Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Boldly going where quite a few have gone before..........



It's been a while since I blogged about anything, a new hectic job will do that to you and, even with the best intentions, I find myself with less time on my hands to idly type away. Which is a great shame as I love waxing lyrical every now and then.

Still I did think it would be fun to share some of my thoughts with you about the latest Star Trek movie, a film that seems to be long on hype but short on actual substance. At least for me. I enjoyed the film, sure, but it wasn't the Earth shattering event that many had billed it to be. In many ways I actually found it lacking in comparison to JJ Abram's first Star Trek effort too which is slightly disappointing considering the benchmark he set down.

The film got off to a rollicking start, with an opening sequence that felt like it had been taken straight from the original series. A planet is in peril and the crew of the Enterprise defy that pesky Prime Directive in order to try and save it. I have no idea why ALL of the senior staff are on this particular mission - does your Chief Doctor make the best getaway man, should your Head Science Officer be dropped into a volcano, do you need a Communications Expert on board the shuttle and, above all, would the Captain be the best choice for an impromptu temple heist? I get that they are trying to reintroduce the major players but it just felt like they were forcing the issue somewhat.

Things go badly, then turn out fine in a last minute rescue that leaves a lasting impression on the impressionable natives. Kirk submits his report and Spock, to no ones surprise but Kirk's (seriously does he know what a Vulcan is?), submits the truth. Though I find it odd that Spock would be all for the Prime Directive when it was made pretty clear that the plan to freeze the volcano was his in the first place. Would that meeting not have been a better time to say, "maybe we should step back. PRIME DIRECTIVE FOLKS." Him going along with it and THEN deciding they should have upheld the directive seems like an odd change of character.

Anyway, Kirk gets stripped of his command, which was genuinely surprising, only it turns out he doesn't lose it for very long, which wasn't surprising at all. You also get another of those patronising exposition lines that ruins what is coming, as Admiral Pike says that Kirk would never sacrifice himself for the good of the ship. I HOPE THAT IS IMPORTANT LATER, you may say. Rogue agent John Harrison, aka Benedict Cumberbatch, aka the best thing in the film, has decided to lay the smack down on Starfleet and starts by blowing up the annoying as hell Noel Clarke (yay!). Oh yeah, and the research lab he worked in - which was more the point.

For some reason that leads to Starfleet pulling all their most senior people into a glass fronted room with no security and only being moderately curious about why Harrison stole a non-space worthy gunship. Enter said gunship, exit most of the Starfleet higher ups. Including Admiral Pike, which is a shame as I loved how his character turned out, but obviously it gave Kirk the required telling off/daddy issues to go get some revenge.

Oh, except for Admiral Marcus who was all grizzled and moany about the Klingons wanting a war. He lived and decides that Kirk should go and nuke part of Kronos (the Klingon home world) from orbit as that is where Harrison is hiding out. That part of the planet is uninhabited and such a bombardment from a Federation ship would in NO WAY START A WAR!!!! It was here that I died a little inside as the rest of the film become so pedestrian and obvious that it barely seemed worth the effort.

72 missiles are shuffled on board the Enterprise and Scotty refuses to sign for them and resigns. That may as well have read "we needed a major cast member somewhere else, and this was the best we could do." Honestly the scene where he quits is awful, with neither him nor Kirk bothering to have a rational discussion. Kirk could have just said, "Hey, take them on board now and we'll check out these mystery missiles when this security dude is gone." WHICH IS EXACTLY WHAT THEY DID LATER ANYWAY! So why boot Scotty off the ship? No reason. To make matters worse, Chekhov, who has had precisely zero screen time thus far is then booted down to engineering and is reduced to the role of single line dialogue for the rest of the film. At the same time the Admirals daughter, Carol Marcus, is introduced and then does nothing other than have THAT scene in her pants for the rest of the film. To say she is superfluous is an insult to the lowliest of extras. She serves no point whatsoever.

In fact, it's worth pointing out that beyond Kirk, Spock and Scotty (in the second half of the film anyway) the rest of the main characters get very short shrift here. More on that as we go.

After Bones (thank God for Bones, legend) and Spock growl at Kirk over blasting a planet, he decides to go the route of negotiation and leaves Sulu in charge (for his one major line of dialogue, seriously do we not like Sulu and Chekhov anymore? What gives?). They threaten Harrison with the missiles and he then dismantles a bunch of Klingons before deciding to hand himself in.

