Thursday, 14 May 2015

Generation Game: The Last of Us (PS3, 2013) vs The Last of Us Remastered (PS4, 2014)

Welcome to a new feature that will focus on games. And in particular, releases on two Blu-ray compatible consoles, the Sony PlayStation 3 and the direct successor, the PlayStation 4. The first one is a good one, it's Naughty Dog's post-apocalyptic action survival game, The Last of Us.

When Sony announced The Last of Us at the end of 2011. It came as a shock to many, myself included, that the developer behind it was Naughty Dog, creators of Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter and more recently Uncharted. The Last of Us is a drastic departure in tone and setting, and no one should have worried because it's a fantastic game.

The Last of Us got many plaudits, won over 200 game of the year awards and sold over 7 million copies on PS3 from release. Naturally, with it releasing just months before the PS4 arrived, speculation was rife about a PS4 version being on the horizon. Well, it did exist and was released a year after the original release. It was called The Last of Us Remastered, and was that, a remaster, an improved version of an already great game. So, the question is, what has changed and how much was improved?

Graphics wise, Remastered doubles the resolution of the original game from 720p to full 1080p. That's a nice difference, and there's also higher resolution textures as well as other bells and whistles that make a nicer, sharper, cleaner image. It also replaces the in-game character models with the higher quality, more detailed, cutscene variants.

The biggest difference however is the framerate. The PS3 version often dropped below 30fps but the PS4 version runs at 60fps but it does also have drops below that, but they're not as severe. The PS4 game also offers a 30fps lock option which feels sluggish after playing in 60fps. However, the 30fps option does improve the game in minor ways graphically, such as improved shadow quality. Though personally, I'll take the 60fps anyway.

The framerate difference is apparent when playing. Because The Last of Us is a game where you have to make every bullet count, the higher framerate allows for more precision in your shots. Another thing that helps admittedly is the much improved DualShock 4 that the PS4 uses.Though I do believe it can be used also with the PS3 version, but I can't say that for certain. Remastered also takes advantage of the Share functionality that the PS4 offers by having a Photo Mode which allows you to take screenshots of the game and alter the camera, add filters etc to create some wonderful imagery using the game.

Gameplay wise, it's the same game, except for the framerate difference earlier. Remastered also has a faster initial load time, I say that since there's no load times during gameplay except for when you have died but those are rather short on both versions.This is down largely to the PS4's way of dealing with game installs. It installs the whole thing to the hard drive whether it's on Blu-ray or not.

The big difference aside from graphics and performance is content. The original game came with the main story, which as good as it gets in games as of now, as well as the Multiplayer mode, which is far better than it has any right to be. The only advice I can give for that if you do play it is DO NOT RUN. It'll make sense.

Content is where Remastered gets its biggest differentiator over the PS3 original. In multiplayer terms, you get the two paid map packs, Abandoned Territories and Reclaimed Territories included. There's also a free map pack, Treacherous Territories, for both PS3 and PS4 as well but that was released after Remastered was released so it's a separate download.

The big DLC difference is Left Behind. Left Behind is a separate, also it was recently made available standalone, piece of story content where you play as Ellie and it explores her relationship with Riley, her close friend who is mentioned in the main game. There is two timelines, one set before the game and one during. The prequel part is definitely the better part because of the character development that takes place.

There's also an even harder difficulty mode included with Remastered, and is a paid option on PS3, called Grounded mode. Grounded reduces the on-screen HUD and makes enemies do more damage and makes resources even more scarce than Survivor, the default hardest difficulty. It's a mode for the most hardcore, I haven't tried it... yet.

Remastered also includes an hour long documentary on the development of The Last of Us. It's interesting to look at how a game comes together as it explores the various components of game development. The documentary is also available elsewhere but I think it's a nice addition.

Well that's all there is to it. I should probably point out that there's a The Last of Us Game of the Year Edition, which is all of the Remastered content, except for Photo Mode, on PS3, making this whole comparison a bit worthless. Oh well, I thought it was worth doing anyway.

The Last of Us is a fantastic game on either PS3 or PS4 and you wouldn't regret it on PS3, even if the PS4 version is the better version. If you only have a PS3 and don't want to fork out for a PS4 just yet then go for it, unless you really have to play the best version of any game.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Movies that aren't on Blu-ray, but should be

Many movies and TV shows have graced the Blu-ray disc format since it was first introduced to the public. However, not everything has, same with most formats in reality, but that doesn't mean that there isn't some movies that are wanted on Blu-ray. Here are a selection of a few that aren't as of writing available on Blu-ray.

