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Archive for January 2009

F.E.A.R 2 Demo Now Available on PC/360/PS3

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What are you waiting for? Go get!

Impressions incoming shortly 🙂

Written by bitsnark

January 22, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Anime Review: Dead Leaves

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DEAD LEAVES REVIEW

Production I.G.’s yearly anime experiment continues unabated with this newest work, Dead Leaves. Having been feverently promoted by Manga Entertainment as the next big thing since, well, the last big thing, Dead Leaves piqued my interest slightly, if only because the crux of it’s infamy appeared to be it’s wacky visuals and even wackier content. And after taking in a viewing of the show, when I say wacky, I mean wacky.

The story, such as it is, concerns a Retro, a guy who has a TV for a head and Pandy who has a funky birthmark. Still with me? Good. They basically go off on a wild one, shooting cops and blowing stuff up all in the pursuit of food, clothes and a set of wheels. Eventually, the authorities get the better of them and they are sent to Dead Leaves, a penal colony in outer space. It is there that they break out of prison, take a whole bunch of prisoners with them and go on a rampage against the prison and it’s guards. Zany? Oh yes.

That said, other zany anime shows have done well in the past, shows like Excel Saga and FLCL have all found their audiences and possess much that the average anime fan can relate to. Not so with Dead Leaves. The alienation begins with the visuals. When I first saw an advert for Dead Leaves on some obscure web page somewhere, I actually thought it wasn’t an anime at all, but rather one of those crazy MTV adult ‘powered’ animations that seem to be doing the rounds these days. And upon actually viewing the show, I can’t really say my initial impressions were that far off. Everything in the show is very angular and exaggerated, with random lines everywhere in the styling of American comics.

The visuals are completely insane with barely a moments rest given to onlooking eyes, there are explosions that fill the screen, massive random close ups of characters faces, masses of blood, huge gun fights, chases, you name it and the visual style does a great job of carrying these sequences along. It’s just a shame that it all looks so darn ugly, with foul looking characters and lacklustre backgrounds. Still, I do respect the work that has gone into the visuals as apparently no computer aided animation was used and some 18,000 colours were used in the creation of the show. Bravo, but if you prefer your anime more, well, anime looking, the visuals will be a huge turn off.

By association the characters are just as crazy, besides the aforementioned leads, we have a randy guy who has a drill where his genitals should be and *dribbles* a lot, monster mecha, cloned policeman, basically naked prison wardens and much more besides.

While the action in the show is pretty intense and just as wild as the visuals, I felt strangely empty and disaffected about ten or so minutes in. After a little while because it’s all so absurd and stupid, you just get numb to the craziness of it all, but your left with no solace since the meandering plot is banal to say the least and fails to leave you with a single iota of care for either the characters or the plight that they find themselves in.

As an experiment, Dead Leaves remains different but not refreshingly so. It left a bad taste in my mouth because ultimately, under all that craziness and American styling, there really isn’t much to enjoy. Watch it if you’re completely, and I do mean completely burnt on anime right now and crave for something different. If not, don’t give it a second thought.

Overall Rating: C-

Written by bitsnark

January 18, 2009 at 10:33 am

Idle Minds: The Killzone 2 Love/Hate/Hype Machine And Where We Are Now

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E3 2005 is when it happened, the unveiling of the Playstation 3. Keen to make an impression on the press and joe-punter/fanboy sitting at home, Sony commissioned two pre-rendered CG trailers to be displayed, whilst saying a little white lie, telling their audiences that what they are seeing is being processed in real-time on a PS3 console.

One of those games was Motorstorm, a game which although turned out to be one of the best (at least IMHO) racers on the system and a looker to boot, failed by a somewhat wide margin to match the kinetic intensity of the pre-rendered footage that was shown previously.

The other, was Killzone 2, the proposed sequel to Sony’s FPS mascot from the PS2 era that many originally decried as being slow, clunky, grey and just.. well, uninspiringly dull in the face of Halo 2 and Half-Life 2, the other big FPS releases of the day. The footage began and the collective echo of jaws hitting the ground, made its way steadily across the auditorium.

