Sunday, 19 October 2014

REVIEW: Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (PS4)

Starting from today (well yesterday in fact) all videogame reviews and articles will be hosted on my Destructoid blog. My review of Shadow of Mordor can be found here and for the first time I've included a review score out of ten to match the usual format of a Destructoid review. I will still post a link up to my review, like this one, so feel free to still check here for updates.

"So, after initially ignoring this surpise sleeper-hit of a 'AAA' game, I've now pre-ordered, played and enjoyed Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor more than probably any other game thus far this year. It will certainly take something special released between now and the end of 2014 to dethrone this one. I highly recommend it, especially if you have one of the new consoles and are looking some something that has genuine "next-gen" gameplay ideas. I expect the 'nemesis' system to be copied for many years to come!" - 9/10

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

REVIEW: Gravity Rush (PSVITA)

It's interesting to watch the trends in video games develop and change over time, and I remember fondly the 16-Bit era when 'platform' games like Sonic and Mario dominated, so much so that there were hundreds of imitations on every system. The current trend, which started in the last console cycle but seems to be continuing stronger than ever, is focused on 'open world' games and there seems to be a zillion of them. I've played a fair few recently, ranging from the good-but-not-great (Watchdogs) to the incredibly fun but underrated (Infamous: Second Son) and so it takes something different to really grab my attention. Cue Gravity Rush for the Playstation Vita, a system that I've otherwise overlooked until now, which like the Infamous games places more of a focus on third-person action in an open-world environment, rather than being a straight up open-world game with all the myriad side missions and emergent quests. Gravity Rush is a very linear game in terms of narrative, but the gameplay it presents is anything but linear, its decidedly bat-s**t insane.

The main hook of Gravity Rush is the central protagonist Kat and her ability to control the force of gravity; this is achieved with the aid of her magical cat Dusty. I'm serious. This mystical kitty allows Kat to untether herself from the standard gravitational pull of the Earth and make any direction she desires the new source of gravity, causing her to fall at great speed in that axis until she reaches a surface she can stand on. I've played other open-world games where you are given super powers, including the ability to fly, but Gravity Rush feels very different and the sense of falling upwards and sideways creates a real sense of displacement; I was often unsure of which way was really up and down. Luckily your perspective can be shifted to reflect normality at any time with the tap of a face button, and Kat's scarf always hangs off her shoulders in the direction of the true floor. Things get even more hectic during combat with the otherworldly Nevi, as Kat's only weapon is to hurl herself at full speed against these monstrosities, with some attacks having a subtle homing aspect it means you're pushed and pulled all over the place. This is not a game for people who suffer motion sickness.

Graphically, Gravity Rush looks fantastic, and it has a faux-cell-shaded art style and employs liberal use of bloom lighting to render its dreamy abstract cities and more esoteric environments. The story is told through a combination of well choreographed cinematics (rendered using the game engine) and sections that look like an interactive comic book, with swipes across the touch screen turning the pages and tilting the Vita causing the layered images to shift and move. It's a great way to tell what feels like a very comic book tale, and the character designs are all very distinctive and stand out well from each other; for example Kat's nemesis Raven. Gameplay largely involves searching the city for the next mission to advance the plot, but there are some alternative activities to undertake such as fixing up the run-down neighbourhoods for its citizens, collecting purple-glowing power shards scattered about the place, or engaging in challenge activities like races and timed combat. All this additional content provides the necessary resources needed to level up Kat's gravitational powers, unlocking new toys and abilities to use in the main quests.

While the controls and the concept take some getting used to, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Gravity Rush, and since the game ends with a *load* of plot threads still dangling I'm now eagerly awaiting a sequel. If you're tired of the same old tropes in open-world games and have access to a PS Vita, check out this charming and supremely entertaining game.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

REVIEW: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (Anime)

During my long break from anime, where the only productions I really watched were a bunch of Ghibli films, I'd completely missed the first adaptation of Fullmetal Alchemist into a television series. Highly regarded as one of the best anime series of all time, this first adaptation did the unthinkable; it adapted a manga that was still in production and unfinished and did it well with a satisfying conclusion! If you've read my review of Berserk you'll know that this is as rare as unicorn poop. However, problems arose when the Fullmetal Alchemist manga was finished and people could read the story that could-have-been if the anime had just waited a bit and adapted the source material more faithfully, which in this case far surpassed the television series in terms of scope, depth and quality. Henceforth a second commissioned television series was born, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (to give its English title), which aimed to be as faithful an adaptation as possible not only in terms of plot and characters, but also aesthetically and stylistically. While many anime aficionados recommend that you still watch the first adaptation before the new one, I couldn't be bothered and jumped right in, so bear in mind this review comes from someone with no preconceptions and who knew nothing about the story of Fullmetal Alchemist.

