Wednesday, 25 June 2014
Friday, 20 June 2014
Screened for the press last week, the E3 gameplay demo of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain shows off a game primarily concerned with being an exciting toy. This is actually a bit of a shock - story trailers have so lasered in on grim dark themes like child soldiers and genocide suggesting something a little more constrained and directed. On the strength of this, The Phantom Pain is nothing of the sort. Kojima and co selling on an idea of an interactive GI Joe playset with all the gadgets and vehicles tucked away in the code just waiting to be discovered, then airlifted back to your customisable base.
Wednesday, 18 June 2014
After a couple of years of radio silence the He-Man documentary Toy Masters is finally being screened during August in Chicago. With any luck a wider release will soon follow. This preview reel details the making of the Masters of the Universe movie, a pretty nifty attempt to map cosmic Kirby ideas onto a flagging toy. Masters The Movie turned up in late '87, six years after the line launched and two years after they knocked the cartoon series on the head. Even as a kid I remember thinking Mattel had missed the boat.
Thursday, 12 June 2014
Wednesday, 11 June 2014
Scheduled to release around the same time as Michael Bay and Jonathan Liebesman's bomb is Turtle Power, a doc detailing the evolution of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from an instantly popular indie comic to an unkillable merchandise machine. As a kid I loved the Turtles toys for the same reason as Masters of the Universe, they were all so ugly. The first releases of the four hero turtles themselves were completely unlike the cuddly cartoon characters - jacked up veined biceps, demonic white eyes, and loads of assassination accessories.
I remember being on holiday in Spain when I was about 10 or 11 and coming across a series of Turtle figures I've never been able to dig up much information on. Presumably they were bootlegs? It was a range of gimmick figures that had Turtles characters dressed up in a variety of American period clothing. I think one of the turtles was dressed as a Native American? Maybe Don as a cowboy? The one I do remember though was Shredder's henchman Bebop in a Confederate uniform complete with musket.* Even to a British child that seemed utterly bizarre. The shop that had the figures was on the way to a restaurant my Mum and Dad liked, so I had a few opportunities to rummage through the line whilst trying to convince myself I didn't want them and was now much too old for toys.
*UPDATE! After a quick browse online I might be misremembering 1992's Private Porknose Bebop which had the teenage mutant warthog dressed up as member of the Third Reich, complete with a green plastic StG 44.
Tuesday, 10 June 2014
The most purely wonderful thing at E3 not called No Man's Sky or Batman falling off a building, Mario Maker lets players build their own 8-bit Super Mario Bros levels. As a design tool Mario Maker looks pretty straightforward, using the touchscreen on the Wii U gamepad for some dragging and dropping. This trailer shows off player designed levels overstuffed with enemies in easy, point hoarding positions. Presumably it'll be equally easy for sadists to design their own impossible, Shobon Action style nightmares.
Hyrule Warriors fuses Tecmo Koei's Dynasty Warriors with The Legend of Zelda. When you think about it RPGs provide a good frame work for a roaming beater - they tend to be full of distinctive, mass-produced enemies, usually tackled in groups, with bosses hanging around on the periphery. Joining Link is an armoured version of Zelda. Fingers crossed we get to play as big bully Ganondorf.
Platinum Games serve up another exciting title on a console I do not own. Thanks guys! In the first Bayonetta, the titular character beat up the Heavenly host, Bayonetta 2 dumps her in hell to battle a series of bosses that could have sprung from the first Devil May Cry. I wonder if there's been a push to tone down the stripper pole sexuality of the original now that Nintendo are publishing? Bayonetta's new haircut and outfit are borderline respectable.
A quick glance at Nintendo games and it's easy to come away thinking they're Fisher Price toys for babies. Stick around for the entirety of this trailer for Yoshi's Woolly World and it becomes clear this is a game heaving with hidden depths. You can amble along bouncing off the walls and delighting in the plinky plonky music or you can scour the landscape hunting down secret collectibles and using power-ups to find new paths. It's up to you.
Four minutes of absolutely bonkers cutscenes taken completely out of context? It must be Hideo Kojima's trailer for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain! With a horn shaped lump of shrapnel lodged in his head, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater hero Naked Snake jets around the world sticking his nose into genocide, getting himself covered in blood, and wiping the ashes of his fallen comrades all over his face. Hideo Kojima is tackling serious issues!
