Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Retro City Rampage DX (Video Game Review)

Serving as the spiritual successor to the original Grand Theft Auto games, combining their 8-bit stylings with Saints Row style humour, Retro City Rampage DX is a title few will want to miss. Offering full scale insanity right from the word go, the entire experience boils down to racing about a thriving metropolis populated by 80s icons and occasionally doing the odd mission. The fact that said missions often come down to anything from "steal this man's TV" to full blown recreations of SNES era military marvels is where you're going to find much of DX's appeal.

Ending The Silence

For those of you who have been regularly reading this blog for a few years, you might have noticed we've been silent of late. This has been the longest silence since starting with only a single update for one month, and I just wanted to confirm something: Yes, i'm still writing articles and there will still be content exclusive to here.

The main reason for the silence came down to a few factors from work in the Christmas period (which quickly devolved into Black Friday season), illness and a few additional elements which can't be talked about. That and, rather foolishly, I jumped at the chance to review two big name open world games for Starburst Magazine and ended up falling behind on a lot of things as a result. The usual ten to twenty hours spent to get the feeling of a game or go through to the end isn't nearly enough to cover that sort of thing. As a result the next week will be spent uploading links to those reviews and a few others written for Starburst in the meantime.

Furthermore, comments which have been long ignored will be answered as soon as I have the free time and reviews will be back on track. We're back in business again people, and thank you for your patience. I can't promise things will be back to daily updates any time soon, but here's hoping this is the last long delay we'll have on here. Also, expect a lot more Warhammer in the following weeks.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Comicbook Deaths - When Fans Stopped Caring

Of all the good and bad things you can say about comics, easily one of the single worst ones across any medium are comicbook deaths. Rather than being some obscure page on TV Tropes, it's an idea so infamous that it's fully ingrained within pop culture and even people without any basic superhero knowledge will recognise it. The idea of death having so little meaning that any characters who die will immediately come back, or that their deaths will have no actual relevance is a serious problem.

The question is, how did it come about? Well, in my personal opinion the ones to blame the most for starting it are both DC Comics and Marvel simultaneously with two sagas which shaped the nineties: The Infinity Gauntlet and The Death of Superman. While both certainly have their fans, the former being regarded as an essential read by cosmic superhero story fanatics, and they're rightfully remembered for breaking new ground. 

Each saw the heroes pushed to limits we'd not seen them before, raising the stakes far beyond anything readers had previously witnessed. The Infinity Gauntlet featured Thanos gaining unlimited power, and with the Avengers, X-Men and others being hurled into a meat grinder of a conflict. The Death of Superman meanwhile featured the Justice League taking on a foe who was seemingly unstoppable. An unknown menace who arrived, took down the Justice League and was more than a match for any of them, barely being halted by Superman at the last minute. You could also almost certainly add Crisis on Infinite Earths in here, but let's just keep this simple for the moment.

Losses were core to each and they removed the safety bubble which so often prevented major character deaths from ever occurring, at least not on the level seen here. As such it came as a shock to many at the time and they hit hard, undeniably shaped by similar aspects seen in Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. The chief problem is that whereas the works of Alan Moore and Frank Miller were isolated, with a beginning and end, the other comics needed to continue. Many of the big name characters they killed off for dramatic effect couldn't just stay dead, and they needed to bring them back to ensure the companies retained the rights. This, in my opinion, was where the problems really started but they would only get worse as time went by.

With these big name sagas being hits thanks to their scale and willingness to cause deaths, writers couldn't exactly take a step back. Suddenly returning to crisis events without losses or casualties might have made stories seem less dramatic by comparison, safer or tamer than those from before. As such they needed to keep this trend going. In addition to this, it was during this era that the likes of Image Comics were being set up, with creators emulating the works which shaped their era. The problem is that these consisted largely of artists who had no experience writing prior tales, so they were often producing far lower quality works which were aping the style of more successful tales. Many likely saw sudden deaths as an easy way to crank up the drama so they stuck with that.

The result of each of these was that this led to oversaturation of the idea of character deaths and the growing expectancy to see people killed off for drama. The repetition of the idea soon became commonplace and began to extend to other characters, creating an entirely new problem: Low ranking fodder. While the big names could only be killed off and brought back so many times in a row without completely diminishing their impact, lesser known characters were different. With smaller fan followings, being less established in their works and (let's face it) less profitable names without so much public recognition, they could be more easily bumped off. This is now something which has stuck, and it's a trend the industry has never truly bucked.

Look at all those over past years and you'll see even after event which just involves death to try and crank up the tension. It's almost as if the writers are afraid of seeing what will happen without a few people being bumped off, and even the great ones such as Annihilation are notably guilty of this. Then, of course, you get into countless others, ones revolving entirely around the idea of heroes being killed such as Avengers Disassembled or even entire series these days. Many ongoing comics have deaths suddenly shoved in such as the very controversial sudden murder of Catwoman a couple of years back. It's completely over-saturated within the industry but worse still, the problem is that so many times these characters are killed off without any respect. 

The idea is usually to have them hit with shock, like seeing someone cut down in the midst of battle or hit by a bus, but if it happens so frequently then audiences stop caring. At best the heroes will get a token funeral afterwards or some issue devoted to others thinking about them, but this is often so overdone that it just stops having meaning. There certainly are stories which can work like that, Simon Furman has built an entire career out of successfully bumping beloved characters off, but it takes a certain type of writer. 

It takes a very specific kind of approach to really hit the nail on the head with this one, and even then it needs to be balanced out with levity or genuine human moments. So many comics lack this or when they do try to approach it, it's often treated in some kind of "ironic" light rather than being genuine. Well, that or use it as padding to draw out the misery, as seen all too often in Brian Bendis' stuff. Without that tonal difference or balance, the constant loss, the constant death and constant misery without any real actual point just creates apathy in readers. The deaths themselves all too often end up being meaningless as they exist as either a way to artificially create tension, or never truly last.

The thing is though, the truly sad thing, is that they often do help to make a story more memorable. The hatred drawn by seeing a fan favourite bludgeoned to death or a minor character unceremoniously killed off can make an event memorable. Fans will complain, they will react with outrage and it will solidify the event in the minds of others, even if it isn't positive. It's the reason that Marvel's constant parade of misery with Avengers Disassembled, Civil War, Dark Reign, Fear Itself and Avengers vs X-Men has stayed in people's heads. Even ignoring their relatively recent inclusion, the outcry over them is enough to have Marvel see their general awareness as profitable, whereas far better events such Maximum Security or the Kang Dynasty go ignored. Both of those, under Kurt Busiek, are classics which built tension without disservice to characters, but hate sadly has more impact than affection.