Again this whole scene was a mix of good and bad. The new look Klingons certainly bode well for the future, and I liked the whole look and feel of the warrior race even though they are only in the film briefly. The whole "one man army" thing with Harrison also worked well too. What didn't work was the ham fisted negotiation bit with Uhura. Again it was as if Zoe Saldana demanded more screen time and the writers had to throw in a few jarring sections just to make her feel better. The same thing happened as they went to the planet, with a lengthy blurb between her and Spock that was meant to showcase his emotional attachment to her but came off as pretty trite.

Still they roll Harrison back to the ship and he reveals he is KHAN!!! To absolutely nobodies surprise. I mean who else was he going to be? Bones starts to analyse his crazy awesome blood and Khan tells them that the missiles they have on board have some unlikely contents (other super people) and for Kirk to check out some co-ordinates.

So they crack open a missile (could have done it earlier when Scotty asked, but nooooo!) and send Scotty to check out the mystery location. Khan waxes lyrical about how Admiral Marcus wanted weapons knowledge and thawed him out to get it, before then threatening Khan with his old crew if he didn't co-operate. Khan did a runner and here we are. Turns out the ship is knackered though due to some suspicious sabotage - but at least it gives Chekhov a reason to say something for once. Poor guy.

Then Admiral Marcus himself shows up in his big, bad new starship and goes to town on the Enterprise. He beams his useless daughter away first (seriously, why was she in this film?) and is about to deliver the coup de gras. BUT WAIT.

It turns out Scotty found the new ship at those pesky co-ordinates and got on board. Yes, he got on a board a high security new vessel, that requires only a highly trained skeleton crew to staff it, without ANYONE NOTICING. I died a little more inside.

He deactivates the ship briefly, giving Kirk and new chum Khan a chance to suit up and go for a space ride over to the new ship in a bid to disable it. BUT FIRST A REALLY IMPORTANT BIT OF STORY FEATURING BONES AND A TRIBBLE.........

"Dude. why are you injecting that DEAD Tribble with Khan's super blood?"
"I dunno. Just want to see what it would do."
"Well I sure hope that becomes REALLY important later."

I hated this scene. I hated it with a passion as it made everything that followed blatantly obvious and it felt like they were just patronising the viewer. They'd mentioned Khan's blood having healing properties on a number of occasions but that clearly wasn't enough so they went for the overt 'stick it into something dead that will no doubt spring back to life at an opportune time' moment. BULLSHIT! Don't do that, it's insulting to everyone involved.


Kirk and Khan jet over to the new ship and meet up with Scotty. I actually loved this bit and briefly thought that old JJ was going to pull another genius moment and have Khan end up as a decent enough guy. The chemistry actually worked and the tone between Kirk/Khan is very similar to that between Kirk/Spock. Right on the money.

Of course then they get to the bridge and Khan betrays them for no discernible reason (other than the fact Kirk had Scotty stun him first - what a douche move). Think about it. If Khan wanted Kirk dead he could have stranded him in that asteroid field they flew through, no questions asked. He could have easily killed Kirk and Scotty when they got onto the new ship, as he pretty much singlehandedly took out the rest of the crew and would STILL have been in prime position to negotiate for the release of his people from the Enterprise. So why wait? Why tag along and then decide, at the last minute, to go back on your word. I mean I get why they had him kill Admiral Marcus, as the guy was a total asshat, but the rest makes no sense. He could have easily asked Kirk for that ship and his crew and then done a runner.

Here is where I have to question the new JJ universe, ignoring what we know about Khan from the original film etc, as the set up in this film has Khan as a dangerous but ultimately honourable guy, who is out to save his crew. That's what they set up, but then they rush back to the previously established character in a pinch because of the need for conflict.

So we then get old Spock back on the horn saying how dangerous he is and that he is utterly ruthless - as if that snippet of dialogue is capable of explaining away all of Khan's other actions (most of which were ambiguous or at least respectable) and justifying the film then turning him into a psychotic loon.

