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My name is Wayne Chamberlain and I'm a geek daddy who is into Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, books, movies, video games and talking to creative people about their work in these mediums. And that's what you'll find here, along with news, previews and reviews. I'm a journalist, an editor and co-host of the Star Wars Book Report podcast. So come on in and feel free to geek out in a fun, friendly environment.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Game of Thrones story draws you into video game

One of the perils of working in journalism is the hours. Specifically the fact I work nights. This means, I rarely watch TV.
So, when I hear about a great TV series, I often wait to buy it on DVD. And if it’s a series with a lot of hype, I’ll often wait until there’s at least two full seasons on DVD before I dive into it.
Such is the case with Game of Thrones. I own the first season on DVD, but have yet to watch it. Waiting until Season 2 is available later this year.
So, when Atlus fired me up a copy of the Game of Thrones video game to review, I was a little concerned. I don’t want the series ruined for me. Thankfully, the game, which is available for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, tells its own unique story in George R. R. Martin’s universe.
The game was written in conjunction with the popular fantasy scribe. You play as two former soldiers from a rebellion who must unite to face a threat to the Seven Kingdoms.
The story apparently parallels the first season of the show, so while it tells a unique tale, you do interact with characters from Game of Thrones, namely Cersei Lannister, Qhorin Halfhand, Jeor Mormont, Varys and Chataya.
I can’t attest to whether those interactions are true to the show’s characters. But I can say that the journey you embark on in the game is the real highlight. The story is completely engrossing and you are tasked with making moral choices that shape your own character’s journey.
I love story-driven games, so the fact the plot of this game, advanced by character-driven cutscenes, gives you a meaty treat to gnaw on for hours, I enjoyed my virtual trip into the Song of Ice and Fire universe, as Martin’s creation is known.
Unfortunately, the actual combat and some of the NPC (non-player character) interactions are actually a little weak, especially when compared to other games in this genre, such as Elder Scrolls’ Oblivion and Skyrim franchises.
Despite the weak combat and the repetitive NPC dialogue, the story is so engrossing, the world so fully fleshed out and the cutscenes so captivating that most gamers will stick with this tale.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5. Rated M.
N n n
Here’s a quick look at another title currently available:
* Zumba Fitness Rush (Xbox 360; Majesco): Use your Kinect to turn this title into your own personal trainer. There are 42 routines, including 10 specifically for the Kinect. The music is pumping, you can play with a friend in a two-player mode, track calories burned and even create your own workouts.
As far as weight-loss games go, this one is a solid, lively entry.
Rating: 3.5 stars. Rated E-10+
* Country Dance All-Stars (Xbox 360; GameMill Entertainment): Not a big fan of loud, adrenaline-pumping, bass-thumping dance music? Well, here’s a chance for country music fans to kick up their heels and dance to more than 30 hit songs, whether you play alone or with a friend. The game supports Kinect. As for the music, you’ll find cuts by the likes of Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban, Sugarland, Johnny Cash, Miley Cyrus, Rascal Flatts, Trace Adkins, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn, Miranda Lambert and more.
Rating 3 stars. Rated E-10+

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Future Soldier rises above average squad-based shooter

