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Gregory Bishop "afterthought_btw"
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The Last Remnant (PC DVD)
The Last Remnant (PC DVD)
Offered by Digitalville UK
Price: £6.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Square Enix's best RPG since Final Fantasy X, 15 Sept. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
First things first: from what I understand from what I have read, get the PC version rather than the XBox one. There are apparently annoying bugs in the XBox version.

To be honest, I struggle to review things I like, compared to those I have issue with. It's far easier to tear down than to build up, it seems, especially without giving away details which are so much better to find out as you play. So this is probably going to be a relatively short review. Because, quite simply, I love it. It's a hidden gem which, especially now that it's older and cheap, you should really give a try if you like jRPGs. If like me, you love(d until no. 13) final fantasy, then give it a shot. It'll have a lot of the things you love about that sort of game, and you have little to lose.

Obviously it's hard to judge some things in a game a few years old, like, for example, graphics, but to be brief - the graphics are fine, I like the music, the story more than adequate (and a lot better than some of Square Enix's more recent attempts), one cut scene in particular which I consider fantastic, but, sadly, there's what I'd consider some irritating voice acting from the main character.

Like most RPGs, and, possibly, stories in general, you start out with a lone character, and build up from there, and in a way that is a pity, because until you gain a large number of party members the battle system doesn't really shine. It's an odd system in some ways, which takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you start to understand it it really shines. You see, you don't control units. You control squads. (Although you can make a squad of one...)

Once you have divided your units up into squads, you give them general instructions, rather than specific ones. Once you have given all your squads their commands, then they will all attempt to close with the enemy and do what you told them to. However, of course, your enemies will have their own instructions and will attempt to follow their own orders. You might instruct a squad to use physical attacks on a nearby enemy squad for example, or to use hexes against them. You might have a flying squad which wait to see if any of your other squads need healing, and then take care of them, or you might try to unleash some of your units' hidden powers.

And hidden is a word that describes this system well. There is so much depth to the system that you might well overlook because you are not told about it by the game. Utilising the formations you can set your squads up in can be an exercise in trial and error (or utter frustration and using the internet, depending on what kind of player you are), and even fully understanding how the squads should be set up, and how important specialisation is in a group is something that can easily pass a player by, even if they complete the game successfully. Likewise, working out the importance of moral, and how best to engage the enemy with multiple squads, attack an enemy from behind, or disengage a squad safely from an opponent can take a bit of time. The beauty is, however, that understanding the system enables you to actually control pretty fully what your squads - and even individual units - do, despite the initial impression that you have little control at all.

Hidden is a good word to describe the game as a whole, in fact, as if you slavishly stick to the plot when you complete the game, you will have missed out on a huge amount of what the game has to offer. Sidequests run rampant in this game, and the advantages of exploring and gaining leaders (as opposed to mere soldiers) to your little army can't be overstated. And, in a more general sense, as this game isn't as well known as it should be, it could be considered a 'hidden' gem itself.

Give it a shot - I certainly think it's worth it.


XCOM Enemy Unknown (PC DVD)
XCOM Enemy Unknown (PC DVD)
Offered by TnsDealsUK
Price: £6.60

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Firaxis' reboot of the classic gaming series almost gets to those lofty heights... but falls just that little bit short., 28 Nov. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Okay. As a lover of the original series, I'm going to get this out here at the very start. Compared to the three previous 'proper' (i.e. TB strategy) 'X-Com's, this reboot is dumbed down.

And yes. I mean dumbed down - not 'streamlined', or any of those other buzz words. Dumbed. Down.

Not that, I hasten to add, being dumbed down *necessarily* makes a game a bad one. In fact, you can see from the rating I gave the game that I still considered this a very good game. However, for each genre of game, there comes a point where the desire to remove as much micromanagement as possible from a game leads to the game getting poorer, rather than better. Like with almost all games nowadays, the developers of XCOM: Enemy Unknown have sought to appeal to as big an audience as possible - that, after all, is where the money is. Unfortunately, this trend means that the outliers (like me) that really enjoy intricate games tend to get forgotten about, and from my point of view, games seem to stagnate rather.

