Saturday, 25 February 2012

Hundred Swords (PC Video Game Review)

All images were taken by Dan Maximus. Both they and further examples of the game's artwork can be found here.

You know, this is one which I’m surprised more people don’t know about. Okay, there’s an obvious reason why, I’ll get to that later on, but for a game which tried to blend two entirely different genres and is two console generations old, this one is surprisingly good.

Made by Sega back in 2001, Hundred Swords was made as an RTS for consoles. The idea behind it seemed to be trimming down on a lot of the grinding, leveling and resource harvesting to make a much simpler and more streamlined game. The sort of thing Halo Wars was talked about doing and to avoid botched attempts at porting PC RTSs like the PS2’s mangled and unwieldy Age of Empires 2. The creative team went about this in a unique way, by trying to blend it with JRPG elements, focusing heavily upon the heroes of each faction.

You buy heroes from your HQ during missions, outfit them with weapons and armour (called Shells, don’t ask) and have them enter barracks to build up squads. These squads will follow the hero in a group but you can only have a limited number of them, meaning the more troops you want the more heroes you’ll need. You also have to order heroes to build things such as resource mines so you’ll want to keep them alive.
This might be simple but it really does help speed up gameplay, it removes a lot of micromanaging and while it lacks the depth of some other RTS series it makes for a very good fast paced skirmish game.

There’s not much which needs to be said about the class system, it’s a rock-paper-scissors affair. Slow armoured soldiers beat cavalry, lightly armoured ranged mages beat soldiers, fast moving cavalry kill mages. There are also archers but they’re just mages with a longer range weaker attack and you’ll always end up using them in the same way. The same goes for the war machines, golems = close combat, artillery = bomb from long range, airships = deploy a hero behind enemy lines. The factions of Nalavale, Gran, Mascar, and Ruplustorie each specialise in one class and get more heroes of one type than all others.

That’s pretty much the gameplay in a nutshell, simplistic but effective and you get the hang of it very quickly. The only real drawback with this is the incredibly slipshod pathing AI, several times a game you’ll end up finding troops caught on scenery or trying to walk through walls in an attempt to follow their commander. Very often in rocky maps you’ll end up having to either manually direct them at each step of their movement or set extremely strict waypoints for them to follow. This big problem with unit AI really slows the gameplay down and it’s a shame because the enemy AI is fairly well programmed for its time. Quite often it’ll try to launch two pronged assaults or launch hit and fade attacks upon resource mines, switching between a set style depending upon if it’s winning or losing. It’s certainly a cut above what you’d find in Age of Empires games at this time.

The really big drawback to the game isn’t actually a flaw in its making, but it’s instead something the port left out. In the original Japanese version there was an RPG element where you could choose how to respond to certain situations in the campaign with your main character, King Larf of Nalavale or Queen Fals of Gran. Your responses didn’t change the story, no, they changed your leader. For example if you made a decision of a king who served his country your hero could end up having greater loyalty and commanding more men. Make a decision which puts yourself first and your hero could end up with a sudden permanent stats boost. I’ve not seen this done in other games and I can’t figure out for the life of me why it was removed for the European port.
The game’s story itself? Eh, not bad. It lacks some originality and while it has predictable moments there’s also a few good ideas.

The idea of the game is that it’s set during a time of peace after hundreds of years of war. The protagonist nation of Nalavale has a long and bloody history but its current king is trying to make amends and has been in contact with Gran. The nation of Mascar, who suffered badly in past engagements with Nalavale, intercepts a message between them and fearing they’re planning to pincer them from the north and east launches an invasion of Nalavale. This makes them stand out from the average JRPG villain, they’re not seeking world destruction or domination, they’re acting out of fear and hatred for an old enemy. Things go badly for the world from there.

Often the story feels heavy handed but there are some quite tragic and horrifying moments in the game which are beautifully told through the game’s art panels. The biggest example of this is when the Nalavale win a major victory against Mascar and retake a city, only to find its populace have been put to the stake atop a hill. It’s told through images and few words and has much better emotional impact than any tragedy we’ve seen in a SquareEnix title over the last few years. Both the artwork and story are easily the game’s best selling points.
One big problem though – they cut some stuff for the PC release. Only the Dreamcast release, the platform it was released in the largest numbers on, contained the full story outside of Japan. Now you know why it’s not better known.

