Recently, I bought my first smart phone. Considering the first iPhone came out around five years ago, it goes without saying that I’ve arrived extremely late to the touch-screen party. The first time the high definition screen flashed up, I knew that things wouldn’t be the same again. There was a plethora of tasks and activities that I could now do thanks to the wireless possibilities of this £400 device. It was scary. But then again, the last technological advances of the last century have come by so fast, that you almost panic when you sum up how civilisation has progressed from using telegrams to viewing CGI-saturated feature films at a seconds notice. As usual, there’s the military aspect of it. If I can wield a supercomputer the size of a modest birthday card, what can the research and development department of the US military use to get rid of who they see fit?
Call of Duty Black Ops 2 is a game of two halves, but it’s more than a five-a-side. It’s the first of the series to take place in the future, but it also has time to get distracted and look into the distance, reminiscing about previous real life military campaigns. You flick between Frank Woods, Alex Mason (both from the previous Black Ops) and David Mason – Alex’s son. It’s 2025 and remote controlled drones make up a majority of the US armed forces against the backdrop of an uncertain world trying to keep up with the technology that holds together society. China and America have entered a new cold war with a recently discovered (and extremely rare) material called celerium being the cause for such conflict. The earth element is used in all modern technology and has allowed leaps in technology, allowing such wonders as invisibility suits and personal heads up displays to be distributed as standard issue.
It has been a long time since Frank Woods fought alongside Alex Mason in Vietnam. An elderly wheelchair-bound woods is living out the last of his days in The Vault – what can only be described as a high-security nursing home. He’s visited by an armed platoon led by David Mason who questions him over his experience with Raul Menendez, a Nicaraguan narco-terrorist who leads the Cordis Die movement, a military cult with plans to bring down the superpowers of the world through cyber-terrorism. Woods’ past with Menendez spans back to the 1980′s where he was captured and tortured in Angola. This half of the game takes place in several late 20th century conflicts from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the US invasion of Panama (lots of invading!). But the game also flicks to modern (well, future) conflicts as well.
One of the greatest things about this new Call of Duty is the ridiculous selection of arms and equipment. The prototype rifles come equipped with x-ray technology, you have a grenade launcher strapped to your wrist and your personal computer on your other wrist can do anything from hacking terminals to recording far-away conversations a la Splinter Cell’s Sam Fisher. Things even get a bit Batman when you infiltrate a jungle base using retractable parachute flaps built into your suit, giving you the appearance of a heavily-armed flying squirrel with stubble. It was at this point I burst out laughing over how far Treyarch were willing to make the future seem unrealistically ridiculous.
But just when things get too much (escaping in a Halo-style jeep from unmanned helicopters in a flooded city in Pakistan. for example), you’re whisked back to a more simpler time, where mobile phones were phones and nothing else. As both parallel stories progress, you are given a series of choices that will determine the outcome of the game. For example, at several stages in the game, you have the choice to kill or spare a character. Depending on what happens, different aspects of the final missions, and indeed the ending, will change. There are five endings in total, so it will take a few run-throughs to get the best ending. But that’s not all affecting the story.
Another first in the franchise is the inclusion of a series of “Strike Force” levels. These play out like a multiplayer match crossed with real time strategy. You take command of a mixed group of units (soldiers and A.I drones) on the field and can give orders and flick between each one via a remote controlled eye-in-the-sky satellite. There’s a single objective and you face a seemingly never-ending hoard of enemies. The aims of these missions range from base defence to assassination and can be pretty intense, seeing as you’re up against the clock and have only one chance to do them. It’s a fantastic addition to the game, but, like all the new features, seems too little too late to hide the fact that Call of Duty hasn’t made any major leaps or bounds since the first Modern Warfare was released. Other late features include complete weapon customisation before each single player level and the inclusion of a three-dimensional villain.
In the past, the villains included cardboard cut-out Russian nationalists (See Modern Warfare series), Ex-Nazi scientists (See Black Ops) and Adolf Hitler’s gang (See World War Two). All antagonists seemed to be nothing more than arbitrary bad guys with no more reason to commit evil than your typical Bond baddie. Menendez is a different case. Coming from a poor background and eventually forced into a life of crime, he witnesses his sister crippled and horrifically burned in a warehouse fire. After a botched raid on his personal village by a team led by Woods and Mason, his deformed sister perishes, leading to him seeking revenge against the US. At several points in the game you take control of Mendez, almost as a away of making you see things from his side, especially when you see him tending over his sister with a rich sense of pathos and regret. For the first time in the series, someone’s actually come up with a fairly adequate story.
But there are a lot of moments where you feel like there wasn’t enough due care and effort to make this game as outstanding as it could have been. Predictably, the seems to be running off almost exactly the same engine as the first Modern Warfare – which was where the series reached perfection, but considering that was released in 2007, isn’t it time for Activision to hire someone to bring the series into this decade? Aside from the all-too occasional glitch, the single player hasn’t decided whether it wants to be a game or a film. Too many times has the game taken control over certain cinematic moments, as if it didn’t trust me to do the right thing. An infamous moment that stands out is the first encounter with Menendez.
After fighting countless Cuban soldiers and downing a Russian gunship from a moving barge, you find yourself sneaking through a forest and into a communication building. As soon as you step through the window, you sneak up to Menedez at his radio terminal, take him hostage, stand off against several soldiers before a grenade is thrown onto the floor and you’re forced to dive out the window. Not once during this little sojourn did I need to press anything. No linear path. No sudden quick time event to make sure I was still awake. Nothing. And there were too many moments where the game was ripped out of my hands and I had to watch like a good little boy.
And the violence. Oh, the violence. After the particularly dark introduction video where we see Menedez’s sister almost burned to death, the game get’s progressively grimmer. In the first level, you start next to an upturned vehicle looking into the fire looming behind the windshield. Suddenly, two deeply-singed hands bang against it, followed by the screaming charred faced of a man burning alive. It was a horrific sight that suddenly brought out that inner parent that secretly disapproves of everything you do. That voice that frowns at the ethically redundant things you choose to do in Grand Theft Auto games. You’ll know what I mean next time you watch one of the Saw movies and her dulcet tone mumbles in your ear.
