Friday, 21 April 2017

The Battlefront game Star Wars fans are looking for

EA dropped a trailer for Star Wars Battlefront II during Star Wars Celebration. Unlike its predecessor, the new game will traverse all three Star Wars trilogies and that's a mouthwatering proposition for fans.

The upcoming sequel will include a single player (SP) campaign written by former IGN staffers Mitch Dyer and Walt Williams. The latter is best known for Spec Ops: The Line.

Star Wars Battlefront II follows Iden Versio (Janina Gavankar), commander of Inferno Squad an Imperial special forces unit, in the wake of the second Death Star's destruction in Return of the Jedi. It's an interesting premise focussing on the Empire's perspective with a female protagonist a la FemShep fighting for Cerberus in Mass Effect 2.

Will Versio side with the Rebellion by the end or remain faithful to her beloved late Emperor? Gamers will learn the answer this November.

As with Mass Effect: Andromeda. EA Access members will have early access to Star Wars Battlefront II on Xbox One.

Looking forward to Star Wars Battlefront's single player? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Carrie Fisher helped write Star Wars: The Last Jedi

During The Last Jedi panel at Star Wars Celebration, director Rian Johnson revealed the late Carrie Fisher assisted with the screenplay for the first sequel to The Force Awakens.

"It was such a moving tribute... I don't know if I can add to that. I love her so much, I just adore her. I connected with her first and foremost as a writer. She's a brilliant writer, with an incredible mind. I'd go to her house and we'd sit on her bed for hours, going through the script. (We) would just have these kind of stream-of-consciousness, Jazz poetry, ad-lib sessions, and I would just scribble down everything she said on my script. And then at the end of six hours, there would be this four word line of dialogue that would be the distillation of all that, that was brilliant."

Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, speaking exclusively to ABC News, clarified Carrie Fisher would not be appearing in Star Wars: Episode IX following her brother Todd's remarks to the New York Daily News.

“He was probably confused because we finished everything in VIII… we were able to complete shooting in the summer… Unfortunately, Carrie passed away, so by the time we were well underway with Episode IX in our thoughts, we had not written the script yet. But we’ve regrouped, we started over again in January. So, sadly, Carrie will not be in IX.”

This is sad news for fans. However, director Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi appears to be a fitting swan song for the beloved actress and writer. The first teaser trailer dropped during Star Wars Celebration and suggests a more mythological tale with tragedy at its core.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

A tribute to Carrie Fisher at Star Wars Celebration

Cast and crew pay tribute to the late Carrie Fisher at Star Wars Celebration during an emotional 40 Years of Star Wars panel featuring franchise creator George Lucas.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Force for Change on Good Morning America

Star Wars: The Last Jedi co-stars Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley appeared on Good Morning America to promote Force for Change in celebration of Star Wars' 40th anniversary.

Fans have a chance to win an appearance in the upcoming Han Solo spin-off movie, a night at Skywalker Ranch and attend the premiere of The Last Jedi. What's not to like and, best of all, you're helping a charitable cause.

Hamill and Ridley will be joining past and present cast members at Star Wars Celebration this Thursday.

Fans can donate to Force for Change here.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Carrie Fisher to appear in Star Wars: Episode IX?

The late Carrie Fisher may appear in Star Wars: Episode IX after her family gave their permission to use existing footage from The Force Awakens and first sequel The Last Jedi. Carrie's brother, Todd, recently spoke to The New York Daily Times:

“She’s as much a part of it as anything and I think her presence now is even more powerful than it was, like Obi-Wan — when the saber cuts him down he becomes more powerful. I feel like that's what's happened with Carrie. I think the legacy should continue.”

General Leia's role in Episode IX, directed by Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World), is unclear and Disney has said the script is not being rewritten. The final installment in the Star Wars sequel trilogy is expected to begin lensing this July for release in December 2019.

Fisher will be remembered during an emotional 40th anniversary panel at Star Wars Celebration this Thursday. It is expected a teaser trailer for The Last Jedi will be shown and a standalone Obi-Wan Kenobi movie, with Ewan McGregor reprising the titular role, will be announced during the 4-day event in Orlando.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Forest Whitaker at Star Wars Celebration

Forest Whitaker, who plays Saw Gerrera in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars Rebels, returns to Star Wars Celebration.

Whitaker will be making his second Star Wars Celebration appearance, and will also stop by the Star Wars Show LIVE stage with Rogue One co-star Felicity Jones, on Saturday, for a one-on-one chat.

Star Wars Celebration Orlando begins 13th April, celebrating the 40th anniversary of Star Wars' US release and rumoured to premiere the first teaser trailer for The Last Jedi.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Xbox Scorpio specs officially revealed this Thursday

This Thursday Digital Foundry will exclusively reveal the specs for Microsoft's upcoming successor to the Xbox One. Project Scorpio.

It is claimed the new Xbox is much more powerful than PS4 Pro. So, the announcement will be of great interest to gamers ahead of a full unveiling at E3. It has been confirmed the console will include a 4K Blu-ray disc player and internal power supply like the Xbox One S.

Quite a coup for Digital Foundry, which is known for its in-depth critical analysis of hardware and software. The Xbox brand has been subject to fair criticism since the bungled launch of the Xbox One in 2013 and PS4's subsequent domination of the current console generation.

Phil Spencer, and his team at Microsoft, must have something special if the company is prepared to take this kind of risk. Spencer alluded to an early Scorpio reveal during IGN's Unlocked Podcast in which he said the emphasis would be on games at E3.

Digital Foundry will reveal the specs, via Eurogamer, on Thursday at 2PM (BST).

Are you excited about Xbox Scorpio and native 4K gaming? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Hayden Christensen at Star Wars Celebration

May marks the 40th anniversary of Star Wars' release in the US. So, this year's Star Wars Celebration is extra special for fans.

