Becoming more active

5 Sep

This blog is read by few, almost no-one. As far as the world knows, it doesn’t exist and neither do I.

I think I’m ready to change that.

Starting today, when I have an opinion on something related to geek culture that can’t be captured in Twitter’s oppressive character limit, I will write about it here. This is something I feel needs to be done. I want to improve my writing, my ways of thinking and become more in touch with gaming culture. The best way for me to do this is to start a blog and share my views and opinions. Hopefully my words will be able to get me noticed by at least a few people. If just a few people read my words, agree with me and want to hear more from me, then I will consider this blog a success.

Gaming is my main focus, and talking about that will be most interesting. A rapidly changing and innovating industry that is in a state of undeniable uncertainty. No-one knows where the future of gaming lies. TV based consoles may not exist, PC gaming could die out all at the hands of cheap, affordable and convenient mobile games. Is that the case? There are certainly evidence for both sides of this debate, and surely it’d be good of me to also join this? To look back on this in the future and say “I was part of that change,” is something I’d consider to be an honour.

This blog will be updating, stay watchful.

-Jack

Jack Reviews Dark Souls

3 Sep

DARK SOULS

It must be hard to be a masochist and love playing video games. Very few games nowadays can actually truly say they challenge the players in the same way that games in the ’80s did. This is probably why a game can go off an advertise that their game is hard as a major selling point nowadays, as a hard game stands out from the crowd in today’s market of regenerating health and flawlessly signposted objectives. Demon’s Souls, a game from a few years ago by From Software, broke away from that and shown everyone just what it meant to be a challenging game in the current generation of hardware, with a murderous difficulty that would make even the greatest of masochists break down in tears. I never finished Demon’s Souls, so when I had the opportunity to play Dark Souls, it’s spiritual successor, I vowed to play no other game until I had finished it.

That was 3 months, one controller breaking and probably a thousand deaths ago. But I did it.

 

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“Now, when you said you had a ‘big’ pest problem…”

 

The basic story of Dark Souls is that you have been afflicted by the curse of the undead, a curse which grants you the ability to revive from the dead, at the cost of your humanity, something that can now be measured in a numerical value of just how human someone is. From there, you accept a quest to ring some bells and “link the fire” as you are apparently the “Chosen Undead”. Dark Souls is unique in the fact that it doesn’t so much present it’s story for you, but has it lying around in various places and it waits for you to just find it these peices and put them together. There are some plot elements that make sense of quite a few features in the game, like why someone is attacking you, that is left in item descriptions. However that’s not a bad thing, as it prevents you getting bombarded by exposition, something the game tries to avoid, but still has to occasionally, and with good reason, as there is a maddening attention to detail here, in both the lore of the world and in the gameplay.

Dark Souls’ punishing gameplay is basically the same as Demon’s Souls; a third person fantasy RPG, so the usual assortment of spells, bows and swords, mixed in with levelling up by acquiring the souls of your enemy’s to use as currency and interacting various NPCs, either helping them, killing them or just talking to them, all of which have an impact on their own unique and rather encapsulating individual story arcs throughout the game. Unlike Demon’s Souls, however, it’s been refined to the point where everything your character does feels incredibly organic and natural. This works well with a world of tranquil beauty that, despite being mostly static, also feels natural. This creates a great sense of immersion that will help soothe your nerves in between parts where the game will strap you down and brutalise you like you were the cutest baby seal in town and Dark Souls is a bunch of angry and frustrated sailors.

When the difficulty is the main selling point of a game like this, you can feel just how much work has gone into it. Monsters can hit incredibly hard, and are frequently placed in dark corners, behind doors you walk through and in various other locations where you won’t see them. Despite all this, none of it really feels cheap. You can get all your souls and humanity back if you go to where you died, and while it can certainly get annoying having to traverse back to where you were to actually get your souls back so you can buy moss and level up, but since all enemies, and their tasty souls and loot, respawn when you die or use a checkpoint, you actually gain a lot by doing this. Tough love, I believe they call it. There is one boss I would argue is cheap, one towards the end of the game that unleashes instant killing traps without warning and has attacks that are near impossible to dodge and can throw you off a cliff, but it’s not worth demeriting the game for that when there are far more legitimate complaints to voice.

 

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I don’t know if those are bones or teeth, but I do know it will kill me.

 

For starters, the frame rate is atrocious in places. It can stutter if things get a bit hectic or you can see too much of an epic landscape and even go to a crawl in some areas, most notable of which is Blighttown, which goes so low you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a collection of screenshots from a powerpoint presentation. The camera can also be a pain. I expect to have difficulties fighting the monsters, not the camera that likes to swing suddenly if it so much as touches a twig or a fly’s bum. I wouldn’t be complaining about this so much if the game didn’t want me to walk on precarious footing so often, most notably again, in Blighttown, where the narrow planks can toss and turn like it was at sea. The narrow platforms swarming with enemies may be even obscured by the slap dash and compact way the platforms in Blighttown were made, so a giant troll may be running at you with his massive club, ready for a good walloping, but you don’t know because there is some DIY tree-house covering your camera.

Blighttown can rest easy though for this final piece of criticism though and that concerns the online play. Now, the ideas behind the online play are great, and the game game executes them in a way that is very good, and after experiencing them first hand, I can inform everyone that at one point, it probably was the best online ever, but it is let down by a community that seems to be against fun for anyone except the most experienced. A ‘twink’ can be described as someone who keeps a character one level, but equips the best armour and equipment in the game so they can get the edge on the Player versus Player combat around their level. This is well and good if everyone is doing it, but if you’re a new player, you will not be a ‘twink’, and will not have the lightning enchanted Claymores that the ‘twinks’ will have, nor have experience in the combat to the degree that these people do, who practically have the combat down to an art, as if they were doing choreographed ballet, and the grande finale is an axe in your back. You might as well just stay undead and offline for your first playthrough, more so if you don’t have a fast internet connection, otherwise you’ll end up with a ludicrous amount of players getting critical backstabs on you, despite being a few metres away, all due to the bloody lag you seem to get. I can’t fault the game itself too much on this, when it’s the community’s and possibly your ISPs fault for making it completely unfair for new players and those with poor connection, but it does impact the experience a bit.

None of this really distracts you too much from an otherwise fantastic game. Dark Souls is like a fabulous diamond that’s been dropped in manure. You can see that it is great, but it does smell and still has bits of manure on it, but it’s still a fabulous diamond, shiny and brilliant and certainly worth admiration from all. I recommend Dark Souls to everyone, but I do want to put on a warning label, as this game will pull no punches with it’s difficulty. If you think you can take it, then by all means, but don’t come crying to me when the game starts using your character’s lungs as bagpipes for your own funeral.

Jack Reviews Some Fan Works

3 Sep

If Mass Effect 3 taught me anything it’s that just because you spent £40 on a rising art form from a company that has a multi-million budget, a crack team of writers and reputation for the best writing in the industry, does not you won’t be walking away more disappointed than the people who think video game testing is the most fun job in the world. I have taken this important lesson to heart and instead went to the fans. When a franchise has a large fanbase, you tend to get one or two creative bonces in the fanbase and these fans will occasionally use their skills to show off how much they love their show. I’ve spent a while looking at the things fans have been doing and have prepared a review of three works I believe are worth talking about.

