Monthly Archives: November 2012

Matt Watches Bad Movies: Twilight: New Moon

Posted by Matthew on November 25, 2012
Movies / 1 Comment

Twilight: New Moon

Masochism. That’s the only thing I can think of. The only reason I can fathom that made me decide to start out this series of articles by watching the Twlight “saga”.

I put saga in quotes because put simply Twilight isn’t dramatic enough to be a saga. Honestly, in most sagas things actually happen. So far very little has happened in these stories.

New Moon starts out pretty much right where Twilight left off. Sad Depressed Girl and Sparkly Vampire are now an item. Madly in something that they tell each other is love but is actually Sad Depressed Girl latching on to Sparkly Vampire for something to define herself with because she doesn’t have any self worth or a personality of her own, and Sparkly Vampire Keeping a pet around to remind himself of what it used to be like to have a pulse. Not so much love as codependence. Which, I suppose, is at least something for each of them.

Interestingly, Sad Depressed girl has some skin tone now. She didn’t get a tan in the fucking desert, but she doesn’t look quite so dead anymore. Unless you count her eyes which manage to convey roughly nothing for the duration of the film.

It’s Sad Depressed Girls birthday and she’s freaking out because she’s 18, which makes her older than her 100 year old boyfriend. I don’t really get why this isn’t a red flag for Sparkly Vampire. Why isn’t he looking at this girl and thinking to himself “holy shit this one’s a bit nuts.”? Usually the ones who want everything to remain perfect like the first time they met turn out to be serial killers or people who talk at the cinema or someone else destined for a special place in hell.

Anyway, everyone gives her gifts even though she doesn’t want them. She’s at Sparkly Vampires family’s house and gets a paper cut and everyone except for Sparkly Dad goes fucking apeshit. One of them tries to eat her, fucking finally, but everyone else holds him back.

With this turn of events Sparkly Vampire decides that he can’t protect Sad Depressed Girl, breaks up with her, and leaves town. Thus concludes the first five minutes of the movie =, and anything else that can reasonably be called “interesting stuff happening”.

No, seriously, the next hour and forty five minutes are basically all Sad Depressed Girl being even more sad and depressed than usual. She sits in a chair for months, then one day figures out she will hallucinate about Sparkly Vampire if she doesn’t do stupid shit, and starts doing stupid shit to have more hallucinations. It’s a good thing she keeps this to herself too because she’d probably be committed to a psych ward if she told anyone.

So months pass and despite presumably still going to school she manages to not talk to any of her other friends except Buffy the Werewolf, who doesn’t go to her school. How? When I was in high school we had to be there all day! Then again in the last movie classes were only 5 minutes long so maybe she has more free time and less contact with other students than I did when I was in high school.

Anyway, she constantly hangs out with Buffy the Werewolf and he falls truly madly deeply in love with her for, you know, reasons. I’d tell you what those reasons are, but that would require the movie telling me what they are. Which it doesn’t. In fact, it’s not really clear why anyone does anything in these films.

She doesn’t want that, I guess because she longs for the cold dead touch of one monster rather than the warm fuzzy touch of a werewolf. Or maybe she just doesn’t like wet dog smell.

Eventually Sad Depressed Girl jumps off a goddamned cliff so she can have a hallucination, she’s saved by Buffy, and then Baby Sister Good Vampire shows up because she can tell the future, or something, and thinks Sad Depressed Girl is dead. Which makes no sense, because later in the film she can basically see everything that Sparkly Vampire is doing as he does it, but she misses the bit where the werewolf saves someone she “already thinks of as a sister’.

You know, I’ll admit it’s kind of a cool idea to give the vampires their own superpowers to go with their endless thirst for blood, but so far it seems like none of the ones we know about consistently work. Or at least, only work when is convenient to the plot.

Oh, right. I almost forgot how fucking lazy this story is.

Anyway, now Sparkly Vampire thinks his pet is dead and decides to kill himself which he can apparently only do by committing suicide by cop. The Vampire Police Department live in Italy and are run by Police Chief Michael Sheen, which is a good thing because he plays creepy and weird so well.

