“What’s your favourite film?”

I wager you’ve been asked that question before. It’s a question I’ve always found quite difficult to answer. Trying to name one film as my all time favourite is no easy task. I love watching and discussing films, from B-movies to blockbusters, small independent films to foreign animations, classic Hollywood hits to critically acclaimed features. Every week I have a new film to talk about, and every year I have my favourites.

But to think about it – really think about it – I have to clear my mind. I’ve got to wade through the nonsense of picking films just because they are trendy or considered critically acclaimed. And that is what this exercise is all about. In the next week I’m going to publish individual posts on ten films I consider to be my favourite films ever. This means I’m going to be picking films that are personal to me, not necessarily commercial successes or award winning features. These film will have played a significant role in moulding who I am, on top of other forms of art, media, people and experiences that work towards defining a person’s character.

You may be wondering why I’m doing this. Maybe it’s because I’m a self-centred douche nozzle who wants to laud his film knowledge using fancy words. Or maybe I’m doing it to prove to myself once and for all that I can confidentially answer that dreaded question at the top of this page. Or possibly, I’m just bored waiting for school to start in September and want something to do that’s fun and a potential waste of time.




Developer: Vatra Studios

Release: March 2012

Genre: Survival-Horror

Format: PS3, Xbox 360

It’s been a rocky road for the Silent Hill franchise ever since the fourth instalment, but I’ve always found it a difficult series to follow. Not every game related to the same story arc, and sometimes the abstract symbolism was too, well, abstract. But, being a huge Resident Evil fan back in the 1990s meant that Silent Hill was always a game worth playing, due to the comparisons people made at the time. Despite my struggle to sometimes understand the games, they always managed to get inside my head, creating a fear that Resident Evil’s grisly and jumpy scares couldn’t compete with.

Silent Hill: Downpour is a refreshing game to play. It isn’t a technical triumph; on the contrary, it has its shortcomings in regard to combat controls, graphic glitches, and outdated adventure game logic. However, it feels right, it brings back memories of sitting in the dark when I was a young gamer, scared shitless at the grotesque and surreal images amid the foggy streets of Silent Hill. It’s atmospheric game, and you can mostly thank the sound design team for that. With a good sound system, Downpour has the ability to immerse you fully into Murphy Pendleton’s journey to the infamous rural town. This is something most fans of the games will find hard to believe, considering that previous sound designer and series staple, Akira Yamaoka, retired from Konami prior to Downpour’s development.

The developer, Vatra, are making their debut in the industry, and to be given the chance to work on such a legendary series at such a crucial point in its lifespan, shows the young developer’s potential. Sure, games like Dead Space and F.E.A.R have come along and sewn up the horror genre, and Downpour won’t be remembered for adding anything innovative to cinematic and tactical scares, but it will be remembered for delivering an intriguing and traditional Silent Hill experience.

With a good sound system, Downpour has the ability to immerse you fully into Murphy Pendleton’s journey.

The story is a slow burner; you play Murphy Pendleton, an escaped convict who – not unlike every other Silent Hill protagonist – has an enigmatic past, and a withdrawn personality. While being transported from his previous prison complex, the bus crashes, and Murphy appears to be the only survivor from the wreckage. Making his way to the nearest seemingly inhabited area, Murphy looks for a way out onto the main road, and to start his new life as a free man. But we all know nothing is as simple as that when it comes to Silent Hill, and Murphy must face his inner demons in order to be truly free. Murphy’s is a captivating character, and even though the story takes plenty of time to engage you, you will be hooked once the secrets of his past start to come to light.

In terms of gameplay, don’t expect a lot from Downpour. As previously mentioned, the game doesn’t stand out graphically, and the controls can be very frustrating. However, it doesn’t hold your hand, and this is partly what makes the game so refreshing. Sure, it has a combat/control tutorial at the beginning, but after that, you’re on your own, and if you mess up, you will be required to load a previous save in order to continue. This may sound like a ball-ache, but it just goes to show how much we take for granted in videogames these days. The gameplay changes depending on which realm of Silent Hill you currently occupy. In the Fog World – or rather Rainy World – you’re exploring, occasionally fighting for your life, and meeting the game’s engaging cast of characters. In the Otherworld, you have large puzzles to solve, and chase sequences from a creature called The Void – these moments are extremely exciting.

