Written & Directed by Jesse Johnson Starring Dominique Vandenberg, Stephen Bauer, and Stana Katic
Released by: 20th Century Fox Region: 1 Rating: R Anamorphic: Yes.
My Advice: Skip it.
Jack Severino (Vandenberg) is having a rough time in the mean streets of Mexico (or maybe it’s South America…it’s really hard to tell, and I don’t know that anybody ever clarifies the issue). He’s been shot up and lost all of his memory except a vague recollection of an attractive woman that he seems to remember he might have been in love with. Oh, and his only marketable skill is kicking ass and taking a beating. So.
Enter Manolo (Bauer), a low-level hustler in a cheap suit who sees an opportunity to hit the big time with Jack as a pit fighter (except he doesn’t know Jack’s name, so spends the whole movie calling him “Fighter”). Jack is very very good at breaking peoples’ heads in the ring, so they make a little bit of loot. Then there’s a very rapid sprint to a half-assed ending involving money stolen from the “mafia” (I think they mean “cartel,” which would make it South America, but who knows?) and the most ridiculous shootout scene in the history of cinema.
The official word has come down from on high: Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion has gone gold, putting it on track to make its projected March 21st street date. Start setting yourself some automated reminders to do things like eat, feed the pets, and occasionally call your loved ones so they don’t spend frantic hours calling hospitals and morgues after you disappear completely from the social radar of everyone you know.
I’ll be available on Xbox Live if anybody needs me for anything.
Written by Joe Wiesenfeld, based on the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Directed by Rodney Gibbons Starring Matt Frewer and Kenneth Walsh
Released by: Hallmark Home Entertianment Region: 1 Rating: NR Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Pick up the Jeremy Brett series DVDs instead.
In my ongoing research into the effluvia of popular culture, I have achieved a breakthrough. I have discovered a corollary to Widgett’s Law of Relative Development. I call it the Law of Perpetual Development, or Sherlock‘s Law. It states, quite simply, that no more than two years can pass without someone attempting a new adaptation of one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s works. This time around, Hallmark takes its turn, cranking out a quartet of 90-minute pieces starring Matt Frewer of Max Headroom fame. They fall back on some of the most popular of Doyle’s works, with the exception of “The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire,” which is a thorough departure from Doyle’s canon penned by director Rodney Gibbons.
Published & Developed by Ubisoft Platform: PS2, Gamecube, Xbox, Xbox 360 (reviewed on Xbox 360) ESRB Rating: Teen
My Advice: Rent it for the unbridled joy of smashing dinosaurs in the guise of a 30-foot gorilla.
With any massive blockbuster movie release, the gaming world is assured of a tie-in video game. The vast (and do I ever mean vast) majority of these tie-in games are the sort of crap that ends up buried in landfills. A few games in the past couple of years have challenged that paradigm somewhat (notably Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, which was a more interesting project than the film it was supposed to help market), but the prevailing wisdom remains: movie games are shitty games, and should be avoided at all costs.
While 2005 saw the beginnings of Console War III (or is it IV?) with Microsoft’s shiny white box, the conflict will truly escalate in 2006 (if projections about Nintendo and Sony release dates are to be believed). By Christmas, we’re told we’ll have access to the Revolution and the PS3, and everybody will be selling plasma to afford to feed their high-def gaming addictions. Amidst all this noise of console launches and funky new controllers and world-shattering online services that will do everything under the sun, a tiny little detail gets missed. Consoles are just expensive doorstops without software. It’s about the games, stupid. Ask Microsoft how their 360 launch is doing in Japan if you need further elucidation on this point.
So what’s coming down the pipe? What are the most likely candidates for your hard-earned legal tender? Well, the proof will be in the playing, obviously, but there are a few things floating out there that certainly look like they fit the bill so far. In the category of role-playing games, here’s a few to keep on your radar and track ’til reviews start coming out (presented in no particular order).
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: Bethesda has scored major points with the RPG fiends for all of their previous Elder Scrolls games, but the port of Morrowind to the Xbox opened up a new audience and proved that traditional Western-style RPGs could succeed on consoles and compete with the typically more story-driven Japanese RPGs that have dominated the console market. Oblivion has had gamers drooling since the first set of screenshots hit last year, and the number of Xbox 360 preorders that were placed because of this title was likely significant (I know I was one of them). When the game was pushed to March of this year, I briefly considered cancelling said pre-order and just waiting ’til this title dropped, but couldn’t resist the shiny new toy in the long run. Release date: Currently scheduled to drop March 20th on both PC and Xbox 360.
