Thursday, 28 July 2011

Daikatana (N64) Review

Just about everyone and anyone will have heard of the recent release of Duke Nukem Forever. About how it spent over a decade being developed and upon finally being released many years later the entire thing is a steaming pile of bad humour and disappointment.
What is surprising was the lack of mention of another similarly underwhelming game known as Daikatana released towards the end of the beginning of the 2000s after a very long development period. Its release was repeatedly halted as new engines were invented, repeated attempts were made to implement new technology into the game as it was released and the attempts to inventively create squad based combat. The end result was far, far worse than Duke Nukem Forever on every conceivable level.
The graphics were ugly, the AI was horrific and the voice acting sounded like it had been done in a shed. Worst of all the hyped and promoted addition of your companions joining you in the game led to them dying endlessly as a result of bad programming. In a rush to try and make profit out of an underselling game, the producers Ion Storm attempted to release versions for the Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Colour.

So, let’s see if the N64 port lives up to the shameful reputation of the original release.

Background and Story:
The background story is probably the best part of the game and contains some ideas which are astoundingly cheesy but were interesting enough to keep my attention when I first got it. Mind you I was aged ten back then.

You play as Hiro Miyamoto, a martial artist practicing in his dojo when he is interrupted by an old man named Ebihara. The old man then begins to dump the entire backstory to the game upon Hiro, explaining about how history is not right. He details about how Hiro’s legendary swordmaster ancestor during Japan’s feudal era created an exceptionally powerful weapon known as the daikatana at the command of the Shogun Mishima. Mishima intended to use the weapon to wipe out the force still opposing his tyrannical rule: The Ebihara clan.
Upon realising that the overlord who ruled the lands with an iron fist was in fact evil, something hard to miss, he gave the weapon instead to the Ebihara clan. The Ebiharas used the sword to beat Mishima, Hiro’s ancestor took the mystic sword back and then threw it into a volcano to prevent it being used by mere mortals. Evil men dead, doomsday sword gone and good people now ruled the land. All was right.
That is until a direct descendant of the Ebihara clan funded an expedition to get the daikatana back. Apparently the sword was so powerful it could allow its user to time travel and alter the flow of fate. One of the Mishima’s direct descendents, Kage, stole the sword and then used it to put himself as ruler of a Blade Runner-esq world. He keeps the populace in check via the use of a vaccine to a deadly virus, something else he apparently stole from the Ebihara bloodline.
The old man then reveals that Kage Mishima also has his daughter Mikiko who was trying to infiltrate his fortress and had been taught how to use the weapon by him somehow. The old man asks Hiro to get back his daughter, steal back the daikatana and set time back on its correct course.

Hiro, not believing a word of the tale told by a diseased old street bum, tries to brush him off. They are then attacked by ninjas employed by Mishima. In a slow and badly made cut scene Hiro defeats them all but not before they mortally wound Ebihara. With his dying words the old man tells Hiro that the “Death Collectors” will be along soon and to infiltrate the fortress inside his coffin.
After this ten minute long info-dump you at long last start playing. And no, I stand by what I said. This cliché ridden plot hole filled backstory involving time travel is probably the best part of the game. Be afraid.

After getting the titular weapon the protagonists are thrown back in time by Mishima to try and get rid of them and sparks the game’s true time travelling sections. On a side note, I did like the reason given for certain enemies in the game turning up. Greece contains large numbers of legendary beasts which attack the player throughout the game, Norway features powerful wizards and zombies, and Alcatraz featured a cybernetic hybrid between a monkey and a tank.
The reason for these? Mishima has screwed with time to the point where aberrations which could not have previously existed have begun to appear in the timeline. A fun idea if nothing else.

Unfortunately the characters which make up the game are as clichéd as the story. All they needed was Rob Liefeld to draw them and they’d look like they’d come from Image Comics during the 90s. Hiro Miyamoto is never given enough personality, he’s a generic growly voiced action hero wearing futuristic armour and carrying big guns. Mikiko is only seen as the token female character and rarely speaks save for exposition. Former security chief Superfly Johnson, AKA “officer Blaxploitation” is a veritable storm of clichés and hilariously bad dialogue.

And after a five minute google search I found this. Called it.

The only interesting character is Kage Mishima who is seen flying about causing endless problems for you during the game and might as well be called Doctor Doom. You see more depth in Saturday morning villains from cartoons. In spite of this there are some amusing bits dropped during each time period relating to his plans, especially in the last chapter which gives a good hint as to how he gained power.
Ultimately he comes across as some insane fusion of Adam Sutler and the Master if he was carrying the Sword of Greyskull.

Graphics and Design:
Behold the crispest graphics you will see in the game. A still image seen during the opening. It's all downhill from here people.