Before I start though, I must point out that I originally was going to do nothing but fan-fiction, but I was struggling to find anything actually worth mentioning that was of any good. I’ve also pledged not to do anything Mass Effect related because we’re all frankly sick ofMass Effect talk on these forums.

 


 

 

NEON GENESIS EVANGELION: RE-TAKE (DOUJINSHI)

Okay this time I swear that this is the last review of anything Evangelion related until the third Rebuild film comes around. While I waited for that I read the doujinshi manga for Evangelion entitled Re-Take. As natural with doujinshi manga, this was not written with express permission from Anno, anyone at Gainax and is strictly a fan made thing. I was shocked to learn that doujinshi are actually very common in Japan and nearly ever franchise has their own fan who decided to add their own piece to the franchise, but I’ll get back to that.

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Oh hey, an Eva character having fun. Isn’t that weird to see?

The story focuses on Shinji around half way through the series and how he seems to dream the events that happen for the rest of the series and in End of Evangelion. At first dismissing what he saw as mere dreams, he notices correlation between his dream and real life, and so he vows to make sure that the events that would normally transpire, don’t. Most of his focus seems to be in protecting Asuka as Shinji feels like he didn’t exactly treat her well, so he wishes to make amends while also changing the course of time. This is a basic setting and there’s plenty of twists in the story that surprisingly make it stand up as if Anno himself wrote it. It touches various themes and looks at various subjects throughout the show and even has it’s own moments that are so dark and grim it’s almost maddening, so the stroy manages to capture the feel of the series perfectly.

However there are issues with it, notably some of the writing. In case I didn’t make it clear in the summary, this is a shipping novel through and through, between Shinji and Asuka (the smart if dangerous option in Shinji’s ridiculous love life) and while there’s nothing wrong with that, some of the dialogue seems forced in some of the more “love-y” areas. It’s a shame as the author seems to keep the all of the characters of the story in the personalities that they have in the series, but romantic dialogue is hard and unfortunately it was near impossible to make it not seem forced in this series.

I do have more complaints, but they’re mainly due to the fact that this is a doujinshi rather than a big manga from an experienced writer or artist. The action scenes are very hard to make out in the first 3 volumes, and some of them look very traced from the actual series. I know the Eva-series and the Angels are complex in design, but it’s often very hard to tell what exactly is going on in these scenes, so you might as well skip it and go to afterwards to get the results. This is solved in the final volume where the author seemed to have gained a lot of drawing experience, especially compared to the first volume.

I must add one more thing and that’s a recommendation to read the “all ages” version of Re-Take because a staple of doujinshi is that there is sex in it, and I’ve already told you who it’s shipping, so no prizes for guessing who the sex scenes entail. I didn’t actually look at the other version, but I’m told that the “all-ages” version only removes the sex, so the swearing, the heavy amounts of violence and the really complex plot stay intact. Plus you get some bonus scenes, so that’s a nice incentive for preserving the character’s dignity.

In summary, this is something that is most definitely worth your time. The art improves massively by the final chapter, rivalling Sadamoto’s Manga for the series, and the story is really good. If you want to see the arc in it’s original and pure form then by all means, read the original, but for those that don’t want to see this sex, check out the “all ages” version. This is something that every Evangelionfan deserves to see.

Oh and it made End of Evangelion feel a lot more cheerful. Just going to leave that shocking fact there.

 


 

 

DIGIMON TAMERS: TAMERS FOREVER (FAN-FICTION)

Before I get started, this is another shipping fan work but the next one isn’t. I’m not shipping crazy and this one was recommended to me by another user on the site. This fan-fiction is actually the main inspiration for me to do this review collection and I believe it’s worth that I give it a mention as this is something I really wasn’t expecting when it was laid out for me by the Mr Reccomendation man.

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The basic idea for the series, for a short while anyway…

Tamers Forever is a fan-fiction by Daneel Rush and is set after the Tamers series and everyone is living their lives. To not give away any of the plot points later in the series, I’ll say that the basic premise in the series is that this is a Takato and Rika shipping fan-fiction that turns into a major Digimon story. Tamers Forever’s premise already starts off on a very tight wire with that premise alone, as Jeri in the series serves as Takato’s crush. Takato even tells her at one point how he feels about her in a very heart melting moment, and while Tamers Forever acknowledges this and offers an explanation for Takato’s apparent change of heart, it does seem rather forced. That’s a problem with shipping in general and it is incredibly hard for someone to make a scenario that doesn’t seem overtly forced. The writing doesn’t seem too forced though I’ll get to that in a bit.

The story does go extremely in depth and has many themes in it I would not really expect from a Digimon fan-fiction, some of which are actually rather nightmare inducing. Tamers was most certainly a dark series, but I was not expecting this. Treat as either good because it expands on Tamer’s dark tone, or bad because it goes possibly too far with it. It really feels that this element is subjective, and some things just feel out of place in a franchise designed with kids in mind, even if this particular series is described as “Evangelionwith mons”.

Another surprising factor is that the writing is pretty good. It’s not quite to the standard of a major best-selling author, but it’s serviceable and is (mostly) pleasant to read. The author also delivers some genuinely funny, scary and heartfelt moments when they want to, so I was surprised so see something that resembled a jewel in the fanfiction world where Sturgeon’s Law most definitely applies.

To mention the grating part of the writing now is a must because while it is mostly sound and doesn’t feel so forced, there is a groan inducing element that this author needed to wrap around his head is that Rika calls Takato something other than “Gogglehead.” That was just a nickname that she occasionally said, and she did say “Takato” a few times in the series rather than an endless stream of her saying Gogglehead in every sentence. I believe this is called “Malfoy” syndrome, where a character will often use a nickname for a character in every sentence whether needed or not. However, while Malfoy’s constant stream of “Potter” was done mainly to irritate Harry, the stream of Gogglehead feels more down to bad writing. It gets better though as the two go on, but it was still the most annoying part of the series. Another annoying part would be that the author would occasionally make the characters do things out of character for reasons I’m not sure of, with an early and baffling example being Takato apparently being a Kleptomaniac in the first part of the series.

Overall, the series is good yet flawed, and some of the nightmarish aspects of it may put some off. I know Digimon liked to cover really tough issues that some people have to face, like discovering you’re adopted, parents getting divorced and sibling responsibility, but what is shown is something that is very much a good read. If you like Digimon and aren’t so uppity on some annoying writing moments, then consider giving this a read, though I hope your stomach is strong.

 


 

 

GURREN LAGANN: DOUBLE K (WEBCOMIC)

Okay, this one isn’t finished and is still an ongoing thing, but my god I love it too much to not talk about it. My feelings of Gurren Laganncould be best summarised as something I would play to my kids and say “Children, I want you to grow up and be as good as them.” I consider the series to be something that makes you feel you can take on the world and beyond, one that will make you believe that anything is possible. Believing anything is possible is good because now the characters are all set in an alternate universe set in a buddy cop style setting like Miami vice if Miami vice occasionally decided to go above and beyond being believable and having action that can be seen as either really cool or really stupid.

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I’ll give out points to those who spot the few that DON’T BELONG THERE!

I just laid out the setting for in that paragraph and it is done ridiculously well. Every character pretty much has their entire personality transplanted into this other universe and all their charm, lovableness and general bad-ass level is kept intact despite we’re moving down from super giant robots that break the very fabric of time and space, to being the local drug busters in some city. Not only that, but we some characters interacting in different ways but being eerily, like the villain in the first part ofGurren Lagann is now Simon’s and Kamina’s boss who actually gives Simon a lot of proverbial hair tussling, and yet he still feels like the same man that I knew from the series.

