Saturday, 31 December 2016

Flavours of the Month: December 2016...

Next-Gen gaming, high definition bustin', keyboard tappity-tapping, Fight Club 2, and all things festive: some of what's been setting the tone of my December 2016...

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Ghostbusters 1 & 2 (Blu-Ray) - I nabbed this double-movie HD release (from 2014) in a sale, which was a good excuse to indulge in two firm favourites from my formative years. You know how some people feel about Star Wars? That's how I feel about Ghostbusters. Hell, my entire sense of humour was founded on Peter Venkman and Bill Murray from a very early age. A few years ago I found out that the second movie had a bit of a stigma attached to it and I was really quite surprised. Sure, it does follow many of the same beats as the original movie - but if you're going to imitate, imitate perfection.

So, while GB2 may not be quite as good, there are some areas where it beats the original - such as in its sense of scale, and the precision in how many of the scenes are constructed (the choice of shots and rhythm of the editing, in particular), and the special effects outstrip the budgetary limitations that affected the first movie (which have aged - a lot, in some instances - but they still work). One particular aspect of GB2 I like is that it hooks on to the hangover of the 1980s in New York (the crime rate peaked in 1990), and embodied all the ill-feeling that had built up over time in the form of the river of slime. It's an interesting way to subtly feed that bit of social commentary into the film, but then come out of it all with a positive vibe.

Festive Films - Home Alone 2, Bad Santa, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, and Where The Fuck Is Santa specifically.

Suicide Squad (Blu-Ray) - the extended cut doesn't add anything particularly vital, but if you dug the flick (as I did - see my thoughts on it HERE), then you'll get more Joker/Harley stuff and a few other bits scattered throughout. The extras add in some little bits of helpful info that shows up some of the smaller complaints levelled at the flick (whinging about certain things in the movie that actually happened in the comics, for instance). Indeed, structurally and attitudinally the whole flick feels like a comic book - and some of the other criticisms aimed at it can come under that umbrella. It is fair to say that the film does have problems, but the vicious mauling it received from critics upon release was way out of proportion.

Ash vs Evil Dead: Season 1 (DVD) - damn, I love this show. It takes "fan service" and runs with it in a positive manner (the second season particularly lived up to that aspect), and is an all-round hoot. I've been digging through the extras, which feature typically entertaining audio commentaries - any Evil Dead movie commentary is well worth a listen, and the trend continues with the TV show incarnation.


HIM "Razorblade Romance", "Deep Shadows and Brilliant Highlights"

Ringo Deathstarr "God's Dream", "Pure Mood"

M83 "Junk"


Murder at the Grindhouse - after picking away at the mountain of research required to write my new novel, not to mention the hefty amount of prep work laying out the entire story in a detailed and organised document (almost 30,000 words in itself), I finally got down to writing proper - on December 1st. I've fitted writing sessions in and around work commitments and all things festive, having initially intended to start writing in November (but it soon became apparent I needed to do the aforementioned story layout document to keep track of the mountain of information - what was relevant, what wasn't relevant, and where the need-to-use bits were supposed to go - and get the finer details of the plot figured out to annihilate pesky logic gaps and plot holes).

I knew I'd hate myself if I didn't get the thing started before the New Year - so along came December 1st and I dived in. Find a little bit more info about it HERE.

Xbox One S - so I've hopped on the 'next gen' train and I'm digging it. I will say, the decision to make Achievements essentially 'online only' is moronic. You can only unlock what you've 'achieved' during offline play when you connect the box to the web, and even then it's iffy - as in the case of "Doom" (which hasn't been consistently tracking achievement progress, nor unlocking them properly once connected). Perhaps this issue has been fixed in a patch, but considering the size of the bloody thing is 35 gigabytes (!!!) and that my web connection is far from fast (it'd take days to download all that - literally!), I haven't bothered patching it. Seriously, though - 35 gigs?! Far Cry 4's patch was only 1.7gb (still pretty darn large if you ask me - but do-able on my connection). All this talk about 'online connectivity' is all well and good - but the infrastructure just isn't where it needs to be in many parts of the world, especially outside the cities where most people live.

