Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Skyfall (Film Review)

After the disappointment which was Quantum of Solace people found themselves asking questions about the Bond series: Would it ever be able to again balance out realism with action, if Daniel Craig was still the right person for the role and if the next film would display more of the eccentric gadgetry? Skyfall is a resounding yes to all and shows how the franchise has decades of life in it yet.

Taking place an undetermined amount of time after the war against Quantum, and with little to no continuity with that plot, Skyfall concerns a major security leak in MI6. An encoded list containing names of every deep cover agent has been taken by an unknown force and Bond has been shot in the line of duty, on M’s orders no less. Having taken this as an opportunity to fall off the radar he goes missing, at least until the list is decoded, MI6 itself is bombed and people start dying. Bond returns to duty but the question hangs over the film if he’s too old to do his work and if he can truly trust anyone.

Unlike Quantum of Solace this film is effectively a big back to basics effort on the part of the franchise. Far more tonally consistent than the preceding film, Skyfall doesn’t make the same mistake of trying to copy the nihilistic realism of Casino Royale entirely, instead introducing elements of the older films. It’s not completely fantasy, there’s no underwater evil villain lairs or men with metal teeth but it does feature things like a fight in a komodo dragon pit in a casino. This makes it much easier to accept the occasional plot contrivance and the explosion driven storyline. Speaking of which despite having only an almost non-existent record of filming action sequences Sam Mendes holds his own extremely well. Each punch up, gunshot and high speed collision is delivered with the competence of a veteran and very few times do you sense he’s failing to deliver the goods so much as putting his own signature style on things.

Moving onto the cast, they’re as high calibre as you’d expect to see in as big a title as a Bond instalment. Along with the aforementioned Daniel Craig, Dame Judie Dench makes her return as M with recognisable faces Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Albert Finney all take up supporting roles. Stand-out even amongst them is Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva as the villain, who while hamming it up in a few scenes handles the role with an effective balance of psychosis and genius. While no Anton Chigurh, Silva is definitely one of the best villains the franchise has seen in years, believably commanding much more power than Dominic Greene and Mads Mikkelsen and having the personal skills to back it up.

While the acting, direction and plot are all exceptionally strong there are a few niggling issues within the production. Of note is the fact there’s no sense of escalation. Many action films from the Avengers to Mission Impossible succeed because each sequence is built upon in terms of scale and intensity. While the stakes might be higher in later on and it certainly becomes more inventive, Skyfall really blows its load in the introduction. While certainly entertaining what follows just seems to either be moving in a different direction or consistently failing to surpass what came before it.

To top this off while the film might have a great bunch of actors to work with, it at times doesn’t feel like it knows how to use them. There are very long gaps in Skyfall in which they are either not present or go completely unmentioned as if the writer wasn’t quite sure what he wanted to do with them. That actually goes with a lot of the film, rather than feeling like it’s constantly changing things to keep events fresh settings, objects and noteworthy elements just seem to keep being passed up. It never quite feels like its spending long enough in anywhere outside the UK to make real use of what was on hand or the opportunities which could have been had.

Still, at the end of the day this definitely a resounding success. If it had to be summed up in one sentence Skyfall would be: “A Bond film in the spirit of the 70s era but with a layer of gritty realism.” For the most part it knows when and where to use things and the few failures present in the story don’t detract from your full enjoyment. If you’ve liked anything from past films, from Connery to Brosnan, you’ll be leaving the cinema with a broad grin on your face by the end. Definitely go see it on the big screen while you can.


Skyfall and all related characters and media are owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Path of the Warrior (Book Review)

As with the last review this is posted in full on and this is simply a preview. If you want to see it in full then please follow the link through to there.

What is it with writing eldar in Black Library books? Every single time they turn up it seems they can’t be written well and become worse and worse each time they are given a chance to show life from their perspective. Path of the Warrior should have been a chance to correct this, but here it’s as bad as ever. The last book focusing upon them was by C.S. Goto who apparently thought he was writing romulans when he threw that together, but there were no excuses here. Gav Thorpe has been with Games Workshop for years and written about the universe extensively. His dry manner of writing should have been perfect for the eldar who focus upon self-restraint and control but he dropped the ball here. Almost all of the characters seem to be toned down humans, and in all honesty most of the space marines he’s written had personalities more in line with the eldar than the protagonists.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Authority Vol. 1: Relentless (Comicbook review)

Chances are if you’ve ever read a Wildstorm comic it was this one.
Created back in the late 90s by Warren Ellis, The Authority was an attempt to follow up an idea introduced in Stormwatch: Superheroes actively trying to actively improve the entire world. While Superman might take down Lex Luthor every week and Captain America might rail against unjust governmental acts (thanks for that Tony) they’re rarely displayed as characters attempting to actively reshape the world. They’ll preserve it, try to keep it from falling into anarchy, but when was the last time either attempted to enact drastic political change or take out a dictator? World War II? The Cold war? The last time Doctor Doom was mentioned before the status quo came into effect? 
The Authority was an attempt to change that somewhat and show a new approach for superheroing. A good if unfortunately flawed one.

