Review Roundup - Gaming Sidenote


At the end of of Metal Gear Solid, you defeat the titular death machine and a wacky special forces group. Just when you think it's safely dealt with, the Pentagon decides to stab you in the back and bomb the facility, destroying the evidence of their cloning project and removing you as a loose end. Now instead of that scenario, imagine that the Secretary of Defense appears in person, tears his shirt off to reveal a super ripped bionic X-men style body and you have a hand to hand battle in a volcano with him as he fires lasers from his eyes at you. That in a nutshell is the entire tone here - the older games in this franchise had a lot of anti-nuclear weapons talk, subtle digs at the Military Industrial Complex and various notes about the way soldiers are expendable assets... okay so it's not really that subtle at all. But here they go all out with a one dimensional attack on US foreign policy, pure sledgehammer style. The story itself starts out simplistically as you go after a shady paramilitary group called Desperado but soon goes overboard into child soldier plots involving cybernetic brains and organ theft. There are some mature themes like the consequences of the actions of the protagonist as a mercenary and his troubled past... but the execution is wildly over the top and sometimes veers from serious to cartoon show in a moments notice.

Notably absent - backflipping from a rocket sequence

Forgetting their attempts at a narrative for a moment - this is a slasher in the vein of Devil May Cry 3 so gameplay of course is king. It's not all that polished though and the camera can be a little off at times - there's also no real dodge or roll, you have to master the parry or dash moves early on to avoid damage. As it's a Platinum release, the time slowdown gimmick from Vanquish and Bayonetta is back, this time offering a moment of calm amongst the craziness as you slice apart cyborg soldiers, mechs, robotic dogs, helicopters, the scenery, etc - with various rewards to be found for doing with the right amount of precision during the bullet time. Visually it's not bad, this isn't a great looking game as they changed the engine when it's earlier (implausibly eye pleasing) Metal Gear Solid: Rising incarnation was canned. Despite the garish art direction however, the sparse environments mean all this madness is pretty fluid. As a further result of this and other elements it does feel a little rushed and unpolished.

Onto other aspects of the game - you like ridiculous metal soundtracks right? If not, too bad I guess. It's something to think about if that kind of thing grates with you, it's not for everyone though I like some of the tracks as battle tempo and the lyrics are pretty amusing. Enemy variety is pretty nice, from ground troops up to various unmanned machines you have to battle. Stealth is obviously dead as you are a super awesome cyborg killing machine now, but you can do one hit "ninja kills" if you don't get spotted, and clearing an area this way gets bonus points and a thumbs up from you comrades, despite there being zero non lethal means available. Boss fights are fun, and the characters get a few monologues and exchanges (unlike MGS4, puke) even if they are very light weight. That being said, the last battle is almost game breaking and throws all sense of a learning curve out the window... without a full stock of health items it's pretty much impossible without a guide first time around and even then it can be cheap as you take damage during windows of opportunity designed for you to get in hits; and getting certain QTEs to appear is almost a necessity when standard attacks are so useless here.


Despite the weaker writing it's nice to see the return of a full roster of support characters, and there are plenty of optional codec calls to listen to offering backstory, tech insight and character moments as you'd expect - unfortunately most of the voice acting is pretty terrible. Seriously, some of it is really bad. If only the rest of the game offered as much value though, it's around 6 hours long even if you explore to find hidden items and try out a few VR missions as you unlock them along the way. I cite Bayonetta again as the nearest counterpart to this in terms of style, as an action genre game it had a whole lot more replay value, better production values and more missions. While there are a lot of upgrades to buy here; side weapons, secrets and so on, it still feels cut short like they got it together at the last minute and shipped it fast because of the failed original version. Some areas feel reasonably long, but some later chapters are over really quickly despite changing locations offering variety, and visually it's uneven with early levels looking more detailed. Two side characters are playable... but only as DLC missions, which is unfair seeing how both show up and disappear during the story for noticeable periods. Usually in this genre I'd expect them to be useable in the main game story rather than just the costume variants you get here. Overall it's fun if you take nothing on offer here seriously, so if you feel like some cathartic sword action this is a reasonably good time - but for the right price. 


Review roundup - getting old and growing up


In a period where it seems as though all the heroes of old are coming back for another screen outing, it's not a big surprise that Arnold tries his hand at doing the one man army act one more time. The less than successful Expendables movies had a handful of incoherent cameos from the Austrian Oak, but overall felt like they were aiming for some modern demographic instead of delivering the oldschool action vibes I wanted. This had to be better, right? Unfortunately the mix of what should have been a fresh approach with 80s action moments ends up as muddled and inconsistent as the tone veers from serious crime drama where Forest Whitaker frowns and shouts orders, to complete schlock in which people are exploded and one liners are spewed.

The movie I wanted to see involved Arnie and Peter Stormare shouting incomprehensible dialogue at each other while faceless mooks get blown away, but despite the latter's best attempts (seriously what was the accent? Sweden or Texas? Does he know this is all terrible?) it barely has 10 minutes worth of that expected goofy action. The scenes of melodrama and FBI seriousness just take up too much time, and interchangeable agents and boring townsfolk get far too much to say. Director Kim Ji-woon's The Good the Bad the Weird had a similar problem to a lesser extent, deciding if it wanted to be wacky or straight faced, and this time the struggle and indecision of choosing genre have a bigger impact. This is the kind of movie where a sidekick character finds a morning star in a museum while loading up for the showdown, and never uses it. It's just the wrong kind of rule breaking.


LIFE OF PI (2012)

The plot hook of a kid in a lifeboat with zoo animals for company is what got me interested in seeing this, and the parts where that takes place - that middle section where the craziness and survival scenes play out - delivers that in spades, with plenty of amazing visuals and impressive effects work for good measure. The blend of staying alive drama, surreal travel scenes and dream like fantasy moments as the boy Pi (long story) and the tiger Richard Parker (yeah) cross the Atlantic are very well done. How would you live like this? Is this all imagined? How many times will he curse God until his beliefs reach breaking point? How many times has he shouted Richard Parker? These kind of questions are what drew me in. The rest of the journey is less effective which is a shame, but has it's moments - and the themes of faith and which parts of life should be taken at face value are fairly engaging for the most part despite a slow start.

My major issues here are due to the structure - getting interested in the struggle of the boat occupants is the strongest element, but the way it takes place comes along too slowly and having bookend narration with our protagonist explaining things to a journalist in the present day just kills the atmosphere. Particularly near the end as the voyage had become more absorbing. It pulled me out of the story and standard narration, if any at all, would have been simpler and more effective. Overall the trip is worth taking but I felt these disappointing elements are a bigger problem that I'd have expected from all the awards buzz this generated.