Because I a) own a Sky dish and b) apparently hate myself, I have seen every film in The Fast And The Furious Quintology (“The Fast And The Furious“, “The Faster And The More Furious“, “The Fastest And The Furiousest” and “The Ludicrously Fast And The Positively LIVID“). I even quite enjoyed one and a half of them. So I’m not speaking from a place of ignorance or sneering middlebrow dismissiveness when I tell you that Fast 5 might be the stupidest movie I’ve ever seen.
This is a film where the opening scene sees its protagonists deliberately forcing a fully occupied prison bus into a high-speed crash, causing the bus to roll at least half-a-dozen times. It then shows us a news broadcast from the scene where a reporter tells us with a straight face that “miraculously, there were no fatalities.” Somehow this doesn’t even crack the top three most ridiculous things that happens over the next two hours. If you count the casting of the two leads it might not even make the top five.
Fast 5 stars Vin Diesel as an ambulatory side of beef. Even twelve years ago you’d have charitably described the Vinster as someone whose physicality did most of his acting for him, like mid-period Sly Stallone or any-period Arnie. At this point, Diesel seems to have lost the ability to emote altogether. Now, Diesel might be a dead-eyed mumbling shambles but at least he’s got a modicum of screen presence. This is more than can be said for co-star Paul Walker, a man so utterly lacking in charisma that I kept forgetting his character’s name despite having already seen three films centred on the same character. McSomething? O’Something? And then there’s The Artist Formerly Known As The Rock And Also Pretty Much Currently Known As The Rock, who spends the entire film being gruff, striding purposefully and dripping with a frankly distracting amount of sweat. Seriously, it looks like they were actually hosing the man down with water between takes.
These powerhouse thespians lead us through what’s less a plot and more like a series of things that apparently happen. Halfway through the film it suddenly decides it’s going to be an ensemble heist movie and uses the opportunity to reintroduce such beloved characters as That Guy Who I Think Was In The First One Oh Actually Maybe The Second, One Of The Baddies In Blade 3 Wait Was He In Fast And Furious As Well? and, of course, I’ve No Idea Who That Bloke Is. There’s no easier mark for a good cinematic caper than me (and I’ve got the Gone In 60 Seconds and (bad version of) The Italian Job DVDs to prove it), which is why it’s such a disappointment that Fast 5 makes such a hash of it. When you assemble a team of people who are The Best At What They Do you’re supposed to give us a chance to see each of them Doing the thing that they are Best At! If you don’t, all you’ve done is give yourself a much-too-big supporting cast of borderline-indistinguishable characters who’re now just clogging up screen time that would be better served going to your leads… Oh. Actually, scratch that. Point being, where’s your respect for genre conventions? Further point being where are the montages? I NEED MY MONTAGE.
You know what, though? I didn’t hate it. Fast 5 has the same go-for-broke, throw-everything-at-the-screen attitude as Doomsday. It’s nothing like as good as Neil Marshall’s underappreciated b-movie gem, but in an era when most action movies are nasty, boring or both there’s something to be said for Fast 5′s cheerful live-action cartoon excess. It’s a complete mess but hey, at least it’s an inventive mess. And it might be the film best suited getting some mates together and MST3K-ing the hell out of it since that wildly hilarious ode to Steven Seagal’s towering hubris, On Deadly Ground.
Even if I don’t care about you, it doesn’t mean I’m OK with making you uncomfortable or upset with a comment that references anything that is out of your control. That is not the person I want to be. I’m happy to pick on you if you root for the wrong team. I’m happy to pick on you if you like doing The Wave. I’m happy to pick on you for a lot of reasons. Your sexuality should never be one of those reasons.
OK, so Cuban wasn’t cool enough to avoid saying something a bit stupid and hurtful in the first place, but he’s at least sufficiently cool that he’s offered a fairly straight mea culpa. Usually, a celebrity who’s made a fool of themselves in public will respond via an infuriating non-apology apology like “I’m Sorry If You Were Offended”, or worse still “I’m Not Homophobic So Obviously I Didn’t Mean It That Way And Anyone Who’s Hurt Or Offended By What I Said Is Oversensitive Or Just Looking For Trouble. Anyway Some Of My Best Friends Are Gay”.
That second sentiment is a nasty little bear-trap I’m uncomfortably familiar with. As a relatively well-off straight white bloke I’ve gotten used to the world revolving around me. The fact that society is largely set up to help me get ahead and so much of our media is aimed straight at me has unfortunately but naturally led to a childish sense of entitlement. I’m so used to everything conforming itself to suit my perspective – films with white male leads and little or no female presence of any note, games that treat women and minorities as set-dressing – that on those occasions I’m called out on my boy-cow-leavings it’s a shock to the system and my natural reaction is to start spluttering like a bulldog chewing a nettle. It’s hard to hear that you’ve been thoughtless and the immediate knee-jerk response is denial and defensiveness. None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes. All we can do is try to guard against them, to listen when it’s pointed out how we’ve screwed up, to learn from that and to honestly try and make amends. When someone as prominent as Mark Cuban seemingly gets this, it genuinely brightens up my whole entire day.
