Clan 404

...spiffing

Archive for January, 2008

AVP 2: Ad Nauseum

23 Jan 2008 by ShogZ

Just as the dot com bubble of the 90s inevitably had to burst, so the great tide of films from the 1980s must also at some point die off.

Two of the greatest franchises of that era for horror / sci-fi fans where of course, the Aliens series and the less numerous, but just as well liked, Predator movies.

At their height with Alien, Aliens and Alien 3 the original Alien trilogy told a story of an amoral, insect like breed of creatures that were able to survive (and kill) their way into any ecosystem. They seemed tied to the destiny of one human more than most, Sigorney Weaver's Ripley, ranking up there with Bruce Willis for 'in a vest climbing through tunnels' action during the 80s.

The Predator series with just two outings during its height was an equally fascinating and original IP. A race of supreme hunters from a galaxy many thousands of years away would come to earth and hunt 'worthy' prey using a variety of high tech gadgets and bare faced strength, this is one of the movies that made Arnie's early career.

In the mid 90s a comic crossover of the two occured, with writers and artists portraying a universe in which the Predators actually captured and 'bred' Aliens to use as hunting species. Indicating the Predators had found their most deadly foe and that they had, played a little fast and loose, introducing them to various environments in order to hunt them in the wild.

Then, someone, somewhere, turned around and said "Let's make that a movie" and my life went to shit.

What could have been a true great of cinema, an update of the Aliens and Predator saga with modern effects and technologies applied, in a slick, tense, occasionally bloodridden piece of celluloid art, became instead 'Disney's big aliens fight each other until something stops them starring Whinny the Pooh and friends'.

The lamentable Aliens 4 or 'Resurrection' should have told us where this franchise was going. Just as with evrything else post 2000 it was designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, out of whom, the most money could be made in the lifetime of the product, i.e. children.

The moment the first AvP was rated PG I knew the only thing that was going to work in this movie were the product tie ins.

In summary the first film was a piss poor action-fest which saw seemingly hundreds of predators (Best known for working alone) dispatched by fat, sluggish aliens that had been buried, and discovered, under the ice by a small human research team.

So I expected very little of this second outing, in fact I hoped, perhaps they could do a Star Wars Episode III and just salvage some of the wreck they'd made of my childhood.

So myself and the intrepid Spike headed into town to watch the film, along with my missus to get a decent consensus view.

The opening credits told me all I needed to know. They had blended the style (By this I mean fonts) of the Alien films with those of the Predator universe. A homage to those of us who had actually seen these titles upon first release.

That was the highlight of the movie.

From there in a loose plot, continuing the end of the first movie where a predator alien hybrid runs amok on the predators ship, causing it to crash in the United States, and the ensuing carnage of a small town which sends in the marines only to be double crossed by a besuited grey, Government man from the Government occurs. Now that's novel.

We get elements of Scream and I know What you Did Last Summer with a tacked in group of teens and their romantic sub-plot. There are literally tonnes of scenes inserted which are supposed to be in homage to the first films, but actually just look like poorly ripped off afterthought throughout.

As with Freddy and Jason, it simply becomes, who will die and how. True to form we get a tough female lead, whos acting is so unbelievably shoddy that Weaver's alien 4 'I'm a clone' outing really is oscar nominating beside it.
IF the Aliens and Predators in the story had followed their biological programming and attacked only living beings the entire acting cast would have been safe because they were clearly made of some form of wood.

The film rips off the car chase scene from Aliens, the 'Alien lust' scene from Alien 3, the Predator injured scene from Predator one, the Aliens swimming scene from Alien 4 and numerous others with reckless abandon.

It also has its signature shock moment, much like Saw or Hills have eyes etc. This is to do with the way the predalien hybrid breeds. It appears that the new species 'pumps eggs' into already pregnant female hosts via their throats which then burst form their wombs. It's pretty grim to watch the insemination sequence, but beyond the intitial shock value it makes no sense. It basically resembled very bad porn, indeed Spike remarked to me halfway through "Now thats a deep throat". Quite.