Even for the N64 era, the graphics of this game are horrible. All of the characters are blocky, jerkily moving CGI abominations who would have been laughed off of the set of Birdemic. Each cut scene has them slowly staggering about like they’re drunk and bobbing their heads to try and make it look like they’re talking. Goldeneye and Metal Gear Solid both had similar graphical shortcomings but found ways to overcome their problems.
Goldeneye also had somewhat slow movements and awkwardly implemented subtitles but they flowed much better and did not seem so sporadic. In addition to this they were used quite sparingly and were not a constant part of the games levels.
Metal Gear Solid worked mostly through having much faster character movements and actually having voice acting. Proper voice acting, not the amateurish attempts on the PC version. The much better camera work also probably helped.

What doesn’t help is the attempts to hide some utterly shoddy work and problems with the N64 port. Everything is blurred to hide low resolution textures and there is the constant presence of fog through out the larger levels to hide draw distance. It was something bad enough to be irritating in a good game like Rogue Squadron, so with Daikatana it’s another nail in the coffin. Combined with the poor animations and blurring the entire world feels very slow and at times almost completely static. Not something you want in an FPS.

If the graphical limitations weren’t bad enough then you have the level designs themselves to worry about. They are uninspired at the best of times and at the worst utterly confusing. The one of the Greece levels will have you running about for hours and constantly missing things while others are so linear that they feel more like shooting galleries than levels. There are a few good ones dotted between the bad but each level feels wildly different from the last giving the game a very disjointed feeling.

As for the themes of the environments themselves? I actually liked them. The first chapter is a cyberpunk dystopia crossed with an industrial cityscape which leads you through Mishima’s fortress. Almost everything looks very functional and exceptionally ugly, adding to the idea that there is something very wrong with the world. Well, there’s something very wrong with the whole game but you get the idea.
Later levels like ancient Greece and Norway’s Dark Ages similarly have very good atmospheres, being surrounded by ruins and dingy abandoned buildings. Even the final level, Alcatraz prison stands out from the opening far future setting by only being slightly more futuristic than modern day, and by implementing concrete environments rather than tarnished metal. Even the character outfits at least look interesting, with the protagonists’ wearing futuristic armour and folded plates which help them to stand out in the later sections. The rest of the game’s cast are a mixed bunch, some look good, some are horribly generic. Unfortunately these good elements are always in the background and don’t go far enough to balance out the bad aspects of the game.

Guess what, there's more than a dozen weapons in the N64 game but the one it's named after is totally unusable. This screenshot? Taken from the PC version.

The N64 game does have one major advantage over its PC version: It ditched the game’s main selling point.

Seriously, after all the hype and focus the game made upon its side characters being a major part of the gameplay this port decided to ignore them. And thank heaven that it did, as the PC version had them endlessly die and turned the entire game into a glorified escort mission. With them gone you’re free to sprint through the game blasting things left and right with a wide assortment of weapons. Save for the extremely slow movement speed.

The game’s arsenal is inventive if nothing else. Most of the weapons you get are a far cry from the usual pistol, rifle, grenades and big superlaser thingamajig. Out of the guns which are looted during the starting chapter alone you get an ion blaster which ricochets off walls, a hand held twin barrel sidewinder missile launcher, and an unholy hybrid between a double barrel auto shotgun and an assault cannon.
You don't pick up any remotely normal weapons until the final chapter and by then you’ll be carrying many dozens of weird and wonderful things. Most notably Neptune’s magic trident and staffs from various wizards you’ve slain. The truly great thing is that you keep all your guns when you go from each chapter to another and jump eras. Meaning that you can end up shooting medieval plague zombies in the face with energy weapons and missiles.

While this is undoubtedly awesome the weapons don’t feel different enough from one another to warrant the number of weapons the game has. Besides for sound effects and general looks, guns like the ion blaster and trident feel almost exactly the same. They do about the same damage and the effects for shooting something with a futuristic C4 launcher and a living poisonous staff are exactly the same. Which brings me onto my next point: the games enemies.

They feel like they’re cookie cutter variations of any enemy you would see in any game and each has only one death scream and one death animation. This removes almost any feeling of variety within the guns and makes gameplay quickly become quite repetitive and almost boringly easy. For example the guards on the first chapter will slowly run towards you, shoot pea shooters and then die to glancing hits. Rather than dreading the ten foot tall assault dreadnoughts with drill arms and battle cannons, you’ll find yourself going out of the way looking for them. Usually to the point where you’ll rush past most things trying to seek out something to give you any challenge.

The boss battles can often be the same. They’re usually either an utter joke or so impossibly hard that you’ll end up stumped for hours on them. The latter happens during the Norway chapter when you end up trying to take down some guy lurking in a chamber throwing lightning everywhere. He’s one of three wizards the group is tasked with killing due to their evil actions. Every single time you enter his chamber, the wizard will magnetically grab Hiro, plaster him against a wall and fire lightning bolts up his backside until he dies. The game doesn’t have so much a difficulty curve as a difficulty cliff face, with Daikatana leaping from insultingly easy to insultingly hard from enemy to enemy. This problem causes another good idea tried within the battle to suddenly fail: the stats system.

