ToN’s albums of 2015

2015 was a good year for music, with lots of strong releases across many genres. Here are some of the ones that stood out for me:

Sol Invictus

Faith No More – Sol Invictus

18 years in the making, fans have been waiting a long time for 90s alt metal legends Faith No More to return to the studio and, with Sol Invictus, has the wait been worth it? Oh yes. Featuring a darker and less funky sound than their 90s albums, yet retaining their humour and quirkiness, it is a definite return to form. Mike Patton’s voice still sounds fantastic, capable of switching from creepy whispers to roaring anger instantly; songs like Superhero and Sunny Side Up have real power to them. Never ones to be bound by tradition, the songs veer stylistically within themselves and there’s an air of barely controlled chaos to the whole thing. Whilst a more mature affair than their earlier stuff, this is a great album and I look forward to what (if) they do next.

Check out: Superhero

M

Myrkur – M

When you think of frosty black metal bands from Scandinavia, blonde models are probably not the first thing that come to mind, but that’s exactly what Myrkur is, a one woman project by Amalie Bruun, joined by a few guests to make a stunningly beautiful debut. Having quickly risen to prominence in the wake of its release, there has been much talk of the album, with many ‘true’ black metal fans trying to criticise it for no real reason other than it tries to do something new. Melody in black metal is not a new thing, but here Amalie manages to combine it with strings, piano and gentle folk vocals/chants to great effect. When it is metal it’s crushing, with piercing screams and a sound straight out of the 90s, yet the gentle bits, which are probably about half the album, are a wonderful contrast – a perfect example of combining darkness and light. 

Check out: Onde Born

Ire

Parkway Drive – Ire

As the album name suggests, for album number five, this Aussie mob really do sound pissed. Opening with the repeated shout of ‘Destroy the album starts as it means to go on. Songs such as Crushed and Bottom Feeder sound utterly furious, helped by a meaty sounding production that some of their previous material has lacked a little. Musically it steps up a bit too, featuring more in the way of riffs and less reliance on endless breakdowns and chugging guitars; Writing’s on the Wall is an especially interesting change, with a huge drum sound and repeated chorus it bears comparison to We Will Rock You. Featuring anthemic choruses and ample amounts of groove, this is an album designed to get you moving; though even if that’s not your thing this is still a cracking set of modern metal songs.

Check out: Writing’s on the Wall

Songs from the North

Swallow the Sun – Songs from the North I, II & III

Is it fair to include a triple album on a list like this? Well I’m going to anyway – with Songs from the North, these Finnish doom metallers have created a beautiful, mournful and crushing masterpiece. Divided into three clear parts, the first disc (Gloom) is mainly their known style of melodic doom metal, with deep growls and catchy clean sung sections courtesy of Mikko Kotamäki’s fantastic voice; lead single Rooms and Shadows nicely summarising it, opening with shimmering guitars and featuring a melancholic but lovely chorus. The second side (Beauty) takes a very different approach, essentially being an acoustic album of slow and gentle, albeit sad, songs. In complete contrast, disc three lives up to its name (Despair) – opening with the 13 minute Gathering of Black Moths, it’s a slow, crushingly heavy collection of death-doom that many could find gruelling, though there is melody to be found. If they’d released these individually, they would be great; taken all as one, it is a stunning album.

Check out: Heartstrings Shattering

hand cannot erase

Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.

2015 was a busy year for Mr Wilson, what with touring, remixing multiple albums and dropping this gem of an album back in January. Loosely based on the tragic case of the girl discovered alone long dead in her flat, it’s certainly his kind of subject matter. Rather than following on from the retro jazz odyssey style of his previous two albums, this has a much more modern sound to it; with guitars at the forefront again it is comparable to his much loved and missed band Porcupine Tree, with songs such as Home Invader sounding very dark (his speciality). That said it also features some of his most commercial sounding work for years: Hand Cannot Erase is an upbeat catchy rock/pop song, and Perfect Life is a gentle piece with spoken word from Katherine Jenkins. Dark and beautiful modern prog brilliance.

Check out: Hand Cannot Erase

And as a bonus, some other songs I’ve particularly enjoyed this year:

Babymetal – Megitsune: Officially released in Britain last year, pop metal’s most divisive band are fine by me with songs as entertaining as this.

BTTAM – Memory Palace: These prog metallers continue their trend of swirling high energy complex songs with big catchy choruses.

Iron Maiden – Speed of Light: Iron Maiden continue to sound just like Iron Maiden, and that’s no bad thing.

Lost Frequencies – Are You With Me?: Short and un-complex but very catchy modern pop, with a surprisingly melancholic video and story.

Paradise Lost – No Hope In Sight: The Northern doomsters returned to their heavy roots last year with this miserable marvel.

The Prodigy – Roadblox: Still raving it harder than most bands, songs like this prove the band have lost none of their power or spark.

Public Service Broadcasting – Go!: With a sudden rise to popularity last year these guys successfully combine dancy synth beats with old news broadcasts.