But this is veering dangerously close to “Aren’t Affluent White Guys Who Are Aware Of Their Privilege The Real Heroes?”, and isn’t the real reason that Cuban’s post interested me. Here’s what I actually wanted to talk about:
I’m the last to be politically correct and the last thing I am trying to be here is politically correct. I honestly don’t give a [STUFF] what you think about me. But I think being the person I want to be includes not blurting out throw away jokes about sexuality, race, ethnicity, size, disability or other things people have no say in about themselves.
Some time ago I came to the conclusion that anybody who uses “politically correct” as a pejorative is someone whose opinion I’m happy to ignore. The majority of people who declare their contempt for political correctness are actually saying that they like using the n-word (and the b-word, and the three-letter f-word) more than they care that they’re making life a little bit more unpleasant for people who already have a pretty bad time of it. Worse than that, actually – they’re taking the act of being a lazy, selfish boor and trying to present it as heroic defiance of censorship and orthodoxy. They’re cravenly recasting themselves as the oppressed rather than the oppressors, seemingly unaware that there’s nothing noble about being a bully.
To make it clear – being a blinkered feckless bottom-hole isn’t a crime. And despite some people’s deeply-cherished persecution complex, nobody’s trying to make it one. Nobody’s censoring anybody. Nobody’s saying that you can’t throw those ugly, hateful words around as much as you like. Some people are just saying that on balance most of the time you possibly shouldn’t. That you should be careful how you express yourself. That the casual use of gendered, homophobic or racist epithets contributes in at least some degree to a society that makes life unfairly difficult to anyone whose face doesn’t fit the straight white male “norm”.
(Here you go, try this (language really really NSFW). And yes, I know that’s probably not the actual origin of the f-word. Way to miss the point, Obtuse Rhetorical Device Reader!)
Wow. OK. Believe it or not, that isn’t really what I wanted to talk about either. So here’s the thing that struck me about that quote by Mark Cuban: he tries not to “[blurt] out throw away jokes about sexuality, race, ethnicity, size, disability or other things people have no say in about themselves.” But he doesn’t regard himself as PC, and though he totally doesn’t care what you think of him he wants to you to be absolutely, completely clear that you really, really shouldn’t think that he’s politically correct. The thing is, as I’ve now rattled on about at tedious length, in as much as ”political correctness” means anything it means knowing better than to blurt out jokes and jibes about things people have no say in about themselves. That’s more or less ALL it means.
If the majority of people who denigrate political correctness do so to make themselves feel better about callous disregard for their fellow human beings, the minority denigrate the term so that it won’t be applied to them. Which is understandable, but still somewhat sad. For decades now a certain section of the media has been on a weird crusade to paint political correctness (and, not coincidentally, feminism) as sinister leftie killjoy groupthink. There have been dark hints about an armies of faceless bureaucrats making rules about what people can and can’t say, do-gooding Men In Grey who have banned Christmas and stopped children singing Baa Baa Black Sheep and stopped the BBC using the BC/AD suffixes when they talk about dates. The fact that all these stories range somewhere between gross distortion of the truth and bare-faced lies matters not even slightly – no smoke without fire, am I right? People who find the idea of moderating one’s language to prevent offence unacceptable are quick to throw out the idea of PC being an Orwellian conspiracy to control thought through controlling language. Somehow they manage to hold this opinion while simultaneously giving no credence to the idea that their choice to use inflammatory and denigrating words might be helping to shape attitudes and perpetuate inequality and prejudice.
“Political correctness” is to be honest a pretty terrible name, imprecise and vaguely sinister-sounding even before the Daily Mail and its ilk made the term so loaded and toxic that even people who practice it are desperate not to be labelled as such. The thing is, being aware of your privilege and not using it to pile on to the less well-off isn’t and shouldn’t be a left verses right thing. It’s a consideration verses cruelty thing. It’s a respect verses contempt thing. It’s a part of the solution rather than part of the problem thing.
So if “political correctness” is irredeemable let’s find a new, more descriptive, more inclusive label that everyone can get behind without recourse to equivocation and self-flagellation. My suggestion? “Basic human decency”. Who’s with me? If nothing else, it would at least bring the subtext to the surface:
“He’s lewd, rude, and definitely lacking basic human decency!”
Let’s get this out the way first. “The strongest Ace Combat in a decade” says the end of Eurogamer’s review.
No it isn’t.
