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All reviews - Movies (2) - DVDs (34) - Music (10) - Games (46)


Posted : 11 years, 9 months ago on 24 August 2008 03:00 (A review of History Channel: Battle for the Pacific)

As I await the September 23rd release of "Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway," I purchased "The History Channel: Battle for the Pacific" for two reasons; one being to quell my mischievous curiosity and the other being to make this something of a WWII placeholder until Gearbox's long-awaited strategy/shooter is FINALLY released.

I'm somewhat familiar with "Battle for the Pacific" developers Cauldron HQ. Although much-maligned in gaming circles, their Holiday 2007 semi-sequel "Soldier of Fortune: Payback" is a guilty pleasure of mine that, while a valiant effort in many ways to recapture "SoF 1 & 2" developer Raven Software's former glory's, didn't quite hit home for too many folks. Be that as it may, I appreciate the game for its mindless action, cheesy C-grade plot & voice acting, and outlandish gore. But "Battle for the Pacific" isn't the Mature-rated game "Payback" is despite its subject matter and, as such, may come as a disappointment to some (or many).

Who am I kidding? "Battle for the Pacific" is exactly what "Payback" would have been with a Pacific Theatre makeover, virtually no gore, and slightly prettier visuals. While "Payback" has an admittedly sharp fun factor on its side, "... Pacific" is something a bit more than thrill kill game play and tons o' gore action packed into an absurd terrorist-infested plot. "... Pacific" has, actually, the makings of a fantastic first-person shooter hidden in there somewhere. Right in there with the black & white pre-mission debriefings - culled straight from the History Channel vaults - and the various true-to-life missions dealing with many assorted moments of great strategic/historic importance of American victory in this particular theatre. There's actually a bit going for this game. But never underestimate the value of... well... value.

Presentation is a must in any form of entertainment medium. Though "Battle for the Pacific" may be rich in historical content and may get many of the finer details right, the question "Is the game fun to play?" should be the most important. To quickly respond to that; not really. Even without the lackluster AI and unexciting gun battles aiding in "Battle for the Pacific's" outright mediocrity, there really isn't much to do, see or explore otherwise. Why is that, you say? Because there is, what I like to call, a "buddy system" in effect. Every mission has you following your superior officer and, if you don't, it's game over. That means if you get too far ahead of him, too far behind him, or just don't follow his orders to tag along, you must restart the mission. Knowing when to go with him or when to stay and fight is also a problem.

The game's difficulty and length are also two facets of this title that weigh down its few positives. Perhaps if the game's firefights were a bit more difficult the game wouldn't feel as unrewarding or, simply put, as short. Playing on the easiest difficulty setting (and there are only three: Easy, Medium, and Hard), the game can be finished in under three hours. The difficulty does increase a bit as the game progresses but never to any level an intermediately skilled gamer couldn't handle.

Even with some incredible graphics, including spectacular shading and lighting, and some outstanding character models, this is just not a fun experience. Cauldron's AI programming was inexcusably abysmal in last year's "Soldier of Fortune" sequel, but here it is just totally unforgiveable. Enemies do not even attempt to find cover. Many of them stand in one spot and simply fire. As a matter of fact, I recall all of them doing this. There is no going prone, there is no flanking, there is no nothing. It is simply aim and fire from a standing position... clearly out in the open... waiting for you to pick them off one by one. Although they are fairly accurate, a couple of bullets should put them out of their misery. To make matters worse, there is none of those fantastic death animations found in "Payback," either. Expired Japanese soldiers simply fall limp to the ground via mediocre Havok physics.

I may have felt cheated out of my money if I paid the full $60 for this, but I waited until the price was reduced drastically before I picked it up. I paid a mere $30 for it (cheap for a 360 game) and although it would be nice to have that money back, I can't say I'm complaining too much. I learned a bit more about the various battles in the Pacific Theatre and was treated to some fairly impressive visuals in the process. Cauldron, heed these words, please go back to the FPS drawing board and rethink your options. "Payback" was a decent excuse to blow off limbs, explode heads and spill (copious amounts of) blood, but this historic endeavor is an inferior retread into that very territory with the exceptions of all the blood, gore, excitement and weapons (there are only a total of (maybe) six weapons at your greedy little disposal here).

If you're absolutely dying to play another WWII FPS, just wait until "Hell's Highway" see's its release next month. If you simply can't wait, play "Call of Duty's 1-3" again. If you have a little extra cash, give this a rent just to see how to do jungle environments right but everything else so very wrong.

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Posted : 11 years, 10 months ago on 14 July 2008 04:04 (A review of The Shocker)

Silkk the Shocker (or, as he is credited here, simply as Silkk) is by no means an artistically important MC within a nearly three decade old rap game. What may, however, be important about him and most of his No Limit peers is how they have managed to mold the game based purely on a business standpoint since the mid-'90s when they first gained some national exposure.

During rap's golden age, it was lyrics over beats and skills over "swag." Once No Limit Records first graced the airwaves nearly 12 years ago with their gully, spare, dollar-for-a-drug-reference rhymes and beats, the game had suddenly shifted away from that; seemingly overnight even. Master P and his No Limit army were not the best rappers or entertainers, and as mic technicians, they left quite a bit to be desired. But every single one of their albums was, in fact, exec. produced by P, overseen by P, and probably guested P as well. And as a lot of rap heads know, P. Miller is known more for his flamboyant approach to business and sales than for his rapping abilities. But this approach moved units.

And even with all of this going on, No Limit maintained anything from a cult fan base to a massive one that spanned almost a half a decade. They were untouchable for some time and with good reason. P found a very large opening in the rap market and, with a formulaic approach to music-making, slowly began to fill it. Armed with then-unknown dirty south production crew Beats by the Pound (now known as The Medicine Men), a plethora of expendable "soldiers," and a hard-edged sound that was as gratuitously gangster as it came, P and company's albums were always highly sought out. Don't let that confuse you, though, these guys are strictly product. But there is such a thing as good product and bad product in the music world.

