Saturday, June 11, 2011

E3 2011: The Hits and Misses

(NOTE: As this post turned out to be a lot longer then what I had originally intended, I’ve decided to separate this feature into two articles. This one will talk about the best of E3 this year, while the second will talk about the worst).

Another year, another E3. All of the games, the gizmos and the gals (booth babes) were again on full display, giving us a clear view into the future of the interactive entertainment industry for the year to come (well, the booth babes were giving us a clear view of their cleavage but you get the point). As always, E3 treated us to a number of great upcoming titles and platforms which will no doubt have us saving up our shiny red pennies in order to purchase each and everyone of them while simultaneously ensuring that we remain dirt poor for the rest of our lives. But E3 also gives us a clue as to what we should NOT be looking forward to; to what we should cast aside and spit on as we snub our noses at the poor shmucks unlucky enough to have fallen for the game developer’s promises of glory. So here they are: the best and the worst of E3 2011. Mind you this is just my opinion of what was great and what was not so great but as we are all well aware of my opinion is always right and those that disagree with me are just plain wrong. Thus, after reading this article today, I hope to bestow upon you just a small semblance of my wisdom which will no doubt make you a much more enlightened (and far more attractive) individual.

The Hits

The Role Playing Genre

Of all the many genres on display at this year’s show, it was the RPG genre that I found to have the greatest breadth and depth of quality. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim made an impressive showing, showcasing its beautiful vistas, improved combat mechanics as well as its fantastically realised fantasy world and amazing looking creatures (dragons in particular come to mind).  Mass Effect 3’s presentation, complete with holographic omni-tool blades and the promise of a large scale intergalactic war, was also very impressive and should prove to be an excellent conclusion to the great Mass Effect series. Also of note was the cybernetically enhanced Deus Ex: Human Revolution, the Monster Hunter-esque Dragon’s Dogma and the spiritual successor to the criminally overlooked Demon’s Souls, the uber-punishing Dark Souls.

Bioshock Infinite

With so many sequels looking like clones of their predecessors, it’s refreshing to see a game series take such a bold new step in a different direction. Set in the flying city of ‘Columbia’, Infinite looks to take all of the core concepts that made the first two entries great while carving out a brand new story that breathes new life into the beloved franchise. The E3 demonstrations looked fantastic and I cannot wait to use those rollercoaster skyhooks to zip around the city at blistering speeds.


Originally subtitled ‘Deadly Descents’, this newest entry in the SSX series looks like a ton of fun. It features all of the over-the-top snowboarding mayhem from the original titles but throws in even more insanity with courses that have you jumping off of cliffs and into incoming helicopters, flinging yourself across chasms using ice picks and outrunning oncoming avalanches. Sounds good to me!

Prey 2

I never thought that out of all the games on display at this year’s show it would be Prey 2 that perhaps got me the most excited. I remember playing through and enjoying the original Prey but I never really felt like the game was quite good enough to warrant a sequel. So when the game was announced earlier this year (5 years after the release of the original) I could only think about what an odd decision it was to make a sequel to such a long forgotten game. Prey 2? Really? People weren’t exactly screaming for a sequel back in 2006 and they certainly didn’t care much for one now. Of course, it didn’t help matters that the game looked like a Deus Ex/Mass Effect rip-off starring yet another generic main protagonist in yet another sci-fi, interplanetary first-person shooter (because, you know, we just don’t have enough of those). However, after seeing the game at the show and hearing from the developers about what it has to offer, I can happily say that Prey 2 is now firmly on my radar.

In the game, you play as an American sheriff who, after being abducted by the same alien race from the first game, is forced to live on an alien world filled with various alien societies. Why exactly is he being forced to live there? I’m not quite sure. But the premise is certainly intriguing. And while the idea of playing as the only human being on a multi-racial alien world definitely has my attention what’s even more interesting is that your character has decided to make a career on this planet as a bounty hunter. A bounty hunter with gadgets. According to the developers they’ll be around 40 gadgets in all by the time the game ships but the ones on display here, like the electric bolas, jetpacks and anti-grav grenades all looked really, really cool. But what made the combat mechanics really stand out for me though were the parkour-style chase sequences. You see, once you find your target you’ll have to chase them down which means a lot of ducking, sliding and hoping around various obstacles all the while taking out various bad guys on your way to the bounty. It sounded and looked just like that of the Assassin’s Creed’s on-foot chase sequences, only good. And did I mention that you play as a bounty hunter on an alien planet? I did? Well, did I mention that there are gadgets?

