Saturday, 23 June 2012

Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut bows Tuesday

Not since Heavy Rain (PS3) has a game so masterfully captured my imagination! From immersive art design and rich characterisation to a soundtrack the equal of TRON: Legacy. Mass Effect 3 is in a class of its own.

I may have missed out on Mass Effect (having only recently won an Xbox 360) and its first sequel, but Mass Effect 3 has invaded my subconscious. So much so that I've dreamt about visiting The Citadel and battling Cerberus forces alongside gamers' favourite blue-skinned alien: Liara!

Much has been written about the game's controversial ending(s) and the developer's pledge to release a free patch that clarifies continuity issues. For gamers dissatisfied with the ending(s) of BioWare's Mass Effect trilogy, a free Extended Cut will be available to download from Tuesday on Xbox LIVE.

“The Mass Effect 3: Extended Cut is a downloadable content pack that will expand upon the events at the end of Mass Effect 3,” the game’s website reads. “Through additional cinematic sequences and epilogue scenes, the Extended Cut will include deeper insight to Commander Shepard’s journey based on player choices during the war against the Reapers. The Extended Cut will be available to download at no additional charge on June 26th on Xbox 360 and PC and PlayStation 3.”

EA has announced that Mass Effect 3 will be released on Nintendo's Wii U console this upcoming holiday season. A future patch supporting Microsoft's Xbox SmartGlass app could add further replay value to the game.

The developer suggests that players use the last save file prior to the Cerberus HQ mission to unlock the new Extended Cut DLC. Personally, I'm going to undertake another walkthrough...

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Control Xbox 360 with iPhone

For the past few weeks I've been considering a Microsoft Media Remote purchase! Yesterday the Redmond-based company updated My Xbox LIVE (iTunes) with media playback controls! The app is free, but requires an Xbox LIVE Gold membership.

What’s New in Version 1.5

• Use your iPhone with your Xbox to connect, control and discover content on your console. Connect your iPhone for access to a quick list of your most recent console activity. Control your content with play, pause, fast forward and rewind media controls. Find fresh entertainment to play in the new Discover section.
• Improved Authentication to make it more stable

• Improved Authentication to make it more stable
• iPad high-resolution images

This is the perfect excuse to dust off my iPod touch, which had been consigned to the drawer since I took delivery of a new iPad last month. The latter will become invaluable when the Xbox SmartGlass app is released, for smart phones and tablets, later this year.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Prometheus: An Alien Paradise

This weekend witnesses the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in the UK. However, John Rivers takes timeout from the festivities to explore the dark depths of LV-223...

Guest post by John Rivers

The story of Ridley Scott’s Alien was one I knew long before I actually saw the film [Likewise - Ed]. My Dad had the adaptation by Alan Dean Foster* and as a 10 year old I enjoyed taking it to primary school and enlightening my fellow pupils with the new swear words it contained.

I also used to be able to recite the crew and the order in which they died: Kane first, then Brett, Dallas etc. The story became a collection of images that I thought I knew. When I actually saw the movie of Alien aged 16, I was astounded by how slow the opening was, how Scott rushed nothing, took his time through the images - a dark and empty spaceship, John Hurt gets up in a series of slow dissolves, emphasising the brief amnesia of waking from a long sleep. It was therefore a joy to watch Ridley repeat the sequence in Prometheus albeit this time from the point of view of David, Michael Fassbender’s wonderfully creepy and yet somehow loveable robot.

That’s just one example of how Prometheus echoes Alien, there are lots of other moments that hark back to the 1979 movie, that’s half the fun of having a prequel. It is, however, where Prometheus differs that the movie gets more interesting. A scientific crew is sent to investigate LV-223 which, according to a longshot archaeological guess, may be where humanity has come from. They poke an ant hill with a big stick and guess what happens next? Well, perhaps not quite what you were expecting, and that is why I think so many reviewers felt disappointed.

Prometheus wants us to consider some big SF questions: about the nature of humanity, its origins and future. I quite liked this approach and coupled with the impressive visuals of the planet and the naturally Giger-esque interior I found myself thinking more of 2001: A Space Odyssey that any of the Alien franchise. I considered this to be a good thing indeed, as this genuinely felt like the only sequel since Alien3 to try something different.

The film needs to be re-edited, perhaps with more latitude to ramp-up the tension in the final third (which feels a little messy and disjointed in terms of pace). It also suffers badly from ‘leaving you unanswered questions for a sequel syndrome’: half of this is entirely intentional, the other half comes from poor plotting or perhaps there was more left on the cutting room floor as Scott delivered the 2 hour movie the studio no doubt requested [The Blu-ray disc release may include an extended edition - Ed].

