Friday, 24 February 2012

Don't see nothin' in need of redeemin'.

If you care now, have ever cared, or are ever planning to care about the state of contemporary martial arts cinema, then I probably don't need to tell you that you should already be psyched out of your mind for The Raid. If, however, you've managed to miss out so far on the buzz for the single most important hardcore action movie in a decade at least (I think Ong-Bak has finally met its match), then here's the lowdown: this is the second collaboration between rising Indonesian martial-arts star Iko Uwais and Welsh-born writer-director Gareth Evans, the first being 2009's Merantau, itself a pretty respectable if unspectacular riff on Ong-Bak that served mainly to introduce the viewing public to the underexposed native Indonesian martial art silat.

That's alright though, because Merantau was little more than a proof of concept. It was the appetizer and now we can see the waiter threading his way to our table with a big, juicy, mouth-watering main course. I'd say it looks indescribably awesome, but if you've watched the trailer, you hardly need me to sell you it any more than it already has. Me, I've been operating at what I thought was optimum hype capacity since the Indonesian trailer hit late last year, but now my brain seems to be overclocking. Seriously guys, holy fucking shit.

One fly in the ointment though, is the new decision to append the useless subtitle Redemption to a title that, to be honest, isn't all that inspiring to begin with. I mean, why? What consumer, exactly, is going to be swayed on purchasing this film by the presence of what amounts to one more word obscuring the poster art? It's not just that Redemption is one of those handful of words that also includes Revelations or Requiem or Evolution that can be thrown into any title without it meaning a goddamn thing, but that this very same subtitle was used for another martial-arts flick that achieved a healthy cult following less than two years ago, and it was at least somewhat justified in the case of Undisputed 3 given that it was a) a sequel and b) a film where redemption actually figured into the plot thematically. Y'know, as far as theme can be read into any flick about a surly Russian kicking men in the throat.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Metal Gear Solid 5: The Misadventures of Colonel Campbell, Geriatric Cyborg Ninja


So, it seems that Metal Gear is happening again. Kojima Productions is on the lookout for "engineers, artists and game creators" to help create a new installment of auteur designer extraordinaire Hideo Kojima's massively popular and utterly insane stealth game franchise. We don't know when, but it does look like Kojima could be shooting for the next generation of consoles - the IGN article does mention "next-gen gaming engine technology" to use with the studio's in-house FOX engine, although that's a slightly ambiguous statement as by some quirk of memetic nomenclature, the current console generation has never really stopped being referred to as "next-gen." Nevertheless, it looks like we're due for a few firsts in the Metal Gear franchise, what with the game seemingly being developed for both consoles and PC and with an apparent emphasis on collaboration between East and West, with work locations listed in both Japan and California.

Now, I'm a pretty ardent Metal Gear Solid fan, and I wish I could say I was turning cartwheels at this news, but for one minor yet significant detail: the series is absolutely over. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a series that's over in terms more absolute than this one. 2008's MGS 4: Guns of the Patriots didn't so much draw a line under the narrative dating back to 1987 as it did carve a fissure under it a mile deep. The Patriots were destroyed and their system of control decommissioned! Revolver Ocelot is dead! Solidus is dead! Liquid is really really dead! Major Zero is dead! Vamp is dead! They brought Big Boss back to life for 20 minutes only to make him even more thoroughly dead! Snake was left with a year left to live at the outside! Raiden got decyborgified and reunited with his wife and child to lead a nonviolent life! Meryl got married to that annoying twat! Everything was explained, revealled and resolved in painstaking, borderline OCD detail. Every theme discussed, there was a conclusive statement made about. There is literally not a single card left in this universe's deck.

I honestly don't know what to make of Hideo Kojima sometimes. Here, he's created one of the deepest and most complex stories in videogame history, not to mention dedicated a quarter-century of his life to it, and yet he seems to have remarkably little regard for the integrity of his creation. Yes, I have the same reservations about the upcoming Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, but then, that game was outsourced to another developer and seems unlikely to retroactively undo MGS4's herculean effort at tying everything up given that it's a spin-off whose status as canon is dubious. Anything more closely tied to series continuity, however, seems to me bound to end in disaster. The image of Big Boss above might indicate we're doing prequels again, as in MGS3 and the two PSP releases, but then, that well's pretty much tapped at this point too. I mean, what else is there left to reveal about the events of Big Boss' life in the 60s and 70s without becoming redundant? One possibility might be a game centred around The Boss' exploits during World War II, but then, she was supposed to have been eight months pregnant during her operations then, and a game where you control a heavily pregnant woman lugging her belly around the French countryside slitting Nazi throats has even greater potential for bathos than a game with the word "Revengeance" in its name.

