Ratchet & Clank hit back!

O’ My Lucky Stars! I’ve finally got my internet back, here in halls, and what’s this I hear? A new Ratchet & Clank adventure is on the way?

Well, hot damn. Sign me up quick and mail me to Bogon.

Going to have to do some reminiscing about when I first saw the GDC 2006 announcement trailer for Ratchet & Clank’s PS3 debut. In good time thought, for now check out the press release for the all-new Ratchet & Clank: A Crack in Time. Yeah!


Victoria Market

Several weeks ago I was wandering around Nottingham’s Victoria Centre (which I still have not fully explored) and I came across one of the strangest sights I’ve yet seen in the city – a marketplace inside the department store. Surreal. I’ve seen trampolines in department stores, Santa’s grottoes and water rides, but a full market? No more polished floors, neatly stacked shelves or gleaming white service desks, just messy bundles of stock, dented lino and florescent sales tags. Intrigued, I thought I’d bring my camera along the week later to take a few snaps of the place.

Of course, what you can’t see in the photos is all of the vendors behind me, giving me dirty looks, as if I was some kind of student-spy. Probably didn’t help that I didn’t actually buy anything. If I show my face again too soon I’ll probably get barred. Hee hee. Ah, it was worth it.


Spider-Man of the Far East

If you’ve seen any of the original Batman TV series you’ll know how incredibly eccentric and colourful TV was back in those days, especially for comic book translations. It was also very campy, which hasn’t garnered it the best reputation in the years since. Well, as my Dad use to watch the show whenever it was on, with my brother and me beside him, so I’ve practically been conditioned to enjoy the show. In fact, my parents even bought me a model of the original Batmobile from the TV show – to my great dismay it was stolen one day when I was in nursery; that still grates me to this day. Getting to the actually topic I wished to blog about with this post – I love re-watching old episodes of Batman. I didn’t think I’d see any TV series that could make laugh so much (while secretly feeling embarrassed inside).

But that was before madtyger told me about ‘Japanese Spider-Man’. No joke. It’s the real deal and it rocks harder than a junkie high on Coca-Cola! Spider nets, human-sized insectoids, the Spider Machine GP 7, acrobatics, martial arts, special effects and Giant robots. It’s gone where no single Spider-Man property has ever dared. Terrifically Japanese, and as you might expect, it’s bonkers. Watch it now!


Watchmen smile for the camera

OK, I’ve already mentioned that I was excited about this motion picture adaptation of a revered superhero graphic novel. I went to see the film tonight, so let’s just get straight into it. Damn. Watchmen is freaking graphic!!! I’ve seen some nasty films in my time, but never have I endured a comic book coming to life in such a mature fashion. People like to talk trash about GTA? Well, under no circumstances should anyone bring kids to see this movie, because if people believe “kids absorb everything they see” this is the kind of movie that could mess them up real bad.

I don’t wish to exaggerate too much. At the end of the day it is only another movie, and another filmmaker’s interpretation of a vision. I don’t mean anybody who doesn’t know how babies are made will go crazy the moment they finishing watching this. But I do enjoy films that connect with me on a character level and a personal level, and Watchmen succeed on both accounts. Tons of golden age Americana and 1940s nostalgia. Old friends taking on new struggles. *sigh* Awesome… like a jagged butter knife through an ice cube, tipped with a smiley comic edge.

So what was the film itself like? Having never read the graphic novel (by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbsons), seen the trailer only once and knowing absolutely ‘nought’ about the plot – the film was a real treat in that sense. (Warning: from this point on I’ll be dropping some immense spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the movie yet I suggest you skip the rest of this post) The plot started off in the style of all good detective stories, with the murder of a key figure – in this case, Edward Blake (The Comedian). With the signature smiley face filling the cinema screen the opening credits took us straight back to 1940s America to see the Minutemen in their heyday. Certainly one of things that stood out most in this film was its non-linear storytelling.

In this alternative 1985, the world is on the brink of nuclear war and our five protagonists – Rorschach, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Dr Manhattan and Ozymandias – are only truly revealed through individual character flashbacks that tie-in nicely with the main plot. I have to say that I was anxious to see what the character of Rorschach was going to be like. To my delight both actor, Jackie Earle Haley, and crew have brought this troubled maverick crime fighter to life in an astonishing way. A personal journal, a grappling hook, an inconspicuous dress sense, throws unforgiving punches and he’s full of retribution. Absolute badass.