The picture quality was very good although relied on far too many cliches, steam, flashing lights, darkness, rain and power failure being the predominant visual effects. All overused and badly manipulated to create a sense of total non-tension.

The sound was probably my biggest complaint, it was quite simply too loud. It was loud to the point of changing heart rhythm and whilst this can be good in real moments of power, the volume and aggression of the effects didnt fit the weakly acted film and certainly had me with my fingers in my ears several times (Which incidently saved me from some of the more awful dialogue).

The story was filled with many holes and contradictions, and if you were a true fan of either franchise or both it was just a giant swiss cheese of thing (Why did the predator attack an unarmed man running away from him? How did the predalien evolve a whole new reproductive system in one generation? Why did the aliens kill most of their victims and not others? Why did the gestation period for the chest bursters vary form five minutes to almost three days? Why can the predalien only use females for new aliens? Why are these aliens regular alien and not predalien hybrids? Why are there no cross breeds generated for humans a la Alien 4? How did the government explain not one but two nuclear explosions on US soil to the public and everyone else? Why did the female lead simply stop crying about her husband after his gruesome death in five seconds?) I could go on and on but it serves no purpose.

My good lady who has never seen the original movies thought it was 'fun' and 'noisy' she, like the audience is was designed for will no doubt love the 'shlock factor' and the 'two monsters in a horror movie' scenario.

The slow rot that began with Aliens 4, and accelerated to a death knell with AVP1 is finally completed with this movie. Lucas has slaughtered Star Wars upon the alter of 'most franchise dollars available' and the makers of AVP2 have also finally put a good idea to its death.

Bleed out all love for the previous films, add the inability to make a good movie from scratch, overloud soundtrack with repetative use of theme music, sprinkle in a 'ready to die' cast and some ass achingly poor acting and then add a signature chock scene and the executives wish to get as many toys and posters out of a 15 cert thats possible and you've got AVP2.

Recommendation: If your little ones are a bit too old for Whinny the Poohs big movie or Pixars 'OMFG look we animated a frog!' and you dont understand films such as 'Charlie Wilsons War' then please go and see this movie and buy all of the associated shit. You'll be helping kill the last good ideas of the 80s.  

Morro Morro Morrowind (Xbox)

17 Jan 2008 by ShogZ

Where do I begin with this one?

Well I should be honest and say that after weeks and months of playing a few hours a day, I havn't finished it. And the reasons I havn't finished it are basically all the highs and lows of the game easily remembered:

Interesting, involving, deep, intricate, bugged, flawed, tiresome, repetative.

The game is fearsomely open ended, there is a central plotline which you can play several ways (Good, bad or somewhere in between) and then there are multiple side quests and guild quests, plus hours of your own preferred activities.

I'm a big fan of open ended games and the ability to persue a storyline at your own pace, the world of Elder scrolls is a rich one, and Morrowind is no exception, however this is also a failing. If you wanted to you could spend weeks just reading all the hundreds of books there are in the tens of libraries and stores you'll find. Sadly the story envrionment is just as complicated.

It boils down to the imperials (Romans) having control over an island (Morrowind) of previously free dark elves (Dunmer). There are troubles in the empire and for some reason you, a convicted prisoner, are released and sent there with instructions to meet someone and deliver a package, and thus your adventure begins...Well its supposed to.

See I never once worked out exactly what I was supposed to be doing or all the intrigues behind it. There are various noble families of dark elves politicing on the island as well as the imperials, some religious sects (Good and bad) and thousands of random NPCs somewhere in-between.

You can do as you wish, interact with these people, get information, sell information, if you want to wander off into the island chains for hours and pick flowers and sell them in various markets, go ahead the choice is yours.