Is that Kevin Conroy back to complete Rocksteady Studio's Batman trilogy? Looks like the malformed sidequest Batman: Arkham Origins is being completely ignored, we're back playing as an older Bruce, complete with a hovertank Batmobile that might have been modified to deal with riots. Verticality seems to be a bit of a buzz mechanic at this year's E3, Far Cry 4 and Sunset Overdrive both feature characters scrambling ever higher to get the best vantage point. Neither of those games even come close to the delights seen here though - leap off a Wayne Enterprises skyscraper and you can paraglide through a version of Gotham City apparently designed by MC Escher.
With The Last of Us Remastered half-way out the door Naughty Dog can knuckle down on the next Nathan Drake game. Uncharted 4: A Thief's End features an older Drake cautiously moving through a very pretty jungle. Given the recent high-level reshuffling at Naughty Dog to accommodate the promotions of some key The Last of Us dev, I think it's fair to assume that this Uncharted will skew a little more sweaty and desperate.
It isn't just Microsoft that gets to rummage through its back catalogue for quickie prestige releases. First up Sony have a spruced up version of last-gen stand out The Last of Us ready to go. Incidentally, I wouldn't watch this trailer if you haven't already beaten the game - that spoiler warning ain't there for decoration.
Rockstar also have a max settings version of Grand Theft Auto V waiting in the wings. Initially announced as a PS4 title, GTAV has since been confirmed for Xbox One and PC as well. I wasn't a massive fan of the game, as it churned on the storyline bottomed out and mission design erred on the irritating, but I'll be damned if I don't want to play this again on my PS4. They've got us by the balls with HD re-releases!
For all the AAA bluster at this year's E3, nothing even comes close to the scope and ambition of Hello Games' No Man's Sky. Players are able to explore worlds with procedurally generated landscapes - if this clip is anything to go on, think a series of prehistoric Proteus planets - before jumping into a little spaceship and blasting off into the cosmos to do it all over again somewhere else. Mix in, at the very least, sauropods and an insistent electronic beat, and you have what looks like a masterpiece in the making.
Let It Die is Suda 51 and Grasshopper Manufactures's PS4 exclusive. Details are scarce, and the trailer isn't much help, but it looks like the Killer7 studio are taking a pass at a competitive online version of Rockstar's sociopathic sneak 'em up Manhunt.
Abzu is the new game from a pair of ex-Journey devs, Matt Nava and Austin Wintory. Like their previous game, Abzu seems to be about being a tiny moving part in a vast, otherworldly landscape. The diver character seems to plunging deeper and deeper into the oceans, uncovering increasingly bizarre locations. It looks a bit like Novotrade International's Mega Drive classic Ecco the Dolphin, a rock hard exploring game in which you could hang out with stranded Blue Whales.
I wish the Dead Island games played like their trailers looked. Instead, the level of interaction usually boils down to the player endlessly encircling unkillable zombies, thwacking them over and over again with a broken oar. Hopefully new team Yager Development (Spec Ops: The Line) have a few tricks up their sleeve.
The Sony conference was on pretty late last night. Think I was up until nearly 4 watching it. I had a vague idea that you could invite people to play Far Cry 4 with you on PS4 without them even owning the game. That doesn't sound right does it? Turns out it's true though. So if you find yourself fresh out of elephants and in need of a lift off the Gyro Captain, start spamming invites.
Demon's Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki bounces back with Bloodborne, Sony's hardcore gamer coup. Rumours of a secret Souls project have been flying around ever since some bored / enterprising individual spent time cross-checking the credits for Dark Souls and Dark Souls II. Turns out key personal were unaccounted for on the sequel.
With the Dead Space franchise buried somewhere in EA's back garden it falls to SCE Santa Monica Studio and Ready at Dawn to bring the spooky. Although you wouldn't know it from this bullet spam advert, the gameplay footage of The Order: 1886 shown last night involved a nervous chap snooping around London's gloomy underbelly evoking the early, creepy, passages of BioShock and the aforementioned Dead Space games. Let's hope there's a little more of that and a little less of this.
