Thursday, 25 August 2011

The Horus Heresy Collected Visions (Book Review)

If you were to ask every gamer what the biggest turning point in Warhammer was, you’d get the same answer: the extermination of the Squats.
But at they never existed according to Games Workshop, it’s probably the Horus Heresy. It involved the rise of Chaos, the turning of the traitor legions, the fall of the Emperor and his Primarchs; it’s certainly a major contributing factor as to why everything has gone wrong.  Most people would suggest looking into this through the ongoing novel series, there’s already a full record of events available in shops: The Collected Visions.



The book covers the events of the death of humanity’s hope. It begins the end of the Great Crusade and the primarch Horus being declared Warmaster of the Emperor’s armies.
Returning to earth, the Emperor begins work on some great project, but unbeknownst to him dark forces are already putting events in motion for his death. Soon Horus falls to Chaos and humanity faces possible extermination at the hands of is greatest champions. The story is a tragedy. If you want a happy ending or any victory for the forces of good, look elsewhere.

The book is another omnibus, containing the quadrilogy of books which plotted out the whole Heresy: Visions of War, Visions of Darkness, Visions of Treachery and Visions of Death.
There are also a couple of side stories where Graham McNeill adds in depth descriptions of major events such as the Battle of Prospero and the rise of the Dark Mechanicum. 

Style and storytelling

The series is written from no specific perspective and is fittingly covered like a series of records. Each page has a small title like it’s an individual article covering small meetings and events which contribute to the whole of the Heresy. This helps to give the impression that this is an actual historic archive.

The language used throughout the book is functional but it falls short of the high quality writing usually seen in the Black Library. More than once articles within the book suffered from repetition of certain sentences and some very questionable choices of words. For example, on the ninth page the book opens up with a grand, if somewhat cheesy, synopsis of the early events of the heresy. It’s fairly good save for describing the primarchs as “superheroes”. In all fairness if a man dressed as a bat and a vengeful ex-marine count as superheroes then the primarchs certainly do as well, but the term feels incredibly out of place in Warhammer.

40K is a setting where everything is grim, dark, gothic and grimdark; not a place where a man in red underwear fights a cake stealing Machiavellian evil businessman. It feels jarring to throw the term in there rather than “demi-god” “titan” “paragon” or much better terminology. It’s a major problem is this sort of thing keeps happening and it constantly detracts from the immersion of reading the book.

Another problem with the writing style is the author, Alan Merrett, didn’t quite seem to know what he wanted to do. A good number of the articles are written in the same grand style as the introductory pages while others are listed like documentary articles. It makes the book feel like Merrett couldn’t decide if he wanted it to be a pseudo-Shakespearean tale or Wikipedia 40,000. It’s not overtly bad, but his sections pale in comparison to McNeill’s sections.
It’s mostly for this reason I can’t comment upon things like how he portrays characters or events. Half the time they feel like they’re just been scripted by someone who has only read about them and the rest like it was supposed to take place in the Globe Theatre. Some events come across as utterly moronic, though mostly due to previously written canon, and the conversations between people come across as simplistic or wooden.

I will say that Merrett does choose the right style for when it is needed the most. Articles such as the early ones which describe the creation of the space marines, the astronomicon and the Warp aren’t written like some grand speech, instead giving the necessary details.  Similarly the major events such as the last moments of Saul Tarvitz’s life and the Siege of Terra are fittingly described in a suitably epic manner. The former of the two works extremely well as it contains no dialogue and is just the last thoughts and considerations of a hero who will go unremembered and, if at all, as a member of a traitor legion.


... And now.

The actual story itself, if you’ve not already gathered, is documenting the fall of Warmaster Horus and the ensuing Heresy conflict. That’s the core of the tale and the Collected Visions describes it in considerable detail, not as much as the novels but enough to understand some of the minor aspects behind the characters.
It goes into the fall of Horus very quickly but is shown from multiple perspectives and occasionally goes back to earlier events. Two major examples of this are the pages detailing the fall of Lorgar and the build up to Magnus’ “betrayal”.

Probably the highlight of the whole book, at least in terms of writing, is The Kaban Project. It’s a short story which gives the most in depth detail for any part of the treachery and is shown through the perspective of a single person, witnessing the Cult Mechanicus betraying its own laws.
There’s not much more which can be said about this besides that without going into spoilers. I will say this about the story though: Lots and lots of people die.

Flaws and strengths

The main strength of the book above all things is actually not the writing itself. No, it is in fact the artists which worked upon it. All but a handful of pages in the book featured incredibly detailed paintings of the legions during the heresy, depicting the vehicles used and the different equipment of that time.

What is especially effective is that the artists didn’t only create new equipment for the legions, but also looked at the older designs for second edition models. Shoulder mounted autocannons, landspeeders which resemble flying boxes, even imperial war robots all make appearances at various points.
There was also a great deal of work put into displaying the appearances of the traitor legions prior to turning against the Emperor. Aside from a few images in the Index Astartes series there was no official artwork displaying how the legions had looked prior to the Heresy, most notably with the Emperor’s Children.