Hiro has multiple stats which can be upgraded and improved as the game goes by or briefly boosted. It was a good idea and an original one for consoles of the time but simply does not work within the game. For starters, against the more powerful bosses any stats improvements you have will be almost utterly pointless. Giving you next to no edge almost to the point where you need not have even bothered improving them to begin with.
In addition to this most of the time you will only want upgrades to three of your stats: power, vitality and speed. Making you kill things a bit faster, survive more damage and to stop the game feeling like Hiro’s using a Zimmer frame. The rest will never become useful at any point either due to bad gameplay implementation or sheer pointlessness, notably acro. As it increases your jumping height and distance but not once in the entire game will you ever need to jump higher or further than you can at the beginning.

Good news is that while the N64 port does fall short of the PC version in graphics, many of the gameplay bugs which plagued the original version are non existent in the N64 version. There are no times in which the game will freeze, no times in which your guns will suddenly turn invisible and no times when you will suddenly no clip through doors. That being said there are other bugs, but they’re not quite so intrusive as the previous examples.


So, is Daikatana bad? If the two thousand word rant didn’t tell you then yes, it’s not very good. But is it deserving of its reputation as one of the worst video games ever made? In all honesty not really.
Okay it has plenty of problems, anyone can see that. But there are much worse video games out there like Superman 64 or the latest Call of Juarez and unlike those this one is actually playable. The weapons are inventive, the atmosphere and style of things is well done for its time and the ludicrous plot felt like you were in a fun sci fi B movie.

What really helped the game was a surprisingly awesome soundtrack which is used to give characterise each setting. For example Greece sounds grand, heroic and uses piping horns which invokes the idea of an epic tale of old. By comparison Norway sounds dark, depressing and mournful reflecting upon the tragedies befalling the country during that era. It has nothing on great game soundtracks like Ocarina of Time or Heroes of Might and Magic but it was a cut above most game music of that generation.

At the end of the day Daikatana is painfully average at the best of times. Despite massive hype for its release, huge amounts of advertising and years of announcing people would be made bitches it felt like a generic shooter which should have been done after a year of development.
It’s not great but it’s not as horrible as people are led to believe. Just to confirm for those of you who are already typing angry comments though: yes, the PC version still sucks arse and is utterly unplayable. Seriously, you'd have more fun trying to play Big Rigs than you would that piece of junk.


Daikatana and all related characters and media are owned by Ion Storm and John Romero.
The Daikatana promotional comic was created by Image Comics.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Source Code (film review)

Source Code is certainly one of, if not the most, fascinating films of 2011 so far; mixing thriller, science fiction and drama. Combining it with a plot which places the protagonist in another reality attempting to complete a almost impossible task. Sound familiar? Well, yes. This is what Inception would be like if it had a considerably smaller budget and was more a detective flick than an action film.  There are also considerable differences in its characters and story aspects.
Colter, Jake Gyllenhaal, is on his own besides a Metal Gear Solid style support team, and has no idea what he’s doing throughout the first part of the film. Whereas Leonardo DiCaprio’s character had an entire team supporting him in Inception, a direct plan to follow and had very different motives.
The reason such a big point is being made about this is because upon leaving the cinema a lot of the audience were complaining about how “it has all been done before” and was a “poor man’s Inception.” The two really can’t be compared and if you spend the entire film trying to draw comparisons you’re going to ruin the whole experience of watching it.
So what’s the film about? Helicopter pilot Colter Stevens, awakens on a train heading for Chicago speaking to a stranger who apparently knows him and wearing another man’s face. The train then explodes and he awakens in an enclosed cell with a woman giving him orders over a radio. He’s confused, as is the audience, and much of the film is spent watching him get answers. Besides that I can’t reveal much more about the plot without ruining the whole experience.
Jake Gyllenhaal does a great job as the confused and partially terrified protagonist and his emotive performance gives the audience good reason to care about him. Duncan Jones sticks to his guns, directing the film in a similar manner to 2009’s Moon. Building the film solidly around a small cast, creating questions and generally making everyone confused as all hell until the end. The secondary cast, most notably Michelle Monaghan and Jeffry Wright, deliver solid performances but aren’t really given enough to work with. Also Quantum Leap fans should keep an eye out for the nod to that series.
The film only has two major flaws. The first being its villain, a disturbed man played by Michael Arden who is trying to hold onto his film career after appearing in the 2009 train wreck Bride Wars. While Arden tries his hardest with the role, the character is given one of the most laughably clichéd motivations possible.  In addition to this those I went to see the film with all agreed it went on for ten minutes longer than it needed to. The feel of the ending is very out of place from the rest of the film. These are minor gripes though, and they do not detract from the experience of watching Source Code.
The DVD release is on the 26th of this month in the United States and 26th of August in the UK. Buy it, you won't regret seeing it.
Source Code and all related characters and media are owned by Summit Entertainment.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Ultramarines Omnibus (book review)

Warhammer 40,000.