“It’s Call of Duty in the air” says the start of Eurogamer’s review.
Yes it is. However, I’m not as keen on this development as that reviewer seems to be.
Since the very start of the series Call Of Duty’s single player campaign has been a shooting gallery, a theme park ride from Man’s-Inhumanity-To-Man World (The Shootiest Place On Earth!). It rolls you through a series of action set-pieces featuring explosions and carnage dialled up to eleven. It never makes much of an effort to disguise the fact that you’re on a predetermined path, that everyone playing the game is going to have pretty much exactly the same experience as you. That approach gives the game’s designers a great deal of control over the pacing and staging of the action. This allows the construction of awesome experiences like Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’s snipermissions which start with the unbearable tension of slithering through long grass as a company of enemy troops marches past and over you, and end with you fighting off seemingly endless waves of enemies in a post-Chernobyl radioactive ghost-town fairground. Another example would be the Death From Above level from the same game, which made you the gunner in an AC-130 gunship but used a combination of abstracting “night-vision” visuals and minimalist sound design to make you feel distanced and removed from the action, turning a completely familiar rail shooter setup into something eerie and weirdly affecting.
The tradeoff for having that tight control over the experience is obviously that the player’s freedom is greatly curtailed. If you’re building a game around these pre-fab cinematic moments you need to make sure that the player’s in the right place to see them. It means that you’re telling a story rather than allowing the player to make his own. None of this is inherently bad. Someofmybestfriends are linear action titles. Not every game is served by being a sprawling, freeform open-world affair.
Ace Combat is served by being a sprawling, freeform open-world affair. After all, what’s appealing about flying a jet fighter? Isn’t it speed? Isn’t it the power that that speed grants you? Isn’t it the ability to go where you choose and rain down with great vengeance and furious anger those stuck plodding impotently through the mud below? Isn’t it going up-diddly-up-up and down-diddly-own-own? Isn’t it looping the loop and defying the ground?
The prior entry in the series, Ace Combat 6: Fires Of Liberation might be my favourite game on the 360 (Non-Plastic Guitar Division). And a major reason for that is that it understood that need, the need for speed. It provided big, sprawling maps so you had the space needed to thunder across the landscape and it provided big, sprawling missions so you had plenty of targets to swoop on like a supersonic metal seagull of DEATH. A side benefit of the large playing area was that you got room to breathe – Ace Combat 6 was hectic and action-packed, but it also gave you time to make decisions, whether they were based on tactical considerations or sheer capricious whim. It made you feel like a king of the battlefield.
Ace Combat: Assault Horizon does not make you feel like a king of the battlefield. It makes you feel like a put-upon underling being ordered from one task to the next. And that task always seems to be ”Go And Have A Knife-Fight In A Matchbox”.
In other words, it’s Call Of Duty in the air.
Project Aces have clearly decided that the best bit of Ace Combat is dogfighting at close range so wouldn’t the game be better if you did more of that? Like, a LOT more of that? Like, making that pretty much all you ever do? The game’s been built around a new mechanic where getting close to an enemy allows you to press both triggers to kick in Dogfighting Mode. In DFM you give up control of your plane which just automatically follows your target (often along a pre-determined PATH OF AWESOMENESS, twisting and turning amoung skyscrapers or around oil-rig booms or whatever is needed for the requisite Call Of Duty set-piece spectacle). You just concentrate on keeping a crosshair locked on the enemy plane ahead, firing your cannon and launching heat-seeking missiles until it ceases to be a problem in the most pyrotechnic way possible, often spraying your canopy with spots of oil as you zoom through the explosion. It’s pretty fun, the first half-dozen times you do it. By the twentieth or thirtieth nigh-identical repetition of the process the thrill’s worn pretty thin.
What makes it even more annoying is that the designers have gone all-in on Dogfighting Mode, sacrificing pretty much every other aspect of the game to it. Missiles now require you to be behind the target to even have a chance of hitting, obviously making them much less effective. Long-range and multi-target missiles are still present but are almost worthless. I complained about the small maps and linear missions in HAWX but AC: Assault Horizon makes HAWX look like Operation fricking Flashpoint. A group of enemy fighters spawns out of thin air practically on top of you in the middle of the cramped battlefield, the game waits until you’ve shot all of them down (including the enemy’s flight leader, who you’re explicitly told is practically impossible to destroy in any way other than via DFM), at which point another group of enemy fighters spawns out of thin air. You’ve got no agency, no tactical decisions to make, you’re just being dragged by the nose from one pre-canned encounter to the next.
Air-to-ground missions might be even worse, since it lacks even the firework-display distraction provided by Dogfighting Mode. There’s no planning, no tactics, not really even any use for special weapons. You’re given a pre-planned flight path through the enemy forces which when followed allows you to destroy pretty much every available target in one pass with your cannon and the occasional missile. It doesn’t just lack thrill, it’s actively boring.
