Tuesday 30 November 2010

Book Reviews

Nerd Do Well
Simon Pegg
Century/Random House
Available Now - £13.99 (Trade Paperback) & £18.99 (Hardback)
Review by Rob Wade

Zombies in North London, death cults in the West Country, the engineering deck of the Enterprise: Simon Pegg has been ploughing some bizarre furrows in recent times. Having blasted onto the small screens with his now legendary sitcom Spaced, his rise to nation's favourite son status has been mercurial, meteoric, megatronic, but mostly just plain great. From his childhood (and subsequently adult) obsession with Star Wars, his often passionate friendship with Nick Frost, and his forays into stand-up which began with his regular Monday morning slot in front of his 12-year-old classmates, this is a joyous tale of a homegrown superstar and a local boy made good.

Simon Pegg is a man who should need no introduction to E14ies. The star of the films described above, as well as the creator and star of Spaced, Pegg has enjoyed tremendous and deserved success over recent years. As a fan, I was looking forward immensely to reading about his experiences. For those in the same position as me, a caveat: If disappointment is your bag, avoid this book. It is excellent.

The details of his early life are excellent, with Pegg a very talented storyteller as we all know. Interspersed between the chapters detailing his earlier experiences are excerpts from a fictional autobiography, detailing Pegg as a handsome muscular crime-fighting billionaire with a robot butler named Canterbury. That’s absolutely genuine, by the way, and piss-your-pants funny at its best. The main body itself, however, is a really interesting read, with some fantastic anecdotes throughout. Also, if Simon Pegg had been involved in the creation of Revenge of the Sith it could have made for a much better ending (though I take issue with his point that all the prequels are crap, but that’s for another day).

If I have one small criticism of this book (and it’d be a strange way to open a sentence if I don’t), it’s simply that the ratio of early life to more recent times is quite disproportionate, which makes it feel rushed when you start to hear about his more recent success. Don’t get me wrong: I fully support and respect that he doesn’t want to burn any bridges or bitch about anyone he’s met that he’s not been on the best of terms with, but there must be a ton of fantastic anecdotes about his time making some of these TV projects and movies which will have inspired the next generation of Simon Peggs.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: Pegg and his robot butler get into a few scrapes. Incidentally, that last sentence? Best sentence ever.
Sex/Nudity: Talks about sexual experience in some vague detail.
Swearing: Lots.
Summary: A very entertaining insight into one of the most E14 people ever. 9/10
Billionaire Boy
David Walliams
Harper Collins
Available Now - £12.99 (Hardback)
Review by Rob Wade

Joe has a lot of reasons to be happy. About a billion of them, in fact. The thing is, you see, Joe's dad is rich. Really, really rich. He buys Joe anything he wants, and lots of things he doesn't want besides. Joe's got his own bowling alley, his own cinema, even his own butler who is also an orangutan. No one dares to bully him, because he can always pay them off. But Joe isn't happy. Why not? Because he's got a billion pounds, but not a single friend. It's pretty hard to trust people when your dad's idea of a birthday present is a million-pound cheque. But then someone comes along! someone who likes Joe for Joe, not for his money. The problem is, Joe's about to learn that when money is involved, nothing is what it seems -- and nearly everything he believes is wrong…

David Walliams has emerged recently from his role in shows such as Little Britain to become one of the country’s leading children’s writers, with many comparing him to Roald Dahl, arguably one of the all-time greats. Reading this certainly illustrates some of the reasons that Dahl’s work springs to mind, with the style very whimsical in the same sort of vein. Although the story is grounded in reality, and to a good level, there are some more fantastical elements such as some crazy school dinners including all sort of corporeal waste products and animal matter. It’s got that sort of delightful whimsy that you associate with Dahl’s work, and you can certainly feel the love without having to wonder if there has been some suspect lifting.

However, this book isn’t all gravy (and even when it is, it’s made from badgers in accordance with the book’s school dinner menu). The plot, while interesting enough, is pretty clichéd at the best of times, with the lead character learning that money isn’t the most important thing in the world only when faced with anything but money for a day. I mean, Prince could tell you that ‘Money Don’t Matter 2 Night’, and he wears arse-less chaps!

In addition, the novel relies heavily on listing things for comedic effect on a number of occasions. Sure, it may work for kids who lack the imagination to list things for themselves in the same way, but here are a short list of things that are more fun than reading a book of lists:

Painting a seascape using only Smarties.
Playing Fallout 3 until your eyes bleed. Then having someone describe it to you, Knightmare style.
Punching your enemy’s grandmother (doesn’t really matter where, but in my experience the kidneys always work well).
Telling a seagull to fuck off – the louder and more exasperated, the better.
Reading a book where there are not as many lists.

Well, you get the picture.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: A kung-fu fight and some bullying.
Sex/Nudity: It’s a children’s book. What exactly were you expecting?
Swearing: A long list of fake swearwords, none of which resonate as well as the word “wanker”.
Summary: A nice idea let down by a few little things that all add up. 7/10
Black Swan Rising
Lee Carroll
Transworld Publishers

Available Now - £12.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

New York jeweller Garet James has her fair share of problems: money, an elderly father, a struggling business. One day she comes across an antiques shop she'd never noticed before. The owner possesses an old silver box that's been sealed shut. Would she help an old man and open it, perhaps? She does...and that night strange things begin to happen.

It's as if her world - our world - has shifted slightly, revealing another, parallel place that co-exists without our knowledge: the world of the Fey...Garet learns that one of her ancestors was 'the Watchtower': an immortal chosen to stand guard over the human and the fey worlds - a role that she has, it seems, inherited from her mother. But the equilibrium between these two existences is under threat. The 16th-century magician and necromancer Dr John Dee has returned, the box has been opened and the demons of Despair and Discord released. In a race against time and impending apocalypse, it is Garet who must find Dee...and close the box.

Black Swan Rising contains several great ideas, meshing folklore, fantasy and the works of Shakespeare all together, but is not executed quite as well as it could have been. The writing tone feels like something a teenage girl would have written, containing several annoying buzzwords, and an almost condescending tone. Also, whilst the action scenes are good, they take far too long to arrive. Black Swan Rising pads along with lots of things happening around Garet, but without anything really happening to her.

There are a few attempts to be scary, as well, and these backfire through the simple flaw of “not being scary”. Throw in that the story depends upon coincidence after coincidence after coincidence, and we’ve got more than a little bit of a wasted opportunity here.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Some scuffling and gunplay.
Sex/Nudity: One sex scene, but not very explicit.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A fun, fantasy, paranormal romance let down by a slow star and occasionally babyish narrative tone. The ending indicates that a sequel would have more potential, though. 5/10
LOLcat Bible: In Teh Beginnin Ceiling Cat Maded Teh Skiez an Da Erfs N Stuffs
Martin Grondin
Ulysses Press

Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Well, this is pretty much it for LOLcats. Hopefully. Last one out, turn out the light.

