Skyfall

First The Dark Knight Rises, now Skyfall, I’m beginning to think that the ‘returning hero’ plot theme is just genius. It presents the protagonist as vulnerable and compromised, making their ‘rise’ that much more epic. It also wipes the slate clean. For the past 50 years, 007 has been a very glamorous icon. Sure, there was always lots of danger involved, but there were a bunch of perks as well! Even for my generation, who may have only watched some of Pierce Brosnan’s later escapades, could appreciate the huge cultural significance of James Bond, and his iconic suave image.

Perhaps then, Skyfall was so well received because of its fresh, bold take on Bond. I admit, when Daniel Craig was first cast to replace Brosnan back in 2006, I was a bit concerned. A little naively, my first impressions were that he would not be able to compare with Connery, Moore, or Brosnan’s iconic image of 007: the tall, impressive and suave secret agent. ‘Casino Royale’, whilst quite a good starting point for Craig’s Bond and a good film in its own right, wasn’t particularly mind-blowing, but introduced us to an imperfect, rash Bond. ‘Quantum of Solace’ however, was disappointing- probably more because of the writing than Craig’s actual performance.

But it wasn’t until Skyfall that I realised that this new portrayal Bond, was in fact greater than the rest.  The impact of the failed shot right at the beginning, and Bond’s limp body falling really shocked me, followed by Adele’s almost mournful new theme song which was just so powerful. From the opening, we are introduced to a darker Bond.

Throughout the film, themes of terror and vengeance dominate. The secret service’s relevance in modern times is questioned, but as the film’s events prove, espionage may be more important than ever before. Javier Bardem’s villain, ‘Silva’ is perhaps the best of any Bond villians I have ever seen: his character is pretty realistic and his motives are believable, whilst his presence is still extremely unnerving (his performance in ‘No Country for Old Men’ was brilliantly scary- this was an incredible casting decision). Judi Dench’s ‘M’ and her character’s development was fantastic, Ralph Fiennes role in the film was brilliant, and of course, Craig’s Bond was refreshing and deep.

Whilst this was a reboot, there were also some respectful tributes to the last 50 years of Bond. The inclusion of the Aston Martin DB5 for example, was masterful, as was the inclusion of a ‘modified’ Walther PPK pistol and the banter between ‘Q’ and Bond. It was also refreshing for the story to be set mainly in Britain- rather than some exotic or snowy location- and the rawness of Scotland really corresponded with Bond’s enigmatic, empty past, whilst the exploration of James’ origins was really emotional and powerful.

Overall, the film was nothing short of a masterpiece. Both casual and die-hard Bond fans would enjoy it, and it has been getting phenomenal reviews from the critics. It seems then, that director Sam Mendes gave the franchise the boost that it so desperately needed. This was a deep, thoughtful entry to a great legacy, which may have reaffirmed the significance of James Bond in culture as well as in film. As Daniel Craig is signed on for a further two films, it will be interesting to see how the future of 007 turns out…

Battleship

This is a short one. Basically, I watched Battleship recently, and was expecting ones of those substandard, CGI-packed, plot-lacking sci-fi/action flicks.

That said, Battleship wasn’t as bad as I was expecting, maybe due to it starring Liam Neeson. It isn’t by any means a ‘good’ film, and doesn’t push any boundaries, but it is ‘watchable’, and a little fun.

Prometheus

A little late, I know, but I eventually watched Prometheus.

So, apart from some of the marvelously flimsy science bits, characters doing some really unexplainable things, and a handful of problems with the writing, I think the film kind of succeeded, thanks to the burning questions it left me with.

(more…)

Skyrim leaves the land of Skyrim (Dragonborn DLC)

I still have yet to play the Dawnguard and Hearthfire DLCs for Skyrim, but Bethesda’s recent announcement means that I might soon return to the Nordic homeland, and maybe even venture beyond its borders.

Following a cryptic image on Bethesda’s Twitter, a trailer was released for the upcoming Dragonborn DLC. As well as a new storyline, and maybe Dragon riding, this looks like it could be a rather large chunk of content. Players will travel to the island of Solstheim, which was also previously featured in Morrowind’s Bloodmoon expansion pack. This itself means new areas to explore, enemies, hopefully loads of new quests, and overall it seems quite promising.

One of the issues I had with Skyrim was that compared to its predecessors, whilst it has lots of variation in what you see, and its graphics are impressive, it didn’t have as much content- I managed a complete playthrough of Skyrim, including most of the side quests, in under 100 hours, whereas I have not even finished a complete playthrough of Oblivion yet.

Hopefully additional content will fix this problem, and I am glad that Bethesda is still one of the only developers that I can count on to deliver quality content and games.

