Saturday, 31 May 2014

A Million Ways To Die In The West (Film Review)


Yeah, this one wasn't good.

If you've done any research into this at all, you can likely already guess the kind of humour this is going to be from the name attached. Those who've not seen Seth MacFarlane as the main creative force behind the film will likely be able to guess from the trailers alone, which heavily feature slapstick and toilet comedy. While MacFarlane's previous film Ted used these to surprisingly good effect, A Million Ways To Die In The West fails to hit that same mark.

Set in 1882 on the American frontier, MacFarlane plays sheep farmer Albert Stark, who after losing his girlfriend to a rival finds himself let down and depressed. Even as he begins to recover and finds new interest in a new arrival to their town, Anna, Stark soon begins to find that she has introduced yet one more thing into his life which might kill him.

The choice of humour is the biggest negative here, as it often fails to hit its mark. While it's subjective and down to personal preference, so much of it seems to be done without meaning or context, or even serves purely to gross out the audience. Here it lacks the timing, framing or real build-up to have much effect, and ultimately this poor set-up really is what hinders many of the jokes. While it does allow for one or two unexpected gags to surprise you once in a while by coming completely out of left field, it highlights a big problem within the film: On the whole it is structured in an extremely slipshod manner.


Just about every film teacher on the planet will always tell you one thing is important to a script above all - reincorporation. As often as possible and as much as possible, any important element within the script needs to be reused and integrated at every turn. If there is an opportunity to use it, a writer should take it, either to close out a plot thread or even just to get a brief gag. While there are obviously exceptions to this, it's an extremely important thing to keep in mind for many a great film and many of the greatest comedy examples to date have this in droves. One of the pinnacles of comedy in the last decade, Edgar Wright's Cornetto Trilogy, is practically driven by extremely effective uses of relentlessly reincorporating anything and everything. Here? It's as if MacFarlane only half remembers this lesson.

Plot elements fail to really work cohesively as a single piece, instead fading in and out of the story for as and when they are needed. The initial reason Anna and Stark become interested in one another is ultimately resolved at the halfway point, and is promptly dumped entirely in favour of a bigger villain. This might have worked had this been something purely from the first act, but after so much focus, it instead feels botched and out of place. The same thing goes for a number of storylines involving other characters, which either fail to go anywhere or disappear entirely, or even characters themselves. By the end, half the ideas actually set up are long abandoned in favour of a single central villain.


In many respects the writing carries over a multitude of elements from Family Guy. From the sudden aside flashbacks to the sudden out of the blue cameos, you could spend all day drawing parallels between the two writing styles. However, whereas Family Guy at least has built up a solid core of characters and familiar elements for those parts to work off of, here the audience lacks any kind of familiarity. As a result, when Doc Brown suddenly shows up in an admittedly funny scene, you're only grinning because it reminds you of how good Back To The Future was. Even accepting this however, there are times when the cameos fail to really work, such as a sudden split-second appearance by Ryan Reynolds and Ewan McGreggor among others.

The unfortunate thing is that, when you can stop focusing upon the script for long enough, there are splashes of good among the bad. While he might fail to write the film well, MacFarlane's cinematography does capture many elements of the classic Westerns he was attempting to emulate. Similarly, the film boasts an impressive amount of talent on screen, even excluding sudden cameos, but it fails to truly utilise them. Few are actually allowed to walk away with any dignity. Notably Neil Patrick Harris effectively disappears after being on the receiving end of an increasingly unfunny bathroom gag, and Liam Neeson suffers from a shout out to Caligula of all things.

Poor jokes, a meandering plot with little focus, and a finale which discards the rest of the characters to focus entirely upon MacFarlane are what doom this film. With better focus upon the subject of its title, better gags and a more genuine feel of an old Western, A Million Ways To Die In The West could have been something special. As it stands, it's a production which is dead on arrival. Dig out Ted again if you're after a good laugh from this creator, but otherwise stick to Blazing Saddles for Western comedies.


Friday, 30 May 2014

My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Vol. 1 (Comic Review)



This is going to take some explaining before we begin.

A lot of you are likely wondering just why this is on here. If you have not been reading this blog over the past few years, fans of the cartoon started spamming requests and demands to cover the comic. After I laid out terms if they truly wanted me to review this, these demands turned into threatsinsults and the occasional racial slur. After about a year of me having to censor this, someone finally agreed to my terms to review it and handed over a copy of the comic in person. So here we are now.

While my previous attempt to review this comic was effectively a rant which declared the franchise unworthy of being looked at thanks to the sheer fanaticism and psychosis of certain circles of fans, it was admittedly unfair on the comic's creators. So while I do stand by that sentiment, this is going to be purely analytically and leaving any opinions of the aforementioned fans out of this.

Enjoy.

Set at an undisclosed point within the series, the comic sees a strange change sweep through Ponyville. Multiple inhabitants are undergoing sudden shifts in personality, disappearing only to return as blank eyed and unresponsive figures who shun social interaction. As the characters gather, they soon realise this epidemic has spread far further than any would have guessed. With the threat of the entire population being lost hanging over their heads, they must find the source of this change and confront its origin.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Militarum Tempestus: Part 1 - The Lore (A Warhammer 40,000 Codex Review)


One of the big changes which have rubbed many people the wrong way of late has been certain alterations to the lore of the Imperial Guard. Along with details which seem to be trying to tone down the grim darkness of the Imperium in their main codex, the then recent backfire of Games Workshop's legal bullying caused a number of big changes. In an attempt to make their copyright more defensible, the hobby has seen a number of old established names abandoned in favour of faux Latin variants. As such, what should be Codex: Storm Troopers is now Codex: Militarum Tempestus, along with a few definite changes to their lore. Despite this however, it's not all that bad. It's hardly a failure, and certainly makes up for a lot of past mistakes.