Taking place directly after the events of WildC.A.T.s/Aliens, the world is in turmoil. With Stormwatch having been disbanded following the events and almost all its members dead or M.I.A. the United Nations is left without a metahuman force to help defend it. Many are seeking to take advantage of this with no way to actively stop them. At least until Jenny Sparks and Stormwatch Black re-emerge acting on their own, fighting for the world but not those who run it.

This first volume, Relentless, is divided separately into two stories and both establish the themes of the series. While they do feature the team combating enemies and reacting to threats much like a traditional superhero team would, they display different methods and motivations than you would ever expect. Ellis himself described them as a group who tries to deal with every thread by “punching it and/or dropping something on it” and that’s fairly clear very early on. This isn’t to say that those they fight don’t deserve such treatment or require so much force to be finished, but it’s what helps to clearly distance the team from both others within Wildstorm and the big two of Marvel and DC. Half the time they’re written as villains simply fighting much bigger, much uglier, villains.

None of this is to say that the protagonists themselves are unlikable and defined only by acts of violence. It would have been a very easy thing to have the whole thing backslide into the grimacing, emotionally bland characters who dominated the Dark Age. Thankfully they instead come across as being very human. For every time they’re shown to be forced to kill hundreds in the defence of Earth they’re never shown to be actively enjoying it (okay, except Midnighter) and treat it more as being their day job. Every time they’re forced to go all out to help halt some hugely destructive force from taking down civilisation as we know it, there are at least a couple of quiet scenes to try and help break up the action and give development on a more personal level. It’s this latter aspect especially which helps to make it far more enjoyable than a lot of modern big titles and more than a few of the New 52’s ongoing series.
It’s almost enough to help you forget that, for all the backstory and characterisation we’re given there’s no real origin for these characters.

Yeah, this is the big flaw within this comic. While it’s great to see the first arc not be completely caught up in an origin story there’s no denying that a great deal of the time it was relying upon people having read Stormwatch. A lot of what was shown in that comic such as Sparks’ background is attempted to be shown again here, but almost everyone either lacks a definitive origin or if one is given it’s explained in a brief throwaway scene. The Engineer details how she got the nanomachines which feels more like an excuse more than anything else and the Doctor has even less of an introduction, and both of these are effectively brand new characters. Oh you get their personalities fast enough and understand how they think and act but you it lacks the fine details. The same argument might be made of the villain of the first story Kaizen Gamorra, again previously introduced in another comic, but at least in his case we’re given an atmospherically detailed background. Still, when you can get past it the characters are easily some of the most naturally feeling interactions in almost any comic. Balancing out the fantastical with attitudes and conversations which feel like they would come from real people taking on the Authority’s role in the world.

Bryan Hitch’s art seriously helps to further bring the world to life with his usual high levels of detail and shows why he was exactly the right artist for this. His highly detailed refined style helps emphasise upon the scale of the threats and destruction, but unlike Miguel Sepulveda he has no problems drawing expressive human figures or facial features.

You might have noticed that unlike a lot of the comics I’ve reviewed, much of the plot and actual events have not been commented upon. There’s a reason for that, as even going into it in my usual spoiler-free style would ruin moments far better handled in the actual comic itself. Yet if you’ve not guessed it from what you’ve seen here The Authority: Relentless is an exceptionally good trade collection, and a prime example of how comics can display true innovation without betraying their basic aspects. With paperbacks going for around £11-12.00 on, this is definitely a must buy for anyone looking for something different with superheroes. It’s not for everyone and you’ll find yourself being bugged by fine details which have been left to other issues, but there’s no denying the quality behind the work. Definitely take a look if you’re interested.


