Gaming: New Halo: Reach trailer

There may still be seven weeks to go before Bungie’s final (allegedly) outing into the sci-fi adventure universe of Halo, but Microsoft are keen to rack up the anticipation factor, which is why we now have a shiny new HD trailer.

September 14 will come around quickly once the summer weather wears off and people quickly retreat inside from their barbecues to shelter in the warmth given off by the whirr of their Xbox 360s – unless you can afford a glossy black one of course.

Halo is the backbone of the Xbox legacy, so you can understand why MS are pushing it so hard, but what can we get out of this latest trailer?

With a lot of exposure for the multiplayer aspect of the game through the Beta test, this trailer focuses on the campaign mode, which will see you take command of Noble Six. No rookie this time around, unlike the slightly lacklustre ODST, this squad are hardened Spartan IIIs, but not the tough cookies Master Chief and his pals are, so things should be a little tougher this time around.

The trailer opens with the planet Reach, the fall of which is well known by veteran Halo players, suggesting the ending of the game won’t be too happy. Proceedings take a distinctly Avatar-like turn as we see numerous flying transports (the pre-cursor to the Hornets seen in later games) crossing mountainous forests, so there may be levels similar to Halo 3‘s opening trek.

Soon Spartan troops are being briefed, including glimpses of the skull-faceplate-painted character known as ‘Ghost’, alongside humans, meaning the days of stealing human characters’ Shotguns will soon be here again.

Next an armoured convoy with air support speeding across a sandy plain before being attacked by The Covenant, which should be exciting since the series has been aching for an out and out mass vehicle battle for years, hence the popularity of the ‘Heavy’ multiplayer modes in Halo 3.

The Elites rear their head as the enemies once again, but this time around you have the advantage of armour upgrades (or downgrades?) to give you a helping hand, and The Covenant forces begin to overwhelm the backgrounds just as they did in New Mombasa.

A quick glimpse of what looks like a fighter jet we’d recognise from an American war film stirs up some questions before soon revealing it’s attached to a space rocket, which leads us to a Star Wars-esque space battle, but there is little time to absorb it as Bungie snatches Reach away from us again to keep us wanting more. As it should be.

With all their pedigree Bungie have every reason to make this an unforgettable title to see out the series on, with people growing tired of modern warfare once again it’s time to return to sci-fi, so everyone will be too engrossed by the time Call of Duty wants to fight back.

James Michael Parry

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Gaming: Exclusive Interview with Mark Meer, Commander Shepard from Mass Effect

While many people play computer games, there’s generally little thought for the voices behind our war-torn characters, until now. This Is Entertainment, in a totally original and never-before-seen stunt, has sought out one of these unsung heroes to ask them a few questions and find out some juicy game secrets.
The man in question is none other than Mark Meer, better known as the noble/dastardly Commander Shepard from Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2 and the imaginatively titled concluding episode: Mass Effect 3.
This Is Entertainment managed to catch up with him between saving the galaxy and having some herbal tea :

This Is Entertainment: How does it feel to be one of the most identifiable computer game characters of this generation?

Mark Meer: First of all, thank-you for opening with a flattering question. I feel lucky and honoured. As a long-time collector, I’m pretty thrilled that I get my own action figure later this summer. Of course, it will really be a Mark Vanderloo action figure… he’s the guy who Shepard’s appearance is based on. It’s also quite an honour to get to play the male version of a character Jennifer Hale is voicing – she’s one of the best in the business.

TIE: Have you played the games yourself? If so, what did you think of them?

MM: I have, and they’re great. I’ve usually seen some animatics and concept art during the recording process, but to see it all put together in gameplay always makes me pretty proud to be a part of it. As a player, the one problem for me personally is that I’m privy to many of elements of the plot, including the many alternate ways that any given situation could go. Here’s two equally geeky frames of reference: it’s a bit like playing through a Dungeons & Dragons module that you were Dungeon Master of a few months ago. Or like being Dr. Manhattan…except with pants. On the other hand, with something like the Dragon Age games, I can enjoy watching the plot unfold as it would normally, and then have fun slaying myself as a Werewolf or Darkspawn or what have you.

