Tuesday 30 June 2009

Movie Reviews

Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist
Peter Sollett
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist is one of those high-school comedy/romance films that you want to hate. It's all so sweet, all so sickly...and yet, there's some points in that make you laugh out loud. And not your normal laugh. I mean that loud braying laugh you do that, in the words of Billy Connolly "sounds likes the boy at school that you felt sorry for".

Nick (Michael Cera) frequents New York's indie rock scene with a broken heart and a bass guitar. Norah (Kat Dennings), the friend of Nick's ex-girlfriend is questioning pretty much all of her assumptions about the world. Though they have nothing in common except for their taste in music, their chance encounter leads to an all-night quest to find a legendary band's secret show and ends up becoming the first date in a romance that could change both their lives. You've seen movies like this before, right?

The first twenty minutes or so of the movie is really clumsy. The pacing is a little weird, and it contains what must be the least subtle foreshadowing this side of The Shining. By the time Nick and Norah have met, however, the movie has hit its stride, and the gags start coming. The awkward relationship between Nick and Norah is great. It's like every clumsy first date you've ever been on - brilliantly written and brilliantly acted. Nick's gay sidekicks also provide some fun comedy relief.

Of course, this film doesn't really do anything that we haven't seen a million times before in a million different romantic comedies. Echoes of Chasing Amy and High Fidelity (to name just two) abound. It's not pushing any ground, and by the time I was at the halfway mark, I knew where it was going, and could predict all of the twists and turns and revelations on the way there.

The mix of clumsy slap-stick humour and the gross out vomit gags tickle the teenage funny bone, but the part of you that's emotionally grown up will love all of the characters in it (even the ones you love to hate). It has a satisfying ending, and it's great fun.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
A couple of punches and headbutts, mostly for comic effect.
Sex/Nudity: Sex, but you don't see anything. This is why erotic audiobooks never caught on. Some bits of it are really gay. That's not a negative comment. If anything, they're fabulously gay.
Swearing: Approximately sixty usages according to IMDB. That's one every ninety seconds.
Summary: A good fun romantic comedy high school thing. You'll forget about it almost as soon as its over, but the ride is fun whilst it lasts. 7/10

Midnight Chronicles
Christian T. Petersen
Metrodome Distribution

This takes its first tumble at the box art (and it doesn't get much better after that) with the bold statement: "Based on the Legendary RPG Game". Firstly, Midnight, the D&D knock-off from the otherwise amazing publisher Fantasy Flight Games is far from legendary; and secondly, the "G" in "RPG" already stands for "game".

In the world of Midnight, it is a time of cliched darkness. Izrador (the big bad evil guy) has defeated the armies of the good guys. He rules the world with an iron fist. Enslaved, the race of men leads an oppressed existence, and the elves and dwarves have retreated to borderlands, where their resistance is slowly caving under the Shadow. Investigating the disappearance of a priest, the infamous Mag Kiln has been ordered by the church to travel to the small Erenlander town of Blackweir. There, he soon becomes entangled in an old mystery and begins to uncover not only the forbidden legacy of the town, but the malevolent, prophetic force that grows within him.

For the first three minutes I was really impressed with this film. What struck me was the colour palette of the movie. Everything was really desaturated, and it gave it worn out, lived in and distressed vibe. That, and the acting, which is pretty good when I was able to understand what the hell was supposed to be happening, was actually really good. Tragically, it was just about the only thing that Midnight Chronicles managed to do right.

The whole thing is nailed together so incompetently, that I actually managed to get through the entire film without ever being a hundred per cent certain who the main character was supposed to be. That's pretty much the only film I've ever seen that I can say this about.

Midnight Chronicles feels like a kind of "Greatest Hits" of fantasy. Orcs? Check. Swords? Check. Dark Lord of Somethingortheotherdor? Check. But, like musical "Greatest Hits", whilst all the pieces are there, it doesn't gel together like a real album does. All the trappings and decoration of a fantasy story, with none of the sense of narrative and character, which is the only reason anyone likes fantasy anyway. Yes, we know it's all basically Middle-Earth-Fan-Fiction-With-The-Exception-Of-A-Few-Bright-Sparks, but when you've got great characters and a fun narrative, that doesn't matter so much. Unfortunately, that's another initiative roll that Midnight Chronicles has failed.

Ultimately, role-playing game universes do not make great settings for more conventional forms of narrative. They're vacuous things, designed for players to make their own adventures in. When turned into a film, the characters just rattle around in this huge setting, unable to really showcase the depth, and fail to engage the audience.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: Some pretty good combat sequences, and some pretty bad ones.

Sex/Nudity: None.

Swearing: None

Other points in favour:
Swords and orcs.

Summary: A mess of a film. Originally filmed as a TV pilot, it's easy to see why the series was never picked up. 2/10

Monday 29 June 2009

E14 Outing: Friday 26th June 2009

On Friday 26th June 2009, Blake Harmer and Rob Wade of Emotionally Fourteen ventured to London. Their objective: Report back to you, the fine E14 readers, on the announcement of the merger of Tecmo and Koei and their subsequent establishing of a European base of operations. In addition, the press event was to publicise the recently announced Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2.

We heard from Will Curley, the Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Tecmo Koei Europe Ltd, the new European arm of the software giant. Eastern developers are certainly noticing the potential of the European market now, particularly as it has recently become the second largest market globally, and has a higher growth rate than that of the United States at the present time. Sony also had a presence there, with Jim Ryan making a speech as the Chief Operating Officer of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe.

Some details out of the conference were as follows:

  • Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 will be released in the Fall of 2009, with an official release date coming in late July.
  • There will be a trailer on Playstation Network in September, with a demo to follow shortly afterwards.
  • The game will retail at a Recommended Retail Price of £44.99 (59.99 euros).
  • The game features 4 playable characters and an online co-operative mode of some sort (though they didn't go into much detail).

From the sound of things, Tecmo Koei has taken on board a lot of the critiques aimed at Ninja Gaiden 2 upon its release on Xbox 360, with Team Ninja producer Yousuke Hyashi going as far as to say that the game had been re-designed from the ground up when ported over to Playstation 3. The version we were seeing, we were told, was the latest version of the game engine. From the footage we saw, the game has definitely made use of the hardware, and looks fantastic in motion.Once Hyashi had demonstrated the game (and had his arse handed to him by the level’s boss) the floor was opened up to questions. Understandably, they weren’t answering questions about their recently announced Metroid game for the Nintendo Wii, but that’s kind of understandable bearing in mind that it was a Playstation-centric conference.

Some of the key questions asked included such topics as downloadable content, level design and save point distances and storyline concerns. Hyashi was quick to answer most questions, stating that at the present time the main game was their focus. However, he did go on to state that they would be taking fan input for downloadable content at a later juncture. He also assured all present that the game had been re-designed to take into account all previous issues, and that the storyline would remain unchanged from the Xbox 360 version, with new characters’ levels slotting in at pre-determined points with separate storylines.

