Latest Game and Movie Reviews (Live Update)

* Game Ratings (/10), Movie Ratings (/5)

DS Tokyo Beat Down 7.1
Xbox 360 Fracture 8.0
MOVIE The Unborn 0
PC Left 4 Dead 8.7
Xbox 360 Mirror's Edge 8.5
MOVIE Dead Space Downfall 3.5
MOVIE The Day the Earth Stood Still 0.5
PSP Super Stardust Portable 9.7  CHOICE PICK
PSP Need for Speed Undercover 2.8
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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Movie Review: Mirrors

What commercial movie reviewers won't tell you.



One need not be reminded of the current ‘American-ized’ film predicament – and the fact that Mirrors is yet another one of those Asian rehashes makes it ripe for dismissal, but you would only be doing yourself a great disservice if you decide to let this film slip by. Mirrors is, quite simply, one of the rarest species in the film industry – a vestige of horror movies that used to be really hair-raising. Coupled with a story ever so intriguing and some impressive character development, Mirrors is thus far one of the best movies I have seen this year.

Kiefer Suntherland of television hit 24 fame stars as Ben Carson, an ex-cop who has been suspended from the force after he accidentally killed one of his colleagues. This incident sends him into depression and he is now a shadow of his former self – a man of alcohol and pills, and a man whose marriage and custody of his children are on the line. Staying with his younger sister (Amy Smart), Ben views the night-shift security guard job at Mayflower, a once opulent department store but now a derelict building ravaged by a fire which killed dozens of shoppers 5 years ago, as an opportunity for redemption and a gateway back to an ordinary life.

But it becomes certain that the almost countless number of mirrors inside the building have nightmares to tell when Ben starts to hear noises and experience preternatural visions during his regular patrols. Things aren’t as simple as they seem, however, as the mirrors everywhere start to become conduits – conduits which endanger the lives of anyone related to him, including his younger sister, wife (Paula Patton) and 2 kids.

The sinister mirrors in Mayflower want Ben to seek out one particular woman for them and he must now race against time to solve the mystery behind them and break the evil. Fail to accomplish the goal and his sister, family and even Ben himself could end up like his predecessor – brutally murdered in the most horrific way imaginable (ala Saw).

As a warning, I should say that Mirrors is not meant for the faint-hearted. Certainly, you could argue that Mirrors employs some cliché horror figures, from the ghost-with-the-gross-face-and-skin-tingling-scream to the mental person who behaves in the most hysterically nightmarish fashion possible, and some of the trite ‘Gotcha!’ moments and that you have already seen what is presented here in other horror films ten times over. You could also argue that this film isn’t fresh and that since it is merely recycling decade-old tricks, the said could grow really predictable after a while. While I do generally agree with many other commercial film reviewers with regard to this point (cliché horror figures and 'Gotcha!' moments) , I must say that they are totally missing the crux of the film.

To mention that Mirrors is nothing but a stale and predictable film is truly an understatement – no, let’s just say the understatement is an understatement of itself. Mirrors adds so MUCH more to the said horror elements that there is as much of an original, creative and innovative horror element-cum-trick introduced in this film as the usual stuffs other horror films use in vain to scare audiences out of their wits.

And that ‘original, creative and innovative element-cum-trick’ I am discussing about is none other than the psychological aspects of the horror present in this film. The fact that this film is able to adopt an everyday subject and TRANSFORM it into a haunting object is already impressive enough. But the film continues to toy with the psychological fear factor by making US, OURSELVES, into the scariest part of the film – the reflections of the characters in the mirrors in this film are truly the scariest – because they can make the characters do things to themselves they won’t want to do. In comparison to the typical physical horror aspects (for example, the woman-with-long-hair in the The Ring) seen in other films, the horror here is more relatable and believable. This is a VERY unique taste of horror, indeed – and one that won’t be found in other films.