Every scene that this character was in I lapped up. The movie certainly didn’t disappointment me on the comic book vibe or its comi… wait better rephrase that… ‘humorous’ edge. Seeing The Comedian get all Rambo-style on a group of unarmed anti-Watchmen protestors was hilarious. Of course, that’s when they slap you in the face, as all good black comedies do. Juxtaposing this image with a scene where Edward Blake harshly assaults Sally Jupiter (the original Silk Spectre) and attempts to rape her, you soon realise that there are no heroes in this movie, only people who try to solve the world’s problems because they can’t solve their own.

From there I’m afraid things don’t any brighter – atomised Vietcong soldiers, arms getting sawn off, jaws breaking on pristine granite worktops. And that’s just the violence. Some way raunchy sex scenes between Silk Spectre and Nite Owl net this cookie an ‘18’ faster than the notorious GTA: San Andres ‘Hot Coffee’ mod ever could. Moreover, Dr Manhattan’s endless refusal to cover up his awkwardly noticeable blue you-know-what only served to distract from the serious moments of drama in the film, for which there were many.

I think the one that honestly made me bite my lip the most, had to be Rorschach’s flashback to one of his most early cases. Basically, he tracked a missing girl to a grimy shack somewhere in the city. He finds her remains, shredded clothes and bones, in a coal heater. Outside the killer’s dogs are fighting over what is left of the girl’s ankle. (Yeah, I was pretty squeamish by this point too, so if you’re still reading make sure you put some happy music on after this.) When the murderer returned Rorschach was waiting for him. There is no way I can convey all of the imagery in that scene but I’ll try. The atmosphere intensified as the dead bodies of the murderer’s dogs were hurled through the window. The fear in his eyes, in his voice, it filled the room. Then out of the shadows, the masked avenger stepped forward. Roughly he chained the girl’s killer down, ignoring his pleas for mercy. Rorschach told him he knew what he’d done and he must pay. Almost as if one had flipped a coin the killer’s attitude changed. Cut to a shot looking up at the killer, his rack of sadistic looking knifes just out of focus. He confessed that it was him, boasted even, claimed he needed help; wanted Rorschach to take him in. Oh no, not Rorschach. Needless to say he killed the murderer in a most brutal fashion. I’ll say no more, but the twitching, tearful, vengeful justice of the scene was almost unforgettable. Still, I’m pretty sure I’ll be doing everything I can to avoid violence for the next month, because I am grossed out!

I had wished to say a little more on the plot by this point as well as talking about some of the other scenes, but I’m running into dangerous post length here so I’ll start wrapping up now. If you’re not sick to the stomach right now or longing for me to end this gargantuan post-mortem I salute you.

Since it was seeing Rorschach in one of the promotional posters for the movie that got me interested in it in the first place I’ll stick with his storyline and close this thing out. Ever since the beginning of the film the plot had been building towards a seemingly inevitable conclusion: nuclear annihilation. The doomsday clock was creeping ever closer to midnight and our misfit heroes were so caught up in solving The Comedian’s murder and connecting presents events to the past, that following two hours of blood, bones and blue bits it didn’t look as though they were going to save the day. Well you know what? They didn’t. Yep, and again I haven’t read the novel but I bet this controversial ending must have been part of it. Yet there is actually some salvation as the world isn’t totally destroyed, actually, it is in fact saved! Accept it’s saved through the bad guy’s underhanded, betraying, cruel-to-be-kind scheme.

It was a surprise to say the least. Although others have done this already I’m sure, this must have been very original at the time. However, even if this next scene was in the graphic novel I absolutely refute the decision. Throughout the movie you were witness to Dr Manhattan’s growing disconnection with human beings. Rorschach, much to my approval couldn’t stand that world peace was achieved through human sacrifice, through a lie. The filmmakers had all ready show that they were willing to do most anything in this hyper-real alternative 1985. So, when Dr Manhattan confronted Rorschach, urging him to not to tell the public the truth, I already knew the outcome would be shamefully bloody. In his final moments Rorschach removed his mask, a brief choke of tears, his resolve never wavering. And then he was gone. Atomised by Dr Manhattan like so many spores in the wind. The howl that Nite Owl let out epitomised him as a best friend who just didn’t know how to show how much he cared. On a personal level this really hit home. Following this there isn’t really much to tell. Seeing my enigmatic antihero bite the molecular-bullet left a bitter taste in my mouth. The remaining characters, Nite Owl and Silk Spectre, had their storylines wrapped up and everything was rosy. But there was one more little hint to give the film its grinning punch line. Rorschach’s journal, the document he had recorded practically all of the film’s events in, including the identity of the real evildoer and the cause of all the cataclysmic destruction, had been posted to a newspaper before his unfortunate demise. The film ended with a taco-eating editor picking up the journal just before the music kicked in and the credits began. Yes, the truth survives in words!

