Thursday, December 30, 2010

Skyline: A dismal to say the least

When it debuted in front of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, the Skyline trailer promised one of the most exciting, and at the same time, unsettling, movie offerings of the Fall season – drawing comparisons to other aliens-on-earth films such as District 9 as well asIndependence Day.

Now that Skyline has officially invaded theaters, does it live up to these lofty expectations?

Unfortunately, the answer is no.

Where District 9 relied on terrific performances and weighty subject matter, and Independence Day wowed audiences with epic battles as well as enjoyable (albeit campy) writing , Skylinecomes across as a big-screen B-movie with a convoluted plot and too limited of a scope to make the audience feel the worldwide alien-apocalypse that’s supposedly unfolding in the film.

“In the sci-fi thriller Skyline, strange lights descend on the city of Los Angeles, drawing people outside like moths to a flame where an extraterrestrial force threatens to swallow the entire human population off the face of the Earth.”

While there are a number of large scale set-pieces in Skyline, nearly the entire film is constricted to a single high-rise building. At first it might sound as if the title, Skyline, is a subtle nod to something of substance; though after the one hundred and forty minute runtime, audiences will realize there is nothing subtle about the film and the title is merely a nod to where ninety percent of the action will take place: Away from the troubles of the main characters. Don’t believe me? The characters in Skyline literally view the film’s biggest action set piece through a telescope.

Headliners Eric Balfour (24) and Donald Faison (Scrubs) aren’t given a lot of options to work with, either. The Brothers Strause (Aliens vs Predator: Requiem), who directed the film, have taken away all contact with the outside world -- despite what the trailers indicated (Check out the 1:17 mark on the second Skyline trailer for footage not in the final film). TV Stations are broadcasting HD feeds of nothing but empty chairs, the entire Internet has essentially frozen, and emergency calls to 911 go unanswered. Even the Los Angeles streets are empty, save for super-size monster aliens – as well as flying squid aliens. It’s clear the director pair attempted to work within their means, but in doing so crippled any narrative momentum the story could have harnessed.

Instead, Skyline is nothing more than a series of failed attempts at escaping a luxury high-rise during a global alien invasion. It’s not even made clear whether the alien invasion is global until later in the film, probably because it would have stifled the characters’ game plan – they’re focused on escaping to a nearby marina, assuming that because there are no spaceships over the water, the group will be safe in a boat.

The movie fails on a number of levels – but that probably won’t prevent action-loving film fans, looking for a brainless romp, from being amused. There are a number of set pieces that offer over-the-top (but thoroughly entertaining) mayhem – similar to Shoot ‘Em Up or the Crank series (though, these films are still significantly better than Skyline). However, even the most dedicated audience members will be laughing at moments the filmmakers couldn’t possibly have intended – making an argument for the potential enjoyment the film can -- given the right mindset -- offer.

Skyline is still a poor entry in the sci-fi action genre – mainly because it’s missing both the scope and mythology audiences expect from films in this category. While it’s easy to forgive a film for neglecting one of these requirements, Skyline is so far removed from the action (and story) that it’s hard to recommend to anyone but action fans looking to switch off their brains for an hour and a half. Hopefully, if there needs to be a Skyline 2, the Brothers Strause will hand the directorial duties over to whoever put together that first chilling Skylinetrailer – which, if you’re undecided about the film, you can check out below:


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Vampire Academy: Last Sacrifice ; A stunning end to a cunningly woven plotline

Rose Hathaway has always played by her own rules.

She broke the law when she ran away from St. Vladimir’s Academy with her best friend and last surviving Dragomir Princess, Lissa. She broke the law when she fell in love with her gorgeous, off-limits instructor, Dimitri.

Now the law has finally caught up with Rose- for a crime she didn’t even commit. She’s in prison for the highest offense imaginable: the assassination of a monarch. She’ll need help from both Dimitri and Adrian to find the one living person who can stall her execution and force the Moroi elite to acknowledge a shocking new candidate for the royal throne: Vasilisa Dragomir.

But the clock on Rose’s life is running out. Rose knows in her heart the world of the dead wants her back… and this time she is truly out of second chances. The big question is, when your life is about saving others, who will save you?”