I’ve never been especially taken with LOLcats. I can see why people might be, but I think that whilst there are the odd few that have made me laugh, it’s a serious case of quantity over quality. Anyway, here, the LOLCats present their version of the bible. It is – surprise, surprise – almost exactly like the human bible, only with much worse spelling, and even less funny.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t LOLcats supposed to be pictures of cats with odd facial expressions or doing funny things, with a caption added? Only, the photos that are scattered liberally throughout LOLcat Bible are just of cats, well, being cats...They’re sitting in baskets, or lounging on floors. None of them are in a ceiling, travelling along a monorail or anything even slightly like that. They’re just cats.

And, it’s virtually impossible to actually read the bible bits without getting a migraine.

So, what we have here is a version of something that isn’t as funny as something you can get on the Internet for free. If someone buys you LOLcat Bible for Christmas, I think you’re then legally allowed to punch their mother.

Teh Emoshunalley Forteen Ratingz
Sex/Nooditty: Frequent unshaven pussy. Say what you like, that last sentence is funnier than anything in the LOLcat Bible.
Swearz: Nonez
I Can Hasz Summary?: An Internet fad dies the moment that a cash-in book is released around Christmas time. That’s enough LOLcats now, Internet. Bring on your next unfunny craze. 1/10

Monday 29 November 2010

E14 Arcade

We've all had it: that one relative who says "What should I get you for Christmas?" and then wrinkles their nose when you say that vouchers are fine if they can't think of anything. I, personally, have never seen the problem with vouchers provided that they're for a shop that sells fun stuff. I would be happy to receive HMV vouchers, GAME or even Blockbuster, but I'd balk at opening my card to find a five pound gift card for Halfords. "Ooh, now I can stock up on air fresheners!"

Anyway, this week sees a slight variation on E14 Arcade, as this edition is devoted entirely to the games that you should be focused on, just on the off-chance that someone gets you either Xbox Live points or Playstation Network credits.

Shank - Available on Xbox Live Arcade & Playstation Network

Shank is a 2D side-scrolling beat-em-up in the vein of Kill Bill. The cartoon graphics on it are slightly misleading, as the game itself is hyper-violent (because, after all, it's themed on stuff like Kill Bill) as the hero, Shank, makes his way through a series of criminals who have turned on him and killed his girlfriend.

The game plays akin to the old classic side-scrolling fighting games, such as Streets of Rage. In my case, that means "bash the buttons like a fucking maniac until everything around you is reduced to a fine red mist." The advantage of Shank as a character is that he has more in the way of arms to get him through than the cast of Streets of Rage. Straight away, you're armed with a chainsaw as a heavy attack, pistols as a ranged weapon and your titular 'shanks' as a fast, light attack. As if that wasn't enough, you also gain an Uzi as well as a Samurai sword over the course of the game. How cool is that?!

The game also features a reasonably lengthy single player campaign mode, with two difficulty levels, as well as a co-op campaign detailing the backstory leading up to the events of the single player campaign. With value like that, you'll be pleased you own it!

Shadow Complex - Available on Xbox Live Arcade

Shadow Complex is a 2D side-scrolling shooter more akin to games like the older Metroid series. The story follows a guy named Jason Flemming, who stumbles across a terror plot while on a hike with an attractive female that he presumably wants to bang. If he doesn't, quite why he goes after her when she gets captured is beyond me.

What's great about this game is that although the action is based on a 2-dimensional perspective, the action itself can actually work in different depths of perspective. As an example, if you have an enemy at the back of the screen going through a door into your area, you can shoot him despite the fact that you're not on the same plane as him. It's a really interesting way of doing the game style and making it work, and something that really looks more awesome as you see it happen in front of you for the first time.

With a variety of weapons, including a foam gun which allows you to make platforms to reach distant objects (and potentially, so I've been told, sequence-break the game so that you can finish it in less than half an hour), as well as some legitimately tough enemies and some decent AI, the game is well worth picking up.

But then, what do you expect from the development studio who brought you Gears of War?

DeathSpank - Available now on Xbox Live Arcade & Playstation Network

If the name Ron Gilbert doesn't mean anything to you, and you're unsure as to why his name should be relevant, I'll clarify. Ron Gilbert, the creator of the character of DeathSpank, is one of the minds that was responsible for the Monkey Island series of adventure games, one of the rare game series that both Brad and I will agree were awesome. It's not that we often disagree, more that there are fewer franchises in common, but off the top of my head I can only think of Monkey Island and Silent Hill.

DeathSpank plays a little like Diablo in some ways, with the main character travelling across a map doing quests for various characters such as ridding the lands of a particular enemy or number of enemies, or finding an enchanted item. When you consider that Diablo was a full retail game, i.e. a game that is charged at around thirty pounds in the UK, it's pretty strange to consider that arcade games are getting to this point.

The main thing that sets this game apart from a lot of the arcade games released is that the sense of humour from Gilbert's earlier works is ever-present in the game. In an interview with IGN's "Game Scoop!" podcast, Gilbert stated that the reason for the dialogue system he has always preferred is simply that where one developer can give one laugh from a dialogue exchange if there are no options, he can get up to four laughs from the same exchange by giving the character some funny responses to choose from, even if the player doesn't choose the other three.

Well, there you have it. This year, if you're a gift-buyer buying for someone with one of the main consoles, you now know that buying vouchers aren't as bad as all that with all of the awesome Arcade games available! If you're a console owner, and you get vouchers for Christmas, your yuletide celebration is saved, courtesy of E14. Voilà. You're welcome.
Words: Rob Wade

Saturday 27 November 2010

DVD Reviews

The A-Team
Starring: Jessica Biel, Bradley Cooper, Liam Neeson
Director: Joe Carnahan
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Available from Monday 29th November - £19.99 (DVD) & £24.99 (Extended Edition Blu-ray, DVD & Digital Copy)
Review by Brad Harmer

The A-Team follows the exciting and daring exploits of John "Hannibal" Smith (Qui-Gon Jinn), Templeton "Faceman" Peck (Bradley Cooper), Captain "Howling Mad" Murdock (the guy from District 9) and Sgt Bosco "B.A." Baracus (Quinton "Rampage" Jackson): renegade Special Forces soldiers framed for a crime they did not commit. Going "rogue," the team must utilize their unique talents - and eccentricities - to clear their names and find the true culprit.

Okay, pretty much all you need to know about this movie is that it features a tank parachuting out of a C-130 Hercules. Firing its guns. With a Jedi inside.

In fact, if you’re looking for action, action and more action, then The A-Team is the movie for you. With explosions aplenty, near constant gunfire, and some really excellent stunt-flying sequences, it’s like the 1980s are here again. In a really good way. Not in a New Romantic way. That would be horrible.

