Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | February 26, 2015

Top Five: Things I want to see in the next Deus Ex

Four years ago, Deus Ex: Human Revolution stealthed onto the scene, punched through a wall and brought a new generation of gamers into the dystopian world first seen in 2000’s seminal Deus Ex.
With little in the way of new information circulating about the future of the series, other than a maddeningly vague blog post from last year, I thinking about what we’d like to see from the next game in the series – and no, we don’t need any more Safety Dancing.

Multiplayer
As much as Deus Ex has been and always should be a single-player experience at its core, there’s a lot to be said for a multiplayer mode that fits neatly into the canon, and doesn’t detract from the main campaign.

Take The Last of Us for example. As well as a stellar single-player adventure, the game’s multiplayer mode was nothing to sniff at either – and crucially, adding it in didn’t cheapen or take away from the core single-player mode’s length or depth.

There are so many factions fighting for dominance in the darker corners of Deus Ex’s world that there’s bound to be a great multiplayer game in there. Ideally it would play along the same lines as the single-player campaign – players would select augmentations they like, and save them on a soldier (ala loadouts from Call of Duty) – then battle it out in one of the game’s ‘hub’ areas.
Developers could make use of ‘verticality’ and have teams using all their augmentations to the maximum, turning invisible at will, jumping to obscene heights and punching through walls.

Plus, keep the team sizes small, and working together to snatch victory from your similarly augmented enemies would become a tense game of cat and mouse – especially if you fill the hubs with NPCs, like Assassin’s Creed’s excellent multiplayer offering.

Such a mode should force gamers to think creatively to flush out and kill enemy agents – much like the core game, Deus Ex’s multiplayer should feel free to play outside the lines.
Plus, you could create maps drawn from the series’ deep lore, such as Area 51, Hell’s Kitchen or the vertical city of Hengsha.

Proper boss battles
If there was one criticism that appeared in every review of Deus Ex: Human Revolution, it was the boss battles. Farmed out to a company outside Square-Enix for some unknown reason, DE:HR’s final encounters broke the flow of the action completely, and committed a cardinal sin of Deus Ex: denying the player choice.

Ideally, the next Deus Ex should still feature climatic boss fights, but you should be allowed to use your brain, guile, luck and augmentations to avoid them, or win them in a way other than by repeatedly shooting your foe.
Take Anna Navarre and Gunther Hermann, for example. This pair – mechanically augmented and embittered UNATCO agents – could be killed in the original Deus Ex by discovering their ‘killphrase’, which upon being spoken would cause them to self destruct, saving you valuable bullets and time. Alternatively, they could simply be avoided entirely, if your stealth skill was high enough.

This kind of freedom to choose is at the heart of Deus Ex, and should certainly extend to the boss battles too.

Rechargeable batteries…
Deus Ex and Human Revolution both suffered from the same issue when it comes to the awesome augmentation technology the series is built around – power.
Both JC Denton and Adam Jensen boasted an amazing selection of cool augmentations, from the ability to see through walls to a tiny spy drone deployed from the eye, to powerful, strength-boosting muscles – but if you ran out of bioelectric cells (DE), or candy bars (DE:HR), then you were essentially buggered.

Many a gamer no doubt found themselves in a firefight after discovering they couldn’t punch an enemy down in Human Revolution because they ran out of bloody Mars Bars.
No, what’s needed is a rechargeable battery system built into the hero’s torso – one that charges the batteries beyond the first ‘bar’, and won’t leave you gasping when you need to make a quick escape.

A good example would be the Crysis series’ Nanosuit which, while powerful, required careful monitoring at all times, and had you walk a line between all-powerful superhero and crawling failure.
Make the more powerful augmentations suck power like an Xbox One power brick, certainly – but don’t make us beat up a vending machine to use them more than once a level.

Interlinked and unpredictable storylines
The Deus Ex storyline spans many decades now, from the bleak early years of augmentation in Human Revolution in the 2020s, to Deus Ex’s cyberpunk 2052 dystopia and Invisible War’s neon-lit 2072. Throughout it all, a decent storyline filled with betrayal, conspiracy and rebellion runs – and we’d like to see the next chapter bring them all closer together.

While details on the next game in the series, and the ‘Universe’ concept alluded to in Square-Enix’s October 2014 blog post, are vague, we suspect the next game will be set somewhere between the events of Human Revolution and Deus Ex.

While Human Revolution did an adequate job of revealing the early years of some of Deus Ex’s characters, this time period would allow a deeper exploration of the events that defined the original title. (Deus Ex nerdgasm/spoiler alert ahead).

I’d love to see an exploration of the birth of UNATCO and the schism between the Illuminati and Bob Page’s Majestic 12. Then, what about the nanoaugmentation project? What about the creation of JC Denton and his brother – were there failed attempts before the ill-fated pair?

Keep us guessing, SquEnix, and you’d be on to a winner.

‘Dynamic’ hubs
With the ‘next’ Deus Ex featuring “trans-humanism segregation”, and “a “ghetto-city’ voluntarily built in order to separate the classes”, the stage is set for some truly spectacular ‘hubs’ to play in.
All three Deus Ex titles were at their best in their respective ‘hubs’. Deus Ex’s New York, Hong Kong and Paris hubs were a delight to explore, rammed with side missions and things to see and do.

Similarly, Human Revolution and Invisible War’s hubs had a magic of their own, and all three allowed the gamer to explore and enjoy the feel of moving as an augmented human in a changing world.

With the next title, we’d like to see more made of these hubs. They need to be bigger, and boast more activities than ever before. Give us side missions, mysteries and murders until we never want to leave, and harness the power of next-gen consoles to populate them with a mass of NPCs going about their business.

The not-so-distant future...

The not-so-distant future…

For example, imagine a multi-tiered ‘ghetto-city’ filled with NPCs, moving and rioting and fighting – all of which the player can move through and influence. As the story advances, the hub will change dynamically around the player, showing day by day the effects of the player’s interaction and choices made.

Deus Ex’s brand of conspiracy works best in such environments, as the knowledge of events influencing the game world empowers the player – and makes every decision matter all the more when they can see the effects first-hand.

What do you want to see in the next Deus Ex game? Leave a comment below.

Article first written for Pass The Controller

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | February 20, 2015

Retrospective: Warhammer Games

The war-torn battlefields of the 41st millennium have found more fans through the medium of mainstream gaming than it ever did on the 28mm tabletop.

In fact, Nottingham-based ‘world’s best plastic miniatures’ producer Games Workshop is making good use of its 25-year-old licence to bring in ancillary revenues (arguably to the detriment of the actual tabletop game) – but that’s not to say all the games with GW’s logo on are actually any good.

Now, with the trailer for GW’s latest cash-grab, Warhammer 40,000: Regicide (essentially 3D chess with Space Marines…) doing the rounds, it’s worth looking back on some of the tiles in the company’s Warhammer-licenced stable which – like Star Wars – often vary massively in quality.

