Monday, December 31, 2012

You're Doing It Wrong - Need For Speed: Most Wanted

I'm back and full of opinions. Kyle's officially handed this column off to me and I'm very excited to be contributing to this blog, blah blah, whatever, let's get on with the lynching.

To be honest, this one is kind of different. I don't hate Most Wanted, I actually quite enjoy it. However, that doesn't mean it's without its strange design choices. This is also different because Most Wanted isn't a sequel, it's a reboot. Most Wanted is also made by an entirely different studio than the original. So lets talk about how Criterion fucked up.

First, the basics. Most Wanted is an open world racing game where you compete in a variety of different race types to gain points so you can take on the Most Wanted, the Best of the Best, and claim the title of best racer. Pretty simple stuff, right? In the original, you played a nameless driver from a distant city, who has his car sabotaged and taken from him but some upstart and ends up locked in jail. After your release, you have to start from scratch and you are gunning to bring down this bastard. The story is told in these real coll Full Motion Videos that blend live actors in with in-game graphics and CG. It's wonderfully over the top and gives each driver just enough character that you really want to ruin these guys days. There's some intrigue to your character as well, but that's better not spoiled. In the remake/reboot, you play as...someone, who's come from...somewhere, and you race Honestly, there's no story at all. You're just dumped into the world and told to collect cars. You race against the Most Wanted to claim their cars, but they are just cars, you're not racing against actual racers. You can also find cars out in the world to claim. There are no cutscenes, no characters and no story. Just gameplay. Which is fine, I guess, I mean, it's a video game, right? But without at least some hint of story, you have no driving motivation. What is my motivation for wanting these cars? Sure, some of them look nice and drive nice, but when you have Ashton Martin Vanquish's or Bugatti Veyron's just out in the world for your taking, it becomes lacklustre and you lose motivation fast.

So let's talk gameplay, then, seeing as there is little else to talk about. Both games play very much the same. You race in a variety of events to unlock the ability to race the Most Wanted, rinse and repeat. Where things vary is in how you unlock the Most Wanted. In the original, you had a set amount of races and goals to complete, as well as "heat" (which consists of smashing cop cars and leading them on merry pursuits) to gain, and then the race unlocked. This is where the reboot shines. Everything you do nets you "Race Points". Racing, driving on the wrong side of the road, crashing, getting busted, getting in chases, upgrading your gear, just playing the game nets you RP. Get enough RP, and you can challenge a Most Wanted car. Big plus. The reboot also does away with the economy. In the original, you had to make money. You then used that money to buy cars, parts and visual mods. In the reboot, you unlock upgrades by racing, and the only customisation is a random colour swap every time you drive through the Body Shops scattered around the world. This doesn't really work. Firstly, it's really strange that there is no extensive customisation. In the first you could do elaborate paint jobs, right down to your rims and window tint. You could make the craziest looking, original cars that you wanted. In this one, what you see is what you get, basically. This is especially disappointing with the game's greater focus on Multiplayer, robbing you of the opportunity to show off your crazy designs to all your friends. Secondly, upgrading your car becomes a grind. You just compete in the same races over and over to unlock the good stuff. And you can't get the stuff you want until you unlock the bare basics that you need, like nitrous. However, the biggest crime on the upgrade front is that the Most Wanted cars don't come with any pre-installed or special upgrades. In the original, if you won the Most Wanted car, you wont hat exact car. They often came tricked out with special upgrades, or at least the best of the basics. It gave you a reason to gun for them. In the reboot, you basically just unlock that model and have to upgrade it yourself. I have three other complaints. First, the game is really difficult right from the get go. The original suffered the opposite problem of being way to easy at the start, then randomly spiking about a third of the way through. I'm not hugely bothered by the difficulty, but because there's no real sense of progression you never really feel you're getting better. Also a lot of the races seem really scripted. There were a lot of times I was way in front, and then suddenly almost get pipped right before the line. It takes away a lot of race satisfaction when it constantly feels like you are only winning by chance. Secondly, the crash cams are really annoying. You crash a lot in this game, and every time control is ripped away from you and you have to watch a sometimes 30 second long cutscene of you wiping out. This not only kills the pacing in the races, but takes away one of the best parts of the original - smashing the crap out of your opponents, bouncing around corners off their sides, plowing into cops and generally causing wanton destruction, etc etc. Also, the checkpoints it drops you back at are random and arbitrary. its as liable to drop you ten seconds back as it is exactly where you wiped out. It's amusing sometimes to seeing yourself go spinning off cliffs, but almost always it's just annoying. Finally, the cop chases are a lot harder and long winded than they need to be. In the original, the cops were very fun to get into chases with, and ferocious, but you also had a lot of tools at your disposal to lose them. You could crash into the environment to drop things on their heads, hide in buildings or just straight up smash them up. In the reboot, you just have to outrun them. That's it. On the low levels, this is pretty easy, but once you're past about level 3, it's basically impossible. Not only are the cops literally everywhere, but if you somehow manage to lose them, you still have to wait for the levels to slowly tick down  it take about 20-30 seconds per level, and the cops are still hunting you the whole time. if you're lucky, you'll lose them near a Body Shop and use it to quickly wipe off a level, but that very rarely happens. It's a real shame that they didn't take advantage of the Frostbite 2 engines destruction capabilities for some cool environmental take-downs.

