Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Who's The Traitor?



From ABC Warriors: Black Hole by Pat Mills and Simon Bisley. Click to embiggen.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: Valiant OR Sir Two Pints of Lager and A Shield Full of Snakes

It's the second episode of Merlin and this week we're treated to a tournament. This episode guest stars that bloke from Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, Will Mellor.

The episode starts with Will visiting a market that looks strangely like one stall set up in a corner of the castle set they always use for Camelot, but lit differently. The stall is run by a gruff voiced Cockney (as per standard cliche regulations) who has prepared a magic shield for Will. The shield has a snake motif and with a few magic words the snakes come to life. After the demonstration, Will takes the shield and kills the shopkeeper with the snakes becasuse:

1. This shows Will is evil.
2. This also follows cliche #1,572 which states that shopkeepers selling secret weapons to bad guys must always be killed by said bad guy.



Will then rides off to Camelot to join the tournament and we find out his name is Valiant. Hmmm, well it's better than Sir Bastard or Sir Will-Kill-You-With-Magic-Snakes but it seems a little lacking in inspiration seeing as there's already a pretty famous character with that name. Unless it's intended as an ironic character name. We then go into the titles, the rubbish looking monster is still there, look:



It's a little hard to make out from the image but the jaws move unconvincingly like a bad puppet. I bet that monster will appear in the cheap episode when there's no budget left.

Arthur is busy preparing for the tournament by beating the crap out of Merlin. Whilst I'm sure it's fun, I don't think that preparing to fight other trained killers by beating on a jug-eared servant is a great idea. He might want to spar with someone who knows what he's doing.

Merlin retreats back to his quarters and spouts exposition about the current status quo and then shows off his telekinetic 'magic' by opening a book. The problem is that he seems to have regressed because now he has to say magic words to use his power and he has no eye glowing thing going on. Um, what? Don't worry, there's no explanation.

Arthur learns about armour from Guinevere (she's a blacksmith's daughter now) and then he annoys Arthur when he helps him put his armour on before the tournament. Why doesn't Arthur have a squire? You know, someone traditionally trained to help him with armour and weapons and to help him spar and practice. Something that a mere servant is vastly under qualified to do. Oh well, it's not like you need to do any research when you're rewriting popular legend as Hollyoaks 600AD.

There's a tournament montage which shows knights scrapping on foot with swords. This is a one on one challenge tournament so there's no jousting. Booooo!

After the tournament, Merlin uses his magic in a Fantasia style to perform his chores for Arthur. Gaius bursts into the room in an attempt to either catch Merlin practicing magic or doing something else he shouldn't do on his own in his room.

Merlin later discovers the magic shield in the armoury because it makes a hissing noise. Valiant catches Merlin examining his shield so Merlin makes some clumsy excuses and leaves.

The tournament continues and Valiant finally uses his magic shield to beat a knight with an anachronistic haircut.



Valiant doesn't kill his opponent for some reason so the knight is taken away by Gaius Meldrew to be treated. Gaius spots the snake bite and needs an antidote to treat the wound so Merlin heads off to snoop on Valiant who is currently feeding a mouse to his shield. Yes, that's right:



So that's pretty weird. A magic shield that you have to feed. Hmmm.

I must also point out that there's a chess piece sat in the middle of a corridor for no reason. Also note that there's a bricked up fireplace there too. That's some odd set design.



Merlin wants to go to the cops (sorry, the king) with his story but Gaius reminds him and the audience that servants have no voice in court and he can't accuse Valiant without evidence or else the DA will have his badge, or something.

The tournament is finally narrowed down to Valiant versus Arthur in the final. Merlin decides to get some venom from the shield so that Gaius can make an antidote. He sneaks into Valiant's room during a feast and manages to chop the head off one of the snakes. Gaius makes the antidote so the injured knight can recover.

Armed with the evidence and the testimony of Sir Doomed, he tells Arthur everything in the hopes that Arthur will have Valiant disqualified for using magic. Arthur trusts Merlin and presents the case to Uther in court. Of course, it all goes wrong as Valiant's spy snake has seen and heard everything. Yes, his shield can spy on people now.

Valiant sends a snake to assassinate Sir Doomed just as he has recovered from the last snake bite. Merlin's entire case relied on Sir Doomed so Arthur is humiliated in court as he cannot prove that Valiant is using a magic shield and spy snakes. Valiant suggests that Arthur is scared to fight him and made the whole thing up. Ooooh, it's on now.

Arthur fires Merlin as his servant (good, he should go and hire a squire instead) and Merlin goes emo and sulks. Merlin visits the CGI dragon under the castle and moans at him until the dragon gives him some cryptic advice to shut him up. Guinevere later gives Merlin a pep talk and so he decides to steal a statue of a dog.

The tournament final goes ahead and Arthur knows he is walking into a death trap but he won't back out because he will lose the respect and honour of the kingdom. Look, honour in the face of death, Arthur's really noble and responsible! Morgana visits Arthur to propogate the love oblong, I still can't place her accent, is it supposed to be Irish? Anyway Arthur gets solemn 'oooooo' 'eee' 'aaaahhhh' music as he enters the final fight.