Spock beams the missiles (sans Khans crew) over to the new ship, crippling it, while Kirk, Scotty and token love interest Carol are beamed back to the Enterprise. The ship is messed up though and going down cue another roll eyes moment:

Scotty - "We can't get power because the core isn't aligned."
Kirk - "I'll align it by hand."
Scotty - "You can't go in there, it's full of radiation and you'll die just like in Wrath of Khan, only that time it was Spock."
Kirk - "Man I hope that DEAD Tribble has made a startling recovery........"

So this super advanced ship, that has a radioactive warp core, does not have any radiation suits? Really? Come on now. So the obvious happens.

Kirk goes in there, he saves the day, he dies. Spock gets pissed off, tracks down Kahn (who somehow survived his giant ship blowing up AND crashing) and beats him up. AT THIS EXACT MOMENT THAT TRIBBLE COMES BACK TO LIFE, YAAAAAY! SURPRISE. So they can steal Khan's blood and give it to Kirk ensuring he isn't dead. Huzzah!

Master criminal Kahn is put back into cryo-storage with his crew (I hope it was in the same warehouse as the Ark of the Covenant - with those top men) and everyone else lives happily ever after. Clearly Kirk made the ultimate sacrifice play so now he is cool and has LIVED UP TO EXPECTATIONS (TM).

Thank God it's over.

My main problem was how dumbed down the story was, with important points being hammered home every ten seconds that ruined any surprise you may have gotten from the movie (dat tribble). Not to mention that a lot of the characters felt completely redundant. Sulu and Chekhov were the hardest hit, and the character of Carol Marcus served no point at all other than to get a shot of a lovely lady in her pants into the trailers no doubt. Uharu was, in a way, overused - often turning up in scenes and conversations where she didn't seem relevant, while her actual job on the ship seemed irrelevant. Not to mention bringing back old Spock felt far more forced, and unnecessary, than it did in the first film where it was handled in a very organic way.

The saving grace was Bones, who made me laugh every time he turned up and chewed through his dialogue superbly - kudos to Karl Urban. Cumberbatch as Khan was also superb, and the interaction between Pine as Kirk and Quinto as Spock bodes well for any future instalments. I also enjoy Simon Pegg as Scotty too, even though his character seemed to have a few random off key moments throughout.

On the whole though this feels like a massive step back for me. The first film reinvented the franchise and gave them carte blanche to re-imagine the universe as they saw fit - but instead they just remade Wrath of Kahn, and swapped Kirk for Spock when it came to the sacrifice play. Talk about playing it safe. Kahn was always one of the best films and a remake would have been positively received regardless, but I feel they could have done so much more. Even within the remit of this story, they teased an alliance with Kahn and the thought of him out there, either with a crew of similar supermen/women or as a lone operator, would have left the door wide open.

Instead they rolled him out of stasis, made you like him, made you feel for him, then inexplicably made him go crazy for no reason at all and then rolled him back into stasis. What a let down.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Busy, busy, busy

Well since the completion competition finally wrapped up in January I have still managed to be amazingly busy on the gaming front though without that pesky need for quick and easy games to saunter through.

Though having said that - I have completed Battleship and Cartoon Network Super Punchtime Explosion (real name) but only because they were sent my way via the rental service I use and I am determined to actually get my moneys worth now, especially as I had Sherlock Holmes sat around for nearly two months before finishing it. Shame on me.

Still those two games were mere footnotes in my gaming odyssey for the last month as the vast majority of my time was spent with Borderlands 2.

Now I'd previously started the game months ago, pretty much when it first came out, but then got distracted with reviews and whatnot. So by the time I'd gotten back around to it there were now three DLC packs to tackle on top of the original story. Luckily I'd snagged the season pass when it was half price over Christmas, so I just downloaded all of the content and got to work.

The amount of fun little references and throwaway gags is just great, and I even really enjoyed most of the DLC - which is odd as most people seem to be up in arms about it - I thought the pirate story was a perfect addition and the over the top, sweary Torgue was pretty hilarious. The only letdown was Hammerlocks Big Hunt - which seemed a bit more tiresome and ill conceived but as I'd had so much fun up until that point I'll let them off.

I did everything solo too, which consisted of a full playthrough with all quests done (barring Terramorphous) and then a second runthrough to level up, grab weapons and what not. After I'd done all the story, DLC and quests I eventually started to use the Infinity Pistol/Evil Smasher combo to blast my way through the remaining invincible bosses. I had originally hoped to do them with friends but they are holding off until a GOTY version is released, so I figured I may as well finish everything off myself. In my defence those last few raid bosses are ludicrously overpowered for regular players so I don't feel too bad about having the upper hand.

