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For Whom The Bell Tolls
For Whom The Bell Tolls
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.24

40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well written but historically inaccurate, 10 Sep 2011
I found For Whom the Bell Tolls brilliant and moving but also incredibly frustrating. This book is undoubtedly a classic piece of literature, the writing is Hemingway at his best and there are excellent characters who at times I really cared about.

While I can totally understand why so many people give it five star reviews and I don't want to put anyone off from reading this, for me the book was ruined when it frequently replaced historical fact with Stalinist propaganda. As someone who has a keen interest in the Spanish civil war I was annoyed that every time the beautiful writing started to draw me back into the story it would lapse back into propaganda.

This book is a story about an American volunteer fighting fascism in Spain with a small band of guerrillas who he must persuade to undertake a dangerous mission. The problem is that the background events against which this story are set are riddled with inaccuracy and bias.

Hemingway really travelled to Spain during the civil war, at a time when the small Soviet backed Communist Party was seizing control of the republican government and persecuting the other factions. Many of the lies they fabricated at the time to justify their behaviour have made their way into this novel as though they really happened. For example the anarchist and syndicalist militias who formed the majority of the republican forces in the civil war are consistently portrayed as incompetent drunks harming the war effort in this novel.

While I appreciate that the majority of readers will probably not be as interested in the Spanish Civil War background so will not have this problem, for me once I realised how distorted a portrayal of Spain this was it ruined a lot of the book. Imagine how you would feel reading a story set in World War 2 that was filled with drama, romance and expert storytelling, but was also written by someone who assumed that the Americans single-handedly fought the entire war while the incompetent or treacherous British and Russians just got in their way. If that wouldn't bother you then you will appreciate this book.

For anyone who is interested in a more accurate portrayal of the Spanish Civil War, I recommend George Orwell's amazing autobiographical account 'Homage to Catalonia' or any of Anthony Beevor's books on the subject. Probably the best fictional portrayal of the war can be found in Ken Loach's film 'Land and Freedom' which I also highly recommend.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 10, 2013 4:57 PM BST

by Mark Millar
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Totally Different from the Movie, 2 Sep 2011
This review is from: Wanted (Paperback)
Don't be misled by the cover of this graphic novel, it has very little to do with the film besides the character names. If you are just looking for a comic version of the film you will disappointed, but if you are looking for a witty original comic you might not be.

Readers should be warned that this comic is aimed at adults, and is even more violent and politically incorrect than Mark Millar's other works. This doesn't stop it being quite good fun even when it is clearly in deliberately poor taste.

Wanted tells the story of Wesley Gibson, an average loser who one day discovers that the world is run by supervillains and that he has the chance to become one of them. This makes for a clever new take on the traditional superhero genre. None of the characters in this story are particularly likeable, but that seems sort of the point since they are meant to be the bad guys.

While some have suggested that this is just an adolescent fantasy where the (anti)hero can sleep with any woman and kill whoever he wants, by the end of this we see that Millar is actually trying to tell us something about our world. The message here is that a world in which a privileged elite can act with impunity while the rest of us meekley accept our lot in life looks suspiciously like our world, even if real power derives from money and not superhuman abilities. That said if you are just looking for a bit of sex and superhero violence you will still probably enjoy this.

Kick-Ass [DVD]
Kick-Ass [DVD]
Dvd ~ Chloe Moretz
Offered by Jasuli
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Dark Superhero Satire, 29 Aug 2011
This review is from: Kick-Ass [DVD] (DVD)
Anyone considering watching this film should be aware that it is extremely violent, has plenty of swearing and some pretty black humour. If these things don't bother you then you will probably find this film really entertaining.

Kick Ass is based on Mark Millar's comic of the same name about a teenage geek who out of boredom tries to become a superhero. A lot of the humour here comes from how in real life putting on a costume and trying to fight crime in not a great idea, especially if you are a bit of a wimp. The film starts out fairly faithful to comic but gradually veers of towards the end as it becomes a little too Hollywoodised.

This film is laugh out loud funny at times and has some great action sequences. The real star of the film is Hit Girl, an amoral ten year old who racks up a body count worthy of an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. Nicolas Cage also has a great supporting role where he does an amusing Adam West impression whenever he is in costume.

While this film is really entertaining and definitely something you can watch more than once, I have only given it four stars because of how it declines towards the end. While in the comic Kick-Ass remains inept throughout, in the film the story loses some of its realism towards the end. The comic also had a great twist which is lacking here. While you should still watch this if you are at all into graphic novels I recommend reading Kick-Ass before seeing the film.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Limited Edition (Xbox 360)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution - Limited Edition (Xbox 360)
Offered by Startup Media
Price: £9.08

23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply brilliant, 29 Aug 2011
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
I honestly can't remember ever having had this much fun playing a game. I'm a big fan of RPGs like Fallout 3 and Mass Effect so I pre-ordered this, and I have to say this surpasses them both.