For all of this though, I am not saying for one second that death cannot be a part of comics. This is just mapping out how a problem arose and why it's become such an issue within the industry, especially with superheros. There are many comics which do use death to deliver excellent genuine drama and we've seen this many times over, often outside the superhero genre. Many can serve as a template on how to allow deaths to have serious impact within stories or even to make permanent deaths of secondary characters resonate strongly within a tale.

One key example which comes to mind is from Strontium Dog, one of 2000 AD's long running series along with Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper. The series followed a pair of Search and Destroy Agents (Read: bounty hunters) throughout various tales, one a mutant with mild telepathic and sight based enhancements, the other a time displaced viking. Look, it's science fiction comics, this sort of madness just comes with the territory. Anyway, after several hundred issues of following the characters, the decision was made to kill the viking, Wulf Sternhammer, off. However, unlike the examples outlined above what made it work was how it was set up.

The arc began with Wulf and Johnny Alpha, the aforementioned mutant, captured and tied up by an old nemesis Max Bubba. The story flashed back to how they had originally met, outlining their connection with Bubba and fleshing out their origins with one another. It was enough to give real gravity to a newly introduced villain, and tactfully handled enough to make the sudden retcon inclusion really fit thanks to turning the entire thing into one massive arc. At the story's end, Wulf managed to break free, starts to fight his way clear and get them out, but is gunned down when overwhelmed. Johnny is left for dead, only to survive and spend a lengthy story arc hunting down Bubba, driven by revenge.

The story here works for a number of reasons as opposed to many others. Wulf's death at the end of the flashback, after seeing the pair victorious over Bubba comes as a genuine shock. It hits the reader hard, but it's not without respect to the character, as Wulf goes down fighting and is only overwhelmed by multiple foes. What's more was that this was permanent, and the comic treated his death as such, with a full funeral and his end having serious impact upon how things played out for the future. His death had meaning within the story and it was done as a part of an ongoing plot, not just a sudden twist addition or massively televised event to boost sales.

Writers and editors need to remember that drama in a story needs to be for a reason. When a character is killed off, it shouldn't have to be one more detail to tick off of a list on some yearly crisis event or demanded when sales are a little low. It shouldn't be done and then completely forgotten about and it shouldn't be something so frequently wheeled out that it loses all meaning entirely. 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

This War of Mine (Video Game Review)

For all the many times “war is hell” has emerged as a message in video games, many developers have always hit a snag with its delivery. More often than not this is down to it being tied to FPS modern military shooters, where the message itself is buried beneath the corpses left in the player’s wake. This War of Mine is the exception, jumping genres entirely and hitting home just how harsh the realities of war truly are.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Eisenhorn: Xenos Interview

For all the varied video games depicting the nightmare future Warhammer 40,000 universe, few take the time to examine anything beyond the frontlines. Every title from the methodically slow-paced Space Hulk to Dawn of War’s high speed RTS action have focused more upon killing Orks with bolters than secret shadow wars fought between ancient powers. At least until now. Adapted from the first book of Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn trilogy, Xenos follows the career of Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn of the Ordo Xenos. Tasked with exterminating alien influences from across the Imperium’s worlds, the story depicts Eisenhorn’s efforts to annihilate a powerful cult and his own slow journey towards damnation.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Why Zelda Should Be Assassin's Creed's Future

Of all the criticisms which have been leveled at Assassin's Creed: Unity, one of the big ones has been its apparent step backwards. Well, the big one besides the hilariously horrifying bugs, obvious glitches and embargo problems at any rate. Having abandoned seafaring combat in favour of a more traditional approach and effectively tacking on the much touted co-op angle as an additional mode, it's hard to disagree with this. While there have been obvious steps forwards in places, at its core the title seems to be stagnant, doing little to truly address some of its flaws in terms of how easy combat remains, guards so readily losing the player and the like.

The core problems remain at every turn and the big efforts to put new spins on things often seem for new games seem like one-shot gimmicks. These have plagued the series for years and the answer to combating this issue could lie with another famed franchise - The Legend of Zelda.

On the surface each game looks very similar. Each retains certain core gimmicks and sticks closely to its genre, each will always feature a very similar protagonist to its predecessors and each tries to have new ideas added to a repeated formula to give it new life. Yet despite this, Zelda is not nearly so frequent a target for this criticism as Assassin's Creed, and there's a few obvious reasons for that, all of which boil down to overall approach. 

Think for a moment about what elements each franchise have added to their titles and how they adapted their ideas to each installment. 

With Zelda, from the N64 era onward, there is a clear progression of changes and new ideas. 
Ocarina of Time introduced the musical and song elements along with time travel. 
This was then taken into Majora's Mask with a few tweaks, turning the time element into a set series of days and with sidequests they needed to keep track of. Then atop of this there was the mask mechanics, altering Link's form; each of the racial masks allowed for a new method of travel and exploration. 
Wind Waker dropped elements of both but kept others. Music and composing certain sequences remained a major part of the game, necessary for completing each dungeon. While outright transformations were largely ignored, added methods of travel were looked into with the addition of a boat, along with vastly changing the entire world as a whole.
When Twilight Princess came about, shades of each could be seen and even new versions of old ideas could be found in basic elements of it, with transformations making a return and the like.

At every turn Zelda tries to rework its ideas, revamp them and renew them. Even the very idea of music being at the core of the games doesn't begin with Ocarina of Time, and it's been an element present in almost all of the games. Each is carefully thought out, built upon the last installment in some way with prior ideas adapted and renewed even as additional ones are built atop them. There's a constant sense of progression from one game to the next, and while it retains the basic core gameplay, it the developers seem to be approaching it with the intent of not trying to fix what isn't broken. They take on-board new ideas, but don't lose sight of what made the games so effective in the first place.

Assassin's Creed does embrace many of these same points, but it's a very flawed equivalent of this for a few reasons. An earlier paragraph referred to the series' new ideas as gimmicks, and that's sadly what these come down to far too often. Rather than being directly integrated into the very core of the game, they're added more like bonus features or optional elements to try and spice things up. 

