Modnation Racers Road Trip Review

No need for racing puns here, ModNation is just crap!



Of all of Sonys exclusives the Modnation series is pretty high up on the” who gives a shit” list. That’s not to say the series is bad in any way, it’s just so unimaginative and plain in many regards that it’s difficult not to dislike it. The completely underwhelming response I received from my fellow gamers when I first showed off the PS3 version of the game speaks volumes. “Soulless” was one of many phrases tossed about to describe what I was showing. It's hard to disagree with that statement and Modnation Racer Road Trip does nothing to rectify the problems with this unpopular franchise.

Thankfully the PS3 version redeemed itself in some ways with a fantastic track editor which even my peers, whom turned their noses up at the games campaign, became enthralled with. Top it all off with the ability to go head to head with friends online and offline and the game wasn’t half bad.

Unfortunately (and inexplicably) the Playstation Vita “ModMation Racers Road trip” is some what a disaster of a game. Not only is the creation system broken in many ways, the developers have seen fit to excluded online multiplayer altogether. When you consider both the PS3 and PSP versions supported online multiplayer the lack of it here is inexcusable.

The track creator works fine if your looking to create very basic (and I mean VERY basic) tracks. Tracing the layout along the touch screen works well and the “drive to create track” returns too making the whole process fun and simple. Auto populating the track with objects is the best way to get the track filled with weapon pickups, traps and boost pads. Placing them accurately yourself demands use of touch controls and is, to put bluntly, totally broken.

No word of a lie, tapping to place a jump ramp had the game at one point placing it somewhere metres off the track despite me having zoomed the camera right into the exact spot I wanted the ramp to be. Attempting to rotate this ramp once finally positioned somewhere close to where I originally wanted it was just impossible. The ramp flew half way up the track, fell through the terrain, hell it did everything but rotate a few degrees left which was all i wanted. There is no reason why the original creation tools and controles arn't in this game. It is incompotance on the part of the developer, no question about it.

Now if none of the above has put you off you may be happy to know the actual gameplay isn’t too bad. Yes the steering is ultra sensitive, but if you have played ModNation on PS3 you’re used to this. Furthermore the game, for the most part, runs smoothly. There is slowdown on occasion, particularly when the screen is cluttered with karts, but its never game breaking.

New weapons have been introduced as well as favourites from the previous games kept. Weapon pickups are few and far between on the track, a change made presumably in response to the criticism of the PS3 version that races were too chaotic. It’s nice to not be constantly hit with rockets the moment first place is claimed however find yourself in last and be prepared to use boost to catch up not weapons as the AI are very good at collecting them before you can.

The main focus of the single player is a career mode consisting of five sets of five races plus a bonus stage. Difficulty ramps up pretty quick but thankfully any race can be restarted, you don’t have to restart the entire set of races if you screw up. Doing well enough in the tournament will unlock the next set (all of which will be new tracks). I think this is mode most players will choose to play. It can be beaten in an afternoon though there are challenges to complete on each track such as earn a certain amount of draft points or take out a certain number of opponents. 

The game looks good on occasion and rather plain on another.  It looks a lot more washed out than the PS3 version and the track design isn't as good. There are no memorable characters in the game and the story element seen in previous game is nowhere to be seen. The menus require touch controls to swipe through which is bad enough but when you consider that there is no way to go directly to the mode you want without swiping through all the ones you don’t the problem is made worse. Add to this a small pause to load each new mode menu and you have an infuriatingly incompetent system here. On top off all this the loading screed are long... really long which, when you consider the game is cartridge based, is inexcusable.

Final comments

San Diego Studio has utterly failed at bringing a decent kart racer to the VITA which may explain why the series is (I assume) being dropped in favour of the recently leaked “LittleBigPlanet Karting”. The £35 price tag may be an insult but the same thing can be said for so are many of the VITAs launch titles. It’s hard to have any positive comments to sign off on when it’s easier to recommend the PSPs version of this franchise over the VITAs.

4/10
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Daily News Flash: 02/10

Further apologies for another lack of content yesterday - more prior social engagements and looming work deadlines.

1. Assassin's Creed III Rumoured for November 2012

A Spanish site posted alleged details of the next instalment in the series. The article was quickly removed but one fleet-fingered user snapped the text before it disappeared.Read it all here.

