review

Project 52.1: G.I. Combat #1 (Alex v Michael)

…and we’re back.  You might remember Project 52, in which I gathered an elite group – Tim ‘Tumbln’ Maytom, Bret ‘The Enigma’ Canny, and Michael ‘Special Guest Star’ Eckett – in order to review every single one of the 52 #1 issues DC released as it rebooted its entire universe. Now, switching out some of its less successful titles – farewell, dear OMAC – DC has launched six new #1s – G.I. Combat, Earth Two, World’s Finest, Dial H for Hero, The Ravagers and Batman Incorporated. So we thought we’d get the band back together and review the hell out of some comics, in a double-bill, Avengers-vs-X-Men style. It is, as comics publishers are so fond of saying, the perfect jumping on point. So join us for…  G.I. Combat #1 Written by J.T. Krul and  Justin Gray &  Jimmy Palmiotti Art by Nick Olivietti and Dan Panosian                 Michael Reviews G.I. Combat #1 It was only upon Alex requesting that I review G.I. Combat for the second wave of Project 52 that I realised I’m not sure what G.I. stands for. And so I’ve gone in to reading G.I. Combat hoping to find the answer. Good idea? Well let’s get into it and find out. G.I. Combat #1 contains two stories, Krul and Olivietti’s ‘The War That Time Forgot’, in which the US army fights dinosaurs, and ‘The Unknown Soldier’, written by Gray and Palmiotti, with art from Panosian, about a scarred soldier of relentless malice, fuelled by revenge. ‘The War That Time Forgot’ goes by very quickly. After a very brief, rather bland character introduction, in which it’s established that one of our protagonists has a family and the other is his friend, we follow the US investigating an area of anomaly in North Korea. When they spot Pterodactyls, the grossly incompetent soldiers think it’s a good idea to shoot at the dinosaurs. This goes as well as one might imagine, leaving our not-so-gifted individuals stranded in the middle of a war between the North Korean army and dinosaurs. Luckily, whilst the dialogue isn’t to my liking, Ariel Ollivetti’s realistic artwork works well in a book filled with vehicles of destruction, giant Indosuchus [Indosuchi? – Plural Ed], Tyranosaurus Rex and Pterodactyls. His digital colouring might be jarring to those not used to it but it’s the best I’ve seen of his recent style. The characters’ faces are smooth and expressive and whilst previously his photo-referenced objects, like guns or backgrounds seemed to stick out from the figure work, they now blend together more. I find it hard to complain about anyone who draws a fighter jet tearing through a Pterodactyl, guts, intestines and blood spurting out the other side. ‘The Unknown Soldier’ is a standard origin story told through two narrative devices which don’t entirely mesh. We’re introduced to the Unknown Soldier as he ruthlessly and effectively kills Al-Qaeda soldiers, told through a US soldier’s letter home. A colonel then interviews the Unknown Soldier about his past, revealing his origins and the reason for his brutality. It functions similarly to a superhero origin and makes better use of its 14 pages than ‘The War That Time Forgot’, feeling more like a complete story. There’s a really nice touch of black humour at one point and a genuinely intriguing ending. Panosian’s art is kind of scratchy during moments of conflict but cleaner during flashbacks to a happier time in the Unknown Soldier’s life, making it quite effective. His action makes war chaotic but has few moments of depicted violence, often focusing more on the person shooting than who they’re shooting at. G.I. Combat #1 is a bit of a mixed bag, but there is something enjoyable there and it adds some diversity to the DC line whilst maintaining enough fantastical elements to stop it from feeling out of place. I still haven’t learnt what G.I. stands for though. I’m going with Gun Infested. FINAL GRADE: C+ Alex Reviews G.I. Combat #1 And it really is. From front cover – we’ll get to that in a moment – to back, G.I. Combat is guns, guns, guns. Manly men with gunly guns. Also, as my esteemed colleague pointed out, some dinosaurs. And then more guns. The cover is fairly lights on guns, though. FEATURING THE WAR THAT TIME FORGOT, it boasts, over images of the aforementioned dinosaurs crushing war machinery (hell yes). Tucked away in one corner, next to a scowly-faced bandaged marine, it adds ALSO: THE DARK AND VIOLENT WORLD OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER (ick). With those exclamations and its double feature , it’s could almost be a comic you found at the bottom of a bargain bin, printed on yellowing paper with a great big DRAWING THE LINE AT 25¢ sticker peeling off the front. The cover makes a promise – comics like your grandaddy read. Of the two stories, ‘The War That Time Forgot’ keeps this promise best. It plays its premise straight, keeping its men serious, musclebound, and with conveniently humanising families (and guns!), trading lumpen banter, and its dinos helicopter-chewingly lethal. Unlike my comrade, I’m not familiar with Olivietti’s art – however, it shines through that this it isn’t the work of an artist/inker/colourist team, but a single hand. Everything is given a hard black outline, but the details are delicately picked out within that, in subtly differing shades of naturalistic colour. It’s a little static, but all rather stunning – at least, as long as you’re looking where the art wants you to be. The fit between the painterly faces (and dinosaurs, which look like they’ve come to life from Mars Attacks-style trading cards) and the computer-generated everything else is awkward to say the least. Those guns, of which you see so many, helicopters and even scenery have all been amateurishly SketchUpped into life, their smooth textures pasted on top, behind and in the hands of the impressive figurework. It all reaches a horrible climax at, well, the climax […]