Focusing upon a number of particular killers churned out by the Schola Progenium, Codex: Militarum Tempestus examines the history, structure and lives of the Ordo Tempesus. An elite rapid response force within the Imperium intended to bypass the Administratum's miles of red tape, their highly trained squads and regiments are sent for the toughest of assaults and surgical strikes. When the astartes aren't available, Inquisition has no answers and the Last Chancers are nowhere to be seen, the Tempestus are the forces sent in to clear things out.

Now, to give the book the credit it is due, many good elements from the Storm Troopers are kept. The same "glory boy" irritation by the Imperial Guard is specifically referenced here, with the various Scion regiments seen as little more than exaggerated tin soldiers who take credit and leave taking casualties to them.

Similarly, the old idea of there being only a single organisation is kept to a degree. The old idea behind the Storm Troopers was originally that there was only a single regiment of a few thousand, which sent out squads to where they were needed. This was gradually abandoned over time (besides on brief mention in the 5th Edition Imperial Guard codex) as ideas of Storm Trooper regiments, exclusive Inquisitorial detachments and similar things were added by authors. There's also a good chance writers began to realise how big the galaxy actually was, and how ineffective ten thousand troops would be when even the Adeptus Astartes outnumbered them. While the numbers of troops have been expanded, and we have regiments in place of squads, the same spirit of that idea is present.

The above isn't the old idea to return either, as many old concepts make a comeback. Back in the days of 2nd and 3rd Edition, large chunks of 40K were presented as a kind of intentional parody. Much like Judge Dredd, while there were big chunks which could be taken seriously, and as an effective force, dark deadpan comedy was laced throughout the books. The codex sees the return of a number of these elements; emphasising upon the near psychotic brutality of Imperial discipline, apparent incompetence of Imperial command and the "you will not be missed" attitude of their military. However, unlike the writer who declares "They can never be Ultramarines" there is a definite sense in the writing that the team behind this read Second Edition lore but were in on the joke. It might be played straight faced but there remains a few distinctive indications from the writing that they are not expecting the reader to take this with total seriousness.

These elements begin with the lengthy emphasis placed upon Tempestus training and the Schola's regimes. Rather than skipping this point entirely or leaving it to a few sparse paragraphs, massive sections go into the whole process behind training and recruiting children for Imperial forces. Brutal beyond belief, sections describe how the intense training and extreme processes are used to ensure the weak are weeded out and only the toughest, most loyal and most disciplined forces make it through to their various organisations. 


Two of the stand-out points which emphasise this nature are a brief description of a final test for a Commissar which is to execute a comrade and the gristly method used to put down an uprising. However, these aren't simply done for the ebilz and to exaggerate the Imperium. In the Commissar example it's backed with the suggestion that this is only one of a number of final potential tests, and the cadet himself is being disposed of due to some critical failure. The Schola is taking advantage of it to ensure that another student succeeds. As for the other, well, read it for yourself on the right. These are monstrous, morally repugnant methods, but there is a twisted kind of logic to them to help ensure success against Chaos.

This sort of brutality backed by a twisted logic even carries over to the most basic recruitment methods. Rather than targeting anyone and everyone for induction to the Progenium, the sons and daughters of noble birth are specifically sought out. These consist of survivors of great catastrophes, sons and daughters of now deceased Imperial heroes and similar figures orphaned by circumstance. Others are taken by the Progenium through far darker means to ensure they have a constant flow of recruits. The idea behind this is to ensure that the blood and linage of their forces remains strong by having ties of the Imperium's greatest warriors within its ranks, an idea which somewhat hearkens back to Napoleonic attitudes involving officers.

Most interestingly is that all this effort isn't purely for the codex's sake, and gives some insight into the Imperium on the whole. The Schola Progenium's forces are also used to train Sororitas, Arbites, Administratum and other core parts of humanity's defence against the alien, daemon and traitor. It's a nice world building focus, but unfortunately things do begin to suffer once the book actually moves onto describing the Tempestus itself. While we get some fantastic illustrations and looks into the Scions' tools and equipment, the two pages actually spent focusing on the organisation itself largely repeat what was just explained. While there are some good details here and there, far too much focus is placed upon detailing the processes behind the cadets, most of which was told far better just a page before. This unfortunately robs the army of some of its identity and potential insights into how they are organised as a military force. 


What helps make up for this failing to a degree is actually the stories. Unlike the many supplement codices we have had up to now, this codex thankfully avoids trying to turn the entire book into one massive narrative. Instead follows the successful approach of previous codices - Missions and certain figures are used as an example for what the army as a whole is capable of. They are used to exemplify some of the concepts behind them, and the characters involved are used as a part of the army, rather than the only important figure with a lot of cannon fodder surrounding them. 

The examples given are a desperate boarding action against an ork infested space hulk which needed to be intercepted, a Commissar leading Catachan Jungle Fighters to extract an Imperial figure of authority from a threatened world with Scion assistance, and the last heroic act of a Scion leader before he succumbs to a plague. Some of these do suffer from the odd definite minor lore issue (especially Catachans following a Commissar as they do), it's nothing which can't be forgiven or put down to interpretation, and for the most part they work. Unfortunately, we now have to move onto the problems. Believe me, the book has some very serious ones you would not expect.

The flaws in question can't be put down to any single bit of fluff within the book or particular incident. Instead they come from the writers' general approach to covering the army. These can mostly be put down to two particular issues. 

The first one of these being the lack of freedom when it comes to interpenetrating the Scions or integrating them into the universe. The Storm Troopers have featured heavily in a multitude of various books and codices in the past, each with varying different styles and depictions. Anthony Reynolds' Word Bearers trilogy featured them as special forces glory boys with an element of humanity. The Ciaphas Cain books featured them as extremely professional soldiers trained to work from an early age as a unit, to the point of having a near telepathic unity and co-ordination. Ben Counter's works showed Inquisitorial troopers as almost robotic individuals, clipped and focused only on the mission thanks to repeated mind wipes to avoid corruption and insanity. 

