Wednesday, February 29, 2012

iPad App Review: FIFA 12

Coming from a long line of football action games (I refuse to call it Soccer, we here in Blighty know it as Football, get over it), Fifa 12 for the iPad is EA's latest instalment to hit Apple's baby.

First up, using virtual controls on a touch screen is no big deal.  It works.  Here it's particularly edifying as the pass, shoot and sprint buttons are all nicely located at the bottom right.  Sliding up on the buttons releases extra functions such as through-balls, passes into the box, that kind of thing.   Movement via the left-sided d-pad is intuitive and due to the natural position of the thumbs, it's hard to 'misplace' any of the buttons during moments of high tension.  There is an option to be able to control it via an iPod Touch as a wireless game controller - a neat idea but I haven't been able to test that.  Buy me an iPod Touch and I will.

Graphics are good, for the iPad anyway.  The players are solid enough and there are plenty of animations to keep it varied.  There are a few glitches though, especially when clipping and quite often players will appear bald before their hair is magically filled in.  It only tends to happen during the replays though and doesn't detract from the overall experience.  The facial expressions are not a bad representation and there's plenty of famous players to spot.  They look a bit 'botoxed' but hey, they're probably like that in real life anyway.

I do have a problem with the cut scenes.  There's no option to turn these off and while they're good for a few plays, seeing the same damn player substitution animation over and over makes one want to eat one's eyes with a rusty spoon.  Surely an option to turn off these extraneous scenes wouldn't have took much?  'Animation.Play = Options.ShowCutScenes', or something.  At least they give the option of tapping the screen to skip but as there are several parts to the animation, you have to tap several times.

Sound is awful.  There's some generic indy-band music on the menus and the in-game commentary grates after only a few seconds.  Turn it off and play in silence.

Navigation through the slidey, sweepy menus is ok and grouping of menu items is logical for the most part.  It takes an age to save game progress though and happens at the most inopportune moments.  For instance, if I look at my squad formation and then quit back to the main menu without making any changes, it still saves the game.  Most annoying.  And, unless I'm missing something, it's pretty difficult to spy on other teams.  You have to go through a transfer list search to be able to see what players they have.

There are a lot of players, teams and leagues to play with, including some pretty obscure ones.  Scottish Football anyone?  The management side of things is very light when compared to some other footy sims.  Training can be scheduled, team formations decided upon, options can be set depending upon the formation, players contracts' negotiated and a few other bits but that's about it.  F12 follows the UEFA transfer windows and I found this to be the most engaging part.  Trying to buy new players, bartering for better prices and wages, selling players.  All very nice.

A BIG problem (so big it deserves capitalization), is on the humble iPad 1, there can be some massive frame-rate slowdown during play.  I find I have to keep a tight leash on what other apps are running to enable it to run at a decent rate.  It can get pretty bad too, to the point of being virtually unplayable.  Maybe it's a problem on my iPad?  I don't get the same problem on other apps and games so I guess it's not.  Even skipping the cut-scenes ends up being a long, drawn-out affair as the frame-rate drops so low, it doesn't even register screen taps.  Bah.

Like other EA sports sims, I've found Fifa 12 to very engaging and well worth the 69 pence I paid for it.  Yes, 69 measly pence.  It's a stupidly low price considering the console version is what, 40 quid?  It's got its problems sure, but when it's running at a decent lick, play is seemless and it's highly gratifying to chain together a series of moves resulting in a spectacular goal.  It's definitely challenging and the easier levels are most welcome at first.  IF it was 40 quid, I'd think it was pretty poor but that 69p price point cannot be ignored.  It's tremendous value for money for what is probably the best footie action game on the iPad.  With a little polish, it could be a real shining gem.

UPDATE: After trying Gameloft's 'free' Real Football 2012, Fifa 12 runs rings round that poor offering.  Even for free, the Gameloft effort is particularly bad.  Get this instead.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Movie review: Faster (2010)

A man is released from prison and sets out to gain revenge on the gang that murdered his brother ten years previously in a botched bank job.