So that's gameplay, what about visuals? Well, the original still looks real good, and runs great, but the reboot definitely outshines it. Environments look great, the models are fantastic and the lighting is brilliant. However, the city is a lot smaller and it suffers the usual Frostbite problems of constant lensflare, dirt and other shit in your face all the time, which can really fuck you up in races where the blinding speed makes it hard enough to see the track. Which reminds me, the track designs are a lot more unpredictable this time around. I'd say they are better and a lot more interesting visual, but its rare you'll get all the way around your first time. Later tracks drop severe turns on you completely unpredictably, or send you over blind hills or jumps. The interface is worse this time. In the first, you could access a few things quickly out in the field, but it was usually easier just to jump straight to the menu and do it from there. In the reboot, everything is done through the ironically named "EasyDrive". This menu does not pause the game, which means you basically have to be at a full stop to use it. Seriously, just try using it at speed and see how that gets you. There's also basically no quick travel. In the original, you could jump straight to the race event and start it if you wanted, or drive to it. In the reboot, you just gotta drive to it. And some of them can be up to 12kms away. You can sort of jump around by using different car spawn points and hoping they are close, but its often quicker and easier just to drive straight to it. A small inconvenience, maybe, but in a game where you're driving all the time, it just feels like padding.

And that's about all I got to say. These really aren't review articles. I'm only really interested in the changes from the original that the sequels fuck up. It's 'You're Doing It Wrong', not 'You're Doing It Right'. I'm sure Kyle will do a full review at some stage, maybe crack out his Angry Nerd style videos he's been saving for Hitman: Absolution. Yeah, I'm not even going touch that one, that's all his. Anyway, like I said, I enjoy Most Wanted, but definitely prefer the original. As a racing game, the reboot is a lot better than a lot of the competition, but placed against the original it falls short in a lot of baffling ways whilst improving very little. You may be Doing It wrong, Criterion, but at least you're not Squeenix. Shudder.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Women of Heavenly Sword

Heavenly Sword is one of the most tragically underrated games on the PS3. It received a lot of acclaim from the critics, but was often accused of spectacle over substance, and came out in the early days of the system where everyone was still knocking around the gimmicks of the PS3 Sixaxis controls. It is not a perfect game, it suffers from uninteresting boss fights, tacked on motion controls (which are mostly redeemed by the fact that you can turn them off) and frustrating QTEs and puzzle sections. Still, it offers a deep and challenging combat system, tight responsive controls and stunning visuals, rivalling most games being released 5 years later. On top of all that, you have an amazing story, directed by Gollum himself, Andy Serkis. Serkis also provides the mocap and voice performance for the lead villain, Bohan, stealing every single scene he is in. However, I'm not here to talk about the game. It's great, underrated and one of the better action games on the system. I'm not here to talk about Serkis' amazing performance/direction either. I'm here to talk about the three women of Heavenly Sword.

