Why I will be buying an Xbox One | Opinion | Gaming

Xbox OneIt might be the Microsoft fanboy in me, but following the announcement of Xbox One, the company’s next generation games console, I found myself eager to get my hands on one.

The big reveal

Everything you need in one box, so long as it's not playing your Xbox 360 games.
Everything you need in one box, so long as it’s not playing your Xbox 360 games.

First things first, Tuesday’s grand unveiling of the Xbox One could have gone more smoothly for Microsoft. With the gaming up in arms about the lack of games shown and in many ways the show raising more questions than it answers, the company have catching up to do at E3 to make themselves, and how their shiny new product actually works, crystal clear.

Despite the less than Oscar-winning presentation, one thing is clear – the Xbox One does far more than just play games. This is no surprise of course, the Xbox 360 has been moving to dominate the home entertainment sector for years, with countless partnerships with sports brands like ESPN and, in the UK, TV through Sky.

What is clear from the announcement event straight away is that Microsoft haven’t finished telling their story, and Tuesday’s show clearly wasn’t aimed at us (by which I mean geeky, hardcore gamer-type people).

The technology

The console's look has been described as looking like a video player, but really it's not that bulky compared to the original Xbox.
The console’s look has been described as looking like a video player, but really it’s not that bulky compared to the original Xbox.

Specifications shared so far are a clear step up from the 360, most notably the 8gb of RAM to keep lots going on at once.

There was a lot made of the fact that the eight core processor runs its two operating systems simultaneously, making it quick and easy to switch between the two, but I can’t see it being an every day feature, just as snap mode on PC isn’t at the moment.

Kinect is something I haven’t got around to this generation. There’s something which doesn’t really bother me about ‘flailing my arms around’ as my good friend Andy likes to say (read his top ten things to note about the Xbox One).

With Kinect 2.0 included as standard with all consoles though, it will be something which won’t be as forced as it will just be another gameplay feature rather than something which needs shouting about. Imagining the occasional squad voice command or casual gesture to flick through menus lazily makes me think of a few instances where I might make use of it.

The controller remains much the same as the 360’s, which is a very attractive prospect. I’ve never got along with the Playstation’s Duel Shock design, I’ve found it uncomfortable and awkward, and the addition of a touch-screen in the version 4 model doesn’t go far to change that.

Added sensitivity to rumble control could prove to be great for adding immersion and atmosphere to games, particularly tense moments in horror titles, and the supposed 40 innovations which are included under the hood are sure to make sure the controller has the responsiveness to keep up with the pace of modern titles.

The competition

Playstation 4 controller
Everyone loves a bit of competition, but Sony haven’t been too forthcoming, only showing off their new controller so far rather than the PS4 itself.

In terms of the other companies’ offerings, you might ask why I’m already so sure Microsoft deserve my money rather than Nintendo or Sony.

The simple answer is that they have all made money out of me in the past, and the difference between them most of the time is attitude. Sony are a solid company and make good products, but in terms of gaming they have never had iconic games or characters which I have really latched onto.

Nintendo have iconic characters in droves but have become something of a caricature of themselves. Not that a bit of Mario now and again isn’t good fun, but having grown up with it (endless secondary school lunchtimes lost to link-cabled fun on Game Boy Advance) it’s something I tend to prefer to just look back on with fond memories.

Microsoft have stuck to their guns in the past, and continue to do so with radical changes in the latest Windows release such as taking away people’s Start Menus (another thing which doesn’t really bother me).

With their consoles this proves to be no different, and the Xbox One appears to crap in more random and potentially unnecessary features than a Swiss Army knife. The reason I’m un-phased by this though is that I have started to get to grips with some of the multimedia functionality on the 360, and I believe it’s something which is set to grow.

Browsing a web page might still be a bit cumbersome without a keyboard to type in pesky web addresses, but the integration with Windows and Kinect should make the experience much easier than before and therefore less of a pain when you try to do something and then give up and decide to do it in half the time on your phone.

Smartglass returns too, and will most likely play more of an integral role in the machine than its trial run on 360, and there have been a lot of bold claims from Microsoft such as “lag-free” and “instantly”, which despite the obvious exaggeration suggest these sorts of basic interactions will be handled more quickly and easily before.

The unanswered questions

Don Mattrick has faced a bit of backlash for the heavy entertainment focus of the launch event, rather than showing off games.
Don Mattrick has faced a bit of backlash for the heavy entertainment focus of the launch event, rather than showing off games.