This is my first blog entry for reviewing a book after Harry Potter Film Wizardry, so hear goes nothing.

As an avid book lover and from the perspective of a reviewer, in order to post reviews on a regular basis you need to read books at a certain pace. Usually you set a page goal of how many pages per session to read in order to finish the book in time to review it, which with some books, can feel like a chore. From my perspective as both a reviewer and general reader, the best books are the ones that make you look at a book and think, “oh no, I only have 300 pages left” and you hope somehow another 300 will come from nowhere because you just don’t want that book to end.

Richelle Mead’s stunning conclusion to the Vampire Academy series, Last Sacrifice, fits perfectly into that category of books. It fits not only because its the last book of the series and it has to be good - we all know that is not always the truth and the last book can definitely make or break the series, but because it was that amazing.

One by one the answers to five books worth of questions start to reveal themselves as we realize just how well Richelle Mead has interwoven so many plot points to create such a complex but fascinating storyline.

There were so many moment that would make me stop and practically fall off with excitement over what I’d just read. Particularly at each chapter end there’d be either a shocking reveal or  someone would say something so simple with such a huge impact that would make one of many “OMG” moments.

Besides the amazingly woven plot, it’s the amazing characters that really make this book. They are so well developed and each of them have grown and matured since the first book, being able to read about them again was like hanging out with old friend, it was so comfortable being with them in the story.

Rose for me is always a stand out. It’s probably an understatement but THIS GIRL KICKS ASS. And not just in the literal Strigoi killing kind of way. Rose especially has matured as a character, along with Lissa as well, who have had a role reversal since for once, it’s Rose that is in trouble and needs to be saved. Not that Rose is content to just sit around and wait though…but that’s Rose for you.

I was also very glad to see more of Abe, who has a wicked sense of humour and charisma that Rose obviously inherited, as well as Sydney, who we know will be a character featured in the spin-off, Bloodlines.

It goes without saying that the love triangle between Rose, Dimitri and Adrian is resolved, although i feel a little bad for Adrian at the end(i'm only mentioning this teeny-tiny bit of a spoiler detail assuming the reader has already read the book). But I will say, that things progressed quite naturally.

As I said earlier, the last book can really make or break a series, and Last Sacrifice finished Vampire Academy off perfectly. You head into the thick of the action with Rose as she battles against accusations, Strigoi, emotions and Spirit and comes out, if possible, even more of a badass than she was before. You’ll hate your body for needing to sleep because it’ll come between you and reading one more chapter.

In future, I trust Richelle Mead with any and all series and their ends because this one was done spectacularly. I can’t believe it’s over, but I’m definitely content. Lastly, by far the Vampire Academy series is much better than the Twilight Saga and hear me saying i loved Twilight.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tron: Legacy

There has only been one franchise that has successfully launched a video game, become immensely popular and then become a passable film. That was Tomb Raider and Angelina Jolie had a lot to do with it.

Even harder to achieve is to turn a film into a successful video game and then remade into another film. Unsurprisingly, it is the comic books that lead the way. Batman (which was first a TV series) has been made into many films and also has a few different versions of games on various platforms.

Also successful is Spiderman and Fantastic Four as well as the comic book-based game Marvel Ultimate Alliance (all the superheroes in one giant story).

With the help of a popular toy (Lego), film franchise Indiana Jones was successfully transported from film to game console. Lego has done the same with Batman and Harry Potter. But before Lego, 3D, Xbox and even Nintendo it began with Tron. Made in 1982, Tron was ahead of its time. It was made into five different video games that featured the same cool transportation, the light cycle.