We also got a chance to play Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 after the conference had finished. Visually, the game is very smooth, running with the level of speed we’ve all come to expect from Ninja Gaiden games. However, there were a few frame rate issues when a lot was going on on-screen, but nothing that detracted from the game in any significant way. The new characters play comfortably, with all-new finishing moves and weapons. However, they do feel instantly familiar to anyone who has played a sufficient amount of Ninja Gaiden games in the past.
Otherwise, the game plays in exactly the way you’d expect from playing previous iterations of the game. Below is some footage we recorded of the game in motion. Enjoy.

We then recorded a podcast which, due to technical limitations, we are unable to publish in its audio form. However, for those who’d really like to read Blake and I waffling on about games for a while, the link is here.

Anyway, we leave you with pictures of hot girls in nice outfits. Happy ogling and we’ll keep you posted on new info on Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 as it develops.

Saturday 27 June 2009

Movie Review "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"

Remember when you REALLY liked Star Wars? It would’ve been around the mid to late 1990s, when the trilogy got re-released at the cinema to tremendous praise. Sure, people had issues with Greedo shooting first, but otherwise the Special Editions were received rather well. That is to say, you loved Star Wars until you went to see Episode I. It was at this point that you realised that the entire point of the film was to appeal to the kids, and to shift some action figures. Remember that sensation? Well, good; if you see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, it’ll feel instantly familiar.

When last we left the Autobots and Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBoeuf), the robot protectors had decided to stay on Earth in order to protect humanity from further Decepticon atrocities. Megatron was at the bottom of the ocean, guarded heavily by US naval forces, all seems well. It is at this point that we join the film, after an initial prologue explaining the history of the Transformers. Autobot forces have combined their efforts with the American military, forming a super-secret organisation designed to monitor Decepticon activity on Earth. This comes to a head when a Decepticon mentions “The Fallen” in its death throes.

Meanwhile, Sam is preparing himself to head off to college. While getting his shit together, he finds a piece of the Allspark. When he looks at it, he finds himself with a large amount of confusing information and symbols in his head, which he has to comprehend and decipher in order to save mankind from a long-forgotten enemy and the danger that comes with it.

See, my above comments should not give you the impression that I entirely hated this movie. I didn’t, I really didn’t. I thought there were some definite improvements over the first movie, most noticeably the change of venues for the fight scenes. My main complaint about the first movie was how often I spent saying: “Oh, which guy’s the good guy? Because, you know, they’re both silvery mostly. And they’re fighting close-combat. Against a grey building. Oh, it’s that guy who’s an Autobot? Go, that one!”

They seem to have taken that on board when shooting this movie, as most of the major fight scenes have a decent backdrop for contrast purposes (forests, deserts, that sort of thing). They also make liberal use of camera tricks and slow motion in order to help them attain this as well, more on that later though.

I also have to get it out there, I like Shia LaBoeuf, ok? Not in a man-love kind of way, in the sense that I think he’s a pretty good actor, and will only get better. The scenes where he tries to write down all the symbols are particularly well-acted, with him legitimately selling the idea of a person’s brain overloading in the most convincing way I’ve seen since Johnny Mnemonic (I enjoyed that film too ok? Judge not lest ye be judged).

However, what IS the fascination with Megan Fox that everyone seems to have? Ok, so she’s gorgeous. I get that. However, she’s not an amazing actress really, and this film is no different. Having said that, there is a scene with her running in slow motion. Awesome. Speaking of slow motion, it is fucking EVERYWHERE in this movie. In all honesty, the film was probably going to be about 90 minutes before they added the slow-motion in and bumped it up to two and a half hours.

Oh, and the number of robots in this movie for comedic effect piss me off. I can deal with a comedy robot, whose only purpose in the movie is to make people giggle a bit and shift a few toys. I’m fine with that, it’s called the Jar Jar effect and it’s not an issue if it’s not overdone. However, in this movie you have all of the following; an old British robot who swears too much and is flatulent, two gangster-stereotype robots, an RC car robot who sounds like Joe Pesci AND you still have Bumblebee, who can only speak in song lyrics. I’ve not seen a movie containing so many comedy robots since…Robots.

Onto the ratings:

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Plenty of violence, but it’s mostly robot on robot. Imagine the thrill you’d get from putting a camera in a blender and you’re sort of along the right lines.
None whatsoever. The producers obviously think it’s enough to just show Megan Fox in denim shorts and revealing tops. They’re not wrong, mind.
A few words, nothing to write home about though. One robot almost says fuck.
Other points in favour:
Megan Fox is gorgeous.
There’s a funny bit involving brownies.
If Jetfire was the only comedy robot, he’d be awesome.

It would be unfair of me to say that I didn’t enjoy this movie. I liked it. I didn’t love it. And for the record, I didn’t feel like my childhood had been raped. I did feel that maybe some dodgy emails or some heavy-breathing phone calls were made from this movie to my childhood at some point though.

E14 Transformers Giveaway!

Transformers - robots in disguise. I was always more of a Masters of the Universe kid, but I'm in a decided minority on that one. Blake really liked them though. I remember he had an Optimus Prime action-figure, for sure. Anyway, I don't know a lot about Transformers, other than they're robots in disguise, there's more to them than meets the eye, and that the Autobots wage their battle to defeat the evil forces of the Decepticons.

To coincide with the release of this summer’s blockbuster sequel – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Metrodome DVD are releasing the original animated Transformers in 4 stunning box sets which are packed with over 5 hours of robot action and extra features.

But, hey kids, there's more! Emotionally Fourteen have teamed up with Metrodome Distribution to bring you this awesome giveaway. We've got not one, not two but THREE complete sets of series one to four of the ORIGINAL Transformers cartoon. That's right, the one you know and love.

For your chance of winning send an e-mail to gobotsftw@rocketmail.com, containing your name and postal address before midday on Wednesday 1st July (UK time). The first three names drawn out of the electronic hat will win series 1-4 of this awesome series.

This offer is only open to residents of the UK and Ireland.

DVD Reviews

The Real Ghostbusters: Season One
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Review by Blake Harmer

Nostalgia can be a pain in the arse. On several occasions I have seen something that I have liked as a kid, such as Ecco the Dolphin on the Mega Drive, only to experience it again and realise it was a big piece of crap. So when I was asked to review The Real Ghostbusters: Season One after it has finally been released on DVD, I was worried. I have been a big fan of Ghostbusters for years. I love the original films, I had a lot of the toys, I will most likely buy the game that has recently been released, and I regularly watched The Real Ghostbusters when it was aired as a Saturday morning cartoon along with my other favourite programs of my youth (namely Transformers, Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, and Thundercats). But is the cartoon still as good as I remember it?