A lot of thought has gone into the game’s presentation, resulting in a more realistic videogame. Murphy can only carry one melee weapon at the time, so pick wisely. They also degrade over time, you may start a fight with a hammer and finish with a chunk of wood in your hand, so you must always be on the lookout. Murphy’s clothes also tear and rip so throughout the game he’ll gradually look like he’s been through hell and back.

Silent Hill: Downpour perfectly captures the classic Silent Hill style, and fans of the series will enjoy the story. The fantastic voice acting and smart sound design allows for a more immersive experience, though issues with frame rates and difficulty, plus average graphics may put a lot of shallow gamers off.  It’s definitely a game to save for a rainy day.


Developer: Hitbox

Release: January 2012

Genre: Platformer

Format: PC, MAC (Steam)

Discovering great indie games is something I love doing. ‘Splosion Man, Bastion, and many more, have graced these pages and received praise for being quirky, original, and completely independently developed. This week, I was lucky enough to have a smash hit land on my desk, my very untidy desk. Perhaps I should get one of the Dustforce team to come clean it in style. Do you follow me? No? Continue reading.

The concept of Dustforce is basically what would happen if trainee ninjas from some sort of Ninja Academy didn’t make the grade, so the only way they could make ends meet is by becoming cleaners; very agile and super-fast cleaners. The premise is simple, there’s a hub world filled with doors, some locked, some not. You pick one of the four available cleaners, and control them through various levels behind the unlocked doors. The game plays out like a side-scrolling platformer, with the characters having a skill set similar to Faith from Mirror’s Edge. You can run up walls, double jump, pull stylish moves with your cleaning tool, and link together combos to get from one area to another. The controls require quite adept finger dexterity, and even once you’ve warmed you digits up, it takes some time to get used to. Each level has pathways and animals that need cleaning/sweeping, and it’s up to the members of Dustforce to do this.

The presentation is phenomenal, the art design is beautiful, and the characters move flowingly through the stylish levels. When you unleash fighting moves, the screen shakes, and the strikes leave behind streak marks. And also, when you complete a level by cleaning the last remaining creatures, everything goes into slow motion, Matrix-style bitches! The music is something else entirely, and has certainly caught my attention for review in the future. It’s somewhat reminiscent of chip tune music, while remaining unobtrusive and extremely melancholic.

Another very cool feature is the playback option. When you complete a level, you’re shown the leader boards to see who holds the best times for each level. In the hub world, there’s a log book where you can watch back your attempts at each level, as well as anyone else in the world that has played the level. That’s right, so if you’re stuck on a level, you can watch someone else play through it first and get some pretty valuable advice.

If Dustforce’s multiplayer was online, then this indie game would be an insanely perfect title well worth its price tag. But don’t let that discourage you; it is an extremely exciting, infuriating, addictive, and stylish videogame. I highly recommend this game, along with a gamepad to play it with, unless you’re some sort of keyboard ninja, sweeping your fingers across the keys like a member of Dustforce. This game is bang tidy.


Developer: Saber Interactive, Certain Affinity, 343 Industries

Release: Novermber 2011

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure

Format: Xbox 360

I find myself in a very difficult position when it comes to reviewing HD Remakes. For the most part, remakes are a way for publishers to earn a quick buck; cashing in on previous successes. On the odd occasion, there is a genuine reason for a game to be revisited. For instance, Silicon Knights’ remake of Metal Gear Solid on the GameCube, or Capcom’s return to Resident Evil on the same console. These remakes did more than just touch up the graphics a notch, in some cases they rebuilt environments, changed the gameplay, and provided more backstory. These examples aren’t the only ones, but they serve a purpose to prove that some remakes are necessary. However, the real question is: is the remake of the first Halo necessary? Sure, it’s been ten years since this explosive sci-fi FPS stunned gamers across the globe, and yeah, the franchise has made more money than the Harry Potter series. But is Master Chief’s first steps on Halo really worth revisiting? Have 343 Industries et all made enough changes to the gameplay, or is it just a carbon copy with a makeover?

Having the chance to legitimately review the first Halo game is a dream come true; it remains one of my favourite games to this day. After playing an hour of Anniversary, it becomes apparent that the developers haven’t strayed from the original version at all. Besides from a few Kinect voice commands, and the ability to switch between Classic view and Remastered view, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is no different.