Merlin speaks magic at the statue all night but nothing happens until conveniently just before the tournament. The dog statue transforms into a real dog that tries to savage Merlin. Merlin locks it in his room and runs off to help Arthur.

Arthur seems to be getting beaten fair and square by Valiant, until Merlin interferes and uses his newly discovered spell to force the snakes to appear out of Valiant's shield. The court is shocked and Morgana replaces Arthur's lost sword with Uther's. This allows Arthur to kill the snakes and land a killing blow on Valiant.

Is it me or did Valiant get screwed in the final? He wasn't cheating in the final fight and seemed ready to defeat Arthur without his magic shield. Merlin is a cheat.

So all is well again, Arthur rehires Merlin as his servant and Morgana and Arthur resume their love/hate relationship as Arthur refuses to admit that Morgana helped him win the fight. Arthur refuses to buy Merlin a drink and then gives him a long list of chores to do. Ho, ho, ho.

Well, Merlin continues to inoffensively amble along. There's nothing horribly wrong with the show but there's nothing amazing about it either. It seems to be missing a spark to get it going or to capture the imagination. At this stage the show seems to be a neutral land of inoffensive if unspectacular television, all it takes is one dire or superb episode to send it into the realm of the sublime or the TV hell already occupied by Torchwood, Robin Hood and Bonekickers. I'm hoping it will improve because the BBC really needs to create a popular series that doesn't insult the intelligence of the average 5 year old.

Well, Would You?

Sunday, 21 September 2008

TV Snark - Merlin: The Dragon's Call OR The Pilot Episode With Extra Torchwood On The Side

Okay, so when the BBC announced that it would be creating a new show based on the young life of the wizard Merlin, I groaned. After the awfulness that was Robin Hood, I really wasn't looking forward to another show featuring a yoofed-up interpretation of popular legend. Alarm bells started to ring when the trailer was released. My favourite part was the end of the trailer where Merlin addresses the audience, take a look:



Now this line reminded me of another TV show from times past. Check this out and keep watching the title sequence, I'm sure you'll hear something similar...



So with thoughts of Tots TV in my head, things weren't looking good for Merlin heading into the pilot episode. Will my snark know no bounds or will I be *gasp* nice to the show? Read on...


The show opens with John Hurt's distinctive voice waffling on about young warlocks and journeys; it's all fantasy cliche 101. Then we get the title sequence which is actually pretty good, there's fire, knights clobbering each other, the usual fantasy soundtrack with lots of 'ooooooo' and 'aaaahhhhh' in a baritone and finally there are some very dodgy looking monsters. There's a CGI snake, a CGI dragon and something that looks like a model monster that's escaped from 1970s era Doctor Who.

Young boy Merlin wanders into Camelot, which looks very impressive and clearly isn't just a model, and seems to marvel at peasants wandering around. He ventures into the main square where a man is executed for using magic. The magic user has his head lopped off with an axe but as this is a family show we don't get blood splattering all over the screen. What we get instead is an old crone with a familiar looking gap in her teeth and an accent that is straying into Welsh at times. Hmmm... she seems familiar. Anyway, she swears VENGEANCE! She will kill Uther's son in retaliation for Uther executing her's.



Merlin meets up with Gaius (Richard Wilson, or Victor Meldrew if you prefer) who promptly falls of a balcony in shock at young Merlin's jug ears. Merlin uses his magic, which seems to be telekinesis and glowing eyes, to put a bed at the bottom of Gaius Meldrew's fall. Gaius realises magic is at work and quickly works at becoming Merlin's caring father figure. I really, really want Gaius to say, "I don't believe it!" Just once.

Later that day and into night, Eve Myles/Gwen Cooper/WPC Slapper-Jones (as I affectionately call her due to her Torchwood character's tartiness in season one of said show) is our special guest star! She plays Lady Helen who is a great singer. She'll be performing before the king in a couple of days. She's soon murdered by the evil crone though as she uses a voodoo doll to stab her to death. But Eve Myles isn't removed from the show that easily as we see the crone assume the appearance of Lady Helen.



Merlin is woken from his sleep by John Hurt's voice. Merlin doesn't freak out at this point like I would. I mean, if a voice in my head started talking to me and waking me up, I'd be pretty freaked out. Merlin has his breakfast, does some chores for Gaius Meldrew and then meets Prince Arthur. Prince Arthur is a massive douche.

Prince Arthur is throwing daggers at a servant and Merlin intervenes. This doesn't end well as Arthur has Merlin arrested. I think if this show was made in the 80s, Prince Arthur would've been played by Robert Addie.



Merlin is released from prison by Gaius Meldrew but has to spend an afternoon in the stocks. As is traditional, small children throw vegetables at him. He does get to chat up Guinevere while he's locked in the stocks though. Guinevere is Morgana's servant so that's ummm... different. I suppose it's so there's a girl of equal social standing for Merlin in order to complete the awkward love oblong in the show.