Joseph Kosinski’s renewed and reinvigorated TRON is certainly one of the most eagerly anticipated films since Avatar, and that anticipation is largely due to the avowed cult status of Steven Lisberger’s 1982 original. That film – with it’s mixture of archaic CGI, live action, and crude hand drawn animation – is arguably the most important and innovative special effects film ever made; but its simple plot and memorable performances also rendered it an unforgettable film in the hearts of film fans who worried about the sickly smooth aesthetics of Star Wars and the Rocky films.
To impress any of the legions of eager viewers awaiting his first feature, Kosinski had to do two things: create stunning visual effects that rivalled, and hopefully surpassed, those of Avatar; and create a memorable, quirky, and enjoyable story to hold it all together. He has succeeded wonderfully in the former, and perhaps predictably failed dismally in the latter.
The effects are truly ravishing. The 3D doesn’t kick in until Sam (Hedlund), the son of disappeared computer genius Kevin Flynn (Bridges), is transported into The Grid – a cyber-world created by Flynn, in which he has been trapped for the past 20 years. Over the space of those 20 years, the rudimentary, almost analogue, neon minimalism of the original film’s alternate reality has evolved over countless ‘cycles’ to produce a world so rich in glassy texture and sleek quicksilver cities that it more closely resembles a futuristic vision of earth than a more abstract idea of a ‘cyber world’ based on 0s and 1s. Kosinski’s background in architecture is clear – The Grid is a stunning futuristic vision, a cross between Philip K Dick and the Bauhaus. Kosinski was determined to honour the original film by avoiding complete reliance on CGI, so many of the sets are tangible, created out of concrete and glass, and you can feel their weight on the screen.
But is this an entirely positive point? This is supposed to be a vision of a ‘cyber world’ created entirely out of digital programmes. It necessarily needs to be anthropomorphised in order to be understood as a ‘mythic’ story, but is the chic interior design and the hog roast dinner entirely necessary? When Sam arrives on The Grid he is disrobed and prepared by four android-like ‘sirens’, and he later bumps into one of them as she is finishing her shift and leaving “the office” with an umbrella! What exactly is she protecting herself from in this instance? Cyber rain? There is something disappointingly easy about this interpretation of The Grid, which in the original film was a much more abstract space simply due to the limitations of technology. The wonders of the modern world have allowed Kosinski to render a truly outstanding vision on screen, but whether it is the right vision or the honest vision for TRON is debatable.
Two unquestionable triumphs should be mentioned though: the first is Daft Punk’s glitchy, techno score. Their infectious, cosmic dance pop is a perfect fusion of the organic and the ‘technologic’. It is at once cold and monotonous yet energised and vibrant. The second is the most important element of the TRON the disk battles and light cycles of legend are absolutely stunning, taking place in gigantic stadia before enormous crowds of baying ‘programmes’. The glistening quicksilver appearance of the bikes’ trails is breathtaking in 3D, and the battles themselves are easily as thrilling as anything James Cameron has ever created. The commend the film on their own, regardless of the success, or lack thereof, of the overall story.
The story, alas, falls in between the cracks of the wonderful aesthetic choices. The evolution of The Grid has been plagued by the controlling, cancerous influence of Clu – a ‘programme’ built by Flynn in his own image to create a ‘perfect world’ on The Grid, while Flynn was busy battling corporations in the real world. Clu’s pursuit of a non-existent ideal has led to a dangerous and dark world of dogma, destruction, and genocide. Sam’s unlikely arrival provides a brief opportunity for Flynn to defeat Clu and escape The Grid… and so the fight is on. This could have been a halfway interesting story, but it really is not. Essentially the story involves father and son, and Flynn’s adopted cyber-daughter Quorra, travelling across a barren landscape and getting into a few fracas before, well, winning. Somehow this random trip provides Sam with the cathartic, epiphanic inspiration he needed to “find himself” and turn his life around on returning to the real world. This is like a ‘Sci-fi action epic’ jus – a boiling pot of Gladiator, Star Wars, and The Matrix left on a high heat until all that is left is a sickly syrup of clichés and half-baked ideas.
The acting unfortunately, fails to save the piece. Jeff Bridges does nothing wrong as Flynn or, thanks to some wonderful visual effects, in his younger incarnation as Clu. But there has never been any doubt that Bridges’ talent lies in subtle and sincere character studies, rather than sci-fi epics. Garrett Hedlund is inoffensive as Sam, but he is either too young to too incapable of finding a way to save his vacuous character’s journey by adding some intangible dimension of emotional honesty
In the end, this is a travesty of a story and a failure of a sequel, but an absolute triumph for CGI… it is to the originalTRON what Avatar is to Ferngully.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Glee Super Bowl Episode photo spoiler

Glee‘s Super Bowl episode is a sports theme episode focusing on the cheer-leading regionals and local football championship.
Sources say Super Bowl is going to be the most expensive episode in television history; producers are seeking fire breathers, jugglers, and bicycle motocross stunt performers for the episode.
Songs from The Black Eyed Peas, Lady Antebellum, Katy Perry, and Michael Jackson will be featured on this episode.
Here are some photo spoilers of the upcoming Glee Super Bowl Episode to be aired on February 6, 2011.

