“He who warned the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms by ringing those bells and, um, making sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warning shots and bells that, uh, we were going to be secure and we were going to be free.”—Presidential hopeful Sarah Palin. People actually want this woman to be the next leader of the free world.
You Know What I Think? (The Auracle's Most Anticipated Games of 2011)
That’s right. You already know what time it is.
Summer is finally upon us and if you’re a gamer like moi, you probably can’t wait for summer to be over. Not that the season itself isn’t welcome; it’s just that summer has inadvertently become the obstruction that inconveniently gets in the way of autumn and winter… and the awesome games that are due to come out during those respective times of year. This year promises to see some quality titles released and I have put together a shortlist of fifteen games that I personally can’t wait to have in my possession. Of course, the unfortunate thing about a list is something always gets left out but that’s simply a signal of how much I want the following games even more than the ones that didn’t make the cut. Right! Enough of the chatter, on with the list!
This has been a long, long time coming. Over the years, it seemed to me that there were a lot of PlayStation franchises that got lost in the transition from PlayStation to PlayStation. Thankfully, one of them is making a return. I, for one, cannot wait to relive the nostalgia and blast MoFos straight into kingdom come. With David Jaffe back at the helm for the rebirth of one of the best vehicle combat games ever made, this game holds a lot of promise.
I’m not sure about the PlayStation Move integration (I didn’t really get into it for KillZone 3), but quite honestly, I couldn’t care less about it. It’s Resistance and I finally get to see if I’ll get some closure on the series since Nathan Hale lost his battle with the Chimeran infection… and the bullet he got straight to the dome piece. This series - along with little.big.planet - was one of the major reasons why I even gambled on a PlayStation 3 in the first place. This is a great series with a fantastic story and I have high hopes that this will be the penultimate instalment in the trilogy.
Before the Gran Turismo fanboys kick off, let me begin with the following statement: SHUT YOUR PIE HOLE, GT FANBOYS. The real surprise was discovering that this game has the full backing from the lads at TopGear. One of my personal E3 2011 highlights was having heard Jeremy Clarkson’s voice describing the illustrious vehicles you get to take for a spin around some of the most gorgeous locales ever witnessed in a racing game. I first picked up Forza Motorsport for the original Xbox all those years ago and it’s gotten all the more incredible with each release thereafter. In my opinion, Gran Turismo 5 just didn’t feel as “epic” as Polyphony Digital made it out to be. It was very slow and at times lost my attention entirely. A racing game of any kind shouldn’t do this. Forza, however, never fails to captivate and the fourth installment - this time with added Kinect support - looks to settle this rivalry once and for all. Well… at least for another 7-8 years. I imagine that’s how long we’ll have to wait for another Gran Turismo installment. That’s right. I took it there.
One of my closest friends (XBL Gamertag: Bane The Abyss) knows about my sentiments regarding the Gears of War series so it’s only fair you all do as well. I wasn’t a fan of the first installment. The multiplayer was buggy and frustrating as hell and the campaign was mediocre, at best. However, all was made right in the second part of the series. The story was one of the most entertaining I’ve witnessed this generation and the multiplayer kept me coming back for more. So when the third one was announced, it wasn’t unexpected but the excitement circulating within the community was higher than any of the previous releases in the trilogy. I imagine the story’s conclusion is going to blow us all away now that Marcus & Co. are seemingly the last human remnants on Earth. Simply put: Gears 3 is a must-have for any Xbox 360 owner. I cannot wait for this one.
Just look at that awesome suit… it’s black, it’s hardcore, and it’s not my penis. What more do you want? In all seriousness though, not since KotOR have BioWare made a more magnificent game in Mass Effect. Mass Effect has had a vice grip on my attention span since the first entry and ticks all the boxes - not only in the RPG genre, but also in the science-fiction department. This series is going out with a bang. I don’t need to worry if it’ll be good. It’s BioWare, dammit. It’s Mass Effect. You can’t go wrong at all. Don’t walk, RUN to the nearest game shop when this bad boy drops.
Bethesda, you spoil me rotten. You really do. I haven’t even finished Oblivion yet but you know what? I don’t give a damn. The Elder Scrolls returns and my interest was already piqued well before a single, measly screenshot was released. Skyrim is set two hundred years after the events of Oblivion and promises the same open-world, traditional RPG tastiness that Elder Scroll fans have come to know and love. That can only mean one thing: when this game comes out, some of us may never come outside ever again.
Ubisoft had me for a moment, there. I Am Alive was all set to become another one of those projects that time forgot, much like that one game that just came out. You know the one: it’s following the over-the-top adventures some mysogenistic, blonde-haired, cigar-smoking, cliché catchphrase spittin’, all-American badass that stays true to the phrase “bigger is better;” at least, that much can be said about the guns he uses and the explosions he induces. Anyway, I believe I’ve gotten well off point. I Am Alive is coming out (thank the stars for that) and it’s shaping up to be one hell of a survival shooter. The setting is modern-day Chicago and a massive 10.3 earthquake has decimated the city, leaving the survivors cut off and the United States government struggling to provide any aid and rescue. Water is the commodity that the surviving residents of Chicago will literally kill for and Adam Collins is the man that you will play as. This game has all the makings of being one of those moments where you can’t tell if your playing a game or watching a film. Either way, I’ve been patiently waiting for this and the light is finally at the end of the tunnel. Bring it on!
The Driver series, for me, has always remained one of those unsung heroes in gaming. This series is definitely one of the games that pioneered the kind of experience that blurs the line between film and computer game. Naturally, when Ubisoft announces that they are taking another stab at getting the masses to sit up and take notice, my first thought was: “Fuck the masses.” My next thought was: “ZOMG DRIVER IS BACK!!!!!11!1!!” The level of nostalgia here just looking at the poster climbs all the way to the exosphere. It’s going to be so good playing a game with proper action-packed car chases. If you missed out on the first two installments all those years ago, you’ve no excuses now. Get this game.
Dead Island: an open-world, “heavily interactive,” melee combat zombie survival game set in a resort on the island of Banoi (just off the coast of Paupa New Guinea). You wake up in the hotel room. Everything appears normal, aside from the fact that it’s too quiet. You then look outside and see a lifeguard fail to fight off a horde of zombies. At that moment, it’s game time, bitches. From being shrouded in mystique to then showing itself to be what can only be described as a potential horror masterpiece, this game more than merits a place in my storied gaming collection. I literally don’t know anyone that doesn’t want this game. If you happen to be one of the people that isn’t interested in this game and/or wrote it off as “shit” well before playing it first, congratulations! You’re an ignorant cockwaffle and you have poor taste in games. I hope a zombified version of Paris Hilton finds you and infects you with it’s special brand of chlymidia. That said: bring me Dead Island, stat!
Do I need to say anything about this game? No… no, I do not. We’re supposed to get the first external beta in “Q3 of 2011.” Make good on this promise, Blizzard. Otherwise, I will come upside your head with a diesel-powered locomotive. Don’t laugh, bitches. I’m so sincere right now.
I don’t even need to degenerate this caption with the whole “better than Call of Duty” argument. The in-game footage and the E3 2011 announcements do that all by themselves. I haven’t been this psyched for a cover shooter since… ever. It’s all about Battlefield 3 this year, where cover shooters are concerned. Call of Booty: Modern WarFAIL 3 need not apply. Simples.
If you don’t love Batman, then I truly believe you need your head checked. If you didn’t think Batman: Arkham Asylum was Game Of The Year when it came out; as subjective as that subject is, I still think you need your head checked. That said, Arkham City is almost here and the anticipation is reaching painstaking levels. Rocksteady Studios quickly became one of my favourite game development studios around after Arkham Asylum dropped and that game’s success more than merited the UK game developers/publishers tax-break that the government eventually reneged on. Politics aside, this game looks to be bigger and better than the first. Regardless of platform, this is a game you shouldn’t hesitate to pick up and play once it finally releases.
The initial announcement - albeit a bit mysterious - was more than enough to set the Sonic community on fire but nothing prepared us for the subsequent in-game footage and demo that followed, thereafter. Some of us were privileged enough to attend Summer Of Sonic 2011 this year and gain some precious insight from the legendary producers and composer themselves. All of this simply became the kerosene that was thrown onto an already raging fire of excitement and anticipation. I’m more than confident that this game WILL satisfy even the most hardcore Sonic fan and will get the more casual Sonic fan who’s still riding the fence to finally come down on the side of Sonic righteousness. November can’t come soon enough.
I’m a die-hard iD Software fan, so when an all-new game was announced using the new iD Tech 5 engine, I about hit the roof when I whooped with delight. The exclusive interview with Game Informer only stoked the fire then the in-game footage came. I love the post-apocalyptic settings games like this and Fallout 3 bring about but what interests me the most is how iD will utilise the RPG and racing elements in the game. Gearbox (another studio I love) seemed to make the RPG elements work very well for Borderlands. I can’t wait to see the finished product iD has spawned. Saying that I’ve been waiting a long time for this game is probably the understatement of the year.
From the moment this game by BioWare was announced, I was ready to pre-order it in full. This coming from a person who’s only real interest in MMORPGs piqued with Lord of the Rings Online and Champions Online. But like Sonic the Hedgehog, I’ve always pledged my undying allegience to Star Wars. There’s a reason why the term ‘cult classic’ is bandied about as much as it is and now the legendary story is getting its very own MMO. I’m not looking to see it eclipse the behemoth that is World of Warcraft. That’s because I didn’t like World of Warcraft; no, not even a little bit. I want it to be like Star Wars: The Old Republic. I want this to be another classic BioWare title. I want it to carve out it’s own niche. I want to create the sith lord I’ve always dreamed about being. I want to be apart of a clan. I want to do all of those stereotypical MMO things… and I vehemently believe BioWare can bring the best possible experience to the table. They did with KotOR. This feels like a foregone conclusion. That said: this is the game I want more than any other title I’ve mentioned. Midnight release, you say? I’ll be there at seven that evening. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
If you’re one of those that have assumed that I’m only just listening to this album, congratulations! You couldn’t be more wrong. Obviously, I do have something to say about this record. Otherwise, it would defeat the purpose in even writing an opinion piece on it. Nevertheless, I’m of the opinion that The New Danger is not just Mos Def’s most versatile and experimental work to date. It’s actually much more than that and certainly much more than Pitchfork gives it credit for. Oh yeah. I did just name drop Pitchfork and there’s sweet F.A. you can do about it. Anyway, this piece isn’t about a collective of ultra-critical music snobs. It’s about the album.
The New Danger opens with the buttery smooth and sensual track ‘The Boogie Man Song.’ I gathered that Mos was looking to carve out a theme song of some sort for himself, so when he hooked up with Raphael Saddiq to produce Boogie Man, it turned out to be a successful venture. You can’t help but sway along to this song. If there’s any one lyric that truly has the ability to haunt its listeners, it’s when Mos implores you to close your eyes and allow him to be your favourite nightmare (“Let me be your favourite nightmare | Close your eyes and I’ll be right there.”) However, it must be said: The Boogie Man Song is rather deceptive. If you hadn’t done your research before listening, you certainly won’t be ready for the sound ‘Freaky Black Greetings’ brings about. That’s not to say the unexpected switch isn’t good… because it’s pretty damn good, in fact. The band bringing in the funk is a supergroup called Black Jack Johnson, featuring Dr. Know on guitars, Doug Wimbish on bass, Bernie Worrell juggling the keys (keyboards), and Will Calhoun on drums. Black Jack Johnson features throughout New Danger and I imagine that turned people off of the record as a whole, as they were probably expecting more of the same offerings from Black On Both Sides.
Various subjective tastes aside, Black Jack Johnson with Mos at the vocal helm will instantly remind you of The Roots; especially during the tracks Ghetto Rock and Zimzallabim. I find the latter of the two tracks to be one of the standout recordings that New Danger offers, combining Mos’ patented, hyper-energetic flow and a unique rock/funk rhythm. The album then deviates to something like a public service announcement (The Rape Over), where Mos vents his frustrations with what’s currently plauging hip-hop. From the opening line “The rape over/turn your face over, nigga/No God in the sky, it’s me. Game over,” you know Mos isn’t pulling any punches as he attempts to shed some light on what the industry is really doing to hip-hop. The album continues it’s delightfully adventurous pace, constantly altering between hip-hop and the rock fusion sounds of Black Jack Johnson and completely free of typical album progression conventions.
The bluesy Blue Black Jack is an absolutely magnifcent song, paying a more direct tribute to Jack Johnson, the legendary boxer the band is named after. Shuggie Otis thoroughly mesmerises people with his guitar solo on this track and I find myself singing along to this one all the time. I’m sure you will find yourself dancing and singing along once you wrap your eardrums around this track. Close Edge just edges out the Kanye West-produced Sunshine & Grown Man Business as the hip-hop “banger” on New Danger on an overall level; however, no one can deny that Grown Man Business lyrically trumps them all. The emcee/producer known as Minnesota opens the track well and sets the tone of Grown Man Business perfectly, highlighting the gritty nature of “The Game” and the people that have perished along the way.
Mos’ versatility really starts to take centre-stage on tracks like The Panties (probably the best R&B track you’ve never heard), Modern Marvel (a dual-sided soul to hip-hop epic), and The Beggar (a powerful track that every man should at least attempt to sing to the woman he loves). Finally, the 88 Keys-produced Champion Requiem is a lovely way to bring New Danger’s eclectic journey to an end.
As I said before, The New Danger is so much more than a testament Mos Def’s versatility and willingness to step away from conventions. In this album, we have an incredible piece of artistry helmed by a man that shows he’s perfectly capable and comfortable with reminding everyone how foolish it is to judge a book by its cover. Mos Def is not just an emcee that rocks the bells over block-rocking beats, a la Black on Both Sides. He’s much more than that.In short: The New Danger has more than earned it’s place amongst Mos Def’s discography as his greatest ever work. It’s a shame that some reviewers’ tastes and asinine expectations got in the way of them being able to embrace one of the last bastions of unchained artistry.
Before I begin, I have a confession to make: I love Pixar but I loathe Disney. Some of the films over the years that Disney’s put forth have brought about moments that have left me gobsmacked… and not in a good way, I’m afraid. So when Disney bought Pixar, I was rather upset. I felt like Disney was going to ruin a magnificent animation studio, so you can imagine the trepidation in my approach before deciding to take a gamble on films like Ratatouille, Cars, and WALL-E.
Roll on five years, it turns out I was wrong. Pixar hasn’t missed a step, even under the watchful eye of suits at Disney. However, when UP was announced, subsequently released in cinemas, and then on to DVD, I wasn’t as eager to see it as I was with Finding Nemo. That’s nothing against Pixar, I just… didn’t see it when everyone else did, like a lot of popular films that have come and gone. I’d rather watch them when the hype subsides.
Thus, when filling up my initial queue of DVDs for LoveFILM to send me, UP was prioritised (along with The Hangover). I wasn’t sure what to expect, given the theatrical poster. Having not seen any trailers for the film, I assumed the film would be about a light-hearted adventure around the city in some pensioners floating house. You’re probably thinking about how astute my analysis is. Oh… you’re not? It’s actually quite crap, you say? Well, bollocks to you and your screwed up thoughts.
More to the point, the film wasn’t nearly as simplistic or shallow as I originally thought. Through Carl (the film’s protagonist) and Russell’s epic adventure to Paradise Falls, I am reminded about one of life’s crucial lessons: that life goes on, even when you lose someone that you love tremendously. To say that UP is a ‘heart-warming film’ is a massive understatement, simply because Pixar managed to concoct a film that speaks volumes, especially during the sequences where there is no dialogue at all. The exotic ‘beast of Paradise Falls’ (Russell calls her Kevin) is truly a delight and certainly adds to the film but the award for Best Supporting Character has to go to Dug, the talking golden retriever. Dug’s aloof nature is overshadowed only by his big heart and his loyalty; even to someone he’s only just met. He reminds us that - like us all - our good intentions sometimes don’t go according to how we set out to have them accepted; nevertheless, it never deters him from trying and never influences him to stop loving.
UP is a triumph. UP is a magnificent story that reminds us why you should rise above the pain, even when it seems your world is crumbling down around you. There have only been two films to make me cry whilst watching it. UP is one of them… and it’s the only one to bring me to tears twice during the presentation. UP is powerful, funny, and endearing.
I now know why my daughter Norah loves this film so very much. Take a bow, Pixar. You’ve done it again.