Tag Archives: James_Parry

Five things you should already know about Gamescom | Opinion | Gaming

Gamescom 2014By now you may have heard that a European games conference took place this week, but if you haven’t had time to catch up on everything, here are the key facts.

1) Microsoft finally ‘beat’ Sony

Xbox One Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Edition
The 1TB hard drive with this custom console will be the draw for those who to shop digitally

They love to say it isn’t a competition and pat each other on the back (well…Microsoft have paid a few compliments to Sony this year at least…), but really it’s war.

As we approach a year since the latest battle between Sony and Microsoft began – sorry Nintendo, you’re benched – competition is fierce as each console has hit its stride.

MS began their conference strongly with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, including a custom Xbox One console (above), which interestingly is missing Kinect, alluding to one of the many things about where Xbox One is now which differ from day one.

The last few months may have seemed to be backtracking, and they are, but they are also offering a slew of new and exclusive games both in the rest of 2014 and beyond, while Sony’s initial momentum, and impressive initial sales numbers, appear to be slowing.

Exclusive PS4 title Hellblade, from Ninja Theory, is one game which has been announced which isn't as 'indie-ish'
Exclusive PS4 title Hellblade, from Ninja Theory, is one game which has been announced which isn’t as ‘indie-ish’

It’s not quite the tortoise and the hare, a LOT of people have and are buying a PS4, but there’s increasing feeling that the console hasn’t perhaps leapt the industry forward as much as it could have, focusing on power (as usual) rather than innovation.

That could change when Morpheus, Sony’s answer to the imagination-grabbing Oculus Rift, properly launches, but for now the company is focusing on its game streaming service: Playstation Now, as well as system updates and indie games.

The lack of triple-A franchises shown off prompted many to award the win to MS, who, by comparison, filled their presentation to the brim with exclusives and as usual got the multiplatform games out of the way quickly so they could show only exclusive games for the rest of the show.

2) Exclusives = arguments

Rise of the Tomb Raider
Lara Croft’s latest outing is proving to be the latest argument-bait online

Slightly controversially, Rise of the Tomb Raider (above) was announced as Xbox One exclusive, though unsurprisingly only for a limited time, and there was plenty from the big MS exclusives: Sunset OverdriveForza Horizon 2 and Halo: The Master Chief Collection.

The mention of Tomb Raider itself was fairly quick and painless, but it’s been the subject of a lot of internet debate since the event, with some PS gamers feeling scorned for being ‘denied access’ to a franchise they have put time into.

The first game in the series famously made the first PlayStation (while destroying perceptions female protagonists in games for a decade), so you can sort of understand why people are miffed, but are so much anger and tears really justified?

The debate calls back to discussions around the Destiny Beta, which had three extra days on Playstation, not to mention the final game having timed-exclusive DLC.

With Bungie having worked with MS for so long on the  Halo series, it seemed to some entitled people that they deserve to play Bungie’s games forever more, as if they aren’t a business.

The subject of what ‘exclusive’ really means as a term is already blurred as it is, expect further musings on the topic before the end of the year.

3) Watching pirated films is easy

Halo Channel
The Halo Channel is one way MS is bringing its video and gaming content together

A feature which wasn’t present during MS’s conference but did come out during the week was the fact that they are increasing the number of video formats which the Xbox One can play, opening up people’s ripped DVD and Blu-ray collections to be played using the device.

If you’ve downloaded them from the internet (legal or otherwise – for shame!) then you’ll be able to enjoy them from the comfort of your sofa without awkwardly balancing a laptop on top of you or scrambling for the right HDMI cable to plug it into the TV.

Since Xbox was always intended to be the ‘hub’ of the living room this enhancement makes sense, and is supposedly in response to players’ feedback, plus there’s plenty more system updates coming to the One monthly, unlike Sony who have only managed a handful of steps forward with their software.