Silkk the Shocker's debut record, "The Shocker," was recorded under the moniker "Silkk" ("the Shocker" later added to his stage name due to an alleged lawsuit by R&B group Silk; apparently they had the name first and the extra "K" wasn't fooling anyone). Even so, this album is 100% Silkk, from the unadulterated sex ("No Limit Party" and "Ain't Nothing") and relentless violence (the dark "The Shocker" and funky "If My 9 Could Talk") to the sobering reminiscing of homies deceased and days gone by ("Why My Hommie" and "Ghetto Tears," respectively).

In actuality, his classic follow-up record "Charge It 2 da Game" is almost the PERFECT follow-up record. Although his flow and lyrics are better here, and the production is on another level entirely (check out the low-level grooves of "My Car" as reference to that), the two albums are almost interchangeable in terms of construction and themes. "Charge It's" follow-up, "Made Man," is much less spectacular and, due to the time of its release, more rote No Limit fair.

And even when the album takes a turn into non-musical, on-album advertising ("Commercial One"), it almost approaches self-parody... at least looking back on it it does. It seems P knew, even in 1996, how he was going to assemble/run his empire. And even as pure product that covers every single drug slangin'/gun clappin' rap niche, "The Shocker" does it better than a lot of other albums it steals ideas from. That's saying quite a bit for it.

Even if the record isn't perfect thanks to its 19 track length and, of course, a smattering of weaker songs, this is some of Silkk's best work. There's little familiarity to be found within this record, though, so you stand warned. Many of No Limit's future stars had yet to be signed in mid-1996 so they are not present and accounted for (including Mystikal, Fiend, Mia X, Magic, and Mac). No Limit was still a fledgling company trying to find their own identity at this time. But rolling the dice and having to listen to either this or "Charge It" is a tough decision. They are both remarkable albums.

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Posted : 11 years, 10 months ago on 11 July 2008 08:40 (A review of Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Conspiracy)

In the realm of movie-to-video game adaptations, their quality is almost as unpredictable as adaptations made from video games to film.

In the case of "The Bourne Conspiracy," High Moon Studios' prequel to/recreation of "The Bourne Identity," a film-based video game adaptation has never been presented with this much quality or concern for its source material. Take your pick, from "Street Fighter: The Movie" to titles that go as far back as the Atari's "E.T.," quality has usually been subpar at best for this gaming subgenre. But "The Bourne Conspiracy" aims to change all of that with a swift chop to the throat and a quick kick to the kneecap.

First and foremost, "Conspiracy" is less of an actual game and more of an interactive feature film in video game form. Presented many times throughout the game are Quick Time Events that challenge the player to press one of the four colored buttons or two triggers on the controller when prompted on the screen to do so. When a button is pressed, "Conspiracy" will go into something of a cinematic, showing Bourne evading bullets, sniping, ducking out of the way of explosions, or taking down numerous opponents. All fights and most cinematics are presented in an interactive manner fully allowing the player to "be" Bourne instead of simply playing as him. It should also be noted that when these Quick Time Events are nearing their utilization, a distinct sound will occur, thereby preparing the player for them. Sound effects in these sections, and elsewhere, are simply fantastic.

The bulk of "The Bourne Conspiracy" will either be played through hand-to-hand combat or third-person shooting segments. The hand-to-hand combat is handled quite effectively with X and Y being your main attack buttons. With these buttons, you can string together combos and, when your Attack Meter is at least 1/3 full, Bourne can perform a takedown on an enemy by pressing B; signature to what he does in his films. The shooter portions of the game, although plentiful, aren't as satisfying as "Conspiracy's" hand-to-hand counterpart. Sure, there are quite a few guns to use and Shooting Takedowns (similar to typical takedowns, and also performed the same way, but require a gun) are unsurprisingly fulfilling when used, but the clunky hit detection, as well as enemies that can require up to six/seven bullets to go down, spoils some of the fun of this otherwise decent segment.

Just as important is a sequence taken from the "The Bourne Identity." The game's singular car chase sequence (you know, the one with the Mini-Cooper) is mildly fun, but due to poor vehicle controls, handling, and bland level design feels rather unaccomplished. The level's conclusion has a nice Quick Time sequence that is incredible to watch, but the actual game play leaves much to be desired.

As pleasing as "Conspiracy's" game play is, graphically, it isn't the prettiest game around. Although powered by Unreal Engine 3, textures are muddy, washed out, and lack polish. There is some minor clipping present that ruins some otherwise pleasant art direction, but overall the game lacks most in the aforementioned low-res textures. Lighting is spectacular though and said lighting hides many of the texturing problems, but in dark spots, the game looks downright ugly at times. For a next-gen title, this could have easily passed for a late-life PS2 game.

But don't let dated graphics get you down, "The Bourne Conspiracy" is very much so a unique, worthwhile experience. Although running very short at only 5-8 hours, it's still worth the cash. Even though "Bourne" fans will eat up every second of it and non-fans will love the nonstop action, they will undoubtedly be lost story-wise. Nevertheless, this is a fine accomplishment considering the previous disasters this subgenre has faced.

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Posted : 11 years, 10 months ago on 11 July 2008 08:32 (A review of Condemned 2: Bloodshot)

If "Condemned: Criminal Origins" was just the tip of the iceberg, then "Condemned 2: Bloodshot" is the Titanic smashing into it.

"Bloodshot," because of its expansive horror elements and copious amounts of gore, feels more like a harsh NC-17-rated sequel to its moderately R-rated predecessor. Forgetting the improved fighting mechanics, reworked game play elements, and prettier graphics for a moment, "Condemned 2" is easily one of the most graphic, disturbing and pervasively violent games I've ever played. Not only will you be punching, bludgeoning, shooting, and exploding the heads of numerous psychotics, you will also be tossing them into television sets, dunking their heads in toilet bowls, smashing their craniums in doorways, and slamming their faces into posts, shelves, and fences. If anyone thought the first "Condemned" went too far with its violent content, be warned that "Bloodshot" pushes the limits.

