Friday, 27 September 2019
Wednesday, 25 September 2019
Just in case the last couple of teases had tricked you, the customer, into believing The Last of Us Part II might be a pleasant game about a nascent relationship between two young women in a future-shocked wilderness, here's Naught Dog with their latest blood-curdling glimpse. That's right everybody, the nice girlfriend is for the chop and, actually, the game will still revolve around almost unending slaughter. Awesome!
Enhance follow-up their superb Tetris Effect with Humanity, a crowd-battler that traps thousands of anonymous, agitating human beings in a series of labyrinthine environments, then asks them to obliterate each other. It's difficult to get a sense of how your inputs impact the unfolding horror (do you have direct control of the throng or are you just nudging the riot forwards?) but this video tease looks very much like a Block War from Judge Dredd crossed with DMA Design's puzzle-platformer Lemmings.
Wattam is the latest game from Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi. Based on this trailer, players can take control of a hungry toilet, careening around a soft-play environment, scooping up cute Mr Whippy turds then plopping them down in the swirling vortex that sits atop your head. Happily, the droppings look like they're enjoying the ride too.
Tuesday, 24 September 2019
Slain: Back From Hell developers Steel Mantis are back, this time exploring the far-flung, alien infested future of Valfaris. This platform-stomper blasts players into a hostile pit filled with blubbery nasties and their bio-mechanical masters. The all-consuming grim and dark brings to mind the pox-crusted futurism of John Blanche, the detail obsessed Warhammer 40,000 illustrator who rendered Games Workshop's most valuable property as an extinction war between various factions of steaming, techno-organic disease.
Monday, 23 September 2019
Strangely, Fast & Furious: Hobbs & Shaw's best moments have little to do with either Dwayne Johnson or Jason Statham. Although the couple's bickering helped prop up the series' first post-Paul Walker instalment, scaled up to power an entire film, the recriminations struggle to engage. Part of the problem is the lack of venom; the insults flying back-and-forth between Johnson and Statham just aren't mean enough. The jibes momentarily amuse but are, ultimately, forgettable. There's very little sense the two action stars are actually trying to upset each other or leave a permanent, brand altering read in the audience's mind. The Rock cuts his usual promos, telling you how great he is, while Statham babbles around, threatening to grumble his way towards the effing-and-jeffing seen in Spy. He never gets there.
Pinned up in a garage glimpsed towards the end of Hobbs & Shaw is the poster for Walter Hill's 48 Hrs, the high water mark for squabbling, buddy-buddy action films. I have no idea why you'd invite such a withering comparison. Neither star is as funny as Nick Nolte, never mind Eddie Murphy. Mechanically, Hobbs & Shaw reaches for comedy as a salve, a way to force scenes through the exposition and down-time notes that basic plotting requires they hit. Since the two top-billed stars are to be protected from real, lingering abuse, ringers are drafted to soak up the punishment. Kevin Hart and Ryan Reynolds are parachuted in to churn through their usual shtick; here interpreted as creepy hero worship of The Rock and his throbbing musculature.
These massive, punishing cameos recall the distended bloat felt in Sammo Hung's 1980s action comedies, proving once again that Hong Kong was way ahead of the curve when it came to populist garbage. What the film does have though are Vanessa Kirby as Statham's little SIS Hattie and Idris Elba as a fascist, cyborg Superman named Brixton Lore. Hattie is relentlessly imperilled, pumped full of the apocalypse drugs that every party is champing at the bit for. Happily, the character isn't then relegated to a passive possession to be fought over. In terms of genuine physicality, Hattie is actually the highlight. Kirby and her stunt doubles Lucy Cork, Elizabeth Donker Curtius and Laura Swift combine to deliver a tucked, tumbling performance that peaks with a delirious skip across shipping containers while a Soviet era power station collapses around everyone's ears.
As well as the usual swaggering machismo from the permanently brilliant Elba, the actor also provides a focus point in the film's most impossible special effects sequences. Brixton, working for tech-focused doomsday preppers, is the human component for a mutating murdercycle that can twist and turn around Lore's body, squeezing the augmented man through a variety of shrinking, otherwise calamitous, gaps. Although completely out of place in a franchise about drag racing, Corona chugging chodes, Brixton and his super-duper-bike do neatly combine the incomparable opening credits of TV's Street Hawk with the piloted mech aesthetic that birthed, and later bled into, the Transformers toyline. Since Hasbro's film series is still actively avoiding this kind of biomechanical symbioses, Hobbs & Shaw's human missile will have to do.
Not long to wait now, Bitmap Bureau's twin-stick arena shooter is due at the end of October. The difficulty now (for me at least) is deciding between a digital download off a modern storefront or forking out for a lovingly recreated Mega Drive box and cart.