It would be unfair to claim that lousy fighter missions are all AC:AH has to offer, though. There are also missions flying an Apache gunship which are vaguely tolerable although slightly awkward to control and which suffer from the same lack of agency as the jet missions. There are missions where you get to be the door-gunner on a Black Hawk helicopter which are terrible because door-gunner missions are always terrible. And there’s a mission where you’re the gunner on an AC-130 which might sound familiar because it’s a hackneyed rip-off of the same mission from HAWX 2 which was a hackneyed rip-off of the previously-mentioned same mission from Call Of Duty 4.
In fact, Assault Horizon feels more like a sequel to HAWX 2 than to Ace Combat 6. Beyond the already-belaboured point about linearity and lack of elbow-room that blighted the HAWX series, AC:AH has the same sort of airport-novel military-fetish plot as HAWX 2. It’s got the same reliance on a gimmicky control method (DFM vs. Assistance Off mode). It puts you in the shoes of several protagonists in the same way and has the same vague sense that it’s embarrassed to be a game about jet fighters. Assault Horizon’s helicopter dalliances are more fun than HAWX 2′s interminable spy-drone missions, but only in the sense that dinner with John Major is more fun than dinner with Nick Griffin.
I’ve been trying without success to think of a game that’s disappointed me more than Ace Combat: Assault Horizon. Sequels are often let-downs for a variety of reasons, but I can’t think of another example of a game series that Lost It overnight, that took such a huge step away from the things that made the previous games so special.
“Cor, look at how ridiculous this is!” says our chummy everybloke champion. With one voice, we reply “Yes, of COURSE it looks ridiculous, you made it yourself with the express purpose of making it as ridiculous as possible!” On the other hand, the spoof advert is actually fairly nicely observed. On the third hand, it looks way more like a perfume ad than one for mobile phones which rather undercuts the point. And without recourse to hyperbole, that point seems to be “Adverts are pretentious, so why not have a bet? The illicit high of gambling will distract you at least temporarily from the depressing spectacle of Western culture mindlessly eating itself.”
9 – The Ladbrokes Shouty Commentator
Do you SEE? He is FOREIGN. And from thence the HUMOUR AROSE.
8 – The Bet365 Matey But Menacing Cockney Geezer
I like Ray Winstone. Everyone likes Ray Winstone. I’ve liked Ray Winstone ever since he was Lambeth walking around with the Merry Men begging the inevitable but frustratingly unstated question “what part of Nottingham did you say you were from, again?” But Ray Winstone is really testing our imaginary relationship at this point. We’re now several years into his We’re Mates So You Want Me To Be Happy Don’t Ask What Happens If I’m Not Happy corporate shill phase and it’s getting very old very quickly. What we are learning from this list so far is a that all adverts for bookies are absolutely awful, even if they don’t involve Paddy “Hugging” McGuinness.
7 – The Head And Shoulders Jensen Button
In which a man already compensated far beyond the value of his single skill – guiding a rocket-powered rollerskate along a windy country road – feels the need to pocket a relative pittance in order to turn up on my telly, admire himself in a mirror and annoy the wee-wee out of me. Without recourse to hyperbole, I defy anyone to endure Jensen’s delivery of the line “Wow, it’s bracing!” without wanting to smash in his stupid smirky self-satisfied face with a claw-hammer.
6 – The InjuryLawyers4U “Injury” “Lawyer” “For” “You”
“Hi! I’m Billy Murray. No, not that one. You probably don’t remember me from such movies as Strippers vs. Werewolves. I’m here today to try and reposition frivolous litigation as spiritual enlightenment. I know, right? Still, I’m going to get three solid years of work out of this gig, which will eventually culminate in a hilariously cliched ad that unfortunately doesn’t seem to be on YouTube. It starts with me swanning around the Gherkin, because that’s definitely where a company called InjuryLawyers4U would have its offices. Then I teleport to a random rooftop where I’m joined by the cast of an ultra-low-budget British remake of Ocean’s 11. Which coincidentally is my next movie project. Watch out for Seaside’s 5, available from the DVD rack of all good petrol stations, summer 2012.”
5 – The WKD Gaggle Of Sniggering Manchildren
This really would work better if their sickly-sweet alcopop slop was named ARSHL. Without recourse to hyperbole, if there really are enough people in Britain going “Ahahaa, YES. That’s EXACTLY like me and my mates! WE’RE inconsiderate, entitled, feckless misogynist hugwits as well!” to make this campaign a success then, without recourse to hyperbole, the total implosion of British society cannot be far away and I weep for us all. FULL DISCLOSURE – the Robocop one is alright.