But this isn't a forum for me to vent my frustrations on the lack of decent games out there, this is a review of a rather good game, despite its dumbing down. And I'll do my best not to mention how dumbed down it is too often in the rest of this review, and limit myself to two examples in the Geoscape and the Battlescape (to use the old school terms).

For those who know nothing about the original games, XCOM: Enemy Unknown returns to the original basic premise. Aliens have appeared in the near future, and are abducting and terrorising the general public, and are generally up to no good. This improbable event causes an even more improbable one... The world unites and actually starts cooperating, forming the eXtraterrestrial COMbat unit, or XCOM for short.

Yeah - I know, there's only so far the average person will suspend their disbelief, but try. If it makes it easier to bear, just know that these countries seem to be itching to pull out of the project if you don't get your arse into gear as the head of XCOM. And often even if you do. Those countries will recommence their petty squabbling soon enough, never fear.

As the Commander of XCOM, your role is relatively simple: Some basic admin stuff, where you research new technologies, manufacture new weapons, armour, or the occasional other piece of equipment, and the meat of the game: commanding your troops. All... four of them. Wait... you can upgrade it to six eventually? Well that makes it fine then!

And this is where the dumbing down really becomes noticeable. In the previous games it was by no means unknown to have 3 times that number. Now, I freely admit that sometimes this just seemed more than you needed (although the original two 'X-Com's were unforgiving to your soldiers, and you could certainly work through them), and could lead to lengthy, complicated turns, but 6 maximum? It just feels so... small.

What they've done, essentially, throughout the game, is to massively (and artificially) restrict your choices, so that you really feel the pain if you make a poor decision. And that's fine in a sense - it can lead to a good game-play experience. The only problem is that XCOM's setting is meant to be huge scale. You are meant to be the world's only hope, which the world is pouring its monetary resources into, and yet you can only muster up a maximum of six soldiers at a time. And - of course - for those of us who played the original games, it's rather a let down.

And this leads rather nicely into my first example of the dumbing down, which happens in the Geoscape. Periodically (well, regularly) throughout the game, Alien Abductions take place. Three at a time. And you can only pick one - leading to the countries (and continents) you don't help getting mad at you and withdrawing from the XCOM project. Like I said, artificially restricting your choices.

This really pisses me off. Are you seriously telling me that I can't send more than one squad of soldiers to a site at once? Why? Because I only have one transport ship? Well that's no problem, let me buy another! Just this one change to allow more freedom would allow so much more depth to the game. You could create separate squads, or spread out your senior soldiers so as to maximise your chances. Units being injured in missions suddenly takes on a new importance - do you dare risk a squad of rookies suffering a humiliating defeat, and perhaps jeopardising that country's support even further, or do you grit your teeth and take a lesser punishment by informing the country's military they'll have to take care of it? If you have a lot of countries questioning their commitment to the cause, do you rush unready soldiers into combat because the risk of losing them is too great?

So much would be added to the game by this one simple change. Sure, they'd have had to change their balancing to cover it, but that minor inconvenience would add so much more depth to the management of your soldiers.

I have to admit, the Geoscape part of the game as a whole feels rather small. I'd almost rather you had been placed as a commander of a squad, and not had the Geoscape at all, because - frankly - as an X-Com vet, I find it underwhelming.

So that leaves the Battlescape - the meat of the game, and the place where you sink or swim. You command your four soldiers in a turn based system, but one which has been.... urgh, yup, I've got to say it... dumbed down. Rather than the Time Unit (or Action Point) system common to games of this genre in the past, all you can do is move, shoot, or move and shoot (bizarrely, apart from one 'perk' for one class, you can't shoot and move - I can only assume it was for game balancing purposes).

