Category Archives: 2013

The five best albums of 2013 (that you’ve probably never heard of…) | Review | Music

In something of a departure from the norm for TIE, allow us to present five great albums from last year which you’ve might have missed, compiled by guest poster Jordan Thomas. Agree? Disagree? Confused? Leave a comment below.

Five albums from 2013 you might have missedTonight Alive - Tonight Alive – The Other Side (Sony Music)

Tonight Alive’s first album was a decent pop punk album in a world filled with samey pop-punk bands, this second album however raises them far above the rank and file. While it doesn’t exactly break the mould for the genre it does show exactly how it should be done. The underwhelming cover art aside, this album is stunning; every song is catchy and immediate, with grounded lyrics you can actually relate to and  massive, clear sound production (not to mention Jenna’s fine vocal performance). With Paramore having moved onto new grounds these should be your go to guys for your pop-punk fix.

Check out: Lonely Girl

Katatonia - Dethroned and UncrownedKatatonia – Dethroned and Uncrowned (Kscope)

Dead End Kings was one of the best metal releases of 2012, so how did the band think they could top this? The answer as it happens was to take that same album, strip it of all guitars, aggression and metal and use it to craft a haunting semi acoustic masterpiece. All of the songs work surprisingly well, with the biggest difference being Buildings, with heavy thumping piano replacing the crashing guitar of the original. While the original record was gloomy, this is a whole different league, the songs are slow and dripping with melancholy. it is not a happy record by any stretch, but it is a beautiful one, one which deserves repeated listens to hear all it has to offer.

Check Out: The Racing Heart

Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused to SingSteven Wilson – The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) (Kscope)

From his humble beginnings making tapes of supposed forgotten bands to his current status as one of the most revered men in music; Wilson has always been making excellent boundary pushing prog rock. Building on the jazz influences of his last solo outing this album pushes his sound even further away from that of his other works. Extended jazz solos (courtesy of the excellent Theo Travis) are frequent, and though his heavier side is still there it’s more in the background, with gentle melodies being allowed more of a front row. Like Katatonia, it is not an album to cheer you up, but it is one to close your eyes and listen to in mellow bliss.

Check out: Drive Home

Deafhaven - SunbatherDeafheaven – Sunbather (Deathwish)

Take the dreaminess and distorted melodies of shoegaze, and slam it together with the pummelling heaviness of black metal and you get Sunbather. The resulting album is not always an easy listen, but is a worthwhile one. BM screams and drumming are the main meat of the sound, but there’s nearly always melody from the guitars, and slower instrumental parts and spoken word help to break it up into a more manageable listen. Since the album’s release, it has gone almost mainstream, bringing with it the usual hype and backlash, but regardless of whether it is really as important a release as some claim, it is undeniably an excellent one.

Check out: Dream House

Pet Shop Boys - ElectricPet Shop Boys – Electric (x2)

I haven’t really kept up with the animal themed store boys lately, my knowledge spans pretty much their heyday period and drops off when they did. However this one seemed positively met so I decided to give it a go. Boy, am I glad I did. It’s obviously PSB, but manages to sound very modern as well. More bass heavy than a lot of their famous stuff, with a strong dance feel running through the album it’s an exhilarating listen, Bolshy and Love Is… are probably the most recognisable stuff on offer, with the interesting additions of pseudo dubstep (Shouting…) and a surprisingly decent piece featuring Example (Thursday) giving the album a nice bit of variation. Whether you be a fan of pop, dance or just the PSB this is an album you should consider.

Check Out: Love is a Bourgeois Construct

Jordan Thomas

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire | Review | Film

Stanly Tucci shines as CesarThe Hunger Games: Catching Fire posterSome things are more important than an amazing plot. Things like strong character arcs, engaging action set-pieces and a dramatic visual style can really lift a film – unfortunately Catching Fire has none of these things.

It seems a shame to begin on a negative when really, the film isn’t bad by any means, it just feels like what it is: a stepping stone to the next film in the series.

I’m assured by fans of the book series upon which the films are based that a lot of necessary ground work happens in book two to set the stage for book three Mocking Jay (which, incidentally, is being split into two films).

Catching a cold

Unfortunately, for those of us not in the loop, the trilogy/quadrilogy’s second watches very similarly to its first.

This time around, hero Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is back in her home of District 12, struggling to cope with the daily horror all around her as she lives in a special area for the privileged few who have won, or survived, the Hunger games.

Of course, Katniss’ act of defiance at the close of part one hasn’t gone unnoticed by the masses, and as she and Peeta (who actually impresses a little as a character now) embark on a tour of the districts, revolution is brewing.

President Snow (Donald Sutherland) approves a plan from head honcho of the games Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to turn Katniss into the very person she hates in the eyes of the public.

The arena is rather brutal this time around
The arena is rather brutal this time around

The plan involves a special hunger games, this time for previous winners, and from here the story continues much as before as the tributes begin to brutally kill each other in the games (a lot more off-screen this time, interestingly).

A crisis of identity

This is where the issue with Katniss as a character begins unfortunately. The consistency of her through the various trials she goes through inside and outside the games is all over the place.

One minute she is defiant within an inch of her life, resolute in her belief and nothing can stand in her way. The next she is in tears unsure of what to do or falling for one of the many obvious traps laid out in front of her.

The memories of what happened in the last games haunt her, clearly, but she seems to not have learnt anything from her last experience, making basic mistakes and costing people their lives as a result.

The supporting cast, admittedly, are fairly strong overall. Stanley Tucci is glorious fun as Cesar, while Woody Harrelson brings his role as the uneasy mentor forward from the previous film.

The tributes Katniss is up against are all victors of previous games, so no tiny kids
The tributes Katniss is up against are all victors of previous games, so no tiny kids

Lenny Kravitz is as unforgettable as ever and the casting of some of the other tributes raises an eyebrow, particularly Jeffrey “call me Felix Lighter” Wright as an overly mentally capable tribute with a penchant for electrocution.

Opportunity taps

The biggest disappointment from this film is that it could have been so much more if the drama was pushed up in any given scene, but you struggle to care about Katniss’ plight, save after one fairly uninspiring speech which ends in bloodshed (which could, also, have been much more arresting).