The Authority and all related characters and media are owned by DC Comics.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

2 Jawsome (Video Game Review)

… there are no words for this. Either this was created on a shoestring budget the likes of which have not been seen since Blake’s 7 or this game was officially created to troll people. I’ve never seen a more lazily made game. This one really proves to be bad even by the standards of Xbox Live indie titles; you know, the selection which consists of religious quiz titles and torturously amateur FMV quicktime events. So what makes 2 Jawsome so especially abhorrent to the point it stands out amongst the bottom of the barrel titles? Let’s find out.

First off, there’s no plot for this. Nothing at all, not even the “are you a bad enough dude” reasoning you usually get to handwave away stuff; though at least that can be overlooked. But the gameplay, by Poseidon’s salty balls the gamplay! Just looking at it makes you wonder why they even bothered trying to ever release it. It’s so amateurish, so terribly half baked it’s hard to decide where to start on how godaweful it is. You know those terrible games you see once in a while, the ones so bad that their problem isn’t the fact they’re too difficult or have bad graphics? The ones which are just so visibly barely completed that you feel no challenge playing them and the very experience of picking up a controller feels like a chore? That’s this title in a nutshell.

First – The level designs. There might as well not be any. What you have is a wide open area in which to sail about in a boat. This area looks like some vision of hell if it were farted out by Salvador Dali on an exceptionally lazy day.
The sky overhead is dominated by some huge bluescreen which is borderline neon and begins to hurt your eyes after a while. It’s also the only hint of colour in this world. Either side of you are grey buildings which have been badly copied and pasted from Google Maps and are so ugly they make the likes of City 17 look appealing to live in. This is the laziest part of the level but it’s not the worst. Not that’s the liquid you’re on. I say liquid because it’s sure as hell not water as it consists of a familiar dark brown colour. It’s also apparently been frozen over as there are no waves and just one solid chunk of shiny surface you slide about on. This is something which doesn’t help the very limited physics capabilities.

You skid around the surface of the water like you’re on an air hockey table without any sense of friction or even if you’re actually touching the ground. With such terrible graphics and badly marked out boundaries you’ll barely know they are there until you bounce off of a force field attached to some slightly different coloured part of the sea.  Which is apparently supposed to be a beach of some kind. When it actually works and keeps you in one area anyway. More than once I managed to somehow end up outside the “sea” and far inland, no-clipping through half textured grey blobs of buildings.

But the crowning failure of 2 Jawsome, the third strike and final nail in the coffin is the objectives of your gameplay. You rescue people from circling sharks and cylindrical speech bubbles hovering over their head by running them over and complete the level by hitting enough of them. In other words you’re collecting things. However, where as most games would make things interesting with its maps and enemies, and even Superman 64 had some variety to it, this is simply time wasting. You’re stuck in one small area, hitting these objectives with no visible impact upon the game and then you “win”. Watching this play out on screen is like watching paint dry, you’re not sure if you’re winning, losing, doing right, doing wrong and there’s no sense of any accomplishment. Any score or fast time you might complete this in is completely pointless as there’s no sense of pressure, desire to finish things or even moments to enjoy.

Perhaps the only thing which doesn’t need to be vivisected is the music. It might be below average and helps to enhance the sense of perpetual monotony within the “levels” but it’s visibly somewhat less atrocious than everything else in this.

Really, there is no reason to get this. It is an almost awe-inspiringly cheap final product and should just been avoided and forgotten. And before someone tries to get this off the hook by saying “Hey, it’s only a one dollar indie title, it can’t be held to any high standards” I said Kymera bloody Keeper was relatively fun, and that was a free online Facebook game. This though? Use it if you need to prove to someone that the likes of Big Rigs wasn’t the worst of the video games industry, otherwise find something better on the Xbox Live marketplace.


2 Jawsome and all related characters and media are owned by Archor Games.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Tryst (PC Video Game Review)

Read the review in full on

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Looper (Film Review)

Ignore the trailers. Well most of them anyway, aside from the premise and setting they have the unfortunate habit of showing Looper to be some extensive action. The few moments of outright violence in the film are brilliantly done but it takes the same approach to fights as Quentin Tarantino does: As little as possible but excellently delivered. With that understood, this is not only the greatest science fiction movie of 2012 but one of the best of the last decade.