Few other franchises have existed for so long and have gone so unnoticed by the general public. To most it’s known as just a glorified toy company who ate up much of their income when their kids begged to start playing.
To many others it’s an increasingly overpriced hobby which has gone wrong in recent years thanks to mismanagement. With Games Workshop repeatedly infuriating and driving away their niche audience, making bad business decisions and is apparently in a prolonged state of suicide.
The fact they let one of the worst writers ever to have spat out ideas onto paper, Matt Ward, keep butchering armies and turning the game into a self-parody hardly helps. Though that is a review for another time.

This review is of one of the better bits of lore in the game and one of the best places to help enter the universe. This is a review of Graham McNeill’s Ultramarines omnibus.


This book is a combined tome of the first three novels in the long running Ultramarines series: Nightbringer, Warriors of Ultramar, Dead Sky Black Sun. The story covers the campaigns of the fourth company of Games Workshop’s flagship space marine chapter.
The space marines (whose proper name is the Adeptus Astartes) are crusading knights. Genetically enhanced super humans tasked with keeping humanity’s empire safe from ancient horrors, hostile aliens and the legions of hell. Yes, you read that correctly; this is a science fiction universe with aliens and demons daemons existing side by side. And astoundingly they fit together perfectly.

This covers the two initial campaigns under the command of a newly promoted captain Uriel Ventris. With the third dealing with the repercussions of the second campaign and tying into another of McNeill’s books: Storm of Iron. While not necessary I would strongly recommend hunting down this one before you begin the third novel of the omnibus, Dead Sky Black Sun. It gives great significance to the villain and the third novel was at least partially intended to serve as closure for the outcome of that book.
The fact it’s a classic of the franchise and has some fantastically gritty futuristic siege warfare is entirely coincidental.

The short story Chains of Command which records the death of captain Invictus, Ventris’ predecessor, is also in the omnibus. Inserted just before the first novel and just after the ever enjoyable introduction given by McNeill and where he shares his thoughts on the series.

Style and storytelling

The series is written from a third person perspective and covers a large number of characters in each installment. While it follows Ventris closely along with sergeants Pasanius and Learchus there are always a sizeable number of characters introduced from the local military units and populace.
This sounds like exactly the sort of thing every author does at first until you realise that the vast majority of the characters will at most meet one another fleetingly. It’s exceptionally rare that they even know one another’s name or faces.
They tend to be sharp contrasts of one another as much as they are the Space Marines.

Nightbringer has a supporting cast of politicians, civilians and arbites. The latter are hard bitten space cops who are not so much police as SAS commandos with a small fortress. They’re one chin away from patrolling Mega-City One.
Warriors of Ultramar expanded to more varied groups such as a criminal gang, a sister hospitallier (nurse), and a squadron of fighter pilots.
Dead Sky Black Sun was more supported by its colourful villains than protagonists. Saying any more would be spoiling the whole thing.

The first thing this does is it widens the range of perspectives in the story. If these tales were purely focused upon the Ultramarines themselves, super soldiers who quite literally know no fear, they would run the risk of becoming dull and repetitive. Adding normal humans caught in the middle of a hellish war gives the story a more personal impact.
The second is that it gives a real sense of scale behind the conflicts. With the characters so widely dispersed throughout the locations of each novel, they are almost always involved in a different part of the same war. This is done especially well during Warriors of Ultramar’s slow war of attrition as opposed to the lightning fast explosions of violence which make up the other two stories.

These are punctuated by occasional exposition which comment upon secondary aspects in the wars the Ultramarines are involved in. While these are few and far between they fit well with the wide scope of events. Not all of them are good, and at least one will have your jaw dropping at how cheap a cop out it is.


As a 40K novel, Nightbringer is relatively self contained. It lacks anything major which would require any further research to understand what is taking place.

The Ultramarines fourth company is called away from their home planet of Macragge to help defend Panovis and its neighboring worlds. Civil strife leads to riots in the streets and alien pirates known as the Dark Eldar frequently launch raids upon the local shipping lanes.
Yet not all is as it seems and the Ultramarines are soon in a race against time to stop a madman before he releases a creature which once wiped out almost all sentient life in the galaxy.

In many respects this is the epitome of Warhammer novels.