In all honesty there’s not much else to say about the game. It looks, feels and sounds like a game from about ten years ago but it’s definitely one which has aged well. There are certainly ones which exceed it in many areas, but I had fun replaying it for this review.
Buy it for the good single player campaign and the artwork, but only if you can get it for £10 or less.
If you can’t find a copy or want something with a good multiplayer experience and proper base building elements, try Heroes of Might and Magic V.


Hundred Swords and all related characters and media are owned by Sega.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Godzilla: Final Wars (Film Review)

Final Wars can probably be summed up in the sentenced which entered my head as the credits rolled: “This is what the American remake would have looked like if Roland Emmerich had actually done his job.” No, seriously it is: Its story is basically one big excuse to get lots of explosions, it has prominent human characters, has destruction of key locations around the world, it is a departure from the series' status quo, there is visible presence of the human military and even the American Godzilla shows up.
There’s just one ever so important difference between the two – this one didn’t entirely suck.

The story, ironically enough, is surprisingly complicated for something which is effectively a line linking together the various battles.
Set in the far future, mankind’s continuous battles with giant monsters have forced them to repeatedly advance their technology until they can effectively fight kaiju. Using mutant supersoldiers and flying battleships, human military forces have been able to take down and contain monsters in isolated battles whenever they appear. Despite this, when every monster on the planet starts attacking major locations across the world the Earth Defence Force is nearly overrun and only the sudden arrival of an alien fleet, who targets and seemingly vaporizes the monsters, saves them.

The aliens introduce themselves as the Xilians and state they come in peace. The heroes are unconvinced and sure enough they’re revealed to be behind the monster attacks; trying to weaken humanity so they can subjugate them. With their cover blown the Xilians opt for an all out attack and release the supposedly destroyed monsters upon the human race. Using their remaining battleship, the remnants of the EDF head for the South Pole to awaken one of the few monsters not under the aliens control, the cryogenically frozen Godzilla.

Have you got all that? Good, because that’s about half the film right there, Godzilla doesn’t properly show up until quite some way into the film. This means Final Wars is stuck relying heavily upon its human characters with mixed results. On the one hand in comparison to other films where humans take the spotlight over the title attractions like Alien Vs. Predator or Michael Bay’s Transformers etc; these ones aren’t teeth-grindingly annoying or a waste of time.
They’re perhaps a little bland, and have some occasionally facepalming dialogue, but they’re not making constant masturbation jokes and rather than stealing the spotlight by killing the villains their battles are used to show just how outgunned they really are. The problem is that as fun as it is to see wireworked gun battles and flying laser equipped battleships fighting monsters, they only serve as a nice distraction and aren’t what the audience came to see. We end up getting far more of these fights than we do monster battles and as they’re not the main attraction they just feel like padding to the main event. When the film does actually get to a few monster battles, they end up making it worthwhile.

A lot of the ones seen in the film are monsters who have not been on screen for the better part of a decade and have undergone some major visual upgrades. You can visibly see the time and money that’s been put into making each one look good and best of all almost all of them are depicted through practical effects.
The only time they’re not is either due to them having been originally a CGI creation, limitations due to their overall look or when they’re pulling off something which is easier to depict with the use of computer generated imagery.  Rather than using it purely as a crutch to try and hold itself up, the film primarily uses it as a method of improving fights.
The only problem is that the quality of it isn’t all that great, frequently you get moments which manage to look even more fake than the men in monster costumes.

What’s more is that there are two other things which have the habit of undermining the fights, specifically two characters. The first is the commander of the alien invasion force, the Controller. He’s built up as being a major threat and despite having obvious fighting prowess he’s depicted as a childish, tantrum throwing kill-crazy failure of a general. At frequent points he’s shown to be throwing hissy fits over his losses meaning awesome scenes like where Godzilla takes down his American namesake without breaking a sweat are utterly crippled by being intercut with him. The closest thing he can be compared to is Sam Rockwell’s Justin Hammer in the second Iron Man film - annoying, unfunny and ultimately the weakest part of Final Wars.