4 – The Pepsi Max Gaggle Of Rapey Manchildren
The WKD ARSHLs might be obnoxious wastes of perfectly serviceable carbon, but at least they’re not actual psychopaths. To be honest, even taking aside this particular breathtakingly ill-judged ad in which a manufactured threat of apocalypse is used to manipulate an emotionally traumatised woman into sex these absolute huggers would still make the list for that nauseating self-congratulatory dance they do at the end of each advert. “WOO!! WE RUUULE!!! GO TEAM RAPE, YEAH!!!!”
3 – The BT Family Who Care A Bit Too Much About Telecommunication Technology
A chilling satirical vision of a dystopian future where enthusiasm for the tools that allow us to communicate with other people has supplanted any genuine feeling we might have for other humans. Friends and family drift aimlessly around us tethered by faint, brittle echoes of emotion but no actual affection survives in this weird, sterile, utterly alien world.
2 – The G- C-mpare Abomination Of Nature
There is apparently a school of thought in advertising which believes that it doesn’t matter if an ad annoys you or delights you so long as it gets an emotional reaction, because either way you’re likely to remember the product in question. Without recourse to hyperbole, it’s exactly that kind of pragmatic, careless, self-regarding workaday evil that’s causing the decline and fall of Western civilisation. Do not give in to it. Do not allow it a foothold. Do not permit something that was deliberately, callously designed to make your life just a little bit worse cause you to give a moment’s thought to a price-comparison website identical in every respect to the twenty other available price-comparison websites. Do not give it power. Do not speak its name.
1 – The BMW Singularity Of Smugness. And His Brother Freddie
Despite severe provocation I have carefully avoided using the word “smug” in the rest of this post to make sure that I don’t reduce its impact here. Because Adam Who Works With Architects and his brother Freddie The Actor And Model are, with due respect to Simon Cowell, the smuggest things to ever appear on British TV. They’re so smug it’s practically a superpower. They’re so smug that the sheer mass of their self-regard threatens to cause the fabric of the universe to collapse in on itself. It’s hard to put my finger on the single smuggest part of this smugathon, and if I watch it one more time to try and narrow it down I’m reasonably sure I’ll lose my increasingly tenuous grip on sanity. The line “Freddie on the other hand, he likes to play it smooooooth” makes me want to vomit until my lungs come out, but then the shot of Adam in black and white at the 0:20 mark looking oh so very pleased at his exquisite taste in automobiles makes me want to start walking and not stop until the waves close over my head and the water’s cold embrace drags me to sweet oblivion. And yes, I HAVE watched this hugging thing enough times to tell Adam and Freddie apart and that is knowledge I cannot un-learn.
G- C-mp-re might be indicative of everything that’s wrong with consumer culture. But at least I can fathom how it came to be. I can understand the train of thought that led to its conception, disgustingly foul and cynical though that creation was. I cannot say the same for this BMW ad. I cannot start to imagine the perverted fever-dream that might have led anyone, anywhere to believe that this advert might actually sell cars to anyone, anywhere. If the reaction they were hoping to elicit from the viewer was Pavlovian urge to slash the tyres of any BMW they happened to pass in the street, then that might be understandable, but making those cars seem more attractive? Surely that’s out of the question? This advert is grotesque, obviously, but its true horror lies in the implacable alien incomprehensibility of its mere existence. The G- C—— advert is Hitler. This BMW advert is Cthulhu. Why does it exist? What cosmic sin have we collectively committed that the universe judges this as a fit and proper punishment? I don’t understand. In his BMW parked outside R’yleh smug Adam and his brother Freddie wait dreaming of SOOOOOO MANY SKINNY LATTES. The STARS are RIGHT. I do not understand OH SWEET MERCIFUL LORD PLEASE HELP ME TO UNDERSTAND.
Without recourse to hyperbole, I don’t really care for it.
While watching the BBC’s coverage of U2′s Glastonbury set, I had a sudden, uncomfortable epiphany. I’ve always believed that U2 had been a decent band throughout the eighties but turned bloody awful shortly after the release of Achtung Baby. Watching God trying to drown Bono on stage in front of umpty-thrumpty thousand people, all of whom seemed to equally value U2′s nailed-on classics and their parody-of-themselves output of the last 20 years, I was struck by a blinding flash of the obvious.
U2 didn’t suddenly become terrible in 1992. I suddenly became 17 in 1992.
Pre-Achtung Baby U2 were music I’d grown up with, songs I got attached to before I had anything approaching critical faculties, before I had a taste in music that had developed beyond absorbing whatever was on the radio and whatever my friends listened to. This same period has left me with an affection for Roxette, A-Ha, Fleetwood Mac and Poison’s “Flesh And Blood“, so it’s actually a little amazing that I never questioned myself before now. 1992-93 represents the crest of the wave I was being carried along by, the point at which I picked up Floodland, New Miserable Experience and Little Earthquakes, the point at which I started developing and defining my own opinions for good or (largely) ill. Without the candy-coloured fog of childhood attachment it became laughably clear that Bono is a tool and his band are a bunch of stadium-bothering dad-rock merchants.