Now, this is a web comic, so I wasn’t expecting the art style to be on par with the series, and it isn’t, but it comes bloody close. The drawings feel alive and you can tell just how manly and awesome a character is just by looking at him, which is fantastic considering it’s all in black and white. Truly you know something is drawn well when it jumps out at you and feels lively even when it is devoid of colour.

Now, I have to get onto the writing, and this is hard to judge for a webcomic that I’d safely wager isn’t even a quarter of the way through the story it wants to tell. As unfair as my judgement may be, it’s good. It’s got nothing bad about it, and it has quite a lot of very funny parts as well as a few well done moments that make you want to pump your fist in the air, which is probably every moment that Kamina spends with Kittan, which I guess is good as the title implies that is going to be the main focus of this series. However, the author could at least hurry up and make Simon consistent as either having balls or not, as he seems to flicker between the two (In more ways than one!)

As this is an ongoing webcomic, I need to judge it on it’s uploading pace. MegaTokyo might have intricate and well thought out characters and a deep plot but you forget it all because of how long it takes for the author to update it. While Double K certainly updates more than MegaTokyo it is still a bit on the slow side. I don’t expect 3 pages a week as if you were penny arcade or XKCD, but one strip a week would be nice. Right now updating is slow as the guy in charge is working on a print version that he did a Kick Starter for and got his money, which is disappointing, as I really want to find out what happens next.

Really, this is a beautiful webcomic and a must for every fan of Gurren Lagann for it is so keeping with the series and just such a delight to read it deserves recognition. I’d also love to know what inspired the author to actually make this, as for all the Alternate Universe scenarios I’d place artists putting an anime franchise’s characters in, a High school would be my first bet, followed probably by the military, based on this franchise’s testosterone levels alone. All in all, a damn good read.

 


 

Honestly, 3 works were recommended to me and 3 were great. I’m thinking about making this something to fall back on, so if you know any other fan works you believe deserve looking at, why not send me a message. Just don’t send me any purposely bad ones. They’re never as funny as they’re meant to be.

Jack Reviews Mass Effect 3

3 Sep

MASS EFFECT 3

And so we reach the end of another trilogy in gaming. We ended quite a few of them last year, like Gears of War and Resistance, and while there probably will still be games in those franchises, we can rest easy knowing that the stories they wanted to tell are done. Mass Effect 3 is here to wrap up the story of Commander Shepard and the franchise’s lingering questions, a franchise that has been spanning most of this generation in gaming. The stakes are high and it seems Bioware decided they wanted to make everything as perfect like a mirror sheen, and the fans certainly would like them to do that too, and the fans expressed this opinion constantly by threatening not to actually buy the game after every little thing that was said about the game. Being someone who doesn’t despise Bioware (probably because I never played Dragon Age II), I now want to give Mass Effect and Bioware the chance it deserves.

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“Put down my romance option you damn dirty Cerberus!”

Mass Effect 3 continues where the previous Mass Effect left off with Commander Shepard still trying to convince everyone that the apocalyptic machine race called the Reapers are indeed coming to kill everyone, and just as the higher ups on Earth are about to send off his invitation to the local loony bin, the Reaper invasion begins and Earth is being destroyed. Shepard must now assemble the other races, who are also in a jam with the Reapers, to achieve victory by any means necessary. Along the way, Shepard meets practically everyone memorable from the previous two games (Or one game, if you’re like me and played this on the PS3) and even enlists them to aid him in his quest. This is the game where your actions from the previous game really start to show, with characters referring throughout to what you did previously, and quite a few key events happen based on what you did last time, however it must be said that some of your choices feel like they really counted for bugger all and that the events for both of them would play out the same no matter your choice and they’ll just come up with a different explanation for why it’s all happening, which undermines some of the choices and the impact you felt they had a bit.

Now the gameplay is where the game shines in ways outside of Bioware’s standard great writing. They seem to have taken an approach to combine the smoothness and easiness of Mass Effect 2’s combat while adding in the RPG parts and complexities that the original game had. While you can have any weapon you want in Mass Effect 3, you are limited by a new weight meter, which increases your power recharge time any time your weapons exceed this weight, which is a brilliant mechanic that makes you think of the preparation of your battles just as much as the battles themselves. There’s also weapon mods and upgrades to apply, powers to sort and armour to arrange, so making tweaks and improvements before missions is certainly something people should do. In combat little is changed; you have grenades now, like you did in the original but didn’t in the sequel, for whatever reason, and you can now dodge, a feature which is very useful in a frantic firefight and would be even more useful if it wasn’t mapped to the same button as cover/sprint/use, making the controls occasionally feel a bit confusing why Shepard decided to roll at that wall rather than take cover by it. This is a minor issue though, and the controls are still tight and intuitive enough to keep you on your toes.

I feel that something needs to be said about the sounds and graphics here as the game seems to be kind of varied in this field. The game is beautifully sounding, even if it is confusing why the moments in space are the loudest moments in the game like when you hop through a Mass Relay, but all in all it is probably one of the games with the best sound design I have heard in a very long time, with explosions and bangs heard wonderfully with Dolby Digital HD sound. While that’s all well and good, the graphics seem to be a bit inconsistent. Most of the time they are incredible looking, with great detail and assisting the aesthetics of a truly ruined world when you step onto the war zone. Other times however, the game presents you with long texture pop in times, with a blurry mess a character pointing to only becoming clear when it’s no longer in view. The graphics designer also seemed to have taken inspiration from JJ Abrams’ Star Trek, as Lens Flare is everywhere, from every light, which can get distracting down some hallways in the game.

 

Coming back to the texture pop ins, I think the problem may be that the game isn’t ideally optimised for Playstation 3, much like most AAA titles nowadays. Frame rate stutters during quite a few dialogue cutscenes, controls occasionally don’t respond and perhaps worse of all is the crashing. The amount I’ve had the game crash on me is in double digits, must it seems that all but one of those crashes happened on the Citadel, the area you’ll spend the most time on. It seems to have an issue with you going between come of the floors, so I recommend you hit “select” to quicksave when you can in that area so you don’t lose all your progress in the area. While I have all these problems on my launch day, 60GB model PS3 (Back when PS2 backwards compatibility was standard), a friend with a newer model said he has no such problems, so if you have an old PS3, it’s worth trying to turn a blind eye to these optimisation issues.

There’s also the multi-player, which I must say, much to my surprise, it is fantastic. While co-operative multi-player with only horde mode across multiple maps might be nothing new or interesting to hear about, the game knows to keep things interesting with objectives added like killing certain enemies, capturing points or defending one, all under a time limit make the matches seem much more enjoyable. Plus the classes, with each one being very much alike their single player self. It’s also good that this is completely optional in every way. You don’t need to play this if you don’t want to, not even for achievements, as you can earn them in single player if you don’t fancy earning them in multi-player. All in all, it’s another game of survival, but with the lovely Mass Effect twist on it, which is really all I could have asked for.