Of course, constant explosions would get boring (as the sales of my VHS When Good Things Things Go Bang would seem to indicate), so it’s good that the characters are all endearing and loveable. It’s genuinely hard to pick a favourite, they’re that awesome, and the casting is spectacular. The humour is genuinely funny and...well, what can I say? This is how you should make an action movie.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Near constant explosions, gunfire and fighting.
Sex/Nudity: Some snogging.
Swearing: Frequent, but not especially strong.
Summary: A great, fun, action movie, with loveable characters. As fun as the original series, without forcing in a load of “ironic” gags. Well worth checking out. 9/10

Second Opinion: "The A-Team" is a fun action film that I believe everyone will enjoy, and you do not have to have watched the original TV series in order to see the appeal of this film. Grab a large bucket of popcorn and enjoy. 8/10 - Charlotte Barnes

Starring: Adrien Brody, Delphine Chaneac, Sarah Polley
Director: Vincenzo Natali
Optimum Home Entertainment

Available from Monday 29th November - £17.99 (DVD) & £23.99 (Blu-ray)
Review by Kelly Prior

Splice is the exciting new thriller from the mind who brought you the intensely psychological Cube. Adrien Brody (King Kong, The Pianist) and Sarah Polley (Go, Me Without You) play a young, career-driven couple, both scientists working together on one of the world’s biggest breakthroughs. Hoping to be the first to develop cures for disease and the perfect living entity, they secretly create a new creature, half animal, half human; an entirely new species. Things get off to a shakey start when their creature is at risk of being discovered, but the real trouble begins when the couple allow their minds to be fogged by their emotional attachment to this unstable and dangerous creature they have made together.

Splice is a psychological masterpiece, raising telling questions about the limitations of science and the moral implications of interrupting and altering the evolutionary process. The plot is entertaining enough, perhaps with some minor flaws, like the fact that they manage to sneak the creature out of a high security science facility in a cardboard box without being stopped or even seen. Does this place not have the budget for a security guard or two? Anyway, it’s an exciting story and the characters are really great. The relationship between the two scientists is flawed, they have unquestioning trust in their ability to create a life together but their unwillingness to have a baby of their own is a sore point. They don’t seem to communicate well with each other and at some points even seem to have sinister thoughts about each other, but this is what is so compelling about their relationships and their individual characters.

The creature is spectacular. Named "Dren" by its creators, we see it develop from a strange amphibious looking blob into a near perfect human woman. Delphine Chaneac does a remarkable job playing the tormented half-human girl, and is definitely the most remarkable casting of the film. For a thriller firmly based in the realm of science, Dren’s design is more like something from a fantasy film. This movie is not just about scientific exploration, but more about exploring the minds of the characters. It’s a very touching film at times and also quite creepy when it wants to be. It definitely seems to be a commentary on the repercussions and consequences of scientific ambition in the real world, where things are illegal and people have fallible minds.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: Dren is very dangerous at times.
Sex/Nudity: Yes, there is even a spot of rape.
Swearing: A little.
Summary: This film was very intense and very visually appetising. The moral questions raised about the advancements of science are frighteningly real, and the cast is perfect. However, not as much action as we might like. 7/10
Top Gear: Season 10
Starring: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, James May2entertain
Available Now - £24.99 (DVD)
Review by Rob Wade

If you thought Top Gear would calm down a bit and the presenters would start to act their age, you're wrong. Series 10 features challenges that only the very brave or the very stupid would dare to undertake. For example, who in their right mind would attempt to drive through the Kalahari Desert in three twenty-year-old bangers? Or try to cross the treacherous English Channel in a fleet of amphibious cars that are less seaworthy than the average church? You guessed it - Top Gear's three intrepid presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

Top Gear was recently voted the greatest TV show of the decade, probably by one of those Channel 4 specials that almost always star either Jimmy Carr or Robert Webb from Peep Show. One of the things that has always been true of the show, however, is that it would be dismissive to simply refer to it as ‘a car programme’. Yes, there are cars in it as a primary feature, but it’d be like referring to Twin Peaks as “Weird Shit Going On Peaks” rather than “One of the most awesome shows ever devised”.
The highlight for someone like me, who has no interest nor knowledge when it comes to cars aside from the one that gets me to B from my initial departure point marked A, is that often I can see some middle-class well-off men act like kids for half an hour at a time. In the case of the car challenges, that’s precisely what I’m treated to. Within the space of about ten minutes on the challenge to build an amphibious car, there’s challenges to each other’s manhood in the kind of style that you’d generally hear behind the scenes of Dickass DM here.

One of the great things about the series is the camaraderie between the three hosts. When news broke of Richard Hammond’s serious accident involving a supercar and an unsafe speed, it was clear that the other two were seriously shaken up by it, and not just because it could so easily have been them in his place. They very obviously enjoy each other’s company, and it is clear during their challenges that they enjoy a sporting one-up contest over most challenges.
However, what you’ll find yourself doing a fair bit if you’re not into cars is skipping a large portion of the show, pretty much everything except the challenges and the Star in a Reasonably Priced Car segment, with some great celebrities this season, as well as some random ones (James Blunt, anyone? Thought so).

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: None.
Sex/Nudity: None. Thank the Lord.
Swearing: Some, bleeped (which I personally think is funnier).
Summary: If you like the series, it’s more of the same. If you’re not a fan, there’s still some good stuff here. 7/10
WWE - Breaking the Code: Behind the Walls of Chris Jericho
Starring: John Cena, Hulk Hogan, Chris Jericho
Clear Vision

Available Now - £29.99 (3 DVD Set)
Review by Omer Ibrahim

Christopher Keith Irvine. Y2J. Lionheart. The Man of 1004 holds. Corazón de León. The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla. Super F’n Liger.

However you know Chris Jericho, you do know him. One of the most celebrated workers of all time, his Intercontinental Championship clashes with Chris Benoit often stole the show from headliners like The Rock and Triple H, he thrilled audiences in Mexico and Japan, and was the first ever Undisputed Heavyweight Champion. He’s starred in movies, written a top-selling book and tours the globe in his rock band, Fozzy. After what seems like a lifetime, WWE has dedicated a three-disc set to him, and it’s a fantastic collection.

The main focus of disc one is a very well put together biography starting with Chris’ childhood and training at the Hart Family Dungeon, running all the way through his experiences in Canada, Germany, Mexico, Japan, and then the USA with ECW, WCW and WWF/E, right up until his current departure to tour with Fozzy. Jericho is a brilliant host as he speaks candidly about his highs and lows on his path to the top, as do the talking heads such as Triple H, The Miz and even Vince McMahon.

The bio spends good time on his non-wrestling interests, such as his father’s pro-hockey career and his in-depth musical knowledge. It even spends around 5-10 minutes talking about Fozzy and shows a good amount of live footage as well as playing tracks from the new album, Chasing the Grail.

Discs two and three are made up of a mixture of Jericho’s greatest matches, and also his greatest moments. It’s clear to see that Chris probably picked each match on here himself, or at least had a massive amount of input, as there really is a good spread, featuring matches with a wide variety of opponents. There’s a shaky-footage match with Ultimo Dragon in Japan that will remind many die-hard fans of the glory days of tape trading, and a wild brawl with Cactus Jack from the original ECW. From WCW he includes a barnburner of a match with Eddie Guerrero and matches from his Natalie-Portman-hot feud with Dean Malenko (Calm down Brad, remember the restraining order.). The bulk of the matches are from his time in the WWF/E and range from opponents such as Rey Mysterio, The Undertaker and Triple H to Hulk Hogan, The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.

Unfortunately these match-ups are missing one man, and it’s the only real fault on the DVD:

Chris Benoit.

Here is not the place to talk about double murder suicides verses a legacy of class performances, and I understand why the WWE, in it’s PG era, wouldn’t want him here; but I really feel that adding one classic Jericho VS Benoit match could not have caused too much of a problem, and would have put a wrestling cherry on this lycra-covered cake.