Sad Depressed Girl stops Sparkly Vampire, they all go to Vampire Police HQ and they say “Sad Girl must die because she knows about Vampires.” And then Future Telling Sparkly Baby Sister says “no it’s all good she’ll be a vampire one day, maybe” and with that the Vampire Police say “oh, ok, we’re cool then. See you later, we have some tourists to eat.” And that’s it. For being a group so old and powerful and dangerous they don’t really seem to be any of those things.

We get one more stand off between Buffy and Sparkly and then Sparkly says “Marry Me” and it cuts to black.

Now, given how many words I’ve written it might seem like a lot has happened in this movie but it really hasn’t. It’s over two hours long and I’ve given you a pretty detailed summary of the first five minutes, the last ten minutes, and just a smattering of things in between. For around an hour and forty minutes nothing happens other than a sad girl being depressed because her undead boyfriend isn’t around to define her self worth.

And this is probably my biggest problem with the movies so far. The main character isn’t a character, she’s a blank slate. She has no personality of her own. She doesn’t even have the balls to move on with her life after Sparkly breaks up with her. She doesn’t even try. And then, after he’s treated her like shit, she still flies around the world (without even telling her father or anyone) to save his life. What the fuck people! She’s decided she wants to be a vampire in this movie too, she literally decides to give up her fucking life, and when she does she doesn’t get to do it on her own, she has the rest of the vampires vote on it for her!

When I watched Twilight I made more fun of it than I did this time because while that movie was ridiculous but it was easier to get past. This movie has just made me angry. Angry because this “saga” isn’t a story of love, it’s a story of co-dependance, of a broken person who makes no effort to have a life of her own and a dead guy, and the message they are putting forth to all the young girls watching is “you’re not good enough on your own”, and that’s fucking terrible.

Rating: 0/10

Matt Watches Bad Movies is a weekly feature in which Matt watches a bad film so you don’t have to. If you have suggestions of something terrible you’ve seen, or haven’t seen but are morbidly curious about, feel free to make suggestions in the comments or via twitter @posterboy81

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Matt Watches Bad Movies: Twilight

Posted by Matthew on November 18, 2012
Movies / 3 Comments

Twilight Poster

I’d like to start out by saying that I fully understand that this movie was not aimed at me, and that it is aimed at young girls. I fully get that this is the kind of thing that that audience goes for, just when their proto-emotions are kicking in and they’re starting to have crushes and think boys (or other girls, since it’s 2012) are dreamy and whatnot that this story is exactly how they think they feel.

That’s still no excuse for it being such a shitty movie.

I honestly don’t even know where to start. You all know the plot by now, assuming you’ve been within 100 feet of a teenaged girl within the last 5 years you must do. Sad depressed girl moves from the desert to the Pacific Northwest because of a skin condition she has that prevents her from getting a tan despite living in the desert. Sad depressed girl meets a sparkly vampire. Sad depressed girl decides she’ll give up everything for the sparkly vampire, up to and including her mortal life.

And another vampire wants to eat her, and a really lame fight happens. That’s pretty much all you need to know. It’s certainly all I remember. No, seriously, I literally just watched this movie and that’s about all I can remember other than “Hey, is that Anna Kendrick?” which wasn’t so much in the movie as it was something I said when I saw Anna Kendrick in the movie.

Not only is this a terrible story because it’s a terrible story, it’s a terrible story because kids have seen this movie and probably hope to feel what Sad depressed girl feels for Edward. A feeling that’s not so much reciprocated as Sparkly Vampire spends most of his time brooding about how much he wants to eat her. This is a terrible thing because Sad depressed girl clearly has some self confidence and emotional issues she’s not dealing with.

Let’s get this straight, this movie didn’t convince me that Sad depressed girl was in love with Sparkly Vampire, it convinced me that Sad depressed girl doesn’t value herself. She doesn’t even drive her own (admittedly awesome) old truck when he’s around! What the hell is going on!?