After completing one of the five endings the game has to offer, there’s the multiplayer and zombie modes to bite into. I’ve played through the series since the beginning and the multiplayer has not changed in the last four years. The modes are all there, the upgrade and ranking system stands still like an old man confused where to go next, and the maps and speed make the whole experience as hectic and uncomfortable to play as usual. For fans of the series, there isn’t anything that can be really said for the online battles apart from, more of the same with more added on for good measure. I lasted two minutes into a match where a shouting American child yelled at me before firing a pistol across the room into my head. Instant kill. Instant quit. Instantly unimpressed.
What did impress me, however, was the new zombie mode. Sure, it’s the same system as it always been, but there is a new, interesting inclusion. As well as the typical survival mode, one of the maps has a sort-of mission mode attached. You’re plopped in a bus depot surrounded by zombies and you need to construct various tools and contraptions to proceed through the midnight nightmare. Once you escape the terminal, a robot controlled bus awaits you to take you to your next destination. What starts off as you’re typical defence against the living dead affair soon turns into a gauntlet towards what seems like a logical end to the game other than death by an infinite horde of shamblers. I was very impressed and it still remains more addictive than tobacco peanuts.
A cheeky bonus was the music. Instead of hiring yet another big name film composer like Hans Zimmer, the guys at Treyarch went a bit metal and dragged on Mr Nine Inch Nails, Trent Reznor, in to provide his superb brand of emotionally charged industrial noise metal to the game. I have to say that his compositions are really worth a listen. Another surprise was hearing Skrillex in one of the levels in a nightclub. bizarre. All of the pieces set in the future gave it a real cyber-punk feel similar to the recent Deus Ex. As a science fiction fan, I was loving every second of the soundtrack.
Recently, it’s become very fashionable to denounce the Call of Duty series before even playing the most recent titles. Most of the criticism is deserved, but there are still aspects of the newer titles that should garner a bit more recognition. On the other hand, Battlefield 3 proved last year that a long running first person shooter series can knuckle down and leap forward to deliver a perfect videogame experience on both campaign mode and online multiplayer spheres. Now that the Modern Warfare and Black Ops branches have finally fallen off the tree, will Activision finally raise its hands, stand with a modest air of honesty and finally admit that the series has nothing new to offer? After all, just about every single 20th century conflict has been handled in the series and I’ll be buggered if I have to play through World War bloody Two again. There weren’t any mobile phones in that conflict for a start. Or Trent Reznor.
It’s always an invasion. Whenever we glimpse to the sky and consider that we may not be alone in the ever-expanding black sack of a universe we were burped into, many of us can’t help but think that anything light-yearing its way towards our blue-ish planet won’t have the intention of stopping by quickly to ask for directions to Alpha Centuri. Or even an interstellar version of Bill Oddie making a makeshift bush on the moon and gawping at us with some kind of laser-powered binoculars while narrating our scutterings to a half-interested daytime television crowd. No. It’s always an invasion. Whether it’s a gradual integration akin to the John Carpenter flick They Live or the galloping tripod massacre featured in the iconic War of the Worlds, Aliens rarely tend to come in peace. Or stop by to phone home.
It’s the near future and Earth is being invaded by a mysterious alien force for the first time in recorded history. Rather than arming Jeff Goldblum with a Macbook and asking Will Smith rather nicely to fly a capture spaceship at them, mankind has already grouped together in secret to unleash the XCOM project – a multi-national covert organisation designated with the task of eliminating any alien threat to the blue and green planet we hold so dear. A council of international representatives has just appointed a new commander to the project (played by you, of course) who will oversee the development of XCOM headquarters, manage research & development projects relating to alien technology, as well as commanding a team of hardened soldiers armed with an offensive amount of weaponry.
XCOM Enemy Unknown is yet another remake of a classic Nineties game, but this time, it’s not being converted into a cookie-cutter first person shooter. The original was a combination of both a turn-based strategy game and a base management simulator – both of which have been respectfully preserved in this new edition. Your ultimate objective for the entire game is to repel alien invaders for attacking Earth. But it’s not that simple. It never is. For a start, this is a publicly funding project. Each nation on earth has pooled money and resources into this operation, so there is a bureaucratic numbers game that must be obeyed. If alien attacks in Mexico rise to an alarming amount with little intervention from XCOM, you’ll have to look for your monthly pesos elsewhere. Not only that, but you’ll regularly receive multiple UFO encounters in a single in-game day, putting pressure on you to decide which country least deserves to be left at the mercy of an extra-terrestrial force. Just like a juggling act, you have to think two moves ahead.
The game is split into two modes of play. The main mode is managing your base as the days flutter by. You’re given a monthly budget to spend on upgrades, new soldiers equipment and anything else that contributes to alien death. Set up like some kind of bizarre ant farm, the base trails deep under the planet’s crust and is split into various sections. You have your hangar that allows the transport ship and your interceptor fights to launch out to anywhere in the world, there’s the troop barracks and, amongst the rest of the base, is your laboratory and your workshop. As the game progresses you’ll receive a large collection of alien artefacts, corpses and concepts for new technology. Your laboratory allows a team of scientists to examine your growing collection of alien junk in order to adopt, adapt and improve your fighting force. The workshop operates hand in hand with the lab to produce the new equipment. Before long, your team of basically equipped soldiers will be a heavily armed squad with flying suits and alien plasma technology.
In order to produce these wonderful, you will need to recover alien technology, as well as capture the odd extraterrestrial, in various missions occurring randomly throughout the months. At first, they’ll be basic abduction investigation missions, but as the campaign for Earth heats up, you’ll find yourself defending cities from alien terrorist cells, raiding downed UFOs and escorting VIPs to safety. Not straying too far from the original’s method of play, the missions take a turn-based structure. Each one opens with your VTOL troop transport craft dramatically landing into the theatre of combat with your team spilling out, guns at the ready. A fog of war prevents you from getting a good grasp of the area of operation, so care is needed when advancing the team as one wrong move and your recently promoted lieutenant could end up deep-throating a volley of plasma before being able to yell for back-up.