The only other problem here is when Goldberg says that he didn’t want an “even” match with Y2J was because it was unrealistic, and that he could just beat Chris and throw him into the crowd whenever he wanted. Even though Jericho legitimately beat the crap out of Goldberg in a bar fight a few years ago. Twice. Go ahead, Google it, I’ll wait...

...Goldberg’s a big bald twat, right?

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Some nosebleeds.
Sex/Nudity: Nope.
Swearing: “Assclown”, “Jackass”. Lots of “Ass”.
Summary: A must-own DVD. Even without the inclusion on Chris Benoit, its probably the best WWE DVD of 2010. (Just make sure you pick up some Benoit/Jericho matches too). 10/10
WWE: Summerslam 2010
Starring: John Cena, Bret Hart, Chris Jericho
Clear Vision

Available Now - £17.99 (DVD)
Review by Omer Ibrahim

WWE’s Summerslam is traditionally the second biggest event of the year, behind Wrestlemania. 2010’s edition is no exception in terms of hype and big match feel. Driven by the WWE vs. Nexus rookies storyline, and the sub-plot of The Miz and his decision to join Team WWE, there’s a big storyline running through the show.

The matches kick off with Dolph Ziggler defending his Intercontinental Championship against Kofi Kingston. Even though Ziggler’s finisher is a sleeper, he uses three similar looking rest-holds throughout the match. Why you’d need that many when your match is seven minutes long is anyone’s guess, but when Kofi eventually gets things going, the match is fast paced and exciting.

Next up is the WWE Divas Championship match featuring Alicia Fox and Melina. I was all set up to write some funny slam of this match when the unthinkable happened; it was good. Not Owen-Hart-in-Japan good, but still a respectable match with no botches and some nice spots.

The Big Show throws the team of CM Punk, Joseph Mercury and Luke Gallows around a bit in a handicap match. Punk is fantastically good at telling a story in a match, and that talent is needed here. Show looks strong, and nobody is made to look too weak by comparison. A good finish sequence later and we have a satisfying little match.


Sheamus defends his WWE championship against Randy Orton in a very good match. In a massive shock to me, Orton carried Turdman™ to a heated match. Even Orton’s “I’m some kind of viper” body-wiggling routine looked good in it’s place.

Sorry, this feels wrong.

Sheamus is a twat.

That’s better.

The next match sees Rey Mysterio challenge Kane for the World Heavyweight Championship in a match that was far better than it could have been. The interesting back story (Kane blames Rey for taking out his brother, The Undertaker, and Rey blames Kane) as well as the return of ‘Taker only adds to a respectable match. Highlights include Kane constantly having a reversal for the 619 and possibly the sickest choke slam I’ve ever seen in WWE.

Main event time as Team WWE (John Cena, John Morrison, R-Truth, Bret Hart, Edge, and Chris Jericho) forsake The Miz and recruit Daniel Bryan to take on Team Nexus (Wade Barrett, David Otunga, Justin Gabriel, Heath Slater, Darren Young, Skip Sheffield and Michael Tarver). The surprise entrance of Bryan is a genius move for “smart” fans, and, to be fair, he gets a decent pop from the crowd. The match is fantastic, but is marred by dead spots featuring Morrison and R-Truth, the inclusion of Bret Hart, and the usual suspension-of-belief shattering John Cena comebacks. It’s a shame, as it could have been a massive boost to the careers of the newer stars.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: Not a great deal, for rasslin’.
Sex/Nudity: Nope.
Swearing: Nah-uh.
Summary: A surprisingly good little PPV. On paper, this didn’t look great, but it delivered on the night, and that’s what matters. 8/10
Ross Noble: Things
Universal Pictures
Available from Monday 29th November – £19.99 (DVD)
Review by Rob Wade

Improviser extraordinaire, multi award winning comedian Ross Noble returns with his 6th live DVD, Things, recorded at Manchester Opera House during his 180 date world tour. This 2 disc set also features 2 bonus shows filmed in Australia plus one of the Things arena shows performed 'in the round', along with a full length version of Ross' 'Car Pool' interview with Robert Llewellyn and the now infamous Jonathan Ross interview/fight.

As a quick aside, is anyone else shocked and surprised that this is his 6th release? I knew he had been around for a while, but fucking hell!

Anyway, the main component of the Things DVD is a 135 minute stand-up set from his show in Manchester, and straightaway this gives plus points for me. As a fan of stand-up, if a comedian’s good the longer their shows are the better. In this case, the amount of material is split into two sets and is paced reasonably well. Saying that, I did find myself getting lost a few times if my attention was distracted for any more than a couple of seconds. Thankfully, Noble is the king of call backs, and would often return to something after a few minutes.

One of the best things about watching this DVD, as a new viewer of Noble’s work, is that he is genuinely capable of improvising an entire set based largely on the comments and suggestions of his audience. Now, while that’s an incredibly impressive trait, it’s an especially dangerous one as well if your audience turns out to be uninspired or indeed just simply not capable of suggesting the right things to make the set gel.

As a stand-up, one of the most frustrating things I found was to go out on stage with a slightly different than usual set, only to find that the audience was in the mood for the usual stuff. For Noble, it’s probably considerably easier owing to the fact that his audience goes to shows knowing fully what to expect, but at times the improvisation can be hit and miss.

Make no mistake, when he is good he is fucking excellent. I found myself amazed sometimes at the sheer speed of his delivery, which is even more impressive considering half the time it is straight from the top of his head. At times he had me absolutely crying with laughter, and his off-kilter style makes some of the most innocent sounding thoughts come off with effortless confidence, like it’s an idea that he’s been mulling over since he was born.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: Not in the main show, though he does scrap with Jonathan Ross on his chat show. Staged, evidently, but still funny.
Sex/Nudity: Talks about penises, and getting his balls out at Tesco. No, really, he does.
Swearing: A few uses dotted around.
Summary: Ultimately, for fans of Noble, this represents an essential purchase. If you’ve never heard of him, this is a great DVD to start with for the sheer volume of great material on it. 8/10


In anticipation for Monday's release of THE A-TEAM on Blu-ray and DVD, the action figure A-Team do what many Christmas Holiday TV specials have tried to accomplish before and try to save Christmas!

Why relax at home this holiday season when you can surge on an adrenaline high with THE A-TEAM? Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment is on a mission to kick up the excitement level this year with the launch of THE A-TEAM Blu-ray and DVD on 29 November. The Blu-ray promises more than 90 minutes of special feature material. There's more action, more adventure — and more attitude — in THE A-TEAM Extended Edition, which includes a never-before-seen version of the film with spectacular added footage not shown in theaters!

All action-genre fans will love this fast and furious adrenaline packed adventure motion picture with awesome special effects, stunts and memorable phrases. The Blu-ray takes you beyond the movie with new stunt-packed footage and interactive features.

Buckle up for an adrenaline-fueled thrill ride starring Liam Neeson (TAKEN), Bradley Cooper (THE HANGOVER), Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (UFC Star), and Sharlto Copley (DISTRICT 9). Convicted by a military court for a crime they didn't commit, a daring team of former Special Forces soldiers must utilize their unique talents to break out of prison and tackle their toughest mission yet. It's going to take guts, split-second timing and an arsenal of explosive weapons...this is a job for The A-Team!