But twisted violence isn't the only thing on this menu; much of the previous title's game play has been improved, reworked and revamped for this sequel. The first "Condemned" was, disappointingly, lacking a combo system to accompany its brutal melee combat. This, however, has been remedied in "Bloodshot." Each respective hand is controlled with either the left or right triggers. You can perform combos with all sorts of handheld weapons and even your fists when a melee weapon is not equipped. Knowing when to block or parry your attackers, as well as attack with a combo, are very important aspects of "Bloodshot" and will lead to you coming out victorious in each melee battle. Moreover, for each type of combo you string together successfully you fill up a small portion of your combo meter which will then allow you to unleash a devastating, Quick Time combo on an opponent that will immediately defeat most enemies. There is a seemingly endless supply of combos to try out and you will be practically begging for more enemies to come your way just to see what you can conjure up.

Also new to "Bloodshot" is the ability to perform environmental finishers instead of Criminal Origins's four D-pad-based kills. Akin to the original "Condemned," when you have weakened an opponent and gotten him to his knees, position yourself in front of them and press the left and right triggers simultaneously to grab them. Performing these signature moves is then as simple as walking your foe over to skull-like icons based in the environment which signal environmental kills. There are an innumerable amount of ways to finish off an opponent environmentally, some as simple as slamming them into the corner of a shelf, others as brutal as kicking your victim in the face, laying his head in between a doorway, then slamming the door into it a couple of times. Rest assured, though, that the melee combat is just as satisfying as ever (if not more so with the inclusion of numerous, varied combos and the aforementioned Quick Time combo finishers). Firearm combat is also incredibly satisfying but like the original Condemned, firearms and their ammunition are quite scarce.

More impressive, however, may be just how deep Monolith has made the investigative sequences this time around. Instead of simply having the correct detection tool preselected for you only at the given moments they are most required, you can now select any of four tools at any time during game play. The investigative sequences are also much more detailed and elaborate. You must now collect a certain number of evidence, then come to an educated conclusion based on the given clues from the scene around you. You must determine, from a list of possible evidential conclusions, which selection (or selections) is correct and, the more correct deductions you make, the better overall score you receive for that scenario (and the better quality your item upgrades are). Due to their elaborate, involving nature, these sequences are what I really found the most rewarding in "Bloodshot."

Perhaps not the prettiest game around and not a huge departure from the first, "Bloodshot" is still quite a looker. The art direction is fantastic, the visuals are gritty and fittingly morbid, and the cinematics are some of the more interesting I've had the pleasure of watching (as well as some of the more highly detailed). Although environments, much like the first, tend to look the same moving from one location to another and are more like giant mazes than believable real-world locations, they create a sense of desperation and paranoia within their creepy designs, as well as their bleakness. Character models are the game's strong suit and all are presented with an incredible amount of detail and hi-res texture work. The game's entire look, though not the most graphically impressive, is surely one of the most unique and that definitely counts for something.

It should be noted that "Condemned 2: Bloodshot" is not for everyone. The game's ridiculously vile tone, morbid violence, and tense atmosphere will certainly alienate many, but those same attributes will please devotees of the survival/horror genre. First-person shooter fans wanting something a bit different from your more atypical action experience will surely want to seek this out.

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Posted : 11 years, 11 months ago on 8 July 2008 07:21 (A review of Battlefield: Bad Company)

Previous iterations of the "Battlefield" franchise had all been strictly multiplayer games. Even if they did have a single-player campaign, it was usually akin to similar types of multiplayer match types held within its online mode (think "Unreal Tournament III's" single-player portion).

But "Battlefield: Bad Company" is changing things around a bit. Not only does this game feature a plethora of new features over its predecessor, "Battlefield 2: Modern Combat," it is also backed by much-improved graphics and an intense, story-driven single-player campaign.

From the very first day "Bad Company's" demo was released, something became very clear; us 360 fans were expecting another, or at least something similar to, the excellent 2007 war/action game "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare." "Bad Company" in no shape, way or form resembles that game. That is not to say it is somehow worse or even better than Infinity Ward's epic, it is just entirely different. First and foremost, "Call of Duty 4" was a war game through and through. "Bad Company" is, more or less a story of four ragtag soldiers who become disillusioned with the reasons they are fighting so they embark on a quest for personal gain.

That is not to say "Call of Duty 4" didn't have a superb story, because it certainly did. But everything about that game was based in and around war, including its story. "Bad Company" is a story more akin to a dramedy that just so happens to be set during a war (think “Three Kings”). And it isn't so much a war they're fighting as it is opposition hellbent on stopping them from achieving their goal... who just so happen to be Russian military. It's this grown-up approach that I appreciated. While "Call of Duty 4" had its fair share of epic, dare I say clichéd moments; "Bad Company" has manned up and offers to the gamer a story of serious drama and pervasive comedy that, instead, takes place during the time of battle instead of a story about the battlefield.

Moreover, the inclusion of destructible environments lends to the illusion of being in a war more true-to-life. Picture it for a second, if you will. As you're wiping out enemies left and right, here comes a tank from the West. It comes barreling through a fence, tearing it to pieces, and smashes into and through the corner of a house, perfectly protruding through it. As this massive piece of armor swings its canon towards you, you begin to run. Narrowly dodging the explosive shell it shoots, it hits the watch tower to your left and the whole thing comes crumbling down, in pieces, with smoke billowing out from the rubble.

I think it would be safe to say that without the destructible environments, this game would lack much of its fun factor. Most of the excitement of the game stems from just blowing holes in houses, exploding random objects or seeing what else goes "kaboom" just to watch the beautiful aftermath. But a plethora of drivable vehicles make the game just as much fun. You can sprint across the entire game if you so choose, but to make things a little easier, "Bad Company" also allows you to commandeer as many vehicles as needed and to even repair them if you have the required tool. You'll be flying helicopters, driving jeeps, golf carts, tanks, boats, and typical wheeled vehicles as well. Anything that appears drivable in "Bad Company" probably is.