The tense sudden death feel of the original has been replicated with perfection. You’ll see yourself losing your temper as an enemy instantly downs your well-covered soldier with a pin-point shot, and that’s just the first mission in and you’ve barely had time to admire your guy’s shiny battle armour. Thankfully, there’s a new system in place that keeps the game flowing at a good pace, so you’ll be able to lose your temper quicker. Each turn gives you two moves per person. You can use both moves to allow the guy to sprint, or you can play it safe and move half the distance, allowing you to use the remaining move to fire on the enemy, heal your team or stand guard. Sometimes, you won’t have the luxury of carefully marching your team out with care. If it’s one of the dreaded terror missions, you’re racing against the enemy to save as many civilians as possible. And I don’t joke when I say that you’ll be lucky to get a quarter of them out alive.
Rather than sending an endless horde of samey bug-eyed monsters at you, the alien army consists of different races working together. In the early missions, you’ll find yourself trading fire with Sectoids (your garden variety grey alien with shiny black eyes) and before long you’ll find yourself rethinking your tactics to take on the juggernaut-like wraiths known as the Mutons. Each alien species brings their own significant traits to the battlefield that require you to adopt a new strategy each time. One particularly fiendish creation comes to mind. The Chrysalid is an armour-plated quadruped that gallops across the battlefield like a Geiger horse. Rather than wield a gun, it zips up to people and slashes them with a fatal attack. Only once you’ve researched and manufactured the best armour in the game does your team surviving a close quarter fight with these spindly nightmares. But it doesn’t end there. Should a human fall to one of these ghoulish bastards, they come back as a zombie in the next turn that roams the game beating people to death before a newborn Chrysalid rips them apart from within, starting the unholy cycle all over again. Until you can kill the zombie in time, of course.
While the game is extremely immersive, there are a few glitches and problems that pop out of nowhere to spoil your experience slightly. First of all is the cover system. Well…not the cover system itself, but what happens when someone takes cover. When someone fires at someone in cover, the bullets tend to fly right through the wall. This glaring error is made more obvious with the added action-cam pointing out why this looks so bad. Maybe they have armour piercing weaponry, but it ends up looking like rushed design. Another problem lies the un-skippable moments of the game. Sometimes, the enemy’s turn seems to take an age while you impatiently wait for an entire team to scamper around the playing field before you can do them the discourtesy of stopping them from scampering anymore. many times I found myself chewing the keyboard in a desperate attempt to let the game know I’m losing my patience. Long-time XCOM fans will be disgruntled to hear that the panic system is still in play. Should a member of your team become intimidated or witness the quick death or a comrade, there’s a chance they’ll lose their grip on the mission and throw a sissy fit that results in them either running in panic with arms waving, or firing wildly in the vague direction of combat. If the latter happens, sometimes fate smiles upon you and an enemy is accidentally killed. Other times, your stressed rookie shoots the highest ranking member of the squad in the face. And that’s IF your guy hits anything, as each shot has a percentage chance of hitting anything. Too many times have I seen a soldier get the drop on an alien, only to shoot wide despite being close enough to cuddle it. It’s all the luck of the draw in the end.
XCOM Enemy Unknown is a lovingly re-imagined game that pays a great deal of homage to the DOS classic while tinkering with the core gameplay with a large amount of respect. Fans of the old game will welcome the HD reworking of the older foes from the floaters cyborg masks to the flying discs added array of firepower. The super shiny visuals mixed with the impeccably cinematic approach just shows that in the right hands, a remake can almost surpass the original. Do take care though. I forgot to mention that is ten times more addictive than sugar coated smack. For a week, I didn’t have any free time to myself until the end credits crept up the screen and I breathed a sigh of relief before slouching into a pile of junk food containers and piss jars. If this game is widely played, we really don’t stand a chance against alien invasion.
Can anyone name me any third film in a trilogy that stands out from its previous releases? Indiana Jones and the last Crusade, possibly. Maybe even back To The Future Part III? Now how about third films which pale in comparison to their previous titles? No! Wait! I can’t hear anything with all of you yelling at once.. I think I heard Godfather Part III the loudest…possibly even Alien 3. But even when a third film reaches its mixed climax, you are assured that this will be the final outing for the saga. Which begs to ask how do you end a superhero film series? With so many changes in history and resurrections, the comic book world is completely foreign to the notion of letting protagonists retire.The Dark Knight Rises is the third and final outing for Nolan’s grim spin on Bob Kane’s answer to vigilante justice. So far, the series has reinvented the character to (almost) exist in the real world and has proved that even comic book films can achieve academy awards (well, Heath Ledger did anyway). So now it’s finally time to do that tricky stylish dismount that plagues the directors attempt to leave us with a well rounded set. After all, Nolan has set the bar for himself with the astounding Dark Knight. Also, what Batman villains can you use before the series takes a turn for the Schumacher…I mean worst. After using Scarecrow, The Joker, Two-Face and the “immortal” Ra’s Al Ghul, what nemesis can give the bat a beating without pushing the film into ridiculous territory?
8 years have passed since Gotham City was terrorised by The Joker and Harvey “Two Face” Dent and life has never been better. Thanks to the events that exploded in the previous film, the city has given its police force better means to take out organised crime. So, with no crime to Batarang and batter, Batman has been left in a lock up, with Bruce Wayne feeling empty and useless after his one true love, Rachel Dawes, perished in the previous film. The first time we see Christian Bales playboy billionaire enter the scene, he’s a dishevelled, Howard Hughes of a man, who is 1 walking stick step away from urinating in jars, obsessively counting his peas and getting paranoid about freemasons. For a man who regularly turns from wealthy buffoon to an icon of righteous justice at the flick of a searchlight, this is one transformation that is hard to take in.The film’s opening scene introduces us to Bane, a masked mountain of a man who has so much brains to his brawn, you’d think he was storing extra cerebellum in his biceps. Tom Hardy’s portrayal has him wearing what appeared to be Darth Vader’s bondage mask, so a lot of his acting came from his inhumanly booming voice and use of statuesque gestures. Bane is a terrorist leader who wants to see the most corrupt city in America – Gotham – razed to the ground in the name of natural order (sound familiar?). Leading an army of misfits in the sewer, he is known as an urban myth until his earth shattering reveal where he announces himself as Gotham’s reckoning. But back to his opening scene. In the comic’s Bane reached his near-superhuman levels of strength thanks to a wonder drug called Venom. Rather than sacrifice even more realism from the movie, this aspect of Bane is removed completely, leaving us with a villain we can believe in. Anyway, back to the opening scene.
