E3 thoughts


e3-2018

I had mixed feeling in the run up to this year’s E3 conference … the biggest event on the gaming calendar, where the big companies, publishers etc. showcase their plans for the coming year and beyond, often revealing games and services for the very first time.  It’s always very exciting, but with the recent slight fall from grace Microsoft and it’s Xbox brand had experienced with a drought of AAA exclusive games compared to it’s immediate rivals, Sony and Nintendo – I was also concerned.  So below I’ll go through my brief thoughts on the various conferences shown followed by a few highlights.

Microsoft

Microsoft had a lot to prove.  The army of Sony fan-boys loved sticking it to the American giants that the platform was lacking the big name exclusive games compared to their beloved PlayStation, and I can certainly understand where they are coming from.  Where’s Xbox’s God of War?  So watching the near 2 hour conference was nerve-wracking … but, Xbox head honcho Phil Spencer came out swinging, with an immediate reveal of Halo Infinite (just a CGI trailer sadly) and then went on to present a very confident presentation showcasing many games and several exclusives, including the likes of Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Crackdown 3, Forza Horizon 4 and  Gears of War 5.  However the big news was the acquisition of 5 game studios that will now be working on first party games for the Xbox platform … the big surprise being the purchase of Bafta award winning studio Ninja Theory (Hellblade: Senora’s Sacrifice).  Microsoft shot down the nay-sayers that would presume Xbox isn’t interested in exclusives anymore and set in motion a future that well really, should have been set in motion years ago – but at least now that future is more promising that it had seemed before E3.

Crackdown 3

Outside of exclusives, some games that will be appearing elsewhere also, were shown for the first time including Devil May Cry 5, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Cyberpunk 2077.

I would have liked to have seen a Fable announcement or the rumoured Perfect Dark game, but that elusive, big name exclusive title that would wow me and surprise me, was sadly absent.  Microsoft did a lot right here to build confidence in their brand and to pave an exciting future ahead, along with a brief mention of new Xbox hardware on the horizon … but in the present, they still for me didn’t do enough to sway those not already invested in Xbox.

Nintendo

Super Smash Bros UltimateWith Nintendo riding high on the success of the Switch, and it being my preferred platform of choice for the best part of the last twelve months, I had high-hopes for their presentation.  Much more low-key it turned out than Microsoft, with no on-stage conference just a 45 minute Nintendo Direct.  Games like Daemon X Machina, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Super Mario Party and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate were revealed for the first time along with several indie titles and more footage of previously announced games like Captain Toad Treasure Tracker.  However an absence of Mario Tennis was odd and especially disappointing was no mention of Metroid Prime 4.  The follow-up Nintendo Tree House event showcased Smash as well as an in-depth look at the forthcoming Pokémon Let’s Go games … but my overall impression was that Nintendo really didn’t pull anything out of the bag this year, perhaps a little too confidence with the Switch’s continued success.

I’ll certainly be getting my hands on Smash Bros as it looked a ton of fun and Pokémon interested me a lot more than I expected.

Sony

Sony went for a rather unconventional approach to their conference, hosted in a tent for starters and focusing on previously announced games rather than any new reveals (for the most part).  It was not what I expected from Sony, who are currently the industry leaders by a large margin but I guess they can relax and show they don’t really have anything to prove anymore.  So yeah if they want a banjo player on stage, then I guess they can have that.

Ghosts of Tsushima

So we got to see a lot more of The Last of Us: Part II, Death Stranding and the first full details of Ghost of Tsushima and Spider-Man.  Flute players, banjo players and a running commentary …different, but what’s E3 without a few bizarre moments?  I am excited for The Last of Us definitely, it looked incredible as did Ghost of Tsushima.  I was however surprised to see a Remedy game showcased, namely ‘Control’ but it’s a multi-platform title so they hadn’t jumped ship to Sony after mostly working with Microsoft for years.  Several games for PlayStationVR were also announced even if VR doesn’t interest me.  The big surprise for me was a remake of Resident Evil 2, arguably my favourite Resident Evil game of all time.  Not exclusive to PlayStation but an exciting announcement all the same.