For those few who have never seen the cartoon, the Ghostbusters go around clearing up New York from ghosts, ghouls and other assorted phantasms using their proton packs and traps, except for one ghost, their lovable mascot Slimer. A green phantasm that loves to eat food and cover people in slime.

The animation of the cartoon is good and still holds up well against today’s standards of cartoon animation, although it still isn’t as great as older cartoons like Thundercats. You get a good selection of episodes for the price of the DVD. The cartoon still retains some of its humour, such as Peter Venkman's one-liners that feel like a watered down kiddie friendly version of Bill Murray’s one-liners in the film, but are still enjoyable to watch nonetheless. His voice is like an annoying Garfield voice though.

This DVD collection isn’t without it’s flaws however, there is a distinct lack of bonus features which are normally expected with releases such as this, and the cartoons haven’t been fully cleaned up for the DVD quality as I had hoped with some of the colours being a bit too strong sometimes. There is also a little problem with Winston for about 5 seconds in one of the episodes where he is actually white. This error is made worse that it is also whilst he is having a speaking part, and this probably left the other Ghostbusters feeling slightly confused:

Overall, this is a good package and I recommend it if you enjoyed the cartoon like I did in its heyday, and I can thankfully say it is still good. However, there are just a few niggling flaws which I would I wished weren’t present to give it a higher score, and I would have to recommend better packages such as the Thundercats box sets for fans of animation. However, this is an excellent value for money purchase and hopefully there will be more special features in Season 2 onwards. - 7/10

Unplugged Gaming Reviews

Terrors From Beyond
Call of Cthulhu Scenario Compilation

There is a wealth of source material out there for Call of Cthulhu, probably second only to D&D in terms of the amount of fan-created scenarios and campaigns there are flying around the Interweb. On the one hand, this is great, as I think that the number of ready-made scenarios around is pivotal to the success of any RPG system. It encourages new blood in, and is great for lazy bastards like me who have neither the time nor the talent to come up with stuff to play. On the other hand, it means that any professionally published campaign or scenario has to be pretty good to justify people forking cash over for it. Does Terrors from Beyond, the latest offering from COC publishers Chaosium cut the mustard?

Containing six scenarios, and running in at 212 pages, this is a chunky compilation. Several of the scenarios would easily entertain for two sessions or more, so that's a lot of entertainment you're getting.

The first scenario, Ghost Light deals with the investigators investigating strange happenings at a light house. What struck me whilst reading through this scenario was the sense of isolation that permeates the story - something that Lovecraft himself used often, to great effect in stories such as The Whisperer In Darkness and At the Mountains of Madness. Overall, the scenario is solid, but it's not anything that hasn't been done a hundred times before.

Likewise, the second scenario, A Method to Madness is okay...but there's a hundred other scenarios that deal with the exact same monster doing a very similar thing. I'm not saying I'd never run this one for my group, but it's unlikely. There's so much stuff out there for Call of Cthulhu that life's too short for anything less than great. The one thing that really grated in this scenario, however, was the dumb naming conventions. Whenever anyone writes a scenario, they seem to feel a need to pepper it with little in-jokes. Please, don't...characters called Joan Carpenter and Stephanie King aren't clever - they're fucking moronic and kill the atmosphere.

Some of the scenarios featured in this compilation are either light on Mythos creations, or feature no Mythos monsters at all. Personally, I think this is excellent. The scary becomes mundane when it's encountered too often, and Call of Cthulhu certainly seems to suffer from this at times. Once the players are expecting a Shoggoth or Mi-Go or Deep Ones or whatever, then throw them a curve ball and have them run into a vampire, or (even better) a genuine nut-job with no real grasp of the supernatural.

As mentioned earlier, though...there's a wealth of material available for free for Call of Cthulhu. So, is this book worth buying? The answer is a solid yes, but only really as a result of the last two scenarios in the bundle.

"The Dig" by Brian M. Sammons is a huge, sprawling adventure taking in extra-dimensional interlopers, crytozoology and, bizarrely for Call of Cthulhu, some nice combat set pieces. A bunch of students from Miskatonic University head off into the woods for a dig, to discovers some ruins and what-not; the real strength of this scenario isn't in the plot - it's in the characters. There are seventeen characters statted out - and even more who aren't. I can see this game being a nightmare to keep track of for the Keeper, but definitely worth it, as this one looks like it could offer a game quite unlike any other.

The final scenario, "The Burning Stars", whilst relatively simple and reasonably short, compared to some of the scenarios, may actually be the most inspired and imaginative scenario I have ever come across - not just for Call of Cthulhu, but for any system. I can't mention too much here for fear of giving any spoilers, but the plot involves amnesia, voodoo and a trip to Haiti. In addition to the incredible nature of the narrative, the source material here is very in-depth, and so inspiring I wanted to run off and write a campaign set in Haiti!

All in all...what do I think? I think this book has a few minor stumbles, but when these scenarios are good, they're mind-blowing. Ladies, Gentlemen...I think Call of Cthulhu is open for business once more. - 8/10

Thursday 25 June 2009

Video Game Reviews

Rock Band Unplugged
Electronic Arts
Review by Blake Harmer

Some achievements are hard to follow, like an athlete beating a world record, or being cleverer than Stephen Hawking. Rock Band Unplugged doesn't set its goals this high but it does have a lot to follow: How does someone take Rock Band, one of the most fun games you can have with friends playing plastic instruments, and convert it into a game onto a handheld format, which is purely a single player experience, whilst keeping the feel of the original game without making you look like a tit on the bus?

The way Harmonix and MTV Games have done this, is to be different.

Just like the original Rock Band, you create your rock band (comprised of four members: Bass, Drums, Vocals and Guitar) using customisable faces, haircuts, clothing, etc. and try to lead them to rock stardom by playing gigs. The aim of Rock Band: Unplugged is to create music by playing phrases of each part of the song to keep it going for a short period of time by matching notes using a combination of the directional buttons and face buttons of the PSP in time to the music. The instrument stops playing if you miss notes. When you've played one particular instrument you move on to the next instrument using the shoulder buttons and so on and the aim is to keep all instruments playing. Therefore this allows you to play all four instruments at once.

This aspect of the game works very well, it bypasses the fact that you aren't playing on plastic instruments and instead feels like you are just ensuring the band plays well, and feels excellent when you get all four instruments playing together at once. The game also introduces Rock Band's trademark overdrive mode (Star Power to Guitar Hero Fans who haven’t played the game) to allow that extra point scoring and also stops you from failing a song if you’re not playing well. The game also has an excellent track list and also boasts downloadable content, which will seriously boost the game's lifespan.