The film may stack up better as part of the complete saga, but for those going to the cinema for a memorable experience, it’s hard not to feel short changed.

Rating: 2/5

James Michael Parry

The future of online gaming | Feature | Gaming

DestinyOnline gaming today has more players and costs more money than ever before, so what happens next?

OK, so we can’t predict the future, and we don’t pretend to know any more than you, so don’t read on expecting undeniable facts.

What you can expect (read right to the end, we’re watching you), is our thoughts on where the online side of gaming is going, and what experiences we can expect to encounter.

A digital future

Players of GTA Online have been given half a million in-game dollars to apologise for the shaky start.
Players of GTA Online have been given half a million in-game dollars to apologise for the shaky start.

The two next-gen consoles stand primed to clash in the greatest technological showdown of our generation, but what about the games?

One thing is clear – offline-only games are going to be few and far between. The rise of online-only games was felt more this year than ever before, in both successes and catastrophes.

The latest Sim City gave players cause for concern when it’s online requirement backfired spectacularly, but the highest profile casualty has to be Grand Theft Auto Online.

While the game is, if nothing else, incredibly ambitious, Rockstar fell under pressure quickly when there were countless problems with the game – a free addition for players of Grand Theft Auto V.

Weeks after launch, and after several title update patches to try to iron out the issues, GTA Online still feels creaky and glitchy. Not to mention the race to level up has left many players behind, particularly in races where no amount of money can buy car upgrades which they haven’t unlocked yet.

With so much seemingly against online games then, why do publishers and developers keep pushing for more?

It’s not about the money, money, money

Defiance always had a mountain to climb in setting up its infrastructure from scratch.
Defiance always had a mountain to climb in setting up its infrastructure from scratch.

Building an online platform, especially from scratch, is a massive undertaking which requires a lot of initial investment and on-going maintenance.

For big publishers like EA and Activision, these sorts of technologies are already on hand and so often can be adapted or acquired more easily, but for many games there isn’t so much backing on tap.

The title which really stands out in this regard is Defiance, whose developer Trion Worlds reportedly invested $70million to get the game up and running for multiplatform release earlier this year.

Despite a shaky start, the game performed well and lived up to nay-sayers who suspected it would never work. Unfortunately it has struggled more recently as the player numbers have began to fall.

Thinking inside the box

Stars of the TV series were available in the game ahead of the events of the TV show and the player got an extra insight into how they got to where they are at the beginning of the show.
Stars of the TV series were available in the game ahead of the events of the TV show and the player got an extra insight into how they got to where they are at the beginning of the show.

Where Defiance has an opportunity to remain relevant is the fact that first and foremost it is a multimedia enterprise, married up with TV network SyFy who have created the companion TV series alongside it.

Could multimedia hold the key to a sustainable future for online gaming?

Microsoft is very well placed for a multimedia revolution and the likes of Netflix (available on all consoles bar the Nintendo ones…) are announcing exclusives and special shows on an increasingly regular basis. Will we see games which tie-in to these net-based shows?

Then there’s the game spin-off TV shows themselves. Halo is working with the well-respected director Steven Spielberg and there is also a live action Need for Speed film in the works starring Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame.

Of course tie-ins of the latter sort are nothing new, indeed there have been plenty of embarrassing crossovers in the past, but with the opportunities of distribution through this new round of the consoles all the more smooth can we expect more?

It’s in the game

Created by coders formerly of Infinity Ward, Titanfall is one of the hottest games due next year.
Created by coders formerly of Infinity Ward, Titanfall is one of the hottest games due next year.

The way we play has also affected the games themselves, not just driving titles to being always-online (to get those coveted ‘living, breathing worlds’), but in terms of how they are structured and how they play.

Hotly anticipated next gen title Titanfall foregoes a traditional singleplayer campaign, opting instead for a skirmish-based cooperative campaign. The cooperative part is key, since the game wants you to play with others and grow with your characters and your team.

The risk here is that without a singleplayer campaign, players won’t get sucked into the story elements or the lore of the title and end up merely taking it at face value.

Bungie has high hopes for its new IP, Destiny
Bungie has high hopes for its new IP, Destiny

In a similar boat is Bungie’s Destiny. Responsible for establishing the Xbox with the original Halo, the company clearly know what they are doing when it comes to gaming.

Bungie simply describes Destiny as an ‘action’ game, suggesting that players will enjoy “a compelling storyline, competitive multiplayer, cooperative gameplay choices, wide open public combat destinations, and third-person community spaces where you can repair and rearm before going out on your next adventure.”

Once again, despite also offering player vs player modes, the main focus is cooperative, one of exploration and creation. It remains to be seen whether players will lose themselves in Bungie’s new world, or if they will just spend their time grinding for new items to use in team deathmatch.

Stormy weather

Forza developer Turn 10 claimed the time saved in development from having the cloud ready to deal with online multiplayer meant higher-quality visuals.
Forza developer Turn 10 claimed the time saved in development from having the cloud ready to deal with online multiplayer meant higher-quality visuals.

The power needed to keep all of these games afloat is potentially limitless, as countless players around the world all interact, much as they have for years, except with bigger, richer and more dense worlds to explore.

That computing power has to come from somewhere, and it’s likely that cloud-based processing power will become increasingly important, especially as the games grow and change to adapt to their developing environment.

It’s unclear how effective or how close gaming will realistically get to the potential of the technology. The biggest stumbling block, and criticism, particularly in the UK is that internet speeds simply aren’t quick enough yet.

The cloud can take over processing power for things which might be able to be sent back through the web without the player seeing a lag, but for things like fighting games where split-second timing is key it’s unlikely the cloud would ever be able to ‘take over’.

The end game

Companion apps and integration are undoubtedly going to be a big part of online gaming in the future.
Companion apps and integration are undoubtedly going to be a big part of online gaming in the future.

The opportunities and possibilities of the continuing trend of converging media have the potential to make gaming more mainstream than ever before.

Ubisoft’s The Division sees players fighting in teams over a sprawling, dystopian world map. This game will use multimedia to link into players real-world lives and draw them back in by sending messages straight to their phone or allowing players using tablets to interact directly with players on the console through a meta-game function generally known as ‘commander mode’.

What is key to the success of these sorts of big ideas though, is whether players actually make use of them, and that gaming companies actually make money out of them.