Yes, as mentioned, physical horror aspects are still present in this film, but they are placed in such a strategic manner that they never seem forced or overused. Instead, they are woven flawlessly together with the psychological horror aspects such that the film isn’t just a horror film, but an art of movie-making by itself. The events here are really unpredictable – hence, a surprise every few minutes. It helps that the pacing is perfect, ensuring the movie is nail-biting throughout, right down to the conclusion of the film, which just throws me out of my seat – it’s that GOOD.

Part of the horror experienced in this film can be attributed to the addition of the Ben’s family in the story. His family is MORE than just extra characters in the film; in having Ben’s family in the story too, the director has just created more characters that you actually care and worry about. The fact that Ben has a family also aids in his character development, particularly the evolvement of him as a haphazard person to one who is truly responsible.

Final Comments
Mirrors is one really good film, and one really scary one. The film goes one up over other horror movies by introducing some psychological horror aspects in a move that proves to be more than rewarding as we are treated to a perfect balance of both physical and psychological horror aspects that ends up more than capable of scaring even the adults out of their wits. The addition of Ben’s family adds a much welcomed depth to the story and Ben’s character development. The film wraps up everything in one of the most suspenseful finales ever in what could only be described as sheer entertainment and surprise (YES, there is an ingenious story twist at the end). Mirrors is the MOST intelligent film yet in 2008. Go get your tickets.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Games Convention Asia 2008: The Experience

Organized by the same people responsible for the Leipzig Games Convention held just this August, Games Convention Asia (GCA) provides gamers in the Asia Pacific region with one massive game show that they can finally call their own. GCA returns to the Suntec Exhibition and Convention Centre in Singapore for its 2nd year and I had the chance to immerse myself in the gaming goodness today.

This being the 2nd GCA, there was noticeably more participation – and I wouldn’t be surprised if the attendance at this year’s GCA surpasses 2007’s number of 70,000 public visitors. As always, EA had the utmost honor of having the biggest booth at the show, showcasing an impressive mix of both recently-released and unreleased titles.

Recently-released titles being showcased:
- Crysis Warhead (PC)
- The Sims 2 Apartment Life expansion pack (PC)
- Spore (PC)
- Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning (PC)
- Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 (Xbox 360)
- FaceBreaker (Xbox 360)

Unreleased titles being showcased:
- Red Alert 3 (PC)
- My Sims (PC)
- FIFA Online 2 (PC)
- My Sims Kingdom (DS)
- Need for Speed Undercover (Xbox 360) [*image above ]
- Dead Space (Xbox 360)
- Lord of the Rings: Conquest (Xbox 360)
- NBA Live 09 (Xbox 360)
- Mirror’s Edge (PS3)
- FIFA 09 (PS3)

Besides EA, Maxsoft also made its presence felt with the 2nd biggest booth at the show. Several Wii and DS stations were set up for the public to try out both released and unreleased titles.

Released titles being showcased:
- Wii Sports (Wii)
- Wii Fit (Wii)
- Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Wii, DS)
- Guitar Hero: Aerosmith (Wii)
- SNK Arcade Classics: Volume 1 (Wii)
- From the Abyss (DS)
- Bangai-O Spirits (DS)
- Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures (DS)
- Kung Fu Panda (DS)

Unreleased titles being showcased:
- Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party (Wii)
- Dokapon Kingdom (Wii)
- FaceBreaker K.O. Party (Wii)
- High School Musical 3: Senior Year (Wii)
- Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood (DS)
- Disgaea DS (DS)
- Kirby Super Star Ultra (DS)

In addition, there’s also Replay Interactive, which represented both Koei and THQ at the show. Titles being showcased include Wall-E, Big Beach Sports, Lock’s Quest, Dynasty Warriors 6 and Saints Row 2. Games from New Era Interactive, which imports Ubisoft titles into South East Asia, as well as Soul Calibur 4 (PS3) and a host of new MMORPGs make up the list of playable games at the show. To sum up, there’s a great deal of games to be enjoyed at this year’s show.