Tomb Raider

I was already sold on this one back when Game Informer presented its in-depth preview of the game earlier this year but the gameplay demonstration of the title at the Microsoft conference further proved to me that this game should a great purchase come 2012. I love the Tomb Raider franchise and this reboot seems like a step in the right direction by giving the series a much more serious and modern identity. I especially love the portrayal of Lara Croft; no longer is she a character defined by her ever increasing bust size; instead, she’s someone who looks and acts like a real and quite vulnerable young woman. This more realistic take on the character is further highlighted by the games focus on survival. Every scrape, bruise and cut she’ll sustain is emphasised in both the gameplay and the visuals, giving you a real sense of being alone and unguarded in a hostile environment. The game won’t be released until spring of next year but in my mind that’s a good thing. The game looks so good that it would be a shame to rush it. Good on Eidos I say, for taking the proper time and care to make sure that this entry puts the Tomb Raider series back amongst the video gaming elite.

Hitman: Absolution

After a nice long break, the Hitman series is finally coming back to current gen consoles. And while we were only treated to a couple of pre-rendered teaser trailers and a brief 90 second gameplay demonstration, what was shown looks to be very promising indeed. Agent 47 is on the run from the authorities and he’ll need to rely on his numerous ass-kicking skills to get him out of trouble. On a slightly worrying note, the game seems to progress in a more cinematic, stream-lined fashion as opposed to the series’ traditional, optional approach style gameplay. I can only hope IO Interactive doesn’t make the game too linear as that would really take away from the strength of the series; that being, the ability to tackle a mission in a variety of different ways. Still, no matter how the game turns out it should be a heck of a lot better then that bloody awful Hitman movie…..

Battlefield 3

I thought I was done with modern warfare shooters. I really did. While I’ve played and greatly enjoyed the Call of Duty series, I thought I’d finally had my fair share of gritty, urban shooting and was planning to call it a day. Then Battlefield 3 was announced. It promised fully destructible environments. It’s being made with an updated Frostbite engine. And it claims to have the best Battlefield experience to date. Suddenly my resolve to not play this genre again seemed to weaken. Then E3 comes along with a slew of new gameplay footage. Tanks, explosions, drama, incredible visuals and the most realistic military combat I’ve ever seen in any game to date and………….that does it………………I GOTTA PLAY THIS GAME!!

Good golly, Miss Molly this game looks incredible! I’m not usually the sought to sing the praises of a “dude, bro” game but this title is tickling me in all of the right places. I think for the first time I can safely say that the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare series has some series competition come Christmas time this year.

Star Wars: The Old Republic trailer

I have to admit that I have next to no interest in this game. It is after all an MMO and I just don’t play those. However, I am a Star Wars fan and the trailer that was shown this year for Bioware’s upcoming ‘The Old Republic’ title looked bloody fantastic. This is the third E3 in a row that we’ve been treated to a trailer for the game and just like the ones that have come before it, this new teaser completely blew my socks off. And while the trailer was pre-rendered and is in no way, shape or form representative of actual gameplay, it was still an absolutely amazing display and was without doubt the best thing to come from Star Wars since the end of the prequel trilogy.


If there is an award for the most original and creative game of the show then it would no doubt go to this game. Published by Atlus and being developed by one of its internal teams, Catherine tells the story of a guy named Vincent who, while contemplating whether or not to marry his long-time girlfriend, is approached by a young beautiful girl who turns his world upside down. After meeting her, Vincent begins to have nightmares that feature various horrors that relate to his fear of commitment and his feelings of infidelity. This is where the player comes in. Gameplay involves navigating Vincent through his nightmare which involves climbing up a tower made of blocks. You have to move the blocks around in order to ascend the tower and break free of the nightmare. And while it all sounds incredibly simplistic, the narrative, the characters and the atmosphere all help to make the gameplay far more fascinating then a just a mere puzzle-platformer. It’s probably not a game that I would buy (or at least not at full price) but you have to give it to Atlus for creating what looks to be another ingenious game that truly pushes the boundaries of story-telling in this medium.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Graphic Novel Review - Green Lantern: No Fear