Or wait, maybe that’s just Kristen Stewart trying to act. She has the emotional range of a plank of wood. I’m pretty sure the only emotions she managed to convey were “holy shit a vampire” and “meh” and one of those isn’t even an emotion. Which I suppose must take some skill, actually.

I don’t know what’s up with Robert Pattinson in this film either. I know he can act, I’ve seen him do it in other movies. He isn’t always great, but at least he takes chances and can, you know, emote. In this there’s very little of that (except in comparison to Kristin Stewart), there’s just a lot of what I think is meant to be restraint. That’s what he keeps telling me it is, because Sad depressed girl is so tasty smelling he has to hold himself back like all the time. Except in the second and third act where they become really close and start going steady and spending all their time together, then it’s totally fine. He even smiles once or twice.

Also there’s a lot of little stuff in this movie that doesn’t make sense. Case in point, the first time Sad depressed girl gets near Sparkly Vampire is in biology class. She shows up, is welcomed by the teacher, handed books and lab gear, sits down, shares an awkward moment with Sparkly Vampire, and then the bell rings. What I’m left wondering is if she showed up for class an hour late or if funding for public education in Washington State is so bad that classes only last 3-5 minutes?

Also also, this is the weirdest version of vampires I think I’ve ever seen. They’re all daywalkers, they don’t have fangs, they sparkle in the sunlight, it doesn’t seem like anything short of having their head ripped off will actually hurt them, and they each get a superpower in addition to all the running, jumping and climbing trees they can do. Sparkly Vampire can read minds. Baby Sister Sparkly Vampire can tell the future. No wonder Sad Depressed Girl wants to be turned at the end, what if her power is something awesome like flight or mind control or losing control and turning into a giant green monster that can at least articulate one emotion?

So in conclusion, it’s poorly written and poorly acted. But wait, there’s more! It’s poorly shot and directed too! It’s crazy melodramatic already, but everything is shot to be as slick as possible in that way where the crew doesn’t seem to understand what slick is. When the bad vampires show up in their first scene they walk out of the mist but they are shot to look like they are floating. Or skating? It’s not really clear. It also looks like a shot out of a low budget TV movie, and the film is rife with crap like this. Low shots, high shots, lots of crazy jump cuts. It’s hard enough to watch because of the story and acting, why’d they have to go and make it visually frustrating as well?

Lastly, and this is more of a personal note, but Washington State is just down the street from where I live and you know what? Contrary to popular belief it isn’t overcast and rainy 100% of the time like it is in this movie. I mean, it rains a lot, but it’s not all the time. Hell, we had a sunny day just last week!

So, in closing, Twilight is a fucking awful movie and you really shouldn’t watch it. Or let anyone you know watch it. Or even talk about it ever again.

Rating: 1/10

Matt Watches Bad Movies is a weekly feature in which Matt watches a bad film so you don’t have to. If you have suggestions of something terrible you’ve seen, or haven’t seen but are morbidly curious about, feel free to make suggestions in the comments or via twitter @posterboy81

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Episode Thirty Eight: Cloud Atlas, Halo 4 and Skyfall

Posted by Matthew on November 17, 2012
Podcast / Comments Off on Episode Thirty Eight: Cloud Atlas, Halo 4 and Skyfall

We’re back with another episode. We take on one of the most ambitious films going, Cloud Atlas, the start of another cycle of Microsoft taking our money, Halo 4, and quite possibly the best Bond film to date, Skyfall.

Subscribe to Awesome Friday in iTunes

Like what you hear? Don’t like what you hear? Tell us! email at comments at awesomefriday.ca, leave comments on this episodes page, and you can also follow us on twitter: @ManBitesWonders is Simon and @posterboy81 is Matt

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Skyfall – Our Two Reviews

Posted by Simon on November 14, 2012
Movies, Reviews / 1 Comment

Skyfall

We both saw Skyfall this weekend and felt compelled to write individual reviews. We each have a lot more to say about this film so look for the next episode of the podcast for more in depth (and spoilery) discussion. For now, here are both of our reviews in their entirety.

