‘The Newsroom’ Pilot – A (Positive) Review

I am not a Television critic. I may aspire to be one by watching an inordinate amount of television, I may even become one someday, but for now,  I am not a Television critic.

And with not being a television critic, I do not possess certain privileges that all critics gain access to. I do not get screeners early and I do not get early copies to a bulk of episodes. I am, for the most part, your regular television viewer.

So when I sat down to watch ‘The Newsroom’ on Sunday evening, like the majority of American television viewers, I was expecting to utterly detest the show that was laid before me, a show which has emerged as one of the most critically disdained television shows on HBO in a very long time. But to my (pleasant) surprise, the show extracted the complete opposite feeling.

‘The Newsroom’ is Aaron Sorkin’s (founder of shows ‘The West Wing’ and Sports Night), latest creation depicts Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy, an anchor for Atlantic Cable News (ACN), who along with a very strong ensemble cast, aim to deliver a news show “in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles and their own personal entanglements”.  It is set in 2010, as to allow the writers to refer to real life events, this week it was the BP oil spill. It’s a bold angle to take, and the ideology of the show is one that seems to have extracted controversy within the American Media, the same American Media that the show is openly criticising.

It may at times, not be the most realistic depiction of The Newsroom, but ignore that for one moment. Ignore whatever criticisms you may have of Sorkin’s work, because ‘The Newsroom’ is simply the latest example of Sorkin’s mastery of dialogue. It is fast paced, funny and maybe sometimes goes over the top, but who the hell cares? This is the way television was meant to be written. When ‘The Newsroom’ ended, it felt like it had been barely half an hour, and that certainly doesn’t indicate a lack of content. The Walking Dead feels much longer, and hardly anything eventful happens unless an action sequence occurs. If an episode of television feels like a fully fledged movie, you know it has been an hour well spent. And that is exactly how I felt about ‘The Newsroom’.

The Pilot also does a great job of establishing the main characters. Within the first 7 minutes, Daniels had already captivated my attention as he attempts to summarise why America is the “greatest show in the world”. “It’s not” he replies, before delivering a stirring rant on everything that is wrong with society today. The moments preceding that were full of witty remarks, humour and everything seemed fantastic. ‘This McAvoy fella’ seems nice doesn’t he’, was my inital reaction. Within five minutes, Daniels had completely transformed his character, displaying a breadth of delivery, sometimes unseen in a character throughout an entire season. And it doesn’t stop there. We also witness strong interactions between McAvoy and his boss Charlie Skinner, complying more to the humourous side of the show, as we are introudced to the eccentric nature of Skinner, whilst also hinting at the background between McKenzie and Will, which would only further emphasise the tension (awkwardness) of their initial meeting later in the episode.

Sometimes the show sacrifices that dialogue in order to serve the extended ideological monologues that occur quite frequently during the pilot, but I can deal with two or three “we can make a difference” speeches, if the rest of the hour is spent with this cast interacting, which is ultimately where this television show excels.

And whilst Sorkin’s writing is undoubtedly an essential component, the fantastic ensemble cast  assembled, certainly shouldn’t be overlooked. Jeff Daniels, whose career has certainly been hit and miss to say the least, looks re-energised as Will McAvoy, Emily Mortimer does a fantastic job playing the counter-part to McAvoy’s narcissistic mannerisms, Sam Waterson delivers a typically reliable performance as McAvoy’s boss and contributions from Dev Patel (star of Slumdog Millionnaire), John Gallagher and Alison Pill are ‘the icing on the cake’ (to use a cliche that can sometimes find it’s way into the show’s dialogue).

At this point, I am struggling to fully comprehend the contempt that this show has received within the media. The reaction from the general public appears to be generally, very positive and with the pilot delivering HBO’s 2nd strongest ratings for a pilot ever, behind Boardwalk Empire, it will be interesting to see if there is a significant drop-off in those figures next week.

Does the contempt arise from the fact that this show openly criticises the television critic’s very profession? I sincerely doubt it. Even if you are offended by the show’s ideological thinking, you can still appreciate it as a good television show (which in my opinion, it is).

So, as I made reference to earlier, it must be something to do with the upcoming episodes, which in general, tend to be the weakest in a television series anyway. The Pilot is typically quite strong as a lot of time is devoted to it, and then it takes a few episodes for a show to establish it’s identity and structure. So even if the show falters in the next few episodes, I am still going to continue until the end of the season.

So for the most part, I am feeling somewhat optimistic about this show. ‘The Newsroom’ delivers a sharp, fast-paced, somewhat tense thriller of a pilot in which the slight hiccups can be forgiven because well… it’s a pilot.

As for the upcoming three or four episodes, lets just see what happens.

Why The Heat Won: Evaluating The 5 Keys

With over a minute to go in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, a smile stretched across Lebron James’ face. A smile we rarely ever see from Lebron James. Was it relief? Was it just sheer joy? It doesn’t really matter. We can debate all we want. We can criticise him all we want. We can question whether he has the ‘clutch’ gene. But ultimately, Lebron James was clutch for 23 games, for over 900 minutes, in some of the most high press circumstances we have seen a superstar placed under, during this current generation.