The Scions don't leave any room for this sort of interpretation or variety. While it is mentioned the various Schola do vary in their methods, they each come down to similarly brutal tactics and specific methods. They also are not so widely spread as before, with no regiments put into service as the militant arm of the Inquisition or other forces, and it creates some very big continuity entanglements across multiple books. This could have easily been avoided if the Scions were specifically mentioned to be a part of the Storm Trooper Corps, or were a sort of second generation version of the Troopers. Unfortunately as it stands, it's one more big problem to be dealt with.

The other very notable issue comes from one big problem which is very noticeable from the design of the models to the very early descriptions of their training: The writers behind this were trying to turn them into astartes lite. From the distinctive and ornate helms to the oddly similar methods of mental conditioning, it doesn't take much to draw up a vast number of parallels between the two forces. 

Things only become worse when their depiction as rapid shock troops seems far more like space marines than before, and the Scions' many regiments seem to be integrating elements usually found in chapters. Their distinctive carapace armour is styled in a manner similar to that of a space marine, bearing a less military design and colours than before, and their very names are something which fits better with space marines. Rather than the 188th Storm Trooper Regiment, or 222nd Heavy Assault Corps and some nicknames, now we have forces specifically called the Psian Jackals, Deltic Dragons, Epsilic Eagles and the like.

This issue would be bad enough in of itself, but we even have entire regiments following aspects outlined with chapters. While some are well thought out and well written, others are obvious rehashes of notable aspects from space marine chapters/legions. The Lambdan Lions follow the special relationship the Iron Hands have with the Mechanicus, acting as their hired thugs when need be. The Deltic Lions meanwhile are noted only to be extremely resistant to chemical and germ warfare in a similar manner to the loyalist Death Guard, with Nurgle even taking a special interest in them. The Alphic Hydras, Betic Dragons and Alphic Lions are all only notable thanks to emulating the tactics of/fighting alongside specific chapters repeatedly. Combined with brief mentions of details such as elements of the Codex Astartes being a part of the Scions' training, and it's fairly obvious someone wanted them to emulate the astartes.


The same even goes for each regiment's vehicles, with Taurox Primes and Valkyries being named in a similar manner to Thunderhawk Gunships and Land Raiders. Each presented as a kind of venerated relic rather than a mass produced military vehicle like those so often found within the Imperial Guard.


Rather than strengthening them, all this does is really weaken any sense of identity behind the army and makes them appear as a second rate version of Games Workshop's pet mascots. The Storm Troopers might never have been the most glorified or focused upon army, but they still had a more unique identity to themselves than what is found here. This might not have even been all that great a problem were it not for the extremely obvious padding which is present throughout the book. Even accepting the repeated information, a grand total of twenty pages are given over purely to examining each regiment in turn. This is almost half the codex's pages devoted to the army's lore! These feature only one or two paragraphs per regiment, or vehicle, and one massive image of a Scion. the number of pages could have been halved or even quartered without loosing any information had the writers simply opted to downsize the text and each image. Hell, the book even proves this with two pages featuring two regiments per son, yet still get the same amount of info across.

The other real issue of note is the frequency in which the Scions are killed despite being the best of the best, and the surprisingly low quality writing within some of the snap-shot stories. 

Now, on the one hand it's actually good to see a codex not presenting its army as completely wanked out invincible with no signs of trouble. On the other, a little over a third of the stories within the timeline involving the Scions are humiliating defeats, a phyrric victory and complete decimation by their enemy. Many are often making a complete mockery of the Scions' skills and don't match up with what we know of them, and others even render their victories completely pointless. A few of these definitely work and present the eldar and kroot as dangerous adversaries for once, but one or two less of these would not have gone amiss. 

As for the writing several short bits are almost cartoonishly overblown in how they are written. Perhaps the intention was to present them as a kind of war-time propaganda piece, but it just doesn't come across that way. The descriptions, depiction of events and near god-like glorification of Commissars all raise this to the point of insane cheesiness, when this could have been presented in a far better manner without too many changes. The same sort of exaggerated style can still be done with just a little more restraint and a greater emphasis upon the dark nature of the universe, the 3rd Edition rulebook proves this with almost every page.

Is Codex: Militarum Tempestus bad? Definitely not, but it's not exactly good either.

It really only benefits from standards being so insanely low thanks to the supplement codices and in terms of lore it's a definite step down from Codex: Imperial Knights. That said, it does for the most part successfully return to the semi-satirical style lost for the past several editions, and avoids the many problems which have plagued many books. There's no emphasis upon characters over the army, no massively lore-breaking aspects and no moments of complete and utter stupidity which throw you out of the moment. Not to mention that it avoids recycling some art and features some fantastic new pieces depicting the Scions in action. The quality differs from section to section, and a little more editorial involvement and focus on the part of the writers could have definitely improved the book. In terms of lore, it's just okay rather than being truly great and a bit of a disappointment given the wasted potential here.

Still, we're not done just yet. We've still got the rules to cover and to see how the army actually holds up on the tabletop. Join us in a few days when we examine Codex: Militarum Tempestus' rules in detail.

Or you could just click here and read them now




Tuesday, 27 May 2014

10 Changes PS4 Needs To Keep Ahead In The Console War


With E3 drawing closer with every passing day, the ongoing console war is set to enter the next stage. As Nintendo struggles to draw attention to the Wii U and Microsoft still shaking off the last negative effects of the PR nightmare which was the Xbox One reveal, the Playstation 4 maintains a definite lead. Still ahead of the competition, the latest in Sony’s long line of gaming platforms has seen some of the most success of late with both better hardware and outselling its main competitors. Of course, this could change quite soon.

