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.

10 Reasons Why Miami Are A fantastic Fit For Hard Knocks

Even before Coach Philbin and the Miami Dolphins announced that they would be the team in the spotlight of HBO’s reality television series ‘Hard Knocks’, the Dolphins had already become acclimated with its fair share of the media spotlight. Dating back almost a year ago, the Miami Dolphins head coaching search had been amidst with controversy, firstly missing on John Harbaugh whilst Coach Sporano was still under contract, then missing out on Jeff Fisher after a tireless pursuit, before finally deciding that Joe Philbin was their guy.

And that was not the only talking point from the Dolphins off-season this year. The Peyton Manning saga undoubtedly left a lot of franchises scarred, but maybe none more so than the Miami Dolphins. A team who in the past, have missed so many times in finding Dan Marino’s replacement. In total, 17 quarterbacks have been under center for the Dolphins since  Marino’s retirement. So when Peyton Manning decided to take his talents to Denver instead of South Beach, who most considered the early running favourites, Miami fans were left with that eerily similar feeling to that of when they missed out on Drew Brees years before. Ultimately, Ryan Tannehill was drafted by the Dolphins with the 8th overall pick, signifying the first time the Miami Dolphins have selected a quarterback in the first round, since Marino.

So why you ask, are the Dolphins and Coach Philbin even considering making their locker room susceptible to even further criticism? Some say Coach Philbin’s hand may have been forced by owner Stephen Ross, but when Joe Philbin came out during his daily press conference and announced that this was entirely his decision, it made me think, that maybe this is not as bad as we first thought. Here’s 10 reasons why Miami are a fantastic fit, not only for HBO, but also, for the Dolphins themselves.

10. Wide Receiver Battle

A lot of people were shocked that the Miami Dolphins did not address the Wide receiver position until the 6th Round in the 2012 NFL Draft, considering that just a couple of months prior, Jeff Ireland executed a trade that sent star receiver Brandon Marshall to Chicago for 2 3rd round Picks. But even before that there was uncertainty as many people questioned Brian Hartline as a no.2 reciever (and now it looks like he’s going into the season as the no.1 guy).

Joe Philbin has stated on numerous occasions that in his system, much like in Green Bay, there is not a true no.1 receiver, he likes to spread the ball about. But even without that security of a Brandon Marshall type receiver on your offense, the Dolphins only possess two certified locks at the wide reciever position to make the team. Clyde Gates, was highly touted after being drafted by Miami last year, but has yet to show up on game day, Marlon Moore and Roberto Wallace have both shown flashes but injuries have stagnated their progressions and then there are the three rookies. Jeff Fuller, an unrestricted free agent, who just so happened to be Ryan Tannehill’s number one target in college, Rishad Matthews was a perceived 3rd round pick who fell to the Dolphins in the 7th round, and BJ Cunningham (taken in the 6th round), was the leader in Receptions and receiving yards in Michigan State history.

All of those receivers have a shot at making the roster. And with only Davone Bess and Brian Hartline as ‘locks’ to make the team, that alone would make for compelling tv, but throw in the fact that one of those ‘fringe’ players could end up starting, and the sheer breadth between success and failure, gets that bit bigger.

9. Lauren Tannehill

When the Miami Dolphins selected their Quarterback of the future with the 8th overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft, there was a lot of Buzz about a person with the ‘Tannehill’ surname. No not, Ryan Tannehill (the guy they drafted) but his wife, Lauren Tannehill. Yep, she is definitely something, and when Hard Knocks airs its Premiere on August 7th, I fully expect her to be a large feature, as her fame spreads from Miami to the national audience. Expect some form of storyline focusing on the Tannehill’s getting acclimated to their surroundings. That’ll be the context, but really, HBO are doing it because she could potentially emerge as a star.

8. South Beach

There are not many glitzier, more glamorous cities than Miami, Florida. Celebrities will be out in abundance, the Miami Marlins and the Miami Heat get massive media attention. Could we potentially see people like Lebron James on the show? Maybe, but the amount of celebrity activity in the area is sure to provide HBO with great incentive to create some very compelling storylines.

7.  Celebrity Owners

Stephen Ross’ early years as owner of the Miami Dolphins have definitely not gone smoothly so far. Initial controversy incurred by Ross’ decision to give B-list celebrities such as Serena Williams minority stakes in the Dolphin’s ownership, and criticised for his involvement in the John Harbaugh affair, whilst Tony Sporano was still under contract, maintains that Mr Ross has definitely got his doubters within the Miami fan base. And that controversy should no doubt provide HBO with some fantastic storytelling opportunities, but it not only benefits HBO. Hard Knocks provides Stephen Ross with the chance to clear up his image. It could end disastrously, but then again, that would just further benefit HBO, and who are we to complain about controversy?

6. The Miami Dolphins Fanbase

This is very much in the category of why this is a great fit for the Dolphins organisation. Yes, it is a well-known fact that the Dolphins fan base has certainly deteriorated over the years, and what better way to bring the Dolphins some National media attention than through Hard Knocks? Many say this issue will be addressed when the Dolphins start winning games, but Hard Knock’s is a nationally televised television program. People will take notice, and if anything, this is certainly a step in the right direction.