The story itself takes some time to get going with much of the first and second act spent building up the world around the protagonist. It’s a deeply pessimistic dystopia which seems to be an exaggeration of our future and current fears.  The core-most of these is the dominance of crime throughout the world, shown through the everyday life of Joe Simmons who, in order to fuel his high life of excess, has a job as a looper. A hired executioner employed to kill and dispose of those who cross various criminal cartels thirty years into the future, after time travel is created. However, something goes wrong when Simmons encounters his future self sent back to him, who promptly breaks free and disappears, causing his employers to turn against him. And that is when things really start to get interesting…

The biggest strength of Looper is that it has an extremely talented production crew and the writing talents of Rian Johnson, which are taken full advantage of both in building-up the world. Almost every aspect of every scene is shown to somehow disturb or inform the audience of how truly screwed-up the planet is. These range from minor background elements such as contemporary cars having been converted to run on solar powered panels to the sharp contrasts between the destitute and rich districts of the city. Even when it comes to the characters this is almost continuously present with the most reasonable and controlled force in the entire film shown to be the ruthless mobsters Simmons works for. Best of all is how these are frequently integrated into the story. With things like the gruesome use of mutilation and a past self to control rogue loopers being called back to as a device to build tension later in the film and establish how flexible the rules of time travel are in this world.

The script manages to involve these, expand upon a world to degree rarely seen within many films. Yet at the same time it remains extremely tightly written and contains characters which, while not greatly deep or outstandingly complex, are well rounded and presented in a light which makes them feel extremely human. What definitely helps the most with this is the calibre of actors present and, again, Rian Johnson. While having only a few films to his name Johnson has frequently displayed significant skills when it comes to writing dialogue and character motivations, just see Brick to witness this in action, and he has definitely put his A-game into this. The short montage used to show how the older Simmons changed and his motivations for what he is doing last mere minutes, show decades of his life in seconds. Yet these are so well crafted that you feel more for the character in this time than you would protagonists in the entire run-times of lesser films.

While the dialogue and writing are both very strong, their high quality is only amplified by the actors who take centre stage in this. The marketing campaign for the film focused heavily upon its two leads, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis who play the younger and older incarnations of Simmons respectively, and with good reason. Aside from their star power both bring their accomplished talents to the screen with one of the film’s greatest scenes simply being them sitting and talking. Even without taking into account Gordon-Levitt’s facial editing to make him look more like Willis, the two deliver performances which clearly enforce the idea that they are the same person but at different points in their lives. There’s effectively no time when you’re not thinking of them as their characters. Beyond them however the other roles are played by similarly talented individuals in minor and major roles. Notably Emily Blunt and Jeff Daniels, the former of who showed great skill in developing what was initially presented to be a very one dimensional character and the latter who serves as the face of the criminal forces in Looper’s world. Also quite possibly the greatest child actor I’ve ever seen.

While everything from the initial script to the cinematography to the acting makes this a great, very well defined, film it’s not without its flaws. While it remains strong throughout, the last half an hour has a number of very glaring problems in its story as if someone else had to finish the tale for Johnson. The most obvious of these comes in the last five minutes where a time paradox comes into effect which, even taking into account the very flexible laws of time travel established in Looper, would have cancelled out everything. What’s more is that a very big plot point, one of the driving forces behind the whole film is never explained. Detailed yes, talked about as well and very well presented but the film never goes into how it occurred. Honestly though, these two flaws aren’t so big you’ll see them when watching the film. Directly after perhaps but its level of presentation, quality of acting and attention to minor details helps keep it enjoyable even after this point.

While the film ends on a relatively weak note in comparison to how it started, there’s still no denying that it’s well worth seeing. The quality of the story and the direction it takes is something we’ve not seen since Inception. It is so well made you could give it to a film tutor and use Looper on its own to give lectures about storytelling and structure. If you can’t see it in the cinema, definitely buy this one on DVD.


Looper and all related characters and media are owned by FilmDistrict.

Prisoner of the Daleks (Audiobook Review)

As with the last review this is posted in full on and this is simply a preview. If you want to see it in full then please follow the link through to there.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

XCOM: Enemy Unknown (Video Game Review)

Perhaps the best thing you could say about XCOM: Enemy Unknown is that it's a different game from UFO: Enemy Unknown. It's not simply a rehash with a new paint job to try and justify its price but it never departs from that title so much that it seems like an entirely different game. However, this doesn't necessarily mean it's better. For almost every one it takes forwards, XCOM takes another step back.

If you're not already in the know, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is a remake of the classic turn based alien invasion simulator. Earth is under attack from skirmishing extra-terrestrial assaults and as a result the countries of the world form an international strike force to combat them. It was infamous for two things - Having to deal with minor details like wounded soldiers being off for weeks at a time and budgeting your resources plus dying a lot. It spawned two successful sequels, and several not so successful ones no one talks about, before 2K decided to give an almost entirely unrelated FPS title the name. The fans cried BETRAYAL! and Firaxis swooped in to offer up a more classic turn-based remake to placate people - XCOM was the result.

