Adbox 1

Thursday, 31 July 2014

UFC Undisputed 3


UFC Undisputed 3.



I think I actually found this in a bargain bin ages ago and just bought it on a 'I need something to play' whim, before playing it consistently for about eight hours, leaving it completely alone for a year, and then playing it consistently again for another eight hours. I think it was nearly new when I found it in that bargain bin. I think Blockbuster may have just put it straight there instead of stocking it on their shelves.

(R.I.P. Blockbuster.)

It's an interesting case study, though, and I say that because sometimes, when I'm browsing Tumblr, people I follow will reblog gifs of MMA fighters. Sometimes, when I see these gifs, I'm genuinely not sure if they're real or from a video game, and it's interesting, in a way, that these two pastimes, both touted as being bastions of masculinity (although I'm not sure why, when one involves sweaty men in tight, scanty clothing rolling about on the floor while moaning with exertion and delight before one forces the other to submit to him, and the other involves nothing more strenuous than pressing buttons) have combined to essentially create the most loving, artistic renderings of the oiled, shimmering male form in three dimensions that the world have ever seen, so lifelike that it's difficult for me, someone who plays video games frequently, to tell that they're video game graphics.

Okay, bad example.

So. UFC Undisputed 3 was part of the then-yearly UFC Undisputed series, each iteration of which was roughly indistinguishable from the last. It's essentially a fighting game that insists it's a sports game, as you make your character, select their fighting style, thus giving them a few special moves, and then are dropped into a campaign to work your way up from a small scale league to a larger one, and up your way to champion, by fighting a series of fictional and – in the higher echelons – real UFC fighters with your array of punches, kicks and wrestling moves.

Not that you're likely to be champion unless you master the incredibly awkward wrestling minigame, in which you chase a rapidly shrinking bar around an octagon with your joystick. The AI will nearly always win when it has to play that minigame, equipped as it is with supernatural bar-chasing abilities, and it will continually force you to play it when you start entering championship fights, even if you've literally never had to do so before. No, I'm not bitter. That exact situation didn't happen to me.

Between fights, you have training minigames, but after a certain amount of increase, the development of your stats will grind to a halt, leaving you essentially unable to grow any stronger. This happened very early for me both times I played, and I wasn't sure how on earth I was meant to fix this problem. If you could, the game wasn't telling on how.

If the game had introduced wrestling earlier, then I would have been ecstatic. Without it, the gameplay gets very repetitive: Depending on what stance you're in, you're either using the same buttons to punch someone in the face, guard your face, kick them in the torso and head, or drag them into clinches; or punch someone in the sides, guard your torso, kick them in the legs, or try to tackle them to the ground – and if you're both on the ground, then you're just either throwing punches or knees with those buttons, or wiggling your stick to try to get into a better position.

(Please send puns on 'wiggling your stick to try to get into a better position' to wiggle-that-funky-stick-boy@fissionmailure.com.)

What a charming minigame.

So, it's not exactly deep gameplay. Deeper gameplay has been created, both in gaming in general and, for that matter, in fighting games: BlazBlue it ain't, although BlazBlue has a lot more freedom for wacky antics and fighter differences.

Possibly the most obnoxious aspect of the game, though, is the documentary element.

I want to be completely clear here: When I buy a video game, it is for two things. Number one, fun gameplay. Number two, an immersive story that the medium allows me some ability to explore.

Number three, men with questionable style sense?

Here's something I don't buy video games for: Self-aggrandising mini-documentaries that come after every major milestone. You start the game, and a bunch of MMA fighters appear giving interviews on the starts of their careers. Okay, fine. You have your first fight, and another set of interviews starts. Your first training, another mini-documentary. You change leagues, another mini-documentary. Over and over, the game subjects you to snippets of interviews strung together into four minute long cutscenes.

Had I wanted to watch a set of interviews about the formation of various MMA fighter careers, I would have found a set of interviews about the formation of various MMA fighter careers, and I would have watched them. I did not do this, and it was a bit offputting to see them put into a video game.

They're luckily skippable, although the game hastens to remind you that you can totally view them at any time, if you're – I don't know, incredibly bored and literally the only thing you have is an Xbox, a television, this game, and one finger, thus making it impossible for you to actually play the game and leaving you with the documentaries as your only source of entertainment.

(Then again, maybe this game's main audience are interested. Maybe every time they see another torturous mashing together of interview snippets, they sigh wistfully about how dreamy the fighters are and sit with their chin on the hand, staring longingly at their television screens – but I don't see why, because I assume those people have Youtube and would have just found either this or similar material (celebrities talking about their origins is never a difficult thing to find online) without dropping forty quid on a video game to go with it.)

This is one of the few games where product placement makes
perfect sense.

I've spent a lot of time talking about everything wrong with this game, primarily because it's not very good. What it is, though, is better than its competitors – I'm sorry EA Sports MMA fans, I played that too and it made me want to die, same with Supremacy MMA – and surprisingly addictive. If you have about half a day to spare and you need to sink it into the entertainment equivalent of junk food, then this is a definite contender for your time, and will only leave you with a mild sense of gut-wrenching regret at the end of it all.


If your hobby is watching men sweatily running their hands over each other's bodies for the satisfaction of audience of breathlessly screaming people, then you might not even get that sense of regret at all. Different people, different needs. Different ways of grieving. 

Woo.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Editorial: Why Fifty Shades of Grey is Really Skeevy.


Editorial: Why Fifty Shades of Grey is Really Skeevy.

Hello.

This is Murphy. I have a dead horse here – I believe it's a Shetland pony – and a paddle. It works on two levels, because it both represents how I'm retreading ground tread over by many reviewers and critics before me, and an activity that would probably give Christian Grey a tingly feeling in his elbows.

So, you've probably heard by now: A trailer for the Fifty Shades of Grey movie is out, and it's – well, it looks like a horror film, as Nine Over Five's Reecey aptly pointed out to me. Which is fitting, really, because that's pretty much what Fifty Shades is. Horror. Unintentionally, but horror all the same.



