Sunday, 30 September 2012

Looper


















Looper doesn't just use the idea of time travel as a convenient jump-off for a doppelgänger showdown. Neither is it just about a person's reaction to foreknowledge, and a perceived ability to steer their life in a desirable direction. Instead, Looper's system of time travel seems to have mutated society in every conceivable direction. The economy has collapsed, perhaps because of incessant future guy interference, and created a neo-depressed world in which there is an overwhelming amount of have-nots. They line the streets, gunning each other down over scraps while an entitled criminal class steer their sports cars and hover bikes around them. I think we see the Police a grand total of once - they're even less effective here than in a James Cameron film.

Everything is dreadful, and everybody hopes for escape. It's a beautiful piece of world building by writer / director Rian Johnson. He's created a system that functions on the whims of an all-powerful unseen, his greed and avarice steering humanity right into the ground. We get to see the aftershock of intruding into the past to stack the odds solely in one person's favour. This is Biff Tannen's 1985, billeted with self-policing contract killers that drop Cowboy Bebop drugs and dream of terminating themselves. The damage is done. Somebody has lost. The only hope for mankind is that in one possible future, the man who becomes Bruce Willis found it in himself to stop being a dick for five minutes and fell in love with a nice Chinese lady.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

YACHT



It seems Activision and Treyarch have had a team of journalists and YouTube commentators holed up for a month at a secret location playing Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Yesterday, their NDA was lifted, and the video sharing website has been flooded with gameplay clips. This is the best I've seen - SeaNanners blazing around Hijack, a stage that looks like a future money remix of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare's Wet Work map. Worth noting here are the sub-machine gun drop-off over range, and the miserly score streak rewards for killstreak kills. SeaNanners picks up a five or six man feed with the Lightning Strike, and only seems to net himself 75 points - even less than one gun kill. If you're looking for more gameplay impressions, this Reddit thread has plenty.

RoboCop by Walter Simonson


Thor

















Unfortunately, Thor is little more than perfunctory world-building in preparation for The Avengers. Despite a storyline that takes place over three distinct realms, Thor is surprisingly small in scale. Earth action is rooted to a tiny desert town and a few anonymous science rooms. Asgard is one gigantic, empty room, the Norse pantheon shrunken down to Thor's family unit and a few bumbling acquaintances.

Jotunheim, the domain of the frost giants, is one starkly lit glacier, manned by an army of unremarkable action figures. The cosmic creativity of Jack Kirby and Walter Simonson is lightly stressed in the winding, celestial architecture of Asgard, but it's no exaggeration to say that there's significantly more imagination in a film like cut-price Cannon's Masters of the Universe than this.

Thor isn't completely without merit though. When the plot will leave him alone, Chris Hemsworth gets to play Thor as an arrogant super-Viking, inclined to booze and batter his way around exile. This culture clash is quickly abandoned to knuckle down to action machinations, but it's the best use of the actor. Hemsworth, and the film around him, are much more comfortable tuned to the central character's hulking, petulant charisma. Thor is much more fun to watch striding into a pet shop and demanding a steed than stranded in unclear, canted, computer animated drudgery.

Tom Hiddleston's Loki is similarly schizophrenic, pinballing back and forth between an interesting, conflicted adversary and a panto villain. With all the major players locked in dynastic drama, it falls to Idris Elba as Heimdall to stress the otherworldly. Elba's God seems to operate on an entirely different plane of consciousness to his Norse stablemates. His speech and intonation are slow and soft, his gaze always locked elsewhere. There's a sense that the universe's information is constantly flowing into him. Heimdall is unmoving and eternal where the other Gods actually seem rather temporary. Elba's performance is the only thing in Thor that evokes a real sense of wonder Everything else borders on dull.

The Mighty Thor by Walter Simonson


Jimi Hendrix - The Star Spangled Banner

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

GREYHOUND



Call of Duty: Black Ops II's Zombie suite gets its own reveal ad, promising a truck stop campaign set in the ruin of mid-western America. In expanding the ludicrously popular undead plugger, Treyarch seemed to have settled on straight Left 4 Dead lifts as grist. Okay, all zombie apocalypses are bound to look pretty similar, but these character designs are shameless sex ups of Valve's cast. We've got a beefy survivalist dude, a crop top chick, and a salary man that bears an uncanny resemblance to Fisher Stevens's racist caricature from Short Circuit. I couldn't get a clean bead on the forth character, who seems deliberately obscured, but in some low angles there's a chap that slightly resembles an American GI, possibly Tank Dempsey from Call of Duty: World at War?