Wow wee, this is way more than I intend to write. Overall, I did enjoy Watchmen as a mature film with some terrific characters and back-stories. It was certain a heck of a lot more graphic and violent then I originally bargained for, but I am glad for the experience. Besides the superpowers, the real world is a heck of a lot worse to be honest. It definitely isn’t something I would let my six year-old cousins watch and I don’t think it’ll ever give me as much pleasure as my other comic book favourites, but it is an enjoyable addition to the genre. Maybe at a stretch I’d call it a cross between hard-edged comic book capers, Pulp Fiction and Se7en, accept some people are actually left smiling at the end of it. Well thankfully Rorschach was totally cool, so if I do pick its DVD release it will still be primarily for that character. And with that I believe I’ve said everything I wish to. I have seen the face of these Watchmen, will you?


PC Gaming Itch

During my brief pauses (*wink, wink*) in between gathering my thoughts for this first essay, my mind has begun to drift back to my PC gaming days of old. Not counting the Sega Mega Drive (which was at my cousins), the PC was the first gaming machine I had access to, and it was in my own home! I can’t even count how many hours I must have spent playing Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron 3D, Star Wars: Episode I Racer, Heroes of Might & Magic and many more.

And speaking of Star Wars, LucasArts had a lot of great PC games back in the 90s. Grim Fandango and Sam & Max are two such titles that have been lying dominant in the dusty extremities of my mind. What’s more I don’t actually remember too much of these titles’ storylines. Grim Fandango, I use to watch a friend of mine play, and Sam & Max I remember from the TV series.

I’d like nothing more than to pick both of these games up for a few quid and indulging in a bit of old school point-and-click detective work. Unfortunately with these titles being made so long ago the volatile OS that is Windows Vista may have other ideas. With the recession in full swing I don’t think now is anytime to be spending money on luxuries that may or may not work. Oh well. I’ll just peek out suspiciously from the Venetian blinds in my room, hoping that big case will come along – heaven knows it’d be better than doing this essay. Blimey!


Kingdom of Doom

This week I’ve had a particularly tough time here in Notts. Far less sleep than recommended (even for a student), had a broken toilet earlier in the week, got two pressing university deadlines and a string of unforeseen issues that cropped up one after another to frustrate me yet further. This unhealthy drone of nocturnal energy has only served to make me miss two lectures, a hugely important subject event and the superhero night at my Students Union. Living in a ‘Kingdom of Doom’ has never felt so true.

Most of this was surely down to me judging multiple tasks (not to mention some requests from other people). I’m fighting to try and get back a healthy work/life balance, but every time a new opportunity presents itself I try to accomplish that in addition to all my existing responsibilities. I really could do with a couple hours of Burnout Revenge to help my mind detoxify about now.

Doom and gloom aside though, this week hasn’t been entirely bad. I throw up a little interview with Capcom, letting us know why Street Fighter IV is “the best game on the planet”. Their PR manager was very enthusiast and had such a passionate love for the series that even I couldn’t help but pine for some 1980s arcade magic. A pleasure to interview. The impending close of one of Nottingham’s long-running record stores lead me to take a visit there before the windows are boarded up. A super-cheap bargain on The Go! Team’s debut album, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, now has me bobbing along to their energetic electro beats. What a lifesaver. I also picked up a few more PS2 games in my hunt for classics, retros and rarities.

Apart from those highlights I really haven’t had much of a good week. Oh well, guess my self-styled Notorious DK costume will have to remain its box. Here’s hoping next week is better.


Not yet Famous

Avoiding any vulgar innuendo in this post about a comic book-inspired game, let me tell you why I can’t wait to become infamous.

Coming from the successful studio behind Sly Cooper’s devious capers, Sucker Punch, you take control of the electrically-charged Cole in the open-world superhero serial, inFamous. I’ve been a comic book-lover since the first time I saw the animated (and live action) escapades of Batman & Robin on TV when I was about four. The animated series of Spider-Man, X-Men, Silver Surfer and Marvel Action Hour all quickly forward, along with toys, costumes and comics. My brother and I use to play Batman Forever: The Arcade Game – which isn’t the greatest side-scrolling beat-’em-up, but boy we sure played the hell out of it back on PS1, Spider-Man (PS1), and a host of other comic book-inspired adventure games. Spider-Man 2: The Movie, I’d even go so far as to say, is one of the greatest superhero games ever and holds a special place in my gaming heart.

