8 of the Best Things About Stranger Things 2

It came, we saw and it conquered. Stranger Things 2 has left audiences suitably thrilled with its follow-up series to the critically-acclaimed first season and, though the dust is still settling on another Netflix triumph, it will be a while before it isn’t on everyone’s minds.

Stranger Things 2 was full of intrigue, humour, heartbreak and genuinely scary moments – so much so that it may be difficult to process all the best stuff about it if you binge watched it in one or two sittings.

Fear not, fellow AV Club members, for it’s time for a comprehensive list on some of the best moments from a show that has charmed us all. Here’s eight of the most memorable bits from Stranger Things 2:

Note: Spoilers may follow from this point onwards. Don’t scoll past this hilariously cute gif of Eleven and Hopper if you don’t want the show spoiled before you finish it!

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Dustin & Steve’s Bromance

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There are a few new unlikely partnerships that help to make Stranger Things 2 another hit for Netflix, but few are as endearing and enjoyable as Dustin and Steve banding together.

The pair are thrown together in unusual circumstances at the Wheeler household, and their blossoming bromance goes from strength to strength as they combat both the Upside Down’s demodog horde and girl troubles.

Steve Harrington’s character development throughout season two is a delight, while Gaten Matarazzo’s charm and likeability help Dustin step to the fore from Mike’s shadow.


Bob the Brain’s Bravery

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Viewers of a certain age are treated to a huge 80s throwback with the introduction of Sean Astin as Joyce Byers’ love interest Bob ‘the Brain’ Newby.

Starting out as something of a cringeworthy-esque character, Bob grows into a man of action as the series hurtles towards its finale and his brave actions help save those who make up the main cast.

His knowledge of breaker systems and computers and bravery help some of the gang escape Hawkins Lab after it gets over run – a factor that makes his death at the last moment all the more heartwrenching and sob-inducing.


Noel Schnapp’s Performance as Will Byers

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As the ‘Boy Who Got Lost in the Woods’ during the first season, Noel Schnapp was criminally underused last time around if this is the measure of acting performance he can give.

Terrified and terrifying in equal parts, Schnapp goes through every conceivable emotion to truly make the struggle within Will a huge part in Stranger Things 2.

It’s extremely easy to forget that the show’s kids are, well, still kids. Based on Schnapp’s superb acting skills and ability to conjure up different feelings in the same scene, it’s hard not to look past him as this series’ break-out character.


Eleven’s Coming of Age Arc

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Eleven has come a long way from being discovered by the AV Club boys, and her ‘coming of age’ storyline throughout season two fleshes out her character in greater detail.

From her reapperance in the real world to tracking down ‘Momma’, to rocking out with Kali’s gang in Chicago and returning to Hawkins to save the day, Eleven is no longer the terrified girl with superhuman abilities that she was a year ago.

Her new “bitchin'” look with slicked back hair and eyeliner also gives a new emphasis to her maturing personality, and it’s one that will hopefully continue to grow in the seasons ahead.


Expanding the Stranger Things Universe…

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Episode seven drew criticism from some circles for its filler material in a bid to pad out season two, but realistically it helped to expand the Stranger Things universe.

The show needed a slight departure from Hawkins and, by taking us off the Chicago, switched the formula up and showed that people with powers aren’t solely confined the small rural town.

Spending any longer in Chicago would certainly have made the season drawn out, so the brief stop off broke the season up and, more importantly, gave Eleven reason to return to her true home.


…And Loving the New Characters That it Gave Us

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TV shows have a tendency to become stale and sluggish without the introduction of new players – key or supporting – to help move story arcs along, and Stranger Things 2 gives us a small glut of new characters to love and hate in equal measure.

We’ve already become accustomed with Astin’s Bob Newby but, in step-brother and step-sister pair Billy Hargrove and ‘Mad’ Max Mayfield, the returning cast have new additions to play off to great effect.

Max’s time in Hawkins, whilst badass in the end, drives a wedge between Dustin and Lucas at the midway point of the season, and between that duo and Mike in the opening episodes.

Billy’s arrival, meanwhile, provides a human antagonist for viewers to rail against, particularly with Steve, and allow the latter’s character development to truly flourish.

Add in the likes of Dr Owens – he’s a decent guy after all! – Kali/Number Eight and her motley crew, conspiracy theorist Murray and Lucas’ sassy younger sister Erica and whole new dynamics are played out in splendid fashion.


Hopper & Eleven’s Burgeoning Father-Daughter Relationship

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What of two of the best characters in the Stranger Things universe though? And just how perfect are their interactions whether funny, heartfelt or volatile?

David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown’s energy and chemistry in scenes together will certainly have audiences gripped, and their bond is all the sweeter for their respective losses up to this point.

One of the most touching moments comes when Hopper is handed adoption papers by Dr Owens that allows him to officially be Eleven’s guardian from here on out, so don’t bet against more triple-chocolate layered eggo stacks before too long.


Jim Hopper’s Dance Number

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And, speaking of Hopper, who could forget the dance moves that inspired a meme in the aftermath of Stranger Things 2?

Whether it’s Eleven’s puzzled look once Hopper gets down with his jams or the actual dance moves themselves, there can’t have been a viewer who didn’t laugh out loud as this scene played out.

