Thursday, 27 December 2012

Betrayer (Book Review)


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

However Aaron Dembski-Bowden goes about covering events of prior Heresy installments in a very different way. In this, much of what is seen makes you want to go back to re-read titles and look at them again with the revelations now known. Right in the first few pages there are scenes which seem to address a number of criticisms and fan objections to Battle for the Abyss and the actions of Magnus the Red. Nothing so extensive that it smothers the opening of a very good tale. Instead feeling like it’s addressing older flaws on short notice while managing to make them feel at least somewhat meaningful. These scenes never last more than a few pages at a time but on almost every occasion they offer new insights into events, characters and even the primarchs themselves. Best of all none of them ever feel like they’re betraying said characters, simply expanding upon what was previously told.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

R.I.P. Gerry Anderson

Gerry Anderson: Gerry Anderson with memorabilia at an auction at the Battersea Arts Centre

There have been a number of acting and entertainment legends who have died since this blog’s beginning. Many who were in films both famous and terrible which I have been tempted to commemorate, but this one was especially close to home.


Famous for his use of marionettes and puppets, Anderson helmed a large number of shows I watched as a child such as Captain Scarlet, Thunderbirds, and Stingray. First created in the 1960s but repeated often enough on TV and VHS for many to be fortunate to view them.

While by no means the most technically advanced by today’s standards, they were a major leap forwards for their time and still hold up well when compared to many others of that time. 
While not known for their great storytelling, the shows were far more willing willing to display things like death and loss to children than many of that era and others following. They featured a future which was bright but not without problems and are best remembered for their outlandish and futuristic aesthetics. 
His unique touch on many series could be found in their design and construction and was an element instantly recognisable to those who knew it.

Anderson’s involvement brought about some great shows and films with his long career in the industry could be found on many films and productions. Working in a multitude of different roles long before his fame.

He will be sorely missed.


Gerald Alexander Anderson, film and TV producer, director and writer.
14 April 1929 - 26 December 2012

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Bloodquest: Prisoners of the Eye of Terror (Audiobook Review)

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




Sunday, 16 December 2012

Men of War #1-8 (Comic Review)







Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Film Review)




Going into the Hobbit there is one thing you need to keep in mind – This trilogy is going to be a very different breed of animal from the last quest across Middle-Earth. In terms of literature the Hobbit was almost as far away from Lord of the Rings as that trilogy was from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Silmarillion. Trying to adapt it with the same grand tone of a clash between good and evil was out of the question. It simply wouldn’t have worked with the far smaller and more human tale and as a result Peter Jackson did not try to directly replicate the approach he had taken to his previous epic. Those going in expecting another Lord of the Rings are going to be severely disappointed. Those going in expecting to watch an exceptional film are going to be more than satisfied.

Taking place some sixty years before the start of the Fellowship, An Unexpected Journey focuses upon the life and famous adventure of Bilbo Baggins. Detailing his assistance in reclaiming an ancient dwarven stronghold from the dragon which took it as its lair, his encounter with the spiders of Mirkwood, the Battle of the Five Armies, and most importantly how a ring came into his possession.

Perhaps the most prominent aspect to comment upon, or the elephant in the room, is the liberties which were taken in the production. Having been stretched out to cover three films and changed directors on one occasion the film frequently deviates from the source material. With stylistic choices made to create on-going links between the films, character roles have been expanded for reasons of plot or to give more of an impact with the audience. A clear example of this was the change from Gandalf to Bilbo on who managed to keep the trio of trolls arguing until sunlight to help establish his skill and worth. Another being the presence of the pursuing Azog, a scarred orc hell-bent on getting revenge against the leader of the dwarven band.