Dawn of War(hammer)

Chances are, if you’ve owned a PC capable of running a 3D strategy game, you’ve played Dawn of War – or one of its 3.2 million add-on packs. Or the sequel. Or the sequel’s add-on packs.
Relic Entertainment’s original 2004 release: Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, was a masterclass in video game design. Drawing heavily on GW’s lore, the title placed the gamer in the power armoured boots of a commander in the Blood Ravens chapter of Space Marines, and tasked him or her with liberating the planet of Tartarus from a horde of invading Orks. It also featured this fantastic intro cutscene, which probably sold more than a few boxes of Space Marines on its own:

 

Fans of the tabletop game, critics and video gamers new to the series were all almost universally delighted with Dawn of War, which brought the crunching battles once only in their mind’s eye to life on the screen – a dynamic which GW and Relic then milked to death, releasing add-on pack after add-on pack. Then came the sequels – and more add-on packs – all of which cheapened the base-building battles of the original down to a squad-based skirmish game.

However, before Dawn of War, Games Workshop’s licence had been used to make many a strategy game – strategy being at the heart of the company’s long history in 28mm.

Long before Dawn of War, the 1995 Mindscape title Shadow of the Horned Rat was bringing the bloody battlefields of the medieval-styled Warhammer universe to life in blocky graphics, and the fondly remembered Final Liberation brought the 1900s’ obsession with FMV video into the gaming sphere.
Shockingly bad voice acting aside, Final Liberation was a pretty amazing title for its time, and worked on a scale that even Dawn of War failed to capture, drawing as it was from the ‘Epic’ line of really-miniature miniatures GW was pumping out at the time.

Similar strategy titles in later years include the entirely underwhelming Warhammer: Battle March in 2008, which failed spectacularly to capture either the grim nature of Warhammer’s world, or even what it takes to be a good game – one of Namco Bandai’s many failed enterprises.

‘My bolter’s jammed!’

However, aside from strategy titles, a number of excellent (and not so excellent) first- and third-person shooters have carried Games Workshop’s splash screen.

One of the earliest, 1993’s Space Hulk, is memorable for its tense atmosphere, tight controls and incredibly tough difficulty. Space Hulk‘s sequel, Vengeance of the Blood Angels, was even tougher and often pant-wettingly scary – especially when the alien (and deadly) Genestealers morphed from sprites to gun down in the distance to slickly animated and very much in-your-face monsters which would kill you if you slipped up once in close combat.

 

Years after Vengeance, 2011’s Space Marine – one of now-defunct publisher THQ’s stable – was a very enjoyable, if laughably shallow hack-and-slasher, with a pretty kickass multiplayer and a half-decent storyline (notable because Games Workshop titles typically lack a decent storyline…) However, despite a cliffhanger ending, the chances of a sequel are pretty much nil, owing to THQ’s dramatic fall from grace.

The Space Hulk series is currently undergoing something of a renaissance, in fact, with Full Control’s 2013 title Space Hulk returning to the series’ roots as a tactical – and often unbearably tense – skirmish game, while Focus Home Interactive’s Space Hulk: Deathwing is set to bring Left 4 Dead-style co-operative shooters into the 40K universe with a bang – it certainly looks good so far, in as much as you can trust a pre-alpha trailer…

 

And it’s not just mainstream consoles and the PC crowd that are suffering under the barrage of GW-branded titles. Mobile title Squad Command reviewed well back in 2007, but suffered on the back of lacklustre Western sales of Sony’s £400 PSP paperweight.
More recently, Storm of Vengeance and Drop Assault have brought the brutality and betrayal of GW’s ‘Horus Heresy’ storyline to Android and tablets – but both are shallow, repetitive and fairly dull lane- and tactical-strategy titles, respectively, and aren’t likely to enjoy the same popularity of earlier titles in the company’s stable.

In the grim darkness of the far future…

As for future games bearing Games Workshop’s Aquila logo, things are looking up. Alongside the aforementioned Genestealer-kill-a-thon Deathwing, another mobile developer, Pixel Hero Games, is working on a 3D action/adventure title based on the excellent Black Library novel Eisenhorn: Xenos, by Dan Abnett.
Details are sketchy at the moment, but drawing from 25 years of lore – and Abnett’s excellent fiction – one can only hope the title will do Eisenhorn’s sweeping tale of betrayal, adventure and danger justice.

Similarly vague on details is Tindalos Interactive’s Battlefleet Gothic – Armada. Although the initial screenshots look great, exactly what is going to be involved in a videogame adaptation of a now-defunct GW tabletop space strategy game remains to be seen. However, with Gothic being an aspect of the Warhammer 40,000 universe beloved by longtime fans, hopes are high for a title crossing the deep lore and ridiculously large warships of 40K with a gameplay style similar to Relic’s excellent Homeworld series.

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So, 25 years on from the opening of a small shop in Nottingham, Games Workshop – and the many tales of the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universes – have spread across the world through every almost medium available in entertainment.
Sure, there’s been a number of duff titles in the past, but with the likes of Armada and Deathwing leading the way in coming years – and rumours of an MMORPG refusing to die, despite Square Enix’s Eternal Crusade seemingly mired in development hell – things can only get better.

Article commissioned for Pass The Controller

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | February 12, 2015

Retro Reboot: MDK

Any game that features an item known as the ‘world’s smallest nuclear explosion’, and allows you to fire a sniper rifle attached to your head, shortly before hurtling off a tower block and landing using your infinite (and completely aerodynamically useless) ‘ribbon chute’ deserves a remake.

I am, of course, talking about Shiny Entertainment’s 1997 shooter MDK – a gloriously crazy title with a unique sense of humour that I know to be fondly remembered by many a 20-something gamer.

Kurt Hectic, lured to his boss’ space station ‘Jim Dandy’ by a promise of Hungarian goulash, is humanity’s last line of defence against the machinations of a brutal alien race known as ‘Streamriders’.

These thuggish aliens have invaded Earth in a number of massive ‘Minecrawlers’, and are merrily overrunning human cities and stripping the planet bare of its valuable natural resources.

Stuffed into Dr Fluke Hawkins’s innovative ‘coil suit’ (which is capable of repelling “bullets, bees, and small but very hard sticks”), Kurt is unceremoniously kicked out of the station to plummet to Earth, aiming to destroy each Minecrawler and redeem his batshit-crazy boss.

 

And so does MDK begin. Alone on the decks of a vast, city-sized death machine, Kurt must use a combination of wacky physics, implausible gadgets, his arm /head mounted weapons and a snarky attitude to stop the alien menace – and so did gamers everywhere fell in love with MDK immediately.

There’s just something about MDK’s combination of over-the-top humour, solid platforming and tight shooting action that makes for a stand-out game. While tricky, MDK never steps over the line into irritation – the enemies are a delightful mix of idiot goons and dumb robots, and their one strength lies in numbers.