Now Lebron James has a ring. The pressure SHOULD ease slightly. The criticism SHOULD cease to exist. Sure, we will still get the haters, but that’s just part of the world we now live in. Lebron James proved he has what it takes to be a champion, and after two years, it’s time to forget about ‘The Decision’, it’s time to forget about “not 1, not 2, not 3…” (even though that is looking a distinct possibility now), and it is time to embrace Lebron James.

So Why did the Heat win? Let’s evaluate the 5 keys that I made reference to a week ago.

Russell Westbrook’s Decision Making

This was a prominent feature during the remaining three games of the series, prominently… a problem. Yes we are sometimes unfair to Russell. In Game 4, he had his best game ever, scoring 43 points, but we will remember it for the unnecessary foul with 10 seconds left in the game, because that is the world we live in now. Much like Lebron for a time, Can we not accept Russell Westbrook for who he is? He is going to give you fantastic production, probably put up 25+ a night, but you can also expect him to make one incredibly irrational decision. Lebron James for a while was percieved to not possess a ‘clutch gene’. So if that was the case, why couldn’t we accept him as the guy that consistently dominated for 46 minutes, and put that team in a position to succeed? Why must a guy have a flawless game, or hit the game-winner to somehow validate his legacy?

But ultimately, this was a deciding factor. Yes the Thunder may have still lost if Russell hadn’t made those poor decisions, but we can never be sure. This part of Russell Westbrook’s game has been far too prevalent for far too long, and if Russell wants to take the next step, it needs to be addressed. Maybe, it’s just because he’s young. Maybe, just like the Thunder, they need one more year.

Advantage: Heat

Dwayne Wade’s Continued Production

What had become abundantly clear by the time the NBA Finals had come around, was that this was now Lebron James’ team. Whether or not Dwayne Wade believed it, he admirably played the sidekick, and he did a pretty good job of it. What is sometimes overlooked by the Heat, is their ability to play team ball. But with ALL of the Big 3 making big contributions, that was particularly evident in the finals. There were questions about whether or not Wade and Lebron on the same team would be a good ‘fit’ but when you see these two driving to the basket, kicking it out to the perimiter, running the pick and roll, it is a joy to watch, and is virtually unstoppable.

And that would be impossible if it were not for Dwayne Wade’s  continued production after his admittedly poor play-off run.  Dwayne Wade is an essential part of this team. And whilst he may not be ‘the guy’ anymore. he still finds a way to make contributions. He still gets his fair share of the ball, driving to the basket on a consistent basis. But it’s the hustle plays that are sometimes overlooked. Now more than ever, he is chasing down loose balls, crashing the boards and producing blocked shots, as he knows that he doesn’t need to be the guy that puts up 40 points anymore. And that is crucial, because now with a team possessing an identity, with the quality of players like the Heat have, it really is a scary to consider what the next stage of the evolution process is for this team. Whatever it is, it can’t be anything good for the other 29 teams in the NBA.

Advantage: Heat

Battle of The Coaches

And what was previously mentioned also links in to the role Erik Spoelstra played in the Heat’s Championship success. He had been more criticised than any other coach in the league. Can he make adjustments? Why hasn’t he perfected the rotation yet? Why is it this team still lacks an identity? These were all frequently asked by people questioning Spoelstra’s coaching ability. But with one series, all of those questions were put to rest. He made all of the right adjustments; playing small ball whenever necessary and giving Lebron a much-needed rest whenever it looked necessary are just two of the examples. The fact of the matter is, Spoelstra made fantastic adjustments at opportune moments.

With the return of Chris Bosh, the second question was also answered. Spoelstra finally found a way to utilise Chris Bosh at the center position, and with his superior athleticism at the position, and his ability to spread the floor, everything else fell into place. Now Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and even Mario Chalmers could drive to the basket at will, whilst also obtaining the ability to kick it out to the perimeter to players like Shane Battier or even Chris Bosh to hit open 3’s. And with that, Spoelstra manged to perfect his 8-man rotation.

This all enabled the Heat, to establish an identity on offense. Pick and roll, drive to the basket, kick the ball out to the perimeter, ball movement. That is the process behind the Heat’s offense. And in most of those categories, the Heat were far superior to the Thunder. The pick and roll between Lebron and Wade was unstoppable. Wade, Lebron and Chalmers driving to the basket with Bosh’s ability to spread the floor, was unstoppable. The Heat’s 3 point shooting, was unstoppable. And the ball movement.. oh the ball movement. Is it ok to label the Heat the best passing team in the league? I would guess so.

And with all the positives that Spoelstra’s coaching had brought to the Heat, I almost completely forgot about Scott Brooks. I am not going to be too critical as it became abundatly clear by the end of Game 4, that the Thunder just weren’t ready yet. But at times he did make costly decisions, with the most evident being when he chose to rest both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook when up by 10 at the end of the third quarter… That lead soon evaporated. But this was ultimately a very well-coached series. A series in which everything clicked into place for Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat.

