Film Review – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

We were promised ‘Bayhem’: more location, more action and, bizarrely, less explosions and Revenge of the Fallen doesn’t disappoint on these counts, delivering a marked improvement on robo-duelling as well as believable robot to human interaction.

If you go to see this film expecting more than giant computer generated robots kicking nuts and bolts out of each other you were always going to be disappointed and though Director Michael Bay has done little to convert nay-sayers, there’s little more of a plot this time around to hold things in place.

Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) returns with his impossibly attractive girlfriend Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox) and he’s now starting college and trying to get on with his life after disposing of evil nasty Megatron two years ago.

The Decepticons (the baddies) aren’t content to shuffle off and leave Earth be though, and have been tackling with ultra-secret taskforce NEST (which may stand for Nuclear Emergency Search Team – we aren’t told – but the important thing is it’s an alliance between the Autobots and humanity against the remaining Decepticons).

The story this time revolves around the fact that the Transformers have come to Earth before, some 19,000 years ago, and to cut a short story shorter the Fallen is the equivilent of the devil, a Prime (yes, like that Optimus guy) cast out after he decided killing innocents to obtain Energon, the races power source, was a good idea.

What follows is a highly computer generated chase movie with some comedy moments thrown in for good measure, Sam’s mum trying some ‘special’ college brownies is a particular high point, and eventually coming to a climax in the sandy lands of Egypt.

The film works. It isn’t flawless, it isn’t outstandingly excellent, but it does what it set out to do. With the summer release schedule peppered with heavy releases it lets you forget reality for a moment and embrace this strange world where toys come to life…wait a second that sounds familiar…

The returning cast all put on a good performance, save Megan Fox who rests on her laurels somewhat in her eye-candy role and resorts to a few damsel-in-distress turns. John Turturro fills out Agent Simmons, who’s fallen on hard times after Sector 7 was disbanded following the events of film one, and treads the line between action and comedy perfectly to set the tone of the final act.

Megatron seems a little emasculated by title-stealer The Fallen, and bravely runs away at the end to leave the door open for a three-quel, which despite Bay’s insistence this was written as if it was the last Transformers movie, seems inevitable, if not for a couple more years.

Already in the two years since its predecessor you can see how much the technical complexity of the robots themselves has left forwards, with fights between up to have a dozen at a time a common occurrence, one particular highlight is the Mortal-Kombat style de-spining of a cougar shaped Decepticon.

The real hero is, of course, Optimus Prime, who, keeping with the Biblical analogy here, is killed and then resurrected for the final face-off against the big nasty, while Sam and Mikaela carry on their (slightly) forced love story, takling the issue of the ‘l’ word itself, which really pales in comparison to the excitement going on all around.

Bay has surpassed himself to create a film which people are sure to enjoy if nothing else, but he wasn’t trying to make people thing or deliver a moral message, he just wanted to blow stuff up.

And, despite his initial claims, he does like no one else could.

Advertisements

Introducing: Streetfight Silence Live from the Cellar Bar Bracknell

Bracknell’s Cellar Bar was rocked to its foundations last night when 80s-inspired synth rock band Streetfight Silence took to the stage.

Though they were second on the bill, the three-piece, Bracknell based themselves, wipped the crowd out of their Sunday night comfort zones to get connected with some quality music.

Russ Merry, who spends his days working at Legoland to pay the bills, tackles lead vocals and guitar with Chris Cooley on the drums and Chris Penfold on bass. The group have already won the Wokingham Battle of the Bands, bagging them a cool £200 and time at a high end recording studio, making them a hot contender for this year’s Best British Newcomer at the Kerrang! Awards.

The gig drew an sizeable crowd and managed to get them singing along to melodic ballad “After All”. The energetic performance brought the dingy venue to life with some solid drumming, ambitious bass and impressive guitar work from Russ himself.

The band will soon go into the studio to record more material, but you can get your hands on the “Skys The Limit” EP now, or check out myspace.com/streetfightsilence.

Interview with Burnout Paradise’s Big Surf Island Producer Pete Lake

Downloadable content is big business in video games at the moment, with Microsoft famously paying Rockstar Games over a million dollars to create new episodes of Grand Theft Auto IV.

