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The Best Games of EGX 2017

EGX is the UK's biggest exhibition of new and upcoming video games for those beautiful consoles we all love so much. Despite being in Birmingham, the city equivalent of Mordor; listing everything amazing about EGX could fill a tome. The latest blockbusters; passion-fuelled indie titles, tournaments, talks from developers, a paradise of retro classics... and then there's all of the sexy gamer merch (my new Pokémon Elite Four hoodie is a masterpiece). Despite wanting to grab the controllers for every game there, two days sadly wasn't enough to cover it all. However, I certainly got to play the ones that mattered.

Dissidia Final Fantasy

Released on Japanese arcades in 2015, the single/multiplayer fighting game is a cocktail of past Final Fantasy characters coming to a ps4 port in early 2018. Featuring hack n' slash and spell 'em up gameplay, Dissidia is absolutely insane, and the way its demo was set up made it totally addictive.

Taking twelve players from the queue at a time, we were entered into a two-stage tournament. Put into teams of three, we were given a chance to play a couple of practice rounds with different characters against another team before a qualifying round. If you won that round, you were put through to a best-of-three final round with the other winning team. The best ranked players of each team were streamed on big screens, open to industry commentary and to be viewed by audiences.

Even though I played mostly as Cloud, experimenting with varied characters of past Final Fantasy games (most I've never played but still) with different move sets is so much fun. There's what feels like a million things happening at the same time but the overall aim of each match is to have three deaths happen on each side. That can means opposing team members can die once each or you could coordinate with your teammates to cause one enemy to die three times.

Even after only playing a couple of matches; the crazy structure of the matches forces you to adapt your strategy with your team. As you're made to put so much thought into it, you get a sense of adrenaline and satisfaction every time you land a hit or hopefully a kill that makes you want to go back for more (which is why I went back to play it again).

Release Date: 30th January 2018

Super Mario Odyssey

With my experience of Mario games mostly being the classic 2D games and Mario Kart, the series' new upcoming entry - a 3D platformer - got me curious. The demo gave a choice of two worlds to visit: New Donk City and The Desert Oasis. It's a shame we weren't allowed to explore both but it was understandable given the huge demand to play the game.

Going into New Donk City to sample a taste of what Odyssey had to offer, I was left in awe. The best part of it was the demo had nothing to do with fighting koopas or any other of Bowser's minions. It focused on enthralling players in the sense of fun and exploration. Scurrying about amongst real world-looking humans on a side mission, blazing across the city in a scooter to collect coins and moons, throwing your magic hat around to possess rocket ships that'll take you elsewhere. It's all accompanied with variations of the angelic theme song, Jump Up, Super Star, playing in the background. I loved every second. You can even perform some sweet acrobatics and skip rope. What more could you want? Despite not being given a chance to explore any other worlds yet, I know for sure that Odyssey is definitely going to be a console seller for the Nintendo Switch.

Release Date: 27th October 2017 on Nintendo Switch

Dragon Ball: FighterZ 

When you hear the term "2.5D fighting game", you might think of it as a downgrade. Arc System Works' new take on converting the Z fighters into gaming form is anything but. It will leave you in visual awe. There are far too many specialised combinations for each character to master during a quick play session, so most of the time I found myself hyper-actively button mashing, as if I'd just downed a Red Bull. However, when you start to get used to basic commands, the combat flows seamlessly, being hard hitting and exhilarating.
Whenever a hit or combo landed, the gloss, animation, and the subtle transitions between 2D and 3D is all absolutely breath taking. In Dragon Ball: FighterZ, players will finally feel like they're taking part in a video game and anime simultaneously.

Release Date: February 2018 on PS4, Xbox One & PC

Star Wars Battlefront II (Game of the show)

The first Battlefront back in 2015 left an EA-flavoured sour taste in our mouths with a lack of maps, no real story mode and the remaining half of the game being held hostage in an overpriced expansion pass.

Battlefront 2's demo proves this is the game that was originally promised years ago. After standing in what felt like the longest queue of the day, you're sadly not treated to any of the upcoming story mode. Instead, you're treated to a full course of a multiplayer, but it made the wait oh so worth it. Being either a member of the clone or droid armies from the Prequel Trilogy, players got to choose from the classes of Assault, Heavy, Specialist and Officer to go up against players from the other army. Luckily, we were given a generous amount of time to try out each class. The Heavy class is a lot less mobile but you're equipped with an epic assault blaster and a shield which was the most fun to mess around with but the Officer class was by far the most effective for death matches. Equipped with a sentry turret skill and a powerful pistol, it's what got me closest to taking out Darth Maul, even though seeing Maul felt like staring death in the face.

