Friday, 28 February 2014

Foul Play (Video Game Review)

Foul Play sets the stage for an excellent 2D side scrolling beat ‘em up and it does not disappoint. Telling the life story of daemonologist Baron Dashforth and his assistant Scampwick, the game follows their efforts to banish the dark things of the world – with one twist. They’ve already done it. What you play out is a theatre performance recounting their adventures to an enthusiastic audience. It’s this games gimmick and Mediatonic knew exactly how to use it.

Everything from the art style to bonus objectives and humour is affected by the fact this is a theatrical bibliography. The enemies are obviously either puppets or men in suits, occasionally dying at the wrong time or forgetting their lines, and the levels are constantly changing sets. Rather than a true health bar your objective is to keep the crowd appeased and excited via everything from specific demands to being hit as few times as possible. It influences every detail of the title such as the final scores of stages being actual review stars of the show, and is taken to an extent where its entertainment value never truly wears out.

Much like Castle Crashers from previous years, Foul Play has excellent humour stemming from its artistic style and setting but is clearly more refined. Whereas the aforementioned game had very limited combo capabilities beyond character types and some weapons, Foul Play has been set up with brawling in mind. From the very start you can pull off skilled air juggling, over the shoulder throws and timed dodges with surprisingly fluid combat. There is far more skill in timing attacks and deciding when to use each move than you would traditionally find in the average game of this genre.

Much of the replay value of the title comes from getting higher and higher scores. However, despite this the secondary objectives desired by the audiences can force you to repeat levels multiple times to achieve full completion. Unfortunately Foul Play relies upon this to keep you interested past its twelve stages, few of which are especially lengthy; meaning those less obsessive with a perfect score might find this relatively short.

Furthermore, another weakness comes from the fact that while racking up combos might be fun there is not quite enough variety of basic attacks. Something which proves to be a point of frustration with the more hit spongy enemies. Not to mention the occasional frustration of unskippable cutscenes, which are frequent throughout stages.

Foul Play might have some shortcomings, but for its price this is strongly recommended. Definitely pick up this one if you’re after a 2D brawler with plenty of great gags.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Transformers - Dark Cybertron Vol. 1 (Comic Review)

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

Serving as the latest big WHAM! moment in a long series for the Transformers comics, Dark Cybertron returns once more to the threat posed by Nova Prime’s ambitions. Thanks to the manipulations of Shockwave, the rogue Decepticon now has everything in his power to ravage what little remains of Cybertron’s population. With a new form of energon under his command and his sights set on a massive target, the sheer scale of his plan soon becomes clear. It’s a threat which will require not only the forces stationed on Cybertron but those of the Lost Light and Orion Pax to finally end.

Combining together multiple running titles, the book has the issue of trying to join multiple very tonally different tales. While the events on Cybertron and with Orion Pax were relatively straight faced, the Lost Light’s search for the Knights of Cybertron had a considerable dose of zany in its writing. People died, the threats were serious and all that, but for lack of a better expression it was visibly more cartoonish. Thankfully, the actual events gel together surprisingly well. While hardly toned down, there is definitely a sense of avoiding some of the more overtly different moments. Such as, for once, Brainstorm developing something saner than fourth wall breaking weapons and Magnus being treated as less of a walking joke of a character. This can likely be attributed to the authors working together closely on the project and it’s a rare example of an event comic where nothing feels as if it is out of place or one group is getting short changed.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Hellboy: The First 20 Years (Comicbook Review)

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

Monday, 24 February 2014

Dark Heresy: Tattered Fates - Session 3 - Questions, Heretics and Spiders

So after last time we were left with our band of merry heroes having made mincemeat out of a group of moderately armed threatening men and with one survivor pinned to the floor. Surprisingly the brief fight seemed to have drawn very little attention from the surrounding scribes and readers, despite the copious amounts of blood involved. Admittedly, with the festival going on, this was probably tame by their standards of library disruptions. They were probably just trying to focus on reading what was in front of them and praying to the Emperor the fight wouldn't devolve into an orgy.

Anyway, as two of our group pinned the cultist in place, Guilliman ripped off his animal mask to see a bloody network of intricate slashes and tattooed skin. The nutter's entire face had been turned into one massive symbol of khorne's power. Attempting to coerce him into co-operating with us through psychic means, the cultist bitterly resisted spitting back insults and dark language. Bardason then promptly threatened to smash his face to pulp against the nearest wall. The cultist suddenly decided it might be a good idea to answer a few questions before information was beaten out of him.

Unfortunately it seemed that whoever was in charge opted to introduce a few countermeasures to prevent interrogation. There was a sickening pop and the cultist's head slumped down, blood leaking from his eyes. There was a few seconds hissing before his body began to quickly liquefy. Speculating about internal acid glands or the method to this, Cromwell took a closer look as the others discussed our next actions. We had seven and a half hours to save the planet and we were still at square one without any knowledge or information to go by. Our only contact was dead and the bodies of his compatriots dissolved before they could be examined. Or, as Bardason had so eagerly suggested, nailed up against the nearest building as an open declaration of war. This left the acolytes two options to pursue - The Spider Bride or the crime boss Grist.

With Grist being the slightly more untrustworthy option, the  group opted to attempt audience with the Spider Bride. Whoever she was, she apparently never left the Twilight Gardens meaning we would at least have an easy time tracking her down. Unfortunately before we could get to that, foreshadowing and hijinks via bad dice rolls ensued.