Legendary seems an appropriate word to describe the single-player campaign of Halo. From the moment your escape pod crashes onto the ancient ring world, Bungie managed to steal your breath away. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the plot, Halo tells the story of a genetically altered human called Master Chief. The soldier – or Spartan – along with a brilliantly intelligent A.I called Cortona, and a handful of human marines, must fight back against the Covenant, a zealous Alien species who want to wipe out humanity. Their galactic war finds the two enemies battling on an ancient alien construct called Halo, which the Covenant treat like a religious deity. However, even the cult-like aliens don’t know what the rings contain: a nasty space-zombie life form called the Flood that has the potential to wipe out all life in the universe. Suddenly, the fight for survival gets more severe, and it’s up to Master Chief to shoot, punch, and blow up anything that isn’t human.

The plot hasn’t changed, so obviously there are no surprises, but it remains strong and epic, even when compared to some recent releases, which says a lot about originality in the industry today compared to ten years ago (despite us talking about a remake).

343 Industries have remained completely faithful to the original in everything, from level layout, enemy A.I, and gameplay. This has its positives and negatives. In terms of the former, the gameplay remains simple, with no unnecessary power-ups, perks, and bizarre grenade types. The main negative however, is regarding the level design. The majority of Halo’s levels take place in luscious landscapes, sandy beaches to snowy mountains. However, there are still many moments where you must guide Master Chief through bleak hallways and rooms from one fire fight to another, and this can make the whole experience iterative and confusing. Getting lost in the main campaign is bound to happen, so be prepared to go back on yourself.

The inclusion of collectables in the form of Terminals, a la Halo 3, makes a welcome addition, extending the experience and giving you more reason to explore and see every corner of the newly decorated levels. Skulls return, which you can use to alter the gameplay, making things more challenging by reducing ammo and increasing enemy reaction time, or changing things up just for fun, like the confetti explosions every time you pop a grunt in the head (HOORAY!).

The inclusion of Kinect is a strange one, and it feels like it was literally an afterthought. You can use voice commands during single-player, shouting things like GRENADE and RELOAD, but it’s nothing more than a gimmick. There’s a great deal of lag behind it, so if you want to throw a well-timed frag, you’re best off tapping the left trigger, otherwise you’ll just get cut off mid-speech by enemy plasma fire. While speaking of lag, the game allows you to switch between Classic and Remastered view, but this doesn’t happen instantly, so I’d highly recommend you don’t do this in combat. However, it’s a great feature, and it’s cool to look at an iconic structure like the Control Room, and compare the two versions. The game actually runs both engines, the original and the new Saber3D, so it’s somewhat forgivable that it takes the game time to switch. You can’t switch during cut-scenes, but you can just before they start, allowing you to watch the classic versions or the new HD ones.

I’ve always believed that Halo is a co-op experience, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever completed Halo by myself, despite playing it several times in the past ten years. It makes sense to have someone covering your back, especially when you consider the scale of the levels combined with the number of enemies. Now you can do this online, instead of just locally, which makes things more interesting; you can see how Joe Bloggs on Xbox Live plays Halo, compared to you and your closest friends.

The competitive multiplayer actually plays on the Halo: Reach engine, which makes sense, since Reach is the best multiplayer experience in the Halo franchise. There are a few new levels from the original and Halo 2, and a new Firefight mode, but because the levels have been recreated before in previous Halo titles, it seems a bit pointless. Still, it doesn’t take anything from the experience of teaming up with your mates and slaughtering the other teams at Capture the Flag or King of the Hill. Many purist of the original will be gutted to play Anniversary’s multiplayer with Reach’s rules, but at the end of the day, we all knew the multiplayer would be little more than a map pack for Bungie’s final Halo chapter.