5. Joe Philbin

Never before on Hard Knocks has a rookie head coach been a part of the show. That all changes this year, when Joe Philbin, who is not only in his first year with the Miami Dolphins but also as a head coach, takes center stage under the spotlight. Many of the Miami media have been impressed with his attention to detail (he does after all come from Green Bay), capped off with his dry humour, and he has certainly to some extent, re-energised the fan base. It may not have been the glamour hire that Stephen Ross was hoping for, but it could turn out to be a very shrewd bit of business. Joe Philbin could definitely emerge as a star from the show. Sure, it could certainly end disastrously, as a rookie head coach, there are all sorts of new acclimatization’s that need to be made, and the added distraction of having 24 NFL Films cameras constantly over-looking you, could certainly pose a problem. But something makes me feel that, that might not be the case with Coach Philbin. He has an aura about him that emphasises that this extra media attention is unlikely to phase him. He may make quips like stating he’s “more of a radio guy” but he is certainly popular with the Miami Media. Could that translate to the national media? I can’t see why not.

4. Reggie Bush

Miami is most definitely a glamorous city, but the Miami Dolphins organisation doesn’t really pertain to that philosophy. Most people would struggle to reel off the starting depth chart for the Miami Dolphins because they simply lack the ‘big-names’. But when the Dolphins acquired Reggie Bush in a trade with the New Orleans Saints, and he produced his best season in the NFL yet as he rushed for over 1000 yards, that all changed. Yes there aren’t many more famous individuals in the NFL. He’s hosted Live! With Kelly and he was certainly in the spotlight through his tumultuous relationship with Kim Kardashian.

In previous iterations of Hard Knocks there has always been a ‘star’. Rex Ryan was the star of the New York Jets Hard Knocks, the Bengals had Ochocinco and the Cowboys had TO. Could Reggie Bush find himself on that ‘PRESTIGIOUS’ list? Maybe, I can’t wait to find out.

3. Ryan Tannehill

I mentioned his wife earlier, but now it is time for Ryan, to take the spotlight. Quite shockingly, there has never been a rookie quarterback on Hard Knocks, Ryan Tannehill signifies the first time, and that is sure to make for compelling television. How will Ryan Tannehill deal with the expectations of the fan base? How will Ryan Tannehill deal with the ‘ghost’ of Dan Marino? How will Ryan Tannehill acclimatize to the NFL? Will Ryan Tannehill impress in Training Camp? There are tons of questions surrounding this kid, and I only named four. HBO must be licking their lips, because this is a fascinating storyline.

2. 3 Way Quarterback Competition

And if that previous point wasn’t enough, the Rookie Quarterback has been thrown into a 3-way Quarterback OPEN competition for the starters job. Matt Moore impressed down the stretch last season, David Garrard’s whose time as of late has been marred by injuries was brought in to provide competition, and then there’s the franchise ‘saviour’ rookie quarterback, who some say is not ready to start week 1. It’s a fascinating competition and fits perfectly with everything that defines the Hard Knocks television series. Even Stephen Ross has shared his thoughts, stating that he expects Matt Moore to be the starter week 1. Now whilst your perception may be that he is trying to force the issue, he was saying that as a fan. As a fan that’s what he thinks, and that is also a great sign for the Dolphins who were worried by the rumors that Stephen Ross was forcing Jeff Ireland and Coach Philbin’s hand to start Ryan Tannehill right away. It’s an interesting dynamic and is one of many branching storylines that HBO can take with this issue.

Great stuff. And if all of that wasn’t enough, Joe Philbin has promised that a starter will be named by week 3 of the pre-season, which just so happens to be slap-bang in the middle of the Hard Knocks programming. This really has the potential to be great.

1. A Chance for the Dolphins to Clear Up Their Image

Yes, this one is most definitely concerned with why it is a fantastic fit for the Dolphins organisation, because let’s face it, bar the saints there is not a more screwed up organisation in the league. With Joe Philbin’s arrival, the franchise promised a more transparent organisation.Yes there has been controversy, and that controversy is one of the many reasons why this is a fantastic fit for HBO, but by agreeing to this, Hard Knocks marks the next step on the road to transparency for the Dolphins. Jeff Ireland has had his critics, over things such as the Dez Bryant controversy and Stephen Ross certainly has tarnished his image. By agreeing to Hard Knocks, all of that can change. The Dolphins have a chance to address that negative perception. Jeff Ireland may have poor management skills, which could be disastrous when it comes round to showing the front-office making their cuts, but he has shown that he has impeccable football knowledge. This is a smart man, now here’s a chance for him to show that off to the world.

You may not be watching the show to see this being enacted, but it is without doubt the most important factor in why the Miami Dolphins are a fantastic fit for Hard Knocks.

The tide may be shifting in Miami. With the hiring of Joe Philbin and the drafting of potential franchise quarterback Ryan Tannehill, a new feeling of prosperity has descended upon the Miami fan base, Hard Knocks is simply the next phase in that progression. So let’s sit back and enjoy the ride, times are changing down in South Beach, and Hard Knocks allows you the fan, to embrace that change.

 

Game Of Thrones – ‘Blackwater’ (2×09) Review

When Ned Stark was executed in ‘Baelor’, Episode 9 of the first season, we were promised a show that would break from the typical conventions of a television show. It would no longer revolve its story around a true ‘main’ character, there would be a wider focus, with everybody getting their share of the spotlight. New characters were introduced, returning characters well, returned, some saw their demise early and some have been prevalent throughout the entire season. And with that expanded cast, it was always going to be hard for the writers to manage their screen times. Sometimes the balance had been perfected, sometimes, as emphasised in the previous episode ‘The Prince of Winterfell’, the episode lacked direction, with all of the scenes feeling thrown together and desultory as the audience was unsure how these scenes correlate with one another.