2 out of 5 Stars

Finally, I get around to reviewing a graphic novel! I know all my loyal readers (all two of you) have been clamouring for it and so here it is! I plan to review a whole bunch of DC and Marvel books as I go along but as Green Lantern is the series I’m focused on the most at this point, it only feels right to start with this partiuclar superhero book. First thing you should know is that I only started reading this particular series about a year ago through trade collections. I’ve read a lot of Geoff Johns’ run, all the way up to ’Blackest Night’ along with a few silver age GL books. Second thing you should know is that unlike most comic book fanboys on the Internet I do not think that this current run on GL is flawless. Quite the contrary in fact. But I’ll talk about that as I go along.

First up in my GL reviews is ‘No Fear’, the first book since the return of Hal Jordan in the splendid ‘Rebirth’ mini-series. The book is split up into three parts essentially. The first issue is a one and done story about Jordan and his father, the next three issues involve two Manhunters at war with each other and the last three are about little gremlins obsessed with advancing their own evolution.

If I had to summarise this book in one word that word would be ‘bland’. It really feels like Johns was just coasting for these issues. I think the main problem is how much the book tries to involve story elements that are just plain uninteresting. For example, the first issue is all about how one night when Hal was a child, his Dad took him out flying in one of his planes. It then transitions to a now grown up Hal taking Kyle Rayner on a plane ride in similar fashion. The thing is, do we care? Honestly, do we really care about any of this? Then in the second arc (the one regarding the Manhunters) Johns weaves a subplot that has to do with Hal’s brother not wanting to return to Coast City. Again, do we really care? Will these subplots have any real relevance to future stories? From what I can tell the answer is no. It’s just tedious, drawn out plot padding and it really slows down what could have been a quite enjoyable read.

The actual main arcs regarding the Manhunters and the “intergalactic gremlins” is done well enough but they end just as they begin to pick up steam. Couple this with the constantly changing artwork by a multitude of artists and this book just comes off as a being a bit of a jumbled mess. It’s a mish mash of interesting ideas but they never seem to quite come together.

There is some merit to this book however and it comes in the form of Ethan Van Sciver’s amazing artwork in the last three issues. I love the way he portrays the ‘Lantern light’. The way it shifts forms from a flame to a beam and everything in between is just fantastic stuff. His work on ‘Rebirth’ was stunning as well and I can’t think of a better artist who ‘gets’ the look of the Green Lantern powers quite the way he does.
Overall, this is a completely skippable GL book. There are a couple of high spots here and there, mainly in the form of Sciver’s artwork, but the stories never really get off the ground and they’re badly hampered by too much unnecessary plot padding.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Who should be the next Who?

I’ll admit that I am not the biggest fan of the current incarnation of Doctor Who (that being Matt Smith). He’s just not very convincing to me. In my humble opinion the Doctor should always be played by someone older; someone who can portray wisdom, intelligence and charisma (none of which Matt Smith does). With that said, here a few candiates who I believe should replace Smith whenever he (or the BBC) decide it’s time to hand the keys to the TARDIS over to the next incarnation of everyone’s favorite Time Lord:


Without question my number one choice for the role would have to be James Nesbitt. He’s an outstanding actor, with a great presence and boatloads of charisma. Being an ideal candidate for the part and having previous working history with current Who creative director Steven Moffat, Nesbitt’s name was thrown around as one of the top replacements for David Tennant after his departure from the role back in 2009. Unfortunetly, Nesbitt declared that he wasn’t interested in the role as he feared replacing Tennant’s magnificent run would be “career suicide”. I can only hope that after seeing Smith’s lackluster portrayal that he’ll reconsider and step into the shoes of the Doctor’s 12th incarnation.


One of Britain’s greatest all-time actors, Robery Carlyle could place this role with his eyes closed. Like Christopher Eccleston before him, Carlyle would bring a grittier, tougher approach to the part which would be a perfect fit with the series recent dark turn.