In the world of military fiction, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a bigger name than Tom Clancy.
He’s the big literary dog. And Ubisoft has tried hard for more than a decade to try to use Clancy’s name to impact video gamers.
The results have been largely successful, thanks to the Splinter Cell, Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon franchises (let’s not talk about HAWX or EndWar). Splinter Cell earned its blockbuster cred, but Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon have failed to carve out a sales crater the way Call of Duty’s Modern Warfare and Black Ops series have. Battlefield 3 has also arguably made a bigger splash in the past year, elevating that franchise above the Clancy-named efforts.
And to be honest, multiplayer is why those other games have staying power. While I’m not a big fan of multiplayer, there’s no denying that today’s youth love going online to battle and trash talk one another for hours on end using the same maps and make-your-own-entertainment approach.
Given that, how does the latest Clancy-inspired title, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3; Ubisoft), stack up? Time will tell, but in my books it’s right there with the big boys in terms of campaign gameplay and even this crusty old-school gamer found the multiplayer to be worth more than a passing glance.
Story-wise, Future Soldier is set in the ‘near future’ and terrorists still have a hate-on for America. A plot to unleash nukes sends a group of four Ghosts on a series of 14 missions to take out high-value, high-risk targets around the globe.
I know, the usual plot of a terrorist group trying to nuke the Yanks. Yawn. But that’s just the excuse to strap on some killer tech and guns and head into some truly intense campaign missions. With more than 50 weapons that you can strip down and customize, optical camo suits that let you blend seamlessly into the environment (think Metal Gear Solid meets Predator), drones galore and squad-based tactics that include sniping groups of enemies en masse after setting targets for your AI-controlled teammates … well, it’s pretty awesome third-person shooter action.
The various campaign missions require you to use a variety of tactical approaches in order to succeed. There are times where stealth is the best option and others where running-and-gunning rules the day. You can try to mix these approaches up and there are some trial-and-error moments as you make your way through the game. But overall, the gameplay and mission setups do a good job of hinting at the best way to approach the various scenarios.
I really enjoyed the responsive squad-based combat. When you have AI-controlled soldiers who respond intelligently and logically, it’s a real plus. You feel like the developer actually has your back and that’s a good feeling.
While the plot is clich├ęd and the scenarios are pretty cookie-cutter, the ability to attack the enemy using cool tech and different strategies elevates Future Soldier above the average squad-based shooter.
As for the multiplayer, what attracted me was that the gameplay focuses largely on a squad-based concept. Rather than a team of lone wolves just seeking to amass as many kills as possible in the hopes of winning achievements or trophies, Future Soldier wants gamers to truly gain an insight into what it means to be part of a team. And while the skill level and approaches of your teammates goes a long way to determining how much you’ll enjoy the various modes (there are 10 maps and four different game types in the initial release, with DLC coming this summer), Future Soldier had me sticking around a lot longer than I usually do.
Overall, Future Soldier won’t redefine military squad-based shooters, but it sure makes for an entertaining romp.
Rating: 4 stars out of 5. Rated M.
* Coming soon in future columns, watch for reviews of Game of Thrones, Dragon’s Dogma, Dirt Showdown and more.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hardy, Pine outshine Witherspoon in action-comedy This Means War