(Spoilers to follow, read at your own risk)

I'm going to start with the villain, Whiptail. Whiptail was a woman once, but has somehow ended up a part eel/part snake/whip-wielding...thing. She is devoted to her master, King Bohan and it is insinuated that he somehow turned her into what she is now. Whiptail is fuelled by sex and anger and views our heroine as a potential ally. Throughout her battle, she attempts to lure Nariko in with promises of a life of luxury in servitude. Ultimately, Nariko weakens her by praying on her relationship with Bohan. While she is hardly the greatest written character, she provides a surprisingly deep and haunting villain.She has become a victim of her love, truly becoming a worthless monster in his eyes. Had she not fallen so hard, perhaps she would have been on the side of good. But the heart is blinding and love ultimately is the downfall of Whiptail, as she dies at the hands of her love. True tragedy.

The second playable character is a young girl called Kai. Little is known of Kai at the start of the game, we are introduced to her as a strange, vague child, with a morbid fascination in playing "twing, twang" (read: shooting bad guys with her high powered crossbow). It is later revealed her whole clan was slaughtered in front of her by the psychopathic General Fox, and she herself may have been tortured, or worse. Nariko finds her some time later and the two bond as the only women in an all my clan. They bond over their grief and loneliness, Nariko at the loss of her mother and alienation by the clan, and Kai over the loss of her whole clan. Kai desperately clings to her childish innocence, playing war as a simple game, but beneath that shell hides a raging inner turmoil. She is fully capable of defending herself, often showing ingenuity and prowess in battle. She even manages to assist Nariko even while being tormented by the man who murdered her family. Kai provides a truly tragic heroine, one who overcomes an overwhelming hardship and ultimately rises to save the day, many times. She's like Batman and R2-D2, haunted by a tragic past, forever hiding in the shadows and saving the day, often as an unsung hero.

And then we have Nariko herself, who is, in my own opinion, one of the greatest female characters. Now, let's just get this out of the way. Yes, her outfit is revealing. You can see half her butt, and she wears little more than some strips of fabric. However, she is not wearing any more or less than any other character in the game. In fact, she is probably wearing more than most of the male characters. Justification, perhaps, but there is very little titillation involved with the way she looks. In herself alone, Nariko represents a lot of the games major themes. Born during a time of prophecy, Nariko is seen as a portent of doom. A male was meant to be born to lead them to glory, instead a daughter is born. Nariko's birth kills her mother, and her father nearly murders her before she can draw her first breath. She is alienated, feared and even hated by her clan, and her father treats her as a pupil first, and daughter second. Still, he clearly loves her and trusts her enough to gift her their most sacred possession, the Heavenly Sword. Driven to rescue her father and save her friends form Bohan's army, she takes the sword in hand and forfeits her life. Those who wield the sword are cursed to die, but Nariko does it without hesitation. And eventually, through sheer willpower, she bends the weapon to her own will, bringing herself back to life long enough to slay the King and bring piece to the land. She dies a hero, worshipped by the clan. Kai sums up: "Some worshipped the sword, others killed for it, but only you saw the truth." Nariko's character just simply wouldn't have worked as a male. Ninja Theory used the power of gender roles to reinforce Nariko's character arc. Her whole story could be seen as a metaphor for a woman's struggle to exist in a male dominated world. There are no females in positions of power in this game, and those with power are hated and feared.The game explores a lot of strong themes: religious persecution, misogyny, genocide, sexual tension, ignorance and many more, and Nariko herself personifies nearly all of them. Her story arc ties the world together and she is it's beating heart. That is why I truly believe that Nariko is one of the best written (and marvellously acted by Anna Torv) female characters in gaming. Now, go buy the game. It's less than 20 bucks in any gaming store.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review Quickie: Chernobyl Diaries and Friends With Kids

Man, it's a slow month of DVD releases. Once you've watched the big ones: The Avengers, Cabin In The Woods, etc., you are really starting to scrape the bottom of the barrel. And so it was that I ended up with two movies in my hands. Chernobyl Diaries (one I was at least mildly interested in thanks to Oren Peli's name on the cover) and Friends With Kids (one I had no interest in but my housemate wanted some thing else to watch). Since neither of these films are worth a full, detailed review, I'm going to hit them both on the head. Let's start with the better of the two: Chernobyl Diaries.