Even without all of the icing on the cake and as just a vanilla shooter, "Bad Company" would have worked decently. The sounds of battle are perfect and as you blast away with your primary weapon or take control of mounted machine guns and missile launchers, the feeling of empowerment that will more than likely wash over you (as it did me) is amazing. The beautiful orchestration of on-screen violence, the sounds of explosions, and the accompanying combat was astounding. The ragdoll physics are quite generous, and whether enemies are tossed through the air with by way of an explosion or just shot once in the head and brought down like a sack of potatoes, "Bad Company's" combat is 100% satisfying.

In terms of graphical prowess, “Battlefield: Bad Company” is one of the best looking games currently available for the 360. Not only are the character models highly detailed and realistically mo-captured, but each locale that they populate is vastly expansive and packed with small, minute touches that brings them to vibrant life. While buildings and houses tend to look painfully similar as the 10 hour campaign wears on, they are modeled accurately, and the damage models are absolutely perfect. I’m sure, though, that many gamers will complain about the lack of NPC model variation, but with the other visual details present (such as being able to destroy or knock down just about anything) these few visual flaws are easily forgivable.

Water effects are another plus and are some of the best looking since last year’s “BioShock.” Although the game really only has one look, which is distinctly gritty, I appreciated that look immensely. War is not pretty and it isn’t fun, and looking at the smudges on our four main character’s faces and noticing their dirt-laden fatigues lends credence to the game’s war-time setting. HDTV‘s are almost a must to get the most out of this game. Granted, the visuals still look good on a standard television, but at 720p or 1080p, every single one of the game’s details becomes magnificently recognizable; some of them more so as you progress. As harsh as the violence is (even without any blood or gore), I can’t say it has ever looked any more beautiful.

While the game is immensely fun to play thanks to its outstanding combat and beautiful graphics, there are still some minor quips I would like to get out of the way. For one, the enemy is crack shots. Even though there is something called an auto-injector which allows you to refill your health whenever you need to, being at full health and being reduced to less than half in a matter of seconds by one enemy really becomes tedious, especially during later missions when the game becomes increasingly more difficult. The controls can also be hard to get the hang of. Vehicles handle exceptionally well and are always responsive, but some of them, like a huge attack chopper, are so frustrating to even use that it becomes an exercise in futility. While the game is fairly easy and I died very few times, the controls were cause for a large portion of that.

With the exception of some unnecessarily difficult controls and repetitive NPC designs, this is one of the finest first-person shooters I’ve ever played. It could be because I’m such a war junkie, but “Bad Company’s” combat is so intense and so addicting that you probably won’t find yourself leaving the house until you’re through with this one. Then you’ll play it again. There are a fair amount of things to collect and unlock during the single-player campaign to keep you searching and, of course, coming back for more, too.

As with any “Battlefield” game, there is also a multiplayer component that, personally, I feel is this one’s weakest facet. One game mode and a ton of cheating players make for a totally unrewarding experience. Never mind that there is destructible cover and a huge, expansive environment to enjoy, its online mode is simply not as fun as it used to be. But Digital Illusions, a company that firmly focused on multiplayer for years, have crafted a single-player game with interesting, relatable, often-humorous characters, as well as an original story. With that said, there is much more fun to be had offline than online. Take that as you may, but this is unarguably one of the finest FPS’s of the year.

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A Perfect Piece of No Limit Product

Posted : 11 years, 11 months ago on 5 July 2008 02:15 (A review of I'm Bout It: From The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

If you were a rap fan just before the dawn of the new millennium, odds are you’ve heard a No Limit song or two.

Label owner and CEO, Master P, was, during the time of this soundtrack's release, riding high on the massive success of his anthemic "Make 'Em Say Ugh,” recouping from the impressive sales from his indie-released "Ice Cream Man" LP, and simply kicking his feet up to listen to the cash registers ring as countless copies of his newly released long-player "Ghetto D" flew off the shelves. As a little aside, P was an independent label head; the man had absolutely no one to answer to. He was running himself and all of his profits went into label funding and, of course, his own pocket.

Even with all of the crappy output that came from P and the rest of the label over the years, this certainly wasn't always the case. Albums like the aforementioned "Ice Cream Man" and "Ghetto D," along with a plethora of others, have firmly cemented No Limit’s legend in rap history. What separates these works from others in the label's large catalog is the quality control. These albums were actually well put-together hip hop records as opposed to a quick cash-in attempt in which to capitalize on that “star’s” recent five minutes of fame.

Even though a lot of folks don't give No Limit the credit they deserve for opening up the doors for southern rap artists, they did much more than that also. P showed it was possible to maintain your own label independently and do it successfully, and throughout the label’s many releases, they re-established the names of tons of artists, as well as resurrected the careers of some that had long since been forgotten.

With that said, B-Legit appears on this album over sharp synth whines on the superb "Come On," as does JT tha Bigga Figga on the funky "Game Tight." You should know from the jump that nothing "I'm Bout It" serves your way is going to revolutionize how you listen to rap music. From the nihilism long since trademarked by Brotha Lynch Hung on his feature "Situation on Dirty" to the touching-but-still-gangsta crossover appeal of "Ride 4U" with Mr. Jinks, this is playing it safe within No Limit's pre-established guidelines.

But "I'm Bout It" is so beautifully crafted and so self-aware that it is instantly likeable. While later No Limit works became forced, awkward caricatures of what the label once stood for, this is pure, unadulterated N'awlins funk like no one had ever heard at the time. With upbeat numbers like Prime Suspects' "Cops Runnin' After Ya," Steady Mobb’n’s meditative “If I Could Change” and the Pharrell-like crooning of Beats by the Pound producer Mo B. Dick on "That Thing Is On," this may be 100% No Limit product, but P seems to knows it. And for that very reason it can be enjoyed as nothing more than that. It corners nearly every urban musical market and nails them flawlessly.

It's no wonder, then, that "I'm Bout It" has withstood the test of time. Over 10 years old, it still sounds as fresh today as it did back in mid-1997. And thanks to this re-release (which strangely omits Mac’s excellent “Lock Down” from the track list); you can relive some of those fond memories of No Limit’s glory days without paying an arm and a leg to do so.