It’s fair to say that the games focus the company are insisting the console has, which is ‘simply the best gaming console we’ve ever made’, still needs to be justified at E3.

Microsoft have given themselves a mountain to climb in terms of not addressing the countless pre-announcement rumours: always online, pre-owned and backwards compatibility to name the big three.

Luckily, the hard work done from numerous games journalists across the world has forced a little more information and clarity, but in terms of making it easy for the consumer they haven’t got off on the best foot.

For me, I can think of only one or two titles I’ve bought pre-owned this year and what secret plan Microsoft has in store at E3 for pre-owned will probably involve a fee of sort, but if it goes to supporting the people who spent the time making the game rather than flagging high street retailers who capitalise on high profit margins with inconsistent trade-in prices, it can’t be too bad.

Xbox OneLike many devices, the Xbox One may well work without the internet, but really the integration with ‘the Cloud’ among other things means that you will want to keep it plugged in all the time anyway to make sure everything is up to date.

As for backwards compatibility, this has been clearly confirmed as not possible due to the differences in architecture, but really how often do you play old games on a new console anyway?

The vast majority of the launch presentation may have oversold the TV aspects of things, but it will still be games which drive the console along, and already there are some attractive reasons to get in early to the party in the form of Battlefield 4 and Xbox exclusives aplenty.

Being late to the party with the 360, this time I’m reserving my place at the start of the queue.

Of course, you can fully expect to find me eating these words after E3, be sure to pop back then for a, hopefully, fully formed impression of what the console has to offer.

James Michael Parry

Fast & Furious 6 | Review | Film

Fast & Furious 6Guest reviewer Gary Morley presents across-examination of the sixth installment in this high octane franchise…

As a father, it’s no good telling them what to watch, who to listen to or what to think, you have to guide and encourage them to develop their own tastes.

Sometimes allowing them to choose and going with that choice provides unexpected results. Fast & Furious 6 was one such result.

Revving up

Many years ago, in a land far far away my daughter discovered the original – the all too similarly named The Fast and The Furious and she enjoyed it, though I must confess it never impinged on my consciousness.

She persuaded me to allow her to buy another in the series on one of our family DVD safari outings and so I saw the third in the series Tokyo Drift, which was fun to watch.

Of course I have since learned that the relationship between the films is as over the top as the films themselves, with characters in state of flux; dying, returning and redeeming themselves in later films like nobody’s business.

The franchise is now somewhat of a ‘guilty pleasure’ for us, leading us to go and watch every iteration in the cinema as they roll, and after six films, we have a pretty good idea of what we’re letting themselves in for.

Brian and Dom get emotional.
Brian and Dom get emotional.

Shifting things up a gear

In Fast and Furious 6 (the ‘the’s’ became such a drag) the story sees all the usual characters in their life of post heist bliss, living the dream.

Vin Diesel continues to flex his muscles as dedicated do-badder Dominic Toretto and Paul Walker returns as the once cop, turned criminal, (turned cop, turned criminal, turned something else) Brian O’Connor.

This time around there’s a new big name added to the mix in the form of Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, just to guarantee a dial-up in the mayhem.

The opening credits give you a whistle stop tour of the story so far, to Tokyo and back again, featuring car chases, guns, explosions and metal on metal by the flipped articulated truck-load.

Of course she's not dead, does she ever die in anything?
Of course she’s not dead, does she ever die in anything?

If you haven’t seen any of the previous films before, here are a six fast and furious pointers:

1) Grand Theft Auto – There are lots of cars. Fast cars. Expensive cars.  Cars that are indestructible, Cars that roar and slide and avoid all traffic cameras, pot holes and only just acknowledge the laws of physics. In fact, parts of the film are like Top Gear with a bigger budget and a serious destruction fetish.

2) One big unhappy family – It is not all about racing expensive cars through improbable city locations, it’s about relationships, family and loyalty.

3) Studio magic – Everyone is indestructible unless the plot requires it. Even to the extent that the supposedly dead Letty Oritz (Michelle Rodriguez) stands proudly on the film’s poster very much alive. Plus people pummel each other into a pulp but are able to walk away.

4) Pump up the volume –  It is loud, very loud in places.

5) Comic relief – It is very funny. There are some fabulous one liners and a great running joke about baby oil… It made people cheer at the characters’ bravado and jeer at their stupidity as it does combine high octane action and low IQ scripting.