Was it necessary to recreate Halo: Combat Evolved? The game literally did everything right ten years ago, taking everything from other successful shooters like GoldenEye and Doom. It’s great to play as Master Chief once again after all this time, and the pretty aesthetic will help those new to the franchise play, especially since they won’t have to suffer withdrawal from HD graphics. Anyone new to gaming will find this a rich experience, and fans of the franchise will of course appreciate the fan service. Seasoned gamers, who have never played Halo before may struggle, since FPS games have changed dramatically over the past decade, so this could be one they miss. As far as HD remakes go, it’s a cut above the rest. It’s not some cheap port; everything has been touched-up beautifully and with the upmost respect for fans and Bungie. If you want to get yourself warmed up for Halo 4, and you’re thinking of playing through the entire series again, then Anniversary is the stylish way to do so. What a nostalgia trip.


Composers: Hans Zimmer, Lorne Bafle, Borislav Slavov, Tilman Sillescu

Release: November 2011

Length: 46 Tracks (2-discs)

Label: E.A.R.S (digital) La-la Land Records (Audio CD)

Two minds are better than one, but four musical minds are much better than two, and that was clearly the thinking behind the creation of Crysis 2’s score. Four composers, two CDs, and 47 tracks, sounds like a legend to me. Hans Zimmer lends his name and skill to the soundtrack, but the real stars of the show are Borislav Slavov and Tilman Sillescu; two experienced game composers with an ear for rich and cinematic themes. The game is a futuristic FPS with lots of mind-blowing action and a sci-fi plot, so we can expect the usual epic bass and string melodies, but is there anything here to elicit an emotive connection?

Let’s start with “Crysis 2 – Intro”, composed by Zimmer and Lorne Bafle. Zimmer has a thing for epic strings and thumping drums, and his use of this technique on this track has the desired effect. Think The Dark Knight soundtrack and you’re more or less there. The context of the game is essentially summed up; hopelessness, danger, adventure, and the apocalypse. Zimmer worked on six tracks out of the 47, and the most memorable composition is the aforementioned intro, with the other five pieces basically acting as variations of it. Zimmer’s contribution, albeit a small one, sets the tone for the rest of the score, and now that we’ve talked about his bit part, we can review the real meat of the soundtrack.

Slavov composed 21 tracks, and it’s a perfect example of the Bulgarian’s abilities to mix different styles of moods and music.  Soft piano and violin solos on tracks like “New York Aftermath” provoke emotions of loss, contemplating and misery, while “Chase” has the pacey drums of a cinematic scene, with enough deep brass and determined strings to epitomise the urgency of the scene.

In “Resolution (Reprise)” Slavov manages to conjour up memories of Gears of War and The Exorcist; the deep brass associated with the score of the former is introduced with a piano not dissimilar to the latter’s main theme. However, Slavov makes the track his own by adding a beautiful string melody that really tugs on the courage in your heart. That last sentence might have been a little dramatic, but the emotion in this track is highly potent and provocative.

In a direct contrast to the previous track, “Sneak and Shoot” displays Slavov’s ability to compose gameplay music. Reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid 4’s score, this piece is a sporadic experience. In order for it to work with the moments of stealth gameplay, the music is discontinued, from slow-pace quiet moments (sneak) to crescendos of numerous instruments (and shoot). Whether or not Slavov was inspired by any of the references made in this article thus far, he still manages to produce original pieces, giving the score its own identity, and managing to match the subject matter.

The final – but not the least – member of this composer quartet is Tilman Sillescu, a winner of the industry-recognised G.A.N.G award in 2007, brings his own magic to Crysis 2’s score. Dominating 19 tracks, Sillescu introduces gamers to his use of the electric guitar and soft soprano horns, especially in the prominent “Catastrophic Beauty”, which, coupled with Slavov’s “New York Aftermath”, provoke a melancholic emotive response.

The Crysis 2 score is cinematic and epic experience, rivalling and possibly surpassing many Hollywood blockbusters. Despite Zimmer’s input, Slavov and Sillescu are the true talent behind this. These guys proven that videogame soundtracks are an art in their own right, making this writer proud once again.

Check out more of Alec-Ross Bower’s writing at Thirteen1.com



Release: October 2011

Genre: Action-Adventure

Format: PC, Xbox 360, PS3

In all honesty, I don’t think there’s been one game this year I’ve been more excited about playing than Batman: Arkham Asylum. Sure, there was the short lived Portal 2, and the epic finale that was Gears of War 3, but my anticipation to play those games felt like nothing compared to the seductive allure of Rocksteady’s sequel. The first game received Thirteen1 accolade of Game of the Year in 2009 – and rightly so – but how does the sequel fare? Is it an overwhelming improvement, taking what was great about the widely successful first game and adding more concepts and gameplay mechanics? Or is it just a case of copy-and-paste?