Perhaps one of the main reasons why I loved this episode so much, was the fact that it returned to the narrative techniques of the first season. In ‘Blackwater’ there was a clear focus, we wouldn’t be shifting across continents, Stannis Baratheon was about to attack, strategies needed constructing and the emotional consequences needed to be displayed. The only way to successfully display those three key components, was by devoting the entire episode to this one, pivotal battle. And by dedicating the entire episode to the events at Westeros, we were not only presented with a distinct focus that this season had lacked for the majority, but it also emphasised the sheer scale and importance of this battle. Yes, somewhere at this point in time, John Snow is still being held captive and Dany is still searching for her dragons, but at this conjunction, none of that matters, because the repercussions of ‘Blackwater’ will have affected everyone, on and off-screen.

With focus, it typically allows certain characters to prosper. No matter what your criticisms of this season, one thing that has been a consistent pleasure is the acting prowess of Peter Dinklage and the character he portrays, in Tyrion Lannister. Yes this was Tyrion’s most prominent episode yet, and for the first time we get the viewing pleasure, of seeing a character at least come slightly close to replicating the screen time that Ned recieved from last season. This will undoubtedly be the episode that Dinklage submits for emmy nominations, in what was a  simply fantastic ride. Beginning with the despair as perceptions indicated that maybe Tyrion wouldn’t survive this battle. To the growth, in what was a fantastic moment, as Tyrion delivered his speech to the soldiers. During the beginning, Tyrion and Soldiers alike, struggled to comprehend the idea of success, before being united behind the ‘hey there might be a slight chance that maybe we can win somehow come out of this alive’, philosophy. It was a great scene, and one which didn’t signify the end of Tyrion for this episode, no Tyrion was struck with a potentially fatal blow during the final battle, a potentially fatal blow that leaves the ‘end’ of Tyrion unclear, but takes place moments before, the ‘end’ of the battle is realised. Yes Tywin Lannister, who’s prescence was definitley welcomed after the mis-direction from last week, as he claimed that he would be launching a surprise attack on Robb Stark’s army, came to the rescue, to culminate a truly fantastic sequence of events.

However despite that focus I just made reference to, there were still several character arcs that required key moments even within Westeros. Hound made his exit, as he refused to fight for King Joffrey, King Joffrey with the choice between Fighting and fleeing, took the cowardly way out (staying consistent to his character) and we saw the early stages of the maturation of Sansa. But possibly the most striking of all was Cersei’s storyline. We have seen her desperation portrayed in the past, as she questioned the purpose of her life. However the unbearable tension, as we wonder how many drops she is going to give her youngest son, Tommen before realising she is going to make him drink the whole bottle, was to the point of disturbing. We witnessed her drunken rants throughout the entire episode, but never did we truly realise (until now) that these were the depths for which she was willing to sink. It should be fascinating to see the repercussions of that moment, as she has to deal with the, guilt (?) of the events that transpired. Fantastic stuff, from a character that has really grown on me this season. We never really got to see this side of Cersei in Season 1 , but with the emergence of Joffrey as King, and her (questionable) rise in authority, the extra material has really benefited Lena Headey, who has been great this season.

And to this point I have not even mentioned the action sequences. Readers of the books, and fans of the show alike, have been disappointed with the way in which the writers have dealt with the battles so far, choosing to show the aftermath rather than the fight itself. But dam if those cost-saving measures, can’t be appreciated now. The sequence with the wildfire was fantastically realised, and credit to the directors for delivering in an episode in which most of the hype that it garnered, was from the potentially fantastic battle scenes, and boy did they deliver.

Some will remember this episode for the stellar action sequences. But at its heart ‘Blackwater’ was just another (albeit fantastic) episode of progression for these characters. The battle may have provided context, but ultimately, I can leave this episode satisfied that Cersei’s emotional journey was just as satisfactory as the fantastic action sequences. Next week, I can understand that the writers need to return to the typical structure of the season, with the camera spanning continents, but if this episode’s positive reaction has proved anything, sometimes scale can be a burden and refrain, well maybe refrain is a good thing.

E3 2012 Preview Part 1 – Top 10 Most Anticipated Games

It’s hard to preview a gaming convention when most of the fun stuff, is stuff that you were not expecting. We can make predictions about new consoles or the release of Half Life 3, but us gamers are only satisfied when we get an announcement that comes completely out of nowhere, and shocks the industry. So when I preview my Top 10 anticipated games, these are not necessarily my favourite ten games at E3, some of them, for instance Far Cry, we have already seen enough footage for me to know, that this game could be special. No, these are games we have only seen announcements or trailers about, and now it is now time for those developers to take the next step and figuratively ‘shock’ us by releasing a fresh perspective on the game that we have not seen before, and that is crucial in the transformation of these games from ‘anticipated’ to an actual success.

I will also be looking back on this preview, with my post-e3 analysis of the event. Some developers will leave us disappointed and go the ‘wet your appetite’ route and just release another trailer, some will go overboard and we will receive 30+ minutes of gameplay shoved down our throats, which isn’t a bad thing, if everything they show feels fresh and adds a different dimension to the game, and there will be some that, get the balance just right.

All ten games on this list are potentially fantastic, but where they lie within these three categories, will have a major impact on the publics opinion of their games. E3 is possibly the biggest marketing exploit developers have at their disposal, E3 signifies the culmination of the last few years of production, E3 is the time when companies discover whether everything has been worthwhile, E3 is the time, to ascertain, that your game is a big deal.