The fantastic showing of games is one thing, but the exhibitors at this year’s show is another. More noteworthy is the focus of this year’s show, which seems to have adopted a less-casual approach in comparison to 2007’s. The absence of the made-for-the-casual-gamers mobile phone games and MapleStory, which were present at 2007’s show, demonstrates the shifting focus of the GCA.

Meanwhile, I had the opportunity to try out Need for Speed Undercover for the Xbox 360. Need for Speed Undercover marks the return of the spectacular cop chases last seen in Need for Speed Most Wanted (nope, the ‘cop element’ in NFS Carbon was subdued, so that doesn’t count), while at the same time, seems to have borrowed from Carbon as the overall presentation of the maps is very much like the aforementioned. Unfortunately, the game proved more of an annoyance than enjoyment during my hands-on session with it. Framerates were unstable throughout, but the developers should have enough time from now till the game’s release in November to do the necessary polishing.

I also managed to have a go at FaceBreaker K.O. Party for the Wii [* image above]. However, like my hands-on session with Need for Speed Undercover, my time with this game didn’t come off too well. FaceBreaker K.O. Party seems to fail to utilize any of the creativity and innovation that the Wii controls promise as moves were relegated to holding the C button on the nunchuck and hitting the corresponding directional button on the d-pad. I would like to have motion controls, please. The game could also use more polish in the graphics department.

All in all, this year’s GCA was a great success, though there are still rooms for improvement. The floorspace could have been better utilized to accommodate more exhibitors and more new games could have been introduced. But the fact that this year’s GCA adopted a less-casual approach (phasing out mobile phone games in exchange for more hardcore titles) is assurance that next year’s GCA will be packed with even hotter titles. I have high hopes for GCA 2009.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Movie Review: Bangkok Dangerous

Bangkok Romance, perhaps?


RATING: 3.0/5


Our dear Mr. Cage starrs in yet another action movie, a movie that involves an assassin, to be exact. Almost instantly, over-the-top vehicle chases, spectacular fighting scenes, and a mysterious atmosphere were conjured up in my mind. What could possibly go wrong? Of course, things could possibly go wrong and Bangkok Dangerous shows how it can be done.

A remake of a 1999 Asian film of the same name, Nicholas Cage is Joe the assassin in Bangkok Dangerous. Joe’s last job takes him to Bangkok where he has been engaged by a notorious crimelord to carry out 4 contract killings. This being Joe’s last job, he would obtain his final suitcase of cash and retire once all 4 targets have been silenced. However, assassins always seem to have the worst of lucks and as you would have guessed by now, things fail to go according to plans.

Prior to his assignment in Bangkok, Joe would always abide by his rules – rules that ensure the survival of an assassin. Unfortunately, Joe becomes too senile to recall his rules by his last job. En route to attain more information on his first target, Joe spots a local watch peddler, Kong (Shahkrit Yamnarm). Capitalizing on the peddler’s greed, Joe offers him some money so that he could be his runner – which also makes Joe’s task of covering his tracks more convenient. Demonstrating what a hitman should never do, Joe warms up to Kong after the later successfully accomplishes a few errands and becomes his mentor. Meanwhile, Joe falls for a local woman – a mute pharmacist vaguely acknowledged as Fon (Charlie Yeung). Certainly, trusting people one hardly knows a day before and building relationships with them isn’t going to be part of an assassin’s training – further evidence that Joe isn’t fit to be a hitman any longer. Needless to say, the aforementioned relationships become his undoing.

