Beyond: Two Souls

b2s_4In an extremely busy period for big release games I found myself getting very excited for Quantic Dream’s follow-up to the sublime Heavy Rain. This time casting in A-List acting talents in the form of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe to take you on a supernatural journey. Beyond: Two Souls tells the story of Jodie who has another soul attached to her who goes by the name of Aiden, the storyline jumps back and forth in Jodie’s lifetime and how she comes to terms with having this unusual burden. Much like Heavy Rain the game plays out as if it were a movie but you are in control of the character, for example, during a fight scene when Jodie needs to punch or dodge you have to flick the right thumbstick in the direction she needs to move in.

The appeal of having the game being wholly narrative based is that you are in control of how the narrative turns out, you make Jodie’s decisions to determine where she ends up at the end. Heavy Rain had this element of control just right having you constantly gripped and thinking about what to do next, however with Beyond I found there didn’t seem to be enough decisions to choose from, it all seemed far too planned. And overall this is where Beyond falls short, it feels as though you are never in control, even if the fight scenes if you fail to do the right moves the outcome will always end up the same, although there are number of possible endings and various other story strands it’s never made clear and it always feels as though you’re just being guided through the pre-written storyline. The graphics and design of the whole project is phenomenal and the performances from all the actors, especially Page is really impressive, but once the initial buzz of excitement from the first few scenes fades it quickly becomes tedious to give the odd thumbstick flick in an attempt to keep you involved in the game. The narrative itself has moments of absolute brilliance and the paranormal element makes for some really interesting moments but particularly in the middle section the whole thing just droops and becomes a chore to get through. The ending goes some way to redeeming this but again feels far too contrived with far too little freedom to decide Jodie’s fate.

In short, there are moments where Beyond is really, really good but ultimately it feels as though the makers just wanted to make a movie. It seems there is less gameplay than Heavy Rain and really they should have gone in the opposite direction, whilst it’s a very inventive new method of storytelling it feels as though they are not making the most of what is essentially a game!

 

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Julian Langer

7128787Some avid followers of the blog may have come across Julian Langer a while ago when I shared one of his songs with you, recently, though, the young Devon-based acoustic folk singer-songwriter has brought out his debut album. Having dealt with the whole process of recording releasing and promoting the LP completely on his own he seems to be creating quite a stir in his local scene. The album, which was written during and after Langer’s treatment for a pineal brain tumour, is both moving and impressive in many ways. Consisting of ten tracks all of which are completely home produced by Julian simply using his own home equipment.

When it comes down to it, though, the real question is whether the music itself is good and I can honestly say that Langer’s eponymous debut really is a record that delivers at the most essential level. Production-wise I found it very difficult to notice any kind of reduction in quality due to his lack of equipment or training, with every track sounding crisp, clear and smooth. His guitar technique is arguably the stand-out element of the album with every song containing it’s own unique feel and emotion that is not only expressed just as well through his guitar parts as his singing. Despite saying that the lyrics are another particularly special part of the record, having gone through such a journey at such a young age (he’ll be turning 22 shortly) its touching to hear him express his feelings through these songs. His poetic lyrics are given a voice that is untrained but, perhaps for that very reason, deeply personal and real. What Langer does particularly well is change the mood without playing with his tried and tested style, while the tracks all flow nicely together they all have a very different feel to them moving from feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy in tracks like Still Life, (Well this is a still life, of a man, singing for the night, and I wish I could create, something beautiful) to things with a much more, relaxed and often nostalgic feel, with The Woods, for example (A childhood spent outside all day, learning how not to behave). Above all though what the record delivers is a feeling of hope, for me. Langer insists the album isn’t any more impressive because of his illness, he suggests that, ‘it’s just life. You just go through and progress or you die and I don’t want to die.’

Overall though, Julian has produced a strong album when all the odds are, really stacked against him and this record deserves all the attention it can get so give this track a listen and if you like it the albums available both on disc or via iTunes.