Friday 26 November 2010

Dickass DM

Remember good, old-fashioned gamebooks? They promised all the fun of a role-playing game, with none of the social interaction - what more could a teenage boy desire? The thing is, that while the gamebook became a great gaming experience in its own right, the only RPG it could possibly have simulated was one being GM'd by Satan himself. 90% of decisions led to certain death, and combat was often fatal.

Satan wasn't available, so Brad is GMing Rob through an RPG based on the classic Robin Waterfield gamebook Phantoms of Fear. Brad is the DM, and Rob plays his character, Braggolas.

Brad: The beautiful goddess fades into invisibility, leaving a last glimpse of her enigmatic smile, and letting the two swords fall to stick quivering in the turf.
Rob: "Quivering in the turf" definitely sounds like a euphemism. I take the path to the right and investigate what is causing my precious forest to suffer!
Brad: As you walk up the path, the trees change from the peaceful, slow creatures which you know and love. Roots bulge out of the ground even as you pass and snake towards your ankles; branches brush you cheeks, but not in gentle recognition of a kindred spirit.
Rob: I would hope not.
Brad: There are no leaves on these trees, except for a few rotten remnants, which ooze thick resin and flick it at you; it burns whenever it lands on some exposed part of your skin. But worse than all this, and worse than the hideous forms of these warped trees, is the smell which the pit exudes.

Braggolas: Ah, caustic jizz. Jolly good!

Brad: Caustic Jizz sounds like an industrial band. The closer you get to it, the ore your sense scream that this is wrong, wrong, WRONG! The part of you which remains concious even while you sleep is aware that you are tossing and turning on your pallet, and are close to waking up in order to avoid the foul nightmare.
Rob: I stick with the dream. Worst case scenario, I feel a bit crap when I wake up.
Brad: You manage to block off your senses and persevere. The trees become less threatening and more lifeless - though that in itself wounds your Wood Elf heart. But the closer you get to the pit which is the source of the blight on the forest, the more you seem to be failing through a quagmire.
Sorry, that should be wading through a quagmire.
Rob: Very funny.
Brad: It is not just that the ground is sticky and hard to cross; the air itself seems to squeeze your chest, until your breathing is laboured and harsh. Like an Andrew Dice Clay routine.
Rob: I hate that guy.
Brad: In case that burn didn't get that across: so do I. Eventually, you come close to the pit. The light has entirely faded now, and you know you are close only because of the tangible aura of Evil surrounding it. A mocking laugh splits the murky atmosphere, and a cold, cruel voice speak to you:

Voice: Puny, Elf, do you seek to test yourself against me? I look forward to our meeting - if you get that far!
Braggolas: Mum? Is that you? How did you get my new mobile number? I've not given it out yet.

Brad: Then all at once a thicket of impenetrable bushes springs up all around you. Wherever you turn there is no escape, and the thicket is closing in on you.
Rob: Use a Fire Spell!

Braggolas: Spellcasting! B-U-R-Nailed you with Fire!

Brad: You remembered the earlier warning about not casting spells in a dream and are just pretending to be an idiot, right?
Rob: No Fire!
Brad: You boldly march up to the thicket - which parts and then vanishes to let you through! You know that in dreams the images that you see are formed by your own mind, and can therefore be changed or dispelled by your own mind, if you have enough Power and make the right decisions. But by dispelling this illusion, you also dissolve the dream as a whole, and you wake up. When you are fully awake, you know what you must do.

Braggolas: Weird, I seem to have a voicemail.

Brad: Somewhere in the forest is an area of foul blight, which marks the entrance to Ishtra's underground stronghold; you must find it, enter the pit, seek out Ishtra and do battle with him. This will be an immense task - a quest which, whether you succeed or fail, the Wood Elves will sing about as long as they have voices to sing.
Rob: Wood Elvis? Sorry, misread that.
Brad: To this end, you resolve to bring along the village's minstrel, McSpindle, to document your journey in song. It is a particularly daring undertaking for a Wood Elf, for your kind do not normally stray more than half a day's journey from home. You call a council of the tribal elders and explain your task.
Rob: Is one of them Hugo Weaving?
Brad: Yes!
Rob: As in V for Vendetta?
Brad: Priscilla: Queen of the Desert. They protest that the mission is impossible, but you do not allow such doubts to enter your mind. You tell them that you must go, and you make arrangements for the protection of the tribe during your abscence.

Braggolas: Fabulous.

Brad: After embracing your closest friends - and many seem to be such friends under these circumstances - you prepare to leave.
Rob: I don't keep items from dreams do I? So I've lost that bear...
Brad: All you need is your sword Telessa, a backpack and McSpindle.
Rob: There's a sitcom.
Brad: You do not take any provisions, because as a woodelf you are confident of finding enough to eat as long as you are in the forest.

McSpindle: So...which way, my liege?
Braggolas: Telessa, a backpack, McSpindle and a Pizza place...Uhhhhhh...

Brad: Lake Necros lies not far to the East, so you must choose between north, south and west.
Rob: North!

McSpindle: Let us go roughly North.

Brad: Without a backward glance, you set off North. There are few true paths this deep in the forest, but even when the sun is not visible, there are plenty of signs to show a wood elf which way is which. Although you often have to digress to avoid some obstable or other, you keep to a generally northerly direction. After half a day's journeying, it is time to rest and eat.

McSpindle: I'm bored. And hungry.

Brad: You look for berries while you continue walking, but there are not many. The presence of more light off to your left tells you that there is a glade there, and you think that it may have shrubs such as bilberry growing in it.
Rob: Turn left towards the glade! Plug it in!
Brad: Ugh. Sure enough, there are bilberries in the glade. You also find edible toadstools, wild parsnips and the fern called Skunkbear's Tongue, which Elves value as both nutritious and refreshing.

McSpindle: We Elves suck at marketing.
Braggolas: Yeah, I seem to recall an elven restaurant that sold Badger's Ballbag as a dessert. Wasn't bad though.

Brad: There is only just enough food to make a single meal for you each, however. It seems that animals have already removed much of it - more than they could eat, you think. It looks as though they have been storing food, which is unusual for this time of year. It occurs to you that they probably know instinctively that some peril is near by and are preparing for it.

McSpindle: I wish I had instincts.

Brad: After your meal, you decide to rest against a log.
Rob: I'll drift into the dreamworld, that always works out well.

McSpindle: Night, then.

Brad: In your dream you visit an unfamiliar place. There is a sandy arena, spotted with blood, in which two heroes are battling to the death. A crowd roars its appreciation, and the whole show is overseen by a cruel-looking man, dressed in rich clothes. You're picturing Darth Tyranus on Geonosis. I just know you are.
Rob: How can clothes be rich?
Brad: The appearance of these humans and humanoids is strange to you. You hear the richly garbed man speak to his neighbour:

Well-Dressed Man: Whoever survives the Arena of Death will be my champion. I'll have the last laugh at that brother of mine.