6) Heightened realism – It contains Ludicrous scenes of extended car based stunts that are so totally improbable but believable at the same time. Tanks. On Motorways. The world’s longest runway.

What was that noise? Oh, another explosion...
What was that noise? Oh, another explosion…

In short, the film is total escapism, loud, funny, thrilling, slickly edited and jaw droppingly action-packed. If it doesn’t hit the spot for you, then question your attitude as although it might not be a potential Oscar-winner, it is exactly what it says on the tin (or hub cap…)

So, allowing my kids to choose what they watch resulted in me taking my daughter (who’s now 20) – Where did the time go? ) to see an advance screening and she loved it and is even planning to go and see it when it goes on general release, several times.

That is where the film works – it has a loyal following and they won’t be disappointed, and are already looking forward to the next episode (which IMDB confirms is already on the cards).

It’s great fun to watch, worth investing an evening in, guaranteed to make you laugh (intentionally or otherwise) and like the Bond films, will spawn further offerings, each brighter and louder than the one before.

Rating: 5/5

Gary Morley

Star Trek Into Darkness | Review | Film

Harrison is taken into custody on the Enterprise.Heroes are nothing without their villains, and the 2009 Star Trek learned the hard way how a one-dimensional, forgettable villain can reduce the impact of an entire film. Luckily, Star Trek Into Darkness rectified this immediately by casting Benedict Cumberbatch.

Where No Man Has Gone Before…

Star Trek Into DarknessCould this be another classic case of a token Brit as iconic villain? Perhaps, but in fact there are a few others tucked in here and there as well. Simon Pegg returns as Montgomery Scott and newcomer Alice Eve as Dr Carol Marcus brings the ship’s compliment a bit more into balance.

The story this time around is that Cumberbatch, as the deliciously evil John Harrison, has declared a one-man war on the Federation ‘for reasons unknown’. Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto are back as a youthful Kirk and Spock, with an equally youthful crew (save Scotty, everyone appears to be in their 20s), but this time there are a few token aliens thrown in – a strange fish creature and some sort of cyborg to name but two – who are graced with a single line before never being heard from again.

The Enterprise Incident

Really, the crew could be limited to the top six or eight names and the film wouldn’t suffer, there’s not much to bring this bunch of faces to life and make you believe that they are a ‘family’, which is something the TV iterations of Trek were much more successful at.

The small cast does give time to develop some of the supporting characters however, with a varied amount of success. Karl Urban’s ‘Bones’ McCoy remains horribly underused, as is his role as the ‘heart’ part of the heart, brains and brawn triangle between him, Spock and Kirk.

Despite this the characters and actors remain strong, and there is a definite sense of progression in the relationship between Kirk and Spock in particular, culminating with Spock’s first hesitant addressing of Kirk as ‘Jim’.

Assignment: Earth

A wounded Enterprise plummets to Earth
A wounded Enterprise plummets to Earth

The plot has elements of twisted logic found in J.J. Abrams previous endeavours. Despite being centred around Earth itself, as Harrison attacks the Federation, the majority of events take place on the Enterprise itself, in space where it belongs.

Providing you can overlook the occasional liberal interpretation of the laws of physics (how can phasers travel forwards when travelling at warp…?) the narrative gives enough to keep you engaged.

The opening encounter on the overly red planet of Nibiru, which recalls memories of some of the colourful planets seen in the Star Wars prequels (in fact more than once there is a Star Wars parrallel), and is a section dense with action and excitement, which continues for the first 45 minutes of the film. Watching on the edge of your seat, you are convinced you are in for what could be the best Trek flick of all time.

Sadly as the intrigues of the plot begin to unravel the magic dulls slightly and the pace slows, but certainly not to the extent that the film stops being fun to watch.

Amok Time

The comedy has been stepped up, with a dash of British sarcasm thrown in for good measure, and the exchanges between some characters which haven’t had the chance to interact before are entertaining. Simon Pegg brings the pedigree, but each character has their own moment.

The film is still clearly centred around action and drama, but there is more emotion on display here too, which forces you to care about the characters.

Space Seed

The re-introduction of some of the show’s most memorable villains is completely overshadowed by Cumberbatch’s ruling the roost in combat, as he commands the audience’s attention as soon as he is on screen. This attention soon leads the audience to draw conclusions about his character – there is more to John Harrison than meets the eye.

