Monthly Archives: January 2012

Review: The Muppets

When The Muppets was first announced, there was a lot of concern about whether or not Jason Segel was the right man to play the lead, let alone to pen the script.

How could the guy from such films Forgetting Sarah Marshall or Knocked Up possibly do right by the family-friendly puppets? Well, curious hypothetical reader, you’ll be glad to hear that Segel has written – and stars in – about as perfect a Muppets movie as you could want in 2011 (or 2012 if you happen to live in Australia).

It looks like they have everything under control

Another big question was whether or not the Muppets would even be relevant in 2011. It’s been 12 years since the Muppets last graced the silver screen and the film is well aware of this with many a references to the fact that nobody cares about them any more.

The film sees Gary (Segel), Mary (Amy Adams) and Gary’s Muppet obsessed brother, Walter, visit Los Angeles from Smalltown to take a tour of the Muppets studio only to find that the studio is run down and about to be exploited by the oil baron Tex Richman. Obviously it’s up to Gary, Mary, Walter and Kermit to get the Muppets back together for one last show so they can buy back their studio.

The studios have certainly seen better days

What follows is roughly 90 minutes of non-stop, unfettered, all-singin’ and all-dancin’ fun.

It’s the sort of fun that you hadn’t realised was missing from film until you sat down to watch this one.

Part of that is nostalgia, for sure, and it will be interesting to see how kids react to the film. Being a Muppets film it is obviously 100% kid friendly but the reality is that it’s the parents and older “children” that will have the fondest memories of the Muppets from when they were young.

Oh, also I would be remiss to not mention the songs – written by Flight of the Conchords own Bret McKenzie – which are exceptional and will have you wanting to sing and dance in the aisle (or maybe that’s just me!).
Of note is the now Oscar nominated song Man or Muppet which not only features a Muppetised version of Segel, but the most expertly cast cameo performance for the human version of Walter.

One of these men is an Oscar nominated song writer

Because it took so long for Australian cinemas to get their hands on The Muppets, there’s not a lot left to say that hasn’t already been said before. However, I will venture to say that The Muppets provides a kind of child-like joy that is hard to find in film these days.

Even if you’ve never heard of the Muppets before or never really had any affection for Jim Henson’s felt creations, you should probably still check this movie out. I cannot remember the last time I’ve had so much fun in a cinema.

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So I went to the Midsumma Carnival Day

There was a pretty big crowd and lots of live music. D-D-D-DJ!

Spread over 70 different venues all over the city, the Midsumma festival is Melbourne’s annual celebration of Queer culture running from the 15th of January to the 5th of February.

Today I was lucky enough to check out the Midsumma Carnival day, a gigantic “picnic in the park” that kicks off the festivities.

I was shattered to find out that I got there too late to witness Dulcie’s Dog Show with Dolly Diamond, a show with categories such as Cutest Bitch, Sexiest ‘boy’ Dog, and Biggest Tail. However, between the different musical acts, the numerous free samples to be had at the stalls and the guys from Joy 94.9 live broadcasting, I was hardly left wanting for entertainment.

I decided it would probably be for the best if I didn't fish for STIs...

The carnival was only on today, but if you missed it fear not! The festival has only just begun, so if you’re at all interested in Queer culture and the celebration thereof check out the 2012 program here.

Gallery

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Top Ten Films of 2011

Movies are pretty great but I’m only now – after doing some research for this post – realising that 2011 was a fantastic year for motion picture based entertainments. As of right now my top ten lists consists of roughly 24 movies so give me a few seconds and I’ll whip this into something more manageable.

Ok, here we go!

10. Real Steel

Like Rocky and Apollo Creed, Real Steel leans heavily on the appeal of the underdog story

I feel like I need to justify this choice more so than anything else on this list, so here goes. Real Steel never tried to be more than it is: a big, dumb entertaining robot boxing movie.

I found the film focussed a little too much on the relationship between Hugh Jackman’s character, Charlie Kenton, and his estranged son. However, Shawn Levy does a pretty good job of getting the film to where it needs to be: in a boxing ring with fighting robots!

When it comes down to it, I mostly go to the movies to be entertained and Real Steel is nothing if not entertaining. There are definitely “better” movies I could have included in this list but for the pure enjoyment factor, this movie scrapes into my top ten.