Premium Bond: Simon’s Review

You’ve got to feel a little sorry for Timothy Dalton.

1987’s The Living Daylights and 1989’s Licence To Kill saw him take over as iconic agent James Bond, rescuing the series from the latter campy efforts headed by Roger Moore. Dalton’s Bond was clearly a shift back towards the original spy of Fleming’s books, with serious realism creeping in and Dalton’s scowl replacing Moore’s insinuative eyebrow. They made money, for sure, but the latter was especially lambasted for being too serious in tone, too distant from the series’ preference for lightweight gadget fodder. The lengthy legal battle between MGM and Eon effectively killed his planned third outing, and the Bond reigns finally fell into the eager hands of Pierce Brosnan. I remember very clearly watching Dalton’s Bonds and really enjoying how the series’ new tone matched my own growing maturity. For that reason, he’s my favourite Bond. At least, he was – until Skyfall.

The first thing to note is that the story in Skyfall is actually compelling, interesting and twisty instead of being a mere backdrop for invisible cars and Playboy-level nuclear physicists. In a nutshell, a breathless pre-credits train-top chase leads Bond in pursuit of a lunatic villain – a character Javier Bardam savours so much in his portrayal – while using near-death as a catalyst for self-examination. All the main characters have skeletons in their cupboards, some more psychopathic than others. The aging cast is this time used front and centre as a reminder to us all that our bodies don’t always follow the vigor of the mind, and that sadness only turns into bitterness if stretched over decades. The chase unfolds in Istanbul, Macau and good old Blighty, the latter not filmed this beautifully in a long time.

Daniel Craig’s Bond resonated from the off in Casino Royale, finding an audience for his mix of seriousness and broken humanity. Craig lets us in on the journey from one point to the next, until we finally see that the assumed Bond “character” is as much a weapon as his fists or guns. It’s a clever, intelligent portrayal that’s subtle enough to not drift into melancholy. Craig’s casting was initially a hard sell, but it has proven to be a fine decision.

Skyfall sees Bond at his most resourceful and competent. The unfortunate side of both Casino Royale and the far weaker Quantum of Solace was that, as partial reboots, they really wanted to show you how Bond became this remorseless killer, a murderer for money. It took time for the character to settle into its rhythms, not helped by Quantum’s uninteresting story, but Skyfall doesn’t inherit any of these drawbacks. Here, Craig shows us Bond as a true agent, fielding ingenuity against bullets, never giving up even when the odds are stacked against him.

The other cast members are also steller. Judi Dench owns M more than ever, the extremely watchable Ralph Fiennes has great presence and even Ben Whishaw, as a new Q straight out of college, holds his own. The only downside is that the whole “Bond girl” aspect has been extremely downplayed. There’s a nice development involving Naomie Harris, but poor Bérénice Marlohe barely gets any time to shine. Flouting the girls around as Bond’s sexual conquests was certainly old-fashioned, but it did add a certain element to the Bond formula.

What a formula, though, and it’s crystal clear that director Sam Mendes absolutely understands it. From the thrilling car chase through Istanbul, a couple of stunning long takes (for both talking and fighting), through to a precisely staged finale in Scotland, every shot glows with style and confidence. There’s undeniable evidence that his experience with actors has brought out some career bests, especially the way Bardam exquisitely times the speech pattern of his bitter antagonist. Mendes also gives us time to wind down between set pieces. So many films get this wrong and hurtle along without any idea of calm before the storm. The script, too, has just the right mix of flavourful language with enough fan references to keep Bond purists happy for the next year.

It all builds to an amazing cresendo and positions itself as a solid base for the Bond films to come, even staging a final daring mini-reboot in many ways. It all seems so assured, so confident and rewarding; it’s hard to feel anything other than tingling anticipatory excitement when the closing credits gleefully announce JAMES BOND WILL RETURN. Just like it used to be, as it should be.