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The third-person animation is still slick and mesmeric, even after 18 years, and I fondly remember running all over the place, merrily blasting enemies with Kurt’s unlimited-ammo chaingun, while also bouncing around using the game’s hilariously light physics system.

The characterisation of friend and foe is also excellent, with the chunky aliens just as likely to moon you as they are to shoot at you. This is especially true of the sniping sections, when Kurt mounts his implausibly lightweight sniper rifle on his head – the aliens are even more ugly/amusing close up, and taking them down with the selection of interesting rifle rounds on offer simply never got old.

As for the Minecrawlers, each is very different in aspect – varying from standard industrial to something akin to a five-year-old’s ballpit – and was a joy to explore… right before you blow it to shreds in an amusingly implemented ‘boss fight’.

 

Bring it back

So, with Shiny Entertainment long gone, who would be best placed to revive such a precious gaming memory?

A decent choice would be Rockstar, as Max Payne 3 (despite its sadly lacklustre sales) was a fantastically fun third-person shooter. I’m confident the company could bring back Kurt and his incredibly stupid way of fighting – and probably throw in a damn fun multiplayer mode at the same time. Plus, Rockstar’s sense of humour would be right at home with MDK’s madcap antics.

Alternatively, amid the latest trend for HD remakes, one may have slipped your notice – MDK 2 HD.

Yes, MDK had a sequel, and it was just as wacky as the first game in the series (although I’ll always prefer the first for its more single-minded approach). As a result – and following fairly good reviews – I’d hand over the rights to the original and best MDK to Overhaul Games (a division of Beamdog).

They did a decent job with the sequel, so why not give them a shot at the original? Granted it would be more of a tarting-up than a full reboot, but it’s better than nothing!

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | January 30, 2015

Videogame Real Estate

I was looking in the window of an estate agent the other day, studying the hilariously expensive properties for rent in London, and then I wondered – what if videogame estate agents existed? How would they sell some of the most famous videogame locations? 

So, may I present the Hemphill and Hemphill Estate Agents, and their new properties to buy in your area…

NEW PROPERTIES TO BUY IN YOUR AREA
HEMPHILL AND HEMPHILL REAL ESTATE

Spencer Mansion - A wonderland of gothic adventure!

Spencer Mansion – A wonderland of gothic adventure!

Spencer Mansion

A well-appointed building in the Arklay Mountains, Spencer Mansion is as much a historical icon as it is a comfortable home for your loved ones. You are sure to love the columned exterior of the venerable building, which is best viewed at night, through a thunderstorm.

With baroque woodwork throughout and beautiful, easy-clean flooring – for those little spills – you can be sure of pleasant evenings in with friends as you have run of the mansion’s many long hallways and delightfully characterful creaking doors.

A charming chapel/graveyard combination is no cause for alarm, as the site has been deconsecrated, and there’s absolutely no chance of the dead rising from the grave, now is there.

Explore the Mansion's thrilling past. (Pistol optional)

Explore the Mansion’s thrilling past. (Pistol optional)

With a delightfully roomy cellar and many exciting nooks and crannies to explore, every aspect of Spencer Mansion is sure to excite and thrill the prospective homeowner.

Spacious, pet-friendly grounds
Dog-proof windows
Excellent sandwich-making facilities

Price: $670,000 (tax breaks available for mega-corporations)

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blackmesa1©atthebuzzerpodcast

Black Mesa – Adventures in science await!

Black Mesa

This sprawling industrial location boasts excellent rail links and a wide variety of laboratory space for research purposes. A central computer system will keep everything on time – even the teleportation labs, which are currently engaged in research sure to expand the minds of all humankind. You’re sure to find your Xen here.

The facility’s ventilation is excellent, and although the high ceilings can make it difficult to get to the vents for maintenance, a good crowbar goes a long way to keeping things running smoothly. The base’s excellent maintenance staff are all outfitted with the very latest in Hazard Suit technology, although helmets are currently suffering something of a shortage. Or not. It’s difficult to tell.

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Equipped with a fully stocked armoury and airbase, Black Mesa is the ideal location for more dangerous research projects – and for peace of mind, in the unlikely event of an alien invasion, there’s plenty of surface access for government-deployed rescue units.
If you enjoy tinkering with engines, the facility also boasts a fully-equipped rocket testing silo, and provided nothing is blocking the thrust outlet, you’re sure to have a blast.

The staff are friendly – provided you don’t play with the settings on the microwave – and will be happy to talk you through any problems. Apart from the mute one.

Addendum: Rumours of a sinister, grey-suited man haunting the facility are entirely fabricated.

Hydroelectric dam for unlimited power
Lambda lab offers instant worldwide (and further) travel
Large swimming pool with exciting sea creatures to meet

Price: $11.7bn

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The_Bowser_Castle©nocookie

Bowser’s Castle – Warm and inviting!

Bowser’s Castle

One of a number of castles owned by the charmingly mysterious ‘Bowser’, this magnificently-appointed, 1500s-era castle is the ideal place to hide your Princess – unless you would prefer to amuse any would-be rescuers by hiding her in another one.

Warmed throughout by lakes of boiling lava, this wonderful location boasts excellent views from its crumbling battlements, and also features a tennis court, go-karting track, jogging circuit, battle arena and many other nonsensical and money-grabbing additions.

You’re sure to return to Bowser’s Castle time and time again as you examine your investment options, or maybe that’s just the unimaginative writing.

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You will enjoy hours of fun as you explore the castle’s many open spaces and narrow corridors, such as the disused barracks – and please excuse the sentient mushroom infestation, we’ll have that sorted by the time the castle is made available thanks to a ready supply of Fire Flowers.

For your housework needs, there’s a wide selection of ways to pound any offending nails into wood, for example – or possibly crush any guests you’d rather not come back for a return visit.

The plumbing is excellent, and is maintained exclusively by a reliable and experienced Italian firm.

Excellent location for end-level boss fights. All of them. Over and over.
Delight your guests with challenging and not at all infuriating jumping sections over boiling lava
Statue polish included as standard

Price: $2.8bn

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | January 13, 2015

Top Five Games To Watch In 2015

After an arguably lacklustre 2014 for games, 2015 looks to be shaping up well for great titles. Here’s my top five most-anticipated games for 2015 – and a few that didn’t quite make the list.

Number Five: Assassin’s Creed: Victory

Accidentally leaked and promptly spread all over the interwebs, Assassin’s Creed: Victory is the next title in the long-running (and much-milked) Ubisoft series.
However, while the previous title, Unity, failed to even draw my attention – and the game has gone down in infamy for being incredibly buggy and badly broken, Victory looks set to break the mould somewhat – a move much needed to ensure Ubisoft’s disgruntled fans don’t head off elsewhere.