With the characters as well there have been numerous changes, minor and large details to help them stand out more rather than disappearing into the background. The dwarves are the most obvious of this. With thirteen present and no real differentiation on race or role save for Thorin the scriptwriters made a number of alterations to help make them stand out. Minor character quirks to help make them memorable without turning them into outright caricatures. Well, most of them. This was something which was, as with all roles within the film, helped to no small decree by the excellent casting choices of the likes of James Nesbitt. The most standout example however, and the biggest person people will either love or hate, is Radagast the Brown who is as far from his literary self as could be humanly possible. He’s far more the fool than previous incarnations, with a suggestion that he spends most of his time in the forest getting high, and mainly serves to help glue the plot of the necromancer directly onto the Hobbit’s events.

For anyone excited about the inclusion of the necromancer, most of the war against him is being saved for later. This first film is primarily dealing with the bulk of the journey to Smaug’s lair and the build-up to facing off with the necromancer’s forces in Mirkwood. There are no big battles and while we do see giant spiders and the reanimator himself in an admittedly tense scene they are only onscreen for a minute at the most. The brawls which are shown instead are more your usual fantasy fare of running skirmishes. The sort of Pirates of the Caribbean/Indiana Jones innovative hectic rushes which are definitely more fitting for the film. That or split second curb stomps of fights which are admittedly delivered well for such anti-climatic events.

If there is something of a flaw to be found in here it’s that the film’s introduction isn’t good for newcomers. Instead relying upon what was shown and built up in the Fellowship of the Ring or knowledge of the novel itself. To watch it otherwise, you have to either have to be extremely accepting that you won’t get answers or explanations to things like what a hobbit is or who the White Council are. Even then those who did watch those films have to be accepting of how little some aspects resemble what we’ve seen before. The goblins for example speaking with surprising coherency and looking like something you’d expect to see in the market of Hellboy II.

Still it’s a minor issue and the film is definitely of a fantastic quality. Very different from what we’ve seen before but without a doubt completely enjoyable, focused, well-paced and with the right mixture of humour, action and drama for the start of a new trilogy. Definitely see this one while it’s in cinemas, but try to avoid the 48 frames per second showings. The full version might be three hours long but it doesn’t feel it and unlike that other one you won’t come out of it disorientated and wondering why the hell everyone was moving so strangely.


----

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and all related characters and media are owned by New Line Cinema Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Avengers Arena #1 (Comics Review)







Kidnapped by Arcade, we’ll get to him don’t worry, a multitude of lesser known teenage heroes including the Avengers Academy cast, X-23, the Runaways and Darkhawk are taken to the villain’s funhouse of death Murderworld. There they’re pitted into a kill or be killed scenario with no option to refuse fights and have to murder one another for the amusement of others.

Let’s just set aside that the afterlife seems to have a revolving door in comics and try to deal with everything else related to this.

Avengers Arena is taking a distinct group of young heroes, many of who have shown real character growth in a remarkably short amount of time who, just to focus upon Avengers Academy, have developed to trust one another. To protect one another, fall in love, and build themselves up to be an effective force for good and overcome traumatic past experiences to push past their flaws. It then uses those heroes as fodder by hurling them into a meat-grinder and has them openly murder one another because Marvel thinks no one will miss them. Not even giving them a chance for a heroic last stand or, in one infamous case thus far, their execution any focus or even meaning. Not to mention that particular one involves two horrible slasher movie clich├ęs.

This is the sort of story idea I expect to find pitched with the first sentence consisting of “Yo dawg, I heard you liked character deaths” and uses the term “x-tremely edgy” to describe how dark it is. This is really the biggest problem here. The bloated parasite of a concept latches onto the story and drains it dry of any fun or reason to be committed to events, something most obviously visible within the characters.

Arcade, a C-list villain who is barely more of a threat than Stilt-Man, has undergone a huge overhaul by writer Dennis Hopeless. In an effort to make him a credible threat any colourfully fun aspects which made him popular back in the 80s have been completely removed. The only emotion he gave off throughout the whole thing was smug apathy, even as he kills someone with mind bullets. You can practically hear the comic screaming “SEE! SEE! HE CARES NOTHING FOR LIFE AND DEATH! SO GRIMDARK!!!”

