undermining all of this is the bullet time feature which allows the user to slow time temporarily, also highlighting enemies in red, to provide an unmissable shot. I appreciate that the developers have tried to introduce something new, it’s just a shame that it is ill thought and riddled with flaws.

One of the most damaging things from my personal perspective is that there is little effective use of sniping within the game. When I heard that there was a game called ‘Sniper’ my mind automatically raced, thinking of all the potential sniping missions that I will be on; assassinating terrorist leaders, taking out the tyres of an escaping vehicle, destroying lights or alarm systems to provide stealth cover, eliminating enemy guards, the possibilities were endless. This game doesn’t scratch the surface though. I expected Silent Scope as an FPS and what I got was a bad COD rip off.

All together now: 'Boom, headshot!'

Importantly the game is subtitled ‘Ghost Warrior’. Clearly this phrase is completely apt for the traditional strategy of a sniper: covert, anonymous killing. You’ve seen Leon right? This sort of strategy is certainly present here, highlighted by the inclusion of a silenced pistol and throwing knife, but it is often ridiculously juxtaposed with perhaps the worst assault rifle physics that I have ever seen. There are certain sections which force the user to use an assault rifle instead of a sniper. These entirely ruin the fluidity of the game, making stealth impossible and completely undermining the whole premise of the title. It is another example of ill planned development. More damaging are the actual physics of the assault rifles which have the worst recoil I have ever seen in a game (that’s not to say that I have ever felt the recoil of a gun in real life). It’s like Michael J. Fox has suddenly entered the campaign.

The sniping element to the game is further weakened by severely limiting linearity, created by poor map design and plot progression. Sniper Ghost Warrior ensures that the player must follow a very strict path throughout. This is enforced by the use trigger points interspersed throughout each level which must be crossed in order to initiate the next map marker, and an almost Totalitarian reliance on invisible walls. The idea of sniping, of covertly locating the most advantageous sniping spots to obtain the perfect hit, would be much better suited to a sand box title. As it stands, Ghost Warrior completely restricts the user in their attempt to strategise, a hugely disappointing limitation when the landscapes are beautifully rendered, visually vast but with no substance.

Looks exciting right? Well sadly it's not.

Enemy AI is pretty dire in Sniper also. The biggest problem is that there is a shambolic level of inconsistency. At times enemy forces have a perpetual lock on to your position whilst at others you are able to selectively pick off a group of four or five without them batting an eyelid. It’s this inconsistency which makes the game infuriating, particularly when someone kills you with an assault rifle from a range that would require the player to use a sniper to accurately hit them.

I’ll end with a note about the 12 man online multiplayer. Essentially, it’s a bit, well, meh. It’s ok, nothing more, nothing less. It suffers from awful connection problems, worsened by the fact that it backs you out to the main lobby after every single match. There is quite a harsh learning curve when you first play, making it vital to learn the functionality of varying rifles and map designs. It does feel rewarding when you do this though. Unfortunately, the few maps become very repetitive, very quickly and inevitably have more campers than Glastonbury. The fatal flaw of Ghost Warrior’s online multiplayer is that it actually feels quite exciting, highlighting how lackluster the solo campaign is. Although the more exciting features of bullet time and kill cams have been removed from online play – a necessary manoeuvre – you are constantly prisoner to the feelings of both excitement and fear. Adrenaline pumps as you dash from spot to spot, manically scanning the landscape’s foliage in the hope of spotting opposing snipers, before they spot you. This unnerving excitement, experienced in WAW’s ‘Vendetta’ (above), is sadly missing in Ghost Warrior’s campaign. This, accompanied by a discouraging range of other problems renders it, at best, a mediocre FPS.

Sniper Ghost Warrior 2 is due for release on 16th March 2012. Am I excited? Errrrrrr…..

Often I may be commenting on games, films, music or books that are somewhat outdated but somehow I have managed to miss. Hence ‘From the Vaults’… Onward!