In Skyfall, we have the best Bond in years and a thrilling continuation of Craig’s interpretation. Actually, it’s not just one of the best Bond movies, it’s one of the best action dramas for a long time, with a main character that shows us how the reality of life should never have to keep us down for long. Timothy Dalton, my second favorite Bond, will be duly satisfied.

Bonding Experience: Matt’s Review

I am going to get this out of the way right now: Skyfall is a great film. Not just a great bond film, but a great film. It’s full of thrilling chases, great fights, and above all a solid story and superb cast to tell it.

Skyfall starts out like any great Bond film should, with a thrilling chase through a beautiful city using a multitude of vehicles. This, as with latter chases and action sequences are shot beautifully. The pacing is spot on, the camera works is amazing (thank the good sweet lord for the lack of Bourne style shakey cam) and the tension feels real. This is edge of your seat stuff! This leads into the classic Bond opening, and Adele’s “Skyfall” is a gorgeous song.

This opening sets up the basic plot of a list that shouldn’t exist falling into the wrong hands. You’ve seen this in the trailers, James Bond is back and he’s slightly worse for wear. It’s not often that Bond has been portrayed with a weakness but this weakness and vulnerability allows the character to grow in ways that The World Is Not Enough failed to really explore.

Many were unsure of Daniel Craig as Bond when he was first cast. Blond haired and blue eyed he didn’t fit the physical profile, and in both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace his Bond was a harder man. None of the gaget tomfoolery or the casual feel that none of the previous actors except Timothy Dalton had brought to the part. He had his quips, but most of them were played with a cold and cynical attitude. This certainly wasn’t your father’s James Bond. While I loved those movies, yes even Quantum of Solace, I sometimes felt that the films and Craig had gone too far in this direction. I’m happy to report that Skyfall has found the balance between old school casual Bond and new school gritty, real, cynical Bond, and that that is a wonderful thing.

Judi Dench is back as M and she is delightful as the tough as nails head of MI6. If she wasn’t before, She’s certainly my favourite Bond girl now. Her portrayal is skilled and nuanced and the character is more in the forefront as the bad guy, played brillianty by Javier Bardem, is out not just to get Bond but M as well. You’ve seen tidbits of Javier Bardem’s first scene in the trailer and while I don’t want to spoil anything suffice to say that the only thing that I might like better than him as Silva fighting Bond would be Anton Chigurth fighting Bond.

Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw join the cast as a government official and Q respectively. Both are extremely capable actors and more than hold their own. Fiennes is basically always good, and I’m continually impressed with Ben Whishaw’s ability to throw himself into a part.

Where the film might be lacking is Bond girls. You might think the concept outdated or even sexist but it’s still an important part of the now 50 year old formula. That’s not to say that there aren’t Bond girls, just that neither Naomi Harris nor Bérénice Marlohe get as much develpment as they could, Marlohe especially. Harris does have a subplot unto her own, and her young fresh-into-the-but-unsure-if-she’s=ready-for=the-field agent plays well againts Craig’s unsure-if-he’s-still-good-enough-for-the-field Bond.

For those of you who felt that Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace left too much of the Bond formula out, suffice to say or points are back. As with Craig’s Bond finding the balance between old school and new, the film itself works all of these elements with the same even handedness. Q is back yes, but there’s no car that turns into a submarine or scene where Q delivers a gadget that would only really be useful in a specfic situation he couldn’t possibly predict (which Bond inevitably ends up in).

And that;s what makes the film great. Balance. A balance of ideas from the old school of Bond with the new school of Bond storytelling rooted in a world that’s more grounded in reality. Sam Mendes has done a brilliant job bringing this world to the screen and making sure that Craig, Dench and Bardem all play their characters with complexity and layers, never straying too far into anger, sadness or mania as they each deal with their pasts. He also proves himself one of the best action directors currently working today, a slightly strange thought when you consider this is the guy who usually brings us more thoughtful character pieces like American Beauty, Jarhead and Away We Go. The script is brilliant, providing just enough fan service to put a smile on your face but not so much that it falls into the trap of camp so many other Bond films have.