If the BBC ever wanted to cast their first ever non-white Doctor Who then I can’t think of anyone better then Patterson Joseph. He’s another talented actor who is very capable of playing a variety of different characters. Joseph, 46, is quite youthful looking for a man of his age and so should continue to attract viewers who feel the Doctor shouldn’t be played by someone too old while retaining the audience who feel that the Doctor shouldn’t be too young either (ala Matt Smith). The only drawback to Jospeh is that he’s already appeared in the series before (albeit in a small role). That however has never stopped the ‘Who’ producers before when casting major roles as was evident with Freema Agymen and Eve Myles (cast as Martha Jones and Gwen Cooper respectively after already appearing as other, one off characters in earlier episodes).


Last on my list of candidates is Aidan Gillen, a terrific up and coming British actor who has done a wide range of television programs for the BBC but has never had the chance to star in anything particuarly major. Looking the part of a Time Lord and with the acting chops to boot, Gillen would make another ideal replacement for the current Doctor.

Untill next time! Keep on TARDISing!!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

E3 2011: What to Expect When Your Expecting

The Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) is the biggest gaming exposition in the world and happens only once a year. In only two months time, the gaming community will get their first glimpses on brand new games, hardware, software, online services and all manners of gaming goodness. The speculation of what will be shown has already begun and it seems like they’ll be some pretty big announcements coming our way this June. So what should we expect from this year’s effort? What announcements will we hear? What surprises are in store? What will be the focus of the ‘Big 3’ (Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo)? And most importantly of all, will this show live up to the seemingly insurmountable hype?

Let us see….


Priding itself in having the most technologically powerful gaming system on the market (the Playstation 3), Sony tends to focus its E3 press conferences on how it will outdo its competition from a power standpoint and this year looks to be no different. A new handheld console (the NGP), 3D games and the most accurate motion controller on the market (Playstation Move) will no doubt be the centre-points of this year’s monstrous effort. The NGP in particular will most likely be the main attraction and Sony are going to give everything they have to make sure that the successor to the ill-fated PSP ends up stealing the show. With Nintendo about to unveil its next home console, the chances of the NGP being the most talked about thing on the show floor is slim to none. But at the very least, Sony are going to give everything short of selling their left nut to make sure that by the time the show is over, people will be saving their shiny little pennies for a chance to play that sweet, sweet hunk of Sony hand-tech.

Son'y NGP will get an official name, release date and price point at this year's show.

As for 3D and Move, expect almost every Playstation 3 game to be “3D enabled” and with Move compatibility of some sought or another. Also expect to hear a lot of Sony execs proclaim that the best way to play the upcoming third party titles (such as the inevitable next entry in the Call of Duty franchise) is with the Move controller and that all other platforms can go and suck it…..(ok maybe they won’t say that last bit).

But what of first-party exclusives? We already know of the absolutely amazing looking ‘The Last Guardian’ by the legends at Team Ico, but what else can we expect? Along with a boat load of first-party NGP titles, expect to announcements of the next God of War, Warhawk (remember that game?) and quite possibly the unveiling of the much rumoured Metal Gear Solid 5.


Microsoft is probably going to have the toughest challenge this year as, unlike it’s competition, it has no new consoles to announce (that we know of at least). Instead, Microsoft will undoubtingly focus its conference (yet again) on its gangbuster selling motion controller, the Kinect. We’ll no doubt hear about how great it is and how it’s sold a bazillion units since its launch late last year (5 bazillion units to be exact) but we can also expect to hear much about the coveted “second wave” of games for the system. You see, launch titles of new consoles or peripherals tend to be pretty sucky (as was plainly obvious by the Kinect’s line-up of silly body-jiggling “sports” ventures) and so it’s the second wave that tends to showcase just what kind of mettle a new system is made of.

Less of this, please.

Attempting to show that Kinect is something for both the ‘core’ gaming audience as well as the casual, expect to see motion controlled versions of franchise favourites such as Gears of War and perhaps even Halo. Speaking of which, the first attempt at the Halo series by newly established studio 343 Industries may very well be on display at Microsoft’s conference. In all honesty, I hope this doesn’t end up being the case. I love Halo but I think it’s time to give that series a rest for at least the next couple of years. Having said that, Halo is Microsoft’s cash-cow and the chances of them not putting out a new Halo anytime soon are about the same as hearing Nintendo announce  ‘Super Mario Bros.: Mushrooms and Hoes’ as the newest title in their coveted franchise