Advantage: Heat

Battle Of The Role Players

This one is fairly self-explanatory. The heat established a game plan that was virtually unstoppable, and it allowed the Heat’s role players to thrive. Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and (In game 5) Mike Miller all caught fire, whilst James Harden went cold turkey. A major question going into the Finals, was how the Heat were going to compete with a team with far-superior depth. Ultimately, by the end of the series, we were questioning where the points were going to come from the Thunder. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both clearly had great statistical series, but so did Wade and Lebron. It would come down to who’s role players could produce the remainder of those points. Unfortunately for the Thunder when you start a game with 3 defence-first players, there is always going to be a lack of scoring options. It just so happens that during this series, those flaws were highlighted by a Heat Bench that exploded.

Lebron James vs Kevin Durant

The marquee match-up of the series. The two best players in the world, playing the same position, competing in a finals series that most of us thought would be decided by the outcome of this match-up.  And Lebron James decided, that the outcome would favour the Heat. Sure, Kevin Durant put up his 30 points a night but he ultimately just didn’t do enough. For a guy with his length, why isn’t he rebounding more? Why isn’t he contributing more on defence? Yes he’s still very young, and has plenty of time to mature, and develop his game. Lebron after all, only just figured everything out and he is 27. Kevin Durant will get his time, if the Heat let him.

Advantage: Heat

5 keys, all of which were dominated by the Heat, and all of which would be necessary components in the Heat’s eventual success. As much as this series will be remembered as the series where Lebron ‘figured it out’, the Heat needed every single component to secure victory. The role players, Dwayne Wade, Erik Spoelstra AND Lebron James were all needed for the Heat to secure that ring. Because where would Lebron and Wade be if they kicked the ball  out to perimeter players who couldn’t shoot? And what would those role players do, if their two superstars didn’t rip apart a defence by driving to the basket, obtaining open looks on the perimeter in the process?

The decision was two years ago, it is time to move on. Because this TEAM is everything you could hope for. This is a TEAM who enjoy playing team ball. A TEAM with an unselfish Star who enjoys playing team ball. A TEAM with 12 players, and one very talented coach, who pride themselves, on team ball. Lets embrace the Heat, because I have a feeling they might be around for a while.

NBA Finals – Heat vs Thunder: 5 Keys to the Series

It’s not often in an NBA finals where the two greatest players in the world are playing on opposing teams let alone playing the same position, but that’s what we have been gifted with this years finals, as the Scoring machine Kevin Durant and his Thunder team match up with the ‘Freight train’ Lebron James and the Heat. It’s a salivating prospect, and with both of these teams stars, still very much in their prime, we could be getting treated to this series for the next decade. Here are the 5 keys to the remainder of the series.

1. Russell Westbrook’s decision making

Let me just make something abundantly clear, Russell Westbrook is a fantastic point guard. My criticism doesn’t occur because he’s a terrible player who needs to dramatically improve, this is just one aspect of his game that needs to be slightly improved to ensure that he can maximise his contribution for Oklahoma City.

Let me hit you with some stats. In game 1 Russell Westbrook went 10-24 for 27 points with 11 assists. In game 2 he went 10-26 for 27 points with 7 assists. Now if you were to analyse both of those stat-lines without any contextual knowledge, you would find very little disparity between the two games. And yet he only draws criticism from Game 2, the game in which his team was defeated, even though his performances were essentially identical apart from slightly fewer assists. Now this isn’t me defending Westbrook, this is me saying, that this has been a problem with Russell Westbrook for far too long now. So Why must it take a Thunder loss, to make people realise that, that is the case?

And that’s not even the worst part about this. In both games, Westbrook took more shots than Kevin Durant, who has only taken 20 shots per game, at a much higher field goal percentage. Kevin Durant, You know, that scoring machine who has been essentially unstoppable in the play-offs so far. Come on Russell, you are a very talented point guard who is at his best when you are using your athleticism to drive to the basket, not pulling up to take Jumpers. Drive to the basket, if the rim is being defended, kick it out to a Kevin Durant or whoever, on the wing. If he does that, the Thunder instantly get a significant increase in production from not only the point guard position but also their entire team.

2. Dwayne Wade’s continued Production

When Lebron James joined the Miami Heat, it was for one reason only, to win championships. He knew during the 08 Celtics series that he couldn’t carry a team on his own, he would need numerous pieces in place to help him achieve his main goal. So when he joined up with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, that was exactly what he was expecting. Unfortunately, Chris Bosh has been injured for almost the entire playoffs and Dwayne Wade’s production has been rapidly declining, thus Leaving Lebron to carry a Heat team that he joined in the first place, to avoid that exact scenario.

But now Chris Bosh has returned and has almost instantaneously emerged as his All-Star self and Dwayne Wade finally had a big game, in Game 2. Guess what? The Heat won. Now it’s time for Dwayne Wade to continue that production level, because if that continues and Lebron continues to put up 30 points per night and SHANE BATTIER is shooting 70% from 3-point range, the Heat are almost unstoppable.

3. Lebron James vs Kevin Durant

THE story of Game 2, was Kevin Durant getting into foul trouble, and that was for one reason alone, Lebron James. A lot of people have been anticipating this finals series because of this very-matchup and if a theme has been established from the first two games, it’s that whoever gets the better of this matchup generally secures the victory for his team.