Final Fantasy XII: Another of the “should’ve been out last year” RPG titles, FFXII returns to the world of Ivalice (of Final Fantasy Tactics fame), with FFT and Vagrant Story director Yasumi Matsuno steering the ship. Matsuno’s involvement suggests a game of somewhat grittier tone than recent Final Fantasy installments, and the CG cutscenes and in-game graphics floating around the net make this look like a sure winner. The game demo, packaged with last fall’s release of Dragon Quest VIII, drove a good many rentals and sales of that title, and is still in regular rotation on the display machines at all my local game stores, so there’s little doubt this one is in the “eagerly anticipated” camp. Release date: North American release currently slated for August 1. PS2 only.
Shadow Hearts: From the New World: We’ve talked about Shadow Hearts here before. While the first installment suffered some problems in execution, both previous iterations of the franchise had excellent stories to tell, coupled with a unique resolution mechanic that, while I was a little harsh on it in the first game, really grew into its own in Covenant. This third entry in the saga shifts the focus to the Americas (as the title suggests), but retains the early 20th century setting of the previous two. If they continue to push the arcane conspiracies and homage references to Lovecraft, combined with the absolutely gonzo-insane character backstories and sidequests, this will be a must-have for fans of the genre. Release date: March 7 (PS2 only).
Neverwinter Nights 2: The first NWN took the gaming world by storm, and remains a popular title with tons of player-created support and additional modules. The passion may have cooled a bit this time around, as there are now a number of D&D licensed titles available, including an RTS and the forthcoming MMORPG, Dungeons & Dragons Online. Still, Obsidian can be counted on to bring the goodness, so there’s little doubt the game will be quality. If the creative toolkit is as robust as the first NWN, then we’ve got a few years of quality fan-created adventuring ahead of us, as well. If you want a chance to play some online D&D, but aren’t interested in dealing with gold farmers and weird requests for cybersex with your gnome illusionist, then this might be more your cuppa than DDO. Release date: Q2 2006 (PC only)
Blue Dragon: One of the biggest dings against the Xbox as a viable contender last go-round was a dearth of the sorts of games embraced by Japanese gamers. The original Xbox sports essentially zero Japanese-style console RPGs in its roster, so when plans were being made to lure developers for the 360, it was clear that something needed to be done. What better way than to lure the creator of SquareEnix’s titanic Final Fantasy franchise over to the side of Gates’ evil empire? Hironobu Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker Studios is hard at work to bring this title to the 360, and I’m seriously hoping they hit the mark this calendar year. The 360’s Japanese launch has been lackluster to say the least (consoles and games for the new system sit gathering dust on shelves and, in at least one case, deeply discounted). A Japanese-style RPG from the man that brought the world FF is likely to move a few units in the Land of the Rising Sun, and it may get some hardcore Sony fanboys on this side of the Pacific eyeing the 360 as well. Release date: Still TBD, though shooting for this year (Xbox 360)
Published by Activision Developed by Raven Software Platform: PC, Xbox 360 (reviewed on Xbox 360) ESRB Rating: Mature
My Advice: Fans of the FPS will probably want to check this one out, though it doesn’t really break any new ground.
Hot on the heels of sequels to its fellow venerable shooter franchises Doom and Half-Life, Quake 4 arrived to try and cash in a bit on the nostalgia/sequel craze. The newest iteration certainly ramps up the story-telling over previous installments in the franchise, though in fairness that wouldn’t be hard…there are Bazooka gum wrappers with more plot than the first two games in the series, and Quake III dropped pretty much all pretense to become a straight-up deathmatch title geared for online and LAN play only.
Published by 2K Games/Bethesda Softworks Developed by Headfirst Productions. Platform: Xbox ESRB Rating: Mature (and they are seriously not fucking around about this).
My Advice: Run (do not walk) to pick this one up.
Since the original Alone in the Dark PC game (c. 1992), I’ve been waiting for an official, non-sucktacular Lovecraft-derived adventure game. The AitD sequels were a bit of a disappointment, and despite all the homage, weren’t as canon as I’d hoped for. A few Cthulhu games have been released, but they met with lackluster reviews, and were too often not as true to the spirit of Lovecraft’s original tales as they were to the surface details. Namedropping the Dread Lord of R’lyeh is insufficient, folks. I want full-on non-Euclidean flavor, complete with Cyclopean architecture and nameless dread. And now, with Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth, I’ve got it. I’a!