The second is the inclusion of Minya. If you don’t know who that is, he's the Jar Jar Binks of the franchise. A monster that appeared in about three films back in the 1970s, was universally hated, and quickly ditched as soon as possible. And yet the writers decided to bring him back for this, giving him his own subplot and intercutting him into one of the film’s best fights – removing a lot of the entertainment value for a lot of the latter half.

These last two points really are two massive detractors which end up dragging the film down and Final Wars would have greatly benefitted from a fan edit to omit most of their scenes from the runtime.
Ultimately Final Wars' biggest problems, aside from the above mentions, stemmed from its director trying something different. Most Godzilla films from 90s onwards had followed the same formula and rarely deviated from it in any way. Final Wars seemed to be an attempt to try to take a film in a new direction while at the same time celebrating the franchise's history, but with mixed results. As it stands, the film’s not bad – when it’s good it’s outstanding and when it’s bad it replicates the worst parts of the 70s films.
It’s clunky, overstuffed and was overambitious but it’s entertaining enough to warrant a look if you’re curious.


Godzilla: Final Wars and all related characters and media are owned by Toho.

Sunday, 12 February 2012


“… it was in the final hours of the war for Titanus that the traitors' leader showed himself.
The conflict which had begun as a crusade against an old heresy, the greatest of the Imperium’s mistakes, had become a grinding war of attrition. Despite blasting our way through the world’s orbital defences and successfully landing our forces on the world below, they were more than ready for us.
From hidden bunkers below the world’s surface and vast networks of catacombs they repeatedly struck from all sides, hitting our supply lines and reinforcing their faltering strongholds even as our valiant warriors tore them down. Bodies choked the vast wastelands of the planet’s surface, pure and corrupt alike falling in the constant battle, but despite hideous losses neither would retreat.

For the Grey Knights and their successors of the Exorcists chapter, this war was a matter of honour. To slay and execute those who carried their gene-seed but had utterly disgraced themselves, allowing their blind faith in the Emperor of Mankind to lead them astray. Becoming a vice rather than a pillar of strength, allowing them to become warped by the whispering of daemons who disguised themselves as angelic saints and brother Knights.
For their allies, the warriors sent by the few surviving Orders Militant of the Adeptus Sororitas, it was a matter of revenge. They now knew the identity of those who had repeatedly struck at them, crippling and destroying them over the course of several millennia, who had slaughtered countless Sisters and sacrificed them in dark rituals to serve their own ends. Only with retribution and the extermination of the servants of the Ruinous Powers who had taken this world as their stronghold would they leave the planet to begin to long process of rebuilding their numbers.

And the blinded foolhardy astartes of this world, those who had become twisted, mewling puppets in service of the dark gods would only rest with the slaughter of their “misguided” brothers. To the traitor Grey Knights, the self-proclaimed “Knight Wardens of the Emperor” this was a war for survival, to defend the twisted parody of holy Titan they had made their home.

Despite their blind fanaticism, false faith and the strength they gained from the tainted weapons they wielded – the Knight Wardens were losing more of their number with each passing day. Acts of heroism by the Imperial crusaders were beating back the darkness which skulked within the world, slowly but surely slaying its defenders.
Many of these tales are well known to the inquisition – the redemption of Anaval Thawn, the duel between Castellan Crowe and Justicar Alaric, the death of Vorth Mordrak and his daemonic servants at the hands of Canoness Telleran. But these are tales better told by others, for there is only one act of heroism I witnessed first hand.
The judgment of Kaldor Draigo.

Draigo was amongst the last of the Wardens to fall. Not out of skill at arms nor even tactical capability but because he had avoided the conflict. Whereas his battle brothers and followers had died to defend the towering corrupt spires which served as their homes, he had hidden, cowering in a mighty fortress far from the battles. It was only when we approached his hiding place, the last structure standing upon the world of Titanus, that he marched out to face us.

The warrior’s wargear was a grim parody of those worn by Grey Knights. While the sanctified tactical dreadnought armour of the 666th chapter radiated purity, strength and bore few if any icons celebrating the triumphs of the warrior they encased, Draigo’s was littered with symbols of the Ruinous Powers. Gaudy plates and trinkets which boasted of his own feats, depicted his sheer power as exceeding that of the primarchs themselves, and in golden plating was recorded texts from the blasphemous Book of Lorgar.

