Update


Well it’s been a bit of a quiet week as far as this website’s concerned and I’ve had a few distractions what with life and work etc that has meant I haven’t had the interest to really watch any movies.

On the other hand, I have been playing games and trying to get as much out of my shiny new Xbox One X as I can.  One game I’ve played at length so far is Far Cry 5 – a real showcase for the system, with high quality texture detail, fantastic lighting, bright, sunny vistas, lush forests and quality NPC animation as well as a huge world to explore.  The only real puzzling aspect is the rather bland water (games like Witcher 3 and Sea of Thieves do water so much better).  The gameplay is fairly par of the course for open world games, but is quite engaging, helped by some movie quality shoot-outs and plenty of atmosphere with the ability to approach most tasks however you see fit.  The backdrop of a religious cult taking over a southern community is both topical and intriguing, and something not that explored in other games.  I’ve also dipped in and out of older games in my possession like Gears of War 4 (which looks stunning), Mafia 3 (finally the game runs smoothly!) and Rise of the Tomb Raider (probably the best looking game I’ve played on the X so far).  In addition to these I’ve recently got hold of the five times Bafta award winning Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice which is a different kind of hack and slash game, where the focus is less on combat and instead that of the fragile psyche of the lead character and her journey into a hellish underworld to free her lover’s soul (I think), and explores aspects of mental health quite unlike any game I’ve played.  It’s also gorgeous.  This former PlayStation 4 exclusive looks fantastic on Xbox One X and is another showcase for the system, especially once you start getting further into the game.

Hellblade

Hellblade on Xbox One X

I’d like to blog more about games and am thinking of doing a post on favourite games of all time, although it won’t be a top ten.  I also have much interest in game-graphics and with such boundless power these consoles have now it seems, why do we still see games like Far Cry not have mirrors in bathrooms (usually they’re broken and therefore non-reflective…really?) it’s a pet peeve but I’ve seen them done perfectly in much older games (Max Payne 2 comes to mind) without a hitch.  Mafia 3 attempts them but they are all messed up (even still after the X patch).  Do game developers really struggle with this seemingly simple thing??  By now things like mirrors, realistic weather and convincing water effects should be a given … some games pull it off great (check out the still industry leading rain effects in Watchdogs).  The snow and blizzard effects in The Division are also great, but most games never seem to cover all things to the same level, excelling in some areas but letting themselves down in others.  It’s rarely the complete package.  So are we still a little ways off fully impressive looking games that just simply nail everything as far as realistic effects creating convincing real-world representations?  It’s clearly more about development shortcomings and less about the graphical power at hand.

Below are two examples of great looking graphics,

captured directly from the Xbox One X

Quantum Break   Witcher 3

With Gaming PCs, PS4 Pro and Xbox One X now available, and hints of next-gen around the corner … when will such graphics reach a standard where nothing, and I mean nothing seems out of place and the overall impact is jaw-dropping.  We’re close I know it.  Just not quite there yet.

Craig.

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Update


I feel I’ve been neglecting my readers of late and not posting as much as I should.  What can I say, life get’s in the way and yes I have a life.  But apart from that I really do like posting on this blog even if only a handful of people ever read it…those handful are important though!  Anyway I digress.  What I wanted was to give you the heads up about a few things I’ve been doing of late.  There’s been an emphasis on gaming and well, I got myself some games I need to get around to finishing before the big slew of releases leading up the Christmas.  There are too many good games coming out to actually manage to play them all let alone complete – but I have my beady eyes on a few.

Uncharted-4

For now though two games are on regular rotation, that being Uncharted 4: A Thieves End on PS4, arguably the best looking PS4 game and a rather polished adventure with that as expected Naughty Dog mastery of detail and game design.  I won’t say for such a game it’s grabbed me as much as Rise of the Tomb Raider did, but then that game was more about survival and this game’s more a summer blockbuster.  But I’m enjoying it.  The other game I took a gamble with and downloaded is the much underrated Recore for XB1, like Uncharted an exclusive but nowhere near as well received, which is understandable – Uncharted is clearly a flagship title for PS4 and Sony whereas Recore was under-Recoremarketed and isn’t really meant to be a system seller as much as the forthcoming Gears of War 4 will be.  However what it is is a rather classic throwback to platform shooter / exploration games like Metroid and I’m enjoying it a lot.  I love exploration, puzzle solving and platforming and this does those three things brilliantly.  The surrounding game, it’s story and it’s character design isn’t anything to write home about and it suffers from a few technical issues here and there … but it’s nowhere near as bad as the media will have you believe.  I’d say If you like the sound of it, give it a chance.