To start with, it’s near impossible to identify what this movie is driving at. If Bangkok Dangerous is supposed to be an action movie, it has just failed miserably. There were several instances where I thought things would escalate into a nail-biting action scene, but was brutally let down. This film is choke full with so many stale and generic scenes like sniper-at-the-window and shoot-and-escape sequences, as well as plan-failed and run-into-crowd-and-hope-to-evade-police sequences, so much so that everything becomes REALLY really predictable within the first 30 minutes. For an action movie, I was expecting more creativity in the screenplay. Creativity isn’t the only thing lacking, however, as action sequences are so short and forgettable that there’s really nothing to suggest that thought and effort have been put into making the movie as thrilling as possible. In fact, the only noteworthy scene in this film is the boat chase that takes place at the floating market. Otherwise, rarely have scenes convince me that this is an action movie.

Feeding time.

Perhaps Bangkok Dangerous is supposed to a film touching on romance. No, casting the typical hot girl to lure our assassin into love just wouldn’t cut it – obviously, the production crew has to spice things up, right? So we have this mute pharmacist called Fon as Joe’s love interest. Quite interestingly, the fact that Fon is mute adds another dimension into how the romance plays out in the film. Being mute means that feelings have to be communicated via actions and facial expressions (think Wall-E), adding to the challenge of creating a realistic romance sequence. Fortunately, in that regard, Bangkok Dangerous has an unerring success rate. However, for all the impressive performance as far as the romance portions are concerned, the film fails to flesh out the characters and story – in the beginning, at least. Joe and Fon take as fast as a flick of a coin to fall in love – something that sounds considerably unbelievable, but thankfully, a respectable amount of time was spent on the detailing the dating parts so the romance story arc is still plausible. It’s weird that while Bangkok Dangerous is marketed as an action film, its romance portions actually outshine its action scenes.

So you wonder – this is Bangkok Romance, right, not Bangkok Dangerous as the people behind this film would have you to believe. Well, perhaps this film’s Bangkok Travelogue too. As much as I must credit the romance scenes here for being outstanding, I can’t help but feel that this movie is also a free advertisement for Thailand’s tourism industry in disguise. During the course of the entire film, various places of attractions, Thai customs, cultures, festivals and food were introduced that this film is as much of a solid travelogue program as it is of a romantic movie (may I remind you again that this film is more romance than action).

Final Comments
This is Bangkok Dangerous, Bangkok Romance and Bangkok Travelogue. Well, it seems that the production crew just can’t decide what kind of film they were going to create. On the action front, this film is clearly very disappointing. But on the romance front, this film is one of the better ones, if not one of the best (I bet Wall-E is the inspiration). And thanks for introducing me to the wonders of Thailand. Given that this film’s been marketed as an action flick, it would almost be certain that you would be going into the cinema expecting some spectacular action sequences, but look beyond the dismal action here, and what you will find is a decent film.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Game Review: From the Abyss

The perfect substitute for your sleeping pills.



The Good:
The weapons, skills, and items * Co-op play

The Bad:
Incredibly repetitive * Different layouts of grids of rooms for every play session more of a gimmick * Recycled enemy designs towards the midway * Very poor A.I. * Unimpressive visuals * Average artwork and sounds

Describing this game isn’t going to be hard. From the Abyss is essentially Dynasty Warriors, but with dragons, witches, bats and other mythical creatures as enemies instead of ancient Chinese warriors. Having said that, this game certainly isn’t going to appeal to everyone. The run-of-the-mill dungeon crawling adventure offered here would unequivocally convince action RPG fans to participate in yet another hack-and-slash experience until the next big game arrives, but non-fans are advised to move on.

To be fair, From the Abyss is a decently-crafted adventure. There are a total of 8 worlds to explore, each with a different theme. Each world has been separated into a manageable 4 stages and each stage is further broken down into several grids of rooms. Some of the grids have branching pathways that could either lead you to a loot, which may also be dropped by some of the fallen enemies, or the exit of a particular stage. The fact that the game automatically plots the map for you as you progress through the grids of rooms is greatly appreciated as this makes returning to the game after a save more convenient.