In his right hand, rather than any pure nemesis weapon of a Knight was an axe of a daemon. Crudely carved and hammered until it resembled a sword and reeking of Warp energy, even from where I stood I could feel its lust for untainted blood. Worst, however, was the banner upon his shoulders.
Strung between the poles, across fabric of human flesh, was the body of the Imperial Saint Aspira. The Saint’s body had been reported gone when an unknown force, now known to be the Warden Knights, had assaulted the tomb complex in which she resided and destroyed the stasis field which preserved her corpse.
The body had been stripped of the ornate armour she had worn and every inch of flesh had been inscribed with chaotic text and the sigils of Khorne, Slaanesh, Tzeenth and Nurgle. Next to her defiled body were the heads of Canonesses Ereon and Gabriella, leaders of the once powerful Sororitas Order of the Silver Chalice.

Standing before the arrayed Imperial battle lines, Draigo shrieked obscenities. Boasting of how he had single handily slaughtered every daemon of Slaanesh, destroyed the city of Tzeentch and torn the heart from the traitor primarch Mortarion. He listed victories which were impossible, of how he had travelled the Warp on foot and easily conquered the greatest of daemons in single battle. Boasted of how he had done more in a hundred years to defeat Chaos than any warrior who fought his chapter had done in ten thousand years, claiming to have exceeded the Emperor himself in power. That he carried his gene-seed and as a result was immune to the corrupting influence of the Chaos gods. This last statement broke the silence which had fallen amongst the assembled Imperials upon seeing the Grand Master. A sound I had not heard in the many months of bloodshed since we had set out to defeat these heretics: Mirth.

It started slowly at first, a low chuckle before bursting out into roars of laughter. It had come from the terminator clad warrior at the forefront of our warhost, the Force Commander of the assembled Grey Knights upon this world – Brother-Captain Stern.

I had not seen any of the silver warriors express any emotion besides grim faced determination in the time I had fought beside them, and seeing their near legendary leader react this way was nothing short of unnerving. Raising his voice for all to hear he spoke of the so called “victories” Draigo had achieve in his years amongst their ranks before being lost to a Warp storm. Of how the traitor had barely passed any trial, of how his envy and hunger for glory had been infamous amongst their number and how, contrary to his claims, M’Kar had easily beaten him to within an inch of his life in their each encounter.
Stern voiced his disgust at Draigo, of how far he had fallen, the daemonic powers praying upon his pride and obsession with glory. Where the other leaders of the Wardens had fallen to daemonic possession, lamenting personal failures or had their perceptions twisted by Chaos – Draigo had been turned willingly. Even amongst his own traitorous kind Stern saw him as a disgrace, a pathetic ruin of a man who was nothing more than a puppet for the daemons he thought he opposed.

Drawing his blade Stern issued a challenge to the warrior, to prove his own abilities and defeat him in battle. He ordered that no astartes would raise a weapon against the corrupt warrior until one was slain by the other.
Screaming a foul clamorous praise to the dark gods, Draigo raised his weapon and charged.

Despite his deluded tales of victories against Chaos, there was no denying the traitor’s sheer power. Driven on by the corrupting influence of the weapon he carried and his own dark totems he repeatedly slammed against Stern’s armour, trying to break through Stern's disciplined defences and execute the Grey Knight leader. While Draigo fought with sheer strength born of the Warp, Stern battled against him with experience born of a thousand campaigns against humanity's worst enemies. Repeatedly drawing Draigo into feints and striking around the daemon weapon, he breaching the traitor’s armour over and over again.
Bursts of psychic energy, both pure and corrupt exploded around the opposing warriors, the force of which opened rifts in reality, warping their armour and ripping flesh from bone. But for all his skill, Stern was the weaker of the two. Where has Driago drew upon the power of Chaos to sustain him and push on, Stern was gradually tiring as the battle wore on and began making mistakes.

After over an hour of fighting, the duel ended. Mistaking a feint from Driago as a true attack, Stern raised his sword high and left his guard open to a sweeping blow into his side from the heretic’s shield sending him staggering back. The daemonic weapon stabbed down and punched through Stern’s abdomen, splitting the ancient armour he wore and drawing blood. The Brother-Captain toppled backwards, gripping the hideous wound in his side as Draigo roared into the heavens in victory.