Hayden Christensen is appearing at Star Wars Celebration for the first time since 2002, which has fuelled ongoing speculation he's reprised his role as Anakin Skywalker in director Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi. The actor's likeness appeared in Gareth Edwards' Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Christensen's portrayal of Anakin Skywalker, in the Star Wars prequels, was met with mixed reaction until the latter moments of Revenge of the Sith. Most notably when a dismembered Skywalker solidifies Obi-Wan Kenobi's (Ewan McGregor) failure. However, Natalie Portman delivers a bland performance herself. This could be attributed to the director, dialogue and an over-reliance on special effects. Therefore, I'm optimistic given Johnson's focus on a character-driven story.

Hayden Christensen joins Mark Hamill and more at a special "40 Years of Star Wars" panel on 13th April. Lucasfilm teased the lineup:

"Never before have this many involved in bringing Star Wars to life — from the original trilogy to the prequels to the current Star Wars Rebels animated series — joined together in one place to discuss a galaxy far, far away. Plenty of surprises are in store so fans will not want to miss this very important kick-off to Celebration."

Stay tuned for more coverage of Star Wars Celebration.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Destiny 2 reboots the franchise this September

Bungie's Destiny promised more than it delivered upon launch in September 2014. A so-so story was overshadowed by fun Fireteam adventures with friends on PSN and Peter Dinklage's infamous Ghost. Dinklage was ultimately replaced by Nolan North best known for playing Nathan Drake in the Uncharted series.

Subsequently, Destiny has evolved with expansion packs, but I stopped playing after completing the original campaign and never went back.

Earlier this week Bungie released a teaser trailer for Destiny 2 featuring Cayde-6 (Nathan Fillion) and it was comedy gold. Could this be the sequel fans are looking for?

On Thursday Bungie released a full trailer and announced the release date for the upcoming sequel. 8th September on PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One and PC. As before, PlayStation owners have access to exclusive content before anyone else. Time-limited exclusivity remains a point of contention within the gaming industry. I think it's a mistake across all platforms, but that's business for you.

Bungie won't be revealing any gameplay footage until 18th May. E3 will only be weeks away and presumably the developer will appear on the PlayStation stage.

There are several editions of Destiny 2 available for pre-order and I've already pulled the trigger. Because Beta.

Are you looking forward to Destiny 2 and the promise of a more story focussed adventure? Does it matter that loot won't carry over from the original game? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Star Wars Battlefront II at Star Wars Celebration

EA has officially announced Star Wars Battlefront II. A trailer will premiere in April during Star Wars Celebration. This will be livestreamed from the convention in Orlando along with a panel including in-house developers Dice, Criterion and Motive.

Star Wars Battlefront was roundly criticised for lacking a single player campaign, but established an enduring multiplayer following. So, that's been addressed in the upcoming sequel with EA interacting with the Lucasfilm Story Group.

I was a critic of Star Wars Battlefront at launch and promised myself I wouldn't buy it! It became my most played game of last year, well until my PlayStation Plus subscription lapsed.

The new game is expected to be released for PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One and PC this November prior to Star Wars: The Last Jedi. The previous game coincided with The Force Awakens and included DLC based on the movie in 2015. It's a safe bet there'll be The Last Jedi DLC.

Be sure to subscribe for more coverage of Star Wars Battlefront and Star Wars Celebration.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Spider-Man: Homecoming gatecrashed by Vulture

Your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man's latest adventure just became my second most anticipated movie of 2017 behind The Last Jedi. Because Star Wars.

The new Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer dropped yesterday and features Peter Parker (Tom Holland) facing Vulture (Michael Keaton) with Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) confiscating his Spider-Man suit. An hilarious cameo from Captain America (Chris Evans) is icing on the cake.

There's a sense of momentum following Spider-Man's celebrated cameo in last year's Captain America: Civil War and news the beloved character will appear in Avengers: Infinity War. Sony has confirmed there'll be at least 3 Spider-Man movies within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). I'd suggest this remains the new status quo.

Looking forward to Spider-Man: Homecoming? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider

Lara Croft is no stranger to the silver screen. Angelina Jolie played the titular character to mixed reviews in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and its sequel, Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life, last decade.

Now, Alicia Vikander (Ex Machina) assumes the mantle in a cinematic reboot following the recent critical and commercial success of the original video game franchise, which was in decline until Tomb Raider wiped the slate clean and deftly mixed movie inspirations in 2013. Actress Camilla Luddington breathed new life into the role with a script by acclaimed writer Rhianna Pratchett.

Director Roar Uthaug elaborates on his reboot based on the 2013 game of the same name:

"Being a longtime fan of the game, it’s important to me to honor the Lara Croft legacy and capture that spirit. It’s great to know that there’s such a passionate global fan base for Lara and her world, and our commitment to that will be evident in our movie. What’s different about this “Tomb Raider” movie is that it’s an origin story for the big screen, focusing not only on Lara’s strength and physical accomplishments but her humanity. We see Lara as a young woman, smart and capable but largely unfocused, and follow her on a dangerous journey that will push her to her limits in every sense, and allow her to hone the skills she needs to ultimately become who she was meant to be. As Lara Croft, Alicia Vikander is brilliant. She brings great depth to a complex role that is both physically and emotionally demanding. We hope this film will delight fans around the world and add another intriguing chapter to the Tomb Raider story."

Tomb Raider, originally released on the ill-fated Sega Saturn, become synonymous with PlayStation in the mid 1990s, and I followed the franchise for several years, collecting merchandise in the process. Here was a female archaeologist possessing the chutzpah of Indiana Jones.

Tomb Raider is released in theatres in March 2018.

Looking forward to seeing Vikander as Ms Croft? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Carrie Fisher's death won't alter The Last Jedi

In the wake of Star Wars: The Force Awakens' and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story's box office success. It's no surprise Disney plans to continue the Star Wars saga beyond a sequel trilogy.

