Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Documentary or Propaganda?

Here's a question for those of you reading. It's just a general one, you only need write a one word answer if you want, but any response or opinion would be helpful. It involves the subject of documentaries and how effective they really are in the right hands. Also how manipulative the can be.

If you have the time please read the following and consider the question at the end:

  • A documentary on subject X has been created.
  • Documentary is not only created by avid supporters of X but is hosted by an extremely bias figure in its favour. One who the public would most recognise and is generally held in a favourable opinion.
  • Subject then presents opposition to X with extreme right wing conservatives. The type who are borderline political strawmen to the point where they use the bible to try and justify their responses. Only other depiction of opposition comes from rednecks who threaten another supporter of X, hold him at gunpoint, and vandalise his property.
  • All supporters and members of X are all presented as ultimately good, very happy, morally right people. Extremely supportive and with no flaws. This reaches the point when very brief edits and cuts use doctors/psychiatrists to claim X as a wholly positive influence and are examining its effects.
  • Those with mental conditions are introduced to support X. Mentioning them as having benefitted from becoming a part of it and overcoming their problems due to it.
  • Throughout the documentary a father who dislikes and is opposed to X is introduced with a son which supports X. Over it he is slowly seen to become more supportive of X and his son as a result through introduction to new people until he has no problems with it.
  • No negative aspects of X are ever introduced. The closest it comes to this is a very brief mention of a very disputed subject which has been a long source of criticism within X, which goes no further than stating its name.
  • The documentary reaches the point where X is presented as having made the life of a dying child better as a result. Using both general members of X and another major figurehead as a core example of this.
  • All throughout a major gathering of X is repeatedly brought up. It is, as with everything else, presented as wholly positive. Said gathering is a new development and efforts to create further ones in the future are at a critical stage. It presents every supporter of X as going to this and also a fair number who have no interest in it.
  • The documentary has been built not on the question “Is X good?” but instead the statement “X is good!”

Would you say that this is a documentary or propaganda?

Monday, 29 April 2013

Oblivion (Film Review)

Okay, a word to the wise before we begin: Do not see the trailers. If you want to enjoy this film, to truly appreciate its story, definitely avoid any of the promotional material. It gives away huge chunks of the plot and ultimately ruins an interesting development which, even if you might have seen coming, serves as a major driving force to the tale.

The strangest thing about Oblivion is that while it might be a very different breed of film, you can see many of its elements in Joseph Kosinski’s previous film Tron Legacy. It’s something very strange as while the protagonists, story and overall structure are ultimately very different, there is enough here to make them feel the same.

A standout example of this is the overall opening to both films. Both start with a monologue detailing the backstory and prior events of that universe. Both exploring a day in the life of the film’s protagonist and setting up major elements within the first few minutes directly, rather than letting it evolve more naturally. Somehow both films manage to keep hitting the same key notes and introducing the same plot elements.

The difference here is that while Tron Legacy had a previous film to build upon, Oblivion lacks such a basis. As a result things like the opening monologue feel much more shallow and lacking in detail. We’ve seen nothing of this universe prior to now, so having an info dump be the opening introduction and never moving beyond that leaves it feeling unusually lacking. It’s a shame as well because, while nowhere near as smart as it thinks it is, Oblivion is an intelligent science fiction action piece in the same way Looper was.

Set in the year 2077, the film is set on an earth which was shattered by war. Having been invaded sixty years ago by an alien race known as the Scavengers, the conflict saw the destruction of the moon and massive natural disasters. While humanity won the war, the losses were insurmountable and the entire human race is forced to depart from its home. Technician 49 Jack Harper is one of the few humans left on the planet alongside his wife Victoria, the rest now living in an orbiting habitat. Tasked with repairing and maintaining gun drones, they help to protect one of the few safe areas of land on the planet from the remaining Scavengers. More importantly, to also protect the series of coastal refineries converting the seas into hydrogen so the remnants of the human race can begin a new life elsewhere.

Unfortunately, some very dark secrets are being kept from the both of them.

Being a slow burning film, Oblivion might not seem the most interesting of productions at first. Something not helped by a mishandled first act which, even being generous, often comes across as heavy handed and lacking in nuances. However the film manages to ultimately improve itself throughout its development. As each scene builds upon one another, more of the cracks in the narrative and apparent plot holes are filled and it moves towards being a far more interesting tale. Turning from what might have originally seemed like a relatively straight forwards tale with an interesting premise to something much more complex and fascinating. Exploring the ideas of memory, choice, individuality, manipulation of information and freedom in ways both overt and subtle. Some you’ll pick up on easily while others will be harder to pin down and directly notice until you spend some time thinking about them. While by no means some extremely heavy going piece of fiction giving an in depth analysis upon the psyche of humans, it’s well constructed and done by someone who knows what they were doing. Even when you realise that the actual premise of the storyline is one big plot hole which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, you probably won’t mind that until you realise it a couple of hours later. If at all.

It’s just unfortunate a lot of the characters tend to be more instruments of the plot rather than figures themselves.

A film can often be made or broken by its characters and Oblivion is definitely one which is struggling to use them. Besides Jack, Tom Cruise if you’ve not guessed, it often feels like it’s either not sure what to do with them or is using them as an excuse to get from point A to point B. A number of the few named characters are so far into the background that it’s a puzzle as to why the script bothered with them over unnamed mooks.

Morgan Freeman is only notable because he’s Morgan Freeman, put him in any role and he’ll steal the show, and the major female characters both feel underused. Victoria, Andrea Risebrough, often feels very stilted in her mannerisms and awkward. While this might work to emphasise upon how the relationship between her and Jack is very one sided, effective together professionally but not personally, it prevents the audience becoming invested in them. As a result making Victoria feel very underperformed despite Risebrough’s best efforts. The later introduced Julia Rusakov, Olga Kurylenko, feels similarly cryptic often only serving as a device to further Jack’s character rather than an individual in her own right. This made the film feel very cold and cynical at times, robbing it of a great deal of potential.