However, the game does have it’s flaws. Whilst it works on PSP, it is very close to Rock Band’s original inspiration which is Amplitude, a cult PS2 game which was released in the earlier days of the PS2’s life, and therefore makes the game feel dated. Also, a lot of the songs (although great), that come with the game have been used in the previous games and therefore feels a bit cheap if you have the other Rock Band games.

Graphics: Functional Graphics, good lighting effects and animation showing your band rocking out as you play. However, most of your time will be focusing on matching the onscreen prompts to truly notice this. - 7/10

Sound: Official licensed tracks sound great although doesn’t sound as awesome through the PSP’s speakers. This game is best played with headphones for the best effect. 9/10

Gameplay: The true Rock Band feeling of nailing notes and creating awesome music compressed onto a handheld format. It does show it’s age, and a lack of multi-player is obvious but still great fun nonetheless with a good career mode. 8/10

Lasting Appeal: A large selection of songs and extra downloadable content give Rock Band: Unplugged extra longevity. However, the game could have benefited from a possible Wireless Multiplayer mode. 7/10

Overall: This is a good game and a fun alternative to fans of the series, I would recommend the original games to newcomers however, as the game feels more like Rock Conductor than Rock Band as you still don’t get the true feeling that you are a rock god. However, this is the best rhythm-action game on PSP and a worthwhile purchase. 7/10

Movie Reviews

Two Orphan Vampires
Jean Rollin
Salvaltion Films

Two Orphan Vampires (Les Deux Orphelines Vampires) isn't one of those horror films masquerading as an arthouse film. It's one of those arthouse films masquerading as a horror film.

Henriette and Louise are blind orphans. They live at an orphanage where they are among the Mother Superior's favourites. During the day, they are blind; but when the sun goes down, they see perfectly, albeit in blue (because the cameraman had bought a blue filter, and he was going to use it, dammit!).

During the night, while everyone sleeps, they slip out of the orphanage and go to the cemetery on a very boring quest for blood. Sometimes sitting amongst the graves and talking about their travels, including the interesting creatures they have met (like the hilariously overacting werewolf and the embarrssing Vampire Queen), their previous lives, and where they might have come from. They like to think of themselves as blood-drinking goddesses for whom the Aztecs performed human sacrifices. What they actually are are appalling actressess in an appalling movie.

Firstly, the acting is universally awful. The low cost thespians mill around like a badly directed stage play, delivering over long monologues, and hugging a lot. Moments of true hilarity include watching Henriette and Louise sit back and let the fangs do the acting during the feeding scenes.

Even the DVD presentation itself feels rushed. The picture is of sub-VHS quality, with blips, and even trapped hairs in the gate cropping up now and again. There's only an option of the original French soundtrack with English subtitles. Normally this wouldn't bother me, but the subtitles are atrocious. They're poorly spelled, and poorly punctuated. I almost spat my drink out with laughter when Louise beseeched Henriette to "squeeze with all [her] mite". "Profit" instead of "prophet", "site" instead of "sight", you get the idea. Sure, you know what they mean, but I don't really think that's an excuse. Proof-readers are hardly expensive.

Between from the ironically vamping werewolf and the ironically hairy vampire, this may well be a contender for the least terrifying vampire movie of all time. Is it an okay arthouse movie? Yes, probably. It provides an interesting take on the vampire legend, at least - and originality is always to be rewarded. The soundtrack is absolutely fantasic, eerie and melancholy. Unfortunately, this far from compensates from the overall shoddy production.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some vampire feeding scenes, a couple of shootings. All executed like a bad collection of drunken stumbles from You've Been Framed.

Sex/Nudity: One topless scene. That's right. In a movie starring vampire school-girls, there's one topless scene.

Swearing: One or two instances. Badly spelled, probably.

Summary: I'm afraid there's very little to recommend this movie. Whether you like French arthouse cinema or exploitation horror, this isn't good example of either genre. - 2/10

Wednesday 24 June 2009

My Term as a Supply Teacher at Hogwarts

I'm one of those people who've had about a million different jobs in their lifetime. Some were unpleasant, some were dull, some were weird. The only one that manages to embody all three, however, was my stint as a supply teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

It was one of those employment agencies that set me up with the position. If you've never been with an employment agency, they're great. They ask you what kind of work you're looking for, don't listen to any of the answers, and then hand you some kind of filing or cleaning job. The conversation (to the best of my recollection) ran something like this:

"Do you like working with children?"
"Do you mind travelling for work?"
"I don't mind going, say, an hour each way, but I don't want to have to relocate or anything."
"Do you have any teaching qualifications?"
"Do you own your own magic wand?"
"My own what?"
"You own magic wand. Do you own one?"
"Okay, we'll let you know if anything comes up."

The following Thursday, I found myself standing on the platform of King's Cross Station, holding a ticket for the Hogwart's Express. I had been supplied with a list of required materials for the job, but was somewhat dubious. For a familiar, the pet shop had been rather thin, and I'd had to make to with a rather laconic Axolotl. My wand was a Curly Wurly, which I was unconvinced was going to suffice. With the aid of a friendly couple and a minor concussion, I was eventually able to make my way to platform 9 3/4, and to board the Hogwart's Express.

Do you know how long it takes a steam train to travel from Central London to the Scottish Highlands? I do. Nowhere near as long as it seems to be when you're surrounded by over-excited teenagers. I thought I'd managed to secure a carriage on my own, and was just about to start reading my erotic novel when three kids burst in. One was a speccy twat, one was a ginger twat, and one looked an awful lot like Orlando Bloom.

"Mind if we come in here?" asked Speccy.

"No, not at all." I lied.

The ginger one sat opposite me, not being punched in the face. "Are you new here?" he asked, smelling of rat droppings and wanking.

"Yeah." I said. "I'm a supply teacher for the next three months."

"Oh really?" asked Orlando, who appeared to be some sort of female. "What subject do you cover? Are you covering Defence Against The Dark Arts? We go through Defence Against The Dark Arts teachers like nobodies business. Seems we have a new one each year."

I shrugged. "I dunno. I'll just do a little bit of everything I guess. I can cook a bit, so probably Home Ec, I imagine. That's fairly simple."

The kids around me wittered on and on about nothing in particular. Some kind of new trading card or whatnot. After what seemed like a thousand years, we finally arrived at Hogwart's school. I was greeted by a large, beardy fucker.

"Hullo, there!" he said, in a hilarious "rural" accent. "You must be the new professor."

I smiled nervously, and extended my hand. "Yeah, um, that's me. Professor Von Boltthrower."

"Rubeus Hagrid's the name." he replied. "I'm the local gamekeeper."

"Pleasure to meet you Professor Hagrid."

"I'm not a paedophile." he said.

"What? I..uh...never said...of course, not." I faltered.