9. Rise of the Planet of the Apes

Can someone give Andy Serkis an Oscar already?

In Rise of the Planet of the Apes he dons the ball suit to play Caeser, the loveable ape that leads the rebellion against the human race.

It’s a strange experience to watch a movie and find yourself relating more to a CGI ape than to any of the humans on screen but that is just one of the remarkable things about Rise of the Planet of the Apes. That and gorillas attacking helicopters.

8. Fast Five

It’s difficult to express why I love the Fast and the Furious movies while maintaining any level of credibility but Fast Five was easily one of my favourite action movies of last year.

In my mind this is pretty much an average day for Vin Diesel

Combining action sequences that get more and more ridiculous and a classic heist film vibe, Fast Five manages to remain entertaining from start to finish.

I don’t think I will ever grow tired of the final chase scene where Dom and Brian are responsible for dozens of bank-vault related police deaths. But it was established that they were corrupt cops, so that makes it totally OK!

7. Bridesmaids

Bridesmaids brought together a fantastic cast of funny femmes to deliver one of the best comedies of 2011.

The Hangover Part II had left such a bad taste in my mouth that I was not exactly enthusiastic going in to Bridesmaids.  But everything in that movie was so sharp and well put together that I immediately forgot my unhappy memories and just started enjoying myself.

Also I generally hate toilet humour but any movie that can handle it the way Bridesmaids does deserves an Oscar!

LOOK AWAY!

6. Super

It’s hard to believe that the writer/director of Super – James Gunn – was also responsible for the live-action Scooby Doo movies

Super is a dark super-hero movie that makes The Dark Knight look like the Gummi Bears. It’s a shame that it didn’t get much of a release in Australia, but you can now buy it on DVD/Blu-Ray/iTunes/Wherever, so if super-hero drama “comedies” are your thing then you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Just be warned, you may not look at Ellen Page the same again!

5. The Adventures of Tintin

So it probably comes as a surprise to nobody that getting a group of all-star writers to pen a script directed by a cinema legend featuring Mr. Andy “ball-suit” Serkis resulted in one of the best films of 2011.

There are times where this movie is just breathtaking

I was originally pretty apprehensive about a Tintin movie. I was never super into the comics or cartoon show when I was a kid so I went in with little to no expectations. Suffice it to say that I was completely blown away.

I think enough has been said about the technology used to make Tintin and, for me, that was never the most impressive thing about it (although it is often stunning). I loved Tintin as much as I did because it managed to capture that “Boys’ Own” feel and deliver what I think is the best Indiana Jones film in over 20 years.

4. Attack the Block

Written and directed by Joe Cornish, Attack the Block breathed life into the slowly asphyxiating alien invasion movie.

Cornish manages to handle both comedy and horror with deft precision. Combine this with a fantastic cast of believable characters and you have yourself masterpiece of genre cinema. The monsters look pretty cool too!

3. Fright Night

A remake of the 1985 film of the same name, Fright Night is another horror-comedy that I could not get enough of.

David Tennant plays the Vegas showman and "vampire hunter" Peter Vincent

Not only does the film contain one of my favourite Colin Farrell performances since In Bruges but it also features everyone’s favourite 10th Doctor, David Tennant, which was good for a nerdgasm or two.

This film is just plain fun and gives me hope that there is a place for quality vampire films after the recent assault on the genre (you know what I’m talking about!).

2. Drive

Ryan Gosling stares a lot in this movie.

A lot has already been said about Drive and, recently, a lot of that talk has been quite negative. People have been coming out of the woodwork claiming it’s all style

and no substance and I think I understand why they might say that, but ultimately I feel they are only half right.

Drive is undeniably stylish with one of the best soundtracks of 2011 and action scenes that are as beautiful as they are disturbing, but there is a lot more going on under the hood, so to speak.

Gosling delivers his best performance of the year as the quiet, borderline psychotic driver whose infatuation with his neighbour and night-life as a getaway driver tragically collides.

If you haven’t seen Drive yet, just stop what you are doing and go watch it, right now!

1. The Muppets

One of the reasons why it took me so long to write up this list is that The Muppets only came out a few days ago despite having been released in 2011 almost everywhere else.