Now this new system actually works quite well for its purposes. They obviously set out to keep the turns short and heighten tension that way (or, as an unkind person might say, try to attract those people with short attention spans who couldn't deal with a more drawn out system), and it does its job. Whilst your choices are certainly much diminished compared to previous versions (which allowed you to - say - move, shoot, and move again, or take two wild shots as opposed to one precise one, or scout forward carefully, dreading and yet anticipating the moment of first contact), that doesn't stop the whole experience being enjoyable.

And I do enjoy it. The cover system they've implemented works well (although it does lead to inexplicable moments where you or the aliens seem to be able to shoot through walls (again, a balancing thing, me thinks, or else cover would be too powerful)) and the fact that you can't move all your units forward gradually - although frustrating at times - means that you have to think carefully about the order in which you give your commands. And after some consideration, and dubiousness, I think the 'class' system, and perks are a fantastic innovation. And, seeing as I haven't mentioned them yet, I'll describe them here.

When you get your soldiers for the first time, they are all rookies (perhaps a little odd for an elite organisation trying to stop the greatest threat human civilisation has ever known, but it works for game-play reasons, and that trumps everything in my book!), and are utterly useless. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration, but let's just say they have a lot to learn. As they have a taste of combat (and alien blood), they will specialise in a type of soldiering - Assault, Heavy, Support, or the deadly Sniper class - and as they continue to slap the aliens around they will gain 'perks' specific to each class. To give a perk I find particularly useful for each class:

Assault - can learn a perk which enables them to have a free shot at any enemy which comes in a certain range of them (4 squares).
Heavy - the only class that can wield rockets, they can also gain a perk enabling them to shoot their normal weapon and then move, or take another shot
Support - can learn a perk which allows them to take three uses from a medikit rather than the normal one.
Sniper - can learn Squad Sight. When used properly, and in conjunction with some of the later perks, your sniper will rule the field. This perk allows them to shoot at any enemy out of their vision, but inside an ally's, just so long as there is a line of fire on that enemy.

So yes, overall, I really enjoy the fighting. Seeing a well organised tactic coming up trumps is a great feeling. I still remember one particular mission with fondness where I was utterly out manoeuvered, my soldiers - although all alive - were on death's door and I turned and ran like a craven coward with the aliens in hot pursuit. Only... I stationed an Assault with a shotgun just round the corner from where I had sprinted to. And that Assault had the perk I mentioned above. Abject defeat, had suddenly turned into glorious success. XCOM gives you moments like that. It also gives you moments where you hold your head in your hands, wondering how you could have been so foolish. But that makes the success all the sweeter.

So yes. XCOM rocks. It just leaves me wanting...

... more. More depth, as much as anything.

But it's addictive. I've started my third run through now, on the hardest possible difficulty setting (impossible), and on ironman (can't make saves - the game autosaves) - and I don't do that with bad games. Bad games leave my hard drive as soon as I've finished them. The AI is reasonably competent, although the main two problems with Impossible mode isn't anything to do with how good the AI is, but rather the speed at which countries leave XCOM if you don't go to their particular abduction mission (see the gripe about it above), and the fact that you generally meet the aliens (in large swathes, on Impossible) in combat too quickly to set your team up into decent cover (and can't even retreat to cover because you're at the edge of a map).

The fact that some of the missions have really disadvantageous starting spots means that fighting out of your starting position to cover can be where you really get your losses, and I find it a shame that something like that can have such a big impact. I'm particularly worried because I'm aiming for a no loss ironman campaign, and it would be really annoying to fail at it for something that's not even my fault. Even the ability to see what the starting position is before choosing the make up of your squad would be a boon.

(Speaking of the maps, alas, they are not randomly generated, and thus repeat themselves. It's a pity, and it slightly hampers replayability - especially for the final mission, which doesn't lend itself to being repeated at all. Aside: it'd be great if they released some editing software so that players could create their own maps and distribute them to add variety)

Speaking of just how addictive it is - I haven't even mentioned the multiplayer. Granted, that's because I rarely play any multiplayer game, and so don't really have much to say about it. I've just played the one game at time of writing (and won it :P), but I can at least give the bare bones on it.

