Saturday, 28 January 2012

Mass Effect: Deception (Book Review)

This novel is bad, quite possibly one of the worst in terms of quality I’ve seen recently.

As bad as Revan was, at least in that you could see some quality in the writing when the author wasn’t openly flipping off at Bioware fans. But this? One member on the Cerberus Daily News forum described it best - “It’s like parody written by someone who doesn't know it's parody. Except worse.”

In all honesty, the plot does make the book sound promising. Gillian Grayson, the MEverse’s River Tam, has been in hiding with the Quarian Flotilla since the events of Ascension. A batarian slaver ship attacks the cruiser she is on and in a battle the quarians manage to capture it, from a imprisoned Cerberus agent on board Gillian learns her surrogate father Paul Grayson was experimented upon and killed by the Illusive Man.

From this description you’d expect an average novel. Perhaps a cliché ridden one which doesn’t match up to the quality of the games but isn’t overly bad. You would not expect it to be the latest milestone in the rapid decline in quality of Bioware products. To explain exactly why, this review is going to go through each screw up step by step, to show you just how bad it really is.
If you don’t want a detailed guide and just know if it’s worth getting – avoid it at all costs. There is absolutely nothing of worth to be found in this novel and many elements of it lessen the Mass Effect universe as a result of its existence.

With that done, now onto the analytical evisceration.

The biggest fault in the whole thing is that William C. Dietz makes the most amateur mistake in writing, constantly telling the audience things and not showing them. The entire book is written in an incredibly dry, matter-a-fact style which would be better suited to Wikipedia, not an action novel staring a psychic super being on a vengeful rampage. Here’s what you can expect to see in the many action scenes –
What happened next came as a complete surprise to the krogan as Gillain triggered the biotic power called “charge”. Rather than running away from the guards Gillian pounded straight at them. Within the space of three steps her body became a blur and she could feel additional strength coursing through her body as she hit one of the reptiles and sent the brute flying.

There’s no life to it, the action scenes are completely sterile and feel motionless. The whole thing is utterly devoid of activity and even full scale gunfights, explosions or wetworks operations are so poorly written they're either dull or become laughable. The characters are even worse.
None of the Mass Effect tie-in books had characters which were truly three dimensional, but they at least had some slight depth to them. Everything in this book reduces them to their bare basic characteristics.

Take Nick Donahue, a recurring figure of the last books and a fairly simple character. He was an arrogant, brash, overconfident and saw nothing wrong with using his powers against others but was competently written. In the last book there was a very awkwardly implemented sexual desire by him to bang one of his teachers. Dietz focuses heavily on this last bit so we get frequent moments like this –
But [Nick] couldn't resist watching Mythra Zon leave the building. She had a high forehead, wide-set eyes and perfect lips. The asari was shapely as well.
There’s even an entire bit with Nick seeing an asari and just sitting there, daydreaming about screwing her. It turns up dozens more times than it needs to, and to make matters worse Nick is one of the more logically written characters. Unfortunately no, that’s not a joke. He really is.

Gillian Grayson isn’t so much a character as she is a blank slate with the ability to kill people with her mind. She has practically no personality or detailed reactions which feel remotely engaging. This is a character who was turned into superweapon at a young age, raised by a dying race who fight robots, and is motivated to fight a shadowy organisation to avenge the death of her one parent – and reading about her feels dull!
Not only that, Gillian pulls off a lot of stuff which in this universe which is not only extremely unlikely, but is utterly impossible. For example, her powers.
She’s supposed to be extremely strong, has skills which few could wish for let alone attain and the previous book showed her massacring Cerberus troops. So you’d expect her most basic abilities like telekinesis to be able to flip tanks. The problem is the abilities themselves.

Quarians are specifically noted to have few to no bioitics at all, yet when Gillian shows up she is lobbing around Throw, Singularity, Charge and Reave. The latter is something you could only get very late on in the games through advanced training and a couple of others she never displayed in previous appearances. The quarians sure as hell didn’t teach them so her so where did she learn them? It gets worse. Apparently, according to the canon, it’s physically impossible to have one biotic being capable of Charge and Singularity due to the way they both work. Not only that but apparently Gillian’s version of Singularity causes people to explode, something it’s never done in past depictions, and it’s treated like the normal thing to happen.

Between the sudden gaining of skills, ability to do the physically impossible and “supercharged” versions of normal powers doing things they’ve never been hinted to do before she doesn’t come across like an enhanced badass. She reads like a Mary Sue in someone’s bad fanfiction, and it only gets worse later on.

If you’re enough of a fan of the games the first thing you’re probably going to notice is wrong is the names of the quarian characters. The only characters with correctly structured names are the ones who turned up in previous books and were spelled correctly there. One specifically irritating bit is that the “vas” in names is capitalized when it only indicates which ship they’re a part of. This would be like in a fantasy book having characters listed like Theoden Son Of Thengel. None of them, saved for the aforementioned exceptions have surnames either. It’s a minor gripe but it’s something which could have been easily fixed by an editor and Dietz should have noticed when looking up names.