Micro-transactions, DLC and in-game advertising are a whole other side to the funding debate entirely, but what will be the proof of the sorts of innovations above is if they substantially lengthens the lifespan of the game.

What to expect from next gen online gaming then? In a nutshell more of some of the things we know already and plenty more coming besides that. Better warm up the router now…it’s not going to get a lot of rest soon.

James Michael Parry

Xbox One Hands On | Preview | Gaming

Xbox One LaunchThere’s only weeks to go before the biggest head-to-head of the year as Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s Playstation 4 go on sale to the masses. Ahead of all that excitement, indulge in some first impressions on what Xbox One has to offer after a special preview event.

The Box

Xbox One
That’s right, it looks like…a box. There’s a shock.

There’s no getting away from the fact that Xbox One is a big machine. Designed to be the hub of your living room, it’s size is reminiscent of the original behemoth which its grandfather was back in 2001.

This isn’t a drawback, providing you have the space, and Microsoft clearly seem to have compensated (possibly over-compensated) on cooling, which proved to be such an issue for the Xbox 360.

Power is something which is quite subjective, and in this regard, there’s no denying the One lags behind the Playstation 4 on paper and, as it turns out, in practice.

The debate is bringing the internet to its knees as we speak, so no need to recount it here. Briefly – the One is running games at less that 1080p native resolution, while the PS4 apparently manages it without too much bother. Suffice to say people are unhappy about that.

Xbox One Event - GAME Reading OracleIn reality, when you are engaging with these games, you are not going to notice the difference unless you immediately go from one to the other, and for many the gaming experience goes far further than just how pretty the game looks.

That said, Microsoft has a mountain to climb to fulfil its claims about what the machine can deliver in terms of using the cloud and being truly future-proof for the next 10 years.

Xbox One ControllerThe Controller

Although the basic design of the controller remains from the 360 era, there are a number of changes, updates and innovations within the new controller which push it to the next level.

Rumbles in the triggers are the most obvious change, but the subtlety of how responsive and precise the controller feels is probably the most important long-term improvement.

The balance of the controller remains virtually the same and the lack of battery bulge on the back gives you more space to stretch your fingers.

Jumping out to the guide with the Xbox logo is now more swift, with the screen zooming out to reveal a Windows 8-esque start screen. The start and home buttons have changed too, but it’s difficult to say how significant these adjustments will be until you are living day-to-day with the console because of one very big elephant in the room…

Xbox OneThe Kinect-y-ness

In fact, Kinect is no longer the black sheep for Xbox gamers, since it seems this time around the technology is going to live up the expectations set a few years ago when Project Natal was first announced.

So far we haven’t managed to get our hand on (well, actually NOT on) Kinect 2.0, but the various demos shown off so far definitely seem like more than smoke and mirrors.

The greatest change will be the interface. For some, this new Kinect is their first experience of the technology at all, since before it was dismissed as “foolish arm-flailing”. Now it’s in the box, there’s (almost) no getting away from it, and it definitely seems like the gesture control and even more so the voice control will be very popular.

The Gameplay

Xbox One Event - GAME Oracle Reading
Nothing like promoting a console by sticking a massive banner for its competitor right next to it.

Diving into the first-party and exclusive launch line-up for these games doesn’t feel Earth-shattering. These games are pretty, in fact in Forza 5‘s case they are astounding, but the gameplay is familiar.

The increase in scale possible with the technology is there, but it’s difficult to appreciate until the developers have begun to get their head around the technology properly. Of course the scope of these games is impressive, but also fairly safe.

Dead Rising 3 (admittedly in demo form) offers only a wall of zombies to keep players occupied. All individually animated and reasonably independent in terms of behaviour and reactions, though zombie mentality in general is more like a mob in any case.

These are all positives, but where the game is already showing itself up is with various animation and spacial awareness issues. For example there only seems to be one ‘finishing’ move with each weapon and the transition between play and these is abrupt.

Equally irritating is that when main character Nick is wielding a park bench, poised and ready to decapitate a would-be brain-muncher, you move around to get a better position and find the bench happily passes through a nearby lamppost.

Auto-aim for lobbing such items is also not quite in tune with the camera, rarely seeming to aim towards the zombie or group you are trying to exact wicked vengeance on.

Forza 5 on Xbox OneForza 5 looks great and handles beautifully, but is it breaking the mould and pushing the envelope as a racing game? No. Things like in-depth car customisation (beyond selecting a colour) or fine tuning of settings as you might expect in real cars – admittedly insanely expensive ones.

Of course these sorts of features may be added later or show themselves when the game comes out, but the point is – these games are the flagship titles for the console, they should be trying something different.

With Ryse: Son Of Rome Microsoft at least have an experience you can’t get anywhere else at the moment. Looks wise it looks solid, especially the particle and fire effects, but the gameplay isn’t as fluid as you would expect when you are controlling a highly skilled warrior.

The swordwork – although slightly overusing slo-mo – looks stylish but is overly simplified to either horizontal or vertical swipes and the control scheme despite being simple is difficult to pick up on a first try.

Try to use any more exotic weapons at your peril. Spears and siege weapons tempt you with their shininess (and often necessity in order to progress, at least in the multiplayer mode we played), but then proceed to not be picked up, not fired and not aimed where you thought they should be. Not to mention they are far too slow to be effective on anything but very long range targets which you couldn’t take out any other way.

Returning brawler Killer Instinct has all the style and production value you would expect but very little rudimentary logic in its control scheme (where on Earth is block?!), which makes it a frustrating challenge for first-time fighter fans.

In all it’s third-party titles like Battlefield 4 which over the spectacle that you might hope for from the launch of a console, which is why it’s a shame the hotly-anticipated exclusive Titanfall won’t drop until next year.

The Controversy

Don Mattrick has faced a bit of backlash, so much so that he's left the company - oops...
Don Mattrick has faced a bit of backlash, so much so that he’s left the company – oops…

Always online, then not, Kinect compulsory, then not. The One currently sits in an easy place as we approach what should be its shining moment.

Most consumers will be oblivious to the to-ings and fro-ings, getting the download from their local GAME staff member on the day, but for those well-invested in the brand, it’s been an uneasy few months.