As we departed the building, the group as a whole catches a glipse of a heron masked man watching us from the crowds. Grinning sinisterly, his black eyes were fixed upon our group for several moments. Those moments passed and he quite literally disappeared within the crowds. Strangely we heard him laughing somehow.

Chaotic trolling aside, this was enough of a distraction for someone to try and pickpocket what little coin Guilliman had. While Cromwell punched the thief in the face, the psyker was unfortunately dragged off into the human masses swarming through the streets. Pursuing him via crowd-surfing, Bardason left the other two to head for their location as he tried to track down Guilliman. Unfortunately, despite one's psychic powers and another's tracking skills, neither were able to find one another. Eventually, things were taken to their natural extremes with both ending up on seperate rooftops and Bardason having to burn "TWILIGHT GARDENS" into the side of his building with a laspistol. At least before this act destroyed the building's structural integrity and the entire thing came crashing down around him. Given this was our group, we were probably lucky explosives were not involved.

With thankfully little more than a few minutes lost due to these diversions, the group ended up outside of the Twilight Gardens. Walled, gated off and heavily guarded by power armoured figures, the one we approached demanded tribute and would only let in two at once. With Guilliman handing over his makeshift weapon, passing it off as his Mercy Blade, he and Dwr were promptly escorted inside. Never to be ones left out of the action, Bardason and Cromwell immediately left to try and find another entrance.

Within, the psyker and arbites officer were brought before a woman in spider inspired bionic appendages. Lurking within a massive web of steel cabling and electronics, she revealled she knew why we were here and would give answers in exchange for a service. Handed a box, with explicit orders not to open it, the duo were sent off to hand it to Grist. 

A good ten seconds after they left, Bardason and Cromwell strode in. Having gone to a separate gate, they had managed to get through via re-enactment of the bridge questions from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Apparently some gates did not require the same price as others. Wanting the same damn answers, they were also given a box with the same damn target, but were also informed someone else had been sent and they needed to get there first.

We're probably lucky this sort of situation didn't end in team-killing.

Running into Grist first thanks to their head start, Dwr handed over the box to Grist who was more confused than anything else. Opening it up, a giant metal spider promptly leaped out, decapitated him and scurried out the door. One scene later of Bardason quoting a certain line from The Thing as they arrived outside the bar, and the group was reunited.

As the bar devolved into mass fighting/looting within thanks to the death of its owner, Bardason promptly shrugged as it was explained he was too late get his target and tossed the box inside anyway. One scream later and a second spider was sent scurrying away with a man's head. A few seconds after that, Dwr emerged bloodstained, and carrying a lot of knives and pistols. Apparently she had taken the opportunity to grab as much weapons as possible while we were in there. Also clothes as, the group was soon reminded, tour resident tech priest was still wondering around starkers.

Despite the unnecessary death, it seemed that the Spider Bride was more than happy to answer both our group's questions about our foes and Gabriel Chase. For those wondering about the heads, they were both behind her, now fitted to servitor bodies and serving drinks. Thankfully the information proved to be well worth the acts of homicide, as she explained the following:

Both foes could be found within the Gabriel Chase building. We would find them there before the time was up as both their fate's and ambitions were intrinsically linked to a single moment within there. The heron masked man in particular was apparently already in there.

The Widower we have heard mentioned is an ancient being, a living weapon, which guseds the steel clock at the center of Gabriel Chase. It is drawn to those of the Haarlock bloodline, to kill or to guard. Its vigil was Erasmus Haarlock's final order before departing from this world. However, the Spider Queen fears it will serve no more and is driven by pure spite.

Our missing equipment had thankfully ended up in Van Graff's hands. Good news indeed, as it meant we would not be left trying to rebuild our personal armories with a few pennies we had begged off of the streets.

Unable to gain any more information and our exchange up, the group left. We now had a little direction even if almost everything was still a mystery to us.

Unfortunately before we actually had time to contemplate any meaning behind any of this, the group was distracted by a scream from a backalley. Racing towards it, we soon find that the interior of the alleyway has been turned into a charnel house. Corpses littered the ground nearby, ripped limb from limb by some great force. As we approached the place, a few among the group caught sight of the jackal masked man within the crowd.

Many of the corpses were disfigured beyond recognition, but a few details could still be seen. Tattoos hailing the ruinous powers, weapons and certain identifying bits of clothing symbolising their allegiance to Chaos. More pressingly, one particularly skinless and mangled figure had an in-built shock whip installed in his arm.

Something had killed the jackal masked figure and was now wearing his skin. Something, as it was soon revealed from a note on the cultists, which had saved us from the group ambushing us as we left the library.

Six hours now remained, and we were getting nothing but more questions from this investigation.

We were only about to have one attempt to discern who and what had happened when out of nowhere the GM shoved in a character related to the Haarlocks looking for her brother. One of a handful of survivors of a supposed massacre of the bloodline, if any yet survived.

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Sunday, 23 February 2014

Delays and Life Changes

Right, this would have been up yesterday were it not for a few major delays. Unfortunately it's yet another one of these sorts of messages, the kind where we're going to experience a shortage in articles in the coming weeks.