What also should have been easily noticed by an editor was the small technical detail he threw in to the slaver ship, noting it to have a “Standard Tantalus Drive Core”. For those not in the know a Tantalus Drive Core was the thing the SSV Normandy was famed for having, the thing which made it cost as much as a heavy cruiser and gave it extremely advanced stealth capabilities. It was also experimental. It’s also worth noting that this was found on a batarian ship, a race that is constantly on the verge of total war against the human Systems Alliance.
Finding this would be like finding the stealth technology of an American prototype military aircraft on some random North Korean cargo plane and learning it’s a standard bit of technology. Within two years of said technology being created. Words cannot describe the stupidity.
Unfortunately for us this is not even the peak of the technology related problems, that is tied into the Citadel’s version of Chinatown: Hu-town. A town which is described as this – There were no aliens to be seen. Just tired, hollow-eyed humans. They had entered a ghetto called Hu-Town.
Dumb name aside it’s understandable that the Citadel would have a ghetto and it’s understandable that at least some of the population would be human. But an entire town of them?
Humans have been throwing themselves to the ends of the known galaxy creating new colonies, not rushing to find jobs on the Citadel. There are species who are far more prejudiced against and have much more trouble finding jobs like the quarians, krogan and possibly vorcha. All of who have been around for much longer than humanity has and yet it’s hundreds of humans who are on the Citadel being put into poverty. Well, poverty might not be the right word as apparently shops are selling SPECTRE grade equipment.
No, that actually happens. Gillian arrives in Hu-town and in a shop and is able to get a HMBA Master Bio-Amp from it to help enhance her biotic capabilities. She is finding the equipment of the galaxy’s best special forces in a ghetto! This defies all logic!

Oh, and then futuristic Mad Max raiders appear.
Again, not making this up –
They were a scruffy-looking bunch who wore face paint, were dressed in mismatched pieces of armor, and rode power skates. They were called the Lightnings and were known for their hit-and-run-style robberies
Mad Max raiders on Back to the Future style hoverboards. In Mass Effect. The book is literally doing my job for me, shooting itself in the foot so hard that it appears to be determined to drive away readers. Not only this but it actually tries to one up itself in terms of ridiculous and out of place methods of travel, as we later on get this gem –
“Look!” Anderson exclaimed “Gyrocycles!” I saw them on the way in. Let's grab one.” “You can drive it?” A much younger version of Anderson appeared when he smiled. “I can con a spaceship, can't I?”
Ignoring the obvious point of asking why is Anderson acting so out of character and where all his brain cells went, it needs to be pointed out we’ve jumped from Mad Max to Ratchet and Clank. Not one bit of this even registers as being Mass Effect related any more and feels like it’s come right out of 90s Image comics.

And finally there’s the book’s portrayal of Cerberus. Throughout the series Cerberus has been presented as an operation working from the shadows, ones working for humanity but are openly opposed by most humans due to their methods. Both the Systems Alliance and Citadel races deem them terrorists and they have been shown to willingly massacre and torture others to further humanity’s power.
They are, above all things, secretive very smart Machiavellian agents who are good at covering their tracks.

So what does this book do? It gives them a PR department. One which openly approaches mainstream media outlets to try and create recruitment advertisements for them –
Leng explained. “The mainstream media won't run our ads so we're using guerilla marketing techniques to put the message out. This includes wall crawls in places like Hu-Town, pirate sites on the extranet, and a network of flesh and blood storytellers, all trained to tell tales about the rise of humanity.”
Oh, and apparently humanity has absolutely no problem with them killing humans, leading their forces into traps and being responsible for as many human deaths as alien ones –
“Our polling shows that even though members of the other races tend to have negative impressions of Cerberus, most humans feel we are a positive influence.”

That small tremor you just felt is every Mass Effect fan from here to the ends of the earth banging their head against the nearest hard surface.

To conclude, this one is shockingly bad. The only thing which elevates it above the likes of Arms-Commander and Revan is that it wasn’t written to openly spite the reader. Even taking that into consideration both of those books were much better written than this one.
Bioware just doesn’t seem to care any more. We’ve seen a steady decline in the quality of the tie-in-novels they produce and this one is the worst Mass Effect one by far. As much as the review might have bashed William C. Dietz, he has produced good novels in the past, none of which have ever had this level of bad writing and cartoonish characterisation.
A lot of the mistakes are things which should have been picked up by editors or people working in Bioware, who should have pointed out things like the mass produced Tantalus Drive Core. As such a large amount of the blame for this book’s failure can be placed upon them.