Although Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood has a very large cast of characters, the focus of the plot is still very much on the plight of protagonists Edward and Alphonse Elric and their quest to return themselves to normality. In this fictitious fantasy/steam-punk world there are many powerful alchemists, who assist people in their daily lives and who often sign themselves over to the government and work as 'State Alchemists', earning themselves more freedom and a large salary. The fundamental law of alchemy is 'equivalent exchange' which dictates that to obtain something, something of equal value must be given up; which ties in with other important laws and taboos such as trying to bring the dead back to life. After their father leaves the family, Edward and Alphonse study alchemy from an early age, and when their mother dies from the plague they break the taboo of 'human transmutation' and attempt to bring her back. It all goes horribly awry, and following the law of equivalent exchange Edward looses a leg and Alphonse his entire body (which roughly equals enough human matter to recreate their mother); heartbroken, Edward sacrifices one of his arms to bind Alphonse's soul to a suit of display armour. This is the basic set-up of the storyline, as Al trapped in a suit of metal and Ed with replacement mechanical arms and legs embark on their quest, to obtain a 'philosopher's stone', a powerful alchemical item that will allow them to regain their normal human bodies.

As I mentioned above, there is actually a *huge* cast in this anime series, and it really is testament to the amazing writing and direction that they're all given the time to develop and grow throughout the series. Most of the "good guys" are fellow state alchemists, such as Roy Mustang the 'Flame Alchemist' and his loyal band of soldiers, who all survived a horrendous and bloody war lovingly dubbed the "Ishvalan War of Extermination". This conflict, which was basically a large-scale ethnic cleansing, acts as the catalyst for pretty much all the main characters involvement in the storyline and is a large ugly stain on their past, which they're all struggling to come to terms with. One of the initial antagonists of the story is actually a survivor from the war on the losing side, the people of Ishvala, and his personal vendetta against the country that subjugated his people; you're never really sure who are (if indeed anyone is) the heroes. As the plot develops though, the true antagonists are eventually revealed, but I really don't want to spoil anything as Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is probably best viewed without knowing too much. The picture above shows one of these mysterious and incredibly threatening characters and the central "baddie" really is one of the strengths of the series, along with the incredibly complex and finely woven plot. While there are no cheesy twists or cliffhangers in-between episodes, there is a lot of development and multi-layered storytelling, which is very satisfying in the way it all comes together and is neatly wrapped up by the end.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is not a 'shounen' anime, but there is a fair amount of fantastically animated fight scenes, often between different alchemists as they throw spells at each other and transmute the environment around them. I watched this entire show on blu-ray in high definition and the animation looked absolutely *gorgeous*, rivaling anything you would typically see in a large budget feature film (in fact there are a couple of Fullmetal Alchemist films that apparently look nowhere near as good as this television series!). The production quality all-round is actually very high, as this is the same studio who made the original adaptation, giving them essentially a practice run before this series in which they obviously honed their skills. In terms of the soundtrack, the orchestral score is fantastic and perfectly fits the mood and action onscreen, while the openings are some of the best I've seen recently; especially the first one - I *love* the first opening! One thing I didn't expect though, in terms of production, was the art style and how close it is to the manga, including all the crazy faces and visual humour. I'll put a picture in the final paragraph to try and illustrate what I mean, but it's something that took a while to get used to and that I was not expecting given the dark and often violent subject matter in the majority of the series.