I'm not really talking about the writing style and quality, although Heaven knows that's really quite awful. What I'm really thinking about is the relationship between Christian and Ana. Not the BDSM: If there's anything the people who see how problematic their relationship is – which is most people – can agree on, it's that the fairly tame BDSM is not really the issue here.

What is the issue is that the BDSM is kind of a smokescreen here for actual abusive behaviour, because people can point at said abuse and go 'Oh, no, it's just BDSM,' when it isn't, really.

So, let's break down into five points exactly what some of the many, many issues with Christian and Ana's relationship are.


1. Christian is jealous and controlling to the point of obsession.

No! The Italics Person who represents a bizarre caricature of anyone who disagrees with me cries. He's just protective and an alpha male! It's a really common trope in romance novels!

Okay, yes, it is a really common trope in romance novels. A lot of male romance protagonists are bizarrely and oddly jealous, and it's an uncomfortable trend, but sure, okay, people enjoy in fiction a lot of things they don't want to see in real life.

Christian takes it to an entirely new level, though. Christian is meticulous in isolating Ana from any man she might be acquainted with or, god forbid, friends with. Christian is nearly as meticulous in isolating Ana from any women she might be acquainted or, god forbid, friends with. One of the first things Christian does is essentially deprive Ana of the ability to talk to her friends about her relationship with Christian – and not just with the cudgel of anger or emotional distance, but with actual legal threats.

Not only that, but Christian will whine and nag and get angry and basically use any tool at his disposal to control what Ana eats, what she drinks, what she wears and where she travels. He takes pains to make sure she is always available for him to contact, and berates her when she doesn't immediately reply.

But even these don't seem to be enough for Christian, as he also refuses to permit Ana any space of her own. His desire to control her is so all-consuming that he invades her workplace, her home and, when she tries to escape to her mother's to get some space, her mother's home. Christian makes it very clear very early that Ana has no freedom, no space of her own, and nobody else in her life.

That alone is pretty terrifying.

Methinks Christian is insecure about his rooster.

2. Ana is terrified of Christian, and unable to give informed consent.

Anastasia Steele thinks that when people say 'sleeping together', they literally mean sleeping together.

She's a virgin, and the narrative's focus on that is weird, I think they spend more time talking about her virginity than the Bible does talking about the Virgin Mary's virginity, but you know, everyone is a virgin at some point. That's not really the problem.

The problem is that at the start of the story, Ana knows nothing about sex. She barely knows what it is. She's had nearly no romantic or sexual attachment to anybody beforehand, she doesn't even seem to know the biology of how it works, she's so painfully innocent she doesn't understand euphemisms, and now she's entering into a 24/7 BDSM relationship with a man she's just met.

But you know what, fine. Fiiiine. No problem. Except Ana is also terrified of Christian, and that alone would make her unable to give informed consent, because she clearly feels threatened, and given the above two points, who can blame her. She won't tell him about going to a friend's show because she doesn't know if it'll make him angry. She's nearly constantly crying about this relationship. She's confused and uncertain about his behaviour, and she can't predict how he'll react to things. She can't talk to her friends about it. She can't talk to anyone about it.

She is terrified of this man. 

"But Christian, why do you want to rub chilli powder onto
Mr. Snuggles?"


3. Christian is mercurial and hypersensitive.

Here's a fun game: Count the times Christian angrily berates Ana for asking if he's gay. She doesn't ask him often, incidentally – once as part of a set of rather weird interview questions written by somebody else, and I think maybe once more. But Christian brings it up frequently, and angrily. He can't seem to let it go. How dare somebody think he is gay? How very dare they? He seems utterly preoccupied by it.

Which would be weird, but it ties in to Christian's general moods. Any time somebody expresses that they don't agree with him, even if it's just on an opinion about something fairly minor, like food and drink, he takes it as a personal attack. He gets angry or morose. He tries to compel them to change their minds. Where almost anyone would just brush it off, Christian seems to be deeply insulted by anyone disagreeing with him about anything.

Ana is almost constantly walking on eggshells around him, because anything – literally anything – could cause Christian's demeanour to change from happy to angry to melancholy, and it's always her fault if it does, and he always takes pains to drag her mood down with his when he's down. Lots of people, especially people with mental health problems, can have sudden mood swings. I have sudden mood swings. But Christian weaponises his mood swings to try and lower other people's moods, and lacks any kind of self-awareness or sense of personal responsibility for his moods, and that's a lot more problematic.

... Um ... How do I make a pun here ... Christian is dogged in his
pursuit of ... no, that's not going to work ...

4. Other people start to notice that something's wrong.

Everyone eventually gets on the Christian-Is-Awesome train – spoiler – which is weird, because in the early parts of the story, people notice that there's something wrong. They really notice. Ana's mother notices that she's becoming withdrawn and is so often upset. Her flatmate notices, and realises it's because of Christian.

Everybody notices. We're meant to believe this is some kind of great, tumultuous love affair that makes Ana feel alive and alluring and so in love, et cetera, but that's not the impression either the audience (hopefully) or the other characters seem to get, because Ana shows all the signs of somebody trapped in an abusive relationship and slowly dying of it.

WHY A MOUNTAIN GOAT.

5. Christian Grey's idea of BDSM is not Safe, Sane or Consensual.

Hey, guys, you know why people involved in BDSM have safe words? It's because enthusiastic consent is really important, and if you've decided beforehand that 'Elephant' means 'no', then one party screaming elephant is a good sign that they want to stop, get dressed, and maybe watch some Dumbo.

When Ana remembers to use her safe word – she doesn't, at first – Christian ignores her. At that point, it's not safe, because if Ana is in danger and asks him to stop, it's clear he won't. It's definitely not consensual, because Ana has just asked him to stop, and withdrawn her consent, and he hasn't stopped. It's not sane, because for all Christian knows she could be in serious danger, and he doesn't seem to care.

Christian is a terrible dom in large part because he's a terrible person, and Ana is a terrible sub because she's not doing this for fun, she's doing this because she is literally a doormat who barely knows what sex is and is being taken apart by a predatory man who is probably a serial killer.

I give up. I just give up.