Ignore this novel, pretend it doesn’t exist and hope that Bioware puts more effort into Mass Effect 3’s lore than what was in here. And that we don’t end up with a level playing as Shepard fighting his way through Cerberus’ PR department on a gyrocycle.

Mass Effect and all related characters and media are owned by Bioware.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Star Wars Uncut: Director's Cut (Film Review)

This film is bizarre, disjointed, creative, varied, mixed, diverse and a bunch of other things on a scale not seen before in any Hollywood film. The only comparable experience there might be to watching this film is the times when Godfrey Ho used footage from other failed films to try and create a completely new one. Characters change actors between scenes, scenes change between shots, video quality jumps between camera and the film even leaps genres.

You’re probably all very confused by this point so I’ll just quote the description by the film’s creator: 
In 2009, Casey Pugh asked thousands of Internet users to remake "Star Wars: A New Hope" into a fan film, 15 seconds at a time. Contributors were allowed to recreate scenes from Star Wars however they wanted. Within just a few months SWU grew into a wild success. The creativity that poured into the project was unimaginable.

SWU has been featured in documentaries, news features and conferences around the world for its unique appeal. In 2010 we won a Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Creative Achievement In Interactive Media.”

So yes, this is Star Wars: A New Hope where hundreds of different production crews were used, each one making only a scant few seconds of footage each time. Oddly enough though, it actually proves to be extremely entertaining. You never quite know what you’re going to end up with next as there’s a huge number of different ways people have filmed this.

In the first half of the film you’re going to see:

-children playing the roles of the heroes,

-scenes filmed in stop motion, animation, rotoscoping, 
a car journey which looks like it was shot as a low budget Michael Bay film,

-a live action political argument,

-scenes turning into sections of a Japanese sitcom, a western and a musical,

-scenes apparently created in Minecraft,

-and a few seconds of footage based upon the original Monkey Island.

If the entire thing had stopped and everyone had broken out into a hundred man performance of One Night in Bangkok it would have felt entirely in line with the film.

It sticks to the overall basic plot of A New Hope, ninety-nine percent of the dialogue remains the same as the first Star Wars film, sometimes using the sounds of the film it's parodying. At the same time however it remains utterly surreal to the point of hilarity. It’s definitely the most original idea for a fan project I’ve seen on the internet and even when some of the acting was bordering upon being unbearable or downright disturbing, yet at no time was I bored. There is a lot of entertainment value in it and the unpredictability makes it well worth the two hours spent watching it.

Bottom line – Worth watching. It’s very strange and uncanny but it’s original and you’ll not get bored watching this one. Well worth a look, just be ready for some unfortunately memorable moments.

Star Wars Uncut can be viewed in its entirety on youtube Here.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Your Moment of Awesome For Today

AKA Reason 1,472 of why I love Warhammer 40,000. This sort of thing is entirely in character for the Space Wolves chapter.

Click on the image, open in new tab to read, enjoy. 
Warning: strong language within.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (Film Review)

If you were to rename this film Mission Impossible: Murphy’s Law not one person would bat an eye. In the film just about everything that can go wrong essentially does go wrong from the technical equipment to the planning – for the characters.

The story for this one is fairly simple, a mission to try and infiltrate the Kremlin and prevent a major international incident results in Ethan Hunt and his new team being framed for an act of terrorism. With the MIF shut down, Russian authorities hunting them and their enemy constantly one step ahead; they have to clear their names and prevent a global disaster.
Half of the team are either desk workers or have only just been granted field duty, they have no backup, every plan created is quickly thwarted in some manner and the equipment they use is increasingly unreliable. So yeah, everything that could go wrong does go wrong, and it makes for an entertaining film.

This Mission Impossible has essentially dropped all pretenses of being a spy film and aside from a couple of acts of espionage it’s all out action. It feels like many of the James Bond films of the Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan eras: while there is subterfuge and a mystery it’s usually used as breather to show off gadgets between car chases. For example, five minutes after learning that he’s been framed, Hunt is able to find out the exact identity of who has framed him. This isn’t a bad thing, it just means that the film is light on plot, relying upon its acting talents and style to carry it. For the most part they do.

For his first time in the director’s chair of a live action film Brad Bird does an exceptional job, setting up shots and making the best of each location he’s given, conveying the feel of each scene very well. He supplies the same fluid, well staged and dynamic action scenes you’d expect to see out of any of his animated films. His cinematography is what turns the action sequences into Mission Impossible’s true highlights.

Similarly, where the plot falls short on brains and characterisation the actors pick up the slack.
Like Stephen Fry in Sherlock Holmes, Simon Pegg ends up essentially playing himself but does it with all the comic timing and charm he’s famous for, though he’s unfortunately regulated to the role of a hacker. This felt irritating, they sidelined someone who has proven himself to be able to pull off an action film character to being the inexperienced computer geek. If there’s one thing that could have made this film more fun it would have been adding Sergeant Nicholas Angel to the gun battles.
Tom Cruise and Jeremy Renner both put in good performances and the while story doesn’t give Paula Patton enough to do, she does her best with what she’s given. No, the worst role in the film is none of its protagonists but is in fact its villain.