Speaking of Nintendo, the gold standard of E3 announcements will be made this year by none other then this age-old publisher; that being, the next gen home-console announcement. That’s right, Nintendo aren’t lying on their Wii-enriched laurels any longer and are moving on with their next home console effort which is currently going under the codename Project Café. Project Café has to be one of the worst kept secrets in gaming history as we already know quite a lot of the specifics of what is sure to be another huge sales hit for Nintendo. From a technological standpoint, the console is supposedly even more powerful then the PS3 and Xbox 360, will support 1080p high definition and will come complete with a more traditional hand-held controller (thank God). Most interesting of all is that this all-new controller will feature some kind of touch screen tablet harboured right in the middle of it which may include the ability to ‘stream’ games from the console right to the controller. How exactly that is all going to work I’m not sure but there’s no doubt that this new console is the most exciting thing going down at this year’s show.

Could this be what the controller for Project Cafe will look like?

While ‘Project  Café’ will be the focus of Nintendo’s press conference, we should also expect to hear more about what’s next for the 3DS. Just like Xbox’s Kinect, the 3DS will soon be receiving its “second wave” of gaming titles which will no doubt be showcased on stage as well as on the show floor. Games such as Super Mario 3DS (rumoured to be a hybrid of Super Mario 64’s 3D style with old school 2D Mario side scrolling) and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3DS remake will be on full display along with new instalments of other Nintendo staples. But what about the little ol’ Wii? The console which firmly re-established Nintendo as the most successful game publisher in the world must surely warrant some kind of attention, right? All I can say is they bloody well better had because right now my Wii is little more then a rather expensive and technologically impressive paper weight. I’m sure we’ll see The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword presented on stage again (hopefully without the technical glitches this time around) but what about brand new IP’s? Is it to much to ask for something non Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong or Metroid related? I hope not, because Nintendo is in desperate need of a refurbishment in the software department and this is their opportunity to show that they are more then just a four-franchise pony.

Other Thoughts

If there’s one thing that seems almost certain about this year’s show it’s that it should be a heck of a lot better then last years mediocre effort. Sony’s 2010 conference was a completely unfocused mess, Microsoft’s was a display in boring motion controlled casual titles and Nintendo’s featured new editions of stale franchises and the mere promise that their 3D enabled handheld would actually work. I know I’m sounding negative here but I really feel that the ‘Big 3’ can do so much better then the fairly lacklustre approach of last year’s show. I don’t expect a new console announcement every year or anything like that but what I do expect is for each publisher to deliver a focused, well-presented exhibition that feature original, good quality titles that actually make me want to spend the $90 in order to play. Gaming isn’t a cheap hobby and if Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo want me to continue to fork out mountain loads of cash for their products then all I ask in return is to for them to show me something worthy enough to warrant such an investment.

With all of that said, I am truly looking forward to this year’s show and believe it will live up to the enormous hype laid before it. If you’ve never followed an E3 before and are interested in seeing the many conferences, announcements and gaming media galore then I suggest going to IGN or Gamespot who usually feature a ton of videos and images from the show. Just don’t watch any of their E3 analysis because, well, it’s terrible. For that I suggest going to instead. They do a fantastic job of giving objective, non-fanboyish analysis on all things gaming and their E3 podcasts are always intricate and thoroughly entertaining.

Enough with the cheap plugs already!

Now go watch E3!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Film Review - Thor

3 and ½ out of 5 Stars

Marvel Comic’s ‘Thor’ is perhaps the biggest character in Marvel’s line up to have never received the live action film treatment…….until now. Opening this week is the brand spanking new adaptation directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring relative new comer Chris Hemsworth as the God of Thunder Thor and Tom Hiddlestone as the villainous God of Mischief, Loki.

The film centres on the Gods of Asgard, a civilisation of intergalactic beings with tremendous power and the ability to travel between their homeworld and nine other realms with the use of incredibly advanced technology. Chief among the Asgardians is Thor, the heir to the throne of Asgard and one of its most powerful and respected warriors. After inciting a war with Asgard’s mortal enemies, the Frost Giants, the arrogant and ego-driven Thor is stripped of his powers and cast out of Asgard; forced to live a life as a mortal being on the planet Earth. As Thor attempts to regain his God-like abilities, the forces of evil, led by Thor’s half-brother Loki, make their play for Asgard and the almighty power that lies within it.