The Lovefilm Files: 100-Word Reviews

It’s time for my yearly Lovefilm 3-month subscription. As a rule, I’ll play more new (and newish) console games over this period than the entire rest of the year. So let’s take a look at what I’ve got out at the moment, shall we? And why not do it in perfectly-formed, exactly-100-word chunks? Battlefield: Bad Company 2 looks like a Modern Warfare clone and kinda-sorta is… until you blow your first wall down. That big irrepressible grin carries you to the point where destroying buildings feels natural and tactical. But it makes awful choices, especially in the unlocks system. Rewarding more experienced players by boosting their abilities is counter-intuitive enough. But depriving classes of key equipment? (It takes two hours playing medic before you’re allowed medkits). Madness. I’m right on the cusp of greatly enjoying it, and can’t help but feel it’s me doing something wrong. But isn’t that the first sign of an abusive relationship? Just Cause 2 proves you only need two things to make a game compelling: an interesting setting, and an interesting way of getting around it. The latter is most obvious: you can grapple, skydive and parachute around with comedically ridiculous ease. But Panau is possibly the greater achievement, harking back to the tropical lusciousness of Far Cry and the nooks & crannies of GTA: San Andreas. It could do with more usable stuff hidden around: there’s nothing to be found as brilliant as GTA‘s jetpacks. Nevertheless, it’s a deeply satisfying place to explore and then blow up, one fuel depot at a time. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is, for a game featuring four different Spider-Men (Vanilla, Teeny, Gritty, Dayglo), surprisingly repetitive. It steals smartly, especially in its stealthy Noir levels which are equal parts Arkham Asylum and Splinter Cell Conviction (working the HUD-minimising features of the latter into its sepia-tone world better than Conviction did). But every level follows the same boss/rubbish minions/boss formula, and making long play sessions exhausting. Most of the pleasure I got out of it were tickles to my geek lobes from seeing the familiar rendered in shiny graphics. For all it borrows from that game, it’s as if Arkham Asylum never happened.

The Right One?