Skyfall is really the third part of a loose trilogy. It starts witht he cocky new agent in Casino Royale who ends up letting his guard down and getting betrayed, continues with him reeling and recovering from this betrayal and heartbreak in Quantum of Solace, and finally coming into his own by the end of Skyfall. I won’t spoil the end, but what I will say is that Skyfall brings Bond full circle and provides a solid foundation upon which the franchise can move forward will a fully formed Bond in a fully formed world. As the credits roll the statement “JAMES BOND WILL RETURN” is on screen as it always used to be, and I couldn’t be more excited for when he does.

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Reflections On The Past: From Driver to San Francisco

Posted by Simon on November 12, 2012
Editorial / Comments Off on Reflections On The Past: From Driver to San Francisco

John Tanner – the driver of Driver – has had a tough journey, but it wasn’t really his fault. You can lay the blame at the feet of Rockstar, or at least at the metaphorical feet of their ambition, as their success in opening up video game worlds became the forced design aspirations for many a dev team. Reflections – one such team – fell into this trap and managed to turn an epic franchise into a despised mess.

The first game, released on the PS1 in 1999, was all flashing sirens, screeching tyres and alleyways stuffed with cardboard boxes. Featuring an ex-racecar driver as a cop so deep undercover that even his NYPD colleagues wanted to trash him, it was a wild taste of how cases would be solved if Starsky & Hutch was the official training reference.

The key element was the handling. Each car that Tanner threw around the game’s cities had a throaty backend with just a bare understanding of grip. What felt uncontrollable at first soon slid into place, and the feeling of taking corners sideways with raging police cars speeding up behind you was a sheer visceral thrill. To make things even more filmic, your every move could be viewed and manipulated visually within a replay mode that placed you as a film director of a 70s car chase movie. Imagine Bullitt: The Game, and you wouldn’t be far wrong.

So: a great game with a sturdy engine and critical appreciation to match the sales. What could possibly go wrong?

Reflections decided to open the car door and gave Tanner legs. Letting him escape his vehicle for the sequel was a bold move that didn’t entirely succeed. It preceded the singularity point of GTA 3 by a whole year but, while the ambition was commendable, the poor old PS1 just couldn’t take it. My main memory of Driver 2 is not about the tight freedom of driving, but of getting out of the car and trying to wrestle Tanner across the street as the frame rate dipped to flickbook levels. And his staggering amble couldn’t be ignored, with missions being written to incorporate the protagonist’s new trick. It sucked out the fun of what could – should – have been a generation classic.

Then the world gasped as the PS2 smashed what was thought possible, Rockstar showed us the shining grime of Liberty City, and Driver lost its relevancy. The pre-release hype machine whirred into place as Driv3r was announced and only increased in volume as it neared release. A few previews were positive, casting more hope onto Tanner’s comeback. Building to a massive buzz, Driv3r was finally released in 2004, and it was truly awful. Unbelievably buggy, ridiculously clunky and seriously outdated, it was crystal clear that it had been sent out before it was anywhere near finished. Of course, in these days of day-one patches, that’s becoming more normal (see the recent Medal Of Honor Warfighter – or even better, don’t) but the PS2 didn’t share this luxury.

The game quickly became a joke as word spread through gaming circles. It even got to the point where the few magazines that had published glowing reviews fell into scandal with accusations of under table payments, and it was hard to argue against them. Driv3r, for whatever reason, had just turned out to be a terrible game, made more disappointing by the marketing promises thrown around in pre-release.

The series hid after that, occasionally showing its face as a PSP title (Driver 1978) and a weak console offshoot (Parallel Lines), neither of which even trying to pretend that the crown of the PS1 original could be reclaimed. Many people – myself included – occasionally dreamed about how a modern version might look and feel, but it was always accepted that daydreams would remain just that.