 

Grand Theft Auto V

gta5screenSo the blog has been pretty neglected over the last few weeks, as it always is when I attempt to get back into the relaxed style of university life but this week I have an extra special number of reviews planned beginning with this ridiculously late review of the game that kept from writing for a number of weeks. The highly anticipated GTA V was probably the most excited I have ever been for a game release, especially after it was pushed back from an early summer release to mid-September. The excitement was so unbearable that attending the midnight release was unavoidable, being naive I thought the midnight release would be a pretty relaxed thing with a few people milling about the game shop and picking up their copy. What we were greeted with was a queue that literally spread down half the high street meaning we had about a two and a half hour wait ahead of us. While the wait was painful it all became well worth it when we returned home for the first night/morning gaming binge that would quickly become a regular occurrence.

Pretty much since Vice City the Grand Theft Auto series has been my favourite of all the gaming franchises and one of the great things about it is that every time a new game is released in the series it really has been improved upon in almost every aspect. After the sublime GTA IV Rockstar really did have their work cut out for them this time but they’ve pulled it off yet again. This time round the main campaign consists of three main characters all of which have their own missions and joint ones. You’re free to switch between any character at any time. Setting wise, we find ourselves back in San Andreas albeit an updated, bigger version with the addition of Blaine County which is one of the games greatest features as it means that as well as roaming round the city causing havoc you can also head for the mountains and take the chase off-road. This GTA is by far the most cinematic yet with the sun soaked sky beating down on your epic crime adventure while it’s story may not be as good as The Last of Us, for sheer fun GTA V gives a challenge for being the new greatest game of all time. Then there’s the addition of the new, updated GTA Online which for me, is the funnest online multiplayer mode any money can buy, you can free roam, perform missions, races, death matches, parachute jumps and pretty much do anything you can think of all with the helpful and addictive element of online competition.

Overall GTA V is perhaps the most complete gaming package that has ever been created, if you were ever told there was only one game you could play there wouldn’t be a better choice than this.

Blue Jasmine

blue-jasmine
The general consensus these days is that Woody Allen is very hit-and-miss, the fact is he brings such a large number of movies every year, that it’s hard to blame him if there’s a few duds. It’s clear however, especially with the example of 2011’s Midnight in Paris, that when Woody brings us a treat he can still deliver some of the most uniquely enjoyable cinema out there. Blue Jasmine takes a much more dramatic outlook than his last hit, telling the story of Cate Blanchett’s, troubled divorcee whose used to the finer things but is struggling to adjust to a life without them. As we watch her life after her nasty break up we also see, interspersed within, the lead up to the break up itself, in some of the most clever plot editing  you’ll see all year. To complete the cast we also have Alec Baldwin as Jasmine’s rich ex, Sally Hawkins as her helpful and happy but poorer younger sister, and Bobby Cannavale as her greasy Italian-American fiancee.

Having only seen a handful of Woody Allen’s movies this one felt a lot different from the few I have seen. It was a much more straight drama and although there are lighter moments this movie is not a comedy, and it’s not even romantic, this is a deep character study of a woman brought to life by Blanchett’s performance and Allen’s superbly acute writing. What’s so brilliant about it is how real this character feels, while she maintains the image of being rich and glamorous we see her dark layer of denial and disbelief constantly bursting to her surface. It really is just so brilliant to watch Blanchett perfectly portray this character, the kind of performance that only comes along once in a blue moon, this is something really special and I wouldn’t be surprised to see her run away with a flurry of Best Actress gongs this award season. She’s not the only great performer though, in fact, Allen gets the best out of everyone, Hawkins is always fantastic as she manages to be completely different in every film she’s in, Baldwin also delivers really well as a nasty piece of work whose particularly good at turning the charm on to get his own way.

Overall it’s very, very hard to find a fault in this movie, it’s superbly written, superbly acted and superbly directed, genuinely one of the most affecting and real dramas you will see on the big screen. Don’t miss it.