CLICK HERE for the rest of the pictures.


Friday, December 24, 2010

The Chronicles Of Narnia: Voyages Of The Dawn Treader

“Extraordinary things only happen to extraordinary people,” talking mouse Reepicheep states in the third installment of the “Chronicles of Narnia” series. “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” continues the story of the Pevensie siblings and features a fun adventure and great visual effects. However, two supporting characters steal the show in this family-friendly adventure.

As the story begins, Lucy (Georgie Henley) and Edmund Pevensie (Skandar Keynes) are living with their relatives, including their annoying cousin Eustace (Will Poulter). The siblings try to avoid Eustace but he often interrupts their plan.

When Lucy and Edmund are discussing a painting in their cousin’s home, Eustace suddenly appears and tells them how lousy it is. As an argument ensues, the waves in the painting come alive and flood the room. The three relatives are then sucked into the world of Narnia. They are rescued by the crew members of the Dawn Treader, a magnificent ship carrying Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) on a quest. Eustace, in his first visit to Narnia, is agitated and frightened when he discovers that he is onboard a ship with talking animals and strange characters. He annoys nearly every passenger onboard including Reepicheep, who eventually challenges him to a duel.  

The ship is headed towards a group of mysterious islands. Prince Caspian is on a mission to find some of his father’s supporters, who were exiled when Caspian’s uncle became King. The story then follows a series of adventures as the crew search for the friends of Caspian’s father. Along the way, the characters are tempted to make bad decisions that could set them off course. 

Throughout the entire film, the most interesting characters are Eustace and Reepicheep. At times, the whole story feels like the “Eustace and Reepicheep Show” because these two characters are the most fun to watch. Eustace may be mean-spirited but he has some of the best lines and provides several laughs. Reepicheep is the honorable and noble mouse who, in one of the finest moments in the story, looks out for Eustace even when he doesn’t deserve it.

“The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” is a good old-fashioned adventure story. As the ship travels to numerous islands, the characters find excitement and face peril. When they aren’t being held prisoner, they are fighting off monsters or having out-of-body experiences. At times, the story sacrifices depth of character in its pursuit of more excitement, but the story is fun to behold regardless.

The adventure is strengthened by the beautiful visual effects throughout. Many of the scenes and the well-crafted ship at the heart of this story are marvels to behold. The 3D doesn’t add much but the 2D special effects look great.

Although the film can be appreciated on a non-religious level, there are also many religious references for families to enjoy during the holiday season. At one point, Reepicheep notes that “we have nothing, if not belief.” This story has a lot to offer those families looking for a good time with a moving and enjoyable motion picture.


Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

From the studio that brought you Happy Feet comes an epic tale of adventure, bravery, and friendship.
Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole, based on the first three books in the popular Guardians of Ga’Hoole series written by Kathryn Lasky, follows the adventures of Soren, Gylfie, Digger, and Twilight, a ragtag group of friends on their way to find the legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole. 
But a dark power is rising. The villainous Metal Beak, leader of the Pure Ones, is preparing to strike and rule those he deems worthy of life and destroy those he doesn’t.
Legend of the Guardians is directed by Zack Snyder, well known for directing violent adult films such as Watchmen and 300, but the limitation of a PG rating may have been just what he needed. As he was on a rating leash with Legend of the Guardians, Snyder takes more time to make us care about the characters and to develop the story and it shows that he can actually be a pretty good director when he doesn’t get distracted by all the things he can put into an R rated movie.  
The main cast is made up of Across the Universe’s Jim Sturgess as Soren, the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy’s Geoffrey Rush as Ezylryb, In My Father’s Den’s Emily Barclay as Gylfie, Frasier’s Anthony LaPaglia as Twilight, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy’s David Wenham as Digger. Completing the ensemble are True Blood’s Ryan Kwanten as Kludd, The Queen’s Helen Mirren as Nyra, Jurassic Park’s Sam Neill as Allomere, and V for Vendetta’s Hugo Weaving as both Noctus and Grimble. Overall, the cast is very good, but the standout performance is Kwanten’s as Kludd, Soren’s jealous brother, who makes the character feel very real.