Front and centre at the Sony show was Entwined, a twin stick tunnel navigator that looked like a cross between the ascension special effects at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Earthworm Jim's special stages. After the sweaty machismo of the Microsoft conference, Sony decision to lead with colour coded kites and delicate music was a welcome change of pace.
Zero gameplay in this tease for a new Crackdown but hopefully in the final build you'll be able to drive exploding oil tankers up collapsing buildings into the waiting arms of evil drug dudes. Why else would they lead with that? Adding destruction to Crackdown's nifty cel-shaded superhero formula sounds like an absolute winner. After a rubbishy sequel, this could be a return to form.
After E3 last year I'd basically written off ever getting an Xbox One. It wasn't just Microsoft's calamitous cable box conference, that was more like a final straw. I think it's fair to say that after a great couple of years Microsoft began to cost heavily on the 360's success. Every inch of your boot up screen was rapidly transformed into advertising space for Microsoft's business partners and there wasn't even an attempt to compete with PlayStation Plus' exclusive offers and freebie games.
When Sony revealed a cheaper, more powerful system my next-gen console buy became an easy decision. I can only surmise that in reaction to this an alarm went off somewhere in Bill Gates' house. "Oh no! We've lost Chris Ready! He buys a fairly reasonable amount of games. However can we get him back?" The window EXPLODES. A dark figure leaps into the room. Gates picks himself up, COUGHING. "Mr Gates?" Bill turns to face the intruder - it's rock star game developer Hideki Kamiya. He's smiling. "I have a plan."
Yeah Chris. Stop trying to hog all the glory. You can't even shoot good. Tom Clancy's The Division continues to look like a somewhat exciting jaunt through a post-fall city, Ubisoft selling hard on an idealised version of in-game communication. Our window into this world is Chris, a guy who'd rather paint the landscape with bullets than actually help his team mates out. Yeah, thanks Chris. Good job.
Continuing the vague trend of everything at Microsoft's conference looked like a futuristic version of a Mega Drive game was the delightful Cuphead. Question! Would I like to play an Alien Soldier style run and gunner that looks exactly like a Fleischer Studios Popeye cartoon? Yes. Yes I would. Thank you Studio MDHR.
Open world superhero games are becoming as ubiquitous as first person shooty shoot, so it's a good job Sunset Overdrive dev Insomniac Games remembered to pack some charm. This Xbox One exclusive stays looking like the Sega Dreamcast as a video game genre. Jet Set Radio mechanics with Crazy Taxi colours and, hang on. What was a decent third-person carnage game on Dreamcast? Blue Stinger? That was shite. Spawn: In the Demon's Hand? No. That wasn't much better. Okay, this is where my analogy falls apart. Sorry. SUNSET OVERDRIVE WOOO! Genuinely has me considered an Xbox purchase.
Another coup for Xbox was Play Dead's Limbo follow-up, Inside. Although, judging by the garbled language used to boast about the exclusive, Inside should make it to other consoles eventually. Like its forebear, Inside looks like a depressing trudge through an incredibly dangerous environment in which absolutely everything wants to tear you apart. Excellent! Can't wait.
Positioned in a heavily brand conscious trailer as a historical document, Halo: The Master Chief Collection offers up an Xbox One reskin of Halo 2 and 1080p 60fps conversions of the other three Chief games. While on-message guff has spoken about the live action TV series and how in-game actions can unlock details about new leading man Agent Locke, the real meat here is an exhaustive multiplayer suite featuring over 100 maps and dedicated servers. Halo fans must feel like pigs in shit.
Moon Studios' beautiful Ori and the Blind Forest stood out during a Microsoft conference front-heavy with dudes and bros. There's almost zero information floating around at the minute, but on a basic level it looks like a modern Rayman game with Limbo style boss encounters, trying to tug on your heartstrings.
Controlling some sulky white dude play-acting as a ninja whilst working for religious extremists sounds kind of dull (I've done that like twenty times now). That said, shoving your way through a bloodthirsty French crowd in a minutely detailed revolution Paris does look fun. That's the Assassin's Creed games in a nutshell for me. The series has evolved into Ubisoft's umbrella brand for period carnage, an interactive horrible history lumbered with a disinteresting, arguably counter-intuitive, storyline. Assassin's Creed Unity looks no different.
