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Trigger "I'll buy it, but I ain't playing it"

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Alone in the Dark (PS2)
Alone in the Dark (PS2)
Offered by marxwax
Price: £4.92

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The victim of a poor port?, 27 Jun. 2008
The Alone in the Dark series began life on PCs in 1992, and is widely credited with all but creating the 'survival horror' genre. However, over the years the market has not been kind to AitD, with the series never gaining the commercial success or critical acclaim the likes of Resident Evil or Silent Hill have enjoyed. After a failed attempt to revive the series with 2001 effort Alone in the Dark: The New Nightmare, the series whimpered out and more or less disappeared from gaming's collective conscience.

That is until Eden Studios - developers of V-Rally, and more recently ambitious-but-flawed racing game Test Drive Unlimited - decided to reinvent the franchise for the discerning and demanding 2008 gamer. While the game has obviously been designed for the Xbox 360 and ported to other platforms as development has progressed, it is unclear whether the numerous flaws, irritating controls and poor design decisions which plague the PS2 version are the fault of Eden, or Hydravision, who handled this port.

You step back into the shoes of series veteran Edward Carnby, although this is unknown at this point, due to the ol' favourite plot device, amnesia. Things are looking pretty grim, as you are incapacitated, locked in a cell with a frail old man and a small party of men who seem to be indifferently discussing your imminent execution. Moments later - as you are being led to your impending demise by an armed foe, blinking nausea away and trying to stay on your feet - fate plays its cards and you are separated from your captor, free to make your escape. Fleeing the building as it literally falls apart around you, you soon arrive at Central Park (the game takes place in and around New York's famous landmark). Stepping out of the frying pan and in to the fire, some might say...

Alone in the Dark differs from many traditional survival horrors in that it incorporates several different styles of gameplay. For the most part you'll be investigating the environment for a means to progress, but also spending significant time combating demonic foes and driving the various vehicles littered around the game. There are several varied set-piece events, where you must rappel up or down the side of a collapsing building, shoot enemies from a moving vehicle, and so on. While there is sufficient variety here, in reality it would only create a cohesive and laudable whole if all the individual pieces are of satisfactory quality.

The general investigation and exploration is a minor evolution on what has gone before, in that you won't be looking for keys or artefacts to progress, à la Resident Evil or Silent Hill. Rather, you'll be using items like bins to break open jammed doors, burning wood to incinerate timber blocking your way, or conversely fire extinguishers to contain blazes. However, while these attempts to move away from the sometimes thematically ridiculous objectives are admirable, AitD proves to be so inconsistent with them that it immediately trips itself up. For example: why is it that you can burn some wooden objects but not others? How come some fires refuse to go out no matter how long you spray the extinguisher at them? And furthermore, why is it you can interact with and move some things like cars and closed doors, but not others? These are the sort of discrepancies which give the overall game a feel that for every step forward it tries to take, another step back is taken elsewhere.

The controls are overly complicated and often too unresponsive. You can play the game from first- or third-person viewpoint, although often you must use one in particular for specific circumstances (for example; shooting must be done in first-person and climbing in third-person). When you're in first-person mode everything is usually fine - aiming and shooting is okay, and investigative searches are usually more productive like this due to the up-close viewpoint. However, things often go awry when you have to use the third-person camera. For starters the perspective feels too close to Carnby, with no way to alter the distance, although the camera thankfully backs off a little when engaging foes in melee combat. That said, when you pick up an object and wield it with the right analogue stick often he takes a couple of seconds to actually perform the action onscreen - which can be quite problematic when you're trying to strike an approaching zombie with a pipe, for example. Further, when using an object near a wall Carnby has a tendency to lose his aim and spin around on the spot, which might look amusing, but again, is actually quite bothersome.

Coming from a developer with a history of racing games, it's unexpected that the driving sections here are so awful. Thankfully they are comparatively few and far between and generally mercifully brief, but the handling is poor and even the slightest little knock sends you skidding all over the place. In the few sections where you must quickly drive away from enemies, practically any mistake will ruin your chances and necessitate a restart. Although these sections don't last very long, they play out like an inferior level from Stuntman, where you must learn the exact route to take and progress a little bit more each time. This concentrated trial-and-error element isn't much fun at all, and doesn't feel like it has much place alongside the rest of the game.

While the combat itself is generally passable, the enemies are a little too generic and uninteresting to really captivate. There are the usual zombies (who can run), slightly tougher zombies, blade-toting monsters who can travel through fissures in the ground, bug-things, moth-things, blob things, etc. There are no enemies who feel in the least bit frightening or original, which seems quite a major shortcoming for any horror title.