Dwayne Johnson is a rare beast having made a successful transition from wrestling ring to bona fide action A-lister.  With his 'The Rock' persona, he was genuinely charismatic in the WWE ring and a firm fan favourite whether playing a heel or 'face.  As an actor, he would be the first to admit he's never going to be giving RDN or Pacino a run for their money but he is what he is - a big hulking testosterone-y mans man that can kick derriere and take names.  While not afraid to show his comedic side, including a fabulous self-parody in 'The Other Guys' starring Will Ferrell, his action credentials are undoubted even if his acting ones are lacking.  Luckily, here, he doesn't have to do much and that fits in with his character quite nicely.

With Faster, belief suspension is imperative.  Don't go in expecting a discourse on existential theory by 19th century Danish philosophers (Kierkegard was a hoot, apparently), rather if you take it as a brainless thriller, you'll be much more entertained.  A good value Billy Bob Thornton crops up in a role as a damaged detective assigned to the case as the body count racks up while Johnson despatches bad guys with ease.  Maggie Grace provides a bit of eye-candy (and nothing more) while Brit Oliver Jackson-Cohen, ex-Hollyoaks alumni, crops up as a bored millionaire-cum-assassin.  He's far too pretty and suave.  The plot, despite a few twist and turns, is largely predictable but never plodding and the pacing is just about right.

It's easy to pick holes in a film like Faster but, do you know what, I feel that's being too harsh as the film hasn't been well received by critics already.  The characters are drawn with very broad strokes and while we get a little back-story, there's not enough to make them more than 2-dimensional.  It could have been better, sure, but there's place in this world for movies of this ilk.  They are pure candy floss, providing an instant hit of sugary confection but disappearing soon afterwards.  I don't mind that at all.  It's worth a punt if you have a few beers spare, a take-out pizza on order and a large comfy sofa to sink into.  Just leave your brain at the door and you'll be fine.

My rating: 6/10.  A 4/10 if I think too much about it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Movie Review: The Grey (2012)

Liam Neeson is a sniper hired by an oil-drilling company in the Arctic wilderness to literally keep the wolves at bay.  On a flight back to civilization, the plane carrying a load of hardened rig-workers crashes into the frozen tundra.  Neeson, along with the survivors, find themselves being hunted by a vicious pack of wolves, wanting to turn them into meatball sandwiches at the earliest opportunity.

And that's the story in a nutshell.  Of course, it's more than that as over time the characters are fleshed out (figuratively and literally) and the story progresses into a survivalist trek through stunning, Arctic scenery beset by breathtaking Winter storms.  Neeson, as ever, is good value and he's to be credited for attempting what looked like an arduous shoot at nearly 60 years of age.  Then again, his CV, particularly after his Oscar-nodded turn in Schindler's List, has been a melange of action-adventurers including the highly successful and hugely entertaining 'Taken' (2008).  He's certainly defined himself as an action star despite his advancing years.

The Grey promises much and mainly delivers.  Thrills and shocks are provided by the wolves as their pack-hunting instincts and innate intelligence allow them to pick off the luckless survivors one by one.  One memorable scene finds the protagonists shining their flame torches out into the darkness and seeing reflected back numerous malevolently hungry eyes.  Gulp.  The supporting characters are given enough time to grow and while they tend to fall into stereotypical cliches, there's enough back story to each so we care when they're inevitably bumped off.

It comes across as the bastard child of a sub-zeroed Jaws (1975) 'twixt Southern Comfort (1980), which is no bad comparison as both of those films are superlative in the genre.  I could name any number of other films where the boundaries cross but that's doing The Grey an injustice.  It's genuinely tense, has action in spades and leaves a lasting impression.  The cast do well but it's Neesons film and he's quite superb.  Saying that, even he plays second fiddle to some incredible cinematography.  The Arctic wilderness has never looked so harsh, foreboding or beautiful.

On a side note, the CGI for the wolves is quite atrocious in places.  Being shot in genuine minus-40 weather, they didn't scrimp on the location so why on the animal training?  Doesn't make sense.  It's not enough to detract a whole point from my final score.  Perhaps they blew the CGI budget on the frightfully realistic plane crash?  That was well scary.

Overall, it's a decent enough film with realistic characters, well-placed story beats and plenty of blood-covered snow to keep the gorists happy.  It's a shame the wolf effects were so naff and I sincerely hope it doesn't do for these wonderful, majestic animals what Jaws did for sharks.  Oh, and wait until ALL the credits have rolled or you'll miss a bit (like we did).

Rated 15.  Running time 117 minutes.

My rating: 7/10