The elements which help to make up for the lack of a well-developed cast, at least in part, are the visuals and battle scenes. Anyone who has seen Tron Legacy will know Kosinski’s ability to use special effects and CGI, creating truly unique landscapes and Oblivion only further proves this. Veering away from many of the usual post-apocalyptic tropes, the world of Oblivion is truly stunning to behold and is of extreme contrasts. With the clinically clean outpost Jack and Victoria call their home clashing with the cataclysm wracked yet still green landscape below them, still dotted with crumbling monuments of what once was. If we do ever get that Mass Effect film people keep talking about, the creators should definitely look at the former of these locations and be taking notes. The battle scenes meanwhile are implemented at the exact moments they need to be. Taking the Looper route of having only brief but extremely well crafted moments, Oblivion only has a handful of extremely bloody but cinematically stunning firefights. All of which stand out due to the inclusion of the drones which, whatever the films flaws, could well be the best mooks introduced in any film thus far this year.

I’ll freely admit that my perspective might be somewhat skewed on this one. The film was effectively described to me as something Roland Emmerich might churn out on his worst days. So being pleasantly surprised to find something trying to be intelligent may well have coloured my vision, but it genuinely came across as an interesting film. Sort of a Ray Bradbury lite tale with sprinkled moments of action to keep the pace going. As such while heavily flawed in both terms of its characters and certain logical elements of its tale, I still can’t help but recommend this one. It’s by no means perfect but if you’ve been itching for a cinematic science fiction saga you could definitely do far worse than Oblivion.


Oblivion and all related characters and media are owned by Universal Pictures.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Doctor Who: Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS (Episode: Review)

Do you know what the saddest part about this episode is? It tries. Someone here, perhaps just the writer or perhaps everyone, was really trying to create something special here. There were so many easter eggs, so many efforts to be smart that you can practically see the episode we might have had, one of brilliance. Unfortunately what we get instead is something painfully lacklusteringly dull.

The story behind this one is one of impending disaster, even more than the average Doctor Who tale. While trying to encourage Clara to treat the TARDIS with more respect and get the two to get on well, they're captured by space Jawas. Dragged inside a flying junk-ship full of scrap by a tractor beam, the TARDIS' interior circuits and main systems go haywire with sudden damage. Fleeing inside the TARDIS from toxic fumes, Clara quickly becomes lost and the Doctor is forced to work alongside three down on their luck thugs to get her back. Unfortunately for him, things are not that simple. Time is backwards, space is warped and it's not long before they're facing a reality destroying threat.

This really is a Death of Antagonis story. The sort where you get long periods of decent narrative, intelligent aspects which make you let your guard down and begin to enjoy it before you're blindsided by something stupid. No not your regard common or garden variety stupid; weapons grade Darwin Award levels of stupid. Sprinkled on top with inconsistencies and logical issues which instantly drag you out of the moment.

Take for example just that premise. The TARDIS, a several thousand year old time vessel of lost technology powered by advanced science, is not only captured but outright crippled by a salvage ship. One which is described as a pile of junk before the episode is done. No mention is given of why it can do this despite the vast differences, no mention of just what is really causing problems nor even of how this is somehow more effective than any other kind of tech. 

It's even more confusing as to why the TARDIS is even floating in space at that exact time anyway. There's something briefly dropped about bringing the TARDIS down to something basic, but it never exactly explains what that means or why this would leave it so completely defenseless. Even a near universally mocked and lowly regarded story, Horns of the Nimon, which had the TARDIS similarly floating in space at least gave a reason. It might have been a bad one but it was better than we got here.

These sorts of things just keep happening. Occurring at such a rate you could probably set your watch to them. You'll get a good ten to fifteen minutes good drama, then BAM! Sudden stupidity!

The good drama largely stems from the mains here of the Doctor and Clara. Both Matt Smith and Jenna Louise Coleman have had great chemistry since the second half of this series, and the episode builds upon that. Focusing upon the subtle distrust between the characters and their friendship, then setting them up to fall. The Doctor's actions show how they have connected and their behavior towards one another really is a high-point. The same unfortunately cannot be said of the extras here. The trio of junk thieving thugs (all of who are black, giving a very uncomfortable feeling despite the later justification) are very bland. The episode clearly wants to make you feel for them and yet it's hard to do anything of the sort. We learn very little of them, and what we do know either makes them morally reprehensible or is another logical tumour lurking within the episode. Even the ending doesn't make the audience feel any more for their characters besides a sense of mild confusion.

Then again they could just be fodder, half the episode does come across as a slasher film at times.

As the group split up, running around the TARDIS either determined to loot everything in sight or liberate Clara, they begin running into zombies. Pompeii zombies specifically, covered in a mixture of ash and lava, running after everything in sight and bad as hell. Their presence is and admittedly mixed bag as while it leads to some genuinely good horror moments, you'll probably guess what they are long before it's revealed. It also doesn't help that while impressive in the dark their design is ludicrously bland once any light is shed upon them. They also feel extremely shoehorned into the plot and it really wouldn't be a surprise to learn that Steven Thompson had been forced to include them as a last minute rewrite.

The final nails in the proverbial coffin came in the form of a one two punch. Two peeves which have been rightly mocked of different science fiction series for various reasons.
The first is that, while Mat King tries his best to avoid making this obvious, the characters are running around the same corridors over and over again. Almost to a perpetual degree at points, meaning the episode actively uses the infamous cost-saving measure the classic series was rightfully lampooned for.
The second? There's a reset button. No, that's actually in there. Doctor Who tends to be good about this sort of thing but it's so blatant cop out you'd swear the writing staff for Star Trek Voyager had suddenly taken creative control.

Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS reeks of wasted opportunity, it really does. This could have so easily been something like The Girl Who Waited or The Doctor's Wife, we even had a first act for once! but instead what we get is an utter mess of a tale. One which offers a few funny lines, a number of good moments which are fine on their own and some great nods to continuity, but doesn't work as a whole. Skip it and find something better to watch.