This time it's due to employment. There has been a change in work and I am going to have to pursue an opportunity which will be taking up a great deal of time. The other is a series of ongoing talks in relation to one of the other outlets articles are uploaded for. It's nothing major but there are matters which will be discussed. This will affect overall activity on the website and it's unlikely there will be daily updates for some time yet. The updates which are made may be sporadic or come at random, but I will generally try to have them released at the same time-frame as usual.

Also, expect some activity on the Necrons page from earlier this week in the comments section. Both criticisms and responses to counter arguments. 

Beyond that, I hope you're all having a good week and that we're back up to speed again soon.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII (Video Game Review)

The LEGO Movie (Film Review)

The Lego Movie was one of those films which could have so easily failed. Based on promoting a toyline, you'd expect it to either be a soulless cash grab or unremarkable cheesy fun. This one though? It's actually genuinely great on just about every level, something undoubtedly helped by having the creators of Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs involved. 

Set in a world of Lego, the film follows the life of construction worker Emmet as he carries out his life as dictated by his instruction manual. As with most of the world he follows this to the letter, happily accepting what is presented to him. At least until a chance encounter results in him joining a resistance movement to keep the world built as people desire, not as is dictated. Unfortunately for them, Emmet is seemingly the least qualified person imaginable to be any kind of chosen one...

The film cleverly knows exactly how to present itself, subverting the traditional stories and tropes in exactly the right way while having as much fun as possible. The story is kept ingeniously simple, making it accessible to just about anyone but at the same time it deals with more complex ideas than most would guess. Many traditional thematic archetypes and elements are introduced one after the other only to be twisted or altered in some distinct way, but it still somehow surprises you every time. This goes several times over for Will Ferrell's Lord Business, who seems completely irredeemable at first but undergoes some surprising developments.

The film is matching Pixar at times with its quality of storytelling and characters, and you just know the writers were having fun thinking up who they could throw in. It could honestly well be this generation's Toy Story. Of course, it's not just the writing that backs up this point.

The voice acting overall consists of a great number of spectacular choices. Perhaps not the ones you would expect for the roles, besides Morgan Freeman anyway, but even those voicing side characters surpass the blocky appearances of their on screen figures. There are honestly few to no times that the actor's performances felt as if they were not matching up with the animations, and serious props need to be given to the film's voice director.

The animation itself is... well, look at the trailers. The vast majority of people who witnessed it thought that they were watching stop motion initially and minute details such as scratches, faded transfers and chipped bricks are all taken into account. You'll start to realise this more as you notice the distinct differences between the older and newer figures, especially 80s Spaceman. The cinematography is fast and frantic, with a constant sense of movement and the sheer degree of activity on screen at any time is astonishing, with hundreds of objects moving at any time across the screen. The gunfights especially take this into account, using those coloured tube parts to represent laser bolts from guns.

What's very unfortunate however is that for all the effort put into it, the animation serves as an odd double edged sword. A good number of the bigger battles feel as if they simply have too much going on, with your mind attempting to keep track of everything present on screen at once. The aforementioned gunfight, done semi-Matrix style is an especially big offender and it's a real shame because of the sheer amount of detail and effort put into it. Then again, when the biggest complaint is "they were a little too extensive with the fights" then something is clearly going right.

Besides that though, another failing is a surprisingly weaker start than you'd guess. Most films go in and hit with an event which is strong but won't overshadow later moments of awesome, Avengers being just one example, but not so much here. It feels more as if the film was still trying to find its footing and taking some time to build up to the stuff hinted at in the opening. It's not bad per-say but it will leave you wondering just what all the hype was about for some time.

Finally, there's the variety of characters. Now, everything from Star Wars to DC Comics was thrown in here and they tried to make as much use as possible. Hell, they made Batman a major character for crying out loud. However, at times it did feel as if some of that could have been left to the background with focus more squarely placed on certain characters. Rather than giving everyone one minute or about thirty seconds of screen time glory, they could have shifted their focus a bit more to limit that to certain figures. 

Honestly though, these are very minor flaws in an otherwise spectacular film. Without resorting to outright nitpicking, there's really very little which is truly negative to criticise here. 
Honestly, go watch it if you get the chance. It's the best animated movie of its kind we've seen since Wreck-It Ralph.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

5 Changes 7th Edition Codex: Necrons Needs

Well, we all knew this was coming. Out of all the armies which have seen changes in recent years, the necrons are easily the ones who have suffered from the most drastic alterations. With effectively everything they were beyond robots with some relation to the C'tan abandoned, the slate was wiped clean and started again. Instead of necrons, we now had SPESS TOMB KINGZ!!! with more Egyptian iconography and raw broken power than the average Stargate villain.

Now let this be made clear: the Third Edition Codex: Necrons definitely needed changes.
The book had plenty of good ideas, but not all of them were implemented well and quite often what made them so effective was built upon later. The use of the C'tan in particular and emphasis upon their servants' unknowable nature harmed the force as much as helped it. Some of these issues were answered when Mat Ward's Tome of Toasters rewrote everything, but nearly all the new ideas were either mishandled or created new five problems for every one they solved. Not to mention the gaping plot holes the new lore was plagued with. Change is needed once again, hopefully to finally bring out this army's full potential.

With that in mind, here's the top five improvements the next Codex: Necrons needs.