The only real flaw with this is that by focusing upon a specific few legions, many have essentially cameo appearences, especially those who took only small roles in the war. Only a handful of images depict what the Iron Hands, Raven Guard, Salamanders, White Scars, Iron Warriors, Night Lords, Dark Angels and Alpha Legion looked like.
The real shame of it is that there’s also only a moderate number of images for the Imperial Fists who looked the most aesthetically unique out of all the legions.

The flaws of the writing itself have already been commented upon so i’ll instead focus upon more obvious ones. The first of these is the canonicity of events during the Heresy and the detail in which it is covered. While the book does cover all of the major aspects of the Heresy well, it is also missing a lot of factual information.
This is mostly a result of the novels which are expanding upon the old fluff of the events, detailing new battles and motivations which have been added since this book was published. For example there’s no mention of the Furious Abyss, Horus’ doubts are somewhat simplistic and do not cover his thoughts from Horus Rising, and the surprise motivations behind the Alpha Legion’s fall is not mentioned at all. By comparison with the books it feels like a bare basics timeline of events and is missing a great deal of important information.

This aforementioned lack of detail means that the Heresy starts very quickly within the book. That might sound like a strange criticism but the novels spent an entire trilogy depicting the downfall of Horus and the start of the Heresy. Not to mention separate novels for several traitor legions individually detailing their fall to Chaos. In the Collected Visions Horus is conviced to turn within the first sixty pages, and the rest are manipulated into turning in about one paragraph. Without any build up or seeing them fall from grace, their betrayal feels far less meaningful.

The book’s most obvious flaw is definitely its design. This isn’t the sort of thing which would usually comment upon, but the pages of the copy used for this review seemed to be falling to bits. Its central pages were hanging loosely from its bindings and entire sections were at risk of falling out.
It’s not a good sign when you’re consciously worried about the new book you’re reading is visibly coming apart.


The Collected Visions is worth getting if you want the bare facts about the Heresy. It’s cheaper than the novels but it’s definitely a worse written and less detailed version of events. The main strength of the book is the images and artwork it contains, which cover almost every page of it, but without them it’s just not very good.

Hobbywise, I’d suggest it to anyone wanting to build a pre heresy legion as a visual reference. Bookwise, I’d suggest getting it for the great art, but if it’s good storytelling you want then go with the Horus Heresy novels.


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

The artwork of the Thousand Sons Dreadnought and Imperial War Robots are owned by karichristensen, and has been used with the artist's permission.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Damnatus (Film Review)

The Enemy is close. The Enemy is watching. The Enemy is here.

Damnatus is arguably one of the most ambitious fan films available online, certainly the most ambitious Warhammer one ever made. It was privately created by a group of fans as a non profit project and intended to accurately portray Warhammer in all its grimdark glory. Most surprisingly, it does a far better job at portraying the universe than most officially produced Games Workshop material.

The film is set on a hive world where a small group of soldiers are tasked by the Inquisition with investigating on goings down below the gigantic hive city.
The group soon find themselves in over their heads and being hunted by a powerful daemon.

The generic story feels almost exactly the sort of thing you’d see in any Dark Heresy game, and at times that’s exactly what Damnatus feels like. A glorified LARPing session with a TV movie budget, in part due to the average acting of the cast.
Despite this there are a few things which help elevate the film from feeling like the partially completed, no budget monstrosities which are featured on the SyFy channel. The most obvious point being that the makers of the film seemed to truly care about what they were making.

As well as having extremely atmospheric location shoots such as ruined factories in Rottweil an immense amount of effort was put into the costumes and detailing of the film. Scratch built props were made based upon drawings in army books, entire CGI sections were made to show the exterior of the forge world and an Imperial frigate, the makers even went so far as to create a mechanical tech priest outfit.

Save for the FMV scenes from Final Liberation, it contains some of the most detailed props and costumes you’ll find outside of Games Day.

Ignoring the rusting location shoots and wardrobes, what really helps the film is the cinematography and the way the film is structured. The unconventional style the whole film is shot in gives an extremely disjointed feeling to events, and this only increases as the film goes on. Oddly enough this actually works extremely well, it makes everything feel especially alien and atmospheric. It seemed to emphasise upon the nervous detachment the characters felt upon fighting an unknown force in unfamiliar territory.
The drawback of this is it does result in some very confusing plot points, which aren't properly explained or made clear to the audience. You might have to watch it more than once to understand everything.

Everything which Ultramarines lacked, Damnatus makes up for in its run time.
Unlike the superhuman warriors of the space marines, the characters are cannon fodder and expendable resources. They have no idea what they are getting themselves into, they are expected to die, and shows Warhammer as a place where humanity is clearly failing.
Unlike the triumphant note of Ultramarines, Damnatus ends with an extremely bitter sweet conclusion. One perfectly fitting of 40K.

While the film was banned from being released due to German copyright laws, there are some copies which can be found and downloaded online. It’s definitely worth seeking out but if you didn’t understand Ultramarines you’re going to be utterly lost watching this. This is definitely a “by fans, for fans” type of film.


Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.
Damnatus was made by Huan Vu and produced by Sphärentor Filmproduktionen.