I've talked at length now about this series, and hopefully I've communicated with heavy use of hyperbole and superlatives just how much I enjoyed it; Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is one of the *very best* anime I've ever watched. This was the final show I started watching during my "animarathon" over the summer holiday this year, and it was a real cracker to end it all on. Along with Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, I've found a new personal favourite and it's going to be hard to move on to the next big thing. If you like fantasy/steam-punk settings, magic, lots of action, and incredibly deep and complex plots, you should definitely check out this definitive version of an amazing story. There are also four OVAs and a feature film set in the same universe as Brotherhood, so I might check them out, if I do I'll amend this review in the future to include them.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

REVIEW: Transistor (PS4)

Since picking up my PS4 I've been after some good games to play on it, and aside from the usual Sony favourites (Infamous, Killzone, etc) there hasn't been a whole lot to pick up and enjoy. It was this vacuum of next-gen titles that lead me to pick up a few indie games knocking about on the PlayStation store, such as Child of Light (*excellent* game!) and Fez (couldn't get into it). Transistor was a new release at the time and despite a bit of buzz and some stellar reviews it had completely slipped under my radar, which is a shame because it is, in my opinion, probably one of the current flagship games on Sony's new console. I've not played the first game by the developer, Bastion, so can't compare this with that, but I can and will compare this to Diablo in that it feels like a "rogue-like" dungeon crawl in many ways. If this sort of thing appeals to you know that Transistor is also aesthetically equal parts Bladerunner and Tron, and if all those things float your boat then read on; I might have found the perfect game for you.

The protagonist of Transistor is nightclub singer 'Red', who has had her voice taken away from her (presumably her throat shot out) during a midnight bloodbath, after which she wakes up and vows revenge on the cadre responsible. To aid her in this quest is the eponymous Transistor, a large blade-like construct that absorbs the 'soul' of anyone it impales; starting with the poor man Red digs it out of. From then on, the Transistor doubles as your guide and all-purpose weapon for the remainder of the game, handily giving you tips and strategic advice delivered with husky-dry voice acting through the PS4's dualshock speaker. It's a very interesting concept and one made good use of during the game, as the Transistor chirps away filling in the backstory surrounding events and offering advice about what to do next, you can communicate with it as Red by visiting one of the many 'news kiosks' scattered throughout the world and typing on the keyboard. The world of Transistor is beautifully realised with gorgeous hand-drawn graphics in an evocative future-noir veneer; characters are designed so that they look like they've just walked out of a Philip K. Dick novel.

However, despite the interesting premise and cool visual trappings, it's the gameplay that really delivers the good stuff, and this is where Transistor really shines brightest. Differentiating itself from other rogue-likes, the game has a strategic-RPG element in which you can freeze the action and plan out a sequence of moves or attacks, depleting a time meter as you go, until they're unleashed upon your foes. Approaching combat this way means that you suffer a cool-down period afterwards whereby you can't attack or perform special actions for a few seconds, but it's a fair trade off against the standard real time hack'n'slash (also available if you want). These carefully planned 'turns' are one of the game's strong points, the other is it's amazingly deep upgrade system in which each unlocked item can be used either as a special power, a modifier to an already existing power, or as a character buff. This encourages constant fiddling as you stack upgrades on top of each other; the results feel quite limitless and probably beyond the bounds of a single playthrough. Indeed, as soon as I finished the game I made a mental list of all the things I'd like to try next time in 'new game plus'.

Another great thing about the game design is how it treats death and failure. If your health should fall to zero, rather than immediately throwing you into a continue-from-checkpoint scenario, Transistor simply carries on by stripping you of one of your special abilities. This is actually more devastating than it sounds as often the game would switch off the weapon I needed most and relied upon; Red can get the ability back however after registering at a handful of different save points. This system was ingenious and forced me to constantly swap out abilities and special powers, mainly because I "died" a lot. To further add depth to the already abyssal systems in place are 'limiters', which are actually downgrades of your character and abilities; the trade-off is that you level faster or get tastier more destructive rewards if you're victorious. I hope I'm communicating the sheer amount of control given to the player in this video game, and despite the isometric graphics this game feels *very* "next-gen" compared to all the safe triple-A games from the major publishers. Transistor is a great game, and one that is confidently executed by an indie studio that really knows how to make an interesting and deeply rewarding original experience.