VGChartz publish 2011 year-on-year sales figures update

As I wrote earlier sales figures are not the definitive measure of success - they are an indicator but not the be-all and end-all. This year's overall figures can be found here.

3. Examiner publish 3 minute MW3 Survival Mode Video

MW3 fans will be pleased to see some more details emerging about MW3's survival mode - as can be seen in this 3 minute video.

4. Uncharted 3 to use PSN Pass

Following the recent trend, Uncharted 3 will utilise PSN Pass meaning that if you buy the game pre-owned you'll need to buy a code for $10 to take it online. Full story here.

5. Video surfaces of the new Dashboard

It might be in French and with reggae but it is still video of the new Dashboard, rumoured to release on November 15th.
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The Interpretation of Hardware Sales Figures

It has long been a truth that you can make a statistic say whatever you want, and nowhere does this happen more than with console and games sales figures.

For some the sales figures are the be-all and end-all of things when it comes to judging the success of a platform and for others they are more of a guide. An intelligent eye can look at the numbers and apply reasoning to them to make reasoned deductions as to the implications these figures give us. More often than not though, this intelligent eye is kept firmly closed and figures are quoted and misused. Fair enough the solid numbers might say one thing, but if you actually think about them they say something different.

The most prominent time the numbers are used is in the eternal battle of Xbox 360 vs. PS3. As of publishing the sales figures are as below:

Xbox 360 has sold 56.2M and PS3 has sold 53.1M

Ok so at face value one could say that the 360 is the more popular console. However let's apply some thought:

The 360 had an initial failure rate of 16.4%, (around 1 in six) from 2005 onwards until "[a] study...found the Xbox 360 to have the highest rate of failure by far, largely due to the Red Ring of Death. While our data indicates that RROD continued to persist as a major problem through 2008, it showed signs of finally abating with the introduction of the latest “Jasper” chipset in late 2008.". In late 2008 the 360 had sold ~29M so if 16.4% of these failed then 4,756,000 people will have bought second consoles - thus giving a skew to the sales figures as they no longer represent the number of unique sales, but now include the number of repeated sales to the same buyers.

Assuming that after this there is a failure rate of ~4% - mid way in the consumer electronics industry's typical failure rate of 3% to 5%, then of the remaining 31,956,000 sold to date another 1,278,240 will have failed. If we then add the two amounts of failed consoles together and deduct from the total sales of 56.2M we end up with a total unique sales of 50,165,760..

For fairness sake the same measures must be applied to the PS3. Within the first 2 years of launch the PS3 had a failure rate of 10%, meaning of the 13M sold within these two years 1.3M are not unique, and for the rest of the time the 4% rate deducts another 1,604,000. This gives the unique sales of the PS3 50,196,000.

So overall, assuming the most optimistic averages and an average standard failure rate the PS3 would appear to have sold 30240 more units.

We can also take the total sales and find a yearly sales average. The 360 launched in November 2005, and has now been out for 5.92 years giving it a yearly average sales of 9,493,243.24. The PS3 in 4.92 years has a yearly average of 10.792,682.93 - so on a yearly average the PS3 has sold better. Of course in pure economic terms the 360 is doing better, having bought in more hardware revenue in that time and also generating steady extra revenue from Live subscriptions.

Of course we shouldn't be forgetting the veritable behemoth that is the Wii which has sold 88.19M - dwarfing the competition and easily holding the highest unique sales when the corrections are applied for failures.

This article is in no way an argument that the PS3 is inherently better than the 360 - I think anyone who simply writes of a console; or indeed any experience in their life as something that has no benefit is a fool. Both systems do their job brilliantly and both have some fantastic software to their name.The most important thing to remember though is that sales figures alone are not a judge of success, you also have to contribute in software diversity, software revenue, subscription revenue, additional hardware revenue, user satisfaction and many other factors which are more qualitative than quantitative and can't be expressed by numbers.

And lest we forget, all systems have their benefits and at the end of the day a 'best' platform will be a personal preference as different consoles cater to different needs. Sales figures might be a useful indicator but they shouldn't be the only thing taken into consideration.

Sources:
http://www.squaretrade.com/htm/pdf/SquareTrade_Xbox360_PS3_Wii_Reliability_0809.pdf
www.vgsales.wikia.com
www.vgchartz.com
www.wikipedia.com
www.npd.com
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Daily News Flash 30/09

Apologies for a lack of content yesterday - had a prior social engagement which was very important.