The extremity both of the u-turns (perceived or literal) and the PR cock-ups from MS execs which often followed, has severely tested the fanbase, leading some to jump ship and many more to reconsider where they had placed their faith.

In the coming weeks and months the vision which MS tried to explain back in May will begin to come to life. How true it will stay to what was originally conceived remains to be seen.

Xbox OneThe Potential

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the One’s chances though, despite all the uncertainty.

The features originally talked about and then canned could well return. The quality and fidelity of both games and graphics will improve, and already they are looking pretty tasty – even if they aren’t blowing your socks off.

Most significant of all of course, is the service which binds everything together – Xbox Live. Microsoft have an opportunity to push the community aspect of what they have created over the past decade.

Friends lists expand and include Twitter-like followers, more interconnected play over different devices and better access to friends than ever before.

It’s almost a shame that cross-generational gameplay isn’t possible, even if it was on something simple like Bomberman or Uno, because there could be an opportunity to tap into the browser/tablet games market through Live itself that way.

Once multiplayer numbers are beefed up and the community divided into like-minded individuals so that the hardcore competitive people can play together while the more groovy laid-back types can take their time with things, for example, there is the makings of a truly powerful web of people.

On top of that there is the potential of ‘the cloud’, but it all seems t0o intangible and vague at the moment to get a real sense of how that could shake things up.

The Verdict

Look at it...sitting there...teasing us...
Look at it…sitting there…teasing us…

In all, there are a lot of reasons to be excited about this console, but another, smaller number to be cautious about.

What’s key to remember though, is that it is early days, there is a lot of potential out there and even if the Playstation 4 does ‘win’ the war – i.e. get more players, more power and more games – it won’t take away from the fact that there are still some excellent experiences which are going to be only on Xbox One.

Besides if you wanted everything, with all its bells and whistles shining like the sun, then you would have switched to a gaming PC by now anyway.

Game on.

Read more about Xbox One on This Is Entertainment.

(An excellent reveal round-up from Mr Matt Lees here which we just have to share with you, thanks VideoGamer)

James Michael Parry

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2 | Review | Film

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2“Flint, this is amazing! And designing the ice cream to accumulate into scoops? I don’t know how you’re gonna top this!?”

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2How about with hot fudge? Oh you’ve heard it before? Well..How about with a sentient strawberry with big green eyes that also poops jam? And billions of food puns? You’ll need to have quite an appetite for the overdosingly sweet and cutesy cutesy, but ride out the spaghetti storm and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 will not leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

It’s every food-loving child’s (or unashamed child at heart’s) favourite film franchise..ABOUT FOOD. Get ready for the sugar rush of your life as your eyes feast on Sony Pictures Animation’s deliciousness, in glorious gut-busting 3D.

With all your favourites from last time:  Flint Lockwood, Sam Sparks, Steve, Tim Lockwood, ‘Baby’ Brent McHale and Officer Earl Devereax (sadly, no macaroni head man…) and some really demonic looking pickles, Cloudy 2 picks up directly from where we left the gang – in the tasty, post-apocalyptic chaos of Swallow Falls.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2Flint and his friends find themselves having to leave town after his childhood idol, Chester V (Will Forte) and his Live Corp Company of awesome inventors and scientists begin a mass clean up

Soon after leaving Flint discovers that the FLSMDFR (Flint Lockwood’s Diatonic Super Mutating Dynamic Food Replicator) is still functioning and creating delightfully imaginative mutant foodimals like Shrimpanzies, toastitoes and Hippotatomus! Armed with his friends he returns to Swallow Falls to find and shut down the FLSMDFR and, of course, save the world.

With a plot engaging for both adults and kids alike there are plenty of good laugh out loud moments, silliness is the name of the game! However there are some deeper themes that emerge occasionally as Flint deals with his bullied past, how he chooses a role model, the choice of studying the foodimals or destroying them and how he values his friendships.

All the lessons and trials he faces are served up in a way that differs from the deeply moving and heartstring pulling Pixaresque films out there and instead goes for a light hearted approach that still hits hard. Without the need of nearly killing off the whole cast in a blazing inferno. (No, I’m still not over Toy Story 3!!!)

With most of the original cast from the first film, (save Terry Crews replacing MR.T as Officer Earl) Bill Hader, Anna Faris and James Caan effortlessly glide back into character and bring to life the animation on screen. The dialogue is fast paced and mirrors the constant slap-stick and flamboyant gesticulations escalating in the fantastic food fight finale.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2The design of the characters and their erratic movements, extreme facial expressions and adventures with the foodimals are highly amusing and even go as far as to reflect films gone by. Like the huge behemoth spring onions that mimic the brontosaurus scene from Jurassic Park.

All in all I would definitely urge all of who have not yet seen this film to do so, (and buy the DVD of part 1!) as it is a film I will be carrying with me in my imagination and heart alongside the original. For me, a self-confessed foodie and lover of cute I was completely obliged to see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 and love every spoonful of it.

Rating 5/5

Jenna Fury

Thor: The Dark World | Review | Film

Marvel's Thor: The Dark WorldThor: The Dark WorldTopping The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble, if you must) was never going to be easy, and there’s no doubt Thor: The Dark World lives in the shadow of the events of the biggest grossing superhero flick of all time, but at least it has a really good go.

The gang’s all here: Thor, Loki, Odin…and Natalie Portman – OK, Jane Foster… Overall the cast performs well but it’s difficult to be sold by a supposedly highly intelligent scientist who things it’s a good idea, when she finds herself in a random place in the middle of nowhere, to touch the strange goo-like red substance which is moving around of its own accord.

Anthony Hopkins earns his place returning as Odin, bringing a reminder of how great power and the weary of war can change great men into the very thing they despise. Really it’s his wife Frigga (Rene Russo) who steals the show in the briefest of moments and she shows her true colours as more than just a queen.

Of the characters, most supporting players, such as Kat Dennings’ Darcy, get a decent amount of screen time and some good laughs or at least justify themselves. Sadly it’s the villain, unrecognisably played by Christopher Eccleston, who has no depth or complexity to him – you’d think after hanging around for 5000 years or more he’d have something interesting to say but there is no character beyond raw emotion.