The overall feeling I got from the Sony conference was that PlayStation were sitting very confident in their line up of games, not really showcasing anything ground-breaking for the future, but that’s probably something to do with the persistent PlayStation 5 rumours.  It’s clear to me Sony have some very good studios in their pocket and they’ll continue to dominate the market for the foreseeable future.

The other conferences etc.

I didn’t take a great deal of notice of the other conferences other than checking out highlights from EA, Ubisoft and Bethesda, all of which showcased some exciting stuff including Rage 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and the impressive looking The Division 2.  As with all games shown, taking what we’re seeing as actually what we’ll finally get should include a hefty pinch of salt but damn… were there some stunning looking titles showcased this year.  The future looks healthy for all 3 major platforms and the games industry as a whole is making leaps and bounds in technology and innovation to bring us, the gamers so much for the coming years.

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Switch anniversary and the year ahead


Hi everyone.  I’ve not posted like this in a while.  Life’s been pretty busy start of the year despite me managing to cram in rather a lot of movies to review.  Also there seems to be some good stuff on the horizon for me, and thought I’d give it a little write-up.

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First it would be remiss of me not to mention that today marks the first year anniversary of the Nintendo Switch, a console I have fallen in love with and over the past twelve months has given me so much fun and enjoyment.  Highlights of course include The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, but along with this smaller titles like Rayman Legends and Steam World Dig 2 have also been a lot of fun.  The portability, versatility of this system can not go un-mentioned either and it’s a unique joy to play it in bed, sitting in my living room or in front of my bedroom TV on a larger screen.  Having the best of both worlds.  In the process, the Xbox One and PS4 have fallen by the way-side and not the Switch is my go-to console of choice and with games on the horizon like Donkey King Country Tropical Freeze and Yoshi, I can see it staying that way for the foreseeable future.

IMG_0286I’m of course also looking forward to seeing Garbage again in concert in September.  It will mark the 3rd time I have seen my favourite band live and well, I’m still pinching myself that I actually got to meet them as well back in 2016.  This tour will mark the 20 year anniversary of their second album ‘Version 2.0’ and as it’s my favourite album of theirs where I went from liking the band to being a real fan, this concert where they’ll play every track and every b-side released at the time … fills me with excitement.  I’ll be meeting up with a few like-minded friends when I am there so it should be a great experience for me again.  Incidentally, lead singer Shirley Manson was recently honoured by UK publication NME with their first ‘icon’ award which was presented to the Scottish singer at their annual NME awards in London.  As a long time fan this was a very proud moment for me.  I have said it before and I’ll keep saying it .. Garbage don’t get the recognition they deserve and it’s awards like this that feel even more special simply for that fact.  Well done Shirley!  Currently they are working on album #7 with a hope of a release in 2019.

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In other news, I’m currently watching several TV shows, including new seasons of Homeland, X-Files, The Walking Dead and Mr. Robot, the latter I consider one of the best shows available right now.  Speaking of TV shows, I was pleased to see a brief return of one of my favourite cult shows over Christmas, namely The League of Gentlemen, which was only three episodes but it was bliss.  The creators, Mark Gatiss, Jeremy Dyson, Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton then followed this up by announcing a tour, of which I rushed to secure tickets.  Strangely enough it’s scheduled for two days after I see Garbage.  What a weekend that will be!  Their brand of humour is rather dark, character-driven comedy that is probably an acquired taste, but I love it.


As far as this blog is concerned, I want to vary the content a little and might do special posts of certain subjects, like favourite actors, movie genres etc and more stuff on video games and music.  I’m unsure what form that will take as I want to make it as interesting as possible, but I continue to love writing this blog and it keeps my love of writing alive.  Hope you all manage to get something from it too.

Until next time.

Craig.

My 2017 – a look back (part two)


As I learnt writing the last look-back, 2017 has been a pretty packed year as far as entertainment is concerned, and there’s been plenty of highlights over the months.  So continuing this little bit of nostalgia, I thought I’d give a portion of this to my music highlights of the year, of which there have been many.