Ubisoft's approach was initially very clear in Brotherhood when the series' introduced the option to control and command bands on initiates. While they could be called upon in battle and even sent off on missions, this was rarely plot essential and many core missions even barred their involvement entirely. Rather than making it something essential to the entire game, it was instead added on around it and discarded when it got in the way. The same goes for later elements, with even the highly praised elements such as ship to ship combat. Black Flag only went in the direction it did thanks to the battles being one of the few highly praised elements in III, then abandoned for a completely different game when the creators moved onto Unity.

Sticking with ship combat itself for the moment, then also consider how it was implemented into each title. Many segments did surround the use of ship battles, with several blockade runs and big sequences being the highlight of Black Flag, but many critical sections seemed to ignore its involvement. Half the game was spent using the ship and then the other half, usually the one most critical to the plot, abandoned it entirely, instead falling back on the mechanics of past games. Rather than truly combining them or offering new opportunities from having a crew at their command, or even heavy artillery for that matter, Ubisoft's design left a clear divide between each part of the game. This has only been taken further with Unity, which has all but abandoned the very idea of working in a group as a part of the core mechanic. Instead it's left purely as a multiplayer mode, 

Perhaps an even bigger problem than this inability to truly build upon mechanics is the overall approach of making things bigger before truly fixing them. Now, no one will ever argue against the art design or mo-cap quality of any Assassin's Creed game; each has proven time and time again to present gorgeous locales, interesting environmental options and the ability to traverse the city as a white garbed Batman has never not been fun. However, as time goes by these flashier elements have become the focus of development and trying to rake in big crowds. Half of what Unity was promoted about was the ability to generate bigger crowds than ever, taller buildings to traverse and the like. The issue is that they focused upon building flashier and more extravagant elements without better improving the series' foundations.

Think for a second about all the criticisms surrounding the series. The very act of hunting down, planning and assassinating people has always been fun, but it's often boiled down to mass murder and frantic building chases. The likes of Dishonoured and even Shadow of Mordor have been praised as doing a better job with the concept, manipulating enemies and forcing the player to stick to the shadows. The very combat system itself has remained the same from the start, but none of the glaring issues have been fixed. Anyone who knows how to counter attacks or carries a few smoke bombs will immediately know how to win every fight, and even ranged attackers offer little real threat. This is not to mention entirely new issues like massive graphical glitches and failings in certain titles, like how, notably in Unity, NPCs can completely shapeshift as you approach them.

Say what you will about the Zelda franchise, it does stick to what works in a similar manner to Assassin's Creed, but the time was taken to fully iron out each issue in turn. The combat might be as basic, but the main focus is instead upon item gathering, puzzles and dungeon crawling, all of which they do well. There's no real flaws evident in their basic approach and no glaring issues which remain similar to Assassin's Creed's problematic combat system. The closest one which exists is the requirement to unlock items, but that has been reworked in the past and used to open up the world around the player rather than being left unchanged.

Perhaps the biggest point of all, the single greatest thing Ubisoft could learn from watching Nintendo, is this: Restraint. Nintendo might be traditionalists in every respect, for both good and bad, but as iconic as their characters get they tend to know where to draw the line in terms of overexposure. Throughout the last generation we saw a grand total of six games, seven if you include Rogue. In an attempt to have it be their answer to Call of Duty, Ubisoft is mashing out these things like they're coming off a production line. 

This yearly release schedule they have now has led to the series creatively stagnating bit by bit. The reason so many seem to be so similar, and we have had so few real advances or total reworkings is because the games are hammered out by various teams in insanely short spaces of time. It's not enough to truly patch out each sequel's problems or even fully consider exactly how to incorporate new ideas into the series rather than tacking them onto the title. Assassin's Creed II was the last massive leap forwards for the series and that was only given on additional year of development time, so imagine for a moment what the developers could accomplish with that again. 

With longer development times Zelda doesn't suffer from this issue, but more importantly it doesn't suffer from overexposure. A franchise's flaws are all the more obvious when they are seen over and over again, in rapid succession with no efforts to truly improve them. It might be a venerated franchise, but the Legend of Zelda has rarely seen more than two releases per console. As a result the continual dungeon crawling, the collection of the same items, even the re-use of certain enemies and ideas can still seem fresh. Interest in the franchise itself can be maintained by an established fandom, which Assassin's Creed most definitely has, or even by having the characters show up in minor secondary games. 

While many other points could be drawn up, these are the key areas which Ubisoft could look at and use to improve their beloved franchise. Assassin's Creed is by no means bad, but it seems very strange that they cannot take the time to look at prior successes or venerated franchises and see what works with them. If they were to really stop and examine both, the quality of games focusing upon the Assassin/Templar war would almost certainly increase exponentially.

These are of course only personal thoughts however. If you have your own opinions or even disagreements with this, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

Monday, 17 November 2014

God of Mars (Book Review)

Following directly on from the bombshells left in the wake of Lords of Mars, the latest novel by McNeill is a very strange tome indeed. On the one hand it’s the perfect example of a possible angle for Warhammer 40,000 novels to approach, focusing away from the battlefields in favour of a space opera and ongoing tale of conflicting agendas and secrets. Brighter than the average setting of the universe, more akin to Gotrek and Felix than the Ultramarines series, the Adeptus Mechanicus books are a clear way to break away from the perpetual grimdark style some readers have come to hate. With a plethora of fascinating characters, the rare 40k setting of a true space opera and a wealth of new opportunities, it should be a shining example to all of Black Library. On the other hand, it never seems to truly embrace all of this and many points keep trying to be less Battlestar Galactica and more Star Trek: Into Darkness, often pulling back into familiar territory. This is taken to the next level in Gods of Mars and it badly hurts the series as a result.

Friday, 14 November 2014

BlazeRush (Video Game Review)

The Rock N’ Roll racing of a new generation, BlazeRush is the kind of explosive fun you’ll instantly recognise. It’s the sort of game anyone who grew up with the original PlayStation will have seen in spades, with no plot, an isometric fixed camera and a massive emphasis upon multiplayer mayhem.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Space Hulk Ascension Edition

The second outing by Full Control to depict the Adeptus Astartes making perilous expeditions into long lost, xenos-infested starships, Space Hulk Ascension Edition is a massive leap forwards from its predecessor. Along with a far broader mix of chapters, many of the massive criticisms levelled at the previous game have been directly addressed here, from atmosphere to progression.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

2015's Fantastic Four Film - Doctor Doom Is Dead

As if fans of Marvel's first family didn't already have enough reasons to hate Josh Trank's decisions of late, they now have an entirely new gripe to fume over. Rather than featuring the Fantastic Four fighting the famous metal masked dictator of Latveria, they will be fighting a Russian blogger.