With Microsoft ditching the Kinect and lowering console prices, they’re clearly not out of the fight yet and are determined to take their market back. Following on from the runaway hits of Titanfall and Halo 4, it would be an easy thing for the Xbox to overtake the Playstation with just a few more successes. To keep their console ahead on this war, Sony needs to up their game and start fixing the many failings which have plagued their system since the start of the generation.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Wolfenstein: The New Order (Video Game Review)




Serving as a soft reboot for the series following the commercial failure of Raven Software’s 2009 release, Wolfenstein: The New Order puts a new spin on things. Sergeant William Joseph Blazkowicz finds himself in a nightmare 1960s where the Axis forces have total control over the world. Eventually making contact with the resistance, he sets out on an impossible do-or-die mission to find a way to break the regime’s hold on Europe, and perhaps even turn their own weapons against them.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Early Screenshots of SPACE HULK: DEATHWING Revealed


After keeping their cards close to their chest for so long (save for one glorious teaser) Focus Home Interactive have finally revealed images of their upcoming SPACE HULK: DEATHWING first-person-shooter.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

5 More Failings Which Ruined Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea



The last Bioshock article on this blog left with the promise of continuing the list to cover a few more flaws within Burial At Sea. Despite a few short delays we're finally making good on that promise and getting back to the biggest issues which plagued the DLC and the greater problems it caused for the franchise as a whole. So, without further ado, here's some of the biggest problems the game causes.

Oh, and remember, spoilers will follow.



The Pointless Moral Decisions of Bioshock 



Now, of all the ones on here this is the most debatable about whether it is a flaw. I will admit I can easily see how people could brush this one aside or justify it in some way, but the way it is presented causes the biggest problems. Just prior to her death, a few remaining sparks of Elizabeth's power show her what her actions will bring about with Jack rescuing the Little Sisters from Rapture. Now, we've already covered the big issues surrounding killing off Elizabeth to trigger Jack being the hero. Instead, so let's focus upon one other problem - This only shows the good ending.

Unlike Bioshock Infinite, both previous games had serious points which were made surrounding the moral choices involved. They gave impact to how the game developed, how certain characters would react to you and the conclusion to your journey. All of them surrounded the same situation: Sacrificing the lives of potentially innocent children for power in order to survive; or for the player to redeem them in the hopes their programming could be reversed, but leaving themselves at a clear disadvantage. It was extremely effective as a storytelling tool, well worked into the mechanics of the game and offered a good risk/reward system in the form of the Big Daddies.

The problem now is that this potentially renders all those choices meaningless.

By only showing the good ending as canon, the timeline is fixed onto a single path. Jack now always rescued the Little Sisters according to this, which renders any personal choices you made as meaningless along with a huge chunk of the game's subtext. It cripples a big part of what made Bioshock so effective and really causes more problems than it does good. 

The obvious counterargument to this is something Elizabeth says while showing this, that what she saw was something "Behind one door..." This suggests this is just one potential reality rather than a true outcome. It's a fair argument, but the obvious problem is that the ending doesn't back this up by showing glimpses of the bad or semi-bad endings. It doesn't acknowledge their existence or even for the potential for them to happen. Instead it displays the good ending in considerable detail, without any sign of deviation from it. For all we know the slight variations in the ending could simply be minor alterations to the ending where all of them are saved.



The Omniscient Booker DeWitt 



One truly bothersome fact which seems to have shot over many people's heads is how Ghost Booker seems to know so much about Rapture. True, Elizabeth had been there for some time and had gained knowledge of the place, and Ghost Booker is said to merely be channeling that. However, at one very important bit he displays knowledge and answers to things she has no real understanding of in order to keep her alive. 

While Elizabeth might well have known who Suchong was, perhaps even his importance, Ghost Booker brings up the exact answers Elizabeth needed to avoid being shot. This is barely even hand-waved away, much like Ghost Booker's presence, and there's no definitive explanation as to how this was possible. Even ignoring that, in this scene he has far more of a physical presence than at any other point for no apparent reason. Throughout the DLC he serves as a simple voice in Elizabeth's head, but here? Here he is actually sitting there as a part of the scene. The entire thing simply feels as if it was scripted and written before the rest of Episode 2 was done, and to serve as a deus ex machina of sorts.

This alone would be enough to put it on the list, but then you have to consider its placement as well.

This is how the Episode opens up, following a titanic bombshell of a cliffhanger which left fans wanting to know more. The reveal of just who the Booker DeWitt of Rapture was was a huge shock, and the game effectively abandons the impact of that the moment the second half begins. There's nothing done to really focus upon the reveal beyond a few extremely fleeting scenes and instead the story veers off in a completely different direction. The presence and use of Ghost Booker here seems less like some bigger hint or part of a mystery than it does an effort to shunt the new plot into place.



Bioshock 2 No More 



A big problem with the entire plot of Burial at Sea is that it goes completely out of its way to undermine and destroy even the basic aspects of Bioshock 2. While often regarded as the black sheep of the family, the second game was none the less a true follow up to the original with a new developer trying to put a new spin on the title. Along with producing a more meaningful series of endings and significant impact with its morality system, it built upon what Bioshock had set up, improving upon that game in a number of areas. We went through this in full here so i'll save repeating things.

Now for no apparent reason, Burial at Sea suddenly destroys the entire core plotline that entire game was built upon. The Alpha series of Big Daddies never existed, any connection between them is not based upon ADAM and the Big Daddies seem to have barely come into production. What makes this so curious is that there are actual hints tipping the hat towards Bioshock 2 in Episode 1 (notably a missing poster featuring Elanor), and in doing this the franchise also declares that the excellent Bioshock: Rapture never existed. As a result it's a pointless retcon which fails to really improve anything, simply rob the franchise of a lot of the background details and more expansive ideas behind it.