It’s the same with some of the heroes. One particularly memorable preview has Hazmat, AKA the girl who lobs radiation at people, claiming that she has “always been a hater” and that she has just hated everything. Nope, no mention of the fact that her hatred was a long established as a coping mechanism for her powers and trauma, she just hates everything. This is the sort of badly researched tripe I’d expect of Karen Traviss, not the guy who wrote X-Men: Season One. Even when the comic initially takes time to expand upon the characters personalities you know it’s only being done so those who’ve don’t care about the characters and have just turned up to watch them die understand who they are.

The same goes for the artwork. I could praise the level of detail done by Kev Walker but then I’d have to go into future things like the burnt flesh sloughing off the bones of X-23 and horrified expressions of those about to die. I could talk about the colouring, but that’d leave me going into the sheer level of gore, blood splatters and maiming rife within fights. Anything good which can possibly be found in this wretched mess is ultimately tainted by the basic concept driving its plot forwards.

I barely managed to scratch the surface on everything wrong with this issue alone. Readers, if any of you looking at this care in the slightest about the characters involved I implore you: Don’t waste your money on this. Don’t even pirate it. Ignore it. We’ve seen enough of heroes senselessly beating the living crap out of one another in recent years, milked to be edgy, controversial and not even trying to embrace any of the fun behind the concept. This should be the last straw, not something to make a profit and end up with some executive thinking they should have more heroes violently murdering one another to boost sales.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Skyrim: Dragonborn DLC achievements, plot and locations leaked


Leaks of upcoming projects, especially when it comes to stories and plotlines for popular media are a frequent occurrence these days. Doctor Who has had this happen much to the frustrations of head writer Steven Moffat, Mass Effect 3's infamous story leak for both its main plot and Leviathan DLC was well known prior to its launch, even Half Life has suffered from this. This is just the latest in a long line of spoilers, but damn if it doesn't give a lot of information away.

As posted on TheOuthousers, a truly titanic level of information has been leaked onto the internet revealing not only locations and achievements, but potentially key parts of the plot of the Skyrim's upcoming expansion. The list of the Dragonborn DLC's content is extensive. Going so far as to list characters, items, spells and even new shouts which will be available in the download. From what has been revealed, it has been estimated that the DLC would add up to thirty hours of additional gameplay onto the Elder Scrolls title and even just rushing the main quest would take up to ten.



Without going into spoilers, the leak does confirm a number of things from both the trailers and promotional material released by Bethesda. It confirms that the location of the new DLC will indeed be Solstheim from Morrowind's Bloodmoon DLC, now populated largely by Dark Elves, and the much desired ability to have dragons as mounts will be available to players. Many returning features of the island present in Bloodmoon will still be present such as Raven Rock.  It will even build upon previous achievements from the game with items such as new Thieves Guild armour being present and new special quests will be available to those who reach level 81.

It is currently unknown how much this leak of information may change the release of the DLC. Whether the release date of the new content will be pushed back to be changed from leaked information, an admittedly unlikely event, or the studio will release it tomorrow as planned. What can be told is that the DLC appears to be at least on par with Oblivion's Shivering Isles in terms of size and quality. Many owners of Skyrim disappointed with Hearthfire should find this to be more to their liking.


----


The Elder Scrolls, Skrym, Dragonborn and all related characters and media are owned by Bethesda.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Fifth Edition Ultramarines - Fan Reaction



It says something about an author when his attempts to make his favorite army popular backfire so hard people would willingly play massacred forces over them.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Daemon World (Book Review)



Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Mass Effect 3: Six Minutes of Double Standards