"We’re starting to talk about what could happen after Episode IX. About what could be another decade-and-a-half of Star Wars stories," Disney CEO Bob Iger said on Thursday during a talk to film students in Santa Monica.

During the talk, Iger confirmed that The Last Jedi has not been altered in light of Carrie Fisher’s death last December. At the time there was speculation surrounding what impact it might have on the upcoming Star Wars sequel directed by Rian Johnson.

"When we bought Lucasfilm, we were going to make three films — Episodes VII, VIII and IX," he said.

"We had to deal with tragedy at the end of 2016. Carrie appears throughout VIII. We are not changing VIII to deal with her passing. Her performance remains as it is in VIII. In Rogue One, we had some digital character. We are not doing that with Carrie."

Looking forward to further adventures in a galaxy far, far away? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Watch footage from the beginning of Ghost in the Shell

Paramount Pictures has released five minutes of footage from director Rupert Sanders' upcoming live-action adaptation of Japanese Manga Ghost in the Shell, starring Scarlett Johansson.

Here’s the official synopsis:

"Based on the internationally-acclaimed sci-fi property, “GHOST IN THE SHELL” follows the Major, a special ops, one-of-a-kind human-cyborg hybrid, who leads the elite task force Section 9. Devoted to stopping the most dangerous criminals and extremists, Section 9 is faced with an enemy whose singular goal is to wipe out Hanka Robotic¹s advancements in cyber technology."

The movie has courted controversy surrounding the casting of Johansson as Major. However, the footage reveals stunning art direction underscored by composer Clint Mansell (Moon). Mansell's known to Mass Effect fans for his haunting orchestrations in Mass Effect 3.

Ghost in the Shell is in cinemas 31st March.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Gareth Edwards on Darth Vader's Rogue One massacre

Much of the success of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first Star Wars standalone movie, can be attributed to the exhilarating final act, which, as I suggested in my review, took Star Wars to the nth degree and into A New Hope.

During the SXSW Film Festival, director Gareth Edwards spoke to Fandango and shed light on Rogue One's extensive summer reshoot that included the addition of Darth Vader boarding the Rebel ship, with horrifying consequences, in the final moments.

“He arrives and obliterates the Calamari ship, and then the blockade runner gets out just in time and he pursues the blockade runner. And then Jabez was like, ‘I think we need to get Darth on that ship,’ and I thought, yeah, that’s a brilliant idea and would love to do it, but there’s no way they’re going to let us do it. It’s a big number and we had, what, like 3 or 4 months before release.

Kathy [Kennedy] came in and Jabez thought, f--k it, and pitched her this idea, and she loved it. Suddenly within a week or two we were at Pinewood shooting that scene. [They] came up with a whole shopping list of ideas. 70% we used, and maybe 30% felt a little too extreme. They were things you hadn’t seen him do before…

It just felt right; it felt like the right thing to do. It really is just the greatest hits of Darth; that corridor. And we really didn’t want to do anything you haven’t seen him do so it didn’t throw people off. We kept it to what had been established.”

Fans finally witnessed the wrath of Darth Vader in a way the prequels failed to convey.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is released on Blu-ray this April.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Loving the Alien

Are directors Sir Ridley Scott and James Cameron seemingly in friendly competition at 20th Century Fox? Both are expanding their respective sci-fi franchises.

Alien and Avatar will serve up a sequel avalanche over the next decade as the studio battles Disney with its Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and Star Wars sequels. The latter once had pride of place at 20th Century Fox before the House of Mouse bought Lucasfilm in 2012.

Speaking to Fandango, a booking site dedicated to film fandom, at SXSW Film Festival, Ridley Scott outlined his vision for four more Alien prequels.

"It will go Prometheus, Awakening, Covenant.. fairly integral where this colonization ship is on the way...."

Presumably the director meant Prometheus, Covenant and Awakening, which begins principal photography as early as 2018. Actress Katherine Waterston called him out on potential spoilers. "You're giving away too much!", she screamed.

Scott continues, “If this is successful, and then the next one, and then there will definitely be three more.”

Will the franchise remain truly alien after six prequels? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Phantom Menace haunts Mass Effect: Andromeda

What follows are my initial impressions of Mass Effect: Andromeda first trial on EA Access.

As I only finished the original Mass Effect trilogy - arguably one of the greatest space operas in any medium - a couple of weeks ago. Commander Shepard and the fabled crew of the Normandy are still fresh in one's mind.

Possible mild spoilers ahead for anyone who hasn't played Mass Effect...

Andromeda seemingly has an identity crisis. At first blush it's a disparate mishmash of the original Mass Effect, Halo and Batman: Arkham franchises. Too familiar tropes and first contact degenerates into a firestorm with rock people before you draw breath. So much for the Prime Directive. This is Star Trek funded by Cerberus. More on Cerberus later.

There's a nagging feeling of The Phantom Menace, surrounding the opening act, in spite of a sense of awe I haven't experienced since playing Phantasy Star Online (PSO) for Sega Dreamcast. Why should I care about the fate of the main protagonist, and her crew, when the writers rushed the introduction and the role of Pathfinder doesn't feel earned? That said, I'm enjoying playing as female Ryder and there's plenty of fun callbacks to the original trilogy: from familiar soundtrack cues to sound effects and much more.

Boarding the Tempest evoked emotions once reserved for the Normandy, USS Enterprise, Millennium Falcon and TARDIS.

Appreciate the more nuanced dialogue options in Andromeda. Paragon and Renegade, inherited from Knights of the Old Republic (KOTOR), was perfect for Shepherd's war with the Reapers in the original trilogy. Amusingly, it's too easy to unintentionally start romancing other characters, and this levity is welcome in the first few hours of the game. At its heart, Andromeda should be about exploration and hope.