And bare bones is probably a good phrase actually. It's quick and dirty. You have a certain amount of points to work with, which allow you to set up your squad (which can be humans, aliens, or a mixture), and when both you and your opponent are happy, your duke it out on (at least in my game) a pretty small map. My match could only have taken 4 or 5 turns at most. (Maybe that's just because of my leet skills. Or 1337. Or whatever... ... ... Nah, I prefer leet. I'm so leet I don't even have to use leet-speak.) Each turn is restricted to just 120 seconds, to ensure that it doesn't drag on (and so people who are losing can't just sandbag until their opponent gets sick of it and quits), and that seemed reasonable enough to me, given that you'll likely have only 3 or 4 units maximum.

And as far as I can tell multiplayer-type gamers seem to like it. But to be honest, I can't give you much help there. From my position of little to no knowledge, it seems to be a good system.

So. Would I recommend it? In short... Yes: like I said before, it just falls short of the lofty heights of the originals - which, when you think about it, is pretty high praise.

If this review hasn't convinced you, check out some of the 'Let's Plays' on YouTube. After the abhorrent abomination that was Firaxis' Civ V, I needed to look at one of those before making up my mind to buy it! I was left glad I did.

(edit) Oh - one piece of advice. If you buy this game... Do the tutorial. Apart from anything else, it gives you free stuff. Just don't play the rest of the game the way they get you to in the tutorial! In this game (especially on higher difficulties), your two main friends are full cover, and 'Overwatch' but the tutorial doesn't do a good job of telling you that! If you watch some of the 'Let's Play's on YouTube, you'll notice that most of the mistakes the players make come from doing things the way the tutorial tells you to.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 18, 2013 6:12 PM BST


The Eye Of The World: Book 1 of the Wheel of Time: 1/12
The Eye Of The World: Book 1 of the Wheel of Time: 1/12
by Robert Jordan
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not as good as I'd hoped., 7 Jun. 2011
I decided to give the Wheel of Time series a bash as I've relatively recently discovered the man (Brandon Sanderson) who's completing the series, and love his stuff. It's a series I'd been intending to try at some point, and this spurred me into it. And, despite enjoying the book, I was left feeling a little let down.

The writing style is clumsy, and the prologue is about as *un*-engaging as you could ask for. I was left with the distinct impression that this was an author who had forgotten that one of the greatest skills in storytelling isn't using long words or complex clausal formations, but rather using the right words and the right sentence structure to convey your ideas. To be blunt: it sounded pretentious. Don't mistake this for a complaint by someone who doesn't want depth or can't handle words with more than one syl- sylla- ... sound to them, it isn't.

Thankfully, after the prologue, the style starts to loosen up a little, suggesting, perhaps, that Jordan matured as an author as he wrote, or else he found the right opening very difficult to find. It never disappears completely however, which is one of the reasons it gets 4 rather than 5 stars from me.

I have three other main complaints around the book. Firstly it's about as subtle as an anvil. When events are foreshadowed, they stick out at you like a sore thumb - rather ironic given the writing style. One of the joys in reading fiction of any sort, but especially epic fantasy, is being able to reread it and glean more from it in a second read. I love pouring through a book and seeing the subtle hints that I could (and sometimes feel I should) have picked up on the first time, or - even better - picking up on a chance comment in my first read through and having the metaphorical light bulb suddenly illuminate above my head. But when you don't have to work for that, then rather than the sense of accomplishment such deductions give you, your left feeling cheated. I was pretty sure of the great reveal from what felt like the start of the book - I felt rather bludgeoned over the head by the 'hints'!

The second issue is possibly something less likely to bug other people, as it's a bit of a personal peeve, but for all the time Jordan spends describing things, the world felt unreal. Now you might tell me:

"It's fantasy! Of course it's meant to be unreal."