But what I love most about Battlefront 2 most however, is the point system. As you score damage and rack up kills, you accumulate points that add up when you die. When you meet the death screen, you can spend points on respawning as a vehicle or character, the characters being the most expensive. Whether you want to be a Tie Fighter, Rey, Han Solo or Boba Fett, you'll be able to spend hundreds of hours messing with all of the skill sets in different matches. Battlefront 2 seems like the ideal blend we always dreamed of: spectacular gameplay with the right aesthetics to throw you into that world. Not to mention that the standard Stars Wars battle soundtrack is still present in all its glory.

Release Date: 17th November on PS4, Xbox One and Windows

It (2017 Movie Review)

For fifty years Stephen King’s stories have shocked, awed, and terrified readers. However, many of his best works didn’t become famous until they were adapted for film and TV. His most iconic horror novel, It, is no exception. Originally published in 1986, it was adapted into a TV miniseries by Warner Bros. in 1990. The series was praised for the performances of its child cast and, especially, for Tim Curry’s performance as the evil clown Pennywise - but it was mild compared to the book… and child’s play compared to the film I’m going to talk about. Twenty-seven years after the series aired, Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema have made a new version of It directed by Andy Muschietti (writer and director of Mama). It’s been a long time coming, having lurked in development hell for seven years - but the film’s made a strong impression worldwide, with King himself saying “he was not prepared for how good it really was”. Now It’s out in the UK, and I went to see it on opening day to see how it measures up.
Like the book before it, the film takes place in Derry, Maine, and starts with a paper boat floating down a gutter swollen with rain. The boat’s owner, six-year-old Georgie Denbrough (played by Jackson Robert Scott), is attacked while playing with it on a rainy afternoon and disappears. The next summer, his older brother Bill (Jaeden Lieberher) sets out to find his attacker. Bill is joined in his search by six other kids from around Derry: Ben Hanscom (Jeremy Ray Taylor), Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis), Eddie Kasprak (Dylan Grazer), Richie Tozier (Finn Wolfhard), Stanley Uris (Wyatt Oleff), and Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs). Drawn together by unhappy family lives and local bullies, Bill and his friends band together to face a much worse threat: a monster that has preyed on the children of Derry for centuries. It takes many forms - always changing to reflect their worst fears - but It’s best known to its victims as Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård). And, despite the name, dancing is the last thing on its mind.
Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear: It isn’t a remake of the 1990 miniseries. Instead, it’s a new adaptation that strikes a balance between being faithful to the book and doing something new. The setting has changed from 1958 to 1989, and unlike previous versions of the story, the film focusses solely on Bill and his friends’ childhood years. This may put people off, but the changes actually work in the film’s favour. The book is over a thousand pages long and essentially two stories in one; it would’ve been impossible to adapt it all into one film. Thankfully, Muschietti decided to make two films - and the changes he’s made in Chapter One have all been for the right reasons. The newer setting allows people new to the story to immerse themselves in it more easily, and allows Muschietti to use new scares to keep fans of the book on their toes. In any case, fans will be pleased to find that Bill and his friends - the Losers’ Club - are still Losers. The film spends a lot of time fleshing them out as the book does, including the horrors they face at the hands of the people around them as well as Pennywise. The Losers face bullies, domestic abuse, manipulative parents, and the harsh realities of growing up throughout the film’s two-hour length - and the young ensemble that plays them are more than up to the task. Lieberher and co. give great performances as the Losers. They play, joke, and fight with each other as children do in real life; and when things get tough they pull together as only true friends can. However, as so often happens with ensemble casts, some characters get less attention than others. Mike (Jacobs) and Stan (Oleff) are the worst hit, but they still get the screentime they need to avoid being pushed to the sidelines. You will believe in them as much as you will in the other Losers - and when the horrors of Derry rear their ugly heads, you’ll want them to win. This is both true to the novel and a huge advantage over most horror films today - the Losers aren’t meat for the grinder, but living, breathing people you’ll believe in and care for.
Tim Curry’s Pennywise was the highlight of 1990’s version of It, but to compare his performance with Bill Skarsgård’s is the same as comparing Jack Nicholson’s Joker with Heath Ledger’s. Skarsgård is in a league of his own. Through a mix of practical makeup and CGI, he brings the Pennywise of King’s novel to terrifying life. He’ll still make you laugh occasionally, but the rest of the time his goal is to wreak terror, and feed on the flesh and fear of children. Skarsgård does so to chilling effect, helped by his height (he’s 6ft 4in in real life!) and natural ability to look in two directions at once. He also does more than scaring kids in his clown form; true to the book, the new Pennywise changes his shape to tap into his victims’ worst fears. In the book and miniseries, he mainly changed into monsters from the 1950s, e.g. Michael Landon’s Teenage Werewolf. In the film, however, you won’t see him change into Freddy Krueger. Instead, Muschietti has created new forms for Pennywise that draw on the Losers’ personal fears. Disease, parental abuse, racism, and even everyday objects are just four of the things he uses, and they’re all things children fear in real life. For me, this makes Skarsgård’s Pennywise even more terrifying. The only downside is that the CGI shots are hit-and-miss; some are far more convincing than others.
Muschietti’s decision to adapt It into two films allows him to take Chapter One into much darker territory than the miniseries - but it may be too intense for some viewers. The film is rated R in America (15 in the UK) for strong violence and language; from the beginning, children are attacked in graphic detail and everyone - even the Losers’ Club - swears throughout. While true to Stephen King’s work, the sight of children being bitten, clawed, and even shot to death may be too much for some people. Thankfully, there are some scenes in the book even an R-rated film couldn’t get away with, and Muschietti has wisely left them out. You won’t notice their absence if you’ve never read the book, but if you have you’ll know exactly which scenes are gone; and you’ll be glad for it. Of course, the film’s final act had to be changed dramatically - but it’s all to the good for the end result. Before the credits roll, you will seethe, cringe, cheer, jump, and finally cry as the Losers face their demons above and below Derry. It's a far more satisfying end than the miniseries', and one that will leave you eager to find out what comes next. Fortunately, with the film's warm welcome and its success at the box office (it's made nearly $210 million at the time of writing), the fate of Chapter Two's all but assured.
It: Chapter One is neither a remake of the 1990 series nor a strict retelling of the book - but it needed to be neither. All it had to be was a film about more than just a killer clown, and Andy Muschietti has made just that. It's horror with a heart. Stephen King has the right to be proud.