I am absolutely glad that I waited because, hands down, The Muppets was the most fun I’ve had in a cinema in a long, long time.

Not only did The Muppets have me grinning from ear to ear but, oddly enough, there were several moments where it almost brought me to tears. I am not even kidding.

The gang is back and as good as they've ever been!

This, I feel, is the real joy that comes from Jim Henson’s puppets. Using some felt and wires they make you feel emotionally connected to the characters in a way that CGI simply can’t.

Stuffed with musical numbers and more cameos than you can shake a stick at, The Muppets biggest achievement is proving that fun, light-hearted, comedy free from cynicism still has a place.

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First Impressions: Star Wars: The Old Republic

I’m not super into Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPG or just MMOs). There’s something about being forced to interact with internet people in order to complete objectives that never really interested me.

However, I was taken in by BioWare‘s Star Wars MMO and, knowing some friends were equally interested, I imported a copy of Star Wars: The Old Republic from Amazon.

I had to import it because, for whatever reason, it was decided that Australia wasn’t to receive a launch at the same time as North America and Europe.

Were they worried that Mad Maxian gangs riding kangaroos would deliberately target their servers for vicious hit-and-hops?

Pictured: Australia according to Electronic Arts

Once I selected a server to play on (no Australian servers yet, obviously) I was presented with the choice of playing a Republic or Sith character.

Space racism abounds!

I like the idea of playing someone who’s kind of a dick but unfortunately, at the time, I had no friends playing Sith, so I hopped on the Republic side to roll with some buddies.

There were a handful of classes to choose from, covering the classic Star Wars archetypes: Jedi Knight, Jedi Consular, Smuggler and Trooper. I chose a smuggler because even though I had to be a good guy, I wanted to at least be a little bit of a wiener.

Next up was species selection and this was my first introduction to the space-racism that permeates the Old Republic. I was told that “Human’s are versatile and the norm against which other species are judged”. Um…ok, I guess I should be one of those?

The character creation options seemed pretty standard – if a little light – for an MMO. I figured it would only be appropriate to model my character, Brychan, after the great Aussie actor Errol Flynn.

I think I did an alright job of it!

How does it play?

Guess what, guys, SW:TOR is an MMO-ass-MMO game! There are quest givers with quest markers who usually just tell you to “got to X and kill/destroy/gather Y”.

You have a skill bar mapped to hot-keys, they have a cool down and you gain new ones as you level up.

BioWare isn’t trying to revolutionise the way you play MMOs, and that’s totally fine, I enjoy the combat and the smuggler has some cool abilities utilising cover that make him a bit more interesting in combat.

Where SW:TOR sets itself apart is with its story. Now I’m not going to speak to the quality of the story – it seems fine enough and keeps you interested in exploring more of the world – but the way they deliver that story is pretty great.

Every character in this game, even one-time quest givers, engage you in fully voice acted dialogue scenes, with that all-too-familiar BioWare dialogue wheel. It is here that the game feels the most like Knights of the Old Republic, which can only be a good thing.

Flashpoints

The other day I finally got out of my beginners area and played a “Flashpoint” with a friend who was playing a Jedi Sentinal.

Flashpoints are “action-packed, story-driven adventures that test a group of players to their limits, putting them up against difficult foes in volatile situations.”

Essentially they’re long quests with difficult enemies and they’re a lot of fun. Each player gets to vote on what dialogue option they want with dice rolls dictating which is chosen. This can lead to some interesting conversations.

But the best part about the Flashpoint I ran was being able to just goof around with my mate and kick some dudes in the bean bag.

Lag?

The biggest problem with not releasing the game in Australia is not that the game isn’t available locally; Amazon shipped the game in a matter of days so that really wasn’t a hassle.

The biggest issue is the lack of local servers forcing any Aussie players to look to North America or Europe.

I was worried this was going to result in some serious lag but I’ve been pleasantly surprised so far. I can only think of one issue during the Flashpoint where I experienced any real issues with lag and it was only for about 20 seconds so anyone with a decent internet connection should have no issue playing in Australia.

Impressions

So far I’m having a tonne of fun in SWTOR. I’m only about level 13 so I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ll explore the Sith options a bit more and really test how solo-able the game is.