I know Kojima's gone on record as saying that MGS4 wasn't the conclusion he'd wanted for the series, both in terms of gameplay and story, and I respect the fact that he wants to make the "ultimate" MGS. But I'd much rather see him explore these ideas in a new IP, rather than continue a story that's he's done everything in his power to ensure can't possibly be continued. Drawing everything to a gigantic grand finale in MGS4, and then going ahead and making MGS5 anyway because the conclusion wasn't entirely satisfactory has the uncomfortable feel of George Lucas-esque revisionism. How are players supposed to feel any sort of closure from these games with the knowledge that it could all be undone in a couple of years when another installment comes along? I mean OK, Friday the 13th fans have been doing it for decades, but I really don't want to know how the mind of a die-hard Friday the 13th fan functions. That's a dark and scary place to go.

Oh, and one more thing. Hideo, if you're absolutely committed to bringing the world another MGS title, would you at least consider postponing it until after maybe making that new game in that other franchise that you've been jerking fans (myself included) around over for the better part of a decade now? I don't want to come across like an entitled fanboy, but there's a limit to how much I can be teased.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Faster than a laser bullet, etc. etc.

Yep, it's that time again kids. Dragonforce are back and more in need of ritalin than ever before. Their new album The Power Within - their first studio outing in four years - is due for release in April, and the first official promo track entitled Fallen World hit the web a few days ago.

I'm the kind of asshole who'll dependably boast that he liked something before it was cool, but it's true that I caught Dragonforce earlier than most people. Back in mid-2005 they were one of the bands that shepherded me out of my crap metal-but-not-really Kerrang! fodder phase and into the world of REAL METAL, where men are hairy and guitar solos are long. Ever since Through the Fire and Flames became famous as the greatest challenge the Guitar Hero franchise had to offer, there's been a considerable amount of backlash against their straight-from-the-adrenal-gland stylings, particularly from power metal purists; to this day, you can't swing a dead cat in a Youtube comments section for a Blind Guardian or Lost Horizon song without hitting someone wishing Dragonforce death by stoning. Well sure, their music is essentially shallow, their songs at once extremely formulaic and suffering from rampant ADHD. However, even though I moved on to greener pastures around the time Ultra Beatdown came out, I've never really stopped liking Dragonforce. They're fun, they're energetic and they bear absolutely no pretensions about what they are.

The new track (embedded below) is an encouraging sign in a few ways. The band's DNA is basically unchanged; Herman Li has apparently claimed that this is their fastest song ever, not that I could really say I noticed, seeing as after a certain point the human ears lose their ability to distinguish between stupidly fast and hyperbolically stupidly fast. What is noticeable is that the songwriting is considerably tighter than usual, which I rate as a positive. I generally like my music epic and sprawling, but it's encouraging that Dragonforce actually do know how to bring a song in under five minutes long (Strike of the Ninja doesn't count). Also graciously absent is the blatant studio artifice that plagued Inhuman Rampage and to a lesser extent Ultra Beatdown; no 8-bit video game sound effects here. I still think Dave Mackintosh's use of blastbeats is a bit excessive, a suffocating drumming technique that should only ever be used advisedly in power metal, but hey, Dragonforce have only ever evolved in baby steps, so I'll take what I can get.

Of course, this is all skirting the one big change, which is the first new song featuring new singer Marc Hudson, replacing Z.P. Theart. A few long-time fans have voiced their displeasure about the change, but personally, I was never really that attached to Theart, and I've been on Hudson's side ever since the video announcing his arrival to the band, in which he lets rip a twelve-second war cry that could just about be described as "Heimanian". On Fallen World, he's mostly content to ape Z.P.'s style, but I'm holding out hope that on the new album he'll distinguish himself with a few good sustained, full-voiced banshee screams like an old-school power metal singer. Time will tell. Either way, Dragonforce have piqued my interest for the first time in quite a while.