No, really.

Revealed on Colldier, the following information was discovered on the DVD release for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Speaking with Toby Kebbell, who will be playing not-Doctor Doom, he conveyed the following information to audiences:

"He’s Victor Domashev, not Victor Von Doom in our story.  And I’m sure I’ll be sent to jail for telling you that.  The Doom in ours—I’m a programmer.  Very anti-social programmer.  And on blogging sites I’m “Doom”."

A full video can be found on the link covering the entire interview, but notable terms picked out from quotes were Kebbell stating "even in the cartoons, when I was watching them I was like, “So where’s he from?”" and further confirming Trank's approach to be "lo-fi". This only further slams audiences with the confirmation that no one on this project even begins to understand the basics of why Fantastic Four works. It has never been about being lo-fi, it's not about extreme street level grittiness, it's about high adventure and outlandish science.

As mentioned in previous articles, the creative forces behind this project are trying throwing the source material completely out the window. They're trying to write the Fantastic Four as a group they were never intended to be, and even ignoring past mistakes which were made by previous creators. Turning the Four into teenagers, making their powers act like disabilities, trying to turn Doom into a more "believable" character, these were all attempted in the Ultimate universe. You know what else as well? That incarnation of the team split up and never again reformed, only really working once they were integrated into other parts of the setting.

There are many teams this could work with, X-Factor, the Morlocks, perhaps even the recent Inhuman outbreaks in comic, or even the Runaways at a stretch. They were built from the ground up with this sort of thing in mind and it's since been well integrated into their style, their mythos, their overall identity. Trying to turn the Four into this is not only driving away the most interested group in seeing a film, it's also making terrible use of the source material. There are ways certain ones can be interpreted into a wide variety of different viewpoints, ideas and shifted to fit certain concepts. However, when a film goes as far as this one does though, with the creators behind it apparently being openly ashamed and embarrassed of what they're working with, it takes a miracle to get anything truly good out of it.

Ultimately this idea has removed anything fantastic or remotely fun from Doom and seems intent upon ignoring anything which could work as it might not be taken seriously. The problem is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has already shown many times over people can happily accept some of the more fantastical elements. If directors tired to do the same with them, it would spell disaster.

Imagine if Tony Stark was envisioned not as a genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist but as a homeless man living off of scraps or someone at a dead end call centre. It would lose half the idea behind the character, his entire drive, and the core message which was at the very heart of his creation.
Imagine if Thor was never used as the actual God of Thunder, but as a deluded lunatic locked away in a mental asylum merely thinking he was the god. The entire film would lose all of its biggest strengths, in terms of characters, setting, motivations and the contrasting cultures which gave the films their best gags.
Imagine if Captain America was reduced to being a failed genetic experiment stuck with half his body trying to actively kill the other half, living his life as a cripple and unable to fight.

Iron Man 3 was the closest any film came to doing this, which still offered plenty of big battles and futuristic tech scenes. Despite doing so, even then that film received flak from sizable parts of the fandom over trying to dodge the more outstanding elements of the comics. Audiences don't want to see this sort of thing with characters who were never intended to embody it, and this is just spelling disaster for the film.

On a personal note, I do truly hope that this film does somehow manage to capture some elements of what made the comics so good to begin with. That said, a Doom best known for being grand, operatic and bombastic, master of science and magic? How could that ever be seen as the weaker option when compared with "Internet troll gains super powers, goes insane"?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Lords of the Fallen (Video Game Review)

Wearing its influences on its sleeve, it’s clear that Deck13 Interactive’s Lords of the Fallen is a title trying to capitalise on the success of Dark Souls. Yet rather than being the soulless cash-in many would expect, Lords of the Fallen puts a unique spin on things to help it stand out on its own. Here the player takes the role of Harkyn, a convicted criminal in a world where every man’s sin is laid bare for all to see. Released with a chance for redemption he is sent on a seemingly suicidal mission to halt a demonic invasion.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Doctor Who: Dark Water & Death in Heaven (Series Finale Review)

Some of you will have been wondering where all the reviews have been. Even with my previous announcement of things slowing down on here for a bit the Doctor Who reviews are something often gotten out on a weekly basis. Well, the truth was that after seeing Dark Water, it seemed best to cover this as a single piece. Why? For a number of reasons, but foremost because so much of Dark Water itself was set-up more than anything else. Also to let the firestorm of controversy surrounding a certain line die down a bit before approaching it.

No prizes for guessing which one that was.

Dark Water

After many tumultuous revelations and secrets, Clara has finally decided to reveal to Danny everything. Planning out exactly what she needs to cover, she prepares to explain her adventures to her boyfriend, only to hear him run down by a car while over the phone. In an act of desperation, Clara returns to the Doctor and asks him to do the impossible - Bring Danny back, find him or alter time somehow to ensure his survival. What they find when they go in search of the former soldier is far worse than either would have ever imagined.

The sad thing about each episode is that all the elements were there for something truly outstanding, but both the set-up and writing are what holds it back from greatness. When taken on their own, the scene of Clara hearing Danny's abrupt death and her confrontation with the Doctor are executed magnificently. The acting is great, the cinematography fantastic and each is remarkably well staged even for this series, the moment itself works fine. 

The chief failing of the scene comes from the rest of the series. Even after multiple episodes with him, no writer has known what to do with Danny. We know that he's a soldier, and that he suffers guilt, but no writer seems to truly know how to turn those traits into a fully realised character. As such, the impact of his death doesn't have the resonance that the episode's creators clearly wanted, and lacks the real gut-wrenching effect it should have featured. In all honesty, if this was the first time we were truly introduced to him, the story might have actually had far more of an effect. It would have at least inspired investment to know just who this person was to Clara, inspiring her to go to the lengths she does later on.

This isn't just here either, we also have Missy as well. Having been arbitrarily shoved into episode after episode, almost tacked on rather than truly integrated or left to slight hints, the wham moment of her reveal is severely blunted. With so many theories and ideas surrounding the character already, people had already guessed her identity from the name, look and the fact writers were practically shouting she was the main villain from the rooftops. It also didn't help that the big fan theory, the ridiculously obvious one, turned out to be the right one.