That, unfortunately, would be missing the point. The very best fantasy worlds are ones in which - given certain fantastical presuppositions - feel real. The magic systems, for example, should have a structure to them with limits so that you know just what can and can't be done with them, and where the magic comes from. In The Eye of the World? Well, we are given virtually no information whatsoever. Now, it may be that we discover more about it as the series continues (I don't know, I haven't read any further yet), but this is supposed to introduce the series - and more importantly, the story universe - to us. Another defence may be, I suppose, that the magic isn't important to the book, and I freely admit that much of the time it isn't directly involved in the story. Unfortunately, it is vitally important to the conclusion, which for me blows that counter objection out of the water. The same is true of the world in general; I am left not feeling as though the action takes place on a three dimensional world but rather a two dimensional one.

Lastly, the ending was simply underwhelming. As final showdowns go, there wasn't even time for a build up of anticipation before it was over. It's hard to know what else to say about that, without going into detail as to the actual plot itself.

So after all this moaning, why have I given it as high a score as four stars? Well, because at its core, it's a darn good book. Yes, it could have been better (there are other minor criticisms I could make), but when I closed the cover... I hadn't regretted reading it. I could not in good conscience rate this any lower.


Pride And Prejudice [1980]
Pride And Prejudice [1980]
Dvd ~ Desmond Adams
Offered by MMRSALES
Price: £6.99

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent and as good as the better known 1995 version., 22 Oct. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Pride And Prejudice [1980] (DVD)
I'm one of those people who had the VHS of this superb version, before it bit the dust due to overuse, so I confess I knew almost exactly what I was getting when buying this product. I wouldn't have been searching for this as much as I had, unless I already thought it was worthy of a 5 star review! I was, however, given a pleasant surprise when I found out a number of scenes that hadn't been in my VHS were included and there was only one of those that I didn't particularly like, so that my first viewing was littered with pleasurable moments of picking out new scenes! There is one scene in particular with Colonel Fitzwilliam at Rosings that I really enjoyed.

Some of the characterisations in this version are far closer to the book than in Pride And Prejudice - Special Edition [DVD] [1995]. David Rintoul, for example, is a far colder, more reserved Darcy than Colin Firth, and although he is possibly too reserved to his friends at times, he still does a far better job at portraying the role as written in the book. As much as I love Colin Firth as Darcy, his isn't always the most accurate portrayal. But, on the flip side, the portrayal of Mary - or at least her musical talents - is completely different to the book (rather than being accomplished but vain with a weak voice, she is rather incompetent musically) and it also takes its own liberties with some of the storytelling - for example Elizabeth's trip to Rosings Park is made without either Maria or Sir William Lucas - possibly as a result of time constraints. The slight changes really don't bother me to the amount to consider taking a star off, however. To be honest, if you could combine the two versions, you would arguably get the perfect Pride and Prejudice series, but whilst that one might be awarded 100 marks out of 100, this'll have to make do with 95 or a little more!

The only real negative I can think of is that it's an hour shorter than the 1995 version. As a result, it does at times seem rushed, at least in comparison. The denouement is certainly much shorter than the later version, and you do sometimes feel like there should have been a few more lines to a scene than there actually are, leading to a slight impression that it's all bustle. However, when you consider just how much they had to fit in, you can't see quite how they could have done things any differently in that amount of time. It's not as if it is a short watch, either - a good 270+ minutes!

I'm not going to say this is better than the 1995 version, but it is certainly as good. They each have differing strengths, the extra hour in the 1995 version really shines, perhaps some of the supporting characters are more faithful, and yet this version certainly has the more faithful main characters, and at times strikes me as being slightly more in period.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 15, 2011 12:21 AM GMT


The Novice: Book 2 of the Black Magician (Black Magician Trilogy)
The Novice: Book 2 of the Black Magician (Black Magician Trilogy)
by Trudi Canavan
Edition: Paperback

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read, if impossible, 10 Jun. 2006
And by impossible, I don't mean simply because of it being 'Fantasy', but rather because the rules of the world simply don't hold up if you think about it. Yes, I'm a nit-picker, to some extent, but I feel it to be important in this case. Because of the fact the simple rules of the world don't hold together under examination, it stopped me from really getting into, and enjoying, the trilogy.