I gotta admit, I was pretty pumped for this. Not only was this the first film Oren Peli has written since the first Paranormal Activity (one of my favourite horror films of the last ten years) but nowhere near enough creative media has used Chernobyl as a location. STALKER proved that Chernobyl can be a scary fucking place and I was looking forward to what Oren could do with the location. We've got the pretty typical set-up, young hot kids on euro trip decide to up the ante with an "extreme" tourism trip to Chernobyl. You've got the assertive one, the cautious one (who happen to be brothers), the hot, tough heroine, the dumb, bland blonde, the mysterious tour guide and two foreigners (an Aussie and his Russian girlfriend). Doesn't really sound that exciting, but Oren's deceit is turning horror conventions on their head, so I was still pretty pumped to see where this was going. The first thing Chernobyl Diaries gets right is the location and atmosphere. From the first moment you see Chernobyl and Pripyat you can feel the horror of what happened here. The oppressive death and decay of the fallout ridden wasteland, the silence, the decaying husks of abandoned buildings left to what little of nature survived. I got a little excited seeing the theme park and ferris wheel where you hold out for extraction in Modern Warfare, or the big plaza that you battle through on the way to your final destination in STALKER. And for about 70% of the movie, that atmosphere remains. The first few scares are powerful, and the feeling of claustrophobia and isolation works well. Outside of some of the mutated animals, who or what is stalking the tourists is not revealed right until the very end, as it should be. We can some fantastic 'something moving or standing in the distance' shots, as well as an incredibly tense kitchen scene. The deaths all occur off-screen as well, which is a nice change. There's very little gore in the entire film. Mixed with some fantastic cinematography, I was ready to give this a big thumbs up. And then came the last act, and everything fell apart. The few remaining heroes are chased into this creepy fallout shelter, deep underground and everything looks set up for a cool reveal of the creatures as these people driven mad by having to survive deep underground. There's also one fantastic scare here, too. And then the creatures start to come out into the light and I'm not going to spoil it, but they are not scary. Anyone whose played STALKER knows how terrifying the scuttling, gas-mask wearing snorks, or the invisible, vampiric bloodsuckers were, but there's no such creativity shown here. From the initial trailers, I thought this was actually a good, old-fashioned ghost flick, but I really was left bewildered and disappointed by the final act. The story just ends. No real answers, just bam, done. Finished. This feels especially disappointing because the first two thirds of the film were fantastic. I can only imagine what happened to Oren's script. Perhaps the butchering's is why he decided not to direct it himself. I don't know. While not an awful film, the final act stops me from truly being able to recommend this film. Mix in some questionable acting and you've got two-thirds of a good horror movie. Really only recommendable to die-hard horror fans.

Alright, let's make this quick. Friends With Kids is written, directed, produced by and starring Jennifer Westfeldt and boy, can you tell it. Let me some up this movie in one sentence: she never, ever shuts up. This film is just an endless dialogue dump. And not even interesting dialogue. Alright, so Jen and Adam Scott's character are friends who share a kind of platonic relationship. Both their friends are in couples. We have Chris O'Dowd (of IT Crowd fame and one of the only funny people in this movie) and Maya Rudolph, and Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm (only in this film because he's with Jennifer in real life, but thankfully doesn't phone it in). We start the film with them all getting together, happy as Larry. They talk. We jump forward four years. It seems both couples now have kids and neither take it well. To buck the trend, Adam and Jen decide to have a kid together, share the parenting role, but continue to date other people. I wonder where this is going. God, this movie is just fucking predictable from end to end. Damn near nothing happens. I'm not kidding, the film takes place over six fucking years, but almost nothing dramatic or interesting happens. There's this weird dramatic tension towards the end, but it disappears as fast as it appears. Jen seems to forget there's anyone else in this film but her and her vision. The friends only turn up four times, for a total screen time of about 20 minutes. I'm serious. There nothing but a convenient plot device, completely neglecting the acting potential of the four. Thankfully, Adam Scott delivers a great performance  almost convincingly selling this bullshit. Jennifer herself is ok, but criminally unfunny. She's got this "oh I'm so awkward" stumbling thing always going on, but unlike someone like Zooey Deschanel there's no subtlety or variation to it. Thankfully, both Adam Scott and Chris O'Dowd have some generally funny lines, but they're not enough to elevate this film about self-indulgent shit. This could have been a 30 minute play, and it would have been decent. But film is a visual medium and endless dialogue with nothing to watch is just boring. People talk, then they talk some more somewhere else, then they talk some more somewhere else, then someone else talks. Rinse and repeat ad nauseum. This is one woman forcing her frankly confused and completely cliche message all over us. Avoid this shit unless you enjoy endlessly screaming at the screen "Oh my God, would you just shut the fuck up and do something!?"