Marvel's Thor: The Dark WorldMore than once, the film strays close to the feeling of the original Star Wars films. There’s a villain who speaks with wrath, is pale and wields great power, his dark servant who does his bidding without question and the feeling of the torch being past between the wise old man and the youngster who stands up to evil despite massive odds.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact the parrallels with themes such as magic and space together, the frantic lazer battles juxtaposing the more traditional aspects of life on Asguard. Unfortunately there isn’t the same driving narrative surging through the film, and with Thor’s own lessons learned in the first film – little to encourage you to grow with the character.

Marvel's Thor: The Dark World - LokiWhat is a fantastic though is that the film has all the humour, all the action and, best of all, Loki. Since the first film, Tom Hiddleston has taken Loki on a journey which broke out of Thor into the Avengers, and now struggles to fit back in. For much of the plot he is sidelined, confined to the dungeons out of sight.

Despite this – every single time you see him on screen you are entertained. He is gifted with the best lines, the best timing and the strongest emotional story arc of any character. He could have been used more, think of the role of Gene Hackman in Superman II, but the team were cautious and merely held him back – setting things up for fireworks in Thor 3.

The story has some fun twists and turns, and even gives Idris Elba a chance to shine as we know he can (another character who deserves to go further in the next instalment), but overall plays it safe.

Marvel's Thor: The Dark WorldThe end result is a really really good film, but not quite as high as the standard set by so many Marvel flicks brought out over the past few years. Thor is a strong character, and Chris Hemsworth brings him to life brilliantly, but his sheer spectacle makes him the most un-relatable Marvel hero, and so it is more difficult to connect with the film.

In all Thor: The Dark World isn’t the moody sequel you might expect in this post-Dark Knight world, ironically it’s actually more comedic than the first film, but it does tick all the boxes for fans of both action films and comic book tales.

If you’re in the mood for a great film, this is a solid choice, but if you are looking for something unforgettable, you’ll be left wanting.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

How to be a serial killer (on TV) | Feature | Television

DexterSince it’s almost Halloween* we thought it would be fun to turn our thoughts to the darkness within, namely the serial killers of the silver screen and what we can learn from their successes and failures.

(*Disclaimer – Depending on when this is actually being read it may or may not be Halloween, This Is Entertainment makes no apologies for diminished enjoyment of the following editorial. Also, killing people is bad, so no, you may not try this at home.)

From Dexter to Hannibal, Red John to Henry Grace, there are many killers at large on the box and all of them have their own methods, motives and characteristics which help them succeed, or lead to their downfall.

Keep your friends closer

DexterAll serial killers have something in common, aside from just being murderers, in that the act of taking a life has a purpose.

It might be because they ‘need’ to kill, it might be because they enjoy it or because they want to show everyone how clever they are. Regardless of how they feel about killing, almost all need a cover story to maintain the appearance of a ‘normal’ life.

For Dexter Morgan, the titular anti-hero of Dexter (Michael C. Hall), his cover comes both in the form of his job and his sister Debra. Staying close to Debra is what helps to hide Dexter’s darkness from the rest of the world.

In this year’s TV adaptation of Red Dragon – Hannibal – the character of Hannibal Lecter remains hidden by getting close to the person most likely to find him.

The impression of the person they are, the disguise, is almost as important as their true self. This is one thing you must master, to be in with any chance at all.

Don’t bite off more than you chew

The MentalistWhen killers worlds start to unravel is when they are trying to do too many things at once.

A pretty important tip for any budding serial killer is to only try to take out one victim at a time.

Some of the hairiest situation for Dexter have been when he has to kill another person to cover up the first murder.

Control is very important for these sociopathic personalities, and as soon as things start to get out of hand, you will quickly see them get more brutal and frantic.

Make sure you have a plan and stick to it, even if that voice in your head says differently.

Be wary of exploring new things

Colin Hanks in DexterWith an incapability to feel genuine emotion, there is always a temptation for serial killers to yearn after what they cannot have.

Often from their perspective, things like love, attachment, family are all distractions which make things more complicated, and hold little worth in the long run.

In reality the success at which these aspects can offer value varies greatly, but bigger social topics such as religion, addiction, celebrity have numerous new experiences and possibilities attached to them.

However tempting it might be to believe that these things can give you a way out, don’t be fooled – for a serial killer, almost everything comes back to secrets.

Always get rid of the evidence

Criminal MindsIf you don’t fancy eating them, make sure you are well-versed in how one might go and hide a body, since the past is always poised to come back to haunt you at any moment in unexpected ways.

It may be much to have a wide array of recipes to cater for whatever organ you fancy cooking up that particular day, but you do have to have a system. Do you keep everything together? Store it for a while or dispose of it all at once?

There’s no absolute certain way to not have bodies traced back to you, but some care and patience goes a long way. After all, there’s more than enough CSI-type shows looking for your DNA.

Don’t get caught

Dexter caught by DebLearning how the police work, or even steering the investigation yourself, are sure-fire ways to stay ahead of the game.

Of course, the more you learn, the more they have to learn to catch up and the harder the job of remaining hidden becomes.

Never get sucked into sacrificing anything for anyone but yourself, in the end it’s you against the world. If a few more people have to die to get you out of a situation then what’s a few more bodies? What’s one more?

Dr Hannibal Lector (Mads Mikkelsen)Obviously, the way to really survive is to make it on TV. There you can be immortalised for years to come with all of your great achievements laid out. The reason that serial killers continue to be popular, even rooted for and loved despite being horrible, evil people, is because they fascinate us.

It is difficult to understand or appreciate why or how someone would be so destructive as to dissect so many people’s lives. Not being able to feel emotions that we all experience daily for ridiculous things – that rush of fear as you almost slip on the way down the stairs for example – serial killers are something which we all in some ways admire, even at the same time as being appalled by them.

You can’t imagine rooting for Darth Vader or Skelator in quite the same way as you want these people to get away with it. In many ways it’s the birthplace of ‘the lovable villain’. Can you imagine the attendees at Comic Con cheering Loki if it wasn’t for Tom Hiddleston’s charisma and charm?

Will Graham, Hannibal (2013)Perhaps this is also where the love for Halloween itself comes from. The excitement and the fun of mocking the darkness and the evil with chocolate treats and silly costumes makes it all seem less frightening and less horrific, when really if you look closer and see the truth of what it represents you would run for your life.