It’s been a busy few weeks, dealing with some rather nasty salmonella poisoning of me and my younglings.
But if there is any bright side to be taken from all of that blech-ness, it’s that movies and DVDs are a real life saver at times like that.
And I’ve been getting lost in a number of films lately. So here’s a look at what has captured my eye from what I’ve received the past few weeks.
The main new flick out there is from director McG, which is at times a bro-mance, an action-buddy comedy, as well as a rom-com.
This Means War stars Chris Pine, Tom Hardy and Reese Witherspoon. Now, as any good reviewer should, time to reveal my own personal biases. First, I have a man-crush on Tom Hardy. I think the guy is one of the best actors of his generation and I’ve yet to see a film with him in it where I wasn’t impressed by his performance. Second, I really don’t much care for Witherspoon. I don’t find her sexy or attractive in the least, so two guys fighting over her makes about as much sense as two guys battling over a copy of Vanity Fair.
And finally, McG … I have a love-hate thing with him. I love Supernatural, which he produces, as well as We Are Marshall and Terminator Salvation, which he directed. But I detested the two Charlie’s Angels movies and the completely unnecessary TV reboot of Nikita.
OK, there. Biases revealed.
This Means War features a pretty basic plot. Hardy plays Tuck, a divorced, absentee dad. Pine (best known for his role as Kirk in the Star Trek reboot) plays FDR, a lover of all things female. Tuck and FDR are CIA agents and best friends.
When some bad guy targets the duo, the agency tells them to take a break for a bit. Tuck decides to post a profile on a dating website, which catches the eye of Witherspoon’s Lauren. They meet, have chemistry and agree to meet again.
FDR, meanwhile, bumps into Lauren at another time and hits on her. She’s intrigued. She wants to see him again.
The boys find out they’re both after the same woman. Out of respect, they agree to let her choose. But their competitive nature drives them to start using their training and gadgets to monitor the other’s dates and sabotage him whenever possible.
And then, of course, there’s that bad person who wants them both dead.
Like I said, basic plot.
This is one of those cult of personality movies, where how much you like the characters goes a long way to determining whether you’re going to enjoy your 99 minutes with this trio. And to me, the movie works best when Hardy and Pine are working together or against one another. Thankfully, that’s a large section of the movie. The plot-necessary stuff with Witherspoon is predictable and moves by relatively quickly. Give McG credit for knowing what an audience is really interested in.
Hardy and Pine have great chemistry between them … far better than either does with Witherspoon, although Pine and Witherspoon do seem to click a little more than Hardy and the blonde actress do.
The action scenes are crisply shot and there are some fun comedic moments as the boys try to destroy one another’s date nights.
Overall, This Means War is a decent buddy flick with a little rom-com thrown in, making it a date night movie that both sexes can get beside.
* * *
Here’s a quick look at some other DVDs now available:
* The War: Ken Burns absolutely brilliant documentary about the Second World War comes to Blu-ray.
And while the film itself has been given the high-def treatment, there are no new extras and the extras that are carried over from the low-def version are all in standard 480p.
If you don’t already own this amazing 15-hour set, which features personal stories, letters and stirring voiceovers read by the likes of Keith David, Tom Hanks, Samuel L. Jackson, Josh Lucas and Bobby Cannavale, then I would say rush out and get this set if you’re at all interested in learning about the U.S. involvement in WWII.
But if you already have the standard-def set, I don’t see much reason to upgrade. It’s still the same great documentary, just at a lower resolution.
* Ray Romano: 95 Miles to Go: Part road trip, part comedy show, this documentary features a slightly stunned Romano learning that his opening act and friend, Tom Caltabiano, has hired a film student to shoot their seven-day, eight city comedy tour through the southern U.S. Caltabiano points out that Romano refused to have a big film crew shoot his tour so this was his solution.
The result is a mixed bag, with some truly hilarious bits between the buddies in the car as they banter back and forth, along with some tedious Ray’s an everyday-kinda-guy stuff.
Of course, any ‘reality’ TV or documentary always has to be viewed with some skepticism as people do play to the camera and hold back their true nature most of the time. But what film student Roger Lay Jr. captured here is more often than not funny – if you like Romano. If you’re not a fan, then there’s not much in this 79-minute doc that will convert you.
Extras include more than two hours of extra question and answer sessions, commentary tracks, Romano’s Kansas City stand-up show, as well as deleted and extended scenes.
* Breaking Bad: The Complete Fourth Season: Stars Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul take their drug-making characters through another gut-churning, intense 13 episodes that sees them dealing with a growing animosity between them, as well as issues with Walt’s (Cranston) estranged wife, his DEA Agent brother-in-law and the drug lord calling all the shots, played by the brilliant Giancarlo Esposito.
Extras include more than 15 hours of cast and crew commentaries, eight featurettes, video podcasts, five uncensored episodes, deleted and extended scenes, a gag reel and an extended version of the season finale. Available on standard def DVD and Blu-ray.
* Route 66: The Complete Series: This massive 24-disc set would be an ideal father’s day gift for the grampas out there who remember this popular series, which ran from 1960-64.
Featuring Martin Milner, George Maharis and later Glenn Corbett, the show focused on a pair of guys driving across the U.S. Route 66 in their corvette, doing good and righting wrongs wherever they stopped along the way.
The show ran for 116 episodes and featured some top-name guest stars, including Buster Keaton, Robert Duvall, Robert Redford, Martin Sheen, Boris Karloff, Burt Reynolds and Gene Hackman.
Extras include a look at vintage commercials, a documentary about the Corvette, as well as a 1990 TV panel featuring Maharis, writer/producer Herbert Leonard and directors Arthur Hiller and Elliot Silverstein.
* G.I. Joe: Renegades: Season One, Volume One: Duke, Scarlett, Roadblock, Snake Eyes and the rest of the Joes do battle against Cobra and another group called the Falcons in this 2010 animated series. The regular voice cast includes Charles Adler, David Marsden, Kevin Michael Richardson and Matthew Yan King, as well as spot performances from Clancy Brown, Peter MacNicol, Lee Majors, Nika Futterman, James Arnold Taylor, Corey Burton and Phil LaMarr.
* Transformers Super-God Masterforce: Part two of the rare Japanese TV trilogy, this five-disc set features 52 episodes of the robots in disguise wrapping up their battle on Earth against the Decepticons. A small group of Autobots remain behind to help protect the planet, while the rest of the crew head off-planet. However, a new force of Decepticons (called Destrons here) come calling, the outnumbered Autobots will need to find help if they’re to win this battle.
Extras include the original Japanese language tracks, English subtitles and an art gallery.
* Victorious: The Complete Second Season
* Cat Dog: Season Two, Part One
*Hey Dude: Season Three
* Hazel: The Complete Third Season
* The Walking Tall Trilogy: Contains all three feature films.
* Drop Dead Diva: The Complete Third Season
* * *