Let's Talk About: Fairy Tail

This month marks the anniversary of one of the most popular manga series today. On 23rd August 2006, manga artist Hiro Mashima published the first chapter of Fairy Tail, a fantasy adventure inspired by the works of Akira Toriyama and J. R. R. Tolkien. It’s come a long way since then, having printed 260 million copies and spawned an anime series currently in its seventh season. But sadly, all good things must come to an end; the manga’s last chapter arrived last month, and the anime is set to follow with a final season airing next year. So, for those of you who just got on the bandwagon - and those who are considering it - allow me to fill you in on the weird and wonderful world Mashima-san has created. Spoiler warning: you’re in for a wild ride.

Fairy Tail is set in the fictional kingdom of Fiore, and follows the hijinks of two young wizards: Lucy Heartfilia and Natsu Dragneel. After running away from home, Lucy decides to join Fairy Tail, a famous guild where wizards take jobs including (but not limited to) hunting monsters, mooks, and malevolent mages. She’s saved from one such enemy by Natsu - a hot-headed dragon slayer who wields fire - and his flying cat Happy, who take an immediate liking to Lucy and invite her to join the guild. However, it isn’t quite as she hoped it to be. Despite its heroic deeds, Fairy Tail is the wildest guild in Fiore - its members fight, bicker, and flirt with each other to insane degrees. And worse, they tend to cause more damage than the threats they’re paid to deal with. It seems like the worst possible crowd for Lucy to fall in with… but she soon discovers that Fairy Tail’s wizards are the most loyal, loving, and hard-working folk she could ever meet. Despite their differences, they can’t imagine life without each other. In short, they’re one big, punch-happy family. Over several jobs, Lucy bonds with Natsu’s other friends - ice wizard Gray Fullbuster and swordswoman Erza Scarlet - and forms a team with them. Together, they make the strongest team in the Fairy Tail guild. And that’s just the beginning.

I didn’t start getting into Fairy Tail until four years ago, and it was a long process. The sheer number of volumes and episodes didn’t help, nor the sexy artwork (both official and fanmade) I found on the Internet. I almost bailed out, but stayed with it at the recommendation of a friend at university… and I’m pleased to inform you there’s much more to the series than fanservice (although there’s plenty of it for both sexes). Friends, family, and adventure are series’ main themes, and they’re brought to the forefront by a huge cast. The number of characters in the guild alone is so large, it makes the roster of Dragon Ball Z look tiny. The miracle is that no matter how crowded it gets, everyone gets their turn in the spotlight - from Mirajane and Elfman Strauss, two siblings coping with the loss of their sister; to Cana Alberona, a sorceress who’s fallen on tough times and become the guild’s heaviest drinker. Every character has a tale to tell, slowly revealed through the course of the series. And just when you think you have someone figured out, something new is revealed that puts them in a new light. You may dislike a character one day, then warm up to them the next. This is because Hiro Mashima drew inspiration from real people when making his characters; and like real people, they have good and bad traits that will surprise, shock, and move you. They just tend to be overshadowed by the guild’s crazier habits. You’ll see when you follow Natsu, Happy, and Lucy into Fairy Tail’s hall for the first time.