Instantly many people had forgotten about the new XBOX 360 and the Nintendo Revolution-thingy (at this point a Nintendo home system was a joke to the gaming community, later on, the joke would take on a different connotation), in the face of the blistering gunfights, perfect physics, ultra detailed models and liquid frame rate.

People simply couldn’t believe what they were seeing, however slowly but surely, those who had been exposed to such smoke and mirror tricks previously, began to question to real-time authenticity of the footage; pointing out that even with the PS3’s specification, such action would simply not be possible to reproduce in real time at such a plainly insane level of detail.

Eventually after a number of occasions whereupon Sony continued to insist that the footage was real-time, it all began to get a bit Chinese-whispery, with the previously dubbed ‘real-time’ footage now being spun as ‘CG footage using in-game assets’. In any event, it was the developer Guerilla Games, who said that the footage shown was all-CG and merely represented development target footage.

And so, with the memory of those incredible visuals burned into gamers minds some three and a half years later, the impossible benchmark that Sony had created to hype their machine all that time ago remains one that Guerilla have to match, and on paper it didn’t look like it was possible at all.

Guerilla Games has had a somewhat chequered history when it comes to developement. Besides, the mediocre original Killzone, Guerilla were also behind the abysmal Vietnam third-person shooter Shellshock Nam 67′. A title which was met with virtually universal critical panning.

So i’ll admit, I had my doubts that ANY dev team could produce those visuals in real-time, let alone Guerilla. Just over twelve months ago, the first real-time footage and pictures of Killzone 2 appeared, and somewhat predictably, it didn’t hold a candle to the CG footage that Sony tried to hoodwink us all with. Yet, curiously, it *did* look similar and had the appearance of a very early version of the CG demo that was shown, with much lower resolution textures, lower particle effect intensity and much lower poly models and environments.

Instantly, it was decried by many (myself included) that Guerilla had failed, and that Sony would not have an FPS white hope for their next-generation console. As months begin to go by, little by little, the game appeared to change in front of our very eyes. Models became more detailed, environments began to flourish with lots of incidental details, decent rag doll physics had now been implemented and it was all moving along at a smooth clip.

Visually, the game kept improving with each month that went by, creeping ever close to the CG footage that was originally shown. And now today, a final review build is in the hands of many games websites (a journalistic embargo currently exists on reviews until February) and from the media that has been released, the game looks as damned close to that footage as it could have possibly been. Seriously. Guerilla Games have excelled here with what they have produced in regards to the aesthetics and the gameplay by all accounts, looks to deliver the sci-fi theatre of war with the epic aplomb echoed so long ago in that pre-rendered footage.

However epic the game appears, it is still very much Killzone. The stark, post-apocalyptic palette of ruination grey returns, along with the excessively OTT reload animations and red eyed, combat suited opponents. This, by all accounts, is how Killzone should have been done, it’s Guerilla Games’ original vision for the game finally realised as well as their own considerable talent as a development team.

I’ll leave out the gameplay specifics for when I review the title, but being on both sides of the Killzone 2 hype wagon I can now fully say, that this is one Sony FPS that is actually on my radar. Ultimately then, Killzone 2 will hopefully not just validate the existence of Guerilla Games as a worthwhile developmental investment for Sony, but also the presence of the very sleek (yet underused) next-gen Sony console that sits under my TV.

Written by bitsnark

January 16, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Western Release For Final Fantasy XIII Delayed Until 2010.

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In a not entirely unexpected move, Square Enix has announced that US/EU versions of Final Fantasy XIII on both PS3 and 360, will now release sometime in 2010. The Japanese PS3 version will still release in Q4 2009.

Given the fact that we have seen very little gameplay footage, not to mention *any* english language footage or pictures, this news really shouldn’t come as such a surprise to all the Final Fantasy Fanbots out there.

Click on the link below to IGN for details on the announcement:

http://uk.ps3.ign.com/articles/945/945572p1.html

Written by bitsnark

January 16, 2009 at 10:07 am

Live Action Cowboy Bebop Seemingly A Reality….

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Going on from the rumour that Keanu Reeves would be starring in a live action adaptation of Shinchiro Watanabe’s popular sci-fi western anime Cowboy Bebop, there is now confirmation that 20th Century Fox, 3 Arts Entertainment and Sunrise are in a joint venture to produce the project.