It features behind the scenes cloak and dagger conspiracies. Furious battles and violent back stabbings by the human characters. An unknown horror which will soon be unleashed upon the galaxy and will be the downfall of millions of worlds. Aliens picking off the humans and easily running rings around most Imperial warships. It’s ultimately the best small scale representation of the 41st millennium you could ask for short of having a full scale war and aspects of the Horus Heresy. Both of which thankfully appear in the next two novels.

Fans of Warhammer will already have guessed what the true threat is but this novel was written at a time when the C’Tan was not cemented into 40K’s lore. As such this was the first place in which the Nightbringer appeared.
For anyone who doesn’t know what it is, the concluding fight between Uriel and the ancient unknown horror ends up looking like this:

The sheer impact of this one fight is one more reason why I think the novel is so good at representing the 41st millennium to new people. Many Space Marines, Uriel included, will have to face such horrors dozens of times over in battle.
They are outgunned, have next to no way to achieve total victory, but always have to find a way to beat back each threat any way they can.

Often, even with their great strength, the all they can do is stave off humanity’s extinction for a little while longer. And ultimately, for better and worse, that is we see happen in Nightbringer’s conclusion.

The second novel of the series is mostly detached from the first. While it does carry over certain aspects of the first and mentions moments from the previous novel it is mostly a self contained story.
The key difference is that the villains in Nightbringer were a smaller threat. They consisted of alien torture frenzied space pirates and an ancient unknown horror which was being released. While very dangerous the enemies were mostly small in number and the conflict felt like a series of skirmishes.
Warriors of Ultramar abandons all that and throws its heroes into a full scale war.

The Ultramarines discover that a Tyranid hive fleet, a swarm of planet eating giant space locusts, is heading for a world. A heavily populated planet known as Tarsis Ultra which the protagonists have a oath to protect.

That’s it.

There’s no big conspiracy, no big special horror which makes this battle unique. It’s like hundreds being fought across the entire Imperium each day. But McNeill writes it exceptionally well and his storytelling style gives some real scale to what is taking place.

McNeill shows every stage of the fight against the Tyranids. From preparation for the conflict massive fleet battles to traps to multiple full scale ground battles between both sides. It’s a long, blood soaked and conflict which grinds down both sides and is shown through multiple eyes from the soldiers to people far away from the frontlines.
There’s also much more conflict amongst the heroes.
The Ultramarines fight along side Space Marines of another chapter, the Mortifactors, and the two have a barely restrained hatred of one another. Things are hardly helped with the Inquisition, humanity’s secret police, bombing the people the Ultramarines are sworn to defend in scorched earth tactics.

Compared to Nightbringer this requires a bit more additional reading to understand some aspects of the story. On the whole however it builds upon the previous novel. Expanding upon aspects of the universe well and helping the reader to comprehend on just how thin a knife-edge humanity stands. Giving further attention to the fact that even when the Imperium does win, the victories are horrifyingly pyrrhic.

This is the series’ first installment which isn’t self contained in any way.
As noted before this follows on from another book, Storm of Iron, and I again urge anyone to it first before starting on this novel. Several major spoilers are dropped one after another as almost the entirety of that book's plot is given away on the first pages. Many aspects of the plot cannot be described without ruining Storm of Iron’s conclusion.
The novel also followed directly on from the defeat of the Tyranids and contains a great many spoilers about the ending to that book as well. So only the bare basics of the plot can be told without simultaniously ruining two previous novels for everyone.

Uriel and Pasanius find themselves behind enemy lines. They are cut off from allies, on a suicidal mission and are in the worst place imaginable: the Eye of Terror. The place where the hell of the Warp bleeds through into reality. They are surrounded by traitor Space Marines of the Iron Warriors legion, on an infernal world infested with daemons and no hope of survival.

Dead Sky Black Sun is possibly the strongest novel of the omnibus but it’s also the most flawed. It does introduce Chaos Space Marines and daemons, an essential part of the setting. But does not go far enough to explain either. People new to the franchise will very quickly find themselves entirely lost. The piratical Dark Eldar and locust horde of the Tyranids are easy enough to follow, but Chaos is something vastly more complex. It would be best for newcommers to at least look up the articles on Chaos and the Eye of Terror on
Along with leaving people unfamiliar with the universe confused at the new enemy, McNeill’s storytelling style is also abandoned here. He no longer uses widely dispersed characters, and this is both a good and a bad thing. It’s bad because it doesn’t allow a contrast between the Space Marines and more human characters. It’s good because it allows for the villains of the story to be more fleshed out and the battle is on a much smaller scale. It’s a quest rather than a war, and due to the enemy the protagonists are facing this change thankfully doesn’t feel like a step down.

The presence of the traitors and renegades is used as a stark contrast against the protagonists, showing how far noble defenders of humanity can fall. And showing what they could become if they are allowed to be corrupted by Chaos. Something which could happen all too easily in the Eye of Terror.