Merlin discovers magic books in Evil Eve Myles' room but before he can ponder this, he gets into another fight with Arthur. Merlin uses more telekinesis (or magic if you prefer) to keep the fight even but he eventually loses to the Prince. Merlin then has an emo moment as he complains to Gaius Meldrew that he'd rather die than stop using magic. He then shuts himself in his room, presumably to write some poetry or song lyrics about his pain.

Merlin has John Hurt's voice in his head again so he sneaks down into the dungeons of Camelot to find a dragon that Gaius Meldrew mentioned earlier. The dragon is John Hurt's voice and some poor CGI. It's not that the CGI is poorly done from a technical standpoint, it's just that the dragon doesn't look... right. I thought it would look ancient and fearsome, but instead it's a little fresh faced and well, cute.



The dragon tells Merlin all about his destiny to aid Arthur unite the land. Merlin isn't convinced because Arthur's a douche.

Next day, Merlin gets into a comedy misunderstanding with Morgana as she undresses in her room whilst thinking that Merlin is Guinevere (she's not blind, she's just hidden behind a screen and thinks Merlin is her maid). Merlin muddles through with some comedy girlish noises. We learn that Morgana quite fancies Arthur and wants to make him notice her. The love oblong is complete.

Evil Eve Myles kills a servant with a life draining kung-fu grip. The servant made the mistake of seeing Eve in a mirror which reveals her hideous crone visage. With all these evil magic powers, killing Arthur will be pretty easy, surely?

Evil Eve makes her appearance and begins to lip synch to some Clannad. The magic song puts everyone in court to sleep apart from Merlin who simply puts his hands over his ears. It also causes cobwebs to appear on everyone, presumably so that the victims will wake up and think, "Shit! I've been asleep for centuries!" She's such a card. Once she's put the guests to sleep her next part of the plan is to stab Arthur with a daggger.

What?

It's an effective plan but it's kind of lacking in imagination. Stabbing someone in their sleep would be an effective way of killing someone but it's not elegant is it? Besides, she has a crazy life draining death grip and a killer voodoo doll. Why not use them over a crude dagger? I guess she likes the personal touch.

Merlin halts her evil scheme with his telekinesis (sorry, magic) as he drops a chandelier on Evil Eve's head. The audience begin to wake up as Evil Eve summons the last of her strength to throw the dagger at Arthur in slow motion. Merlin does the traditional slow motion dive (he forgets to yell "Noooooo!" so he loses points there) and pulls Arthur out of the way of the knife. Uther rewards Merlin by making him Arthur's personal bitch. Neither Arthur nor Merlin seem impressed.

Gaius Meldrew bonds with Merlin at the end of the episode by rewarding him with a spell book. Merlin will soon be a level 2 Wizard in no time.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by Merlin. It seems to use its budget well as the set and costumes are all very well done, unlike Robin Hood's knitted chainmail and silent, Hungarian extras. The script didn't insult my intelligence either, which is refreshing for Saturday evening on the BBC. Hopefully the show will build on this solid foundation and improve. I still can't help but feel that this show could've been set in an original fantasy setting without the Merlin brand name and nothing about the show would be different.

I can't wait to see the ropey looking model monster too.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Because Sometimes You Really Have To Go


From Simon Spurrier and Frazer Irving's Simping Detective. Click to embiggen.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Comic Review - Nikolai Dante: The Romanov Dynasty


Nikolai Dante: The Romanov Dynasty

Nikolai Dante is a strip from the UK institution 2000AD which has been running since the mid 90s (issue 1035 to be exact). Nikolai is a very popular strip and is now arguably second in popularity to Judge Dredd himself. The series was created by writer Robbie Morrison and artist Simon Fraser. This trade collects the first seven of Nikolai's adventures that appeared in 2000AD.


Nikolai Dante is set a few centuries in the future and is primarily based in a futuristic version of Europe that is ruled by a Russian Tsar descended from Mafia royalty. The look and feel of the setting is futurist Victorian (some may say Steampunk but there’s no steam powered devices and it’s not actually set in the Victorian era, so there). There are starships, hovercars, nano technology but the costumes of the nobility are Victorian/Renaissance in appearance and there is a clear rich/poor divide as the peasantry serves their rich, uncaring, noble masters. In the midst of this setting is Nikolai Dante, an irresponsible and irrepressible thief and scoundrel. Through a series of early misadventures he becomes a member of the nobility when he accidentally discovers his true heritage. Armed with nano technology, wealth and a disregard for his own safety, Nikolai travels the world, drinking, whoring, fighting and occasionally sticking up for the peasantry.