*Makes an excited squealing noise*

*Makes an excited squealing noise*

Victorian London would be a fascinating setting for an Assassin’s Creed game. That period of history saw the rise of the Industrial Revolution and the gradual decline of the English Empire. Could the titular Assassin find him/herself working alongside a great inventor such as Isambard Kingdom Brunel? Perhaps we could see an assassination in the midst of the Houses of Parliament?
What about Guy Fawkes?
There’s a lot of potential here, Ubisoft. Don’t cock it up.

Number Four: Mario Maker

Long-time readers of my site will know I’m no Nintendo fan. In fact, I tend to look down (as much as anyone can ever look down on a multinational, hugely successful corporation) on Nintendo for constantly releasing the same old game in a new box.
So, when I saw Mario Maker, I couldn’t help but be a little impressed by Ninty finally pushing the boat out and trying something new – and I guarantee it’ll be a real laugh to build and share classic Mario levels with your friends.

 

Admittedly, Sony did this before with the excellent Little Big Planet – but there’s going to be something special about reliving your early gaming memories (or designing the most dastardly challenge) with your friends.

Number Three: No Man’s Sky

No Man’s Sky inspires two emotions in me: fear and utter excitement.

 

A while back, I said how great it would be to see a return of space simulator games. While No Man’s Sky isn’t a remake of TIE Fighter (goddamn you, Disney, remake TIE Fighter!), I’m keen to see what the crew behind this highly ambitious title can create.
No Man’s Sky, with its procedurally generated worlds, beautiful cell-shaded graphics and potential for endless exploration, blew everyone away last year – critics included – but whether or not the development team can deliver on their promises remains to be seen.

But, I hear you ask, why describe yourself as feeling ‘fear’ over No Man’s Sky, Andy? Well, take the recent release of Elite: Dangerous – the very pretty but ultimately shallow return of the well-remembered series. The reviews have been fair-to-middling so far – and for good reason, as Elite lacks much in the way of plot, and without a decent plot, all the planets in the galaxy won’t matter.

It is this fear that makes me concerned No Man’s Sky will fall short of its ambitious – and of fan expectations. It’s all well and good creating vast, detailed worlds to explore and fully realised economies to invest your time (and probably real-world money) in, but there needs to be an overarching plot behind the action – a faction to fight for, a mystery to unravel – something to believe in.

Then again, look at EVE Online. That gets by just fine without a decent plot. Perhaps I’m jumping at shadows…

Number Two: Batman: Arkham Knight

I’ll let this trailer do the talking. Rocksteady Studios is back to finish their excellent ‘Arkham’ trilogy, and I’m confident they’re going to deliver once again with slick gameplay that puts ‘Bats’ himself to shame:

 

Number One: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

“Metal Gear… it can’t be…”
I have two words for industry icon Hideo Kojima: Release. Date.
The visionary behind gaming’s most explosive soap opera is back in 2015, with a new take on the Metal Gear saga that’s got long-time fans like myself and those new to the series alike foaming at the mouth.

 

Sure, he may have annoyed/delighted any number of fans with his £40 Ground Zeros demo disk, but if the early gameplay offered by that little slice of action is anything to judge by, we’re in for a treat.

The idea of the tight Metal Gear gameplay combined with open world environments to explore and any number of ways to complete your mission is simply thrilling to fans of the series. Plus, with promises of multiplayer and the delightful base building dynamics pinched from Peace Walker seemingly making an appearance in Phantom Pain, I’m sure I’m going to sucked into the world of Metal Gear all over again.

Honourable mentions:

Star Wars: Battlefront

I’ve been waiting years for a new Battlefront game – in fact, I’ve put my demands to Disney in a previous article – but despite the intense interest in the next Battlefront, EA/DICE have been maddeningly vague on the progress of development. It’s all very well putting out a pretty tech demo, and I know you’ll want to get it right (gamers won’t forgive you if you don’t…), but let’s see some more information, please. Maybe even a gameplay video. STAT. As punishment for being so slow, Battlefront is off the list.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

It’s pretty, it’ll be a best-seller, here’s a gameplay trailer – we’ve seen most of it before.
Job done.

 

Halo 5: Guardians

Beyond mysterious box art and a few scattered videos, little information has emerged about Master Chief’s next big walkabout. While it all looks very shiny, I’m not certain Guardians is going to break any new ground – although it might help a certain entertainment giant sell a few of its next-generation consoles now they’ve dropped the price and tossed out the flail-tastic Kinect peripheral.

Dying Light

Parkour and zombie-bashing in a beautifully realised world where you’re constantly battling not only the undead, but your own infection? Sounds great, doesn’t it? Yes. But, Dying Light’s developers – Techland – managed only fair-to-middling games in both Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide (with Riptide being the worst offender, as they made the same mistakes twice).
Time will tell if Dying Light can break the cycle.

A very happy new year to all my readers!

Article originally published at 6aming.com

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | December 11, 2014

Alien: Isolation – Sleeper hit of the year?

I’d heard of Alien: Isolation, but I had no intention of buying it. Aliens: Colonial Marines was a joke of a game, and only went on to prove my conviction that movie tie-in games – and games set in the same universe as a movie – rarely hit the right note.

So, when I spotted Isolation on the shelves for the princely sum of £25, I hesitated before parting with my hard-earned cash.
Thank goodness I did.

Isolation is a double-whammy of gaming excellence – it redefines survival horror and redeems the Alien franchise in one fell swoop, and is a damn good game to boot.

Its 15-hour runtime (plus DLC) may have been accused of being “too long” by other critics, but I couldn’t disagree more – Isolation never overstayed its welcome, and left me with only the urge to play it again once I finally completed the task at hand.
The last game to give me that urge was The Last of Us – and that’s an accolade worth noting.

So, as we come to the inevitable ream of ‘game of the year’ nominations being put out by the other news sites, spare a moment for what I believe to be the sleeper hit of the year – a title which tried something new and unexpected, and pulled it off with aplomb.

In space…

Picking up some 15 years after Ridley Scott’s Alien, Isolation sees Ellen Ripley’s daughter – Weyland-Yutani engineer Amanda Ripley – dispatched as part of a team to recover the Nostromo’s flight recorder. The recorder has been brought to Sevastopol – a space station owned by a competing mega-corporation which has fallen on hard times.

Naturally, everything goes to hell real fast – and within 30 minutes of the opening cutscene, I was hooked.

My natural inclination as a critic is to scoff at everything, but The Creative Assembly (they of Total War fame) have perfectly captured the look and feel of Scott’s 1979 blockbuster – even down to the ‘retro-sci fi’ feel of the technology on show in the station (and the loading screens…).

Unlike Colonial Marines, which was a by-the-book shooter with some awful AI, Isolation takes pains to ramp up the tension and terror one experiences in facing a horrible situation alone.

Beforelong you find yourself working your way through the decrepit depths of the station, crawling down abandoned maintenance tunnels, dodging broken electrics and wondering what the hell happened.

The walls are smeared with graffiti, and the mindless automatons tasked with the station’s upkeep have stopped caring about their jobs – or their responsibilities towards the station’s human crew.