Doctor Who and all related characters and media are owned by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Iron Man 3 (Film Review)

Perhaps the strangest thing about Iron Man 3 is that rather than its predecessor it more closely resembles Blade Trinity. Wait! Before you start running screaming for the hills, this is in terms of its narrative flaws. Much of the story feels like it's trying to do too much and lacks a lot of the talent it really needs to pull it off. Not to mention it's trying to resemble something completely different than what was previously built upon.
The obvious difference here is that Iron Man 3 isn't utter dreck with Ryan Reynolds providing the only entertainment, and is actually fun to watch.

Set some time after the events of Avengers, Tony Stark is visibly suffering. Many of his worst aspects have only been enhanced in time, with his paranoia and obsessive compulsiveness at an all time high. It's clear that his near death experience has badly shaken him and Pepper is the only thing keeping him sane. Unfortunately for him, it's at exactly this time that a new threat begins to arise to torment the United States. A leader known as the Mandarin stands tall, bombing targets without warning and waging a ferocious assault upon America. Stark is soon required to fight the villain but it's evident that he's at his weakest.

One foremost thing to praise is the film's depiction of Stark's war with the Mandarin's forces. While it would have been easy to display Tony showing up in the armour to punch goons repeatedly, it takes advantage of his weakened state. Reflecting upon it by robbing him of many strengths and forcing him to adapt in order to survive. This allows him to be much more of a gadgeteer than previously seen and pull some very A-Team-esque inventive stunts. While this could admittedly be more due to a certain "in a cave with a box of scraps" meme rather than the characterisation previously cited, it really does work here. 

Contrasting with this is the efforts of War Machine. Now the Iron Patriot, he is seen to be pulling the sort of assault tactics we would have been expecting of Iron Man not too long ago. Direct strikes and reactions against military installations in full armour to try and behead the terrorist threat at its source. Something which helps to display how Tony is growing as a character and ultimately surpassing what he was before despite his limitations.

Further improvements come in terms of the character interaction and plot. An often seen criticism of Iron Man 2 was that it relied far too much upon the witty banter of the characters and not enough of a strong story. This was apparently taken to heart as there has been a much clearer effort to provide a more engaging plot-line and cohesive pacing, rather than what felt like an excuse to have the characters make fun of things. While the humour is still visibly present and some of the best lines of the trilogy are given, just wait until you see the phone-call scene, it's an addition rather than the apparent focus. Furthermore the few scenes where the jokes do become plot relevant are delivered in such a way they're not overwhelming the plot. Just wait until you see Ben Kingsley actually being allowed to act to see what I mean.

Many of the action scenes felt better directed than in the previous instalment as well. Dropped at almost the exact points they needed to be at are frequent fights, skirmishes and brawls. Each delivered to create beats in the plot exactly as and when they are required, breaking up the exposition dumps and talking with bits to keep the audience interested. With each encounter past the initial fight there's a clear path of escalation, with Stark building up to bigger and badder enemies until the grand finale. Unfortunately while this is indeed a strength it's also linked to the first of its biggest flaws.

That Blade Trinity comparison at the beginning? Here's the first of them: Rather than keeping in line with what came before, it's trying to be a very different film to appeal to new audiences.

The previous individual Marvel films tried to keep things relatively simple an focused. Sure you had the big stuff taking place, with galaxy threatening doom weapons and red Nazis armed with Norse weapons, but it ultimately came down to a single focused battle. Unfortunately Iron Man 3 seems to forget about that with a finale more in line with a titanic battle, with dozens of people on either side smashing one another to pulp. It feels more like it's trying to keep pace with what was displayed in the Avengers while still relying only upon a single major character, most likely so not to feel like a step down.

It's trying to do the same thing Avengers did with its villains but it ultimately it lacks the scope and prior build-up to truly accomplish it. Trying to make a much smaller threat feel like something as big as the Chitauri invasion, mostly at the cost of Iron Man himself. The armour which previously withstood everything from nuclear blast shockwaves, to impacts by cars, and going toe to toe with Thor has suddenly become tin foil. Being scrapped and torn open with remarkable ease by an enemy which ultimately feels like they should not be so great of a threat.

The finale is far from the only scene which feels like it's pandering to an audience expecting bigger things. With moments in the climax like the Airforce One escape feeling like desperate attempts to keep up with the bigger film. Trying not to feel like a step down from the titanic events which capped off the first series of films, but ultimately failing for a good number of reasons.

The next major issue is something the plot clearly suffers from: It's trying to include far too much into too short of a film.

Even with the runtime of an hour and a half, the film simply tries to juggle far too many plots for its down good. All of the ideas are fantastic, more than enough to make up two films, but each one needed more time and focus. Between the inclusion of the Extremis, Mandarin, Tony's growing fanaticism, his losses, his past coming back to haunt him (again); and many others there's just too much here.

More than a few are completely pushed into the background with the Iron Patriot's involvement becoming little more than fan-service, and the much discussed "post-Avengers Stark" becoming a sideshow. Beyond a few initial scenes his apparent PTSD and shock serves as little beyond a few speed bumps in the road towards the finale. Adding little to his character and ultimately the film itself in the end. While any one of the plots it featured could easily have served as a major story themselves, there is ultimately just too much here for one film to handle.

The final flaw is linked into the aforementioned problem, with the writers simply not being skilled enough to handle the stories on screen.

While the plot might have been overstuffed, many points within the narrative felt either uneven or just mishandled in far too many respects. 
This is most evident within the opening when it flashes back to earlier years within Stark's life to try and contrast him with the person he will later become. The way it is presented feels extremely heavy handed, with continual narration, flashes forwards to what is to come and you'll be lucky if you don't guess who the real villain is within the first twenty minutes. Something which is a shame because the revelation they pull is one of the most entertaining scenes i've seen this year. Almost the entire time you feel like you're either watching a film whose story needed just that one or two more rewrites in the editing room, or needed to be severely tweaked by someone else.