While I have talked about the good and bad of this game extensively, I must say that the game is fantastic and pretty much sublime if you discount the stability issues and the slight nitpicks I’ve made, and I would call this the greatest game I have played from Bioware. I say I would, but I’m now going to address the elephant in the room; The ending. Oh my word, the ending. I am not going to spoil anything in this review about it, but I can see why fans are signing petitions about it. It’s not because it’s a bit of a downer ending, it’s that it’s so unsubstantial. It feels there is nothing to it, to real impact of what you’re doing. Not only that, but there are quite a few plot holes in what it shows you, and not little ones like “Oh, but this wouldn’t have happened here because of this science mumbo jumbo”, but big plot holes like physical impossibilities of what happens with characters, and motivations that don’t make any sense in the context of who the character is. This is not the writing I have come to expect of Bioware, and it has tainted by view on the entire series. Everything I did felt like it barely counted towards anything when I am faced with an ending like that. There’s a rumours and theories about this ending, but all in all, it is a very disappointing ending, and if Bioware releases a “True” ending I may be very angry, unless it’s just as good as End of Evangelion.

Looking at Mass Effect 3 as a whole we have a game that appears to be the most expertly baked cake in the world, but during that last mouthful you find a dead mouse was baked in and you just tried to it’s it’s rotting, furry corpse. The ending is bad, but I don’t think it’s right to ignore this game. If the rumours are true about a true ending, and it turns out to be brilliant (and better yet, free, since I paid top dollar for a game that wrapped up the series, something that this most certainly did not), then I’ll happily recommend it to all. A game that really falls apart at the end is nothing new, especially one that is pure gold up until then, but I don’t think they were ever as bad as this ending. Enjoy it while it lasts, then feel free to vent about the ending to me, because I too understand.

Jack Reviews Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance

3 Sep

Warning: This review may contain what some people may classify as mild spoilers. They won’t ruin the film, but if you want to watch it knowing nothing, please read only the final paragraph.

 

EVANGELION 2.22: YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE

And so I reach the end of all things Evangelion at this time. I could do the manga if I had more money for all the books, so I won’t, and I could do the Death and Rebirth film, but I struggled with Evangelion 1.11 since that was the same thing as the start of Evangelion, so a movie dedicated to retelling the entire story a little bit seems kind of pointless to talk about. But now, we have Evangelion 2.22, the second film in our brand new Rebuild continuity. This film is a film that is dividing some of the fans (like Evangelion fans need any more to be divided about, like dub quality, the significance of some elements and even Shinji himself), and it’s not hard to see why, because this is something that is shaking every thing we knew about the series.

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Damn, he knows he is the sharpest looking mecha right now.

The film takes place after the first, and it’s much of the same plot. Shinji is still fighting the angels with Rei and NERV, but now they have their new pilot on the scene, Asuka Langely Shinkinami (Yes, changed from Asuka Langely Soryu, to make sure all the leading ladies have rhyming last names, essentially) and so they are all going to team up and fight the angels together. While this is a basic plot summary, the film wastes no time telling it’s story this time and in the first few seconds of the film, we are introduced to a new Evangelion pilot who never existed in any other continuity, Mari Illustrious Makinami. The fact we have a new pilot grabs the story and changes it a drastic amount already, but more surprises lie in store in wait. This film changes a lot, so the criticism of the first film, that it is too similar to the series, no longer apples. If it wasn’t for the titular characters, buzzwords and mechs, you might not even recognise that this is Evangelion.

With the changes to the story also come changes to the characters themselves, hinted at slightly in the last film but now totally prominent and in your face. Shinji and Rei appear to be the characters with the most change in them. I won’t say how, but I found that the changes fitted with characters perfectly, even though they were incredibly drastic. Rei’s change of voice actor is something that can now be thanked for in the English dub, as the new voice actor fits the role much better with the changes, compared to the monotone that the original one brought. Even Spike Spencer’s less whiny tone in voicing Shinji helps his character in this continuity.

Oh yes, the voice acting in this is brilliant, but also exists in the rare bizarre dimension where I feel that the English voice acting is better than the Japanese voice acting. This is mainly for the sole reason that there are parts where English is spoken in both versions. While the Japanese voice cast did hire some English voice actors, and for Mari they hired someone who could speak both well, there is a god damn near incomprehensible moment from one character from the original series, who can speak English about as eloquently as a hippo can tap dance. When he says “Good luck” it sounds more like “Ker bleh”. The performances are great, all in all, though remember in the last review I noted that Fuyutsuki and Gedno sounded similar in the English version? This flags up again, and since there are a few times where you can’t see whose lips are moving, you can only hazard best guesses on which one of them is speaking. Not a major problem though, after all, at least you can understand what they’re saying.

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Something tells me this stairway is going to get very crowded.

I’ve been dancing around a major point for a few paragraphs now, so let me just say that the actions scenes in this are probably some of the best I’ve seen on film, with the penultimate fight being a standout that actually feels like it’s emulating Gurren Lagann in some ways, and if a film that is based off the series that depressed people critically everywhere starts to take pointers from the series that inspired people everywhere, then you won’t hear many objections from me.

Not from me, but certainly from others. The divide in fan base is caused by two reasons, with the fights being one of them. Some argue that the fights don’t suit Evangelion, that they are actually more suited to the aforementioned Gurren Lagann than they are to Eva. The other reason they are divided is because they argue that the changes are destroying the precious canon of Evangelion, warping it so that events that we know in later moments or even in End of Evangelion, may never happen. There are arguments against this, like “This was not meant to be a shoot by shoot remake” and “Stop complaining you insufferable elitist” but there are much more compelling arguments which I can’t say because of spoilers, but their complaints basically boil down to how the story is not just retelling what we already know and that some of the fights are just too cool.

The reason why the fights look so damn cool is because animation and art, both hand drawn and CG both compliment them, making them super sharp and beautiful, and the soundtrack is doing what it does best, which is remaking the original soundtrack and blast it at us so much that we fall out of our chairs in awe and amazement. Even the new songs sound so good that I thought my ears were just going to detach themselves and live next to soundtrack until the end of time. What I found most shocking in terms of the animation was that the CG never gets in the way of the hand drawn animation, which is brilliant and shows that the animation department knew what they were doing. What’s more, it seems they even got an even bigger budget to make this movie, probably from the success of the first film, so in a change of tone completely from what Evangelion is accustomed to, the animation is so far getting better as we go through this series.

I am struggling to find things to hate, dislike or even to object to in this film, and there are so many things I want to talk about, even something that could be earth shattering to the very series that started this, despite this is apparently a new continuity. All in all, this is a fantastic film, and one that no-one should miss. People who never watched the original series and instead went straight to these movies will find that there is a lot to take in terms of story, but rest assured that there are a lot of elements that even the most knowledgeable of Evangelion geeks can not decipher. This film cements the fact that the series should remain to be watched, as Hideaki Anno may just start the anime event of a lifetime…again.

Rebuild of Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone

12 Apr

REBUILD OF EVANGELION: 1.11: YOU ARE (NOT) ALONE

Evangelion did something historic when it aired, something no-one expected it to. It de-constructed the entire Mecha anime genre, it even went into other genres and de-constructed the elements that it possessed. This series (And two films) left everything laid bare. Rebuild of Evangelion is not a remake, but a retelling of the Evangelion story, a retelling that aims to give us the story of Evangelion in 4 huge budget Anime movies, free from constraints of technology, time and most importantly, money. This is meant to be a familiar, yet new story ofEvangelion. Production began in 2002, and we saw the first instalment, Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone of this 2007 so it’s clear that Hideaki Anno certainly took his time on this, and what does he have to show for nearly 10 years of work.