Flaws and strengths

The main flaw of the series should be obvious to anyone whose heard the opinions of fans: Captain Uriel Ventris. Throughout the series he is shown to make bad decisions for the right reasons, work against traditional combat doctrines and is “too human”. That last one is especially true due to the grim dark nature of Warhammer and against many characters he comes off as being naïve.
There are good reasons for these aspects of his character. Based upon how the series develops, it’s clear Uriel was intended to grow with each experience. But an explanation would be better left for a character study.

The fact the Codex Astartes, essentially the Ultramarines’ version of Sun Tzu’s Art of War is treated as a hindrance to be ignored has also been received badly. A lot of Ultramarines fans saw this as McNeill presenting the chapter as being too entrenched in the past and using predictable tactics. This is something which will be commented upon more as the rest of the series is covered, but for the omnibus this was not a good way to introduce the Codex to new readers.

The sudden jump in required knowledge of Warhammer between Warriors of Ultramar and Dead Sky Black Sun was jarring. It’s off putting to new readers to the franchise and the fact it tied into another book which is not included in this omnibus did not help. Nor did the fact Storm of Iron was no longer available at the time of the omnibus’ release.

In addition to this the simplicity of the books means they don’t have too much to offer long time fans of the franchise. They’re well written, exciting and develop well but only a few entries in the series offer anything new. Meaning that it might be overshadowed by things like the Horus Heresy or Soul Drinkers saga.

The strengths are obvious: the use of characters to describe wars and how the first two novels ease new people into a continuity heavy franchise. McNeill’s quick details of fights fit perfectly with the fast pace of his battles. As do the small comments given to background characters which helps to give the walking corpses more substance. For example many of the characters in Dead Sky Black Sun were clearly not going to survive or given time to develop. But McNeill gave enough details to their physical presence and personality for their deaths to have meaning.


The Ultramarines omnibus is flawed but good at its core. It’s a worthwhile read which is perfect for new people and does sometimes include bits which experienced fans will enjoy. There are definitely better written series out there, but for overall this is a well rounded collection. Save for some long time Ultramarines fans there won’t be anyone spitting bile at McNeill for what he’s published here.

If you want a simple start to Warhammer, or just Black Library’s works, then this is one of the better options. Don’t expect to see anything truly groundbreaking at first, but give it a chance and it might surprise you.

The next three novels of the series will be covered during August in the run up to the release of the Space Marine video game in early September. Expect something special to be covered along with it:


Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop and Black Library.

Images taken from

The artwork for Nightbringer vs Uriel is owned by Morganagod, and has been used with the artist's permission.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam

This is a quick shout out to the ever awesome Danielle Ellison saying thanks for the commission she recently completed. An image of a Knight Templar before a priest.

I'd ask anyone reading this to take a look at her work here as she's currently looking to get as many commissions as possible. Costs can be found on her front page.



Thursday, 7 July 2011

Transformers - War For Cybertron (PS3) Review

As the last review was on the Transformers franchise and I was scheduled this week to follow it up with a video game; it seemed only right to cover one of the franchise’s more successful installments.

As with everything else, Transformers has been incredibly hit and miss when it comes to video games. Its first release on the Famicom, Mystery of Convoy, proved to be one of the most difficult games ever created. It was less a video game than sealed can of pure frustration and hatred waiting to be opened up by whatever unsuspecting player bought it.
The rewards were few, the graphics were downright bad and the rewards for winning were worthless. The quality of Transformers games barely improved over the next couple of decades. Something not helped by several installments being licensed adaptations of the live action films.
Anyone who’s ever read a review a licensed film tie in will know the hellpits of pure unrefined failure and ruin they usually turn out to be.

The only exception to this was the Playstation 2 2004 game by Melbourne House based upon the Armada cartoon. The game was difficult but rewarding, had extremely different environments, and a wide variety of metal monstrosities as enemies. The creative team even worked in the cartoon’s gimmick of small Mini-Con robots as an upgrade system for the game’s characters.

For many years it stood as the sole example of a good Transformers video game. That is until 2010 and the release of War for Cybertron.

Background and story:

Almost thirty years and they're still fighting like an old married couple.

As the title suggests, the game takes place on the titular robots’ homeworld of Cybertron. It focuses on the initial war between the two factions, Autobots and Decepticons, and leads up to why they abandoned the planet and what caused their exodus.

In story terms the plot is fairly linier. As the Decepticons you rampage through the mechanical world, killing all in your path and trying to cause as much anarchy as possible. At the same time you’re trying to corrupt things with the MacGuffin of the week: dark energon.
As the Autobots you go around trying to hold the planet together, get rid of the corruption and push back the enemy forces. A lot of the game is spent reversing the damage you’ve personally done as the Decepticons and save lives by killing enemy soldiers.