TIE: Mass Effect works on a varied morality system, if you were Shepard for real, would you be the noble hero, or the man who did whatever it takes to get the job done?

MM: Well when gaming, I tend to play ruthless on the first round, and noble on the second. It feels like I’m redeeming myself for all the poor bastards I screwed over on the first playthrough. Since there are few opportunities for a second chance at real life, I’d probably do my best to try to be noble.

TIE: There are countless dialogue choices throughout the two games, is there any line in particular which you’d class as your favourite?

MM: I could trot out “I have to go”, since I say it enough. Renegade Shepard has plenty of awesomely snide/badass comments… it’s hard to choose. As a side note, I had a blast doing all the Vorcha in ME2. Screaming and screeching at the top of your lungs in the soundbooth is always fun.

TIE: How did you begin to build the character of Shepard at the beginning of making ME1? Did you have a lot of room to experiment or were BioWare very clear on what they wanted word for word?

MM: To approach Shepard as a character is a bit tricky, because many of the lines you record will have to serve for both the Renegade and Paragon versions. And ultimately, the player is the one who’s deciding what Shepard’s personality and background are. First and foremost, Bioware wanted Shepard to be a marine – whether ruthless or noble, that’s who Shepard is at his/her core. Occasionally, we’d change bits of dialogue on the fly to make it flow better or sound more natural, and when Mac (Walters – Head Writer) was sitting in on sessions, he could approve those on the spot, rather than us having to pause in recording and phone Bioware for clearance.

TIE: What’s your favourite part of voice acting?

MM: I suppose it’s different to other sorts of performing since there’s the chance to play an incredibly wide variety of parts, including ones that you might not be cast in if the project were, say, a film or television show. Plus, you get to show up in your pyjamas and drink soothing herbal teas while you work.

TIE: What was your reaction to the controversies which were raised over the first game’s adult content? Were you surprised?
MM: Baffled, really. Most of what was being said was outright fabrication, so what was really puzzling was how these people who had never played the game were speaking with such authority on its content. But ultimately, most everyone realized it had been blown completely out of proportion and that some fairly tasteful partial nudity did not equal “virtual orgasmic rape” or whatever the hell they were trying to call it. As I recall, most of the “pundits” involved sheepishly recanted within a week.

TIE: Other than Shepard, who’s your favourite character in the series? And why?

MM: It’s hard to choose. I’ll have to go with my top three – Wrex, Tali, and Mordin. I guess I just like aliens…

TIE: According to me sources (i.e. Mr Google) you’re a keen gamer. Are there any titles you are particularly enjoying playing at the moment? Or looking forward to?

MM: Currently playing Red Dead Redemption, eagerly awaiting Fallout: New Vegas, Dead Rising 2, and DC Universe Online. Naturally, I’ll be eager to see the next Dragon Age and Mass Effect 3 as well.

TIE: Outside voice acting work you do improv shows, how are those going at the moment?

MM: Very well indeed. I just got back from the Los Angeles Improv Comedy Festival and the General Fools Improv Fest in Regina in time for Edmonton’s own Improvaganza. A lot of comedy has been made up on the spot and a lot of beer has been consumed. While I was in L.A., some friends of mine and I did a special super-hero themed show at the Eisner Award-winning Brave New World Comics in Newhall. The show’s called “The Harold of Galactus”. If you know both improv and comic books, you’ll find that name hilarious. Otherwise, you’ll just be confused and angry.

TIE: Mass Effect 3 is due late next year and we’ve heard it’s going to be more ‘light-hearted’. For fear of danger to your family from the BioWare overseers, is there anything else you can safely tell us about the game?