Perhaps one big complaint you might have heard if you've been browsing forums is the frequent complaints of editing out certain abusively fun tactics and "dumbing down" the game. Both of these are unfortunately true. No longer can you send out a dozen grunts armed only with stun rods to take back a muton alive as a rite of initiation, rig people with deadman switches to suicide bomb things and both action points and the deployment of multiple Skyrangers is a thing of the past.
However this dumbing down isn't entirely without reason. It makes the gameplay not quite as unwieldy as before and is never so bad it feels like it's reduced the game to a poor man's Squad Command. In place of action points is a system players of Infinity (the tabletop game) will find familiar. Each unit is given the choice of two actions, moving a certain distance then firing, sprinting for both actions or firing/punching/grenading for both; and operating at a much faster speed than the original. Similarly both the interface for using abilities and equipping guns to people have both been slimmed down, allowing for more direct control over actions and simpler movement but denying you the option to arm one guy with six heavy plasma weapons and fire them in sequence. Troopers are also now randomly divided into classes, but that's not as much of a problem as it sounds as each has their own high level gamebreaking ability and you'll always find a use for each one.

In short - each engagement will pass by at a speed much faster than in UFO, and much of the logistical elements have been scaled back. You still have to worry about building new bases to launch fighters, satellites, and new guns but you don't have to concern yourself about things like insurance policies and fuel. On the one hand this will likely incite neckbearded rage over the lack of in-depth details and the abilities to exploit things. On the other it makes the whole game much more streamlined and less of the dreaded time vampire UFO had a reputation for being.

The problem is that this was the start of Enemy Unknown's biggest flaw - the lack of a true fear factor. While Murphy's Law still hangs over everything, there seems to be so much less to go wrong. Even ignoring the issues of no longer having to worry about spending so much money you can't fly your troops into battle; the aliens themselves generally seem less capable. While you will still get troopers dying in droves and chryssalids taking entire magazines to put down you don't get the same problems of hurtling yourself into the unknown. Rather than firing from halfway across the map and causing you to exclaim "WHAT THE BALLS WAS THAT!?!" as your pointman is incinerated by a bolt of plasma, aliens introduce themselves. No really, the aliens won't do much until you effectively stumble across them. Then they'll spend a couple of seconds of a cutscene growling at the camera and go onto fight you - Openly and directly, not like the sneaky underhanded gits players of the 90s were terrified of. This might seem fairer overall but it seems to reduce the aliens from a genuine threat to an obstacle to just be overcome. This in turn removed one key element which made the old title so effective - Immersion.

In UFO you never felt like you were simply a player, you were the guy running the XCOM base. Sure the graphics were stylised and okay for the time and the maps an eyesore at the best of times - but the difficulty, struggle and occasional unfairness made the game feel all the more real. Like you were playing against another person rather than an AI, one who knew what they were doing and took advantage of every opening they could.
What also helped outside of turn based combat was the lack of cutscenes, voices and character focused storyline which made you feel like you were the central focus. Unfortunately Friaxis didn’t seem to quite understand this. In story mode you’re frequently watching a story play out with characters, an engineer, military man and scientist, talking about each development and conversing with the people supporting your cause. You end up feeling like a cog in the machine, taking orders from someone higher up and waiting to be sent out to do your tasks again once they've come to a decision. Even Jon Bailey doing is best Optimus Prime impression doesn't justify their inclusion.

Yet with the bad modern updates comes the good ones - Specifically in the form of the alien designs which completely outdo anything seen in UFO. Gone are the cartoonishly simple looks, replaced by those far more visually disturbing. For example the sectoid greys now lack the facial mouths and noses of their old designs, pulsing buts, veins and truly alien looking eyes. A few, such as the chryssalids and mutons, completely depart from their old designs looking gigeresque or cybernetically augmented; giving them a unique appearance which helps add a renewed sense of mystery to the remake.

At the end of the day even with all these problems, all these flaws and everything to count against it XCOM: Enemy Unknown is still completely worth buying at full price. Why? Because at its core it has more or less managed to keep what made the game’s good. You can still play for ten hours and quite easily lose, either due to a sudden spike in invasions or simply using the wrong strategy at the wrong time. Plus even when the game is at its worst, most frustrating brick-walling difficulties you can always find things to amuse yourself with, like calling a grunt “Sid Meier” and finding his stats suddenly boosted to the level of a supersoldier.  Even while I was picking out flaws in the game I never felt like they were truly detracting from the experience of playing it.