Saturday, 21 September 2019
It's the second weekend of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare beta, time for Infinity Ward to serve up their take on Battlefield's Conquest mode. Ground War has graduated from everyone's favourite, overstuffed kill-streak chaser to, well, pretty much the exact same thing, only with a larger play area and more capture points-cum-hot spots. Time-to-kill remains unaltered (so short), there are no new revival mechanics, and player counts are pretty high for the map size, meaning the mode is a meat grinder. Stability is out the window too, with my Pro kicking me out to menus mid-match or even, in one instance, core dumping. God help those stuck on a Base system. If Call of Duty's USP is total mayhem, then Ground War adds a whole new layer of pandemonium.
Wednesday, 18 September 2019
Tuesday, 17 September 2019
Twenty-odd films in, the Marvel Cinematic Universe largely functions as an on-going, episodic serial rather than a collection of distinct, individual pieces. Characters are seemingly allowed one film to set their stage before the demands of a wider playing field bleed into their space, polluting their identity. Case in point, Spider-Man: Far From Home, a film that uses a loose, poppy superhero-on-holiday structure to definitively paint over the incalculable trauma of Thanos' snap while simultaneously wallowing in the departure of Robert Downey Jr. Stark's shadow is such that the very idea of Peter Parker as a sweet, working-class prodigy is obliterated. This Parker is an heir, fumbling his way around with a fantastical pair of DITA sunglasses that constitute his terrible, unmanned combat vehicle inheritance.
Convoluted and episodic, Far From Home simulates that stale comics standby, the Summer Special. It's a bumper compendium of half-baked ideas and sketches not fit for general consumption; all the odds and ends lumped together in one volume with very little care for tonal or creative consistency. In terms of the intrusive Marvel bookkeeping and SHIELD autophagia, consider those encroachments trace crossover, the storytelling equivalent of some particularly nasty background radiation requiring extended stretches of corporately mandated attention. What makes Far From Home all the more frustrating is that there are blips of purchase here and there. Moments that threaten to arrest interest before they're lost in the churn of droned-out entitlement.
Aunt May hurling bananas at her nonplussed nephew, not to mention Peter's general anxiety about his so-called 'tingle', seems to suggest that Parker is losing touch with his innate spider-skills by focusing so heavily on Stark's endowment. As it is, the idea exists as a proposition and a tumbling, back-flipping conclusion embedded within the finale. The pain of this disconnection is never mapped out, we aren't given the opportunity to understand Peter's apparent disassociation. This tidiness extends out into the film, denying the human level conflicts the rough interactions they require: Peter's best friend Ned is enjoying a holiday romance, so he can't possibly feel ignored. Mary Jane definitively rejects a handsome rival suitor, meaning Peter doesn't have to spread himself thin to grasp at a private life.
Emotionally, at least in terms of interpersonal relationships, Jon Watts' film is chronically neat, leaving all sense of self-shredding conflict to the special effects realm. It is to Far From Home's credit that visual effects house Framestore, channelled through Jake Gyllenhaal's artistically precious performance as Mysterio, deliver an incredible illusory sequence that hammers Spider-Man with images and situations in which he is either specifically powerless or, if he manages to react quickly enough, simply hurling his body weight against unyielding phantasms. Regardless, Parker is being mocked, forced to respond to immediate, confusing visual and audio data. Framestore use shattering mirrors and the dense choke of poisonous green smoke to suggest the swirling anxieties that underline the best of Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko's work. These apparitions strip Peter of his Iron Lad exterior, forcing him to contend with his beginnings as a child in a personalised hoodie. Unfortunately this ordeal does not track into Parker re-examining his methodology, the teenager is quickly aboard a Stark branded VTOL jet using the billionaire's impossible-tech to manufacture a toyetic costume change.
Monday, 16 September 2019
One last clip before the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare beta becomes a dead boot, hogging valuable space on the HDD. Since this game is pitching itself as more of a tactical shooter, I decided to play tactically; holding down a nice set of stairs that were, apparently, of great interest to the enemy team. It's a shame that FAMAS could not be used outside of the default class set-ups. Still it was good to have Le Clairon back in any form - filling the same precise, burst-fire niche that made it a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 fav.
Sunday, 15 September 2019
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's beta test has been running this weekend. First for people who had pre-ordered the game then, when all the big spenders had suitably levelled up, the preview event was opened up for myself and all the other cheapskates. In terms of gameplay, it pays to sneak around or plant yourself somewhere with lots of cover. Interiors are extremely dark when viewed at distance, meaning window camping is a frequent tactic. I myself am having a little trouble adjusting how I aim the guns, bad habits mainly. I tend to start firing before I'm properly zeroed in then adjust along the subsequent kick. Given this game's negligible health, short time-to-kill, and wild (possibly largely cosmetic) recoil, this is an absolutely awful approach to gunfights.