It seems that BioWare has succeeded in creating an MMO that I’m genuinely interested in. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you’re a Star Wars fan and like talking to people on the internet, then you should definitely give it a shot.

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Jack’s Top Ten Games of 2011

The not-quite-ten edition!

Ok so I have a friend, his name is Jack, and he plays about as many games as I do so I thought it would be fun to have him whip up his list of top 10 (or nine) games from last year. Anyone who’s actually reading this probably already knows who he is, but if you don’t you can find him on Twitter (@BigJackAttack) and on Tumblr. Anyway, enjoy!

Hey there, friends of myself and/or Ed!

I know you were expecting a list of my top 10 video games of 2011, but I just couldn’t do it. I’ve played literally trillions of games in my life (possibly all of them), but apparently I only played 9 that came out this year. I was thinking of making one up, just to fit in, but then I was worried someone would call me out on my ruse and frankly, I don’t need that kind of heat.

So here you go, my top 9 games of 2011.

9. Jetpack Joyride

I spend a huge amount of time sitting on a plane, bus, or car, and also trapped in classes like “The Fundamentals of Taxation” (not as exciting as it sounds). Now, I’m pretty good at sleeping, but sometimes I’m just wide awake and trapped in these terribly boring places, so without Jetpack Joyride, I’m not sure I would have survived through this year. I don’t know why Barry Steakfries is flying around with machine guns on his back, but it’s addictive as crap and I kind of just want to collect all the coins and fly around on a robot dragon. Is that too much to ask?

8. Orcs Must Die!

I don’t know what it is about tower defence games, but I just can’t get enough of them. I’ve spent countless hours placing and upgrading towers in any game I could (usually while not paying attention in an IT class or something).

I was a bit skeptical of Robot Entertainment‘s third-person shooter/tower defence abomination, but it’s filled to the brim with charm, chaotic (but not too chaotic) gameplay, and a few genuinely funny jokes. Orcs Must Die! was well worth the 10 bucks I spent on it.

7. NBA 2K12

SPORTS!

I know, I know, you probably think I’m biased [Jack plays college basketball – Ed], but the truth is I wasn’t too sure about this game to begin with. When video game developers are forced to put out new versions of the same game every single year, I find it hard to see how much they can improve more than updating the rosters and maybe improving the graphics.

Seeing as the last NBA game I bought was in 2006, I figured it was time to give this new one a shot and I did not regret it. Despite a few glitches, including one that  made Jack “White Lightning” Railton-Woodcock unable to win his first NBA Championship that he so clearly deserved, 2k SportsNBA 2K12 is one of the most faithful reproductions of the sport I love that I’ve ever seen.

6. Bulletstorm

Bulletstorm was one of the most enjoyable video game experiences I’ve had this year and if it wasn’t so darn short it would be much closer to the top of my list.

The game only took a few hours to beat, but those few hours were packed with beautiful graphics, a genuinely interesting story, and shooting a whole lot of bad guys in the crotch. Bulletstorm was so great because the developer made an extremely clever, well-made game, folded up neatly into an incredibly stupid one. Duke Nukem Forever could have learned a thing or two from this little gem.

5. Modern Warfare 3

The Call of Duty franchise is as popular as anything I’ve seen. Their last three games have each broken the entertainment industry record for sales in the first 24 hours, beating out any other music, film, or book release ever.

Modern Warfare 3 seemed to take the approach of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, so despite being more or less the same game as Black Ops or Modern Warfare 2, the new modes and gameplay tweaks made by Infinity Ward are just enough to keep players coming back.

I had loads of fun with this game, and despite the foul mouthed 13 year old kids, and the occasional hacker, it seems that quite a few million other people did too.

4. Portal 2

Coming off Valve‘s unexpected success with Portal back in 2007, Portal 2 had huge shoes to fill. Fortunately for us, it easily reached many of those high expectations, and became one of the best first person puzzle games ever.

The mechanics hinge on the use of the portal gun, which is easily the most awesome device in any video game I’ve played recently. It would often take me 20 minutes longer than it should have to solve a Portal 2 puzzle, just because I was tooling around with those damn portals.

With this great foundation, Valve added some wonderful voice acting from Ellen McLain (GlaDOS), Stephen Merchant (Wheatley) and JK Simmons (Cave Johnson), which made the already fascinating story genuinely funny at the same time [And let’s not forget Nolan North‘s contribution! – Ed].