Oh, and forget everything you've ever heard about Albus Dumbledore. He's a complete cunt. First thing, he bollocks me for wearing a Slayer shirt, claiming that it's "not appropriate garb to teach young minds". Bearing in mind this comes from a man who lets his pet paedophile live in a shack 100 yards from the school. I staggered off to bed after his chewing out, taking out my frustration by kicking a nearby cat off of one of the moving staircases.

My first cover lesson happened to be first thing in the morning, when I was informed that Minerva McGonagall had broken every bone in her body after falling off of a flight of stairs. Those things are fucking deathtraps. Let's face it, moving staircases that aren't needed are pointless, and moving stairs that are needed are an indication that something has gone horrendously wrong with the architecture from the off.

I rocked up for the lesson, and who's sitting in the front row, but Speccy, Ginger and Orlando. The smiled and waved at me as I came in. I nodded brusquely, and slumped behind the desk. "Right...any idea what Professor McGonagall was going to be teaching today?"

Orlando's hand shot up. "Yes, Professor Von Boltthrower. We were going to be learning how to turn a white onion into a red onion."

"Well done, Orlando"." I said. "You've managed to make something awesome sound really dull."

"Orlando?" she muttered to Speccy.

I placed my briefcase on the table and looked inside for some kind-of handbook on onion transmogurificationing. As usual, it contained only my cigar case, a bottle of Jim Beam, "Master of Puppets" on tape, and a battered copy of "Strat-O-Matic Hockey". I scratched my head, trying to think of a way out of this. "We're going to do something a bit different today...um...who want to actually do some learning today?"

Orlando's hand shot into the air. "Me, sir."

"Cool. Right, Orlando, you can go over there and learn. Everyone else...we're going to learn about heavy metal and ice hockey. Bagsymapleleafs."

After ten minutes or so I started to pass the Jim Beam around. In the ensuing chaos that followed, a storm of thirty drunken, magic-enhanced, hormonal teenagers stormed the hallways. "Metalli-Fuckin-Ca" was sprayed on several paintings, some kid called Malfoy got suspended for calling Dumbledore a "Red Wings Loving Motherfucker", and I punched out the Canucks player for waving their Matt Sundin card in my face. I forget her name.

Next Week: Brad's job as a canteen worker at Forks High School, Washington

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Book Reviews

Best Served Cold
Joe Abercrombie
Orion Books

There aren't many fantasy novels out there with a sense of humour. Much less a good sense of humour. Lets face it, even Terry Pratchett is a little "Dad-humour" at times. That's just one of the things that makes Joe Abercrombie so good. His sense of humour is amazing, he's one of the few authors I've read who can make slapstick work in a novel - and the rest of it is action and balls-out violence. His latest novel Best Served Cold is Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, with additional dialogue by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, directed by Takashi Miike. Interested? You should be.

Best Served Cold tells the story of Monza Murcatto, the most feared mercenary in Duke Orso's employ. Her victories have made her rich and very popular, a little too popular for her employer. Monza is betrayed, beaten and left for dead at the bottom of a mountain, with only the burning desire for revenge driving her onwards. Seven men must die, and with the help Shivers (a Northern barbarian), Friendly (an autistic psychopath), Morveer (a Machiavellian poisoner) and Day (his apprentice), Cosca (an aged mercenary) and Vitari (an assassin), Monza must face enemies more numerous than her meagre gang. And that is even before Duke Orso, her number one target, dispatches the most dangerous man in the land to finish her off.

The set-pieces and action sequences in the novel are amazingly cinematic, well-detailed, well-paced and managing to maintain a rather "Hollywoodised" mix of action and humour. For example, whilst attempting to escape a poisoning attempt, Morveer runs into this spot of bad luck:

"No detail overlooked." Morveer grinned as he produced the tiny vial from an inside pocket. "A few drops will burn through the knot some time after we have crossed. We need only wait at the far side and reel it in."
As far as could be ascertained by darkness, his assistant appeared unconvinced. "What if it burns more quickly than-"
"It will not."
"Seems like an awful chance, though."
"What do I never take, my dear?"
"Chances, but-"
"You go first, then, by all means."
"You can count on it." Day swung quickly under the rope and swarmed across, hand over hand. It took her no longer than a count of thirty to make it to the other side.
Morveer uncorked the little bottle and allowed a few drops to fall onto the knots. Considering it, he allowed a few more. He had no desire to wait until sunup for the cursed thing to come apart. He allowed the next patrol to pass below, then clambered over the parapet with, it had to be admitted, a good deal less grace than his assistant had displayed. Still, there was no need for undue haste. Caution first, always. He took the rope in his gloved hands, swung beneath it, hooked one shoe over the top, lifted the other -
There was a harsh ripping sound, and the wind blew suddenly cold about his knee.
Morveer peered down. His trouser leg had caught upon a spike bent upwards wells above the others, and torn almost as far as his rump. He thrashed his foot, trying to untangle it, but only succeeded in entrapping it more thoroughly.
"Damn it." Plainly this had not been part of the plan. Faint smoke was curling now from the balustrade around which the rope was knotted. It appeared the acid was acting more swiftly than anticipated.

All of the characters, whatever their importance to the main story, are fascinating. They're not necessarily likable characters, but you get an incredible sense of enjoyment from just watching them be. Friendly may be an autistic psychopath, but he's kind-of cute with it. Morveer is a scheming malicious bastard but he's an awesome bastard too.

At its core Best Served Cold is actually surprisingly dark, slowly underlining the point that vengeance is a dark and destructive destiny, as everyone's lives are altered as a result of their contact with Murcatto. The point isn't hammered home, however, but it's undeniably noticeable amidst all the one-liners, sword-fights and shagging.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
A fuckton. The opening scene is a woman being stabbed and hurled down the side of a mountain. More sword-fights, battles and murders than you would believe.
Sex/Nudity: Several highly explicit, yet realistic, sex scenes.
Swearing: Again, a fuckton. The word "fuck" or a permutation thereof appears on almost every page.
Summary: A truly great ride of a novel. Consistently hilarious, exciting, and riveting. Perhaps a little overlong, but you won't care too much come the end of it - 10/10

Magnificent Bastards
Rich Hall
Little, Brown Book Group

One of the things that struck me about this - comedian Rich Hall's latest collection of short stories - was how scarily close to real life these semi-surreal stories are. Sure, the subject matter may be rather surreal (a guy convinces a total stranger to euthanise him with a pistol when his cancer becomes too advanced, a young girl invites more than 2,000 MySpace friends for a house party, and the adventures of an obsessive compulsive werewolf who is frequently mistaken for Brian Blessed), but their meanings are eerily poignant; they deal with loneliness, environmentalist paranoia, and other flakes from the shit-stained arse of 21st century society.