In Game 1, Durant blew Lebron out of the water in the 4th quarter, and in Game 2 Lebron returned the favour. In game 2, Lebron took it upon himself to guard Durant, and his incresed aggression ensured that Durant got into very early foul trouble. Did it ultimately affect the outcome of the game? Maybe not, as Durant was very sensible with the way in which he handled playing almost the entire 4th quarter with 5 fouls, but it must have been in the back of his mind.

And even the defining shot of the game with 10 seconds left on the clock was defined by this crucial match-up. Durant seemingly had the advantage over Lebron who seemingly fouled Durant, before Durant missed the easy shot. Yes it should have been a foul, but Durant still should have made the bucket. Then with 5 seconds left on the clock, Lebron hit two CLUTCH free-throws to secure the victory for his team. In Game 3, I expect another game that replicates the close nature of this one. Ultimately it is going to come down to which one of these two superstars gets the better of his rival. Everything so far has been pointing towards a series decided by a Game 7, and if we get to see these two go at it for four more games, then count me in.

4. The Battle of The Role Players

I feel like I am being highly disrespectful by referring to James Harden as a role player, but for the purpose of this point, I am going to go along with it. Usually when James Harden comes off the bench and ignites his offense, The Thunder win the game. In Game 2 James Harden put up 21 points, so you would expect the Thunder to win right? But they didn’t. And that’s because the Heat role players managed to match the performance of James Harden. Shane Battier continued his unbelievable resurgence with 17 points, shooting 5-7 from 3-point range, and the Heat won the game.

Shane Battier scored 17 points in Game 1 aswell, so Why did that not play a contributing factor to a Heat Win? Because the Thunder ‘bigs’ showed up in a major way. Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison combined for 23 rebounds and 8 offensive rebounds most of which came off the bench with Nick Collison having a massive impact. He had 5 of the offensive rebounds, and unsurprisingly the Thunder’s ability to crash the board was one of the main reasons why the Thunder came away with the victory.

Expect the same to happen for the rest of the series. Both team’s role players are going to have to step up because whoever gains the advantage, is more than likely going to contribute to a victory for their team.

5. The Coaches

This has been a very well-coached series so far. BUT CHRIS, ERIC SPOELSTRA IS COACHING, YOU HATE THAT GUY!!” I have admittedly, been very harsh on Spoelstra throughout his time as the Heat coach, but it was for good reason. But in Game 2, he finally did something that he hadn’t done for his entire time as the Heat Coach, he made fantastic adjustments.

He finally decided to start Chris Bosh which was a good decision albeit way too late, thus spreading the floor for players like Dwayne Wade and Lebron James to drive to the rim. And what do you know.. Dwayne Wade had one of his best performances of the playoffs so far. But that’s not where it ended, as the entire complexion of the heat’s half-court offense adapted, with multiple pick and rolls being run through Lebron James and Dwayne Wade. This also links in with the Chris Bosh move, as by having a big that can shoot jumpers or drive to the basket, you immediately make it easier for those pick-and rolls to work efficiently. And with those changes, the Heat secured a victory. Now Spoelstra has to continue to make those adjustments, if he wants his Heat team to secure victory.

A guy that hasn’t drawn as much criticism for his coaching is Scott Brooks, who has done a fantastic job in Oklahoma City. And it was once again a major contributing factor in why his team won Game 1, and also came very close to making a comeback in Game 2. With Game 1, he recognized that James Harden was having an off-night and that his bigs (plus Thabo Sefolosha) were having massive games. So instead of reverting back to his usual ‘small ball’ in the fourth quarter, he played his defensive lineup. This allowed Sefolosha to continue to contain Lebron James, where on numerous occasions he was able to give Lebron very difficult looks and it also allowed his team to continue to dominate the glass, resulting in a major turn-around as the Thunder continued to put up big points (thanks to Kevin Durant) whilst his team still managed to restrict the Heat’s offense very effectively.

Even in defeat, Brooks did a fantastic job considering the start his team made. In the fourth quarter, down by double-figures, the Thunder’s star was on 5 fouls. But instead of subbing him out of the game, Brooks recognised that his team wasn’t going to get back in the game, with his star on the bench for the majority of the quarter, so he decided to put his trust in Kevin Durant, and played him for the entire fourth quarter. The end result? Kevin Durant went off, reducing the lead to as little as 2 points before a bit of unfortunate luck on a foul call ultimately resulted in defeat. In game 3, Brooks is going to have to keep adapting, to ensure his team has the best possible chance to succeed.

So if you have learnt anything from this article, I think we can all agree… This series is going to be fantastic. That is all.

E3 2012 Review Part 2 – Awards

I have already given my insight into the Press Conferences of E3 2012, now it’s time for me to review the stuff that really matters, the games.

One thing I will make clear, Best Xbox 360 game or Best PS3 game has to be an exclusive to that console. If I am just ranking the best game available on that console, am I not just giving you a preview to what I perceive to be my best of show award? I have seen this tons during Gaming Awards, and to me it is completely pointless.

So rant over, let’s get this started.