A fantastic film.

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After Second Impact, the gardeners went on strike. Everyone suffered.

If you’ve been reading my reviews of Evangelion at all recently, you know the basic story. Shinji has been summoned by his Dad to fight monsters called “Angels” and join Nerv, an organisation dedicated to fighting the Angels. Shinji is joined by Misato, director of operations and his guardian and other pilots like Rei Ayanami, a quiet girl who doesn’t seem too good at socialising or reacting at all. The premise is the same one we know and love, but that doesn’t mean that the entire story is the same. There have been the promised changes to what the series made that we were promised, though I have to say, the film does not change that much of the immediate storyline when you consider that this was promised to be a new Evangelion experience. A few plot threads are introduced earlier and there’s some new things in the world, but the immediate differences are not all apparent. This film seems actually more like an update to the first six episodes, taking them, cutting out the fat, and making them pretty for a modern day release.

Oh yes, the film looks gorgeous. Everything about the film looks wonderful. The art is sharp and colourful, and I believe that the landscapes are some of the best I have ever seen in animation, better than the likes of Disney and Studio Ghibli. The animation is even better than the original series’ already fantastic animation, making it even smoother, crisper and other words that mean they did a stellar job. They do use sometimes more realistic lip movements for the characters, which can make it awkward when dubbing lines because of differences in the languages, but that isn’t so much of a problem. Not only are the visuals updated, but the audio is as well, doing what End of Evangelion did and re-recording pieces of the soundtrack with a bigger budget, making them sound even sweeter. The sound effects are also updated, so you get high quality explosions blasting through you at one moment before you enter a quiet scene where even the slightest drop of water can be heard. Yes the film keeps up Evangelion’s tradition of being a quiet film when people are talking, so you have to turn the sound up to hear them at times, Rei Ayanami being a bad offender for invoking this, and then it gets to a bombastically loud fight scene that’ll make the neighbours believe that your hammering in a new painting with a shotgun.

Okay, so the film looks and sounds very nice in all it’s big budget glory but what about the voice acting. Oh, the voice acting. On the whole in both languages, we have really solid performances. The returning actors are all still fantastic and actually sound even better, probably because they’ve done all this before and so they are familiar with their roles and can give us the best performances possible for this franchise, with the standout being easily Spike Spencer as Shinji Ikari, who manages to make Shinji much easier to listen to, with less of a whining tone in his voice. I said “returning actors” because the English dub seemed to have trouble gathering all the actors from the series. In this film, I counted 3 actors who returned to their roles, one of them who I didn’t even expect to hear in this movie. So, most of them have been recast in the English version, but they do give good performances still. I actually think that Rei’s new voice actor, Brina Palencia, surpasses Amanda Winn Lee’s portrayal from the original series. However, like in End of Evangelion, Fuyutsuki seems to have problems. Not in his actual acting, that’s fine and good (not stellar, but passable), but he sounds a little too similar to Gendo Ikari, who also has a new voice. The fact that these two sound fairly similar and they share a lot of scenes together meant that I was often confused who was talking unless I saw the lips myself. This isn’t a deal breaker for the dub, as the quality you’ll find here is still higher than most. I’m just glad we didn’t get any more comedy squelch sounds.

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Just ‘cos you have glowing computers does not mean you can’t turn on the lights.

I guess the only main thing I can flag up against this movie is the fact that it is not quite the re-imagining that Rebuild of Evangelion was said to be. I know it’s the first film, but it’s also almost a complete re-telling of the first part of the series. This would not have been so much of a problem if I wasn’t that much of a fan of the first episodes of the TV series. I found them to be slow, drag on a lot and could be downright draining in some scenes since very few of the main characters actually try to put on a good mood until a few episodes in. Rebuild does quash my complaint people not having much emotion at the beginning through changes to characters and even to the voices, and makes things less drawn out by cutting out some unnecessary parts and the fact it condenses six episodes into a 90 minute film, but despite this, I still don’t feel like it’s good enough. It’s probably just me. I expected they would overhaul the entire series, so call me a little disappointed if I’m given the same thing again.

All in all, Rebuild of Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone is a solid film, but one that doesn’t seem to take too many risks with what it’s doing. One might say that the reason for it’s lack of changes is so that it is easier for newcomers to be able to get into the series easily. Overall, the film seems to want to ease people into this film with it’s familiar elements while keeping us interested and away from saying “Oh, it’s the same thing again!” with the changes it introduces. It seems to have questionable execution on that second part, but that shouldn’t stop you. The film is great and deserves a watch.

End of Evangelion

18 Feb

END OF EVANGELION

WARNING! The following review contains minor spoilers about the film. It won’t ruin your viewing, but if you’d prefer going into this with no preparation, then only read the final paragraph. Thank you.

I mentioned previously that I found the ending to Neon Genesis Evangelion to be less than satisfactory, to say the least. Some of you did voice disagreements with my opinion, but it’s clear that I was not alone in my underwhelmed reaction. Many fans felt cheated by such an ending, some hardcore fans even resorted to sending death threats to Studio Gainax and Director Hideaki Anno. Doing something about this seemed inevitable, and so the studio made The End of Evangelion, an alternate ending of sorts. An ending that would wrap up the unresolved plot lines and give fans the ending they felt they deserved. The result is something I find hard to describe in words but easier to describe through screaming.

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It’s very hard to find spoiler free images
for this.

Continuing off from where Episode 24 left off, the last sane and comprehensible episode in the series, we move onto new versions of Episode 25 and 26, redesigned completely to make sense of the nonsensical episodes we were originally presented. Any description of what actually happens in the film would be spoilers as not a second feels wasted in telling the story, to the point where it can feel like it’s actually rushing itself. The fact it does this enhances the atmosphere that the film presents, especially in Episode 26, that mood is nothing but pure terror.

There is no point to beat around the bush, this film is quite honestly horrifying. It is not a horror film, nor was the main intentions of the film even to scare the viewer but what it shows, what it does is nothing I could’ve ever imagined in my life. You see events so unbelievable and of such astronomical proportions, but also so horrifying, so traumatising my mind could not comprehend it was showing me. I said that Neon Genesis Evangelion was something that wasn’t for the faint of heart but this takes that to the extremes. Hideaki Anno wasted nothing when making a movie based on his beloved franchise, with the film being clearly darker and more mature than the series could have ever hoped to have been. None of this makes the movie bad, it makes the movie what it is, and that’s a non-stop nightmare.

On a lighter note, the animation has been revamped to become even greater than the already fantastic animation of the series (Not counting the budget animation of the end of the series) but still remaining faithful to the art style and aesthetics of the series. The soundtrack has also been given a revamp over the original’s beautiful soundtrack, with quite a lot of old songs re-recorded for the film, except they’ve applied their budget to make them sound even greater than they did before hand, with a full orchestral score complimenting the already brilliant pieces.