4) You can’t escape Assassin’s Creed

It's easy to forget that PS3 and Xbox 360 games can still look really good
It’s easy to forget that PS3 and Xbox 360 games can still look really good

Not one, but two games, and lots and lots of trailers now plague the internet in the wake of Gamescom, giving both current and past gen gamers something to brutally kill people in with their hands.

The franchise appears to be drifting apart, not unlike the fancy pirate-y ships which serve as a key mechanic in new announcement: Assassin’s Creed Rogue.

Unity, which was announced ahead of E3 earlier in the year, ditches the nautical side completely and focuses instead on co-op play as it’s key USP.

At a total of seven main titles and a handful of handheld and other games, the franchise is reaching the stage where it is at risk of growing stale if it stands still and so it makes sense to pursue to different styles (and largely different markets) with these two games.

Due to its popularity, it isn’t a series which is likely to fade away any time soon.

5) Online multiplayer isn’t going away, but neither is single player

Come September, become Legend (lag permitting...)
Come September, become Legend (lag permitting…)

There’s lots of games coming out in the next year, shocker I know, but people seem to be coming down on one side of the proverbial playstyle fence or the other at the moment.

The fear is that as MMO games begin to gain momentum on consoles, developers won’t spend time developing ‘proper’ single player games.

It’s understandable, since more players mean more money, and we know publishers in particular like money, but is it going to happen? No, no it won’t.

No matter how social you are as a gamer, there’s always times when people feel like being on their own, and gaming has always been one of the safest havens when you are in that mood and because of that passion, single player will continue to be an important part of console experiences for a long while yet.

The recreation of New York has some creative licence but is packed with detail
The recreation of New York has some creative licence but is packed with detail

Even if Destiny and The Division are a commercially success, they will never match the renown of something like Skyrim as it has to many stories which people can share and talk about, for Destiny these experiences will be few and far between.

Different people like different things, and gaming now is more diverse than it ever has been, plus technology and innovation has made the escapism you can reach when you are absorbed by an amazing game is second to none.

James Michael Parry

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Why co-op gaming is the way forward | Opinion | Gaming

EvolveI’ve never been much of a single player gamer. For as long as I’ve been gaming I’ve always enjoyed the comfort and security of having a buddy around to revive you when you inadvertently fall of a ledge or get caught on some clutter strewn across the floor of a level – designed to add richness to the setting but in fact amounting to another thing to navigate your character around.

Never has the value of having human co-op players on side been more clearly spelled out than when playing Left 4 Dead, a game which had a single player campaign in name only since even playing alone saw three AI teammates join you as you try to survive the zombie apocalypse.

Being Human

Left 4 Dead 2
Going it alone in Left 4 Dead (or its sequel, pictured) is a speedy shortcut to Dead City.

Add in human players instead and, providing they are half decent, the balance of the game changes entirely and is far more entertaining. Original developer Turtle Rock (not Valve as I had first thought, who merely published the first and developed the second) have kept this point of difference in their new game Evolve.

The game is based around an asymmetrical multiplayer mode which pits four hunters against a monster. The monster begins fairly weak and must snack on local wildlife to evolve (ahhhh now you’re getting it) to become a force strong enough to take down the hunters one by one.

At the same time the hunters must try to find and take out the monster, and if they don’t kill it before it reaches its stage three of evolution, an all-out fight begins to either destroy or protect the power generator for that particular area.

Getting it together

With hundreds of players milling around in Destiny it would be hard to shut yourself off, and other players are part of your experience.
With hundreds of players milling around in Destiny it would be hard to shut yourself off, and other players are part of your experience.

What does this have to do with co-op I hear you ask? Well granted, for the monster there isn’t a lot of co-op to be had, but it would be a completely different game against AI rather than humans, since it is all about reading the opposing team, tricking one hunter into saving another so you can take them down too, for example.

On the hunters’ team, good communication and cooperation are vital to survival. It’s a game where you rely on your team just as much as in Left 4 Dead, except there’s no escape – you have to face this monster – and it’s a far more sophisticated predator than the likes of the Tank.

