Thursday, 28 June 2012

There is only war.......

As I write this, Warhammer 40,000 6th Edition is just 2 days from release. My copy is ordered and I'll be picking it up on day one. 

I'll leave a full look at all the new stuff to better bloggers than I - be sure to check out @warllama40k's review of this month's White Dwarf for more here.

I figured I'd give a quick update though with my thoughts on what we've learned so far. 

Grenades are going to play more of a part. They couldn't play any less of a part at the minute, so that's good news. 

Your commander is now a Warlord and will have skills and traits to reflect this. Sounds interesting. As do the warzone traits for fighting in unusual environments and the ability to select fortifications of various types as part of your army. 

Flyers are going to play more of a part and Psykers are going to have a lot more to do. 
I'm hoping this extra element won't overcomplicate an already complicated game. But Dreadfleet is made simpler by the use of cards, so I'm hoping the new Psychic Power Cards will do the same for 40K. 

The addition I'm really excited about, is the inclusion of allies. You'll be able to ally other army's units with yours. 
This isn't exactly brand new - Apocalypse does it, as did the old Daemon Hunter and Witch Hunter books - but it's a welcome addition. It'll encourage people to try out units they've always wanted to, without having to build an entire army. 

Plenty of painting and gaming opportunities await then. Exciting times. 

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Tom and Me - Part One: I can see a Rainbow

It all started in Dartmouth in 1997.
I’d gone down there for a week with my parents and my best mate, Chris. At the time, I was reading The Runaway Jury by John Grisham. Chris had brought with him a 3 book boxed set called Tom Clancy’s Op-Centre.
I read a few chapters of the first book and really got into it. Now, anyone familiar with Tom Clancy will know that while he has written the Jack Ryan series himself, there are a number of books where he has come up with the concept and other authors have done the leg-work. Op-Centre is one of these, along with Netforce and Powerplays.
I enjoyed the world in which Op-Centre existed, so I explored the Tom Clancy range a little more and I came across a massive doorstop of a book called Rainbow Six. This one, Clancy had written himself about an elite counter-terrorist unit.
Even though I couldn’t read it in bed for fear of me nodding off and it hitting me in the face, I loved this book. So imagine how I felt when I was wandering around HMV one day and noticed Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six playing on the PlayStation in the corner. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it had a great atmosphere to this game.
It’s sequel – Rogue Spear came next and that was followed by the brilliant Raven Shield on the PC.

After that, things started to unravel. Rainbow Six: Lockdown on the PS2 was alright, but gone were any planning stages. Team Rainbow was no longer a stealthy, efficient band of operatives – the best of the best. They were a SWAT team who booted the door in and sprayed the room with bullets. The franchise was being dumbed down for mass market appeal and this continued onto the next gen consoles with Rainbow Six Vegas 1 and 2. They were good games and the bright lights of Vegas were impressive, but ultimately they failed to capture what Rainbow had once been.

Rainbow Six Patriots is out next year, but we’ve had little in the way of details as yet. I still believe there’s gold to be found again at the end of this rainbow, but once a franchise has dumbed down, does it ever return to its roots?

Monday, 18 June 2012

About Me - Part Six: Warhammer

When we were growing up, my friend and I, between us, had almost everything Games Workshop had to offer. HeroQuest, BattleMasters, Space Crusade, Space Hulk, Blood Bowl and Man O’ War.
The notable exceptions were the big two – Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 – but that’s not to say I didn’t stare at the pictures of these awesome looking games and long to own them myself. I remember looking at the picture of the Blood Angel captain on the front of Warhammer 40,000 2nd Edition and thinking “how amazing does this look?”

For whatever reason, I never got either of those games and life moved on. Videogames took over and years passed.
2008 – January. One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to get a new hobby/interest. It was while walking by Games Workshop in Meadowhall that it occurred to me. Why not pick up the hobby again, now I have a bit more than £2 a week spending money? Not being an impulsive buyer, I came away and did my research. I returned to the store a week later and walked out with a box of Eldar Guardians, some paint and a book on How to Paint Citadel Miniatures. We were off!