The only sort of player who will likely hate this title are those with a borderline pathological hatred of turn based strategy. Otherwise, whether you're a fan old or new you should definitely take the time to buy this one while it's still on shelves.


XCOM: Enemy Unknown and all related characters and media are owned by Firaxis.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Blogspot Pageviews Reset

Usually this is something i'd avoid bringing up on the blog, but there's a question I need to ask. About 45 minutes ago every recorded hit and link to this site was just wiped from the tracker.

This is something of an irritation as I didn't hit a button selecting for this to happen or ask for it to take place. Instead after the 1AM mark it just decided to remove every single last recorded link, pageview and hit from since the first article was uploaded. This is more frustrating than anything else as seeing who has taken interest in the site helps me to know what people want and where I should focus my efforts. For example repeatedly mentioning and returning to the Mass Effect franchise was a result of the people on the Bioware Social Network taking notice and giving an influx of traffic; so I knew to keep looking for new updates to that series and to try and find products related to it. Lesser examples are the Warhammer related stuff due to frequent links onto sites and the occasional one to the Revan review has led me to look into more Star Wars subjects. Also for those who asked, yes the Deception rewrite will be reviewed as soon as it is published, as will a couple of Dietz's better novels.

The point of this is, could anyone please give any information on how to fix this or even detail what might have caused this it so it can be avoided in the future? Either would be greatly appreciated.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Dishonored (PS3 Video Game Review)

To lay some concerns to rest – This isn’t an Assassin’s Creed clone. It doesn’t feature the same mechanics, doesn’t completely focus upon your abilities to hurtle across rooftops and survive falls which should shatter your limbs. Perhaps the only thing it has in common is the fact you occasionally stab people with knives and are motivated by revenge. And to be completely honest with you; the fact Dishonored does this and tries to put its strengths into other areas is what actually makes it the better political assassination game.

Now before you get into a rage this is by no means some statement denouncing the AC series. It’s fun, it handles its subject matter well; but Arkane Studios were clearly taking notes as Ezio was ripping out throats as in the few areas they do cross over Dishonored leaves it in the dust. The big way it does this is by taking the optional approach to killing. In just about every situation you have the chance to go through with stealthy non-fatal takedowns or go on a murder spree. Both have their own advantages and their own morality to them which allows you some roleplaying opportunities when it comes to everything from your targets to the unfortunate mooks given the job of keeping them breathing.

Now a few of you are likely thinking “hey, isn’t this what Deus Ex: Human Revolution did?” and yes you’d be right, but it also manages to correct the mistakes in that game’s design. Deus Ex: HR had the big problem where there was practically no advantage in not going with the stealthy pacifist run. The ludicrous difference in the level of exp. you would gain removed any real advantage to just up and murdering people. By the end you’d be so highly skilled you’d likely only need bullets to deal with the odd robot. Here though the differences between avoiding any kills and quietly committing mass slaughter has more or less the same number of benefits. The big difference is simply the approach you take along with a potentially increasing level of chaos. While unfortunately having nothing to do with your character falling under the influence of Khorne it’s actually quite an intelligent system which takes into account how high profile or flashy your antics are. It helps discourage players going Rambo on guards and ignoring the stealthy approaches and encourages more of a Hitman approach to things if you do take the killing route – targeting only those you need dead.

This is the key area Dishonored completely outstrips Assassin’s Creed as it takes into account how you approach things and your actions overall. In the Holy Land Altair can kill several prestigious Saracen generals, their close relatives, their distant relatives, their household guests, pets, retainers, armies, people they just met in the street; then go up to Saladin and moon him yelling “I knifed them all!” only to have everyone shrug and it to have no basic impact besides the generals’ deaths. If you try to pull that sort of stunt in Dishonored people are going to remember and it’s going to incite paranoia. Well, even more paranoia than you’d get by kidnapping/stealthily disposing of them.

Engage in mass murder and open combat and you’ll find later targets suddenly have a lot more guards with specific orders to kill on sight. It also changes the ending depending upon how much attention you’ve drawn to yourself and the number of throats you’ve slit, giving you more incentive to try both approaches. While having a low chaos rating is required to get the good ending some of the non-lethal methods of disposing of high profile targets are far crueller fates than simple deaths. Notably handing an unconscious Lady Boyle over to the obsessive Lord Brisby suggests one particularly disturbing future for the character. These choices allow, along with a fair number of sidequests, for you to have some freedom in what is a fairly rail-roaded plot but what allows you to truly experience freedom in missions are your abilities.