10. Metal Gear Solid: Revengeance

I am pretty sure this game is going to suck, and that is emphasised by its new, and sucky title ‘Revengeance’. Seriously, who came up with that one? Anywho, this game has been surrounded by controversy. And whilst we were certainly salivating after the original reveal of Metal Gear Solid: Rising, the impeding cancellation was spared by a new title and new developers. Now, what we’re left with is what appears to be a hack and slash action game and has essentially destroyed all the hype for this once, potentially fantastic game. At E3, Kojima and friends are going to need to produce something remarkable for me to get hyped for this game, but that is essentially why this has ended up on the list. Kojima has a brilliant history, and if there was ever a time he needed to be brilliant, it was now. Don’t let us down!

9. The Last Guardian

‘The Last Guardian’ has been a mainstay upon ‘Most Anticipated Games’ lists for a few years now, but unfortunately ever since we were presented with that stunning trailer at E3 two years ago, detailing the journey of a little boy and his giant dog, we have seen nothing. Is this game finished? With the exit of Fumito Ueda from Sony, it certainly looks that way, but for the simple reason that, two years ago, I saw one of the greatest trailers I have seen and for the simple fact that there has been no categorical cancellation of this game up to this point, I refuse to remove it from this list altogether. It is going to show up this year dammit!

8. Halo 4

I have never been totally infatuated by the Halo series like most gamers, but there is no disputing the success that Bungie acclaimed. Now, that same series is back with another trilogy, developed by 343 Industries? Huh. Now the developer does consist of former Bungie developers, along with Pandemic and Gearbox but will they be able to form a game that at least satisfies the gamers that have such high expectations, after what Bungie provided them with the first trilogy? I’m not sure. And that is the reason why this is on my ‘Most Anticipated Games of E3 2012’ list. I don’t expect this version to replicate the heights that Bungie strived for,  but  Microsoft needs this to be a success, especially given the lack of first-party exclusives in Microsoft’s software lineup, and I cannot wait to see the direction in which 343 decide to take with the series. Will they continue with the same sandbox experience that Bungie perfected? Or will they take the bold route, and try to establish their own legacy? I can only speculate, but this is undoubtedly one of the biggest stories going into E3, and I can’t wait to find out the answer.

7. Resident Evil 6

Disappointed by Resident Evil 5? Yep, me too. And if there is one thing I am assured about this time, it is that I am not prepared to get sucked in from a fantastic trailer like I was with Resident Evil 6’s predecessor. But this is a Resident Evil game, the trailer WAS fantastic (oh boy, I’m doing it again) and I would by lying if I wasn’t at least remotely excited to see what Capcom has in store for us, in this latest addition to this Resident evil franchise. Resident Evil 5 at times was very enjoyable, but it certainly felt like they had removed the one consistent element that had been prevalent in all of its previous iterations, the horror. With RE6’s first trailer, it appears they have addressed that concerns, as it looks to have returned to its foundations, utilising sheer terror whilst still maintaining the action element from Resident Evil 5. This could be fantastic, lets hope the gameplay lives up to the hype that it certainly garnered, from the initial trailer.

6. Hitman: Absolution

The game would be higher on the list, were it not for the fact that we have seen a lot more of this game than the others on this list, except Bioshock. But because of how excited I am for this game, and for its sheer potential, I had to find a spot for the game on this list. The Hitman franchise is one of the few remaining which are defined by the choices that you, the gamer make. And whilst previous versions in Hitman: Contracts and Hitman: Blood Money, provided little in terms of quality, pre-dominantly relying on Hitman 2’s success, Hitman: Absolution looks set to give the series a revival with a bold new art direction and gameplay enhancements such as “instinct mode” which allows 47 to predict the route in which his enemy takes. It is a fresh, exciting direction for a series that has somewhat stagnated over the years, so lets hope E3 can further enhance that excitement with some fantastic gameplay footage.

5. Bioshock Infinite

Much like with Hitman:Absolution, I am not entirely sure there is a lot left that Irrational Games can showcase that will enhance my excitement for this game. But that doesn’t mean I’m saying I don’t want more gameplay, because I’m sure anything they do show will be enthralling and will serve as a nice reminder about how fantastic this game looks set to become. Unfortunately, the delay of the game into 2013 has inevitably been greeted with disappointment but we all know, that with developers such as Irrational, if there is a delay, we know it is necessary to ensure it matches the expectations that this game has garnered.

And with that delay, it is uncertain whether Bioshock will even appear at E3, but if it does, I am sure it will deliver. Bioshock 2 was certainly a fantastic game, but with the lack of involvement from key figures in the development of the game, it failed to meet the expectations set by the original. With all original members now returning, and a new art direction that makes this version of Bioshock, the best looking game from the series to date, Bioshock Infinite looks set to fill the void, perhaps even surpassing the original (which is one of my favourite current-gen games to date). Yes, I am that excited for this game.

4. Tomb Raider

To avoid making comparisons between every game and Hitman: Absolution, I will just say that the Lara Croft franchise, (much like Hitman: Absolution) has certainly stagnated over the past few years. But with the latest re-make, Tomb Raider looks set to provide fresh impetus into a franchise that certainly needs a revival.

With the reboot, we follow a 21-year-old Lara Croft, who is yet to embark on all the adventures that will follow her. And with that, it has enabled the developers to portray a much more reserved Lara Croft who lacks the self-confidence of previous/future iterations. From what we have seen so far, in terms of Gameplay, It’s fantastically realised and I can’t wait to see how that characterisation is reflected in any of the new gameplay footage that we are provided with at E3.

