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Samy Merchi (Turku, Finland)

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Street Hawk - The Complete Series [DVD] [1984]
Street Hawk - The Complete Series [DVD] [1984]
Dvd ~ Rex Smith
Price: £20.25

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great series but poor implementation, 16 Mar 2013
I've been wanting this series on DVD ever since I started collecting television boxsets. I remember years ago a site that offered unofficial bootleg DVDs mastered off VHS tapes, and I remember being tempted to get them since they were the only way to get this series at the time. I just wanted this series that bad. But, for good and ill, an official DVD release finally came one day. It's not all good. If I were reviewing only the series itself, I'd have awarded five stars, although one or two of them are undoubtedly subjective because of my rose colored nostalgia glasses letting me revisit when I was ten years old. But I am not reviewing the series in vacuum, but also the implementation of this DVD release. Because of that, I went down to three stars for the following reasons.

First, there are no subtitles of any kind, not even english. This means that I would not recommend this product for anybody who is deaf, hard of hearing, or has trouble with the english language. This is compounded by the fact that as of this writing, I could not find any english language subtitles for the series anywhere on the Internet, so currently there's no way I can tell to fix this. Having said that, now that I have the DVD, I am planning to create subtitles and release them on the web, so hopefully later this year there will be a fix for the lack of subtitles. However, implementing the fix will require some technical jiggery as you'll have to view the series on a computer with a media player software that supports loading subtitles on top of a DVD, such as Media Player Classic.

Second, some of the music in the series has been changed. The episode "Second Self" (one of George Clooney's first roles) originally featured Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" and The Eagles' "Desperado". Both of these songs have been replaced with generic instrumentals. I'm pretty sure a third music piece in that episode was also changed but I'm not one hundred percent sure as I don't have as clear a memory of that original scene. As I personally consider the soundtrack a fairly important part of television, this is a pretty big flaw for me. I understand that licensing songs can be expensive business, and that's probably why the change was made, but regardless of the reason, it still ruined the episode for me a little bit.

Other than that, though, I'm pretty happy with the set. The DVD menus are fairly snappy instead of having to wait ten seconds for animations after every click. The video quality is IMO quite good. Audio has a noticeable amount of noise at most times so no crystal clear sound here. But for the most part, I really love just sitting down and watching an episode or three of Street Hawk. I just wish that subtitles and the original soundtrack were present, and their lack is enough to knock off a star or two in my book.

Dragon Age 2 - Signature Edition (PC DVD)
Dragon Age 2 - Signature Edition (PC DVD)

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lot of people seem to hate it but I loved it, 14 Oct 2012
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
The general consensus seems to be that Dragon Age 2 wasn't as good as the earlier installments in the franchise. I've just finished it and I have to say I have a different opinion. I loved it. Granted, it's not exactly like Dragon Age: Origins, but I felt that the changes made it, yes, different, but not worse. It's still a great game, just the implementation is a little different from its predecessor.

One of the major complaints seems to be that the game has simplified character stats and combat systems. It's true, the complexity is less, but a lot of reviewers are overreacting in that there's still complexity remaining. There's attributes (like strength, willpower and so on) which affect your hit points, mana, defense and so on. Skills and talents from DAO have been combined into a single talents system, which I think was a good choice because the distinction between the two always felt a little arbitrary to me. Now you have just one talent system that covers everything from combat moves to spells to equipment use, and contrary to what some may say, there's still a great deal of customization one can do to a character in that system. Most characters can pick from six skill trees or more, each containing about ten different abilities, so it's a minimum of sixty things you get to choose from (you get to select one per level). Rogues can decide whether they want to focus on stealth, on dual wielding, on archery or a number of other categories. Mages have different categories of spells to choose from. Warriors have trees of combat moves. You still get to build your character. Maybe not quite as much tinkering as DAO, and certainly not as much as a tabletop RPG can have, but the tinkering is definitely, most definitely, still there.

Further customization can be achieved with equipment, and whereas another frequent complaint was that you can't choose the armor for your companions (just their weapons and jewelry), I think it was a good choice in the sense that in RPGs, it often takes a lot of time to compare every single piece of armor you find against every single companion you have. DA2 does away with some of that tedium by only making the main character's armor switchable so that you can just sell every piece of armor you don't want to use for the main. Even so there's still a ton of comparing you can do with the weapons and jewelry if you enjoy going through companion equipment with a fine-toothed comb. One more piece of customization is the tactics system which, I found, worked better than in DAO, and my uncontrolled companions did what I hoped they would do more often than in the previous game.