Overall Prometheus is worth seeing and an enjoyable experience in 3D. As part of the Alien franchise it doesn’t feel like it’s on the periphery, it’s simply widened the scope of the Alien universe or perhaps in this case, with Scott experimenting with 3D, given it much more depth.

*My Dad’s bookcase was an exercise in terrifying books: The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, Firestarter by Stephen King, The Devil Rides Out by Dennis Wheately were all there alongside Emmanuelle which was scary for different reasons.

Follow @johnrivers

Friday, 1 June 2012

Star Wars 1313

Lucasfilm today announced Star Wars 1313. A new internally developed IP in the Star Wars universe. This time aimed at a mature audience.

Described as a "third person cinematic action adventure," players take control of an unnamed bounty hunter as they explore the depths of the Coruscant underworld.

Named for Level 1313, a ruthless criminal underground deep below the surface of the planet of Coruscant, the game puts players in control of a deadly bounty hunter as he uses an arsenal of exotic weaponry to hunt down his marks and uncover the truth surrounding a criminal conspiracy. Star Wars 1313 emphasizes epic set pieces and fast-paced combat with a hero who uses human skills and gadgets, rather than supernatural Force powers, to make his way through this dangerous world.

“We’re excited to share one of the projects LucasArts has been hard at work developing,” said Paul Meegan, President, LucasArts. “Star Wars 1313 dives into a part of the Star Wars mythos that we’ve always known existed, but never had a chance to visit. We are committed to bringing the best gameplay experience and visual fidelity to life and I truly believe the work we are showcasing at E3 will speak for itself.”

Not since Dark Forces blasted its way onto my Macintosh Performa 5200 in the mid 1990s have I been so excited about a Star Wars game! You?

Thursday, 31 May 2012

LOVEFiLM launches HD streaming

Yesterday @LOVEFiLM tweeted that it will start streaming in HD. This brings the Amazon-owned company on par with rival Netflix and is a welcome move. However, there is a fly in the ointment.

PS3 owners can't currently stream in HD and the maximum number of registered devices is still limited: Do I forgo a second games console for an iPad?

Here's the full press release:


LOVEFiLM, an Amazon company, today announced the launch of high-definition (HD) service, giving LOVEFiLM Instant members crystal clear viewing.

The HD functionality, available from today in the UK and Germany, will allow members of LOVEFiLM – Europe’s largest subscription service instantly streaming films and TV series over the internet and sending DVDs and games by post – to stream top quality films and TV series on demand and for no extra charge in HDTV resolutions up to 1080p.

LOVEFiLM members in the UK, using PC or Mac, will enjoy content in full 1080p high definition, while members using their Xbox 360 or Samsung and LG connected HDTVs will enjoy 720p resolution. In Germany, HD content will be available initially on PC and Mac in full 1080p high definition.

The catalogue of HD films available to LOVEFiLM members will expand over the coming weeks and months. In the UK titles will include teen sensation The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, family favourite Gnomeo and Juliet and British comedy Four Lions. Top US TV dramas including LOST and Ghost Whisperer will also be available alongside a whole host of British titles, including the BBC’s popular documentaries Human Planet and David Attenborough’s critically acclaimed Planet Earth.

Jim Buckle, MD of LOVEFiLM, commented: “LOVEFiLM is the number one consumer choice for subscription film and TV series streaming in Europe. The introduction of HD quality content further strengthens the offering and marks another key milestone in delivering our members the best possible service with exceptional value.”

Films and TV series available in HD will automatically stream with the improved quality where an internet connection can support it. For 720p streaming members will require a minimum internet connection of 4mbps, while those with connections of 12mbps or higher will enjoy full 1080p where possible.

LOVEFiLM offers thousands of on-demand films and TV series via LOVEFiLM Instant, together with the largest selection of DVD, Blu-ray and games with packages starting from as little as £4.99 per month.

What do you think of LOVEFiLM Instant HD streaming? Tried it out yet? Let me know in comments below...

Friday, 25 May 2012

Celebrate Geek Pride Day with Kinect Star Wars

It's 35 years since Star Wars first graced the silver screen in the US... And to celebrate I'm giving away 2 copies of Kinect Star Wars to readers.

Nothing will get your inner geek going like the latest addition to the Star Wars repertoire: Kinect Star Wars, where you’re the Jedi. It’s the first controller-free Star Wars game, and you can drive, dance and defeat the enemy, all with your Kinect.

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of Kinect Star Wars, just answer this question:
Which droid contained the stolen Death Star plans?

A. C-3PO
B. R5-D4
C. R2-D2

Please post your answer in comments or on Twitter @johnhood using the hashtag #feeltheforce and join the movement.

The competition closes on Friday 8th June and is open to UK residents only.