In fact, the first couple of hours on Sevastopol are a study in tension, as Ripley gradually uncovers the events which so doomed the station, and encounters the survivors desperately scrabbling to escape.

While it would be easy to dismiss this tension-building as dull, Creative Assembly took pains to pull the gamer into the world of Isolation, spreading tidbits of information about and gradually teaching Amanda the skills she needs to survive.

…no-one can hear you scream…

And then the Alien shows up, and the game is turned on its head. From being a mission of cautious exploration, Isolation suddenly becomes a heart-pounding race to survive.

With little more than a useless revolver, some flares and a motion sensor, Amanda has to survive against Creative Assembly’s incredibly well-realised version of the titular xenomorph – and its shockingly good AI.

The Alien hunts the player as any predator does its prey – it listens for sound, looks for movement and can even smell you, if it gets close enough. Sure, you can cower under a desk or hide in a locker, but that won’t stop the Alien – it keeps coming.

Completing your objectives as you scramble to escape becomes a study in patience, caution and fear – even the save points take a few seconds to work – and though the Alien can be distracted or fooled, most ploys only work once.

You get a flamethrower later on, but that only pisses it off.

However, despite the steep learning curve and often crushing difficulty, a savvy gamer quickly discovers that defeating the extra-galactic menace can be done – and this is where Isolation finds its stride.

Get away from her, you bitch!

Isolation redefines survival horror. Like Dead Space before it, the game’s objectives can be a little grating and repetitive, but the constant threat of the Alien – and the deranged survivors on the station – make each area a trial and a struggle. Every goal achieved and every save point reached is a small victory to be savoured, and as the story starts to spiral deeper you find yourself becoming more and more capable of coping with the trials ahead – like Ripley, you know how to fight back.

It helps that the game world is so well realised, and the graphics so defined, that you can’t help but be sucked into both Sevastopol and Ripley’s desperate rush for survival against the odds.

Game of the year?

So, while many other reviewers will likely put paper-thin grind-em-up Destiny at the top of their list, I humbly submit Alien: Isolation as my pick for Game of the Year.

Sure, it’s not without its faults, but rarely has a game so absorbed me and had me coming back for more – despite my utter terror each time I heard the distinctive rattle and growl of the Alien’s approach through the vents above me.

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | November 18, 2014

Space Hulk: Ascension Review

When I was nine, I played a game I really had no right to be playing. A friend’s big brother introduced me to the then-PC game Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels, teleporting me and my squad of Space Marine Terminators into the heart of darkness – an immense, drifting morass of smashed spaceship hulls, infested with horrors from beyond our galaxy.

I lasted about eight seconds.

I didn’t know it at the time, but Vengeance was the latest in a number of video games emulating a tabletop game – Games Workshop’s Space Hulk – which was popular among the spottier of my fellow schoolchildren.

I also didn’t know that that brief brush with the horror of the Genestealers would open a door into my own discovery of Games Workshop’s 28mm Warhammer 40,000 science fiction action – but that’s another story.

Scanners Online

Space Hulk: Ascension – the latest in a long line of Space Hulk-based, Games Workshop-branded titles – is as true to the tabletop version as it’s possible to be on a PC monitor. The game reflects the tension of the 28mm battles with admirable skill, and though certain aspects of the title could use a little polish, I had a whale of a time nonetheless.

 

The turn-based game mostly centres around small teams of Terminators (genetically enhanced post-humans in suits of powered armour) taking on the Genestealer infestation (six-limbed, chitin-coated monstrosities with huge claws) in the claustrophobic hallways of a titular Space Hulk. Missions range from desperate retreats to search-and-rescue operations, and take place on a floor grid which Genestealer and Terminator alike must use Action Points to cross.

Each Terminator has a set number of Action Points to use walking, firing, opening doors, passing objects or waiting for enemy movement, and carefully selecting your course of action feels like considering your moves on a chess board, more than a videogame. Although it lacks the tense atmosphere and first-person shooting of Vengeance of the Blood Angels, Ascension’s isometric gameplay is addictive and memorable, if repetitive.

Mission Briefing

Ascension is an update to Full Control’s 2013 title Space Hulk. At the time of its release, 2013’s Space Hulk was received moderately well, with many critics bemoaning a lack of content and too stringent adherence to the tabletop game’s rules.

Ascension addresses some of those concerns, at least in part, with up to 50 hours of additional content. A number of new Space Marine Chapters to play as have been added, and new weapons, Genestealer mutations, missions and environments tacked on to the core experience. The gameplay has also been streamlined and made far more accessible for the layman, but my personal favourite new addition is an RPG-style experience system that adds far more depth to the action.

Making the Terminators gain experience with every mission objective achieved and every Genestealer squashed is a masterstroke of design, turning a run-of-the-mill shooter into something more akin to the excellent X-COM: Enemy Within.

I can’t tell you the number of times I was left ranting at the screen as my ‘rank three’ Terminator Librarian failed to gun down the enemies charging him and got sliced to shreds – suddenly, far from being just a name in a red/blue/grey suit of armour, every Space Marine matters in Ascension.

An updated mission progression structure draws each of the isolated missions together into a cohesive (if predictable) storyline, and a number of improved ‘flash’ missions – tough assignments often worth it for the XP and new weapons available – keep things interesting. The three Chapters included – the Blood Angels, Ultramarines and Space Wolves – all have a Space Hulk to conquer, so there’s plenty to see and do.

Deployment

That’s not to say every critic request has been met in the Ascension update package. While the graphics for the mission environments are excellent, the rendering for the Terminators and Genestealers is slapdash at best, often showing rough textures and poor animation.

Admittedly, this wouldn’t be problem if the game remained isometric-only, but the newly added RPG tenets, such as a character upgrade screen, rather show a lack of effort compared to the thought and time that went into the Space Hulk environments.

Each Hulk, while often repetitive in design, comes to life once the player zooms in on the action – I was delighted when zooming in brought the sights and sounds of the Hulk to my ears – slamming doors, screeching Genestealers, the heavy breathing of the Terminators. The shadows are hidden by thick smoke, and flashing beacons act as grim warning of what is to come.

Even better is the ‘picture in picture’ camera in the top right of the game screen. This live video feed shows the action from the viewpoint of the selected Terminator – blood and all – and was a great addition to the game, bringing the action into a gory focus from the gamer’s perch on high. Having to ‘expand’ the window for each mission was a minor annoyance, however – the game should really have remembered my choice.

Naturally, that view also left me wanting to gun down the enemy myself, rather than order a Terminator to do it, but Full Control are leaving that to the next game in the series.

Combat

One major niggle, however, is the control menu for each Terminator. After selecting a unit, the gamer must carefully consider positioning on the floor grid, move the unit, and then line up a shot. However, the menu used for the Terminators’ abilities is positioned around their feet, so the first issue is having Terminators turning on the spot by accident, and wasting precious Action Points.