One pioneer of DLC in recent years is Criterion Games, the brains behind the car-smashing racing series: Burnout.

As a Burnout enthusiast myself, I decided to get in the passenger seat with Pete Lake, Producer of Big Surf Island, to find out how this latest release would enhance the landscape of Burnout Paradise.

James Parry: How do you feel the Big Surf Island DLC will enhance the
Burnout Paradise experience?

Pete Lake: Big Surf Island brings a whole new location to Paradise City. People have been exploring the existing landscape for over a year now, finally we can bring them somewhere new to drive and have fun together. With the new location we are also adding more of everyone’s favourite activities, new experiences and new vehicles to drive.

JP: There’s more of an emphasis on the ‘playground’ aspect of Paradise with this update, what’s the reason for this?

PL: We have been working with our community to understand what people love to do in Paradise City. We know everyone loves the more playground elements of Paradise like the quarry and the airfield. We set out to make the entire Island like one of these, a super condensed, explosion of fun.

JP: Will there be any gameplay updates with this DLC? Such as the ability to place waypoints on the map to allow players to converge on an area more easily?

PL: We are adding many new gameplay updates with the Island, far too many to detail here. Really noticeable things are the new visible checkpoint markers. All of the events on Big Surf Island get you to drive through checkpoints so we needed to make sure the player can see them where ever they are, so adding visible markers in the world was important. On your question, there are numerous Freeburn challenges which get people to meet at specific locations, if you want to meet up with friends try one of these.

JP: After the extensive updates to Paradise to date, what thought
has Criterion put into its next title? Burnout or otherwise.

PL: We are always working on new ideas and figuring out the best way to bring them to our customers. Currently the best way has been to develop them into Burnout Paradise, who knows what else we may develop in the future and how we will get it into people’s hands.

JP: Do you think the emphasis on DLC in Paradise is something which will becoming increasingly common for other games in the future?

PL: I know it will for us, it’s changed completely how we think about development. It’s so exciting to keep bringing new experiences to
people and to use those to bring people together in exciting and fun
ways.

JP: Freeburn Online is a big part of Burnout Paradise, what new
experiences can we expect from the new challenges?

PL: We have a set of 10 new challenges for Big Surf Island which showcase some of the incredible new locations on Big Surf Island. New for the Island is the ability to play each of these challenges with any number of players. No more waiting around for your 8th friend to get online before you can complete the challenge.

JP: The free-roaming aspect of Burnout Paradise as a whole was a
big risk to take after the previous titles, how effective do you feel
it’s been overall?

PL: I think it’s been a huge success. We have delivered a location people
love whether they race or just like to drive and explore. We can see people all like to play the game in different ways and express themselves. Big Surf Island brings something for all these people; there are new events but there are also new billboards, Mega Jumps and Smash Gates to reward discovery.

JP: Last year the bikes update changed the Burnout landscape forever, what is the future of bikes in Burnout? Are there any tailor made sections in Big Surf Island?

PL: Big Surf Islands offers 12 new roads to rule on bikes during night
and day and plenty of areas to explore at high speed.

JP: Many racing games strive to create a real and authentic simulation of driving, rather than simply a game. How important do you believe realism is to racing titles, and games in general?

PL: I think a sense of believability is very important and is a different concept from a simulation. Players must believe what they are doing
is possible so they can enjoy doing it. We want to make games which are accessible and fun to play, with the Bikes we spent a lot of time on the handling to ensure that it remains a really fun riding experience inside the believable Burnout world. Just creating a simulation of bikes wouldn’t have been fun and would have been out of place in our world.

JP: How much have you been considering players’ input and opinion
in the updates and changes you make in Paradise?

PL: We have a very active community and we have involved them as much as possible during development of all our DLC. We’ve even had people tour the office during development. We run our Crash TV podcasts and have developed our Criterion Games Network so we can ensure our community gets the feedback it deserves from us.

JP: Some claim downloadable content is often profiting from content which should have been included in the original retail release, what is your opinion on this?

PL: The downloadable content you are seeing for Burnout Paradise could not have even been thought about until we had released the game and seen how people reacted to it. We could not have designed Big Surf Island without the support of our community.

JP: How do you think the content and significance of DLC, Criterion made and otherwise, will change in the future?