So, when Ubisoft (who had bought Reflections) announced that Driver was having a full-blown Tanner-led sequel on modern consoles, the reaction was a pretty even split between glee and trepidation. After all, the effect of Driv3r never really disappeared and it was easy to imagine that the GTA legacy would surely dictate another on-foot disaster. However, it wasn’t to be. Maybe anticipating this suspicion, Ubisoft made it very clear from an early stage that the player never actually moves from behind the wheel. One car? Wouldn’t that get boring? Nope. One driver but multiple cars, made possible by a wonderful stroke of true high-concept imagination.

In the opening few minutes, Tanner is rammed into a coma by returning series baddie Jericho. The rest of the game takes place in his head, with every successful move towards the pursuit of his main target crossing over to aid his recovery in the real world (much like in the BBC drama Life On Mars). And it’s within this subconscious sandbox that Tanner finds he can jump from one body to another, effectively taking control of them – and their car – like a travel-happy ghost. It’s all expertly measured to fit into the structure of a video game, of course, but the fact that we know he’s in a coma from the beginning allows us to take whatever happens at face value. From the snappy script to the permanent magic hour golden twilight, it actually feels like a dream.

As you proceed through the game’s main missions, your power to jump grows stronger until you’re able to pull out to a map of the entire Bay area in order to travel quickly to your next target. For me, this kind fast traversal in an open-world sandbox is becoming more and more vital (perfectly epitomized in the amazing Just Cause 2) to the point where I know I’ll be subconsciously reaching for the hookshot button when GTA V finally releases. Being able to jump from behind the wheel of a cop car into an oncoming truck in order to swerve head-on into the getaway you’re still pursuing is pure magic. Actually, even though the game’s missions are generally good fun, I’ve been spending most of my game time just speeding round, finding new rides, enjoying the sunset. And it helps that every third vehicle is a car transporter with its rack in the declined position.

Once again, the handling is the star of the game. As meaty and thrilling as its PS1 forebear, every time I try to describe how it feels to drift around a corner at 80mph, I can’t help but rub my thumb and finger together. It’s incredibly tactile and, to steal from a better writer than I, to be any closer to the road would be to rub your face along the tarmac. The fantastic cars, clever missions, compelling story and many fan-service challenges (including a drive round the original’s garage testing ground, unlocked by driving a certain speed in a DeLorean) add up to an essential package that should have garnered far more appreciation than it did.

In the world of video games, just like in language, context is everything. I may have taken a long and rambling road to convey just how much I love Driver San Francisco, but its success is made all the more important because of the history it shares. To reverse the downfall and in turn make a game that’s actually better than the original is no mean feat, and one that should be applauded. I can’t wait to find out how it ends for Tanner, but in the mean time I’m happy to drift in the glow of the ever-setting sun.

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Revisiting Halo 3 ODST

Posted by Simon on November 02, 2012
Editorial / 7 Comments

With the next Master Chief-led addition to the Halo universe looming around the corner, I’ve been doing a fair bit of introspection. The series of increasingly serious space epics has always felt like my perfect kind of FPS, from the orbital base jumps and gun-butting of Covenant Elites, to the dense growing layers of mythology and enemy headshots that reward you with explosions of ticker tape and cheering children.

The final game in the series from Bungie – 2010’s Reach – gave the player a unique close-up view of that entire world being wiped clean. However, Reach didn’t always “feel” like classic Halo to me – too somber, too light on day-glo purple – and that pushed me to try and pin down my favourite video game take on the mythos, at least so I could be mentally prepared to judge Halo 4. Interestingly, my final decision neatly contradicted a former strong set of opinions I had, and took me back to the time when Bungie decided to be a little more human.

Originally planned as DLC missions for Halo 3, ODST for the first time puts us in the boots of plain old humans. Highly trained badass humans, admittedly, but still far removed from the augmented flesh and seven-foot green armour that gives Master Chief such a brazen disregard for bullets. The game rotates around a squad of Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (voiced by enough Firefly alumni to justify a dreamy insistence that it’s an official tie-in) who are fighting away the invading Covenant in the lead-up to Master Chief’s explosive re-entry at the beginning of Halo 3. Microsoft’s insistence to turn it into a full retail release seemed to require more padding, so the set of missions is linked together by the silent Rookie searching through the city in search of clues. Every new clue prompts a new playable flashback.