In the old days you’d need to get three (well four, really) friends around to complete your team for a game like this, and sofa and TV space are a precious commodity. These days co-op is far easier, with Xbox Live (and other services which I’m less familiar with…) connecting players across the world in seconds, and with minimal lag even at low connection speeds.

When faced with such a wide range of possibilities as that – even in a single multiplayer map with single character choices (of which there are in fact multiple, even for the monster) – it’s difficult to imagine a single player experience matching up to it.

In your own little world

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Many have lost hundreds of hours to Skyrim, an entirely single player experience, but will they lose more to the Elder Scrolls Online?

That said, there are many who find escapism, solace and relaxation in single player, and I absolutely understand that. That experience will never disappear from games, but you only need to look at the biggest releases due for the rest of 2014 to see some clear signs of where console gaming is going – Destiny being a particularly high profile example.

The fact is that people are more easily connected than ever before, so it’s no wonder they want to share their favourite past time, but let’s hope the experiences we are presented with in co-op gaming going forward are well thought out, feature rich and diverse, and not just a clone of the main character bolted on to the campaign for the sake of it.

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.

Friday

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.

Saturday

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.

Sunday

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

Pacific Rim | Review | Film

Pacific RimThere’s nothing subtle about a giant robot. From the opening monologue it’s immediately clear that Pacific Rim isn’t a film to do things by halves. The age old story of good versus evil, but retold on a (literally) massive scale.

Or at least, that’s what you might first think: a simple, all out action blockbuster which is all explosions, set pieces and visual effects but no substance. In fact there’s more to the film than meets the eye and, if you suspend disbelief and commit to this post-apocalyptic world, you can be rewarded.

The introduction tells us that an event occurred in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which saw a creature enter the world we know from another dimension and attack San Francisco. Six months later there was another event, this time in Manilla, then more and more until the world decided something had to be done.

Pacific Rim
Nothing like a massive robotic killing machine to get your attention.

The world’s resources were poured into the ‘Jaeger’ program, a plan to fend of giant Godzilla-like monsters with equally massive Transformers-esque robots.

The comparisons flow quick and fast, with the film seemingly drawing from a wide range of sources, but due to fantasy heavyweight Guillermo del Toro at the helm the film manages to toe the line expertly.

The cast is source on big names, with only Idris Elba ringing a bell as military leader Marshall Pentecost, but in general holds together well. One baffling exception is the muddling introduction of Robert Kezinsky and leading man Charlie Hunnam as Raleigh Beckett within minutes of each other, as both characters look very alike, but as soon as the action kicks off the divide in the characters seems becomes clear.

Pacific Rim - Idris Elba
“First, don’t ever touch me again. Second, don’t ever touch me again.”

The special effects are undeniably first rate, and the visual direction emphasises the scale of both the battles, and the contrast between the mechs and their operators.

Twists and turns make the story a notch above generic, but undeniably an ‘action romp’ at its core. The pace jumps between action and the slight unease of its character-building moments, with the latter always welcome but never quite comfortable. Luckily the finesse and style of the action drives the momentum and builds gradually towards the films’ climax.

Those expecting originality and a mind-bending experience may come away disappointed, but this is an action blockbuster which fires on all cylinders and delivers style and substance.

Rating: 4/5

James Michael Parry

What is Defiance? – Gaming and television combined | Feature | Entertainment

DefianceThe ‘movie tie-in’ game is one of the most disrespected of genres in the computer games industry, and yet SyFy and Trion Worlds have come together to create an experience which straddles both television and gaming media. The question is will does succeed?

In short, the cop-out answer is that really it’s too early to tell. Series one of the TV show is still only just underway (as of April 2013) and the games following is swelling slowly.

On the silver screen

The action kicks of pretty quickly with Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) making it clear she's not to be trifled with
The action kicks of pretty quickly with Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) making it clear she’s not to be trifled with

As pilot episodes go, the first episode of Defiance sets itself up well, but you can’t help but shake the feeling that is trying hard to be ‘the new Firefly’. Of course it will want to avoid the destructive fate of Joss Wheedon’s famously cancelled series, but the setup is undeniably strongly influenced.