When they did start coming around - limited to handfuls of twenty-five or thirty, tops - they seemed noticeably less threatening. Gone were the city kids with their straight teeth and rich bulldog faces. These kids moped about, cheerless waifs whose uniform hairstyle, jet black and pitched at a very severe angle - this being the sticks - gave way to a mullet at the back.
"What's with Rachel's new friends?" I said to the Wife one night. "They all look like Leonard Nimoy."
"Rachel's gone Emo." she replied.

Some sections had me in actual laughing fits, but it's a mash of highs and lows. When the stories are good, they're very good, and when they're bad they're pretty bad. Perhaps the problem is with the arrangement of the stories. Good ones and bad ones are clumped together in batches, rather than mixing them more thoroughly.

This isn't something I normally like to mention in a review, unless I think it's a major factor (and unfortunately, in this instance it is): the price. Magnificent Bastards as a retail price of £10.99, which is extortionate for a 212-page paperback. Naturally you can find it much cheaper on-line, but I'm not really sure what the publisher was hoping to achieve.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence: Some moderate. Some prairie dogs are catapulted at high speed.
Sex/Nudity: Some moderate references, used humorously.
Swearing: Some, but not a large amount.
Summary: There's some very funny stuff here, but it's way too short and way too overpriced. - 6/10

Unplugged Gaming Reviews

Slasher Flick: The Horror Role-Playing Game
RPG Core Rulebook
Available now from Spectrum Games

Good quality horror RPG games are few and far between. So few and far between, in fact, that there is only one: Call of Cthulhu. Until now, that is. Small press games company Spectrum Games has released their latest RPG Slasher Flick, with a view to emulating the low-rent and high-gore slasher movies of the eighties. If you've seen Friday The 13th, Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street, then you know what we're talking about here. If you haven't, then get the fuck off of this website.

Slasher Flick is an excellent simulation of a slasher movie. The crux around which the simulation works as a game is so simple it's ludicrous - the game rewards players for doing stupid stuff. If they hear a strange noise, sure...they can load up on guns and head out relatively safe; but heading off on their own to investigate, unarmed, and saying goodbye to their friends with a reassuring "I'll be right back." - that nets some serious "Genre Points", which can be spent later in the game to trigger some massive powers/abilities.

The first chapter of the rulebook is the traditional "What is Roleplaying?" bumpf, how to read dice notations, how a game works and so on. It's competently done, but there's nothing new here for anyone who's role-played before.

Chapter Two comprises a detailed segment on what slasher movies are (including a very amusing list of tropes and cliches), and a collection of recommended slasher movies. I can't say I'd recommend exactly the same ones, but that's by-the-by.

The third chapter is the meat of the system, and the system is a very simple one. All characters stats are ranked as either "Good", "Normal" or "Poor". To make a skill check, players take four dice, and try and roll at least one matching pair. "Good" rolls a d6, "Normal" a d8 and "Poor" a d10. Extra dice are added or subtracted from the roll to account for skills and unusual circumstances. In theory, this sounds extremely challenging, but in practice, it actually works out very well. Try rolling a handful of dice. You'll be surprised how often you do roll a matching pair.

When a player is faced with the Voorhesian villain of the game (Is Voorheesian a word? I think it should be.), the game switches into the closest that the base rulebook has in terms of a combat system. The player and Killer then take turns free-forming a scene, with dice-rolls to determine the loss or gain of "Survival Points". If the player gets his survival score to eight, he survives to run and scream another day, but if it drops to negative numbers, he's Krueger Poodoo.

Not all is lost, though, as all the players have more than one character under their control. Their "Primary" character (the guy/girl you just know survives to the end, and "Secondary" characters (guys/girls who just can't hold off on the illicit drugs and sex for 85 fucking minutes).

During playtesting, it seemed that more experienced gamers, players of Marvel SuperHeroes and Call of Cthulhu, had some difficulty getting over the twist of playing dumb. The concept of playing to put their characters in danger seems so totally at odds with all previous gaming experience that it took some time to drum it in. The novice gamer (and first-time role-player) in playtest, however, reacted instinctively to it, grabbing several genre points early in the game. My advice: sell this to your group as a slasher-flick game, and not a role-playing game. That sends the wrong signals to experienced gamers.

However, that said, the game is a bloody good laugh. Players love playing cliched characters, making them do stupid stuff, and running off like slasher movie retards. With they right group, everyone can be in stitches before the end of character creation.

The character generation system is very simple, and takes about twenty minutes to generate a full cast of six characters. Similarly the GM system for creating the "Killer" character is very free-flowing and easy to use. Ideas for original characters should pour forth with no difficulty, and the ability to "transcribe" licensed movie characters from Freddy Krueger to The Leprechaun is a matter of minutes work.

On the down side, the multiple character concept can be a little confusing. Most players aren't in the habit of role-playing in the third person, and as GM (Director) it can get a little confusing when the players are speaking in character and not making it clear which character they are portraying at any given time.

The only true drawback to the system is the limited re-play value it offers. The genre by its very nature, is repetitive, linear and kind-of dumb; and that's not something that gamers particularly look for in a role-playing game. For the price you should certainly pick it up, but it's unlikely to become a regular feature on your gaming table.

Good, and worth picking up at the cost, but unlikely to see much table time do to the limited mileage. - 8/10

The Slasher Flick core-rulebook is available now from www.rpgnow.com priced $7.99 (£4.99), or, you can buy the rulebook as a bundle with the "Deleted Scenes" sourcebook and "Horror Island" adventure for $12.97 (£7.99).

Scenario Book for All Things Zombie
Two Hour Wargames

Hot on the heels of their new and updated version of their wargame All Things Zombie, Two Hour Wargames have released a 66-page compilation of scenarios, and expansion material.

The scenarios within are, generally speaking, very interesting. The first centres around a pair of policemen called to investigate a domestic disturbance on the night of the zombie outbreak. This game breaks down quite successfully into a nice little dungeon crawl, and the new class of "Police" is a welcome addition to the original choices. Armed with small pistols and a shotgun in the back of the cruiser, this class has the extra restriction of not being able to harm others without reason, and the extra close-combat ability to arrest people.

The true meat of the game, however, lies in laying all the scenarios in sequence, watching your policeman, office worker or soldier transform from the average man off the street, stood staring at his first zombie, into a hardened veteran, setting up home in the survival outpost of "Nowhere Nevada". This is the closest wargaming has come to a narrative, and this achievement should be recognised.

Fans of the game will find this expansion a necessary purchase, as it shows you just what can be done with the system. It does, however, suffer from the same flaws as its master set. The whole thing is rather unwieldy, and is unlikely to win the game any new supporters. - 8/10

Haven is available now from www.rpgnow.com priced $15.00 (£9.25).