Some images were taken from the official website:

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Ultramarines: The Movie (Film Review)

This is a good film, a very good one. Specifically for its focus upon pleasing its fanbase. Something which it does far better than many movies I can name. It’s flawed certainly, but it remained more far loyal to the source material than most big budget blockbusters. Here’s a comparison:
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen had $200,000,000 put into it. The result was dogs humping, the titular giant robots being bit players in their own film and gave the middle finger to fans of Autobots everywhere.
Ultramarines: The Movie had less than a quarter of the budget of the above example. The result was General Zod, Professor Bruttenholm and Colonel Hakha teaming up to fight daemon worshippers and was made specifically for the fans.

I am mentioning this is because this review is going to be from an unbiased perspective. If I were to write this as the Warhammer fan I am this review would be nothing but me gushing over it. If you’re a fan of Warhammer; this film is strongly recommended. If you’re not, the following is what to expect.
The film focuses around a small detachment of space marines as they answer a distress beacon from a shrine world. The mission quickly goes wrong from there.
A simple enough plot but the film unfortunately still needs padding to help make its run time. At least a good ten minutes could have been skipped to get to the action. Big chunks of the film are waiting for the story to plod along to something good and this is not the only area in which the script falls short. Characters spout hoaky dialogue and unnecessary observations which seem as if they would be more at home in a comicbook than a film.
The story was unfortunately supposed to be the film’s strength as the CGI is woefully sub par. Bare faced the characters look like animatronic wax dolls of multiple stroke victims rather than human beings, which is likely why they spend most of the film in snarling full face helmets.

The film really shines during the enclosed action scenes as the camera work is fast paced and well done, the sort of frantic thing you need here. This leads to the obvious question of exactly why only two of the battles take place indoors, and the two which are in the open contain some very disjointed editing.
The big name actors in the lead roles give very strong performances, especially Terrence Stamp, and the cannon fodder do a good job to express somewhat individual personalities before they are bumped off.  This combined with the excellent musical score and attention to the details to each individual’s armour are aspects which help to give the film character.

If you’re not a fan it’s not worth spending £26 to buy the collectors edition, but it’s well worth getting the HD download as an action film.  See this one if you’re at all interested in the universe of the 41st millennium. Just keep your expectations grounded.


Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.
Ultramarines: The Movie was made by Codex Pictures

Images were taken from

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Warhammer 40,000 Kill Team (PS3) Review

Over the years there have been many video games with the Warhammer logo slapped onto them, most notably the Dawn of War series. The vast majority of them have embraced the tactical nature of the table top game and have been RTS games, turn based strategies and similar genres. 
But once in a while amongst games like Chaos Gate and Final Liberation you’ll get the odd exception which allows a player to get into the meat of the 41st millennium’s grim dark battlefields.

The game today is one of those games, Kill Team, which is not only a straight forwards hack and slash but a call-back to a lot of the arcade style games on the original Playstation.

Background and Story:

With this being an arcade style game there’s a bare bones story to give you a reason to start shooting things. An Ork Waaagh! (a cross between a riot, crusade and a pub crawl) is approaching a vital Imperial world and a few space marines are sent to stop it. 
You play as an armoured hulking behemoth which dispenses death at anything in sight, and your friend plays something similar. Just around the corner from you are a few hundred thousand blood frenzied Orks carrying meat cleavers and hand cannons.

That’s about it. You board a ship, kill everything in sight because they’re your enemy and leave once you’re finished painting the walls red with their blood. There are some secondary objectives once in a while, but they almost always come down to “blow that shit up” meaning you’re occasionally destroying the ship rather than the Orks.

In typical Warhammer video game fashion there is a “surprise” enemy which rears its armoured head part way through, but it’s only there to give you something besides Orks to rip apart.

Graphics and Design:

"Bother Librarian, if you dare yell "You shall not pass!" one more time I shall personally execute you on charges of heresy!"

The graphics are far from being the best thing you’ll come across in a video game. They’re adequate and are on par with the stuff you’d see on Dawn of War II but that’s about it. 
Then again this adds to the game’s charm and helps it feel like more of a call back to old arcade shooters, it’s adequate and that’s all it needs to be.

What really makes the game look good is how the designers were able to balance the use of colour and darkness. Despite spending the entire game spiriting about a dimly lit Ork kroozer there’s never any point where the lack of light becomes a problem or becomes an eyesore.  The rust brown and bronze metal of the ship helps the bright green Orks and marines to stand out from the background, making them very visible to the player. 

Even in the darkest parts of the ramshackle hulk the occasional explosion of gore from punching an enemy’s face in or bursts of gunfire will constantly let you know where you are. And if for some reason you can’t see your guy, shooting everything in sight will solve all of your problems.

Despite this there is one problem which comes with the game’s design: the camera. It’s fixed in one place in irritating positions which fans of Diablo, Legacy of Kain Defiance or again old top down arcade shooters will be familiar with. Most of the time it's fine but there’s always those points where you’re squinting at the screen because the camera is several miles from where your marine in a full blown melee against mobs of bloodthirsty enemies. 

In some boss battles, unfortunately in the first one, it always seems to be pointing just the wrong way meaning you can be peppered by Orks lurking just off screen from you. Time and time again you’re going to witness the Emperor’s angels of death being more effectively killed by a drunkenly helmed camera than the ferocious enemies of humanity.