This game is actually very difficult to categorise, it is basically an intelligent hybrid of a stealth game, a first person shooter and an RPG, with hacking and dialogue mini-games thrown in for good measure. But what makes the game so unique is its sense of freedom. Every situation you encounter can be resolved in a variety of ways, and unlike almost all other games you aren't forced into going down any one path. For example it is possible to complete the game without killing anyone except a few bosses (there is actually an achievement for it), but it is equally possible to kill hundreds of people, as there are only a few key NPCs the game won't let you harm.

There is no multi-player in this game, but the single player game is huge. You might be able to complete it in 20 hours if you just ran through the main story and didn't bother with exploration or side quests, but if you are playing stealthily and exploring it can take a lot longer (I am nearly 30 hours in and still have a long way to go). Most of the game takes place in two hub areas which you visit multiple times for the main quest and side quests, while there are also other areas you visit to complete missions. In terms of size each hub is larger than the Citadel in Mass Effect, but the game is not as large a true sandbox game like Fallout 3.

Of the main pillars of game play the best is probably stealth. There is pretty much always a way to sneak past your enemies, although without lots of Augmentations it is quite challenging and requires patience. Still when you do succeed it is very satisfying, and the game actually awards extra experience points for accomplishing objectives without being seen. There are also lots of hidden alternate routes to objectives, although this sometimes involves crawling through a few too many air vents.

The combat is also very good, although anyone expecting this to be a Call of Duty clone will be disappointed. In this game enemies are very good shots with good AI and will kill you in a couple of hits. There is also limited ammunition available. This means even on normal difficulty you need to use cover and pick off enemies carefully, not just run through with all guns blazing. There are a lot of different weapons, all of which work pretty well and all of which can be upgraded with a variety of Mods.

The RPG element of this game works slightly differently to other games. As you gain experience points you don't go up levels, rather you unlock Augmentations (Augs). There about 70 of these in total, and they alter the game in a variety of ways. There are plenty of hacking Augs, stealth Augs which do things like turn you invisible, and combat Augs which make you tougher or deadlier. As well as these there are a variety of new abilities to gain like punching through walls or falling without taking damage that allow you to take alternate paths through the game. Because it is not possible to get all of these Augs in one playthrough there is a lot of replay value in this game.

The hacking mini-game also deserves a mention, as it is by far the best hacking found in any game. As well as being a race against time to access a computer or lock, you have to decide whether to gamble for extra rewards. In fact the hacking is so good I find I even try to hack locks that I have the password for. The dialogue mini-game is also pretty good, if a little too easy. There are occasions where you can try to persuade people to help you by choosing the right one of three dialogue options based on their personality. It is a little bit like LA Noire although the facial animations are not as good.

The main story seems pretty good so far, and is concerned with corporate conspiracies and asks you to make choices about how you feel about the ethics of human Augmentation (both sides of the argument are presented fairly). The choices you make in the game and the route you take have effects on the game like in any good RPG. The side quests are also impressive. Instead of the standard fetch quests in too many RPGs, in Human Revolution the side quests are all quite long and most either relate to the main story or to the debate about Augs.

Of course even a great game has a few flaws. The loading times can be a little long, especially since you will probably die often. There are a few bugs in the AI, such as when enemies can't see you if you are in a vent. The only real major problem though is the boss fights. While the biggest strength of this game is the freedom to solve any challenge however you choose, there are a few times when you are for forced into a fight with a boss that you are required to kill. These fights are no worse than what you find in other games, but they don't really fit in a game that is all about freedom of choice.

If you are only interested in generic FPS games then maybe this is not for you. But if you enjoy RPGs, stealth games or just want to play something original this is one of, if not the best game on the market right now. You should buy this not just because its great fun, but because if it sells well it might encourage more developers to take risks on intelligent original games.

Dragon Age 2 (Xbox 360)
Dragon Age 2 (Xbox 360)
Offered by Game Trade Online
Price: £13.98

58 of 60 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Huge Step Backwards, 27 Aug 2011
= Fun:2.0 out of 5 stars 
I have never been as disappointed by a video game as I was by Dragon Age 2. It's not that it's a terrible game (I'd say it's slightly below average). Rather the problem is that it's considerably worse than Dragon Age Origins in almost every respect.

Almost all of this game's faults come down to two factors. Firstly it seems incredibly rushed, as though Bioware have shipped a half finished game to cash in on the first game's success. Dragon Age Origins took five years to make, and it showed. The sequel took less than two years, and it plays like the developers just couldn't be bothered to make a better game. Secondly there have been numerous changes to try and appeal to those who didn't like the first game, but in doing so most of the things that made the original great have been lost. This means that gamers who didn't enjoy the first game might enjoy this, but anyone like me who loved Origins will feel really let down.

Dragon Age 2 is just under half the length of Origins. While this is still longer than some other games on the market the game is also much more repetitive than the first. The whole game takes place in one city and a few outlying areas. This would be OK if the city was interesting or changed over time, but it doesn't. The same people are standing in the same places years later, often saying exactly what they were years ago.The repetition is made even worse by the fact that maps are re-used again and again. One cave, one tunnel and one coast map are just recycled over and over. While previous games like Mass Effect and Origins re-used maps a little bit, I have never seen it done on such a scale as it was in this game.