Let The Right One In is the title of a Morrissey song. Let Me In is the title of a song by Jefferson Airplane. Let The Right One In starts with a troubled young boy stabbing a tree with a penknife. Let Me In starts with a horrifically acid-burned man being rushed to hospital before killing himself. Let Me In gets to all that later. Let The Right One In is a 2008 Swedish film about children & vampires. Let Me In is a 2010 American remake about vampires, and children. And that’s about all there is, in terms of differences. Names may be changed to protect the (not so) innocent, bits are shuffled around, but they are almost exactly the same film. Startlingly so, in fact. Scenes are lifted without change, dialogue is spoken straight from the original subtitles, shots are duplicated with unerring precision. It is, in every sense, a remarkably faithful adaptation. And yet. The film might, possibly, be an incredibly clever extension of the vampire metaphor. If you reanimate a corpse, perfectly, can it ever truly be the same person? It stretches this into the very body (the attractive, if strange-smelling, body) of the film itself. If two films are made of the exact same material, are they really different films? Can they ever be the same film? Annoyingly, I’m unsure. It’s easy to say ‘oh, it’s not as good as the original’. That’s the line I’m sure thousands of people will be muttering as they emerge from screenings this weekend; it’s the line thousands more have had pre-prepared for months. And it’s true – the addition of unnecessary special-effects and the few tiny tweaks to the plot make a slightly weaker film – but that’s all a bit too tidy, don’t you think? It’s definitely true to say this is one of the most pointless remakes I’ve ever seen. It’s simultaneously true that it’s one of the best. When it has the conviction to be a little different, the film begins to find itself. (A lesson we should all take from the last few years of adaptations, by my reckoning. See also: Scott Pilgrim, Watchmen, Kick Ass…) Two car-set murder scenes are, as far as I can remember, the biggest departure from the original. The second, especially, with its beautiful symmetry and all-mixed-up-tension is stylish, satisfying and smart. It contains the one intentional laugh in the film, shows some directorial flair, and opens up one the film’s big questions a bit: is it okay to sympathise with monsters? It is the film’s breakaway moment. Memory is a key thing in all these judgements, so allow me to add a quick disclaimer: it has been over a year since I last watched Let The Right One In, and my perceptions of it are warped. A few conversations and a quick Youtube hunt prove that bits I thought were silly Hollywood add-ons were actually in the original, along with at least one other scene I have zero recollection of. Because all that matters, really, is that snowy courtyard and a frozen climbing frame area and two children, slightly too old for their surroundings, talking nervously. And Let Me In got that down, perfectly. In my memories, at least, Let The Right One In is a masterpiece. Let Me In … isn’t a bad copy, actually.

Run, Meatboy, Run

Weak, weak, weak. Expect this to be your mantra while you play Super Meat Boy, the latest downloadable platforming treat on the Live Marketplace. Like Braid a couple of years ago, it’s an indie-developed love poem to old Mario games, with a twist on the classic formula. Braid‘s twist was time travel. Unless you were Soulja Boy, it was a game that demanded a thoughtful approach to most of its levels: as much time was spent with hand on chin as on the controller. Like Braid, the levels are inventive and will often take several replays to solve. Unlike Braid, that’s not because your brain needs time to puzzle out the solution: Super Meat Boy demands only your body. Every level is an endurance test of reflexes and, by your hundredth squishy death, of muscle memory. The game is a chain of hundreds of small levels, each taking less than half a minute to finish. In theory. Because you’ll be reliving those half-minutes over and over again. Normally, that counts against a game: difficulty spikes, having to play unnecessarily hard bits repeatedly, equals bad design. The genius of SMB is that it’s all one big difficulty spike. The short and perfectly-formed nature of each level make it hard to get frustrated with Super Meat Boy. No, it’s not the game that’s flawed. It’s you. SMB will smack you down time and time again, but you can see it waiting impatiently for you to get better. Because each level is short, there’s little punishment for failure – except becoming a messy red blob on the landscape – and a lot of room for practice. Saying that SMB has none of Braid‘s puzzling isn’t quite fair: it’s easy to see, in most cases, that there is a perfect solution to every level. Every failure teaches you something. Play enough and you can see the cogs at work. It’s like testing yourself against a huge creaking machine, like one of those Japanese game-shows, as hosted by GLaDos. The levels are perfectly designed so that going back once you’ve finished them, they suddenly seem easy. And go back you will. There’s …ahem, excuse me… a lot of meat on the bones of this game. Levels have hidden warp zones and collectible bandages which unlock bonus characters and retro 8-bit minigames. But leaning heaviest on that easy-when-you-return feeling is the Dark World. which provides a twisted, even more curse-inducingly variant on every level. These variations are unlocked by A+’ing – beating a set completion time for – the original level. Playing for the A+’s completely changes the game. Tentative steps are exchanged for a furious blur of action. You’re truly in control of this slippery red blob, vaulting and flipping and bouncing off walls, leaving a victorious red wake. When you’ve mastered the levels, it feels triumphant. So it’s easy to forget that, just round the corner is another unbeatable level. You might just be able, on attempt #237, to scrape through it. But you’ll never get the perfect time. And what about that bandage? Remember: the game will beat you, eventually. After all, you’re just tired weak flesh. Just meat, boy.