While not in the quite in the league of ‘The Dark Knight’ or ‘Iron Man’, ‘Thor’ is still one of the more enjoyable comic book adaptations to come out over the past ten years. It has almost everything you want from a film of this sought: big action, powerful characters, a fantastical story and a few laughs thrown in for good measure. It also greatly succeeds as an adaptation; being true to the spirit of the comic book’s characters and story whilst simultaneously bringing a fresh, science-fiction style approach to the presentation. Here, the magical abilities of the Asgardians (such as Thor’s storm controlling hammer, Mjolnir) are the result of their advanced, alien technology. As Thor makes clear in the film, on Asgard, science and magic are “one and the same”. The filmmakers made this change primarily so the character could “blend in” a little easier with the more science-based heroes such as Iron Man and Hulk. After all, Thor is scheduled to appear in the upcoming ‘Avengers’ adaptation and the thought of having an actual God amongst the line up of more grounded superheroes may be a little difficult for the average film-goer to accept. As a Marvel comic book reader and fan of this character in particular, I personally loved this change. Something about it just seemed…….right. It was so right in fact that I found myself wondering why the science fiction explanation hadn’t been used in the modern line of ‘Thor’ comic books. I know a lot of hardcore fanboys (and girls) will whinge about this alteration (after all, that’s what they’re best at) but I personally felt this to be a welcome change and I’m happy that they went in this particular direction.

As far as the acting goes, ‘Thor’ features quite a few standout performances from a range of well known and not-quite-so-well known actors. I was particularly impressed with Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal of the film’s titular character. At 6 foot 3 and with a physique that made my ego shrivel up and go cry in the corner, I didn’t need to suspend much of my disbelief to conceive of Hemsworth as an almighty, Asgardian God. He has great presence on screen and his chemistry with Natalie Portman (playing love interest Jane Foster) was one of the film’s many highlights. Of course, I’d be remiss if I failed to bring up Anthony Hopkins as the King of Asgard, Odin. He’s absolutely perfect for the role and his legendary presence is undeniable. I only wished we’d seen more of him in the film’s 2 hour long running time.

Of course, ‘Thor’ does have a couple of small weak points that prevent it from being a member of the comic book adaptation elite. Chief amongst them is the action and the fact that, well, we don’t get a whole lot of it. The film is undoubtingly at its best with Thor in full flight; annihilating foes left and right with the swing of his hammer and devastating the forces of evil with his God like powers. Unfortunately, scenes like these are few and far between. Thor is ‘depowered’ for the majority of the movie and although the filmmakers do a great job of pushing the story of a powerless Thor forward, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed that we didn’t get a little more in the action department. Additionally, while the character’s of Thor, Loki and Jane Foster are all well developed, the characters of Sif and The Warriors Three are fairly underdeveloped. I understand that they only had 2 hours to establish the fantastical world of Thor and to tell a story filled with characters and creatures that require lengthy introductions and explanations but I still would of liked to have seen these characters ‘fleshed out’ a little more. Another small complaint I have regards the casting of Volstagg, played here by ‘Punisher: War Zone’ star Ray Stevenson. While I have no problem with Ray Stevenson as an actor, he simply doesn’t suit the part of Volstagg; a character best known for his voluminous appearance. I don’t quite understand why they couldn’t have just cast an actual obese actor as opposed to hiring the fairly fit Stevenson and simply stuffing his costume with padding. Still, the good thing about all of these complaints is that they are all easily rectifiable. If (or should I say when) the studio does decide to make a Thor sequel, most of these complaints could (and probably will) be easily taken care of.

More then anything else, Kenneth Branagh’s adaption of ‘Thor’ is a fun, fantastical popcorn flick that anyone who enjoys big action adventure films should enjoy. It’s a great adaptation with some well done performances and with just enough drama and comedy to keep everyone entertained. Good job, Marvel Studios! I can’t wait for a sequel.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Anime Review - Bleach: Season 1

3 out of 5 Stars

Finally, we get around to my very first review on Science Fiction and Fantasy: The Blog. And what better way to start then with one of anime fandom’s biggest crazes, the one and only Bleach! For those that don’t know, Bleach is an anime series based on the widely popular manga by Tite Kubo. It revolves around teenager Ichigo Kurosaki, a boy who can see the spirits of the deceased, who is swept up into a battle between evil spirits known as ‘Hollows’ and those who have sworn to cleanse society from their wrath, the ‘Soul Reapers’. Ichigo eventually becomes a ‘substitute’ Soul Reaper and, along with Rukia (a young female Soul Reaper who bestowed upon him his new found powers), must defend himself and his loved ones from the threat of the Hollows.