3. The Last Of Us

When it was announced, it was completely unexpected, but as hard as it is for us to comprehend, Naughty Dog are developing a new IP, that attempts to finally rectify all of the horrifying attempts at the survival genre. Yes it is fantastic, and props to Naughty Dog for developing a completely new franchise (or at least, I’m assuming it will be a franchise), this late into the current-gen cycle. All we have been provided with so far are two fantastic trailers which on first impressions may appear to be made utilising CGI, are actually completely in-engine. At the moment, the fact this is made by naughty dog, is enough to get me excited about this game for now, but now it is time to build on that excitement and give the fans something tangible, that can make these final fourth months of waiting, that bit more bearable. The game looks wonderful, now its time for some gameplay Naughty Dog! And I can’t imagine a scenario, in which E3 won’t be the place where Naughty Dog follow-up those demands.

2. Assassin’s Creed III

An assassins creed game set during the American Revolution? YES PLEASE! In the final installment of the “trilogy”, the first trailer for the upcoming Assassins Creed III has certainly wet my appetite, whilst also raising a lot of questions. What is the context surrounding you battling during the American Revolution? Which side you be fighting on? Or do you hate both sides equally? Already details have emerged regarding the premise of the game, you play 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 some information, but not a lot. The new melee system and parkour style which are a huge component of the series, were also given a clear indication as to what their future entails, as judging by the trailer, you will be able to climb, jump and hop between trees as you look to find cover.

It is a very exciting premise, and it will certainly be a refreshing change from Ezio who to some extent, out-stayed his welcome. Assassins Creed II was a massive improvement on the first version, but now it is time to take that next step. E3 should go a long way, in showing what that next step it. I can’t wait.

1. Grand Theft Auto V

Could any other game really top this list? Most Top 10 lists are undoubtedly controversial and very rarely satisfy every demographic but if there was ever a consensus for the most-hyped game currently in production, that would surely have to be the 15th installment in Rockstar’s critically acclaimed Grand theft auto series, right? And with the announcement of Grand Theft Auto V we were presented with what was in my opinion, the best trailer of 2011. A return to San Andreas looks on the cards, with numerous references and hints to Los Santos within the trailer, but that’s not where the locale ends. This has been described by Rockstar themselves as “the largest and the most ambitious game Rockstar has yet created” with the premise appearing to focus in some form or another, on the recession with numerous contrasting sequences between the rich and the poor.  Workers still on the fields are sprayed with crops, houses are being put up for sale, the poor line the streets begging for money, whilst people live the high life, playing golf (which appears to be a playable mini game) and whatever else rich people do. This game looks to have a distinct message, and with potential returning characters from previous San Andreas games in CJ and Tommy Vercetti, this  latest Grand Theft Auto, looks set to be the biggest yet.

GTA defines everything that I meant, when describing the criteria for this list. A fantastic first trailer, with no footage since, and it is a Rockstar game. Those three factors, make this my most anticipated game of E3 2012, and we aren’t even guaranteed that Rockstar will be attending! So I guess it also provides the ‘Shock factor’ when it shows up at E3 now. I just hope I haven’t jinxed it. Ok Ok, you can blame me if Rockstar don’t show up at E3 now and inevitably push the release date back to 2015 :( But until then, I am happy in declaring Grand Theft Auto V, my most anticipated game of E3 2012 (not 15).

 

House Series Finale Review

Some people gave up on the show after Season 5. Some people endured all 8 seasons, through the good and the horrible. Some people who watched the finale had never watched the show before. Ultimately, it was going to be impossible for the writers to satisfy every demographic, but I can leave a show I have invested so much time in, content that the writers managed to perfectly wrap up the series long story arc, the characterisation of House, (who is easily in the top 10 for most compelling characters on television) and his relationship with his best friend, Wilson.

Some people will say that the whole House faking his own death thing was a ‘cop out’ but  it not only perfectly acknowledged a theme that has been prevalent since its foundations, in its similarity to Sherlock Holmes but also sent a perfect message, that maybe finally, House has changed. By faking his own death, he gave up the one thing that he truly loved, the Puzzle. He will no longer be able to practice medicine, there is no way around this one, maybe he will spend his final days under a new alias saving lives in Somalia, but that wasn’t the message the writers were trying to deliver. The message was that maybe, House has finally changed. For eight seasons, we have seen him consistently ‘make progress’ and then revert back to his same narcassistic mannerisms, but finally in the series finale of the show, we witnessed him give up the one thing he truly loved, the puzzle, to be with Wilson for his final five months. That to me, is progression, and perfectly befits the story that has been told not just from this season, but the series as a whole.

The majority of the episode was spent inside House’s psyche, and whilst once again, people may be critical of what may appear like some elaborate ‘plot device’ to allow all of the characters from the past to return, it actually fit perfectly with what has made House so great at times, these past eight years. House is at its best when it questions morals and studies the human psyche. Debates with Cameron over ethics, made for some of the most compelling moments of the series, and that’s because during these moments, House was more than the average serialised drama, it delivered a message. And in this final episode, we get one final debate as House questions the meaning of life, whilst all of his former colleagues/friends give their perspective. One particular highlight of those scenes, was in fact the scenes with Cameron, who was surprisingly the one person who tried to persuade House to just ‘let go’ because House has faced so much inner turmoil, that he deserves to just “give up”. I have and will say on numerous occasions during this review that the episode worked perfectly in wrapping up the series, but it also wrapped up the episode perfectly, as when House rode off in the sunset with his best friend, he finally realised that his life did in fact have meaning, and put to rest that one final debate.