Worse still is how certain ideas from that retconned game proceed to, intentionally or not, reappear here as well. The closing lines of Elanor's speech in the good ending specifies that "Love is just a chemical. We give it meaning by choice." This was something which ultimately concluded some of the game's major themes and completely cemented just how wrong the villain had been in her plans. Here? Something oddly similar happens in a way, with the Big Daddy/Little Sister relationship being revealed to not come from any kind of chemical connection, but an act of kindness. Rather than actually presenting a real idea however, it does little beyond prove one person wrong while making Bioshock 2's main plot a complete impossibility.

The main reason I can personally see why this might have been done was thanks to Bioshock 2 being the one game in the series not to be written by Ken Levine. We had seen suggestions of him trying to dodge Bioshock 2 entirely in Bioshock: Infinite's ending ("There's always a lighthouse. There's always a man. There's always a city.") this single handedly stamped down on the story entirely. Perhaps, much like Drew Karpyshyn, he simply doesn't play well with others when it comes to writing.



No Mysteries, No Questions 



As with any medium, the effectiveness of a story frequently comes down to its presentation. There are certain ways in which some ideas need to be approached, certain elements which need to be carefully considered and woven into a story. Perhaps the most important of these is in world building, as it is not just how much you see but also what you do not witness which helps to give a sense of scale. A disconnection between certain characters, a vague hint of something more, these are things which can serve to do just as much as highly detailed explanations of works. It's just a basic sense of mystery or of the unknown which can do wonders. Here? We really get none of that.

Suddenly the player is witnessing events and points in the story which were far more effective while walking through the wreckage or never meeting the people they were about. The way they were presented before was just enough to keep the player enthralled, with plenty of information to back it up, but let their imagination do the rest of the work. It's one of the reasons the audio diaries proved to be so effective despite being little more than a person speaking to the player; it helped build an image rather than forcing one in the player's face. Here though? This other approach only weakens the tale it is trying to tell.

All of a sudden the tentatively suggested connection between Columbia and Rapture were working off of one another is suddenly rammed down the player's throat. It is presented in full force and explained to every little detail, leaving nothing to chance and nothing for the player to think about for themselves. 
The same goes for the origins of the Songbird, many had suspected that it was some variant of a Big Daddy which had stumbled into Rapture and there were hints to support that. Now all of a sudden we have massive, lengthy sections exploring every single last detail behind the creature and how it worked. Again, it's giving nothing for fans to actually piece together for themselves.

Worst is Atlas and other characters, who barely even mesh with the ideas we had before. Previous audio diaries depicted him as some charismatic leader who helped stoke up the downtrodden into open rebellion. We were never fully shown his exact methods or plans, even in the prequel novel, but it was enough to help give him this sense of being a manipulative magnificent figure. Burial At Sea shows how he could be so effective: More or less acting like a mob boss in the middle of a Chicago gang war. Every detail is shown from their resources to the people themselves, and at the end of the day it's far less interesting because of this.

A sense of mystery and the unknown is always helpful in building a world, even in works which are greatly expanding upon previously established lore. To take a current example from Warhammer 40,000, the events of the Great Crusade and histories of the legions are all being extensively detailed via the Horus Heresy Game Books. Yet even with this there are bits left for the players to think about, such as the suggestion that the loss of the Emperor's Children's gene-seed may have been intentional sabotage, and of the Alpha Legion's operations prior to their primarch's return. Burial At Sea ultimately destroyed all of that by showing everything, and rather than making the world appear vast it managed to make it actually feel much smaller.

You can argue against that, fine, but then compare the endings. The ending to Bioshock: Infinite was massive, explaining how every part of the plot had happened, but with the very last moments left in question. Something hinting about the final fate of the characters, which could either be a flashback or some second chance they had been offered, much like the famous conclusion to Inception
Every other Bioshock story had this to a degree, only showing glimpses of what would happen or perhaps a beginning of a much bigger story soon to affect the world. Burial At Sea on the other hand has nothing like that, showing exactly what happens to the characters and leaving them in an extremely unsatisfying place. Closure is one thing, but to just suddenly have them bumped off as they were with no finale of any sort? It ends the game with only disappointment of the worst kind.



All In The Name Of Fan-Service 



... No, not that kind.





Better.

At the end of the day Burial At Sea was intended as one huge send-off to the series so far. With Ken Levine's departure and the impending closure of Irrational Games it was understandable that the developers would want some last great hurrah for what they had created. This in of itself isn't actually a bad idea, with Bioware in particular showing how successful a DLC of this kind can be with Mass Effect 3's Citadel. The problem comes from how they went about this and the mentality behind creating each DLC. Everything was done in the name of fan-service, yet the writers themselves seemed not to realise this.

Let's first look at what worked with Bioware's creation. Citadel was, at the end of the day, a humourous grand finale focused upon the characters they had spent years writing. While it did build upon the other stories previously featured to a point, it was relatively self contained and offered plenty of laughs through the choices involved. It wasn't trying to deliver some massive change to the series, link itself retroactively into the main game, nor was it focusing upon outstandingly serious drama. For this reason it was much more excusable to see every character show up and the sudden return of certain people, despite how much sense it actually made to the plot itself. It knew exactly what the fans wanted and delivered in spades without damaging the previous works they had developed.

Burial At Sea on the other hand seems to lack this focus and flounders at many points. It tries to both follow through with the attitude shown in Citadel with one big finale showing off everything, then at the same time it tries to be serious drama. Half the game is spent as an isolated story, then the other half is suddenly connected to every single last part of the universe ever created. Both can't be done at once to have the game remain truly effective, because they completely undermine one another. It's hard to have a grand finale exploring everything and a serious drama as one; because so many elements rapidly become superfluous and make the plot extremely bloated.