After having seen all 20 episodes of this first season, I can happily confess to loving this series. Granted, the premise of fighting demonic spirits isn’t exactly original but Bleach finds a way to transform itself into something quite engaging. Over the course of the season, we slowly discover the mythology surrounding the Soul Reapers, Hollows and everything in between, presenting a unique world that continues to expand with each passing episode. But while the story telling is strong, it’s the characters that really make Bleach a standout show. Ichigo is a great protagonist; both serious and heroic, he never gets to the point of being overly emo nor does he ever come across as being a douche (like so many other brooding anime heroes). Rukia is another great character; strong willed and yet somewhat sad, her strange relationship with Ichigo is the driving force of the series and there back and forth banter is just a pleasure to watch. It’s not just Ichigo and Rukia however that contribute to the show, just about every character in this series stands out. In particular, the teddy bear possessing Kon and Ichigo’s goofball father Isshin are absolute riots; turning serious situations into slapstick comedy gold at the drop of a hat. But it’s everyone from the kind hearted Orihime, to the enigmatic hermit Urahara, to one off characters like Don Kanoji, that makes sure that Bleach never fails to entertain.

While Bleach does have plenty of upside, it isn’t without its flaws. The pacing of the show is quite slow and it never really picks up until the last few episodes. While it was nice to see the show take its time in order for the audience to get to know the characters, the season could have done with a little less talking and little more action. Speaking of which, for a show that is supposed to be centred on samurai style warriors, the series is pretty dry when it comes to sword swinging action. Most of Bleach’s fight scenes are short and not terribly exciting; many of the series’ bad guys are dispatched with one swipe of Ichigo’s sword (or Zampakuto as it’s known here) and don’t seem to put up much of a fight. While the action does ramp up near the end of the season, action fans may be a disappointed that a little more demon slaying wasn’t included in the overall package.

Although the pacing of this season was fairly slow and the action a bit lacking, I still enjoyed Bleach for its unique mythology and for its loveable characters. It also sets a strong foundation for the future of the series and I can’t wait to see what happens next. It’s these merits that really make Bleach: Season 1 stand out from the rest of the pack, making it well-worth your time to go out and see.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Problem with the Video Game Media Industry

I’ve been meaning to write something about this issue for a very long time now but kept putting it off for a number of different reasons. However, after the banning of the recent video game ‘Mortal Kombat’ in Australia (a game which I was particularly looking forward to), I felt like now was the best time to speak up about my feelings on the video game media industry and how I feel like it’s directly contributing to the juvenile stigma that has for far too long been associated with this incredible medium. By only appealing to the teen, ‘hardcore’ gamer demographic, video game journalists have backed the game industry into a proverbial corner; giving the general public the impression that this form of entertainment is little more then an a silly, adolescent distraction. If video games are ever to be taken seriously in the public’s eye, the problems being created by the video game media industry must be addressed and done so sooner rather then later.

Before I go any further, we first have to make one thing clear: What exactly do we mean when we say the “video game media industry”? Simply put, the video game media industry is a journalistic entity which seeks to report, preview and review on everything video games. Popular examples include websites such as IGN, Gamespot, Kotaku and Gametrailers but also include magazines such as Hyper and Electronic Gaming Monthly as well as television shows such as G4’s X-Play. While the primary purpose of these presentations is to inform the viewer (or reader) on the comings and goings of video games, they also unintentionally paint a picture of the gaming audience as well as the industry as a whole. Put simply, these websites, magazines and TV shows put an idea into the minds of the general public of what video games are, what kind of people play them and how they should be viewed.

So what exactly is the problem then? The problem lies in the fact that the vast majority of the video game media give the impression that games are little more then juvenile pleasures; a source of entertainment meant only for kids, nerdy teenagers and immature adults with no serious merit or artistic value to them whatsoever. How do they do this you ask? The answer is not a simple one but let’s just say it has to do with how these media outlets choose to present themselves and who they try to appeal to.