The reason I love this book is the sheer spectacle of it and the wittiness of Robbie Morrison’s scripts. It’s a fantastic blend of action, comedy, sci-fi and courtly intrigue and it’s much deeper than the pitch or first appearances would suggest. Nikolai always manages to get himself in trouble either through his own reckless actions or through courtly manipulation. The noble families are well fleshed out and the various personalities are well established. One of the devices that Morrison uses is to have excerpts from historical documents serve as exposition to introduce certain background elements, new concepts, or to explain the setup for some plots. Morrison also manages to introduce equal measures of pathos and humour through his slowly developing, grand story. Simon Fraser’s art is the perfect fit for the strip as he adds a lot of energy to proceedings. In the first book you see his style develop from sketchy and pale colouring, to detailed backgrounds and bold colours. Although there are stand-in artists for some stories (and they are usually very good stand-ins), the strip always seems to miss something when Fraser isn’t present.

My favourite stories in this collection are 'The Gentleman Thief' and 'Moscow Duellists'. 'Duellists' is particularly funny as Dante is manipulated into a simultaneous duel against several opponents; a telepath, some midgets piloting a mecha suit, a talking gorilla, some passing circus elephants, and the court's greatest duellist. It's great fun to see Dante extricate himself from these situations through a combination of personality, skill and dumb luck.

The Nikolai Dante series has been collected into several trades, this is the first one and it's a key to an incredible journey as the later books continue to increase the quality of the series. Copies can be found on Amazon or The Book Depository (for some reason that site has it listed as part 2, I can assure you that it's book one and not the second part of anything). Check it out.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Full Season Review - Chuck



Plot: An everyday geek has important government secrets accidentally implanted in his head. He now holds down two jobs, his first as a member of the Buymore superstore’s Nerd Herd AND his second job - secret government agent.

Cast: For a full list go here.

Pros:

Jayne from Firefly (Adam Baldwin) is in it. He plays Casey, a semi-psychotic NSA agent who happens to behave a lot like a certain mercenary from a cancelled sci-fi show. He manages to growl his way through each scene and his exchanges with Chuck are often hilarious.

There are pretty girls in this show. And they spend a lot of time wearing various ‘outfits’. And as for the ladies in the audience there’s Captain Awesome. Or Chuck himself if you like the awkward but good looking nerd type.

The principal characters are all likeable. Over the course of the first season you get to know the characters well, this is mainly due to the majority of the scenes in Chuck being social situations rather than action set pieces. The show resembles a sitcom in the way it promotes characterization over action movie humour. This show has a big adorable heart at its centre as Chuck and his friends are all good people.

Masuka from Dexter (CS Lee) is in it as Chuck’s Buymore store nemesis. CS Lee is great in this show and he gives a different version of his obnoxious-guy performance in Dexter.

There are overarching storylines and past histories that actually pay off. The season starts with some mysteries (e.g. Why was Chuck kicked out of Stamford ?) but you’re supplied with answers by the end of it. I like prolonged stories and mysteries but I also want answers within the same season, I don’t think any good can come of holding out on answers for years.

Chuck is an everyman nerd and doesn’t become a kick ass secret agent over the course of a training montage. Seeds are planted so that maybe one day Chuck will be able to participate in a mission but for now he’s the comedy relief who occasionally comes up good against all the odds (usually due to some pop culture knowledge he possesses).

Cons:

The concept is pretty daft. A nerd becomes a human hard drive for government secrets and they don’t lock him up. Okay, this is explained by having two agents guard Chuck at all times but really he should be locked up. It also means that secret agents and terrorists are constantly traveling through Chuck’s store, which is also a bit silly.

The action sequences are a bit tame at times. There are a few car chases and crashes and a bit of TV style gunplay here and there but I don’t think the budget can stretch to Hollywood levels of spectacle. That said, the stunt men earn their pay in this show as people generally fight and throw themselves around a lot.

Tony Todd is in it but he doesn’t do a whole lot. Give him something to do!

Overall:

Chuck is a very pleasant way of wasting 45 minutes. You won’t learn anything from it (apart from the occasional bit of nerd talk) and it won’t challenge you as a viewer. But you will make new friends as you come to know the characters and get cosy with them. This show is an entertaining diversion and you could do a lot worse than spend time at the Buymore with the Nerd Herd.

Arbitrary Score Out of Ten: 7.5/10


Saturday, 13 September 2008

Shhhh! Don't Disturb!



From Ennis and McCrea's Hitman. Man, I miss that comic.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Game Review - Spore



Format: PC

Plot: Become a god as you guide a species from primordial soup to galactic domination.

Genre: God sim – a mix of evolution and creationism. Despite the input of player generated content from around the globe this game is not an MMO, it’s a purely single player experience.


Pros:

You have the freedom to make your creatures look like anything. There are recreations of all kinds of creatures and objects out there created by very talented players. The creations range from sentient X-box controllers to popular cartoon characters. The creation tool is very easy to use as it uses a simple drag and drop interface. You can throw together a misshapen blob in seconds, but creating a masterpiece will have you tinkering and experimenting for hours.