While this review won't reveal Missy's true name for the sake of spoilers, between it and the black clothing you can likely already guess who she is. As such, when he is introduced as River Song clone #265 (lust for the Doctor, snark, quirkiness, etc) the revelation doesn't work. She doesn't stand out as who the person she's supposed to be, and it's clearly the fault of the writing here. While I was initially not a fan of Michelle Gomez's portrayal a few scenes do show she has the chops to pull off a great version of this character. Instead we're just left with a poorly mashed together combination of the incarnation who fought David Tennant and Madame Kovarian. Unfortunately rather than the bits which radiate menace or some true traditionally villainy, we're treated to more scenes of snark and going after the Doctor in all the wrong ways.

These really are the true problems in what could have been a fantastic episode. Dark Water itself did answer many fan criticisms, with it being a finale where it was once again a true alien invasion rather than all of reality was not at risk, and it seemed to be trying to emulate past successes. The problem is that these are critical parts to any episode, serving as both the inciting incident and big antagonist, and without them it loses a lot of its initial punch.

With all these failings pointed out however, the rest of the story was largely decent. For the first time since the series began, Danny looked to be getting some proper character moments which actually started to work. The parts surrounding death (again, besides one major problem which requires its own article) do retain a good mixture of humour, grim themes and the possibilities present are well executed. The casting choice of Chris Addison in particular stood out as a good move, as he's talented enough of an actor to sell the lines and concepts his character Seb is supposed to convey. The whole scene where he talks about what death might actually be is intelligent enough for real consideration and sounds potentially plausible in that universe. Something which makes one point all the worse, but again let's save that for another time.

The reveal of who the muscle were for Missy was equally excellent, slowly building towards the eventual reveal. It was an introduction reminiscent of Bad Wolf's reveal of the daleks. While they were always in plane sight and obvious to any viewer, how they were slowly peeled away and gradually revealed to the audience radiated with menace, showing the Cybermen with the sort of gambits they are best known for. Being a race of coldly logical machine-men, they can happily afford to wait and will bide their time to infiltrate society, and this was the rare occasion where a modern series episode really looked into just how far that could go. It's just unfortunate that the promotional team didn't get the memo that this particular enemy's arrival was supposed to be a surprise.

The cinematography and camerawork was equally on top form here, with some especially memorable shots and moments when it came to the big villain's reveal. The way each shot linked into the next during some of the especially dramatic scenes such as the volcano moment gave some real weight to what was at risk. How the camera capture'd each actor's presence while building up a scene's atmosphere is one of the best aspects of the entire episode, and it's present throughout. Say what you will about the quality of this series but it's rarely shot badly save for a few especially notable episodes.

All this said however, much of Dark Water was just building up to its second part. It did establish what was at risk and to really serve as the opening act with a cliffhanger. Much of the real drama and weight of events seemed to be being held back, and while there was some substance to the events, it drew the line just as things were truly becoming interesting. The story's whole success was left for the second part, Death in Heaven, and everything rode upon that story's execution.

Was it good? Well, yes and no.

Death in Heaven

With Missy's plan in full swing, the Doctor faces down the potential annihilation of Earth. Despite retaining all the power he could ever want, he finds himself at a complete loss at every turn. With seemingly no way to halt the extinction of the human race, help may come from an unexpected source.

In many respects Death in Heaven amplifies the strengths and weaknesses of its first half, with the same good and bad aspects and problems remaining, but shifting slightly as a result of the writing. There's obviously good here, but the quality zig-zags up and down from scene to scene, depending upon what subject it's looking into. Also depending upon how often Moffat's writing opts to give actual reasons for things.

At many, many points in this episode it's hard not to pause and wonder "did they really just do that?" or be left baffled at just how the hell something occurred. A critical scene which is supposed to show off Missy's villainy ultimately ends up underwhelmed as, by fault of either the writing or direction, she only becomes a capable foe through the power of bad editing. No, really, one scene in a cargo hold has her pulling off a truly villainous moment by teleporting across the room between cuts and having the two armed guards behind her not bat an eye at this.

Such "this happened, don't question or think about it" moments are rife throughout the episode, and it hits Missy especially hard. How so? Well, her entire motivation and plans for the Doctor are at best self-defeating and fail to even really be justified by raging insanity. It adds a level of total obsession never present in the character's worst days and many unnecessary elements such as setting up the Doctor and Clara's entire companionship. It only gets worse when, at the end of the day, the story presents no real reason as to why this had to be an episode involving her. The entire plan and gambit could have easily been accomplished by the Cybermen alone, and it never plays into any truly interesting developments or outstanding moments with her. It also doesn't help that the episode took things a step further by having her start imitating moments from Jekyll atop of everything else.

While Missy might have been bad in her own way, the Cybermen felt largely wasted. On the one hand they were offers far more interesting and threatening moments, especially when they opt to start arising from grave sites in a Hammer Horror-esque scene and go after the Doctor. On the other, they never seemed to be the direct threat, merely a means to an end, thugs and weapons for Missy to wield. This becomes quite literal by the end with them all being controlled by a bracelet (yes, you read that correctly) and being shoved mostly into the background of crucial scenes. If you were to replace them with some unknown threat, there would have been no difference, and they really just seemed to amount to fan-service.

Oddly, it was actually Danny and Clara which helped hold together some of the stronger parts of this tale. Despite being wasted for most of the series, Danny here actually shone through with some truly great moments, commenting both upon the Doctor and in his rather unfortunate state. Having been given something to actually work with besides confused background elements, irritating child characters and a love life, Samuel Anderson showed just what he could pull off in the show. Had he been given this sort of treatment and focus prior to this story, the character would be better received by most audiences. It's just a damn shame it took the very last story of this entire damn series to actually get him right, and for some truly touching moments with Clara.

Clara herself was shown to use her intelligence to buy some time and survive the initial Cyberman invasion, and the eventual resolution of her story arc with the Doctor proved to be surprisingly fitting. The way each leaves the other is a good way to close out their journey in the TARDIS given how often each had kept secrets from one another, and the closing shots are a fitting end to this series.