Personally, I'm enjoying the banter with fellow crewmates at this early stage in the story. Liam, the most rounded member of the human crew, Peebee, a playful Asari, and Vetra, a female Turian capable of giving Garrus a run for his money, are the standouts thus far.

SAM, your AI assistant, appeared to be an annoying incarnation of Halo's Cortana in various video clips I'd watched. However, the backstory behind SAM's controversial development, begun by Ryder's father, on the Citadel, before embarking on the long journey to Andromeda, suggests a compelling mystery is in the offing. This is underscored by SAM and Ryder's rich interaction aboard the Nexus, headquarters of the Andromeda Initiative.

It's worth noting the conflict between artificial intelligence and organics drove the narrative of the original trilogy and impending apocalypse. However, there's a hopefulness here that is channelled through my favourite character. Ryder herself. Fryda Wolff embraces the role with an aplomb worthy of Daisy Ridley as Rey in The Force Awakens. I can't speak to the male incarnation.

The past couple of years I, like many other gamers, have suffered from open world fatigue, which Guerrilla Games' Horizon Zero Dawn deftly dodges. Andromeda appears to have a level of depth that may be just too overwhelming for some and is not in keeping with the franchise's legacy. Narrative fans may feel encumbered by crafting. The Witcher 3 remains atop my pile of shame as the notion of expending hundreds of hours playing a single game is too daunting a premise.

The Mass Effect universe has never looked shinier. The Frostbite 3 engine has pedigree as evidenced by stablemates Battlefield and Star Wars Battlefront. There's a very rare pleasure in simply wandering around the Tempest and basking in its reflective beauty. The trial version includes the day-one patch. Hopefully, BioWare will support the game, post release, with the same fervor as CD Projekt Red.

Art direction is uniformly excellent, just don't mention the humans and their Pingu lips. In 2017 it's inexcusable given Dragon Age: Inquisition, BioWare's other franchise, boasts superior animations and dates back to 2014. Humanities tech alludes to Cerberus, which feeds into a rumour that Cora is the Illusive Man's daughter.

What gave Mass Effect 2 its edge was working with the enemy, lead by Martin Sheen's Illusive Man, propelling the game into The Empire Strikes Back of the saga. With that in mind, it's possible there'll be a twist to this tale of exploration leading to a chilling cliffhanger! Unless it's a self-contained installment, which I'm hoping it's not. Mass Effect, like Star Wars, warrants a sequel trilogy.

The Mako was an infamous addition to the original Mass Effect and possessed all the finesse of a helium balloon with a gun strapped to it. My heart sank at the notion of more planetside traversal with its successor. The Nomad. However, the Nomad handles really well and your squad can disembark, with ease, to explore or exterminate at will.

Whilst the combat system has been further honed since Mass Effect 2 and 3. The addition of a jet pack has lead to minutes lost frustratingly impacting against a wall, or cliff, that appears impassable as your squad mates look on from above, helplessly. I felt like telling them to get on with the mission whilst I returned to the comfort of the Tempest.

Then there's the Kett. Rock folk who prefer to shoot first and ask no questions. If these are the big bad in Andromeda, then they're Z-List canon fodder compared to the Geth, Cerberus, Collectors and the godlike Reapers.

Much has been made of the inferior character models, especially female Ryder's default appearance. Meet Jyn 'Erso' Ryder. Whilst the customisation control isn't cutting edge, a few minutes tweaking settings, and with a little help from a YouTube tutorial, I was able to create Felicity Jones' likeness.

It's odd that for all the secrecy surrounding Mass Effect: Andromeda, EA would enforce a piecemeal embargo that's culminated in the next installment imploding into nothing more than merciless memes mocking animations, online, within 24 hours. This is compounded in a month where The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Horizon Zero Dawn have released to critical acclaim. The latter is Sony's most successful new IP launch in the history of PlayStation.

Further to the above. Michael Gamble, producer of the original Mass Effect trilogy and Andromeda, has responded to criticisms on Twitter.

"We appreciate the critiques (and memes!), but I am very happy to see how much y'all like the game after 10 gets even better."

Despite coming into this with a prejudice based on memes and early impressions from other gaming sites. I've enjoyed playing the trial over ten hours. It's a slow burner that maybe too slow for some. Standing in the Pathfinder's quarters aboard the Tempest, gazing out upon the great expanse of Andromeda, I had an epiphany: this is the Mass Effect I cherish. Can't wait to properly explore the new galaxy with my Ryder. FemShep's watching from beyond...

Lastly. I did smile when FemShep was already selected as legend during character creation. BioWare, you get me!

Are you playing the trial? Are you enjoying it, or do you want to see fixes before making a final decision to buy? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Yoda to return in The Last Jedi?

During a panel at SXSW Frank Oz was asked whether or not Yoda would return in Star Wars: The Last Jedi?

"I feel like I’m a prisoner at war here, and I can only give you my name, rank and serial number," Oz said. "To be true to the people who asked me, and they are kind of my family, I have to say I’ve been asked not to talk about it. I love Yoda. I would be happy to talk to you about it at the time they let me."

A cryptic answer and one that suggests the beloved Jedi Master maybe seen on the big screen this December in director Rian Johnson's Star Wars sequel. Observant fans would have heard Yoda's voice during Rey's vision in The Force Awakens.

This feeds into an Episode VIII theory, I postulated during Star Wars Celebration Europe, that we'll see Ewan McGregor reprise his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi on screen. His voice, blended with Sir Alec Guinness, can also be heard in The Force Awakens. It makes narrative sense, especially if The Last Jedi is centred around Luke training Rey a la Yoda training Luke in The Empire Strikes Back.

Frank Oz has previously reprised the role of Yoda in Star Wars Rebels on Disney XD.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Mass Effect: Andromeda arrives Thursday on EA Access

Mass Effect: Andromeda is released next week and publisher BioWare has sent out review copies to journalists. Michael Gamble, producer of the original Mass Effect trilogy and Andromeda, took to Twitter to make the announcement.