When all is said and done, Iron Man 3 is a very fun film but it still can't hold a candle to the original and has some gaping flaws. It's the sort of film you'd watch for the big explosions and fun pacing but you know that it's as shallow as humanly imaginable.
If you want a full blown positive review then there's plenty you can see on Rotten Tomatoes, but honestly it's not that good. If you're going into it for the action, CGI, fight scenes and humour then you'll definitely get your money's worth. If you're going into it for a more balanced story, it's honestly a big step down in quality from Iron Man, Captain America and Thor. The ending is also something which is going to split a lot of people on whether it's good or not. Like with everything else it feels like one more addition to a story which could have been good with more build-up, but its vastly more reaching consequences are going to have far more impact than anyone would expect.

Definitely go see this one if you enjoyed the previous films, again don't get me wrong it is good, but don't place your expectations that high.


Iron Man 3 and all related characters and media are owned by the Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Doctor Who: Hide (Episode Review)

If Hide needed to be summed up in three words it would be these: Ruined by the ending. While off to a strong start, managing to have the insanely fast "let's pretend first acts don't exist" pacing work in its favor, it begins to fall to bits in the final third. Never so much that it completely ruins the whole episode, but enough to make what is an otherwise outstanding episode into something just about average.

The plot here is a ghost story. Drawn to an isolated mansion in Britain during the 1970s, the Doctor and Clara appear while a psychic medium and a retired military general are attempting to silence the dead. Managing to con their way into staying, they slowly begin to realise that they might be in more than a little over their heads. Even as this happens, Clara herself begins to question what it means to travel with the Doctor and the TARDIS' apparent growing hatred of her.

The reason the sudden jump into the action works here unlike others is because of its story. Hide is very much a by-the-book ghost story in the beginning, well crafted but definitely containing a great deal of elements we've seen before. As such, skipping a lot of the usual build-up and events which would usually be done only helps the episode here. Even then it remains at a reasonable pace, allowing things to actually be established before they are properly focused upon. We're actually given a well rounded impression of the characters, the situation and the history of the building. As such we're given an impression of what's at stake and what the episode is heading towards before it really starts to pick up steam.

The characters of Professor Alec Palmer, formerly Major, and Emma Grayling are vast improvements over those in Cold War. While Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine lack the talents of David Warner and Liam Cunningham, they none the less make the roles their own. Putting their own style upon them and fleshing them out, even as the script provides more details about their history. Building them into people rather than characters with superficial aspects and giving the audience a reason to care about whether they live or die. While the script does not admittedly go as far as it could with some ideas, it does enough to make their presence feel meaningful.

A bigger strength is the plot itself. The script manages to balance its themes of science fiction and horror relatively well. Often phasing from one to the next and keeping unnerving details in the environments or cinematography to keep things offputing to the audience. Part of this is again Neil Cross showing he has considerable talent in writing Doctor Who scripts, even if he needs someone to help fine tune them. In an interview Cross claimed that he had inspiriation in the Quatermass serials and that is very much evident here. The mixture of science fiction mystery and horror feels like something the Professor would investigate, and the way in which they blend almost seamlessly by the end feels like a conclusion to one of the story. Credit also has to be given to director Jamie Payne. Having had experience in filming things like Ashes to Ashes, he manages to help visually convey each scene's emotion brilliantly. Using oddly claustrophobic shots within the scenes of the house and then moving towards more frantic movements when the Doctor encounters the monster of the week.

The script also does more with the TARDIS than you would usually see. As well as having its time travel capabilities serve to make a major revelation within the plot it helps push Clara's character that bit further. Unlike previous companions she seems to have come to terms with what time travel and the Doctor means rather abruptly. Seeing how it can witness the life and death of entire civilisations in a blink of an eye. Something which leads her to question more than a few things about the Doctor.
While this plot-line is well handled it, it is unfortunately where the episode starts to unravel. Its inclusion feels like it makes the plot overstuffed. Even when it leads to some interesting revelations and a great final detail, it does feel like Cross was trying to fit it around everything else. It's delivered just prior to a major revelation on the part of the episode's core plot and within minutes of being introduced it's effectively solved.

The only other critical flaw within the episode is when it plays with expectations. The script tries to be clever in the very last few minutes  but it's in such a way it seems to come out of nowhere. Following on from an exceptionally good scary scene, it tries to alter the depiction of the villain but doesn't manage it very well. Even while it's trying to flash back to prior hints of this it still feels like a complete 180 in themes and emotions, coming completely out of nowhere. Perhaps if the episode was longer or better paced this might have not been an issue but here it just doesn't fit in. Something made only worse by the final scenes of the episode just petering out. That actually goes for a lot of the sub-plots. They start strong but by the end they've unraveled to the point where things just happen rather than occur naturally or really make meaningful sense.

It would be wrong to call Hide bad, it's definitely a step up from last week, but it's still flawed. It could have been so much better and yet by the end it just feels underwhelming despite the build-up we've had. It's well worth watching, the early plot is good, lines are humorous, drama is well delivered, but just don't expect too much from it by the end. Though if you are a Third Doctor fan, keep an eye out for a very fun plot device originating right out of Jon Pertwee's final stories.


Doctor Who and all related characters and media are owned by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

ORION: Dino Horde (Video Game Review)

So yeah, this… thing. It exists. It’s also effectively a con, trying to make an additional few bucks out of gamers. You know those bargain bin films you sometimes see on shelves? The direct to DVD ones with exactly the same cover, but a different title to try and make them look like something different? Behold the video game equivalent.

ORION: Dino Horde is supposed to be a sequel to a game which was released not too long ago, called ORION: Dino Beatdown. It is in-fact almost the same damn game with a handful of tweaks and tightening of the mechanics. It’s not so much a game as it is a patch.

Let’s make one thing clear: This is not a good title. While worse ones have definitely been made, this is undeniably bad and, at many times, the quality is closer to that of a mod. More on that in a minute. Going into this is like Revelations 2012 all over again. It’s clearly been made with not too much cash, has ambitions which far exceed Spiral Game Studios’ capabilities, and feels like it’s another title with a new paint-job and more problems.
So let’s talk about some of those problems.

The first one is that Dino Horde lies. No I don’t even mean the fact that it claims to be a sequel. Instead that the first thing you get upon opening up the game’s main menu is the words “MULTIPLAYER BETA” gleefully under the title as if it’s leapt out of hiding. Look on Steam and the words “beta” are nowhere to be found on its page. So already you’re buying an unfinished game which makes no effort to advertise the fact it’s still under construction.