As good as its main characters are, Fairy Tail wouldn’t have last long if its villains weren’t up to the same standard. Fiore is teeming with dark wizards who strike fear in the hearts of its citizens, from small-time thugs who attack Team Natsu to illegal guilds out to unleash horrors upon the world. Some are even official, rival groups who pick fights with Fairy Tail to see who’s stronger (and make some quick money on the side). However, the most interesting baddies of all aren’t the thugs, the rogues, or rivals - but wizards with bad histories with Natsu and company. In the manga’s first sixteen volumes (or the anime’s first forty-eight episodes), Fairy Tail is pitted against Lyon, an ice wizard who blames Gray for the death of their teacher; the blue-haired Jellal, a childhood friend of Erza’s who plans to wake a demon; and Laxus, an electric dragon slayer trying to take over the guild from his grandfather. These are only three of the enemies the guild faces, and the further you go in the series, the stronger they get. It sounds a lot like Dragon Ball, but what sets Fairy Tail apart - besides magic - is that no matter how serious it gets, it always gets plenty of laughs in both at the heroes’ expense and the villains’. This, together with their variety, will help keep you interested well into the series’ later chapters. And if you think you can’t keep up, don’t worry; Mashima-san’s got you covered.

Like all ongoing series, Fairy Tail’s biggest and most intimidating quality is its length. The manga ended last month at five hundred and forty-five chapters, and the anime currently stands at two hundred and sixty-five episodes (minus nine OVAs, a prequel, and two films). It’s a lot to take in, so if you’re checking out the series for the first time, you’d be forgiven for getting cold feet now; I almost gave up at the third volume before switching to the anime. However, it doesn’t drag on as much as you’d think. The first storylines, or arcs, run for two to ten episodes, and as they grow they continue to move forward at a fast pace. Even the filler arcs, which are more frequent in the anime, breeze by. Best of all, both the manga and anime are structured so you can drop in and out after each arc; good news whether you’re a newcomer or a fan returning after a long break. The anime also tries to keep you hooked by hinting at future plot threads in each arc, something Mashima-san had less time to do with the manga. Beside the obvious - like Fairy Tail’s conflict with the dark guilds - there are other, subtle clues spread across the series that lead to arcs for other characters. For example, a certain guild member might freak out at the sight of Lucy, while another gets down in the dumps when a senior member comes back. You probably won’t notice until they come into focus, but thankfully, there’s no pressure to see them through to the end. When a main arc ends, you’re free to keep going or tune out. Where and when is up to you - and like the occasional guild member who leaves, you’re welcome to come back any time you like. Just don’t expect the madness to stop while you're gone.

Whether you’re a new recruit, or an old fan returning to mark its anniversary, now is as good a time as any to get into Fairy Tail. Let us know if you’re reading the manga or following the anime - and if you have a friend who got you into it, show them some love! (This feature is dedicated to Amy, my best friend at uni, who helped me into the series one episode at a time. Thank you!)

The Lobster (Movie Review)

Surf n' Turf

The Lobster is a 2015 black comedy made by Greek director, Yorgos Lanthimos. With stars including Colin Farrell, Olivia Colman and John C. Reilly, The Lobster is set in a society where being single is treated like a disease that must be cured. Whether you're separated or your husband died the day before, you're single now and that's terrible. 

Baby Driver (Film Review)

All You Need Is One Killer Track

Baby Driver is an action film written and directed by Edgar Wright. Who created the Cornetto trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World's End) and directed Scott Pilgrim Vs The World. It stars Ansel Elgort (Divergent, The Fault in our Stars); Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Lily James (Downton Abbey), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Jamie Foxx (Django Unchained)

Wonder Woman (Movie Review)

*Insert Girl Power-related title here*

Wonder Woman is a DC super hero film with a few goals burdened on it's shoulders. Based during the time of the first World War; Amazonian Warrior, Diana Prince (Gal Gadot), bears the task of making up for the qualitative messes that were Batman vs Superman and Suicide Squad. Wonder Woman holds the stake of the DC film universe actually having potential to be critically entertaining, all whilst simultaneously kicking off a new wave of big budget, female-led superhero films. This film has received a lot of praise for having

Overwatch Needs To Update Its Standard Lootpool

Overwatch has had me obsessive in the same way Pokémon did when I was a kid, and is only rivalled by Persona as my greatest video game obsession as an adult. I love the characters, I love the lore and even though I am terrible at it, I love the game. When I first got it, I levelled up quickly, mainly because I was enjoying the gameplay and playing as the various characters so much, but those loot boxes I got whenever I levelled up were an absolutely wonderful incentive to grind. In these boxes you find randomised items that can be used on your characters, such as cool cosmetic skins (ranging from simple re-colours to full blown alternative designs), emotes, sprays, player icons, in-game currency... the list goes on for a while, but it's always exciting. Well... to a point.