The world of Morrowind is divided into various regions along the coast and nearby, or inland,  and the graphical geography changes to suit, it's sometimes green and verdant, gently sloping. Othertimes its harsh and barren, with twisted trees and volcanic rock. It's quite interesting for the first few hours, but after a while you notice the environment is not changing quite as much as you'd thought and similar structures and patterns emege regularly. Textures become a bit repetative, but thats also because of some graphical issues (Coming later). To be fair the game is old (2002?) and does very well with the hardware available on the Xbox.

Graphically the environment has received worthwhile attention, as you'll spend many many hours wandring around it, lakes shimmer, water runs, dust blows across your vision and grass and tress spring from rolling hills, the sun sets and rises over changing skies and stars become visible at night, the graphics can be truly stunning on occasion, if simply because you can be drawn into the world so well. It's not Unreal by any means but it does make a good effort.

The characters and animation are also noteworthy, with fairly decent movement and other animation sequences. There are a limited number of 'face' textures available for NPCs and some of them do start to look familiar after a while, that said there's also a suprising amount of variety due to the number of races and species populating Morrowind (A handy getout for the model skinning problem no doubt).

Where the graphics fall down is in the area of magic and other such effects. Despite there being many spells that you can cast or have cast against you, the actual effects these produce makes them very difficult to distinguish, essentually these seem to produce either a purple, blue or yellow glow in the hands of your opponenet and then something happens to you (Not always noticeable, but more on that later). So in the use of magic and its depiction, there's some lack of detail there.

Graphically the weapons you use seem diverse and often 'feel' different to wield suggesting their respective weight and damage, so thats a good thing. But the lack of variety in opponent attack sequences often makes longer fights seem rather repetative.

In terms of sound the music and effects of Morrowind are generally low key and follow the general lines of the graphics, there's attention paid to the environment and other such associated events (dust storms etc) but there's a lack of variety outside of ambience. There's no discernable background chatter in taverns or inns, stalls and markets are eerily quiet and NPCs will sometimes say some really bizzarre things when you're not talking directly to them.

Musically the game is not very diverse, standard fight and walking around music is present. On the rare occasions the music and events sync up properly its really grand, for example, cresting a hill and seeing the sun dawn over a massive castle in the distance as the music climbs to a crescendo is a great game moment, but rare due to a lack of attention to music and its in game use.

Gameplay is a very diverse category within Morrowind, it's ups include an open ended style story whereby you can wander the wastes, skulk around villages as a thief, perform magic and healing and get money and reputation, or become a wanted ciminal and be chased by gaurds in every town you enter. Additionally theres a variety of factions you can work casually for or betray, and the character levelling system is a nice blend of D&D and standard earn XP and level.
By performing actions regularly you rank the asociated skill, so by talking a lot or persuading others your speechcraft increases or by fighting with swords, bladecraft and so on. These sub-abilities influence you overall level which influence your stats etc. So a good, rise by doing, system.

On the downside gameplay is often repetative with the player needing to grind certain skills to hit their top level and move on to the next, in truth you want a more powerful character and so whilst you might otherwise fight with whatever weapons and armor feel best (I.e. an organic gaming approach) you'll end up approaching it more scientifically and choosing things that will level your character faster.

Additionally you will naturally tilt your character to certain things, meaning others get further and further behind. This isnt a problem say for a magician character as if you leave your speech and security skills by the wayside you can use your magic to open doors and influence people, however if you're a warrior class you cant simply bash open doors or locks and you cant influence others with violence (They simply fight until they die and never leave combat mode until you or they are dead).

Additionally, and worth their own paragraph are the bugs. There are numerous gameplay issues and real show-stopper bugs in the game itself. On occasion savegames simply just wont load. This doesnt seem to depend on anything but luck or otherwise. You'll need several saves to make sure you dont get locked out between sessions.