While this makes the whole thing sound beautiful, if distressing, there are quite a few glaring bad points to this film. Some of the sound effects do not fit the scenes they’re in, like a comedic squelch sound, which I swear is used by Nickelodeon for when they “gunge” someone, is played when someone gets shot in the face, detracting from the seriousness. The Japanese dub may be top notch but the English dub feels like it rushed quite a few vital parts. Some of the voice actors are not the ones from the series, and they really don’t feel into their role. Professor Fuyutsuki is the biggest offendor as I feel like they needed a better voice actor for him, as the one he has in the English dub sounds so bored, so disinterested and so unassertive that he actually feels annoying to listen to, making his character stand out as someone really there only to explain what is actually going on for the people not keeping up at home.

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I’m not even going to go into how messed up this box art is.

However one thing that this film has which detracts from it the most is pretentiousness. While it may have sorted out its religious symbolism quite a bit now and it is used in more fitting places with some actually good uses of it on display (I see that reference of St Theresa’s visions there), it seems to be taking the psychological symbolism to such a level that one would not be shunned for calling it abstract. It feels like it is being deliberately obtuse with what it wants to say and quite a lot of scenes have to be analysed thoroughly in order to actually get what’s going on. A glaring example is when two characters are talking and one of them says something, but what that character says is deliberately muted, so he just moves his lips, with the audience having no clue what they’re saying. You can figure out what is said through analysis for several scenes and a few leaps of logic but when a film has this many hoops to jump through just to find out what someone is saying, you can tell it is being deliberately hard to read.

All in all, I did like the film, I liked it a lot, but it’s clear to me that the film didn’t like me too much. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say Hideaki Anno made this out of spite of the people who complained. He’s made a movie designed to end the franchise, answer all questions, but it seems he wanted to give the biggest middle finger in the history of the world in the process, by giving us something that we first of all have to work to understand what the film is going on about, and secondly, we have a film so grim, so dark and so scarring that it feels like it hates you, that it does not like the audience watching the film.

Again, I did love this film, but every time I got close to it, it just beat me down with pretentious elements, incredibly grim imagery and it’s outrageously depressing atmosphere in general, like the two of us were in an abusive relationship or something. Whether or not you should buy it depends greatly on who you actually are as a person, and since I lack such a questionnaire to distinguish the people who’ll like it and those who won’t, I’ll simply say that it’s not for everyone, but you should see it anyway, considering how ground-breaking the franchise was. There’s just no guarantee that everyone will like this film however, unless you wanted PTSD projected from a TV screen to you directly.

Neon Genesis Evangelion

11 Feb

NEON GENESIS EVANGELION

I couldn’t review this series straight after I saw it. It would’ve been impossible for me to form a fair, unbiased review that made sense. When I went into this series, I was wanting to try new things, and the classics of Anime were my targets. I watched first the mind blowing, heart pumping, adrenaline fuelled ride that was Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann which made me think that the entire genre of Anime where people get into a giant robot and pilot it, also known as the “Mecha” genre, was the coolest thing that existed on this planet and that watching them would make me feel like I could take on the world every time. After Gurren Lagann, I went to watch Neon Genesis Evangelion, arguably the most well known Anime in the genre, with the expectations of another roller coaster of a TV show that will make me feel amazing.

I was wrong. I was so very wrong.

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“Evangelion” is pronounced with a hard “G” by the way, not like “Gel”.

Neon Genesis Evangelion (Roughly translated to Gospel of the New Beginning) is a science fiction Anime starring giant robots with bright colours, teenage protagonists and their issues and seems to be the most marketable thing I’ve watched in quite a long time. One would be forgiven by looking over this brief summary and dismissing it as a thing for children, but this couldn’t be any further from the truth. The show, as the title implies, carries a very heavy religious theme about it and every episode is packed full of religious references and symbolism, and even that’s not the heaviest issues it deals with. It also looks at psychological issues that people suffer from, and the show does not pull any punches with the that.

The show’s pivotal character that everything revolves around is Shinji Ikari, a fourteen year old boy who has been summoned by his father to come see him after he abandoned Shinji years and years ago. When Shinji gets there, he sees that his father wants Shinji to join his organisation he’s in charge of called NERV, and become a pilot of the Evangelion, a synthetic humanoid robot, and with that he should fight the things attacking earth called “Angels” (While I did say there are religious references, these are not winged beings with Halos, they are much more horrifying). Along the way we meet other characters, like Rei Ayanami, a mysterious girl who is also an Evangelion pilot, Misato Katsuragi, the chief of operations at NERV and legal guardian of Shinji, and Asuka Langley Soryu, another Evangelion pilot who can only be described as hostile as a piranha. Describing the plot of Evangelion feels like scaling a mountain and the best way for you to know the plot is to actually watch the entire series, the movie retelling the series, and the movie ending the series, but make sure you watch it all again so you can understand it, because you will have questions.

Yes, the plot can be very unforgiving for those who do not pay attention, and often offers a single scene that must be thoroughly analysed in order to make sense of various loose plot threads that will never ever be explained again. Not only that, but some things will never be totally explained and instead only be implied, some things more heavily than others. This does mean that some people may be left out in the cold when it comes to the story, which is a shame because I believe it is a serious strong point and helps establish itself as something not just for kids.

However, in order for it to prove itself as something just not for kids, the themes it tackles must be right, and while Evangelion succeeds with flying colours when it comes to the psychological aspects it wants to deal with, it seems to stumble with the themes of religion. I said that there was a lot of religious symbolism, but what I didn’t say was how much actually added up to something, which is not as much as it should. Some pieces are only there to look nice, something that was even admitted by the director Hideaki Anno. While it may use the depiction of Yggdrasil, the tree of life well, and can use the Sephirot, the attributes of God in a fitting way, none of it really adds up to anything. It doesn’t have a clear message on religion whether it’s good or bad, and the director has already said that the series was not designed to criticise Christianity, so why is it there? I don’t know, something I feel I said a lot when I watched this show.

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I challenge you to find better characterisation. You’ll have a hard time.

However, this show is the most influential piece of media that came out of Japan, so it certainly has its merits. The characters have an extraordinary amount of depth to them, with pretty much everything they do, all their actions, emotions and reactions all coming down to their personalities shaped by their own mental state which can be explained through what has happened in their lives. We even see sides to characters we never thought we would see. I myself found myself relating to Shinji as I had problems when I was fourteen and I shared quite a few personality traits with him, which isn’t great considering how much he will angst in this show, but at least I could connect to him well. As well as the characters, the fights are simply wonderful, choreographed perfectly and complimented with animation that would make Disney feel self conscious. The voice acting, in both English and Japanese, is superb, and you can really feel that the actors are into this. It all makes a shining example of a TV show and shows that this is how one should be made, until you see the ending.

I’m not going to lie, the ending is the worst ending I have ever seen in a TV show, film, book or any other piece of media. It’s not only near impossible to understand but it’s an enormous let down. We see numerous ways in which the TV show manages to tell it’s story and then it delivers an ending that can be described as the main characters just talking at us for two final episodes. This is not how you end a show and all it did is leave me disappointed as numerous things went unexplained and the whole thing was incomprehensible. The reason for such an ending? There was apparently little money left, so the studio had to make a compromise. I wasn’t the only one who felt this way and so they made a movie called “End of Evangelion”, which I’ll talk about another time.