Brad: You wonder what this means: is it an illusion, or a vision of a distant land? The harsh sun which bakes the dream arena is suddenly blotted out by a vast Dragon. But this is merely the reflection in your dream of the shadow cast by the Giant Bloodhawk which is swoopingdown on your sleeping body. The pain of its talons ripping your thigh jerks you back to wakefulness. By the time you have drawn your sword, it is swooping down on you again and you have no time to cast a spell.
Rob: Oh yeah, if you die in the Matrix...
Brad: That's totally irrelevant.

McSpindle: *strumming lute*
Oh, he strode the wilds lands
With ne'er a word.
He fell asleep on a log
And got killed by a bird...
Braggolas: I love this so....wait...

Brad: Even while you are steadying yourself to meet the Bloodhawk's diving attack, the thought passes through your mind that it is far from its usual open habitat. Could it be a spy sent by Ishtra?
Rob: Sure, why not?
Brad: Then there is no more time for thinking, only doing.

Running Combat

Rob: It's a bird isn't it?
Brad: Aye.
Rob: What's the point of running then?

Flying Combat

Rob: But I can't fly...

You tell it that you think you should both fight other people.

Braggolas: It's not you, it's....no, I can't finish that. It's you.

You make it watch Robocop 3.

Rob: Jesus, did it kill my son or something?

It has an embarrassing conversation with you about contraceptives.

Rob: ...What would that involve?

You perve over the hot girls in its Facebook Friends.
You GM it through the classic Fighting Fantasy gamebook House of Hell.
You use the last of the toilet paper, but leave the empty roll on the holder.

Rob: I hate when people do that!

Bird/thing/monster is defeated.

Brad: You leave the clearing and continue north. As you proceed northwards, you see more and more evidence that the woodland creatures are preparing for Ishtra's imminent invasion.

McSpindle: So...what exactly are we doing again?

Brad: It is not just that they have been gathering much of the available food; you also notice that their behaviour patterns are different.

McSpindle: Indeed. That squirrel is filing its nuts alphabetically.

Rob: There are fewer animals than usual, as if many have already fled; normally timid creatures snarl at you from bushes; birds twitter in fright from the topmost branches.

Bird: @birdinothertree I'm frightened. Are you?

Brad: You begin to regret not bringing and provisions from home, especially since it is likely that the closer you get to Ishtra's pit, the more the forest animals will have eaten or gathered the available food.

McSpindle: And I'm really hungry.
Braggolas: God, stop whining.

Brad: You always knew that you would need to carry food when you were underground, but now it seems sensible to take time to gather Provisions for your whole journey, both overground and underground.

McSpindle: ...

Rob: Wombling free?

McSpindle: And there it is.

Brad: As you search for Provisions, you may well have to fight some forest creature, either because you try to deprive it of some food or simply because it is aggressive.
Rob: Makes sense, I get like that over Boost bars
Brad: *rolls on random encounter table* You scavenge seven meals worth of provisions.
Rob: Jesus, that's a mooch and a half.
Brad: The route you are following takes you past a Death Dripper.
Rob: Do I even want to know?
Brad: The sensitive roots of this tall, tree-like plant detect the vibrations caused by any creature's footsteps, and the plant immediately drips a fast-acting poison from its sickly yellow flowers. The poison fails to make contact with your skin, but some may have entered your backpack.

McSpindle: Good thing my lute is sap proof, eh?
Braggolas: Yeah, that's great...Douche.

Brad: You suffer no loss.

McSpindle: This is fun.

Brad: Go north, or follows the trail somewhat east.
Rob: Let's go north, I don't like the idea of going "somewhat" east. Only a Jedi deals in vagueness. And I'm an Elf.

McSpindle: *strumming lute*
Oh, he stabbed a bird of prey to death
And then he stole some grub.
He crept past a plant of fuckening
And something-something-dub.

Brad: Before long, you arrive at the bank of a creek, which is flowing east in the direction of Lake Nekros.
Rob: Lake Necros? They fuck dead people?
Brad: The creek is not too wide, and you can see the stony bottom, so it seems fordable. The water would come up to your chest, at the most. You could wade through and continue north, or follow the creek upstream to the west.
Rob: I'll Me through the water.

McSpindle: You'll have to carry me. I'm water soluble.
Braggolas: Of all the...Fine.



Follow Rick and his mysterious Terror Mask as he unmercifully tears, cuts and beats his way through denizens of unearthly creatures in an epic adventure to rescue his girlfriend from the clutches of deranged occult figure Dr. West.

Embodying the unfiltered, primal aggression of its namesake, Splatterhouse combines visceral, adrenaline-soaked combat with horror elements to deliver an original gaming experience that defies the boundaries of the traditional action category with over the-top gore and shocking new gameplay mechanics.

A wall of metal tunes underscores blood-soaked battles with massive bosses, brutal weapons, over-the-top gore and real-time regeneration. And while your ears are ringing, a new Splatterkill System lets you get your hands bloody!

Thursday 25 November 2010

Gaming Reviews

Rock Band 3
Harmonix/EA Games
Available now - £34.99 (Wii), £49.99 (PS3, Xbox 360 (Version Tested)) & £24.99 (DS)
Review by Rob Wade

Casual player? Rock Band 3 has great new party modes for quick rocking sessions with friends. Serious player? A whole new universe of challenges awaits. The revamped Career Mode sets your band on a path to conquer the world, chasing 700+ goals and rewards. Pro Mode takes instrumental gameplay to the next level of sophistication. And seamless leaderboard integration keeps you always aware of how you're stacking up against your friends.

Rock Band 3 sees the same core gameplay experience delivered for the home consoles, with the ability as before to play previous downloadable content from previous games (and the actual disc track lists themselves, generally available for a flat fee), giving you over 2,000 songs to play straightaway if you have the older games in the series. If you haven’t, then those songs are still available using the Rock Band Music Store via Xbox Live or Playstation Network, so lifespan is not really a concern when talking about this game. Besides which, with artists like Queen on the list of songs available on the main disc, it’s not like the quality is lacking.

When it comes to Career Mode, probably the feature I like the best in this edition is the ability to just drop in and out of Career Mode gameplay. This is one of those things that always bugged me about the first game, as my sister and I (the fantastic ‘Cherry Gunrack’ in the absence of any creative inspiration when generating the band name) both worked shift pattern at our jobs, and weren’t able to continue without the other one being there. Plus we were stuck on instruments for the entire duration on the previous ones, whereas now you can choose the instruments song by song and switch out. In terms of making the Career mode more accessible and ultimately adding variety to an already varied game, it’s about the best thing Harmonix could’ve done, and for that I have to tip my hat.

Add to that the ability to save custom set lists and sort through songs more easily, and the navigation of the game is vastly improved in general. The gameplay, it has to be said , is not going to do anything different for people who never got into Rock Band, as ultimately the gameplay core is completely unchanged.

However, if you’re into these games, or even if you’ve never given one a try and just want to give one a go, this is the one. Get this one at all costs. Having played my fair share of music games, from Singstar and Lips even as far as games like Dance Dance Revolution and the new Dance Central for Kinect (which incidentally is pretty scary to watch – a 6’7” white guy with glasses dancing to Bell Biv Devoe’s ‘Poison’), I can say with conviction that this tops them all.