Looks like Call of Duty is a full-on science fiction franchise now. Judging by E3's Advanced Warfare footage, Sledgehammer Games have the classic Infinity Ward formula down - teams of grunts stumble through a series of sustained setpieces. It might not sound like very exciting - "Wow! A third studio can follow a recipe!" - but it's worth noting that even the modern Infinity Ward have had trouble getting their ingredients right. We're further into the near future than Ghosts or Black Ops II, using a gun that looks like it takes ammo replenishes from a 3D printer cartridge. Can't wait to be stuck rummaging around the computing isle in a supermarket looking for a compatible reload!
Monday, 9 June 2014
I'm the easiest Capcom mark in the world, so this spot for (deep breath) Super Ultra Dead Rising 3' Arcade Remix Hyper Edition EX Plus Alpha had me reassessing if I needed an Xbox One in my life. It looks like Capcom Vancouver got hold of a copy of Capcom Design Works, stuffed it in a blender with a load of penny sweets, then sprinkled the resultant gunk all over their grimey threequel.
The X-Men series has stuck around so long it's become part of the blockbuster landscape, an old-hand with an established audience that studios are willing to bet tentpole money on. Like the Fast & Furious franchise, X-Men has shouldered genuine upsets, surviving, and eventually thriving. So while X-Men: Days of Future Past may be the series' equivalent of The Avengers, the path these films have taken hasn't been quite so homogeneous.
The Marvel branded superhero films are obsessed with continuity. Everything feeds into the next instalment. It's a model inherited from on-going comics and it's proving to be equally unsatisfying. Not that anyone seems to care. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a respectable action film with a few good car crashes, was recently held up as some sort of cinematic high-water mark. Most bizarrely of all the film was discussed in terms of damage, as if Cobie Smulders working as a spy for Tony Stark was any different from her working as a spy for SHIELD. Who gives a shit?
Permanent harm would have been Nick Fury staying dead, or having Washington DC atomised. That's universe altering. Regardless of plaudits, all the Marvel films are doing is efficiently churning out product. The directors are becoming increasingly bland and interchangeable, the writers working from corporate bullet points. Enthusiasm for this endless stream of phases seems to have more to do with brand recognition than anything else. You know what you're getting. Hero overcomes. A couple of good pops. Stinger for the next one in the credits. Three stars.
Compared to this, Future Past seems deeply personal - Bryan Singer's $200 million atonement for X-Men: The Last Stand. Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg (working from a story attributed to Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman) get to work, using a time travel caper to thoroughly unravel the lasting effects of Brett Ratner's film. It isn't just resurrecting lost friends for potential sequels, it's about using Last Stand's false notes to power character arcs, pulling them apart along the way. Singer and Kinberg are attempting to heal their franchise.
After a dignified showing in the first couple of films, X3 recontextualised Professor X as a patriarchal control freak that used his abilities to psychically suppress a woman under his charge. Future Past addresses this failing in how Xavier relates to his adopted sister Mystique. With Magneto locked up deep underground, Mystique has taken over his mutant Mossad role, travelling the globe to liberate her brothers and sisters from vivisection. Mystique and Xavier's paths hinge on him accepting her as an equal capable of making her own decisions. Xavier also has to stop blaming Magneto for corrupting his little sister, she has specifically chosen this path in life. It's Xavier who must change - Mystique only has to modify her methods.
What's interesting is that our view of Mystique hardly ever aligns with Xavier's. Broadly, Mystique is the hero of the film. She's self-reliant, ruthlessly driven, and incredibly capable. She's James Bond investigating the latest plutocrat with a hard-on for carnage. Like OO7, Mystique comes to a reasonable conclusion - this fucker's got to go. In the unmolested timeline Mystique's wetwork and subsequent capture allows a terrible future to come to pass, complete with neon concentration camps and invincible, sadistic androids. Future Mutants don't disappear in a hail of anonymous plasma fire, they're cornered and brutally torn apart. In that sense, Future Past does a better job of handling a remorseless future full of unfeeling things than the last two Terminator films.