Graphically, AitD is passable, although it seems more than a little drab when compared to some of the more visually capable games on the PS2. The draw distance is one of its best aspects - you can often see buildings in the far distance, and an early balcony allows you to admire much of Central Park and the city skyline beyond, which is a nice touch. However, that doesn't take anything away from the fact the graphics look like at best a middling PS2 title, with poor character models, sparse environs and unimpressive special effects, all of which is exasperated by mediocre and archaic animations. On the contrary the soundtrack is one area where it is hard to fault the game. With a genuinely good orchestral score and a rousing choir always to hand, the music is probably the game's best aspect.

The plot is the usual horror story hokum, although on a significantly grander scale than most. It's not bad at all, referencing the occult, Old Nick, summoning ceremonies, and so on. There's obviously a fair bit of depth and back-story here, so it's a bit of a shame Eden hasn't really gone in to detail, bar a few messages you can read on your PDA. The voiceovers and script, on the other hand, are less successful. The voice actors do a moderate job - although they have an inclination to shout and get excited when it doesn't seem appropriate - but the script is utterly awful. Littered with profanities, lacking any pause for thought and addressing the game's issues and plotting only on the most basic of levels, it is bad enough to make Resident Evil look like Lovecraft.

Flaws are evident throughout, which really shouldn't occur in a production of this level. Often enemies will vacantly stand still, neglecting to attack you even if you're shooting them in the head. In my first few hours I encountered clips I couldn't pick up, Molotov cocktails which disappeared once thrown and I was even pushed through a closed door by a foe, before finding I couldn't get back through and they could still injure me. It's also strange how shooting a zombie in the arm or leg four times kills them just as quickly as putting four rounds in their head.

Much has been made of AitD's episodic DVD interface-style structure. It's a good idea, really - allowing you to skip to any part of the game if you become stuck, or just want to see the final stages. Before each new chapter loads you get a brief 'Previously' summary, although they are simply action collages, sadly with no plot abridgement, which feels like a bit of a waste. I feel perhaps there could have been subtler ways to allow the player to progress - perhaps offering one chapter ahead only, or allowing you the option to skip if you die five times in a row, or something similar. As it stands, it's unlikely many would seriously want to skip to the end, as gamers will need to spend time getting used to the monsters, controls and particulars of the game.

The level design is relatively varied, incorporating Central Park, sewers, a ruined museum, other derelict buildings, and so on. Areas are obstinately linear and there is very little opportunity for discretionary exploration, which is a shame and significantly detracts from any potential replay value. However, when the way forward is uncertain Carnby can close his eyes and objects he can interact with glow, which often points toward what needs to be done next, even if the actual task required is unclear. This is also used against foes that have specific weak points, although given the requisite button is R3, it's very awkward to hold down the button and try to move and look around. It's a useful idea, although in ways it perhaps alludes to Eden's own admission of confusing level designs.

The game also suffers a distinct lack of signposting. Several puzzles early on prove tricky not because they are actually difficult or clever, but because you don't actually know what you need to do. For example, at an early stage you are climbing along a ledge outside a building which partially collapses, leaving you hanging. The remaining portion of the ledge looks big enough to climb up on, but no matter what you try, he won't do it. After several frustrating minutes you head back a little distance and the camera shifts to a new angle showing a new ledge you can climb up (which wasn't available before). Had there been some sort of prompt - on screen, or even a brief voiceover - this inconsistent and irritating transition could have gone much more smoothly.

Alone in the Dark is an ambitious and in ways progressive survival horror game, which is hampered by its own numerous flaws. Whether these problems are a result of porting a current-gen title to a last-gen console remains to be seen, but the PS2 edition is very clearly a stripped down version of the impressive 360 game Atari have been displaying. For every positive aspect there are persistent failings with the basic structure of the game, and because of this it makes it hard to recommend Alone in the Dark to anyone expect the most forgiving of gamers.

Big Trouble in Little China -- two-disc Special Edition [DVD] [1986]
Big Trouble in Little China -- two-disc Special Edition [DVD] [1986]
Dvd ~ Kurt Russell
Offered by Revolution Media
Price: £3.83

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gimme your best shot... I can take it., 14 May 2008
They don't make 'em like this any more. Big Trouble is a self-assured and knowingly absurd action/fantasy/adventure, and was not only one of John Carpenter's last great films, but perhaps the best work of both the cult director and his favourite leading man, Kurt Russell.