If you still need more convincing that this game has been bulked out significantly, the game now supports up to 7 separate instruments for a band size more along the lines of Less than Jake (though still no sign of trumpet support), and the game has a whole new instrument in the keyboard. As well as this, the game has a new Pro Mode, where you actually play compatible instruments just as you would a real guitar. While some might argue that one should just play guitar rather than this, nobody can really be surprised that this feature has surfaced: the game has been going this way since the beginning, and I suspect that if they could have implemented it into the game before now, they would have.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics: Clear and crisp graphics, but still possesses the same cartoon-like style as the previous iterations.
Sound/Music: All the songs sound great, as they’re generally the master tracks.
Gameplay: The same great Rock Band experience, with some welcome additions, particularly to the Career mode.
Lasting Appeal: With the ability to play over 2,000 songs out of the box, this game has absolutely epic lifespan.
Summary: Without a doubt, the best music game I have ever played. Stitch that, Parappa the Rapper! 10/10
The Sims 3
EA Games
Available Now - £29.99 (DS), £34.99 (Wii), £49.99 (Xbox 360 (Version Tested), PS3) – Also available on PC/Mac
Review by Rob Wade

Create Sims with unique personalities, fulfill their desires, and control their lives within a living neighborhood. Unlock all-new Karma Powers and unleash them on your Sims: help your Sim "get lucky," bless them with "instant beauty" or curse them with an "epic fail." But use these powers wisely, because they may have unexpected results! Design and build your Sims' dream home and share your creations with others. As you guide your Sims through life you can complete challenges to unlock additional items, town upgrades, and new buildings and landmarks. For the first time ever, upload and download content from your game, including furnishings, houses, player creations, and more!

As quite the keen player of many different versions of The Sims both on PC and console, one of the things that made me sceptical about this release of the newest addition to the franchise was simply that the console versions either didn’t work at all or had to be completely re-engineered in a way that was usually bizarre and just didn’t need to be done. I remember well the time I was playing as a hotel owner who fought crime as ‘The Raticator’, a giant rat, in his spare time and thinking “fucking hell, I could be playing Professor Layton right about now.”

Worry not, by the way, I traded in that copy of The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and did indeed invest in the puzzle-solving classic. It’s a strange quirk of mine that I can’t seem to justify to myself buying a game with trade in credit on any console other than the platform that the trade-in games were on, so DS games are traded in for other DS games and so on. Strange, and frustrating when buying games for my Xbox 360, as I’m somewhat of a hoarder on that console. I even still have my copy of Infernal: Hell’s Vengeance, a game so bad that the game and I occasionally discuss other bad games in a fictional dialogue in my head, our most recent exchange printed Here, during my review of Ninja Blade.

When it came to The Sims 3, the main worry I had was how it would control, as the keyboard and mouse controls of the PC version are superb and get the job done very effectively. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find that actually, the console version handles really well. Though it takes a bit of getting used to the location of certain commands, and the menu system is a little differently laid out, once you get over those hurdles the game handles really easily.

One new feature that is somewhat exclusive to the console versions is the addition of 'Karma Powers', powers that can be unlocked by completing certain challenges in-game. These can range extensively, from good ones like 'fill the needs of one Sim instantly' to negative ones like 'rain fire and brimstone down upon the house of one Sim'. The latter, it won't surprise you to know, is a lot more fun, but a lot less viable long-term if you keep inflicting it upon your Sim. The powers themselves, however, feel a little tacked on, and don't really add anything to the gameplay over the entire run, only really serving to randomly shake up what is presumably becoming boring (because let's face it, if everything's going well, you don't deliberately rain down fire upon your own Sim unless you're stuck for something to do).

One problem I noticed however, when it comes to performance, is that the game has quite a high number of loading screens and has to load each area of the town separately, a complete departure from the PC version where the entire city is loaded simultaneously. Obviously, this is done to handle the limitations of the console versions over the PC version, but this presents a slight issue in that you spend a lot longer waiting for things to load up when your Sim does anything so remote as going to work or even socialising. The game even has a loading screen that says something to the effect of “Want this to run better? Install it on the console” (true in the case of the Xbox 360 version, anyway – I imagine the installation is automatic on the PS3, as with every cocking game I’ve played on mine so far). The problem I have with this is that simply put, you shouldn’t have to install a console game for it to load reasonably quickly. If you’re one of the few readers who have an Xbox 360 Arcade (whether that’s the 512MB storage model, the 4GB model or whatever), it’s worth noting that this game will chug at times.

Apart from that, there’s very little else that needs to be said. If you like this type of game on PC, then this is the closest version I’ve seen to the PC game both in terms of controls and the variety of options available. Of course, this game has achievements/trophies on the Xbox 360/PS3 versions respectively, which may be a draw for some players, as they’re not impossible to attain without too much trouble. However, if you’re not into this sort of game, there’s not much new here: it’s the same quality of game that it’s always been.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Graphics: The usual quality of graphics you’d expect from this series, nothing stellar there.
Sound/Music: The same sound effects and music that you’d expect from the previous iterations.
Gameplay: Solid, but a little stop-start until you get used to the controls, and even then there’s issues, most notably on performance without installation.
Lasting Appeal: The same sort of level as the PC games, if you like this sort of game you’ll end up spending hours playing it.
Summary: A strong conversion, and one to pick up if this sort of game is what you’ve been waiting for since the PC version came out. 8/10
LEGO Universe
LEGO/NetDevil/Warner Bros.
Available Now - £PC
Review by Blake Harmer

Whilst I will admit I am not an avid online gamer, and that my previous forays into the realms of MMORPG have left me feeling disappointed, as I consider them mostly a waste of money. So when top games like World Of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI have failed to lure me in, I will admit I felt a little bit sorry for LEGO Universe. But has it been able to convert me to the fact that online gaming is the true way?

Just to be extra confusing, I’m afraid the answer to this question is both "yes" and "no". The game’s biggest benefit has to be that; like previous LEGO games such as Harry Potter, Batman, Star Wars and Indianna Jones; Universe has a similar exploring, fighting and building feel. However, Universe benefits by allowing you to build items brick by brick and even assign behaviours to your objects to give them life. This gives the game a powerful creation tool and allows you to create lots of different things. Sure it may not be as powerful as the likes of Little Big Planet on the PS3, but it is also a damn sight easier to use as well.

You also get the choice of four different groups (or "Guilds" as most RPG players would put it), depending on your preferred style of gaming. Be it fighting bad guys, building objects, exploring or being a bad guy and destroying stuff. LEGO Universe allows you to do it all.

Granted there is a lot of fun here "for all the family" but there were some flaws with the game that didn’t truly convert me to the way of the MMORPG. Firstly, I found the camera to be very fiddly at the times and it likes to zoom in too much when in combat so you can’t see what you’re doing very easily. Also, I found that with prolonged play you can complete most of the games challenges in a couple of days, which is worrying considering this is a MMORPG and should have thousands of hours of stuff to do here. However, this flaw can be fixed with added content, not to mention the large amount of fun you can have just building.