Let’s hope for more Hopper moves in the next few seasons!

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5 Things Viewers Want From Netflix’s Upcoming Marvel Series ‘The Defenders’

Netflix’s and Marvel Studios’ TV collaboration reaches its first major climactic point when The Defenders debuts on 18th August and, after all of the trailer and Comic Con information, the hype train has truly entered the station.

Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist are set to unite in the battle to eradicate The Hand from New York City’s seedy underbelly, and there’s plenty to ponder and speculate about ahead of the show’s release in just under a few weeks’ time.

With rumours going into overdrive about Siourney Weaver’s character Alexandra, how our heroes – and reluctant heroes – will get along and other questions, what do we definitely want to see from the eight-episode strong series? Here’s five things on every viewer’s wishlist:

Action, and Plenty of it

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With at least one season under each of the quartet’s respective belts, backstories have been firmly established, characters fleshed out and locations set in place.

A good a time as any, then, for a plethora of action sequences to take place.

Our four heroes have already enjoyed some bruising, realistic fight scenes during their own arcs – who can forget the first time they saw the corridor sequence from Dardevil‘s first season? – and, with just eight one-hour long episodes to see if The Defenders can remove the Hand from Hell’s Kitchen for good, the fans will be desperate for a whole slew of action-oriented set-pieces.

That means lots and lots of the above, please Netflix & Marvel.

Who is Alexandra, and What’s Her Deal?

thedefenders2One character whose character hasn’t been fleshed out all that much – naturally due to her lack of appearance thus far in Marvel’s TV universe and unwillingness to spoil anything yet – is supposed Leader of the Hand, Alexandra (Sigourney Weaver).

Mike Colter recently divulged that Alexandra has ties to all four members of The Defenders, and it would be extremely beneficial if viewers were treated to more than just a “she’s the leader so deal with it” synopsis.

To truly get to the bottom of her persona and her motives, it would be wise to see Alexandra given some form of backstory to reveal why she’s the villain of this series.

Jokes, Quips and Humour Galore

thedefenders3While Netflix & Marvel collaborations have proven to be bloody, often-violent affairs that have confronted tough topics, there has also been a lighter, humorous side to proceedings too.

Whether it be Matt Murdoch’s quips to his co-stars in his own Daredevil show, or Luke Cage’s deadpan verbal slamming of his foe’s henchmen, each series has had its fair share of laugh-out-loud moments and, given the rapport among the actors seen on set, as well as each character’s personality, let’s hope The Defenders retains its lighthearted nature to contrast the brutal fight scenes accordingly.

The trailers so far have shown there will be some funny scenes to contrast the gritty action sequences, so here’s hoping there’s plenty more to come.

Ample Screen Time for the Supporting Cast

clairetempleIf the San Diego Comic Con Defenders panel showed us anything, it’s that there’s an extensive supporting cast for Netflix’s upcoming series.

Deborah Ann Woll (Karen Page), Jessica Henwick (Colleen Wing) and Elodie Yung (Elektra) were all present, but that trio will have to contend with Elden Henson (‘Foggy’ Nelson’), Rosario Dawson (Claire Temple), Simone Missick (Misty Knight), Scott Glenn (‘Stick’) and Rachael Taylor (Trish Walker) – among others – also being granted a decent amount of screen time.

That’s before we even delve into the minor characters who will have bit-part roles to play in pushing the story forward too. Put all that together, and The Defenders‘ cast truly does look bloated.

Marco Ramirez and Douglas Petrie will have had their work cut out on marrying all of these characters together, and we hope that they’ll all be given a chance to shine without detracting too much from our main protagonists and antagonists.

Hints at Where Each Character’s Future Seasons Will Go

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Okay, this one is a little left field and there may not be time to delve into what’s in store for each of our four heroes individually, but it would be cool to get a vague idea of what’s next for the intrepid quartet.

Maybe there’ll be a clue as to which villains could fill a potential void in the criminal underworld if the Hand are disposed of. Or maybe there will be an indication of where each hero’s path will lead them to next.

With all four confirmed to have had new seasons greenlit by Netflix and Marvel, a nice little tease or stinger at the very end of the series would give a brief glimpse into what they could expect in the future.

Why Reducing Clementine’s Role in Telltale’s Walking Dead: A New Frontier Was the Right Decision

When news broke that fans of Telltale’s Walking Dead series wouldn’t be reprising their role as Clementine in the third outing of the critically-acclaimed franchise, people weren’t happy.

The character that everyone had fallen in love with during the first season, and who they had been able to take charge of for the second, had been wrested from their hands and handed a supporting role instead.

Cue plenty of backlash, outcry and negative reactions all over the internet.

twd2With the third season – or to give its proper title: ‘The Walking Dead: A New Frontier’ – now all wrapped up, however, Telltale’s decision to make Clementine a supporting character this time out was the right decision to make in the end.

Of course, fans of the series have become accustomed to the narrative-based games being built around her experience of the zombie acopalypse, and seeing her grow from a frightened little child into a teenage stone-cold killer with her own baggage and survivor’s guilt.