To begin, let’s take a look at the use of language used by video game journalists and TV presenters. All too often have I gone to a game website (like Kotaku), clicked the link for a preview of an upcoming game only to find the article riddled with “leet speak” drivel and adolescent humour that only kids or the geekiest of geeks would understand and enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I like using terms like ‘noob’ and ‘pwn’ when I’m talking with my gamer buddies or when playing online, but when this kind of terminology is used as the primary source of communication for video game journalists it paints a somewhat unintelligent and immature picture of the video game industry (not to mention the people who supposedly play these games).

Game Magazines tend to overuse geeky phrasing (such as 'leet speak' ) making the whole industry seem like a joke.

Of course, language of the ‘epic lolz’ variety is only partially to blame; it’s the way such language is presented that is also a problem. Most video game journalists/presenters love to use an overly colloquial form of communication and while this would be fine in most instances, it’s the coupling with the ‘epic lolz’ language that makes what they’re trying to say seem like nonsensical gibberish to the average joe. For example, I love watching the Australian ‘gaming’ television show ‘Good Game’ – it’s fun, funny and I tend to agree with most of the reviews. However, whenever my Mum stumbles across me watching the show and sits down to watch the opening segment, she’ll all too often turn to me and ask “What did they just say”? You see, having been exposed to the video game media industry for many years now, I understand all of the lingo and in-jokes that so many game journalists like to employ. Problem is, the average layman has absolutely no clue what any of that stuff means. They get confused to the point where they pass off such a program (along with the entire video game medium as a whole) as little more then unintelligent rubbish that only the young, the socially inept or the stupid could ever possibly understand and enjoy.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am perfectly aware of why the video game media industry chooses to use such a form of presentation. After all, the primary demographic for these media outlets is teenagers and young adults. But there in lies the problem. I feel as though the video game media industry has shut itself off to the possibility that people outside of this narrow demographic could ever possibly want anything to do with video games. As a result, the non-teenage, non-20 something person gets alienated. Most of these people don’t even understand what these media outlets are saying yet alone attempt to enjoy the things that they’re preaching. And how can they? It appears that if you didn’t grow up in the generation that began playing video games then you have no business in trying to involve yourself in such a form of entertainment. Not that that’s the intention of the gaming media mind you, but by narrowing their field of vision to just the one particular group of people they are unintentionally giving everyone else who’s yet to experience video games the proverbial middle finger.

I love 'Good Game' but it's tagline of "A show for gamers, by gamers" ensures that no one outside of the 'core' gaming audience could ever understand yet alone enjoy what they're trying to present.

So what does all of this have to do with the banning of Mortal Kombat? Well, almost everything. The R18+ debate has been raging now in Australia for years and it seems like no matter how far video games come in terms of artistic quality, there remain a large number of people who shun them to the side as little more then juvenile filth. So much of this stems from the fact that most people (particularly of the older generation) still don’t really understand video games and why people enjoy them. And how can they when the media industry that has been tasked to report and inform on all things gaming caters only to a young, ‘geek literate’ audience? How are they meant to get into something when they’re inadvertently being told that it isn’t meant for them? The answer: they can’t. And while this may not matter to gamers who could care less about the mainstream acceptance of gaming, it damn well should. Because unfortunately for them, it is the people on the outside of gaming’s ‘inner circle’ that make the decisions in this country and if they don’t properly understand the medium in the same way that we do then the future will continue to look bleak on the possibility of an R18+ rating.

I realise of course that the video game media isn’t entirely to blame for the lack of movement on the R18+ debate. There are also issues relating to the possible correlation between playing violent games and violent behaviour amongst a plethora of other equally concerning points of contention. However, if the people in charge of running this country are ever to bring about positive change in the realm of video games, then they need to understand why people love this medium so much. The video game media can help them get there but - just like video games themselves have over the past 20+ years - the industry needs to grow up. It needs to stop catering to such a narrow audience and needs to start giving the impression that games are more then just for the young and nerdy. It needs to show the world that games are not the red-headed stepchild of the entertainment industry. Rather, it needs to show that video games are the future of entertainment and should be treated with just as much respect and maturity as anything else.