Though that fact does explain a hell of a lot.

For starters Spiral apparently decided to use powerpoint presentations to construct their menus. Every single bloody one looks like it could have been created in paint with a few gimmicky effects and has a font only one better than comic sans listing information. The few times it does manage to do show something halfway decent, like the artwork or finding games screen, stick out like a sore thumb. Were it not for the fact they actually show the units from Dino Horde you’d swear someone working on it had taken to raiding google images for stuff.
Even after you pick up a gun things don’t get much better. Horrible optimisation problems aside, it looks like something which would be squirted out at the start of this console generation. Textures and details come across as oddly flat and so two dimensional you’ll start to get flashbacks of Skyrim. Actually that’s being unfair, at least Skyrim had the excuse of being a continent. These maps are an acre wide at best, filled to the brim with hazy details, oddly familiar technology and exceptionally dumb dinosaurs.

Let’s stick with the technology first. Hands up everyone who looked at the trailer and made a Halo joke? Congratulations, you’re not blind. Huge portions of the gameplay, vehicles and guns both look and feel like they’ve been pillaged from John 117’s garage. Big offenders are things like the Falcon, Gladiator and Cobra, which might as well be copy/pastes of the  Hornet, Warthog and Scorpion. While there’s nothing especially wrong with taking ideas from one game and putting your own spin on them, these will always feel beat for beat like something directly from Halo 3. Like someone has just taken the game and given it a new splash of paint. This becomes so bad that with things like the Gladiator, there is no discernible different between using the Warthog’s M41 LAA Gun and this thing’s minigun.

Some weapons are slightly better with the CV-10 looking more like a modified SOCOM pistol than a magnun, but even then the odd similarity crops up. Still that can be forgiven when there are so many other problems with them. Along with having no bloody recoil leaving them with the bullet hose PEW-PEW syndrome so many titles suffer from, many are bloody huge. Take the Trek12 shotgun as a weapon and you can expect to be blind on a big part of your right hand side. Even half the stats are usually wrong, with the aforementioned shotgun having supposedly “good” quality accuracy while giving no indication of range. Not to mention having such a wide cone of fire it’s only useful at melee range with the dinosaurs.

Most of you probably only looked at Dino Horde because of the dinosaurs didn’t you? So how are they? How do you think. As you’re trying to fight your way through the reptile zoo it becomes blatantly obvious that someone has been giving booze to these god damn things. Their AI pathing, movement, animations and general design makes them look openly drunk if not entirely insane.

In the games I played through the fliers are rarely brought down by gunfire so much as they were their own stupidity. Rham-phorynchus in particular repeatedly swooped down and brained themselves by smashing into the sides of vehicles I was driving or crashed into static objects. When this didn’t kill them it left them slowly flapping in the air, turning desperately to change direction as they hung there, pinned in place.

The raptors are even worse. Along with having quite possibly the most laughable attack animation seen in any title to date, lunging slightly forwards, they suffer from constant visual glitches. While all of the dinosaurs suffer from major clipping issues and animation de-coupling the Raptors seem to be the worst. Both are displayed almost continuously every time you’re fighting them, with them seemingly electric sliding into battle before crashing into one another trying to get to you.
Even when they die it’s more hilarious than triumphant.
When one chokes on that final bullet they’re first standing up fine, then have a portal of exploding blood appear around them and teleport onto the ground.  This would be funny in of itself but its effects makes your brave space marine look like he’s firing epileptic fits more than bullets. Along with juddering, half-baked responses as they take damage, the corpses continue to move. Half phased through the ground and continually flipping about. These issues might have pushed Dino Horde into a state where it would be so bad it’d be funny. The problems with each mission and their programming does not.

Half the time the dinosaurs don’t seem interested in you. Often you’ll have ones which for no reason aren’t interested in you or the location you are defending, instead option to up and bugger off. This might have been a good mechanic in response to superior firepower, but it simply happens at random. With swarms of dinosaurs teleporting in going all over the place. And yes they do teleport in. While it’s not entirely obvious at first, if you’re standing in the right place it becomes painfully obvious the oversized lizards are materialising out of thin air. Swarms will come out of absolutely nowhere and just swarm you, but sometimes only half your kills will actually matter.

This is where the mission problems come in. Let’s stick with Survival mode just as a main example, where you have to survive wave after wave. Killing certain numbers of dinosaurs before the next lot beam in via the Enterprise. A small counter keeps track of what kills your lot make, except that you can kill hundreds only for the counter to not change at all. Dino Horde apparently deciding at random which kill actually matters to you. Riding around GTA style and killing everything in sight ends up being the only sure-fire way to actually activate the next wave. Especially when the lizards keep trying to get the hell out of dodge than fight.

I could go into further depth but it ultimately comes down to a few things:
  • The vast majority of the game feels like things which have been directly lifted from other titles. Only being tweaked very slightly.
  • It's obviously unfinished and barely changed from its supposed prececessor.
  • Playing as dinosaurs is nowhere near as fun as it should be.
  • Despite a visibly sub-par quality and having a $15.00 price tag, the developers had the gall to add that ever so popular money grabbing choice: A micro-transaction store. Yes, it features a lot of hats. How did you guess.

I can’t even call this a trainwreck. Sword of the Stars II (the unenhanced edition) was a trainwreck. This? This is like watching the train pull out of the station, spontaneously combust and start falling to bits as it accelerates. It would almost be so bad it’s good were it not for the fact you’re going to have a hell of a time trying to run it. While there was clearly some effort put towards it, any goodwill there might be towards Spiral Game Studios will evaporate under the blinding heat of this blatant cash grab. Don’t bother with this one, unless you hear of some major improvements somewhere down the line, and even then remain cautious.


ORION: Dino Horde and all related characters and media are owned by the Spiral Game Studios.

Monday, 15 April 2013

The Coming Month

Okay, this is another announcement. There's been a lot of these lately but this one needs to be made.