Nearly every major character from the original Bioshock shows up at some point for what are effectively bit roles. Sander Cohen is dropped into the game and leaves just as quickly never to be seen again. Andrew Ryan barges in to deliver a few mooks to fight, then is never seen again. Suchong is barely any better, with his entire purpose to drive the plot towards revisiting more areas, showing part of an audio drama in real-time and retconning Bioshock 2. Beyond Atlas and Elizabeth, there are no important characters who are fully integrated into the plot and serve as an important storytelling element. This is to say nothing of the excuses made to re-visit Columbia so we could see Fitzroy and the Luteces make one last appearance. In just about every case these are characters who are there for the sake of being there. This might have been fine if it embraced the fact it was merely an excuse to show them again, but it kept presenting itself as an extremely important story of the most deadpan seriousness.

Burial At Sea needed to be much more focused in its approach. Either it told a new story with much more focus and restraint than this, or completely went all out. Instead Irrational Games took the worst the elements from both which would work together the least, and slapped together a plot which really doesn't stand up to analysis. Even atop of every other issue, this is the major fault line which fragments what could have been a true great for the franchise rather than a DLC suffering from identity crisis.



So those are the last of the big failings of Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea. If you have your own thoughts on the DLC, disagreements with what has been written or problems you have picked out, please feel free to list them below. It's always good to see what other fans think of these games.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Aquaman Vol. 4 - Death of a King (Comic Review)


For all its ups and downs, there have consistently been a few major changes for the better among the comics of the New 52. Chief among these has been Aquaman, who has been a pinnacle of high quality story telling from the first issue. Every story since then has raised the odds, building a new universe and fleshing out the undersea kingdom, and Death of a King takes that all to the next level. 

 Following on from the Throne of Atlantis storyline, Arthur Curry is now king of the undersea realm. Determined to help repair as much of the damage as possible, he has been actively using Atlantis’ forces to keep the peace and patrol the seas even as he tries to settle into his new role. As factions visibly work against him from both the surface and beneath the waves, Arthur finds himself facing a new foe in the form of the Scavenger. Yet something far worse is hidden, forgotten from the world, biding its time until it can return once more…

Read The Article In Full Here

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Godzilla (2014 Film Review)


The issue when approaching Godzilla is that it's a semi-decent film with a long laundry list of problems. While it has many obvious and very easy to spot issues which should have been ironed out of a script in the first draft, it still manages to present just enough to keep you going. In many respects it's similar to watching Lost back in the day. For all the utter crap, lack of answers and sheer refusal to actually provide anything of worth, there was just enough good elements there to keep you watching until the last disappointing scene. While Godzilla is certainly more entertaining than Lost, it's not exactly hard on the brain cells either.

Following a 1999 disaster in which he loses his wife, nuclear power plant supervisor Joe Brody has become obsessed with the quarantine zone surrounding his previous workplace. Convinced by the unusual readings and information from that day that it was no mere earthquake, he has continually tried to infiltrate the zone and sneak back to his house. Fifteen years later, when his latest attempt ends him in jail, his son is roped into finally helping him try and silence the ghosts of the past. In their attempt, they only discover that entirely new relics of a by-gone age are lurking close by...

Now, here's the biggest problem with this description and the promotional campaign. Joe is set up to be the protagonist and has the most interesting backstory, and Bryan Cranston has the acting chops to make the best use of the role. The film promptly kills him off before the first act is done, barely after we see the monster for the first time. Instead his son Ford is set up as our hero, and despite Aaron Taylor-Johnson's best efforts he's definitely a much weaker protagonist. 
This weakness is in part due to two things. The first being the lack of background to the story, and the second being that much of the human drama comes across as overly cliched or borderline cheesy at times. Nearly every time it truly succeeds, beyond some admittedly well handled moments of dialogue, it's only through the efforts of the actors. Even ignoring that, it effectively means that the story is starting over once again, showing a family's life but in a far weaker manner than before.

The repetition of this element and apparent disconnect between characters rather than basic reintegration and re-use of major plot elements is something which plagues the whole film. Behind Cranston, Ken Watanabe is easily the most talented actor in a named role but isn't given much to do after a certain point. Actually, it's after that point that a lot of the problems begin to appear. The first half to three-quarters of an hour is easily some of the best the film has. You rarely see the monster, it builds up tension, develops the characters and adds a great sense of mystery. Even with it's flaws, you can clearly tell it's still going somewhere. 

Then the film just seems to start spinning its wheels right after the monster disappears into the stratosphere and it doesn't stop. You can tell things are happening, but there's this constant sense of the film repeatedly restarting without much progress; as if act one is only leading into another act one rather than act two.

Perhaps the biggest issue which causes this is how the film actually treats the monsters in question. In nearly every case you barely see them, and the film seems to be intentionally trying to avoid most of the action surrounding them. This is likely due to the influence of Gareth Edwards with his previous film, Monsters, and it just doesn't work here. 
This isn't a case of Jaws where you constantly have hints of the monster to build up tension until they are fully revealed, as they are showing in the full very early on. 
It's not like Troll Hunter where big scenes are evenly spaced out and the main focus is on world building either, as most of what we know of the monsters is only present for one or two scenes.
It's not like Pacific Rim either, where there's a big bang right at the start, lots of world building and then the entire third act is spent focusing upon the fighting.
Instead the film feels as if it's wasting time.

Here's an honest example of how the first major fight goes, right after Godzilla has been fully revealed in his full glory to audiences. You see things take place from a human perspective as one rampaging foe sees the King of Monsters, they size up one another to fight and prepare to brawl. The film then immediately cuts from that to a kid watching a news report about it and declaring it's cool, with only fleeting glimpses of the punch-up shown. Yes, that happens more than a few times. It's only in the last ten minutes or so we actually see the kaiju fighting one another, and even then the focus of the film is squarely placed upon a group of human soldiers dealing with a problem.