Thursday, November 15, 2012

You're Doing It Wrong - Medal of Honor

I'd like to introduce a new section. This is an idea I've had for a while but haven't had the time to put it all together. This first one is actually written by a friend of mine, who has asked to remain anonymous as he did it as a favour for me last minute. Oops, did I say he? I meant she. Or they. Them. It. Ahhh, anyway, check out "You're Doing It Wrong", written today by Alan Smithee.

Alright, Medal of Honor: Warfighter. With a name that fucking awesome, what could possibly go wrong? This is some authentic shit, apparently. See, in real life, soldiers are controlled by mysterious puppet masters that line up all their shots for them, because God doesn't want America to miss. Also, in real life you can take a .50 calibre sniper round to the chest and just shrug it off. Multiple times. Alright, I know what you're thinking. Real life isn't fun. I agree with you. Real life sucks, that's why we play games. This is not military sim, this is an action fps. I'm not here to talk about how EA's marketing department fucked up with this game, I don't have the time or patience for that. Instead, I'm going to outline the ways in which Warfighter fails as a sequel. This is MoH vs MoH:WF.

Let's talk openings. The first Medal of Honor began with a bunch of chatter outlining the events leading up to 9/11, as well as the military intelligence's response, before dropping the player straight into the heart of Iraq. Straight up, we meet the first of our three groups of main characters - SEAL Team Neptune. We play as Rabbit, a man with a bizarre taste in auto-tuned Arabian pop. Within the first five seconds, every character is presented with at least the broad strokes of personality. Joining Rabbit are Voodoo, Mother and Preacher (the least interesting of the bunch). In Gunshooter, we open up with a cutscene of somewhere, and two mysterious dudes emerging from the water. The sneak up behind a guy and we're instantly thrust into a first person view of the back of a guys head. 'Press Mouse 1 to shoot" we are told. No need to even do anything else. In fact, we can sit here all day if we want to. So go ahead, click. Bam, dead guy. Satisfied? Well, don't sit still for too long, the game has some more parts for you to watch. And that's basically the intro mission in a  nutshell. You literally have to do three things. Click the mouse to kill a guy you can't miss. Press F on a truck to plat a bomb. And shoot at a chopper that you can't miss as long as you stand in the right spot. And run a bit. Compare that with MoH, where right from the start you're thrown into a hostile village and have to fight your way to free a hostage. There's no handholding; you want to save the guy, you're going to have to kill everyone in your way. Sure, your team will help some, but the onus is on you to play the game. BTW, the guy you play as in Bulletuser is Preacher AKA MR. Two Lines of Uninteresting Dialogue from the first game. Great choice, guys.

Another big problem that Cutscenewatcher has over it's predecessor is a massive focus on set pieces. There are maybe two, maybe three 'setpieces' in the first game. If that. Bombexploder has a new setpiece every five seconds. You thought Call of Duty was bad? There are more set pieces in the first two missions of Doorfighter than there are in the entirety of MW1. Wrap your head around that. The setpieces in the first game were used to either create dramatic tension (such as the feeling of helplessness as hundreds of Taliban rush your crumbling defensive position) or to relieve tension (the following helicopter mission). Here, it's the equivalent of some guy flashing you in the back street. I don't care how big his cock is, I saw it the first time. now it's just getting ridiculous.

Let's talk villains. In The first game, there really wasn't an overall villain. It starts out as you trying to wipe out the Taliban as revenge, but quickly devolves into a desperate struggle to rescue your friends and get the hell out of dodge. The enemy was as much the location as anything else. Or maybe that stupid army general that seemed more interested in guts and glory over brains. Arabkiller tries to have a more present villain, even setting the tutorial mission as a terrorist training under him, but it ultimately fails as you never really feel the villains presence. His lackey gets some strong screen time and the only genuinely effective moment in the game, but even then he's given no back story outside of "evil guy", so who cares. There's some attempt at a story about explosives or something, but it's lost in the endlessly shifting locations and objectives. In the first one, you never left the one mountain and you had a strong sense of place and purpose because of it. This one has you bouncing from Singapore to the Philippines to the Middle East and everywhere in between desperately trying to tie it all together cohesively. It's big conceit is that most of these missions are supposable based on real events but they lose their power when they are twisted together to fit a fictional story. Either go 100% real, or 100% fiction. Actually, I think the main enemy is doors. There are so many doors to brutalize in this game. In fact, Breachshooter devotes an entire mini-game mechanic to it. I'll let the boss talk about that more in his review, though. There's still more shit to trudge through.

Ok, let's talk graphics. Lensflareblinder was meant to be the big flagship for the Frostbite 2 engine. Did it work? Oh God, no. It's like the developers didn't even understand the fundamentals of the engine. There's almost no destruction and what little there is makes no sense. You can blast a guy through a metal sheet, but not through a cardboard box? You can't shoot through holes in cover but a block of concrete won't protect you from a grenade? It's nonsensical. not to mention it runs badly, the textures are shockingly low-resolution at times and the animations just look bad. Again, this is more a review thing but I thought it was worth mentioning as clearing using a proprietary engine was a big mistake for I'mruningoutofclevernames. The first one ran on Unreal Engine and while it came with the usual Unreal problems, it at least functioned as you would expect.

Alright, let's wrap this shit up. There's more I want to talk about, and even some things that Warfighter gets right, but the review is a better place for all that. I really love the MoH reboot, that's why Kyle got me to write this. We've often argued over who likes it more. I just can't believe that this sequel was made by the same team. Everything the did right in the first game is gone. everything they did wrong in the first game is worse. Outside of a few story beats and one original mechanic, the game is a total, abyssal failure. It was buggy to the point of broken at launch and doesn't run much better since the colossal patch. It's insulting to the lives of the soldiers it's meant to be respecting and it doesn't know what it wants to be. Where is the market for this game? It's too flashy for authentic crowd, it's too me-too-try-hard for the Call of Duty crowd, it's multiplayer isn't good enough to win over the Battlefield crowd and with black Ops II out now and blowing it out of the water, why does this even exist? At least the first one had a market. It was a slower paced, cerebral shooter that was more interested in being a war drama than an action film. because of this, it didn't sell well. It was accused of being a lifeless shooting gallery by people who would rather have things blowing up in their face all the time. Well,a re you happy? You made this, MoH detractors. Danger Close listened and made the game they thought you wanted. Are you happy now? You're Doing It Wrong, guys. Stop destroying originality. You did it MoH, you did it to Sleeping Dogs, you did it to Spec Ops. Don't bitch about CoD if you want to shoot down anything that isn't CoD. That is all.

PS Has no one at Danger Close seen women or children before? Because whatever those abominations are in game, they are not women or children.

PPS Seriously, never use Preacher again. With so many interesting character to choose from from the first game, you choose the one guy with a personality of mud. Great job.

PPPS Thank you, Treyarch, for continuing to revolutionise and innovate Call of Duty while Infinity War seems happy to make the same game over and over.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution 3D Review

My name is Alice...

That's right, Alice is back and it's time for the haters to start hating. I've never really understood the hate for this film series, especially from fans of the game. Hell, if it wasn't for the movies, I would never have even played the games. Still, even I will admit that the 4th movie had it's moments of shitness, mainly stemming from an almost fetishist use of slow-motion and an intro almost entirely ripped off from the Matrix, but Resident Evil: Retribution seemed set to bring the series to new heights. Did it deliver? Did it ever.

The film begins at the exact moment the last left off. Umbrella is leading an all-out assault against Arcadia, led by Jill Vallentine (somehow played even more lifelessly by Sienna Guillory, who does brain-washed bad-ass even worse than she did regular bad-ass). So Umbrella comes in and blows everything up, and Alice is captured once more. We then jump to a non-descrip American suburb where Alice wakes up from a nightmare to her life as a subruban housewife. It seems she's now married to Carlos and they have a deaf child. Ok, Paul, I'll give it to you, this is different. Still, it's not long before the zombies show up and everybody dies. Michelle Rodriguez's Rain shows up again, for a bit, before we return to Alice, who's locked in a sterile environment, naked except for that thin sheet thing from the second movie. Now normally, I'd call this pandering, but here it's used to good effect, hammering home Alice's new vulnerability. Big props to Milla for pulling off this performance, it's nice to see Alice's human side again. Don't get me wrong, it's still pandering, but it's pandering with a purpose and Milla sells it. Still as lost as the audience, Milla manages to escape with the help of a mysterious power outage and suits up in regulation Umbrella skin-tight lycra. I'm not going to reveal anymore of the plot from here, except a few broad strokes. It seems Ada Wong, working for Albert Wesker (who no longer works for Umbrella) is the one who broke Alice out and they must now fight through he facility to meet up with a strike team, lead by Leon S. Kennedy and Barry Burton. Much arse-kicking follows.

I want to talk a little about the casting/characters here. We have three new characters from the game in this movie: Ada Wong, Leon S. Kennedy and Barry Burton. I can see why they brought Leon and Ada together, and they obviously brought in Barry for his connection to Jill.

(SPOILERS which goes nowhere because they just kill him off before the two meet and in this fiction they've never met SPOILERS)

I want to say this first, Li Bingbing's Ada Wong is fantastic, she gets the character spot on. Ada Wong is my favourite Resident Evil character and I was very worried about whether they could get her right in the movies, but the Ada Wong on screen is very much the Ada from the games. Sadly, she's very underutilized, given little to do except act as a plot device. Still, that's nothing compared to the horror that is Leon. I've got no idea who this guy they chose to play him is, but he is terrible. He's terrible if you compare the character to the game, and he's terrible if you've never even heard of the character. For one, leather jacket aside, he doesn't look a thing like Leon. Secondly, his characterisation is completely wrong. Leon is a typical B-grade action hero. He spouts terrible one-liners, he's basically brain-dead and if he's showing any emotion at all, it's usually some kind of bravado. This films Leon shouts a lot, scowls a lot and seems to be all dark and haunted by something. Also, his relationship with Ada is barely developed at all, which makes the little wink and nod to it at the end feel more like pandering towards the gamers and alienation of the people who only know the films. Barry is handled a bit better, but like Ada is given very little to do. I was initially thrown by the actor, who seems to be of Asian descent, but he delivers a decent performance. The part where he whips out his magnum towards the end is pure pandering towards the gamers as well, but at least this scene doesn't alienate the film fans.

Bitching aside, this movie gets a lot of things right. The plot is almost non-existent and completely unimportant. It basically feels more like a game than any of the previous movies. Alice and her friends fight through various levels and set-pieces and battle massive bosses on their way to the surface, before the movie ends on one of the greatest cliff-hangers/sequel bait I've ever seen. Also, the final fight is incredibly well shot and acted. Paul has really developed as an action director throughout these movies and the action this time around is easy to follow and beautifully shot. The action elements are often used to further enforce Alice's vulnerability, she is often wounded, or at the very least seems less confident and over-the-top compared to the previous films. The over-use of slow-mo is completely gone. In fact, there's almost no slow-mo in the entire film. The first action sequence is shot in slow-mo, but runs entirely in reverse, which is a really cool effect.

Overall, Retribution is my favourite in the series so far. The acting is the best so far (a few exceptions aside), the pacing is brilliant, the action is easier to follow and the 3D is much better done and far less gimmicky. I should also give a mention to the great score, which is less pilfered popular music and more actual composed score. If you can see this in the cinema, I really recommend that you do it. It really needs to be experienced on the big screen. otherwise, wait for the BluRay, whack on the 3D glasses and dive once more into the crazy world of Resident Evil.

Bane Plays Dark Souls

So I wanted to take a moment to talk a little about this series. I've played Dark Souls through, start to finish, more then 8 times now. I've got it on both PS3 and PC and it was my Game of the Year for 2011, so I don't have to tell you how much I love this game. I've been wanting to do a Let's Play of it for some time, but didn't want to do something along the usual lines. Then I saw a video called Bane Plays Slender and really liked what the film-maker did with the character. So I though, what if I took this idea and instead of having it as a one off gag, actually ran with it? This allowed me to not only brush off my voice-acting skills, but play Dark Souls in a way I never had before. Now I had to play Dark Souls not as myself, but as Bane (or a fictional version of Bane I've created for comedic purposes). Doing this has injected new life into the game for me, and I'm having a blast with it. I've got a couple of videos up, with two more to come within the week, so check it out. I know the impression isn't perfect and slips at times, but I'm working on it. I've embedded the first two videos below, so check them out.

Scoot 'n' Shoot - Resident Evil 6 Preview

Oh yeah, the Resident Evil 6 Public Demo is finally here and let me tell you, it was worth the wait. There's still a lot of detractors of this game, I know, but I honestly can't see where they're coming from. Let me illuminate you a little as we dive into the bleak world of Resident Evil once more.

Let's start, as we should, with Mr Kennedy. Leon is still rocking the leather and emo haircut, but now seems to have picked up a more manly voice. Joining him on his adventure is Laura Bailey. I mean, Helena. (This is actually kind of disconcerting fiction wise if you remember that Laura Bailey voiced Angela Miller in Resident Evil Degeneration.) But anyway, it seems there's been a virus release and Leon is forced to shoot the President. Helena then confesses to causing all this and then insisting that Leon takes her to the cathedral in town before she reveals anything. Showing his usual levels of intelligence, Leon doesn't arrest her on the spot and instead agrees to accompany her on this lunacy. What follows is pure Resident Evil 4. Dark, tight corridors, punctuated by heavily populated open areas. Action is slow paced, but incredibly taut. Shooting feels good, really good, and the ability to move while shooting is an incredible game changer. Dodging and melee is no longer contextual, too, which really shakes up combat. That doesn't mean it's suddenly easy, though. Zombies will rush you in crazy numbers at times, but even a solitary zombie can catch you off guard, moving in unpredictable patterns. This section ends with a tense driving section that forces our protagonists into the sewer and the demo ends.

Next, Mr Redfield, who still seems to be chowing on the 'roids. He's giving inspirational speeches to emotional orchestral music and moving his team to tears. You know, the usual Chris stuff. "Is he always this awesome?" a rookie asks. Still, it's not long before the shit hits the fan. It seems the local guerilla forces have got their hands on a new type of virus that creates BOW's smart enough to use weapons and with some nasty defence mechanisms. Combat for Chris is Third Person Cover Shooting, for the most part. Cover is automatic, push against a wall whilst aiming and Chris will latch on, or pressing X while against a smaller cover object will make him duck for cover. This feels much more responsive than Resident Evil 5, but still feels a little funny at times. I'm not going to lie, I actually had fun with Chris' campaign. It felt like what Reisdent Evil 5 could have been. This is straight action with horror elements, it controls well for the most part, and the enemies are varied and challenging. There's a really fun boss fight against an El Gigante and a tense shootout in a trainyard that make some great set pieces.

Finally, we have Mr Meuller. We join Jake (played by Troy Barker, who's rapidly giving Nolan North a run for his money) in some kind of drug den. He shoots himself up with something that sends everyone else over the wall, but just seems to turn him into more of a douche. Sherry Birkin (that annoying little girl from Resident Evil 2) turns up and tells him he can save the world, which turns him into even more of a douche. Anyway, Jake's campaign is...hard to describe. The demo level features the same J'avo type enemies from Chris', but now they're even harder. The more you shoot them, the stronger they get. It's crazy hard, but more often than not, just crazy. I found it much easier in the end just to pump a few bullets into the gun type enemies and force them to mutate into melee types, then make a run for it. I'm worried about the difficulty spikes in this campaign, it feels a lot more scattershot. Jake's character is a nice change of pace for Resident Evil and I look forward to what he can bring, but I feel I'll only play this through because you need to finish all three to unlock Ada's campaign.

And that's it for the demo. Seems Capcom is still keeping Ada's campaign mostly under wraps, which I like. For those who are worried about the changes to the game, I can assure you they're mostly for the best. Whilst Jake's campaign, at least from the little bit I got to play, seems a bit hit and miss, Leon and Chris' campaign are both really enjoyable and offer something for the die-hards and newcomers alike. The partner AI seems much better this time, and you don't have to worry about managing their inventory or anything, which is nice. Speaking of inventory, it works really well this time. Scrolling through is fast and responsive, and weapons can be changed without opening the menu as well. There's also a quick heal button, which really comes in handy. There's now no way to actually pause the game, which keeps the tension high. If Capcom continues to design the levels around these new additions, I can see this becoming the best game in the series. That's right, I said it. Well, regardless, I got this pre-ordered and the demo's free, so I really suggest checking it out. Resident Evil 6 is out on Xbox360 and PS3 on October 2.