In reference to what I said at the start, this show is not for the faint of heart as it is depressing beyond belief and some of the things it shows I can only describe as traumatising. The show was originally designed for kids, but the director, Hideaki Anno, overhauled the project and decided to take it into a direction it could never turn around from, and the sheer grimness of the series can be unbelievable. It’s actually got so bad at one point that the TV network considered taking it off the air in Japan to escape outcry, but settled instead on slashing the budget, creating the bad ending we have before us. For this reason, I felt so depressed after this show, it was almost maddening, so I could not talk about it in great detail, even after I finally figured out the story.

All you need to know is this, Evangelion is a series with many good points, but also bad points that seem to subtract from them. It’s great characterisation is muddled with a story that doesn’t have time to tell itself, it’s great writing is marred by some pointless symbolism, and everything about the show, the people watching as well, are insulted by an ending that doesn’t make sense. How much you will enjoy the series will vary on who you are. Personally, I found this to be an immensely enjoyable show, and for the sole reason of how influential it has served in both the east and the west, you owe it yourself to watch this. The DVDs are hard to find nowadays, but are well worth it if you can find them.

Birdsong

2 Feb

BIRDSONG

Birdsong is a troubled piece of literature. It was a pretty excellent book but it’s had some serious issues making it to our screens, having been stuck in limbo for the longest of times. There was also a stage adaptation, but I think everyone who had even heard of such a thing knows that the less said about it the better. But now that the BBC has taken the reigns on bringing Birdsong to us in a visual manner, we finally have something we can really sink our teeth into, so let’s dive in.

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All’s fair in love and war.

The story is set in both a grim, dirty and relentlessly realistic depiction of World War One and also in a nice area of France, where workers are striking, four years before the war started. The story follows a man by the name of Stephen Wraysford, through both narratives, one where he begins a budding romance with a factory worker’s wife and one where he suffers tragedy after tragedy after tragedy. The World War narrative is especially brutal and unforgiving on your emotions, with a clear amount of time spent on the gore when a soldier is ripped open by shellfire, bullets or metaphorically, as this was not exactly something for the faint hearted. To contrast this, Stephen’s journey in the pre-war narrative plays out like a romantic story. I wanted to think of an adjective there but I can only think of the words “typical” and “Cheesy” which do not fit when Stephen has a very graphic sex scene during the narrative.

Yes they followed the novel very closely, even in the minutest ways, such as the details of the sexual encounters and the amount of bullets Stephen fires during the Battle of the Somme. While I think that it is good it stayed close to the source material, I feel that some scenes weren’t needed too much and some don’t even make sense in the transition to the screen, which I’ll discuss in a little bit. A big omission is the modern narrative, where a woman by the name of Elizabeth in the late 20th century would learn of Stephen’s journey through his diary and cope with her own love story. I have to say I couldn’t be more pleased that this was cut out as it was arguably the most pointless part of the novel. You would feel sorry for the characters having to endure the harsh conditions of a battle that went abysmally on poor command, with the popular World War One motif of “Lions lead by Donkeys” occurring, but then we would be snapped out of this to hear about some woman we’ve never heard of before doing unrelated things. Elizabeth’s story only seems to serve as answering a question of “How would a modern audience react to such atrocities?” That is most certainly a worthwhile question, but it’s already being answered because a modern audience is already reading and reacting to it all, so she only served to remind us of the emotions that she was interrupting, which was a bad move by Faulks and a good move by the writers to cut it out.

The sets of the show deserve some serious recognition, with brilliant contrasts to the Pre-war’s bright green foliage to the barren, muddy wasteland of the Great War, and even the posh housing the commanding officers were in contrasted with the sickening conditions all the troops were forced into. These are complimented by a very good soundtrack, although not particularly memorable, but they always manage to compliment the mood well.

The acting should also receive compliments all around with pretty much everyone delivering a solid performance, even one fellow who twitched during a death scene. Stephen’s actor, Eddie Redmayne seems surprisingly bland when you compare him to other characters, but I guess that comes with the character in general, being written as surprisingly passive except during a few key moments.

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Expect better characterisation for the fellows behind him

One of the main flaws however comes from Stephen Wraysford and how the book was written, as while he was passive most of the time in conversation, most of the book consisted of his inner dialogue, something the film pretty much throws away, which is both good and bad. It’s good because having an inner monologue is a tricky thing to do and not many are able to pull it off. Enduring Love is an example I think of adapting an inner monologue poorly by having the main character discuss his thoughts with friends, which was bad for when the character started to lose his mind a bit, he ended up acting very unlikable. It’s bad however because there are a few scenes that don’t make an awful lot of sense without the workings of Stephen’s mind. There’s this one scene that makes sense in the book and shows Stephen’s descent into madness from the horrors of the war, but in the TV series it seems random and makes Stephen seem psychotic and leaves it as for why he did such a very shocking act unexplained. Not even open to interpretation.

There are a few nitpicks I could make about Stephen’s character, like his fear of birds is gone, reducing the namesake of the series somewhat. Birds aren’t actually mentioned in the two episodes, so that makes the name out of place somewhat. He is also described as being fairly grizzled in the books, while he seems rather immaculate in the TV show until the story goes on and tragedies start to happen. We first see him two years into the war, I have done enough research to know that some pretty nasty stuff was happening before then, and I refuse to believe that nothing would have affected his mental state by then. He actually is an alcoholic in the book, a fairly severe one, but this issue is touched lightly in the show. It shows him getting drunk which isn’t too bad. Quite a few of the soldiers get drunk at some point but that alone does not show alcoholism, and that’s all it is. Occasionally, once or twice, we see him drunk. That is not being alcoholic, that could easily be interpreted as him just getting drunk, people do it all the time.

 


 

Overall, the TV show is faithful to the original story, sometimes a little too faithful in some of the more intimate moments, and while it is masterfully done it does have a major disadvantage of being let down by the poor handling of the main character, particularly his thoughts, something that was very important in the main book (He kept a diary, which not only shows his thoughts are important, but such a thing would have actually have made a nice bridge with the modern narrative and given it a purpose beyond reaffirming established emotions). But it’s still great watching it and provides quite a thing to behold and serves as a good alternative to reading the book, though it doesn’t break the common habit of the book still being superior.

Jack reviews: 2011

15 Jan

2011 should go down in history as a very good year in gaming, much like 2007 was, which brought us games like Bioshock, Call of Duty 4 and the Orange Box. It wasn’t a monumental year, I would argue. Not quite akin to 2004 which brought us more games than I care to list (It brought us World of Warcraft for a start, and that’s pretty popular). Nonetheless, this has been a very good year, and I thought I should share with you my picks of the fruit I believe deserved some recognition. Yes that means I’m doing a best games list, basically a bunch of recommendations not restricted by being a Top 5, or 10, or 3.141, forcing to pick my favourites out of some really lovable games. I do have favourites, but I’m not ranking them, there were just a lot of good games this year and picking between them makes me think I am picking between children, even though I could never make anything so awesome in my life.

Now, on with the show.


PORTAL 2

Portal was like releasing the most expertly prepared one course meal in the history of the world. The game was so widely praised you’d think it had recently gone into a hospital, cured several children and delivered multiple babies to happy couples. Multiple credible critics said it was perfect, if a bit short. Well Valve decided to come out and see who wanted more with a three course meal of with even more variety and opportunities for flavour than before.

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If you look close enough into these portals, you can see Gabe 
Newell not working on Episode 3.