On with the norm today though!

1. Nielsen publishes figures on most wanted games

Polling and statistics company Nielsen have published their figures on which games gamers want most this holiday season. No surprises that MW3 is top, most surprising is that BF3 is seventh. Full story here.

2. Taking COD too seriously

A 46 year old man appeared in court today after throttling his 13 year old son who kept killing him on COD. The Daily Mail has the full story.

3. EA say Battlefield 3 is better on PS3 than on Xbox 360

"Now that we've seen both console version in action, the truth about quality has become more evident. Aside from a more publicized media release for the PS3's Battlefield 3, the final verdict on which console is going to have the best graphics and gameplay came from EA's CEO, John Riccitiello". Full story at www.thegameheadz.com

4. Eat A Sub - get Uncharted 3 stuff!

If you get a sub from Subway you will get more than a tasty treat, you also get a code which you can redeem for Uncharted 3 items. If you live in the USA you'll also get the chance of a multiplayer beta slot. Details are here.

5. Portal 2 DLC confirmed for October 4th

The first bit of Portal 2 DLC lands on all platforms next week and provides a full new experience called 'Peer Review' and is designed for co-op. Read the full list at Kotaku.
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Driver: San Francisco Review

Considering we are five years into the current generation the release of a Driver game at this stage has come as a bit of a surprise. The series has always been around but has sat in the background as GTAs happy-go-lucky cousin – not one to hog the attention but alright when you get to know it. What is a bigger surprise though is that it’s actually a good game. It’s worth noting that my knowledge of the series coming into this game is limited to Driver Advance on the GBA so don’t expect any comparisons to the PS2 iterations in this review.

The premise for the game will be familiar to any fan of the BBC Cop Drama series Ashes to Ashes as it takes place within a coma dream. The coma in question is that of the protagonist of previous games – John Tanner. Six months after the events of Driv3r it is revealed that you survived the shootout in Istanbul, along with villain Charles Jericho, and since then the both of you have recovered and Jericho has fled to San Francisco.

It is there that Jericho is being transported in a prison van, followed by Tanner and his partner Tobias Jones, when he manages to overpower his guard and hijack the prison transport, using it to crash into Tanner’s car in an alleyway resulting in the huge crash which places Tanner in a coma. It is a very interesting basis for a game and allows for the development of an intricate plot with some really great missions, although it does come off like a bit of a B-Movie at times.

Within the coma-dream is a full recreation of San Francisco in which Tanner comes across the revelation that the can suddenly jump into the body of any other person. This all happens in a Quantum Leap style way where he keeps his personality but assumes the outside look of the person into which he has shifted. Following the Quantum Leap style he must also help enrich the lives of those into which he has ‘shifted’.

Also in the dream is a version of Jericho and it is he who you must pursue, discovering clues to his plan as you go. Of course this is all a dream, but the events within it are eventually realised to be formulated of news reports on television in your real world hospital room, allowing you to discover a real world plot from within the dream. As you would expect from a game called ‘Driver’, driving is a fundamental concept and you regularly have to shift from vehicle. Most missions are designed in such a way as you have to shift into unsuspecting drivers bodies and ram their car into perusing cops, rival racers or gang members.

Whilst each mode is fun they are all somewhat similar - despite the objectives being different you are mostly just shifting into other drivers cars and crashing them into your opponents which does lead to an Assassin’s Creed 1 feeling of repetition. For this reason Driver: SF feels much more like a pick up and play game, one that you could play for an hour in between other tasks. Don’t get me wrong – it is a hugely fun game, but it is one of those good things that come in small packages.

The city itself is a fantastic example of how a sandbox city can be made. Streets are busy and sidewalks are littered with pedestrians; all of whom are remarkably good at leaping out the way of my terrible driving. Talking of driving, it feels great but is far from realistic and is incomparable to anything that provides a simulation driving experience. Again this fun but simple driving gives the game a very movie-like feel and this really does benefit.

One small downside is that there are not many licensed cars which is a shame, though you spend such a short amount of time in cars which don’t belong to you that this isn’t a huge issue. Crashes are satisfying and damage looks decent, oddly though they have no effect on vehicle control – the only adverse effect being that you wreck after too much damage.