The thing I loved most about the finale was the fate that most series finale’s suffer from, in that it just tries to wrap everything up in a neat bow. With the House finale, we were never given that same closure. We may have been provided glimpses of what these character’s futures entailed but it never fully delved us into their new lives. Chase looks set to replace House, but his relationship status with Adams was not addressed. Taub is trying to become more of a family man but we still don’t know if this time it is for real. And Cameron is finally trying to move on from House, but whether or not she can actually sustain that, is unclear. We are given glimpses into their lives, but their is still a sense that this world is on-going, these characters are still going through progression, even when the series has finished. We don’t know what obstacles they will face in the future, we will never know, but the simple idea that ‘House’ is still continuing after it has ended, gives me great comfort.

House at its worst, was an average serialised drama, but at its best, it made for the most compelling 45 minutes provided from any show on network television. The final 45 minutes of House won’t be remembered like I remember ‘Three Stories’ but it will always be remembered in my mind, as a perfect conclusion, to a show that on its day, was perfection.

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Lebron Has a Decent Game As The Heat Tie The series

Usually referring to a game as ‘must-win’ comes only during an elimination game. Usually that would be the only scenario in which I would refer to a game as must-win, but last night during the Pacers Heat game 4, the Miami Heat were in a must-win situation. The Heat may not have been eliminated with a defeat, but they would have been down 3-1, meaning they would of had to win three straight to even advance to the conference finals. Would that have been possible with Chris Bosh active? Probably, but the Heat wouldn’t have been in this situation in the first place if Chris Bosh had not been injured. But without Bosh, without the man who the Heat run their entire pick and roll game through, I very much doubt a Heat team which is effectively a 2-man team would have been able to last seven games, let alone being able put in consistently high quality performances that would ensure a series victory. So let me emphasise this, Game 4 was must-win for the Heat.

And with must-win games comes high pressure situations. So you would have expected Lebron James to have had a poor game right? Because lets face it, whenever Lebron is faced with a pressure situation, he crumbles right? But no, Lebron James displayed exactly why he is the MVP with a stat line, unprecedented in the past 25 years. Seriously when was the last time anybody came close to a 40 point, 18 rebounds and 9 assist game? An incredible all-round display of sheer dominance.

This is not hyperbole, this is not reactionary. Ever since he joined the heat, Journalists and fans alike have been waiting for Lebron to ‘explode’ and have a Cleveland esque game, but last night he did that and more. I used the stat line to support my argument, because there is physical, undeniable evidence that it happened, but that was really only the aesthetics of what made last nights performance so tremendous, because last night, Lebron James achieved something that Kobe Bryant could never do, he played team ball.

If the 1st half emphasised anything, it was that Lebron could not carry the Heat on his own. He was having his best performance of the seasons with 19 points and  essentially serving as Miami’s entire offense, and yet the Heat still trailed by 8 at the end of the half. And Lebron knew that he couldn’t carry the team, he knew that he needed Dwayne Wade to get out of his slump, so what did he do? He kept feeding the ball to Wade, trying to get him out of his funk and with 40 seconds left in the half, the entire complexion of the game changed, as Lebron James pinpoint pass, allowed Wade to put home an easy dunk.

You may think that was just a typical two point play, but if you look back on last night, you will realise that, that one play served as the spark that ignited not only Dwayne Wade, but the entire Heat team. Wade hit seven consecutive field goals, Lebron continued his dominance, and when both are at the top of their game (which they were in the second half, last night) they are not only the most unstoppable force in the league, they inspire their team mates as well, and that was none more evident than in Udonis Haslem’s fourth quarter.

A man who has been plagued with injuries the past couple of seasons, and up until this point, had still failed to re-discover his form. But during that fourth quarter, Haslem’s mid-range game returned, which has been the foundation of his success over the years, and with it came four crucial field goals, ensuring the Heat maintained a comfortable lead. The Heat need their bench players to step up, Haslem did it last night,  and if some of the other bench guys step up, suddenly we will be looking at a completely different team.

And whilst Lebron James was playing team ball, two nights ago in Staples center, during game 4 of the Thunders-Lakers series, Kobe Bryant kept trying to play hero ball, then after the game when the Lakers had slumped to a 3-1 series deficit, that same Kobe Bryant blamed Pau Gasol for the defeat. And even though, admittedly, Gasol was having a terrible game, Kobe never attempted to get him out of  that slump, instead he shot his jumpers, he ran his isolations and Kobe continued to be his brilliant self, but at the expense of having a fantastic performance, he forgot the very essence of Basketball. Because, no matter what criticism you have of Lebron James’ ‘clutchness'(I have had my fair share in the past), you cannot argue with the fact he is a team player.

I have come to realise that the term ‘clutch’ is so over-excessively mis-used, and is often mistaken for simply hitting a game winning shot. However that is only one scenario in which you are clutch, because being ‘clutch’ happens when you make big plays, when your team needs you the most. Lebron James consistently made big plays for his team last night, Lebron James was clutch for 45 minutes.