It’s a very bright and cheery game. It looks cute and the interface is simple to use and has clear icons. Everything is labeled clearly and there’s really nothing complex or intimidating about any stage of the game. Your creatures have cute animations and even the giant monster versions of creatures are adorable. It’s clear that Spore is attempting to be as welcoming as possible to all gamers of age and ability.

You create the look and feel of your technology and architecture. I found building creation a bit dull (I’d never have made a good architect) but vehicle creation can be fun as you try to create the most pimped out tanks and UFOs possible. You can add giant harps, loudspeakers, weapons, mechanical legs and arms and then paint it all puce.

The Sporepedia. When you sign into Spore, you gain access to all other player’s creations. If you’re lazy like me and don’t want to create every single building and vehicle for your civilization, you can browse the Sporepedia and choose from the thousands of weird and wacky inventions. Likewise, your creations can be downloaded and used by other players in their games. There’s a certain amount of peer pressure to make unique creatures with great names, which raises everyone’s game in the creature creation stakes.

Playing as a space hippy is just as effective as playing a war hungry race of yobs. The combat for pacifism becomes religious propaganda. Your vehicles use music to attack other races rather than missiles and sticks. This makes learning to play the game much easier as you don’t have to adopt different strategies for each playthrough. Of course, it’s maybe too simplistic and it does make the tribal and civilization stages a bit of a chore.

Cons:

The early stages are easy once you know how to play them. The problem is that there’s no real enticement to play the tribal or civilization stages again after completing them the first time. I found those two stages quite dull at times due to the simplistic resource gathering and lack of building and vehicle choices. Thankfully there’s a ‘win the game’ button that you can earn in the civilization stage, which speeds things along a bit. The early cell and evolution stages are fun to repeat though because that’s where you mess about with your creature’s appearance and abilities.

Your creature’s appearance can be compromised by abilities. Certain body parts provide your creature with stats and skills. You need certain levels of social or combat skills to finish the evolutionary stage, which can mean that your creature has to evolve into a different shape than you’d like. It’s something that can be quite annoying but then it’s also a reasonable representation of evolution in action as your creature has to develop new abilities in order to prosper. Still, it can be frustrating if you want your creature to have a certain look. I’ll have to go back and check but I believe you can forego advancing to the next stage after conquering your island to spend some time tweaking your creature before its appearance is forever fixed.

The early stages of the game are repetitive. There are no grand strategies to learn other than progressing through the stages as quickly as possible. There’s a sense of wonder when you first crawl onto land and explore the first island but once your creature gains sentience and forms a tribe, it all gives way to impatience as you speed through to get to the space exploration stage.

You can make your creature look like a penis. Likewise, you may find yourself discovering one eyed monsters roving your planet. EA do have obscenity filters and do seem to ban the nightmarish ‘Sporn’. You can also block content from certain users, so if you know that ‘H0rnyM4n69’ is a purveyor of virtual filth, you can block any of his creations appearing in your game.

There’s no auto save function. This is a hell of an oversight but thankfully not one that’s cost me yet. Just remember to save every now and again. Don’t leave hours between saves, you never know when your PC may decide to be a dick.


Overall:

Spore is a fun game that becomes a grand strategy/exploration epic in the final space stage. You will eventually wield the powers of a god and memories of Populous (for those older gamers) will come flooding back as you begin to terraform new worlds. Whilst it isn’t the amazing game that everyone was hoping for, it’s certainly a creative, imaginative and ambitious title. This is a game that can pleasantly waste a few hours of your time as you happily tinker with life or lay waste to civilizations with your multi-limbed, multi-fanged, war bastards.

Arbitrary Score Out of Ten: 8/10

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Honour Be Damned!



Taken from the fantastic Nikolai Dante: The Romanov Dynasty by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Don't Give Cats Ice Cream



Taken from the excellent Scurvy Dogs by Andrew Boyd and Ryan Yount. It's got pirates battling hobos, lepers and monkeys in the battle for pop culture dominance.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Game Review - Castle Crashers




Format: Xbox 360 (only available on Live Arcade)

Plot: Pretty simple this, an evil wizard and his minions attack your castle and capture four princesses. The king orders you and your chums to rescue said princesses. Yes, this game is very simplistic in plot, but that’s the point.

Genre: Four pla
yer, sideways scrolling, beat ‘em up.


Pros:

It looks amazing. The graphics are hand illustrated and have a great cutesy look tempered with blood and gore. There’s really nothing better than gaping at the art whilst playing in HD. The character designs all look great, the end of level bosses have distinct looks and even the rank and file cannon fodder enemies have their own unique look and feel. There’s really nothing else that looks like it.

It has a great sense of humour. This is the strangest game I’ve played since Earthworm Jim. You will find yourself fighting bears armed with fish, volleyball playing Saracens, pirate ninjas… The list is long and strange and I don’t want to spoil all of the surprises. There are some great background jokes on each level and some great physical humour from the adorable little characters too.