It’s an airfield in a foreign country. A CIA operative (played by Aiden Gillen AKA Tommy Carcetti from The Wire) is buying the lives of 3 masked hostages in order for one of them to spill the beans about the location of Bane. Once they’re in the air, one of the hostages reveals himself to be Bane and overcomes his captors. Half a minute later, a larger aircraft looms over them with a team of highly trained soldiers rappelling down to the CIA plane, storming it in midair. So far, it’s a pretty impressive opening, but it doesn’t stop there. Attaching their cords to the CIA vessel, the soldiers allow the mystery plane to yank their target aircraft out of control, until it helplessly faces downwards – with the ill-angled drag stripping it of wings, fins and pretty much anything making airworthy. The back of the plane is ripped off before Bane steals a Russian scientist on board – what he came after in the first place – before attaching himself to the cord and disconnecting the ruined plane. As opening scenes go, it beats any James Bond movie hands down.As is the tradition with most of the recent Batman films, there is never one villain. Well, I say villain. Selina Kyle (played by the stunning Anne Hathaway) is a highly skilled thief – a cat-burglar, if you will. Posing as a waitress at one of Bruce Wayne’s many functions at the rebuilt Wayne manor, she infiltrates Bruce’s bed quarters and successfully steals his prized pearl necklace that belonged to his late mother. In his partially crippled state, Bruce is unable to fight back, but thanks to precautionary measures (the old “GPS tracker in the necklace” and “dusting for fingerprints” tricks) he is able to track down the thief that the press has referred to as “The Catwoman”. Anne plays her part like a typical femme fatal and uses extreme cunning to get what she wants. Not to mention she spends most of the film in a figure hugging leather cat suit (Woof! …I mean meow!). technically speaking, she’s not a villain. Think of the typical thief with a heart of gold…but crossed with a sexy ninja. She is a mix of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman (minus the camp insanity) and half the cast of The Matrix – a perfect match and partner for Batman.
Thankfully, all the old cast is included in the film. Michael Caine’s Alfred once again makes the role his won and gives one of the films best performances, especially towards the end (there were tears from everyone). Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman) plays a very active role alongside Batman as he works together to stop bane. Oldman almost seems to have aged into the role and gives a fine performance. The new faces on the scene include John Blake – Gotham’s up and coming detective – played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt looking ever so much like a young Robert Patrick, and Miranda Tate – Bruce’s first love interest since Rachel’s’ death 8 years ago. There are a couple of surprise cameo’s from characters in the previous films, but I’m not going to ruin them for you here.The tone of the film is the darkest yet. Batman Begins showed fear and hope, Dark Knight conveyed chaos and the tricky definitions of good and evil, whilst Dark Knight Rises reeks of despair of an apocalyptic nature. The film’s main plot shows Bane and his army holding a majority of the city under a violent siege with scene’s evoking memories from films like Escape from New York and certain levels of the video game Modern Warfare 3. Shots of a city fallen past chaos and into an anarcho-city state run by criminals provokes quite a shocking response. There was a slight sense of realism woven into the fantasy nature of the film. Sometimes I forgot that I was watching what is technically a comic book film. Most of the movie showed Bane’s plan slowly coming together with all the enforcement the US could us being cut down by his scheme. I reached a point where I genuinely felt there wouldn’t be a happy ending.
Nolan managed to unleash some jaw dropping plot twists that spanned the entire series without resorting to retconning his own story. It’s almost like he had the whole trilogy planned before the release of Batman Begins. Simple throwaway lines that were uttered in the first film echo back later in such a reverberation that you almost applaud such wonderful execution. It’s almost as if Nolan has surpassed the achievement of making an Oscar-winning superhero film and has done the near-impossible – perfect a trilogy. At the time of writing, I am still questioning whether this new release surpasses The Dark Knight. I only have 2 quibbles with the movie. First of all is the pacing. What made the first 2 films such an experience to watch was the fast paced story against a long film. You left the experience feeling like a lot happened in a decent space of time. Plenty happens in this new release, but some of the time, the story doesn’t feel it’s moving as fast as it should do.
The other niggle is the length of the film does end up feeling like an endurance test. At nearly 3 hours, it’s technically an epic on the most objective basis possible. But superhero films, by their nature, are quick fixes on a Friday night. Popcorn fodder. Yes, Nolan has busted out of this convention and delivered what is the best comic book film ever, but it’s almost like he’s trying to break away from the simple action film loving crowd who surround the Batman franchise. Thankfully, this doesn’t ruin a superb action monolith, but does leave you feeling out of breath when you drag yourself out of the cinema. Marvel Comics. Joss Whedon. Stan Lee. You can stop now – superhero perfection has been achieved.
Anyone with a working knowledge of drop F guitar tuning and octuple bass drum pedals would have come across the fictional band Dethklok by now. Like Spinal Tap, they started off a music genre in-joke, but ultimately contributed to the cultural movement they set out to lampoon. The adult animated comedy Metalocalypse follows the brutal exploits of the worlds heaviest rock outfit since Strapping Young Lad tried to take it far beyond metal.