In reducing Clementine’s – or Clem for brevity reasons – role and allowing her to take a step back in proceedings, Telltale managed to provide players with a new dilemma that would pose them other problems in taking up the reins of a new character.

twd3Javier Garcia – or Javi – is the character that gamers now take up in the absence of being able to control Clem, and his introduction poses a new complication in the Walking Dead‘s over-arcing story and gameplay.

Those players, who will have already played season one and two, have grown up alongside Clem as they have played through her travels, and will have a greater connection and sense of who she is – particularly having controlled her in season two.

twd4By forcing the player to guide Javi’s actions and choices in-game, especially those interactions that concern Clem, a new predicament is introduced whereby the player is conflicted by their previous allegiance to Clem and what they, as an individual, would do if they were Javi himself and had only just met Clem for the first time.

It gives rise to a new perspective within the narrative of A New Frontier, and adds an interesting plot point into the game’s style of play that could have become a tad stale if Clem had been the person that the player controlled.

Of course, Clem is not just a mere spectator to proceedings in A New Frontier. (Warning: Spoilers for A New Frontier from this point on!)

twdajBy way of a series of flashbacks, gamers are given the opportunity to play as Clem on a few brief occasions – glimpses that help to fill in the gaps between season two and her introduction to Javi in A New Frontier.

In doing this, Telltale very cleverly give gamers what they want (playing as Clem) in small chunks to tide them over and placate the baying mob who had cried foul when word spread that she would not be the primary character in this season.

Changing this format up prevented Telltale from re-telling a similar story arc to that of season two and, whilst it can be argued that players would not have grown tired of playing as Clem by the end of A New Frontier, freshening up proceedings with a new playable character helped to keep their franchise up-to-date and original.

twd1It would appear that Telltale will hand the reins back to Clementine when season four is put in the hands of gamers, and a season away from her as the main protagonist will switch the format up once more.

Telltale have a knack for this type of narrative-gaming by now, and it’s reasonable to suggest that they should be given credit for sticking to their guns and making players control Javi for much of their latest veture.

Clementine will always be their Walking Dead poster girl, and fans will always want more of her. In reducing their role in A New Frontier, though, Telltale did the right thing to keep things fresh and interesting.

Seven Things We Learned From Microsoft’s E3 2017 Press Conference

Microsoft came, saw and pretty much conquered E3 on Sunday with the 2017 iteration of their annual press conference in Los Angeles.

The multinational corporation laid down a marker for fierce rivals Sony with a superb showing that offered plenty of news on their newest console, a whole slew of interesting and beautiful games and a couple of nice little surprises.

What did we, the gamers, learn from Microsoft’s press briefing though? Here’s a rundown of the most important parts of what the showcase:


The Xbox One X is Going to be Magnificient

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Source: The Verge

Project Scorpio is no more. Microsoft officially – and finally – unveiled their latest console offering to the public, and revealed that it will now be known as the ‘Xbox One X’.

Sleeker than its predecessor the Xbox One S – though not smaller, if this specifications sheet shown on Kotaku is 100% true – the Xbox One X is packing some serious muscle under its hood.

With memory consisting of 12 GB GDDRS @ 326 GB/s, a true 4K UHD Blu-Ray drive and a liquid cooling system, among other immense specs, the Xbox One X is certainly the most powerful console made to date.

With an official release date of 7th November 2017 announced too, we don’t have to wait long to get our mitts all over this gorgeous looking piece of kit. Well, that is…


…If You Can Afford it

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Source: Windows Central

At £449 ($499 for our American cousins), the Xbox One X will not be cheap.

Microsoft has to get bang for its buck from somewhere, considering the amount of research, technology manufacturing and shipping that will have cost them a Scrooge McDuck-esque swimming pool of cash, but the Washington-based company could have priced themselves out of some fans purchasing their new device straight away.

It took a while for some Xbox 360 gamers to part with their money and buy a One when it was released back in late 2013 and, with a hefty price slapped onto the X, it might be a good six months, bundle pack or price drop to persuade gamers to let go of their One console and upgrade to this monster.


You Won’t Have to Stump Up Cash for Peripherals Though

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Source: Amazon

As some form of sweetener to those looking to buy an Xbox One X the moment it’s released, however, Microsoft did reveal that all current Xbox One peripherals – controllers, headsets and the like – would work with the X.

That goes some way to buttering up the Xbox fanbase, but is it enough to really make gamers hand over their hard-earned cash? Only time will tell.


If That Doesn’t, the Raft of Games Will

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Source: Business Insider

Microsoft proudly boasted that it showed off 42 new games during its almost two-hour long briefing on Sunday – 22 of which it claimed were Xbox exclusives – and some of the do look exceptionally impressive.

We already knew that the likes of Crackdown 3, Forza Motorsport 7, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2 would be coming to the Xbox One X, but a host of other titles – both AAA and indie – will have piqued the interest of Xbox supporters.

Odd Tales’ The Last Night looks a truly stunning Blade Runner-esque pixel art winner, a sequel to Moon Studios’ Ori & the Blind Forest – called Ori and the Will of Wisps – is drop-dead gorgeous, Bluehole’s critically-acclaimed PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds will worm its way onto the Xbox One X and Bioware’s latest venture Anthem is set to be yet another triumph for the Canadian video game developer.