I also have Mafia 3 pre-ordered on the XB1 and have asked for Watchdogs 2 on PS4 for my birthday (note for your diaries readers, it’s 14 November lol).  I also would like to dive into the latest expansion that’s been released for Destiny namely ‘Rise of Iron’.  I really like Destiny and it’s world and the upgrading of my character and weapons and exploring etc.  keeps pulling me back far more than The Division seems it ever will.    But to save money and give me a chance of completing those two games above, I’m holding off on taking the leap as of yet.  I can also see even Dishonoured 2, a game I’m particularly excited for being put on the back burner until there are not so many games to play.

Daredevil S2

TV is taking up some of my time too and I’m trying to finish off current seasons of certain shows that I like, such as having just finished Daredevil season 2 (it was great, sometimes amazing, started a little slow but really delivered half way through.  I think I still favour season 1 more though).  Also nearing the end of the current season of Orange is The New Black which I feel has failed to really hit it’s stride this season apart from a strong opening and the return of a favourite character…I just wonder where it’s going.   I’m also watching House of Cards season 2 … yes I’m waaay behind but love it.  Its been pretty strong this season too.   Also enjoying British police drama Luthor…I think I’m on series 3…but I lose track.  Suitably violent and disturbing and well, Idris Elba is fantastic.  I’ve also lined up two more Netflix Marvel shows to get into, Jessica Jones which I keep hearing good things about and the imminent Luke Cage which looks a lot of fun.  I may focus on Jones first as the two shows seems to connect with one another by looks of it.

jessica-jones

Now back on topic … for movies I have a few in the pipeline you’ll be seeing reviews of.  I need to get around to watching Everybody Wants Some!  Richard Linklater’s spiritual sequel to one of my all time favourite movies, Dazed & Confused.  Also I’m hoping to see The Magnificent Seven with friends from work next week sometime.  Did I also mention that I have a special edition of Donnie Darko coming?  Look out for an in-depth review of that and how it stacks up on Blu-ray.  Also there’s that final Studio Ghibli movie When Marnie Was There that‘s out soon so I can’t wait to get my paws on that.

I’ve not forgotten about my continuing series My Gaming History which will have a new post in the coming days so look out for that.  But for now that’s what’s going on with me as far as a few of my hobbies, interests and this blog is concerned.

Craig.

2015 – a look back


2015

I usually like to do a blog post looking back at the year and the highlights it’s held both for me personally and on this blog as far as entertainment is concerned.  For a good portion of the year, from about March onwards I was all excited and geared up to see my favourite band, ‘Garbage’ of which I’ve already reported on here how it went seeing them at Brixton Academy in London in November – so the lead up to that was a big focus to my year.  However I did try and distract myself from this by playing various videogames and watching plenty of movies … reaching about 60 movies in total in the last twelve months (phew).  During this time my job and various other activities have kept me busy and of course I’ve enjoyed writing this blog as well.  So I’ll take a look back now and give my thoughts over the year that was 2015.

January – March

I started off the year with the enjoyable but not amazing ‘Maleficent’, enjoying Angelina Jolie’s turn as the iconic evil sorceress.  The first high point though for me was ‘True Detective’, which I’d borrowed off a friend … season one with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson which turned out to be riveting.  For some reason however I didn’t get around to season 2.  Then we came to the very impressive ‘Ex_Machina’ … my first taste of true science fiction this year that would turn out to be a great year for the genre.  I also very much loved ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’ and found it a breath of fresh air and endlessly inventive.  The Oscar’s overshadowed much of February and it was good to see Eddie Redmayne picking up a statue for his turn as Stephen Hawkins in ‘The Theory of Everything’.  Also Birdman picking up best picture was it would turn out, marvellous considering it’s one of my favourite movies of the year.

