Monthly Archives: June 2015

Game Review: Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham City starring Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as the voices of Batman and Joker.

Warning: Spoilers!

Having nearly finished Arkham Knight, here’s my review of its chronological predecessor: Arkham City. Arkham City is one of the highest rated games on previous gen consoles, and was considered by many the best of the first three Arkham games. It’s easy to see why, it expands on Arkham Asylum’s success and improves upon its predecessor in virtually every way. Detective Mode is still useful, though some enemies now have jammers to prevent you using it all the time in predator sections. The predator maps themselves are much better and will keep you busy for hours (particularly if you get the content allowing you to play as Nightwing, Robin and Catwoman on them) while combat has been drastically improved, with 5 quickfire gadgets and a host of new combat moves to help you deal with new enemy types (such as armoured enemies and ones carrying riot shields).

The plot? After the events at the Asylum, the prisoners and supervillains have been rehoused in a walled off section of Gotham, dubbed ‘Arkham City’, with three gangs led by Penguin, Two-Face and Joker controlling most of the streets. The facility is run by Hugo Strange, who captures Bruce Wayne in the game’s opening scene and reveals he has deduced his secret identity, before throwing him into Arkham City. The Joker is yet again the main villain, dying after his exposure to Titan in Asylum, he uses a blood transfusion to infect Batman with his tainted blood, forcing the bat to work with Joker to find a cure, leading him into confrontations with Penguin, Mr. Freeze and Ra’s al Ghul along the way.

The game now has various side missions to complete, where you take on the Batman villians who aren’t key to the main plot, such as Mad Hatter, Hush, Deadshot and Zsasz. These are all pretty good, although they’re aren’t many boss fights, meaning many of the side villains seem to be dealt with rather easily. The most prominent is Riddler, who in addition to posing more riddles and hiding riddler trophies everywhere, has kidnapped several people and trapped them in deadly Riddle rooms from which Batman has to use a wide variety of his gadgets to rescue them. Finding all 400 riddles (plus another 40 which only Catwoman can retrieve) is arguably just as time consuming as the main game.

On the subject of gadgets, Batman’s arsenal has been greatly expanded from the first game: in addition to the batclaw, explosive gel and batarangs he now has some ice grenades (made by Mr. Freeze), a disruptor capable of disabling enemy weapons and a REC (Remote electrical charge) launcher that can power up generators, as well as shocking enemies mid combat. All of his gadgets have a part to play, especially while solving Riddles or in the boss fight with Mr. Freeze (the most lauded in the entire game, as you have to use all of Batman’s different stealth moves, plus gadgets, to take him down). The other boss fights range from the fun (the one with Clayface and the one with Ra’s al Ghul mid-game) to the by the numbers (catwoman’s one against Two-Face) or the downright terrible (the one against Solomon Grundy, which is basically just spamming explosive gel for a few minutes). The two hardest ones are Ra’s and Freeze’s, though neither rival Poison Ivy’s in Asylum or Deathstroke’s in Origins for difficulty.

Overall a great Batman game, and one that should be played before moving onto Arkham Knight, only a few weak bosses and some frustratingly difficult Riddler trophies let it down.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

As for the downloadable content, apart from the novelty of playing as Robin (with various new gadgets) Harley Quinn’s Revenge doesn’t add much, but if you want another 1 and a half of game time, it’s worth getting. The catwoman episodes and playing as Robin and Nightwing on challenge maps are much more fun, they’re recommended.

DLC (Harley Quinn’s revenge) Rating: 3 out of 5

Next Up: The divisive prequel Arkham Origins: an equal to City or a game that fails to add anything to the series? Read on to find out…

Movie Review: Jurassic World

Jurassic World starring Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard

Warning: Spoilers!

You know the history. The first film was a breakthrough. The second was an okay but flawed sequel that didn’t live up to it’s predecessor. The third film was an unnecessary rehash of the first one that should never have been made – its not terrible, it’s not good, its just there.

But the fourth film? Jurassic World, with an entirely new cast (bar one minor returning character from the first film) recaptures the magic. It is definitely the best sequel. It might be my favourite of the lot. But i can assuredly say: it’s worth your money to go see it and decide for yourself. The plot isn’t original: humans create a dinosaur theme park, dinosaurs escape, all hell breaks lose. And there’s young kids in danger for the fourth damn time. But these kids are probably the least annoying of the ones included in the films. Where the movie surpasses the other sequels is how the plot is driven by two original ideas – the scientists engineering an entirely new dinosaur (the stupidly named but visually impressive Indominus Rex) and a trainer attempting to form a bond of trust with the Velociprators – who along with the T-rex have been these films go to monsters.

The trainer in question is Owen (Chris Pratt) a man who wisely respects the dinosaurs, especially the raptors, and acknowledges they are intelligent creatures. Pratt yet again proves his credentials as the leading man after his winning role in Guardians of the Galaxy, and is a very different kind of hero to the ones in previous films played by Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum – while he shares their understanding and fear of the dinos, he’s far more of an action hero than a scientist turned survivor. His opposite number is the park manager Claire, an all-business control freak who is more interested in the statistics of the theme park than its soul. Her nephews, Zach and Gray, predictably end up in danger and she ends up having to join forces with Owen to rescue them. Claire’s character arguably has the biggest journey in the film, and a scene when she and Owen mourn and comfort a dying Brontosaurus is one of the most touching moments, and one that opens her characters eyes. The kids act like cliches for the first hour or so, the younger, nerdy kid and his  laid back yet girl obsessed older brother – but once they get caught up in the dinosaur escape the two become far better characters, as a visible bond between them develops.

The supporting cast all serve their purpose and there’s no terrible performances, and there’s some great comedy moments in between the action sequences. The CGI is, predictably, a leap forward from the first three films, and both the island and the dinosaurs themselves look great. Michael Giacchino delivers a good soundtrack, which both adds something new and incorporates the original John Williams theme well. There’s several nods to the original film – John Hammond gets several mentions, InGen are back again, Dr. Wu (B.D. Wong) returns as the geneticist that appeared in the first film and in a sequence the fans will love, the two kids stumble across the original Jurassic Park centre in the middle of the forest while hiding from the Indominus Rex.

In a way, the film incorporates all the best parts of its three predecessors – the setting and plot of the first film, the military hunting dinosaurs (and getting totally out of their depth) from the second, and two dinosaurs having an extended fight from the third (in this case the Indominus facing off against a T-rex, which improves upon the Spinosauras/T-Rex fight from film three). Apart from the battle of the Rexes, two other sequences stand out – Owen on a motorcycle using the raptors to hunt the Indominus Rex, and when the flying pterosaurs attack the park.

Overall it might lack the originality of the first film, but it has the spectacle, the tension and the awesome moments you came to see. It isn’t perfect, but it was good enough that if there’s a fifth film, my expectations will be higher than they were before this one.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next Movie Review will probably be Terminator: Genisys once it comes out in June. Before then, expect some more TV posts and some more Game Reviews – including the upcoming Batman: Arkham Knight.

Review: Orange is the New Black, Season 3

Orange is the New Black, starring Taylor Schilling, Laura Prepon and Kate Mulgrew

Warning: Spoilers for seasons 1-3

One of the three major shows on Netflix (along with House of Cards and Breaking Bad), Orange is the New Black is notable as being one of the few shows on TV with an almost entirely female led cast – apart from a few of the guards and the odd husband/boyfriend, men don’t have much prominence save in a few flashbacks. But this isn’t a bad thing, and the show has arguably one of the best casts on TV, with seldom a weak performance. And, no, this isn’t just a show for women, I’d recommend guys watch it as well.

Is it a comedy or a drama (or a softcore lesbian film)? To be honest, it can be all three of these, and the fact the show is hard to define isn’t a bad thing. Season 3 has the most split focus of the 3 seasons so far, with multiple subplots rather than one overriding plotline – but I thought this was a big improvement (unlike those reviewers over at Den of Geek – who pissed me off criticising this season to the extent I’m now reviewing it just to voice my disagreement). Season 1 was mainly based on how the privileged Piper Chapman (Schilling) adjusted to living in prison for the first time, and her relationship with Alex (Prepon) a lesbian ex-lover who grassed up Chapman to the police for her involvement in a drug ring Alex ran. Season 2 expanded things a bit, with new prison inmate Vee being the focus as the most despicable villain this show has delivered so far, while Chapman dealt with the breakdown of her relationship with her fiancée Larry on the outside, as well as loneliness after Alex got released.

Season 3 is a different beast – with the three main villains of season 1 and 2 (the perverted prison guard Mendez, the inmate Vee and corrupt prison boss Natalie) gone or limited to cameos, the show spends more time on its supporting cast – even the minor characters like Chang and Norma, who had little to do in seasons 1 and 2, get flashbacks in 3 which enrich their characters.

The major subplots? There’s a religious cult that develops around Norma, one of the inmates who despite being mute has a natural ability to connect with and sooth other inmates, which provides its share of both drama and ludricous comedy, but manages to avoid repeating season 1’s fanatical christian plotline. Joe Caputo, the prison manager, becomes a key player this season as he struggles to keep the prison open, appease his staff and the new management and remain ‘the good guy’ he has been striving to be all his life – probably the most cohesive plot arc of the season. The funniest plot without doubt had to be ‘Crazy Eyes’ Warren writing overtly sexual sci-fi fiction which becomes a hit among both the prisoners and a few of the guards, and redeemed crazy eyes in my opinion after I grew to hate her due to her association with Vee in season 2. The fake conversion of the black prisoners to Judaism in order to get the superior Kosher meals also provides plenty of laughs, while their adoption of prisoner outcast Soso in the final episode was heartwarming (and will hopefully make Soso a less annoying character in season 4). Pennsatucky and Big Boo are also a surprisingly affecting odd-couple friendship, and Pennsatucky herself has gone from one of the main antagonists in season 1 to one of the most likeable characters in season 3 – it’s amazing what the right pairing and a few flashbacks can do.

As for Piper, after ensuring Alex got re-arrested at the end of season 2, here they resume their twisted yet loveable relationship (now even, having both screwed each other over – both literally and figuratively) but there’s a few new elements in the mix: Alex’s new paranoia that her former drug boss is out to murder her for betraying him, Piper’s new enterprise which involves selling prisoners’ used panties to online perverts for profit (surely both the weirdest and the funniest idea OITNB has ever come up with!) and Stella (Ruby Rose) a new inmate who catches Piper’s eye (and that of most of the viewers judging by the comments i’ve seen!). This new love triangle isn’t as wearisome as the Larry-Piper-Alex one in season 1, and Piper is far less annoying than in previous seasons as her character becomes both colder and more ruthless – a welcome change from the insecure mess she occasionally became in earlier episodes.

Overall, season 3 is definitely my favourite of the 3 so far, the comedy is at its apex and the drama took a step back after getting slightly too dark last season, and Piper and various other characters have become much more likeable.

Season Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Article: What’s coming on Game of Thrones Season 6?

Now everyone’s had time to digest the shock character death and the 15 other cliffhangers in Mother’s Mercy, the long wait for season 6 begins – and this time there is very little of the books left to guide us about whats coming – but we can make some educated guesses…

Warning: MAJOR Spoilers for the Season 5 finale – anyone who hasn’t watched it yet, get off your arse and do so or don’t go online for the foreseeable future – chances of it being spoiled are extremely high atm. Also some Spoilers from the books – but i won’t mention any names…

1. Cersei vs. Margaery, Round 3: The fragile alliance between the Tyrells and the Lannisters has been surely tested this season, and i doubt it’ll get any better once Mace Tyrell returns and finds his son and daughter locked up and on trial. With the High Sparrow on the verge of bringing down both families, tensions are sure to boil over – and i’m sure Margaery would happily stick a knife in Cersei’s side after this season’s machinations. Olenna Tyrell and Littlefinger are also in the mix and are sure to cause chaos, while Kevan Lannister and Pycelle will doubtless try to keep a leash on Cersei as she rivals with Margaery for control over the (apparently useless) Tommen.

Prediction: Qyburn and his Frankenstein-esque Mountain will doubtless get Cersei out of trouble with the Sparrows, while she will likely try to be more restrained in her use of power after her Walk of Punishment in the last episode. Can’t see Margaery going anywhere as she is crucial to Cersei, Tommen and Mace’s interactions but i wouldn’t put money on Loras escaping the ‘justice’ (aka homophobia) of those religious zealots. And for the book readers reading this – Book 5’s bloody epilogue will probably come into play at some point, maybe with Littlefinger assuming Varys’ role in proceedings? Yes TV viewers there is still at least one twist we haven’t warned you about… enjoy 😉

2. The Return of the Greyjoys: Having been absent since season 2 barring three brief appearances in Series 3 and 4, the Greyjoys should come back into play this season and i’d expect Theon’s sister Yara, his father, and judging by the casting rumours at least one of his uncles to make an appearance – they’re too prominent in Books 4 and 5 to vanish from the series entirely.

Prediction: If the books are followed one of Theon’s uncles is about to become very important to the upcoming struggle in Meereen, while his sister is likely to become entangled with fighting the Boltons in the North now Stannis has fallen – whether either plotline will be used is debateable, as they could move ahead of the books or come up with something new.

3. More Dorne stuff: Hopefully it’ll be a bit better handled this time around, but given Myrcella’s fate in the finale, i doubt we’ve seen the last of the Sand Snakes. Will Doran dispatch justice (or get dispatched himself?) or are Jaime and Bronn set for a mission of vengeance. The books seem to be heading towards a major confrontation between Dorne and the Tyrells – but with no Arianne Martell and no ‘false dragon’ on the show yet the showrunners might be saving Dorne’s involvement until Daenerys (finally) marches an army into Westeros.

Prediction: Jaime will kill Ellaria Sand – Tyene Sand will try and use her sex appeal to make Bronn betray Jaime. Two random guesses, but this plotline is wide open now for where the showrunners want to go with it – i just hope it improves on this seasons effort.

4. Resurrections aplenty: We all want Jon Snow to still be alive. He’s gone – but chances are he’ll be back – theories range from him ‘warging’ like Bran into Ghost or someone else at the wall, to being brought back by Melisandre (the way Thoros of Myr brought back Beric Dondarrion in Season 3) or even being resurrected as a Wight by the White Walkers (i half expected his eyes to turn blue in the final shot of episode 10). Given there isn’t a point of view character left at the wall (i’d doubt they’d use Edd or Tormund) and the R+L=J theory, and the fact that the books are known as a song of Ice and Fire (which fans take to mean Jon and Daenerys) it’d be a major surprise if he didn’t return. As for what the showrunners and Kit Harington have said about him not coming back – remember what Steven Moffat has taught us time and again from Doctor Who: showrunners lie!

But Jon isn’t the only character due a resurrection: most Book fans are still waiting for a certain Lady Stoneheart to make an appearance (and if the showrunners have merely changed up the order of events in the books, she may well do). Plus – and i won’t go into depth on this because it would be a major spoiler – another character who has died in the past season comes back from the dead in the books… And even past all this – there are three characters who have supposedly died off-screen. NEVER trust off-screen deaths! Are Syrio Forel (season 1), The Hound (Season 4) or Stannis (Season 5) really dead? I wouldn’t put money on at least one of them coming back soon…

Prediction: Jon will return – and personally i doubt Syrio Forel or the Hound are dead either – they’re sure to come back into Arya’s story sometime. As for the others? No clue – but it’d be nice to be surprised…

Game of Thrones Finale: Mother’s Mercy

The Mother is merciful – the Game of Thrones showrunners are not as they deliver the most blood soaked finale yet. From the first scene to the last, characters both major and minor meet their end – and there are plenty of twists from the books and from the show itself.


In most seasons episode 9 had been the moment of truth, but season 4’s final three episodes were all equal, and in season 5 episodes 8 and 10 have been the best of the season. Think back to other episode 10’s – who died in previous finales? Khal Drogo, Quorin Halfhand, Tywin and Shae – some major players but never more than one or two per finale. Mother’s Mercy changes all this – it was the bloodiest finale i’ve seen since Spartacus ended, and it follows the 5th book in ending on several cliffhangers (i hope TV viewers don’t moan about this too much, book readers have waiting since 2011 for resolutions that haven’t come yet!). David’s Nutter’s direction gave it all a sense of awe and the showrunners delivered on one of book 5’s greatest moments – personally i think they’ve done a remarkable job this season (adapting two books which were definitely weaker than the first three and were far too long) – i haven’t been so relieved by an adaptation’s quality since Order of the Phoenix (my least favourite HP book) was made into a film which was both a massive improvement on the book and more surprisingly one of the best films in the Harry Potter series. But now time for the episode itself:

First off the moment everyone had been hoping for after last week’s episode – Arya murdering Meryn Trant in the most brutal way possible, after stabbing him repeatedly with her dagger and letting him bleed out while she gloated about getting rid of the first man on her ‘list’, before eventually slitting his throat. Jaqen doesn’t take this well however, claiming a life is owed to the many-faced god and committing suicide in front of Arya (a moment i did not see coming!) before Arya is unexpectedly struck blind as punishment (given the books story i doubt this is permanent, but it’s likely leading to a traumatic sixth season for Arya). The other Stark sister also has her problems, after attempting to alert Brienne and be rescued, Sansa is confronted by Myranda, Ramsay’s lover, who torments Sansa with the knowledge of what he will do to her. Sansa is unexpectedly saved by Theon/Reek, who knocks Myranda off the walls to her death, before leaping with Sansa off the battlements into the snow below to escape (do they survive? we’ll have to wait and see!).

Where’s Ramsay in all this? The battle with Stannis that’s where. Stannis has a rude awakening as his actions in the last episode come back to haunt him – while the Lord of Light has melted the snows, his sellswords have abandoned him and his wife, overcome with grief after Shireen’s death, has hung herself. Spurning Melisandre, Stannis takes whats left of his men and marches to Winterfell – only to be confronted by Bolton’s cavalry which outnumbers his infantry. The battle isn’t shown (presumably because all the money went on the Hardhome sequence!) but its clear Stannis is fighting a lost cause – and he gets a fitting (and surprising) exit though, as Brienne confronts him in the battle’s aftermath and reveals her loyalty to Renly – Stannis admits his murder and tells Brienne to ‘do her duty’ in a nod to the defining feature of Stannis’ character – duty above all else before Brienne kills him (offscreen though – this always makes me suspicious). Ramsay survives for another season (though Joffrey died in his fourth season and Ramsay’s next season is his fourth on the show – let’s hope there is a pattern here!).

The Dorne storyline finally gets some payoff as well – with Myrcella revealing to Jaime she knows about him and Cersei and even accepts it because she wants them to be happy – a touching moment between father and daughter (which given this is Game of Thrones should set alarm bells ringing!). Predictably this doesn’t last as it is revealed that Myrcella has been poisoned by Ellaria (with a poisoned farewell kiss no less!) who clearly faked her submission to Doran the previous week. Bronn and Tyene Sand also keep flirting – those two should so be a couple next season – though these events make that unlikely. Things are also up in the air in Meereen, with Tyrion taking control of the city while Jorah and Daario go to hunt for the missing Daenerys and Drogon. The sparring between Jorah, Tyrion, Grey Worm and Daario was amusing, and Varys unexpected return and conversation with Tyrion was a joy to watch. Daenerys situation isn’t so rosy however, as the wounded Drogon refused to carry her back to Meereen and then failed to appear when she was captured by a Dothraki army. Notice the number of cliffhangers here?

But now the big two moments from the episode: first, Cersei’s walk of punishment after she confesses her incest with Lancel (though denying that with Jaime, there will be a trial next season apparently). The high sparrow allows her to go back to Tommen and her uncle Kevan if she walks naked through the streets of king’s landing, after her head is shaved brutally by the Septas and her clothing torn from her. Cersei at first bears it stoically as all eyes turn on her and the crowd throw insults and various unpleasant items at her, but Lena Headey’s acting is spot on as Cersei breaks down mid-march among the taunts from the people. Is she broken for good? Who knows, but it is unlikely she’ll be that unscathed. Qyburn however has a consolation for her: he has finally resurrected the Mountain as a kind of silent Frankenstein’s monster, who will doubtless be a useful weapon for Cersei next season as she tries to wrestle power back from the Tyrrells and the Sparrows.

And finally: the ending at the wall. After sending Sam away to the citadel, to learn how to become a maester and hence better help the Night’s Watch, Jon and Davos are stunned when a broken looking Melisandre returns, bearing the news of Stannis and his family’s demise. Before Jon can work out what this means he gets betrayed by Alliser Thorne (Stannis’ warning not to keep your enemies close anyone?) and his steward Olly, who stab him along with other members of the Night’s Watch who feel betrayed by his decision to save the wildlings. Jon is only the third main character (out of Arya, Daenerys, Tyrion etc.) after Ned Stark and Robb to be killed off and making it the last scene of the season maximises it’s impact. Stark men really should stop making honourable decisions – it always blinds them to whats around them and gets them killed! Is he really dead? It looked pretty fatal, but i think Melisandre might just be his salvation (why else let her survive the battle?) As a book reader, i knew this was coming, but this is the last time that will happen now the show has caught up, and it was still traumatising nevertheless!

So, just to sum up, the cliffhangers include Brienne’s possible dispatching of Stannis, Sansa and Theon’s leap, Arya’s blindness, Myrcella’s death, The Mountain’s resurrection, Daenerys’ capture and Jon Snow’s apparent demise. It’s gonna be a hell of an opening episode in season 6 to resolve all of those!

Overall the best finale the show has delivered thus far and the second best episode of the season after Hardhome, its a great episode with an immense sting in its tail.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Next Season: Who the f*** knows, i’ve run out of book knowledge to go on. More deaths, nudity and shock plot twists – and that’s exactly why we all love this show!

Article: Which Season of Doctor Who is the Best?/Season 1 Overview

Season (or Series) 9 should premiere sometime around the end of summer, and as usual fans will compare it to the seasons that have come before – but those fans tend to have little agreement on which season so far was the pinnacle of the show. Which season they choose would often be down to which Doctor and which companion are their favourites – for example anyone who’s a big fan of Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman would probably claim Series 8 was the best so far.

Given how i’ve only reviewed a fraction of modern episodes so far, i’ve decided rather than posting over 80 episode reviews (which would take FOREVER), i’ll make 8 series overviews analysing the highs and lows of each particular season and when i’m done i’ll post a list of the 8 series in the order i’d put them in. For the sake of ease, the christmas specials and other one-off episodes like the 50th anniversary special won’t be counted as part of any particular series. There’ll also probably be an article on which showrunner (Steven Moffat or Russell T. Davies) was better (though those of you who know me know where i stand on that!).

So first off, i’ll make the case for and against the series i’ve mostly reviewed already: series 1 with Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper as the 9th Doctor and Rose respectively, and Russell T. Davies as showrunner. Given i’ve looked at most of these episodes before, this overview won’t be too extensive.

Series 1: (Minor Spoiler Warning)

Highs: Time War plot arc was good but didn’t intrude too much on standalone episodes (a balance later series have repeatedly struggled with). Billie Piper is arguably at her best in this season compared to her appearances in 2 and 4, especially in the Father’s Day episode and the finale. Christopher Eccleston gives a good performance as a tough and tortured, yet at times cheeky Doctor, with his best moments generally coming when he faces off with the Daleks. Pity this was his only season. The Daleks’ redesign works wonders, and they are far and away the best monster from the series (as they should be) with both Dalek and the two-part finale giving them plenty of chances to shine. Moffat’s empty child two-parter remains one of the most talked about episodes.

Best Episodes: (4.5/5 or higher) Dalek (Robert Shearman), The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances (Steven Moffat).

Lows: The special effects budget wasn’t particularly high. This causes a few problems – notably that four episodes take place on similarly dull-looking space stations because they were cheaper to create than Alien planets. Some monsters, like the Reapers, the Jagrafess and the Nestene consciousness also suffer and don’t look particularly convincing. The humour is at times, too childish (farting aliens…) for a series that needs to appeal to both children, teenagers and adults. Russell T. Davies probably writes too many episodes for his own good (8 out of 13), hence why only 3 of them really hit the quality mark (fortunately these are the final 3 of the season).

Worst Episodes: (2.5/5 or lower) The Long Game (Russell T. Davies)

Overall: it has several average episodes and one terrible episode, but on the whole season 1 mostly hits its targets – its just a shame it didn’t yet have the resources to aim that little bit higher. Still i won’t criticise the series that ensured we got another 7 seasons after it too harshly – Russell T. Davies did a stand out job of bringing Doctor Who back and giving it a workable format. Eccleston remains one of the most unique Doctors (very few, if any, are similar to him) and i know plenty of people who still miss Rose.

Season Rating: 3.5/5

Next Time: Season 2, with it’s Girls in Fireplaces, mentions of Torchwood and the return of the Cybermen… is it an improvement or a step backward? We’ll see…

Game Review: Batman Arkham Asylum (PS3)

With Arkham Knight due in the next few weeks, it gives me an excuse to revisit the three Arkham games so far – Asylum, City and the prequel Arkham Origins. These are the only decent superhero games out there atm, and I enjoyed all of them immensely, but i suspect Arkham Knight will be the best of the four (how can it fail to be when you can drive the bloody batmobile in it???)

But back to the first game in the series: Arkham Asylum, starring the voices of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as The Joker. The Joker’s been the main villain in all three Arkham games so far, played twice by Mark Hamill (who has voiced the character many times for TV and animation) and once by veteran voice actor Troy Baker. Hamill is possibly my favourite version of the Joker, he’s more menacing than Nicholson and closer to the comics than Ledger (though both of them gave great intrepretations), and this game’s success is largely due to how well the characters like Joker are realised. Alongside the Joker there are numerous other villains, with Harley Quinn, Scarecrow, Bane, Poison Ivy and Killer Croc all making appearances, and the Riddler is a constant presence throughout, leaving you various puzzles to solve all over Arkham Island as a sideline to the main story. The Asylum itself is a great environment and the game has the best, most comic-book esque atmosphere of the Arkham games so far, helped by its tense soundtrack. The plot is also good, with Batman left stranded in the Asylum, which has been taken over by the inmates and Joker’s thugs, with only a few guards left to help him. Thus, the characters, setting, plot and soundtrack combine to make the first genuinely good Batman game. There is, however, a problem.

While the game was ground-breaking when it first came out, it had a few issues – which its more polished sequels show up all the more clearly. While you have several of Batman’s gadgets available in this game (Batarangs, Batclaws, Explosive Gel etc.) you have half of what the later games give you, and there are fewer enemy types to deal with. Gameplay, as with all the Arkham games, is split into two types – a combat sim beat-em-up where you use Batman’s fighting prowess against various thugs, and a stealth takedown sim where you have to incapicate Joker’s armed followers in various ways (silent takedowns, knocking them off ledges, stringing them up from Gargoyles etc.). While the stealth segments are still good fun (helped by Batman’s ‘detective mode’ vision, which lets you keep track of where various enemies are), the combat isn’t as slick or free-flowing as it is in the sequels (though it’s by no means bad). Some of the boss fights also are somewhat dissapointing (especially Bane’s and the final one with Joker) though this is countered by the nightmare platformer sequences you have to play through when fighting Scarecrow (which are brilliant) and the challenging fight with Poison Ivy (surprisingly the hardest boss in the game). There isn’t any multiplayer, but there are various challenge maps for both stealth and combat which you can lose a couple of hours on.

Ultimately, while this was a breakthrough game and is still an enjoyable Batman sim, it has dated somewhat. For completionists who want to playthrough the entire series or Batman fans who will love the story and characters, it’s a good choice. For the more casual gamer however – i’d recommend starting with prequel Arkham Origins, then playing Arkham City and Knight, as those three all have superior gameplay.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Next: Arkham City – a game which improves in almost every way and introduces Two-Face, Penguin and Ra’s al Ghul to the series…

TV Review: Game of Thrones: The Dance of Dragons

The Dance of Dragons by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

After Hardhome episode 9 had a lot to live up to – but barring pulling another Red Wedding there wasn’t much that would have lived up to it. Has the trend of the most shocking/best/climatic episode being the ninth one ended? Maybe – but this one still boasts one stunning ending sequence and one almighty gut punch. Unfortunately the Dorne storyline follows its counterpart in the books to a lackluster conclusion and while Arya’s section is interesting, it’s merely setting up her part in next week’s finale. Jon gets a few scenes as he arrives back at the wall with the wildling survivors, but it is clear trouble is brewing with the other Night’s Watch members; apart from Sam, they didn’t look thrilled with this development…

The Dorne storyline has disappointed this season – it makes me glad they cut the Greyjoys, who had an equally weak storyline in Books 4 and 5 – while Tyene Sand made an impression and there were some good moments between Bronn and Jaime, it smacked of merely moving people around to where they need to be in season 6. Alexander Siddig and Indira Varma are both quality actors and deserved more than they got – hope next season will rectify that.

Arya’s storyline moves into book 6 territory as she runs into Meryn Trant, one of Cersei’s men on her list (for killing Syrio Forel back in season 1) who is accompanying Mace Tyrrell (a character who is played for comedy effect as usual – to be fair it was an episode that needed some light hearted moments). Meryn Trant is here exposed as a pedophile in a brothel scene where he constantly asks for a younger woman than the ones they are offering – just to remind us what a despicable character he is. My guess is that Arya will use this to her advantage to trap him and try and cross his name off her list in next week’s episode – but will she jeopardise her standing with Jaqen in doing so (here abandoning her mission to spy on Meryn).

Now for the two big moments in the episode – the main sequence is the the final scene in Meereen as Jorah fighting in the Arena is interrupted by a horde of the Sons of the Harpy attacking the crowd and trying to kill Daenerys. The build up, such as the posturing between Daario and Hizdahr was amusing, and the fight scenes were some of the better ones this season (thought Jorah might have had it on a few occasions). Once the Sons attack, a lot of great moments come thick and fast (the shock death of Hizdahr, Tyrion saving Missandei, Dany forgiving Jorah) building up to the epic moment were the surrounded heroes are saved by the surprise appearance of Drogon, Dany’s lost dragon. This was as impressive as any Dragon scenes we’ve had in the five seasons so far and the final shot of Dany riding Drogon as he flew away was as awesome as I’d hoped it would be.

Last in this review comes the episode’s big gut punch: Stannis sacrificing Shireen as Melisandre advised after Ramsay’s men make a surprise attack which destroys his supplies and leaves him with no other option. Given how Stannis’ relationship with Shireen has been built up this season, it was a shock moment. The sense of foreboding was there in his scenes, as he sent Davos away to go ask Jon for supplies (as Davos would NEVER have gone along with this – might this be what breaks his loyalty to Stannis?) and then had a last conversation with Shireen where you felt sure Stannis would back out – but he didn’t. Even Stannis’ wife Selyse, one of the most hated supporting characters, tried desperately to stop Shireen being burned. Kerry Ingram’s performance as Shireen in these scenes was great and heartbreaking in equal measure, and i will miss her character. Thank god we didn’t actually see her burned (though her screaming was very haunting) as even watching Mance Rayder burn in episode 1 was very traumatic (and this time Jon wasn’t around to do a mercy kill). This might turn a lot of people against Stannis’ character, but it was certainly an interesting and heartbreaking development (who’d have thought Sansa’s rape scene would only be the second most traumatic moment of the season?).

Worse: (or better depending on your view) next up is episode 10, which if it follows the end of book 5 will have at least two major deaths in it, plus some of the actors have repeatedly teased that a non-book twist is coming as well – I’d brace yourselves people…

Overall the episode loses something due to the lack of drama in the Dornish storyline and by setting up episode 10, but the chaos in Meereen and Shireen’s gruesome fate make it a memorable episode, if not on par with other episode 9’s.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next Time: Stannis makes his move against the Boltons, Tyrion deals with the fallout from events in Meereen and Cersei hits her lowest point…

Article: What should Fallout 4 include?

With Fallout 4’s announcement in the past week setting gamers’ minds ablaze, here’s my view on what the series should do next in Fallout 4, and what it should learn from it’s predecessors.

1. New Game Engine! This is almost certain to happen, but the game engine was the only thing that held back Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas – slow frame rates, frequent glitches and irritating crashes dogged two otherwise brilliant games – there is reason to hope though, Skyrim’s game engine was a 100-fold improvement over Oblivion’s, hopefully Fallout 4’s will be a similar leap forward.

2. Improved DLC: The downloadable content for Fallout 3 and New Vegas was very hit and miss, ranging from the brilliant (Old World Blues) to the flawed yet challenging (Lonesome Road, Broken Steel) to the bloody awful (Operation: Anchorage, Mothership Zeta, Dead Money) the new Fallout will hopefully have DLC which matches the high quality of the main game.

3. Returning Classics: The new game is set in Boston, Massachusetts, a location mentioned in Fallout 3, so hopefully we will have some characters/enemies/institutions from that game (i.e. The Enclave, The Brotherhood of Steel and Three Dog the DJ. And Deathclaws. F***ing Deathclaws!) returning. Hell, a DLC section that takes us back to the Capital Wasteland one last time would be epic and perfect fan-service…

4. Multiple factions: Fallout New Vegas had several advantages over Fallout 3 – it’s faction system, multi-sided endings and the fact the whole game built (with elements from side quests and main quests proving important) to a satisfying conclusion with the suitably epic battle of Hoover Dam (compared to the battle of the purifier in Fallout 3, which had no replay value) meant i preferred that game. Factions and multiple endings NEED to return in Fallout 4. Or if they don’t at least make the final mission more fun and compelling.

5. No Multiplayer: Fallout is a classic single-player game. Don’t tag multiplayer on just for the hell of it, co-op could potentially work but online game modes would be a BIG mistake. Just make the main game as good as possible. That’s all that matters.

6. Karma’s a bitch: While New Vegas’ faction system worked wonders, it’s use of the Karma system was a definite step back from Fallout 3’s. There was no evil decision comparable to blowing up Megaton, no good decision as heroic as saving kids from slavers at Paradise Falls, and worst of all no consequence depending on your alignment (except one follower who wouldn’t follow an evil Courier). Fallout 4 will hopefully take inspiration from Fallout 3 or perhaps Mass Effect and give you some meaningful Karmic decisions that have an effect on how the game plays out.

7. Companions, Enemies and Main Characters: New Vegas generally handled these better, companions were more interesting and the villains were less black and white, with Caesar, Mr. House and Ulysses all variously grey characters. The Courier’s interactions were good, especially his history/rivalry with Ulysses, the main villain of Lonesome Road. The Lone Wanderer from Fallout 3 did have a more emotional storyline though, and the Enclave were a very sinister enemy, so there’s elements from both games that deserve inclusion. The main character spoke in the Fallout 4 trailer though, so might we be about to see a talking player character (even just in cutscenes)? Maybe’s it’s time.

Who knows what the game will actually include but I’ll say one thing: i can’t wait to find out!

Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Avengers: Age of Ultron starring Mark Ruffalo, Scarlet Johansson and Jeremy Renner

Warning: Spoilers!

Why did i mention those three actors/actresses? Surely Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth and Chris Evans are the stars of the show? Not this time they aren’t. Hulk and Black Widow are at the heart of this movie (and Ruffalo and Johnasson have a very believable chemistry), and Renner’s Hawkeye is a revelation and (surprisingly) one of the best things in it, given he was the least notable Avenger in the first film. Thor gets sidelined for the majority of the film, although the moments he has are worth waiting for, while Captain America and Iron Man show some of the tension between them that will doubtless boil over in Captain America: Civil War next year. Nick Fury, War Machine and Falcon all make welcome return appearances as well.

As for the newcomers? James Spader brings Ultron to life with consummate ease, making him the most memorable villain since Loki. Elizabeth Olsen does sterling work as Scarlet Witch, who is far more prominent than her brother Quicksilver (sorry MCU, but X-men did him better) but is was good to see the Avengers face off with three foes who were a genuine threat to them (the Hydra soldiers and Ultron’s robots didn’t really cut it any more than the Chitauri did in the first film). Paul Bettany (the voice of Jarvis in previous films) makes a good impression here as Vision (who has arguably the best scene in the movie when he gains the heroes trust by being worthy to lift Thor’s Hammer).

To avoid major spoilers i won’t go to in detail about the plot, suffice to say it’s the usual blend of sci-fi, action and fantasy that you expect in a superhero film. The stand out moments include the opening assault by the Avengers on a Hydra castle, the final battle with Ultron and the battle between Hulk and Tony Stark’s ‘Hulkbuster’ Armour (i honestly didn’t call how that fight concluded – i never expected to see Hulk lose!). There is also a surprise death scene, and i hope the character in question isn’t resurrected – the stakes in these films need to feel real! Several scenes will have all fanboys (and fangirls) smiling, the heroes trying and failing to lift Thor’s Hammer, a new Avengers line up being revealed at the end and Thanos getting an awesome mid-credits scene to set up Infinity War…

So the big question: is it better than the highly acclaimed first one? Well I’d give the first film 4 out of 5 – it’s great popcorn cinema but doesn’t reach the highs of DC’s best offerings or the clever plotting of Captain America 2 or X-Men: First Class. This one is similar, but has a darker vein and is also trying to set up phase 3 of the MCU (hints for Black Panther, Civil War, Thor 3 and Infinity War all occur here). The result is the film isn’t as good as it could have been (and some characters don’t get the development they deserved) but it is still rollicking good fun. I think the result is comic book/superhero film fans will prefer it to the first one, but casual viewers might not. Personally i think it is the second best Avengers film (after Cap 2) and my third favourite (after Cap 2 and Guardians) but that it is an improvement over the first film (which sets up phase 3 remarkably well – can’t wait for infinity war now!).

Overall a darker, more ambitious offering than the first film, it doesn’t hit everything perfectly, but it comes remarkably close.

Rating: 4 out of 5