Truth be told even if you care about the story while playing it you’re going to end up noticing you’re doing almost exactly the same things as the good guys as you are the bad guys. People apparently turn a blind eye to a homicidal Optimus Prime when the victims of his blood-soaked rampage are baby eating jackbooted robot fascists.

The real strength of the writing comes almost entirely from the banter between characters. The interaction between your small squad of moustache twirling bad guys or knights in shining armour is what helps distract players from the shortcomings of the plot. The dialogue is a constant source of humour, occasional exposition and display frequent signs of genre awareness. One perfect example of this is this brief exchange which takes place while high explosives rain down on the level from above:

Breakdown: Take cover!
Megatron: Steady yourself, coward! I marked this area for Dark Energon bombers.
Breakdown: ARE YOU INSANE?!? I mean... yes, brilliant, Megatron!

Both the voice actors and writers seemed to be having a blast with this and it helps to give the game’s story mode much needed vitality. It also proves to be quite immersive as the personalities fit the characters’ gameplay aspects perfectly:
In terms of personality Megatron is a homicidal leader with an almost invincible confidence in his own abilities. In gameplay terms he is more than capable of dispensing death to titans several times his size and soaking up masses of firepower.

They’re simple characters, but they’re well written simple characters.

Graphics and design:

Expect to see this a lot. Expect to be the direct cause of it 90% of the time.

The overall level designs contrast well against one another. Despite the whole world being one big machine the various locations are designed to reflect upon the factions they belong to. Iacon, home of the Autobots, is a ruined city which embodies lost glory but still holds onto some elements of its faded grandeur. Kaon, a Decepticon fortress, is low tech, dark hellhole about one step away from becoming a cross between LV-426 and Mordor. Appropriately a good chunk of its enemies consist of oversized mechanical facehugger spiders.
Even the core of the planet has its own unique look, embodying aspects of a giant factory or engine encrusted with wildlife.

The problem is that while these are areas which have their own emotion and aesthetic behind them, they’re all metal. The most differentiating aspect of each location is their lighting and the sky above them. While good none of them are diverse enough to be visually satisfying to the player after the first several hours of playing. It would be like playing Metal Gear Solid 3 and permanently being stuck in the jungle. It might look nice and is varied in its own right, but sooner or later you’re going to get tried of seeing green.
Everything also has glowing Tron lines which is a bonus. They’re always fun to look at, especially when they help to add colour to the metal environments of the game.

What is good about everything being metal is that the looks of each character are both individually diverse while retaining factionally specific designs. The Autobots are all streamlined, smooth and consist of rich colours while the Decepticons have dark, jagged and robust bodies.
Unique aspects also reflect the personalities of each one. The brawler Ironhide is old, robust and industrial in his look. While the scientist Jetfire reflects some of his Decepticon origins in his appearance but is predominantly coloured white and has far more curved edges than the evil faction. Furthermore the characters embrace the best aspects of the old and new series in the franchise. They mix the more realistic transformations and metal looks of the live action films with the more pleasing looks of the 80s cartoon.

The graphics themselves at their core are good enough. They’re certainly nothing ground breaking and nothing you see with exceed the opening cut scene displaying the full blown melee between the characters. They’re not bad per say but you can tell they’re nothing special and the endless metal environments do not help in the slightest.


War For Cybertron’s gameplay consists of straight forwards combat broken up by short bits of platforming. There’s no real puzzle sections to be found here, nothing which searching through the game for hidden rewards will really accomplish and each level, while large and well designed, is fairly linear.
This does remove some replay value from the game’s story mode but multiplayer helps make up for this. Customisation allowing players to use weapon combos they might otherwise be barred from during story mode. Something many people welcomed due to the limitations upon the number of weapons which can be carried. Like 2003’s Fire Warrior, each character can only carry two guns one of which cannot be dropped.

By allowing the player to select any weapons they like individual characters can be tailor made to certain roles. The arsenal of the game itself is extensive. There are some excellent weapons in here such as the sniper rifles (or null rays as they’re called) and rocket launchers but others to be loathed such as the relentlessly inaccurate grenade launchers and unsatisfying plasma guns. It covers everything you’d want there to be in a shooter and all the guns handle surprisingly well from a third person perspective.
The best thing is that there’s no major game breakers. The transformers’ small heads prevents the sniper rifle reigning supreme while still being a good weapon and the more powerful guns tend to have projectiles slow enough to dodge.
Probably the most powerful thing a player can have at any time is his melee attack which can kill in two hits but you have to be skilled or lucky to get close enough to kill someone with it.

"Alright, WHO WANTS SOME!?" 

The limit to carrying two weapons isn’t the only Halo inspired mechanic within the game. You can rip turrets off their mountings, health has limited regeneration. Overshields appear to buff your character and make enemies frustratingly resistant to bullets. It’s everything you would expect to see by now.