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Posted : 12 years ago on 27 May 2008 11:02 (A review of After Dark Horrorfest - Frontier(s))

Moments after my initial viewing of Xavier Gens’ Frontier(s), I noticed something quite peculiar; a few of my front teeth were missing. It was then that I assumed the film had kicked them out of my mouth during viewing.

Whoever says that hardcore horror is dead certainly hasn’t been keeping up with the recent crop of French genre pictures. Alexandre Aja’s High Tension, Julien Maury & Alexandre Bustillo’s Inside, and Gens’ Frontier(s) have all been tough, gritty films that hold nothing back and make sure the person (or persons) watching them will surely turn the player off affected. Unlike American horror, the types that either go for a mild PG-13 rating or think they’re more shocking than they really are (the entire run of Saw films), the French seem to know what they’re doing.

Gens was first introduced to American audiences with his 2007 action vehicle/videogame adaptation, Hitman, and there was some brief controversy surrounding that. Apparently, Fox wasn’t prepared for what Gens was going to do with Skip Woods’ script. In short, he turned what could have been atypical summer blockbuster formula into a dark, morbid character-driven film. Consequently, Fox ordered re-shoots and the movie’s release date was pushed back.

Perhaps that is most telling of exactly what kind of film Frontier(s) is. When a genre picture involves a bizarre family of neo-Nazis either feasting on their captured or using a carefully selected female to carry on the family lineage, you know the film in question aims to push some buttons. But not only is the bizarre content and tone of Gens’ morbid horror picture a total definition of what an NC-17 rating is (the movie received an NC-17 rating by the MPAA and, as far as I know, they said they would never be able to award it an R), it’s also packed with various grotesqueries, nonstop violence, and buckets of blood and gore.

That’s probably why a lot of horror fans will want to see this movie: because of the controversy surrounding its rating and its supposed level of gore. While Frontier(s) isn’t as graphic as a lot of old school Italian horror, it is certainly one of the most visually disgusting, as well as disturbing, horror pictures in recent memory (only rivaled by Maury & Bustillo’s previously mentioned Inside). Much blood is spilled and the various methods of torture and violence are beyond anything seen in popular American “torture-porn” such as Saw and Hostel. The tone of the film is very down-trodden and, because of that, helps to create a very bleak atmosphere, perhaps heightening the intense violence more so.

But there is method to Gens’ madness. The film has a large underlying subtext of racial equality and equal rights among both races and genders. It may play out like a lot of other revenge thrillers, but by tossing in some neo-Nazis and … gasp… a point that goes beyond senseless violence makes for a film that has more on its mind than blood & guts. The movie, as a whole, plays largely as a metaphor. At that, the violence is necessary no matter how ugly it gets.

I can’t say Frontier(s) is for everybody as those uninterested in this type of subgenre will be very tempted to write it off as nothing more than 108 minutes of “torture-porn.” But it really is so much more than that. Frontier(s) is a beautifully directed, shot, acted, written, and, at times, horrifically violent genre picture that is every bit as good as you’ve been hearing.

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Perhaps Here, Things Will Be Different

Posted : 12 years, 1 month ago on 30 April 2008 11:08 (A review of Grand Theft Auto IV)

The "Grand Theft Auto" videogame series has been one of the most celebrated, as well as one of the most politically scrutinized, game series' of all time. Its level of violence, sexual and public misconduct and, later, profanity raised the bar for what was acceptable in an "M"-rated videogame.

Rockstar Games (then known as DMA Design) first few entries in the franchise ("Grand Theft Auto" and "Grand Theft Auto 2," respectively) were only small precursors to what was to come for the quote-unquote "mafia sim" that spun off countless clones, imitators and millions of gamers who took to the series' anti-hero protagonists and the felonious acts of violence and degradation you could perform on innocent bystanders, police officers, and sex-starved prostitutes.

What many consider the best of the bunch, "Grand Theft Auto III," was released Fall of 2001 and received numerous accolades; something the previous incarnations of the series had yet have thrust upon them. The following year, "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," received similar treatment and was hailed as a welcome improvement over "III," but was cited by many as something of a glorified expansion set and not an entirely new experience. Nonetheless, the impressive "Vice City" received rave reviews and was soon followed up by the immensely ambitious "San Andreas" in 2004. To this day "San Andreas" has received one of the best overall scores of any free-roam action game to date.

This is where you enter Rockstar Games latest Mafioso masterpiece, "Grand Theft Auto IV." Delayed from Fall of 2007 to April 29th (yesterday) of this year, this was the game anyone who was anyone was waiting for. Although it hadn't received the ridiculously expensive ad campaign or the unabashedly shameless plugging of your everyday "Halo 3," Rockstar expected "GTA IV" to be the game that sold well during its midnight sales event, throughout its official day of release, and all year long as well. Yes, Rockstar certainly seemed proud of their violent, profane, sexually explicit little opus and, as everyone is well aware, that pride in their work is well warranted. But shouldn’t they be proud, you ask? That's not the question. There is but one question on every gamers head they are itching to ask - just how good is this game?

You play as Niko Bellic, a former citizen of undisclosed Eastern-European country that immigrates to Liberty City with the hopes of living the good life with his cousin, Roman. You see, Roman has told Niko of his life in Liberty City; the condo's, the parties, the women, the money, and the luxury. But moments after Niko steps foot off the boat that brought him to Liberty City and sees Roman's "mansion," (which turns out to be a cramped little apartment infested with cockroaches), Niko is no longer impressed with the false American Dream his cousin had been selling him. After setlling in a bit, discovering that his cousin is in some serious debt with a bunch of loan sharks, and helping him out with his troubles, Niko finds himself caught up (and possibly enamored) with the criminal lifestyle soon after.

First and foremost, Rockstar have completely redesigned the physical make-up of the game play to fit into the 21st century. Although “III” was released in 2001, which is the closest any of the recent games have gotten thus far to being “up-to-date,” there were few modern technologies. Hell, it could’ve been set in the '90s for all any of us knew. One thing (or several things, actually), “GTA IV” does is make sure that you know you are in modern society with a plethora of modern gadgetry at your disposal. Such as using your cell phone, for example. It’s not just a cell phone; it’s a very vital game play tool. You can dial a number manually (for cheating purposes) or, as small example of your phones uses, go right to your list of current contacts, select “Activities” and treat your friend to a meal, a show, or anything of that ilk, in order to gain "trust" from them and open up new avenues of game play.