The plot is Chinese mythological hokum with an edge of comedy and modern-day Americana. Trucker Jack Burton, whose confidence and assuredness in his own capabilities seems unshakeable, gets embroiled in a street war between sorcerer Lo Pan, his henchmen the Three Storms and their gang Wing Kong, and the good guys, the Chang Sing. But before we know it his best friend's fiancée has been kidnapped, his prize truck (The Pork Chop Express) is stolen and we learn Lo Pan is trying to recoup his diminished power.

Teaming up with tour bus driver Egg Shen and the few remaining Chang Sing warriors, as well as intrusive reporter Gracie Law, Jack and his friend Wang descend into the literal underworld of San Francisco to stop Lo Pan and rescue Wang's fiancée Miao Yin.

What follows is one of the most colourful, elaborate and fantastic adventure movies of the '80s. Russell is perfect as cult hero Jack Burton, and his overriding uselessness is almost the comical antithesis of the other Carpenter/Russell favourite, Snake Plissken - in the final battle here Jack manages to knock himself out and spends most of the fight incapacitated. The special effects are still surprisingly good, the soundtrack is excellent and the cast brilliant all around, including great support from Victor Wong, Kim Cattrall and James Hong. This is backed up by some great fight scenes, an assortment of likeable characters and some perfectly pitched humour.

If you haven't seen this quiet classic yet then do yourself a favour and check it out. One of the most fantastically enjoyable and quotable films ever, and truly a perfect example of one of the best cult directors ever at the peak of his Golden Era.

Mercenaries Playground of Destruction (PS2)
Mercenaries Playground of Destruction (PS2)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Explosive and fun, but shallow, 13 May 2008
The sub-heading for Mercenaries is 'Playground of Destruction'. It sums up the game nicely; if you crave wanton destruction then you will probably be in your element playing Mercenaries. On the other hand, those of you hoping for a good war-based alternative to Grand Theft Auto (like much of the gaming press lead us to believe) will likely feel a twinge of disappointment.

In Mercenaries you play (surprisingly) a mercenary in North Korea, who is trying to make a cool $100 million by bringing down an evil Saddam-alike dictator named General Song. That's about all the plot you get, other than occasional news updates on the goings-on in the nation. You're then free to explore the country as you please, and accept a contract with one of four factions. Your standing with each faction affects how they treat you (i.e., whether they welcome you or use you for target practice). Often doing tasks for one faction will irritate another, so it is a good idea to try and keep everyone happy - although, if you are in one faction's bad books you can always go to their HQ and bribe the guard, which usually makes them happy with you again.

The contracts range from escorting a reporter through hostile territory, unmasking traitors, stealing vehicles through to attacking heavily defended enemy compounds. Herein though lies the main problem, as far as I was concerned - the missions are all too similar. I'd say about 80% of the missions concern destroying or capturing a particular vehicle, person or building; within just a few hours I began to lose interest because there is a chronic lack of variety. There are also a number of challenges dotted around (represented on the map by a '$' sign), and these are along the lines of a point-to-point time trial, or knocking a barrel as far as possible in a time limit, to destroying a set number of enemy vehicles in a time limit. Although these do bring in a little variety and choice, they are not really that involving and I found myself passing most by. There are also a huge number of items to find, such as hoarded treasure and North Korean listening posts, which when captured/destroyed will please the faction leaders.

The main course of the game is the 'Deck of 52', which are the country's 52 most dangerous people (culminating with that aforementioned dictator, General Song). You gradually gain Intel on each target by completing contracts for the factions, and capturing or killing these people moves the game along. Half way through the game you move on to a new map area. Together, they both represent a huge area to explore (especially if you want to find all the treasures), but at the same time they suffer from not offering much variety in the landscape. You can steal or pilot almost any vehicle in the game (with the exception of boats or planes), and this adds a lot of fun. There is a lot of variety, from sports cars, to huge missile trucks, to large & heavily armed helicopters. Almost all are very well implemented and fun to drive (although the jeeps feel a little floaty), and it provides some unmatched thrills when you drive into an enemy compound in a tank and proceed to destroy every person, vehicle and building, and drive away from a smouldering wreck.

Mercenaries is a fun, very accomplished game. It could have been great, but a few minor faults (mainly the overall lack of variety) mean it's just good. If you want a fairly shallow game that provides a lot of explosions and thrills then this is a safe bet, but if you're after something a little more diverse and involving for your PS2 perhaps you should stick with your copy of San Andreas or Bully.