You have a slightly gruff, reluctant hero and war-veteran with the heart of gold – Joshua Nolan (Grant Bowler) – accompanied by his young female companion who may well have one or two screws loose – Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas).

The similarities don’t end with the characters either. There’s a definite post-apocolypse Western feel to Defiance, with a real feeling that people just want to get by and go their own way.

What is different to the world of Serenity though, is that this is Earth, a place called Defiance to be precise, the city which used to be called St. Louis before the trouble began, which now stands in the midst of mini wars taking places throughout the wastelands which surround it. The landscape has been partially terraformed by the arrival of the Voltan, a race of alien refugees who’s own planet has been destroyed, and the splintering of humanity following their inevitable clash with the Voltan has left a number of different factions, all out for themselves.

Being part of the story

The gritty, brown environments actually have more variety than first glance might suggest.
The gritty, brown environments actually have more variety than first glance might suggest.

The TV show serves to set up the story for the game in many ways. Despite being in different locations (the game takes place in San Francisco), the lore of this world puts it’s own twist on the issues of politics, race and deception, much as Star Trek once did.

In the game you take the role of an Arc Hunter, a scavenger who travels the wastelands searching for the best salvage and ‘scrip’, the universe’s currency.

As the game is Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO), your journey through the world is accompanied by others from across the globe, who jump in and out of missions at leisure.

Though based around social interaction, the gameplay doesn’t push it on you. There is area chat, which can be switched off, and you can make a group or go it alone as you please.

There are some areas specifically designed for multiplayer, such as specific cooperative missions and some player vs player modes, including the savage Shadow War, a 64 player battle to control an area in the vein of Battlefield’s Conquest mode.

Bringing it all together

The mo-cap on the TV show actors is reasonably good, but the visuals in general are standard rather than jaw-dropping.Where the two feed together is the unique selling point of both the game and the TV show though, with grand promises that down the line the characters from the game (even top-ranking players) could find themselves appearing on the show and vice versa.

The latter has already been teased with a handful of episode missions set ahead of the TV show, which show its protagonists in search of a crystal which then appears in the pilot.

It’s a delicate balance to keep both a game and TV audience happy when they aren’t necessarily bought into both perspectives.

Undoubtedly the two combined are greater than the sum of their parts, and seeing familiar elements recur is a genuine thrill, but with a project with such a long-term focus, is it better to wait until things are a bit more built up?

Patch yourself up

The 'EGO' rating denotes your power or level in the game, and can be topped up by entering Arkfall codes found outside the game. Good thing, as the game has a mandatory 10GB install and you need something to do to pass the time (you COULD watch the TV show, if you had another TV).
The ‘EGO’ rating denotes your power or level in the game, and can be topped up by entering Arkfall codes found outside the game. Good thing, as the game has a mandatory 10GB install and you need something to do to pass the time (you COULD watch the TV show, if you had another TV).

The first in-game update has already fixed a long list of bugs and issues with the game, though some reviewers’ concerns such as the lacklustre visuals and limited weapon options remain.

To topple the giant that is World of Warcraft, the world’s most popular MMORPG, would take some serious doing, but the team here have made an MMO, something altogether more straightforward to engage with.

Character customisation is basic, think Mass Effect levels of detail customisation, and equally the weapons take some time and a lot of luck to get interesting. Weapon modding is perhaps the most complex sub-system, with certain weapons having ‘synergy’ mods, which work together for an overall more combined effect.

The game does warm up quickly though, granting a vehicle to zip around the surprisingly diverse landscape, filled with mini-encounters and secondary missions to keep things interesting. The whole thing has a strong Red Faction Guerilla feel, which is no bad thing.

Early days

Defiance
The badlands have a number of different enemy factions in which tend to want to shoot, hurt or run you over.

The reason that this isn’t a review is because this is a game/TV series which is an investment of time as much as it is an entertainment experience in its own right. The ultimate decider as to whether the joint venture has worked will be whether they both last more then two seasons.