In the summer, Garbage made a return to the stage going on the road with the iconic Blondie for their co-headlining ‘Rage and Rapture’ tour which over 20+ dates travelled the United States and from what I hear was a roaring success.  During the tour Garbage released a stand alone single, the politically charged ‘No Horses’ accompanied by a powerful, hard-hitting video (see below).  It was another belter of a track from my favourite band, but wasn’t the only highlight of the year for me…

PVRISIndie electro-rock band PVRIS returned with their second album ‘All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell’, and it was a step up from their impressive debut and cemented them as a new, unique voice in my music landscape.  Add to this British four piece Wolf Alice also delivered their second album ‘Visions Of Life’, and like PVRIS it was an improvement over their debut and a haunting, artistic experience full of emotion and effective songs that has made them one of my favourites.  A couple of more veteran artist also released new material and although I don’t listen to everything out there, I am glad to have discovered Paramour with their fun, energetic album ‘After Laughter’ proving worthwhile.  I was also happy to see the return of possible my favourite female solo artist Kelly Clarkson and her latest release ‘Meaning of Life’ really impressed and proved this singer still had it after her previous, otherwise forgettable ‘Piece by Piece’ album.

Well back to the movies and such…

July to December

As the blockbuster season continued, I didn’t get around to all the big hitters but was pleased to see the latest of one of the best franchises around right now, War For The Planet Of The Apes which again proved powerful and exciting with stunning effects.  Less engrossing but still fun was the rather hypoed but run-of-the-mill Baby Driver.  Adding to the disappointment was the surprisingly un-engaging Christopher Nolan WWII drama Dunkirk which for a war movie directed by one of the best around, proved strangely boring and lacking in character or spectacle.  It sure was ‘pretty’ though.

war-planet-apes

Get Out was a rather unsettling thriller and an interesting take on the racial tension subject, and hyped book adaptation Girl On The Train was an enthralling mystery with a great central performance from Emily Blunt.  One of my favourite directors, Park-chan Wook returned with The Handmaiden, an erotic period movie that although a tad drawn out was an engrossing love-triangle thriller.  Mark Wahlberg’s based on true events thriller Patriots Day was also powerful and gripping, whilst Jake Gyllenhaal sci-fi thriller Life was particularly effective and scarily-relevant.  August finished up with one of my personal horror highlights of the year, the far better than it should have been sequel Annabelle Creation.

Twin Peaks

Around this time I also watched the highly anticipated and very long awaited new season of Twin Peaks.  This was probably one of my most perplexing, strangely gratifying and definitely unique experiences of the year.  David Lynch’s magnificently bizarre and utterly surreal 18 episode ‘TV event’ is still something I am trying to piece together in my head even months after finishing it.  I had the box set for Christmas so may well be diving back in.  That ending though….yeesh.

French cannibal horror / coming of age drama Raw  proved effective if disturbing and distasteful but has certainly stuck in my head.  However, the latest entry in a once beloved saga, Alien Covenant was very underwhelming, having more in common with the tiresome Prometheus than the Alien movies.  Then I stumbled upon Netflix movie Gerald’s Game, a surprising, engrossing and creepy-as-hell Stephen King Adaptation.

I finished (at least the story) of the highly acclaimed and heavily hyped The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and as if testament to just how much fun and appealing that game was and still is to me, I still find myself going back to finish every shrine, find every weapon and do at least the majority of side-quests.  I even recently purchased the season pass.  Yeah I can’t get enough of this game.

Super Mario Odyssey CappyThe highly anticipated Blade Runner 2049 disappointed, with a plodding pace, forgettable visuals and was only marginally saved by a good turn from Harrison Ford.  However all was not lost as November rolled around and the much anticipated Super Mario Odyssey was finally released … and proved to be everything I had hoped it would be.  Add to this I finally got my hands on the highly acclaimed Japanese animation Your Name which proved to be a decidedly clever and thought-provoking body-swap drama.

So we come to December and particular stand-outs were Despicable Me 3 and the otherwise maligned Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.  Bigger name movies like Spider-Man Homecoming and even Star Wars The Last Jedi didn’t fair as well for me but still had their moments.  With Christmas upon us again, I always enjoy writing these look backs and considering the movies that will eventually make up my Top Ten.  I’ll have that particular post out on New Years Eve, so please drop by then and check it out.

