A design for strife

Here’s the thing. In movies, particularly action movies, the set piece is key. Whether it be the nervous ‘ooh what’s that noise?’ bit, the tense ‘how are they getting out of this?‘ scenario or the big explosions, rattling gunfire, ‘man down!’ mayhem, it’s this moment that shapes an audience’s experience of a movie. But it only works when it’s tightly scripted, carefully shot and endlessly edited to elicit a singular response from a variety of viewers. The moviemakers control what you see, hear and, ultimately, feel.

It is this control that prevents many first- person shooter games, Unreal 2 being the latest example, from achieving the same result. Everyone plays differently. Some sneak, some charge, some hide, some bait, some use tactics, some use impressive skill in combat. You see things others do not and experience difficulties or breeze through sections where others cannot. Yet game designers can't help but think in movie terms and slavisth insist on set pieces. Creeping through the levels in Unreal 2, beautifully designed though they are, you could lay markers where the trigger points are. A narrow pass in the canyon ahead? You're going to get jumped! No enemy but big windows? They will crash in to admit an unseen enemy! You learn the signs. You play against the designers not the game.

Which is a shame because there is much to admire in Unreal 2. The pleasing variety in the enemies means their individual defeats require specific combat skills. The story is continuously updated and evolves into something rather interesting, and graphically it’s superb, with engaging little twists in each mission.

Had it emerged from the constant intrusion from the designers, Unreal 2 would have been as special as its predecessor. As it is, the glorious freedom of sister title Unreal Tournament 2003 provides more set pieces, unique and personal to each player, than this, or indeed any movie, could ever hope. (lain Davidson)

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Tanked up on Diesel

Straight off the bat, this is in your face, seat of your pants machismo. Vin Diesel is Xander Cage. down-and-dirty super spy (plus extreme sports expert and thorn in the establishment’s side). He gets the tough choice: join the US secret service or face jail for (seriously cool) crimes against the state. He’s immediately dropped into maximum risk training, then it’s straight to Prague to infiltrate the nefarious Anarchy 99 and save the free world as we know it.

xXx so desperately wants to be the next generation Bond, pandering to the skater/metal kid audience, incorporating every gen-X cliche it can lay its grubby hands on. But it comes across as high concept 805 action fare with nowhere near the sophistication of the new look Brosnan vehicles. The climactic chase scene could have been lifted straight out of Moonraker. Bonds are built on their villains, and xXx showcases a motley rent-a-mob of totally interchangeable eastern European heavies. However, Samuel L Jackson makes one mean, scar-faced M.

There’s something about Diesel that’s far superior to any of his movies. He’s an impressive action hero with a suitably gravely baritone voice to match. He oozes laconic cool and latent menace, but these trashy projects are gonna wear down any street cred he’s accumulated. The stunts are fantastic, but depend on such high levels of suspended disbelief they border on farcical. And they come on so thick and fast you’re completely desensitised to their impact, as bombs explode around you and Diesel launches himself from yet another great height. At least it’s never boring. (Henry Northmore)

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