2012 – June. As of writing, I have 2000 points of Eldar, 2000 points of Ultramarines, the beginnings of a Battle Sisters army, books 1 – 9 of the Horus Heresy and two other Black Library books and two audio dramas, 10 codices, the Dark Heresy core rulebook, Dawn of War and Winter Assault for the PC and I did have Space Marine on the Xbox before trading it in on completion. Breathe.
And I’ve been to the last 4 Games Days. And to Warhammer World four times.
So I’d say I’ve gotten quite into it.
I’m currently working on a Space Wolves army of 1500 points. You can see some photographs of these and other models in the Geek’s Corner section of this blog. Let me know what you think.
I haven’t strayed into Warhammer Fantasy as yet, though I do have the rulebook. But before doing that I would like to, ideally, get everything I own painted. Fellow wargamers will read that and be laughing right now. It’s a fool’s errand, like chasing rainbows. But we can try.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Future's Black, the Future's Treyarch

Call of Duty. The biggest gaming phenomenon of our time, selling in the millions and making more money than any other form of media, despite James Cameron’s best efforts.

When anything becomes this big, the human race seems unable to accept it. When a band that started in a garage signs the record deal, we call them sellouts. When Apple puts a phone in everyone’s hand, we need to take them down a peg or two. It’s like we fear great success. And as we know all too well – fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.

Call of Duty has more haters than any other game out there, but this has never translated to the sales figures. We still queue up at midnight launches, hand over our 40 quid and go on our way. Until Modern Warfare 3 that is. The figures show that while MW3 sold in the millions, the rate of sales slowed much earlier than previous titles in the franchise. So have the haters got a point? Is Call of Duty fatigue setting in?

Modern Warfare 3’s campaign is very good, perhaps the best in the series and its multiplayer is solid, but you get the feeling that Infinity Ward may have trod the same ground one too many times. There may also be something else working against it – Treyarch.

Treyarch brought us Call of Duty 3 and World at War and have always been seen as the Call of Duty B-Team, releasing games we just pass the time on while we wait for Infinity Ward’s latest.
But with Black Ops, things changed. Not everyone liked Treyarch’s third entry, but it is difficult to argue with how much effort the developers put in. They shifted the setting to the Cold War, bringing the likes of Vietnam to the series. They brought us Combat Training, 2-player split-screen online play, 2, 3 or 4-player split-screen with AI bots, Theatre mode, the Wager matches as well as a deeper level of customisation. When Infinity Ward released Modern Warfare 3 a year later, their biggest innovation was messing around with the killstreak system. They even pinched things from Black Ops – namely the Gun Game and One in the Chamber. They brought Theatre Mode over as well, but somehow managed to mess it up. If you’ve had Theatre Mode switched on all this time, MW3 has been filling your harddrive up with a Game Replay Save for every match you’ve connected to. Since November! Have fun deleting all that lot!

It’s possible then that Modern Warfare 3’s weaker reception is less about the quality of the product, and more that we liked Black Ops far more than we realised.

Treyarch are not resting on their laurels either. Black Ops II will push the series into the near-future with all the futuristic gubbins that brings with it, such as mechs, drones and….horses.
And they’re introducing Strike Force. A game mode linked to the single player in which success or failure will affect the events in the campaign. Call of Duty, for the first time, will have a branching story.

Infinity Ward’s next Call of Duty will most-likely be next gen, so they have a great opportunity to shine once more. But for now - well and truly off the bench and no longer the B-Team – Treyarch are spearheading this franchise into the future. And it’s Black.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Prometheus has landed