I wanted to write this article so I could get my thoughts out somewhere other than the bubbling bath of displeasure and toxicity that is the Overwatch forums. At the time I write this article I am level 185, plus I've played tonnes of arcade mode, so to cut a long story short, I've had a lot of bloody loot boxes. So many that at this point they are no longer exciting. I've unlocked all the skins and other bits I wanted for all my favourite characters as well as awesome skins for characters I don't play as much. Everything in my Hero Gallery is swell. But unfortunately, with having unlocked so many things in this game, it also means that basically every loot box I receive now contains a duplicate item, which I get currency for, but even that isn't enough to re-ignite my loot box collecting spark. So at this point you might be shouting at your screen, "but what about events?!?" and to that I say, of course, I love the Overwatch events and I love the unlockable items that come with them. It definitely re-ignites that urge to grind, but unfortunately there is always that lingering knowledge that after they event is gone, those items are gone too and cannot be unlocked presumably until next year when the event repeats (we are yet to find out). There are sometimes some great skins available for cheaper during these events, but in the most recent Overwatch anniversary event all of the unlockable skins require players to spend 3,000 coins. I've saved up for that awesome Symmetra skin but that's all I can really afford. So I grind and grind, and I get more loot boxes, but luck doesn't seem to be with me. I've unlocked no legendary skins for this event so far. Of course I could buy loot boxes with real money, but who's to say I'm even going to get anything I want?

The point is, I can't grind for weeks like I could with the non-event items and eventually get lucky enough to find one of these cool skins in a loot box or save up coins to buy them (I try my best to save up, but I only ever get enough for one skin at best, and with so many events so frequently, I can't get enough coins in time if I spend them on each event). We can go back and fourth all day about what I'm doing right or wrong as a player, but what I want to request of Blizzard (I doubt they're going to read this, but one can dream) is that they update the regular lootpool of Overwatch. No, not an event, the normal, bare bones lootpool. They add the occasional emote here and there, as well as skins for the new hero Orisa, and even added in the Nexus Challenge skins, but we need new a whole bunch of new loot for all the heroes to get in those loot boxes as standard, not ones that are locked away the moment events end. 
Of course, Blizzard need to make money from the game after its initial purchase, and this is probably the main reason for events and why those legendary skins are 3,000 coins as opposed to the standard legendary skins that are 1,000. This of course, is to bait people into spending real money on loot boxes in hopes they'll either unlock the skins they want or they'll gain enough currency to do so (it would be much simpler if they could just allow you to turn real money into in-game currency instead of gambling on loot boxes). Many will defend Blizzard to the death for this, but I am not here today to discuss that. Blizzard can still hold events, in fact, never stop, I love the new game modes and what not. But players like me wish there were new regular lootpool items, and a lot of them. I mean, those lore-related skins given away in the Overwatch Uprising event should've been in the standard lootpool, just saying. Many of them were not exciting enough to be 3,000 coins each, and the pricing was inconsistent as well. Why was the Tracer Overwatch uniform skin 3,000 coins while Reinhardt's skin, which is of him wearing the same-style uniform as Tracer, only 750? What gives?
The lootpool needs to be updated so us obsessive players aren't just presented with duplicates in every single loot box. That will re-ignite the spark for myself, and I imagine many other players.  

I hope that some people can relate to this and realise that my complaints only stem from my love for Overwatch. And while more hardcore players will find issue in what I'm saying, remember that everybody plays differently and I guess I fall into the casual category. I don't play competitively and sometimes dive in for some quick play or arcade with friends depending on how I feel, so the only thing that gets me playing this game for more than just a few hours (a few very fun hours, may I add) at a time are the prizes I can get out of loot boxes. But nowadays the only time I find myself tempted to grind on Overwatch is during events and I'm not even as tempted as I used to be because I've started to accept that I most likely won't be able to get the things I want from them. The beautiful man that is lead designer Jeff Kaplan has said he wants to add more to the regular loot pool, so hopefully this will happen sometime and I'll shut up for a while.

Alien: Covenant (Movie Review)

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers for both Prometheus and Covenant!)