Monday 22 June 2009

Top 5 Movie Tie-In Games That Would Suck

It’s been a while since I did a Top 5 segment. You want another one, yeah? Cool, that’s largely what I’ve got planned. This week, I plan on addressing one of those key issues that affects many Emotionally Fourteen people at some point in their life: Seeing their favourite movie made into a computer game. Generally, the stigma associated with basing the idea of any media from some other media is usually met with immense scepticism.

Think about it: The main source of complaint in movie circles is “Oh, they’re turning Watchmen into a movie” or “Oh that Max Payne adaptation is going to suck!” Granted, they’re not always right – Watchmen was a good movie, and Max Payne didn’t suck THAT much. However, game tie-ins are also a subject of scorn, largely because they don’t often turn out very good. But think of it this way; It could always be worse.

Here then, are the Top 5 Movie Tie-In Games That Would Suck.


Say what you like about the endless nostalgic appeal of this children’s classic; the game would suck enormous balls. Incidentally, as an aside, did you notice that this film was nominated for an ACADEMY AWARD in 1982? George Lucas hasn’t even won an Academy Award, and he wrote the Star Wars Saga! It must have been a slow year, that’s all I’m saying.

See, the main gripe that gamers would have with this adaptation would be the timeframe. You’re playing as The Snowman, presumably (hopefully) and your goal is to…what? Take a young boy to see Santa Claus (spoilers) before the naturally occurring humidity and temperature levels reduce you to slush? Time-limit games work ok in things like Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask because the time limit serves only to add urgency to the player, but also gives the player a chance to jump forwards and backwards in time in order to trigger certain things. This game would suffer from being criminally short, and obviously the added pressure of reducing the lead character to a mushy water-based compound.

Besides which, you’d spend about 60% of the time walking in the air, with on-screen prompts to keep the people down below from believing their eyes. BORING!


See, I find myself in a quandary over this particular tie-in, and it mainly stems from the game play mechanic. Obviously, a similar dilemma is presented in the choice of character. If players are put in the role of Denzel’s character, Joe Miller, presumably you’re engaging in some sort of legal defence game, possibly in the style of the new CSI point-and-click adventure games, gathering evidence to use in the trial while simultaneously gradually reducing your “Homophobic Prejudice” meter.

However, if you’re placed in the role of Tom Hanks’ gay lawyer protagonist, the idea presumably is to shatter people’s stereotypes and preconceptions. Of course, you could always go to the other extreme and wear arse-less chaps around the office instead, see where that gets you.
On a slightly unrelated note, why is someone said to have “contracted” AIDS? Is it considered a service for hire? And why, oh why, did they decide to set it in the “City of Brotherly Love”? It just seems, I don’t know, too easy…


Remember the amount of food you had to eat in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas? Remember how much you hated that part of an otherwise awesome game? I rest my fucking case.


See, I’ve agonised over this one time and time again, and it’s another scenario where I just can’t work out how the game would work. Would you play as a prisoner of the Nazi concentration camps, maybe style it a bit like The Great Escape but with help from a benefactor? See, that might actually work as a game, although depending on which character you played, the game may run into similar sort of timing issues as The Snowman: The Video Game.

Would you play as Schindler himself, perhaps in some sort of espionage game mixed with a management sim? That might be a bit more difficult, mixing Sim City and Splinter Cell, but I could certainly see them giving it a go. Would they just junk the idea of any sort of redemption altogether, put you in charge of the trains and make it like
Ticket to Ride?


I can honestly say with this one that I’d be in the camp that was completely against this game being made. Again, the main issue is that it’d be difficult to work out how the game would work. If you play as Kevin Spacey’s character, you end up playing a reverse Sims-style game where you go backwards on the career track. Having said that, using The Sims would probably be a decent framework for this game, as you could easily engineer him catching his wife cheating on him at the drive-thru window.

Apart from that though, your character would spend his time doing a mixture of weight-training, burger flipping and homosexual misunderstandings with the neighbour’s mentally unstable son, who’s secretly doinking your daughter anyway. Not that you will be able to ever explain that to Chris Cooper. Besides which, the ending, without giving too much away, surely makes the game somewhat redundant. Having said that, the game would make for one of the all-time great trophies:

Saturday 20 June 2009

Movie Review: Hard Boiled (Part of E14's John Woo Double Feature)

Hard Boiled
Review by Blake Harmer

What is best in life? Is it finding love? Is it having a great job? Is it to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women? Apparently, if you are in Hard Boiled, it is kill people in the flashiest way possible, in mid air, possibly whilst wielding two guns. If that doesn’t sound awesome to you, then it probably means that you are either dead, or your life is so entertaining that the thought of high action frenetic gun battles and explosions are too lame as they are a big part of your life already.

The story begins with our hero, Inspector “Tequila” Yeun (Chow Yun Fat), going undercover with his partner to expose an illegal gun smuggling ring in a tea house where there is a deal going down. In their attempt to arrest the smugglers, a huge firefight ensues, leading to much acrobatic gunplay and Tequila’s partner being killed whilst saving him from a smuggler with a machine gun. Tequila then goes after evil mob boss Johnny Wong, leader of the illegal gun ring to avenge his dead partner and finally close the case. Whilst this is going on, Wong is having a war over territory with another gun Smuggler, Mr Hui. Wong tries to tempt over a hired gun called Tony Long, who is already loyal to Mr Hui, to work for him, but there seems to be more to this hired gun than first meets the eye...

Hard Boiled is one of the great action movies; the sad thing is that they don’t really make action films like this anymore. Back in the 80’s and early 90’s, you couldn’t turn without seeing an awesome piece of explosive entertainment with Arnie, Van Damme, or Stallone going out and blowing people up and saying cool one liners and then killing more people in a hail of bullets. Hard Boiled doesn’t really contain any cool one liners but makes up with it with some of the coolest stunts you can do during a gun battle. The action set pieces are usually incredibly frenetic, with people diving through the air, shooting from motorbikes, doing somersaults, sliding down rails, destroying half of the environment around them and being filled with about 50 bullets when they finally do die. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the teahouse shoot out at the beginning of the movie:

And that’s just the beginning of the film, the set pieces just get better and better with some of the final set pieces in a hospital being one of the greatest action set pieces of all time. There is also excellent cinematography with great angles and, slow-mo bits highlighting the action. A personal favourite was in one of the last few action pieces where the camera is permanently fixed behind Tequila as he works his way through hospital corridors taking out bad guys left, right and centre.

Awesome action set pieces aside; the film does have a fairly good story to boot. The film does show some of the difficult and lonely life of being an undercover police officer. It may seem very generic and similar to lots of police action movies such as Lethal Weapon but it’s good enough to hold your interest in between the high action explosions and leaping through windows.