Batman: Dark Knight Returns
Batman: Dark Knight Returns
by Frank Miller
Edition: Paperback

27 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing..., 13 May 2008
Honestly, I didn't see what the fuss was all about with this graphic novel. I thought the plot was all over the place, the pacing was shot to pieces, the art was average and there were more than a few absurdities which I found hard to swallow.

I don't read many comics or graphic novels, but I went through a brief obsession last year and bought about 25 or 30 over a few months. Given the hype and acclaim which has been heaped on this, I was expecting great things, and sadly I was disappointed on almost every level.

As others have said, Frank Miller's characterisation is probably closer to Bob Kane's original vision of the Dark Knight than anyone's (except perhaps Tim Burton). However, his motivations here are never wholly clear and the excessive scripting and repetitive 'news report' cells do little to help. The plot meanders through a handful of scenarios over its four chapters but they never feel wholly cohesive - and things take a turn for the frankly ridiculous when Batman is deemed such a menace that Superman is called in [personally by the president] to deal with him (not to mention the resolution of this encounter, which I won't detail). Further, the new Robin is just utterly irritating and a somewhat needless character (given that she brings very little to the proceedings).

It is rare that I get bored of a graphic novel part way through, but I found that on both read-thoughs I was losing interest in the character, the story and the situation as a whole (hence why I had to read it a second time reasonably quickly - to see if there was something I missed). I feel defensive in explaining why I didn't think much of this book, as I am well aware I am in the minority, and although I can appreciate how influential and important this may have been on release, that does not automatically make it a great read by today's standards.

So, to anyone who has yet to read this I'd probably suggest you to go for it, if only to make up your own mind, but for me this just wasn't what it had been hyped up to be.
Comment Comments (9) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 24, 2013 8:32 PM BST

Spider-Man 3 (2-Disc Edition) [DVD] [2007]
Spider-Man 3 (2-Disc Edition) [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Tobey Maguire
Price: £2.74

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A victim of its own success?, 9 May 2008
I was such a huge fan of the previous two Spider-Man movies. The first is my favourite superhero movie alongside Batman, and the second is one of those very rare sequels which can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with its predecessor. So it is with crushing disappointment and a bitter taste that Spider-Man 3 feels so, so far beneath its predecessors.

I know I'm reiterating what others have said, but the problem is twofold; too many enemies (or at least, poor balancing between them) and it goes 'dark'. The Sandman is the most blatant anomaly - they re-worked Uncle Ben's death to give Spidey a personal vengeance motive, but it really doesn't work, and to say it feels crowbarred in is a gross understatement. Further, Sandman simply doesn't feel like a very appropriate enemy given that he's basically invincible and at the end has the ability to grow to about 50 feet tall. I know this is a superhero movie and realism isn't high on the agenda, but even so it's still a little implausible. Had they killed him off when Spidey drowned him and thus created Venom sooner, many of the film's problems would have been eradicated.

Which highlights another problem; Venom - or the lack of him, to be more specific. For such a major and well-loved foe from the comics, he features in the film barely at all, only really getting a look-in at the very end before his inevitable (and rather underwhelming) defeat. He should really have been the major enemy here, but after the re-write of Uncle Ben's death that honour rather uncomfortably goes to the Sandman.

There are yet more issues with the alien symbiote, and Peter's awful descent into darkness. The sequences when he dances down the street or tries to make MJ jealous are utterly cringe worthy and completely unnecessary, and cutting them entirely would have only benefited the film and its generous running time. While the two predecessors weren't without their moments of humour, here the comparative scenes just come across as needless and frankly embarrassing.

What's more is that Peter and MJ's relationship feels so token you wondered why they bothered. Mary Jane's role in the movie is basically to do little more than whinge, make things difficult for Peter/Spidey and inevitably get kidnapped. Again. After Raimi spent two films building the tragic romance between them, it really never has a place here, which seems like such a waste for a relationship which has before now been genuinely interesting and touching.

However, the film is not entirely without merit. As you would expect, the special effects are superb throughout. The action sequences are a dazzling cacophony of speed and colour, but they're never less than nice to look at. The perfectly cast JK Simmons as J Jonah Jameson returns for more light-hearted comic relief, and similarly Bruce Campbell returns with a superb cameo as an obnoxious French waiter. The wonderful Danny Elfman score returns and the production as a whole carries the very highest level of polish. It's just a shame proceedings are brought down by a poor plot and inadequate pacing.

Perhaps Spider-Man 3 is not really *that* bad, but following its two excellent predecessors it was never going to fare well if it were anything less than very good, and sadly it is average, at best. Maybe Sony Pictures will consider it a lesson learned the hard way, and make sure the standard of the inevitable third sequel is back on top. As it is, Spider-Man 3 is a moderately enjoyable but disappointing entry to the franchise.