It has a leveling system. Seems that everything has to be an RPG these days and Castle Crashers is no exception. Each time you level up you can increase one of your stats, Strength, Defence, Magic or Agility. It’s pretty straightforward and allows you to customize your character so you can adapt to the style you want to play.

There are various weapons and other unlockables. You can discover a plethora of extra weapons (later housed within the mouth of a blacksmith’s giant frog) that give different bonuses so you can further customize your character’s abilities. Players can also find cute, floating, animal companions that add extra abilities.

There is an All You Can Quaff subgame. It’s just like playing Daley Thompson’s Decathlon except with knights gorging themselves on food instead of some mundane crap like the long jump.

It’s fairly cheap. It costs 1200 points on Live Arcade, which means that it’ll cost you £12.75 or so in real money to get the 1500 necessary points to get it.


You can eat a sandwich.


Cons:

The combat is unashamedly old school and repetitive. Scroll along, swipe at enemies with your weapon until dead, go onto the next screen until you meet the boss. Rinse and repeat. This may bore some of you to tears or have you weeping with unbridled joy at the nostalgia. The collision detection is sometimes a little fiddly as you can swipe away at thin air at enemies that you thought were on the same horizontal plane. This also happens with treasure hunting where sometimes you have to dig in the exact bloody pixel. This problem is quite uncommon but is annoying when it comes up.

Some of the levels are close to sensory overload. On a couple of stages there are rain effects, which when coupled with hordes of enemies can cause you to get a bit confused and lost on the screen. This only occurs on a couple of levels though and it may just have been the effect on my brain as it was being overloaded with awesome.

Online multiplayer feature doesn’t work. Yup, there’s no way of connecting to someone else. This will be fixed in the first patch but there’s no ETA on that as of yet. But you know what? I think this is a multiplayer game where it’s better to have the other players in the same room gathered around the TV. Such an unabashed old school experience should be played in an appropriate manner. Invite your friends round and play t he four player version in your home.

Sometimes it doesn’t save your progress. This hasn’t happened to me yet but apparently some players have complained that the autosave function sometimes forgets to save your progress. This is pretty nasty but like I said, I haven’t experienced it yet. Still, it’s quite an issue to have in the final release but I believe this will also be fixed in the patch.

Overall:

I enjoyed Castle Crashers immensely as you can tell from my positive comments so far. This isn’t a game you’ll lose your life to but it’s a fun hark back to the days when you and your mates would crowd around the arcade and play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or any of the other great 4 player arcade machines. If you’re too young for that grimy arcade experience then I’m sorry for you but at least there’s now a great excuse to try and recreate what the older gamers got up to (which will probably accompanied by a thirty-something gamer complaining in the background that they didn’t have HD in their day and games cost 20p a credit).

Arbitrary Score Out Of Ten: 7.5/10

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Game Review - Space Siege



Format: PC

Plot:

Sometime in the future the human race travel across the stars and finds an evil race of genocidal maniac aliens. The aliens waste little time in hurtling towards Earth intent on wiping humanity from the galactic map. You play Seth, a soldier aboard one of the colony ships fleeing the Earth for the depths of space. Unfortunately for Seth, aliens manage to board the ship and the siege of space (shouldn’t it be Spaceship Siege?) begins. Seth must find a way to save the remnants of humanity whilst fighting the urge to implant cybernetic implants and become less than human himself.

Pros:

Diablo style looting. If you have the compulsive need to slaughter hundreds of faceless enemies in the pursuit of wealth (sorry, Upgrade Materials as Space Siege calls it) and extra levels, then Space Siege fulfills that role. You will encounter waves and waves of minions who all drop various parts that you can use to purchase add ons and modifications for your weapons and armour and your pet robot. There’s no inventory to manage either, so you can focus purely on killing and upgrading rather than managing your inventory grid so you can fit all the random crap you’ve picked up into your massive pockets. This is the Diablo experience streamlined.

Exploding barrels. There’s tons of them all over the ship and some are pressurized containers that fly around in random directions before exploding. As a pyromaniac I approve of the exploding barrel cliché. It also helps you kill the hordes of enemies quicker and lessens the playing time, which is a good thing in this case.

Special powers. You get a ton of MMORPG style special abilities that you can use to boost your attacks, cause area of effect damage, become invincible, etc. So there’s a bit of customization in what your attacks will be and you can create tactics for clearing rooms.

It’s easy to uninstall.

Cons:

Monotonous corridors and dull, linear level design. You will find yourself walking down very grey corridors on a straight path to the next room of enemies. You will not be wandering off into strange corners of the ship in order to find secrets, because there aren’t any. If you’re on a level with a new weapon or cybernetic part, you will be told by an NPC and it will appear on your map. Whilst I understand that this will cut down on frustration and allow everyone to find the cool stuff, it pretty much takes any pride or joy out of finding things for yourself.