As Xbox head honcho Phil Spencer, there was truly a game on show for everyone, with family friendly titles all the way to mature content for 18+  gamers on offer. And speaking of Spencer…


Microsoft’s Xbox Chief is Showing His Worth

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Source: BBC

Since his appointment as chief executive of Xbox’s division in late 2014, Phil Spencer has turned Xbox’s reputation on its head and made the corporation’s video game department a force to be reckoned with once more.

As a staunch video game fan himself, Spencer knows just how important it has been to make gaming the centre of everything good about the Xbox brand – it’s quite amazing to type that out about a games console – and the 28-year Microsoft veteran has turned this potentially sinking ship around.

Each E3 conference that Spencer has headlined has not been short of games, has dispensed with the other entertainment aspects of the Xbox One and all-but-sealed the fate of Microsoft’s ponderous motion control Kinect device.

That Spencer’s name was chanted by those in attendance at Sunday’s briefing shows you all you need to know about how he has given Xbox its pride back.


And Now for Some More Nostalgia

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Source: Cnet

Microsoft dropped the mic on Sony during their 2015 E3 press conference as they announced their Xbox 360 backwards compatiblity programme.

Since then the number of titles available to gamers, that fans can play on their Xbox One, has slowly been increased and, despite the feature not being used much according to Ars Technica, it still has some form of following.

Now, Microsoft has revealed that it plans to bring the originaly Xbox’s back catalogue to its One lineup too, and the unveiling went down a storm among attendees.

Whether the company will see a huge spike before a massive drop off again remains to be seen but, for gamers who still cling on to their original Xbox games from all the way back to 2001, being able to play them on an upgrade console 16 years later will be huge.


Sony Need Something Humungous to ‘Win’ E3 2017

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Source: Digital Trends

With the unveiling of Xbox One X, a tonne of ridiculously good-looking upcoming games and more backwards compatibility to come, Microsoft have laid down the gauntlet to Sony ahead of the Playstation briefing.

The Japanese corporation bounced back with their 2015 ‘E3 of Dreams’ lineup following Microsoft’s return to form that year, and something similar will be needed to prevent the American giant from securing bragging rights this time around.

This was a big press conference for Microsoft and they pretty much pulled it off. It’s up to Sony now to stop casual gamers from switching allegiances.

Microsoft’s 2017 E3 Briefing: Everything You Need to Know

The 2017 Edition of world-famous video game expo E3 is just a week away, and anticipation is building towards what consumers can expect from the three-day event in Los Angeles.

As ever, the industry’s big hitters such as Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, EA and Bethesda will all be conducting press briefings to varying degrees, while a whole host of companies, experts and fans will be present to present, critique and get hands-on experience with all the demos and games they can get their hands on.

Microsoft arguably stole the show at E3 2016 with the announcement of the Xbox One S, a slew of cool looking titles, HoloLens and their upcoming Project Scorpio console, and much will be expected of the multinational corporation by everyone at the event and across the globe.

What can we expect to see, hear and touch when Microsoft rock up to E3 then? Here’s the lowdown on all you need to know:


What Time, When & Where?

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Microsoft are doing things a tad differently this year. The Washington-based technology giant normally holds its press briefing at 5pm BST (9am PT) on the first day of the event – usually the Monday – a few brief hours before Sony take to the stage.

However, MS are holding their 2017 conference a day earlier at a later time. This year’s Microsoft briefing will take place on Sunday 11th June at 10pm BST (2pm PT) at the LA Convention Centre.

It’s certainly a bold move from MS who will be giving their presentation first – EA aside – ahead of their two major rivals Sony and Nintendo (although the latter will be sticking to their tried-and-tested Treehouse presentation, rather than a live press event), but it gives them the chance to show off all of their newest gubs 24 hours before the Playstation and Switch producers.


What Can We Expect to See?

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There’s only one thing on the minds of Xbox fans heading into E3 2017: Project Scorpio.

Microsoft announced that they were hard at work on their most powerful console to date during last year’s event, and this year MS should come out all guns blazing and reveal just exactly what Project Scorpio.

Xbox chief Phil Spencer has already given hints at to just how monstrous the next Xbox will be, but gamers will be keen to know just what they’ll be getting for the money when the console reportedly launches at the end of this year.

What do we know about Project Scorpio so far? Well, it’ll contain 6 teraflops-worth of “graphical processing power”, an in-built vapour chamber – liquid cooling that will keep the console from overheating – 1TB of storage and the ability to stream games at a 4K UHD resolution.

There’s much more information where that came from too in this handy all-encompassing guide from the boffins over at TechRadar, but we’ll learn much, much more – including potential A-list titles, price range and other crucial factors – when the Scorpio is officially revealed on 11th June.

Will Microsoft open or close with the Scorpio? It’s hard to say. Leaving it until the end of the briefing will give Xbox fans an almighty boost and be a big way to drop the mic on Sony, but could backfire if the pricing of the console is too steep.

Opening with Scorpio would certainly be a way for Microsoft to come out all guns blazing, but giving up their biggest prize from the off could lead to the rest of the conference paling in comparison.