I was literally quivering with ecstasy when the main title popped up and the awesome music played; this felt like the dark Batman we’ve all grown used to. Unfortunately, my buzz was interrupted by notifications about DLC on more than one occasion. Now, I don’t want to get into a debate about the whole ‘DLC only available for those who buy brand new’, in fact that policy has proven to work sometimes (e.g. Mass Effect 2), however it should not mar the first – and most important – moments of the game.

The story begins 18 months after the events of the original game. Arkham Asylum has been shut down and decommissioned, and a section of Gotham City has been isolated to form its replacement: Arkham City. Overseen by the elusive Hugo Strange, Arkham City is a complex where all the super-villains and criminals of Gotham have free rein to do as they wish. Obviously this has led to a power struggle between rival villains, resulting in a major division of the city; with Two-Face, the Penguin, and the allegedly dying Joker seemingly leading the biggest gangs and owning the larger territories That being said, there’s still the presence of other supervillains behind the scenes; some who made an appearance in the original game, and others just waiting to make their debut in Rocksteady’s series. But where do we find our hero in all of this? The man behind the mask, Bruce Wayne, is publicly arrested in the opening scenes by Strange’s personal army. Strange knows who Batman really is, and makes this apparent to Wayne from the start. In order to keep him from interfering, Strange has Wayne incarcerated into Arkham City, making him easy-pickings for the inmates. After a brief encounter with The Penguin, Wayne has Alfred airdrop his Batman gear on a nearby roof, which he immediately dons and begins his investigation into Arkham City.

It’s a brilliant setup, and one of the greatest openings to a videogame ever. The overall plot keeps you hooked throughout, plus the fan service is absolutely incredible; characters don’t just make reference to the first game, but to other events in The Batman canon. From the delicious opening, right through to the shocking conclusion, the main story of Arkham City is an engaging and well-paced narrative. Rocksteady have really done their research, and any Batman fan would feel at home in the new environment, especially with the inclusion of iconic locations such as The Iceberg Lounge and Monarch Theatre, which of course leads to the infamous Crime Alley where a young Bruce Wayne witnessed the murder of his parents. Overall, the game’s presentation is dark and grim, which is perfect for all Batman acolytes, and the voice cast is simply sensational, with Nolan North as the cockney Penguin and Mark Hamill’s Joker stealing the show once again.

So how does it play? In a word: bat-tastic. The level of genius used to devise the combat system rivals that of Edward Nigma. The sheer simplicity of one button for strike, another for counter, etc., is implemented brilliantly, and the learning curve of new moves, combos, and finishing takedowns is steady, yet challenging. The freeflow mechanic that allows you to stack up your combo multiplier is smooth and responsive, and the addition of multiple counters is welcomed. The combat works great, and it feels even better due to the superb animations; each fight is so cinematic, as if they were carefully choreographed by Jackie Chan. I wouldn’t get into fights purely for the experience points; I just wanted to see Batman meticulously snap an arm or two. Gadgets can still be used in combat, and there’s a wide choice to choose from. Most are assigned quick-fire buttons, which allows you to grapple hook one enemy, batarang another, and freeze a third. It works seamlessly, which is a good thing since enemy types differ, and some require a more tactical approach than a simple toe-to-toe face off – Titan brutes aren’t as prominent this time round, but they do make the odd appearance.

Predator mode is very much the same but the enemy AI has been ramped up a bit; enemies will team up and search the area covering each other, and some will shoot down gargoyles if they clock on to your tactics. Again, it’s a brilliant addition, and it keeps you on your toes. Just like in combat mode, enemies differ to ramp up the challenge; some thugs have gadgets that can see you in the shadows, or interfere with your detective vision. It’s still fun to play the hunter, watching your prey shake with fear as their numbers dwindle, but hand-to-hand combat wins when discussing which is most enjoyable and empowering.