Riverside – Found (The Unexpected Flaw of Searching): Organ soaked retro semi acoustic beauty, gentle and relaxing.

Rolo Tomassi – Raumdeuter: Somewhat slow and relaxed for this Sheffield mob; fierce growls, swirling synths and melodic vocals blended together wonderfully.

Shura – White Light: Modern female fronted synth pop, has some good eighties style Pet Shop Boys style vibes to it. Check out the full 7 minute version.

Advertisements

ToN’s albums of 2014

2014 was a good year for music, with major releases encompassing all types of music, though for me rock was the main interest. Anyway, here are my favourite albums of 2014. There were many more I could have added but these are the ones that particularly stuck in my memory.

Shelter
Alcest – Shelter

As is obvious when you take the artwork for Shelter and compare it to that of their past material this is a change of path; the striking image and simple white outline are a big difference from the dark intricate paintings of their last two albums. For many fans, this album was a misstep, an abandoning of the post metal ‘black-gaze’ (black metal and shoegaze) sound that Alcest had built up and pretty much called their own. Yes it is true that this is quite different in tone, however, what is not gone is the quality. Lead single Opale is joyous sounding thing, with equally colourful video, and the guest-sung (Neil Halstead of Slowdive) Away, their first English song, is simply lovely. Though in truth it is not so different, several songs (Shelter especially) could easily be from their 2012 release Les Voyages De L’Âme, and for all the complaining Alcest only actually have five definite ‘metal’ songs. The sound is a step up from previous releases, being very clear and sharp, with Neige’s vocals really taking centre place for once. Yes it is true that by dropping the ‘black’ from their sound it could be argued Alcest have lost some of their identity, but when it’s this lovely to listen to I hardly think it matters.

Distant Satellites
Anathema – Distant Satellites

Continuing on from 2012’s critically acclaimed Weather Systems this album sees Anathema continuing their unique brand of melancholic emotionally charged rock. Opener The Lost Song part 1 is the nearest to a stamp along rock song you get, which leads into the much slower part 2 bringing second vocalist Lee Douglas’s beautiful voice to the front. The middle set of songs continue in a similar style, slow building songs that combine the dual male/female vocals to good effect. After the exceptionally lovely Anathema comes a bit of a change; the short You’re Not Alone consists mainly of those words on repeat while a discordant guitar riff plays. After a short instrumental, which leads into Distant Satellites, the band offer something new to their sound, programmed electronics; The final two songs drop real drums in favour of electronic, which sounds weird at first with the gentle music being played, but with a few listens it works really well. This is not an album to cheer you up, as much of it veers toward tearjerker territory, but the emotions sound genuine and have an air of beauty to them. Anathema have done it again.

Gone

Autumn’s Dawn – Gone

You can hardly go expecting a band who’s members are called Sorrow and Anguish to be a cheery one; but then what you might not expect are catchy choruses and upbeat songs. Don’t get me wrong, the lyrics are as deeply depressing as the song titles suggest (Into the Cold, Blank Stare Dead Eyes) but much of the lyrics are clean sung and even the screams are mostly understandable, in contrast with the vocal extremity of their debut EP (and Sorrow’s previous works). Many of the songs have nice little musical interludes in them, that help to provide a bit of variety, and album closer Gone slows the pace down (at first) with a nice rich sounding acoustic verse (my main criticism of the album would be a lack of bass). Given the style shift from their EP to this, I’m deeply curious as to what the next release will be.

Melting Sun

Lantlôs – Melting Sun

Lantlôs share some similarities with Alcest, not least because they shared singers for a time, but also in that they’re both former extreme metal bands. Though where Alcest were more in the dreamy shoe-gaze sphere, this German group dabbled with cold atmospheric black metal sounds. With Neige gone now they’ve had to adapt, and now Lantlôs themselves have moved into shimmering post-metal sounds. While the screaming is gone they still retain a heavy wall of sound style, which means this won’t be getting played on mainstream radio anytime soon. Melting Sun consists of six parts; the songs have long instrumental sections, with vocal passages being relatively minimal. Nine-minuter Cherry Quartz is perhaps the closest to their old sound, with a massive riff cutting through the intro and outro. The sound on the album is good, bass heavy and clear and while the vocals may not be the most melodic they suit the sound. Of course many fans weren’t happy, but I for one have no complaints if they carry on down this road.

Pale Communion

Opeth – Pale Communion

The follow up to 2011’s Heritage, Pale Communion continues Opeth’s journey away from their death metal past. The focus is still on fuzzy 70s jazzy prog, however, good as Heritage was, that felt more like a deliberate attempt to do something different, whereas here it feels a lot more natural and fluid. The songs flow well and are a joy to listen to; from the jazzy overtones of opener Eternal Rains Will Come, to the gentle acoustics of the almost folky River; it all sounds good, with a nice warm sound. Mikael’s voice is as lovely as ever – hard to believe such a fragile sounding voice is capable of such monstrous growls. Of course, Mikael being the guy he is, we have no way of knowing what the next album will sound like, but it’s eagerly anticipated whatever it is.