Either way, next month can’t come soon enough.


What About the Games?

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With Microsoft pushing the Scorpio as the major selling point of their 2017 briefing, games and software will most likely take a slight stepback from proceedings.

That’s not to say that fans and gamers won’t be given a vast array of titles to run the rule over, as video game trailers, teases, demos and information are the lifeblood of E3.

Expect to hear updates on the likes of Undead Labs’ sequel State of Decay 2 and Reagent Games’ Crackdown 3, further trailers and demos for upcoming titles such as Rare’s Sea of Thieves, and other first-party developers along the lines of Forza Motorsport 7 from Microsoft Studios.

Third-party games like EA’s critically-acllaimed FIFA series and Activision’s Call of Duty: World War 2 will also no doubt appear, and more ID@Xbox titles (fingers crossed for a Cuphead release date!) will be given their own alloted time frame.

Rumours had circulated that a Halo 3 anniversary remaster or even a vague hint towards Halo 6 may be shown off but, thanks to 343 Industries’ development director Frank O’Connor’s comments late last year -reiterated by community manager Brian Jarrard on Reddit – don’t expect to see either at show.


What Else?

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A potential announcement about more upcoming backwards compatibility titles wouldn’t go amiss. E3 2015 saw MS turn the tables on Sony, after the latter had won E3 the year before, by stating their intent to bring as many Xbox 360 games to the Xbox One in the coming years, and Phil Spencer even went as far to say he’d like to see “all” 360 titles eventually playable on the One.

In hardware terms, can we expect to see a new controller? MS has always pushed the boundaries where this is concerned, with the 360 controller deemed one of the all-time greats of gaming.

E3 2016 saw Microsoft unveil its new Elite controller for pro-gamers, as well as a vast array of colour schemes on their website to make your own personalised One controller, so it’s plausible that something of that ilk could also be revealed come 11th June.


Who Will Be Taking to the Stage?

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MS head honcho Phil Spencer for one. The American business executive will open and close Microsoft’s press briefing as he always does, and will welcome a number of first and third-party dev team leaders onto the stage to conduct demos, talk games and show off footage from their own enterprises.

That long list of names may include Sea of Thieves creative director Gregg Mayles, 343 chief Bonnie Ross – no Halo tease but apparently “a little something” from the company – and ID@Xbox director Chris Charla among others.

There may be a slight surprise or two as well given E3’s propensity to shock audiences with an unannounced game, but we’ll have to wait and see on that front.


How Will the Briefing Go Down?

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Considering it hasn’t happened yet, it’s difficult to determine. Finally unleashing Project Scorpio on the world would be a massive plus for Microsoft, and showing off some of its most anticipated games for the coming season would provide a massive fillip ahead of Sony’s own conference 48 hours later.

It will be intriguing to see if MS decide to lead or end their briefing with Scorpio as doing either have their own positives and negatives, and it could well be that the reception their 2017 briefing receives will be entirely dependent on how Scorpio is received.

This could be Microsoft’s best chance to close the gap on Sony’s dominance of the console market since 2014. Win gamers over, and they may just ease the pressure on themselves. Fail to deliver, however and they could be playing catch up for even longer.

Mental Health Awareness Week: 6 Things to Help Free Your Mind

The barriers and stigma surrounding mental health issues are facing their toughest test yet.

More and more people – famous or not – are finally speaking out about the problems, that society still faces, when it comes to discussing a topic that is still shockingly under-funded and under-discussed.

Talking about mental health, its funding and how and where to receive help, however, is still not taken as seriously as our physical health, which is why ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ -taking place between 8th and 14th May 2017 – is vitally important to those who suffer from mental health illnesses, those who work within the industry and for people who want to see those barricades torn down.

What can we do, individually and collectively, to help remove the stigma encompassing illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia though? Here’s six things that anyone can do to help themselves – or others – over the course of the week:

Get It Off Your Chest

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Only a fraction of the UK’s population (around 13%) stated that they were happy with the levels of their mental wellbeing during a recently conducted survey by the Mental Health Foundation.

Suicide rates in the UK, meanwhile, rose from 6,122 to 6,188 for the year ending 2015 – 75% of whom were male, 25% female – and over 18,000 people took their own lives between 2003 and 2013, according to the Office of National Statistics.

Those numbers provide an alarming indication of just how much more needs doing to combat the stigma surrounding mental health, and it remains vital that those suffering from – or have suffered from – a mental illness talk openly about their problems, and not be judged for doing so.

Ask your family, friends work colleagues and, hell, even strangers how they’re doing today. And genuinely mean it. It could be the biggest difference you make to them today.

Read a Self Help Book

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Seeing a psychiatrist or therapist is often a solution out of reach to people, particularly due to financial difficulties, and often the next best step, other than talking about problems with another person, is reading a self help book and working through any of the exercises within the pages of one.

Books such as Guy Winch’s ‘Emotional First Aid’, Mark Williams et. al’s ‘The Mindful Way Throught Depression’ and others can all act as aids in discovering when you’re most vulnerable to a trying period, and give tips, tasks and ways of helping you combat the dark moods known as ‘The Black Dog’.

