Hot Rod – Review (Film)

Hot Rod tells the story of Rod Kimble (Andy Samberg), an amateur stuntman who dreams of breaking into the big time and proving his stunt credentials to his stepfather, Frank (Ian McShane) to gain his respect.

Rod’s crew consists solely of his friends and despite their best efforts he hasn’t been able to land any jumps so far.

Soon enough his old neighbour Denise (Isla Fisher) returns home and love sick Rod invites her to join the team. When Frank falls ill Rod decides to do a huge stunt to raise funds.

Hot Rod was originally written with Will Ferrell in mind but ended up as a Lonely Island project, with the members of that taking over the main roles.

This is one of those films like Old School or Anchorman but it just doesn’t have that quality of comedy. That’s not to say this is because Ferrell isn’t involved but while amusing in places Hot Rod just didn’t spark with me.

There are some decent performances – Ian McShane, Isla Fisher and Bill Hader do well with what they’re given and Samberg isn’t bad in the main role but I just didn’t think this movie came together well enough to impress.

Hot Rod definitely isn’t a bad film. It’s an average comedy in the vein of Napoleon Dynamite or Stepbrothers. Your enjoyment of it will probably depend on how much you like those types of comedies but there are plenty of better examples (including the four mentioned in this review) that I’d recommend instead.

Rating: 5/10

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L.A Noire – Review (PS3)

L.A Noire has been 7 years in the making, with use of a brand new facial motion capture technology that has wowed almost everyone that’s seen it.

The game takes place in 1940’s L.A, with you taking on the role of Cole Phelps – recently returned from the war and starting out as a cop on the beat.

While a lot of people felt that L.A Noire would be a 1940’s GTA (much like Red Dead Redemption was a Western version of GTA in many people’s eyes) Team Bondi have crafted a much more linear experience than expected.

Your time playing as Phelps is mainly investigative and interrogation work, which in my opinion is a good direction for them to head in. Although you have freedom in the sense of not finding all the clues/messing up the interrogation etc your partner will often point out stuff you’ve missed and while you sometimes have the option of who to charge, just as often the game plays out regardless.

You do have the opportunity to break free in the city, however what you can actually do in this time is dictated by the side missions. By answering calls on your in-car radio (by pressing X) you can get a mission and be on your way. While you can leave the car when not on a side mission you can’t draw your weapon or hurt civilians, as this obviously wouldn’t be in keeping with the character of Phelps.

The investigative stuff in L.A Noire is pretty cool, with your character moving around the crime scene and checking out points of interest (highlighted by a rumble on the pad and a chime sound – which can both be turned off if you really want to go Noir 😆 ).

The interrogations really highlight the acting and the wonderful facial capture. While it’s not perfect it was certainly good enough to fool me on a few occasions. My main issue with the interrogation parts is that the ‘Doubt’ option wasn’t properly explained in my opinion.

When talking to people you have three options once they’ve made a statement; Truth, Doubt and Lie. From the options given I would’ve presumed Doubt to mean that Cole doubts the other character but isn’t sure. What it actually means is Lie but he doesn’t have a piece of evidence that backs him up.

This leads to several instances where Cole started screaming at a witness about lying etc when what I actually wanted was a gentle probe that may uncover more. It’s annoying even when you know what the Doubt option does when Cole’s response is so unpredictable.

Going back to the acting and it really is stunning at times. The stand out for me is LAPD Homicide Captain James Donnelly, played superbly by Andrew Connolly. He has to be one of my favourite video game characters of all time.

The story sticks to some Film Noir staples and, although a few bits niggle, on the whole it’s an enjoyable tale that plays out nicely.

L.A Noire’s soundtrack and score is also brilliant and really helps catapult you into a different era.

The game this most reminds me of is Heavy Rain, stunning captures of the actors and an interesting, if flawed, story. Unfortunately it doesn’t feature the numerous different endings that Heavy Rain does so you don’t ever feel the story is in your hands.

Everyone should play L.A Noire, it’s a bench mark title that has raised the bar for other games in terms of facial animation. Does that make it a classic? An outstanding game? I’m afraid not.

Rating: 8/10

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Mass Effect 2 – Review (PS3)

Mass Effect had always been the one XBox 360 franchise that I’d wanted to play – Gears Of War? Alan Wake? Halo? All good games I’m sure but not tempting to me. Mass Effect? Yes please 🙂

So it was great news for me at last year’s E3 when it was announced that Mass Effect 2 would be coming to PS3, with all the DLC (at the time) and even an interactive comic to explain the events of the first game (which was published by Microsoft and has no chance of appearing on the PS3).

Before I weigh in on the game itself – did Bioware deliver on their promises for the package?

DLC – totally. It’s seamlessly integrated, so much so that some of the missions I went through without even realising they were DLC.

Interactive Comic – not really. I mean there is an interactive comic, which is great and you do get to make all the big game changing choices from the first game but it is far too short and not deep enough. How can I be expected to make these big choices without having a bit more background on it all?

I went for a female Shepard as it’s not often you have the chance to play as a female lead.

Anyway, on to the main game and I can safely say Mass Effect 2 is one of the deepest games I’ve played. In much the same way as Fallout 3 plays out different for each person that plays it, this is a game where your overall story will be the same but the variables between start and end are numerous. It says something that I had minimum frustration and didn’t really get bored at all with a game that clocks in at over 32 hours

I won’t discuss the story at all as I don’t want to spoil anything for people that haven’t played it yet. Needless to say it’s your standard save the universe fair and with the game set in space that’s literally the universe you’ll be saving 😆

Control-wise things are as you’d expect for a third person shooter, although you’ll have other abilities/weapons that can be activated by using the shoulder buttons. You also control your two squad mates, so holding a button opens a radial menu where you can direct their attacks and choose what powers they use.

Between missions you’ll be free to roam your ship and talk to crew members, although the lengthy load screens from moving between floors of the ship may put you off too much of that.

It is good to talk to the crew though as it can help secure their loyalty and unlock new abilities/costumes for them.

Graphically the game looks good with some stunning design but is limited at times in the same way Fallout struggles with framerate – at one stage I was forced to fight a battle effectively frame by frame. Thankfully that was a one off and most of the slow down was a rare occurrence.

There are plenty of side missions for you to tackle and you can also explore the galaxy, mining planets for materials to upgrade your ship/weapons.

Mass Effect 2 is a well made, well thought out game that packs a punch emotionally as well. It’s one of the few games where I’ve still been thinking of regrets a few days after finishing it. That doesn’t happen very often and it’s the sign of a brilliant game. Great stuff.

Rating: 10/10

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Top 50 Single Player Games: Part Two (40-31)

So here we go with Part Two of my Top 50 Single Player Games, appreciate the comments on the first part (which can be found here) so keep ’em coming. As I said before I’m mainly focusing on good story based experiences, so things like Gran Turismo 5 won’t be appearing on the list.

Let’s get started:

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40. BIOSHOCK 2 (NE)

Bioshock 2 brings you back 8 years after the events of the first game (1968) to take control of a Big Daddy who has no memory of the last decade and wants to find the Little Sister he was originally paired with.

A sequel to such a unique title was always going to be tricky to pull off. However 2k Marin have done well to recreate the atmosphere of the original game while keeping it different enough that you can tell time has passed.

At the end of the day this is definitely a title that revels in the world created for it by the previous game. You don’t have to have played the original to enjoy this game but you’ll probably get more of it if you have.

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39. BULLETSTORM (NE)

Telling the story of Grayson Hunt, a space pirate in the 26th century, who crash lands his crew’s ship on an alien planet following a (failed) drunk attempt at revenge on a huge spaceship. As you try to battle your way off the planet all hell breaks loose, with various factions taking each other on as well as fighting with you.

The game mechanics work well and some of the ways you can dispatch foes have to be seen to be believed.

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38. BORDERLANDS (24)

Borderlands has a distinctive cartoon, tongue in cheek style that is perfectly suited for the game and while the story isn’t particularly amazing, the colourful characters will have you chuckling along.

Borderlands is all about the loot. The game creates random weapons as you go along so it’s unlikely two people will ever get the same set of weapons throughout a playthrough, which is pretty cool.

It’s one of the longer games I’ve played recently – clocking in more towards 20 hours for a first playthrough – but it’s definitely a universe that should be experienced.

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37. MORTAL KOMBAT (NE)

After a fair few lacklustre versions, culminating in the widely derided Mortal Kombat Vs DC, Nether Realms Studios decided to go back to basics for this, the ninth Mortal Kombat game.

For the first time in a long time the storyline of a fighting game ties together nicely. Rather than choosing a fighter and playing through their story, in Mortal Kombat you play as various characters (usually for 3 or 4 fights each) as the story progresses.

This is a great idea. Firstly because it means the overall story is the focus as opposed to one character, and secondly becuase it forces you to use characters you may never have chosen and therefore before a better all round player. Recommended, even for people with only a passing interest in fighting games.

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36. VANQUISH (NE)

From the makers of Bayonetta, Vanquish tells the story of Sam Gideon, a member of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), who is tasked with rescuing a scientist that was working on the O’Neill Cylinder Space Station when it was hijacked by Russia. Russia are holding the USA to ransom, destroying San Francisco and targeting New York next unless the Americans comply with their wishes – total surrender.

Got all that? Right now forget all about it and SHOOT THOSE ROBOTS! 😆

Vanquish is certainly an experience I’d recommend and for a few sessions of a couple of hours each it is a blast to play. It doesn’t quite have the same depth as Bayonetta with regard to the characters but it can hold it’s head high in terms of a single player experience.

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35. RED FACTION: GUERRILLA (23)

Red Faction: Guerrilla is a bit of an underrated gem. It’s your basic David vs Goliath battle with the Red Faction resistance (you guys) taking on the evil Earth Defence Force who have taken advantage of their position in power on Mars.

But the main part of the game is the destruction. Buildings fall realistically and weakening them structurally can often mean a delayed collapse.

I heartily recommend Red Faction. It’s not massively difficult but it has a good solid story and is insanely fun. You can pick this up for about £15 pre-owned in most places and it will be money well spent.

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34. RESISTANCE 2 (22)

After saving England in the previous installment Hale is back in business to rescue the U S of A – since his incapacitation the Chimera have launched a full attack on America and Hale, as part of the Sentinal squad (made up of soldiers injected with the Chimera virus but kept under control), have to step in and stop them in their tracks.

A hard hitting but fun first person shooter.

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33. MAFIA II (NE)

Mafia II tells the story of Vito Scaletta, a returning war veteran who comes home to find life has changed while he’s been away and soon fins himself mixed up in the world of the Mafia.

This game is an interesting beast, as during a lot of the promo leading up to its release we were led to believe it would be open world (ala GTA) at least in some parts. In reality this is a very linear experience and that has led to some negative feedback.

Personally while that discovery came as a disappointment if you can look beyond it then you will find a strong, solid single player experience with a well crafted and immersive story.

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32. JUST CAUSE 2 (NE)

Just Cause 2 is like the evolution of Mercenaries 2 – it excels in many ways and also has the added bonus of the carnage you can create with Rico’s grappling hook, which can hook enemies as well as grappling to walls etc.

With a story featuring rebels and dictators, Just Cause 2 doesn’t tread any new ground in terms of narrative but you probably won’t care as a mountain of explosions gather behind you. As well as the main story missions you’ll need to complete lots of side missions to create as much Chaos as possible.

As an example of how crazy this game is one of the side missions involved me stealing a fighter jet 😎 and then using it to shoot down a recently launched SPACE SHUTTLE 😯

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31. MIRROR’S EDGE (21)

Mirror’s Edge wowed everyone with it’s crisp, clean graphics and it’s unique first person perspective. The view takes a while to get used to and it had a few really annoying parts where it was difficult to time jumps etc because of the view but Mirror’s Edge is certainly worth playing through as it offers a style of gameplay that is totally unique in the current games market.

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So there we go, another part down and we’re hitting the Top 30 next!

As always thanks for reading and feel free to leave a comment on the games so far and whether you’d have placed any of them higher/lower.

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‘The Afghan’ by Frederick Forsyth – Review (Book)

Picking up the anti-terrorist climate from the last ten years and running with it, The Afghan sees Forsyth tackling Al Qaeda head on.

In a quirky twist of fate I started this book shortly after the death of Bin Laden was confirmed, which lent the entire thing a slightly surreal feel.

After a codename for a terrorist attack is discovered during a raid in Pakistan the US and UK governments decide to send someone in deep undercover to blow the lid off the plot.

Mike Martin, a former SAS officer is recruited and heads to Pakistan to start his recon.

The story progresses at a fairly slow pace before coming to a head pretty quickly in the final chapter or so. I found there to be a lot of background of Al Qaeda and how the US has countered terrorism over the last few years.

Unfortunately that wasn’t really the aspect I was interested in. I was hoping for a tense thriller and what I got was a plodding anti-terror story that didn’t really do much for me.

Rating: 5/10

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Mortal Kombat – Review (PS3)

After a fair few lacklustre versions, culminating in the widely derided Mortal Kombat Vs DC, Nether Realms Studios decided to go back to basics for this, the ninth Mortal Kombat game.

I loved the original and put a fair bit of time into MK II but I was never a massive fighting game fan. For me it was all about the social experience of being round a mate’s house and taking people on.

With the increase in online functionality you now have no reason to play on your own ever again… or do you?

For the first time in a long time the storyline of a fighting game ties together nicely. Rather than choosing a fighter and playing through their story, in Mortal Kombat you play as various characters (usually for 3 or 4 fights each) as the story progresses.

This is a great idea. Firstly because it means the overall story is the focus as opposed to one character, and secondly because it forces you to use characters you may never have chosen and therefore before a better all round player.

There are several additions to the combat system which involve blocks and different strength attacks – unfortunately my knowledge only extends as far as X-Ray moves. These are the moves you get by filling your special bar and hitting R2/L2 to perform. Simple to activate, but also easy to block if you’re quick enough, these bone shattering moves can be deadly and can easily turn the tide of a fight.

The finishing moves are back with a vengeance and this definitely isn’t a game for the faint hearted. It’s gory and violent but most of them have their tongue firmly in cheek, much in the same way as Bulletstorm handled its excessive violence.

As well as the story mode there is the traditional challenge tower, online and a great mode called Test Your Luck – in which you are handicapped in various ways before the match. These can be funny things like turning the screen upside down, disabling jumping or even real hindrances like not being able to use your arms or legs! 😆

Mortal Kombat is probably the most well-rounded and feature packed fighting game I’ve ever played, certainly in recent years. If you’re into fighting games make sure you pick it up and for more casual fans of the genre this is definitely a game you should rent, even just to play through the fun and impressive story mode.

Rating: 8/10

Top 50 Single Player Games: Part One (50-41)

Despite a huge increase in multiplayer focus over the last few years I am still an absolute sucker for a top notch single player story.

For me single player is a totally different gaming experience and I enjoy both on and offline play.

It’s been almost a year since I last compiled a list of the best single player experiences (on PS3). The list came in at 30 titles strong and when I decided to update it a year later I made another list and found I had over 50 titles. I whittled it down to a top 50 and here we are 🙂

I’m posting them up in parts of 10 games at a time so as not to overload everyone. Also I had to close off the list at the end of May, otherwise I’d have been going on forever! Last year’s position is in brackets – with (NE) indicating a new entry.

Let’s kick off with a game that I overlooked last time but just about makes the Top 50:

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50. MERCENARIES 2: WORLD IN FLAMES (NE)

Mercenaries 2 takes place in Venezuela and sees you take control of Chris Jacobs, Jennifer Mui or Matthias Nilsson. It’s only a cosmetic choice as the story/dialogue all remains the same. You’re tasked with taking down Ramon Solano, the man behind the current military coup.

While this game has a few glitches (one a game breaker unfortunately) it remains a resolutely fun experience. Being a Mercenary you can call in all kinds of crazy weapons and firepower.

At times you won’t believe the destruction you can wreak on the world around you – whether it’s guns, cars or helicopters you’ll find yourself smiling insanely as you blow up as much stuff as possible. Not a great game then but certainly a fun one.

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49. ARMY OF TWO (28)

Salem and Rios are guns for hire – private contractors that go in and sort out the crap that the army or whoever can’t deal (or can’t be seen dealing) with.

There is convoluted conspiracy theory plotline but to be perfectly honest the story isn’t really the main attraction here – it’s all about the carnage.

Army of Two is like playing an ultra violent cartoon and overall I would say this game is a fun 5 or 6 hour blast. While it does become repetitive at times it makes no excuses – in fact Army Of Two is likely to hand you a  rocket launcher, spawn 20 new enemies and tell you to ‘get the f**k on with it.’

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48. THE SABOTEUR (27)

The game takes place in and around Paris in the 1940′s with the Nazis occupying the majority of the city and it’s surrounding areas. You control Sean Devlin, an Irishman, who gets involved with the French resistance following a traumatic experience at the hands of the Gestapo.

The Saboteur is a game that I feel should be played but if you are looking for a high quality experience, this isn’t it. The odd bug here and there and a general unfinished feeling hamper the gameplay but if you’re willing  to give it a shot The Saboteur is worth a playthrough.

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47. CALL OF DUTY: BLACK OPS (NE)

With each iteration Call Of Duty has refined and improved upon it’s single player experience. Black Ops sees you taking on the role of Alex Mason in several covert ops set in 1960’s.

Those of you looking for a realistic interpretation of the special forces would probably be better served by Medal Of Honor (see below) or if you fancy something older Rainbow Six Vegas (keep an eye out further down the list) because this is Hollywood war plain and simple. Fun and over the top.

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46. MEDAL OF HONOR (NE)

The Medal Of Honor series has been around for decades and had usually focused on conflicts in World War II. However when EA announced it was rebooting the franchise we discovered players were heading to modern day (well, 2002) Afghanistan.

The gameplay itself is generally good and while missions were mainly brief, there were some good set ups and set pieces to get stuck into.

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45. LITTLEBIGPLANET 2 (NE)

LittleBigPlanet 2 is the sequel to the hugely successful user creation based original. There has been a fairly big improvement graphically and several new materials have been added into the mix, all of which look great.

The single player experience is decent enough and while some of the new puzzle ideas are clever there wasn’t much that really taxed me. Definitely worth checking out as this is one of the most charming games I’ve played.

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44. CRYSIS 2 (NE)

Crysis 2 takes place in New York in 2023. The city has been overrun by aliens and a military group ‘CELL’ has been drafted in to try and police the anarchy that has erupted.

You end up wearing a Nanosuit, which allows you to use abilities – such as stealth or armour for a short period of time. As the game goes on you’ll be fighting both CELL and the aliens that have landed.

You have a lot of choice with regards to how you approach the game in Crysis 2, if it had been reigned in a little bit this could have been a classic – as it is it’s an enjoyable and solid shooter campaign.

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43. SOCOM 4 (NE)

In SOCOM 4 you take on the role of Cullen Gray, a Spec Ops Commander and leader of a 5-man NATO special forces squad. Your team is dropped into Malaysia to help deal with the rising threat of both local rebels, the Naga, and a mercenary group called Clawhammer.

While the story is standard Spec Ops fare I found most of the characters likable and it was one of the more enjoyable stories I played through in 2011.

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42. BATTLEFIELD: BAD COMPANY (30)

Chock full of explosions and with some really impressive destruction of buildings etc, Battlefield: Bad Company is like a huge big budget Hollywood blockbuster.

It’s a great, mindless blast of a game. Add some memorable characters into the mix and you’ve got yourself a very enjoyable, and playable, package.

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41. PROTOTYPE (25)

In Prototype you take on the role of Alex Mercer as he awakens during his autopsy ,wondering what the hell is going on. He quickly escapes, realising he now has various superpowers.

Mercer needs to find out what the hell has happened to him and why New York is infected with a virus that has turned half the population into zombies.

Prototype is definitely a game worth playing despite it’s various faults – it was a blast to play through if a little frustrating at times.

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So there we have it – part one done and dusted.

Have you guys played all these games? What did you think of them? Any you were considering playing?

FURTHER LINKS

Top 50 Single Player Games: Part Two (40-31)

Top 50 Single Player Games: Part Three (30-21)

Top 50 Single Player Games: Part Four (20-11)

Top 50 Single Player Games: Part Five (The Top 10)

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