And yes, Keanu Reeves is attached to star.

Probably as Spike.

The link to the story, courtesy of AnimeNewsNetwork, is below:

http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/news/2009-01-15/live-action-cowboy-bebop-proposal-officially-announced

Written by bitsnark

January 15, 2009 at 2:38 pm

Brain Farts: Far Cry 2 (360)

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And so some two and a half months after it’s original release, I sat down with Far Cry 2 for the first time and put about three hours into it.

Here are some random brain farts from my time with the game:

– Wow, nice pyromaniac encouraging explosions.
– Oooh look the bush caught on fire and is spreading to everything.. LET THE WORLD BURN!
– For the love of god, do I HAVE to drive 15 freaking km just to blow up a truck that looks EXACTLY the same as the one I blew up on the last side mission?
– Am I the only one amused by the fact that my car just got turned into swiss cheese by a mounted gun emplacement, yet I was able to repair it by simply popping the hood and using a wrench?
– My gun just jammed on me… you mean I have to look after what weapons I use too?… that’s fairly cool.
– I can’t actually tell the difference between the two factions. At all.
– Very, very pretty environments, nice and expansive…
– Why can’t my safehouses look different?
– Is EVERYBODY in Africa this hostile??
– Why the heck can’t objectives be closer to each other?… cue yet more driving so Ubisoft can force me to revel in all this lovely scenery that they’ve created.
– A touch samey perhaps? Very similar objectives thus far consisting of either blowing up an outpost or blowing up a convoy.
– This guy must be the worst malaria sufferer in the world.
– Not to mention the worst sprinter; 5-7 seconds of full sprint and my ex-SAS commando is out of breath….yeah ok…
– Talk about phoning it in with the VA, now where did I see that feature about the worst VA in videogames…
– Why do my jumps result in a lame bunny hop that takes me precisely nowhere?
– Repetitive though it may be, thoroughly ruining outposts is a lot of fun and puts the impressive physics through their paces.
– Oh hey look, I’ve been attacked by another shoddy pick up truck with a gun on it…
– Pulling bullets out of my arm and leg when injured… I like.
– The night and day cycles are pretty awesome so far as enemies actually don’t roam about much at night and night time raids on bases tend to be a more stealthy affair.
– Where the heck is all the pistol ammo?!
– I must have killed a guy with the same face at least 15 times in the last 20 minutes. I suspect my arms dealer is a clone also…
– Yay I can swim!… but I seemingly can’t clamber up onto uneven surfaces above the height of 7 inches….
– Very nice rag doll animations…
– I hope there is more to this game then what I have seen so far… somehow, even if there isn’t, I have a strange compulsion to see this one through to the end…

I’ll post a review as soon as i’m done with it, but it looks like a big one so don’t hold your breath 🙂

Written by bitsnark

January 14, 2009 at 2:45 pm

2007 Western Call Of Juarez gets a prequel

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For all two of you 360 owners who bought 2007’s western FPS Call Of Juarez, you’ll be pleased to hear that Ubisoft and developer Techland have announced a prequel in which players can “indulge in the lust and lawlessness of the wildest west ever created”.

To be fair you could probably count the number of western games ever released on one hand, so another genre entry isn’t a bad thing at all. What would be a bad thing however is if all the glitches and control issues from the previous title made it through unscathed.

Call Of Juarez: Bound In Blood, is due for release on PC, 360 and PS3 sometime this year.

Written by bitsnark

January 14, 2009 at 11:16 am

Neversoft no longer developing for Activision-Blizzard’s Tony Hawks franchise

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Given the less than stellar state of the Tony Hawk’s franchise, it must surely have been a matter of time until somebody realised that a fresh approach was required for the floundering franchise.

To this end even Neversoft President Joel Jewett agrees with the same sentiment – “It’s probably best for the franchise … it’s time for someone else to add fresh ideas to it,” Jewett told the Tribune.

Another reason for this, besides the invigoration of the Tony Hawk’s franchise in the face of superior competition (See Skate), is that Neversoft seemingly have their hands full with the stupendously popular Guitar Hero series, which also finds itself engrained in an annual battle against a counterpart from EA(See Rock Band).