Visually, Legend of the Guardians is brilliant. The computer animation is very realistic and intricate which makes it simple to miss something small while soaking in some other details. The animation also lends itself well to the 3D presented in the film, proving that Legend of the Guardians is far from one of the many movies to just jump onto the bandwagon.
Despite the fact that the film is about talking animals, I wouldn’t call Legend of the Guardians a film for young children. Though its mentions of racial supremacy and implied genocide may go over youngsters’ heads, certain sequences involving a technique called “moon-blinking” could be upsetting for some. As well, the action in the film is very fluid and engrossing, though Zack Snyder’s trademark of random slow motion outbursts may be distracting.
In conclusion, Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole is a good animated movie and a step in the right direction for Snyder.



I’m fairly not always certain about watching movies of the 80s era but after reading about Tron: Legacy, released now in 2010 being a sequel not a remake of 1982’s cult phenomenon I simply had to watch it if I was to actually understand what is the plotline for the sequel. So, here it is –

Tron is at most supremely silly but a groundbreaking one all the same and its state-of-the-art, computer-generated visuals look primitive by current standards as in the standards of the sequel “Tron: Legacy”, it's intelligently conceived (on a visual level, at any rate) and largely good fun. Steven Lisberger, an East Coast animator, directed the visuals, combining the actors and computer graphics with satisfying results. At the time of the film's release, Disney was trying to bridge the market from the near-dead "family film" to a more sophisticated product. The studio's first PG-rated offering initially did poorly at the box office, but when a TRON-inspired video game hit the arcades, the film picked up business.

Its special effects, which frankly looked chintzy back in its day and appear comically simplistic now, still represented the first major Hollywood film to employ computer-generated imagery, or CGI, on a large-scale basis. Yes, it was crude stuff, but it was the first stumbling steps of a whole new realm of filmmaking technology.

“Tron” is best seen as the maiden voyage of an expedition that has led us to wonders like Gollum from the “Lord of the Rings” movies and the Na’avi in “Avatar.”

The thing that most stood out for me is that the title comes not from star Jeff Bridges’ character, but from Bruce Boxleitner’s. Bridges plays Kevin Flynn, a talented young video game designer ousted by the mega-corporation Encom. It seems the boss, Ed Dillinger (David Warner), stole several of Flynn’s game designs and now he’s hacking into the system in search of proof and a payday.

Alan Bradley (Boxleitner) still works at the company, and has come up with a security program that will not only protect their system, but also serve as watchdog over the Master Control Program, or MCP, to which Dillinger has turned over an increasing amount of control. Master Control, as is the wont of all 1980s computers, grows sentient and moves to eliminate the interference of those pesky humans.

The cleverest conceit of writer/director Steve Lisberger’s script is having all the principle actors play dual roles inside the computer world. Here, all computer programs are thinking individuals who want to carry out their intended functions, only to have them blocked or usurped by MCP. The concept of humans or “users” creating and controlling them has been forbidden, and those who persist in believing thusly are treated as part of a cult.

I also loved that everything there happens on computer time — which is to say, very very fast. Someone refers to something deep in to the future as being 200 nanoseconds away. The long, evil reign of Master Control began earlier in the same humans’ day, when Dillinger shut off his programmers’ access.

Boxleitner, of course, plays Tron, who is something of a resolute knight-errant, questing to restore faith in the Users. Flynn’s hacking program is Clu, which was captured by Master Control and “de-rezzed” early in the movie. Then Flynn himself is atomized by a laser and transported into the computer world, where as a User he finds he has certain god-like powers to manipulate reality.

Warner had three roles: Dillinger, the voice of MCP, and as Sark, the evil general who carries out its orders. Master Control is Sauron-like, an unmoving entity who wields great power despite being little more than a disembodied voice and face.

Warner has a great, laughable line where they’re trying to break through a force field in pursuit of Tron, and he turns to his henchman and shouts, “Bring in the Logic Probe!” For pure ’80s cheese, this dialogue rivals “No! Not the bore worms!” from “Flash Gordon.”