Michael Nyqvist suffers the most from the story and ends up fading into the background, giving no impression of personality nor any real chance for him to display his acting chops. The character, Kurt Hendricks, is defined simply as a madman desiring nuclear war to progress his own theories on “what does not kill you makes you stronger”. The most lines are ever given is during a one way speech shown in archive footage and the only line he exchanges with any of the heroes is to implicate MIF in his own bombings. It was a waste of a talented actor and the lack of effort put into writing the villain really hurt the film.

There’s really not much else to say besides that, it ranks alongside The World Is Not Enough in terms of chases, gadgets and settings; and is definitely better than Mission Impossible III. It’s dumb and lacks a good bad guy but has plenty of elements to make up for that, at the end of the day it’s neither something to rant about or rant against.
See it if you want some good action scenes, just don't expect to remember any of it a week later.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and all related characters and media are owned by Paramount Pictures.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The Gunfighter (Film Review)

In every genre you’re going to find a few overlooked great films. A handful of gems which for one reason or another have been all but forgotten about by everyone. Fifth Element, Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Dark City, there’s quite a few which people know are exceptional but seem to think aren’t worth mentioning along side famed classics. The Gunfighter has to be the biggest example of this ever to have a star in the lead role. The film is fantastically shot, brilliantly written, has a deconstruction of an old western character type, and yet Heaven’s Gate turns up on more “100 Best Westerns” lists than this one.

Made in 1950, The Gunfighter shows the impact of a reformed gunslinger Jimmy Ringo, Gregory Peck, on a small town he stops in to try and reconnect with his estranged family. Despite having retired years ago, Ringo’s feared reputation keeps coming back to haunt him; many seeing him as a vicious killer and wanting him run out of town. To make matters worse three vengeful gunmen are pursuing him, planning to make a reputation for themselves by bringing them down.

While it might seem tame by today’s standards, especially in the light of the ultra-gritty True Grit remake, the film is a good realistic take on Westerns for something which is a little over sixty years old. Made in a time in which six-shooter carrying cowboys were glorified, it showed the impact such a life would have on a person in their later years, becoming a millstone dragging Ringo down.
As well as being rightfully feared by many locals and outright hostility by others. One memorable sequence featured him being pinned down in a saloon by an old man with a winchester and having to sneak out then disarm the man. Ringo beats him, only to learn the man was trying to avenge someone he never met, mis-blaming the gunfighter due to his fame.

The acting as a whole is very good, definitely on par with the best films of that era such as the Maltese Falcon, but what really helped was its star. Outside of To Kill A Mockingbird, Gregory Peck has never felt like a great actor to me, but here he’s outstanding. He’s able to play the character of Ringo as someone tired with his life, his past mistakes weighing heavily upon him, but at the same time with something to hope for keeping him going. He manages to balance out opposing characteristics and delivered a performance which definitely elevated the quality of the film.

Despite this, even if the film had lacked the superb acting its direction would have still kept it head and shoulders above its competition. The style feels very theatre-esq, with very few close ups and frequently two actors being in the same shot for prolonged periods of time and few cuts. At the same time it’s very tightly shot and no scene is wasted in the finished product.

The only area the film really falls short in is its almost total lack of musical accompaniment. Many scenes feel like they could have been improved if The Gunfighter had a proper score written for it, nothing overt but something to be present in the background during tense moments. Aside from that there are no real complaints worth making of the film.

Does it stand up when compared with lauded flicks like The Searchers? In all honesty: yes, it really does.


The Gunfighter and all related characters and media are owned by Twentieth Century Fox.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Inactivity Again

To start things off - I did have something planned for New Year's Eve, but i'm saving it for next year. You'll understand why when we get to December the 31st, trust me.

Secondly, this is a warning the site is going to be inactive for some time. A mixture of University work and other obligations are going to keep getting in the way of posting new reviews for a while, and with a new timetable I need to sort out a new date for uploads. It'll probably be Tuesday or Sunday depending upon how draining the several hours of travelling to and from University proves to be.
Anything I do post will ultimately depend upon how much time I have to play/watch/read something, plan out a review, proof read it and all that other stuff.

If you're looking to get your reviewing fix with over the next month or two, i'd suggest taking a look at STRETCH Reviews, JunkyardBreadfruit or click on the link to Paranerds on the right bar. All of them produce very entertaining videos/text reviews/podcasts and could do with a lot more attention than what they're getting right now.

So, hopefully it won't be long before I'm posting stuff again and i'll see you when I do.