For the sake of sanity, let’s not consider this principle in relation to the Star Wars movies.
And so: The A-Team.
I loved the A-Team in my preadolescence. Yes, it was rubbish. But it was fun rubbish. Face’s white Corvette with the red go-faster stripe was literally the most glamorous thing my ten-year-old self had ever seen. There was Mr. T, whose appearance and demeanour was so far outside my experience he might as well have arrived from Mars. Plus: a VAN! HELICOPTERS! ENGINEERING! One of the FIVE BEST TV THEME TUNES EVER!
Turning those ingredients into a generic action movie just seems like such a missed opportunity. Turning it into an impossibly boring generic action movie with three-and-a-half charisma vacuums in the lead roles (headlined by a Liam Neeson performance embodying the Where’s My Paycheck? intensity of late-period Gene Hackman) seems a little tragic. Then there’s the bizarre subplot that treats it as a bad thing that one of the characters has decided to stop killing people, and the film’s delight when he decides that actually properly-applied brutal murder is a really good thing. What the ACTUAL hug?
Still, Bono has now opened my eyes to the fact that this is almost certainly nostalgia talking. Thanks, Bono. By the way, wearing those stupid shades at night makes you look a right git. And you do KNOW that we all realise your hair’s not really that colour any more, right?
Watching Kick-Ass is like being trapped in a lift for an hour and a half with the sort of 13-year-old sociopath that dominates YouTube comment threads. “Look at MEEE! Look at what I’m DOING!! Isn’t it just so WRONG?!!! ARE YOU OFFENDED YET??!!!!” Kick-Ass is mildly irritating for about 25% of its running time and boring for most of the rest. Kick-Ass is Watchmen for absolute idiots, which is something of a surprise because up till this point I thought that Zack Snyder’s Watchmen had done a passable job of being Watchmen for absolute idiots. Kick-Ass drips with cynical contempt for its characters and audience, but it’s so patheticly eager to be a bad-boy and so artlessly superficial it can’t evoke any sort of emotional response at all. Kick-Ass really wants to be hated. Instead, the correct reaction is to remember the teachings of Bill, just say it’s rubbish and walk away.
Still, Nic Cage’s Adam West impersonation is quite good fun. RANK: E
It appears that sports games with roleplaying elements may be my Kryptonite. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given that I’ve a long and generally regrettable history of adding roleplaying elements to those sports games in which, strictly speaking, noroleplayingelements existed. In any case, the reason I’ve spent the past few weeks enthralled by a game depicting a sport in which I have little interest and less knowledge can be summed up in three words: “My Player Mode”. It’s strikingly similar to the Be A Pro mode in FIFA 09 which ate so much of my life – you create and control a single player through the course of his professional career, gaining experience points depending on how well you perform which you then use to increase that player’s abilities. And so: DIRK JUSTICE.
Jrue Holiday is momentarily distracted by an imaginary deceased tortoise. JUSTICE! takes full advantage.
The first pick of the second round of the 2011 draft by the New Jersey Nets, at the start of the season he was a tall, quick point guard whose talents included: a) a pretty sweet medium-range jumpshot and b) nothing else. DIRK JUSTICE! spent exactly six games in New Jersey being played out of position, not getting the ball and watching team-mates launch hopeless shots into the first four rows of the crowd before demanding a trade and taking his meagre talents to the Pacific Northwest where he survived as a soldier of fortune. After a few months of development playing as a facilitator and streaky scorer for the Trail Blazers, he has now turned into a tall, quick point guard whose talents include a) an even sweeter medium-range jumpshot b) an awesome Sideshow Bob hairdo / serial killer moustache combo and c) nothing else.
Note the score and game time remaining. This is what is professionally known as "Sticking The Boot In." Or possibly "Suck It, Bryant".
It’s possible that NBA2K11 is a rigorous and authentic recreation of basketball. I haven’t the faintest idea, because I know as much about basketball as Danny Dyer knows about string theory. I just know I love the announcer shouting “HERE’S JUSTICE!!” like an Eighties straight-to-video action movie hero every time I take a jumpshot. I love that different teams and different players play noticably different styles, forcing me to adapt my game to beat them. I love that the game’s a significantly different experience playing as a centre than as a shooting guard. Mostly, I love that enough is out of my control that it emotionally involves me.
That seems a bit counterintuitive, so let me try to explain.