"This is it. The game is in reviewers hands. In 5 years, I think we have created something magic. We humbly hope you all agree when you play."

Last weekend I completed an exhaustive playthrough of the original Mass Effect trilogy, that began on 7th November AKA N7 Day last year, and the series cemented itself as one of the greatest space operas in any medium. Deftly mixing inspiration from the grand texts of Isaac Asimov to Star Wars. So, I can't wait to explore Andromeda, early, on EA Access for Xbox One from this Thursday.

Many fans (myself included) will miss Commander Shepard and the fabled crew of the Normandy. I always play as FemShep because Jennifer Hale delivers an acting tour de force imbued with pathos. Plus, on a personal note, Joker (Seth Green) is the first disabled character I've identified with in a video game. Of course empathy comes in many guises. The good news. The developer confirmed there'll be callbacks to the original trilogy.

Whilst reviews are embargoed until 20th March and EA Access members are limited to 10 hours of gameplay, initial impressions of the next installment in the Mass Effect franchise will begin to filter through beforehand.

Looking forward to Mass Effect: Andromeda? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Darth Maul seeks revenge in Star Wars Rebels

Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul duel in next Saturday's episode of Star Wars Rebels on Disney XD.

These guys have a history that stretches back to The Phantom Menace and their feud comes to an epic conclusion in Twin Suns. Maul has tracked Kenobi to Tatooine and is seemingly hellbent on revenge...

Friday, 10 March 2017

Game of Thrones returns this July

HBO has announced Game of Thrones season 7 begins 16th July in the US and the premiere will be simulcast in the UK on 17th July.

The Facebook live announcement was plagued with technical difficulties. From connection issues to a block of ice taking too long to melt despite the use of flamethrowers. Invariably, fans took to social media to mock the faux pas. Perhaps keep it simple next time?

A short teaser trailer accompanied the announcement.

Season 7 is the penultimate series and will run for 7 episodes making it the shortest season to date. Returning cast members include Kit Harington, Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey and Emilia Clarke. Clarke completed filming for her role as Daenerys before boarding the Millennium Falcon in the next Star Wars standalone movie at Disney.

Over the years George R.R. Martin's opus has gotten progressively darker and not everyone will come out of this alive. Winter is here.

What are you looking forward to most in Game of Thrones season 7? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Luke Skywalker's first words to Rey in The Last Jedi

It's no secret Star Wars: The Last Jedi continues directly from the cliffhanger ending of The Force Awakens. Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found a reclusive Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) in what appears to be a ruined temple.

The first footage from The Last Jedi was exclusively shown to Disney shareholders at the company’s annual gathering in Denver. Luke Skywalker asks Rey: “Who are you?”, before she hands over his father's lightsaber.

Other clips shown to the audience included Rey wielding a lightsaber, Chewbacca, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), Finn (John Boyega) and General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) in military uniform.

Before screening the footage, Disney CEO Bob Iger addressed the audience. “We make a point of revealing very little from our upcoming Star Wars films,” he said. “We want to keep them secret. But we’re making an exception today. We’re going to show you an exclusive first look at what happens right after that scene, and that lightsaber being handed to its rightful owner.”

Iger also took the opportunity to pay tribute to the late Carrie Fisher. “Carrie Fisher has been an iconic part in this franchise from the very beginning,” he said. “We all miss her. She had great talent and wit. We’re proud that this movie coming up is part of her legacy.”

Director Rian Johnson's film is described as suitably epic, and The Force Awakens director JJ Abrams has suggested Mark Hamill may win an Oscar for his role as Luke Skywalker.

Fans shouldn't have to wait too much longer for a first glimpse of The Last Jedi. A trailer is expected to premiere during a panel with director Rian Johnson and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy at Star Wars Celebration Orlando in April. Incidentally, Star Wars Celebration takes a break next year before returning in 2019 for the final installment in the Star Wars sequel trilogy.

The Last Jedi is scheduled for release in cinemas on 15th December.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

A sequel to Alien: Covenant is already written

Director Ridley Scott recently confirmed to The Sydney Morning Herald that Alien: Covenant is the beginning of a new prequel series to Alien, and the next installment may start filming as soon as 2018.

“You’ve got to assume to a certain extent success and from that you’d better be ready. You don’t want a two-year gap. So I’ll be ready to go again next year…. If you really want a franchise, I can keep cranking it for another six. I’m not going to close it down again. No way.”

The article goes on to corroborate what many fans (myself included) expected. Prometheus is not a part of the new prequel series starting with Alien: Covenant.

“What we did really well on Prometheus, considering that it was a ground zero idea that was starting all over again, was I discovered that people do have an appetite for the alien and what he means and his evolution – the egg, the facehugger, the chestburster as we call them. People still want to see it. So I return to a little bit of that but not wholeheartedly; there’s a lot in here which is new as well… We go from Prometheus into both worlds of the original Alien and a little bit of Prometheus. Prometheus was about who and why? This is getting closer to who designed it and for what reason.”

This reaffirms my suggestion Alien: Covenant is a soft reboot of the franchise. And could also explain why Neill Blomkamp's sequel to James Cameron's Aliens, thereby retconning Alien 3 out of existence, is on hold indefinitely.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Star Trek: Discovery has found its captain

Jason Isaacs has appeared in Harry Potter and Star Wars Rebels. His next memorable genre role sees him playing Captain Lorca in Star Trek: Discovery for CBS All Access.

The upcoming prequel series, which will be streamed by Netflix outside the US, should have premiered last January. However, the production has been beset by delays amidst fan fears the series would be mothballed despite the success of Star Trek on the big screen.

Bryan Fuller was initial showrunner on Discovery, establishing the story and mythology, before leaving the series due to other commitments.