So, yes. By all means, this trailer should look like a horror film, because Fifty Shades of Grey is horrifying. If you want to reproduce the experience of watching this film, just do what I'm going to do: Get a dead horse, beat it for a bit, and then on release day, cut open its stomach and sew yourself inside for two hours while the hits of Nickelback play.  

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Teen Wolf S4E6: Orphaned.


Man, my stomach hurts. Not getting a burger from that Fish and Chip shop again, that's for sure.

Teen Wolf
S4E6: Orphaned.


This episode, we finally see Kate again. As the episode opens, she's enjoying a tape somebody made for her, and somehow managed to smuggle into her car while she was sleeping – it sounds like a history documentary about the Hales, although I can't imagine that an actual historian made it, unless it's possibly an evil werewolf historian.

There's a timeskip of indeterminate length forward, and Kate and her Berserkers have killed a bunch of the assassins coming to kill her, leaving one alive to question. He knows nothing about the Benefactor, and nothing about the tape – but he does know that another group, some people called the Orphans who 'look like teenagers', also received a similar tape. Any further negotiations are shut off when a man rudely shoots Kate in the stomach, and she loses control, jaguaring out and tearing both him and her interviewee apart. Also, seemingly eating the latter.

Finger-lickin' good.


Credits roll!

At the school, the Coach is angrily remarking that Garrett the Assassin is off the team, because – well, actually I'm not sure. Because his girlfriend's been arrested? Because Coach knows he stabbed someone on the opposite team, and that's just not on? Either way, Scott's father is there, apologising profusely for not showing up at the game, as are the Sheriff and Parrish, arresting Freshman Hitman Lass. She sees Parrish's name badge and makes the connection that he's the 'Jordan Parrish' off the dead pool, and thus another potential target.

As soon as Scott's father sees the thermal wire, he goes to question Freshhitlass, as it's an unusual weapon used in over a dozen murders. He also mentions that she doesn't have parents, and alludes to that being why 'they' are called 'the Orphans', which – I mean, that is what people whose parents are both dead are called, I mean, he's not wrong, but there's clearly meant to be some deeper meaning here.

Luckily, Evil Lacrosse Villain seems fine. Convulsing, throwing up miniature tennis balls (or possibly those lemon-flavoured Solero pops) and screaming, but you know. Fine. Derek and Stiles aren't able to hold him down, but Peter arrives and lays him flat with a punch, revealing that he's been getting stronger and regaining his werewolf powers, even as Derek seems to be losing his own. I don't even remember Peter losing any of his werewolf powers, so this is all a bit confusing to me.

Deaton makes an incision in the lad's chest, letting out the wolfsbane, and he starts repeating the same 'the sun, the moon, the truth' mantra the other dead werewolves had been saying. Deaton mentions that it's a Buddhist saying – making me realise that Americans or possibly just Deaton have a very strange way of pronouncing 'Buddhist', with an elongated 'ooo' diphthong instead of a short 'oo' monophthong – 'Three things cannot be long hidden: The Sun, the Moon, and the Truth.'

Well, hey, gives him something to think about that isn't
the yellow smoke billowing from his chest.

(Incidentally, I looked up the quote. It's not a direct quote from Siddharta Gautama, but it is a paraphrased, simplified version of something he said.)

This somehow leads to Peter and Derek to assume, somehow, that Satomi the Probably Dead Japanese Werewolf who knew Kira's mother is somehow involved.

Scott and Liam, meanwhile, break into Freshhitman's locker, and find in it a bag full of money. Scott lies, saying it's not got anything in it, because apparently his mother's in dire financial straits. I don't – really … She's a nurse? Nursing is a pretty highly paid profession. I mean, a nurse of her seniority earns a salary of about 40k a year here, and I checked, it's not much lower for a nurse in the US. Did they have some kind of massive outgoing I wasn't aware of last series?

Scott also is bewildered.

(While I'm being confused about this, Liam abandons his best mate while they're running, and promptly finds himself hit by a car, stabbed, and kidnapped by Garrett. Good job, Liam. Sterling work.)

At school, Malia is getting picked on by a teacher again, dear god who is running this school why are these teachers not being punished, before leaving class due to hearing Derek creepily whispering her name from the doorway. He needs to warn Evil Lacrosse Villain's pack, and he knows they meet in the woods – and nobody knows the woods better than Malia.

Stiles and Lydia talk to Parrish, who seems genuinely stunned that he's on the dead pool, and even more stunned that he's worth so much, but Stiles and Lydia are more concerned with getting the third cipher key.


Have. You. Tried. BOYD.
Have. You. Tried. ERIKA.
There is a clear pattern with the keys, try both of those.

Alternately, as people have suggested it could be people killed by the Nogitsune: Have you tried RHYS? Have you compiled a list of people killed by the Nogitsune and tried out all of their names?

At school, Garrett contacts Scott with his demands: He wants the money, and he wants Violet, or else Scott won't see Liam again. Or, one supposes, at least not alive. Presumably, Liam's not on the dead pool, then, as it'd make more sense to just kill him and kidnap someone else who Scott would give these things for. Like, you know, his totally un-superpowered mother and father.

Anyway, Garrett's plan is to have Scott stop an armoured car, and he'll deal with the rest. Should be simple enough. I'm sure nobody will die in this endeavour.

Yes, I'm sure the hoodie will obscure your identity from your
father and your best friend's father, Scott.

(Meanwhile, in a short scene with the hashtag 'CleverParrish', Parrish, Lydia and Stiles visit Eichen House, where the subject of how truly barbaric private healthcare is comes up again, to see Meredith. They get in to see her with a little bit of blackmail, but Meredith doesn't want to tell them the third cipher key, because apparently the Benefactor is fairly firmly against the idea.)

Also, Meredith screams and makes Lydia bleed from the ear.
Bit rude, can't really blame her, though.

Scott and Garrett are somewhat beaten to the punch, as the car has already been stopped in spectacular and bloody fashion by the Berserkers. Garrett shows off with his double-bladed spear, yelling the odds and, predictably, gets murdered until he is dead of murder, because a squishy human with a nice spear is still a squishy human.

(If he is a squishy human. Didn't the assassin say they 'look' like teenagers?)