Despite looking like an open world environment a lá Grand Theft Auto, Arkham City is structured more like the first game: outside being a hub world with numerous areas acting like dungeons with a boss at the end. Not all buildings are accessible, but every structure is worth fine-combing in order to find all those Riddler Trophies. Each ‘dungeon’ is unique, and like Arkham Asylum, they’ll be something new to discover each time you visit; The Penguin’s museum being a genuine highlight for me. Rocksteady attempted something different with the boss fights, which is a change for the better considering how poorly received the final fight with Joker was in the first game. Not all Boss fights are challenging, but the memorable and arduous journey to reach them makes the finishing punch all the more satisfying. None of the encounters match up to the intensity of the Scarecrow in Arkham Asylum, but a fight underneath Arkham City with a particular supervillian will remain a fond memory of mine.

The main story took roughly fifteen hours to complete on hard, but that only counts towards less than 40% of the game’s completion. A hero’s work is never done, and the various side missions mean Batman is going to have a long night. The Riddler quests are more exciting this time round, asking for a lot more time and lateral thinking, and side missions such as the Pay Phone Killer and Identity Thief murders mix things up nicely. Once you’re done with your first game, you’ll unlock new game plus; a story mode that allows you to carry across all your experience, upgrades and gadgets from the get-go in exchange for harder enemy types and no counter-indicators – this is what it really feels like to be Batman. It’s actually worth playing a second time – provided your game doesn’t delete your save file (an exclusive Xbox 360 bonus/glitch that we unfortunately encountered eight hours into our first playthrough).

The Catwoman DLC is a bit of a disappointment, acting as intermissions from the primary plot, the chapters with the feline thief don’t add much to the experience, but it must be played if you want a bigger picture into the background of Arkham City and its vibrant characters.

Playing as the world’s greatest detective again has been the most thrilling gaming experience this year; even now I can’t put my controller down due to the new and improved challenge mode. It feels so empowering to fight as The Dark Knight, and Rocksteady’s accomplishments with our hero are awesome in a very obvious kind of way. The long list of subtle improvements give this sequel its own identity, while staying true to the formula we fell in love with two years ago. And after the end credits roll, after hours of riddles, 45x combos, and Batman’s armour getting split to hell, there’s one fact that’s undeniably clear. No one knows the Caped Crusader better than Rocksteady.


Composer: Michael McCann

Release: November 2011

Length: 12 Tracks

Label: Sumthing Else

The main theme of Edios Montreal’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution is that of Transhumanism: the study of transforming the human body by developing and technologies to eliminate aging, and enhancing the human condition physically and mentally. This theme, coupled with a ‘cyber-Renaissance’ art style, brings about an interesting concept. What we’re looking at today is how this theme has affected the music, composed by Michael McCann. With award-winning soundtracks like Splinter Cell: Double Agent under his belt, McCann has quite the reputation to bring to the game. Will he be able to transcend this soundtrack into greatness?

Unfortunately the full soundtrack hasn’t been released yet, however, those lucky enough to afford the Collector’s Edition of Deus Ex: HR (not the already beefy Augmented Edition) will have a 30-minute soundtrack included, and this is what we’ve been listening to for the past week. There are only a small number of tracks available, but they seem to feature a range of themes, from dramatic to epic, action-orientated to electronic ambience; appropriately mimicking the different play-styles involved in the videogame.

There are a number of comparatives that we can make straight away: Mass Effect, The Dark Knight, and Blade Runner spring to mind. However, McCann has a great skill for blending cinematic scores with organic soundscapes. The theme of transhumanism is apparent in the track “Opening Credits”, with its electronic bass rumble, and despite having those dramatic strings we’ve all grown to love from other cinematic scores, there’s an electro beat hooking up with a solo vocalist. “Detroit City Ambient Part” is another example of the game’s main theme influencing McCann’s style.

The cyber-punk/Renaissance theme is augmented by the use of choirs and solo vocalists. In “Icarus – Main Theme”, we’re treated to McCann’s skill as a cinematic composer; his use of dramatic piano sounds and synths give the music extra effect. But it’s his use of vocals that carry the most weight, sustaining any emotion the music may provoke.

Until we hear this complete soundtrack, we’re going to reserve our full judgement. It’s a good start so far, but there’s nothing here to grant this soundtrack into prominence. We’ve been looking forward to hearing this, but the twelve tracks available at the moment are not enough for us to go on.

Check out more of Alec-Ross Bower’s writing at Thirteen1.com