I don’t often laugh out loud while I’m by myself playing video games, but Cave Johnson and Wheatley had me giggling away pretty much constantly.

3. Bastion

If there’s one thing wrong with Supergiant GamesBastion, it’s that I devoured the whole game in just a few sessions.

The beautiful art style, fascinating story, and the awesome narrator combined to make something that was just better than the sum of its already impressive parts. I really felt compelled to find out what went wrong in the city, and also to smush as many Gasfellas as I could with my big old hammer.

Easily the best download-only game I’ve ever played, and if the developer’s only crime is that they kept me wanting more, then I think they’re on the right track.

2. Batman: Arkham City

So Bane is pretty big...

Batman is awesome. That’s pretty much a given. So when it comes to Arkham City, I think their most impressive feat is that they can actually make you feel like Batman.

Everything from punching a bunch of dudes in the head, to tracking the location of a sniper bullet with Bat-vision, makes you feel like you’re running around the broken down (and kind of terrifying) Arkham City in Batman’s pointy black bat boots.

There is also a huge amount of fan service for the more die-hard Batman fans (which I don’t claim to be), with cameos from a huge number of secondary characters and villains from the comic books and TV show, including Robin, Poison Ivy, Bane, and even the Penguin.

It may sound strange to say about a superhero video game, but there was an impressive amount of realism involved in Arkham City. The whole time I found myself thinking to myself that if Arkham City were real, and I was really Batman, then this is probably exactly what I would be doing. What I was doing, more often than not, was obviously sneaking around and throwing batarangs into the bad guys’ necks, but I just couldn’t get enough.

1. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

So, so pretty!

Couldn’t get enough, that is, until Skyrim came out.

Normally I’m not a big fan of these open world adventures, where the game gives you brief introduction before thrusting you out into the world with nothing but a bow and four arrows. I’m just a little intimidated by the amount of choice I have and I usually just end up paralysed with fear, unable to make any decisions for myself in the real world.

Skyrim is really the whole package, from graphics to storyline to gameplay, which keeps me fully immersed in its world. As a matter of fact, I had to drag myself away from stealing a farmer’s cabbages to make soup to write this list for you, and I do believe that’s exactly what I’m going to go and do now.

Good day to you, sir/madam. I hope you enjoyed what I had to say about… the things… that I said…

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Top Ten Games of 2011

The “Shades of Gray” Edition.

Alright, more listicles for you to sink your teeth into! This is part one of a four part series of “best of 2011” type articles. Starting with games, I’ll then move to films, music and finally books. I might even sneak in some guest lists as well!

I play a lot of video games but I couldn’t get around to playing everything that came out this year and some of the games on this list I didn’t even finish. However, the few I did not finish, I played for at least 10 hours and the fact that they could beat out games I have finished based only on those 10 hours should say something. Anyway, without any further ado let’s get into it.

10. Jetpack Joyride

God damn if iOS games haven’t been ruining my life this year. Jetpack Joyride is a little gem from Halfbrick Studios, the Australian developers responsible for the equally fantastic Fruit Ninja. In Jetpack Joyride you play as Barry Steakfries as he tries to escape a secret lap with a machine-gun jetpack.

I love Cuddles the dragon.

The game is super easy to play but gets incredibly difficult as you fly further and further with your jetpack. Combine that with different missions you can complete on every run and a series on unlockables I found it almost impossible to put this game down until I had unlocked everything. Case in point, about two days after throwing down the $0.99 for the game I had already sunk over 15 hours into it. I think that fact alone ears it a spot in my top ten!

9. L.A. Noire

Oh L.A. Noire, what a strange beast it is. The game used a “revolutionary”, brand new technology for recording facial animations and the developer, Team Bondi, hired real, recognisable actors to bring the characters to life. Without a doubt L.A. Noire has the best facial animations bar none and this is double important because the game relies so heavily on the reading of facial cues. Also the recreation of 1940’s Los Angeles is just dripping with noirey (totally a word) atmosphere

However, the somewhat ambiguous interrogation mechanics and the repetitive mission structure is one of the reasons why I am yet to actually finish this game.