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I borrowed the much hyped but beyond the gorgeous visuals, disappointing ‘The Order 1886’ for the PS4 and thought it was a fun game that failed to reach it’s full potential.  Still worth it for the story and the graphics, especially if you can rent it or get it cheap …just don’t pay full price.  Then I experienced the underwhelming cash-grab that was ‘The Hunger Games: Mocking Jay Part One’ … which I’m hoping proves a better experience when I finally see Part Two.  A pleasant surprise however was the Sean Penn thriller ‘Gunman’, coming from the creators of Taken I was half expecting another poorly conceived rip-off of that classic movie … but no, this was hard-hitting action packed and well acted.

April – June

One of my major highlights for the year as far as games was concerned was the indie title ‘Ori and the Blind Forest’ …a superb, fiendish old school puzzle-platformer that was really addictive, had a beautiful Studio Ghibli-like art style and a large world to explore and get lost in.  I also enjoyed the comedy road movie ‘Identity Thief’, discovering the entertaining Melissa McCarthy for the first time.

Around this time I noticed I had reached a milestone, that of writing this blog for 8 years…wow.  I wrote a post reflecting on this and how I was feeling at the time.  I went through various observations of my life, work, dealing with depression that comes and goes to this day, and of the satisfaction this blog and my hobbies have given me when times haven’t been ideal.  I do venting and such from time to time as readers on here will be aware and hope you can excuse some of the more negative ponderings in between the movie reviews and gaming impressions.  Anyway on with the show…

john wick

‘John Wick’ turned out to be nearly everything I could want in a John Woo inspired action thriller and Keanu Reeves was back on blistering form.  Kevin Costner’s thriller ‘3 Days To Kill’ turned out rather poor and finally getting around to seeing ‘Donnie Brasco’, mob drama with Al Pacino and Johnny Depp was equally underwhelming.  Garbage’s new single and collaboration with singer Brian Aubert ‘The Chemicals’ left me with mixed feelings for a long while, and although I don’t consider the track amongst the band’s best work – it’s really grown on me over the last few months.  Nicholas Cage vehicle ‘Joe’ proved very interesting however and was one of his better recent performances, and Tim Burton’s subdued ‘Big Eyes’ proved decent if fairly lightweight for that particular director.

Also during April I was gifted with finally seeing the remarkable ‘Birdman’, from the increasingly impressive director Alejandro González Iñárritu (21 Grams, The Revenant) and also proved a unique return for Michael Keaton.  On the gaming front I got my teeth into the PS4 version of ‘Grand Theft Auto V’ and the much hyped ‘The Witcher 3’ on Xbox One …er, two games I still haven’t finished.  TV offered up the Breaking Bad spin-off ‘Better Call Saul’ which proved highly entertaining and I can’t wait for season 2.  The biggest disappointment around this time however was the news that ‘The Following’, one of my favourite shows was to be cancelled after the current season ended.  I was gutted but at least the final season 3 turned out to be excellent.

The summer blockbuster season kicked off in fine form in June with the exhilarating ‘Mad Max Fury Road’ which despite me not loving as much as some of my friends, I still got a kick out of.  E3 also dominated the gaming calendar around this time with plenty of exciting announcements for both the PS4 and the Xbox One.  Brit spy-spoof ‘Kingsmen: The Secret Service’ had it’s moments but didn’t impress me all that much … and Project Almanac was a fun yet forgettable time travel drama.

July – September

‘Terminator Genisys’ was one of the most purely ‘fun’ movies of the year and ticked many of my Terminator fan-boy boxes.  I don’t really care what others think of that movie.  ‘The Babadook’ also proved a refreshing horror movie that dealt with psychological trauma and the stresses of being a single mother with intelligence.  Around that time I also checked out ‘It Follows’ which was probably one of my horror movie highlights of the year.  Studio Ghibli animation ‘The Tale of Princess Kaguya’ also proved heart warming, magical and captivating just how a Studio Ghibli movie should be … and ‘Chappie’ was a highly enjoyable sci-fi actioner that once again made me a big fan of director Neil Blomkamp.   ‘Still Alice’ was a powerful story of one woman’s battle with Alzheimer’s and Julianne Moore rightly deserved her Oscar nod.