“It’s important to get it right,” CBS chairman Les Moonves said. “Star Trek is the family jewels. We’re not going to rush it in. There’s a lot of post-production. But I’m very confident based on what I’ve seen so far.”

Despite the involvement of Alex Kurtzman. It's worth noting the new series is unrelated to the cinematic universe at Paramount Pictures.

A lapsed Star Trek fan. JJ Abrams' cinematic reboot rekindled my enthusiasm for the long-running franchise. Isaacs is an ideal candidate to fill the captain's chair and take his place alongside William Shatner, Sir Patrick Stewart, Kate Mulgrew and Scott Bakula.

Star Trek: Discovery is scheduled to premiere later this year.

Monday, 6 March 2017

The original Cybermen return to Doctor Who

The Cybermen, created by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, have always been my favourite Doctor Who enemy. The cold cyborgs captured my nascent imagination in the pages of Marvel Comics' Doctor Who Weekly and the Target novelisation of The Tenth Planet. I'd pore over enigmatic black and white photos from The Moonbase to The Invasion, and spend hours drawing the mechanical menace.

The surprise return of the Cybermen in Earthshock, cemented their status forever, and was the stuff of playground legend. So, news of the impending return of the Mondasian originals, from 50 years ago, has piqued my interest. Despite fond childhood memories of reading The Tenth Planet; I've yet to watch the original serial on DVD! Another chink in my so-called Whovian armour.

The Mondasian menace will appear, alongside Missy (Michelle Gomez), in the two-part finale for season 10, which is currently being filmed in Cardiff with director Rachel Talalay at the helm. Talalay is no stranger to Doctor Who and it bodes well for an exciting end to the upcoming season.

Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat both exit the series this Christmas. And the appearance of the Mondasian Cybermen fulfils a personal wish Capaldi has had for sometime.

“I’d also like to see – this is really one for geeks – the return of the Mondasian Cybermen,” he said in 2014. “They came from the planet Mondas and first appeared in [1966 story] The Tenth Planet. They were absolutely terrifying, with cloth faces. That was really creepy.”

Doctor Who returns to television screens 15th April.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Star Wars Rebels renewed for fourth season

Star Wars Rebels will return to Disney XD later this year.

Marc Buhaj, senior vice president, programming and general manager, Disney XD said, “The team behind Star Wars Rebels delivers epic storytelling that has captivated fans of all ages across the globe. We’re excited to continue sharing the journey of these fan-favorite rebels with our audience in the fall.”

Set between the events of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Star Wars Rebels has continued to build on its Cartoon Network predecessor The Clone Wars: forming the connective tissue between the prequel and original trilogies. Last December I got goosebumps seeing the Ghost in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

The crew of the Ghost have eluded the Grand Inquisitor, Darth Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin and Grand Admiral Thrawn. But for how much longer?

Looking forward to Star Wars Rebels season four? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Epic Games rendered K-2SO in real-time for Rogue One

K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) stole the show in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Lucasfilm's John Knoll took to the stage, at the Game Developers Conference (GDC), to demonstrate how the caustic droid was fully rendered in real-time.

The technique was developed by a team at ILM, modifying Unreal Engine 4’s source code from developer Epic Games. Epic's Tim Sweeney was ecstatic.

"So final pixels rendered in the Star Wars movie, using the Unreal Engine, in real time. And it went into the movie! These are pixels you see in the movie! It's unbelievable," says Sweeney. "These real-world usage cases have pushed us much harder than before. Because as game developers, if we can't render a particular type of object well, we just put something else there instead, right. We can cheat. But these other industries cannot cheat. We have to solve all of the hard problems."

Rogue One was nominated for Best Visual Effects at the Oscars, but lost out to stablemate, and worthy winner, The Jungle Book.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Xenomorphs attack in Alien: Covenant

Last week 20th Century Fox released an official prologue to director Ridley Scott's Alien: Covenant - Last Supper - that riffed on an infamous, and iconic, scene from the original Alien starring the late John Hurt.

Now, a new trailer unleashes the full force of Hollywood's feared xenomorph.

Alien: Covenant is a sequel to Prometheus chronicling a crew in search of paradise. I'm hoping it'll do for the Alien franchise what Rogue One did for Star Wars. Spectacularly dovetailing into the much-loved original.

The film, which opens in theatres this May, stars Michael Fassbender (reprising his role as the robot David), Noomi Rapace (reprising her role as Dr. Elizabeth Shaw), Katherine Waterston, Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, Guy Pearce and James Franco.

Looking forward to seeing xenomorphs back on the big screen? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Middle-earth: Shadow of War released this August

Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, which was lauded for its award-winning Nemesis System in 2014, is getting a richly deserved open world sequel for PS4, Xbox One (including Scorpio) and PC this August.

Middle-earth: Shadow of War.

The next installment, leaked by Target, is set between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the player is tasked with forging a new ring of power to rival Sauron's.

“Monolith Productions continues to innovate by introducing deeper, more personalised gameplay experiences, coupled with authentic storytelling,” said David Haddad, President, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. “Middle-earth: Shadow of War truly drives the genre forward by taking the Nemesis System to new heights and allowing players to create their own personal journey within Middle-earth.”

As a fan of the original game and, more importantly, J.R.R. Tolkien's books, this'll be a day-one purchase.

“Following the amazing reception to Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, we massively expanded every dimension of the game, including the world, the story, the RPG systems, the core gameplay and of course the personal player stories of the Nemesis System,” said Michael de Plater, Vice President, Creative, Monolith Productions. “As lifelong fans of Middle-earth, we are so grateful to have the privilege to bring to life the most incredible fantasy world ever created in a new way, for a new generation. With Middle-earth: Shadow of War, we can’t wait to see the amazing stories players are going to create and share.”