A Crazy Two Weeks of Football

 

These past two weeks have epitomised why football is the greatest sport in the world. A dramatic champions league victory for Chelsea, preceded by a late-winner in the championship playoff final, preceded by the greatest end to a Premier League season ever. Yes all of that happened in two weeks, and those two weeks could not have served as a better advert for the sport, be it in America, where soccer is gaining popularity or anywhere over the world.

Chelsea Win In Europe

So lets start with that compelling Champions League final from last night. No, it was not the prettiest game in the world, I can’t really remember that many chances being created but any loss in the quality of the game was superseded by the unprecedented tension. And who else to get the game winner than Didier Drogba. The man whose time at Chelsea has been surrounded by conflict and controversy, the man who may not even wear the blue jersey again, not only scored the equaliser with an astonishingly powerful header, but then followed it with the game-winning penalty. As stories go, it does not get much better than that.

And the stories don’t stop there. England defeated Germany on penalties for the first time I can remember,  the injuries and suspensions that ensured Selection nightmares for Roberto Di Matteo who ended up starting youngster Ryan Bertrand at left Midfield to compensate for the threat of Arjen Robben, turns out Ashley Cole would have done a fine job by himself and as I just mentioned, the main man himself, Roberto Di Matteo. What does his future entail now? It is hard to imagine  a scenario where he does not get the job now, he has after all provided his boss with the one trophy he thought unobtainable. And he not only won the trophy, he did it in a manner that would have been impossible without the belief that is extracted from fantastic coaching. Could you have imagined that Chelsea team defending for their lives against Barcelona and Bayern Munich under Andre-Villas Boas? No, this was as much the coaches victory as it was the players, it would have been impossible without him, and if he does not get the job after this, then shame on you Mr Abramovich!

Whilst this game will be remembered as Didier Drogba’s game, there were two players contributions that surpassed even his. Gary Cahill and Ashley Cole were both fantastic. Firstly, with Cahill, the task must have been enormous to walk into a Champions League final in your first full season as a Chelsea defender, but to do it coming off a hamstring injury? To put in a performance like that after being without match practice? I think it is fair to say Chelsea have found their new John Terry. Then there was Ashley Cole, I mentioned Ryan Bertrand earlier, but whilst most people knew Arjen Robben was Bayern’s biggest threat, it would appear everybody forgot that Ashley Cole is one of the best Left Backs in the World. His ability to shut down World Class Midfielders such as Cristiano Ronaldo, has been well-documented and he put in another World Class Performance last night.

Congratulations to Chelsea, with Barcelona practically dominating football these past four years, its nice to get a reminder that this style of football still exists. The gritty, fight for your lives, defensive effort that can never be replicated through pure skill. Admittedly, they did ride their luck at times, Mario Gomez put in one of the worst performances I have seen in a Champions league final, Franck Ribery once again disappeared, with his night being further emphasised by him walking off injured and Arjen Robben was shut out. But that is not just luck, the defensive ability of Chelsea enabled all of that to happen.

So no matter the criticism that Chelsea may receive for the manner in which they were able to pull off the victory, it was a victory none the less, and that is all that matters. A fantastic, and well-deserved victory.

West Ham Are Back In The Premier League

Amidst all the drama from the Champions League final, West Ham’s promotions seems to almost have been forgotten. But for West Ham fans, this game was just as important. The significance of not only promotion, but also the £50+ million that the promotion entails, ensures that this is one of the most important games of the season. I do feel slightly bad for Blackpool, they were the better team on the night, and Ian Holloway’s men were fantastic to watch in the Premier League two seasons ago, but squandered chances meant that West Ham were victorious on the night. And that is the nature of play-off football. You have to take your chances, or it will undoubtedly come back to haunt you later on.

Side Note: How fantastic is it that Blackpool gave Liverpool just £600,000 for Tom Ince, and then Liverpool followed that by spending £20 million on Stewart Downing? Great piece of business there Kenny, you truly did deserve another year.

Hearts Win The Scottish Cup!

Yep, this happened yesterday too. It was 5-1!

The Final Day of The Premier League Season

Then there was last weekend. The Greatest, most incredible, amazing, I’m running out of superlatives Premier League season ever. And it could not have ended any other way than Sergio Aguero’s boot winning the title for Manchester City with the last kick of the game. I don’t usually like saying that teams deserved to win the title because ultimately, whoever has the most points at the end of the season is the rightful champion. But on this occasion, Manchester City deserved it. They simply played better football than United this season, they won both Manchester Derby’s, and who can forget that 6-1 victory at Old Trafford?

One thing that became very evident as events from the Etihad Stadium transpired, was how much Manchester City missed Yaya Toure. He is the engine of that team and nobody can replicate his energy. When QPR went 2-1 up, I thought that was going to cost them. Ultimately, it took a bit of brilliance from Sergio Aguero and an assist from none other, than Mario Balotelli. Another man much like Drogba, that has been surrounded by controversy throughout the season, and another man whose season has been validated during the most important game of the season. And that is who Mario Balotelli is, he shows up for the big games. He was fantastic in the 6-1 victory over United earlier in the season, and coming off the bench against QPR, he made a massive impact, in a big game once more.

That game between Manchester City and QPR also had implications at the other end of the table, but unfortunately for Bolton, the result did not make much difference. Yes, Bolton have been relegated. I can’t help but feel sorry for them as without all of the circumstances that hindered their season, they would have probably, comfortably avoided the drop. But as it is, Fabrice Muamba’s situation sadly did happen, and that was only one of the elements that affected Bolton’s season. Hopefully they will be back, Bolton are a Premier League club, and we need them back.