The actual fight in question is also a sticking point. While it's admittedly epic it highlights two other problems in the film. The first is that the film seems stuck between two interpretations of Godzilla. 
The first is the walking disaster area which annihilates everything in his path and the humans need to try and halt him, with the focus of the film being on the human military and scientists trying to stop him. This seemed to be what the film was following with the focus on humans, but then it veered directly into the other territory at every chance. 
The one where a Godzilla film as "versus" in the title, and beefs up a big monster for the giant fire snorting lizard to fight against. The very thing the film keeps advertising and avoiding. 

You see the problem here, it feels like the director is trying to focus on two targets at once and ultimately achieved neither.

Still, what does the film get right?

Well, firstly there's how spectacular the film looks. Gareth Edwards definitely has an eye for big cinematic moments and there's rarely anything shot wrong in the film. Despite their problematic focus and story issues, there's no sequence which suffers at all from poor shots or gimmicks of lens-flare or shaky-cam. Better yet, there's a metric ton of fantastic monster moments (admittedly emphasis upon the moments bit) which were reserved as big jaw dropping rather than being used as trailer fodder. The actual fight itself (though admittedly highlighting just who Pacific Rim did everything right with its neon city colours) is fantastically brutal and has the monsters pounding the hell out of one another, ending in a finisher worthy of Mortal Kombat.

The new monsters besides Godzilla look fantastic, brilliantly brought to life via expensive CGI and seem genuinely evil at times. This is in contrast to the King of Monsters himself, who has actually been given a few expressive facial ticks and interesting alterations to his own design. Most of which involve turning him back into the monster we saw in the original 1954, and adding elements atop that basic structure.

The American military is used extensively throughout the film, often being seen to shadow Godzilla or make efforts to try and slow down the more violent monsters. While they're shown in a heroic light with plenty of visual hardware on display, Edwards doesn't fall into the Michael Bay trap of having them kill the monsters. They're visibly outgunned but there's a definite degree of professionalism to how they approach their foes. Though admittedly they do have the habit of using M 16s on monsters which can shrug off heavy ordinance.

The acting, as before, is well rounded and there's never a time when someone bad seems to be showing up. Much like Man of Steel, you have very talented people walking in for bit roles and brief sections which help give their roles a bit of added credence. There's obvious talent on display, and it usually helps to give a bit more dimension to their character, especially in the case of Watanabe.

There is a good film in here, but much like so many previous flicks potential for real substance is let down thanks to a lacklustre story. This film needed better oversight from someone who knew what they were doing, just to ensure that there was a much clearer vision behind this. It's still a film worth getting on DVD despite all these problems, but i'd honestly suggest waiting a while until you can get it relatively cheap. Until then, go watch Pacific Rim or Troll Hunter again, or better yet find a copy of Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla 2, and be thankful it's at least better than Monsters.


Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Kauyon (Audio Drama 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.


Of all the forces depicted in Black Library works, few have suffered quite so badly as the Tau Empire. While less prone to losses and massacres than many other factions, no single stories seem to be able to get their identity right. The otherwise great Courage and Honour made many basic mistakes when it came to their society and even some tactics, Shadowsun seemed to have barely researched even basic aspects of their way of war, and even Codex: Farsight Enclaves was obviously written by someone who either thought research was a dirty word or openly hated the tau. Few stories since Fire Warrior have truly nailed every aspect of the race, and The Kauyon unfortunately isn't about to break that trend. While it certainly has good elements, there are flaws aplenty holding back this tale.

Read The Article In Full Here

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Bound by Flame (Video Game Review)

Read the article in full on http://www.starburstmagazine.com/ this is simply a preview.


Catching onto the ongoing fad for dark fantasy media, Bound by Flame is set in a world on the brink of annihilation. Reduced to a handful of dwindling pockets of resistance, humanity has been all but exterminated by the Ice Lords, mysterious beings commanding the legions of the undead. Humanity is willing to try anything to ensure its survival. So when one mercenary by the name of Vulcan accidentally becomes possessed by a demon of fire, it is seen less as an abomination and instead as their last best hope for victory.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

The Last Tinker: City of Colours (Video Game Review)


The Last Tinker is one of those games many people look as if they would skip in an instant. Between the cartoony design, bright colours and storybook plot, it sounds like something for the younger generation to take interest in. While that is true at least in part, The Last Tinker is far more than that and it would be a mistake to overlook this one. Citing the likes of Banjo Kazooie and the original Jak and Daxter as big inspirations, Mimimi Productions are wearing their influences on their sleeve. In attempting to emulate the platformers which once dominated the market, they have crafted something which truly does stand out from the crowd in its own unique way.


Sunday, 11 May 2014

First Look At Warhammer 40,000 7th Edition Rules - Dark Days Are Ahead


Well, I guess we now know what to expect in the next edition.

Leaked onto the internet a few days ago were images from a White Dwarf article discussing what is planned for Warhammer 40,000's next edition. While certain specific were avoided, what is discussed has given a clear indication of what direction the game will be moving in and of some new ideas. While most images are unfortunately blurred with some text unclear, what is present on the pages is enough to confirm some of the fandom's worst fears.

Starting with the one positive element here, it has been stated that a new psychic phase will become a part of the next edition. Much like the re-introduced Overwatch rules and similar elements, this is a move back to including certain parts of the second edition of 40K as much as it is lifting more elements from Fantasy. It further promotes the importance of psykers on the battlefield and will work with the following rules - 

A pool of dice is now created at the beginning of the psychic phase, based upon psyker Mastery levels and a D6. Points from this pool are then allocated to certain psychic powers to make them manifest or dispell them via Deny the Witch rolls. The more dice which are put into a power, the higher a chance of Perils of the Warp there is. Also, Perils of the Warp is now based upon a random table, because everything is these days.