Anyway - it's a sleek console. The original incarnation was not an attractive prospect at launch - that stupid Kinect rubbish as mandatory, the always-on online requirement, and the sheer size of the thing (it couldn't even stand upright) - but the Xbox One S is much more what I was looking for. They should have been here from the jump, but at least they got there in the end. The controller feels good with a little bit of subtle finessing over the 360 model, too. However, one thing that particularly pissed me off was this: charging fifteen quid - a whole fifteen of your English pounds - for a naffy bit of plastic, which was required to make the thing stand upright. The Xbox 360 just did that on its own. Said bit of plastic is an extra thing you need to buy (it only comes free with the 2TB model!), and frankly it's a piss-take.

Doom (Xbox One) - talk about nailing a remake (what a rare thing!). Brutal, bloody, and fast, Doom 2016 looks superb and runs smooth as silk (bravo to the coders who pulled that off!) - the level design is excellent (especially inventive in the Hell levels), the music gets the blood pumping, the glory kills bring a devilish smile to the face, and the essence of it feels distinctly like Doom and Doom II for the 21st Century. There's perhaps a few too many 'kill arena' sections, but it's balls to the wall action from start to finish. A real treat for a Doom fan, so it is.

Forza Horizon 3 (Xbox One) - this one came with the console, and boy is it fun! Again, it looks gorgeous - pulling over to the side of the road to examine the finer graphical details as rain soaks your car at night while fireworks erupt in the star-strewn sky of the Australian outback is a glorious sight. The 'feel' of the cars takes a little getting used to at first, but practise - and applying a full upgrade package to the vehicle - helps a lot. The whole tone of the game is upbeat, too ... it's just a jolly good time, an open world arcade racer with a vast and varied catalogue of motors to be earned along the way.

Far Cry 4 (Xbox One) - I had an awful lot of fun with Far Cry 3 on the Xbox 360, so I rather fancied getting my hands on this sequel. It's been out for a couple of years, so enough time has passed that I was eager to play the fourth instalment. I'm only about 35% of the way through it, but - again - the visuals are spectacular (the graphics facilitate such sights, sure, but the real key is in level design - just look at Alan Wake, six years old and still holding strong because of its superb level design ... among many other things ... you can say the same about pretty much any Rockstar game, too, come to think of it).

A small tweak I'm very appreciative of is the ability to turn OFF the 'looting/skinning animations'. I got fed up with seeing those animations over-and-over-and-over again in Far Cry 3, so to skip by that is a welcome change. However, why on earth they didn't change the 'swap weapon' button to be something different from the 'search body' button (they're both "X") is beyond me. The number of times I've accidentally swapped weapons instead of looting a body is quite irritating. Similarly, quite often you find yourself scoping out an outpost to liberate, but get distracted by random events conspiring against you - either to distract you (e.g. military supply convoys to hijack, 'Karma events', and so on) or to frustrate you (e.g. a pack of ruddy 'Dhole' dogs that just piss you off) ... and those flippin' Eagles can sod off in all.

Storytelling wise it's not the greatest - mostly because the main campaign is swamped with side quests, so you end up losing the main thrust of the campaign ... but storytelling isn't the main objective here. It's all about the setting, the adventure, and the gameplay - and on those fronts Far Cry 4 is strong.

"Fight Club 2" by Chuck Palahniuk - a graphic novel follow-up to the author's debut novel, as penned by the man himself, in a sturdy hardback that collects all ten of the previously published comic book instalments. It's a curious transition, and puts Palahniuk into unfamiliar territory, the individuality of his descriptive prose mostly removed here because of the shift to a primarily visual medium. Plot wise it's a bit ... strange. There's an awful lot of meta stuff going on in the final passages (with varied levels of success), which doesn't make the most sense, leaving you more bewildered and mildly amused than firmly convinced, but there are many aspects that maintain Palahniuk's voice and dark sense of humour. Certain aspects are perhaps more 'out there' than usual because this was a trek into comic book writing - and as such it feels a bit disjointed from the unforgettable (and better defined) original novel. Well worth a read, but it's likely to divide reader opinions quite readily.

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