Speaking of humanity’s enemies; they’re what you’d expect them to be. The Orks look very brutish, they’re green and they rely upon waves of cannon fodder. Many of them look identical to one another but you’ll only have a few seconds to look at them properly before they die wallowing in their own gore. 
The Tyranids (the “surprise” enemy everyone was expecting to see) are exactly the same but that’s a bit more acceptable. Unlike the Orks the Tyranids mass produce their cannon fodder as mindless drones rather than individuals. In spite of this all of the bosses look the part, each of them standing out well from the legions of enemies the marines casually dispatch in the hundreds. They’re huge, unique and add a bit more variety by giving the players something new to kill.

The marines themselves look, well, like space marines. If you’ve played the Dawn of War games or seen any covers then you’ll know what they basically look like: skull faced armoured men with big pauldrons.
Despite this there is a good variety of different ones available. There are ones with bolters, ones with jetpacks, ones with bigger bolters, ones with robot arms and ones who kill people with their brains. Each of them has enough small details to give them their own individual appearance to prevent them looking like mass produced soldiers.

If you don't know who this is and what he's carrying then you're definitely playing the wrong game.

As well as the classes there’s several different chapters available to give more variety to the player’s character, each specialising in one class. The ever present Blood Ravens (red) and Ultramarines (blue), the best known ones, but there are also several of the underused chapters. 
The Imperial Fists (yellow), Salamanders (green), Blood Angels (a different red) and White Scars (white). These are mostly there to keep the fans of Warhammer happy, but they’re a nice addition to the game’s small details.


From the initial words of “hack and slash arcade game” you can already guess what sort of game play you’re going to encounter. Something similar to the Dynasty Warriors games and hundreds of quick video games you’d find in any arcade.

Despite this there is a bit of tactical thinking within gameplay. Each class has its own specific strengths and weaknesses which can be exploited or focused upon. The Sternguard Veteran carries cannons only slightly smaller than himself and can dish out horrendous damage at long range. This is at the expense of the ability to fight effectively in close combat. 
Another example is the Librarians who rely upon much more tactical thought than most classes. Running into combat with your sword will often result in a quick death while blowing chunks of enemies with his pistol to charge up your special meter and relying upon his psychic attacks yields much more positive results.

There are also a good number of upgrades and skills which can be picked up from level to level, allowing for some customisation of each marine and to tailor make them to a play style. There are a few extra weapons which can be picked up but there wasn’t enough effort put into differentiating them. 
The biggest difference you’re going to see in terms of weapons is between using the plasma cannon and heavy bolter with the Sternguard class. Mostly due to the former spitting glowing orbs of death rather than a storm of high explosive bullets.

The main flaw is actually the combat of Kill Team. Despite it being roughly four hours in length and the boundless fun found in turning Orks into red mist, the fighting becomes very repetitive. There isn’t enough variety of basic enemies and this significantly detracts from a lot of the replay value. Killing the same generic cannon fodder over and over again removes a lot of the sense of progress and fights begin to blur into one another.
What adds to the game's tedium is the similarities of each level. Okay, you’re on an Ork ship, fine, but unlike War for Cybertron, the universally metal environments never change between levels. The only time it really alters is one section with the Tyranids, but it’s simply not enough to give some variation between settings.

Some of the tedium can thankfully be alleviated with the thankful edition of multiplayer. Having someone to talk to and constantly fighting alongside really helps improve a great deal of the experience of playing the game. It also allows for much more class experimentation by seeing which combinations work best together and against which enemies.

Unfortunately even this has its flaws. While THQ was good enough to give a proper splitscreen multiplayer unlike many of today’s games, there’s no option for playing online. This means while you can have friends slaughtering greenskins along side you, they can’t do it from their own home and have to all meet up at the same console to join in. 
The lack of a deathmatch setting or area where you could go into duels with other players is a serious mistake here an could have only improved upon the gameplay experience. But alas, there's no such option to kill your friends with high calibre weapons.

Probably the most irritating aspect of the whole game is how it seems to constantly pause to hold your hand. Every few minutes there would be a cut scene or voice over explaining the blindingly obvious and it constantly removes a lot of the immersion from playing it. It’s also annoying as all hell.


Kill Team is worth getting due to its very cheap price but it’s by no means a perfect game, even by the standards of arcade style mass combat. It’s fast, bloody and enjoyably violent, but also repetitive, tedious, short and with a camera trying to assassinate you.

If you’re going to get it at all then i’d suggest buying it for small gatherings of people. It was clearly intended for multiplayer and works best when you’ve got more than one person fighting the Orks. If you’re a Warhammer fan then definitely buy this one, especially if you’re going to get Space Marine. If you’re not then Castle Crashers would be a much better cheap multiplayer buy, which has most of Kill Team’s strengths while having next to none of its flaws.


Warhammer 40,000 and all related characters and media are owned by Games Workshop.
Warhammer 40,000 Kill Team was made by THQ.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Sisters of Battle sacrificed for Ward?

This is not so much a review as something which has come to mind lately. Many Warhammer 40,000 players reading this will know of the general opinions of Matt Ward and what he has done in each codex. Those of you who don’t he’s created the two worst written armies in the last several decades, both of which can easily win just about any battle they get into. They’re called the fifth edition Blood Angels and Grey Knights.
The armies he does not like tend to get shunted to one side and are either presented as incompetent or reduced to simpering fanboys for his favourites. One force above all others has suffered badly under him: the Sisters of Battle.