Where the episode seemed to be at its strongest was when it was focusing upon the Doctor trying to come to terms with Missy's plan and the character relationships between this series' core characters. While there were a few head-banging-against-wall worthy moments (especially when it comes to certain UNIT decisions) it did make up a core part of the story where things were in full momentum. There was an obvious threat, a big objective and the the pacing remained excellent throughout. Once it actually came to dealing with the last part of that plan and Missy herself though, things just fell to bits.

Really, these two parts do summarise series eight as a whole. It works in bits, some parts are great, while others are facepalming disasters of bad writing. It's often at its best when scenes are allowed to actually focus upon themselves, but when the story actually comes down to trying to focus upon any series-running elements, they just make the tale all the weaker. 

So, is it bad? No, there's enough good moments for it to dodge true hatred, but it's undeniably lazily written and suffers from some gaping flaws here and there. It's certainly countless times better than In The Forest of the Night, and after Time of the Doctor it would have to strive extremely hard to be the worst finale ever made, but it's not the one Capaldi and Coleman deserved for their efforts.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Doctor Who: In the Forest of the Night (Episode Review)

Abandon all hope ye who choose to watch this episode.

After the trailers at the end of last week's episode displayed a lot of what hasn't worked in this past series, people were apprehensive. They had every right to be. The acting is wooden, the storytelling ludicrous, the twists insane, and the "threat" seems half existent at the best of times. This is to say nothing of how the story meanders from one element to the next with no clear direction in an effort to be clever, and solutions come out of left field with no actual explanation.

Returning to the Earth, the Doctor arrives in the middle of London only to find that someone has completely reforested the place. Despite his initial skepticism, he soon tries to find out what is wrong when a young girl by the name of Maebh hammers on his door claiming to be sent by Clara. Clara and Danny meanwhile need to keep not only one small class of students safe in this time but discover just what has caused this sudden upheaval.

If anyone saw The Caretaker they will know that Who's last attempts to have anything revolving around the school were dire at best. Wheeling out soap opera tropes with a mere veneer of science fiction, the episode seemed to abandon a good ninety percent of why viewers tune in to watch this series each week. Sadly this failing is repeated again here. 

The story's main angle is trying to evoke interest through a variety of characters and the relationship between the Doctor, Clara and Danny, but it's obvious that the series has no idea what to do with it. Any conflict here is subdued to the point of insanity, even after Clara is revealed to have lied to Danny about her still being in contact with the Doctor, and the entire core concept seems to be spinning its wheels. The few conversations the two have ultimately add little to their relationship nor their characters, and the one development made is spontaneous at best. The way it is treated seems to be less of a drive and more of an effort to pad out the running time, and this isn't the only occasion where this happens.

While thankfully not bringing back Courtney again, the story once again tries to make a significant part of the cast children for some bizarre reason. Just as before, it's woefully apparent just why this is such a bad idea. While the school children have time devoted to them in order to flesh each one out in turn, none of them contribute anything of real worth. At best each proves to be annoying in an entirely separate way, adding unfunny running gags (notably about diagnosed symptoms, something we'll get into later), and a fresh wave of insufferably with each line. At best they show Clara and Danny to be incompetent at their jobs, and at worst they prove to be a pointless addition which robbed the episode of time. Time it could have used to actually flesh things out, make sense, or give the story some real bite.

Ignoring the Seeds of Death for a moment, a forest spontaneously being created isn't that terrible a threat in terms of physicality. As a result, almost the entire tale goes without a single true threat ever emerging. It becomes so bad at one point that the script honestly needs to churn out a random wolf/tiger attack in order to try and gain some semblance of tension for a fleeting minute. Even that seems tacked on, and the entire story seems to avoid anything which might actually cause some degree of interest. Maebh goes missing? The episode keeps up with her to show the audience she's fine. The forest could be threatened? It's not. The forest could be a threat? Beyond a few throwaway lines it's never truly addressed. As a result, the entire story comes across as dead air, with little in terms of real interest or much offering the audience in terms of investment.

This lack of a definitive threat may have worked if the story had gone the additional mile to place emphasis upon just how strange London is with the trees. It might have even worked if it had simply gone for a bait and switch (and the story tries to abruptly swerve into at the last second) but no effort is ever made to really suggest any possible menace. As a result, audiences are left following some very dull characters walking about a forest with little to do, and the story as a whole is toothless with no conflict of note.

Things are only made worse by the gaping plot holes left in the wake of each revelation, which even if you switch your brain off are so blatant they cannot be ignored. Maebh's arrival in front of the TARDIS for example required her to break out of a heavily guarded museum without setting off any alarms. The Doctor claims that the Ice Age emerged effectively overnight, with some truly stunning logical leaps, even claiming he cannot stop natural disasters at one point. This is to say nothing of the treatment of science (no, not technobabble, science) as magic, with half the explanations leading to sudden solutions that even a middle-school child would know are insane. Well, that and the "lifeboat" scene.

The big defence here people will likely bring up is how the story was pitched and presented as a fairy tale and such failings should be ignored. Fair enough, but that isn't entirely true. The story instead incorporates elements and cues of fairy tales into itself from Red Riding Hood to the very title itself, but does not take that extra step to truly present itself as such. We've seen this done far better in the past, especially during Matt Smith's era, and once you strip away the references, the story isn't left with anything of real substance.

Now, this would make an episode bad, but then there's the aesop it not-so-subtly then tries to hammer in about mental health. While I might have been blind enough to overlook the rather questionable one found in Kill The Moon, this one was obvious enough even for me to see it.

Apparently a telepath for unknown reasons, Maebh is constantly hearing the voices of the aliens which created the trees. Being medicated for undisclosed issues, hearing voices and severe trauma, she's not exactly in the best state. The Doctor then berates anyone who encouraged her to have medication, scorning the very idea of such a treatment. This could have been put down to the wrong treatment for a problem, but one running gag is having an irritating child using various mental problems to excuse him acting like a raging jackass. Believe it or not the end message of the story effectively comes down to trying not to solve problems and trusting things will resolve themselves.

No, that's really in there.

This episode overall is extremely badly put together, with a bugled script and some truly terrible directing at times. While some scenes work, there are many points which are bungled by extremely choppy editing and bizarre shots which seem to be unconventional purely for the sake of being unconventional. Sudden wide angle lens shots, shakeycam effects, mad swinging about the scenes, when it's not textbook it's almost as if the director abandoned all she knew worked. Sheree Folkson has done solid work in the past, just look up her IMDB page, but this was just dreadful.