A lot has also been said about anime style influences and it's true, they're there in the form of somewhat unrealistically big swords and very flashy, almost superheroic moves. If you're a fan of gritty realism and want a game that simulates real life medieval combat then DA2 is definitely not it. But I liked the flashy superheroic moves, they look great and make my character feel like a badass throughout the game. Furthermore I felt like DA2 feels much more fluid than DAO did, in regards to controls and graphics. Everything feels very polished in that regard.

However, two criticisms which I must agree with: the reuse of locales over and over again really gave the game a cheap feel, and enemies appearing in waves out of thin air felt very much like padding meant to give us more pointless hack and slash for the sake of more pointless hack and slash. Those would be my two main complaints about the game.

But overall I really liked DA2, and to finish, let me highlight the things I really liked. One of the most important things for me was the wide spectrum of romantic possibilities. Four main options (two of each gender, all of them available to a player of either sex), plus some flirt options even with the companion characters that weren't full romance options. The inclusiveness of homosexual relationships was wonderful to me (as a heterosexual male myself) because how often in stories do you get to see a committed lesbian couple being the main stars saving the day? It's just plain hot.

Furthermore, a lot of characters, particularly the companions but also other characters, are very well written and really give you a good feel for their personalities. I found myself very quickly growing attached to these characters and caring about them. I was angry when cool characters died and had to go to walkthroughs to make sure I didn't miss some way of having them survive. I was heartwarmed by many of the romance scenes. I was excited by the epic scenes. A particular triumph, I felt, was one of the first interesting dwarf characters I've ever seen in a computer RPG -- Varric, one of your companions -- a dwarf that isn't all about axes, fighting, beards and ale but plays completely against the type.

Another thing I liked was that the plot is broken up into three acts that are separated by three year gaps. This made me feel like I had three (separate but still interconnected) short games instead of one long game, and I felt much less encumbered by the weight of the plot and found myself having fun a lot more. Suddenly it felt a lot more okay to just drop in for half an hour and do a short quest. And it was really refreshing to see time pass and political situations change over time in an RPG. There are a LOT of side quests and only a bare handful of mandatory quests you must do in order to advance to the next act, so you can basically spend as much time as you want in each act, depending on how completionist you are. Most of the side quests can be done in a fairly free order too, giving the game an illusion of freedom and nonlinearity when you can pick in which order you want to do 80% of the act, with the 20% remaining fixed.

Overall I felt the story managed to build very much of an epic feel even though it was only about the battles of one city rather than an entire country like in DAO. Many of the plot twists felt big and meaningful and they also feel like they are going to feed into the overall Dragon Age franchise tapestry by foreshadowing things to come. Speaking of which, another nice detail about the game was that it allowed the importing of a DAO save if you wanted to keep continuity consistent, and from what I hear DA3 will allow the importing of both DAO and DA2 saves, thus continuing to build an overall plotline for the entire continent of Thedas. I for one an excited to be a part of it!

X-Men: Operation Zero Tolerance
X-Men: Operation Zero Tolerance
by Scott Lobdell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £55.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good cross-section of the X-Men franchise in 1997, but maybe not for beginners, 4 Oct 2012
I just read Operation Zero Tolerance through in one sitting and I was really positively surprised by how it exceeded my memories of it. Having said that, I can absolutely understand how this could come off as confusing. Since it's a cross-section of most X-titles of the time, it collects no less than seven different series, each of which is more or less running a separate set of characters with their own separate plot. And since the book is arranged so that all the issues in a single series are not necessarily consecutive (presumably aiming for a roughly chronological telling that avoids spoilers as much as possible), you end up with a lot of jumping from X-Men to Wolverine to Generation X to X-Force to X-Men to Generation X to Generation X to X-Force and so on. If you're not a) steeped in lore or b) the type of reader who enjoys not knowing everything, then OZT could have a major drawback. You're basically being asked to get to know at least four separate sets of characters and to follow six or seven separate plots that keep jumping back and forth among themselves. You don't get all the Gen X issues in a row to get settled on those characters and that plot. You don't get all the X-Force issues in a row to get settled on those characters and that plot. And so on. I'm sure a lot of thought has gone into arranging the issues so that as little as possible is spoiled ahead of time but it does make for slightly chaotic reading experience than an orderly one. And if you're not familiar with the characters or the plots of the X-books of the time, I bet that chaotic reading experience can really dampen one's enjoyment.

Having said that, leaving out the jumbled arrangement of different series, there are a lot of positive aspects I think. A major one -- less so to me personally, but I know there are people to whom this is very important -- is the art. I mean sure, there's a couple of issues of painful Pop Mhan and the Cable issues are "just okay" Randy Green, but the vast bulk of the volume is...Pacheco, Larroca, Bachalo, Pollina, Madureira, Leinil Yu. I mean really, not many OHCs can boast an all-star artist lineup like that. It's painfully obvious how much of a favored child the X-books were at the time. If you're more into fine art artists like Sienkiewicz then the art in OZT may not measure up to visionary standards but if you just want good popcorn comic book art OZT is awesome.