MM: Two words. Chimpanzee sidekick.
James Michael Parry

Film: Review – Inception

‘Inception’ means ‘beginning’, ‘start’ or ‘commencement’, but that doesn’t shed much light on what Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is all about.
Even if you did read my previous post about Nolan and Inception, little can prepare you for combination of simplicity and complexity of the film itself.
In the film, ‘inception’ is not just the beginning of something, but the principle of planting an idea in someone’s head. The way this is done is through dreams, using the subconscious to control the conscious, which involves connecting people together with a strange briefcase-shaped device which means several people can experience the same dream simultaneously.
The principle which you have to bear in mind watching the film is that dreams always seem real when you’re having them, as DiCaprio’s character Cobb says: “It’s only when we wake up that we realise anything is strange.”
Nolan, who also wrote the film, has never been someone who has embraced CGI in films before, generally adopting a very personal approach to directing, never taking a second unit and often doing shots with a hand-held camera. In Inception though, it’s impossible to avoid, since the story and concepts involved require so much which is not physically possible.
It would be a mistake to think that Nolan has ‘sold out’ with this picture though, since it’s an idea he’s been working on for many years, and it is certainly worth the wait.
The reputation of the director, who also directed The Dark Knight the trailers are keen to tell us, means Nolan is graced with a fantastic cast to sell his story.
DiCaprio, fresh from another deep emotional performance in Martin Scorcese’s Shutter Island, shows us how far he has come from his boyish charms evident in the likes of Titanic and Romeo & Juliet, delivering a gripping portrayal of a character which the audience latch on to and follow through the film, something which is integral to its success.
Ellen Page, of Juno Fame, also delivers convincingly as Ariadne, despite being the token ‘young person’, as does Cillian Murphy as Robert Fischer Jr., who is the victim of the film’s convoluted heist, despite not realising it.
Brit acting legend Michael Caine, in his fourth film with Christopher Nolan, is on wise old mentor duty once again, without his usual comic relief moments, and in fact its Tom Hardy of Layer Cake as Eames who shines in the comedy stakes.
To go in to the story too much would spoil or confuse things, but the film itself is a triumph of Nolan’s skill as a director and passion for story-telling. Those looking for the excitement, action and explosions of The Dark Knight won’t be disappointed, as the film’s climax providing the most nail-biting finale of Nolan’s work to date.
What is more important to the film though is that you’re constantly asking yourself what is real and what’s a dream, which is exactly the question Cobb is constantly dealing with, making you feel quite unnerved at times, but still exhilarated.
Inception is a film which binds genres together seamlessly, going from a heist movie one moment to a tense thriller the next, with some gravity-defying action thrown in for good measure. It must be seen to be believed.
Rating: 5/5

Music: News – Freddie Mercury Day

Queen were (yes, past tense, I’m looking at you Paul Rodgers) one of the finest rock bands of all time, and British music without them would be a shadow of the multi-genred beast it is today.

As a band which transcended different styles of music – you only need to compare songs from Greatest Hits 1 to Greatest Hits 2 – Queen are still one of the most well-known pop bands of the 70s and 80s. None of that legacy would have been possible without the presence of one flamboyant front man: Freddie Mercury.

His showmanship and song-writing skills were unmatched and the band’s live shows were brought roaring to life as soon as he entered the stage.

Sadly, Freddie died in 1991, aged 45, from bronchial pneumonia as a result of contracting the AIDS virus.

Following his death the remaining members of Queen founded the Mercury Pheonix Trust in 1992, a charity organisation which has raised millions of pounds for various charities and helped to raise AIDS awareness.

The latest fundraising idea from the Trust asks fans to spend a day dressed as Freddie Mercury on September 3 this year, around what would have been his birthday.

Here’s some information about the idea from the charity itself:

What is Freddie For A Day?
Freddie For A Day is a celebration of the life of Freddie Mercury, which is meant to engage members of the public in a fun way to remember one of our greatest artists, but behind it is the earnest purpose of raising funds to support the continued work in fighting HIV AIDS worldwide.
How Did Freddie For A Day Get Started?
Freddie For A Day began as a lone ranger initiative dreamed up by City worker Liz Swanton who also gives her time to editing the Mercury Phoenix Trust website (www.mercuryphoenixtrust.com).  Tying in with the recent 8th birthday celebrations for the Queen musical ‘We Will Rock You’, Liz came up with the idea of spending a whole working day dressed as Freddie.