The much vaunted cybernetic dilemma is pathetically implemented. Installing hardware into yourself does not significantly change the storyline. In fact the only difference is the voice over at the end, and even then the end story doesn’t really change. The only moral dilemma is deciding whether to be evil or not two thirds of the way into the game (Yes/No button is offered). The good/evil decision was difficult because of the next problem.

The NPCs are the most irritating characters I have ever encountered. They constantly nag and moan, the voice acting is poor and the dialogue they spout is clichéd bilge. I felt like a schizophrenic, trapped in his head with a sub conscious that was determined to make a dull task even more joyless and painful. I really didn’t care about the humans I was supposed to protect but I refused to turn evil because the evil NPC was the most annoying of the bunch. The only dialogue is exposition or mission objectives and the NPCs constantly nag about cyberwear, which follows this pattern:

NPC 1: “There’s a chainsaw on this level. Stick it in your arm. You’ll need it to combat the pathetically armed enemies.”

Seth: “…”

NPC 2: “Don’t listen to NPC 1! Cybernetics are bad!”

NPC 1: “Shut up!”

NPC 2: “No, you shut up!”

NPC 1: “No, you shut up!”

NPC 2: “I know you are, but what am I?”

NPC 1: “That doesn’t even make sense!”

Obvious AI Villain: “Yes, squishy human, make yourself more robotic. I don’t have an ulterior motive for this at all.”

By the end of it, I just wanted the voices to stop and have the ship to myself.

Leveling up is not actually leveling up. You gain stat points at preordained points in the story. There’s no extra XP reward for clearing a room of enemies as XP doesn’t exist, therefore the only reason to clear a room of mooks is to receive more Upgrade Materials, and there’s a problem with them...

Purchased upgrades seem to make very little difference. You can purchase modifications for your weapons that change damage and rate of fire by negligible amounts. You can purchase more health and armour that again, make very little difference. You can also upgrade your robot, which also makes no difference. If I can upgrade my character in a game, I want to become an unholy engine of destruction. I want to see lasers firing from every orifice and have armour so chunky I can’t move. I don’t want small, fractional increases to my equipment, I want space-shattering increases! Or at the very least, my bullets and lasers could turn a different colour.

Your pet robot is boring. He doesn’t speak, he doesn’t look cool. He’s barely competent. Sometimes he ignores your opponents until you order him to attack. When you do order him to attack he may decide instead to stand next to a barrel and make it explode. He might as well be a cupboard with a gun.

The controls are poor. Click the left mouse button to move, click the right to fire. Use WASD to move the camera. This makes dodging attacks a pain as you have to stop firing to click on a point on the screen to flee incoming fire. In the end I just stood there turning on anti-damage abilities while I held down the right mouse button. You also can’t change the controls at all. So even if you don’t want to use ‘H’ to heal, you have no choice in the matter.

The plot is clichéd, dull and so very, very obvious. There are twists in the tale but if you can’t see them coming then this must be the first time you’ve seen a piece of sci-fi fiction or you fell asleep at the screen during the cutscenes. The ending is scant reward for enduring the lost 6-8 hours you’ll spend on it. I felt no compulsion whatsoever to play through the game again to view the other endings. I watched them on Youtube instead.

Overall:

This is a disappointment. Instead of a fun, streamlined RPG, it’s a monotonous shoot ‘em up with all of the personality and fun streamlined out of it. If this game had been created by a couple of first time developers and released for a fiver, I could be more forgiving. It wouldn’t change my opinion of the game but it would have wasted less of my cash. Uwe Boll made a movie out of the original Dungeon Siege game, if he made a movie out of Space Siege, I think he’d actually improve the experience.


Arbitrary Score out of Ten: 4/10

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

A Scene From One Of My Favourite Self Help Books

This is a scene from the excellent 'How To Be A Superhero' written by Mark Leigh and Mike Lepine and illustrated by the very talented Steve Dillon. It's long out of print but if you can find a copy on eBay or somesuch place, I suggest you grab it. It contains critical advice for the burgeoning superhero and features plenty of Dillon's fantastic black and white art.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Dead Set

My favourite curmudgeon, Charlie Brooker, has a new show coming soon to E4 called Dead Set. Click on the red Big Brother Eye for a trailer.

The show is a zombie apocalypse seen through the eyes of Big Brother contestants trapped in the Big Brother house. The trailer suggests that this show will be taking zombies seriously and isn't aiming for a Shaun of the Dead comedy. Hopefully the series can maintain the zombie drama throughout its run. If it can capture the grim spirit of Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead then Dead Set should be a cracker!

Judge Dredd Does Not Get On Well With Children

Full Season Review - Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Season One


T:TSCC is a show about a girl and her pony, together they experience the trials and tribulations of life, show jumping and personal grooming.

Sorry, that’s the blurb for the show I’m developing. Rest assured, I Love Horses: The Series will be an event you won’t want to miss.


Anyway, lame comedy introductions aside, T:TSCC is a show spun out of the famous Terminator movie franchise. Forming a TV series out of a successful movie franchise is rarely successfully achieved (Blade as a recent example of failure), will T:TSCC succeed? Beware of mild spoilers ahead!