One feature included here is that whenever you return to your game after you have exited it, the layout of the grids of rooms will change. What this translates into is a different experience every time, as well as for everyone. While intended to impress, this feature doesn’t. From the Abyss varies the layout of the grids of rooms for every play session via random rotation of fixed grid templates. A particular grid template may have steps to the right, a passageway to the next grid on the left, and a specific type of enemy located on a fixed position on the grid, while the other grid template may have cliffs to the right, steps to the left, and a pair of enemies located at the entrance of the grid. Therein lays the problem. From the Abyss contains such a limited variety of grid templates that after a while, I found myself seeing the same layout of world elements and enemy positions on a grid every few rooms. If weren’t for the map, I’d have been lost. And thanks to this gimmick, this game grows incredibly repetitive after less than an hour.

The repetitiveness could have been reduced were the enemy designs more varied and the A.I. more intelligent. Instead, what you have here are recycled enemy designs towards the midway of the game and A.I. that’s as retarded as a blindfolded chimpanzee shooting a rifle backwards. The question of why I am fighting the same enemy constantly pops up throughout the entire game and this is definitely a sign that this game DOES need more creativity. The A.I. is so bad that I dare say that this game doesn’t offer any challenge – at all. Enemies don’t even attack until you are very close to them and the bosses here are laughable. This flaw is made more palpable once your reach higher skill levels, where your attack points and defense points are significantly increased – and when you do reach higher skill levels, do observe your ability to take down a boss within 30 seconds. If there’s anything closer to the intelligence of the A.I. in Dynasty Warriors, it’s the A.I. in From the Abyss.

YES, this game is ridiculously repetitive (and easy), and no one could have blamed you if you have fallen asleep while playing this. The different weapons, skills and items do keep you awake, though – but only a little. There are 3 slots that you can allocate to different skills you have obtained like fire magical spells, more powerful javelin attacks, and hammer throws, but that isn’t saying much, is it? At least there’s a decent number of subjects to inject some fun (IF there’s any fun at all) into the game.

From the Abyss offers players the option to engage in co-op play with a friend who also owns a copy of the game, but why Wi-Fi play isn’t included is beyond me. I haven’t attempted co-op play since there isn’t anyone I could play game with, but why do I need a partner when this game’s already SO easy?

Presentation-wise, this game is acceptable for the masses, and terrible for the more discerning. The 2D graphics scream old-school, but I believe this game could have done with more impressive visuals to give more polish to an already boring package. There’s a store and town center where you can purchase weapons, armor, skills and items and talk to villagers respectively, but all characters are presented in still-art form. The art is merely average and characters only have 1 or 2 lines. Each world has a different tune to accompany it, but there’s really nothing to write home about the sound here – just appropriate fare that isn’t exciting in any way.

Final Comments
This game is the perfect substitute for your sleeping pills – it wouldn’t be much of a wonder if you fell asleep playing it. From the Abyss attempted some features not indigenous to the action RPG genre like different grid layouts and co-op play, but nothing goes down all too well. The enemy designs are embarrassingly recycled over and over AND OVER again, and the A.I.’s just too bad that’s this game is as easy as learning ABC. The 2D graphics, average artwork and non-too-exciting sounds do nothing to relieve this game’s bore factor. The saving grace? The different weapons, skills and items. If you’re an action RPG fan, by all means, give this game a try. But for all others, skip this.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Handheld Redesigns: An In-depth Look

Recent months have been rife with reports of PSP and DS redesigns, and while the former has indeed been officially announced, the later hasn’t, and in this feature, Powerplay blog is going to take an in-depth look at the new wares that Sony and Nintendo will and may be parading out in the near future.


The 3rd iteration of the PSP came as one of the biggest Sony announcements at the 2008’s Games Convention in Leipzig, Germany. While the PSP-3000 sports neither a further reduction in size nor weight, it will enhance the voice functionality of the PSP via the addition of a new built-in microphone. Needless to say, this would be a boon to Skype users and games which support voice chat and/or commands.