The menu buttons are also far too small, making planning your actions fiddly and irritating when the enemy are approaching from all sides.

However, despite these minor issues, praise must go to the sound design, which is simply terrific. The Terminators’ heavy steps resound in the darkness, and the throaty blast of each suit’s weapons brings the tabletop action of the original board game to memory for that alone – what young gamer hasn’t made a noise when firing an imaginary gun at an imaginary monster, after all.

Mission Complete

Space Hulk: Ascension is a faithful recreation of the tabletop board game that introduced so many gamers to the world of Warhammer 40,000 – but this new edition takes pains to not be so bogged down by the restrictions of its progenitor. Although it still lacks polish in some areas, the central gameplay is solid and addictive, and adding the RPG elements was a stroke of genius, inspiring the gamer to consider each move with a new sense of vulnerability and care – and cursing every failed shot or surprise attack.

Article originally published at 6aming.com

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | October 19, 2014

What next for XCOM?

I recently returned to my underground command centre somewhere beneath the Himalayas, and once again took control of the XCOM project – a global initiative activated in times of alien invasion, with one goal: preserve the survival of the human race, by any means necessary.

Like my need to read The Lord of the Rings at least once a year, and sit through all three Star Wars movies (what, there’s six? No, there isn’t…), I return time and time again to play XCOM: Enemy Unknown on my gaming PC, sinking hours into a two-year-old title just because it kicks so much ass. However, this time – and for the first time – I didn’t finish the game. I’d grown bored of watching my sniper miss that 99% hit-ratio shot, or that alien berserker pull off a completely improbable, long-range headshot through a window from half a mile away.

I’d had enough of the game.

Once my surprised passed – I’ve loved this game since 2012 – that got me thinking. What’s next for XCOM? Will the developers look backwards to move the series forwards? Or are we doomed to suffer a series of cheap, badly-implimented side-story shooters forevermore (The Bureau, I’m looking at you…). Although no sequel to Enemy Unknown has been announced, one can only hope the owners of such a trend-setting series will have something in the pipeline before too long.

So, here’s four key things I’d like to see make it into the next true XCOM game. Spoiler alert.

Global strategy

Previous games in the series had a scope far beyond the single operating base of 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Although I personally never played 1993’s X-COM: UFO Defense, I know that the action was spread across the globe, and XCOM operated from a number of different bases.

Over time, the organisation branched out into space, reverse-engineering alien technology to create space-based weapons, and even starfighters to take on the alien menace. You weren’t just fighting from one corner of the globe, putting out fires one at a time – you had to think globally, moving resources around from pillar to post, fighting the foe on all fronts. I’d like to see this dynamic return to the fore.

Perhaps the player could have a base on every major continent, and hundreds of trained, battle-hardened soldiers to command. Every combat operation could be directly controlled by the player, or you could set your equipment options, and let the computer battle it out for you, with only a percentage meter telling you the odd of success – much like the Total War series. This means you could fight every battle yourself, or only those you choose to, allowing the gamer to play XCOM more like a strategy game, with the world at stake.

 

While 2012’s Enemy Unknown thrived on the feeling of being a small, elite team facing the enemy largely in secret, I always felt that there was more to see and do – f the aliens had turned up in more superior numbers, XCOM would have been destroyed entirely. Of course, the ending of Enemy Unknown leaves this possibility open – but more on this later.

Mission variety

One of the key problems with XCOM: Enemy Unknown was the extremely repetitive nature of the missions. Each engagement with the enemy essentially equated to the same, hackneyed mission: land, disembark, kill everything in sight. While the excellent DLC add-on pack Enemy Within added a number of new missions – as well as the alien-loving EXALT militia – these special events and missions were largely few and far between.

Enemy Within’s infiltration missions – which saw a single soldier act as a Trojan horse to bring down an EXALT cell – were a nice touch, but grew repetitive fast. Aside from this, the DLC added a couple of special story missions – including one excellent operation that saw a team clearing out a chryssalid hive, before needing to escape the site and nuke it – but again, these were one-offs.

I’d like to see vastly improved mission variety, and it’s not that difficult to come up with new scenarios and locations to battle on. Perhaps the aliens have a number of secret bases XCOM needs to locate and destroy – could one be on a ship that you need to scuttle and escape? Maybe EXALT have seized a military air base and are preparing for a massive alien troop transport’s arrival, and XCOM needs to infiltrate the site, take over the anti-aircraft batteries and shoot it down before it lands, unseen and unexpected?

The options are endless – and it only takes a couple of developers to come up with them.

One of the delights of XCOM‘s play style is being forced to adapt your tactics to those of the enemy. Throw in a mission objective beyond ‘kill everything in sight’ and you’ll be on to a winner in terms of tension, challenge and enjoyment.

Improved statistics management, classes, gear and research items

While Enemy Within added a number of new classes, perks and abilities – including genetic modification, and the ability to have a soldier’s limbs chopped off and a massive, hulking battlesuit soldered on – there’s so much more that could be offered to the gamer in terms of operation team micromanagement.

 

If Firaxis Games are looking for inspiration, you need look no further than the excellent Long War mod. The team behind this nifty little add-on put a lot of time and effort improving XCOM‘s basic statistics management, as well as lengthening the game’s tragically short campaign and making everything more difficult. If you like your XCOM so hard it makes you cry, then I’d fully recommend it – although I’ll freely admit I gave up on Long War after a while. It’s just too hard for me; hard and unfair and great fun for it – if you have the time and patience.

I’d like to see some Long War-inspired skill trees, alongside more weapons and armour and abilities that aren’t so obviously one-sided choosing anything other than the awesome skills you can’t live without would be folly. I don’t think any other XCOM player would have taken the sniper’s ‘run and shoot’ skill over the ability to snipe any enemy that a fellow squadmate could see, anywhere on the map.

Enemy Unknown appears shockingly shallow compared to Long War – and I for one would like to see the depth that the Long War team worked so hard to implement make it into the next game in the series.

Branching storyline with multiple endings

In an age when stories can be directly influenced by the player, having only one end-game for XCOM seemed really rather shortsighted. It may be true that the XCOM games are more about the journey than the outcome, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t want a final mission other than ‘go to alien mothership, blow it up, win’.

A good gaming plot should be influenced by the action of the gamer enjoying the experience. If Firaxis were to adopt the tenets of the ‘global strategy’ gameplay I outlined earlier, each gamers’ experience would differ exponentially by the end of the game. Giving the gamer choice as to what tactics to adopt would give the game improved replayability, and build a closer bond between the people of Earth and the commander of XCOM: nuke a city, killing millions of people, or allow an immense alien hive to fester, and possibly overrun an entire continent?

Forcing the gamer to make hard choices like this would offer a considerable enticement to play a game again, to ask ‘what if I’ – and that’s what makes games like Mass Effect 2 so successful – your choices matter (and yes, I’m ignoring the choice at the end of Mass Effect 3. That was an insult).