So the next time you think it would just be easier to kill everyone and be done with it, throwing morals and reason out the window in favour of a simpler life of black and white, good and evil. But remember, in the end, it isn’t quite so simple as that.

What are your top tips? Leave a comment below, but be careful not to give away too much…

James Michael Parry

Eight games which define a generation | Opinion | Gaming

The seventh gen of gamingMany words have been written about the ‘blockbuster’ games of the so-called seventh generation of home games consoles, but, as we move into a brave new world in November, what will their legacy be?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 boasted the biggest launch day sales figure in history (now more than likely claimed by GTAV) and Skyrim undoubtedly boasted the most hours spent by borderline-obsessed gamers indulging their fantasy lives, but some games made a more definitive impact (for me, anyway).

The titles below are the ones which made a significant impact for me on either Wii, PS3 or Xbox 360. (Sorry Wii U owners, but the real party is still to come, and also since I never owned a PS3, apologies in advance).

Resident Evil 4 (Wii)

Resident Evil 4: Wii EditionUndoubtedly the most suitable and effective port of a game I have ever come across, Resi 4 had it all. There was a great, likeable protagonist, admittedly not the sort of guy you might want to go for a drink with, and an intriguing mysterious action/adventure (not survival horror) coupled with a drop of Japanese insanity to keep things interesting.

Whether it was the obsessive upgrading of my weapons – you never know when you might need an extra shotgun shell – or the cripplingly simple puzzles which I still couldn’t complete, there was fun to be had around every corner here, and on the Wii it took things a step further in terms of control and immersion.

Of course this wasn’t the arcade-machine-in-your-house that was Umbrella Chronicles, which was excellent, but flawed, but somehow there was something terrifying about the fact that you can’t move your character properly. It just added to the experience.

By the time you got to Resi 5 the magic had worn off, and the novelty of not fighting zombies but gunning down people infected by parasites unfortunately couldn’t sustain it through.

Guitar Hero III (360/PS3/Wii)

Guitar Hero IIIAs much as its predecessor pushed the envelope over the first in the series, it was this game which really made its mark and told the world was here to stay (well, for a bit…).

The inclusion of rock icons such as Slash for the first time attempted to bring an element of narrative to proceedings, with mixed success, and shook off the legacy of Harmonix, the first game’s developer.

Like many Guitar Hero titles, the tracklist was key to the game’s success, boasting classics such as Pearl Jam’s Even Flow, Cliffs of Dover by Eric Johnson and, most memorably, Through The Fire and Flames by Dragonforce – a fiendishly hard track unlocked at the end of the game during the closing credits.

There might not have been a huge jump forward from Guitar Hero II, but the style and execution was more polished, consistent, and fun.

The coop or head-to-head battles made for some entertaining late night entertainment, especially when arriving home at 2.00am at university, and there is the added benefit of being exposed to some excellent music from a variety of bands and years.

Rock Band 3 (360/PS3/Wii)

Rock Band 3Of course, by the time Rock Band 3 came along, the music game was on its last legs, but this title is as close to entertainment perfection as I think any game has ever been.

The addition of downloadable tracks, which began with the first game, reached a peak in this title as new songs were added every single week since launch for years after the game first came out. Plus there was the chance for content creators to share out their own music on the service, and often get more exposure than they ever could have any other way.

The implementation of the keyboard could have been smoother, but it was still fantastic, and opened up the possibility of you actually learning keyboard through a console, something for which I’m sure Rocksmith is most grateful.

The title gave the most diverse range of songs to date and became a classic party game overnight.

The notes runway, developed by Harmonix for the first Guitar Hero, reached its peak with every song playing out its own way – even including space for some improvisation.

The instruments were slightly hit and miss compared to rival title Guitar Hero: World Tour, but the travel version of the game’s cumbersome drum kit quickly made the entire package more accessible.

This game defined multi-instrument gaming to an extent that it has never been bettered since. Some might argue that it was the final nail in the coffin of the music game era, but to finish with an encore like this? Not too shabby.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (360/PS3/Wii)

Call Of Duty 4: Modern WarfareProbably the most influential game on this list. It spawned an entire generation of modern military shooters, many of which carrying the COD moniker, and the twitchy-action and gritty fast-paced style of the game was aped just as often as the gameplay.

The nuclear destruction of the protagonist mid-campaign, a tragedy the player could do nothing to escape, was one of the most dramatic moments in video game history. To take such a bold step was something which, unfortunately they weren’t able to live up to in subsequent iterations.

The execution of the gameplay is undeniably one of the most well-produced of the generation, and still holds up well today. Campaign mission ‘All Ghillied Up’, a flashback featuring the player taking control of series regular Captain Price on a stealthy sniper assignment, remains one of the most tense and memorable missions for a first-person shooter.

Although the multiplayer wasn’t for everyone, it undeniably set the standard with its level design and perks system, even pushing the envelope in terms of Downloadable Content, something build upon significantly in later games.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (360/PS3)

Battlefield Bad Company 2What Modern Warfare did for shooters in general, Bad Company 2 did for vehicle combat.

Battlefield has always been about team play and the epic scale of war, and this title created a feeling of immersion within vehicles which I had never experienced before.

Not that it was the height of realism, but the map design and balance of different vehicles made it an incredibly compelling multiplayer experience. Flying vehicles were tricky, and arguably are still a little fiddly even now, but definitely good fun.

More impressive than the gameplay aspects though, where what developers DICE did with their new engine, Frostbite 2, which offered destruction even more impressive than that seen in Red Faction: Guerilla.

Buildings and scenery crumbled under the might of tank shells, with wood splintering, concrete disintegrating and the ground developing huge holes.

On top of that you add some of the most entertaining game modes out there for online multiplayer and you had a fantastic game. The only thing which pushed it that little bit further was the DLC expansion, Vietnam.

More than just DLC, the addition added new maps, vehicles and weapons to completely change the tone of the game within its own digital playground. Most importantly of all, it pushed the fun factor up to 11.

Left 4 Dead 2 (360)

Left 4 Dead 2In terms of multiplayer re-playability, there’s little which stands in the way of L4D2.

Although the game came out a little close to its predecessor for comfort, it managed to bring most of that game along with it through a number of DLC updates (which, admittedly, took some time).