You can pre-order Middle-earth: Shadow of War from Amazon.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Game of Thrones' Natalie Dormer stars in Mass Effect

Game of Thrones' Natalie Dormer makes an interstellar jump from Westeros to Andromeda in the next installment in the Mass Effect franchise released this March.

Dormer plays Dr Lexi T'Perro, a 600-year-old Asari, in BioWare's critically-acclaimed space opera and sheds light on her character in a new behind-the-scenes video posted by EA.

Lexi appears to have a pivotal role, much like Dr Liara T'Soni in the original Mass Effect trilogy.

Mac Walters, Bioware's Creative Director, says: "Having Lexi almost 'wake you up' from your 600-year sleep and being that first friendly face that you meet, there's a sense that when you arrive in Andromeda it's almost like being reborn into that galaxy, waking up and imprinting on the first person you see.

"It was very important that we treat that character in a way that you would find some interest in them but also some compassion."

The franchise is synonymous with rich storytelling and Mass Effect: Andromeda is no exception. Walters continues: "One of the things we've tried to push on Andromeda [is to] create characters who feel like their lives are going on even when the player wasn't around, and so you'll notice that with Lexi she's sort of got a rivalry with one of the other characters, PeeBee. But if you look closely too, she's also maybe got a little bit of a crush on our Krogan, and this carries on even when you're not there."

Natalie Dormer is no stranger to video games, having reprised her iconic role of Margaery Tyrell for Telltale Games' Game of Thrones, and admits to not being an avid gamer, herself, due to time constraints. "I’m not a gamer per se … I don’t have a life where I can spend hours gaming,” says the actress. A candid admission, but she adds: “I know if I did, this is exactly the kind of thing that I would play.”

Mass Effect: Andromeda is already being likened to Mass Effect 2, considered by many fans (myself included) as the best installment. This bodes extremely well and suggests March may witness 3 AAA titles worthy of game of the year, including The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and, PS4 exclusive, Horizon: Zero Dawn, which witnesses Guerrilla Games', a Sony first-party studio, metamorphosis into Bethesda and BioWare.

Now, excuse me as I finish an original trilogy playthrough, that began on 7th November, with FemShep.

Looking forward to Mass Effect: Andromeda and channelling Captain Kirk by romancing the crew? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Rogue One is coming home this March

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is coming home only months after its cinematic release.

The first Star Wars spin-off, directed by Gareth Edwards, will be released digitally in the US on 24th March. However, UK fans will have to wait until 10th April to see Jyn Erso and her rebel band steal the Death Star plans.

Alas, deleted scenes are not included in this inaugural home release, and the summer reshoots may not be addressed. But, that won't dissuade fans (myself included) from buying the Blu-ray release and there's Easter Eggs galore:

A Rogue Idea – Hear how ILM’s John Knoll came up with the movie’s concept – and why it’s the right film to launch the Star Wars stand-alone films.
Jyn: The Rebel – Get to know Rogue One’s defiant, resourceful survivor, and hear what it was like for Felicity Jones to bring her to life onscreen.
Cassian: The Spy – Diego Luna shares insights into his complex, driven character, who becomes a hero through selflessness, perseverance and passion.
K-2SO: The Droid – Explore the development of this reprogrammed Imperial droid, from initial pitch and character design through Alan Tudyk’s performance.
Baze & Chirrut: Guardians of the Whills – Go deeper into the relationship between these two very different characters, with Chinese superstars Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen.
Bodhi & Saw: The Pilot & The Revolutionary – Forest Whitaker and Riz Ahmed reflect on Saw Gerrera, the broken Rebel leader, and Bodhi Rook, the Imperial pilot who defects.
The Empire – Meet a dangerous new Imperial adversary… and cross paths once more with the most iconic villain of all time.
Visions of Hope: The Look of “Rogue One” – The filmmakers describe the challenges and thrills of developing a bold new look for the movie that can fit within the world of the original trilogy.
The Princess & The Governor – See what it took to bring the vibrant young princess of Star Wars: A New Hope – as well as one of her most memorable foes­ – back to the screen.
Epilogue: The Story Continues – Filmmakers and cast celebrate Rogue One’s premiere and look forward into the future, to the Star Wars stories yet to be told.
Rogue Connections – Uncover Easter eggs and film facts hidden throughout the movie that connect Rogue One to the Star Wars universe.

I stand by my assertion Rogue One is the best Star Wars movie since the original trilogy. Seriously, I can't wait to watch Rogue One and A New Hope back-to-back this spring.

Looking forward. Star Wars Celebration Orlando is the most likely venue for a teaser trailer for director Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi.

Rogue One is available for pre-order from Amazon.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Han Solo Star Wars spin-off blasts into hyperspace

The next Star Wars spin-off movie has begun filming in London. And the cast and crew boarded the Millennium Falcon for a first look.

The on-set photo confirms the casting of Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag). She joins Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian and Thandie Newton.

“Watching such inspired people from all over the world, with such unique voices, come together for the sole purpose of making art, is nothing short of miraculous,” Lord and Miller said. “We can’t think of anything funny to say, because we just feel really moved, and really lucky.”

The untitled Han Solo movie is scheduled for release 25th May 2018. This contradicts an earlier report suggesting Disney will continue to release Star Wars movies during the holiday season.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Feel the Force of nostalgia with Hasbro's Black Series

Star Wars celebrates its 40th anniversary this year and the toys, too. Hasbro has announced Black Series action figures, in retro style packaging, during the New York Toy Fair. This is in homage to Kenner's original action figure line from 1977.

Like so many fans, the toys and Marvel comics tie-in were amongst my first, tantalising, glimpses of Star Wars before seeing the movie in 1978. R2-D2 was the first figure I was gifted, after persuading an aunt the diminutive droid was what I wanted, despite having no context. From small beginnings...

Magical memories of visiting Exeter's defunct Pram and Toy Shop and collecting action figures and accessories. Recall a scarcity of Stormtroopers and having to wait until we visited one of my dad's stores in South Wales. Left with a small army.