Best Action/Adventure Game

Winner: Assassins Creed III

Other Nominees

Dishonored

The Last Of Us

Tomb Raider

Hitman: Absolution

God of War: Ascension

Summary: This game is fantastic, I think everybody already knew that, but I don’t think anybody was expecting the quality that was displayed at E3. Yes we were treated to not only one new level, but  two, and I can’t even decide which one I love more. At the ubisoft press conference we watched the more conventional assassins creed level (if you can refer to anything in assassins creed as conventional) as Connor swings and climbs through 19th century forests, kills deers and stabs people with bayonets! Whilst in the Sony press conference, Connor took on the role as the captain of a ship as he partakes in all out sea-warfare! To summarise, Assassins Creed 3 looks amazing.

Best New IP

Winner: Watch Dogs

Other Nominees

The Last of Us

Beyond

Dishonored

Sleeping Dogs

Summary: E3 is all about the surprises. Sure it is fantastic to see games we have already seen that look amazing, such as Last of Us, but the thing that really gets us gamers going, is an announcement that comes completely out of nowhere. And that was the case with Watch Dogs. We don’t know a lot up to this point, but what we do know is that you control a hacker that has control over an entire cities electronics. It’s an open-world game, and has graphics that had people questioning whether this was really a current-gen game. Yes, the most likely scenario is that, that was played on a high-level PC, but you can’t deny that the game looks stunning, and I’m excited to see more of it.

Best First-Person Shooter

Winner: Far Cry 3

Other Nominees

Call Of Duty Black Ops II

Halo 4

Metro: Last Light

Medal Of Honor: Warfighter

Summary: It takes a lot for me to get excited about First-Person shooters these days, because quite simply, there are too many of them. So for a game to impress me, it had to showcase something unique, something that can re-energize a franchise or a new IP (which I think to this point is very unlikely). Call Of Duty has tried that with the new ‘Strike Force’ missions ensuring that there is branching story-lines in which you can actually fail! Yes I hate the Call of Duty franchise but I respect the bold new direction. Halo 4, well it has new bad guys and it’s made by a new developer so I might enjoy that but ultimately, Halo’s success was founded by Bungie and I’m not sure If I can trust a new developer to follow-up on that success. Medal Of Honor looks good, but I’m not willing to get my hopes up after the disaster of a first game.

So this came down to two equally fantastic looking games in Far Cry 3 and Metro: Last light, both of which have a tone that defines their game, which is completely unheard of in first-person shooters this decade (half-life aside). So why Far Cry? Well for starters, it’s an open-world game, the gameplay looks fantastic and most importantly the story line looks completely different, with an antagonist who is actually a well-defined character??!??! Say It Aint so. For years, we have been fed the same crappy Michael Bay-esque shooters, Far Cry 3 promises a change, and I am completely OK with that.

Best Third-Person Shooter

Winner: The Last Of Us

Other Nominees

Dead Space 3

Gears Of War: Judgement

Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Transformers: Fall Of Cybertron

Summary: Yeah I sort of cheated with this category. Unfortunately the third-person shooter category has almost entirely disappeared, with developers instead choosing to enter into the already over-inflated market that is first-person shooters. Sure we still get the typical run and gun third-person shooter in titles such as Gears Of War: Judgement but at this point, I don’t want another Gears. You Know, It would just be nice to, I don’t know… See a new IP for once. But as it stands, The Last of Us is played through the third-person perspective and you can shoot, so I see know problem with rewarding this fantastic game, with another award.

Best Fighting Game

Winner: Injustice: Gods Among Us

Other Nominees

Dead or Alive 5

Persona 4 Arena

Playstation All Stars: Battle Royale

Summary: The creators of Mortal Kombat, bring us a new DC Fighting franchise, Injustice: Gods Among Us. The tone of the game feels fantastic, interactive environments play a key role and transitions that see you hop between levels ensure that I am very excited about a game in a genre that feels slightly light right now. But Injustice: Gods Among us? Count me in.

Best Sports Game

Winner: Madden NFL 13

Other Nominees

Fifa 13

NBA 2K13

NHL 13

Summary: Ever since 2k lost the license for football games, standards have slipped. Mostly down to a lack of effort and features being fleshed out with a ton of gimmicks have meant that the ‘Madden’ football franchise has completely stagnated. But Finally EA have listened to their fan base, and have put in the effort worthy of an NFL game. A new Physics engine, that the game has desperately needed has been introduced and an all new career mode which introduces computer trading, an in-game story engine with a virtual twitter feed, draft coverage from Trey Wingo and much more which I don’t have time to cover. To surmise, Franchise Mode, Superstar Mode and Online Franchise have all been joined into one, meaning all of these new enhancements will be available in all three versions of the game. Yes, finally Online Franchise will actually be worth investing time in. My only critique? EA screwing up their press conference and deciding to focus on the ‘Social’ aspects of Madden rather than these admittedly cool features that would impress even the Hardcore gamer. All in all, well done EA.

Best Driving Game

Winner: Need For Speed: Most Wanted

Other Nominees

LBP Karting

Forza Horizon

Formula 1 2012

Best Playstation Vita Game

Winner: Assassins Creed: Liberation

Other Nominees

Little Big Planet

Playstation All Stars: Battle Royale

Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time

Summary: We haven’t witnessed much gameplay yet, but it’s an Assassins Creed game… On the Playstation Vita. What more needs to be said?

