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Monday, 31 August 2015

Falling Skies S5


Falling Skies
Series 5.



(Contains spoilers.)

So, Falling Skies is over, and not a moment too soon. In fact, about two series too late, if I'm being entirely honest. Long time readers of this blog will remember that I did Falling Skies' fourth series as an ongoing last year, and good lord it was a slog. This year's offering hasn't been any better. In fact, I'd warrant that it was worse.

In the aftermath of blowing up the power core on the Moon, Tom awakens on Earth, having been saved by the Dorniya, a telepathic species who were almost wiped out by the Espheni. With telepathic guidance from the last remaining Dorniya, Tom and the 2nd Mass make a push to take out the last of the Espheni occupation on Earth - a task only made more difficult when Pope betrays them, and when the leader of the Espheni arrives on Earth.

I don't even know where to start with all the things I hated about this series. The dropped or mangled plot threads, perhaps? The last series hinted that the Espheni were a client species of a greater power, with mentions of how the Espheni's children were being used as leverage - but that never went anywhere. Last series also made mention of the Espheni's Great Enemy, who had been pursuing them across the universe - that enemy, in an odd and rather hurried turn, is revealed to be the Dorniya, of which there is a single member left (and which the Espheni enslaved a very long time ago). Not exactly the great, terrifying force they were set up as.

Ah, a lovely seaside scene.

I might forgive those problems, if the actual plot we were given this series was at all interesting, but it wasn't: The central plot of the series involves something mysterious going on in Washington DC, and trying to get there to find out what it is. It turns out to be the Espheni Queen, who dies in the most lacklustre and bland confrontation ever, after giving a short monologue about how she came to Earth once before, and her daughter was killed by humans. Because we - needed a personal motivation for the Espheni, whose whole modus operandi consists of taking over planets and enslaving their species, I guess? It's a wholly unnecessary addition, forgotten almost as soon as it's mentioned.

Other subplots in the series include 'a woman gets fridged, so Pope goes off the rails', 'a woman gets fridged, so Anthony goes off the rails', and 'Hal and Ben fight over Maggie as if she's an object, then Maggie reveals that her bodily autonomy is less important to her than what Hal wants, and then she apologises to them and several other men for Hal and Ben fighting over her.' 

I'm not kidding - I would very much like to be, but I'm not. It's like the series was written by a meninist, and that's terrible. Every scene involving those three made my skin crawl, and that's not - good. That's pretty terrible, actually. Falling Skies' inability to write anything other than white men in a way that isn't awful is well documented, but this series takes it to entirely new heights.

The Espheni Queen, who does not resemble the Espheni at all.

The whole series gives the impression of being a rush job by people who didn't really care about what they were making, who were banking on as many tired tropes and cliches as possible to try and rouse any interest from the audience - and they failed, because there's really no amount of 'Pope is evil no really this time' or 'love triangles enrich the plot' or 'kill the alien queen and you'll kill them all' that will distract from the fact that there's nothing interesting going on. It's just dullness, misogyny, and more dullness.

There are actually entire swathes of this series that I can't remember, because they failed to make any impression on me.

The series ends on a very odd note, too. Falling Skies has always been deeply jingoistic, from its very first episode - any show that compares humans struggling against genocidal alien invaders to the American colonists (who, let's not forget, were genocidal invaders) fighting against the British (who were not exactly much better - the only remotely innocent party in this war was the Native Americans) was always going to be - but the final episode's epilogue takes it to new levels by revealing that a) The head of the statue of Abraham Lincoln was apparently restored before things like, say, electricity, b) By having suspiciously long applause for the sentence 'There was once a nation called ... America!', and c) By having Washington apparently now being capital of the world.

Pope, now bald to symbolise being evil, I guess.

It's a small thing, but it really hammers in how this was a series obsessed with America and Americana, and it's a bizarre way to end the series, creating the impression less of a world rebuilding itself from war (especially when the epilogue takes place less than nine months after the end of the war) and more of some kind of horrifying dystopia where statues, champagne, and pretty uniforms are considered more important than basic infrastructure. 

All in all, I'm glad that this show is over. It got off to a good start in its early series, but its decline was rapid and horrific to watch. But it could be worse, it could be Supernatural. 

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Dark Matter.


Dark Matter.



Killjoys, one of the two Canadian space operas airing this season, ended last week, and I quickly took to this blog to talk about how, while I enjoyed it, it felt less clever, less full, less everything than space operas of years past. So how does its sister series, Dark Matter, measure up? Not great, if I'm being honest.

On a ship traveling through deep space, six crew members wake up from stasis to find that they have no memories - while their skills are intact, they don't remember any details about their own lives. After awakening their ship's service android and arriving at a mining colony under threat from a large corporation, the crew discovers that five out of six of them are wanted and infamous criminals, and what's more, are the mercenaries hired to wipe out the population of the mining colony. 

I was quite critical of Killjoys for utterly failing to make me care about the world which the characters inhabited, for being less cunning with its budget than the made-on-a-shoestring-and-a-prayer space operas of old were, for often being light on sci-fi elements: Dark Matter has all those problems, and rounds it out by having a less engaging cast than Killjoys, and less well-written dialogue.

After thirteen episodes - three more than Killjoys, so it doesn't even have the excuse of a shorter running time - I feel like I know as little about the universe the characters live in as I did when the series started. It's space. It's run by corporations. And that's - more or less it. I don't know how these corporations function, or what the role of governments is in all of this, or even what any important planets are. I knew more about the world of Firefly by the end of its very first episode. 

Ah, the sci-fi black leather ensemble. I remember you from The Daedalus Encounter.

And that's a problem, because space operas - which by definition dump viewers into a very large and very alien world - have to make the audience feel like they have a foothold in that world, a knowledge base to work off. That's integral to that world feeling real, and the audience then caring about that world. But this world doesn't feel real, especially as Dark Matter chose not to avail itself of any of the other ways that you can make viewers care about a world like, for example, giving your main cast a stake in that world's welfare (since the cast is entirely composed of amnesiacs and one robot, none of them have any attachment to anything, and the show does not rush to give them any), or a vibrant supporting cast (there are probably about three recurring characters in the show, and they are all villainous). 

So, what we're left with is a situation where an entire planet can be destroyed, and I do not care. I don't feel any impact from it, and judging by how the crew dwells on it for all of one scene, neither do any of the characters.

That planet being destroyed is never really picked up on as a plot thread, incidentally, because there isn't a coherent plot running through this series. There are about a dozen plots started - who wiped their memories, character specific plots for each member of the crew, the illegal weapons research of the various corporations, a man with a grudge against the crew for killing his brother, et cetera, but none of them are ever finished. Rather than having a discrete plot arc, the series simply stops, dead in its tracks, after setting up a bunch of different plot threads to be concluded later.

It's not yet been renewed, incidentally. 

The aggressively boring romance.

Killjoys had a bit of this problem too, but it did at least feel like it built to some kind of climax, and I forgave it a lot of its sins because its characters were interesting and the dialogue was snappy and witty. This is not the case with Dark Matter - none of its dialogue is terrible, but none of it is particularly amazing, either. Instead, it occupies a constant state of middling, and the same could be said of its characters, none of whom are unlikable, but none of whom have any particular depth, either. 

(It doesn't help that since they're all designated numbers instead of names, it's difficult to keep track of who's who. One is the whiny white guy, I know that, and two is the badass ship's captain, but I have no idea which ones are Three, Four, Five, and Six.)

I did somewhat enjoy Dark Matter, enough so that I happily tuned in every week, but it was, in many respects (certainly more respects than Killjoys) a massive disappointment, and that's a shame. I'm not too fussed either way over whether it gets renewed - either it does, in which case I'll probably watch it, or it doesn't, in which case I'm quite content to forget about it. 

Friday, 28 August 2015

Hannibal Series 3.


Hannibal
Series 3



This has been an odd last series of Hannibal, and by 'odd' I mean 'far and away the least engaging and interesting'. 

Picking up some months after the murdertastic second series finale, series three sees Will and Jack chasing Hannibal down in Italy, where he has set himself up as Doctor Roman Fell, a museum curator. They aren't the only ones after Hannibal, however, as Mason Verger, left disfigured by Hannibal previously, has diverted his vast wealth towards capturing both Will and the cannibalistic serial killer for himself, and has enlisted the help of Alana to do so.

At the moment, the internet is buzzing with claims that Hannibal has changed television forever, that it was a new breed of TV show unlike anything else that came before - and after seeing it limp to its finish with a lacklustre and dry final series, after two series which often relied more on shock moments than on good writing, I find myself utterly unable to agree. In the end, Hannibal was not special, was not remarkable. 

I can't say entirely whether my dissatisfaction with this third series stems from this series being less worthwhile than those before it, or from the realisation that none of Hannibal was ever that good. There was the dawning realisation, this series, that you could take any character's dialogue and give it to anybody else, and it would fit. The pretentious, purple dialogue does not vary by character, only by what spins the individual actors put on it - and nowhere was that more obvious than this series, in which everybody, bar none, philosophises on the nature of man, each one's monologues written with the same cadence, the same use of language, the same quirks. It gets boring after a while.

What a pretty cast photo.

That's a good way, in fact, of describing most of this series: Boring. Drab. Uninspiring and, it seems, uninspired. The hunt for Hannibal feels less like a game of cat and mouse and more like a holding pattern, and I felt absolutely no tension watching it. The entire Italy arc - from the plot to the characters to, surprisingly, the setting (how do you make Florence, one of the most opulent cities around, boring?) felt lifeless. It's just all so bland and colourless.

It's got an exhaustion to it, one that seems to be afflicting not just the writers, but also the actors, who heave and sigh out their lines with growing amounts of disinterest as the series goes on. It's understandable: Most of this series' plotlines are rehashes of stories from the last two series, and I would be tired if I had to play out the same character arcs that I'd already played, again, inevitably winding towards the same conclusion.

Which is, perhaps, why the Red Dragon arc, taking up the last third to half of the series, feels a bit more engaging, a bit more like a breath of fresh air. It shuffles in new characters with new actors - chief among them Francis Dolarhyde, played by Richard Armitage (casting rumours way, way back when the first series was airing tipped David Tennant for playing him, but Armitage, with his growly voice and imposing aura, arguably works better). Armitage breathes life into a dying show, but even he can't seem to save it - after a few episodes of him growling and stomping around, he loses his novelty and stops being remotely scary, just in time for the final episode. 

This looks like a promotional picture, but I'm pretty sure it's actually not.

It's not that any of the cast are bad, either. I've said before that Hannibal has an excellent cast, and that's still true: It's just that they're not being given anything to work with. The only character who seems to have changed and grown is Caroline Dhavernas' Alana Bloom, who has grown into an extremely cliche villain. Great work, Hannibal writers, you took a female character - one of only two female regular characters, you killed off all the rest - and turned her into a tired cliche. Great. Great job. 

(Gillian Anderson's Bedelia du Maurier is still excellent, and gets the final scene of the whole show, although it's a very odd scene that I profess not to understand.) 

I watched that final episode just before writing this review, incidentally, and it made no impression. If you asked me to tell you what happened in it, I would struggle, let me tell you. 

Um.

So, that's Hannibal. Enjoyable at its prime, but ultimately just kind of - sub-par. It survived less because it was original, daring, thought-provoking, or any of the other qualities people ascribe to it, and more because of a combination of gore, good casting choices, and some particularly fierce queerbaiting - which is not a charge I level at television shows very often, but is one that seems very apt here.

Overall, I'm just very disappointed, and I'm not hoping for some kind of miracle to save the show. Better to let it die now. 


Thursday, 27 August 2015

Editorial: Upcoming Anime That We're Looking Forward To.


Editorial: Upcoming Anime That We're
Looking Forward To.


I'll be honest, not much in this season of anime excited me. I'm vaguely watching Durarara!!x2 Ten and Gangsta, which are both fun, but really only when I have free time. I'm keeping up with Soul of Gold, but at the moment that's more out of duty than anything else, as it's quite terrible.

But the next season of anime looks like it has some interesting shows in its line-up, so here are four upcoming anime that we at Fission Mailure are looking forward to.


Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-blooded Orphans.



I'm not, in point of fact, a big Gundam fan. I watched Gundam Wing as a kid and kind of liked it, even if quite often I wasn't really paying much attention to what was going on, and since then I've not watched any of the franchises' series, apart from a very short-lived attempt to watch Gundam 00. 

But Iron-blooded Orphans looks to be fast paced, fun, and beautifully animated, and it has a great staff attached to it - including Masaru Yokoyama, the man behind Nobunaga the Fool's beautiful soundtrack, doing the OST, which even if I knew nothing else about the show would convince me to watch it - and a back-to-basics plot about Martians versus Terrans (which is an old enough staple of Gundam that I've only actually seen it in other anime referencing the franchise, hello Aldnoah.Zero).

All in all, I don't know whether I'll actually end up enjoying Iron-blooded Orphans, but I think it's definitely worth checking out.


Garo: The Crimson Moon.

The last Garo anime, Honoo no Kokuin, was a flawed but ultimately worthy entry into the ever-growing Garo franchise, but it was a surprise to see them announce another anime so soon after it ended. This one, apparently, has no relation to the first one, being set instead in Heian era Japan and following a different bearer of the Garo armour.

It kind of goes without saying that I'd watch this, because I'll watch absolutely anything with the Garo name attached (which sometimes hasn't worked out too well for me - Flower of Makai was painful). At the moment, we don't really know any details about it: We know that the Garo of the series is a dude called Raiko, but that there's a female main character, and we know its setting, and that's more or less it.

It's got some good people on its production team - Shou Aikawa, who worked on Fullmetal Alchemist, is the story editor - and some terrible people - Toshiki Inoue, he of some of the very worst Kamen Rider series this side of Riku Sanjo, is the writer, so we'll see how that turns out.


Comet Lucifer.



I have no idea what Comet Lucifer is about. Does anyone have any idea what Comet Lucifer is about? Crystals, obviously. Bright colours. A blue-haired girl. Space, maybe? I think some of the posters have had a giant robot on them? Presumably the fallen angel Lucifer? No, seriously, I am utterly clueless.

The synopsis says it's about a world called 'Gift' and crystals called 'Giftjium', which is - great? That tells me absolutely nothing.

What I do know is that it has a striking and arresting visual style, and that alone is enough for me to give it a watch.


Owari no Seraph (2nd Cour).

"But Murphy," you might be saying. "You hated Owari no Seraph." I did, and it was a pure hate, but towards the end of its first cour the series really started to be looking up. It was still cliche, manipulative, obvious and kind of terrible, but it was actually managing to hold my attention for an entire twenty minutes, which is more than could be said for earlier episodes.

What new heights might it reach in its second cour? Could it even become ... adequate? Perhaps even somewhat enjoyable? Probably not, if I'm being honest, but I'm interested to find out.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Kamen Rider Drive E43: When Will The Second Global Freeze Start?


Kamen Rider Drive
Episode 43
When Will The Second Global Freeze Start?



Sigh. I actually quite enjoy when an episode airs and I don't have anything to complain about. I don't, after all, enjoy complaining about Drive. 

Before this series started airing, I was already quite nervous about the writer-and-producer combo - Riku Sanjo and Takahito Omori respectively, the same pair that had worked on Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger, it of the abrupt and out of the blue romances and casual yet pervasive misogyny. How lucky we are that we can now see that anxiety be proven corre - okay, let's be honest there, that anxiety actually became entirely justified quite early on, around the time that Kiriko stopped actually being an active participant in the plot and started to be an afterthought, but this episode takes Drive's Kiriko-related problems to new heights, with an extremely Kyoryuger-esque romance.

In this week's episode, Banno has his Roimyudes out hunting for a location to start his second Global Freeze from - a Freeze that will be much larger than the first. Brain attempts to hide from Banno, but is pursued by him, Medic, and 004. Meanwhile, Shinnosuke, Chase, and Gou are thrown into an awkward situation by Chase's announcement that he loves Kiriko.

Gou being - well, being Gou, to be quite honest with you.

Right, so, that romance. Here's a fun exercise: Watch the episode, and in place of Kiriko, imagine a fetching lamp (maybe some kind of very large lava lamp) in her place. Does anything about these scenes change? I can't actually think of any way in which they would. In an utterly bizarre quirk of writing, Kiriko, who should be the most important person in this plotline, is barely a participant in it at all - she is a totally passive figure around who three or four male characters are having conflict and conversations, and she doesn't even get to venture an opinion on any of it, either overtly by actually stating it or more subtly and unintentionally (before anyone points out that she doesn't know about this love triangle) by suggesting it through her interactions with the various characters, because she barely even has any interactions with any of them.

The closest we get is Krim venturing an opinion about the opinion that Kiriko might venture, which is some of the most tortured writing I've seen in a long time. 

Compare and contrast with the love triangle between Brain, Heart, and Medic. Every character involved in that is an active agent: Brain and Medic both play a back-and-forth game of 'who can please Heart more', and Heart - although he doesn't seem to really understand that that's what's going on - responds accordingly by granting favour to one or the other. It's not the best written romantic subplot ever, but it is, at least, one where you couldn't quite adequately replace any of the parties with an object.

Brain's host, who is a lot more like Brain than any of the other Roimyudes' hosts.

Compare and contrast Brain, Heart, and Medic with Shinnosuke, Kiriko, and Chase again in that the former has been established since early on in the series. Any romantic interest between Kiriko and Chase has been very firmly established, but Shinnosuke and Kiriko? Well, it was vaguely hinted at once or twice, but for the most part, there's been nothing to suggest that it was even on the table. Note that this is identical to Kyoryuger, in which the idea of a Daigo/Amy relationship was hinted at once or twice about halfway through the series, then completely forgotten about until the last two episodes, when they were suddenly deeply and madly in love with each other. It's identical.

(It's also worth noting that Drive has only three female characters in a fairly large cast, and all of them now have romance as a major feature of their characters. Just saying.)

It dragged down the whole episode for me, which is a shame, because otherwise I liked this episode. I liked Brain's realisation that most of his personality is just copied from somebody else - I thought it was a very deftly handled moment and emotional moment that sets us up well for him seemingly betraying Heart in the next episode. I liked Banno, and I'm glad that his pettiness and spite haven't been forgotten about, because those are the elements of his character that make him stand out as a villain in a franchise where the villains are very often motivated by a higher ideal. I thought that this episode had some great scenes for Heart.

(I was a little confused by Medic suddenly switching from robotic and seemingly in a trance, to quipping and mocking Brain, then back to robotic - that was some pretty shoddy, jarring writing. But that's kind of my only non-romance-related issue.)

Most of all, I really liked the reveal that 004 had copied Krim. It fits Banno's character perfectly to have 004 do that, and it just further solidifies his position as the wild card of the villains: A character who might very well end up betraying Banno and becoming the main villain. Chris Peppler put on an extremely hammy but very fun performance as 004, and I am looking forward to seeing more of him in the episodes to come (including an evolved form, maybe? I'd like that.)

"YEESSS" - 004, August 2015.

The action scenes were good, the episode was well-paced, this could have been one of the best episodes of the series, if not for that damned romance plot, which is legitimately terrible.

Ugh.

Anyway, next week we have Banno and the other gold Roimyudes starting their second Global Freeze, what appears to be a Gou vs 004 fight, Brain betraying Heart, and Honganji transforming into one of the mass-produced Machs. I frankly would have preferred it to be Kiriko, if I'm being honest.

Still, I am looking forward to that. Golly, we're very nearly at the end.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Teen Wolf S5E10: Status Asthmaticus.


Teen Wolf
Series 5 Episode 10
Status Asthmaticus.



I wasn't initially convinced that 'Status Asthmaticus' was an actual term, but apparently it is, meaning the severe condition of having several asthma attacks follow one another without pause. So that's good. I'm glad we established that.

In all honesty, this has not been my favourite series of Teen Wolf. I think it's been slowly paced, often even meandering, that it's suffered from not knowing what to do with its characters and, I think, that it's actually suffered from the departure of Derek. With the exception of Allison dying - which was a death, not just an offscreen departure, and thus had the ceremony and drama that the departure of a major character calls for, even if it did seem like the writers forgot all about it by the next series - Derek leaving is the biggest departure of a main character that the series has seen, and the show feels a little odd without him, all told.

But the pacing is the main problem, which is why I was absolutely delighted that this episode was so very fast-paced. We got Melissa being a badass nurse and struggling to save Hayden's life (ultimately in vain, but kudos to the show for having me on tenterhooks as to whether she'd actually succeed); the Doctors being generally ominous as they remark that their successful chimera is imminent (at least, I think they said 'success imminent', I'm not sure); we finally found out what Parrish is; and we had Theo revealing his true colours to everyone, and manipulating Liam into nearly killing Scott (as well as manipulating Stiles into - something? A lot of mention was made of Void Stiles, which sounds a lot more exciting than what it actually seems to be, which is just Stiles being a bit evil).

As opposed to Theo, who is more than a bit evil even when you don't add 'void' to
the front of his name.

I'm - not full of complaints this episode, to be honest, save that it was very typical of so-called mid-season finales in US television - a big, dramatic loss halfway through the series that leaves audiences on a cliffhanger so that they'll hopefully come back and watch more after whatever absurd long hiatus has been dumped unceremoniously between two halves of a show. The Doctors are on the verge of achieving their successful chimera, Scott's pack is basically gone (with Stiles who knows where, Lydia catatonic, Liam having nearly killed him, Kira absent, and Malia more concerned with the Desert Wolf), the Desert Wolf is on her way to Beacon Hills, Theo now has his own pack of undead(ish) chimeras (including Donovan, of all people), and there's suggestions of a fight brewing between the Doctors and the Wild Hunt. 

(In general, these ten episodes have left me a bit concerned about the future of the show. As the tragedians say 'Generally speaking, things have gone as far as they can possibly go when things have got as bad as they can reasonably get.')

That's a lot of loose threads left dangling for the next ten episodes, and if the pacing is anything like these ten, I am entirely unsure of how they'll even find the time to tie that all up. Apparently we'll be getting an episode about Kira and her family in New Mexico, which I am entirely down for, because I think Kira is one of the most interesting and underused characters in the show. Apart from that, it's pretty much just a massive mystery, and while I like that, it's going to take a lot of game-upping if they want to have the second half of this series be anything close to satisfactory.

Also, more Malia. Make it happen.

But this episode was good. I think almost everybody - including me - thought Parrish was going to turn out to be a phoenix, so the idea of him being a hellhound feels a little off - I mean, our introduction to Parrish' supernatural abilities was him literally emerging from the ashes ala phoenixes, after all. But they did foreshadow it with the mentions of the Wild Hunt at the beginning of this series.

It feels good to have everyone be aware that Theo is evil now, and no doubt he's going to wreak no end of havoc with his new chimera pack in the early parts of the next series (I - do not see that pack lasting all that long, admittedly, because I imagine every side, including the Doctors, who specifically wanted all those chimeras dead, will be gunning for them). That pack might make some of the most interesting villains we've had so far, given that they cover a pretty wide range of species (kanima, wendigo, some kind of werechameleon, werewolf, and werecoyote) and have both sympathetic characters (Tracy, Hayden) and total psychopaths (Donovan, Theo) among their number. 

(Also, Braeden's back! I adore Braeden as a character and I think she should be a series regular, as I said often and regularly in last year's set of Teen Wolf reviews.)

Sadwolves.

We're also finally getting some pay-off on those first episode flashforwards, too, as Lydia is now catatonic after Theo memoryjacked her, and is presumably going to be taken to Eichen House and end up in Valack's care (since he will, apparently, be back come the first episode of that series). 

These are the kinds of episodes I want out of you, Teen Wolf. Plotting. Momentum. A sense of energy. It was completely absent for the first seven episodes of this series and nearly absent in the eighth, so for god's sake, carry that momentum forward into your next set of ten episodes. I have no idea when those will start airing, to my knowledge it has not been announced, but I'll definitely be watching and reviewing when they do. 

Monday, 24 August 2015

Time Hollow.



Time Hollow.



A spiritual successor to Junko Kawano’s previous time travel adventure story, Shadow of Memories, Time Hollow follows Ethan Kairos, a teenage boy who effortlessly thwarts the plan of an evil old man by calmly persuading him not to follow through on his evil deeds, before quickly solving all of his problems with the help of several other people with whom he has a reasonable discussion.

While the gameplay - almost exclusively using the touchpad - is very awkward, the game’s biggest problem is probably its length. A full playthrough will take you five minutes at the most, making it even shorter than the game it takes its inspiration from. I did like how the ending left several questions open for a (hopefully longer) sequel. Who is Irving? What is the Hollow Pen? How does Sox the cat factor into all of this? Why does Ethan go to a suspiciously time-themed cafe?

As yet, no sequel has been announced, and it seems like one probably isn’t coming.

Great, that's that review done.






...

Okay, fine, I'll do it properly.


Time Hollow.



That first review came to you courtesy of the alternate ending to Time Hollow, which you can achieve within about thirty seconds of starting (and will, if you behave in a remotely sensible fashion), gives away several major plot details, and generally put me in an ill mood to play any more of the game, having given me just enough taste of the awkward gameplay to put me right off, and given me just enough taste of the plot to surgically excise most of the mystery from it.

But, after a week of sulking, I did eventually play through the entire story, to the proper, canonical ending.

A spiritual successor to Junko Kawano's previous time travel adventure story, Shadow of Memories, Time Hollow follows Ethan Kairos, a teenage boy who, on the day of his seventeenth birthday, wakes up to find that his parents have apparently been missing for twelve years. Receiving the Hollow Pen, a pen-like device that allows him to open holes in time, from his cat, Sox, Ethan sets out to rescue his parents - but finds himself continually distracted as a mysterious other Pen user alters time so that people close to him start meeting with terrible fates.

Naturally, having watched somebody play Shadow of Memories earlier this month, I was comparing the two to each other, and it's not a comparison that Time Hollow comes out of well. They're both a similar length - short enough that you can easily complete them in a night - but Time Hollow's pacing is horrendously slow, somehow managing to spread half the story and gameplay into the same amount of time. 

Most of the remaining time is taken up with busywork: While the puzzles aren't difficult, being as you solve all of them by just moving from place to place on the map and talking to everyone you see, and very occasionally examining an obvious clue, it seems almost designed to be a time sink - quite frequently Ethan will refuse to continue with the plot until you've had every unrelated conversation you can, and even more frequently certain conversations won't become available until you've had entirely unrelated discussions with other people.

The 'time travel' sections - Ethan never actually travels through time, he just opens a portal and lobs things through, or sometimes reaches through to take things - aren't any more strenuous, but are just as awkward - your options are 'Look', 'Examine', 'Talk', and 'Item', but very often, which option you're meant to pick has no relation to the action you're meant to take. Several times when you're meant to use an item, you actually have to select 'Examine', and on several instances where you're meant to physically interact with something (which would usually be 'Examine') or even one or two times when you're meant to use items, you have to select 'Look'. Again, it's not difficult, but it is awkward and badly made.

When you combine that with a horrendously awkward control scheme that requires you to exclusively use the touchscreen, you have some truly terrible gameplay that drags the game down to where no amount of good storytelling can save it.

Not that the storytelling is very good. Ethan is a frustrating character to play, because despite characters telling us that he's intelligent and perceptive, he acts like a complete idiot, often having to be told things several times before he understands - which has a knock on effect on gameplay, since you can only perform actions that Ethan knows to perform (for example, there is an option - one of the few options in this otherwise very rigidly linear game - to stop one of your friends becoming injured in an accident with a ladder, but you'll only be able to do this if Ethan, who has apparently never asked about his friend was injured, has been told that the ladder was involved). 

That might be forgiven if the supporting cast was interesting and engaging, but for the most part, they're just not: Vin, Morris, and Ashley, all minor characters, do the best jobs of actually having layers, character development, and engaging personalities, and everyone else occupies a spectrum from actually quite boring (Ethan's entire family, Kori) to repulsive (Ben) to just kind of silly (our main villain, who at one point in an otherwise seemingly-intended-to-be-dramatic scene declares 'It's time for Revenge, Part Deux: Revenge - The Return!' which might be the silliest line I've heard all year).

The plot, meanwhile, is simplistic, linear, and obvious - but still manages to forget itself at points. Plot threads - like a shadowy council seen earlier on, or the murder of a teacher - are entirely dropped, time travel rules are broken towards the final episodes, characters have their entire character development undone and redone and undone again. Somehow, the writers managed to make a mess of what would otherwise be a very simple and very dull plot, and nothing about that is good. 

In conclusion, Time Hollow is a game. I guess. One that, despite its short length, I was all too ready to be done with by the time I finished it. If you are so inclined, it's short enough that I won't discourage you from checking it out, but I'm not going to encourage it, either. If you want time travel fun in a small but lovely package, try Shadow of Memories instead.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Let's Play Dishonored Masterpost.


Let's Play Dishonored Masterpost.

Hello! As several of you may be aware, I have been doing a Let's Play of Dishonored, the stealth game from Arkane Studios and Bethesda Softworks, set in a steampunk dystopia. I had a lot of fun doing it, and as of Friday, have in fact finished it! It's my first finished Let's Play, since Valkyria Chronicles is a very long game. 

It's a Low Chaos run, for the most part, but not Clean Hands or Ghost or anything like that. I'm not skilled enough for either of those things.

So, here's a masterpost of all the videos I've done in that series, so that if you're interested, you can look those up. Also, here's the playlist, for ease of watching.



















We'll be doing the Knife of Dunwall and Brigmore Witches DLCs soon, after taking a break to do some other short LPs.

EDIT: We have now done the Knife of Dunwall and The Brigmore Witches!

Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall [P1] The Knife In My Hand.

Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall [P2] I'm A Thousand Miles Away.

Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall [P3] Murder So Innocent.

Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall [P4] All Claws And You Bite.

Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall [P5 (FINAL)] Hey There, Delilah.

Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches [P1] Give This Song Another Listen.

Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches [P2] When You Throw A Moody.

Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches [P3] A Different Kind of Danger.

Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches [P4] I'm Wrung And Ringing Out.

Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches [P5] Fancy Cars And Superstars.

Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches [P6] Treading On My Dreams.

Dishonored: The Brigmore Witches [P7 (FINAL)] Oh, Delilah.

Check those out, and consider subscribing if you enjoy them.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Killjoys.


Killjoys.



So, a while ago - about ten weeks ago, to be precise - I was bemoaning the fact that, as a genre of television, the space opera seems to have almost died out. It has: A combination of budget concerns (although the shows of the 90s and early 2000s always had their clever ways of keeping the costs down - and in fact, were downright cheap at times) and a weird obsession with police procedurals seems to have more or less stamped out the space opera as a television show. 

(Which was, I think, one of many reasons why Guardians of the Galaxy was such a breath of fresh air - because while it was a film, not a television show, it was also absolutely a space opera in the tradition of shows like Farscape.)

While sulking over this, I discovered Killjoys and Dark Matter, both Canadian, airing on the same network, and both having just started.

Killjoys is about a three person team of RAC agents - bounty hunters operating in the small system of planets called the Quad, who are tasked with bringing criminals to justice - mysterious, no-nonsense Dutch, techie John, and John's brother, ex-soldier D'avin. As the three work together to capture criminals, there are bad things brewing in the Quad - things connected to Dutch's former mentor, Khlyen.

Our intrepid heroes.

I will say this to start: Killjoys (or Dark Matter, for that matter, but that's a matter for another review) isn't the kind of space opera I grew up loving. It lacks the bombast for that, in many ways it's not quite clever enough for that - it's closer, if anything, to much beloved show Firefly. While that was a disappointment to me, for reasons established enough, I still think that Killjoys is a very competent, very fun show to watch.

Its writing is rather variable, admittedly: Its character writing is superb, and I cannot fault it - the lead, Dutch, is engaging, witty, and fascinating, and on her own would be more than enough to carry the entire show. As it is, she's supported by two more excellent characters, both with their own distinct styles of humour and their own character arcs, and a handful of recurring characters who manage to have their own subplots and arcs woven into the plot with surprising skill. The dialogue is sharp, and the characters that populate the Quad all feel like real people.

(Some of those character arcs end oddly sharply - D'avin's being one of them, and the showrunner has expressed some misgivings about that, since she's used to writing series of twelve episodes, not ten. It's a pacing problem, but it's one I can cope with, and there's room for that arc and subplot to be revisited in the second series, if it gets one.)

The relationships of the characters on the show tend to be messy, fuzzily defined, and often quite fragile - which, while it doesn't exactly make for relaxing watching, is certainly fairly gripping, especially when things start to fall apart later on in the series.

Oh, hey, Amanda Tapping of Stargate SG-1 fame.

The plotting, however, leaves a little more to be desired. As much as the Quad's residents all feel very real, the place itself is never really fleshed out, and so it all feels less like an actual place and more like - well, like what it is, a series of sets. That's a problem when a large chunk of your plot hinges on the internal politics of the region your story is set in, because while I knew enough about the Quad's politics to always keep up with what was going on, I didn't feel like I had any reason to care. What investment did I have in the wellbeing of these planets?

(Not to mention that one of the big wham moments of the finale depends on you having an emotional attachment to Oldtown, one of the most prominent areas in the show. I didn't. I was unwhammed.)

'Hey, Dad, are you space?' 'Yes, son. Now we can be a family.'

Episodic plots also tend to be fairly poorly paced, often attempting to either cram too much into a forty minute episode and ending up going by so fast that you barely have any time to settle on any particular plot point, or putting too little into an episode, and ending up peppered with short periods of nothing much happening. With the exception of maybe the first episode, the fourth episode, and the ninth episode, I wouldn't say any of the show's episodes really wowed me in terms of their plot and their pacing. The finale left me especially cold on that count, and apart from one very disturbing plot twist involving D'avin at the very end, none of it really had any impact on me.

All in all, a good series with some superb character writing, but probably not the Farscape-or-Star Trek replacement I was hoping for - not that it ever really advertised itself as such. I would strongly recommend it, though, especially as, at ten episodes, you could probably watch it in - I dunno, two days?

Will Dark Matter fare any better at fulfilling my appetite for space opera? Find out next week, when I'll be explaining how it absolutely did not fare any better at fulfilling my appetite for space opera, and is actually a much inferior series to Killjoys.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Editorial: The 5 Worst Bioware Characters.


Editorial: The 5 Worst Bioware Characters.


Look, they can't all be winners, right?

Bioware games have, when taken all together, a cast numbering hundreds - that's hundreds of personalities, agendas, goals, et cetera - and it's really only natural that some of them would be irritating, uninspiring, or just plain enraging. 

In honour of that, here are the 5 Worst Bioware Characters, to go along with that whole editorial we did on the 5 Best Bioware Characters.


5. Sera, Dragon Age: Inquisition.



Sera sounds like a good idea on paper: An elf archer who not only despises all other elves and always seems about a hair's breadth from claiming that other elves deserve to be oppressed and/or the target of numerous religiously motivated genocides, but who also, in a game heavily concerned with politics, has a childlike and simplistic view of - wait, what am I talking about, Sera sounds like an utterly terrible idea on paper.

I'm not sure what Bioware was thinking when they wrote Sera, to be honest. Her 'let's look after the little people' angle is filled a lot more effectively by fellow rogues Cole and Varric, and even by - god help us all - fellow elf Solas and fellow party-member-I-don't-like-and-who-very-nearly-ended-up-on-this-list Blackwall. The remainder of her personality seems to have been filled out with 'lolz so random' humour that would probably be appealing to a fourteen year old. I mean, that's fine, there must be some fourteen year olds playing, right? 

(Oh, right, the game is, er, rated M. Never mind, then.)

It's a shame, because in battle she's probably one of the more useful party members. She and Varric occupy very similar niches, but Sera has an advantage over him in that she can actually use different bows, rather than the player being forced to use the rather odd, convoluted, and confusing upgrade system in the game. For many people, Sera might well be their go-to team rogue.

If they can tolerate her, which is, um. Up in the air?


4. Sagacious Zu, Jade Empire.



Sagacious Zu is the reason that Blackwall managed to escape this list, because I'd be saying much the same thing about them, seeing as they are, in essence, the same person. 

Like Blackwall, Sagacious Zu is an older gentleman who presents himself as a source of wisdom and pragmatic good reason, and is also incredibly, painfully boring and needs to leave post-haste. Like Blackwall, Zu has a dark secret in his past, and is not all he appears to be - and like Blackwall, the revelation of that secret utterly fails to make him interesting, and could probably be easily missed by a player if, like me, you used every cutscene involving the man as your prescribed time window for brewing coffee.

Zu ends up on this list instead of Blackwall for four reasons: Firstly, you have to have him join your party, whereas you can, if you so choose, never recruit Blackwall or actively turn him away; secondly, he's the original, predating Blackwall by a decade; thirdly, he is at least twenty percent more boring than Blackwall; and lastly, the game has the audacity to expect you to be sad when he dies.

I was not sad when he died. I'm not sure I even noticed on my first playthrough.


3. Javik, Mass Effect 3.



Javik, a DLC character for Mass Effect 3, is the last Prothean. Exciting, right? The last of an ancient, advanced alien civilisation. What can he tell us? Well, most of Javik's dialogue is devoted to sneering imperialism and vague speciesism, which is pretty disappointing.

I do recognise that that's kind of the point - that the Protheans, who were set up as great and wise forebears, turn out to be just as petty and flawed as anybody else. I get that, I do! What I don't get is that in a universe occupied by colourful and interesting species, Bioware decided that their one Prothean was going to be extremely boring.

I mean, if I wanted a few hours of humourless, sneering imperialism, I'd just contact the office of the local Tory candidate. I would do that. I don't have to start up my Xbox 360 and load up my copy of Mass Effect 3 for it.


2. Henpecked Hou, Jade Empire. 



Henpecked Hou, as you might guess from his name, is a man with a farm of particularly angry and violent chickens who regularly - ah, sorry, I accidentally turned over two pages there apparently. Henpecked Hou is actually a man with an overbearing wife (hence being 'henpecked' - you keep on being charming there, Bioware) who has forced him to become a bun seller, after crushing his twin dreams (fighting in the deadly arena and alcoholism) by poisoning him.

Because that's marriage, right? Just a ball and chain on your ankle who will spike your addiction of choice and then compel you into a life of servitude.

I wouldn't be so annoyed, save that that's Hou's entire character. He's as shallow as a child's paddling pool - he has that one joke (and it's not an especially new or original joke, let's be brutally honest here. It doesn't even qualify as an 'old classic', it's just an old joke that's never been particularly funny unless you get your comedic kicks out of people's lives being crushed, with an ample dosing of misogyny on top) and that's it.

That's not exactly the makings of a solid character, guys - and especially not when that character is functionally useless as a party member, as he doesn't fight and will just throw bottles at you that equip you with a 'drunken boxing' mode that's pretty much useless. I feel like I've ranted about this before on this blog? I have a tremendous feeling of deja-vu.

Oh, right, it's because he was on my list of most useless party members. Yeah, that's still true.


1. Anders, Dragon Age: Awakening and Dragon Age II. 



Look, I'm not saying that nobody likes Anders, I'm just saying that nobody should like Anders. Ever. 

Oddly enough, my reasons for thinking of this are largely not to do with the fact that his big, defining action in the games is blowing up a building to kill a metric ton of people, including the one person who had both the power and inclination to help the mages, and not including any of the people pushing for further violence against mages (like, for example, Meredith, who was decidedly not caught in the blast). 

No, no, my big problem with Anders is that he's clingy, jealous, spiteful, and obsessive. When you turn down the romantic advances of any of the other companions - including socially stunted, angry Fenris and spoiled rich boy Sebastien - they will back off without any hard feelings other than some generalised sadness. Not so for Anders, who is the only character in the game who will gain rivalry points with you if you do that. Not only that, but if you reject him early on in the game, he will hint at unrequited romantic feelings for you later on in the game, in a kind of doe-eyed, passive-aggressive fashion.

It's interesting that in a game where 'you can cleanly stop any romance at any time' is a game mechanic, Anders is the only character who it's impossible to just reject, but it fits: If you do romance him, Anders will admit that he has basically been obsessing over you since you first met, and hasn't said anything about it. That's pretty creepy all on its own.

Then there's the fact that Anders' views, on everything, are totally extreme - and I don't necessarily mean his views on the mages and the templars, which are, after all, shaped by Kirkwall's excessively brutal and abusive system. I mean that Anders very openly takes the viewpoint that anybody who doesn't agree with him deserves to suffer: If Fenris, who as a former resident of the Tevinter Imperium and a test subject for a magister rather dislikes mages, is returned to a life of slavery, do you know what Anders will do? He'll laugh and make jokes about it. 

(In fact, there's every suggestion that Anders actually doesn't like elves much at all, given that the boy will quite happily preach Chantry mythology at a Dalish elf as if it were fact.)

'But Murphy, how much of that is Anders and how much of that is Vengeance?' Well, in all honesty, I think it's pretty much all Anders - Anders is the one who corrupted Justice into Vengeance, after all, and while Vengeance might be exacerbating Anders' personality flaws, Anders was like this even before he was possessed - this is the person who proclaimed that he wanted to be able to hit people with lightning bolts at will (still not clear what percentage of that was a joke and what percentage of that was serious), and who repeatedly and obviously flirted with someone who wasn't interested (and another elf, at that).


Thursday, 20 August 2015

Kamen Rider Drive E42: Where is the Truth About The Goddess?


Kamen Rider Drive
Episode 42
Where is the Truth About The Goddess?



I do sometimes wonder if writing these reviews has made me too harsh on Drive, if without the weekly ritual of splurging out eight-hundred words about it, I would have looked upon it more favourably. The answer is that I probably would have, because while I would never have been one of the people proclaiming that it's 'so good', let alone 'the best Kamen Rider series ever', I would have no doubt been more than able to quietly enjoy it for what it was, which is twenty minutes of often quite fun dross every week.

Even in that hypothetical situation, though, I would still have been annoyed by the show's treatment of Medic as a character. We don't, incidentally, find out why she was in a coma this week, which almost certainly means that we never will (there are, after all, only four to six episodes left, depending on if the rumours of the last two episodes being crossover-y specials are true), and that really does annoy me.

Still, never mind. This week's episode sees the Special Crimes Unit working to wake up Medic's host, a ballet dancer with an adorable dog, despite the fact that doing so might well lead to Medic achieving her super evolution. Meanwhile, Brain convinces Medic to let Banno modify her, in order to help her towards her evolution - a decision he regrets in short order when Banno turns out to have sinister designs.

(C'mon, Brain, it's Banno. He always has sinister designs.)

DOG.

I was glad we got a relatively satisfactory explanation for the whole Medic-was-really-nice-and-then-she-became-evil-and-now-she's-becoming-really-nice thing (which I still hold shouldn't have been necessary), in that Medic absorbs some of the emotions of everyone she heals. It ties in with earlier plot developments (like 'Banno programmed all the Roimyudes with negative emotions') pretty well, so I'm more or less okay with that explanation. I think having it show up in whether clothing is white or black is hammy as all get out, but this is not a franchise known for its subtlety. I'll live.

In general, these two episodes haven't been terrible focus episodes for Medic. It's actually felt like she's had something of a character arc in them, and she hasn't had the spotlight stolen from her by Banno too much. The pacing has been good, it's had some very fun action scenes, and while the plot twists have been very broadly telegraphed (I wasn't even aware that 'Shou is the dog' was even meant to be a plot twist until it happened and the episode started throwing 'what a twist' reactions at me), they did at least not come barreling out of the left field.

Well, mostly. Shinnosuke drops a line towards the end about how all the coma victims were dog lovers, which I don't think was ever shown to the audience at any point. Rinna would be the prime example of this, I suppose, but I don't think we got any indication - in these episodes or any other - that she loves dogs, so this deduction on Shinnosuke's part feels bizarre and random. That's a minor quibble, but there you go. 

DOG.

(Speaking of the dog, there's an actually quite difficult to watch scene part way through the episode where the dog is injured. It's not at all graphic, and the dog is healed pretty quickly, but it's quite a disturbing scene, for much the same reasons that I said that Nira holding a gun was more dramatic and disturbing than most of the violence in the series - Kamen Rider is built on fantasy violence that has very little connection to real life, and it can be quite unpleasant when it delves into forms of violence that actually do happen in real life.

I had to skip that scene on my second watching of this episode, actually. Mostly because it was a dog, and I get very nervous over dogs getting hurt.)

That really just leaves us with this episode's C-plot - that is to say, Chase suddenly realising he has romantic feelings for Kiriko. I was surprised, to be honest: Tokusatsu in general tends not to be that direct with its romantic subplots. It hints and suggests and generally kind of circles around them rather than making them explicit, so it's odd to see Chase out-and-out saying he has romantic feelings for Kiriko.

DOGDOGDOGDOGDOG.

I'm actually not sure where this subplot is going, which is - interesting to me, I guess? I'm fascinated to see how it turns out, but at the same time it just makes me even more aware that the show's treatment of Kiriko is probably worse than its treatment of Medic, and that this is just the latest part of a long string of 'let's reduce Kiriko to an object for the male characters to angst over' moves. 

(That's another thing that would annoy me even if I wasn't writing these reviews.)

Next week, we'll apparently be seeing more of that subplot (yay, I guess?) as well as Brain trying to evade Banno and Medic, the former of which has decided to bring about a second Global Freeze as part of his master plan. That should be interesting.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Tales from the Borderlands E4: Escape Plan Bravo


Tales from the Borderlands
Episode 4
Escape Plan Bravo.



These episodes keep sneaking up on me. Advertise your episodes more, Telltale, for god's sake. Not all of us regularly check your website. Or Steam. Or any gaming media outlets - look the point is that I pretty much only find out on the day of release that this was coming out, and if I'm being honest, I wasn't as excited as I thought I would be. I said during the early episodes that I thought that Tales from the Borderlands was the best game that Telltale Games had made, and while that still holds true, the humour and zest that those early episodes showed are increasingly starting to wear thin, because Telltale keeps reusing the same jokes and ideas over and over again. 

There's a section in this episode where Rhys imagines how the heist they're planning will go, and it left me cold because we've had the 'Rhys imagines a ludicrous fantasy version of his future plans' before. There's a prolonged period of gross-out face related humour in this game, and while that would've gotten a chuckle from me a few episodes ago, I've grown more and more inured to it. None of this stuff is really making me laugh any more, and for Telltale's most comedic game so far, that's not a great sign.

In this part, the team (plus August, two more members of Vallory's gang, and mechanic Scooter) fly to Helios to steal the final Gortys part from Handsome Jack's office - a heist that will require, among other things, impersonating a tour guide, impersonating Rhys' now deceased boss Hugo Vasquez, a diamond pony, and an encounter with Yvette, Rhys' old friend.

The standard heist walk sequence.

The best parts of this episode easily come towards the end of this heist - one being a pitched gun battle between Rhys-quez and the Hyperion accountancy department, none of whom are armed and so all of whom are 'shooting' by pointing their fingers and making sound effects; and the other being an unexpected moment when Fiona shoots a diamond horse statue, only to have it start bleeding, much to her horror.

(A close runner-up is Fiona and Sasha talking to Athena's girlfriend, who I never thought we'd actually see. It was really nice to see her, though, and the Athena subplot is one that I very much want to see some resolution on.)

For the most part, though, this whole episode just sort of skipped on by, never really managing to make an impression, and I think a lot of that is because, up until the very end, nothing really changes about the way the characters relate to each other. Vaughn is, notably, almost entirely absent, and the remaining three spend more time apart than they do together - and what time they do spend together feels like a rehash of previous conversations. Rhys does something dorky and everyone snaps at him for it? We've seen it. Fiona and Sasha have a sisterly moment? We've seen it. Previously benign character is revealed to have betrayed one of the protagonists? We've seen it. We saw that in the first episode, of all things.

(I'm not, incidentally, counting Jack as a 'previously benign character', he has always been very up front about his malicious intent.)

Horse.

Give me something different. Give me something new and exciting that I can work with. Please? There are hints of something like that coming in this episode, with Sasha increasingly longing for the comfort of Helios, but we don't ever get pay-off for that in the game itself - despite the fact that throwing in new elements is what made the previous three episodes good. Episode three gave us Athena and Gortys, who shook up the group dynamic; episode two gave us the AI Handsome Jack, who shook up Rhys personally, and it also gave us the two con-women without Felix to guide them, and the Vasquez-August alliance. The series has changed up its character dynamics in every episode except, it seems, this one, and that's a shame.

Full credit to the ending, though, for raising the stakes even over the last ending, with Jack now poised to be the main villain for the finale, having taken over Helios and Rhys both (I would say that I called that happening, but I think everyone called that happening, so it's not really an achievement); and Sasha having seemingly (seemingly) betrayed Fiona to Yvette and Hyperion. It's a good set up for the finale, which should be dropping in about two months (presuming they manage to stick to their own schedule this time).

There's a lot to take in here.

Before that, we'll likely be seeing the Game of Thrones finale, due to become available on Steam about a month from now, so keep an eye out for that - and by all means, if you were thinking of buying this game but wanted to wait until most of the episodes were out, buy it now and enjoy the first four episodes in time to catch the finale on release day. It's a good game.