PL: I hope we (and other developers) can continue to offer our players more and more new experiences. The game is bigger than the box it comes in, offering players new ways to experience the product and new ways to expand it are really important.

This Is Entertainment’s comprehensive E3 Summary: Part 3 – Microsoft

Here it is then, the one you’ve all been waiting for, at least I hope so! After watching Microsoft’s mammoth E3 press conference in full I’m going to digest that down as much as I can to get you all clued up on the latest and greatest information.

You may have heard a few things blowing around on the internet, so first let’s answer a few quick questions:

– What do you mean there’s going to be Metal Gear Solid on Xbox 360?!
– Well the creator of MGS announced the next title: Metal Gear Solid – Rising, will be coming to 360, but there’s little chance MGS4 will make it over as well, sorry about that! Don’t rule out MGS1 on Xbox Live Arcade though…

– I hear Microsoft is partnering up with enough different companies to be declared serial bigamist of the year?
– That’s right, well, the partnering part at least, not sure what you’re going on about…MS announced partnerships with Facebook, Twitter, Sky, Last.fm AND Netflix. (more on some of these later on)

– So Xbox is trying to be some sort of all-in-one box of entertainment then really?
– That’s the idea. They’re pushing all possible avenues to bring gamers full 1080p HD video with instant streaming, music, social networks, everything you could possibly want bar going and getting you another beer from the fridge basically.

– Halo Reach? ODST? WHAT IS GOING ON?!
– Calm down! Yes there are now officially two Halo games in the works over at Bungie. Halo 3: ODST (Orbital Drop Shock Trooper) is an add-on to Halo 3 which will include 3 Halo 3 multiplayer maps and a 10+ hours campaign focusing on the ODST troops around New Mombasa, set between Halo 2 and Halo 3. Halo Reach is a “top” secret Halo project Bungie have been working on. My reliable sources tell me that from the name it would suggest it has something to do with the first Halo ring over Reach, which was destroyed in the first game and was a pivotal moment in the war. Not much official info on it exists just yet, but it’s due out late 2010, for now, just check out the teaser trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqIEvH7sGQ0

– What on EARTH is this Project Natal thing?
– That’s a very interesting question. In a nutshell it’s some fancy new technology which lets YOU be the controller, including facial and voice recognition and full motion capture without the need for any strange suits or anything. It’s essentially MS’ answer to the Wii’s motion capture, but done in true MS style…they had to go one better. If it really works like it claims to then it genuinely a big step forward in potential for MS, but the videos seem a little contrived to be convincing, take a look for yourself: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oACt9R9z37U

Also, you can check out a blog post on Natal from a good friend of mine, Andy Hemphill: http://tinyurl.com/ndz9m7

Now, I think it’s time we had a look at what’s the most important thing about a games console, aside from the fancy deals and new technology, which is its games.

The first game to take the floor was Tony Hawk Ride, which uses a skateboard controller to track the gamers motion and movements on the skateboard, and let them have more control than the plethora of Tony Hawk titles of years gone by. The man himself was there to show it off, just the first of MS’ star guests of E3, but despite the ‘bigging up’ it still could be an excellent and innovative game.

Next up was a biggie: Modern Warfare 2. So major it made the cover of the latest OXM, the game is the sequel to the phenomenally successful Game of the Year that was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The trailer, which you really should have seen by now (but here it is if not), was impressive enough, but the gameplay shown was the most interesting element. It sees a new recruit, codename ‘Roach’, following COD4 hero ‘Soap’ McTavish in a snowy blizzard through which the player must claim an icy rock face to the next encounter. The weather plays a massive part, marking the shift between stealth, as you sneak around stealthily before the blizzard clears and colossal frantic fire-fight takes place. The game looks outstanding and the single player was a personal high point so it’s good to see that Infinity Ward haven’t relied on the predecessors ridiculous success on Live.

Joyride, a FREE XBLA game, will be the first racing title to use your avatars for some funky Mario Kart-esque action. The game certainly gives a decent platform for UGC, and while you do have to pay to get the best tracks and cars, only one of you’re friends has to have bought them to play them with you, which is a neat idea.