There are a number of cutscenes and these constantly shift from pre-rendered to in-game and whilst there is a huge difference between the two the in-game graphics are by no means bad. Pre-rendered character models are stunning and facial animations are great, likely an attempt at a response to similar cop game LA Noire. In-game character models are a bit stiffer and facial expressions are more bland, however it doesn’t detract from the who experience overly.

One of the real high points is the quality of the game sounds. Voice acting is particularly good and the casting is very appropriate. When you shift into people’s cars you hear sections of their conversation and a lot of these are genuinely funny, there are also loads of them so you never tend to hear the same conversation twice. Crash sounds are also very well done.

Final Thoughts

On the whole then Driver: San Francisco is an excellent game in which you get to use a really unique gameplay feature which never comes off feeling like a gimmick as so many of these types of feature do. There is enough content in the campaign to keep you occupied for about 8 hours if you are going for the core of the game, probably about double that if you want to explore all the alleyways and side areas.

Everything looks fantastic and it is a really good example of how to make a sandbox environment not feel overly huge, but still give the player enough space to get lost in. The city really feels alive with plenty of people walking the streets and driving around.

Driving is an integral part of the game. The physics behind it aren’t nearly as advanced as those in other games but they are satisfyingly fun and really fit with the game’s ethic of being intricate underneath but with a neat and non-complex surface.

Driver: San Francisco is a great game to fill in time spent between other games and can best be enjoyed in short bursts. It provides you with a refreshing change from the other similar games in the genre and despite being an old name in the world of gaming is a very new and enjoyable experience.

Buy: Driver San Francisco (PS3)
Buy: Driver San Francisco (Xbox 360)
Buy: Driver San Francisco (PC DVD)
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Daily News Flash - 28/09

As per usual here is the best bits of news from the last 24 hours.

1. Ubisoft provides more details on Assassin's Creed: Revelations

Ubisoft today provided IGN with some exclusive new details about Ezio and his weapons. Their article has all the information.

2. Naughty Dog – “You Got To Be Quite Mad To Develop Something Like Uncharted 3″

In an interview with Eurogamer Naughty Dog co-lead designer Richard Lemarchand talks about how Naughty Dog can manage to keep on top of producing such a tricky title.

3. New gameplay video of Battlefield 3

Video posted today on this German site shows 12 minutes of action on the Caspian Border map

4. Sony Teaser isn't for a revamped Home

Sony today gave this blog post, "This Thursday, September 29th, we will release the latest update to the PlayStation Home client. PlayStation Home version 1.55 delivers a brand new start-up experience, updates to the Wardrobe and Furniture browser, and general enhancements that will result in improved stability and smoother operation. Here’s a look at what’s coming as part of PlayStation Home 1.55:" meaning that the teaser with a date of 10:5:11 isn't for Home. Speculation is still rife.

5. GT5 to get an update and DLC

Series mastermind Kaz Yamauchi tweeted today "GT fans, thanks for waiting… The GT5 Spec 2.0 update is coming the 3rd week of October, with DLC following a week later.". There are no clues yet what the update will be but considering Forza 4 also launches in October maybe expect some changes.
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Is an HDTV vital?

In the past I have written about the progression of gaming generations and how there has to be a ‘leap’ to justify bringing in new technology. This generation provided HD visuals on a console for the first time and it has been because of this that most households that own a console from this generation will also own an HDTV (with the exception of the SD Wii).

For the last three months I have been living back at the family house and due to logistics difficulties I was forced to leave my lovely 40” Bravia back at my university house – forcing me to do all my gaming on a bulky 26” SDTV that is as deep as it is wide. This has given me no end of problems. I honestly believe that at this point in the generation you lose so much from playing in SD that the actual enjoyment of the games is impacted.

MW2 is ten times harder. Normally I rely on picking out enemies from a distance and holding a certain area along with two friends, this just doesn’t work in SD – small details are so blurred and the lack of edge definition makes picking out enemies in a camouflaged environment irritatingly tricky. Trying to pick out a white enemy on Sub Base or a brown enemy on Invasion is just impossible unless they are close enough to remove most of your face with their shotgun.