In the fifth edition they have suffered humiliating defeat after betrayal after mass slaughter. A few examples of what they have suffered are:
-         An entire Order of their number being utterly slaughtered/corrupted by a Slanneshi Keeper of Secrets (As told in a short story within the Black Library magazine)
-         98% of their number being retconned out of existence due to a small paragraph within the Fifth Edition Rule Book. (Contributed by Matt Ward)
-         A whole shrine-world of Sisters killed by daemon. Said daemon shrugs off meltas, meltabombs and multiple Exorcist volleys, a Living Saint even gives up her divinity to stop it, and only manages to slow it down. It's destroyed instantly when a Marine throws a thunder hammer at it. Though in fairness it killed plenty of marines as well. (Firedrake audio book)
-         An entire detachment of Sisters are found fighting a chaos item which spawns something called the Bloodtide. It violates their bodies, massacres them and despite this a few are holding on and remaining pure due to their faith. The Grey Knights then turn up and butcher the loyal Sisters in a heretical ritual, paint their armour with their blood so their faith can protect them (apparently forgetting they are already incorruptible) and banish the daemon. (Fifth Edition Grey Knights codex by Matt Ward)

With the worst of those two incidents being written by Ward, you can imagine how the fandom felt when he took over writing their new codex. A White Dwarf codex which was apparently squirted out because the Necrons have been delayed by a month.

It goes without saying that the whole thing blew chunks and the Sisters are now arguably the worst Warhammer 40,000 army aside from the Tau. To add to this they have lost almost all of their special characters, given to the Grey Knights, and they are obviously being phased out. There is no word on them getting new models, no mention of them being updated to Finecast and they are being scapegoated to make new armies look more formidable at every stage. The thing is, I think they’re being phased out for Ward’s armies rather than anything like unpopularity.

Think about this for a moment: He writes the Grey Knights as being the only militant force used by the Inquisition and gives them almost all of the Witch Hunters special characters.

He then gives the following to his new Blood Angels:
>makes them a religious themed army balancing faith and rage
>gives them inferno pistols and lots of fire themed weapons
>from the skies assault squads with a focus on pistols
>flamethrower centric assault tanks
>assault dreadnoughts with flamers that are better than the pseudo assault dreadnought
>The Sanguinor, a winged spiritual figure who appear in times of great need.
>angel themed every god damned thing, down to winged jump packs
>eviscerators given to special troops and characters
>rage-filled fallen battle siblings who seek to die in assault.

The Blood Angels and Sisters are practically mirror images of one another, right down to a Saint Celestine rip-off. There were always similarities bettween them, but Ward has made them all but completely identical. 
Speaking personally, I think they’re being phased out because Ward wanted to give his caricatures of armies all their best traits and characters. Considering all he has done in the past, it would not be beyond a hack like him to try something like this.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (Film Review)

You already know if you’re going to see this or not.

If you’re a fan then you’ll want to see how the decade long film series concludes. If you’re not then you’re probably going to be put off by the film’s story. It doesn’t take time to recap anything, mostly because it’s already been covered in previous instalments. You need to have at least watched the last three films to properly comprehend this flick. The fact The Deathly Hallows has “Part 2” in the title should be enough to tell you that.
Despite this the core of the story is simple enough. Ranulph Fiennes is evil and being made immortal by MacGuffins known as horcruxes. The heroic trio of Harry, Ron and Hermione need to hunt them down, destroy them then break the evil hold on the wizarding world.

The first thing to praise about this movie is the way in which it is shot. There’s some great cinematography for this which captures the action oriented scenes incredibly well, but more surprisingly it seems to have been intended to full use of the 3D. The gimmick is used properly here and shows up throughout the entire film rather than the usual couple of scenes. Kicking in right from the Warner Bros logo. Things jut out of the screen with surprising realism at every turn; this is probably the first film since Tron Legacy worth seeing in 3D.
The acting is top notch, with the whole cast all giving strong performances and giving their all for this film. The only flaws in any performances come as a result of the actors not having enough screen time. Two examples being Julie Walters and Alan Rickman, though the latter’s scenes are cinematic gold and the high point of the film. Complementing the acting is the action scenes, with the Part 2 delivering the big climactic battle the series deserves. It has everything which turned up in the books: hundreds of spells slinging wizards, stone knights, giant spiders and troglodyte giants, all of which look very real. It’s not on the scale of the Lord of the Rings, but it’s the biggest fight you’ll see in the franchise.

Green vs Red. Evil vs good. Mass B list character deaths. 
Harry Potter: Blackest Night?

Part 2’s only flaw is it feels rushed when viewed on its own. It feels half complete and if you are to watch this it is definitely worth digging out Part 1 before going into the theatre. It moves at a very quick pace and never stops to properly focus upon some things, most notably some major character deaths.
It’s a brilliantly explosive conclusion but it doesn’t stop to give the characters the closure they deserve. The battle ends, Harry speaks to the others for a bit, then the film cuts to years later showing their children going to Hogwarts. It’s like the film rushes forwards as fast as it can and then just ends.

Final verdict? The Deathly Hallows Part 2 solid film that delivers for its fandom, contains good actions scenes, good acting and is all around a great flick. Even if you’re not a fan and you get dragged into watching this you’re still going to have fun.