Rockstar have managed to work this idea into the game incredibly well and you’ll find that throughout the game you’ll receive calls, have to answer the phone, and you’ll have a new set task to accomplish. On your way to complete the task for that person, someone else will phone you. Let’s say it’s your girlfriend. Now you have a choice, you can either help someone out of their jam or gain the “trust” of your companion which could help you later in the game. It really is very open decision-making. It makes for a ton of replay as the gamer may want to go back and replay a section just to try a different choice and see what the outcome is.

This also goes hand-in-hand with the ability to decide certain character’s fates. The first of these is when you chase an NPC through a construction zone and you must decide whether you want to save his life or kill him. Either way you finish this mission will result in a different set of information (or lack thereof), dialogue, and cinematics. No “GTA” has attempted this before and it makes the experience feel that much more involving.

The core game play, even on what is basically the 11th entry in the series, has not changed. You can still steal nearly any vehicle you wish, you can still kill the pedestrians… you don’t have to perform the missions at all if you don’t feel up to it. But new features have been implemented all the way around for what has been dubbed the franchises “fresh start.” You can do things such as hail cabs, call your own personal taxi once it has become enabled, among other things. There is even a feature implemented where you must now break the driver’s side window of certain cars to be able to enter them and then Niko must hot wire the vehicle before he can use it. Hell, Rockstar have also seen fit to include a cover system for this entry which is utilized by positioning yourself up against almost any object in Liberty City and pressing RB. You can either blind fire by simply pressing the Right Trigger or lock-on fire by holding the Left Trigger.

The game's title, “GTA IV”, is exactly as it sounds; a brand new start for the series. Where “III,” “Vice City,” and “San Andreas” were part of the same trilogy, this is an entirely new chapter in the “GTA” saga that fixes as much as it adds. For example, you no longer have to painstakingly evade the police once you gain a wanted level in hopes of getting rid of it. All you have to do now is be clear of their radius, lay low for a few seconds, and voila. The Pay ‘n’ Spray is still probably going to be your best friend by game's end, but you won’t find yourself using it half as much as other installments.

Even the added game play bonuses taken from the others in the series (such as maintaining a relationship with girlfriends, going out on dates and such) play second fiddle to all that has been improved, revamped and added in this installment. Game play-wise, “GTA IV” stands head and shoulders above all of its predecessors and competition. It will be quite some time before another free-roam game can do what this title has been able to accomplish.

Rockstar have even upgraded the AI for this entry. Yank a civilian out of his or her car and they just might pull you back out, wait for you to re-orient yourself, and try to wail on you. Police are just as fearless. Get a bunch of them on you at once and it’s curtains. The AI is simply unrelenting. It was also nice to see the AI relate just as well to the game world as they did to our protagonist, Niko Bellic. Pedestrians interact with each other constantly and one action from you can lead to a positive or negative reaction from another pedestrian. It’s astounding.

Visually speaking, “GTA IV” is no slouch either. Powered by the same graphics engine that gave life to Rockstar’s “Rockstar Presents Table Tennis,” this will undoubtedly remain one of the best looking Xbox 360 games of the year. Lighting is spectacular and the best facet of the engine, as are the wonderfully designed and skinned character models. In terms of its vast lighting and post processing capabilities, take a chopper through Liberty City at night and simply marvel. Structures are immense and there are very few "doubles," speaking in terms of Liberty City's many buildings and the abundant pedestrians. On the slight downside of things, and this isn't necessarily a harsh criticism on the game, I would have liked the developers to have allowed for the entering of more buildings, though.

That small nitpick aside, character models and their textures are simply amazing; eyes, mouths, hands, legs, and arms move incredibly realistically in cut scenes and, thanks to the RAGE engine, scarily lifelike during shootouts, out-of-cinematic conversations and as pedestrians simply walk down the street as well. I can’t say it enough; this is one of the best looking games I have ever played, from the fantastic looking water and sky effects to the brilliant lighting and bump-mapped-to-the-nth-degree character models. Those who bought a next-gen system craving a game that could produce visuals worthy of each system's respective price tag, you will not be disappointed. It looks that damn good.

Voice acting for “GTA IV” is as good as it’s ever been in the long-running series. These characters have tons of personality; no matter if they’re criminals or not, you’ll hate to see them go. Voiced with tons of flair and made very likeable for such a cold-hearted fellow, Niko is something of a man’s man and it is simply amazing that all someone has to do is go inside a recording studio and voice a videogame character for a couple of hours a day and the results can bring to life such a complex, likeable guy you know you should hate, but ultimately love and just might envy. The other characters are voiced just as solidly. Trust me, the guys performing the voiceovers here seemed to have had a hell of a lot of fun doing them.

Sound effects are great with the sounds of various weaponry being dead-on and the accompanying sounds of combat being just as good. The various radio stations have some great, varied music as well and it isn’t likely that with as many of them as there are that you’ll tire of them. There are more radio stations here than in any “GTA” thus far. The number of songs available can feel almost overwhelming.

“Grand Theft Auto IV” is simply an amazing game from start to finish. It will take you anywhere from 30 to 45 hours to complete (45 hours if you want to do absolutely everything) and if you were one of the few who didn’t pick it up the first day it was released and you are a “Grand Theft Auto” fan, then you’re probably not that a big a “GTA.” fan after all. This is the game to get for the 360 (as well as the PS3) and it is the “GTA” game to get as well. It’s bigger, better, badder, faster, and stronger. Trust me; it’s everything you could want and more. Actually, why the hell am I writing this review? Everyone’s probably playing it right now.