In 1979, Dallas, Kane and Lambert stared at that massive shell of a corpse, sitting silently aboard an unknown craft on LV-426 and we’ve been wondering ever since. Wondering and imagining who he was. Where did he come from? Where was he going? Why was his ship full of eggs? Did he deserve his fate?
The “Space Jockey”, as he would come to be known, has remained an enduring mystery and source of debate amongst enthusiasts of the Alien franchise since that first glimpse of him. Now, in 2012, director Ridley Scott returns to the landscape he created and lifts the lid on its secrets. Well…….sort of.
Prometheus has received mixed reviews, but I think most of the negativity stems from individual expectations.
If you went into this film believing it to be a direct prequel to Alien – that the credits would roll as the distress/warning beacon was picked up by the Nostromo – then you were bound for disappointment. Because it isn’t.
If you expected it to tell the full back story of the Space Jockey – which school he went to and whether he preferred Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat – then this film will fail you. Because it doesn’t.
The Space Jockey, or “Engineer”, remains that enduring mystery, but we have been given a tantalising glimpse behind the curtain.

Prometheus isn’t an Alien film. It’s a Prometheus film, but it shares the Alien DNA. Ridley Scott has brought back the feel of his original vision, while at the same time creating a new one.
Like the Alien franchise, the theme of motherhood resonates throughout, as does a constant feel of unease, awe and outright terror. Any fan of the Alien films will delight in ticking a checklist of references, but they should also be prepared to be left with questions unanswered.
Prometheus is a film that gets you thinking, scouring the Internet, arguing with friends down the pub – debating the big questions. And the small ones. And when has that ever been a bad thing?
Whether Prometheus gets a sequel or two and we see events come full circle to those dark discoveries on LV-426, remains to be seen. I just hope it does so at its own pace and tells its own story, rather than pander to those disappointed by the first outing. Be patient. Big things have small beginnings.

Go see it. Noomi Rapace and Michael Fassbender alone, are worth the ticket price. This is a great film that deserves to be enjoyed and debated.
Prometheus – are you seeing this? You should be.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012


As the dust settles on another E3 Conference, what have we learned from Microsoft’s presentation this year?
They kicked off with Halo 4, and why not? Halo is still a massive deal and all eyes are on 343 to see whether they can follow in Bungie’s substantial footsteps. All evidence points to a resounding yes. Even in the twilight of the 360’s lifespan we are seeing some amazing visuals, not to mention enemies that move like we’ve never seen before and Forerunner weapons that ASSEMBLE IN MID AIR.
Up next, Splinter Cell Blacklist and sweet baby Jesus does it look good. It appears they’ve taken all the great things from Conviction such as the Mark & Execute feature and brutal takedowns - expanded  on and refined them – and added some old-school Sam Fisher moves like the Sticky Shocker for the long-time fans. The gameplay we saw looked very Future Soldier – all explosions and guns from the world’s noisiest spy , but that was to be expected, as darkness and stealth don’t really translate well to a conference demo. Expect plenty of sneaky-stabby action in the full game.

Here's the awesome demo:

FIFA 13! Yes, it’s that time again. More life-like players, refined collision mechanics to avoid those comedy clashes and if you have Kinect you can now swear at the referee.
Microsoft continue to expand the Xbox experience beyond the games with several big announcements. ESPN, NBA and NHL are coming to the Dashboard – all premium services no doubt like MLB TV. Xbox Music is attempting to blow Spotify clean out of the water with, count them, 30+ MILLION GAZILION songs. Internet Explorer is finally coming to our beloved console and all of this – TV, music, web browsing - will incorporate something they are calling: Smart Glass. Check out this video:

If there were any Nintendo executives in the room as this ball was slugged for the fences, I’m sure their shoulders sagged a little. Basically the Xbox will be doing all the things the Wii U is doing, but with the devices you already own. And it’s out of the park!
Electronic Arts
EA Sports had none other than Joe Montana up on stage to demonstrate the Kinect voice commands for Madden NFL 13, and impressive they were too.
Crysis 3 was also shown and the visuals, needless to say, are nothing short of breathtaking. This can also be said of Medal of Honor Warfighter which has been given the Frostbite 2 treatment and looks simply stunning.
And of course, we have another entry in the Need for Speed franchise. This year sees Criterion - makers of Burnout and Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit - taking on everyone's favourite, Need for Speed: Most Wanted. 