Zombie content doesn't end with campaign; expect Survival to return, as well as a new competitive mode that sets two teams against each other as well as the walking rotters. After Call of Duty: Black Ops's pack-in levels - an Inglourious Basterds homage, and a Pentagon set stage featuring JFK and Castro - this bus trip reads a little samey. Although, I suppose that's what the inevitable DLC is for. Most of all though, this bonus campaign is the greatest evidence yet for Call of Duty as some sort of untouchable super-franchise. Packing in two separate campaigns, the usual time sink multiplayer, umpteen survival modes, and maybe even a dedicated training mode reeks of the kind of overkill needed to stamp out an impertinent rival. Treyarch are just showing off.

GAMMA CHARGE



Out today is Capcom's cross-over brawler two-pack Marvel vs. Capcom Origins. Fight fans are finally able to get a decent home port of the previously manhandled Marvel Super Heroes, and Dreamcast fav Marvel vs. Capcom too. Disaster Year: 20XX is downloading as we speak.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

JACK THE RIPPER



Platinum Games bounce back after the Anarchy Reigns Sega shit out with Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. This Raiden stand alone started out as Kojima Productions tech demo, in which users got to precision slash gigantic stationary fruit during slow motion super state sequences. Completely unable to tease a game out of the dicing concept, Koji Pro handed off the title to Platinum Games for a rescue. Not only have the studio delivered a title that looks like the spiritual successor to the wonderful Vanquish, they've managed to weave the precision slash mechanic into gameplay WHILST UPSIDE DOWN. Show offs.

CUFFLINKS



Looks like OO7 is having a nightmare time in this new international ad for Skyfall. Underestimated by his superiors and foes alike, nursing a shoulder wound courtesy of a fellow MI6 agent, and, to top it all off, pursued by an out-of-control industrial excavator. But, despite all that, fuck having loose cufflinks. An international man of mystery's gotta look correct.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

STORM ONE 2025



After a string of portable games and a disappointing this-gen spin-off, Sandlot and D3 have finally announced a true sequel to Earth Defense Force 2017. Hooray! Earth Defense Force 4 takes place eight years after Storm One single-handedly saved the Earth from the threat of the Ravagers. For this sequel looks like he's drafted in the PaleWing jet-pack pilot (last seen in the second PlayStation 2 instalment) to help him muscle around collapsing cities blasting gigantic insects and their robotic pals.

Hardware















Sold as a stalk and slash, Richard Stanley's Hardware instead excels as a piece of world building. Hardware takes place in an unnamed city that reads like a transatlantic mishmash of London high-rise poverty and LA emptiness. People are ferried about on canals by rock star cab drivers, pop-up butchers appear in concrete basements, and everybody talks wistfully about fleeing to salvage scrap in what's left of New York. Stanley's idea of a post-apocalyptic civilisation is utilitarian and faintly miserable. 24 hour TV stations pump out blurry atrocity images and 90s goth rock pop videos. It's as if this terrible future nurses a raging hard-on for anything pre-bomb, endlessly screening absolutely any surviving video footage. Everything feels worked over and damaged. The people themselves are reticent and ruthlessly self-sufficient.

Kill quarry Jill Berkowski locks herself away in an apartment with bank vault security while she weaves together brutalist metal sculptures. Her nomadic boyfriend Mo is a grunt with a metal hand that fights in some vague interstellar conflict. They're so close Jill wands him with a Geiger counter before she even considers admitting him into her home. Elsewhere, Stanley's experience documenting the Soviet war in Afghanistan seeps into the film. Beyond the city is a vast radioactive desert full of rotting military equipment, ripe for re-purposing. A trade exists around gathering pretty tech fragments and selling them on as trinkets. Shell-shocked survivors self-medicate with foil packed jazz cigarettes and drink from boiled nettle stews. There doesn't seem to be any localised form of law or order, instead tribes huddle in and around tower blocks armed to the teeth. Stanley's doomsday society isn't just the usual desperate scrounging, instead it's oddly functional. Away from the city there even seems to be an overworld in place, fighting unseen wars and rationing out anti-procreation propaganda packaged as populist media.