The AI is what really impresses me about this game, as each of the special infected act differently and never fail to catch you out, no matter how many times you have played a particular level.

The feeling of panic as the horde rush mindlessly towards you far outstrips that of your average horror game. The sheer number of infected is overwhelming, not perhaps in the way as they are in Dead Rising, but because of their speed and relentless nature you quickly find yourself flailing wildly to escape.

The AI director, who silently changes the game behind the scenes to make a different experience each time, acts as an evil torturer at times, gifting the odd health pack before hitting back with a world-ending Tank.

Being a Valve game, the attention to detail is excellent and the level design is second to none – every time you play a game you find a different aspect jumps out at you (not literally, mostly).

It might have taken some time to become the game it is today, but that’s Valve, and there’s no doubt that it is the crowning glory of asymmetrical multiplayer.

Grand Theft Auto IV (360/PS3)

Grand Theft Auto 4It might be the fifth iteration which is grabbing all the headlines for its billions of sales, but it’s the fourth instalment which really put the franchise on the map.

After swinging between realism and caricature for years with various games on the PS2, Rockstar decided to go all-out with the vast expansion of its world.

Comedy clubs you could visit, bowling, drinking, and a plethora of other sights were on show in what was the biggest and most detailed parody of New York City that has ever been created.

From the ‘GetALife’ building to the Statue of Happiness, the parody is flawless, mocking American culture at every turn. All to the effortless soundtrack of the Liberty City radio stations, which take things even further.

While the gameplay might not be the best aspect, in fact many aspects such as driving or combat are done far better by even similar games released around the same time, but it’s the overall convincing nature of the game’s world which makes the title truly compelling.

The story wasn’t anything ground breaking, but it fitted in with the game’s world well, offering insights into the life of Niko Bellic. How the player chose to make that character act is another story.

Mass Effect (360)

Mass EffectMass Effect undeniably has the greatest story of any game I have ever played. Not least because it’s a story I wrote (sort of).

As the first chapter in the most exciting and varied piece of interactive story-telling in history, Mass Effect claims the crown over other RPGs (or, later, ‘action RPGs’) by making the player the centre of that universe so completely that they believe it has been created just for them.

The decisions you make throughout the story continue to shape the universe for years afterwards, cutting out entire characters from the subsequent games or changing alliances between races.

The controversy of the ending was inevitable with so much scope, but I believe that, all things considered, developers BioWare did well.

It’s one thing to create characters people love and care about, it’s another thing to feel like you really know them, love them, miss them when they are gone.

Garrus remains one of my favourite characters of all time, in any media, purely because of the journey he has joined my version of Shepard on. The emotional investment with this franchise, for me, is something which I haven’t experienced since Star Wars.

Is this what it's all about, or is there more to it?
Is this what it’s all about, or is there more to it?

In the end, it is the experiences we have all had with these games, more than the games themselves, which will ‘define the generation’.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration or a grandiose statement to make to suggest that this is the most variety we will ever see in any generation of gaming ever.

The difference between the games which began it, like Perfect Dark Zero, and ended it, the likes of Watch Dogs and plenty more still on the horizon, is vast. The one thing which they do have in common, is the player, and for me, this next chapter of gaming remains just as interesting and exciting because of the new types of experience it will inevitably bring.

So there you have it, my not-quite-top-ten. Which games would you choose?

James Michael Parry

Reading Festival 2013 | Review | Music

Reading Fest 2013After a decade of live music you think you’ve seen it all, but Reading Festival continues to deliver unique experiences year after year and nothing can compare to this festival’s atmosphere, excitement and passion.

This year saw the return of Green Day and Eminem to the headliner slot on the Main Stage, and a long-awaited rise of Biffy Clyro to close the show with a, frankly tremendous, bang.


Reading Fest 2013A ray of sunshine greeted While She Sleeps as they opened the festival on the Main Stage to a lukewarm reception.

The arena this year has had a re-jig, expanded to include a new stage and split the entrance into two – one heading to each side of the campsite – a tactic which largely works, though a bit of crowd education is necessary.

New Found Glory played Sticks and Stones in full (almost).
New Found Glory played Sticks and Stones in full (almost).

Highlights of the afternoon were New Found Glory, who began the retro trend with a complete rendition of breakthrough album Sticks and Stones.

“They forgot to check how long we needed and only gave us 40 minutes,” said frontman Jordan Pundik. “Our album is 42.”

As a result the band struggled to fit everything in, and in the end skipped the last track in favour of ‘All Downhill From Here’.

The show was well received by fans, despite many being only children when the album was originally released, and the bands energy was in full show.

As the evening drew in, Bastille drew the biggest crowd, packing out the NME/Radio 1 Stage with their calm melodies, and then, in contrast, the return of System of a Down to the Main Stage was met with a fantastically enthusiastic crowd.

The Living End do their party piece.
The Living End do their party piece.

At the same time, both The Living End and Alkaline Trio added weight to the line-up on the Lock-Up Stage, proving that these established bands can still deliver.

Green Day’s set on the Main Stage was hotly anticipated, and overall did not disappoint, with something for every fan, old and new, with a flurry of new songs at the beginning giving way to a complete rendition of Dookie, the band’s breakthrough release – which has it’s 20 year anniversary next year.

The band’s charisma was in evidence, particularly that of Billy Joe Armstrong – ever fond shouting ‘eh-oh’ to the crowd in true Freddie Mercury style.

But, in the band’s defence, the crowd responded, and caused Armstrong to proclaim that Reading is “the greatest festival in the world.” To which there was little argument.

Billy Joe continues to be a very popular showman.
Billy Joe continues to be a very popular showman.


The rain fell strongly during Lower Than Atlantis' set.
The rain fell strongly during Lower Than Atlantis’ set.

The second day brought a change of feel and a change of crowd as headliner Eminem sets the tone, and changes the demographic of the crowd. Oddly there’s even racial diversity, something not often seen at this predominantly Caucasian festival.

Lower Than Atlantis earn their billing on the Main Stage with a fantastic set, for a band which played the Festival Republic Stage only last year. The band’s latest album shines particularly brightly and has the crowd entranced despite the inevitable rain.