Best Nintendo 3DS Game

Winner: New Super Mario Brothers 2

Other Nominees

Castlevania: Lords of Shadow — Mirror Of Fate

Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon

Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance

Summary: As disappointed as I was with the Nintendo press conference, there were admittedly some very good titles that were showcased, and that is none more evident than with the New Super Mario Brothers game. Yes the major Platforming title is back, and is better than ever. I can’t wait.

Best Nintendo Wii U Game

Winner: Pikmin 3

Other Nominees

ZombiU

Rayman Legends

New Super Mario Bros U

Assassins Creed III

Batman Arkham City

Summary: To avoid another Nintendo related rant, I’m going to pass on this one. All I will say is Pikmin 3 was one of the only bright spots in a terrible, TERRIBLE press conference.

Best PC Game

Winner: Watch Dogs

Other Nominees

Elder Scrolls V: Dawnguard

Metro: Last Light

Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Sim City

Summary: 2011 saw a return to prominence for PC gaming. With Skyrim taking home game of the year and a ton of other RPG’s being released, legitimacy was brought back to the PC. Unfortunately things don’t look quite as rosy for the end of 2012, but there are still a ton of quality games. I have run out of things to say about Watch Dogs now, because it has simply one so many awards. What I will say is, that gameplay footage at the ubisoft press conference was either on the PC or it’s a next-gen title.. I know which is more likely, and it once again emphasises the disparity between graphics on the PC and the other Consoles. I honestly can’t fathom why more people don’t utilise their PC for gaming. Better controls, better graphics and cheaper prices are surely all good things? But that debate is for another day, Congrats Watch Dogs, you look amazing.

Best Xbox 360 Game

Winner: Splinter Cell: Blacklist

Other Nominees

Halo 4

Gears Of War: Judgement

Forza: Horizon

Summary: I have trashed Microsoft consistently this past week, and it’s for good reason. The fact a driving game has made a list of four nominations emphasises that. Yes this is another year where first-party has been completely abandoned by Microsoft, and even though most award sites would mask this by nominating tons of third-party games, to make Microsoft look good, I’m here to do right by the gamers! This list epitomizes just how poorly Microsoft has managed their first party. Splinter cell: Blacklist admittedly looks like an impressive new direction for the franchise, but it isn’t the sort of game that should be winning ‘Best of E3’ awards.

Best Playstation 3 Game

Winner: The Last Of Us

Other Nominees

Beyond

God Of War: Ascension

Dust 514

Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time

Summary: Now we’re talking. I was sceptical about another triple A title entering into the over-saturated post-apocalyptic genre, but now I realise I am a fool. This is naughty dog, they’re not going to give us a poorly done game. The game to this point looks crisp and perfectly executed as you would expect from a Naughty dog title, and also has a completely different tone from that of Uncharted. The game is much more violent, you are in desperation mode, you don’t 200 rounds of bullets that you can Spray with your AK-47. This is about survival, every bullet counts and that makes for some fantastic game play dynamics. Game of the Year contender? It sure looks like it.

Best Of Show

Winner:  Assassins Creed 3

Summary: I was going to go with Watch Dogs for this award, but there is a difference between Best Surprise and Best of Show, and I hadn’t seen the latest seven minute demo which is simply mind-blowing. The Assassins franchise has certainly diminished these past few years with iterations like Revelations and Brother being  referred to as Assassins Creed 2.5 rather than a fully fledged sequel, it has even been labelled as “Ubisoft’s Call Of Duty”. But with Assasssins Creed 3, I think we can put that argument to rest.

If you haven’t seen the seven minute demo I have just previously referred to, then go and watch it here http://www.gametrailers.com/video/e3-2012-assassins-creed/732212 like.. right now. These awards can wait. I had already seen the actual gameplay, but I had completely overlooked some of the things that the developer later pointed out with the commentary. The new combat system and new parkour animations were fairly obvious additions but it was the minor subtleties that I had missed out on. Uneven terrain, dramatically improved AI and running assassinations (just to name a few) were all things I overlooked in the original video. This game looks simply fantastic, it has game of the year written all over it and I would just like to take to say Thank you Ubisoft. You single-handedly saved E3.

E3 2012 Review Part 1 – Grading The Press Conferences

The Electronic Entertainment Expo was certainly slightly more subdued than previous iterations, a lack of surprises assured us of that. But there was still a ton of high quality games on show, most of which have either been pushed back to Q1 of 2013, or Q1 of 2013 was in facttheir original release date, meaning 2013 already looks stacked. So for the big five press conferences to deliver a great presentation, it would ultimately be the software that defined their success.

Microsoft

I actually left this press conference slightly more hopeful than last years disasters, however that is still not an awful lot of praise because well… last years was a disaster. But at least this year Microsoft moved away from feeding dozens of awful Kinect games down our  throats. We may still have been provided with half an hour of ‘entertainment’ packages and social experiences with announcements such as smart glass which albeit did look very impressive, but for the most part, the distinct focus was on games.