Look, skip this one. It's painful beyond words and for every problem I covered here, another four went unmentioned. I really have no idea just how this series can so continually leap from outstanding television to truly terrible science fiction from week to week like this. We can only hope this won't become a staple of this era.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Civilization: Beyond Earth (Video Game)

Effectively the Alpha Centauri to Civilization V, this latest effort by Firaxis to establish a sci-fi strategy title is a release fans will both love and hate. Set in the distant future and the collapse of modern society, humanity has flung itself out into the stars. Between fraying tempers, clashing ideologies and limited resources, the humans are just as likely to combat one another as the dangerous alien natives of the worlds they have descended upon.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Deadpool: the Wedding of Deadpool (Comic Review)

As you might guess from the title, The Wedding of Deadpool is a comic largely revolving around a single joke. Sometimes these gags are failures when the material isn’t good enough or the joke itself wasn’t that great the first time, but for the most part this one is a solid hit. Rather than being a single running narrative akin to Dead Presidents, what’s here is a series of short stories by a multitude of authors who have handled the characters over the years. Each takes time to give their own spin on what it would be like for the merc with the mouth to get hitched, and it allows the comic to make use of various big name writers such as Mark Waid, Gail Simone, Christopher Priest, Fabian Nicieza, Jimmy Palmiotti and a great many others.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Review Scores And Why We Need Them

Of all the problems in reviewing, whether it's done as a hobby or full time job, some of the biggest ones keep coming back to a single point - the final scores of an article. Their very presence seems to be something certain writers seem to consider a stigmata and many undeniably negative aspects surround them. We've seen many criticisms of Metacritic hinge upon how they judge and value these scores, sometimes inadvertently harming the lives of game developers. We've seen audiences expectations rise to ridiculous levels, where a seven out of ten is apparently considered a middling score, and people will complain when a title is only given a nine. 

The thing is though, for all they are derided and the problems they create, review scores are a tool. They are neither good nor bad, and it's only certain attitudes which have caused so many problems of late. There are already other works discussing this point or touching upon the more ridiculous aspects of fan reaction (notably the Jimquisition) but this is not what this article is about. Instead what we're going to look into here is why they are needed and why certain articles still benefit from their inclusion as a final point. This isn't so much "why they aren't bad" as it will be "what good can they do and why do we need them?"

Perhaps the single biggest example which can be brought up in their favour is that they work extremely well as a final point, tying up a review. A score brings about some considerable finality to a piece and it's a bold verdict which can hit harder than just words alone when used correctly. It sets a title up in direct comparison with other pieces of its medium and immediately tells an audience where the journalist thinks it stands. This allows a viewer to quickly compare this verdict with other titles and judge their personal biases, preferences and the like against their own. Rather than trawling through entire archives of their works, it can allow a potential viewer to quickly make an informed opinion of whether they think this particular journalist is worth following or not as a source of information. 

Atop of this it also allows reviews to have far more of a structure. Become familiar with certain routines, opening or closing lines and the like can make a frequent reader become more comfortable with a writer's certain approaches. This might seem like a minor thing, and is admittedly far more effective in videos than it is written work, but it's a minor element which can make people keep coming back. That degree of knowledge of knowing what will follow, that they will stick to the same styles and looks, adds some subconscious mental reassurances that the quality of a person's work will remain the same. 

Review scores also adds a great deal of finality to a piece and helps to tie together their entire point in a single conclusion, with a degree more finality than usual. This said, I personally believe that this is part of the problem when it comes to these scores, but mostly on the audience's part. With that final summery listed, certain readers can often find themselves skipping to the end to get an overall opinion. Without bothering to look at a reviewer's thoughts or reasons, they will then use that entire point as a basis for their response. This demeans a work and, combined with the opinions of certain readers that anything below an eight out of ten is not worth their time, it can lead to knee jerk responses.

This said, I think this only encourages their use in video media as that innately bypasses this problem while retaining its strengths. Videos are less likely to be so quickly skipped by these individuals as words, and a well informed piece using a score as a final culmination of their thoughts will likely be better received. It retains the strengths of a score without so many of the same risks found in writing. Yet despite this, it's also written works which benefit from scoring systems the most. 

Longtime readers will know that my reviews for Starburst Magazine tend to be very short. Often capping off at a little over four hundred words to fit in the magazine's print editions, these lack the same benefits as lengthier works. Sometimes certain points will need to be skipped or severely shortened in order to fit them into a word count, and a score can help to better re-enforce a writer's point. It can add greater clarity and better display their thoughts on how a title fares overall, giving greater range to their final verdict. To give a personal example, I considered War of the Vikings to be sub-par in its offerings while The Evil Within was a bloody mess of a title. Despite one being a cut above the other though, both reviews focused primarily upon criticisms and it is possible that someone missing points could consider them to be of equal quality. With an additional score at the end, it's far more clear what their thoughts are. The same can be true of other reviews, pieces a hundred or even fifty words long, without the space to full express a detailed opinion. A number can sometimes help to better fill for areas limited by a tight word count.

This is not to mention the obvious point that some scores can also go into greater detail and break down their overall opinion with multiple points. Some are built up across several catagories, covering a title's qualities one by one and then finally combining them to create a final score. These are traditionally supported by a single sentence, and tend to refer back to earlier parts of the review. This at least has the chance of making those who skip to the end go back for greater context and better examine what was stated, allowing them to appreciate the points made and better understand where the writer is coming from. This is especially important in this day and age where so many people seem to be too busy to actually sit down and read written reviews. Of course, it also might help to stave off that above problem where readers base their entire opinion purely upon the final score as well.

These are ultimately just a few personal thoughts off of the top of my head, from personal experience and prior examination. While further points could definitely be made in their favour, I hope that this does show why they do still have a place in reviews. This is of course hardly saying that all reviews need them, many of mine certainly lack final scores, but ultimately they are a tool. They are a instrument to help enhance a writer's points and at the end of the day there's still plenty of reasons articles can benefit from them.

Still, this is just a personal opinion. If you have your own thoughts on this matter, for or against their inclusion or wish to respond upon anything brought up, please reply in the comments section below. I'll be interested to see what people think of this.