Divination

Winterfylleth – The Divination of Antiquity

Several of the bands on this list share something in common; they’re all former extreme metal bands who have slowly (or suddenly) dropped screamed/growled vocals for melodic clean singing. Winterfylleth have not gone down this route; this is straight up black metal done with perhaps more ferocity than their previous works. What sets Winterfylleth apart from other bands, though, is their inclusion of folk and history, sometimes dubbed ‘pagan metal’.Their songs deal with Anglo-Saxon England and have acoustic passages and chants interwoven with the extreme. That remains the same here and the songs flow well, from the gentle guitars in Whisper of the Elements to the calm chants of instrumental The World Ahead. The album doesn’t add anything particularly new to their sound but then it didn’t need too; they’ve practically perfected it here and if they can keep it up like this then that will be fine by me.

2015 looks set to be a fine year too – already in the first quarter we have releases from Enter Shikari, Steven Wilson, Funeral for a Friend, The Prodigy and Enslaved, but will they make the best-of cut next year? We’ll have to wait and see.

And as a bonus, here are my songs of the year.

Anathema – Ariel: A beautiful song made by the male/female vocal interplay, with the haunting chorus reprise ‘A love so strong it hurts’.

Alcest – Voix Sereine: This translates as ‘Serene Voice’, and that is exactly what you get. A slowly building song focusing on Neige’s brilliant voice.

Autumns Dawn – Grace of the Grave: A foot-stompingly catchy metal song, with an electrifying brief drop into black metal after the first chorus.

Gong – Thank You: Ridiculously catchy track, as a thank you to their fans. Possibly their swansong.

Lantlôs – Melting Sun II: Cherry Quartz: The first half of this 9 minute track is instrumental, contrasting shimmering softness with straight out heaviness.

Opeth – River: The first section is a lovely relaxing almost folk-like listen, leading into some organ-soaked 70s prog.

Skindred – Kill the Power: Opening with a sample from the House of Pain classic Jump Around this includes everything from metal to dub to catchy pop.

State of Mind/Black Sun Empire – Unconscious: A thumping DnB song, with no vocals; just a sample and hard hitting beat.

Scott Walker/Sunn O))) – Bull: Dark almost opera like track, with drone metal.

Winterfylleth – Whisper of the Elements: Opening with typical black metal heaviness, this track has a surprisingly catchy chorus riff and a beautiful mid song instrumental passage.

Call of Duty: Ghosts Xbox 360

Image

 

By the time Black Ops II rolled around I had grown bored of the Call of Duty franchise; Modern Warfare 3 felt kind of stale and there was a definite sense that that the series had barely progressed since 4 (Modern Warfare), the game which launched the series into the spotlight and set the trend for all modern shooters since. Not that that hurt sales though, as each game broke more sales records and the game was (some might argue still is) the king of shooters. Treyarch (the game has, until now, been developed by two different developers) had tried to break the mould a little with Black Ops II by introducing science fiction elements and limited elements of choice, but the core gameplay and relentless bombastic action remained the same. Now it was the turn of Infinity Ward (or what’s left of it after mass walkouts) to respond, and they did so with this: Ghosts.

 

Now, to start with the single player and general gameplay, if you’ve ever played a CoD game post-Modern Warfare you’ll know exactly what to expect; it’s loud, fast paced, and filled with lots of explosions. The game opens with you, your brother and father trying to escape as the very land they’re on is ripped apart, as well as a short sequence in space. The game then jumps ahead a few years. The campaign is business as usual; it’s flashy and each mission follows pretty much the same formula – pre-scripted plot advancement interspersed with chunks of free movement shooting and air strike sequences. To expect anything else from a CoD game at this point would be folly; it’s what the game does and it’s good at it.

 

For the most part the game is good fun, it’s very slick and everything plays well. I never experienced any obvious noticeable glitches, certainly none that affected gameplay. Button responses were fast and in the campaign at least I didn’t experience any lag. The shooting is solid and guns feel quite nice (more on that later). There is a good range of locations and some of the action sequences are very exciting. There’s quite a lot of variety too as each mission normally gives you a few different sequences to break things up, such as one which gives players control over a tank for half the mission (though sadly the handling feels pretty poor after the semi-realistic clunky World of Tanks controls), an unexpectedly enjoyable helicopter sequence and, of course, the usual modern cliché of on-rails turret sections. Like all the post-Modern Warfare games it has its short stealth segments. However, unlike the last few titles this game gives us a relatively good one; one mission begins with you having to crawl through a forest filled with goons, and you actually have to move around and make some effort to avoid the enemies – it’s no All Ghillied Up but it’s an improvement. There is also a pretty good diving section, where you have to dodge depth charges as the scenery crumbles around you. The sound is done well too; the noise of battle and sounds of destruction are nicely convincing, adding a nice crunch to a lot of the action. Graphics are fine – they haven’t progressed much since MW2 but they are perfectly functional, though some textures do look dated close up (the ‘next’ gen and PC versions will undoubtedly look better). One nice thing is the introduction of leaning around cover, which allows you to fire from cover, whereas for years you would have to stand up to shoot back. This doesn’t render you invulnerable by any stretch, or change the game, but is a nice addition.