Now the only reason I still did not come away impressed with this press conference, was because of the games that we were shown. I don’t need to see another Forza, at this point I don’t even want another Gears of War. A re-occurring feature throughout the entire software announcements from the Microsoft press conference were the announcement of sequels. Despite the fact that bungie said they would not be developing any more Halo Games, microsoft still found a way to release a Halo 4. Luckily for Microsoft, the third party titles saved them. Tomb Raider, as expected, looked fantastic and they can always rely on Call of Duty to give them a spark. I like the direction that this new Call of Duty is taking, unfortunately, Treyarch neglected to show us that new direction with the strike force missions, choosing instead to go with the ‘same-old’ alternative, in your typical, linear Call of Duty Mission.

I admit that the new Halo looked great, as did the new Splinter Cell but if there is one thing that this press conference emphasised, its that Microsoft (at least for this console cycle) has abandoned the first party titles. Choosing instead to release the tried and tested formula of succesful franchises such as Halo and Gears, hoping that they can produce similar success to previous iterations. It’s not great for us gamers, but Microsoft know what they are doing and it is probably a strategy that works most effectively for them. Unfortunately, that isn’t going to be taken account in their grade.

Grade: C-

Electronic Arts

Unfortunately, EA suffered the same fate as Microsoft. Choosing to announce new sequels rather than new IP’s, and those new sequels did not look all that impressive. Dead Space 3 has seemingly taken a completely different direction, a direction I am not sure fits the franchise. I don’t think we need co-op in Dead Space, but we are getting it. It also seems that Dead Space is going to take the Resident Evil route, choosing to focus more on the action genre rather than the horror, and we know how well that worked out for Capcom.

Now the Sports Titles, which are lets face it, a prominent feature of Electronic Arts, did seem to breed new life. Madden announced a new physics engine which promises to be one of the most revolutionary gameplay features in all of the sports titles. But unfortunately, they decided to focus more on Madden ‘Social’, and didn’t focus at all on titles such as the critically acclaimed NHL series which has been a great success for EA.

Grade: D-

Ubisoft

I will repeat what I said earlier, GAMES is what was going to win E3 this year. And whilst EA and Microsoft took a different direction, GAMES is what we got with Ubisoft. Yes, our enjoyment was slightly hampered by those painful Hosts, but overall, the content was most definitely there. We have to start with what appears to be the shock of E3 in ‘Watch Dogs’. A completely new IP that has you take control of a hacker who has control over all electronics in the city. A new IP this late in the console cycle even had some people questioning whether this was a next gen title, that’s how good this game looks.

Then we had Assassins Creed 3, which despite being a sequel, looks completely stunning. Before E3 we had only been granted a trailer of Ubisoft’s latest title, but with a solid 10minutes of gameplay footage, we certainly know what this game is about now. Yuy play as Connor Kenway a man drawn into the fight after his home is attacked by colonists. Throughout the duration of the 30 year time span of the game, Connor will encounter various historical figures including George Washington and Benjamin franklin, but the intentions and reasoning for these encounters is unclear at this point. So there is two games that look fantastic.

Combine those two marquee titles, with Far Cry 3, which looked stunning as it opened the conference and wii u titles rayman and Zombiu ensured that the content of Ubisoft’s conference was stacked full of games. The only downside really was the ten minutes designated to an esports title, and the poor hosting but overall, a very strong showing from Ubisoft, who in the past have been the embarrassment of E3.

Grade: A

Sony

Unlike Microsoft, Sony showed that they were still all about the gamer. The show opened with a new IP, as Quantic Dream unveiled their latest Project Beyond, which looked visually stunning however with the four minutes of footage that we were shown, there was no real indication as to how the gameplay mechanics will fit in, into the new title. And Sony also closed with a new IP, as we were provided with our first glimpse of gameplay from Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. Let me just make something perfectly clear, this is completely different from Uncharted. Sure it might ultimately utilise similar gameplay mechanics, the tone, visuals and story are completely different. The game is brutal, you will see Joel kill someone from repeated blows with the but of gun, it is after all necessary when you only have 6 bullets in your gun. And that limited ammo also enhances the experience, as it ensures that every bullet you use HAS to matter. Trust me, it is very unlikely you will be spraying bullets with an AK-47 in this title. Everything you do feels like it has consequences, and even with this early look at the game, it has game of the year written all over it.

The content in the middle of those two IP’s wasn’t too bad either. We got some fantastic looking third-party titles with Far Cry 3 co-op and stunning new gameplay from Assassins Creed III as you play as the captain of a ship.

The only disappointment from the conference was the announcement of Wonderbooks. I wouldn’t even have minded it being in the conference, as I can appreciate that even though it doesn’t adhere to me, it does suit a certain demographic however, the fact that they dedicated a good 15 minutes on this title was completely unnecessary. That was more than any other game on show. But overall, a good showing by Sony who continued to focus on the games. The fact I almost completely forgot about the new God of War title, highlights just how many first-party title they had on show, even with it being this late in the console cycle.

Grade: B+

Nintendo

Oh boy, I’m just going to go out and say it, this was the worst conference of the lot, and it was also, conveniently, the most important press conference of the lot with Nintendo being the only conference where new hardware was to be the focus. Yes, if Nintendo wanted to have a successful conference, then the WiiU would have to impress. Unfortunately, it didn’t. It’s not even the software lineup that detracted from the conference. Pikmin looked fantastic, as did the new Luigi’s mansion title but the whole conference just felt wooden. The presentation was poor, and despite being promised 23 new titles by Reggie at the start of the conference, I can imagine that most of those were featured in the minute-long montages. There just wasn’t enough. Where was the new Zelda for the launch of a new console? Even a new metroid? Sorry Nintendo, you screwed this up. You didn’t even give us a release date or a price point that may atleast get us slightly optimistic.