The show has already garnered a large – yet cult – following despite only being broadcasted late night on satellite channel Adult Swim – a plethora of child-unfriendly cartoons that get thrown back to the late at night slot for a bloody good reason. When it comes to Metalocalypse, think Spinal Tap meets South Park – lots of heavy metal in-jokes and seemingly improvised dialogue spread across scenes of crass humour and ultra violence. Sounds so niche that you can’t imagine it getting through a fourth season, let alone one, right?
To bring you up to speed as fast as a Malmsteen lick, Dethklok are a 5-peice death metal act whose success has led them to a level of such unimaginable hedonism that they live in a remote dragon shaped castle (“Mordhaus”), employ an entire workforce of servants, bodyguards and sound engineers, and travel everywhere in ludicrously metal-themed vehicles from a 5-seater motorbike to a 2-storey helicopter.
- Nathan Explosion – The bands hulking frontman with a voice ranging from grunting to death metal grunting. Possibly based on George “CorpseGrinder” Fisher from Cannibal Corpse
- Skwisgaar Skwigelf – The world’s fastest (and tallest) guitarist. Alongside the other guitarist – Toki – Skwisgaar’s broken English and childlike intelligence is a constant source of hilarity. Possibly based on Eicca Toppinen from Apocalyptica
- Toki Wartooth – An excited manchild from Finland who finds constant amazement at the simplest of things – usually uttering his catchphrase “Wowwee!” Possibly based on Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth
- William Murderface – The typical ugly bass player. William’s self loathing and resentment of everyone around him tags him as the Eric Cartman of the band. Possibly based on Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath
- Pickles – The drummer. Looks like Axl Rose with dreads and sports a Wisconsin accent. The only member of the band to have been in a previously successful band a la Dave Grohl. Was originally based on Devin Townsend.
The show follows the band and an Illuminati-style council – The Tribunal – that believes the successful career of Dethklok is part of an ancient prophecy that will bring the end of the world. This leads to a lot of cloak and dagger sub plots involving hired agents trying to bring down the band in order to stave off a heavy metal apocalypse (thus the show’s name). The members of this organisation are under command from a mysterious bearded wizard-like man called Mr. Selatcia – who slowly reveals his god-like powers.
After 3 series’ of plot twists, violent mass deaths and an episode where the band attempt to perform oral sex on themselves, Dethklok are set to finish recording their long awaited new album. However, Season 4 starts to show that maybe the prophecy isn’t the delusions of a paranoid mind. After a worldwide storm of nightmarish proportions, the copies of the new album never reach the market, causing worldwide panic and doubt over Dethklok’s future. Before the season reaches its shocking finale, a few questions are answered. What happened to the band’s previous guitarist? Who is Mr. Selatcia and what is he, exactly?
Series 4 included some hilarious moments, from the band’s ill-fated presentation on racial equality to Murderface’s brush with cheap plastic surgery. Even past its 60th episode, the show still riffs great chords of comedy and continues to unravel a fantastic ongoing storyline that reveals more about the prophecy itself. But just before every mystery is solved, it literally comes to an earth-shattering finish that leaves you wondering if series 5 is the last outing for Dethklok. Even if you’re not a fan of the many facets of heavy metal, the show is a great example of quick flowing dialogue in a comedy show and features some of the zaniest stage set ups seen outside of a KISS concert.
The last episode aired last Sunday with series 5 yet to be announced.
Series 1-3 are currently available on DVD and is regularly shown on Adult Swim.
What does a man who has nothing left to lose have to lose when he kept losing things close to him over the span of 2 games? That was the poorly worded question diving in a slow motion blur through my head when they first announced the return of legendary constipated cop (with nothing left to lose) in Max Payne 3.
As part of their seemingly unstoppable campaign at creating gaming perfection, Rockstar decided to dust off one of their iconic characters for one last squeeze of the trigger. After losing his wife and child to a drug fuelled conspiracy – before losing his sort-of grief girlfriend – Max Payne is now living alone in Hoboken, New Jersey. Now a retired cop, Max stumbles across an opportunity to work as a bodyguard for a rich family living in the poverty slapped Brazilian city of Sao Paulo.Moving away from a dark and gritty New York City and into the vibrant setting of a location where the wealth divide could fit 5 luxury yachts doesn’t feel like an expected move for the Max Payne saga, but it doesn’t feel like such a dramatic departure. The game opens to a Max several years past his prime, drunkenly stumbling around his new South American flat, voicing his problems in a pathos-ridden soliloquy over the backing of the series’ dreary theme tune. Yet again, he has set the tone for the rest of the game.
Working as a bodyguard, Max is in charge of the safety of the Branco family – a pound shop Dallas cast for the 2010′s with the only one with any dignity being the patriarchal older brother, Rodrigo. After defending the family from the ambushes of a highly armed street gang, Fabiana – Rodrigo’s trophy wife – is kidnapped, putting the knife of regret firmly into Max’s shoulder once again. Alongside his compadre – Raul – Max gets embroiled in another explosive conspiracy where trouble has a GPS tracker.The adventure takes place across swampland, high tech offices and even a football stadium complete with floodlights and heavy snipers. It’s a very cinematic affair, but one that doesn’t put theatrics in the way of arcade-style gameplay. Thankfully, there are no quicktime events and the boss fights don’t bring the action to a difficult halt. The level of difficulty curves at a good swoop, but is never too easy. However, there are times when you have to listen to the same scripted lines over and over again due to lack of manual saving and easy death. But these hurdles are few and far between and don’t spoil Max Payne 3′s brilliant gameplay.
The gun fights play out in the most flowing style you will ever see. Rather than the invincible torpedo of bullet flinging death in previous games, if Max dives into something (say, a rusty filing cabinet), things go from Chow Yun Fat to Chow Yun fell over. An element of care is required when pulling off the devil may care stunts that define the character. Max’s movement bears the lumbering trademark of Rockstar’s Euphoria engine, but still responds well to your command. Rather than running in a small Nico Bellic-esque semi circle to simply turn around, Max is far more direct, making the gruffly voice drunk a much better gunfighter than expected. He’s not looking too bad either.It’s been nearly 10 years since the release of the last Max Payne and the leap in graphical improvement is astounding. The level of detail matches LA Noire in terms of realism, but not to the point where you’re hypnotised by peoples realistically yapping faces. This even extends to the violence, which doesn’t hold back at all. It goes all the way from juicy exit wounds exploding from the back of a fresh kill’s head to the grisly remains of someone who lost a fight with a pipebomb – not to mention most of his limbs and organs, too. Supplementing the superb gun battles are the potentially overused slow motion shots that trigger after killing the last guy in the room. In a breathtaking 3 seconds, you see the bullet swoop from your barrel and straight through your target. Alongside the gore, it’s pretty gratuitous to strap yourself headfirst into the violence. Not that it’s a bad thing of course.