Next week, watch for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and a new Asian film called Accident.

Prototype 2 unleashes Heller on Earth

Two of the main criticisms many so-called hardcore gamers have about the industry they love are a lack of creativity and the fact game developers now serve a master called corporate shareholders.
Truth is, they’re right. Seems like every developer cannibalizes whatever mechanic or look any best-selling game capitalizes on. A look at this week’s E3 trailers reveals as much (More on that in another blog/column).
And gaming is big business now. Like Hollywood, expect dumb sequels based solely on separating you from your money by capitalizing on your love and faith of a particular character or franchise.
In some ways, it shows how mainstream gaming has become. And there’s also a dark side to success, friends.
So, what to do? Lament? Turn off your consoles in protest? Hold your nose and game on?
That’s up to you.
As with movies, I look for the good parts where I can, support the independent visionaries where possible and keep an ear out for gems worth mining for. And hopefully that’s where I can be of some service occasionally.
This week, my main review is a game that symbolizes the good and bad of corporate influence on a title: Prototype 2 (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3; Activision).
You play as Sgt. James Heller, an African-American soldier hell-bent on revenge due to the death of his family in a monster-infested New York City. He believes the hero of the first game, Alex Mercer, killed his family and Heller will do anything to kill Mercer within the quarantined borders of the Big Apple.
The two face off shortly after the game starts and while I won’t spoil the storyline, which is what is the real reason to keep plowing through the extremely repetitive gameplay, Heller is transformed by Mercer into another Prototype and told to go find out the truth about what really happened to his family – and New York.
Heller is an angry man and he will stop at nothing. When he talks to himself, the game writers offer some funny looks into the man’s character. And as he becomes more knowledgeable and powerful, by killing mutant creatures while hunting down key soldiers, scientists and political masters who are responsible for unleashing this nightmare on New York, Heller’s rage knows no bounds.
And that’s the main draw of this sequel. Heller’s powers, from shape shifting to giant bladed hands to wicked tendrils that can grab multiple targets and vehicles and smash them together in a type of black hole attack, are, as the box advertises, god-like. From soaring like a bird to running like Flash to smashing like Hulk, Heller is destruction incarnate.
While that can be entertaining, it also can get tired. The hunting and infiltration missions do add some fun to the mix, but ultimately become repetitive. It’s not often that I say a story-driven game goes on too long, because goodness knows in this multiplayer-mad, lack-of-story generation most titles toss plot aside like a used tissue, but Prototype 2 overstays its welcome. The story is interesting, but it drags out too long, an excuse for Heller to continue to power up his mutations. There needed to be more varied types of missions.
Prototype 2 looks amazing and has plenty of sizzle, which pleases the corporate side, I’m sure. But the art suffered in service to that. The game feels too mainstream, lacking inspiration to delve into different mission types.
There’s no doubt you’ll have fun tearing people, mutants and vehicles apart as Heller. But expect some tedium to set in as Prototype 2 becomes a game that’s fun to revisit in short stints rather than to consume for hours at a time.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5. Rated M.
Here’s a quick look at another title currently available:
*Street Fighter X Tekken (360, PS3; Capcom): The stars of these two popular martial arts franchises do battle in a two-on-two tag team-based approach, so 1-4 players offline or 2-8 online can whoop each other’s butts over and over. You can play using Street Fighter’s six-button layout or Tekken’s four. If you’re a fan, enjoy. Newcomers, it’s definitely worth a look if you’re interested in buddy bashing gameplay.
Rating 3 stars. Rated T.
*Coming soon in future columns, watch for reviews of Game of Thrones, Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Dragon’s Dogma and more.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Kathleen Kennedy to become Co-Chair of Lucasfilm Ltd.