When your player releases a shot in NBA2K11, it has a percentage chance of going in. That chance is based on how far from the basket the shooter is, his skill at that range, whether he’s spotted up or shooting off the dribble, how tight the defence is around him, how well you time the button press to make him release the ball and probably several other factors. No matter how ideal the situation you’ve manufactured to take the shot, no matter how well you time your release you can’t guarantee a basket, only shift the percentages in your favour to a greater or lesser degree. This means every shot gives a small gambler’s thrill when it swishes through the hoop, or a sudden spike of righteous annoyance if it clangs off the rim. Either way, the emotional stakes are increased, either in an “I AM A GOLDEN GOD OF BASKETBALL!” fashion or an “I’LL GET YOU NEXT TIME, GADGET!” sort’ve way. The perfect balance of control to Mongo Only Pawn In Game Of Life is found in My Player mode, where I’m regularly delighted by the play of my AI teammates but even more regularly frustrated with them. Crucially though, I’m usually frustrated by them in fairly predictable ways – Greg Oden’s reluctance to attack the basket or Deron Williams’ monomanaical tendancy to take ridiculous shots, for example. Those tendancies make me mentally assign personalities to algorithms, make me get invested in what I’m doing, make me develop a relationship with the other nine players on court and a relationship with the game itself. This results in the sort of emergent narrative you get playing a game like Championship Manager, where the abstraction and random element both fill in the gaps in the AI, playing into the natural human tendancy to see pattern and design where none actually exist. Essentially, the instinct that makes people turn the shadows cast by curtains flapping in the night breeze into a vengeful ghostly apparition, or made a bunch of frozen Scandinavians decide that lightning hitting trees was thrown by a beardy alcoholic with an enormous hammer is the same instinct that makes me shout at Kevin Love for bricking open but insanely optimistic 3-point attempts. I’d like the game to embrace this even more. When I score or block a shot it makes me feel the overpowering urge to declare my awesomeness / taunt my opposite number. To that end, I wish there were some equivalent of the insanely detailed FIFA goal celebration mechanic in the game – if he sinks a clutch shot it would be nice to have DIRK JUSTICE!!! bounce back up the court doing Sam Cassell’s Testicle Dance, f’rinstance.
Derrick Rose gazes with wistful admiration at the majesty of JUSTICE!!'s hair.
Other nittiest of picks – the commentators aren’t brilliant, there’s way too much repetition and they don’t seem to recognise that season averages will be reduced if you’re not playing full-length games. Hence you hear things like “He’s not a regular scorer, but he’s contributing tonight” when DIRK JUSTICE!!!! is 3rd in the NBA in points per game. Also: in “The Association” mode (the game’s equivalent of a Madden Franchise mode, where you’re in full control of a team, functioning as its GM and coach as well as playing every game) you have the option of reducing the number of games played in a full season from 82 down to 54 or even lower. Bizarrely, that’s not available in My Player mode, you’re forced to grind through a full-length season or nothing. Oh, and why are there no glasses available in the otherwise nicely comprehensive player appearance editor? Amar’e Stoudemire has his excellently stupid goggles present and correct, why can’t DIRK JUSTICE!!!!! have the same? Or even better, Rip Hamilton’s mildly terrifying Phantom Of The Opera facemask?
The hypnotic power of the JUSTICE!!! crotch leads to a simple basket.
These really are trivial complaints. NBA2K11 looks good, feels brilliant and has me shouting at Imaginary Brandon Roy for not JUST TAKING THE BLOODY WIDE-OPEN SHOT THAT I JUST SET HIM UP FOR WHERE ARE YOU GOING? OH MY HUGGING GOD. That’s what I want from a sports game.
(This is something of an experiment with structure and word-count. Your pardon is pre-emptively begged.)
CRACKDOWN 2 (Xbox 360)
A free-roaming third-person action game, Crackdown 2 casts you as the ultraviolent cyborg enforcer for a fascist police state. Your mission is to keep the citizenry of Pacific City safe by bounding around the streets and rooftops raining ballistic death on the mysterious monstrous “Freaks” who roam the city at night and the malcontents who roam it by day. This is exactly as much fun as it sounds. And a useful insight as to what the country will look like after 5 years of Tory government OMG TEH SATIRE.
Crackdown 2 gives you a big, varied gameworld to fool around in. While the setting lacks the authenticity, nuance and humour of the Grand Theft Auto games which were an obvious influence, Pacific City’s neighbourhoods range from rickety shanty-towns to glittering skyscrapers with each district presenting a different challenge to traverse effectively. The game has an attractive comic-book aesthetic – all flat colours and thick black outlines – which rather suits its knockabout b-movie storyline and over-the-top action.