Stepping forwards to deliver the final blow, Draigo realised there was another who was striding from the assembled battle lines. A towering figure in plane robes of a pilgrim. Power armour could be glimpsed beneath the robes and as the figure approached, Draigo sneered. He repeated the order Stern had issued, that no astartes was to interrupt their duel and knew that no space marine would dare to disobey his words. The figure said nothing, simply pulling back the hood and allowing the robes to fall away and Draigo’s sneer was replaced by an expression of shock, then fear. It was no astartes.
White wings unfurled and the figure took to the skies, drawing the blazing Ardent Blade from its scabbard, looking down upon the fallen warrior in disdain. “Ye guilty” judged Celestine, Living Saint of the Order of the Martyred Lady as she attacked.

Whatever power the gods of Chaos had gifted to Kaldor Draigo was no match for a living embodiment of the Emperor’s will. Frantically he raised his shield to defend against the oncoming attack, only for it to shatter with her first blow. As he was still reeling, she swung her blade in two wide arcs, the first cutting through the base of the banner pole upon which Saint Aspira’s defiled corpse hung, the second removing his sword arm at the elbow.
Draigo screamed in pain as black blood erupted from the wound and clutched at it, only for a stab from behind to puncture his chest. Stern, his face drawn and pale, had rammed his nemesis force weapon through the traitor’s back, impaling him upon it and shattering the mocking parody of an inquisitorial seal which adorned the chest plate of Draigo’s armour. Falling to his knees, Draigo felt the powers of Chaos departing from him. The runes which once glowed with sorcerous power began to dull to flickering embers and his Warp spawned weapon shattered, fading from reality. Fearing his end, the he began begging for his life - pleading that he be allowed to make amends for his mistakes and his crimes against the Emperor.

Picking him up by his ruined gorget, Stern snarled as he saw fear in the Grand Master's eyes. “You are nothing” Stern spat “You are no astartes, you are not even a man. You shall live. I promise you that, you shall live to see your corrupt sect of traitors fall and your world. But know this: I take neither pride nor pleasure in your defeat, heretic. You are neither humanity's greatest champion nor the successor to Him on Terra. You are nothing.”
Looking to the assembled forces waiting his command, Stern yelled “Techmarines! Fetch me chains!”

With their leader defeated, the Knight Wardens’ daemonic allies abandoned them. Charging from the wasteland beyond their citadel in an armoured tide came the combined force of space marines and sisters of battle. At their head was Stern’s personal Land Raider and spayed across its front, held in place by spears of adamantium which had been driven through his flesh and chains strong enough to resist even the enhanced strength of an astartes, was Draigo. Crucified and still living, watching in mute shock as the Imperials stormed through the Warden’s remaining citadel and destroyed all within. He said nothing as libraries of arcane knowledge were burned, warriors crushed beneath the tracks of the armoured war machine and the imprisoned daemons held within the citadel, powering its heretical facilities, were banished.

Only as he was removed from the tank and chained to his throne at the citadel's highest point did he begin to cry out, protesting as he realised what punishment the Grey Knights planned for him. True to his word Stern left the warrior alive, trapped on a dead world, and left for insanity to claim him. I still remember his screams to this day, begging us to take him or end his life as we left. Screaming for us to finish him even as lance strikes came down upon every other location across the planet, levelling every one of the Wardens’ bastions save for Draigo’s prison.

Even to this day, years since we left Titanus and returned to the heartland of the Imperium I wonder if he is still there. The physiology of a space marine is powerful and, as much as I loathe to admit it, their long lives can be extended by the powers of Chaos.
In my mind’s eye I can see the Lord of Wardens chained upon his throne, crying out in anguish as he is forgotten by the universe, as everything he accomplished is torn down, every mention of his name is struck from Imperial records and the true servants of the Imperium move on without him.
It is a heartening image.”

- Extract from the records of Inquisitor Dante, Ordo Hereticus – Litinarch Sub-Sector


The manager of my local Games Workshop wanted me to have a good reason for why my Grey Knights Land Raider had Draigo crucified on its front, besides my utter hatred for the character.
I imagine 2,300 words of revenge fanfiction might make him regret that asking for that.