I'm approaching the end of my final year in University. There are three major projects which require completion and quite frankly I want to get a good overall grade out of this. As such rather than writing for the site i'll be focusing my efforts towards essays and filming. This means there will likely be few to no updates or stories over the coming month or so. I am sorry for having to do this.

Those which will be continuing will be the Doctor Who reviews, not about to stop those just as soon as I started them again, and possibly some news reports. Iron Man 3 might also get a look but it really depends upon how much time I have, and others like Oblivion will likely only get a review post DVD release at best. Besides those few bits, work on University projects will be a priority.

So until writing begins in full again, goodbye and I leave you with this demotivator.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Doctor Who: Cold War (Episode Review)

A common criticism of Christopher Nolan’s cinematography is that he seems to have skipped basics to play about with the fun stuff. Things like how to shoot fight scenes, stage certain actions and edit together stuff tend to have a lot of basic errors in them despite their quality. The same thing seems to apply to the Doctor Who writing staff. They skip so many elements of basic storytelling they end up repeatedly breaking the “show don’t tell” endlessly in this. This has become a serious problem and Cold War is just the latest example of their failings.

Set at an undetermined date during the Cold War, a Soviet nuclear submarine is engaging in training manoeuvres in the North Pole. At the same time it is transporting a scientist and his latest find back to the mainland for further study. Unfortunately someone decides it would be a great idea to thaw the alien out en route and within moments a very angry Ice Warrior begins wrecking the submersible. As the sub crashes into the sea floor the Doctor arrives, but soon they find themselves at even greater risk than they know…

Let’s talk about that event at the beginning for a moment, where the Ice Warrior, Skaldak, is thawed out. Not only does the opening abruptly jack-knife into showing this but it makes no effort to make things seem natural. It literally cuts to someone saying “I'M IMPATIENT! IT WOULD BE A FANTASTIC IDEA TO THAW OUT THIS ALIEN ‘ERE!” All without the slightest hint of intelligence or awareness of how bad this would be. No mention is made of what his actions might screw up. No mention is made of the possibility of it carrying diseases. No caution for damaging the subject or even mention of it possibly still being alive is made. It is wrong in every conceivable way and begins to episode’s biggest sin.

Not only is the episode driven almost entirely by the idiocy of the characters but it doesn’t even try to make it feel natural. You’re never broken into or have the characters established or time take to even lampshade their foolish actions. Their behaviour is so dumb that they make mistakes are things which should be written out in a first draft!

For example, an alien warrior is loose on the ship. He has already proven himself a threat and the Doctor has repeatedly explained how bloodthirsty he is, with examples no less. He has also heard the Ice Warrior itself stating that it’s bent upon killing all of humanity in an act of vengeance. After the alien gets loose again, traps one officer and seems bent upon killing them all, what does he do? Not only tells it the world’s on the verge of mutual destruction via nuclear Armageddon, but also that the sub has weapons that could trigger it. His apparent reasoning for this is that he thinks the Ice Warrior can be convinced to side with them and defeat America.

What’s his prior characterisation? Being so trigger happy and zealous that he thinks the Doctor and Clara are American spies and Skaldak is a NATO experimental war-machine. After he has seen the TARDIS arrive and knows the Ice Warrior was trapped in the ice for five thousand years.

Now understand that half the frigging cast are like this and the rest are extremely ill defined. There are only four additional characters besides the regulars important to the plot, and all of them are either extremely generic or one dimensional. David Warner, yes he’s in this, really manages to make something out of nothing with an insanely flat, one note and barely distinct character. One who is supposed to have major impact upon Clara, and yet were it not for Warner’s inflections and details, would phase into the background. The same goes for Liam Cunningham as Captain Zhukov who you could replace with any number of background military characters from Doctor Who alone. It’s also saying something that even with the great performance the actors give, you’ll be lucky to remember their names by the end.

The only real standout here is Skaldak, who comes across as genuinely threatening. Injecting far more terror into the tale than any previous story his race featured in and is built up to be interesting to the audience. Without him this story would have crumpled in upon itself, but even here there are a huge number of problems. The Doctor repeatedly goes out of his way to reason with him and describe him as honourable when, for all intents and purposes, he is acting like a monster. This is put down to a very different morality system, but he attempts to wipe out the whole of humanity for revenge against a minor infraction against him. Not to mention comes close to murdering David Warner, who is playing as a harmless old scientist who is of no threat to him. It’s hard to be accepting of this when his morality is not only repulsive, listing genocide as an acceptable response to assault, but outright insane.

This also has to be the laziest excuse for the Doctor to show up I’ve seen yet. Apparently the writers are so hellbent upon cutting corners that he shows up as the disaster is taking place in an utterly jarring way, with little explanation. There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-line explaining he thought the TARDIS had arrived at Las Vegas, explaining his and Clara’s outfits, but it still feels incredibly jarring. In things like The Idiot's Lantern, written by the same writer who did this story, at least ten seconds were spent explaining the Doctor had gotten the time wrong. It also wasn't shoved into the middle of an action scene where it could be easily missed.

That being said there are some good elements to this.

The setting and lighting details add a level of claustrophobia to the story to help enhance the terror of having a monster running lose, and the writers clearly did their research. With a few minor moments involving Soviet values and attitudes during that time having been gotten right. Furthermore when the episode actually takes a moment to slow the hell down we get some genuinely nice scenes. A moment where Clara is questioning why they can’t just leave, and her certainty everything will turn out fine, is a good call-back to something similar from the Pyramids of Mars. Not to mention that the few moments of humour used here are actually quite funny.

The redesign of the Ice Warriors is also up to par with those which have come before it. Quite possibly this is the best one we’ve seen since the daleks were reintroduced all the way back in 2005. Much of their unnecessary bulk has been removed in favour of a much more dextrous and muscular look which radiates menace. Revealing what the Ice Warriors look like beneath their armour, at least with their faces, was definitely a mistake however. Matt Smith is also as good as always and there were a few subversions of old tropes which were nice. As a return of an old foe though? They really dropped the ball here.