I also managed to get my hands on a new phone.  Previously and for about 3 years I’ve had the Samsung S6.  However now I have the recently released iPhone 8, which I’m loving so far and along with my iPad, that’s me all Apple’d-up going into the year ahead.

So there we have it.  That was my 2017 in two big entertainment nutshells.

Roll on 2018.

Craig.

My 2017 – a look back (part one)


I think at least as far as entertainment is concerned its been a pretty good year.  There’s been ups and downs as there is every year, disappointments and resounding successes.  So I thought I’d do a look back and therefore have decided to split this into two posts over the next week or so … leading up top my annual Top Ten of the Year on 31 December (please check back for that).

January to June

The year started off rather interestingly, with the absolutely nutty The Greasy Strangler … a movie I had heard a lot about.  The eventual experience was a bit ‘wtf?’ and remains probably the oddest, most out-there movie I’ve seen all year, and not in a good way.  The biggest let down though of the month (and year) was undeniably Trainspotting 2.  I don’t know what I was expecting, but this trapped-in-the-past, albeit entertianing sequel delivered nothing to either repeat the gritty cool of the original or offer anything new.  It’s not a terrible movie but it just had very little to warrant it’s existence.

iPadAir2One of my favourite gadgets this year has been my iPad Air 2 which I picked up in January, and use regularly for so many things…other than my phone (which I’ll get to in party two) it’s been my go to gadget of choice.  Hell or High-water was a particular highlight and a solid robbers on the lam sort-of western with two great performances from Chris Pine and Ben Foster, even if I thought Jeff Bridges was a little over-hyped.

Deepwater Horizon was a great disaster movie based on real events with a stand out turn from the always enjoyable Mark Wahlberg.  February was also when I played the return-to-form latest entry in one of my favourite gaming franchises:  Resident Evil 7.  One of the few games this year I saw through to the end, but this gripping, at times genuinely frightening and action-packed game truly put the franchise back on track.   Around this time I began to deep dive further into music having subscribed to Apple Music and I have discovered some really great artists this past year, which started out with Tegan and Sara as well as Chvrches, PVRIS, Royal Blood and many more (I’ll be covering my music highlights more in part two).

Train to Busan

March delivered one of my firm favourite movies of the year, the Korean zombie horror Train to Busan, which was a brilliantly executed thrill-ride with great characterisation and top-notch production values.  Look out for it in my end of year Top Ten.  March also delivered more highlights in the form of the enjoyable if a tad over-hypoed Doctor Strange, as well as the charming and touching A Street Cat Named Bob.  However the good times had to come to an abrupt stop in the surprisingly poor Kong: Skull Island which offered some truly awful characters, only saved slightly by some fun monster smack down action.  What Tom Hiddleston was doing in this is anyone’s guess though.  Thankfully it was only a short-lived blip as I then got to see another favourite of the year, Logan – with a career defining performance by the often underrated Hugh Jackman.  If you haven’t seen this one yet … remedy that immediately – it’s really that good.

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The end of March also saw me pick up what has been a really worthwhile purchase this year, the Nintendo Switch!  As with any Nintendo console, it was a bit of a risk.  Gamecube failed after only a short run, the Wii was a major success but lacked games, and well I didn’t bother with the Wii U.  Thankfully with games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Steamworld Dig 2 and Super Mario Odyssey it’s been the games console I’ve played the most in 2017 without a doubt. 

April was the month this blog reached it’s 10 year anniversary.  Wow…had it really been that long?  I’m not popular, what I discuss on here is a crowded field to say the least, and standing out is difficult.  However let it be said I still very much enjoy expressing myself on here and appreciate every visitor, every like and every comment when I get them.  Thank you to all who stop by!