Peril is everywhere in the film, something immediately apparent from the trailer (see below) and so the ‘Into Darkness’ subtitle is warranted, but there is little contact with the people of the Federation outside Star Fleet to really spend too much time caring about their fate.

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield

Kirk and Harrison face off in the Enterprise Brig
Kirk and Harrison face off in the Enterprise Brig

By the end the conclusion of the story is satisfactory, rather than mind-blowing, but, as always, it’s the journey which makes a film worth watching, and in this regard Into Darkness succeeds.

To continue this new run of films into a trilogy there will need to be a real delve into Trek lore, to come up with a setting and situation which reflects the issues of today, something which the show always tried to do (and in the case of drugs or race at least, remain relevant).

As a piece of entertainment though, Into Darkness hits the mark, and hits it strongly, including all the elements general film fans have come to expect and far more for the Trekkies. There’s more to do to surpass the films and iconic episodes of years gone past, but with a history spanning decades and a range of quality, this film will go down as one of the better efforts.

James Michael Parry

Doctor Who: Eleven reasons we love Matt Smith | Features | Television

Matt Smith is Doctor WhoWhen the slightly awkward and unassuming Matt Smith was revealed to the world as the 11th iteration of Doctor Who back in January 2009, people didn’t know what to expect.

Fans loved David Tennant, and for many it was difficult to see anyone replacing him and doing as good a job. We think Mr Smith may even have raised the bar on what is already a role with more acting talent connected to it than the sum total of the Royal Shakespeare Company.

So, without further ado, here are 11 reasons we love Matt as the 11th Doctor:

A mad man with a box"I'm definitely a mad man with a box."

“I’m definitely a mad man with a box.”

Nothing could make audiences forget David Tennant, or any of the fantastic actors before him, so Smith took the role and made it his own by adding a sense of nervousness, excitement, and, above all, complete and utter madness to the character.

In the way he moves, the way he looks, the way he dances, you see a zany side to the character which contrasts with Tennant’s at times brooding teenager approach. Turning up at Amy Pond’s wedding suited up with a top hat encapsulates this perfectly and, more recently, having his robotic double speed up the side of The Shard while sitting around drinking tea.

Of course these, like many things, one could argue are a result of excellent writing rather than Smith himself, but you can’t help but think another actor wouldn’t have pulled it off quite as well – Smith is the Doctor.

Dr Smith is always on call

Matt and KarenSigning up to be The Doctor is a great responsibility, and not one which Smith takes lightly. Whenever he is out meeting fans at conventions or events, he always speaks to them like the Doctor would, on an equal level, not talking down to children and always clearly caring about what they have to say or ask him.

At his San Diago Comic Con appearance last year, which shows how much he and showrunner Steven Moffat have put the show on the map across the pond (ahem), he beamed with excitement and enthusiasm to be part of something which has so many passionate and dedicated fans, and he clearly wants to exceed their expectations.

Sweet emotionMatt Smith almost bowed out early in Series 6

Matt Smith almost bowed out early in Series 6

Emotional range is a must for any actor, but few characters have the contrast, sometimes mid-sentence, which The Doctor does. Smith shows more wrath and venom in his eyes than any doctor before him when something truly winds him up, but all the while you always know he would never hurt or sacrifice the people he cares about, and he would do anything to rescue them.

A stand-out moment for emotion has to be the Doctor’s death storyline in series 6, which is confusing enough even without time travel, but Smith’s resolve convinces you that this has to happen. You truly believe the fate of the universe comes down to that moment.

Youthful good looks

Smith was just 26 when he took up the role.
Smith was just 26 when he took up the role.

A lot of fuss was made about the fact that Matt is the youngest actor ever to play Doctor Who, and he is young, but really it’s the way he plays him that makes him so easy to relate to, despite being over 900 (or 1100) years old. The first thing people could remember about him was his distinctive quiff, which suits his doctor perfectly, but the best part is, he isn’t cool or suave or charming – he’s goofy. He might still be a very attractive young man, but his doctor is the geeky, nerdy type who wears braces and a bow tie (but more on that in a minute).

Can you imagine any other Doctor raising as much of a smile as Smith does in The Lodger, which sees him team up with James Cordon to tackle the problem of a spaceship in the upstairs of his house, and his love life of course. The section when the Doctor plays football is hilarious, no doubt helped by Matt’s own aspiration to become a professional in his youth, and the entire ‘odd couple’-esque situation proves to be one of the most entertaining episodes in the series.

“I wear a fez now, fezzes are cool.”