Chappie.jpg

As I rolled into August I got around to seeing some very good movies such as ‘American Sniper’ which proved very powerful, and ‘Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation’ which was again another very exciting entry in the franchise.  Then we came to another great sci-fi drama in the name of Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ which although at times confusing was full of wonder and amazing ideas backed up by amazing visuals.  ‘The Gift’ also turned out to be a surprising and very well acted psychological drama with a brilliantly complex Jason Bateman, whilst Iranian vampire drama ‘A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night’ proved visually striking but lacking in pretty much everything else.  Liam Neeson vehicle  ‘Run All Night’ also sadly showed that this gifted actor had found himself stuck in a rut of forgettable thrillers.

Although late to the party, I thought ‘The Conjuring’ was one of the best horrors I had seen in a long while, and Disney remake ‘Cinderella’ proved suitably enchanting whilst offering little new.  Crime thriller ‘The Drop’ seemed a suitable swansong for the late James Gondolfini (sob) whilst ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’ was fun but lacked that special ‘something’ to stand out in a crowded superhero market place.

October – December

As autumn and winter rolled around, disaster flick ‘San Andreas’ turned out to be a very enjoyable CGI-packed vehicle for Dwayne ‘the rock’ Johnson, and on TV some of my favourite shows came back, namely ‘Homeland’, ‘The Returned’, ‘The Walking Dead’ and ‘Fargo’, which have all proved excellent this season.  Dinosaur sequel ‘Jurassic World’ was a lot of fun and one of the better entries in the popular franchise, whilst Guillermo Del Toro’s gorgeous looking ‘Crimson Peak’ was one of my biggest disappointments of 2015 as I had hoped it would be another masterpiece by this talented director rather than the uninvolving style over substance it turned out as.  Thankfully Kevin Bacon thriller ‘Cop Car’ turned out quite the breath of fresh air and is well worth checking out.

Garbage 20YearsQueer (2)

November was for me, dominated by both seeing ‘Garbage’ and turning 40 (!!).  They were amazing live and I highly recommend you check them out for yourself if you get the chance.  I also visited London with my brother and pretty much that whole week will stay with me for a long time to come.  I hope to see the band again next year but don’t know if that will happen for sure yet.  Fingers crossed!  Yet I did get around to seeing a couple of movies as well, such as the intense, Oscar winning drama ‘Whiplash’ and entertaining animation ‘Minions’.  Yet one of the major highlights and probably my gaming experience of the year was finally getting my hands on ‘Rise of the Tomb Raider’ which was sheer gaming joy from start to finish and one of the best looking games yet on Xbox One.

So we come to December and much of this was focused on the imminent release of ‘Star Wars The Force Awakens’ which thankfully turned out a fantastic experience.  However aside from this movie I checked out comedy spy spoof ‘Spy’ with an again enjoyable Melissa McCarthy and ‘The Man From U.N.C.L.E.’ which proved enjoyable and visually impressive, but let down by a confusing plot.  I also finally managed to see Pixar animation ‘Inside Out’ which blew me away and was one of their best efforts yet.  Other than that ‘Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’ is one of the best entries in the franchise yet, with Victorian London a great setting full of atmosphere.


So there you have it, 2015 all done and dusted.  So what is left to say?  My end of Year Top Ten will be revealed on New Year’s Eve (this Thursday) and I’m already looking forward to compiling it.  There have been some amazing movies this year with some pleasant surprises.  My gaming calendar has been a bit underwhelming with only a small handful of titles truly impressing, but I am hoping 2016 fairs better.

For now though I’ll leave you waiting in anticipation for what I’ll crown my favourite movie of the year…

Rise of the Tomb Raider – impressions


Tomb Raider 1

I have literally just finished Rise of the Tomb Raider, the latest game in the famed franchise starring intrepid explorer Lara Croft.  The previous game, simply titled Tomb Raider was a very well made reboot for the franchise and saw our heroine shipwrecked on an island with more than a few dangers and adventures hidden within.  This game has Lara more as the adventurer we know and love and is more a straight-forward expedition to discover the ‘divine-source’ somewhere in Siberia, following in the footsteps of her father before her. 

rise-of-the-tomb-raider-8Developer Crystal Dynamics have created a very polished and detailed gaming experience that has all the climbing, exploring and ‘tomb-raiding’ you could hope for whilst also crafting a compelling, very well written story and believable characters.  Doesn’t hurt that it looks drop-dead gorgeous throughout.  The visuals on display here, with a wealth of effects and an epic scale are some of the best yet seen on XB1, with realistic rain, wind, smoke, fire, snow and water – also the little details to Lara herself from getting wet and mucky in water to a gradual coating of snow and grime on her clothing is quite something.  She also reacts realistically to climbing, leaping and falling or getting hurt that not for a second do you feel like this is just some videogame avatar, but a real, living and breathing person.  Quite an achievement, carried over it has to be said from the previous game. 