After that I used the wife's account (that I'd levelled up to about 33 during my run) to level up the other three characters so that I could get their specific achievement - top tip here: use the various arenas, as they are great for power levelling your back ups. That took me a few hours to boot, but the game was finally done.

There is more DLC on the way which is pretty awesome, though I'm not happy that content outside of the season pass is being mooted and especially when the level cap increase is being suggested as having an additional charge. When I've effectively 'wasted' three DLC packs worth of XP, as I'd already hit 50, then to raise the cap and have the audacity to charge extra for it is a pretty low blow. Here's hoping that doesn't happen and that any future content is reasonably well handled.

Now that Borderlands 2 is done I figured I'd try something a bit similar, and I've ended up going back to Fallout New Vegas in a bid to rush through and get that bad boy done and dusted. Fingers crossed I can do it in double quick time.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Lost in the Borderlands

Since the end of the Completion competition, and some time finishing up Battleship, I've played absolutely nothing except for Borderlands 2. The game is pretty awesome and the amount of fun little moments and references that you find along the way are superb.

My only gripe is the fact that some bosses seem ludicrously overpowered at times, while others are a walk in the park. In truth there are a few balancing issues and they make the game equal parts easier than it should be and harder than it should be - often in the space of 10-15 minutes. I guess the problem comes down to the fact that the game has an open world feel to it, so you can technically stray into tougher areas sooner than you should.

If you then persevere in said areas you might get to a point where you are tougher than the main story arc requires you to be - making the bosses you meet on that path a touch too simple.

That aside, and it really is only a minor quibble, the rest of the game is great stuff and I enjoy being able to take time out to complete ludicrous sidequests, or just heading back to certain bosses to grind for better gear etc. It's a wonderful game.

I've not actually finished my first run through yet, though I am pretty close, but I'm hoping to get it done (along with all the quests if possible) this weekend. Then I can turn my attention to the DLC and maybe to levelling up to the 50 cap. Time will tell.

I've done the whole game solo thus far but I may need to find some cohorts for some of the more evil DLC bosses, we shall see. Still regardless of how you play it, I would recommend it to everyone.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Post January clean up

Well after a very hectic month of gaming I've emerged out the other side with a ton more gamerscore, a load of completed games and far too many annoying 50g titles littering my tag. Anyone that had never looked at my account before might just assume that I play nothing but arcade games, but it had to be done.

The overall goal, of course, was to do well in the Staff/Subscriber completion contest over on x360a and after weeks of gaming trauma I ended up with a haul of 61 completed games. Pretty awesome - but only good enough for third place. The two people above me (with 78 and 72 completions) both had access to a Windows phone and cranked out 25+ games each on that bad boy. Foolishly I'd never really thought of phone games having so much easy fodder but, in hindsight, that is exactly the type of games that are popular on phones. So without access to that bastion of simple games and, having completed a lot of easy stuff in the past, I wasted probably too much time on certain retail/arcade games than I should have.

Still I got a nice forum award regardless which was my main aim and I managed to chalk off a whole host of arcade games that I'd bought years ago and never gotten around to playing for one reason or another. It was especially nice to blitz through all four of the original 2D Sonic titles which, in my view, have not aged that well. I was actually glad to get them out of the way as they were more annoying than entertaining.

I did also find a few gems along the way too. I recommend Trine 2, which was a fun little action/adventure/platformer, plus Haunt was a good Kinect title and well worth a few hours of your time. I also had fun with the Wallace and Gromit games too, as well as revisiting Monkey Island 2 which is one of my all time favourites.

I finally finished Ghost Recon Future Soldier as well, and was probably one of the few people that actually really enjoyed it - I did pretty much all of the online (bar some challenges with friends and the DLC maps that NO ONE plays) without boosting as well. Plus, I chalked off Condemned 2 and Black Ops which had both been on my to do list for a long time. I've almost finished CoD: World at War too, with just the Prestige achievements left, so we shall see how that goes.