Cindy Morgan plays the love interest of Alan, Flynn and Tron. Flynn finds that Alan has stolen his girl in the real world, and finds the dynamic replicated in the computer one. As is often the case in movies of this sort, the lead female is completely unnecessary to the plot, and could be written out of the story with little effect.

I was surprised to find that the video game sequences with the light bikes and discuses, which are what everyone seems to remember most about the movie, take up such a small part of it. I still haven’t puzzled out the deal with the Recognizers — those strange, obelisk-like structures that fly around the computer world in search of prey.

In retrospect, Tron may be the film that kicked off a generation of movies about guys getting sucked into the operational innards of powerful computers. Visually, this film is state of the art, à la 1982, and Jeff Bridges turns in some of his better work. It's interesting to see how this relic holds up. I did enjoy it but in my opinion the title should be something other than “Tron” since he isn’t the main character, a likelihood I’m sure you’ll all have noticed in the title choice of the play Julius Caesar by Shakespeare.   


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sid Meier's Civilization 5

Published by: 2K Games
Developed by: Firaxis
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Release Date: September 21, 2010
Versions: PC, Mac 
My Score: 4/5

Under Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, the first chancellor of the German Empire my German Nation spreads across the world quickly, being likened to plague by my enemies and constantly at war with the Chinese empire Wu Zetian. In my game, they are a force to be reckoned with -- a nation wresting control of the seas with modern navies, and taking cities by force with infantry and tanks, giving Furor Teutonicus a new meaning.

It's a turn-based strategy game based around building up a selected society into a world power. And, yes, Civilization V can look seriously boring to the casual bystander, but for the person at the helm of the game each turn can lead to a weighty decision, giving the player a certain feeling of power that few, if any, games match.

Civilization has no campaign, instead it simply allows the players to create a world of their devising and jump right into it either by themselves or with others in multiplayer. The biggest choice a player will make is what civilization they're going to play. Each civilization is led by a great leader from history, and gets a few special benefits and units, so its' important to consider what type of victory you're out to achieve before setting your nationality. For instance the French get cultural bonuses that give them a huge bonus towards a cultural victory, while playing Germany will give players access to powerful military units like the Panzer tank that can aid in taking over the world by force. Of course you can always pick a military-focused leader and take them on a route towards a cultural victory, but this will also present a greater challenge.

Besides picking a nation, players can further customize their scenario by switching between options such as whether the world will be made of several continents or not, what era they start in (Civ moves in eras, such as Medieval, Renaissance, etc., which also influences the level of technology you have access to), and how many other civilizations they wish to compete with. It essentially makes for infinite replayability, giving players a simple tool set to craft the challenge they want in of the world over and over again.

And hell yes, this is the type of game that you want to just play over and over. Like its predecessors, Civilization V is amazingly addictive, with games commonly drawing more than five or six hours out of me in a single sitting. The reason? Because win or lose, Civilization V allows players to guide an entire society and craft their own story, taking them from the dawn of history and far into the future. I love taking the Japanese and making them into a peaceful country who wants nothing more than to make Opera houses and win over their neighbors via their culture, or take the Aztecs and fashion them into a powerful imperialistic nation that is completely fascist and obsessed with world domination. Civilization V really is what you make of it, and for me it's a good way to tell alternate stories about some of history's most interesting nations.

(The Order Is - America, Arabia, Aztec, China, Egypt, England, France, Germany, Greece, India, Iroquois, Japan, Ottoman, Persia, Rome, Russia, Siam, Songhai.)

I say Civilization V is only "good" -- and not "great,"  -- at crafting stories because I feel like the game's taken away some pretty important tools for customizing your society.  In Civilization V, though, players gather up "culture" as a resource, spending it every so many turns on "policies" that give their civilization bonuses. For instance a player might choose to put policy points into the "Piety" tree, giving their nation a boost to happiness and forcing them to accept an unnamed religion. I really appreciate the way the various policy trees give players a wide array of customization options for their nation, but I miss the power and ridiculous glee I got out doing things like forcing Judaism down the throats of my enemies because my Jewish Japanese empire was out to win owning the hearts and minds of my neighbors. 