The TV series is a continuation of the storyline and events in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, and the principal characters of Sarah Connor and John Connor have been recast. Here’s the roll call:

The Cast:









The Set Up:

The Connors are still on the run from the authorities in 1999 after the events of T2: Judgement Day. Sarah has met someone and is seemingly prepared to settle down but she decides to go on the run again when her partner proposes marriage. Sarah is reported missing by her jilted lover and soon the FBI and another Terminator are tracking her and John. Luckily for John, his future adult self has once again sent back a protector from the future, a new model of Terminator named Cameron. To escape pursuit and to prevent the rise of Skynet, the Connors and Cameron travel forward to 2008 in the hopes of destroying Skynet before it is born.

Pros:

Killer robots. The series doesn’t shy away from using Terminators and even gives us an episode set in the future to really up the robot quotient. One of my fears was that the show would either shy away from expensive Terminator effects or become Terminator-of-the-week. I think they managed to find a happy medium by having Terminators sent back in time on different missions. In fact there is only one Terminator in the present whose mission is to kill John Connor (that we know of). Other Terminators that appear have been sent to achieve different objectives. This means the show is more about foiling Skynet’s long term plans rather than the Connors constantly running from a never ending stream of temporal assassins.

Terminator mythology is embraced by the series. We get to see earlier models of Terminator and some backstory to the time machine used by Skynet and the humans. The inclusion of Derek Reese may seem to be a little lazy at first (a brother of a popular character that happens to share the same traits) but it aids the story by adding friction to the group dynamic and provides someone who can motivate the other characters by reminding them of what they’re fighting against.

Cromartie is a chilling foe, he has some fantastically horrific scenes in the show and plays a more intelligent and resourceful Terminator than the traditional ‘Arnie’ or T-800 version. Cromartie has a scene in the final episode which serves as a reminder that he is a ruthless and unstoppable killing machine, which is all the more effective as it doesn’t explicity show the violence, merely the aftermath.

The supporting characters are interesting. I was dubious about having old love interest Charley Dixon become involved in Sarah’s world but it’s clear that his presence is necessary to provide an everyman reaction to events. He’s also useful to the team rather than the annoying hanger-on he could've become. Agent Ellison is also very entertaining as the laid back Fox Mulder-like agent that wants to believe.


Cons:

Sarah Connor’s voiceover at the beginning and conclusion of each episode. Urgh. It’s attempting to recreate the moody voiceovers that Linda Hamilton delivered in the first two movies but it gets really annoying in the TV series. It’s far too melodramatic, pretentious, and pretty dull. Imagine Mohinder’s voiceovers from Heroes delivered in an over earnest fashion (swap the superpowers for killer robots from the future as the topic of voiceover though).

John Connor’s school days. I really don't understand what the show is aiming for in these scenes. The high school stuff is never going to match up to the killer robot side of the show. There are some strange subplots that are seemingly abandoned after an episode or two but I think this is probably due to the strike rather than poor plotting. But why should we care about John’s attempts to fit in at school when the bigger threat to his life is some guy made of metal shooting him with an Uzi 9mm? Also, what’s the deal with Cameron? In the pilot episode she acted like a convincingly normal, human girl but after that episode she acts like a killer robot visiting school for the first time. Did she accidentally delete her ‘pass for a slightly weird teenager’ program?

The first season is very short (only nine episodes) and seemed to get cut short just as it had built momentum. Still, the final episode did leave the audience with a couple of great cliffhanger moments.

Bubbles from The Wire appears in a couple of episodes and is completely wasted. Seriously, the dude can act, give him something to do.

The series also wastes Danny from The Shield as a minor character.


Overall:

I enjoyed T:TSCC, it’s not the best piece of genre television out there but it tries to be slightly intelligent and it manages to indulge its fanbase without being obsessively geeky with it. Whilst Heroes and Lost may get all the press and acclaim, T:TSCC could fit in nicely as the reliable show that will hopefully maintain a steady level of quality rather than wildly fluctuating from one season to the next. The first season pretty much serves as an extended pilot, the second season will show us what the series will become. If the series maintains and improves on its promising start, it could become a hit.

Arbitrary Rating Out of Ten: 7.5

The Beginning


Hi there, my name’s Aaron and welcome to Snark and Fury. I’ve been blogging as jaxvor on livejournal since December 03 but I’ve decided to post my ‘A’ material (oh, okay C+ material) on this blog. So what do I blog about? Well, I cover film, TV and the occasional comic book. I post snarky recaps of bad TV shows; so far I’ve covered Torchwood, Robin Hood, Bonekickers and the terrible sixth season of 24. I like to have fun with the programmes that I recap rather than endlessly moan and bitch, which I hope comes through in my words.


I’m also going to post comic panels from my collection whenever I’m short on content. Just like the rest of the blogosphere.

So it’s a big welcome to the new readers and a warm welcome to my livejournal audience. Hope you like the new place.