The Emotionally Fourteen Games Rating
Fairly standard as far as most LEGO games are concerned.
Sound/Music: Playful sound effects and noises. The music can be a bit annoying after awhile though
Gameplay: An enjoyable MMORPG for younger gamers that has something to cater for all tastes. At this point there really isn’t enough here to entice hardcore gamers though.
Lasting Appeal: A pleasant distraction for the most part, but hardcore gamers will polish most of the quests in a short period of time. The building element will keep most entertained for a long time.
Summary: At the end of the day though, this is definitely for families and younger gamers who want an experience of their first MMORPG, and to this extent the game succeeds. However, this is not a game for hardcore gamers due to the lack of stuff to do at present, and with monthly fees applying like a lot of MMORPGS, the game’s success does come down to whether the parents wish to pay the fees so their kid can be glued to the PC every night (again, if there is enough here for people to keep them playing for that long). 6/10

Wednesday 24 November 2010

Getting Started with the Star Wars Expanded Universe

The Star Wars Expanded Universe can – after over thirty years of running now – be a pretty daunting place to a newcomer. There are all these books, scattered all across the timeline, running the gamut from 3,000 years before the movies to forty years afterwards (and even further in each direction if you factor in the comics as well). Well, thanks to E14, here are five titles to get you started, if you’re interested.

All of the Star Wars properties are interlinked into what Lucasfilm refer to as the “Expanded Universe” (EU). There are very few “non-canon”/glorified fan-fiction titles, such as the other franchise produces. The movies, TV shows, games, books, comics and even toys all cross-reference each other to create one, on-going continuity.

Whilst both the artistic merits and canon legitimacy of the bulk of the Expanded Universe is a frequently debated topic, one thing is undeniable: if you like it, then there’s plenty to keep you going. If you only like the films, that’s great – just stick with the movies. There are Star Wars fans who like the comics, but don’t get on with the novels (and vice versa), and that’s fine too. There are some who love just the Old Republic setting, and don’t really care for the post-Return of the Jedi stuff. You can dip in and out of whatever parts you like, so long as you have fun whilst you’re doing it.

But if you’re interested...where do you start? Well, here are five great starting points, scattered through the timeline.

These assume you’ve seen all six movies, but assume no prior knowledge of any other materials. Of course, if you haven’t seen all six movies, you’re probably not reading this site anyway.

The Thrawn Trilogy
(Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command)
Timothy Zahn

Originally published in 1991, The Thrawn Trilogy is generally credited (along with the comic Dark Empire) with being the start of the modern EU. Picking up events five years after the events of Return of the Jedi, The Thrawn Trilogy tells the story of Grand Admiral Thrawn, a military genius in command of the remnants of the Imperial forces. With a clone Dark Jedi and mysterious creatures that are able to totally block The Force thrown into the mix, author Timothy Zahn was able to totally rejuvenate interest in Star Wars.

The trilogy is great for beginners because is assumes no prior knowledge of anything bar the original trilogy, and if you want to get in at the ground floor, then this was the beginning of the Expanded Universe as it’s known today. It also introduces several characters who go on to have major roles in the Expanded Universe, such as Borsk Fey'lya, Talon Karrde, Mara Jade and Garm Bel Iblis.

The Darth Bane Trilogy
(Path of Destruction, Rule of Two, Dynasty of Evil)
Drew Karpyshyn

If you like bad guys, then you owe it to yourself to check out Drew Karpyshyn’s Darth Bane Trilogy . Darth Bane is the creator of the “Rule of Two” seen in the prequel trilogy, that commands that there should only ever be two Sith: one master and one apprentice. Set 1,000 years before the movies, The Darth Bane Trilogy still contains all the explosions, lightsabers and action that you expect from Star Wars, but it’s also mind-bogglingly dark. Torture and murder are regular occurrences, and there’s more Force Lightning than you can shake a stick at.

Whilst there’s plenty of little bits in there that are more satisfying if you know some other EU stuff, you can walk into this fresh from the movies and follow everything. In fact, beginner or not, this is one of the best series in the EU.

The Courtship of Princess Leia
Dave Wolverton

Yeah, I know, right? “Courtship”? Romantic looking cover? Is this a kissing book?

Lucasfilm obviously agree, as a few years later they re-issued this with a much more action packed cover. Anyway, The Courtship of Princess Leia takes place four years after Return of the Jedi.

The fledgling New Republic approaches the Hapes Consortium (an outlying system), with a view to combating the remnants of the Empire. There is only one catch: Princess Leia must marry the Queen Mother's son, the dashing and wealthy Prince Isolder.

Han reacts badly to the news. He flees with her to the beautiful but untamed planet of Dathomir, where he hopes to change her mind - and win her heart. Meanwhile, Luke Skywalker and Artoo form an unlikely partnership with the jilted Prince Isolder to track down the runaways. But their mission is only the beginning of an adventure that will lead to the discovery of an awesome treasure and a group of Force-trained "witches"...

This was also the first time you ever got to see Jedi ride around on Rancors. If that doesn’t sound cool, then you’re possibly dead.

Shadows of the Empire
Steve Perry

Maybe the idea of adventures before or after the movies doesn’t interest you. Maybe you want more of the same. If so, then start out with Shadows of the Empire. Set inbetween The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi it answers a lot of unanswered (and, let’s be honest, unasked) questions between the two movies. We see Luke build his lightsaber, find out how they track Han to Tatooine, and there’s also a glimpse into the “Star Wars Mafia” Black Sun. If you want to experience more of the “classic” Star Wars, then this is a great choice.

The Force Unleashed
Sean Williams

Much like Shadows of the Empire, The Force Unleashed delves the era of the movies, but fills in some of the details that weren’t covered in the movies. Set between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope, The Force Unleashed tells the story of what happens when Darth Vader takes on a secret apprentice with a view to overthrowing Emperor Palpatine.

Like the aforementioned Shadows of the Empire this was a massive book/comic/video-game tie in and, like Shadows of the Empire, the novel is the best cross-section of the whole story. Crammed full of Dark Side powers, lightsaber fights, and several key scenes that offer a different point of view on the original trilogy, The Force Unleashed is as good a gateway into the EU as any on this list.

Also, Jedi on Rancors.

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Words: Brad Harmer


Clive and Elsa are the best scientists in their field. Splicing together the genes of several animals they have managed to bring into existence a new kind of creature, the protein of which could be highly profitable. But experimenting for a large corporate firm doesn’t satisfy their scientific curiosity.

After secretly adding human DNA into their formula Clive and Elsa soon realise they may have made a mistake, a big mistake. A mistake that seems to be aging, growing and transforming at an incredible rate. An uncontrollable mistake that’s about to break loose and rip their world apart into tiny pieces.

Directed by celebrated cult director Vincenzo Natali (Cube) and starring Adrian Brody (King Kong, Predators), Sarah Polley (Existenz, Dawn Of The Dead) and David Hewlett (Stargate: Atlantis), Splice is an unforgettable sci-fi horror like nothing you’ve ever seen before or will ever see again.

Thanks to our friends at Optimum Home Entertainment, we've got three copies of Splice on DVD to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to splicegiveaway@yahoo.co.uk before midday on Wednesday 1st December. The first three names out of the electronic hat will win a free copy each!