Without being too specific, and thus giving anything about the story away, one big problem arises from the question of the use of the magic itself. The system of magic as a whole doesn't make sense - again and again I asked myself the question:

'How did the first Magicians control their power?'

But not only was the answer to that question never gleaned from the books, even with my own imagination, I could not come up with a solution that actually worked. The normal answers just don't work, for reasons that can be seen in the first of the Trilogy.

I have to admit, again without (hopefully) giving anything too serious away, that I find the question of the amount of magical 'energy' a person can store a dubious subject. We are simply told that the 'natural' limit exists, but not told why, even when subsequent evidence shows that it can be safely broken by gaining someone elses energy. I, personally think of myself as a logical person. I like to know the reason 'why', when there is a seeming contradiction.

The overwhelming impression I received from that point of view, was that there were too many of these questions I could ask without getting adequate answers, which spoiled the enjoyment for me.

However, let me take nothing from the quality of the writing. I certainly did enjoy the book, it was engagingly written, and despite it being quite long, didn't take me long to read, or many sittings. However, the problems I mentioned above stop this from being a truly great fantasy trilogy that could be spoken about the same way as some of the current top authors, like Raymond E. Feist for example.

That, in fact is how I'll sum it up. Good, but not Truly Great.

Greg


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2 Disc Edition) [2004] [DVD]
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2 Disc Edition) [2004] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Daniel Radcliffe
Offered by Bridge_Records
Price: £3.84

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At long last!, 15 Dec. 2004
It's been a long time coming, but finally we've got a Harry Potter film that leaves the two dimensionalness of the first two films behind. No longer is the castle spotless, and looking like it is ready for a pantomine. No longer is there the feeling you get when watching Home Alone. No longer do you have to suffer the cosy fireside image that is so foreign in the books.
Firstly, the castle feels alive - the people in the paintings interact far more, there is more of the hustle and bustle of every day life. The students have got to the stage where they can act. With all due respect to Emma and Dan, they weren't the most believeable in the first two films as Hermione and Harry, their acting wasn't quite there. Rupert Grint has always been a great Ron, and the three of them hit it off perfectly in this film. There are a few changes in scenary from the first two films, but as they are a change for the better, there can be no complaints there. There is altogether a more realistic feel to the film than its predecessors. You may say that this isn't important, after all, it's Fantasy, right? The beautiful thing about the books, is that the magical world coexists with the Muggle one, and thus a realistic feeling is vital.
The third book has long been my favourite, and okay, the film does miss out bits and pieces here and there - but the core of the story, the atmosphere, and the character development is there all to see. Only a fan that wants unrealistic goals would be disappointed - but then they'd need 5 hours for the film until they were happy.
My only criticism of the film is that I think they could have made it a little bit longer. For Harry Potter, kids will sit in their seats for at least an extra half hour, and I think that possibly Warner Bros have underestimated this.


Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3 - Unabridged 8 Audio Cassette Set - Adult Edition)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3 - Unabridged 8 Audio Cassette Set - Adult Edition)
by J.K. Rowling
Edition: Audio Cassette

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Magical - No other way to describe it!, 21 May 2003
Stephen Fry is a genius. Lets just make sure that is completely clear. An American friend has the American versions of some of the Potter tapes, and in my view there is no comparison between them. Fry's sheer range of voices means that audio-books' tendancies to have a lot of characters with similar voices are nowhere to be seen. This means that it is easy to settle down into the world, and allow the writing to paint a picture for you in your head. J.K. Rowling's writing appeals so much to the senses and imagination, that it is a perfect team.
Often I prefer dramatic versions of books to a reader, as you may have guessed from above, but even if you have those mis-givings also, let me assure you that from the moment you switch on the tape player, you will be swept off your feet by the wonders of the book, through Aunt Marge and Ripper to the Dementors, to Quidditch (YAY), to a thrilling finale. As it says, it is completely unabridged - so even if you haven't read the books (And why not?) you'll get a complete idea of the plot. Not just hype to get more money from a valuable series of books, Fry's reading adds to the magic. A quality book, read by a quality narrator. Simply perfect in every way.


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