Saturday, 22 October 2011


Team Bondi have now disbanded claiming that producing LA Noire was akin to slave labour. In it's lead-up, LA Noire was one of the most talked about games for quite a while, but did it live up to all expectations?

The reason why this has taken me so long, is because the third and final disc on the 360 didn't work. It gathered dust until I rented the game out and completed it but when I returned to it, any novelty value long dead and gone, it dawned on me how irritating this game can be.

You play (for the most part) Cole, an LA detective and war hero who likes to play things by the book. As the game progresses you work your way through Homicide, Vice, Traffic and Arson in multiple cases where each case acts like an episode of a TV series. There are smaller story arcs and a grander arc which is a confusing mix of army morphine, Cole's mates, a strange doctor and someone setting fire to houses. It has to be said that the most interesting arc was the initial Homicide story where you are trying to find a serial killer who likes his women. However, the way the case ended was weak to say the least. After that, it plateaus somewhat with some highs and lows but never really giving you anything new. I was also constantly bemused by what was happening and why we kept getting flashbacks into Cole's military past (which does become clearer later on). Cole's rule-abiding behaviour is quite boring and when he is 'shamed' it does come out of nowhere and completely out of character, especially when we see what his by-the-books actions have done in the past. It's a complex narrative, and not in a good way - if I don't understand it, I don't care about it and then I lose interest, which speaking to others seems to be the case a lot of the time.

This is sold as a narrative heavy game and the stories themselves are served well, I just can't stand the protagonist and found pretty much every other character more interesting. Even his final redemption at the end of the game was pretty lame. However, there's a lot of hours of gameplay here and I never got truly bored. It's quite linear but there is a sandbox element and at times you get calls to other cases, however sometimes these can take about ten minutes or more of driving to get to depending on where you are in the city. You can also unlock cars, 'landmarks' etc. but seeing as you'd have to drive to get there, and as great as the driving is, it's not Grand Theft Auto, so you're not exactly excited to do it.

Depending on choices you make, how well you do etc. will affect the narrative of the case, however not the entire game. Apart from dying, you're pretty much never going to lose. Essentially, you could get everything wrong and do nothing and although you might get a 1 out of 5 star rating for the case, it won't matter to your progression, it only means that you miss out on some story elements in the case that would be interesting. You're there to play a game after all, not rush through it.

Graphically, LA Noire is exceptional. LA as a city is lush, rich and full of life and the face motion technology they use is exquisite with some outstanding results. You recognise a lot of other Mad Men characters that have decided to join their co-star. The soundtrack is beautiful and this is a well crafted game, everything is put together in such a way that even the non-gamer would be impressed. However, what really lets it down is the gameplay.

The problem is that the actual playing of the game is crucial to the enjoyment of the viewer and LA Noire is repetitive and at best, stupidly easy. The shootouts are too few and far between with some annoying controls and the chase scenes are fun, but usually consist of just holding up on the control pad. What really annoys me are the interrogations. You have a simple system of truth, doubt or lie. However, what they say isn't necessarily a lie. If someone says to you - "Do you know Tom?" "Well it depends on which Tom now doesn't it" is that truth, doubt or lie? They look like they are lying, but it's true, it does depend on what Tom. But then you get it wrong and if you press lie, you have to back it up with proof - which sometimes could be anything. Cole also seems to go berserk every time you press Lie, he suddenly starts shouting and threatening out of nowhere which jars with the game. It's a flawed system and I don't think it was thought out enough at all.

Also the general set-up of each case is you arrive at the scene, the 'looking' music starts, you walk around until your control vibrates, you have a look and keep going until the 'looking' music stops. You talk to whoever you need to, get your partner to drive you to the next scene, chase or shoot someone and so on and so forth. A couple of times you have a couple of suspects, and I was constantly awaiting if I made the right choice - however, I have no idea still and it grates on me. I thought at the end we would see who was actually guilty. Case after case after case is the same layout but a different story with only minor changes.

I feel like LA Noire is all style and no substance. It's smooth and slick but with a story that I thought should be a lot darker (though is still quite dark at times), with a character more complex and especially if this is a film noir rip-off - an anti-hero at least, there should be more varied and advanced gameplay with a better overall storyline. There was so much here that could have made this game exceptional but instead it arrives at mediocre. It's definitely worth playing, a lot of fun and all, but there was so much that could have been improved on that you can't help but feel it was a chance slightly wasted. Good effort, but better luck next time. It's just a shame that Team Bondi's demise probably means the same for LA Noire - let's just hope someone somewhere has been taking notes.

Rating: 7/10

Monday, 10 October 2011

REVIEW: Resistance 3

As the war rages on, one man travels to New York to try and save the world.

I've enjoyed the Resistance series. The game's initial concept of war-torn Thirties London resisting an alien attack was original and exciting and was a great launch title for the PS3. Resistance 2 taking place in the States was a natural step and was the Hollywood type of sequel you'd expect as your character is infected with the alien virus and slowly changes during the course of the film. It's rather dark and bleak scenarios continue in Resistance 3.