This is quite possibly the worst returning episode for an old foe we’ve had since the Great Intelligence was brought back in The Snowmen. It rushes through things, details are lost at the sheer breakneck speed the story moves at and there’s nowhere near enough time to develop anything. After Night Terrors there was some hope that Mark Gatiss had improved beyond things like Victory of the Daleks, but this was just atrocious. Still better than Dinosaurs on a Spaceship admittedly but nowhere near the quality we’ve come to expect from the show.


Doctor Who and all related characters and media are owned by the British Broadcasting Corporation.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Deathwatch (Book Review)

As with the last book review this is posted in full on http://thefoundingfields.com 

Friday, 12 April 2013

Gravi (Video Game Review)

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Transformers: All Hail Megatron (Comicbook Review)

As with the last book review this is posted in full on http://thefoundingfields.com 

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Codex: Tau Empire (Book Review)

Well we had Codex: Tau Empire released for the sixth edition not too long ago. Having written the 5 Changes 6th Edition Codex: Tau Empire Needs post, it seemed only right to actually follow up on it now. As this is a follow-up it won't quite follow the same format as a normal review. Instead what we're going to have is a look into how well the new book handled each suggested improvement and to what extent it took it to heart.

As with the first article, this won't be so much a look into how the game mechanics work as its background and fluff. There will be the occasional mention of the game mechanics but that's going to be secondary to how well produced the tau's history or changes are. Given the quality of stories and massive problems we've had with the tau recently, how well written they actually are is a point of major concern.

So let's take a look at how the book handled the five changes which were recommended.

5 - Advancing Technology

Was this a major part of the codex? Sweet heaven yes. If there was any one thing in this list which the book got right it was this. While it admittedly did not take the exact direction brought up in the original list, the Empire's ability to adapt and evolve is made into a huge point here. There are constant references to the tau learning from their mistakes and looking at the technology of others. Frequently many things which are brought up in the book have evolved over time or in response to something the tau have encountered.

This ranges from mention of battlesuits having been repeatedly upgraded and replaced by new models to infantry weapons. A notable example being the introduction of the ion rifle. Something which, after encountering the Imperium's strong but unstable plasma weapons, has the ability to be similarly overcharged for more of a punch. Other references are also made to prototype tech being used by characters, but we'll get to that later on.

Perhaps the single best example of their adaptability and advancing technology is the Riptide battlesuit. The background to which is emphasised as being a response to Titan and Gargant war machines, but small and fast enough to stay in line with the tau way of war. The book itself mentioning how the battlesuit was repeatedly redesigned and there were many failures in prototypes. Presumably to excuse its late introduction into the universe and the reason the Imperium has not faced it until now.
Admittedly a nice way to fit it around the tau novels and books of old without making them seem out of date. Something which should be praised rather than having the new writer hellbent upon ignoring the works of others. Or determined to make certain ones non-canon in an extremely petty retcon war.

If there is one thing this got wrong (besides not saying "tau plasma tech is immune to the Grey Knights' plasma siphon" damn it) it's referring back to older models. While the XV15 stealth suits are mentioned along with the XV25s, the exact reasons for their replacement are not listed as they were before. Furthermore the new Broadsides and similarly redesigned models make no mention of the old shoulder mounted variants. Even the Barracuda and Tiger Shark aircraft go largely unmentioned despite the recent introduction of the new Razorshark aircraft in the codex. Still it's a minor gripe for something which was otherwise done fairly well.

4 - More Characters

Let's just put this one down to a yes. Unlike the last codex which just had three characters, this one has six. Along with Aun'Shi being brought back there are new pathfinder and tank commander characters, Longstrike and Darkstrider.

Despite both sounding like heroes Marvel comics would create in the early 90s, the two are fairly well developed in their backgrounds. One being an elite commander with a long history of fighting the forces of the Imperial Guard, while the latter is effectively the tau equivalent of Sly Marbo. Both have detailed histories defining who they are are list their accomplishments. Said accomplishments range from launching a strike against a necron tomb world to shut it down to making the kill-shot on an enemy Warhound Titan. They're both written fairly competently and while their backgrounds make them look impressive they're never written so far as to be completely wanked out invincible. Longstrike for example only held off the Imperial Guard in a major engagement until air strikes could take down the majority of the armour.

The abilities of each are suited largely to the role they are supposed to take. Longstrike boosting a Hammerhead's BS to 5 and giving it the Tank Hunter skill. Darkstrider meanwhile gifts a good number of skills to any unit he joins and allows them to fall back after a successful Overwatch action, also Outflanking. The point is rather than just being out-and-out game breaking combat monsters who will kill everything in their path (looking at you Ward) you actually need to use them tactically. Opt where to place them, when to use them and suit the tau's mobile way of war fairly well.
Their new technology is also fairly interesting to see, with Longstrike having a type of pilot battlesuit which enhances his abilities even further and Darkstrider being armed with an enhanced targeting sensor. Things which are obviously new to the Empire and have been gifted to their best for field testing prior to a (presumably) wider production.

The new characters are not the only improvements. Shadowsun, Farsight and Aun'Va have all had significant expansions to their backgrounds.

Farsight specifically having a good deal more detail to his actions leading up to succeeding from the Empire and with some more ambiguity to his departure. Suggesting that it was in part due to the lack of support the ethereals were showing in his efforts to drive the orks from their space, and to something else. One specific quote from Farsight suggests that his actions might not have been of direct rebellion, but of something else:
"I've seen things you wouldn't believe - Entire worlds in flames, chains of supernovas on the edge of nothingness, the great hole in space. I am changed, an outcast now."
Interpret that however you will.

Aun'Va meanwhile has been detailed in a few more areas, no longer the eternal ethereal he is simply ancient. Having replaced a predicessor at some point as overall spiritual figure of the Empire. His role in battles has also been further excused, in part due to the new nature of the Fire Caste, and in part  due to the inspiration he gives to those he fights alongside.