5 - Time Changes All Things

If there is ever a problem which Warhammer 40,000 has suffered from, it would be dealing with the passage of time. All too often elements feel as if they could have been squashed down into a few hundred years rather than the ten thousand which have taken place since the Imperium's birth. Few major breakthroughs seem to be recorded, major cultural shifts or displays of how much knowledge has been lost. The same goes for many factions, with a few like the Tau Empire only just about escaping this curse. The necrons though? They take it to the next level.

Not only did the Necron Empire apparently endure for several times the Imperium's existence, but they have been in stasis for sixty million years. However, despite both having a reign which puts every empire in human history to shame and a slumber just shy between now and when the dinos died out, not nearly enough is done to reflect this. You occasionally have moments where a character thinks back to a long extinct enemy they once fought or the degeneration of their Tomb World, but there is not much beyond that.

These are a species who have seen the galaxy in a different age. A younger age in which gods strode the galaxy, the Eye of Terror had not formed and even the Emperor himself had yet to be born. The only beings they truly know are the eldar, an old foe back from when they held dominance over the galaxy, and little beyond that. They have emerged to find hordes of utterly alien foes, wielding crude technology and worshiping idols of deities dominating the galaxy. Countless planets are broken, burned to husks by war and their old places of power shaken by raging wars which erupted in their times of sleep. Chaos is strong in this time, the orks have countless empires, the utterly unknown tyranids have arrived to consume all. Yet for all this potential in their thoughts, we get nothing.

Almost every time a book covers the thoughts of a Necron Lord, we get little beyond sneering contempt at the barbarians. Some thoughts on their inferiority, the lack of technology in comparison to themselves but that's about it. Just as one of many such examples of how this can create a compelling character, take a look at Mass Effect 3's Javik. He is similarly condescending, but even with a race against time he displays far more depth than just that.

The next writer who handles the necrons needs to understand just how much they would be affected by their slumber on a personal and cultural level. Not just having them shrug it off and realise some of their technology is failing.

4 - Less Ham, More Personality

Of all the problems found in Mat Ward's Codex: Necrons, this is one of the biggest sticking points. It's by no means the worst offense, but because it's so often brought up as some major success. The idea that new characters had been introduced to serve as a face for the necrons and actually retained true personalities was something hailed as a major improvement. It made them stand out from the emotionless legion of C'tan servants they were before and placed more focus on the robots. This is not entirely true. Campaigns and Black Library books gave us Necron Lords who were clearly self aware, and those characters were far more alien in nature. These ones? Those which are not cartoonishly bad are dull beyond belief.

Take a look at these for example, quotes from the codex:

“It is a source of constant consternation that my opponents cannot correlate their innate inferiority with their inevitable defeat. It would seem that stupidity is as eternal as war.” 

“You have ruled this galaxy for ten thousand years, yet have little of account to show for your efforts. Such failure must be as depressing to bear as it is pathetic to behold.” 

"I am not capricious, nor am I given to cruel acts for their own sakes. It is simply a fact that you and your kind have trespassed, and thus invited extermination. Curse you for putting me to this inconvenience."

Unless you were told otherwise, you would never guess these were from three separate characters with supposedly varying personalities. Almost every single character reads like a dishwasher, low grade Ming the Merciless. While many characters in each faction may sound similar, they are least have distinctions to separate them out the display their varying backgrounds. Here? Nothing. It's bad villain dialogue, delivered with no conviction and played completely straight faced.

Of course, there is one exception to this: Trazyn. This however, isn't due to good writing but because the character seemed to have been written with some awareness of the bad movie villain style the army had been written in. Instead of sounding dull, his sections embrace the madness with hamminess worthy of the second edition turning him into the resident necron troll. Now, this would be fine if he were to serve as the humourous character in an otherwise well handled and distinctive army, but instead he's the only one which stands out.

This problem isn't simply exclusive to the codex either. Any time a necron has spoken in any recent Black Library novel featuring them has utterly deflated any sense of menace or threat. Nick Kyme and James Swallow's works are proof enough of that, as the necrons there were only threatening when we saw nothing of their leaders.

Much more needs to be done with any leadership to give them people who are not either boring or so over the top they can't be taken as a serious threat. They need to have elements which make them truly stand out. Nearly all of the necron race are either brain-dead or slowly losing their wits. Why not have a character built upon the tragedy of that aspect, following on from all they have accomplished? How about a sect which still worship the C'tan, making use of those which supposedly escaped death, and are attempting to engineer their return. Better yet, why not have a C'tan who actually did something during the 60,000,000 years the necrons were snoring in their tombs.

There needs to be more when it comes to the figureheads of the necrons. They need to be written to be more than poorly handled concepts with personalities consisting of nothing but contempt.

3 - Unit Balance and Variety

This is something of an obvious one. As with everything, while Codex: Necrons improved upon certain aspects, it failed in many others. In fairness, the Codex lacked any dead weight units which failed to have any use. On the other hand, far too much of the book relied purely upon raw power to win battles over tactics.

While they're certainly better than the Grey Knights and Blood Angels, you can see this in many lists. The infamous Cron Air army list showed just how thoroughly broken the codex was in terms of its design. All too often you're capable of winning battles by simply walking forwards and shooting at the enemy until they fall, rather than truly considering when to deploy units, how to implement them effectively or even what equipment to give them. Almost every aspect of the army was buffed to the Nth degree, leaving few to no actual weaknesses which could be truly exploited. Close combat, a previous weakness, is only viable in certain situations and even having forces coming back from the dead went from per turn to per phase.