REVIEW: The Last of Us (PS3/PS4)

Much like my favourite all-time video game (Shadow of the Colossus), The Last of Us is probably the swansong of it's parent system; in this case the PS3. Released in 2013, it was only a year later, and after receiving over two hundred awards, that it was 'remastered' onto the fledgling PS4 which at the time of writing is currently suffering a drought of new content. When it originally came out I wasn't in the mood for another third-person-shooter, or another "zombie game" and so passed it up vowing to pick it up later in a price drop. Eventually I got around to owning the game but that's where the PS3 version and me end our brief relationship, as shortly afterwards the remastered version was announced and so I traded it away without even loading the disc. It was only months later when I wanted to get the most from my next-gen system that I picked it up again at launch this time, for full price, on PS4 and this time immediately played it. While I don't regret the roundabout way that I eventually came to play The Last of Us, part of me now realises what an absolutely spectacular game I missed out on a year ago.

The Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic survival-horror action-adventure game, which is quite different to how I expected it to be; if you combined The Road, Twelve Monkeys and 28 Days Later you'd end up with something not too dissimilar to what you'll find here. Also, notice that strictly speaking none of those references have "zombies" in them. In this video game, the human race has been ravaged by a mutated strain of cordyceps fungus, a parasitic infection that eats away at your brain and soft tissue until it kills you and turns you into a crop of spore spreading mushrooms! Those affected by the fungus display aggressive violent behaviour and the spores can also be spread through bodily fluids like saliva. Playing as Joel, an unhinged survivor of the apocalypse, you're tasked with escorting a young girl called Ellie through the overrun former civilization of mankind in order to find the "Fireflies", a terrorist cell looking to synthesize a cure. Along the way you'll encounter your fair share of cordyceps afflicted monstrosities, but the majority of the time it's the human element that is the true source of horror and I felt like of all the influences it was The Road which was felt the strongest.

This game does a fantastic job of actually making you feel as if you're trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic world, and I spent a good portion of the game simply exploring the environment and scraping together whatever resources I could get to help Ellie and I stay alive. There is a fair amount of shooting/fighting in The Last of Us if you want there to be, but the game often presents you with sandbox environments allowing you to choose sneaking as a viable alternative if you're not into gunplay. This is felt strongest in the survival-horror sections of the game, as you crawl about in the dark, desperate not to make any noise and draw the ire of the "clickers" (heavily mutated final-stage hosts of the cordyceps). When it was originally released on PS3, this game pushed the aging hardware to its limits, and while it looked spectacular it didn't always maintain a steady framerate or completely do the vision of the design team justice. In it's remastered state, The Last of Us on PS4 looks great, with high detail models and environments and all running at a silky smooth 1080p 60fps, finally delivering the experience as intended. While it's not as breathtaking as true next-gen titles like Infamous: Second Son, it still looks and sounds fantastic. On the subject of sound, the game's music is also brilliantly atmospheric and moody, fitting the scenes and feel of the game perfectly.

Really though, all these things I've mentioned so far are the icing on the fungal cordyceps cake, and the reason this game received over two hundred awards is almost completely down to it's story and characters. While I've been swept away by stories in video games before, The Last of Us is probably the best written and realised use of this medium yet, finally rivaling books or films in terms of complex characterisation and storytelling; and without removing 'player agency' from the equation. The two leads of Joel and Ellie are so rounded and enriched by deep exposition that you really get a feel for how they'll react and experience events in the plot. The game has also been praised for its treatment of homosexuality, especially in the additional content included with this remastered release, and it really feels like an adult video game not just a "dude-bro" adult-rated but essentially juvenile tale. By the end of the meandering narrative, which takes our protagonists right across apocalypse-ravaged America, you will have had your heart-strings tugged on, yanked on, and severed before reaching what is one of the most *perfect* conclusions to a narrative I've ever seen. In fact, the story in this video game is so good, they immediately optioned a movie adaptation.

Don't wait for the film version though, the reason that The Last of Us works so well is because of it's strengths in this medium; a video game. To remove the player agency from this experience will be to diminish the connection that you, the player, has with the protagonists and really this is something that must be experienced not watched. One of the best games on the PS3, now one of the best on the PS4, and one of the best video games full stop.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

SPECIAL: Top 25 PS3 Games!