Check out this press release from Lucas, which deals with George's retirement and the handing over of the reins. Not sure what this means, but Kennedy certainly has a good track record so let's hope that bodes well, Wars fans ...

SAN FRANCISCO, California—June 1, 2012—Lucasfilm Ltd. today announced that Kathleen Kennedy will become Co-Chair of Lucasfilm. In an effort to move forward with his retirement plans, George Lucas will work with Kathleen Kennedy to transition into her new role. Lucas will become Co-Chairman of the Board of Lucasfilm and continue as CEO.  Micheline Chau will remain as President and COO of Lucasfilm, and continue to focus on the day-to-day operations of the business.
“I’ve spent my life building Lucasfilm and as I shift my focus into other directions I wanted to make sure it was in the hands of someone equipped to carry my vision into the future,” said George Lucas.  “It was important that my successor not only be someone with great creative passion and proven leadership abilities, but also someone who loves movies.  I care deeply about my employees—it is their creativity and hard work that has made this company what it is today.  As the company grows and expands I wanted to be sure the employees of Lucasfilm have a strong captain for the ship.  I also care deeply about our fans and it was important to have someone who would carry on the passion and care that I’ve given the films over the years. So for me Kathy was the obvious choice, she is a trusted friend and one of the most respected producers and executives in the industry.” 
Director Steven Spielberg said, “George's prescience is once again proven by his choice of my long time producing partner, Kathy Kennedy to co-chair Lucasfilm. Kathy has been a member of both of our families going into a fourth decade so it does not feel like she is going to another galaxy far far away.  She will get just as much support from me with Lucasfilm as George has given both of us all these years.”

“George is a true visionary,” said Kathleen Kennedy.  “I’ve seen him build Lucasfilm from a small rebel unit in Northern California to an international fully integrated entertainment company.  I’m excited to have the chance to work with such an extraordinary group of talented people.  George and I have talked about the enormous opportunities that lie ahead for the company, and as George moves towards retirement I am honored that he trusts me with taking care of the beloved film franchises. I feel fortunate to have George working with me for the next year or two as I take on this role—it is nice to have Yoda by your side.”
Seven-time Academy Award nominated Kathleen Kennedy is one of the most successful and esteemed producers and executives in the film industry.  As a producer she has an impeccable record with a robust filmography working with such filmmakers as Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Martin Scorsese, Robert Zemeckis, Barry Levinson, Clint Eastwood, David Fincher and Gary Ross.  As a testament to her standing in the film community, she previously held the position of governor and officer of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) and currently serves as a member of the board of trustees. She is also a former President of the Producers Guild of America.
Kathleen will step down from her role at The Kennedy/Marshall Company, shifting her responsibilities to partner Frank Marshall. The Kennedy/Marshall Company is currently in post production on LINCOLN, directed by long time collaborator Steven Spielberg whom Kennedy also produced for on the INDIANA JONES and JURASSIC PARK franchises, and THE BOURNE LEGACY, written and directed by Tony Gilroy and produced by Marshall.  Under the Kennedy/Marshall banner, the pair has produced such Academy Award nominated Best Picture films as WAR HORSE (six nominations), THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON (thirteen nominations) THE SIXTH SENSE, (six nominations) and SEABISCUIT (seven nominations), as well as blockbusters including the BOURNE series and THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN. Marshall will oversee the company’s current slate of projects and continue to expand it via their development deals with DreamWorks and CBS TV Studios.

Star Wars 1313 a new Fett video game

Here's a link so you can check out this breaking news about the upcoming Star Wars video game: http://www.lucasarts.com/games/1313/