Portal 2 delivered the same witty dialogue, engrossing story and fantastic voice acting as before but with all the settings kicked up to overdrive. Everything in this game worked together to be hilarious, enjoyable, and most of all intriguing. The plot was fleshed out quite a lot, with the player actually learning about Aperture Science, GLADoS and even the former CEO and founder, Cave Johnson. Back the story up with Valve’s naturally perfect writing and the voice talents of Steven Merchant and J.K Simmons and you have an atmosphere near impenetrable.

My only real criticism is that, like a three course meal, you tend to get a bit full before you’re finished, but you don’t want to stop because it’s just so good. And even after the campaign you got some even more fun Co-op action stinking of great design, so much so that it is stained on everything it touches.

All in all, Portal was a fantastic game and a must buy for those that played the original. There is more in this toybox to play with and the box is bigger, and it’s up to you which box you prefer, but this is a damn good box if there ever was one.

 


INFAMOUS 2

I was sceptical, it seemed like too much and too soon after the original inFamous. How could sucker punch deliver a brand new game in a brand new city of the same calibre in such a short amount of time?

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Good is being goth and Evil is being a slut. Who knew?

By being Sucker Punch of course! They delivered a solid experience and wrapped up the inFamous storyline beautifully (I hope. If they continue it’d have to be two separate games, especially on the magnitude of that final choice it forces upon you). By giving us classy writing that fleshed out the main characters and made your support guy a lot more likable than the moron he was in the first game, and mixing that in with a world that felt much more alive than it’s predecessor and we have a sandbox that I love a lot, and it takes a lot for me to love a sandbox. I usually feel overwhelmed by what’s around me and go into a state of panic over how much choice I have, but inFamous perfectly paced what it was introducing to me and hit me with familiar characters, premise (Government wants to help Cole, for real this time) and most of all gameplay. It’s mostly the same but with little tweaks to give it more flow, something the first game lacked when you had to climb a wall or walk around a chain link fence because, for some unknown reason, you can not climb chain link fences. All fixed in the second game.

Sure it’s not without it’s faults. The moral choice system makes you feel like you’re missing out on half the game despite you’ve already completed it. Come to think of it that’s the only fault, and any reason to complete the game again is good enough for me. I just wish that most of the bad choices weren’t evil for the sake of being evil. If presented with a door they needed to break open, the good option would be harmlessly kicking it down while the evil option would be driving a crowded school bus into the entire bloody house.

Overall, inFamous 2 was a great game, and is a must buy for anyone who owns a PS3.

 


DEUS EX: HUMAN REVOLUTION

To say Deus Ex was a praised game is like saying that Mount Fuji is a bit too high to jump from. There wasn’t a day gone by from when Deus Ex: Human Revolution was announced to when it arrived at my feet that I was reminded of how apparently ground breaking and epic the original was that served as the game that all games should aspire to when they’re being made. I went in with skepticism to say the least.

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“HOW DARE YOU STYLE MY HAIRCUT SO RIDICULOUSLY?”

My Skepticism was sweeped under a blanket and burnt the very second the game had me infiltrate an enemy captured warehouse. I cannot believe how much fun I had with this game, and I completed it multiple times, finding new things, new ways of going about my business, all because the game gave me so much to do and so many ways to do all the things to do! I could go running down the corridor and blow up everyone’s face, or I could silently bop people over the head while the enemy wonders why he’s suddenly the only person in the room when he turned around.

Actually that’s a bit of a lie, the run and gun approach is rather impossible as you do not have that much health and it doesn’t regenerate that quickly, so you may find yourself doing some cover based shooting instead, as if we didn’t have enough of those games that did this. The bosses seem to want to restrict that freedom even more by saying I can only shoot them to death, and honestly, they’re really unbalanced. You can defeat the third boss without getting hit at all so long as you pre ordered the game and get a grenade launcher, which you do not need to even use until you take him on, and the first boss can be killed by just chucking things at him.

That said, the game still gives us options for the rest of the game and I’m a sneaky man anyway so this all mattered to me about as much as a fly would on the back of Tyrannosaurus Rex.

 


ELDER SCROLLS V: SKYRIM

If you’re starting to notice a pattern in my analysis style then you are very astute and those of you who do not need to feel ashamed. In truth there were not many games I was looking forward to this year. Many of them got moved back to 2012, like Mass Effect 3 and Metal Gear Solid: Rising (Which actually turned into a completely different game that looks incredible). But, there was one game I couldn’t help but not look forward to, even though I didn’t like it’s predecessor too much and that was Skyrim. My trust was well placed with this game.

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“Come, come to the soothing light. I won’t hit you, I swear!”

That feeling when the game lets you loose into the wild and you have untethered freedom to do what you want is awe inspiring and left me with a feeling that I can only attribute to when I first started my Pokémon journey ever. The feeling of fighting against the world that is better than you, but you never give up, instead becoming stronger with each encounter before you can make it to the top and fulfil your destiny, your goals you set for yourself. The only thing that keeps you fighting the ungodly hard enemy in front of you is the knowledge that one day, later in the game, you’ll be able to take 10 of these things down without even breaking a sweat.

So, it’s an immersive game, but it does have some breaks in it’s great gameplay and lovely story. The bugs. They are everywhere and being on a PS3, they actively stop me from playing the game. This is not okay Bethesda, and these bugs would be impossible to miss in play testing. I heard you leave in some that you find hilarious (I imagine the Giant being able to send you into orbit with his massive club counts as this), but some of them were horrendous. I have been locked out of a quest that I needed to earn a trophy at one point. That’s not funny in the slightest.

As frustrating as it can be, you do still keep playing, because you know what you want to do, and you’ll be damned if you decide to just give up after such things. There’s enough content here to last months. I’m 100 hours in and I plan to sink quite a few more into it. I think that shows the lasting appeal of this stellar game.

 


ICO/SHADOW OF THE COLOSSUS HD COLLECTION

4 is not a nice round number to leave an unordered list on, so, since I haven’t finished Bastion or Binding of Isaac, I’m going to throw out a two games that got re-released this year. Two really good games that got re-released this year.

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No-one ever told Ico to pace himself in his relationship

Now, I did already give my opinion on this game a while ago, but it’s worth bringing up again because there should be no reason for anyone to miss these games. They are brilliant. I felt so moved while playing ICO with with it’s beautiful soundtrack, beautiful environments and beautiful story (You’d almost think the game has a thing with trying to be beautiful). Shadow of the Colossus introduces the same aspects but instead of “beautiful”, put in “epic” with the literal meaning of the word, not the word that is misused by every 12 year old when ever they manage to get a kill in Call of Duty.

It’s actually surprising that the only thing I feel can criticise them on is that Shadow of the Colossus is unstable and has a bad habit of crashing when you play it for a while, usually right as you are about to or have killed a Colossus, but haven’t saved yet which, considering that most of the bosses take about half an hour, is annoying, but you can always just hop on your horse and kill it again later. No-one likes restarting, but it’s not a deal breaker by any means.

The games are arguably classics, and while individually it might be more of a challenge to recommend them, but together it is impossible not to. There is a lot here for your money, especially if you replay them which you will want to because these games are really, really good and filled with so many little things that make you want to just look at it again and again.

 


Right, now we finally have 2011 over and done with and I’ve told you all to buy these games, clearing my slate. Now we can finally settle down and enjoy 2012 and all it offers. Another bloody Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed probably. Ah well, see you next week, hopefully. (Someone wake me up if I haven’t made a review next week, please!)

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