With the release of the PS4 and the slowing-down of releases for the last generation (or cross-releases that are always better on the newer consoles), it's probably about time that I retired my PS3, and I can't see myself buying anything new for it in the future. However, it really has been one of the best video games consoles I've ever owned, with a massive and fantastic library of games, which I will certainly keep and perhaps dip back into from time to time! With this in mind, I thought I would make a list (similar to what IGN is doing at the moment) of my Top 25 PS3 Games. Now, the important things to remember are a.) this is my list and it reflects my personal tastes/preferences and b.) there are some games (such as The Last of Us) that are/were released on PS4 and so they won't be on this list as they're better on the newer platform. I'm going to count down from 25 and will try and keep text to a minimum as this isn't a load of reviews; I've also tried to create pictures that are framed in similar ways, just "for lolz".

25. Borderlands
See also: Borderlands 2
Genre: First-Person Shooter Role Playing Game (FPSRPG)
I remember picking this up on a whim because I had heard good things about it; weeks later I was still playing it and put a *lot* of hours into completing every mission and finding all secrets in the large open world.

24. Dishonored
Genre: Stealth, First-Person, Action
There was a lot of buzz about this game when it came out and it was very much justified. A fantastic mix of stealth and first-person combat, it was a challenge to play through the game without killing anyone or setting off any alarms. A great story and a fantastic alternate victorian-esque setting.

23. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
See also: Uncharted, Uncharted 3
Genre: Third-Person Shooter, Action/Adventure
The first game was good, but the sequel was just amazing in every way; graphics, characterisation, story, tight gameplay, etc. For a long time I considered this to be one of the best video games ever made. Brilliant!

22. inFamous 2
See also: inFamous
Genre: Open-World, Action
Another sequel that improved drastically over the first game (although I still *really* enjoyed the first one), this is one of the best and most fun open world games that I've ever played. This game really makes you feel like a superhero, or villain.

21. Dead Space
Also: Dead Space 2, Dead Space 3
Genre: Action Survival Horror
There weren't a lot of good survival horror games during the PS3 generation, but Dead Space was an excellent action-orientated sci-fi homage to films like The Thing, Aliens, Event Horizon and various other space-age scares.

20. Killzone 2
See also: Killzone 3
Genre: First-Person Shooter
I'm not into military shooters, but Killzone 2 was something different. The only game to make me feel like I was suffering shell-shock, this is a gritty, visceral and violent sci-fi invasion of a hostile enemy planet. You really feel like the whole world is against you.

19. Yakuza 4
See also: Yakuza 3, Yakuza 5, Yakuza of the End, Yakuza Kenzan, Yakuza Ishin
Genre: Brawler Role-Playing Game
I absolutely *love* these games, the characters and story are just some of the best on PS3. Gameplay is like Streets of Rage but set in an alternate Kabukicho, Tokyo. AWESOME!

18. Bioshock
Also: Bioshock 2, Bioshock Infinite
Genre: First-Person Shooter, Action/Adventure
The first game was amazing when it came out, just the atmosphere and art direction were enough to make it stand out from the crowd. Gameplay is deep and the story is amazing; that "twist" will stay with me forever.

17. God of War 3
Also: God of War HD Collections
Genre: Action/Adventure
On the PS3 you can play the full saga of the God of War games, but the best is surely the third, which takes the crown for the most *epic* game of all time. You feel like an absolute badass playing as Kratos as you tear the gods down from their holy mountain!

16. Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen
Genre: Open-World, Action  Role Playing Game
This game, and the built-in expansion, offers some of the best open-world role playing available for PS3. The combat is action orientated, and the story whilst slow to start has probably the best end-game ever; ensuring you plow hundreds of hours into this thing.

15. Little Big Planet 2
See also: Little Big Planet, Little Big Planet Karting
Genre: Platform, Level Creation
The second game had an improved graphics engine, and worked with all user-created content from the first game ensuring there were literally millions of levels to play through! Local multiplayer is hilarious, clever and fun!!

14. Batman: Arkham Asylum
See also: Batman: Arkham City
Genre: Stealth, Action/Adventure
Another game I was dubious about but utterly blown away when I played it. The first game is not as grand in scope as it's sequel, but the story is much better and the fourth-wall breaking scarecrow sections are unforgettable. You feel like Batman in this game!

13. Heavy Rain
See also: Beyond: Two Souls
Genre: Interactive Storytelling
Debatable how much of a "traditional" video game is here, but completely unrivaled in terms of atmosphere and cinematic presentation. The games of David Cage are utterly engrossing and unique in the medium, although they're divisive because of how they play.