Shadowsun's role as overall commander of the Third Sphere Expansion has also been more greatly detailed. There is much more emphasis placed upon her tactical knowledge and her capabilities, as well as her mastery of military conquest. Unlike the one we saw in Last of Kiru's Line, this one is actually intelligent and knows how to fight the Imperium. Not being drawn into battles she cannot win, luring the enemy into traps and trying to accomplish victories in single strikes whenever she can.
One particularly enjoyable note was the fact that the Zeist Campaign from Codex: Space Marines was something she allowed to happen. Sacrificing a number of worlds to make the Imperium think it had achieved a victory while they conquered new areas of space. Nice to know someone could turn badly written Ultramarines "WE'RE BETTER THAN YOU!" masturbation into something which actually adds to the universe.

Aun'Shi is more or less unchanged as backgrounds go, but he didn't need to be fixed or altered really.

If there is one really big misstep it's that all these characters are tau. It would have been good to see a general or commander from a race who joined the Empire becoming a part of its military. Perhaps a former Imperial Guard officer, kroot shaper or vespid queen. Someone who could display that it's not just the Fire Caste fighting and give a bit more attention to otherwise ignored races. Again it's something which is a shame, and a clear misstep, but at least what we were given was well written and fairly balanced as things go.

3- Expand Upon The Differences Between The Septs

Unfortunately this one didn't turn up in this book. We do now know more about the Septs of the tau and with greater detail about them, but it's more events and wars than something major. 

Now to give credit where it's due the expansion placed upon the septs was done well. A lot of the changes are for the better and make a lot of interesting points within the Empire. For starters each Sept was changed to not a single world but a series of colonies and surrounding planets. Making the Empire look bigger than before and the tau to have a more sizable presence as a major force in the 40K universe.

In addition to this a lot more detail has been put into what has happened where. For example Vior'la has been noted to have fought against multiple ork Waaghs! and notes specific seasons it goes through. Seasons in which the core planet of the system passes between two suns and endures raging firestorms which batter the planet. It might be more than a little similar to a notable event on Nocturne but it adds more character to the place at least. Further notes have also been added to the history behind certain worlds, such as how Bor'kan was home to the race who first joined the Empire. One who was unfortunately wiped out in a mysterious plague the tau were immune to. It's not much but it's something. Unfortunately however we don't get much beyond this.

There are no brief descriptions of what the major worlds are like, how they interact with others or what makes them stand out. They lack the distinct character which would have benefited certain armies and unfortunately while what we get is interesting it's just not enough to be satisfying.

2 - Make Use Of The Empire's Races And Buff Up The Current Ones

This is another major disappointment. I mentioned in the last article that the game was becoming increasingly close combat orientated. Noting that there was hope that with this new edition of the rules either a new race would be introduced as auxiliaries to fulfill a much needed role as a solid close combat unit. Or that the current races of the vespid and kroot would be buffed so they were more useful.

We got neither.

The kroot have been chaged to give an automatic 6+ save but have lost their additional attacks and the vespid have gained a few buffs in general still feel like a one trick pony. Something to either mop up units or jump out, fire and die. Combined with the lack of immunity to the plasma siphon among tau plasma weaponry this means that the Grey Knights can still be in charge by turn one or two and kill everything with ease. Plus that practically anything which gets into charge range is going to rip the entire tau army a new one. It's a real disappointment especially as time was taken to give the tau a whole slue of new races as part of their Empire.

Along with tau, vespid and humans a lot of new races have been noted. Ranging from sentient crustaceans who excel as engineers to mind controlling parasites who have agreed to join the Empire as equals. Presumably without mind-controlling the tau. There are at least half a dozen new races listed as being a part of the Empire but we never see them. Yeah, there's both no images for any of them nor real descriptions about their relationship with the Empire. This is especially bad with the gue'vessa (human defectors) who we get few to no details about. There are the occasional notes about ones serving as spies on Imperial worlds but besides that we don't really get information on how many there are, what their roles are or how they're regarded.

The book does at least take the time not note that auxiliaries are used, and the tau will need to start recruiting from other races to keep up their military's numbers, but we don't get much else. Again, it's more than we had in the last codex but it's far less than what we'd hoped for.

1- Balance Idealism and Orwellian Influences

Despite the disappointments of the last two areas, this one at least was done right. Jeremy Vetock did an insanely good job at balancing out the two conflicting factors of this race and went about presenting them in exactly the right way: Show them as idealists determined to unite  a warring galaxy, but leave hints of a dark side.

The foremost examples of such a dark side exist within events such as the aforementioned extinction of Bor'kan's original race. Something which could have been a tragic accident which the tau had no part in or an intentional act to give the tau a stronger power-base before moving out to conquer more worlds. While some have been removed plenty exist. Enough instances to satisfy anyone who might be interested in seeing the Tau Empire as a force as bad as everyone else. A lot of language is used to try and present the tau as a conquesting force as well. With terms such as "exploit" turning up frequently and the Fire Caste being presented as the World Eaters were during the Great Crusade. The personal attack dogs of the ethereals who are determined to end all the Empire's enemies and dropped on planets where they're required to kill everything in sight.

At the same time however a lot also presents the tau in a fairly good light. Despite the ruthlessness of their actions in many military campaigns, they allow their enemies the chance to surrender at any point and don't use violence as a first resort  They're very patient, willing to wait decades to have planets join them and tend to regard wars of conquest as being a final solution after all other efforts on their part have failed. Many of the worlds who do join them seem to genuinely be better off as a part of the tau empire, but it never goes so far as to seem like they're their third edition selves.

To put it simply the codex balances out both interpretations of the Tau Empire by effectively making them not nice, but not evil. There are still the aforementioned hints and a "join us or die" mentality but unlike many recent novels it's not so overriding they're simple bad guys. It's really the best thing we could have asked for and it's a good thing Vetock did as good a job as he did in handling a fairly underdeveloped faction of the 40K universe.

Ultimately while Codex: Tau Empire fails to go as far as was hoped, it still managed to get most things right. It's an interesting and definite improvement over what came before and while a few areas leave something to be desired, the writing quality is solid. It's something that should please all but the most ardent of people who hate the tau, and a decent update. Here's hoping we'll be seeing Vetock helming many more codexes in the future.


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