Bad Boys 2

Like a broken clock twice a day, Michael Bay can make a decent movie.Bad Boys 2 is a film about Will Smith and Martin Lawrence having some played-up bromance, explosions (of course, it's a Michael Bay movie) and not taking things too seriously. That's why it's a good movie, well maybe 'good' isn't the right word, 'fun' perhaps? Anyway, the reason for it's lack of Blu-ray version is unclear, especially when you consider that the first Bad Boys film is available. Come on Sony Pictures. Please.

The Iron Giant

Ah yes, The Iron Giant, the 1999 animated movie that was based on the book The Iron Man, not to be confused with Marvel's Iron Man. The Iron Giant is a massive robot, and in the 1950s, when the story is set, it's a big deal. I could go on all day as to why The Iron Giant is a great movie, and worthy of a Blu-ray release, but I won't. Instead, look at that poster which is the DVD cover art, it's sublime. Brad Bird directed The Iron Giant, and he went on to direct The Incredibles, the one Pixar film that needs a sequel. Those are two things that should happen. Will they? Only Warner and Disney know. 

UPDATE: This happened. 

Star Wars: The Original Trilogy

Looking at this, you're probably thinking "the original Star Wars trilogy is already on Blu-ray", and you'd be correct, mostly. The versions available on Blu-ray are the Special Editions, the ones where certain things were changed with CGI for some reason, or changed for no reason like Greedo shooting first when originally it was Han. Anyway, the original theatrical versions of the original Stars Wars Trilogy would be an excellent addition to the library because they are the versions of the movies that many of us saw first, especially if you were around when the films first released.

However, it is extremely unlikely, not just because of the already released Blu-ray version, but because of Disney's acquisition of Lucasfilm. This is because Fox still retain the distribution rights to the original movie and I imagine they would want a big percentage of the royalties for any re-release, even though Disney and Fox know that fans would pay a premium for the original theatrical versions on Blu-ray. Oh well, at least we can look at the great posters I put up above which came from the talented Olly Moss, who also did the cover art for Resistance 3, which is also great. 

UPDATE: Fox is being bought by Disney so the barriers to this happening are now gone. It's purely up to Disney and if it feels it's worth the time and money to remaster the original films. 

Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie

I should explain this one. I'm in no way saying that Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie is a good movie, because in reality it isn't (I did think it was as a kid but I recently watched it again and it wasn't enjoyable to be honest, mainly because it's plainly obvious the writers and producers didn't know why the show was popular). The reason that I want it on Blu-ray is because I feel like I want such as big part of my childhood preserved on a newer media format. Ideally, the series would be remastered but that's incredibly unlikely given how many episodes there are, 60 episodes makes up Season 1 of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers. Of course it would look dated now but as any early 90s movie with CGI that's just how technology works. The biggest issue stopping a Blu-ray release is like Star Wars above where Fox still has distribution rights and with Saban now working with Lionsgate on the new Power Rangers movie for 2016, it's unlikely that any deal will happen.

I know four is a strange number but it's an even one and so that is all I can think of for Blu-rays that don't exist but they should. One day, maybe... probably not.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Blu-ray Review: Team America: World Police (2004)

With all of the controversy surrounding Sony Pictures' The Interview, which stars Seth Rogen and James Franco as they essentially mock North Korea and their leader Kim Jong-Un. When the film was initially pulled from the US, Paramount had the idea of airing Team America: World Police in it's place. Since Team America also has a North Korean despot at the centre of the film, noise was made about that too and Paramount cancelled those plans. So, having it on Blu-ray, I thought now would be a good time to take a look and see how it shapes up.

Team America: World Police comes from the minds of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who are best known as the creators of South Park. The style of Team America is very much the same crude humour of South Park but with marionette puppets, who are themselves in the style of old shows such as Thunderbirds. Except it's all done terribly, on purpose.

The Blu-ray release made it's way to the UK in 2013 and I am surprised that it has never been released on Blu-ray in North America. Which is ironic if you think about it. Luckily for those across the Atlantic who want the Blu-ray, it is region free so anyone can get it, at a premium though I would think.