Teaser trailers for Crackdown 2, Left 4 Dead 2 and Splinter Cell: Conviction mark the emphasis of MS’ focus on ‘Only on Xbox’ titles this E3, and admittedly come of impressively for it. Conviction in particular looks to break free a little from the traditional Splinter Cell format, as Fischer takes off his tri-goggles and dons a distinctly Bruce-Willis-in-Die-Hard attitude as he tries to find out who killed his daughter. A couple of slick design features make this release stand out, namely super-imposing credits and objectives on the landscape of the levels, immersing you in the world while keeping the real-time narrative going, and a refreshingly tasteful use of slow-mo.

Not to be left out, Epic Games, the kings of Gears of War, demoed their old-school 2.5D side-scrolling platformer, which showed a nice level of depth, ironically, for the genre through Xbox Live Arcade.

Halo was always going to get some hype, and the play-through of ODST delivered everything fans of the series have been waiting for, complete with ill-fated TV show Firefly voice actors, which is always a plus.

Natal proved to top off what was near to being a continuous round of applause for most of the press briefing, but where can I hear all this news for myself I hear you ask? Just head over to Gamespot to check out their full press conference video, but be sure you have two hours to kill!

The year looks set to be a good one, and if MS delivers on what it has promised then it will certainly give Nintendo some sales figures to contend with by the time the Christmas spending spree begins.

This Is Entertainment’s comprehensive E3 Summary: Part 2 – Nintendo

Nintendo is a name which has been synonymous with video gaming for the past 30 years. Now in its 120th year, having spent it’s early years making cards and dominoes, the company is beginning to feel the pressures of the ever-increasing competition in the sector.

This year’s E3 was a mixture of the company’s “Everyone is a gamer” philosophy and it’s traditional strong points, namely that over-enthusiastic, red-hatted plumber Mario.

While it’s important to put effort into franchises which consumers associate with the brand, Nintendo’s press conference, which lasted just over an hour (nearly an hour shorter than the other two big names), spent around five minutes showcasing only three third party Wii titles: The Conduit, Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles and Dead Space: Extraction.

While all three games look interesting and offer a “harder edge”, according to Reggie Fils-Aime, President and CEO of Nintendo of America, only The Conduit is an entirely original IP (Intellectual Property).

It certainly looks like Sega have done a good job with it, and it will give people a reason to think again before dismissing Wii as a “kiddie console”, but all signs point to it going against the grain of the norm on Nintendo platforms.

Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles is the natural sequel to The Umbrella Chronicles, an on-the-rails shooter which made the most of the Wii Zapper, and follows Leon S Kennedy and Claire Redfield as they play through the events of Resident Evil 2, offering a new perspective for the player. If it’s predecessor is anything to go by this will be an excellent and addictive title.

Dead Space: Extraction is a prequel of the edgy psycological horror which impressed critics across the world last year when it was released on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. It’s obvious that this will be a different type of game in the same universe, but should still offer an exciting gaming experience for Wii players.

With the non-Nintendo developed announcements hidden away at the end of the conference, it was difficult to ignore the BIG announcements:

Wii

  • Super Mario Galaxy 2 announced
  • Wii Fit Plus announced
  • New Super Mario Brothers Wii announced
  • Wii Vitality Sensor announced
  • Metroid: Other M announced
  • Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: The Crystal Bearers
  • Wii Sports Resort re-announced
  • Wii Motion Plus re-announced

DS/DSi

  • Mario and Luigi: Bowsers Inside Story announced
  • Golden Sun DS announced
  • The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks announced
  • Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box announced
  • Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Prisoners of the Sky announced
  • Facebook photo sharing announced

Chances are if you just skimmed that you’re thinking something along the lines of “same old, same old” or possibly “what on EARTH is a ‘Vitality Sensor’ when it’s at home?!”.

Allow me to explain. The Vitality Sensor works in a similar way to the thing you wear on your finger when you’re in hospital, and it does the same thing: measures your pulse. According to Nintendo the sensor will ” initially sense the user’s pulse and a number of other signals being transmitted by their bodies, and will then provide information to the users about the body’s inner world. “

Concrete details about how exactly it will be used in games are scarce, but essentially the plan is to detect stress levels and other things from your pulsebeat. I’d really like to see it used in a psychological horror, upping the weirdness as your pulse increases perhaps?