BIG Mass Effect update (Leviathan, Omega, Trilogy, Future…)

Although Mass Effect is no longer at the forefront of gaming news, there have been some developments in recent months, as well as some major changes over at Bioware, including the huge news that the company’s co-founders- Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk- were retiring, followed by a handful of announcements related to some of Bioware’s major franchises. I can’t help but wonder whether these titans leaving the company are related to the fallout from Mass Effect 3’s controversial ending (they announced their retirement in April, weeks after the game was released). Read on for the recent updates for Mass Effect:

Leviathan

To start with, I want to follow on from my previous post- which I had written just before the Leviathan DLC was released. At that point, the Extended Cut DLC had more or less crushed the Indoctrination Theory- a very compelling explanation that could have been a ‘cure’ for the debacle that was the ending of Mass Effect 3.

However, I still held on to an inkling of hope that the Leviathan DLC might shed some further light on what was going on with the ending, and that it could somehow provide an explanation that would make the ending feel more significant and understandable.

Whilst some aspects of the Leviathan DLC were fantastic (the mystery surrounding ‘The Leviathan’, and most importantly, its reveal where we saw its eerily reminiscent form), it didn’t provide many answers, and the changes to the ending -which was basically some additional dialogue- made the whole DLC feel rather insignificant.

Omega

More recently, the ‘Take back Omega’ DLC was announced, which seems to be an additional story set somewhere in the middle of Mass Effect 3, and will probably have little to no impact on the story as a whole.

Whilst I will probably play it eventually, I think that I will probably lack the satisfaction that previous DLCs gave.

For example, the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, which was a post-release DLC for Mass Effect 2, was extremely well recieved- due to the fact that it was brilliant, but it would also influence the wider story later on. This is obviously not possible for post-release Mass Effect 3 DLC.

However, this seems to be the nature of what future Mass Effect 3 single player DLCs will be: ‘tacked-on’ side stories.

Retaliation

The ‘Retaliation’ multiplayer DLC was also released recently, which primarily added the Collectors as an enemy faction, and other than a kind-of-cool trailer, it hasn’t really drawn me back into game.

Mass Effect Trilogy

The Mass Effect Trilogy pack is set to be released in a few days. Whilst this was inevitable considering that the third game was released almost a year ago, it just feels to me like a lazy way to make some more bucks.

The devoted fans will have purchased and completed all three games, and this will simply draw new players into the franchise. Personally, I feel like they could have made a little bit more effort for a trilogy pack, and perhaps doing something similar to Halo, updating the first and maybe the second games’ engine and graphics, and releasing a remastered edition- though this will probably only happen when Mass Effect 4 nears release.

The Future of Mass Effect

Finally, Bioware have released some news on the franchise’s future.

Mass Effect ‘4’, which has more or less been confirmed, will not star Shepard, and will be a new starting point for the series.

Personally, I am very happy about this- considering how the last trilogy ended, it may not be a bad idea to start fresh and try to put this all behind us (as we can also hope for with another beloved franchise– more on this in a bit)

For sometime, there have been rumours of a ‘dark energy’ related storyline that may have originally been the basis for the plot of Mass Effect 3. This could have been pushed to these new Mass Effect games. Only time will time.

I think many fans will agree with me that Bioware should set the game in the future after Mass Effect 3, with an entirely new plot formula, taking extra care to incorporate the qualities that made the first games so great: rich, emotional storytelling (the setting and the universe is already there), colourful characters who we can love and hate, and an epic, deep plot that the player can significantly influence through their choices.

Hopefully, this can revive Mass Effect, and give itself the existence and reputation the franchise, as well as the fans, deserve.

Bioware, this is your chance for redemption.

SAVE MASS EFFECT.

EDIT: as reader ‘simpleek’ has said, there’s been discussion regarding Mass Effect 4 perhaps being before the events of the first game. As Bioware have said: “Now the Mass Effect universe is vast, and very, very rich. So at this point in time, we don’t even know what kind of time frame we’re going to be in.”

I think that the amount of possibilities for Mass Effect’s future are vast at the moment, and maybe justifies a post in the near future.

Stay a while and listen…

So friends, we meet again. It’s been two months since my  last post, mainly due to the fact that I started university near the end of September.

A fair bit has happened since then, but the biggest event was the huge news that came earlier in the week, prompting me to return to the blog.

As I may have said before, one of the main reasons for starting the blog was to have somewhere to put my thoughts down, and hopefully others might be interested in what I have to say.

So what follows now is a bombardment of about 15 topics- like I said, there’s lots to talk about!

NOT DEAD!! UPDATES…

I’m not dead!! It’s been some time since I’ve last posted. Quite a bit has gone on…

READ ON FRIENDS!!