The Blu-ray release is a bare-bones release, more so than most because it lacks any form of special features at all, which is very disappointing. It's very much a basic re-release that hasn't had any extra attention to it apart from the HD transfer of the movie as well as various dubbing options that it comes with, including French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Japanese. The picture quality is as expected in HD. Nothing spectacular but not poor.

As for the movie itself, well it certainly has a point to make. Team America: World Police is a team of highly trained people who fight terrorists the world over. Of course, coming from Trey Parker and Matt Stone, it isn't that simple. Team America is an organisation that claims to be fighting for freedom but often makes things worse with their brash, overzealous attitude and their total disregard for anything that isn't killing terrorists, even if it means blowing up famous landmarks.

It doesn't take a genius to work out what Team America: World Police represents. The clue is in the title. Basically, Team America is Parker and Stone saying that America causes a lot of the world's problems and sees itself as this great saviour when it's not. They say it by using a comedy with puppets. As you do.

Well, the film. It's hard to explain without spoiling it. Well at the beginning terrorists are planting WMDs in Paris (Je Suis Charlie), and Team America turns up in, despite there only being five of them, a jet, a helicopter (which has supposedly kept up), and a cargo plane. That's a comment about America, pollution and wastefulness you would think.

In Team America, there are five members: two (and one former) of which are voiced by Trey Parker, who is very much multi-talented. These are all of the characters that he voices:

  1. Gary Johnston
  2. Carson
  3. Joe Smith
  4. Kim Jong-il
  5. Hans Blix
  6. Matt Damon
  7. Tim Robbins
  8. Sean Penn
  9. Michael Moore
  10. Helen Hunt
  11. Susan Sarandon
  12. Drunk in Bar
That's not including the minor character voices too.

The movie's protagonist is Gary Johnston who is a theatre actor who gets approached by Spottswoode (voiced by Daran Norris) to join the team after Carson died in Paris (that's a spoiler but it's necessary to spoil to say what the film is about). Anyway, after convincing him that he isn't going to put his dick in Gary's mouth, Spottswoode takes Gary to Team America HQ which is inside Mount Rushmore, because why not. There he meets the rest of the team that makes up Team America: Joe Smith, Chris (voiced by Matt Stone), Sarah Wong (voiced by Masasa), and Lisa Jones (voiced by Kristen Miller) and despite their efforts, leaves, to only then return and join the team. Team America also has a super computer called I.N.T.E.L.L.I.G.E.N.C.E (voiced by Phil Hendrie) who doesn't very intelligent at all.

Anyway, without spoiling too much, it ends up where the Film Actors Guild (F.A.G for short, yeah...) based on the Screen Actors Guild, a real thing, and Kim Jong-il team up to hold a peace conference in North Korea. The F.A.G is led by Alec Baldwin, to whom I get the impression Parker and Stone don't like. This comes from the fact that in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, the Baldwin's house gets bombed. Members of the F.A.G include Samuel L. Jackson (voiced by Fred Tatasciore), Tim Robbins, George Clooney, (voiced by Matt Stone), Helen Hunt, Liv Tyler and Matt Damon (whose entire dialogue consists of Matt and Damon). The F.A.G is in the film because of the fact that Hollywood actors are often seen in political climates when they perhaps shouldn't be. That's all I can really say about the story without spoiling so you can guess the rest, or just watch the film.

Another thing that needs to be pointed out is how good the soundtrack. Clearly inspired by the action movies of the 1980s, with songs like the theme song which evokes those upbeat, can take on anyone type of song. It also has a message about how America sees itself throughout. The soundtrack is full of songs referencing others from movies and also take shots at certain things, such as one song called The End of an Act questioning why Michael Bay gets to keep on making movies and why Ben Affleck is an actor. Both very good points it has to be said. The soundtrack was composed by Harry Gregson-Williams and if you know his work, it shows.

Is Team America: World Police a good film, or at least watch-able on Blu-ray? The lack of any special features whatsoever is disappointing but I personally like it, I liked it when I first saw it in around 2004 or 2005. It received a mixed reception but seems to have become a cult classic, which I'm sure Trey Parker and Matt Stone feel better about now than at the time of release, at it had numerous production issues throughout. Team America is a movie for those who like things that aren't too serious and incredibly over the top. One scene in particular encapsulates this more than any other. I'm not going to say which one but if you've scene the movie then you'll know the one. Yes, that one.

America, fuck yeah!