With the 40th anniversary of Star Wars and the release of The Last Jedi, there's going to be a lot of merchandise for fans of the beloved space opera.

What are your memories of collecting Star Wars toys? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Force Friday returns this September for The Last Jedi

Star Wars fans save the date. Lucasfilm has officially announced Force Friday II to celebrate Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Toys, collectibles, books, apparel and more will go on sale beginning at 12:01 a.m. on 1st September.

“The first Star Wars Force Friday event was truly unique, uniting fans across five continents in an unprecedented global live unboxing event ahead of thousands of midnight openings at retail,” says Jimmy Pitaro, Chairman, Disney Consumer Products and Interactive Media. “We’re excited to confirm that Star Wars Force Friday is back for ‘The Last Jedi’. Plans for this year’s world-wide event are top secret but expect something befitting the excitement around the next episode of the Star Wars saga.”

The original Force Friday in 2015, promoting Star Wars: The Force Awakens, was a merchandising success. Making Sphero's BB-8 the must-have toy that holiday season.

Jill Wilfert, Vice President of global licensing and entertainment from The LEGO Group comments, “It was so much fun to be a part of Star Wars Force Friday, and we can’t wait for fans to join this year’s celebration as we reveal new ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ products during Force Friday II – a global event that will connect fans and families, and allow them to build, create and share their experiences with others.”

Kenner's action figures were synonymous with the launch of Star Wars in 1977. So, it's no surprise the company's successor, Hasbro, has a pivotal role to play in Force Friday II.

“Toys play a unique role in the Star Wars universe, and we’re proud to have been part of that incredible legacy for the past forty years. The new line for ‘The Last Jedi’ is our most innovative yet, and we’re excited to unveil it on Force Friday II,” said Samantha Lomow, Senior Vice President at Hasbro.

The new packaging, unveiled to promote Force Friday II, showcases the heroes and gives fans a first look at Poe Dameron, Rey and Finn in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

The Last Jedi director at Star Wars Celebration

Star Wars: The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy will be attending a panel at Star Wars Celebration Orlando this April.

Johnson spoke engagingly about the impact Star Wars had on his life, during the Future Filmmakers panel at Star Wars Celebration Europe, and the audience will never forget when Kennedy suggested he moved the camera as well as Steven Spielberg. So, this is one fans won't want to miss.

The director recently teased updated Stormtroopers on the set of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is in theatres 15th December.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

A Black Widow movie after Avengers: Infinity War?

Ever since Scarlett Johansson first appeared as Black Widow, in Iron Man 2, Marvel fans have speculated on when she'd get her own standalone movie.

Talking to Total Film, Johansson said both she and Marvel are very keen to make a Black Widow movie.

“I’ve talked to Kevin Feige about it. We’re creatively really compatible. I think we both agree that the character is right for a standalone, it’s just a case of timing at this point for both Marvel and myself. Marvel has a really huge roster. They’re looking four years ahead. I also have a lot of things that I want to do. If I did it, I would dedicate myself completely to making it amazing. It would have to be the best version that movie could possibly be. Otherwise, I would never do it.”

So, it looks like we won't be seeing Black Widow's solo adventure until at least 2020 after Avengers: Infinity War. Infinity War, the culmination of a storyline that began with Iron Man, sees Thanos pitched against an Avengers in disarray. Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man join in the mayhem.

Avengers: Infinity War, directed by the Russo brothers, is currently in production for release on May 4th 2018.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Scarlett Johansson's Ghost in the Shell

Scarlett Johansson is taking a break from her iconic role as Black Widow, in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to play Major in director Rupert Sanders' upcoming live-action adaptation of Japanese manga Ghost in the Shell.

Her cyborg character leads an elite task force called Section 9.

There have been accusations of "whitewashing" in the wake of Johansson's casting and calls to boycott the Paramount Pictures movie.

Responding to the controversy, the acclaimed actress told Marie Claire: “I certainly would never presume to play another race of a person. Diversity is important in Hollywood, and I would never want to feel like I was playing a character that was offensive.”

“Having a franchise with a female protagonist driving it is such a rare opportunity,” she added. “Certainly, I feel the enormous pressure of that – the weight of such a big property on my shoulders.”

Ghost in the Shell is in cinemas 31st March.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Marvel insiders love Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

THR reports director James Gunn's upcoming sequel Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 garnered a perfect 100 during a test screening held for Marvel insiders. These lucky individuals comprise of friends and family. However, movies are subject to rigorous testing and screenings are not a pep rally.

A test score is not necessarily indicative of a movie's popularity upon release, but this score eclipses Iron Man 3 and Avengers based on internal metrics at Disney.

The sequel's Super Bowl TV Spot was well received by fans last weekend, and there's every reason to suggest we are in for another galactic treat on 5th May.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Netflix's Castlevania is in the vein of Game of Thrones

Without fanfare, Netflix has announced it's releasing a new series based on Konami's Castlevania videogame franchise.

The animated series, an adaptation of Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse, will be in the vein of HBO's Game of Thrones and is initially four 30-minute episodes centering around "the last surviving member of the disgraced Belmont clan, trying to save Eastern Europe from extinction at the hand of Vlad Dracula Tepe himself.”

"This is very much Castlevania done in the vein of Game of Thrones," co-producer Adi Shankar told IGN, adding: "[The series is] going to be R-rated as f***. [It’s going to be] America’s first animated series for adults."

Castlevania will join stablemates Trollhunters and Voltron: Legendary Defender as Netflix positions itself as an animation powerhouse.

Expect the Castlevania series to debut later in 2017.

Which classic videogame franchises would you like to see adapted as an animated or live-action series? The Legend of Zelda has a rich mythology and Link, along with Simon Belmont, appeared on television screens as part of Captain N: The Game Master in 1989. Let me know in the comments below.