This isn't to say that the army is completely bereft of tactics. There are some combinations which can be put together which do require thinking or actually challenging lists, but more often than not you can just sit back and watch an enemy crumble thanks to superior firepower. This is at least in part thanks to an FAQ which was less about balance and more about making the army even stronger. A frequent trend with FAQs to Mat Ward's poor excuses for armybooks.
It's saying something when the necrons many to even be considered gamebreaking in Apocalypse of all things. Their formations have become infamously overpowered, with the Monolith Phalanx being derided even in a variant of 40K which encourages turning up with half a dozen Shadowswords.

Quite frankly this section needs an entire list to itself to truly single out all the major failings in terms of balance and capability. To put it simply however: Someone needs to scrap the codex and start again from scratch, with less of an inclination of giving players a big red "I WIN!" button and more about tactical thought. However, if there is one major change which needs to be singled out it is troop variety.

In traditional Ward thinking, the codex is far more about the sheer number of shiny things which make up the other slots, especially HQ choices. Troops were left to rot and looking at the list they seem less like an area thought about and more one left as they were. The closest thing it really got to attention was being used as a dumping ground for Immortals. However, that was apparently only because there was no more room in the Elites slots. They failed to either bring any significant variety to the unit choices or make Troops slots anything more than a basic requirement.

2 - Culture and Identity

No, this isn't referring to individual figures again. This is referring to the army as a whole. The problem is that the necrons have never had a truly distinctive personality trait which could be used for armies. While the original force did have a distinctive style for it, it definitely suffered from a lack of distinctive characters beyond the C'tan and relied heavily upon Black Library novels to flesh out their forces. While this did benefit them over time, building up their mystery and giving the faction much more of an identity, the new necrons are a big step down from even what we had before.

To put this bluntly: The new necrons don't have any distinctive traits so much as a multitude of ideas pillaged from other factions and already covered by other races. Let's ignore all the faux Egyptian influences, Spess Tomb Kingz!!! jokes and efforts and the loss of their previous role as servants of star gods just for the sake of argument. Let's just look at exactly what they are now:

This is a race of fractured race of dying aliens. Ones who have lost the vast majority of their old technology, old superweapons, and regard the younger races like humanity with little but contempt. They will occasionally negotiate and ally with them when their goals align, but follow their own codes of honour and morality. They operate out of a handful of scattered strongholds, seeking to conserve their power while taking back planets they see as rightfully belonging to them. In times of desperation and war they will release the shattered remnants of their old gods upon the battlefield before returning them to their place of power.

This sounds oddly familiar doesn't it. Yes, this is the sodding eldar just with a new look and a fraction of their depth. Intentionally or not, Ward seemed to have ripped the entire basic premise for one faction and slapped it onto another with a visual theme of a Fantasy army.

The only difference is that rather than having one race in decline, a well rounded culture, interesting ideas and fascinating ideas, the necrons lack all of this. Instead they just have sheer power, which is apparently supposed to make up for their sheer lack of depth. It's honestly galling to see just how these necrons have been blatantly copied and pasted from such as well established race. When you look carefully they even have identical events at times, with the game now suffering from having two entirely separate "War in Heaven" events thanks to the new book.

This sheer laziness on the part of the ideas department is not only detrimental to the eldar, it's horrifically detrimental to the necrons themselves. They no longer have a true identity, a singular aspect they can latch onto or a new idea to help make them stand out, just stuff borrowed from other factions. The few attempts to try and better characterise them ultimately come down to giving them more and more power, but that doesn't begin to cover it. Simply taking another army, giving them a new paint job and giving them a bauble which can wipe out every sun in the galaxy doesn't make them interesting.

The necrons need some new angle, an aspect to truly exploit which isn't fully covered by another faction. Some element to make them stand out which isn't a blatant copy of the goals and ideas of another race. The answer to this is obvious and serves as the subject of the number one change the next codex needed to initiate.

1 - Lovecraftian Terror

Not to beat about the bush, this is covering perhaps the greatest mistake of the last codex: The treatment of the C'tan. In an effort to make the necrons stand out, make them more than servants to powerful entities, the author took the worst kind of kneejerk reaction. He proceeded to turn to the opposite extreme, turning the C'tan into little more than Pokemon and minimalising their presence by effectively killing them all. This was detrimental to the necrons as much as the C'tan themselves as. Along with turning their history into an eyebrow raising farce which only works if you accept every omnipotent star vampire was an utter moron, the efforts to turn the necrons into their own race fell flat. We've already covered just what problems the replacement lore had, but there's one other thing which the book completely ignored: The impact of the C'tan on the necrotyr race.

If Chaos is a dark fantasy concept brought into a dystopian future, the C'tan and necrons are a Lovecraftian threat emerging on a galactic scale. You can certainly see traces of that mythos ideas here, the slumbering gods, electrical forces and horrors which are total anathema to all other beings. The necrons themselves have witnessed things which would drive unprepared minds to madness, their very bodies are made of advanced creations which dwarf all other sciences in their dark nature. They are a race, an entire race, which has been forged into an instrument of annihilation by Cthulhu. Whether you want the C'tan to be leading them or not, this should have some massive impact upon both their psychology and how people view them. Even other monsters as the Word Bearers and Ciaphas Cain series showed, and despite the changes at least some of that should have been retained.