Winning, actually, is where one of Civilization V's weaknesses come to light. While players can win through either diplomacy (via building the United Nations and being elected the leader), conquest (by taking out all other nations), science (by building a space ship and launching it), culture (by completing five of the policy tree branches), or by having the biggest score in the year 2050, in all the games I played it seemed it was overly difficult to get anything but a timed or military victory against the AI when starting from the earliest period. The AI is simply far too aggressive once they're on your borders, and no amount of gifts or other concessions would keep them from deciding to attack me. Attacking would then force me to focus on my military, taking my cities' production away from building the other scientific or cultural items I needed to win. It's more than a little annoying to play for ten or more hours only to realize that the victory you've been working towards is going to be thwarted by a belligerent computer player. I mean, look, I'm all for the blood of nations on my hands, but sometimes I like to be peaceful too, you know?

Still, if combat is what you're looking for, Civilization V has it in spades, and it's better than ever. In past Civilization games you could "stack" enemies on a space on the board, allowing you to make gigantic armies that players had to smash against one another turn after turn -- with results only really savvy strategy players seemed to fully comprehend. Civ V, on the other hand, doesn't allow stacking at all, forcing players to use more strategy than ever. With hexagon-shaped tiles making up the board, players now maneuver fewer units so that they can surround enemy forces, or use powerful units to choke off key points like mountain passes. Ranged units can also now fire over other units, making players carefully consider every army formation. As a result, combat is vastly more satisfying than it has ever been, feeling much more like a game of chess than a simple game of my-numbers-bigger-than-yours. 

Combat is just one example of how Civilization V improves the franchise, with a host of other significant changes making this the most approachable the series has ever been. For instance take the advisor system. Like the console title Civilization Revolution (and other past Civilization games for PC), players have access to a set of advisors. These advisors specialize in various branches of nation building such as military and economics, and are available at any time for players confused about how to proceed. Moreover, each time a player chooses a new construction for their city, they can easily identify which building or unit their advisors think is pertinent thanks to symbols sitting next to the options. Every place the player looks in Civ V there's helpful tips on how to proceed, as well as in depth in-game "civlopedia" that easily allows players to find most any detail they could need in a given moment. Every menu or interaction in Civ V is more intuitive and helpful -- a testament to the lessons learned by a developer that's been making these games for almost two decades. 

Civilization V is one of the best turn-based strategy games I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. Whether teaming up with my friends for some multiplayer, or simply losing a whole night of sleep to the game’s endlessly replayable single player, this is one game that any strategy enthusiast, or, hell anyone strat-curious should check out. With all the tips, advisers and tools in place, this is the first Civilization for PC that I feel is worth just about every person’s time. Go forth and create, subdue, and exploit. Do as Firaxis has done, and bring Civilization to the masses.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hp7 part 1: The Game

Format: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC(version played), DS 
Developers: EA Bright Light 
Publisher: EA
Release date: 19/11/10 
Genre: Third person shooter
Players: Single player
My Score : 3/5

Death Eaters have infiltrated Hogwarts and Voldermort (yes that’s right, I named him and its not you-know-who guys its U-No-Poo the constipation sensation that is gripping the nation) is stronger than ever and is intent on taking Harry’s life. With no Dumbledore, it’s just Harry and company to find the Horcruxes if they want any hope of defeating You Know Who.

Straight away you notice you are less confined to the walls of Hogwarts as compared to the previous games, and offered the freedom of the outside world where cover-based battles form the focal point. There is however less emphasis on exploration, as the story takes a more direct and linear approach than before to cover all the main twists and turns.

You are sometimes offered a number of routes to take where you will be faced with different situations, but this seems rather pointless as you have to complete all the routes anyway to piece the story together. If you’ve seen the film, you’ll know there’s a lot of content which has forced the game pace to be quick. This has led to some cutscenes being quite to the point where they could offer so much more depth and direction to the story.

As you’d expect, as you level up your current spells become stronger and you unlock new spells, but the limited hot keys make it frustrating and annoying to change between them in battle. So you will find yourself becoming reliant on two main spells to get the job done. In my case i was solely depended on Impedeminta and Confingro.