Go Green and Enjoy the Outdoors

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Such is modern life, it is easy to get bogged down in our occupations, become dulled by the environment of motor vehicles and buildings around us and be distracted by our phones and TVs.

A change of scenery is often a positive thing, then, and what better way to gain some perspective by heading off to your local park or into the countryside? Being out in the open and fresh air can provide clarity and offer a reminder of just how beautiful this world is.

Bring yourself back to your centre by taking a stroll on a warm, sunny day and appreciate everything you see and hear.

Exercise Physically to Benefit Mentally

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It’s no surprise that people’s moods are notably buoyed after a bout of exercise. There’s a reason they call it “runner’s high”, you know!

With endorphins coursing through your body, those who regularly partake in physical activity can help to pump themselves full of chemical feel-good factors to help keep those inner demons at bay.

Forking out for a gym membership doesn’t have to be someone’s go-to solution either. A pleasant bike ride nearby, a jog around the park or even a brisk walk have been proven to elevate moods.

Meditate to Medicate

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Meditation’s popularity among all age groups has never been higher – no doubt in part to apps such as Head Space – and sometimes a brief 10-minute spell of focusing on nothing but your breathing can work wonders on your mind.

It’s often easy to get caught up in the rush of everyday life, so a few moments to reflect, find your centre and focus on the positive things in your life will provide a reprieve from the hustle and bustle that comes with feeling the stresses and burdens of the world.

Education, Education, Education

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Small steps are being taken everyday to eradicate the mental health stigma from society, but much, much more needs to be done.

As always, the best way of spreading the message is through education. Looking up statistics, finding new and innovative ways to combat these illnesses, and offering up insights are just a few methods that will help to inform other people about mental health, what it represents and how we can go about fighting the shame that is brought on those who suffer in silence.

The more people who are aware, and who are willing to make a change, of mental health will aid our push to end this stigma, and help to make our society a more open, accepting and empathic civilisation in the long run.

 

Why Episode 2 of Telltale’s Game of Thrones Is Their Most Heartbreaking Content Yet

Ask any video gamer which company they associate with story-driven, choice-based content and, more than often, they will tell you “Telltale Games”.

The San Rafael-based video game developer and publisher has become synonymous for its deeply emotional and well structured adventure games ever since the release of its maiden title based upon The Walking Dead graphic novels.

That 2012 leap into the unknown – a critically-acllaimed venture that tugged on the heartstrings of even the hardest of individuals – catapulted Telltale into the limelight, and has led to an exponential growth unlike any other comparable video game developer in the modern era.

telltalewdSince then, Telltale has put all of its attentions on the story-focused, episodic format – save for Poker Night 2 – with a number of highly praised spin-offs of other video game franchises such as Tales From the Borderlands and Minecraft.

It is another of their back catalogue – the licensed Game of Thrones Telltale Series in late 2014 and early 2015 – that led to the company’s first mixed reviews since their breakthrough triumph, and halted the inexonerable march towards the continous praise they had received.

It is also that Game of Thrones series, however, that has arguably a more heartbreaking moment than that played out in the final episode of The Walking Dead’s Season One (beware, spoilers ahead).

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That finale, which sees main character Lee shot in the head, to stop him from turning into a zombie, by the much loved Clementine left fans of Telltale’s Walking Dead series sitting in puddles of tears as the end credits rolled, and led to raft of extremely positive views from many within the games industry.

And, whilst Telltale’s Game of Thrones series may not have the same kind of impact as that scene – particularly given gamers getting used to Telltale’s manner of storytelling – it’s hard to argue that the final sequence in season one’s second episode was just as heartwrenching as Clementine putting a bullet through Lee’s brain.

One extremely poignant scene in Game of Thrones, however, runs that moment close – and, arguably, even outperforms it.

telltalegot1The moment arrives after Rodrik Forrester, fresh from being seemingly killed off in episode one, returns home to find his house in disarray after the deaths of his father Gregor and brother Ethan, and with Roose Bolton having claimed the North after the infamous Red Wedding.

The funeral for the latter two, which takes place in the final throes of the episode, play out against a beautifully crafted song – sung by Rodrik’s younger sister and Ethan’s twin Talia – and brutally nails home how much this family has already lost just one third into the overall season:

Of course, the impact of Lee’s death in the Walking Dead will cause fans of that series to defend that scene to the hilt, and argue that it is that devastating ending which is Telltale’s biggest gut-punching scenario, given that the player has embarked on a five-episode long, 10 hour journey with the characters already in the Walking Dead‘s first season.

For Telltale to evoke such strong emotions just two episodes into its Game of Thrones series, however, showcases how much of an effect these two deaths have already had on those who played it, and leads gamers to feel dejection on the Forresters’ behalf even at this early stage of proceedings.

It will be controversial for diehard fans of Telltale’s Walking Dead series to hear, but being able to draw such powerful feelings out of players, towards the Forresters, so soon into Games of Thrones, is a success in story-telling terms, and lends significant weight to the argument that Game of Thrones‘ second episode of season one is its most heartbreaking content yet.