Speaking of the enemies, the AI ranges from very dumb to exceptionally good. This is more down to the overall design of enemies than actual programming.
For example enemy fliers look like they’re cannon fodder due to their slow speed, but even one can cause great deals of damage if it gets close enough to perform a bombing run. They also know when and when not to use vehicle modes. If you’ve got a slow firing weapon enemies will transform to cars or what not to help avoid your shots. This makes things especially interesting in multiplayer escalation maps and areas with swarms of foes.

The multiplayer options themselves have everything you would want from a third person shooter like War for Cybertron. Co-op mode allows people to join in with story mode and control other characters.
Multiplayer maps allow you to kill one another in teams or as individuals in deathmatches. Leveling gives you perks and bonuses. Conquest allows you to take control of command posts a-la Star Wars Battlefront. The aforementioned escalation has you take on waves of foes similar to Halo ODST’s firefight. It’s the works. Stuff which is done well but it’s all things we’ve seen plenty of times before. There’s even a multiplayer type which has you deploy a bomb in an enemy base in a manner similar to Team Fortress 2, barring the railroad tracks.

Actually, that’s not the only area which this game is reminiscent of TF2. The class system reflects the Heavy, Medic, Scout and Soldier if you threw in a few extra abilities such as adding the Spy’s invisibility and backstab ability to the Scout.
They’re certainly fun and can be played to most traditional game styles. The Leader and Scientist classes help to support others by healing them and giving skill boosts. Scouts rush about at high speed, can’t take much damage but can turn invisible and backstab people. Tanks are quite literally tanks in every respect.

Each class is also limited to certain vehicles. Leaders are road kill making trucks, Scouts are fast moving sports cars, Scientists are fliers and Tanks are, yep, tanks. Unfortunately it’s with the vehicle modes that the game falls short.

There just isn’t enough variation between vehicle and robot modes in the game. Aside from the ability to mode much faster than on foot and the ever fun ability to turn enemies into road kill, both modes feel very similar.

The 2004 Transformers game added the vehicle modes exceptionally well, but the levels within those were far less linear. They allowed for more exploration and generally lacked the bottomless pits found in War for Cybertron. The only time when vehicles modes work within story mode are the two levels in which the player is allowed to take control of a flier in a series of airborne battles. These unfortunately only take up a small portion of the game and aircraft are only available to one class in multiplayer.
On the whole this feels more like the developers did not use the feature to its full potential. More a missed opportunity rather than a major flaw in the gameplay.

What is a major flaw in gameplay is the number of glitches in online play. While they do not plague multiplayer effects like rubberbanding, people not getting hit, lag, disconnecting and similar problems do crop up.  These are especially true for the PC but the Playstation 3 edition to be the most stable and without these issues.
In addition to this the multiplayer community itself is generally quite small and other players hard to find.

Downloadable Content and achievements:

Fan service, ho!

As mentioned before that searching for rewards was largely pointless. Most of them are well hidden and just out of the way rather than obscure locations, you’d recognised them as giant rotating faction symbols, rather than in the far corners of the map. While this means you don’t have to spend long hours searching for them it also means you can go through a level a dozen times and miss all of the icons entirely. Even if you do find them all you are only given a silver trophy as a reward.

Trophies meanwhile, or achievements, range from good to easy. Additional rewards should convince players to play again, feel like they’re getting something out of playing it on harder levels or in a different way. While there are at several of these in each story mode, a good number of them are the most generic things you could imagine. “Beat X level on any difficulty to get this trophy!”
Even the online levels are like this, very bland and generic trophies with interesting ones occasionally sandwiched between them. For every one involving something hard such as sniping an invisible man in a headshot there are dozens which come down to “kill X number of enemies.”

DLC content is also fairly bland. Several extra skins can be given to play as in multiplayer and additional maps are available to use. That’s it. The skins are certainly good, one of which is fan favourite Shockwave, and stand out well but you’d expect more from a game. Something has certainly gone wrong when Bioshock is outdoing you in terms of DLC.


If you want to see a good Transformers game then this is it. The reason it’s the best thus far is mostly because there have been so many horrible games squirted out to cash in on films.
As you might have seen one thing repeatedly commented upon was that it contains good aspects which are fun to see, but it never pushes the boundaries. Which is a real shame as having your character turn into a truck should have been something revolutionary enough to make a truly unique game out of. It's competent and is good to play but it's nothing special save for its setting and characters.

If you don’t know anything of the franchise or want to see Transformers done well then the game is at least worth renting. The story is simple enough to follow, it will distract you for a few hours and you might even enjoy it enough to buy properly. But with the multiplayer community as it is there are better shooters out there.


War for Cybertron, Transformers and all related characters and media are owned by Hasbro, Activision and High Moon Studios.

Images taken from