Developer: Chair Entertainment, Epic Games

Producer: Microsoft Game Studios

Platforms: Xbox Arcade (reviewed), PC

Price: 1200 points (purchased for 600 during sale)

As Muse so eloquently put it, “Our time is running out”, and boy they weren’t wrong! As the years roll by it seems harder and harder to devote any real time to gaming. Jobs, relationships, doing your own washing, it all ensures that daily there is less and less time to sit down and session one of your favourite games. I remember fondly the days of my youth, sessioning Ocarina of Time after I returned home from school, not a care in the world. Now you’re lucky to squeeze in a few hours after a long day at work, and that’s if you find the energy from somewhere to avoid monging out in front of Dave. What was it Peter Parker used to say? ‘With great age comes great responsibility’, or something like that….

Beyond the diminishing time frame that increases as each year rolls by, the gaming industry itself continually makes it harder to divide your time. Games are released in increasing number, with bounding rapidity on multiple formats. Think about it, how many top quality titles have there been released within the last month and continuing into the next few? Fifa 12, Battlefield 3, Arkham Asylum, Modern Warfare 3. And that’s on top of all the games you have undoubtedly mounted up on your shelves, unfinished or even unopened! As games get more and more replayable, attempting to collect all those bloody achievements or trophies, with the ever-increasing amount of DLC and the days spent levelling up with online multiplayer, is it any wonder that many people immediately avoid the prospect of purchasing arcade or indie titles. There’s just not enough hours in the day!

However, conversely, an unavoidably strict daily schedule is the very reason why arcade titles catch my eye. Despite my fervent desire to complete the single player campaigns of all the games I own, often I find myself struggling to immerse myself in a full title. Instead, it’s much easier to get involved with a game you know is going to have much smaller scope and therefore less play time. This, accompanied by a half-price sale offer, made it impossible not to add an additional game to my collection. In this instance, Epic Games Shadow Complex.

We all know that Epic are predominantly known for their renowned third-person sci-fi shooter series (say that three times in quick succession!), Gears of War. Epic by name, epic by nature. Clearly, they have set themselves an impressive precedent, but can they live up to this with their ongoing releases? Let’s explore….

Jason...... Bourne perhaps?

Importantly, Shadow Complex is entirely different to their Gears of War trilogy. It’s a 2D shooter (well seemingly) in which you play a single character, Jason, who’s primary objective is to rescue his female companion Claire. One day whilst travelling along some kind of nature walk, Claire stumbles upon a hidden subterranean base…. as you do. She is subsequently captured as a spy and imprisoned deep within the base’s walls. That’ll teach her for not using a Natural Trust walkway; textbook error! As the eponymous male hero, your job is of course to locate and rescue the clumsy damsel in distress, not easy with a smorgasbord of minions seeking out new intruder (that’s you!) Yet, soon your mission takes on a much more global significance as Claire’s captors are discovered to be hatching a plan to invade San Francisco. Roll up Jason, the classic hero archetype with a classic hero name (Argonauts/Power Rangers) as he somewhat frivolously decides to take on the whole operation. What a guy, what a guy.

Foam bridge it up!

Despite the game’s name, the plot really is that simple. It is never really explored much beyond this fairly superficial level which, arguably, is a constraint of the game being an arcade title. Alternatively though, when you look at Gears it can be observed that narrative complexity is not really Epic’s forte. The plot is certainly secondary to the gameplay in Gears of War, which is clearly mirrored in Shadow Complex. In this case though it does not appear to leave any lasting damage. The game is so detailed and there is so much to remember in the way of back-tracking that it is beneficial to coast through a very straightforward plot, but more on this later.

The introduction to Shadow Complex is very successful. Where many games supply you solely with an opening FMV explaining what kinda shit is going down (bear in mind this does happen after the introduction here though), SC provides the gamer with a minute-long playable section. Suddenly, the game casts you into the deep-end with no real explanation of the control system or your abilities, leaving you to fend for yourself by spamming away optimistically. Although brief, the player is given a moreish insight into the potential of the games combat system and its interesting 3D perspective.