Forty years ago, screenwriters Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shussett created a monster like no other: a parasite with acid for blood, pharyngeal teeth, and an insatiable drive to kill. I wasn’t alive at the time, but the script that became Ridley Scott’s Alien was so successful, it spawned one of my favourite film series as an adult. Since 1979, when the first film was released, another seven have been made; only a few came close to matching it (one being Aliens, which surpassed it). The newest - intended to right the wrongs of its predecessors - is Alien: Covenant, a second prequel directed by Ridley Scott following 2012’s Prometheus. The film intends to take the series back to its roots, and I went to see it the day it released to find out whether it does.

Set ten years after Prometheus, Covenant follows a new cast of characters: the crew of a colony ship (played by Katherine Waterson, Billy Crudup, and Danny McBride among others) bound for a new planet. When an accident in cryosleep leads to the death of the ship’s captain, the first mate Oram (Crudup) is left with no choice but to take charge. Soon after, the ship receives a rogue transmission and, against the objections of terraforming expert Daniels (Waterson), Oram intercepts it to another, unknown planet that appears to be better than their planned destination. It has food, water, everything the crew needs to start their new lives - but it has no animal life. Oram and his crew follow the signal to an alien ship - originally flown by David (Michael Fassbender) and Shaw (Noomi Rapace) in Prometheus - where they start to find out what happened to them. In doing so they also find out why there are no other lifeforms around. Needless to say, there are monsters involved… but not just the face-hugging kind.

If you haven’t seen Prometheus, I must warn you Alien: Covenant is a direct sequel to it, and you’ll need to watch it first to get the whole picture. That said, it’s very much an Alien film despite the connection. It has the same elements the original films had, only with a bigger budget and some new twists. One of the best is the Covenant crew, which is made up of married couples. It sounds like a cheap gimmick, but thanks to the cast’s performances - and a screenplay by John Logan and Dante Harper - it manages not to be. Unlike the Prometheus crew, which had come together for the first time, the Covenant are a tight-knit group who care for each other much like the Nostromo and the Colonial Marines. They still make stupid decisions, but you’ll come to care for them more than the cast of Prometheus - especially Daniels, who has the most sense of them all. When one of her friends dies, most of the time it will hit you as hard as it hits her (more so if you watch the online prologues first).

Sadly, one name overshadows the fourteen-strong group of newcomers: Michael Fassbender. He first appeared in Prometheus as the android David, who set out with the film’s other remaining survivor Shaw to find the Engineers’ homeworld. David returns in Covenant, but Fassbender also plays a new character: Walter, an upgraded model from David’s production line, and the Covenant’s synthetic. It’s always a challenge playing multiple characters in one film, but Fassbender has done it before in Assassin’s Creed - and he does a great job once again as David and Walter. It’s all the more impressive because Fassbender has much more to work with this time. Walter is the stoic, loyal caretaker of the Covenant who tends to the crew’s needs both in and out of stasis; and David… Well, let’s say he’s gone off the deep end since he embarked for the Engineers’ planet. If you liked him in Prometheus - and you want to know why he became who he is now - you’ll love him when he makes his entrance. However, if you’re an Alien fan, you may not like the role he’s being set up to play in the franchise. It’s quite the game changer.

Now, if you were let down by the lack of Aliens in Prometheus, fear not - the bitch is back! Ridley Scott promised to put them back in the spotlight, and he’s done it using CGI and animatronics to bring them to life. Although, as always, we have to wait for our first face-hugger, Scott makes up for it in the meantime by introducing a whole new beast: the Neomorph, a forerunner of the Xenomorph minus its biomechanical skin. It’s less intelligent than the Xenomorphs, but no less dangerous; the first one is barely a minute old before it starts killing. However, Scott’s use of CGI to portray the creatures robs them of their power to scare. That isn’t to say it’s bad; the CGI in Covenant is the best in the series to date. The problem is that he uses full-body shots wherever he can, leaving little to the imagination. In one scene you see the full-grown Neomorph in full long before it strikes, making the kill less shocking when it does come. The Xenomorphs also suffer the same treatment, which is a shame even though we already know what they look like. I can’t help but feel like Scott tried too hard to please the fans after the Aliens no-showed in Prometheus. They're creepy in Covenant, but with a few more close-up shots and low angles, they would’ve been terrifying.

One of the reasons the original Alien films were scary is that they built up slowly, allowing us to get to know the characters before chests started bursting. Sadly, pacing is another point where Covenant trips up. It takes the time to introduce the ship’s crew and build up to its arrival on the planet, but when the Aliens appear it kicks suddenly into high gear and doesn’t stop till the end. It softens the impact of the later deaths, and also has a serious effect on the Xenomorphs’ lifecycle - they go from face-hugger, to chest-burster, to adult in a matter of minutes. This will really upset fans as it contradicts the rules set by previous films, and raises questions that go unanswered when the credits roll. Thankfully, the film goes some way towards answering the questions left by Prometheus, namely the fates of Elizabeth Shaw and the Engineers. However, you may not like the answers you get; some of them call into question the sequels’ place in the Alien franchise. Scott has planned another two prequels, so how he plans to tie them up with the main films remains to be seen - but if Alien: Covenant is any indication, he’ll do it in ways we won’t expect. Whether we like them or not is another thing entirely.

Although it wasn't quite the return to form I hoped for, I was sure of two things when I finished watching Alien: Covenant - it's better than Prometheus, and the best film in the series since Aliens. Hopefully, Ridley Scott will get it right with the next prequel.

Persona 3 Memories

So I just finished Persona 5. I'd like to say it was a long journey, but it wasn't really long at all, as I completed it in a little over a month. I do feel a little regretful that I didn't spend enough time with it, because it was an extraordinary game. It was everything I wanted from a new generation Persona game, and then some... It totally exceeded my expectations. I would even go as far as to say it is the best Persona game yet, not only from a gameplay standpoint but also the writing is absolutely perfect as well as the characters. But would I say it's my favourite Persona game? No. That title still goes to Persona 3. Here's why.

I played my first Persona game with Persona 4 back in 2012. I had heard about the series online a lot but finally made the investment when I found it in my local second hand store (R.I.P.). My thoughts of the game? It was really cool. At that point I hadn't really figured out what the Persona series was all about so it was a steep learning curve and in the end my play through was probably a little unsatisfying. However when I introduced the game to my cousin and he got into the series too, that was when my Persona addiction truly began. He studied the hell out of these games and tutored me when I began to play Persona 3 FES. He taught me pretty much everything I needed to know, and explained things that were more complex to me, such as Persona fusion and the more intricate parts of the battle system.

In my second year of University I moved into shared accommodation with some of the best people I've ever known. I brought Persona into their lives too when I proceeded to play it frequently on my PlayStation 2 in the kitchen/living room space. Some of my flatmates would enjoy watching me play it and even those who didn't at least knew the amusing battle music (oh yeah, baby baby etc.)
Over the next two years that I spent with those flatmates, I played so much Persona 3 that I'm surprised that they didn't get sick of it. Some probably did but others were always eager to watch me play more of it, and I'd even give them a heads up when the PlayStation 2 was being turned on for more Persona. Playing this game was a blast, half because it's such an amazing game and the other half because I associate it with such fun times with my flatmates. In fact, a lot of the enjoyment I gained from Persona 3 was because I associate it heavily with those fun times.
But good times sadly had to come to an end, as University ended, and around that time, I finally completed Persona 3 too. I fought the final boss of the game and lost while my flatmates watched, before visiting my cousin for some extra coaching (which was where I learnt about personas such as Thanatos and the dungeon at the bottom of Tartarus) and some aggressive levelling before finally fighting the final boss once more and finishing the game. The ending was sad, but I am one of the minority who felt that it made sense. It was a symbolic sense of closure to my time spent with the game.

One of my all-time favourite YouTubers HappyConsoleGamer helped me realise that a game doesn't necessarily have to be the best as long as the memories associated with it are happy ones. Persona 3 is a great game, but compared to Persona 5 (and even 4) it is far from perfect. The battle system is punishing and broken, the writing is pretty lacking, the social links are mostly forgettable and the voice acting in places can be absolutely abysmal, but the memories I associate with this game are what made my time with it so precious. Just listening to the music makes me nostalgic in a mixed up kind of way. I'm not sure whether it makes me feel happy or sad. But I know one thing for sure, the fact that I am feeling nostalgic about a game that I finished about three to four years ago is a sign that the effect this game had on me was really something special.

Ghost in the Shell (2017 Movie Review)

A Shell Of It's Former Self

Ghost in the Shell is an American science fiction film set in the near future where being part robot is the hip way to be. Based on the 1989 manga and 1995 anime film of the same name, Ghost in the Shell is based in a world where technology has advanced to the point where almost everyone has at least some parts of their body replaced with cybernetic parts. Cyber-liver, cyber-eyes, cyber-arms, a cyber-USB port next to their left nipple: the possibilities are endless, all whilst the line between human and machine is questioned.

It's like New York City and Rainbow Road had a baby.

It's based around Scarlett Johansson's lead take on Major Mira Killian, the first of a human brain inside a fully mechanical cybernetic body, also known as a "shell". Told upon awakening in her new body that her parents were killed by terrorists, the Scarlett-played Major joins bureau Section 9: questing to take down a cybernetic terrorist as a cyborg badass who also desires to learn of who she was in her past life. This overlay of plots is where Ghost in the Shell seems to have stumbled in its quest to bring a live action adaptation of sweet, anime goodness to the masses. The number of positives outweigh that of the negatives but it's the significance of the latter that's halted its potential to being a critical or box office champion.

Great Outfit.

What's great to witness about Ghost in the Shell though is the look of the world it's set in. The Rupert Sanders-directed production managed to create a vibrant, life-filled city that looks like it's been ripped directly from a trippy anime canvas. Going back to the random robot body parts people have, the visual effects are done so well, and it gives a fascinating look into what life could be like when cybernetic body parts become a more viable possibility. There's a woman whose eyes are taken on and off like a visor for God's sake! You don't want to look away. Anime/manga fans alongside newcomers to the franchise will love the faithfulness applied in the aesthetic department. You know how you can get bored in a film when it keeps putting you in front of generic establishing shots to set up a scene? Well, each one is so mesmerising in Ghost in the Shell with whatever is going on, that you'll gladly welcome it each time. This is all while the nerd-tingling soundtrack is playing, that mixes in the esteem-worthy music from the anime film with a modern-yet-futuristic twist. 

Pretty things.

Same goes for the look of some of the characters too. Aside from Scarlett Jo as The Major, Pilou Asbæk (who played Euron Greyjoy in Game of Thrones) as the Major's part-cyber-bro Batou gives an epic performance as a no-nonsense, banter-fuelled solider who does what needs to be done. He lives up to, if not expands on what's enjoyable about the character. The Section 9 Commander; Daisuke Aramaki, played by Takeshi Kitano, even wonderfully fulfils the role of the kickass-with-a-bit-of-sass old man character trope we've come to love over the years. On the other hand, we don't really see much of him doing anything at all until the third act. Until then, he's just sort of there. Aside from Major and Batou, I didn't feel anything about any of the other characters. Without there given much knowledge about them or a proper look into their personalities given, there's nothing to empathise or reason to care about them. They're more like extras who say the occasional quip.

Sweet hair, bro.

For those who didn't know about the casting controversy with Scarlet Johansson's selection as Major, the film suffered a sub-par box office return. Alongside the so-so promotion and not-mainstream-friendly plot, it's been partly blamed on it being blasted by fans and critics for casting a white woman in what was assumed to be an Asian role. However, despite all this, I feel that Johansson's take on the role creates an interestingly complex and vulnerable Major, and I feel her personality, technique and talent does the character justice. Scar-Jo was even praised for her performance by the 1995 film's director, Mamoru Oshii too.

"I got youuuu under my skin".

Despite creating a great artistic portrait with Ghost in the Shell's aesthetics and the majority of its cast, the art of story telling and creating an exciting plot is a disappointment. Whilst the action scenes, plot set-up and world building established in the first act are as thrilling as a cup of coffee mixed with Red Bull, it goes off track to a messy pace. Elements from the original 82-minute anime film are chopped up and remixed in to this 106-minute retelling. There's an extra villain added in addition to the personality and presence of the original villain, making the original one feel generic and watered down. I wasn't fascinated by either of their motives and instead reminded me of whenever you see a generic villain in a 90's action film and are like "Oh no. A bad guy. Go get 'um".

Nightmare fuel.

Whilst the manga and anime mainly focused on the cyber terrorist threat, with Major's desire to question her own humanity taking a more subtle back seat, both plots are explored equally and intertwine this time around. The issue was that during the bits in between the start and the end of the film, my attention was fading more and more as the two mixing stories built up, all whilst tirelessly throwing exposition at me just to make sure I knew what was going on. It's fascinating to see Major's quest to learn about herself and her humanity on a deeper level, all whilst seeing a more vulnerable and human version of her, but the whole thing just feels bogged down.

Final Thoughts

The efforts to both be faithful to the source material and create a story that's accessible to the mainstream in today's film industry is what truly crippled the flow of Ghost in the Shell: bringing the potential for excitement to its knees alongside our ability to care about what's going on. It can't all be bashed though. It's a visual beauty, with some impressive action scenes and there are a couple of good performances (out of many cast members though). It's simply fun to see the possibility of a world where anyone could pop over somewhere to pick up a new metal arm or have 3 spare sets of cyber noses. I'd love to see more of that world but that's the problem with Ghost in the Shell: I'd love to see more from this world but not in THIS film. If I had to see it again and I wasn't allowed to skip over what happens between the first and final scenes, I'd compare it to when you realise you have to cook for once instead of getting food delivered, I just can't be bothered. There's reward in seeing it but said reward is little compared to the large husk of the viewing chore ahead of you. It's a good try and an interesting experience but Ghost in the Shell is an example of why some films should be shorter. A lot shorter.

Rating: 5/10

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