The combat has also been changed to make it faster but less tactical. For the first few hours of this game I actually preferred the changes but over time it soon became dull. There are less spell combinations in this game, less abilities generally, and less variety in how enemies fight. Also you now have to constantly press the A button to attack instead of just needing to do it once. All of this I could live with if it weren't for the constantly spawning waves of enemies. When you kill some enemies, a fresh wave will just magically appear out of thin air to surround you. This makes tactical positioning of your party pointless.

Visually the game also looks at its worst in combat. Although Origins was certainly no oil painting, its combat at least looked better than in this game. Some of the animations make this game look more like a cartoonish Japanese RPG than a Western one. This would not be a problem in a new series, but why change from one game to its sequel? If gamers want a Final Fantasy game they can buy one. I bought this game as I wanted a game that would be similar to the first Dragon Age. Petite characters like Fenris swing gigantic swords with ease, while enemies explode in a spray of gore even when stabbed with a dagger.

The appearance of several major races like the elves and Qunari has also been completely altered. It's not that they now look bad; it just further serves to make the game feel unnecessarily different to the first. Weirdly the game is also set in an almost squeaky clean sci-fi like setting, even though it is meant to be a medieval fantasy.

The poor combat and graphics could have been forgiven if the game had a good plot and interesting characters, the things Bioware are famous for. It lacks either. The writing is the weakest I have ever seen in a Bioware game. At their best the main quests feel like they could be side quests in Origins, while the majority are just MMO style fetch quests that it's hard to care about.

Personally the most appealing feature of Origins and other Bioware games is the chance to make choices that alter the game world as you play through it. Dragon Age 2 gives the illusion of choice, but usually your decisions have little effect on the game. You can side with a faction throughout the game but you will still be offered the same choice to support or oppose them later on, making all previous decisions meaningless.

The characters in this game are also inferior to those in Origins. Varric is at least funny, Merrill has excellent voice acting and Isabella has her moments, but none of them has as much personality as the characters in the first game. Some of the games best moments come when Origins characters make cameos, which highlights the decline in this game's companions.

The best part of this game is the background dialogue between your party. Even if your interactions with companions are a bit lacking the way they chat to each other can be genuinely amusing. I ended up choosing my party based not on their combat abilities but on who I would rather listen to, and this feature of the game is probably the only thing that kept me going to the end. The only other positive I can think of is that your character has homosexual and well as heterosexual romance options, showing that Bioware are still one of the most progressive game makers.

In this game you now have a fully voiced character, which would be a step forward if the dialogue wasn't significantly worse. Bioware have borrowed a version of the Mass Effect dialogue wheel but it simply doesn't work in this game. Instead of getting to choose what you say you now have to choose a symbol and a few words which rarely represent what you will actually say. You can choose to 'decline quest' and end up badly insulting the quest giver.

One innovation in this game is that if you frequently choose good or evil dialogue options your character's voice will actually become more aggressive or friendly for all other dialogue. This doesn't really work in this game as the choices are usually about choosing a faction to support rather than being good or bad, but I would really like to see this feature used in Mass Effect 3 where it would work with the Paragon/Renegade system.

While I could continue listing this game's failings all day I think this is a fair summary of some of the biggest ones. If you didn't enjoy the first game and want a passable action game with some amusing background dialogue you could try this game, otherwise you are much better off just sticking with Origins.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 28, 2013 12:23 PM BST

by Mark Millar
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Even better than the movie, 27 Aug 2011
This review is from: Kick-Ass (Paperback)
I am a huge fan of Mark Millar and this is probably his finest work. If you have already seen the film you will have some idea what to expect, but the graphic novel is funnier, darker, more violent and has a clever twist that wasn't in the film.

Basically the idea behind Kick Ass is that it is a comic about what a real life super hero would be like. Dave Lizewski doesn't have superpowers, he's just a bored kid in a costume he bought online armed with some metal clubs. While this comic is extremely violent, it also tries to show some of the consequences of violence. If Dave screws up he is hospitalised and his poor father is stuck with the medical bills.

While Dave is essentially just a comic loving nerd motivated by boredom, he realises he is in over his head when he meets the deadly vigilantes Hit Girl and Big Daddy. Hit girl in particular is a great character, a sociopathic ten year old with some great lines, who slaughters her way through the mob with a Samurai sword!

If you are new to graphic novels this is a pretty good place to start, as it doesn't require much knowledge of the genre and is great fun. It is also very well drawn and coloured. This is also a graphic novel I re-read more than most so I would say it is value for money.

If you are going to be put off by over the top violence or too much swearing this is definitely not for you, in fact you should avoid most of Millar's work. Otherwise this is a clever, original comic that is packed with pop culture references and black humour.

If you enjoy Kick Ass I highly recommend you check out some of Millar's other stuff. 'Wanted' is a really politically incorrect take on what a world ruled by supervillains would be like, while 'Red Son' is a story about what would have happened if superman had grown up in the USSR instead of America.

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