You know, Mass Effect has always had an interesting relationship with gender dynamics throughout its games. The series seemed to continually zig-zag between one bias or another occasionally, but often trying to maintain some semblance of equality between the party members and major figures. That is until the third game in which the introduction of one character seemed to result in some rather disturbing ideas.
Now, I want to make one thing clear before starting on this: I do not universally side with one gender or another when it comes to problems or representation and equality. I’ll always try to argue for the group I think is losing out the most either in terms of equality or with facts simply being blatantly overlooked or ignored.
To give examples from the comicbook industry I agree that the use of female characters as fan-service is still a major problem as are situations of women in refrigerators. At the same time I’ll also point out frequent occurrences where fan-service has happened to men without complaints or uproar and where women in refrigerators has happened to male characters. One prime example being where the father of Robin, Jack Drake, was murdered during Identity Crisis for little to no reason besides to create angst for Robin’s character. I have criticised the rampant use of rape with female characters as the driving force for a plot such as, again Identity Crisis, with Sue Dibny. At the same time I’ve heavily criticised how media downplays acts of sexual or physical abuse towards male characters, such as Devin Grayson’s mishandled female-on-male rape of Nightwing and refusal to acknowledge it for what it really was.

One of the biggest criticisms I keep making of Warhammer 40,000 is how it is seemingly phasing the only all-female army, the Sisters of Battle, out of the universe. Only using them when they need someone to get brutally killed to make another army look tougher and taking things a step further in the sixth edition, removing any mention of the Sisters of Silence.
To give a few examples from the Mass Effect universe itself, one big complaint I made as the series developed was the objectification of female characters. While this was true for a lot of the romance options in Mass Effect 2, such as Jacob wearing a skin tight bodysuit and Thane walking around with his chest bare, it was often taken several steps further with a couple of female characters. With Jack effectively being half naked the entire time, and the game’s camera giving so many arse shots of Miranda it has become a running gag within the series’ fandom and something even the writers joked about. Not to mention the massive criticisms of Ashley’s appearance when she returned in in third game.

The point is I try to be fair with any gender criticisms no matter which side they’re directed towards. Were the roles of each gender reversed in what I am about to talk about, I would be making the exact same complaints. As such I don’t want to see anyone accusing this article of being chauvinistic, misogynistic or blind to inequalities.
The criticism I’m about to make, and of the universe as a whole only came to light a short time ago. Re-watching a few of Mass Effect 3’s cutscenes I made sure to see some of the dialogue from Eve, the female krogan who might hold the key to reversing the sterility virus inflicted upon their species.  Mostly because of the fact I’d ended up skipping over her accidently during my own playthrough. Now, most of the character was fine. Her dialogue was well written, had an interesting backstory, she was extremely well voice acted and she was a strong, likable character. At least until she started to get onto the subject of gender with this line when she is talking about possible attempts for revenge against the genophage:
“It’s not in the nature of our males to co-operate. They’ve evolved to me selfish, their only concern is survival.”
Now, until this point Eve has been talking about the krogan as a whole. Every act they have taken has been about all of them no matter which gender they belong to, not going into specifics and yet now when pushed she suddenly starts to label only males with any negative connotations. This suggests she at least thinks the female krogan were completely immune to this, that somehow they never became selfish, hoarding or even the territorial aspects they “evolved” to survive because their world was a resource starved hellhole.

This seems like a massive contradiction to the little information we had previously about the females like codex events with female krogan warlords where they were detailed as being effectively the same in their mentality and aspects as the males. They were suggested to be just as violent, just as bull-headed and were a part of events like the krogan rebellions and it wasn’t simply the males who were causing the problems in their society so much as their culture, mentality and traditions. And this only gets worse as she continues to speak:
“Wrex is different, he’s a mutant. And that you can tell him.”

This comes right after that last line. Wrex is an exception, something not often seen – that’s something the series always stated but the big change here is how he is one. When you encounter him in the first game Wrex is jaded, bitter and has no illusions to how far his race has fallen. He’s become disillusioned with their culture, society and all aspects which have them desiring to get revenge for what was done to them hundreds of years ago and pointlessly fight everyone. He was suggested to be different from the average krogan. This conversation, taking into account that last line, says now he’s only different from the average male krogan leader. This is only reinforced when she goes on to talk about how things will change after the genophage is cured:

“Our species will find its balance again.
Females will help shape the future like in the ancient days, before we were just pawns of power hungry males.”