12. Vanquish
Genre: Third-Person Shooter
A pure experience in third-person shooting, Vanquish is an incredibly difficult and challenging game, definitely in the realm of the "hardcore" and "old school". It's also one of the tightest and most well-designed games I've ever played, by one of the grand masters of game design; Shinji Mikami.

11. Limbo
Genre: Platform
There are lots of good 'indie' platform games (Braid, Fez, etc.) but my favourite by far is this one. The puzzles and routes through the levels are very clever, the expressionist artstyle (replete with flickery motion judder) is beautiful in its melancholy, and the story. Oh the story.
10. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
See also: Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Genre: Open-World, Role Playing 
I actually prefer the story of Oblivion and the gameplay of Skyrim. Regardless, both of the PS3 Elder Scrolls games have consumed hundreds of hours of my life, as I've explored their vast open worlds and leveled up my character.

9. Portal 2
See also: Portal
Genre: First-Person Puzzle Game 
No combat or shooting things in the head here, just you and a friend, a portal gun or two, and psychotic science robots trying to kill you. Playing this game makes you feel extremely clever and the level design is ingenious!! Story is great too.

8. Red Dead Redemption
Genre: Open-World, Action/Adventure
This is the very *best* open world game ever made. Become a legend of the old west in this massive sprawling game, with a compelling story, well-developed characters and loads of things to do. Even the zombie expansion was just amazing!

7. Valkyria Chronicles
Genre: Strategy Role Playing Game
Only this first game was released on PS3 (and the third has never been released in the west), which is a crime! This strategic RPG is one of the best ever created; you will grow to love the characters and deep storyline, then twist in agony as you have to decide who will live and die on the battlefield.

6. Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots
See also: Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, Metal Gear Solid.
Genre: Stealth, Action
PS3 is the *only* console where you can play the entire Metal Gear Solid saga from start to finish, as this fourth entry is an exclusive. One of the BEST series EVER MADE. Ever.

5. Catherine
Genre: Horror, Puzzle
A very unique game, Catherine came from a complete left-field and completely hooked me with its story and gameplay. Core to the whole experience are the adult themes of fidelity and sexuality, which are unusual topics for a video game to tackle. It's also hard as nails, which I love.

4. Shadow of the Colossus HD
See also: Ico HD
Genre: Action/Adventure 
It's no secret that Shadow of the Colossus is my favourite game of all time, but PS3 is the platform to play it on. 1080p and silky smooth without any framerate drops, it seems as if this game was made for the platform and feels right at home here. Ico too.

3. Dark Souls
See also: Dark Souls II
Genre: Action Role Playing Game
The "Prepare to Die" edition of this game, with the Artorias of the Abyss expansion, is one of the most compelling stories and settings for a video game of all time. The game is challenging, tight and expertly crafted. One of the best games ever.

2. Journey
Genre: Adventure
The closest we've had to a new Team Ico game in years, Journey is a truly magical experience. Designers of this game spent years developing the complex social interactions with other players, the game design that does away with the usual concepts of conflict, death etc. Unique. Inspiring.

1. Demon's Souls
Genre: Action Role Playing Game
There's a reason why people are always calling for a sequel to this game. Dark Souls may be its spiritual successor, but this original game had a Gothic-horror atmosphere to die for, a difficulty level that was pitch-perfect, and some of the best boss designs in video game history. AMAZING.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

REVIEW: Code Geass - Lelouch of the Rebellion (Anime)

A lot of anime that gets lauded by critics are shows that deviate from the established genres of the medium; such as 'mecha', 'shounen', 'harem', etc. This is probably because established and long-running examples of genre shows (like Naruto or Gundam) are fairly common and so an anime that serves up the same things is often lost in the ever-growing crowd; which is why it was a surprise to me to see Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion appear on pretty much every "must see" anime list I've read in the past few months. On the surface this is yet another show in the 'mecha' genre (produced by Sunrise no less - the production studio of Gundam): involving large military organisations, deep philosophical ramblings over the nature of conflict, protagonists in their late-teens, and large super-advanced robots duking it out to turn the tide of battle. It even has some of the established cliche character archetypes (the "white knight" good guy, female bespectacled scientists, etc.) and near-future setting. However, what makes Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion stand out from the crowd, aside from it's lavish production values, fantastic soundtrack and superb storyline, it its central character - an absolute megalomaniac sociophobe who will use and crush anyone to get what he wants - and is probably one of if not *the* best characters in anime!! Lelouch vi Britannia commands you to read on!