Monday, 20 October 2014

The Evil Within (Video Game Review)

Often “throwback” and “old school” are used to praise a title for bringing old ideas to a new generation. Now we have the game which exemplifies just why sometimes a genre should never attempt this. Appropriately for a game featuring zombies, The Evil Within is a shambling Frankenstein monster of successful game mechanics taken from other titles. Everything here screams of the developer trying to play it safe, with little to nothing left to give The Evil Within its own identity in terms of either gameplay or mechanics.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Doctor Who: Flatline (Episode Review)

After the smashing success of Mummy on the Orient Express last week, any episode following up that title was likely going to be left in its shadow. That's sadly the case here, as Flatline is a great episode with a truly creepy premise, but fails to quite equal last week's outing.

Returning to contemporary Earth, Clara and the Doctor immediately run into a problem. Not only is the TARDIS far more off course than usual, landing in Bristol, but the two soon find there are far bigger problems they face. The TARDIS is being drained of its energy from an outside force, shrinking its exterior dimensions and leaving the Doctor trapped within. With Clara investigating outside forces, she must find just what is tampering with the machine and causing the disappearances of so many of the city's residents. Unfortunately for them both, foe they face is a far less material villain than either realises.

The story's greatest strengths are immediately obvious and can be put down to three things: The pacing, the villain and the writer's use of Clara. All three are what make the story truly stand out, and above all this is an example of how to do each truly right. 

Going through each in turn, the story keeps up with the same sort of pacing and rapid (but not breakneck) deliver we've come to expect of the show, but it exemplifies how less can sometimes be more. For example, the teaser in question is a few scant seconds long. It lasts just long enough to show something truly creepy and disturbing to hook the audience in, and then goes right to the credits. Nothing drawn out, nothing overdone, but it's more than enough to truly be effective. This goes for more or less the entire episode, it only stays with ideas for as long as it has to. It never spends too long on any one thing, but the script goes just long enough to make full use of an idea before moving on. This gives it a real sense of energy and keeps propelling events onwards, without making quite the same mistakes which plagued the previous era.

The villain meanwhile is the type of antagonist which Doctor Who has been extremely proficient at creating without wheeling out the same tired old tropes. They're an unknowable enemy which can hide in plane sight, can quietly murder people with few ever seeing them and creepily warp time-space itself about them. While little can really be said without spoiling the best moments, every reveal hits hard and the episode presents a very frightening new idea for this enemy. One which could be as effective as the Weeping Angels in the right hands. While they only show true power on a few occasions, it relays their true power an menace, and the group only stays alive thanks to sheer intelligence and ingenuity. Mostly due to Clara this time rather than the Doctor per-say.

While the Doctor himself does have influence over events and assists them, he's working with limited resources and a confined space, with Clara ultimately saving the day. However, this is a rare occasion where it's shown why she's a good companion. Rather than trying to force her into being the single most important person ever to have traveled with him via overblown reasons, the story uses her intelligence, quick thinking and attitude instead. Qualities which have made many fan-favourites work in the past, as opposed to having someone save every single last Doctor ever to have existed all at the same time. She really does come into her own here, and this is a story which should be used as a guideline on how to write the character rather than many past tales.

While the episode does have many strengths beyond this, they ultimately hinge upon these three points overall. There is an exceptionally tense scene in a house infiltrated by the aliens, but the reason it works is thanks to the aliens' unnerving abilities and the solution used to escape alive. The story frequently falls back on these elements, but it tries to use them in different ways whenever it does, which again keeps things feeling fresh and exciting.

The humour is present to help balance out the horror element of the story, but it's reserved to controlled bursts. Both Jamie Mathieson's script and the direction of Douglas Mackinnon played off well against one another, especially in this regard. Much of the humour itself is put down to more background visual gags than anything else (well, besides Capaldi's ever fantastic lines), and there's the clear sense that each side knew what the other would attempt to be doing. Moments with the shrinking TARDIS in particular stand out well and are balanced against the truly terrifying scenes of the aliens gaining more power.

The only one or two real missteps either comes from when the script seems to be trying to replicate the smug overdose of humour which has failed in past stories (which is thankfully rare) or when the story has to carry over elements of the series' arcs. The sudden inclusion of Danny's relationship with Clara and Missy's nebulous "I'M HERE AND DOING SOMETHING!" moments are tacked on to say the least. Having no bearing upon the story, they're thrown in with little to no impact, only to be forgotten again a short while later. It's becoming a real problem with many stories and these elements have done more harm than actually added anything of real worth.

This isn't to say that the story doesn't have a few problems in of itself though. In particular, the tale suffers from a surprisingly weak supporting cast and dull location. Set in modern times, the latter is not too surprising but its attempts to blend the outlandish aliens with conventional suberbs doesn't quite work. Even when moving down into the dingier and more industrial areas, it just seems like a story set in environments we've witnessed done far better in past tales. 

This might have been fine, but the supporting characters here are just as unremarkable. None of the actors are bad per-say, but there's no time spent to really break them into the story or give them memorable backgrounds. Each effectively walks into the tale, stays until the end, and then leaves again. You'd be lucky to remember a single one's name and they leave very little impact by the end, something not helped when the script tries to make them seem important. Some suffer from spontaneous responses, driving the story onwards by sheer idiocy at times, and it barely skirts past completely destroying suspension of disbelief the tale at times. This is something of a trend with this writer unfortunately, as anyone who remembers how Cold War began can attest.

Perhaps the single biggest point which can harm the tale however is that this lack of real establishment at points makes some solutions seem like huge deus ex machinas. The sudden revelation that the TARDIS has a form of siege mode which could have been useful in a thousand and one other stories sticks out like a sore thumb. The same goes for how the aliens are defeated and how easily some characters just accept the arrival of aliens, time travelers and the like with few to no questions. It can be hard to accept at times and the story does seem to rush through the initial astonishment or even the questions people would naturally have. Combined with the sheer lack of answers in many places when it comes to the aliens, some viewers might walk away with this one with a few understandable gripes.

Flatline is far from a bad story, mixed certainly but with far more good than bad, and well worth watching. For all its flaws the story does work out well and fixes enough running problems this series to stand up on its own. That said, positioned next to Mummy on the Orient Express, the real concern is that this might suffer the fate of The Masque of Mandragora - Overshadowed because it was unfortunate enough to stand next to a giant. If you get the time watch it. If not save it for next week, as In the Forest of the Night looks like it's going to be a painful one.