 

I got a new laptop

…and it’s quite a nice piece of kit. I needed a laptop for Uni, so after scouring through a bunch of reviews and roundups, I found a pretty neat one around the £500 mark.

> Lenovo IdeaPad Z580

Specs:

  • Intel i5 3210M (3rd-gen Ivy Bridge)
  • 8GB DDR3 RAM
  • 1TB Hard Drive
  • Nvidia GT 630M 2GB dedicated graphics
  • LED HD 15.6 Screen, Win 7 HP

There were a number of reasons I chose the Lenovo. Firstly, the specification is simply fantastic for the price. There are a handful of contenders in the £500-600 price range, but this one gets all of the best features together in a great package. The processor is a dual-core i5, but is also one of the new 3rd generation Ivy bridge processors. Secondly the amount of RAM is plenty, as is the hard drive capacity. Finally, the dedicated graphics will allow some fairly decent gaming performance, something you won’t get on standard laptops with Intel Integrated graphics for example.

Also, Lenovo is frequently reviewed as the 2nd best laptop manufacturer after Apple, and emphasises on engineering and reliability. Finally, just look at it! I loved the brushed metal design, and as I type away on it right now, I can really feel the quality!

I’m playing Oblivion again

Having procured a Deluxe edition during the steam summer sales, I decided to return to Cyrodiil.

Of course, having played Skyrim, I wanted to bridge the graphical gap between the two games, as well as some gameplay tweaks, and was pleased to find some pretty fantastic mods for the game. Here are the main ones I am using (some require Oblivion Mod Manager, so read up on it!):

  • DarNified UI is a fantastic mod that makes the HUD and UI more PC friendly, especially at higher resolutions, where the vanilla UI just feels clunky
  • Unofficial Oblivion/ Shivering Isles/ Mods Patches. These are community patches that fix a huge number of unresolved bugs and glitches that are coupled with Bethesda games which haven’t been addressed by official developer patches.
  • Unique Landscapes adds to the already awe-inspiring locales of Cyrodiil, with some custom areas that look brilliant
  • Elven Map Redux is an amazing re-texture of the default game map. Check it out!!
  • Finally, a bunch of Natural habitat, vegetation and weather mods, which add to the realism when I’m out exploring the wilderness

At the moment I’m stuck in Oblivion, and for some reason I feel like I prefer this game. There seems to be a lot more diversity in the locations and visuals, and whilst Skyrim may have superior graphics, gameplay and animation, the leap wasn’t huge, compared to the jump from Morrowind, especially when you complement Oblivion with the various excellent mods. Oblivion has a very homely, comfortable feel that I had forgotten- though that’s more likely because of my fond memories of the game.

I also felt as if Skyrim had a lot more linearity than it’s predecessor, and lacked the scale that it had in terms of quests and things to do. Indeed, after playing the game for 100 hours or so, there is no need to return to the Nordic homeland, as you feel like you’ve seen all there is to see. This might change when I get around to Dawnguard (i.e. if it reduces in price!) or upon the release of Hearthfire, the rumored title of the next DLC pack Bethesda will release.

Games…lots of games

As well as crippling my bank account, Steam has inconsiderately added to my already exhaustive list of games to play. Steam sales: how I love/hate you.

Counter Strike

I recently purchased Counter Strike: Global Offensive and was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable it is for the casual Counter Strike player. With Counter Strike: Source I would occasionally play a few rounds of cs_office, and CS:GO looks like it will be even more enjoyable, with the very intuitive, developed, and simplified gameplay, aswell as the graphics overhaul and the complete, polished feel. Personally, I feel like it has finally evolved from mod to complete, independent product.

Mass Effect… oh dear

Here we go again. Basically, the Leviathan DLC is coming out next week, which is a pre-ending story for Mass Effect 3 that introduces a new entity that looks like it could actually have a huge impact on the reaper war. Referred to as “Leviathan”, it possesses the Indoctrination effect that reapers also possess, and is the only think capable of being a threat to the reapers.

Apparently, we can expect more explanation on the background of the reapers and perhaps their creators. It is also rumored to impact the ending of Mass Effect 3 (again :D), and whilst this will probably only be additional dialogue with the Catalyst/ Starchild, people (including me!) are still hoping for some sort of integration of the Indoctrination Theory, which is still the best hope for the Mass Effect franchise.

Speaking of the Indoctrination Theory, the long awaited Indoc Theory documentary for the Extended Cut is out, check it out:

Life…

Busy times at the moment, with preparation for Uni in September, and family stuff. Can’t wait for things to settle down

The near future…

A review on Deus Ex: Human Revolution and Assassin’s Creed: Revelations is overdue, and other stuff. Hopefully there will be more regular posts as well. I need to catch up on films and games! 😀