While no announcement has been masde regarding the studio that will take over dev duties for the franchise, it has been mooted that all-new studio Robomodo, will be the most likely candidate as it was suggested late last year by Ex-EA and Studio Gigante employees that now make up the team, that Robomodo has been commissioned to ” work on a high-profile extreme sports title for Activision Blizzard.”

As ever, time will tell on this one, but there is little point refuting the fact that the franchise is in desperate need of reinvention.

Written by bitsnark

January 12, 2009 at 12:56 pm

And here we go with Microsoft’s take on LBP….

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They certainly didn’t waste any time:

Unleash Your Inner Creator with Microsoft’s New Xbox Live Community Game “Kodu”

Microsoft announced today that it will turn Xbox 360 players into creators with the release of their new game, “Kodu”. Launching on the Xbox LIVE Community Games Channel, “Kodu’s” easy to use game creation techniques will make building personal playgrounds simple for anyone, with the help of an Xbox 360 controller. During a keynote speech at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, 12-year-old student, Sparrow joined Microsoft’s President of the Entertainment and Devices Division, Robbie Bach on stage to demonstrate the intuitive game that lets players choose from a variety of visual building blocks in order to develop their own unique creation.

This spring, “Kodu” will find its home among some of the freshest, most diverse and creatively independent games showcased on the Xbox LIVE Community Games Channel. “Kodu” is a pick-up-and-create game where anyone can build their own unique world in just minutes using a simple image-based creator menu that makes game creation simple for anyone, from ages seven to 70. “Kodu” created playgrounds are expressed in physical action-reaction terms, using basic concepts like vision, hearing and time to control your character’s behavior. Players can start their own unique “Kodu” created playgrounds from scratch or, if they aren’t in the mood to create, they can choose from several pre-loaded levels for quick play. With almost 200 different game-creation building blocks to choose from, the opportunities are endless.

“We’ve done everything possible to make sure that creating a “Kodu” playground is not only easy, but that it is also fun and engaging for people of all ages and backgrounds,” principal program manager for Microsoft Research and lead “Kodu” designer, Matt MacLaurin said. “Since ‘Kodu’s’ interface is intuitive and prevents common programming mistakes, we’re making it easy for everyone to enjoy the magic of game creation.”

Originally designed by Microsoft Research as a learning tool for young kids, “Kodu” is the newest game to keep minds of all ages sharp by developing logic, problem-solving and creative thinking skills. In fact, in 2006, Microsoft Research teamed up with Girls Inc. and the University of Santa Barbara to create an after school “Kodu” program to accurately measure the influence educational games have in the fields of math, science, and comprehension. The team logged hundreds of hours of “Kodu” research with creators from ages five to 45 to ensure that it is easy for beginners, but maintains a depth of content for those who are more advanced.

“What I love about “Kodu” is that I can do everything myself,” Sparrow, who demoed the game, said. “It’s fast to build and different from the other games I play. I can do cool, silly things in it!”

“Kodu” will join a host of family-friendly and casual games already on the Xbox LIVE Community Games Channel. Since its launch in November, the Xbox LIVE Community Games Channel has seen a lot of enthusiasm from both game-makers and consumers, where there are currently more than 100 independent, community-created games available for download.

More detailed information about “Kodu” and Community Games can be found by visiting http://creators.xna.com.

And so the ‘Me-too’ bandwagon rolls on…

Written by bitsnark

January 8, 2009 at 10:41 am

Anime Review: Metropolis (2001)

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Metropolis

Genre: Sci-fi Dystopia
Director: Rintaro
Distributor: Columbia TriStar
Duration: One movie – 109 minutes approx
Production Creation: 2001

Plot Synopsis

Based on Osamu Tesuka’s Metropolis manga, which in turn, is an interpretation of Fritz Lang’s original 1926 production Metropolis, this newest adaption takes the golden tale interpreted by Osamu Tesuka and brings it to life in a tour de force of cutting edge computer graphics married to old style Japanese animation and art.