In the near-future of an alternative Earth, the massive and powerful empire of Britannia has conquered most of the globe, with its only rivals being the Chinese Federation and the E.U. It's most recent territorial acquisition is Japan, which has been stripped of it's national identity and renamed "Area 11" with the Japanese people relegated to a apartheid-like secondary status as "Elevens"; left subjugated, bitter and with no real power to fight back. Taking refuge in this country is Lelouch vi Britannia (under a false identity), the deposed and exiled prince who was 17th in line to the Imperial Throne, and his blind crippled sister. During a terrorist incident, some "Elevens" have stolen what they think is a chemical weapon to be used on the formerly-Japanese people who now live in ghettos and harbour terrorists, Lelouch comes in contact with a strange green-haired girl who "makes a contract with him" in exchange for a supernatural power called 'Geass' - the ability to make people obey your every command without question. Armed with this new power, along with his lethally sharp intellect and gift for strategy, Lelouch slowly assembles his own military force and begins his quest to rid the world of Britannian rule; and more importantly to kill his own father the Emperor. The plot that follows really is *fantastic*, and across the two series of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion there are so many dramatic twists and turns, and so many heart-wrenching cliffhangers, you simply won't be able to stop watching! There were many nights I tried to watch "a couple of episodes" and ended up binging until the small-hours, but aside from the great storyline, the characters are the real reason I just couldn't stop. Lelouch vi Britannia commands you to read on!

As I mentioned earlier, some of the characters fill the usual roster of archetypes that you normally see in 'mecha' anime, primarily amongst these is Suzaku Kururugi, who in any normal Gundam series would be our hero. Suzaku is an "Eleven" but has joined the Britannian military because he wants to change the system from the inside, and prove that the former Japanese can be honorary members of the Britannian Empire, deserving of equal status with their oppressors. He is a noble and good-natured character who fights to protect some of the weaker characters (who are pacifists) in his shining white mecha (in Code Geass these are called Knightmare Frames) named the 'Lancelot'. In other words, he is a royal pain in the backside for our true protagonist! Lelouch is a firm believer that the ends justify the means, and he will do anything and use/crush anyone to get what he wants! Asking your audience to identify with such a character could potentially cause problems but Lelouch is just so cool a character that it's easy to take his side in almost every situation. Almost. You see, Lelouch is extremely clever and his supernatural powers keep him at an advantage for much of the time, but he is still human and there will be many occasions when things don't go his way. It's compelling viewing to be rooting for someone with good intentions overall, but who continually goes about it in the most nefarious and underhand ways possible. By the way, do NOT under any circumstances read any articles or reviews of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion whilst watching the series, as there are just *too many* websites out there with minor and major spoilers, and a huge part of the appeal for this series are the constant surprises in the storyline (both exhilarating and utterly horrific). Lelouch vi Britannia commands you to read on!

There are loads of really fantastic set-piece battles and large scale conflicts in Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, all animated with visual flair and some great 'mecha' designs, you can tell that it's produced by a studio with a track record for this genre of anime. The character designs were done by a company called 'CLAMP' and they're in the stylised end of the spectrum, with long appendages, crazy spiky hair and large boobs; but all the characters are very memorable and stand out well from each other. This is also accompanied by some amazing voice acting, especially the Japanese actor for Lelouch (can you tell yet that I really like this character?). Music in this anime is absolutely *incredible* and I think is now one of my favourite original soundtracks of all time: it's brash, bombastic and fits the show perfectly! This unfortunately can not be said for the opening and closing songs - I really didn't like any of them! There seems to be lots of people who disagree with me, but I thought they were awful and skipped over them about 90% of the time. With two seasons to watch, the 50 episodes of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion takes a lot of viewing hours, but it's worth it as it succeeds where so many anime television series fail and provides a satisfying conclusion to the story. In fact, the ending has been a subject of much debate ever since it finished on Japanese television all those years back, because it is just so damn good! It leaves the show with the perfect mix of being all wrapped-up but with an open thread here and there allowing for a little interpretation over key events. It's genius and works extremely well for the story. Now go, Lelouch vi Britannia commands you to watch this series!