With Dumbledore out of the way and the Order of the Phoenix set to crumble you’d expect your good mates Ron and Hermione to fight beside and help you in your quest. Think again, the AI of both seem too lazy for your liking, Harry's character is left to do all the work while they just idle around. They don’t offer much help and occasionally stand in the way as you’re about to cast a Stupify spell. However, Ron does add some humour with his one-liners. For example, when I was under the invisibility cloak he says to Hermione: “these jeans are a bit tight.”

On the whole, the graphics are very good, but the storyline put the game’s presentation in a shadow. I didn't notice it at first but some of the characters’ voices are not authentic, which I suppose takes away a little realism, but the voice actors aren't that bad.

Looks like EA Games just handed the project to be done by whatever means possible to EA Bright Light to co-inside with the release of the movie and didn't care as to how it turned out. Given there is a final film and game to come, EA has one last chance to get everything right and leave us Muggles with a lasting impression from the Harry Potter series.


Monday, December 20, 2010

"By the light of the moon": Enter the werewolves

Werewolf attacks, first transformations, Elena patrol and what not, it goes to the credit of the writers and directors of TVD to always turn our heads around when a season hiatus is considered,  that an episode which concluded with a deal between Elijah and Elena; a deception by Luca; and a mysterious werewolf bite on Rose.

So, folks we have another strong episode, one that continued the season’s trend of answering some recently asked questions while retaining enough mystique and interest to keep us watching.  In this episode’s case, we now understand why Elijah saved Elena from the prior week’s vampire attack. Also what do you all think about Rose being bitten.....well lets just say that the trailer for the episode pretty spells that Rose is gonna have a very hard time.....and was Jules really taunting Daemon in that trailer???

Well enough about have is gonna happen on January 24th next year (that is such a long will i survive till then without TVD or GLEE????), and lets just discuss what we see in this episode.

Elena is still on a suicidal mission which forces Bonnie to trap her in the house using her witchy powers.........a very convenient name given by Damon "Elena Patrol". 

Bonnie you did not just reject Jeremy and eye the new warlock on the scene who might not even be trustworthy, seeing as he doped Bonnie into believing that the moonstone was de-spelled after that firework............................Bonnie you really need to study some witchcraft textbook.

A new werewolf in town......Jules who comes looking for the "late" Mason Lockwood after "newborn"......see  what i quoted "newborn" newborn werewolf Tyler calls Mason..........supposing he was in Florida........viola! Mason is declared a missing person, thanks to the disturbance caused by the last she-wolf in town......Jules.

With all this disturbance in the outside world Stefan is still inside the tomb.........and did he just fantasize that hot scene......that made the Stefan+Katherine and Damon+Elena fans spring out a huge celebration in the supposed changes that were going to take place in their lives???...............notice i didn't say anything about myself in this equation. I'm perfectly content with Katherine alone in the tomb and Stefan and Elena being together.

Finally we see Matt after a very long time. Notice a huge part of the episode focussed on Tyler's transformation and Caroline a.k.a Vampire Barbie on Werewolf duty, since this was his first transformation and Caroline wanted to be with him as this was his first transformation and Caroline doesn't want him to be alone....... Scenes involving panic and pain (not to mention one’s body ripping itself apart) can walk a fine line between horrific and hilarious. Done right, the audience feels for you; done wrong and they’re laughing at your schlocky acting. 

Damon and Alaric showed how smooth they were today, i.e. not very. Personally, I would have had Alaric ‘save’ Jules from Damon. She might have bought a human; she was never going to buy a vampire. Alaric is still an impotent hunter – well, not in that way, gutterminds – relegated to playing drunk in a half-assed bar setup. What happened to the Alaric who kicked ass at twenty paces? Ah well, at least we still have the epic bromance.

That finished Elena did you really cut a deal with Elijah.......Its good you negotiated a deal with him that involves Stefan to be released from the tomb......but can Elijah actually be trusted???? Will he really keep the end of his deal????? What are his plans really???? He is one mysterious character of whom we can't seem to be getting any answers about....

Lastly, Rose was bitten at the what do we make of it??? Are her TVD days coming to an end???? Stay tuned for the next episode that will air after a long hiatus on Jan 24th, 2011. Till then feast your eyes on the upcoming episode trailer........

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