This does seem like a decision which is a positive step forwards, with perhaps a few negative aspects to be concerned about. On the one hand, this is offering something new and tactical. It's worked well with Fantasy for years and with luck the more expanded system should allow for a new dynamic when it comes down to building armies and playing against one another. The downside is that this is yet another turn which is being added to an already lengthy turn system, and it has the mention of yet more random tables being thrown into the mix. There's also the obvious point of the Tau Empire, Sisters of Battle, Dark Eldar and others being at a disadvantage, but that's a topic for another time. The point is that it's an idea which has potential to do some good.

So, what's the best way to dash any hopes that this might be well handled or stick to the theme of the game? Introducing Daemonology as a psychic chart of course! One which can be taken by anyone besides Tyranids. Yes, apparently loyalists, eldar and heretics alike can now happily summon daemons onto the battlefield with no problems at all. Don't believe me? The example given features Ezekiel of the Dark Angels killing himself to summon a Bloodthirster to butcher some Tyranids.

Along with utterly screwing up how the Warp works at every turn, it now seems the staff don't get that puritanical chapters and the archenemies of Chaos might just have a few problems summoning daemons. This seems less like a decision to actually improve the game and more one to intentionally aggravate writers and selling a few more daemon models while they're at it.

Still, we've yet to bring up the last big and truly bad point here. Frequent players of Warhammer 40,000 will know of the ongoing problems with the game's rules. A sheer lack of balance, an effort to push people to buy the bigger, badder and more expensive models, and further efforts to integrate Apocalypse rules into the main game. Combined with Games Workshop effectively bowing out of the competitive scene, it seems that with every passing edition the game becomes less of a hobby and more of an industry platform to milk money from fans. You can probably guess what the new Unbound Armies section of the game is for.

Following the force organisation chart is apparently now going to be optional. Some armies can now freely ignore it, creating just about anything they want. Those who still follow the chart will be listed now as Battle-forged armies, which gain certain in-game bonuses. Unfortunately, said bonuses are not even hinted at or suggested. The writer instead gushes over how great Unbound Armies will be.

The article goes on to list some truly bonkers things, such as a viable choice for having a Black Legion force consisting almost entirely of Daemon Engines teaming up with a Tau Empire army consisting of nothing but Broadside and Riptide Battlesuits. While we don't have full information on this as of yet, I honestly see no way in which this can turn out to be a good thing.

Let's be honest here, thinking off of the top of your head, what in hell are the bonuses you can honestly see the Games Workshop design team inventing to somehow balance this out? 

Think of the usual rules they wheel out as a studio for major rulebooks and releases since sixth edition began. Nearly all of them have involved randomly generated effects on Warlord tables or generally half-baked concepts which barely seem to be play-tested. This decision has effectively destroyed all army structuring and demolished any predictable format within which an army can be built. One which exists so that (supposedly) each army can be balanced, countered with future updates and require players to actually put some tactical thought into playing. We're honestly supposed to expect that this specific design team has somehow come up with a way of effectively countering every single last broken list dripping with cheese?


Even if this was something sensible such as an Unbound Army not being able to take objectives, that's not going to do much to slow them down. A 1500 point list of nothing but Heldrakes is going to kill almost everything it comes across. Better yet, how about an army consisting of almost nothing but Storm Ravens, an army of nothing but Iron Hands Chapter Masters (ARGH!) on bikes, or nothing but psykers? This will somehow be an even bigger step down from the likes of Codex: Grey Knights, allowing for players to win through nothing but raw power and broken units. 

At best many of the tactical elements of this game will ultimately devolve into hard counters, with lists of nothing but certain units being countered by a list of their ultimate enemy. Whoever turns up with 1500 points of Heldrakes will likely find themselves facing 1500 points of Hydra Flack Tanks, and so on and so forth. It will be the end of what little tactical sense is left in the game, devolving it into an over-expensive hobby of rock, paper, scissors.. What is this going to do for tournaments as well? While Games Workshop might have effectively abandoned all competitive scenes, there are plenty still about. This is a massive headache for them to deal with, as they are likely going to have to find some way to try and make tournaments work despite this all.

This is even before we get into the community problems. As a major change to the game at its absolute core, I honestly see this as running the risk of splitting the community. Let's say that at the local community, players start strolling in with these insane armies. Ones consisting of nothing but Imperial Knights, Deathstrike Missiles or aircraft. Is anyone going to actually want to play them? Probably not. Those who go in with these new Battle-forged forces are now going to be at a distinct disadvantage despite any effort they might put into their lists. This can easily create bitterness, dislike or an outright refusal to play certain people thanks to this new rule. I won't go so far as to say this will kill the whole the community, but it will likely give it a damn good kicking.

Somehow Games Workshop just looked at the biggest elements of Apocalypse and Storm of Magic and just went "Yes! Surely this can only work wonders for us if we add them to our main games!" The problem is there was a reason these were separated out from standard 40K and Fantasy games to begin with. These were supposed to be the big, brainless explosive games where rules were throw out the window your played on occasion. Not something people played on a daily or weekly basis, as they almost completely ignored all skill and strategy when it game to tabletop wargaming.

Personally, I can only see two potential reasons why this might have been created. The first is to try and create more fluff based armies such as a Space Marine First Company or the like, but that seems unlikely. Games Workshop would probably want to save such ideas for dataslates or supplement codices. The second is to make more cash. We've discussed before on here how Games Workshop seems to be trying to force more people to buy the bigger and shiner units, as it makes them more money. Now they have removed any reason for certain players to do anything but buy them or reasons to actually learn how to play the armies they buy.

This is based purely upon what we know at the moment, and I do sincerely hope that this somehow works out. Going from this very concept though? I honestly cannot see any way in which this could possibly work out for the best.

Or to sum up a lot of reactions I have seen on various forums -