Doctor Who FezThe fez is an often under-appreciated hat and Smith instantly redressed the balance in the climax of his first season by sporting it, and occasionally a mop, to save the world. In reality he only wears it for around 12 minutes of the episode, but that was enough to make it eternally connected to his doctor.

It even started a recurring theme, where Moffat would grace Smith with another ‘cool’ hat, such as a Stetson, before promptly taking it away. Since it is so distinct, it’s also a look which is difficult to pull off, but Smith manages it with ease.

The Doctor’s wife

The Doctor's wifeA bit of a cheat, but Neil Gaiman’s fantastic story about the TARDIS coming to live as a human being was one of the most interesting character episodes of Smith’s journey so far, and so much of that comes down to: “You call me sexy.” “Yes, but only when we’re alone!”

The combination of realising the awkward truth about the Doctor’s relationship with his machine and Smith’s reaction to it make it a moment you can’t help but smile at. It makes the sadness all the harder to bear at the end of the episode when they are separated once again.

Fish fingers and custard

Amelia Pond and The  Doctor enjoy fish fingers and custardSmith’s introduction as the doctor, complete with – shock-horror – NOT a bow tie (we’re getting there, honest), is the most memorable certainly and modern Who fan, but possibly any fan has come across.

Climbing out of the TARDIS soaking from the swimming pool, the Doctor asks the young Amy Pond (outstandingly performed by Caitlin Blackwood) for increasingly bizarre combinations of food, as his regeneration settles. In the end he decides on fish fingers and custard, causing Who fans around the world to suddenly think “We HAVE to try this.” and promptly put up the results on YouTube. It’s a testament to Smith’s acting skills that he could make such a strong first impression out of what is quite a simple exchange between the two characters. You instantly like him, and that hasn’t let up yet.

The apocalypse speech

The Pandorica OpensFew would dare to taunt the amassed armies of the cosmos into trying to take the Pandorica, but we know The Doctor would. This speech to the heavens, Smith’s first real monologue, is the first time you really see his Doctor with power and confidence, beckoning the masses to stand up against him.

The fact that Matt isn’t physically imposing doesn’t matter (in fact it adds to the effect), as the Doctor’s greatest weapon, other than his sonic screwdriver, is his mind. Smith delivers this speech as a call to arms to all Who fans, and as the music swells you can’t help but feel pride to rally behind the man who dares to stand up and say no to the end of the universe.

Companions are overrated

She means business.
She means business.

As much as Amy and Rory are fantastic, and newbie Jenna-Louise Coleman (left) has also made a fantastic start, Smith shines as much when he finds himself unaccompanied for an episode as he does with his companions in tow.

Whether it’s picking up new people just for the episode or truly going it alone, you can’t help but enjoy spending time with the character. While Tennant’s doctor often suffered when he went travelling alone, and Smith’s shares those flaws, he is still a joy to watch due to his slightly bonkers sensibility.

Jammie Dodgers

"No scanning, or I'll use this."
“No scanning, or I’ll use this.”

The Daleks are undoubtedly the most iconic villains in Who lore and were re-created in Victory of the Daleks for Smith to have his own ‘look and feel’ to fight against. This led to one of the greatest moments of product placement in anything ever, as The Doctor attempts to convince the Daleks that a Jammie Dodger is, in fact, a TARDIS self-destruct button.

The entire exchange is fantastically written by Mark Gatiss (of Sherlock fame) and effortlessly pulled off by Smith. Facing down creatures which had children hiding behind sofas for decades, Smith reduces them to nothing with merely a buscuit, closing with “Yes, all right it’s a Jammie Dodger, but I was promised tea!”

The bow tie

You know they are cool.
You know they are cool.

What more can you say? Bow ties are cool, and if they were ever at risk of not being cool, then surely their place in cool culture is set for a fair old while. Something about Smith’s Who costume suits him down to a T.

He gives the outward impression of a crazy geography teacher, complete with elbow patches, and is immediately a character you feel at ease with. The bow tie is the epitome of Smith’s Doctor, overly fancy, slightly complicated to put together, looks a bit odd and out of place, but as soon as you see it you definitely want one. Long may his reign continue.

Doctor Who - Nightmare In Silver Tune in to the next episode – Nightmare in Silver – this Saturday night (that’s 11 May) at 7.00pm. Also, if you are a big Tennant fan, then don’t forget he returns as The Doctor in the 50th Anniversary Special in November.

James Michael Parry