Then there was the race for the remaining Champions League spots, and we could only really put this into perspective after the Champions league Final. So, Arsenal ended up 3rd, Tottenham 4th and Newcastle 5th, who despite their defeat, would have remained in 5th place with a victory against Everton. Chelsea, who finished in 6th place, won the Champions league, so Tottenham have to settle for Europa League football next season.

I now have to go on a rant about how ridiculous it is that Tottenham aren’t allowed into the Champions League. The Barclays Premier League is clearly the best league in the World, the fact 6th place is able to win the Champions League emphasises that. That is the equivalent of Levante winning the Champions League (they finished 6th in La Liga) so we should assume that Levante could do the same right? No, they couldn’t, so why should the English League be given the same allocation of Champions League places as La Liga? UEFA want the Champions League to be advertised as the greatest club competition in the world, and yet they don’t let the best teams into the competition. I would be satisfied with the other two english clubs having to go through the 1st round of qualifying to make it into the tournament, just anything that showcases an appreciation of the English League as the best in the world will do. But now, Tottenham are out, despite finishing 4th, ridiculous, simply ridiculous.

To finish on a positive note, congratulations to Arsenal. Your inner turmoil has (shamefully) been one of the most entertaining parts of the season, and to see you almost throw it away once again, made for compelling television. But they pulled it out, securing 3rd place with a 3-2 victory at the Hawthornes. After that humiliating 8-2 defeat at Old Trafford, you could not have imagined a scenario where Arsenal finished 3rd in the league. But they did, and it is largely down to the role from the best striker in the league, Robin Van Persie. Hopefully this past season will finally signify to Arsene Wenger that he needs to spend some money. He has already displayed his intent with the signing of Lucas Podolski, but there needs to be a lot more. That defence is very, very poor, and money needs to be spent. It all starts with retaining Van Persie however, and if he does leave for a team like Manchester City, I cannot help but think that would be Arsene’s biggest mistake yet.

A fantastic two weeks of football, that proved to the world what a fantastic sport it is. I am already excited for next season, Would I have been if United had won the title? Probably not. City are the Champions, Ferguson has already stated that he is ready to spend, and with Manchester United chasing the title, next season could potentially be even better.

ESPN ’30 for 30′ is Back! My Thoughts on Pete Rose

Sports fans rejoice, ESPN’s fantastic documentary series ’30 for 30′ is back! And now with extra ‘shorts’ to go along with it. Today marked the day that the first of those ‘shorts’ were published with Bill Simmons having this to say:

“Why expand the series with short films? Because “30 for 30″ needed its own Mini-Me. Because live streaming has gotten so reliably fast that we felt like we could pull this off. Because there are stories out there that we loved for four to 12 minutes, but maybe not for a full hour. Because talented filmmakers are usually juggling multiple projects, so sometimes it’s easier for them to take on a shorter project than a bigger one. Because we wanted you to waste more time on your iPad, or possibly rear-end the car in front of you as you’re watching these on your mobile device when you shouldn’t be watching these on your mobile device. Because Pete Rose bet we couldn’t do it. (Just kidding.) And most important, because we felt like there was a creative void sitting there for this specific form of storytelling. As you’ll see with our first short film, you might not want to spend an hour in Pete Rose’s world at this point of his life. But eight minutes? Absolutely.”

And it is Pete Rose’s story that was released today. I’m not necessarily going to review the episode, it was interesting seeing how his life has transformed from the greatest ever all round baseball player, in my opinion to a man who runs a shop in Las Vegas, signing old memorabilia, but not enough to devote an article to. One thing I will say that I was slightly offended by, was the route that ESPN decided to take with the Pete Rose storyline. “You might not want to spend an hour in Pete Rose’s World?” Seriously? This is one of the most compelling sports stories of all time, and you think it’s only worthy of a short eight minute video? You could have easily devoted the documentary towards how he won those 1972 games, how his gambling affected the world of baseball, and THEN show the aftermath. What we got was one of the most iconic baseball players, sitting in a shop for eight minutes.

I’m not angry, I am actually excited the 30 for 30 series has returned, but eight minutes was simply not enough time for this story. It did however, send me off on a long convoluted thought process debating the Pete Rose saga, should he be named into the Hall of Fame? Absoloutely.

As I mentioned earlier, In my personal opinion, Pete Rose is the best all round baseball player, of all time. The Baseball Hall of Fame, quite frankly, feels empty without his name enshrined. He deserves to be inducted, as a PLAYER. Pete Rose, the guy that won 1972 games, was not the guy gambling on his own games, that was the coach. By all mines ban him from entering as a coach, but as a player, there is no trace of wrong doing throughout his career, just unrivalled success.

Players are consistently charged with criminal offences such as DUI, they get a couple of games suspension. But gambling is considered the ultimate sin? People have done a lot worse than Pete Rose, trust me, and those types of people, surround the Baseball hall of fame. But Pete Rose is omitted because of gambling offenses. I’m not advocating what he did, it was a mistake that I am sure Pete regrets now. But he deserves to be in the hall of fame, if you aren’t going to do it for him, then do it for baseball. The Hall of Fame simply doesn’t feel right without him in.

One thing I can take comfort in however, Pete Rose’s legacy will live on forever. The controversy surrounding his name will ensure his name lasts forever, even if he isn’t inducted into the hall of fame. Pete will remain in the spotlight, I just hope in fifty years times, he will be remembered for the good things, the things that defined him. Like being the most winningest sportsman of all time, because that is ultimately what I will remember him for.