Also, I’d move fast on a sequel, Firaxis – Xenonauts is muscling in on your territory.

Remember. We will be watching.

So that’s what I’d like to see in the next ‘proper’ XCOM game. Do you have any ideas for Firaxis? Leave a comment below.

Article originally published on 6aming.com

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | September 26, 2014

Retro Reboot: Steel Battalion

I ticked off a gaming life achievement earlier this year. I got to spend a little time with the original Xbox title Steel Battalion – and more importantly with its massive 40-button, two control stick, three foot pedal controller.

This colossus of gaming launched in 2002 at the princely price tag of £120 ($200), and quickly became three things – a commercial flop (due to a low production rate), a collector’s item and a gaming legend.

Sure, we’ve had ridiculous controllers in the past – look at Nintendo’s Robotic Operating Buddy and its hilariously crap Power Glove, or Resident Evil 4‘s chainsaw controller, which managed to be unwieldy, useless and dangerous in the same breath – but nothing really stacks up to Steel Battalion‘s plastic monolith.

However, despite the fact that you have to reconfigure your living room around the monstrosity, and you look like a complete idiot when playing it, I can honestly say finally getting to grips with Steel Battalion‘s gameplay for the first time was a revelation.

Most people will know the tactile sensation one gets from using a light gun in an arcade – try to imagine that feeling transposed and enhanced into being fully in control of a bipedal tank which handles like a washing machine on stilts, and comes complete with window wipers.
(The action starts around 2.15)

On starting Steel Battalion the gamer is treated to a hilarious badly dubbed intro video, complete with what Japan’s game developers think all American drill sergeants look like – a massive, burly black guy – yelling at you. Your character – a well spoken, annoyingly polite nerd – is a new recruit to the army, and has arrived at an isolated base for training.

Naturally it all goes to pot pretty quick, and you get dumped into the pilot seat of your ‘Decider’ vertical tank (VT) – a bipedal, armoured behemoth with two weapons, a close combat plasma torch, five throttle settings and a habit of falling over if you turn too sharply.

Flick, click, flick, press, click

However, rather than dropping you into the game already on the move, each mission starts with a requirement to run through the VT’s startup sequence. This means flipping switches, pressing buttons, balancing fuel and generally feeling like a badass as you slap at your 40-button controller, stomping on the foot pedals.

Of course, once you’ve got your tank started you need to master the tricky control scheme. The two joysticks control your tank’s direction and yaw in one hand, and your weapon arm in the other. Naturally, getting the right balance of steering your vehicle while locking targets and eradicating them is incredibly difficult at first – like a real tank, the upper body of the VT can traverse, so you’ll find yourself walking in one direction, looking in another and firing at distant targets in a third.

Reloading, swapping fuel tanks and using the radio all requires pressing buttons on the huge controller, flicking switches or turning dials, and when the shells start flying and your buttons flash as your VT takes hits, you suddenly forget you’re sat in your living room, in your underwear, playing a game – you’re a member of the VT corps now, and you have a mission to complete.

The level of immersion took me by surprise. Once you get past the sheer size and complexity of the controller, Steel Battalion comes to life in your hands – literally. Like racing wheels in the arcade, the feeling of controlling your steel leviathan with all four limbs and the information displayed on the TV screen transcends simple gaming – you live Steel Battalion.

However, away from the feeling of being a VT pilot, Steel Battalion falls flat. It seems that so much time and effort was put into the game’s plastic-fantastic controller that Capcom and Nude Maker (what kind of a studio name is that, anyway…) forgot to come up with a decent plot, soundtrack, voice cast and graphical suite.

Set-dressing

Sure, the controller and the game work perfectly in sync, but as everything on the screen is blurry and grey, knowing exactly where to go and what to shoot gets difficult very fast. While the representation of the VT’s cockpit (complete with wonderful analogue monitors and clockwork range-counters) is enthralling, the battle outside is all grey and black, with the occasional bit of flame or smoke.

Then there’s the badly translated Chinglish text to read, the stereotypically bad voice acting and the truly awful score. It all feels like a missed opportunity when the game had so much promise – especially as the first game in the series was on the original Xbox, a console known for beautiful games such as Halo: Combat Evolved.

Furthermore, there’s the bad menu design and crushing difficulty to consider. While your controller monolith includes an eject button (under a flip-up plastic cover, no less), press it too late and your character is permanently killed in action. This means going back to the start of the game, creating a new character and slowly earning your way through the ranks, unlocking the improved MK2 and MK3 vertical tanks as you go. It’s a horrible feeling knowing that death, this time, has a cost.

Bring it back

So, what’s to be done about Steel Battalion? Of the three titles in the series the original was the most successful, although it became a collector’s item due to its rarity and cost. Its sequel, Line of Contact, was an online only shooter – and so was only useful to the limited number of people who owned the original, or were really, really patient (the original Xbox’s online component was a little on the slow side).

The last-generation Xbox 360 title Steel Battalion: Heavy Armor… well, the less said about that steaming pile, the better. I’m sure Microsoft will eventually realise Kinect is entirely pointless.

Ideally, while Capcom could play a role in the development of a new-generation Steel Battalion, they’re best kept in the background – you only have to look at Resident Evil to see how they can get it really, really wrong. Instead, I’d hand Steel Battalion over to the folks at Piranha Games, the team behind the really rather good Mechwarrior Online. While the mechs of Mechwarrior are a lot more nimble than Steel Battalion‘s VT’s, Piranha has the ‘feel’ of mechs just right, and could do the animation and controls justice.

I’d also rope in the folks over at From Software – yes, they of Heavy Armor – because that title would of been a great game, if it wasn’t for the Kinect. They got the sensation of movement and the hectic nature of being in a tank battle spot on, and their characterisation was excellent. Drop the motion controls and you’d of had a great game in Heavy Armor.

As for the massive controller… as much as it pains me to say it, I don’t think any next-generation iteration of the series would really require such a plastic monolith – but at the same time, to play without it would be a loss.

So, I’d suggest two versions of the game – one which is a solid mech shooter with a great single player campaign and co-operative and competitive multiplayer, and one with a great single player campaign and co-operative and competitive multiplayer, and a big-ass 40-button controller, two joysticks and foot pedals.

So come on. Get to it.

Did you play Steel Battalion? Leave a comment below.

Posted by: Andrew Hemphill | September 16, 2014

Double Movie Review: Lucy

I recently discovered that one of my guest writers – the talented Link Hall – loved the Luc Besson movie ‘Lucy’.
I didn’t. I really, really didn’t.
So, for your perusal, I present Link’s calm, measured analysis of Scarlett Johansson’s starring role – and my brutal dissection of a steaming pile of disappointment.