The Blackout brought a strong dose of Wales to proceedings, who were well represented in the crowd throughout the weekend. The medley of hip hop classics was  particularly inspired segment.

White Lies closed with Ritual hit 'Bigger Than Us'.
White Lies closed with Ritual hit ‘Bigger Than Us’.

Strength of the bill through the afternoon holds up, with Twin Atlantic and even more so White Lies keeping the crowd entertained.

The latter pledged to give a set with more ‘girth’ in the programme and delivered, finishing with the timeless ‘Bigger Than Us’.

Imagine Dragons packed out the NME/Radio 1 Tent
Imagine Dragons packed out the NME/Radio 1 Tent

Imagine Dragons were the draw for everyone as the evening built up momentum. Playing most of their debut album, Night Visions, the band had their audience entranced and singing along with every single song.

‘Radioactive’ proved to be an epic closer, and the band made full use of the on stage percussion to give an epic, almost film soundtrack-like quality to the atmosphere.

Eminem’s set in the evening reflected the complete journey he has been on as an artist. There was banter from the crowd, singing along with hits such as ‘Real Slim Shady’ and ‘Without Me’.

There was an even a rare appearance of collaborator Dido as the rap star brought out his radio-friendly tune ‘Stan’. This prompted widespread arm swaying and singing along from the audience, which was massive and filled almost the entire arena on its own.

Following a teasing encore, there was a return to ‘Lose Yourself’, prompting yet more singing along. In all the show met everyone’s expectations.

Eminem's set was quite dramatic at times.
Eminem’s set was quite dramatic at times.

Best kept secret of the night was the films in the Radio 1 Extra Stage, which featured Star Trek Into Darkness, prompting a huge woop from the crowd as soon as Benedict Cumberbatch came on screen.


The final day’s highlights were strewn throughout the day, but the Main Stage remained the place to be.

Hadouken! brought the disco groove to the Sunday.
Hadouken! brought the disco groove to the Sunday.

Hadouken! brought a real disco vibe which recalled the classic performances of acts like The Prodigy in the past, with an element of Pendulum. The crowd enjoyed the early afternoon boogie and it got the energy levels up early considering how late in the weekend it was.

Editors brought gravitas of a strong, well-established British band, with a number of hits – most of which you can’t quite remember the name of – and the crowd responded well. Songs from the new album did better live than on record.

The Lumineers went the extra mile, with front man Wesley Schultz fending out into the crowd to play a song, though the momentum was somewhat lost by Fall Out Boy delivering a set full of songs from all areas of their career but forgetting to put them in a discernible order, leading to a haphazard mix of styles clashing.

The light show for Nine Inch Nails was undeniably impressive.
The light show for Nine Inch Nails was undeniably impressive.

As darkness fell the might of Nine Inch Nails‘ light show was undeniable, with dozens of lights creating a hypnotic and dazzlingly elaborate display.

The set was slow to start, focusing on the band’s electronic sound, but by the end the rock was back in full force and slapping the audience in the face.

Finally it was the turn of Biffy Clyro to close the show. The new album Opposites was a fantastic platform to build the set around, packed with instant classics, and the hits from their back catalogue just kept on coming.

Biffy Clyro managed an astounding set which spanned their entire career.
Biffy Clyro managed an astounding set which spanned their entire career.

The show reflected the range in the band’s style well, even featuring ’57’ from the band’s first album, and the crowd responded with some of the loudest singing along of the entire weekend.

Closer ‘Mountains’ hit the sweet spot of the audiences knowledge, with old and new fans being drawn in.

The festival in all was a success, some questionable car parking organisation aside, and leads to thoughts of who might hit the line-up in 2014.

James Michael Parry

Kick-Ass 2 | Review | Film

This time, it really is personal...and bloody.If there are only two ways to go with a sequel – play it safe or go all out – Kick-Ass 2 could never be accused of being sheepish.

The follow up to the OTT coming-of-age superhero tale, which also had an endearing sense of humour, takes the phrase ‘all guns blazing’ to a whole new level but still keeps the heart which made the first film so compelling.

The change in director is felt as soon as the first action scene kicks off, with a flurry of violence, blood and frantic camera work in abundance. Despite this the feeling of excitement and adrenaline doesn’t quite get out of hand, the laughs remain (if accompanied with a few cringing moments), and the plot is just as strong as the first outing.

After the extreme danger and peril of part one, Kick-Ass has given up his hero work, while Hit Girl has kept training and keeping the streets safe, despite her guardian’s best intentions to have her lead a normal life.

At the same time, the numbers of costume heroes on the streets has increased, with ordinary people being inspired by what Kick-Ass started.

Jim Carrey owns the show as Colonel Stars and StripesThis is where Jim Carrey comes in. The loss of Nicholas Cage could have been a severe setback to the film, but Carrey as Colonel Stars and Stripes fills the boots of slightly-mad-but-mature hero with gravitas and fun. Unfortunately his character isn’t explored as much as it should be, and as a result the potential isn’t fully realised.

Herein lies the biggest downfall of the film in a nutshell. For everything Director Jeff Wedlow does right he does something else which…isn’t quite right.

In the end the positives outweigh the negatives, but it can occasionally take this impact out of the film’s finer moments. At one point the audience is drawn into an emotional peak, before being thrown into high octane action without any chance to take a breath.

Evil villain duty is taken up by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who does little to shake off his Super bad typecasting, but, to his credit, makes his typically expletively-named character work.

The good guy cast deliver as they did last time around, with an added slice of character development for Hit Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz) which on the whole works’ though does feel a little forced at times. Aaron Taylor-Johnson is the rock for the story once again and continues to give a stellar performance, really convincing in the continued disbelief of his situation.

Hit Girl gives Kick-Ass some trainingThe action can get pretty bloody, with the previous film’s most bloody moment becoming more of a regular occurrence. It may be too much for some tastes, but just about manages to toe the line and keep things within it’s (admittedly very comic book) established boundaries.

The film overall is a lesson in how sequels which take a risk can pay off, with the occasional misstep or rough edge. Being based on a comic book gave the story more weight, but the delivery from the cast, both returning and new faces alike, is what sells it.

As an action film alone it hovers around average, but the characters and the interplay, plus the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, push the film to be more than the sum of its parts.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry