True Grit (2010) – Review (Film)

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I haven’t seen the original 1969 film True Grit so news of the remake didn’t initially grab me. However, once I saw that the 2010 version had Jeff Bridges, Matt Damon and Josh Brolin attached I was interested.

The fact it was done by The Coen Brothers also helped, they usually deliver great films with some good dialogue.

True Grit tells the story of Mattie Ross (played excellently by Hailee Steinfeld), a 14 year old whose father is killed by an outlaw called Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin). As Chaney has fled the county her only option for revenge is to hire a US Marshall to track him down.

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Unfortunately for her the only real candidate is Rooster Cogburn, a formerly brilliant but now very drunk Marshall, played by Jeff Bridges who is as superb as ever.

Eventually they team up with Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) who is also on Chaney’s trail and head out to track the outlaw down.

True Grit is a very enjoyable film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Some of the interplay between characters is brilliant and Steinfeld gives Ross enough sass while maintaining an air of innocence that makes you really root for her.

The film doesn’t shy away from the violence of the old West and at times shows just how fragile the difference between life and death could be.

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It showcases some fantastic scenery and the film looks gorgeous for the most part. Shot in New Mexico this is a film that, in my opinion, you can justify getting on Blu-Ray.

I’m not a big fan of Westerns, nor am I well versed in the genre but True Grit is a fantastic film – regardless of your stance on Westerns.

Rating: 9/10

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Call Of Duty: Black Ops Declassified – Review (Vita)

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Call Of Duty: Black Ops Declassified is a divisive beast. Depending on which review you read scores can range from extremely low to extremely positive.

I would like to start this review by saying that Declassified does not capture much of the Call Of Duty experience. This is more like an upgrade of Nihilistic’s last Vita FPS ‘Resistance: Burning Skies‘. Not necessarily a bad thing but if you’re expecting a Call Of Duty game on your Vita this isn’t it.

I was in the minority that actually quite enjoyed Burning Skies, it certainly had some issues but on the whole I enjoyed it. From what I can gather Nihilistic finished that in May and then cranked out Declassified in about 4 months.

That appears to stem from problems with the company previously handling the port who, it sounds like, were trying to cram Black Ops II from the PS3 onto the Vita.

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If Nihilistic did indeed have less than 6 months to turn this around then surely no-one can be surprised to know it appears to be based on the Resistance code with a few minor upgrades.

The main difference here is that there is no story mode to further the overall Call Of Duty experience. The single player game is one of frustrating, one life levels and time trials. Levels in which you have no checkpoints and only one life can serve to heighten tension (see Unit 13 for a good example) but these should be scattered through the game – not used on every level.

While some of the campaign was enjoyable the overall feeling was one of stress and not in a good way. I wouldn’t say avoid playing it but be prepared to face some tough and often unfair deaths. Alongside the campaign are time trial and survival modes which, while not spectacular, will give you some further challenge.

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Graphically it’s not great. There isn’t really much I can say in this respect, it’s passable but not one of the Vita’s better looking games. The AI is also a bit erratic – enemies will just as often blow themselves up as hunt you down ruthlessly.

Where Declassified saves itself is with it’s online offering. Patches make this a different experience to what was originally reviewed elsewhere at the time of release. Stability is much improved – you do still get kicked to the main menu on occasion but it is a lot less than previously.

The main downside is that because the maps are smaller (to accommodate the 4v4 player cap) you’ll often find you spawn only to be killed straight away. To be honest though that is something I regularly encounter in the PS3 versions of the game as well so perhaps it won’t bother regular COD players as much.

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There is a fairly fleshed out perk, weapon upgrade and killstreak system which allows you to unlock new stuff as you progess. Most of these seem nicely balanced and players seems to be using a variety of different set ups – always a good sign that the game is well balanced.

A nice touch that uses the Vita’s technology is that you can upload your loadouts to Near for friends/players close by to download. And you can use these regardless of whether you’ve unlocked the weapons/perks yourself. It’s a pretty cool feature that I’d like more games to adopt.

I’ve had a few rounds online that have genuinely rivalled some of the experiences I’ve had on PS3 in terms of excitement and tension and that is a big positive for me.

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Certainly it fills me with hope that if someone can step up to the plate and deliver a great looking, great playing FPS for the Vita some brilliant experiences could be on the horizon. Could Killzone Mercenary be that game? I hope so but that’s a debate for another time.

So, Declassified is a tough one to rate. The single player experience is frustrating and doesn’t add much story-wise but is enjoyable in places. Counter to that I had a great time with the online, despite a few technical issues. I’d say try it – if you like the way the game handles (or enjoyed Resistance Burning Skies) then you’ll have a good experience with it but if you dislike how the engine plays then avoid.

Rating: 6/10

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‘The Affair’ by Lee Child – Review (Book)

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As long term readers of this blog might know, I am a huge fan of Lee Child’s ‘Jack Reacher’ novels. With ‘The Affair’ being the 16th in the series, I often wonder whether Child will eventually run out of steam.

Thankfully he shows no signs of doing so based on this tale of corruption, small town gossip and murder.

Set 6 months before ‘Killing Floor’, the first Reacher novel, this book serves as a prequel and finds Reacher still serving in the military police.

A woman is found murdered in a back alley with her throat cut. No-one seems to have any idea who it was but local suspicion points to the local military base.

One of Reacher’s colleagues is sent to the base, Fort Kelham, to investigate in an official capacity and Reacher is instructed to follow close behind – posing as a civilian while poking around undercover.

Child’s easy to read style is as good as ever. He gives you just enough description without bogging things down and the book is well paced.

There is sometimes a concern with prequels that they might end up falling short because they are bound by what’s to follow and whatever background may have already been revealed in the other novels.

That definitely isn’t the case with ‘The Affair’, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and for fans of the series it is great to see more of Reacher’s past. Even if you haven’t read any of the previous books this is certainly one I’d recommend.

Rating:9/10

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Binary Domain – Review (PS3)

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Set in Tokyo far into the future (2080), Binary Domain tells the story of Sergeant Dan Marshall and his team. They are a ‘Rust Crew’ sent in to investigate and, if needed, eliminate ‘Hollow Children’ – robots that can pass as humans that have been banned by the New Geneva Convention.

Helped by a motley band of fellow specialists, including the wonderfully comic Big Bo, Marshall must track down the head of a Japanese corporation suspected of producing Hollow Children.

Gameplay-wise the game treads familiar ground – it’s a third person action title but with some nice combat ideas. You can dismember the robots to slow them down or disarm them (literally!) and if you can knock their head off they will just attack whatever is closest to them – very handy when faced with large groups of enemies.

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Graphically the game is pretty decent and the look of the characters is good, especially Cain – one of the few friendly robots in the game. The controls felt a little sluggish at times for a game that has some fairly frantic action moments. I also encountered a few instances where I just didn’t know what to do to proceed, a few prompts from team-mates may have helped.

Binary Domain is a fairly linear experience in terms of level design and levels are livened up with some on-rails shooting or big boss battles. However the interaction with your squad is clever and their responses to your conversations are interesting to say the least.

While it’s linear in terms of getting from Point A to Point B for each mission, the chats you have with your squad affects the trust they have in you. This trust level can have an effect on the story, leading to a few different variations on the game’s ending. It says a lot about how well implemented this is that I had no idea it was even possible until a few days after I’d finished it, when I was checking some stuff out online.

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Binary Domain seems to be one of the last of a dying breed – the middle ground game between small PSN titles and huge games with massive budgets. We’ve seen a few over the last couple of years – things like Bulletstorm, Singularity or Shadows Of The Damned – and unfortunately it appears these titles just aren’t selling enough to justify people making them.

Which is a real shame – Binary Domain and the titles I mentioned above are games that are definitely worth playing. Certainly Binary Domain may lack the polish of an Uncharted or Dead Space but they showcase some interesting ideas and stories that I’d recommend exploring.

Rating: 8/10

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LittleBigPlanet PS Vita – Review (Vita)

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LittleBigPlanet is such a staple of the Playstation brand that it was inevitable that Sackboy and friends would make an appearance on Sony’s latest handheld.

While development duties have been handed to Tarsier Studios they have done such a great job you wouldn’t know this wasn’t made by Media Molecule.

The story mode is great fun, as usual filled with plenty of wacky adventures and is the best way to collect items that you can then use to build your own levels.

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The focus on creating and sharing remains from previous versions and actually with the use of the touchscreen might be an easier process for some. Level creation is still a bit daunting though, especially compared to something like Sound Shapes – which feels a lot simpler to get up and running.

Another positive is the inclusion of near-based and friend challenges, which plays nicely into the asynchronous nature of score-chasing often found on the Vita. It’s a nice way to dip back into levels once you’ve finished the story and adds a little competitiveness to the game.

Graphically the game looks great and LittleBigPlanet uses the Vita to it’s full potential, whether that is front/rear touch, tilting or even just rotating the device and playing on the screen lengthways.

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Obviously once you’ve finished the single player stuff there is a massive amount of user generated content to enjoy. Levels can be downloaded as well so you don’t have to be connected online to play them – very handy.

There’s not really a lot more I can say to be honest, LittleBigPlanet PS Vita isn’t breaking any new ground aside from the use of touch controls but the series has been refined to perfection so I would say this is the definitive version of the game.

If you like LittleBigPlanet you’ll love this but I’d recommend it to anyone – the sheer volume of user created levels available means you’ll never be short of something to play here.

Rating: 8/10

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