You play Joe who was the guy who killed poor old Nathan in Resistance 2. He's in a small outback post trying to keep everyone alive when a doctor from the previous games turns up to say that a wormhole is seriously threatening the existence of mankind, he needs Joe to escort him there where they can shut it down. Resistance 3 soon turns into a road trip where you run into a couple of huge monsters and also a few bad humans along the way. It might have been a rather linear, somewhat repetitive affair but when I think back on the game, there were some great set pieces. From the horror onslaught of undead type aliens to the train ride to the prison escape, it works out to be a rather adventurous story. There's little to pick at but not much that makes it stand out from every other first shooter. People are trying to make things bigger and better and I rather enjoyed the idea of it being a desolate case of trying to survive a post-apocalyptic nightmare rather than an all out blaze of glory.

The story was good enough and the graphics were good with some great 3D effects (lasers were amazing for instance) and the general music and sound effects were brilliant making this game quite a smooth FPS. However, I couldn't help but think it needs to step up it's game a bit to fit into the current market. It was an enjoyable play but this whole Network Pass to play multiplayer didn't sit right with me, in fact I couldn't be bothered to do it and so didn't even try the multiplayer, which might be astounding. In any case, for what it's worth, it's still rather forgettable and I can only hope that in Resistance 4 they try something new as sometimes  there's only so much shooting with different guns at different targets you can take.

Now, Killzone 3 ...

Rating: 7/10

Sunday, 9 October 2011

REVIEW: Knuckle

Or My Big Fat Gypsy Bare Knuckled Boxing Match ...

Bareknuckle boxing is very strange, people consider it somewhat more brutal than normal boxing, but it's not really the case. Sure, the idea that your face is being pummelled by bone rather than a padded glove might seem ridiculous, but the bareknuckle boxer tends to get his fist damaged during the bout, especially on the face (hence old school photos of Victorian boxers, the reason why their fists are so low is you damage yourself less when aiming for the body) and therefore it might seem there is more superficial damage, but there are less deaths or long-term damage as you're not smashing the head all the time, like pro boxing.

Anyway, whatever. Knuckle is a man's pet project over the course of over a decade following two warring Irish families as they fight with each other again and again in these little civilised bareknuckle fights. It follows the Quinns for the most part but you often see the side of the Joyce's but, to be honest, it just gives these guys something to do. It's a sad tale of how these guys can only prove themselves one way, and that's fighting.

We even join director Ian Palmer in the sheer voyeurism of watching the sport, we're caught up in the blood lust that we see on the screen and Palmer even admits it had got too much and he had to stop. The way they make their own WWF (or should I say WWE) style trash talking videos is amazing, and the fights themselves sell for more than a few quid, with the fighters getting paid regardless. It's a strange affair and most of the time, the people are completely self-aware that it's more for pride than anything, there's enough money, bile and boredom to fuel the feud for a while yet.

It's strange to watch a documentary where you don't actually care for the subject, or any of it's characters, that much. It's a commentary of what is seen as an underground culture, but is clearly a thriving commodity in the travelling community. It's not got much depth, but it's an interesting watch.

Rating: 6/10

REVIEW: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark

Or more apt, Be Afraid Of Katie Holmes ....

Del Toro producing? Horror? Little kids? Could this be The Orphanage again? Fingers crossed and jumping up and down I began to watch the film. Only to be thoroughly disappointed and at one point even fell asleep.

The story is about a little girl living with her Dad in a new home with his new girlfriend. There are some clear family troubles with the daughter not really wanted by either parent and poor old Katie Holmes trying to be a mum. During the course of this there are these tiny little critters living underneath the house and they seem to pop up causing mischief which then turns a bit more serious as blood starts to be shed.

The main problem with this film is that it's as confused as Michael Jackson's kids. It's as much for adults than Gremlins was (which was also a 15 certificate), which everyone saw as a kid. These little blighters are even scared of light ("Bright light! Bright light!") and then it tries to take this weird, cutesy thing of these rather unassuming little toy soldier type monsters and make them really, really scary. When in all honesty, if you had any kind of weapon, even a big shoe, you'd probably kill them all in one swoop.

The little girl does well, even with such an annoying face and the stereotypical metaphor for these creatures being the obstacle to overcome to live a happy family life falls flat on it's face after the final scene, which in all honesty, doesn't really make sense. I wish I could say more about the film, but truth be told nothing really happens, it's the girl getting more and more perturbed by these strange little monsters that want to drag her to some weird kind of hell. All the fairy tale type notions (with the inevitable half-way 'reveal' of the history of the creatures) are a bit of a mixed bag and there's no real jeopardy to really keep you on the edge of your seat. It really is a shame that Katie Holmes just can't break out as an actress, but she is so amazingly average in this film that you can't help but wonder if you're just watching someone pretending to act. It's also confusing who you are rooting for and who the protagonist is, is it Holmes or the little girl? They're kind of against each other but not really? Who is the hero?

Director Troy Nixey's debut feature film should be wowing the audience, but instead it feels like a half-hearted effort and with Del Toro's name splashed over it all, it's a shame that the failure will most likely fall onto him rather than Nixey. This film is instantly forgettable and about as scary as realising you've forgotten to pack a pair of pants on your holiday. Do yourself a favour and forget Del Toro had anything to do with this film and keep those expectations low - you'll need it.

Rating: 4/10