As much fun as your items and weapons might be, these are the real highlight of the game and if you’ve seen any trailer you’ll know the variety available. Many allow for you to more quietly dispose of enemies and hide your tracks as you move around the city, frequently doubling as a major edge in combat if you have to go in guns blazing. A foremost example of this is Time Bend; which allows for you to down slow and even halt the flow of time at its second tier. This can allow for you to move past a crowded room without being seen or stop a heated battle and throw explosive crossbow bolts back at guards. A similar set of skills are the enhancements which are more passive, allowing you to pull of anything from double jumps to having enemies you execute disintegrate into dust to prevent bodies from being found. As you would expect a very large amount of the game has been made to give you every opportunity to use them a-la Bioshock; with openings to areas for effectively every skill. If you’ve gained teleportations there will be ledges and low walls for you to target and get inside. If you have the Possession ability you’ll find a fish/rat/guard to take over and walk through defences and so on and so forth.
Now, the last nine hundred words have been nothing but praise so if you’ve not guessed Dishonored is incredibly well made. But is it perfect? No. While it never does anything cataclysmically wrong there is definitely one big aspect which feels simply uninspired – The story.

While certainly individual aspects of the tale stand out well such as conversations and subplots, the overall basis of the storyline felt flawed and considerably generic for such a visually distinct title. You (Lord Corvo, elite bodyguard) are framed for a crime you didn’t commit, a benevolent ruler is murdered, you’re helped to escape from prison and begin your war to return the empire’s rightful ruler to the throne. This takes place so early on that Dishonored initially has very little to spice up a plot which has been done to death. Or for that matter flesh out the importance of the crime which has been committed as you quite literally turn up, are framed, betrayed and (dare I say it) dishonoured. Even when you’ve gone halfway through the game and the usual shocking reveal is given; it doesn’t feel quite so much a surprise as something which was ticked off on a list of plot points.

What helps to somewhat lessen the damage by the story is aspects of its presentation. With Half-Life 2’s design team of Viktor Antonov and Sebastien Mitton; and Deus Ex’s creative director Harvey Smith and designer Ricardo Bare having spent years in pre-production designing the gaslamp style of the world. So while the tale itself might feel humdrum it can at least fall back on a unique atmosphere and, on occasion, fairly interesting characters. The problems with the story are still there and will still bug you from time to time but there’s enough shiny things to keep you distracted until the credits roll.

To make this clear while Dishonored suffers from the problem of not being as deep or complex as people had hoped it’s still a very solid title and the standard to which any future FPS stealth titles should be held to. Assuming you’ve somehow not managed to rush out to grab XCOM: Enemy Unknown and are looking for a game to buy Dishonored is strongly recommended. It won’t please everyone, especially those who enjoy playing bullet sponged talking tanks who can shrug off grenades to the face. But if you’re after an intelligent, well designed game which tries to at least cover its biggest flaws and have consequences for stabbing people then definitely get this one while you can.


Dishonored and all related characters and media are owned by Bethesda and it was developed by Arkane Studios.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Why you don't duel Gandalf

Well people we've now officially reached (and passed) the 41,999 hit marker. Due to the significance of this number I had planned to post something related to the 41st millennium but as that little project is still having it's highlights done we'll save that for next time.

But still it would be wrong not to show something hobby related. So here's a diorama from a few years back of one particular bit of Tolken's Fellowship of the Ring:

And that's why no one in their right minds would hire me to adapt any famous books.

See you at 50K hits and thanks for all the attention folks.

Oh, and here's the non-demotivator one:

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Fire Warrior (Book Review)

As with the last review this is posted in full on and this is simply a preview. If you want to see it in full then please follow the link through to there.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Godzilla vs. Biollante (Film Review)

Say what you will about the series but for a franchise which is best known for mindless wanton violence the Godzilla films are far from unwilling to attempt the unusual. While the premise near constantly came down to “monster vs. monster” the writers really seemed to go out of their way to spawn some weapons grade insanity for the big green fire-snortin’ lizard to beat up.
So instead of the giant god month or gold three headed dragon, what’s he fighting this time? A radioactive homicidal plant made from his cells! … It’s better than it sounds, trust me.