Again, this is a titanic contradiction to a previously universal presentation of their species suggesting that women have no power in their society and, once again, the males are only to blame for their current state. Every mention of the krogan we’ve had in the past suggested females had considerable power, living separately from the others in their own clans and raising new krogan. With males only being allowed to occasionally see those they sired, they’re not used as trophies or pawns they seemed to have actual power in their society. There’s more to this but I’ll speak about that later on.  She just keeps bringing up how krogan males mistreat their females, something highlighted by this exchange when Shepard asks about her treatment:
“How has Mordin been treating you?”
“Better than krogan males do, he’s not like a typical salarian.”

Apparently even giving a damn about her health is something beyond anything any krogan male might do even if, as she claims, they regard her kind only as ways of boosting their power. Someone wouldn’t be much of a trophy if they were dead after all. And she just keeps going on about how everything is the fault of only the males, to the point where she starts to even contradict herself:

“Rivalries are the invention of the males. Under their rule Tuchanka has laid in ruins for over a thousand years.
It’s time females took back our places in society and resurrected our future.”

Now let’s just make this clear: For a race who is built like tanks, can be driven into a berserker like state, who are violent and all of who are combat capable regardless of gender: rivalries are something invented by the males.
No, apparently they weren’t created when their society bombed itself back into the stone age.
Not prior to the genophage when their entire society wouldn’t have had reasons to place so much value upon females.
Not when they were formed into clans thousands of years old with traditions fighting over resources in the most inhospitable post-apocalyptic planet in the entire galaxy where there would have been no difference in gender roles. And their lack of rebuilding has nothing to do with their lack of numbers, resources or the fact they were almost completely reliant upon the salarians for knowledge of tech when they uplifted them from a barbaric state.
No, apparently their fragmented society only turned in on itself a relatively short while ago and rather than it being something their whole race can be blamed for, it’s only the fault of the ones who have dicks. And every single last problem will be corrected once females retake control.

As if this were not enough it’s capped off with this little gem, if you’re playing a female Shepard anyway:
“I’m glad to see humans treat their women with respect. Your people have placed a lot of responsibility on you.”
“No more than yours have on you”
“Then maybe we can show the men how it’s done.”

That last line might have been amusing were it not for what preceded it, something joked about to relieve tension. Instead it comes across as her believing that due to her gender she is naturally superior and desires to prove how much better she is innately to the males of her kind. What’s more is that line seems to suggest females have no respect in her society at all. Now, rather than repeating the previous points about how krogan females were presented as having power in their society and a major role, let’s look at a more specific example of how they were respected.
Those played Mass Effect 2 might remember the krogan/vorcha enemies of the Blood Pack. A few of you might have not looked into their history, it was listed outside the gameplay after all, but it does show one very important thing about their society: The krogan treat their females with a huge amount of respect. To quote the wiki:
“The Blood Pack was transformed into a mercenary legion by visionary krogan battlemaster Ganar Wrang. Exiled for striking a female in anger, Wrang obsessed over reclaiming his lost status.
Leading the vorcha pack as a pirate crew, Wrang cultivated recruits and infamy for a decade before incorporating his fighters as a security company across the Skyllian Verge. His notoriety ensured his initial public offering for investors made him rich beyond the krogan’s dreams. Wrang triumphantly returned to his clan, rallying elders, krogan hordes, and their firepower and biotic support towards professional violence in the Terminus Systems.”