Scott doesn't fare much better, and he wakes up with Deaton and Chris, having a bone knife pulled out of him. He says that Violet probably knows where Liam is, and Deaton says that the knife might be able to help with that.

… And then in the next scene we get the moment I've been dreading this entire series, where Derek drops a slur into conversation as casually as if he were talking about the weather. Just – go to hell, Jeff Davis, who wrote this episode. Go to hell however many people let it get through all these stages of production and on air. Go to hell anybody who tries to whinge 'Oh, but it's not a slur over here in Ameeeeeriiiiiiicaaaaaaa,' because no, taking a medical term that is still in frequent usage and using it as an insult, when nearly the entirety of the rest of the English speaking world views it as a repulsive slur – yes, yes that is a slur, and no amount of ethnocentric whining about how it's so mean that Americans don't get a free pass to be bigots is going to make that not so.

Yes, I've had this argument before. Yes, I am still bitter about it. When I last mentioned it, actually the response from Americans was overwhelmingly good and sensitive, so kudos for that, but I am still bitter and this does still make me nauseous, and if this review weren't already very late, I would stop writing it and go vent my anger on something.

Derek and Malia have a conversation. It's dull, I didn't listen to the rest of it, not going to bother talking about it, sure it was just them running through a list of the worst words they could think of. Let's move on.

Much more interesting is Liam having his The Dark Knight Rises moment. Apparently Liam's father gives the worst advice, incidentally. Yes, tell your son with a mental health issue that the only way to deal with his explosive anger is to hurt himself or hurt others. And yes, the phrasing is 'kids', but Liam's fifteen. He is a kid. The kidliest.

As Scott and Chris reach where the Berserkers (and probably Kate) are holed up, Derek and Malia continue to do nothing interesting. Inside the place of flappy plastic, things go South for Chris and Scott about as quickly as you'd expect them to, given that the Berserkers seem to be functionally invincible. Chris actually tries punching them, despite being a regular human, which I think just shows how much he's lost control of the situation. They nearly kill Chris before Kate stops them, but unfortunately, Scott has already discovered that Violet is quite dead. 

Confused looking Berserkers.

Apparently, Stiles and Lydia have tried those names I mentioned above, as they say they tried the names of every dead person they could think of, and this pleases me. Stiles posits that the third key might be someone who isn't dead yet, but will be quite soon, and Lydia starts trying to sense who it might be. I'm sure the answer will be completely benign, probably just some elderly man in the hospital who's ready to pass on and – wait, no, it's Derek.

Wow, I would've been way more torn up about that twenty minutes ago. Ah, well, never mind.

It successfully decodes the last third of the cipher, which includes both Liam (surprisingly) and Meredith (less surprisingly). Liam's not going to die just yet, though, because Scott has just rescued him. Meredith isn't so lucky, as Parrish tells Lydia that she hung herself in her room. In the aftermath of this series of events, Scott decides that nobody else is going to die, and takes it upon himself to make sure of this.

But there's still that bag of money to deal with. He and Stiles empty it to count it and in so doing find the tape mentioned at the start of this episode.

Down in the sewers, though, Peter has found Kate, and as the episode closes they form an alliance, although one which I doubt the efficacy of.

So, that's the sixth episode. Like yesterday's Falling Skies episode, it wasn't a super-striking one, but it does mark a change in the series, with Scott taking a more proactive role, the new Peter-Kate alliance, the dead pool fully discovered, Derek's future death looming, and the mysterious historical documentary tapes now in play. I do look forward to seeing what happens next week.

(And please, if you feel the urge to rapturously sing the virtues of casual bigotry at me, repress that urge. It was boring and offensive the first time somebody tried it, Lord only knows the tenth or eleventh time is not going to be the magic repetition that changes that.) 

Monday, 28 July 2014

Falling Skies S4E6: Third Door Down.

So, apparently, Espheni Gandalf is being called 'the Sage' now by the humans in show.


Espheni Gandalf it is.

Falling Skies
S4E6: Door Number Three.



This episode opens on candles and heavy breathing, so presumably it's Alexis doing some medita – WAIT A SECOND.

THAT'S NOT MEDITATING. THAT'S NOT EVEN ALEXIS. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU TWO DOING.

NO. STOP THAT RIGHT NOW.

MAGGIE, BEN IS YOUNG ENOUGH TO BE THE YOUNGER BROTHER OF YOUR YOUNGER BOYFRIEND. BEN, MAGGIE IS YOUR BROTHER'S GIRLFRIEND. WHAT IS – I DEMAND YOU STOP CANOOSHING.

Hal bursts in with a gaping chest wound, and Ben wakes up. It was all a dream. I demand you stop having these dreams, Ben. I'm glad this matter is settled. Anyway, Maggie tells him that – stop touching his leg, Maggie, dream-you has already proven that neither of you can be trusted to go within six feet of each other – Espheni Gandalf has escaped, and they head out to look for him.

Lourdes visits Alexis to inform her of this fact, and Alexis laments that Maggie's strange, brainwashed characterisation in the first episode didn't carry over into the rest of the series. Lourdes claims that she hasn't changed, which – to be honest, Lourdes, I question that assertion. Alexis says that her father is coming, with emphasis on father, and Lourdes immediately assumes Tom.


Lourdes. My sweetling. You're a devout Christian. How often, when Jesus refers to his 'father' does he mean Joseph? Because that is the analogy being drawn here. Alexis is Espheni Jesus.

Sticky Espheni Jesus, apparently, as her skin seems to be skitterising.

After the credits, we get the reunion between – well, a lot of people. Hal and company arrive first, and are saved from two people with guns by Tom, Matt and Dan, and then Ben comes hurrying over, followed by Anne.

The Masons aren't the only ones getting surprised today, as Lourdes brings Alexis some tea only to find out that she's been encased in a pulsating, glowing cocoon. My reaction here would be horror: Lourdes' seems to be one of curiosity and religious fervour.

She's quick to share with a pair of happy Mason parents just how different her definition of 'something amazing' is from the norm. I mean, don't get me wrong, a mammalian being forming a glowing cocoon around themselves does amaze, but not in the sparkly positive way Lourdes seems to think.

Ah, yes, sensitive Lourdes apparently missed that this might upset
the lass' parents.

Anne wants to cut Alexis out immediately, whereas Tom is much more cautious, pointing out that such a thing could be deadly to her. Lourdes, meanwhile, just seems completely confused that they aren't ecstatic: How is she not brainwashed, again?

Hal and Maggie reunite, and Hal – seems to imply that they were broken up in the first episode. You – you weren't, Hal. I saw that episode. You two were a little off with each other, but still together and in love. Ben is apparently rather displeased by their kiss-ish-getting-back-together-I-refuse-to-accept-that-they-were-ever-broken-up shenanigans, and says that Tom wants to see them.

At the cocoon, Kadar compares it to a caterpillar and a butterfly, saying that they're essentially two different creatures, with the butterfly DNA remaining inactive and then slowly activating, urging the caterpillar to create a chrysalis within which the butterfly replaces the caterpillar. Which isn't, I believe, how caterpillars actually become butterflies: It has more to do with extremely rapid mitosis, causing the pupal wing disks to expand rapidly to burst out through the flesh and become wings, before hardening.

Shaq the Volm seems to know something, but even with urging refuses to reveal anything more illuminating than 'it is an Espheni creation'.

Tom says he saw Anne in something similar in the Espheni tower, and Anne says she's been experiencing memories, and Kadar immediately jumps in with 'Oh, hey, I know how to do repressed memory therapy.'

… Okay. Deep breaths. Kadar. My sweetling. What is your field of expertise? A moment ago you were talking about Lepidoptery. Previously, you have talked about Quantum Physics. Last episode, you were taking blood samples and temperature. Now, you are talking about hypnotherapy and psychiatry. Ryouma bloody Sengoku, master of Xenobotany, Xenobiology, Quantum Physics, Archaeology and Engineering, does not have as many fields of study as you.

Omnidisciplinary scientists have to stop.

Just - just stop.

The following memory repression sequence is – bizarre on a medical level, as Kadar accidentally prompts her remember the death of her first son and then going 'Nope, nope, that's good.'

After Anne continues with the treatment, and Tom, Hal and Dan have a heart-to-heart, Hal discovers Maggie rallying the people against Alexis, saying that she's a threat, and that the sanctuary isn't really a sanctuary. Which, you know, is all probably true. Hal isn't angry, though, he wants to know more, and Maggie reveals that Alexis has been meeting with Espheni Gandalf. There's a lot of shock, and Pope calls for Alexis to be killed, only for Tom to appear in full Quiet Tomrage Mode.

Tom shuts down the meeting, in spite of an extra annoying Pope's protests, saying that until they know more, nobody is going to touch Alexis. Tom is also vexed at Hal, and bars him from going anywhere near Lexi.

Ben, meanwhile, tries to talk down Maggie, which apparently includes awkwardly putting the moves on her, and – god, just stop, Ben. Seriously. She's your brother's girlfriend, and you appear to have gotten caught up in a very contrived love triangle plot. Maggie doesn't buy what he's selling anyway.

Anne's repressed memory therapy reveals a memory of Karen saying that Maggie was 'just like her' – that is, some kind of Espheni-human cross, 'only better', and that she'd soon serve Karen's purpose. Anne wakes up and has a minor breakdown over not being able to save Alexis, only to realise that Kadar isn't talking back, and also that she's not inside her own body.

(Why does Anne view her memories in the third person?)

Tom finally asks Lourdes why she's acting like a brainwashed cult leader, and Lourdes says it's about fear, that when Tom discovered that she was the mole, she was consumed by fear. Unless 'fear' is now a euphemism for 'mind controlling worms', I'm not sure that's technically true, Lourdes. Anyway, she gives a crazy cult speech to Tom, who seems unconvinced, but admits he'll need her help to keep people from hurting Alexis.

Hal talks to Dingaan, who doesn't have any advice, but Shaq the Volm does: Espheni hatchlings, he says, are extremely violent upon their first hatching, and that they can sense danger. He says that the Volm eliminate any Espheni cocoons they can find, and Hal and (regrettably) Pope take this as a reason to kill Alexis.

Aw, I would ship them if I didn't already ship Hal/Maggie.

Alexis seems to sense this, as her cocoon starts radiating heat and steam. Lourdes and her fellow believers form a line to keep the murder-mob out, although Hal eventually manages to get through, along with Maggie and Pope, telling Dingaan and Tector to keep more murdery of the murder-mob away.

Both sides have a stand-off, explaining their sides, with Maggie taking Tom's side. Tom eventually convinces them to stand on, telling Pope and Tector to evacuate the area, while the Masons plus Dan and Maggie stay behind to deal with whatever happens when Alexis comes out.

(As this is afoot, Anne continues her out of body experience, and Kadar's attempts to wake her up don't seem to help. She's joined, however, by Alexis, who shows her a memory of herself as a child, choosing Anne over Karen. She explains that she'll always put her family first, and that Anne doesn't need to save her, because she's going to save everyone else. Then, she wakes Anne up, who runs, presumably heading cocoonwards.)

Aw, what an adorable deathchild.


Anne arrives at the cocoon and assures them that Alexis won't hurt them, before placing her hand on the cocoon. Within, Alexis responds, and her eyes, now green, open. 

Creepy.

So, that's the sixth episode. Not quite as dramatic as I think we were all expecting, but with Alexis now emerging from her cocoon it's definitely a turning point in the show, bringing with it a lot of new problems, especially since Chinatown may not be safe anymore, what with people bringing weapons into it.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D.


Why an ocarina? Why not the banjo?

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D.


Well, here's the main thing I took away from playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D: I'm not very good at Zelda games. I am actually quite bad at Zelda games, or possibly everyone is quite bad at Zelda games and I never noticed before, but probably just me. As much as I enjoy watching other people play Zelda games, there are apparently the natural Zelda players of the world, and the people who have to resort to flinging themselves blindly about a dungeon for half an hour before pleading with their friends to act as kind of living walkthroughs that dispense advice like more in-depth but also more long-suffering Sheikah Stones.

So, let's keep that firmly in mind as we go on with this review. I am bad at this game. I am genuinely terrible at this game. People who are good at this game might literally be wizards.

Literal magical wizards.

Anyway. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D is, as the title might suggest, the 3DS version of the 1998 game of almost the same name, which sent the franchise skyrocketing to popularity and also started off the horrible split timeline shenanigans, in which the timeline splits into four separate strands. Ocarina of Time follows Link, a young boy raised in a village of ageless forest children, who is summoned before the Great Deku Tree and told of Ganondorf, an evil sorceror. Collecting three jewels from three peoples across the world of Hyrule, he then accidentally opens the door for Ganondorf to gain Unlimited Cosmic Power, and is sealed for seven years until he can grow into the adult hero capable of defeating the dark king.

It's a fairly iconic game, and is largely responsible for the spawning of the juggernaut Zelda franchise that looms large over video gaming today, and the 3DS remake is a pretty faithful remake of it. Arguably too faithful: Two temples, a Wind Temple and an Earth Temple, were cut from the original game due to cartridge size, and in a stunning show of faith in the virtues of perfect remakes, aren't re-instated here, even though that would probably be an excellent selling point.

The Great Deku Tree.

In terms of gameplay, it's – well, I found it unspeakably awkward. The fact that other people can apparently throw their bombs with perfect accuracy and consistently L-target enemies without the camera swerving around them is a mystery and a bafflement to me. Maybe it's just me and we need someone else's opinion on this, but it all came off as just unspeakably awkward. Far more awkward than it appeared when I was watching other people play it. More than once, I accidentally downed a potion despite being at nearly full health when I meant to throw a bomb. I frequently got lost in the dungeons and couldn't figure out even remotely what I was meant to do.

It was all the more baffling because the Zelda games and Okami are very similar, and I was great at Okami, but I'm starting to think that maybe that was just because in that game, every time you need to use one of your tricks and skills, you're functionally pausing the game as you do it, meaning that the chance of inaccuracy as you flee madly from a giant dinosaur that needs you to throw bombs into its mouth – a task that must be perfectly timed and that requires you to be very close and running at the time – is greatly reduced.

(Okami was still unspeakably awkward at times anyway, though.)

JUST GO INTO THE MOUTH, BOMB.

The game is beautiful to look at, I'll say that, though. The graphics aren't massively complex, nor do they really need to be (and they seem to be trying to stay as close to the original game as possible while making everything much smoother and clearer), and everything has a nice, bright sheen to it, making the surroundings seem warm and inviting. This was sometimes a little confusing, such as when I emerged from the Temple of Time into a hellish world of monsters, staggered through the ruined, zombie infested Hyrule Castle Town beneath a red, burning sky and finally emerged over the broken drawbridge onto a … incredibly sunny and cheerful Hyrule Field.

Well, that hellish future certainly didn't pan out. Everything remained bright and fluffy until I got to the Kokiri Village, which was also run down and decaying, giving the impression that the apocalypse had only really happened around the edges of the map.

Don't worry, things brighten up the second you get out of town.

The soundtrack is good too, and – well, I'll be honest, there's not much more I can say about that. Zelda soundtracks are always very good. Skyward Sword, an often subpar game, had a strikingly beautiful soundtrack, even if it did send fanboys into a rage because it was all orchestrated rather than synthesised (because … that's a … bad thing?).

As for the story – well, Ocarina of Time isn't my favourite Zelda game, or my second favourite, even. Or my third favourite. But I can see why people do like it: It's a strong storyline with a good villain, and it's really no mystery as to how this is considered one of the great high points of the Zelda franchise. I prefer The Wind Waker and Majora's Mask because I think they're very unique and very memorable, and Twilight Princess over both of them because it feels vast, sweeping, and epic, and also probably because it was my first experience with the franchise.

One notable thing about Ocarina of Time is that for all people protest that the Zelda series are about a dude rescuing a princess (I'm not sure all that much rescuing of Zelda actually takes place in this game, but she's rescued in other games, that much is true) there's really no shortage of strong female characters in this game. There's Zelda herself, who is an active participant in bringing down Ganondorf; there's Saria, functional leader of the Kokiri and mentor figure to Link; there's Impa, who's also very active in-game and a ninja; Nabooru, who while brainwashed by two evil witches is a miniboss battle, and who along with Impa, Saria and Zelda is one of the seven most powerful people in the story. On the villain side, there's Kotake and Koume, two witch sisters who raised Ganondorf into the evil sorcerer king he is today, and who are not only boss battles in this game, but are also major villains of a future set of games.

It's unusual to see a game with that many strong, and important female characters today, let alone in 1998.

What a lovely evil castle.

Maybe playing Zelda games just isn't for me. Maybe, in the same way that the majority of people who watch football matches would probably break their own noses on the ground if they tried to kick a ball, I am forever consigned to watching other people play Zelda games and occasionally cheering 'GET IN THERE' or 'WHAT THE 'ELL ARE YOU DOIN', THROW A BOMB INTO ITS BELLY CAVITY!' Maybe I could make up some kind of chant for whenever Ganondorf shows up, like 'THREE CONSOLE ITERATIONS AND SOME HANDHELDS I THINK DON'T QUOTE ME A-WOOO-A-WOOO.'

So essentially what I do now.

Nor, I think, will I ever hold Ocarina of Time in as high regard as some fans do. I can see why – and I say that genuinely, not as a segue into a snide comment about nostalgia goggles – because it is a good game with a lot going for it, but I feel it lacks the character that a lot of its sequels showed. Even Skyward Sword, for all that I would put it many, many miles below Ocarina of Time in a ranking of Zelda games, oozes with character.

Remember what I said earlier about the apocalypse?
This is post apocalyptic Hyrule Field. Save us from the
horror of this world of monsters and darkness and death, Link.

It's looking like it'll be a good few years for the Zelda franchise, too. A Link Between Worlds came out a few months ago to great acclaim, and come Autumn we'll be seeing Hyrule Warriors, a Dynasty Warriors style hack-and-slash, before the new, mysterious, much anticipated next console Zelda game comes out next year.

So what we should be getting from this, really, is that while we still don't have a definite release date for either of Square-Enix's two big titles, Nintendo is churning out varied and interesting Zelda games on a variety of consoles.

Somebody needs to step their game up and it's not Nintendo.



Friday, 25 July 2014

Tiger and Bunny: The Rising.


Thank god for this film. I was almost going to watch and review Advent Children. That's not something anybody should have to do.

Tiger and Bunny
The Rising.



So, context.

Tiger and Bunny is a cruel joke played by advertisers. Also, quite a good superhero anime. It's difficult to say which it is first and which it is second. Taking place in Sternbild City, the show revolves around a group of superheroes, sponsored by various real world companies (Amazon, Bandai, and Dominos Pizza are all real world companies which literally paid to be included as sponsors in an anime mocking companies which literally pay to be included as sponsors), where saving people is less important than looking dramatic and cool on TV and thus getting your sponsor the most amount of time on screen and prestige.

In this world, one hero, Kotetsu (aka 'Wild Tiger'), who has the power to increase his strength, speed, durability, etc by a hundred, is consistently at the bottom of the hero rankings due to his excessive focus on saving people. Faced with the company that he has a contract with him failing, he's forced to form the first ever hero duo with a newcomer, Barnaby, who has the same power that he does. Over time, they become aware of a conspiracy within Sternbild city, linking back to the mysterious organisation Ouroboros.

Not – not a lot of that carries over to this film, which is seemingly meant to cap off the series but actually feels more like the first three or four episodes of a second series. The idea of corporate corruption and the privatisation of superheroes looms large in the first act, but fades rapidly from the second act onwards to the point where it's nearly invisible by the end. Ouroboros, who were still mysterious but implied to be highly important at the end of the series, are pretty much just namedropped once (in reference to the series, no less) and then forgotten about. The idea of an uneasy partnership gradually growing into a – well, the show seemingly says bromance, I hold that no bromance in the world involves cutesy nicknames; one party clutching the other to his chest, while the second softly remarks on what pretty eyes he has; or one party stating that he considers the other his life partner – thing is naturally touched upon, but there's not really anywhere it can go after the end of the series, except to temporarily separate them and have Kotetsu act like he's Barnaby sad ex-boyfriend.

Regular little Kamen Rider here.

… Actually, let's briefly talk about LGBT stuff in this film, because there was both some confusion on my part about one particular character until I checked official material, and a very well-meaning but sometimes a bit bewildering attempt at a positive message in that regard. Here is fire-themed superhero Nathan Seymore:

Incidentally, I really like that cape.

(Incidentally, for reasons that will probably become clear in a moment, I'm going to be using the gender-neutral pronoun 'ze' for Nathan.)

I was under the impression that ze was a gay man. There are a couple of reasons for this, but we'll focus on the most prominent: That ze outright says ze is gay in this film. As it turns out, according to official side-material ze's actually agender, which is – also referenced in this film, but referenced in such a way that it's confusing as to whether ze meant agenderism, genderfluidity or being gay, especially since there's a strong vein of Japanese culture that perceives homosexuality, transgenderism (that is – probably not the correct suffix, and probably wasn't for 'agenderism' either), and genderfluidity as being interchangeable or very closely related.

What happens is we get several dream sequences of Nathan being taunted as a teenager for – well, partly for having superpowers it seems, and partly for being agender, and partly for liking men, broken when ze hears a speech from an associate of zer's about how ze's 'strong like a man, but soft and caring like a woman'.

The bit that made me squint a little was when ze rejoins the battle and announces that men are courageous and women are caring, and that makes gay people invincible, which rather unfortunately suggests that anyone who's gay is agender or genderfluid or transgender, and vice versa, when of course none of those four things are the same. I'm sitting here wondering if the subtitlers just made an error here, or interpreted a word that could ambiguously mean genderfluid or gay incorrectly, or even just that Japanese may not have a word for genderfluid and may have just used the term for gay instead.

It is undeniably well-meaning, though. Sincerity gushes out of every pore of those scenes. Clearly somewhere along the line, either in production or in translation, there was some clumsy work done here that made it a bit confusing and attached some awkward implications, and I genuinely have no idea where that clumsiness happened – but equally clearly, there is a (slightly tortured) attempt at a positive message for LGBT people. Do you know how rare that is in films? It is pretty rare, and it's especially rare for that kind of message to take up such a considerable chunk of the film's time (all told, the scenes add up to about ten minutes of a very densely plotted hundred minute film).

Back onto the film in general, then. Taking place after the end of the series, Kotetsu finds himself rudely booted out of superheroing when a new, shady guy takes over his company, and Barnaby is partnered with a slightly sociopathic seeming gravity-manipulator, Golden Ryan. But there's no time to mope as the city is under attack by a group of villains recreating Sternbild's apocalyptic legend of the goddess of justice. 

It's a rubble and garish costumes themed legend.

Kotetsu and Barnaby's separation doesn't carry much bite to it, to be honest, because in a film literally named after them, they were never going to remain apart for very long – and actually, it's a little baffling that they're apart for so long as it is. The first act of the film has them together, and then they pretty much never interact until their reunion at the very end. It wouldn't be all that odd to have them separated for two or three episodes if this was a full series, but as this is just a hundred minute film, having the titular duo separated for most of the film seems like a bizarre choice.

In a pleasing twist, though, the other heroes, who were often neglected in the series itself, for the most part all get decent amounts of coverage here. Some more than others, admittedly – as mentioned earlier, Nathan gets an entire character arc, and so does child superhero Dragon Kid – but nobody feels like they're only there as a background character, or as if the film has just forgotten about them. 

... Did you just catch a sword with your knuckles.
Seems inefficient.

The villains, unfortunately, are so-so. Not completely forgettable, not massively memorable either. It's a shame, because they're actually set up well, but when they appear, they don't really live up to the expectations the film created for them. Even recurring series villain Lunatic, when he shows up, is a little underwhelming: He spouts off more or less the same diatribe that he always does, jumps around a bit, and then leaves without ceremony just in time for the climactic battle with a giant robot.

Probably the most distinctive of the villain gang.

It's a very well-animated, visually interesting film, and both the music and the voice acting are very good. My biggest bugbear with it, though, has to be that it just left me going 'So what?' at the end. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy it. But there are as yet no further films or series announced, and instead of spending this film on exploring the plot threads left hanging at the end of the last series, this film just introduces an entirely new plot, not self-contained enough for the film to be standalone (as it rather relies on you knowing who the characters all are, and what their relationships with each other are, and a few plot developments from the series), but not actually working especially well as a continuation – and definitely not a conclusion to – its parent series.

It's not what I was expecting, insofar as I was expecting anything, having forgotten that this film was a thing that was actually happening until I saw that it had actually happened. As far as recommending it goes: Well, I'll recommend the series, and if you enjoy that, then look up this film. As I said before, for all that it barely connects with the overarching plot of the series, it doesn't really work very well as a standalone feature, so you'll just be confused and alarmed if you watch it on its own, I think. Or entranced by the pretty animation. Either way.



Thursday, 24 July 2014

Portal 2.

This was a triumph~

I'm making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS.

Portal 2.



Portal was never really meant to have a sequel, was it? Portal was never really meant to be, being more just a fun extra project for The Orange Box that players could blur through in two hours, featuring a simple puzzle gameplay mechanic, a single voice actor, and locations mostly made from recycled Half-Life 2 assets, as a spiritual successor to the rather commercially unsuccessful Narbacular Drop.

Then it – kind of became a massive pop culture icon and one of the most well-loved video games in the medium. Even people who haven't played it might well have heard people remarking that 'the cake is a lie', which has arguably become the game's most prominent legacy.

In a medium where length, graphical quality, and how much of your console of choice's processing power it can eat are often used as markers for a game's worth, it remains genuinely surprising that Portal was such a success. You can see why, sure: That one voice actor is excellent, delivering well-written and funny lines; the Half-Life 2 assets are used to great effect; and the gameplay mechanic is simple enough to be easily grasped but can also be applied to a diverse range of puzzles.

I don't think anybody was really expecting a Portal 2, either. Hoping for it, maybe. Expecting it, probably not. But it came out anyway, now with four voice actors (J.K. Simmons, Nolan North and Steven Merchant joining Ellen McLain) and about three hours worth of extra length, making it about twice as long as the first game.

That's 100% more science.

In Portal 2, our intrepid, mute adventurer/test subject Chell awakens an indeterminate time after her battle with the Aperture Science AI GLaDOS, under the watchful eye of Wheatley, a rogue personality core who seems to be pretty much an idiot, but who is invested in getting them both out of the broken and crumbling research facility. Once again, Chell is armed only with springs on her ankles that stop her being hurt from falls, and the Portal Gun, which can create one blue portal and one orange portal, that connect to each other, allowing instant transportation of herself or any other object between those two spots.

As Chell and Wheatley continue through the facility, they accidentally re-awaken GLaDOS, who separates the two of them, forces Chell back into testing, and starts rebuilding the facility. Things really only go downhill from there.

The single player campaign is – long. Longer than it really should be. Long enough that it kind of outstays its welcome, and the humour starts to wear a bit thin at times, and it all seems to be trying a bit too hard, attempting to carve out a new identity for itself while clinging to that which made its predecessor popular. It's a noticeable flaw in what is, nevertheless, a good game with fun dialogue and an actually fairly engaging storyline, as you discover more about the history of Aperture Science. The gameplay, too, is good, but also starts to wear a bit towards the end, when the addition of speed, bounce, and portal-surface goos that can be sprayed from dispensers over an area begins to drag on long enough to stop being 'interesting new gameplay element' and start being 'getting a little old gameplay element'.

The thing, I suppose, is that Portal was never meant to be a game longer than about four hours maximum: The gameplay can't hold up for longer than that, really, and no amount of good humour from the game's core cast can really mitigate that for very long.

What lovely artwork.

That said, I didn't struggle to complete Portal 2's single player campaign. I didn't leave it hating it, like I did with Final Fantasy XIII. The worst I can say about it is 'I enjoyed it, but it went on a little too long', and all things considered that's a pretty mild criticism. Also, there's an opera at the end. So that's nice.

So, multiplayer. I played multiplayer quite a long time after I played the solo campaign, with Reecey of Nine Over Five, and in some respects – mostly gameplay respects – it's better than the solo game. In multiplayer, you play as two testing robots, one of which creates orange and red portals which connect to each other, and the other creating blue and purple portals which also connect to each other. The fact that you have two sets of portals and two characters who can now be moved around through them alters the gameplay massively, giving it about four or five extra levels of depth.

It's also shorter – you could easily complete the entire multiplayer storyline, including the extra levels 'Art Therapy', in about four hours if you're good at working together. 

Atlas and P-Body.

Reecey and I were not good at working together.

Some of this was because we have very different ways of solving puzzles.

Some of this was because we're not very patient people.

Most of this was because I kept murdering her. Oh, what fun we had. She killed me, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, she killed me, she killed me, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, I killed her, she killed me, I killed her …

It got to the point where a puzzle required, like many puzzles do, for one player to put themselves in a position of vulnerability – in this case, walking on a hard light bridge that I could shut down at any time and, indeed, had done twice already – and I asked her to trust me, only to get incredulity in response.

Well, that looks dangerous.

But that's part of the fun of it, and something the game actively encourages, as GlaDOS attempts to turn you against each other by showing blatant favouritism to you each in turn or, at one point, saying different things to each of you.

The plot of the multiplayer sections is not at all bad either. It's not much of a plot, and it's mostly delivered in hints at the end of each of the testing courses, but it's a coherent plot, which is more than can be said for the vast majority of multiplayer experiences, including games built entirely around multiplayer. The Art Therapy levels also have their own storyline that leads off from the main multiplayer campaign, like a kind of mini-sequel.

So, it's a flawed game. If we're being honest, they probably shouldn't make a Portal 3, unless they're willing to seriously mix up the environs and characters (isn't there an Aperture Science ship that's gone missing in the Half-Life games? Could be fun), and maybe even implement some kind of fundamental change to the gameplay as well. Flawed doesn't mean bad, though, and I'm glad this game exists, both because I think, on balance, the solo campaign is a fun and worthy experience, and because the multiplayer campaign is amazingly fun. 

Ah, our glorious leader, Cave.