The potential for expansion is exciting though, and there are some good ideas and characters here begging to be developed further. Imagine teaming up with an army for a battle which spanned both the game and the TV show and your actions contributed to the outcome of both worlds. To see some real interaction and commitment to the vision both teams have set out towards could yet make the game one of the defining moments of this generation – a real trend-setter.

Hopefully these sorts of mutually beneficial collaborations are something which will become more and more common, with the one-sided affairs of old, which only sought to squeeze a few extra pounds out of a franchise, confined to the history books.

James Michael Parry

Iron Man 3 | Review | Film

You know that Robert Downey Jr. is Tony Stark, you know that Gwyneth Paltrow is Pepper Potts, you even know that Ben Kingsley is The Mandarin – but who is The Mandarin? Only Iron Man 3 (much like Smarties) has the answer.

Shoot to thrill

Since exploding onto the scene in 2008, Iron Man has been one of the most unlikely superhero film success stories. Far from the mainstream heights of Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, audiences went into the film not knowing what to expect, only to be (literally) blown away by the results.

Downey Jr.’s Stark is the epitome of charisma, and yet by his third official outing – set after the events of The Avengers (or Marvel’s Avengers Assemble, if you must) – he is as broken a hero as he was at the story’s beginning, if not more so.

Sweet revenge

The story is something more complex than a simple case of revenge, and despite the audience’s familiarity with the characters manages to avoid obvious pitfalls or just going in bigger and throwing in a bunch of characters. Semi-sentient Iron Man suits on the other hand…

Looking at the trailers, you’d be fooled into thinking that the team had played their hand too early, with action and excitement at every turn, but in fact the film’s most startling reveal is in the end also the most obvious – and one we won’t spoil here.

Tony Stark doesn't get comfy, he gets even...

Acting pedigree

The cast is consistently strong this time around, as (on the whole) are their characters. Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin surpasses all expectations and Guy Pierce as the slick Aldrich Killian is smug enough to make you feel slightly sick at times.

Downey Jr. steals the show as usual, but not at the expense of the supporting cast – though former Director Jon Favreau’s character Happy is conspicuous by his absence for most of the film – particularly Don Cheadle as the ‘re-branded’ Iron Patriot, who is gifted with a number of decent one-liners.

In fact the comedy output of the film as a whole surpasses both of the previous two films put together, but not in a way which seems corny or forced.

Even the consistently spectacular Paul Bettany as voice-in-his-iron-head Jarvis (who sadly is under-used) cracks out a zinger which really raises the film’s game.

A visual spectacle

For any big-action blockbuster you expect, well, action, but the set pieces here are more inventive than in the disappointing Iron Man 2.

The mix up of personnel, which puts co-writer Shane Black in the director’s chair, works well, and fellow writer Drew Pearce adds a hint of dry British sensibility which shows through most strongly in the comedic exchanges.

Special effects are on par with the films’ contemporaries, and 3D is used sparingly and for effect, something still not a given for many big-budget flicks.

Box office Kryptonite?

With the already over-hyped Man of Steel only around the corner, Iron Man 3 always had its work cut out to stay on top and the team have really put everything into this and not left the story hanging on for a 4.

Trilogies are hard to do at the best of times. Though Iron Man 2 had its disappointments, it was still a good film and had some truly unforgettable characters such as Sam Rockwell’s sublime Justin Hammer.

Iron Man 3 though ticks all the boxes and then forces you to rip up the piece of paper and make a new list as it surpasses the standard of ‘Excellent superhero film’ to reach the dizzying status of ‘Excellent film in any genre’.

Those looking for a period drama could be disappointed, but for its audience and for newcomers alike this film has something fun to offer.

Plus, a worryingly high number of Iron Man suits, which can’t hurt.

Rating: 5/5

For a more measured response to the film, check out Andy Hemphill‘s Iron Man 3 review on his blog.

James Michael Parry