Sensibly given the multitude of threats it throws at you, Crackdown 2 starts you with superhuman strength, resilience and leaping ability then only makes you stronger as the game goes on. Killing enemies bestows “experience points” which improve whichever method you used to carry out the kill – firearms, explosives, melee or vehicles. Your foot-speed and jumping are primarily increased via collecting “agility orbs” which are scattered on rooftops around the city, the collection of which becomes almost a game in its own right – part free-climbing, part scavenger hunt. You’re never explicitly directed to carry out a specific mission, rather the game scatters tasks to be performed all over the city and leaves you to pick your own path through them. However, they are all variants on a few basic themes – vehicular checkpoint races, footraces over the rooftops, attacking an enemy base or defending a point from waves of Freak attacks – and even given that moving through the city is fun in and of itself, by about halfway through you have seen everything the game has to offer and the action has begun to feel somewhat samey.
That’s something of a wider theme. Crackdown 2 lives by the motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” to an even greater extent than most sequels. This is both its greatest strength and greatest weakness. Crackdown was an awesome game, and everything that made it fun – orb hunting, stronghold assaults, bouncing from spire to billboard to tower like a cybernetic fascist super-kangaroo – has been transferred to Crackdown 2 with a bit of extra polish and some rough edges taken off. I would have no hesitation whatsoever to recommend it to a newcomer to the series. However, anyone who played the original will likely find that the relatively minor additions and innovations aren’t enough to dispel the nagging feeling that you’ve been here and done this before. Personally, it’s been three years since Crackdown and I was ready for another one. Of it. Your milage may vary.
You know the best thing about being English? It’s that our patron saint is a bloke who was canonised for fighting a flipping DRAGON. It’s a rare and beautiful thing for a country’s saint to so perfectly capture the national character.
Specifically, the character of a self-aggrandising, hopelessly transparant bulldunger.
Because that’s England’s role in the twenty-first century. If the global community were a bar, England would be the beery loudmouth sat in a corner pummelling anyone unfortunate enough to wander into range with shaggy-dog stories of the outrageous and fantastic things he did when he was younger, painfully unaware of how needy and pathetic he sounds. We’re the fatuous git with the bloodshot eyes and gin blossom who so routinely inflates the tales of his past glories that he’s come to believe them himself. We’re the sort of person who pines openly and obnoxiously for The Good Old Days when he was Somebody and young people had respect and you could say what you liked about the birds and the darkies and the fairies without the PC Brigade turning up to cart you away.
England is the Pub Bore Of The World.
This is part of what makes the World Cup so special. Seeing every third house and car decked out with the flag of St. George, to see the country so fervently celebrating the non-existant acheivements of a lying git is a sweet, sweet thing. It’s a nice little reminder that even while the American fundamentalist right wing continues to preach hate in the name of the Prince of Peace, England’s still got a thing or two to teach the world about doltish, unthinking irony. And if that truth’s not worth a bit of chest-thumping tribalism I don’t know what is.
So, you know. If the England football team could see their way clear to extending my state of weary ambivalence by squeaking past Slovenia tomorrow, I wouldn’t object overmuch.
Unlike many other nerds, I never waste any time wondering what I’ll do when the world is overtaken by zombie apocalypse. This is because I’m a large, slow-moving target with no practical or combat skills and a picky appetite. In the event of things going all Romero my assigned role isn’t as one of the plucky, desperate last remnants of humanity but rather as one of the shambling mindless horde. To be honest, I’ve got Boomer written all over me.
Not that these are zombie movies, of course. The difference between zombies and the “infected” from 28 Days / 28 Weeks Later is both semantic and profound. Zombies symbolise our mortality – they might be slow but they pursue us tirelessly and relentlessly. We can stave them off for a while but in the end there’s no escape, whether through bad choices or bad luck eventually they’re going to get us. There’s also an element of zombies representing our society and specifically our worst impulses – our fears, our hate and/or our greed. Single zombies are easily avoided and almost laughable, it’s only when gathered en masse they become incredibly destructive and dangerous.
You know. Like Leeds fans.
The infected don’t have quite the same flavour. They’re much more of a direct individual threat and especially in the first movie we rarely see them in large groups. And, of course, they run. Key sequences in the opening of both films feature characters fleeing with the infected in hot pursuit. It’s a threat that feels more personal, more aggressive than that which their forebears present, an impression that’s further heightened by the speed with which victims join their ranks. Unfortunates bitten by zombies generally take hours if not days to die and rise again, but the Rage virus is passed on in seconds. We live in a world where advertising and the media bombards us with the message that we’re all special, that we’re all clever nonconformists, that our opinions matter. These films give us the monsters we deserve, zombies suitable for attention spans eroded by the millions of different ways Western society presents to distract ourselves while the planet falls to ruin. The infected are suppliers of bespoke carnage for the Me Me Me Now Now Now Generation. Because we’re worth it.