An anti-reflective finish will also be among some of the subtle changes made to the PSP Slim and Lite (PSP-2000). On one hand, this translates into a cleaner PSP frame as fingerprints and dirt would be less visible, while on the other hand, there will be less glare on the screen, greatly increasing the outdoor playability of the handheld.

Changes to the shape of the buttons can also be noticed. The PSP’s Start, Select and Home buttons are now oval-shaped instead of semi-circle-shaped. The PS logo replaces the word ‘Home’, while the Sony logo has been moved to above the d-pad. The rather ‘hard’ corners of the PSP Slim and Lite have also been softened to create an all-round sleeker look.

Perhaps more noteworthy is the improved LCD Screen on the PSP-3000. The new LCD screen allows the PSP-3000 to display a wider range of colors than the PSP Slim and Lite and features 5 times the contrast ratio than that on the later. What these mean is that the PSP-3000 will be able to project more vivid displays. Another notable improvement would be the quicker pixel response time of the LCD screen, which decreases ghosting during fast action scenes in games and videos. However, netizens have voiced one worry about this new and more powerful LCD screen: a shorter battery life. Sony has verified that the new screen will not affect the battery life of the PSP-3000; in fact, the PSP-3000 will have the same battery life as the PSP Slim and Lite. What Sony engineers have done is to decrease the power draw from other components of the handheld to balance things out.

The PSP-3000 will be available from October 14 as part of a Ratchet and Clank: Size Matters entertainment package, which would also include a National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets UMD, a PlayStation Network download voucher for Echochrome, and a 1GB memory stick. Additionally, there would be another bundle that packs in a PlayStation Network download voucher for Everyday Shooter and a 4GB memory stick. The former contains the Ice Silver PSP-3000, while the later contains the Piano Black PSP-3000. Both will retail for US$199.99. A core pack containing the Piano Black PSP-3000 would also be available later this year.

Worth Buying?

Save for the new screen, the changes made to the PSP Slim and Lite aren’t really that impressive. The microphone makes it more convenient for users to Skype, but as far as calls are concerned, I have seen few people using their PSPs for that function. Games that support voice chat and/or commands are few and far between as well, making that new built-in microphone more of a gimmick than a real improvement over the PSP Slim and Lite.

The subtle surface redesigns really feel like they are done for the sake of the redesign rather than something that is done to genuinely enhance the user experience. The PSP-3000’s saving grace comes in the form of the new screen, but even then, the change in display quality isn’t that distinct to warrant an observation from users, especially when their attention is geared towards the game or movie that they are playing. Personally, I am satisfied with my current PSP Slim and Lite – I don’t need the microphone and the display doesn’t skid too far in quality. The redesigned edges and button shape alterations are uncalled for.

For consumers who haven’t owned a PSP before, the PSP-3000 presents a good reason to finally get one. But for others, the PSP-3000 just doesn’t have enough improvements to justify a purchase. In other words, if you already have either of the older PSP models, the PSP-3000 is not worth buying.

Rumoured DS Lite Redesign

* Fanart

The rumour has been flying for quite a while now, and what better time to address it than now? According to reports, the redesigned DS Lite would be officially announced in May or June 2009.

The DS Lite Redesign is set to go one up over the DS Lite with touch-screen functionality enabled for both screens. Both the DS screens will also support widescreen aspect ratio. If true, this could mean that the redesign is in fact DS 2. The double touch-screens in the rumoured redesign could mean that new DS games would no longer be cross-compatible with different DS systems as both the original DS and DS Lite has only one touch-screen. On the other hand, the rumoured redesign would certainly result in more creative and innovative gameplay. However, there hasn’t been any rumour about improvements to the DS’s graphical capabilities, which contradicts the possibility of a DS 2.

Words also have it that the GameBoy cartridge slot would be excluded, making an even slimmer DS possible. What does these all mean? Stay tuned to find out.

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