A note on this; although the game is predominantly a 2D scrolling shooter (there are a few sections where the use of a turret gun enables a first-person perspective), it is accompanied by an impressive 3D background. This interesting perspective initially seems a little odd, perhaps as a result of it feeling a little out of the ordinary. This soon subsides though as the user witnesses how successfully it functions. The background is interactive, with enemies located on multiple planes of vision creating a variety of combative action. The game automatically changes your line of fire so that you are able to effectively shoot enemies in both the back and foreground. These changes are executed timely and accurately, key for maintaining the fluidity of the game.

Fuck, shit, arse, crap. Sorry, I've got turrets.

In essence, the gameplay is extremely similar to the original 2D Metroid series. The protagonist must navigate a vast 2D world, destroying waves of enemies they encounter in each area whilst seeking their updated objectives. Like Metroid, the game is separated into very distinct sections, separated by sporadic save points strategically placed around the map. Initially you begin with a limited armoury and moves list, essentially just jumping, climbing, shooting and melee (allowing for a stealth strategy to be deployed as with many shooters on the market these days… or you can just shoot the shit out of everything in sight!) This simple core gameplay deepens as you progress, obtaining new weapons and abilities that increase the creative potential of combat and exploration; a particular favourite is the Foam Gun, try attaching a grenade to it! Further Metroid influence can be seen in the very deliberate back-tracking element to the game, forcing the player to re-examine areas previously explored with their new weapons or abilities to progress with the main story or to locate the many hidden items dotted around the map. Particular areas are inaccessible until you locate alternative weapons – shining your torch on blockades reveals a specific colour that can be destroyed with varying projectiles (much like Metroid), for example, red sections require missiles – ensuring that game progression is somewhat linear whilst allowing for significant personal exploration.

For this back-tracking element to function effectively it is vital that the game has a detailed but clear map, which it does and is undoubtedly inspired by Metroid. See for yourself:

Shadow Complex - Metroid: Notice much difference? No.

Now, although the map looks vast, perhaps scaring you a little about the explorative element, it also offers some vital help with back-tracking. Doors that require particular unlocks to open them are marked in their specific colours on the map. However, there are numerous vents and windows that can be accessed which are not marked, so better get that memory working! Where’s Dr Kawashima when you need him? Additionally, all hidden items are marked on the map as a question mark whenever the user enters the room in which they are located. This ensures that items are rarely missed, providing a useful guide for all you completionists out there. Although this sounds like it’s too much support, almost cheating, your memory and spatial awareness are still very much engaged as many items are only accessible later in the game, requiring you to remember which ones need which ability, and in what very specific ways.

For a thorough review, it is important to mention replayability, which this game certainly has. With achievements demanding at least a second playthrough, back-tracking to collect every item and three sets of challenge packs, you will certainly play Shadow Complex beyond that initial run. The latter are interesting hologram-style challenges which will aid in you in learning particular techniques that will prove to be vital in your quest; with rankings that can be compared on Live with friends and globally there are competitive layers to this gaming onion.

Melee attacks are usual for keeping covert.

The only criticism I have found of Shadow Complex, and perhaps it’s one that many people would find particularly damaging, is that it is too similar to Metroid to be a simple homage, or influenced by it. With a map that absolutely resembles that of the classic Nintendo title and very similar gameplay and game progression, especially in the method of gaining access to doors, you cannot help but feel that it is somewhat a rip-off. But fuck it, I LOVE METROID! Ok, so it is disappointingly unoriginal. Worse still, there is no way that the developers could have ever got away without the comparison being made and I’m sure they were fully aware of that fact but happily ignored it.  There is such a fine line between being influenced by something and completely stealing the idea, and unfortunately Shadow Complex appears to fall in the second camp. However, it must be said that the inventive change of perspective effectively enhances the gameplay of this title, creating a vital distance between the two franchises. Despite the seemingly shameless gaming theft, Shadow Complex is a bug-free pleasure to play from start to finish and one not to be missed.

So what have we learnt? Despite the torrent of full-release titles due for release towards the end of this year, arcade games cannot and must not be avoided. Sure there is almost certainly a whole heap of awful arcade and indie titles out there, but make sure that you do your research first!

Oh and don’t hike anywhere that isn’t registered by the Natural Trust, you never know who you might meet.