Gaming: E3 2011 the aftermath for Microsoft

Go greenSo the Electronic Entertainment Expo came and went once more and with a shiny new Xbox design in 2010 it was going to be difficult to top Microsoft’s press briefing.

…and sure enough it didn’t. In fact the whole spectacle was a collection of fairly obvious announcements and some more detail of the games we already know something about.

The big M got the obvious Call of Duty piece out of the way early, and luckily the negative rumour surrounding the possibility of having to pay for Call of Duty Elite was dispelled quickly as we were taken through the service’s suitably simplistic titled features: Connect, Compete and Improve.

Largely it boils down to a very similar service to that offered by Halo Waypoint, combined with a few nifty things lifted from Bungie.net (the true Lords of the Halo Rings) such as kill heatmaps for deathmatch games.

Other big franchises flexing their muscles included Gears of War, which was a fairly standard affair compared to the later released details of Horde Mode 2.0 (which you should definitely take a look at in the latest OXM).

One franchise TIE is eagerly looking forward to is the climax of Commander Shepard’s adventures in Mass Effect 3. After the tragic news of a delay to the release date until 2012, fans, including myself, were understandably upset. The reason for the move became clear a few days before E3 when this packshot leaked out:

It hits the fan...epically

The box’s shiny purple logo said it all: Kinect will be energising Mass Effect 3. There isn’t a complete breakdown of how it will be implemented yet, but from what was shown at E3, it will allow you to select dialogue options verbally (slightly obvious), but more interestingly it allows simple commands of your teammates such as ‘move up’ or ‘use overload’.

Presuming that these functions are implemented correctly, and BioWare’s care and consideration over the series to date, combined with the slipped release date would suggest that is the case, then it could prove to be the most engaging RPG/shooter ever released on the platform.

It may all sound like Pip Dreams, but after so many hours invested by players over years, BioWare will be making sure their loyalty pays off once the final game hits shelves in the first half of next year.

No E3 would be complete without children being trotted out on stage to perform and Massivesoft obliged in its usual style, getting some kids to show off some new kid-orientated Kinect titles, before some burly men played American football on stage and messed it up on their first try, though the entire show began with a ‘Please recconect controller’ message so it was a case of start as you mean to go on.

The ‘shock’ reveal was the completely predictable Halo 4, which sees Master Cheif return, though it will be created by 343 Industries, which leads us to wonder what Bungie are getting up to, they have been remarkably quiet since Halo Reach launched with rumours of RPGs and other exciting possibilities so far revealing nothing, we’ll keep you posted.

There was also news of 100s of more partnerships between Xbox and other outlets this year, but the only one which was actually named was YouTube, which itself is surely in decline compared to a few years ago. Come on Xbox, hurry up and get iPlayer on there so I can justify getting a new TV!

All in all a slightly underwhelming show, not the usual crash, bang, wallop you might expect from possibly the biggest gaming platform at the moment. Conspicuous by their absence were things like Metal Gear Solid: Rising, which debuted last year and has not been heard from since, as well as the likes of Grand Theft Auto, surely not a franchise Rockstar are ready to leave well alone…and in fact there have been whispers but no concrete facts, it would seem E3 would be the best place for a big announcement?

And finally after the show is over, Microsoft hints that a lot of Xbox features may be stored online as part of their new Cloud service, which could see gamertags, saved games and even the games themselves stored online and streamed to you, read all about it here.

In the meantime, take a look at Red Faction: Armageddon, it might not be the greatest game ever but the single player is infinitely more playable than its predecessor and the Magnet Gun is an experience every destruction-lover should have in their life.

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Film: Review – X-Men: First Class

Getting their mutant on

Mutation is “groovy.” At least according to Charles Xavier, played by James McAvoy,   following in the wheels of the great Patrick Stewart in this latest instalment of the superhero franchise.

It’s back to where it all began for the X-Men, with the film’s opening echoing the beginning of the first film back in 2000. A young Erik Lehnsherr screams in agony as his parents are taken from him in a German concentration camp during the World War II. As he reaches out to them, the gates which separate them contort and bend, his desperation activating his devastating mutation. Little does he know he is destined to become Magneto, the villain who was brought to life in the first three films by Sir Ian McKellen.

In First Class Michael Fassbender plays the metal-manipulating mutant, delivering a dominant and icy performance of a man driven to vengeance by the horrors he suffered as a child.

Luckily his path of destruction is halted when he meets Charles Xavier, a young Oxford graduate with the power to read people’s minds. Charles convinces Erik to work with him to bring mutants together to take down the ultimate threat, a man named Sebastian Shaw, who wants to start World War III by provoking Russia and America in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis.

Shaw (Kevin Bacon), and his band of mutants known as the Hellfire Club, threatens various political figures to take steps towards war through the film, leading to a fleet-on-fleet face-off just off the coast of Cuba, where the X-Men intervene and we discover both where Magneto gained his signature helmet and Xavier lost the ability to walk.

The mutants of this film are a combination of the new and the familiar, including a perfectly-timed cameo from one series regular, with the striking blue duo of Mystique and Beast probably being the most well-known. New recruits include Banshee, who can produce glass-shattering screams and sonar, and a relative of the more familiar mutant, Adam Summers, otherwise known as Havoc, who can create arcs of red energy around his body.

The film is very much within the continuity of its predecessors – with the odd inconsistency, such as how Mystique can be a teenager in 1960 and middle aged in 2000, explained away with some well-placed techno-babble. Some of the films funniest moments come from quips about Charles’ hair, but equally there is much enjoyment to be had if you’d never heard of these characters before, so you don’t have to be a massive X-Men geek to keep track of what’s going on.

The dynamic of the plot is built around the difference in ideals between Charles and Eric; Charles seeks cooperation and peace with humanity, while Erik does not believe mutants will ever be accepted and pushes for dominance and superiority.

McAvoy shines as a young Charles, more cheeky and charming than Patrick Stewart’s incarnation, and yet his conviction and dedication to what he believes are solid, with the wisdom of his later self just waiting to be unlocked.

Fassbender too makes a bold impression, building on Erik’s single-minded nature in the opening act to a complex character struggling between his emotions and actions, with his anger at his past and determination to avenge his mother’s death epitomised with the immortal phrase: “Never again.”

The rest of the cast complete the team brilliantly, with each character having their own revelations and growing as their confidence builds and they hone their powers. No one character seems overbearing or left out, a testament to the skill of Director Matthew Vaughn, who is no stranger to superheroes after directing the superb Kick-Ass last year.

In all the film delivers everything you could want on celluloid: action, emotion, a glimmer of romance and believable characters who you really care about, even if some are a tad larger than life. The balance between every aspect, from story to special effects, is perfect, and takes you on an action-packed thrill ride with real substance. The bar for all superhero films, if not action films in general, has been raised.

Rating: 5/5

James Michael Parry