The single player will take a casual week to complete, but it is worth going over again on the more extreme difficulties. The good folks at Rockstar were even kind enough to bestow an arcade mode – for those of us who just want to dive right into some no-nonsense action – and a cookie-cutter multiplayer – for those of us who want to dive right into a pre-pubescent shouting match online. Somehow, the multiplayer mode isn’t too bad. It takes on board the framework of a basic Call of Duty upgrade system and lets you run wild. Oh, and bullet time is included, but be warned: If you can see things in slow motion, so can everyone else.
Once again, Rockstar create a cinematically sound outing that really drags you from reality and into a realistic fantasy world. Although Max is showing his age, the presentation – from the quirky faux-comic panel shots to the Max’s drunkview – is astounding. Even the soundtrack avoided the typical nuances that plague just about every other action game. A co-op mode would have been nice, but now I’m just being spoilt.
Probably something I shouldn’t admit, but I love sneaking up on people. No, wait, come back. It’s not in that way, I just adore the intense concentration required to move up to someone without them noticing. I’ve managed to perfect this dodgy talent to such an extent that, whilst bored at a previous job, I tailed a colleague from one end of a quiet office to the manger’s office without them knowing. I’d like to add that I did this whilst wearing a pair of Cuban heels. Not that I’m trying to impress you…or make you feel uncomfortable.
Either way, I’m blaming stealth videogames for my behaviour. This genre has produced such subtle sneaking sagas like Metal Gear Solid, Splinter Cell and, of course, Hitman. I almost included Assassin’s Creed on the list, but running around rooftops in broad daylight whilst wearing a circumcised Ku Klux Klan outfit is almost the opposite of keeping a low key profile. But because of Creeds immense popularity amongst impatient gamers, it looks like stealth games today are less about tactics, strategy and patience, and more about running in, raising a ruckus and bogging off. Sam Fisher already started down the gung-ho garden path, and now Mr 47 is sneaking shortly behind.
After more than half a decade of absence, the next Hitman game is emerging from the shadows with a more mainstream approach. The last title in the series – Blood Money – saw Mr 47 assassinate the corrupt Vice President of the United States before faking his own death and going off the radar. Now the bald anti-hero returns, as he is hunted across the US by the police. Plot details were revealed earlier this year by Hakan Abrak, the games lead producer.
The setting is a bit different and we’re taking the story somewhere else — you start the game by killing Diana, the only truly human connection Agent 47 has ever had. And that changes the stakes immensely. In earlier games, Diana’s contracts set the tone and direction of the story. This time, Agent 47 is on his own. He must choose his next steps on his own.
This isn’t the only shocking change. David Bateson, the voice of Mr 47, has been unofficially dumped by IO Interactive with a new voice yet to be announced. Bateson spoke to Hitmanforum, a fan site for the game, in June last year to reveal the bad news.
The absolute truth is: no one from IO Interactive is answering my calls, e-mails or sms. Feeling very let down at the moment but I haven’t heard personally.
Not only this, but veteran videogame composer, Jesper Kyd, won’t be providing the soundtrack this time round. Instead, music will be provided by Peter Kyed and Peter Peter, whose back catalogue includes both Kane & Lynch games…and not much else. Probably best if they didn’t admit to being involved with that redundant timewaster. Even Vivienne McKee, voice of Diana (47′s boss), has been replaced by Naomi from Lost. They’ll probably give the bald chap himself some hair next.
But sacrilegious changes aside, the game is not looking bad at all and a sense of liquidity has been injected into the gameplay. A few gameplay mechanics have been pick pocketed from Splinter Cell Conviction, including the transparent bubble statue of yourself that pops up showing where everyone thinks you are. There also looks to be a lot more focus on using objects in your environment, instead of creeping up behind people with a cord of strangulation wire 50 times in a row. The gore seems to have been increased to a level comparable to Manhunt, but I doubt we’ll see the same censorship backlashthat saw Dixons refusing the stock the title. But then again, when’s the last time anyone shopped at Dixons?
Nothing much has been revealed about the locations in the game apart from several rainy scenes in Chicago. So far, it looks like Mr 47 will be restricted to the US – just like in the last game – which is a shame. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there will be a linear feel to the variation of environments, but there’s not enough globetrotting in games today. Will we see sprawling city after sprawling city, or will a few mansions and military bases get tossed into the mix? As long as we don’t have to make another unscheduled stop in a South American jungle again, we’ll be fine.
Seeing Square Enix’s looming logo on the games promotional art does make things unclear as to whether the Hitman games will start pandering towards the more mainstream crowd of gamers, whose sense of patience has been whittled down after masturbating through years of unchallenging affairs. Still, it’s a hard formula to ruin. Will everyone’s favourite bald, emotionally redundant killer upgrade to running around with grenade launcher, or will the shadows remain his best friend?
Just like Hollywood, the videogame industry has got the reboot bug. Aging titles like Tomb Raider, Doom and Goldeneye have all been given that extra coat of next-gen shine in the last decade with more titles yet to be revitalised. Most of the time the new vision is faithful to the original and lovingly crafted to the point where you wonder if the guy behind it was an avid fan himself. But with most video game being consolidated into fewer over-arching genres, you’re more than likely to get another Call of Duty clone that wears the skin of that old memory like Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. So what happens when you take a futuristic squad strategy game from the 90′s and give it the first person treatment?
Before he started to make empty promises, Peter Molyneux was ahead of his time when it came to innovative games. With titles such as Populous, Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper under his much needed hat by the time Y2K became an international concern, Molyneux proved what you can accomplish if you move away from the mainstream. One of his better portfolio pieces lay dormant for a long time before anyone decided to dust it off. The cyber-punk classic Syndicate put you in the role of an owner a growing corporation in the future with the intent of world domination via hostile takeovers. Extremely hostile takeovers. And now we finally have the 21st century remake.
The year is 2069. There are not nations, only corporations. Cybernetics, wireless technology and weaponry have reached an ungodly level where a fully armed individual can hack computers with their mind, fire bullets around corners and act like an unstoppable one man army. It isn’t hard to imagine what a fully funded multi-national company can achieve in this dark future. The big companies are set to battle for world domination and have enlisted their own private army of genetically enhanced super soldiers known as “Agents”. You take the role of Agent Miles Kilo of Eurocorp as you give put the murder and executions into mergers and acquisitions.
One of the first things that screams out when playing this game is its similarities with Deus Ex 3. It’s a futuristic shooter which gifts you with cybernetic abilities. In this world, the iPhone is a thing of the past. There is only DART, a neural chip inplant which gifts its user with access to the dataverse (the internet, basically), making all handheld electronic devices unnecessary. Eurocorp implants you with the new DART 6 chip giving you access top more than Facebook and Wikipedia. The first skill your taught is to override another user’s DART chip, and their mind, to turn on your enemies before taking their own life. Think a crude form of mind control that is alarmingly effective. But that’s not all you’re armed with.
But what is a shooter without things that shoot? All of the old weapons from the original game have been restored, with a few others thrown in to give variety to your killing career. You start off plugging away with uzi’s, assault rifles and grenades, but it’s not long before you’re causing merry hell with flamethrowers, pod-rocket launchers and even a portable minigun capable of sawing your enemies in half – literally. One of the more bizarre items in your arsenal is the new gauss gun. Instead of being an overpowered laser blaster, as they usually are in these games, the gauss gun locks onto a target and changes the bullets path, allowing you to curves shots without having to leave cover. It made some of the more annoying boss fights easier to manage.
Surprisingly, the game’s visuals look like a lot more work went into than your garden variety FPS. The same can be said about the gameplay – it looks and handles like Battlefield 3. Running through a gunfight, sliding across the floor before breaking the neck of a trigger happy foe is as easy as paying with chip and PIN. Fire fights flow without any major problems and using the mix of bullets and DART control never happens the pacing. The boss fights do get frustrating, especially when you’re on your 50th attempt at following their pattern before a mistimed slide puts you into the path of yet another homing missile. But there’s only a handful of them, with only a couple that really test your nerves.
After you complete the main story in under 8 hours, there’s still co op mode. Now this mode really does pay tribute to the original game. Taking a similar set up to Left 4 Dead, you’re part of a 4-person team that has to go into an enemy facility and steal/assassinate/destroy whatever your boss tells you. Using teamwork, you can split your skills amongst you and heal each other should things go awry. This mode has two great things going for it. One is the COD-esque upgrade system and the other is that each level is a re-imagined mission from the original game. Saying that there’s a sense of nostalgia with this, is an understatement. There’s 8 long missions, a lot of upgrades to work on and it never gets dull. This is worth paying the full price on it’s own.
Syndicate is a remarkable sci-fi shooter that doesn’t taint the memory of the 90′s classic. Whilst it features yet another campaign mode that can be obliterated in a full Sunday, the co op mode will keep you coming back for more again and again. There are enough amazing set pieces that makes the main game worth returning to for a mop up of achievements. The only thing that would make this game perfect would be more co op maps and possible a team deathmatch mode with police and civilians thrown into the middle of combat. With Deus Ex, Syndicate and Hard Reset creeping up on the FPS market, are we witnessing the revival of cyber-punk in videogames? If this is the result, then plug me in and update me.
Hair metal is the most laughed at genre in music history. Even skiffle has maintained more dignity. Whilst it’s always argued which band started what, Van Halen were often credited as the forefathers of hair metal craze. Bringing to light one of the most influential guitarists who could ever abuse his fingers, the band are an icon for frantic rock solos, athletic stage presence and enough spandex to gift wrap a whale.
But 6 years into their fame, they reached their peak and demise with golden haired David lee Roth leaving the group, only to be replaced with red-obsessed rocker Sammy Hagar. Van Halen slowly descended into sounding less like the band that started it, to sounding more like the bands that copied them. The 1998 album Van Halen III was the final straw. Not even Extreme’s Gary Cherone could save the band from itself.
Like a carrot on a string to a donkey, fans were led in false hope as constant rumours of reforming with Roth filled the circles. Despite a few fleeting appearances of the Hagar line up together with the eventual exile of Michael Antony, there was still hope for the golden days of the early 80′s to return. When Diamond Dave cut off his thinning hair and Eddie’s teenage son stepped into the 4 string role, this same hope was still strong.Last month saw the release of the band’s new single Tattoo, a rumoured rehash of a previously unreleased song from the bands prehistoric days. First impressions of the song was the same as any other group from 30 years ago: they’re long passed it. After the appallingly dull Final Frontier by Iron Maiden and Gun N’ Roses long overdue Chinese Democracy, nobody was really expecting another MTV-era group to pull it out the bag after storing it away for so long. The new album, A Different Kind of Truth, would need to be an effective apology for the last 2 decades.
The video didn’t help that much either. Eddie is looking just about healthy after a long bout with crystal meth, Alex Van Halen resembles the ghost of drumming future, David still clings to his cool rather well, and Wolfgang Van Halen seems overwhelmed to be there. No jumping. No crazy poses. The band is showing it’s age and making the lesson about growing old taste bitter. But the song slowly grows, providing you just listen and don’t watch. It’s a steady beat number with everything in the right place. Dave’s lyrics still feel as abstract as ever, but you slowly decrypt his nonsense behind it.