Harry Potter and all related characters and media are owned by J.K Rowling.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger (Film Review)

Anyone who knows their comic movie history knows that Captain America spells disaster for any production. The last attempt to translate the shield throwing star spangled man to the big screen was a train wreck which put Batman and Robin to shame.
But this? This is arguably the best Marvel comic film yet.

It doesn’t have Iron Man’s style and character development, and it lacks Thors humour and pseudo Shakespearian style. What it does have is a director, Joe Johnson, who knew what he was doing and was clearly taking notes from the last two films leading up to The Avengers.

The film covers the initial origins of Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) becoming a superhuman, his development as a character and his exploits across the Second World War. Trying to capture all these on screen could have easily run the risk of bogging down the film trying to show the details, but the film is constructed expertly to work its way around them. The first act is devoted towards the motivations of the protagonist and directly setting the scene, freeing up the rest of the film for depicting the war setting.

The historic details of the war itself are brilliantly done, being very accurate but not once do they feel out of place with the futuristic troopers serving the villainous Red Skull. The effectiveness of this mostly comes from the film playing its goofy premise (Nazi super soldiers) completely straight faced. Something which works incredibly well if done right as shown with Thor.

Unlike Thor though there is a huge amount of action to satisfy its audiences littered throughout the film’s runtime. Depicting multiple fights with the Red Skull and the allies performing attacks upon his faction’s strongholds. Joining Cap in these fights are groups of multinational soldiers which are used to try and remind people that America didn’t single handily take down Nazi Germany with no help at all.

This entire bit is littered with small titbits which comic fans will be grinning broadly at. The Red Skull’s faction name? It’s HYRDA. One of the people who helped create Captain America? Howard Stark. The multinational team Cap works with? Every single one of them are secondary characters from Marvel comics. This is never played up to the point where the cameos get in the way of the plot, but they’re great to see on screen.

When all else fails: Send in the C list fodder.

So, you know what’s good about the film, now for what’s bad:

The problem with trying to cram in so much into a short runtime is that the film is forced to skim over a lot of things. Most of the fighting against the Red Skull’s strongholds consist of a montage scene of fighting with only the first and last battles being properly shown. After a considerable amount of time showing how Cap was chosen, made, used as an icon and finally made a soldier; it feels odd that so much of the fighting should be bypassed like this.

In addition to this the villains themselves are fairly one dimensional, with their motivations simply being world domination and being evil. This is especially true of the Red Skull who is not given enough screen time to truly develop and seems like a very generic foe at times. At least in Jeff Bridge’s case in Iron Man we got to see enough of him to make him feel like more than just an arch villain. This is a running problem with a few character bits, with the inevitable love interest plotline only being touched upon and not developed enough to give proper meaning.

While 3D is used a bit more than in other films, it’s fairly underused. There’s only a dozen bits where it’s effectively used and it’s not worth paying the additional money to wear glasses while watching this.

Besides those points there really isn’t that much to complain about. The cinematography is fantastically done, everyone gives great performances and the other films only exceed it in one or two areas. This is definitely the best non Batman comic film since Hellboy, go see it while it’s still in cinemas and you’ll have a fantastic time.


Captain America: The First Avenger and all related characters and media are owned by Marvel  and Marvel Studios.

Images were taken from

Thursday, 4 August 2011

The Killing Ground & Courage and Honour (book review)

Welcome to part 2. If you’ve only just started reading this then it would be best for you to go back and read the first part here. Mostly as sections such as the premise of the universe and writing style have already been covered there, they will not be repeated in this part.

Right, now that’s done for everyone else a few things you should know. There’s been a change of plans. From here on the Ultramarines series began to become intertwined with the Iron Warriors stories starring the villain of Dead Sky Black Sun: Warsmith Honsou. Most of these were short stories but they all link into the Ultramarines novels in some way and lead to the concluding book: Chapter’s Due. I had initially planned to give quick explanations of each story but it was recently announced that Iron Warriors is being released as an omnibus.
As a result of this Chapter’s Due will be reviewed independently once the Iron Warriors omnibus has been released and reviewed. It caps off both series thus far and serves as a conclusion to their events so expect that some time in the future.

And now on with your scheduled book review:


Following directly on from the events of Dead Sky Black Sun, with our protagonists managing to escape from the Eye of Terror via a very unconventional means. They soon come to realise that while the planet they are on is under Imperial control, not all is right with Salinas. Mysterious haunting figures have been hunting down individuals who were once part of the military force which subjugated the plant and the entire populace is on the verge of open rebellion.
If this wasn’t bad enough something else followed them back from the Eye of Terror, something which is quickly falling under the thrall of a vengeful force on the planet. Surrounded on all sides by hostile forces and questioning their own purity after having escaped from the realm of the damned, Uriel and Pasanius find themselves in an increasingly desperate struggle to return home.
The Killing Ground is an oddity as it doesn’t feel like a space marine story. It takes place away from any major warzones, the fights are extremely small scale and overall it feels like it would have been much better suited for human characters. Rather than a threat which threatens entire planets the ‘villain’ of the book turns out to be very minor in comparison to Tyranids or Chaos Space Marines. It only has a small amount of power, isn’t an iconic threat worthy of the Ultramarines and most of the story focuses upon a plot to figure out who it is. At its core it’s a murder mystery crossed with a ghost story, and it’s not even that good a one.
The reasons for why there are violently vengeful things haunting the night feels underwhelming in a universe of daemons and psychics. There’s nothing truly supernatural involved and while what triggered the haunting is horrifying it feels like there should have been something more to it.
In addition to this the actual “mystery” is all but completely explained very early on and becomes quite predictable. The only part which might have caused any tension is given away not long after its introduced and feels like it shouldn’t be there. During the first daemonic invasion, the imperial forces fighting the daemons were massacred and a specialist group was called in to deal with the infestation. This same group suddenly turns up the instant something appears to be going wrong.
As this is a backwards world which is of no strategic importance and has had only one daemonic incursion, you’d expect an inquisitor to show up. Perhaps even a few acolytes who were kept on the world to monitor it and keep an eye on things. Instead an entire detachment of Grey Knights, elite daemon hunting space marines, show up at the first sign of trouble. For comparison would be like SEAL Team 6 being deployed in a location where there were slight hints of terrorist activity. The only reason they are present in the book at all is so McNeill can quickly resolve issues from Dead Sky Black Sun and move on. Actually, that’s this whole book in a nut shell. It only exists to solve the problems with the ending to the previous instalment.
Dead Sky Black Sun ended with McNeill having written himself into a corner. He had the protagonists heroically escaping the Eye of Terror in glory, but trying to follow on from that novel would have been next to impossible for anyone. It’s this series equivalent of Back To the Future Part II, an entire instalment which is trying to deal with plot elements forced upon it by the first book and because of that it suffers badly.
So, does The Killing Ground do anything right? Yes and no.
Despite having the above problems there are still a few gems in here. A lot of good ideas such as the history behind Salinas are brought up and it displays a lot of the flaws within how the Imperium works, as well as how easily even its minor military leaders can get away with abusing power. The infrastructure of the world is an interesting setting and despite the lack of mystery within the plot McNeill does a good job at building up the book’s atmosphere. A mixture of details about the planet and seeing its internal struggle through the eyes of multiple characters builds up tension which makes the book interesting enough to read until the end.
The Grey Knights, while being presented as much more human and friendlier than their usual selves, are at least recognisably Grey Knights. Having been created before Matt Ward’s abomination of a codex they are extremely hard-line against its use and are very clearly puritans. They do not turn up using daemon weapons, perform Khornate rituals out of the blood of faithful imperial servants and are so superpowered they bring down the book’s villain without breaking a sweat. Or pilot Dreadknights.

Yes, these exist. And they're only slightly less ridiculous than this image. 

If you can get the next two books separately then don’t bother with this one. It’s the weakest in the series and if you skip it you only miss some attempt at closure from Dead Sky Black Sun and some very subtle character changes in Uriel. Character changes which are much better displayed in the next novel anyway.

One final thing to comment upon though is the artwork for the cover. While there is usually no point in commenting upon them The Killing Ground's cover features the only detailed image there is of Pasanius. Previously he was either missing from the covers or in the background, and this helps to empahsise upon the character's size as well as show us his face.