Second characters will randomly wander into combat with you if you're fighting another, so if you're involved in a scrap with a guard and an NPC you really need to talk to is nearby they will often wander into the battle and be struck, hence forcing you to kill them and loose any info or quests they may have to offer.

On the same point about battle, if an opponent is behind a door in a room and you go into combat in another space often the opponent will attempt to run through the door to reach you, (NPCs being unable to open doors universally) but this also causes a collision detection bug whereby you simply cannot open the door as the character is clipping through it. This is intensly frustrating as NPCs never leave combat mode once it is engaged, and you cannot open a door they are stuck in, thereby you lock yourself out of areas because of their action, this can also stop you getting on with a central quest.

In summary Morrowind is a great and involving, if flawed and buggy, title. It's promise shows through in how much you're willing to look past the bad just to play the game and experience the environment.

Equally its promise remains that, an elusive thing which is never fully realised due to graphical constraints, limited use of sound and some serious software flaws.

Recommendation: Buy it if you like open ended RPGs and see it on 3 for 2 or preowned. Well worth a go, if a little frustrating.

Radio 40.4 FM

14 Jan 2008 by ShogZ

If you're one of the three people that listened to the last Radio 404 show, prepare to be mildly entertained once more, there should be another show up in the next week or two.

You have been warned.

Sequel Suckage

04 Jan 2008 by ShogZ

Why lord?

Why dost thou take such heavenly goodnes as XBox 2003 Game of the Year winner 'Knights of the Old Republic' and follow it with games lie KOTOR2?

Generally game sequels tend to follow movie rules, if it isnt by the same director / team that did the first outing then you're in for a bad show, or at least a tough ride.

The game uses the same engine so it still looks and feels much the same with the addition of a fews new player options (Lightsaber forms, Force channeling powers etc) but it suffers from something I never normally have to complain about, a total lack of coherent story.

All the way through KOTOR I felt as if I was a part in a bigger plot, a plot that was devloping around me, and then towards the end, a plot that I drove myself. This is how good storytelling is done, see Half Life and its sequel for other strong examples.

Sadly KOTOR2 just never got it right. The story was mildly interesting but there was never that sense of 'the fate of the galaxy hangs on you' possibly because everybody kept telling you that the fate of the galaxy did indeed depend on you.

The Jedi, Sith, third way divide was never properly explored and the characters (Particularly those force aligned) spouted so much nonsensical, vague philosophy that it actually got in the way of plot revelation. There were one or two really good moments, but nothing on the level of the first game.

I thing KOTOR2 is also a good example of how important sound and music is to a title. The one big thing missing from KOTOR2 were the grand sweeping instrumentals of the first game, and indeed the movie series. You get standard 'in combat' music but the recognisable Starwars themes, by now programmed into your subconcious, were never apparent.

Somehow the game failed to tie off loose ends, whilst creating more. I know there's supposedly the possiblity of a third but please goodness, don't let Obsidian make it.

My final gripe, and something thats been getting on my tits more and more recently (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars empire at war and now KOTOR 2) endings.

Why, when playing a cinematic game  which includes cutscenes and dialogue, are there no decent endings? I dont want a fifteen minute finish (Although it would be nice) but in a game, tied to a movie franchise and with such massive plots, the crappy <30 second ending you get which makes no sense and finishes nothing is awful.

For games with great endings, see Marvel Ultimate Alliance, fantastic. It's long, its detailed and it takes acount of every decision made telling you the consequences of your actions throughout, masterful.

Kotor, a game based on moral choices and do/don't scenarios, does nothing of the sort, allowing you some dialogue options and then some crappy ending sequence, less than ten seconds long. After 60+ hours of playing, that's bitterly dissappointing.

I'll post a proper review at some point if I can be arsed.

Happy New Year!

01 Jan 2008 by ShogZ

Happy new year to all wandering internet souls that have woken up in this layby this morning.

Here's hoping it's the best yet for 404, a feat as simple to achieve as inversely as it is likely to occur.