Without warning A Different Kind of Truth reaches back into it’s glory days like the last 30 years never happened. Suddenly, the hard rock sound of Fair Warning and Van Halen I jump out. She’s The Woman, You And Your Blues, and China Town provide the soundtrack to what must be retro tour of the bands early days. But one small problem lies. Once you get to the chorus of You And Your Blues, the vocal harmony reminds you of the angelic voice the band had. They almost have that, but without Anthony screaming his ultra high tones against the rest of the band, the chorus loses a vocal range that makes you feel like someone is still being missed.As soon as Bullethead thunders in, this thought goes away and the bands range to break into a full fast force. From here on, the rest of the album continues its flawless routine of reuniting the bad long lost sound. Even the weirdness of some of the lesser known album tracks are relived. Towards the end of the album, the 1978 blues cover of Ice Cream Man gets its 2012 counterpart with Stay Frosty. Starting with a stripped down blues progression, the song explodes into an electrically charged rock anthem with blues beat still intact. You could almost say that this track is the band signing its name to win back your trust.
So after 10 years of water down Bon Jovi-esque pop number, with another 15 or so years of near obscurity, why have they waited for so long to bring the A material out at the end game? Has their punishment of fading away and growing old been the long overdue kick up the arse? Whatever it was, it’s a miracle. Van Halen are back.
It won’t be a few months until the final batman film is out in the cinema, so we’ll have to do with a videogame instead. Oh cruel fate, thy name is Christopher Nolan. Rather than watch Christian Bale use all the power of his Welsh hissing to simulate the embodied voice of fear, we’ll have to become Batman ourselves. Those of you who played the previous title, Arkham Asylum, will be glad to know that Batman: Arkham City is neither a carbon copy nor a massive step away from the perfect gameplay formula. In fact, the game has improved in just about every single way possible.After the breakout in Gotham City’s Arkham Asylum, Bruce Wayne (Batman without his mask on) has stepped up into the world of politics to stand against the creation of Arkham City. Similar to the film, Escape From New York, Arkham City is a walled off and isolated area of Gotham that has been converted into a massive prison. Just like the cult film, criminals are simply dumped in and the door is locked behind them. Unfortunately, Bruce is arrested for an unknown crime during the games opening and is sent into the criminal complex. Waking up in a cell, Wayne encounters Hugo Strange, the prison’s warden. He mentions a sinister Protocol Ten before leaving to fulfil something equally nasty. Before you can say “Adam West”, Wayne escapes and finds his batsuit, ready to tackle the prison island.
From the moment you get out into the open, the game looks stunning. It is winter in Gotham and the city seems to go on into the distance like a sprawling metropolis. From the street to the highest factory chimney, there is an astonishing amount of detail. Most of the city is a ruin after being converted into a sprawling penitentiary, with derelict buildings, ruined freeways and crumbling landmarks. The size of the game is a bit of an illusion though. Once you’ve glided from one end of the island to the other, you soon learn that it wasn’t the big chunk of Gotham you first expected. But there’s still a huge area to explore. And to fight in of course.The best aspect from Arkham Asylum was the flowing fighting system, and nothing has been ruined. Taking on around ten thugs in an average fight is one off the most exhilarating experiences you can have with a game pad. Just like last time, you build up a combo by attacking enemies whilst leaving your lycra ass unscathed. Watching Batman bound from one guy to the next in a flurry of acrobatic attacks starts to resemble a manly game of pinball, rather than a mass punch up. New moves have been included to add variety into the beatings, including beat downs and double takedowns. A beat down involves stunning a particularly tough enemy and pummelling them with what can only be describe as an inhumanly fast string of punches. The double takedown is pretty much self explanatory: You take out two guys at ones, usually by bashing heads together.
As well as the amazing take on Gotham City, Batman’s friend and foes have had the same polish put upon them. There are some old faces returning, including a sick and dying Joker, but there are a surprisingly large amount of new faces poured in. One of the first you’ll see is an old favourite, The Penguin. Rather than being the quacking, flippered mutant that we’re so used to, this new Penguin resembles a cross between Ray Winstone and Bob Hoskins. He talks like them, as well. No mutations. No army of mind controlled birds. Just a black market dealer with a slightly pointed nose and a heart as black as…well a penguin. Two Face appears in a guise similar to Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent in the Dark Knight Film. That lidless staring eye still sends shivers down the left side of me. But one character deserves a designers award.At certain point during the game, the action flips from Batman to another (sort of) ally. No, it’s not Robin, although he does make a brief appearance. Whipping from rooftop to rooftop, Catwoman is your Batman away from Batman, and this is the best looking Catwoman yet. Rather than donning stitched PVC, Miss Kyle wears a biker-esque cat suit with some cute ears and some snazzy tech goggles. The cat suit is unzipped to just about the right point, so during cut scenes I accidentally found myself at here ever so slightly exposed chest. Not out of loneliness, you understand; just admiring the fine rendering. Playing as Catwoman is just as distracting. With her own fight moves and gadgets, fighting as her takes a slightly different pace. Also, instead of the grappling hook, she swings with her whip into the side of buildings, before scaling the wall at a pace that puts Ezio Auditore to shame. One vital skill is her ability to crawl on ceilings. Not really like a cat, more like a spider, but it get’s the stealth sections done with less hassle.
The main story can be completed in an intense weekend (the kind that involves a strict itinerary for eating and sleeping), but there is still a fortune in side missions, challenges and various treasure hunts set up by The Riddler. Batman Arkham City plays more or less the same as the last game, but with an entire city space to fly and fight in, it’s the best Batman experience next to seeing The Dark Knight Rises next year. Now if they could at least put a Batmobile section in the next game.
Chicago has had a long history of crime. From the early 20th Century days of Al Capone to the current gang problems in the city. Just like any other major city in America, gang violence is a major concern to the community. So much so, that some ex members of the gangs have vowed to try and stop the violence once and for all. The Chicago based organization known as Ceasefire has a goal to stop the gang violence completely by interrupting potentially violent situations, that could results in shootings and killings.
[Article continues on Flickering Myth]