It gets pretty tough in combat, where as outside of getting shot exploring and solving puzzles is more about thinking your way through an area.  The combat however is at times fiendishly unforgiving and if you haven’t got enough bullets or you’re a crap aim or you have run out of bandages, you’re dead.  It’s also mostly set in Siberia apart from an epilogue that has Lara exploring a more sunny climate.  Flashbacks to Lara’s past, glimpses of Croft manor would have benefitted from a bit of gameplay thrown in, but the rest of the game is pretty immense with large open areas to explore and find secrets and hidden tombs in … so I can’t say I felt limited at all.  Also stealth, something that was hyped up (stalking and killing enemies in the forest wilderness) isn’t perfect as with the last game and getting spotted is all too easy…so going in all guns blazing is usually the best plan in the end.

screenshots captured directly from my Xbox One

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Screenshot-Original (2)

Screenshot-Original (1)

This kept my interest throughout, and Tomb Raider has always been gaming crack for me – I just can’t get enough of it.  So this met and exceeded my expectations no doubt. 

An essential purchase.

Xbox @ E3 2015


e3logo

Not long finished watching Microsoft’s E3 briefing and have come away rather impressed.  We got to see a new Gears of War being demonstrated in-game and hell, it looked bad-ass.  Only a glimpse but the next-gen graphics and a new somewhat Chris Pratt inspired protagonist certainly peaked my interest for one of my favourite franchises.  It was also good news to hear a fully remade version of the original Gears Of War would be out this year the wet our appetites for the next instalment.

rise_of_the_tomb_raider1It was also good to finally see some in-game footage of Rise of the Tomb Raider even if the footage shown was a bit heavy on cinematics and less on the actual gameplay – but the snow and weather and ice effects shown were very nice … and considering the game is out in November, I’d say what we saw was pretty much as it will be to play.

I was mildly intrigued with the announced Rare Replay Collection.  The famed studio that made a big splash in the Nintendo days hasn’t exactly wowed audiences since it got acquired by Microsoft back in the early days of Xbox (can we forgive the abomination that was Perfect Dark Zero?) but the chance to rediscover countless Rare gems such as Banjo Kazooie and Conkers Bad Fur Day was mouth-watering.  No word on if said games would be spruced up in next-gen clothing, but considering it’s a compilation, I doubt it.  Rare also revealed a new I.P. in the name of Sea of Thieves, a multi-player open world what looks like pirate sea fairing-thing.  Certainly interesting and the cell-shaded, cartoon visuals definitely appeal.  Excuse me though if I haven’t got massive faith in Rare as a developer these days.

XboxOne

One of the real big announcements was that Xbox One was going to be backwards compatible with Xbox 360.  Now considering the vast library of games for the 360, that’s a big coop for the new console even if backwards compatibility has always seemed silly to me on a new console.  Can’t people movie on?  But considering Microsoft’s struggles with their console this generation compared to the PS4, I think it’s a very wise move to get the former fan base back on board.

Forza 6

There was the expected Forza 6 and Halo 5 Guardians presentations (…wow!), and another glimpse of The Division with what has to be said slightly pared back graphics??  Add to this the recently announced Fallout 4 on Microsoft’s stage along with Rainbow Six Siege.  Then we also came to Holo Lens and the recently announced partnership with Oculus Rift (owned by Valve??) to get excited about, but no word on a price point for either, and surprisingly Oculus Rift had very little being said about it.

halo-5

So for day one, this was a good showing for Microsoft and Xbox One.  There was still plenty of talk of Indie games and Windows 10 which I’m cautiously optimistic about … yet overall, I was suitably excited.  No shows for the hyped exclusives Quantum Break and Crackdown, but you could say we still got more than a bumper show this year.

Over to you Sony.