The plot for this one actually starts from the unique position of Godzilla already having been defeated. As he was taken down by a grand plan involving the military and sealing him a volcano in the last film Japan is relatively at peace. While rebuilding efforts have largely controlled the damage he did in his last rampage, the JSDF still fears the monster’s potential return and with good reason as it turns out. With tissue samples having been recovered from the irradiated ruins of Tokyo several factions are fighting to gain control of any genetic information which might be used for their own benefit. These range from a US genetic research corporation to a mad scientist grieving over the death of his daughter, trying to bring her back and obsessed with both genetics the psychic energy of roses. 
Guess which one makes the monster.

Well, before long there’s a hundred meter tall killer weed lurking in the middle of a lake, semi-docile but far from contained. After which the corporation drops threats that Godzilla will be released and you can guess where this is going.

As with the last review of an instalment of this franchise the titular monster doesn’t show up in the flesh for a long time. Unlike Final Wars though this one actually makes good use of his absence. The film preceding this one, Return of Godzilla, had no monster for him to fight – only the JSDF which he utterly reamed with very little effort. He was only beaten by foresight and more luck than any scientific team should possibly possess, and even then it was by the skin of their teeth. Japan has only just been rebuilt and countless people are still dead – As such the scenes where they realise there’s another monster loose and Godzilla might be released again help to raise the tension prior to the creature’s attack. They’re still extremely ill prepared to face any sort of threat on such a scale and the tactic they used last time won’t work again. This is something the films rarely did, usually just having Godzilla show up without much build-up because hey he’s what the audience wants to see; but here it works.

Sticking with Japan rather than the monsters for a moment, the film did introduce one of the more popular aspects of the Heisei series: The advancing technology. In the previous Showa era there was no real sign of anyone getting better at combating kaiju and the Millennium series’ near constant reboots prevented there being any sign of the military adapting.

Here though there’s constant signs of the JSDF improving and trying to match the giant monsters, building upon what they previously had. The previous film showed Japan sending a Cold War era superweapon and a pair of prototype laser cannons on trucks to fight the radioactive lizard. In this one an upgraded version of the superweapon is deployed alongside detachments of maser tanks. They fail to halt either monster but it was the start of developments which would became an underlying seriestheme even resulting in a few robotic monsters the big G would end up fighting. The battles in this case stand out really well due to this with large lightshows and explosions to the point where you almost begin to ignore the film’s big flaw – Biollante is barely in it. 
The monster only has two major appearances and for much of the film it seems to be outside of events. It seems to be more used as a plot device than a plot focus with the items of its creation serving as both the reason for the early conflict and Godzilla’s release. However once he finds the plant and they initially fight, Biollante withdraws and goes missing for a big chunk of the film; in terms of total screen time I think the it only appeared for ten minutes tops. In addition to this while the creature’s design is original and fairly menacing, it’s hard to ignore it’s literally rooted to the ground. Each time they brawled the film relied almost entirely upon the editing to give any degree of manoeuvrability or halfway decent pace. Even then they end up being a cluster of close-ups and semi-coherent actions.

Actually when it comes down to it the cinematography tended to have quite frequent dips in quality. Most of the time it’s at least passable but it felt like whenever the film got to a fight which didn’t feature Godzilla vs the military the director was determined to use as many awkward shots as possible. It just ended up making the film as a whole feel much cheaper than it really was and that wasn’t helped by some of the lighting choices. This might seem a really odd criticism to make but in many of the shots at night had this odd backlit effect which just made it look all the more clear the monster fights were on a sound stage. What’s more is there seemed to occasionally be this odd vaguely blue/green tint which simply comes off like some pointless half-hearted day for night effect.

Really the film is divided in just about every sense of the word. From the story to the camerawork the films just veers back and forth between being great, weird and memorable to things so confusing you’re wondering if the crew were high during the production. Similarly the script has a good set-up and weirdly original ideas but it seems not to know what to do when it comes to Biollante or the human characters. While you might want to watch it as a follow-up to Return of Godzilla or its series significance you’ll probably have more fun just finding something else to watch.

Now, some of you might be wondering why, if this is the second in the series and I keep mentioning the first so frequently, i've not made an effort to review the Return of Godzilla. Well the truth of the matter is I don't have much to say about it which hasn't already been said by another far more knowledgeable reviewer, Greg of Poparena. As such if you want to get an opinion of that film's quality i'd suggest watching his video here.


Godzilla vs. Biollante and all related characters and media are owned by Toho.