Ubisoft were up next and having already blown us away with Splinter Cell earlier in the day, they turned to Assassin’s Creed III. Some gameplay footage in the snow? A Revolutionary fracas with the rank and file of the redcoats perhaps? Nope. None of that. They only went and slapped us around the face with a bloody great naval battle! Cop for this:

New IPs
Matter, Ascend: New Gods and Loco Cycle were announced by Microsoft, but with little in the way of details. Are they full games or XBLA titles for the summer? Time will tell.
The new IP that got everyone talking though was Watch Dogs - a techno-cyberpunk-open world effort where you hack and control electronic infrastructure such as phones, lights and traffic signals. And you can slide across car bonnets and shoot people in the face. What more can you possibly want? There are already a few videos for this posted on YouTube, so be sure to check them out as this is looking very interesting.
Not a new IP, but definitely worthy of a mention is the new Tomb Raider. Billed as a reboot origin story set before Lara, you know, developed. Joking aside, this is looking super dark and gritty.
A couple of things stand out from Microsoft’s conference. The war is over. They no longer seem bothered with what the other guy is doing. The figures show that the Xbox has nothing left to prove this generation, and the continued expansion into other media – for better or worse – is clearly the direction this company is looking for the foreseeable future.
And as for the future? It’s notable that all the reveals are for releases later in the year or early 2013. Beyond April we have a blank slate akin to Command and Conquer’s fog of war. We can’t see beyond it, but we know what’s there. The next E3 will assuredly be ground zero for the new Xbox.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Alien Neet - The Review


A 12pm rendezvous at Tesco for supplies kicked off our Alien Neet. With pizzas, crisps, Doritos and beer we were ready for anything.
We arrived at the venue Mark had setup for the occasion – complete with fridge! 

We took our places, put the first disc in and set off to where no-one can hear you scream…..
The Directors Cut is interesting for one main addition, and one scene removed. Unlike the theatrical release, here we see Ripley discover Brett and Dallas cocooned in the walls. It introduces an aspect of the xenomorph’s methodology that most didn’t see until the sequel. The scene is a short, but emotional one and though it reveals that Brett and Dallas weren’t killed initially, it doesn’t lessen the impact of their earlier encounters with the alien.

One of the scenes removed entirely is when Dallas types questions to Mother, asking for the protocols on their current situation. Having no luck, he types in the question: "What are my chances?" The reply: "Does not compute". Chillingly brilliant, and yet the Director's Cut does away with it. A shame. 
My views on Alien as a whole though, remain the same – this is a horror masterpiece of tension and terror. A true landmark in cinema.
*   *   *

A cheer went up as the credits rolled on our first film of the Neet. A quick toilet break and we were straight into the second.

*   *   *

Of all the Special Editions, I believe Aliens adds the most running time. It’s most significant addition is the depiction of daily life on the LV-426 colony. We see that it’s all about industry as workers mill around, but we also see whole families are present – with the kids riding their bikes through the restricted areas. The scamps! And of course, we are introduced to Newt and her family. We see the results of their first contact with the alien species and we are gifted with the highest pitched scream on film.
There are also a few scenes that hark back to the original. The camera glides slowly over monitors and work stations, the scenes dark and silent.
What’s remarkable about all of this is that despite the added length, it doesn’t slow the pace. Aliens Special Edition continues to get to the point. It slams down the accelerator from the start and never lets up. “Ease down! Ease down!”
Not only do I still believe this is one of the greatest action films ever made, I now see how truly brave it was to take Ridley Scott’s concept and steer it in a new direction.
*   *   *

With a grape-sized bladder, I had another toilet stop after Aliens while the pizzas went in the oven. If there were any fears that the best of Alien Neet had already passed, no-one voiced their concerns. With the smell of food drifting in, we were feeling good and ready for round 3. Mark wore a crisp packet as a hat and Jack said: don’t take a picture of me.