So let’s make this clear: The penalty for striking a female of a race who settles verbal disputes with headbutts, have Wolverine-esq healing and can all but ignore pain, is so severe the one who breaches this law is exiled. So severe that the only act of glory and honour seen as being sufficient to allow his return was to create one of the strongest PMC units in the entire galaxy. Yet in spite of all this, Eve apparently claims the krogan women are treated with no respect.
Hell, if you want a more visual example just take a look the scene where Eve is introduced to the krogan in Mass Effect 3. Her presence is able to instantly stop a dispute bordering upon violence. A few lines convinces both sides to support a seemingly suicidal plan involving races they dispise, and no one even begins to question her decision even though most have not even spoke with her prior to then. If that is not a sign of respect and reverence I don’t know what is.
If it’s not clear to you by this point, not only is this discussion a massive contradiction to the previous portrayal of this species but it comes across as horrendously sexist. It portrays every problem as only being the result of male krogan while exonerates female krogan from any past negative action like the Rebellions. Worst of all it seems to outright state “they will be better off under a matriarchy where those childish, blind men are kept from becoming a danger to everyone.”  Each section where she keeps making pot-shots at the males of her species. Blaming them for their state feel out of place with her character and seems to contradict an otherwise universal disillusionment with her race’s current state and how they need to be guided. In no other scene does she single out one gender to be the blame for all this and in all honestly this feels like it was written by someone unfamiliar with the character. That or someone trying to push a political message.
Now, this was bad. The message was grotesque and the obvious discrimination at play, with no option to confront her and felt heavily insulting. However, it was only six minutes of a several hour long game. I could understand fans wanting to overlook it, but fan reaction to this seems to have been far worse. There seems to have been only a very small number of people willing to call out this scene on its blatant misandry, while almost all others have been accepting of it. Calling it a sign of progress for equality, claiming it is acceptable and ridiculing any who actually thinks a message of “women good, men evil” is wrong. Here’s a few stand-out examples:
“Wanting women to be treated with respect = RIDICULOUS OFFENSIVE FEMNAZI CHARACTER
Oh, gamers. “

“How is this offensive? It's science fiction. Krogan males are overrun by testosterone (or aggression-inducing krogan hormones). Krogan females are the wise ones in this species, I don't see anything offensive there at all. More interestingly, I giggled a bit when Mordin labels Abrahamic religions as "human mythology."”

“I'm a man and honestly, if any men found this offensive, get a vasectomy. You should't breed and spread that sexist belief. Our women have endured and still endure enough shit.”

This is quite frankly disgusting. I would hope that no matter the gender, displays of open discrimination and hatred would be rightfully criticised not defended with claims of “sexism” to any who oppose it. There is a huge double standard at work here. Imagine for a moment what the reaction would have been had it been Wrex spouting lines like this:

“Rivalries are the invention of the females. Under their rule Tuchanka has laid in ruins for over a thousand years. It’s time males took back our places in society and resurrected our future.”

There would have been an uproar, mass accusations at Bioware’s writers and the near universal flipping of tables. You would have seen a huge demand for changes, insults hurled at the creators, EA and anyone involved. Yet when the genders presented as here it is seen as perfectly acceptable by both the fans and at least one person involved in Mass Effect 3. You would not see people claiming that because it is science fiction it is perfectly fine to create a species with females who have barely any self-control who will only bring ruin to their people when not led by a man.
Now, this isn’t a demand for people to regard any negative portrayal of males as being wrong or any such nonsense. It’s something highlighting where an otherwise well written and relatively intelligent piece of media spectacularly failed. It’s a look into the responses people seem to have to scenes like this and how some can be blind to problems due to the roles of the races or genders involved. But most of all it’s a request for any who read this to keep an open mind while analysing moments like this. The next time you start to see something which generalises blame and portrays a group with near universal negativity, think for a few minutes how acceptable it would be if they were reversed.

If you feel the need to comment or speak out against this then feel free, but I ask anyone to read and most of all please think before you respond.


----

Mass Effect and all related characters and media are owned by Bioware and Electronic Arts.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Inactivity 08/11/2012-18/01/2013

Yes we're going to have another bout of this and unfortunately it's unavoidable. Over the past weeks i've been balancing university work with travelling and reviewing, but the former two are just sucking up more and more time.