Thursday, 12 September 2019
Despite an early brush with executive action - rescuing a brace of astronauts from their own interstellar incompetence - X-Men: Dark Phoenix's mutant teenagers are allowed to explore their relationship with superheroics from an emotionally human perspective. Conflict is treated as scary; violence its own kind of metamorphosis, forcing these children to confront aspects of their identity activated by some unknowable hereditary vandalism. Writer-director Simon Kinberg grounds his characters in a fragile world, not at all equipped to deal with the power proposed by mutant kind.
These X-Men aren't soldiers, or even experts, they are aberrations, not in the sense that they are warped or inferior to the people around them, rather they are a terrifying evolutionary leap. A caste of distinct individuals who, when not safely tucked away in their compounds, must bow and scrape so as not to upset the apple cart. This proposition is magnified in Dark Phoenix thanks to James McAvoy's pointedly useless Professor Xavier. It's an idea that Kinberg toyed with in his screenplay for the basically dire X-Men: The Last Stand, the all-seeing headmaster shown to be not just flawed but actively insidious, an egomaniac who has caused untold damage to one of his young students by actively burying her emerging, psyche-splitting abilities.
Shakespearean barker Patrick Stewart was not the best way to communicate this take, especially coming off two films in which he had been presented in patient, regal terms. McAvoy's Professor X is an entirely different proposition though, introduced in X-Men: First Class as a groovy pub tosser cracking on to any woman in sight. This Professor X has slowly, naturally, transformed into a starfucker, shilling for an elevated position within the kingdom of America. In Dark Phoenix he's made it, enjoying a presidential hotline in his headmaster's office while the school's graduates are discussed in flattering asides that contextualise their current relationship with the public as one-part celebrity to two-parts Thunderbirds.
By making Professor X so consistently unreliable and self-serving, Kinberg denies the film's mutants a credible sense of foundation. They are each adrift, having to count on the connections they have made themselves to navigate the constantly changing expectations thrust upon them. These ideas inform and contextualise Sophie Turner's Jean Grey, a pleasant but dull young woman who suddenly inherits incredible cosmic powers. Indeed the film is built around this character and Turner's limited but likeable performance - the capricious, indecisive nature of youth blown up to body warping proportions. Despite a body count, Grey never truly becomes evil. Her one brush with sadism is even somewhat justified - scooping up and puppeteering Xavier's unresponsive body; a cruel literalisation of the emotional and psychological manipulation the Professor has heaped on this child.
Dark Phoenix's main problems are structural, Kinberg is reaching for a 90s character action piece but he's stuck with the expectation of explosive, superhero noise. We should spend a little longer simmering with the changing Grey, experiencing moments that underline not just the toll this power is taking but how her newly acquired Godhood upsets her basic sense of self. The detailing isn't quite there and Turner's nice girl interpretation stays firmly within the lines. Still, there's something to be said for banality, especially when dealing with such a young character. Jean Grey isn't Magneto. Therefore her new powers are treated as momentarily intoxicating rather than morally altering. Friends may be pushed and prodded with abandon but when cold, hard reality intrudes the spell is broken.
Kinberg's biggest crime then is that he isn't interested in making a film that adheres to the Marvel template. Characters are allowed to fade into the background. There's no push to massage their roles, to write and rewrite until everybody has something cool or funny to say. Similarly, Dark Phoenix isn't full of dopamine drip confrontations, it wants to unsettle, to invite disquiet. Like X-Men: Apocalypse before it, Kinberg's film does not want to reassure the audience about superpowered beings, in this series their very existence is never treated as anything less than a threat to the rest of mankind. After all, mutants are less our champions and more our evolutionary replacements - do you think Neanderthals cheered on the rise of Homo sapiens?
This ever-present tension is best expressed in the film's deliberately grounded action sequences - the best of which takes place on the edge of Central Park. Kinberg forgoes massive, intricately photographed exchanges, deciding instead to keep the warring mutants at ground level, fighting in and around helpless, bovine civilians. People freeze or flee, forced to dart away from the impossible feats that are exploding around them. Again, we are not soothed - normal people are, at best, irrelevant to these warring mutants. At worst, they're shrapnel. The film's best moment, indeed one of the finest in the whole series, sees Michael Fassbender's Magneto summon up a subway carriage from New York's underground. The action is brilliantly callous, a self-styled Übermensch casually warping the basic rules of civic reality (not to mention placing dozens of commuters in serious danger) just to achieve momentary respite from the flies buzzing around him.