In the vast industrialised world of Metropolis, it’s powerful leader Duke Red has plans to unveil a highly advanced robot by the name of Tima, who will take over the throne as the most powerful being in existence. His aggressive and violent son Rock, detests robots however and will do anything to destroy Tima and regain the attention of his father. All the while Tima is in the midst of friendship with the young nephew of a Japanese detective, none of them are to know that the fate of their lives and that of the entire universe is at stake….

The Review

I had heard a lot of hyperbole regarding this title in the months before it made it’s release. Is all the hyperbole justified? Not really, but it boasts some of the best production values i’ve ever seen in anime.

First things first, Metropolis is probably hands down the most aesthetically impressive anime i’ve seen so far. The seamless blend of CG backgrounds and computer assisted animation really does create a vivid world that is teeming with activity and detailed splendour. From the dark, murky city depths, to the mind boggingly complex industrial cityscapes and the monstrous Ziggurat itself, all of the locales featured in this movie are mind blowing to say the least.

I mean there’s just so much detail packed into each and every scene. Whether it’s a massive group of labour robots all doing individual activities in the background of an industrial complex, or simply a sunkissed makeshift group of houses all displaying different designs and other little details, Metropolis never fails to impress. The animation also never skips a beat and is consistently smooth and fluid with not a jerky frame or movement in sight.

The Tezuka style of character designs has also carried over very well as director Rintaro has allowed them to shine to their fullest extent. Whilst adhering to that unique look first pioneered in Tezuka’s magnum opus Astro Boy, thankfully all the characters manage to look significantly different from one another. The characters are made all the more striking by the fact that the wide spectrum of emotion and mannerisms that the excellent animation techniques allow, make the characters, visually at least, some of the most detailed ever seen in anime.

The soundtrack which is largely a homage to 50’s jazz comes across really well and unexpectedly, complements the movie really well. Those of you with high-powered audio systems are going to get a real kick from this one.

Unfortunately, beneath the impressive audiovisual facade of this movie, lies an anime with a somewhat substandard plot and uninspiring cast of characters. At it’s core, the plot of Metropolis plays out like a chase movie of sorts, but in doing so, seems strangely plodding. When Shunsaku and Kenichi discover the truth about the robot Tima, Duke Red’s son, Rock, gives chase and aims to destroy Tima once and for all for replacing his place in his Father’s heart.

Rock practically never lets up his pursuit throughout the movie and does a bring a sense of intensity to the proceedings, however, that’s practically all there is. Sure there are some themes of discrimination, introspection and things like that, but they are never really explored and as such make the film feel soulless. I actually found myself admiring the visuals and soaking up the music rather than paying attention to the storyline on my first viewing.

The characters also lack depth. None of them have any real kind of substance that makes me like them or despise them and that’s the worst thing that you can feel toward characters in anime – indifference. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what I felt with Metropolis’ cast of characters. They all appear to serve the events of the storyline, rather than their own personalities. For example, Rock is there to provide the vendetta and to chase Tima, Kenichi is her protector, Shunsaku is their guardian and pops up whenever they are in trouble.

Ironically the only characters I really felt anything for, were the insidious Rock because of the way his father abandoned him for a machine and as such this caused his subsequent vendetta against Tima, and the robots who helped Tima and Kenichi escape the underbelly of the city. And then, I only liked those robots because I felt a sense of pity for them because of the way they were treated.

It’s not very good when you find the minor characters more engaging than the major characters.

At the end of the day, Metropolis isn’t a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination and it’s certainly a movie you have to see at least once, if only for the incredible audiovisual experience. Being a fan of Tezuka’s works, I really wanted to like Metropolis for its interesting characters and involving plot. When the credits rolled and I discovered that neither were in abundance, I realised that Metropolis was simply a case of style over substance and that the hype for it simply came from it’s awesome visuals.

What a crying shame.

Ratings Summary

Animation: A+
Art: A+
Music: A-
Content: C

Overall: B-

Review by: John-Paul Jones

Suitability for children

There are some scenes of violence (mostly against the robots) and a few bits of blood here and there, but it’s mostly quite tame. There’s very little profanity also and with that, I would say that is okay for those aged 11+.

If you liked this why not try…

Astro Boy – Manga Entertainment

Written by bitsnark

January 8, 2009 at 7:47 am

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