Halo: Primordium (Book Review)

Before you even begin to start on Primordium there’s a question you need to ask yourself. That question is “Have I read Halo: Cryptum?” If your answer is no, then go read it. Don’t even bother trying to start with Primordium, you’ll just end up very lost.
Whereas other series might give a few pages, perhaps even a chapter, calling back to the events of the previous series to ease any new readers in, this book only gives a couple of lines. You’ll get more information from the description on the book’s spine about what is going on than you end up getting in the first chapter.
It’s certainly not helped by the incredibly abrupt beginning which takes place part way through the previous instalment of the Forerunner Saga. And the fact its told in two different periods of time just confuses things more.
The story of this book covers what happened to two of the human characters in Cryptum, Chakas and Riser. It reveals they disappeared during the major battle of the previous book when the ship carrying them was shot down on a heavily damaged Halo installation which has become battleground between the Forerunners and an enemy which is beating them at every turn. While this tale took place in the days of the Forerunners, it is being told to a group of ONI affiliated humans by a Forerunner monitor who has recorded the experiences of Chakas.
This decision is probably the book’s first stumbling point - telling everything from the first person perspective of Chakas. While Cryptum was told from the perspective of Bornstellar, in that book it was interesting. It was good because the writing style suggested an alien mind, that when he talked about things it felt like it was from a different culture which was advanced from us. Chakas’ tale is told in the exact same way and he’s a borderline caveman, unable to understand almost all of what he sees and it becomes both boring and repetitive to have him constantly fumbling with his surroundings – barely knowing what is going on.
Because it’s written in the same way as Bornstellar’s book it doesn’t make him feel like he’s someone out of his depth, caught up in bigger events and from a less developed society – it just makes him look like a frigging moron. To make matters worse, when you read the book you start to get the feeling Chakas was intended to be a mirror of Bornstellar – he was rebellious, youthful, sometimes na├»ve and his eventual fate has direct parallels to what happens to the forerunner.
The problem is Chackas isn’t interesting, he both feels like he’s just a poor man’s version of the previous protagonist and an underdeveloped one at that. Someone with little to no characteristics or notable traits which ever come up in the book. When compared with Cryptum where we got a well-rounded and interesting protagonist, this is a definite let-down which is only made worse with most of the book surrounding him with other dull, very primitive characters. The only time some truly good ones turn up is right at the end save for the Lord of Admirals who is primarily used as exposition during the book’s first half.
But to be honest with you, even if they had surrounded him with an incredibly fleshed out cast it would not have helped due to the setting.
Many of the chapters are very bland and uneventful. Just depicting lots of travelling and talking, almost all of which is hard going but doesn’t really give anything of interest to the reader. If you keep reading it’ll be due to signs of progress towards something big, but these are few and far between. Though the payoffs to these hints are always good there’s a good chance you’ll end up missing a few due to Chakas’ vague descriptions. To make matters worse, the same vague, spartan and confusing descriptions really hamper the book’s use of its location. It’s set on a battle damaged Halo device but from what little information we’re given, it could be on practically any Forerunner planet. On only one occasion does Chakas actually note about the planet’s state and unusual state and then it’s ignored until the very end.
There’s also no action what so ever, while Cryptum was mainly talking and explanations there were at least a few space battles and engagements to keep things interesting. But in this – nada. You certainly see plenty of signs of action and the aftermath of fights but there’s no actual engagements depicted in any scenes. It’s like Greg Bear set out to intentionally have the book dodge any heart-pounding or fast paced action in favour of long repetitive travelling. But to be completely honest with you, even with these flaws the book is still worth getting for the ending.
There are some earth-shattering bombshells dropped in the last few pages which change all of what we know in Halo, right from the Forerunner era to the Covenant War. The sorts of things which will likely turn up in Halo 4. But even without that the book does still have the quality of writing as the first book of the Forerunner saga, it was just severely hampered by its protagonist. If they had just found a way to make Chakas more interesting and given some better narrative to the book it would have been a much easier read.
It’s undeniably harder to get through than Cryptum. It is frustrating at times and there are many scenes of dead air but when it delivers good plot developments they more than make up for its flaws. Get it if you enjoyed the previous book, just be very patient with this one and be ready to have to go through this one at a slow pace.


Halo and all related characters and media are owned by Microsoft.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Outlander (Film Review)

This is a B-movie.