Over the next three months i'll have to devote nearly all of my time and energy to working on four major assignments to have them finished on time, proofread, and all that other good stuff. I was hoping that it would be kept to a manageable level somehow but with so many deadlines crammed together, and the tutors apparently expecting us to work on stuff over Christmas, making new reviews is going to be difficult.
Truth be told I had anticipated this and was making efforts to produce work to cover for this time, but the mysterious damage my laptop suffered during August put a stop to that. I want it made clear that there will be things uploaded during this time but they will be infrequent at best and of older stuff so don't expect any new releases after last night's one.

I am extremely sorry for these delays and hope that things will be back to normal again after early to mid January. Thank you all once again for taking the time to read the things I put up onto this site and on occasion commenting upon them, especially those who do so in spite of disagreeing with my opinion.
If I don't get the chance to comment again before it happens have a merry Christmas and see you in 2013.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Halo 4 (Xbox Video Game Review)





Following on from the Legendary ending the third game, this title sees Master Chief on a hostile world, facing down both old threats and new. Frequently at odds with the UNSC forces and Cortana showing visible signs of rampancy, there’s a lot to go on here. Unfortunately the game never really gets a chance to use this potential for a number of reasons, but two specific ones stick out.

The first is that, well, Halo 4 as a story doesn’t need to exist. The universe we all knew and loved came full circle with Reach and wasn’t really that much to go on as sequels go. Rather than having the option of just going on from plot threads we’ve previously seen 4 needed to spend more time build almost entirely new ones to extend the mythos and suffers as a result. The second issue is that 343 Industries took the Blizzard approach and released novels to try and help with their game's plot and advance the story before its release. This isn’t an entirely bad thing, Greg Bear has done an outstanding job fleshing out the universe with his prequel Forerunner Trilogy but without going out and buying it you’re going to feel like you’re losing out on the meaning behind a lot of plot points. Even with the lengthy details and exposition given, the game never manages to match the strength of the story told in the novels. Not to mention it squanders the massive story potential found in Primordium's reveals. On the upside however, returning characters are as strong as ever (even if there’s only two of them) and Cortana’s storyline is definitely the high-point of the single player mode.

Still most of you probably aren’t playing Halo for the story, so how does the game hold up while playing it? Well, most of the old mechanics have been kept with a few tweaks to keep things original in each mode and for the enemies to remain freshly interesting. Let’s face it, as fun as the Covenant are to snipe/frag/smack-about-via-rifle-butt they do require further variety to work. To help combat that problem the game introduces the Prometheans, orange glowing machines who you’ll quickly grow to hate. Or love to hate depending upon how you approach fighting them. As well as bringing a whole bucketload of new guns to pillage from corpses and bodies to mow down, they force the player to take a few different approaches when facing them. While it would be wrong to ruin the surprise of running into many of these for the first time, anyone who has watched the trailers will know of the hovering drones often accompanying the meatier enemies. These things will quickly prove to be the bane of anyone favouring grenades, trust me don’t even try using them around them, and will make fights harder by healing foes, shielding them, offering buffs and even outright resurrecting them. When facing down groups with these things it can be remarkably easy to end up in fights of attrition on the higher difficulties.

Visually Halo 4 does manage to stand out from its predecessor. Notably the Covenant forces and the Chief himself have been given a few graphical upgrades, changing their general look while keeping what worked from the last game. While the reasons for handwaving this away are fairly pitiful, at least with Master Chief anyway, their look is definitely better suiting for their environment and feels like a natural progression from what we had before.