8. Dead Island

Definitely not a game for the squeamish

This game really had no right being as good as it is, and it is far from perfect but it has one of the most unique first-person melee systems I’ve seen.

It takes a while to get the hang of but I found that the analogue combat actually drew me in more and made fighting off hordes of zombies about as realistic as a video game can.

Also I can’t get enough of the opening cut-scene rap – in a totally ironic but not really ironic way – “performed” by one of the characters, Sam B.

7. Batman: Arkham City

Who would have thought that within the space of a few years we would have received not one, but two fantastic Batman games? Certainly not me, that’s for sure.

The series of Batman games coming out of Rocksteady Studios have managed to do something that no previous Batman game has done. They’ve managed to make you feel like Batman.

The combat really makes you feel like a bad-ass!

I wasn’t a huge fan of the open-world stuff in Arkham City, it just felt like it was completely unnecessary and wasn’t particularly fun to navigate. However, once you enter a building you’re back to that amazing gameplay you first experienced in Arkham Asylum, and I can’t get enough of that.

6. Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine

Despite being given one of the most generic video game names ever imagined,

Unsurprisingly, these guys are pretty heavy

Warhammer 40,000 Space Marine does something unique: it got the feel of a Space Marine spot on. Captain Titus has a certain weight to his movements that just feels right for a character that is essentially an eight foot tall walking tank.

I have a deep love for the Warhammer universe and Space Marine was the first non-RTS Warhammer game I’ve played and actually enjoyed. So, props to Relic Entertainment for that!

5. Deus Ex: Human Revolution

A dirty cyberpunk world with cyborgs where you play a super cyborg that can explode like a claymore? Sign me up!

But really, the best part of Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the dystopian world in which you get to explore. Transhumanists versus pro-human protesters, industrial espionage and lots of “shades of gray”.

It’s unfortunate that the combat is easily the weakest part of the game and yet it is central to defeating bosses and progressing the story. However, I’d be happy to revisit that world just to hack into more computers and read people’s emails.

4. Bastion

God damn you, Supergiant Games, your game is so good it hurts! Bastion combined beautiful art, fun gameplay and amazing music to create what I think is not only the best downloadable game of the year, but one of the best straight-up games.

If you haven’t bought this game yet then you are a fool and owe it to yourself to rectify that situation immediately.

3. The Witcher 2

Easily one of the best looking games of the year, particularly running on an up-to-date PC.

Many people complained about the difficulty of the combat and it’s true that the game does a terrible job explaining the combat systems to you. The Witcher is a vulnerable dude. You can’t just run into combat and hack-and-slash your way to victory. You have to plan, be cautious and use every tool at your disposal, which I found incredibly satisfying.

He's going to need a bigger sword!

The Witcher 2 also present a dark, gloomy fantasy world filled where everyone is kind of an a-hole and every decision is the wrong decision for someone. 2011 was all about shades of gray, people!

2. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

I know, I know! Skyrim isn’t my game of the year? It shocked me too. Skyrim seems to be the game that Bethesda has been trying to make for years, and they finally got it right. Oh did they ever get it right!

Skyrim was the first game this year where my jaw actually dropped from the sheer beauty of the world they have created. On a PC with everything turned up to “ultra” settings it is simply stunning.

If it weren't for all the war, generally poor hygiene and racism, Skyrim would be a lovely place to live!

The main quest was somewhat disappointing but everything else in the game was a delight. Also, lots of fantasy racists and more of everyone’s favourite: shades of gray.

Skyrim was going to be my Game of the Year until I took a giant purple dildo to the knee…

1. Saints Row The Third

I love this game dearly, it’s the only game I played that let’s me roll around in an open world with an auto-tuned pimp or jump out of the cargo hold of the plane only to free fall back through the cockpit of said plane, through the cabins and then back out the cargo hold again, all while shooting dudes in the face. This game is always turned up to 11.

The shooting never gets boring or frustrating like many games of its type and the sheer lunacy of the world you inhabit is intoxicating.

Did I mention there's a TRON level?

Comedy is such a hard thing to get right in video games. People have tried and tried and tried and never got it right. Saints Row The Third makes it seem effortless, there was never a moment in this game where I was not smiling or outright laughing and that goes a long way to making this my game of the year.

Oh also Burt Reynolds…

PLAY SAINTS ROW THE THIRD

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