*   *   *

Alien 3
A directors cut of this film would probably cut it out of David Fincher’s life entirely. Apparently he’s disowned it, but I hope this is just down to his experiences making it, rather than the film itself – because I think it’s great.
Alien 3 is more of a sequel to the first film than it is to Aliens as we are back to one “dragon” stalking its prey. There is a large cast and we are often not familiar enough with them for their inevitable scenes of demise to resonate, but this is more than made up for by the viciousness of it all. Alien 3 is by far and away the most gruesome of the 4 films with blood and guts in generous supply. It is also the most foul-mouthed. Even the grunts of the colonial marines didn’t drop this many f-bombs!
The Special Edition of this film is billed as a reconstruction of the original vision and there are two interesting differences from the theatrical cut. In this version, the alien doesn’t come from a dog, but an ox. With the ox already dead and not a domesticated animal, its chestbursting scene lacks the pathos of the dog’s scene, but it makes more sense with the cattle kept by the prisoners and the size of the xenomorph.
The second big difference is in Ripley’s sacrificial plunge into the furnace. (Sorry for the spoiler, but if you haven’t already seen these films, where the hell have you been?). In the theatrical version, the alien bursts from her chest mid-fall and Ripley grabs it and holds it in place to drag it down with her. In the Special Edition, there is no chestburst – just her graceful fall into the flames as the music soars.
While the special edition version is of noticeably poorer quality than the chestbursting one, I think it works better. It makes more sense for Alien Resurrection when they cloned Ripley with the alien still inside her and it’s satisfying to get through all four films without our heroine suffering that most horrible of fates she witnessed befall Kane aboard the Nostromo.
*   *   *
Fearing by now that there was something seriously wrong with me, I once again headed to the toilet. With pizza and the world’s biggest chips eaten, we were refreshed. Except for Jack who started to complain of belly ache and the need for a more substantial toilet stop. Like a hero, he struggled on.

*   *   *
Alien Resurrection
This is very much the sci-fi one in my view, ensured by its central premise of Ellen Ripley cloned 200 years into the future along with the alien queen she died with.
We have a good cast of characters here, including a very different Ripley. With her DNA mixed with the xenomorph, she has gained strength, agility, acid blood and a general all round hornyness. We do see a glimmer of her old self when she encounters the previous failed attempts at creating her, but aside from that, she’s a badass from start to finish.
The special edition of the film adds a few bits here and there, but the most significant being a longer end sequence. In the version released in cinemas, the Betty enters Earth’s atmosphere and the film fades to black after a view of the sun through the clouds, a bit of land and a short conversation between Ripley and Call about being strangers on Earth. The special edition sees the Betty land and then Ripley and Call have the same conversation on a poorly made set, before the camera turns and pans across the landscape. The ship has landed in Paris / Blackpool and the city is looking worse for wear.
I’m not one of those people who needs a film’s ending to be all sunshine and rainbows, but I must say I preferred the sense of hope that a simple view of the clouds offered.
My view of the Newborn remains lukewarm at best. Basically, as Ripley has been changed by xenos DNA, the queen herself has also had a dose of human genes and grown a womb. And what should come out of it? A human-alien-Michael Jackson hybrid with, admittedly, an awesome right hook, but also a penchant for giving puppy-dog eyes and generally looking really silly.
Ultimately though, my view of Alien Resurrection improved. I always knew it was a good film, but when you watch it on its own, you invariably raise the first two films up onto a high pedestal and compare – leaving Resurrection with no chance. Watched all together, however, and Resurrection becomes a natural evolution of the franchise and a worthy addition. It is without doubt, an Alien movie – one of four amazing experiences.
*   *   *
One final note. The thing that occurred to us the most during Alien Neet, was just how wet it is in space. Seriously. It’s basically raining in the Nostromo when Brett gets taken. It’s chucking it down on LV-426 and the marines are the sweatiest bunch since the crew of the USS Alabama in Crimson Tide. More rain and sweat in Alien 3 and then Alien Resurrection comes along and not only are the aliens the moistest they’ve ever been, but there’s an entire section of the film under water! In space!
Anyway. Alien Neet was a resounding success. And as we dumped plates and glasses and crisp bags in the kitchen for our host to clean up and headed out of the gate - over 9 hours from where we began - one thing was obvious:
The “Neet” would return.