Review: William McCarthy at Liverpool Arts Club

October 31st 2016 will have seemed like an ordinary Halloween celebration for the vast majority of people in Liverpool. For those crammed into the city’s O2 Academy, however, it was the end of an era.

That night, on the day that Augustines played their final-ever show, the swashbuckling trio of William McCarthy, Eric Sanderson and Rob Allen brought down the curtain on their six-year career to leave the band’s loyal supporters heartbroken at their decision to split.

On Tuesday 2nd May, six months after McCarthy’s last visit to Merseyside, the only things broken on a night of pure joy were the guitar strings thanks to the New Yorker’s passionate strumming.

IMAG0763.jpgWith a set that lasted around two hours 15 minutes, McCarthy’s triumphant return to Liverpool was, to put it simply, sensational and, while he may not have sold out the city’s Arts Club, the 150-strong crowd that assembled at the Seel Street-based venue wouldn’t have dreamed of being anywhere else.

And McCarthy knew it. Boy, did he know it.

Oozing a perfect blend of wit, charm and a humbleness often lacking in the frontmen of current and/or past bands doing the circuit, McCarthy brought the ruckus – in more ways than one – as he belted out songs from a back catalogue stretching all the way to his beginnings as a musician.

IMAG0772.jpgOld classics from his Pela and Augustines days – coupled with some extraordrinarily hilarious covers that saw McCarthy marry the likes of Neil Young’s dulcet tones with George Michael hit single ‘Faith’ – went down a storm, and gave witness to the sheer prowess of McCarthy’s artistic flair.

In true scouser fashion, the mass of Liverpudlians gave as good as they got as the quips and jokes were batted back and forth between McCarthy and his devoted fans, while McCarthy’s own tales of self-reflection and humorous behind-the-scenes revelations drew laughs and applause in equal measure.

It was McCarthy’s tunes, however, that many had come to see, and the Irish-American songwriter did not disappoint. His impressive set of lungs still able to project a stunning voice into all corners of the building, coupled with his unrelenting showmanship and expert guitar playing, left all present marvelling at the man affectionally known as ‘Billeh’.

It may be a source of frustration for his fanbase that McCarthy doesn’t get the recognition he deserves within the wider music community, but McCarthy’s raw passion, devotion to music and modesty sets him apart from the crowd. It’s what endears him to those who have followed his work for years and years, and offers an insight into why people watch him up and down the country, and across the globe.

There may be more successful artists out there. There may be more widely known bands out there. There may be other gifted frontmen out there. McCarthy, though, knows what he has – a dedicated following of supporters, his trusted set of guitars and harmonicas, and a desire to make the world a better place through his music.

Sometimes that’s all that’s required to help mend those broken hearts from six months ago, and beyond.

Power Rating: 10/10

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 Review

The unprecedented triumph of Marvel Studios’ 2014 summer hit Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 is perhaps the comic-book giant’s biggest cinematic success story to date.

Sitting a not-too-shabby fifth place in the all-time highest grossing Marvel flicks list, much was expected of director James Gunn’s follow-up to the merry band of misfits that saw plenty of cinema goers fawning over a humanoid tree and laughing at the numerous laughs from one of the best assembled film casts in recent times.

The 2017 sequel to Guardians  Vol. 1, then, had much to live up to. Those who fear it wouldn’t need not worry – it does so, and more.

gotg3Building upon its predecessor, the second installment in the Guardians’ franchise picks up shortly after the events of volume 1’s story arc, and finds our intrepid heroes battling an interdimensional abilisk as the backdrop to an opening credits sequence that sees baby Groot take centre stage.

It’s a humorous – and aww-inspiring – reminder of how Gunn’s vision and flair towards the franchise, and shows him to be one of the finer comedy-oriented film makers of the current era.

From there, the plot jumps and careens its way through a plethora of visually-stunning set pieces, complete with plenty of CGI planets, space-hopping and action sequences that will leave viewers in awe of the sheer scale of what they’re witnessing.

gotg2The core cast – Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Vin Diesel) – bounce off each other with an ease and hilarity that lends just as much credit to Gunn’s script as it does to their comedic timing, and helps to build the evident rapport – and quarrelsome nature – of the team of outsiders.

With the foundations set in the first film, the story allows the quintet’s characters to be fleshed out and developed further, which adds further emotional depth to each of their disjointed personas and allows the audience to really feel for these individuals.

Backing the Milano crew up are returning favourites Michael Rooker and Karen Gillan as Yondu and Nebula respectively, while newcomers in the form of Pom Klementieff’s Mantis, Elizabeth Debicki’s Ayesha and Kurt Russell’s Ego naturally add to the weird and wonderful world that Gunn has created.

gotg4Speaking of things Gunn has created, the director and composer Tyler Bates have yet again crafted a superb and distinctive soundtrack to accompany Guardians Vol. 2 and, much like its predecessor, the musical numbers hit all the right notes.

From Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ to George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ and everything inbetween, each carefully selected track lends a certain gravitas to the scene it’s playing out with, and helps give additional impact and resonance to each point in the film’s arc.

The original score helps to evoke certain emotions within the audience too, but it’s the licensed soundtrack that gives Guardians a distinctive flavour over other Marvel properties, and seeing how well each melody and the lyrics tie into certain scenes – especially those on the heartwrenching side of things – marry well with the performances of the cast.