As action movies go though, it still has a couple of flaws. I feel that the film could have developed Tequila’s character a little bit more than a vengeful hard boiled super cop. Very little is said about his life apart from a love interest in the form of Madam (his colleague at the police station). You learn enough about him to like him as a hero, but the character development seems to focus more on the hired gun Tony Long as he does contribute the largest part to the story. Another flaw lies with the actual DVD, as if you choose to watch it as a subtitled Chinese film, then the subtitles are not in sync with the movie and it can therefore be confusing as to who is saying what. Thankfully there is a dubbed English soundtrack on the DVD so I recommend you watch that version. (I sadly persevered with the subtitled version before looking and finding a dubbed soundtrack *smacks head*)

All in all though you probably won’t really care about these flaws, as you’ll be too interested in people being shot repeatedly in the chest by a super cop flying through the air with a machine gun. Go forth and watch one of the most E14 action films out there.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence: As mentioned earlier, several people are shot to death a high energy ballet of death and destruction with several large explosions and gunfire. There is a very high body count and an even higher bullet count. There are a few scenes of blood splatter in the film but not loads to say this is a complete splatter fest. 10/10

Swearing: A few uses of swearing but not enough to get overly excited about. 6/10

Sex/Nudity: None, unless you count naked babies in the hospital, but that’s just wrong. 0/10

Other factors in its favour:

This is a classic Hong Kong Action film and has been a huge inspiration many other great action films such as the Matrix, and computer games such as Max Payne, which ironically didn’t come close to being this awesome when it was adapted into a film last year.

This is arguably John Woo’s best film and sadly an achievement he hasn’t been able to reproduce when he came over to America. It could also make a great video game, which is great because a spiritual sequel to Hard Boiled was made in the form of a computer game as John Woo’s Stranglehold. But you’ll see what Rob thought of that in his accompanying article. If you love action movies or are a big fan of film in general then this is a must see for you. 9/10

Don't forget that John Woo's latest movie, Red Cliff, is in cinemas nationwide.

Game Review: John Woo Presents Stranglehold (Part of E14's John Woo Double Feature)

John Woo presents: Stranglehold
Xbox 360 (version reviewed), Playstation 3, PC (BBFC Rating: 18)
Review by Rob Wade

Stranglehold opens with a set-piece detailing both a kidnapping in Chicago and an assassination in Hong Kong, seemingly happening simultaneously or thereabouts. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to tell if two things are happening simultaneously in everything except the Saw franchise? That is, however, only because the Saw franchise relies on stuff like that, so jams it down your throat. Not an altogether unimaginative punishment, Saw, my kudos.

Anyway, you’re placed in the role of Hard Boiled’s hero, “Tequila” Yeun, on a desperate quest to find out who assassinated a police officer in Hong Kong. Once you find out the specifics, you become aware of the details of the kidnapping in Chicago, and where you come in. I don’t feel the need for spoilers, you can probably guess without too much trouble, going by the traditional action hero template i.e. if it’s not a relative, it’s a romantic connection. If it’s neither of those, it’s probably a pet. It’d have to be an exotic pet though, otherwise who gives a shit, so probably a lizard or something.

The game gets you right into the action without any elaborate storyline being given to you bar the opening, instead allowing you to start shooting guns right away. That’s just one of many plus points in its favour. As soon as you see the action icon on the screen for “jump on roll-cart using Left trigger”, you know you’re in for a cinematic experience, by which we mean “Expect Massive Damage”.

Before long, you’re rolling along the floor on roll-carts, swinging from chandeliers, sliding down banisters, running up banisters and more, all while firing up to TWO guns. As if all the set-piece acrobatics wasn’t enough, Stranglehold lets you fire TWO guns at once! (Fine, I know it’s a fairly common staple of most shooters now, I still think it’s cool ok?)

Let’s get, first, to the things I like about this game. Firstly, it satisfies the above mentioned criteria for awesomeness such as being able to run up and down and jump while shooting. However, there is more, believe it or not. Stranglehold definitely falls into the category of a cinematic piece of entertainment. Right from the off, all in-game cut-scenes are modelled using the game engine, something I’ve always liked in games. There’s really not much point in trying to get players involved in a cinematic experience if the cut-scenes are modelled using anything other than the game mechanics, but on the plus side it seems to be a trend that’s becoming all the more commonplace.

Adding to the cinematic atmosphere is the ability to trigger certain pre-programmed events that add to your style combo, rewarding you with suitably over-the-top moves that can be unlocked as you progress through the game. To give an example, you can get one star for shooting someone normally with a pistol. Shooting them in Bullet Time earns you three. Shooting the sign above them so that it drops down knocking them over the edge earns you up to 10. The emphasis is definitely on making these set-pieces count when they arrive. Add to that a one-on-one shootout called Standoff mode, and the cinematic experience gets bumped up further still.

It also may not have escaped your notice that this game looks pretty cool. Everything has a decent level of gritty realism without being hyper-realistic. Watching someone grasp for their throat once you pop a cap in it is a somewhat visceral thrill, but not sufficiently so due to the graphical style that you feel like a sociopath. Everything is sufficiently brightly coloured and neon-tinged, particularly in the city levels obviously, to make the game sufficiently glitzy without being over-the-top.

That’s not to say that this game is without flaws. While it is nice to pretty much be able to interact with every banister you find yourself near, from time to time you do find yourself getting stuck on a banister or standing next to it, the game being unable to decide whether to run up it or not.

And just a minor thing really, and it may just be me, but I do prefer games that let you carry more than two weapons to choose from. I know it’s more realistic to have people with limited carriage capacity, but come on, it’s a game based on the works of John Woo; since when does realism enter into the equation?

Graphics: 9/10 – Extremely solidly built graphically, with some refinements here and there to make it look more cinematic. Environments have a good degree of destructibility befitting a John Woo experience. Besides, anything that can render Chow-Yun Fat in a reasonable quality character model is aces in my book.

Sound: 7/10- Standard action game fare, dramatic music during fight scenes etc. All explosions and bullets sound reasonable, and cries of anguish are also particularly satisfying.

Gameplay: 10/10 - This game IS an action film. Fast, engaging and frantic, with plenty of cinematic set pieces to keep you searching for that high-score. Let’s face it, however, any game that can do a working Bullet Time model isn’t going to get below an 8.

Lifespan: 7/10 - This game will probably keep you busy for at least one play through, but there really isn’t a tremendous amount of content to keep you involved in the single-player campaign unless you’re a completist or a high-score chaser.

E14 Rating: 8/10

If you’re a John Woo fan, this game is definitely a must-purchase. The game satisfies all of the criteria that we have come to expect from his style. If you’re not a John Woo fan, and are just after a decent game to pass some time, seriously consider picking this game up anyway. You can get it relatively cheap from most places now, and it really is a good one.

Don't forget that John Woo's latest film, Red Cliff, is in cinemas nationwide.