Since the competition ended I blitzed through Battleship and also mopped up the Family Game Night achievements I had left to do (can't touch Scrabble as it is US only). I'm now back to playing games because I want to, and have picked up Borderlands 2 again in a bid to blast my way through it in double quick time. Though at some point I'll need some co-op buddies to tackle some of the harder bosses and such, but I'll tackle that issue when I come to it.

I'm now looking to finish off a few of my easier titles and get them shifted out of the house, along with starting some of this generations gems that I may well have missed out on. Titles like Assassins Creed, Mass Effect and Dead Space, and all of their sequels, are awaiting my attention and I'm hoping this year is the time to get back to them.

By the end of the year I hope to be pushing onto 96% completion, as I'm on my way to 95% at the moment, with 20 or less games on my tag that are incomplete. Considering I have 8-9 games that I've written off already that goal would suit me wonderfully. It would be great to finally get things in order and squared away - to the point that I don't have ANY old, incomplete games to go back to and can just focus on new stuff.

Here's hoping.

Friday, January 04, 2013

New Year, same goals

Well it's been a while but with the festive time of year now but a distant memory we can finally get back down to business. In truth I've left my blog hanging for well over a month now and I really need to get on top of updating my completions, reviews and the fabled Wall of Death. Otherwise I'll get bogged down at some point and then never build up the impetus to do anything.

It probably doesn't help that I've got precisely NO holidays to use until April, so my free time is pretty much going to be at a premium regardless. Still I will try and fit in some updates as much as time will allow.

This month is probably the worst time to make that promise if truth be told, as I'm still embroiled in the x360a.org completion challenge.

At the moment I'm in second place with 19 games under my belt. I've still got Halo ODST to finish off, but I'm waiting on my online buddy to help me out and he won't be free until next week. I'm also one achievement away from finishing off Sonic (XBLA version) which is down to me messing up my save when I'd died on the last boss. That means I have to complete the whole thing AGAIN without a single death. Not too taxing as you can save at any point, but a ballache nonetheless.

Once that is done I'll probably try and move onto the other three Sonic games I own (2, 3, Sonic & Knuckles) plus I have three Wallace and Gromit games to play, Virtual On, Sealife Safari and some other arcade bits. After that I'll switch to the new Holmes game and the last Udraw title I have left to complete.

I've also dedicated a lot of time to the original Black Ops DLC too - as the ridiculous zombie Easter eggs take a fair amount of time and effort. We've got one out of the way and we are working on the next, but I'm not entirely sure if we will get it done this month or not. Will come down to a mixture of luck and timing, plus I still need to snag a few achievements solo to boot. Bah!

At the moment I'm ten games behind the leader and, considering he has far fewer points than I do, I can only assume he has a ton of other easy arcade fodder lined up ready to go. Plus, he has access to Windows Phone games. So my chances of winning are pretty much zero - but I'd like to cling onto second place if at all possible so we shall see. I think my overall goal will be about 30 completions, and if that isn't good enough for second then so be it. In fact, maybe 31 and then I can say I did one game a day for a month which would be a nice touch.

Here's how I'm doing and what I might take a stab at.


Condemned 2
Ghost Recon Future Soldier
Disney Sing It HSM3
Dead Space Ignition
Fighting Vipers
Virtua Fighter 2
Sonic the Fighters
Track and Field
Streets of Rage 2
Texas Hold 'Em
Virtua Fighter 5 FS
Monkey Island 2
SEGA Vintage Collection: Streets of Rage
Cloning Clyde
3D Ultra Mini Golf
The Expendables 2

Potential to do list:

Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic the Hedgehog 2
Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Sonic & Knuckles
Virtual On
Who Wants to be a Millionaire
Unbound Saga
Sealife Safari
Testament of Sherlock Holmes
Marvel Superhero Squad Comic Combat
Duke Nukem 3D
Duke Nukem Manhattan Project
Call of Duty Black Ops
SEGA Vintage Collection: Golden Axe
Kinect Sesame Street

I also have over 100 (might be a touch less after my recent completion purge) retail games sat waiting to be played and probably just as many other arcade titles, though I'm trying to cherry pick the easiest of the easiest stuff at the moment. So it will probably mainly come down to how much free time I have. The major plus so far has been the fact I've managed to clear out so many games that I've had for literally AGES, which is more than satisfactory even if I fail woefully.