Storywise one almost has to review the different series separately since aside from a handful of scenes of shared dialogue between books, each book is just mostly off doing its own thing. I feel that X-Men is the flagship lead book here that carries the overarching story points, which is ironic considering that its cast is basically "Iceman and the D-Listers". But I really liked that role reversion of how the big plot was resolved by the smallest characters. I have a huge soft spot for D-list characters getting to shine so I really liked what they did with X-Men here. Meanwhile I'd call Wolverine the secondary book, since it deals with the big name characters -- Scott, Jean, Logan, Ororo and Sam -- off on their own. It's also more or less Larry Hama's swan song on a run of what, about eighty issues? Storywise it's IMO okay but nothing mindblowing. The treatment of Uncanny is funny because even though it's the senior book it barely takes part, only with a single issue. This is because Uncanny was telling a story with a roster that was off in space at the time so its ongoing plotline was unconnected. Even more ironically, the single Uncanny issue is mostly a story starring Spider-Man and J Jonah Jameson. And it's a very good Jameson story, I feel, pitting him in a very strong showing against the X-Men's main villain of this crossover.

Then there's the somewhat peripheral books. Generation X suffers a little for losing its creator and writer halfway through the story. When Lobdell steps out, James Robinson comes to finish things up and he does an okay showing that doesn't feel too jarringly different from what Lobdell was doing (having Bachalo helping him out no doubt helped with preserving the unique GenX feel even without Lobdell). The GenX issues are themselves divided into three groupings of characters pursuing their own separate plotlines, fragmenting the story even further. But it still manages to be a decent batch of issues. I thought the Jubilee solo segments were especially strong. X-Force is, at this time, doing a little housecleaning as John Francis Moore has just begun writing the book and he spends the crossover basically putting the pieces in place for a new direction that he embarked on immediately after OZT. So he's basically tidying up some loose ends and showing how the roster comes together that he wants to play with after OZT. In a modern context it's amazing that a writer bothers with doing that; actually tidying up the book's previous things and not just jumping directly to where you want to start. Ultimately I think the X-Force issues are about middling too. But I'd damn well love to see an Omnibus of JFM's run starting *after* OZT because that's when he really hits his stride. Then there's Cable's solo series, in which he goes on a solo mission. It's okay I thought but again nothing special. And finally a single done-in-one X-Man issue which I think has a clear focus and a clear story to tell. Even though I'm not a big fan of Kavanagh in general or the X-Man series in particular, I think this issue is fairly strong. Again, nothing in this book is reinventing the artform or anything, but it's a solid basic popcorn action story.

In conclusion I think the crossover altogether was pretty well edited. I didn't keep a particular eye out specially looking for inconsistencies, but none really jumped out at me. Of course with fairly few links between the titles it's easy to avoid any major mistakes but I think overall the crossover hangs together pretty well, as long as you remember it's really a "Fall of the Mutants" type thing, with every series doing their own thing. The one major failing of the crossover, I thought, was the fact that it didn't provide any revelations about the major antagonist, but basically just left that up to a pair of obscure annuals later that weren't included. For this particular villain, it is *the* definitive story, but sadly, we learn very very little about him. If the crossover would have squeezed in his origin and all that stuff I think it would've given the crossover a stronger soul. I do like how it wasn't all about fighting, but there was a very valid ideological clash going on too. But I don't feel anything narratively positive was achieved by leaving the villain still vague after his biggest appearance. I think it's emblematic of what I think people hate most about X-books: constantly leaving things dangling and never resolving anything properly.

Miami Vice - The Complete Collection [DVD]
Miami Vice - The Complete Collection [DVD]
Dvd ~ Olivia Brown
Offered by Callums Cheaper Items - CUSTOMER IS PRIORITY NUMBER 1
Price: £53.94

27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No subtitles, 15 Jan 2011
The box looks nice, the video quality is nice, but the whole product is crippled by the lack of subtitles. The first season has subtitles, but for the rest, it seems like they were just forgotten about. It's a shame, this would have been a killer product if a little bit of care and attention had gone to it, but with such a bare-bones video-only treatment, I cannot recommend this product to anybody who is hard of hearing, has language problems, or otherwise just likes to have subtitles. If you couldn't care less about subtitles, this is an amazing product. But for the 4 billion people on the planet who are not native English speakers, you're better off getting the season sets.
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