The necrons were built for war by alien godlike entities, ones less concerned about their stability and more about inflicting terror as they harvested life for their masters. Just think for a moment what that might do to a being's mind, about how they could be modified. A the very least they would suffer from a kind of ingrained loyalty, perhaps even worship for the C'tan or their senses adapted to accept dimensions and visual aspects which would drive mortal races insane, even finding it aesthetically pleasing. Perhaps they could be found performing rituals and offerings which served the C'tan thanks to ingrained sense of worship for the gods even following murdering them. Or their perceptions altered to the point where they would follow their decrees and instructions no matter the strength of the individual's mind.

Imagine what their forms could have been like. The original necrons were made because their design was specifically intended to inspire fear. They were uniformly one design to emulate the fear of death imprinted by the Nightbringer on mortal races. Whether the necron race freed itself or not, they should have been monstrous in their look. 
Rather than a bunch of prancing spess pharaohs suffering from generic dialogue and memory loss, imagine if their specialist troops were even more monstrous than what we had seen in the previous release. Not the bejeweled figures with overt Egyptian iconography but vast creatures of ever shifting living metal, their bodies emitting maddening colours the human eye could not perceive or signals which drove them slowly insane as they were in contact. This could even extend to basic vocal commands, with their communications emitting in ways which were hostile, even lethal, to any other race which heard them.

If everything else failed, this at least would have allowed them to remain somewhat alien. It would have left some discernible impact from the C'tan on the race, and they would have been more than merely a group of overly humanized cyber toffs. It would have retained a sense of mystery to the race, a sense of the unknown, a sense that they were something more than just what we got. If anything it would have enhanced the sense of tragedy Ward was trying to force upon the race. The honourable, heroic and benevolent Lords (ARGH!) could have behaved in a kind manner, but their actions could have been perceived as being threatening or despotic thanks to how they had been made. It would certainly make better use of the ideas, and it would be far more in line with the grim tone of the setting.

More importantly, making use of their influence would have left the door open to old players. Many were irate at how their army's entire history and lore had been swept away, completely destroyed in favour of Ward's entirely new incarnation of them. Having visible C'tan influence remaining in the army would have left the door open for those players. The programming and alterations could have left the idea that the necrons were being fooled. That their victory was a false memory implanted within their kind and that perhaps the shards they kept under such careful watch were not a prison, but a cocoon. One in which the C'tan were hibernating, waiting until it was time to emerge and continue with their harvest once more. It would have been a better use of them than as substitute Avatars.

Their was truly a wealth of ideas to be found and utilised here, and the next codex needs to truly realise just how much can be done with the original concept. It needs to keep the best elements of both, not simply wipe away one for the other.

So those are the top five changes the next Codex: Necrons needs. Perhaps not everything the book requires to truly improve it, but ultimately the biggest changes to help make it something worthy of the setting.

Many of you likely have your own thoughts and opinions on this subject. Perhaps your own preferred changes to the lore or even just a stance against the army in general. As ever, please feel free to leave them in the comments. I would be interested in hear them.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Champions of Chaos - Harbingers of Ruin

Well, the faux Index Astartes article I create a while back has been getting a bit of attention. Given that it seemed only right to try and expand upon it a bit. Nothing major, merely a few figures which might serve as major characters at some point. Expect this to be expanded upon as time goes by.

Aurum Garrod 

A living testament to the Harbingers' iron will and self control, Garrod is the most ancient among the warband. One of the first recruits to have served among the legion, he was old even when Angron was discovered and is one of the last of the original War Hounds who still retains mortal form. While hardly nostalgic for such days, the memory of what they once were is what has personally driven him these many years. Fueling his hunt to seek out and slay all wayward sons of the Red Angel who have become consumed by their rage. Whether this is out of contempt or mercy killing is unknown, but the countless skulls which adorn his command throne on the Ruin of Kings display how effective he has become in his hunt. 

Garrod's body has withstood the ravages of time only thanks to being utterly consumed by the gifts of Chaos. Permanently fused with his ancient cataphractii plate, the Kriegsherr towers over even the massive bulk of a Centurion suit and resembles more monster than man. Warpborne gifts cover the armour's every surface, binding the ceramite with organic muscle structures and transforming his expressionless helm into a snarling effigy of a Bloodthirster's maw. 
Between the gaps in the plating, blackened polluted blood perpetually flows across his form yet never seems to reach the ground. In battle the armour churns out crimson mists of lifeblood taken from those Garrod slays. All but the most staunch of warriors caught within this are driven into a self mutilating frenzy, their minds overcome by the bloodthirst which plagues so many of Khorne's warriors.

Few realise that this mist is Garrod's own growing madness given physical form, slowly overcoming the sorceries which have long held it at bay. Should he fail to finally ascend to daemonhood, he will surely devolve into the very thing he has fought for so long. 

Mercellus Tercon 

One of a handful of renegade astartes integrated into the Harbingers before the Blood Lords incident, Tercon is the warband’s long standing Second Captain. Recruited in early M36, the warrior was a former Chaplain of the Ultramarines fifth company who joined the devotees of Khorne after years of bitter fueding. Witnessing the infamous rule of Chapter Master Nappator, a figure obsessed with earning his chapter honours and proving themselves superior to sons of “lesser” primarchs, Tercon was a vocal critic of the warrior’s decrees. 