Despite being one of my favourite actresses, Scarlett Johansson’s much anticipated Ghost in the Shell, whilst entraining didn’t turn out to be all that it could have been despite some great visuals.  However Tom Hanks delivered a solid performance as always in the based on true events Sully.  I also recently started getting back into the highly-imaginative world of Persona 5 (released in April) which is unique and cleverly done, despite some typical Jap-RPG gameplay trappings.  Suppose all that Switch goodness proved a distraction this year and there’s many games I need to also go back to.

guardians-of-the-galaxy-2

In May I saw more highlights of the year, firstly the highly entertaining (if not quite as refreshing) Guardians of the Galaxy 2 boasting some great turns especially from Kurt Russell.  Then the Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal vehicle Nocturnal Animals was also an interesting take on a relationship drama that struck a cord and proved powerful and clever.  Yet the over-hyped and generally rather tiresome La La Land was a huge disappointment with a lack of memorable songs for a musical and bland characterisation despite featuring a great cast.

As June rolled around I finally managed to see the highly acclaimed Hacksaw Ridge and came away humbled and suitably impressed.  It was a very different approach for a war movie but director Mel Gibson and star Andrew Garfield nailed it.  Following this possibly the best comic book movie of the year was released; Wonder WomanGal Gadot was born to play this roll and with a great dirty-dozen meets fish out of water storyline I really had a great time with this one.  I also got around to watching bullet fest sequel John Wick: Chapter 2 which although simply more of the same was still pretty damn good and well, who doesn’t enjoy Keanu Reeves obliterating bad-guys?

Xbox One X

June also saw the annual videogame convention ‘E3’ arrive which promised a great deal from the three big gaming giants Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo and highlights included the reveal of the Xbox One X, more footage of the highly-anticipated Super Mario Odyssey and Sony’s God of War amongst many more.  It was a pretty exciting time to be a gamer and 2017 was only to prove itself as a classic year in gaming history.

Well, that’s it for part one of this look back.  Phew, it’s been a pretty packed year when looking back and there’s plenty more to come.  Look out for Part Two this time next week!

Embarking on an Odyssey


Super Mario Odyssey CappyWell of course I purchased Super Mario Odyssey as a Nintendo Switch owner.  Probably the game I’ve been most hyped about all year.  So what’s it like?  I wouldn’t say I have the vastest experience with Mario games and haven’t owned all of Nintendo’s systems.  However I enjoyed Super Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube and dabbled in Super Mario World from time to time in it’s various incarnations although always found that particular entry overly difficult.  Odyssey however is the first fully free roaming Mario game in a while and on picking up the controller I was pleased at how fluid and natural the controls felt (helped I’m guessing by the game’s 60fps).  Graphically it’s varied, colourful and highly-detailed even if the worlds don’t quite have the wow-factor of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, that other AAA Nintendo Switch game this will inevitably get compared to, which is unfair as the games couldn’t be more different.  Odyssey’s main plot is simplistic and typical Mario-fair.  Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach and this time is planning a wedding.  It’s Mario’s job to rescue her and prevent the wedding by chasing Bowser’s flying ship across various kingdoms dotted around the globe.  In each kingdom there are a number of ‘moons’ to find to power your hat-shaped space ship known as the ‘Odyssey’ and this is where the game delivers it’s inspired gimmick. 

Mario Odyssey

A talking hat named ‘Cappy’ befriends Mario after Bowser wrecks it’s home, and chooses to help Mario in his quest because his own sweetheart, a tiara has also been kidnapped.  Cappy can be used during the game in a variety of ways, to either break boxes, platform to higher levels or possess in-game characters to help solve puzzles and further traverse the environments.  It’s a great addition to the Mario-formula and makes for endless gameplay opportunities, but does come at a cost.  You feel slightly over-powered with it and your ability to possess enemies can make the game rather easy, meaning it’s quite possible to breeze through the entire game despite how huge the various kingdoms can be.  Yet that would do the game a disservice as exploration, finding the moons and all the secrets, collecting outfits or souvenirs for your ship is where the meat is and the game greatly rewards players who go off the beaten track and search every nook and cranny.

I’m enjoying my time with Super Mario Odyssey but at this stage, a fair portion into the game I don’t feel it has the depth of Zelda to clock in 100hrs plus, but realise this is a very different but equally polished experience that will keep me coming back for a good while yet.  Does it deserve the wealth of accolades it’s had, the myriad of 10/10s?  Maybe not but it’s still a brilliant game that, if you have a Switch is an essential purchase.