Breaking Bad – Season 5 Part 2

Walter-White-Bryan-Cranston-and-Jack-Michael-Bowen--Breaking-Bad_Season-5-Episode-8-2045166So it’s finally over. Breaking Bad has come to an end. The final eight episodes of perhaps, the most gripping show of all time have been the highlight of my week for the past two months and I feel slightly lost without them there any more. But rather than whine about the fact that it’s over or discuss how good the ending was I’d rather discuss why I believe Breaking Bad is the greatest TV series ever made.

First of all looking specifically at the last eight episodes, I was surprised by just how cinematic it all was. Particularly in the very final few episodes they included a lot of long, silent shots which not only provided you time to take in the major plot points that were finally being made clear but also with some of the most genuinely stunning imagery you could see. But then when I was thinking about how cinematic the show had become episode 14’s pre credit sequence saw us taken back to the very first cook with Jesse and Walt and it was then I realised throughout it’s five seasons Breaking Bad has always been cinematic, it has pretty much been a high budget crime movie told with a greater depth than a Scorsese epic. The aforementioned 14th episode, titled Ozymandias, is arguably the greatest episode of the show featuring a huge shoot out that ends in one of the biggest moments in the story, but with Walt’s reaction (I’m trying to be as ambiguous as possible here) you see shades of who he used to be before the great Heisenberg came about and it makes you realise what an incredible journey you’ve been on with this character. I’m not a middle aged science teacher but throughout I’ve always been right there with Walt, understanding exactly what he’s feeling, it’s just superb writing. As he gets more evil he becomes less likeable but it’s impossible not to still empathise with him, the greatest anti-hero since Tony Soprano, Bryan Cranston has cemented himself as one of the best actors about with his portrayal and should never be out of work again.

really I’m struggling to scratch beneath the surface of what makes this show so great, I could go on for pages but who could be bothered to read that? All you need to know is that Breaking Bad is incredible, now go watch it.

 

CAGE RAGE: Peggy Sue Got Married

tumblr_ly9ckfKm6i1qzga89o1_1280After a lengthy summer break Cage Rage is now back in action. To kick things back off it was the turn of another Francis Ford Coppola movie, this time a time-travelling romantic comedy starring Kathleen Turner with Cage as her major love interest. And as you may have noticed in the picture above, Jim Carrey also makes an early appearance. The story begins with Peggy Sue and Charlie (Turner and Cage) on the brink of divorce but when Peggy Sue wins the title of Prom Queen at a High School Reunion she feints and wakes up back in her senior year of high school where she is forced to re-evaluate her love life. The story does sound like a predictable, boring and unimaginative one but going in I thought we had every reason to be optimistic, with Coppola as director and and decent score on iMDB I thought this coould well be an enjoyable watch.

Unfortunately, though, it may be best to steer clear of this film altogether. One of the first things to mention about Peggy Sue Got Married is the fact that none of the characters look any different in their 40’s than they did at high school, and in fact even the characters that you only see in High School still look about 20 years too old to be there. The acting is just as jarring as this major filmic error, there is not a single point where any of the actors appear believable and this whole project just comes off as a bizarre attempt at romantic comedy as it goes along. Carrey pulls some of his usual schtick within his very limited screen time and Turner is hideously wooden as lead girl Peggy Sue but Cage gives us something different. This movie marks Cage’s strangest performance so far on his filmography, as he tries to pull off the image of a glossy tv presenter whose real passion lies in music, his greatest and maddest moments come in the scene pictured above where he sings the lead in a barber shop quartet. yes, you heard that right and yes, it is definitely worth YouTubing.

Peggy Sue Got Married is probably one of the most jarring movies I’ve ever sat through, but it has provided me with the first iteration of true Cage madness. His performance here is completely strange, over-the-top and downright hilarious. Hence it has provided us with a momentous occasion: the first ever 4/5 CAGE RAGE rating!

CAGE RAGE RATING – 4/5