There’s a clear noir-influenced direction in ODST, probably a result of circumstance – the game’s hub is the city of New Mombasa after a complete emergency evacuation, so its dark empty streets are the perfect place for pulsing neon billboards and dangerous lurking shadows. Even the soundtrack reflects this tonal shift, the classic Halo strings backing off to let in some crooning sax and light piano refrains. After the repeated chaos of the previous Halo games, this quietness at first feels…wrong. I remember rushing through these sections, desperate to find the highlighted helmet or gun that would activate the next story flashback. The way I rocketed past entrenched enemies, map waypoint dead ahead…it did feel a little like I was some kind of sci-fi streaker.

The missions, thankfully, were fantastic the first time and age has not damaged them. The split focus between the squad members – each with specific skills and weapons – meant that Bungie could really mix up the variety of objectives and locations. With a sharp script and snappy vocal delivery, it’s very easy to feel the jolt of going back to a silent protagonist at the end of each section. The final mission in particular is fantastic, a desperate fight across a bridge leading to a dug-in battle as you wait for extraction with a valuable asset. It felt enough to balance out the initial feelings of frustration and separation.

So, for me, that was it for a long time. A disappointing beginning that led to an exhilarating finale, in a package that just filled a gap before we got to be Spartans again. An interesting but flawed side project that put up a decent fight, but ultimately could never compete with the Chief.

Then time passed, other games got played, Reach got bought (amongst a gaggle of teenagers) at 12:30am, and ODST quietly sat untouched in my Halo collection. My fervent anticipation around Reach resulted in quiet disappointment over the end result (I’m not sure how it could have ever lived up to the Halo prequel my imagination conjured up) and the series finally felt like it had moved from my present into my past.

Thing is, ODST wouldn’t stay quiet. The idea of the human troopers was pervasive, not just the show-stopping orbital torpedoes that they insisted on using but also the fact that they had to fight in a very different way. Master Chief is designed to take the heat and stand tall as he fires a million rounds into an unlucky Brute’s face. That’s a vital part of his charm and the reason why players keep returning to him. ODSTs, however, don’t have this luxury. They are fragile, delicate meatsacks with a weak shield and paltry layer of metal being the only things keeping away the volleys of energy blasts and bullets. This calls for a distinct strategy – part stealth, part positioning and planning – and felt all the more human for it. We can never “be” the Chief, just daydream through his eyes, but the Troopers are only a few degrees removed from us in comparison. Self-preservation is a very strong motivator and it heightens every small victory.

It was actually through Reach’s lens that I grew to understand just how much I loved ODST. Firefight mode, which debuted in the latter, just didn’t feel as much fun in the former. Spartans don’t carry the same level of desperation in packs. Coordinated groups of these super soldiers are like sets of oncoming dumper trucks. This revelation led me to the realization that I missed the vulnerability of the Troopers as they provided a different kind of battle that required more of me as a player.

This is what made the muted shady structure of ODST’s hub finally fall into place. As I replay it again, I no longer have the urge to sprint. Now, I’m the human trooper up against absolutely massive odds, barely scraping through blazing battles with enemies that massively outnumber me, using strategy to win as much as weapons, before sneaking off down the streets, keeping in the shadows, listening for movement in the rain.

The quietness suddenly makes sense. It allows me to pick my route and plan my attack, which was never a real requirement of stronger warriors from previous games. The solace of being separated from your squad, of being forced to fight alone, is perfectly reflected in the gloom of the deserted city and the meanderings of the soundtrack. The back-heavy structure of the game allows me to find my feet and prove myself, before thrusting me back into the squad for the fight for my life against an army that is stronger in everything but intelligence and spirit.

And as Master Chief prepares to take my gaming world by storm once again, I find myself in the strange position of wishing I could be back as a Trooper, sneaking in the dark, battling in desperation, fighting the human fight.

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