Sufficed to say I pretty much ‘geek out’, for lack of a better term, when stuff like inFamous is announced. Complex characters dealing with real life social problems juxtaposed with the complete destruction of an urban city and one man with the power to either help or hinder its residents. I can see why people are already calling comparisons to NBC’s much loved Heroes series, but there is a lot more to inFamous in my opinion.

The very nature of this being an open-world (or ‘sandbox’ if you prefer) game, and a superhero one at that, gives it tremendous potential. I’ve never really been into Grand Theft Auto but the appeal of driving around an environment at your own pace, doing whatever you feel (within the context of the game) is hugely enjoyable. I must have played Spider-Man 2: The Movie for many, many hours just swinging around New York, webbing up thugs and rescuing balloons. After a while though I will admit things begin to tire.

With inFamous, if the developers can balance the factors of story driven motivation and freeform gameplay with a broad selection of challenges to undertake, this may be a whole new shock to the system just waiting to be unleashed. Being a fan of Sucker Punch’s earlier work on PS2 – following the cartoon crimes of Sly Cooper and his gang – I also have great expectations for what set pieces and events may unfold in Empire City. I’m not at all trying to second-guess the developers by plotting out my hopes for the game before I’ve even played it, but my observations of their previous developments give me bit of an idea of what we might see.

With the Sly Cooper games Sucker Punch was particularly good at creating open-world hub levels and making use of them in the context of actual gameplay. For example, in Sly 3 there’s a hub world set in the Australian outback. Over the course of several jobs you complete a lemonade drinking contest (hey, it is E rated) in the local bar, steal keys from patrolling guards, destroy some polluting vats and then proceed to crush half of the world you’ve been traversing with a runaway bulldozer. While the PlayStation 2 hardware certainly had its limitations, in terms of scaling, drawl distance and graphical effects, Sucker Punch did everything they could to connect the separate elements of their worlds and make them fun.

If anything, their love for comic book artwork and stylistic character design alone would convince me to buy inFamous. All of this and I’ve not even mentioned the story. An explosion destroys half the city, and now Cole and bunch of criminals are running around with superpowers. Cool! Seriously though, the trailers and gameplay movies that have been released look phenomenal. Killer beasts made out of junk and scrap metal, exploring the city with Cole as if it were an oversized jungle gym, drawing power from the city’s electric grid and tossing shock-bombs at enemies. Yep, I’m totally wired for some inFamous right now. June can’t come soon enough.


Watchmen: below the waist?

Have you heard about the Watchmen? Well before I happened to pass one mesmerising promotional poster, coming out of my local movie theatre, I had no idea what this whole craze was about. And come to think of it, I still don’t because I haven’t even seen the movie or read the graphic novel. The movie is out now I’ve been fairly excited to see it. I’m a sucker for comic book movies, so when I discovered that Watchmen collides two of my favourite themes – comic book heroes and maverick detectives – my interest peaked quite considerably.

I don’t think I was prepared from some of the reactions I’ve hear though. Rorschach’s ruthless approach to justice (Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau now seems a poor comparison) didn’t deter me, but I had no idea that the movie was going to contain such mature scenes as frontal nudity and severe violence (as reported by friends who’ve already seen it). Then again, coming from 300 director, Zack Synder, I guess I should have expected as much. When I first saw 300 I was pretty grossed out by some of the scenes, but I’ve come to really enjoy the graphic artistry of it all.

Somehow though I’m not sure I’ll see Watchmen in the same light. With so much talk about how “Watchmen changed the face of comic books” I’ve already had my preconception about what it might be. I think I was hoping this movie might fall somewhere in between Spider-Man and Sin City – iconic, gritty and full of character, but at the same time, not outright hitting you in the face with sex, drugs and skin-crawling violence. Well, guess I was totally wrong about this one.

Regardless of the critics reviews (which I have not browsed) and the unavoidable word-of-mouth comments I’m hearing, I’m still excited about the movie. As long as this seedy, adult world is brought to life on-screen with competence, quality production values and, above all, an engaging narrative, then I’m should leave satisfied. And you know what? If it’s good enough maybe I will pick up the graphic novel.