After the last two instalments, Courage and Honour is very much a back to basics story. It goes back to the plot of the first two novels with the Ultramarines fourth company being called to a world in order to help defend it from an attack. While there is some baggage carried over from the events of the last few books, it doesn’t interfere with events and serves mainly for character development.
The tales this time focuses upon the Ultramarines returning to Pavonis as it is being rebuilt and remains under heavy guard by Imperial forces since the events in Nightbringer. The expansionist Tau are beginning to set their sights upon the planet and are moving in using tactical strikes to weaken the planet’s defences. With the invading force taking a secret foothold onto the world, Uriel is forced to contend with not only the aliens but even resentment from some members of his own company.
As the Ultramarines fight to hold the world against an ever growing force of Tau, Uriel is forced to turn to methods which he previously opposed entirely in order to emerge victorious.
The most characterising element of each book in this series has constantly been the enemies which the Ultramarines have fought. This novel is no different as the Tau are something utterly different from the Eldar, Tyranids, Chaos or ghosts. They are in many senses one of the very few decent races in Warhammer and are commonly regarded as being the faction with the highest morality. Though considering this is a universe populated by races that would shoot you in the face and then feed your soul to their gods as soon as they see you, that’s not saying much.
Their ultimate goal is to unite the entire galaxy under one banner, prevent wars and create general unity for the Greater Good. Feel free to make your own Hot Fuzz joke at that, they're all good.
This makes them unique as they’re not trying to kill everyone not like them but instead make them like themselves. Make them follow their own ideology and willingly join their empire. They’re not good, fluff suggests that they’re closer to being an Orwellian state rather than Star Trek’s Federation, but again they’re not trying to serve some dark god or mass murder everyone. In 40K that’s enough to make anyone think your reasonable. Governors listen to the Tau envoys, see aliens who do not match humanity’s extreme xenophobic views and seem to be living better lives than them, and then consider what the Imperium has done for them. For many worlds, such as Pavonis, they are so heavily taxed with tithes that they are being crippled by the Imperium.
This allows for some sudden changes in loyalty and makes the traitors who appear in this book much more sympathetic than say, the villain of Nightbringer who was acting purely to save his own skin.
For the first time in the series the Imperium is properly displayed as something which isn’t a benevolent force. McNeill uses the Tau to actually present how inept and uncaring the governing body of humanity is. Unlike The Killing Ground, this isn’t a single act by a single rogue colonel but by the administratum running the Imperium. Even when the book ends it notes that due to the actions of the traitors Pavonis will likely be stripped down to a fortress world and things will become even worse for its populace. While its defenders are shown to be good people, the readers are given the clear impression that the Imperium itself is a heartless empire of a billion worlds. Utterly willing to strip mine any one and make life hell for its population for any reason.
Speaking of humanity’s defenders, the actual conflict shown in this book is one of the best depictions of Imperial-Tau engagements in the Black Library.
When it comes to the Tau, most sources tend to show heavy bias either in favour or against them. Reducing any conflict to a one sided curb stomp. For example a major complaint of the Imperial Armour Taros Campaign is that the Imperial forces were written as morons. The Space Marines did almost nothing, the Imperial Commanders were ineffective in any strategies despite being specialists at desert warfare and the Tau were easily winning at every turn. On the other hand you had things like the Zeist Campaign (Matt Ward apparently hates Highlander fans) which presented the Tau as easily being beaten and being so bad at fighting they don’t stand a chance against the Imperials.
In Courage and Honour, both sides are presented as being intelligent and fairly evenly matched.
Both fight extremely intelligently and are given a chance to prove they’re compitent. The Tau need to win the war quickly due to their fleet not being large enough to engage in a prolonged war. The Imperial Guard have a much smaller force than the Tau, even with the help of Space Marines, and are constantly fighting to hold back the Tau in a stand on the planet’s capital. The Tau stealthily drop in and deal with the planet’s long range communications prior to their assault while the Imperials prove to be effective against the Tau in the use of their armoured contingents.
There’s no clear indication of one being instantly better than the other, and even when the Imperial Guard are being forced back, it’s largely due to their much smaller numbers than the Tau invasion force. The novel is essentially page upon page of pure warfare, but it’s well presented and well written pure warfare. Plus you’d be hard to find a Warhammer novel which does not do this.
Aside from the massive conflict one of the book’s strengths comes from some of its quieter scenes. For example there is one very good characterising moment involving Uriel which a lot of people seem to have forgotten. In the aftermath of Warriors of Ultramar, Learchus took command of the Fourth Company while Uriel was fulfilling his death oath. Learchus had been extremely critical of Uriel’s choices during that campaign and after the heavy casualties they took he essentially rebuilt the entire Fourth Company. They were more his soldiers than Uriel’s now and he had led them to a major victory against the Orks.
No one expected Uriel to return from the Eye of Terror, so naturally when he comes back there is a good deal of resentment and distrust from Learchus. A few of the scenes go some way to trying to correct some of the previous shortcomings of the earlier books. With Uriel admitting Learchus had been right to speak out against him, that in time the company would become his and sticking solidly to the codex thoughout the book.
It never goes quite so far as to admit Uriel had been wrong to so openly abandon the tactics within the Codex Astartes, but it goes some way to addressing the criticisms surrounding Uriel.
So, you know what’s good about the book, and now for what’s bad:
The first point is that the book drops two of its more likable characters. Pasanius is held in a holding cell due to hiding a form a xenos taint out of shame, something which had plagued him and been a major source of guilt though out the first omnibus. He’s entirely missing from this instalment and while this does allow for Learchus to get some much needed character development, removing one of the series’ best known characters for one novel was definitely a misstep.
Similarly Admiral Tiberus, while present, is shunted into a background role. Having been a major part of the space borne battles in the first two books he was again one of the better detailed characters and  sidelining him was a definite mistake. If anything the book could have benefitted from him performing hit and run attacks against the Tau fleet and trying to prevent them deploying more reinforcements.
McNeill tries to make up for this by introducing new ones into the company and expanding upon previously mentioned characters, but it just doesn’t work. Their lack of familiarity and defining character doesn’t make them stand out and aside from Learchus none of the previously existing marines are that memorable. You’d be lucky to look back and find someone who can remember that the company’s chaplain was in the first book.
In addition to this, the supposed plot focus upon the Ultramarines distrusting Uriel does not hold up for a moment. He’s already been proven to be pure by daemon hunting forces and tested for any taint, so readers already know this is going to amount to nothing.
What’s more is that the ending cliffhanger linking this book into the Iron Warriors series comes out of nowhere. It’s simply confusing to no one who read the book and is touched upon so fleetingly that it feels very jarring. Not leaving the reader with eagerness to learn what happened or to go out and buy the next book, but with outright confusion.
If you’ve enjoyed the series so far you’re going to enjoy this one. If you want to see the Tau presented competently but not as invincible death machines then this is a good book for you. It’s well worth buying and gives some of the best insights into them since Gav Thrope’s Kill Team.


One book is bad and the other is good but lacks some of the strengths of the first three. The Killing Ground isn’t worth getting unless you’re a completionist but I would suggest getting Courage and Honour for the reasons listed above. If you’re trying to get into the Ultramarines series though, you’ll quickly find yourself lost with these books. Go back and get the omnibus or just read a few extracts to see if you like McNeill’s style.


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

Images taken from and one website-which-must-not-be-named.