Sunday, 8 June 2014
Tuesday, 3 June 2014
Matthew Vaughn follows up X-Men: First Class with Kingsman: The Secret Service, another opportunity to play around with violent globetrotting. Adapted from a Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons comic that was essentially a slightly watered down version of Millar's earlier violent power fantasy Wanted - the hero isn't a rapist this time! Kingsman details the adventures of a street urchin inducted into the British secret service. Vaughn and writing partner Jane Goldman have priors ironing out the nasty in Millar projects. They previously managed to transform Kick-Ass from a tone deaf Frank Miller homage into a teen friendly summer blockbuster.
Monday, 2 June 2014
One of the many things wrong with Call of Duty: Ghosts is its miserly feedback loops. Killstreaks are built dull to emphasise gun-on-gun gameplay. Nothing you can earn is particularly useful, in my experience at least, and it's hell to even get them with every corner stuffed with stationary 12 year-olds looking to pad their kill/death ratio. Ghosts just isn't fun. It's all build, no release. Maybe that's why Infinity Ward have taken to importing ever more ludicrous care package rewards? The latest DLC contains ghost pirates, Egyptian curses, hyper-caffeinated El Mariachi modes and Modern Warfare 2's omnipotent gunship.
Phew! For a minute there I thought NetherRealm Studios might be tied up delivering nothing but DC superhero fighters for the foreseeable future. If this Mortal Kombat X tease is to believed, players can snatch up background elements to pound their opponents with. How's that for next-gen?
X-Men: First Class is the first film in the series to even attempt to capture the joyful exuberance of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's original comics. In the 1960s Marvel was issuing beautiful pop-art masterpieces that crossed archetypal superheroics with the naturalistic hesitancy of romance comics. First Class broadly adapts the key incidents of The X-Men #1 - Professor X trains his mutant students while Magneto experiments with his ability to control missiles.
While the Bryan Singer films heave with misunderstood loners deigning to interact, Jane Goldman and Matthew Vaughn serve up two heroes that strive to teach. I had an idea from a half-remembered cinema screening that First Class' children got in the way, clogging up airtime that rightly should have been apportioned to Magneto's one-man Mossad routine. This isn't the case. The school environment that drives the second act allows us a deeper, more personal understanding of First Class' two leads.
We get to see James McAvoy's Xavier, a character usually presented as a pat patriarch, earn his position. This Xavier is basically a super positive youth worker, keen to create a stable setting that'll allow his children to excel. He doesn't needle or manipulate his X-Men, he challenges and praises them, daring them to do better. Michael Fassbender's Magneto tempers this exuberance with a calm pro-mutant militance, any cool guy posturing counterbalanced by his quiet sincerity. He's basically a dapper art teacher who'll share a ciggy with the kids.
Xavier's Atomic Age Hogwarts is framed by a socio-political milieu that takes in international brainwashing conspiracies and the Cuban missile crisis. Unusually, neither side is presented as particularly aggressive, both nations lumbered with warmongering generals being puppeteered by Kevin Bacon's ex-Nazi, Sebastian Shaw. The leader of a shadowy cabal called The Hellfire Club, Shaw plots to set the world ablaze in the hope that the radioactive fallout will genetically alter the survivors. First Class aligns mutants with those other mainstays of Cold War sci-fi, the American big bugs and Japanese kaiju. All children of the atom.
Goldman and Vaughn also steer the film away from specifically discussing X-Men as a metaphor for the civil rights movement. Perhaps they recognised that mapping two white fellows onto Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X was, at the very least, incredibly disingenuous? Ideas about individual agency do drive character arcs but they're more about self-reliance and personal pride than creating a way in which handsome white characters can feign minority status. Instead, Xavier and Magneto enjoy dilemmas keyed to their own backgrounds. The moneyed, educated Xavier purposes his wealth, using it to train an egalitarian special forces unit. Magneto is the State of Israel, getting strapped and refusing to be a victim ever again.
Sunday, 1 June 2014
This close to release you'd expect The Evil Within to look a little more polished. Waste ammo shooting a jittery cyber ghost and you at least expect something dynamic to happen when he finally backs you into a corner. Maybe Tango Gameworks are intentionally holding back on the death animations? I can't imagine the game will ship with that obscured explosion touch. I hope not anyway. Elsewhere we get a tease of the game's shape - rapid environmental changes, quick think death traps, and roaming around searching for keys. For a fan of Shinji Mikami's Resident Evil entries, that's very exciting.