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The King of Third-Person Stealth Action

Posted : 12 years, 1 month ago on 12 April 2008 01:41 (A review of Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell: Double Agent)

The “stealth genre” hasn’t always been one favored by yours truly. I've generally kept my feelings neutral concerning these more tact-oriented titles as my taste in playable entertainment yearns for that of a faster-paced experience as opposed to the slow, methodical approach of games like "Hitman," its kin, and a personal favorite of mine, the "Thief" series. But the stealth/action genre is one that I've grown appreciative of as a whole as I, too, have grown and matured.

The genre isn't for everybody though as I’m sure nearly every gamer who has tried one of these bad boys is well aware. For most of us it’s probably much easier to pick up the controller, throw in a game, and run full-throttle into a gun battle rather than think things through logically and react to the situation accordingly. Gunfights are a great stress reliever in videogames if done correctly and I'm probably the first gamer in line to tell you that, but the stealth genre NEEDS to exist. And as night-and-day different as the action and stealth genres are, in this case, I can't say that paltry comparison between the two is even something worth considering.

Granted, “Splinter Cell: Double Agent” may be just as slow-paced as any of the other games mentioned above with equal emphasis on brains over brawn, but that is vastly refreshing in a day and age where action games outsell brainy thinkers by much more than mere pennies. Moreover, this series’ (“Splinter Cell’s”) overt success probably has something to do with its unique approach to stealth game play. Where “Thief,” for example, was very upfront with its sneak-n-evade mechanics and allowed for only the very basics some 10 odd years ago, “Splinter Cell” and its sequels (particularly this one) places you right in the middle of an interactive spy film; the very form of filmic media this superb series has been culling its unique game play attributes from since its inception. Being able to greatly interact with a fantastic looking environment in so many unique ways similar to that classy genre of cinema is particularly why “Splinter Cell: Double Agent” is such a beautifully constructed stealth game and is also why it is so much fun to play.

UbiSoft Montreal has gone to great lengths to make sure that this experience is one that won’t be forgotten any time soon. Where other stealth games may have only allowed you to stay within strict "sneaker" guidelines (i.e. not being seen, picking enemies off from a distance/close-up silently if you so choose, maybe eliminating light sources etc…), “Double Agent” is such an incredibly involving experience because the creators have decided to throw in nearly every physical technique that has been achieved in many of the high grossing spy features of today and yesteryear. Forget that "Double Agent" is decidedly linear; you’ll be having too much fun pulling baddies through ice & breaking their necks or rappelling down huge sky scrapers to even notice. The cinematic flair, panache and interactivity of the "Bond/Bourne" films gets what I’m going to call the “Splinter Cell makeover.” "Double Agent" allows for rappelling, carving then entering through windows, optic-wiring under doors, sky diving, and all sorts of other immersive aspects of game play. "Double Agent" takes the most memorable scenes of nearly every spy film ever conceived and multiplies it on the “cool” scale by about 50.

Not only is Sam Fisher’s latest interactive journey a hell of a lot of fun, it’s also awesomely cinematic. Introduced in this game to tie in with the double agent concept in its title is a storyline that places Fisher in cahoots with a terrorist outfit (John Brown’s Army) while also having to keep his allegiances with the NSA. You complete tasks during each mission in any order you like. Each objective given to Fisher is optional as well. How you play the game (such as who is killed, what objectives you perform for what outfit, etc…), though optional, will result in increased trust if completed, or a loss in trust if not completed. Completing these tasks will ultimately determine the ending of the game. There are even a handful of scripted sequences in-game where you must decide if a prisoner lives or dies at your hands. Kill them and you gain trust from John Brown’s Army (from here on out referred to as JBA) or, if you don’t, from the NSA. It’s a wonderfully implemented game play mechanic and is spectacularly immersive.

Even if it were a cut-and-dried stealth game, much like the prior three were, the game would have worked beautifully. The AI can be so cunning and so intelligent that it makes “Double Agent’s” otherwise easy difficulty seem much more difficult. Although it isn’t the hardest stealth game I’ve ever encountered, the AI is programmed beautifully and there was nary an intelligence glitch (such as being seen or shot through a wall) to be found. Pathfinding wasn't a problem for the various NPCs either and it made the entire experience all the more believable. Even without the above mentioned physical manuevers factored in, the whole experience would have been just as rewarding. Hell, I would have been just as pleased with the final results even if “Double Agent” was only a mere carbon copy, game play-wise, of its hugely successful predecessors. Like the old saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ But the entire experience is totally fresh, brand new, and 100% involving.

Graphically, there were few games of the time that could touch “Double Agent.” Released at the tail-end of 2006 just in time for the holiday season and running on a highly modified Unreal 2 Engine (although officially nicknamed Unreal Engine 2.5 for “Double Agent”) it looks surprisingly better than the many Unreal 3 Engine releases that we’ve been seeing as of late. Character models, as usual with any iteration of an Unreal-powered graphics engine, are its most impressive facet, and everyone from Sam Fisher to the JBA’s Moss and Emile looks spectacular. Lighting and shading effects are spectacularly next-gen and top-of-the-line as well. Level design is also intuitive and sharp; probably the best of any “Splinter Cell” game thus far. The missions set in areas with ice and snow effects are, hands down, the best constructed by far. It’s a testament to the design team that a game released nearly a year and a half ago, running on dated technology, can look as good as it does and still manage to beat out most of the competition.

Having Michael Ironside voice the main character in your videogame really forces you to step up the quality of your product and UbiSoft have certainly done so here. The all-around voice talent is surprisingly solid if not near 100% for this go ‘round. The supporters are held up by a firm foundation from Ironside and the remaining members of the cast give stupendous performances also. Sound effects are sparse but effective when put to use. The lack of music is something I felt enhanced the game play, as well as the mood, and I was more than glad to have a lack of music in sections where it may have distracted otherwise. The areas where the sound design truly counts, such as voiceacting and sound effects, are quality and, really, you couldn’t ask for much more than that.