Unfortunately this is all just set dressing. The slight plot, lifted from a back-up story in a Judge Dredd annual, digresses from robotic murderers to include an extended sequence involving a moist lipped perv who spends his days spying on Jill. There's an idea in there about the kind of agoraphobia you'd have to cultivate to survive in a wasteland, but really this peeping tom intrudes simply to sex up the body count. The MARK-13 people smasher itself isn't particularly exciting either. Aside from a glaring metal skull decorated with Old Glory, the android looks like a half-finished college art project. The body it cobbles together for itself, although realistically low-rent, never really stress inhuman lethality. Instead, thanks to its tiny, waddling legs, it just seems pathetic.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Dredd 3D



















The most arresting thing about 2000 AD's Judge Dredd is its sheer lack of remorse. A flagrant disregard for human life is everywhere in the future shocked comic strips. Even during routine procedurals, panels bulge with wide-eyed citizens choking on experimental riot gas. If Mike McMahon's drawing, crowds of featureless people tumble off insanely high super structures to their splattering, inky demise. Living in Mega City One is repeatedly stressed as dangerous. It isn't just polluted and depressed, it's listless and insane. With zero job opportunities available, most citizens means of expression tend violently criminal, with Dredd and the Judge system positioned as the overwhelming, incorruptible response.

1995's Judge Dredd tried to position the character as a wronged knight locked in a dynastic struggle. Dredd is nothing so rote. He isn't something so specifically heroic, he's violent, borderline cruel. In film terms he's something closer to an exploitation cinema hero. Dredd is like a summation of Clint Eastwood's 60s and 70s career trajectory - the taciturn individualism of the Spaghetti Westerns married to the laconic fascism of the Dirty Harry franchise. Sprinkle in some Death Race 2000, and the violent, compromised heroes of 1970s British war comics, and the result is Old Stoney Face. Thankfully, Pete Travis and Alex Garland's Dredd 3D is exactly as wonderful as everything I've just described.

Karl Urban's Dredd physically recalls the punkier, more athletic drafts of late 1970s McMahon, with the eagle shoulder as less a piece of artistic ostentation and more a body armour detail. Urban is also able to wrinkle his mouth up into an alarmingly accurate approximation of the downturned stingray mouth co-creator Carlos Ezquerra always drew. With little to say, Urban communicates through body language. His Dredd snarls and prowls, utterly unfazed by the twists and turns the Peach Trees siege throws his way.

With Dredd's personality locked and thriving, it falls to Olivia Thirlby's Anderson to experience growth. Over the course of Dredd, she evolves from a flunked rookie to a calm and capable tool of fascism. Her inclusion seems less about bringing a female perspective to Mega City One, and more about how someone human reacts to the otherness of Judge Dredd. Her story is about becoming a respected component; someone Dredd'll allow to watch his corners while he blazes through an army of drug dealers. Anderson, and how Dredd responds to her, also allows screenwriter Alex Garland to work in a key latter-day aspect of Dredd as a character. This unnamed Hotdog Run allows Dredd to play senior Judge, carefully measuring his cadet's suitability in terms of their personality, rather than the binary terms they expect. This examination officer angle revealing, perhaps, Dredd's sole human drive - fairness.

Garland's decision to show Dredd's day-to-day, rather than try and panel beat three or four mega-epics together means a consistent atmosphere and tone is allowed to develop. Dredd's casual indifference to endlessly escalating violence is allowed to be the focus rather than, say, how he responds to the machinations of clones and shady superiors. This expression of Dredd is confident enough to be anti-arc. Joe doesn't grow. He doesn't change in any recognisable way. Travis and Garland instead drill down to a core, foundation level aspect of the character's unending appeal. No matter what is thrown at him, he'll shoulder it like it's nothing, endure, and eventually cave someone's fucking head in.

Public Enemy - Harder Than You Think

Saturday, 1 September 2012

XOF



Well, this is all I'm going to be thinking about from now until the day it's released. Details are scarce, but it certainly looks like Big Boss is back in this ten minute hype reel for Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes. Awesome things to look out for include: a kid with a microphone port in his chest, a chap with the skin and mouth of a snake, and rainy contra compounds full of angry dogs. Maybe we're finally getting a game inclined to wade into the moral gray of Latin America's secret wars? Series fans may also notice that this sequence is basically a this-gen upscale of Snake's arrival in 1990's Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. Listen out too for an Ennio Morricone track last heard in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

Branded to Kill by Ian MacEwan