The environments themselves are as varied as you’d expect for a Halo title both in and out of multiplayer. While you don’t get anything completely new from what we’ve seen previously, there’s a general sense that the developers were looking at the errors made in the last game’s layouts and correcting them. There’s a much more distinctive sense of atmosphere and each location is astoundingly beautiful, assuming you can stop long enough to admire it while dodging bullets. It might even be enough to distract you from how the game repeats itself on multiple occasions and its very linear focus. The former applies more to what we’ve seen in the past, either emphasising upon breaking something or collecting three objectives but it’s the latter which really detracts from the game’s quality. The strength behind Halo was always its openness, how it could seamlessly switch between corridor shooting and wide area combat with and without vehicles. This latest game definitely seems to be lacking in the latter department. Oh they appear and you’ll get chances to zoom about open areas more than a few times, but nowhere near as much as you’d hope and not with the same unique grandly explosive moments you’d want to make this specific game memorable.

Still, the real core of a Halo game is the multiplayer experience and that seems to hold up extremely well, though you’ll find a lot of it to be very familiar. The Forge is still present and the War Games while containing a few new aspects keeps most of what worked in the past and even Valhalla is still available, The differences come largely through two things, besides the inclusion of mini-mecha as vehicles, namely how the ranking system works and ordinance drops. The ranking system seems to be taking a much more specialised approach and are an extension of the commendations and challenges in the previous game. This time it's angled more towards a career development and allows you access to purchases for armour, weapons, loadouts and further customising your character through specialisations. While this might seem like Halo 4 is just following a current FPS trend it's a natural development from Reach's ideas and they all work extremely well.

The other gimmick of ordinance drops isn't quite so flawless. The inclusion of these seems to be an attempt to give more meaning to mowing down players by the dozen and ending a kill streak atop of solving a few older issues. In addition to the usual weapons you find lying about the map killing people, along with other conditions, will fill up a meter allowing you to call in your weapons of choice at will. The upside of this is it solves the obvious issues of someone having the one brute shot on a custom map and camping on weapon spawn points, but opens up a few other problems. Even after only one or two games it was noticeably easy for someone with the right skills and timing to keep up their dominating streak, especially when they are extremely accurate with long range weapons. As tough as SPARTANs are one guy with a sniper rifle is going to be as devastating as ever and now with ordinance drops he can call in all the ammo he needs with less of a risk of running out. That and the fact he can now call in rocket launchers whenever someone goes after him in a vehicle means it can be easier to stay ahead if you know what you’re doing in a multiplayer match.

For all these criticisms it ought to be emphasised again that Halo 4 is by no means a bad game, just one with some obvious flaws. It does feel like a slight step down from Reach but there’s no denying that it’s still vastly better than Halo 3 and ODST, even if it does lack Nathan Fillion. If you’re a fan interested in seeing some changes to what has come before or just keeping up with the series you’ll not regret buying this one.


----

Halo 4 and all related characters and media are owned by 343 Industries and Microsoft Studios.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Angel Exterminatus (Book Review)


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


Both the biggest flaw and biggest strength was having Graham McNeill pen this book. His skill at individually handling multiple plot threads and his prior experience with both the III and IV legions pays off here with great characterisations. This book emphasises upon the legion as a whole rather than just the aspects of a few key characters and the primarch, and it’s all the stronger for it. This helped to present that rather than being the complete opposite of their modern selves as with the Thousand Sons and Emperor’s children, they’re just uncorrupted. There are visible signs of the familiar ruthlessness, hatred and bitter determination; but also honour, grinding loyalty, abilities as craftsmen as well as warmakers and a distrustful hatred for those corrupted by Chaos. The problem is that while they’re shown in this state and we see the exact turning point where they began to drop any remnants of nobility, they’re not shown having truly fallen. Instead McNeill is relying upon people to have picked up Storm of Iron if not most of hisIron Warriors series to contrast characters with their 41st millennium selves. So fans who’ve read those books will rejoice seeing Forrix and Kroeger being major characters but anyone who didn’t will be confused about glorified cameos given to the likes of Berossus.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Skyfall (Film Review)



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

---

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

Monday, 29 October 2012

Path of the Warrior (Book Review)

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



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