‘Lucy’ review – Link Hall

As I paid for my Ben & Jerry’s, the multiplex popcorn guy asked what I was going to see, and baulked when I told him ‘Lucy’. He confessed he hadn’t seen it, but dismissed it as a clone of Limitless, in which Bradley Cooper stars as a struggling writer whose life reboots after he ingests a brain-altering drug.

Bit of a brainless assumption, I thought. After all, there are plenty of films exploring cerebral enhancement – including Gerald Di Pego’s Phenomenon and Stephen King’s The Lawnmower Man – which have little in common aside from the theme of transformation.

The suggested overlap between Lucy and Limitless indeed proved unfair. True, Scarlett Johansson’s eponymous heroine starts out ¬with forehead stamped ‘FAILURE’ – a massive onscreen ‘1%’ indicates the percentage of brainpower she currently enjoys, and wildlife footage of a cheetah-fleeing gazelle underscores her vulnerability and myopia. And yes, her metamorphosis comes about through a chance encounter with a ‘street drug’. But while Limitless’s protagonist pursues self-advancement in the world of business and politics, Lucy’s scope is not nearly so …. well, limited. In her, we see en entity detaching from the human concerns of society and ego, and becoming increasingly engaged with pure knowledge, experience and possibility. We’re also treated to some arresting physical mutations, evocative of Greg Bear’s sci-fi classic ‘Blood Music’, as purpose is rewritten at a cellular level.

"What did you do to me?"

“What did you do to me?”

As Keanu Reeves illustrates relentlessly, cartoon-pretty faces often strain to project convincing depth or range. But Scarlett Johansson shifts seamlessly from obtuse to otherworldly, touching on the disconnection of her Scotland-roaming alien in Under the Skin. Meanwhile, in his second role this year as a quasi-TED Talks commentator on accelerated intelligence – the first being ‘Transcendence’ – snowy Morgan Freeman guides the audience with speculation on what to expect as the percentages rise. The volume of this exposition is questionable — it’s generally clear enough what’s taking place – as is its scientific grounding. But set against Johansson’s inevitable progressive emotional flatness and fragmenting personal boundaries, Freeman provides an elegant counterpoint: emotionally connected without veering into mawkish celebrations of human frailty, and cautious without descending into Michael Crichton-esque fear-mongering on the dangers of brave new worlds.

Which is what turned me on about this film. So much science fiction scrapes the well-worn groove of ‘change = bad’. There were murmurs of it in the aforementioned Transcendence – though thankfully, the message was subverted. But a thick streak of this stick-with-what-ya-know sentiment runs implicitly through the genre, even in the classics. A particularly nauseating example of this homeostasis worship appears in the dismal coda of H.G. Wells’s War of the Worlds, where the martians were said to be ‘slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth’. Yep, the incalculable terror, pain and death generated across the globe by viruses was apparently a masterstroke of philanthropy in disguise. But this clunky transubstantiation of self-interested predator into blessing sits unselfconsciously alongside other works lauding our imperfections and defending our irrationality.

LUCY 01

“I can feel everything”

With Lucy, we leave behind these parochial cultural affirmations and injunctions. With its various depictions of human pursuits – ranging from the petty to the profound – its frequent allusions to other species, and, eventually, sequences that span the extremities of time and space, Lucy invites its viewers to reassess their own position on every scale. While there’s nothing wrong with the passive roller-coaster pleasure of a decent action flick, one that stimulates broader reflection is a welcome delight.

‘Lucy’ review – Andy Hemphill

Lucy suckered me in. If you watch the trailer below, you would be forgiven for thinking the movie was something along the lines of the Bourne trilogy – an intelligent thriller with an interesting premise and its tongue lodged firmly in its cheek.

 

However, this trailer is a lie.

Luc Besson’s Lucy is little more than an arthouse movie masquerading as a mainstream title, which is so self-indulgent it practically disappeared up its own arse after thirty minutes, and remained so for the rest of its short 90-minute runtime.

That said, if I’d of had to sit through any more of the pointless drivel Besson was throwing at me, I may well have had to go next door to watch Guardians of the Galaxy instead. I honestly felt I’d been cheated out of my £9 ticket by the end of the rip-roaring and utterly confusing adventure.

Lucy – a ditzy, innocent party girl (Scarlett Johansson) – gets herself caught up in some seriously bad stuff. She quickly finds herself acting as an unwilling drug mule for a gang of ruthless, hilariously generic Asian gangsters (Tarantino would be proud), with a bag of blue gunk in her guts.

It’s a brutal, scene-setting opening, and while I could look past the generically evil antics of the drug lord initially, when Besson rolled out the astonishingly stereotypical English right-hand-man, I admit I started to scoff. En route to the airport, the bag in Lucy’s guts splits open, and she finds that as opposed to the 1% of her brain she was using before (a fact reinforced by breaking the flow with massive numbers blasted on to the screen, and intermittent shots of animals hunting in Africa… because Besson loves making an obvious point in an obvious manner), she can now use more and more of her brain’s true potential – and her freakishly unspecific powers. And the percentage is rising fast.

It’s at this point that Besson decides to throw his toys out of the pram and just go nuts. Lucy’s undefined powers quickly have her learning everything humanity has ever known, then beating the snot out of everyone in some stupidly choreographed fight scenes that seemed more a tribute to badly dubbed Manga than any serious movie.

Morgan Freeman wanders in now and then to try and explain what the hell is going on, but despite the (really very long) exposition scenes, Besson doesn’t define the true extent of Lucy’s powers – and therefore when she starts doing some of the really crazy stuff, the audience has simply gone dead to it all. There’s a French cop too (Amr Waked), but he’s mostly there to get himself and his fellow officers shot to ribbons by the generic Asian gangsters – after driving past about 40 of them, who were all loading weapons, bold as brass, in the middle of the street.

Generic Asian gangsters... advance!

Generic Asian gangsters… advance!

I would usually stop here because of spoilers – consider yourself warned – but the final act of the movie was so ridiculous that it’s worth sharing in full.

Now at almost 100% of her brain’s capacity, Lucy can do practically anything. She’s left searching for purpose as a being of immense energy, and some genuinely intriguing questions are raised. Of course, you don’t have time to think of that because of the badly edited firefight going on outside the room she’s in, giving the movie a strange, unsettling duality which ruins what promise it once had.

By the end of the short movie – thank goodness – Lucy can apparently manipulate space and time, and she Dr Whos it around the screen, jumping about like Sam Beckett from Quantum Leap – and leaving me utterly incredulous.

She then turns into an amorphous blob.

Perhaps, unlike my learned friend Link above, I missed the point of Lucy. Perhaps my mind is too narrow to truly understand what Besson was trying to tell me. Perhaps I wasn’t looking hard enough.

All I know is, Lucy left me cold, angry, out of pocket and disappointed at the waste of a good story sadly squashed by arthouse tropes, bad writing, awful continuity errors, nonsensical fight scenes, wandering documentary rushes and a plot so far up its own behind it’s giving every audience member a colonoscopy.

What did you think of Lucy? Leave a comment.

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