So When Will Freddie For A Day Take Place?
Freddie For A Day will take place this year on September 3. Normally, Freddie For A Day will take place on Freddie’s birthday (September 5), however when the birthday falls on a weekend, such as this year, it will always be on the Friday before.
Who Can Take Part?
Anyone.  Naturally, the first people to have decided to join in are the core fans, but Liz and the Mercury Phoenix Trust organisers are hoping that the challenge to live out a normal day in a Freddie costume – with all the fun attached – and with the purpose of raising money to help the worldwide work being done by the MPT, will have a wide public appeal.
How Do You Get Involved?
All you need to do is dress up as Freddie for a day and get your friends, family and school friends or work colleagues to sponsor you.  You can set up or get an adult to set up for you your own web page at www.justgiving.com and send this to those supporting you so they can sponsor you online.

If you are unable to donate online you can send in cheques directly to the MPT at the address below. Cheques should be made out to The Mercury Phoenix Trust.
The Mercury Phoenix Trust,

22 Cottage Offices,

Latimer Park,

Latimer road,

Chesham,

Buck,

HP5 1TU

So, there you have it, if you fancy doing something charitable and horrifically embarrassing what better reasoning can you get?  I’m not one to be charitable, but he was certainly a phenomenal entertainer and the cause is a worthy one, so if you plan to do anything charitable this year, why not give this a go.

James Micheal Parry

Music: Album Review: Feeder – Renegades

For a band who have been in and out of the limelight since 2001’s fantastic Echo Park catapulted them to fame with ‘Buck Rogers’, Feeder have a surprising amount of energy.

With previous album Silent Cry not getting the sales the band’s label, Echo, had hoped, it proved to be the beginning of the end for them, as it was announced in 2008 they were being restructured into a “copyright exploitation” company, according to a report from parent company Chrysalis Group.

The band then lost fill-in drummer Mark Richardson to a Skunk Anansie reunion in 2009, and he was replaced by Karl Brazil as the band began the most bold step in their career.

Since they had no UK label, they decided to create one themselves and thus Big Teeth Music was born. Soon Feeder announced they were returning not as Feeder but as Renegades, a side project-cum-masquerade which allowed them to blame live without everyone expecting all of Feeder’s chart-topping hits.

Renegades did a six date tour of intimate shows and released a four track EP, which was quickly followed by another tour of slightly larger venues and a follow-up EP. Disclaimers at the events stated Feeder wouldn’t be playing their popular hits and if fans were unaware of this they could have a full refund, as it turned out the gigs were a massive success (check out my review of the Camden show) and the band announced shortly afterwards they would return as Feeder with their seventh studio album: Renegades.

The album is a furious attack of all Feeder’s raw energy and passion, which translates into some pretty heavy music. Fans of tunes like ‘Just The Way I’m Feeling’ and ‘Forget About Tomorrow’ will be lost here, this album is loud and relentless – the closest thing to a slow song is the slightly haunting ‘Down By The River’.

The songs from the two Renegades EPs are dotted around the album, with the title track being a particular high point, and from the first few moments of grungy, distorted guitar your mind is slung back to a few choice tracks from Feeders back catalogue like ‘Godzilla’, ‘Choke’ and ‘Descend’, left like breadcrumbs to lead the band to this point.

The first single from the album ‘Call Out’ has a similar upbeat tone to ‘Miss You’ and ‘Lost and Found’ despite some fairly dry lyrics and maintains Feeder’s catchiness. Because the songs on the album all have a similar tempo, it’s difficult at first to separate them, but in a way this works to the band’s advantage, since it focuses the audience and forces them to stay on the same page.

Stand out tracks include the hypnotic opener ‘White Lines’, angst-filled ‘Sentimental’ and the show-stopping ‘Home’, which exemplifies exactly what is good about this ‘new’ Feeder, hitting the mark in every area and providing an anthemic chorus at the album’s midpoint.

Like so many albums the songs fall away towards the end, with the baffling ‘Left Food Right’ sounding like a sped up version of Family Guy’s parody of Randy Newman, but overall the album delivers the adrenaline which Feeder fans have been missing since the gritty rock sound of the band’s debut – Polythene.

If you feel like this album sounds a bit too much, never fear, the band have already promised a second album later in the year to cater for the lighter side of the bands repertoire, but for fans who’ve been with them all the way, this is a welcome reminder that the band aren’t past it just yet.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry