Black Lightning Review

Starring Cress Williams.

Minor Spoilers Follow.

With Black Panther making waves on the big screen, it felt like an appropriate time to try Black Lightning, the first DC TV show to have a Black Superhero as its main focus. It’s only the second Superhero show I can think of to have done this apart from Luke Cage. While the producers of Black Panther should be commended for what they’ve done, I can’t really credit the MCU much for boosting black representation in the superhero genre. Black Panther is the 18th MCU film – its taken them that long to have a film based around a Black Superhero, and they STILL haven’t released one with a female superhero taking the lead. Given the presence of War Machine, Falcon, Black Widow and Scarlet Witch in the MCU, this lack of representation is utterly pathetic. This is made especially evident by DC films, given that DC’s THIRD FILM featured Will Smith as lead character Deadshot and their FOURTH film gave us Wonder Woman. DC have done better (on representation, if not scripting) in 4 films than Marvel has in 17. Shame on you Marvel.

Marvel TV has admittedly done a better job of this, with Agent Carter and Jessica Jones catering for female Superheroes and Luke Cage giving us a show with a predominantly black cast. Unfortunately, Luke Cage was one of Marvel’s worse efforts (only outdone by Iron Fist) because of its poor writing, uneven tone and totally on the nose politics. Though Mike Colter has done a stand out job with the character on the Defenders and Jessica Jones, he still hasn’t got the material he deserves on his own show.

Fortunately, when it comes to both representation and TV shows in general, DC is far, far better than Marvel. John Diggle/Spartan has been a key fixture on Arrow since S1, and all four Arrowverse shows have had diverse casts (both in terms of ethnicity, gender and sexuality). Now we have a fifth DC show: Black Lightning. Not only is it DC’s answer to Luke Cage, but so far, its a damn sight better!

Cress Williams is a revelation as lead character Jefferson Pierce, a man who fought as a vigilante in his youth, but gave it up after his wife left him for the sake of his daughters and became the headmaster of a local school to try and combat the gangs a different way. Black Lightning sees him reluctantly forced back into action when his youngest daughter is targeted by a member of the local ‘100’ gang. While this kind of plotline veers close to cliché, its carried off with such panache and good scripting that you won’t really care. The rest of the (predominantly black) cast is equally good, with Jefferson’s daughters both likeable characters, and even his ex-wife is largely sympathetic (could this FINALLY be the show where DC doesn’t give us a crap love interest? Fingers crossed). The only white character of any note is Jefferson’s old mentor Peter (who acts as a cross between Alfred and Lucius Fox). While it seems easy to predict the arcs some characters will head down during this first series, they’ve all got plenty of potential.

One area the show completely trumps Luke Cage is in its use of Superpowers. Black Lightning’s electrical attacks are awesome (anyone whose played the Infamous video games will appreciate them!) and give the action scenes plenty of spark and heft. Luke Cage was always held back by the fact that being bulletproof and strong don’t make for particularly exciting powers. Black Lightning doesn’t have this problem – he’s powerful but still vulnerable, which is always the best superhero combination.

I also liked how Lightning isn’t a ‘White Knight’ style hero (the DC shows have enough of those on the Flash and Supergirl) but is happy to get his hands dirty, and in one memorable sequence, blows up a police car to send a message to two racist cops. Police brutality/racism is one of several issues highlighted here, but its done so in a much more sensitive and less on-the-nose way than in Luke Cage and comes across as less heavy handed as a result.

There are one or two issues: the dialogue can be a bit clichéd and corny in some places, and its first few episodes follow familiar plotlines to most other superhero/vigilante dramas, but overall its a cut above the current load of superhero offerings. Hopefully the rest of the season lives up to this promising start.

Rating: 4 out of 5

My review of Black Panther will be out sometime next week. Can an MCU film finally get 5/5?

Advertisements

Medieval 2: Total War Review

This game may have been out well over a decade, but despite it’s successors possessing more powerful game engines, better graphics and more varied gameplay, it’s still one of the best RTS’ (Real-Time Strategy) and TBS’ (Turn-based Strategy) games of all-time. The fact is, the Creative Assembly has never matched the standards of its mighty fourth entry in the Total War series, and none of the CA’s rivals have offered a compelling alternative either. Only its predecessor, Rome: Total War, holds a similar regard in the minds of the fanbase. But why is this?

Maybe because the series’ dual style gameplay of having Real Time Battles inter-spliced with turn-based management and strategic planning was so successful. The mix of siege battles and land conflicts adds plenty of variety to the combat, while random events, bad luck and AI factions lack of predictability can often leave you scrambling to face new threats to your empire. You can also avoid one of the aspects entirely if you want to focus solely on battles or empire-building (the computer can auto-resolve battles with you playing them, or can set taxes and building policies automatically it you want it to). The campaigns are also really unpredictable. Just when you think you have a faction on the ropes, their last army ambushes you unexpectedly in the woods. Just when you’re about to overwhelm your main rivals, one of your allies suddenly turns on you and strikes at a badly defended settlement. Or, worst of all, one of your generals defects and takes either an army, or worse, a whole settlement with him. Every campaign throws up new problems and offers enough factions to please any gameplay style. Love carving enemies up with Heavy Infantry? Pick Denmark. Love using cavalry? Go for Poland. Want an endless supply of Spearman? Welcome to Italy. Want to wipe out endless hordes of infidels on crusade? Pick Egypt and fortify the hell out of your cities! The multitude of factions means that your have many weeks worth of potential gameplay ahead, as well as immense replay value.

While Rome: Total War (referred to as RTW for the rest of this article) was initially my favourite entry in the series, I have to admit that Medieval 2 does fix several problems with RTW, and has more overall depth and replay value. The more I’ve played them, the more convinced I’ve become that Medieval 2 edges out Rome. To go into detail, Rome: Total War had a couple of very irritating niggles, such as its basic and easily broken diplomacy system. Once your faction got too rich in RTW, the AI factions would instantly start demanding ridiculous sums of money for any potential deals. Worse, if your faction became too powerful, weaker AI factions would regard almost all potential financial/diplomatic offers as suspiciously generous, and would refuse them outright.

Another problem with RTW was one of balance: the four Roman factions were slightly too strong in comparison to every other faction, meaning that you would either end up sweeping the map while playing them or, if playing a different faction, would always have the Romans as your main rivals late game, not anyone else. While Egypt, Carthage and the Greek factions were capable of standing up to the Romans late game, the Barbarian factions lacked any kind of extra units or infrastructure once they upgraded their settlements to cities, meaning that whatever faction you started as, it was rather inevitable that once you destroyed the Romans you would have few rivals left capable of challenging you. Every game played out reasonably similarly as far as the AI were concerned: The Greek Cities, Gaul and Carthage would be overwhelmed by Romans within 50 turns, while the Seleucids were nearly always wiped out by a combination of Egypt, Pontus and Parthia. The final problem was that half the factions in RTW were initially locked until you beat the main campaign as the Romans, and a third were totally unplayable without editing the game files (which, fortunately, is not difficult and there are plenty of youtube videos on how to do this!).

Medieval 2 fixes all of these issues: diplomacy was considerably refined, AI’s are more reasonable in negotiations and there aren’t any real issues creating deals between small and weak factions. All factions except the Papal States, Aztecs, Mongols, Timurids and Rebels are also easily unlockable. The game is much more balanced too: I’ve done at least 20 playthroughs over the years and its never been the same AI factions that have done well in every playthrough. Sometimes France is a really strong power who wipes out The Holy Roman Empire (Medieval Germany) and kicks England off the continent, sometimes they get crushed by a combination of Milan and Portugal. Sometimes Denmark takes over the whole Northern part of the map, sometimes the HRE and Poland leave them stuck in a single province. Sure some things recur: Venice always fights Byzantium, the Moors always fight Sicily, the Pope is a dick to Egypt etc. but while you often see the same kind of conflicts, the results differ. The AI still isn’t perfect, especially on lower campaign difficulties, where some nations just sit around or merely attack one or two rebel settlements, but for the most part it’s not an issue.

Medieval 2 also refines individual characters and their various traits. Everyone from Assassins to Diplomats to Priests have numerous traits that make them better or worse at their job. This can often have annoying consequences, as Priests who lack faith often become heretics, incompetent assassins get themselves killed and Kings who lack Authority suffer defections and rebellions. Every general has four stats: command, loyalty, chivalry/dread and piety. Commanders lacking in piety may be vulnerable to execution by papal inquisitors, disloyal generals cannot be trusted, Generals strong in command will rarely lose battles and men with high dread with frighten the hell out of the enemy. While some traits are random, you are largely responsible for how your faction members develop. Leave a general in a godforsaken hellhole for 20 turns? His loyalty will drop. Execute prisoners, use assassins and exterminate cities? You’ll be more dreaded than the Mongols. Build taverns in cities where you general lives? Expect a greater chance of him becoming an alcoholic and wrecking his stats.

Medieval 2’s time period also is a major factor in gameplay. Not only do you have to contend with the Black Death (which can wipe out a good 10-50% of your forces in the affected regions) but also invasions from the Mongols (who have extremely skilled Generals and awesomely strong cavalry) and the Timurids (who have elephants. And cannons. And cannons mounted on Elephants!!!). These ramp up the difficulty factor for eastern powers like The Turks, Egypt and occasionally Russia and Byzantium. The Christian factions are largely safe from these threats but have a bigger problem: the Pope. Not only will he constantly ask you to build churches and recruit more priests, but he will also commission crusades (usually against Egypt or the Turks) that force you to send one of your armies off to the East or risk his disapproval. Fighting other Christian nations (which happens all the time given that most/all neighbouring factions are Catholic!) will lead to the Pope turning on you and either excommunicating your faction, declaring war, or worse, declaring a crusade on you. On one campaign as the Holy Roman Empire I ended up assassinating 5 successive Popes because the Papal States were being such a nuisance. Another game-changer is the invention of gunpowder, which greatly diminishes the strength of your city walls and castles. For ambitious/naval inclined players, you can also send fleets to explore the ‘New World’ which can gain you a lot of money but also puts you in conflict with the Aztecs. All these means long campaigns have plenty of pratfalls to spoil your plans and prevent things being too easy.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

The game’s expansion pack, Kingdoms, which is included with the base game on Steam, is a great extra, offering four new campaigns and several new factions. You may not care for all of them, but there’s something for everyone, and it adds hundreds of hours of extra gameplay. The following ratings are my opinion – you may like the ones I don’t or vice versa, but they’re all worth trying!

The Americas Campaign: (Factions include New Spain, The Aztecs, The Mayans and the Apache, with another 3 tribal factions unlockable)

The Americas Campaign is my least favourite of the expansions, but if you want a challenge or miss the simpler, barbarian horde factions from RTW, this might be for you! The campaign focuses on Central America and the surrounding area at the time where the Spanish are just starting to invade (England and France will turn up during the campaign as well but aren’t playable). The Aztecs and Mayans are unique factions in Medieval 2 because they completely lack technology – i.e. no artillery, no guns, no cavalry – they rely solely on infantry and foot-based archers/missile troops. While this may sound like a major disadvantage, their numbers are vast and their infantry VERY fast, so they can hold their own against more ‘civilised’ factions, although heavy casualties are a frequent feature of their campaigns. New Spain have the technology, but lack numbers, so the early game is quite difficult for them, and fighting too many tribes at once will get them easily overrun. The Apache are a balance between the two – initially they are as undeveloped as the Aztecs/Mayans, but once they defeat any army from England, Spain or France, they can learn how to use guns and horsemen. Personally I don’t like this one much (infantry only battles can be a bit of a slog, and the numbers involved are always huge – no small skirmishes here!) though I find the Apache enjoyable.

Rating: 2 out of 5

The Britannia Campaign: (Factions include England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and Norway – i.e. Vikings)

One of the best campaigns is the Britannia Campaign. Scotland get a much better unit roster here than in the main campaign, while England face a somewhat harder task than normal due to low approval and lack of funds, not to mention being at war with anywhere from 2-4 of the other factions for the whole game. Ireland are interesting if you like a mix of cavalry and artillery, while Wales are immense fun if you like using archers and playing defensively. Norway are a tough faction to win with, but Viking units are always fun to use, especially their infantry, and you can basically fight whoever you want with them (though Scotland will prove a problem if you don’t see them off early).

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Crusades Campaign: (Factions include Jerusalem [England], Antioch [France], Egypt, The Turks and the Byzantine Empire).

If you liked the whole Crusade aspect of the main game, this is the expansion for you. It’s basically giving you a chance to face off with much stronger units than you’d normally have in an early game. Personally I find it the least ambitious of the four campaigns – 3 factions are basically the same as in the main game, so you’ll probably want to stick with the Crusader states unless you really loved playing as Egypt, Byzantium or the Turks (my personal favourite).

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Teutonic Campaign: (Factions include the Teutonic Order, Lithuania, Denmark and Novgorod [Russia], with Poland and the HRE unlockable)

The Best of the bunch, the Teutonic campaign gives you two very different new factions (fans of Heavy Infantry/Heavy Cavalry will love the Teutonic Order, while the more simplistic armies of pagan Lithuania may provide a decent challenge to those who found the main game easy). Denmark are really fun to play as here, as they start from a much stronger position than in Britannia or the main game, and can really carve into the HRE and Poland before testing themselves against the Teutonic Order. Similarly, Russia (Novgorod) start off much stronger but lack the easy early expansion they had in the main game. Like the Britannia campaign, there’s something for everyone here.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Overall, if you’re any kind of PC gamer who likes strategy/military games, Medieval 2 is still a must have. Its far more accessible than the most recent total war games and in my opinion, far more fun. Its also more refined than Shogun, Medieval or Rome, and thus strikes the best balance between good gameplay and accessibility. Even better, you don’t need a good gaming PC to run this, whereas good-luck getting Rome 2: Total War to run properly on average PC’s. Medieval 2 is probably my favourite PC game of all-time, and I can’t see that changing anytime soon. And if you ever get bored with it (or Rome Total War for that matter) you can always mod the hell out of them.

My Top Games of 2017

As usual for late December, here’s my take on my favourite games I’ve been playing this year. As always, some games weren’t 2017 releases but ones I’ve only just got around to this year. It’s not been a vintage year for gaming (Mass Effect: Andromeda and Star Wars Battlefront 2 both fell short of the mark for different reasons) but there’s still been some really fun entries. So here’s my top 6 and, as a bonus, my favourite bit of DLC too!

6: Guardians of the Galaxy: A Telltale Series

Telltale games may not be your thing if your main focus is gameplay (or graphics for that matter), but for story and character values they always excel. Having breathed new life into the Borderlands series and told interesting tales in the Batman and Game of Thrones universes, they’ve now turned there hands to the Guardians of the Galaxy series. I’ll forewarn film fans that this isn’t tied to the Marvel Film adaptions – the characters are the same, but aren’t voiced by the same actors nor do they look all that similar. But that isn’t an annoyance, as it allows the game makers to push the characters further than they have been in the film series. As you’d except with the Guardians, the dialogue options are often hilarious, but its the strength of the storyline that will grip you. As well as delving into Quill, Rocket, Gamora and Drax’s backstories, the 5 episode series features run-ins with Thanos, the Nova Corp, The Collector’s agents and newcomer Hela the Accuser, a Kree warrior who serves as the main antagonist. Choices in Telltale games often feel emotionally tied to characters rather than having a major impact on the overall plot, but there’s a few here that have lasting impact on the way the last two episodes play out (including whether Nebula and Mantis join the Guardians). Overall the story and characterisation make this a good entry in the series, if admittedly not a perfect one, as the quick-time events are very mixed in quality (they aren’t particularly difficult, and while the melee combat is good enough the shooting mechanics are terrible). I still enjoyed it enough though for it to scrape into sixth place on my list.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

5: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PS4 Exclusive). Uncharted 4 may have wrapped up Nathan Drake’s story, but given how much of a success the series has been for Naughty Dog, it seemed inevitable that a spin-off would turn up. So does the series work without its leading man? Er – yeah, of course it does. Chloe Frazer was one of the reasons Uncharted 2 remains the highlight of the series, so having her headline the 1st spin-off was a superb choice, and the less predictable pairing of her and Nadine Ross (i.e. one of the villains from A Thief’s End) works wonderfully. The game isn’t perfect – the first few levels are by-the-numbers and a touch slow, but once you get to the open-world (yes really) area of chapter, the game really starts to come to life. The combat is pretty much the same as Uncharted 4, with the only major addition being the ability to use C4 late game. The treasure/collectable hunting is as good as ever and the game is visually stunning (there’s a reason a screenshot from it is my current screensaver). Unlike previous uncharted games, the action takes place in only one country, India, giving it a different feel to earlier games (there’s a big focus on Indian History, Religion and Mythology – replacing the supernatural elements featured in games 1-3 and the pirate storyline from 4). Asav is a workable but not particular memorable villain, though the boss fight with him is challenging. While I agree with other reviewers that the game can sometimes seem like ‘Uncharted’s Greatest Hits’, for the most part its its own beast, and Chloe and Nadine’s turbulent but ultimately engaging relationship coupled with the stunning setting means its well worth your time (and money).

Rating: 4 out of 5

4: Injustice 2 – DC’s track record of making good video games is still intact even if its film efforts are still falling short. Injustice 2’s improved graphics and combat and its enlarged character roster make it worth the upgrade from Gods Among Us. The story mode is fun, and the multiverse events mean there’s basically hundreds of hours worth of gameplay on offer here – and that’s without factoring in the multiplayer modes. Yes the games currency and loot systems aren’t perfect, but they are far from the confusing, cash-grabbing disaster of some games we could mention (cough *Battlefront II*). It can get a little repetitive after a while, but the wide range of characters with different special moves mean its easy to switch things up a bit. Overall a great 1v1 fighting game that certainly gives you your money’s worth.

Rating: 4 out of 5

3: F1 2017 – The latest F1 sim improves on its impressive predecessor in basically every way. It adds two new practice programmes (Race strategy and fuel saving) ensuring that completing all three practice sessions is actually worthwhile, and completely rejigs the R&D tree, so you can no longer get 80% of the upgrades just from one successful season, which makes numerous seasons with the same team actually worthwhile. The difficulty slider is far less rigid that last year – you can now select any level between 1 and 100, which makes small changes possible and gets rid of the large jumps between difficulty levels that lessened my enjoyment of the 2016 edition. The best addition is the championships mode, which allows you to drive classic F1 cars from the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s in a variety of short championships (hot lap championships, reverse grids events, sprint races, endurance races etc.) which is also an easy way to settle into the game and find what difficulty level is best for you. Overall, the game is a refined, polished version of its predecessor, which barring a few minor quibbles (overtaking can be a bit too easy on lower difficulty or with driver aids on, the safety car periods do drag on a bit) has delivered a great sim for any F1 fan. Worth the upgrade from any previous version.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2: Skyrim Special Edition – While the Special Edition doesn’t add much beyond vastly improved graphics, it fixes a lot of annoyances the original had (loading times have been cut to about 10% of what they were, while game-ending crashes are now far-rarer if still an occasional factor). Ultimately its worth a £20 upgrade if you liked the original but got frustrated with those issues, never brought the DLC for the original (the Special Edition includes all 3 expansion packs, including the sublime Dawnguard) or want to try out some mods without buying the PC edition. As I did a full review on this already, I won’t say much more, save that Skyrim is still as fun as ever, and with no new Elder Scrolls game in sight yet, this might be a fun way of getting back into the series.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

1: Horizon Zero Dawn (PS4 Exclusive) – There was only going to be one game that could get the top spot this year. It may not be absolutely perfect (the difficulty of individual missions can jump about a bit, the new game plus mode isn’t really necessary), but it’s bloody close and more inventive that anything else on the market (seriously, if uncharted and the last of us weren’t already enough reason for PC/Nintendo/Xbox gamers to get a PS4 on the side, this is). In what was a bad year for Sci-Fi on television (excluding Black Mirror) Horizon Zero Dawn delivered one of the most compelling science fiction storylines I’ve seen in YEARS. But then again, to quote Honest Trailers ‘it takes a shit-ton of plotting to make tribal girl vs. Robot dinosaurs make sense’. Yep its that game. Set on a post-apocalyptic earth where human tribes have lost almost all knowledge of technology and are forced to survive in an oddly tranquil but dangerous environment which is roamed by robotic dinosaurs and constructs. But as the game’s labyrinthine story unfolds, both the nature of the apocalypse (no its not a fallout-esque nuclear war) and the reasons for the dinosaurs creation (nope not aliens or anything stupid like that) become clear and are, in a way, strikingly and terrifyingly plausible in the same way some Black Mirror plotlines about rogue technology can be. The storyline is also anchored by main character Aloy, a tribal girl searching for the simple answers (who she really is and who were her parents) who is both an immensely likeable lead and probably the best new videogame character from 2017. The game’s missions range from taking down bandit camps, hunting down a mysterious sun cult, killing rogue robots and exploring ancient ruins to uncover clues (holograms, recordings, notes etc.) about the apocalypse. The robots range from the small scale Watcher and Grazer to the mighty Behemoth and Bellowbacks. While early levels feature foes you can take down with basic bows and spears, later levels see you having to employ everything from bomb slings and tripwires to shock arrows and mines to take down the humungous beasts. Part RPG (open world setting, optional side missions, various dialogue choices and upgrade options) part linear survival/stealth, it looks wonderful, is really fun to play and is extremely engaging. Add the Frozen Wilds DLC if you want an extra challenge.

Rating: 5 out of 5

And my favourite DLC is…

  1. Far Harbor (Fallout 4). Far Harbor is a rarity – a DLC that’s actually better and more engaging than the main game. Fallout DLC’s are often hit-and-miss, but Far Harbor absolutely nails what you want from a DLC: a new, exciting location to explore, new, challenging enemies and a good central storyline to get into. The location for this DLC is an island north of the main commonwealth that is covered in radioactive fog, making exploration of the monster infested island dangerous. It also adds three new major factions: a Synth refuge, the Children of Atom, and the Islanders themselves, who have been pushed back to one measly settlement by the fog and the monsters. The main storyline is engaging and it isn’t clear cut what the optimum moral choice is: the Islanders aren’t always sympathetic, the Synth leader has a pretty immoral past and not all of the Children of Atom are the antagonistic zealots their leaders are. The game gives you a lot of scope for resolving the conflict between the three factions (you can destroy the Children of Atom, allow the fog to overrun the island and kill the Islanders, make peace between the three factions or even call in the Brotherhood or Institute from the main game to wipe out the Synths). The side quests are also good, whether it be slaying the islands wide variety of mutated sea-creatures, helping out the various settlements or playing detective in a vault filled with Robobrains (one of the weirdest and most fun questlines). Far Harbor also avoids several of the pratfalls which weakened the main game: the crafting system plays a minimal role and is far less annoying than usual, while there are three major settlements to align with and do quests for, which is actually more than the main game gave us (let’s be honest, any settlement outside of Goodneighbor and Diamond City sucked in the main game). Overall, this might just be the best DLC a fallout game has given us, even if its attached to one of the weaker entries in the fallout series.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Hopefully 2018 will be a stronger year for games. With the new Spider-Man, Vampyr, Days Gone and the Last of Us Part 2, it looks pretty promising…

Top 10 TV Episodes of 2017

Rather than my usual top TV shows, I decided to do a top 10 episodes. This was for several reasons: firstly, a lot of my favourite shows have underperformed this year (House of Cards, Doctor Who, The Americans, The Flash), and a top 4 shows would be about the best I could manage, and secondly because many of those shows still had terrific episodes even if the overall season was a bit of a let-down. So without further ado, here’s my TV picks from 2017.

I’ve made any spoilers as minor as possible, but pretty much everything referenced here was either in trailers or has been general knowledge for at least 6 months.

10. World Enough and Time (Doctor Who, Series 10) Series 10 may have been a weak run for Doctor Who, but Steven Moffat’s writing, Capaldi and Mackie’s acting and Rachel Talalay’s direction was flawless throughout. World Enough and Time is up their with Moffat’s best: a dark, creepy haunting tale set on a spaceship stuck orbiting a black hole, causing time to run faster at one end than the other. Throw Missy, a classic monster and another returning (disguised) villain into the mix and you have a classic in the making. If only so much of it hadn’t been spoiled beforehand, this episode might have been a lot further up my list.

9. Season Finale (Robot Wars UK) The last series of Robot Wars had 1 or 2 duff episodes, but the finale was so spectacular that it has to get a place in my top 10. The ten way Robot Rumble to decide who got the coveted sixth spot in the final was perhaps the best 5 minutes of television this series has ever produced, and the sheer chaos of it all was wonderful to behold. The final rounds themselves weren’t bad either – with several surprises as Defending Champions Carbide were placed under extreme pressure and a few no-hopers (Nuts 2) actually acquitted themselves rather well.

8. Beyond the Wall (Game of Thrones, Season 7) Game of Thrones seventh season may have thrown out the careful plotting a bit too much for some fans, but the sheer spectacle of the thing and the wonderful array of character interactions (some we’d waited years to see) still made it insanely compelling viewing. This episode, where Jon Snow and a band of followers including the Brotherhood without banners, The Hound, Tormund, Jorah and Gendry, all venture North of the Wall to search for proof of the White Walkers existence, is on a scale worthy of Lord of the Rings. To say any more would spoil what’s so great about it, but the soundtrack, direction and spectacle were all second to none, even if the resolution is somewhat ludicrous.

7. The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (Gotham, Season 3) Gotham’s not had a great year by all accounts. While we’ve had several great villains truly come to the fore (Riddler, Ra’s al Ghul, Professor Pyg) there’s been too much slow-burning about Gotham, and too many characters have got short-shift. But every so often, the show delivers a real gem, and that’s exactly what we got in this, the third part of a trilogy marking Jerome’s return in season 3. Seeing teenage Bruce Wayne face off with the man Gotham fans are 99% sure is the future Joker was stunning television, and the whole Riddler-Penguin civil war wasn’t a bad B-Plot either. It has a lot of great Bruce and Jerome moments that I won’t spoil, and one hell of a cliffhanger too.

6. The Dragon and the Wolf (Game of Thrones, Season 7) Remember what I said about character interactions? Well the finale had a truck full of them. Whether it was the Hound and Brienne coming face-to-face again, Jon Snow and Daenerys finally meeting Cersei or Jaime finally, FINALLY seeing Cersei’s true colours, it was epic. Littlefinger’s plotline was a punch the air moment for every fan watching, and the final scene with the White Walkers sets up season 8 perfectly. A great finale, if not quite the best episode of the season…

5. Doomworld (Legends of Tomorrow, Season 2) – I would never have expected Legends of Tomorrow, the most ridiculous Superhero Show on TV (featuring time-travel, aliens, mythology etc.) to also have been the best and most consistent one in 2017. But it was. Mainly because of its amazing season 2 plotline, which saw the superhero ensemble face-off with the Legion of Doom (featuring the Reverse-Flash, Dark Archer, Damien Darhk and Captain Cold – aka four of the Arrowverse’s best villains). Doomworld gave us a look at a future where the villains actually won, a rarity on any superhero show, and was a fabulous hour full of redemption stories, villainous one-liners and a kick-ass final battle scene. If season 3 lives up to this standard I won’t be complaining much.

4. Infantino Street (The Flash, Season 3) I’ll be honest, the Flash’s third season was terrible. The main plot didn’t work well and it largely squandered any goodwill left over from the excellent first one and a half seasons. Infantino Street was its sole knockout hit, the penultimate episode of the season, which featured the return of fan-favourite Leonard Snart and the villainous Savitar finally delivering on his potential. The ending scene is up their with the best Flash cliffhangers (and there are A LOT of good ones). Pity the producers ruined everything in the season finale, but in my view that doesn’t diminish this classic instalment. Let’s hope season 4 has more episodes like this.

3. Storm-y Weather (Orange is the New Black, Season 5) Orange is the New Black’s status as one of the all-time great Netflix shows remains untarnished (unlike House of Cards, for various reasons), and season five continuing the trend of a series that has actually got better year on year (how many shows can say that?!). Set over 3 days rather than several weeks a la previous series, season 5 gave us a gripping depiction of a prison riot and what happens when the inmates turn the tables on the awful prison officers. This episode (the finale) finally forced the prisoners (and bastard guardsman Piscatella) to face up to their actions and face the consequences. Filled with emotional performances, it confirms that this series really does have longeveity. The use of the ‘To Build a Home’ song over the last 5 mins really was something beautiful too.

2. Lian Yu (Arrow, Season 5) – Season Five finally broke the norm for Arrow finales (i.e. a yearly attack on Star City) and instead presented a much more personal, visceral conflict between Oliver Queen and Prometheus, leading to a monumental battle between both sides (including the whole of team Arrow, Black Siren and several recurring fan favourites). Even the flashbacks were great, as Oliver faced off with a brutal Russian terrorist (played menacingly by Dolph Lungren). Throw in a spectacle cliffhanger and this was by miles the best episode Arrow’s given us since Deathstroke unleashed his army in season 2. A truly terrific finale.

1. The Spoils of War (Game of Thrones, Season 7) – It had to be really. The Spoils of War is a contender for best Thrones episode of all time. It contains a lot of fan-favourite moments and a truly awesome battle scene. Arya training with Brienne is just the icing on the cake. The finale builds and builds to something truly special as we finally see just what those Dragons are really capable of… A masterpiece, and the best episode of TV I’ve seen in a long time.

And here’s my TV Awards for 2017

Best Actress: Melissa Benoist (Supergirl)
Best Actor: Nikolau Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister, Game of Thrones)
Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Gomez (Missy, Doctor Who)
Best Supporting Actor: Wentworth Miller (Snart, The Flash/Legends of Tomorrow)
Best TV Show: Game of Thrones/Orange is the New Black
Best Script: Steven Moffat (World Enough and Time, Doctor Who)
Best Director: Rachel Talalay (World Enough and Time, Doctor Who)
Best Special Effects: USS Callister (Black Mirror)
Best Composer: Blake Neely (Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Villain(s): The Legion of Doom (Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Hero: Jon Snow (Game of Thrones)
Worst Actress: Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek Discovery)
Worst Actor: Doug Jones (Star Trek Discovery)
Worst Director: Charles Palmer (Oxygen, Doctor Who)
Worst TV Show: Star Trek Discovery
Worst Script: Aaron Helbing and Todd Helbing (Finish Line, The Flash)

The Capaldi Era Reviewed

Well that’s that. Peter Capaldi has bowed out as the 12th Doctor after 4 years in the role. Over his 3 series and 4 Xmas specials he’s had numerous very strong showings and has given us several diverse takes on his character, so here’s my tribute to Twelve’s era. First up, my take on his best (and worst) episodes!

Obviously, major spoilers for Series 8-10. If you haven’t watched them by now, that’s not my problem.

12’s Worst Episodes

5. Oxygen (Series 10) by Jamie Mathison – A missed opportunity. Oxygen got bogged down in its anti-capitalism message and forgot to have fun along the way. Zombies onboard a space station really should be scarier than this. The acting was decent, but the direction lacked any drive whatsoever and seriously undermined the tension.

Rating: 3/5

4. In The Forest of the Night (Series 8) by Frank Cottrell-Boyce – Boyce’s first contribution to the series isn’t bad, it just isn’t that interesting. The child actors aren’t terrible (like Angie and Artie in Series 7) but they don’t add much to proceedings, and while Capaldi, Coleman and Samuel Anderson (Danny – remember him?) are all on form, things never spark into life. The direction is good though, and the storyline is inventive enough (trees have reclaimed earth and brought the human race to a standstill). Like Oxygen, it’s environmental message just weighs the plot down a bit too much.

Rating: 3/5

3. The Girl Who Died (Series 9) by Jamie Mathison – ‘We’re Vikings!’. Not very convincing ones mate. Containing some of the worst extras ever to appear in modern Who, it’s a good thing The Girl Who Died also had the wonderful Maisie Williams guest starring, because it’s one of the weakest scripts in series Nine. Only the last 15 minutes (where I suspect Moffat took over from Mathison as lead writer) have any real oomph to them.

Rating: 3/5

2. The Lie of the Land (Series 10) by Toby Whitehouse – A really disappointing ending to the ‘Monk trilogy’. The performances carry it and help avoid it being a disaster, but the Monks are defeated far too easily and the whole ‘fake regeneration’ thing was just silly.

Rating: 3/5

1.  Sleep No More (Series 9) by Mark Gatiss. An episode that tried to do something different with its found footage storyline, but is let down by forgettable guest stars and some truly stupid sci-fi (I mean living dust from eyes coming alive? Seriously Gatiss?). It should have at least been scarier, but everytime there was a threat of tension, Reece Shearsmith (absolutely woeful – the worst guest star in Capaldi’s era) turns up with more dull narration to drag proceedings down again. The script itself isn’t actually that bad, but the execution lets it down.

Rating: 2.5/5

Fortunately these episodes were the exception to the rule in the Capaldi era. Most of his episodes received either a 3.5/5 or a 4/5 from me, with several getting higher than that. So next up, here’s my list of his five best outings as the Doctor.

12’s Best Episodes 

5. Listen (Series 8) by Steven Moffat The first episode that really showed Capaldi’s potential. From his opening monologue to the end credits, he holds you attention and never lets it go, while Moffat delivers his most inventive script since Blink. It isn’t flawless, but sheer clever scripting and acting prowess from the three leads ensure it was one of Series 8’s highlights.

Rating: 4.5/5

4. World Enough and Time (Series 10) by Steven Moffat. Series 10 may have been a bit disappointing, but if you didn’t get shivers/punch the air during the last five minutes of ‘World Enough and Time’, you aren’t a proper who fan. Seeing two Masters on screen together for the first time was immensely engaging, and Moffat’s script made the Cybermen creepier than they have been in decades. If only we’d had fewer spoilers going in…

Rating: 4.5/5

3. Face the Raven (Series 9) by Sarah Dollard. Well this one was truly heartbreaking as Clara finally oversteps the mark in her attempts to be like the Doctor. Capaldi, Coleman and Maisie Williams are on fire here, and Sarah Dollard makes one of the best debuts I can remember as the writer for arguably the most important story of series 9. The script is excellent, while the direction, acting and Murray Gold’s music combine to make the episode’s climax truly heartwrenching… I do wish Moffat hadn’t undone it in the finale.

Rating: 5/5

2. Dark Water (Series 8) by Steven Moffat. The first two-parter in 3 years got off to a flying start with Dark Water, which takes its time but builds and builds to a jaw-dropping final 15 minutes. Some seriously creepy ideas about the afterlife, the return of the Cybermen and the reveal of just who Missy really is combine to make this a truly great episode. Capaldi, Coleman, Anderson and Michelle Gomez really gave this their all.

Rating: 5/5

1.  Heaven Sent (Series 9) by Steven Moffat. The winning combination of Moffat’s writing, Capaldi’s acting, Talalay’s direction and Murray Gold’s music reached its apex here in Capaldi’s sublime one-man (well, almost) show. While personally I find Dark Water more entertaining, Heaven Sent is undoubtedly the better episode and is up there with the best of what Moffat’s ever written. But Capaldi is the unquestioned star of this show – I’ll repeat what I said it my main review – only Capaldi could have carried an episode like this so well. Even Eccleston, Tennant and Smith, all fine actors, wouldn’t have matched him here, and that’s about the highest compliment I can give.

Rating: 5/5

For anyone interested, here’s the average score each of Capaldi’s series has got from me:

Series 8: 3.96/5. Series 8 featured several great episodes and no failures, while the Missy arc was the most satisfying season long mystery we’d got since the cracks in time in Series 5. Capaldi’s darker, grouchier take on the Doctor is refreshing even if it doesn’t always hit the right notes, while Jenna Coleman really comes into her own here.

Series 9: 4.04/5. Series 9 is the best modern who has given us so far, and if Chibnall/Whittaker or anyone else bests it I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Two weak episodes and a disappointing season arc aside, everything works. Capaldi gives us the definitive version of his Doctor (edgy and not giving a damn, but somewhat mellowed compared to his first series) and gets some of his best material, while Jenna Coleman’s marvellous performance proves she deserves to be the longest serving companion in Modern Who, and her partnership with Capaldi was clearly something truly special.

Series 10: 3.75/5. A VERY average run despite its strong finale, series 10 was something of a disappointment. Moffat still delivered, but his support writers (with the exception of Rona Munro and Peter Harness) let him down, though Moffat has to accept some blame for the Vault Storyline going nowhere and John Simm’s return being too widely spoiled. Pearl Mackie was excellent as Bill, but rarely got material that let her show off her talents. Capaldi’s Doctor, unfortunately, mellows too much in this last season, into near-forgetability by the end. His performance is still there, but the promise of his darker take on the Doctor has vanished, which was a shame. Like Tennant and Russell T. Davies, I can’t help feeling Moffat and Capaldi stuck around one season too long…

To finish up, here’s my 10 favourite moments from the Capaldi era.

10. We Surrender (Mummy on the Orient Express, Series 8). One of the 12th Doctor’s first truly heroic moments is where he stands up to the Foretold, knowing he only has 66 seconds to make it stand down before it kills him. Great scene.

9. Hello Sweetie (The Husbands of River Song). While most of this Xmas special was focused on comedy, the moment where River finally realizes that Capaldi is the Doctor was very sweet, and Capaldi’s ‘Hello Sweetie’ knocks it out of the park.

8. Those Eyebrows (The Day of the Doctor). Okay, slight cheat, this isn’t in any Capaldi episodes, but come on. Capaldi’s Day of the Doctor cameo was amazing. What a way to introduce a Doctor.

7. Clara Leaves the Doctor (Kill the Moon, Series 8). 12’s patronising behaviour finally comes back to bite him as an upset Clara gives him both barrels and leaves the Tardis in tears. Coleman’s performance was simply marvellous.

6. The Pope Ruins Bill’s Date (Extremis, Series 10). Quite possibly the funniest scene in Who History as Bill gets a girl back to her flat only to find the Doctor has accidentally left the Pope in her bedroom. Talk about a passion killer.

5. Clara Dies (Face the Raven, Series 9). What more can I say. We all knew it was coming at some point in Series 9, but it still hit hard anyway. The fact that Clara is arguably my favourite companion didn’t make it any easier.

4. The Doctor’s Speech (The Zygon Inversion, Series 9) The Doctor’s anti-war speech was a powerhouse of a performance by Capaldi, and even if the Zygon two-parter wasn’t the most memorable bit of Series 9, his speech to convince both sides to stand down gives it a perfect denouement. Who’d have thought Capaldi would surpass this a mere 3 episodes later…

3. You Know Who I Am (Dark Water, Series 8). The Missy reveal was up there with the Daleks surprise appearance in Army of Ghosts and the Master’s initial return in Utopia. It’s one of the best cliffhangers in the Capaldi era, and Capaldi and Michelle Gomez absolutely nail the scene. Well she couldn’t keep calling herself ‘The Master’ now could she 😉

2. Hello Missy. I’m the Master (World Enough and Time, Series 10). Simm’s performance has never been better. The face pull just made it all the more perfect. We knew it was him, but the reveal was pulled off with such gusto that it was epic anyway. This scene alone made the disappointing Series 10 worthwhile.

1.  Breaking the Wall (Heaven Sent, Series 9). What else could it be. Not forgetting that Murray Gold delivers his best soundtrack in YEARS for this scene, the moment where Twelve finally escapes his prison after spending millions of lifetimes punching through a near-indestructible wall was both epic and insanely clever. Well done Capaldi and Moffat – we won’t forget this one in a while.

To sum up, while Capaldi’s final series prevents me from labelling his incarnation the best version of the Doctor (Tom Baker is probably never going to be surpassed), he proved beyond doubt that he was one of the finest actors to play the role, easily matching what Eccleston, Tennant and Smith had achieved before him. Good luck Jodie Whittaker, you’ve got one hell of an act to follow…

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review

Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Kelly Marie Tran and Andy Serkis

First half is spoiler-free, spoilers after the warning half-way through.

I liked Force Awakens. But I didn’t love it. While a funny, entertaining and well acted entry in the franchise, it played things far too safe and was far too similar to A New Hope. It also left far too many questions unanswered, leaving The Last Jedi with the difficult balancing act of providing answers, setting up Episode IX and still providing a good enough story to be a hit with audiences. Fortunately, Rian Johnson seems to posses a far greater understanding of what makes Star Wars great than J.J. Abrams, and delivers a touching, epic film that, while somewhat reverential to the original trilogy, is still focused on telling an original, engaging story and not just rehashing the franchises greatest hits (like the second half of Force Awakens). It stands well on its own merits and also serves as a fitting middle segment of this sequel trilogy. As for the lingering questions from Force Awakens: it explains Rey’s origin and the reasons for Luke’s disappearance well enough, while Snoke’s backstory remains frustratingly obscure, as does the First Order’s rise to power between Episodes 6 and 7.

The film itself isn’t perfect (its slightly longer than necessary and the dialogue can feel a bit forced and clunky in places) but overall is a resounding success. Even the Porgs aren’t that annoying (they aren’t up there with Ewoks or Gungans anyway). New cast members Kelly Marie Tran (playing Rose, a young resistance fighter who gets entangled in Finn’s storyline) and Laura Dern (Leia’s second in command) slot into their roles with ease, while the regulars all give accomplished turns. Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridley bounce off each other well, while Adam Driver and Carrie Fisher keep the other plotlines engaing. General Hux (Gleeson), Snoke (Serkis) and Poe Dameron (Isaac) all get a welcome amount of extra screen time which helps flesh out their characters far more than in Force Awakens, although Gwendoline Christie is still rather wasted as the underused Captain Phasma.

The production team have performed equally well. Rian Johnson’ direction helps return a sense of wonder to proceedings, and he handles the action squences remarkably well, particularly the opening space battle and the various bits of lightsaber action. John Williams’ musical score is an improvement on his lacklustre effort for Force Awakens, and although its still below his best work for the series it serves well enough throughout. The film’s plotline is refreshingly well-crafted, even if the script could have used a bit of polishing to cut some of the corny dialogue (and perhaps losing 5-10 minutes would have helped the film feel tighter).

Overall Last Jedi delivers on giving us an engaging story without just re-treading old ground. It’s a touch too long and the dialogue can be a bit clunky, but some brilliant action pieces, surprise twists and good performances from the cast help it to surpass Force Awakens and leave the stage set perfectly for Episode IX. Hopefully J.J. Abrams can improve upon his previous effort and give us a fitting finale to the current trilogy.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

WARNING! MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!

So, onto the specific plot points. We’ll probably never know who Snoke was now, but given how long the film already was, I can understand why they didn’t bother fleshing out his backstory. It would only have worked well if Luke had been present for the reveal anyway, given that no other character had met Sidious or might have heard of Darth Plageius (the only two good Snoke theories). Either of them revealing themselves to Rey alone would have just fallen flat. Snoke just being an evil guy who rebuilt imperial forces into the first order isn’t exactly a satisfying answer to who he is, but I think the fanbase may have simply overthought it. This does make it more of a pity we never got any flashbacks to how the First Order formed, which might have fleshed Snoke out a bit. Fortunately, Andy Serkis’ performance still made Snoke a memorable foe, making the surprise twist of Kylo Ren turning on him all the more effective. Having Snoke and Ren both still in play in Episode IX might have led to Abrams crafting something too close to Return of the Jedi anyway, so only having Ren and Hux left on the villains side should provide a different dynamic. Phasma’s death was less impactful, mainly because she’s done bugger all so far, though her fight with Finn was pretty decent.

Speaking of fight scenes, Rey and Ren fighting Snoke’s bodyguards was pretty epic (nice to see Imperial bodyguards actually doing something for once – Sidious’ men looked cool but never sprung into action once). Johnson did a good job of teasing one of them turning to the light or dark side, but I’m not surprised he didn’t follow through on it. Kylo taunting Rey about her ordinary parentage was an effective enough way to reveal that Rey ISN’T a Kenobi or a Skywalker or the daughter or Sidious or Snoke (the later theories night have worked but, in the end, Rey not being born someone important with a famous family seems more appropriate than forcing a connection with Luke, Leia or Obi-Wan. I was mildly surprised they gave Finn another love interest in the form of Rose, but as someone who never entirely brought into Finn and Rey i’d be quite happy if Finn did end up with Rose, as Boyega and Kelli Marie Tran have good chemistry with each other. Rian Johnson did a good job of making Finn’s death feel like a genuine possibility in the final sequence, but this is Star Wars, not Game of Thrones, so I wasn’t surprised by the Rose-ex-Machina rescue. Admittedly Rose and Finn’s trip to the casino was probably where the film’s runtime could have been cut down easily, but the two made an interesting enough pairing that it was still an enjoyable part of the film.

One thing that really pleased me in the film was how the force was dealt with. Too often in the prequels the Jedi merely felt like skilled warriors rather than powerful wielders of ancient power, but here Luke, Snoke, Rey, Kylo and Leia all used it in interesting ways. It was nice to see Leia finally use some force ability other than telepathically sensing Luke or Han, while Rey and Kylo’s psychic connection was a neat trick to allow dialogue between the two of them. It was a slight pity we never got to see Luke square off with Snoke, given that Snoke seemed potentially even stronger than the Emperor ever was, while Luke’s force projection ability provided a neat final twist.

To sum up, it wasn’t perfect, but the combination of surprises, quality acting and diverting action sequences place this above Force Awakens in the Star Wars saga. It may not be the series’ absolute best, but it’s still top 4 or 5 as far as I’m concerned.

Star Wars: Battlefront 2 Review

Yep, I brought it. A bit of a gamble to be sure but it’s not the worst purchase I’ve made this year (for anyone interested that would be either Mass Effect: Andromeda or my rather underused Gym membership). If by some miracle you’ve missed the furore that has seen EA being repeatedly eviscerated on Reddit, Twitter and every conceivable form of social media because of this game, let me explain. Battlefront 2 costs full price at release (£50 for either console or PC) but features a levelling and reward system so slow and complex that the only way to get everything out of it was to either sink weeks-worth of time or fistfulls of extra cash into the game. Even then you aren’t guranteed to get exactly what you want, because the reward system relies on (sigh) random loot boxes, which leaves a very ‘luck of the draw’ feel to which players are rewarded most. As a result, Battlefront 2 has had the most difficult launch of any game since Mass Effect 3, whose ending got ripped to shreds by fans. And, as with that mess, EA has backed down. Sort of. Scrapping the ability to buy extra in-game currency with real cash does cut out the whole play-to-win issue, and they have reduced the cost required to unlock heroes and weapons. But the game still has plenty of other problems. So why’d I buy it? Simple: the gameplay’s actually quite good.

I loved the first remake last year (at least at launch). The multiplayer was really good, the servers were normally reliable, and everything felt pretty balanced. I didn’t really miss a substantial single-player mode because the online was nailing what I wanted from the game. Then EA messed about with it and fucked it up a bit. They did this because they wanted to sell £30-40 of DLC, which you basically had to buy to access all the new abilities and heroes the DLC packs included (the multiplayer became significantly harder if you persevered with the abilities/heroes from the base game only). The DLC was also a mixed bag (Outer Rim and Death Star were good expansions, but Rogue One and Bespin were undercooked and the maps nothing special). Although EA/DICE did balance out a lot of issues through updates, the gameplay wasn’t as pure as it had been at launch. I’ve still got the original, but I was kind of falling out of love with it, which is part of the reason I brought the new one (which EA has guaranteed will only have FREE DLC).

First up: the good news. Visually, the game’s a massive step up from its predecessor (which looked pretty damn good). The space battles in particular are stunningly rendered. You now can also play as Light or Dark Side in any of the three Star Wars eras (and you get heroes from the Prequel and Sequel trilogies into the bargain, such as Yoda, Darth Maul, Rey and Kylo Ren). Fans of the original Battlefront series will be pleased to hear that it feels a lot more like the originals than last year’s battlefront did (mainly because it has its own unique combat system and classes this time, not just a Battlefield 1 system with a Star Wars paintjob). The multiplayer has also been simplified, now there are only 5 distinct game modes: Blast (Team Deathmatch), Heroes vs. Villains, Starfighter Assault (Space Battles), Galactic Assault (Massive 40v40 game modes) and Strike (a smaller, 8v8 mode similar to Galactic Assault but easier for low level players). While the loss of modes like Cargo and Drop Zone are a slight shame, the lack of crap modes like Turning Point, Infiltration and Sabotage is an improvement, as is the new system of picking one mode and sticking with it for as long as you like (not cycling between modes, as happened in the first game’s DLC). I’m sure EA will throw in extra modes in DLC packs, but the original 5 are more than sufficient atm. The main improvement is the scrapping of power ups. Now, instead of having to memorise where power-ups appear on the battlefield, you get battle points from kills and completing objectives, which you can trade in to get access to jump troopers, flame troopers, heroes and vehicles. It’s a much better system, and ensures that only good players actually get the power-ups, which feels a lot fairer.

Heroes vs. Villains has actually been significantly improved. The new 4v4 battle between heroes is much better than the old version, simply because you don’t have to spend one of every two rounds waiting to be a hero (and getting repeatedly slaughtered as a standard soldier). Instead, each side has 4 heroes, one of which on each side will be marked as a target for the other side to kill. After a minute or so (or when a target is killed), the target player will switch (first side to 10 target kills wins). This allows for some great battles, as most heroes are pretty evenly matched (The Emperor and Lando are still pretty crap to play as but they’re the only duds). Well, they’re evenly matched unless there’s a single high level hero in play, which can get annoying very fast (especially Boba Fett, because Jedi are next to useless against him while he’s airborne).

This can be a recurring problem in the other modes. Galactic Assault, Strike and Blast can all be really fun, but players who’ve sunk time into the game or got lucky with loot boxes can repeatedly annihilate low level players (I know this is normal for multiplayer, but normally a skilled-enough player can compensate at low-level, but the difference here between low and high level players seems a bit more pronounced that it needs to be. Fortunately, there are no such problems in Starfighter Assault, i.e. Battlefront II’s best game mode. Ship combat and handling has been massively improved since the last game, the variety of Hero ships is better and they are all less overpowered. High level players won’t walk this mode, as skill is much more important than levelled abilities here. There are now 3 classes of ship: Interceptor (good at ship to ship fighting and very manoeuvrable but bad at doing damage to objectives), Bombers (highly damaging but slow and hard to manoeuvre) and Fighters (good all-rounders but not perfect at either style).

Looking at the single player, we’ve actually got a campaign this time. It’s a bit short (4-5 hours) but I suspect DLC will add to it. There are some great set pieces (The Battle of Jakku is a highlight, as are Luke and Leia’s levels) and Iden Versio makes for a compelling enough main character, even if the storyline is VERY predictable and the first few levels nothing special. Single-Player/Co-Op Arcade Mode is pretty fun, but is weakened by another stupid game mechanic, which limits the number of credits you can earn from Arcade mode in 24 hours. This seems utterly needless, given that you only get 100 credits per round (and thus would need 100 rounds worth of credits to unlock heroes like Chewbacca anyway) and disincentives you from completing the various challenges.

Overall, the gameplay, feel and look of the thing are perfect, so well done DICE. It’s just a shame you’re owned by EA, whose greed and outright stupidity have left a levelling system and in-game currency that are both needlessly complicated and rather frustrating if you’re not lucky with the loot boxes (Loot Boxes seriously need to DIE! This is the last multiplayer game I will buy which uses them. They are a toxic idea dreamt up by fat executives in suits who presumably could rival Jabba the Hutt for Greed and general Morality). In short, this game still needs work, but it is worth buying (preferably when its on sale – its worth £30, but not the £50 release price), so long as you’re willing to put the time into it. If you’re after a game you can play every so often but not consistently, ignore this. It isn’t an entry for casual gamers.

This isn’t a total failure, and it doesn’t miss the point of what fans wanted from it, but it could (and should) have been a lot better.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5