Sunshine [DVD] [2007]
Sunshine [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Cillian Murphy
Price: £2.72

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shines very brightly, 6 May 2008
This review is from: Sunshine [DVD] [2007] (DVD)
Having watched this film twice in close succession recently (once regular, once with Danny Boyle's commentary) and being frankly incredulous at the number of negative reviews here, I felt compelled to put pen to paper, as it were.

Whilst it is very far-fetched in many respects, it is science *fiction*, and commits no plausibility crimes you wont see in thousands of other films - to criticise the movie for this seems unbelievably pernickety.

Regardless, Boyle creates a masterful set-up which echoes the residual pillars of sci-fi, in Alien, 2001, et al. The crew of eight men and women are on a mission to deliver a stellar bomb to rejuvenate our dying sun, and as they approach their destination the plan begins to unravel and snowball due to misjudgement and plain human error.

The special effects are understated and extremely beautiful. Exterior shots of Icarus II and the gargantuan bomb are striking (but not nearly as much so as the beautifully lethal sun), and I can only imagine how wonderful the movie looks on Blu-ray - one day I hope to see for myself. The interior of the ship seems fairly typical in a Silent Running/Alien way, although that is hardly to its detriment.

The cast is fairly ensemble, including Asian astronauts alongside the typical Americans. There isn't really a great deal of opportunity for character development in the 100-odd minutes running time, but certainly in the case of Mace and Capa, their relationship develops and a grudging respect is held by both. On the whole the small cast act their pieces to excellent effect, with Cillian Murphy typically on form and Chris Evans (Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four) putting in a particularly strong performance.

Much like Boyle and writer Alex Garland's last collaboration, the first half is stronger than the latter half. The film loses its way somewhat after about an hour, and what was at first a disaster movie with a sci-fi twist at once becomes a sci-fi horror in the vein of Event Horizon. Although this transition is well-constructed and it brings the opportunity to raise moral questions about the mission, it is neither as appropriate nor as compelling as the events in the first part. If I were to raise any criticisms, it would be with this, and I can't help but think the film would have been more successful had it retained the initial premise throughout.

The ending is left wide open with fundamental questions left open to interpretation - we don't know whether the mission was a success, and we don't know what it was that Capa encountered at the moment of detonation. This is something which Boyle again talks about in the director's commentary, but I like the fact the film doesn't try to explain it; it keeps you thinking and wondering.

Don't watch this film expecting to see something in the style of dumb Hollywood blockbusters such as Armageddon. It is one of my favourite British films since... well, 28 Days Later, probably, and further cements Danny Boyle as one of the most versatile, accomplished and underrated directors working today. Well worth watching, just don't expect too much from the realism side of things.

Official Playstation Licensed Zero G PS2 Wireless Controller (PS2)
Official Playstation Licensed Zero G PS2 Wireless Controller (PS2)

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best third-party peripherals available, 14 Jan. 2008
I've never reviewed a third-party peripheral before, but I am so pleased with this controller I feel compelled to write about it.

I decided to buy a wireless controller after my rabbits chewed the cable on two of my official controllers, and after fairly extensive searching over several websites I decided this most closely resembled the official DualShock 2, and thus should be a safe bet.

It is very similar to the DualShock 2, both aesthetically and practically - the analogue sticks and face buttons in particular are identical, although the pad's 'arms' are slightly longer (which I personally find much more comfortable), and the shoulder buttons are very slightly different, with the L2/R2 buttons being slightly lower than the L1/R1. The d-pad is also mildly different, but perfectly adequate, as I've been using it extensively in the last few days.

The sensitivity is nigh-on identical to the official pad, and despite being wireless there is no lag whatsoever between pressing buttons and stuff happening on screen. There is a turbo button, although having not used it yet I can't comment. You can turn the vibration on or off at will, and it shuts itself off if not used for a few minutes or after you shut the console off. Its range is apparently up to ten metres - I've used it up to about four or five with no trouble, and you don't have to aim at the console.

I bought this controller not without a slight sense of trepidation - knowing that once opened I couldn't send it back (would Amazon give me a full refund for an opened product if I simply didn't like it?!), but I was very pleasantly surprised with this, and it's definitely the best third-party controller I've ever used. The main differences over the official controller are the lack of wire and longer arms, so if this sounds the sort of thing you are after then this is well worth the slightly higher price. Highly recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 19, 2010 2:11 PM GMT

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