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Some critics will, rightly or wrongly, point towards issues surrounding a lack of originality behind the over-arcing story, or cry foul over supposedly seen-and-heard-before jokes which, given the slowly growing negativity over some people becoming tired over the amount of comic-book films being mass produced right now, is perhaps a worthy criticism to have.

In contrast to point, however, if the formula isn’t broken, why try and fix it? Marvel – and Gunn, in particular – know their audience, and to make unnecessary changes to create something authentically akin to Vol. 1 may have left some audiences wondering why they’ve just sat through a replica of Vol. 2‘s earlier cousin.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an almost perfect blend of action-packed set-pieces, amusing scenes and heartstring-tugging moments that ensure the two hour run-time feels like no time at all.

gotg6The manner with which each scene, act and Easter Egg – including those five mid- and post-credit scenes – have been intricately developed has helped ensure that Marvel will certainly have another surefire winner on their hands.

With Gunn at the helm of the third installment in this delightful franchise – following the events of the next two star studded Avengers flicks – the future is bright for both Marvel Studios and the Guardians themselves.

Only one team will be able to save the galaxy on three seperate occasions, and it sure as hell isn’t the Avengers. It’s a family of misfits who go by the name ‘The Guardians of the Galaxy’.

The Ones Who Dream: Why La La Land Resonates So Deeply With the Human Condition

“Here’s to the ones who dream, crazy as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that break, here’s to the mess we make.”

As Emma Stone belts out the final verses of La La Land‘s penultimate song, Audition (The Ones Who Dream), it’s difficult not to internalise them and ponder what they mean individually to each of us.

Simple words constructed in such an easy sentence, yes, but never have truer words been spoken – or, rather, sung – about the frailties of human endeavour to overcome obstacles in life and achieve greatness against all the odds.

It is, for this very reason, why La La Land deserves every plaudit and accolade that is bestowed upon it.

lalaland3A movie full of charm and emotion, music and comedy, joy and sorrow, and that is stirring and heartbreaking, inspiring and moving, at its heart, La La Land is a straightforward story about two lost souls trying to passionately pursue their dreams in one of the most soul crushing cities on the planet.

And, yet, La La Land resonates deeply within cinemagoers, who have had the pleasure of sitting down and watching two hours pass by, as they marvel at the abstract nature of a story that echoes within the very core of humanity as a whole.

It is a microcosm of every individual’s dream of becoming someone greater than who they are, thanks in part to realising those dreams and accomplishing goals. Regardless of whether any person still holds onto their dream, has realised or has seen it fall away and felt diminished because of it, it is human nature to have aspired, and continue to aspire, to be more than what we are.

lalaland1In La La Land, both Mia (Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) portray the trials, tribulations and struggles of people doing their best to realise their lifelong ambition to make it as an actress in Hollywood and successful jazz club owner respectively – a battle that is relatable to each and every viewer, if not by profession then certainly be their desire to become successful at what they’re most passionate about.

The beauty of the film’s narrative, and the manner in which it is so intimately portrayed, meant that it wouldn’t have mattered what dream each character was pursuing – the duo could have been attempting to make it as a lawyer or football player, or a journalist and politican – and that is down to the core values at the heart of the film.

Feelings of hopelessness, dejection, hurt and acceptance of defeat make way for triumph, elation, healing and refusal to surrender before returning again, as if to offer up a glimpse into how our own lives bear resemblance to rollercoasters – the dips and falls to-ing and fro-ing with the highs and crescendos.

lalaland4That the flick is filled with other striking symbolism, such as its soundtrack detailing each character’s arcs or the changes in colour and tonal feel of Stone’s costumes throughout the film’s length, only add to the simplicity of the human nature on display in La La Land, and help to convoy the overall tone of the motion picture to the audience.

It is also helps to have such a marvellous cast carry out the roles to a tee. Both Stone and Gosling shine as the will-they-won’t-they couple, with each bringing their own gravitas and comedic timing to events, while the supporting cast – including Golden Globe winner J.K. Simmons and singer-songwriter John Legend – help to drive the story forward whether it be through the film’s musical numbers or screen time in other capacities.

And what of the film’s original score itself? If there’s a catchier, more triumphant display of award-winning direction than that concocted by Justin Hurwitz this year, it’ll be some soundtrack to dethrone La La Land‘s ability to worm its way into your head and stay there for days on end. From the bright and breezy opening number of Another Day of Sun – a fine musical number that sets out the scene for the two protagonists with their backstories – to the duet’s performance of City of Stars, La La Land‘s musical score is as good as they come.

lalaland2Director Damien Chazelle has assembled an all-star cast, sensational musical score and jaw-dropping backdrop to a deserved Oscar-winning contender of a film. Yet, without its humanistic values on display across its 128-minute runtime, La La Land could be viewed by many as just another musical comedy for those of a certain disposition to enjoy.

As it is, the fundamentals that make La La Land such a triumph is its ability to resonate with even the hardest of hearts, and what it means to be a person striving to become their best self.

If that’s not something to reflect on and to be inspired by, especially with the way the world is at the present time, it’s hard to say what is.