Image

So, that is what I like about the game. Sadly it is not all so fun; there are several things I consider to be big problems with it, the first being the plot. At no point in the game did I relate to or care for any of the characters. We’re meant to care for them; indeed the opening level is clearly meant to tug at our heartstrings as America gets attacked from orbit and the main characters’ home town gets destroyed. However, the problem for me is it’s very hard to have sympathy for a country’s downfall when they were the country that had a orbital superweapon to start with. There is no real sense of threat either. At no point does it actually feel like we (America) are losing the war; our four man squad manages to out-gun and overcome all the enemies they encounter, mainly due to a huge technology gap – America hardly comes off as the inferior force. Another problem is it tries to make it about family. The two brothers (it never explains why your brother is fine with the fact you never speak) are devoted to their father, who is also their commander. The idea is that they’re trying to make him proud; the problem is that they’re solely focused on pleasing him, and at times saving him – at the expense of others. One level literally involves fighting your way across a base to reach him. While hundreds of other people die your brother (your character doesn’t have a personality) doesn’t react at all to their deaths. The crux of the game’s story in the end though is that only America can have orbital weapons. The second half of the game is the US desperately trying to stop The Federation (South America united against the US) from using their orbital weapons; and how do they win in the end? By using those exact same orbital weapons. There’s also the slightly iffy thing that the main enemy for the duration of the game is an ex-‘Ghost’, and he manages to stay ahead of you most of the game. It’s a bit odd how he is shown as the only reason for their success, though; it subtly comes across that the only way America could be outwitted is by an American (and of course he didn’t turn of his own will, but was brainwashed).

 

One of the biggest problems is that I never felt like I was the ‘good’ guy. The game is only a 16+ but it is brutal and it takes great pleasure in killing. More to the point it has a hard on for stabbing; every mission at some point has a pre-scripted over-long knife takedown. While it was quite exciting the first time, when you’re still doing it at the end of the game it feels pointless. You could have knocked almost all of these people out no problem. There’s a scene early in the game, where one of your AI squadmates captures and disarms an enemy soldier. After finding out he has no info he slits his throat and walks off. Are we honestly meant to help these people? I get that it’s war and these are meant to be grizzled veterans, but this is cold. There’s another scene later where you find a sleeping guard, and there’s an achievement for shooting him. Encouraging people to shoot unarmed people does not seem like a good thing to do, especially when they must be aware a large proportion of this game’s audience are under-aged. Thankfully it never reaches the nastiness of the Black Op‘s throat-slitting scene but a lot of it feels unnecessary. It would be nice if more games took the Deus Ex approach of allowing most enemies to be non-lethally incapacitated should the player wish.

 

There are more problems, though; as said I like the feel of the shooting in the game, but it all feels the same. There’s no real difference in guns at all; the assault rifles are all pretty much the same and it basically comes down to visual preference and what attachments they have. It makes more difference in multiplayer, when perks and specifically designed maps come into play, but for the campaign there’s very little point ever changing from the default gun. The levels are rarely wide enough to warrant use of a scope. Shotguns have some weight to them but are rarely needed. Earlier I mentioned about the game having variety, and this is true – it does; but what is somewhat disappointing is how short-lived it often is. You might be granted access to an attack drone for, say, two minutes, before the game takes it away again and this happens in every instance. You get your cool set piece and then you move on.

Image

So, that’s the campaign; fun for the most part, now let’s look at the extras:

 

Firstly, we have the multiplayer, long the main attraction for many of the game’s fans. Matches are fast-paced short-lived bursts of frenetic action, in (mostly) small areas. Tactics are not normally associated with this series; instead the game encourages ‘killstreaks’ which grant access to various bonuses, such as air strikes or revealing enemy locations. Frankly, not much has changed since MW2 perfected the formula, but in its defence it didn’t really much need to – it was fun and that’s all that’s really needed. As it happens, though, this game does have a few changes. Firstly it incorporates the unlock/upgrade system that Black Ops I and II used, by which instead of unlocking a gun and gaining kills to earn more gear for it, which was what all the previous Infinity Ward games used, you are allowed to buy the attachment or perk you want when a certain rank is reached by use of tokens. The snag is that there is a limit to what you can equip. So you have to decide how you want to set your class up. The forced choice element is quite interesting, but I don’t much like the token system. I liked having to actually earn unlocks – it showed that you had experience with that gun, not just being able to buy it instantly. The new maps are fine, but I don’t find any of them very memorable; they each function as a decent arena, but there are no stand-out maps for me.

 

I have a love/hate relationship with the multiplayer. It’s quite fun and is enjoyable with friends, but it is often a little too fast for me, and the skill imbalances between players is often obvious, especially when death often comes too quickly to have a hope of fighting back. The killstreak system is still a put-off for me as well; rewarding the best players with things that only serve to boost their score more seems somewhat unfair. I also found that there was the same problem I’ve had in most CoDs, whereby your shots sometimes seem to disappear without damage. You can shoot someone in the head but if they kill you first then they are undamaged. This is especially noticeable when watching the replays. It could simply be my internet, or a balancing system to prevent mutual deaths I have never quite worked it out.

 

There are a few new things to the series multiplayer, such as squads, which allow you to have multiple characters with their own look and level them up for use in battles against other peoples’ squads. It’s quite a neat feature, but never really comes to much beyond typical multiplayer matches. Also new is limited destruction – while hardly on a Battlefield scale you can change the layout of some maps somewhat. The other new and much hyped addition is female player models, which have finally been introduced, along with simple character customisation. Neither of them do much for the game, though it is quite nice that such a traditionally macho series now offers the choice for those who want it. Customisation is fine, but you seldom see your own character and they serve as a large part of the game’s microtransaction stock (incidentally they’re aren’t too noticeable, though there are, of course, many less free unlocks than there used to be).

Image

The final thing the game has to offer is Extinction mode, which replaced the generally liked Spec Ops mode of the previous two Modern Warfare games (short coop-geared missions with lots of variety) with a defence mode in which you fend off waves of aliens. Clearly it has been made in response to the wild popularity of Treyarch’s zombie survival contribution to the series, though is not quite so addictive. Simply put it’s fine; there’s a semi-open area to walk around and you have to complete little ‘plot’ objectives (protect a helicopter, for example). It works better with friends, and avoids become too repetitive, as the objectives change order each time. I think I prefer both Zombies and Spec Ops, but it still provides some decent fun.

 

In short this game is a typical Call of Duty, and in the same way it is easy to pick up and play, it’s fun too. It makes some effort to change the formula, although the campaign’s weak plot and restrictive gameplay do let it down a bit. Since the game’s release Sledgehammer have been announced as the developers for the next in the series, which will have a much more fictional sci-fi setting, so it will be interesting to see where the series goes from here.

Silent Hill Revelations review

Revelations poster

I found a note, it says: ‘Watch out, there are spoilers ahead.’

 I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the first Silent Hill movie; despite a mixed reception I thought it was well done and had enough of its own ideas to be a worthy addition to the series. A sequel came along in 2012 but was not well received, however, I wanted to see this as I enjoyed the first and was curious to see how they continued the first film’s downbeat but open ending.

 Not very well as it happens.

 Ok, to start with, I would like to say I did quite enjoy this film; as a horror it has some effective setups and jumps and clearly a lot of effort was put into the sets and scenes. Sadly all of this is let down by a plot that’s much more eager to finish things than it is to explain them or let the viewer appreciate it.

Revelations still 2

 

 More based on Silent Hill 3 than the lost child plot of the first film (a la Silent Hill 1) it opens quite well, our main character trapped in Lakeside Amusement Park being chased by mysterious people (if you’ve seen the first film you’ll know them to be The Order), only for them all to be destroyed by flames as she’s cornered. She then wakes up and we find out her name is Heather, the daughter of Christopher (Sean Bean), the father in the first film. There is quite a nice reference when he presents her with a present; a top which gives her the same outfit as Heather in SH3 wore. It is then shown by a brief flashback that she is, in fact, Sharon, the girl (and therefore demon) of the first film. However, this scene barely lasts two minutes, and the entire mystery of the first’s ending is quite literally explained in a single sentence.

  The film goes on and it’s revealed that Heather has visions while awake too, and that she and her father have been running away from these visions. After a slightly emo-style outburst in school, the film introduces Vincent, the sort-of male lead for the film, who immediately tries to befriend Heather but is rejected. After school Heather notices she is being followed by someone, and phones Christopher, however, he is kidnapped before he can reach her. After meeting her follower it is revealed he is a private detective hired to find her, but now wants to help her (nice to see a guy with morals in this dark world eh?) but he is killed by a knife-handed monster (apparently called the Missionary, and, yes, I had to look that up) before he can be any real help. Thankfully Heather finds Vincent and they find a message telling them to go to Silent Hill, along with a message from Christopher telling her who she is and how she had the demon Alessa in her, and also never to go to Silent Hill. So of course they go to Silent Hill.

 So, up to now I’ve been quite enjoying the film, some of the otherworld visions are genuinely creepy and nasty, and the lines between vision and reality are quite nicely blurred. However, from here the film gets somewhat less focused.

They get to the town and there’s a big shock in store; Vincent is revealed to be part of The Order sent to find her and bring her back., not only that, but his mother runs the Order. However, he gets captured by the Missionary leaving Heather to wander the town on her own. Now this was something the first film did quite well, the feeling of abandonment and decay in the town, but here it’s just kinda skipped over. Most of what we see is run past and the rest of the action takes place indoors. The first creature we meet in the town is in a warehouse filled with mannequins inhabited by an awesome spiderlike creature made up of parts of dolls. In this scene we also meet another woman, who Heather manages to save, however, before we get a chance to find out who she is or how she got there, she is almost immediately killed during their escape; nor do we ever meet the spider-doll again – making the entire scene a little pointless, fun as it was.

Revelations still

 

 Due to various reasons, Heather must go to the asylum, where she meets both Pyramid Head (the ‘punisher’ in the first film and defender of Alessa) and sees Vincent being take to a cell. Before that, though, she finds Vincent’s grandfather locked up, and gives him part of a medallion she was carrying (which is needed to solve the curse on the town). Of course, this turns him into a monster, and he knocks her out and starts his escape. Well, except she wakes up and manages to defeat him almost without his noticing. Like the spider-doll, this entire scene has lasted less than 5 minutes, and his transformation and defeat does nothing for the overall plot. Then, after said Pyramid Head scene, we see two goons trying to secure Vincent in a room filled with (inexplicably) nurses, who unsurprisingly manage to overwhelm the hapless guards leaving Heather able to free him, which she does without getting slightly scratched. There’s no explanation for them being here, they’re clearly based on the SH2 nurses, which had a purpose in the game, and at least they were in a hospital for the first movie, here they’re just kinda here for the sake if it. Then we revisit the scene the film opens with, running away in the amusement fair, though this time it doesn’t end when all her pursuers conveniently get turned to toast, as it is revealed Alessa (the demon of her split personality) has caught up with her, having popped up briefly a few times in visions. The difference now, though, being that she’s an emo teenager. The girl of the first film was effectively creepy and had a revenge story to tell, whereas in this all she does show up and whine at being unhappy. The two then have a hug fight, yup, a hug fight, which Heather wins, absorbing Alessa.

The site of their ‘battle’ turns out to be a lift to the base of the Order. So she arrives at the Order headquarters, which is where her dad and Vincent are both being held by Vincent’s mother. Heather hands over the medallion and it is revealed Vincent’s mother is the Missionary monster, who then has a fight with Pyramid Head. The fight is quite exciting and it ends with victory for Pyramid Head and… that’s it. It then ends with Christopher and Sharon (formerly Heather) saying goodbye as he sets off to find his wife. End Credits.

Revelations still 3

 

 So yeah, you might have noticed the problem there, all of last few scenes occur in a very short space of time and none of them tie up. The Heather/Alessa plot leads up to nothing, it’s barely an issue for most of the film, and then when they finally meet, victory for Heather is so quick it’s over instantly. Given the power Alessa displayed in the first film (check out the barbed wire monster in its bloody finale) the fact she is so easily overpowered by the good in Heather removes any fear factor she might have had. Making her a teenager didn’t add much either – the child version was genuinely creepy, being cool and menacing at the same time, the effect is not recreated when she’s whining about not being happy. Next we have the Order and the Missionary monster – the Order were a major part of the first film; being explained in detail and given a purpose, here they take a side seat, only appearing for a few short scenes, and instantly scattering when their leader suddenly turns into a monster. Quite why she does is unexplained, we’ve had barely any time to get to know her, and then when she is revealed to be this creature she’s instantly offed and then ignored. Why is she a creature? Not that it really matters, no one questions this or mentions it as curious. The actual ending is slightly nonsensical too, having spent the entire film fighting for her father back, Heather is then perfectly happy when he announces he’s off to locate his wife. This, of course, leaves it open for a further sequel but, considering Bean is in this film less than the first, a starring role in the next seems unlikely.

 So that’s this film’s problem, it’s far too keen to throw something else at you, rather than take the time to expand on or explain anything that’s happened before – instead it just prefers to introduce someone and then kill them straight off. Almost every scene is over in 5 minutes, the detective delivers his plot device then dies, the spider-doll is cool but unexplained, as is the woman she ‘rescues’ from it, Vincent’s grandfather doesn’t last 1 scene, the nurses don’t show up again, Alessa’s big return consists of a hug and the final showdown with The Order consists of a 1 minute long CGI battle. The ending itself is rather short, and has an odd cameo whereby they get a lift from the protagonist of SH Origins, which is a strange choice as the same thing happens in SH Homecoming (kind of ironic, given that Homecoming took a lot of ideas from the first film).

 It’s not the worst film ever, and is a decent watch if you want some Silent Hill based action, but you’d be better off sticking to the first film, or just replaying Silent Hill 2 and 3.

World of Tanks: Xbox 360 Edition Review

Launched in 2010 by Wargamer.net WoT became a huge hit. Despite being a relatively simple game it grew to include servers around the world and has managed to spawn several spin-offs (World of Warplanes ain’t doing too badly for itself, and World of Warships is in alpha) to its name. Now having been completely redeveloped it’s made its way to the 360.

Image

The first thing you might notice is how small the download size is, a paltry 70mb, however, starting the game will launch an ingame updater, which downloads all 2.7gb in one go (showing its PC origins). Considering this is made specifically for the 360 it seems a little unusual, but could be it allows them to tweak things more easily.

Once that is done you’ll be dumped into a hanger with a tank in it, and several tabs at the top, with some tank icons down the bottom. It’s not initially clear what to do, but it’s fairly simple. Up top are your menu tabs, which are controlled by the bumpers. Down the bottom is your tank collection, which to start with is three very basic tanks, and a training level (which also includes some guide videos). The training level is short but does the job; I do feel it could be longer though, as it only really covers the most basic of elements (moving and shooting mechanics), and at the very least should grant you more freedom to roll around to play around.

You start off with two light tanks (scouts) and a medium (your all round bog standard multi-role fighting vehicle) – to unlock other types you’ll have to work for them – and work you will, as this game is grindy. Upgrades (packages as the game calls them) are unlocked by XP, which is needed to research them, and Silver, which is used to purchase them. Oddly, a few are free, which is nice if unexplained. To unlock the next tank you have to research a certain number of packages in that tank’s line, though buying them is optional. Each package is a slightly different version of your tank with a focus on one particular aspect, so you can choose a fast one, or focus on armour (though the final upgrade generally will max all stats). The problem this brings is that until you reach the package you want your vanilla tank is frankly not very good, and it left me wondering why I bothered upgrading at times (answer: because there’s no choice if you want to advance).

Now, to actually start a game is very simple; highlighting your tank of choice and pressing A will throw you right into the match queue. It’s normally nice and quick, but it’s all too easy to accidentally start a game when you don’t get a chance to back out. There is no choice of game type or map; you will be put into what the next game in your queue is whether you like it or not. In some ways I can see why this is good as it prevents the same maps from being played by everyone leaving others neglected, but it is technically possible to get the same map 2 or 3 times running.

Image

Gameplay controls are pretty standard and fairly easy to get to grips with. The left thumbstick moves your tank while the right looks around, so standard stuff there. To shoot, all you have to do is pull RT, and if you want to fine aim pulling LT puts you into first person view, overhead for artillery, (it would be nice if you could lock that view easily – it is possible but involves the weird action of opening your map, releasing the trigger and then exiting the map), which can be further increased by the right thumbstick.. RB is used as an auto-aim mechanic, locking your turret in place – useful for circling round people, but not for accuracy. LT brings up one of the neat features of the game, a command radial which allows you to issue basic orders and request to your team, it is quite easy to spam but erases the need to use a mic for many situations.

Now, combat is based around the idea of shell penetration, as unlike most shooters where a bullet will always hurt, in this you play as multi-ton hulks of metal, so it’s not so simple. The basic idea of combat is to aim for the weakest spots of the enemy, while positioning yourself in the best place to avoid taking damage. Further to weakspots is angle, facing straight on will get you hurt, and a slight difference in degrees can make the difference between a bounce and penetration. There is also a damage model of sorts for tanks, such as your gun or tracks, say; if your tracks get shot off you can’t move until they get repaired, which is fine until you realise repairing can be interrupted, meaning you can be immobilised indefinitely – though there are items available to buy to speed it up. With all that said sometimes it all just comes down to power, and this brings me onto one of the biggest problems of the game; balancing.

Some of the battles you encounter will be simply impossible to win. It is entirely possible to be put in matches with tanks 2-3 levels above yours, and the chances of hurting some of them are next to nothing, the flipside being they can smash right through your armour as if it were paper. Now obviously you’re meant to work with team-mates to overwhelm them, but this often isn’t possible, because you may be the last one left or (quite frequently) your teammates won’t seem bothered about saving you. As I mentioned earlier some tanks start off with very basic weapons, and so it can be very annoying when you finally ground enough to earn that tier VII only to find that you’re suddenly in a map with tier IXs and back at square one. Quite often if you’re too low levelled you will be unable to contribute anything, save for a suicidal ramming charge or the odd spot.

The aforementioned spotting is essential to victories; as unlikely as it seems tanks disappear from view entirely if they remain out of sight too long. You will need to get close or have a scout spot them before you’re able to aim (though blind shots still do damage, so blasting away where you last saw them is a legitimate tactic) – artillery are all but useless unless you bother hunting targets for them. The game is supposed to tell you when you have been detected too, but it seems a bit unreliable, which can cause frustration. It is quite a nice mechanic that certainly gives the game more of a tactical edge, though a mode where everyone can see everyone would be quite fun, if only for the carnage that would ensue.

Image

Now, the game is fairly well put together, especially for a freebie; the graphics look pretty good for the most part, though close inspection of textures reveals them to be very rough there’s no actual reason why you’d be staring at them in game. Map design is pretty good, they’re quite large and are different enough from each other to keep interest up. The tanks themselves handle pretty well, with a fair sense of weight to them. There’s even environmental destruction of sorts, obviously not on a Frostbite scale but walls, small house and other objects explode into puffs of debris when you roll through them; it’s a bit silly if quite fun. Large buildings vary more – some can be smashed through, others can have their roofs shot off, while others inexplicably (thatched cottages anyone?) can’t be damaged at all. As you’d expect trees can be felled by rolling into them (useful for spotting enemies from afar) though bizarrely a tank shell will do nothing, which is a little disappointing. On the subject of the tank shells, I do believe that’s an area where the game could improve, for a game about huge rolling gun emplacements there is a distinct lack of punch to the explosions – a small flash and maybe a crater or dent is all you’ll get. It’s more impressive when the tanks are blown to oblivion, but this is followed by a rather underwhelming plume of smoke – seeing whole hills covered in the smoke of your fallen team/enemies (depends how well your game went) would certainly have been a spectacle. But putting minor disappointments asides it’s all works fine, which is all you can ask for from a freebie really.

And now, let’s get on to the elephant on the battlefield; microtransactions. Well I can say with some satisfaction that it is not ‘pay 2 win’ as such, but rather pay to quicken up the grind. Real life money is used to, slightly ironically, buy in game money called Gold; whereas Silver is used for advancing your tanks Gold is used a little differently. With it you can buy premium (which grants you an extra 50% silver and XP per battle – doesn’t sound like much but it all adds up), unique items (which add slight improvements to the standard version), permanent customisation items and a few unique tanks (while these tanks are good, they normally only excel in one area, so are not totally unbeatable). It also allows you to convert it to Silver, and to swap unused XP between tanks. For the average casual player most of this isn’t really needed, but if you want to advance through the game quickly then you’ll need to give Wargamer some money.

The game is still being updated at the time of writing this, and it is quiet evident, that despite being in development for a while it manages to feel quite content light. There were only a few maps at launch (though 4 more have since been released) and the tank trees are incomplete (British tree had less then half the tanks of the others), though they are slowly being filled out and more nations are to be added. There are medals to be unlocked for playing, but they have no reward or use, and as there aren’t leaderboards they become completely useless, save for the weekly bonus event). One major thing that is missing for me is the lack of private matches; it would be good to have free roam around a map, or to be able to challenge a small group of friends to battle. There are also a few other slight things that don’t detract from the experience, but do slightly niggle me, such as the game having an emphasis on country of origin, yet the voiceover for all vehicles is the same generic American accent, or the loading times for simple things like stats, or the way the game won’t let you invite someone through the guide, but rather you have to press the back button..

So, in summary you might get the impression I don’t like this game. There is a lot I think could be improved for it, and there are certainly times when I get annoyed and frustrated with it, but despite all that I can’t stop playing it. I want to get the next package, and the feeling you get from a successful battle after 4 abject defeats in a row is one of elation; few things are more satisfying then surviving and winning a stand off. The game also becomes much more satisfying when playing when friends, seeing if you can outlast them, or working together to trap an enemy.

Simply put, the game is fun and free. It has its problems but most of them can be overlooked, or if desired paid past. It won’t change gaming or go down in history as a achievement (don’t quote me on that if it does), but then it doesn’t try to, it does exactly what it says on the tin, you get placed in a world, and it has tanks in.

 

[UPDATE] Since writing this version 1.1 and a few other additions have been introduced to the game, the British tank tree has been bolstered, and Russian tanks are now in the game (though currently all premium). First person view now can only be locked by use of a toggle on/off button in the options menu. A big addition is that of crews, which allow you to grant perks to your tank through earning of crew xp by playing with that specific tank.

 

[FURTHER UPDATE] After writing the last bit a further update was released for the game (1.2). This update is quite significant, it doesn’t change any gameplay but it has added a lot to spice up the variety: two new maps have been added (though, they do not seem to have equal place in matchmaking yet), a new line of tanks introduced, improved water graphics, various bug fixes and a redesigned results menu. The two most important introductions for me though are weather and physics; all the maps now have at least one other variant available, such as rain or night battles (Sand River is especially improved for me, as burning wrecks litter the battlefield, lighting up the surrounding areas). Such simple changes as adding rain or snow effects really makes some of the maps feel different, and works very well. gameplay is not yet affected but it would make sense to assume that they are working on it. The other thing that has changed is that tanks now have moving parts on them, antennas wobble as you move, wire bounces and loose objects clatter around. It’s a very subtle change but it adds a lot, tanks feel more real and less sterile.  Sadly one other thing it seems to have done is reduce silver payouts, making grinds last a lot longer and of course encouraging you too buy it. Wargaming deny this but to me there is an obvious change, and there have been complaints on the official forums too.

wot 7

Welcome

Well here it is at least, it’s taken me a while but I’ve finally set something up. This is a site I’ll mainly be using to post my opinions and reviews of things, for the most part likely albums, films and games, but they’ll also be a few bits of news or articles from me.

There should be a FB group coming soon as well, in which I’ll obviously link stuff to and from but will also be used for more short ramblings or news updates.

I hope to be posting on a semi regular basis, with frequent FB updates as well (I have a couple of ideas). I hope that you’ll like what I post, and that we can go down this adventure together guys.

– Jordan