Hard enough to see in HD - Imagine spotting this chap from far away in SD

The same goes for other games – I tested a few today and found that with most games released in the last year things become a whole lot harder when you lose a big chunk of your resolution. Notably Assassins Creed 2 became exceptionally hard when it came to following markers or spotting Glyphs and feathers.

Permit me here to take a rare venture outside of gaming.

Despite several attempts I have been unable to get my parents and a friend to recognise the difference between HD and SD. Even when I placed my Dad in front of a display in PC World with an SDTV hooked up to the same feed as an HDTV he couldn’t really tell them apart – his main response being, “ok well it is maybe a bit better, but nowhere near as good as I had expected”. I just can’t work this out – does anyone else find this?

The aforementioned friend just refuses to accept the need for HD, he just doesn’t think it makes a difference – and this is a guy who regularly plays Fallout:NV, Gears and other more recent games. He has also regularly seen; and participated in, games being played in HD – so it isn’t that he doesn’t know the benefits, he just doesn’t want them!

Somewhat indistinct in HD - so much more is lost going back to SD

It isn’t even as if cost is a major issue nowadays. You don’t need the newest biggest screen to play on as anything produced in the last three years and ideally with full HD will do just fine. You can pick these up really cheaply, (by relative terms – if you have bought a console and games then you’ve obviously already spent a fair bit) from catalogue stores and by asking for older stock at a mainstream store; not to mention online where you can pick up older TVs at bargain prices.

All of this I find rather baffling. I know I am in the same boat as a great many others who I have discussed this with, we all feel that you really do need HD in order to play a game properly, or even at all – new games with text prompts are hardly readable in SD.

So what do you all think? Have modern gamers just been spoilt with big flashy screens and high resolutions and are now just throwing a hissy fit when that is unavailable, or has it got to the point now where an HD screen is just as much a necessity as a power supply?
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Do You Enjoy a Challenge?

There is a particular feeling that comes with completing a challenge - it is that warmth you get after a gym session, that burst of energy when you see the finish line of a run, the feeling of satisfaction accompanied by the 'ping' of a Trophy being awarded. The human brain rewards you for accomplishment, makes you feel good so you go back and do it again - but how much are you willing to take?

I won my first platinum trophy last week on Modern Warfare 2 (yes it has taken me a while!). It was a happy moment especially considering I was about 95% of the way to a platinum of Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time when my last PS3 died leaving all my save data locked away inside the machine-formatted drive. However there was some serious pain associated with getting that trophy, sometimes it was an easy ride but other parts were downright frustrating and had me quitting in annoyance. The hidden effect of it though is now have no desire to have anything more to do with the single player section of that game, that veteran playthrough killed the enjoyment factor. I really do think I spent more time hiding behind cars waiting for my health to recover than I spent taking down the bad guys.

I never, ever want to see this level again

This isn't the case for all games though - more than once I have put myself through a 100% run of Crash Bandicoot 1. Anyone who remembers the game will recall a hellish level called 'Slippery Climb' which was without a doubt the most excruciatingly painful bit of platforming work I have ever done, and it had to be all done in one life! That level is now the reason my original Sixaxis has a drifting left stick - after colliding with a wall at a speed controllers are not supposed to attain. Yet I go back and play it every so often... for some reason there I am willing to sit through torture again and again.

I have a friend who is the same, he dedicated hours to platinuming both Uncharted games, which involves a playthrough on 'Crushing' difficulty. I tried it once. I was destroyed. How he managed to complete an entire run of the game at that difficulty is beyond me but he assured me that it was totally worth it in the end, even if it did cause him some serious anger!

Is there a difference then in types of difficulty? Something can be hard, but it can surely be hard in different ways. With MW2 I honestly felt that at times the game had just gotten the better of me and that it was just waiting for me to find the correct formula. I knew I had the technical skill to handle a controller and battle my way through what I had to face but I attributed all of the frustration to the game just waiting for me to choose the correct path. On the flip side though I have never found fault with GT5 when doing the harder challenges, if I fail it is because I know I am not good enough and the blame for my failure lies in my hands alone.

Soul-destroyingly hard but totally worth it!

Obviously a gold trophy is going to have a serious challenge attached to it and this is in no way a complaint about the difficulty of games. If the challenge was easier everyone would have level 30 PSN scorecards littered with golds and platinums - the trickiness to attain is what gives them their worth.