Following an ill-advised order to assault a Word Bearers stronghold which saw the annihilation of both sides, the Chaplain was found half dead by the Harbingers wondering the fortress’ ruins. Having fallen to Khorne’s whispers in his rage driven efforts to hunt down Word Bearers survivors and barely a threat in his state, he was instead taken prisoner. Few know what followed after he was taken to the Ruin of Kings in chains. Some claim that he was corrupted, his mind altered by the Salii, others that he found qualities within the warband that the Ultramarines had lost. Whatever the case, when he next emerged, Tercon bore the colours of the Harbingers and was serving as their Lanista. Charged with overall command of the warband’s Socii and decreeing how they would be taught, Tercon quickly implemented a number of major reforms. 

With his harsh leadership, the group saw their aspirants become better trained combatants in the manner of the Ultramar Auxilia. Furthermore, an innate understanding of the Codex Astartes was passed onto each of his students, becoming integrated with their teachings. He inspired a number of its values to their warriors, but more importantly teaching them how to exploit its lines of thought. With the severe casualties the Harbingers have inflicted upon the Red Scorpions in the Telen Massacres, it is obvious Tercon’s presence has greatly augmented their forces. As the warband’s numbers have grown over time, the question remains if the fallen Chaplain will ever return to Ultramar. To bathe those worlds in blood and truly complete his betrayal of their gene-father.

Also, because I can:

Sunday, 16 February 2014

12 Years A Slave (Film Review)

If there was ever a film which was truly right to explore the subject of slavery and the institutionalised barbarism of the slave trade, it was this one. From the sheer degree of talent both behind the camera and on screen, every scene tells an independent story. From the moment a human is taken and forced into a life as little more than a living tool to the horror of living on a plantation farm, everything is shown. No punches are pulled and there is not a moment where the actors ever feel as if they are not throwing themselves into their roles.

Based upon the memoirs of the same name the film follows the story of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free-born African American farmer with a talent with the violin. Brought to Washington under false pretences of putting his skills as a musician to use, he is abducted and enslaved. What follows are twelve years of hell, displaying the true savagery society is capable of.

With the inclusion of names such as Michael Fassbender and Benedict Cumberbatch listed alongside Ejiofor, it should come as no surprise that the acting remains solid throughout. With each visibly throwing themselves into the role, the film is given a feel of legitimacy even as it shows them in the worst light. Often an issue with films attempting to depict events being based upon a non-fictional tale or account of a historical figure is that the bigger the names become, the harder it is to buy into the tale’s truth. This never manages to be the case here, as the way it is shot, the mannerisms taken on and the attention to detail significantly helps build a wall between what is on-screen and any outside connections.

The camerawork itself is a thing to truly marvel at. While the visuals never fail to hit home just how traumatic life was for slaves in New Orleans, it does not attempt to ignore the beauty of the location. Sharply and greatly contrasting with the subject matter, at many points the camera gives great views of the lands around and captures the bright colour of Northup’s surroundings. A choice which allows the film to give some much needed tonal variety to events. It never veers away from the horrors it is trying to depict and the problems, but at the same time it finds ways to prevent them overwhelming the audience. Even if this is primarily done through visuals, it still proves to be enough to prevent the film becoming one note.

All of this is used to build an atmosphere of hostility and submission within the film’s sets which almost seem surreal in their effectiveness. Depictions of the almost casual acceptance of the unfairness of life there are hard to accept initially, but it is so carefully built and crafted you soon find yourself reality believing the state of life there. The most effective moments of this, such as when Northup is strung up only to have life continue on as usual around him, are some of the film’s most powerful scenes and display McQueen’s talent as a director.

Combined with a tight script which knows exactly how to pace itself, 12 Years A Slave is well deserving of every award it is nominated for. This said, it is hardly without problems, many of which originate with the characters, despite the talent of the actors involved.

Even ignoring Brad Pitt’s role as a deus ex machina on legs, the film has the unfortunate habit of attempting to push its subject matter too far. While Northup’s situation would be horrifying no matter the status of the person involved, the audience is required to believe that he was a very well respected and accepted individual in Saratoga despite the colour of his skin. Someone with very few apparent problems with locals, and no backlash or problems being raised upon his disappearance. Or even mention of how his family could afford to keep living their lives for over a dozen years without him bringing in money. This causes a small break in the reliability of his position as the teller of the tale, which only becomes worse once the film starts to cover a scene he was no part of.

This question of the tales reliability is only increased with seemingly contradictory actions by a number of the slavers in order to present greater brutality on their part. In order to do so, the film seems to ignore their value as a commodity, damaging or killing them when it would not be in their best interest to do so. Even accepting that this was the result of qualities unique largely to them, it presents them as very one-note characters with little to no method to their actions. Hatred simply isn’t enough, and while the actors’ performances are usually enough to make the audience overlook this issue, it causes another weakness in the tale. Turning what was a morally wrong but complex industry into a series of sadistic acts.

Despite these problems however, 12 Years A Slave is truly a phenomenal piece of work. Where the script fails, the actors pull through and in terms of visual direction it has to be one of the best films of the last year. While many scenes make the film disturbing and will make any audience watching it uncomfortable, which was a definite must given the subject matter, it’s nevertheless a remarkable production well worth your time. See it if you get the chance.

Dustforce (Video Game Review)

Saturday, 15 February 2014


Read the article in full on this is simply a preview.