If it’s too beautiful to stay inside, download the Kinect Star Wars mobile app, which is available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Wake up, John! It's Halo 4 Limited Edition

Halo 4 doesn't ship until this November. However, Microsoft and 343 Industries have officially announced an obligatory Limited Edition that includes the following mouthwatering extras:

War Games Map Pack Access – The Limited Edition includes access to nine maps – three future competitive multiplayer map packs, each including three locations, available for download post-launch on Xbox LIVE. (A detailed release schedule for the map packs will be announced at a later time)

Specialisations – Receive early access to six Specialisations, available at launch on Xbox LIVE, to achieve higher ranks in your Spartan career. In addition to gaining access to new ranks, Specialisations unlock new customisation options. Purchasers of the “Halo 4″ Limited Edition will get access on launch day, while others will have to wait as Specialisations are released over time.

The Limited Edition also contains the UNSC Infinity Briefing Packet, which includes an armour customisation schematic, a blueprint of the massive ship itself, and insight into what it means to be one of humanity’s finest warriors: the Spartan-IVs.

Bonus digital content through Xbox LIVE:

Unique in-game Spartan-IV armour skin. Unique in-game weapon skin for the Assault Rifle. An exclusive in-game emblem. Xbox LIVE Avatar prop. Xbox LIVE Avatar Spartan-IV armour set. “Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn” Special Edition – An extended 90-minute version of the live-action digital series that will bring the “Halo” universe to life as you’ve never seen it, and provide an enthralling backstory leading up to the events of “Halo 4.”

Looks like 343 Industries is going for broke with this franchise reboot sans Bungie. Bungie split from Microsoft in 2007 and 343 Industries was established in-house to develop the Halo intellectual property. Halo 4 is the first instalment of a new trilogy that may crossover onto the next generation Xbox.

Are you looking forward to Halo 4 and the return of Master Chief?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

The Clone Wars scribe adapts The Phantom Menace

Does this Star Wars: Episode I in 3D tie-in revolutionise the way we read comic books? John Rivers pulls himself away from The Clone Wars to investigate!

Guest post by John Rivers

At some point around writing for the cartoon series versions of All Dogs Go to Heaven and Timon & Pumbaa, Henry Gilroy was handed the script to Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace. A decade on and Gilroy was lead writer on the highly successful series Star Wars: The Clone Wars. I mention this because while The Clone Wars is a brilliant foray into the expanded universe of the Wars, The Phantom Menace comic book is probably the most straightforward adaptation ever seen in comics.

To describe it as shot-for-shot would do Gus Van Sant’s bizarre experiment with Psycho an injustice, but this is as-near-as-dammit a copy of the movie as you could own outside of the DVD. Occasionally you are offered a tantalising glimpse of dialogue excised from the final edit of Episode 1, but other than that, it’s absolutely precise.

Not one character has a thought in the whole piece, never once is a thought-bubble deployed. Admittedly Gilroy must have been under strict instructions to follow the script as closely as possible and not deviate from it. This presents problems in the latter half of the book, when he slavishly has to keep flicking between the ground assault on Naboo, Anakin piloting the fighter and the Darth Maul smackdown.

The artwork is detailed but again lifted straight from the movie and lacks any of the imagination afforded the Manga version or the fantastic licence of the early Marvel work. As an adaptation it is entirely faithful, as a comic it has all the structural and dialogue challenges of the first episode.

I would love to see a freer interpretation of the first episode, reinvented in the same way superheroes have been done many times over. Imagine a Phantom Menace where Jar Jar is a Gungan War Lord, Qui-Gon is a broken, elderly wizard and Anakin is a girl. The possibilities are endless. Maybe that is to come and it would be great to see these interpretations in comic form, like the acclaimed Star Wars Tales or Infinities series.

Only one to consider getting if you’re a completist!

Follow @johnrivers
Photo courtesy @richardmackney

Monday, 14 May 2012

Star Wars creator to offer low-income housing

Heralded by some critics as the best thing George Lucas has done in years (after re-writing our collective childhood with those prequels).

The creator of Star Wars has shelved controversial plans to build a movie-making dream factory on the grounds of Grady Ranch, Marin County, and is offering the free space for low-income housing.

"The level of bitterness and anger expressed by the homeowners in Lucas Valley has convinced us that, even if we were to spend more time and acquire the necessary approvals, we would not be able to maintain a constructive relationship with our neighbours," Lucasfilm said in a statement.

Perhaps Obi-Wan Kenobi had some say in this laudable decision? Whatever! Many happy returns of the day, George!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Prometheus 'Rated R' for Ridley

After months of intense speculation and an international trailer that appears to feature an imploding face. Twentieth Century Fox has confirmed that Sir Ridley Scott's 'Alien for generation Xbox' (#areyouseeingthis) will garner an R rating in the US and 15 certificate in the UK!

How excited are you to see Prometheus uncut in June?