The question then is whether games are hard for hardness' sake - forcing the player to relentlessly fling themselves at the problem until they stumble upon the solution, or hard to encourage the player to improve and work at their goal until they resolve the problem by developing their skills.

I can imagine that this is something that is very hard to adjust and control during development, but if you can get the balance right then your players will be happy to destroy themselves again and again to complete your challenge - rather than break their controllers!
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Daily News Flash - 27/09

A pretty quiet day in the world of gaming today - here are the daily top 5!

1. Uncharted 3 AI gets a makeover

In a further effort to up the realism of Uncharted 3 the developers have gone back to basics and entirely rewritten the enemy AI to give it much more choice in how to operate. Naughty Dog co-lead designer Richard Lemarchand had this to say:

"Yes, the enemy AIs have a set of rules that they wish to operate by. They have a hierarchical sets of goals – they'll analyse the terrain and make different choices each time about how to approach the player character. It took a lot of work, we had to disassemble the whole AI system – before, it was much more scripted, we'd tell the enemies explicitly, go over here, flank the player… now they have a choice."

2. Get Battlefield 3 for £17.99...if you buy underwear

Yep you read that right, if you buy a DKNY boxer pack for £17.99 from Zavvi you can buy Battlefield 3 for a mere £17.99. Think of it another way - buy Battlefield 3 and get free boxers! Buy it here.

3. Research shows that hardcore gamers are also social gamers

Research undertaken on figures collected by research group Raptr show that 30% of Xbox 360 players also play a Zynga social games such as Mafia Wars or FarmVille. This figure is up from 20% last year.

4. IGN provide some insights into yesterday's confusing teaser

This video on IGN takes a critical look at the confusing Sony video yesterday and find that it reveals a whole lot more than it lets on.

5. Siliconera provide the first details about Dead Space 3

Fans of the sci-fi horror franchise will be pleased by these details - providing the first glimpses of the next entry in the series.
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Is New Always Better?

These last few days whilst I'm waiting for my next LoveFilm delivery of games I have been leafing through my old PS1 collection. I've sunk some quite serious time into a playthrough of the original Spyro The Dragon, spent a fun afternoon on Final Fantasy IX and raced for many hours against my sister on Crash Team Racing. Then whilst having a few beers at a friend's house we got onto the subject of all the old games we used to play. We ended up raiding his attic for half an hour just to get hold of his old copy of Tony Hawks 2 which we then proceeded to play for the next 6 hours.

Why is it that we are drawn back to these old games when there are so many around now that from a technical standpoint are more advanced in pretty much every way? Compared the the software of my childhood the new games look better, sound better, are much less linear and are able to be customised much more to the player's tastes, but tonight I would still rather sit down and play Metal Gear Solid 1 rather than Metal Gear Solid 4.

Outside the realm of personal nostalgia though, are all games created equal?

If you gave someone who had never played a game before a copy of Tomb Raider 2 and a copy of Uncharted 2 it is pretty obvious which one they would pick as the better game, but you have to remember that both games generated the same level of furore in the community around their releases, and that for its time Tomb Raider 2 pushed the envelope just as much as Uncharted 2.

In this way review scores are probably the best judge of quality as they are judged within a frame of reference relative to the quality of the industry around the time of their release. The graphics that scored 8/10 five years ago will obviously be worse than an 8/10 today but they both represent the same technical achievement.

This judging of games by relative quality is, I feel, possibly the best objective viewpoint to take. If you consider how good a game is based around the technical achievement it represents then you really can compare Pong on the Atari 2600 to Crysis - sure the two are miles apart but they both show the absolute pinnacle in development quality at the time.

Of course this argument falls down a little when you consider entertainment value - which varies by audience. As a general rule the first game experience you have is the baseline for the quality you will accept, someone who started gaming in this generation would not see the quality in a game from a decade ago - to them it is archaic and they could quite easily go and play something which by all accounts would be a better game.

I guess this falls into the same school of thought as things like classic cars. A 1963 2-seat Jaguar E-Type doesn't have the power of a modern supercar but it has an inherent beauty and charm to it, one that gives it an illustrious lure.

Even though the games industry is relentlessly pushing forward it is important to look back occasionally and realise that the software we leave behind are just as much a part of the tapestry of gaming as the blockbusters of today.
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