Carrying directly on from the shocking ending of Episode 1, this latest instalment of The Wolf Among Us keeps what works and changes little. Based upon the Vertigo comic Fables, the game follows the lives of a number of fairy tale characters who have taken refuge in the traditional world. Most fables are a very grimy version of themselves and it soon becomes clear just why Bigby Wolf, sheriff, is required to keep the peace. A job which is becoming tougher with every passing day, especially now a murderer is on the loose.

Mortarion's Heart (Audio Drama Review)

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

If you have been reading my reviews on this site for some time now, you’ll likely know my opinion of the recent Codex: Grey Knights. Along with punching plot holes the size of the Eye of Terror into an otherwise relatively stable canon, I regard the lore as not only childishly simplistic but completely misunderstanding even the most basic aspects of the universe.

What’s the point of all this? Because I want you to know where I am coming from when I say Mortarion’s Heart is a genuinely great story.

Set during the Battle of Kornovin in M41, the vast bulk of the Grey Knights chapter has been gathered to combat a massive daemonic incursion. Many worlds have been sacrificed and gambits played out to bring their leader, Mortarion, to a place where he might be defeated and destroyed. Fighting on the frontlines, Draigo is frustrated at the idea of missing such a foe’s end but when Geronitan is unexpectedly slain everything is thrown into doubt…

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Robocop (Film Review)

Some time ago, the fact they were remaking Paul Verhoeven classic Robocop was announced to many groans. Given the failure which was Total Recall, many were immediately predicting a cash cow effort, total failure or a poor copy of the original. Well, before you pick up your torches and pitchforks you should know it's actually not that bad. It's not terrible, and only walking away with the bronze medal at best, but the film isn't the train-wreck people expected.

Set in the near future, the conglomerate OmniCorp completely runs security in a multitude of nations. Through its army of combat robots and actually competent versions of ED-209, it polices the streets of various overseas nations. Prevented from deploying their forces in America, they seek to make a profit and soon come up with a way to circumvent the laws holding them back: Put a man inside a machine to serve and protect. It just so happens that a victim of a recent car-bomb is the perfect candidate for their role...

Let's make this clear from the very beginning: This is a very much neutered version of the original Robocop. With a PG-13 sticker slapped onto the film, you get nothing like Murphy's gory death nor the more obviously horrific over the top moments such as the victim of toxic waste. As a result, they also lack a lot of the original's bite but at the same time feel like a parody of modern cinema problems. Intentional or not, he overuse of CGI, lack of physics and bloodless carnage all come across to display just how ridiculous they can be while offering some decent action at times.

Furthermore, following the Total Recall decision, Robocop opts to go completely the other direction of the original. Despite an large number of references, often to its detriment, it doesn't try to emulate what made the original work. Only enough, this actually works in its favour as you're not left complaining "the first film did this so much better" or something of the like.

The film starts with Murphy's identity completely intact and well aware of his family and past. We see his connection to them prior to the accident and are given a sense of his personality. As you may have seen in the trailers, the corporation itself lets him think he is in control and manipulates his actions over time. The points he starts to behave like Robocop are when the corporation begins stripping away his personality for greater effectiveness on the streets. An action they hope will eventually lead to the approval of their more traditional drones being deployed and the disposal of Murphy once he is of no further use.

A similar character who follows this path is Dr. Norton, the cyborg's creator. Brought on by the enthusiastic and morally bankrupt OmniCorp CEO Raymond Sellars, he starts of as a benevolent figure. Over time Sellars' influence and the politics of the machine begin to get to him and we see his gradual corruption. It's a role which is well acted out by Gary Oldman and proves to be oddly effective throughout the film. It might be territory previously trod many times, but it's interesting to see the themes brought up and almost openly parodied in as here.

Speaking of being openly parodied, one of easily the most effective scenes is what we have in place of the commercial products. A news report promoting OmniCorp's every efforts and spin-doctoring events is an obvious mockery of Fox News, but it hits home just about every time.

Unfortunately, there are a large number of flaws which remain evident throughout the film. Along with Garry Oldman often being used to bludgeon the audience with the film's themes, the writing for the characters is hardly great. Many feel flatly written and the dialogue often feels as if it needs to be stepped up a notch, especially with Abbie Cornish's role as Clara Murphy. The actors assembled are all talented and do their best, but there's only so much they can handle with what they are given. Admittedly, they're not all perfect with Joel Kinnaman feeling a little lacking, and that's unfortunate given the amount of focus placed upon him.

The action sequences also do become repetitive and undergo a number of very odd choices. This may be in part due to the low age rating the film is stuck with, there's only so much you can do without bloodless fights becoming samey, but the film tries to do things like copy the Equilibrium scene. You know the one, where the entire room is lit by muzzle flashes? That's turned into a full battle and Robocop's black form makes him very hard to pick out within the brawl. This and a lot of other elements end up giving it a much weaker final act than it deserved.

Combined with some very odd structuring and obvious efforts to outshine its predecessor in the battle department, and you have a lot of problems which hold the film back. It's unfortunate as it honestly feels that with a little more tweaking and creative freedom, this could have been something truly fantastic. Instead what we have is an alright action film for this year with decent social commentary.

You won't be left feeling that this is a shining moment for the film industry, but it's still the best production the franchise has seen in thirty years. Take that for what its worth.