It doesn’t matter how much money was put into it, it doesn’t matter it’s got big name stars and CGI beasties. This is a film in which Vikings fight of an alien dragon, sticks to using as few locations as possible and relies heavily upon spectacle. It’s a B-movie. It just somehow managed to get a big budget.
You’ve got to have that in mind when going to see Outlander if you want to enjoy yourself.

The basic outline is, well, as stated above: Vikings vs. aliens. To elaborate a bit though the film quickly establishes a few points to get a lot of things out of the way. Earth is a failed colony of a spacefaring human empire. A planet which had humans land on it and try to establish a base of power but was abandoned, as a result the populace regressed technologically and lost a lot of their knowledge. In 709 AD the survivors of another human colony crash land on the world killing everyone but its pilot Kainan (Jim Caviezel) and a human hating monster which stowed away on-board it escapes. As the monster rampages through Norway, slaughtering villages, he tries to unite the nearby Viking factions against it even as they blame one another and even him for the murders.

The big problem is this is effectively info-dumped onto the audience within the first minute. While it’s good the film didn’t just resort to an openly monologue to tell the audience all this, it’s incredibly jarring and the narrative doesn’t flow well. This goes for a hell of a lot of the initial establishment, ranging from talks about the state of one Viking village to the mentality of each character – it’s told so directly and with so little subtlety it’s astounding they didn’t reshoot it.
Just about any fight in the first act has massive numbers of edits to try and cover for visual problems. These range from trying not to let the audience see something painfully obvious or to hide the John Hurt holding his own in a sparring match against someone half his age while delivering exposition. It’s very distracting and occasionally verges upon being as bad as the dizzying blurred mess of an opening fight in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
This, combined with Outlander telling its audience absolutely bugger all about its hero until the third act, makes it a very difficult to enjoy during at first. It only really picks up when the plot stops frantically leaping about and slows down enough to give its actors a chance to properly talk rather than fight, run or dump exposition.

When Outlander does start to use its cast properly, it begins to become enjoyable and you start to see why each actor was hired to play his/her role. Along with this is the added menace of the alien monster, the Moorwen, which is never directly seen but constantly lurks nearby. It’s not done as effectively as in, say, Predator but its constant presence and initial attacks do result in some fairly tense scenes. We only see it in fleeting moments, some P.O.V. shots and from its kills so when it finally turns up it’s given much more impact than just having hit turn up and kill people.
What helps to boost the quality of the scenes between fights is the actors. When the film slows down enough to let them act, the cast give consistently good performances.  One of the film’s best moments comes not from the battles but having Kainan speak about the events prior to his arrival on earth. Even Ron Pearlman, who is only present for about ten minutes, is putting as much effort into this film as he does in Hellboy; and it’s what really makes the this worth watching. Of course, this is a film which has ”vs.” in all but name so any scenes relying upon acting are ultimately secondary to the battle scenes. How are they? Varied.
The ones during the opening have already been mentioned as badly shot messes, but even a few of the later ones don’t stand out all that well. They tend to be very brief, only lasting a minute or two, and the only satisfying fights turn up in the film’s second half and that’s partially because they didn’t always have people fighting the monster. The big problem seemed to be the Moorwen’s lack of physical presence in spite of its size, with no heroes properly getting to grips with it - a problem which wasn’t helped by the sub-par CGI.
A few times, especially during the sequence where Kainan’s ship crashes, the effects look like something from Lost in Space. The 1998 film, not the 60’s series, the CGI is not that bad. There’s something strange about the way the CGI’d objects move and fit into backgrounds, whenever any object is placed against bright light in any way it suddenly looks fake. Like it’s been very crudely overlaid onto each scene rather than properly rendered. Thankfully almost every time the Morwen appears it’s at night with very little light illuminating it, so it’s more an irritation than a major detractor to the film’s quality.

Final verdict- Outlander, is clunky, has a very weak beginning, some dubious CGI but once the ball gets rolling it becomes a very entertaining romp. Nothing overly taxing on your brain but with strong acting, a brutal alien and some surprisingly good characterisation it makes for a fun monster film. It’s flawed to be certain but it proved to be a much more fun experience than this year’s latest fantasy “vs.” Underworld Awakening.


Outlander and all related characters and media are owned by The Weinstein Comany.