Grade: F

Game of Thrones Season Finale – ‘Valar Morghulis’ (2×10) Review

I have made it clear for quite a while now that I preferred Season 1 to Season 2.  There was a bigger emphasis on characterisation, there was focus, everything these characters did, it felt like there would be consequences. With Season 2, new characters were introduced, returning characters recieved more prominent roles and it all combined to contradict the story-telling of Season 1. Major characters would possibly receive one maybe two scenes per episode, and instead of giving the series scope, it removed all empathy I had for these characters. Blackwater negated that slightly, as it gave the show the focus that it desperately need but ‘Valar Morghulis’, the Season Finale only re-emphasised my initial beliefs, as it reverted back to the constrained story-telling that had hampered the majority of season 2.

So lets get the negatives out of the way first. Daenerys’ Qarth storyline has been among the weakest of the series so far and I love her character. Unfortunately, she has suffered the same fate as many of the characters from this season, in that she simply didn’t get enough screen time. It’s hard to imagine she has been granted more than half an hour of screen time for the entire season but the writers appeared to address that in the season finale with Qarth’s strongest moments yet. Viewers were rewarded with a fantastic scene in which Drogo returned to our screens, now I don’t care if this was the Warlock’s magic because despite the fact it is more than likely just an illusion, it felt real and that is in no part down to the fantastic chemistry between Dany and Drogo.

Yes, the Warlock was defeated far too easily, but I guess that just emphasises everything about Game of thrones this year. It has all felt slightly rushed, and with the lack of build up to this moment, it was only fitting that the events taking place in the House of the Unding, ended abruptly. Atleast now, it feels like Daenerys has a purpose; she’s got her dragons back, she’s got enough wealth to get her a ship, and maybe we’ll finally see Dany interact with the main cast next season? Ultimately a strong end, to a fairly weak story arc for Daenerys, especially considering how compelling her story was in Season 1.

I can’t really comment that much on the John Snow/Wildling scenes from the finale as well.. He has hardly been a prominent feature on our television sets. It simply felt like it didn’t matter, however with Snow set to meet Mans Raider, establishing himself as a spy within the Wildling’s, at least, much like with Dany’s storyline, he should have a greater role in Season 3.

Yes I am a grumpy old git as we did get some fantastic moments. Tyrion Lannister has felt like one of the few characters who we could not only relate to, but also felt important in the overall game. With his storyline, it wasn’t just about moving the chess pieces to set up some greater pay-off, and one thing the finale did provide was a fantastic conclusion to Tyrion’s story arc. Yes, we got that fantastic moment between Shae and Tyrion as he admits, that his time as hand have been the best moments of his life. He enjoyed the deceit and manipulation that have become so crucial in your ability to be Hand to the King. Ned Stark never played the game, and he paid the ultimate price. Tyrion did that and more, before he got it all stripped away as Tywin Lannister not only took all of the credit for the success of Blackwater, but also took back his role as Hand of the King, leaving our loveable imp without purpose. It may not be great to be Tyrion right now, but it should be fascinating to see how Tyrion adapts to his new role, or lack there of.

Another character whose progressions have been enjoyable was Theon Greyjoy’s. We got a great conversation between Theon and Luwin as he admits that even though it is probably all a big facade, he’s far too involved to turn back now. This definitley did a great job of creating sympathy for the death of Master Luwin but also emphasised the tragic nature of Theon’s character, as despite all the progression he has made, building up to the moment where he delivers an admittedly good speech, is completely negated with a single strike to the head. It was definitely one of the better moments of the finale however I still need an explanation as to why Winterfell was left to burn at the end and I’m not sure we will get it.

But ultimately, ‘Valar Morghulis’ will be remembered for its final five minutes. A final five minutes that granted us our first true glimpse of the ‘others’ or the white walkers and a final five minutes so compelling, that I almost completely forgot about all of the disappointing scenes from earlier in the episode.

Season 2 of Game of Thrones was definitely not on the level of Season 1. Unlike with the first season, season 2 never felt like there were any true consequences. Stannis was defeated just for him to gain fresh momentum to launch a new attack. Dany lost her dragons just for her to well… get them back and the only major deaths for the season were in the form of Master Luwin, who lets face it, is not on the same level as Ned Stark. What we can take from Season 2 is a fantastic premise for the third season. As mentioned earlier, Dany and John Sow both have fresh directions, Tyrion has a lack of direction and of course those final five minutes. It all combines for what should serve as a fantastic Season 3 but the prospect of a great season next year cannot completely negate my disappointment of this current season. We were treated to one fantastic episode in ‘Blackwater’ and a bunch of fantastic scenes, mainly from Tyrion. But as a Season as a whole, it struggled at times. The constant shifting of locale made the season feel dis-jointed, but at least with this finale, I can take comfort in the fact that we should be getting a fantastic season 3.