The big game releases come as no surprise, with Mario abound, but the prospect of a straight sequel in Super Mario Galaxy 2 seems like a lazy cash-in and risks cheapening the frankly astounding brilliance of the original. Then again, riding Yoshi should be good fun.

As for the DS release, the name Bowser’s Inside Story sounded exciting and original, a chance to find a little more about the growling nemesis of that plucky plumber and unleash some of his power, but sadly that potential is denied when the name is taken literally and the Mario brothers go on a journey through Bowser’s insides instead.

The latest Samus project, Project M, sounds more promising, if mysterious, but the focus on back story to add depth to the character is undoubtedly a positive step. Making the character progressively more than just a super suit.

Embracing social media, albeit in a small way, with the integration of Facebook photo sharing on the DSi, is definitely another step in the right direction, but a far cry from the bold partnerships Microsoft have announced (full MS round up coming soon).

In the end Nintendo seem to have taken their “Games are for everyone and everyone’s a gamer” ethos a little to far and a little too literally. It’s all well and good making games which appeal to the masses, and work as tools rather than games in the case of things like the blatantly obvious Wii Fit Plus, but it has to remember that games for everyone aren’t really for everyone.

Sometimes people want something a bit more specific, tailored for people like them. Nintendo may argue that it fulfils this by letting players tailor games to suit their own tastes, but sometimes it’s nice to have things done for you. Rather than being able to adapt games to your needs, it’s a nice feeling when you switch on a title and think “This game was made for me”.

This Is Entertainment’s comprehensive E3 Summary: Part 1 – Sony

So it’s that time of year again, when the best gaming minds from around the world descend on Los Angeles for the Electronic Entertainment Expo (that’s E3 to sophisticated people like you and me), the event which in the past has given such shock announcements as the undercover launch of the Sega Saturn back in 1995, the first trials of Sony’s current gaming monster, the Playstation 3, and the debut of the Wii‘s patented motion-sensing technology (not to mention motion plus).

It will come as no surprise then that I, and countless gamers around the world, were excited about this year’s event, and with good reason. All three consoles are in their stride now, with competition hotting up in the too-oft-mentioned recession.

So, without further preamble, allow me to present This Is Entertainment‘s quintessential guide to the comings and goings of E3 2009:

Sony (watch the full conference on Gamespot HERE)

The PS3 failed to light a fire of enthusiasm at last year’s E3, so what did the Blu-ray kings offer this year?

President and CEO Jack Tretton opened Sony’s press conference with a plathora of impressive sounding numbers, boasting there would be an admittedly impressive 364 games released on Playstation platforms in 2009 (you feel as though they could have found one more to make it a year’s worth).

Sony reports it made over 30% of 2008’s industry sales over it’s three platforms: PS3, PS2 and PSP. The problem is, PS2 and PS3 are competing for the same market, so the only reason people would go for a PS2 over a PS3 is price. Hence the latest announcement of cutting the PS2 RRP to $99.

If they would cut the price of the PS3, then it may encourage gamers to opt for the clearly superior console straight away, and save people the money and hassle of swapping over 6 months down the line when developers stop releasing titles on Ps2…hmm…

Despite the questionable marketing strategy, Sony still shifted 22million PS3s in 2008, no doubt helped by titles like the much-hyped Killzone 2.

Other than a handful of PS3-exclusives like Killzone, last year gave the platform little to distinguish it from Microsoft’s Xbox 360, with few developers willing to put in the time to stretch the graphics power of the PS3 beyond that of the Xbox 360, one of its key advantages.

Undoubtedly Playstation Network will be a big area for growth in the next year (particularly if the competitions’ plans are anything to go by – check back in a few days for details), due to it being free.

The main thing that people need to know about though, is the games, and the PS3 lineup with its plethora of new games was impressive but only 35 of them will be exclusive to Playstation platforms.


The closing of the feature-length press conference was a demonstration of the excitingly shiny-looking God of War 3 – a PS3 exclusive – which saw a hunter-type character take on mythical beasts while a hell-fire demon writhed around in the background. Certainly looking promising on the action stakes, something between the blockbuster feel of Lord of the Rings and the rich imagery of the original Greek stories themselves.

All in all this year should be better for Sony, and since, by their own admission, they didn’t do too badly in 2008, it should mean they sail through the economic troubles without a second thought.