“Double Agent” is probably one of the few stealth games I would put in my all-time top ten games without hesitation. Not because there’s anything wrong with the stealth genre, mind you, but only because games of that ilk tend not to hold my interest for very long. I was never a big “Splinter Cell” fan before this game, but then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Or maybe it was just this game, I’m not sure. The interactivity on display here, the visuals, the voiceacting, the “double agent” game play, the smart AI; it all forms one hell of a game. It’s certainly the best stealth/shooter I’ve ever played as well as the best “Splinter Cell” game thus far. It’s not for everybody and if you’re not into slower-paced games where it is a MUST to take it slow, you definitely won’t enjoy this. But for fans of any of Sam Fisher’s past adventures, pick this up immediately. Take it from me, its well worth the dough.

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Posted : 12 years, 2 months ago on 30 March 2008 04:05 (A review of Hour Of Victory)

I can't say I've come across too many games that I felt really had no reason to exist. It should go without saying at this point that the World War II FPS well has run dry and, thanks to "Call of Duty" and its sequels, the last bits of innovation that could be squeezed out of that dying genre probably already have been.

Enter "Hour of Victory," a game developed by N-fusion Interactive that tries to pick up where "Call of Duty's" last World War II effort left off. The only problem is "Hour of Victory" is a barbaric, simplistic, horribly broken game that barely gets itself up and running half the time and its other half is so laden with glitches and bugs that it makes its mediocre game play stand out that much more. That's not to say "Hour..." is a deplorable game. Trust me, I've played worse. But N-fusion - if this game is any indication of their work - seem vastly incapable of creating both a cohesive narrative in a game that fervently begs for one as well as fresh, innovative game play in a worn subgenre that has spent all of its creative energy.

But, again, that is not to say that "Hour of Victory" is a bad game; just a very inept one. First and foremost, combat feels clumsy and unintuitive. There's a nice physics system being put to good use - especially on the opposing forces whenever you take one down - but it's utterly ridiculous that one smack with the butt of your rifle will instantly kill them while five well-placed shots from whichever gun you're using will do absolutely nothing.

There's also the issue of automatically melee-ing your foe when you are within a certain distance. An innovative feature, yes, but it can present one of two problems. The first being that you are firing one moment, then get closer to the enemy for a more accurate shot but, oops, you melee instead. Not to mention there could be barrels (or something) obstructing half your path. With the clunky programming "Hour of Victory" suffers from, something of an imaginary wall also acts as a block for your rifle butting (another problem) so you probably end up dead by way of your foe's bullets because, what the hell, HE doesn't seem to have this pseudo-wall blocking him. The second problem with the auto-melee is similar to the first; just replace the invisible wall with wonky hit detection - meaning you actually hit the enemy 1/4 of the time - and a hail of gunfire coming your way.

You can tell "Hour of Victory" really tries it's hardest to be innovative. Apart from the vehicle segments and "Call of Duty"-ish combat sequences, there's the ability to choose from three different characters, respectively, before the start of nearly each mission. Each of them has differing skills. For example, Ross, the Commando, is built for full-on assault and can withstand the most damage whereas Taggert, the Covert Op assassin is good at picking locks and eliminating enemies silently but can soak up very little damage. The only problem with this is the Commando is the only character you'll probably ever willingly use unless forced to do otherwise. So the opportunity may arise with other characters to be able to climb ropes and reach sniping positions (Bull) or pick locks (the aforementioned Taggert) but it matters so little in the end - and has such little effect on game play - that it's utterly useless. And besides, the game throws so many enemies at you, and so many RESPAWNING enemies, that you're GOING to pick Ross no matter what your playing style is. If the last sentence is any indication that's how the developers seemingly wanted you to play anyhow.

Even with the game using the Unreal 3 Engine as it does, I can't say I've ever seen the technology look any more mediocre. Textures look like brown and grey smudges and most are unfathomably low-res. Lighting effects are damn near non-existent (and here I thought I was playing a game from 2007), characters faces look hideous; the only decent thing about this iteration of the engine are some of the locales (the Alps, for example) that, for some odd reason, look better in screenshots than they do in-game. The snow looks realistic and some of the character models are detailed well enough but those are about the highest two compliments I can pay this game graphically.

Considering how mediocre this game is, I was completely shocked to find that the sound design wasn’t utter shit. Music is orchestrated and similar to that of the "Call of Duty" and "Medal of Honor" franchises (you were expecting different?); but if you're going to steal you might as well steal from the best, correct? The music is actually pretty impressive if not for a complete lack of distinction between tracks and their general make-up being culled from better WWII shooters. Voiceacting is shoddy at best, though weapons sound satisfying, as do the various sounds of combat. Again, the game doesn't sound terrible, just incredibly average.

Considering you can find this game in most stores for $19.99, you shouldn't expect much from it. Most 360 Platinum Hits titles are $29.99 and this, released last year, will take as much out of your pocket as an old BudgetSoft PC game. With that said, expecting anything above last-gen AI is simply out of the question, but I will say one kind thing about the enemies’ "intelligence," they find cover well. Other than that, it's a crapshoot. Considering Hitler's real-life cunning, as well as that of his troops, you'd figure these Axis soldiers would put up more of a fight. Not here. Some tend to run aimlessly in circles, others stand in one spot without firing, sometimes they have absolutely amazing accuracy WHEN firing (surprise, surprise), sometimes they aim right at you from behind cover for what seems like hours without spending a single round... the list goes on and on. "Hour of Victory" possesses what could be some of the worst 360 AI I've ever encountered.

You'd think by the tone of this review that I hated "Hour of Victory." In truth, I really didn't. Considering I paid a measly $20 for it and it did give me a few hours of cheap entertainment, I can't really complain. As they say, you get what you pay for, and at $20, you certainly are getting what you pay for here. Looking past the overdone-to-the-point-of-nausea game play for a second, "Hour of Victory" is also loaded with bugs and glitches. In sections where you commandeer a tank, you often get stuck on the sides of objects, or you will find yourself clipping through the ground, or possibly even getting flung halfway across the map for no reason. But what's worse? "Hour..." tries it's hardest to be like the better "Medal of Honor" games and, of course, "Call of Duty 1-3." It can't muster it, though. "Hour of Victory" is spectacularly average at best, nearly unplayable at worst. Take it from me though, as middle-of-the-road as that sounds, don't waste good money on it.

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